Tag Archives: Judy Davis

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

High Tide (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother meets estranged daughter.

Lillie (Judy Davis) is living on the very edge of show business life working as a backup singer to an Elvis impersonator (Frankie J. Holden). Her lackluster behavior gets her fired and she finds herself without money or shelter. She moves to a trailer home park and begins drinking heavily and it is here while in a drunken state in the public bathroom that she meets Ally (Claudia Karvan). Ally is a 13-year-old girl living with Bet (Jan Adele) who is the mother of Ally’s father who died when she was just an infant. At first Lillie doesn’t know that Ally is actually her daughter, which she gave up at birth. When Bet realizes that Lillie is in the area she warns her not to go near Ally, but Ally and Lillie manage to find ways to get together anyways and form a rapport, but without Ally knowing the deep, dark secret between them. Once she does find out the two must learn to fight through the awkward and emotional state that the tumultuous new awareness creates.

Originally the script called for Lille’s character to be a man meeting up with his lost teen daughter that he had abandoned years earlier, but director Gillian Armstrong felt this had been done before and at her husband’s suggestion changed the lead into a female. In many ways this was a better idea as women are better able to reveal their emotions creating some very strong, heartfelt scenes between them that ultimately makes for a very powerful film.

Many reviewers have expounded on Davis’ performance and she does give a strong one particularly the way her character is put through some very demeaning situations, but still managing to come through them holding her head high and keeping the viewer empathetic to her. Karvan though is quite good too with a beautiful photogenic face that can display an array of emotions with very little effort and who’s likable enough that you’re able to bond with her immediately.

The story progresses casually and at first you have no idea what links these three women as the film intercuts between them in separate situations with no idea where the connecting point is, which to some extent doesn’t grab the viewer in. I did though like the way it captured the nightclub atmosphere showing how for many it temporarily opened the door for their lost and fleeting dreams by having Bet get onstage and sing to a captive audience at a talent contest during the evening only to cutaway showing her back on her drudgery job of driving an ice cream truck the following day.

Once the secret becomes clear the story gets more interesting with the dialogue between the mother and daughter quite compelling. There is however, a long lull during the second act where Lilly intentionally stays away from Ally, which I found frustrating. The main interest of the film is seeing the two working things out together and getting through the guilt and bitterness of the past and at times there’s not enough of that.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act features Ally deciding to go out on the road with Lillie, but to me this thing seemed too precipitous since the two had only begun to get to know each other, why would a young teen, even if she was unhappy in her current situation, want to start living with someone she really didn’t know if she could get along with? This situation also opens up a whole variety of new tangents: like how are the two going to survive with Lillie’s limited job skills and where would they live? I felt this situation should’ve been introduced in the second act and explored much more. Personally I don’t think things would’ve worked out and at the very least brought on, despite their best intentions, a lot of stress and disagreement before it might’ve gotten better. This is something the viewer needed to see though there’s still plenty of nice rewards nonetheless.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: VHS

Heatwave (1982)

heatwave 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting to save homes.

Stephen (Richard Moir) is an English architect employed by Robert (Bill Hunter) to construct a massive high-rise building in downtown Sydney that will be financed by Peter (Chris Haywood). However, the construction will require the demolition of several row houses and the eviction of those living in them. Kate (Judy Davis) takes up the cause by protesting the development and along with Mary Ford (Carole Skinner) are able to get a temporary block on the building project by getting the local builder’s union to instill a green ban. Stephen tries to fight this by attending the group’s meetings and airing out his side of the issue, but in the process finds himself more and more sympathetic to the residence especially when he finds out that Peter isn’t a completely honorable businessman and has no plans to use Stephen’s building design at all. When Mary mysteriously disappears he joins forces with Kate to try and find her only to unearth even more troubling and dark revelations along the way.

This film is based on a true-life incident and one of two movies made about it with the other one being The Killing of Angel Street, which will be reviewed here next month. The real-life event centers on Juanita Nielsen (1937-1975) who took up the anti-development cause when it was found that her home was pegged to be demolished in order to make way for three high-rise buildings in the Victoria Street neighborhood of Sydney. Her efforts managed to delay the project for three years, but the developer eventually became impatient and hired men to harass the residents who were trying to stop it and in the process kidnapped Nielsen even though her body has never been found and no one has ever been convicted of her murder.

The film here depicts Nielsen through the fictional character of Mary Ford, but what surprised me was that Ford is not the central person. Instead we only see her briefly at the beginning before she disappears and is generally forgotten while writer/director Phillip Noyce adds other fictional characters and story lines around her, which wasn’t as interesting as the actual case and I’m not sure why they didn’t just stick with the facts.

However, this still a highly intriguing thoroughly riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the beginning. Part of what I liked about it is the way it shows things from the different perspective of the various characters while bringing out the myriad of complexities where nothing is black-and-white and no one is completely right or completely wrong. The viewer gets torn about whose side to be on, but fascinated with each new rapid-fire twist that comes about.

There are definite shades of L’Avventura here where a main character disappears and is essentially forgotten until it seems almost like she had never existed in the first place. The script offers no easy answers and instead shows in vivid and almost brutal detail how taxing and frustrating fighting for social change can be and the hopelessness one feels when they realize that all of their efforts may have made little or no difference.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD (PAL, Region 0)

The Ref (1994)

The ref

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not in holiday spirit.

Gus (Denis Leary) is a burglar who takes a bickering couple (Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis) hostage and soon learns to regret it especially when the rest of the family comes over for a Christmas celebration and he is thrust into the middle of all of their squabbling.

The film starts off with a real bang as it takes a lot of satirical pot shots at marriage counseling, people who dress up like Santa, family parties, suburbia, bickering couples, and of course the holiday season itself. Christine Baranski is top-rate as the sarcastic mother and it is unfortunate she wasn’t given more screen time. Even her kids are funny. Glynis Johns is also excellent as Spacey’s mother. She takes command of her scenes even when star Dennis Leary can’t. For her age she looks fantastic and it is nice to see an older actress playing a character that isn’t just used as a throwaway device for senile jokes and aging.

However, star Leary can’t seem to act, at least not here. He shot to fame with his dark and edgy stand- up routines, but here falls into a character that is much too watered down and benign. This was supposed to be his vehicle, but in the end it seems like his character wasn’t even necessary. Baranski’s character is far more funny and memorable even though she has much less screen time.

Spacey and Davis don’t click as a couple. They share no chemistry and their bickering seems strained and contrived. The film also falls too far away from its original premise. Having a two-bit crook dealing with a bickering couple at first seems like a funny concept, but then the story starts to delve much too deeply into their personal problems until it becomes like a family drama that isn’t at all amusing or entertaining.

The film has a few funny bits, but not enough to sustain it the whole way. Leary is very weak in the lead and this thing completely loses steam by the end.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1994

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Demme

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video