Film reviews

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
dir. McG.

I have to confess that while watching this film, and this may sound churlish considering that this is clearly a film designed to have action on every last frame, I was bored. It wasn’t the lack of action, or that the plot was lumbering (improbable yes, lumbering, no). I was bored because everything was so over the top that there was no tension—no contrast. At some point, probably during the motocross sequence, I went numb and started to yawn.

But despite that, Full Throttle does have some perfect moments. There is a sub plot involving crime solving by star signs that is absolutely spot on. The cameos are exquisite; Jaclyn Smith (as Kelly Garrett) makes an appearance as a ‘real’ angel, the Olsen twins pose as a new generation of Angels, and Bruce
Willis dies at the hand of an ex-wife.

But all up, this sequel is just too. It is too campy, too goofy, and too spoofy. What I loved about the first Charlie’s Angels was that it played with camp, goof and spoof but one did not drown in them. The miraculous escapes had some tension in Charlie’s Angels, but are so silly in Full Throttle that you don’t care if the heroines escape or not. I love the idea of Charlie’s Angels; I loved the series and I loved the first movie—but you have to give a damn about the characters. With everything Full Throttle puts between Angels and decent characterisation, it is very hard to find a toehold.

Annelise Balsamo

Pleasure principle
Autofocus, dir, Paul Schrader.

Acclaimed director, Paul Schrader (The Comfort of Strangers, American Gigolo) has made a film based on the life and death of actor Bob Crane. The film relies heavily on a memorable performance by Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets) as Crane.

At the outset Crane is happily married (despite a penchant for hoarding pictures of nude women) and presenting a top rating radio program. When he is offered the leading role in a pilot for a new TV series called Hogan’s Heroes, he is unenthusiastic. After all, who has ever heard of a comedy set in a World War II German prisoner of war camp? Eventually he is persuaded that the show can work. The American public love it, and Crane plays Hogan from 1965 for the show’s five-year run. He becomes a national celebrity.

However, from the moment he meets John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe) an electronics expert with access to the latest Polaroid cameras and home video equipment, Crane’s life is dominated by his own addiction. Not alcohol, not drugs, but sexual obsession which becomes more and more perverted as Carpenter provides the electronic means to record it all. Some women are willing to be photographed having sex with a TV star, others are just victims of two sexual predators utterly indifferent to whom they might humiliate.

At one stage Crane boasts, ‘I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and two out of three ain’t bad’. Inevitably his wife finds out about his rampant extra-marital sex life and his first marriage is destroyed.

While Hogan’s Heroes is successful, Crane’s charm and fame is enough to ensure a supply of compliant women. With the demise of the TV series and personal fame, however, Crane slips from being able to have sex with virtually any woman he wants, to having to be content with any woman who will have him.

Kinnear is superb as the complex Crane. Cocky, vain, charming, sexually ferocious, his character disintegrates with a terrible inevitability. I found myself comparing Kinnear’s Crane with Othello. Othello is consumed by baseless jealousy that ultimately destroys him. Crane is consumed by sexual obsession, which fame has given him the key to satisfy, but which must lead to personal tragedy.

Willem Dafoe as Carpenter is the lascivious supportive sleaze, the sexual acolyte, but always leaving a question mark about his own sexual relationship with Crane. Dafoe was the man for the part.

Ultimately Crane is a pitiful figure, unable to resist his own destructive urges. The film is depressing and at times distasteful, but Greg Kinnear’s performance alone is worth the cost of a ticket.

Gordon Lewis

Random thoughts
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, dir. George Clooney.

The cinema loves a liar; bad character makes for a good character. And Charles Hershel Barris is a great movie character. Besides being the real life inventor of schlock TV classics The Dating Game and The Gong Show, Chuck Barris also claimed in his notorious memoirs, ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’, to have led a double life as a government hitman. It’s a bit like discovering that Graham Kennedy worked for ASIO.

Intriguingly, Barris subtitled his book ‘an unauthorised autobiography’. This apparent non sequitur makes perfect sense, when you consider that Barris wrote the book during a nervous breakdown. It’s the story of a dangerous mind, after all.

You can see how the idea must have appealed to the scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman. To the man who invented Being John Malkovich, the notion that a game show host could also moonlight as a hired assassin obviously proved irresistible. In Kaufman’s hands, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, comes across as the loopy half-brother of Ron Howard’s self-important Oscar winner, A Beautiful Mind. In both films deluded, self-loathing men imagine another, more masculine, life for themselves courtesy of the US secret service, but are eventually brought back to reality by the love of a good woman.

In the Kaufman version of this story, Barris (Sam Rockwell) is busily working in 1960s American TV, developing good honest low-brow entertainment and schtupping his regular gal Penny (Drew Barrymore) when he is approached by the mysterious Jim Byrd (George Clooney) and asked to join the CIA.

After some desultory training Barris is soon a fully fledged Cold War warrior, bumping off Reds in exotic locations, and betraying Penny with a fellow agent, the luscious Patricia (Julia Roberts). Roberts gets the film’s key line when she tells her co-spy, ‘Very few people have delusions of being the guy down the block who works for an insurance company’. Which is pretty insightful for a figment of Barris’s imagination.

This weird tale of television ratings and identity crisis is superbly told by its first-time director, the actor (and heart-throb) George Clooney. But at nearly two hours in length, someone should have told Clooney to stop having so much fun with the visuals and lose a few scenes.

Brett Evans

Blowin’ in the wind
A Mighty Wind, dir. Christopher Guest.

Recently my husband confessed to a youthful indiscretion: he had been to see Peter, Paul and Mary when they played Festival Hall in the mid ‘60s. Perhaps the readers of this journal have similar blots on their escutcheons. If so, you will get all the jokes and allusions abounding in Christopher Guest’s latest sharp offering, A Mighty Wind, a relentlessly credible examination of the white American folk scene that lasted from the late ‘50s through to the early ‘70s. That piece of social history is dealt with in a brilliant mixture of photo montage and archival footage. Guest is a fascinated observer of particular aspects of popular culture and has found a medium, the mockumentary, to convey them in their abject minutiae, as writer, director and actor.

Guest’s genius came to the fore nearly 20 years ago in This Is Spinal Tap, the inspired send-up of heavy metal band mythology, and later in the splendid Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Sometimes Guest’s parodying is so effective that it becomes the thing itself, and here lies the conundrum for A Mighty Wind: the players are so authentic, so damned believable as daggy folk singers that it will either spawn a revival of the genre (a terrible risk for Guest to have taken) or will keep punters away in droves.

Anyone who saw Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show will remember the cast of characters: the cultural tags and signifiers abound. Acute social observation becomes a sport, a game where the more you notice, the more you enjoy—I started noticing so much my eyes got tired. A Mighty Wind will get your ears noticing too: the twinned 12-strings in the Main Street Singers’ first song, for instance, is very reminiscent of the Rooftop Singers, yet all the material is original, mostly written by Guest and the cast, who are all highly talented musicians. Eugene Levy stars, with Catherine O’Hara, as Mitch and Mickey, a duo who split long ago. The Mitch and Mickey story veers close to pathos, but Guest handles everything well. His folk acts epitomise the American phenomenon of white middle-class liberals whose music was as neat and sedate, and whose jokes were as clean and awful, as their clothes. But in the end my inner dag won the day: I was humming along entranced to their really quite lovely feature song ‘A Kiss Beyond A Rainbow’. Be courageous: feed your inner dag and see it.

Juliette Hughes



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