Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Communications and Media, University of Notre Dame Australia
At a time when it feels like it can be impossible to keep up with all the different streaming platforms – both in time and in money – the appearance of a new platform that breaks through the noise is something remarkable.
Three of our critics’ picks this month aren’t brand-new releases, but they are new to streaming on Brollie, the new platform from Umbrella Films.
Brollie is advertising supported, and so free to watch, and has an emphasis on classic Australian cinema – great to see if that one film you’ve always wanted to see, but found hard to find, has come to streaming at last.
Alongside these classics, we have an extended version of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, a new twist on Oliver Twist and a couple of psychological dramas dropping week by week – exactly the suspense you need to steer yourself into summer.
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I’ve discovered so many obscure gems alongside well-known classics on Brollie, and the platform’s horror collection is next level.
My pick of the bunch this month is early-’80s Australian feminist thriller Shame, starring a young Deborra-Lee Furness as motorbike-riding, ass-kicking barrister Asta Cadell. On holiday touring rural Australia on her bike, Asta becomes stranded in a small town after a road accident.
It soon becomes clear there’s a pack of gang rapists terrorising the women of the town, and Asta uses her status as an outsider and barrister to help the women fight back. Furness won Best Actress at the Seattle International Film Festival and Film Critics Circle of Australia for her role as Asta.
A scene of Furness entering a pub full of gawking locals echoes Australian Gothic classic Wake in Fright, and the film creates a similar sense of alienation and isolation in the bush setting. But Shame is firmly rooted in second-wave feminist ideas. It shows violence as systemic and creates a heroic narrative of fighting back.
Asta is an original Aussie “shero” and watching her turn the tables on the violent larrikins is pure joy.
– Emma Maguire
After the Party
After the Party is a morally complex psychological drama about accusations, abuse and accountability that’s quickly become appointment viewing.
Robyn Malcolm is incendiary as Penny, a prickly high school biology teacher who opens the series by giving the boys in her class a frank lecture about the porn she’s finding on their phones. Shots fired.
Five years ago, at a boozy party, she publicly accused her husband Phil (Peter Mullan) – rightly? wrongly? – of a sex crime against a friend of their teenage daughter. This torpedoed their lives and lost Phil his teaching job, but also exposed the extent to which charismatic men will be given the benefit of the doubt, while women who persistently transgress behavioural norms will instead be punished.
Now Phil is back in town, as charming as ever, sliding back into his roles as teacher and father. Penny’s not letting it go as she pedals furiously around windy, moody Wellington, trying to get anyone to listen to her, no matter the cost. Tense flashbacks and unsettling shifting perspectives slowly flesh out the show’s queasy core, offering a nuanced account of trauma, denial and memory.
This exceptional show has been developed in conjunction with the NZ Film Commission with a strong local voice but international distribution in mind. Global viewers with a love of difficult women have something to seriously look forward to.
– Erin Harrington
Brollie, Netflix, SBS OnDemand
Love Serenade is one of my favourite Australian films. Why? It is funny, subversive and made by one of the nation’s most talented, but under-recognised writer directors, the late Shirley Barrett. It has an epic soundtrack, with the likes of Barry White and Dionne Warwick, and it speaks to my adolescent, female self.
When the film was released in 1996, the press revealed that Barrett got the idea from reading her teenage diaries. She realised she had a weakness for the archetypal cad. While the film’s central character, Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov), is an amalgam of the men who did her wrong, she said she based the character on a relationship she had with a teacher shortly after she left school. With hindsight, he was a sleaze!
The film’s story involves the cad (Ken Sherry) arriving in an Australian outback town to take up the role of DJ at the local radio station. He promptly seduces his neighbours – two lonely, glory-box-wielding, romance-addicted sisters.
The film has a lot of gags about fish, and the central characters, Dimity (Miranda Otto) and Vicki-Ann (Rebecca Frith), are totally hooked by the new DJ. On the radio he plays love songs and reads the kind of platitudes that you find embroidered on cushions: “If you love something, set it free”.
And they both fall for him … until he turns into a fish!
– Lisa French
Murder at the End of the World
Four episodes of Murder at the End of the World have dropped on Disney+ and the show is an intriguing watch so far. Co-created by The OA’s Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, the thriller has clear influences from the pair’s love of science fiction and Scandi noir.
Darby Hart (Emma Corrin) is a hacker enthusiast and author of a hugely successful debut true-crime novel that details her efforts in tracking down a serial killer with former boyfriend Bill (Harris Dickinson). Handpicked along with other creatives and leaders in technology to discuss contemporary issues that threaten our future, she has been invited to schmooze with billionaire “king of tech” Andy Ronson (Clive Owen) and his legendary coder wife Lee (Brit Marling) at an isolated Icelandic getaway.
To Darcy’s dismay, this ensemble of hugely successful guests includes Bill, now a famous artist who goes by the pseudonym FANGS.
Darby feels out of place at this gathering and her only companion she can confide in seems to be Ray (Edoardo Ballerini), Andy’s holographic digital assistant. When a guest is found dead, Darby is the only one who believes a murder has been committed.
This series is a fantastic twist on the closed-circle whodunnit, where a murder is committed by someone from an ensemble of idiosyncratic characters at an isolated, grand house. Batmanglij and Marling use these narrative devices to explore the terrifying influence that technology and climate change have on society and our future.
The Artful Dodger
It is 15 years after the end of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and the Dodger – Jack Dawkins (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) – is in a fictional Australian town where he’s turned his pickpocket’s dexterity to the purpose of surgery.
Jack has fallen into an enormous gambling debt to a local crook (Tim Minchin), who is threatening to collect by taking off one of his precious hands.
At the same time, Fagin (David Thewlis) arrives in town on a convict ship. Thrown into the mix in a meet-cute that takes place over a heinous compound fracture is the Lady Belle Fox (Maia Mitchell), who intends on becoming the colony’s first female surgeon.
Playing up the spectacle, speed and savagery of surgery before anaesthesia and antibiotics, The Artful Dodger presents its public operations as something between pantomime and blood sport. But despite all the viscera and violence, it refuses to double down on Dickensian misery, largely playing its most gruesome elements for laughs.
Taking notes from the recent success of pop period dramas like Bridgerton, the new adaptation is loud, energetic and refreshingly bright. The series slices and amputates and stitches Dickens back together with a welcome revisionism.
If the result is a little uneven, it works well enough. As Victorian surgeons knew, sometimes you have to be brutal to keep things alive.
– Megan Nash
Robert Harmon’s debut 1986 film, The Hitcher, is one of the best “old” films to recently come to streaming services in Australia.
The title tells us everything we need to know. The plot, as with many of the most effective road movies, is stunningly simple – Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) is driving through Texas, en route from Chicago to California. He picks up a hitchhiker, John Ryder (Rutger Hauer), who proceeds to terrorise him, attacking him and framing him for the myriad murders he’s leaving in his wake. Some kind of unexplained symbiotic relationship develops between them, with Ryder egging on Halsey to kill him – if he can.
There are no twists or turns; the whole thing unfolds with the eternal facility of myth amid the well-worn paraphernalia of the American road – diners, cheap motels, gas stations – captured in the stunning cinematography of Australian John Seale and matched perfectly by Mark Isham’s hypnotic electronic score.
Hauer’s delivery as the killer is weirdly ethereal, both poetic and meaningless, with his peculiar focus on Halsey never explained, enhancing the disquieting effect of the whole thing. He seems equally at ease gliding along the twilit, nocturnal roads as in the blistering western sun. There’s no pseudo-psychology or attempts at revealing depth through back story. Ryder is simply a killer incarnate, with virtually no other characteristics, a kind of zero-level embodiment of a serial killer.
The Hitcher is an existentially charged road movie in the tradition of Vanishing Point and Badlands, a perfect nightmare of a film, deftly blending suspense, horror and action, a mesmerising American masterpiece capturing the violence and death underpinning the American Western dream. We drive on the roads, living behind the windscreen, alone, barely human, and death sits beside us.
– Ari Mattes
Baz Luhrmann has reorganised his 2008 165-minute epic feature film Australia into the six-part limited series Faraway Downs, adding deleted scenes, a new musical score, opening titles by Aboriginal artists and the sombre ending he had always wanted.
Despite its popular Hollywood stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, Australia is Luhrmann’s least successful American film both critically and commercially. The dynamics between Kidman and Jackman’s Drover maintain an old-fashioned charm, though the performances are so exaggerated to the point of caricature that their chemistry fails to resonate. But with its visually striking exterior landscapes and continual shifts in locations, Faraway Downs stands out amid the commonplace television aesthetics of people talking in rooms.
The series, seamlessly divided into six chapters of varying lengths, runs around 205 minutes, offering a 40-minute extended exploration on top of the original film.
The pacing and episode breaks seems to work better in this new format rather than the somewhat jarring jumps in genres from the original film. With Luhrmann already talking about giving his previous film, Elvis, a similar long-form treatment, it does make you wonder whether his features are more suited to this format.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
– ref. Classic Aussie cinema and new twists on old classics: our picks of December streaming – https://theconversation.com/classic-aussie-cinema-and-new-twists-on-old-classics-our-picks-of-december-streaming-218707