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Wednesday
May102017

PREVIEW: 64th SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL

A picturesque seaside backdrop is just one of the key assets that the 2017 Sydney Film Festival will share with the 70th edition of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Ten films will jet in directly from their French screenings to bolster the 64th Harbour City cinematic celebration, which launches June 7 with 2009 Camera d’Or winner Warwick Thornton’s documentary, We Don’t Need a Map.

Four films having their Australian premieres at Sydney are in contention for the coveted Palme d’Or. They are Sofia Coppola’s highly anticipated southern gothic thriller, The Beguiled; Fatih Akin’s revenge-themed terrorist drama, In The Fade, starring Diane Kruger; the latest from Austrian master Michael Haneke, Happy End, with international superstar Isabelle Huppert; and, from South Korean genre maestro Bong Joon-ho, the drama Okja (pictured, above), boasting international stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and An Seo-hyun. The director will be in attendance to introduce the film, which has been selected to close the festival on June 18.

Four more films heading to Oz from The Croisette are directorial debuts. Wind River is a rural thriller starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen and directed by Taylor Sheridan, the acclaimed screenwriter of 2016 Oscar nominee Hell or High Water; the New Jersey set black comedy Patti Cake$, starring Australian Danielle McDonald, from first-time helmer Geremy Jasper; SNL star Kyle Mooney plays the bear-suited outsider in Dave McCary’s offbeat character comedy, Brigsby Bear; and 80 year-old acting great Vanessa Redgrave will attend in support of her directing debut, the refugee crisis doco Sea Sorrow.

The other Cannes titles are Napalm, a personal glimpse inside North Korean society from legendary documentarian, 91 year-old Claude Lanzmann (Shoah, 1985; The Last of The Unjust, 2013); and an immaculate new print of Belle de Jour, Luis Bunuel’s 1967 masterpiece starring Catherine Deneuve which is headlining the Cannes Classic restoration program.

Twelve films will vie for the Official Competition top spot, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2017. In addition to The Beguiled, We Don’t Need a Map and Happy End, the competition line-up includes the Alain Gomis’ Felicitie, Silver Bear Grand Jury winner at the Berlinale; Raoul Peck’s searing documentary I Am Not Your Negro, narrated by Samuel Jackson (read the Screen-Space review here); the Georgian-set empowerment tale Happy Family, from filmmakers Nana & Simon; Berlinale Golden Bear winner On Body and Soul, from Hungarian auteur Ildiko Enyedi; Aki Kaurismaki’s latest, the warm and insightful friendship story The Other Side of Hope; Kirsten Tan’s one-man-and-his-elephant heartwarmer Pop Aye, a Sundance screenwriting honouree; Australian theatre heavyweight Benedict Andrews controversial battle-of-the sexes thriller Una, with Ben Mendelsohn and Rooney Mara; the fearlessly challenging erotic sci-fi drama The Untamed, from Mexican director Amat Escalante; the debut feature by Afghani filmmaker Shahrbanoo Sadat, Wolf and Sheep, a work that earned her the 2016 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight prize.

Sydney programmers have snared 18 World Premiere feature film screenings for the 2017 line-up. These include two works from director Kriv Stenders – Australia Day, his incendiary drama that probes the racial tensions and multicultural stereotypes that have come to define our society; and, the rock band documentary The Go-Betweens: Right Here. Other global firsts include actor David Wenham’s directorial debut, Ellipsis; Rhiannon Bannenberg’s teenage beachside drama, Rip Tide; sci-fi thriller Otherlife from Ben C Lucas; renowned documentary filmmaker Tom Zubrycki’s latest, the Sudanese refugee story Hope Road; and Amanda Sthers’ French production Madame, starring Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel.

Across a vast programme that boasts 288 films (long- and short-form) from 59 countries, visions that arrive with considerable critical and commercial cache include David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, Cedric Klapisch’s Back to Burgundy, Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait, Christian Mungiu’s Graduation, Eduardo Roy Jnr’s Ordinary People, Eleanor Coppola’s Paris Can Wait (pictured, right), Doug Liman’s The Wall and Lav Diaz’s The Woman Who Left. The feature documentary selection includes such lauded works as Pascal Lamche’s Winnie, Amanda Lipitz’s Step, Maite Alberdi’s The Grown-Ups, David Borenstein’s Dream Empire and Alexandre O Philippe’s 78/52 (read the Screen-Space review here).

The 2017 sidebar strands are particularly rich, with programming that reflects the festival’s ongoing commitment to diversity, both social and artistic:

  • Europe! Voices of Women in Film: A collaboration with trade paper Screen International and the European Film Promotion initiative, ten new films from the continent’s female director will play SFF 2017. They include works from Ireland (Neasa Ni Chianain’s School Life), Switzerland (Petra Volpe’s The Divine Order), Portugal (Claudia Varejao’s Ama-San) and Macedonia (Teona Strugar Mitevska’s When The Day Had No Name);
  • Feminism & Film: Sydney Women Filmmakers 1970s and ‘80s: Nine films (five features, four shorts) will recall the strong female voice of Australian feminist cinema from decades past. The works include We Aim to Please (1976), Behind Closed Doors (1980) and This Woman is Not a Car (1982);
  • Sounds on Screen: Sold-out sessions are assured in this hugely populat music-themed strand, which this year boasts Nick Broomfield’s revelatory Whitney Houston doco, I Can Be Me (pictured, right) and Michael Winterbottom’s On The Road, which provides unprecedented access to Wolf Alice’s tour of the U.K.
  • Smash It Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Punk Rock 1977-2017: Six features acknowledging the anti-establishment voice include John Waters’ Desperate Living, Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of western Civilization and the Julien Temple/Sex Pistols classics, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle and The Filth and The Fury;
  • Restorations: In addition to Belle de Jour, the Restorations line-up celebrates the career of late Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, with a restored print of his 1997 film A Taste of Cherry and a screening of the 2016 documentary, 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami. Also, three reinvigorated Australian classics will screen – Pat Fiske’s Rocking the Foundations (1985), John Duigans’ The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and Samantha Lang’s The Well (1997);
  • Focus on Canada: In conjunction with the Canadian Government and as part of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, seven Canadian films will screen, including those of visiting directors Ann Marie Fleming (Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming); Simon Lavoie (Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves), Kirsten Carthew (The Sun at Midnight; pictured, right) and producer Christina Fon (Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World);
  • First Nations: A celebration of indigenous film culture, both local and international, the 13-strong line-up boasts works from New Zealand (Florian Habicht’s Brown Lips); Canada (Alethea Arnaquq-Barils’ Angry Inuk; Zacharias Kunuk’s Maliglutit); and, ten films from Australia, including a special event screening of two Season 2 episodes of Wayne Blair’s small-screen hit, Cleverman;
  • Freak Me Out: The always popular genre selection, curated by Richard Kuipers, that this year includes Chris Peckovers’ Better Watch Out (read the Screen-Space review here, under it’s original title Safe Neighbourhood); Joe Lynch’s Mayhem, with Australian actress Samara Weaving; and Portuguese shocker The Forest of Lost Souls, from Jose Pedro Lopes;
  • Essential Kurosawa: Legendary critic and past SFF Director David Stratton presents ten timeless works from the Japanese master, including Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Red Beard, Kagemusha and Ran;
  • Family Films: All ages entertainment features the Oscar nominated My Life as a Zucchini from director Claude Barras and Dash Shaw’s animated feature My Entire High School Sinking into The Sea, voiced by Jason Schwartzman.

A new platform in 2017 is the Screenability initiative. Launched in conjunction with Screen NSW and the Department of Family and Community Services, it provides an outlet for international filmmakers with disabilities to have their work seen by the broad festival audience. Programmed by Sofya Gollan, the strand includes New Zealander Alyx Duncan’s Drumming is Like Thunder, Irish auteur Simon Fitzmaurice’s My Name is Emily, Swiss filmmaker Manuel von Sturler’s Lust for Sight and local talents Stevie Cruz-Martin (Pulse) and Johanna Garvin (Milky Pop Kid).

The 64th Sydney Film Festival will be held June 7-18 at nine venues across Sydney. For full ticketing and session details, visit the official website.

Saturday
Apr222017

SCREEN-SPACE @ 5: MY FAVOURITE SCREEN-SPACE MOMENTS.

April 22 marks the fifth anniversary of this determinedly ad-free and search-engine unfriendly labour-of-love. A warbling discourse of approximately 30,000 film-related words, as a start-up we covered a forgotten Werner Herzog classic, the revival of a kitschy 3D spaghetti western and a review of something called The Avengers – none of which represent the best work I have done. Which begs the question, “What is?” Under the guise of shameless self-congratulation, I zero in on my favourite articles from the five key categories collectively called Screen-Space…

BLOG / ...
The ‘Blog’ content stems from an immediate, instinctive need to write (REMEMBERING BILL PAXTON; TONY SCOTT: UPON REFLECTION…; TIFF AUDIENCES STILL WARM TO THE BIG CHILL) or often random thought patterns (THE FEVER DREAM THAT IS SHARKNADO; WHATEVER HAPPENED TO…? HOLLYWOOD’S MISSING MOVIES; THE RISE AND FALL AND RISE OF KEVIN COSTNER). I had fun taking the great filmmakers down a peg in my 2012 two-parter THE WORST 20 OF CINEMA’S BEST; I still get choked up when I re-read THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS OF MELISSA MATHESON and REMEMBERING HAROLD RAMIS; and, my animosity towards the terrible stereotypes in Madagascar 3 led to ANIMATION IN BLACK AND WHITE: ARE HOLLYWOOD CARTOONS RACIST? I enjoy the silly dialogue I have with myself called IN BOB WE TRUST, in which my sane, informed pro-De Niro voice stands against my dickish De Niro-detractor voice. But the grandest Blog folly I have undertaken is the THE TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS, a mammoth 18,000 word dissection of the 2016 movie year. I had a concept going in, even a few of the categories headings (an In Memoriam list called TEN SOARING SPIRITS; a box office analysis titled SIX STUDIO SCORECARDS), but I soon realised that the daily output required to realise such a project was…daunting. Got it done, though. Earned four Facebook likes, too. 

REVIEWS / ...
If the Review pages have taught me anything, it is, “Don’t piss off misogynists or Seth McFarlane fans.” Scathing reviews of Cassie Jaye’s lopsided MRA doco THE RED PILL and Seth MacFarlane’s non-comedy A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST met a bitter backlash; “Simon, you’re a f***ing moron,” stated one eloquent wordsmith. Similar ill will from THE HOBBIT and MCU fans poured forth when I dissed their heroes, but I embraced their (mostly) respectful counterpoints. I take pride in supporting advocacy works that highlight crucial social issues (BULLY; GIRL RISING; GIVEN; LAST CALL AT THE OASIS; UNDER THE GUN; I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO) and little-seen indie work, for whom a good review can carry festival and marketplace cache (WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CONCRETE; ARROWHEAD; THE QUARANTINE HAUNTINGS; THE HUMAN RACE; SUNDAY; GIRL ASLEEP). Of the 297 reviews, two of which I’m particularly fond are the 2016 Cannes Film Festival opener, Woody Allen’s CAFÉ SOCIETY, and the personal perspective that infused my thoughts on the Brian Wilson biopic, LOVE & MERCY. None have flowed so freely as my 5-star rant for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY; a childhood of conjuring my own expanded Star Wars universe was honoured by Gareth Edwards’ perfect tentpole blockbuster, which I think my words reflected.

FEATURES / ...
‘Features’ has emerged as the flagship section of SCREEN-SPACE, home to the majority of the film festival and award season coverage; all those ‘BEST OF… / WORST OF…’ pieces surface here. It is here you will find the interview content, my favourite part of the job (well, not the transcribing). I recently boasted that my chat with the Raw director, called IN THE FLESH: THE JULIA DUCOURNAU INTERVIEW, was a favourite, which I stand by. Certainly those conducted on the rarefied ground of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival are a highlight, amongst them BOGDAN MIRICI, NICOLE GARCIA, KOJI FUKADA, BRUNO DUMONT and ANURAG KASHYAP. I’ve had the extraordinary good fortune to chat with my film heroes, including actors MICHAEL BIEHN, TOM SKERRITT, TEMUERA MORRISON, MARLON WAYANS, CATHERINE KEENER and MICHAEL PARE; directors GASPAR NOE (Irreversible; Love), RAMIN BAHRANI (99 Homes), COLIN TREVORROW (Safety Not Guaranteed; Jurassic World); CATE SHORTLAND (Lore); cult hero STEVE DE JARNATT (Miracle Mile; Cherry 2000); and, Iranian auteur NIMA JAVIDI (Melbourne). My most enthusiastic interviewee was German director MAIKE BROCHHAUS, who couldn’t believe her X-rated romantic comedy Schnick Schnack Schnuck had been discovered in Australia; actresses ANNA MARGARET HOLLYMAN and NADIR CASELLI were also utterly charming. I am eternally grateful to the many independent sector auteurs who have contributed their time and personality. Arguably my most cherished interview was the face-to-face I had with an energised M NIGHT SHYAMALAN, whom I sat with just as his thriller The Visit was ushering in his career resurgence.

INDUSTRY / ...
Although envisioned as a ‘business section’, the ‘Industry’ pages have allowed for more personal writing. In R.I.P. DAVID HANNAY, I reflected upon the Australian producer’s remarkable career while lamenting the passing of a cherished industry presence; a work colleague from the VHS boom years, retiring distribution veteran Bob Wright granted me his only interview, titled 21ST CENTURY MAN. As he weathered the storm that blows in when a big-budget pic flops, director Alex Proyas vented to me in PROYAS CASTS DARK SHADE OVER OF GODS OF EGYPT DETRACTORS; similarly, Wyrmwood director Kiah Roache-Turner contributed an exclusive self-penned statement on the personal impact of film piracy in ZOMBIES, PIRATES AND ME: A DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT (the only content in our five year history not written by yours truly); and, THE HISTORY OF LGBT CINEMA IN AUSTRALIA PARTS 1 and 2 was the result of an immense research undertaking. The most satisfying of all Industry pages has been FOUNDER OF HANOI FILM HEAVEN REFLECTS ON REEL LEGACY, a melancholy chat with American expat Gerald Hermann and the movie memories he helped create as head of Hanoi Cinematheque, an arthouse outpost in Viet Nam’s bustling metropolis that was scheduled for demolition a matter of weeks after our interview.

HORROR / ...
I created the ‘Horror’ page to house edgier content from my beloved genre without fear of offending visitors. The search for content has led me to the organisers of such internationally renowned horror film festivals as The UK’s Frightfest, Brazil’s Fantaspoa, Toronto’s Midnight Madness, the Freak Me Out section of the Sydney International Film Festival and LA’s Hollywood Horrorfest. No mention of the ‘Horror’ pages would be complete without acknowledgement of Sydney’s A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet and founder Dr Dean Bertram, who has supplied countless screeners and contacts since Day 1; check out this summary of the coverage I afforded ANOH/FP 2013. Ours is a relationship I undertook to honour with the sentimental piece, FEST ALUMNI RECALL GLORY DAYS AS GENRE LOVE-IN TURNS 10. Shout-out to the teams at SUFF, MUFF, Monster Fest and Revelations for all the reciprocal love over the years. ‘Horror’ has been home to young buck directors SEVE SCHELENZ (Peelers), BRYN TILLY (Umbra), DANE MILLERD (There’s Something in The Pillaga), JEFF RENFROE (The Colony), CHRISTOPHER AD CASTILLO (The Diplomat Hotel), JEREMY GARDNER (The Battery) and MICHAEL O’SHEA (The Transfiguration), as well as established greats JON HEWITT (Turkey Shoot, 2015) and TODD FARMER (Jason X). My favourite piece may be CANNES CLASSICS BOWS REFN’S RESTORATION OF BAVA BRILLIANCE, my account of that evening in Cannes when Nicholas Winding Refn presented the 4K makeover of Mario Bava’s Planet of The Vampires.

The future? A long-overdue refit is in order; I’ll be launching the SCREEN-SPACE Online Store in the weeks ahead; and, in true Sally Field fashion, I’ll continue to harangue and harass everyone I meet to LIKE, really LIKE my social media platforms (Facebook here, Twitter there). Thank you, for indulging me this outlet and responding with your kind words of encouragement. And, most importantly, a special thanks to a certain lady friend of infinitely superior talent and standing for supporting all I do here. X  

Thursday
Apr132017

KIDMAN, HAYNES, COPPOLA, HANEKE EARN COMPETITION SLOTS AT CANNES 2017

A Virtual Reality feature from Oscar-winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu, TV projects from festival favourites Jane Campion and David Lynch and the final film from the late Abbas Kiarostami are amongst the works to feature at the 70th Festival de Cannes, it was announced by festival heads Thiery Fremaux and Pierre Lescue at the official press conference in Cannes.


Playing to the gathered press corp, President of the Festival de Cannes Lescue announced the imminent release of a special edition book entitled These Years, comprising observations of the festival experience by 58 learned journalists, before handing the announcement duties over to his offsider. The popular General Delegate Fremaux informed the global audience that this years event, kicking off May 17 under Jury President Pedro Almodovar, would feature 49 works from 29 countries, including nine feature debuts and visions from 12 female directors.

The 18 In Competition films are:
Wonderstruck, Todd Haynes
Le Redoutable, Michel Hazanavicius
The Day After, Hong Sangsoo
Radiance, Naomi Kawase
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos
A Gentle Creature, Sergei Loznitsa
Jupiter’s Moon, Kornél Mundruczó
L’Amant Double, François Ozon
You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay
Good Time, Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie
Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev
The Meyerowitz Stories, Noah Baumbach
In The Fade, Fatih Akin
Okja, Bong Joon-Ho
120 Heartbeats Per Minute, Robin Campillo
The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola
Rodin, Jacques Doillon
Happy End, Michael Haneke

Australian Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman is shaping up as the centrepiece of the 70th anniversary celebrations, with no less than four titles at the festival - Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled (pictured, below) and Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of A Sacred Deer screening In Competition; John Cameron Mitchell's How to Talk to Girls at Parties slated Out of Competition; and, a guest slot in Top of The Lake: China Girl for her Portrait of A Lady director, Jane Campion.
 

The Annonce de la selection officielle got off to a surprising start with the news that Iñárritu would present his VR film, Carne y arena. Other Special Screening news included bigscreen previews of Campion’s Top of The Lake Season 2 and Lynch’s Twin Peaks revival. Abbas Kiarostami's 24 Frames, the project he was working on at the time of his passing, will be presented in full. The Midnight Screening line-up includes two films from the booming South Korean genre industry, Jung Byung-Gil’s The Villainess and Byun Sung-Hyun’s The Merciless; the third slot will be filled by Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s Prayer Before Dawn.

Out of Competition titles are:
Blade of the Immortal, Takashi Miike
How to Talk to Girls at Parties, John Cameron Mitchell
Visages, Villages, JR and Agnès Varda
Opening Night honours have been bestowed upon the Out of Competition selection Les Fantomes D’Ismael (Ismael’s Ghosts) from director Arnaud Desplechin (pictured, below; stars Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg).

Un Certain Regard titles are:
Barbara, Mathieu Amalric
The Desert Bride, Cecilia Atán, Valeria Pivato
Jeune Femme, Léonor Serraille
Dregs, Mohammad Rasoulof
The Nature Of Time, Karim Moussaoui
Before We Vanish, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Out, Gyorgy Kristof
Directions, Stephan Komandarev
Western, Valeska Grisebach
April’s Daughter, Michel Franco
Lucky, Sergio Castellitto
L’atelier, Laurent Cantet
Beauty and the Dogs, Kaouther Ben Hania
Closeness, Kantemir Balagov
After The War, Annarita Zambrano
Wind River, Taylor Sheridan

Prominent amongst the Special Screening line-up is An Inconvenient Sequel (pictured, below), Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s follow-up to the 2006 documentary hit. It was hinted that Al Gore, frontperson for the climate change movement, may attend.
Other event pics include:
Claire’s Camera, Hong Sangsoo
12 Jours, Raymond Depardon
They, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh
Promised Land, Eugene Jarecki
Napalm, Claude Lanzmann
Demons In Paradise, Jude Ratman
Sea Sorrow, Vanessa Redgrave

Monday
Feb272017

REMEMBERING BILL PAXTON

Bill Paxton had the kind of star quality that Hollywood was never able to entirely utilise. When his popularity soared on the back of standout bit parts (The Lords of Discipline, 1983; Streets of Fire, 1984; The Terminator, 1985) and movie-stealing support characters (Weird Science, 1985; Aliens, 1986; Near Dark, 1987), the studio suits shoehorned him into leading man parts that failed to do his unique talent justice. We are grateful for his blockbuster hits, but no one will cite Twister (1996), Titanic (1997) or Mighty Joe Young (1998) as the films that capture what was engagingly ‘wild’ about ‘Wild’ Bill Paxton.

Having passed away at the age of 61, the always-in-demand actor was working up until his death. The cult success of his HBO drama Big Love and the role of Randall McCoy opposite Kevin Costner in the mini-series Hatfield & McCoys ensured that he was always welcome on the small-screen; his latest role was the lead in the series, Training Day. As an industry that respected and a fan base that adored him begins to mourn their loss, we recall his fearless, soaring, often unhinged big-screen performances...

Private Hudson in ALIENS (Dir: James Cameron; 1986)
Cameron met Paxton when they were both working for pennies on the set of a Roger Corman shoot over three decades ago. The director gave the manic young Paxton an on-screen shot as the nameless punk who incurs the merciless wrath of Schwarzenegger’s killing machine in The Terminator (1984). The young actor earned enough industry credibility to secure the role of Chet, the hilariously unhinged militaristic older brother in John Hughes’ Weird Science (1985). When Cameron was casting his sequel to Alien, he called upon his friend to drop the comedic ‘bigness’ of Chet and give full flight to the ‘unhinged military’ side. Paxton stole every scene as Private Hudson, the tough-talking but increasingly terrified marine whose on-screen meltdown and last defiant act of heroism gives the classic sci-fi action-thriller a crucial and soulful human warmth, as well as some of genre cinema's most quoted lines ("Game over, man"; "Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen"; "Why don't you put her in charge!?"; "Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?"). The director and the actor would remain lifelong friends, working together on True Lies (1994), in which Paxton gives one of his funniest performances as the con-man Simon, and as salvage expert Brock Lovett in Titanic (1997). In a statement released overnight, Cameron said of his late friend, “"It was a friendship of laughter, adventure, love of cinema, and mutual respect. He was a good man, a great actor, and a creative dynamo.” (Pictured, above; Paxton, with co-star Michael Biehn, in Aliens)

Severen in NEAR DARK (Dir: Kathryn Bigelow; 1987)
Bigelow and Cameron were romantically linked at the time; she had seen the character work that Paxton had put into creating Hudson and the audience empathy his presence engendered. When casting her modern-western/vampire-noir horror film Near Dark, Bigelow realised his ballsy swagger and imposing masculinity was perfect for the role of sadistic predator Severen, the most heartless of the roaming band of bloodsuckers. She also knew that the chemistry between the Aliens cast was something special, casting Paxton’s co-stars Jenette Goldstein and Lance Henriksen. The film failed to catch on at the box office (it was late to the party in terms of cool vampire pics, with The Lost Boys premiering only two weeks prior), but quickly became a must-watch VHS favourite and remains a cult classic. The bar room bloodbath, during which Paxton utters the line, “I hate it when they don’t shave,” as he feasts on the jugular of an unkempt cowpoke, is unforgettable.    

Gus in THE DARK BACKWARD (Dir: Adam Rifkin; 1991)
Adam Rifkin’s putrid, magnificent take on celebrity culture could not have come at a worse time for Bill Paxton. In the four years since the industry buzz generated off Aliens, he had starred in critically acclaimed work that no one had seen (Near Dark; Pass the Ammo, 1988) and commercial efforts that had underperformed (Slipstream, 1989; Next of Kin, 1989; Navy Seals, 1990; Predator 2, 1990). In hindsight, an occasionally sickening but inspired satire co-starring Judd Nelson as a man who grows a third man out of his back only to be exploited for fame by Paxton’s slimy, grimy garbage man was not the most thought-through career move. But fans of the film (including yours truly, who penned a wordy appreciation in 2014) cite it as the stuff of legend and absolutely crucial to one’s understanding of the appeal of Paxton as an actor. From his Fellini-esque romp with obese prostitutes to his devouring of a rotten chicken leg to his amorous nuzzling of a garbage tip corpse, Paxton is mesmerizingly disgusting yet entirely sympathetic.

Dale ‘Hurricane’ Dixon in ONE FALSE MOVE (Dir: Carl Franklin; 1992)
Hank in A SIMPLE PLAN (Dir: Sam Raimi; 1998)
Dad Meiks in FRAILTY (Dir: Bill Paxton, 2001)
Paxton was a born-and-bred Texan and, as this trilogy of films connected by their rural settings reveal, he never shied away from representing the darkly shaded complexities of life on the land. In Carl Franklin’s indie crime thriller One False Move, Paxton played Sheriff Dale Dixon, the Arkansas lawman whose thrill at working with LAPD investigators is muted when secrets from his past merge with revelations about the case. In A Simple Plan, Sam Raimi’s snowbound tale of mistrust and doublecrosses, Paxton plays the outwardly decent man Hank, whose crumbling morality and descent into a life of compromised principles represents one of the actor’s best roles. By the time he directed and co-starred with Matthew McConnaughey in the chilling religious-themed Frailty in 2001, Paxton was deep inside the minds and hearts of country folk and the angels and demons that occasionally drive them to unforgivable acts of devotion. Roger Ebert recognised Paxton as “a gifted director”, calling Frailty “a complex film that grips us with the intensity of a simple one.”

Astronaut Fred Haise in APOLLO 13 (Dir: Ron Howard; 1995)
Perhaps because his most beloved and successful roles were slightly off-center or perhaps because he just never actively sought them out, Bill Paxton rarely got to play the ‘everyman’ (one exception was Jan de Bont’s blockbuster Twister, though his performance suggests he was a bit disinterested in the thinly-drawn lead role).  When afforded the opportunity by Ron Howard to play the beaming young astronaut Fred Haise in Apollo 13, Paxton revealed a glowing goodness of character and sturdiness of spirit that came to represent the inherent heroism celebrated in the film. If Tom Hanks’ Jim Lovell was the embodiment of good ol’ USA derring-do and Kevin Bacon’s Jack Swigert was the square-jawed non-doubter of the new technology, Paxton was the rest of us, the one for whom space travel was a mystical, soul-enriching journey to the heavens. Not for the first time in his film career, Paxton was the perfect conduit for viewer empathy and engagement. Howard recognised that the actor possessed that rare quality that instantly ingratiated him to audiences. It was an asset that probably cost him A-list fame – stars need to construct an air of mystery and ambiguity about their true character – but it ensured he was and will remain much loved.

Wednesday
Feb222017

NEW ALIEN:COVENANT PLOT, PICS REVEALED TO GLOBAL FAN BASE.

A broad synopsis outlining what we can expect from Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant has been issued by 20th Century Fox, further fueling fan expectation surrounding the the highly anticipated return of the British director to the universe and mythology he made famous 38 years ago.

Released to the global press day-and-date, the coverage reads:  The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape. Pictured above are the principal cast (l-r): Katherine Waterston, Amy Seimetz, Tess Haubrich, Alexander England, Nathaniel Dean, Demián Bichir, James Franco, Danny McBride, Uli Latukefu, Benjamin Rigby, Callie Hernandez, Jussie Smollet, Carmen Ejogo, Billy Crudup and Michael Fassbender.

Earlier reports that surfaced in late 2016 also indicated that ‘David’, the synthetic character played by Michael Fassbender in 2012’s Prometheus, would reappear as the sole inhabitant of the paradise planet. It has been confirmed that in addition to the blonde android, Fassbender will also play Walter, a second synthetic who shares the deep-space craft with the human crew (pictured, above; Fassbender as Walter, with Carmen Ejogo).

Katherine Waterson (pictured, above) takes the central role as the terraforming scientist Daniels, with James Franco as her husband, Branson. Billy Crudup is on board as the captain of the spacecraft, with Danny McBride as the ship’s pilot and a support cast that includes Callie Hernandez, Carmen Ejogo and Oscar nominated Demián Bichir. Holdover cast members from Prometheus include Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth and Guy Pearce as corporate villain Peter Weyland, though Scott has been circumspect as to the size of their contributions.

It is believed that the film is the first of a new trilogy that will conclude in line with the narrative of 1979’s Alien. The events of Prometheus unfolded in 2093, one year after the birth of the original film’s heroine, Ellen Ripley; Covenant will take place in 2103, approximately 19 years before Ripley’s first encounter with the Xenomorph.

Alien:Covenant shot in Sydney at the Fox Studio complex from March to July last year, before exteriors were completed in New Zealand. The projected production costs are estimated at US$150million, a significant proportion of which was invested into the Australian production sector; it is understood close to 600 jobs were created to service the blockbuster shoot. In a press conference to announce the project, Scott (pictured, above, during the shoot) indicated the planned sequels would also shoot Down Under.

 

ALIEN: COVENANT will be released on May 18.