Three Summers

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Director: Ben EltonThree Summers

Writer: Ben Elton

Producers: Sue Taylor, Michael Wrenn

Starring: Rebecca Breeds, Robert Sheehan, Michael Caton, Magda Szubanski, Deborah Mailman, John Waters, Kelton Pell, Jacqueline McKenzie, Peter Rowsthorn.

One of the characters in the new Australian romantic comedy Three Summers says at one stage that the annual Western Australia festival “Westival” is “a camping holiday but with folk music – what’s not to love?” A lot, actually.

If Ben Elton’s name hadn’t been associated with Three Summers as both writer and director, my expectations about this film would have been far different. I’m a huge fan of Elton’s satirical British comedy TV shows Black Adder and Upstart Crow, both of which are memorable for their witty, biting dialogue and humour, their entertaining characters and absurd situations. Elton is also a novelist and playwright whose work is often labelled political, so I assumed this film would explore political issues but in a satirical way.

To be fair, setting this romantic comedy over three successive summers during a fictitious folk music festival (based on the real Fairbridge festival Three Summersin Pinjarra WA, which Elton and his Australian wife attend each year) seems like a good idea. The setting provides scope for diverse characters and situations to explore important national issues, including the refugee/asylum seeker debate and Aboriginal reconciliation. These issues are covered, but in such a heavy handed, pedestrian and preaching way that you feel like you’re being lectured.

The main storyline focuses on two young musicians (Rebecca Breeds as the spirited fiddler and Robert Sheehan as the tech-obsessed loner) who are attracted to each other but clash owing to differences in opinion and lifestyle, and who meet over three successive summers.

Supporting characters are portrayed with broad strokes for easy identification, being types rather than unique individuals as they work their way through predictable situations and misunderstandings that wouldn’t be out of place in 1970s Summer Bay or one of those dreadful 1950s British comedies. There is no sense of any of them, aside from the heroine, having a life beyond the annual festival. There is one genuinely amusing running gag involving the Theremin, and scenes with an intimidating female security guard played by Kate Box, which hint at the kind of absurdist humour lacking from the rest of this film.Three Summers

Michael Caton’s character, a grumpy widowed grandfather who likes Morris dancing, typifies the bigoted Aussie bloke who had it tough growing up and resents all those “foreigners” who are trying to muscle their way in. His eventual epiphany lacks conviction after a lifetime of having a different head set, but the film naively wants us to see how it’s possible for anyone with a blinkered view to change. The asylum seekers are portrayed as innocent victims lacking any individual character traits, while the indigenous dance troop of wise old fella (Kelton Pell) and rebellious young lads seems to rely mainly on types rather than real people.

It is an odd film, given Elton’s intention to explore what it is like to be Australian, and how we all apparently struggle with this. While trying to be a comedy with a serious underlying message, it comes across as a kind of episodic Love Boat on land, with different family group dynamics and couples either working through differences or being caught in a lifestyle/culture time loop.

The folk rock concert scenes featuring the heroine and her father (John Waters) with their band “The WArrikins” have an energy that is absent from the rest of the film. Three Summers isn’t a bad film, just mediocre and bereft of the satirical or absurdist edge that Elton could have brought to it.

 

Red Dog: True Blue

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Director: Kriv StendersRed Dog True Blue

Producer: Nelson Woss

Starring: Levi Miller, Bryan Brown, Jason Isaacs, Hanna Manga Lawrence, Calen Tassone, Thomas Cocquerel, Kelton Pell and John Jarratt.

Sweet and funny, set on the backdrop of red desert, burnt skies and a story about a red dog named Blue.

Red Dog: True Blue is the prequel to the well-know Red Dog, that received world wide acclaim back in 2011.  A neat compliment that made me want to watch the original again.

Shown as a flash-back to the 1960s, True Blue is about young Mick (Levi Miller) who finds himself at a cattle station out in the middle of no where living with his grandpa (Bryan Brown).

Mick is surrounded by all sorts of characters from Jimmy Umbrella (Kee Chan), the Chinese-Australian cook who hates the sun, Bill (Thomas Cocquerel) the larrikin helicopter pilot, Big John and Little John (Syd Brisdane and Steve Le Marquand) who are always fighting, Taylor Pete (Calen Tassone) the budding activist and Durack (Kelton Pell) the Aboriginal stockman who just knows Blue (Phoenix, the dog) is a tricksta spirit.

Blue wasn’t the feature in this film, but he was certainly the main source of humour.  Very clever of director Kriv Stenders (also director of the original Red Dog), as Blue always remained blameless.  And the addition of Willy, the crazy, blind-in-one-eye horse who thinks he’s a bull, made the film even funnier.

Aside from the humour, there are themes here to give the story more depth, such as the politics of equal pay for Aboriginal workers, of free love, landrights, punishment of boys who’ve been bad…  But what really stood out was the beauty of the landscape and those never ending skies.

Geoffrey Hall has returned as Director of Photography, this time making a conscious effort to keep the colour palette of the landscape authentic.  And an anamorphic approach was used for filming giving a narrow depth of field.  The result being beautiful, picture card moments with the weather and landscape becoming another character of the story.
Red Dog True Blue

At the end of the year when you drag your feet and wonder when summer is actually ever going to begin, it’s great to see a film that has it’s own brand of humour; that evokes laughter bubbling up from the belly; where the story is sweet (without being too sweet) and uplifting.

Yeah, the kid Mick, annoyed me a bit at the start – all private school and precious.  But I think that was the point.  And the character grew on me through-out the film which may have something to do with the mateship that develops between a lost kid and a cheeky dog named Blue (AKA Marlunghu the tricksta spirit).

And I’m thankful the film didn’t tear my heart out as some of these animal films tend to do.  I was left smiling about a story that relates to life while also giving a positive twist making me really, really want to get a pet dog!