Movie Review: 35 Up (1991)


Title: 35 Up
Release Date:August 29, 1991
Director: Michael Apted
Production Company: Granada Television
Summary/Review:

It feels natural to refer to the participants in The Up Series as children, but 35 Up is the point where there are more films showing them as adults than as children.  In fact, they are settling into adulthood with children, new homes, settled career paths, and the passing of parents being common themes.  This film brings the series into the 1990s, which as I often joke with my kids, feels like yesterday. And yet, as recent as 1991 feels to me, this is actually the halfway point of The Up Series thus far, with four more films to come.

Charles is still not participating, sending only a photograph, as he now works as a producer for the BBC but does not want to appear in front of the camera.  Symon is also missing, as is Peter, who suffered a lot of blowback for his rather anodyne criticism of Margaret Thatcher in 28 Up. John, who presumably approves of Thatcherism, is back after missing the previous film.  He’s married now and a barrister and mainly appears to promote his charity to support people in Bulgaria.  He does seem like less of a prat.  Andrew, the other boy from a prosperous background, has settled in a less flashy but comfortable life also working in law, and father to two sons.  He even speaks out in favor of more taxes for social services! Suzy is also doing well in her marriage to solicitor Rupert and they now have children, although Suzy remains wary of revealing too much.

Tony is doing well and his wife Debbie is more prominent in the interviews.  I like that we get to see both of them working as taxi drivers in London.  Paul’s wife Susan also has more to say in this film, although she mostly talks about Paul.  You have to feel for Paul because his lack of confidence is so strong after his troubled childhood, but he nevertheless seems to have a strong marriage, loves his children, and skill as a bricklayer (even if he fails to run his own company).  Nick’s wife Jackie appeared prominently in 28 Up, but didn’t like how she appeared and that viewers thought their marriage was doomed so she sits this one out.  Nick, on his own, still remains one of the most observant participants on how the whole experiment affects the people involved and is good at sharing his experience. I continue to be surprised that Jackie, Lynn, and Sue are still being grouped together for their profiles, although their different stories are starting to emerge.

Two of the participants remain unmarried.  Bruce, who seems so kind and thoughtful, has become a teacher in Bangladesh, somehow fulfilling his childhood goal of becoming a missionary in a less colonialist way.  Neil, still struggling with mental health and stability, nevertheless seems to be in a slightly better place having found a place to live in a council estate on the Shetland Islands and engaging with the community by directing pantomime shows. The stories of Bruce and Neil are ones that have the most intrigue of what comes next.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)


Title: Mad Max: Fury Road
Release Date: 7 May 2015
Director: George Miller
Production Company: Village Roadshow Pictures | Kennedy Miller Mitchell | RatPac-Dune Entertainment[
Summary/Review:

I’d avoided Mad Max: Fury Road because I have little to no taste for the post-apocalyptic genre.  Typically these type of stories celebrate the rugged individual surviving at the expense of others rather than forming community supports which is documented as the real way that humanity has always survived cataclysmic events.  If you’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road, you’re probably laughing now, since the key message of the movie is in fact that community and cooperation are to be valued over self-interest.  That’s what I get for judging a movie by the cover.

The movie is nevertheless quite intense and almost its entire run time is made up of a chase of modified trucks and cars through the Australian outback.  As the movie begins, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a rugged solo survivor is abducted by the minions of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).  Joe is a warlord who controls a source of water and created an army of devoted soldiers to protect and extend his interests.  One of his lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) goes rogue and liberates the five young women Joe enslaved for the reproductive capabilities (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton .  Max finds himself in the chase because he gets used as a human “blood bag” to provide transfusions to a sick War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Over the course of the chase, Max and Furiosa find themselves working together toward their common goal of escaping Joe and gradually growing to trust one another.

There is a lot in this movie that I didn’t understand and I don’t know if watching the earlier three Mad Max movies would clear things up or not (I’m not planning to go out of my way to watch any Mel Gibson movie). Regardless, I think the disorientation is beneficial to creating this alien post- apocalyptic future.  There was a lot with this movie I struggled with.  For one, it is extraordinarily violent with dozens of characters killed violently on screen.  There also is a lot of disturbing body horror.  Finally, I found it less than plausible that the heroes in this movie could suffer so much physical trauma and keep getting up and fighting again.

That being said, the chase is quite thrilling, and all the more the benefit of being made with practical effects.  All the vehicles were actual functioning machines and the majority of stunts were performed by human beings rather than their CGI avatars.  The movie also does not lack in humor.  My favorite minor character is the Doof Warrior (iOTA), a blind man on a truck covered with amps who persistently plays heavy metal guitar solos throughout the chase.  The feminist themes of the movie are quite obvious but worth noting since they stand out as unusual in an action film. Theron’s performance as Furiosa is particularly commendable as she is able to shed the “strong woman” stereotype for a more fully realized protagonist.  Despite Max’s name in the title, this is Furiosa’s movie and she does a great job with the character arc.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Walkabout (1971)


Title: Walkabout
Release Date: July 1, 1971
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Production Company: Max L. Raab-Si Litvinoff Films
Summary/Review:

A father (John Meillon) from Sydney takes his teenage daughter (Jenny Agutter) and 6-year-old son (Luc Roeg) to the Australian outback for a picnic, but instead tries to murder them.  Failing to do that, he instead sets fire to the family car and kills himself.  The siblings must survive in the wilderness with limited food and water, and no protection from the sun. Eventually they gain aid from a teenage Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who shares the food he has hunted. The characters are given no names in the film so going forward I will refer to them by the actors’ names.

The movie depicts the contrasts between the “civilized” world of Westernized cities with the traditional lifestyles of the Aboriginal people.  Then there is Nature which cares for neither civilization or traditions but is a threat to all.  Director Nicolas Roeg takes advantage of quick cuts between scenes of the city and scenes of the outback, and has almost a nature documentarians’ eyes for the landscapes and the many creatures that populate it.  Communication is also a theme, as the older Jenny seems to trained in being “proper” to connect with David, but Luc comes up a way of signing their needs.  For Jenny, this also a coming of age film as she is taking responsibility for her brother while also experiencing a sexual stirring. The movie is a bit creepy in the way the camera has a “male gaze” on Jenny’s body particularly in a scene where she swims naked in a lake.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this movie and several people say it has no plot.  But as a tale of survival, it has one of the most basic literary plots of Humanity Versus Nature, and it’s one that’s not fully resolved at the films conclusion.  I’ve also seen comments that the movie’s themes are too obviously an allegory, but since none of them seem to agree what it’s an allegory for, that can’t be correct either. The ambiguity, I think, is actually one of the things that makes this movie great. I also liked best how Roger Ebert noted that that the film’s structure reflects the Aboriginal understanding of time as less linear than that of Western civilization.

All told this is a remarkable film and one I’ll want to revisit.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Starstruck (1982)


Title: Starstruck
Release Date: 8 April 1982
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Production Company: Palm Beach Pictures | The Australian Film Commission
Summary/Review:

Jackie Mullens (Jo Kennedy) is an aspiring pop singer in Sydney, Australia where her family run an hotel bar beneath the footings of the Harbour Bridge.  Her cheeky 14-year-old cousin Angus (Ross O’Donovan) wants to be her agent and works to bring attention to her career. After securing a backup band at a local club talent night, Jackie and Ross set their sights on getting a spot on the tv talent show hosted by celebrity kingmaker Terry Lambert (John O’May).  Things don’t go well as the there are setbacks and betrayals, and then Jackie finds she must win a talent contest to save her family bar.

The movie is extremely corny, but in an irresistibly charming way.  Kennedy and O’Donovan are likable characters even when they’re being idiots.  And the New Wave music and fashions make this movie a terrific time capsule.  The group choreography that goes along with the musical numbers is awkward, and for some reason reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it’s still enjoyable.

If you’re like me and wonder if a 1980s Australian musical had any involvement from the Finn Brothers, you would be correct.  Tim Finn in fact wrote one of the most memorable songs of the film, “Body and Soul.” (Watch the video for the great song and extremely awkward group choreography).

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Release Date: August 10, 1994
Director: Stephan Elliott
Production Company: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment | Specific Films
Synopsis:

Mitzi (who also goes by Anthony and “Tick”) is a performer in drag queen cabaret in Sydney portrayed by Hugo Weaving.  He gets a call from his wife, from whom he’s been separated for several years but never officially divorced, asking for a favor to bring his performance to her casino resort in Alice Springs. Mitzi invites Bernadette (Terence Stamp), a older transgender woman who was a legendary drag performer, to join him as she grieves the death of her partner.  They are joined by a third drag performer, Felicia (a.k.a Adam), a young, narcissistic, and acerbic gay man.  Felicia uses his parents’ wealth to acquire a bus for their journey across the Australian Outback which he christens Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The basic plot is the clash of three different personalities in a bus together on a several days journey, made even longer because the bus keeps breaking down. Along the way they meet rural Australians, some who are welcoming, some who are hostile, and on one occasion brutally violent. They pick up an auto mechanic, Bob (Bill Hunter), who keeps the bus running and forms a romance with Bernadette. Arriving in Alice Springs, it’s revealed that Mitzi also has an 8-year-old son, Benjamin (Mark Holmes) he hasn’t seen since Benjamin was a baby.  But Benjamin’s very cool mom, Marion (Sarah Chadwick), a queer woman herself, has raised Benjamin to be accepting of his father.

After performing for two weeks, Bernadette decides to stay in Alice Springs with Bob (who has found work at the casino) and Benjamin travels to Sydney to get spend time getting to know his dad better.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

My senior year of college, my friend John acquired the soundtrack to this movie which included several disco era hits, including the epically bad and unintentionally hilarious “I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene. John’s room was a popular hangout in our dormitory so a lot of people heard the soundtrack and were deeply curious about the movie that went with it.  When the movie finally came to our local art house movie theatre it was a group outing.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered all the basic plot details and some of the dialogue, including Bernadette’s response to Felicia’s desire to climb King’s Canyon in a drag outfit: “That’s just what this country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock.”  I also remember the dance numbers and costumes are excellent.  And most beautiful of all is Felicia on the roof of the bus, singing an aria, as shiny fabric trails behind the bus.

What Did I Forget?:

I remembered the details of Mitzi’s storyline well, but not as much of Bernadette’s. Perhaps because I’m older, her story (and Stamp’s performance) feel more poignant.  I completely forgot about Bob and their romance, which on this rewatch I found the sweetest part of the movie.

When I watched this movie in the 1990s, I didn’t know who any of the actors were.  Terance Stamp was already an established “tough guy” actor for decades at the time, although I suppose there would be no way I’d remember him as General Zod in the Superman movies.  Weaving would go on to play parts in The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and Captain America franchises, among other things. And Guy Pearce would also find fame in L.A Confidential, Memento, The King’s Speech, and Iron Man 3.  Watching this movie knowing the actors from their other parts rather than assuming they’re Australian “unknowns” makes for a different viewing experience.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This was one of the first major movies to offer a sympathetic portrayal of gay and transgender people (and coincidentally gave a boost to Australian cinema in foreign markets).  It’s strikes a perfect balance among road movie with striking humor, romance, a sensitive story of family, and great dance performances and costuming.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Even 25 years ago, the big problem with this movie is the character of Cynthia (Julia Cortez), a Filipina woman married to Bob (presumably through some sort of mail-order arrangement to gain Australian citizenship) who is also an exotic dancer. There is a possibility of comparing Cynthia to the Priscilla crew as different type of outsider in the Australian desert, but her character is portrayed in the most virulently stereotypical fashion in the few moments she’s on screen.

All three lead characters are portrayed by straight, cisgender actors.  I think in the 1990s it was possible to defend this as an act of solidarity to have cishet actors offer a sympathetic portrayal.  But if this movie was made today it would be rightly called out for denying parts to LGBTQ actors.

The movie also features the use of the term “tranny” and deadnaming Bernadette as jokes. I was ignorant of this in the 1990s, but today I know these are horribly hurtful things to say.  Granted, most of this is done by Felicia, a character who admits to being deliberately obnoxious to get a rise out of people. I don’t think the movie so much defends doing this as it is showing that some gay men, even drag queens, are prejudiced against transgender people.  Either way it’s an unsettling part of the movie.

Is It a Classic?:

Yes, definitely!

Rating: ****

WARNING: This trailer actually makes the movie look bad.

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with A:

  1. Airplane! (1980)
  2. Aliens (1986)
  3. Amelie (2001)
  4. Anne of Green Gables (1985)
  5. Apollo 13 (1995)

What is your all-time favorite movie starting with A? What do you guess will be my movie for B?  Let me know in the comments!

Album Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett


AlbumTell Me How You Really Feel
Artist: Courtney Barnett
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Hopefulessness”
  • “Charity”
  • “Need a Little Time”
  • “Nameless, Faceless”
  • “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”
  • “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”

Thoughts:

Australian singer-songwriter Barnett’s second album contains crunching guitars and strong punk melodies over which Barnett’s world-weary voice sings quotidian lyrics of frustration and self-doubt, anger and tenderness, confrontation and ambivalence.  The 90s indie rock sound is aided by the guest appearance of Kim and Kelley Deal on “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence.” But this is not retro music, it’s fully-engaged in the cultural issues of our times, just not in an anthemic, speaking for everyone manner.  If I’d gotten around to making a best albums of 2015 list, Barnett’s debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit would’ve been a shoe-in, and Tell Me How You Really Feel builds and improves on that. I’m grateful to be alive at a time when I can hear an artist like Courtney Barnett coming into her own.

Rating: ****

Songs of the Week: The Island of Dr. Electrico by The Bombay Royale


Australia-based band The Bombay Royale recreates the feel of Bollywood in the 1960s and 1970s with a mix of funk, disco, and surf music.  Honestly, I always wonder with these kind of things if it wouldn’t be better to just listen to Bollywood recordings from the 60s and 70s, but The Bombay Royale are entertaining enough to be worth a least one listen.  I can’t seem to break down the SoundCloud tracks one by one, so I’m just embedding their entire 2014 album The Island of Dr. Electrico below.  I’m also posting the video for “Henna, Henna” which isn’t my favorite song but it does show the band’s unique aesthetic.