Spooky and Sexy...a horror-romance...hints of unexplored sexuality that combine to produce a euphoria so intense it becomes transporting.-Vincent Canby, The New York Times
Picnic at Hanging Rock
The above review from Vincent Canby is about as enthusiastic a film recommendation as I have ever read from him. I would have disagreed with this assessment the first time I saw Picnic at Hanging Rock on the USA network during the 80's. You honestly have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate this (at least I did.)
It's a true story about a group of girls that go missing on a picnic in 1900 Australia. Except, it isn't really a true story. We try to find out the mystery of what happens to them. Except it isn't a mystery. It turns time upside down, but in subtle ways. It has lots of other layers to it, including class, adolescence, sex and authority. It only took me thirty years, but I think I got it this time out.
Atlanta's July 1979 Screening Room calendar
I didn't know what to expect from the The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, although I've heard about the film for years. I wouldn't say I was expecting a nascent version of Crocodile Dundee, but what I wasn't expecting was a late 70's down under version of Django Unchained! Jimmie is a half-aborginal, half-white who despite being raised by a proper family, seems to be thwarted at every turn by society and certainly by a series of grotesque employers. He goes over the edge and seeks out violent revenge on any that have done him wrong in the past (and some that just got in the way). Rooting for or against Jimmie and the society he rebels against is part of the conundrum here. It's up to the viewer to figure that out.
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
Sleeping Dogs is a down-under (New Zealand) thriller about a man named Smith (Sam Neill) who is breaking up with his wife and just wants to get away for awhile with his dog at the lake so he can relax and do some fishing. Little does he know, he's being set up to be a patsy for a revolutionary uprising. He gets arrested and put in jail and is given the ultimatum of confessing and leaving the country or being executed. He escapes on the way to give his confession and the action...well, the action sort of stops there for awhile. How many thrillers can you name where the star gets a job cutting grass at a motel half way through the picture? He actually does get involved with the resistance, ironically buddying up with the guy who is involved with his wife. He also gets involved with a local girl at the motel he is hiding at and a group of American mercenaries led by the always watchable Warren Oates.
Spoiler: Pretty much no one's getting out of this one alive, though we never find out what happens to Smith's loyal lake dog, last seen desperately trying to swim out to Smith in the early part of the film as he's being taken away by authorities.
Sleeping Dogs: One of these characters flanking Sam Neill
is going to double cross him. Guess which one won't?
Revenge is also the motive for Te Wheke Utu (Revenge is what Utu means) of New Zealand director Geoff Murphy's film about a Maori captain in the British army who swears his revenge on his former allies after a massacre of a peaceful village and becomes the invading army's worst nightmare. Part Death Wish, and part Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and maybe a little of Dances With Wolves in reverse thrown in...ah, forget the comparisons. It is a good film on its own and has some very good scenes of guerrilla warfare and magnifies once again the perils and danger for the white man in the heart of darkness...especially when you don't belong there in the first place!