Jack Thompson double feature: Scobie Malone (1975) and The Sum of Us (1994)

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Last month I reviewed two films headlined by the late, great John Hargreaves. Today’s piece spotlights two films from another great Australian actor of similar vintage. To say Jack Thompson is iconic is an understatement. He was one of the brightest new stars of the Australian New Wave, appearing in both lead and supporting roles in stone cold classics like Wake in FrightSunday Too Far AwayThe Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, and Breaker Morant as well as interesting flicks like PetersenCaddieMad Dog Morgan, The Club, and The Journalist. He was the first male centerfold in Australia’s Cleo magazine, was awarded the first Best Supporting Actor gong at the Cannes Film Festival for Breaker Morant, was the only logical choice to embody Clancy of the Overflow in The Man from Snowy River, hosted a travel program called Jack Thompson Down Under, and in recent years has alternated between roles in Australian films and supporting turns as men of influence (lawyers, politicians, military men, businessmen) in American films. This piece highlights two star turns from Thompson’s filmography separated by twenty years: 1975’s Scobie Malone and 1994’s The Sum of Us.

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Aussiewood: Ricochet (1991), Blue Ice (1992), The Real McCoy (1993)

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This latest installment of Down Under Flix’s Aussiewood series chronicling the adventures and misadventures of Australian filmmakers abroad deals with Russell Mulcahy. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Mulcahy on this website – see my review of his 2003 sports biopic Swimming Upstream – but it’s my first time writing about the director’s signature action fare. Following his inventive creature feature debut Razorback (1984) and the cult success of Highlander (1986), the stalwart music video director looked to be on an upward trajectory as a filmmaker. However, Mulcahy was fired two weeks into production on the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Rambo III (1988) because he wasn’t shooting enough close-ups of its hubristic star, and the subsequent production and release of the much-maligned (and deservedly so) Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) was a ghastly, pained process. RicochetBlue Steel, and The Real McCoy followed those professional debacles in quick succession, and these three films feel like exercises in directorial penitence: they’re moderately budgeted, straight-down-the-line mainstream features and are largely inoffensive, discounting the innately quippy immorality of the Joel Silver era of action cinema that Ricochet slots into.

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Australia Day (2017)

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Director: Kriv Stenders

Starring: Bryan Brown, Jenny Wu, Shari Sebbens, Miah Madden, Elias Anton, Sean Keenan

Typically Down Under Flix eschews films currently in cinemas, but I thought I’d make an exception for Kriv Stenders’ Australia Day, which is in limited release and has simultaneously made its video-on-demand debut via Dendy Direct and the Foxtel Store. Stenders’ film has divided both viewers and critics, with Luke Buckmaster in The Guardian and Blake Howard in Daily Review nicely encapsulating some of the key criticisms leveled at the film.

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John Hargreaves double feature: Hoodwink (1981) and Sky Pirates (1986)

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Discounting the film Blackfellas, in which he plays a minor role as a racist policeman, I’m surprised it’s taken this long to cover any John Hargreaves films on Down Under Flix. A six time AFI Award nominee (including for Hoodwink) and triple winner, Hargreaves is one of the best leading men to emerge from the Australian New Wave, and I have particular regard for his work in Don’s Party, Long Weekend, and The Odd Angry Shot. Hargreaves was a natural performer: gifted and charismatic, but not unnecessarily flashy; handsome, but not movie star handsome, and slightly crumpled like a creased jacket. He was a quintessential Australian everyman ala Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown, though he’s less familiar to young filmgoers today, partly due to his untimely passing in 1996 at age 50. This article looks at one of Hargreaves’ best films… and one of his other films…

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Final 2000s comedy round-up: Under the Radar (2004), Charlie & Boots (2009), A Few Best Men (2011)

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This week brings one last look at Australian comedies from the noughties, no doubt to some readers’ reflief and other readers’ chagrin. Previous entries grouped films according to theme – romantic comedies, music-centred comedies, small town comedies, with The Wannabes straddling the former two categories – but this week spotlights the three best films (in my opinion anyway) of the series: a sly little comedic thriller, a road movie dramedy headlined by two iconic Australian comedy stars, and a polished mainstream confection.

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Resistance (1992)

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Directed by: Hugh Keays-Byrne, Paul Elliott

Starring: Helen Jones, Lorna Lesley, Robyn Nevin, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Stephen Leeder, Harold Hopkins, Jack Thompson

First viewing, via DVD

Resistance is a film that’s been on my “to watch” list a long time. A remote-set dystopian action-thriller co-directed by character actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, best known as the antagonist in those other famous remote-set dystopian action-thrillers Mad Max and Mad Max: Fury Road, is an enticing proposition. However, the film was not afforded a conventional theatrical release in Australia, and is not widely available on physical or streaming media. I managed to secure a DVD copy via Amazon, but on receiving and finally playing the disc was disappointed to find the soundtrack was in French and there were no English subtitles. I decided to forge ahead and watch the film anyway, on the chance I mightn’t ever see it in another form, though I hope that Ozflix can one day add it to their collection with its original soundtrack. That wasn’t my only quandary though; I also had to decide whether to review a film which, based on the language barrier, clearly had me at a disadvantage. Again, I decided to forge ahead and do this because, as this review attests, even under imperfect viewing standards the film’s merits are evident.

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Tag team review: Ghosts … of the Civil Dead (1988)

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Director: John Hillcoat

Stars: David Field, Mike Bishop, Chris DeRose, Kevin Mackey, Dave Mason, Nick Cave, Bogdan Koca, Freddo Dierck, Vincent Gil, Tony Clark

Second viewing, via DVD

Ghosts … of the Civil Dead is a prison drama set in Australia’s Central Industrial Prison. A flagship of Australia’s “New Generation Prisons” based on existing American prison models, Central Industrial Prison is, according to the film’s title card, a “maximum security facility designed to house the prison system’s most violent, unmanageable and predatory inmates”. At film’s start, the facility has just initiated 37 months of lockdown after a long string of violent incidents. The film backtracks to chronicle the lead-up to this event, following the paths of various prisoners as they are systematically abused and dehumanized by each other and the system. For this tag team review, I’ll be joined by music critic and commentator Cristian Stromblad, whose work can be found at the website Ugly ‘n’ Weird.

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