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Entries in Australian (6)

Sunday
Aug042019

THANK YOU, BOYS: DEAD POETS SOCIETY AT 30

Heading into the summer of 1989, there was no certainty that Dead Poets Society, the latest film from Disney’s adult-oriented mini-studio Touchstone Pictures, was going to be a hit. Australian director Peter Weir had scored big with his first Hollywood feature, the Oscar-nominated Witness (1985), but stumbled with his follow-up, the critically divisive box-office disappointment Mosquito Coast (1986). It had been two long years since Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), so Robin William's commercial clout as a dramatic leading man was in the balance. And would the rarefied tone of the upscale drama, about the inner struggles of wealthy white kids afforded private school educations, play at all with middle-America’s working-class movie-going masses…?

But Touchstone were confident enough to open it on June 9, an early summer slot that indicated they believed word-of-mouth would give it commercial legs. Test screenings had scored huge approval ratings; the trailer was playing ahead of the feel-good sleeper hit of early ’89, Field of Dreams; and, Williams was boisterously spruiking the life-changing journey he undertook with the young cast and his enigmatic director.

The 30th anniversary of the beloved film allows us to reflect on the journey of Dead Poets Society from page to screen...: 

THE REAL LIFE ‘JOHN KEATING’: Screenwriter Tom Schulman (pictured, right) pinned his inspiration for Williams’ Mr Keating on Professor Samuel F. Pickering Jr, an English professor from the University of Connecticut. The then 15 year-old Schulman was attending Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy when Pickering taught a short course in classic literature. Pickering is on the record as being humbled but a little doubtful of the honour, stating, “Whatever of me is in that character has got to be small. I was a kid and (Schulman) was a child, 23 years go. How much of me could there be in the movie?"

THE REEL LIFE ‘JOHN KEATING’: Of the period’s biggest stars, Mel Gibson was the most sought-after by Disney, though he turned it down. Director Jeff Kanew (Revenge of the Nerds, 1984; Gotcha!, 1985; Troop Beverly Hills, 1991) was attached throughout pre-production, and fought hard to cast a buzzed-about young actor named Liam Neeson. Williams was eyeing the project at this point, but didn’t gel with Kanew. Both were sent packing when Dustin Hoffman began developing it as actor/director. Williams would finally sign on when Weir became attached. Other name actors that auditioned were a young Sam Rockwell and actress Lara Flynn Boyle, who scored a small role as one of the student’s young sister, but was all but cut from the final film.

THE AUSSIE AUTEUR: At the end of a long meeting, Weir was almost out the door when Disney boss Jeffery Katzenberg said, “I’ve got the film for you.” Weir told Premiere magazine, “It's the finest piece of writing I've worked with." Weir was thrilled to work with Williams, but had to set guidelines for the actor. "Robin and I agreed at the start that (the character) was not going to be an entertainer in the classroom,” Weir has said. “That would have been wrong for the film as a whole, so he had to put the brakes on at times." Robert Sean Leonard, cast as ‘Neil’, has said, “Robin would be the first to admit that he is not the star of the film. Peter is the star."

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Young actors Josh Charles and Ethan Hawke (pictured, right) had both been cast under Kanew’s tenure, but were kept waiting a year when director’s changed and ‘Keating’ was re-cast. It was only Charles’ second on-screen role, but said Weir of the young man, “Josh was the one to beat in auditions. No one came close to him in terms of charm and acting ability.” Hawke had starred opposite River Phoenix in Joe Dante’s Explorers four years prior, but bailed on acting to concentrate on study; Dead Poets Society was his return to filmmaking. “I thought getting this part would change my life, I had instilled it with that kind of importance," he has said.

THE WILLIAMS MAGIC: Schulman has admitted that 15percent of Keating’s dialogue is thanks to Williams’ improvisational skill, a force of nature that Weir used with precision and restraint. "When he's inspired, it would be a terrible thing to interrupt him," said the director (pictured, right; Weir, r, on-set with Williams). Some on the set recognized that behind the comedic bluster, there was sadness in Williams, made more pronounced due to his marriage breaking apart during the shoot. Actor Norman Lloyd, who locked horns with Keating in the role of ‘Mr Nolan’, told The Hollywood Reporter, “He masked the whole thing very carefully. It was never evident in the work. It was all kept under control." Ethan Hawke offers a different view, stating, “Even (to me) at 18, it was obvious he was in a tremendous amount of pain. Anybody who was watching knew."

CARPE DIEM: By the end of the summer of 1989, Touchstone’s faith in the film had been rewarded. On a tightly monitored budget of US$16.4million, Dead Poets Society faced off against the summer of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Batman, Ghostbusters II, When Harry Met Sally and Licence to Kill to earn US$95.9million domestically – the 10th top grossing film of the year. Internationally, it was a blockbuster, adding US$140million. Oscar noticed, giving Tom Schulman the Best Original Screenplay trophy and nominating the film for Best Picture, Director and Actor. So resonant were the experiences of the young men under Keating’s charge, the battle cry of the film, “Oh captain, my captain!” became a global hashtag in the wake of Robin William’s passing in 2014.

EVENT Cinemas are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Dead Poets Society with rare big-screen sessions nationwide on August 7. Full venue and ticket information is available at their official website.

Acknowledged sources: E! News Online, Box Office Mojo, Robin Williams FansiteThe Hollywood Reporter, People.

Saturday
Jul132019

2019 SCIFI FILM FESTIVAL FIRST WAVE A FEAST OF GLOBAL FUTURISM

The SciFi Film Festival has announced a selection of its 2019 program that highlights its burgeoning international reputation as Australia’s predominant science fiction and fantasy film celebration. An unprecedented 17 countries will have visionary works play the 6th annual event, which unspools from September 6-8 at the Event Cinemas George Street complex in Sydney.

Comprised of 9 features and a record 31 short films, the program boasts three World Premieres, four International Premieres and 27 Australian premieres. While the bulk of the program is locked in place, Opening Night honours and the prime Saturday evening session are still being negotiated; both will be announced in the days ahead. (Pictured, above; Gigi Edgley in Ben Alpi's Hashtag)

“The degree of innovation and imagination in this year’s submissions was truly remarkable,” says Program Director Simon Foster, who notes that genre filmmakers are addressing contemporary social and political issues at a time when smart commentary is needed more than ever. “We have a works that explore such themes as gender and sexual identity, family structure, the influence of technology, population control and social media reliance. One of the most challenging films in the festival is a Mexican short featuring a mega-robot P.O.T.U.S. enforcing border wall policy,” says Foster. “Of course, we also have spaceships, ray guns and alien visitors, both good and bad, too.” (Pictured, above: Coco Gillies in Dana-Lee Mierowsky Bennett's Sammy) 

Session by session, here is what audiences can expect from the 2019 SciFi Film Festival:

Session 1: OPENING NIGHT, Friday September 6 at 6.30pm
Short: BROLGA (Dir: Adrian Powers; 15.37 mins, Australia): In a ravaged future-Australia, a solitary hermit guarding a priceless treasure is forced to offer sanctuary to a young girl who is fleeing murderous scavengers. With danger around every corner, can they learn to survive together?
Feature: TBA

Session 2: Friday September 6 at 8.30pm
Short: SOMNIUM (Dir: Mayed Al Qasimi; 14.21 mins, U.K.): An intergalactic postal worker on her final job with her laconic yet trusted ship must face unexpected challenges in the vast endless space.
Feature: THE FINAL LAND (Dir: Marcel Barion; 113 mins, Germany): Two dissimilar men in a small, old spaceship set off in search of a new home. Says Barion, “We made a film about two guys dealing with escape, search, freedom and home, just by designing their world from our very own point of view.” (Pictured, above; Torben Föllmer and Milan Pesl in The Final Land)

Session 3: Saturday September 7 at 10.30am
Short: SPICE FRONTIER (Dirs: Jalil Sadool, Adam Meyer; 8.10 mins, U.S.A.): Centuries after the destruction of Earth, Kent and his cyborg companion, C-LA, embark on a flavor-driven adventure across the dangerous intergalactic trade route known as the 'Spice Road.' (Pictured, below; a scene from the film Spice Frontier)
Feature: ERRATUM 2037 (Dirs: The Benoit Brothers; 77 mins, France): When two teens receive a message from the future, they become wide-eyed heroes in a world at the mercy of space-time paradoxes. By using old school visual effects, The Benoit Brothers adventure pays homage to the great sci-fi productions of the 80's that inspired them.

Session 4: SHORT FILM SHOWCASE, Saturday September 7 at 1.00pm
SPIRAL (Dir: Steven Kerr; 10.53 mins, Australia): Following WW3, a young woman working in an Australian outpost confronts prejudice as she attempts to save a Soviet cosmonaut marooned in space.
HASHTAG (Dir: Ben Alpi; 14.58 mins, U.S.A.): In a looming future where social media celebrities dominate our culture, X is the world’s supreme online icon— but how far must she go to hold on to her popularity?
PERFECT WORLD (Dir: Yuske Fukada; 11.17 mins, Japan): In 2121, citizens in the ‘City’ are judged based on a score of one's efficiency, called a SPEC. Doctor K faces a question between the law and morality when visited by his pregnant ex-lover.
CARCEREM (Dir: Jason Trembath; 6.40 mins, Australia): The lives of career combat officers who choose to remain on the remote desert planet of Carcerem.
IDEAL HOMELAND (Dir: Bo Wei; 15.26 mins, China): In the near future, A.I. controls the population of Earth. Joe, the carrier of AI's sexual experience, does the most mechanical task every day to obtain survival credits but yearns for the freedom of independence.
TRUTH.exe (Dir: Ricky Townsend; 18.30 mins, New Zealand): A young hacktivist is given a USB drive which contains an extraordinary truth; his mission is to upload it to the internet.
THUNDER FROM A CLEAR SKY (Dir: Yohan Faure; 21 mins, Canada): Ten years after the discovery of a remote planetary system likely to sustain the early stages of a civilization. the whole world answers the question: "Should we meet this civilization?"

Session 5: Saturday September 7 at 3.30pm
Short: THURSDAY NIGHT (Dir: Gonçalo Almeida; 7.36 mins, Portugal): An elusive stranger pays Bimbo a visit in the middle of the night to deliver a vital message.
Feature: A LIVING DOG (Dir: Daniel Raboldt; 94 mins, Germany): The war between mankind and intelligent machines has begun. In the vast emptiness of northern Scandinavia, deserter Tomasz meets Lilja, the last survivor of a resistance group, who is determined to fight the superior machines. With every minute that passes the machines get closer, their sensors programmed to detect human voice patterns. If you speak, even whisper - you die.

Session 6: Saturday September 7 at 6.00pm
Short: SLICE OF LIFE (Dirs: Luka Hrgović, Dino Julius; 14 mins, Croatia): Forced to live on the edge of humanity and morality, one lonesome, low-life drug dealer will try to change his life against all odds.
Feature: TBA

Session 7: AN EVENING OF ANIMATION, Saturday September 7 at 8.30pm
MONSTERS WALKING (Dir: Diego Porral; 1.05 mins, Spain): 'Monsters Walking' is a short film about monsters that walk.
TACIT BLUE (Dir: Wenkai Duan; 9.14 mins, China): Carl must rescue his daughter Alice, who has been kidnapped and turned into a killing machine.
GUSTAAKH (THE ARROGANT) (Dir: Vijesh Rajan; 3.49 mins, India): In a future cyberpunk city, a concerned citizen rises up to the occasion when an publicity hungry dictator fails to protect his people.
A DAY IN THE PARK (Dir: Diego Porral; 2.55 mins, Spain): A grandfather explains to his grandkid how things used to be... or maybe how they are now.
ODDS AND EVENS (Dir: Michał Czyż, 3.36 mins, Poland): A nameless astronaut’s journey through the universe and beyond human comprehension.
AVARYA (Dir: Gökalp Gönen; 19.58 mins, Turkey): Hoping to find a habitable planet, a human becomes trapped in his own ship after his robot overseer finds every single candidate planet unsuitable.
M.A.M.O.N. (Dir: Alejandro Damiani; 5.00 mins, Mexico): A war breaks out between a Trump-like mecha-robot and several stereotypical Mexican Latinos.
ATTACK OF THE DEMONS (Dir: Eric Power; 72 mins, U.S.A): For centuries, a demonic cult has been plotting the destruction of mankind. When a small Colorado town is overrun by a legion of mutating demons, three non-demon hunter friends must use every skill their minds can fathom to stave off the demon apocalypse.

Session 8: Sunday September 8 at 10.30am
Short: CURIOSITY (Dir: Lukas Pace; 10.20 mins, U.K.): A lonely 10 year old girl named Katie one day stumbles upon a forgotten robot of days gone by and mistakenly activates it.
Feature: MY GRANDPA IS AN ALIEN (Dir: Marina Andree Skop, Drazen Zarkovic; 79 mins, Croatia): Una and her new robot friend have 24 hours to find her Grandpa, who was kidnapped by aliens. (Pictured, right; Lana Hranjec in My Grandpa is An Alien)

Session 9: WOMEN IN SCIFI, Sunday September 8 at 1.00pm
PARIS YOU GOT ME (Dir: Julie Boehm; 9.15 mins, Germany): The street artist George lures Ksenia into his magic world of art illusions.
I-RIS (Dir: Leila Garrison; 12.11 mins, U.S.A.): In a world where people can get eye implants to adjust what they see, complications with one girl’s operation cause her traumas to manifest visually.
DEER BOY (Dir: Katarzyna Gondek; 15.00 mins, Poland): A hunter's son, born with antlers, learns that each man kills the thing he loves.
TRANSMISSION (Dir: Rebecca Gardiner; 14.45 mins, Australia): Desperate to find a missing research team, Commander Sterling and her crew venture deep into an unknown planet.
SAMMY (Dir: Dana-Lee Mierowsky Bennett; 14.00 mins, Australia): In a war torn Australia, 10-year-old Sammy must build a hot air balloon so she and her little brother can find their parents.
UNREGISTERED (Dir: Sophia Banks; 15 mins, U.S.A.): Los Angeles, the not too distant future: the government limits one child per home as a solution to overpopulation. The love between Rekker and Ata force them to question the state of society - as well as confront a secret of her own.
MOBIUS BOND (Dir: Emilija Riviere; 15 mins, Lithuania): A girl experiences strange body symptoms, which become an evidence of a Mobius-like topology of the Universe.
EINSTEIN-ROSEN (Dir: Olga Osorio; 9 mins, Spain): Teo claims he has found a wormhole. His brother Óscar does not believe him... at least not for now.
LAB RAT (Dir: Nour Wazzi; 15.28 mins, U.K.): A group of scientists trapped in a lab learn that one of them is an A.I..... and it has been deceiving them.

Session 10: Sunday September 8 at 3.30pm
Short: AUDIO GUIDE (Dir: Chris Elena; 9 mins, Australia): Says Elena, “It's about a woman in an art gallery listening to an Audio Guide that then tells her how everyone is going to die, revealing the real history of the world and the artworks.”
Feature: NORMAN (Dir Joel Guelzo; 105 mins, U.S.A.): Norman becomes trapped and isolated in the past, jeopardizing life in both realities. He must invent a way back to the future before the world collapses.

Session 11: CLOSING NIGHT, Sunday September 8 at 6.00pm
Short: FACE SWAP (Dirs: David Gidali, Einat Tubi, 5.01 mins, U.S.A.): Convincing his wife to try out a new A.I. technology to spice up their sex life, a husband ends up getting a bit more spice than he bargained for.
Feature: SPECIAL PRESENTATION - STAY TUNED (Dir: Peter Hyams, 88 mins, U.S.A.): A husband and wife are sucked into a hellish television reality and have to survive a gauntlet of twisted versions of popular shows. Criminally underseen when first released in 1992, this thrilling, hilarious satire explores media saturation and society’s obsession with ‘The Tube’. (Pictured, right; John Ritter and friends in Peter Hyams' Stay Tuned).

SCREEN-SPACE is a media partner of the SciFi Film Festival. Managing Editor Simon Foster is the Program Director of the festival. 

Thursday
Mar292018

AUSSIE CINEMAS FATTEN UP ON EASTER MOVIE TREATS

Australian exhibitors could not be more grateful for the annual Easter Holiday box-office surge. With the award season favourites closing out their runs and the American summer blockbusters just around the corner, the March/April window would be bring patchy revenue if not for the Easter break and the accompanying school holidays (the rainier, the better). From virtual realities to gay romances to prehistoric soccer, the Easter 2018 line-up offers an eclectic mix. SCREEN-SPACE reviews eight new bigscreen entries vying for your non-chocolate Easter dollars (with apologies to SHERLOCK GNOMES, but you kinda know what you’re in with the punny sequel)…

BLOCKERS
Director: Kay Cannon
Stars: Kathryn Newton, John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan (pictured, above).
Plot: Julie, Kayla and Sam are three high school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter are three overprotective parents who flip out when they find out about their daughters' plans. They soon join forces for a wild and chaotic quest to stop the girls from sealing the deal - no matter what the cost.
Verdict: The ‘capital-C’ comedy moments deliver the pacing and skill that have become de rigeur in this post-Apatow movie world; anything goes, if the timing is right. But the narrative works best when debutant director Kay Cannon applies her understanding of strong independent women; she wrote the Pitch Perfect films and was a key creative on TV series 30 Rock and Girl Boss. Leslie Mann gets an all-too-rare shot at a leading role, and nails it; John Cena and Ike Barinholtz share scene-stealing honours. Admirably, the teen characters are as fully-fleshed out as the protagonists. Middle section sags, but Acts 1 and 3 are hilarious. RATING: 3.5/5

A WRINKLE IN TIME
Director: Ava Duvernay
Stars: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey (pictured, right), Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Pine, Levi Miller.
Plot: Meg Murry and her little brother, Charles Wallace, have been without their scientist father ever since he discovered a new planet and used the concept known as a tesseract to travel there. Joined by Meg's classmate Calvin O'Keefe and guided by the three mysterious astral travelers, the children brave a dangerous journey to a planet that possesses all of the evil in the universe.
Verdict: The desperation of all involved to make this adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved YA fantasy novel soar infests this monumental dud. From director Ava Duvernay’s heavy-handed direction to the suffocating special effects to the cumbersome, plodding sentimentality and bloated self-importance that imbues the grinding plot, A Wrinkle in Time throws everything at the screen with no idea as to how to make it gel. A lifeless lead performance from Storm Reid and utter lack of humour doesn’t help; garish set/costume/production design proves nauseating. RATING: 1.5/5  

THE DEATH OF STALIN
Director: Armando Iannuci
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor.
Plot: Moscow, 1953; Soviet leader Joseph Stalin collapses unexpectedly of a brain haemorrhage. A frenetic surge of raw panic spreads like a virus amongst the senior members of the Council of Ministers, as they scramble to maintain order, weed out the competition, and, ultimately, take power. In the end, who will prevail after the death of Stalin?
Verdict: There is ‘political farce’ and then there is Armando Iannuci’s The Death of Stalin, a comedy so black as to almost absorb one’s capacity for laughter. Iannuci’s past pointed barbs designed to tear apart the hypocrisy and immorality of our leaders (TV series Veep and The Thick of It; the feature In The Loop) did the job but left us with one finger grasping humanity; not so The Death of Stalin. It’s funny, but in the same way that joke about the uncle who walks into the woods with his nephew at sunset is funny; we laugh, and we get why we laugh, but everything about the humour is painfully uncomfortable. RATING: 3.5/5

   

LOVE, SIMON
Director: Greg Berlanti
Stars: Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Tony Hale, Katherine Langford.
Plot: Everyone deserves a great love story, but for 17-year-old Simon Spier, it's a little more complicated. He hasn't told his family or friends that he's gay, and he doesn't know the identity of the anonymous classmate that he's fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing.
Verdict: Far too many contemporary teen comedies anoint themselves as ‘Hughes-ian’, desperate to align themselves with the smart, sweet, insightful teen movies of the genre’s golden years, the 80s. Finally, a film earns the accolade; Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon is a deeply moving, genuinely funny, gorgeously cinematic film that recalls the iconic filmmaker’s outsider classics Sixteen Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful, as well as Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. That Berlanti’s film might also be at the forefront of the next great teen film era – in which teenage protagonists alter how their world understands and accepts who they are on their terms – makes it an extraordinary achievement. RATING: 4.5/5   

THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
Director: Aki Kaurasmaki
Stars: Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Janne Hyytiäinen, Ilkka Koivula.
Plot: When the authorities turn down his application for asylum, Syrian refugee Khaled is forced underground, where travelling-salesman-turned-restauranteur Wikström finds him sleeping in the yard behind his establishment. He offers him a job and a roof over his head and, for a while, they form a Utopian union with the restaurant's waitress, the chef and his dog.
Verdict: The best films from Finnish director Aki Kaurasmaki find the faintest glimmer of hope amongst the darkest deadpan melancholy (Leningrad Cowboys Go to America; The Man Without a Past; Le Havre). The Other Side of Hope may be his most effortlessly constructed yet deeply affecting film to date; it won him the Best Director Silver Bear in Berlin last year. One immigrant’s seemingly insurmountable struggle to deal with his new life in modern Helsinki is real-world funny; there is not a false note in the film’s humanity, despite a reality that at times seems entirely cinematic. RATING: 4/5

EARLY MAN
Director: Nick Park.
Voices: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Richard Ayoade
Plot: Plucky caveman Dug, his sidekick Hognob and the rest of their tribe face a grave threat from Lord Nooth, who plans transform their land into a giant mine. Not ready to go down without a fight, Dug and Hognob must unite their people in an epic quest to defeat a mighty enemy - the Bronze Age. The field of battle – the newly-invented realm of the soccer pitch.
Verdict: The Aardman Animation oeuvre aren’t the films you go to for gut-busting laughs. Curse of The Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run and their masterpiece, Shaun the Sheep, were sweet, gentle, character-driven charmers; when Aardman went for broad schtick, with 2012’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits, it produced their least satisfying film. Early Man falls somewhere in between. The high concept comedy seems to circle around inspired moments of mirth; one senses there is a better movie lurking inside director Nick Park’s hit/miss grab at World Cup football fever relevance. The stereotypically ethnic bad guys feel anachronistic in 2018, too. RATING: 2.5/5 

 

PAUL APOSTLE OF CHRIST
Director: Andrew Hyatt
Stars: James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel, Oliver Martinez, John Lynch, Joanne Whalley.
Plot: Risking his life, Luke ventures to Rome to visit Paul -- the apostle who's bound in chains and held captive in Nero's darkest and bleakest prison cell. Haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds, Paul wonders if he's been forgotten as he awaits his grisly execution. Before Paul's death, Luke resolves to write another book that details the birth of what will come to be known as the church.
Verdict: The resurgent faith-based film genre grows sturdier with Andrew Hyatt’s retelling of the story of apostle Paul and his mentoring of friend and follower, Luke. Well-crafted and solidly dramatic, the film rises above recent shoddy, preachier Biblical renderings (notably the God-awful Samson, featuring Billy Zane and Rutger Hauer). Not likely to convert any heathen non-believers; the narrative feels deceptively fictitious, which may not please the devout. It is, however, an immensely watchable story, with solid performances from Jim Caviziel (returning to the flock 14 years after his iconic role in The Passion of The Christ), Oliver Martinez and the terrific James Faulkner. RATING: 3/5

READY PLAYER ONE
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendehlson and Hannah John-Kamen.
Plot: In an overpopulated 2045, people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant if eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg, hidden somewhere in the OASIS. When unlikely hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.
Verdict: Should Steven Spielberg, arguably the most influential pop culture figure of the last 40 years and inspiration for much of what author Ernest Cline celebrated in his bestselling novel Ready Player One, be the filmmaker that oversees the blockbuster adaptation? Of course he should; who better to reflect upon the decades that made Spielberg the most successful filmmaker of all time than Spielberg himself. The result is the most playful, exciting and beautifully envisioned Spielberg-directed movie since 2002’s Catch Me If You Can. The great director has some issues wrapping up all the strands of the story; the last half-hour is a bit clunky and he allows some awkward sentimentality to seep in. The journey, however, is filled with some truly wondrous sequences that confirm the director can still craft thrilling popcorn entertainment better than anyone on the planet. RATING: 4/5 

Friday
Dec152017

SCREEN-SPACE’S BEST (& WORST) FILMS OF 2017

Not a list, per se, and certainly not anything more than one cranky, old, cross-eyed critic’s rambling opinion. But one can’t begrudge the editorial team here at Screen-Space (i.e., me) the opportunity to put into some perspective a year of relentless movie going. Check out these stats – at time of writing, 475 movies for a total of 810.6 hours at an average 9.5 movies a week (thanks, Letterboxd). So, with the Best of The Best broken into genres, let’s launch into the annual rummage through my increasingly foggy memory and muster our ‘Best Films of 2017’ parade….

BEST ACTION: Josh and Ben Safdie’s Good Time, starring Best Actor Oscar material Robert Pattinson, was more thriller than action, but it got the heart racing like few 2017 films. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver seemed to have the top spot sewn up, until Charlize Theron’s brutal, brilliant ATOMIC BLONDE from director David Leitch upped the ante. The stairwell brawl is the best bout of bone-crunching action all year. Also in the mix were Doug Liman’s American Made and Peter Berg’s Patriot Day.

BEST HORROR: No horror film was as universally acclaimed as Jordan Peele’s GET OUT. Shaping as an unlikely but very real award season contender, it was scary as hell, but also smart, funny, stylish and perfectly timed to rattle Trump’s America. Quality horror was abundant in 2017 – consider Andy Muschietti’s blockbuster It; M Night Shyamalan’s triumphant comeback Split; Coralie Fargeat’s blood-soaked French shocker Revenge; Tyler MacIntyre’s high-school murder romp Tragedy Girls; and, David Lowery’s divisive but stunning A Ghost Story. And for the record, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother is…brilliant!

BEST TRUE STORY: Bending the rules a bit here, as Steven Spielberg's THE POST, with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep doesn’t drop in Australia until early January. But we got an early peek, and it is Spielberg at his most assured and fluent, a soaring drama that reinforces the crucial role a free press plays in a vibrant democracy (topical, much?!) Apologies to James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, robbed of our Best True Story crown. Also high amongst the recreation pics are James Gray’s majestic The Lost City of Z and, oddly enough, two tennis stories – Janus Metz’s Borg vs. McEnroe and Emma Stone and Steve Carell in Battle of The Sexes, from directing duo Johnathon Dayton and Valerie Faris.

BEST SUPER HERO FILM: James Mangold’s Logan was Hugh Jackman’s Hamlet, and he should be all over the Best Actor categories, but isn’t. The biggest game changer of the year, and the best super hero film in ages, was Patty Jenkins’ thrilling and emotional WONDER WOMAN, starring the year’s biggest new star Gal Gadot. Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok and James Gunn’s Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 kept the genre buoyant; biggest surprise was Dean Israelite’s smarter-than-expected Power Rangers (Ed: our guilty pleasure of 2017).

BEST COMEDY: Hard to believe, but there’s not a single contender to challenge Michael Winterbottom’s A TRIP TO SPAIN for the Best Comedy crown. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reprise their roles as thinly veiled versions of themselves, this time going a little darker as the realities of ageing set in. Kudos to Audrey Plaza, who made the most of the flawed but occasionally funny Ingrid Goes West and The Little Hours. If only to fill a bit more space in this category, we’ll admit to not hating Dax Shephard’s Chips as much as everyone else did.

BEST DRAMA: Nicole Kidman had arguably her best year ever, on screens both small (Big Little Lies; China Girl Top of The Lake) and big, first with Garth Davis’ breakout smash Lion and then with Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled (one of 2017’s great underrated works). Harry Dean Stanton’s final film, John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky, was the perfect farewell; the best teen film of the year was Ry Russo-Young’s existential mystery/coming-of-age drama, Before I Fall, starring a wonderful Zoey Deutch. We can’t split the year’s best drama vote, so it’s a tie – Sean Baker’s study of a family living on the fringe of American compassion, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, and Luca Guadagnino’s profoundly lovely and compassionate CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.

BEST AUSTRALIAN FILM: The kids are all right, at least as far as the local film sector is concerned. Best Australian film of the year was Jeffery Walker’s DANCE ACADEMY, a classic overcoming-the-odds drama that promised and delivered (not a boast many Aussie films can make in 2017). Other thoroughly energised, teen-themed winners included Neil Triffet’s Emo The Musical and Gregory Erdstein’s That’s Not Me (both of which will find appreciative audiences on home vid). The next wave of genre talents emerged in the form of Tristan Barr and Michael Godsen (the nerve-shredding, single-take illusion, Watch the Sunset) and Addison Heath (the bleak, beautiful The Viper’s Hex, co-directed by Jasmine Jakupi).

BEST NETFLIX FILM: If the most influential new production entity in the world is powerful enough to secure a slot at Cannes, it’s big enough to be given consideration on Screen-Space. It’s impossible to ignore such challenging works as Marti Noxon’s To The Bone, Dee Rees Mudbound, Chris Smith’s Jim & Andy, Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (also Cannes endorsed), Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch and Joon-ho Bong’s Okja. The new network's greatest triumph was Laurent Bouzereau’s FIVE CAME BACK, a 3 episode/180 minute documentary series in which present-day Hollywood visionaries Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Greengrass and Francis Ford Coppola (with Meryl Streep providing narration) honour the wartime contributions of their industry forefathers, John Huston, John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler and George Stevens.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: No factual film came close to Nick Broomfield’s tragic profile WHITNEY CAN I BE ME for emotional impact, but Brad Abrahams’ alien abductee oddity Love and Saucers, Jedd and Todd Wilder’s heartbreaking mystery God Knows Where I Am and Roger Donaldson’s Formula 1 biopic McLaren were standout performers in limited/festival release. The weirdest, most wonderful insight into unique creativity was Mike Brook’s Something Quite Peculiar: The Life and Times of Steve Kilbey, a bittersweet profile of the enigmatic frontman of cult band The Church.

BEST FESTIVAL FILM: Of the many wonderful films that were afforded one, maybe two festival sessions before disappearing back into the sales market ether, Kamili Andini’s Bali-set study in grief and fantasy THE SEEN AND UNSEEN proved cinematic perfection. Other mini-masterpieces that need further screen exposure were Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s dash-cam marvel The Road Movie and Joshua J Provost’s study in art-form co-dependence, Coalesce: A City Composed.

BEST REWATCH: The bigscreen session of Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND post-4K digital restoration was a bucket list event, though it was only one of the great retro-sessions in 2017. A 70mm screening of Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff and co-hosting a Romero tribute double feature of Night of The Living Dead and Creepshow, both at the iconic Randwick Ritz in Sydney’s east, were rare privileges. Old favourites that still delighted and enthralled included Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria, Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Michael Apted’s Coalminer’s Daughter and Steve Barron’s Electric Dreams, a film that now seems 20 years ahead of its time.

And THE WORST FILM OF 2017: Look at this miserable, misguided parade of objectionable duds - The Dark Tower, Planetarium, Three Summers, The Cure For Wellness, Baywatch, The Circle, Snatched and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. That said, none of them really challenged the indecipherable serial killer snorefest THE SNOWMAN for sheer incompetence. Tomas Alfredson’s all-star, all-shite cast, including Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, JK Simmons and (oh dear) Val Kilmer, stare at each other in the hope somebody in frame will save the scene/film. Not even the likes of DOP Dion Beebe, editor Thelma Schoonmaker or EP Martin Scorsese…MARTIN SCORSESE!!...could polish this cinematic turd.

Saturday
Apr222017

SCREEN-SPACE @ 5: MY FAVOURITE SCREEN-SPACE MOMENTS.

April 22 marks the fifth anniversary of this determinedly ad-free and search-engine unfriendly labour-of-love. A warbling discourse of approximately 30,000 film-related words, as a start-up we covered a forgotten Werner Herzog classic, the revival of a kitschy 3D spaghetti western and a review of something called The Avengers – none of which represent the best work I have done. Which begs the question, “What is?” Under the guise of shameless self-congratulation, I zero in on my favourite articles from the five key categories collectively called Screen-Space…

BLOG / ...
The ‘Blog’ content stems from an immediate, instinctive need to write (REMEMBERING BILL PAXTON; TONY SCOTT: UPON REFLECTION…; TIFF AUDIENCES STILL WARM TO THE BIG CHILL) or often random thought patterns (THE FEVER DREAM THAT IS SHARKNADO; WHATEVER HAPPENED TO…? HOLLYWOOD’S MISSING MOVIES; THE RISE AND FALL AND RISE OF KEVIN COSTNER). I had fun taking the great filmmakers down a peg in my 2012 two-parter THE WORST 20 OF CINEMA’S BEST; I still get choked up when I re-read THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS OF MELISSA MATHESON and REMEMBERING HAROLD RAMIS; and, my animosity towards the terrible stereotypes in Madagascar 3 led to ANIMATION IN BLACK AND WHITE: ARE HOLLYWOOD CARTOONS RACIST? I enjoy the silly dialogue I have with myself called IN BOB WE TRUST, in which my sane, informed pro-De Niro voice stands against my dickish De Niro-detractor voice. But the grandest Blog folly I have undertaken is the THE TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS, a mammoth 18,000 word dissection of the 2016 movie year. I had a concept going in, even a few of the categories headings (an In Memoriam list called TEN SOARING SPIRITS; a box office analysis titled SIX STUDIO SCORECARDS), but I soon realised that the daily output required to realise such a project was…daunting. Got it done, though. Earned four Facebook likes, too. 

REVIEWS / ...
If the Review pages have taught me anything, it is, “Don’t piss off misogynists or Seth McFarlane fans.” Scathing reviews of Cassie Jaye’s lopsided MRA doco THE RED PILL and Seth MacFarlane’s non-comedy A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST met a bitter backlash; “Simon, you’re a f***ing moron,” stated one eloquent wordsmith. Similar ill will from THE HOBBIT and MCU fans poured forth when I dissed their heroes, but I embraced their (mostly) respectful counterpoints. I take pride in supporting advocacy works that highlight crucial social issues (BULLY; GIRL RISING; GIVEN; LAST CALL AT THE OASIS; UNDER THE GUN; I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO) and little-seen indie work, for whom a good review can carry festival and marketplace cache (WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CONCRETE; ARROWHEAD; THE QUARANTINE HAUNTINGS; THE HUMAN RACE; SUNDAY; GIRL ASLEEP). Of the 297 reviews, two of which I’m particularly fond are the 2016 Cannes Film Festival opener, Woody Allen’s CAFÉ SOCIETY, and the personal perspective that infused my thoughts on the Brian Wilson biopic, LOVE & MERCY. None have flowed so freely as my 5-star rant for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY; a childhood of conjuring my own expanded Star Wars universe was honoured by Gareth Edwards’ perfect tentpole blockbuster, which I think my words reflected.

FEATURES / ...
‘Features’ has emerged as the flagship section of SCREEN-SPACE, home to the majority of the film festival and award season coverage; all those ‘BEST OF… / WORST OF…’ pieces surface here. It is here you will find the interview content, my favourite part of the job (well, not the transcribing). I recently boasted that my chat with the Raw director, called IN THE FLESH: THE JULIA DUCOURNAU INTERVIEW, was a favourite, which I stand by. Certainly those conducted on the rarefied ground of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival are a highlight, amongst them BOGDAN MIRICI, NICOLE GARCIA, KOJI FUKADA, BRUNO DUMONT and ANURAG KASHYAP. I’ve had the extraordinary good fortune to chat with my film heroes, including actors MICHAEL BIEHN, TOM SKERRITT, TEMUERA MORRISON, MARLON WAYANS, CATHERINE KEENER and MICHAEL PARE; directors GASPAR NOE (Irreversible; Love), RAMIN BAHRANI (99 Homes), COLIN TREVORROW (Safety Not Guaranteed; Jurassic World); CATE SHORTLAND (Lore); cult hero STEVE DE JARNATT (Miracle Mile; Cherry 2000); and, Iranian auteur NIMA JAVIDI (Melbourne). My most enthusiastic interviewee was German director MAIKE BROCHHAUS, who couldn’t believe her X-rated romantic comedy Schnick Schnack Schnuck had been discovered in Australia; actresses ANNA MARGARET HOLLYMAN and NADIR CASELLI were also utterly charming. I am eternally grateful to the many independent sector auteurs who have contributed their time and personality. Arguably my most cherished interview was the face-to-face I had with an energised M NIGHT SHYAMALAN, whom I sat with just as his thriller The Visit was ushering in his career resurgence.

INDUSTRY / ...
Although envisioned as a ‘business section’, the ‘Industry’ pages have allowed for more personal writing. In R.I.P. DAVID HANNAY, I reflected upon the Australian producer’s remarkable career while lamenting the passing of a cherished industry presence; a work colleague from the VHS boom years, retiring distribution veteran Bob Wright granted me his only interview, titled 21ST CENTURY MAN. As he weathered the storm that blows in when a big-budget pic flops, director Alex Proyas vented to me in PROYAS CASTS DARK SHADE OVER OF GODS OF EGYPT DETRACTORS; similarly, Wyrmwood director Kiah Roache-Turner contributed an exclusive self-penned statement on the personal impact of film piracy in ZOMBIES, PIRATES AND ME: A DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT (the only content in our five year history not written by yours truly); and, THE HISTORY OF LGBT CINEMA IN AUSTRALIA PARTS 1 and 2 was the result of an immense research undertaking. The most satisfying of all Industry pages has been FOUNDER OF HANOI FILM HEAVEN REFLECTS ON REEL LEGACY, a melancholy chat with American expat Gerald Hermann and the movie memories he helped create as head of Hanoi Cinematheque, an arthouse outpost in Viet Nam’s bustling metropolis that was scheduled for demolition a matter of weeks after our interview.

HORROR / ...
I created the ‘Horror’ page to house edgier content from my beloved genre without fear of offending visitors. The search for content has led me to the organisers of such internationally renowned horror film festivals as The UK’s Frightfest, Brazil’s Fantaspoa, Toronto’s Midnight Madness, the Freak Me Out section of the Sydney International Film Festival and LA’s Hollywood Horrorfest. No mention of the ‘Horror’ pages would be complete without acknowledgement of Sydney’s A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet and founder Dr Dean Bertram, who has supplied countless screeners and contacts since Day 1; check out this summary of the coverage I afforded ANOH/FP 2013. Ours is a relationship I undertook to honour with the sentimental piece, FEST ALUMNI RECALL GLORY DAYS AS GENRE LOVE-IN TURNS 10. Shout-out to the teams at SUFF, MUFF, Monster Fest and Revelations for all the reciprocal love over the years. ‘Horror’ has been home to young buck directors SEVE SCHELENZ (Peelers), BRYN TILLY (Umbra), DANE MILLERD (There’s Something in The Pillaga), JEFF RENFROE (The Colony), CHRISTOPHER AD CASTILLO (The Diplomat Hotel), JEREMY GARDNER (The Battery) and MICHAEL O’SHEA (The Transfiguration), as well as established greats JON HEWITT (Turkey Shoot, 2015) and TODD FARMER (Jason X). My favourite piece may be CANNES CLASSICS BOWS REFN’S RESTORATION OF BAVA BRILLIANCE, my account of that evening in Cannes when Nicholas Winding Refn presented the 4K makeover of Mario Bava’s Planet of The Vampires.

The future? A long-overdue refit is in order; I’ll be launching the SCREEN-SPACE Online Store in the weeks ahead; and, in true Sally Field fashion, I’ll continue to harangue and harass everyone I meet to LIKE, really LIKE my social media platforms (Facebook here, Twitter there). Thank you, for indulging me this outlet and responding with your kind words of encouragement. And, most importantly, a special thanks to a certain lady friend of infinitely superior talent and standing for supporting all I do here. X