Archive for December, 2007

Kids’ Games

December 6, 2007

Nightmaster
Directed by Mark Joffe
1987

bakinakwa says:

More Nicole Kidman.  This time the year is 1987 and the film is Nightmaster, originally titled Watch The Shadows Dance.  It begins with an ominous introduction that incorporates ambulance sounds and a montage of industrial buildings and landscape.  This leads to more crazy 80s music, suddenly a guy does a flip and then, voila, Kidman with a paintball gun.  At this early point in her career, Kidman is becoming synonymous with unbelievable hair.  Over the course of 87 minutes we get some entertaining gymnastics and trampoline jumping, a fair amount of homo-eroticism, drug deals, murder and a half-assed love triangle between teach Sonia Spane (Joanne Samuel) and two of her students.  That’s right, odd is just the tip of the iceberg for this film.

This is a highly convoluted movie, an unnecessarily complex story for such a simple message.  The concept of students playing karate games in an abandoned warehouse by night is treated pretty well, but it’s not exactly fresh.  Probably wasn’t in ’87 either.  The script builds up some gentle mystery around “Deep Coup”, and a wheelchair-bound game maestro (it’s symbolism) enlivens the idea a bit, but not enough.  The lead actor, Tom Jennings, had some charisma as star student Robbie Mason, but he’s also kind of pouty and annoying.  Kidman does stand out in her scenes, making it obvious how she was eventually able to work her way out of the doldrums of roles like these.  There are pockets of humor and interesting ideas, but mostly it’s just an overly ambitious, awkwardly structured 80s film with very little to offer of truly memorable worth.  The ending is cute, if totally expected, with a pretty good final shot.  Only the love-triangle between Spane, Robbie and Kidman’s Amy Gabriel struck me as somewhat original.  It had the potential to be subversive, but director Mark Joffe’s decision to deal with it by suggestion and allusion kept it from making such an impact.

Like BMX Bandits, worth seeing for Kidman’s early performance, just don’t expect too much.

bakinakwa’s rating: 3 Stars

lakelia says:
 
Not bad, for a movie that wasn’t all that good. It didn’t have the charm of BMX Bandits, but its darker and less predictable plot kept me interested. Deep Coup, the late-night game of stealth, strategy, and paint-ball guns that the teenage characters play after school, seemed at first to be the sort of fantasy-adventure world where things might get too real before they saw it coming, where danger could sneak up on them. This story of “The Game” is intertwined with the story of their safe and structured, if overly driven, pursuit of excellence in gymnastics and martial arts. It’s here, though, that danger actually lurks. Their teacher has a dark side – drugs, obsession, rage. While this film could have turned into a warning against getting carried away with dangerous games, it became more of a thriller-as-cautionary-tale about that archetype of the charismatic, too-good-to-be-true leader, and the lonely, talented person who falls under his spell. Tom Jennings, the actor playing Robbie, was not exactly stellar, but I was moved by the pain that showed on his face when he saw what his teacher had done, when he still wanted to believe in the man, still wanted to save him.
 
Nightmasters had some decent entertainment value outside of all that heavier stuff, too. Deep Coup looked like a pretty fun game, for one thing; there were some good moments of banter between the main kids; and it still makes me shake my head and laugh to think about the pouty guy who was reluctant to call the police because they might shut down The Game, while his friend sits there bleeding, a knife sticking out of his shoulder. The last scene, although it was suspenseful and ultimately had a poignant climax, was far from perfect. There was a major continuity problem with Amy lying on the ground, maskless, then in the next cut standing up and pulling her mask off. And how the hell did she even live from that last fall, not to mention look so pretty and clean?
 
Oh well, the bad guy’s dead, the guy gets the girl, there’s been a pretty good helping of bad-assery, and we’ve all learned something – that’s what really matters, right?

lakelia’s rating: 3 Stars

Oh, Don’t Be A Creep All Your Life

December 2, 2007

BMX Bandits

BMX Bandits
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
1983

bakinakwa says:

My interest in this film stems purely from the fact that I consider Nicole Kidman to be one of her generation’s greatest actresses.  Sure, she takes roles every so often that are beneath her (The Stepford Wives remake, most glaringly), but she also steps outside the bounds of expected roles (The Others, Birth, Bewitched, etc.) and goes out of her way to work with major directors like Stanley Kubrick, Lars von Trier, and, they say, Wong Kar Wai, not to mention her breakthrough with Gus Van Sant.  With that in mind, I’ve long wanted to acquaint myself with her beginnings, however humble (read: cheesy) or mediocre they may have been.  With The Golden Compass on the horizon, it felt like a natural time to begin a trip through her life’s work.  BMX Bandits being her first full-length film role, it’s the obvious starting point.  If the preceding reads like a disclaimer that’s because it partly is: back in the day I enjoyed BMXing up the block just as much as the next kid, but childhood passions do not necessarily make for great films.  If Kidman weren’t in this film, I would’ve probably gotten around to seeing it eventually, but certainly nowhere near as soon as now.

For the most part, I have no regrets.  I don’t feel taken advantage of.  The film is highly enjoyable.  This is the kind of film for which adjectives like “amusing” and “cute” were invented, and I use them not to damn with faint praise but because they most accurately convey my reaction.  I could try to tackle this film with something resembling meaningful criticism, but that would be a waste of time.  I think a play-by-play of what stood out to me would be much more fun, thus: the opening scenes with the BMXs is hilarious.  I already confessed to owning a BMX as a kid, but we never biked like the actors in this movie.  How do they bike?  They bike funny.  They have Aussie accents, not surprising for an Australian film but still remarkable.  Nicole Kidman’s hair is nuts.  Nothing will prepare you for that.  The scene of Kidman’s Judy and James Lugton‘s Goose discussing horror movies in the dark is good.  Zombies.  Major highlight: Goose tries to make a move on Judy while they’re trapped in a crypt with two goons running around.  At some point, some one utters “If only we had our wheels”, and that got a pretty good-sized laugh out of me.  Reality check: it’s impossible to believe the criminals pulled off a bank-robbery and can’t contend with a few kids on bikes.  Gotta love the breakneck-paced 80s music.  The bikes make laser noises, mine never did that.  What a concept: an army of BMX bikers coming after big time criminals.  Just begs for a remake.  Couldn’t believe I watched them attack the criminals with flour.  Foam fertilizing everywhere.  End: Nicole Kidman walked away with the biggest trophy.  A sign of things to come, perhaps?  The best moment of all comes near the beginning, when Kidman says the line we’ve chosen for our title; I’m not ashamed to admit it made me hysterical.

Verdict: highly entertaining, in unexpected ways.  I imagine that this film would be enhanced greatly by watching it with a few kids who had just recently gotten their first BMXs and would be wowed by the bike tricks and hair-dos.  Worth seeing for chuckles, for Kidman or if you yourself happen to be a BMX fanatic.

bakinakwa’s rating: 3 Stars

lakelia says:
 
This movie was nothing short of entertaining, and more so than I’d expected. I think what I enjoyed most was recognizing those staples of movies for the 8-13 age group – cheesy montages of something awesome (perfect choice: bike tricks), chaste flirtation and the suspense of who-likes-who, corny puns, the fat kid chowing down on ice cream, and the hallowed Home Alone tradition of incompetent villains variously crashing into things and having things crash into them, thanks to some kids’ heroic and unrealistic stunts. In this case, a quick-thinking girl distracts her kidnappers with a summary of a horror movie plot, while her army of BMX-biker friends is on their way to attack the criminals with…bags of flour. BMX Bandits had a few of its own above-average comedic moments, as in the series of mishaps that occur when the kids’ walkie-talkies invade other conversations on the same frequency – at one point, a construction worker is waiting to be told, “Now,” before he drops something from a crane…need I say more? – or when a drunken man sees the spookily-masked villains climb out over the gates of a graveyard, takes one look at his liquor, and pours the rest out.
 
I liked seeing Nicole Kidman in this early role, recognizable but dated enough to get a laugh out of me, with her rounded young face and that curly, curly red hair. Her accent was a blast. Accents are always a blast. And what a master of them Nicole Kidman is. There’s no way to know if she was that good when she made this film, but hearing her Australian accent reminds me how amazing it is that she manages to sound like a native U.S. English speaker in so many films, and I feel sure I’ve seen her pull off other accents too. I’m looking forward to hearing her British one on the big screen pretty soon…
 
lakelia’s rating: 3 Stars