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Entries in 80s Cinema (2)

Saturday
Dec102016

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Ly Richardson, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Hayden Szeto and Alexander Calvert.
Writer/director: Kelly Fremon Craig.

Rating: 4.5/5

The beautiful words and deceptively complex humans are entirely the creation of writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig, but it is undeniable that her remarkable debut feature The Edge of Seventeen has clearly been afforded the wise, guiding hand of producer, James L. Brooks.

On the rare occasion that contemporary mainstream cinema offers up smart, cool teen protagonists such as Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine Franklin, they are immediately aligned with the 80’s oeuvre of the late John Hughes, specifically Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. But Nadine’s determination to inflict her defining personality traits upon those with whom she shares this world – general teen angst, profoundly ingrained grief and a fear of loss that manifests as caustic wit and social solitude – more accurately resembles the dark psyches of Brooks’ great anti-heroes, notably Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets and Shirley MacLaines’ Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment.

Fremon Craig sets that bittersweet tone from Scene 1; Nadine is in a heightened panic, unloading upon Woody Harrelson’s cool teach Mr Bruner some well-considered suicide options. Defying all the clichés of the flashback device, a wonderful montage establishes Nadine’s long-held outsider status and the importance of her soul mate friend, Krista (Ava Grace Cooper as a tot; a terrific Haley Lu Richardson through the awkward years). After tragedy reshapes the start of her train-wreck teen years, the dynamic she shares with her slowly unravelling mom, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) and stoic, beau-hunk brother, Darian (Blake Jenner) takes on a quite desperation, interspersed with high tension.

The 80s high school vibe is dragged kicking and screaming into the present-day when Nadine’s lustful fascination with brooding senior Nick (Alexander Calvert) is conveyed via an accidental tweet, leading to a tense night-time car park encounter. Fremon Craig and her leading lady subvert both the dramatic and comedic potential inherent in this achingly portrayed sequence; it is a razor-sharp piece of character development that foreshadows a revelatory cathartic Act 3. It is also a reminder that the edge of seventeen is a complex, often dangerous time when girls are faced with navigating their own path into young womanhood.

The Academy’s respect for the younger audience will be reflected in their willingness to reward Hailee Steinfeld with an Oscar nomination. James L Brooks guides his leading ladies to podium glory (three Best Actress trophies, to MacLaine, Holly Hunter for Broadcast News and Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets), but ‘teen pics’ do not always survive award season vetting. Recent nominees who were under 20 include Quvenzhane Wallis (Beast of The Southern Wild, 2012), Gabourey Sidobe (Precious, 2009), Carey Mulligan (An Education, 2009) and Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider, 2003), all featuring in films that carried Oscar-friendly thematic add-ons. The only comparable films to find Oscar’s favour have been Juno (for which Ellen Page earned a 2007 nomination) and 1999’s Election (for which Reese Witherspoon did not; the film made the Best Screenplay shortlist).

Steinfeld must be a front-runner for a role that careens between brittle toughness, wordy bravado and heartbreaking sweetness. Also in contention must be Fremon Craig’s script, which plays to the teen audience with recognisable moments of anguish and glee (the romance subplot involving Hayden Szeto’s American/Korean student feels both fresh and warmly familiar) while exploring some very adult emotions; as with the best of the genre, it is a film about teenagers but not just for teenagers.

The teen movie beats ring true because Nadine inspires a faith that fate will cut her a break, despite her best efforts to derail destiny. We shouldn’t cheer, even care, for her, but all her flaws and idiosyncrasies are all ours, too; we adore her because we recognise her struggle. Every generation has a teen character that personifies the real and unreal of those horrible, wonderful years and whose struggles still resonate; Benjamin Braddock, Joel Goodsen, Lloyd Dobler, Cher Horowitz, Tracy Flick. For this generation (and many more to come), there is Nadine Franklin in The Edge of Seventeen, a coming of age journey as good as it gets.

Saturday
Aug022014

ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS

Featuring: Michael Dudikoff, Lucinda Dickey, Richard Chamberlain, Catherine Mary Stewart, Cassandra Petersen, Robert Forster, Bo Derek, Alex Winter, Sybil Danning, Tobe Hooper, Adolfo Quinones (aka, Shabba-Doo), Sam Firstenberg and Gary Goddard.
Writer/director: Mark Hartley.

Screening at Melbourne International Film Festival on Saturday August 2 and Tuesday August 12. 

Rating: 4/5

Having chronicled Australia’s unhinged exploitation era in 2008’s Not Quite Hollywood and exposed the madness that was The Philippines film sector with 2010’s Machete Maidens Unleashed!, documentarian Mark Hartley now casts his highly-informed fanboy eye over Israeli-born cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and their renegade 80s operation, Cannon Films, for his latest, long-in-gestation work, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

Hartley’s films play like wildly enthusiastic thesis submissions from the ultimate student of exploitation cinema. Suitably, the Australian director’s latest reveals a rich vein of excess and chutzpah that paints a picture of old-school operators steeped in shameless B-movie showmanship. More importantly, he also captures two individuals whose love for the cinema of old Hollywood fuelled their ruthless business acumen and boisterous egotism (perhaps explaining the presence of alpha-male moneymen James Packer and Brett Ratner, both on board as producers).

Golan and Globus emerged from an Israeli production community with a great deal of commercial credibility; their 1978 lowbrow teen romp, Lemon Popsicle, had become a domestic blockbuster and the pair became flush with cash. The more senior Golan had stars in his eyes and set about acquiring floundering outfit The Cannon Group, with an eye towards conquering the US marketplace and taking the world by storm.

Hartley’s parade of willing actors, executives and colleagues represents a major coup for the production (the likely contributing factor for the very long period between its inception and MIFF 2014 premiere). Each recall the heady days of Cannon Films ascendency, reminiscing with a mix of face-palming disbelief and warm-hearted sentiment, accompanied by a myriad of clips. Generation X-ers who spent weekends paying overpriced rental rates to watch Cannon ‘stars’ such as Lucinda Dickey, Michael Dudikoff and Catherine Mary Stewart will inevitably feel the glow of sentimental warmth upon seeing their aging heroes; serious film buffs will warm more to the likes of Franco Zeffirelli and Barbet Schroeder, who contributed some of Cannon’s more credentialed works (1986’s Otello and 1987’s Barfly, respectively).

Befitting a glimpse inside the ruthless world of B-movie maneuverings, there is some snark dished out to celebs who refused to be involved (in particular, a brash, young starlet named Sharon Stone) and on those who good-naturedly appeared on camera (Death Wish series director, the late Michael Winner, who acknowledges his occasionally prickly take on creative control). Largely anti-hagiographic, Hartley also rakes his subjects over the coals; in one hilarious montage, they are labelled all manner of insulting terms (both Golan and Globus refused to appear in the film, instead authorising their own bio doco, The Go-Go Boys).   

The film often focuses on Menahem Golan’s superb up-selling of dubious elements (the sad rehashing of Charles Bronson’s Death Wish franchise; the infamous Superman IV debacle; the pointless insertion of T&A) and the subsequent box-office fortunes. This approach largely sidelines the role that the VHS boom played in the company’s bottom line. Presumably, the global impact of the home video craze is a subject best saved for its own doco, but Hartley’s decision to focus on anecdotal making-of memories and “What was I thinking?” mock-remorse robs his film of some important contextual information.

Nevertheless, Electric Boogaloo (after Cannon’s famously misguided 1984 break-dancing sequel, although for no discernible reason) is an undeniably fun, insider look at the business of show. Mark Hartley’s factual films are a passionate collector’s take on the obsessive drive to be creative; whether it be low-budget Oz-ploitation practitioners, the insane fearlessness of Pinoy production methods or the battering-ram ambition of two Israeli showmen, the Australian director understands their motivation and affords them the respect and affection they deserve…and then some.  

(Note: The version reviewed was awaiting some final post-production elements. Due consideration has been given to its incomplete status).