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I’ve never plugged anything in these pages before, but I’m going to have to make an exception. The name of this post is the name of a film that I am “spruiking,” right here in River City. It came out last year and is available on DVD. Based on events that actually happened, even if they didn’t transpire the way a screenwriter would have wished. This is the sort of story that could have been easily ruined with a ham handed approach to character and plot. As it actually unrolls, there is magic in it.

SYNOPSIS:
It’s 1990 and an Indonesian fishing boat abandons a dozen Iraqi and Cambodian refugees on a remote Western Australian beach, promising them that a bus over the sandhills will soon come and take them to Perth. When the fishing boat sinks on its way home, the two people smugglers also end up in the empty outback. Most of the men are quickly caught, except for two of the asylum seekers and one of the fishermen. The three, Arun (Kenneth Moraleda), Youssif (Rodney Afif) and the fisherman Ramelan (Srisacd Sacdpraseuth), with nothing in common but their misfortune and determination, escape arrest and begin an epic journey through the deserted landscape. Laconically pursued by an army reservist unit, they bicker amongst themselves as they try to find a big town – like Broome or Perth – without the slightest idea of the distances involved.

Review by Louise Keller:
“It’s a buddy movie without buddies; a road movie without a road; a chase movie with nowhere to go. Lucky Miles is a unique Australian story, bringing together three fish-out-of water characters thrown together out of necessity. While the story about asylum-seeking refugees is political in nature, the result is compellingly entertaining as filmmaker Michael James Rowland injects wry humour into the dramatic situations. Striking remote Australian settings and diverse, engaging performances make this a film like no other.

When we first meet the group of Iraqi and Cambodian refugees who swim to the promise of a new life on the pristine sands of Western Australia, we have no idea what their future will hold. Central to the story is the plight of three outcasts who find their fates intertwined when the merciless desert offers no option. Iraqi engineer Youssif (Rodney Afif) who comes from Basra, a city of gardens and fountains, finds himself figuratively handcuffed to Arun (Kenneth Moraleda), a Cambodian in search of his Australian father, and to Indonesian fisherman Ramelan (Srisacd Sacdpraseuth), whose boat has sunk. Each is an outcast and together they battle the heat, isolation, lack of water and their constant irritation of each other. Their plight is fraught with misadventure, as is the plight of their pursuers (the army reserve crew of Kangaroo 4), and the two remaining crew from the boat.

Geoff Burton’s cinematography is outstanding as it immerses us into the wild grasses, the desolate sands, the rocky terrain and the flame-coloured skies. The tone projected is one that sardonically reflects the often tragically amusing plight of all the characters. We become involved in all of their lives as refugees, army reserve patrol members and boat crew find themselves at the mercy of the harsh Australian sun and the elements. This is a film worth discovering – just as its diverse characters discover their fate in a new country.”

Despite the desolate backdrop and the desperate characters, this is one that needs to be on your list. You may not be Down Under or have access to the quixotic Quikflix, but it is a must see film. I loved it.


This city is going through an existential crisis at the moment, but my last post was so heavy with angst I don’t feel like taking it on. The gist of it is, like all attractive, thriving destinations, Melbourne is being loved to death. It is growing at a rate of 1200 new people a week. It now has a population of 3.5 million. By 2030, it will approach 6 million, probably surpassing Sydney.

And this is a very, very, very spread out city, with a population density of just 1500 people per square km., compared to Paris at 3400 or London at 5100. It is rapidly eating up the surrounding countryside, generating new suburbs without the transportation infrastructure to support them. The Economist just named it as the 2nd most livable city in the world (right behind Vancouver), but it carbon footprint is that of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The expansion on the outer edges is turning the metropolis into a bifurcated city of haves in the inner city (with access to the transport that is already in place), and have nots in the outer suburbs, reliant on increasingly expensive petrol to get to work. And so on.

But I was not going to write about that. I was going to write about Australians you have heard of, but probably don’t know are Australian. Errol Flynn, for example, born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1909. His early career as a gold prospector, plantation owner, slave recruiter and womanizer was nothing to brag about, but probably enhanced his stature when he hit Hollywood.

A photograph in a newspaper caught the eye of an Australian movie maker, who cast Flynn as Fletcher Christian in the 1933 epic, “In the Wake of the Bounty.” The success of that role led the Tasmanian to London and a role as Captain Blood, then his triumph, “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

He had the looks, the cocky attitude and a stunt man’s fearlessness to make his mark as a matinée idol. Onscreen, it was period pictures and a pairing with the lovely Olivia de Havilland. Offscreen, it was Don Juan in the flesh. Parties, orgies, drugs and alcohol. He set the lowest possible standard for all young hunks in Hollywood to follow. “In like Flynn” was coined to describe his innumerable erotic conquests.

His last great role was no stretch for him as an actor– he portrayed an alcoholic in Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” He died of a heart attack at the age of fifty.

Counterpoint– another very physical matinée idol, Jackie Chan. I’ll bet you thought he was from Hong Kong. He is, actually, but the Australians don’t mind claiming him as a native son. He was born in 1954 in Hong Kong, where his father worked as a chef at the French embassy. In 1962, both parents were offered employment at the American Embassy in Canberra.

The son remained behind for a few years, studying martial arts at the Peking Opera School. In the mid 70’s he came to Australia to live with his parents. He attended school, then worked on building sites, where he picked up the nickname that stuck with him for life, Jackie.

He had already caught the eye of film makers back in Hong Kong, however, He returned to the colony and made his breakout film, “Drunken Master.” In 1994, he made “Rumble in the Bronx,” and the rest is kung fu cinematic history.

Jackie made two films in Australia in the late nineties, “First Strike” and “Mr. Nice Guy,” and has often used post production facilities here to finish pictures. His mother died recently, but his father remains a resident.

Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Toni Collette, Nick Cave, Bryce Courtenay, Peter Finch, Colin Friels, Rachel Giffiiths, George Miller, Morris West, Naomi Watts, Dame Joan Sutherland, Percy Grainger, Dame Melba, Helmut Newton, Guy Pearce, Havelock Ellis.

Just a sampling of Australians who found their way into the global awareness, at least in the West.  More power to them. It is time for bone dry antipodes to bloom.


Quickflix, our Australian version of Netlix, has some quirks befitting its home base. We are living on a continent in which the word “quirky” almost defies definition. How does one explain the kangaroo or platypus or a word like “spruik”, pronounced sprook, meaning, to hold forth in public.

Quickflix appears to work in the same fashion as Netflix, offering one the option of creating a list of DVDs organized in a queue in the order in which you want them delivered. So far, so good. The postal service is excellent and the movies are delivered expeditiously from their distribution center.

The quirkiness lies in the order of delivery. I can never anticipate what might come next, for it has nothing to do with the order of my queue. They seem to ship out the movies they have on hand, not necessarily the films at the top (or even near the top) of my list.

It looks like we’re getting the movies no one else wants to see– the Australian movies. Not that I mind all that much.

One of the Age movie reviewers wrote a scathing op ed piece recently about the state of Australian cinema, suggesting that Australian directors and producers were picking perverse projects (art pictures) and running the industry into the ground.

A perspicacious reader responded the next day with the suggestion that it was virtually impossible for an Australian film to compete with a Hollywood picture even in Australia thanks to huge Hollywood budgets, advertising, distribution deals and exhibition contracts. I would bet that is true.  Canada had exactly the same problem.  It took protectionist measures after a brief, unsuccessful period of rolling over and playing dead.

Three of our latest titles from Quickflix had to do with the perils of promiscuity in one way or the other. Two of them were based on memoirs, “Romulus, My Father,” and “Home Song Stories.” Both were set in the early sixties.

Despite the title of the former, the central characters in both films were beautiful, immigrant mothers, dreadfully unhappy with the path their lives had taken. Even though the “heroine” of Home Song Stories is much more calculating than the mother in ‘Romulus’, they are equally desperate, unbalanced, and unable to face the future in what appears to be a bleak new land.

The third is an aboriginal movie called “Ten Canoes,” a story within a story, one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen. In this case, the central parable serves as a warning to a young warrior of the dangers of infatuation with one of the wives of his brother.

All were exceptionally well done, Keep ’em coming, Quickflix. We’ll get to the top of list eventually, that Canadian film we want to see. I suspect some other Canadian has rented it and lost it or is just keeping it too damned long.


I rose too late for the celebration.  It began at dawn, presumably at 6 am, in the City.  The march was scheduled to begin at 8:15.  I rose early, but bearing witness to the commemoration of the Australian losses during World War I was not on my agenda.  It was coffee, breakfast, and the morning paper, wrapped tight as a drum in plastic wrap.  The significance of the day itself has been foreshadowed in “The Age” all week.  Ironically, despite the passing on of all the players, interest in  Anzac Day, Gallipoli and the Australian role in the campaigns of past wars has been increasing.

When war broke out in 1914, the new national government was eager to establish its reputation.  Australian and New Zealand forces formed part of the Allied expedition that set out to capture Istanbul, capital of the Ottaman Empire, at that time an ally of Germany.   They landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 and met fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders.  There were more solders lost in the first day than had been estimated for the entire campaign.  The battle dragged on for eight miserable months before the soldiers were evacuated.

News of the extraordinary bravery of those soldiers electrified Australians, helping to  forge a notion of  national identity, only tenuously formed thirteen years earlier with the  amicable separation from Britain.  The campaign itself was a failure, of course, a fact that was brought out brutally by Peter Weir (see previous post on Hanging Rock) in his 1981 film starring young, handsome blue-eyed boy, Mel Gibson.

Weir and screenwriter Williamson’s take on the war is that the campaign was poorly conceived, and botched by British officers who had nothing but contempt for Anzac soldiers and saw them as mere machine gun fodder. Here is a telling exchange between the two mates at the center of “Gallipoli.”

Frank:  Because it’s not our bloody war.   Archy:  What do you mean, not our war?  Frank:  It’s an English war, it’s got nothing to do with us.  Archy:  You know what you are, a bloody coward.

The trajectory of the film sets out to prove the falseness of the last statement, but it does raise serious questions about the value of unquestioning patriotism which fuels all wars.  An editorial in today’s “Age” says it very well.  “Anzac Day was born of a folly and christened on the shoreline of Gallipoli in 1915.  It is estimated that 8000 Australians and New Zealanders will be standing on the shoreline at dawn.  They will watch the sun rise with the ghosts of the victims…. One tourist for every dead Australian.”


I worry about that phrase. It probably stems from memories of my first days in California, when we discovered to our dismay that the nephew of the landlord was actually living in the garage behind the modest bungalow we had rented in Pacific Palisades. He was a surfer, and he seemed to embody a contradictory stance. He was what I would call an aggressive slacker. His favorite phrase was “no problem.” What it meant was: it’s not my problem.
The night before we were to move into our current abode here in Melbourne, my wife and I arranged to meet the rental agent for a walk through. We discovered that the power had not been switched on. I believed that would make it impossible to get the garage door up, which would make difficulties for the movers.  The agent was under the impression that I had taken care of the matter, while I believed that she was handling it. It was my first Australian encounter with the mentality I associate with our surfer in Los Angeles. No worries. Not my problem.

There is a good interpretation of the phrase and I suspect that most Australians use it that way. Meaning, I’ll take care of it. It is not your problem. I stayed up late the other night and caught a wonderful movie called “Mr. Reliable.” It came out ten years ago and is called “My Entire Life” in the US. It is based on an incident that happened in a suburb of Sydney during a heat wave in December, 1968.

Wally Mellish, (recently released from prison) is living with his girlfriend and her baby in a shack in what looks to be an industrial suburb, Glenfield. Beryl suggests that the place (which is almost empty) could use some ornamentation. Wally heads to the junkyard and steals some Jaguar ornaments. This, of course, leads to a visit from the local cops, and Wally getting angry when one of them kicks a hole in his door. He lets off a blast with a sawed-off shotgun and this leads to the biggest hostage crisis in Australian history.

Unlike “Dog Day Afternoon,” the story is played for humor and pathos. Wally is not a psycho. During most of the crisis, he keeps one step ahead of the police and behaves better than most of them. There is a lot of care taken with establishing the time and place and the group psychology that ends up playing such a big role in the drama. What struck me was how very Australian it felt. One of the reporters keeps saying, in fact, that in any other country they just would have blown him away. There was no doubt in my mind that he would not have survived in the United States. Maybe Canada.

Wally embodies the “No worries” character. He is worried, of course.  He is not an idiot.  But he reassures Beryl that despite being surrounded by a SWAT team, with no escape possible, everything is going to be all right. He will take care of it. And he does.


KoalaYesterday was Australia Day, the day that Governor Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales in 1788. There were plenty of festivities on hand here in Melbourne, of course, but we decided to take the suggestion of an Israeli guest and go see Hanging Rock. It is to the north of us, about an hour by car. I have a little Hyundai for the weekend, which seems like a toy compared to most of those built in the USA, but it was able to keep up at the speeds people drive here. Once we slipped out of the suburbs, the landscape began to resemble what I imagined Australia to be– vast tan expanses of tan dotted with pale green trees. The area of hanging rock itself seems like an oasis; it has lots of trees and some water, although the ‘lake” in the center of the racecourse is looking pretty sad. The rock itself is an ancient volcano.

The hike up is steep, even on the asphalt path we elected to take instead of the stairs. Stephanie bounded up the stairs, of course. Near the top, the asphalt disappears and you find yourself on the uneven footing of the rock itself, which has very strange crevices and fractures that Peter Weir captured so well in the movie– “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” The atmosphere at the crest is very disorienting and it is not hard to imagine a gaggle of schoolgirls getting turned around. We were all a little uncertain about directions at the summit. Fortunately, there were hordes of other visitors and we were in no danger of getting lost. On the way up we came across a koala bear in one of the Eucalyptus trees, munching away, trying to ignore the crowd of annoying creatures below.

When we returned to the College I decided to see if we could get a copy of the movie. I found it at Blockbuster, not too far away, and we had a wonderful evening with our Israeli friends watching the mesmerizing tale of Hanging Rock. I was astonished to discover that it is 32 years old now. The film holds up remarkably well. It is an exploration of an event that supposedly happened at the turn of the century– the disappearance of three school girls and a teacher on an outing to Hanging Rock. A novel came out in 1967 based on the “event”. Peter Weir took the novel as the basis for the film. It never really happened, but it does make a fascinating story, because Weir’s focus is on everyone’s reaction to the disappearance. Visually, it is just stunning.

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