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Sunday, 2 December 2001

He Died With a Felafel in His Hand

John Birmingham's loose collection of share-house anecdotes He Died With a Felafel in His Hand was a surprise (and surprisingly enduring) hit on the Australian literary scene. Whatever it was that made the book so successful, the movie definately doesn't have it; even the addition of something close to an actual plot feels more like a loss than a gain. Not that it's much of a plot: would be writer Danny (Noah Taylor) is living in Brisbane in his 47th share house. The quirky residents of the house go about their business peacefully enough - when they're not belting cane toads with golf clubs or setting fire to the dishes in the sink - but the arrival of Anya (Romane Bohringer) signals nothing less than the total destruction of the house and the lives of those in it. Share house 48 for Danny is in a thinly drawn Melbourne (it rains all the time and the cops shoot people is the extent of the insight here), and share house 49 (Sydney) brings the love triangle between Anya, Danny, and Sam (Emily Hamilton) to a head. This strips most of the quirky stories out of Birmingham's book and replaces them with not a hell of a lot, and it shows in the performances. Noah Taylor had relocated to London by the time the production was up and running: judging by his performance here (of an admittedly subdued character) he could have just mailed a photo of himself back and let it play the part. Worse, the jokes aren't funny, the sense of the bizarre found in the book only appears during the Brisbane sequence, and the love triangle itself is just plain dull. What makes the book so fun is that everyone in it is up to some wacky and / or insane adventures; the characters here have little to say, take forever to say it, and don't even seem like they mean it. Your mates down the pub have funnier and more truthful stories about share living to tell than the ones on offer here.

Anthony Morris

(this review appeared in Forte#254)

Sunday, 11 February 2001

Mall Boy

Fifteen year-old Shaun (Kane McNay) spends his life hanging out at the local shopping mall with his mates, dodging his social worker, and spending as little time as possible at home. Fair enough too - his two sisters spend their time swearing, mostly at each other, while inbetween drinks and swearing at her daughters his mother (Nell Feeny) tries to do her best but has no idea what that is. At least his dad (Brett Swain) is out of prison, but the welcome home party turns into a punch-up when dad brings his girlfriend around, and he doesn't seem that interested in having Shaun around anyway. Often blackly funny (if laughing at bogans is your thing, this is the must-see movie of '01) but also surprisingly powerful in its' depiction of aimless youth, Mall Boy manages to avoid the social drama cliches we've come to expect to instead deliver a spot-on look at a depressingly pointless way of life. Musician turned writer / director Vincent Giarrusso (from The Underground Lovers) has definitely made himself a name to watch in film with this one.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte)