Tag: peter weir

MOVIE REVIEW | Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Master and Commander

“Right lads, now, I know there’s not a faint heart among you, and I know you’re as anxious as I am to get into close action. But we must bring them right up beside us before we spring this trap. That will test our nerve, and discipline will count just as much as courage.”

Russell Crowe must be one of the biggest residual movie stars in Hollywood today. He hasn’t had a big hit with him at the centre in a long, long time. But he still seems to be regarded as an A-lister. That was the first thing that came to mind when I realised that Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was made in 2003, more than a decade ago. Because from what I remember, this thing died in the ass. As have most of Rusty’s big budget outings ever since. But he keeps on getting parts. And kind of like Rusty himself, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is unfairly overlooked by the film going audience.

It’s 1805, Napoleon’s running rampant across Europe and the British naval fleet is about the only thing that’s been able to resist his aggressions. His short man, feelings of inferiority fuelled aggressions. Off the coast of Brazil, Capt. Jack Aubrey (Crowe) is captaining the HMS Surprise. Also on board is the ship’s doctor, botanist, and Jack’s bestie, Paul Bettany as Dr Stephen Maturin. Soon under a sneak attack from, and badly damaged by, a rogue French ship, Jack’s quick thinking affords them a narrow escape into the fog, and Jack’s obsession for revenge is ignited. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AUSSIE WEEK*** Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

After auspicious beginnings at the turn of the twentieth century, the Australian film industry had all but disappeared by the 1920s.  But half a century later, a renaissance occurred with the Australian New Wave of cinema.  Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock marked the arrival of possibly Australia’s most successful film maker, and the prestige picture of the Aussie new wave.

It’s the dawn of the 20th century, and the students of Appleyard College, a prestigious all girls school, are taking an excursion to the titular rock.  Miles from any civilization, the girls and their teachers picnic in the bush land around the rock before taking a nap in the blistering Australian sun.  When they wake, three girls and one teacher have disappeared.  Soon, the entire town is consumed by the search for these missing women.

While it tells the story of the disappearance of several school girls and their teacher, and how those left behind react, it’s more a story about the struggle of colonial Australians, stubbornly trying to bend the land to their way of life.  Their new, but ancient home, is epitomised by the titular rock and the bush land surrounding it, while in constant contrast with the people and their old world ways.  This is seen in the opening shot, starting on the unrelenting outback, the camera then pans to show the girl’s private school, an oasis of European elegance.

The way Weir frames the rock, almost always from a low angle, means it’s constantly intimidating the characters.  When shot from above, it’s to highlight the labyrinth of caves, crevices and corridors that will eventually swallow two girls and their teacher forever.

In Picnic at Hanging Rock, the sun and heat encourage the afternoon nap and complacency of the teachers.  The sun and heat are implied to play their own roll in the hypnotising of the girls by the rock.  And the sun and heat propel the ever increasing distress of the search party who, recognising their own exhaustion, come to believe there’s no way the girls could ever survive past the first day or two.

Weir goes to great lengths to show how out of place the old, European ways are in this new land.  Before the girls leave for their picnic, they are shown in the safety of Appleyards School.  Graciously appointed, it is a spec of elegance in this mass of outback.  When the girls arrive at the rock, their foreign intrusion is announced by a flock of rosellas taking flight and the beginning of an almost constant buzz of insect sounds that will fill the rest of the movie whenever in the elements.  Later, the coach driver and head mistress both notice their watches have stopped while at the rock, almost as if these modern gadgets are no match for nature.

More than just naturally dangerous, Picnic At Hanging Rock gives the rock, and by extension, the outback surrounding it, almost super natural powers as well.  There’s a clear distinction between those who represent the struggle to fit the square peg of European culture into the round hole of Australia, and those who are adapting, or have adapted to, what is more recognisable as an Australian today.  All the while reiterating just how Australian the story is with the unrelenting encroachment of the outback and bush with every shot.

Weir’s efforts to make the Australianess almost a sensory overload, combined with a national identity so heavily based on colonialisation give the outback that much more power and Picnic at Hanging Rock it’s real power as a compelling, haunting mystery.

Picnic at Hanging Rock
Directed By – Pete Weir
Written By – Cliff Green

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AUSSIE WEEK*** Gallipoli (1981)

As an Australian, I almost feel like it’s unpatriotic for me to have lived this long without seeing this movie.  Things don’t get more Aussie than this.  It’s the most well known and renowned story in our country’s military history.  It was directed by Peter Weir, possibly our most prestigious film maker.  And it stars Mel Gibson, who until he was revealed as a racist, misogynistic asshole, was Australia’s brightest shining star in Hollywood.  I don’t know how or why it’s taken this long, but I’ve finally seen Gallipoli.

I don’t want to talk this movie up too much or over sell it, but I think Gallipoli might be as close to a perfect film as you’re ever gonna see.  Now that I’ve put that out there, let’s see if I can justify such a big call.

Opening in the Western Australia desert of 1915, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) is training as a sprinter with his uncle.  He works on his father’s cattle station, but has two dreams.  To be the fastest runner in Australia, and to join the army to do his part during WWI.  At his first race meet, he takes on, and beats, Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), a cocky and arrogant ex-railway worker.  Archy uses this time away from the family farm to run away and enlist, and he convinces Frank to come with him.

Lying about his age and impressing with his horsemanship, Archy joins the fabled Light Horse, the hoity toity of the Australian army.  While Frank has to accept his role at the bottom, as an infantryman.  Soon, both are off to Egypt where the Australian troops are training for the real battle, Gallipoli.

Here’s something that might surprise you about a movie called Gallipoli, the first hour all takes place in Australia.  Then, there’s half an hour or so of Egypt  shenanigans.  They don’t even get to Gallipoli until about the last 20 minutes.  That’s not a criticism, it was just unexpected.  Actually, if anything, it made the movie even better, because it went against every preconception I had before watching and surprised me the whole way.

But I’m actually glad the Gallipoli sequence takes up such a small part of the movie, because I don’t know if I could have handled much more.  You know that bit in Forest Gump when he arrives to fight in the Vietnam War and it’s just a big party, then it turns into the horrors of war?  Well, in Gallipoli, when Archy and Frank get to the titular beach, it’s both happening at once.  Soldiers casually swim in the ocean, happily take bets on who’ll get injured and basically just hang out with their mates, while artillery constantly lands at their feet.  It all makes for a really effective intensity that makes the last parts of this movie hard to watch in the best possible, most compelling way.

Peter Weir has a great visual style, a shot of silhouetted soldiers climbing the pyramids at sunset is amazing.  And the introduction to the Egyptian sequence is even better, Australian soldiers playing Aussie Rules footy at the base of the great pyramids.  I don’t know how historically accurate it is that they trained under the shadow of the Sphinx, but it makes for a great looking movie.

Above, I said that Gallipoli is close to a perfect movie.  For me, there are only two instances that make it lose marks, and they both involve the same piece of musical score.   Amongst this period perfect and accurate looking, sounding, feeling movie, there are two occurrences when Weir decides to use the worst, most clichéd, cheap sounding 80s synth music you have ever heard.  It sounds like a rejected score from a John Carpenter movie.  And both times, it really took me out of the story.

Obviously, it probably gets an advantage by being so fresh in my mind, but right now, I can’t think of a better Australian movie than Gallipoli.  Mark Lee and Mel Gibson both nail it, and Bill Hunter pops up towards the end to be awesome too.  Even if I’m wrong about this being the best Australian movie ever made, I have to assume whatever the best one is, Bill Hunter is in it.

Directed By – Peter Weir
Written By – David Williamson