Welcome to the movies at PS News.
Each week, PS News’s film critic Victor Rebikoff will highlight the latest offerings from the silver screen and share his expert commentary for our information and guidance.
Director: Robert Connolly, Paramount, Rated M, 111 Minutes
As someone with a long-standing interest in the history of East Timor – having been posted there in the late sixties with the Foreign Affairs Department, and again in August 1975, I was especially interested in how the film depicted the people and events.
In particular, I was interested in how Australian director Robert Connolly (The Bank) reported on the killings – by Indonesian troops – of six Australian journalists (known as the Balibo 5 plus journalist Roger East), and the impact their unexpected deaths had on the Australian consciousness.
Connolly co-wrote the script with renowned Australian playwright David Williamson, drawing specifically on the work of the East Timor Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, Jill Jolliffe’s book of the same name and personal diaries to ensure both accuracy and authenticity of his production.
To add further realism to the story, Balibo is actually filmed on location in East Timor and shows the actual place where the Balibo 5 were supposedly killed in late 1975 as they were fleeing from Indonesian troops that had just landed.
What is quite remarkable is the resemblance of the actors chosen to play the journalists, including the younger Jose Ramos Horta (a standout performance from Oscar Isaac).
The performances by Damon Gameau as Greg Shackleton, Nathan Phillips as Michael Rennie, Gyton Grantley as Garry Cunningham, Tom Wright as Brian Peters, and Mark Leonard Winter as Tony Stewart were simply brilliant, while Anthony LaPaglia’s portrayal of journalist Roger East must be considered one of his best.
Connolly has delivered a powerful and thought provoking political film set against a haunting, wonderful musical score that calls out for justice to be done.
This is highlighted in the concluding scene - “THE KILLERS OF ROGER EAST AND THE BALIBO 5 ARE STILL TO BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE”.
It is also worth highlighting that during the course of the film, it is the six journalists who decry Australia’s lack of involvement in Timor at that time – especially its silence on the impending Indonesian invasion as well as the Timorese struggle for independence.
Balibo is indeed a memorable and tragic story but one that needed to be told, and Connolly has achieved this though his magnificent film.
There is no doubt the deaths of the five young journalists at Balibo (and of Roger East in Dili) will cause many to come away with a deep sense of anger, betrayal, guilt, shame and even retribution.
Hopefully for many a genuine desire for the film’s tragic events to stir the national consciousness will achieve some peace of mind for those still seeking justice some 34 years on.
VIC'S VERDICT: 4 ½ Rubber Stamps
Director: Rachel Ward, Roadshow Films, Rated MA, 101 Minutes
In her directorial debut, Australian actress Rachel Ward has successfully transplanted Newton Thornburg's American novel to the isolated Australian bush while retaining its disturbing and emotive themes.
It is essentially a story of fractured family relationships, dark secrets and self redemption.
At the request of his sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths), despondent writer Ned Kendall (Ben Mendelsohn) returns as the prodigal son to his rundown family farm after 20 years to visit his dying father, Bruce (Bryan Brown).
Ned has not seen his estranged father since he left home following the tragic death of his twin sister, Kate (Sophie Lowe) in a car crash and the subsequent suicide of his younger brother Cliff (Josh McFarlane).
Ned returns with his young fiancée, Toni (Maeve Dermody), a city bred girl who quickly tires of the boring routine on the farm and leaves in disgust after learning of the family's murky past.
Ned also brings with him a lot of simmering resentment, guilt and unresolved issues which are skilfully brought to the surface through a series of flashbacks.
Besides Ward’s superb direction and beautifully crafted script, there are the wonderful performances of the cast – especially from Brown as the uncompromising father yelling from his (death) bed.
Mendelsohn, the guilt-ridden son and brother is fantastic in a difficult role that has to be one of his finest.
There are also the extremely strong performances of the three leading women- Lowe as Kate, Griffiths as Sally and Dermody as Ned’s girlfriend Toni.
It is worth mentioning that the scenes shared between Brown and Mendelsohn are some of the most powerful in the movie, providing plenty of fire works between father and son.
Ward’s Beautiful Kate is indeed a wonderful movie set amongst the picturesque Flinders Ranges that accounts for Andrew Commis’ splendid cinematography.
It is a unique Australian movie that tackles complex subject matter that is delicate and difficult to construe.
It stirs up emotions such as intimidation, nausea and sadness, but audience members must still acknowledge it is beautifully made and will continue to resonate in the Australian psyche.
VIC'S VERDICT: 4 Rubber Stamps
Race to Witch Mountain
Andy Fickman, Rated PG, 98 Mins
DVD release 26 August 2009
Dwayne Johnson (The Scorpion King) stars as cab driver, Jack Bruno in this remake of the successful Witch Mountain movies that screened during the 1970s.
The story begins in Las Vegas, where Johnson picks up two young passengers, Seth (Alexander Ludwig) and Sara (Annasophia Robb) who offer him substantial money provided he drives them to a certain location in the desert.
Initially hesitant, Jack agrees, unaware that the ‘Feds’ are chasing them.
He is later told that both are aliens with special powers who need to get to Witch Mountain in the hope of preventing an alien invasion.
Disney’s new DVD, Race to Witch Mountain is just a great family movie with some delightful interactions between Johnson and the two teenagers, as well as some first-rate action sequences and special effects.
Johnson also gets the opportunity to show his humorous side in this delightful sci-fi story.
The DVD is set in a deluxe home video edition including a Blu-ray/DVD combination with digital copy.
The 98-minute chase adventure is a real roller coaster ride involving aliens in human form (in fact teenagers) who display extraordinary powers that even confound the powerfully built Johnson in one of his first appearances in a Disney movie.
Packed with special features including some interesting deleted scenes and bloopers, there is also a DVD Copy and a Digital Copy-disc two contains a DVD copy of the film while disc three contains the digital version.
VIC'S VERDICT: 4 Rubber Stamps