Mystery Road First Reviews, New Premiere Pics, Video, US Distribution

Note: this is an archived entry. Some links might not still work, but I have tried to ensure scan and video embeds are still in place. If any linked material is unavailable, please let me know and I’ll attempt to find a copy in my personal archives.

Just after I posted the previous entry yesterday morning, the first interview footage appeared at the Australian Associated Press website… but I’d been up all night and was too exhausted to cross-post it, even if it was embed-able (which it wasn’t). 😉 Elisa (from RS) cross-posted that version of the footage to YouTube, then the Guardian got their hands on a higher-res version of the same clip… I’ll try to embed that version here, and fall back on the YouTube version if it doesn’t work. 😉 Sorry about the complication, but I do want to make sure I get all the source credits straight. I’ve had about five hours’ sleep in the past 36 and am still capable of screwing something up. 😉

Turns out I had to use the YouTube version after all; LJ says all iFrame videos are compatible here, but THEY LIE. 😉 At any rate, you can stream the higher-res version at The Guardian… but watch it somewhere. 😉

The Sydney Film Festival team have posted another red carpet clip to YouTube in the past hour; no interviews this time, but Hugo pops up at around 1.05 and 1.42.

And here’s another one from the SFF Facebook page which features a brief Hugo interview:

Though the actual red carpet seems to have only lasted a short while given the similarity in poses from a wide variety of photo sources, great new images continue to turn up. These are from the Sydney Morning Herald:

From second-from-left: Aaron Pedersen, Roy Billing, Hugo Weaving, Ivan Sen (in back), Jack Thompson
These 3 photos: Edwina Pickles/SMH

Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ivan Sen

The Sydney Film Festival Facebook page uploaded 75 lavish images from last night’s premiere; here are those featuring Hugo. Unfortunately, they don’t list the photographer.

Great fish-eye lens shot of the whole Mystery Road cast and crew. (Yes, that’s Bruce Spense in the back)

Here are some higher-res versions of images I posted yesterday:

Caroline McCredie/Getty Images via JustJared (plus next 3)

L to R: Hugo Weaving, Ivan Sen, Jack Thompson, Damien Walsh-Howling Photo: Caroline McCredie/Getty Images via PopSugar

Here are some of the Demotix and AP images with less-obtrusive (or no) watermarks:

Photo: Steve Christo/AP via PA Images (plus next 2)

Photo: Richard Milnes/Demotix via PA Images

Photo: Steve Christo/AP via Kansas City Star (plus next photo)

Photo: Steve Christo/AP via Corbis (plus next two)

Next two photos: Paul Shedlovich/RobertWallace/Splash News via Corbis

Two more photos from Yvette and her friend of the State Theatre and surrounding crowds that really capture the atmosphere of the night:

Next six photos: Miguel Palma, Cool Events

Sorry for any redundancies… though I enjoy looking at these over and over. I’m just trying to bring fans the best-possible versions of the photos as events unfold. As I said before, when things quiet down a bit, I’ll see about cleaning up some of those which were never posted without the watermarks. Though I do appreciate those sites which keep their watermarks in less conspicuous locations. 😉 Also, I’m not sure why Getty Images has restored permanent watermarks on all their photos, even to registered site users, when this practice only encourages fans to seek out the same images elsewhere (and, if buying images, SPEND elsewhere.)

We have our first handful of reviews in… two are very positive, one mixed but praising the cast and story (she had some issues with the film’s pacing, as did a few first-night fans.) Here are some quotes and links to the full reviews:

Gary Maddox, Sydney Morning Herald: “With a cast of entertaining outback characters, plenty of dry humour and stunning landscapes, the slow-burning murder-mystery has had a warm reception at its world premiere, opening the Sydney Film Festival….Rather than the slick crime-solving of television police procedurals, Sen takes time to dwell on an assortment of very Australian characters, with strong performances by Tasma Walton as Jay’s ex-wife, Jack Charles as town character Old Boy, Tony Barry as the police sergeant, Hugo Weaving as an oddball cop, Jack Thompson as a sad old-timer, Damian Walshe-Howling as a small-time drug dealer, Bruce Spence as the coroner, David Field as a flinty-eyed grazier and Ryan Kwanten as his hunter son… A solid choice to open the festival, Mystery Road confirms the talent of indigenous storytelling in Australian film.”

Larissa Behrendt, The Guardian: “This subject matter can be often piously handled but thanks to Sen’s deft touch, here the more difficult political messages do not patronise the audience….While the story of Mystery Road is not a complex one, the strength of Sen’s work lies in his ability to accurately explore the context of [interpersonal] relationships in microcosm of an Australian country town. The historical tensions between Aboriginal and white people simmer under the surface, carefully suppressed; resentment bubbling up. As a director Ivan Sen is a truly accomplished filmmaker….In Mystery Road he has a pantheon of Australian cinema mainstays: Jack Thompson plays the isolated Mr Murray; Jack Charles deftly mixes slyness and cheek to make a loveable community elder; and Hugo Weaving brings to life the untrustworthy fellow cop… But this is Aaron Pedersen’s film. Given the chance to take centre stage, he is given the opportunity to show a charisma and depth that is a welcome revelation.

Although Sen is unflinching about his material, one suspects that at his heart he must be an optimist. Despite the plot holes, the richness of his characterisations and his understated but ultimately redemptive touches give an ultimately hopeful conclusion to a simple story with many dark undertones.”

Alice Tynan, The Vine: “[Aaron] Pedersen is commanding on screen as the committed detective with the unenviable task of questioning his own. Taciturn and thoughtful in turn, he traverses Mystery Road with impressive skill – indeed he is in practically every shot. But while the lone gun is certainly a Western convention, there’s a reason most cop films come in the ‘buddy’ variety. With no partner to banter with, or no baddie to cut away to – No Country for Old Men style – the film drags. Sen instead chooses to dot his landscape with with a series of intriguing cameos from the likes of Ryan Kwanten, Jack Thompson, Tasma Walton, David Field, Roy Billing, Damian Walshe-Howling, and the wild haired Jack Charles… On the one hand Sen is an expansive filmmaker who enjoys creating a sense of durée. This was true of his beautiful debut, Beneath Clouds, where we follow two teens on the road, as well as his recent Toomelah, where the audience is embedded with a remote indigenous community. The weight of time is felt here – partially to palpably disquieting effect – but on the other hand it threatens to sap the film of mystery.

The ever-entertaining Weaving picks up the pace with his supporting role. Rocking the double denim as hard as he does his scenes as Jay’s suspicious fellow cop, the amount of malevolence and amiable menace that man can weave (sorry) into a scene is impressive. Constantly referring to ‘Jay Boy’, with its patronising and faintly racist overtones, Weaving is bottled lightening, and the perfect foil to Pedersen’s on screen stoicism. “Simon Foster, SBS: “Superficially a murder investigation procedural, it is rather more effective as a psychological drama at the centre of which is an Aboriginal police officer increasingly at odds with his department, his family and his people….From its striking opening image, in which a truckie finds the body of a slain local girl under a lonely stretch of open highway, Sen is determined to explore what lies beneath the simmering surface.

In almost every scene is Aaron Pedersen, whose potential for leading man stardom has clearly been undervalued by local film producers. He plays Detective Joe Swan, the good sheriff (note the none-to-subtle white cowboy hat) amongst a lot of ambiguously bad people, such as his Sargeant (Tony Barry) and a charismatic old-school detective (a compelling Hugo Weaving) with whom Swan clashes, however succinctly. They oversee a township in decline; the Indigenous population has been marginalised, drugs and alcohol abuse abound and a criminal element is taking hold. Worse, Aboriginal teenage girls are taking to prostitution with fatal consequences; the dead girl ran in the same circles as Swan’s own daughter, from which he is estranged….

In the film’s first half, Sen all but shunts the murder investigation aside, preferring to strengthen the audience’s understanding of and sympathy towards the key players. In the absence of the usual crime-scene chitchat and forensic gabble, acts one and two might prove a little too understated for those expecting tension and melodrama. Some convenient use of deus ex machina and a barrage of red herrings might further test the patience of those in the mood for a crime story, but genre machinations do not seem to be the major concern of Sen. When violent gunplay finally takes a backseat to taut drama, Sen proves he is perfectly capable as a director of action sequences; the climactic stand-off is terrifically involving.”James Waites: “With due respect to [Aaron] Pedersen and an illustrious support cast that includes David Field, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Zoe Carides – and many other familiar faces, the star of the show is the town. Its ordinariness reeks of a repressed culture of hate that suggests its not the only town like this in southern Queensland, nor indeed across semi-rural Australia. Despite the rough men and the rifles and the drugs and the pig dogs, this film is so much more subtle (and curiously funny at the most unexpected moments) compared to its predecessors which go back as far as Wake In Fright, and include more recently Snowtown, Wolf Creek and Samson and Delilah…

Teenage boys would love the film for all it offers this demographic, meanwhile unaware (consciously) that they are taking in themes about race, gender and identity. And what it means to be a man in this country today. Meanwhile for movie buffs – this is a fabulous mainstreamer up their with Japanese Story. Good structure, a story not only engaging but elegantly told, fine performances, beautiful camera (from Sen).”

BREAKING NEWS: As Mystery Road premiered in Sydney, distribution deals were being brokered in Cannes. According to Screen Daily, Arclight has licensed US distribution rights for Mystery Road to Well Go US, which plans an “early 2014” stateside release. (The film opens wide in Australia on 15 August.) Since Ivan Sen’s previous two films, which featured unknown (but very talented) actors were distributed here and remain easy to rent/buy, I figured Mystery Road would have an easier time with international distribution than Last Ride, The Tender Hook or (cue the groans…) The Key Man. But I’m glad it’s a delay of a few months rather than a few years. I predict it’ll have an arthouse run with more widespread On Demand streaming, as Toomelah did. If you do have a favorite locale arthouse, you can now start pestering them to book the film. 😉 I’ll keep you posted on news about distribution in other countries as it becomes available.

And the US distributor has already clued us in on how their promotion of the film will differ from Sen’s poetic, understated poster image:

Neon colors…giving me a headache! 😉 Also, that’s some dodgy photoshopping. You can see the much-better, original shot of Hugo here

Hugo was briefly interviewed in a few entertainment/local press articles covering the premiere. After noting his support of Australian film over the years despite success overseas, Film Journal quoted him on the challenges of getting any independent film to an audience: “For a film to be successful, it depends on so many factors,” he points out. “It can often be down to the producer and how it’s promoted. There are so many wonderful films made around the world, but it’s the luck of the draw and the luck of timing.”

Local Today noted the presence of Hugo’s niece, popular soap actress Samara Weaving, in Mystery Road, and thought the two might have worked together, but Hugo told them their scenes were shot at different times, and that their characters’ paths don’t cross: “By the time I got there they were saying, `you’re Samara’s uncle aren’t you?’…”I think while she was there, there was a fight at the pub. I don’t know whether she was responsible for that or not [laughs]….But I was there a week and a half after she left.”Hugo also discussed his longterm affection for the Sydney Film Festival: “I’ve been coming to this since I was 18 and I always see the best films of every year here, I get to see things I can’t see anywhere else really.”

Also: The Age featured a witty comparison of behavior/patrons at arthouse premieres to those at highly anticipated football matches… I love art films and I love baseball, but I’ve never fit in with either crowd myself. 😉 And The Sydney Morning Herald discusses Mystery Road in the context of indigenous filmmaking, which has experienced a renaissance in recent years as Aboriginal filmmakers increasingly tell their own stories.

As far as the reviews are concerned, it is valid to question how well art-cinema strengths, which Ivan Sen has in spades, blend (or should blend) with more conventional cinematic tropes. I think different viewers will have different answers to this. I prefer character depth and being challenged as a viewer to slick crackerjack plot mechanics that entertain but don’t bear close scrutiny. Sen might have felt he had to compromise on plot and spoon-feed viewers allegorical names, gun fights, etc… Beneath Clouds had virtually no plot and minimal dialogue. The “action” has already happened before the story begins, offscreen, and what goes unsaid carries a heavier weight than the attempts at communication between he damaged young leads. But it’s a profoundly moving, haunting experience. It’s not easy going but is beautifully shot and very worthwhile.

While I’m a Coens fan, I would have to say I cared more about Beneath Clouds than about anyone or anything in No Country For Old Men, which has an intricate, tightly-wound plot (and some brazen editing choices and sound cues) but ends up going exactly where you think it will, without earning much emotional investment… I personally found Blood Simple and Fargo more effective crime thrillers . And I do hope Sen is more interested in expanding his own vision than aping someone else’s– I would certainly think so based on what I’ve seen of his work so far. There might be fits and starts in trying to accommodate a wider audience. Some arthouse fans hate compromise in this area and will prefer the Ivan Sen who made poetic, plotless films which forced the viewer to fill in all the gaps. Some more mainstream viewers prefer being entertained to being made to think about uncomfortable topics, and snipe at too many evocative sunsets or unanswered questions in one movie . Only the most gifted directors can please the most hardened members of each group. 😉

I’ll be interested in hearing the response to this one, as I was when Cloud Atlas was released. Though this couldn’t be a more different film on every other level. (Well, they’re both about challenging racial/class hierarchies, I guess. But the manner of storytelling neatly illustrates the old “elephant art vs termite art” metaphor. 😉 As for Hugo’s character Johnno, he’s a vice (drug) cop most often described as “menacing”, “charming” and “odd” who seems to be in Swan (Pedersen)’s way more than he’s helpful. He might in fact be the main villain, for all I know, though the film has plenty of unsavory characters (Tony Barry and Ryan Kwanten’s characters are also described as racist and obstructive.) I do appreciate all the reviewers and tweeters who’ve kindly avoided plot spoilers, even if they didn’t enjoy the film.  And I like the fact that I don’t know exactly where this film is going after the release of the trailer and initial reviews. That was definitely not the case with Last Ride, The Tender Hook and Little Fish, though I enjoyed those immensely. Well, I enjoyed Last Ride and Little Fish immensely. And I enjoyed Hugo’s singing in “The Tender Hook” quite immensely. But the plot… that’s an example of how not to blend arthouse conventions and crime thriller tropes, ie by repurposing the worst cliches of both. Still, it has its endearing qualities.

Still grinning about Alice Tynan’s assertion that Hugo “rocks the double denim”… he does indeed.

More updates as they become available.


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