Aussie Rules: Five Outback classics while we wait for Goldstone

Native Son: Aaron Pederson plays detective Jay Swan in Ivan Sven's outback noir, Goldstone.
Native Son: Aaron Pederson plays damaged detective Jay Swan, in Ivan Sen’s forthcoming outback noir, Goldstone.

Boiling hot, dry as a bone, massive. It’ll kill you if you forget your water bottle.

The Outback is back big style in Goldstone, Ivan Sen’s taught follow-up to his highly praised 2013 thriller, Mystery Road.

Aron Pederson returns as Aboriginal detective Jay Swan, more damaged and conflicted than before and pissed as a skunk, this time butting heads with Exorcist-eyed Jacki Weaver, the scariest woman in Australian cinema (see Animal Kingdom to get a measure of the threat she can radiate with just a glance).

The Outback’s the Star

But as admirable as the performances are in writer/director/cinematographer/ editor/scorer (yes, he’s a bloody genius!) Sen’s brooding slice of ‘Outback Noir’, arguably as big a star in the action is the arid, continental expanse of rock and dust that makes up 70 per cent of the Oz land mass.

And only 3 per cent of the population live there. So some pretty dark stuff can go on beyond the bush and who’d know about it?

Any road, while we’re waiting for Goldstone to swelter its way into theatres, here are five more flicks from Down Under where the Outback’s as big a player as the players.

Wake in Fright (Ted Kocheff, 1971)

The title refers to that frozen jump awake you make the morning after yet another heavy night on the lash, only to remember with creeping dread all the soul-evisceratingly contemptible things you did the night before.

Young teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) plies his trade in a one-horse school in a two-shack hole in the parched middle of nowhere. He heads out on holiday with plans never to return, but first he must survive a night in ‘The Yabba’, a god-forsaken mining town and site of his morning flight to Sydney and sanity.

But when he loses all his cash in a bet, The Yabba sucks him mercilessly into a drink-fueled Kafkaesque nightmare.

‘WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT THE YABBA?’ incredulously roar the brutes that pour endless grog down Grant’s neck, as his moral compass collapses in front of his bloodshot eyes. (Donald Pleasance in premium whacko form gets a special mention as the town’s degenerate, alcoholic medic.)

Warning: If you have a special fondness for kangaroos, or any feelings at all about kangaroos, DO NOT watch this film.

Walkabout (Nic Roeg, 1971)

Dads, this is what happens to your kids if you drive them out to the outback for a picnic, then go mad and shoot yourself and leave the little blighters stranded. In Nic Roeg’s kaleidoscopic childhood adventure though, the kids do pretty well, considering.

Here, the outback, rather than being portrayed as simply scorched and inert, seems to throb with life and possibility. And once legendary David Gulpilil turns up to help the kids with the basics, digging down to water and catching them food, well, they’ve got no worries.

We watched this as a family and my kids loved it. There’s clearly something appealing to them about the idea of being left to their own devices on a desert PGL holiday – even if your dad does have to blow his head off to facilitate the experience.

Mystery Road (Ivan Sen, 2013)

Despite the maxed-out temperatures, Sen’s 2013 desert tale of corruption, murder, racism, drugs and social disintegration is as cool as its central character, indigenous rookie murder cop, Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson).

Nobody says much because everyone has secrets and they all seem so flamin’ weary of the whole situation, but the tension is always a scratch away under the scorched surface and builds inexorably towards a scoped-rifle desert shoot-out which delivers entirely justified genre thrills in spades. 

Throw in a tight-lipped performance from leather-faced Tony Barry as Jay’s racist superior, Sarge, and you have an archetypal link back to Chips Rafferty’s flat-faced turn as The Yabba’s phlegmatic Seargant Jock Crawford in Wake in Fright. Scarey.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliot, 1994)

The road, the Outback, a coach and three drag queens who look like a trio of Las Vegas flamingos on acid.

‘Limey’ Terrance Stamp, Hugo Weaving in non-menacing mode and Guy Pearce way before he lost his memory, prove the outback’s not all about desiccation, roo hunts and death; there are sensitive types out there too. Go ahead, sing it – ‘Finally, you came along…’

Rabbit Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, 2002)

The Outback is a place to hide, a home, an expanse to escape into and offer asylum rather than to dread, in this heartbreaker of a movie.

Aussie screen stalwart David Gulpilil is back again, this time as aboriginal tracker Moodoo, who skillful as he is, fails to catch the three escaped ‘half-caste’ girls as they trek 1,500 miles along the outback’s rabbit proof fence, on the run from the state’s so-called ‘re-education’ facility for mixed race children.

Visually stunning and a tragic tale of love, loss and the endemic racism that still plagues Australian society, RPF is based on a true story and is a must to watch with the kids, if you haven’t already. In fact it brought tears to our eyes.

Incredibly, the racist policies portrayed in the film were operational until 1970. Bit like the Catholic Church and the Magdalen Laundries, then. Except the last one of those was closed in 1996…


Why not watch Wake in Fright here for £2.50? After all, ‘WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT THE YABBA?’

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Tony Paley’s Five More Films for the Family

‘Like George Foreman channelling Clark Gable’: Rex Ingram as the Djinni in The Thief of Bagdad (Powell, Berger & Whelan, 1940)
‘Like George Foreman channelling Clark Gable’: Rex Ingram as the Djinni in The Thief of Bagdad (Powell, Berger & Whelan, 1940)

Keeping up the ones to watch with the kids theme, this week we have Guardian film blogger (and racing editor), Tony Paley, back with an eclectic bunch of cinematic gems both old and new, to enjoy with the family. Fantasy, sport and screwball – he’s got the bases covered. Take it away Mr Paley…

All of the films I’ve included in the list I’ve seen at the cinema at one time or other. I’ve seen two of the five with my family at home but I would urge anyone getting their children interested in the medium of film to take them to the cinema if at all possible. There’s a qualitative difference to the experience. And children can’t go on their phones, let their mind wander to the same degree or walk out.

The Thief of Bagdad  (Powell, Berger, Whelan, 1940)

I took my eldest to see this wondrous fantasy at the Barbican about a decade ago (he’s 18 now) and introduced his 12-year-old brother to it (at home) last year. The latter told me last week this was now his favourite film of ALL-TIME!

The special effects are clunky, the acting from a bygone age but it has a vibrancy and a genuinely scary edge to it that modern films could learn a lot from. I plan to take the 12-year-old to see it at the cinema the next time it turns up as that is where ideally I want us to see movies – whether he will watch the famous spider sequence is another matter. He hasn’t so far!

The King and the Mockingbird (Grimault, 1980)

The joys of just taking a chance on a film are highlighted by this discovery. This French animation classic was being shown on re-release at the Rio Cinema in Hackney. It was a miserable holiday week and so I thought I would take a chance. Neither of us went expecting much but discovered a proper classic of the genre. Big characters, surreal imagery and life lessons galore. We discussed it for days.

Big Hero 6 (Hall, Williams, 2014)

We also caught this one at The Rio, a cinema which crops up again and again in my life and my movie-going with the family. It’s the local independent cinema where the programming and the atmosphere combine perfectly to induce repeated visits.

This film got some lukewarm reviews. I can’t help think that those critics are stone-hearted as this was one of those movies that truly moved me and my youngest. Reader, I got something in my eye. We sit down and watch it every time it appears on the telly now.

What’s Up Doc? (Bogdanovich, 1972)

I went to see this film twice in one week on release and so sat down with some trepidation to watch it with the family, as this is a movie I love so much that it would have hit me hard had it been rejected.

I needn’t have worried. Essentially, it’s a modern screwball comedy with a silly plot. Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal as the leads might not seem all that appealing on paper but the supporting characters are richly drawn and the various gags mapped out with love for the medium and precision timing. There’s great fun here for movie buffs too, spotting all the references. Plus it has the great Kenneth Mars and the unforgettable Madeline Khan as “THE Eunice Burns”.

Downhill Racer (Ritchie, 1969)

My boys are sports fanatics and this was voted No1 sports film of all-time by the Time Out Film staff. Roger Ebert called it “the best movie ever made about sports—without really being about sports at all.”

I wanted my boys to see it because it contains some of the most exciting shots of any sport in any film but it’s largely about the costs involved with an obsession with sport and the price of success. It’s also bloody gripping, has Robert Redford at the peak of his powers and one of the best film posters of any I know. I saw it at the ABC in Preston back in the day and it’s a film that demands to be seen on the big screen. I can’t wait to see it there again one day.

And that’s Tony Paley’s latest five. Thanks mate. The next instalment in our five to watch with the family series comes from ‘the UK’s foremost guitar-wielding, loop-layering stand-up comedian’ and film blogger, Mr Rob Deering. Watch this space.

(Stuck for something to watch this evening in London? Visit Tony Paley’s blog Capital Celluloid for an up-to-date guide to all the latest, juiciest film screenings in the city.)

Need a lift after Brexit? Five films for the family, subtitles and foreigners included

RIDE ON: Thomas Doret as the troubled Cyril in The Kid With a Bike (Dardenne Brothers, 2011)

THE kids ask two questions when we set up a family film over which they’ve had no say in choosing: ‘Is it from the olden days?’ closely followed by ‘Has it got subtitles?’ 

If the answer to either, especially the latter, is yes, cue groans and sulking. Until the images kick in, that is. Show don’t tell is the mantra of the screenwriter and director, so if the film’s done well and follows that principle, the pictures should yank the kids into the narrative immediately, subtitles or no.

As a family we’ve enjoyed many films which we’d otherwise have missed had we listened to the small people’s whinges. When it comes to subtitles and the family film, use force; cinematic rewards and children’s forgiveness will follow.

Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011)

One to watch together in the wake of ‘our’ decision to pull out of the EU and look inward and away from our neighbours and those who come to us in distress.

Aki Kaurismäki gives us a whimsical tale of the relationship between an ageing and poor shoe shiner, Marcel, and a young African refugee boy, Idrissa, who turns up in a shipping container in the port town and promptly escapes.

Marcel first encounters Idrissa waste-deep in seawater under the town pier and the boy asks him innocently, ‘Is this London?’ to which Marcel points over the water and drolly replies, ‘You want there? The other side.’

Had Kaurismäki made the film following the Euro referendum, perhaps he would have thought again about Marcel’s dialogue. Something more appropriate perhaps, like, ‘You don’t want there. They don’t take too kindly to foreigners on the other side…’

Full of wry humour, the kids will give it a thumbs up.

The Rocket (Kim Mordaunt, 2013)

We got to watch this twice as my daughter, 12, missed the first showing and my son, 10, enjoyed it even more second time around.

A young boy’s village is evacuated by the army to make way for a dam. He heads off on foot with his family in search of safety and a new home and meets a colourful and eccentric bunch of characters on the road, including a whacky and avuncular travelling companion who styles himself as the Laotian James Brown.

The final scenes featuring a giant rocket competition in a remote mountain village, with locals scaling towering, rickety frameworks to spark them off and the boy taking his own chances to prove himself and help his family, was a winner with the kids.

Touching and unpretentious.

The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra, 2013)

There are no kids or animals in this heartwarming tale, but the children were as rapt by the story as by the cultural quirks and differences of life in a busy Indian city. Who knew that home-made lunches are lovingly cooked up by housewives and delivered to office workers across Mumbai via train and bike by a hereditary network of 10,000 ‘Dabbawalas’, meaning ‘one who caries a box’?

When one of these lunch boxes goes to the wrong man an epistolary romance sparks up between the cook and the recipient, with notes sent backwards and forwards in the empty stacked tins. Ours were drawing odds on whether the distant lovers would ever meet.

It’s a wistful love story, to be sure, but it never got too heavy to put off my boy, and that was a success in itself.

The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011)

Abandoned by his dad and living in foster care, the only thing he has left that he loves in the world – his bike – pinched, 12-year-old Cyril is having a lonely and tough time of it.

Luckily for him he’s fostered by a kindly hairdresser who finds his bike for him, moves him into her apartment and tries to link him up with his absent father. But when her plan to reunite them doesn’t pan out the way Cyril had hoped, he veers off the tracks and into the hands of local bad-lad, Wesker.

From then on it’s a tug of war between Samantha’s care and compassion and the easy, cynical camaraderie and rewards of Wesker’s life of street crime.

Can Cyril pull himself back from the brink and make the right choice?

It’s gritty and raw at times but by the end of this Dardenne Brothers classic the children will be cheering for The Kid with a Bike.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop II (Andy Fickman, 2015)

I’m throwing this lemon in just to show we’re not pretentious buggers who only jam obscure foreign films down our children’s necks. Honest.

The kids howled. Watch the trailer. If you laugh and you don’t mind putting yourself through something with Adam Sandler on the production credits, stick it on, then lobotomise yourself and giggle dumbly through the first one as well.

No subtitles required. And no bloody foreigners! Well, no Europeans, anyway.

  • We’ll be back soon with five more family offerings in posts from Guardian film blogger (and racing editor) Mr Tony Paley and comedian and musician Mr Rob Deering. Odds on there’ll be some interesting suggestions on the cards…