Healing Trailer Debuts; Positive Reviews For The Mule at SXSW; Mystery Road & The Turning Win FCCAs


The first full-length trailer for Hugo Weaving’s forthcoming film Healing is scheduled to appear at any minute, first broadcast on Sunrise at 7 on Australian TV, but it should hit the internet soon thereafter, and I’ll embed it as soon as that happens. A 30-second teaser trailer for the film came out earlier this year. The film opens in Australia 8 May and also stars Don Hany, Xavier Samuel and Mark Leonard. Craig Monahan (The Interview, Peaches) directed. No international distribution plans have yet been announced, but Lightning Entertainment does hold the international rights

STOP THE PRESSES: Turns out, the Healing trailer is already available online at Lightning’s website, and it looks great. You’ll need Quicktime to see this version… I’ll keep working on finding a version I can cross-post here. And here’s the link to Sunrise 7’s video.

The Mule at SXSW

The response to The Mule’s first two SXSW festival screenings has been overwhelmingly positive, with both the industry trades (The Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily) and the Geek Contingent (Ain’t it Cool News) finding its entertaining aspects outweigh its potentially appalling ones. I’ll post excerpts below with links to the full reviews, with the caveat that some sites give away graphic details of the film’s “biggest gross-out moment”. 😉 We also finally have confirmation that Hugo Weaving is indeed playing a corrupt cop, as I’d long suspected. (Based on about twenty years of type-casting and the knowledge that John Noble was playing the gangster who hired the title character…) But Angus Sampson, not Leigh Whannell, plays the hapless drug mule at the center of the story, and Whannell plays the friend who gets him into all that trouble by talking him into swallowing certain illegal product. Ewen Leslie (who costarred with Hugo Weaving in Riflemind back in 2007) plays another bad cop. Their characters are named John Croft (Weaving) and Les Paris (Leslie).

Review Excerpts:

Eric Vespe (Quint) Ain’t It Cool News: “Based on a true story, the flick is set in the early ’80s and is about a not-so-bright dude (Angus Sampson, who also co-directed) who is convinced to become a drug mule… just once, mind you. He’s a TV repairman and is way slow on the uptake, but he agrees and ends up getting caught at customs on his way back from Bangkok….He overhears that he doesn’t have to admit to any wrong-doing and the longest the cops can hold him is 5 days. So, the best way to ensure his freedom is simply not to give the police their evidence. Yes, that means he has to hold in his poop…

But things start spiraling out of control quickly. The detectives are a bit “hands on” and are led by a scenery-chewing hardass played by the great Hugo Weaving. The rightful owner of the drugs (John Noble) kind of begins to want his product back, as you would expect. His former friends start considering assassination while he’s in custody in order to save their own asses. And, worst of all, a crooked judge keeps extending the amount of time he can be held. All this as he damn near destroys his body to keep any incriminating evidence in his digestive tract….

It was so smart that Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson got Hugo Weaving and John Noble in this picture. Both are men who can chew scenery and while they never share a scene they end up tag-teaming the movie. You’ll get 5 minutes of crooked, asshole detective and then 5 minutes of charming, but scary drug lord and then back to Weaving again. It works really well and keeps the pace rocking throughout….That’s the trick with this film. So much of it takes place in one location (a hotel room), but it never feels unintentionally claustrophobic. It never had me checking my watch….What I was saying, before I went down that rabbit hole of Golgathan proportions, is that the movie is super fun, really intense, shot well, performed well and pretty much checks off all the boxes that would qualify it as ‘good movie.’ ”

The Mule’s Aussie contingent at SXSW  Photo: Janeece Keller via Twitter

John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter: “Somewhat more eventful than a film about self-inflicted constipation promises to be, Tony Mahony and Angus Sampson’s The Mule tells the true story of an Australian who, suspected of smuggling drugs back from Thailand, is locked up in a hotel room by cops expecting him to deliver the evidence within a day or so. The wait is considerably longer, and while the film suffers from its own occasional sluggishness, it picks up as the lawmen watching our hero grow as strained as he is. An enjoyably nasty turn by Hugo Weaving, as the lead detective, both keeps the action alive and raises the film’s commercial prospects with American fest and arthouse audiences….

The third act benefits from legal wrangling — with a public defender (Georgina Haig) fighting the cops’ requests for extensions to the period in which they can legally hold Ray. The detectives’ own tempers and misbehavior drive the film more than the gangster subplots going on outside the hotel, adding a twist or two that change the nature of Ray’s ordeal. The conclusion, which finally makes use of the America’s Cup yacht race we’ve been seeing in the background throughout the film, is so clever one hopes it’s true.”

Leigh Whannell entertains the SXSW crowd with one-armed push-ups  Photo: Shawn Bajaj via Twitter

Reel Distraction: “It’s a great premise for a short film or short story, but there’s not a lot of interest in watching a guy try to not shit for 90 minutes. So they have to add all sorts of extraneous crime underworld conspiracy bits of the sort that makes me very suspicious they’re based on anything remotely real. Still, one of those bits is Hugo Weaving as a scenery chewing Bad Cop, and the film features one …

This is sort of a perfect fest movie to see at this stage in the fest where things are starting to become a bit of a fatigued blur. I’ll remember the highlights (the mule dude is one of the strangest looking blokes I’ve ever seen even at the best of times, and as he becomes increasingly shit-filled he looks exponentially worse and worse) but probably be unable to recall much in a year other than ‘That’s the movie where the guy has to not shit for a week, right? I liked it.’ ”

Mark Adams, Screen Daily: “At heart The Mule is a nicely staged period crime story – there are killings and beatings aplenty – but its genially tasteless dark humour gives it a real edge. This is clear even in the opening prologue scene as Ray bends over for a cavity search and the male and female customs officers play ‘stone, scissor, paper’ to decide who gets to take a look. Hugo Weaving especially has a fine time as a tough cop who will do almost anything to get a result, while Aussie veteran actress Noni Hazelhurst is impressive as Ray’s tough-but-tender mother…

Angus Sampson (who starred in Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2) is great as the naïve but grimly determined Ray – a foolish man rather than a criminal – with his mission to keep his bodily functions at bay oddly honourable.”

Evan Dickson, Bloody Disgusting: “It’s not just name recognition that makes this a no-brainer. The film also requires you as a viewer to have the strongest of stomachs, because some of the sh*t that goes down here is a totally different kind of body horror. Sampson stars as Ray Jenkins, a passive mama’s boy who is coaxed by longtime bad influence Gavin (Whannell) into smuggling heroin from Thailand to Australia at the behest of a very, very bad man (John Noble). Ray takes about two steps back into the airport upon his return before he’s nabbed by the Australian Federal Police (Hugo Weaving and Ewen Leslie in a great and twisty good cop/bad cop dynamic)….

So yes, this movie is about a man trying not to poop. For a long time. Aided by a charismatic attorney (Georgina Haig) he withstands the temptation to defecate for days… and days… and days. Your mind can fill in some of the blanks here when it comes to the gross stuff (though probably not all of them). But The Mule is also about the people waiting for Ray to defecate. From the cops to the evilly banal crime lord to Gavin, who got him in this mess to begin with. And the movie succeeds at deftly juggling all of these story lines. It’s a classic working class crime film. When I first heard the synopsis, I thought this whole thing was going to be played too broadly – but The Mule actually has a beating heart and a high sense of peril. When people die it can be shocking and brutal, but never in a way that makes it feel like Whannell and Sampson are paying fan service. The film also looks great, wringing an impressive amount of production value from what I imagine was a small budget.”

The film’s SXSW premiere venue  Photo The Mule’s Twitter feed

Bradley Gatsworth, Austin Daze: “This may be my favorite movie so far at SXSW Film. Well it’s hard to pick one, but it’s up there. It’s reminiscent of the anxiety felt from Midnight Express (1978) with the Soundtrack straight out of the 80′s. It’s a gritty film that that doesn’t disappoint with its direction….

The Mule is full of betrayal, suspense, and a little bit of mayhem, but Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The LOTR Trilogy) has to be the best contribution to the film. Playing one of the detectives in charge of watching Sampson’s character in a hotel for the 10+ days, he has never been more of a likable sleazebag….The Mule will get laughs, but even with fat trimmed away, it is a fantastic film at its core. The direction and acting alike is very top notch and again, I have to say that this is a must see at SXSW.”

CJ again: I want to add that I find it rather insulting to label Hugo’s acting :”scenery-chewing”, which to me has always implied indulgent, broad overacting, which I’ve never found him to be guilty of. Yes, Hugo is often asked to play broad, over-the-top characters, but I’ve never found him to be hammy or self-indulgent. I realize that these reviewers aren’t trying to be insulting, but that terms has always had negative connotations and I disagree with its use here. Just my two cents.

Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson participated in a Q&A after the film’s March 9 premiere which most viewers on hand deemed highly entertaining and a few deemed “drunken”… video was supposedly rolling, but nothing but still photos have appeared online as yet. Whannell gave a lengthy audio interview to Tim Drake’s On The Mic Podcast that covered a wide range of topics including the state in indie film distribution and some of his more commercial projects. He sounded reluctant to divulge much detail about The Mule or how it might be widely released, but had high praise for his cast and curiosity about how Americans might react to the potentially queasy subject matter. (Apparently he hasn’t seen that many American films in the past few years… these days even Disney product goes in for bodily function humor. We Yanks have always been an uncouth bunch under that Puritain exterior…) 😉

Whannell was ambivalent about the film’s chances of seeing cinematic distribution on a wide scale… I personally hope that the film is given a proper cinematic release and not shuttled off to VOD/streaming. Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer to see films in a theater with an audience. I know that this distribution method often does smaller indie films no favors, and that many in the industry believe only big-budget SFX extravaganzas will be released this way, but I think that would be a travesty. Certainly VOD has an important place in getting many films seen by a wide audience, and some would argue they don’t necessarily need to see the contents of Angus Sampson’s bowels blown giant-size… but those of us who live beyond the reach of the festival circuit shouldn’t be shut out from seeing films in cinemas that don’t involve superheroes or princesses in sing-alongs.  On a more universally positive note, Whannell confirmed that he and the other filmmakers are currently preparing the film’s trailer, and that they do have high hopes for it beyond the festival circuit.

Mystery Road Wins Best Picture, Director at Film Critics Circle Awards

The Australian critics have continued to counterbalance the Hollywood-biased results of this year’s AACTA Awards; first the Australian Film Critics Awards handed Mystery Road six prizes, now the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) has given the film three of its most prestigious awards, including Best Picture (a tie with The Rocket), Best Director (Ivan Sen) and Best Lead Actor (Aaron Pedersen). Hugo Weaving tied for Best Supporting Actor with Joel Edgerton; this time his performance in Tim Winton’s The Turning was recognized. More details and the fill list of awards recipients are available at Urban Cinefile, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Sydney Arts Guide.  The film’s latest rave review can be read at The Movie Blog (JDIFF screening review.)

Aaron Pedersen (middle, front row), Ivan Sen (behind him) and other members of Mystery Road’s cast & crew celebrate the film’s FCCA wins  Photo: FCCA’s Twitter feed


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