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December 17, 2020

Movie Review: "The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee" (2020, Transmission Films/Lionsgate)

...ya' know, folks?? There's a classic line from the 1985 apocalyptic actioner, "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome", where the Tina Turner character, Auntie Entity says 'tsk, tsk' resignedly to Max...", how the world turns, doesn't it?? One day...cock of the walk...and the next, a feather duster...". Now, I only mention that line in parallel with "The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee", in a sort of positive, albeit melancholy way. After all, until he surprisingly showed up in an Australian travelogue Super Bowl TV commercial spot, a couple years ago (...a delightful piece of comical whimsy, which rampantly sparked a rumor of a fourth 'Dundee' movie), most folks out there probably assumed that Paul Hogan had quietly retired, faded away, and even outright let loose his mortal coil. Which makes THIS lightweight, slapstick funny 'slice of life' (...what was the line in Blake Edwards' 1988 mystery/comedy?? Something like '...hey, it's all true...give or take a lie or two!!'), all the more surprising...and well, quite amusing actually...

...yes, folks...Paul Hogan proves himself still quite well alive and kicking (...expressively, Paul Hogan and his inescapable 'Crocodile Dundee' character have never really been that far removed from each other...albeit, the latter had the more daredevil/thrill-seeker side to him), and herein this film...playing himself, of course...totally realizes that his legendary 'Crocodile Dundee' celebrity glory days are long-since past (...there ARE the occasional ribs 'n' pokes, here and there, aimed at his other films...and despite the critical naysayers...hey, I LIKED "Lightning Jack", thank you very much!!). All he seems content to do, by this time, is to fully retire, relax, embrace his golden years, and in the course of this film's events, try to make an appearance at his loving grand-daughter's holiday school recital...

...however...Hollywood itself (...gotta love that gawl-darn city of dreams) absolutely loves nostalgia, and equally loves a comeback. And so, with the help of a doting, closely attending, though quite insistent agent (...a sort of 'hand-me-down' agent, actually...the 'daughter' of Paul's supposed original agent), Paul is reluctantly convinced into not only a proposed knighthood by the Queen of England (...seems that "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" is her favorite movie), but the prospects of yet another 'Dundee' movie (...quite candidly, I loved the bumbling 'faux' movie sequel concept, in that Super Bowl ad...hell, bring THAT on!!). And it's the slapstick aftermath of the announcement of those two lucrative prospects, which Paul finds himself inexplicably caught up in, that invariably ensues...

...what's quite interesting about this's not only about an almost forgotten 'legend', chasing down his glory days (...uh, nope, probably the wrong term...something more like '...for good, or for bad...being reluctantly pushed back into the limelight'), it's also about how our dearly dedicated, albeit quite invasive press and media, just LOVE to exploit a reportable situation...especially if it's not in the best of light. Comeback news is good news...but as history has often dictated, negative comeback news and negative behind-the-scenes behavior makes for even better coverage, as far as journalism goes. And so, with each and every slapstick pratfall, which Paul gets caught up in, the press invariably twists each of the accidentally instilled incidents, so that it makes Paul look like...well, makes him look like an asshole. Something which Paul and/or 'Dundee' himself might have simply shoulder-shrugged off, with a resounding 'eh'...if not for the fact that the negative press is threatening to adversely affect how his dear grand-daughter sees him... looking older, more weathered (, as if he didn't already look weathered enough, some 30-plus years ago), and somewhat slower...nonetheless, Paul Hogan's irreverent, down-under savvy, charm and personality still manages to exude an embraceable sense of both nostalgia, as well as the welcome notion of 'yeah, I might be older and more weathered, but hey...I'm still kickin'. Actress Racheal Carpani is typically affecting enough as Paul's frazzled, albeit dedicated agent/manager, without going overboard on the standard character ( opposed to the ol' stereotype of ' look faw-bulous'), as she repeatedly/exasperatedly buries her face in her hands, with each and every bit of trouble that Paul inadvertently gets into. Nate Torrance, as a bumbling photographer, trying to get any inside 'dope' on Paul, and instead ends up palling around with him, seems sort of negligible in the sense that he appears to be playing the same type of bumbling character that actor Jonah Hill used to play, early in his career. And upcomer Jacob Elordi is charming, albeit somewhat ill-used as Paul's live-in son, who seems to come off here looking like a handsome yuppie adult version of John Cusack's smarmy and talented lil' brother, in the 80's flick, "Better Off Dead", with Paul (...who accepts and loves the lad, but really doesn't know a lot about him) inadvertently walking in on him, or bumping into him, entertaining the ladies in his room, or cooing poolside guests with a light-strumming guitar riff...

...but then, the overall sense of nostalgia in this little trite of a film, amusingly stretches beyond that of Paul Hogan himself. Playing themselves...Olivia Newton-John, Wayne Knight ( an unexpected house guest of Paul's), and Reginald VelJohnson (...remember 'Gus', the limo driver in the original "...Dundee"...and of course, his cop role in "Die Hard"??) seem little more like quick '...hey, that's (fill in the blank)' roles, but it was still rather fun and nice to see them. The funniest cameo bits here, however, can be attributed to Chevy, exaggeratedly playing up the supposed 'asshole' persona that the press has often reportedly attributed him as...and at the same time, he's amusingly thumbing his nose at the well as John Cleese, herein exasperatedly resigned to string out his remaining post-comedic twilight years as an unlicensed, chase-happy Uber driver. Heck, even fellow Aussie Mel Gibson gets in a quick jab, in a fleeting piece of what appears to be recent archival interview footage, with Mel looking as if he just stepped off the set of his recent irreverent Christmas flick, "Fatman"...

...having foregone and bypassed any sort of theatrical release...uh, thanks to the wretched pandemic..."The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee" has instead been unceremoniously dumped onto streaming venues. which is a bit of a shame, as it may not find the whole of the audience who would appreciate the overall warm sense of nostalgia, which the film assuredly has. As such, this trite and warmly affecting bit of comical muse...may well pass by with little notice. On the whole, 'Excellent' might well be too strong a word for this one...perhaps more like a funny and charming tip of the hat...and that makes it good enough to warrant checking this one out.....

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December 1, 2020

Static Age #13: Les Vampires (1915)

Haunting image from Les Vampires (1915)

This Static Age’s spotlight goes to the (beautifully restored from Kino Lorber) silent classic French serial Les Vampires (1915), written and directed by Louis Feuillade, which is about a mastermind criminal organization that is baffling the police both with its antics (the detectives are continuously mocked via messages) as well as successful robberies. Presented in ten chapters of various running times, resulting in an absolutely thrilling 7 hour marathon for connoisseurs of hundred-year-old genre fare; the finale alone, is quite possibly the most spectacular ending in silent film history.


And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent series…


Doctor Who - Season 6 art

The 6th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) offers more of the same (albeit with heavier horror undertones), as The Doctor (the always comedic Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (the always gorgeous Karen Gillian) indulge to more adventures. ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ is set in 1969 America when and where all sorts of weird things happened, while ‘Day of the Moon’ continues that storyline and takes it many steps further by introducing world domination by aliens conspiracy theories and President Richard Nixon (Stuart Milligan). The Doctor and Amy go all-out pirates in ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’, an episode that is boasting excellent CGI. ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ concerns a female Doctor that endangers the Tardis. ‘The Rebel Flesh’, ‘The Almost People’, and ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ are about a mysterious liquid that copies your facial features and your – you guessed it! – flesh in general, making a perfect (but evil) replica of yourself. ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ takes the action to Nazi-era Germany. ‘Night Terror’, the series’ most eerie and frightening episode is about a young boy’s cupboard and its very real monsters as well as a beautiful story about child neglecting and psychosis. It’s present day Amy vs. old Amy in ‘The Girl Who Waited’! Taking into account how far back I am with catching up with recent series, it is no surprise that while nowadays everybody has switched to podcasts, I still blog for the very few people that are patient enough to read me.


Ratched - Season 1 poster art

Created by Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky, the 1st season of Ratched (2020 – present) is set in 1947 and is about the titular nurse (the gorgeous Sarah Paulson) who talks her way into getting hired in a major psychiatric clinic, where her inner darkness will shine. Containing some of the best set and costume design, as well as excellent cinematography, this Netflix series is a winner. Also starring Sharon Stone, this is a stylized exercise in violence as well as a LGBTQI+ manifesto.


On the mainstream movie front, I caught up with the following…


Based upon Roald Dahl’s book and Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 film with Anjelica Huston, The Witches (2020) is a surprisingly terrible remake that fails in almost all fronts, despite having amassed great talents both behind the camera (directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also co-wrote with Guillermo del Toro) and in front of it (starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and Chris Rock). In terms of tone, the magic of the source material as well as the original film is completely lost, whereas the terrible CGI that hijacked the project are of the SyFy channel variety. The only salvaging elements are the excellent costume and set design, and the African-American culture background during the first few scenes.


The Craft: Legacy (2020)

Staying on the same subject – that of witchcraft – you should also check out Blumhouse Productions’ The Craft: Legacy (2020), which like the 1996 original is about the parallels between wiccans and feminism. Writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones’ offering follows the story of Lily (the diverse beauty Cailee Spaeny) who has special powers but also trouble getting along in school as a misfit teenager. Things improve when she meets three other young witches, but happiness doesn’t last long as her boyfriend commits suicide. What’s more, her stepmother’s boyfriend (David Duchovny) appears to be an evil warlock who is after her powers.


Although Crime is one of my least favorite genres when it comes to fiction, I love True Crime in all of its forms, from books to podcasts and everything in between I am very fascinating with the genre. So this time around I checked out the Audrie & Daisy (2016) documentary on Netflix, which is an absolutely captivating piece on the cyber bullying of several teenagers that resulted in sexual abuse and suicide. Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, this award-winning film is combining archival footage with newly acquired interviews and results into a stomach-churning experience that will wake the feminist inside you – if she’s not already waken! I also watched Skye Borgman’s Abducted in Plain Sight (2017), another documentary on Netflix, this time about a master manipulator that managed to talk his way into having sex with a couple (separately and sans the knowledge of each other’s actions) and kidnap their 12-year-old daughter and mind-wash her so much that she believed she was abducted by aliens!


The New Mutants (2020)

Back to fiction, and this time of the superhero kind, Marvel’s The New Mutants (2020), directed by Josh Boone (who also wrote the screenplay with Knate Lee) is about five – you guessed it – young mutants that are held against their will in a secluded facility by a female doctor, in a setting that resembles your nightmares’ worst version of a psychiatric ward. Reminiscent of the best works of Stephen King, this reportedly troubled production gets many things right, including its commentary on lesbian romance and teenage angst.


And finally, I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…


More Sex, Better Zen, Faster Bullets: The Encyclopedia of Hong Kong Film (2020, Headpress) by Stefan Hammond & Mike Wilkins, with foreword by Jackie Chan and preface by Michelle Yeoh, is offering many chapters that introduce us to the subject’s various subgenres and offer plenty of reviews as well. A really beautiful hardback tome that is as informative as it is entertaining.


Being a big fan of David Cronenberg’s entire body of work, I finally got around to reading William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch: The Restored Text (1959, 2010), an exceptionally penned descent into hard drugs and homosexuality.


Additionally, Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (1989, 2000, 2018), the shocking story of a perverted mother figure and her many young minions that tortured a teenage girl to death, is one of the best books I’ve ever read and it remains stomach-churning throughout.

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