There’s something very odd about the opening scenes in Shutter Island and it takes the entire film for you to put your finger on it. Shots don’t match between cuts, there’s a stilted quality to the dialogue (too much exposition for a Martin Scorsese movie) and the pacing is off. For a while I found myself wondering whether Marty had lost the immense influence of his great editor Thelma Schoonmaker, but there she is, still in the credits, as she has been for Scorsese since Raging Bull.
Several years ago, Scorsese played a practical joke on me (personally, it felt like at the time) when an entire reel of The Aviator was treated to look like faded 1930s Technicolor – I went to the Embassy counter to complain and felt very sheepish to be told by Oscar, the projectionist, that the director meant it that way. So, this time around I decided to trust the maestro and roll with the strangeness and was rewarded with one of the best (and cleverest) psychological thrillers in many a year.
Films like Kenny are usually called “mockumentaries” for two reasons: they appear to be documentaries but they’re not really and (in films like Spinal Tap and TV’s “The Office”) they usually “mock” their subjects. This is different.
In a delightful first feature by the Jacobson Brothers, porta-loo plumber Kenny Smyth is a paragon of a man: he loves his family; takes pride in his job; and finds the bright side of situations that would force most of us to jump head first in to a bath of deoderant. The film follows our hero (played to perfection by Shane Jacobson) through a few weeks of an event-filled Melbourne spring, culminating in the big one: over 125,000 people at the Melbourne Cup. While he performs his (literally) thankless tasks, Kenny stoically puts up with an unreliable ex-wife, a co-worker with diarrhoea (of the verbal kind) and a father who is one of the great screen monsters of all time (played with an admirable absence of vanity by the real Jacobson pere, Ronald).
Kenny is a philosopher-plumber, a bard of the bathroom, and has that mastery of the vernacular that Australians seem to excel at: “Mate, there’s a smell in here that will outlast religion!” is my favourite but there’s plenty more.
Kenny is my number one film of the year and the funniest Australian picture since The Castle. Highly recommended to anyone who has ever taken a dump (or had a Henry-Pissinger).
2006 is the Year Of The Veteran and following Clint Eastwood’s outstanding Flags of Our Fathers we now have an Australian salute to the men who served in the Pacific in WWII. Kokoda is the story of the Australians in Papua New Guinea in 1942, when they really were the last line of defence between the Japanese and the mainland and it is a tremendous example of efficient and atmospheric story-telling.
The film benefits from a lack of familiar faces as unnecessary star power doesn’t get between us and the characters, though lead Jack Finsterer has a bit of the young Mel Gibson about him. I’m not convinced that every Australian soldier in the Pacific had NIDA cheekbones and gym-bunny pecs but that’s a minor quibble for a film that convincingly hits so many other marks. Even more remarkably, the film was made over a two year period by a group of 2004-vintage graduates of the Australian Film, TV and Radio School but it would be a great achievement by anyone, even a grizzled old veteran like Eastwood.
Finally, Ridley Scott re-unites with Strathmore’s finest, Russell Crowe, for A Good Year, a bosom-obsessed throwaway about a self-involved financial trader who inherits a broken-down château and vineyard owned by his Uncle (Albert Finney). All involved seem to have spent the entire project with one eye on knocking-off time and why not if you’re surrounded by red wine in Provence in Summer? Australian one-hit-wonder AbbyAbbie Cornish plays a beautiful Californian wine-expert who may be Uncle Henry’s illegitimate … sorry, I’ve lost you, haven’t I? A Good Year is about three months too long but it’s a Russell Crowe film and, by definition, they have to be epic these days no matter how slender the idea.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 15 November, 2006.