Category Archives: Movies from Australia

Fortress (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Australian schoolchildren get kidnapped.

Sally (Rachel Ward) is a school teacher working in rural Australia where she teaches in an old-fashioned one-room school house. The ten students are made up of different ages and an even mix of boys and girls. One morning while class is beginning a group of four masked men invade the building and take the children hostage. They throw them into an underground cave and then put a large boulder over the cave opening to lock them in. Sally and the students go searching through the underground caverns and manage to find another way out, but every time they think they’ve reached freedom the kidnappers always seem to be one-step ahead of them.

The film’s main selling point are the children, which at first I didn’t think would be a good idea. It can be hard to get kids, for many of them this was their first movie project, to show the necessary emotions in an effective way and while they don’t always respond to things quite the way I think a real kid would I still found their resiliency to be uplifting. I also enjoyed seeing how the older boys grew into men during the experience and watching Sally precariously balance her obligation of the being the mature, brave one while still hiding her inner emotions of fear and panic.

The location shooting takes advantage of many different Australian locales including the Buchan Caves where the action in the first act takes place. Later on we’re given exciting view of a them running through the forest late at night in an attempted escape as well as them returning to yet another cave for the climactic finish. The story manages to be reasonably tense throughout though the killers always managing to catch-up with their victims no matter where or how far they go does ultimately test the plausibility. The film’s tone is a bit off-kilter as well. Most of the time it seems to want to be a story of victim empowerment and resourcefulness, but then intermittently throws in some jarring violence, which wasn’t necessary.

Spoiler Alert!

While it’s great seeing these kids remain stoic it also seems hard to believe. After being put in the cave they find a way out where they then spot a farmhouse, which was several miles away only to ultimately realize that the kidnappers have been there waiting for them. They then great treated to a man getting gunned down before their very eyes, but manage to escape from their to yet another cave that is many miles away and again the kidnappers find them and continue their assault of terror. Normally after all this most people, especially young children, would feel overwhelmed and defeated and eventually fall into a traumatized state instead of the warrior mentality that they do. While the good guy fighting back approach may be more of an audience pleaser I wasn’t sure if this was a realistic response when given the daunting circumstances. Also, why would the bad guys not invade the cave the kids are in right away instead of staying back and giving the group ample time to create the makeshift weapons’, stuff that would take hours if not days to make,  in order to be ultimately used against the kidnappers like they are?

The Lord of the Flies – themed twist ending comes out of nowhere and seems too forced to be effective. Watching the group surround the last of the bad guys and viscously stabbing him with their weapons’ in slow motion made enough of a statement and that’s where it should’ve ended. Adding in the denouncement where the kids are back in school and have the heart of the killer placed inside a glass jar in the middle of the room was just too heavy-handed. With what they’ve been through most kids would never want to step foot in that school again and where are the parents during all of this as they’re never shown?  Having a human heart in a jar is pretty nasty and you’d think  one of the kids would’ve talked about it to others and word would ultimately get around.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The plot is loosely based on an actual event that occurred in the small town of  Faraday, Australia on October 6, 1972 when Edwin Eastwood and Robert Boland kidnapped a young teacher and her students from a remote one-room school house similar to the one depicted in the movie. However, there are many differences between the real event and what happens in the film. For one there were only 6 students and all of them were girls. They were never taken to a cave either, but instead held in the back of a van. When the kidnappers left the next morning to retrieve the ransom money the teacher, whose name was Mary Gibbs, managed to kick out the back door panel with her leather boots and escape with the children and eventually the two men were later caught.

The irony though is that’s not where the story ends as Eastwood was able to escape from jail in 1977 where he then kidnapped another group of children and their teacher, but was again caught. He then served a 16 year sentence, but was eventually paroled in 1993 and has been a free man working as a truck driver since.

Teacher Mary Gibbs and the six students who were kidnapped during the real-life incident.

The van in which Gibbs and the students were held captive.

The school house in which Mary Gibbs and her six students were taken hostage on October 6, 1972.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1985 (HBO Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated: TV-MA

Director: Arch Nicholson

Studio: HBO Premiere Films

Available: DVD

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Super hero drops-out.

Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) successfully fights off the Nazis during WWII and becomes a hero to millions, but then by the 1950’s, during the McCarthy era, he is smeared as being a ‘communist’, due to wearing a red cape.  The congressional investigators also accuse him of flying in airspace without a proper license and wearing underwear in public. All of this causes him to drop-out of the superhero business by moving to Australia and turning into a homeless alcoholic. Then his old rival, Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee) steals a secret weapon called the hypnoray, which puts the whole world at risk. This causes the authorities to plead to Captain Invincible to return and help them stop the madman, but through the years his skills have diminished and he’s not sure he can get back into form to battle crime like he once did.

At the outset this is an inspired concoction made long before the super-hero satire was ever in vogue and there are a few funny bits here and there, but the whole thing gets too bizarre for its own good. The viewer becomes inundated with so much wacky imagery and goofy characters that instead of laughing you’re left scratching your head wondering what’s it all about.

The biggest mistake was adding in musical numbers, which turns the thing into an ill-advised version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The original script was not intended to be a musical, but director Philippe Mora had always dreamed of doing one, so he requested that the songs be added in. The first time this occurs it’s kind of fun particularly the line dance done by the well-dressed advisors to the President, which all helps to add to the irreverence, but then continuing to add in more songs bogs everything down  and makes the already sluggish pace even worse. Arkin and co-star Kate Fitzpatrick do not have good singing voices, so hearing them belt-out a half-hearted tune hurts the ears and with no interesting dance numbers to come along with it, these moments become boring visually as well.

Even though the story involves an aging superhero I still felt Arkin was too old for the part and would’ve liked somebody who could have offered more energy. Typical Arkin is great with offbeat material such as this, but everything is so over-the-top that he gets lost in the access and ultimately becomes just a prop. Christopher Lee suffers the same fate although some fans love his rendition of ‘Name Your Poison’ which he sings to Arkin as he tries to entice him to take an alcoholic drink from his personally made wet bar.

The film offers no special effects which becomes most apparent during the segment where Captain Invincible supposedly upends a speeding car, but the camera cuts away, so we never see him do the actual act, and just hits home how cheap the whole production really is. If you’re going to make fun of the Superhero genre you have to at least show some respect for it, which this thing never does. Instead of going off on wild tangents there should’ve been a big showdown between Invincible and Midnight, but it peters out in this area by being too busy trying to be weird when it should’ve worked harder to get a more coherent and interesting story.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Philippe Mora

Studio: Seven Keys

Available: DVD

High Rolling in a Hot Corvette (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two guys drop out.

Tex (Joseph Bottoms) and Alby (Grigor Taylor) are two friends working at a carnival who decide, after Tex gets fired when he’s caught having sex with a female customer, to breakaway from the grind by heading out to the Gold Coast and Surfer’s Paradise. They hitch a ride with Arnold (John Clayton) who drives a snazzy green Corvette. After he takes the two to a hotel for the night he comes-on to Alby, who beats Arnold up that puts him into an unconscious state. When Tex finds out what happened they decide to make a run for it by driving away in Arnold’s green corvette, which to their shock is loaded with bags of marijuana. They use Arnold’s money from his wallet to help them get into ritzy nightclubs where they meet up with attractive singers Susie and Barbie (Sandra McGregor, Wendy Hughes), but once the money is spent they’re forced to rob a tour bus full of passengers, but just as they’re ready to escape with the loot Arnold returns with his muscular friends and an ugly confrontation ensues.

This is another Australian flick where it could’ve easily been filmed here and you’d never know the difference. Whether it’s intentional or not the American influence is quite strong including having them eat at such restaurants as Kentucky Friend Chicken and McDonald’s. The Outback is the one area that can help Australia stand out, but the two never go there and stick to the lushly green coastal region, which again looks no different than many of the landscapes in the U.S.

They even hire an American actor for the lead, which I felt was a mistake. Apparently they thought it would be easier to sell to distributors abroad if not all the actors spoke with an Aussie accent, but Bottoms, who is the younger brother of the more famous Timothy Bottoms, isn’t a good enough actor to make anything that he does onscreen either interesting or memorable. His reckless wild boy behavior comes-off as affected and forced and the way he aggressively comes-on to women would be considered misogynist and sexual harassment by today’s standards. Plus, there’s never any explanation for why this Texan would be working the carnival scene in Australia to begin with.

The tone of the film when compared to its trailer, which can be seen on YouTube, is far more grim and dramatic. The trailer gives you the impression it’s a comical, freewheeling adventure that will bring you back to your youthful days of rebellion, when really it’s more about them desperately living on the edge, getting beat-up and seeking shelter in an abandoned church when it rains. If anything it makes the creature comforts of suburbia, even with some of the compromises that come with it, seem not so bad by comparison.

These guys aren’t too smart either and it becomes harder and harder to keep siding with them with each jam they stupidly get themselves into. Driving off with the Corvette was just asking for trouble since they didn’t bother to change the license plate, so any cop could scan the number and realize that the vehicle was stolen. When they rob the bus, which is the best moment in the movie, they don’t wear any masks, so they’ll be easily identifiable. It also makes you wonder why if these bums needed money so bad they couldn’t just find a job like the rest of us instead of robbing innocent people, which is not a nice thing to do and makes the viewer not want to like these guys who are, at least in theory, supposed to be the protagonists.

The filmed is helped by the appearances of two young Australian actresses at the start of their careers. Hughes is beautiful as the showgirl that they meet but her part is ultimately too small. I was afraid Judy Davis, who plays a hitchhiker that they pick-up, would have the same fate, but she returns later on to give the cops a wild car chase driving the Corvette that makes it worth it.

The film though lacks any discernable point or message. The characters show no  arc and behave the same way at the end that they did at the beginning. Nothing conclusive is giving to their ultimate fate. Will they be able to live on the road and on-the-edge all of their lives? This hardly seems possible, but the movie makes no effort to answer this question causing it to be vapid and undistinguished from the plethora of other road movies out there.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Igor Auzins

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD-R

Fast Talking (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen gets into trouble.

Steve (Rod Zuanic) is a teen who has a rocky relationship with his alcoholic father (Peter Hehir) and ditzy mother (Julie McGregor). To survive on his own he’s forced to deal marijuana and  steal newspapers, which he then resells to motorists in their cars while they wait at a red light. His shenanigan’s get him into constant trouble especially at school where he’s perpetually dodging capture with his amazing ability to escape out of just about any jam.

Writer/director Ken Cameron was inspired to do this film after working as a high school teacher as well as for his love of Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows, which he saw while growing up. The realism is on-target and has a certain cinema vertite feel. I went to high school when this film was made and can attest that the behaviors of the students here resembled many that I knew then and it’s amazing that even though this was shot on a continent halfway around the world the adolescent experience in Australia isn’t all that much different than that in the U.S. In fact if it weren’t for the Aussie accents one might think that it had been filmed here.

The story though, which was based on short films that Cameron made before he did feature length productions, isn’t connected enough to be impactful. The script is more like a collection of vignettes than a plot and while there’s some interesting moments it’s too spotty to be fully effective. I enjoyed Steve’s budding friendship with a mechanic (Steve Bisley) who tries to teach him the trade, but the film cuts away from this only to briefly go back to it much later when it should’ve been more of the focus. This same thing occurs when Steve tries to save a greyhound, that he apparently had a deep emotional bond to, from being killed by his father, but this storyline gets introduced almost 60 minutes in and should’ve at least been alluded to earlier.

Zuanic was discovered after Cameron spent three months teaching drama classes in High Schools around Sydney and while he looks like a genuine teen and not a college-aged kid pretending to be one as in other teen flicks his physique is too scrawny. (The painted image of him seen in the film poster above makes him seem much bigger and mature than he really is.) He resembles more of a child at age 12 and nowhere near someone entering manhood. Maybe that was the point, but watching him smoke, swear, steal, and get involved at times in amorous activities gets unsettling to watch because of it. When he confronts those that are bigger than him, which happens a lot since he’s so painfully small, I kept wincing thinking he’s going to get his ass kick despite his cocksure attitude and with no real ability to defend himself. Having the part played by a 17 year-old with a stocky build would’ve been preferable.

Not much insight is given towards Steve’s relationship with his mother, who’s seen only briefly, even though this is the catalyst for his desperate behavior, so I felt it needed to be played-out far more. His constant ability at escaping capture by whatever authority figure is after him is amusing at first, but eventually becomes redundant and unrealistic as at some point he’s going to be forced to face the consequences of his actions, which needed to be shown, but never is. The wide-open ending, apparently done because Cameron thought this would be made into a sequel, but due to the poor box office returns never was, offers no definitive conclusion to our character’s ultimate destiny, which makes the film even more transparent than it already is.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ken Cameron

Studio: Filmways

Available: DVD (Region 4), Amazon Video

Nickel Queen (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bar owner gets rich.

Meg Blake (Googie Withers) is a widow who owns a pub in a small desert town that has only 10 people living in it. She finds it hard to make ends meet until she hears about a nickel discovery in the outback and decides to be the first one to stake her claim to the land. Little does she know that corrupt executive Ed Benson (Alfred Sandor) fabricated the rumor of a nickel discovery simply so he could sell shares to gullible investors and Meg’s stake of land is actually worth nothing, but because Ed wants other people to also buy shares he pretends that Meg has already gotten rich through her investment and gives her $100,000 up front and parades her around the media while calling her the Nickel Queen. Meg laps up the publicity and spends her newfound fortune lavishly only to ultimately learn, once all her money is gone, that it was a hoax, which causes her and the other angry investors to go after Ed for revenge.

The story was inspired by the real-life event known as the Poseidon Bubble, which occurred in Australia in 1969, where shares in mining soared upon the discovery of a nickel deposit in September of that year only to quickly crash by early 1970 once it was found that the nickel was of a lower quality than initially thought causing many investors to loose a lot of money. Had the film stuck more to the true life event it might’ve had potential, but the way it gets played-out here is rather tepid.

It starts off alright and Withers, acting in front of the camera for the first time in 13 years, creates an engaging character who doesn’t back down to anyone and never hesitates to speak-her-mind. Unfortunately her tenacious personality does not get played-up enough. Once she becomes a media darling her wisecracks no longer have any zing and she falls into Ed’s trap too easily.  During the second half her presence is rather minor as she becomes this naïve person who must depend on her old friend Harry (Ed Devereaux) to get her out of her jam and exposing the corrupt Ed instead of she being the one to do that on her own.

The supporting cast is equally wasted. Initially the hippie guru character of Claude (played by John Laws who was and still is a famous Australian radio personality) seemed interesting as his values and outlook on things, particularly his refusal to work, contrasted greatly with Meg’s making it seem like the two would be sharing some wildly over-the-top confrontations. Instead Claude takes an extreme pivot midway through by showing up as a clean-shaven man willing to sell-out for money and even ends up becoming Meg’s lover, but what’s the point of him starting out one way if he’s just going to end up being the polar opposite? The transition is not revealing or introspective and shows how the filmmakers, who were all over 50, had no understanding of the counter-culture movement at all.

Doreen Warburton, who plays Ed’s gluttonous wife, is equally problematic.  The running joke of seeing her constantly stuffing her face with food gets pretty old, pretty fast to the point that it starts to get kind of disgusting to look at. Not having her utter a single word of dialogue is weird too making it seem like she’s not even human, but simply an unfunny and highly stereotyped caricature.

I liked how the first half was shot in an actual ghost town known as Broad Arrow and having the action take place in some of the town’s abandoned buildings gave the film an added visual flair, but this gets completely lost during the second-half when everything moves to the big city of Perth. The music is yet another issue as it sounds like something from the 40’s or 50’s and completely out-of-touch with the times. A lot of the cast is made up of hippies, so the soundtrack should’ve reflected more of their tastes.

Ultimately the film suffers from being too much of a family project. Writer/director John McCallum was star Googie’s husband and there’s even a part for their daughter Joanna McCallum, who plays Meg’s hippie daughter. While this may have been a fun project to work on from their perspective it offers little in the way that is satisfying to the viewer. The plot is poorly constructed and the wrap-up too tidy making it seem like material better suited for a TV-sitcom than the big screen.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Director: John McCallum

Studio: British Empire Films Australia

Available: None

The FJ Holden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A youth’s aimless life.

Kevin (Paul Couzens) is a teen over 18 still living at home with his parents (Roy Corbett, Beryl Marshall). Most of his time is spent being idle while driving around in his refurbished FJ Holden and getting drunk with his best friend Bob (Carl Stever). One day while hanging out at a mall Kevin spots Anne (Eva Dickinson) and gives her a ride in his car and eventually the two start going out. Everything goes well for awhile until Kevin makes love to Anne with the bedroom door still open, so that Bob can watch. When Anne realizes what’s going on she kicks Kevin out of the house and breaks off their relationship, but Kevin refuses to let it go and tries to rekindle things with her later at a party, which causes tensions with the other partygoers and the home owner.

I’ve stated many times that I wished Hollywood movies wouldn’t feel so compelled to rush through a story as they do and allow scenes more time to be strung-out and not edit things so quickly. Allowing things to unfold at a more leisurely pace gives the viewer a chance to soak in the setting and characters better without having to be told what to think or feel, but this film goes to the other extreme. The pace meanders so much you become bored and lose focus. There’s just not enough going on to keep you interested or intrigued.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie as I liked the technical approach, which puts the actors in public settings, but with regular people in the back drop as opposed to film extras. You get more of a realistic atmosphere this way particularly the scenes at the mall, which before the advent of social media, skype, and texting was a social hotspot for most teens to meet other people and hang-out. The story though, which was based on loosely constructed comic poems, is not structured enough to remain engaging. The dialogue is too generic and the situations they go through, whether it’s making love in the backseat of a car, or drag racing, have all been done in many other teen flicks, so watching it here just makes it seem all the more redundant and pointless.

There manages to be a a few interesting bits here and there, but overall it’s a sluggish experience. Only at the very end when Kevin confronts Anne at the party is there are any real potential for dramatic sparks, but it doesn’t get played-out enough. I was hoping for a full-out brawl to make-up for all the boredom that had come before it, but director Michael Thornhill, who has found critical acclaim with some of his later films, just wasn’t confident enough apparently to push this thing full-throttle, which ultimately makes it bland and forgettable.

The car itself doesn’t play as much into the plot as you’d expect and in a lot of ways I didn’t find it all that impressive. It’s a model of car that was built in Australia between the years of 1953 to 1956 and through the decades over 20 car clubs have been formed in Australia committed to preserving the vehicle, and every other year thousands of car enthusiasts gather to celebrate the old-style car, but to me it came off looking old and clunky like something your grandfather would drive and did not have the sleek sports car design that most young men like to be seen in. The car eventually, during the film’s second half, gets painted bright yellow, which makes it look like a taxi cab, but during the first part it’s not painted at all and looks rusty like it had been pulled from the junkyard and what most people would be embarrassed to be seen with and not something to invite a girl for a ride in to impress her even though that’s what happens here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated M (Originally rated R)

Director: Michael Thornhill

Studio: FJ Films

Available: DVD

The Dark Room (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A father/son rivalry.

Mike (Svet Kovich) works as a photographer who has a thing for his attractive co-worker Nicky (Anna Maria Monticelli). He quietly follows her around and takes pictures of her from afar only to learn that she’s been seeing his father Ray (Alan Cassell) who is still married to his mother (Diana Davidson). Mike becomes enraged by this and begins dating Nicky as well. This puts a damper on Ray who was planning on leaving his wife for Nicky, but who now seems to becoming more distant with him. Once Ray realizes his son is the other man the two share a fiery confrontation at an old cottage in the country with Nicky stuck in the middle.

To some degree this is a unique storyline that’s rarely been tackled before. Most films dealing with father/son relationships take a much different approach by focusing very much on the generational divide where the father is out-of-touch with the son’s interests and vice-versa. This film acts like the two men are pretty much the same, with one having been on this planet a little bit longer than the other, but overall still have common wants and needs and desires particularly when it comes to the attraction of younger women, which I believe secretly stays innate in men no matter how old or how married they become.

I also liked the casting of Svet Kovich, which to date this is the only movie he’s been in, as his hawkish face and beady eyes make him look menacing, which is what the part requires and in many ways he reminded me of character actor Anthony James who played quite a few psychos in his day as well. Unfortunately this hurts the story because in the film Nicky falls for Kovich and begins a relationship with him even though in realty I’d think most women would fear him due to his looks and odd introverted behavior and thus making the whole romantic angle between them come off as false and phony. It was never clear either why she’d want to have relationships with both men (she was not aware initially that the two were related) at the same time as she seemed happy seeing Ray, so why add another man into the mix? Most women tend to be either/or when it come to older men or younger ones, so it didn’t make sense her interest in both, or what she saw or didn’t see in one that made her desire the other.

The film’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t delve into the father/son relationship enough. We needed a backstory between the two and flashbacks, none are shown, of when they were younger and how the son related to his dad as a child. At the very end the son does bring up issues that he had with his father, but they tended to be cliched problems and something the viewer needed to see play-out instead of just being told about them verbally. Without that context nothing else that we see means anything. The film is on a technical level adequate, but it’s never gripping or fully compelling and this is because the characters are not fleshed out enough for us to understand them or care.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: Never released to theaters.

Not Rated

Director: Paul Harmon

Studio: Filmco Limited

Available: None at this time.

The Night, The Prowler (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Victim turns into prowler.

Late one night Felicity (Kerry Walker), who is an adult woman still living at home with her parents (John Frawley, Ruth Cracknell), finds that a prowler (Terry Camilleri) has invaded her bedroom. After getting into a conversation with him she is surprised to learn that he’s a married man with kids, who enjoys prowling as a side gig to make up for the monotony and stresses of his home life. Felicity then realizes that the suburban lifestyle that her parents want her to live does not fully satisfy the individual and therefore decides she doesn’t want it. She breaks off her pending engagement with her fiancé (John Derum)  and turns into a prowler herself breaking into men’s homes late at night and learning to enjoy the underbelly of society by socializing with the homeless and other people that her parents always told her to stay away from. She soon finds a sense of empowerment by thumbing her nose at the elitists that make her her suburban community and doing all the forbidden things that her former cloistered lifestyle never allowed.

The film was directed by Jim Sharman best known for having done The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The basis for this project comes from his collaboration with playwright Patrick White and the many plays of his that he directed while doing experimental theater in Sydney during the 70’s. White wanted to expand one of his short stories into a screenplay and Sharman suggested this one had the best chance of working. The two had both grown up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and wanted to create a film that showed their inner disdain for the arrogant, privileged people that populated the neighborhoods there and how the sterility of those environments may have been a comfort to the adults, but stifling and alienating to the teenagers.

To some level the film is interesting, but the fragmented narrative becomes an intrusive turn-off. Normally I like films that to get away from the mainstream approach and use different cinematic styles to tell a story, but the presentation here never allows you to get emotionally invested into the characters or their situations. There’s too much cutting back and forth between the present day, the past, and even some dream-like segments that ultimately makes the whole thing confusing and off-putting. That’s not to say that there aren’t some provocative moments as there are, but the non-linear approach never allows it to catch its stride, or feel like its progressing forward.

I did enjoy though the scenes with Felicity in the park late at night talking to the homeless while inadvertently scaring off a gang of young hoodlums by chasing after them and demanding that they assault her. When she breaks into a rich couple’s home and systematically destroys it and their subsequent over-the-top facial reactions when they come home to witness it is a hoot too. There are though some very disturbing moments too including Felicity’s conversation with a naked, starving homeless man (Harry Neilson) that she finds lying inside the filthy squalor of an abandoned building.

The one thing that holds it all together is the acting. Walker is perfectly cast in the lead as her plain looks and perpetually despondent expression visually signals her inner angst and alienation. Cracknell though completely steals it in a campy send-up of the suburban housewife/ mother that is at times both comically absurd and over-the-top funny. Her odd behavior keeps the interest going even as the story and direction at times lull and in fact it was enough to have nominated for the Best Actress Award by the Australian Film Institute.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Petersen (1974)

petersen1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going back to school.

Tony Petersen (Jack Thompson) is an electrician who decides to go back to school and major in English. He feels people look down on him because he works a blue collar job and hope that by returning to college to get a degree that will change, but instead he finds he’s still not getting the respect that he desires particularly from his stuffy professor (Arthur Dingnam), so he ends up having an affair with the man’s wife (Wendy Hughes),  but things don’t stop there. He has sex with the coeds too including right out in the open on the campus grounds for public display while hundreds of onlookers surround them.

The screenplay was written by acclaimed Australian playwright David Williamson, who’s best known for having penned the cult hit Don’s Party However, this film lacks the fluidity of that one and seems more like a selection of vignettes than a story. The leader character isn’t likable either and comes off as selfish while in Don’s Party we were able to understand the protagonists frustration with his marriage here the domestic situation doesn’t seem as bad and therefore watching him mess around isn’t cute, funny, or sexy and instead just tiring and off-putting.

The biggest problem though is that the film starts right away at the halfway point where Petersen has already been attending school and neck-deep in an affair instead of going back to where it all began. Showing Petersen’s frustrations with his job and income, instead of just being told about it through dialogue, would’ve helped the viewer empathize more with his situation and emotionally invested with his quandary instead of feeling lost and ambivalent in the jumbled narrative.

There are a few good scenes here-and-there including a very ugly moment where a group of obnoxious bikers crash an upscale party and make things quite tense for the guests who are seemingly unable to do anything about it. Later there’s a poignant segment involving a discussion that Petersen has with his father (Charles Tingwell), who works as a reverend at a church despite professing to having lost his faith. Petersen’s public sex act has great potential too and even though it does contain full frontal male nudity, which at the time was still considered shocking to see in a mainstream film, it doesn’t get played-up enough to really being as funny or irreverent as it should’ve been.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also several moments though that needed more context, which is frustratingly lacking. One includes Petersen getting caught making-out with his friend’s wife by his own spouse (Jacki Weaver) who looks very disappointed in him, but we never get any follow-up almost  like the whole situation just gets forgotten by the next day. There’s another scene where Petersen rapes his lover inside her own office, but without showing any aftermath. Such a violent, disturbing act deserves some denouncement and not treated like a throwaway bit such as it is.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall if you stick with it the characters do have a way of growing on you, but the story needed to be more developed. Too much emphasis on being edgy and provocative, but filled with characters in desperate need of depth and better connecting pieces between scenes.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

End Play (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Reviews: Feuding brothers hold secret.

Mark (John Waters) picks up a hitchhiker (Delvene Delaney) on a lonely road and then promptly kills her. He then travels to his brother Robert’s (George Mallaby) house for a visit. When Robert leaves to go target practicing Mark brings the dead hitchhiker’s body inside and dresses her up to make it appear that she is still alive. He then disguises himself while taking the corpse to the local movie theater and once there he sneaks leaving the dead body to be discovered by others. Once the news of the grisly discovery hits the airwaves Robert immediately suspects Mark, but decides not to go to the authorities since he is already a paraplegic and at risk, due to lesions on his neck, of losing the movement of his arms, which will ultimately render him under the care of Mark. He also dislikes the police due to a childhood issue that he had with them, so for these reasons he covers for Mark’s actions, but when he realizes that his girlfriend (Belinda Giblin) has cheated on him with Mark he decides to carry out a stern revenge of his own.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Russell Braddon, takes a unique spin on the mystery angle. Instead of delving into the action we get treated to the psychological interplay of the two leads and the many twists and turns their relationship takes where one minute they seem like comrades and the next enemies. Mallaby, who ironically ended up wheelchair bound in real-life after suffering a series of strokes in 1994, gives an edgy performance where his personality is so strong and aggressive that you really don’t notice the handicap at all. I liked the soundtrack by Peter Best too as it has a nice subtle quality that accentuates the creepiness without ever calling attention to itself.

While the film manages to hold interest it is somewhat slow. With the exception of a violent confrontation between the two brothers that occurs near the end there’s no action to speak of, so unless the viewer is really into the psychological aspect they may find the pace to be a bit boring. The two leads aren’t likable either. Normally the tension is created because you care about the protagonist and don’t want to see them harmed or in trouble, but in this case that’s all missing.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest letdown though comes with its twist ending in which we find that Mark wasn’t the killer after all, but instead it was Robbie. However, director Tim Burstall completely botches this by showing the back of Mark’s head during the opening scene when the hitchhiker enters the vehicle. The two have completely different hair color with Mark’s being brown and Robbie’s being blonde and I even went back to the scene to make sure and there’s no mistaking it, it’s Mark’s head. This could’ve been completely avoided by simply having the camera act as the killer’s point-of-view where we only see the face of the hitchhiker as she enters the vehicle and is then killed. The fact that this wasn’t done was a big mistake and nullifies the intended surprise.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: None at this time.