Caffeinated Clint : Happy to get Wasted on Ben Lucas’s debut

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The statement ‘Most Australian Films are Crap’ (something uttered on a regular basis by either the public or, shockingly, local media) is about as correct a declaration as ‘most of the nation’s cars now run on LPG’ – a seriously indolent, ill-researched edict. And I know my co-editor here at Moviehole, Alicia Malone, will agree.

Yeah, OK, in my twelve to fifteen years as a film reviewer (I started in radio in the mid ‘90s) I’ve seen quite a few rubbishy local flicks (“Mr Accident”, “Cut”, “Sample People”, “You and Your Stupid Mate”, “Dying Breed”, “Under the Radar”, “All Men are Liars” – god, anyone remember that!? Toni Pearen and John Jarratt need scratch this from their resume! – come to mind) but I’ve also witnessed some absolutely fabulous fare – “Muriel’s Wedding”, “Chopper”, “Two Hands”, “The Castle”, “The Dish”, “Crackerjack”, “The Jammed” (Disclaimer : I’m in the film; yes, I’d still like it if I wasn’t – probably more so),  “Beautiful Kate”, “Last Train to Freo”, “Black Water”… the list goes on..and on… and on. (We’re at our best when we’re not trying to emulate American films)

More so – and yes, I know they make far more films than us but that only strengthens the claim – you’ll find a lot more ticks next to the Australian films released during my time in the media than American. Fact of the matter is, by and large, we only make good movies; a rotten apple is always going to wind up in the sack, but mostly, it’s full of ripe offerings. Funding bodies, knowing too well they’re only able to greenlight a couple of Aussie flicks a year, will only cash-up the most promising of fare (A green intern was filling in at the AFC the day “Wog Boy 2” came into bank) – they have to.

But like Hollywood, the Australian Film Industry has had moments where it’s had to be drip-fed due to illness.  The time that comes to mind is that period in 1987, just after “Crocodile Dundee” and “Malcolm” hit big – the success of those films essentially guaranteed a future for our film industry but that also meant more product, and with more product comes the greater likelihood that you’ll come across some substandard fare. The floodgates opened to a Yasi-size storm of poor local films in that time – there was the ‘How did this ever get made!?’ effort “Les Patterson Saves the World”, sci-fi blunder “The Time Guardian”, numerous B-horror films like “Body Melt” and “Howling III” and quite a few more.

But what you have to remember is that, even then, in ’87, we had the superlative war film “The Lighthorsemen” starring Tom Burlinson, Sigrid Thornton and [one time next Mel Gibson] Jon Blake; Michael Hutchence starrer “Dogs in Space” (now a cult classic); “Ground Zero” with Jack Thompson and Colin Friels; the superb “High Tide” with Judy Davis, and, markedly, a little film called “The Year My Voice Broke” – so never were we on life support.  But yes, it was probably a 60:40 good-to-bad ratio (don’t get me started on the U.S fare that year – for every “Last Emperor” and “Wall Street” there was a “Back to the Beach” or “Disordelies”) that year.

But it’s just not ’87, we hear all the time that the Australian film Industry is in a pickle – and it was the year that films like “Deck Dogz”, “You and Your Stupid Mate” and “The Extra” came out, 2005, that’s been earmarked as one of our most recent of horrible years. One could defend that year by bringing up names like “The Magician”, “Wolf Creek”, “Little Fish” and “Look Both Ways” and “The Proposition” but alas, some just aren’t interested in the truth. Blimey, in 2005, the Australian Film Industry might have been even healthier than the American film industry – it was beginning to enter it’s remake craze, kicking things off with a succession of really bad horror movies based on brilliant classics (like “Ju-On : The Grudge” and “The Fog”), and smack-bang in the middle of its fascination with star-driven, brilliantly-marketed crap like “Hitch” (the Will Smith film was the tenth highest grosser of the year),  “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (didn’t anyone even like the remake!?), “Fever Pitch” with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, “Monster-in-Law” with JLo, and “The Longest Yard”, the first in a long line of Adam Sandler torture-corn flicks. 3 of our 15 releases were bad? Ummm, no, that doesn’t equal ‘we’re f*cked!’.

If someone were to walk up to me today and say ‘Last year was a really shit year for Oz films’, I’d likely smack ‘em in pie hole. Truth of the matter is, 2010 proved, once again, that we Australians make some of the best movies in the global marketplace; from “Animal Kingdom”, “Summer Coda”, “Beneath Hill 60” and even the crowd-pleasing rom-com “I Love You Too”, at least eighty-percent of our local fare was greeted more warmly than one’s member in an Apple Pie.

2011, by all accounts, looks set to be just as ripper a year – particularly if Ben C.Lucas’ “Wasted on the Young” is anything to go by.

This one, a thriller padded with unknown actors and strobe lights, is what Hollywood would call, had they had made it, an ‘awards contender’.

If in “Pretty in Pink” Duckie had done to Stef what most would agree he should’ve (make Stef listen to Annie Potts whining about her love life while Duckie holds a gun to his head) the result might’ve turned out similar to the just deserts the snotty preps in this seat-sweating new Aussie thriller get.

I use the ‘’Pretty in Pink’’ analogy because had its writer [the late, great] John Hughes been slipped a roofie, ended up in bed with Bret Easton Ellis, and woke up with a whiskey-drenched Remington up his behind, he might’ve written this film.

Or would he? You see Hughes was more about writing original, fresh stories about youth whereas ‘’Wasted on the Young’’, I suppose you could say, encompasses a blueprint that’s bearing more than a few coffee mug induced circles. Be it ‘’2:37’’, ‘’Elephant’’, ‘’Cruel Intentions’’ or ‘’One Perfect Day’’, the confused and abused teenager has had the flag flown for him for so many years now that his or her yarn’s becoming commonplace at the multiplex. Does it matter? No, not really – not when it’s done this well.

A realistic study of the school bully and the effects of playing victim of one, “Young” tells of a striking and violent private-school student Zack (Alex Russell) who, with his two mates Brook (T.J. Power) and Jonathan (Tom Stokes), rule the school.  When Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens) lets the narcissistic party boy Zack know she’s not interested in him… but instead has feelings for his shy, kindly step-brother (!) Darren (Oliver Ackland), the smug bully hatches his revenge.

Hoping to see Darren, Xandie decides to accept an invitation to attend one of Zack’s famous parties (they take place in his father’s pricey mansion, seemingly with approval). Unable to find the object of her affection (He’s looking for her at the same time), Xandrie accompanies some schoolmates to one of the downstairs rooms to party with Zack and friends. Our villains drug Xandrie, wait till she’s passed out, and then decide to take advantage of her. When she awakes, Xandrie’s a messy, hysterical pale imitation of herself, lying on a beach.

Back at school, Zack and friends start spreading rumours about Xandrie – one’s suggesting she’s somewhat of a whore – but Darren’s unwilling to believe the gossip so goes snooping for the truth.  Xandrie however is determined to remain quiet about the ordeal; she knows that whatever the scoreboard says, the majority will still paint Zack a winner.

Perth writer/director Lucas meshes the familiar (“Gossip Girl” fans will feel at home) with the fresh, crams it with some of the best performances you’ll see from a young cast since (think Clint! think!) ‘’Brides of Christ’’, adds and subtracts in the moments that matter, and douses it in a delicious dressing of suspense, buzz and gnash that similar films (usually out of Hollywood – see Davis Guggenheim’s “Gossip” (2000)) usually forget.

The best way to extenuate the merits of “Wasted on the Young” is to simply say it’s ‘had some thought put into it’. Simple assertion, one that mightn’t mean a lot to some, but the results are on the screen. Ben Lucas has painstakingly plotted this thing (no thread left unwoven), directed it with flair and skill (as opposed to another filmmaker who may have just pointed and shot), and most of all, transformed his cast into telethon donators – giving all they can give.

Alex Russell as is an absolute revelation as bad-boy Zack. No doubt picked up by the states pretty soon (he just missed out on a lead role in the “Dallas” reboot actually), the kid with the dangerous smile and admirable swagger is mesmerizing in what’s undoubtedly a career-making performance.

In addition, the film’s good guy, Oliver Ackland, is equally as brilliant as the humanely, bemused, desperate, pining (I’m just gonna keeping throwing words out there) Darren. Ackland gives one of the most realistic portraits of a modern-day teenager swimming with clashing emotions, to date. It’s easy to root for him.

Adelaide Clemens, familiar to “Love My Way” fans as Harper, has a golden-ticket part here; beautiful, captivating, authentic… Clemens turn as one of the film’s few victims is likely to stay with you long after the credits roll. And again, it’ll be ‘Goodbye Oz, Hello Hollywood’ fairly soon for Clemens – she’s superb. Watch out for her name on a ballot sheet at AFI time.

What’s great about Lucas’s script is that he’s made sure to divvy up some of the juicy sequences and characterization with even the smallest of characters – particularly Zack‘s closest mates/fellow thugs –  so that nobody in the film comes across fleshless or is forgettable.

“Wasted on the Young” is that final blow that Ivan Drago delivered to the wounded Apollo Creed – a power-packed punch of a film that’ll have you seeing [future] stars and gasping for breath.

“Wasted on the Young” in cinemas March 3