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The Wedge (2006)
Australian TV comedy hits rock bottom
Scattered amidst the elephants graveyard of bad Australian television there has always been one dependable genre: the sketch comedy show. Whilst our country has only made a handful of genuinely good sitcoms, the sketch comedy genre has been the source of numerous gems. "Fast Forward", "The Late Show", "The Big Gig" and "The Micallef Programme" are just four examples of great Australian comedy.
Sadly, the last few years have not been so kind, with duds such as "Skithouse", "Big Bite" and the disastrous "Let Loose Live" going some way to degrading a once reasonably proud tradition. Now along comes "The Wedge", an amalgam of every single thing that is wrong with Australian TV comedy.
If you're the kind of person who finds bogans, wogs, fat people and overbearing laugh tracks automatically funny - without anything so intrusive as wit or irony - this is the show for you.
"The Wedge" tries desperately to be a "Little Britain" or "League of Gentlemen" for Australian audiences, which is a worthy idea, except that to succeed in that goal, the writing actually needs to be, y'know, funny. All the performers try too hard to be funny, as if you were stuck watching a bad university revue. The writing is loaded with tired stereotypes, grindingly predictable setups and lame puns (Sandra Sultry - stop, my sides!) backed up with the world's most unsubtle laugh track (Laugh dammit! LAUGH!!!!!) which often runs when there isn't even a joke! If "The Wedge" had run on Nine or Seven it would have been axed within six weeks. Ten may be more patient, but based on what "The Wedge" has come up with so far, that goodwill is sorely misplaced. It's truly disheartening that Ten has given a 26 episode commitment to this garbage when we have some of the best stand-up comedians in the world who can deliver more laughs in 30 seconds than an episode of "The Wedge" can muster in 30 minutes.
Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)
A strange, VERY strange experience....
Peter Sellers died in late 1980, just as he was on the verge of getting another Clouseau flick off the ground. The film was to be titled Romance of the Pink Panther, and this time Sellers was writing the film, with Blake Edwards nowhere in sight. Upon Sellers' death, UA offered the film (which was originally to be helmed by Sidney Poitier, then later Clive Donner) back to Edwards. Rumor has it that the studio wanted Dudley Moore to replace Sellers. Moore and Edwards passed on the same grounds: that no actor could possibly replace could Sellers. A sensible move. Unfortunately, Edwards had other ideas....
This is the result.
There's seldom been a film that's felt as simply, utterly wrong as Trail of the Pink Panther. With this film, Edwards attempted to make an "all new" Panther escapade using deleted footage of Sellers from the previous three Panthers, with brand new scenes filmed around him to make it appear as if Sellers was really involved. For a little while, it almost works (the joins are at times seamless) despite itself. But then you see a sequence lifted wholesale from "Strikes Again" (Clouseau's mishap with a bag of groceries) and things go rapidly downhill. The Sellers footage is of course very amusing, but it's painfully obvious which Panther films the scenes were cut from (especially the "Strikes Again" footage, where a number of that film's supporting characters suddenly appear for no good plot reason) and the flimsy plot does all manner of convulsions to fit the scenes in.
Then, 40 minutes in, Clouseau vanishes, his plane having "disappeared". Suddenly, what plot there was (which was nothing hot anyway) evaporates and the film wanders into would-be Citizen Kane territory. From here on Joanna Lumley (quite lovely with a French accent) wanders in as a TV reporter determined to track down Clouseau. With her arrival, the pace grinds to a halt and so do the laughs. It's certainly nice to see some of the early Panther notables again (David Niven, Graham Stark, Capucine) along with an amusing contribution from Richard Mulligan as Clouseau's even battier father, but even this doesn't really work, outside of padding the film to a releasable running time.
Even worse is that Niven, who was gravely ill at the time, is dubbed by C-Grade impressionist Rich Little. Little can be hilarious impersonating celebrities (his Howard Cosell on Futurama is a blast) but his attempt to seriously imitate Niven is just painful, with his own accent frequently creeping in. It only gives Niven's scenes a bizarre, otherworldly quality, in a film that already feels mighty creepy. Little is also roped in to imitate the voice of Harvey Korman (more successfully) and Sellers (excruciating), which only makes things stranger.
This second half of the film mixes Lumley's interviews with Clouseau's contemporaries with heavy doses of flashback footage (from earlier Panthers), all of it so much better that the new stuff. Even when it attempts to be funny on its own, Edwards resorts to stealing these gags (as opposed to the footage) from earlier triumphs. Witness Dreyfus's barely concealed laughter during his attempt to eulogise his former nemesis...And then remember that he did the exact same thing in "Revenge"...
If there is one shining light in this misbegotten dud, its the peerless Herbert Lom. He's a truly underrated comic presence who manages to rise above the material with all his facial ticks, pratfalls and explosions of rage.
The final shot of the film, with Clouseau standing on a cliff face, looking out to sea (only to get pooped on by a seagull) manages to sum up the whole enterprise. It's a blatant stand-in (how could it be anything but?) and when he does speak (cursing the "swine seagull") it's clearly Little's voice doing a bad Sellers impression. Having passed on "Romance" because he believed no one could replace Peter Sellers, Blake Edwards only went on to prove his point.... In an even less dignified way!
Maybe the final comment should go to Edwards and his dedication at the beginning of this misguided, shambolic but possibly well-intentioned fiasco..."To Peter. The One and Only Inspector Clouseau"
Galactica 1980 (1980)
With apologies to Homer Simpson, I can't believe I watched the whole thing!
2003 saw the re-launch of the Battlestar Galactica in the form of a cable miniseries and the DVD release of the 1978-79 original, promoted as the "Complete Epic Series". Amidst the fan hackles that were raised over the mini-series, (a top-to-bottom remake, and not the continuation many fans had hoped for) Richard Hatch's 4&1/2min promo trailer The Second Coming gathered a new mystique. Hatch's post-series novels continued to sell and even pre-production remnants from Tom DeSanto's aborted 2001 revival attempt were gleefully feasted upon by fans.
The one thing that didn't enjoy renewed interest was Galactica 1980, a series few remember and fewer even knew existed. Every other incarnation of Galactica can be enjoyed on multiple levels, but G80 is only good for taking the p*ss, MST3K-style. This is truly one of the worst, most hilariously misbegotten pieces of television in existance.
As with all roads to hell, G80 started out with the best of intentions, as Glen A Larson's pitch to revive the recently-canned Battlestar was seized upon by ABC, who had a gap in their Sunday night schedule. But a number of problems quickly developed to ensure utter disaster. First, the budget was severely reduced from the original (hence Galactica finding earth, which minimized sets and effects). In turn, most of the original cast were either unwilling or unable to return. This led to an abrupt rewrite, which set the show thirty years after the BSG, causing major continuity problems with BSG's final episode (which ended with footage of the Moon landing), so as to accommodate the casting of Kent McCord and Barry Van Dyke. Of the original cast, only Lorne Greene (and to a distinctly lesser extent, Herb Jefferson Jr) returned, sporting a ragged fake beard and barely concealed embarrassment. ABC demanded that "educational dialogue" be shoehorned into the scripts (in accordance with the 7pm kiddie timeslot) and that a cadre of cute kids (many played by Larson's own offspring!) and a truly loathsome kid genius (the infamous Dr Zee) be added.
Larson, aware that things were spinning out of control, wrote (and rewrote) most of the episodes himself in an attempt to minimize the damage, but to no avail. Last of all, ABC rushed the series into production, where all of the above factors collided into one hell of a train wreck.
And as they say about train wrecks, you can't take your eyes off Galactica 1980. From the eye-rolling dialogue, delivered with almost poignant sincerity, (you've really gotta feel for these actors, you really do) to the awful attempts at humor (an earthbound Cylon being mistaken for a Halloween reveler, for one) to the heavy, heavy, HEAVY reliance on stock footage from BSG (dig the opening five minutes of Space Croppers) and other sources, (Silent Running, Earthquake and I swear to god Close Encounters!) its an unmitigated campfest nearly all the way.
I say nearly because, if there is anything close to a decent episode in this series, it has to be the final one, "The Return of Starbuck". Dirk Benedict returns one last time as everyone's favorite space-hopping skirt-chaser for a flashback story with very little (thank god) of the regular cast. It's a suprisingly touching send off for the space cowboy and an indication of what Galactica 1980 could have been with the right kind of handling.
And yeah, I watched it all. It was mid 96, my parents had cable and I had no life. And here I am telling you all about it....
But honestly, I've probably piqued your curiosity by now, right? So go on, hop on Petition Online and start rallying Universal to release this "Complete Epic Series" on DVD straight away! The commentaries would be worth the price tag alone.....
PS: Believe it or not, the voice of the Imperious Leader in Space Croppers (sorry to bring that episode up again) is none other than 24's Mr President, Dennis Haysbert. Kinda prophetic, don't you think?
24 Hour Party People (2002)
Two words: Fookin' Brellyint!
This is, was and forever will be one of my favourite films of all time. A joyous love letter to the music, magic and madmen of Manchester, 24 Hour Party People is utterly, utterly exhilarating. Even if you don't know your New Order from your Durutti Column, you'll be hard-pressed not to get a kick out of Michael Winterbottom and Frank Cottrel Boyce's freewheeling depiction of a great time in pop culture.
In a nutshell, this is the story of a scene, a scene that grew out of the british punk explosion of the mid seventies. Inspired by the rising vibe in his home town, television presenter Tony Wilson, with the aid of colleagues Rob Gretton and Alan Erasmus created Factory Records. Factory is, as described in the film "an experiment in human nature", with no written contracts (barring one written on a napkin in Wilson's own blood) and total creative freedom for its acts. From the mid seventies to the early nineties, Factory launched a barrage of fresh and exciting talent on an unsuspecting world, ranging from punk (Joy Division, later to become New Order) to house (A Guy Called Gerald) and dance (Happy Mondays). At the centre of it all was Wilson, all the while balancing his empire building with a steady day job with Granada Television.
Winterbottom's film crams sixteen years of music history into under two hours, using and appropriately chaotic mix of storytelling techniques to rocket the story along. It's by no means an accurate account, (just listen to the commentary by Wilson on the DVD) but encapsulates the spirit of the Manchester Movement beautifully. The plot itself is split into two halves. Firstly, the early punk days, spearheaded by a promising quartet called Joy Division. Joy Division were the first notable artistic success of the label, but were hindered by controversy (the name was derived from the Nazi division of women who were used in an attempt to create the master race), gigs that often degenerated into brawls and most crucially, a talented, but troubled, severely epileptic lead singer, one Ian Curtis. The rapid rise and even faster fall of Joy Division anchors the first half.
The second half sees us bear witness to the birth of rave culture, aided along by one of Wilson's acts, the Happy Mondays. Formed by brothers Shaun and Paul Ryder, they blazed through Manchester in a blizzard of coke and heroin and shaped dance music in no small way. Oh, and they pretty much helped to run Factory into the ground.
Bouncing from hilarious comedy (a great deal of it improvised)to genuine poignancy (the decline of Curtis is heartbreaking stuff) the film is an utter triumph of wit, wonderment and technique. As Wilson, comedian Steve Coogan is nothing short of dynamic. Teetering on the right side caricature (and injecting a great deal of his Alan Partridge persona in to the mix) Coogan is the lynchpin for an otherwise wildly chaotic narrative. The entire cast do sterling work impersonating the Manchester luminaries of old (and by old, I mean young, before the drugs and booze). From Danny Cunningham's uninhibited Shaun Ryder to John Simm's gentle Bernard Sumner and Andy Serkis's fearsome Martin Hannet, (an arguably more fearsome character than Gollum if you ask me....) they're all great. But best of all is Sean Harris, who is simply unforgettable as Ian Curtis. He's so dead-on accurate its almost scary, from the haunted eyes and cheeky humor (witness his first meeting with Wilson) to the eccentric dance moves, its a performance that deserves every award in the book.
Oh and the music. Well if you're already a fan, I sure as hell don't need to say it, do I?
As it was, so it goes and so do I. See this movie before you die. Go on, rent it tonight, rent it now, buy it if you have to or if you're really desperate, just steal a copy. But please, see this movie, you won't regret it.
Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001)
Even less subtle than the first one, which is quite an achievement.
Bad, but kinda watchable, Megiddo is a bigger, louder and even dumber follow-up/prequel to the Christian fantasy thriller The Omega Code. he plot doesn't mesh at all with the events of the first one (Casper Van Dien and Michael Ironside's characters aren't referenced, and suddenly the nefarious Stone Alexander has a brother, who is President of The United States! Where was he during the first one?) and rams the religious underpinnings down your throat at every possible oppurtunity.
Michael York is even more over the top than he was the first time as Stone, but when you have his kind of 1930's bad-guy dialogue, one assumes he was making the best of a bad situation. What's truly suprising this time around is the sheer number of creditable actors slumming it here. It just serves to remind you that actors have to keep working, because they've got to eat like the rest of us. The presence of Michael Biehn, Diane Venora and R. Lee Ermey (all acting with remarkable sincerity) helps to distract just a little from all the proselytzing and cliches, but not enough.
On double the budget of the first film, Brian Trenchard-Smith does manage to create some genuinely exciting set pieces, particularly the climactic battle in Megiddo, which boasts one truly knockout aerial effects shot, though the budget doesn't stretch enough to create a convincing demon monster at the end.
Aside from the relentless, self-serving preaching, the film also adds loads of right-wing politics into the script. There's a clear parallel being drawn between Alexander's World Union and his earlier membership of the European Union, both of which are seen as a threat to national soverignty, or moreover the democratic ideals of the U.S. Of course, by the end of the film, the good Christian Americans have saved the day, aided by God of course.
But that's just my point of view. Politics and religion aside (didn't you mother always tell you to never discuss those things in company?) Mediggo is a clumsy, poorly thought out film that may have worked better as a straight popcorn b-movie. Because damn it if those battle scenes aren't corkers!
Eye of the Beholder (1999)
Troubled film that doesn't quite make it....
Two years ago I had the pleasure (relatively speaking) of catching Lizzy Gardiner's excellent documentary "Killing Priscilla", which detailed Stephan Elliot's experiences making this film. I can safely say that it has frightened me off pursing a career as a film maker (for now anyway), given the awful stresses Elliot went through just to get the damn film completed, let alone the world of pain he then endured getting it completed and released. Sadly, the end result shows the scars of its difficult gestation, with many of the more intriguing moments depicted in Gardiner's documentary (such as a surreal sequence involving a flooded car and another where Ashley Judd performed a bar scene heavily intoxicated) left on the cutting room floor.
The cutting and re-shooting (with Elliot standing in for Jason Priestly in some shots) dulls the edge of an admittedly intriguing study of obsession and guilt, as a deeply haunted surveilance expert (Ewan McGregor) pursues a murderous young woman (Judd) across America, letting his already tenuous grip on reality slip away.
There's a terrific cast on show here, with brilliant work from McGregor and Judd, but the scenario ultimately becomes increasingly frustrating and tired. Still, if you've seen "Killing Priscilla" you'll be thankful Elliot got the film completed and released at all. Here's hoping he gets the chance to do a director's cut one day.
Nobody does it like Lynch.
One of the most impressive pieces of surrealist cinema ever, David Lynch's "Eraserhead" is a 90-minute filmed nightmare that everyone should see once. Even if you don't get Lynch's vision, there is still no denying the power of his ideas and imagery. Its interesting that Lynch dislikes the idea of applying psychoanalysis to his work as this is some kind of Freudian archetype spilled on to celluloid, with many sexual and psychological avenues explored and depicted. Profoundly disturbing (especially the final scenes) and surprisingly funny at times as well. Topping it all off is the eccentric presence of the late Jack Nance in his definitive role.
And remember folks: "In heaven, everything is fine"....
Head of the Family (1996)
Band under a pseudonym? Uh-Oh.....
Don't get me wrong. I've got a considerable soft spot for the works of Charles Band, both as producer and director. But you've got to raise an eyebrow when the man who was willing to put his name to "Dollman Vs The Demonic Toys" sticks a pseudonym on anything. As a bit of bad-movie fun, "Head Of The Family" is rather lacking, although it is better acted than you might expect. Jacqueline Lovell is a definite talent who deserves better than these kinds of movies. J.W. Perra is also quite funny as the titular monster, though for such a superintelligent being he does get hoodwinked quite easily. Y'know, I'm nitpicking because the rest of the movie is so sharp and witty of course....
And having a lead character called Lance Bogan? Nice one guys. We didn't know you Americans knew that piece of slang!
Dirty Deeds (2002)
Less than the sum of its parts.
Sad to say, but despite a fantastic cast, great design and some genuine laughs, "Dirty Deeds" is ultimately a disappointment. A frenetic comedy set in the Sydney mob scene circa 1969, David Caesar's tale of cross and double-cross does admittedly have a lot going for it if you're not too picky. Bryan Brown has one of his most engaging roles in years as mobster Barry Ryan, head of the pokie rackets in Sydney. Toni Collette is equally good as his no-nonsense wife, while a solid cast of Aussie professionals such as William MacInnes, Sam Neil and Paul Chubb fill out an amusing ensemble. Even the get-a-US-release stunt casting of John Goodman, as a Brown's even-tempered American rival fits nicely.
In addition, the design of the film is wonderfully evocative of late sixties Australia, complete with garish curtains, funky wallpaper, beehives and bowler hats. The soundtrack, produced by You Am I frontman Tim Rogers, is an amusing combination of vintage Oz-rock oldies (the title tune, performed by AC/DC and covered in the end credits by You Am I with Tex Perkins)and knowing modern-day covers. But there are flaws, very big ones on both sides of the camera.
While he demonstrates a keen eye for local colour and ocker humour, (witness "Idiot Box" and "Mullet") David Caeser is no action filmmaker. The car chase scenes are very poorly shot and flatly edited, with little sense of perspective or coherence. The low budget shows in a severely unconvincing opening sequence, set in Vietnam, but looking all-too-obviously like rural New South Wales. His screenplay works hard to pull off a "Snatch"-style multiple-whammy climax, but the pacing is off and there isn't enough build-up for it to really work. The romantic sub-plot featuring Sam Worthington (as Brown's straight-arrow nephew) and Kestie Morassi (as Brown's mistress) is flat and entirely predictable.
Relative newcomer Worthington sadly sticks out like a sore thumb among the otherwise distinguished ensemble with an inexpressive, lifeless performance, which undermines certain crucial scenes. Morassi is however a definite find and will certainly be one to watch in the future.
A lot of excellent talent has gone into making "Dirty Deeds" and that only serves to make the end result an even greater disappointment.
Freddy Got Fingered (2001)
That crazy Canadian strikes again!
All hail Tom Green, patron saint of shock comedy. Whether he's wandering down a city street covered in fake blood, pretending to be a bike accident victim, or "re-designing" his parent's car with images of lesbian sex, the man can't be easily ignored. And so it goes with his first (and probably only) directorial outing, "Freddy Got Fingered". It's crude, offensive and likely to give moral conservatives heart attacks at fifty paces, but that's why we love him. If you're a Green virgin, you'll probably find this sick, depraved and demonic. If you're one of the faithful, you'll probably find this sick, depraved and demonic....but also kinda sweet. Wrapped around definitive Green moments such as Tom licking an open wound, jerking off animals, and wearing a "cheese helmet" etc, is a basic tale of a son who just wants his Dad's love. No, really.
It's the saga of struggling animator Gord Brody and his less-than-ideal relationship with his disapproving Dad (Rip Torn). Its this difficult pairing that leads to some bizarre comic mayhem involving dead deer, phony child abuse allegations (hence the title), a paraplegic cutie with an obsession with fellatio (Marisa Coghlan) and a strange detour through Pakistan. Oh, and a young child gets maimed at regular intervals in the most extreme running joke in cinema history.
But it IS funny. Honest! Green fans will lap it up. The rest of you might do better renting something a little more sedate. Like The Best Of Full House, or Stepmom perhaps.