Archive | November, 2013

Better Man

20 Nov

Better_Man Powerfully moving and with a strong message about capital punishment, this four-part Australian miniseries is based on the true story of Van Nguyen, a 25-year-old Vietnamese-Australian who was given the death penalty after smuggling drugs to pay off his brother’s debts. Directed by Khoa Do (Footy Legends) we follow Van’s story from his decision to smuggle the drugs, to his arrest at Singapore Airport, his trial and pleas for clemency. 

Driven by strong performances, especially Remy Hii in the role of the desperate Van, this is a gut-wrenching tale of a family’s fight to save the life of a condemned young man. We are introduced to Van through scenes showing us his home life in Melbourne and his relationship with his twin brother Khoa (Jordan Rodrigues), and mother Kim (Hien Nguyen, the real-life mother of director Khoa Do and comedian Anh Do). 

Better_Man_pic When his brother is unable to pay back his court case debts, Van agrees to smuggle drugs from Cambodia to Australia, making a fateful transit in Singapore where the hidden packages of heroin are detected. The excellent support cast includes David Wenham as Melbourne lawyer Julian McMahon who teams up with barrister Lex Lasry (Bryan Brown) in a bid to help save Van from the death penalty. 

 The airing of Better Man on SBS earlier this year was controversial, with Van’s mother Kim Nguyen calling for it to be halted as the drama was traumatising to her family. However others have since claimed it is must-see viewing, portraying the shocking travesty of justice as Singaporean authorities failed to take important evidence into account during the trial. Chilling and upsetting extremely powerful viewing.

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The Great Gatsby

20 Nov

great_gatsby_cover Baz Luhrmann indulges his love of glitter in this glitzy rendering of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel about the American Dream. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the titular protagonist, an enigmatic, exquisitely tailored gent who throws decadent parties at his Long Island mansion in a desperate bid to engineer a reunion with his long-lost love, Daisy Buchanan.

Daisy, played with sylph-like fragility by Hollywood “it” girl Carey Mulligan, is trapped in an unhappy marriage to brawny millionaire Tom (Joel Edgerton). As Gatsby grows increasingly determined to reconnect with Daisy, the tangled love story is narrated by Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man), Gatsby’s next-door neighbour who becomes swept up in the man’s quixotic quest. Delving into themes of class snobbery, organised crime and the fragility of dreams, the film reveals the glittering facade of the Jazz Age failing to disguise the sordid reality of life.

Australian director Luhrmann is famous for his brash, MTV-style approach, which worked brilliantly in his first two films; 1992’s Strictly Ballroom and 1996’s Romeo + Juliet (less so in 2001’s Moulin Rouge, and let’s not even talk about the monstrosity that was 2008’s Australia). However the juxtaposition of period costumes and pop culture references is less successful here, and tunes from the likes of rapper Jay-Z (also the film’s executive producer) snatch the viewer out of the sumptuous world created by costume and production set designer Catherine Martin.

great_gatsbyIf you can get over the soundtrack, the acting is superb. Australian export Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) lends a swaggering menace to the blue-blooded Tom; offering security to Daisy while inflicting pain on her with his philandering. There’s plenty of other homegrown talent on offer, including Elizabeth Debicki (A Few Best Men) as Nick’s stylish love interest Jordan Baker, Isla Fisher as Tom’s working-class mistress and cameos by Steve Bisley and Vince Colosimo.

Wild party scenes are Luhrmann’s forte, and the bacchanalian revelries at Gatsby’s waterside palace are a visual feast. But just as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel has polarised readers for decades, Luhrmann’s dazzling interpretation will delight those who can enjoy the spectacle, and disappoint those who feel it could have been so much more.