Keeping with my recent appetite for retro Aussie cinema I watched Roadgames tonight. Recently inducted into the "Ozploitation" sub-genre it remains one of the best thrillers Australia has produced. Richard Franklin was a Hitchcock aficionado and together with Everette De Roche he crafted a tight mystery chiller thats plays out like Hichcock's Rear Window on the road. Anyone who actually reads this movie group will know that i idolise Everette De Roche and I think this is amongst the best he's written. Its structured perfectly and scattered the humour generously throughout. I heard a rumour that it's being remade and i pray to God that it's just a rumour. Leave it be!
For those of you abroad Alexander Pearce was a notorious convict on Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) during the 1820s. His story has become legend in Australia due to the nature of his crimes. During two escapes he ate his fellow prisoners... during his first escape it was a means of survival but on his second escape it was purely out of compulsion as he was captured with plenty of bread and cheese in his pockets. And so in 2008 an ABC/BBC production was made telling his story. The Last Confession Of Alexander Pearce is a 60 minute film which is told in a series of flashbacks as Pearce confesses his sins to a Catholic priest. There is no doubt that the story is compelling but this film tells is very poorly. The flash back scenes which make up the bulk of the film look like they were shot with a cheap mini-DV camera. The hospitable landscape seems to be ignored entirely with camera angles and shots preferring to focus on the characters themselves. Cut to one year later and another film was released telling the exact same story. It was called Van Diemen's Land and it was a masterpiece. One of the best films of the year without question. Its strength was in its cinematography. It treated the landscape as a central character and gave a deeper insight into what would drive men to cannibalism. It's a far superior film which I would recommend seeing instead of The Last Confession Of Alexander Pearce.
Australian cinema from the 70s really excites me and I don't think our industry has had a better era. One of the most notorious films from that decade was Wake In Fright... a long lost & forgotten film for over 30 years until it was unearthed in 2009 and remastered. In my mind this is one of the greatest Australian film ever made. I've seen it several times now and it never fails to blow me away. Its about a middle-class teacher who is stationed in a desolate and remote two shed town in the outback. For his Christmas break he leaves for the city to escape for 6 weeks. Things turn for him when he looses all of his money in a two-up contest during an overnight stay over in another remote town. The locals boast that they're the friendliest town in the country and their hospitality overflows. "Have another beer mate"... "and another"....."and another" until he is caught in their sticky web of mateship and can't get out. This is a scary fucking movie. The characters are intimidating and the situations are terrifying. Donald Pleasance steals the movie for me as he nails the Aussie accent perfectly and delves into some really deep and dark places to bring his Doc character to life. Wake In Fright is intense, claustrophobic and haunting. One of the best.
1991 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #10
How do you possibly follow up a sleeper hit like KICKBOXER, which cemented Jean Claud Van Damme as a household name and became an overnight sensation on home video? I guess we need to ask Albert Pyun because he managed the impossible... he delivered not only a worthy sequel but also a better one. With a script from a then relatively unknown David S Goyer, the elephant in the room (i.e. lack of Van Damme) was addressed swiftly. His character, Kurt Sloan, is killed off straight away by his opponent from the first film and this murder sets up a new storyline for the sequel to pursue. Back in America his younger brother, David, is struggling to maintain the family business and is presented with an offer to fight the infamous Tong Po. The money would dig him out of debt and the chance to avenge his brother's death would be a bonus. With Kurt's old mentor and trainer on board to help prepare him for the fight, the course is set for an action packed drama that brings the Kickboxer franchise into a fresh new realm. While much of its story replicates the original formula, the new setting and character dynamics make it an entirely different movie. The cast is great too with Sasha Mitchell stepping into some huge shoes and forging a new legacy. What a discovery. He might have been discovered a few years earlier by Paul Morrissey but it was Pyun who put him on the map. David Sloan is a career defining character, which he went on to reprise in a further 2 sequels. Returning cast members Michael Qissi and Dennis Chan keep the franchise credibly connected to the original and the legendary Peter Boyle brings an added note of respectability. I love KICKBOXER 2. I think that it's wildly undervalued and would recommend seeing it again and reevaluating it some 20+ years on from its release.
Just Go With It is another typical Adam Sandler movie and I would probably rank it lower on the list along with shite like You Don't Mess With The Zohan and Anger Management. It's the same schtick with the same set ups and the same conclusions but fortunately there are enough decent laughs to carry it home. The movie is packed with all of the usual Happy Madison cameos (Kevin Nealon, Peter Dante and Allan Covert etc) and their bit-parts kept me aptly amused. Sadly Nick Swarsdon overdoes it and rings his performance of all humour. This could have been a weightier movie but whenever they tap into something deep they snap back into slapstick mode as though afraid they might lose the audience. I reckon these nice moments would have been the movie's strength. Anyhow an average movie with a few decent laughts. Sandler is good and Jennifer Aniston's performance was subtle and one of the better sparring partners Sandler's had in a long time.
If Being Elmo doesn't fill you with joy then you might want to ask Oz for a heart. This is the truly inspiring, uplifting and magical story of Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo. The film traces his life from making puppets at home as a child, to his early career working on a local children's tv show... and then all the way to working with Jim Henson and eventually commanding Sesame Street. It's such a captivating and touching story and I found myself amazed at some of the footage that was captured of Clash as a teenager. Clearly his parents identified a unique talent and put as much of it to record as possible. Clash comes across as a man dedicated to the human spirit and it shines through his characters, most obviously Elmo. Watching him interact with children all over the world is a really beautiful thing to see and amazingly the kids pay no attention to him talking beside Elmo. They see past it and that is a testament to his craft. I hope lots of people see this wonderful film because it spreads love & happiness like a rash. You feel it all over you and here lies the film's biggest problem... it's not long enough. I wanted to spend more time with Kevin & Elmo. Who wouldn't?
Amongst my heroes of the 80s was director Joe Dante. He gave us movies like Gremlins, The 'burbs, Piranha, The Howling, The Explorers and Innerspace.... I idolise him much the way I idolise Spielberg. Both have a unique way of tapping into our psyche and speaking to our inner-child. Unfortunately Dante dropped off the map for over a decade and only remerged occasionally to make Imax movies or episodes of television shows. Fortunately The Masters Of Horror series came about and gave him back his mojo. With his whistle wet again he gives us The Hole! Much like Gremlins and The 'burbs this is a horror movie for the family... but don't let that fool you into thinking its a cushioned ride. This will definitely scare the wits out of kids (like Gremlins) but thats the fun of it. Three kids discover a bottomless hole in their basement and when they unlock it's door they unleash a malevolence that stalks each of them with their worst fears. It's essentially A Nightmare On Elm Street for young'uns. I loved it and recommend it if you like Dante's work. There's a heavier and more serious theme running beneath the narrative but most kids wont pick up on that. For adults it adds an extra layer... I watched it in 3D but to be honest it didn't add anything special, 2D is fine.
With Quentin Tarantino's upcoming Django Unchained getting close, few people will realise that the Django character has appeared in almost 40 films since the early 60s. He's a random character and each film is unrelated to the other, however the name has become synonymous with the Spaghetti Western. Tarantino started the ball rolling on his film around the same time he appeared in Takashi Miike's ambitious Sukiyaki Western Django. Known to audiences for his hardcore brand of horror (Audition, Ichi The Killer etc) Miike's Django is his first American film, maintaining some of his signature violence. While violently mild compared with his other work, the film is brutal at times. Its a strange and bemusing film. With a predominantly Japanese cast, the entire film is spoken in English yet set amongst a Japanese community in the middle of "Navata", presumedly in America. Two rival gangs face off in a bloody feud when an unknown gunman rolls into town and gets caught in the middle. It's a confusing and convoluted story that's difficult to follow at times. The Japanese performers also struggle with the English dialogue but thankfully the aesthetic and style of the film are strong and captivating. Great camera work, awesome set ups and stylish fight sequences makes Sukiyaki Western Django a worthy film for genre buffs. Influenced by Spaghetti Westerns, this is what I would call a Sushi Western. Takashi Miike steps away from his comfort zone and chose an audacious and unconventional film as his first foray into the American market.
With the new tv adaptation of Puberty Blues about to air there has been a sudden resurgence of interest in the original 1981 film by Bruce Beresford. Our daughter wanted to see it and tonight we sat down and watched it together. I'd forgotten how great it was. The film takes place in Cronulla and tells the story of Debbie, a teenage girl who desperately wants to be part of a popular mob of surfers, as a matter of distinction above anything else. In winning their approval she is faced with a whole lot of difficulties that the average Aussie teen experiences... drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, pregnancy and even death. For it's time it was a no-holds barred account of teenage life and a realistic one at that. Teens identified with it and as proven tonight, they still do. The only let down for me was the music. Comprising of Tim Finn's music (mostly Split Enz) the songs are sung by a woman who totally kills the essence of the songs. Regardless the film has turned into a period piece and I was pleased to know that the upcoming tv adaptation is also set in the early 80s. Good. I am actually looking forward to watching it and I would assume it will be even more faithful to the original book where the girls were actually 13 (not 16) and endure even darker times, such as abortion and gang rape. Bruce Beresford's 81 Puberty Blues touches on the gang rape but passes it off almost as though it was a rite of passage... that bothered me. Anyhow, still a great coming-of-age movie that teens should see. Its uniquely Aussie without being ocker. It represents us well, i think.
Goon is inspired by true events but that's not to say that it's a true story. This is a violent, blood thirsty and crude hockey movie about a friendly tough guy who becomes the key enforcer for a minor league ice hockey team... that is to say he is on the ice to belt the shit out of people. Sean William Scott leads the movie and he's perfectly cast. He manages to balance the loveable lump with the ferocious thug so affectively which pretty much drives the movie. The fight sequences are brutal and watching it took me back to when I lived in Canada and watched the Canucks play at GM Place (stadium). It's an amazing spectator sport with a pumped up energy for fans. Anyhow, many won't be able to stomach Goon and it does cast an ugly shadow on the sport, but hey so did Slapshot in the 70s. Even still, its a great sport and a really fun movie.
If you dig movies like 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Attack the Block' then Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel is something to add to your checklist. Three loser mates end their shitty day at their local pub and indadvertedly get caught in a time leak (a tear in the time-space continuum). The men's room seems to be the source of their paradox and every time they reemerge from the toilets they find themselves in a different moment in time... From 30 minutes into the future to beyond the year 2095. It's a typical British farce that plays like a cross between 'Spaced' and 'Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy'. Chris O'Dowd from The IT Crowd stars and offers a comedic credibility to the situation and Anna Farris is surprisingly good as the time traveller revisiting them throughout the journey, trying to fix the tear. Its funny stuff with heaps of referential gags for the fellow nerds out there... FAQ About Time Travel is an understated surprise. Not released in Australia to my knowledge. Worth finding though.
Conviction is an incredible story about a woman who devoted her life to getting her brother out of prison. He was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life. With no lawyers willing to take on the case she embarks on a law degree and slowly works on his freedom. The lengths to which she goes are almost impossible comprehend and via the use of flashbacks to their childhood we begin to fully understand their love. Watching it I kept wondering how much of the story was embellished and convinced that there were a lot of liberties taken... but having skimmed the actual case info it's mostly true. Wow! Hilary Swank is excellent and Sam Rockwell is immaculate as always. This is a legal film well worth seeing.
** spoiler ** the usual "where are they now" information appears at the end of the film but what it fails to tell us is that 6 months after his acquittal Kenneth Waters died having fallen from a wall as he was taking a short cut home after dinner with his mother. A tragic end to a tragic life. Very sad.
Sean Penn gives us another impeccable performance as Cheyenne, an aged goth pop star who has reached a point in his life where he cannot distinguish whether he is depressed or simply bored. Upon hearing of his father's death he returns to America where he is asked to finish his father's life long search for his Nazi tormentor. This is absolutely an odd film, but its so beautiful. Penn is phenomenal as a rock star frozen in time. With central storyline playing out he also expresses deep anguish and guilt at past tragedies and these revelations really ground the story. His appearance is obviously modelled on Robert Smith and there are moments where the likeness is uncanny. Frances MacDormand is so lovely as his devoted wife and she exposes the innocence of this sad and lost man. The film's music is all written by David Byrne and he even features in a brilliant performance sequence, doing his usual offbeat thing. I can't think of a more suited artist to provide the film with it's music, adding a quirky and unusual aesthetic. The film is wonderful and I am thinking it's my favourite film of the year... yes. One scene featuring a lonely fat boy singing the title song "This Must Be The Place" with Penn is heartbreakingly beautiful. Those willing to open their minds will get a lot out of this. Perfect.
Sergio Leone's Man With No Name Trilogy is now on Bluray (has been for a while) and a few nights ago I revisited the first film, A Fistful Of Dollars. If you have never seen it or are not familiar with Leone's work then what the hell are you doing reading this? Stop, take a deep breath (its ok) and watch one of his films. What a magnificent film this one is! People have different reasons for loving his work and cinematography and pacing are always top contenders but for me it amounts to his opening scenes. None more phenomenal than the opening moments of Once Upon A Time In The West... however Clint Eastwood's entrance in A Fistful Of Dollars is nevertheless a show stopper. Cool, calm and ever menacing... my god, it's chilling. Of course it continued with two sequels, of which can both be discussed and debated feverishly but whatever conclusions you come to, this trilogy is undeniably one of the greatest events in the genre's history. And don't even start me on Ennio Marricone's score....
There is a lot to hate about Meeting Evil. The script is terrible, the characters are cliched the soundtrack is hilariously bad... oh and it has that made-for-video-stephen-king feel about it. And yet strangely I enjoyed it enough to not switch off. Samuel L Jackson is having a hell of a lot of fun in this second-rate thriller and he relishes every moment. Luke Wilson does Luke Wilson and I don't mind that. Jackson plays a man who knocks on the front door of a suburban house where a regular everyday Joe (Wilson) opens up to an endless nightmare. Jackson is a serial killer and Wilson finds himself caught up in a brutal killing spree. The premise is actually fun and the situations did keep me wanting more. I wanted to see how far Jackson would push it. The director is Chris Fisher and to this point he has made a bunch of direct to dvd thrillers and action movies. Most notably was his audacious sequel to Donnie Darko. I don't mind this guy... he's got style and a clear vision but I think the problem is that he overreaches his own talent. I think we'll see some good stuff from him down the line and with each movie he makes, the talent pool improves... a great film is not far away for him. So Meeting Evil... a good bad movie. Fun stuff.