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Entries in Owen Gleiberman (1)



In his engaging, remarkably frank memoir Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies, Variety chief film critic Owen Gleiberman reveals the five trade secrets that have helped him cope with what he calls “festival fever”. After 24 years as the founding movie critic at Entertainment Weekly and in his current gig as one of the last paid film commentators on Earth, he knows the pitfalls of film festival overload, declaring in Chapter 17 that “After six or seven days, I’m sated, bloated, reduced to the movie equivalent of a food coma.”

On the eve of the 2018 Sydney Film Festival, SCREEN-SPACE looks to the author’s experience and festival survival criteria to help navigate the twelve daunting days of the 65th anniversary program. We hope that drawing upon incisive passages of Gleiberman's brilliant prose (Ed: a dog-eared copy of Movie Freak never leaves my desk) will ensure our Emerald City readers maintain good movie-going mental health in the weeks ahead... 

Gleiberman has deduced that, “three movies a day…creates a nice sustainable flow.” Four movies is doable but not advised (“…it’s not bricklaying, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to feel good.”) He recounts the first time he tried to conquer a four-movie sit-in - a retrospective marathon of Beatles films, when he was 12. “Halfway through Let It Be, I felt my interest dissolving faster than the Beatles’ love for one another,” he writes. Sydneysiders might be tempted to multi-movie quadrella one of the weekend days; for example, Saturday, June 9 has 46 films scheduled across 14 locations, starting with a 10am session of the 234-minute Chinese drama An Elephant Sitting Still (pictured, right). Best not to, though; as Gleiberman concludes, by the seventh or eighth hour of film immersion, “your system is literally fed up with images.”

The shared rhythmic urgency of great (and/or loud) music and great (and/or loud) sex makes for rousing movie watching. Or, as Gleiberman pens it, “it’s a way of revitalizing the primacy of your responses.” Throughout his book, he cites moments in his musical education that have impacted his worldview (jump ahead to page 257 for his account of how Nina Simone changed his life). And the title ‘Movie Freak’ carries its own double meaning, given the open-door authorial policy re his psycho-sexual complexities. So it is no surprise that the cinema of ‘sex’ and ‘rock’n’roll’ should so energise Gleiberman. SFF programmers get the music part; one of the festival’s most popular strands has always been Sounds on Screen, which in 2018 includes Bad Reputation, a bio-doc on hard-rock goddess Joan Jett, and director Travis Beard’s Muslim-metal odyssey RockAbul. Porn, not so much, although there’s promise in Sari Braithwaite’s [Censored], a montage-doc made entirely of frames excised by Australian censors, and the late inclusion of Gaspar Noe's (non-doc) Cannes sensation, Climax.   

Oh, we are so on board with this! Writes Gleiberman, “Watching movies is all about pleasure, and so is evaluating them, so I say that you need to remain in a constant dialogue with your pleasure centers.” His global standing as a critic means he has gorged on the best festival food options the world over, from Sundance (“…Burgie’s, the low-down grease-pit burger diner on Main Street [it closed in 2005]…the Vietnamese place up the block… Davanza’s, where the ground-beef-and-mushroom pizza is an orgy of crusty tasty delight”) to Cannes (“…where you can have the greatest pizza you ever tasted…Even the name of the place is perfect: It’s called…La Pizza”). Rookie festivalists in Sydney may find themselves drawn to the fast food haunts of George Street (don’t…just, don’t). Instead, stick to the ‘three films a day’ rule and use the down time to partake of the event’s restaurant partners, which include Abode, Bloodwood, Bar Machiavelli, Azuma (pictured, right), Chef’s Gallery or The Ritz Bar. Most have specials for fest patrons; all will hurry you through if a session beckons. 

In Movie Freak, Gleiberman's favoured festival bud is Elvis Mitchell (pictured, right), one of America's finest film critics (Movieline; The New York Times), scholars (lectures at University of Nevada), broadcasters (hosts KCRW’s The Treatment podcast) and curators (oversaw LACMA’s Film Independent series). “An exciting bebop maestro of a critic,” says Gleiberman. But Mitchell won't be at SFF 2018, so who can you hang with to ensure that, in Gleiber-speak, “you will always wind up at a better party or be privy to more gossip - and film insight – than you would with anyone else”? Debonair festival director Nashen Moodley, ideally, but penetrating his high society realm and unforgiving schedule is tough, so ingratiate yourself with this lot – Mathieu Ravier, tireless social gadfly and film sector advocate who in past years has overseen the after-hours hangout, 'The Hub'; Garry Maddox, veteran critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and one of the festival’s favoured Q&A hosts; and, Lisa Malouf, contributor to The Limerick Review site, ebullient lover of classic film culture and the savviest person with whom to spend ten minutes if you need a 'Best of the Fest' update.


One of the key messages in Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies is ‘Back Your Own Voice With Conviction.’ Gleiberman has found himself at odds with editors and audiences alike, his observations often running counter to popular opinion. To wit, his inherent dislike of ‘the Sundance crowdpleaser’, or in his words, “watchable polished-turd entertainments posing as organic movies”. Here’s what he wrote about that flag-bearer for Sundance sweetness, 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine: “…each of its characters – loser dad! surly teen son who refuses to speak! schticky naughty grandpa played by Alan Arkin! – a walking, talking screenwriter’s index card.” We’re not so on board with his ...Sunshine bashing, but we essentially agree with him; in our 2016 SFF wrap, we gave ‘Worst of the Fest’ to an awful, already-forgotten Sundance spawn, Coconut Hero. SFF 2018 programmers weren’t swayed from their sunny Sundance predilection. The festival closes with a Sundance premiere, Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud (we’ll hold judgement, but…wow, that title); there are Sundance-endorsed pics such as Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Grand Jury Prize winner; pictured, right), Jesse Peretz’s Juliet, Naked, an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel (uh-oh) about a romance in the indie-rock scene (UH-OH!) and Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher (US Dramatic Directing Award). They are probably fine films, but if not, we’ll speak up, as should you. Don’t be afraid, writes Owen Gleiberman, of “branding yourself as the kind of curmudgeonly pariah who doesn’t know how to run with the crowd. Because you’re right and they’re wrong.”

THE 65th SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL runs June 6-17. Ticket and session details are available at the official website.

MOVIE FREAK: MY LIFE WATCHING MOVIES is currently available via Amazon (Australia/US) in print and audiobook and wherever all good books are sold.