Tag Archives: Australian cinema

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

Electric Boogaloo
Electric Boogaloo

Format: Cinema

Release date: 5 June 2015

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Mark Hartley

Australia 2014

107 mins

Australian exploitation fan boy par excellence, Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed!) wraps his schlock doc trilogy with this suitably energetic ride through the highs and lows of Israeli film moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’s career – otherwise known as the bold, brash forces of nature behind infamous B-movie studio Cannon Films in the 1980s.

The pair – already the subject of Hilla Medalia’s Cannes-feted and officially sanctioned doc The Go-Go Boys – are notable in their absence from Hartley’s film (Globus and the late Golan reportedly wished to torpedo his efforts with Medalia’s project), and appear only in archive material (much of it drawn from the BBC). But Hartley rises to the challenge admirably. Talking heads – of which there are a staggering 80 in total – fire off anecdotes and sound bites with increasingly gleeful abandon, in an enjoyable ride through one of Hollywood’s more bizarre eras.

Oddly, there is scant mention (or analysis) of the cousins prior to their film association in Israel, nor does Roger Corman (whom Golan briefly worked with) appear to warrant a nod. The trash traders’ about-turn later in Cannon’s life, chasing credibility by pursuing the likes of John Cassavetes, Peter Bogdanovich and even Jean-Luc Godard, is also frustratingly not explored beyond a quick, cursory glance.

But what Hartley’s film does do, it does rather well. The absurdity of Cannon’s low-brow, worry-about-the-plot later mentality, its shameless pre-sales for so-called star-led vehicles that existed in poster form only, its Gargantuan output (up to 50 films a year) and appetite (buying up over 40 per cent of Britain’s film exhibition in one fell swoop) allowed its uncouth stars to shine briefly but brightly. Although few mourned the loss of the pair’s studio – brought down by box-office bombs such as Superman IV and Masters of the Universe, amidst reports of false accounting – many of those interviewed clearly look back with bemused fondness at what went on.

Cannon, as several note in the film, evidently provided a blueprint of sorts for the likes of Miramax (and for recent bone-head franchises like The Expendables) to flourish. It made a star out of Chuck Norris (who is not interviewed), discovered Jean-Claude Van Damme and set a precedent with Sylvester Stallone (both of whom are also absent), with the latter scoring an absurdly inflated pay cheque, in excess of $US10million, for the doomed arm-wrestling romp Over the Top. At one point, Cannon even owned the rights to Spider-Man, Superman and the Captain America franchises, despite its shocking appetite for sexual violence (brazenly on show notably in Michael Winner’s Death Wish sequels).

Golan and Globus’s eventual falling out (and subsequent reconciliation) is less effectively visualized here (see Medalia’s film for that). But otherwise, Hartley’s geek-fuelled journey down memory lane (with its generous serving of clips in tow) delivers a vibrant, often frenetic look at a remarkable pair of film-fawning men who were – if nothing else – determined to take on Hollywood at its own game. That they ultimately failed (or were, at least, kept firmly on the periphery) only adds to the fascinating nature of their screen story. Some detail may be lacking (and the story is hardly ‘untold’), but a ‘wild’ ride it most certainly is. Cinephiles and Cannon obsessives should form a line here.

Ed Gibbs

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

The Babadook

The Babadook
The Babadook

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 October 2014

Distributor: Icon Distribution

Director: Jennifer Kent

Writer: Jennifer Kent

Cast: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinny

Australia 2014

93 mins

The Babadook website

Championed by Rosie Fletcher, editor of Total Film, The Babadook was the big discovery of this year’s Film 4 FrightFest. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it is an oppressive Australian drama that uses a children’s story to talk about the monsters that lurk in the dark corners of the mind.

The Babadook is released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 February 2015 by Icon Distribution.

Essie Davis gives a masterful performance as Amelia, the downtrodden mother who lost her husband in a car crash the day she gave birth to their son. Sam (Noah Wiseman) is a troubled, anxious young boy dangerously obsessed with fighting monsters. One night, Sam finds a mysterious book on a shelf in his bedroom. Puzzled, Amelia reads him the story of The Babadook, which becomes increasingly sinister and threatening as they turn the pages. Soon, it seems that by opening the book they have indeed invited a dark force into their house.

Skilfully directed, the film is perfectly poised between real and unreal and manages to be both emotionally rich and disturbingly creepy, remaining ambiguous to the end. The Babadook is a great new monster, both childish and chilling with its striking silhouette and unnerving cry. Under its spell, roles shift to reveal that things may not be as straightforward as they had first appeared.

The relationship between mother and son is beautifully complex and poignant, and Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are compelling to watch, shifting between various moods with nuance and conviction. Initially agitated and irritating, Sam becomes sweet and brave when Amelia has to confront the monster. And while at first he appeared to have behavioural problems that isolated him from other children, it soon looks like he may understand the situation much more lucidly than the adults around him.

Confirming the subtlety and profound individuality of her approach, Kent refuses to follow conventions and ends her film in an entirely unexpected and heart-breakingly resonant manner. As the book says, once the Babadook is in, you can never get rid of it. But you can learn to live with it.

This review is part of our Film4 FrightFest 2014 coverage.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer:

Breaker Morant

Breaker Morant

Format: DVD

Release date: 1 September 2001

Distributor: Stax Entertainment

Director: Bruce Beresford

Writers: Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens, Bruce Beresford, Kit Denton

Based on the play by: Kenneth G. Ross

Cast: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, John Waters

Australia 1980

107 mins

A palpable, and justifiable, air of anger, bewilderment and injustice permeates Bruce Beresford’s Boer War drama, a major entry of the Australian New Wave of the late 70s and early 80s. With an Academy Award-nominated screenplay co-written by Beresford, Jonathan Hardy and David Stevens, a never better Edward Woodward in the title role, and an all-Australian supporting cast including Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown and Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell, Breaker Morant recreates the damning true-life tale of a court martial where military chicanery and international diplomacy doomed the accused before proceedings had even started.

A lieutenant in the Bushveldt Carbineers during the Second Boer War in South Africa, the Anglo-Australian Morant, now a folk hero to many in Australia, was arrested, along with lieutenants Peter Handcock (Brown) and George Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), and charged with the murders of six Boer prisoners. Morant and Handcock were also charged with the murder of a German missionary, who witnessed the killings and may, or may not, have been siding with the Boers. Acting under long-standing orders to take no prisoners and also to seek vengeance for the killing and mutilation of their ranking officer Captain Simon Hunt (Terence Donovan), Morant, Handcock and Witton would end up as sacrificial lambs for the greater good of the British Empire. Used as scapegoats to appease the South African and German governments after news of the summary executions by firing squad spread, and to keep the planned peace talks on track, the accused claimed that they were following the direct orders of their superiors, including Lord Kitchener, but their assertions held no sway in what was, ironically, little more than a kangaroo court. Morant and Handcock were executed by firing squad, and Witton, the youngest of the three, was sentenced to life with hard labour.

The larrikinism, earthy mordant humour and loyalty of the trio stand in direct opposition to the handlebar moustaches, repressed emotions, deceitfulness, clipped accents and air of privileged arrogance evinced by the British military leadership throughout Beresford’s expert retelling of the story. Morant, a renaissance man known for his great skill with horses, ballad writing and poetry, Handcock, a simple, working-class soldier and Witton, a naí¯ve, idealistic young man, were thrown to the wolves by the army they had volunteered to join. Presented in a non-linear, episodic fashion, reflective of the disjointed (and patently false) narrative that the British army forced onto the incident, Breaker Morant, shot entirely on location in South Australia, is awash with cutting dialogue, memorable performances and striking imagery.

The winner in 10 categories at the 1980 Australian Film Institute Awards, and including a performance by Thompson as the accused’s lawyer, Major J.F. Thomas, that won him the Best Supporting Actor Award at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, Beresford’s take on the 1978 stage production Breaker Morant: A Play in Two Acts by Kenneth G. Ross is an enduring reminder of a shameful act of betrayal, not just of individuals and colleagues, but of the colonial bonds between Britain and Australia. Morant’s bitingly sarcastic comment that ‘It is customary during a time of war to kill as many of the enemy as possible’ lays bare the hypocrisy, pig-headedness and callous indifference of his superior officers. Thompson indelibly captures the frustration, stoicism and professionalism shown by Thomas in fighting a battle that was already lost, and the climactic hilltop execution of Morant and Handcock, filmed at sunrise in a coincidental but notable reversal of the sunset sacrifice of Woodward’s Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man, is both gut-wrenching and visually breath-taking. As with much of Breaker Morant, the eschewing of a musical score in the climactic scenes enhances the grip of the emotionally engaging material. Everything you need to see and feel is up there on the screen without the need for aural manipulation.

The corrupting influence of war on all those involved and the heavy price paid by some for their blind allegiance to a cause, the flag they fought for and those in charge of espousing its virtues is thrown into stark relief in Beresford’s anti-war classic. Specific though the narrative may be, it attains a timeless quality made abundantly clear by the contemporary horrors of Abu Ghraib and the distance the US military’s chain of command put between itself and the perpetrators of those crimes committed in the name of the War on Terror.

Neil Mitchell



Format: Cinema

Release date: 18 November 2011

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Revolver Entertainment

Director: Justin Kurzel

Writers: Shaun Grant, Justin Kurzel

Cast: Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall, Louise Harris

Australia 2011

119 mins

Welcome to the stocky, pudgy face of evil. Justin Kurzel’s film manages to make the vile criminal clan of Animal Kingdom seem positively well-adjusted, sharing with that work a shabby suburban aesthetic, a passive main protagonist and its roots in an authentic tale of Australian depravity. It portrays a darker world, though, a medicated plywood and lace curtain hellhole were the police never tread. Living in a housing trust home in a Northern Adelaide development, a one-kangaroo town of overgrown grass and coin slot entertainment, Elizabeth (Louise Harris) is initially pleased when bright-eyed and bushy-bearded John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) shows up to scare a local paedo creep away from her three sons. As the oldest, Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), starts to look up to John as a father figure, the latter goes on a moral mission to rid the area of the creeps, weirdos and junkies that the criminal system seems unable or unwilling to handle. But there’s a sliding scale of criminal justice, and John’s idea of who needs to be punished and how seems to slide more than most. He’s charming, manipulative, coercive and abusive, and people have a habit of disappearing whenever he’s around…

Authentically, viscerally convincing in its performances and milieu, Snowtown throbs with tension and a deep sense of wrongness from its first reel onwards. The horrors within it are always located in a recognisable setting, John’s poisonous bullshit is always served up around the table with the food. Arse rape takes place to a cricket commentary, kangaroos are dismembered on the back porch, kids on bikes and scooters blithely sail past a house where a man is being tortured to death, and when a gun first appears it does so through brightly coloured plastic strip curtains. Cute knick-knacks and ornaments litter the shelves above the wood panelling, and in front of them everybody is on smack or morally compromised or bears the mark of Cain. Nobody looks like a movie star (Henshall is the only pro actor in the cast), the sound design is oppressive and exhilarating, and the photography is perfectly unbeautiful. Without Louise Harris as the mother I strongly suspect it would be unwatchable; you never stop believing that she loves her sons and that she is essentially a good woman - but she largely vanishes from the film in its later stages. It’s a brilliantly realised nightmare, though not one that I imagine the Australian tourist board are too happy with.

It’s horrible. It’s brilliant. It’s horrible.

Mark Stafford