Though Hugo has mostly been taking an extended break since Waiting For Godot ended its London run. I do apologize for not getting his few but very welcome public appearances posted here in anything resembling a timely manner. Since the last entry I’ve lost a beloved pet and adopted two new ones, I work three part-time jobs with highly unpredictable hours, and I’ve had all sorts of other distractions from family, friends and other Life Complications, not all of them bad. I do update my Twitter feed most days because most of my friends tend to congregate there, but do appreciate the context this forum allows.
I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Hugo’s film Healing, costarring Don Hany, Xavier Samuel and Mark Leonard Winter, on August 14 in New York City. Though I sometimes fault my own “cussed orneriness” about waiting to see Hugo’s films on a big cinema screen (whether or not there’s any hope of such a screening actually materializing) this is one instance where I’m absolutely glad I did. The DGA Theatre in New York City offered Craig Monahan’s beautiful film the pristine visual/sound presentation it deserved. Monahan himself attended, discussed making the film and took questions from the audience after the screening, discreetly but definitely suggesting the film’s US distributor had dropped the ball dumping the film straight to DVD with no fanfare and a risibly inaccurate cover illustration “showing Hugo Weaving looking like he did in The Matrix.” 😉 The DGA screenings in New York and, last week, in Los Angeles are part of Monahan’s attempt to get the film properly seen here after too few film festivals took a chance on it, seeming to prefer “edgier” fare, though at this stage I would consider a prison-set film NOT fixated on violence and rape to be ahead of the pack. I’ll offer some thoughts on the film later; if any of you fans has a chance to see this film in a theatre– or on high-quality HDTV equipment with decent surround-sound– you should go for it. In some ways I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to first witness Strangerland under such optimal conditions, but I’m still hopeful I might get that chance later. That, The Key Man and The Turning are Hugo’s only indie films since 2005 that I haven’t managed to see in a theatre. Yes, I actually managed to see The Tender Hook in a theatre too. Still can’t quite believe that happened… but just goes to show you never know what opportunities might come up, so always be ready. 😉
#WeCanDoThis and #IStandWithAdam TV Spots
Hugo Weaving lent his presence to two important public service announcements that aired on Australian TV to coincide with internet awareness/hashtag campaigns. The first, #IStandWithAdam, depicts many prominent Australian actors, politicians and athletes voicing their support for Adam Goodes, an Indigenous Australian athlete who has faced racist taunts and jeering from some Australian-rules football fans. (Goodes plays for The Sydney Swans; Hugo is a long-standing fan often spotted at games.) Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh, among many others, also appear in the two-minute spot. You can read more about the campaign at The Age, BBC Online, The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC.
About a week after the #IStandWithAdam spot appeared, Hugo also joined in the marriage-equality campaign #WeCanDoThis. Rather shockingly, even the US was ahead of Australia on this important issue… ideally this lapse will soon be rectified. Marriage equality has been the law of the land in my state for ten years now and has done nothing to impinge on the sanctity of “straight marriage”… even for people on their third or fourth straight marriage. 😉
On August 8, Hugo attended the premiere of Sydney Theatre Co’s new production of the rarely-mounted Chekhov play The Present, starring Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Jacqueline McKenzie and Susan Prior. Reviews have been generally positive; you can read a few at The Guardian, Limelight Magazine, The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Here are the only four pics of Hugo at the premiere that I’ve been able to find thusfar, along with my favorite of the production photos.
Hugo Weaving at the opening night performance of STC’s The Present Photo: Jennifer Polixenni Brankin/Getty Images
Photo: Jennifer Polixenni Brankin/Getty Images
Photo: Mark Sullivan/WireImage
Photo: Mark Sullivan/WireImage
Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh and the cast share a quiet evening at home 😉 Production photo by Lisa Tomasetti (full set of her photos here)
A month after it was (barely) released to US cinemas, Strangerland debuted on DVD and Blu-Ray August 18. (It has been available on these formats in Australia for a couple of months.) Though the cover art is different, both the R4 and R1 home releases seem to feature similar bonus features, though the Australian DVD breaks them down into smaller categories (ie by actor/director). You can also rent the film via Netflix and the streaming services that offered the VOD when the film came out last month (Amazon, Vudu, iTunes.) Some of the more comprehensive/well-written assessments of the DVD/Blu-Ray (and the film itself) appear at Galveston News, Film Ireland, Edge Media Network,
There are also contests to win a copy of the US Blu-Ray and poster at several sites, including The Film Stage, Slant Magazine and Dread Central. (Though, IMHO, there should be a rule that only sites which give a film positive or supportive reviews should get free copies to dole out.) 😉
And you can read more info on the locations for the film at Screen NSW.
The Adelaide Film Festival will hold a preview screening of The Dressmaker (starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Sarah Snook, Liam Hemsworth and Hugo) on 16 October in advance of its 29 October Australian release. For more details go here. The film’s world premiere (specific date TBA) will be at the Toronto International Film Festival in September… ie less than a month away! 😉
Author Rosalie Ham spoke to News 7/Yahoo about her excitement over seeing her novel adapted for the screen, as well as her role as an extra in the dance hall scene. The video interview is several minutes long but, alas, features no Hugo footage apart from what’s already in the trailer.
There are two new paperback versions of Ham’s novel: a more generic reprint (still an improvement over the sickly pink-and-green original cover design) and a film tie-in which come out next month. I impatiently ordered the first one offered, which turned out to be the generic one, but since Hugo’s character isn’t depicted on either version, I can’t complain. The film tie-in, available for pre-order, features Kate Winslet as she appears on the film’s poster.
I’ve read a few pages and already love Ham’s caustic, witty “voice”, which could be problematic when it comes to adaptation… either the omniscient third-person wit has to be filtered into character dialogue (which can work if done judiciously) or through voiceover narration (please, don’t do this. It rarely works). I have a history of “book snobbery” dating back to when I was 6 and proclaimed the book version of The Wizard of Oz to be better than the beloved 1939 film version. (I now concede I was wrong… both are equally good.) This summer I got a taste of how the other side feels when I fell in love with an adaptation of a popular novel without having read it, then despaired that the novel filled in all the narrative gaps in different ways than my imagination had. 😉 So I’m nervous about whether I should continue reading the book before seeing the film. Previously I have read the book in almost every instance when Hugo starred in an adaptation, and his skill (and that of his costars and collaborators) has usually gotten me over any drastic changes from the book. But I do understand when some people complain that the film version of V for Vendetta is substantially different from the graphic novel– because it IS. In this case I love both for very different reasons. For the most part, the novel and cinema versions of (The) Last Ride are complementary as well… though anyone who disliked Kev’s fate in the film can seek solace in the novel. So I have to decide what to do… but what I’ve read of the novel so far is a sharp-edged delight.
Healing review to follow soon. Spoiler alert though: I loved it. Shouldn’t be missed by any fan of the actors, Craig Monahan or wild raptors.
Very quick entry today but since fans have been waiting for this trailer for months, I might as well help in spreading it around. The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armiers full-length trailer finally premiered today at 1pm simultaneously on the Hobbit and Peter Jackson Facebook pages, followed shortly thereafter by Warner Bros. YouTube feed. Since the latter will embed most readily, I’ll post that below:
We finally have a few seconds of Hugo Weaving as Elrond, albeit not much more than appeared in the film still that debuted/was leaked last month, a variation of which appeares in some Hobbit 2015 calendars. Here are a few quick caps I was able to grab of the White Council bit of the trailer (featuring Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee):
“Leave Sauron to me… we play bridge together every Thursday.” 😉
I suspect that the minimal use of Elrond in the film’s advertising does hint he has a brief presence in the film, so fans should have realistic expectations. Remember, Hugo only filmed for a few weeks (compared to two years for the lead actors) and didn’t participate in pick-ups specifically for this film (ie the titual battle sequences) so i suspect he and his felloow White Council members feature in an early rescue sequence resolving Gandalf’s cliffhanger peril at Dol Guldur. As always, I’d love to be wrong about this and see more Elrond footage than expected…
The bulk of the trailer appropriately deals with Thorin(Richard Armitage)’s dark transformation post reclaiming Erebor, hashing out his differences with Thranduil (Lee Pace) to face a greater enemy (Azog, Orcs.. and The Bats of War) 😉
At least as entertaining (from my admittedly skewed perspective) have been the craftily selected preview scenes posted to various sites by The Mule’s marketing wizards. The most recent (and longest) debuted on YouTube yesterday (thanks for the conveniently-embeddable version, guys) courtesy Film Festivals and Indie Films :
This scene, presumably early in Ray’s hotel room incarceration, features Croft (Hugo Weaving) and Paris (Ewen Leslie) grilling Ray (Angus Sampson) about his visit to Thailand, including the strangely notorious Tiger Park ;), and tripping him up on one key point. Here are some screencaps:
IndieWire debuted a shorter, more decidedly R-Rated clip featuring Ray’s initial, intrusive examination at the airport. Needless to say I’m not capping that one, though the most infamous stil from that has been widely posted elsewhere. 😉
The film Healing (starring Hugo Weaving, Don Hany and Xavier Samuel) will air on Australian television later this month– Nov 23 to be precise– on ABC TV at 9.15 pm. A DVD/Blu-Ray release will follow (in Australia) the following week, with many sites already accepting pre-orders. More details at Memorable TV and the film’s Facebook page.
A couple of lovely surprises to share today: the first is a brand new nine-minute radio interview Hugo Weaving gave 720 ABC Perth. The second is a batch of photos our always-resourceful Sydney correspondent Yvette took at the opening of Nicholas Harding’s Drawing Godot exhibit in Sydney. Though both Harding and Weaving were unable to attend (and are possibly vacationing together with their families) Richard Roxburgh more than filled the void with insights, and witty anecdotes about Sydney Theatre Co’s production.
First that new radio interview; Hugo Weaving spoke over the phone with 720 ABC Perth’sJohn McGlue earlier today “about his movie Healing – and how we can all relate to it.” While most of the interview focused on the theme and working experience of making Healing, Hugo also mentioned his ten years working with Voiceless.org, the Australian animal welfare organization, and noted his goals when reading scripts and choosing projects. (No surprise– he prefers working on any project he finds challenging, be it in theatre, independent film or mainstream (big budget) film, but most enjoys home-grown, human-centric projects like his current film.)
After some of the frustrations we’ve experienced with questionably edited interviews, or radio stations who opted not to re-air or offer podcast versions, it’s wonderful ABC has made this available via Soundcloud, which can be readily embedded at both LJ and WordPress.
Meanwhile, Don Hany gave a video to Jim Schembri via 3AW 693 NewsTalk (Craig Monahan also appears near the end) :
HushHushBiz posted a selection of photos of Hany at the film’s 8 May Palace Cinemas (Adelaide) screening/Q&A.
And you can read the latest positive and/or thoughtfully-written reviews at A-List Reviews (“…a fine piece of Australian cinema”) and HushHushBiz (“…strong performances across the board and stunning cinematography”).
Healing continues to elicit mostly-positive reviews from both critics and audiences, but I’m saddened to read those audiences haven’t been as robust as they should be, according to Inside Film. I’m completely used to American viewers rushing out in droves to sophomoric Seth Rogen comedies and paint-by-numbers superhero flicks, but it’s depressing that audiences worldwide seem to want the same drivel. I really hope more people will give Healing a chance as positive word of mouth spreads.
But enough negativity: here are Yvette’s beautiful pics from the recent Drawing Godot opening at Olsen Irwin Galleries in Sydney. According to Yvette, “Rox’s warm and humorous speech touched everyone’s heart as always.”
WordPress readers: to see full-sized versions of the photos, right-click, then click “open in a new tab/window”.
All photos: Yvette ( @LyridsMC ) Sydney, 10 May 2014
Again, my eternal thanks to Yvette for sharing these. Yes, Olsen Irwin and Harding have generously posted the full exhibit catalog online, but virtual versions of the images give no sense of scale, or how the exhibit looked in situ, which is really quite interesting. Also, we could all use a bit more Roxburgh in our lives. 😉 (By the way, US viewers can finally view the first two seasons of Rake– the real one, not that now-canceled American imposter– on Netflix.)
She also confirmed that an international tour of STC’s Godot still remains a possibility for next year, though I must stress NOTHING OFFICIAL has been announced. I do have a bad feeling that New York might be the least-likely city for a reprisal because the area is still basking in the warm glow of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart’s amazing Two Plays In Rep version… and Stewart and McKellen themselves had to wait four years to reprise their London-Sydney production because a rival Godot featuring Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin was staged in NYC in 2009. Me, I’m not sure why we have to have waiting periods for this particular play when in any given year there are several competing Vanyas or Macbeths in the vicinity. I’d welcome the opportunity to watch the Weaving/Roxburgh Godot and the McKellen Stewart Godot back to back. I think great literature can stand a lot of re-interpretation. 😉
Speaking of the McKellen/Stewart Godot, the beloved UK series Theatreland, which covered the original London production of their Godot, is now available for streaming via Acorn TV and an NTSC DVD set will soon be available. Wish the STC production could be similarly immortalized so we fans could compare, contrast and just revel. 😉 It’s not an impossible dream– STC did commission the documentary film In The Company of Actors, which followed the progress of restaging Hedda Gabler in New York in 2006. A lot of us would also gladly fork over any disposable income for cinema simulcasts of just about any STC production. Wouldn’t that help with any of their financial shortfalls? 😉
Healing has now opened across Australia to a largely positive response, and new previews/promo materials continue to appear along with reviews. At times it’s been hard to keep up with everything, but for the most part it’s been quite exhilarating. I hope the film finds an audience at home and is picked up for substantial distribution worldwide.
I keep hoping that each of Hugo’s exquisitely-wrought performances in indie films will be the one that finally ends the “genre villain” stereotyping of his career by the mass audience; Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McKellen have played their share of villain roles, but most people are aware of their character-driven work on stage and screen. Hugo hasn’t been as lucky, though plenty of determined fans do eventually seek out his lesser-known films. But it shouldn’t be such a challenge. Mystery Road, Little Fish, Oranges and Sunshine and particularly Last Ride rewarded cinema viewings, but precious few fans had that opportunity. (I only saw one in a traditional cinema release– Little Fish– and had to drive to New York City to do so. Two others I saw at film festivals and the other in a “special screening” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. While there’s an infectious, “treasure hunt” aspect to finding these opportunities, too many fans are excluded. Proof and Priscilla got reasonably wide arthouse releases in their day, but these days distributors seem pathetically risk-averse. Even films that were huge hits in Australia (The Sapphires, Animal Kingdom, Red Dog) got minor arthouse exposure in a few US cities.
ANYHOW… sorry to go on like that, but I’m hoping– perhaps naively– that Healing will have better luck. If I have to read one more tweet to the effect that “Hugo Weaving only plays villains” I may have to kill somebody myself. I know some fans only want more of the same from their favorite actors, but a substantial majority wants to be surprised now and then.
Hugo Weaving is front and center in Pinnacle Films‘ latest lovely promotional clip. He discusses his character Matt and how he researched the film’s real-life program and setting.
There are minor plot spoilers, but nothing not established at the beginning of the film (and revealed in the trailers and most interviews and reviews):
Craig Monahan gave an insightful interview to Rip It Up, discussing the film, working with the birds and actors, and why his films seem to take ten years to reach fruition. (He does have at least two follow-ups in the early writing stages.) Here are his wonderful comments on teaming with Hugo Weaving for the third time, and the effect Hugo had on his younger costars:
“The obvious answer [to the question of whether Hugo is my ‘muse’] is: why not? Hugo doesn’t have an ego and he works very hard. Mark and Xavier, the two young guys in the film, they were there on the first day of filming and they were quietly going, ‘Hugo Weaving!’, as they grew up with The Matrix and stuff like that. And then we went out on location, and it wasn’t long until Hugo had his script out and he just squatted down in the dirt to make a few notes for himself… And he’s there, just sitting in the dirt, and Mark and Xavier looked at this and the penny just dropped and they realised that the film was serious but that Hugo was a real guy too. Mark and Xavier, you know, I don’t want to give the impression that they’re not serious actors, but this just broke down the barriers and upped the stakes. And we put Hugo, Don [Craig pronounces Don’s surname Hany as ‘Honey’], Mark and Xavier all in a house together, and it was convenient for us but it also meant that they could talk, eat together and whatever, and I think that shows in the film, as there’s a familiarity there that I really like.”
Monahan also gave a lengthy audio interview, which can be streamed or downloaded, to Radio Adelaide. Hany and bird-wrangler Andrew Payne discuss the challenges of working with their avian costars in The Sydney Morning Herald. Journalist Sandy George also interviewed Don Hany for SBS, covering not only the film, but his heritage, career beginnings and new opportunities.
Here are the latest review excerpts. As has been the trend in the past, some male reviewers feel a need to preface or justify their liking of the film via phrases like “yeah, it may be corny, but…” as if one must apologise for being moved by a film not explicitly about sports, nostalgia for one’s youth or the sort of self-realization attained after consuming too many alcoholic beverages. (Most “male weepies” contain at least one of these elements, many all three. Birds–even birds of prey– apparently require sheepish qualifiers.)
Matthew Toomey, The Film Pie: “At its heart, Healing is a story of forgiveness and rehabilitation. Viktor saves an injured falcon that became stuck in a barbed wire fence. With the approval of his correctional officer (Weaving) and a nearby animal sanctuary, he helps build an aviary that will house injured birds. They can then be nursed back to full health and released into the wild….
Healing is rough around the edges. It’s trying too hard to be a warm-hearted, feel-good story. It chooses not to delve too deeply into these characters’ darker pasts and it uses a one-dimensional bad guy (played by Anthony Hayes) to create sympathy for the protagonists. It’s a little formulaic, simplistic…
I still liked this film though. It has something to say about the importance of therapy (whatever the form) and the power of forgiveness. There’s much to reflect upon when leaving the theatre. Life is complicated and too often do we try to brush aside / ignore certain problems. The central performances of Hugo Weaving (who worked with director Craig Monahan on The Interview and Peaches) and Don Hany also deserve praise.”
Luke Buckmaster, The Guardian: “It’s not easy to make a mature film about men dealing with emotions in ways that don’t feel laboured, clichéd or arbitrary, and there is an organic wholeheartedness to Healing that helps it avoid being twee, thanks in part to a clutch of strong performances…
Weaving delivers a note-perfect performance as the prison guard whose big heart leads him closer to the duties of a social worker. Weaving, surely one of Australian cinema’s best assets, lifts scripts to dramatic heights other actors are incapable of reaching, which can both bolster supporting performances and make them look pale by comparison…
At its most simplistic, Healing feels like a glossy postcard drama, its pointy bits smoothed over by an unashamed sense of spirit and optimism. It is also a tender, thoughtful and inspiring film from an under-appreciated director.”
Anna Solding, InDaily: “This collaboration between director Craig Monahan (who also directed the interesting The Interview) and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesley (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) makes for fascinating viewing. Where this film could easily have stayed superficial or strayed into clichéd territory, it manages to build up the characters up, trusting the audience to stay for the ride. It is a delight to behold…
The unusual subject matter, the realistic and at times humorous dialogue (which gives the film a distinctly Australian flavour), and strong performances from Hany and Weaving indicate Healing might become the Australian blockbuster of the year.. It is without a doubt the best Australian film I have seen for years.”
John Bale, The Blurb: “Weaving puts in another compassionate performance as the dedicated case worker with the firm belief that rehabilitating wounded raptors will equally reform inmates during their last months prior to release. Don Hany (Underbelly TV) with his rugged features makes a commanding presence as the brooding Viktor, revealing his gentle side as a bird whisperer in more lyrical moments. Viktor’s meeting with his son at last visiting him in the prison farm is a tightly emotional scene. Xavier Samuel (Adoration) also has a touching moment as the heartbroken Paul has to release his precious barn owl back into the wild. Mark Winter (Balibo) and Anthony Hayes (Burning Man) make suitably unpleasant villains…
Above all, it is the outstanding cinematography which lifts this redemption story of damaged creatures. Oscar winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who shot The Lord of the Rings trilogy opens Healing with striking images of an eagle sweeping through trees, smartly intercut with inmates in a prison van heading to the correction facility. Throughout, the bird photography would do credit to David Attenborough….
Healing is a film with a big heart, lyrical yet laced with strong emotions. Music integrates well with the action, and film editor Suresh Ayyar is on his mettle. Credit must go to the bird handler training the actors to smoothly control the magnificent raptors, which Hany and Samuel manage with skill. Fans of Red Dog should find much to enjoy.”
Sharon Hurst, Cinephilia: “There is much to commend this film, Monahan’s third feature since The Interview in 1998 and Peaches in 2004. Perhaps most striking is the cinematography by Oscar-winner, Andrew Lesnie. Shot partly in the glorious Yarra Valley, the film’s look encompasses not only the mistily ethereal landscape of that place, but focuses intensely on the majesty of the birds, especially the eagle as it soars and plummets across the sky. Team this with David Hirschfelder’s haunting score and you get an impression of something that almost feels spiritual, so appropriate to this redemptive story. ..
Hany’s performance is compelling and it is remarkable that he successfully portrays someone so much older than his mere 40 years. Hany is a well-known face from his TV work but this transition to the large screen augers well for the talented actor. Supporting him is a strong cast of Australian notables. As a warder and de facto counsellor to the prisoners Weaving, who starred in both of Monahan’s previous films, brings tenderness to his role as Matt, a man carrying his own burden of personal tragedy. The other inmates are a mixed bag character-wise, but there is good development of each one and the acting is top-notch, especially notable being Victor’s room-mates, Shane (Mark Winter), a cocky youngster, and Paul (Xavier Samuel), a decent lad who did something really stupid while drunk…
The director is not afraid to take his time, letting the story develop gradually. The shots of the birds, especially Jasmine, make us feel they are also their own characters, and the gradual magic that is woven between the men and their feathered friends, seen in many telling close-ups, is an intensely moving thing. The actual use of Healesville Sanctuary and the Spirits of the Sky bird show should do a great ambassadorial job for the facility, but it is ultimately the genuinely moving story of the healing power of nature and compassion that makes this a film a cut above the usual.”
Chris Smith, Film Blerg: “The acting is uniformly excellent. Weaving, as you would expect by this point, gives a heartfelt performance as the guard who genuinely believes in the prisoners ability to better themselves, and Xavier Samuel once again follows up on the promise he’s been consistently establishing in the likes of Adoration and The Loved Ones, amongst others. The (until now) underutilized Don Haney, who seems to have been mostly confined to television, is however the beating heart and soul of the film. His portrayal as the conflicted and damaged Viktor is perfect; a work of true subtly that completely avoids any all too easy manipulation…
Issues of narrative and dialogue aside, Healing is an emotionally gripping film that will hopefully find the receptive audience it deserves.”
Jim Schembri, 3AW NewsTalk 693: “Admittedly, Healing is very heavy on metaphors and symbols, yet director Craig Monahan (The Interview) – who co-wrote the film with veteran tapper Alison Nisselle (Janus; Phoenix) inspired by a real prison program – never makes the obvious feel forced or mawkish. This might be due to the film’s leisurely pace…
It might also possibly have something to do with Hany’s restrained, soulful performance; he finds the heart of a broken man facing the challenge to accept and rejoice life in a life that has fallen far short of what he dreamt… Hugo Weaving [is] terrific in understated support.”
Dougal Macdonald, City News Canberra: “WRITER/director Craig Monahan’s cinematic oeuvre may be small but it is beautifully formed. “Healing” is his fourth film. As well as showing absolutely spectacular footage of Australian raptors, it delivers a strong narrative in which deep human emotions are manifested by their suppression…
Don Hany and Hugo Weaving as the prison officer who sees the prospects of the Viktor/Yasmine relationship deliver first-rate performances in a cast that never misses a beat. And Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography, especially of the birds and other native wildlife, is nothing short of superb, as we might expect from the man who lensed three big films for that Kiwi film maker, Sir What’s-‘ís-name.”
Sarah Ward, ArtsHub: ” The therapeutic bond between people and animals has made for engaging film fodder of all shapes and sizes, with Ken Loach’s Kes one of the great depictions across any genre. There, a kestrel taught a Yorkshire boy to cope with the hardships of youth; in Healing, great birds aid inmates in preparing for post-prison life. The comparison between the social realist classic and Craig Monahan’s lyrical tale of second chances quickly proves earned as well as appropriate…
In this story of redemption that takes the term jailbird quite literally, a familiar path is trodden, but the delights are in the details. The stereotypical subplot of tension – that sees the prison’s resident bully (Anthony Hayes, Secrets & Lies) enforce his might over Viktor’s helpers, including the sullen Paul (Xavier Samuel, Adoration) and nervous Shane (Mark Leonard Winter, The Boy Castaways) – both conforms to convention and provides texture for the film’s main drama. The trouble caused by interpersonal angst is a menacing but modest challenge to overcome. ..
Healing marks Monahan and Weaving’s third collaboration following 1998’s The Interview and the aforementioned Peaches, again demonstrating perceptiveness and poignancy in synchronicity, and again playing to the duo’s strengths. Overt in a style that values lingering, lyrical shots of the grace of winged creatures and the loveliness of the country landscape, but understated in the emotions of regret and restoration conjured, the filmmaker builds layers with patience rather than pace. His script, co-written with first-time film scribe and television veteran Alison Nisselle (Parer’s War), makes its case courtesy of the little things: kind exchanges, tentative steps forward, and efforts towards change, even those that aren’t successful. His visuals turn slivers of beauty and hope into the feature’s canvass…
In the lead roles, heartbreak ripples through the pairing of Weaving with Hany, the former nuanced and nimble, the latter simmering with the power of solemnity. The efforts of the feature’s animal wranglers also can’t be undersold, with the central feathered friends afforded personality that sells the bond with their carers beyond standard bounds. In Healing, as the birds and humans both tentatively step towards flight, the film soars with empathy and sincerity.”
Print Article Scans
Apologies for letting a backlog of these pile up, but it’s been a busy week. Most of these are print articles previewing or reviewing Healing; the first contains material not (yet) available online. The last is the print version of Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of the Nicholas Harding Drawing Godot exhibit.
Note to WordPress Readers: to see full-sized versions, right-click, then click “open in a new tab/window”.
South Australia Weekly, 8 May
Play, 4 May 2014
Daily Telegraph, 7 May 2014
Sun Herald, 4 May 2014
SMH Spectrum, 3 May 2014
In Other Hugo Weaving News
Guardian writer Luke Buckmaster describes his responses in an interesting re-viewing of the 1994 classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
And, according to the Twitter feed of Sun-Herald writer Neala Johnson, Hugo’s next film The Mule, which made a big… I’m reluctant to say ‘splash’ 😉 at SXSW in March, has been “pencilled in for an October release in Oz “. The Mule’s Twitter feed retweeted the item, giving it credibility. When last heard from, the film’s creators were busy working on the trailer, so we might have a look at that soon.
Healing officially opens in Australia today, so a new batch of cast interviews and previews is appearing online. Though Hugo Weaving is currently on vacation, he apparently gave several interviews promoting Healing before he departed, some of which are only appearing now. Costar Don Hany also continues to promote the film to a wide variety of outlets. I’ll include the full text of the two new Hugo Weaving interviews below (behind the cut) and links to everything else:
Hugo Weaving has been playing extreme, audience-dividing characters ever since he first caught our attention in the famed Kennedy-Miller television mini-series Bodyline (1984), in which he impersonated the reviled MCC captain Douglas Jardine.
Whether these characters are sympathetic, such as the shrieking drag artist Mitzi del Bra in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or Elrond Half-elven in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, or the flat-out villains – Agent Smith in The Matrix series, Red Skull in Captain America: First Avenger – they’re generally a world away from an ordinary man.In recent times, however, we’ve been seeing Weaving playing characters closer to blokes you might meet in everyday life, the polar opposite to the crackpot collection he incarnated in the ill-fated adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.
In Oranges and Sunshine he was deeply moving as the psychologically scarred English migrant who endured being taken from his mother and forced to toil for Catholic Church institutions in Australia; he was wonderfully inscrutable as a country cop in Mystery Road; and he communicated a world of hurt as Vic Lang’s reclusive, troubled father in the David Wenham-directed episode of Tim Winton’s The Turning.
“I enjoy playing these colourful, over-the-top characters but they are definitely not me,” Weaving says over the phone from Sydney, where he continues to live despite his flourishing international career.
“So it’s been a gift to have been given the opportunity to play men who are a little closer to me. It presents other challenges – you can’t hide behind a mask and you are forced to draw upon yourself – but it allows you to explore nuances of character.”
His move from the margins to the middle, character-wise, continues with Healing, a modest yet quietly effective Australian drama set on a prison farm that prepares prisoners for going back into society.
Weaving plays Matt Perry, a stern but sympathetic senior officer who puts a tightly wound Iranian inmate named Viktor Khadem (Don Hany) in charge of a program to rehabilitate injured eagles, falcons and owls.
Viktor is coming to the end of a long sentence for murder and doesn’t want to mix with the other prisoners. Matt feels that putting him in charge of the program – in particular, caring for a majestic wedge-tailed eagle with a 2m wing span named Yasmine – will draw Viktor out and, in turn, his strong work ethic will be a good influence on the younger prisoners, who are being preyed upon by opportunistic old hands.
Healing is the third time that Weaving has worked with co-writer and director Craig Monahan, who made a sensational feature film debut in 1998 with The Interview and followed up in 2004 with Peaches.
Apart from the desire to work again with Monahan, with whom he has forged a very productive director-actor relationship, Weaving says he was drawn to Healing because it showed a positive side of the prison system.
“Movies about prisons are almost always about thuggish, unfeeling guards and brutalised prisoners and little hope that anyone will change. Healing celebrates the people who do good work in the system. It shows them as concerned with the welfare of the inmates and the possibility of rehabilitation and a new life.”
The role is arguably the closest Weaving has come to a regular guy in the classic Hollywood mould, a steely, quietly spoken figure who has his own problems at home but heroically stands up for Hany’s Viktor.
“Matt is definitely one of the most subdued characters I’ve played. We don’t learn much about Matt but he has layers. The challenge of a part like this is to communicate what’s not on the page but implied. It’s what great screen acting is all about.”
Monahan was inspired to make Healing after reading an article in The Age in 1998 about a program at Won Wron, a minimum- security facility near Yarram in Victoria, to see if prisoners could rehabilitate injured birds of prey to return to the wild.
Authorities were sceptical at first because it went against what was deemed acceptable work for prisoners. However, it turned out to be a success and, while Won Wron closed in 1994, the raptor rehabilitation program continues elsewhere.
Monahan and his long-time collaborator Alison Nisselle were instantly taken by the story of Won Wron.
They were struck by the notion that taking responsibility for looking after a wild animal had the capacity to change someone’s life. “That always seemed very profound to us,” Monahan told The Age.
Weaving says that Monahan gave him the Healing screenplay while they were filming Peaches, so he has been involved not just in the evolution of the script, providing criticism and feedback, but familiarising himself with the bird program.
“I think I said to him a few years ago ‘Just don’t change your mind on this one’,” Monahan recalls. “And he never has. He’s such a gentleman and a pleasure to work with.”
He is also one of the few actors of the golden generation that gave us Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush who has consistently worked in Australia on screen and stage despite being an integral part of some of the biggest franchises in movie history and the most cherished cult movies.
The unfalteringly gracious and articulate Weaving embraces his entire oeuvre – he even believes the maligned Cloud Atlas will be properly appreciated in years to come – and is happy to move between the mega-movies and the smaller home-grown projects. And he is excited by his role as Macbeth in an upcoming Sydney Theatre Company production.
“Playing comic-book villains and ordinary Australians each has its pleasure and challenges. You do one and it makes you anxious to do the opposite,” he says.
CJ here: This is a case where I’d really love to see the full transcript of what was specifically asked and what Hugo said in response, because some of his comments here are directly at odds with most other interviews he’s done over the past few years, which strongly implied he was done with “cartoon villain” roles and big-budget American films. I hope the last comment is an explanation of why he’s mostly done Australian indies of late rather than an indication he intends to take on the sort of insultingly one-dimensional roles Hollywood would give him.
I do think he’s probably trying to reaffirm that he doesn’t regret any of his past choices, because a few interviews in 2012 were widely misconstrued by Marvel and Transformers fans as dissing of those projects, but in fact Hugo never meant any insult and only was trying to distance himself from playing the same character over and over. Obviously he’s not finished playing villains, as The Mule and even Macbeth demonstrate. (The Mule will probably be a very broad villain role.) And the character Hugo has been connected to in early reports about Glendyn Ivin’s possible next feature film, One Foot Wrong, would also be a nasty piece of work if the movie stays true to the book. So he’s very much maintaining variety in his career. I just don’t ever need to see him do another Marvel project, play a Star Wars villain or do evil robot voiceovers which distort his voice beyond all recognition. There are, of course, talented directors who do big-budget films too. I’d love to see Hugo work with Guillermo del Toro or any non-Tolkien work Peter Jackson might move on to. It could also easily be argued that American television offers more opportunities for fascinating, textured characters– good, bad and in between– than the increasingly adolescent-directed film industry.
As far as the Wachowskis are concerned: I loved The Matrix and thought Agent Smith was a brilliant character, brilliantly performed. But Cloud Atlas gave Hugo no characters of meaningful depth to work with (though some were entertaining), and the Wachowskis’ unseemly eagerness to whore out their best characters in terrible, clueless commercials has alienated me from wanting to support their current projects. So I’m not dying to see Hugo work with them again, unless they give him something other than a stock villain to play.
Just my two cents. anyhow, the second interview focuses exclusively on Healing:
Healing (M). Director: Craig Monahan. Starring: Don Hany, Hugo Weaving. 119 minutes
As its title suggests, Healing probes the process of dealing with loss, coping with regret, and moving on to a more positive future. Director Craig Monahan has said that making the film was part of his own healing process, following the death of both of his parents during the years that the film was in development. Hugo Weaving’s character in the film is inspired by a real-life minimum-security prison officer whose daughter had died.
This man helped initiate a partnership between the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and Prisons Victoria, to develop a program for rehabilitating injured raptors, that would be overseen by prisoners as part of their own rehabilitation. ‘The program encapsulated the positive side,’ says Weaving, ‘of someone trying to deal with their own grief, and healing himself by setting up a kind of living memorial to his daughter.’
Such a program and process lies at the heart of Healing. ‘I’d read a number of drafts,’ says Weaving, who has shared a working relationship with Monahan ever since he starred in the director’s feature debut, the menacing police drama The Interview, back in 1998. His character Matt, like his real-life counterpart, is a bereaved father, and his all-but silent grief lends considerable weight to Weaving’s gruff portrayal. ‘It is not demonstrated in any great depth, but you understand the magnitude of his grief and what he’s trying to deal with,’ says Weaving.
Matt is inspired to initiate the program not just by his own grief, but also by his observation of the film’s hero, Viktor (Hany), an Iranian expat and inmate who bears his own deep emotional scars. Viktor is at the tail end of a prison sentence for murdering a friend. During the course of the film he must confront not only his sense of guilt over that deed, but also try to heal the family relationships that have been damaged by his errant ways. His care for the raptors mirrors and enhances this process of self-healing.
As part of his research, Weaving spent time at some of Victoria’s minimum-security prison farms, and hopes that the insights gleaned from these experiences will illuminate for audiences this often-unseen aspect of the justice system. ‘It’s a prison film and yet you’re in a facility that not many people know about,’ he says. ‘At these facilities there’s a great deal of trust and quite strong relationships between prison officers and inmates.
‘It’s a pre-release facility, a very different atmosphere to a maximum-security prison. There were no exterior walls or fences — the inmates could run away if they wanted to, though obviously that’s not in their interests. It’s the borderline between being incarcerated and being set free. Therefore there needs to be a certain amount of trust and responsibility given to inmates because they need to be rehabilitated back into the community.’
Healing’s strongest attribute is its cinematography. Its images of birds in flight or repose stand as poignant metaphors for the ebb and flow of human dignity, the fragility and resilience of the human spirit, and the burgeoning self-respect. If the story is a bit thin at times, and the dialogue stilted, this is balanced by the gravity of the theme and by the performances of Hany and Weaving, as their characters push back with increasing resolve against the weight of grief and regret. In this regard it, like its characters, achieves transcendence.
Don Hany, meanwhile, spoke to The Daily Telegraph/News.com.au . In addition to promoting Healing, he mentioned his past Australian series and possible jump to American TV (tentatively reinforcing what I said earlier, though the pilot’s chances and quality may vary widely based which network commissioned it. As far as US television stealth-casting so many Australians goes, the reason is simple: they are often better than American actors. ) He also had very kind things to say about working with Hugo Weaving: “He introduced me to a philosophy about working that has changed what I will take to every job from now on… He’s such a fan of Australian cinema and a believer in making something that resonates. You couldn’t help but be energised by that.” And he mentions a close call with one of his feathered costars, “copping a talon” to the face when one of the eagles was accidentally startled.
Hany told XPressMag “It was very important for Craig (Monahan, director) that Viktor be older and less intimidating, because of that and at moments reveal that he had the potential to kill people. But my prep for that was to start eating rubbish, refrain from physical exercise and take up smoking. So it means I was half dead for most of the shoot…
He is such a generous guy and a real asset to the industry. He formed a culture on set that trickled down to everyone. Respect everyone’s process and where they come to the story at. It changed my work ethic and I’m sure it changes everyone that he works with. His magnanimity becomes quiet infectious. That’s the way it should be but rarely is. ”
Craig Monahan spoke to The Australian about the challenges of marketing the film: for the record, I disagree with the article’s contention that the marketing misrepresents or sentimentalizes the film. And an article in Star Community notes the Healesville Sanctuary’s role in the film.
Pinnacle Films continues to share brief but tantalizing excerpts from the film; the latest is a “bird complle” featuring beauty shots of the film’s real scene-stealers: its wedge-tailed eagles and owls:
I’d venture that your interest in seeing Healing will echo your response to this clip: if you’re bored by it, you probably won’t get into the film itself. But if you could watch this all day, like I could… maybe you’ll be moved. 😉
New Healing Reviews:
The reviews continue to be largely positive, with critics insisting the film never gets too sentimental for its own good outnumbering those who found aspects “corny” or wanted more of a grim storyline. Excerpts below, with links back to full reviews.
Jake Wilson, The Sydney Morning Herald: “It’s corny, certainly, but not entirely commonplace. Slowly but surely, the extremely gentle pace induces a sense of intimacy with the people and the setting, while leaving room for touches of dry Aussie humour. If Hany is a bit too charming to be a plausible hard case, Weaving gives one of his best performances, restraining his fidgety tendencies while maintaining a gruff, awkward manner that helps keep the sentiment palatable…
A gifted visual storyteller, Monahan makes ingenious use of the open-plan location to show how the characters relate to each other at a distance, the birds included. When Viktor temporarily parts ways with his beloved wedge-tail eagle Yasmine, she refuses to accept a substitute handler – gazing obsessively through the mesh of her enclosure to his distant figure on the horizon.”
Out In Perth: “There are obvious parallels between the men who have given up hope and the injured birds of prey, and with Academy Award winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie behind the camera, this story of redemption hits an emotional soft spot. This powerful film was inspired by the remarkable Raptor Rehabilitation Program that exists between Healesville Sanctuary and Prisons Victoria.”
Megan Lehmann, The Hollywood Reporter: “Australian director Craig Monahan’s Healing may be the gentlest prison drama ever made. That’s not to say it lacks power; rather, the narrative unfurls as organically and precisely as the wings of the majestic but damaged birds that the film’s minimum-security inmates are charged with caring for…Weaving is terrific as Matt Perry, a senior case worker at a pre-release prison farm in rural Victoria where he heads up a rehabilitation program involving the care of injured eagles, falcons and other raptors. But the film belongs to Don Hany, a veteran of Australian television starring in his first major feature film role…A simmering menace permeates the script but the threatened violence never eventuates. Instead the focus is on uplift, with David Hirschfelder (Australia) providing a spirited symphonic score and Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) beautifully tracking the flight paths of the magnificent birds of prey.”
David O’Connell, XPressMag: “Perhaps director Craig Monahan (The Interview) has packed too much into this film that makes it seem like a clichéd prison yard story. To be fair, these are such commonplace tropes that the audience may well have missed them in their absence. However, it is the presentation that makes all the difference. Instead of being predictable and mawkish, Healing comes across as solid Australian drama, mostly due to the laconic performances of its actors…
Don Hany (Serangoon Road) as Viktor Khadem is definitely the highlight here. Hany underplays the role of a man that has been imprisoned for 18 years in a marvellously convincing way… Hugo Weaving as Matt Perry acts as a the perfect foil for Han, and their interaction really buoys the rest of the movie onward. Once again Weaving presents a man of few words, although one of obvious deep thought and positively verbose in comparison to Hany. As Healing progresses they grow a grudging respect for each other that appears to genuinely come from the actors…
Saved from schmaltz by strong acting, deliberate pacing, and some excellent cinematography (thanks to LOTR Oscar winner Andrew Lesnie) Healing gives us some solid drama. It may be full of overworked themes of redemption, but the result is a genuinely uplifting movie.”
“Matt allocates some unconventional inmate chores,
In this low-sec prison where Warren heads turf wars.
There are personal demons to face,
And with quiet dignity and grace:
Like Viktor’s feathered charges, Hany soars.”
Archibald Exhibit/Del Kathryn Barton’s ‘hugo’
The 2013 Archibald Prizes exhibit, highlighted by Del Kathryn Barton’s Hugo Weaving portrait, will be shown in Nowra, NSW May 13-June 28 at the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre. more details available at ArtsRush and South Coast Register.