Roadgames (1981)

Roadgames (1981) movie poster

director  Richard Franklin
viewed: 09/27/2017

Roadgames is a thriller on the road, the Australian highway system to be exact.  It’s stylish, almost DaPalma-esque (minus split-screens), though more accurately it  name-checks Hitchcock in various ways.

Stacy Keach stars as the chatty (mostly to himself and his pet dingo) trucker, an intellectual of sorts who has taken to the road, hauling meat during a strike. He eventually picks up Jamie Lee Curtis, a child of means dodging her family. They both wind up on the trail of a possible serial killer, also on the highway, dodging in and out.

It’s a plucky affair, a very likable film which lurches towards comedy even at times of the highest intensity. Probably the most polished movie I’ve watched in a while. I guess I’ve been slumming it a lot.

The single best scene takes place in the interior of a roadhouse, a nice 360 shot while Keach tries to dial the cops about his suspicions. As the camera slowly gazes around the room, it takes in a Playboy pinball machine, your typical Outback rednecks, and vivid murals of colonials killing aborigines.

Really good stuff.






Thirst (1979)

Thirst (1979) movie poster

director Rod Hardy
viewed: 01/09/2017

The first part of Thirst involves the abduction of a young woman named Kate (Chantal Contouri) by a vampire cult. Though she’s been raised as a normal person, she has aristocratic roots in vampire world, and so they try to convert her. What’s weird about it is that the cult operates a commune/farm where human “cows” are kept for their blood, zoned out people.

Kate’s not down with this biz, not by a long shot. Tries to escape. Gets brought back.

Which leads to the film’s second part, a drug-induced extended nightmare, part lolling dream, mostly surreal weirdness with interesting visual effects. In many ways, this is the film’s most interesting segment.

At some point, you kind of wonder if this is at all supernatural. Are these folks just drinking blood and liking it? Or do they actually develop powers like extended lives? Their fangs are just pop-ins. But then their eyes do glow right before they lunge in for the bite.

Not by any means your typical vampire film. In fact, given the food supply angle, farming humans, it may fit more evenly with other science fiction movies about weird societies.

Still, very interesting.

The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)


The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) movie poster

director Peter Weir
viewed: 07/24/2016

Peter Weir made many very good films over several decades, a spectrum of styles and stories from The Last Wave (1977) to Witness (1985) to The Truman Show (1998), there is a lot of range.  So maybe it’s not so strange that his debut feature, the 1974 The Cars That Ate Paris, is both obscure and yet influential.

Though it had direct influence on both Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000 (1975) and George Miller’s Mad Max (1979), The Cars That Ate Paris is less well-known and less successful. For which the latter may be the cause of the former.

It’s an art film posing as a trash film.  Maybe that’s more in the marketing than in the make-up.  The title reckons of drive-in movies, but it’s really metaphorical.  This fictional town of Paris in rural Australia does become devoured by their car culture.  Of course, their car culture consists of causing car accidents to wayward travelers, then mending the people that survive and turning the wrecked vehicles into proto-punk demolition derby things, fueled by the village’s youth.  I guess that is a hard story to market easily.

The tone falls into the cracks between comedy and exploitation action and something more stylish, artistic, and profound.  Which is why it’s hard to know exactly how to feel about it.

But it does have this iconic VW bug covered in spikes and more than a few germs of ideas lurking to inspire other future film-makers into something more significant.

Body Melt (1993)

Body Melt (1993) movie poster

director Philip Brophy
viewed: 07/09/2016

Body Melt dissolves, explodes, and eviscerates characters with wanton glee.  The horror/comedy skips along like the early Peter Jackson films that supposedly inspired writer/director Philip Brophy.  It’s a satire about health supplements gone awry, and I’m far from the first to be brought to mind of Street Trash (1987) in watching it.

It’s choppy and uneven, even inconsistent at times.  It kicks off with a bang.  The title sequence is awesome, followed by hyperactive cutting and humor at a breakneck pace.  In a tiny cul-de-sac in a pre-fab Australian suburbia, the people go merrily about their lives without realizing they are the test subjects of a vitamin corporation, so intent on physical development and profits that multiple super-weird splatters of test subjects fail to stop their greed and mania.

Meanwhile, out in the boonies, a family of mutant Outback hillbillies waylays a couple of the test subjects while killing a kangaroo for its adrenal glands, which are popped like pills.  Somehow this all ties together in the end with some history between the corporation’s doctor and the Outback patriarch.

But really, it’s all about the practical effects.  And while some are more polished than others, the cheerful execution of outrageous gags is the film’s true selling point.  It’s silly and gruesome and a lot of fun.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) movie poster

director Mark Hartley
viewed: 02/04/2016

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is director Mark Harley’s third documentary on alternative or subculture movie history, following Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) and Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010).  This time he turns his historical perspective, interview lens, and films clips on The Cannon Group and in particular Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the two Israeli cousins who turned a small independent studio into a temporary player in Hollywood in the glorious 1980’s.

Everyone has their own relationship with the films from Cannon, and I too recall the odd mixture of optimism and pessimism that struck me when I sat down for a movie and saw that logo come together.  They truly channeled the independent spirit and strategies honed by the likes of Roger Corman, only they really wanted a place at the bigger Hollywood table.  In a lot of ways they extended the cult and drive-in genres beyond the 1960’s and 1970’s deeper into the 1980’s than perhaps any one else really did.

They made a lot of junk.  Some of it great junk.  Some of it serious junk.  Some of the junk transformed into movie classics and much-loved flicks.

Hartley’s approach is pretty standard fare, but he gets some good stories, some reasonable (and less reasonable) takes on things, stokes ironic nostalgia, and invokes a number of imitations of Golan and Globus.  It seems anyone who ever met them learned to do an impression.

Bad Boy Bubby (1994)

Bad Boy Bubby (1994) movie poster

director Rolf de Heer
viewed: 08/12/2015

I stumbled on the existence of Rolf de Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby from some lists on Letterboxd of various things like “weird”, “obscure”, and “mindfuck”.  I wasn’t familiar with it, an Australian film from 1994.

It’s a story of a man-child, Bubby (Nicholas Hope), who has been raised in a hovel by his overweight, obsessive mother.  He’s been kept in a state of childlike idiocy, believing that the outside world is overwhelmed by poisonous gas (his mother dons a gas mask for her ventures to the outside).  When his long-lost father returns after some thirty-odd years and starts up with his mother, his world is sprung open and Bubby is released on the world and the world on him.

Oh, did I mention his incestuous relationship with Mum?  Or that he winds up killing his parents (and his cat) by wrapping them in clingfilm?  His mentally-challenged and completely delusional being is highly at odds with the world of which he has no concept.  He learns phrases by repeating back what he hears.  He hooks up with a sexually-active Salvation Army gal, a rock band, and heads out on a trajectory that seems certain for doom, including a brutal period in prison, but winds up instead as a rock star performance artist and ultimately discovers a level of humanity in the end.

Really, it actually struck me as an alternate Forrest Gump, which interestingly was also from 1994.  He’s an idiot man-child who succeeds in the world despite his ultimate mental issues and challenges.  Of course, there is a lot more extremity, bizarreness, and oddly perhaps reality than Gump.  It seems like this might be an interesting contrast.  I don’t think I’ve seen Gump since 1994 so I’m speculating from memory on this.

Really, ultimately, Bubby is a humane tale, dark and weird as it is.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) movie poster

director George Miller
viewed: 05/17/2015 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD, SF, CA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is probably the best movie of the year.

It’s a seriously fun two hours of near nonstop action and cars and violence.  I can’t say how awesome it is that 70 year old George Miller came back to Mad Max, as he’s directed all of the films in the series, though the last one thirty years prior, and has landed in 2015 with one of the most vital and entertaining action movies in years and years.

Kudos galore.

Mary and Max (2009)

Mary and Max (2009) movie poster

director Adam Elliot
viewed: 05/02/2015

This wasn’t so much a planned excursion to watch Mary and Max, which I had viewed a few years back on my own.  But the DVD for the film that we had planned to watch arrived damaged and when the kids were queried on their preference for an alternative, they replied that they both wanted to watch something “animated”.  As Mary and Max is available on Netflix, I’ve had it queued on my streaming list, and so I suggested it.

It’s kind of funny, not exactly the type of movie that I felt the need to revisit as yet, but you know, I really do think it’s quite charming and enjoyable.  The kids thought it was strange, but they liked it, both of them.

I don’t have much to add to my prior writing on the film, so I’ll shut up and just link to it in case you would like more detailed information.

The Road Warrior (1981)

The Road Warrior (1981) movie poster

director George Miller
viewed: 03/28/2015

After watching Mad Max (1979) a couple months back and getting pretty excited about the upcoming Mad Max Fury Road (2015), I was pretty keen to revisit The Road Warrior, one of the great movies of the 1980’s.  I was keen to watch it with my kids, who I thought would be well into it.

Crazy thing is it’s been so so so long since I last watched it.  I know I find myself saying this all the time about any number of movies but it may well have been fact that I hadn’t watched The Road Warrior since the 1980’s despite having never less than felt that I loved it. It had been so long in fact that I had forgotten the whole opening sequence with the flashes of Mad Max alongside the images or war and history played out against a voice over that set the whole film up in its post-apocalyptic world.

The post-apocalypse of the 1980’s.  That would be a fascinating study.  Between The Road Warrior and Billy Idol’s Tobe Hooper “Dancing With Myself” video, I think the image was perfected and honed in ways that perhaps make the study moot.  George Miller’s Australian wasteland is colored by pink and hued skies, wide-angle lenses, and sand and punk iconography that was still edgy and prescient in 1981.

But the movie is way more than style.  It’s action and comedy and flash and deft characterization along comic book lines with characters who are defined by the lack of clothing on their buttocks as much as by their compelling willingness to kill randomly.  With produced Bryon Kennedy and co-writers Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant, Miller depicts the definitive badlands of post-apocalyptic 1980’s cinema.  And I say this not at all glibly but truly.  The post-apocalypse was the definitive vision of the time, never captured more succinctly, or perfectly than here.

Of course the story is about how Max is now a wanderer, a “Man with No Name” who stumbles upon a small town of fuel pumping plebes who are beset by S&M punk bikers led by a hockey-masked pile of meat known as Humungus.  It’s a kind of middle class nightmare of repressed desires embodied against a group of middling oddball losers.  But Max sides with the “good guys” (including the wonderful “Feral Kid”) and helps them on a gambit to roll their fuel out in an old tanker truck beset by the racing and rampant gang of fetish weirdos.

And really it is the finale chase that is the part emblazoned in ones mind.  I can’t tell you how much as a young driver I imagined being attacked by other drivers as I cruised along the streets of my hometown the way that Max has to fight off the crazy hooligans.  It’s not quite as great as the truck chase scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and yet it kind of is as well.

If this movie isn’t in some ways one of the greatest movies of all time, I don’t know what.

Sadly the DVD that we had needed to be watched on full screen and the images weren’t as crisp and good as they deserve to be.  I don’t know if that had any impact on my kids, but neither of them was as enthralled as I would have hoped with the movie.  They were a bit on the meh side of “it was good” and that disappointed me.  But to be honest I wasn’t as enthralled as I’d hoped to be.  Not as enthralled as I’d been in watching Mad Max a few months earlier.  But I’m going to chalk that up a bit to the bad fullscreen viewing.

I guess I’m going to have to queue up Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) to complete my cycle before the new one shows up in cinemas.  I never loved Thunderdome the way I loved the other two but I hold possibly misguided hopes for the new one.

Mad Max is so awesome.  Be awesome again, Max.

Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max (1979) movie poster

director George Miller
viewed: 01/29/2015

Great movie.  Really, a great movie.

As a kid, I saw The Road Warrior (1981) first, and so when I did see Mad Max for the first time, it seemed lesser in comparison.  To be fair, The Road Warrior is brilliant (I’m eager to see it again for the first time in years), but Mad Max is brilliant too.

The first feature film for director/co-writer George Miller, co-writer James McCausland, and producer Byron Kennedy, Mad Max is one of those amazingly concocted, almost perfectly conceived, and beautifully executed pieces of great cinema.  Such a product of its time and also such an emblem of its time and vision of its future.  So Australian and yet so universal.   To cast a low-budget action film so perfectly…almost a crime.

Taking place in the very near future (of 1979), the roads of Southern Australia have become the playground of hoodlums and biker gangs and the police have become souped-up S&M-influenced studs to catch them.  When one nutty bloke named “Nightrider” meets his maker after a high-speed chase, his gang of buddies show up to pay respect by anarchy and revenge on the police who tracked him.

Max is of course Mel Gibson, the young, handsome actor yet to become a household name.  He’s the happily married father of a Sprog but also the police’s top gun on the roads.  When the gang ends up maiming and killing Max’s buddy Goose (Steve Bisley), Max quits the force to escape from all the chaos, danger, and revenge.  Only in this small world, even the isolated Aussie countryside is teaming with the same ruthless gang and eventually, Max’s wife and child become victims of “The Toecutter” (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his gang the Acolytes.  So revenge upon revenge must be served up.

Made in the time of the oil crisis of the 1970’s, the world of Mad Max has yet to become a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Rather, it’s pre-apocalyptic.  And as much as it’s the future, it’s also very much the now.  Car culture, personal freedom, and anarchic villainy rule the roost and what’s left of a sane society isn’t enough to contain the cruelties of the outlaws.  It’s a prescient and timely vision, yet played with a mixture of malice and comedy, innuendo and suggestion as well as shocks and violence.  It’s truly brilliant.

From the excellent casting of characters to the Bernard Herrmann-influenced score by Brian May to the amazingly effective editing and stunts, the movie’s is the whole package.  Brilliant.  Totally brilliant.