“Lake Mungo”: wizardry from Oz

The outline of “Lake Mungo” is how an Australian family, its neighbors and acquaintances suffer through the sudden loss of a 16 year old daughter, the unraveling of secrets, and perceptions turned into enmity close to hatred.
The incident is a drowning.

Movie poster

What follows are detailed, keenly observed reactions of all who were touched by Alice Palmer’s (Talia Zucker) death.

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Midnight Movie Madness

Fido” – (93 minutes, USA 2006)

“What is it boy? Is Timmy in trouble?”

In these alternative 1950s, after the “zombie wars”, life resumed in America within fenced in communities managed and policed by a corporation named Zomcon (zombie containment is their motto). Hordes of ‘untamed’ zombies roam the zones outside the communities’ perimeter, while within, domesticated zombies wearing electronic shock-collars serve the living delivering milk, papers, mowing lawns and acting as household help, etc.

Neighborhood watch

In order to keep up with the neighbors, Helen Robinson (Carrie Ann Moss) buys a domesticated zombie helper (Billy Connolly), much to her neurotic husband’s (Dylan Baker) dismay. Bill Robinson has a serious phobia of zombies since childhood, when his dad and uncle tried to eat his brain.
Certainly a very sore subject around the dinner table.
Bill is distant with his son Timmy (Kesun Loder) and pretty sadistic towards the zombie helper, zapping him for the slightest reason, and repeatedly. Timmy decides to call the zombie Fido and the two become friends, inasmuch as you can with a Z-dude.

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Monday is Columbus Day

Hmmm… Since Monday’s a holiday (happy Columbus day everyone), no mail, no Netflix. No matter, I do have a film to review for Wednesday’s Midnight Movie Madness. Woof!

Meanwhile: the postman always shoots twice.


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Behold, a pale van

The horseman” – (96 minutes, Australia 2008)

Not to be confused with “the horsemen” (USA2009)

I’m really not a fan of revenge movies, I don’t particularly care for the “Dirty Harry” series, much less “Death Wish”. You can guess by extension, that the so-called “torture porn” movies are even less my thing as far as entertainment goes.
The Australian film “the horseman” seems on the surface to fit in neatly with at least the first two, but “horseman” is more of a Western for me.

Watch the trailer:

Strange? Maybe, but would you consider “the searchers” (John Ford, 1956) a revenge movie..?
The language of Westerns is spare, and plain. Surviving in the face of great odds and hardships, natural or otherwise, dictates humility and economy.

Some films have clever dialogue and good one liners. It is telling that the imdb page for “the horseman” has no ‘memorable quotes’, not one, and that is a really good thing. This isn’t Schwarzenegger or Tarantino territory.
I will not include spoilers in this review. The premise is that a man receives news of his daughter’s death under more than questionable circumstances. We understand from the first few minutes that she was a runaway, and had taken part in some cheap, semi-underground porno.
The man (Peter Marshall) wears a pest control uniform with his name, Christian, on it. Make what you will of the occupation or the name.
When Christian finds out about the porno film, he sets out to find the people who made it and kill them. The majority of reviews call this a revenge movie, and again, I don’t see this as Christian’s motivation. Rather, I see a man needing cleansing from the filth that reached him through his daughter.
He was done and ready to go home about mid-way through the film, there was no desire to keep on killing, especially after having bonded with a runaway (Caroline Marohasy) the age of his daughter, he’d done what needed doing.
The cinematography is stark, shadows are intense and light feels at times like a harsh glint. In fact, watching Christian’s face is like watching the planes and contours of a steel hammer. Reading his expressions is noting the imperfections in the metal, Marshall’s performance is minimalist and perfectly suited and nuanced.
His violence is purposeful, as opposed to the sadism demonstrated by another later in the film. And for realism, simply keep in mind a scene involving a handcuffs’ key, and later on, the way a man sounds after getting stabbed in the chest (no, not with the key).

There is nothing pleasant about “the horseman”, thankfully. It is however very well acted and suspenseful, a proper and very distinct descendant of “get Carter” (Mike Hodges, 1971) and should make first time director Steven Kastrissios someone to keep an eye on. The same certainly applies to the cast, Marshall in particular.

The horseman” gets 4 jellybeans.

4 beans


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Midnight Movie Madness

Rogue” – (99 minutes, Australia 2007)

Somewhere deep in Australia’s Northern Territory, a group of tourists embarks on a tour boat piloted by guide Kate Ryan (Rhada Mitchell). As they prepare to turn back in the late afternoon, the group notices flares going up somewhere deep in sacred aboriginal land.
Reluctantly, they push on in search of the distressed party.
As they consider returning to town, in a wider part of the river forming a lake with a tiny mud island at the center, they come upon a small boat partly submerged and nothing else. Before they have a chance to discuss their next move, their boat is almost lifted out of the water by a huge crocodile hitting them from below.
With the hull breached and rapidly taking water, Ryan steers towards the island and beaches the craft.
With the tide rising and ill-equipped tourists far away from civilization, the group’s survival comes in serious doubt, especially as the huge crocodile begins to pick them off in an inexplicable display of aggression.

Watch the trailer:

Director Greg McLean describes “Rogue” as an old style horror film and I suspect he refers to his suggestion of violence rather than graphic displays. In fact “Rogue” uses both and it’s a good blend. Some reviewers took issue with the pacing, others with a perceived lack of gore. There are several things which set “Rogue” apart from other entries in the so-called killer-croc sub-genre.
One of these are the locations. The setting of the film, the Northern Territory, is one of the main characters, absolutely stunning from the features of the landscape, waters, sky and shifting colors beautifully captured by Will Gibson, the director of photography. Sadly, he passed away in March 2007, and from what I’ve seen in the extras and the way he shot the film, I’m sure he must be dearly missed.
Anyone who loves the outdoors owes it to themselves to check out “Rogue”: footage of this quality and of this part of the world is all too rare.

The music score, written by Frank Tetaz, is excellent: while I was always aware of it, I never felt it intruded, as others have.
The extras have him describe how he integrated certain tonalities to not only ‘support’ the action and mood but define characters: tapping strings on violins and violas, using wooden and metal containers immersed in water as percussion instruments and a simple piece he composed as a foundation for improvised Aboriginal vocalizations.
Very well thought out, and best: it works great, not unlike the soundtrack designed for “winged migration”.
As mentioned above, McLean effectively ‘suggested’ some of the kills, using clever editing and scene set-up rather than showing people getting chomped. This gave those kills he did show more impact. And those were complex scenes to design, between stunt work, CGI, mechanical crocs and editing. What gore there is has more of an impact, not just because it looked very real, but because there wasn’t that much of it throughout the movie. He had a fairly solid group of actors as well, with some unspoken characterization notes, glances, looks and smiles which actually worked better than much of the dialogue, which was on the weak side.
Where McLean avoided gratuitous gore, he gave in to gratuitous cussing, which was unnecessary and ‘jarred’ a little.
Given the shooting conditions, heat, humidity, flies, having real crocs and snakes around, not to mention spending a fair amount of time in murky waters, the actors pushed themselves. As Michael Vartan, who plays American travel writer Pete McKell, says in the extras, he did not have to act afraid, he was terrified. There is a real element of danger shooting a movie in an uncontrolled environment, especially doing take after take in the water as Sam Worthington had to do, knowing a three meter crocodile had been seen in the area. Sure, there are security guys with rifles around, but as they told the actors: “if we have to use the rifle it’s too late.”
And the mechanical croc head with chomping jaws? You can hear them clamp shut hard in the final confrontation in the crocodile’s lair, as Vartan humorously put it, he ‘peed a little’, you’ll know why once you hear that sound: special effects or not, that mechanical croc head could take a limb off.

This was a work intensive production for sure. The island on which the tour party seeks refuge was man made for the movie, in an artificial (and large) lake. The croc’s lair was a set on a sound stage, and the CGI and animatronics were complex blends of real and digital.
I don’t know how much of a return was made on this movie but it deserves to have done well: it is superior in most respects to others in the genre and I would rank it up there with “jaws”.

Rogue” gets 5 jellybeans.

5 beans


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Nein, nein, nein… Oh well…

Inglorious basterds” – (153 minutes, USA 2009)

By now, most everyone reading this is likely to know what this movie’s storyline(s) is (are): a group of Jewish American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) operating in occupied France during WWII, spreading terror amongst Germans, by using unconventional methods. Scalping, beating with baseball bats, etc.

There is another arc involving Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), sole survivor of a Jewish family hiding at a neighbor’s farm in France, massacred by colonel Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz) and his men.
Both arcs converge towards a final conflagration at the cinema run by Dreyfus under a different name toward the end of the war.

Watch the trailer:

There have been times, in other films, when Quentin Tarantino had me laughing out loud, or really involved in the action. He reportedly said he would be interested in directing a James Bond film, and I would look forward to that. But there are enough issues with “inglorious basterds” that I wish I could have the 2 ½ hours from my life back.
It’s actually closer to 3 hours, seeing that I had to replay certain scenes as it stopped making any kind of sense to me.

I read in some critical reviews that the violence and brutality was such that the reviewer(s) felt sorry for the German soldiers. The scalping of dead soldiers? The beating to death of another with a baseball bat? Really? This points to a failure on both parts, to me: let’s remember German troops decimated entire villages in countries they occupied in retaliation for attacks by resistance movements. “Inglorious basterds” shows precious little of that, however.
Tarantino’s depiction of what the basterds did does not begin to equal what the Gestapo and SS did by a long shot. But then, perhaps some people draw a distinction he does not between the Wermarcht and the SS and Gestapo. No matter.

Eli Roth I felt was miscast as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, “the Jewish Bear”. The actor playing Hugo Stiglitz would have been better. But then Brad Pitt and his inconsistent accent (his character is supposed to come from Tennessee) wasn’t all that inspired either, actually looking… Constipated throughout. There is a saying about grabbing the viewer/reader’s attention right off the bat (no pun intended), with the first scene or lines of a film or book.
The first chapter of “inglorious basterds”, since Tarantino decided to use the chapter format again, introduces Hans Landa, during his “visit” of a French farm, looking for a Jewish family in hiding. The dialogue is well written, Christopher Waltz delivers the lines well, but it’s clearly not the best scene Tarantino’s ever written, and it probably would have benefited from more close up shots.
As it is, I feel that what Tarantino was going for was for the audience to see Landa as a boa constrictor, slowly coiling around the farmer he questions, until he squeezed truth and tears out of him.
As a display of psychological violence, I found it lacking in that the scene did go on too long, and that Waltz as Landa lacked any form of “glee” that I could recognize. Hannibal Lecter, he’s not. Far from it. It felt to me as though Tarantino was actually holding his punches, perhaps because the material was rooted in history, and I suspect, Tarantino actually may be burnt out on violence not just in its physical forms but also in its psychological aspects. Some of you I hear go: “What-the-f***?!?”
Here I suspect there may have been more conflict off screen than on.

Inglorious basterds” opening scene also features music by Ennio Morricone, and as the movie is intended as an homage to Spaghetti Western, that would seem to make sense. Except I began to disconnect right then and there instead of being pulled in. It didn’t belong there. I didn’t time how long it took Landa and his men to reach the farm, but I had to get up and start a pot of coffee.
And so it went on and on and on.
Tarantino I think gets blamed and praised for the same reasons: his reverence and references to the movies. And many of the reviews I’ve read of “inglorious basterds” tend to swing between extremes. I do wonder whether this film is a turning point for him, seeing how he wrote the two female characters (Shoshanna Dreyfus and Bridget Von Hammersmark, played by Diane Kruger) and what happens to them…
As it is, I hope his next choice of material will suit him better. If you’re even on the fence about Tarantino, skip this one, and watch, say “army of shadows” by Melville instead. But if you’re a fan… Well you’ve already seen and loved “inglorious basterds” by now, haven’t you?

I’m giving “inglorious basterds” one jellybean for ambition.

1 bean


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Adventures Through Time and Space

“The Mighty Boosh” – Surreal adventures through time and space (UK 2004)

“Don’t be cynical

It’s a follicle miracle!”

Sometime in 2007, a co-worker e-mailed me a link to a Youtube video taken from a show I’d never heard of. The clip was maybe 9 minutes long, from a British comedy series called “the Mighty Boosh”. This was from an episode from season 2 entitled “the legend of Old Gregg”.

I waited another two years for the series DVDs to be released here. I was hooked.

The Mighty Boosh’s first season (8 episodes) introduces Vince Noir (Noel Fielding) and Howard Moon (Julian Barratt), two zookeepers working at the run-down Zooniverse managed by Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher). Vince Noir is obsessed with hair products, electro music and is the apparent air-head of the two. Howard Moon is a Jazz fanatic and prone to embellishments.

Season two (6 episodes) finds Vince and Howard sharing an apartment with fortune teller Naboo (Michael Fielding, real-life brother of Noel) who really is a shaman, and Bollo the gorilla (Dave Brown in a gorilla suit). As to Season 3 (6 episodes), Vince and Howard now work for Naboo at his shop (the Nabootique).

No explanations are given for the changes in settings between seasons, much like in a dream, you find yourself in different places without transition. What matters are the adventures and characters, from the North Pole to planet Xooberon, even the afterlife, where the Ape of Death suffers from bad hair as well as a short temper and Death (actually Deaths, plural) ferry the departed in taxi cabs through space and speak with a Cockney accent.

Each episode has a different story arc, giving this series a leisurely pace, as opposed to say, “Big Train” which is composed of short sketches. Flashbacks are often done using colorful animations and there are several musical numbers per episode. Most of the songs are pretty catchy and contribute greatly to the feeling of whimsy. The look of the series is very colorful and never dull, as the entire series was shot in studio, with special effects described as cheap by some viewers, but in actuality charmingly quaint. For instance, a scene in which protagonists are being chased by the Yeti was shot with the actors running in place in front of a backlit screen rolling in a loop. It’s a pretty common technique used in older films and series, which helps give the Mighty Boosh some sort of “grounding” visually.
Each DVD set includes two discs and plenty extras, such as interviews, making of, Boosh music, bloopers, etc. for many hours of enjoyment. Rich Fulcher is the sole American of the cast and deserves a special nod. He is extremely funny in his various roles, the deviant Bob Fossil, the Ape of Death and kinky Eleanor among others. The bloke is mental.
The series followed a common development pattern in Great Britain, from stage to radio and finally television, with plenty of time to refine and hone a wonderful and unique program. The Boosh really has to be experienced.
A word of caution, however, due to the common usage of profanity (four letter words), I would not recommend it for family viewing if you have young children.

“The Mighty Boosh” gets 5 jellybeans

5 beans


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Midnight Movie Madness

Dead Alive – Everything you always wanted to know about zombies but were afraid to ask (97 minutes New Zealand 1992)

They’re not dead exactly, they’re just… sort of rotting.”

In the pantheon of horror-comedies, “Dead Alive” easily ranks up there with “Evil Dead: army of Darkness” and “Shaun of the dead”. I’ll say right now that you probably shouldn’t eat custard or strawberry ice cream when watching this early effort from Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings”, “King Kong”, “the frighteners”), in the days when special effects included stop motion and gallons of movie blood. Lots of movie blood. So much blood, that “Dead Alive” is reputed to be the bloodiest movie of all time.
1957: the latest acquisition of the Wellington zoo is a rare and dangerous Sumatran rat-monkey, whose bite causes humans to turn into ravenous zombies. The creature looks suspiciously like Kitsune, by the way. Unfortunately for Lionel (Timothy Balme), his domineering mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody) is intent on sabotage as he tries to enjoy his first date there with Paquita (Diana Penalver). Standing too close to the cage, Vera gets bit and stomps the rat-monkey to squishy bits in her rage. Lionel takes her home and tries to hide her horrific condition from everyone, leading to problems growing as fast as the body count.
Virtually everything in this gem is outrageous and the carnage is way past the top, into the stratosphere. It also provides answers to vital questions about zombies:

–         What happens when two zombies fall in love

–         Why you shouldn’t take the resulting offspring to the park

–         How to feed a captive zombie when its head is halfway off

–         How to immobilize a zombie with a garden rake and a vise

–         Why animal stimulant shouldn’t be used to poison zombies

And much, much more… Jackson and writers Stephen Sinclair and Frances Walsh (Jackson’s spouse) packed a lot of chuckles and groans in what may be the definitive splatter-fest.

Jackson’s camera work and skillful direction  keep things lively and all the efforts spent recreating the look of the fifties, with cars, clothes and even hair styles of the era greatly enhance the movie’s charm. Performances are above the average for the genre, especially from the leads, but Father McGruder (Stuart Devenie) fighting off zombies in his graveyard is a classic (“I kick *** for the Lord!”), well worthy of Bruce Campbell’s best, as is Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) showing a lot of spine as the zombies overrun Lionel’s house. Also keep an eye out for Peter Jackson’s cameo as the undertaker’s assistant pumping Vera with embalming fluid…

The JBoD rating for this movie is 4 jellybeans (out of 5)

4 beans


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