Orange Wednesday: Mystery Road (2013), Goldstone (2016) and The Name of the Rose (1986)

Mystery Road
Aaron Pedersen in Mystery Road

Every Thursday, TMINE reviews two movies, carefully avoiding infringing a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick

It’s been noticeable over the past few weeks that basically the only movies TMINE has been watching of late have been superhero movies. This is somewhat lamentable for someone who used to edit film magazines, including the magazine of the Cambridge Film Festival.

This cannot hold. However, since I’ve just downsized my Cinema Paradiso subscription, I’ve had a few pennies spare. And one of the advantages of running TMINE is that you learn about things like Amazon Prime Channels and the BFI.

BFI woe

Now those of you who’ve tried the BFI’s iOS app will know it is literally the worst. It’s just awful. It’s got a rating of 1.3 out 5 on the App Store. It’s barely even worth calling it an app. I mean look – this is what you get when you launch it.

This is not an app. This is a travesty

Which is why I never bothered to use it.

A better choice

But if you read TMINE frequently – like I do – you’ll know that if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you can also subscribe to the BFI Player channel within Amazon Prime for a mere £4.99/month and use the Amazon Prime app (also available on Roku et al) to watch all the movies, including downloading them for a commute.

This is much better
This is much better – on iOS

Lovely. Plus it seems to have a better catalogue and to be cheaper than Mubi.

Anyway, when I’m not lowering my IQ watching non-stop superhero movies, I’ll be endeavouring to plough my way through a big chunk of classic movies on the BFI Player for Orange Wednesday – probably starting with everything Kurosawa, but you never know, I might diversify.

This week’s Orange Wednesday

But since this is ostensibly a TV blog, I thought I’d start with a double bill related to a TV show: Mystery Road (2013) and its sequel Goldstone (2016), which led to one of last year’s top TMINE TV shows, Mystery Road.

However, since I only reviewed one movie last week, I probably owe you all an extra review. And since I’ve been watching Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose) of late, I decided to delve into my archive of movies and rewatch the 1986 movie version.

All three of those TV-related films after the jump.

Mystery Road (2013)

When Aboriginal detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returns to his home town to solve the brutal murder of a teenage girl, he is immediately thrown into a web of lies and deceit.

Alienated by the white-dominated police force to which he is attached and ostracised by the local Indigenous community, Jay must stand alone and attempt to unravel the truth before tensions boil over.

Aaron Pedersen in Mystery Road
Aaron Pedersen in Mystery Road

Mysteriously inferior

Having watched the Mystery Road TV series, it was oddly fascinating to watch the original movie on which it was based – and discover the movie wasn’t as good. If the series was a masterpiece in subtle sociology, demonstrating how people can be both insiders and outsiders in a town that isn’t even theirs, the movie is a clunkier affair that plays on standard Western tropes.

Pedersen, who was so astonishing in the series, here is a slightly more subdued individual, investigating a crime because it’s his job – because it’s his town. He soon finds that he’s having to deal with prejudice from his colleagues, as well as within the local white community, but is able to use his more friendly relationships with the local aboriginal community to get further than he would have done otherwise.

By about the midpoint, though, he’s having to deal with threats to his family, who aren’t exactly portrayed with much nuance, his wife a drunkard who ignores their daughter, who’s perpetually being threatened by the bad guys.

Oh dear.

Ryan Kwanten in Mystery Road
Ryan Kwanten in Mystery Road

Commonalities

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see what the subsequent TV series picks up on and decides to continue. There’s the directorial style, with drone photography used to good effect to shoot both beautiful vistas and high aerial tracking shots of moving vehicles.

There’s also Pedersen’s ‘cowboy’ qualities. As well as his impassiveness, the script gives him beautifully pared down dialogue, which combined with his distant body language, gives you a real insight into people who probably never come closer than 100 metres of any other human being in a given day and never ever exchange more than a few words. There’s also the rural love of guns, for people who might be countless kilometres away from help of any kind so have to do everything for themselves.

I did also genuinely love the final shootout, which felt far more authentic than most, being a general mess from start to finish and the winner not being the quickest on the draw but the one who manages to get a good enough wind at the right time to land their shot.

All the same, watch the series rather than the movie, since it’s far superior. But if you are curious about the show’s origins, this definitely won’t be a waste of your time, if only to watch Hugo Weaving doing something a bit different and Ryan Kwanten (The Oath, True Blood) not having to fake an American accent for a change.

Goldstone (2016)

Indigenous Detective Jay Swan arrives in the frontier mining town of Goldstone on a missing persons enquiry. What seems like a simple “light duties” investigation soon opens into a web of crime and corruption implicating the local Mayor, mining boss and Aboriginal Land Council.

Jacki Weaver and David Wenham in Goldstone
Jacki Weaver and David Wenham in Goldstone

Goldless

In comparison to Mystery Road, Goldstone feels like an odd attempt to deconstruct its hero – a deconstruction that the later Mystery Road TV series completely ignores.

It sees our Aaron a virtual drunkard, going from town to town looking for his missing daughter (who, of course, isn’t missing in Mystery Road). Where once he could draw on his Aboriginal links, he finds he’s up against the local Aborigines; where once he could draw on his superior marksmanship, he finds himself up against far superior numbers in the shape of the local security.

For the most part, too, it follows Alex Russell (S.W.A.T.), another detective who’s perhaps too close to the local criminal element and so isn’t best placed to help the Chinese girls being forced into prostitution. While it’s ostensibly an important look at the treatment of immigrants, particularly women, in Australia, it’s as surface an examination as Taken‘s.

All of which makes it a bit of an unrewarding snooze. There is, again, a great shootout, when the cops go looking for the girls, and the movie’s efforts to help Pedersen’s character get to grips with his roots are about the only thing the TV series ever really draws on.

But despite having the likes of Jacki Weaver (Secret City, Animal Kingdom, Bloom) and David Wenham (Marvel’s Iron Fist) on board, the only real reason for watching this is completism.

The Name of the Rose (1986)

As an old man, Adso of Melk (Christian Slater) recounts how, in 1327, as a young Franciscan novice, he and his mentor, Franciscan friar William of Baskerville (Sean Connery), traveled to a Benedictine abbey in northern Italy where the Franciscans were to debate with Papal emissaries the poverty of Christ.

The abbey boasts a famed scriptorium where scribes copy, translate or illuminate books. The monk Adelmo of Otranto – a young but famous manuscript illuminator – was suspiciously found dead on a hillside below a tower with only a window which cannot be opened. The abbot seeks help from William, who is renowned for his deductive powers. William is reluctantly drawn in by the intellectual challenge and his desire to disprove fears of a demonic culprit.

Christian Slater and Ron Perlman in The Name of the Rose
Christian Slater and Ron Perlman in The Name of the Rose

By any other name

I don’t really need to explain too much about the plot of The Name of the Rose and how it functions as a story here, as I did so recently for the TV series. However, the movie focuses quite tightly on two things: period detail and detection. Everything looks great and the intellectual debate over the correct form of Christianity, as well as the inquisition, are preserved well, even if it’s far more black and white in the movie, rather than a simply disagreement over interpretation of the scriptures in the books. Similarly, the Sherlock Holmes parallels are retained with gusto, which should please the crime fans.

But as with the series, the movie foregoes much of Umberto Eco’s more intellectual digressions. However, it’s also more faithful, largely sticking to the plot of the original novel, which soars along at high speed here.

Sean Connery and F Murray Abraham in The Name of the Rose
Sean Connery and F Murray Abraham in The Name of the Rose

Recreating the 14th century

Visually, there are interesting choices being made. French director Jean-Jacques Annaud basically did a tour of the world, looking for some of the ugliest people he could find to play the monks and he’s done very well. Indeed, last minute choice for the role of the hunchback, Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, Beauty and the Beast, Hand of God), is barely recognisable thanks to the make-up employed.

Annaud also went to the extent of constructing a replica monastery – the biggest exterior set built in Europe since Cleopatra – and many of the interiors were shot at Eberbach Abbey in Germany. They also got some real illuminated manuscript made up – something that took a year to do, in some cases.

It certainly feels like something taking place in the right places, rather than studios, and there’s a real atmosphere to it that echoes the likes of Robin of Sherwood on TV.

However, there’s also a nude scene involving the then 15-year-old Christian Slater and the 22-year-old Valentina Vargas that is practically weapons-grade porn. Man, European films of the 80s were something else.

I've literally no idea who these people are
I’ve literally no idea who these people are

Flawed

Oddly, there are few acting plaudits to pass around. Perlman’s great, even if he’s having to make up his own dialogue, but Connery is no different here to any of his other 80s performances, particularly Highlander, offering none of the nuance and beatitude of John Turturro’s performance in the TV series. Slater is a bit squeaky and his cod-English accent amusing, but F Murray Abraham is oddly little more than a moustache twirler as the grand inquisitor, despite only having won his Oscar for Amadeus the year before. Everyone else is acting in English as best they can (ie not great).

If you want something relatively authentic to the book that looks medieval and is a real ‘page turner’, this The Name of the Rose is the better choice. But it could still have done with some of the better qualities of the modern TV series to have truly become exceptional.

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