Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Z.P.G. (1972)

Z.P.G. a/k/a Zero Population Growth is one of those movies Oliver Reed made in Europe in the '70s, earning a nice paycheck, but not doing much for his body of work. Rather than go the US and rise to greater heights, Ollie chose to stay in England and farm himself out for projects like Z.P.G.

Director Michael Campus has had a strange career. He made five features between 1972 and 1976, including the blaxploitation classics The Mack and The Education of Sonny Carson, the speculative Biblical epic The Passover Plot, and Z.P.G., a dystopian science fiction film that was his debut. Campus recently directed his first film in over 30 years, the Straight-to-video, holiday-themed Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas, based o
n the early life of the self-proclaimed "Painter of Light," who pioneered mass production of cheesy landscapes.

Speaking of cheesiness, the special effects in Z.P.G. are definitely not your flashy Industrial Light and Magic/CGi-type FX. More like your '50s-era low-budget, visible strings on the spaceship-type stuff. The premise, however, is fairly serious. In a dystopian 21st Century, pollution and overpopulation threaten to destroy humanity, so the government outlaws childbirth for the next 30 years, under penalty of death.

As an alternative, couples can "adopt" creepy-looking robot children, but that option is not acceptable to Carol McNeil (Geraldine Chaplin), who, along with her husb
and Russ (Oliver Reed), works in a museum display of '70s Culture. It's a good gig, with plenty of space, extra oxygen rations, and a hydroponic vegetable garden, but it's not enough.

She wants a baby.

After having sex with her husband, she decides not to make use of the government-issued Abortron in the bathroom, and to keep the baby. And thus the conflict begins. She is forced to hide in the bowels of the museum, lest she be discovered and summarily executed. The method of choice is a floating plexi-glass gas chamber that can euthanize a family of three in under thirty seconds. There's also a bounty paid to anyone who alerts the authorities, which, with the lure of payment and a general "If I can't have one, neither can you" attitude, creates a scary mob mentality that threatens the couple at every turn. It's not just the auth
orities they have to watch out for, it's other people.

While the special effects are not great (to say the least), luckily the polltuion is so thick that you can't really tell most of the time. It is the performances that stand out, especially Chaplin, who like her father Charlie, can convey a wide range of emotions without saying a word. Oliver Reed, looking fit in his early '70s prime as a leading man, doesn't have much to do in the first half of the film, but delivers the action in the latter half.

Good supporting performances by Don Gordon (Bullitt, Out of the Blue) and Diane Cilento (the real life ex-wife of Sean Connery) as the McNeil's co-workers, who discover the truth, and threaten them with exposure, unless they can co-parent.

Z.P.G. belongs to a sub-genre of dystopian sci-fi that also includes Soylent Green, Logan's Run, Zardoz, and the more recent Children of Men, and is definitely
worth a rental, if only for Chaplin and Reed's performances.

The 2008 DVD release is strictly bare bones, lacking director commentary or even the original trailer.

A shorter version of this review was first published at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Christmas from Ollie's Ghost

In the tradition of such great holiday podcasts as Florida Rocks Again! #33, Rock 'n' Roll Suicide #61, Savage Kick #23, and Killed by Porn #31, it's "A Mal Thursday Christmas" with special guests Yard Trauma, the Fleshtones, the Chesterfield Kings, the Reigning Sound, and the ghost of Oliver Reed. Presented in Living Monophonic Sound.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tommy (1975)

Ken Russell's 1975 film version of the Pete Townshend's rock opera Tommy is a study in excess, providing eye-popping visuals and grotesque tableaux to accompany the music. To label Russell's style of filmmaking "over the top" is putting it mildly. While some deride his work as vulgar and blasphemous, I believe Russell is one of cinema's true visionaries.

Roger Daltrey plays the title character, and having sung the role hundreds of times on stage, acquits himself admirably. Unfortunately, he would not fare as well with his future film roles.

Ann-Margaret plays his mother, and received an Academy Award nomination for her work. She emotes for the ages as she gets covered in baked beans, chocolate sauce, and soap bubbles while riding a massive phallic pillow. That's worth an Oscar nom any time...

Also in the cast are Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie, Elton John as the Pinball Wizard, Tina Turner as the Acid Queen, Jack Nicholson as the Doctor, and best of all, my main man Oliver Reed in full gargoyle mode as Frank, Tommy's stepfather.

When I first s
aw this movie as a 13 year old with a Who fixation, I hated Ollie for not being able to carry a tune in a bucket. Seeing it again 30 years later, I realized that he's the best thing in it, whether he's leering at Ann-Margaret, blowing cigar smoke in Jack Nicholson's face, or stomping on "Sally Simpson's" fingers.

We first meet Frank when Tommy and his mother go to a summer holiday camp, where Frank is a "greencoat." Ollie does some great physical comedy as he hosts a "lovely legs" competition ("Have you ever seen a lovelier pair?" he asks), won by Tommy's mum, of course. Soon, Frank's sleeping with her, and when Tommy's father, presumed dead, unexpectedly returns home, Frank caves in Daddy's skull, killing him for real. Tommy witnesses the crime, and is struck deaf, dumb, and blind by the trauma.

Reed's part got bigger and bigger as Keith Moon's got smaller and smaller, probably due to Ken Russell's familiarity with Oliver, and the fact that he could drink himself into stupor at night and show up on time and line-perfect in the morning, while Moonie remained stuporous. Nonetheless, Reed and Moon became bosom buddies, their carousing continuing after both relocated to Beverly Hills. I recently saw the blazer Reed sported in the holiday camp sequence on Ebay going for $2400 US. If I'd had the cash to spare, it would have been mine...

Tommy is not a total triumph: Townshend's score is heavy on the synthesizers and light on guitar crunch; the story is a bit nonsensical; and some elements of
the film now seem dated in the extreme. However, Ken Russell's audacious direction is never dull, and as I mentioned, Oliver Reed is totally genius in it. No Pavarotti for sure, but unmistakably, undeniably Ollie.

Available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Video. Get it online at The Oliver Reed Store.

A shorter version of this review was first published at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Triple Echo a/k/a Soldier in Skirts (1972)

1972's The Triple Echo, also known as Soldier in Skirts, marked the directorial debut of documentarian Michael Apted (7 Up, 14 Up, et al.), as well as Oliver Reed's second of three collaborations with Glenda Jackson. It would have been the third of four, but Jackson allegedly turned down the Mother Superior role in Ken Russell's 1971 epic The Devils, opening the door for Vanessa Redgrave's brilliant portrayal.

Based on a story by H.E. Bates, the plot concerns a cowardly pretty boy named Barton (Brian Deacon), a private in the British army stationed in rural England during World War II. Barton takes a fancy to Alice (Jackson), a tough homesteader who is running a farm by herself while her husband, an RAF officer, is fighting for flag and country in faraway Burma. Eventually, they begin an affair, which leads to Barton deserting to live in sin with Alice. As a cover, Alice makes the deserter dress up as her sister, reasoning that the local villagers won't think twice about a female visitor, but would be suspicious of a healthy young male hanging around.

At first, Barton is repulsed and humiliated by the masquerade, but slowly gets used to it, and ultimately embraces it.

Enter Ollie as a brutish cokney sergeant who is initially attracted to Alice, gets shut down, then transfers his attentions to her "sister" Kate. There are some squirmingly funny scenes as the sergeant puts the moves on Barton, completely unaware that he is pursuing a man.

Things inevitably come to a head when Barton defies Alice and goes to a dance at the army base as the sergeant's date. Tragedy ensues, although not in the way one might expect.

The three leads are excellent, with Oliver putting his military experience to good use. One wonders if he based his character on a real person he may have encountered during his national service in the late '50s. While Apted's direction at times reveals his inexperience in dramatic films, he does capture some breathtakingly beautiful shots of the English countryside. He would later go on to direct such movies as Coal Miner's Daughter, Nell, and the James Bond flick The World is Not Enough.

The Triple Echo is not entirely successful, but lingers in the viewer's mind long after the shocking twist at the end of the film.

At the time of his death, Ollie had just signed on for the title role in My Uncle Silas, another adaptation of the short stories of H.E. Bates. The BBC production was eventually filmed with Albert Finney in the part.

Currently unavailable on DVD, The Triple Echo was released on VHS in the '80s, and can be found relatively cheap on Ebay and elsewhere.