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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • None
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - Director/producer Nadia Tass & screenwriter/producer David Parker
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette - Popcorn Taxi interview
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • Interviews
  • Filmographies

Malcolm: CE

AV Channel/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 82 mins . PG . PAL


Malcolm comes across as your archetypal bowl-cutted, lonely, reclusive, misfit and virtual sociophobe - with one distinct difference. Whilst to those who base their judgements simply on face value he'd simply be considered some sort of simpleton loony kook, he's actually a master with all sorts of wildly technical doohickies. A rabid tram-spotter living alone in inner-Melbourne after the death of his mother, he's cast asunder from his dream job with the Tramways after hooning all over the city in his own rather wondrous working mini-tram, and if not for those in his neighbourhood that keep an eye on him would most likely be in very deep poo having no means of income. Malcolm's fiscal predicament is solved when his local milk bar lady suggests he advertise for a border, and along comes recent prison-release Frank, then soon after his girlfriend Judith.

Whilst taken aback at first with this house full of wild gadgetry - including a cockatoo on rails, a motorised letterbox, a radio controlled VW Beetle to do milk runs and a phenomenal scale model tram set running all through the house - Malcolm's new housemates soon settle in and end up becoming almost surrogate parental figures to their landlord. As Frank goes back to his dodgy criminal ways, Malcolm seeks his acceptance and turns his inventive mind to ways in which to assist - resulting in a simply phenomenal yellow Honda Z "getaway car" that splits into two separately driveable halves, and as Frank decides to exploit these talents eventually Malcolm gets involved ever so much more…

The first creation by the team of Nadia Tass (director, producer) and David Parker (screenwriter, producer), Malcolm was nominated for eight AFI Awards in 1986 - and deservedly won each and every one of them. The irony is that all the local distributors they approached showed no interest in the film at all - well, not until after the Americans had gone gaga for it. Sadly that attitude doesn’t seem to have changed very much even today, however…

Based loosely on the life of Nadia's brother John, Malcolm isn't merely a throwaway comedy as many may expect from the way it was generally marketed. Sure it has some wickedly comedic moments, however it’s rather difficult to classify simply, as many of its messages are slightly fuzzied. There's kind of an accept-people-on-face-value thing going on, but that could be seen as being muddied quite severely by an air of utter exploitation of Malcolm's very childlike innocence and need for acceptance, however it doesn’t stand up as any sort of moral tale when the entire basis of what goes on is, when it comes down to it, decidedly immoral.

Elsewhere the script tends to lose its lucidity at times, with probably the best example being a love interest for our 'hero', the girl-next-door Jenny, who is introduced at one point, however after simply demonstrating Malcolm's ineptitude with dating rituals (he goes into tram-nerd hyper-drive at the hapless girl) she disappears entirely in favour of more gadget workouts - some closure would have been nice - or maybe this reviewer is simply a gushy romantic slushball?

The performance from Colin Friels as Malcolm is nothing short of incredible. Everything about his adopted manner for the role is superb - the speech, the looks, the gait, and he's more than ably assisted by John Hargreaves as Frank and the fabulous Lindy Davies as Judith. Being an Aussie film we also get to play a game of spot the familiar face - and the likes of Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, newsreader David Johnston, comedienne Denise Scott and even Ian McFadyen of The Comedy Company pop up at various stages.


Let's focus on the good points first, shall we? Malcolm has made his way to DVD in an anamorphically enhanced ratio of 1.85:1, generally vision is reasonably sharp and the colour is nicely presented with a generally realistic rendering of inner Melbourne's predominantly greyish hues. Unfortunately the print used wasn't in particularly stellar shape to begin with, however, with many, many speckly dropouts, bigger blots and those dastardly reel change warnings popping up indicating that it had most likely previously seen quite some use. Things aren’t too grainy, however generally the print seems to fluctuate ever so slightly in the colour department, which is a little disconcerting. The layer change occurs in a fade to black that looks suspiciously manufactured (although it's hard to confirm this), but isn’t particularly dramatic or intrusive.


Malcolm was released to cinemas with a mono soundtrack, and that's what we get here. Whilst dialogue is clear and well synched at all times (barring the commentary, but more on that later), it does sound very dated and claustrophobic nowadays, and in all it is rather unfortunate that some extra effort wasn't put into beefing the sound up for this release. It looks like the surround set-up gets the night off then. There are odd crackles and pops to be heard, but these are very rare and not much of an issue.

When music is called upon, what we get is generally exemplary. The bulk of the instrumental score comes from the extremely inventive Penguin Café Orchestra, and their music adds an atmosphere to the film unlike any 'traditional' form of scoring could have achieved. There's also a snippet of Slim Dusty, which, of course, is never a bad thing.


Quite an impressive array of extras has been cobbled together for Malcolm's journey onto DVD, however before going there mention simply MUST be made of the menu system. Easily one of the most effective and entertaining examples of such a thing ever witnessed by this reviewer, a Melways street directory-like approach has been taken, with funky little stylised trams trundling about a smoothly scrolling background, depositing us at our selected destinations. If only more authors would go to such trouble - as this shows up most of the major distributors for the unimaginative lazy bones' they more often than not truly are. Now, onto those extras…

Commentary: Nadia Tass and David Parker are superb filmmakers, let there be no doubt, but when it comes to commentaries they are basically drier than the Simpson Desert. Nadia concentrates mainly on metaphors and motivations, whilst David is a littler lighter with his many insights into Melbourne locations used and titbits about the many wondrous gizmos. Things start off quite chatty, however large gaps start appearing as the film progresses, and in all whilst offering some at times undeniably fascinating information, in all this would probably be of much more interest to ever-so-serious film student types than your average Shazza or Dazza. One alarming problem occurs within this commentary, and that is the synch of the movie dialogue going woefully astray a little after half way, never to return, which proves very disconcerting, especially in the patches where Nadia and David aren’t speaking. Smacks for somebody…

Press Kit: This contains a few sub-sections. The first is a three-minute interview featuring David Stratton from SBS' Movie Show interviewing Nadia, David and Colin Friels at the 1996 AFI awards - oh my goodness, look at Nadia's bubbly hair! Next up is reviews and press, which is simply five pages of glowing quotes about Malcolm garnered from press near and far. The following stop gives us a photomontage, which consists of eleven promo, behind the scenes and other shots set to music. The final stop on this line is the trailer, which whilst in the correct ratio is not 16x9 enhanced. It isn’t in the best shape, but is by no means shocking either, runs for 2:10 and appears to be that for the American release of the film. Bits of a simply fabulous animation are included which don’t appear anywhere in the film - well, at least not in the version on this disc.

Parker/Tass: Taking a different route, here we are led to brief biographies and filmographies on Nadia Tass and David Parker (four pages each), plus a featurette entitled Popcorn Taxi which is a 7:16 interview with the pair seemingly recently recorded in front of an audience. The intro is quite funky - and obviously others agree as it sandwiches this presentation, and its slickness is rather at odds with the interview footage, where at one point somebody walks right in front of camera with a glass of wine for Mr Parker. The video is rather appalling, with the background moire-ing away like crazy, and the sound levels are much lower than most everything else included on this disc. It is, however, an interesting interview - and that's the most important thing.

Cast Swapping lines again, this presents us with more biographies and filmographies, this time seven pages on Colin Friels, six on the late John Hargreaves and four on Lindy Davies. Brief interviews are also featured with Colin and Lindy - the former being 6:46 in duration, of questionable quality (which we are warned about beforehand) - seemingly recorded on a camcorder - whilst the latter (1:31) shows Margaret Pomeranz of SBS' Movie Show assailing Lindy after the 1986 AFI Awards.

Umbrella propaganda: Just trailers for two other releases, made available once the film has finished. There's an utterly shocking quality one for the Dustin Hoffman/John Malkovich Death of a Salesman that is so bad it even carries a time code, plus one for Woody Allen's re-dub fest What's Up, Tiger Lily?. Speaking of Umbrella, their computer animated intro when you first play the disc is quite gorgeous, and well worth not ignoring.

Easter eggs: There appear to be four different snippets available within these, some of which are quite amusing, and they can all be accessed from so many different places you'd have to be REALLY slack not to find them. Oh, there are also DVD credits hidden away somewhere too...


Without any intention of going all jolly jumbuck/mateship/strewth, corker/oi oi oi on any readers out there, it has to be acknowledged how refreshing it has been of late to see more and more local films being preserved in the DVD format - even if some of our absolute classics are still only available in overseas markets (what the… ?)

As with the recent release of Newsfront, much effort has obviously gone into bringing Malcolm to DVD with a satisfying amount of supporting material, it's just unfortunate that a better source print seemingly could not be found, as this one is not in the greatest shape. Whilst a sonic remix would have been most welcome, it does at least come in its original format, which will probably have just as many people pleased as it will have peeved. And then there are those absolutely stunning menus…

Malcolm is simply a very clever, very amusing, very Australian film, with a skewed look at the world the likes of which just doesn't emanate from anywhere else on the planet. If you've never been fortunate enough to see it, what are you waiting for? It may not quite be worth robbing a bank for, but it certainly merits parting with a few readies...

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1076
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      And I quote...
    "A very clever, very amusing, very Australian film that may not quite be worth robbing a bank for, but certainly merits parting with a few readies..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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