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Monday
May142012

THE WORST 20 OF CINEMA'S BEST (PART 1)

None of the 20 greatest living film directors achieved their exalted status by playing it safe. And lofty ambitions can sometimes lead to great falls from grace. In Part 1 of this entirely subjective look at an equally subjective list - that’s right, no Peter Jackson, Wong Kar-Wai, Bela Tarr or Clint Eastwood - of the world’s best filmmakers, SCREEN-SPACE determines the filmic equivalent of the exception that proves the rule. Here are the worst films from international cinema’s best contemporary directors....

QUENTIN TARANTINO: In his relatively short, spectacular career, Tarantino really hasn’t put a foot wrong (though he has focussed in on many); even his guest-director shots on TV series’ ER and CSI are season stand-outs. His Grindhouse segment, Death Proof, divided critics and not everyone loved the Kill Bill films, but the only real disaster has been his ‘The Man from Hollywood’ segment (pictured, above) from the omnibus film, Four Rooms. By no means the worst of the bunch (one-time indy darling Alison Anders all but killed her career with her contribution), Tarantino’s was nevertheless a badly-executed, pretentious gabfest; the actor’s smugness at being cast in a QT short oozes off the screen.

MICHAEL HANEKE: Revered and reviled in equal measure, Haneke has plenty of films that divide opinion but few that are labelled outright duds; his often brazen methods can rattle cages but rarely invoke critical disdain. Perhaps the one exception is Benny’s Video, a 1992 film that utilises the home-video camera craze of the time to paint an unconvincing, rather unpleasant portrait of teen alienation gone very bad. He hates the modern movie-goer’s key demographic (see Funny Games) and his established arthouse-only release pattern suggests they hate him right back.   

WIM WENDERS: The German auteur has what many consider the greatest film of the 1980’s to his credit - the lyrical, mesmerising Wings of Desire – but spent his time in the doghouse following the entirely indecipherable, mostly unwatchable The Million Dollar Hotel. He secured an A-list cast (Mel Gibson, Jimmy Smits, Milla Jovovich) but mired them in a single-setting murder mystery that Empire magazine called, “A plodding, self-indulgent exercise in pomposity over substance.”

MARTIN SCORSESE: The Aviator is a long, hard slog; Bringing Out The Dead is so dark as to swallow light (yet, IMHO, a great film); The King of Comedy was dismissed upon release but has now found much love. And many consider Age of Innocence to be art direction-ed to a standstill. But truth be told, perhaps his most technically accomplished film, last year’s Hugo, is his least personal and subsequently most coldly mechanical work. Scorsese has said he made this for his daughter, who loved the book and who he would never allow to watch his earlier works. It shows; every other film he made was to please himself and Hugo grinds through someone else’s vision with a detached eye for button-pressing sentimentality.    

TERRENCE MALICK: 5 films in nearly 50 years doesn’t give me much to work with. And none of them have achieved mass-market love, yet most have won some measure of critical acclaim. His literal 2005 version of the Pocahontas legend, The New World, with Colin Farrell, has been his least favoured; 2011’s The Tree of Life was a love-it-or-hate-it vision that not even the actor’s involved fully comprehended (Sean Penn told the French newspaper Le Figaro, “Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context!”). By a whisker, The New World.

WOODY ALLEN: The comic maestro copped a lot of flak for Stardust Memories, but hindsight has favoured that bitter meditation on fame (71% on Rotten Tomatoes). After the ambitious, beautiful Everyone Says I Love You in ’96, he churned out a decade of hit-miss work (Deconstructing Harry; Celebrity; Sweet and Lowdown; The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending). The worst? Probably, 2003’s Annie Hall-rehash Anything Else, with Jason Biggs riffing off the director himself; Mike LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “It has taken Allen over 30 years, but he has finally made a movie that's almost unwatchable.”

JOEL & ETHAN COEN: Sorry hipsters but, yes, Joel Coen (most often with wordsmith brother Ethan by his side) has made dud movies. Burn After Reading was not as supremely clever as everyone gave it credit for; the largely forgotten The Ladykillers, with a winning, against-type Tom Hanks, is so much better than most think. Their worst was the impenetrably arty The Man Who Wasn’t There, which mashed-up Billy Bob Thornton, UFO’s, a slutty Scarlett Johanson and death-row melodrama into a hodge-podge of smarty-pants, self-knowing haughtiness.  

JEAN-LUC GODARD: The great French filmmaker’s work has been at the cutting-edge of cinema for so long, any film perceived as a backwards step is greeted with a gentle “oh well, at least he tries”. That doesn’t happen very much (though nobody got particularly passionate about his latest, Film Socialisme). Perhaps his least admired work was his slightly preposterous muscle-man take on Lully’s ‘Armide’ in the 1987 portmanteau opera-film, Aria.

RIDLEY SCOTT: There is a lot of geek-love circulating on the web for Ridley Scott as Prometheus buzz intensifies, but fact is the visualist does not always tell a compelling story. The commercial director he once was is never far from the surface; if he’s not sure what to say, he tarts up his frame with pretty pictures. Mediocre efforts include GI Jane, the pedestrian Someone to Watch Over Me and the vastly-overrated American Gangster; outright misfires include Kingdom of Heaven and the Christopher Columbus bore, 1492. But easily the worst of the bunch is Hannibal, Scott’s cheesy, cynical sequel to The Silence of the Lambs that he clearly did for the paycheque.  

DAVID CRONENBERG: His early days at the forefront of the horror genre have fuelled the fire of cynics who call him a one-note genre specialist; this, despite critically-acclaimed works like The Brood, Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers and, more recently, violent crime thrillers The History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Many think he reached a little far with A Dangerous Method, but it had its supporters. But nobody liked his 1993 adaptation of David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly, his biggest, most expensive disappointment to date. His muted, modern version of the classic romance, which emerged from a period when he was striving for broad artistic acceptance, was dismissed entirely by analysts and public alike.

NEXT - Spielberg, Almodovar, Soderbergh kick off Part 2 of SCREEN-SPACE's Worst of the Best Feature....

Thursday
May032012

SOFT-CORE ARTISTRY 

The poster for a forgotten 21 year-old X-rated movie is finding new love amongst online traders.

In the world of hand-painted movie-poster art, the name Olivia De Berardinis does not sit alongside such prolific standard bearers like Drew Struzan, Reynold Brown or Mort Künstler.

Though one of America’s most renowned modern artists, notably famous for her iconic interpretations of burlesque queen Bettie Page, De Berardinis - 'Olivia', as she is known to her legion of fans - has had limited success in the world of film artwork. Her long-established commerciality comes from her monthly contribution to Playboy magazine and a vast industry of by-products that stemmed from 30 years of high-profile artistry.

But a poster created for David Buckley’s 1981 adult film Angel Buns – an assignment she took in an effort to establish herself in the film industry during the early days of her commercial art career -  has become a rare collector’s piece. Featuring a Berardinis-ed version of leading lady, early 80’s porn superstar Veronica Hart (Paul Thomas Anderson honoured her legacy by casting her as ‘Judge’ in Boogie Nights), the artwork is a typically ethereal representation of her subjects sexuality, largely foregoing the extreme nature of the X-rated film’s subject matter in favour of soft-focus effects and suggestive but tasteful curves.

De Berardinis would have further opportunity to establish herself in the competitive world of movie-poster artistry, but her job assignments were attached to films whose reputations sullied all involved – John Derek’s soft-core version of Tarzan, starring his stunning but talent-challenged wife Bo, and one of Hollywood’s most troubled productions of the last half-century, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger’s The Marrying Man.    

Saturday
Apr212012

BULLETS, BROADS AND BELLYLAUGHS IN REMASTERED B-CLASSIC

Italo-western Comin' at Ya! was not forgotten by The Alamo Drafthouse, Austin's home of cult film oddities.

Cinema in the 3rd dimension has gotten all credible lately. Since Dreamwork’s honcho Jeffery Katzenberg got up in everyone’s face spruiking the fresh technology that would eliminate the cardboard glasses and that James Cameron joint with all the blue people hit big, suddenly ‘3D Cinema’ is attracting the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg, Wenders and Herzog.

Screw that! For most of us, 3D still remains a desperate, no-holds-barred tool of the B-movie producer; 3B, if you will. One purveyor of schlock who knew this was the late Ferdinando Baldi, the Italian-born director of two 3D works that lovers of spaghetti pulp-cinema adore – 1981’s arrows-in-your-face western Comin’ at Ya! and 1983’s Raiders... rip-off, Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983).

To counter the post-Oscar box-office doldrums of early 1982, Village Roadshow launched Comin’ at Ya! (“with 3-D viewers!”) with all their marketing might and Australian cinemagoers flocked to Baldi’s ultra-cheesy tale of Old West vengeance metered out through the barrel of a six-shooter. Described by HitFix.com as “... 3Dsploitation, pure and simple...” and “...the most aggressively 3D movie ever seen,” Comin at Ya! remains notable for kick-starting a brief 3D fad in the early 1980’s (Jaws 3-D; Amityville 3-D) and for one particularly unpleasant scene that affords viewers the thrill of seeing a baby’s full nappy in the glorious third dimension. Oh, and Pedro Almodovar’s some-time muse Victoria Abril plays love-interest Abilene.

The film’s star and producer, Tony Anthony, retained rights to Comin at Ya! and has dedicated the last several years to sourcing funds that have allowed him to oversee the restoration and 3D conversion of Baldi’s film. The passion project, done in collaboration with producer Tom Stern of Sternco 3D, came full circle when Comin’ at Ya! played to packed late-night audiences during the 2011 Fantastic Fest horror and fantasy film festival.

Though it was filmed for US$600,000 and paid for by maxed-out credit cards, Anthony has always been passionate about maintaining the integrity of the 3D process he and Baldi worked so hard to master. “At one point, I pulled the film off the market, because I was disgusted with the projection,” he told an Aint It Cool News correspondent after the Fantastic Fest screening. “So when 3D came back and was being seen in digital theatres...ah, well, now we were beginning to solve the problem...”  

Kindred spirit Evan Husney, director of upstart Texas-based cult-film distributor Drafthouse Films understands the allure of 3D’s origins better than anyone and acquired the Real 3D print of Comin’ at Ya!, which premiered at the company’s underground movie-going mecca, the Alamo, in downtown Austin on February 24. “Matching quintessential 80s-style 3D with cutting-edge contemporary technology is going to make for the ultimate 3D experience for movie-goers," Husney says, via a press statement.

No distribution arrangement is in place for screenings in Australia.

Friday
Apr062012

WANTED: COLLECTIVE NOUN FOR NERD

The Fantastic Planet Film Festival Trivia Competition and How to Win It.

 

Frustrated by a film-obsessed teenager prone to weekends working through towers of VHS rentals, my mother would often bellow “Why would you want to be inside on a day like today!” That memory echoed subconsciously as I abandoned the glorious sunshine of a Sydney Saturday afternoon for the confines of Newtown’s Bank Hotel. I had committed to fielding a team in the inaugural Fantastic Planet Film Festival Trivia Competition back when the East coast was sodden after weeks of rain and was honouring my promise, but the sun felt good.

The event was the brainchild of Bryn Tilly, a charismatic Kiwi steeped in obscure genre knowledge; he administers one of Australia’s leading fan-sites, Horrorphile. He had secured some respected names in the field to judge the gore-filled recollections of my like-minded competitors – The Horseman director Steve Kastrissios; Matt Joyce, editor of cyberpunk e-magazine ‘Machete Girl’; international guest of the fest, Seve Schelenz, director of cult-hit Skew; and festival co-programmer, Pablo Perreira.

I knew the event would have nerds like me scurrying from dark corners to take part, so I had corralled my own team of Alpha geeks. Monikered with self-deprecating good humour ‘The Reservoir Dags’, it included Needle screenwriter Tone Egan; zombie-obsessive Meg McKenzie; Universal’s Australian operations manager and Planet of the Apes guru Ken Taylor and his Potter-head wife, Heather. We settled into a corner booth, drew the curtains to fully excise any stinging daylight, and poised our pens...

A couple of categories into the battle and we knew we had a good shot at the crown. Tone set the standard when he correctly guessed the 1922 witchcraft doco Haxan was narrated by William S Burroughs for its 1968 re-release. True, we stumbled badly when asked “How many daggers are needed to kill the Antichrist in The Omen?”, but it was a mere blip. By the time we bellowed “The Slaughtered Lamb!” in perfect unison, the event had ceased being a contest.

By mid-afternoon, a palpable tension had descended upon the gathering. The more our team answered (and drank), the louder our confidence grew. Questions that brought exasperated groans from other tables were met with our giggly delight. Tone knew what crashed through the cinema roof in Lamberto Bava’s Demons; Ken rattled off all the ...Ape films in a single breath (quite something to watch); I contributed by identifying the blush-response test employed by the Blade Runner cops to detect replicants in Ridley Scott’s classic. It threatened to be a landslide; as Tilly started revealing the answers, his voice straining to be heard over our self-congratulatory whoops, seething rivalries threatened to spill over.

When the inevitable disputed-call came, the Bank Hotel erupted like Thunderdome. To the question “In Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Roy Neary builds his first model mountain from what?”, all teams answered ‘mashed-potato’ and were marked correct. Led by yours truly, The Dags lodged a protest; the morning after his roadside close encounter, Richard Dreyfuss’ character crafts his first sculpture of Devil’s Tower from shaving cream. When Tilly acknowledged the gaffe, he not only awarded us full points, but took every other teams point away; a 2-point turnaround. Team captains flew from their cubicles, gesticulating wildly as the geek-spit flew, but their fate was sealed.

By the tournaments end, our rag-tag unit had swept all before us; scoring 79/100, we bettered the second-place team by 20-odd points. If my mother could have seen just how beneficial all those hours staring blankly at B-movies had been, she may have even felt a modicum of pride...

(Footnote: Admittedly, we did stumble badly on the visual clues. Tilly and the Fantastic Planet organising team have kindly supplied the three images that stumped The Collective Nerd. Any ideas....?)

 

 

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