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Entries in Box Office (2)

Monday
Feb292016

PROYAS CASTS DARK SHADE OVER GODS OF EGYPT DETRACTORS

Gods of Egypt director Alex Proyas has taken aim at the current crop of movie reviewers in the wake of his film’s critical mauling, calling them “diseased vultures”.

US critics have been scathing in their coverage of the latest work from the typically ambitious Proyas; at time of press, the US$140million production, shot largely in Australia, is at 17% on the Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus site and was posting opening weekend numbers in the low teens domestically.

Born in Egypt of Greek heritage, the Australian director debuted with the startling sci-fi vision, Spirits of The Air Gremlins of The Clouds (pictured, right) in 1989 and has an acclaimed resume of commercials and music videos to his name. Having relocated to Los Angeles in the early 90s, his feature film trajectory has endured a turbulent path; his 1994 American debut, the ill-fated The Crow, was a profitable hit, which he followed with the underperforming Dark City (now, a cult classic; 1998). He enjoyed blockbuster box office with the Will Smith hit, I Robot (2004), only to feel the sting of expensive failure with the 2009 misfire, Knowing, starring Nicholas Cage.

Proyas’ films have often divided critics, as he points out in the extensive diatribe that he posted on his Facebook page earlier today. Each work is a unique, complex genre vision that rarely fits comfortably within mainstream expectations. Even I, Robot, superficially a studio-backed/star vehicle summer tent-pole, was a morally ambiguous, thought-provoking murder mystery at its core. Critics have struggled to define Proyas’ work, usually praising his technical prowess and visionary scope but remaining bewildered or unengaged by his plotting.

But no work has been so savagely attacked as Gods of Egypt and Proyas clearly felt the need to even the playing-field. In his post, he addresses the accusations of ‘white-washing’ (the casting of Anglo actors in ethnically diverse roles); questions whether or not freedom of thought within the critical community exists anymore; alludes to the nature of social media and the need for acceptance within the ‘likes’-driven landscape. With the kind permission of the director, SCREEN-SPACE reproduces the post verbatim:

“NOTHING CONFIRMS RAMPANT STUPIDITY FASTER...
Than reading reviews of my own movies. I usually try to avoid the experience - but this one takes the cake. Often, to my great amusement, a critic will mention my past films in glowing terms, when at the time those same films were savaged, as if to highlight the critic's flawed belief of my descent into mediocrity. You see, my dear fellow FBookers, I have rarely gotten great reviews… on any of my movies, apart from those by reviewers who think for themselves and make up their own opinions. Sadly those type of reviewers are nearly all dead. Good reviews often come many years after the movie has opened. I guess I have the knack of rubbing reviewers the wrong way - always have. This time of course they have bigger axes to grind - they can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming "white-wash!!!” like the deranged idiots they all are. They fail to understand, or chose to pretend to not understand what this movie is, so as to serve some bizarre consensus of opinion which has nothing to do with the movie at all. That’s ok, this modern age of texting will probably make them go the way of the dinosaur or the newspaper shortly - don't movie-goers text their friends with what they thought of a movie? Seems most critics spend their time trying to work out what most people will want to hear. How do you do that? Why these days it is so easy... just surf the net to read other reviews or what bloggers are saying - no matter how misguided an opinion of a movie might be before it actually comes out. Lock a critic in a room with a movie no one has even seen and they will not know what to make of it. Because contrary to what a critic should probably be they have no personal taste or opinion, because they are basing their views on the status quo. None of them are brave enough to say “well I like it” if it goes against consensus. Therefore they are less than worthless. Now that anyone can post their opinion about anything from a movie to a pair of shoes to a hamburger, what value do they have - nothing. Roger Ebert wasn’t bad. He was a true film lover at least, a failed film-maker, which gave him a great deal of insight. His passion for film was contagious and he shared this with his fans. He loved films and his contribution to cinema as a result was positive. Now we have a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass. Trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality say is good or bad.”

In subsequent correspondence with SCREEN-SPACE, Proyas did acknowledge that his film, "seems to be getting a very good response critically and commercially everywhere outside the US."

It is the latest rebuke from a film community frustrated with the standard of modern film writing; last week, British director Ben Wheatley (pictured, right) aimed his own barbs at the current standard of film criticism. The director, whose films Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England have enjoyed critical warmth, spoke out after a mixed reaction to his latest thriller, High Rise. “Talking about other people’s stuff is weird,” he told Flick Reel. “Why aren’t you making stuff? And if you aren’t, why should you really have a voice to complain about things until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes?”

(Editor’s Note: SCREEN-SPACE gave a ‘4 star’ rating to Gods of Egypt on it’s official Letterboxd page on February 24. In 2009, this writer gave a mixed review to Knowing when contributing to the SBS Movies site.)

Monday
Dec282015

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART 2: AUSTRALIAN CINEMA IN 2015.

During the recent AACTA Awards film sector backslap, the message was loud and clear. “Australian cinema has been reborn!” the presenters continually reassured us, stressing that 2015 was a great year for local content. Homegrown movies earned AU$84million at the domestic box office, 7.7% of total takings; those figures represent the highest gross receipts ever for Oz films in a calendar year and the best market share since 2001. 

But breaking down the statistics reveals some devil in the details. Which Aussie pics wooed local audiences back to the ticket counter? What trends emerged amongst the hits (and misses, of which there were plenty)? And is Australian cinema on the cusp of a new ‘New Wave’, or has the tide already turned? SCREEN-SPACE ponders 'The Year in Australian Film'…

“YA WANNA GET OUTTA HERE, YA TALK TO ME…”
It was a long time coming, and took a very bumpy path to get to its audience, but Dr George Miller’s operatic action extravaganza Mad Max Fury Road was exactly the guzzoline needed to fuel the 2015 box office engine. It wasn’t the singular driving force that blew out the figures, like Moulin Rouge in 2001 or Babe in 1995 or Crocodile Dundee in 1985; in fact, some might counter that our iconic action hero’s return did not carry its weight at the box office, given it was only the 13th biggest hit of the year with takings sputtering out at AU$22million (beaten by the likes of 50 Shades of Grey, Cinderella and Pitch Perfect 2). But it was unarguably ‘event cinema’ of the highest order, the blockbuster ‘Aussie’ film the likes of which rarely emerge from the Antipodes. (Pictured, right; Charlize Theron as Furiosa)

SYDNEY OR THE BUSH?
The anachronistic ‘rural essence’ of this nation’s DNA is still a crucial and compelling component of our storytelling. Jocelyn Moorhouse’s raucous outback oddity The Dressmaker was the second biggest locally made hit, weaving AU$19million; Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, the WW1-set drama The Water Diviner took the bulk of its AU$17million this year after a Boxing Day 2014 debut; and, Jeremy Sims’ red-centre road-trip tearjerker Last Cab to Darwin earned a solid AU$7million and a Best Actor AACTA for local hero Michael Caton. Traditional Australian iconography and a sense of warm larrikinism were central to these works. What didn’t work were the contemporary narratives. Neil Armfield’s critically-lauded Holding the Man (AU$1million) and Dean Francis’ challenging odyssey Drown (figures n/a) failed to break out of their niche demographic. Brendan Cowell’s Sydney Film Festival opener Ruben Guthrie (AU$300k; pictured, top), Peter Andrikidis’ multicultural romance Alex & Eve (AU$390k), comedian Carl Barron’s self-penned vehicle Manny Lewis (AU$390k), Anupam Sharma’s Bollywood-themed rom-com UNindian (AU$100k) and Wayne Hope’s Melbourne-set misfire Now Add Honey (AU$87k) all bombed. On the upside, Damon Gameau’s new-agey diet doco That Sugar Film worked hard for its AU$1million, a respectful return on investment.

“WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”
Local producers have occasionally been guilty of neglecting the commercial and cultural potential of all-age films; everyone seems surprised when they hit big. Consider the sector without the likes of Storm Boy (1976), Fatty Finn (1980), The Man From Snowy River (1982), BMX Bandits (1983), Napoleon (1994), Babe (1995), The Wiggles Movie (1997), Hating Alison Ashley (2005), Happy Feet (2006), Red Dog (2011) and The Rocket (2013). Behind the angry road warrior and the snooty seamstress, family films carried the local industry in 2015. Oz production giant Village Roadshow brought all their marketing might to two kid-friendly hits – Stuart McDonald’s country-bumkin puppy-dog tale Oddball (AU$11million; pictured, right) and Robert Connolly’s rousing family drama Paper Planes (AU$10million) defined and maximised their audience with precision. The local arm of Studio Canal invested in Deane Taylor’s contemporary take on Blinky Bill (securing such voice talents as Toni Collette, David Wenham and Barry Humphries) and recouped a healthy AU$2.7million. In 2016, the ‘Aussie teen’ genre will be re-energised by Rosemary Myer’s wonderful Girl Asleep, which warmed hearts at this years’ Adelaide Film Festival.

"WHEN YOU WISH, UPON A STAR"
While the might of the ‘A-list movie star’ continues to wan at the global box office, Australian audiences seem to respond to big name talent in their little Aussie stories. Kate Winslet’s presence in The Dressmaker was a key selling point, earning the film not only acceptance at the local ticket counter but helping to secure the PJ Hogan-produced film a Toronto world premiere. Crowe’s presence both behind and before the camera paid dividends for The Water Diviner, in addition to his uncharacteristic openness with the press and the photogenic charms of Ukrainian co-star Olga Kurylenko. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron didn’t hurt Mad Max: Fury Road, though the ‘star’ was ultimately the chaotic artistry of Miller’s visuals. The exception that proves this rule is our own Nicole Kidman; her brave lead turn in Kim Farrant’s dusty ‘Twin Peaks’ wannabe Strangerland (to date, a global take is AU$24k) was all but ignored, while her latest US effort, Billy Ray’s Secret in Their Eyes, stumbled to AU$1.5million locally (despite the presence of co-stars Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor).

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR...
None of these films contributed more than loose change to the year’s box-office haul, but each one signals a new breed of commercially-oriented young filmmaker is on the verge of breaking through. Had the scourge of piracy not eaten away at it’s theatrical potential, Kiah Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood would have certainly expanded upon its meagre AU$133k gross. Everyone of the following should earn its keep, via either the developing self-distribution theatrical model (see Fan-Force or Tugg) or as a 2016 home entertainment hit – Joe Bauer’s hilarious sci-fi/comedy Australiens (pictured, right); Rhiannon Bannenburg’s polished chamber piece, Ambrosia; Sam Curtain’s ruthlessly corpulent Blood Hunt; the unforgettably twisted Cat Sick Blues, from Dave Jackson (you’ve been warned); Deadhouse Film’s anthology A Night of Horror Volume 1; Shane Abbess’ handsomely mounted outer-space thriller, Infini; Jesse O’Brien’s bracing and brilliant sci-fi vision, Arrowhead; and, the off-kilter, heart-warming doco Sam Klemke’s Time Machine, from Matthew Bate.

Read The Year in Review, Part 1: The Ten Best Festival Sessions of 2015 here.
Read The Year in Review, Part 3: Our Ten Favourite Films of 2015 here.
 

(All figures courtesy of Box Office Mojo; conversion rates as of 28/12).