Monthly Archives: February 2013

Wake in Fright (1971)

wake in fright 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The middle of nowhere.

To an extent this is a one of kind film that is handled in such a raw and unpretentious way that it is like no other film you have ever seen before. The opening shot alone is amazing. You see a birdseye view of an isolated schoolhouse in the outback where our main character teaches. The camera then turns at a full circle and you see that there is absolutely nothing for miles in any direction. The desolation is mind boggling and it’s isolation at its purest.

Not only does this very inspired shot get its point across, but it also becomes the essence of what the film is about by trying to get you to understand the ruggedness of its characters by immersing you into their environment. It’s an uncompromising film full of startling images.

The story deals with a British schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who, through a loss in gambling, becomes trapped in the isolated outback town of Bundanyabba. He is cultured and educated and his sensibilities can’t mesh with the raw simplistic elements of the people in it.

It’s a highly intriguing viewpoint that not only captures man’s ever daunting task at dealing with nature, but also the overall reality of his existence and even himself. It makes you feel you are right there experiencing the same onslaught with him. There are also some interesting low key scenes proving that one of the biggest hurdles one must fight when in these places is actually just the boredom.

I do have to warn readers that the film has a very prolonged brutally explicit kangaroo hunting scene that features the actual killing of the animals. It even shows the men physically beating up on some wounded kangaroo’s and then viciously slashing their throats in a mocking fashion. Although I do feel that these scenes leave the viewer with the intended strong, raw impact and I like the lighting during the nighttime hunt that allows for a surreal element I still admit this may be a very difficult watch for some and may turn them off from viewing the film altogether. Apparently there were quite a few people that walked out of the film during this scene when it was shown at the Cannes, so be prepared.

Star Bond is excellent. You can relate to his anger and defiance at being somewhere he doesn’t want to be as well as feeling his desperation, exhaustion, and eventual surrender.

For many years this film sat in almost virtual obscurity, but after an exhaustive worldwide search a print of the film was finally found in the back of a Pittsburgh warehouse in a canister with a ‘to be destroyed’ label on it. Fortunately the print was saved and the restoration process is fantastic with colors that are bright and vivid. Director Ted Kotcheff captures the region in all of its rustic, desolate glory including the incredible crystal blue sky.

Reportedly many Aussies dislike the film as they feel it creates a negative stereotype. However, I don’t see it that way. I love the county and people and consider this more of a portrait of what happens when people are stuck in an isolated environment, which technically could be anywhere.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Alternate Title: Outback

Released: October 13, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Region 1 & 2) Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Turtle Diary (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They free the turtles.

William (Ben Kingsley) becomes fixated with the idea of freeing the sea turtles at the London Zoo and returning them to the ocean. Neaera (Glenda Jackson) starts to have the same dream. The two get together and with the help of the kindly zookeeper George (Michael Gambon) begin to execute their plan.

Although well received by the critics at the time of its release I felt the film never seemed to gel. The plot is too thin and there is no explanation as to why William got so worked up about the turtles being in captivity. I felt there needed to be something shown in his history or character to explain this motivation. After all there are thousands and thousands of people that go to this zoo each year and none of them seemed to get worked up about the same idea. Also, why just the turtles? If William’s problem is seeing an animal that is not in their natural habitat then why not free all the species in the complex.

The plan also goes off way too seamlessly. What are the odds that the zookeeper would be in agreement with them and pretty much do all the work for them in setting it up to the point that all they end up doing is driving the turtles to the ocean. The story would have been a lot funnier and exciting had they somehow had to do it all themselves and behind the scenes. As it is here it becomes almost a non-event that barely holds any interest. Also, I have never heard of a zoo that decides not to press charges when they find that the turtles have been stolen or not firing the employee when they find that he had something to do with it.

The way Neaera and William get together is equally uninspired. They seemingly just keep bumping into each other and through sheer circumstance find out they have the same motivations. I was expecting something a little more creative and humorous. Neaera’s attempts at getting William’s address is particularly forced and contrived. In fact almost all of the conversations that they have with the exception of one where Neaera describes a weird dream that she had is very ordinary. The dialogue they have while traveling to the ocean is the blandest and none of it reveals much about the characters who end up being pretty forgettable.

Watching them carry the turtles to the open water has no emotional impact at all. It is not even the climatic sequence as it happens with 30 minutes left of the film. The rest of the movie concerns William’s dealings with the other people in his flat, which is mainly pointless.

The screenplay was written by celebrated writer Harold Pinter, who has an amusing cameo as one of the customers at William’s bookstore. Pinter was famous for his cutting edge and provocative plays of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s many of which I found to be quite fascinating, but this thing seems to be the polar opposite. The story and execution is standard while lacking any flair or pizazz. I can handle low-key and subtlety and many times relish it, but there still needs to be something more to it. More quirkiness and humor was needed as well as some tension. The film as it is here is flat and seems to waist a potentially unique idea as well as its cast.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Irvin

Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Available: VHS

The Split (1968)

the split

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbery during football game.

Since today is Superbowl Sunday I wanted to come up with a film from the 60’s with some sort of football theme and decided to dig this one out of the obscure pile that has just recently been released onto DVD through the Warner Archive label. The film has two special distinctions. For one it is the first movie to ever get an R rating under the MPAA’s then new rating system. It also shows scenes from two actual football games. The first one is a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Atlanta Falcons that was played on December 3, 1967 and won by the Rams 20 to 3. The second game shown was one played a week later between the Rams and the Green Bay Packers where the Rams also prevailed by a score of 27 to 24.  Both games were played at the L.A. Coliseum with the plot of this movie taking place at another part of the stadium during these games although it is clear that the scenes involving the actors was done on a studio soundstage.

The story, which is based on a novel by the prolific Donald E. Westlake, involves a group of criminals who pull of a daring robbery during the football game, but when it comes to splitting up the money things go awry and they are soon turning on each other.

The crime itself isn’t all that interesting and tends to be a bit plodding with a minimum of suspense. Having things go wrong at the end and the group start turning on each other is redundant since they had been bickering amongst themselves from the very beginning. The characters are all unlikable making it hard for the viewer to get wrapped up into the plight of which of them gets the dough and which doesn’t. Personally I was hoping they would all just get killed off and no one would get any money because their constant yelling and fighting quickly becomes tedious and tiring.

The film’s one main highlight is a fight between Jim Brown and Ernest Borgnine, which carries the novelty of the fact that the two had a similar type of confrontation just a year earlier in the film Ice Station Zebra. Here, like in that film, Borgnine seems to get the best of Brown, which doesn’t make any sense because Brown was athletic, muscular and twenty years younger. There is also a scene where Borgnine puts his fist through a picture on the wall and shatters the glass. However, not only does he not wince in pain, which would be expected, but it somehow doesn’t even cause him to bleed.

Brown can sometimes be good in certain supporting roles, but as a leading man he can’t carry the picture. His facial expressions make him look like he is almost bored and just walking through the role. I know he was a great Hall of Fame running back, but that doesn’t mean he will turn into a great actor and casting him in lead roles of major studio pictures seemed awfully risky.

Warren Oates is terrific as always in a supporting role as one of the group’s henchmen. Donald Sutherland is also really good as another member of the group. I loved his Cheshire cat-like grin as well as his bowl haircut that gives him a creepy look. Julie Harris also sports a different style of hairdo from her usual short cut and she looks attractive as well as being near perfect in her part as an icy cold bitch that has no qualms about torturing a man to death in order to find her money.

SPOILER ALERT!

One of the biggest problems I had with the film was a plot twist that should have made it more interesting. It involves the James Whitmore character who plays the landlord of Diahann Carroll who is Brown’s girlfriend and hiding the stolen money in her apartment. Whitmore enters her place when she is alone and tries to rape her. Seeing an old wrinkled guy attacking a hot young black woman is wild in itself, but he also finds a machine gun in her dresser and holds it like he is masturbating with it and spews its bullets into her body like it is his ejaculation, which I found to be edgy and cool. He also finds the money and takes it for himself while making an anonymous phone call to the police to implicate Brown as the killer. However, when the police detective played by Gene Hackman investigates the case they quickly find out it was the landlord who did it, but it was never explained or shown how they came this conclusion as well as the fact that they end up killing him, which is completely glossed over and mentioned just briefly when the other characters read about it the next day in the newspaper. To me this created a major plot hole that needed to be filled.

The film also has a twist ending that doesn’t work and is very confusing. It happens as Brown is walking through the airport at the end with his share of the money and he hears what sounds like Diahann Carroll’s voice calling his name and he turns around with a shocked expression before the frame freezes and cuts to the credits. However, Carroll’s character was clearly killed and Brown saw the dead body, so how did she come back to life? Some viewers have stated that they think the voice was all inside Brown’s head, but that still needs to be explained and would normally prove frustrating to the viewer, but since the film is so bland it really doesn’t matter.

I feel I am being very generous in giving this picture 5 points, but the direction is fast paced and nicely compact and the jazzy Quincy Jones score is groovy. However, it certainly isn’t worth missing the big game for, nor any other game for that matter.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gordon Flemyng

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Pulp (1972)

pulp

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running for his life.

Michael Caine and director Mike Hodges teamed up again one year after doing the gritty classic Get Carter with this breezy oddity dealing with a pulp fiction writer Mickey King (Caine) who is hired to pen the autobiography of ex-Hollywood star Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney) who is now living in exile in Malta. The problem is that Gilbert has ties to the underworld and Mickey soon finds himself running for his life while meeting up with a barrage of oddball characters along the way.

The movie has a wonderfully quirky sense of humor with a few memorable laugh-out-loud sequences especially at the beginning. I got a real kick out of the man with a weak bladder who says a prayer to God to open up a locked bathroom door when he can’t get into it. The scene in the bus where we hear the different thoughts going on inside each of the passenger’s heads is great as well. The opening sequence featuring a row of lady typists writing up King’s latest manuscript is cute, but the one thing that holds it all together is Caine’s wry voice-over narration that remains consistently amusing.

Rooney though manages to steal the whole thing with his hilarious send-up of an aging actor. In fact this may be one of the funniest roles of his entire career. Even the scene showing him shadow boxing in his underwear is engaging although thankfully the camera doesn’t stay on it for too long. I was a bit disappointed that the character didn’t last through the film’s duration, but his death scene is so funny that it almost makes up for it.

It is nice to see Lizabeth Scott in her last film to date and first since 1957 when she was essentially blacklisted from Hollywood purportedly for her lesbian leanings. Although only 50 at the time her aging face looked like she was almost 70 and her deep, raspy voice sounded similar to the demon’s in The Exorcist. I thought she could’ve been given more to do and played a character that was more integral to the story as her screen time is much too brief.

The on-location shooting done on the island nation of Malta is another asset. The sunny weather has a nice exotic feel and the old architecture of the buildings helps give the film a visual distinction. The melodic piano soundtrack is pleasing and I wished it had been heard a little bit more.

The story is full of a lot of unexpected twists and turns that manages to be engaging for a while, but I felt it runs out of steam by the end. During the final 15 minutes I found myself a bit bored and no longer caught up in it. While I do like the scene where the gunmen gets run over by a pick-up and shown from the point-of-view of the driver I still felt that the ending lacked the finesse and quirkiness of the beginning. The offbeat ideas that writer/director Hodges showers into the film become dried up with a finish that lacks any payoff and unfortunately sullies what is otherwise an offbeat gem waiting to be discovered.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mike Hodges

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video