Dir/scr: Dan Castle. Australia. 2008. 106 mins.
Dan Castle is an American-born director, but he recognises the dichotomies of Australia, where he makes films. The best thing about Newcastle, a feature set in the country's third largest city, is its awareness of how an industrial landscape (coal and shipping) can coexist with some of the world's most beautiful beaches. And some hot beefcake as well, if a bit on the jailbait side.
Castle, former co-president of the gay American distributor Jour de Fete Films and the director of such youthful surfer shorts as the Australian The Visitor and the 'Lost' section of the US gay compilation film Boys To Men, clearly is fixated with young guys on the beach and in the sea-and with the sea itself, which is so overly filmed that you begin to feel as if you are drowning. Viewers intensely interested in the Newcastle Pro Junior Surf Competition may want to pay for a ticket, but larger receipts for this film will probably come from those who rent the DVD in the rear, hidden sections of local video stores.
Castle's problem, at least in Newcastle, is that the plot seems cobbled together simply as a vehicle for the images themselves. This is a teen film, replete with scatological references, belching, masturbation, spontaneous skinny dips, even an orgy in what the Aussies call 'panel vans' or 'sin bins' at the beach. The rapid ADD cutting here makes it clear that Newcastle is geared towards the younger generation.
But in fact, the editing, the addition of a gay character, and the schmaltzy music which accompanies the underwhelming surfing montages are all that distinguish Newcastle from the generic Frankie Avalon beach movies of the '50s. The family drama meant to add gravitas is tacked on, unsuccessful in its mission. And there have been much better surfer films. Australia has an enormous genre of surfing fiction, and such American docs as Stacy Peralta's Riding Giants (2004), Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer (1966), and Dana Brown's Step Into Liquid (2003) are more visceral, even enlightening, in their impact.
At the center of Newcastle is Jesse (Buchanan), 17 and blonde, almost always shirtless. Like the rest of his buddies and most of his family members, he surfs. He does little else, in fact, although at the end of the film he does emote about being responsible for the death at sea of his loser older brother Victor (Reshad Strik). He isn't culpable, but these sequences do afford him the opportunity to display a bit of range.
We know Victor is evil: the heavy music cords that come on whenever he and his buddies appear let us know that right away. But Jesse does manage to forge a bond with his gay twin brother, Fergus (Samuel), a goth-like individual. Somewhat gratuitously, Castle has Fergus strip off his long trunks for his friends and their girls to reveal a huge endowment (his back is to the camera); at least they are impressed.
The final section of the film suddenly goes for tragedy, with Castle milking the elements as commentary on the characters as if he were Goethe validating the Pathetic Fallacy with shots of a full moon and huge waves that would seem to signal tsunami in other parts of the world. But it is too late: The characters have already been established as wooden and empty.
Film Finance Corporation Australia
3 Dogs & A Pony
Icon Entertainment International
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