Archive

Monthly Archives: April 2015

This review contains spoilers.

I’ve been in the mood for a comedy lately, and this was recommended by a friend of mine. I watched it late on a Friday night after finishing the final edit of my novel. Maybe it was partly because my brain was in desperate need of a break, but I found The Little Death immensely enjoyable, and very funny. It was great to see an Aussie film that is both clever and entertaining; a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still has some wonderfully serious moments.

The Little Death follows five middle-class couples from Sydney, and focuses on the difficulties they face when it comes to communicating and satisfying their sexual fantasies. Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) wants her boyfriend Paul (writer and director Josh Lawson) to rape her; Evie (Kate Mulvany) and Dan (Damon Herriman) experiment with role-play; Phil (Alan Dukes) likes to watch his wife (Lisa McCune) while she’s asleep; Rowena (Kate Box) can only climax when she sees her husband (Patrick Brammall) cry; and Sam (T.J. Power) enjoys making sexually explicit phone calls to strangers like Monica (Erin James). The couples are connected by theme (sex), setting (the same suburban street), and Steve (a golliwog purveying sex offender played by Kim Gyngell).

The Little Death is well written, intelligent, and generally feels very well put together. There are some fantastically funny lines, delivered by a talented cast. Other moments are surprisingly moving, and work in happy-contrast to the humour. According to my friend audiences in Australia loved The Little Death; critics, on the other hand, were not so impressed. I always read reviews of films (and books) after watching them, and after giggling all the way through The Little Death I was surprised to discover that reviewers didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. Many complained that the disconnected stories resulted in characters that weren’t fleshed out enough. To me, The Little Death is intended to be much more about theme than character. It didn’t really matter, I felt, that the characters were not deeply and psychologically explored – they were there to make a point about the way sex is talked about (or not talked about) in Australian middle-class society, and so they inevitably had to serve as representations of a wide range of people. SBS reviewer Fiona Williams called The Little Death “a cautionary tale of people who pick the wrong partners.” But I don’t think that’s true of the film at all. It’s not the partners who are wrong, it’s the fact that they are unable to talk to each other in any meaningful way about what they really want; a truth about society that is often hilarious funny, but also profoundly sad.

The dramatic moments are emotionally affecting, and surprising: a post-attempted-rape proposal, Rowena’s “pregnancy”, Phil’s car accident. However, they did feel a little out of place to me. I got the sense that The Little Death was perhaps trying to be too many things at once: a drama, a black comedy, a sitcom, an art-house collection of vignettes. This is not to say that a film shouldn’t or can’t be many things, or that it has to fit into a genre at all. Perhaps where this film loses its way a bit is in trying to do too much in too short a time. I did feel like the ending came too quick – I was expecting a little more from each story, to sort of close things off. And the final scene between Sam and Monica (which is by far the best part of the film – funny, cute, romantic, genuinely touching) could have benefited from a few more scenes of build up. I also wanted a more surprising end for Steve – it seemed a little easy just to kill the sex offender. I was sort of hoping Steve would turn out to be a mirror to the ostensibly ‘normal’ characters in the film – contrasting with their own sexual deviations, perhaps redefining sex not as normal versus abnormal, but rather normal versus harmful.

But overall I really liked The Little Death. I will be interested to see what these creators come up with next.

The Little Death was released internationally with the (terrible) title A Funny Kind of Love. It was filmed in Sydney, and had its world premiere at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival.

This review contains spoilers.

“An animal can only take so much punishment and humiliation before it snaps.”

I watched this for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It was a Monday morning and I was home sick from work. I knew nothing about the film, except that someone had recommended it to me a few years ago and it had been sitting on my computer ever since. For some reason I had it in my head that Tyrannosaur was a comedy, or at least a sort of comfortable-but-dull indie drama. Tyrannosaur is most certainly neither of these things (although there are a few lighter, funnier moments scattered throughout). For two weeks I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this film. Tyrannosaur is, in a word, excellent, and deserves (in my opinion) much more attention.

Tyrannosaur is the directorial debut of actor Paddy Considine, who also wrote the script. The film is set in the north of England where everything is dreary: as Jonathan Romney writes for The Independent in Tyrannosaur “even the daylight is grey.” The first character we meet is Joseph (played by Peter Mullan from Top of the Lake). Joseph has been living alone since the death of his wife, and he is full of violent rage. He is so angry at the world that in the film’s opening scene he kicks his own dog to death – an animal we quickly learn Joseph loved, and that was quite probably his only real friend. Joseph’s bubbling desperation leads him to Hannah (Olivia Colman), a Christian charity shop worker who – at first – seems to be Joseph’s polar opposite. It doesn’t take long for us to discover, however, that Hannah is even more of an emotional time bomb than Joseph, pushed closer and closer to breaking point by her abusive husband (Eddie Marsan).

If a film can have its main character murder no less than two dogs and still manage to keep him sympathetic it must be good (this is coming from someone who almost stopped watching Game of Thrones as soon as the first direwolf died). Tyrannosaur is not always easy viewing, but the storytelling and characters are so good that I just had to keep watching. There were a lot of moments that made me cringe or cry, but there were also a number of wonderful ‘Wow – that’s perfect!’ moments. The revelation of Joseph’s past violence towards his own wife, for example, just as he finds himself taking care of Hannah, not to mention Hannah’s own horrific twist at the end. There is a sense – as the film moves and develops – throughout Tyrannosaur of things being at once surprising and inevitable, which – to me – is storytelling at its best.

The title is of course a metaphor, and possibly one of the most beautiful and fitting I’ve seen in a film. Joseph describes how when his wife used to walk up the stairs (she was a large woman) he would see ripples in his cup of tea, like the water in the iconic T-Rex scene from Jurassic Park. This little speech not only serves to illustrate further what a (self-described) ‘cunt’ Joseph was to his wife, but also reflects all the major plot points of the film. These little ripples in life signify the approach of something devastating – and are often too easy to ignore. Hannah’s bruises, Joseph’s simmering anger, the dog across the street growing increasingly aggressive, even Joseph’s wife’s worsening diabetes.

It should also be noted how amazing both Mullan and Olivia Colman are in this. Particularly Colman. I’ve seen her in a couple of British comedies before, but never anything like this, and I was completely blown away by her performance.

Tyrannosaur is bleak, but it is not without hope. There are some lovely, kind moments that break up the violence and anger – such as Joseph hiding behind a clothes rack, the moment when Joseph gives Hannah some clothes, and the bittersweet carousing at Joseph’s friend’s wake. The ending – as Joseph walks along a sunny path after visiting Hannah – is perhaps the brightest part of the whole film (both literally and metaphorically). As Peter Bradshaw writes in The Guardian, Tyrannosaur is not a love story, but “it is not simply a hate story, either.” I finished this film feeling shocked, moved, impressed, and kind of annoyed that Tyrannosaur hasn’t gotten more attention. The night before I watched Tyrannosaur I saw the much talked about Birdman, and Tyrannosaur was far and away the better film. I think from now on I’m going to take much less notice of Oscar favourites, and much more notice of random films hiding in my Video folder.

Tyrannosaur, released in 2011, is an expansion of Paddy Considine’s short film Dog Altogether, which also stars Mullan and Colman.