Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)   Leave a comment

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In the vast wasteland of Australia’s post-apocalyptic desert, a powerful warrior liberates a harem from a water-hoarding despot with the help of a tortured nomad.

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Yep. That’s it. I could probably end my piece right here, but I’ll go a bit deeper.

Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the ground troops defending the empire of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). She heads out into the sprawling desert with a raiding party, but instead of collecting slaves or heads or gasoline, Furiosa goes astray and it’s apparent that she has another agenda. She has Joe’s wives secreted away in the cab of her fortified semi and is on her way to the Green Place, an oasis Furiosa knew as a child. The women, abducted from other tribes, served as breeders and sex slaves for the evil Immortan Joe in his mountain cave hideout. Joe holds his power over the people below with force and by controlling the most important resource, water.

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Not one drop of water on Arrak…no.

Immortan Joe and his merry band of genetic misfits discover Furiosa’s betrayal and before you can say “two men enter; one man leaves” they’re gamboling through the outback in a charming array of motor vehicles hoping to convince Furiosa and her charges to return. With a crew of war boys in mime makeup chasing her and gangs of motorcycle-straddling sand people hiding behind every rock, Furiosa needs all of her ingenuity and strength, along with a humongous cache of firearms, to repel the crazed hordes from her tanker truck and bring her charges to safety.

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“Did you say Humongous?”

Will she make it through the gauntlet without losing the rescued women? Will she get to the Green Space? Will this guy learn another tune?

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Freebird again?

There’s also Max. Did I mention Max? He’s in this too. Good old Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), whose name and demeanor bursts from the imagination of a frustrated teenage motorhead, begins this adventure as a captive of the war boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Nux gets off with a little help from silver spray paint applied to his teeth. Apparently, the weird, powder-coated Immortan Joe devotees need a constant supply of new blood, so they capture vulnerable wanderers to use as permanent blood donors. Max is strapped to Nux’s car and hooked-up to an IV to keep him in hemoglobin.

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“CALL MY AGENT!”

Max and Furiosa don’t hit it off right away. They try to kill each other until they realize their interests are better served by teaming up against the nutjob biker gang. That’s when it gets fun. Since this is a George Miller production, it’s chock full of nitrous-powered hot rods brimming with mutants with anger issues and massive car wrecks. Since I’m a fan of those, I found Mad Max: Fury Road entertaining. I’ve always loved the Mad Max franchise and hoped this would not be an exception. It isn’t. The Road Warrior/Handmaid’s Tale mashup worked and the action, for the most part, did not disappoint. I love Furiosa’s tricked-out truck cab. Her impressive armory makes sense and speaks to her strong warrior character. I also love the stilty flingy guys during the main chase sequence. In my notes, I call them pole vault warriors. That works too.

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Hieronymus Bosch, cinematographer.

I wish I could say the film crushed it all the way through, but I found the first desert chase scene lacking. I think the stunt coordinator had a wardrobe malfunction because his CGI showed. It also looked like they sped it up for some reason. It was early in the film and we didn’t know the characters yet. That lack of involvement with the story coupled with the Benny Hill-like speed increase made the segment hard to watch. I have no qualms with the later stunts though. They quenched my Mad Max thirst.

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“Say what again.”

A few character actors stood out in Fury Road. Nicholas Hoult as Nux adds a nice dimension to the film. He starts as your average war boy, but spends a good deal of the film trying to redeem himself. Since the whole Mad Max series deals with redemption, Nux fits. Riley Keough as Capable has an expressive and sympathetic face. She comes by it naturally. Elvis Presley is/was her grandfather. She says a lot without too much dialogue. Zoë Kravitz has a small, decent role, but doesn’t have much to do. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as Joe’s favorite wife, The Splendid Angharad, has a nice supporting part as the leader of the harem who sets the example for toughness among the wives. As for the bad guys, Immortan Joe lacks the verve of a Toecutter, which is odd because he played that part in the original Mad Max film. John Howard and Richard Carter play The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer and I wish they had more screen time. They have Baron Harkonnen-levels of disfigurement. Miller comes up with great baddies, then he refuses to let us see them. He also makes up great names!

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Toecutter and Immortan Joe: Together Again!

Charlize Theron as Furiosa and Tom Hardy as Max deliver. Theron looks hard and smart and fierce as a war-weary soldier who wants to go home. Hardy lets his guard down with Theron and they show great chemistry. It isn’t a romance. It’s two wounded souls recognizing each other. As soon as they realize how alike they are, Max has her back and Furiosa has his. It’s a loyalty based on loss and it works.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a terrific action film and I’m glad I finally saw it.

It’s Australia month here at Prowler Needs a Jump so get out your boomerangs!

kan
Desmond.

January Is Australia Month   2 comments

kan
Hi.

In “Waltzing Matilda”, an 1895 song written by Australian poet Banjo Paterson, a jolly swagman drinks a cup of billy tea near a billabong, steals a jumbuck from a squatter, then runs from the squatter and a few mounties to another billabong where he kills himself and his spirit haunts it forever. Cheery, isn’t it? You have to love a country whose unofficial national anthem involves sheep-stealing fugitives from the law, suicide, and ghosts.

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Banjo Paterson

Well, I do, anyway. It’s true. I’ve wanted to visit Australia since birth. There’s something so untamed and brutal about it. It still has thousands of acres of wild country, places where people live underground, and a truckload of things that can kill you in an instant. Awesome.

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“Lock the doors, Gladys. We’re in Australia.”

Based on all that and the whole former penal colony thing, I’ve decided to launch my 2017, Year of the Theme thing with Australia. Oh, I’m doing a 2017, Year of the Theme thing. I have no idea what films I’ll watch or how many. This will NOT be 31 Days of Marsupials or anything like that though because I have a kid and a job and I have to clean my bathroom and junk. I don’t have time to find, watch, and write coherently about 31 Australian films and still have time to buy groceries.

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I’ve heard this is vile, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been to Australia.

Anyway, stay tuned to this blog for some fun Australian film reviews written by someone who has never been to Australia. I do have some stuffed Australian animals and a didgeridoo so I think I’m qualified.

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Slim Dusty, AO MBE was an Australian national treasure. He sang a mean “Waltzing Matilda” too.

Blood Simple. (1984)   Leave a comment

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“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.”
RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett

Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires. The laws and substances of nature — water, snow, wind, gravitation — become penalties to the thief.
COMPENSATION by Ralph Waldo Emerson

What if there’s a crime and no one’s sure who committed the crime or what the crime is? What if you think you know who committed the crime, but you’re wrong? What if you can’t find your windbreaker anywhere? Also, what if you failed Conversation 101?

The owner of a dingy bar in Texas, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating.  He hires lowlife private detective, Loren Visser (the excellent M. Emmett Walsh) to tail her and confirm his suspicions.  Abby may or may not have cheated in the past, but on her way out of town she gets chummy with Ray (John Getz), a bartender in Marty’s saloon.  Marty can’t live with the knowledge of his wife’s infidelity so he decides to do something permanent about it and asks Visser to help. He may have hired the wrong guy.

Dark, moody, and atmospheric, BLOOD SIMPLE moves at a steady pace and always moves forward. The plot isn’t complicated. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen don’t go off on tangents which allows them to focus on the four main characters and what they think is going on. That’s the point, after all. The audience knows the entire story, but each character sees only his or her part in it. With limited information, they make poor decisions. They’re not crazy or irrational, but miscommunication or lack of any communication at all leads each of the main players to make bad decisions that compound each problem and dig them deeper into trouble. It’s like a high-stakes version of the telephone game, except in BLOOD SIMPLE, that innocent exercise of passing, “Dasher and Dancer are my favorite reindeer.” on as “Ashes cause cancer. Want a beer?” becomes dangerous confusion about a possible murder.

The characters, handicapped by limited access to the whole story, talk to one another, but their conversations muddy rather than clarify and people walk away from each exchange with less information than they started with. Only the audience is privy to the entire thing. This causes tension and a desire to yell at the screen. It also makes it hard to look away.

Shot in Austin, Texas with a small budget that Joel and Ethan Coen collected door-to-door, BLOOD SIMPLE looks and sounds more expensive than it should. Barry Sonnenfeld’s shadow-filled cinematography along with skillful editing by Roderick Jaynes and Don Wiegman lift the film’s quality above the usual mid-eighties thriller. Creative visual effects and a fantastic Carter Burwell score will stick with you, as will the trademark Coen gore. This was the Coen brothers’ first feature film and Burwell’s first film score, but you’d never know it. Their clear vision ties a simple plot, a small cast, and spare sets together to make an inventive neo-noir classic.

The cast, led by Frances McDormand, all excel at restraint. There’s so much left unsaid in every conversation, the script must have consisted largely of stage directions. That said, McDormand, Getz, Walsh, and Hedaya are all wonderful character actors who can say a lot without words.  McDormand’s character, Abby, even mentions the lack of chit chat. After she says to Ray that he’s quiet like Marty, she explains, “When he doesn’t say things, they’re usually nasty. When you don’t, they’re usually nice.” That’s sweet and all, but if Ray could just finish a sentence… The dialogue we get is choice. When Visser warns Marty to keep their association to himself, Marty says,” I wasn’t about to tell anyone. This is an illicit romance–we’ve got to trust each other to be discreet. For richer, for poorer.” Visser comes back with,” Don’t say that. Your marriages don’t work out so hot.” The whole film is an exercise in understatement and it’s a subtle, brutal treat.

This piece appeared originally in the Brattle Film Notes.

All About Iago: All Night Long (1962)   4 comments

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O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
Othello by William Shakespeare
In Basil Dearden’s 1962 film All Night Long, the writers shift Shakespeare’s Othello from 16th century Venice to 1960s London. Set in the black and white world of jazz clubs and smoky back rooms, All Night Long has a cool cocktail party vibe and a fantastic score. It also has a vicious plot full of innuendo, plotting, and lies. The writers obviously used Othello as a guide, but they may also have watched All About Eve once or twice.

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“What a great party! Nothing can possibly go wrong tonight.”

Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough) hosts a party at his London brownstone. It’s a surprise anniversary party for friends Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and his wife, Delia Lane (Marti Stevens). The couple and their guests, the best jazz musicians in London, gather to celebrate and listen to each other jam. As the group of friends talk and toast, a note of suspicion drifts into the scene. Johnnie Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), the drummer for Rex’s band, wants to step out on his own. He also has a thing for Rex’s wife, Delia. Tired of playing in someone else’s band, Johnny wants his own group even if sabotaging Rex is the only way to get it.

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“I’m going to stare at Rex until he lets me go solo.”

Does this sound familiar? In All About Eve, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) wanted the lead role promised to Margot Channing (Bette Davis) in an upcoming play. Eve also wanted Margot’s director boyfriend, Bill (Gary Merrill) for herself. A little backstabbing here and there and Eve almost got everything she wanted. Watching All Night Long, I could almost picture Karen (Celeste Holm) asking Eve if all this heartbreak and treachery was worth it just for a part in a play. Eve answers, “I’d do much more for a part that good.” Eve and Johnnie Cousin would get along great.

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“Pardon me. I have to go sharpen my knife.”

The allusions to Othello are more obvious. Johnnie Cousin as Iago plants the seeds of jealousy and mistrust in Rex (Othello) by implying that Delia (Desdemona) is cheating with Cass (Cassio). Instead of Iago planting Desdemona’s handkerchief on Cassio, as in Shakespeare’s play, Johnnie plants Delia’s cigarette case on Cass which enflames Rex’s jealousy and sends him over the edge.

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“He never tries to destroy my life at home.”

Slowly and subtly, Johnnie plants a word here, a rumor there, until Rex doubts the loyalty of his road manager, Cass (Keith Mitchell) and even his wife. To add fuel to the fire, Delia and Cass have been meeting secretly while the band tours to rehearse a song they’ll perform at the party as a gift for Rex. Hearing about these clandestine, but innocent meetings along with Johnnie’s other lies convinces Rex that he’s being duped. Rex lashes out and what started as a happy occasion ends in violence.

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“Out, damned sp…oh wrong play.”

Basil Dearden directed controversial films in the 1950s and 60s. He started with Sapphire in 1959 which concerns the racially-motivated murder of a young girl. Dearden went on to make the terrific film Victim in 1961. In Victim, Dirk Bogarde plays a successful barrister who stands up to a ring of criminals blackmailing homosexuals. Both films deal frankly with taboo subjects while avoiding stereotypes. The subjects are people with flaws who make mistakes and Dearden treats them fairly. In All Night Long, a few of the musicians smoke pot and there are references to drug rehabilitation and psychotherapy. Most mainstream, non-exploitation films of the early 60s don’t refer to anything like that. Then there’s the obviously controversial mixed marriage and mixed romance in All Night Long. Delia is white and Rex, black. Cass is white and his love, Benny (María Velasco) is black. Aside from the Othello connection, the big deal in this film is that there is no big deal. The romances simply exist. No one calls attention to them.  Five years later in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the subject of mixed marriage is the whole film. Dearden tackled important issues well before most of his colleagues.

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“Honey, we’re breaking new ground.”
“Don’t be silly, sweetheart. We’re kissing on the stairs.”

Any discussion of All Night Long must mention Philip Green’s music. It’s glorious. Even if you think Coltrane is how we transport briquets, you’ll probably enjoy this score. Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, and other renowned jazz musicians play pick-up sets throughout the film. They play themselves and their instruments as both an accompaniment and an accent to the story. During tense scenes, the incessant drum beat takes a toll on the ones being squeezed and the device works. It comes off as natural. I mean, it’s hard to complain about a film that begins with Charles Mingus casually playing bass alone on stage while he waits for the party to start.

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Attenborough toasts Mingus. Mingus toasts Attenborough.

Here’s where I wax rhapsodic about one of my favorite character actors. Patrick McGoohan, most famous for his lead role in the enigmatic science fiction/spy series The Prisoner also starred in Ice Station Zebra and appeared in and directed a few of the best episodes of Columbo. In All Night Long, McGoohan even says his trademark, “Be seeing you.” McGoohan has the best part in All Night Long. His smug, obsequious Johnnie Cousin can’t wait to drop his little rumor bombs and walk away, returning in time to witness the explosions and offer to help. His intricate plan has so many twists, you can see Johnnie’s wheels turning every time another character speaks.

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“I’m not plotting against you or anything.”

Johnnie has set the machinations in place, but he needs to think on his feet too. McGoohan looks great in this film.  He even learned to play the drums to appear more natural in the part. As for the rest of the cast, Richard Attenborough did lovely work in the 1960s and this part, although small, makes a difference. Attenborough’s kindness highlights McGoohan’s cruelty. Betsy Blair is all restraint as McGoohan’s sweet, long-suffering wife. Paul Harris and Marti Stevens make believable lovers. Warm and honey-voiced, Stevens convinces as the object of desire for her talent as well as herself. Her rendition of All Night Long is lovely and full of emotion.

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“Did he call you Number Two?”

All Night Long takes risks. A cast full of jazz stalwarts and solid character actors, a plot written by Shakespeare and updated by Nel King and Paul Jarrico, and a catchy jazz soundtrack make for an unusual and entertaining film.

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Dave Brubeck trades fours with Charles Mingus. Nothing to see here.

Note: Paul Jarrico appears in the credits as Peter Achilles. Jarrico was blacklisted by HUAC and wrote under different pseudonyms for years after.

This piece appeared in a slightly different form in Brattle Film Notes, the blog for the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)   2 comments

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Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) lives a drab, joyless life. Married to dull, but decent George (Edward Chapman), Rose keeps house for her husband, his two nearly grown daughters from a previous marriage, and their small son. She’s worn out from rationing, slum-living, and her uneventful life in the East End of London.

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“There’s another dead bishop on the landing!”

One Sunday, while preparing Sunday dinner, Rose finds escaped-convict Tommy Swann (John McCallum) hiding in her family’s air-raid shelter. Tommy was serving a prison sentence for a violent robbery committed years before on the day he was to have married Rose. He begs Rose to hide him until nightfall when he’ll make his escape. She tries to resist, but still loves him so she promises to keep him safely locked away in her bedroom for the day. As her husband and children go about their Sunday routines, Rose becomes more tense. She knows she should turn him in, but she loved him once. As the day progresses, Tommy tries to seduce Rose and his attention brings back thoughts she hadn’t entertained in years. Rose is torn. Should she give Tommy over to the police or chuck it all and go on the run with him?

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“Surprise!”

To complicate matters further, Rose’s stepdaughters, Vi (Susan Shaw) and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) are old enough to feel claustrophobic in her home and Vi, the elder of the two, can barely contain her resentment. As it gets closer to nightfall, Rose can’t take the pressure and starts picking fights with everyone in the family. The bickering reaches a fever pitch on a usually calm Sunday afternoon.

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“A noise? Nah. Must be your imagination.”

All the time Rose agonizes about having a convict under her bed, the law, led by Detective Sergeant Fothergill (Jack Warner) combs the streets for Tommy. Fothergill knows Tommy’s old criminal associates might have a line on where he’s holed up so he presses them for information. This adds to the overall feeling of pressure in the film. During Fothergill’s investigation we get to see the melting pot neighborhood where all this drama takes place. As the camera pans through the busy market, we hear a smattering of Yiddish among the English-speakers. It’s a working-class mix of different cultures with a lot of personality.

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Must be a special on eel pie.

It Always Rains on Sunday, listed as a crime drama or film noir, also resembles some French films of the 1930s. Films like Pépé le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier and Le Règle du Jeu (Rules of the Game), directed by Jean Renoir, show people on the fringes of society living in despair. These films in the subset of poetic realism often have a cynical point of view and at least one character resigned to his own sad fate. The characters hope for love or fortune or something grand, but are often beaten down by a series of misfortunes or a set of rules they didn’t make. Though not technically of that French genre, this film shares composer Georges Auric with many of the films of poetic realism. The style of It Always Rains on Sunday influenced many of the British kitchen-sink dramas of the 1950s and 60s like Look Back in Anger (1956) and A Taste of Honey (1961). These films departed from the usual upper-crust British films by showing working class people stuck in dead-end jobs and living in squalor and dealt more frankly with sex, race, and poverty than films had up to that point.

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Poor is Hell.

Michael Balcon produced It Always Rains on Sunday and many other films for Ealing Studios. He also produced for Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British, and MGM British Studios and had a huge influence on British cinema. Director, Robert Hamer helmed this and Kind Hearts and Coronets for the studio. Ealing specialized in comedies and some of the locations look like those in the comedies The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe filmed It Always Rains on Sunday along with The Great Gatsby (1974), Rollerball (1975), and about eighty other films while collecting a basket full of Academy Award and BAFTA nominations and wins.

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Such a pretty shot.

Fleshing out the story are some terrific British character actors. Hermione Baddeley, Alfie Bass, Sydney Tafler, and Nigel Stock all play the kind of small parts that make any film more realistic.

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“It was a wombat, I tell ya!”

Watch It Always Rains on Sunday for the slice-of-life drama, the dingy, authentic atmosphere, and for the marvelous performance by Googie Withers. In the time it takes to make a Sunday roast, Withers unravels internally without going all Mystic River Sean Penn on us. She shows us just enough. It’s a restrained and artful take on what could easily have been melodrama. Withers also has great chemistry with John McCallum, who she later married so you know the steam is real. If you’re in the mood for a little gem of a film that’s a little bit noir and a little bit day-in-the-life, check out It Always Rains on Sunday.

Notes: Googie Withers and John McCallum were married for 62 years!

Googie means Little Pigeon and was a nickname her nanny gave the actress as a child.

The Coca-Cola Kid (1985)   3 comments

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Becker (Eric Roberts), a marketing genius, travels to Sydney from the United States to boost sales of Coca-Cola in Australia.  He’s a hired gun, of sorts, sent by Coca-Cola headquarters to drum up business. The laid-back executives at the Sydney office don’t know what to make of him, but are told by the brass, “Don’t try to understand him. Just know that he doubles and triples sales.” Staff in the Sydney branch decide, wisely, to leave him alone. Given free rein, Becker looks for weaknesses in the Aussie market. A distribution map of the country shows a glaring hole in Coke sales.  Rural Anderson Valley sells no Coke at all. Becker heads to the region to find out why. In Anderson Valley, Becker meets T. George McDowell (Bill Kerr), an autocratic businessman who makes his own brand of soft drinks and controls the soda market there.

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The tutti-frutti is made of wombats.

T. George’s passion and entrepreneurship impress Becker. His old-fashioned, but well-run factory turns out delicious products and employs many of the town’s residents. Still, even T. George is no match for the Coca-Cola machine.  The writing’s on the wall. Becker wants to bring in Coke and squeeze T. George out of his own territory.

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Stand up, Matilda’s waltzing.

The Coca-Cola Kid has a simple plot and could take place in Australia or even rural Mississippi or Maine if it stuck with the ‘just the facts, ma’am’ approach. It’d also be an average film and be over in thirty-five minutes. What takes it to the next level are the characters and tangential stories Frank Moorhouse weaves into the screenplay. One involves an aboriginal didgeridoo player, Mr. Joe (Steve Dodd) and other local musicians; another, a hotel bellman (David Slingsby), in a subversive political organization who mistakes Becker for a CIA agent. A third story revolves around Terri (Greta Scacchi), Becker’s secretary in Sydney and her chaotic home life and history.

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Tonight on Kris Kringle Yoga…

You’ll see familiar faces in The Coca-Cola Kid. Some Australian ‘that guys’ make appearances along with musicians Ricky Fataar and Tim Finn.

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Ricky Fataar and Steve Dodd in the studio

Finn also wrote the original songs and the faux Coke ad which features Mr. Joe on the didgeridoo. It’s a catchy tune.  Bill Kerr was a popular and well-known Australian actor and I noticed at least two cast members from The Road Warrior.  Rebecca Smart plays the precocious DMZ beautifully. Greta Scacchi’s role is not as fleshed-out as it could be, but she does a nice job with it as a flaky working mom with a complicated backstory. She and Roberts have great chemistry. Finally, Eric Roberts, plays Becker as a perfectionist who sees Coca-Cola as an extension of the Unites States and espouses its virtues with evangelical zeal.  He’s thrown himself into his work and eschewed a personal life.

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Brown and bubbly

He’s not like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross though. He has a tender heart and Roberts has the acting chops for it. In the 1980s, Eric Roberts made some terrific films.  Star 80, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Runaway Train, and The Coca-Cola Kid all show his talent and range.

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Becker in a vulnerable moment

During Becker’s mission, he meets a string of quirky, unpredictable characters which bring to mind the Bill Forsyth films Local Hero and Comfort and Joy.  As I thought more about it, I realized one of the offbeat players in The Coca-Cola Kid is Australia itself. Director, Dusan Makavejev lets the camera linger on the scenery as well as the actors. Like Local Hero, the place has a personality. It’s foreign to Becker. Everyone speaks English, but they all function so differently from the businessmen Becker deals with that it throws him. His neat, orderly world changes and it hits him hard. He generally rolls in, sizes up the competition, makes changes, and jets home to Atlanta to await his next assignment. He doesn’t get involved in the private lives of his employees. He doesn’t meet odd people.  He doesn’t get excited or upset. He does his job, then leaves. The funky wonderfulness of Australia and its people gets to him. It got to me too. I saw The Coca-Cola Kid when it came out in 1985 and I hoped Australia was like this.  Maybe it never was, but I like it anyway.

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So Long at the Fair (1950)   2 comments

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Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) and her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) arrive in Paris on the eve of the 1889 World’s Fair.  They’re traveling through, but Vicky, excited about her first trip to Paris, convinces Johnny to spend the next day in the city and take her to the fair.  That night, the siblings dine in Montmartre and see a show at the Moulin Rouge.

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“I’m having so much fun! I hope I don’t disappear.”

The next morning, Vicky waits for her brother to pick her up for breakfast.  When he’s late, Vicky visits the hotel desk to get Johnny’s room key and check on him.  Not only do they not have his key, but the proprietor tells Vicky no such room exists and Johnny was never there.

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“I’m looking for my oh hello.”

Frantic, Vicky searches for Johnny and tries desperately to prove he was with her.  The more she insists her story is true, the more people think she’s crazy.  With no money, no friends, and no proof, how will Vicky find her brother?

SO LONG AT THE FAIR follows the main ideas originated in Anselma Heine’s story “Die Erscheinung” (“The Apparition”), in the Richard Oswald-directed silent anthology film EERIE TALES (1919).  The concept appears again in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES in 1938.  Based on Ethel Lina White’s 1936 story THE WHEEL SPINS, THE LADY VANISHES adds Fascists and spies to the already tense tale of a young woman who meets the elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) on a train and then can’t prove she was ever there.  In that film, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) finally convinces Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) she’s not a nut and the two fight fear, indifference, and bad guys to find their friend.  Hitchcock recycled the story again for his ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS television series in 1955 in the episode INTO THIN AIR starring his daughter Patricia.  That show involves a daughter searching for her missing mother and gives Alexander Woollcott story credit.  The stories mostly feature young women in the lead roles who spend the majority of the stories trying to prove to pretty much everyone that they’re not insane and “Oh, could you please look for my brother/friend/mom?”

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“Have you met Dad?”

SO LONG AT THE FAIR differs from the other manifestations of this idea in its presentation.  The Jean Simmons version was a Gainsborough Pictures production which means lavish sets, period costumes, and pearl-clutching drama.  Costume drama is not usually my favorite film genre, but SO LONG AT THE FAIR is a good film with some genuinely tense moments.  That probably has a lot to do with the cast and director.

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This means no vampires.

Jean Simmons carries the film well.  She’s a sweet and innocent girl in peril, but she’s smart and strong enough to stand up for herself and find her brother.  She could easily have gone all limp and useless, but the story and the actress are stronger and that makes it more fun to watch.  Along with Simmons, the cast includes a few other up-and-coming British actors who acquit themselves well and look lovely too.  Honor Blackman has a small part as does the wonderful Andre Morel and the gorgeous Dirk Bogarde.  Bogarde has a nice supporting role as a well-heeled artist living in Paris who helps Simmons in her brother quest.  Bogarde is young and handsome and terrifically appealing in this film.  He and Simmons look good together.  Did I mention Dirk Bogarde is incredibly attractive?  Oh all right.  I’ll stop.  He is though.

slatf02
See?

Another reason SO LONG AT THE FAIR WORKS as more than a vehicle for young stars is the direction by the talented Terence Fisher.  Fisher directed a boatload of noir, thriller, and horror films for Hammer Film Productions from the 1950s through the 1970s and his ability in those genres transforms SO LONG AT THE FAIR from the usual Gainsborough melodrama to a more thrilling mystery and makes the heroine’s situation that much more frightening.

slatf00
When in doubt, ask some nuns.

Unlike BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965) and other GASLIGHT-type films, we know Vicky’s brother exists.  We’ve seen him.  The question is will we and Vicky ever see him again?

I wrote this piece for the British Invaders Blogathon presented by Terence Towles Canote and his site A Shroud of Thoughts

Thanks for the inspiration, Terence!

brit invade

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