In an ode to his own mother, who passed away in 1999, Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, Beginners) continues to make personal cinema that is both stylistic and engaging, aided by an a-list cast at the top of their game.
For reasons unknown, Annette Bening missed out on an Oscar nomination for her beautifully truthful, nuanced performance as Dorothea, an incredibly open-hearted but equally flawed human being who has a knack for picking up stray men and women who end up openly loitering in her grand but modest house. These include Elle Fanning’s Julie, the daughter of a single-parent therapist; Greta Gerwig’s Abbie , who has survived cervical cancer; and Billy Crudup’s William, who lives by the New Age life philosophy of 1979 Southern California where most of the story takes place.
Circling the orbit of these characters is Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), Dorothea’s teenage son who juggles the urges of his loins with the sensitivity he has inherited from his mum.
Each character gets their own chapter, flashing back to key moments in their lives. But it’s not your ordinary flashback, these are flourishes that we’ve come to expect from Mike Mills. If you had to compare Mills’ approach to cinema, it’d be his contemporary Spike Jonze – flashy modern stylistic choices but never at the disservice of character.
A performance piece, if there’s a flaw it’s that the film feels flat at times, and struggles to shift gears during its first two acts. But if you stick with it, there’s plenty of reward in this highly personal film for Mike Mills. And as per the title, it’s ultimately a rumination and an affirmation on the female lifeforce, and its evolution throughout the 20th century, something that is incredibly important to acknowledge now more than ever.
Australian cinema has its fair share of mavericks. From George Miller to Baz Luhrmann, our country produces filmmakers with big visions and the know-how to pull them off. Add Shane Abbess to that list, with his third feature film cementing his place as a filmmaker who marches to his own beat but still manages to pull off cinema of the highest order.
With Osiris Child, Abbess and co-writer (and composer) Brian Cacchia have concocted the story of a futuristic world where we find pilot Kane Sommerville (Daniel MacPherson) separated from his daughter Indi (Teagan Croft) and forced to track her down after the powers that be decide to unleash a true monster into the world. On his treacherous journey through a post-apocalyptic landscape Kane is joined initially by ex-convict Sy Lombrok (Kellan Lutz) and then methed-up kissing cousins Gyp (Isabel Lucas) and Bill (Luke Ford). These anti-heroes are up against the authorities led by General Lynex (Rachel Griffiths) and jail warden Mourdain (Temuera Morrison) who are messing with science to produce the ultimate killing machine.
Like his previous films (2007’s Gabriel and 2015’s Infini), this heightened world is grounded by a cast giving it 110%, which makes the drama and thrills compelling. Yes, this is a fantastic futuristic world but at its core are relationships and human connections. All of the cast are electric, with Lutz and MacPherson proving great leading men, and at the time 11-year-old Teagan Croft a genuine discovery, radiating innocence and experience beyond her years in different sections of the film.
There’s also a lot of well put-together action and seamless effects that rivals anything that Hollywood (and ILM to be precise) has to offer. This film is a real step-up for Abbess in terms of budget and scope, and he really delivers. The set pieces – and there are many – are directed adroitly, and should see Abbess on a short list for the next sci-fi franchise.
Unfortunately, as much as Abbess should be commended for taking on such an ambitious endeavour, it is also his downfall. The narrative ultimately proves unwieldly – divided into multiple chapters, going back and forth in time to tell the whole story, the whole doesn’t quite come together in the end. The father/daughter relationship at the story’s core isn’t as emotional as it could have been, mainly because the daughter is missing for too much of the film; and the introduction of Gyp and Bill halfway through the narrative is jarring – it’s as if they’ve stepped in from a different movie. And, although on paper the denouement is a classic one, it doesn’t quite land. Most disappointing, the monsters, which were created with real effects are not especially convincing compared to the slick CGI seen throughout the rest of the film. The faults really come down to the vision being much bigger than the budget. In previous films, Abbess has managed to transcend limitations with an energy and intensity that drives an essentially simple story, but here his universe is much bigger (in fact it’s even bigger than that – check out the title – with the hope that this is just the origin story of a far bigger franchise) and far harder to hide behind filmmaking tricks.
Criticism aside, The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One is an eye-opener for what’s possible in Australian cinema when you have a maverick with filmmaking chops driving it. Shane Abbess has used much of his core crew and supporting ensemble from his beginnings, and they have grown with him. You get the sense that this is only the beginning of a very exciting filmography and potentially a kickstarter for a genre filmmaking movement in Australia.