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Brothers’ Nest (Sydney Film Festival)

Australian, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Brothers’ Nest sees filmmaking siblings Shane and Clayton Jacobson reunite for the first time since the world-beating 2006 comedy, Kenny.

But this ain’t Kenny.

Anyone expecting a redux of that amiable toilet-themed flick is in for the shock of their lives. Brothers’ Nest is a pitch black noir-of-errors that could just about be termed a black comedy if you squint a bit. Comparisons have been made with the Coen brothers’ oeuvre, but Brothers’ Nest sits at the Blood Simple end of the spectrum there, rather than anywhere near Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski. It’s grim business.

We meet our protagonists, elder brother Jason (Clayton Jacobson) and the slightly younger Terry (Shane Jacobson) as they ride bicycles through the pre-dawn light toward their remote, rural Victorian family home. Their mission: fake the suicide of their stepfather, Rodger (Kim Gyngell), and so ensure they inherit the house from their dying mother (Lynette Curran). They have all day to prepare for the murder before Rodger arrives. Jason has a checklist. Terry has serious doubts.

We spend a lot of time with Terry and Jason in their childhood home as they both lay the groundwork for their homicide and excavate their shared past, and by the time Rodger shows up we’ve got an intimate awareness of the dynamic that exists between these three men thanks to the deft script by Jaime Browne (The Mule). For all its closely observed character work, Brothers’ Nest still holds plenty of surprises, though – not the least of which is the odd burst of genuinely shocking violence.

It’s not gratuitous, though – the film is clever enough to know that meaningless violence has less impact than meaningful violence – horrible acts committed for awful but understandable reasons. The spurting claret is just one facet – the real horror comes in witnessing how these people, who know each other so intimately, turn on themselves.

Director Clayton Jacobson captures it all in an austere, chilly style that perfectly complements Jaime Browne’s writing. The overall mood is one of subtle but palpable transgression – the notion of committing a cold-blooded murder in one’s family home is an unsettling one. Effectively, Jason and Terry are strangers in their own lives, prowling past mementos and childhood artifacts in disposable coveralls while they discuss the quickest, kindest way to kill someone they’ve known since they were kids, and seeing these interchanges play out between the avuncular, all-Aussie Jacobson boys is at times deeply disquieting. The pair both turn in excellent performances, especially Shane as the increasingly conflicted Terry.

Brothers’ Nest is a prickly affair that delights in leaving the viewer off centre. It’s not quite in the same league as, say, The Interview, but it’s certainly adjacent to that singular Australian classic, both in tone and intent. That also means it’s going to be far too misanthropic for many, but if you’re open to its acidic charms, it’s one for the books.

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Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

After a load of off prawns ruins his weekly backyard barbecue and video of the resultant gastro epidemic goes viral, disgraced suburban grillmaster Dazza (Shane Jacobson) must reclaim his mantle by winning an international barbecue competition. He learns at the knee of meat expert The Butcher (Magda Szubanski + Scottish accent), but can his native skills plus his newly learned edge help him beat out the international competition, chief among them arrogant French chef Andre Mont Blanc (TV chef Manu Feildel)?

Well, it’d be a novel twist on the old Aussie underdog movie if he couldn’t, and such a turn of events is not among The BBQ‘s few surprises. But what the film, from director Stephen Amis (The 25th Reich) and five credited writers (!), lacks in originality it makes up for in warmth and gentle humour – if you set your expectations to “knowing smile” rather than “call an ambulance, I’m dying here”, you’ll be fine.

The BBQ is the latest in Australia’s long line of generally affable homegrown comedies, all descended from that perennial modern classic, The Castle and focused on a knockabout average joe hero’s struggles to hold onto his own modest piece of the Australian dream – for the Kerrigans it was their titular home, for Dazza Cook it’s his position as top BBQ cook in his comfortable cul-de-sac, a position from which he delights in feeding his multicultural blend of neighbours.

The film goes to great and fairly enjoyable lengths to mythologise the humble barbecue’s place of prominence in Aussie culture – Dazza believes himself to be descended from English explorer Captain James Cook, and his own backyard burner to be the first barbecue built in Australia. Indeed, there’s a whole subplot involving his kids (Frederik Simpson and Lara Robinson) trying to prove the veracity of these claims. For Dazza, however, the family legend is core to his identity – his backyard deck is a replica of The Endeavour, for crying out loud.

Which is part of The BBQ‘s main problem – it’s not celebrating the everyman, even though it really thinks it is. With his own suburban home and a dependable job that enriches him enough to throw a neighbourhood party every week, Jacobson’s Dazza is not a relatable archetype for a generation or two of Australians – his “humble” lifestyle is, in fact, aspirational. Hell, even The Castle’s Kerrigans got excited about meatballs and thumbing through the Trading Post for bargains – those guys were working class, while the Cooks are members of a shrinking middle class whose remarkably struggle-free lifestyle looks pretty comfortable from where a modern audience is standing. In 2018 the film’s everyman isn’t even most men  – he’s enviable. (interestingly Working Dog’s last film, 2012’s Any Questions For Ben?, is a similarly wrongheaded attempt to frame an affluent protagonist as an everyman).

Still, let’s not get lost in the weeds of class criticism. As an amiable slice of comedic Australiana, The BBQ fulfills its remit, but never takes a step beyond those relatively modest aims. To employ an obvious metaphor, it’s a Coles sausage in a slice of white bread, not a platter of Texas brisket with fixings. Still, sometimes that’s enough.

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Guardians of the Tomb

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

After receiving news that her brother, Luke (Wu Chun) has disappeared while on assignment in the far back blocks of China, venomous creature expert Jia (Li Bingbin) joins a rescue expedition mounted by biotech company CEO Mason (Kelsey Grammer). Also along for their trip into the remote Asian desert: rescue specialist Ridley (Kellan Lutz playing who Brendan Fraser would have played 20 years ago), comic relief Shane Jacobson, and a couple of expendables (Stef Dawson and Jason Chong).

What they find is the tomb of a Chinese Emperor dating from 200BC and guarded by an extremely ferocious horde of highly venomous funnel web spiders – a species normally only found in Australia. Given that a) Luke is probably inside the tomb, and b) so is the possible secret to immortality (just go with it), the team venture within. Arachnophobes are not going to have a good time with this one…

There’s nothing wrong with being derivative, per se, but you’ve got to do something. Written and directed by Bait 3D‘s Kimble Rendall, Guardians of the Tomb drinks deep from the Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider/The Mummy well, but comes up pretty short. All the window dressing is there – exotic location, ancient tomb, arcane secrets, creepy critters – but there’s no life, no anima. Instead, we get our dogged team trudging from chamber to identical underground chamber solving the occasional puzzle, interspersed with close-ups of the arachnid adversaries, who grow less menacing with repeated exposure.

Put it this way: the set up is nigh-identical to the 1995 Michael Crichton adaptation, Congo, a notorious stinker, and that film is a more deserving investment of your time.

It is, to be fair, not the cast’s fault; everyone does what they can with the tools at hand. Lutz is a solid square-jawed hero, Li is commendable in her commitment to playing it straight, Jacobson drops a few passable one-liners, and Grammer gets to go full loon evil later in the proceedings, which is always good value. The problems are all in the script, which fails to escalate the stakes or the action to any effective degree, and the execution, which is sluggish and unengaging.

A Chinese/Australian co-production (it was partly shot on the Gold Coast), Guardians of the Tomb has been touted as one of the first examples of a new era of financial and creative cross-pollination between the two countries’ film industries. But perhaps in this particular case, to paraphrase an older film that did this sort of thing so much better, the power that be were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.