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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.

Saturday
Jun232012

OBITUARY / ANDREW SARRIS

International cinema has lost a brilliant mind and passionate advocate with the passing of critic, author and teacher, Andrew Sarris.

For 29 years, Andrew Sarris was the voice of film criticism – or, more precisely, film appreciation – for progressive newspaper The Village Voice. His passing in Manhattan on Wednesday June 20, at age 83 from an infection that developed after a stomach virus, drew fond remembrances from both his journalistic colleagues and those that often bore the brunt of his insightful prose.

"Andrew Sarris was a vital figure in teaching America to respond to foreign films as well as American movies," said fellow critic David Thomson, referencing Sarris’ vocal support of the one-vision theory of filmmaking that was very much in vogue in the wake of the French New Wave. Sarris’ 1962 essay ‘Notes on the Auteur Theory’ and 1968 book ‘The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968’ remain landmark works. In the latter tome, he speaks of ‘The Panthenon’, a mythical home for filmmakers "who have transcended their technical problems with a personal vision of the world." In addition to Sarris’ Euro-favourites such as Truffaut and Godard, those to achieve such exalted status included Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and Orson Welles.

This belief in film as a singular vision brought him into direct conflict with America’s other great cinematic commentator, Pauline Kael, resulting in a rivalry that lasted both their lifetimes. In response to Sarris’ essay, she wrote a piece in The New Yorker entitled ‘Circles and Squares’ in which she derided his obsession as vague, derivative, trivial and immature. She defined Sarris’ adored filmmaking style as "an attempt by adult males to justify staying inside the small range of experience of their boyhood and adolescence." Upon her passing in 2001, Sarris revisited the feud, saying that they "never much liked each other".

Others, however, were far more obliging of his opinions. In his foreword to the 2001 book ‘Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic’, longtime friend Martin Scorsese wrote, "His writings led me to see the genius in American movies at a time when the cinema was considered a mindless form of entertainment, worthy of serious attention only if it came from Europe or Asia." Fellow critic, the esteemed Roger Ebert, said, “"More than anyone else, he was responsible for introducing Americans to the belief that the true author of a film is its director. Largely because of him, many moviegoers today think of films in terms of their directors."

Upon leaving the Village Voice, he would write for the New York Observer until 2009 and held the position of Professor of Film at Columbia University, where he lectured in film theory and criticism (he also tenured at NYU and Yale). Shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2000, his most recent honour was a 2012 endowment of US$10,000 from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for "progressive, original, and experimental" criticism.

He is survived by wife and fellow critic Molly Haskell, whom he married in 1969. Upon his death, Haskell said, “"He was never unhappy. He wanted to go on living as long as he could — watching movies and talking about movies and being with me."

Saturday
May192012

THE WORST 20 OF CINEMAS BEST (PART 2)

The second part of our 'Worst of the Best' feature includes some of the world's most successful and respected filmmakers - and the terrible films they've made. Spielberg, Almodovar and Coppola are just some of those called to account for evening out the cinematic karma they too often tip in their favour. (Don't forget to check out the first 10 crimes against cinema, right here.)

TIM BURTON: You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who speaks in glowing terms of Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake or the grand missed-opportunity that was Mars Attacks! (though neither are as God-awful as their reception would have you believe). The director is merely uncaging his inner art-director on other people’s story-telling skills with films like Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (I said as much in a past piece I wrote). His biggest dud, though, has been 2003’s Big Fish, his star-laden romantic fantasy based upon Daniel Wallace novel. Really, you love it? Have you watched it twice...?

WERNER HERZOG: Only the fearless ego-driven eccentricity of the miraculously talented Werner Herzog could convince the other side of the great director’s brain that the creative decisions he made on The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (pictured, above) would pass critical muster. Not that he has ever courted favour with critic’s groups (in fact, he has steadfastly defied them), but his 2009 collaboration with that other brilliant nut-job, Nicholas Cage, has to go down as one of American cinema’s oddest moments.

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: His enormous 2-hour musical dream sequence, One From The Heart, all but ruined him (it is an extraordinary film, btw); Bram Stoker’s Dracula has its haters; his last couple of low-budget efforts, the experimental works Twixt and Tetro, were barely released. Most famously, he single-handedly tarnished his greatest legacy by botching The Godfather Part III. But Jack, the Robin Williams vehicle about a man who ages at four-times the human growth rate...ugh, it’s just awful. Even Coppola’s very first film, the 1962 German soft-core porno romp The Bellboy and The Playgirls (!!), is infinitely superior.  

STEVEN SPIELBERG: When the world’s most successful director has overplayed the sentiment, fans have revolted. Always, Hook, his episode of Twilight Zone the Movie, War Horse – all saturated in backlighting and dripping with saccharine. The film often cited as his lowest point – the 1979 comedy, 1941 – is nowhere near his worst (in fact, it grows in stature with every viewing). Where Spielberg has really stumbled is when he sets out to recapture lightning in a bottle – his sequels are non-events. The Lost World was all noise, no substance; Indiana Jones #2, The Temple of Doom (unnecessarily dark and nasty) and #3, The Last Crusade (sweet and fun but meagre) were Spielberg on autopilot. But they were works of commercial art compared to #4, The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull. Nearly twenty years fine-tuning the script was still insufficient time to make anything about this mythology-destroying embarrassment worthwhile.  

JAMES CAMERON: You’d think with a resume that kicks off with Pirahna II: Flying Killers, the choice would be easy. But the debut of cinema’s King Midas was an inventive, no-budget schlocker that revealed a filmmaker with a strong eye for FX thrills and good commercial instincts. Which leaves us with two Terminator films, the extraordinary underwater adventure The Abyss, action classics Aliens and True Lies and the ground-breaking phenomenon, Avatar. Cameron’s worst film, by process of elimination, must be Titanic. And I’ve no problem with that – a sumptuous but sappy teen romance set against the carnage of the world’s worst sea-going disaster. Billy Zane’s excrutiating presence and the worst dialogue ever for a Best Picture Oscar winner makes this Cameron’s nadir, and by some measure.

  

HAYAO MIYAZAKI: It is close to sacrilegious to speak ill of the oeuvre of Japanese animation legend Miyazaki and with good reason. He wrote the script to the just-ok 2010 film Arriety, but handed the directing duties to protégé Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Of his 9 wonderful features, which include masterpieces such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, perhaps 1986’s Castle in the Sky (a conceptual vision he improved upon with Howl’s Moving Castle) is the least wondrous. But not be much; Miyazaki is true artistic genius.

PEDRO ALMODOVAR: The crackling eroticism and eccentric characters that populated the films of the young Almodovar set in stone his reputation as a must-see auteur. But his mature-age works have invoked a mixed response, as if critics have lost touch and fallen out of favour with his methods and motives. Volver soared, but Bad Education and Broken Embraces divided audiences. Much debated was his very latest, The Skin I Live In. Many took a similar stance to Australia’s leading critic, David Stratton , who said “Even a second level Almodovar is better than most other people.” Others were harsher (SBS Film said, “Had Alan Smithee been credited with this effort, it would go straight to DVD.”) As with most of Almodovar’s works, best to let the individual decide...

JOHN SAYLES: The great American storyteller stumbled badly with Silver City, his 2004 political satire starring Chris Cooper. His latest films, Amigo and Storyteller, have been flawed but ambitious; none ever make money, so box office returns can’t really be factored into the decision-making process. The lean, beautifully-realistic early works of 20 years ago (Return of the Secaucus Seven; Matewan; Brother From Another Planet; Eight Men Out) are still his standouts.

STEVEN SODERBERGH: Sophomore efforts like Kafka and Schizopolis went a long way to undoing the love we all felt for Soderbergh after sex, lies and videotape; Ocean 12 (the Amsterdam one) was just ok, Oceans 13 (the Al Pacino one) was terrible, but both were disposably watchable; his version of Tarkovsky’s Solaris was a struggle (but worthwhile, by my reckoning). Soderbergh has certainly tested audience patience with his experimental efforts, works admirable in their ambition but often arduous to get through. The Girlfriend Experiment, his segment of the portmanteau film Eros, the horrible Full Frontal. But it was his ‘what-were-they-thinking?’ WW2 noir-thriller The Good German, featuring a blank George Clooney and a hammy Cate Blanchett, that reps his most ill-judged effort. Unintentionally funny, when not being utterly non-sensical.

LARS VON TRIER: You’ll find plenty who hate his most revered works, and vice versa. Melancholia – I loved it; Dancer in The Dark – still haven’t seen the end of it; Dogville – amazing; Manderlay – terrible; Anti Christ – his greatest work. Von Trier is a true idiosyncratic, eccentric visionary who demands a lot of his audience, which doesn’t always sit well with the modern movie-going demographic. Most critics tend to dismiss his 1987 film Epidemic as egotistical nonsense, but some said that of his Dogma 95 manifesto, too – a period that resulted in The Idiots, an anarchic masterpiece.