Tag: Sam Neill

Ride Like a Girl

RLaG1The Melbourne Cup is one of the more glamorous events on the world’s sporting calendar. A sport of small margins, jockeying specifically, requiring a delicate balance of weight management, knowledge, skill, and perhaps most importantly determination—something Michelle Payne, Melbourne Cup’s first female jockey winner, had in spades. However, prior to her win in 2015, she couldn’t seem to catch the eye of the male-dominated horse-racing fraternity. Considering it’s a job that seemingly suits gender parity (arguably even favouring a female’s slighter frame), it’s a travesty that female jockeys had been cast into the margins for so long.

Saddling up in her first feature as director, Rachel Griffiths tells Michelle’s true story of frustration and success. Since playing the tumultuous Rhonda Epinstalk in Muriel’s Wedding, Griffiths has had an exhaustive number of roles, suggesting directing to be the next logical step, and with Ride Like a Girl, the fledgling director has quite understandably held the reins rather tightly. The music swells at all the right moments, telling you how you should feel, and the dialogue is, well, safe. The result is a movie that hits you with a good dollop of feel-good vibes but occasionally feels a little by-the-numbers.

Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge) gives a dedicated performance as Michelle, and our very own grandad of cinema, Sam Neill, chips in with a solid turn as Michelle’s beleaguered father (he had ten children!). He even gives our 1982 winner, Kiwi, a mention and, yes, Phar Lap … no mention of pavlovas, though.

Despite some deficiencies (loose editing and questionable scripting), this is far from McLeods Daughter’s on horseback, with Griffiths exhibiting a few nice formal flourishes demonstrating her potential as director. Ride Like a Girl is a satisfying crowd-pleaser that does what it says on the tin and if you bridle your expectations before the cinema lights dim, you’ll be off and racing.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Sweet Country

sweetcountry“What chance has this country got?” So asks Sam Neill in the Sweet Country’s final moments.  Such is the film’s central theme as it examines Australia’s sordid racial past and brings its concerns into the present with a film that is as tragic as it is strikingly beautiful.

Set in the Northern Territory frontier in the 1920s, Sweet Country tells the story of an aboriginal farm-hand, Sam Kelly.  Working for a kind-hearted farmer Fred Smith (Sam Neill), he is “lent” to a neighbouring farmer who is new to the area and in need of an extra hand. Unfortunately, the neighbourly gesture goes sour when the new farmer proves to be an unhinged war veteran and Sam finds himself unwittingly complicit in a provoked act of deadly violence. As the local authority, Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and his posse, set about hunting Sam down, Sweet Country takes the opportunity to play cute with a few western genre tropes; however it never loses sight of its charged racial commentary.

Director and cinematographer Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah) confidently struts a visual approach that avoids the temptation to use an emotive musical score.  Stylistically informed by the likes of Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James) and John Maclean (Slow West), Thornton’s camera slowly, but intently, prowls the landscape with a quiet tension that heightens a sense of dread. Thornton has done a stunning job at capturing Australia’s picturesque outback and pitted its beauty against the ugliness of the denizens who run amok within.  Such is the fine line Thornton treads, that it is perhaps inevitable a few missteps have been made where aesthetics have obstructed narrative concerns; a minor quibble.

Down-under stalwarts Bryan Brown and Sam Neill are typically good, and although they provide the film’s star pulling power, the real heavy lifting is provided by its aboriginal cast, specifically Hamilton Morris who superbly encapsulates Sam Kelly’s heart-breaking anguish, fear and frustration.

Sweet Country provides little in the way of relief to its oppressive tone, but this cautionary tale is skilfully told with a brutal eloquence and should really be considered mandatory viewing. 
See more of my NZME reviews here.

Peter Rabbit

peterrabbitIn a modern-day take on Beatrix Potter’s beloved leporine tale of the same name, director Will Gluck has drummed up a warren of talent that would be the envy of any studio. James Cordon, Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley and Elizabeth Debicki, among others, all chip in to flesh out this story about a cheeky (and very cute) anthropomorphised rabbit and his battle for a vegetable patch.

Confident to a fault, Peter (Cordon) observes Old Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) vegetable patch with envious eyes until his rebellious nature gets the better of him.  It doesn’t take long for the rascally rabbit to persuade his friends and siblings to join his march on foreign soil, but when Old Mr McGregor is replaced by the even more ruthless Thomas (Gleeson), the stakes are raised.  Add a love interest to the mix (the very affable Rose Byrne) and you have a complex cocktail of romance, ownership, and vengeance which becomes as cute and charming as it is volatile.

There’s plenty of slapstick action to keep the young ones giggling (and some good gags for the oldies as well) but the carrots are planted rather shallow here and any semblance of plot-depth cough and splutter with mixed results.  Quite charming in parts and yet annoyingly episodic, the film attempts addressing issues such as “ownership”—the vegetable patch providing the film with a weak allegory about “living together” and “sharing” to which recent contemporaries, such as the superb Paddington, handled with far more heart. Instead, Peter Rabbit becomes surprisingly spiteful in parts, to the point where you’re not too sure who you’re supposed to be rooting for and I suspect some of the young‘uns might find the film’s complex moral compass a little disorientating.

Peter Rabbit’s attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience is understandable when you consider the generational appeal of the source material. However, it can’t quite contain all it surveys and the result is a rollercoaster ride of good and bad, making the whole experience rather flat. Call me a vegetable patch fence-sitter but the dust is still settling on this one.
See more of my NZME reviews
 
See more of my NZME reviews here.