Category Archives: Movies from Australia

Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prostitute on the weekend.

Jenny (Wendy Hughes) is an elementary catholic school teacher during the week, but on weekends she’s a prostitute riding a train that travels across the Australian countryside. She picks up lonely men that she meets at the train’s bar and takes them to her cabin for sex, but makes sure they’ve left by 3 AM. While she’s friendly and conversational with them during the night by the next day she virtually ignores them. She does this to help pay for her handicapped brother’s needs and for many years she’s able to juggle these dual lifestyles without much of a hitch. Then she meets a suave businessman (Colin Fields) who gets her involved in an assassination plot that not only disrupts her routine, but sends her precariously close to losing her freedoms.

Director Bob Ellis said the idea for the film was inspired by a long train ride that he took with actor Denny Lawrence and the two wrote the script during the duration of their trip. In order to get the needed funding it was contingent that Wendy Hughes be cast in the lead, which Ellis felt was wrong for the part, but eventually agreed to simply to get the film made. Ultimately though he and the film’s producer, Ross Dimsey, had a different vision for the story and Dimsey greatly trimmed the final cut turning what Ellis felt was one of the best scripts he had ever written into something he would later disown. The full director’s cut had been stored at his residence and he was hoping to eventually release it to the public, but it got destroyed during a house fire.

The version definitely has issues with the biggest one being the slow, plodding pace. I was also disappointed that it starts with Jenny already a seasoned hooker as I would’ve been more interested in seeing how she came up with the idea and seen the awkward moments she most assuredly would’ve gone through when she first jumped in and did it. The fact that she had no ‘Plan-B’ for the potential times when a male client might get aggressive, or not promptly leave at the agreed to time, was a weak point for me. There’s one scene where one of her johns follows her out of the train and won’t leave her alone, but she calls out to a nearby security officer to get him away from her, but if she’s a seasoned sex worker she should have another line of self-defense to use, like a gun or something, to take out if things got out-of-control and no one else was around to help her and the fact that she doesn’t have this makes it seem like she’s not as streetwise as we’re supposed to believe.

Having Jenny suddenly let down her guard and fall for one of her johns (Colin Friels) didn’t make much sense either. After years of being defensive around her clients why now get all emotional about this one who comes-off just as sleazy and aggressive and just as potentially dangerous? The assassination subplot doesn’t get introduced until 60-minutes in and the way she’s able to off the target by simply scratching the guy lightly on his back with a fingernail dipped in poison seemed much too easy.

I did like the juxtaposition of a catholic school teacher being a prostitute, but the film doesn’t explore this contradiction enough. You’d think after having done this for a long time her superiors might catch-on, or have it filter back to them, which could’ve created more conflict and added tension to a story that for the most part is too leisurely paced to hold one’s sustained attention.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Ellis

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: dvdlady.com

Libido (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Four stories about sex.

The genesis for this movie came about during a series of workshops held in southern Australia that was sponsored by directors and producers as a way to help writers craft a good story and create believable characters. The challenge was for each writer to come up with a different story built around a same theme, in this case sex, or the sex drive. Four of the best stories picked were then produced by the Australian Council for the Arts and put into the film. A sequel was planned called ‘The Bed’, which would’ve had 4 stories dealing around the idea of a bed in someway, but ultimately the funding was never able to be attained.

The first segment is called ‘The Husband’ and was written by Craig McGregor and directed by John B. Murray and is the weakest. It details the plight of a husband named Jonathan (Bryon Williams) who becomes jealous when his wife Penelope (Elke Neidhardt) starts to openly fool around with Harold (Mark Albiston) who had been the best-man at their wedding. The segment does have a provocative dream-like moment where Penelope has sex with four different men, but outside of that it’s rather flat. The dynamics of the marriage are confusing and both the characters and relationship needed to be fleshed-out better for the situation to make sense and it relies too heavily on explicit moments thrown in to make it seem more interesting than it really is.

‘The Child’ is the title of the second segment and was written by Hal Porter and directed by Tim Burstall. The setting is the early 19th century and deals with a young boy named Martin (John Williams) whose father dies on the Titanic. His mother (Jill Foster) then begins a relationship with a suitor named David (Bruce Barry), which causes Martin to feel alone and neglected. This though changes when a governess named Sybil (Judy Morris) is brought in to take care of him while the mother is away. Martin grows a special fondness for Sybil and even begins to fall-in-love with her despite their age difference, but he then becomes shocked and upset when he finds her having sex with David in the backyard greenhouse, which ultimately leads to tragedy.

This story has a lot of potential and for awhile had me intrigued. It’s also interesting seeing Morris, who is probably best known as the uptight college professor in The Plumberplaying a polar opposite here as someone who is sexually promiscuous. Unfortunately the story leaves open too many loose ends, which I found frustrating.

The third story, which had to be cut from the Spain release as it was feared it would offend too many people, is called ‘The Priest’. The plot involves Father Burn (Arthur Dignam) who falls for Sister Caroline (Robyn Nevin). Father Burn wants them to both leave the church and get married, but she resists, which causes him to have a nervous breakdown and be sent to an insane asylum. This segment, which was written by Thomas Keneally and directed by Fred Shepisi, has a few insightful moments, but gets bogged down with endless dialogue and an ending that doesn’t offer any type of satisfactory conclusion.

The best segment is the last one, which was written by David Williamson and directed by David Baker. It deals with the story of a womanizer named Ken (Jack Thompson) who chases after women for cheap one-night stands even as his own wife lies in the hospital giving birth to his child. His pal Gerry (Max Gillies), who does not have as much luck with women, looks up to Ken and is impressed with his prowess. Ken decides to show Gerry ‘how it’s done’ by taking him out to a bar where they meet up with two women (Debbie Nankervis, Suzanne Brady) that they eventually take home to Ken’s oceanfront home. Things though start to take a dark turn when the women show more fondness to Gerry than Ken, which causes Ken to lash-out in a jealous rage, which forces Gerry to see an ugly side to his friend that he didn’t know existed.

This segment gets unexpectedly tense, but is played-out in a realistic manner. It’s great too seeing Thompson portray the playboy type, which he seems born to play and honed to an even finer level a year later in the movie Petersen. This story also features a surprise ending, which isn’t bad.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 6, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Not Rated

Studio: British Empire Films Australia

Available: dvdlady.com

Weekend of Shadows (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Manhunt for murder suspect.

In rural Australia during the 1930’s a farmer’s wife is found murdered inside her home. Suspicions immediately fall on a Polish laborer who had always been deemed ‘peculiar’ by the locals and while there’s no other evidence pointing to his guilt it’s enough to get the men in the community together to form a posse. Sergeant Caxton (Wyn Roberts) hopes that if he can capture the suspect it will help mend his reputation, which had been tarnished while working in Sydney and got him demoted to the small town that both he and his wife (Barbara West) don’t like. Vi (Melissa Jaffer) feels this will be a perfect opportunity for her shy husband, Rabbit (John Waters) to bond with the other men by going along on the hunt, but he resists thinking that the whole thing is just a knee-jerk, mob reaction and wants nothing to do with it, but at the behest of his constantly prodding wife he eventually joins, but learns to regret it.

Out of all of the manhunt movies that are out there this one may be the most unusual in that it doesn’t focus on the suspect at all, in fact you barely ever see him, but instead on the various men in the group. Surprisingly though this manages to be quite effective and I found myself wrapped-up in the various personalities of the participants and how all of them clash with each other at various times. The budget though is quite low, screenwriter Peter Yeldham and director Tom Jeffrey were forced to make many concessions on the script just to get the necessary funding, and while the stark production values will initially be a turn-off, the overall drama, which is based on the novel ‘The Reckoning’ by Hugh Atkinson, will eventually compensate.

I didn’t though like the flashbacks showing Vi and Rabbit’s courtship, which I felt wasn’t necessary and bogged down the tension. The relationship between them is intriguing on a certain level as it shows how wives can have a strong influence over their husbands and get them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise, this same scenario also gets played-out between the constable and his wife, but the scenes showing their dating period offers no further insights and no effort is made to make the actors appear younger even though the courtship had been many years prior.

Spoiler Alert!

While the film was a hit with the critics it sank at the box office recouping only $61,000 of the $495,000 that had been put into it, which soured Jeffrey from directing movies and he helmed only one other, The Last of the Knucklemenafter this one. Ironically Hugh Atkinson was quite impressed with the finished product, which was odd since most of the time author’s of the book which the movie is based are usually not happy with the director’s interpretation of their work, but Atkinon felt Jeffrey ‘got it’ particularly with the ending, which he stated represented the crucifixion. Personally I didn’t see this connection, and neither did Jeffrey, who felt like I did that the story was more about how group dynamics can get out of hand, but Atkinson insisted the crucifixion element was the centerpiece. The ending will be a surprise to many and leaves open many questions, but what you ultimately make of it will be up to your own personal perspective.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tom Jeffrey

Studio: The South Australian Film Commission

Available: VHS

Goodbye Paradise (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for Senator’s daughter.

Michael Stacey (Ray Barrett) is a retired cop whose written a scathing exposé on the corruption of his former profession, which has gotten him many enemies and, along with his alcoholism, pushed to the very fringes of society. He now lives in a tiny, rundown apartment while playing chess with himself as his only means of companionship. One day he gets a call from a high-ranking Senator (Don Pascoe) who wants Michael to find his runaway daughter as he’s concerned that she’s gotten involved with an underground cult movement, which he fears could be detrimental to both her safety and to his own political career. Have no other means of income Michael takes-up the offer and soon gets immersed with an array of odd people and many twists that ultimately finds him in the middle of a military coup.

This offbeat movie starts out strong, but eventually goes overboard. The original idea by screenwriter Denny Lawrence was to have an ex-cop working as a private investigator who takes on a case of a runaway daughter who joined a religious cult run by a charismatic charlatan that eventually lead to the deaths of many of its members. However, after the Jonestown massacre, which was led by religious cult leader Jim Jones, this idea got nixed and the plot, with the help of co-scripter Bob Ellis who wanted a more political bent, got turned into a completely different direction, which doesn’t work as well.

The whole idea of a parent hiring a down-and-out, aging guy to find his long lost daughter doesn’t make much sense. The father’s a rich senator with lots of connections, so why not use the resources of the police, or a more polished detective to do the searching instead of an old bum more focused on when his next drink will be? Had Michael’s actual job, like in the original script, been as an private investigator then maybe, but in this version Michael was a struggling writer, so why pay someone to do something that they had no practice in doing, or if they did it had been a seriously long time and someone else could’ve been found to do it better?

The protagonist is a lovable loser, a sort of anti-hero who was meant to be a modern-day Philip Marlowe, and the main reason that get me hooked into the movie right away especially with Barrett’s perfect portrayal that is both raw and funny at the same time. However, the supporting characters are dull. The is especially evident with the Senator’s daughter, which due to a case of mistaken identity, he ends up dealing with two different young women, but both of them are stereotyped and cliched to the extreme. The dialogue and conversational exchanges that they have with Michael are flat making these scenes the most boring part of the movie. Nothing is worse than a film that does a excellent job of creating a multi-faceted person in one area, but then cuts-corners with the rest making the viewer like they’ve gotten stuck with only half a movie.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic sequence, which involves an all-out military coup and lots of warfare-like action, is just too extreme and surreal especially for a story that starts out in a realistic vein. Much of the fault could be blamed on the two script writers with Lawrence wanting it to be a genre piece while Ellis preferring a more political take. The result is an imbalance that gets increasingly more wacky and implausible as it goes on until it becomes too cluttered to make much sense. Whatever statements the writers hoped to make here gets lost in the insanity and leaves the viewer feeling overwhelmed with all of the absurdity.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aborigine driven to murder.

Jimmy Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is an aborigine living in Australia during the turn of the century while being raised by the Reverend Neville (Jack Thompson) and his wife Martha (Julie Dawson) as his foster parents. Once he reaches adulthood he goes out into the world looking for a job, but finds racism at every turn, which affects his ability to make an honest living as he’s continually cheated out of wages by his white employers. While doing work for the Newby family he meets Gilda (Angela Punch McGregor) a white woman whom he marries after he thinks he got her pregnant only to later learn that the child was not his. Once the baby is born the Newby’s try to convince Gilda to leave Jimmy and refuse to pay him his salary or provisions for the work that he’s done. Furious at his mistreatment Jimmy enlists the help of his uncle Tabidghi (Steve Dodd) to threaten the Newby women with axes while the Newby men are away in hopes that this will scare them enough to pay Jimmy what he’s owed, but instead things get quickly out-of-control leading to the brutal slaughter of the women and forcing Jimmy and his family to go on the run.

The film is based on the 1972 novel of the same name by Thomas Keneally, which in turn was inspired by the life of Jimmy Governor an Indigenous Australian who was involved in the killings of nine people that precipitated him going on the run for 14-weeks and created one of the largest manhunts in Australian history. While the film did well internationally and was highly acclaimed it was received poorly at the box office in its native country where films dealing with Australia’s troubled history are generally avoided by the public causing director Fred Schepisi to lose his entire investment of the $250,000 that he put into the production.

The film though on its own terms is excellent particularly with its revisionist history approach where the gloss and romanticism of the past get stripped away leaving the viewer with a stark sense of the desperation and cruelty that existed back then. The terrific acting also helps including Lewis, who at the time was working as a bricklayer before being spotted by Schepisi’s wife at the Melbourne airport while he walked by her and this lead to him being given the starring role. Ray Barrett, as a corrupt constable and Punch McGregor, whose lost and forlorn facial expressions allow you to perfectly read her character without much dialogue being needed, are stand-outs as well. My favorite part though, or what resonated with me long afterwards, were the scenes filmed inside the Bundarra Dorrigo State Forest in New South Wales during the manhunt where the unique foliage and large boulders give off an almost surreal vibe.

Some of the issues that I had with the movie, which overall is quite good, centered mainly around its music. For the most part the score is subtle and nonobtrusive, but during the murder sequence it gets loud and obnoxious like it’s warning us something bad is happening, which we really don’t need since we can easily see this with our own eyes. The killings are recreated in a very vivid way and quiet horrifying, so the heavy-handed music hurts the graphic moment instead of accentuating it like it was intended. I also noticed while researching the real Jimmy Governor that he had a beard especially in the photo of him after his capture and yet here Jimmy has no beard even after being on the run, which seemed implausible.

The fact that we have a main character who commits several heinous acts, but we still emotionally side with him is what helps this movie stand-out from Hollywood films that feel compelled to makes protagonists likable to the point that they sanitize history. Here we’re shown that the ‘good-guy’ can do, even if they feel it’s justified, some ugly things and in the real-world the line between right and wrong can sometimes be merged and subjective. This is a message that Australian movies do a great job of conveying while Hollywood, in their zest to create ‘audience pleasers’ tend to modify the facts to conform to what they feel are the accepted pre-conceived narrative/tastes of the audience they’re trying to attract, which ends up creating a weaker product that doesn’t reflect reality.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 22, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Fred Schepisi

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Tubi

Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Custody battle between sisters.

When his mother dies just a few days after his birth PS (Nicholas Gledhill) moves in with his Aunt Lila (Robyn Nevin) and Uncle George (Peter Whitford). There he has a happy childhood growing up in a working-class neighborhood. Then Lila’s wealthy sister Vanessa (Wendy Hughes) arrives stating she wants custody of the child on weekdays since she has more money and because PS’s absentee father (John Hargreaves) named her as co-guardian. PS doesn’t like going to Vanessa’s as she’s much more rigid and authoritarian forcing him to go to a private school filled with snotty kids and doing other things like taking piano lessons, which he doesn’t like. Vanessa also suffers from a fear of thunderstorms while Lila and George are unemployed making it hard for the judge to decide who the better guardian should be once the battle goes to court.

The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name written by Sumner Locke Elliot who in turn based it on events of his own life after his mother died just one day after his birth. The film succeeds mainly from the sincere performance of its child star who is quite cute, at times maybe a little too cute, but then surprises the viewer in one completely unexpected moment of nastiness near the end. I also liked the way director Carl Schultz frames of the point-of-view shots where we see things from the child’s height making the adults appear foreboding and like he’s being swallowed up into their world, which is pretty much what happens.

While the film is billed as being this big court battle between two women it really comes-off like a character study of Vanessa, who gets much more screen time and a more of in-depth personality. This is good because Nevin’s character is a bit too basic and offers no real surprises though she does have an unexpected asthma attack while testifying in court, which I felt was a bit over-the-top since this was something that should’ve been introduced earlier if it was going to come into play during a pivotal moment. Hughes though is excellent. She had been only in supporting roles up to this point, mainly that of youthful girlfriend types to the main character, but here she successfully carries the film in an atypical part of a frigid woman.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s crowning achievement though is the way it takes a character, in this case Vanessa, who you really don’t like for most of the movie, and then turns her into someone you sympathize with and even feel sorry for by the end. A lot of movies don’t do this, especially the Hollywood ones where the good guys and bad guys must work within a rigid formula, so it’s refreshing seeing a film do something differently and it really works. I found myself thinking about this one long after it was over and feeling emotionally conflicted by it and it’s all because of Hughes’ ability to create a three dimensional person that doesn’t fit into any stereotype even though you initially think she can be. A highly recommended film for those who understand how difficult it can be to deal and communicate effectively with children and how one’s best efforts can sometimes backfire badly.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Newsfront (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life of a cameraman.

The story centers on the men and women who worked to bring Australian film audiences the latest footage of news events of the day during post World War II. It focuses on those working for a company called Cinetone, which is run by A. G. Marwood (Don Crosby), who’s a demanding boss who expects perfection in the product that he sends out as well as footage that is brought in. The movie also looks at the private lives of the crew including Len (Bill Hunter) whose brother Frank (Gerard Kennedy) works for a competitor as well as the advent of TV news, which eventually put the weekly news reels out of business since they could show the events live as they happened.

The film is unusual in that the first 15 minutes are in black-and-white looking much like the newsreel footage that is shown during the opening credits only to shift suddenly into color. It then goes back and forth between color and black-and-white at roughly 30-minute intervals where for a couple minutes the scene shifts to black-and-white for no apparent reason that I could find and then eventually back to color. I’m not sure what the significance of this was, but it’s a bit distracting and doesn’t help get the viewer into the story, but if anything drives them a bit away.

The plot is different too as it’s made up of small personal dramas versus one big one. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with this, but I did feel the conflicts should’ve been more tied to the newsreel profession, which the majority of it isn’t. For instance the story thread dealing with Len’s opposition to having an amendment added to the constitution barring affiliation with the communist party, which goes against the sentiments of the rest of the town, has nothing intrinsically to do with his camerawork and therefore didn’t seem necessary to the story. There’s also scenes dealing with his failing marriage and love affair with co-worker Amy (Wendy Hughes), which again could happen in any work place and seemed rather pedestrian.

There’s also other threads that I thought should’ve been played-out more. Len’s conflict with his assistant Chris (Chris Haywood) over his reluctance to get married to his girlfriend after he finds out she’s pregnant had potential for strong dramatic moments and it would’ve been interesting seeing them continue to work together despite the underlying tensions, but like with a lot of things in this movie, it gets briefly introduced and then quickly resolved. The same thing happens when Len is forced to work with a new assistant after Chris dies unexpectedly. It’s obvious during the short scene of the two in a car that there’s a big generational difference between them, which piqued my interest seeing if they could forge a working relationship despite these issues, but the film never goes back to it, which I found frustrating.

Overall it manages to be compelling nonetheless and much of it could be credited to actual newsreel footage that gets shown throughout. The violent ones that get shown at the start I found particularly riveting including the one where a race car careen out of control and drives right into the spectators, where it clearly injuries and kills many. I was almost hoping for a backstory to that one, but none is given yet it skillfully illustrates how vivid some of the newsreel footage was even after all of these years, which is the best point that the movie makes. I just wished the scenarios dealt more with the work aspect. In a lot of ways my favorite character was A.G. as I enjoyed the way he fretted about every little detail, was a classic chain smoker, and seemed married to his job. It’s a shame he didn’t stay on the whole way through as he was the type of obsessive guy you could’ve really built a movie around.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Roadshow Shows

Available: DVD, Tubi

The Chain Reaction (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear leak contaminates water.

A nuclear waste site in rural Australia becomes affected by an earthquake, which causes a leak that could contaminate the ground water for hundreds of miles. Heinrich (Ross Thompson), an engineer at the facility who was contaminated by the accident and has only 3-days to live, feels it’s his duty to warn others about what happened, but the company wants the matter to kept a secret. Heinrich manages to escape from the lab, but gets into an accident during a rainstorm on a lonely country road. It is here that he’s rescued by Larry (Steve Bisley) and his wife Carmel (Arna Maria Winchester) who live nearby and take him to their isolated home. Since Carmel has a nursing background she tries to take care of Heinrich at their house even though he now suffers from amnesia and cannot remember anything past 1957. The company though has already sent out a search party looking for him and proceed to terrorize all three once they find them.

The film is a slickly shot sci-fi epic that in many ways seems similar to Mad Maxand in fact both films shared many of the same crew members and this even has a cameo by Mel Gibson who appears briefly as a bearded auto mechanic. The camera captures things in a vivid way and the sharp editing keeps the story moving at a fast pace.

While the plot gets smartly handled and I did find the two main characters to be a bit out-of-place particularly Larry whose outfits and hairstyle look almost campy. The two also don’t have an every day quality about them. Thrillers like these are more exciting when the hero is just a regular person with no special skills and yet still forced to beat insurmountable odds, which is unlike Larry who has expert driving skills and owns a trendy sports car with a souped-up engine.

The way the couple rescue the victim, who they don’t know, by taking him back to their place instead of to a hospital was odd too. Carmel has nursing experience, but not the medicines or equipment that you’d find in a medical facility. They also seem unusually trusting by allowing the man to sleep in one of their bedrooms while they sleep in an adjacent one, but don’t bother to lock their door with the wife lying openly nude for the stranger to just walk-in and attack, or gawk at since there’s a window in the hallway to the room, without any restraint.

The film is noted for its car chases, but they only make up a small fraction of the runtime. One occurs for a few minutes during the second act and then there’s another one at the very end. Both are quite exciting and had me sitting on the edge of my seat with the camera showing things from the driver’s point-of-view and many times through the cracked glass of the windshield making you feel like you’re in the car as it happens. However, I was disappointed that they’re weren’t more of them and both chases take place on the same road and essentially go through the same stunts both times.

Spoiler Alert!

The wrap-up is a bit too quick. For such a nifty, well designed and well crafter set-up I was expecting things to get played-out further. There is though the irony of having a helicopter appear with a news crew that captures the chase when it’s over with the idea that now that the news media is on top of it the truth will get out and everything will be resolved. This though is a far cry from the way things are here in this day-and-age where the media is not trusted by many and having them report on something, even a big story such as this, could only make things worse instead of better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ian Barry

Studio: Palm Beach Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 0)

Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lonely girl meets spaceship.

Shirley Thompson (Jane Harders) is an alienated young adult living in 1956 Australia who one day makes contact with a group of aliens. It happens while her and her biker gang sneak into Luna Park after dark, which is a amusement place for children and when they go into after it’s closed they can go on the rides for free. It’s while doing this that Shirley sees a spaceship and starts communicating with it while the rest of the gang gets scared and leaves. The aliens within the ship tell her that they plan on invading earth and it’s up to her to warn the others of their intent, but if she does it right they’ll reward her with ‘power’, which is what she’s always wanted as she’s felt insignificant otherwise. The aliens then produce a massive rain storm that creates much damage and then the next day they interrupt a radio broadcast to proclaim what they’ve done, but no one believes them especially Shirley’s parents (Marion Jones, John Llewellyn) who thinks it’s a joke. Everyone else responds to Shirley’s alien warnings like she’s a kook, which ends up getting her committed to the mental institution where she then recounts her tale to a cynical staff.

This is the first feature length movie directed by Jim Sharman better known to American audiences for having helmed Rocky Horror Picture Show and to Australians for his work in experimental theater of which he is highly regarded. This film works in line with many of his other Avant Garde efforts where the emphasis is more on the imagery than the story. For mainstream audiences though it may be considered inaccessible as it bucks all areas of conventional storytelling including having it alternate between black and white and color with each scene. There’s also very little dialogue with the focus more on mood. The film does have its share of interesting moments, but how much one appreciates it is completely up to one’s own temperament.

I was struck by how similar the theme was to Sharman’s later film The Night, The Prowler with both movies dealing with an alienated young adult woman still living at home with her parents who feels that no one can understand her and has inner anger/disdain at the world around her. It also has shades of Liquid Skywhich came out 11 years later and dealt with a young woman who befriends some aliens, but instead of being scared of them like everyone else she has a special connection to them and feels as much like a stranger on this planet as they do.

If you’re looking for a typical sci-fi flick then you’ll be sorely disappointed as you won’t even end up seeing any aliens or spaceships. I’m not sure if this was due to budgetary restraints, but in any event the camera stays fully locked on Shirley and becomes more of a satire on life in the burbs and in that regard it succeeds. While not a perfect movie it does have its share of memorable moments especially the ending where Shirley gets strapped to a spinning hospital bed while laughing maniacally.  Why I found this part to be so cool I don’t know, but that’s how the movie works. You either go with the flow or you don’t, but those who are game may find it a fun ride. It’s certainly different than anything you’ll find released today and could only have been made in the early 70’s.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: Kolossal Piktures

Available: None

Hoodwink (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be blind.

Martin (John Hargreaves) is in jail for bank robbery and with very little chance for escape he comes up with the idea of pretending to be blind, which he hopes will gain sympathy from the court and ultimately a lighter sentence. The con eventually pays off as he’s transferred to a minimum security prison with only a 3-year sentence to serve even though the Dr.’s who examine him are unable to determine if he’s faking or not and the guards within the prison believe he’s making it up and routinely set traps for him to fall into hoping it will will expose the lie. Things though get complicated when Sarah (Judy Davis), a minister’s wife, takes a liking to him, which allows him to leave the prison grounds during the day, so that he can, under her tutelage, learn to become self-sufficient with his handicap so that he’ll be prepared to live on his own in the real-world once he’s formally released. The two though fall-in-love causing her jealous husband (Dennis Miller) to threaten to come forward with Martin’s charade, which could put him in terrible jeopardy.

To some extent it’s hard to believe this could’ve happened, but it’s all based on the true story of Carl Synnerdahl, who was able to fool everyone that he couldn’t see for over 18 months while inside the Australian penal system and it allowed him, like with Martin, to be given special privileges that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. What perplexed me though was that testing someone’s so-called blindness should’ve been easy as you could act like you’re going to poke you’re finger into his eye real quickly and if he’d blink, or recoil his head, then you’d know he was able to see it and was a faker, and yet no one in this movie thinks to do that.

If you’re able to get past this issue, then it’s a fun movie most of the way. I liked the scenes shot at Bathurst Jail, the same prison that Synnderdahl was in, that has a very old-time jailhouse look and quality. I also enjoyed the sumptuous, sprawling countryside view from Sarah’s living room window that could beat or rival any one else’s. That acting is great too with Hargreaves able to create, despite all of his shenanigans, a sympathetic character. Davis though is the scene-stealer, she won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Supporting Actress, as the sexually repressed wife who’s in constant flux about whether she wants to leave her situation, or stay faithful.

The drama though becomes less compelling when Martin almost immediately admits his ruse to Sarah, who then goes forward with it to her husband even though I thought him trying to pretend he was still blind with them in their house could’ve created some interesting dynamics that unfortunately never get played-out. The affair and her husband’s jealous rage is toned down instead of ramped-up causing the third act, which should’ve had a lot of fireworks, to fizzle. The couple had vast potential to being key players, but instead get treated more like ornaments that don’t throw as much of a monkey wrench into the proceedings as they should’ve, or that you’re expecting.

Spoiler Alert!

The conclusion, which is far different than what occurred in the real-life incident, has Martin stealing a car and escaping, but this leaves too many questions unanswered. Will he eventually get caught, which is most likely, and what happens to him then when the prison system finds out that they had been duped? These issues should’ve been examined and leaving it wide-open isn’t satisfying and I suspect the reason that lead to it doing poorly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claude Whatham

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)