True History of the Kelly Gang Review

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I don’t think I finished reading Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, and remember feeling a little ashamed about it: I may have found it too cerebral, post-modern, and reliant on previous histories of Australia’s most (in)famous outlaw. But in cinema, post-modern deconstructionist expressionistic anachronistic elliptical storytelling is my jam, and Justin Kurzel’s fourth feature is full of it. This is a feast for the senses, a gloriously indulgent examination of myth-making, storytelling and the essence of Kelly’s Australia, which was a battleground between civilisation and savagery.

George MacKay (again George MacKay! He’s having a week) plays Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly, and man he is good. Donning a very acceptable Australian accent, his Kelly is forged in the bosom of his mother (Essie Davis), and it is for her he fights and dies. He pitches Ned’s intelligence, and particularly emotional intelligence (would that be wisdom?) at a very specific level; although he gets to punkishly howl at the moon and rev up his gang like a football hooligan, it’s actually a very deliberate and well-thought-through performance. Davis is superb, as is Nicholas Hoult as the creepy Constable Fitzpatrick. But this is a director’s film, an auteur’s film, and Kurzel, along with Jennifer Kent, is one of Australia’s great young auteurs. They are both fearless.

The Nice Guys

 

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*** (out of five)

Shane Black keeps writing the same movie over and over, but he’s very good at it. Indeed, no-one writes Shane Black movies as well as Shane Black does. The considerable charm of his latest, The Nice Guys, is that – while set in the ’70s – it gives you the warm fuzzy feeling of 1987, and specifically, the first time you saw Black’s magnum opus (as a screenwriter), Lethal Weapon.

Black directs in – channels – the style of late ’80s Hollywood big-studio product: everything – the shots, the editing, the music cues, the lighting – reminds you of the filmmaking of that period, Black’s golden era. It’s strange, as though he studied Richard Donner’s direction of Lethal Weapon as his own film school. Which, I guess, he kind of did.

This time around, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe play Black’s two mismatched wild cards. Gosling’s a boozy private dick, Crowe a lumbering (read: very overweight) literal hit-man, in that he hits people you pay him to hit, usually as a quick sucker punch as the target opens their door. Neither are sterling citizens, but they suit the milieu, which is LA at its smoggiest.

That smog is a great detail but also becomes central to the plot – which is surprisingly tight, and which makes up for the lack of actual jokes. After a while, when you’ve given up on laughing out loud, you start smiling for those old-fashioned reasons: you’re enjoying the characters and the scrape they find themselves in.

Obviously a film of this scale can’t be shot in sequence, but it feels like it was, because Crowe and Gosling’s chemistry really does develop and grow over the course of the film. Gosling does some juicy physical comedy including a fair amount of decent drunk acting. Crowe unfortunately reaches for laughs that aren’t there; he should’ve played it straight and mean. He also looks not tough but unhealthy, puffy and doughy. It works for the character, I suppose, but I was worried for the man.

Not half as much as I was worried for Kim Basinger. The Oscar winner (for LA Confidential, opposite Crowe) gives a performance so inept I couldn’t help but wonder if she was extremely drunk the entire shoot. She also looks hideous, in the way that only bad facial surgery makes one look hideous. I have no idea why she wasn’t sent home and her role re-cast on day one, as it is highly apparent she was in no state to work.

Black may be a one-trick pony, but that pony is still cute, and I enjoyed the ride. The ending is a blatant set-up for a sequel; I’ll be there.

Cecil B. DeLighted

NOAH **

noahMy initial hesitation about Noah was the source material. Amidst a lot of silly stories in the bible, that of Noah is one of the silliest. If you don’t agree it’s probably time you read it again: it’s Genesis 5:32 – 10:1.

That’s a short passage in biblical terms, and writer / director Darren Aronofsky has made a long movie in modern terms, though not in terms of the history of biblical movies, which have traditionally been long (The Ten Commandments started at 1pm on most Sundays of my youth, and never finished until about seven the next morning; it was always a pain to try and watch only the Red Sea parting, which was the only reason to try and watch the film).

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS... the one bit that's any good.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS… the one bit that’s any good.

I would never have gone, therefore, to Noah, were it not for Aronofsky. Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan are both in my personal Top 50 of All Time, so he’s a director that I’ll always see. But boy, was I reticent. I didn’t even see The Passion of the Christ, and that was meant to be out there. Why would I see the dumb bible on-screen? But I did.

Aronofsky lets you know from the get-go that he’s going to show you “a story”. Using big CGI monsters (“The Watchers”, which are to stone what those big tree-men in The Lord of The Rings were to bark), sped-up film, silhouette, overexposure, obvious green-screen, a narrated, cartoonish prologue and a hundred and one other tricks, this artful director lets you in on his artifice. We’re not trying to be real here, he sees to be saying. This is just a fun story. As such, it plays not dissimilar to an animated feature.

noahs-beaver-problemMy big problem is I never care in animated features, and I found it impossible to care here, because the story is so – well, silly – and the characters are also – well, silly – lumbered with dialogue that’s really silly. As the extremely dull (and confusing!) set-up droned on, complete with long-white-haired-and-bald Anthony Hopkins havin’ a cuppa tea with Russ, it became obvious that caring for anything happening was never going to happen, at least for me.

Perhaps if I was a true believer – a literalist – it might have helped. The problems of old-school bible movies unfortunately are here in abundance. Just like that parting of the red sea, the flood is the only good bit here, and that’s the bit you’ll be waiting for when Noah plays on the telly for eons to come.

Oh, and Big Russ? He’s fine. He’s got Charlton Heston lines and he does what Charlton Heston would do: speak gravely and deeply, look very concerned, and squint.Noah_Russell_Crowe