Jaws Meets Mad Max: Razorback (1984, directed by Russell Mulcahy)


Deep in the Australian outback, a young child named Scotty goes missing.  His grandfather, Jake (Bill Kerr), swears that a giant boar (“a razorback”) broke into his house and ran off with his grandson.  The locals don’t think it was a boar.  They don’t even think it was a dingo.  Instead, they charge Jake with killing his grandson but, because there’s not evidence to convict him, Jake goes free.

Two years later, a nosy American reporter named Beth Winters (Judy Morris) mysteriously vanishes shortly after arriving in the Outback to do a story on how kangaroos are being hunted to the point of extinction.  Women and children are vanishing in the Outback?  This sounds like a job for Lee Majors but the best this movie can do is Gregory Harrison.  Harrison plays Beth’s husband, Carl, who comes to Australia to search for her.  At first, he thinks that she may have been kidnapped by the moronic Baker brothers (Chris Haywood and David Argue) but then he meets Jake and a comely pig expert named Sarah (Arkie Whiteley).  Jake tells Carl about the razorback and later comes across Beth’s wedding ring in a pile of boar shit.

Razorback was probably pitched as being “Jaws meets Mad Max.”  Just as in Jaws, the authorities refuse to accept that people are being eaten by a giant boar and it is up to an inexperienced American, an old timer, and a scientist to try to stop it.  Also, like in Jaws, the boar is that star of the show even though it does not get much screen time.  When the boar does appear, it bears a distinct resemblance to Motorhead’s War-Pig.  Just as in Mad Max, every Australian in Razorback drives like a maniac.  Whenever the Baker brothers tear across the screen in their truck, it’s easy to imagine Max Rockatansky and Goose in hot pursuit.

Along with the boar, the other star of the film is the Australian outback itself, which the film treats as almost being an alien landscape:

If Razorback makes the Australian outback look like an 80s new wave music video, that might be because it was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who started his career directing videos for Duran Duran.  Before one boar attack, Duran Duran’s New Moon On Monday is even heard playing on a radio.  (Ironically, New Moon On Monday was one of the few early Duran Duran videos that Mulcahy did not direct.)  Both the boar and the film look great but all of the humans get overshadowed by the visuals.   Not that it matters, since they’re only there to serve as razorback food.

Despite the strong visuals and the amazingly cool monster, Razorback got only lukewarm reviews when it was first released.  Critics aside, it was a hit in Australia, where it won Australian Film awards for both editing and cinematography.  (Cinematographer Dean Semler later won an Oscar for his work on Dances with Wolves.)  It only found cult success in the United States.  One admirer was Steven Spielberg, who reportedly called Mulcahy to ask how he achieved some the film’s visual effects.  Two years after the release of Razorback, Mulcahy directed his best-known film, Highlander.

Flaws and all, Razorback is the best movie ever made about a wild boar eating people in Australia.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Lost Horizon (dir by Frank Capra)


Long before there was Lost, there was Lost Horizon!

Much like the famous television show, the 1937 film Lost Horizon begins with a group of strangers on an airplane.  They’re people from all walks of life, all with their separate hopes and dreams.  When the plane crashes, they find themselves stranded in an uncharted land and, much like the Lost castaways, they are shocked to discover that they are not alone.  Instead, they’ve found a semi-legendary place that is ruled over by a man who has lived for centuries.  Much as in Lost, some want to return to civilization while others want to remain in their new home.  Both Lost and Lost Horizon even feature a terminally ill woman who starts to recover her health after becoming stranded.

Of course, in Lost, everyone was just flying from Australia to America.  In Lost Horizon, everyone is trying to escape the Chinese revolution.  Among the passengers on the plane: diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman), his irresponsible brother, George (John Howard), a con artist named Henry (Thomas Mitchell), a paleontologist (Edward Everett Horton), and the very ill Gloria (Isabel Jewell).

While Lost featured a plane crash on a tropical island, Lost Horizon features a plane crash in the Himalayas.  In Lost, the sinister Others sent spies to infiltrate the survivors.  In Lost Horizon, the mysterious Chang (H.B. Warner) appears and leads the survivors to a place called Shangri-La.

Shangi-La is a lush and idyllic valley that has somehow flourished in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.  The happy inhabitants inform the survivors that they never get sick and they never fight.  They’re led by the High Lama (Sam Jaffe), a philosopher who explains that he is several hundred years old.  The valley is full of magic and the Lama tells the survivors that Shangri-La is their new home.

Now, I’ve seen enough horror movies that I spent most of Lost Horizon waiting for the Lama to suddenly reveal that he was a vampire or an alien or something.  Whenever anyone in a movie seems to be too good to be true, that usually means that he’s going to end up killing someone about an hour into the story.  But that didn’t happen in Lost Horizon.  Instead, the Lama is just as wise and benevolent as he claims to be and Shangri-La is as much of a paradise as everyone assumes.  I guess we’re just naturally more cynical in 2018 than people were in 1937.

Of course, the Lama isn’t immortal.  Not even the magic of Shangri-La can prevent the inevitably of death.  The Lama is looking for a successor.  Could one of the survivors be that successor?  Perhaps.  For instance, Robert absolutely loves Shangri-La.  Of course, his brother George is determined to return to the real world.  He has fallen in love with one of the inhabitants of Shagri-La and plans to take her with him, despite the Lama’s warning about trying to leave…

Frank Capra was a huge fan of James Hilton’s book, Lost Horizon, and he spent three years trying to bring it to the big screen.  Based on Capra’s previous box office successes, Colombia’s Harry Cohn gave Capra a budget of $1.25 million to bring his vision of Shangri-La to life.  That may not sound like much today but, at the time, that made Lost Horizon the most expensive movie ever made.  The production was a notoriously difficult one.  (The original actor cast as the elderly Lama was so excited to learn he had been selected that he dropped dead of a heart attack.)  As a result of both its ornate sets and Capra’s perfectionism, the film soon went overbudget.  When Capra finally delivered a first cut, it was over 6 hours long.  Capra eventually managed to edit it down to 210 minutes, just to then have Harry Cohn order another hour taken out of the film.  When Lost Horizon was finally released, it had a running time of 132 minutes.

Seen today, Lost Horizon is definitely an uneven work.  With all the cutting and editing that went on, it’s hard to guess what Capra’s original vision may have been but, in the final version, much more time is devoted to the characters discussing the philosophy of Shangri-La than to the characters themselves.  (It’s always good to see Thomas Mitchell but he really doesn’t get much to do.)  Since you never really feel like you know what any of these characters were like outside of Shangi-La, it’s hard to see how being in Shagri-La has changed them.  You just have to take their word for it.  That said, it’s a visually stunning film.  Capra may have gone over budget creating the look of Shangri-La but it was money well-spent.  If I ever find myself in a magic village, I hope it looks half as nice as the one in Lost Horizon.

Despite all of the drama that went on behind the scenes and a rather anemic box office reception, Lost Horizon was nominated for best picture.  However, it lost to The Life of Emile Zola.

Horror on the Lens: The Undying Monster (dir by John Brahm)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have 1942’s The Undying Monster!

It tells the story of the Hammonds, a noble British family who, for centuries, have been haunted by suicide, murder, and rumors of a curse.  When a mysterious creature attack Oliver Hammond, Scotland Yard dispatches a scientist to figure out what’s going on.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the local villagers insist that it’s the curse.  The scientist, however, is convinced that it has to be something else…

Clocking in at 63 minutes and made on an obviously low budget, The Undying Monster is actually pretty good.  Director John Brahm emphasizes shadows and darkness, taking an almost film noir approach to this tale of gothic horror.  The Undying Monster is a hidden gem of 40s horror and here it is!

Enjoy!

What a Lovely Day To Be Mad Max: Fury Road


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We have the first official trailer (not teaser which the others last year had been) for the upcoming vehicular masterpiece mayhem from the mind of George Miller. It’s been a couple of decades since Miller played in the post-apocalyptic world of one Max Rockatansky.

A special teaser trailer was released during last year’s Comic-Con in San Diego and it was universally-hailed as mind-blowing and melt-your-face in it’s awesomeness.

Today we get the first official trailer and, most likely, the only one since the film is nearing it’s release date. So, watch and try not to melt your face as you stare into the mayhem before you.

Mad Max: Fury Road is set for a May 15, 2015 release date.

Mad Max: Fury Road Official Teaser Trailer


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What a lovely day, indeed.

At this year’s Hall H over at Comc-Con this past summer a trailer was shown that figuratively blew off the roof at the convention. It was the trailer for all the upcoming films for 2015 and beyond that everyone ended up geeking up over. It wasn’t the sizzle reel for the upcoming Age of Ultron (though it seems that was a close second). It wasn’t the brief tease of Batman v. Superman (though from people I know who went the teaser went a long way in removing doubts about the film).

No, the film the trailer was all about was George Miller’s return to his post-apocalyptic world inhabited by one of the original badasses of the 1980’s: Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.

Yes, we are going to have sandwiched between Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens a new Mad Max film (4th in the series) with Tom Hardy in the title role. The title to this latest entry in the series will be Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Comic-Con teaser for Fury Road whetted the appetite and this latest teaser trailer released by Warner Brothers today will just feed the thirst for post-apocalyptic vehicle mayhem.

Mad Max: Fury Road will be set for a May 15, 2015 release.

Lisa Reviews The Oscar Nominees: The Philadelphia Story (dir by George Cukor)


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There are a few reasons why The Philadelphia Story was one of those films that I had been meaning to watch for a while.  For one thing, The Philadelphia Story was nominated for best picture of 1940 (it lost to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca) and my ultimate goal is to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture.  The other reason is that Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for his performance in The Philadelphia Story and anyone who doesn’t love Jimmy Stewart has obviously never seen Anatomy of a Murder (not to mention It’s a Wonderful Life!).

Well, The Philadelphia Story was on TCM last night and I finally got to see it and what can I say?  I absolutely loved it.  For a 74 year-old, black-and-white comedy, The Philadelphia Story is still a lot of fun.

The Philadelphia Story tells the story of Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), a wealthy socialite who is engaged to marry George Kitteridge (John Howard), a self-described “man of the people,” who is widely respect for both his strong moral character and the fact that — unlike most of Tracy’s friends — he made his fortune as opposed to inheriting it.

It would be tempting to reach into the bag of simplistic blogging clichés and call the Lords a 1940s version of Khardashians but I’m not going to do that because the Lords have a lot more wit and class.  My favorite member of Tracy’s family was Dinah (Virginia Wiedler), her teenage sister who is sarcastic, cheerfully cynical, and has no problem demanding to be the center of attention.  My sister Erin claims that the reason I liked Dinah is because I saw a lot of myself in the character and that’s probably true.  However, I have to say that the great thing about both Tracy and Dinah is that they were both wittier, classier, and better dressers than all of the Khardashians and Jenners combined.

Anyway, the evil editor of Spy Magazine, Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell), wants to get pictures of Tracy’s very exclusive and very private wedding so he sends two of his reporters in under cover.  Mike Connor (James Stewart) is a frustrated writer who hates having to lower himself to writing for a tabloid.  Photographer Liz (Ruth Hussey) is secretly in love with Mike.  Helping Mike and Liz pass themselves off as friends of the family is Tracy’s ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant).

As quickly becomes obvious, Dexter is still in love with Tracy.  However, Tracy divorced Dexter because Dexter was an irresponsible alcoholic and, even though Dexter has changed his ways and she is still obviously attracted to him, Tracy is now engaged to the morally upright but boring and judgmental George.

However, Tracy is not just torn between George and Dexter.  She is attracted to Mike as well, to the extent that Tracy even takes the trouble to read some of Mike’s short stories.  For only the second time in her life, Tracy gets drunk and goes for a midnight swim with Mike.  This, of course, leads to the best scene in The Philadelphia Story: Jimmy Stewart singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

Seriously, the scene made my entire night.

The Philadelphia Story is based on a play and the film itself is rather stagey in that way that films from the 40s often appear to be to modern viewers.  But, once you get used to the fact that the movie was made in 1940 and not 2014, it’s a real delight.  The dialogue is funny and it’s delivered by one of the best casts ever.  Playing a role that was specifically written for her, Katherine Hepburn is brilliant as the strong-willed but unapologetically romantic Tracy and Cary Grant is just as charming as you would expect Cary Grant to be.  Best of all, you’ve got Jimmy Stewart singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and seriously, how can you not love that?