Update 2018 with Roeg’s passing: Slightly less taken with Walkabout’s politics this time out. As a critique of settler colonialism, it’s both vaguer and less eloquently abstract than Peter Weir’s wonderful Picnic at Hanging Rock, a truly poignant and critical take on a cloistered community corseted by their own haze of superiority and indifferent curiosity about other ways of life.
But I’m possibly more enamored this time of Walkabout’s metaphysical vision of sensory experience. Its vision of the conviction of colonial consciousness shuddering apart, of transfixed youths suddenly spellbound by the limits of their own minds, is problematic, but also intoxicating food for thought. And Roeg uses it to divine a film of internal ruptures and wanderings into the unknown, exploring the irregularity of human experience and the non-totality of any individual culture with frighteningly fractious editing and cinematography that veers from the acrid to the oneiric. Above all, he dares us to touch the jagged poetry of the world in disarray. It’s a flawed experience, and perhaps too nihilistic, but it boasts its own truly singular poetry, an elegiac and tragic meeting of minds that explores the fallout of cultural connection and clash.
Nicolas Roeg was not an Australian director, nor did he have much to do with Australia for the rest of his career. But, when he wished to explore the elusive mystery of human distance and find the frightful regions of human history and modernity in what would seem to be majestic from a distance, it is no surprise that he looked to Australia as his canvas. The always damaged mystery of the location is unspooled across the unforgiven lateral extension of a landscape leftover from history, stretching on forever into the regions of madness. Not knowing the history of the region, the fading crimson of the sun staring at the fleshy human form instills its own sweat and sickly grime on the viewer. The unforgiving chill of the forlorn landscape dotted with an abject tree or two every now and again gives off a wafting aroma of decay and empty space, selling the history of this location as an abstract space of eternal rupture, the kind ever-primed to refract social fissures and psychological shattering. Continue reading →
Right from the beginning, Planet of the Apes settles itself on a nexus between tactile action and implacable inaction. The prologue, set on a spaceship as astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) throws his throaty baritone into a mission log, establishes the very 2001: A Space Odyssey sub-Kubrickian cosmic chill of the material. Taylor, along with Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton), are on an amorphous vision of an intentionally nebulous, even pointless nature; what matters is not where they are going or why, but the existential frostiness of the pallid white of the ship’s interior and the very present deadened quality in Heston’s worrisome but unconcerned voice. Continue reading →
When we last left him, former police office Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) lost his family and his best friend, and had fulfilled a most unfulfilling form of revenge on the now lawless highways of the Australian outback. He had lost and repaid the loss only to realize that there was nothing to be won back. When we last left him, there was nothing left for him but the empty road.
When we last left him, former no-name George Miller had given us one of the most menacing, sinister, full-throttle action pics ever released. Now a go-to guy, there wasn’t much keeping him from his distinctly more apocalyptic vision of dystopia and humanity left for dead, not to mention his vision of non-stop action filmmaking. With a greater budget and his original star Mel Gibson, then almost on the verge of becoming a major movie star and certainly a household name in the Australian film industry, in tow, his dreams would come true with the release of the 1981 The Road Warrior, one of the de facto “perfect” action pictures and still to this day among the true classics of the genre (a number that wallows and exists as a handful more than a genuine plethora). Continue reading →
Thirty six years later, with the release of the grandly, boisterously cinematic carnival opera of Mad Max: Fury Road, it is difficult to peer back through the looking glass and glimpse the humble origins of the Mad Max fiction. It is difficult to remember that, for all its commercial and critical success, the 1979 release of Mad Max was nothing more than a budget of 400,000 dollars (a paltry sum then and now) and one of the great modern cinematic visualists doing everything they could together to disturb, provoke, and ultimately, to entertain and thrill. It is difficult to remember how intimately inhuman the original Mad Max is, how nonchalantly brutal and matter-of-factly nihilistic it is in its almost impressionist depiction of apocalypse and social malaise propped up by stunning, startling car chases of unquenchable viciousness. It is also difficult, in lieu of the great majesty of the second film in the series, Mad Max 2:the Road Warrior, to remember how effective the original grinding house classic of action entertainment is to this day. Continue reading →
Many of the films I’ve reviewed for this month’s descent into the darker regions of cinema at least welcome the benefit of general acceptance. They are, if horrible, known quantities in their horror and thus well-equipped to inform the viewer of their badness beforehand. Put simply, you know what you are getting into. Yet, deep down, any traversing adventurer of the medium secretly knows that the movies that are regularly trumpeted for their badness cannot truly take the cake, that the real depths of incompetence are almost certainly unknown to anyone but the form’s most cherished devotees. When you get down into it, we know that the films that are generally well-known to be the “worst movies ever” benefit from a certain functional quality that makes their badness understandable to the general public. It makes them actual movies, in other words, capable of being judged in relation to other movies and considered worse. Continue reading →
In the frantic next-big-thing post-haste grab-bag of follow-the-leader early ’80s pop cinema, the successes of Star Wars and, to a lesser extent, more barbaric works like Conan the Barbarian, took the cinematic landscape for a ride and everyone was struggling mightily to stay on board. The general thrust of the plan was “make it like the 1950s would have, but add in just a bit more violence for the kiddies”, and with this, we can single out a few filmic years caught searching for cover under the perpetual hail of hyper-masculinized, macho bro-forces that mistook the likes Rambo: First Blood for a Reaganistic hagiography of big dudes with bigger guns. Littered deep under the fallout, after you move away the rubble for a few hours, one of the most culpably misguided, and among the earliest of these films, emerges: Megaforce, perhaps the most perfectly captured distillation of the year 1982 anyone was ever capable of dreaming up. Continue reading →
I would so deeply have loved to claim that Pitch Perfect 2 takes advantage of its premise with a tidal wave of bubbly, giddy affection and camaraderie that even I, born and bred A Capella enemy, could be swayed by its sheer cataclysmic force and gallant reluctance to submit to the screenwriting essentials of the cinematic world. By all accounts, the original Pitch Perfect (unseen by me) was an achievement primarily for its low-key, shaggy-dog bonding and unforced, almost non-narrative chill-out vibe. Ideally, in Pitch Perfect 2, singing scenes would double as bonding sequences for characters, and individual moments of plucky, even spunky, post-narrative fluff doctored up with flashy camera movements and zippy staging and framing would be the order of the day .
Pitch Perfect 2, unfortunately, makes the mistake of thinking it is a real film with things like a narrative, and it desperately, punishingly wishes that we accept this unearned narrative fixation from the get-go. The premise – the Barden Bellas, an all-female A Capella group, accidentally cause a snafu in front of the First Family of the United States, and the group has to win an international A Capella tournament in order to get their good name back, is functional and fine. But on top of this, the film piles a pair of romances, inter-group friction about the future of the Bellas, and a secret internship for main Bella Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) in her attempt to enter the music recording industry that causes an identity crisis and a handful of solid belly laughs from Keegan-Michael Key. Continue reading →