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directed by Sarah Spillane
Australia/USA 2013

 

In New South Wales to make a life with her fiancee Simon (Daniel Henshall, NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN), teacher Dino Chalmers (Christina Ricci, MONSTER) takes a job as an English teacher at a high school in the suburb of Redern, which is sevent-percent Aboriginal and thirty-percent immigrant. She decides to do a production of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" for the year eleven play but has a difficult time getting her class inspired, including young Liam Wood (Hunter Page-Lochard) who is secretly drawn to the play since his late uncle was part of the "Black Theatre" but never got to play the role himself. Liam's comes from a troubled family: his father Jack (Matt Nable, K-11) is five years into a twenty year sentence for a botched casino robbery, his mother Chrissie (Ursula Yovich, AUSTRALIA) is seeking employment though woefully unqualified, and his older brother Steve (Mark Coles Smith, BENEATH HILL 60) is well onto becoming another statistic. Liam impresses Dino and his classmates - particularly "right side of the tracks" Williemai (Madeline Madden) - with memorized passages from "Hamlet" and is encouraged to audition, winning the lead in the play. Dino faces opposition when she proposes a performance of the play as the cultural event for NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week in place of the coach's (Damian Walshe-Howling, who himself had large role in a contemporary adaptation of MACBETH) basketball games, but she encourages everyone to get involved and principal O'Donnell (seasoned Australian actor Jack Thompson, ['BREAKER' MORANT], who also produced) gets excited when the Minister of Culture confirms his visit to the school. Liam grows more confident as rehearsals proceed, but his resolve that he will never be anything like his father is threatened when his brother Steve pulls him into a poorly-planned revenge hit on the man (Josh Quong Tart) their father believes responsible for his arrest and their uncle's death.

AROUND THE BLOCK - the titular block referring to refers to the site of the 2004 Redfern riots after the death of an Aboriginal boy thought to be fleeing police pursuit - is well-made and well-intentioned, but neither ambitious nor challenging (perhaps scaled down and compromised). The film explores urban Aboriginal life through the cliches of urban drama (director Sarah Spillane cited CITY OF GOD and DO THE RIGHT THING among her influences), almost as if the filmmakers had a checklist of elements to incorporate: white teacher with shitty car coming to an inner-city school in danger of closure (with the students unlikely to be transferred to nearby schools), relating popular culture to the class subject matter (comparing Shakespeare's couplets with Tupac Shakur's verses), slathering montage sequences in hip-hop music (admittedly very well-chosen and engaging tracks), star-crossed love interests, cops driving through the block with slow motion glances exchanged with perps, and slow motion suicide-by-cop among others while also shoehorning in other elements that might make it of interest to niche audiences (there's something disingenuous about Dina taking a standa against racial insensitivity and breaking up with her fiance only for it to then be revealed that she has been pining for woman [Andrea Demetriades, NERVE] with which she had a past relationship and picking up another woman [Australian model/TV presenter Ruby Rose] in a bar). The derivativeness and clutter undercuts some affecting supporting performances from Page-Lochard, Nable, Yovich, Smith, and Madden. Ricci, on the other hand, is severely hampered by the script's shallow and uncertain characterization more so than the idea that she is the "white savior" character (itself played down with a throwaway comment about growing up on a reservation) who actually has little bearing on the trajectory of the plot (she's more an audience substitute observer - or voyeur as director Sarah Spillane describes her on the commentary track - intentionally foregrounded by her videography hobby early in the film) and only seems to notice something may be wrong in Liam's life when he doesn't show up for rehearsal. There are some superficial nods to Aboriginal cultural tropes like janitor Uncle Rex (Trevor Jamieson) as the wise elder, Liam running off after the shooting and wandering for a couple hours before deciding what to do next is referred to as "walkabout", while the performance of "Hamlet" in Aboriginal make-up and dress offers up some nice visuals (especially intercut with the climax). There is much to like about AROUND THE BLOCK, but the plot cliches and stylistic homages may be off-putting.

Eric Cotenas

Theatrical Release: 26 April 2014 (USA)

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DVD Review: Random Media/Cinedigm - Region 0 - NTSC

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

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Distribution

Random Media/Cinedigm

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:43:28
Video

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.95 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Random Media/Cinedigm

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
•  Audio Commentary by writer/director Sarah Spillane and production designer Michael Fitzgerald
• Behind the Scenes (16:9; 18:07)
• Deleted Scenes:
• - 'It's Complicated' (16:9; 1:07)
• - 'You're Not Going to Discover Me' (16:9; 1:01)
• - 'The Stolen Generation' (16:9; 1:21)
• - 'Walkabout - The Wucka Boy' (16:9; 4:29)
• 'Broken Wings' Music Video (16:9; 3:05)
• Theatrical Trailer (2:01)
• Start-up trailers for 'The Motel Life' and 'For Those in Peril'

DVD Release Date: August 5th, 2014
Amaray

Chapters 8

 

Comments

Random Media's dual-layer disc features a respectable mid-to-high bitrate encode of this RED-lensed feature while the Dolby Digital 5.1 track exploits the urban soundscapes and music interludes (English closed captions are also included). Director Sarah Spillane and production designer Michael Fitzgerald provide an audio commentary in which the director provides analysis of the story and her directorial choices. Fitzgerald focuses primarily on the settings, talking about recreating the block as has quite changed since the earlier 2000's, as well as visualizing Aboriginal circle symbolism (and contrasting it with the world inhabited by Dino's character). Spillane also provides background info on Redfern (including the 2004 riots and community relations since then) as well as the female protagonist's function as voyeur and the philosophical underpinnings of existential freedom (contrasting Liam's family life with Dino's sexuality).

The behind the scenes featurette includes sound bytes from the director, producers, editor Veronika Janet (THE PIANO), cinematographer, and production designer, as well as actors Ricci (discussing her character's motivations more clearly than rendered in the film), Thompson, Yovich (discussing her own experiences at Redfern when she first came to New South Wales), Smith, Rose, and Page-Lochard (pointing out the little nods in the visual and dialogue to "Hamlet" in addition to the turns of the plot). There is also a short selection of overly-expository scenes (some in finished quality, some with rough location audio) that were wisely left out (although the "Wucka Boy" story could have been better incorporated elsewhere into the finished film). A music video for Ngaiire & Nick Wales' cover of Mr. Mister's "Broken Wings" making use of clips for the film - augmented with film-look scratches and spots - as well as similar settings as well as a theatrical trailer for the film are also included (along with two start-up trailers).

  - Eric Cotenas

 


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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

 

Distribution

Random Media/Cinedigm

Region 0 - NTSC

 




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