Jack Thompson

Australia (2008, Baz Luhrmann)

First, a message from my wife: Hugh Jackman is a hottie boom batty.

There, that public service announcement is out of the way.

Australia is actually not the worst modern three hour vanity project I’ve seen. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is much worse. Australia, mostly thanks to director Baz Luhrmann’s “Looney Tunes” influenced direction, is something of a unique film. It’s a lot like an imitation Disney cartoon–complete with Nicole Kidman’s outlandish outfits and frequent mugging at the camera in the first act and Jackman’s character not even having a name.

Luhrmann does a lot of his bad CG–enough it makes one wonder if the CG is supposed to look fake, I imagine it is–and he does his digital backdrops and he really tries for a modern Technicolor experience. Except with his four second shots, it’s hard to think of Australia, the reels of film, as an experience. The viewer certainly has one, but the film’s shockingly empty of any content.

It’s not a boring film, which is nice. At times, I was horrified with myself for sitting through it–the first fourth is full of atrocious moments–but as it neared the end, I realized it didn’t feel much like three hours. It isn’t endless torture, maybe because the beginning narration forecasts the eventual Japanese attack so it’s got to show up… presumably.

I’m not sure where in the running time the attack happens, but when it does, Australia ceases to be an inane retro-remake of They’re a Weird Mob (maybe trying to sum up a country in a filmed narrative isn’t good idea… I mean, if the Archers couldn’t do it, what chance does Baz really have) and instead becomes a remake of Pearl Harbor. Except with really awful CG and a ludicrous series of events pulling Jackman, Kidman and adopted son Brandon Walters all back together.

Walters is, besides Kidman, the perfect example of what’s wrong with Luhrmann. Walters plays a half-caste (half Aboriginal, half white). Baz casted him because the kid looks like a kewpie doll, not because he could act. I could see this kid stuck in a car window, looking soulfully out at me. Zero reason otherwise to cast the kid.

Jackman’s actually good for most of the film, even if Australia does introduce him based on the comparison between he and Clint Eastwood’s eyes. There’s the squint and the cowboy hat and maybe even some spaghetti western music. But he’s fine. Until he has to start delivering lines, in the last hour, Kidman said to him in the first twenty or thirty minutes. It’s painful to watch, really. But otherwise, it’s a decent performance. Also good is David Ngoombujarra as Jackman’s sidekick. He doesn’t have much to do, but when he does, he’s excellent. Jack Thompson, Barry Otto and Ursula Yovich are all fine too. Not good, but fine.

As for bad–well, I guess I’ll start with Ben Mendelsohn, because Luhrmann just wastes him in a lousy role. Kidman’s terrible, but in the same boring way Kidman’s usually terrible so it isn’t even interesting. But Luhrmann forces a bad performance out of David Wenham, something I didn’t think possible, with such bad writing. Wenham’s inhumanely evil character–in a film full of them–is a constant absurd eyesore. Bryan Brown’s also bad in a smaller role, but it’s a stunt casting kind of thing. It’s forgivable. The misuse of Wenham is not.

The film’s problem, besides Luhrmann’s cartoonish direction, is the script. It’s not any good, past being well-paced I suppose. It skips interesting things, focuses on boring ones and has lots of plot holes. Mandy Walker’s cinematography is good, in those four second shots, and David Hirschfelder’s music has some great moments.

I probably expected Australia to be better. I don’t know why. It’s clear from the first four minutes just what kind of mess Luhrmann has made… but it does improve throughout–the directing even. Just not Kidman and Wenham.



Directed by Baz Luhrmann; screenplay by Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan, based on a story by Lurhmann; director of photography, Mandy Walker; edited by Dody Dorn and Michael McCusker; music by David Hirschfelder; production designer, Catherine Martin; produced by G. Mac Brown, Catherine Knapman and Luhrmann; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Nicole Kidman (Lady Sarah Ashley), Hugh Jackman (Drover), Brandon Walters (Nullah), David Wenham (Neil Fletcher), Bryan Brown (King Carney), Jack Thompson (Kipling Flynn), David Gulpilil (King George), David Ngoombujarra (Magarri) and Jacek Koman (Ivan).

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.



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).

Man-Thing (2005, Brett Leonard)

I’ve actually seen Man-Thing before, back when it aired on Sci-Fi. Lionsgate’s DVD release has it in what appears to be an open matte 16:9, as opposed to 2.35:1 (which is how Sci-Fi aired it). So, I matted the DVD and tried the uncut version. It’s probably no better than the televised, but–and here’s why I’ve always had some affection for the movie–it’s interesting in its derivations. Screenwriter Hans Rodionoff seems, understandably, influenced by a couple major sources–Jaws and The Thing. It’s an odd mix, especially since the unknown factor from The Thing isn’t present at all in Man-Thing, but still Rodionoff–and especially Brett Leonard–manage to get that vibe.

Leonard’s direction is–not even taking his budget or the ludicrous nature of the movie into account–a success. Until the very last sequence, he’s golden. Even his semi-sepia tone for daylight and his green filters for the swamp scenes work. He gives Man-Thing a wonderful mood, making the silliness look good and bringing validity to the working parts. He’s just not a horror director and Rodionoff’s script sets Man-Thing up as a horror movie, a monster movie with a lot of suspects (who can’t possibly be guilty but by investigating and clearing each of them… well, it delays having to show the monster and spend the bucks doing so–kind of like a William Castle). Leonard can’t make anything scary. He also can’t get any chemistry between leads Matthew Le Nevez and Rachael Taylor, but that problem seems to be Taylor’s fault (and whoever cast her).

For budgetary reasons, the whole production is Australian. The locations work and maybe three of the cast members can handle the Southern accents (for a while). Luckily, Le Nevez is playing a “yankee,” something Rodionoff’s script frequently points out (though there are exceptions, Rodionoff’s got a couple rednecks straight from Deliverance) and only has to maintain a straight California TV accent. Le Nevez somehow manages to turn in a good performance, which is impressive, considering his face doesn’t seem to emote. But, when called for, he manages with his eyes. He makes the movie watchable for lots of parts, though he gets some help. Alex O’Loughlin, whose accent is shaky, is appealing as the sidekick and director Leonard’s acting turn as the bewildered coroner is good. Taylor’s awful, as is bad guy Patrick Thompson. The Native Americans who know all the answers, Rawiri Paratene and Steve Bastroni (a New Zealander and an Italian, respectively), have good moments and bad. Jack Thompson’s Mr. Big is a lot of fun, as he lays on his fake accent and turns up the volume. Man-Thing, as a comedy, would have probably worked… Even sinister redneck John Batchelor has his moments. But Taylor’s just awful.

Man-Thing‘s conclusion, which ties up the mystery and brings all the characters together, is a misstep. The Man-Thing special effects, when Leonard’s hiding them, are good and he even earns enough credit to get away with a couple long shots of the creature. But the convenient ending reveals the movie’s biggest problem (well, besides Taylor and the scenes with the real-life father and son Thompson team, which just get too goofy–and it’s clear Leonard isn’t directing for them–bad script, good direction)–Rodionoff doesn’t have a story. There’s no plot. Le Nevez’s new sheriff shows up and sees some stuff. Besides his silly romance and some serious mistakes, he’s inessential to the story unfolding. He’s a witness… and all the time spent with him doesn’t add up to anything in the way of narrative pay-off (evidenced by the movie’s abrupt ending).

A lot of the movie suggested, in the end, it’d get a point. The ending, though, and Taylor’s growing screen presence, knock it around too much. It’s just too bad Leonard, who can direct, and Rodionoff, who can at least plot compelling scenes… but maybe not full narratives, don’t do anything better.



Directed by Brett Leonard; screenplay by Hans Rodionoff, based on Marvel comics by Steve Gerber and Mike Ploog and the character created by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow; director of photography, Steve Arnold; edited by Martin Connor; music by Roger Mason; production designers, Tim Ferrier and Peter Pound; produced by Avi Arad, Scott Karol and Christopher Petzel; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Matthew Le Nevez (Sheriff Kyle Williams), Rachael Taylor (Teri Elizabeth Richards), Jack Thompson (Frederic Schist), Rawiri Paratene (Pete Horn), Alex O’Loughlin (Deputy Eric Fraser), Steve Bastoni (Rene LaRoque), Robert Mammone (Mike Ploog), Patrick Thompson (Jake Schist), William Zappa (Steve Gerber), John Batchelor (Wayne Thibadeaux), Ian Bliss (Rodney Thibadeaux) and Brett Leonard (Val Mayerick).

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.



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).

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