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Sunday
Feb282016

SENTIMENTAL FAVES TO DOMINATE OSCAR 2016

The ‘sentimental narrative’ is being bandied about with shameless abandon in most prognostications over the 2016 Academy Awards. Key categories are not being discussed on merit, but more so as if nominees are nearing death; those “Oh, it’s his time,” and “Wouldn’t it be fitting if…” kind of comments. SCREEN-SPACE can play that game as well as the best of them so, just over 24 hours out from host Chris Rock’s highly-anticipated opening monologue, here are our winners and why…

BEST PICTURE
Bridge of Spies is the best film amongst the eight nominees, but Spielberg was bumped from the director category and its Cold War setting (and, yes, Tom Hanks’ casting) makes it feel like a throwback to a bygone Hollywood era. Room will earn kudos elsewhere; The Martian and Brooklyn will have been shutout across the board by this time of the night. With no nomination in the script categories, it would go against the grain for The Revenant to pick up the trophy, but that is likely to happen. The upside is that the absence of Innaritu and co-writer Mark L Smith from the writing honours list means Spotlight and The Big Short won’t go home empty-handed. But could Mad Max Fury Road steal the Best Picture spotlight….?
Who will win: THE REVENANT.
Who should win: INSIDE OUT.

BEST DIRECTOR
…No, but the sentimental narrative will help its director George Miller to a surprise Best Director trophy. If the Academy rank-&-file are in a ‘body of work’ mindset, no one would be more deserving than the Aussie filmmaker; he has one trophy already, for Best Animated Film winner Happy Feet, and is high on the AMPAS membership radar after Babe (7 noms), The Witches of Eastwick (2 noms) and Lorenzo’s Oil (2 noms). Industry types know that the journey he undertook on the action franchise reboot was every bit as fraught with hardship as anything Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and his team undertook on The Revenant. Adam McKay’s giddy, fresh vision for The Big Short could be the bolter; Tom McCarthy’s work on Spotlight was solid; Lenny Abrahamson for Room is this category’s ‘reward enough to be nominated’ guy.
Who will win: GEORGE MILLER for MAD MAX FURY ROAD (pictured, above; on-set with star Tom Hardy)
Who should win: GEORGE MILLER for MAD MAX FURY ROAD

BEST ACTRESS
45 Years star Charlotte Rampling had the sentimentalists on her side until she laid into the Academy over the diversity issue. Jennifer Lawrence’s industry pull and not her performance in Joy got her a spot on the ballot, but she’s doing no campaigning for the prize. It’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ for Saoirse Ronan, but the current is running against her for Brooklyn. And the frontrunner a few months back, Cate Blanchett in Todd Haynes’ lesbian romantic drama Carol, has found no awards season favour come trophy time (Ed: fine with that, it’s a hammy performance). When the terrific Ms Larson is cradling the little gold guy back stage, will any of the pap gallery have the verve to call out, “Hey Brie, say ‘cheese’?”
Who will win: BRIE LARSON for ROOM.
Who should win: CHARLIZE THERON for MAD MAX FURY ROAD

BEST ACTOR
Just how the sentimental narrative surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio’s bare Oscar cabinet emerged is a mystery. He’s been “snubbed for this” and “denied for that” over the years, according to page after page of fawning editorial (in all fairness, he perhaps should have won for The Aviator…or Revolutionary Road…or The Wolf of Wolf Street). But his cause quickly became the catchcry of the modern American film industry, the shrill shrieking reminiscent of Oscar matriarch Shirley Maclaine’s “Give my daughter the stuff!” meltdown in Terms of Endearment. Fassbender is fantastic as Steve Jobs; the buzz on Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl was hotter than the technically proficient but chilly performance that finally emerged; Trumbo was undersen, so Cranston remained an outsider. Damon’s space dude from The Martian? Puh-leeze.
Who will win: LEONARDO DICAPRIO from THE REVENANT.
Who should win:  GEZA ROHRIG from SON OF SAUL.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
No one begrudges Rachel McAdams’ nod for her fine work in Spotlight but she didn’t have the big showy moment that usually gets noticed amongst support players. Rooney Mara is the warm heart and soul in the otherwise overpraised Carol, but it’s a lead performance, surely? Winslet has a Lead Actress statue (and 6 other noms), which should be enough to discount her in a close race. If the 2016 Oscars fully commit to the sentimental, industry veteran Jennifer Jason Leigh could win for The Hateful Eight. Likely, though, that Alicia Vikander will top off a breakthrough year with the crown for The Danish Girl (also essentially a lead performance). If the male winners seem steeped in gooey sentimentality, the actress categories seem to be looking to the future of the industry.
Who will win: ALICIA VIKANDER for THE DANISH GIRL (pictured, above)
Who should win: KRISTEN STEWART for CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
No category pulses soloudly with a sentimental heartbeat as the Supporting Actor contest. Mark’s Ruffalo and Rylance (for Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, respectively) can feel hard done by; in any other year they would have been duking it out (pardon the boxing analogy, but it’s fitting). Christian Bale is in peak form at present; his role in The Big Short represents an actor mature enough to back his instincts and deliver. Tom Hardy had a great year and bad guys, such as the creep he played in The Revenant, often win this category. But does the potential for overflowing goodwill and a minutes-long standing ovation (if the broadcaster allows it) exist anywhere else in the Oscar schedule than with the feting of Sylvester Stallone? No, it doesn’t and he will win and win big.
Who will win: SYLVESTER STALLONE for CREED
Who should win: Well, take your pick – JACOB TREMBLAY for ROOM; PAUL DANO for LOVE & MERCY; MICHAEL SHANNON for 99 ROOMS.

OF THE REST…
As stated, Adapted Screenplay honours will go to Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for The Big Short, while Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer will win Original Screenplay honours for Spotlight (both earned WGA gongs); Emmanuel Lubezki will win for lensing The Revenant, though John Seale could take this slot if the night turns in Fury Road’s favour; Mad Max will sweep the tech categories, including Editing, Makeup/Hair Styling, Production Design and the Sound categories; Inside Out is a cert for Animated Film; harrowing Holocaust drama Son of Saul for Foreign Film; the sentimental favourite for Original Score will be the legendary Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight, earning him his first Oscar; box office dominance will be rewarded with a VFX win for Star Wars The Force Awakens; doco honours for Amy; costuming to Sandy Powell for Cinderella; remarkably, the years forgotten hit Fifty Shades of Grey will earn Oscar bragging rights with a  Best Song win, for ‘Earned It’ by The Weeknd.

Sunday
Feb212016

IN BOB WE TRUST: DEFENDING DE NIRO

As wave after wave of universally awful reviews for Dirty Grandpa emerged, one key theme ran through most of them – what the hell has happened to Robert De Niro? One school of thought says he’s losing his mind, agreeing to grace such dreck. Well, school’s out! SCREEN-SPACE engages in a dialogue with itself (a bit weird, but go with it) as to why Robert De Niro is still Hollywood’s ace-in-the-hole…

All this hatin’ is because of Rocky & Bullwinkle, isn’t it?

True, the tide turned in 2000 when he signed on as ‘ Fearless Leader’ in Des McAnuff’s live action/animation mash-up of Jay Ward’s iconic ‘60s cartoon series. But consider that The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle was greenlit at a time when goofy big-screen riffs on old TV properties were booming; Brendan Fraser’s career spanned the idiotic hits George of The Jungle (1997) and Dudley Do-Right (1999), while Matthew Broderick fronted the inane blockbuster, Inspector Gadget (1999). A wildly imaginative, meta-rich Rocky & Bullwinkle seemed a no-brainer, especially considering the talent that was lining up to take Universal’s money (the budget – a whopping US$76million). The script was credited to one of America’s most respected playwrights, Kenneth Lonergan, an Oscar nominee for You Can Count On Me (2000), and hot off De Niro’s hit comedy Analyze This; the cast included then-bankable Rene Russo as Natasha, and the breakout star of TV’s Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, as Boris. The studio was so confident it had a hit, a mid-summer slot taking on the latest from Mel Gibson (Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot) and George Clooney (Wolfgang Petersen’s The Perfect Storm) was booked. Yet press zeroed in on De Niro’s wildly eccentric villain as symbolic of a lot of bad decisions on the film’s road to flop-dom…

And rightly so, I reckon. Maybe a buffoonish Nazi was not the best idea in a kid’s movie...

Well, it is certainly a way out-there bad guy part, the likes of which we all loved when Christopher Lloyd did similar in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis’ landmark toon epic was clearly on everyone’s mind when TAoR&B was okayed). But within the context of the insane plotting and high pitch for which the entire film reached, De Niro’s leather-clad, thickly-accented – dare I say, cartoonish – nemesis seems about right.

Mmm…that’s a maybe. Regardless, he seems to have shrugged it off and ‘fearlessly’ taken on other ill-judged roles, like 2001’s 15 Minutes with Edward Burns or 2002’s Showtime opposite Eddie Murphy…

Yep, minor works that weren’t ready to go before the cameras; totally agree. But Robert De Niro has always lived by the acting creed, ‘Just keep working.’ In the 30 years between the Scorsese classic Raging Bull (1980) and the hit sequel Little Fockers (2010), he featured in an incredible 58 films. He took flak for some (Neil Jordan’s We’re No Angels, opposite Sean Penn; Tony Scott’s thriller, The Fan; Kenneth Branagh’s expensive dud Frankenstein), but it was an incredibly diverse period that also yielded The King of Comedy, Casino, The Mission, Midnight Run, Goodfellas, Awakenings, This Boy’s Life, his directorial debut A Bronx Tale, Heat, Cape Fear, Copland, Wag The Dog, Ronin and Jackie Brown. Not to mention memorable bit parts in Brazil, The Untouchables, Angel Heart, Mad Dog and Glory and Sleepers, great roles in little-seen indies like Jacknife, Guilty by Suspicion and Flawless and sweet ‘everyman’ leads in Falling in Love (opposite Meryl Streep) and Stanley and Iris (opposite Jane Fonda). Which of his peers from his true heyday, the American cinema of the 1970’s, can boast of career longevity like that?

I think it’s the reputation from that last truly classic film era that has proved to be a heavy burden for Bobby. Bang the Drum Slowly and Mean Streets, both ’73; The Godfather, Part II, ’74; Taxi Driver and 1900, both ’76; The Deer Hunter, ’78 (pictured; below)…

An extraordinary period for studio films in general, and De Niro in particular; no doubt about it. But he had also dealt with the commercial bomb The Last Tycoon in 1976 and critical dud New York New York in 1977; both were ambitious visions that didn’t quite gel, like several of the films that have come up short in his long career. Studios just aren’t making those ambitious, actor-friendly American films anymore. And if they did, who would match a young De Niro’s intensity? Di Caprio? Damon? I don’t think so…

And those ‘peers’ from 70’s…?

Sadly, the likes of McQueen, Newman, Heston, Bronson have all departed us. Big box office draws of the day like James Caan and Burt Reynolds maintain a Hollywood profile but aren’t ‘acting’ very much; Robert Redford has had a resurgence of late (All is Lost; Walk in The Woods), but favours behind-the-scenes mentoring and Sundance-aligned endeavours ahead of acting gigs; Michael Caine plays the occasional lead (Youth, 2015, opposite another ‘70s figure in Harvey Keitel) but prefers high-paying support slots. Hackman, Connery and Nicholson have all settled into retirement. Dustin Hoffman works steadily; Travolta and Duvall, too, though less so. Clint Eastwood has redefined his A-list status, happier behind the camera. Of the actresses, Meryl Streep is the only bankable ‘70s actress still at the top of her game; perhaps Diane Keaton, too, but not in lead parts. Only De Niro and his one true equal, Al Pacino, are regularly before the cameras.

Pacino!?! What’s he done lately?

Whereas De Niro will happily take a few days work for a good cheque or slip into a memorable support role, Pacino has focussed on offbeat ‘arty’ projects that no one sees but which still challenge his talent. Since banking the studio dollars opposite Adam Sandler in 2011’s Jack and Jill, he’s made films with Alan Arkin and Christopher Walken (Stand Up Guys, 2012), director Barry Levinson (The Humbling, 2014) and indie sector auteur David Gordon Green (Manglehorn, 2014). Just this year, he scored a Golden Globe nomination for Dan Fogelman’s terrific character piece, Danny Collins. Not to mention the TV roles, in Angels in America and playing Phil Spector and Dr Kervorkian…

Ironic then that perhaps the worst movie either of them has made, they played opposite each other!

Yeah, I’ll yield on that one. Righteous Kill was terrible.

So why make it! Surely some of the stuff that De Niro attaches to can’t be the best scripts that his agents are fielding? It’s Robert f***ing De Niro, for goodness sake!

There you go, still judging him above other actors on his reputation alone! Yes, much of the criticism levelled at De Niro when he turns up in genre B-pics like Godsend (2004), Hide and Seek (2005), Killer Elite (2011) or Red Lights (2012), or questionable comedies like the Focker sequels and Dirty Grandpa, largely consists of “Why would ‘The Greatest Living Actor’ take such a role?” But very few detractors will mention that, between the occasionally minor works or critical misfires, this 72 year-old (!!) is still scoring Oscar nominations (most recently for David O’Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook); is bankable enough to ensure quality mature-age films like Everybody’s Fine (2009), Last Vegas, The Family and Grudge Match (all 2013) are getting made and seen; and, is the go-to guy when today’s hot young leads (Bradley Cooper in Limitless, 2011; Anne Hathaway in The Intern, 2015; Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, 2015; Zac Efron in Dirty Grandpa, 2016) need the on-screen boost an industry pro like De Niro provides.

He could disprove all the naysayers who cry that he’s only in it for the money by committing to more directing gigs, surely?

I agree. A Bronx Tale was a beautifully handled film. His only other feature, The Good Shepherd, was a flop despite solid reviews and a starry cast. He did step behind the camera last year, for the short film Ellis, about the role of the American migrant in the country’s history and the entry point for many in the middle of New York harbour. And, you’re right, his heart was clearly in it.

So we should trust that, even during ‘that scene’ in Dirty Grandpa with the porn and lube, he knows exactly what he’s doing, has nothing to prove anymore and perhaps throwing shade his way is not the coolest thing…

No, it’s not, thank you. Ok, next - Nicholas Cage. 

What the…! 

Wednesday
Dec302015

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART 3: OUR TEN FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2015

With only hours left until we welcome in a fresh new year of cinema-going, here’s the final Best of… list you’ll have to endure. Chosen from the 545 films I’ve watched this year (it’s true; check out star ratings of every one we’ve seen via our Letterboxd page), here they are - The SCREEN-SPACE Ten Favourite Films of 2015…

10. YOUTH
In the ironically titled Youth, Paolo Sorrentino explores the notion of wisdom, artistry and friendship; familiar ground for Italian director, the themes central to his 2013 stunner, The Great Beauty. If the auteur’s occasionally artful narrative proves testing, one can always bask in the stunning visuals; Youth is arguably the most beautifully lensed film of the year.
Best bits: Jane Fonda’s acerbic cameo; Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel get giddy while sharing a spa with a naked Miss Universe (the majestic Madalina Ghenea).

9. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Like Sorrentino’s moody drama, Olivier Assayas’ finest work in years brings a bracing Euro-sensibility and vivid visual style to an exploration of how memory and melancholy work to redefine one’s later life. As the actress revisiting the seminal project of her career, a larger-than-life Juliette Binoche is warm and compelling; that Kirsten Stewart (pictured, right), as her insightful PA, matches her beat-for-beat is the film’s true revelation (earning the Twilight starlet serious new cred and a Supporting Actress Cesar).
Best bits: Stewart takes command of a line reading for Binoche’s struggling diva; the clouds, snaking through the alpine valleys.  

8. EX MACHINA
The directorial debut of writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later; The Beach; Sunshine) melds moody chamber-piece/single-setting character drama with near-future AI super-tech. The result is a chilling, low-key, high-voltage cyber thriller that pulsates with dark humour and sexual tension; as the dream-girl android Ava, Alicia Wikander earned her ‘2016 It-Girl’ status with an iconic genre performance.
Best bits: Oscar Isaac’s disco moves alongside Sonoya Mizuno; Ava’s breakout.

7. 99 HOMES
Capturing that moment during the 2008 housing market crash when a ruthless adherence to capitalism took hold, writer/director Ramin Bahrani’s Faustian morality tale pits compromised everyman Andrew Garfield against the soulless might of financial sector hyena Michael Shannon. As the middle-class evaporates and suburbs become ghost towns, the dark heart of the crumbling American empire is exposed with a fierce clarity in this Wall Street for the new millennium.
Best bits: That first eviction; “America doesn’t bail out losers. America was built by bailing out winners.”
Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with director Ramin Bahrani here.

6. THE AGE OF ADALINE
“Krieger’s vivid, melancholic melodrama emerges as a major work in the tough-to-pull-off ‘romantic fantasy’ genre subset…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review of The Age of Adaline here.

5. WILD
As real-life recovering addict and author Cheryl Strayed, Reese Witherspoon gives a career-best performance in Jean-Marc Vallee’s adaptation of the autobiographical bestseller, Wild. Every emotionally enriching, soul baring consequence of the 1,100 mile trek Strayed made along the Pacific Crest Trail is captured in Witherspoon’s interpretation; Vallee’s fluent non-linear narrative builds to a deeply moving denouement.
Best bits: The fox; losing the boot; Laura Dern.

4. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION
Tom Cruise’s fifth spin as super-agent Ethan Hunt gets the nod as 2015’s best action pic over Mad Max Fury Road, by a whisker (don’t worry, we rave about George Miller’s action epic here). Fury Road was pure kinetic energy and a technical marvel, but it was slight on story; Christopher McQuarrie’s slick, thrilling old-school spy adventure offered a dozen nail-biting moments and delirious B-movie plotting that both supported and drove the action. With Bond dropping the ball badly this year, Cruise’s M:I operative is cinema’s reigning superspy.
Best bits: Rebecca Ferguson; that plane stunt, of course; the virtuoso ‘opera house’ sequence.

3. IT FOLLOWS
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s first foray into horror riffed on every slasher pic trope in the book– the villain exists to punish the amorous; the ‘final girl’ archetype; absent and/or ineffectual adults; the final face-off. But It Follows was a study in deconstruction, and worked as a truly invigorating (and terrifying) new vision of those old standards. In Maika Monroe, horror has a fresh new muse; in the ever-walking force that stalks her, a classic new malevolence.
Best bits: The kitchen encounter; the old, naked guy on the roof; checking out every background extra to see if they are ‘it’.

2. LOVE & MERCY
“In succinct and sublime tones, Love & Mercy convinces that God only knows where American music would be without Brian Wilson…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review of Love & Mercy here.

1. INSIDE OUT
That Pixar offered up another superb piece of smart, funny animated entertainment is not that surprising. It is a true family classic, the studio’s best film since Up, but something had to be. Inside Out is the year’s best film not because of its beautiful design elements or wonderful character rendering; instead, Pete Doctor’s and Ronnie Del Carmen’s vision soars as a profound study in teen anxiety, alienation, emotional upheaval and depression. Few films have ever conveyed the complexities of mental health with the clarity and devastating emotion achieved by this masterwork.
Best bits: Riley runs away; the mixing of the spheres; “Congratulations San Francisco, you've ruined pizza!”

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Bridge of Spies, Shaun the Sheep, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jupiter Ascending, The Visit, Everest.

Read The Year in Review, Part 1: The Ten Best Festival Sessions of 2015 here.
Read The Year in Review, Part 2: Australian Cinema in 2015 here

…AND THE WORST OF 2015:
2015 was a dire year for retread cinema, aka ‘The Reboot’ (Mad Max Fury Road being the exception that proves the rule). Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four got all the bad press, but it was a better film than the woefully ill-conceived Terminator: Genysis, the already-forgotten Poltergeist and the worthless new spin on Vacation. Worst of the bunch was JURASSIC WORLD, Universal’s wildly successful but grotesquely mounted bludgeoning of all that was enjoyable about the dino-trilogy to date. The box office suggested it worked for a new generation, but die-hard fans weren’t conned; like the genetic creation at the heart of its barely-there plotting, Jurassic World was borne of the same DNA as its ancestors but morphed into something both hideous and ridiculous.

DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS: Now Add Honey, Train Wreck, Chappie, Ride, The Walk, The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence), Get Hard.

Saturday
Dec262015

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART 1: THE TEN BEST FESTIVAL SESSIONS OF 2015

Leaving the studio dross and multiplex clutter behind (we'll get to that soon), let’s consider the thrill of walking blindly into a film festival screening. You may have read the programme blurb, or liked the director’s last film, or heard some buzz from overseas. Or maybe you’ve just found yourself with an unplanned spare couple of hours. When you stumble on an unheralded gem, that wonderful sense of discovery that energises you…well, it’s why I do what I do. Below are ten films (in no order) that played the Australian film festival circuit in 2015, films that may still be searching for wider distribution, still working the international content markets or already available via various platforms, including self-distribution. Each proved a revelation, a little miracle of pure cinema…

JERUZALEM
Screened at Jewish International Film Festival.
The Paz brothers, Yoav and Doron, drag the Israeli film industry kicking and screaming (literally) into the found-footage genre with this end-of-the-world rollercoaster ride. Utilising the rich biblical influences of the region’s three key religions and working in the latest eyewear-camera tech with a fluid, sure-handed directorial touch, the young filmmakers relate the story of two American tourists (Yael Groblas, pictured above; Danielle Jadelyn) caught up in an apocalyptic uprising of demonic entities, as foretold in the scripture (or something like that). Frankly, logic be damned; the ‘shaky-cam’ moments are terrifying, the protagonists believable, the creature effects superb.  

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CONCRETE
Screened at Revelation Perth International Film Festival.
“Shot on next-to-no budget over several years with friend and family non-pro actors in key roles, Stewart and Dohan have conjured a high-school classic; a ‘Gilliam-esque’ teen-dream landscape filled with giddy humour, sweet innocence and touching emotion…” 
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review here.

RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE
Screened at Sydney Underground Film Festival.
Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb were 11 year-old film fanatics when, in 1982, they set about shooting their wildly ambitious, passion-driven shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of The Lost Ark. In Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen’s doco, the men reunite to put everything on the line to get the one scene they were never able to conjure – the fistfight between a Nazi heavy and Indy under the whirling blades of a Luftwaffe flying-wing. The staging of the stunt is thrilling, of course, but it is the study in strained friendships and the corrosive impact of a creative dream unfulfilled that makes Raiders! such a bittersweet, emotionally resonant work.  

A FIGHTING SEASON
Screened at Byron Bay International Film Festival.
Clayne Crawford (pictured, right, with co-star Lew Temple) gives a powerhouse performance in silent inner rage as the PTSD-afflicted infantryman returning to his forever altered small town life in Oden Roberts devastating drama, A Fighting Season. Tackling head-on such rich elements as military machismo, the shady ethics of military recruitment and the disassociation that ex-servicemen feel for the very society they were trained to defend, Roberts’ script addresses the neglect and loneliness that returning troops suffer through following repeated hot-zone deployment; Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker tackled similar issues, but with infinitely less honesty and insight.
Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with director Oden Roberts here. 

THE SPIDERWEB HOUSE
Screened at Melbourne International Film Festival.
Mara Ibel-Eibesfeldt’s fantasy/drama tracks the disintegrating lives of three pre-teens left to fend for themselves when abandoned by their mother in working-class Heidelberg. Sounds heavy, and it is, but the lines between the harsh reality of an adult-free life and the collective power of the children’s imagination soon begin to blur. The result is a wondrous, if occasionally nightmarish fairy-tale vision of the strength of the human spirit and the bond shared between siblings during dire times. As the three kids, Ben Litwischu, Lutz Simon Eilert and Helena Pieske share a rare natural chemistry; they may be the year’s best acting ensemble.

BEREAVE
Screened at Byron Bay International Film Festival.
“Recalling Michael Haneke’s Amour in its exploration of fading memory, mature-age love and dwindling life force but played against the broader backdrop of the noir-ish LA sprawl, Bereave is an achingly insightful, darkly humorous, richly rewarding work…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review here.

ASTRAEA
Screened at A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival.
It was known as ‘The Drop’; the planet’s population all but extinguished in sixteen days by an unexplained natural occurence. Step-siblings Astraea (a superb Nurea Duhart) and Matthew (Scotty Crowe; pictured, right, with Duhart), somehow immune to the new death, have bonded in their struggle. Their journey of faith to find family in Nova Scotia leads them to fellow survivors, cousins James (Dan O’Brien) and Callie (Jessica Cummings), deep in the snowbound forests of Maine. Director Kristjan Thor melds desperation, humanity and survival instincts into a coming-of-age narrative that plays both deeply tragic and soulfully inspiring; earned Best Film honours from the Fantastic Planet strand of the festival.

SUNDAY
Screened at Byron Bay International Film Festival.
“With the cracked, crumbling façade of earthquake-ravaged Christchurch as a metaphorical backdrop, Michelle Joy Lloyd’s sad, sweet two-hander Sunday deftly explores the complexities of balancing the fantasy of youthful ‘true love’ with the realities of late twenty-something adult life…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review here.

THE VISIT: AN ALIEN ENCOUNTER
Screened at Antenna Documentary Film Festival.
Danish director Michael Madsen crafts a profoundly pondered, deeply intelligent and slyly ridiculous second feature with his gripping study in ‘What if…’ hypothesising. Having gathered scientists, philosophers and diplomats of international renown, Madsen poses the question, ‘How would we greet an alien visitation?’ The classic B-movie premise is afforded Mensa-level musings; Madsen’s pristine, high-gloss lensing adds to the (semi)seriousness. The result is a spellbinding piece of pseudo-factual filmmaking. 

HELLIONS
Screened at Monster Fest, Melbourne.
Some critics carped the Canadian indie-cinema great Bruce McDonald’s latest was all homage, no real horror. And, to be fair, there are some familiar beats; the pregnant teenager (Chloe Rose; pictured, right) home alone on Halloween, tormented by wicked mask-wearers, has been done before. But McDonald, like fellow Canuck iconoclast Guy Maddin, is a student of cinema whose talent truly pulsates when he reworks well-established tropes. To wit, Hellions; his giddy, shocking, truly creepy journey down a rabbit hole to Hell and back again is both a disconcerting visual experiment (to accentuate the blood-red moon, much of the film is bathed in a crimson hue) and…well, a little nuts. In a good way.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Ground We Won, Tab Hunter Confidential, Palio, My Skinny Sister, H., Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, III, Goodbye Mommy, Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous, Black Horse Memories, The Horses of Fukushima.

Read The Year in Review, Part 2: Australian Cinema in 2015 here.
Read The Year in Review, Part 3: Our Ten favourite Films of 2015 here. 

Thursday
Nov052015

THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS OF MELISSA MATHISON

Screenwriter and author Melissa Mathison passed away on Wednesday, aged 65, at the UCLA Medical Centre, having fought neuroendocrine cancer for several months. Her Hollywood experience was legendary; the political-science graduate from Berkeley befriended Francis Ford Coppola (she would babysit his young children) and became his PA during the production of The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now. Over four decades, six of her screenplays would transition to the big-screen (including a co-writing credit with Stephen Zito on Caleb Deschanel’s 1992 drama, The Escape Artist); at the time of her passing, her adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG (the third collaboration with Steven Spielberg; pictured together, below, on the set of ET) was in early post-production. Her work, filled with warmth, humour and honesty, will never be forgotten… 

THE BLACK STALLION (1979; Dir: Carroll Ballard)
Having worked as a TIME correspondent, Mathison was encouraged to tackle her first screenplay by Coppola, playing the mentor role. With fellow feature debutants William D Witliff and Jeanne Rosenberg, Mathison crafted the adaptation of Walter Farley’s novel into the first of her classic family storylines. Under the stewardship of director Carroll Ballard and visionary eye of DOP Caleb Deschanel, Mathison’s lean, spiritual tale of the desert-island friendship between Alec (Kelly Reno) and The Black Stallion has endured; in 2002, it was admitted into the National Film Registry by the US Film Preservation Board.
Classic line: “’Cause this Black, he can outbreak ya, y’know? He can outbreak ya. You’d just be sittin’ in mid air.” – Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney).
Says Mathison, “We all agreed the movie should be like a children's book, with just pictures. That's when I learned to take out the words, to tell the story visually, which is the best training there is." (LA Times; July 9, 1995).

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982; Dir: Steven Spielberg)
With John Sayles and Ron Cobb, Steven Spielberg had written a 99-page treatment called Night Skies, a sequel-of-sorts to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While in the midst of the action-movie mayhem that was the Raiders of the Lost Ark shoot, Spielberg met his leading man Harrison Ford’s girlfriend (and future ex-wife) Melissa Mathison. She took the script’s final scene, in which an alien is abandoned on Earth, and crafted a first draft, entitled ‘ET and Me’, in just eight weeks. ““It was a script I was willing to shoot the next day,” Spielberg said on the DVD commentary of the film’s 30th anniversary re-release. “It was so honest, and Melissa’s voice made a direct connection with my heart.” The writer’s first sole screenwriting credit would become the most successful film of all time and earn her an Oscar nomination.
Classic line: “I'll...be...right...here.” – E.T.
Says Mathison, “In 1982, I was not yet a parent, but I was a stepmother, and had been a consummate babysitter and an older sister. The kids in E.T. can be directly linked to kids I knew. I even stole some of my little friends’ best lines: i.e. ‘penis breath.’ What adult woman could have thought of that?” (The New Yorker; October 3, 2012).

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, Segment 2: KICK THE CAN (1983; Dir: Steven Spielberg)
Working under the pseudonym ‘Josh Rogan’, Mathison adapted the original teleplay, ‘Kick the Can’ by George Clayton Johnson for the anthology reworking of Rod Serling’s cult TV series. Although it appears mid-film, it was the final segment shot during the troubled production. Following the on-set deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors while filming John Landis’ opening segment, Joe Dante and George Miller had shot their contribution; Spielberg, back behind the camera for the first time since ET, was tasked with delivering his special brand of magic in the tale of old folk literally rediscovering their youthful selves. Critics weren’t kind (the New York Times said the “rather ugly, sentimental comedy” was “inept in every way”), but retrospectively the narrative clearly captures Spielberg and Mathison at the most whimsical, least cynical juncture in their professional lives.
Classic line: “Fresh…young…minds…” – Mr Bloom (Scatman Crothers).

THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD (1995; Dir: Frank Oz)
Mathison’s first ‘family film’ in over a decade was an adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks beloved fantasy, in which 9 year-old Omri (Hal Scardino) finds a new friend in a tiny plastic Indian (played by native American actor Litefoot, of the Cherokee nation) that comes to life. It achieved middling box office upon its initial release but, like much of Mathison’s timeless work, has become a childhood staple for generations.
Classic line: “You are always a great people, but it is not always so good.” – Omri (Hal Scardino).
Says Mathison, “"If children are given some real content, they can feel powerful with their own understanding of it. I think a movie like 'Indian in the Cupboard' will instruct them how to proceed as people. They can think about whether they would have done something the way a character did, how they would have felt about an event in the story.” (The New Yorker; October 3, 2012)

KUNDUN (1997; Dir: Martin Scorsese)
Director Martin Scorsese’s interest was pique when his then-agent sent him Mathison’s original screenplay, chronicling the early life and ascendancy of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. “I read the script and liked its simplicity, the childlike nature of it,” Scorsese told Film Comment in 1998. “It wasn't a treatise on Buddhism or a historical epic in the usual sense.” A devout Buddhist, Mathison had spent time with The Dalai Lama at her home in Wyoming and worked through 16 drafts of her screenplay before the narrative became fully formed. Early screenings suggested it was an Oscar front-runner (it would earn 4 tech category nominations), but Disney allegedly stalled its marketing approach when Chinese officialdom attacked the film over their depiction.
Classic line: “I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.” – Dalai Lama (Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong).
Says Mathison, “I think it's kind of pretentious or presumptuous to think that you could actually affect anything with a movie. Certainly, I hoped that people would be moved by this truth and maybe want to get involved on some level. I think when you set out to make a political statement through a movie, you're in big trouble.” (Hollywood Bitchslap; May 23, 1999).