Kangaroos are a national icon. They’re a symbolic part of airlines, sports teams, assurances of quality and, sadly, that Kangaroo Jack film. They hold such a place in the nation’s heart, it can be surprising to some, particularly to those overseas, as to how hated they are as well.
Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story is ostensibly about why Skippy stirs up such a dichotomy of emotions. Fighting for the rights of ‘roos are the likes of Mike Pearson, NSW counsellor for the Animal Justice Party, and environmentalist, Tim Flannery. Believing kangaroos to be nothing but pest are farmers and National Party members. Rather than simply being a knockabout talking heads doco allowing both sides to air their praise or grievances, Kangaroo takes a darker route and quickly evolves into something much more political.
Filmmakers Michael McIntyre and Kate McIntyre Clere (Yogawoman) set their sights on the culling of Kangaroos and how, despite a strict federal code, corners are being cut to meet the demand of food and clothes companies here and overseas. The evidence they provide can be alarming and if Wake in Fright’s culling scene stirred something in you, footage of joeys being torn from mothers and dismembered carcasses spread across fields is really going to fire you up. Kangaroo takes an eyes-on-the-ground approach by talking to the likes of a Blue Mountains landowner who has kangaroos being hunted on her grounds without her permission, due to a law that states licensed shooters can access neighbouring property to do so. It’s completely understandable the filmmakers are yearning for a change. And yet, they aren’t without their faults.
The film has already screened in the US and the UK where the response is ruffling feathers with various stakeholders back home. Kangaroo’s intent to stir up conversation is certainly warranted and returning to the testimonies and videos from others, it’s hard to justify a lot of practices being used to meet quotas. However, despite a supposed two-sided debate, Kangaroo can sometimes feel frustratingly one-sided. Those who work in the food industry or have other stakes in kangaroo culling don’t seem to be given that much time to talk when stacked against that given to Pearson and Flannery. Whilst Kangaroo is quick to address these people’s concerns about kangaroos, it doesn’t feel like there’s a place for them to address some of the accusations hurled at them.
This is not to say the overall message of Kangaroo suddenly becomes null and void. It is still a well-made and emotive film. Like the SeaWorld-crucifying documentary, Blackfish, there’s a sobering feeling that comes from watching it. Kangaroo may not change government legislation overnight, but it does throw events that happen at night into broad daylight for all to see. That has to amount to something.
Outside of the British, there is perhaps no group of people prouder of their sense of humour than the Australians. That’s Not My Dog, from director Dean Murphy (Strange Bedfellows), is a monument to that sense of humour, which attempts to celebrate the ancient art of telling a joke.
The plot sees Shane Jacobson, playing himself, putting on a party for his dad, Ron, inviting all his comedian and musical friends over for a night of beer and BBQ. Shane will furbish them all with alcohol, they just need to bring the laughs. Answering the call to party are the likes of Tim Ferguson, Paul Fenech, Jimeoin and even Paul Hogan.
And that is really all there is to That’s Not My Dog. From one liners about North Korea, to much bluer affair regarding sexual relations with camels, this is all just an excuse to let a bunch of real life mates knock back the grog as they tell a bunch of dirty jokes amidst overt product placement that will make you blush.
Yes, the same kind of cynicism can be thrown at The Trip franchise, which sees Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon swanning off around Europe eating food and doing Michael Caine impressions. The difference with Michael Winterbottom’s films is the connective tissue that holds the impressions together, as Coogan and Brydon play heightened versions of themselves trying to get one over each other whilst trying to deny that they’re fast becoming irrelevant in media circles.
That’s Not My Dog attempts something close to meta in a few scenes between Shane and Ron Jacobson as they potently discuss aging and how quickly time can slip through your fingers. But then it’s quickly back to jokes about gynaecologists and the Irish! It’s perhaps Marty Fields and Stephen Hall’s one upmanship battle that works best as a thread through the film, as the two try to outdo each other with some very funny one liners.
For every joke that doesn’t land, there’s one just peeking around the corner that might do the trick. With its cast of known and established comedians, That’s Not My Dog works well as an off-kilter concert film that wants to make you forget about the world for 90 minutes. You can’t hold that kind of sentiment against it, and that’s what some probably call ‘critic proof’.
However, there’s a niggling thought throughout, considering the people on screen, that this could have been more acerbic, more daring. And to be blunt, with the wealth of filmmaking talent out there in Australia vying for attention, this kind of venture is probably best reserved for television than the cinema.
Strolling through social media, you may have recently stumbled across the hashtag #padmanchallenge, which has seen some of Bollywood’s biggest stars proudly posing with sanitary pads. It’s part of a campaign to remove the stigma, and raise awareness, around menstruation hygiene in India, where the Ministry of Health reports 70% of women say they cannot afford to buy sanitary products. The social media movement also ties in with Padman, the latest film from Bollywood director R. Balki, based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the inventor of the low cost sanitary pad.
Akshay Kumar plays Arunachalam, now renamed Lakshi Chauhan for the purposes of this fictional retelling of his life. Recently married to Gayarti (Radhika Apte), the naïve villager Lakshi is alarmed to discover that his wife must stay outside their home during her menstruation. Upon finding that Gayarti uses a dirty rag due to the cost of sanitary products, Lakshi sets about trying to find her a cheaper, more hygienic alternative.
Padman mines a lot of its comedy from Lakshi’s attempts to create the perfect pad, including test-driving his prototypes himself when no one else will. Indeed, a lot of the humour comes from men’s reactions to periods (or ‘the five-day test match’ as one boy calls it) and is not aimed at the women themselves. In turn, Padman doesn’t demonise them for their beliefs, rather it chooses to highlight issues it wants its audience to consider and rethink. This a film that’s aware that things need to change at the top in order to help those at the bottom. When it does put the beliefs, as they are, under the microscope, it does so via Lakshi, who struggles to comprehend why his wife will pay 50 rupees for a blessing at temple, but not for a pack of sanitary pads.
There’s a danger that Lakshi could be played as a preaching saviour to all, but Balki, coupled with Kumar’s charming performance, wisely portrays him as a man whose tenacity needs to be tempered at times. He charges into his wife’s affairs with good intentions, which only makes her and the women around him dig their heels in further. As is pointed out to Lakshi, he is after all a man, and what do men know of such things. As such, Padman also works as a parable about masculinity and how perhaps – shock, horror – men don’t always immediately know everything.
Despite the film’s good intentions, it’s not above criticism. When Lakshi meets his eventual business partner, the progressive urbanite Pari (Sonam Kapoor), the film tries to tease a love triangle out of the situation, which never feels convincing. Like the numerous montages of Lakshi failing to do something, only to eventually get it right, it all feels a bit superfluous and stretches the runtime past where it needs to end.
That said, as far as films with social messages attached to them go, Padman is a joyful piece of work that manages to play lightly with serious subject matter, without ever feeling like it’s trying to patronise its audience. And if it can make at least one person change their habits, that’s got to be a good thing.
Progress may be slow to some, but hope springs eternal that, as a society, we are shifting further in the direction of people being unafraid to identify themselves by whatever gender they wish. Iranian filmmaker Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s film, They, circles around the idea of identity with the centre of her hypothesis being a young 14-year-old teen, J (Rhys Fehrenbacher).
J is currently on hormone blockers in order to give them more time to decide on whether they want to be a boy or a girl. Living with their sister, Lauren (Nicole Coffineau), and her Iranian boyfriend, Araz (Koohyar Hoesseini), whilst their parents are away, J goes from day to day choosing a different gender in order to see where they feel most comfortable. There’s a wonderful inversion of expectations in the beginning as, despite their turmoil, we never see J treated out of hand by those around them.
Ghazvinizadeh’s direction gives J’s days a dreamlike quality, made up as it is of still shots, close-ups and dialogue apparently deliberately re-recorded after the fact. As beautiful as these scenes come across they also, sadly, act as a barrier to J’s world. We never truly feel like we’re being allowed into J’s thoughts and feelings unless they’re vocalising them to their sister in sunkissed fields of long grass. In a sense, that’s perhaps the point. As patient as Lauren and their parents are, they can never truly understand the identity issues the young teen is having.
That said, having made progress laying out J’s day to day routine, Ghazvinizadeh makes the mistake of pushing them into the shadows of their own tale when Araz’s relatives arrive for a meal. This B-plot,which sees Araz’s family fighting, laughing and dancing to the bemusement of Lauren goes nowhere. Whilst we can draw a line from J’s life experience to Araz’s, in that the latter wishes to be American, but yearns for home, it effectively blocks out the young lead’s story and never really recovers its pacing.
And it really is a shame to lose sight of J, as Fehrenbacher – who identifies closely in real life with J – stands heads and shoulders above his co-stars. His performance is so haunting and detailed he steals every scene he’s in. Overall, Ghazvinizadeh’s They is a well-meaning piece of work that suffers from an unfocused story.
In the second feature from filmmaker Donna McRae (Johnny Ghost), Lucy, a young woman played by Adele Perovic, spends time roaming through the woodlands, her red jacket in sharp contrast to the greenery that surrounds her. It would be a postcard moment of peace and harmony, if it weren’t for the isolation that underscores this scene and several others. Lucy is in hiding, sheltered in a cottage set up by her sister. And whilst she waits it out till she can go back home, an unseen presence within the cottage is trying to reach out to her.
Ostensibly a gothic-tinged Aussie ghost story, Lost Gully Road’s simple premise is one from which the director, along with her co-writer Michael Vale, manage to explore a less supernatural societal issue; attitudes towards women. It’s not just the presence that haunts Lucy which appears to have unclear boundaries of acceptable behaviour. From the minute Lucy arrives at her temporary home, she comes under scrutiny from those she meets; particularly the local shopkeeper Brian (John Brumpton), who makes a simple transaction into something more salacious. Much is made of Lucy’s mental health and whether what’s happening to her is part of that illness. Rather craftily, by doing so, the film makes the audience complicit to some extent in Lucy’s treatment by making them question what’s truly happening to her.
All of the above gestates in a slow burner of a tale that doesn’t feel rushed to get to where it’s going. Some may find the pace too languid for their tastes when it comes to things that go bump in the night. However, spending so much time with Lucy as her days of isolation blur into one, gives the film a dark brooding sense of fear. Like the everyday micro-aggressions that can wear out a person, it’s not Lost Gully Road’s shocking and brutal ending that does the most damage, it’s being witness to the small things that led us there.