“Jim from Neighbours” – The Busiest Actor in the World (perhaps)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.

A long time ago, in an Erinsborough far, far away, the beloved Neighbours character Jim Robinson suffered a major heart attack and passed away on screen, right before a commercial break. This was way back in 1993, when people actually watched Neighbours and on-screen deaths were rare. Most departing characters simply moved to Brisbane to live with Scott and Charlene.

After eight long years of service to Grundy Television, Kiwi actor Alan Dale was departing the soapie, and a regular income, with his dignity intact and no embarrassing attempts at singing to speak of. Well, there was the dreadful 1989 Christmas With Your Neighbours album but being a Christmas album, it was meant to be dreadful (I hope).

Typecast as “Jim from Neighbours”, Dale found it difficult to get work in Australia. With nothing to lose, he relocated his family to the USA where there was potentially a need for fresh faces in the mature actor niche.

The rest, as they say, is pretty interesting. “Jim from Neighbours” managed to overcome the spectre of Australian typecasting and went on to appear in almost every US television show going as the “serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide.”

He was Caleb Nichol, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide in the hit series that introduced the world to talent vacuum Mischa Barton, The O.C. After his character was killed off with a heart attack, he went on to star in Ugly Betty as Bradford Meade, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide. After his character was again killed off with a heart attack, Dale went on to feature in the brain bending Lost as Charles Widmore, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide but no known cardiac history.

There really was no stopping “Jim from Neighbours.”

Whenever you switched on a television, there he was in a guest role. His credits are pretty much the contents of my DVD shelf. E.R., The X-Files and its spinoff The Lone Gunmen, Torchwood, Entourage, NCIS, The West Wing, JAG, Californication and The Practice have all been graced by the authoritarian and secretive presence of Alan Dale.

He was even the Vice President of the USA in seven “hours” of the rather silly but fun 24. As Jim (not from Neighbours) Prescott, an authoritarian VP with something to hide, he mistakenly placed President Palmer under house arrest, based on false evidence. Playing the third most powerful man in the world (behind the American President and Batman) may seem  an honour until you realise that two years later on the same show, Vice President Mitchell Hayworth was portrayed by Aussie ex-pat and “actor” Cameron Daddo.

Not limited to the idiot box, Dale’s career has also expanded to the silver screen. Last week, I popped the sci-fi vampire action thingy Priest into my VCR to find “Jim from Neighbours” playing his usual character, but in a silly robe, in eye popping 3D.

Most impressive to geeks everywhere, Dale was also cast in two iconic film franchises. He pops up as General Ross in the mediocre Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and plays the Romulan Praetor Hiren in the so-so Star Trek Nemesis. OK, so they weren’t the best films in the series but how many Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies have you been in?

He even has his own trading cards. That’s right, on ebay there is brisk trade in Alan Dale signature cards from his Lost, Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Blah Blah Blah appearances.

Later this month, Dale will appear on Aussie cinema screens as Detective Isaksson in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This year, all Australians (and New Zealanders) should celebrate the amazing career of “Jim from Neighbours” and his remarkable body of work, playing the authoritarian figure with something to hide, since shaking off the stigma of typecasting way back in 1993 when Jim Robinson of Ramsey St met his maker.


The Year in Film: 2011’s Underrated Gems

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th December 2011.

Last week I ran through my cinematic disappointments of the year. Of course, I hadn’t seen New Year’s Eve at the time. Starring every actor working in Hollywood today and Jon Bon Jovi, this ensemble piece comes from those responsible for the similarly structured Valentine’s Day. A stomach ache inducing mix of cheese and saccharine, the multiple strand storyline eventually collapses under its own weight and like me, you’ll be counting down from ten with the stars, only because it means that the film is almost over.

It wasn’t all bad out there in the multiplexes this year. Here are my underrated or undiscovered gems for 2011.

Rango came and went without much fanfare in March. Directed by Gore Verbinski, the man at the helm of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, this clever and witty animated feature starred the voice talents of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty and Bill Nighy, amongst others. Following a wise cracking pet chameleon who is separated from his owners and accidentally becomes the sheriff of a town inhabited by desert dwelling creatures, Rango is much more sophisticated than your average animated film  and will play strongly to kiddie and adult audiences alike. Admirably, it was released in 2D only.

A little while ago, I wrote a piece about the horror comedy Tucker and Dale vs Evil. A film festival darling, a thoughtless decision by a US theatre chain representative denied the movie a mainstream cinema release. Now available in Australia for rental or retail, this low budget affair tips the rules of horror films on its head as two well meaning hillbillies get mistaken for serial killers by a bunch of stupid teens. As the college students become more and more convinced that they are being “hunted”, they accidentally off themselves in hilarious and bloody ways. Starring the versatile Alan Tudyck of Serenity and Firefly fame, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is great fun and will hopefully find its audience on DVD.

Super, a very black comedy from James Gunn, the writer and director of splatter horror laugh-fest Slither, has just had its Australian premiere in November at the Gold Coast Film Festival. Reminiscent of Kick Ass, it stars Rainn Wilson from TV’s The Office as an everyday man whose life spins out of control after his ex-junkie wife, played by Liv Tyler, relapses and falls into the arms of Kevin Bacon’s crime kingpin. Becoming The Crimson Bolt, a super hero armed only with a monkey wrench, Wilson is joined by Ellen Page as his deranged sidekick Boltie.

Dark and violent at times, but laugh out loud funny throughout, Super really resonated for me. With the current glut of super hero movies on the market, it is refreshing to see a different take on your traditional storyline. In this case, the super heroes are much more disturbed and mentally unhinged than the villains. Super will hits Australian shelves in early January and comes highly recommended.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:27  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Movie Review: Tucker & Dale vs Evil

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th October 2011.

Think about the storyline for your average horror film. Does this sound familiar? A group of nubile college students heads out to the woods for a camping trip. On the way they insult two hillbillies, who then proceed to extract revenge by killing off the promiscuous teens one by one. Yep, it’s pretty much the framework for a whole raft of slasher movies.

What if you reversed the concept, following the film from the hillbillies’ perspective? Except this time, the yokels are simple but friendly folk, and the teenagers are familiar with the rules of horror movies. Every good natured move the hillbillies make is interpreted by the teenagers as an attempt on their lives, and one by one they meet their demise through a series of hilarious mishaps.

Sounds like the perfect horror comedy. And it possibly is. The film’s title is Tucker & Dale vs Evil and it has just hit Australian DVD and blu-ray shelves after a difficult birth that saw it come extremely close to a theatrical release and possibly become a major hit.

Alan Tudyk, one of my favourite actors, stars as Tucker. You might remember Tudyk as the popular character Wash from the short lived Joss Whedon sci-fi western series, Firefly, and the subsequent big screen film, Serenity.  As Dale, you have rising actor Tyler Labine, who was most recently seen as chimp handler Robert Franklin in this year’s surprise hit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Also starring as college student and love interest Allison is Katrina Bowden, best known as the cute but dim Cerie in TV sitcom 30 Rock. A solid cast for sure.

The director is Eli Craig, making his feature film debut. His short film, The Tao of Pong, is available on YouTube and is great fun.

Filmed in 2009 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the completed film premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival to cheering audiences. A subsequent screening at the prestigious South by Southwest in Austin, Texas also received a rapturous response.

A mainstream distributor became interested in the project and put the film through a test screening which resulted in overwhelmingly positive figures. Thinking that it was all a mistake, the distributor held a second screening which came back with similar results.

The final obstacle in the US film release process is the booking of movies by the cinema chain owners. Unfortunately, based on one screening, a major chain didn’t think it had potential and turned it down. And with that, Tucker & Dale vs Evil missed out on a major US cinema release. It premiered in Australia last week as a direct-to-DVD title.

I have a tendency to support the underdog, and after reading about the film’s history, I immediately rushed out to buy a copy. And I have to say that it doesn’t disappoint. Deliciously gory and hilarious at the same time, the film is a refreshing take on a worn genre.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil deserves mainstream attention. It is an absolute shame that the latest The Not-So-Final Final Destination chapter is taking up cinema screens when a much smarter and deserving film is relegated to the small screen. I guess it happens all the time.

So gather a bunch of friends, find the biggest TV that you can, buy (and don’t download) Tucker & Dale vs Evil and have yourself a great night in.

Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 22:10  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,