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Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 23/2/2012)
Despite having produced the world's first feature, Charles Tait's The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), Australia didn't really have a film industry at the time the canine charmer Red Dog is set. Local directors like Raymond Longford, Charles Chauvel and Ken G. Hall managed a handful of pictures in the four decades before Ealing ventured into the Outback for the `bush Westerns', The Overlanders (1946) and Eureka Stockade (1949). But homemade movies were about as rare before 1971 as victories Down Under by the England cricket team.
Four decades later, Australian cinema has an international reputation for hard-hitting drama and self-deprecating comedy. It has mustered few family favourites, however. But now Red Dog is set to take its place alongside the George Miller productions Babe (1995) and Happy Feet (2006) as a timeless gem to delight young and old alike.
Pulling into the town of Dampier in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in the early 1980s, trucker Luke Ford thinks he has stumbled into a murder scene as he overhears the conversation in the back room of Noah Taylor's bar. However, the talk of killing relates not to a human, but an ageing kelpie who appear to be on his last legs after consuming some poison. But Red Dog is a tough customer and, as the vet treats him, Taylor takes Ford back a decade to when he and wife Loene Carmen first opened for business in the remote mining community and brought the hitch-hiking hound with them as a lucky mascot.
As befits a free spirit, Red Dog initially flitted between garrulous Italian Arthur Angel, macho softie John Batchelor and mournful loner Rohan Nichol and each man tells Ford about their special relationship with a mutt with butt issues. Angel used to tell him stories about his home village, while Batchelor forgave him for revealing the fact he spent his evenings knitting and Nichol owed him his life after distracting the shark that had bitten off the leg of local fisherman Bill Hunter (in what, sadly, would prove to be his last role).
One day, however, Red Dog decided the time had come to have a single master and he selected American bus driver Josh Lucas. However, as one of many itinerant outsiders in the settlement, Lucas recognised that everyone had a stake in his pet and never restricted Red Dog's movements. He was outlawed from the caravan park where Lucas's secretary girlfriend Rachael Taylor lived, though, after he fought with the feisty cat owned by hissable warden Paul Blackwell and his wife Jacquy Phillips. But a tragedy was about to strike that would send Red Dog on the travels that would make him a legend across the country and beyond.
Adapted by Daniel Taplitz from Louis de Bernières's fact-based novel, this is quite simply wonderful. All the canine movie talk recently has been about Uggie, the scene-stealing pooch from Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist. But the real scandal is why Koko (the two year-old taking the lead here, as it were) was overlooked for both the Palm Dog and the Golden Collar for a display that at least rivals that of everybody's favourite Jack Russell. Indeed, only Philadelphia in Dorota Kedzierzawska's Time to Die (2007) and Vuk in Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte (2010) have matched it in recent times.
The human contributions to this paean to independence, acceptance and loyalty are also first rate, with Batchelor and Nichol doing their bit to improve the image of the average ocker and Angel getting amusingly tongue-tied during one of many trips to the vet to see assistant Keisha Castle-Hughes. Director Kriv Stenders handles the comic and melodramatic sequences with equal finesse and, even though he allows Red Dog's cross-country trek to ramble, only the hardest hearted will be able to resist shedding the odd tear. But what is most notable is the recreation of the period in both visual terms (Geoffrey Hall's views of the russet-toned landscape and Ian Gracie's rusting industrial production design are spot on) and in capturing the coarse charisma of such new wave landmarks as Bruce Beresford's The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) and Tim Burstall's Alvin Purple (1973), which were released just around the time Dampier's most celebrated resident forged an unlikely link with his feline foe.
Flashbacks are also crucial to the action as an innocent abroad tries to recover her memory in Christian E. Christiansen's slick thriller ID:A and an NYPD detective investigates the murder of an advertising executive in Otto Preminger's classic film noir, Laura (1944).
Having misfired in Hollywood with The Roommate (2011), Danish director Christian E. Christiansen returns home to cash in on his country's burgeoning reputation for classy thrillers in the mould of The Killing. For an hour, he succeeds in creating a teasing tale of amnesia and tainted trust. But the rewound reveal packs in enough plot for at least a couple more movies and the resolution proves to be a major anti-climax.
Waking on a riverbank in rural France with a head wound and a haversack full of cash, Tuva Novotny has no idea who she is or how she landed in such a remote spot. Wandering into the nearest town, she takes a room in a hotel run by handsome Arnaud Binard and his suspicious mother Françoise Lebrun and learns from the TV news that politician Slavo Bulatovic (who has been leading the fight against Third World debt) has been assassinated. Opening the bag, Novotny realises she is somehow connected to the slaying and is forced to cut and dye her hair after being pursued by the sinister John Buijsman and Rogier Philipoom on going shopping next morning.
Smuggled to a hideaway by Binard, Novotny makes the discovery she is Danish by reading brochures in the tourist information office and decides to take the bus home. En route, she hears a familiar voice on a sleeping passenger's mp3 player and, on arriving in Copenhagen, books a ticket to see Flemming Enevold in concert. Much to her surprise, she ascertains she is the singer's wife and has to pretend she recognises everybody at the post-show party. But it's only after she snoops around the house next day and reconnects with estranged sister Marie Louise Wille that she finds out her husband is not only viciously possessive, but is also linked to the same shady political group as her vanished brother, Carsten Bjørnlund.
It's at this point that Tine Krull Petersen's screenplay begins piling up the improbabilities. In the middle of a brutal attack by the jealous Enevold, Novotny remember how she fled after a similar assault and, following a chance encounter with kindly transvestite Finn Nielsen, sought sanctuary with Bjørnlund, whose involvement with a bank robbery resulted in her being stranded in the French countryside. Luckily, the recovery of her memory coincides with the intervention of Jens Jørn Spottag, the private eye she had hired to determine the identity of Buijsman and Philipoom, and all ends predictably well. But the sudden onrush of undeveloped characters in half-cocked situations will frustrate those who had settled into the measured mystery of the first hour.
The daughter of Czech director David Novotny and Swedish actress Barbro Hedström, Tuva Novotny impresses as the heroine trying to piece together the truth. But characterisation and plausibility quickly become casualties of Christiansen's need to show how the various plot strands are interwoven and tie up the loose ends as neatly as possible. Thus, the slickness of the enterprise robs it of suspense, especially when it becomes clear that Novotny is merely a victim of circumstance rather than a pivotal player in a conspiracy that is essentially the kind of necessary irrelevance that Alfred Hitchcock used to call `a macguffin'.
Although Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt may not be among the biggest names in scripting history, the storytelling is much more accomplished and satisfyingly intricate in their adaptation of the 1943 Vera Caspary novel, Laura. However, the tale behind this meticulous mood piece is even more intriguing, as Caspary had set out to produce a play and had only written a book after falling out with director Otto Preminger over plot details.
Both Ring Twice for Laura and its sequel were optioned by 20th Century-Fox and the latter formed the basis of the screenplay penned by the aforementioned trio. But producer Preminger (who had been barred from directing the project by studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck) disliked the approach being taken by Rouben Mamoulian and not only replaced him at the helm, but also shifted the focus away from the enigmatic heroine and recast a key role to throw the audience off the scent. Zanuck attempted to change the ending, but was persuaded to stick to Preminger's original conceit and he was rewarded with a solid box-office hit that demonstrated that it's not always disastrous for style to take precedence over substance.
New York detective Dana Andrews quickly becomes besotted with Gene Tierney when he begins investigating her brutal murder by a gunshot to the face. Reading through her diary and correspondence, he forms an impression of a vivacious, but ambitious woman whose beauty is confirmed by the portrait to which he seems irresistibly drawn. But the suspects Andrews questions have conflicting opinions of the victim and such is his growing obsession (which one witness suggests borders on necrophilia) that he allows their testimony to cloud his judgement.
Newspaper columnist Clifton Webb recalls how Tierney came to him for advice at the outset of her career and how he used his contacts to bolster her reputation. But, while this fey dandy clearly adored Tierney as much as devoted housekeeper Dorothy Adams, feckless husband Vincent Price allowed his eye to wander and he not only had an affair with a nubile model, but also with Tierney's wealthy aunt, Judith Anderson, who had been happy to bankroll Price's philandering in return for some attention.
Uncertain who to believe, Andrews despairs of ever cracking the case. But events take an unexpected turn when he falls asleep beneath the painting in Tierney's apartment and wakes to find himself face to face with its subject. She reasons the dead woman must have been the model Price had been dating and Andrews realises that, once the truth is known, the killer will almost certainly try again.
The twist may not be subtle, but it sets up a rousing finale that is drenched in the lush strings of David Raskin's haunting score. Indeed, this is closer to Gothic camp than film noir, with Clifton Webb's impossibly eloquent writer unable to resist showing off his intellectual superiority while fencing with a cop with a chip on his shoulder and a metal plate where his shin used to be. The presence of Judith Anderson reinforces the melodramatic connection, as her steely gaze and repressed emotions recall those of Mrs Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 study of another woman with the power to entice from beyond the grave, Rebecca.
But while the first Mrs De Winter retains many of her secrets until the final reel, every detail of Laura's life is unveiled for scrutiny at the outset and this breach of the deceased's privacy proves the most chilling aspect of this stark study of the transience of existence and the delusional allure of a superficial image. However, it is also a sour snipe at the worthless folks in America's upper echelons, with both the social and the intellectual elite feeling the force of Andrews's Kentucky scorn.
So don't be taken in by Webb's effortlessly acerbic suavity, Price's glib selfishness or Anderson's curt disloyalty. And don't be deceived by the gloss of the Mantattan settings designed by Lyle R. Wheeler and Leland Fuller or the lustrous monochrome achieved by cinematographer Joseph LaShelle (with a little uncredited assistance from Lucien Ballard). Just remember everything here is an illusion whose fraudulence would be instantly exposed if it was inspected too closely.
The past refuses to rest for a Los Angeles cop in Oren Moverman's Rampart, his second collaboration with Woody Harrelson after The Messenger (2009). Set in the months before the Millennium and capturing the pressure cooker atmosphere of a city where dreams and reality often clash with frightening consequences, this is a seething study of an emotionally and morally bankrupt man's inability to apply the brakes, let alone change direction, when his professional and personal lives start hurtling downhill.
Despite being divorced from sisters Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon, beat cop Woody Harrelson still shares a house with them and their respective daughters Brie Larson and Sammy Boyarsky. His parenting skills leave a lot to be desired, with Larson particularly resenting his drinking and womanising. But Heche and Nixon are more concerned about the scandal that erupts when Harrelson (who has 24 years on the force) is caught on camera beating Keith Woulard, the black motorist who accidentally rammed his car on a downtown street.
District Attorney Steve Buscemi wants to throw the book at Harrelson, whose reputation was scuffed several years earlier by the suspicion that he killed a serial date rapist in cold blood. However, as the son of an admired LAPD veteran, Harrelson was cut some slack and his father's old friend, Ned Beatty, has kept an eye out for him since. But Harrelson isn't sure who to trust after Beatty's tip-off about an illegal poker game he could rob results in him being tailed by DA office investigator Ice Cube, who seems as bent on nailing him for a card blag as Assistant DA Sigourney Weaver is keen to keep him out of trouble.
The only trouble is, Harrelson is a classic loose cannon. He sleeps with lawyer Robin Wright, even though he knows she probably seduced him solely to dupe him into incriminating himself, and needlessly alienates wheelchair-bound snitch Ben Foster, who witnessed one of his indiscriminate shootings. He also lets down Larson and Boyarsky after they trace him to the hotel where he is living and give him an opportunity to prove he loves them.
As one would expect of a screenplay co-written by James Ellroy, the dialogue fizzes and even the virtuous characters are riddled with flaws. The performances reflect this fractious unreliability, with the casually racist and chauvinist Harrelson taking pity on shy Latina rookie Stella Schnabel in one early scene and treating African-American bar pick-up Audra McDonald with post-coital contempt in the next.
Yet, while the mood of cynicism and corruption is ably established, the plotting is surprisingly cumbersome and Moverman struggles to impart much dramatic impetus as Harrelson gets dragged deeper into the mire. Consequently, while individual scenes crackle, they frequently fail to ignite and one is left to admire the saturated colours in Bobby Bukowski's admittedly over-jerky high-definition imagery and regret the self-conscious flashiness of too much of Moverman's direction, the surfeit of editor Jay Rabinowitz's flash-cut montages and the booming intrusiveness of Dickon Hinchcliffe's score.
If an author as experienced as Ellroy can let his narrative drift, then debuting writer-director Alex Orr can be excused for losing control of Blood Car, a comedy horror that owes much to the Troma school of exploitation. Revelling in the gruesome eccentricity of its core idea and the descent into megalomanic madness of a clean-cut vegan kindergarten teacher, this is never anything less than silly fun. But the suspicion it might have worked better as a featurette becomes increasingly irresistible after the hour mark.
The scene is set by government agent Matt Hutchinson, who explains that some time in the future (about a fortnight from now), petrol prices are going to become so exorbitant that only the very rich can afford to drive. Consequently, junkyards are going to be overrun with rusting vehicles and everyone will have to get around under their own steam. However, Mike Brune is working on a method of converting wheatgrass into fuel and he nightly patronises Anna Chlumsky's vegetable stall for supplies as he cycles home.
Brune is a nerd in the nicest possible way. The lessons he teaches couldn't be more politically correct and he always checks on elderly neighbour Barbara Carnes as she dozes on the balcony above his digs. But, from the moment he discovers that a drop of haemoglobin transforms the potency of his formula, Brune becomes a slave to a bloodlust that not only turns him into a killer of small, furry creatures, but also raises his temperature in the presence of Chlumsky's slutty meat kiosk rival, Katie Rowlett.
Such is his desire to keep receiving the sexual favours on offer for ferrying Rowlett to restaurants and drive-in movies, Brune soon needs an alternative sources of gore. Yet, while he shot squirrels and dogs with the greatest reluctance with his air rifle, he has no problem inventing a dicing device that he fits in the boot of his car for instant conversion to gas. Indeed, once he has experimented with his now-dead neighbour's corpse, he seems to enjoy pushing victims like car-jacker Mr Malt and hitcher Marla Malcolm into the trunk and speeding off with tyres screeching to cover their screams. But Brune has long been under surveillance and Hutchinson decides to intervene and claim the blood car for the nation.
Reliant on some heavy-handed satire, the conclusion is hugely disappointing. Nevertheless, Orr raises a few laughs and is enthusiastically served by Chlumsky and Rowlett as the virgin and the vamp pursuing the splendidly deranged Brune, who teeters on the brink of caricature before hurling himself into it with gusto. The effects are no more sophisticated than they were in such Roger Corman schlockers as A Bucket of Blood (1959), but picture has clearly been made in the same spirit. Indeed, it's almost a surprise that the King of the Bs didn't come up with the idea first. However, as Alex Stapleton reveals in Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, he is still the undisputed ruler of the low-budget genre flick.
Corman's career can be summed up in the title of his autobiography, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. In fact, to date, he has produced (in various capacities) some 340 features since 1954, as well as directing 54. He has even started making web series, but Alex Stapleton's engaging homage concentrates on his heyday, when he could churn out a genre picture within 10 days and for under $100,000. Adept at Westerns, gangster movies, sci-fi and teen dramas, Corman's forte was horror, with his 1960s string of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations - mostly starring Vincent Price: The Fall of the House of Usher (1960); The Pit and the Pendulum (1961); The Premature Burial; Tales of Terror (both 1962); The Raven; The Haunted Palace (both 1963); The Masque of Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1965) - being perfectly positioned between Grand Guignol and high camp.
In addition to directing such exploitation classics as Teenage Caveman (1958), A Bucket of Blood, The Wasp Woman (1960), The St Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) and Bloody Mama (1970), Corman also gave such important directors as Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, John Sayles, Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard their start and all but Coppola and Cameron are here to sing his praises. As, indeed, are Jack Nicholson (whose tearful fondness is charming to behold), Peter Fonda, David Carradine, William Shatner, Robert De Niro, Eli Roth, Pam Grier, Paul W.S. Anderson, Bruce Dern, Joe Dante, Mary Woronov, Irvin Kershner, Dick Miller, Gale Anne Hurd, Jim Wynorski, Penelope Spheeris, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Haze, the late Polly Platt and screenwriter Frances Doel.
However, the Stanford and Oxford-educated Corman is also a shrewd judge of his contribution to American film and, along with his brother Gene, he provides some of documentary's most telling moments. His recollections of loathing the strictures of life in the US Navy during the Second World War are particularly revealing, as they reveal him to be a natural born rebel and this refusal to conform led him to challenge the racial prejudice that was rife in the Deep South when he adapted Charles Beaumont's novel The Intruder (1962), cast some genuine Hell's Angels in The Wild Angels (1966), experiment with LSD before shooting The Trip (1967) and make his wife Julie his producing partner on Boxcar Bertha (1972).
No one has a bad word to say about the gentleman maverick, who is shown unassumingly bringing his decades of experience to bear on Kevin O'Neill's creature feature, Dinoshark (2010). Moreover, he also evidently enjoys seizing the opportunity to claim his long overdue credit for improving the 1950 Gregory Peck vehicle The Gunfighter when he was a script reader at 20th Century-Fox and he is also quick to acknowledge his own indebtedness to AIP chiefs Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson, who allowed him to direct such Bs as Monster From the Ocean Floor (1954) and The Fast and the Furious (1955) for the nascent grindhouse and drive-in markets.
Packing in clips from the Corman oeuvre (and let's not forget that there are plenty of misfires in there, too), this is both hugely entertaining and highly instructive about the way in which the Hollywood studios operated in the last days of the factory system and how the conglomerates that acquired them do business today. But, most endearingly, it's also a worthy tribute to an elegant and eloquent man who was never afraid of slipping political subtexts into pictures designed to shock, titillate and amuse.
It would be foolish to try denying that Corman doesn't have a sizeable clutch of resounding misfires on his CV. Similarly, it is facile to follow the example of some high-profile critics and keep dismissing every Danny Dyer film as a clunker simply because he is in it. He may possess a limited range and play it far too safe in his choice of projects. But there are many worse actors than Dyer currently finding regular employment in British movies and many more would have been markedly less effective than he is as the escaped psychopath in JK Amalou's abduction thriller, Deviation.
Leaving the London hospital where she works, nurse Anna Walton is strapped by her wrist to the headrest of her own car by lifer Danny Dyer, who has slipped his escort after being taken to casualty after a prison stabbing. He forces her to call home and reassure her husband and daughter that all is well and then heads off across the capital to rendezvous with dubious buddy Ben Wigzell, who has supposedly made arrangements for Dyer's dawn flit to the continent.
Watching in horror as Dyer kills Wigzell, Walton tries desperately to free herself. But she is soon tethered to the front seat of a different vehicle and driving through the dusk to the Kent airfield where Dyer apparently has a plane waiting. Typically, the car runs out of petrol and, while Dyer is buying snacks at the garage, Walton hurriedly scribbles a note that she tosses out of the window inside her purse. Biker David Fynn and trucker Gabriel Cameron fail to spot it, but minicab driver Allan Nicol not only picks it up, but also pockets the cash inside before tossing the purse down a drain.
Having discovered from the radio news that Dyer is a madman, Walton tries to keep him sweet and he takes pity on her when she requires a pill to calm a panic attack. He also tries to reassure her that while he may have murdered the three girls who had refused to sleep with him and the hoodie whom Walton had begged for help that he is a genuinely nice bloke at heart. Realising it's best to humour her captor, Walton nods and smiles and even agrees to go for a stroll when Dyer parks outside his childhood home. However, she tries to make a break for it when Dyer is recognised by neighbour Roy Smiles, who perishes at the end of a protracted struggle.
Naturally, Walton is recaptured and has to look on as Fynn rides up to deliver Dyer from patrol cop Alan McKenna (because he's a big fan of his crimes) and then gets dispatched with his throat slashed for adding GBH to the demented Dyer's rap sheet. She even helps him steal computer rep James Doherty's motor by pretending she has broken down. But when Dyer learns she has used Doherty's phone to alert her partner, he decides she has to be punished and takes her to the rundown complex where he used to squat and left one of his victims to starve to death in a cupboard.
There are a couple more twists in the tale before it reaches its inevitable denouement, but neither improves upon what has gone before. From the opening sequence, in which Amalou has Walton parade up and down a pavement as she takes a number of calls on her mobile, this is a picture that seemingly has no idea where it's heading. In fairness, the paucity of the budget probably explains why there are so few police cars searching for such a dangerous fugitive and why the streets of Europe's busiest metropolis are so deserted. But the standard of the support playing is as mediocre as the plotting and the dialogue.
Walton and Dyer have their moments during their cat and mouse games, with the former ably channelling her initial terror into resourcefulness and the latter occasionally suggesting the psychological anguish that makes him so desperate to please and so unstable when his efforts are spurned. But Walton's role is grossly underwritten, requiring her to do little but placate and elude as the situation dictates, while Dyer's man-child lacks both warped charisma and palpable menace in his dealings with his hostage. Thus, Amalou fails either to generate a real sense of suspense or disguise the moment when the tables are finally turned.
In this section
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 23/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 23/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 16/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 16/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 9/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 9/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 2/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 2/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 25/4/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 25/4/2013)