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Thursday
Jan312019

DICK MILLER & HIS DIRECTORS: LIFE AS HOLLYWOOD'S MOST WANTED CHARACTER ACTOR

He was the ultimate “Oh, it’s that guy!” actor. Dick Miller, who took a handful of small but vivid character turns and forged an indelible career that will clock in at 182 credits, has passed away at age 90. He leaves behind an adoring fan base dating back nearly six decades, a period that has seen him work with most of the great American directors of his generation. For a man who never found above-the-title fame, Dick Miller was a beloved presence on-set for some of the great cinematic visionaries… 

His Career with Roger Corman: The legendary B-movie maven gave a 26-year-old Miller his first credit in the 1955 western, Apache Woman, opposite Lloyd Bridges. Low-budget oaters were staples for Corman, who would use Miller again in The Oklahoma Woman (1956), Gunslinger (1956) and A Time for Killing (1967). Miller remained a working actor in Corman’s ensemble for over a decade, the actor willing to work across all genres, including science-fiction (Not of This Earth, 1957; War of The Satellites, 1958); horror (The Undead, 1957; A Bucket of Blood,1959; The Little Shop of Horrors, 1960, pictured right; Premature Burial, 1962; The Terror, 1963; X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes,1963); rock’n’roll teen dramas  (Rock All Night, 1957; Sorority Girl, 1957; Carnival Rock, 1957); historical epics (Atlas, 1961); bad boy biker pics (the iconic The Wild Angels, 1966, opposite Peter Fonda); and the LSD-romp, The Trip (1967).

The Great American Directors of the 1970s: The gruff old master Robert Aldrich bolstered his support cast with Miller on 1968s The Legend of Lylah Clare, but the old school studio directors were making way for the ‘movie brats’ of new Hollywood. And many of those filmmakers had grown up with, and were often schooled by Roger Corman. Miller had a foot in the door with Corman-alumni Barbara Peeters, with whom he made Summer School Teachers (1974) and Starhops (1978); Paul Bartel, who cast him in Death Race 2000 (1975); Allan Arkush, who bolstered Heartbeeps (1981) and Get Crazy (1983) with Miller; and, not least, Martin Scorsese, who cast the actor in New York, New York (1977) and memorably in After Hours (1985). Miller was at the forefront of the new industry forces, and was soon finding parts in films by ‘wunderkind’ auteurs Robert Zemeckis (I Wanna Hold Your Hand, 1978; Used Cars, 1980); Steven Spielberg (1941, 1979);and,  Jonathan Demme (Swing Shift, 1984) and James Cameron (The Terminator, 1984), both trained under Corman's guidance. Ironically, Miller saw out the decade featuring in one of the final films of an old Hollywood heavyweight – Samuel Fuller’s White Dog (1982).

The Films of Jonathan Kaplan: Kaplan and Miller had grown close working at Corman’s New World Pictures. Kaplan (who would direct Jodie Foster to Oscar glory with The Accused, 1988) turned to Miller not only for his acting skills but a shared work ethic, one that had been refined on Corman’s often unrefined low-budget shoots. They would work together on such grindhouse/drive-in programmers as Night Call Nurses (1972), The Student Teachers (1973), The Slams (1973) and Truck Turner (1974; pictured, right). More mainstream fare followed, with White Line Fever (1975) and Mr Billion (1977). After a short time apart, Kaplan reconnected with Miller for his acclaimed drama Heart Like a Wheel (1983), starring Bonnie Bedelia, and they worked together well into the new decade, on Project X (1987) and Unlawful Entry, (1992). Kaplan also earned Miller his only music-video credit, on the Rod Stewart dance hit, Infatuation , in 1988.

Working with Joe Dante: Another Corman graduate, Joe Dante, like Kaplan and Allan Arkush, had worked the tough shoots with Miller through their formative years. The bond that Dante and Miller formed is one of the most prominent and profound in Hollywood history. Alongside co-director Arkush, Dante and Miller first worked together on Hollywood Boulevard (1976) and Rock’n’Roll High School (1979, on which Dante contributed uncredited). The Miller/Dante pairing would last four decades on Piranha (1978); The Howling (1981); Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983; pictured, right); Gremlins (1984), for which Miller received a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films; Explorers (1985); his 1986 episode ‘The Greibble’ of the Spielberg-produced TV anthology Amazing Stories; Innerspace (1987); The ‘Burbs (1989); Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990); Matinee (1993); The Second Civil War (1997); Small Soldiers (1998); Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003); Trapped Ashes (segment: Wraparound; 2006); The Hole (2009); and, Burying the Ex (2014). In a statement on his Facebook page, Dante said, “I’m devastated.” “We hit it off and every script thereafter I always looked for a role for Dick,” said Dante, “not just because he was my friend but because I loved watching him act.”

In 2014, the actor's life and work was celebrated in Elijah Drenner's documentary, That Guy Dick Miller.

 

Wednesday
Jan232019

ROMA, THE FAVOURITE LEAD 91ST ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS.

Alfonso Quaron’s Roma and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite lead the pack of nominees for the 91st Academy Awards, with each film to compete in 10 categories when the awards are announced on February 24. The full list of nominees were announced this morning in Los Angeles by Tracee Ellis Ross, star of the TV series black-ish, and Kumail Nanjiani, a nominee in 2018 for The Big Sick.

Roma and The Favourite are frontrunners in the Best Film category, though will not have it all their own way, with Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (5 nominations) on a roll in the wake of Golden Globe and PGA top honours. Other Best Picture nominees are Black Panther (7 nominations), BlackkKlansman (6), Bohemian Rhapsody (5), A Star is Born (8) and Vice (8).

The Academy’s embrace of Roma signifies a major turning point in the industry’s acceptance of streaming service Netflix, which has emerged as the third most nominated ‘studio’ this year. Also nominated in three categories is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the content provider’s collaboration with Oscar favourites Joel and Ethan Coen. (Pictured, right; Quaron directs his lead actress Yalitza Aparicio on the set of Roma) 

Netflix’s nomination tally sees it behind Walt Disney Studios (16) and Fox Searchlight (15), while outpacing mini-major Annapurna Pictures (11), Universal (9), Warner Bros (9), Focus Features (8), 20th Century Fox (5) and Sony Pictures Classic (4).

Oscar’s embrace of Quaron’s stylised account of his upbringing in Mexico’s middle-class extended to the Best Actress category, where Yalitza Aparicio earned a nomination for her stoic turn as the household’s nanny/maid. Award bodies have so far largely ignored her central performance, citing the writer/director’s contribution as key to the film’s success. She will compete against Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Lady Gaga (A Star is Born). (Pictured, left; Nominees Rachel Weisz, left, and Olivia Colman from The Favourite)

Bradley Cooper’s directing prowess on the musical remake was strangely snubbed in favour of his lead actor skills, which have largely taken a backseat to his work behind the camera in the awards season race. The other Best Actor nominees are otherwise as expected, with Cooper to face off against Christian Bale (Vice), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) and Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody).

Cooper’s slot in the Best Director race is likely to have been filled by Polish auteur Pawel Pawlikowski, whose tragic romance Cold War (the second monochromatic feature in contention, alongside Roma) earned three nominations. The great iconoclast Spike Lee (pictured, right; with Topher grace, centre, and Supporting Actor nominee Adam Driver) has finally been taken into Oscar’s inner sanctum with his first nomination, for BlacKkklansman; fellow nominees are Lanthimos, Cuaron and Adam Mckay (Vice).

The list of those that could not catch Oscar’s eye include lead actress Elsie Fischer and original screenplay hope Bo Burnham for Eighth Grade; SAG-nominated Emily Blunt, for either lead actress in Mary Poppins (which did earn four other nominations) or supporting actress for A Quiet Place; Ethan Hawke for his lead acting in First Reformed (although Paul Schrader’s original script was shortlisted); Damian Chazelle’s astronaut saga First Man, which earned four tech nods but missed Picture, Actor (Ryan Gosling), Supporting Actress (Claire Foy) and Score; Toni Collette for her wild lead turn in Hereditary; the year’s most acclaimed and successful documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbour?;  and, Nicole Kidman, for either Destroyer or Boy Erased, both of which had award season momentum. The absence, again, of any female Best Director nominees has been noted, with Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here), Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Tamara Jenkins (Private Life), Karyn Kusama (Destroyer), Mimi Leder (On the Basis of Sex), Josie Rourke (Mary Queen of Scots) and Chloe Zhao (The Rider) all considered serious contenders. 

The full list of 2019 Academy award nominees are:

Best Picture: Black Panther; BlacKkKlansman; Bohemian Rhapsody; The Favourite; Green Book; Roma; A Star Is Born; Vice.

Lead Actor: Christian Bale, Vice; Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born; Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate;  Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody; Viggo Mortensen, Green Book.

Lead Actress: Yalitza Aparicio, Roma; Glenn Close, The Wife; Olivia Colman, The Favourite; Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born; Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book; Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman; Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born; Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Sam Rockwell, Vice.

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, Vice; Marina de Tavira, Roma; Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk; Emma Stone, The Favourite; Rachel Weisz, The Favourite.

Director: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman; Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War; Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Adam McKay, Vice.

Animated Feature: Incredibles 2; Isle of Dogs; Mirai; Ralph Breaks the Internet; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Animated Short: Animal Behaviour; Bao; Late Afternoon; One Small Step; Weekends.

Adapted Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman; Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk; Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, A Star Is Born.

Original Screenplay: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara, The Favourite; Paul Schrader, First Reformed;  Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, Green Book; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Adam McKay, Vice.

Cinematography: Lukasz Zal, Cold War; Robbie Ryan, The Favourite; Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Matthew Libatique, A Star is Born

Best Documentary Feature: Free Solo; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; Minding the Gap; Of Fathers and Sons; RBG.

Best Documentary Short Subject: Black Sheep; End Game; Lifeboat; A Night at the Garden; Period. End of Sentence.

Best Live Action Short Film: Detainment; Fauve; Marguerite; Mother; Skin.

Best Foreign Language Film: Capernaum (Lebanon); Cold War (Poland); Never Look Away” (Germany); Roma (Mexico); Shoplifters (Japan).

Film Editing: Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman; John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody; Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book; Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite; Hank Corwin, Vice.

Sound Editing: Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker, Black Panther; John Warhurst, Bohemian Rhapsody; Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan, First Man; Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl, A Quiet Place; Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay, Roma.

Sound Mixing: Black Panther; Bohemian Rhapsody; First Man; Roma; A Star Is Born.

Production Design: Black Panther; First Man; The Favourite; Mary Poppins Returns; Roma.

Original Score: Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman; Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther; Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk; Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs; Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mary Poppins Returns

Original Song: “All The Stars” from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, SZA; “I’ll Fight” from RBG by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson; “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman; “Shallow” from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice; “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch.

Makeup and Hair: Border; Mary Queen of Scots; Vice.

Costume Design: Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther; Sandy Powell, The Favourite; Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns; Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots.

Visual Effects: Avengers: Infinity War; Christopher Robin; First Man; Ready Player One; Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Friday
Dec142018

THE SCREEN-SPACE YEAR-IN-REVIEW: THE BEST (& WORST) FILMS OF 2018

I decided late in 2017 that the New Year theme was going to be ‘change’. I was going to lose weight (didn’t happen); watch less/play more sport (got my diving licence, so that’s something); and, most importantly, turn my back on the alpha male heroic arc that has dominated film narratives since…well, forever. So I'm proud to say six of my Top 10 films headline female actors, eight if you count co-lead roles (amongst them, below, from left; Zoe Kazan in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Helena Howard in Madeline's Madeline, and Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade).

I admit to swimming against the current on Black Panther (I understand its importance, but…no, sorry) and Roma (gorgeous pictures do not a story make) and at time of writing, I’ve not seen award season frontrunners Vice and The Favourite (both out December 26 in Oz). Finally, apologies to Phantom Thread and I, Tonya, which I saw very late last year and which came out very early this year, slipping between the 'list-crack'. I only hope that the reputations of all involved with those fine films are not sullied by their careless omission from a Screen-Space list…

THE BEST FILMS OF 2018

10. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (Dir: Bryan Singer; USA, 134 min) Detractors went after it for sugarcoating the man's homosexuality and a rather conventional structure, but Bryan Singer’s adrenalized celebration of Freddie Mercury and the music he created with Queen was finely tuned for maximum crowd pleasure – like Freddie (brought back to life by the wonderful Rami Malek). Like the great myth-building musical biopics of yore (The Glenn Miller Story, 1954; Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980; La Bamba, 1987), Singer’s exuberant song’n’dance act acknowledges the darkness but shines its spotlight on the talent. 

9. PROTECTION (Dirs: Phillip Crawford, Gemma Parsons; Australia, 91 min) Shot by kids mostly under 12 living in subsidised housing in the Illawarra/South Coast region of NSW, Protection conveys fear, hope, sadness and joy in a manner few films ever have. Directors Phillip Crawford and Gemma Parsons were on hand to assist and ultimately corral the footage, but Protection remains purely the vision of ordinary children with vivid imaginations and profound insights into the community and friendships that binds them.

8. MADELINE’S MADELINE (Dir: Josephine Decker; USA, 93 min) Josephine Decker’s coming-of-age drama takes no easy paths – Madeline (Helena Howard) lives on the razor’s edge of teen sanity, hoping a stint in experimental theatre under director Evangeline (Molly Parker), will help her deal with an increasingly erratic mom, Regina (Miranda July). The often non-linear narrative and visual histrionics will drive some to distraction; for others, it will be exhilaratingly abstract and achingly emotional. Howard may be the acting find of 2018. 

7. LETO (SUMMER; Dir: Kirill Serebrennikov; Russia, 126 min) “There is a sprawling sense of time and place to Leto…yet there is not a frame of the film one would want to see excised. The anti-establishment themes and love-conquers-all story beats inherent to the rock/pop biopic genre have been previously explored in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991), Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000) and Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007), but rarely with such heartfelt melancholy, pained romanticism and evocative rendering of time and place.” Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review here.

6. (Dir: Johann Lurf; Austria, 99 min) A master of montage storytelling, Johann Lurf has edited celluloid visions of the night sky and galaxies stretching into deep space from 550 films, creating a record of how directors have pictured the universe since cinema began. No actors and only incidental sound and dialogue as it fits the Austrian’s constructural parameters, ★ is both a breathtaking technical marvel and deeply emotional journey for science-fiction purists. Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with director Johann Lurf here.

5. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (Dirs: Joel & Ethan Coen; USA, 133 min) Playing like a greatest hits package of Coen Bros film styles filtered through their adoration of the western genre, …Buster Scruggs captures Joel and Ethan perfectly melding their consummate craftsmanship with their love for classical American cinema. The mid-section story, ‘The Girl Who Got Rattled’ with Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck, is the most perfect part of a near perfect movie. (Yes, it’s a Netflix film, but it played Cannes first, so watch yer mouth, stranger). 

4. PROSPECT (Dirs: Christopher Caldwell, Zeek Earl; USA, 98 min) Lo-fi tech, pulpy flavoursome dialogue, a dirt-encrusted Star Wars-like aesthetic and a complex surrogate daddy/daughter central relationship are just some of the elements that made Prospect the most engrossing sci-fi thriller of 2018. In a year peppered with breakout star performances from young actresses, Sophie Thatcher as the hard-bitten prospector’s daughter Cee is a revelation. Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with the actress and her directors here.

3. LUZ (Dir: Tilman Singer; Germany, 70 min) It was just to be the thesis submission for film school grad Tilman Singer (hence the 70 min running time), but word soon spread that his chilling horror vision Luz was something special. Through hypnosis, a young cabbie (Luana Velis) recalls the events that led her to a stark meeting room in an undermanned police station. Shot on 16mm and skimming between realities past, present and supernatural, Luz is a bewildering, unique nightmare of a film.

2. CLIMAX (Dir: Gaspar Noé; French | Belgium, 95 min) The old high-school prom “Someone spiked the punch!” dilemma gets the Gaspar Noé spin in Climax; the punch is sangria, the prom is a dance troupe rehearsal peopled by international hotties and the spike is LSD. Frankly, everything seems on acid in this film, even before the sangria is served; the opening dance number, a single-take marvel of twisted limbs and swirling cameras that positively lifts you off your seat, sets the tone and things amp up from there. In his best film since Irreversible, Noé crafts a hallucinogenic descent into drug-induced psychosis, fuelled by the disintegration of social, sexual and moral mores. Enjoy…

1. EIGHTH GRADE (Dir: Bo Burnham; USA, 93 min) Elsie Fisher (hand her the Oscar, please) plays Kayla, a schlubby, pimply, sullen nobody/everybody who springs to life as the star of her own upbeat YouTube show. She espouses life lessons to her audience yet struggles to apply them in her own school or domestic reality. Bo Burnham’s heartbreaking, often harrowing drama has been compared to Todd Solondz’s misanthropic masterpiece Welcome to The Dollhouse, but there is a singular central hopefulness to Kayla’s journey that demands you never lose faith in her; her arc is the most real and affecting in a year of cinema.

     

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: FIRST REFORMED; TULLY; A STAR IS BORN; FIRST LIGHT; COLD WAR; ANNA’S WAR; BLACKKKLANSMAN; AMERICAN ANIMALS; JURASSIC WORLD: FINAL KINGDOM; TRAUMA; MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT; LOVE, SIMON; SUPA MODO; STUCK; MEKTOUB, MY LOVE; CARRIBERRIE; ALPHA.

AND THE WORST…:

5. UNSANE (Dir: Steven Soderbergh; USA, 98 min; pictured, right) and 4. THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB (Dir: Fede Alvarez; USA | UK, 117 min) After TV success in The Crown, Claire Foy was poised for breakout success. Soderbergh’s gimmicky B-clunker Unsane (“Shot on an iPhone!” boasted the marketing) and the DOA franchise reboot The Girl in The Spider’s Web put the brakes on that momentum. She was good in First Man, but it tanked. Tough year for the young starlet.

3. THE PREDATOR (Dir: Shane Black; USA, 107 min) Hopes were high when alumni Shane Black opted back into the Predator franchise, the studio determined to resurrect the series after one too many crappy sequels. Post-production tinkering, tonal clashes and idiotic plotting resulted…in another crappy sequel.

2. OCCUPATION (Dir: Luke Sparke; Australia, 119 min) Overlong, overwrought, overbaked local grab at ID-4 level spectacle, Luke Sparke’s alien invasion malarkey is a fatal miscalculation of the Australian sector’s ability to pull off an effects-heavy actioner. The rubber-suited alien’s attack on a country football match aside, there isn’t an original or coherent thought in the entire shrill, shrieking mess, despite more cornball subplots and clichéd characters than a season of Neighbours. 

1. THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (Dir: Brian Henson; USA, 91 min) About 10 minutes into Brian (son of Jim) Henson’s scummy alternate-LA puppet-private-eye dirge, the audience vibe had changed. We had already moved past the “Oh, this isn’t funny at all” stage, and were beginning to realise that, with 80-odd minutes to go, this Melissa McCarthy vehicle (what was she thinking?) was actually becoming grotesquely unwatchable. And, no, not even bong-pulling fratboys will dig it; no weed is that good.

DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS: THE NUTCRACKER & THE FOUR REALMS; FIFTY SHADES FREED; ELLIPSIS; A WRINKLE IN TIME; PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING; THE MEG.

Monday
Nov262018

HEAVY METAL, ALIEN ROMANCE AND KILLER FAIRIES AMONGST MONSTER FEST HONOREES

A Norwegian death-metal tragi-comedy, a romantic millennial riff on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a sexy Aussie revenge-noir were the eclectic feature film honourees at Monster Fest 2018. The four-day event closed out its 7th season at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova last night, with an awards ceremony/after party that maintained the high spirits and horror community camaraderie that have become synonymous with Australia’s premiere horror film celebration.

A raucous true-life account of the toxic dynamic within an Oslo rock group, Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos was the popular winner of the Golden Monster Award. Featuring a charismatic lead turn by Rory Culkin (pictured, above) as founder of the group Mayhem, whose legacy included genre-defining music, acts of domestic terrorism and murder, the announcement of the film’s win was met with a collective roar of approval from the large crowd, many of whom were metal aficionados energized by just having seen the Closing Night film.

Best International Film was awarded to Jason Stone’s First Light, an alien abduction-themed love story starring Stefanie Scott (pictured, right) as a teenager who returns imbued with special powers and Théodore Pellerin as the love-struck boy who helps her flee. Adapting story beats from Spielberg’s classic UFO tale, Stone deftly melds sci-fi elements, teen romance innocence, blue-collar suburban life and indie sector cool into a deeply affecting fantasy-drama.

David Barker’s Pimped, a dark dramatic thriller in which an act of sexual deception leads to fatal complications, earned the Best Australian Film trophy in a very closely contested category. So tight was the race for the top honour, feature judges Jon Nilsen, Film and Content executive from Event Cinemas, and SCREEN-SPACE managing editor Simon Foster awarded director Robbie Studsor a Special Jury Prize ‘for Artistry and Vision’ for his surreal Perth-shot Oz-noir thriller, Burning Kiss.

Not for the first time in his career, Lars Von Trier proved a divisive influence, with judges split over the worth of his serial killer epic, The House That Jack Built. It would ultimately earn the Dane the Best Director trophy, in a field that also featured S.Craig Zahler for his own controversy-rousing pic Dragged Across Concrete, and Gregory Plotkin for the stylish, crowd-pleasing ‘80s slasher homage Hell Fest. (Pictured, below; Von Trier, centre, with his cast at Cannes, 2018).   

Monster Fest’s commitment to the short form horror narrative was reinforced with a further four award categories honouring truncated terror stories, judged by the team behind the popular Plato’s Cave film show on Melbourne’s 3RRR 102.7 FM. The Best Victorian Short went to Feast on the Young, a dark-hearted ‘woodland nymph’ folk tale from Victorian College of the Arts graduate, Katia Mankuso; the Best Australian Short was won by Joshua Long for his colonial-era creepshow, Post Mortem Mary; and, Santiago Menghini’s kitchen-set nightmare Milk earned Best International Short. Taking the fan-favorite honours for Best Overall Short Film was the Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre, a timely piece of MeToo-inspired pitch-black satire from Finnish filmmaker Ilja Rautsi.

The final award handed out was the Trasharama Golden Lomax, presented by the reliably 'engaging' raconteur Dick Dale, programmer of the iconic 'extreme shorts' program; it was bestowed upon US filmmaker Brian Lonano's BFF Girls. Awarded earlier during the festival was the Best Student Short, which was won by Neuroplug by Deakin University student Caleb Turland. 

 

Thursday
Oct182018

THE AUSTRALIAN DIRECTORS WHO CHANGED THE SCIENCE FICTION UNIVERSE

2018 SCIFI FILM FESTIVAL: Despite a recent run of films that include Zak Hilditch's These Final Hours (2013), Hugh Sullivan's The Infinite Man (2014), The Spierig Brothers' Predestination (2014) and Luke Sparke's Occupation (2018), Australia isn’t traditionally known for its science fiction movies (The Time Guardian...anyone?), but there have been a number of Australian directors who have not just been world class at the genre, but helped to re-define it.


With the 5th annual SciFi Film Festival about to launch in Sydney (featuring no less than six new works from Aussie filmmaking talent), guest contributor STEPHEN VAGG looks at five local filmmakers who have glimpsed the future...

Jim Sharman with The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): In the early 70s there were few hotter theatre directors than Jim Sharman – he was a twenty-something wunderkind whose CV included acclaimed productions of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show. Sharman reprised his theatre work with the 1975 feature film adaptation, adding …Picture to the moniker but maintaining the raucous, anarchic energy of the stage production (pictured, right; Sharman, right, directing Tim Curry). A famous box office disappointment before becoming the most cult-y cult picture of all time, its combination of kitsch, gender fluidity, sexuality, camp and tunes spawned countless imitators and created some of the most devoted fans in cinema history. While Rocky Horror was the world of many, notably Richard O’Brien, Sharman’s stamp was all over it. It wasn’t Sharman’s only venture into sci fi; in Australia he also made Shirley Thompson vs The Aliens (1972), arguably the first local science fiction film (unless you count On the Beach, 1959 or Summer of Secrets, 1976). Despite Rocky Horror being a game changer, Sharman hasn’t made a feature since the dire reception afforded the film’s sequel, Shock Treatment, in 1981.

Peter Weir with Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975): Picnic doesn’t have a reputation as a science fiction film – people generally consider if more of a mystery or period drama.  And yet, it’s a mystery that’s never solved about an event that never happened. Natalie Dormer, star of the recent mini series remake, calls the story science fiction… and the unpublished final chapter of Joan Lindsay’s novel is definitely science fiction. What no one denies is the film’s influence – it has affected countless other works dealing with death, femininity and adolescent sexuality, notably the themes of Sofia Coppola's finest work. Weir’s earlier The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) is also kind-of-sci-fi, which seems to have directly influenced the design for Death Race 2000 (1975). It’s strange Weir (pictured, above; Weir with actress Rachel Roberts) doesn’t work in this area more often, especially considering two of his best films were science fiction-esque, The Last Wave (1977) and The Truman Show (1998).

George Miller with Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2 (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985): The Mad Max series can’t really claim to have invented the post apocalyptic road movie – that was already present in films like Damnation Alley (1976) and Deathsport (1978) – but those films remain that genre’s touchstone. Brilliantly transplanting Western tropes to a futuristic setting, they redefined the sci fi action film, especially Mad Max 2, and set new standards for world building and chase sequences which, to be honest, are still rarely matched, except by Miller himself in the most recent Mad Max Fury Road (2015). You can see the influence of Miller and Max on countless other films, books, TV series, video games, comic books, rock bands, directors… they revolutionised a genre.

Russell Mulcahy with Highlander (1986): In the mid 80s Russell Mulcahy was probably the most famous video clip director in the world thanks to his ground-breaking work with the likes of Duran Duran, Elton John, Spandau Ballet and Billy Joel, among many others (Ed: he directed the first video ever played on MTV, The Buggles’ 'Video Killed the Radio Star'). He made his feature debut with the visually stunning Razorback (1984) then followed it with this fascinating swashbuckler-sci-fi-fantasy-time-travel hybrid, starring Christopher Lambert (the US-born, Swiss-raised Parisian playing Scottish) and Sean Connery (the world’s most famous Scot…playing Spanish). The film was a box office disappointment at the time but became a major cult success, leading to a franchise of sequels (Mulcahy returned to helm the much-derided #2 in 1991)  and TV spin offs. Mulcahy backed away from sci-fi during his busy Hollywood heyday (Ricochet, 1991; Blue Ice, 1992; The Real McCoy, 1993; The Shadow, 1994), only to return to the genre in 2007 with Resident Evil: Extinction. (Pictured, above; Mulcahy, left, on-set with Connery).

Alex Proyas with The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998): Proyas’ talent was clear from his early video clips (amongst them the Crowded House classics 'Don’t Dream It’s Over' and 'Better be Home Soon') and his debut feature, Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1988), but he was not that well known to wide cinema audiences until he made The Crow (1994), a visually dazzling work overshadowed by the tragedy of Brandon Lee’s death. Proyas confirmed his promise with the stunning Dark City (1998), which helped define “emo sci fi” of the ‘90s and ‘00s, including the films of Christopher Nolan and the Aussie-shot The Matrix (1999). He scored big with the Will Smith sci-fi starrer I, Robot (2004), but stumbled with his genre follow-ups (Knowing, 2009, with Nicholas Cage; the ill-fated Gods of Egypt, 2016). Perhaps weighted down by the studio restrictions that ironically come with big budgets (his unfilmed project Paradise Lost is one of the greatest “if only” films of Australian cinema), Proyas is still young enough to come up with a few more classic films.

STEPHEN VAGG is a scriptwriter, journalist and commentator who divides his professional time between Los Angeles, Sydney and Brisbane. He graduated from the Australian Film Television and Radio School with a Masters Degree in Screenwriting and has worked for FremantleMedia, Network 7 and Network 10. His feature film screenplays All My Frends Are Leaving Brisbane (2007) and Jucy (2010) were directed by his wife, Louise Alston. In 2010, his book Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood was published.