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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Man Ray. Le Retour A La Raison (The Return to Reason), 1923

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)



Posted: 19 Oct 2015 11:01 PM PDT

Directed By: Wes Craven

Starring: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess



Tag line: "Mari, 17, is dying. Even for her the worst is yet to come"

Trivia: This movie was banned for over 32 years in Australia. It was finally commercially available through DVD in 2004






Back in 2006, when I was working as a buyer for a meat-packing plant, a co-worker of mine, a middle-aged woman named Bea, asked me what I thought was the scariest movie I'd ever seen. "The Exorcist" was my immediate reply (though I also told her about my love for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and John Carpenter's The Thing). Naturally, I posed the same question to her, and while she didn't remember the film's name, I knew from her description of it (2 teens are kidnapped by rapists / killers and dragged into the woods) that it was Wes Craven's directorial debut, 1972's The Last House on the Left (which borrowed heavily from Ingmar Bergman's 1960 classic The Virgin Spring). Bea was a teenager, around the same age as the film's doomed young lead, when she and a few of her friends saw this in the theater, and the experience was almost too much for her. A brutal, unflinching motion picture, The Last House on the Left undoubtedly had this same effect on thousands of girls the world over.

Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is about to turn 17. As her parents, John (Richard Towers) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr), prepare for her upcoming party, Mari and her slightly wild friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) head to New York to attend a concert. Once in the city, Phyllis tries to score them some grass, and approaches Junior (Marc Sheffler) on the street, asking if he knows where they can get some. Promising to hook them up, Junior leads Phyllis and Mari back to his apartment, where, instead of marijuana, they find three escaped criminals: Krug (David Hess), Sadie (Jeramie Rain), and Weasel (Fred Lincoln), who immediately take the naïve young girls as their prisoners.

The next morning, Krug and the others throw their two hostages into the trunk of a car and head out into the country, where, quite ironically, they break down on the very road that Mari and her parents live on. Once the gang has "finished" with Phyllis and Mari, they head to the nearest house, which happens to belong to the Collingwoods! Despite being worried that their daughter hasn't returned home yet, John and Estelle invite the group to stay in their home. But it isn't long before the distraught parents discover the truth, leading to a showdown that's sure to end in more bloodshed.

"Certainly the deepest horror", Wes Craven once said, "is what happens to your body at your own hands and others". And what happens to Mari and Phyllis in The Last House on the Left at the hands of Krug and his cronies is about as horrific as it gets. Once the actions shifts to the woods near Mari's house, the two girls are humiliated beyond belief (aside from being forced to have sex with one another, Phyllis is made to urinate in her own pants) before being tortured, and much worse. What makes it even more chilling is that Craven allows his camera to linger, focusing quite intently on these disturbing events (he doesn't show us everything, thankfully, but we definitely see enough). I'd watched the movie once or twice before, yet a foreknowledge of what's to come doesn't help much. In fact, the film's middle sequence always has the same effect on me: by the time the evil Krug (Hess is absolutely terrifying in the role) and his cohorts have finished with Mari and Phyllis, I'm shocked, disgusted, and mentally drained.

I do have some issues with The Last House on the Left, primarily the characters of the bumbling sheriff (Marshall Anker) and his deputy (Martin Kove), whose scenes would be more at home in a Laurel and Hardy comedy short (while on their way to investigate the abandoned car in front of the Collingwoods, their own vehicle breaks down, forcing them to hitch a ride with a passing chicken farmer). I realize Craven was trying to lighten the mood with some comedy, but to throw these antics in after what is easily the film's most alarming scene was a mistake (I'm fairly certain nobody was in a laughing mood at that moment). That said, this movie has definitely left its mark on the genre, and as tough as it is to sit through, horror fans should make a point of doing so at least once.







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FRIGHT NIGHT

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Posted: 20 Oct 2015 09:21 PM PDT

Directed By: Tom Holland

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse




Tag line: "If you love being scared, it'll be the night of your life"

Trivia: Charlie Sheen auditioned for the role of Charlie Brewster, but the director decided his looks weren't right for the character






Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) believes in vampires. His favorite television program is the Fright Night movie show hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a former film star whose most popular role was that of a vampire hunter, and what's more, when he sees some movers hauling a coffin into the basement of the house next door, the sometimes excitable teen becomes convinced that his new neighbor, handsome bachelor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), is himself a Prince of the Undead. So obsessed is Charley with the notion of living beside a vampire that he even misses his opportunity to have sex (for the first time ever, mind you) with his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), who storms out when Charley refuses to take his binoculars off the Dandridge house.

As it turns out, Charley's suspicions are spot-on. One night, while up late studying, he hears a girl's scream, which seems to have come from next door. Sure enough, the following morning, the news reports tell of the discovery of a murdered girl, who just so happens to resemble the pretty blonde he saw walk into Jerry Dandridge's house the night before. Then, while spying on his neighbor, Charley sees Dandridge's assistant, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), load what looks like a dead body into the back of a car. Of course, nobody believes Charley when he tells them a vampire has moved into the neighborhood; not his mother (Dorothy Fielding) or Amy, or his strange friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys). Even the police laugh at him when he tries to have Dandridge arrested for murder. Feeling he has nowhere else to turn, Charley visits his idol, Peter Vincent, in the hopes he'll know what to do. While the aging actor initially thinks his new young friend has lost his mind, he soon sees for himself that vampires are very real, and that Charley isn't a lunatic after all.

One of the things I love about writer / director Tom Holland's Fright Night is the way it depicts the dual nature of its lead monster. Early in the film, Jerry Dandridge is portrayed as a suave ladies' man, much like Bela Lugosi in 1931's Dracula; one night, while looking out his window, Charley spots Dandridge with a beautiful woman who has obviously succumbed to his charms, and later in the movie, the urbane bloodsucker even manages to seduce Amy on a crowded dance floor. But if you piss this vampire off, you get something else entirely, as Charley learns when Dandridge, hoping to scare the teen enough to stop him from snooping around, pays a nighttime visit to Charley's bedroom. When Charley instead fights back, an enraged Dandridge transforms into a hideous monster right before our eyes, a creature uglier even than Murnau's Nosferatu. Sarandon handles both of the character's extremes wonderfully, and is just as convincing as a debonair predator as he is a feral creature of the night.

Equally as good is Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, the former star who has fallen on hard times (moments before Charley paid him a visit at the TV station, Vincent was informed his show had been cancelled). But as bad as things may seem at the start, it's nothing compared to the terror that awaits Vincent once he agrees to "help" Charley. Watching him evolve from a passive onlooker to a frightened participant is an absolute treat, and in the hands of a seasoned pro like McDowall, Peter Vincent quickly becomes the movie's most sympathetic character.

When it comes to memorable sidekicks, however, it's hard to top Stephen Geoffreys' Evil Ed, who, with his bizarre mannerisms and near-insane cackle, generates many of the film's laughs on his own (while most definitely a comedy, Fright Night is not a satire. The guffaws come courtesy of the situations these characters find themselves in). Yet as goofy as Ed can be, he also experiences an intense change of his own during the course of the film, and his final scene is undoubtedly the most poignant moment in the entire movie.

With characters you can really get behind, some awesome (practical) special effects, and a truly terrifying monster, 1985's Fright Night is more than a great '80s vampire flick; it's a horror classic, and if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately.







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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Evil Dead II (1987)

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#1,884. Evil Dead II (1987)

Posted: 13 Oct 2015 10:18 PM PDT


Directed By: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks



Tag line: "Kiss Your Nerves Good-Bye!"

Trivia: Most of the film was shot on a set built inside the gymnasium of the JR Faison Junior High School in Wadesboro, North Carolina








Not so much a sequel as it is a reworking of 1981's The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II takes the story of Ash (Bruce Campbell) and the "Deadites" in a different direction. Instead of straight-up horror, Sam Raimi and company opted to toss a generous helping of comedy into the mix, resulting in a brilliant bit of insanity that has captured the hearts of genre fans the world over.

As our story begins, Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) are heading to a remote cabin for a romantic weekend getaway. Shortly after they arrive, Ash finds a reel-to-reel tape recorder sitting on a desk, and decides to give it a listen. The voice on the tape belongs to the cabin's owner, Professor Knowby (John Peakes), who reads aloud from the Necronomicon, or "Book of the Dead", which he uncovered during one of his recent archaeological excursions. But as he recites the passages, it awakens an evil spirit that bursts into the cabin and takes control of Linda's body. Feeling he has no alternative, Ash kills Linda and buries her in the forest. But as he'll soon learn, his problems are far from over… 

As this is going on, Professor Knowby's daughter Anne (Sarah Berry), who, like her father, dabbles in archaeology, is returning from an overseas dig, where she found several more pages from the Book of the Dead. Joined by her boyfriend / research partner Ed Getley (Richard Domeier), Anne drives to the cabin to share this amazing discovery with her father. Unfortunately, the bridge that leads to the cabin has been inexplicably destroyed. Hoping to find another way in, Anne hires Jake (Dan Hicks) and his girlfriend Bobby Joe (Kassie Wesley DePaiva) to guide them through the forest. Of course, once they arrive at their destination, the four weary travelers find themselves caught in the middle of a very frightening situation.

Having already established the particulars in The Evil Dead (i.e. – malevolent spirits in the woods, demonic possession, etc), Evil Dead II doesn't waste time setting things up; mere minutes after the opening credits have ended, Ash is listening to the tape and summoning the ancient evil that possesses his girlfriend. And from there on out, the movie doesn't stop to take a breath. Most of the lunacy comes courtesy of Bruce Campbell, whose over-the-top performance as Ash is one of the film's strong suits (the entire first act consists of Campbell's Ash battling the supernatural entities that have come to destroy him), and it's to the actor's credit that he succeeds at making us laugh and jump at the same time.

Equally as flamboyant is director Sam Raimi, who, throughout the entire film, lets his imagination run wild. Along with his frequent use of the "forest cam", where we're looking through the eyes of the evil spirits as they rush through the woods towards the cabin, we're treated to some stop-motion animation (Even though Ash buried her, Linda 's headless corpse, as well as her decapitated head, spring from out of the ground and do a little dance) and more jump scares than you can shake a stick at (no matter how often I watch this movie, a few of these jump scares still manage to surprise me). Yet, despite all its bells and whistles, Evil Dead II has its moments of genuine terror, making it that rare horror / comedy that offers just as many scares as it does laughs.

Like 1986's Aliens, James Cameron's follow-up to Ridley Scott's classic 1979 masterpiece Alien, many horror fans rank Evil Dead II above the original Evil Dead, which, seeing as the sequel is as much a comedy as it is a supernatural fright pic, is something of a surprise (Likewise, Aliens was more of an action-packed shoot-'em-up than a straight-on sci-fi / horror film). In the case of both franchises, my opinion is exactly the same: I prefer the originals (Alien and The Evil Dead), but that doesn't prevent me from loving the hell out of the sequels!







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Sunday, October 11, 2015

"EATERS, Man!" (2015)

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#1,881. Eaters (2015)

Posted: 10 Oct 2015 08:31 PM PDT


Directed By: Johnny Tabor

Starring: Marcelle Bowman, Robert Dean, Tristan Parrish Moore




Tag line: "Prepare to meet a new breed of killers"

Trivia: The working title for this film was Folklore








It had been nearly a year since I checked out the video section at my local Wal-Mart, and longer still since I'd actually found anything there worth purchasing. Along with the newest releases (which are always cheaper on-line), it usually offered a slew of titles I already owned, and others I couldn't care less about (they were always heavy on rom-coms). Then, about 2 months ago, while I was in the store picking something else up, I swung by the DVD section. To my surprise, I noticed a single rack dedicated to the newest indie releases, a number of which were horror movies. What's even better is that the titles I've bought thus far have been good horror movies, including Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead and Containment. I now check back regularly to see what other hidden gems they might be offering, and my most recent trip introduced me to 2015's Eaters.

June, 1974. Five friends: Nolan (Tristan Parrish Moore) and Jill (Hannah Risinger); the newly-engaged Dillon (Jonathan Haltiwanger) and Alice (Marcelle Bowman); and Jude (Robert Dean), who just returned home from a tour of Duty in Vietnam, are traveling cross-country. Their adventure quickly takes a wrong turn, however, when, during a brief layover at a New Mexico rest stop, Jill goes missing. At first, Nolan and the others think she may have been kidnapped by a gang of bikers led by a guy named Mickey (Algernon D'Ammassa), who pulled away moments before they realized Jill was gone. Anxious to get her back, the group catches up to the bikers, resulting in a dangerous showdown on a remote desert road. But, to their surprise, Jill isn't with them, and to make matters worse, when they pull into a seemingly-deserted town looking for gas, the friends find themselves smack dab in the middle of a nightmare from which they cannot escape.

Written and directed by Johnny Tabor, Eaters owes more than a little to another indie film, 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Aside from its story taking place in 1974 (the year Chainsaw was released), its tale of five twentysomethings piled into a car is reminiscent of the opening moments of Tobe Hooper's horror classic (there are other similarities as well, but seeing as they're minor spoilers, I won't go into them). Like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Eaters is also a bit rough around the edges, but while Chainsaw benefitted from the grittiness of its film stock and Hooper's guerrilla-style approach to the material, Eaters feels a little sloppy (there's at least one noticeably jarring cut, and the pacing suffers in several scenes). Adding to Eaters' problems are the sub-par performances, some of which are so bad that they're a distraction.

That said, Eaters isn't a total loss. At times, it's genuinely stylish, and the movie's central mysteries (which, before long, amount to much more than just Jill's disappearance) are interesting enough to keep you watching. I also liked how the director tied several different subplots together (the bikers do make their way back into the story, leading to some of the film's best sequences), and while there isn't a lot of blood, the few scenes of gore that are featured are pretty darn shocking.

I can't say I was blown away by Eaters; along with the above problems, the film's climax (or lack thereof) left me scratching my head (though the stinger at the end of the credits did make me smile). But Johnny Tabor is clearly a skilled filmmaker, and at the very least, Eaters has me interested in seeing what he comes up with next.







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Sunday, September 27, 2015

BREAKER MORANT (1980)



Posted: 26 Sep 2015 09:52 PM PDT

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), are to stand trial for their lives. Due to the sensitive nature of this case (the Germans have protested the killing of their missionary, and could use it as an excuse to assist the Boers), the British are hoping to expedite the court martial. To this end, they assign 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 manages 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, only to abandon its men when the political heat is turned up. 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.







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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Shaun Of The Dead

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Monday, August 24, 2015

THE PROPOSITION (2005)

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#1,833. The Proposition (2005)

Posted: 23 Aug 2015 05:54 PM PDT

 
Directed By: John Hillcoat

Starring: Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Emily Watson



Tag line: "This land will be civilized"

Trivia: Originally, John Hillcoat approached Nick Cave about doing the soundtrack for a Western, eventually he asked if Cave would write the screenplay as well







'When?' said the moon to the stars in the sky
'Soon' said the wind that followed them all 
'Who?' said the cloud that started to cry 
'Me' said the rider as dry as a bone 

These are the opening lines of Nick Cave's song The Rider, which plays over the end credits of The Proposition (Cave also wrote the film's screenplay). I love this tune; it's on a regular rotation on my iPod (I'm guessing I listen to it 3-4 times a week), and whenever I hear it, it reminds me of this amazing 2005 western. Directed by John Hillcoat and set in the Australian Outback, The Proposition is a poignant, occasionally bloody tale of familial bonds put to the ultimate test.

The story is set in the wilds of Australia, in the latter part of the 19th century. Following a shootout at a remote cabin (which doubles as a whorehouse), wanted outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pierce) and his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are taken into custody. But instead of whisking them off to jail, Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers Charlie a deal: if Charlie agrees to gun down his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), the leader of the infamous Burns gang and the man responsible for the recent slaughter of a frontier family (the Hopkins clan, who were neighbors of Captain Stanley's), both he and Mikey will be pardoned and set free. Should he fail to carry out this mission, the good Captain informs Charlie that Mikey will be hanged by the neck on Christmas day, which is just over a week away.

As Charlie attempts to reach Arthur, all the while wrestling with the idea of killing his own brother, Captain Stanley has his hands full back in town trying to fend off the locals, including his own wife Martha (Emily Watson), who want Mikey Burns punished for his role in the recent murder of the Hopkins family (Martha was good friends with Eliza Hopkins, who was several months pregnant when the Burns gang raped and killed her). Determined to keep his side of the bargain, Capt. Stanley locks Mikey up in jail, where the townsfolk can't get him, but when politician Eden Fletcher (David Wenham), for whom Stanley works, orders the boy flogged in the public square, Capt. Stanley knows it might mean the end of his arrangement with Charlie Burns, who will surely come looking for revenge should the weak-willed Mikey not survive the ordeal.

'How?' said the sun that melted the ground
and 'Why?' said the river that refused to run
and 'Where?' said the thunder without a sound
'Here' said the rider and took up his gun

Both Pearce and Winstone shine as the two main protagonists, each trying to make a better life for themselves and a loved one. Disgusted by what occurred at the Hopkins homestead, Charlie took Mikey and left his brother's gang. Now, to save Mikey, he'll have to return and shoot Arthur dead. He knows it won't be easy, but we get the feeling Charlie is fully prepared to do what Capt. Stanley demands (a part of him might even believe that Arthur has it coming). As for Capt. Stanley, he's a Brit stationed in a foreign land, yet despite his feelings about Australia ("What fresh hell is this?" he asks while looking out the window), he wants to end the bloodshed, if not for himself than for his wife. Having witnessed the atrocities committed by the Burns gang, Capt. Stanley's biggest fear is that Martha will suffer a fate similar to what happened to poor Eliza Hopkins. To prevent this, he turns his back on his duty and enters an agreement with a wanted criminal. "I will civilize this land", he says at one point, and clearly he'll do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The supporting cast is equally superb. Emily Watson is restrained yet effective as the wife whose husband tries to shield her from the realities of the world, and together she and Winstone share some convincingly intimate scenes. What's more, The Proposition features two actors who first made their mark on Australian cinema in the 1970s: David Gulpilil (Walkabout) plays Jacko, a professional tracker assisting the police, and Tommy Lewis (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith) is Two-Bob, perhaps the most lethal member of the Burns gang. Best of all, though, are John Hurt, who plays the a boisterous bounty hunter Jellon Lamb; and Danny Huston as the violent yet introspective Arthur Burns, who spends hours on end staring in wonder at the setting sun and gazing at the bright, starlit sky. Though a brutal killer (he stomps a victim to death with the heel of his boot), Arthur is also something of a poet ("Love is the key", he tells Charlie, "Love and family. For what are night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars without love, and those you love around you?"), and feels at one with the natural world.

'No' said the stars to the moon in the sky
'No' said the trees that started to moan
'No' said the dust that blinded its eyes
'Yes' said the rider as white as a bone

Along with its fascinating characters, The Proposition takes full advantage of the Australian Outback, which is every bit as untamed as some of the film's characters. As picturesque as it is foreboding, it's a gorgeous patch of land plagued by bugs and unpredictable weather (according to director Hillcoat, a scene in which the townsfolk's backs are covered with flies, and another that features several lightning strikes in the distance, were not planned; he simply shot what nature was serving up at the moment). It's the perfect setting for this sometimes vicious, yet altogether astounding motion picture. As for the film's violence, it is, indeed, severe, but not nearly as graphic as you might expect; aside from the flogging of Mikey Burns, most of the bloodshed occurs off-screen (we're shown only the aftermath of each event, which, to be fair, is more than enough).

'No' said the moon that rose from his sleep
'No' said the cry of the dying sun
'No' said the planet as it started to weep
'Yes' said the rider and laid down his gun

A film worthy of every superlative thrown its way, The Proposition is as hauntingly beautiful as the lyrics to Nick Cave's song, and, in my opinion, ranks right up there with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Django Unchained as one of the finest westerns of the new millennium.







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Sunday, August 23, 2015

THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH (1978)

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#1,832. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

Posted: 22 Aug 2015 09:16 PM PDT


Directed By: Fred Schepisi

Starring: Freddy Reynolds, Angela Punch McGregor, Tommy Lewis



Tag line: "The chant of the underdog"

Trivia: Prior to being cast as the film's title character, Tommy Lewis was a student with no acting experience







Based on the best-selling novel by Thomas Keneally (which in turn was inspired by true events), Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is a searing exposé of racism in turn-of-the-century Australia, relating the story of a man who's pushed too far, and decides it's high time that he start pushing back.

Set in the year 1900, just prior to the Federation of the Australian States, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith stars Tommie Lewis as the title character, a half-caste (part white, part aborigine) raised by Rev. Neville (Jack Thompson) and his wife Martha (Julie Dawson) to be an upstanding member of the community. Though he maintains a close relationship with his Aborigine family, including his uncle Tabidgi (Steve Dodds) and brother Mort (Freddy Reynolds), Jimmie works hard to impress his bosses, and even marries a white woman (played by Angela Punch McGregor), all in the hopes that he will one day be accepted into so-called "Normal" society. But after being cheated by each of his employers (who refused to pay him his full wages), Jimmie attacks the family of his latest boss, Jack Newby (Don Crosby), killing several in the process. Now on the run, Jimmie, joined by Tabidgi and Mort, manages to avoid capture for months, all the while continuing to strike back at those who've wronged him over the years.

Though he'd never appeared in a feature film prior to The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Tommie Lewis is wonderful in the lead role, playing Jimmie as a high-spirited young man intent on proving his worth, only to be beaten down at every turn. His first employer, Healey (Tim Robertson), hired Jimmie to build a fence, offering him a meager wage, then threatening to withhold a portion of it if the posts didn't line up perfectly. Jimmie happily accepts, and initially, Healey tells him he's doing a good job. That all changes, of course, when payday arrives, at which point Healey complains the fence isn't up to snuff. Things aren't much better for Jimmie when he joins the local police force (he's made to sleep in the barn and work without boots), and even the Rev. Neville and his wife, who raised Jimmie, tend to look down on him. One evening, Mrs. Neville discusses Jimmie's upcoming marriage to a white woman, saying, with a smile, that his children will only be 1/4 caste, and adding that, if the next generation marries correctly, it could eventually be as low as 1/8 caste. All this and more besides leads Jimmie to lash out violently, and while the scene in which he attacks the Newby family is difficult to watch, we understand why he's doing so.

What's interesting about The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, however, is that it doesn't portray Jimmie as an innocent victim. On the contrary, his desire to be part of white society causes him to sometimes act as badly as they do. In one scene, he pays a visit to the Aborigine quarter and sleeps with a black prostitute, calling her his "black bitch" as the two of them have sex. Also, while working for the police, he takes an active role in investigating the murder of a white man, who was stabbed while visiting the Aborigine camp. Jimmie was actually a witness to this killing (a fact he hides form his Commander), and uses his knowledge of the event to help track down the guilty party, an Aborigine named Harry Edwards (Jack Charles). At one point, Jimmie goes so far as to chase several Aborigines who fled during the questioning, bashing them in the back of the head with his baton. Later on, when Jimmie begins his murder spree, he kills women and children, angering his brother Mort (who, as a result, calls Jimmie a "Devil Child"). Having witnessed the injustice he was subjected to, we definitely sympathize with Jimmie Blacksmith, but we don't always like him.

Crisply directed by Schepisi and featuring the gorgeous cinematography of Ian Baker, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is a beautiful movie about an ugly moment in history, and while it's in no way a crowd-pleaser, it's a film I think everyone should see.







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Friday, August 21, 2015

Mad Morgan (1976)

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Date: Aug 21, 2015 4:27 PM
Subject: Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge
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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#1,831. Mad Dog Morgan (1976)

Posted: 21 Aug 2015 09:40 AM PDT


Directed By: Philippe Mora

Starring: Dennis Hopper, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil



Tag line: "Ferociously violent - unexpectedly kind. Ruthless bandit or rebel hero? An outlaw's outlaw with a score to settle"

Trivia: Dennis Hopper drank vast amounts of rum so he could properly portray Daniel Morgan






The rumors that star Dennis Hopper was out of control during the filming of Mad Dog Morgan, a 1976 Philippe Mora movie, have been confirmed time and again by the director himself. In January of 2010, Mora told The Sydney Morning Herald what happened the day shooting on Mad Dog Morgan wrapped:

"He (Hopper) rode off in costume, poured a bottle of O.P. rum into the real Morgan's grave in front of my mother Mirka Mora, drank one himself, got arrested and deported the next day, with a blood-alcohol reading that said he should have been clinically dead, according to the judge studying his alcohol tests"

Whatever the case may be, there's no denying that Dennis Hopper's frenzied performance perfectly fit the character of Dan Morgan, an Australian bushranger and wanted criminal who roamed the countryside of New South Wales in the 1860's, when the Australian Gold Rush was in full swing. After witnessing the massacre of several Chinese immigrants, Morgan turns to a life of crime and is promptly arrested. Prison is cruel to him (he's tortured and even raped), and when he's released years ahead of schedule for good behavior, he seeks revenge on those who put him there. After stealing a horse, Morgan is shot by the owner, and is nursed back to health by the aborigine, Billy (Walkabout's David Gulpilil, who also provided the film's digeridoo music). With Billy in tow, Morgan terrorizes the local authorities, going so far as to shoot and kill one of their own. Though a folk hero to some, Morgan incites the wrath of Superintendent Cobham (Frank Thring), who offers a reward of £1,000 for information that leads to his capture… dead or alive.

From the moment he first appears on-screen, strolling through a small frontier town, to his final scene, you can't take your eyes off of Dennis Hopper. His Irish brogue isn't flawless (it slips from time to time), but he has a screen presence here that's undeniable. True, there are some scenes where it's obvious Hopper was acting under the influence (during one in particular, where Morgan walks into a bar and is cheered by its patrons, you can almost see the haze covering his eyes), but this only works to enhance the character, who, if history is to be believed, was every bit the loose cannon that Hopper was.

Mad Dog Morgan has its share of violence (in the sequence where the Chinese are attacked, Morgan's new friend, Martin, played by Gerry Duggan, is shot in the back of the head, the bullet taking out his eye as it passes through), and there are moments that are difficult to watch (along with being raped by his fellow inmates in prison, Morgan is also tied, spread eagle, to the ground, at which point the guards brand his hand with a hot iron). But scenes such as these capture the chaotic times in which its story is set. This, combined with Hopper's frantic performance, makes for one crazy ass motion picture.

And I'm betting you'll love it as much I do!







#1,830. Thirst (1979)

Posted: 20 Aug 2015 09:36 PM PDT


Directed By: Rod Hardy

Starring: Chantal Contouri, Shirley Cameron, Max Phipps



Tag line: "Surrender to an Unholy, Insatiable Evil"

Trivia: An artists' colony north of Melbourne was used for the cult's headquarters








The day she's scheduled to start her vacation, magazine editor Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) is kidnapped and taken to a compound at an undisclosed location, where she's introduced to Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings), Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva), and Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron), the leaders of a bizarre cult that practices vampirism. The three inform Kate that she's a descendant of Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian Countess who, in the 16th century, murdered young girls so that she could bathe in their blood, and as such, she would hold a place of honor in their group should she agree to join them. Repulsed by the very notion of drinking human blood, Kate refuses, forcing the doctors to try different methods to "persuade" her. Dr. Fraser believes that Kate must be free to do as she pleases, while Mrs. Barker pushes for more severe methods of enticement, including the administration of hallucinogens. Planning to introduce Kate to the other members of their group at an upcoming ceremony, the trio works tirelessly to convince her to stay. Will Kate give in, or will she continue to fight the "thirst" in the hopes her captors will eventually release her?

The opening scenes of director Rod Hardy's 1979 film Thirst, where Kate is first brought to the compound, reminded me in a way of the '60's British TV series The Prisoner (like the lead character in that program, Kate is treated well, and the compound itself seems like an idyllic place, yet try as she might, she's unable to escape from it). As for the facility, it operates as a sort of manufacturing plant for vampires, with hundreds of human "donors" whose blood is slowly being drained from their bodies (by way of a "milking" machine that attaches to their necks). The film's best segments, however, occur when Mrs. Barker orders that Kate be given hallucinogenic drugs to make her more cooperative. In a near-catatonic state, Kate, at one point, is convinced she's back at home, but when she steps into the shower to freshen up, the finds herself bathing not in water, but blood (easily the movie's most memorable sequence).

Chantal Contouri, who played a supporting role in Snapshot a year earlier, does a fine job as the frightened and confused Kate, as do David Hemmings and Shirley Cameron as two of the cult's leaders (Henry Silva, who was brought in to help Thirst appeal to an American audience, is wasted in a small role, though he does have a cool scene towards the end of the movie). And keep an eye out for Robert Thompson (he played the title character in Patrick) as a cult member, and Chris Milne (the boyfriend in Felicity) as one of the many "donors". Unfortunately, the first half of the film, which is chock full of backroom meetings and discussions on how to convince Kate to stick around, was a bit too dry for my tastes (at times, it was downright boring). What's more, the movie never explores its basic premise (Vampirism as big business) as deeply as it could have (the actual vampire sequences are few and far between). Though well-acted, Thirst is ultimately a missed opportunity.







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