Colin Friels

High Tide (1987, Gillian Armstrong)

During High Tide’s final twist, I began to wonder just how different the film would be with different music. Sometimes Peter Best’s score is fine—or even good—sometimes it’s very much a product of its time and using way too much saxophone. The film’s biggest melodrama beat, where it commits to just being a melodrama about long-lost mom Judy Davis reuniting with daughter-who-thought-she-was-dead Claudia Karvan, the music utterly flops. It’s a questionable sequence at best—director Armstrong and writer Laura Jones have completely lost any sense of narrative distance or perspective by this point in the film—but it Best’s accompanying music just makes it silly.

Doesn’t help the scenes immediately following are basically a rapid-fire montage to get the characters through their difficult “thinking and feeling” responses, skipping Davis altogether and giving Karvan yet another disagreement with grandmother and guardian Jan Adele. What’s even stranger is the film takes place in a very finite time period—a week and a couple days, yet sometimes it’ll seem like far more time has passed than could’ve, particularly with Davis’s romance with local boy Colin Friels.

It’s all a shame because the first act is excellent. Davis comes to this small-town on tour; she’s a backup singer and dancer for an Elvis impersonator. Little does she know daughter Karvan is living there with Adele in a mobile home park. Karvan’s aware of Davis’s presence almost immediately. The town’s only got one entertainment hall, split between the family friendly and the adults only. Karvan sneaks over to look and happens to see Davis, but has no frame of reference to recognize her. Davis has made no effort to contact Karvan and, for a while, I’d forgotten they were going to be mother and daughter, because Davis is so blasé about being in this particular small town.

Well, she’s blasé because she has no idea. But when her car breaks down and she’s got to stay in the same mobile home park while it’s getting fixed up… it’s only a matter of time before she and Karvan cross paths. And then only a little more time before Adele shows up, telling Davis to stay away or else. Can Davis stay away? Ish. The plot perturbations to inform Karvan of her mystery parentage are rather protracted and basically reveal the utter pointlessness of one of the supporting cast members. High Tide’s plotting is particularly weird because the third act dumps significant supporting cast members, leaving their subplots either unresolved or passed off with a shrug and a line of exposition.

Based on how Armstrong sets up the film’s narrative distance in the first act, with the camera as an omniscient, objective third person, it could be fine. But the camera gets a whole lot less exploratory in the second act, especially once Armstrong settles on her system for conversation scenes. Establishing, close-up, alternate close-up, close-up, alternative close-up, maybe a tight medium shot of one person, then the other, then scene. Armstrong sticks closest to this formula with anything involving Davis, which means you rarely get to see her and Karvan on screen together. Instead there are just the reaction shots as they try to figure out their relationship, which ought to be some good scenes, based on how well Davis and Karvan do in other parts of the film… but the script’s not there. You wait the whole movie—well, after it’s revealed they’re really doing the one in 16.26 million chance of them running into each other—and then the pay-off is blah. It’s okay enough for Davis, but the film’s been gradually less and less her perspective and more her being a subject, but it’s terrible for Karvan. When Davis and Adele are fighting over her, she’s got all the agency of a paperweight.

Again, with that omniscient, objective third person camera Armstrong could get away with it because she’s just finding the image in these actions, but Armstrong has long since dropped it. Even for the terrible melodrama beat, it’s not like Armstrong’s got some beautifully visualized sequence with crappy music. It’s a boring (albeit pretty because ocean and beach and whatnot) visual and that crappy saxophone blaring.

For some of the second act, before it’s clear Davis doesn’t actually have anything going on besides the don’t-want-to-be a mom arc, it seems like High Tide would be better if she and Karvan’s stories were just juxtaposed. But they don’t end up having enough story. Davis’s most successful character relationship arc is with the mechanic (Mark Hembrow), who’s not even in it enough to get a name in the end credits. And Adele… she kind of gets more to do than either of them, but it’s just to burn runtime.

Good photography from Russell Boyd, fine editing from Nicholas Beauman. Sally Campbell’s production design is excellent.

Davis is good, Adele is all right, Karvan’s okay. Friels’s… fine. What’s interesting about Davis is apparently she picks “good” men, which isn’t really part of the story as it turns out. High Tide just needs a good rewrite. And a composer without a predilection for saxophones.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gillian Armstrong; written by Laura Jones; director of photography, Russell Boyd; edited by Nicholas Beauman; music by Peter Best; production designer, Sally Campbell; costume designer, Terry Ryan; produced by Sandra Levy; released by Filmpac Distribution.

Starring Judy Davis (Lilli), Claudia Karvan (Ally), Jan Adele (Bet), John Clayton (Col), Colin Friels (Mick), Frankie J. Holden (Lester), Toni Scanlan (Mary), Monica Trapaga (Tracey), ‘Cowboy’ Bob Purtell (Joe), Marc Aden Gray (Jason), Emily Stocker (Michelle), and Mark Hembrow (the mechanic).


Malcolm (1986, Nadia Tass)

Malcolm has strange plotting. The film runs just ninety minutes—like you don’t really believe that official ninety minute runtime and it doesn’t feel like they’re rounding up from eighty-nine either. The film’s light and it seems to be coming from the drama. There really isn’t any. There’s charm instead. Almost cuteness.

The title Malcolm is Colin Friels, a thirty-ish Autistic man (though the film never describes his diagnosis or even if anyone understands he’s got one—1986 after all) who lives alone since his mother’s died. He’s a mechanical genius with a fascination about Melbourne’s trams. He even works for the trams for a while… but off-screen. The movie opens with him getting fired for building his own one-person tram. Strapped for cash, he has to bring in a lodger. He takes the first one who comes to see the room–John Hargreaves.

At this point, Malcolm seems like it’s going to be about kindly neighborhood shop owner Beverley Phillips getting Friels to socially develop thanks to Hargreaves. It seems like it for about three minutes, which is a long time in Malcolm. But then Hargreaves brings home girlfriend Lindy Davies and she stays. Like a day after Hargreaves comes in. It isn’t clear why Hargreaves and Davies weren’t just looking for a place together. Character motivations are not writer (and cinematographer) David Parker’s strong suit. Neither is the cinematography, just to get it out of the way. Malcolm has very flat cinematography. The film’s able to get through the flat lighting and the script’s absence of characters’ ground situations because of director Tass. She’s okay with composition, but she’s great at directing her actors. Friels, Davies, and Hargreaves all turn in these fantastic performances and, along with the mood (which is the script, is the direction), make Malcolm work. Even though both Friels and Davies kind of get the story focus shaft. It instead concentrates on Hargreaves, which doesn’t make any sense because the whole point of his life being different than before is specifically because of what Friels and Davies are now doing in it.

Hargreaves is really good. He gives the best performance in the film, which he shouldn’t, but he isn’t able to transcend the script. The part isn’t good enough. The closest the movie gets to dramatics often involves Hargreaves saying something shitty about Friels behind his back and Davies giving him hell for it, leading to offscreen bonding between Hargreaves and Friels. Eventually Hargreaves has some personal growth and isn’t a dick to Friels anymore but we sure don’t get to see it. There’s the potential for character development, then there’s a jump ahead past it. Multiple times. Parker and Tass are too obvious in what they’re not addressing. They draw attention to what they’re not doing and then still manage to be too deliberate in how they showcase the gadgetry.

After Davies moves in, Friels starts making different gadgets and machines to impress Hargreaves because apparently Friels thinks he’s cool. Or something. We never find out because whenever anyone wants to have a serious talk with Friels, they do it offscreen so Parker doesn’t have to write the dialogue. After the first act, Friels basically becomes a (necessary) third wheel in Davies and Hargreaves’s story, which is mostly from Davies’s perspective because Hargreaves doesn’t do anything interesting on his own. Not even when he does things on his own; the movie can’t make them seem interesting.

Hargreaves has a scummy bar friend—an astonishingly third-billed Chris Haywood, who gets about four minutes on screen and never a close-up. Haywood’s just around for when Hargreaves needs to do something away from Friels and Davies. Until Hargreaves reaches the point he realizes he’s got to grow and then he just runs away to different areas of the house.

Another success of Tass’s direction is the lack of claustrophobia, even when there ought to be.

Whenever Friels shows Hargreaves a new gadget, it’s an action set piece. They’re really cool sequences, often involving remote controlled cars or objects. Editor Ken Sallows always cuts the action well. They’re the film’s pay-off moments and they work.

But they really shouldn’t be the film’s pay-off moments. They supersede the characters. For the finale the actors don’t even get to participate in the big action sequence.

It’s a great sequence though and when the actors do come back, they’re able to make up for the lost time goodwill-wise.

Malcolm doesn’t succeed in spite of itself, it just doesn’t aim high enough. It also adjusts its aim lower as the film goes on. Its potential deflates as it goes.

But it’s really cute, really charming, often rather funny. Excellent performances from Hargreaves, Friels, and Davies. Nice score from Simon Jeffres.

Just wish the script were more interested in the characters.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nadia Tass; written and photographed by David Parker; edited by Ken Sallows; music by Simon Jeffes; produced by Tass and Parker; released by Hoyts Distribution.

Starring Colin Friels (Malcolm), Lindy Davies (Judith), John Hargreaves (Frank), Beverley Phillips (Mrs. T), Judith Stratford (Jenny), and Chris Haywood (Willy).


This post is part of the Blizzard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Quiggy of the Midnite Drive-In.

Grievous Bodily Harm (1988, Mark Joffe)

The intrepid reporter genre has almost entirely disappeared. These are the films–around since the 1930s, when newspapers became American cinema’s ideal breeding ground for protagonists (many screenwriters, new to talkies, were former journalists)–where the reporter is investigating a murder or series of murders, ones the police can’t quite seem to solve (the police might even disbelieve the reporter) and the reporter ends up in jeopardy. These films usually end with the reporter quitting his or her newspaper.

Grievous Bodily Harm approaches the standard a little differently. There’s the reporter emphasis, but also on the killer and on a police detective. The detective doesn’t even have much to do with the reporter’s mystery. But Grievous takes it further, with both the killer and the reporter trying to uncover a mystery. The result–especially given how the reporter is already connected both to the killer and the detective–is a complicated mess. But it’s a good complicated mess, an Australian, non-noir take on Hitchcock almost… and I stress almost. Director Mark Joffe manages to be supremely competent–and the film is paced rather well–without showing a single unique moment. The film’s personality comes from the actors.

Top-billed–as the reporter–is Colin Friels. Friels has the least flashy role in the entire film, playing a somewhat sleazy crime journalist who’s seen better days. The film’s his journey to self-realization and it works rather well. Grievous is so busy with content, each of its scenes end up having real weight. He’s best in his scenes with Joy Bell and Kerry Armstrong; when he’s around the men, the character’s got a bunch of bravado. Around women, eventually he becomes less opaque.

As the killer, John Waters gets the film’s flashiest role. Where Grievous is a little different too is how it shows an average person snap. There’s motive, but when Waters loses it, it comes as a real surprise; he manages to change the character completely–and abruptly–while making it feel completely natural. In the third act, when Bell becomes more prevalent, Waters takes a bit of a backseat. It’s like he’s got one really good scene missing from the picture.

Bruno Lawrence wraps up the triumvirate. His harried police detective has a fair amount of scenes and not much to do. Lawrence gets to make a lot of noise–again, to generate some suspense, the film keeps a potentially excellent scene off screen–and he certainly shows a lot of ability in those scenes… but it doesn’t matter. What’s important about the detective is his presence on screen, as an important character, not actually earning that screen time. Lawrence can’t compete with his function in the script.

Some of the supporting cast is weak–like Shane Briant–and Chris Neal’s score is terrible. It’s a 1980s thriller score, lots of synth; it’s annoying.

I’ve seen Grievous Bodily Harm before and it didn’t impress me as much that first time. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate its peculiar approach.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Joffe; written by Warwick Hind; director of photography, Ellery Ryan; edited by Marc van Buuren; music by Chris Neal; production designer, Roger Ford; produced by Richard Brennan; released by Filmpac Distribution.

Starring Colin Friels (Tom Stewart), John Waters (Morris Martin), Bruno Lawrence (Det. Sgt. Ray Birch), Kerry Armstrong (Annie), Kim Gyngell (Mick), Gary Stalker (Derek Allen), Caz Lederman (Vivian Enderby), Shane Briant (Stephen Enderby), Sandy Gore (Barbara Helmsley), John Flaus (Neil Bradshaw), Terry Markwell (Eve Spicer), Urszula Teresa (Marjorie Klein) and Joy Bell (Claudine).


Ground Zero (1987, Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles)

Ground Zero opens with a title card attesting to the film’s historical relevance. The intended effect is apparently to convince the viewer of the film’s authenticity and plausibility. So, for a film featuring a cameraman who can outfight spies, Ground Zero is completely plausible until the helicopter shows up. Not the first helicopter, but the second one… in a scene straight out of Capricorn One.

The film’s first act gradually–almost in a Hitchcockian vein–introduces the viewer to the cameraman and his present situation. We find out a lot about him through nice disguised exposition (messages left on the answering machine) and because Colin Friels gives such a good leading man performance, even some of the cute stuff is acceptable. It’s probably fifteen or sixteen minutes before the first completely implausible thing happens and, when it does, it’s so well-handled, it didn’t raise my eyebrows until I got to thinking about it.

There’s a lot more preposterous scenes, but the opening text, the first act and Friels make it all seem reasonable. He really can figure it out, he really can sneak into a secure area. Maybe, as an American viewer, I just assume the Australian government doesn’t have much in the way of security measures.

Regardless, until the final third of the film, it’s going rather well.

Besides Friels, there’s Jack Thompson, who gives a nice, conflicted performance. When Donald Pleasence shows up, he’s got some nice scenes too… even if they do culminate in him shooting at a helicopter with a rifle.

The end works on some levels and fails on others. The one it works on is the non-fantastic level Ground Zero doesn’t seem to be going for–the emphasis on Friels and his son, which occasionally feels like hyperbole, comes through at the end rather effectively. So much so, it becomes one of the film’s handful of mini-cliffhangers. A number of threads go unresolved for no sensical reason, other than any explanation would be impossible in the narrative. There’s not really enough mysteriousness to them for me, but I can understand it. In a government conspiracy film–a straightforward one aiming for plausibility–the enigma level has to be kept low.

Where Ground Zero is most effective is the direction. Pattinson and Myles have solid composition throughout, really fetishizing the filmmaking gear. There’s a shot at the beginning with a Panavision camera–the film’s shot in Panavision–and it’s a clear reference. The wide frame works beautifully for the scenes on the outback, but most interesting is not the non-landscape shots. Instead, it’s the ones where Friels is alone. Friels spends a lot of the movie investigating and uncovering–Ground Zero‘s a nice detective movie in its way–and so he’s got the frame to himself a lot of the time. Myles and Pattinson give Friels a fine space to inhabit and he does.

Ground Zero‘s more a thriller than an action movie, but it’s failings are more common to the action movie. But the guy discovering something’s wrong and trying to uncover it is a thriller standard. Maybe that incongruity is the reason it doesn’t work as well as it should.

But there’s also that helicopter. There’s not much to be done with a helicopter.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles; written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi; director of photography, Steve Dobson; edited by David Pulbrook; music by Tom Bahler; production designer, Brian Thomson; produced by Pattinson; released by Avenue Pictures.

Starring Colin Friels (Harvey Denton), Jack Thompson (Trebilcock), Donald Pleasence (Prosper Gaffney), Natalie Bate (Pat Denton), Burnham Burnham (Charlie), Simon Chilvers (Commission president), Neil Fitzpatrick (Hooking) and Bob Maza (Walemari).


Ground Zero (1987, Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles)

Until the current administration, I could always take comfort knowing the British probably did more terrible things than the Americans ever could. For instance, they might test atomic bombs in Australia and radiate the aborigines, which is the public service announcement of Ground Zero. It isn’t only a PSA, it’s also a reasonably thrilling thriller and a strange father and son story. But the relevance–the British trying to cover up killing a bunch of innocent people–makes Ground Zero an odd film. By all other elements, it’s an Australian take on the mid-1980s thriller–it was shot in Panavision (though the only releases to date have been pan and scan and it’s obvious there’s often something or someone missing) and it’s got a really annoying, mid-1980s synthesizer score booming throughout… sometimes too loud to hear dialogue.

But it’s a good mystery thriller. It fetishizes filmmaking a little–the camera operators in particular–and its handling of that material is very cool. It actually goes just the right amount into it, which is a pleasant change. The political element takes the film over at a certain point and it’s an immediate change in tone, but there’s a solid foundation, both due to script and Colin Friels.

Friels’s performance–complete with a mid-1980s, Australian semi-mullet–allows Ground Zero to operate on its three levels (suspenseful thriller, politically relevant piece, and son searching for his father). None of the three levels gets quite the attention they need or deserve, but Friels makes them all work together–he convinces he’s a father trying to be better for his son, while still confused about his own father, he convinces he’s a regular guy in the middle of the political intrigue (Hitchcock wisely wrapped his situations in a layer of artiface, something Ground Zero might have benefitted greatly from doing), and also the movie star. Friels is a leading man movie star, but he’s also able to be someone’s father (something American movie stars do not do well–or at all anymore… Clooney hasn’t been a parent since he hit the big time).

The other performances, particularly Jack Thompson, are very good. Donald Pleasence has a small role and, even though the script fails him, he has some excellent moments.

I remember the film being more of a “wow,” but it has been at least seven–maybe nine–years since I last saw it. It’s incredibly solid though and sometimes solid is good enough.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles; written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi; director of photography, Steve Dobson; edited by David Pulbrook; music by Tom Bahler; production designer, Brian Thomson; produced by Pattinson; released by Avenue Pictures.

Starring Colin Friels (Harvey Denton), Jack Thompson (Trebilcock), Donald Pleasence (Prosper Gaffney), Natalie Bate (Pat Denton), Burnham Burnham (Charlie), Simon Chilvers (Commission president), Neil Fitzpatrick (Hooking) and Bob Maza (Walemari).


Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1988, Bob Ellis)

Tedious. Tedious is a good word for Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train. The polite way of saying tedious is deliberate–as in, the filmmakers very surely lay it out, taking their time and making sure they get it right. After fifty minutes of Warm Nights–it’s a ninety-minute film–I finally realized what was so damn tedious about it. Until an hour in, the whole thing is a first act. The film immediately introduces its protagonist, a teacher (played by Wendy Hughes) who moonlights on weekends as a hooker on a train, and proceeds to show us her experiences with three johns. Interspersed are scenes of her life as a teacher (brief, like thirty second scenes) and a little bit of her taking care of her disabled brother. But there’s nothing in terms of character development–she tells each john a different lie and those short scenes of her “real” life are mostly in summary, not detail.

The dramatic vehicle–the event to get the story started–happens around minute fifty, when she finally talks to Colin Friels’s mysterious man on the train. For most of the film, Hughes’s male costars look like they’re out of a 1970s Atlantic City casino–so when Friels, even if he is sporting an iffy South African accent, looks real good. Except the film doesn’t get going then. It continues on at its awkward pace and, knowing the running time, I kept trying to figure what, if anything, could happen with twenty-six minutes remaining or whatever. Well, the solution is simple–if you’ve got a forty-five minute first act in a ninety minute film, just skip a second act and go straight to the third. First and third, with a snap of the fingers.

The film isn’t frustrating to watch and it’s not quite boring, because it’s well-acted, well-written, and well-made, but there’s nothing going on. Hughes’s performance is fantastic, but it’s fantastic in the film as a whole–she’s not an actor who does a really good scene here and there, it’s the development–in the tedious film. Even when the film introduces a sense of danger, it doesn’t move any faster. Everything comes together at the end–and it’s never bad enough to stop watching in the opening half–but if you aren’t alert at the end, you might miss the whole thing.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Ellis; written by Ellis and Denny Lawrence; director of photography, Yuri Sokol; edited by Tim Lewis; music by Peter Sullivan; production designer, Tracy Watt; produced by Ross Dimsey and Patric Juillet; released by Western Pacific Films.

Starring Wendy Hughes (The Girl), Colin Friels (The Man), Norman Kaye (The Salesman), John Clayton (The Football Coach), Rod Zuanic (The Young Soldier), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Brian), Steve J. Spears (The Singer), Grant Tilly (The Politican) and Peter Whitford (The Steward).


Monkey Grip (1982, Ken Cameron)

Adaptations of non-epic novels tend to be the best source for non-original films. Of course, a film and a novel are different forms. The difference needs to be respected and the film form needs to be more considered. It’s a difficult process–it requires real thought and attention. The neon sign of carelessness in an filmic adaptation of a prose work would have to be the narration lifted directly from the source material. Monkey Grip is full of that narration. It’s used as a bridging device, often when the main character, played by Noni Hazlehurst, is biking. Because, as we all know, people don’t bike to get from point A to point B, they bike to think about life’s mysteries. Occasionally–two or three times–the film doesn’t use that bridging device and forces the viewer to discern changes in time, place, and character relationships. At those times, Monkey Grip works fine. Well even. In addition to being a lazy device, the narration isn’t particularly well-written. In fact, when it goes on for more than a couple sentences, it’s bad. Monkey Grip, the novel, very well may be a bad novel. Unless a bad novel is bad because it features ghosts or dinosaurs, it does not have much filmic potential. I’m just guessing, but the closing narration was so poorly written, it was enough to take a half star off my rating for the film. The writing is bad.

The film’s about a divorced woman with a daughter who works in the Melbourne music industry. I have memories of seeing a movie and seeing people excited their music and being perplexed because the music was so bad. This viewing must have been when I was kid, but I can’t remember what it would have been. Whatever the genre of music in Monkey Grip–it’s pop, but pop changes; I’m sure if its Australian New Wave. It’s bad. The woman can’t sing. The lyrics are stupid. It’s painful. But I let it go, because Hazlehurst is a sad looking woman and she’s playing a sad woman and it’s fine. I could tell Monkey Grip wasn’t going to be anything special–you can tell with dramas, except Japanese family dramas, those tend to fall apart at end–and I was willing to put up with the narration.

The real problem with the film is its unawareness of itself. The Monkey Grip of the title is Hazlehurst’s heroin addict, actor boyfriend’s hold on her. He’s played by Colin Friels, who’s fine. His character is empty because the film is so empty. He’s supposed to be good looking and charming. Well, Colin Friels is good looking and charming, so that’s supposed to be enough… Actually, for the first half of the film, it is. In the first, the narration goes on and on about his outbursts, but we don’t even see one until fifty-five minutes into the film. This subject starts, in the narration, five minutes into the film. Lot of summary storytelling here, since Monkey Grip takes place over a year (exactly no less, same beginning and ending setting too, real cute). So Hazlehurst has to take care of Friels and it’s a simile for having a child who grows up and moves away. It’s not a metaphor because Hazlehurst tells Friels it’s like having a child who grows up and moves away, which it’s the nudity-laden sex scenes all the more weird.

But, Hazlehurst doesn’t have a visible relationship with the daughter. The kid’s cute. Her job is to be cute, nothing else. Precocious maybe. The film doesn’t recognize this oversight on the character’s part (since it’s an attempt at a first person point of view) and it makes Hazlehurst’s character hard to take seriously. There’s a scene where she flips because there’s a heroin needle out and her roommate doesn’t know about the heroin use… but the kid does. The attempt at the “old soul” kid and the childish mother, which the film tries to establish from the third or fourth scene, fails throughout. It’s unfortunate, since the kid, played by Alice Garner, probably gives the film’s best performance. Garner is actually the novel writer’s daughter–and, if you look it up on Wikipedia, there’s an explanation about the entire cast of characters being on the dole. That situation was never explained in the film and all the actors, who are pretty bad, look way too old to be in college.

Since the direction’s so pat, it’s impossible to get interested in Monkey Grip. For most of the film, the narration is a poor choice, only getting bad toward the end (it even disappears for fifteen minutes or so, which is great). While fails to engage the viewer, it’s not awful… However, the less said about the scary movie music (it reminds of John Carpenter’s Halloween score) and the low motion shots, the better.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Cameron; screenplay by Cameron, based on the novel by Helen Garner; director of photography, David Gribble; edited by David Huggett; music by Bruce Smeaton; production designer, Clark Munro; produced by Patricia Lovell; released by Cinecom Pictures.

Starring Noni Hazlehurst (Nora), Colin Friels (Javo), Alice Garner (Gracie), Harold Hopkins (Willie), Candy Raymond (Lillian), Michael Caton (Clive), Tim Burns (Martin), Christina Amphlett (Angela) and Don Miller-Robinson (Gerald).


Angel Baby (1995, Michael Rymer)

Regardless of quality, Angel Baby will always have a special nostalgia for me. Years ago I was admonishing a friend for not watching foreign films and he challenged me, asking for an example of a recent, excellent foreign film. I gave him Angel Baby. I think it was a few days later he came back and complained Angel Baby, an Australian film, wasn’t really a foreign film. Having just watched it again (as I prepare to retire my laserdiscs), I think will go out and say Australian films are not American films. They are foreign films. Maybe not all of them, probably not most of them, but certainly Angel Baby.

Whenever there’s a Hollywood movie about the mentally ill or handicapped, it tends to fail. These films aren’t necessarily complete failures, but they always somewhat fail. The first major problem with these endeavors is their attempt to make the mental illness or handicap an avenue for (somewhat respectful) comedy. We, the presumably mentally fit audience, are expected to laugh at the characters. We might think they’re cute, but they’re still funny. The characters immediately are not treated with respect. Angel Baby never lets the audience laugh after the opening credits, doesn’t even let them crack a smile, at these characters. It does let the audience sympathize with the “fit” characters, but it never lets the mentally ill characters become pitiable. Never even approaches it.

The second major difference is in the conclusion. Most of these films promise a bright future. The film being the story of reaching the bright future. Except the bright future is tacked, so the film isn’t really that journey, but that’s not the point. Angel Baby doesn’t pander in that way. It tells its story and it tells it beautifully. Michael Rymer is still around (after years of Hollywood dreck), he’s directing “Battlestar Galactica” and co-writing a few of the episodes too. That work, however, good, doesn’t compare to Angel Baby. Angel Baby is perfectly directed, beautifully written, beautifully acted. Jacqueline McKenzie was so good in it, I almost saw Deep Blue Sea. She’s still making interesting films, however, you just have to get them from Australia. John Lynch is sort of around, but not in anything I’d see. Of the two, I suppose Lynch is best.

Angel Baby is not out on DVD in the US (I think Paramount’s got the rights, so it’ll probably never happen) and the Australian disc is hard to find and appears to be pan and scan.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Rymer; director of photography, Ellery Ryan; edited by Danny Cooper; music by Chris Gough; production designer, Chris Kennedy; produced by Timothy White and Jonathan Shteinman; released by Cinepix Film Properties.

Starring John Lynch (Harry), Jacqueline McKenzie (Kate), Colin Friels (Morris) and Deborra-Lee Furness (Louise).


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