Tag Archives: Colin Friels

Grievous Bodily Harm (1988, Mark Joffe)

The intrepid reporter genre has almost entirely disappeared. These are the films–around since the 1930s, when newspapers became American cinema’s ideal breeding ground for protagonists (many screenwriters, new to talkies, were former journalists)–where the reporter is investigating a murder or series of murders, ones the police can’t quite seem to solve (the police might even disbelieve the reporter) and the reporter ends up in jeopardy. These films usually end with the reporter quitting his or her newspaper.

Grievous Bodily Harm approaches the standard a little differently. There’s the reporter emphasis, but also on the killer and on a police detective. The detective doesn’t even have much to do with the reporter’s mystery. But Grievous takes it further, with both the killer and the reporter trying to uncover a mystery. The result–especially given how the reporter is already connected both to the killer and the detective–is a complicated mess. But it’s a good complicated mess, an Australian, non-noir take on Hitchcock almost… and I stress almost. Director Mark Joffe manages to be supremely competent–and the film is paced rather well–without showing a single unique moment. The film’s personality comes from the actors.

Top-billed–as the reporter–is Colin Friels. Friels has the least flashy role in the entire film, playing a somewhat sleazy crime journalist who’s seen better days. The film’s his journey to self-realization and it works rather well. Grievous is so busy with content, each of its scenes end up having real weight. He’s best in his scenes with Joy Bell and Kerry Armstrong; when he’s around the men, the character’s got a bunch of bravado. Around women, eventually he becomes less opaque.

As the killer, John Waters gets the film’s flashiest role. Where Grievous is a little different too is how it shows an average person snap. There’s motive, but when Waters loses it, it comes as a real surprise; he manages to change the character completely–and abruptly–while making it feel completely natural. In the third act, when Bell becomes more prevalent, Waters takes a bit of a backseat. It’s like he’s got one really good scene missing from the picture.

Bruno Lawrence wraps up the triumvirate. His harried police detective has a fair amount of scenes and not much to do. Lawrence gets to make a lot of noise–again, to generate some suspense, the film keeps a potentially excellent scene off screen–and he certainly shows a lot of ability in those scenes… but it doesn’t matter. What’s important about the detective is his presence on screen, as an important character, not actually earning that screen time. Lawrence can’t compete with his function in the script.

Some of the supporting cast is weak–like Shane Briant–and Chris Neal’s score is terrible. It’s a 1980s thriller score, lots of synth; it’s annoying.

I’ve seen Grievous Bodily Harm before and it didn’t impress me as much that first time. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate its peculiar approach.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Joffe; written by Warwick Hind; director of photography, Ellery Ryan; edited by Marc van Buuren; music by Chris Neal; production designer, Roger Ford; produced by Richard Brennan; released by Filmpac Distribution.

Starring Colin Friels (Tom Stewart), John Waters (Morris Martin), Bruno Lawrence (Det. Sgt. Ray Birch), Kerry Armstrong (Annie), Kim Gyngell (Mick), Gary Stalker (Derek Allen), Caz Lederman (Vivian Enderby), Shane Briant (Stephen Enderby), Sandy Gore (Barbara Helmsley), John Flaus (Neil Bradshaw), Terry Markwell (Eve Spicer), Urszula Teresa (Marjorie Klein) and Joy Bell (Claudine).


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Ground Zero (1987, Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles)

Ground Zero opens with a title card attesting to the film’s historical relevance. The intended effect is apparently to convince the viewer of the film’s authenticity and plausibility. So, for a film featuring a cameraman who can outfight spies, Ground Zero is completely plausible until the helicopter shows up. Not the first helicopter, but the second one… in a scene straight out of Capricorn One.

The film’s first act gradually–almost in a Hitchcockian vein–introduces the viewer to the cameraman and his present situation. We find out a lot about him through nice disguised exposition (messages left on the answering machine) and because Colin Friels gives such a good leading man performance, even some of the cute stuff is acceptable. It’s probably fifteen or sixteen minutes before the first completely implausible thing happens and, when it does, it’s so well-handled, it didn’t raise my eyebrows until I got to thinking about it.

There’s a lot more preposterous scenes, but the opening text, the first act and Friels make it all seem reasonable. He really can figure it out, he really can sneak into a secure area. Maybe, as an American viewer, I just assume the Australian government doesn’t have much in the way of security measures.

Regardless, until the final third of the film, it’s going rather well.

Besides Friels, there’s Jack Thompson, who gives a nice, conflicted performance. When Donald Pleasence shows up, he’s got some nice scenes too… even if they do culminate in him shooting at a helicopter with a rifle.

The end works on some levels and fails on others. The one it works on is the non-fantastic level Ground Zero doesn’t seem to be going for–the emphasis on Friels and his son, which occasionally feels like hyperbole, comes through at the end rather effectively. So much so, it becomes one of the film’s handful of mini-cliffhangers. A number of threads go unresolved for no sensical reason, other than any explanation would be impossible in the narrative. There’s not really enough mysteriousness to them for me, but I can understand it. In a government conspiracy film–a straightforward one aiming for plausibility–the enigma level has to be kept low.

Where Ground Zero is most effective is the direction. Pattinson and Myles have solid composition throughout, really fetishizing the filmmaking gear. There’s a shot at the beginning with a Panavision camera–the film’s shot in Panavision–and it’s a clear reference. The wide frame works beautifully for the scenes on the outback, but most interesting is not the non-landscape shots. Instead, it’s the ones where Friels is alone. Friels spends a lot of the movie investigating and uncovering–Ground Zero‘s a nice detective movie in its way–and so he’s got the frame to himself a lot of the time. Myles and Pattinson give Friels a fine space to inhabit and he does.

Ground Zero‘s more a thriller than an action movie, but it’s failings are more common to the action movie. But the guy discovering something’s wrong and trying to uncover it is a thriller standard. Maybe that incongruity is the reason it doesn’t work as well as it should.

But there’s also that helicopter. There’s not much to be done with a helicopter.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles; written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi; director of photography, Steve Dobson; edited by David Pulbrook; music by Tom Bahler; production designer, Brian Thomson; produced by Pattinson; released by Avenue Pictures.

Starring Colin Friels (Harvey Denton), Jack Thompson (Trebilcock), Donald Pleasence (Prosper Gaffney), Natalie Bate (Pat Denton), Burnham Burnham (Charlie), Simon Chilvers (Commission president), Neil Fitzpatrick (Hooking) and Bob Maza (Walemari).


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Ground Zero (1987, Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles)

Until the current administration, I could always take comfort knowing the British probably did more terrible things than the Americans ever could. For instance, they might test atomic bombs in Australia and radiate the aborigines, which is the public service announcement of Ground Zero. It isn’t only a PSA, it’s also a reasonably thrilling thriller and a strange father and son story. But the relevance–the British trying to cover up killing a bunch of innocent people–makes Ground Zero an odd film. By all other elements, it’s an Australian take on the mid-1980s thriller–it was shot in Panavision (though the only releases to date have been pan and scan and it’s obvious there’s often something or someone missing) and it’s got a really annoying, mid-1980s synthesizer score booming throughout… sometimes too loud to hear dialogue.

But it’s a good mystery thriller. It fetishizes filmmaking a little–the camera operators in particular–and its handling of that material is very cool. It actually goes just the right amount into it, which is a pleasant change. The political element takes the film over at a certain point and it’s an immediate change in tone, but there’s a solid foundation, both due to script and Colin Friels.

Friels’s performance–complete with a mid-1980s, Australian semi-mullet–allows Ground Zero to operate on its three levels (suspenseful thriller, politically relevant piece, and son searching for his father). None of the three levels gets quite the attention they need or deserve, but Friels makes them all work together–he convinces he’s a father trying to be better for his son, while still confused about his own father, he convinces he’s a regular guy in the middle of the political intrigue (Hitchcock wisely wrapped his situations in a layer of artiface, something Ground Zero might have benefitted greatly from doing), and also the movie star. Friels is a leading man movie star, but he’s also able to be someone’s father (something American movie stars do not do well–or at all anymore… Clooney hasn’t been a parent since he hit the big time).

The other performances, particularly Jack Thompson, are very good. Donald Pleasence has a small role and, even though the script fails him, he has some excellent moments.

I remember the film being more of a “wow,” but it has been at least seven–maybe nine–years since I last saw it. It’s incredibly solid though and sometimes solid is good enough.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles; written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi; director of photography, Steve Dobson; edited by David Pulbrook; music by Tom Bahler; production designer, Brian Thomson; produced by Pattinson; released by Avenue Pictures.

Starring Colin Friels (Harvey Denton), Jack Thompson (Trebilcock), Donald Pleasence (Prosper Gaffney), Natalie Bate (Pat Denton), Burnham Burnham (Charlie), Simon Chilvers (Commission president), Neil Fitzpatrick (Hooking) and Bob Maza (Walemari).


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Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1988, Bob Ellis)

Tedious. Tedious is a good word for Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train. The polite way of saying tedious is deliberate–as in, the filmmakers very surely lay it out, taking their time and making sure they get it right. After fifty minutes of Warm Nights–it’s a ninety-minute film–I finally realized what was so damn tedious about it. Until an hour in, the whole thing is a first act. The film immediately introduces its protagonist, a teacher (played by Wendy Hughes) who moonlights on weekends as a hooker on a train, and proceeds to show us her experiences with three johns. Interspersed are scenes of her life as a teacher (brief, like thirty second scenes) and a little bit of her taking care of her disabled brother. But there’s nothing in terms of character development–she tells each john a different lie and those short scenes of her “real” life are mostly in summary, not detail.

The dramatic vehicle–the event to get the story started–happens around minute fifty, when she finally talks to Colin Friels’s mysterious man on the train. For most of the film, Hughes’s male costars look like they’re out of a 1970s Atlantic City casino–so when Friels, even if he is sporting an iffy South African accent, looks real good. Except the film doesn’t get going then. It continues on at its awkward pace and, knowing the running time, I kept trying to figure what, if anything, could happen with twenty-six minutes remaining or whatever. Well, the solution is simple–if you’ve got a forty-five minute first act in a ninety minute film, just skip a second act and go straight to the third. First and third, with a snap of the fingers.

The film isn’t frustrating to watch and it’s not quite boring, because it’s well-acted, well-written, and well-made, but there’s nothing going on. Hughes’s performance is fantastic, but it’s fantastic in the film as a whole–she’s not an actor who does a really good scene here and there, it’s the development–in the tedious film. Even when the film introduces a sense of danger, it doesn’t move any faster. Everything comes together at the end–and it’s never bad enough to stop watching in the opening half–but if you aren’t alert at the end, you might miss the whole thing.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Ellis; written by Ellis and Denny Lawrence; director of photography, Yuri Sokol; edited by Tim Lewis; music by Peter Sullivan; production designer, Tracy Watt; produced by Ross Dimsey and Patric Juillet; released by Western Pacific Films.

Starring Wendy Hughes (The Girl), Colin Friels (The Man), Norman Kaye (The Salesman), John Clayton (The Football Coach), Rod Zuanic (The Young Soldier), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Brian), Steve J. Spears (The Singer), Grant Tilly (The Politican) and Peter Whitford (The Steward).


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