Category Archives: Australia

Red Christmas (2016)

Director: Craig Anderson

I don’t often engage in “Christmassy” things, cos I’m not particularly into Christmas itself, but eh… thought I might make an exception and watch this (which is itself something of an exception to my general rule this year of not watching stuff of any sort). And, yeah, I probably shouldn’t have bothered… I was expecting a bit more in the way of comedy for some reason, possibly because director Anderson’s background is TV comedy (things like Black Comedy, Maximum Choppage, Double the Fist), and partly because the premise is fucking deranged; basically we’re dealing with a slasher film in which the killer is an aborted foetus that somehow survived, grew up, and is now out for revenge on mummy dearest. (And the foetus is called Cletus. Amazing.) That idea is so brilliant that it’s such a shame the film is, really, just a slasher film after all (it’s also one of those old school-style Ozsploitation films that evidently brings in an American lead actor—Dee Wallace in this case—mainly if not solely to help sell the film in the US). A perfectly competently made one (the rather strident and bold use of colour in the second half of the film is really striking), but that’s all.

As a study of the ramifications of abortion, it’s obviously lacking in subtlety, though the question of whether it swings pro-choice or against it isn’t terribly clear-cut… you can’t really call any of the characters particularly sympathetic—apart from Jerry who has Down’s Syndrome; this is a quite lovely performance (much the best one in the film) by Gerard Odwyer, and he gets probably the best scene in the film when he discovers just why mother dearest chose to terminate her youngest child—and that includes Cletus; unlikable as the rest of the family kind of is, it’s weirdly hard to feel for him when he’s slicing them up just for having the temerity to have, you know, lived (the first victim, too, is the adopted daughter). Basically I think I just wanted something kind of epic trash from Red Christmas, mostly because of the berserk central premise, and I didn’t really get it; obviously you can take a berserk central premise and play it fairly straight and do so effectively, but here I think a more excessive and black comedic approach might’ve served it better.

Wyrmwood (2014)

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner

This reminds me of Undead in several ways; apart from the whole Australian zombie movie thing, there’s also the whole kind of homemade aspect as well. In this case, the brothers Roache-Turner apparently set out to make their opus in six months for just $20,000; that actually turned out nearer $150,000 and four years. Persistence surely paid off, though, cos—and this is the other way it reminds me of Undead—it’s a shitload of fun. Albeit very thinly explained fun; if Undead‘s alien visitation was clear enough, the meteor shower that somehow triggers an outbreak of zombies in the sticks of Victoria—yeah, we’re going there again for a second night in a row—is somewhat more obscure (one character compares it to the falling star in Revelations, but God Almighty never appears at any point to confirm the theory). And we never do quite find out what the doctor’s experiments are really for, do we… What Wyrmwood may lack in motivation, though, it makes up for in spades with gore, character and overall vigour, and an occasionally black humour that kind of arises from what I can only call the “Australianness” of the thing. This is what separates it from Charlie’s Farm from last night; the latter could just as easily have been set in the US without even having to rewrite the script that much, whereas you couldn’t transplant this quite so easily cos there’s something specifically Australian about the characters, how they behave, how they speak (e.g. Frank’s deathless “this is bullshit”). Leon Burchill as Benny, goddamn. I want to see him in everything now (I now see he’s in Stone Bros, which I was needing to check out anyway). And though you can see various homages to other movies of this sort, this film’s original contributions to the genre—particularly the use of zombie blood as fuel—are delightful. More blase than most films about such niceties as plot, coherence, etc, but an awful lot of fun. Will be interested to see what the RTs do next…

Charlie’s Farm (2014)

Director: Chris Sun

The DVD packaging for this film prints a couple of enthusiastic critical notices, including this one which calls it the very thing the slasher genre was needing… by which I can only assume what the genre was lacking was rural Victorian settings (as in the Australian state, not 19th century Britain), cos otherwise I’m damned if I can think of anything else this film did that was, you know, new in any way. Otherwise it ticks most of the usual cliché boxes… bunch of young folk bumming around rural Victoria go to visit the farm of the title, where some 30 years earlier there was a bit of a massacre… cos the farmer and his wife were, shall we say, fucked, and they liked to kill and eat travellers who came their way. So the locals eventually up and killed them, but they missed the somewhat backwards child, Charlie, who’s said by some to still lurk around the old farm. And those people are right, as our Expendable Meat… er, heroes eventually discover. That other enthusiastic critical notice I mentioned can be found here, “Charlie’s Farm is the R rated film Australia has been dying to see”, and insofar as we don’t actually get a lot of R-rated films any more (I actually just did a check of the OFLC website; of the last 250 decisions listed on the site, I think only 6 things were rated R and only one of those was an actual film. The MA rating covers a lot of the old R-rating’s sins), that may or may not be fair… but if it is, damn, we’re evidently starved for something. I’ll give Charlie’s Farm points for what it does right, mostly Charlie himself—impressively massive and well made-up—plus the gore is reasonable and it nicely… subverts, shall we say, the final girl trope. Good Christ, though, until Charlie does finally go rampant in the last half hour, it’s as dull as duckshit; apart from him dispatching a couple of other backpackers before the credits and the flashback to the townsfolk killing the farmer and his wife, bugger all actually happens. It’s a crushingly long setup to establish some characters of not much interest before they get wiped out, and Charlie himself hardly constitutes a character as such, we’re not dealing with Mick Taylor here… Yeah, a bit bullshit. Director Chris Sun is apparently off to the US soon, where he’ll probably do better churning this sort of crap out than he will here… this does not inspire me to check out his other work, though.

The Man from Hong Kong (1975)

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

And this was the logical follow-up to our last film. By all accounts it was a far less happy experience making this than Deathcheaters was, mostly on account of imported Hong Kong star Jimmy Wang Yu; in the scene at the martial arts academy where TS plays one of the guys going hammer and tongs against Wang, well, the blood may have been fake (transcendently so throughout the film), but the punches weren’t… Whatever, the film is great, of course; it was the mid-70s, Australian cinema was resurging nicely and Hong Kong action cinema’s international renown was on the rise, so uniting the two seemed like a good idea, even if the leading man was an obnoxious shit, and even if the not altogether casual racism expressed in some scenes makes for not altogether comfortable viewing in our allegedly more enlightened times. The plot is simple enough, a Hong Kong inspector is brought to Sydney to question someone who turns out to be connected to crime kingpin George Lazenby, who obviously has to be taken down with as much violence as $450,000 could buy in 1975 (and that was a surprising amount); by this time TS had cut his teeth on an assortment of documentaries, and his first fiction feature displays a certain skill for widescreen carnage. Obviously dated in a lot of ways—I mean, just look at the soul-blasting amount of orange in Lazenby’s lair where he and Wang have their final duel, and the classically 1970s not wholly naturalistic post-sync sound—and prone to a certain, I don’t know, larger than life-ness in some of the acting (hello Ham Keays-Byrnes!), but an awful lot of fun; if you were going to do a sort of Bond-style action knockoff with an Asian twist in those days, this was the way you’d do it.

Deathcheaters (1976)

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

After that bit of faux Trenchard-Smith the other night, let’s have the real thing now, and one that could actually benefit from a modern remake… You know how they say you should never remake a film unless it wasn’t up to much in the first place and could potentially be improved upon? Deathcheaters is exactly the sort of thing they mean. Very cheap (apparently $150,000-odd, which was certainly worth something in 1976 but still not a lot), very cheerful, fairly cheesy, and potentially an enormous hit if given to the right people to redo. TS says in the DVD commentary he set out to make what he describes as a “whimsical” film, an action comedy that’d be family-friendly (indeed, the film succeeded in scoring a G rating, as opposed to the R rating Man from Hong Kong earned the previous year), with a sort of semi-camp tone of the sort you found in TV programs like The Avengers. I think it’s fair to say this intention does come through in the finished product, in spite of, let’s be honest, a number of problems, the biggest of which is probably the opening chase (jumping from Kurnell to Northbridge to Warringah Mall) and the abseiling down the Hilton Hotel; it makes for such a good opening 20 minutes or so the rest of the film can’t really live up to it. Plus, although it does tick along at a fair enough pace, the film does take longer than necessary to get to the point—our two heroes (Grant Page and John Hargreaves), Vietnam vets turned stuntmen, are hired by a mysterious government figure (Noel Ferrier) to “acquire” certain papers belonging to a Filipino crime lord—and nowhere near enough on the mission (we never actually see said crime lord or really know much about him). And at the time there seems to have been some fuss over TS using actual Vietnam War stock footage in a couple of flashback scenes when the war was still, you know, a fresh memory. Still, it’s kind of fun, kind of charming, and the film communicates the enjoyment the people making it clearly had; plus the original will always have one advantage over any putative remake, namely the 70s fashion… that shirt Page wears at one point with the gigantic puffy sleeves is as jaw-dropping as the stunt work.

Turkey Shoot (2014)

Director: Jon Hewitt

I was surprised to see Turkey Shoot listed in the TV guide for tonight, even more so when I saw it was a remake and not the 1982 film, and I was particularly surprised to see Jon Hewitt was the director… somebody’s come a long way from cheap shot-on-video vampire flicks made with the fascist pseud Wolstonecroft, hasn’t he? Hewitt’s avowed intention was to remake the Trenchard-Smith film for what he described as “a relatively undemanding international audience”, but minus the irony and the camp and to make it realistic instead, and in the process he seems to have mostly actually remade The Running Man… As in the original, it’s the nearish future and we have a sort of far-right government ruling things, albeit this time with the novelty of a war in Africa in the background (featuring Roger ward’s moustache as a Libyan dictator); our hero is a disgraced Navy SEAL accused of massacring innocents in the course of same, who gets the opportunity to play for a pardon on a reality show called Turkey Shoot, by pitting himself against a legion of people trying to kill him.

GODDAMN, I don’t think I’ve seen a locally-made film since Harlequin that was so vague about where it was supposed to be set (cars with left-hand drive but Victorian rego plates?). Funnily enough, that film was also produced by Tony Ginnane and had, well, issues when it came to the actors’ wobbly accents (Nicholas Hammond is particularly shaky)… but the accents are the least of this film’s problems. The whole thing really is just cack-handed—particularly the attempts at satire on reality TV and the state of modern warfare—and its cheapness is screamingly obvious in almost every way; can’t find an actual budget for it, but it just looks cheap and tatty from start to finish. I don’t know, I get the feeling that somewhere along the way there’s been producer trouble, and that Ginnane’s long-standing interest in the “relatively undemanding international audience” was greater than Hewitt’s, as well as the latter’s interest in subtext. And it’s just no fun, unlike the original Turkey Shoot, and that’s probably the worst thing about the new one. Sometimes a bit of cheese actually lifts things surprisingly high…

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Director: Mark Hartley

If nothing else, I now know why there were two Lambada movies back in the day, a mystery that hasn’t exactly taxed my imagination for a quarter of a century has now been solved… Anyway, this is Mark Hartley’s most recent venture into feature-length film documentary, this time narrowing his focus down from aspects of national industries to the adventures of a single company, Cannon Films. I was a bit apprehensive of this, cos when it comes to the crunch an awful lot of their product basically seems to have been dogshit. Was there going to be much of interest to this story? Well, yes, vastly more so than I’d thought there would be, and much of that interest lies in the frankly peculiar double act—cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus—that drove the studio; basically, the film charts (in initially somewhat breathless fashion) their rise through the Israeli film industry (which, in the 60s and 70s, seems to have mostly consisted of just them), then their move to Hollywood, where they bought a struggling business called Cannon (the pre-GoGo period of which is unfortunately only minimally dealt with), then their astounding rise and equally astounding collapse, ending in the cousins splitting and producing those rival Lambada films. And yeah, it’s pretty unabashed about how much of Cannon’s output was rubbish with barely any redeeming features, but the overall portrait is more complex… basically, the “bad news Jews” were guys who loved films but lacked the care or discipline to make them, you know, good, and yet, even though they were oddly old-school exploitation hucksters, they had aspirations to be an even more old-school “proper” studio, and a desire to be respected that saw them make films by John Cassavetes, Franco Zeffirelli (who called GoGo the best producers he ever worked with) and, most amazingly, Jean-Luc Godard. As someone says at one point in the film, if Cannon’s “prestige” products had come from anyone but them, those films would’ve been far better regarded, but the Cannon logo was like the kiss of death. There’s something weirdly admirable about Cannon’s rise and just as weirdly tragic about its fall, and Hartley charts this fascinating story well. However, amidst the many talking heads, there are two significant absences, i.e. Golan and Globus themselves… but their absence is explained in a brilliant end credit, which notes they declined to be interviewed and instead announced their own Cannon Films doco, which beat this one into release by some months. Golan died only a week after the first showing of Hartley’s film, and I daresay he wouldn’t have complained too much about that…

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Director: George Miller

HOLY SHIT it’s another film that I’ve watched in the same year it was released, although I waited for the home video release… kind of wish I’d stirred myself to the cinema when it was on. I remember being sceptical about this when I first heard it was happening, and then the first trailer came out and I thought “oh”… perhaps my scepticism was unjustified after all. And then the film came out, everyone was blown away, and thousands of whining pissbaby MRAs all over the Internet managed to turn it into a sort of cultural phenomenon by screaming about it being full of women capable of standing up for themselves and actually outshining the title character… you know, a politically correct feminist conspiracy pretending to be an action movie. How could MEN be expected to tolerate this sort of thing? I did have that in mind when I handed over $25 for the Blu-ray at my local JB this afternoon, and was pleased by the thought that somewhere, some meninist shitbag was in agony because of me.

The film itself… MOTHERFUCKER. MM:FR pretty much lived up to the hype for me. I am not even remotely surprised somehow to discover George Miller had storyboarded the whole thing before he’d actually written the script, it is that sort of film; he envisaged it as more or less a continuous chase, and the film undeniably delivers on that intent. Plot… actually, you can barely really speak of this film as having one because the story is so thin, and serves primarily as a loose framework for Shit Blowing Up (which shit does, with remarkably few pauses for breath over two hours—AND mostly using actual practical effects rather than just CGI). And that’s fine. Fury Road is one of those style-over-substance films where the style actually becomes the substance, and what style it is, too; Miller drew cinematographer John Seale out of retirement to shoot this and it looks jaw-dropping, and the grotesquery of the wasteland’s various people just adds to that, giving the whole thing a fairly batshit semi-surreal vibe. If you can overlook the barely-thereness of the story (and the fact that, to be honest, Tom Hardy’s Max actually does kind of pale next to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa; Max remains a somewhat distant character throughout), then Fury Road is a pretty stellar example of the sort of thing it is. Might’ve taken nearly 17 years from its first conception to its eventual release, but the end result was worth it; I’m sure sequels will ensue, but Dr George is going to have a hard time beating this one.

Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)

Director: Mark Hartley

Reaching for the comfort food again. This is such a joy, it was when I first saw it at the preview theatrette under the State Theatre in 2008, it was again tonight after I’d rummaged through a pile of DVDs to find it, the opportunity to hate-watch those unspeakable bores Phillip Adams (who still won’t admit The Naked Bunyip was, in its own way, just as exploitative as any of the later genre films he hates) and Bob Ellis (hey Bob! Any more guesses as to when the Abbott government will collapse?) is always good, and the sheer enthusiasm of the film for its subject—the wacky world of Australian genre filmmaking in the 1970s and 1980s—is completely winning. Particularly Quentin Tarantino; I know some people were a bit grumpy at having this American tell us how great our popular cinema back then was (though I gather his participation was kind of a necessary condition for getting the film funded and made at all), but his pleasure at these films is so explosive and genuine that it feels churlish to complain about his presence. And to be sure not everyone in the doco is equally enthusiastic about their participation in the sometimes shabbier end of the Australian film industry revival (I’ve been kind of hard about some of the fruits of same myself in the past); the somewhat cavalier attitudes evinced in the making of a number of the films under discussion—particularly when it came to the safety of stuntmen and actors—can’t always be regarded as admirable as such, so some of the mixed feelings are perfectly understandable. Yet sometimes all you can do is admire the sheer nerve and gall on display; it stuns me that Grant Page in particular is not only still alive but actually having something of a late-career renaissance in the 21st century. Not Quite Hollywood is pretty damn good as an actual piece of filmmaking in its own right, sharply edited and stylish, and a terrific primer on a side of the industry I daresay most of our guardians of film-cultural taste still wish had never happened…

The Babadook (2014)

Director: Jennifer Kent

A historic day in the life of this blog, for today I bring you an honest to god/dess actual new cinema release for the first time. Yes, I’m so excited I had to bold, italicise AND underline that bit. So new, in fact, it only opened here last Thursday, though it opened at Sundance in January, whence come a number of good reports about it. On top of that, the film in question is an Australian horror film, which is a relatively rare beast in itself, as I’ve mentioned in the past, although it’s the sort of horror that tries to keep you guessing how much of it is actually supernatural as opposed to merely psychological. Certainly our two main characters are both on kind of shaky ground, a mother and her young child with a family tragedy—the death of the boy’s father in an accident while taking the mother to hospital to give birth to their son—behind them. At nearly seven years old Samuel is still shit-scared of monsters under his bed, and he’s having a rough time at school cos, well, they don’t really know how to deal with his behaviour. However, Sam’s problems kind of pale next to his Mum’s; Amelia’s relationship with the child is kind of strained by the aforementioned horror death, her other family relationships are collapsing, she can’t handle Sam’s acting up and generally everything is going to shit, stressful beyond belief with no end in sight. And then there’s the monster Sam is perhaps right to be afraid of.

The Babadook is really dominated by Essie Davis as Amelia, it’s a quite amazing performance of the sort that a film like this kind of needs to be built on; a lesser performance could’ve been damaging. As it is, the film has its own issues, some bits are handled kind of clumsily and it takes a while for it to really get going (it’s a 90 minute film that could’ve been about 70 minutes), but once it does there are quite a few effective things, particularly the severely desaturated colour palette and the sound (there’s a particularly dominating low-end rumble at key points that’s one of the scariest things in the film). The babadook itself is, intriguingly, never fully explained, we don’t quite know what sort of entity it really is, which leads me to a brief consideration of the film’s ending. This proved kind of divisive among the people I saw the film with this afternoon—I think it’s interesting, the others didn’t seem to think it worked—but I’m loath to spoil it as such, so I’ll just say it reminded me of the ending of Shaun of the Dead, except obviously played seriously. It’s not the sort of thing that’ll polarise people in the way, for example, the twist in High Tension does, and as I said I did think it was interesting, but I can understand it pissing some people off. On the whole, though, an fairly good feature debut from Jennifer Kent, whose future work should be worth seeing…