Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#1,871. My Brilliant Career (1979)


Directed By: Gillian Armstrong

Starring: Judy Davis, Sam Neill, Wendy Hughes



Tag line: "Sometimes it is the things that bind us, that truly set us free"

Trivia: This film's director, producers, scriptwriter, first billed actor, production designer, costume designer, production supervisor, bookkeeper and accountant were all women






Director Gillian Armstrong’s 1979 drama / romance My Brilliant Career has quite a bit going for it. Based on a 1901 novel of the same name by Miles Franklin, it’s a beautifully-realized period piece with gorgeous cinematography and a top-notch supporting cast. But forget all that, because what makes the film so damn appealing is the career-defining performance delivered by its star Judy Davis, who, in every moment, conjures up an energy that practically leaps off the screen into your lap.

It’s the kind of work that usually nets an actress gobs of year-end awards, a la Charlize Theron’s turn in 2003’s Monster (winner of 17 awards, including an Oscar and Golden Globe) or Helen Mirren in 2005’s The Queen (aside from walking off with the “Big 5”, i.e. Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild, Dame Mirren took home 24 other awards from film festivals and critic circles the world over). While I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Miss Davis’ work in My Brilliant Career with that of either Theron’s or Mirren’s, she's strong enough to at least warrant a mention alongside them.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Judy Davis did not receive similar accolades for her portrayal of a headstrong Australian girl at the turn of the 20th century, struggling to find her place in this world. In fact, she won only two awards for My Brilliant Career (both were BAFTAs, for Best lead Actress and Most Outstanding Newcomer. Yes, it was her first starring role in a motion picture, which makes her performance that much more impressive).

Most amazing of all, though, is that she was even snubbed in her own country! My Brilliant Career was the recipient of six Australian Film Institute Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Cinematography, but the top actress nod went to someone else (specifically, Michele Fawdon for Cathy’s Child). It’s not uncommon for some year-end awards to miss the mark, but for everyone (except the British) to overlook Davis’ incredible contribution to this film is almost impossible to believe.

Precocious teenager Sybylla Melvyn (Davis) knows that her hometown, the little backwater village of Possum Gully, will never afford her the opportunity to become a famous writer, artist, or musician. So, after refusing to accept a servant’s position secured for her by her mother (Julia Blake), Sybylla is shipped off to stay with her high-society Grandmother, Miss Bossier (Aileen Britton), who lives in the prestigious town of Caddagat with Sybylla’s Aunt Helen (Wendy Hughes) and Uncle Julius (Peter Whitford).

Though her grandmother and aunt keep trying to marry her off to the boorish Frank Hawden (Robert Grubb), Sybylla is content in Caddagat, and is prepared to begin what she refers to as her “Brilliant Career”, whatever it may be. But a chance meeting with Harry Beecham (Sam Neill), a wealthy young entrepreneur who lives with his Aunt Gussie (Patricia Kennedy), throws a new wrinkle into the fabric of Sybylla’s life, one she was ill-prepared to deal with: Love.

Can Sybylla suppress these new feelings and continue her “career”, or will romance win out in the end?

It’s quite possible that Davis’ awards chances were undermined by her character’s plain, even homely, appearance (unlike the actress playing her, Sybylla is considered an “ugly duckling”). In addition, the role itself (an independent woman who vows never to marry, then meets and falls in love with a handsome man) is certainly nothing new. Yet thanks to her charisma and vitality (which is on display throughout the entire movie), Judy Davis makes us forget that we’ve seen this all a thousand times before, and like Harry Beecham, we become absolutely smitten with her. Even in those sequences where her character is down in the dumps (at the evening ball, she sulks because Harry is spending all his time talking to another woman), we’re still drawn to her energy, and can’t take our eyes off of her. As for the story, hopeless romantics may have an issue with some of its twists and turns, but that won’t prevent them (or anyone else) from admiring the hell out of this picture.

To be honest, I’ve never seen Cathy’s Child, so I’m in no position to judge who was the better Australian actress in 1979. What I will say, though, is that Miss Fawdon must have been Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Meryl Streep all rolled into one, because it would take a performance of that magnitude to convince me Judy Davis wasn’t robbed.







Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#1,870. The Devil's Playground (1976)


Directed By: Fred Schepisi

Starring: Charles McCallum, John Frawley, Arthur Dignam




Tag line: "Young men torn between physical desire and religious discipline"

Trivia: Seminary scenes were filmed at Werribee Park Mansion, which had served as a seminary (Corpus Christi Catholic College) for 50 years






Fred Schepisi’s directorial debut, 1976’s The Devil’s Playground, is a semi-autobiographical account of life in a 1950’s Catholic seminary. Starring young Simon Burke, it tells the story of a 13-year-old seminarian whose devotion to God and the church is in direct conflict with his budding sexuality.

Tom Allan (Burke) is one of many boys at the seminary, all of whom are trying to come to terms with their libidos. Though picked on by some of his fellow students (because he’s a bed-wetter), Tom maintains a close friendship with Fitz (John Diedrich), who, despite being several years older, shares Tom’s doubts and fears as to whether he’s fit to become a man of the cloth. For guidance, Tom turns to his instructors, only to discover most of them are as confused as he is!

Though only a teenager at the time (around 14 or 15 when the film was shot), Simon Burke’s portrayal of Tom is nothing short of remarkable. Playing such a demanding role with the confidence of a seasoned professional, Burke ensures that we are always in tune with what his character is feeling, and understand exactly what he’s going through. In one humorous (if uncomfortable) scene, Tom is in the confessional, where he admits to the acerbic Brother Hanrahan (Gerry Duggan) that he masturbates frequently (2-3 times a day). Following a brief tirade, Brother Hanrahan absolves Tom of his sins, gives him his penance, and sends him on his way. To Tom’s horror, his classmates, many of whom were praying just outside the confessional, overheard the boisterous brother, and they begin to snicker amongst themselves. Though played primarily for laughs (Tom’s chronic masturbation is already well-known throughout the seminary), we can’t help but feel sorry for the poor boy in this scene, and Burke’s gentle, heartfelt performance is the reason why.

In addition to Simon Burke, I was impressed with how The Devil’s Playground handled its adult characters. Far from demonizing the seminary’s Brothers, Schepisi shows that they’re every bit as human, and prone to temptation, as Tom and his friends. During a weekend getaway, Brother Victor (Nick Tate) and Brother James (Peter Cox) take in a rugby match, then head to a nearby pub for a few beers. While there, Brother Victor spots a couple of pretty women sitting by themselves, and approaches them, causing a shocked (and incredibly nervous) Brother James to run for the door. Not to be outdone, the senior Brother, Sebastian (Charles McCallum), believes masturbation is perfectly normal, and wonders aloud if there’s actually a God in heaven. Even the stern disciplinarian, Brother Francine (Arthur Dignam), has his weaknesses; after catching a ride into town with Brothers Victor and James, Brother Francine says he’s going to visit a local museum, but instead hangs out at a public pool, gawking at women in various stages of undress. By spending as much time with its adult characters as it does the students, The Devil’s Playground is one of those rare coming-of-age films that isn’t a “kids only” affair.

Winner of 6 Australian Film Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Lead Actor (shared by both Simon Burke and Nick Tate), The Devil’s Playground is as auspicious a directorial debut as they come, and the work of its entire cast, coupled with Schepisi’s documentary-style approach to the material, ensures that the movie is as relevant today as it was in 1976.







Monday, September 28, 2015

#1,869. Don's Party (1976)


Directed By: Bruce Beresford

Starring: John Hargreaves, Pat Bishop, Graham Kennedy



Tag line: "What a helluva night!"

Trivia: First major acting role in a feature film for Australian Television personality Graham Kennedy








October, 1969. A general election is being held in Australia, and, anticipating a victory for the underdog Labour Party, school teacher Don Henderson (John Hargreaves) and his wife Kath (Jeanie Dryan) decide to throw a party. Among the attendees are John’s outspoken friend Mal (Ray Barrett) and his oft-depressed significant other, Jenny (Pat Bishop); Simon (Graeme Blundell), a meek accountant, and his pretty but naïve wife Jody (Veronica Lang); Mack (Graham Kennedy), a wannabe photographer whose wife has just left him; Cooley (Harold Hopkins), a womanizing lawyer, and his curvaceous 19-year-old date, Susan (Claire Binney); and Kerry (Candy Raymond), a sultry artist whose dentist husband, Evan (Kit Taylor), is most definitely the jealous type. As the alcohol flows and the election results come in, gentle ribbing turns into all-out insults, innocent flirtations lead to adultery, and before the party is over, more than one marriage will be teetering on the brink of collapse.

Based on a 1971 play by David Williamson, Don’s Party is a very funny movie (after throwing back a few beers, Cooley confesses to Mack that he once slept with his now-estranged wife. Not missing a beat, a nonplussed Mack, in turn, admits that he knew all about the tryst because he was in the bedroom closet shooting photos of it, which he now sells for a profit). Of course, seeing as it deals so openly with relationships, the film also has its share of drama; on more than one occasion, a couple will “air their dirty laundry”, often doing so quite loudly. Toss in a moment or two of frontal nudity (both male and female) and plenty of sexual innuendo, and you have both a smart satire that takes aim at politics, marriage, art, and the middle class; and a bawdy sex comedy that’s as titillating as it is thought-provoking.

As with any movie based on a play, Don’s Party is, at times, a bit too talky for its own good. What saves the film, however (apart from its clever screenplay, which Williamson himself penned), is the cast that director Beresford assembled, all of whom deliver strong performances (Graham Kennedy is especially good as the party’s lone single attendee, as is Pat Bishop, who, though stuck in the background for most of the movie, has one very poignant scene late in the film). Thanks to them, what could have been a stage-bound, dialogue heavy snooze fest is instead alive and fascinating.

Sophisticated and sexy, Don’s Party has it all.







Sunday, September 27, 2015

#1,868. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)


Directed By: Stephan Elliott

Starring: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp



Tag line: "She's back... Looking as gorgeous and outrageous as ever in a brand new frock"

Trivia: According to director Stephan Elliott, he took the three leads out in drag prior to the beginning of filming. None of them were recognized






On the surface, 1994's The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert looks like a movie about drag queens. Its three main characters are entertainers who dress as women and lip-sync to songs like "I Love the Nightlife" and "Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man"; the outfits are flamboyant (The movie won a well-deserved Academy Award for its Costume Design); and the stage performances are flashy and extravagant. But to reduce The Adventures of Priscilla to a glorified drag act would be short-changing it. This is a lively, hilarious motion picture with well-developed characters and some extremely clever sequences, and, in all likelihood, these are the aspects you’ll remember when you think back on this movie.

Tick (Hugo Weaving), a drag performer whose stage name is Mitzi, receives a call from his estranged wife, who operates a hotel / casino in the small desert town of Alice Springs. As it turns out, she’s in the market for a new stage show, so Tick agrees to help her out and, along with his two friends, fellow drag queen Adam / Felicia (Guy Pearce) and transsexual Bernadette (Terence Stamp), hops aboard a bus that Adam’s mother bought and sets off on what proves to be an eventful journey through the Australian outback.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert boasts a good number of entertaining scenes. So many, in fact, that I had a hard time keeping up with them all. Some of the film’s best moments occur when the three leads don their dresses and start up the music; along with their rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive", which they perform for a group of aborigines in the middle of the Outback, is a scene where they walk into what appears to be a bar filled with ruffians, only to find the most intimidating person there is a portly, middle-aged woman (June Marie Bennett). While most of the movie is lighthearted in nature, there are times where things get a bit more serious (after spending the night in a small town, the three awaken to find a homophobic threat spray-painted on the side of the bus), but even these solemn scenes have their moments of frivolity (a flashback sequence, in which Adam recalls an encounter with his pedophile uncle, starts out pretty damn creepy, yet ends on a very funny note).

While the adventures themselves are a blast to watch, the movie’s real strength lies in its characters, all of whom are as colorful and rich in detail as the film’s elaborate costumes. Terence Stamp delivers an understated performance as Bernadette, a transsexual whose best years are behind her, whereas Guy Pearce is as over-the-top as you can get in his portrayal of Adam, an effeminate troublemaker who refuses to take life seriously. Naturally, these very opposing personalities sometimes clash, which is where Hugo Weaving’s Mitzi comes in. Often forced into the role of peacemaker, Mitzi is, at times, as boisterous as Adam (especially when on-stage), yet also level-headed like Bernadette, not to mention a little nervous to be on his way to visit a wife he hasn’t seen in years. All three actors do a remarkable job, and never once allow their characters to devolve into caricatures. Also good in a supporting role is Bill Hunter (Newsfront) as Bob, a mechanic who, after being dumped by his stripper wife (Julia Cortez), hitches a ride on the bus, falling in love with Bernadette as they go.

I don’t usually condone sequels, but in the case of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, I’d love to see another movie featuring these characters. The 100+ minutes I spent in their company simply wasn’t enough.







Saturday, September 26, 2015

#1,867. Breaker Morant (1980)


Directed By: Bruce Beresford

Starring: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, John Waters



Tag line: "HERO OR VILLAIN ...his exploits shook an empire...and made him a legend"

Trivia: This was the first Australian film to win a major award at the Cannes Film Festival







Based on an actual court martial that occurred in 1902, Breaker Morant stars Edward Woodward as Lt. Harry “Breaker” Morant, an Australian officer in the Bushveldt Carbineers, which was stationed in South Africa to help the British in their fight against the Boers. Arrested by the high command and charged with the murders of several Boer prisoners as well as a German missionary (played by Bruno Knez), Morant and two of his fellow Carbineers, Lt. Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown) and Lt. George Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), were to stand trial for their lives.

Due to the sensitive nature of this case (the Germans had protested the killing of their missionary, and could have used it as an excuse to assist the Boers), the British sought to expedite the court martial. To this end, they assigned Maj. J.F. Thomas (Jack Thompson), a lawyer with absolutely no trial experience, to act as the attorney for the accused. Yet, despite being a novice in the courtroom, Thomas managed to stage an effective defense, arguing that Morant and the others were merely following orders issued by British Commander Lord Kitchener (Alan Cassell), which stated that all prisoners of war were to be immediately executed. Were Morant, Handcock, and Witton loyal soldiers doing their duty, or cold-blooded killers acting contrary to military law?

Directed by Bruce Beresford, Breaker Morant features a handful of well-executed battle scenes, the most exciting of which occurs late in the movie, when the Boers launch a surprise attack on the base where the court martial is being held (though prisoners, Morant, Handcock, and Witton join in the fight, doing their part to keep the attackers at bay). That said, the film’s best skirmishes take place not on the battlefield, but in the courtroom.

Given only a single day to prepare his case, Maj. Thomas seems a bit disorganized at first (he’s constantly fumbling through his notes, which are always a jumbled mess), yet is as ferocious as a rabid dog, and as sly as a fox, when it comes time to cross-examine witnesses; he wins the respect of Morant and the others when he peppers Capt. Robertson (Rob Steele), the prosecution’s first witness, with one question after another. The entire cast does an exemplary job, especially Woodward as the title character, but for me, it’s Jack Thompson who delivers the film’s standout performance, portraying a man who believes his clients are innocent, and will do whatever is necessary to save them from their date with the firing squad.

Winner of 10 Australian Film Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, Breaker Morant addresses the hypocrisy of accusing solders of murder during a time of war while also challenging the chain of command that encourages such actions in the first place. An anti-war film in the vein of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (another movie about a trio of soldiers subjected to a sham trial, the result of which was a foregone conclusion well before it started), Breaker Morant is as dramatic as it is unforgettable.







Friday, September 25, 2015

#1,866. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)


Directed By: Peter Weir

Starring: Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert, Vivean Gray



Tag line: "A recollection of evil"

Trivia: Executive producer Patricia Lovell admits to being genuinely afraid of Hanging Rock. In an interview she explained that she has only gone back to Hanging Rock once since the shooting






For years, I was a bit hazy as to whether or not Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock was based on an actual event (turns out it wasn’t; while Hanging Rock itself is a very real locale in Victoria, Australia, the story is a complete fabrication). But then, a picture as hauntingly mysterious as this one practically invites such ambiguity. As gorgeous as it is bewildering, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a movie you’re destined to think about for days afterwards.

Valentine’s Day, 1900. A group of girls from Appleyard College head to Hanging Rock, a geological formation situated near Victoria’s Mount Macedon, for a picnic. Chaperoned by two of their teachers, Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray) and Mademoiselle de Poitiers (Helen Morse), the girls enjoy what appears to be a peaceful day in the country. But their quiet afternoon takes a dark turn when three students, Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), Marion (Jane Vallis), and Irma (Karen Robson), as well as Miss McCraw, disappear without a trace.

As the police, led by Sgt. Bumpher (Wyn Roberts), carry out their investigation, the college’s headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), struggles to keep her school afloat amid all the bad publicity. The police fail to turn up any clues and abandon their search, at which point young Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard), who was picnicking in the area at the same time and was the last person to see the girls before their disappearance, feels compelled to take matters into his own hands. With the help of his family’s servant Albert (John Jarratt), he attempts to solve this puzzling case, and what he finds during his time at Hanging Rock will shock not only the local authorities, but all of Australia as well.

Throughout the movie, director Peter Weir weaves an aura of mystery around Hanging Rock; along with a few strange occurrences (during the picnic, both Miss McCraw and Mr. Hussey, who drove the cart that brought the girls to the area, notice their watches stopped at exactly noontime), he shoots the formation in such a way as to make it look very foreboding (in several scenes, he places his camera down low, giving the illusion that the rock is towering over his characters). As a result, we feel a bit uneasy whenever the action switches back to this seemingly menacing locale; when Michael Fitzhubert, determined to find the girls, decides to spend the night at Hanging Rock, we fear for his safety and wonder if we’ll ever see him again. Along with introducing a sense of dread into the proceedings, this also adds a supernatural element to the movie that makes its central mystery all the more perplexing.

A beautiful, well-acted motion picture that will have you turning its story over and over again in your head, Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the seminal Australian films of the 1970's and, in my opinion, ranks among the greatest the continent ever produced.







Thursday, September 24, 2015

#1,865. Romper Stomper (1992)


Directed By: Geoffrey Wright

Starring: Russell Crowe, Daniel Pollock, Jacqueline McKenzie



Tag line: "You've never seen anything like it"

Trivia: Daniel Pollock, who plays Davey, committed suicide before the film's release








Years before he played the hero in movies like The Insider, Gladiator, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Russell Crowe was Hando, a neo-Nazi skinhead in the 1992 Australian crime / drama Romper Stomper. And believe me, his character in this film is as far from heroic as you can possibly get!

Hando and his gang of thugs, which includes his best friend Davey (Daniel Pollock), patrol the streets of Melbourne, harassing (and sometimes attacking) the city’s ever-growing Vietnamese population. One day, while he and his cronies are hanging out at the local bar, Hando meets Gabrielle (Jacqueline McKenzie), a drug addict looking for a place to stay. It isn’t long before the two are an item, much to the chagrin of Davey, who is himself falling in love with Gabrielle. To make matters worse, the Vietnamese have decided that enough is enough, and have formed a small army to stand against Hando and his gang. Following a violent rumble, the skinheads are forced to find a new place to live, and, once there, dedicate most of their free time to planning their revenge.

Romper Stomper begins with a brutal scene in which three Vietnamese teens, who were simply riding their skateboards through a subway tunnel, are savagely beaten by Hando and the others. It’s the first of many sequences that take us deep inside the skinhead subculture; at one point, Hando, whose bedroom is decorated with swastikas and Nazi paraphernalia, tries to impress Gabrielle by reading her passages from Mein Kampf. This, along with its unique soundtrack (many tunes feature lyrics that attack minorities and promote white supremacy) and spirited fight sequences (including one big-ass rumble), gives the film’s entire first half an energy all its own.

Moments after Hando and his skinheads are driven out of the warehouse they called home, Romper Stomper settles down a bit, allowing us to learn a few things about its main characters (including why Gabrielle has such a strained relationship with her father) while also permitting the various romantic subplots to play themselves out. It’s in these scenes that the movie’s young performers prove their worth, especially Crowe, who shines as the violently bigoted Hando, a character you love to hate.

An energetic and sometimes shocking exposé of racism at its worst, Romper Stomper also works as a drama, and while it certainly isn’t an easy film to watch, I’m betting you’ll be glad did.







Wednesday, September 23, 2015

#1,864. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)


Directed By: Rolf de Heer

Starring: Nicholas Hope, Claire Benito, Ralph Cotterill



Tag line: "All he needs is love"

Trivia: Most of the sound was recorded by two binaural microphones hidden in actor Nicholas Hope's ears







Bad Boy Bubby is some sort of bizarre masterpiece. Directed by Rolf de Heer, this 1993 film tells the story of Bubby (Nicholas Hope), a guy who, despite being in his mid-‘30s, has never once left the small apartment he shares with his abusive mother, who’s played by Claire Benito (in order to keep Bubby from leaving, his mom tells him the air is poison, and puts a gas mask on whenever she ventures outside to convince him the threat is real). Spending his days playing with his pet cat and his nights satisfying his mother’s lustful needs, Bubby seems content. This all changes, however, when his estranged father (Ralph Cotterill) re-enters the picture. All at once, Bubby is pushed to the side, and when a seemingly innocent act ends in tragedy, he leaves the apartment for the first time ever. Though he has difficulty adjusting to the ways of the world, a chance meeting with both a neighborhood garage band and a social worker he lovingly calls Angel (Carmel Johnson) allows Bubby to finally experience the freedom that had been kept from him for so many years.

Bad Boy Bubby is, in many ways, an experimental film. For one, all sound was recorded using two small mics hidden behind Nicholas Hope’s ears, thus allowing the audience to hear the world exactly as the movie’s lead character hears it. In addition, de Heer utilized the talents of over 30 cinematographers, the majority of whom shot only a single sequence. As a result, the style is very different from scene to scene (supposedly, each cinematographer had full creative control, and wasn’t permitted to view footage shot by anyone else), giving the film a somewhat frenzied look.

Its unique technical aspects aside, Bad Boy Bubby also benefits from Nicholas Hope’s portrayal of an innocent thrust into a world he cannot possibly understand. With no idea how to communicate with those around him, he simply repeats whatever he hears, and while most of the comedy stems from Bubby’s interactions with others (the scene where he walks into a donut shop and orders exactly what the woman before him ordered, copying her voice and inflection as he does so, made me laugh out loud), it also leads to some uncomfortable moments (because he doesn’t know what he’s saying, Bubby is often crude and profane). Yet, despite the occasional hiccup, Bubby continues to view the world as if he were a child, gazing in wonder at anything and everything. In fact, his simplicity is so endearing that it attracts the attention of “Angel”, the caretaker who eventually falls in love with him.

That said, Bad Boy Bubby is, at times, quite alarming; aside from his incestuous relationship with his mother, Bubby inadvertently kills his pet cat when he wraps it in plastic (not wanting to leave it behind, he packs its dead carcass in his suitcase and carries it with him wherever he goes). But even in its most shocking scenes, the film exudes a charm that’s hard to ignore. Filled with humor and pathos, Bad Boy Bubby is a unique motion picture experience that you won’t want to miss.







Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#1,863. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)


Directed By: George Miller

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult



Tag line: "Only the Mad Survive"

Trivia: Over 80% of the effects seen in the film are practical effects, stunts, make-up and sets








It took 30 years for director George Miller to make the next installment in the Mad Max series, and believe me when I tell you it was well worth the wait. 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road is more than a cinematic assault on the senses; it’s a goddamn blitzkrieg, and it will leave you worn out, stunned, and thoroughly entertained.

Since the world collapsed, the road warrior, aka Max (Tom Hardy), has roamed the wastelands of Australia, doing whatever it takes to survive. Following a run-in with a group of heavily armed marauders known as the War Boys, Max is taken prisoner and forced to serve as a permanent blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a sickly War Boy suffering from a life-threatening illness. The War Boys are the faithful servants of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the tyrannical leader of a desert community who, in an effort to get more fuel for his vast army of vehicles, sends one of his most trusted lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), to Gas Town, a nearby refinery. Driving a fuel tanker, Furiosa and her War Boy escorts head into the desert, but it isn’t long before she suddenly changes course.

As it turns out, Furiosa had no intention of ever going to Gas Town, and is instead on a mission of mercy to deliver Immortan Joe’s five wives, Capable (Riley Keough), Cheedo (Courtney Eaton), the Dag (Abbey lee), Toast the Knowing (Zoe Kravitz) and the very pregnant Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), to the safety of the “Green Place”, an idyllic oasis where Immortan Joe can’t reach them. Once they realize what she’s up to, Joe and his remaining War Boys climb into their vehicles and give chase, driving as fast as they can to overtake Furiosa and “rescue” the wives. Not wanting to miss out on such a glorious hunt, the weakened Nux hops into a car and, with his “blood bag” Max strapped to the hood, joins the others in their high-speed pursuit…

Tom Hardy steps nicely into the role of the loner, Max, playing the character with enough gusto to make him a convincing bad-ass. But what surprised me most about Mad Max: Fury Road is that Max himself is almost relegated to a supporting role in his own film (for much of the first hour or so, he’s either locked up in prison or chained to the front of a car that’s doing well over 100 miles per hour). Picking up the slack, so to speak, are Charlize Theron as Furiosa, who, despite the fact she’s missing one of her arms, is every bit as tough as Max, and a lot smarter than the War Boys riding along with her (none of whom know what she’s up to). As for the film’s heavy, Hugh Keays-Byrne (who was Toecutter in the original Mad Max) reminded me of the Humongous from The Road Warrior: like that earlier character, Immortan Joe is an imposing figure hidden behind a mask who has an entire army at his disposal. The remaining supporting roles are also well-cast (especially Nicholas Hoult as the maniacal Nux), but the wildest character is one who never utters a word: The Doof Warrior (played by Australian singer / songwriter Iota), a War Boy who, while Immortan Joe is chasing Furiosa, is on top of an over-sized vehicle equipped with dozens of speakers and amplifiers, and is performing rock music as flames shoot from his guitar! The Doof Warrior stands out in every scene he’s in, providing Joe and his troops with their own soundtrack as they speed through the desert. In a movie filled with awesome characters, the Doof Warrior could be the most fascinating of the bunch.

As with the previous movies, George Miller manages to create a convincing post-apocalyptic world for Mad Max: Fury Road (Immortan Joe’s headquarters, complete with its poverty-stricken minions and man-made waterfall, is damn cool). More than anything, though, Mad Max: Fury Road is a high-octane action film, with one amazing sequence after another. As with Mad Max and its sequels, director Miller did the majority of the chase scenes practically (as opposed to using CGI), adding a realistic feel that raises the tension several notches. It’s hard to pick one moment from the film as my “favorite”, but if I had to choose, it would be the sequence set inside the massive sand storm (I was so blown away by this scene that I had to bring it back and immediately watch it again). As good as the chases were in the series’ other entries, Mad Max: Fury Road may actually have them beat.

Hands down, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best action films I’ve viewed in a while, and it’s nice to see that, after nearly 3 decades, “Mad” Max Rockatansky hasn’t lost his edge.

Nor, for that matter, has George Miller.







Monday, September 21, 2015

#1,862. Mission to Mir (1997)


Directed By: Ivan Galin

Starring: August Schellenberg


Tag line: "After decades of rivalry, the world's two greatest powers have discovered the value of friendship"

Trivia: For this movie, Imax trained eight astronauts to operate the IMAX camera, with each astronaut receiving a total of 25 hours of training







I grew up in the 1980’s, a time when the very notion that the United States and Russia would work together on anything was too ridiculous for words. By that point, the two countries had been natural enemies for decades, fighting a Cold War against one another that seemed to have no end in sight. Then the world changed, and these two super powers started to trust one another again. Mission to Mir, a 1997 IMAX-produced documentary, takes us aboard the Space station Mir (which is Russian for “peace”) to show us what’s possible when people who were once adversaries suddenly become friends.

Mission to Mir follows American astronaut Shannon Lucid during her record-breaking stay on the Mir Station, a place she called home for 188 days (from March 22 to Sept. 26, 1996). Working closely with her Russian peers, she performs a number of experiments, all designed to help us better understand how man might react to an extended stay in outer space. In addition, Mission to Mir gives us a brief history lesson on both the Russian and U.S. space programs, with clips of Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 orbit of the earth as well as the U.S. moon landing, Now, after years of working against one another, each nation is relying on the other to help mankind learn a bit more about the cosmos.

Like many of the IMAX space documentaries, Mission to Mir features impressive imagery (a brief shot of the station in orbit high above the earth is simply astounding). But the visuals you’ll remember after seeing this movie are of a more earth-bound nature, such as watching kids sled down a hill in Star City, Russia, where many of the current Cosmonauts reside. Thirty years ago, a simple scene like this would have been labeled “classified” and shoved into a Government file. The two countries still have their issues, of course, but the fact that we can all see this footage now is a testament to how far the U.S. and Russian governments have progressed.

And it’s this spirit of togetherness that Mission to Mir captures so wonderfully.








Sunday, September 20, 2015

#1,861. Fantasm (1976)


Directed By: Richard Franklin (as Richard Bruce)

Starring: John Bluthal, John Holmes, Uschi Digard, Candy Samples



Tag line for U.S. DVD release: "The Sin-sational Cult Film Classic!"

Trivia: This movie was refused a UK cinema certificate in 1977 and only passed the following year after heavy BBFC cuts







Fantasm, a 1976 Australian sex comedy directed by Richard Franklin (using the pseudonym Richard Bruce), lays its cards on the table during its opening scene, in which a pretty girl, while lying in bed, gently puts her finger in her mouth, then starts to moisten her nipple (shown in close-up). Her self-exploration continues as the title screen and credits play (by the time we get to the writer and executive producers, her hand has moved further down her body). More than a good way to grab our attention, this intro is also the first bit of nudity in a movie chock full of naked flesh (of both the male and female varieties) that features some of the biggest stars of the ‘70s porn scene.

Hosted by Professor Jungenot A. Freud (John Bluthal), Fantasm presents 10 segments that focus on the sexual fantasies of women, from the everyday to the taboo, each of which is acted out for us. Among those whose innermost desires are revealed are Abigail (Dee Dee Levitt), a woman who dreams of being pampered by the men who work at her local hair boutique; Gabrielle (Gretchen Rudolph), a lonely housewife who longs to experience sex as a man; and Francine (Mara Lutra), a heterosexual who nonetheless fantasizes about being seduced by a buxom brunette (Uschi Digard). Once each new fantasy has played out, the good Professor offers his personal insights into each case, insisting at every turn that an active imagination is a vital component in developing a healthy sexual appetite.

Despite a brief appearance by legendary porn star John Holmes (who, along with Maria Welton, takes part in a fruit fetish fantasy), Fantasm is a strictly soft-core affair. That said, it does cross into dark territory from time to time, with fantasies that include rape (titled Nightmare Alley, this sequence has Rene Bond being dragged into a gym and sexually assaulted by boxer Al Williams, at first forcibly, then as a willing participant), incest (a mother, played by Candy Samples, bathes her son whose just come home from war, then has him return the favor), and sex in a church (actress Serena is raped on an alter by Clement von Franckenstein, portraying a Satanic priest). Still, despite its occasional foray into the forbidden, John Bluthal’s Professor, with his philosophies and the odd pun, manages to keep the proceedings as lighthearted as possible.

More subdued than The ABC’s Of Love and Sex Australia Style, Fantasm is as entertaining as it is provocative, and while it’ll certainly raise a few eyebrows (the rape segment is naïve at best, and is bound to offend female viewers), the film could prove useful to couples looking to add a little spice to their love life.







Saturday, September 19, 2015

#1,860. The Getting of Wisdom (1978)


Directed By: Bruce Beresford

Starring: Julia Blake, Dorothy Bradley, Kay Eklund



Tag line: "From Henry Handel Richardson's immortal best seller"

Trivia: Approximately six thousand girls were auditioned to play the parts of the turn-of-the-century college school girls in this film








Set in turn-of-the-century Australia, The Getting of Wisdom introduces us to 15-year-old Laura Tweedle Rambotham (Susanna Fowle), who, despite her rural upbringing, is sent to an upper-class boarding school just outside Melbourne. Soon after her arrival, the other girls, including Lilith (Kim Deacon), Kate (Kerry Armstrong), and Maria (Sigrid Thornton), tease Laura incessantly, making fun of both her name (they call her “Tweedledum”) and her dress, which her mother (Kay Eklund) made for her. At first, Laura doesn’t let their insults bother her, but before long she’s trying to impress her classmates by claiming that she and the handsome Rev. Shepherd (John Waters) are having an affair (which is a lie).

Still, despite her ups and downs, Laura always finds solace in her music (she’s a self-trained pianist), and strikes up a friendship with fellow musician Evelyn (Hilary Ryan), who teaches young Laura a good many things, including what it feels like to be in love.

Based on a 1910 novel of the same name written by Henry Handel Richardson, The Getting of Wisdom relates the trials and tribulations of a country girl thrust into upper-class society. A free spirit who loves classic literature, Laura initially ignores the taunts of her classmates, but soon gives in to peer pressure, even going so far as join the others when they tease the school’s next-newest arrival, a girl they nickname “Chinky” (Alix Longman). Interestingly enough, Laura’s self-confidence, which was formidable when she first arrived at the school, begins to wane once she’s accepted into the fold.

Susanna Fowle excels as Laura, conveying the character’s strengths as well as her insecurities, and even though The Getting of Wisdom marked her screen debut, Ms. Fowle does more than hold her own with her more experienced cast mates; she outshines them in each and every scene.

A fan of the book (he supposedly read it when he was a teenager), director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies) does a fine job bringing this story to the screen, crafting a motion picture that’s both a beautiful period piece (the costumes and sets are top-notch) and a well-realized coming of age tale, featuring a main character, and a young performer, you won’t soon forget.







Friday, September 18, 2015

#1,859. Long Weekend (1978)


Directed By: Colin Eggleston

Starring: John Hargreaves, Briony Behets, Mike McEwen




Tag line: "Their crime was against nature...Nature found them guilty"

Trivia: Not all the financing for this picture had been completed and finalized when principal photography started on this movie







From the classics (Aguirre: The Wrath of God) to more recent offerings (All is Lost), the battle between Man and Nature has been explored on-screen in a variety of movies. Long Weekend, a 1977 Australian film directed by Colin Eggleston, takes things one step further by showing us what happens when nature gets pissed off.

In the hopes of repairing their turbulent marriage, Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) head to a secluded beach, where they’ll spend the holiday weekend camping and relaxing in the sun. Unfortunately, the two of them just can’t get along, and what’s more, they abuse the natural world, leaving their trash lying around and killing several woodland creatures. But as they soon discover, nature has a way of getting even.

Peter and Mary's ignorant behavior begins well before they arrive at the campsite (while driving, Peter tosses a cigarette out the window, kicking off a small brush fire. Then, a few miles later, he runs over a kangaroo that was resting in the middle of the road). Things continue to go downhill when the two reach their destination; after setting up the tent, Peter grabs an axe and starts cutting down a tree. When Marcia asks why he’s doing it, Peter replies “Why not?” But nature isn’t about to take this lying down. At one point, Peter is attacked by an eagle looking for its egg (which Marcia had found earlier), yet this pales in comparison to what happens when Peter shoots a sea cow, which had been swimming nearby whenever he went in the water (initially, he mistook it for a more dangerous animal, such as a shark, but as the story progresses, much to Peter and Marcia’s dismay, the sea cow proves plenty threatening enough).

Despite the fact both leads give exceptional performances, there wasn’t a single moment in Long Weekend where I was pulling for their characters. Marcia is downright belligerent through most of the film, shouting insults at her husband and complaining about having to spend the weekend in a tent, while Peter, who claims to be an outdoorsman, clearly has no respect for nature (strolling along the beach, he tosses his empty beer bottles into the water, then shoots at them with his rifle). The closing scenes are especially disturbing (a sequence in which Marcia drives off on her own is harrowing, to say the least), but even at this late stage of the movie, we’re rooting for nature to win out in the end.

And it’s fairly obvious throughout Long Weekend that the filmmakers felt the exact same way.







Thursday, September 17, 2015

#1,858. The Horseman (2008)


Directed By: Steven Kastrissios

Starring: Peter Marshall, Caroline Marohasy, Brad McMurray



Tag line: "He has some questions"

Trivia: To help raise finance for the production, a short film was shot of the opening scene. The short film went on to win Best Independent Drama (10-30mins) at the 2006 Queensland New Filmmaker Awards






When I first read the synopsis for The Horseman, it reminded me quite a bit of the 1979 Paul Schrader-directed film Hardcore, in which a deeply religious Midwesterner (played by George C. Scott) receives a pornographic videotape, starring his missing daughter, in the mail, then travels to New York City to find her. But after watching a few minutes of this 2008 Aussie film, I knew it was going to be a much different movie. Whereas Hardcore was about a father trying to bring his child home, The Horseman is a brutal motion picture featuring a grieving dad who, while searching for the truth, takes revenge on those responsible for his daughter’s demise.

Shortly after learning that his runaway daughter Jesse (Hannah Levien) has died of a drug overdose, Christian Forteski (Peter Marshall) receives an anonymous package in the mail, inside of which is a video containing a pornographic movie. To his horror, the “star” of the picture is Jesse, who, in an obvious drug-induced state, has sex with a trio of men. Putting two and two together, Christian realizes Jesse died the very day she appeared in the film. In an effort to find out what happened, he hits the open road, visiting those involved with the making of this video, and exacting his own brand of bloody justice on each and every one of them. During his travels, he picks up a hitchhiker, an 18-year-old girl named Alice (Caroline Marohasy), who has run away from home. Hoping to save her from a fate similar to Jesse’s, Christian offers Alice some fatherly advice, all the while making sure she has no idea what he’s up to. Yet, despite his best intentions, Christian’s thirst for vengeance eventually catches up with him, putting both he and Alice in harm’s way.

Peter Marshall delivers a searing performance as Christian, a man whose grief over his daughter’s death is matched only by his hatred for those who took advantage of her. In one key scene, he tracks down the video’s producer, Finn (Jack Henry), who he ties to a chair, demanding that he reveal the names of the actors in his movie. When Finn, who also works as a boxing promoter, refuses to do so, Christian pulls the man’s pants down and, with the help of a bicycle pump, “convinces” him to start talking. It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch, yet isn’t nearly as violent as some of Christian’s other encounters (one poor guy, who he had knocked out, wakes to find a few fishing hooks attached to a very tender part of his anatomy). In contrast, the sequences where he’s with Alice show us a different side of Christian, that of a father figure who tries to help his young companion, and it’s to Marshall’s credit that he’s just as believable in these scenes as when he’s beating the hell out of someone.

Apart from the strong performance turned in by its lead, The Horseman features a decent supporting cast and a wrinkle or two in its story that’s sure to take you by surprise. That said, I have to warn you that it is also an incredibly violent film; I cringed more than once watching Christian exact his revenge (though he himself is the victim of what, to me, is the movie’s single most upsetting moment of brutality). I do recommend The Horseman; it’s a well-made, highly-engaging motion picture. But if torture and copious amounts of blood aren’t for you, you’ll be better off passing this one by.







Wednesday, September 16, 2015

#1,857. Breathe (2011)


Directed By: Martin Khodabakhshian

Starring: William Trubridge



Tag line: "300 Feet. One Breath. No Second Chances"

Trivia: This film's subject, William Trubridge, currently holds 15 separate Free Diving world records








Breathe, a 2011 documentary directed by Martin Khodabakhshian (a 9-time Emmy Award-winning producer for cable network ESPN), follows Free Diving world record holder William Trubridge as he attempts to do something nobody has ever done before: dive to a depth of 300 feet (92 meters) with no equipment, and on a single breath of air. The setting for this historic attempt is the Bahamas, more specifically an area known as Dean’s Blue Hole, a deep cavern situated smack-dab in the middle of a picturesque bay. This hole, which plunges to a depth of 663 feet (202 Meters), is where Trubridge spends a fair portion of his time training (he and his wife live in the Bahamas), and he even hosts a Free Diving competition, known as Vertical Blue, that brings dozens of the world’s most conditioned athletes to the Hole each and every year. Breathe tags along with Trubridge as he trains for his big dive, revealing how he prepares himself, both physically and mentally, for a feat that may ultimately cost him his life.

Even more interesting than the dive itself is the man at the center of it all, and it’s the attention it pays to William Trubridge that makes Breathe as engaging as it is. In what might be the movie’s most fascinating scene, Trubridge reveals his secret for staying under water for long periods of time, explaining how he uses both his lungs and his diaphragm to take in air (when his lungs are full, he forces himself to “swallow” air, claiming the process allows him to pull in an additional half-gallon of oxygen). Yet even with his extensive training, there’s no guarantee Trubridge will survive each new attempt, a reality that weighs heavy on the minds of those closest to him (both his wife and father are interviewed during the course of the film, and talk of how they fear for his safety each time he goes down). As to why he does it, not even Trubridge can answer that question (when asked by the director why he takes such risks, the famed diver silently peers off into the distance).

Bolstered by its stunning underwater photography and Khodabakhshian’s unique visual style (which involves lots of slow-motion), Breathe is a captivating, beautiful documentary. But as aesthetically pleasing as the movie is, and as dramatic as its final scenes are, it’s the time it spends with Trubridge that makes Breathe such a rewarding experience.







Tuesday, September 15, 2015

#1,856. Skyscraper Symphony (1929)


Directed By: Robert Florey





Trivia: Impressed with how Manhattan looked at sunrise, director Florey shot this movie over three mornings










Odds are a few of you have never heard of Robert Florey, though you’re probably familiar with at least some of his work. Having grown up in Paris down the road from the famous studio of Georges Méliès, he eventually moved to America, where he wrote several books on Hollywood (one of which, Filmland, was a best seller in his native France). After serving as an assistant to filmmakers like King Vidor and Josef von Sternberg, Florey himself became a director (he was initially going to helm 1931’s Frankenstein, but was instead assigned to Murders in the Rue Morgue). Eventually, he made his way to television, directing episodes of The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In 1929, around the time he was co-directing (with Joseph Santley) the Marx Brothers in their debut feature, The Cocoanuts, Florey took a stroll around Manhattan at sunrise, and was impressed by what he saw. So, over the course of three mornings, he shot Skyscraper Symphony, a 9-minute short that featured a number of New York’s tallest buildings.

The movie starts off quietly enough, with a minute or so of static shots. Then, all of a sudden, the camera starts to move, panning up and down, twisting and turning towards and away from the various structures. In fact, some of the shots in this middle sequence are downright jarring (at one point, the picture spins in several directions, and there are a number of sudden cuts). Things do calm down a bit by the finale, and we close on a shot of a crane, which is busy constructing yet another giant building.

Skyscraper Symphony played in art house theaters for a short while, and is considered an early example of Avant Garde cinema (for decades, the movie was believed lost until a copy was found in 1990, in, of all places, the film archives of the former Soviet Union). But in my opinion, it isn’t so much a cinematic revolution as it is a filmmaker exercising his creativity, hitting the streets of New York and showing us what he believed was worth seeing. Forget cast, crew, sets and props; Skyscraper Symphony is one man with a camera, proving that art isn’t always done by committee.







Monday, September 14, 2015

#1,855. Containment (2015)


Directed By: Neil Mcenery-West

Starring: Louise Brealey, Lee Ross, Sheila Reid



Tag line: "No water. No power. No explanation. No escape"

Trivia: This movie won the Accession Award at the 2015 East End Film Festival







Mark (Lee Ross), a struggling artist, wakes one morning to find the front door of his apartment sealed shut. But he’s not the only one trapped inside; his entire building has been locked down, as has the complex directly across the way. The plot thickens when a truck pulls up carrying several people in orange Hazmat suits. Soon after, the intercom system in Mark’s flat starts broadcasting a recorded message, telling him to sit tight and remain calm. Hoping to find a way out, Sergei (Andrew Leung), who lives with his younger brother Nicu (Gabriel Senior) in the apartment next door to Mark's, knocks a hole through Mark’s wall. Believing that strength in numbers might give them an advantage, Sergei breaks through a few more walls, allowing the elderly Enid (Sheila Reid) and young couple Aiden (William Postlethwaite) and Sally (Louise Brealey) to join their group. Together, Mark and his new friends try their best to escape, all the while wondering why they’ve been cut off from the outside world.

Directed by Neil Mcenery-West, 2015’s Containment kicks things off with a perplexing mystery (why is everyone being quarantined?), which grows even more puzzling as the movie wears on. Peering out the window, Mark, Sergei, and the others watch as the authorities round up residents from the building across from theirs, who are then led into a makeshift hospital tent. Yet, despite the fact they’re entirely in the dark as to what’s going on, the newly-acquainted neighbors soon know what they're up against when a young man, before entering the tent, makes a break for it, only to be gunned down by a sniper positioned on the roof. At that moment, the main characters (as well as the audience) realize that whatever is happening is pretty damn serious.

Without going too deeply into spoilers, Mark and the others do manage to uncover the truth, at which point they themselves must go on the defensive, running from their fellow residents, who also want answers. All at once, what had been an intriguing mystery becomes an effective thriller, with the main characters fighting for their very lives against an angry mob. A taut, suspenseful film that features some exceptional performances (Ross does a fine job as the lead, though it’s Reid as the outspoken Enid who steals the show), Containment will, from start to finish, have you on the edge of your seat.







Sunday, September 13, 2015

#1,854. The Canal (2014)


Directed By: Ivan Kavanagh

Starring: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Hannah Hoekstra



Tag line: "Fear will pull you under"

Trivia: Included among the crime scene photos used for a scene in this film is one of the 1969 murder of Sharon Tate








As a mystery, 2014’s The Canal doesn’t really work; odds are you’ll figure out what’s going on early in the film. What it is, though, is an effective ghost story, one that’s certain to send a few shivers running up your spine.

Five years have passed since film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) and his beautiful wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) moved into their dream home. One day, while cataloging some old police footage, David makes a startling discovery: in 1902, his house was the scene of a grisly murder, committed by a man whose wife was cheating on him. This revelation hits David hard, especially since he himself believes that Alice has been unfaithful, and is romantically involved with her handsome co-worker, Alex (Carl Shaaban). To learn the truth, David leaves their young son Billy (Calum Heath) in the care of his nanny (Kelly Byrne) and follows Alice. To his horror, his suspicions are confirmed, but things take a turn for the worse when Alice doesn’t return home later that night...

Several days later, the authorities pull Alice’s lifeless body from a canal that runs through their neighborhood. Aside from dealing with his own grief and that of his young son, the now-widowed David has to put up with Police detective McNamera (Steve Oram), who flat-out accuses him of murdering his wife. But David is convinced the ghost of the killer who once resided in his house is to blame, and with the help of his co-worker Claire (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) and an old-time movie camera, he intends to prove his theory is correct. Did a ghost really murder Alice, or is David losing his mind?

Rupert Evans delivers a sometimes heartbreaking performance as the sensitive David, and because he’s such a likeable guy, we feel his pain when he learns his wife has been seeing another man. But as we eventually discover, David is also a strong-willed investigator, and to prove the ghosts of the past are responsible for Alice’s death, he delves deeply into the history of his house and its former occupants. Naturally, nobody believes his story, so he tries to obtain proof to show that the evil spirit of a century-old murderer does, in fact, exist. It’s in these scenes that The Canal truly excels. Aided by a silent movie camera he borrows from work, David shoots the interior of his house, and the developed film reveals a ghostly presence lurking in the corner of nearly every room. Yet as creepy as these images are, the movie’s most effective scene has David shooting a roll of film by the side of the canal, resulting in a sequence that, while clearly inspired by The Ring, will scare the hell out of you.

Though it does borrow heavily from other movies (aside from The Ring, there are a few nods to The Shining as well), and anyone with the slightest knowledge of horror movies (or thrillers in general) will see its ending coming from a mile away, The Canal is an entertaining picture while it lasts, and even if its finale is ultimately a disappointment, the ride to get there is pretty damn intense.







Saturday, September 12, 2015

#1,853. Lost After Dark (2014)


Directed By: Ian Kessner

Starring: Sarah Fisher, Mark Wiebe, Jesse Camacho




Tag line: "And you thought the '80s were dead ..."

Line from the film: "I don't want to be eaten by a cannonball!"








An homage to the slasher films of yesteryear, Director Ian Kessner’s Lost After Dark might not by the most convincing ‘80s throwback you’ll ever see, but iwhen all is said and done it’s not a bad little horror movie.

It’s 1984, and a group of friends have arranged to meet up at their school’s Spring Ball. But they have no intention of staying there for long. Hopping aboard a bus hot-wired by Tobe (Jesse Camacho), the teens head into the woods of Michigan, where they’ll spend the night at a hunting cabin owned by the family of straight-A student, Adrienne (Kendra Leigh Timmins), who’s hoping for some alone time with star football player Sean (Justin Kelly). Their road trip comes to an abrupt end, however, when the bus runs out of gas, stranding the group, which includes Adrienne’s best friend, Jamie (Elise Gatien); high-school sweethearts Johnnie (Alexander Calvert) and Heather (Lanie McAuley); ladies’ man Wesley (Stephan James); and bad girl Marilyn (Eve Harlow), in the middle of nowhere. Adding to their problems is the fact that the school’s vice-principal (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) saw them drive away in the stolen bus, and after a brief talk with Adrienne’s father (David Lipper), he figures out exactly where they’re going.

As for the teens, they find shelter in a seemingly abandoned house, and decide to spend the night there. But this isn’t just any old house; it’s the family home of the Joads, a clan of cannibals who were gunned down by the police decades earlier. Unfortunately for the seven friends, Junior Joad (Mark Wiebe) survived the ordeal, and has been hiding out for years, snacking on stray hikers and vagrants who wandered too close to his abode. It isn’t long before Junior starts picking the teens off one by one, but will he manage to kill them all before the the remaining few decide to fight back?

From its stereotypical characters (who make one dumb decision after another) to its insane killer, Lost After Dark definitely gives off an ‘80s vibe, which only gets stronger when the blood starts to flow (one kill in particular is a clear nod to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie). And while the film does have an artificially grainy look (complete with scratches and blemishes), Kessner thankfully kept the manufactured defects to a minimum (though he does utilize the “Missing Reel” gag, a la Grindhouse, where we supposedly miss some of the action because a reel of film was damaged beyond repair. Not only did this gimmick take me out of the movie momentarily, but from the looks of it, not a whole lot happened in that missing reel, leaving me to conclude that the film was better off without it). There is the occasional wink to the audience, especially with regards to ‘80s pop culture (during the bus ride, one character is trying to solve a Rubik’s cube, which she eventually chucks out the window), but for the most part, Lost After Dark plays it pretty straight, resulting in some genuinely tense sequences.

Those with fond recollections of the 1980’s will surely get a kick out of Lost After Dark. And while its appeal among the younger crowds might be more limited, I’d still recommend it for everyone. Yes, Lost After Dark is a throwback to a bygone era, but it will also show you why so many of us fell in love with the films of that time period.







Friday, September 11, 2015

#1,852. Wild Australia: The Edge (1996)


Directed By: John Weiley

Starring: Hugo Weaving, Mark Baker, Hayley Pero





Trivia: In 1998, The Australasian Performing Rights Association awarded this film for its musical score










Dedicated to the pioneer Bushwalkers of New South Wales who saved this place, and opened out eyes to the wild beauty of the world”.

The above dedication opens 1996’s Wild Australia: The Edge, an IMAX documentary that focuses on the continent’s Blue Mountain region, an area that, despite residing directly next door to the bustling metropolis of Sydney, is still as it was millions of years ago (“When the Grand Canyon was a shallow creek”, the film informs us, “these valleys looked much as they do today”). Narrated by Hugo Weaving, Wild Australia: The Edge takes us deep inside this beautiful region (a good portion of which was declared a National Park by the Australian government), revealing its wonders as well as its dangers, and shedding light on a discovery that has shocked researchers and conservationists the world over.

Much like Australia: Land Beyond Time, Wild Australia: The Edge takes full advantage of the IMAX format to present some breathtaking visuals (in a sequence that must have looked amazing on the big screen, the camera seemingly floats along a river, then glides over the edge of a waterfall, peering down as it does so). What makes it all the more impressive is that the Blue Mountains (which, incidentally, were also used as a key setting in the 1987 adventure / drama Initiation) are a natural time capsule, a look at a corner of the world as it existed before man was so much as a gleam in Mother Earth’s eye. In what is arguably the movie’s most dramatic moment, we follow a pair of explorers into an ancient cave system, where, with a reverence one would normally reserve for a church gathering, we're treated to formations that haven’t changed since the days of the dinosaurs. It is truly a sight to behold.

But even at this juncture of the movie, the best is yet to come. Late in Wild Australia: The Edge, the filmmakers are taken via helicopter (with blindfolds over their eyes) to an area that contains the Blue Mountains’ most prized possessions: Wollemi Pine Trees. Thought to have been extinct for the past 65 million years, these trees have survived is this region for a very long time, and conservationists, fearing what might happen if their location is revealed, work tirelessly to prevent the whereabouts of these ancient conifers from becoming known. At the time this documentary was made, these Wollemi Pines were a fairly new discovery; an adventurer named David Noble found them, quite accidentally, in 1994 (“It was about as likely as finding a dinosaur wandering through the forest”, says Weaving), and the inclusion of these prehistoric trees further drives home the fact that the Blue Mountains are one of the earth’s most remarkable regions (the cameras were even there to capture something that, in all likelihood, has never been seen before: a young pine cone, hanging from a branch in one of the trees, releases its spores into the air).

As you might expect, Wild Australia: The Edge adopts a pro-conservation stance that’s prevalent throughout the entire film; early on, we’re told that, at one point, there was a species of trees native to these mountains that stood over 435 feet (133 meters) tall. We know how big they were because they were measured by the men who cut them down. Though not subtle, such a position, especially with regards to this unique area, is certainly warranted, and I, along with everyone else, hope the Blue Mountains remain as they are for many, many years to come.







Thursday, September 10, 2015

#1,851. Australia: Land Beyond Time (2002)


Directed By: David Flatman

Starring: Alex Scott




Trivia: This movie was originally released in the IMAX format










While discussing his 2002 film Australia: Land Beyond Time, director David Flatman said he believed the IMAX camera was “made for Australia”. I couldn’t agree with him more. When it comes to exploring its expansive terrain, IMAX is arguably the only format that could do the continent justice, and like many documentaries of this ilk, Australia: Land Beyond Time contains some amazing images. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was how informative the movie is.

With the help of a do-it-yourself dual-engine plane (built by the film's crew), Australia: Land Beyond Time takes us on a guided tour of a continent that covers some 3 million square miles, and is surrounded by three oceans (its narrator, Alex Scott, calls Australia “The world’s largest island”). Along with surveying Australia’s immense landscape (including stops in the Outback and a visit to its imposing coastline), the film also teaches us a thing or two about the area’s geological history; by way of impressive computer graphics, we learn that, millions of years ago, Australia was part of the super-continent Gondwana, and, even after this colossal land mass splintered, it remained connected to Antarctica for several millennia before finally drifting off on its own.

Yet as interesting as this is, Australia: Land Beyond Time is at its most fascinating when it focuses on the continent’s wildlife. Throughout the film, we’re shown a number of different species, from the platypus to the crocodile, and while we are occasionally treated to some exciting showdowns (in one sequence, a massive Perentie lizard battles a highly venomous King Brown Snake), it’s the tidbits of trivia I found most intriguing. For Instance, I had no idea that the kangaroo and the koala, perhaps the two species most often identified with Australia, are descended from the same creature (a marsupial possum), and that, at one point in its history, the kangaroo was the size of a mouse!

Without a doubt, Australia: Land Beyond Time is a gorgeous movie that introduces viewers to the majesty and wonder of a truly remarkable place. But unlike some IMAX documentaries, there’s a lot more to it than a collection of pretty pictures.