Judy & Punch

Judy & Punch (2019)

Written and directed by Mirrah Foulkes

I’ve come to this late in its cinema run (blame uni!) and I’m very glad I caught it on the big screen. I knew from the opening shot that Judy & Punch was going to be a very un-Australian Australian film. Rather than the archetypal bush or outback setting, this cleverly used an artist colony in Eltham and heavily forested areas in the Dandenongs, both less than an hour from the Melbourne CBD. Combined with some excellent lighting and cinematography by Stefan Duscio this brings a Gothic tone.

Set in the mythical town of Seaside, the film opens with Judy (played by the always excellent Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (an outstanding Damon Herriman) putting on their puppet show for the townsfolk. The grime amid the greasepaint is evident, giving the film a fairytale, magical feel – part Dickens, part Shakespeare with a terrified Gothic heart – something I’d expect from the best of Terry Gilliam’s work. There is comedy here too, and it’s black – especially the scene where Punch ‘loses the baby’ – not for the faint hearted! 

Seaside is a town that will not tolerate difference or deviance from the norm, and particularly suggested to me, a society in fear of women – which in 2019 Australia is disturbingly familiar. There are regular ‘stoning days’ and a colony of outcasts that takes Judy in after Punch leaves her for dead in the forest. Punch is always on the edge and Herriman plays him to perfection, with all the charm, anger and fear one expects from a character such as this, constantly dancing between extreme narcissism and self-loathing.  

The final act of the film is a revenge motif and, for the most part works quite well, though for me, it wasn’t as satisfying as the first two acts. I found the examination of domestic violence and the politics of difference a little heavy handed at times but maybe that’s just what we need right now. I live in a country where (on average) one in three women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and one woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner. As a survivor myself, I think this is an important shift in film narrative that is long overdue in Australia. 

Finally, I think it’s important to remember this is Mirrah Foulkes’ first feature length film – and what a stunning directorial debut! While it has gained accolades and awards overseas, I hope this film reaches an audience beyond the festival and arthouse circuit – especially here in Australia, where we need to have a serious conversation about Mr Punch.

Honeygiver Among the Dogs

Honeygiver Among the Dogs (2016)

Written and directed by Dechen Roder.

This award winning film from Bhutan meanders between gorgeous rural landscapes and the relative bustle of town life. Its languid pace lulled me and drew me into its web of desire, corruption and ultimately, a strong environmental message. It is the story of a policeman, sent to a remote rural community to investigate the disappearance and possible murder of an abbess. He is warned about the local demoness, the key suspect in the case, who is young, very beautiful and (to my western eyes at least) evolves into a kind of spiritual femme fatale figure against the anti-hero detective when the action moves to town.

While it certainly falls into the Asian ‘slow cinema’ category, stylistically I felt Roder clearly had her eye on festival audiences, trying to bridge the gap between eastern and western cinema. This is particularly evident in the noir/city half of the film where the detective story takes over. It’s an inventive way to incorporate the exoticism of dakini stories from Buddhism into noir crime fiction and although the transitions are sometimes a little forced, for the most part, it pays off.

Personally, I preferred the rural scenes, where the landscape is a character and the power of Choden brings a dreamlike, magic realism quality to the screen. These sections are sublime in their beauty, with exceptional cinematography by Jigme T. Tenzing and enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack by Tashi Dorji.

It has its flaws but for a debut feature from Roder (who previously worked in advertising and music videos) it’s a pretty solid way to start. I’m keen to see what she comes up with next!

Viaje

Viaje (2015)

Written and directed by Paz Fabrega

I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly watched a film from Costa Rica before, but this is one of the joys of MUBI, the indie streaming site I wrote about a couple of days ago. Unless it’s something I’ve seen before, or a classic film, I can never quite be sure what I’m going to get. 

And I have to say, this little film caught me off-guard. 

At my age, I find it unusual to be taken aback by what is no more than a romantic drama, but this Central American B&W gem fed directly into memories from my own (mis)adventures from the 80s to the present here in Australia. And there was no sugary, saccharine aftertaste that I so often get with films in this genre. 

Paz Fabrega is a leading director in her native Costa Rica, having received some prestigious international awards for her work, and her eye is subtle and fine. Coupled with some luminous black and white cinematography from Fabrega and Estaban Chinchilla, this is a delight to look at. Edited by Sebastian Sepulveda and Fabrega, the pace is gentle but brings life and meaning to the images. Fernanado Bolanos and Kattia Gonzales bring Pedro and Luciana to playful life and their chemistry is delightful as they dance around each other.

As always, it won’t appeal to everyone but at 70 minutes, this doesn’t overstay its welcome. I found this a delight that transcended both time and language, whispering gently in my ear about my own life and choices over the years, making me smile.

Honestly, what more could I want from a film?

Streaming – The Changing Landscape

Yesterday, I was asked to talk on local ABC radio about streaming services and what they mean to average consumers, and I thought it was a great opportunity to expand on that and offer some alternatives to the big names – ie: Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney +

Here in Australia, with different licensing agreements, it is slightly different. We have region specific versions of Netflix and Amazon Prime plus local player Stan, which, along with the highest level of AU content, has held the license for a lot of Disney properties since last year. Foxtel Now provide a number of HBO titles here and HayU offers wall-to-wall reality TV shows, if that’s your thing. There’s also AppleTV+, YouTube Premium, 10 All Access and Kayo (a subsidiary of Foxtel) for sports nuts. Add in the free services, SBS On Demand, ABC iView, 10play, 9Now and 7plus and it gets even more complicated.

The problem is, particularly with the advent of Disney +, how is that going to affect local media consumers? Streaming video on demand (SVOD) was supposed to be the cheaper alternative to leaving the house to actually go to the movies (perish the thought) or the video store (may they rest in peace) but it’s rapidly turning into something of a digital dilemma and if you watch a lot of screen media, a potentially expensive undertaking. The other thing to remember in all this too, is as consumers, we only ever own the right to watch, not a hard copy of the media, and there is no guarantee that our favourite films or shows will stay on those services. 

For my household of two tech-savvy adults, we share Netflix with another family, which halves the cost of a premium subscription. I signed up for Amazon Prime a few months ago simply to watch Good Omens (and it was worth it just for that) and the Suspiria remake because I was doing a screen studies major and I love horror movies. But I don’t know if I’ll keep it on past the new year. If I see things I particularly love – Good Omens being a perfect example – I go and buy DVDs or Blu-rays. I know in this age of minimalist living I’m being very old fashioned, but I like being able to put a disc on with all the extra features – just like I love real, physical books! And I have a loyalty card at my local independent cinema and I still love going out for dinner and a movie. 

Having said that, I also subscribe to MUBI, which provides 30 films on a strict 30-day rotation. This service is curated to provide independent, foreign language SVOD and it remains my favourite paid subscription for several reasons. Firstly, I never suffer from the usual paralysis of what to watch because everything is only there for 30 days. The films come from all over the world and have given me a chance to delve into cinema I would never have thought of looking at – thinking of directors like Ruth Beckermann, Ciro Guerra and Krzysztof Zanussi as well as favourites like Peter Strickland, Agnes Varda and Ben Wheatley – it’s great for broadening your mind and getting away from the somewhat generic fare on offer through the major services. But when I’m looking for something less demanding, I go to TUBI. There’s a little of everything but it ranges from fairly good to absolute trash movies and television. The horror section is particularly worth sifting through and the bonus is, it’s free. 

So, what’s going to happen with SVOD? I think there’s going to be some casualties along the way. From what I’ve seen so far, I think Stan might fail as they lose content to Disney +, and in turn, they may well struggle to keep subscribers outside of school holiday times when kids require entertainment and I can’t see AppleTV+ keeping up with their initial business model of original content. Unfortunately, a lot of people in Australia simply won’t be able to afford multiple subscriptions and could revert back to pirating content – something we were infamous for in the early seasons of Game of Thrones, which was only available on Foxtel on first release. 

Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching MUBI and SBS On Demand, going to the cinema and dreaming of a day when the Criterion Channel and Shudder are available here in Australia – and spending more time out in the garden or reading books…

So what do you think? Are you a media junkie like me? Are you obsessed with The Crown or Carnival Row? Do you still buy DVDs or Blu-rays? Let me know – I’d like to hear your thoughts too.

And here’s a photo of me and Neko, because he’d far sooner have my complete attention than compete with a screen, even if it’s cat videos!

The Embrace of Now

So, I’m a week past handing in my final project for uni. All things being equal, I should pass and be able to graduate next year. Seriously, I’m too tired to cheer, and I’m still not sure if I want to travel up to Queensland for a couple of days, dress up in a funny gown and hat just so someone can hand me a piece of paper. Having said that, it would be nice to meet a few people in person, some tutors that were outstanding and some fellow students who’ve become online friends.

I uploaded a 4000 word research paper concerning villainy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I feel my work only scratched the surface. The last couple of weeks were intense but really, last week spelled the end of six years of online study. It’s been a mammoth undertaking and while I got a lot out of the experience there are some things I would’ve done differently and others I’d rather not have done at all. But that’s part of the study journey and it’s different for all of us. 

Despite what most people think, I only give a reasonable impression of an organised person, and some of my 3rd subjects were very demanding on my time as well as my attention. Combined with too much work, a laptop that kept crashing whenever I opened a pdf, increasing levels of anxiety and depression and rampant insomnia, the last three months have certainly been a struggle. 

But I got there. I did what I could, when I could – and when I couldn’t, I didn’t. 

Sounds so simple when I type it out like that but believe me, it wasn’t. Trust me when I say, I agonised over every single bit of it, but (fingers crossed) it’s done now and the big question looming on the horizon is what’s next?

Who knows? There’s a number of projects starting to take shape, some of them more realistic and better formed than others. But rest assured, it’ll be a ride – and as ever, I’ll stress about the smallest details like I always do. And while I stress, I’ll be holding every moment of it dear, imbuing it with passion, like I always do. 

Meanwhile, today is my birthday. I have a new laptop that I’m still getting used to (another kind of stress), I had the most wonderful dinner cooked for me and the wine was a perfect match. There was cake too that I didn’t make and I watched my favourite Ben Wheatley/Amy Jump movie, Kill List – not for the faint hearted. I should write a movie review about it but not right now. 

Now is for embracing the passion of time off, chilling out and enjoying it for what it is – now. 

Because, as I said to a friend tonight in Italy, now is all we ever have. Let’s enjoy it ❤ 

The new laptop for new projects

 

Sneak Preview ‘Behind the Curtain’

While NSW & parts of Qld are on fire and I’m chipping away at my final project for university, here’s a preview of the latest radio play I’m involved in.
This is the pilot for ‘Behind the Curtain’, a comedy/soap opera that is set in Tasmania but has relevance to any small city. Tons of fun to be part of as an actor but a slick production thanks to the excellent writing by Matt Dean​ and sound effects, production and theme tune by Mike Raine​!

Hope you enjoy it – and please let me know what you think!

I’ll get back to being academic now and see you all in early December, when I hope to be in a position to write regularly for this blog!

Take care lovelies ❤

Ad Astra

Ad Astra (2019)

Directed by James Gray, screenplay by James Gray and Ethan Gross.

I’m in the midst of the madness that is my final undergraduate unit, a special screen studies research project that is quietly driving me to distraction at the moment. So, what better way to distract myself from writing about films than go to the movies!

Ad Astra was just the tonic I needed. Gorgeously shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Director of Photography for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Interstellar and Dunkirk among his many credits), this is a stunningly beautiful film that, in terms of framing and colourisation, owes a tremendous debt to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and narratively to Joseph Conrad’s novella ‘Heart of Darkness’. From the opening, gut turning sequence, this is a visual feast.

In essence, this is a story of men told from an extreme male perspective and women are ethereal and clearly seen through the male gaze (Liv Tyler’s Eve) or pointedly asexual (Ruth Negga’s quietly understated Helen Lantos). The essential conflict here is between fathers and sons, and within Roy. The idea of buttoned up masculinity he inherited from his father is on clear display, and Roy’s ability to compartmentalise his feelings does nothing to help him (or any man) engage with or process the inner demons of his emotional life. The story is narrated throughout by Roy and while it helps at times having that inner voice, I found it strayed into some very on the nose musings, particularly in the last act. This wasn’t helped by some pacing issues in the second act that drew me out of the film in a fairly abrupt way.

Brad Pitt has never been high on my list of preferred actors but I really liked him in this. The sulky restraint he shows here as Roy McBride is reminiscent of his taciturn Jesse James in Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford (2007), still far and away my favourite Pitt vehicle (if you haven’t seen it, just do it – you can thank me later!) But there is no room for Brad to be the grump when there’s the godfather of grouchiness, Tommy Lee Jones to contend with! As Roy’s father, H. Clifford McBride, he just has to glower at the camera and I’m sold.

Despite its fairly obvious flaws this is still an enjoyable watch, and overall, I found it to be a surprisingly immersive film, helped tremendously by the Max Richter score. However, for those of you with a passion for science and particularly physics, try and put your knowledge on hold – a lot of the science doesn’t hold up to scrutiny – but it’s a fun and at times, quite thrilling ride!

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