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Digital Gym Cinema serves up Australian action and Chilean thriller

Umbrella Entertainment
Stuntman Grant Page plays a stuntman enlisted for a secret mission in Brian Trenchard-Smith's "Death Cheaters" from 1976.

Digital Gym Cinema has taken the place of the now deceased Ken-Cinema in terms of offering filmgoers an eclectic selection of films from around the globe, as well as both new and old.

'Death Cheaters'


Forgive me for a bit of shameless self-promotion, but Film Geeks SD (of which I am one of the volunteer programmers) is in the midst of a film series on something I love: action!

This Sunday I am co-hosting a screening of the Australian film "Death Cheaters" from 1976, which focuses on a pair of stuntmen.

In the 1970s low-budget Australian films were referred to as Ozploitation, and one of the masters of these cult favorites is Brian Trenchard-Smith.

"I've always believed that action was the universal currency of the movie market," Trenchard-Smith told me from his Oregon home.

His first film was "The Man From Hong Kong" and his second was "Death Cheaters." Both films were low budget but he had to be especially resourceful on "Death Cheaters."


"I had the Army Corps of Engineers do the explosions," Trenchard-Smith explained. "And so you make a nice explosion with just a plastic can of mixture of kerosene and gasoline and bits of cut-up carpet felt inside and a bit of det cord around it. And you place it in the right place, and off it goes: 'kaboom.' And things appear to fly everywhere. Chunks. But, actually, it's just carpet felt that's on fire."

Made in 1976, "Death Cheaters" was shot in 22 days for $150,000. It starred Australian stuntman Grant Page as — surprise — a stuntman who gets enlisted for a secret government mission. Think "Hooper" meets "Mission Impossible." The film is an action-packed send-up of the film industry and movie tropes. And, as the trailer boasts, it delivers both "laughs and gasps."

The screening this Sunday will have a special video introduction I did with Trenchard-Smith and his wife, Margaret, who made her film debut in "Death Cheaters." They were an absolute treat to speak with. I will also be making Australian rocky road slices to serve at the film because a stuntman often faces a rocky road.

Kino Lorber
Manuela Martelli’s "Chile '76" offers a portrait of a middle-aged, bourgeois housewife named Carmen (Aline Küppenheim) who is living under Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile.

'Chile '76'

Actress Manuela Martelli makes her directorial debut with "Chile '76," which I first saw at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. It is a film that is as much a tense political thriller as an intimate personal drama.

The film opens with Carmen (Aline Kuppenheim), a bourgeoise housewife living under Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile, trying to find the perfect color of paint for the beach house she is renovating. This opening scene conveys an incredible amount of information in just a few minutes of screen time. First, it establishes the luxury Carmen has, both in terms of money and time. Then, she decides on the exact right hue by pointing to a glossy photo of the Doge’s Palace, a gorgeous-looking place but one that housed prisoners who were tortured. It's a hue perfect for the beach house and for this film about the contrast between how things appear and the reality underneath. And, finally, the scene sets up the stark contrast between her life and the political turmoil of her country as we focus on her color selection as we hear a scuffle just outside the shop as someone is kidnapped and taken away while she remains in her safe bubble of home decor.

But, when Carmen arrives at her family beach house, Father Sanchez (Hugo Medina), persuades her to care for Elías (Nicolás Sepúlveda), a “common criminal” who has been shot. But Elías is actually on the run from Pinochet’s police force, and Carmen finds herself in an increasingly dangerous situation.

Huge props to Mariá Portugal’s score, which sets a foreboding tone, even though many scenes appear calm and mundane in terms of the visuals. The score insists that there is something wrong and disturbing long before Carmen is even remotely aware.

Beautifully scripted and performed, the film shows one woman's quiet revolution and rebellion set against the bigger picture of her country's unrest and oppression.

So a pair of great options this weekend at Digital Gym Cinema. Plus, the delightful female action film "Polite Society" has been held over.