IT HAS been far too long since a decent Australian film was released here and, even if The Eye of the Storm is not quite up to the high standards of the past, it is nonetheless welcome.
Also, it is one of the few movies aimed at mature audiences to reach our screens of late, so there are two good reasons to commend it, albeit with reservations.
Based on a 1973 novel by Patrick White, the distinguished Australian author, Fred Schepisi’s film version of Judy Morris’s adaptation does not attempt to update the story, its characters, their motives and circumstances.
Central to the narrative is Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling), a rich widow whose health is declining so rapidly that Basil (Geoffrey Rush), her son, and Dorothy (Judy Davis), her daughter, have arrived in Sydney to bid her a not-so-fond farewell.
Basil, an actor who had been knighted for his contribution to theatre, is still smarting from the harsh criticism and disappointing audiences that greeted his interpretation of King Lear.
The benighted Dorothy bears the title of princess, an honorific that was just about the only benefit she derived from a failed marriage.
Both siblings are short of money and hopeful that their presence at their mother’s bedside will bring them additional monetary rewards or, at the very least, pay for their dutiful respective journeys home.
Elizabeth is surrounded by faithful staff who, justifiably, are also expecting to have their dedication acknowledged in her will, a document Albert (John Goden), the family attorney, keeps close to his chest.
Tension mounts, rivalries are renewed and secrets are revealed, while the medicated patient is tended by Mary (Maria Theodorakis) and Flora (Alexandra Schepisi), her nurses, and amused by Lotte (Helen Morse), her German housekeeper with a penchant for the songs and style favoured in her homeland before the war.
The acting is exemplary throughout, the period setting is neither mocked nor filtered through lenses tinged with nostalgia, and the dysfunctional family’s unhappiness is universal and relevant.
However, there is a certain stodginess to the proceedings and some of the dialogue is arch rather than natural; Schepisi’s direction may be uninspired but the result has an old-fashioned, satisfying appeal and the performances compensate for any flaws or missteps.
WITH a cast that includes Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li and Chuck Norris, The Expendables 2 could hardly be anything else but a testosterone-charged, action-packed adventure designed to attract undemanding audiences ready to suspend belief and simply enjoy the chases, fights, explosions and a body count that runs into the hundreds.
The first assembly of these guns-for-hire crusaders — after all, they are given assignments by a man called Church (Willis) — saw them destroy a small Central American republic in order to save it from a despotic leader in league with druglords.
This new mission finds the virtually indestructible team in Eastern Europe where a stash of fissionable plutonium is in the wrong, dangerous hands.
Not surprisingly, this band of mercenary brothers triumphs over the unscrupulous forces led by Van Damme, helpfully named Jean Vilain to avoid patrons confusing him with the good guys.
There are some self-aware, knowing references to a few of the actors’ earlier roles but, refreshingly and fittingly in terms of the tough characters portrayed, there is none of the sentimental nonsense about personal vulnerability that has become the hallmark of most comic-book and screen heroes of late. Even when there is a setback, it is dealt with swiftly and efficiently; to these men death is just another part of life.
The script is not entirely without moments of reality but these fail to detract from the fast-moving action for which these redoubtable performers are renowned and, despite their ages, none is prepared to go gently into the twilight where they would belong without the occasional chance to flex their muscles again.