Youtube Film Club – Battletruck (1982)

bt-pos1

Hey, do you remember “Mad Max”? Because the people who made this are sure hoping you don’t. Filmed in New Zealand, before it was cool, starring a Warrior and a Cheers regular, time to drink a bad-post-apocalyptic-movie-appropriate amount of booze and settle down for some fun.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T43ZlY4RLc

An info dump radio broadcast at the beginning sadly poses more questions than it answers. Petrol has basically run out, all the world’s governments have gone bankrupt, etc. Out in the wilds of New Zealand, there’s a fellow called Straker who’s in charge of a Battletruck, and no-one can stop him. But a bit later on we’re told the only radio broadcast the tech guy can find is from Mecca, so who is telling us all this stuff? And why? Why is there only one Battletruck? Why pick such a fuel inefficient method of transport? One day I’m going to write a review made up of nothing but “why did they do X?” questions, and no-one will like it.

Straker and his gang of psychopaths find a nice location to set up a camp, next to one of the last remaining petrol supplies. A woman, Corlie, who manages to make it through the entire film without delivering a single line in an interesting way, escapes from them and finds the awesome loner hero Hunter, who takes her to the nearest village, a democratic commune where they’re trying to live ecologically in this post-petrol world. Straker really wants this woman back, and starts killing people and blowing up the village to get to her. Hunter doesn’t want to get involved, then does, and it’s a big ol’ back and forth battle for the rest of the film, with betrayals and heroism and big fights and all that.

Picture 1

At about four different points in this, I thought “hold on, I’ve seen this before” but I was thinking of a different film each time. Although there’s a couple of scenes which are definitely lifted, it’s not so much plagiarism as a complete lack of originality – the typical cinematic post-apocalyptic future becomes fetishised without any thought of how that sort of world would operate. For one thing, petrol degrades. It’s not super-quick, but chances are a year after you’ve stopped producing new petrol, all your supplies will be useless. Admittedly, this would render the film even more pointless than it already is, so I’ll let that slide. It’s as if you were making a sport film but had never seen the sport, only other sport films.

So, when you’ve stopped thinking about where everyone is and how far in the future we are (this film’s alternate title, “Warlords of the 21st Century”, sounds stupid now, and only partly because there’s only one person you could call a warlord in this damn movie), you can sort of enjoy the film. It looks beautiful – thanks, nature and thanks Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges – and they clearly spent some money on it, as sets get wrecked, and there’s a few big explosions.

vlcsnap-2012-02-07-15h53m39s158

There’s plenty of fun touches too. There’s a cool story behind the opening radio broadcast: one of the actors recorded it, and the sound distortion was authentic – he broadcast it, via ham radio, from LA to New Zealand. The bike that Hunter rides looks incredibly similar to the one the same actor (Michael Beck, better known as the chief Warrior in “The Warriors”) rode in the awesome movie “Megaforce”. Plus, it’s got John Ratzenberger in it, shortly before he got the job on “Cheers”, and Bruno Lawrence, who fans of actually good post-apocalyptic movies will remember from “The Quiet Earth”. Straker is a pretty decent villain, I guess? He is helped by his truck apparently having hypnotic powers – whenever he announces anything on the truck’s PA, all the people they’ve been fighting become immediately docile.

It’s never going to be on anyone’s “Desert Island Movies” list, and while it’s a trifle slow in places, it’s okay. You could certainly do a lot worse! There have been many, many, uglier, worse acted post-apocalyptic movies than this (most of them made in Italy, because those guys were churning them out at a major rate of knots in the 80s).

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Advertisements

Bellflower (2011)

I first found out about this film thanks to Roger Ebert’s “At The Movies” TV show. It looked beautiful and interesting, so I immediately forgot about it for ages, until I saw it for rental a few days ago. If you’re interested in using my words for a future DVD box of this (remind me that I’ve sold out, if that ever happens), then “beautiful and interesting” is a pretty good summation of it all.

But you don’t come here for one paragraph reviews! Basically, this film is almost entirely the work of Evan Glodell, who wrote, directed, edited and starred in this film; he plays Woodrow, who along with his friend Aiden, share a childhood obsession with Mad Max that’s led them to create a bunch of post-apocalyptic weaponry, including most memorably a flame-thrower. Aside from this passion, they’re a couple of drinkin’, druggin’ slackers, and the early portion of the film gives a strong indication it’s going to be a comedy about these two misfits and their attempts to find love.

Woodrow and Aiden are fish out of water in LA, having moved from Wisconsin, and live in scummy apartments (although they have no jobs, they’re able to afford to build these awesome gadgets and go to bars all the time). Woodrow takes part in a cricket-eating contest with Milly, and their two social circles become entwined. However, the film starts taking a darker turn quite early on, as Woodrow goes, kind-of on a whim, with Milly to Texas (the film’s largely based in the flat, working-class suburbs of Los Angeles), and an asshole local grabs her butt. It’s an indicator of what’s to come, in more ways than one.

I think, the most important thing about this film is the visual style. It looks amazing, shot by a one-of-a-kind handmade camera – the colours seem amazingly over-saturated at times, and like a 1970s-shot home movie at others. For the cost of making it (reportedly $17,000, but I’d lay good money on that not including a lot of deferred salaries) it’s even more amazing, and I think even if he never makes another film, Glodell (along with cinematographer Joel Hodge) could have a career in helping other indie filmmakers.

The resolution of the film is a little more problematic. I paused it at what I thought was about the ten-minutes-to-go stage in order to make myself a cup of coffee, and I discovered that the film was only just half over – they packed a lot of incident into that first half, while still keeping that beautiful dreamlike look and style. Without spoilering it, relationships come and go, and while I can appreciate the non-linear aspects of the second half of the film (most of the first half is fairly straightly told), by the end I still felt a bit cheated by the lack of certain elements. I don’t think it earned its turn into darkness, or its ending(s).

Also, the acting is pretty much what you’d expect from a film which cost so little. Woodrow and Aiden are about tolerable, but the two main women in the film are, without putting too fine a point on it, awful. They’re not treated wonderfully by the film, either – I can’t tell if that’s just how relationships among that particular social milieu go, or if the filmmaker was a bit of a misogynist, and he just expected women to put up with him sitting around drinking cheap beer, watching TV, and paying no attention to them.

I think it’s absolutely worth watching, though. As well as being visually unique, it also has a bit more of a plot than your average micro-budget 21st century indie film. The structural tricks it plays means it’s worth watching too, just to try and puzzle it out (I think I’ll pop it in again soon, and see if I like it more the second time).

I feel like there’s a key that I don’t have that unlocks layers of meaning in this film. The fact that the film made me think that is in its favour, even if it was just a load of navel-gazing about hipsters building a Mad Max car because they didn’t have anything better to do in LA. So, to sum up, I’ll give it a hearty “okay…I guess?”

Bellflower on IMDB
Buy Bellflower (Uncut)