Hopscotch Entertainment, 113 minutes
THE cinematography captures some vibrant colours in Drift, a wayward surf movie set in the striking surrounds of Margaret River in Western Australia, but in terms of dialogue, plot and, ultimately, satisfaction, the film is wan.
An independent project built in stages, with co-director Morgan O'Neill (Solo) rewriting the story penned by producer Tim Duffy, Drift flits from idea to idea, but never finds a lasting purpose. At times, it's the tale of strong-willed, mismatched brothers, the birth of a modern industry, a narcotics thriller, a laconic early-1970s comedy, and redemption by surfboard. By merely dabbling in each, the movie flirts with the facile.
The siblings are Andy and Jimmy Kelly (Myles Pollard and Xavier Samuel, respectively), who, as boys, fled across Australia with their mother, Kat (Robyn Malcolm), to escape an abusive father, and have settled into an uncomfortable relationship with the seaside town they call home. Andy wants to run his own business selling surf gear, while Jimmy is forsaking his surfing skills to flirt with a life of crime via local bikie Miller (Steve Bastoni).
The film is meant to evoke, in part, the birth of the modern surfwear industry, with the Kelly brothers shaping boards and stitching wetsuits, but, as a study of commerce, it's slim and there's an over-reliance on surf footage - some of which is exemplarily shot - and vintage rock. The opening riff from The Masters Apprentices' Turn Up Your Radio appears after 30 minutes, while some lines of dialogue allude to famous songs the production couldn't afford: "We're on the outside, looking in," Andy tells Jimmy early on, echoing Don Walker.
The indecisiveness extends to the main acting drawcard, Avatar star Sam Worthington. The former Perth boy plays JB, a surf photographer who arrives in town just as Kelly Brothers Surf Wear is opening. JB talks the mystical counterculture experience, but wields a shotgun when the bikies get frisky, highlighting unresolved contradictions typical of the character and the picture.
Heath Ledger had a similar supporting role in the 2005 skateboarding saga Lords of Dogtown and his mercurial, lived-in performance got his career back on track, but Worthington can only offer up a low-key minimalism that adds to the film's fitfulness.
Shameless machinations get the plot to the point where a surfing triumph supposedly makes everything good, but Drift is ultimately just shallow.
- Craig Mathieson
THE BIG WEDDING (MA)
Millennium Films, 89 minutes
JUSTIN Zackham's feature is an odd mixture of raunch and coyness, a comedy of wedding preparations that features an act of deception whose necessity is never convincingly established.
Alejandro (Ben Barnes), who is engaged to Missy (Amanda Seyfried), has a favour to ask his adoptive parents, Don and Ellie (Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton), who have been divorced for a long time.
He wants them to pretend to be a couple for the sake of his Colombian birth mother, Madonna (Patricia Rae), who is coming to the United States for the ceremony. She is a conservative Catholic, and he is sure she'd be devastated if she discovered the parents had split up. Don, a libidinous sculptor, who now lives with Ellie's friend, Bebe (Susan Sarandon), is up for it; Ellie is less inclined. But once Madonna and her daughter (Ana Ayora) arrive, the charade kicks in.
It's all pretty heavy-handed and obvious, and the actors struggle to enliven it. Even the final wedding sequence feels like an empty shell, inhabited by extras.
Only Sarandon and, above all, De Niro bring any energy and commitment to their characters - they don't have much to work with, but they give it their best shot.
- Philippa Hawker
SONG FOR MARION (PG)
Steel Mill Pictures, 93 minutes
FEEDING what appears to be an insatiable appetite for seniors behaving badly, Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton) opts to expand his repertoire beyond grim genre pieces to chase what is dubbed "the grey pound".
Coming in the wake of Dustin Hoffman's Quartet and John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and infused with the spirit of 1990s' feel-good British hits Brassed Off and The Full Monty, Song for Marion marks a welcome return for screen veteran Terence Stamp, who is 74 and seemingly content to act his age. With some goading, he even agreed to make his singing debut onscreen.
As Arthur, Stamp is a curmudgeon of the highest order. His wife, Marion (Vanessa Redgrave), is fighting a losing battle with cancer. Only the local choir, dubbed the OAPz for their readings of modern rap and pop, courtesy of their English-rose coach, Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), offers light relief from the grim reality of her mortality.
To complicate matters somewhat, Arthur has a thorny relationship with his son, James (Christopher Eccleston), which begins to thaw only as Marion's terminal illness takes hold. But such issues are, in typically British fashion, overshadowed by the task at hand. There is a performance to prepare for. And Arthur will be enticed to join in, whether he likes it or not.
It would be easy to dismiss this dramatic comedy (or dramedy, as they're now known) as opportunist, predictable and twee. Certainly, it could be seen as being guilty of all three. Yet, there is something genuinely affecting beyond the whimsy. Stamp is terrific as the grumpy, withdrawn figure of Arthur, while Redgrave - who lost her daughter, sister and brother in her anni horribili of 2009-10 - embodies the chirpy but ailing figure of Marion with the gravitas one expects from Britain's acting royalty.
As an accompaniment to what has preceded it, and as an antidote of sorts to Michael Haneke's Oscar-winning Amour, Song for Marion largely delivers what it sets out to achieve.
Some might wince at the thought of Motorhead, Salt-N-Pepa et al being attacked by seniors en masse, but at least they're not being forced to wear superhero outfits, as a droll counterpoint to the studios' obsession with fan-boy, comic-book wonders. Not yet, anyway.
- Ed Gibbs