Tag Archives: Australian

CAPSULE: THE COCA-COLA KID (1985)

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DIRECTED BY: Dušan Makavejev

FEATURING: Eric Roberts, Greta Scacchi, Bill Kerr, Chris Haywood, Rebecca Smart

PLOT: A Coca-Cola executive travels to Australia to find out why the signature product has failed to penetrate one remote outpost in the country; Along the way, he crosses swords with an unexpectedly fierce competitor, adapts to down-under culture shock, and tries to cope with his distractingly quirky secretary.

Still from The Coca-Cola Kid (1985)

COMMENTS: Eric Roberts was young once. I mean, so were we all, but the lies we tell ourselves about the aging process are revealed more starkly in the cinema. So here he is: young, blond, rosy-cheeked, oozing alright-alright charm and boasting a Georgia accent you can spread on toast. So even though his mononymous character Becker is an ex-Marine who is called upon to be the face of all-consuming American capitalism, exploiting local culture and obliterating competitiveness for the benefit of a rapacious corporation, the thought that kept coming back to me was, “My goodness, who knew Eric Roberts was pretty?”

The gorgeousness of Eric Roberts is undoubtedly a strategy. If Satan is, as some contend, actually a ravishing beauty who lures the weak and unsuspecting, then the Coca-Cola Company is clearly cast here in the role of Satan, parlaying their sweet acidity, bold red branding scheme, and co-option of Santa Claus into world dominance. So it’s tempting at the outset to expect an Outback-themed take on Local Hero, in which our protagonist is confronted by an idyllic way of life that is literally foreign to his make-a-buck existence.

But The Coca-Cola Kid really isn’t into Becker, or even Coke, as avatars of our consumer culture. Far from embodying the worst traits of the faceless money monster, Becker is confused and aimless. He goes through the motions of using the latest marketing techniques to bring down his competitors, but his heart really isn’t in it. He barely seems to be into anything: he doesn’t particularly enjoy his own product any further than its saleable qualities, his approach to the alien landscape in which he has landed is purely functional, and his proto-manic pixie secretary Terri only manages to irritate him until she finally lures him into bed. (Even Becker’s sexuality is uncommitted; he seems equally baffled by Terri’s entreaties and by a series of aggressive same-sex come-ons at a party.) Aside from Terri’s grammar-school-aged daughter, the only person Becker seems to understand at all is his opponent.

Cue Becker’s foe: T. George McDowell, the biggest fish in a very small pond and a man with an oversized sense of his ability to compete with an industry juggernaut. He has steadfastly resisted Coke’s incursion into the region in favor of his own line of sodas, and it emerges that the whole enterprise is borne out of an “if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em” brand of revenge for the loss of his wife, a Mississippi-born Coke ad model whom he married and lost over his obsessions. (“She never understood the ice,” he reminisces.) Far from being a wide-eyed innocent from the sticks, McDowell fancies himself a global tycoon and Coke’s equal. It leads to an inevitable showdown between a man who thinks he has all the power and a man who knows he does.

The result is ultimately tragic. McDowell is utterly out of his league. There’s no competing with a behemoth, and the contrast is best dramatized in their marketing strategies. A trio of homely cheerleaders can’t hold a candle to pop of half-a-dozen Coke-bearing Santas, and McDowell’s homespun musical ditty is blown out of the room by the absolute banger of a jingle that Tim Finn has concocted.

But all the while, there’s this strange effort to graft a love story onto the film, and while everyone is slowly being crushed by capitalism’s iron boot, it’s in the romance where Dušan Makavejev seems to be trying the hardest to be Dušan Makavejev. The mix of rapacious capitalism and cheeky eroticism feels a little like he was trying to make a more audience-friendly version of his own Sweet Movie. (A genuinely well-crafted sex scene on a feather bed is a first cousin to the earlier film’s romp in sugar.) But he doesn’t seem any more focused than his characters. It’s a mark of how clueless Becker is that the stunningly sexy Greta Scacchi has to work so hard to get his attention, but it’s also curious how haphazard and clumsy Terri’s advances are. She holds a deep (and plotty) secret, but its revelation ultimately doesn’t have much impact on the choices characters must make. It’s just sort of there.

The Coca-Cola Kid has a very Australian soul, exuding a powerful “don’t worry, mate” vibe. Perhaps that’s the weirdest thing about it: in the face of themes like conquering capitalism, cultural homogeneity, and the overwhelming nature of love, the approach it settles on is, “Relax and go with it.” Maybe it’s a sensible approach, but it robs the film of immediacy and power. It just doesn’t feel like the real thing.

Fun City Editions released The Coca-Cola Kid to Blu-ray for the first time in June 2022.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Clearly made as a more commercial effort and with a recognizable ‘name actor’ in the lead role, it lacks a lot of the weirdness that made some of his earlier work as compelling as it is, yet still remains a really entertaining and clever picture that’s worth checking out. Makavejev’s tendencies to point out the absurd and to work strange, offbeat humor into his work still shines through…” Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)

ALL THE HAUNTS BE OURS: A COMPENDIUM OF FOLK HORROR

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Severin Films. 15 disc set.

“Folk Horror” is a buzzword that has blossomed over the past decade to become a marketing phrase. It brings to mind things British, pagan and ancient/medieval, usually in that order. This makes for a nice narrow niche to categorize and sell to the audience; if a film has certain elements that are on the checklist checked off, it’s officially Folk Horror®.  The genre even has its Unholy Trinity: The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General. Of course, with some digging, we find that there’s a lot more to the subject to beyond those tentpoles.

It’s a massive subject tackle, and we’re fortunate that the person taking it on is Kier-la Janisse (film-programmer/editor; founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Stories; author of “House of Psychotic Women“) with Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021), a 192 minute documentary serving as a primer/immersion into Folk Horror. It’s the foundation for “All The Haunts Be Ours,” a massive boxs et with 19 feature films (some making their debut on Blu-ray) and tons of bonus material. In short, this is a college semester course compressed into 15 discs; and although it’s pricey, it’s a lot less than what one would be paying for an actual college class. This is the most ambitious box set  that Severin Films has done to date—and they’ve done collections of Al Adamson, Christopher Lee’s European Films, and Andy Milligan in just the past three years!

Woodlands (the first disc in the set, also available as a standalone release) comprehensively examines Folk Horror, beginning with its roots in folklore and literature and moving into film, starting with that Unholy Trinity and other British films, plus television programs like “The Owl Service,” “Children of the Stones,” “Doctor Who,” and the work of Nigel Kneale. The documentary then shifts to North America, examining it by region: New England (Washington Irving, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King); the South (influences of folk music and Evangelicalism), and the West (Native American lore). After that, the film goes global, focusing on horror in Eastern Europe, Australia, Japan, and Brazil, addressing a lot of films you’ve heard of (Viy, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and the Coffin Joe movies, to name just a few), along with many more that you probably haven’t.

For a 3+ hour documentary, you don’t feel the time drag, and you’ll spend a lot of time afterwards Google-searching availability of titles. Even though it’s a deep dive into the subject, it also feels like it’s just scratching the surface and not even close to being the Last Word in Folk Horror. The subject is thoroughly examined, and even though you could walk away with some sort of definition, “Folk Horror” doesn’t seem “defined” in a way that traps it in a box. It’s a fluid term Continue reading ALL THE HAUNTS BE OURS: A COMPENDIUM OF FOLK HORROR

SPECIAL THANKSGIVING DAY CAPSULTACULAR: TURKEY SHOOT (1982)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Olivia Hussey,

PLOT: Hapless free-thinkers are hunted for sport by a merciless regime in a dystopian future.

COMMENTS: Newsreel footage of chaotic societal collapse sets the backstory. The sanitized opulence of a knick-knack shop shows the good life. A helpless reprobate crashes onto the scene, pursued by fascist goons, to introduce the conflict. And the whaaaamming tones of the synth score let you know: this is Dystopian ’80s Country—in the bleak future year of 1995.

“Freedom is Obedience; Obedience is Work; and Work is Life”: remember that. And “the Program has been devised for your own good.” The re-education camps are bursting to full, as deviants continue to rebel against the benevolent authorities. Charles Thatcher (no relation) oversees his patch with effete tyranny, making life hard to hellish for his wards, particularly defiant manly-man Paul Anders and confused gentlewoman Chris Walters. But it’s not all bad at the camp: “promiscuity among deviants, while not encouraged, is permitted within reason.” But “Unbreakable” Anders won’t be taking his punishment lying down.

The man at the film’s helm is good, as evidenced by his snappy introduction to the world within and throughout. In the space of a few minutes he builds tension with style when the Radio Freedom DJ is surrounded, then apprehended, by the police state’s state police: a medium shot on a man with the microphone, speechifying on the abuses by the authorities, interspersed with low-height camera shots of the weapons and waistlines of the approaching enforcers, utterly dehumanizing the villains. The director fleshes out the world he has built with incidental dialogue, such as details concerning the oddly egalitarian punishment for pregnancy amongst the inmates: both responsible parties are sterilized. An odd touch that suggests this dystopia is at least gender-equitable.

Trenchard-Smith would go on to direct the better (and odder) Dead End Drive-In (which actually uses footage from Turkey Shoot), recycling the premise to craft a far more compelling and nuanced experience. Of course, he’d also go on to direct a fair number of straight-to-video movies of highly questionable quality. (*Ahem*, Leprechaun 3 and Leprechaun 4: In Space.) Above all else, Trenchard-Smith’s career is the story of a man who can ably execute whatever project is thrown his way,  and bring it in under budget. In this case, it managed both to recoup its outlay and become something of a cult favorite. It treads a fine line: campy premise with commendable execution, alongside hammy acting interspersed with suave performances. I recommend you dig in, as this movie ain’t no turkey.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“All in all though, the movie is a lot of fun… chock full of the kind of violence that exploitation fans know and love. Inmates are impaled with arrows and then run over, guards find themselves on the receiving end of some grisly battering ram type weapons, limbs are severed, torsos explode, and an implied lesbian rape scene is thrown in just for good measure.” -Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!

CAPSULE: DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986)

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DIRECTED BY: Brian Trenchard-Smith

FEATURING: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford

PLOT: After two of his tires are jacked at a drive-in theatre, Jimmy finds himself trapped in the car lot with his girlfriend and hundreds of society’s rejects.

COMMENTS: It’s a glorious thing to randomly stumble into a movie and find out that it’s Australian. This pleasant surprise was augmented by an error on the part of the video streaming service, which claimed that Dead End Drive-In was from 2011. I was awed at how the filmmakers had captured everything about New Wave dystopian aesthetics a quarter century after the fact. When I saw the copyright date at the end of the credits I was somewhat disappointed, but also relieved. (“That makes a whole lot more sense,” my brain acknowledged.) Still and all, it Brian Trenchard-Smith’s “ozploitation” picture is a helluva lotta fun.

Trenchard-Smith was the brains behind Turkey Shoot, another “society collapses, and here’s a mess of violence” film, set in the post-apocalyptic year 1995. It hasn’t gotten as bad by the time Dead End Drive-In takes place, but it’s getting there. Jimmy (Ned Manning) is a wiry weenie of a guy who wishes his rough, tough brother would let him in on his lucrative towing business. Car parts are a hot commodity, so whenever a car gets smashed up, the first wrecker on the scene gets the bounty. Jimmy borrows his brother’s ’57 Chevy to take his sheila to the Star Drive-In for a movie and sex, during which the passenger-side wheels are swiped. Jimmy is informed by the fatherly drive-in operator that, no, he’s not going anywhere. Ever.

The misfit milieu found within this open-air prison (which doubles, nightly, as a drive-in theatre) is everything one could hope for from a mid-’80s assemblage of the best deadbeats society has on offer. Transvestites, drug users, vandals, welfare bums… I put these all in the same list not to cast any particular judgment or insinuate moral comparability, but because they all fit in the slot that button-down 80s traditionalists would consider “undesirable.” However, they’ve formed a raucous-but-welcoming society within this prison. There are occasional brawls, sure, but there’s a camaraderie, as evidenced by the freely intermingling coteries and the pick-up games of cricket.

Dead End Drive-In‘s camera work is worlds better than should be expected for a B-movie actioner. An early foreshadowing shot of a jogging Jimmy beautifully frames him behind a chainlink fence, the center demarcated by two perfectly placed tail-fin cars. The “Star Drive-In” first appears in a postcard-worthy frame. And a low shot of a police van approaching a cockerel on the lot captures the startled bird as it is flanked by the moving vehicle tires.

My one criticism of the film would be its strangely shoe-horned social commentary. When a convoy of Asian prisoners arrives at the drive-in, the locals immediately get riled up and speechify about the intruders. Obviously the director is trying to say something, but it’s both a little unclear (is all “white trash” racist?) and over-the-top (everyone but our hero immediately goes from zero to vicious in their racist mania). Regardless, Dead End Drive-In is a wonderful diversion filled with New Wave classics, gratifying camerawork, and Australians.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a doozy of an Ozploitation piece packaged with crazy characters, bizarre situations and solid action.”–Ian Jane, DVD Talk (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by “dirty_score.”  Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

SLAMDANCE 2021: APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: A FAMILY (2019)

Родина

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jayden Stevens

FEATURING: Pavlo Lehenkyi, Liudmyla Zamidra

PLOT: Emerson hires a cast of amateurs to play his family in his home movies, but a walkout derails his ambitions.

COMMENTS: “Protagonist” describes A Family‘s leading man on only a technical level. (Even the term “leading man” lends him a bit too much weight.) Emerson is in his late 40s (I’m guessing) and has no real family to speak of (I’m guessing). I’m guessing a lot because other than what’s shown on screen, there is no backstory for this oddball—a man who appears to be one bad day away from becoming Erwin Leder’s serial killer in Angst. If you’re looking for an awkward “family” comedy, nothing could be more apt than Stevens’ feature debut.

Located just before the cutoff for “antisocial” on the personality spectrum, Emerson (Pavlo Lehenkyi, channeling some sort of After Last Season dramatic persona) is a perfectionist with a knack for inept communication. The affable folks he’s hired to play his “father”, “mother”, and “brother” all try their best (the “brother’s” scripted reaction to his Christmas gift, “A puzzle! Seven-hundred-and-fifty pieces!”, is picture-perfect over-enthusiasm), but the newly cast “sister”, Olga (Liudmyla Zamidra), throws a spanner in the works. Her personal life interferes with Emerson’s strange production, and after a wage dispute, the others quit in exasperation. This forces Emerson into the unlikely position of auditioning for the role of “husband and father” in Olga’s own dysfunctional family.

A Family‘s strength lies in its social-realist approach and complete lack of explanation for any character. The opening shot of Olga’s “sister” audition cements the distance right from the start. The “scripted domesticity” scenes are, oddly, the most conventional-feeling element in Family. With the “home movies,” we see what we’d expect to see, for example, a family Christmas get-together (albeit a sad, sad, awkward one). The corny acting on display whenever the “family” is filmed rings true to the thespionics gracing millions of home movies the world over.

Emerson is a perfect example of the “how is this person even real?” archetype. That’s not to say there isn’t an authenticity to his character—I believed every moment with him—but by focusing on one of the oddest of ducks ever captured by film, Stevens constantly wrong-foots the viewer. His unscripted conversation suggests almost alien behavior (“My car travels up to ten times the speed of the average cyclist”; “You should never blame a frozen treat for your form”; “Do you serve nachos? I’ve never eaten them, but I’ve seen them on television”). The fact that these statements come from such an obviously broken man spikes the hilarity with sadness. A Family seems to be about life’s quiet desperation and the importance of loved ones. At the same time, it’s probably best to hire good actors if you want a quality family life.

A Family is currently playing Slamdance (online).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Unfolding in spaces shared with Atom Egoyan, Yorgos Lanthimos, Aki Kaurismäki, and Charlie Kaufman, A Family nonetheless finds an unsettling absurdity that is all its own.” -Anton Bitel, Eye For Film (contemporaneous)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020: GILES WATCHES CARTOONS

“Circo Animato” 2020 program

Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

For a well-deserved break from reality, instead I spent my Sunday morning enjoying thirteen cartoon shorts from around the world.

“The Spinning Top” – dir. by Shiva Momtahen

An ornately told tale from Iran about an enthusiastic child who ends up trading his ability to sing and shout for a spinning top. The animation is distinctly non-Western, and beautiful. The little boy in question travels within an  ever-shifting frame of stylized flowers as he encounters the quilt man, pool man, and the salt man. The up tempo feel is brought down to earth when the salt man takes away the boy’s youthful vigor, leaving only the memories within the top.

“Kkum” – dir. by Kim Kang-min

This is the only foam-imation I’ve ever seen, and accompanying the weird look achieved by animating its weird narrative about a young man who is protected by his mother’s dreams with polystyrene. Four dreams in particular–“Fire,” “Insect,” “Pumpkin,” and “Corpse”–are highlighted, each heavily symbolic and lovingly rendered in Styrofoam. The short ends with the mother advising her son (grown, with wife and child) not to go out that day; the grateful lad thanks the heavens for the meticulous fence his mother has constructed around him.

“There Were Four of Us” – dir. by Cassie Shao

By a whisker, this was the strangest short of the crop—both to listen to, and to look at. The sound is purposely muted, as if one is listening to the dialogue (actually, mostly monologues) through a telephone propped against an old tape recorder. The visual element, however, practically shouts from the screen. What is going on here? There are too many clues, too many things going on, to be certain; the final shot suggests a hospital. And the garbled vocal exposition suggests a mental one, at Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020: GILES WATCHES CARTOONS

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SPIRITS OF THE AIR, GREMLINS OF THE CLOUDS (1987)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alex Proyas

FEATURING: Norman Boyd, Michael Lake, Rhys Davis

PLOT: A drifter is escaping his pursuers by heading north, but a vertical mountain range blocks his path;  he encounters an eccentric pair of siblings, and the trio plan to head beyond the pass in a homemade flying machine.

Still from Spirits of the air, gremlins of the clouds (1987)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Surreal music-video visuals combine with stage-like theatrics in this odd little story of a crippled inventor, his child-like sister, and a stranger on the run. The post-apocalyptic milieu is both sand-swept and candy-colored, and the claustrophobic atmosphere feels about to burst into the wild blue yonder.

COMMENTS: Judging from the natural backdrop in Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds, Australia’s outback is a combination of desolate sand and technicolor hues. As such, it’s custom-designed for post-apocalyptic wasteland movies, and Proyas takes advantage of this nigh-unreality to great effect. But not satisfied with a vision of lifeless wind and dust, he places eccentrics lifted straight from David Lynch onto his barren stage, in the process creating one of the most eccentric and eerie melodramas to spring forth from celluloid.

The remnants of humanity are, it seems, scattered about like so much paranoid dirt. When a wanderer dressed in black (going by the name “Smith”) appears on her homestead’s outskirts, Betty Crabtree (dressed in dime-store Kabuki regalia, and playing an over-trinketed two-string violin) seeks her brother to warn him of a coming devil. Brother Felix sports the wild hair of a mad inventor or a crazed hermit, and is confined to a wheelchair seemingly designed by Tim Burton during his “blue period.” Felix is eccentric, but also a genius, and is eager for Smith’s company and assistance. Betty is having none of this newcomer, and makes her hostility increasingly clear: first with adamant Bible quotations, then with a hand-scrawled note reading, “Leave now, or you die!,” and finally with a painted message covering the homestead’s workshop exterior, “Go home or burn in Hell.” Smith does not go home; instead, for reasons of his own, he agrees to help Felix build the impossible.

The Crabtree compound is like a survivalist’s Bible camp. The pair have stocked their basement with countless shelves of Heinz baked beans (the company received a shout-out in the credits) and hung crosses from every wall and support beam (we learn that the siblings’ father is he used to be religious—but then stopped). Other unlikely touches convey this future reality. Felix’s prized possession is a history of early flight, and he wistfully calls attention to the trees in the photographs’ backgrounds and the “nice, clean clothes” everyone wears. The Popol Voh-style soundtrack and dissociative camera tricks offset this grounding in reality. Proyas interrupts medium shots of action—such as the strange meal (of baked beans) that follows Smith’s arrival—with altogether too-close close-ups. And it seems that he intermittently removed frames of film, creating a stilted, jagged appearance in the flow of machines and people.

With a cast of three people, Proyas creates a grounded human world. With a solitary household as a location, he shows this world to be foreign to our experience. Like Felix with his mad dream to fly, Proyas (all of twenty-four when he made this) defies the doubters. Using practically nothing, he firmly establishes himself as a cinematic visionary. There is certainly something personal in this tale of staggering success against oppressive odds.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a genuine shame the melding of big budgets and Proyas has never really gelled, possibly because the larger the budgets got, the more Proyas discovered what he couldn’t do with them out of responsibility for making the film as palatable to general audiences as the studio demanded. Because, dammit, Proyas has an amazing eye, one evident from his first feature film…Proyas’ eye for imagery is in fine form, and it’s not difficult at all to find the line that connects SPIRITS OF THE AIR to DARK CITY..” -Jon Abrams, Daily Grindhouse