Newcastle (2008)

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Released 1-May-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Coming-Of-Age Audio Commentary-Feature length with Wr/Dr plus DP, Sound Designer & Composer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 102:22
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (44:14) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Dan Castle
Studio
Distributor
Film Fin. Corp. Aust
Icon Entertainment
Starring Lachlan Buchanan
Xavier Samuel
Reshad Strik
Kirk Jenkins
Anthony Hayes
Shane Jacobson
Barry Otto
Joy Smithers
Gigi Edgley
Case ?
RPI $9.95 Music Michael Yezerski


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Establishing shots. No plot action.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I was recently checking the Amazon listings for films featuring Chris Carmack, a young American actor who usually ends up in open water of some description in his films. I kept coming across the name of an Australia film, sans Carmack, which was called Newcastle, or Newcastle, Australia as it became in its UK DVD release. In Japan I believe it was renamed Blue, Blue, Blue. There were a number of glowing references to the movie, so I decided that I should check out this 2008 release. Now I see that the Australian release is getting a price reduction on the third of January, so I guess this late review is appropriate.

    Written and directed by Dan Castle, this is a tale of coming of age in the city, and the surf, of Newcastle. We are introduced to the industrial, blue collar mores of the society before we are thrust into the company of the principal characters. We meet a group of young men whose lives are dominated by the surf which is ever present in in either sight or sound. Chief amongst these is seventeen year-old Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan), a young man whose prowess on a surf board could very well see him rise above the bleak prospects which otherwise will probably be his. He has two half-brothers, the older Victor (Reshad Strik), who is the board riding champ, and the younger Fergus (Xavier Samuel), who harbours a burgeoning sexual attraction to Jesse's surfer mate, Andy (Kirk Jenkins). Andy beats Jesse in trials for the forthcoming championships, so the hierarchy of riders is Victor, followed by Andy and then Jesse third. Jesse has tensions in his relationships with both brothers and his best mate, as well as issues with his parents, the family of five cramped together in a small suburban beachside dwelling. Jesse and Andy decide to get away for the weekend with their mates Scotty (Israle Cannan) and Nathan (Ben Milliken). In tow are two young girls from the beach, Debra (Debra Ades) and Leah (Rebecca Breeds). Begrudgingly, Jesse allows Fergus to tag along.

    The weekend at a remote beach sees romping in the sand, magnificent surf board riding, bare male bottoms, sibling rivalry, heterosexual couplings in a tent and homosexual star gazing and shared masturbation in the dunes for Fergus and Andy. There is also a crashed vehicle and a territorial challenge between Jesse and Victor, whose "gang" has turned up at the same beach. The upshot of all this is that there is an accident in which one of the males is killed.

    Probably the major failing of this movie is that the young male surfers are not sufficiently established as characters. There is little to distinguish between the tousled blonde heads, each  atop a taut, tanned torso. Israle Cannon does have an impish quality which thankfully sets him apart, and, of course, the gay brother, Xavier Samuel, now of Twilight fame, is "different", so he is dark haired and pale skinned. Adding to the confusion is the use of stunt doubles for much of the board riding footage. When the climactic accident occurs in the surf, there is so much confusion it really is impossible, on an initial viewing, to work out what is happening, and who is doing what to whom. As this event forms the core of the drama, it really weakens the total film. Without doubt, staging a dramatically cohesive scene in actual surf must have entailed tremendous problems, and here, I am afraid, those problems have not been overcome.

    The film has been very attractively photographed, entirely in Newcastle and its surrounds. Much of the surfing footage is magnificent, with young blonde gods slicing across sea and sky. In the land-locked scenes the hand-held camera is sufficiently controlled so as not to be distracting, but I do find it a nonsense that a shot in the water can be rigid and solid, while a kitchen scene has the camera bobbing erratically. I think that's what they call "realism". Performances from the young cast members are solid and sincere. There is so much passion and sheer physical beauty on the screen, that moments of what could be gauche amateurishness are miraculously transformed into naked (no pun intended) honesty. By comparison the adults are pretty poor, and Barry Otto as "Gramps" is guilty of disgraceful mugging. He should have learnt from the facial immobility of his young co-stars.

    It is not hard to see why there is a cult following for this film overseas. Compared to the pseudo sex-charged sophisticated shenanigans of the O.C. brigade, or the boring vulgarity of urban street kids, these tanned and healthy young surfers offer a freshness far beyond the material that showcases them. It's a pity that Dan Castle hadn't found a writer who could better establish characters and avoid silly cliches. Coming so late in the action, the supposedly comic naked romp through suburban backyards was one major miscalculation. Nevertheless, though the drama may have nothing new, the fresh young actors more than compensate for any intrinsic shortcomings.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The image is presented at the ratio of 1.85:1, in a 16x9 transfer.
    The transfer is extremely clear and sharp throughout, with the surfing scenes particularly spectacular.
    Detail is excellent in the daylight scenes, but the commentary acknowledges problems with the night scene on the isolated beach. However, artistically this scene works with the supposedly improvised (torchlights) lighting. Blacks are deep and solid.
    Grain is evident but does not detract from the general brilliance of the image.
    The colour is always impressive, slightly muted for the domestic interiors and vivid and strong for the outdoors scenes. Skin tones are totally realistic.
    There were no MPEG artefacts seen, nor any film artefacts.
    The hand-held camera is controlled, although I do not find it adds anything to most of the scenes.
    Basically, the film looks great, especially the magnificent surfing sequences.

    There are no subtitles.
    The disc is an RSDL disc, with the seamless layer change at 44:14.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three audio streams, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded,
                                                   Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded 
                                                   and Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kbps.
    The two channel surround encoded stream is quite impressive, but cannot compare to the 5.1 channel stream.
    Viewing the entire film with the 5.1 stream, the dialogue was clear and always easy to understand. I was totally unaware of any post dubbing, mentioned in the commentary, so obviously there are no sync problems. Dialogue is front and centre, with little directionality across the fronts.
    The musical score by Michael Yezerski is quite beautiful, evoking the joy and beauty of the surfing experience. There is quite a symphonic feel to this music, not what you may expect in a "surfing film". The instrumentation may be limited, but the music itself is not. The music emanates from all channels and adds immeasurably to the surfing sequences.
    The surround channels are aggressively used for ambience - mainly surf, wind and birds - and in the action surfing sequences the viewer is totally immersed in a sea of sound. The subwoofer adds great oomph to these sequences.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    

 

Main Menu

    The graphic is a still of three young surfers running into the surf with their boards. There is audio of music from the film plus the roar of the surf.
    Options offered are : Play Movie
                                    Scene Selection : This leads to two screens, each with six thumbnails plus music audio.
                                    Special Features : A further screen details the Audio Commentary - see below.
                                    Audio Setup : A further screen offers Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 and the Audio Commentary - again.

Audio Commentary : Making of Newcastle
This feature length commentary is provided by writer/director Dan Castle in conversation with Richard Michalak (Director of Photography), Andrew Plain (Sound Designer) and Michael Yezerski (Composer). I was surprised to hear Dan Castle's American accent! The great strength of this commentary is that everything the four men say is directly related to what we are then watching on the screen. It is also great to have various aspects of production represented, and hear questions of creativity, difficulty and compromise discussed. Too often these commentaries deteriorate into back-slapping exercises between directors and actors. Not the case here, although it is strikingly evident how much care, talent and sheer labour was contributed to the final product. A very informative and enjoyable commentary.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release misses out on the commentary and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio stream.
    The local release - or, at least, my review disc - misses out on a "making of" featurette, trailers and captions for the hearing impaired.
    In addition, the U.S. release will be at least twice the cost of the January re-priced disc, so the region 4 disc appears to win.
    There is a Blu-Ray release of this title in the UK.

Summary

    While this film has script and characterisation issues, there is a genuine honesty that ultimately overcomes these deficiencies. The photography is mostly magnificent, beautifully capturing the city, the seascape and the young men. The publicity tag for the film was : "You're only young forever once". In its glowing images, this little film genuinely captures that youth, if not forever, at least for a hundred or so minutes.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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