Monkey Grip (1982, Ken Cameron)

Adaptations of non-epic novels tend to be the best source for non-original films. Of course, a film and a novel are different forms. The difference needs to be respected and the film form needs to be more considered. It’s a difficult process–it requires real thought and attention. The neon sign of carelessness in an filmic adaptation of a prose work would have to be the narration lifted directly from the source material. Monkey Grip is full of that narration. It’s used as a bridging device, often when the main character, played by Noni Hazlehurst, is biking. Because, as we all know, people don’t bike to get from point A to point B, they bike to think about life’s mysteries. Occasionally–two or three times–the film doesn’t use that bridging device and forces the viewer to discern changes in time, place, and character relationships. At those times, Monkey Grip works fine. Well even. In addition to being a lazy device, the narration isn’t particularly well-written. In fact, when it goes on for more than a couple sentences, it’s bad. Monkey Grip, the novel, very well may be a bad novel. Unless a bad novel is bad because it features ghosts or dinosaurs, it does not have much filmic potential. I’m just guessing, but the closing narration was so poorly written, it was enough to take a half star off my rating for the film. The writing is bad.

The film’s about a divorced woman with a daughter who works in the Melbourne music industry. I have memories of seeing a movie and seeing people excited their music and being perplexed because the music was so bad. This viewing must have been when I was kid, but I can’t remember what it would have been. Whatever the genre of music in Monkey Grip–it’s pop, but pop changes; I’m sure if its Australian New Wave. It’s bad. The woman can’t sing. The lyrics are stupid. It’s painful. But I let it go, because Hazlehurst is a sad looking woman and she’s playing a sad woman and it’s fine. I could tell Monkey Grip wasn’t going to be anything special–you can tell with dramas, except Japanese family dramas, those tend to fall apart at end–and I was willing to put up with the narration.

The real problem with the film is its unawareness of itself. The Monkey Grip of the title is Hazlehurst’s heroin addict, actor boyfriend’s hold on her. He’s played by Colin Friels, who’s fine. His character is empty because the film is so empty. He’s supposed to be good looking and charming. Well, Colin Friels is good looking and charming, so that’s supposed to be enough… Actually, for the first half of the film, it is. In the first, the narration goes on and on about his outbursts, but we don’t even see one until fifty-five minutes into the film. This subject starts, in the narration, five minutes into the film. Lot of summary storytelling here, since Monkey Grip takes place over a year (exactly no less, same beginning and ending setting too, real cute). So Hazlehurst has to take care of Friels and it’s a simile for having a child who grows up and moves away. It’s not a metaphor because Hazlehurst tells Friels it’s like having a child who grows up and moves away, which it’s the nudity-laden sex scenes all the more weird.

But, Hazlehurst doesn’t have a visible relationship with the daughter. The kid’s cute. Her job is to be cute, nothing else. Precocious maybe. The film doesn’t recognize this oversight on the character’s part (since it’s an attempt at a first person point of view) and it makes Hazlehurst’s character hard to take seriously. There’s a scene where she flips because there’s a heroin needle out and her roommate doesn’t know about the heroin use… but the kid does. The attempt at the “old soul” kid and the childish mother, which the film tries to establish from the third or fourth scene, fails throughout. It’s unfortunate, since the kid, played by Alice Garner, probably gives the film’s best performance. Garner is actually the novel writer’s daughter–and, if you look it up on Wikipedia, there’s an explanation about the entire cast of characters being on the dole. That situation was never explained in the film and all the actors, who are pretty bad, look way too old to be in college.

Since the direction’s so pat, it’s impossible to get interested in Monkey Grip. For most of the film, the narration is a poor choice, only getting bad toward the end (it even disappears for fifteen minutes or so, which is great). While fails to engage the viewer, it’s not awful… However, the less said about the scary movie music (it reminds of John Carpenter’s Halloween score) and the low motion shots, the better.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Cameron; screenplay by Cameron, based on the novel by Helen Garner; director of photography, David Gribble; edited by David Huggett; music by Bruce Smeaton; production designer, Clark Munro; produced by Patricia Lovell; released by Cinecom Pictures.

Starring Noni Hazlehurst (Nora), Colin Friels (Javo), Alice Garner (Gracie), Harold Hopkins (Willie), Candy Raymond (Lillian), Michael Caton (Clive), Tim Burns (Martin), Christina Amphlett (Angela) and Don Miller-Robinson (Gerald).


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Warlords of Atlantis (1978, Kevin Connor)

If you ever want to see John Ratzenberger fight a giant octopus, Warlords of Atlantis has something to offer you. Actually, it’s hard to completely dislike a film with a giant octopus, especially one attacking a ship. It’s so silly, it can’t help but amuse. I do have to wonder, since there was a giant octopus in the poster for The Land That Time Forgot (Connor’s first film with Doug McClure–Warlords is the last), if the octopus wasn’t a recycled idea. Kind of like Ed Wood’s giant octopus….

Warlords of Atlantis is a bad film, but again, so dumb it’s not particularly offensive. It’s too long–there’s a big difference in a Kevin Connor film between eighty-nine minutes and ninety-six. With Warlords’ ninety-six, he manages to add an additional set piece the film doesn’t need. It’s a mish-mash of a film anyway, borrowing from each of the previous McClure and Connor (and producer John Dark) collaborations. A ship here, a submarine here, a cavernous city here. There’s too many characters for the film to sustain–at least seven the audience is expected to recognize by name–and it’s not interesting. Warlords’ Atlantis, populated by a bunch of soon-to-be-Nazis, isn’t particularly interesting. Discovering a lost world only works if there’s some discovery going on, not a huge population of bad guys to fight.

The special effects–though some of the miniature work is good–are pretty bad. I do like how they have a real monster hand coming up in front of a rear screen projection, an idea I imagine they lifted from John Guillermin’s King Kong. There are a lot of matte paints and cinematographer Alan Hume is BAD at matte paintings. He shot Return of the Jedi, which had a number of awful matte painting shots too, so it’s not a budgetary thing. He just doesn’t do it well. There’s also the bad music… the film just doesn’t work. It’s too clean (on nice film stock) and the story is too silly. While Doug McClure’s in decent leading man form–I realized, watching the film, Doug McClure is the vanilla soft serve of actors–his character is empty. You’re not watching a late nineteenth century American inventor, you’re watching Doug McClure. The film doesn’t even try to convince the viewer otherwise. McClure’s sidekick, Peter Gilmore, is bad. The Atlantians are bad (and have silly hair and outfits). It’s got to be bad if the scantily clad human slave-girl (played by Lea Brodie) gives one of the film’s better performances.

There are also frequent attempts at humor throughout. They fail.

Since Connor’s not a bad director (though he’s got to be the most wildly inconsistent), there are a handful of nice shots. While Warlords is bad, the pacing is what does it in. At the very least, monster movies with bad special effects and bad acting have to move.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; written by Brian Hayles; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Bill Blunden; music by Michael Vickers; produced by John Dark; released by EMI Films.

Starring Doug McClure (Greg Collinson), Peter Gilmore (Charles Aitken), Shane Rimmer (Captain Daniels), Lea Brodie (Delphine), Michael Gothard (Atmir), Hal Galili (Grogan), John Ratzenberger (Fenn), Derry Power (Jacko), Donald Bisset (Professor Aitken), Ashley Knight (Sandy), Robert Brown (Briggs), Cyd Charisse (Atsil) and Daniel Massey (Atraxon).


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The People That Time Forgot (1977, Kevin Connor)

Apparently, all Kevin Connor needs–besides a decently concocted screenplay–is location shooting and a good score.

The People That Time Forgot–around the halfway point–became a movie I found myself enjoying too much. I got self-conscious about it, questioning its quality even more than usual, just because it seemed so good. It’s an adventure film, one told almost entirely in the language of film–there’s a cranky mechanic, a blustering scientist (who’s got a taste for the hooch), and an independent-minded woman who clashes with the macho protagonist. It’s somehow a perfect mix of its elements… though the music, by John Scott, helps it a lot initially. There’s also the film stock. The People That Time Forgot has a nice film stock, while Connor’s two previous films (The Land That Time Forgot and At the Earth’s Core did not).

The budget for People That Time Forgot allows for decent special effects, not great, but decent. There’s some stop-motion work and then there’s some men-in-suit work, giving the viewer a chance to compare (as usual, the stop-motion is superior). Unless there’s a model of person in them, the miniature shots are all excellent. The film creates an experience of exploration and wonder. Maybe not wonderment, but definitely wonder. You can see it on the actors’ faces. The cast of this film, particularly Sarah Douglas and Patrick Wayne, is good. Even when they’re not particularly good, Dana Gillespie as a scantily clad cave girl, you still like the character. The People That Time Forgot is a smoothly constructed film. There’s action, there’s humor, and there’s (a little) romance. But Wayne and Douglas are giving performances above and beyond the film (well, Douglas’ performance is beyond, Wayne’s is above though). Wayne was thirty-eight in the film, but his lack of shoulders gives him a more youthful appearance. He has an affability his father never did, there’s a pleasure in watching the hero try, not knowing whether or not the hero will succeed. Douglas–and I just looked and Superman II apparently typecast her in genre roles forever–is fantastic. She’s engaging, funny, just great. Her typecasting is unfortunate.

While the script isn’t good, it is well constructed. Connor still has his five minute set pieces, which are an odd way to make a ninety minute movie–he summarizes three days into five minutes, then has a six minute action, then some more summary–but it works well in People That Time Forgot. By the twenty minute mark, the viewer is actively engaging with the film. It’s the characters and the music and the lost world concept in that film language. The filmmakers know what buttons to press, because people have been making lost world films since… what? 1925?

Like I said before, I was very self-conscious about how much I enjoyed The People That Time Forgot, but at the end–even though two people who should kiss do not–I had to embrace the experience. It’s good. It’s not important (though it might be the setting sun of a particular type of genre film), but it’s good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Patrick Tilley, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by John Ireland and Barry Peters; music by John Scott; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark and Max Rosenberg; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Patrick Wayne (Ben McBride), Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Sarah Douglas (Charly), Dana Gillespie (Ajor), Thorley Walters (Norfolk), Shane Rimmer (Hogan), Tony Britton (Captain Lawton), John Hallam (Chung-Sha) and David Prowse (Executioner).


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At the Earth's Core (1976, Kevin Connor)

Pinewood Studios has housed some rather impressive sets and some great films have been shot there. Reading At the Earth’s Core‘s end credits and seeing it too was shot at Pinewood… well, my respect for the studio has plummeted.

At the Earth’s Core is the second of four films directed by Kevin Connor, produced by John Dark, and starring Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot was the first). Taking the time period of Earth’s Core into account–Victorian England–McClure seems like a bad choice for the role, even if he is playing an American inventor. McClure spends twenty minutes in an ugly suit, then his clothes start to get torn off. He finds a new suit before the end of the film, however. But McClure isn’t the worst–which is a surprise, because he’s pretty bad–no, it’s Peter Cushing, playing the dotting inventory of a giant drill, meant to explore the interior of the planet. Cushing spends the whole film doing a dotting accent too, but it just sounds like he’s been sucking helium. These two don’t start all right and get bad, they’re terrible from the start. Still, since The Land That Time Forgot had a slow start, I stuck with Earth’s Core. Actually, I’ve been planning this festival for a while… but the film never gets bad. It’s terrible to be sure–particularly the effects, but more on those in a minute–but it never offends. It’s a strange kind of dumb.

The effects, however, are something else. At the Earth’s Core features such a collection of giant monsters, realized with such poor special effects, I can’t believe it hasn’t gotten cult status. The effects in this film are worse than those 1970s Godzilla films and those have some cult recognition. Connor, who was an interesting director on The Land That Time Forgot, is not on Earth’s Core. The entire film was shot indoors, so in addition to bad rear screen projection, Connor never opens up his shots. The whole film has a claustrophobia about it, to the point of causing discomfort.

The writing too (by Milton Subotsky) is pretty awful. It’s not just the bad pacing or the subterranean people who speak English, it’s also the lack of characterization. McClure’s character goes from being a rich failure to a heroic revolutionary, but the film doesn’t recognize a change in him is occurring.

The last shot is sort of amusing, however, and manages to leave the viewer feeling amused at him or herself for sitting through the film. So instead of the viewer laughing at the film, it laughs at the viewer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Barry Peters and John Ireland; music by Michael Vickers; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark, Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (David Innes), Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry), Caroline Munro (Dia), Cy Grant (Ra), Godfrey James (Ghak), Sean Lynch (Hooja), Keith Barron (Dowsett), Helen Gill (Maisie), Anthony Verner (Gadsby), Robert Gillespie (Photographer), Michael Crane (Jubal), Bobby Parr (Sagoth Chief) and Andee Cromarty (Slave Girl).


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