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Tuesday
Aug282012

PAUL REUBENS AT 60

New York native Paul Reubens turned 60 today. For the legion of fans, young and old, who adore his eternally childlike Pee-Wee Herman character, the thought of the actor clocking up six decades is inconceivable.

Many Pee-Wee fans will not know that Reubens is also a much in-demand character actor with co-starring roles in films such as The Blues Brothers, Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams, Mystery Men, Matilda and Batman Returns. SCREEN-SPACE puts aside the red bow-tie and grey suit and re-discovers some of the forgotten roles that Paul Reubens has inhabited over nearly 40 years in showbusiness.

Jack Chudnowski in Pray TV (1980):
Rick Friedberg’s scathing satire of religion-for-profit televangelists featured Reubens as the hairy-chested aerobics instructor Jack Chudnowski opposite Dabney Coleman’s immoral preacher. The origins of the character were in Reubens’ time with the iconic LA improv group, The Groundlings.

Albert/Hara Krishna in Meatballs II (1984):
The altogether unnecessary sequel to Bill Murray’s first hit afforded Reubens some free space to create a strong comedic impression as the bus-driving Albert, who morphs into the platter-spinning DJ Hara Krishna.

Max in Flight of the Navigator (1986):
Credited under the pseudonym ‘Paul Mall’, Reubens voiced the beloved character of Max, the alien spaceship computer, in Randall Kleiser’s much-loved family sci-fi adventure.

Arvid Henry in South of Heaven West of Hell (2000):
In some truly bizarre casting, Reubens played rapist and murderer Arvid Henry in director Dwight Yoakam’s much-maligned cult western, South of Heaven West of Hell, opposite similarly odd casting choices as Michael Jeter and Bud Cort. Despite scathing reviews, most agreed that Reubens stole the film from the likes of Vince Vaughan and Billy Bob Thornton in a characterisation that captured the eccentricity of the film perfectly.

Derek Foreal in Blow (2001; pictured, left):
Continuing his run of scene-stealing support parts, Reubens plays high-flying drug dealer Derek Foreal in Ted Demme’s true-to-life tale of hedonistic player George Jung (Johnny Depp), based upon Bruce Porter's 1993 book Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All.

Frank Baker in The Tripper (2006; pictured, right):
Director David Arquette gathered a great many of his kooky friends together (Courteney Cox, Balthazar getty, Lucas Haas, Jaime King, Jason Mewes) for this slasher send-up. Reubens played concert promoter Frank Baker, the man in charge of a hippie-themed fest that is sterrorised by a killer in Ronald Reagan mask.

Andy in Life During Wartime (2009):
Todd Solondz’ little-seen, pitch-black family dramedy (a sequel-of-sorts to Happiness) called upon Reubens to do some serious character work as Andy, the suicide victim who revisits Joy (Shirley Henderson) in one of the film’s most powerful moments (NSFW).

Tuesday
Aug212012

TONY SCOTT, UPON REFLECTION....

The tragic suicide of British-born filmmaker Tony Scott, 68, in Los Angeles on Sunday August 19, brings into focus his successful career as a Hollywood A-list director. What legacy does his body of work leave?

Though his most successful film became a pop-culture benchmark from my most formative movie-going years, I never considered Tony Scott a ‘great director’.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy his films, many of which were slick, solidly-crafted commercial works. He just always seemed more concerned with the technical over the emotional; with how his films looked and sounded rather than how they felt.  

It is a theory that goes some way to explaining why Tony Scott (pictured, above, with his trademark red cap and 'stoogie') came to prominence in the 1980’s, when the style-over-substance aesthetic dominated American studio films. More than ever, movies had become key elements in profit-driven forecasts; the great studios of yesteryear were being seized by corporations and projects were being greenlit based upon their merchandising potential. It was no wonder that the LA suits should have sought talent from the advertising industry. And at that point, the hottest ad directors were coming out of Britain (below, Scott's Saab commercial).

Tony’s older brother, Ridley, was super-hot after Alien; Adrian Lyne had impressed with the little-seen Jodie Foster film Foxes then hit big with Flashdance. The likes of Julien Temple (Absolute Beginners) and Bernard Rose (Paperhouse) were players in a ‘new wave’ of art-school brats sourced not from TV work or live-theatre prowess, but from ads for Audi and Nike (as well as the booming music-video scene). Even some of the old-school Brits were finding new critical and commercial favour – Alan Parker with Fame, for example, or Hugh Hudson with Chariots of Fire.

Tony Scott had developed a small but passionate following based upon his arty 1983 vampire flick, The Hunger. Despite the marketable combustibility of Catherine Deneuve and then-ingenue Susan Sarandon in a bloodsucking lesbian tryst, the film was largely dismissed by critics and ignored by audiences. It reeked of artifice, every frame filled with smoky atmospherics and billowing curtains, the menace entirely implied but never conveyed (though a guilty pleasure of mine, for all those reasons).

Producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer saw something in Scott’s work that intrigued them (the TVC featured above was their first impression of Scott's work). Richard Gere had passed on the sequel to An Officer and A Gentleman, so Paramount had a fighter-pilot school drama prepped but no momentum. Simpson and Bruckheimer reworked the script into an original story then, with their ultra-commercial instincts in overdrive, took a meeting with Tony Scott….

Top Gun would be one of the biggest hits in Hollywood history. Its combination of 80s Reagan-era nationalism, testosterone-fuelled brio and head-spinning action sent the film into the blockbuster stratosphere. During its initial run, it would sell nearly US$350million in tickets, spawn a #1 soundtrack and drive sales of Ray-ban sunglasses through the roof. Tony Scott the director had delivered in spades; Tony Scott the adman, ditto (pictured, right, on-set with Tom Cruise).

Though shimmery and shallow, Top Gun also reflected a ballsy take on blokey relationships that would become part of Scott’s film signature. In 2012, nobody talks about the central romance, but everybody still talks about the locker-room/volleyball court dynamics of the Maverick/Ice/Goose triangle. Scott next paid some bills with Beverly Hills Cop II, before leaping into a series of films that would feature strong men riffing against each other – Revenge (Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn); Days of Thunder (Cruise again, Michael Rooker); The Last Boy Scout (Bruce Willis, Daman Wayans); Crimson Tide (Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman). His best film, the Quentin Tarantino-penned True Romance, features one of the great man-to-man face-offs in modern cinema – Christopher Walken’s gangster and Dennis Hopper’s damaged but decent everyman (“I haven’t killed anybody, since 1984”).

A quick glance down his list of proficient recent works indicates he never fully moved away from examining male conflict in a genre setting – The Fan (Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes); Unstoppable (Denzel again, Chris Pine), Spy Game (Robert Redford, Brad Pitt), Enemy of the State (Will Smith, Hakman again), The Taking of Pelham 123 (Denzel, John Travolta), Deja Vu (Denzel, Jim Caviezel).

Two works of Scott’s are worthy of deeper consideration in the context of his career. As Creasy in Man on Fire, Denzel was a soulless shell of a man until he grows close to Dakota Fanning, the wise-beyond-her-years little girl he bodyguards. In Domino, Keira Knightley (pictured, right, with her director) plays a hardened bounty hunter who stands alone in the face of a brutal, man-centric world. Fanning and Knightley are Scott’s most fascinating female leads because they represent the yin and yang of how he viewed his men – imposingly smart and physically brave. They are as close as Scott got to fully-rounded female leads. He wasn’t good with women characters in his movies (a directorial trait he recognised and tried to redress by producing the Cameron Diaz/Toni Collette drama, In Her Shoes, and the current TV hit, The Good Wife).

Frankly, Tony Scott had little time for the coarseness of reality. His style – jittery hand-held shots, split-second jump-cuts, garish colours, a general sense of ultra-heightened super-realism – existed to acknowledge and celebrate a view that film was the greatest visual medium and our world was a more interesting place when viewed through a spool-&-sprocket prism. That made it hard for real people to exist in his films or, more precisely, for audiences to become emotionally invested. The world as Tony Scott saw it was a tough, confused, cluttered battlefield of right versus wrong conflicts played out with vivid intensity, yet not altogether coherently.

Contemporaries like brother Ridley had more blockbuster hits and Oscar glory and Adrian Lyne followed a deeper path reflecting less commercial European sensibilities. Tony Scott would make a good living (for a lot of people) by directing palatable studio hits that exhibited little narrative ambition but tremendous prowess. He exhibited far greater storytelling warmth as a producer, most recently shepherding the YouTube humanitarian project Life in a Day to fruition. The directorial role he played will be replaced, but those he entertained will ensure his work won’t be forgotten.

 

Friday
Jul272012

WILL THE DEMISE OF KPATZ PLUNGE DAWN INTO DARKNESS?

It is the strict editorial policy of SCREEN-SPACE not to indulge in salacious celebrity gossip. But when a star’s infidelity threatens to derail the most popular franchise of the decade, the commercial ramifications for Hollywood are worth examining.

It certainly wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that the off-screen actions of a film star will cast a pall over the impending release of a highly-anticipated film. But there was something particularly enthralling to industry analysts when news broke of Kristen Stewart’s sexual betrayal of her real-life beau and Twilight leading man Robert Pattinson (pictured, above).

The revelation that Stewart’s dalliance with director Rupert Sanders (pictured, right), the married 41 year-old father of two who had guided her through the particularly tough shooting schedule on Snow White and The Huntsman, and the subsequent public apology the actress has made to Pattinson were unprecedented in their haste. Many have remarked that it seems entirely at odds with the publicity-shy actress’ usual approach to the media hordes, who have followed her since she was cast as Bella in Summit Entertainment’s series of films based upon Stephanie Meyer’s bestsellers.

One thing is certain. When US magazine published the revelations, agents and executives went into overdrive to save the reputation of Hollywood’s biggest young star and, more importantly to the LA suits, the box office prospects of the final chapter in the series, Breaking Dawn Part 2, which premieres in a blanket worldwide release in mid-November. It is fair to assume that the strategy behind the written statement of regret issued by Stewart’s camp was two-fold: a) it set in motion the damage-control strategies needed to keep the PR mess in check and, b) it kept a mumbling, awkward starlet from facing the global media glare at a time when she was at her most vulnerable.

Stewart’s indiscretion differs from, say, Hugh Grant’s dumb idea to take a hooker in 1995 (pictured, right), or Anjelina Jolie’s snaring of married man Brad Pitt on the set of Mr and Mrs Smith. One was a randy Pom’s naivety on his first big LA trip; the other a secretive and unquantifiable liaison impossible to encapsulate in one fell swoop. Regardless, neither hurt their film’s lustre – the comedy Grant was promoting at the time, the forgettable Nine Months, took US$70million; ‘Brangelina’s troubled action pic hit US$187million.

Saving the Twilight franchise may be easier said than done. Doe-eyed fans of the fairytale romance between the film’s stars have fuelled the combined global take of US$2.6billion. But can they look upon the fictional silver-screen love story with the same passion knowing what they now know? (Watch the trailer below and gauge your own reaction....). To say that the magic of their vampiric union is tarnished is an understatement; images of Twilight fanatics sobbing uncontrollably at the revelations have flooded the web.   

There is the potential for many to lose big on this new scandal. IFC Films faces a major challenge in their marketing of On The Road, Walter Salles prestige adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel, in which Stewart plays a pivotal role  as a sexed-up free-spirit who shares multiple partners (pictured, right, in a promotional still from Cannes 2012). And there is a genuine concern that long-term profit projections on sundry revenue streams such as home-vid and cable for the Twilight films will be dramatically affected, especially if the final chapter falls well below expected blockbuster status.

But it is Kristen Stewart who has the most to lose. A public persona steeped in surliness has not endeared her to reporters, who must be licking their lips at the prospect of bringing her down a peg or two. And Hollywood will be seriously evaluating her bankability should Breaking Dawn Part 2 underperform. This potential dissipation of her rabid fan base must be the greatest concern for Stewart and her entourage. In the eyes of 12-25 year-old female moviegoers around the world, she has gone from the romantic heroine of their generation to the woman who was unfaithful to the dreamily romantic and passionately committed perfect-man, Pattinson. As the dawn breaks on her career post-scandal, the actress may face a rude awakening.

Sunday
Jul152012

OBITUARY / RICHARD D. ZANUCK

Hollywood continues to mourn the loss of one of the true gentlemen of the motion picture industry, Richard D. Zanuck.

The little bit of Hollywood’s last ‘golden era’ also died with the passing of producing giant Richard D. Zanuck, 77, in Los Angeles on Friday, July 13th. The son of the legendary 20th Century Fox Mogul Darryl F Zanuck, the Oscar-winner was one of most commercially savvy money-men in the history of American movie-making but also strove for artistic integrity in even his most mass-marketed entertainments.

Obituaries have been citing the expected list of acclaimed works that put him on the map as well as filtering through the declarations of love and admiration that have been pouring forth from the international industry. "He was one of a kind,” Tom Rothman, co-chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, told trade paper Variety. “He was elegant and urbane and gracious. But he was also determined and feisty and, in the best way possible, opinionated.” Zanuck’s tenure as head of 20th Century Fox was a volatile one. His name was all over such landmark films as The Sound of Music, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The French Connection, but he also suffered through expensive duds like Doctor Dolittle, Star, Hello Dolly, Tora! Tora! Tora! and, most notoriously, Myra Breckenridge. He would ultimately suffer the ignominy of being fired by his father in the wake of huge financial losses, an event which caused a rift in their relationship that would last over a decade.  

He would bounce back in spectacular fashion, however. He ran Warner Bros production arm for a brief time, where he developed such works as Blazing Saddles and The Exorcist, before forming a producing partnership with David Brown in 1972 (their first film – the B-movie cult classic, Sssssss; pictured, right). Within a year, they would be standing on Oscar’s podium with the Best Picture trophy for The Sting. They backed a young director named Steven Spielberg on his debut film, The Sugarland Express, a relationship that would lead them to oversee the biggest film of their careers, Jaws. In a statement issued Friday, Spielberg said, “In 1974, Dick Zanuck and I watched the mechanical shark sink to the bottom of the sea.  Dick turned to me and smiled.  'Gee, I sure hope that's not a sign.' That moment forged a bond between us that lasted nearly 40 years. He taught me everything I know about producing.  He was one of the most honorable and loyal men of our profession and he fought tooth and nail for his directors. Dick Zanuck was a cornerstone of our industry, both in name and in deed."

Zanuck/Brown would become one of Hollywood’s great success stories, with a cache of acclaimed hits including Joseph Sargent’s MacArthur, with Gregory Peck, Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict, Bruce Beresford’s Best Picture-winner Driving Miss Daisy (co-produced with his wife Lili Fini Zanuck, seen below accepting the award) and Ron Howard’s Cocoon. “A filmmaking force I assumed would go on forever,” announced Howard upon hearing of the sad news, “His leadership on Cocoon made a huge difference. He'll be missed.” The pair were awarded The Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1991 and the Producers Guild of America's David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.

In recent years, it has been Tim Burton who has benefitted from Zanuck’s guidance; together they have crafted such films as the Planet of the Apes remake, Big Fish, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Tood, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. “He was like family to me - a mentor, friend and father figure,” Burton said late Friday. “Richard was a completely unique and amazing individual and there will never be anyone else like him."

Zanuck’s was a career that illustrated with precision the ebb and flow of the Hollywood power-player’s influence. There were enormous hits (The Eiger Sanction, Deep Impact, The Road to Perdition) and misjudged misses (The Island, Neighbours, Clean Slate). But the man that was Zanuck rose above his work, in spite of Hollywood’s fickle tendency to define one’s worth by box-office success. His favourite star, Johnny Depp (pictured, right, with Zanuck at the Dark Shadows premiere), honoured his friend with the words, “He was the last of a breed. He was the first producer that I ever experienced actually producing. He would shield the filmmaker from all unnecessary distractions and delicately build an actor's confidence on a daily basis. (He was) an incredibly strong and vital force on and off set, with a genuine kindness toward everyone, regardless of their position.”

Saturday
Jun302012

COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Amongst the comic book afficionados, overly-intense gamers and stall owners spruiking collectible merchandise, a little film festival strengthens its under-the-radar importance.

The annual Comic Con gathering, kicking off its 4 day schedule in San Diego on July 12, is renowned for work-in-progress presentations by the major studios, keen to get the key movie-going demographic onside asap. This year, there will be sneak-peek sessions and cast and crew Q&As for such high-profile hopefuls as Focus Features’ ParaNorman; Sony Picture’s Total Recall, Elysium and Looper; and Sundance hit The Vacationeers. More will be announced as the event draws nearer.

Less focus, however, is placed upon the sidebar film festival program. Now in it’s 16th year, the Comic Con International Film Festival has become an important resume-builder for genre filmmakers. This year, in addition to a vast schedule of short films, three features will screen, covering topics as eclectic as female professional wrestlers and Chilean comic-book artists. SCREEN-SPACE takes a look at the films that Comic Con’s proudly geekish attendees can look forward to between cosplay extravaganzas and Obi-wan-vs-Kirk panel discussions*…

GLOW THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING
Director Brett Whitcomb, who examined small-town eccentricity in his 2007 doco The Rock-afire Explosion, goes bigger but no less nuttier with GLOW, his lovingly retrospective look at that intrinsically 80s phenomenon – professional ladies wrestling. Rich in archival footage, Whitcomb’s film revisits with the great names of the era, including Babe the Farmer’s Daughter, Big Bad Mama, Jailbait, Little Egypt and Matilda the Hun.

ELECTRIC MAN
Attendees needing a break from the hectic Con floor will adore David Barras’ UK comedy Electric Man, the story of two comic-book nerds who go to hilariously ironic lengths to save their fave fanzine shop from foreclosure. An ultra-rare Issue #1 of the titular comic is the kickstarter for an all-or-nothing working-class farce starring two next-big things Toby Manley and Mark McKirdy as slacker-supremos Jazz and Wolf.

THE COMIC BOOK COMPANY
So fresh from its successful run in Chile’s arthouse theatres that there isn’t an English-language trailer to be found online, Nico Lorca’s workplace comedy looks at the personalities and peculiarities of the nerdish bunch who publish a successful line of old-school hand-drawn graphic novels (I think – there’s not a lot of info on this film to work with). Assuming a subtitled print makes it to Comic Con, should be a hoot.

*Please don’t send hate mail. I’m one of you.