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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Shaun Of The Dead

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Shaun of the Dead

This week is all about zombies, exorcisms and aliens. Oh hell to the yeah. First up, we recommend the cult classic Shaun of the Dead, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

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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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#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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Monday, August 17, 2015

Alien Abduction (2014)

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#1,826. Alien Abduction (2014)

Posted: 16 Aug 2015 10:38 PM PDT


Directed By: Matty Beckerman

Starring: Katherine Sigismund, Corey Eid, Riley Polanski



Tag line: "Fear The Lights"

Trivia: Director Matty Beckerman was inspired to make this film while living in North Carolina (he heard a local legend about strange lights that were regularly seen on a nearby mountain ridge)






Like many found footage horror films, 2014's Alien Abduction opens with a caption informing us that what we're about to see was "leaked" from the files of the U.S. Air Force. Right away, I began to wonder how the Air Force got a hold of this footage in the first place (if the characters were, as the title suggests, abducted by aliens, wouldn't it make sense to assume their video camera was also taken?). Well, not only does director Matty Beckerman show us how the video became available, he does so in a very creative way. It was the first of many surprises revealed over the course of this highly entertaining movie.

To help him focus, 11-year-old Riley Morris (Riley Polanski), who suffers from autism, brings his video camera with him wherever he goes, including his family's recent camping trip to Brown Mountain, South Carolina. While videotaping the good times that he and his clan, mom Katie (Katie Sigismund), dad Peter (Peter Holden), and older siblings Jillian (Jillian Clare) and Corey (Corey Eid), were having, young Riley manages to capture footage of something quite remarkable: a series of lights that seemingly dance in the night sky. As it turns out, Brown Mountain has a reputation of sorts for being a favorite hangout spot for extraterrestrials (some locals believe the dancing lights that appear occasionally are, in fact, UFO's). But it isn't until the next day, when they try to drive to their new campsite, that the family discovers just how true these stories really are.

Aside from revealing how its footage was "found", the makers of Alien Abduction also came up with a clever way to explain why the cameras were always rolling (Riley's autism). But it's the tension this movie generates (which grows stronger with each passing scene) that will really knock your socks off. The trip to the next campsite is nerve-racking enough (the car's GPS system malfunctions, causing tempers to flare as they drive around in circles on the dangerous mountain roads), yet pales in comparison to what happens when the family stumbles upon several abandoned cars, all of which show signs of a struggle. Along with a few effective jump scares, this scene takes the story in a whole new, and often terrifying, direction.

Thanks to its impressive special effects and the solid performances delivered by its entire cast (including Jeff Bowser, who plays Sean, a backwoods redneck who helps the family in its hour of need), Alien Abduction features scenes that are beyond intense, and for most of its running time you'll be on the edge of your seat, wondering what's going to happen next. Simply put, it is a fun, innovative sci-fi horror film, and I had a great time watching it.







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Monday, August 10, 2015

Celia (1989)

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#1,819. Celia (1989)

Posted: 09 Aug 2015 06:48 PM PDT


Directed By: Ann Turner

Starring: Rebecca Smart, Nicholas Eadie, Victoria Longley



Tag line: "A tale of innocence corrupted"

Trivia: Director Ann Turner was inspired to write this film by an article in the paper about the Bolte government's rabbit muster in the 1950s






Set in the 1950's and inspired in part by Australia's rabbit infestation (an issue that has plagued the country for many years), director Ann Turner's Celia was sold in America as a horror film (it was released here with the added title Child of Terror), and while the movie does feature some chilling moments, it is, in reality, the story of an imaginative and troubled young girl whose carefree attitude comes into direct conflict with the world around her.

It's December, 1957, and Celia Carmichael (Rebecca Smart), whose beloved grandmother (Margaret Ricketts) recently passed away, is turning nine years old. She's asked her parents, Ray (Nicholas Eddie) and Pat (Mary-Anne Fahey), to get her a pet rabbit, but her father, much like the Australian government, believes that all rabbits are vermin (newsreel footage of hunters taking out hundreds of rabbits, all at the behest of local authorities, plays daily at the neighborhood cinema). The disappointment young Celia feels when she instead receives a bike on the big day is tempered by the arrival of her new neighbors, the Tanners, with whom she feels an immediate connection. Along with befriending the three Tanner kids: Steve (Alexander Hutchinson), Karl (Adrian Mitchell), and Meryl (Callie Gray), Celia forms a strong bond with their mother, Alice (Victoria Longley). But when its revealed that the Tanners are Communists, Ray orders Celia to stay away from them, going so far as to buy her a pet rabbit (which she names Mergatroid) in exchange for her promising never to play with the Tanner children again. Still, despite giving her word, Celia continues to spend time at the Tanner household, much to the chagrin of both her father and his best friend "Uncle John" (William Zappa), the town's chief constable. What's more, a government edict declaring that all pet rabbits are to be rounded up and placed in the local zoo has just been approved. Upset by this turn of events, Celia decides to fight back, but how far is she willing to take this "war" against those who've injured her?

What few scares there are in Celia come courtesy of the Hobyahs, a fictional race of creatures that are characters in a story Celia's teacher, Miss Greenway (Deborra-Lee Furness), regularly reads to her class. Celia is convinced the Hobyahs are all around her, and sees them lurking outside her bedroom window in the middle of the night (she even believes they had a hand in her grandmother's demise). Along with her active imagination, Celia often visits her grandmother's old room (at the time of her death, she was residing in a small house in the family's back yard), gathering some of her belongings together and moving them to a "clubhouse" (really an abandoned office) situated at the bottom of a nearby rock quarry. It's clear early on that Celia loved her grandmother, who was apparently as free a spirit as Alice Tanner (aside from playing games with the children, Alice allows Celia to stay over for as long as she likes, and as a result, the young girl becomes a fixture at the Tanner Household). The memories of her grandmother, coupled with her relationship with the Tanners, make Celia very, very happy.

The same cannot be said for her own home life. Her father Ray, though a caring parent, is quite strict, initially refusing to get Celia the pet rabbit she desires. What's more, when he learns that the Tanners belong to the Australian Peace Council, a communist organization, Ray tells Celia not to visit them any longer (something of a hypocrite, Ray, who's strongly attracted to his neighbor's wife, makes aggressive passes at Alice Turner even after he's discovered her communist ties). It's also rumored that Celia's dear old dad had a hand in getting Mr. Tanner (Martin Sharman) fired from his job (he allegedly informed Mr. Tanner's bosses about their employee's political leanings). Another source of frustration in Celia's life is Uncle John and his family, notably his daughter Stephanie (Amelia Frid), who teases Celia and gets the other kids to gang up on her. And because he's the constable, Uncle John is the one that ends up taking Celia's rabbit away. These events, and several more that follow, work to break down Celia's youthful exuberance, leading to a tragedy that shakes not only the Carmichael family, but the community as a whole.

Masterfully directed by first-timer Ann Turner, Celia is told entirely from its title character's viewpoint, bringing us into Celia's world of fantasy, hope, and heartbreak, and keeping us there for the duration. Yet, despite its child-like perspective, this is not a film for kids (some scenes, including those with the Hobyahs, are far too intense for younger viewers), and while it does have something in common with 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird (exploring a child's growing disillusionment with the world around her), it differs from that classic movie in that it doesn't provide a glimmer of hope at the end. An engaging yet ultimately sad motion picture, Celia is content to remain in the darkness, weaving a tale so disturbing it'll likely play on your mind for days to come.







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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE

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The item(s) you requested are available for pickup from the Library.

    Title: Slaughterhouse-five
    Author: Hill, George Roy
    Call Number: YF 1972 DVD
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PLOG GETS HIS LITTLE LISA BACK..

Bawdy banter worthy of Prince Hal and Falstaff. Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" is a must for even the most mildly literate person. See it soon if you haven't yet.