Category Archives: Movies from Australia

Lady, Stay Dead (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman obsesses over singer.

Gordon (Chard Hayward) works as a handyman and is treated poorly by his boss Marie (Deborah Coulls), a famous singer/actress, who routinely berates him as if he were a second-class citizen. Secretly Gordon fantasizes about having sex with her and one day breaks into her home and rapes her. Afterwards he drowns her by shoving her head into a fish tank. When her elderly neighbor Bill (Les Foxcroft) spots Gordon trying to discard her body he then kills him too and his dog, but Gordon fails to realize that Jenny (Louise Howitt), who is Marie’s older sister, is coming for a visit. When she arrives she quickly catches-on to what’s happening and proves to be a formidable challenge to Gordon, who wants to do to her exactly what he did to her sister.

The film was written and directed by Terry Bourke, who was credited with doing the very first horror movie in Australia, Night of Fear, which many consider a precursor to The Texas Chain Saw Massacreand this made him a horror guru in the Down Under and eventually lead to him making this one. This movie is unique in that it’s the first slasher film released in Australia and received okay reviews simply for its production values, which was a step above most other slasher pics.

Initially I was intrigued with the concept as it captures Gordon’s point-of-view and even sympathizes with him over his mistreatment by the callous Marie. It almost seemed to be playing-off the same idea of another Australian cult-hit The Plumberwhere a working-class male takes his animosity out on a female who he believes looks down on him. Had the movie stuck with this idea it could’ve been interesting and I was fascinated to see how both character’s behaviors and insights into each other would evolve as the scenario progressed, but this gets ruined by having Marie killed-off too soon.

Having her sister Jenny, who in no way looks anything like Marie even though they’re supposed to be related, become the main victim is not compelling and the story devolves from being a potentially compelling psychological flick into that of your standard cardboard thriller. Had Jenny, not knowing that Gordon was her sister’s killer initially, fallen in-love with him, could’ve lent a unique twist and might’ve saved it, but it doesn’t go in this direction either. Ultimately I was unsure why the opening bit involving Marie was even needed as it could’ve just started with Jenny as the target of the obsessed handyman and gotten played-out in exactly the same way.

The script also suffers from plot-points being too loosely connected. There’s no cyclical structure like with most stories where what see in the first act connects with what happens later. Instead characters and events get thrown in haphazardly with only the loosest of threads holding it together. The random policemen, played by Roger Ward, jumping in and becoming a major part of the action in the third-act, is a good example of this. Why not have this part played by Billy, the helpful elderly neighbor, who like with Marie gets offed too soon until you wonder why he and Marie were even in it at all.

Spoiler Alert!

The double-ending where you think the policeman has killed Gordon, but really hasn’t was no surprise at all. It’s also impossible to believe that Gordon would’ve been able to drive a squad car around while hunched beneath the dashboard and unable to look a window to see where he was going. Also, the title itself makes no sense as Marie never comes-back to life, so what the meaning of ‘stay dead’ is I don’t know.

Overall the script is too unfocused making what starts out original end-up being quite formulaic and forgettable although the segment where Gordon uses a chainsaw to cut a hole in the front door is genuinely creepy particularly the sound it makes as he does it, which is the only scary moment.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Director: Terry Bourke

Studio: Ryntare Productions

Available: DVD

Mouth to Mouth (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two teen girl runaways.

Carrie (Kim Krejus) and Jeanie (Sonia Peat) are two friends living in a juvenile detention center when one of them gets accused of stealing an item. Angered that they’ve been accused of doing something that they didn’t they escape into the night and onto the streets of Melbourne. They manage for find shelter in an abandoned factory building that also has an elderly homeless man named Fred (Walter Pym) living there whom they befriend. They find employment as servers in a cafe and that’s where they meet Tim (Ian Gilmour) and Sergio (Serge Frazzetto) who are two young men who have come to the city looking for employment. They girls bring them back to the factory building and the four create a makeshift home, but Carrie and Jeannie are not happy with the wages that they’re making nor having to shoplift on the side to make ends-meet. Carrie sees an ad in the paper for escorts and convinces Jeannie to join her as they’ll be able to make much more money doing that. Jeannie is reluctant at first, but eventually goes along with it, but after doing it for awhile Carrie becomes increasingly depressed, which eventually leads to her illicit drug use.

Initially I wasn’t excited to watch this as I’d seen many teen runaway movies before and failed to see what new perspective they could put on that would make it interesting, but I was surprised how very compelling it is. A lot of credit for this goes to writer/director John Duigan’s script, which has a nice conversational quality and the characters react the way real teens do where they never articulate how they really feel and go to great lengths to mask their true feelings. The setting, particularly the abandoned building is made all the more stark as a real one was used and not just some prop built on a movie set, which really hits home the kind of squalor some people will be willing to put-up with if their desperate enough and similar to the living conditions in the British film Rita, Sue, and Bob Too. 

Despite the actors having little or no acting experience they manage to give compelling performances and much of this was helped by having the cast room in a house for 2-weeks before the shooting started, which allowed them to bond with each other as well as refined their characters and rehearse their lines until it became almost natural to them. 

The script originally had more of a light-hearted tone, but after 14 rewrites it took on a harsher subject matter as director Duigan wanted to bring to life people that a middle-class movie audience only sees as ‘numbers on unemployment figures, or kids in juvenile court’ and in that regard it’s well-made. The ending is particularly gut-wrenching, but not surprising and yet I was very moved by it and it stayed with me long after it was over. 

On the complaints side it would’ve been nice to have had Fred come-up to their loft to either dinner with the four and see more how he interacted with them. The girls invite him, but he refuses, but for the sake of character development he should’ve agreed. The escort scenes only show Jeannie interacting with her client, but not Carrie with hers, which I found frustrating. Carrie is never seen visiting with her father either during the brief scene when she returns home as he’s not there, but having a conversation between the two could’ve been quite revealing. The film also features a great song entitled “The More You Love the Harder You Fall”, but no credits are given for who sings it, which is a shame.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated M (Australian Movie Rating)

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Victorian Film Cororation

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

Emoh Ruo (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New house falls apart.

Terri (Joy Smithers) is tired of living in a trailer and begs her husband Des (Martin Sacks) to finally buy a house, so they can live in the burbs and be a part of the middle-class dream. After saving up enough money they put a down payment on a brand new home, but the home begins to have a lot of problems. Both Terri and Des are forced to work longer hours at their jobs in order to keep up with the bills. What seemed like a dream at first soon turns into a nightmare making living in a trailer, which they initially hated, now seem like a good idea.

This film has a lot of similarities to Steven Spielberg’s The Money Pit, which came out a year later, but this one is more amusing, at least at the beginning. Spielberg’s film, which was directed by Richard Benjamin, was too cartoonish and silly and failed to make any broader statement other than wild comical antics. This one takes more of a satirical approach and shows how suburban life may not be as great as advertised and in some ways just plain not worth it. One of the funnier moments is when Terri gets home from her overnight job and the second she walks through the door immediately falls to the floor in exhaustion while her tired husband, who’s getting ready to go to his second job, steps over her while going out the door without so much as giving her a greeting.

I did like too that this movie doesn’t immediately go over-the-top with the problems of the home repairs. The Money Pit, in my opinion, ruined things by having everything go wonky right from the start, which didn’t allow for any buildup while this one keeps the tension by showing things not working as they should and making you interested in seeing if it’s going to get worse. The nightmarish elements aren’t just isolated to the home either as their son Jack (Jack Ellis) must put up with bullies at his new school and the couple also deals with nosy, meddling neighbors.

I was surprised by the abundance of nudity, at least during the first act, which is something you’d never see in a Hollywood movie, where nudity is usually only shown in film’s aimed at adults, or with adult themes, instead of a movie like this that would otherwise be perfect for the general public. I’m not sure exactly why director Denny Lawrence decided to put it in as it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot and could’ve easily been left out, but I can only presume that because Australia is a more secular country they’re less uptight about showing skin and therefore don’t worry, or fear, that putting it into a movie, even one as otherwise innocuous as this, will be a problem, or get backlash.

What I didn’t like though was Joy Smithers as the mother. While she certainly looks beautiful, both with her clothes on and off, she was, at age 22, too young to be portraying a suburban mother of a 10-year-old child. Her acting was problematic too especially her scenes where she’s supposed to be upset that doesn’t convey the subtle comic element that a better actress could’ve brought out.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act, outside of seeing an outrageous looking BBQ pit built by the husband, fails to have much of a payoff. Many of the problems with the house never get properly addressed. For instance the shower knobs blow off the wall and spew streams of water everywhere, but the film cuts away without showing how they managed to get it under control. Having the entire house ultimately collapse isn’t impressive either as it looks too much like a prop house made of cardboard instead of brick and mortar.

I was disappointed too that the dark comical edge gets lost with a sitcom-styled wrap-up that seemed to lose complete sight of the main point, which ultimately makes the film as a whole quite transparent and forgettable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Denny Lawrence

Studio: Palm Beach Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 4 Import)

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