Metal Skin (1994)
R1 - America - Subversive Cinema
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (12th July 2006).
The Film

Australian director/writer Geoffrey Wright is best known for his acclaimed cult-film “Romper Stomper (1992)”, which also gave the needed boost to actor Russell Crowe. Before making “Cherry Falls (2000)” in the US, Wright continued his themes of exploring the troubled life of the somewhat marginalized young people in “Metal Skin (1994)”. The film is ambitious and visually a real treat, but a quite interesting story gets confusing at times, since everything from cars to devils-worshipping is thrown into the mix, and eventually the film fails to be really unique and exciting. It´s still worth seeing, though, since there are several good moments in the film, with talented young actors.

The film is set in Melbourne, Australia, where the story follows four young people in their struggle to find that right place in their life - and to seek love. Joe (Aden Young) is living with his (probably) demented father in the suburbs, trying to look after him in their rather beat-up house. He works in the wholesale market, where he eventually meets Dazey (Ben Mendelsohn), a smart, but hopeless womanizer, who fails to keep up the relationship with his girlfriend Roslyn (Nadine Garner). At the same store works also Savina (Tara Morice), a quiet and strange girl, usually dressed almost in black and having the reputation of being “weird”. A similar reputation also follows Joe, who has the nickname “Psycho” given by the group of hoodlums living in the area. Joe and Dazey first meet in a few rather awkward situations, but it´s their mutual interest of cars that starts their friendship. Dazey is a veteran of the illegal “drag race”-scene operating in the quiet streets of Melbourne, where he makes a minor comeback with Joe. Of course, the rival gang doesn´t really like to see their faces, so things are starting to heat up. This is also the first part where the script doesn´t keep up with the rest of the film. Instantly you´ll think that “great, this is going to be a more serious film involving cars”, taking some of the best elements from the weak and over-Hollywoodish “The Fast and the Furious (2001)” and the street-attitude and visual (night scenes) style from e.g. “Streets of Fire (1984)”, still maintaining the drama. This is not the case, and soon the elements involving cars are set on the background, and they don´t really return properly until in the big finale. The actual car-scenes are very nicely done and the highlight of the movie, but they´re too loosely connected to the story, if you ask me. The weakest part involves the character Savina, and her style to perform black magic rites as a part of her fixation to Dazey. I´m not sure, perhaps I simply missed something, but I didn´t fully understand what was the point with the “black magic”-scenes, since if the director wanted to make a point that Savina has “lost it”, there would´ve been a more subtle way to show it. These scenes really don´t fit in with the rest of the mood.

The story works best when it studies the difficult relationships among these lead characters, and adds some social commentary into it. Like it says in the extras, the film is like “tales from the suburbs”, following these young people that should be full of life and opportunities, but who really don´t get any real chance to show their best talents. If Joe doesn´t look after his father, nobody will, and Savina´s mother is completely denying the needs of her daughter, not guiding or listening to her, keeping up the front of the happy family. Like her daughter, she´s not very stable either. Dazey is helping his relatives once in a while in their car-garage, but isn´t very trusted there, partly as a result of his own behaviour. Roslyn is partly burned after the accident involving Dazey, and this is tormenting him inside and is perhaps a reason why he has to “escape” regularly to cheat her - he can´t face the guilt. Whatever the reason is, these people are not happy, always falling in love with the wrong people, always seeking the wrong dreams, and in the end always disappointing themselves as well as the people close by. Eventually this mounting frustration introduces the worst friend that people could have in the time of trouble; violence.

Instead of a rough “Super 16” handheld-style seen on “Romper Stomper”, cinematographer (for both films) Ron Hagen chose to have a more conventional style with 2.35:1-ratio, still maintaining the certain originality. Many of the scenes include strong colors of e.g. red and blue in some form or another. Whether it´s a part of the clothes, shades of light on the wall or the distance, or just the overall lighting, the look of the film is “edgy”. It´s not necessarily very brightly lit or overly colourful, but certain colours are still present, giving the minor “dream-like” feel to the contrast of the urban tale. Cinematography gets some support from the editing, which is far from conventional. The editing is very much non-linear, and often two different scenes of past/future and present are edited together. Furthermore, along with cross-cutting the film has many obvious jump cuts, and together they create the tension and restless mood. The downside is that this type of editing can alienate some viewers, and in some degree it happened to me. Visually the film still stands on its own, and provides a few clever tricks along the way. The end scene is of course the highlight of the film, and I can imagine that getting all those shots must´ve been taken some time and nerves.

Video

“Subversive Cinema” presents the film in Anamorphic 2.35:1, which looks very good. Dirt or film artifacts are nowhere to be found, and the transfer is boasting strong black levels and very saturated colours. Both looked a bit overly boosted in certain scenes, but I have to assume that this is intentional. There was perhaps some minor colour bleeding that can be visible in the larger screens, but generally this is a fine transfer. “Dual layer” disc is coded “R1”, and includes 36 chapters. The film runs 113:38 minutes (NTSC).

Audio

The disc includes 2 audio tracks, English Dolby Digital 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. With 2.0-track, back cover and menu list “Stereo”, but it sounded “Mono” to my ears. There are no subtitles, which is a bit of a shame, since there are minor Australian accents involved. I listened to the 5.1-track, which is clean and offers some good surround-activity. Sounds of the cars are of course like made for the surround channels, but there are also other good elements like the music, rain, gun-sounds, etc., all making this an enjoyable experience in sound wise.

Extras

The disc is loaded with extras (none of them include any subtitles), and we start with the Audio commentary (there should be the “film introduction” by Wright, but I can´t find it). The commentary doesn´t always introduce the participants properly, but with director/writer Geoffrey Wright, producer Daniel Scharf, composer John Clifford White, director of photography - second unit/camera operator Brent Crockett, and members of the sound department are included. Wright does the main talking with Scharf, and once in a while they let the other members of the crew say selected comments. The main theme, if you will, by Wright is to defend the production to some degree, since clearly it got some bad reviews from the press, and there were rumours that it was a “troubled production”. This was due to the fact that the car-scenes were difficult to shoot, and after the principal photography they needed to get some additional material involving cars. This started some rumours. The script was actually mostly written before the production of “Romper Stomper” (actually Russell Crowe was very close to play “Joe”). Wright has a lot to say about the film and he´s clearly proud of it, but occasionally you get the feeling that everything in the film is something “that you haven´t seen in the Australian movies before or after”, the car scenes were “more ambitious than ever seen in Australia”, and that they “went for that extra mile” of everything. He also tells how he was “ambushed” by the Australian film critics, whatever that means (I have never understood why directors bother to argue with the film critics, but I guess those critics had more power during the time of the films like “Metal Skin”). He tells an honest anecdote though, about the Venice Film Festival, where he threw a glass of white wine over some critic that had given him some hard times. More interesting is how they talk about the locations in Melbourne and the city (I guess it was a “crime capital of the country” at the time), and the Australian film industry and actors generally, and also about the visual style of the film (editing, colours). Sound designers give some background involving the car-scenes (if you´re not into cars, this might make you sleepy), and the second unit DoP Crockett tells about his involvement about the visual style, since the original DoP Hagen went through some chemotherapy during the shoot (he´s still with us, I might add) and he had to step in every now and then. Composer White tells also about his music in certain scenes.

“Pedal to the Metal: The Making of Metal Skin” -documentary runs 33:55 minutes, and is actually a bit of a disappointment. The documentary includes mainly interviews from Wright and lead actors (minus Mendelsohn) with some scenes from the film, and the focus is with the casting, characters and their motives, and not until about the 26 minute mark we get in the issues like locations and car scenes. This is of course essential, but to me the actors analyzing their characters is something that can be a bit boring, since eventually as a viewer you have made your opinions about them during the film already. The piece is also a bit lazily edited, and could´ve used some “behind the scenes”-material (since some are included in the “Easter Eggs”, it makes me wonder that why not edit that footage in part of this documentary?). Of course this is a good addition, but perhaps too repetitive to my taste (good thing is, that audio commentary and documentary don´t eat each other).

“Lover Boy (1988)” -short film runs 57:29 minutes, and includes an optional audio commentary with director/writer Geoffrey Wright. This was the quickly written debut film (aspect ratio is approx 1.50:1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, no subtitles) by Wright, and tells about the odd relationship between the young 16-year old boy Mick (Noah Taylor - who was actually 19 at the time) and 40+ years old Sally (Gillian Jones) in North Altona, Australia. Ben Mendelsohn (from “Metal Skin”) is also in the film. The affair is actually shown in rather a sensual and tasteful way, but things are starting to change to melodrama when the age difference and the ex-fiance from Sally are coming into play. Again Wright has set his film in the suburbs with run-down houses and dirty back alleys, and involves characters that are looking their place in the world, looking for love. From the technical side, that transfer is grainy and somewhat washed out, but still in pretty good condition (since it was shot in 16 mm, some “roughness” is unavoidable).

In the audio commentary of the short film, Wright is a bit more laid back and sees the film as an enjoyable learning experience and probably a “high school of filmmaking” for him before “Romper Stomper”. He´s quite honest of admitting that he didn´t always have the time for all the actors, and he got a few selected comments back from them. He also had a debate with the cinematographer about the framing, since Wright would´ve wanted more headroom for the actors (the framing is now quite tight, so I guess he let it slide). “Lover Boy” must be a special film for Wright, and he gives some nice background in the commentary of working with young actors with small budget and crew, all relatively new to him. The stories are more actor/character/story-orientated, and visual/technical-issues are not that well covered.

Photo gallery runs 4:25 minutes, and includes 22 stills from the film, I assume mainly promo ones.

Cast & crew biographies includes the well written bios from director/writer Wright, cinematographer Hagen, producer Scharf, composer White, and actors Young, Mendelsohn, Garner, and Morice.

Trailers include the one from “Metal Skin” (1:27 min), and the ones from “The Candy Snatchers (1973)” (2:02 min), “The Gardener AKA Seeds of Evil (1975)” (1:27 min), “Blood Bath (1976)” (1:58 min), “The Freakmaker AKA The Mutations (1974)” (1:44 min), and “Blue Murder (mini-series/1995)" (1:38 min).

DVD Credits are also included.

Easter Eggs: Go to the “DVD Credits” page (it´s just one page). Now simply press either “left” or “up”, and you get some short “Making of” -footage (2:10 min) from the car-scenes. Further more, if you press “right” or “down”, you´ll get some more, similar “Making of” -footage (1:13 min), again from the scene involving cars.

Bonus disc:

LE-release also includes the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD from composer John Clifford White (guitar and piano orientated). The soundtrack is not anything spectacular, but e.g. the beautiful “The Cycle of Passion and Pain”, and catchy theme song “Joe's Song” really stood up.

Here´s the track list (43:59 min):

1> The Spell (0:13 min)
2> Joe's Song (Instrumental) (3:02 min)
3> Metal Skin (1:42 min)
4> The Sinner (3:05 min)
5> Rise And Shine (0:40 min)
6> The Cycle of Passion and Pain (2:05 min)
7> Holidays on Prozac 2:17 min)
8> The Sorceress (2:30 min)
9> Joe's Song (Choral Reprise) (2:42 min)
10> Lord of Night (3:13 min)
11> Lullabies (4:15 min)
12> The Sorceress and the Sinner (3:05 min)
13> Midnight Mass (1:09 min)
14> Black Wedding (2:46 min)
15> Lullabies, Passion and Pain (1:48 min)
16> Wretched Spirit Be at Peace (2:26 min)
17> The Fallen Angel (2:23 min)
18> Joe's Song (Vocal 'She Cries') (4:26 min)

The 2-disc keep case comes with a slipcase, and also includes a poster reproduction from the film, with 3 fine looking lobby cards.

Overall

“Metal Skin” is worth a look and has that nice “independent feel” to it with a lot of ambition, but in the end it can´t raise the bar enough, falling to the “ok film, but…”-category. It still offers some gifted young actors and some good visual material, and the LE-release from “Subversive Cinema” is pretty much a winner in terms of the transfer and extras.

For more info, please visit the homepage of Subversive Cinema.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.