Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Why this is trailer is a classic is obvious. One, it's a CannonFilms trailer, the company of Globus/Golan, the Israeli super-producing team of the 1980s and CannonFilms trailers are always classic. Secondly, because ninjas haven't been run into the ground as a 'cool' concept, you have breathless, excitable narrators espousing about "the oldest and ultimate martial art!" Thirdly, I like it when heroes pull straight their jackets after making a quip and before they hit a guy.
I was over at the abode of Seymour a.k.a. The Genius, enlisting his considerable services to collate some media that I needed done for my work, and he asked if I wanted to watch a film maybe if I had some free time, selecting anything from the advance copies of motion pictures he had obtained through his considerable skills.
“What do you have?” I asked.
“Well... I have Australia,” he replied.
Wait. Baz Luhrman’s $150 million dollar would-be blockbuster? I was intrigued. I had always been intrigued since I caught wind of the fact that Luhrman was making a film with the title “Australia”, which always struck me as quite amusing and pretentious and silly. “How long is it?” I asked.
“It’s about two hours and thirty minutes.”
“Shit,” I said. “Alright, I’m in.”
Now time has passed since both the Australian Film Industry and the Australian Tourism Industry pushed Australia out into the world, proud parents to a Gone With The Wind epic we could call our bloody well own, mate. I still remember the sycophantic interview Charles Woolley did with Hugh Jackman for 60 Minutes (the Australian version for overseas readers) that was basically an extended advertisement for a film that was basically an extended advertisement for overseas audiences to visit the Land of Oz. And despite the efforts of a demi-god like Oprah urging western audiences to “see this movie”, Australia did not reach its massive expectations either critically or commercially. Now other critically commentators have spent great energy, thought and wit deconstructing the reasons for why this movie was something of a misfire (I direct you to Patrick Pittman’s review here). For the purposes of Bullshit Movies, I’m basically going to keep it to a transcript of comments Seymour and I made during the epic undertaking that was watching Australia.
Comments Made During AUSTRALIA... starring S-Dog and T-Bird:
(1) There is Brandon Walters’s opening narration, which imparts to us how what he is going to tell us is “most important story... tell um story” while images of traditional indigenous Aboriginals are seen against the desert landscape.
S-Dog: “Aboriginal Boutique. That’s what they call it, isn’t it?”
(2) Hugh Jackman is introduced onscreen beating up people in a bar like Indiana Jones and we hear his character’s name, The Drover.
T-Bird: “The Drover? They should have called him The Mythos.”
(3) There is a protracted sequence where hoighty toighty Kidman (naturally saying things like “I say” and “poppycock”) is rushing to the bar to meet The Drover and The Drover is punching up rednecks who insulted him by telling his Aboriginal friend he couldn’t be served a bloody pint, mate, the political points possibly made are engorged by Luhrman’s frantic cutting and over-the-top comic shenanigans.
S-Dog: “Hyperbolic... is the noun of hyperbole, yes?”
(4) There is another sequence where upper crust Aussie gentry discuss who is who and what is going with regards to Kidman’s character and the land feud she has stumbled into.
T-Bird: “This is basically the start of a TV series. Exposition city!”
(5) David Wenham pops up as the villain of the piece – an officer-quasi-ranch-hand who grows an evil moustache over the course of two hours plus – using an accent similar to that he used playing the ex-crim white trash dropkick in Rowan Wood’s excellent Australian film, The Boys (1997).
S-Dog: [impression of Wenam from The Boys] “Four stars, Keithy. You’re a fucking genius.”
T-Bird: “Now that film should have been called Australia.”
(6) Bryan Bloody Brown sits on a porch with a longneck of beer while Ben Mendelsohn plays a military officer with a Goodbye to Dear Old Blighty accent.
S-Dog: “What the fuck are they wearing cowboy hats for? This is an American western!”
(7) S-Dog: “You see this movie was made for the Government. Something you can take the Arts minister and his wife along to. "Ooh, isn't this pretty!"”
(8) The scene where The Drover has set up camp for the night and Kidman is in a dressing gown shocked at his shirtless, masculine cheesecake poses.
S-Dog: “This is the Volleyball scene from Top Gun. [impersonating Jackman] ‘I gotta put my baby oil on’”
(9) At one point David Wenham looks out to the great brown landscape and says to Kidman’s character, “This land has a strange power...”
T-Bird: “I expect him to turn to the audience and say, “So come on down and visit us in sunny Darwin. Where the bloody hell are you, eh?”
(10) On the scene where Brandon Walters sneaks into Kidman’s room and jumps around excitably telling stories like Puck in A Midsomer's Night Dream.
S-Dog: “He’s not an elf!”
(11) Jack Thompson pops up as a drunk bookkeeper for Kidman’s ranch, slurring his words like a great leg of thespian ham
T-Bird: “Was John Hurt busy?”
(12) The Drover to Kidman: “Is there any man in the world who doesn’t fancy you?”
S-Dog: “Tom Cruise.”
(13) On a scenic view of the Territory...
S-Dog: “Looks like a goddamned postage stamp.”
(14) Luhrman’s references of The Wizard of Oz with Kidman singing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’
S-Dog: “This movie hasn’t got any balls.”
(15) There is a scene where Nullah halts a stampede of CGI cattle from falling off a cliff with his mystical Aboriginal powers.
S-Dog: “Who is he, Criss Angel all of a sudden?”
(16) S-Dog: “It’s not un-entertaining...”
T-Bird: “Yeah, it’s okay.”
S-Dog: “ It’s our civic duty to watch this movie!”
(17) A Scene where Jackman and Kidman smoulder as lightening strikes in the distance.
S-Dog: “We watch the lightning /out on the cane fields...”
(18) As the movie comes close to its second hour with Kidman and Jackman living together in the ranch with lots of greenery around them, S-Dog asks, “It could end here... Would that kill him [Luhrman] to do that?” Also with the movie moving quickly forward from 1939 to 1941 so it can have the bombing of Darwin as its climax, Kidman and Jackman’s character have lived together during that time yet she still calls him “Drover”. T-Bird: “You’d think she would have learned his first name by now?”
(19) When WWII is declared and the half-caste and aboriginal children are forcibly taken away with Kidman and Nulla having a teary farewell while moustache-twirling Wenham looks on, S-Dog says, “This scene could be so much better... It’s important, what the scene is about. It could resonate more.”
T-Bird: “He’s just too busy. Trying to make every movie in the one movie.”
(20) After the bombing of Darwin, the pub where Kidman’s character was stationed in has blown up with an anguished Jackman and his fellas trying to race in there and put the fires out.
S-Dog: [Jackman impression] “Ah, streuth, not the bloody pub! It’s war now!”
(21) It’s very nearly the end...
T-Bird: “Oh wait, don’t tell me there’s an epilogue?”
S-Dog: “They already did the epilogue in the middle of the movie!”
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Here's the thing about Dr Alan Grant. Dude is 100% about the cash. On three separate fictional occasions (two more after he already knows how dumb it is) he accepts cashmoney to go to an isolated island and hang out with dinosaurs. In my head I imagine a doddering 80 year-old Alan Grant sitting in his nursing home and some suit coming up to him and saying "Dr Grant? Look I have a proposition for you... it looks like someone left the gas on last time we were on Jurassic Park. How 'bout it? 50 bucks." Cue private helicopter and that Indiana Jones cribbin' theme tune and drooly old Dr Grant crackin' wise at the suits.
And for your schadenfreudy pleasure - various people try to explain why 'Jurassic' is such a great franchise:
Monday, 16 February 2009
A young teenage girl is kidnapped while vacationing in Paris and it is up to her father to find her. Yes, it sounds like a typical vehicle for Harrison Ford. But guess what, he’s busy or too costly or whatever, because the producers of Taken settled on Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson, the reliable Irish actor who reached the heights of stardom as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List and then settled into a comfortable career as a perpetual supporting player, more than often, acting as the noble mentor to the younger hero (Phantom Menace, Kingdom of Heaven, Batman Begins). You may be sceptical about his abilities as an action hero; I know my friend Dan was doubtful (“Pfft, no-one believes you as a CIA operative, Neeson!”). However, Neeson is in the employ of producer Luc Beeson who churns out B-movie action thrillers built from recycled parts: European location shoots, fast cars, martial arts, John Woo styled shoot-outs, and trip-hop/techno music scores. By the end of the movie, Dan was convinced: “I am full of anticipation whenever Neeson gets near a dodgy Albanian and is close to fucking him up!”
The first twenty minutes of the film is the hardest to get through as the makers do everything possible to force the viewer to realise that Neeson is a devoted father and unloved family man. Divorced from his bitchy wife (Famke Janssen who is always telling him, “You’re still having trouble following the rules”), Neeson rocks up to his daughter’s birthday party with a rinky-dink karaoke machine as to facilitate her dreams of becoming a singer. His daughter is played by Maggie Grace who was about 27 when this film was shot but dumbs down substantially to play a 17-year-old. She receives the gift graciously but Neeson’s efforts are overshadowed by her stepfather’s extravagant present of a real-life PONY! (As fellow viewer Cowgill sarcastically asked, “Is the rich step dad gonna rescue her from terrorists?”) But there is something more about Neeson’s character. Don’t count him out. Look at the precision he displays to wrap a single gift; yes, that’s right, he’s ex-CIA covert operative super-soldier. Or a “preventor” as he informs his daughter when she inquires into his mysterious past (actually The Preventor would have been a better title). There’s a bit of action when we see Neeson speedily subdue a stalker when he’s guarding a blonde pop star played by Holly Valance (garrrgh!) with his old CIA buddies. However, the story begins when his daughter needs his permission to go on vacation in Paris where she secretly intends to follow with her friend the European tour of U2 (I was disappointed that there was no Bono cameo!). Yes, the producers of Taken have their fingers on the pulse of what teenage girls like and also the way they speak, you know, with how they always say “sick”(“This trip will be so sick!”).
Neeson ominously intones, “I’m not comfortable with this. I know the world.” Sure enough, he’s on the phone with her when she and her friend are grabbed by Albanians running a sex slavery trade across Europe. This leads to one of the best sequences in the movie where Neeson opens up a suitcase filled with gadgets, fake Ids and weapons, sets the phone to speaker setting, listens in horror to the kidnapping whilst calmly talks his daughter through describing every detail she sees. Then when she’s dragged off, he keeps talking, telling the phone, “Whoever you are... I have skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that will make me a nightmare for you.” This is compelling stuff though I wanted them to cut back to where the daughter was staying in Paris and hear Neeson laying down all this cold “I’m going to find you and kill you” shit to an empty room. But no, it isn’t empty’ a foreign voice replies back to Neeson’s threats, “Good luck.” And then we are off with what we are told is a “96 hour window to find her”: Neeson rushes into his ex-wife’s mansion, tells her the news (and more importantly shows her that she was in the WRONG), catches a plane to Paris, chats up hookers, enhances digital photos on public service providers to grab details of a suspect, uses nervous translators, plants tracking devices, impersonates a cop, and then basically breaks the neck of every Albanian he comes across. Seriously they should have retitled Taken as Liam Neeson Punches You In The Neck. Every variation of that vicious move is used over the remaining hour of the film; Neeson karate-chopping dudes in the Adam’s apple, Neeson snapping back heads of dudes until they go crack, Neeson twisting their necks until they slump over forwards, etc.
Y’see, Taken is one of those movies where the hero has a moral imperative (I must save my daughter and restore the nuclear family) that overrides any ethical considerations (Yes, it’s cool to torture a dude to death because he was an Albanian slave trader and was SCUM!). The apex of this vicious attitude is when Neeson pops around the French cop who was a former associate and friend that is nervous about his presence in France. No surprise that this French cop (imaginative named Jean-Claude) is as crooked as an outhouse door. So, Neeson sits down to dinner with Jean-Claude with Jean-Claude’s nicey-nice wife serving the food and spills the suspicions, calling out the French cop on his association with the Albanian sex slave industry. Jean Claude pulls out a gun but FUCK YOU MOTHERFUCKER, Neeson knew where your gun was and took out the bullets ahead of time! So then Neeson pulls out his gun and instead of hurting Jean Claude in an effort to achieve information, he turns it on the pleasant wife and caps her in the shoulder! “It’s just a flesh wound,” he reassures Jean Claude before beating him up for the info. NEESON IS ONE IMPRESSIVELY COLD MOTHERFUCKER!
The action sequences are tightly cut and forceful, particularly when Neeson wipes out a whole room of Albanians to catch a crook on the basis of a vocal comparison with his recording of the foreign kidnapper telling him, "Good luck". Then there’s the climax where Neeson races a boat with a stolen car and despite our hopes of hopes does not launch the car off a bridge onto the boat. Instead, he jumps off the bridge and obliterates every Albanian dude on the frigging thing, throwing them through windows, shooting their toes off, and even facing off against a worthy opponent who uses a curvy blade that is used against him when Neeson hooks it into the guy’s stomach. And then Neeson is reunited with his daughter whose virginity is assured (it increased her price in the bidding room, y'see) and who will probably be haunted by psychological trauma from her horrifying ideal, but it's all cool because DADDY'S HERE! And then before you know it they are back home in the Good ole US of A! So, yes, if you are an American whose daughter is kidnapped by ethnics, it seems like you have permission to kill every swarthy dude you can and not have to face any official inquiry into the death and destruction you have created. Because of this xenophobic attitude and adherence to the rightness of the patriarch authority that shows no quarter, Taken is a pretty reprehensible film and has been taken very seriously by some film critics (Gene Shalitt for instance) as a warning. But it’s also an undeniably goddamned satisfying action film and ensures Neeson’s performance can comfortably sit alongside the works of Charles Bronson. My advice: Taken needs another sequel where Neeson has another family ala Death Wish II and has to rescue his new daughter from the Russian mafia or another race of people who have plenty of moustaches to show off and necks to snap..
Monday, 9 February 2009
I grew up during the 1980s and was a little tyke when producers were still trying to cash in on the success of National Lampoon's Animal House and Porky's, pumping out sleazy high school comedies with some gags and a bit of T & A. I remember the trailer to this film, Joysticks, though I've never seen the film. Channel Nine screened the film once and all I remember from the ad was the scene where the hot-dog slips out and gets stuck in a babe's cleavage; I was never the same again. Here is the trailer for your approval.
I know they keep making cruddy college comedies post-American Pie that go to straight to DVD, but there's something about this number with the stock characters (your nerd, your fat guy, your authority figure played by one of our favourites here, Joe Don Baker) and the jumping on board the new craze of the video games (love the lame song at the end) that makes one nostalgic. Also I love how wet these cheap-o movie knock-offs look. You feel like you'd need to wash your hands after watching Joysticks.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
In Cena's next film he hooks up with action director maestro Renny Harlin (he of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) to make what looks like Die Hard crossed with the Saw movies but with Senator Carcetti from The Wire in the Gary Oldman villain role.
My favourite moment has to be where Carcetti sets up Cena and his humungously fat friend to be trapped in a faulty elevator with the warning that only "one of them will survive." Hmm, will it be the hero or the fat guy, I wonder?
Monday, 2 February 2009
The level of intensity remains the same throughout the whole motion picture. The only variation is the ridiculousness of what is occurring on screen. The script appears to have been composed from a late night bull session of fratboys drinking heavily and snorting coke, daring each other to come up with action sequences they would have loved to have seen when they were thirteen years old, if logic and sense were not restraints on their imagination. You see, Chelios eventually figures out that in order to stay alive and have his revenge on Verona, he has to continually increase his adrenaline levels. He goes for more subtle options than simply sticking a shot of adrenaline into his heart like Uma in Pulp Fiction: snorting cocaine off a grungy bathroom floor, picking a fight with a bar full of black tough guys (Chevlios shouts, “Who wants some white meat?” to them, giving you some indication of the film’s sense of humour and understanding of racial tension), and most hilariously moshing in the back of a taxi cab to the sounds of Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achey Breaky Heart’ (see, subtle). It’s the kind of motion picture experience that if I saw it when I was in high school, my friends and I would simply stand around outside the cinema, awe-struck with dumb looks on our faces, listing what happened in it with the precursor, “Can you believe they did that?”
Probably the most memorable by which I mean unbelievable aspect of Crank is the equation of sex and violence throughout as the elements of a crankin’ action sequence. Remember Swordfish, that terrible Warner Bros techo-action-flick that opened with John Travolta in a stupid haircut bagging Dog Day Afternoon and featured Halle Berry baring her breasts for a reportedly large sum of money? If not, you’re lucky. If you do, you might remember that surreal scene where super-criminal Travolta sits down master hacker Hugh Jackman at a table with a laptop in front of him in order to test his skills. So, yes, he has to break into the Pentagon website in one minute. With a gun next to his head. And for no reason, other than the filmmakers’ and the audience’s titillation, a busty blonde blowing him under the table. It’s quite a sight to see Hugh, one of Australia’s national treasures, attempt to act both concentration, tension and orgasmic delight in the one moment. Crank contains similar sequences fuelled by adolescent fantasies, like the one where Chelios attempts to have sex with his dimwit girlfriend (Amy Smart) in the middle of Chinatown. At first, she resists, but when she hits him in defence as he basically tries to rape her in the middle of the street, she feels remorse and then straddles him in ecstasy (again, very accurate depiction of male-female relationships). Why set this in Chinatown you might ask? Not only for the obligatory shot of happy Asians taking pictures with their cameras, but for the capper to the scene, which is when Chelios can’t sustain an erection with his girlfriend, the sight of a school bus filled with comely Asian schoolgirls provides much needed assistance. It’s the type of scene where I’d imagine the filmmakers high-fiving each other afterwards. What were the reactions of my friends and me who were watching this projected against a large screen? Gales of laughter mixed with groans of how appalling this all was.
Case in point, my good friend Jarrad was initially resistant to the pleasures of Crank. My friend Mitch was the only person in the room who had seen it before and he was giddy with expectation at every illogical bit of business that would occur, such as Chevlios running through the streets in a hospital gown, seeing a motorcycle cop, taking his gun off him, stealing the motorbike, and performing a burn-out for no good reason (with the cop hanging onto the tail, sparks flying off his boots). While Jarrad would react negatively to the displays of sexism and racism (such as when Chevlios steals a cab and throws the angry middle-eastern driver into a bistro and then says the cabbie is “Alkada” in order for the white patrons to beat him up as he makes off with his cab), even he was won over when in a struggle over a silenced pistol between Chevlios and an assassin, a stray shot is sounded off and we cut inside the quiet apartment of a elderly woman in her comfy chair while behind her the bird in a cage that is near the window explodes in a shower of feathers. “Can you be too entertained in a movie?” Mitch sagely asked.
The recent Australian documentary Not Quite Hollywood was intended to be a corrective, celebrating the unsung and disputed efforts of Australian’s genre films (your Mad Max, your The Man From Hong Kong) against the general favour shown towards the artsy efforts of the 1970s (your Picnic from Hanging Rock, your Newsfront, etc). However, as a counter-corrective, stick in a copy of The Time Guardian into your DVD player and you’ll see clearly how bloody piss-weak “Ozploitation” could be.
The Time Guardian is a salvage yard of scenes junked from other more profitable and acclaimed sci-fi movies: there’s an intergalactic struggle familiar from Star Wars, there’s a lone man sent back into the past to save the future taken from The Terminator, there are dystopian cityscape shots ripped off from Blade Runner, etc. I was struck continually with a sense of familiarity while watching The Time Guardian of scenes from other movies, but I really just wanted to watch those original films rather than suffering through this dodgy Aussie edition of The 1980s Sci-Fi Movie. And lest you worry that this film has next to nothing to do with Australia there are also some shots of Aboriginals dancing and enough aerial landscape photography of our Great Southern Land to satisfy the “Aussie content” requirement of the 10BA Tax Write-Off that was popular at the time.
Now The Time Guardian is also the type of film where watching it will not help you make sense of the plot. What you have to do is read the description on the back of the DVD box before AND after viewing the film and you should have some awareness of what the hell happened. That’s how I was able to decipher that the story was about a time-travelling city that escapes the 24th Century, running from the dreaded Jen-Diki who look like robots but have mutated humans inside their metal exteriors. The bad guy alien/robots bear a striking resemblance to the Cylons from the original Battlestar Galatica, but less impressive as it’s basically a bunch of tall stunt men wandering around the Kimberley Mountains like Frankenstein, just with heavy Robot heads precariously balanced on their shoulders.
Tom Burlinson – better known as The Man From Snowy River – stars as Ballard, a Time Guardian jerkface who zaps into the past in advance of wherever the city spaceship teleports so as to stop the Jen-Diki from messing them up. Burlinson uses this hoarse voice to fully convey his loner rebel maverick’s aggressiveness and his glare in every scene seems to state “shut up” to any other character in his immediate vicinity. Is your film’s hero supposed to be this annoying? I really hoped a Jen-Diki would clobber him right in the crotch so as to take him down a peg or two. Carrie Fisher, obviously cashing in on an Australian holiday and floating on some quality drugs from her Postcards from the Edge days, stars as his sidekick who wears some Star Wars esque gear, gets wounded, and spends most of the movie laying around, doing diddley squat. The other American export – Quantum Leap’s Dean Stockwell – is imaginatively named Boss and spends a couple of scenes yelling at Aussie subordinates all the while wearing ridiculous costumes that look like they were taken off the rack from a high school theatrical stage version of Star Trek, but all made by the children’s mothers. I mean Stockwell looked better in Dune, which is saying something if you remember that crazy pencil-thin moustache he was supporting there. Rounding out the cast is Nikki Coghill who is the trademark Aussie love interest of the 1980s – blonde, bronzed and boobs-a-hoy – and is apparently a geologist, the type who investigates strange noises outside her night-time camp site in tiny cotton underwear.
What else do you have here? Burlinson hovering over a fallen Jen-Diki in the opening battle sequence, intoning gravely, “Now to cut out your black heart,” and ripping out the metallic robot heart of the enemy; A yokel local quipping about Coghill’s arrival in a dusty male-populated town, “I’d rather be under her than this bloody truck”; Heavy exposition related between Burlinson and Cogill off-screen over landscape shots in an obvious series of plot-hole repairs to the movie; Cogill showing her norgs to the Time Guardian in a water-hole love-making tryst; Macho Aussie cops who don’t believe the hero and inevitably get despatched, most memorably a moustached arsehole cop who gets pulled through a time-mirror or something; Warehouses masquerading as the interior of a futuristic city (as Mitch pointed out, “Seems like the only thing to survive in a post-apocalyptic world were the warehouses.”); A jailhouse assault from the Jen-Diki where Burlinson defends himself with an uzi; An elderly Japanese samurai-sword wielding mentor for Burlinson who reveals his destiny at the end, which is to use the time tube as a weapon against the enemy just after he lectures them (“Stop the fighting now!”) with an echo-effect on his voice; And not to mention this line from the head Jen-Diki, “It seems the Time Guardian has run out of time!”
Brian Hannant was the director here and his previous credit was co-writing the excellent Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. After dropping The Time Guardian on our silver screens, Hannant did not direct another film unsurprisingly.