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Of the many adoring obituaries that have been published to commemorate the sad passing of cherished actress Wendy Hughes, very few have detailed the troubled project that would be her American film debut, Happy New Year.

Wendy Hughes had become one of the most beloved screen actresses working in Australia after a run of critically lauded hit films, emerging as a central figure in a period of production referred to as the ‘Australian Film Renaissance’. Having built her reputation on films such as Petersen, Newsfront, My Brilliant Career, Hoodwink, Lonely Hearts, Careful He Might Hear You and An Indecent Obsession and dominated the small-screen during the mini-series boom period (Power Without Glory; Lucinda Brayford; Return to Eden), Hughes secured an LA agent and ventured to Hollywood.

At the height of Hollywood’s obsession with French remakes, journeyman director John G Avildsen (Joe; Save the Tiger; Rocky; Neighbors: pictured, right) was preparing a remake of Claude Lelouch’s delightful 1973 farce, La Bonne Annee. Hoping to tap into the successful trend of hit remakes such as Three Men and a Baby, Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Three Fugitives, Columbia Pictures greenlit the jewelry heist romantic comedy Happy New Year, based on a script by Nancy Dowd (working under the pseudonym ‘Warren Lane’) and starring funnyman Peter Falk, character actor Charles Durning and Brit import Tom Courtenay. Wendy Hughes, with barely a US credit to her name, was cast as the romantic foil, Carolyn.

In a 2007 interview, Hughes recalled the daunting nature of filming a big Hollywood studio comedy after a decade of small Australian films. “It just used to terrify me, because you'd go on and do an intimate little scene and there'd be 200 crew behind the camera, or a hundred people, and that I found intimidating. Normally we have five or something,” she said. “(Projects of) that bigger scale, can be really, um...well, for me, sort of intimidating.”

Despite her reservations, the shoot went relatively smoothly; principal photography wrapped in mid-1985. Falk (pictured, top and left; with Hughes) gives a wonderful comic performance, donning heavy make-up to play both an elderly woman and grumpy old man (the picture would earn a single Oscar nomination for Robert Laden’s prosthetic effects). The chemistry between the cast is strong, with Hughes contributing a sweet but strong-willed turn and matching her more experienced old-school comedy stars stride for stride.

But Avildsen’s comedy soon found itself hog-tied by a dispute between the director and the studio. Delays in post-production forced Avildsen into conflict with his current project, The Karate Kid Part II; contractually bound to finish the martial arts crowd-pleaser for a summer release date, Columbia rode roughshod and shelved Happy New Year until Avildsen delivered the Ralph Macchio sequel.

By the time Avildsen returned to Happy New Year, the studio was involved in one of the most turbulent boardroom power struggles in Hollywood history: after a merry-go-round of executive ‘hires and fires’ following Coca-Cola’s purchase of the studio in 1982 and studio head Frank Price’s departure in 1983, projects that carried the baggage of past administrations were giving little support. By the time British producer David Puttnam assumed the mantle of studio head in 1986 and oversaw production and PR nightmares such as Ishtar and Leonard Part 6, the fate of Happy New Year was sealed.

Wendy Hughes’ US debut had become ‘cinema non grata’ to the new regime. Happy New Year surfaced briefly in the dumping ground that is the late summer theatrical schedule; it debuted August 7, 1987, in a mere 40 theatres and would play out its cinema run in 7 days, grossing US$41,232.00. It found favour on VHS in the rental boom period and is fondly remembered by those that saw it but, to date, has received no studio-backed DVD release (it is currently downloadable via Amazon Prime).

Wendy Hughes (pictured, right; with Falk) was noticed by the handful of analysts who saw the film. Critic John Varley described her as, “a cool Grace Kelly type who should be better known by now”; Carrie Rickey in The Philadelphia Enquirer, declared, “Hughes is, with Judy Davis and Mel Gibson, one of Australia's greatest gifts to the screen.” She would work intermittently in the US (opposite Kevin Kline and Jim Broadbent in the 1994 film, Princess Caraboo; guest stints on TV series Homicide and Star Trek: The Next Generation), but it would be her homeland that truly embraced and benefitted from her extraordinary talent.

Wendy Hughes passed away on March 8 after a battle with cancer. She was 61. 



Harold Ramis, the Chicago born comic who rose from the legendary stable of Second City performers to become one of his generation’s most iconic comedic figures, passed away on February 24 after a four year fight with the rare disease auto immune inflammatory vasculitis; he was 69. SCREEN-SPACE honours the great funny man with a look back at a career peppered with some of the most beloved moments in American comedies of all time…

TVTV at the Super Bowl:

Ramis and comedy cohorts Bill Murray, Christopher Guest and Brian Doyle-Murray were given unprecedented access to the locker rooms and lives of the players, coaching staff and fans in the lead-up to 1976 Super Bowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. The result was freeform faux-journalism at the dawn of television’s big-money commitment to sports coverage, predating the current cable net comedy giants by over three decades. Ramis shared multiple duties with a pre-SNL Murray and pre-Spinal Tap Guest, but it would be his skill and timing as director that shone through (watch the full video here). It lead to him overseeing such comedy classics as National Lampoon's Vacation (1983; pictured, right, the director on-set), the Al Franken SNL spin-off Stuart Saves His Family (1995), Multiplicity (1996) with Michael Keaton, the remake of Bedazzled (2000) and the John Cusack film, The Ice Harvest (2005).  

The Screenwriter - Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes:
Having served as Head Writer on the television offshoot of the improv troop Second City, Ramis co-wrote one of the most successful comedies of all time, the John Landis directed Animal House (1978). He tailored the part of frathouse wildman Bluto for his good friend John Belushi, with whom Ramis had been sharing the Second City stage since 1972. The films blockbuster status opened doors for the young writer; in quick succession, his scripts for Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980) and Stripes (1981) were in production. Other Ramis scripts included Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School, Robin Williams’ Club Paradise and John Candy’s Armed and Dangerous (all 1986); Analyze This (1999) and its sequel, Analyze That (2002); and, his final bigscreen effort, the 2009 Jack Black/Michael Cera farce, Year One.

When Harry met Billy…:
By the time Bill Murray and Harold Ramis played opposite each other in Ivan Reitman’s Stripes, they had been inspiring each other’s unique talents for a decade. Ramis arrived in New York from Chicago in 1972 and was soon working alongside Murray on The National Lampoon Radio Hour. Ramis’ script for Meatballs provided Murray with his breakout hit; their late-night improv sessions led to Murray’s Carl the Groundsman in Ramis’ directorial debut, Caddyshack. When Dan Aykroyd presented Ramis and Murray with his dark, edgy script about a trio of paranormal investigators in NYC, Ramis worked on lengthy rewrites to better accommodate the three actors distinctive stylings; Ghostbusters (1984; pictured, right) would become the most successful comedy of all time.

“Don’t drive angry!”:
When Ramis came on board to direct Danny Rubin’s script for Groundhog Day, he tweaked the concept considerably (among other things, Rubin’s script began in the midst of one of Phil’s repeated days) and set about finding a leading man. Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks and John Travolta all tested, but Ramis felt all played too ‘nice’. Bill Murray was approached and the film, along with their Ghostbuster collaborations, became an iconic work for which both will be forever remembered. In 2007, the films status as an American classic was ensured when it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.

The Great Straight Man:
“The moment I knew I wouldn't be any huge comedy star was when I got on stage with John Belushi for the first time," Ramis told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. “"I stopped being the zany. I let John be the zany. I learned that my thing was lobbing in great lines here and there, which would score big and keep me there on the stage." From his debut as Russell Ziskey in Stripes (featured, above), Ramis made the absolute utmost of every part he played. He was one of cinema’s greatest straight-faced comedy leads as Dr Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters; other notable film appearances included Baby Boom (1987), Love Affair (1994), As Good as It Gets (1997), Orange County (2002) and Knocked Up (2007).

Harold Ramis was surrounded by family and friends when he passed away at 12:53am on February 24. He is survived by his wife, Erica Mann Ramis.



Hollywood is mourning the loss of Tom Sherak, the industry executive and philanthropist whose reputation as one of the cutthroat LA industry’s nicest men was beyond reproach. Passing away on Tuesday at the age of 68, Sherak’s death was not sudden, as he had been bravely fighting prostate cancer for over a decade; his family and friends were gathered for his final moments at his home in Calabasas, California. But the industry grief is profound, a testament to the legacy that Sherak left behind after five decades in ‘the biz’. SCREEN-SPACE honours the man with a look at the defining moments of Tom Sherak’s career…

THE 20TH CENTURY FOX YEARS: Sherak served under the legendary Robert Evan’s in Paramount’s distribution division in the early 1970s (upon hearing of Sherak’s passing, Evan’s tweeted, “He singularly raised the bar of integrity with those of us who were lucky enough to know him. What a fine human being.") before a stint as chief film buyer for General Cinema. But it would be Sherak’s ascension through the corporate ranks of 20th Century Fox, first as President of Domestic Distribution & Marketing, followed by Senior Executive Vice President and ultimately Chairman of the film division’s domestic operations, that would consolidate his status amongst the industry’s great executives. From the early 1980’s until his departure in 2000 (Sherak once noted that he survived 10 regime changes), he oversaw a roster of films that included Romancing the Stone, Aliens, Broadcast News, Wall Street, Die Hard, Home Alone, There’s Something About Mary, Edward Scissorhands, The Fly, True Lies, Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, Speed, Predator and Titanic. When George Lucas (pictured, right: with Sherak) began taking meetings to negotiate the domestic distribution rights for Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Sherak made a short film in which he starred as a Luke Skywalker-type hero; it was called ‘Episode VII -- The Distribution Wars’. Lucas issued a statement soon after the Sherak's passing, stating ""Tom's passion for everything he did made him an inspiration to work with. His boundless enthusiasm for Star Wars earned him an honorary Jedi master title."

THE EVOLUTION OF REVOLUTION STUDIOS: Sherak’s departure from the Fox fold in 2000 led to his involvement as an equity partner in Revolution Studios, a high-profile start-up venture that was the brainchild of Joe Roth. Roth had been chairman of 20th Century Fox from 1989 to 1993 and worked closely with Sherak; the pair would shepherd such films as XXX, Black Hawk Down, Punch Drunk Love, Maid in Manhattan, The Missing, Anger Management, Hellboy (pictured, right: director Guillermo del Toro with Sherak), Rocky Balboa, Click and the ambitious Julie Taymor vision, Across the Universe. The pairing was not without its commercial and critical misfires (Gigli, Hollywood Homicide, Zoom, Next, Rent), but, due in no small part to Sherak’s sense of old-school showmanship and business acumen, turned solid profits on a slate of low-brow/low-cost comedies (The Animal, The Master of Disguise, Daddy Day Care, 13 Going On 30, The Benchwarmers) and minor genre works with major star power (Halle Berry and Bruce Willis in Perfect Strangers; Julianne Moore in The Forgotten). Revolution ceased its film operations in late 2007.

THE AMPAS PRESIDENCY: After a stint as Treasurer and an ongoing seat on the Board of Governors, Tom Sherak was elected President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science in 2009. He moved swiftly to reform the Oscars ceremony, which was in danger of becoming an irrelevant relic of Old Hollywood. He would be instrumental in expanding the Best Picture nominees from five to ten, allowing for more audience-friendly fare to feature; negotiated primetime broadcast agreements that will last until 2020; set in motion a long relationship with the state-of-the-art Dolby Theatre as the event venue; and, forged a relationship with the LA County Museum that will result in an extensive film museum, the first of its kind in Hollywood, designed by architects Zoltan Pali and Pulitzer Prize-winner Renzo Piano. Having served three consecutive terms, he stood down in 2012 having cannily handled the James Franco/Anne Hathaway hosting debacle and Brett Ratner/Eddie Murphy storm; he announced his departure by issuing a heartfelt letter of resignation to the membership.

THE PHILANTHROPIST: Tom Sherak’s daughter Melissa (pictured, right: with her father) was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993. As his career soared at Fox, his family life was under tremendous strain. But he rallied in the face of adversity and had soon organized a charity event to help sufferers of MS from all walks of life. As chairman of the annual MS Dinner of Champions, he would draw donations in excess of US$45million to the cause. In September 2013, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti bestowed upon Sherak the role of ‘film czar’, his primary duty to draw production activity  back to the city he loved most of all; for this enormous task, he asked for an annual salary of US1.00

Sherak dealt with his disease for 12 years, though rarely mentioned it in public.  At the Academy Governor’s Awards in November 2011, he drank a toast to the late cancer victim Laura Ziskin, honouring the example she set with her strength and personality “for all of us who have struggled with cancer.” Sherak was due to attend the unveiling of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 14; the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce arranged to have the monument brought to his bedside ahead of the ceremony.

Tom Sherak is survived by Madeleine, his wife of 45 years, and their children Melissa, Barbara and William.



In the mid 1980s, few actors had the career trajectory of Kevin Costner. The Californian native was establishing himself as Hollywood’s latest ‘Golden Boy’; a charismatic, compelling screen presence exuding savvy industry smarts combined with a fierce determination to succeed. He would soar to Oscar-winning heights, plummet to unbankable lows and now, with three films set for release, is in the midst of a well-orchestrated career resurgence.

Costner threw in a corporate marketing career to back his talent in Hollywood. Legend has it that a chance encounter with the late Richard Burton, during which the notorious Welsh actor loudly encouraged him to follow his dream while sharing a seat on a commuter flight, was the turning point for the then twenty -something Costner.

However, the early years were a slog. His debut, Richard Brander’s Sizzle Beach USA (aka Malibu Hot Summer; pictured, left), was an exploitation cheapie filled with soft-core nudity that surfaced in 1981 but was reportedly filmed in 1978. Bit parts in Chasing Dreams, Ron Howard’s Night Shift, the Hollywood biopic Frances and the Jon Voigt vehicle Table for Five paid the bills, but Costner was not being noticed by casting agents. His congenial good looks and laidback ease in front of the camera suggested his range was limited.

This all changed in 1983. Having scored a lead role in the forgettable gambling comedy, Stacy’s Knights, he befriended director Jim Wilson, establishing a friendship that would lead to a production partnership named Tig Productions. Costner generated industry heat with a small but potent role in Lynne Littman’s nuclear-war drama, Testament. But it was as Alex, the college friend whose suicide brings the ensemble of characters together in Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, that Costner would find his breakthrough role; ironically, flashback scenes involving Costner were entirely cut from the film, but the director was suitably impressed. Kasdan let Costner steal every scene as ace gunslinger Jake in his acclaimed 1985 western, Silverado (featured, below).

It would be the year that audiences accepted Kevin Costner as leading man material. Long-time friend, Kevin Reynolds, directed him in the college road-trip cult favourite, Fandango; John Badham captured him at his smouldering best in the sports drama, American Flyers. And Steven Spielberg applied his magical touch by casting him in the pilot episode of the anthology TV series, Amazing Stories (pictured, right).

By the turn of the decade, Kevin Costner was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. In 1987, he fronted Roger Donaldson’s sleeper hit, No Way Out, opposite Gene Hackman (featured, below; the actor being interviewed for the films release); Brian De Palma found in the actor his Eliot Ness,  the unshakeable moral core of the gangster classic, The Untouchables. Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham solidified the actor’s sex symbol status, the heat generated opposite Susan Sarandon as on-the-slide baseball star Crash Davis a highlight of the cinema year; the All-American goodness of the actor infused Field of Dreams, helping to make the gentle fantasy-drama Costner’s biggest hit to date.

Despite the hiccup that was Tony Scott’s Revenge, a trouble-plagued shoot that audiences ignored, 1990 was the year that Costner reached the pinnacle of Hollywood’s power elite. His directorial debut, the 3 hour western Dances with Wolves (featured, below), defied all expectations; at a time when the genre was considered box office poison, it would win seven Oscars, including Picture and Director, and gross $500million worldwide. Costner could do no wrong; in quick succession, he hit big with Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Oliver Stone’s JFK and the blockbuster romance, The Bodyguard, opposite friend Whitney Houston.

Career wobbles beset Costner when he decided to broaden his range. A dark, violent turn as an escaped convict in Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World was a critical hit, but the public liked their Costner squeaky clean and heroic; it bombed. Kasdan’s dark, mythic western, Wyatt Earp, with a grizzled Costner in the lead role, was an expensive dud; Jon Avnet’s The War, in which Costner played a troubled Vietnam vet trying to raise Elijah Wood, was DOA.

Costner then undertook the project that would redefine his career. The mega-budgeted action epic Waterworld would garner headlines beyond the bitchy trade papers; its spiralling cost became the thing of legend, the money-pit production problems earning it the moniker, ‘Kevin’s Gate’. Contrary to popular belief, it did not bomb when it finally hit theatres in 1995, though the cost overruns certainly prevented it from turning a profit.

He reteamed with Shelton for the likable golfing comedy, Tin Cup, in 1996. But his standing hit rock-bottom a year later when The Postman, a wildly over-indulgent post-apocalyptic adventure that he starred in and directed, got scathing reviews and withered away at the box-office (the US$18million return on its US$80million budget means it is a far greater financial blackhole than Waterworld ever was). Costner’s fan base eroded further in the wake of a costly, high profile divorce from his sweetheart bride, Cindy.

The next decade saw Costner working, though the output seemed mostly directionless. He exhibited strong character actor traits in Thirteen Days (2000), the terrific Open Range (2003), opposite Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger (2005) and as part of the ensemble in Company Men (2010), but mostly coasted in underwhelming vehicles that failed to restore his lustre (Message in a Bottle, 1999; For Love of the Game, 1999; 3000 Miles to Graceland, 2001; Dragonfly, 2002 [pictured, right]; Rumor Has It, 2005; The Guardian, 2006; Mr Brooks, 2007; Swing Vote, 2008; The New Daughter, 2009).

It would be television, a medium that Costner had steered clear of since his Amazing Stories episode 28 years ago, that began the resurrection of Kevin Costner’s industry standing. His 2012 mini-series passion project, Hatfields & McCoys, was a ratings juggernaut and would earn Costner the Best Actor gongs at the Golden Globe, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild ceremonies.

Fresh bigscreen opportunities beckoned; Zach Snyder played upon Costner’s down home warmth, casting him as Pa Kent in Man of Steel. He will next be seen as mentor William Harper in director Kenneth Branagh’s franchise reboot, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (pictured, left), opposite Chris Pine and Keira Knightley, the role a vote of confidence from the studio heads who would not back him for most of the last decade. On its heels will be two films that recast Costner in mature leading man roles – Ivan Reitman’s rousing NFL drama, Draft Day, and the violent Taken-type actioner, 3 Days to Kill (featured, below), from producer Luc Besson. Beyond that, he softens his image by reteaming with Upside of Anger director Mike Binder for the tearjerker Black and White before returning to the sports film arena in New Zealand director Niki Caro’s track-&-field tale, McFarland.

Over the lean years, Kevin Costner lost none of the drive that took him to the top of the Hollywood pecking-order. But with age (he turns 59 on January 18), he has softened; the backlash he suffered in the eyes of the industry and the audience (his detractors cite a ruthless brashness and egotistical air weaknesses) has waned. He is slipping comfortably into the role of consummate professional and learned statesmen within the studio system. With nothing left to prove, Kevin Costner appears to be embracing the next phase of his career with grace and humility.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens January 16 in Australia and North America. 



We have all perused those Best Of… and Worst Of… lists over the years, and in 2013 the web is flooded with them. But what about those movies that fall in between; the films that weren’t quite good enough to make the grade but were far better than anyone had any right expect. SCREEN-SPACE slaps the backs of ten movies that were never serious contenders for the end-of-year honour lists, but were a whole lot better than any of us thought they would be…

Michael Bay’s oeuvre encapsulates muscle-headed tributes to all-American machismo (Bad Boys; Armageddon; Pearl Harbour; the Transformers trilogy). Who would have thought that he had within himself a smart, scathing satire of that very mindset? That he wrangled dimwitted action-movie poster-boys Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson (pictured, above) to sell the gag is as inspired as the conceit itself. Sort of Get Shorty crossed with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

“Don’t touch it,” screamed the holier-than-thou webheads who rose up in defiance of Fede Alvarez’s remake of Sam Raimi’s low-budget horror classic. “F*** you!” said Alvarez, who delivered an R-rated, high-octane splatterfest gem that both honours the anarchic energy of the original and the expectations of the fan base who hold the series in such high regard. 

Scott Stewart’s slow-burn, small-scale, suburban-set alien invasion-meets-haunted house thriller bombed (it went straight to DVD in most territories). Yet this expertly-crafted story of a terrorised family and the phenomenon that befalls them is a goose-pimply joyride that rewards the patient viewer; The Conjuring wooed the ticket buyers, but Dark Skies is a better film. Keri Russell channels Poltergeist’s Jobeth Williams as the every-mom coping with unwanted intruders.

The Gen-Y cynicism of director Jonathan Levine (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane; The Wackness; 50/50) meets the romantic warmth of author Isaac Marion; the result is Romeo-&-Juliet for The Walking Dead generation. Scary, funny and sweet in equal measure, Warm Bodies preaches ‘love the one you’re with’ to a movie-going demographic that that seeks out both thrills and truths.

It proved impenetrably dense for the mainstream mindset (the US box office topped out at US$27million), but the Wachowski’s weren’t pandering to the multiplex mentality; how they convinced Warner Bros to back this project is anyone’s guess. The upshot is that the sibling’s extraordinary vision of David Mitchell’s novel now exists in that rarefied realm that includes Brazil and Waterworld; expansive, ambitious visions that with a derisive repuatation yet have established a fierce following. 

Zach Clark’s pitch-black Christmas tale is dark Yule-tide classic; sort of an ‘It’s a Not So Wonderful Life’. As real-estate agent/Donna Reed wannabe Suzanne Barrington, Anna Margaret Hollyman should get Oscar attention, but won’t; her journey from WASP princess to drugged-up orgy participant to fully rounded self-fulfiller is 2013’s strongest character arc.

A nutty narrative about an alien invasion that fails because ‘they’ fall in love with our capacity for love and music draws you in; the soundtrack provides the greatest toe-tapping moments in 2013. The most wonderfully engaging comedy this year.

US cinema had Argo, Ben Affleck’s zippy, giddy cinematic poltical thriller. International cinema had Shoojit Sircar’s volatile Madras Café , a work that blends fictional construct and factual background to form a deeply humanistic take on regional conflict. John Abraham is a great lead, mixing action-hero muscle with conflicted moral foil.

The best Australian actress on screen this year was Sharni Vinson. As the ‘final-girl’ archetype at the heart of Adam Wingard’s home-invasion bloodbath, Vinson resurrected the ballsy action-heroine lead character that once belonged to Sigourney Weaver. This gory, funny, terrifying film didn’t start as her star-making vehicle, but by the final frame, she emerged every bit the next decade’s Jamie Lee-Curtis.  

Director James Ponsoldt’s adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel is as potent a study of alcoholism as Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas. But it also encompasses teenage alienation, first love anxiety and familial discourse; why is this stunning work not an Oscar front-runner? Leading man Miles Teller is this generation’s Tom Hanks; Shailene Woodley outdoes her Oscar-nominated turn in The Descendants.