Posts Tagged ‘mark hartley’

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Oh, hell yessssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

It’s generally well known that we (and by that I mean “I”) are (and by that I mean “am”) big fans of (which should read, I suppose, “am a big fan of”) Australian director Mark Harley here at TFG, and when it was first announced that his third and final documentary chronicling the history of exploitation cinema (after Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which tackled the amazing backstories behind Ozploitatation and Filipino exploitation, respectively) would be focused on the exploits of Israeli- expats-turned-short-lived-Hollywood-moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the twin pillars who did their level best to prop up Cannon Films throughout the 1980s, I was stoked. And I remained stoked — for a long time.

This project was first announced around 2008, if memory serves me correctly, and while some of the delays that plagued its production were understandable enough — such as when Hartley took a break from it to try his had at “re-imagining” a classic Ozploitation horror franchise himself with the superb Patrick : Evil Awakens — I have a feeling that there are some suitably crazy stories that could be told about the journey from concept to screen of Electric Boogaloo : The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films. Maybe we’ll hear about them one of these days, maybe we won’t, but the good news is that we’re finally getting to hear the Cannon story, warts and all, and I’m pleased to report that it was well worth the wait.

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Okay, fair enough, that “wait” I just mentioned actually ended towards the tail of 2014, when Hartley’s labor of love finally started playing the festival circuit, and it’s been available on Blu-ray and DVD for some little time now, but it recently made its way into the Netflix instant streaming queue, as well, so really, there’s absolutely no excuse to put off seeing this thing any longer, is there?

I didn’t think so, and given that most readers of this site are probably at least somewhat familiar with various parts of the Golan-Globus odyssey, only the briefest of historical run-downs is probably in order here — in fact, if I say that Menahem Golan and his cousin, Yoram Globus, made a tidy sum churning out second-rate sex comedies in Tel Aviv and parlayed their small fortune into purchasing a controlling stake in the already-extant Cannon Films, only to crank out a literal ton or more of celluloid in under a decade before their whole dream went belly-up, that would probably about cover it as far as stage-setting goes. But there’s so much more to it than that, and in a very real sense, Cannon epitomized the boom-and-bust of 1980s capitalism, Reaganomics-style.

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In fairness, though, some of their hucksterism owes more to the 1950s and 60s marketing ethos of William Castle and his legion of imitators than it does to anything else — consider, for instance, that Golan and Globus once went to Cannes with poster mock-ups for literally dozens of phony “movies” and only went ahead and made actual films for the handful that attracted the most attention and/or investment. That’s old-school movie biz con artistry right there. But the involvement of seminal 80s swindlers like slimy “junk bond” king Michael Milken — who dumped over $50 million cash into Cannon’s coffers — shows that the cousins were very well in tune with the times, indeed.

And hey, give ’em credit for dreaming big — they graduated from ninja movies and T&A romps to Charles Bronson vigilante flicks and from there to Sylvester Stallone action “epics,” along the way temporarily bringing the likes of John Cassavetes, John Frankenheimer, and Franco Zeferelli into the fold, Heck, they even had a deal with Godard going for a minute there, and somehow even managed to gobble up a number of European theater chains to ensure that their product always had houses to play. It was a pretty sweet set-up — for a time.

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Yeah, alright, most of the flicks that went out under the Cannon logo weren’t good (although who can deny that Runaway Train and 52 Pick-Up, among others, weren’t examples of actual quality cinema?), but damn if the vast majority of them — from Invasion U.S.A. to Death Wish 3 to The Delta Force to Breakin’ (and its sequel, from which Hartley borrows the title for his documentary) weren’t all kinds of low-grade, cheesy fun?

This film makes a pretty strong and compelling case for the idea that if Golan and Globus hadn’t let their reach exceed their grasp, they might still be in the “picture business” to this day, but when they sunk too much of their ever-tenuous fortunes into would-be-big-money productions like Superman IV : The Quest For Peace and Masters Of The Universe, they ended up truncating the shooting schedules, slicing the effects budgets, and ending up with products that looked and felt like any of their other “B”-movie fare, but cost a lot more.Combine these ambitious mistakes with a collapsing “high-risk/high-yield” investment market and the writing was on the wall.

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Cannon didn’t go quietly, though, and its agonized (and agonizing) death throes are every bit as fun to hear about (in a “car wreck” sort of way, mind you) as earlier tales relayed in the film about the high-maintenance behavior of Sharon Stone or the sheer acting incompetence of Chuck Norris. It’s all such a gleeful post-mortem that honestly, friends,  words can hardly contain my enthusiasm.

The eventual falling-out that occurred between Menahem and Yoram — and their short-lived Lambada-based rivalry (yes, really) — make for an almost-difficult-to-endure final act, but there’s still a strong sense of poetic justice that permeates even that difficult period, so all in all, even though things didn’t end well (to put it mildly)l for Cannon (nor for their many investors, I would assume), I have no problem labeling this a bizarre sort of “feel-good” film.

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So hey — let’s close out 2015 on an unambiguously enthusiastic note around these parts : do yourself a favor and check out Electric Boogaloo : The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films as soon as you possibly can! We’ll see you in 2016!

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There’s no doubt that  Aussie documentarian Mark Hartley has established himself as the “go-to guy” when it comes to chronicling the history of exploitation cinema — his films tracing the rise and fall of the “B-Movie” industry in his both his own country  (Not Quite Hollywood) and the Philippines (Machete Maidens Unleashed) are thorough, exhaustive, and above all, highly entertaining accounts of the trials and travails of making low-budget flicks in settings far removed from the Tinseltown blockbuster machine. His forthcoming retrospective on Cannon Films, Electric Boogaloo, is something many of us have been waiting on with baited breath for some time now, and the mere thought that it’s finally about to see the light of day fills me with a kind of irrational giddiness that, frankly, I’m just not used to.

Still, it’s surprising that there’s been such a long wait between his second and third exploitation-related documentaries when you consider that his first and second were barely a year removed from each other. Of course, there’s an explanation for this — and that  is his 2013 remake of director Richard Franklin’s 1978 Ozploitation classic Patrick (which was followed, believe it or not, by an Italian sequel entitled Patrick Still Loves — only in the ’70s, my friends, only in the ’70s), a project that Hartley undertook some time after Electric Boogaloo was already well underway, but one that resulted in an inevitable hiatus for the Cannon-centric doc since it’s kinda hard to work on two feature film projects at the same time.

So — was it worth having to hold out a bit longer for a flick we’ve all been eagerly anticipating to allow Hartley a bit of leeway to complete this obvious labor of love? Reviews of his version of Patrick have been lukewarm at best,  to be sure, but I would have to say the answer to my (probably rhetorical, but what the hell) question is a fairly resounding “yes,” because I don’t know what anyone else has been smoking, but I think this little chiller has everything you could possibly ask for and then some.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the original (or, for that matter, this remake), the premise works as follows : young nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson) is so desperate for a full-time gig that gets her away from a deteriorating relationship back home in, I’m guessing, Sydney or Melbourne, that she signs on at the remote, foreboding Roget Clinic, a decidedly experimental “treatment” facility for comatose patients overseen by the ethically compromised (to put it kindly) Dr. Roget (Charles Dance, in terrifically eerie performance) and his daughter, Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths, apparently “slumming it” back in her home country now that her two absolutely risible American soap operas — Six Feet Under and Brothers And Sisters — are, mercifully, off our television screens). The only other staff member on site appears to be local “good time girl” Nurse Williams (Peta Sergeant), and the whole place feels a lot more like a fucking tomb than a medical center.

Roget has promised his increasingly-nervous financial backers that he’s on the verge of a “breakthrough” of some sort in terms of bringing the brain-dead back from their — sorry to be blunt — vegetative states, and his prize guinea pig appears to be a patient in room number 15, one-time psychopath Patrick (played by Jackson Gallagher, who gets the most an actor possibly can from a part with, essentially, no lines), but the “breakthrough” Patrick has in mind is far different from the one his not-so-good Doctor thinks he’s coming close to achieving with his ever-escalating, violent shock “treatments” (incidentally, it never ceases to amaze me how when someone has electrodes attached to their genitals we all recognize it as being torture, but when they’re attached to someone’s head it can be called “therapy”) —  you see, our guy Pat’s been fusing his consciousness in with the electrical grid, and when he’s finally amped up sufficiently, he’s gonna wreak bloody havoc on everyone who did him wrong, starting with Roget himself.

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Hartley’s obviously absorbed a few lessons from the many exploitation stalwarts he’s had the chance to get to know over the years, because his take on Patrick positively drips with atmosphere and tension right from the outset, and as Nurse Jacquard’s feelings for her patient progress from pity to concern to, finally, terror, the undercurrent of genuine menace that runs throughout is successfully ramped up in accordance with the raising of the story’s stakes. Sure, some of the CGI exterior effects (lightning, fog, etc.) are a bit on the cut-rate side, but even there one gets the sense that Hartley’s going for a purposeful “old Hollywood” look rather than cutting corners. His budget here isn’t high by any stretch of the imagination, but by and large he seems to have picked up a good deal of knowledge from the likes of Brian Trenchard-Smith and Cirio H. Santiago on how to make a little go a long way. in short,  he’s seen how the pros do it and is more than ready to apply the skills he’s heard so much about.

Obviously, a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required in order to even buy into the premise here, and fans of the original are probably a bit disappointed by Hartley’s decision to steer the story away from the realm of ESP (although that certainly becomes a factor, especially towards the end) and into a more technologically-oriented milieu, but it makes sense in this day and age when everything’s connected, and doesn’t, at least from my own point of view, detract from the impact of what’s happening in any way. All in all, this is a very worthy “modern grindhouse” feature and I sincerely hope that Hartley will pursue more projects of this ilk in the future, since I can’t think of anyone better, this side of Tarantino and Rodriguez, to continue the ethos of the exploitation film into the current century.

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Patrick — which, in true drive-in style is also known by the alternate title of Patrick : Evil Awakens — is available on DVD and Blu-ray, sure, but it’s also part of the instant streaming queue on Netflix at the moment (which is how I caught it, hence the lack of technical specs for its physical-storage versions in this review), and is well worth any horror or “B-Movie” junkie’s time to check out. I almost never like remakes, but this feels more like a rebirth —which, given its subject matter, is highly appropriate indeed.

 

 

"Not Quite Hollywood" Movie Poster

"Not Quite Hollywood" Movie Poster

“Stone.” “The Man From Hong Kong.” “Stork.” “Fantasm.” “Long Weekend.” “Mad Max.” “Turkey Shoot.” “Razorback.” “Dead-End Drive-In.” ” Mad Dog Morgan.” “BMX Bandits.” “Patrick.”

If the names of these movies don’t ring a bell—or even if they do—you’d be well-served by checking out director Mark Hartley’s respectful-yet-irreverent new indie documentary “Not Quite Hollywood,” a fascinating look at the history of “Ozploitation,” the bizarrely unique brand of low-budget exploitation filmmaking from Down Under.

In a very real sense, the history of the Ozplotation and the history of Australian filmmaking are one and the same, as no other country on earth has a movie industry whose roots lie in low-budget, drive-in pictures, and while more serious and scholarly arthouse fare like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “The Last Wave” were the types of films Australia wanted to be known for producing in the 1970s, in truth these high-brow pictures were few and far between, and the bedrock of this nascent industry was the low-budget genre picture designed to draw people into the drive-ins (Australia is the only country besides the US with a distinct drive-in movie culture) and deliver the same types of cheap thrills, cheap shocks, cheap sex, and cheap gimmicks as their more-well-known American counterparts—all, of course, delivered on a cheap budget.

In truth, there was no Australian film industry to speak of until “Stork,” an ultra-low-budget screwball sex comedy, came along in 1971 and proved to the Australian filmgoing public—and prospective producers/investors—that Australia could produce its own fare for its cinemas and even, eventually, worldwide distribution markets. A veritable flood of Aussie sex comedies followed, such as the highly-popular “Alvin Purple” and “Fantasm” films, and the nudity-filled romps rules the day for several years until the small cadre of Australian filmmakers started to branch out into genres such as horror, action, and biker (or “bikie” as they’d say down there) movies, as well—there were even a few Australian kung fu flicks!

“Not Quite Hollywood” covers it all, with candid interviews from the directors, producers, stars,  and cinematographers behind many of the most notable Ozploitation efforts. Special attention is paid to the gonzo, balls-to-the-walls stuntmen who did so much to make this bizarre brand of filmmaking what it is, as well. American and British stars who made the trek Down Under  to either revive sagging careers or just plain keep working such as Dennis Hopper, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, and George Lazenby are on hand to share their recollections, as well.

Plenty of folks who went on to have fairly successful careers in Hollywood like George Miller, Fred Schepisi, and  Russell Mulcahy got their start directing Ozploitation pictures, and while names like Brian Trenchard-Smith are not as well-known stateside, their names are well-known to the Australian filmgoing public and their contributions to the growth and development of Aussie film cannot be overstated. Future mega-stars like Nicole Kidman and Mel Gibson got their start in the world of Ozploitation, as well.

Oh, and there’s plenty of Quentin Tarantino, too, if you’re interested—as a human treasure-trove of knowledge of all things exploitation, he knows many of these movies well and his thoughts and reminiscences on them are insightful, interesting, and delivered with a lot less self-involved self-importance than we’ve grown accustomed to from him over the years.

I’m a little biased toward the subject matter here because I absolutely love Australia, having spent six months there, and I absolutely love low-budget exploitation filmmaking, so pairing the two is a match made in heaven for your humble host. But I have to admit that my own exposure to the world of Ozploitation has been minimal at best, since most of these films are unavailable on DVD here in the States. Sure, I’ve seen most of the well-regarded “classics” of  the filed like “Stone,” (my personal favorite of those I’ve seen and one of the absolute best biker movies ever, period) “Mad Max,” “Roadgames,” Razorback,” and what have you, but this movie has got me wanting to hunt more down—a lot more. There’s a plethora of delights for the low-budget coniosseur to be found in the wild world of Ozploitation, and I can’t wait to discover some of them for myself.