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.
To start things off, I have some wonderful news for North American fans who've been interested in Mystery Road from afar, and wonder how long exactly we'll have to wait to see it: the film is one of four Australian features selected for Special Presentations at this September's Toronto Film Festival. I'd been fairly certain that the odds were good for at least one of Hugo's current films to screen at TIFF– The Turning and Healing being the other candidates. (It's still possible one or both will screen there, as the complete schedule and specific screening times won't be announced until mid-August.) But Mystery Road has strong buzz and two successful festival screenings already under its belt, so it's no surprise it made the cut. You can buy TIFF ticket packages for multiple screenings right now; individual tickets don't go on sale until September. As I noted, specifics on date, time and number of screenings have not yet been announced.
But we do have a new, slightly longer international trailer:
Alas, no new Hugo footage… I suspect they're being very canny about how much they're revealing about his character, given the hints about ambiguity in many reviews. Since many audience members will assume Hugo is playing a villain, they're definitely showing his sinister side. This trailer ratchets up the suspense and sense of unease and isolation even more than the first. Both are first rate, in my opinion, and whet one's appetite for the film without giving too much away.
Hugo Weaving and Tony Barry in Mystery Road
Unfortunately, Hugo Weaving was unable to attend the Melbourne International Film Festival screening of Mystery Road on July 26; Aaron Pedersen and director Ivan Sen were on hand and have also handled most of the film's promotional duties so far. Since Hugo plays a supporting role while Pedersen is in "nearly every frame of the film" by most accounts, this is understandable.
The MIFF screening was sold out and generated highly enthusiastic response from festivalgoers and most critics, though a few continue to quibble about the film's deliberate pacing and putting gritty social realism ahead of stylized genre conventions/escapism. It's always tricky trying to straddle the gap between commercial filmmaking, which usually puts entertaining the audience above all else and indie filmmaking, which often tries to challenge or even discomfit viewers. So there have been critics who fault the film's commercial elements (like the gun battle near the end) while others wish there was more of this sort of thing, and dislike the methodical pacing and lack of zinger-laden dialogue. But the majority of reviews are very positive and I haven't seen any that are wholly negative… even the dissenters seem to agree it's a well-made film with stunning cinematography and great acting. I'll include a sampling of reviews under the cut; click on links to read full reviews at their original sites.
Chelsea Denny, EventFinder.com: "Director Iven Sen takes the spotlight with his latest film Mystery Road, and shines it directly on rural Australia, exposing to audiences the cycle of poverty, violence and supressed racism that still exists in this country… Sen has created a piece of cinema that is unique, frequently using silhouettes against the pre-dawn and post-dust to create a signature style for Mystery Road. Staging scenes in the dark of the outback plays on the illusory dangers many audiences believe of a rural landscape blanketed in night….
The script is superb, both to capture the dramatic and harsh landscape in correlation with the gritty lifestyle most of the characters lead, and to highlight the rugged beauty of the outback. Dialogue is authentic and typical of rural life, where monosyllables and catchphrases are considered conversation and everyone reads between the lines. Sen is a craftsman and model for one-man-band filmmaking, wearing the hats of writer, director, cinematographer, composer and editor. He is a true ‘Preditor’ for emerging filmmakers to aspire to, and who play many roles on productions. This all-immersive style however, may have contributed to the lost steam and pace towards the end. The murder-mystery, film-noir, western feels a little disjointed, and lags a little as it reaches the climax. The few holes in the storyline may leave some audiences trying to fit together the pieces of plot after the credits have rolled, however, the sense of hope balanced by the undercurrents of desperation and misery carry the film well…
The performance by Aaron Pedersen is what really makes this film great, bringing an enigmatic, dark comic depth to the character of Jay. Stand out performances by Hugo Weaving, Tony Barry and Ryan Kwanten tighten the film further to create searing tension between the rich and poor, corrupt and naïve, white and Aboriginal characters. In fact, all the performances are exceptional, the brilliant lines delivered by all actors with both punch and finesse."
Jim Schembri, 3aw.693 News Talk: "With a tight-lipped Aaron Petersen as a lonely, personally troubled cop investigating the murder of a local teen, director Ivan Sen delivers a brooding, unsettling, racially charged slice of Outback Noir. Sen wrote, edited and shot the film, and while he can't avoid some genre cliches he stages a climactic confrontation that redefines 'showdown' with a major dose of real-time realism. Stirring widescreen cinematography; hold tight for Ryan Kwanten's icy turn as a local hunter who doesn't much like indigenous folk."
Film Dude: "A slow burning thriller without a backing soundtrack, the pace seems all the slower accompanied by the background silence. Mystery Road turns the camera on a host of social issues, from racial tensions, alcohol abuse to the dark side of the drug world, prostitution, and domestic violence… and this is only a small town. The problems are observed and not preached about – the only patronising done by the lead characters' colleagues. Disquietingly insightful. The location is certainly no mystery; this is slo-mo Australia."
Stephen A Russell, The Lowdownunder: "Writer/director Ivan Sen’s majestic Mystery Road, which opened this year’s Sydney Film Festival before heading over to MIFF, is a slow-paced yet eminently gripping thriller set in a remote outback town in Queensland, fraught with racial tension, corrupt cops and small time drug dealers…Australian greats including the magnetic Jack Charles, a slippery and menacing Hugo Weaving as a fellow cop of dubious intent, Zoe Carides, Tasma Walton, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten and Damien Walshe-Howling populate the town with it’s oddball characters, milling around on the fringes of society….Each cameo brings an effortless depth to the human story that soars far above the usual territory of the crime scene genre… It’s a truly immersive experience that utterly compels….
Dave Griffiths, Helium: "Sen once again uses Mystery Road to deliver a powerful message to Australians about the plight of the Aboriginal people in communities right across the nation, but sadly while this side of the film works remarkably well, the murder mystery element of the film does not. In fact, it’s that side of the story that is a real let down to the audience. It’s human nature to become invested in any crime story, but Sen’s screenplay becomes so convoluted at times that it is virtually impossible for the audience to keep track of who is who….There are things that Sen gets right though. He uses the outback to make the film look good and he also gets the best out of his cast. Aaron Pederson is an absolute star in this film; he makes the character of Jay so likeable that the audience will soon find themselves wishing that this wasn’t just a one off film, and that it was instead a pilot for a television show. Hugo Weaving seems dangerously under-used in Mystery Road, while Damian Walshe-Howling and Tasma Walton do so well in their roles it’s a shame they don’t get onto the big screen more often."
Kwenton Bellette, Twitch Film: "Mystery Road has the best cinematography I have ever seen in an Australian film. Sen makes an isolated rural community just that with his expansive and overhead shots, while the vast outback is framed in horizontal shots that highlight the endless stretches and the severe heat. The cinematography for interiors is also excellent, with utter attention to detail… The mystery certainly keeps things going, there is clearly more to this town than a murdered teenager. There is so much unsaid and so many exchanged glances that indicate a shared darkness, an unlawful pact that has been occurring for years. The tone and mystery carries the film forward as it dissolves into a personal issue for Jay…
However, Mystery Road is hampered by extreme repetition. Partly this is a good thing, it emphasizes that Jay is stuck in a one-man investigation and must trek to each place, ask the same questions and research the same spots and people. In Mystery Road, however, this monotonous task is given no interesting detail and unfortunately really drags in key scenes…. The supporting cast is good, but they are given little room to breathe in the suffocating screenplay that traps both them and Jay in single-situation encounters. Here dialogue is exchanged, feelings are felt and he moves to the next potential help or hinder. Through this slow and uninteresting investigation and line of questioning, hints and details come to light that organically lead Jay to more interesting places and even more suspects, and then the vicious procedural cycle begins again. Hugo Weaving as a vice officer adds an interesting dark humor to the mix but Pedersen barely plays against him to make his material engaging. Likewise it is with most other talents, including Ryan Kwanten in a blink-or-miss it role, albeit an excellent one that further exemplifies the dark underlying criminal intent and racism."
John Bale, The Blurb: "One of the best Aussie crime thrillers since Animal Kingdom set in a remote outback town, where the murder of an indigenous teenage girl sends local Aboriginal detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) on the trail of a serial killer and a possible drug cartel. From a visually strong opening it’s a slow boil to a big head of steam. After training in the city Swan has returned to find his colleagues at the police station less than enthusiastic, the indigenous community suspicious of his motives and his own daughter may be involved in drugs. Pederson gives a solid performance backed up by Hugo Weaving and other well-known faces. You may sense the old wild Western influence with lone Sheriff battling outlaws on the plains, even a shootout at OK Corral. Impressive work from one man band Ivan Sen, who scripted, directed, photographed, edited, and wrote the music. His excellent cinematography includes the fine aerial shots of the town."
Creative Spirits: "In his astonishing and mesmerising new film, Ivan Sen uses the conventions of the Western and the police procedural in a subtle examination of the social and political context of a small town in the Australian outback… Sen has made a suspenseful and intelligent mystery aided by terrific performances. The outback, in all its widescreen glory, plays its part too."
And here are a selection of post-MIFF-screening tweets:
Mystery Road was a cool, slow burning mystery with a super messy, but great to watch gunfight
wow. mystery road. iven sen. what a genius. deft, layered, savvy. #miff
MYSTERY ROAD: A bit overlong and rather slow paced but still a solid, compelling and well acted Aussie crime drama/mystery – 3.5/5 #MIFF2013
MYSTERY ROAD: I loved this. Admittedly slow, but so is investigating a murder in a small rural town. Absolute perfect climax. #MIFF2013
MYSTERY ROAD: … overall interesting & worthwhile, I think. Great cast, too. But yeah, that gunfight / rifle triple-duel? Awesome. #MIFF2013
'Mystery Road' – beautiful cinematography, intriguing characters and tense ambience #miff2013
MYSTERY ROAD: Australian film of the year right here. That's right, you heard me. Where the mystery is incidental & subtleties paramount.
MYSTERY ROAD: Languid outback mystery, full of unsettling nuances on racism & police process, echoes with pain, even when story feels trite.
MYSTERY ROAD: the next great Australian film. Modern cop mystery that plays like a western, ending with one of the great shootouts.
Ivan Sen did a pair of radio interviews for ABC; one also included lead actor Aaron Pedersen. While I can't embed them here, you can stream or download the interviews directly from the ABC Radio site. The first featured Ivan Sen on Awaye!, the second Sen and Pedersen on The Drawing Room. If you're curious about the film, both are well worth your time, particularly the second one. (There's also an audio clip from the film featuring Ryan Kwanten's hunter in a tense exchange with Pedersen's cop.) The director and actor are both eloquent in explaining what sort of film Mystery Road is and isn't, and why certain artistic decisions were made. Some critics seem to be faulting Pedersen for underplaying his role instead of swaggering about like a Tarantino character; I think this subtlety is a sign of confidence on the part of both actor and director (The audio clip and trailer alone show that Pedersen can convey more through silence and curt replies than many actors can with a full script of stylized tag-lines. Anyhow, Mystery Road obviously wants to feel grounded in realism, not action-movie cliches.) Pedersen and Sen also participated in a Q & A session at MIFF the day after the film screening; alas, all that's been posted online are a few photos.
In addition to Toronto, Mystery Road will screen at Mbantua Festival in Alice Springs and Cinefest Oz in Bunbury (West Australia) in September before its 17 October wide release in Australia; it is scheduled to open in North America in early 2014. It is also being considered for inclusion in The Mostly British Film Fest in San Francisco early next year.
I'm waiting until the film's MIFF premiere tomorrow before I do a major update on Tim Winton's The Turning, but I can share a few preliminary notes: According to The Australian, Hugo Weaving and David Wenham, along with "most of the film's directors" are slated to attend the August 3 premiere screening, which serves as MIFF's Centerpiece Gala. (Author Tim Winton, who has approved of the ambitious adaptation, will also be on hand.) The Turning premiere was the first MIFF film to sell out, and tickets to additional screenings, including a "secret" screening on August 5 also quickly disappeared.
Hugo Weaving and Josh McConville in "Commission", directed by David Wenham (from the film's website)
Local Today featured some comments from producer Rob Connolly about the film's challenging structure and creative variety: "It was creatively exhilarating that it overcame the logistical nightmare that it could have been… I kind of set them (the directors) free, I knew that didn't want to control it too much. [Tim Winton] He loved it thankfully; [screening it for him] was fairly nerve-wracking."
Connolly also spoke about the film in an interview with The Age; so far that's only available in print form, but I'll add the link if it's reposted online. [UPDATE: the Age article is now available online here, complete with video of Connolly's interview.] Connolly says that the film's initial Australian theatrical run promises to be an event as well, as "…the three-hour movie will come with an intermission, a 40- page colour printed program and, where possible, live appearances by some of the cast and crew ( it will also come with a $ 25 ticket price)." Alas, the bonuses will only be part of the initial 2-week release, and subsequent screenings will feature only the film. No word yet on which cast and crew members might be part of the special screenings, though Cinema Nova is already selling tickets for 26 September- 9 October screenings featuring Connolly.
More from The Age piece: "Each director tackles a chapter of Winton’s book, but not all of them retell the story therein, at least not in straight narrative terms. There is an animation in sand; a live- action triptych film by Oscar- nominated animator Anthony Lucas; a piece told entirely through dance; and the directorial debuts of actors David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska, video artist Shaun Gladwell and Bangarra choreographer Stephen Page… 'It’s like wandering into a gallery and seeing different artworks from different artists that you wander amongst, under a curated brief,' says Connolly, who directs one segment himself, with Callan Mulvey in the lead. 'I originally thought we might try to film maybe 10 of the stories but then the ambition just grew and grew. It evolved over time into this epic.'…. The directors worked in selfcontained 'creative bubbles’, Connolly says, though he did act as a kind of spirit guide to some of the less experienced when needed. 'I was very concerned that I didn’t create a homogenised form. People won’t be coming along to see my version of it; they’ll see 17 different storytellers responding in their own unique way.' "
Most hardcore Ringers will already have perused this material many times over, but here it is again: Peter Jackson live-blogged during the final day of Hobbit filming on his Facebook page, including lots of entertaining anecdotes, nostalgia and behind the scenes pics.
Peter Jackson collapses in exhaustion with creative consultant Mr Smudge upon completing the final day's shooting. (From Jackson's Facebook page).
As I've noted before, Hugo Weaving hasn't been part of these pick-ups, nor has Cate Blanchett. The fan community seems divided on whether these filming blocks are actually final or just the final part of the "main film shoot"… the fact that Jackson has been calling them "pick-ups" all along hints that they are somewhat final, though given his perfectionism and tendency to reshoot scenes, one always has to use the word "somewhat". 😉 Jackson usually called reshoots "pick-ups" during the LOTR filming. And he also hinted, in discussing Howard Shore's score, that the second film, at least, will emphasize new characters and terrain rather than revisiting old favorites: "The score for Film 2 is going to be terrific. Last year, we were a little frustrated because we had to revisit so many of the LotR themes – The Shire, Rivendell, Galadriel, Gollum, and the Ring – we did this because I'm wanting these 3 Hobbit movies to have great unity with the Rings films in design, wardrobe, story and music, so it meant An Unexpected Journey had to acknowledge what had gone before….But this time around, apart from a couple of Ring moments, it's all new: Beorn, Mirkwood, The Woodland Realm, Laketown, Bard and Smaug all give Howard the chance to write brand new themes, and he's knocking it out of the park!"
So I'm still suspicious that Elrond might not be part of all three films, and isn't part of The Battle of Five Armies. We do know he's in additional unseen footage filmed in April-May 2011, so we'll have to wait and see how that fits into the two remaining films. Elrond's big moment in Tolkien's novel was already in the first film, so what remains will be drawn from appendices and supplemental notes meant to bridge The Hobbit to LOTR.
But we were at least treated to a new glimpse of Elrond courtesy a brief but wonderful scene which was posted online (initially at Yahoo Movies, where it remained "exclusive" for, oh, thirty seconds) to promote the forthcoming, inevitable Expanded Edition of A Unexpected Journey (out November 5 on DVD and Blu-Ray in a variety of packages.) Many complained about An Unexpected Journey's bloated theatrical cut, but, to my mind, the Rivendell sequence seemed rushed and oddly truncated, given that the episode is meant to inspire Bilbo's lifelong love of Rivendell and eventual move there. This scene fills in a bit of what felt missing and is so short it's a shame it was edited out of the theatrical cut. It seems a lot more essential than a lot of what was left in (like the songs, for example– except the "The Lonely Mountain", which really was stirring.)
Yet more proof that the best actors reveal more through what isn't said than what is… it's not only true of indie films. 😉 The moment when Elrond smiles and Bilbo has a moment of realization is priceless. Also, I suspect the filmmakers knew fully well that hearing Hugo enunciate the word "resilience" in The Fellowship of The Rings sent chills up and down his fans' spines (to put it as politely as possible) and are having a bit of cheeky fun with this.
We also finally have an answer to what scene corresponds with this early behind the scenes still, another testament to how much the actors were able to conjure with minimal indications of setting, something even Ian McKellen has said drove him to the brink on occasion:
You can read more about what to expect from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's expanded edition at The Radio Times, MovieWeb, Flickering Myth, The LA Times… and pretty much every other film or Hobbit fansite on earth. In addition to 13 minutes of added footage, it will feature commentary from Jackson and Philippa Boyens, hours of behind the scenes footage and a featurette on New Zealand.
Group photo of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's cast at last November's premiere in Wellington, NZ
I'll be back soon, hopefully with the some pictures from The Turning's MIFF premiere.