Movie Reviews 321 – Terror Train (1980)

October 6, 2017

A bunch of college students hire out a steam engine train for a short New Years eve trip with a lot of booze, music and some hanky panky. The students are all members of premed school and the organizers are some of the seniors who have past history of frat house hijinx. But a stranger has boarded this particular ride, taking advantage of the costume attire being worn by the partygoers. Before long students start disappearing and grizzly murdered bodies start appearing.

Basically a siege horror plot with the students stuck on the train, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis who was just beginning to foster her horror queen status at the time. The movie begins with an event that happened three years earlier in which a then sorority pledge Alana (Curtis) was used as a bait for a prank on a male frat pledge. We then learn that the misguided prank led to the victim having some long lasting psychological damage. So given this looming beginning sequence we pretty much know who the interloper is so a number red herrings in the plot are pointless. However we do have to figure out where he is hiding among the crowd and despite a twist intended to throw off viewers, it was easy for me to figure out who that was as well.

One of those red herrings is real life magician David Copperfield who plays a hired Illusionist to entertain the kids during the ride. No thespian, Copperfield does make up for it and adds some entertainment value with his sleight of hand and parlour tricks. The real treat however ends up being veteran actor Ben Johnson as the conductor who has as much screen time as Curtis and just as essential to the plot.

Once the killer has dispatched all the other seniors that were involved in the prank gone wrong the movie basically becomes a battle between Alana, the mystery killer and a race to get to the next train station. Basically your typical 80’s slasher with plenty of nubile women and a touch of disco glitter.

As the end credits rolled with a fair amount of French crew listed I suspected, and then confirmed that this was shot near my hometown city of Montreal. Alas, since the entire film takes place on the train there was no distinguishing landmark or backdrops.

A unique take on the college campus horror motif and with enough suspense to keep this one chugging along …

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Movie Reviews 320 – Flatliners (1990)

September 29, 2017

Led by a driven rebel (Kiefer Sutherland), a quintet of med students and interns begin experimenting with inducing temporary death with the intent to answer the everlasting question of what, if anything, exists in the afterlife. Working at night in a what looks like a colossal roman chamber set in a museum under construction, Nelson (Sutherland) is the first to go under, pumped with drugs and having his heart jolted by a defibrillator normally used to revive people. Once reawoken, the thrill of the groundbreaking scientific achievement is quickly lost by the members of the group, each now jostling to be the next one to undergo the experience.

Part of the drama and tension is focused on how the members begin to pledge to remain lifeless longer than the previous volunteer and others vying for the opportunity, both advancing the boundaries of their scientific discovery and increasing the danger factor for the next experiment. But the repetitive “I want to go next” declarations with increasingly longer pledge times soon become tiresome.

Some members like Rachel (Julia Roberts) have personal reasons and seek specific answers regarding lost family members, while the others seem to simply seek the thrill. Despite assurances by Nelson that there were no aftereffects of the procedure, those who do undergo the lethal maneuver start having hallucinations of past tragic events and the people adversely affected by those events. Nelson himself is plagued by dreams of a little kid who tragically died. Joe (William Baldwin) is tormented by all the women he secretly videotaped while having sex, David (Kevin Bacon) is haunted by a young girl he bullied in school and Rachel is afflicted with visions of her dead father. Things then get a lot more complicated when the victims in those dreams soon become corporeal, and in the case of the kid tormenting Nelson in particular, start inflicting real injuries.

The discourse dallies around religion, the possibility of an afterlife and both philosophical and moral ramifications, but those are overshadowed by the plot devices centered on the guilt of past indiscretions and the terror of the macabre manifestations released. But the fact that almost each of the members have such dark pasts strains belief. The only credible role ends up being that of Randy played by Oliver Platt, the only one in the group who has no desire to join the others and undergo the ritual and not coincidentally the one character whose inclusion in the story is only to inject a bit of comedy.

My memories of this film were that of a far better viewing experience than watching it this time around and my current assessment falls to that of the title itself.

Beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeeee………

Movie Reviews 319 – Blue Velvet (1986)

September 22, 2017

David Lynch‘s unique and often disturbing storytelling style was already well established when he wrote and directed Blue Velvet. After his debut Eraserhead had patrons scratching their heads he briefly turned to mainstream cinema with the highly successful Elephant Man and then followed that with the disastrous Dune adaptation. Blue Velvet was his triumphant return to his personal twisted turf, garnering accolades as much as controversy.

The tale of how a small town local returns when his father suffers a heart attack, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) stumbles upon a bloody human ear in a field. The local police detective effectively turns him away from the investigation, but the detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) proves to be much more insightful and leads him to spying on a woman (Isabella Rossellini) in a nearby apartment building. Breaking into her apartment one night Jeffrey discovers that Dorothy is being tormented by someone, but the reasons are unclear, and only later does he learn that she is being abused and debased by a Frank (Dennis Hopper), a crazed drug lord holding her family hostage.

Dorothy is a nightclub singer whose signature song is Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet with Frank being regular patron for her performances, always clutching and salivating over a piece of blue velvet fabric that he has cut from her housecoat. When Frank encounters Jeffery he strong-arms him into joining him and his motley crew of thugs who are nearly as insane as Frank into a night of audacious whorehouse and bar visits. All during this time Jeffrey is vying for Sandy while being seduced by a masochistic Dorothy who is never fully hinged.

Lynch’s suburbia noir, rumoured to be a partial biopic, is equally repelling and viscerally fascinating. A movie that begins with sunny white picket fences transitioning to Dorothy’s dark dingy crimson apartment, and then back again. Hopper’s portrayal of Frank is equally bipolar, one minute a sleazy screaming brute who regresses into a babbling baby when seducing Dorothy, only to snap back if she so much as looks at him directly. Dorothy’s torment goes beyond mere abuse and at her lowest point dazedly walks the evening streets fully unclothed, one of many scenes eliciting scorn from critics for having Rossellini put through such an ordeal. The fine line between art or exhibitionism is razor thin.

Marking the triumphant return of Dennis Hopper to Hollywood after a stint in rehab, Blue Velvet really must to be seen to be appreciated. Full of nuggets and subtleties like the organ music score playing as Sandy explains her dreams of robins to Jeff with street view of a church as a backdrop. The film never explains how and why Dorothy’s family got into the predicament with Frank in the first place, but this ambiguity and other non-traditional indiscretions to film storytelling ‘rules’ enhances the mystery of the film and part of what make them ‘Lynchian’.

No review of Blue Velvet is complete without mentioning Angelo Badalamenti fabulous score which aside from Vinton’s song equally effectively uses Roy Orbison’s “In dreams” hauntingly being lip synched by Dean Stockwell.

My MGM Special Edition DVD contained a documentary made a number of years after the movie that I found to be almost as mesmerizing as the movie itself and further mystifying the enigmatic director. He reportedly found the brutal rape scene uncontrollably funny and laughed throughout the filming. Another surprise addition was the wildly divergent review by Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert from one of their old “At the Movies” episodes, which really completed my time machine viewing experience.

Movie Reviews 318 – Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

September 15, 2017

Preceding the movie Shaft which arguably ignited the blacksploitation explosion of the 70’s and theaters subsequently being flooded with films based on the grittier aspects of African American ghetto’s, Cotton Comes to Harlem was one of the earliest efforts to test those waters. Directed by Ossie Davis (who also co-wrote the screenplay and provided some of the soundtrack) it delivers all the facets of sleaze, corruption, poverty and crime, but parcelled in the stereotypical slang and funk of the period and setting.

A slick urban preaching semi-messiah is scooping up donations from the poverty stricken residents of Harlem promising them a piece of land ‘back home’. But neighborhood cops “Gravedigger” Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and “Coffin” Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) aren’t buying it. The police higher ups and even the municipal officials think self proclaimed “Reverend” Deke O’Malley (Calvin Lockhart) is clean, but when the money amassed is stolen by hooded thieves, Coffin and Gravedigger set their sights on O’Malley.

What follows is a twisted chase for a bale of cotton involving O’Malley’s girl Iris (Judy Pace), mobsters, bumbling cops and a ragged street scavenger (Redd Foxx), all culminating in Harlem’s famed Apollo theater.

This film brings out both the worst of the seedy New York neighborhood of that era including the crime, dingy housing, littered streets, and drugs, while at the same time exemplifying the pride and self respect of most of those living there. Their general distrust of cops and authority is cooled by the respect they have for Gravedigger and Coffin who end up showing their prophet for what he really is.

This was a movie I was looking forward to rewatching, not having seen it in over thirty years. Watching it now I found that some parts did not age as well. While the comedy works fairly well  for the most part, a number of attempts at slapstick feel visibly forced and fall flat. The message is also a mixed bag, Gravedigger and Coffin delivering on their promise to return the money but relying on a partnership with seedier elements to do so. Surprising for a comedy, Davis also injected quite a lot of nudity and sex into the story, something that was probably considered ‘de rigeur’ for audiences at the time and helping it at the box office. But that too is an indicator of how time have changed. I thought that introducing the Apollo as part of the story was probably something not given as much thought at the time, but now serves as both a great tribute and a memorial for anyone watching the movie today.

Certainly one of the better movies of the genre and worthy of viewing, but if you want to watch a more typical and representative movie, one with more flash, action and pezzaz, stick with Shaft or Coffy.

Movie Reviews 317 – Destination Inner Space (1966)

September 10, 2017

Every now and then I take one for the team. I watch a movie I have absolutely no hope of being anything but formulaic, lame, and dumb. Destination Inner Space fit that bill and delivered on all accounts. Or would that be ‘fail to deliver’?

The story is about a remote ocean research platform and joining undersea facility that have been recording some odd sonar blips in the last few days and enlist the help of the military to try to narrow down their guess as to what it may be. It turns out to be a crashed space vessel of some sort containing bread loaf sized  frozen capsules. When the researchers enter the ship and bring back one of the capsules it starts growing at an alarming rate, eventually rupturing and releasing a man sized creature.

After killing the crew on the floating platform above, the creature battles the others below leaving them trapped with a dwindling air supply. The scientists hope to keep the creature alive for study while the military commander simply wants to destroy it. Which faction will win out?

Aside from the lame dialogue and silly, clearly evident miniatures used for some of the underwater structures, this movie has one thing going for it: a (poster accurate) badass looking

creature. The colorful rubber suit is a cross between the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Humanoids from the Deep. The one annoying thing about the costume was the huge hump on the back used to conceal the scuba air tanks for the underwater scenes. Kind of made me wonder how they filmed other all those other movies with underwater creatures. Hold their breath and many short takes I guess. But I digress…

The only person that can act in this movie is veteran character actor James Hong who has a minute role as Ho Lee (I think there is a joke somewhere in there with that name), the cook in the crew. But this was a very early role for him and he is barely on screen, and then only for comic relief.

Other than the plot directly related to the creature, there is a clash of characters between the military commander and one of the research crew, a former military man himself who has a personal beef with him. But even that is resolved so awkwardly you really have to question what the writer was thinking. With so little to go in the way of the story they decided to include not one, but two women to add some romance to the proceedings. I have to give credit in that they didn’t just stick with the barely-out-of-high-school hottie mentality and actually included one flirtatious middle aged woman. While the underwater scenes repeatedly use the same locations over and over, there is a cool looking two-man sub and some nice underwater footage.

The problem here is that all of the above can be had by just watching episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea but with better scripts, better actors, similar monsters and a lot cooler tech. So if a great looking monster is all you need, you’re OK with this one. Anything more and you’re out of luck.

Movie Reviews 316 – The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

September 7, 2017

About 20 minutes into The 36th Chamber of Shaolin I thought “What’s the big deal?”. I’d heard so much about how this was supposed to be a classic martial arts movie, a fan favorite and consistently ranking in most ‘best of’ or top 10 lists. Sure it stars Chia-Hui Liu (better known as Gordon Liu to English audiences) but the first act of the film is as generic as it gets. Poor villagers being exploited by corrupt rulers. Young man and his friends vainly try to rebel. Wants to learn how to fight. Seen it all a million times.

This movie really begins when the rebellious youngster Yude (Liu) turns to a Shaolin temple hoping to learn Kung Fu only to be initially rebuffed. The Shaolin are a solitary group and shun the outside world, including all the evil that exist beyond their walls. His request is seen as interference from the outside but one of the monks takes pity on him and convinces the others to let him stay on for menial chores. After one year they reassess his situation and, with some dissent, they allow him to train, which is done by progressing through a succession of ‘chambers’, each intended to teach him a skill or impart a piece of wisdom. Eager to learn, Yude, now given the monk name of San Te, requests to start with the hardest. Upon entering the room with encountering nothing more than chanting monks he is befuddled and confused, It is explained that this last chamber requires enlightenment to even comprehend the significance. He must begin at the start.

He soon learns that the lessons to be learned in each of chambers are not necessarily forms of fighting, but a battle of wits, poise, restraint, determination and intelligence. His tasks sometimes seem impossible such as walking across floating tied bamboo bundles to cross a water filled threshold. Or ringing a bell with a weight tied to a long length of stick in synchronization with monks banging wooden bells … with one hand alone. The trials are both fun to watch and often agonizing. Each trial is lead by a tutor who does not tell the students how to accomplish the task, but makes sure they follow the rules within which the task must be completed, rules that are sure to inflict pain and suffering with every misstep.

But with defiant determination, he makes tremendous progress. His final test is against one of the monks who doubts his skills, which San Te tries over and over to conquer. When finally he completes his trials, and the monks present him with the opportunity to become the tutor in any one of the 35 chambers, but he instead makes the audacious request to create a 36th chamber. His request is to bring the Shaolin teachings to the outside world so that good young men can be recruited and learn Kung Fu in order to defend themselves accordingly. Once again he is denied his request, but is nonetheless allowed to leave and go among the people.

He returns to his old village and begins to teach the villagers what he has learned and in doing so, utilizes all the skills he acquired in 35 chambers.

Exhibiting an exceptional display of skills and battles under the choreography of director Chia-Liang Liu, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is indeed a film that every martial arts movie fan must watch. The wraparound storyline in which two generals abuse their powers is just icing on the cake while providing the justification for the Shaolin instruction. While San Te (and Gordon Liu) take a stern approach to the teaching and his goal to help the victims back home, there is just a taste of light comedy to lighten the mood at appropriate moments. This is not just a movie with a  message about good versus evil, but one with many messages and words of wisdom. Thirty-six, to be exact.

Movie Reviews 311 – Django (1966)

August 29, 2017

When people hear the term Spaghetti Western they immediately think of Clint Eastwood in any one of Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) which created the genre. But most audiences have no idea of how big that mania was in Italy itself and the hundreds of those westerns that were made between the mid 60’s and 70’s before it sputtered along with the fall of traditional Hollywood westerns. Moreover, the Man with No Name himself was but one of many heroic characters that spawned entire series of films. Those other series included Sabata, and Trinity, and Sartana, the latter being featured in more than a dozen movies alone while the subgenre made stars of Gian Maria Volontè,Tomas Milian, Lee Van Cleef, and for comic relief Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.

But without a doubt the next best thing to those Sergio Leone movies was created by another Sergio and close friend of Leone himself. Sergio Corbucci’s Django character, played by Franco Nero began with the self titled Django is by far the heir to the throne behind the Man with No Name.  Recently re-imagined by Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained., the new movie has little to do with the original but Tarantino was wise enough to reuse the famous title track by academy award winner Luis Bacalov and sung with a powerful Elvis flair by Rocky Roberts.

Dragging a coffin which is always at his side, Django is a drifter but one with revenge on his mind. He rescues a prostitute Maria (Loredana Nusciak) who is about to be flogged by a group of outlaws on the outskirts of a ghost town consisting of not much more than a saloon and hotel. In town he learns that the town’s barren status is accountable to two warring factions. On the one hand there is confederate Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) who was responsible for sending his red bandana clad men to kill Maria. They are at odds with an equally vicious Mexican revolutionary named General Hugo Rodríguez (José Bódalo) an old acquaintance of Django.

Django already had a deep grudge against Jackson and now after a deadly confrontation with his men in town he convinces the Rodriguez to help him steal Jackson’s horde of gold being guarded by the Mexican army in a fort. In a daring heist Django successfully empties Jackson’s gold coffers, but then finds Rodriguez hesitant to give him his share. When Django is forced to kill one of Rodriguez’s men pinning for Maria he makes a brazen escape but this time he gets stopped at a crossing bridge where an argument with Maria has the gold fall into a quicksand pit just as Jackson arrives to enact revenge in a final battle.

The battles are all monumental with both theatrics and clever ruses. As is the case delineating spaghetti versus Hollywood westerns, the blood flows freely especially when Django unleashes his favorite weapon. I mentioned that Jackson’s men sported red bandanas in the opening sequence but that red is pervasive for all of Jackson’s henchmen and by that I do mean that some (most!) actually wear red henchmen hoods – eye slits and all. I could not figure out why they would do so – the civil war being between the blue and the grey after all – but it sure made distinguishing his men from others easily.

While the dialog is mostly stilted and flat, there are a few good lip synched one liners, like Django telling Jackson to come back with the rest of his men after their first encounter and Jackson responding with “I will. With all forty-six of them” which is exactly what he does.

Whether it be the Man with No Name, Django or any other of the myriad of spaghetti westerns, the parallels are obvious in that they are often blatant copies of one another. The lone traveler is reserved and low voiced but a crack shot. He is a man onto himself at the beginning and remains so at the end. He will save a woman or two in his journey, but never ends up with one at the end. He has vengeance in his blood, and just a touch of greed himself. Most are already familiar with the Man with No Name, but other spaghetti westerns never got the respect of the Leone movies, which is a shame particularly in the case of Django and a few other spaghetti westerns that deserve better recognition.

But when it comes to spaghetti westerns there is one warning that needs to be heeded. The producers of these films were notorious for cashing in on fads which was why Django and his facsimile brethren were created in the first place. But that does not mean that all scripts were created with those characters in mind. Of the many “Django” titled movies that followed, many were just generic western scripts which miraculously became Django titles overnight – whether there was a Django in it or not. So not all Django’s are – well, Django. Also keep an eye out for the many cross over titles pitting Django, Sartana, and Sabata together.

As for myself, Mama mia, I’m hungry for more.

 

Movie Reviews 310 – With a Friend Like Harry (2000)

August 21, 2017

European films have a distinct esthetic to them that I can’t quite put my finger on but notably always adds another layer to whatever genre, be it horror, drama or mystery being presented. The middle class lifestyle is similar to our North American experience but with subtle differences that make it just that more interesting cinematically. In the case of With a Friend Like Harry that layer is present in a story about one man’s infatuation with another man’s writing. A fascination that has deadly consequences.

While driving his family in a sweltering heat to visit his parents, everyman Michel (Laurent Lucas) makes a roadside pit stop to fill mouths and quiet the kids. In the washroom another man looks at him closely and points out that they went to school together many years ago. Harry (Sergi López) is thrilled to reminisce while Michel confesses that he does not remember Harry at all. But clearly Harry can cite many past events convincing Michel and soon having him and his family join Harry and his girlfriend Plum (Sophie Guillemin) for lunch at the rest stop restaurant. After the pleasant meal Harry, seeing that Michel has no air conditioning in the family car, he offers to have the small children and wife ride with him in his luxurious automobile back to Michel’s house despite it being a relatively long drive.

Michel and his wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) make ends meet but are trying to fix up their very old and crumbling mountain house. In contrast Harry is living the fine life, boasting how he was a reckless brat growing up but got lucky when his wealthy father passed away. During the evening Harry dominates the conversation reminiscing about old times, having an uncanny memory of Michel’s past. He then and asks Michel whether he is still writing. Stunned, Michel at first doesn’t even know what Harry is talking about until he is reminded that he once wrote stories and poetry for the old high school ‘paper’. Michel laughs it off, but once again Harry surprises him by quoting extended passages of his long forgotten works.

Harry and Plum stay for the night, and the next day when Clair’s car breaks down in town Harry shockingly insists on buying the family a new SUV which both Claire and Michel insist they cannot accept. But all of Harry’s encouragement has an effect on Michel and he starts pondering his old writing and much to Harry’s pleasure, he secretly takes up writing again. But Harry notices that family distractions; wife, kids, parents, and brother all work against Michel and his writing. Distractions that Harry cannot tolerate.

From the moment we first encounter López and his portrayal of Harry, his mannerisms and facial expressions alone spell out trouble. As the central character Harry has many eccentricities which at first only hint of his destructive nature. While Harry obsession of Michel’s pedantic writing is strange enough, observing Harry maneuvering Michel and trying to eliminate the obstacles in his way has Harry getting deeper involved with every step until he crosses the ultimate line. Trying to hide the truth from Michel is sometimes too easy, but there are many close calls and suspicions begin to rise.

It’s a extremely tense film as the audience squirms with Harry’s every move. We’re never quite sure if the first encounter was planned all along and if the meeting with Michel just lit some maniacal nerve in Harry. With everything at his feet already, why is Harry so fixated on Michel and his writing? And Michel himself is a mystery taking up the writing to either get away from his arduous life problems or rekindling a real hidden passion. Either way it comes to an explosive conclusion within thrilling layers of entanglement.

Helix: Plague of Ghouls – Pat Flewwelling (2016)

August 17, 2017

When I completed Blight of Exiles, the first novel in Pat Flewwelling’s Helix trilogy I was just too busy with life events to sit down and write a proper review, much to my regret. But I knew I’d have another crack before long with this, Plague of Ghouls, the second in the series.

The Helix series is based on the lycanthropic Wyrd Council that tries to control and keep secret the existence of contemporary werewolves and other mutants that have sprung up due to some genetic tampering. The shadow group has a hierarchy of sorts and have agents that go on missions to both enlist newfound members and contain rogue brethren.

The first novel introduced our protagonist, Ishmael, who was sacked and thrown onto an abandoned remote resort where both good and evil mutations were pitted against each other, the result of an attempt at a cure gone awry.

This novel is an immediate follow up to the first where the survivors including Ishmael are free again, but somewhat still under the control of the Council. When a series of mysterious deaths occur within short distance of a small town, werewolves are suspected and the Council wants to find out exactly what is going on. Are rogue werewolves scurrying unchecked? If so, any public evidence can undermine the entire secret of their existence which would imperil all members.

We are introduced to a new human character, Hector Two-Trees, an indigenous investigator sent by the Council to probe the murders and determine if one or more of the pack were involved. Meanwhile Ishmael worries if some of his own offspring were involved as well as conspiracy elements within the Council.

Part Horror, part Science Fiction and part Criminal Mystery, the novel is rich with indigenous lore, medical and genetic discourse and good old fashion crime scene investigation. While lycanthropes (and variants) rule there are plenty of other creatures including hyenas, coyotes, wendigo’s and hybrids among them all. It’s all fast paced with characters endlessly transforming or in transitional stages. The interrelationships are complex (as will explain next), with lots of betrayals, back stabbing (literal and otherwise), bad blood (literal and otherwise) and past history among the characters.

My one criticism with the novel is the same problem I had with the first in that it is character heavy. Perhaps it is just a personal peeve but I found there were just too many characters for my liking and trying to remember them all, much less their particular situation or stance at any point in the story was hard to keep track of. Making matters more confusing was the fact that depending on what form some of the characters are in at a particular time, they go by different names and identities. The central characters are well defined which keeps me in the story but I found a number of the minor characters distracting and even intruding on the flow at times. Some of those minor characters were interesting and could have been fleshed out more by paring many of the negligible and less interesting ones.

I found latter half, once everything was more clearly established and the story becomes more focused, to be much more satisfying. So keep with it if you find it a bit slow at first. And do read Blight of Exiles before Plague of Ghouls as you do need most of that background to make sense of the characters despite my still having a few problems in that area.

The ending not only satisfyingly clears up the mystery but does so with a horrific conclusion and cliff hanger that will have me back for the third installment which should be released soon.

Movie Reviews 309 – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

August 4, 2017

Recovering from the shock that her young boy-toy has just asphyxiated himself in a ‘peroxide accident’, a middle aged transsexual reluctantly accepts the offer from her best friend to join a lip-synching drag queen roadshow driving across the Australian outback to get to a gig at a remote resort. Filled with sequined gowns, vehicle breakdowns, a constant stream of bitchy prattle and cat calling, Bernadette (Terence Stamp), Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) and third wheel Felicia (Guy Pearce) have the journey of a lifetime.

Endlessly forlorn and dour faced, Bernadette is the transsexual that slowly comes to terms with her recent loss and relationship anxieties. When she gets the call from Mitzi (also called “Tick”) to go on tour she mistakenly believes it will be just the two old friends only to learn that arch-nemesis Felicia will be joining them. Buying a broken down bus for the trip the trio depart for what will be a raucous, tumultuous odyssey.

From the very start Bernadette and Felicia are constantly at one’s throats and on one another’s nerves, the biggest point of contention being their staunch opposite respective views on ABBA songs. Things turn for the worse when Mitzi takes them on a shortcut across the desert where we learn secrets of his past and the real reason for taking on that particular job. When their bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere and a potential rescuer flees in shock they are finally helped by aborigines they come across celebrating a night festival in the wilderness.

The aborigines lead then to a small town where they meet ‘Bob’ (Bill Hunter) who not only comes to their rescue with his mechanic skills but is so thrilled with the girls that he convinces them to put on an impromptu show at the local bar. But the show reception is not what the girls expect and they are upstaged by Bob’s wife who puts on one of the most amazing burlesque performances you can imagine. Initially Bob had her locked down in their home as the show began, declaring that she was banned to enter the bar for some past indiscretion. She is shown screaming and battering her front door hoping to join the festivities. I could not fathom why she seemed euphoric when she stumbled across a horde of hidden ping pong balls but suffice to say that it was a pivotal moment and the resulting turbulence has Bob joining the trio for the rest of the trip.

The humour is ecstatic from the endless name calling to the modified tranny version of the road song staple “100 bottles of beer on the wall”. But while the comedy is paramount this movie doesn’t shun away from the darker side faced by those living alternative lifestyles. The presence of bigotry, ranging from nuanced to overt violence are addressed in the film’s more serious scenes. Equally discoursed are the interrelationship challenges and heartaches facing the girls because of their orientation.

Fantastic story and writing aside, the picturesque canyon vistas and sunsets are second only to the colorful flamboyant wardrobe – including a flip-flop shoe dress – and all the extravagance of Vegas showgirls. I could go on and on about the many odd scenes, memorable one liners and quirky nature of the film but honestly seeing Terence Stamp in drag is worth the watch alone.