Fading Stars: Why A-List Status Counts For Nothing

The archetypical Hollywood movie star is dead. We live in a post-movie star world where A-listers mean next to nothing in the grand scheme of what floats and what sinks.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Twenty years ago, people flocked to see a certain film based on whose name was splashed across the poster in the cinema foyer. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger movies like True Lies, End of Days or Total Recall, all of which were sold with merely a name and a face. Come see this movie, the poster screamed – it has Arnie in it. At the time, that was all some people needed to know. The same could be said for stars like Tom Cruise, Will Smith or Tom Hanks, who could all carry a movie on name and name alone.

Cut to 2017 and we’re faced with a very different situation. Who can honestly say they have the same pulling power nowadays? If box office results are anything to go by, hardly anyone does. Instead it’s all about franchises and adaptations.

In the last month alone, we’ve seen two major blockbusters hit cinemas that aren’t major properties; Daniel Espinosa‘s space horror/thriller Life and Rupert Sanders‘ anime adaptation Ghost in the Shell. Both movies have struggled to generate excitement in terms of ticket sales during their limited cinema run; three weeks ago, Life debuted at fourth on the US box office chart, behind Beauty and the Beast, Power Rangers and Kong: Skull Island. Not too shabby, but look at what sits ahead on the list; known properties that have been rebaked and repackaged.

Something like Life, riding a wave of critical praise and a wall-to-wall world press tour, would have made a killing at the movies 20-25 years ago. Headlined by two hugely popular, respected and dare I say attractive male co-leads (Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal), it ticks all the right boxes for success.

Now, let’s talk about Ghost in the Shell. It’s only been in theatres for a matter of days and sites like Polygon are already calling it one of the biggest flops of the year. And admittedly, the signs don’t look good. In its opening week, Ghost in the Shell made just $19 million in the US. Against a reported budget of $110 million, that’s not a good start. It’s barely enough to cover ScarJo’s paycheck.

It might seem like these two examples are just isolated instances pulled from a couple of fairly hefty months at the movies. But they’re not – it’s an emerging trend that has seen a lot of major studio releases simply squashed even if they have a major A-lister among their ranks.

In the last 12 months, movies like Passengers, The Great Wall, Live by Night and The Accountant all failed to illicit more than a shrug at the box office despite each being headlined by major actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Like this list, Ghost in the Shell had its hopes and dreams pinned to a major star (in this case, ScarJo) as its headline actress. Sure, one could argue that the original anime is in itself a known property with an built-in audience, but I would wager Mr Average Joe on the street isn’t readily acquainted with relatively niche Japanese anime. It therefore follows that the studio and those working on the film are banking on one thing – audiences showing up because they want to see ScarJo kick butt as an emotionless cyborg.

What we’re seeing more and more nowadays is a lack of interest in the movie star. Scarlett Johannson or Matt Damon or Jake Gyllenhaal aren’t enough to sell a movie just by themselves any more. You need to start with an existing idea and then introduce a name actor to the equation to build hype.

Look at it this way; did people turn out in droves to see Beauty and the Beast because of Emma Watson or because they love the original? The box office receipts for Noah and The Bling Ring a few years ago would argue the latter. Is Ryan Reynolds the reason that Deadpool went gangbusters or was it an odd synergy of actor and character coming together? Other recent flicks starring Reynolds suggest the latter; literally no-one remembers Mississippi GrindSelf/Less and Criminal.

Similarly, did audiences flock to see Logan because it stars Wolverine or Hugh Jackman? People want to see Jackman as Wolverine; they want to see Reynolds as Deadpool. The highest paid actor right now, Robert Downey Jnr, faces the same problem. Audiences will only to pay to see a movie where he plays Tony Stark; the most recent film he tried to headline (2014’s The Judge) fell flat and he doesn’t have anything else that isn’t Marvel on his plate until 2019.

Of course, there is always going to be the odd outlier that defies all logic; the best recent example would be Jordan Peele‘s smash hit horror Get Out, which is due to hit Australian cinemas next month. It’s an original idea that Peele wrote and directed himself and stars zero A-list actors. 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and $140 million at the US box office are practically unprecedented and quite literally record-breaking.

But for every success story, there is another five or six that reveal the harsher truth – hiring a big star to spearhead your potential blockbuster doesn’t count for much unless they’re playing something or someone pre-existing. Ghost in the Shell and Life aren’t the first, and won’t be the last – but right now they’re the two major casualties tumbling down the order in a box office landscape increasingly uninterested in original ideas starring attractive people.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Batman’s Enduring Cinematic Legacy

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Since swooping onto the scene in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, Batman (or the Bat-Man as he was originally known) has appeared in countless graphic novels, radio and television serials, animated series and blockbuster movies.

Aside from possibly Sherlock Holmes, Batman eclipses pretty much any other literary character under the sun for sheer flexibility. Across nearly eight decades in our collective cultural zeitgeist, the Caped Crusader has shown himself to display immense aesthetic, tonal, narrative and thematic malleability, from the original black-and-white TV serials starring Robert Lowery right up to the present day iterations such as Christian Bale and Ben Affleck.

More so than other superheroes like Superman, I would argue that it’s Batman who displays the greatest variance with regards to appearance, form and overall approach, all whilst staying true to the core iconography and values that define and underscore the character. Even on the most extreme ends of the spectrum, like Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin or the more recent animated The LEGO Batman Movie voiced by Will Arnett, Batman is still instantly recognisable as Batman.

Unlike Spider-man (teen drama) or Captain America (spirited wartime patriotism), you never really know what you’re going to get with Batman. One moment he’s leading Christopher Nolan’s grounded Dark Knight trilogy, and the next he’s a kid-friendly blockhead in The Lego Movie. On one end of the scale you have a punchy, brooding Batman who prowls the streets of a drab, sprawling urban jungle. On the other hand is a colourful, zippy Batman who is quick-witted, immature and maybe just a little bit sassy when the mood takes him.

Filmmakers the likes of Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher and Zach Snyder have also had the chance to imprint their own idea of what the Dark Knight should look and sound like. With Burton, Batman became an imposing exaggeration of comic book peculiarity and Expressionist inspired tech; in the hands of Schumacher, Batman was a commercialised action figure garnished in garish neon; presently with Snyder, Batman is a hyper-masculine gym junkie crossed with a mass murderer who hungers for torture and destruction.

The differences don’t begin and end in the realm of cinema; in just the past few years we’ve seen a multitude of different versions of Batman in video games, kid’s animation and even network TV. Even when Batman is thrust into a totally different era in comic books like Gotham by Gaslight or Batman Beyond, the hallmarks are all there. It’s a never-ending deluge of Batman that covers pretty much every age bracket and taste, all whilst remaining instantly recognisable and understandable.

Unlike Superman who comes from outer space or Spider-man who is lucky enough for a magic spider to nibble his neck, Bruce Wayne doesn’t have superpowers. Other than being crazy rich, Batman has endured with readers of all ages across the last 75 years because it’s easy to see ourselves in his selfless quest. Through training, discipline and bravery, we too could be like Batman – if only we also had a spare fortune lying around that is.

No need for a magic ring or lasso; just grim determination and the will to succeed and survive at all costs. Bruce Wayne takes tragedy (the death of his parents) and turns it into his motivation to be something better, stronger and greater. It’s a desire that transcends borders or race.

Despite the ups and downs of storytelling quality, Batman remains popular because he remains a hero we can imagine ourselves as, irrespective of that fact that he might be made of Lego or have ridiculous nipples on the outside of his suit. A symbol in both fiction and real-life, his enduring cinematic legacy is one ironclad iconography, and those identifiers remain universal, even when everything else about the character is subject to change and trends.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Top 5 Male Disney Characters

Zachary Cruz-Tan

I love my Disney just as much as the next girl. Okay, maybe that’s generalising, but I can’t bring to mind a single man I know who has Disney Princess posters tacked to his wall. I don’t either, but I make up for it by singing along to “Under the Sea” while driving my macho Ford Fiesta. So is Disney really the domain of women? That, I think, is a question for another time. For now, I’ll make do with talking about five of Disney’s men (and animals), because they need to get their own posters too.

Aladdin
Film: Aladdin (1992)

04 April - Top 5 Disney Aladdin
“I steal only what I can’t afford. That’s everything!” So exclaims Aladdin as he’s bouncing around rooftops, evading the cops for having stolen a loaf of bread. Here’s probably the poorest guy in the world, just trying to survive, singing in tune while running for his life, and when he finally has a chance to bite into his catch, what does he do? Give his share to a couple of starving kids. That’s a hero, folks.

It’s also part of what makes Aladdin such a fine gentleman of the Disney empire. His heart is in the right place from beginning to end. You couldn’t say the same for Mowgli, Pan, or even Beast. Aladdin churns out goodness from within; every decision he makes is subject to the laws of his heart. He helps Jasmine. He sacrifices himself. He frees the Genie. All with little self-benefit. When it comes to a memorable, funny, chivalrous guy, with nothing to lose, you can do no better than Aladdin.


Baloo
Film: The Jungle Book (1967)

04 April - Top 5 Disney Baloo

The Jungle Book’s got a great catalogue of outstanding male characters, from the absolutely vicious Shere Khan to the Vulture Beatles who just wanna be our friends. Even King Louie and Bagheera are worthy candidates. But of them all, only Baloo has managed to forget about his worry and his strife, which has granted him the permission to do just about whatever he pleases in the jungle.

The ultimate layabout, Baloo thrives on a strict policy of no-interference and complete relaxation. He lives off the land and not much else. Unlike Aladdin the choir boy, his heart is not always in balance, but he values his friends and is fully aware of his lines in the sand. Cross them, and he’ll swipe your face off. After all, he is a bear.


Dumbo
Film: Dumbo (1941)

04 April - Top 5 Disney Dumbo
Yes, yes, Bambi’s mother was shot and it was tragic, but Bambi didn’t have big floppy ears and no one to talk to. Dumbo, on the other hand, witnesses his dear sweet mother being taken away and practically institutionalised, is left to fend for himself, is ridiculed by just about everyone who meets him, and surely hits rock bottom without letting us know about it.

But it’s a Disney movie, so he’s awarded one friend who helps him regain his pride (and get drunk). It’s one of the all-time great comeback stories, partially because Dumbo actually flies, partially because Disney decided not to let him speak (his silence somehow makes him more pathetic, more sympathetic). You just wanna care for the little guy, which is why his eventual triumph resonates so profoundly.


Kronk
Film: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

04 April - Top 5 Disney Kronk

The Emperor’s New Groove is essentially the Kuzco and Pacha story, but there’s so much melodrama between them they could make a cameo in The Bold and the Beautiful and no one would notice. Yzma and Kronk – that’s where the movie’s at. And of the two, Kronk is the bigger bundle of joy.

There isn’t a single moment Kronk’s on screen that he’s not doing something ludicrously hilarious, from communicating with – or believing he can communicate with – squirrels, to taking over as head chef of a restaurant in the middle of a daring mission. He is, basically, a child trapped in a super muscular body, with no intelligence to speak of but with a great understanding of right and wrong (his debates with tiny angel and devil Kronk are gold). It’s no mystery as to why he’s the one with his own sequel – one movie’s not enough to capture his personality. I’d also gladly patronise the restaurant I’m hoping he’ll open.


Simba
Film: The Lion King (1994)

04 April - Top 5 Disney Simba

No Disney movie is darker than The Lion King (save, perhaps, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The witches in the early movies were mean SOBs. Bambi dealt with tragic murder. Beauty and the Beast was grim and gothic. But The Lion King journeys deeper into the realm of guilt and fear, dealing with themes of betrayal and redemption. Has there been a more bone-chilling Disney scene than the infamous stampede?

In the middle of it all is Simba, the young lion cub who has to deal early on with the responsibility of causing his father’s death. The guilt drives him into exile, where he effectively erases his identity and assumes the personality of Baloo (I’ve always wanted to see Baloo sing “Hakuna Matata”). It’s the age-old “You’re the Chosen One” angle, but it’s very dark – darker than anything Neo’s had to go through – and gets darker still when you realise Simba’s just a little baby lion; it’s a weighty burden to bear, not just for Simba, but for the kids in the crowd, and quite possibly their parents.


Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

All Grown Up: The Child Star

Zachary Cruz-Tan

When I was in film school I was taught never to work with animals or children. One excels at following commands but not necessarily acting cues; the other does just about whatever it pleases. And yet both are usually essential to the craft. Without animals, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale would’ve been two hours of Richard Gere sitting on a train. Without children, Lord of the Flies would’ve been a resort commercial for castaways. Let’s face it, as finicky as it can be to direct kids, they’re needed. And when you finally discover one that can actually act, it’s the filmmaking equivalent of buying a Porsche.

But kids didn’t have a prominent role in the movies till about the 1980s. Up until that point the most famous child stars were probably Judy Garland and Shirley Temple, both of whom had stopped being children for about thirty-five years. Temple wasn’t even considered a serious actor, lending her pudgy cuteness to cloying roles instead of dramatic ones. Garland, of course, was renowned for her musicals and rapidly lost control of her life as superstardom began to cave in (she reportedly needed a psychiatrist at the age of eighteen). It wasn’t till Jodie Foster in 1976 that children began to adopt more rounded, developed characters in an attempt to legitimise their profession.

And then the ‘80s hit, and E.T. was made, and suddenly children weren’t just sidekicks, but heroes. Movies could revolve around them. Elevate them. Understand them. It made stars of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore, and, if just for that moment, propped them on top of the world. What happened to their careers after that was nobody’s concern.

Indeed, child actors either sink or swim. The problem is that most of them perform at an age where they’re unable to make their own decisions. Many of them realise in hindsight that they only acted because their parents got giddy at the thought of all the millions they’d make, and eventually dropped out. Mr. Anakin Skywalker himself, Jake Lloyd, vanished. Haley Joel Osment faded away. Macaulay Culkin generously let his brother take over, while Dakota Fanning made way for her sister. It’s like a kid learning the violin because his dad loves Classical music, but what he really wants to do is play in the World Cup.

That’s all changed now, though. With the advent of networks like Nickelodeon and Disney, kids are learning at a young age to embrace superstardom. Teenagers and fame walk together now like an old senile couple. It’s no longer icky to be in the news; the news has become the curriculum. For if Hannah Montana can deal with fame, why can’t I?

Then there’s the ubiquitous Young Adult crowd; the pool of teenage talent thrust prematurely into adulthood so that everyone can kiss, fight, shoot weapons, and look sexy doing it. Genres like this have reinforced the idea that to be young is to be cool, and to be cool is to not crack under pressure, which is why there are more and more young actors gaining popularity through film (and fewer requiring therapy), just look at Emma Watson and her development from baby witch to singing beauty. It’s a step forward, I’ll admit. Where are we to uncover the next generation of performers if not from our youth? But too much of a good thing can be bad. And too much of a mediocre thing can be worse.

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Top 4 Disney Songs

Let it Go (ElsaFrozen) and How Far I’ll Go (MoanaMoana) can both go jump: the best Disney songs come from the classic 2D animated films. Here’s our top 4! In no particular order…

Poor Unfortunate Souls
Ursula, The Little Mermaid (1989) 

03 March - Disney Poor Unfortunate Souls
Cody Fullbrook

Like other songs from Disney movies, especially Under The Sea (Sebastian, The Little Mermaid) and Part Of Your World (ArielThe Little Mermaid), Poor Unfortunate Souls has many parts that are the same note played over and over again.  But, more so than any others, Ursula’s devious number utilises these simplistic note arrangements perfectly, since the entire song is actually quite conversational.

Pat Carroll is glorious as the scheming Ursula, keeping the song harmonious while giving each word weight and purpose, at least when compared to songs like Be Prepared (Scar, The Lion King) or Friend Like Me (The Genie, Aladdin) where the singers simply talk melodiously through the lyrics. Even the titular phrase, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is a deceptively specific choice of words, encapsulating Ursula’s phoney compassion and verbal cadences.

It’s easy to grasp the structure of songs like I Can Go The Distance (Hercules, Hercules) and You’re Welcome (Maui, Moana), both having clear AABA and ABABCBB forms, respectively, but Poor Unfortunate Souls is trickier to figure out.  It begins with ABC, followed by a talking break and repeating AB with C morphing into a fast paced climax continuing to malevolent chanting and Ariel’s ascent to the surface.

The differing melodies effortlessly blend together, enhancing the intimate nature of the entire piece. Not that it doesn’t have a bombastic and triumphant ending, especially when looking at the Broadway version which uses Poor Unfortunate Souls to end act 1, clearly showing its capabilities as a literal showstopper.

Poor Unfortunate Souls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi58pN8W3hY


The Circle of Life
The Lion King (1994)

03 March - Disney Circle of Life
Zachary Cruz-Tan

One of a handful of Disney songs capable of making my eyes leak, Circle of Life  is the encapsulation of all that The Lion King strives to be. Here is an animated movie for children that has to be about a flawed but worthy hero; it has to deliver an environmental message; it has to pay homage to the customs of Africa; and it has to be an entertainment rousing enough to coddle parents. On all accounts it succeeds with pride, and remains one of the greatest Disney films.

Its first – and best – move was to begin with a dialogue-less scene that explains, through song, the harmonious relationship between every living thing on Earth. It is a bravado opening, plunging us all into the world of hippos, rhinos, zebras and lions, and the sacred bond they all share with each other.

Not only is it a moving sequence, it’s also one of the most succinctly entertaining nature lessons in history. The camera swoops and dives over rivers and grasslands, providing the scope of the film to come. It’s the majesty of this opening number that sets the stage. It’s arguably my favourite Disney song of all time.

The Circle of Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GibiNy4d4gc


Friends On The Other Side
Dr Facilier, The Princess and the Frog (2009)

03 March - Disney Friends On The Other Side
Cody Fullbrook

While not as successful as anyone would have liked, The Princess And The Frog brought us a breakout villain song, Friends On The Other Side.  Villain songs, like the villains themselves, are usually the most engaging thing in a musical, if only because they are usually what initiates the story. Dr Facilier’s bouncy number is not only the liveliest moment in the entire movie, but one of the most animated (metaphorically) moments in any Disney installment.

Keith David as the deceitful, yet desperate doctor portrays his fake friendliness so convincingly he almost comes off as a nice guy, being intentionally vague about his “friends” and never coming off as irredeemably evil.  Compare that to Ursula literally saying “You belong to me” to Ariel.

The music itself is appropriately difficult to get a beat on, literally, and not just because of the talking segment in the middle, which, thankfully maintains a melodic tone instead of just being a boring line of Ghost Notes.  No two parts of the song seem to repeat.  Even the first AA segment has some pauses, keeping the song constantly and suitably “off”.

The animation is bendy and colourful, with spooky masks surrounding the characters, and cards and shadows flipping and flying around Dr Facilier’s lanky form.  It’s a song you need to watch a few times to catch everything and one you gladly will.

Friends On The Other Side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g00kEcGh4j8


Pink Elephants on Parade
Dumbo, 1941

03 March - Disney Pink Elephants
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Up until 1941, the most horrifying thing Disney put out was the sound Snow White made when she sang. Bambi’s mother hadn’t died. Scar hadn’t tossed his brother into a stampede. Computer animation had yet to suck the life out of all that is kind and good. Bliss was to be found. And then Dumbo sounded his lonely trumpet, and it all went tits up. He’s separated from his mother. He’s tricked into joining the circus. He’s bullied from every corner. His only respite comes during one of the most bizarre and inexplicable musical numbers of any Disney film: the psychedelic Pink Elephants on Parade.

I swear this is the song The Beatles wished they had made Yellow Submarine about. It begins with a seductive horn intro before dissolving into a chorus of spooky vocals that leads rather unexpectedly into an idyllic interlude. But it’s not just the soundtrack that’s subversive; the visuals accompanying the song include elephants of all shapes and sizes performing all sorts of mind-boggling feats, from marching along the frame of the screen, to decapitating themselves and using their severed heads to form one giant elephant from hell. It’s nasty stuff, but creatively inspired and boundary-pushing.

Kids younger than five will simply find all the bright colours amusing, but I’m not so sure about everyone else. This is a musical number, mind you, that only happens because the cute little prepubescent elephant who imagines it is drunk on champagne.

Pink Elephants on Parade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJv2Mugm2RI


Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – The Eagle Huntress

A feel-good documentary that both soars in its themes and delights in its unique subject.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

At just 13 years old, Aisholpan sure does make you question what you’ve achieved in your life up until this point. This young and adventurous Mongolian belongs to a family of nomads who travel throughout the Altai Mountain ranges. She belongs to seven generations of eagle hunters, and is determined to be the first eagle huntress in twelve generations.

The harsh terrain and resilient wildlife of the Mongolian landscape is captured beautifully by director Otto Bell. Though not quite up to the standard of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series, The Eagle Huntress certainly offers a unique blend of cinematography by using first person perspectives during interactions with baby eagles. Yes you read that right – baby eagles.

But what holds the story together is the heart of Aisholpan, and her desire to break the stereotypes against her. The concept of a female eagle hunter is unheard of among the elders in her culture.

It’s easy to see why Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) has been chosen to narrate, being a pop culture icon for strong independent females on screen. It’s a solid choice and the two female leads share much in common.

Having said all that, The Eagle Huntress doesn’t do much for engaging you further towards its cause. Its conflicts aren’t particularly noteworthy, or rather, they aren’t as great as they could be. In the end, you know exactly how it will all pan out. But if you’re up for an upbeat nature film infused with the wondrous innocence of a spirited Kazakh girl… then seek no more.

The Eagle Huntress is available in Australian cinemas from March 16

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Interview: Chloe Hurst – A Few Less Men

Corey Hogan

It’s probably the oldest cliché in the book; chasing your dream in the city of stars itself, Los Angeles, and leaving your life behind to make it big on the silver screen. But it’s another thing entirely if you’re actually achieving that dream, like 26-year-old Perth girl Chloe Hurst is currently. Skipping the humble beginnings most up-and-comers are forced to endure, Chloe’s been on a consistent roll since relocating; kicking off in New York with Broadway smash hits, then landing film roles opposite massive stars like Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe and Stephen Baldwin. In between her Hollywood acting, she’s taken a trip back home to appear in the sequel to the 2011 Aussie/British comedy A Few Best Men – now A Few Less Men. It’s safe to say Chloe’s blown that cliché out of the water.

I talked to Chloe about everyday life amongst the biggest names in film, the different experience of working at home on A Few Less Men (her very first Australian film) and her continuing dream run.

HOF: For starters, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what got you onto the performance and filmmaking scene?

CH: Sure! I’ve been in performing arts since I was a kid, but mainly doing theatre, musical theatre and stage stuff actually until about two years ago, when I went on a trip to L.A. to visit for two weeks from New York; I’ve done I think nine films back to back ever since. It’s definitely been a journey, and I guess the transition from stage to screen is sort of what I’m going through at the moment, and I’m loving every second of it.

HOF: You’ve had an impressive run in theatre with massive productions like Into the Woods and A Chorus Line, how have you found the transition from acting for the stage to acting in film?

CH: The actual process for me – I’ve been working with a lot of incredible coaches who’ve helped along the way, but the biggest difference I’ve found is the transition from New York to L.A., not necessarily the work aspect of it. That shift was huge in terms of lifestyle, but in terms of the work… I’m just surrounded by incredible people that are doing incredible things, and I think when you’re in good hands it makes that transition so much easier because you’re sharing the experience with these pros who have done it for years. In that respect I just find that I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been thrown into the hands of incredible professionals that have ten times the amount of experience I do, and I’m just learning every day from them.

HOF: There’s obviously a huge difference between performance work in Australia and work in L.A., what makes it that way? How does the process differ?

CH: For me, my only experience of working in Australia is A Few Less Men; most of my work has been in America! So this is actually my first real, professional experience with Australian film, and I loved every second of it. Being in my home town and shooting the film was a dream come true, and obviously I’d love to do more and more and more of that. And just seeing how passionate the Aussies are about what they’re doing, their work ethic is incredible. I think often with these big Hollywood sets… they do this all the time; they follow a protocol, they have routine and rules to stick to, whereas I feel like in Australia the energy on set and the excitement to be doing what they’re doing every day is just contagious. Like I said I haven’t had much experience in Australia, so this was such an incredible first introduction to how Aussies work and the comradery that’s created on set is totally different; it’s much more of a family aspect rather than a business. I think we’re all super supportive of each other creating these awesome things and just getting the best out of people from a personal, artistic point of view.

HOF: How did you become involved in A Few Less Men? What latched you on to a production back in Australia?

CH: So I auditioned from L.A., I caught wind that there was this film shooting in my home town called A Few Less Men, and I’d heard about the first one but I hadn’t actually seen it before auditioning. I sort of knew the cast that was attached, and even just being given the scenes that I auditioned with, I could see the comedic aspects of it, and I just thought it was written so incredibly well that I was actually laughing when reading the script – I always think that’s a great sign for a comedy. So I actually put myself on tape out here, and funnily enough one of my best friends Saskia (Hampele) was also taping herself for it from out here, so she came into my audition to read with me, and it turned out the two of us actually booked Lisa and Angie, the two best friends that are travelling in the film together. I think a part of the audition process, having her in the room and reading with me and bantering off each other like that; I feel like sending that across is probably what got us both the roles, so we were both in it together from the very beginning.

HOF: You play Lisa, who is (sort of) a love interest for Tom (Kris Marshall). Tell us a bit about the character.

CH: She’s a fling. She’s not far from me in real life I’d like to think, except perhaps a little more forward and sexual [laughs]. I basically intercept the boys; I’m on this big road trip with Saskia’s Angie in the film and we come across the boys stuck in the middle of the desert, and we take them to this party that I think ultimately resembles a Burning Man type festival. It leads to… I guess you could call it love at first sight with Kris Marshall? I try to get involved with him and proposition him for a threesome and divert their journey; they’re on a mission and we prevent that from happening, we’re giving them an ulterior motive.

HOF: How did you find working opposite all these funny actors like Kris Marshall and Kevin Bishop? Is comedy your thing?

CH: My cheeks were sore every single day; I could not stop laughing with these boys. I can’t even explain to you… they are, I think, the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with at the same time. And when you get to develop that while shooting seriously, it only gets funnier. They are the kindest, most genuine men, and they are just a scream… what you see in the film is just so similar to what you see on set. Comedy is not my strength at all; I’m working on it at the moment actually, I’m doing an intensive class out here in L.A. just to be as good as these boys at comedy.

I was certainly intimidated to begin with working with Kris; we met, and five seconds after saying “Hi I’m Chloe, nice to meet you,” we filmed the scene where we were making out and doing… you know… [laughs] all of a sudden our tongues were doing each other’s throats. So that was certainly my first experience of being thrown in the deep end, but if anything we got the awkwardness out of the way first, so that was great.

HOF: You were in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys last year, how was it acting with such a prolific director and huge stars like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe?

CH: I’m still speechless to this day. I think Shane’s casting and directing… he’s a genius, as a writer, as a director, as a mentor, he’s just so incredible. And to get to work with people like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe… that’s what I mean when I say I’m learning from the best of the best, they take you under their wing and guide you and it’s the reason they are so successful. They’re just the most humble people.

HOF: You had the starring role in the indie film Scarlett, could you tell us a bit about that?

CH: Yeah! Scarlett is a film with Stephen Baldwin and myself from last year which came out… I think it’s doing a state by state release in America at the moment, so it’s come out in Texas, and Colorado I believe so far. That was my first feature film ever, and to play the title role in a film with so little experience was certainly a big responsibility on my part. Of the one hundred page script I think I had about ninety of dialogue, so it was a big responsibility on my part, but I absolutely loved every second of it and would greet the challenge again with open arms. And obviously to work with Stephen Baldwin on your first film… so I was picking his brain for advice, and I got to take away so much from that that led to things like The Nice Guys and now A Few Less Men.

HOF: You’re a bit of a fashion icon too on top of your acting. What do you enjoy the most, or does it all sort of play off each other?

CH: You know, it does play off each other; I’m certainly much more of an actor than a model, I’ve been so blessed to be able to model as my side job all these years. I joke about how modelling is my waitressing, which most actors end up having to do at some point, and I’ve been very blessed that modelling has been that for me. In terms of being a fashion icon… wow. That’s like… that’s a big call. I was flown back last year to be the ambassador of the Perth Fashion Festival, and that was an incredible experience. I basically got to meet a lot of local Perth designers that I’m still in discussion with now, because obviously I want to support where I’m from and the fashion people that are coming up in the world from Perth. I just think there’s nothing better than being supportive of the people who are trying to do their best with what they’ve got or where they’re from; I will always be so supportive of Australian fashion.

HOF: You’re based in L.A. now of course, but would you take the opportunity if more roles in Australia presented themselves?

CH: Yup. Yup, hands down. I struggle everyday living so far away from the people I love the most, so any opportunity to be brought closer to them and still be able to do what I love is a dream for me. I also love what Australians are doing with scripts and films and companies like StudioCanal are obviously being really supportive of the film industry over there, and I want to be a part of that. Like I said A Few Less Men is my only experience so far in Australian film, and I would love to grow that over the next few years, and after that as well. Fingers crossed!

HOF: I guess that brings us to what’s next for you. Are you working on anything at the moment; are there any projects on the table?

CH: So this is actually a really interesting year for me, I got my green card for the US so that in itself has opened a lot of doors over here. It’s pilot season, so I’m currently on the hustle and grind auditioning back to back for TV shows; because I’ve never worked in TV that’s something that my team and I are working on together to try to achieve this year.

A Few Less Men is available in Australian cinemas from March 9 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

5 Directors That Made You Go Hmmm…?

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Ever since the rumour of Mel Gibson signing on to helm the next awful Suicide Squad movie got out, I’ve been trying to figure out why a man who just woke up from a professional coma would want to chain an anchor to his leg and throw himself into a river. Could it be the voices in his head? Maybe a sign from God? Yes, yes, a sign from God. This train of thought only lasted fleetingly, of course, when I realised I didn’t really care anymore. Gibson wouldn’t be the first, and probably not the last. Here’s a look at five other successful directors who’ve made inexplicable creative decisions throughout their careers.

Joel Schumacher
Batman Forever (1995)

03 March - 5 Directors Batman Forever
While it’s really the sequel (Batman & Robin) that should be disembowelled and tossed off a very high wall, Joel Schumacher’s introduction to his re-envisioned Batman universe is just as flamboyant and uncharacteristic. His is the Gotham City that’s hoisted on the shoulders of gigantic naked male statues, and his is the Dark Knight who really has a thing for nipples and close-ups of butts. Take that, Joker!

Schumacher’s filmography leading up to Batman Forever was occupied mostly by teenage vampires and boring courtroom dramas. His filmography after Batman & Robin contains Gerard Butler singing opera and Jim Carrey freaking out with numbers. All very serious stuff. You can see why his version of Batman sticks out like a really colourful sore thumb. Not to mention both movies have gone down in history as some of the worst superhero adaptions to have ever been made.

George Miller
Happy Feet (2006)

03 March - 5 Directors Happy Feet
Happy Feet stands at the epicentre of George Miller’s creative divide. On the one hand: blood, leather, dirty roaring machinery. On the other: animated dancing birds. Are we still certain the same man is responsible for both? It could be argued, of course, that Miller was gradually building up to Happy Feet by first dunking his elbow in The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Babe 2 (1998), but surely no one in the world would’ve expected Mumble the penguin to stand alongside Max Rockatansky as two of Miller’s cinematic brainchildren. What we need now is a crossover in which Max travels to Antarctica and has to ferry a colony of tap-dancing penguins through a dangerous wasteland of talking pigs. Perfect Oscar-bait.

Francis Ford Coppola
Jack (1996)

03 March - 5 Directors Jack
Here’s a sure-fire way to kill your film career in its tracks: Make a movie about gangsters, and make it so well people all over the world will have no choice but to call it one of the greatest movies of all time – the yardstick against which all future gangster movies will be measured. And then make a movie about a 40-year-old man-boy who attends elementary school and looks like Robin Williams.

I have no idea who or what encouraged Francis Ford Coppola to undertake Jack, and to make it as uninteresting as possible. Perhaps even he doesn’t know. All that’s certain is his career dove into a black hole after it premiered and he decided to relocate his creative efforts to stomping on grapes in Napa Valley and watching them ferment. I don’t even know if he’s alive anymore.

Spike Lee
Oldboy (2013)

03 March - 5 Directors Old Boy
How does a director lose street cred? By establishing his career with extreme political race-related masterpieces and then making one of the least political, undoubtedly questionable remakes of all time.

The original Oldboy (2003) stands alone, untouchable, unattainable. It needs no remake, least of all by the money-grubbing, destructive hands of Hollywood. But fine, they decided to adapt it for American audiences, and they did. Where, though, does Spike Lee come in? There is not an ounce of him in this bloodless film, which treads the still waters of the original so timidly it ends up leaving us all cold to the touch.

Robert Altman
Popeye (1980)

03 March - 5 Directors Popeye

Let me just start off by saying that no matter who directed Popeye, they’d find themselves on this list. This is a movie that doesn’t belong in any director’s oeuvre. I mean, it’s a live-action musical about Popeye the sailor. It’s a miracle it was made at all. It’s even more miraculous that Robert Altman, master of the ensemble cast, was the one who made it.

Maybe the source material needed an ensemble master, since most musicals stage lavish production numbers and require boatloads of singing, dancing extras. But take a trip to Altman’s IMDb page and study his filmography. Where exactly does Popeye fit in? It exists, I assume, in its own universe, and Altman was just an innocent traveller passing through.

Images courtesy of Icon Film Distribution, Roadshow Films, Universal Pictures, Guo Film Distribution & Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

89th Academy Awards

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Best Picture blunder

Well, how about that huh? What started out as a fairly pedestrian affair turned to a complete farce come the end in what is possibly the biggest bungle in Oscar history. What happened has been dissected and analysed by possibly every news outlet on Earth in the last few days so I’ll just say this; it’s a shame that this had to happen this year of all years.

Why? Because a film like Moonlight is rare; it’s a micro-budget indie film about minorities that arguably caters to a very niche audience, unlike something like La La Land which casts its net a lot broader. Even rarer is a film like Moonlight defying expectations and going on to beat the big dog on the biggest stage of all. We can sit here for hours pointing fingers at who is to blame – Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Emma Stone, PricewaterhouseCoopers – but at the end of the day, all of this noise and outrage is detracting away from Moonlight‘s moment in the spotlight.

It’s very telling that every news outlet has Jordan Horowitz‘s face splashed across their front pages instead of Barry Jenkins. We’ve totally missed the importance of Moonlight‘s win (it’s a film about African-Americans that doesn’t feature maids or slaves, which is a big deal) by chewing over a conspiracy concerning a misplaced red envelope. Unfortunately, the story here isn’t that Moonlight won; it’s that La La Land lost, and in spectacular fashion. Ten years from now, we need to make sure the 89th Academy Awards are remembered for the right reasons – and not just recall some unfortunate gaffe.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

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With a record 14 nominations across all of the categories this year, including two Australian films up for Best Picture for the first time ever, it looked set to be a big night for the Australian film industry. Alas, it wasn’t to be – but that doesn’t mean we came away with nothing to show for it.

When home-grown favourite Lion went home empty-handed, it was left to Mel Gibson‘s more abrasive and divisive Hacksaw Ridge to collect the lion’s share of awards for Australian nominees. The WWII epic scooped up two awards, winning Sound Mixing and Film Editing. Tanna, the first Australian film to be nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category, lost out to Iran’s The Salesman.

Kimmel kills it

In the midst of Trump’s car crash presidency, it would have been very easy for host Jimmy Kimmel to lean heavily into recent political gaffes for his opening salvo of gags. And whilst there were a couple of gems made at the expense of America’s chimp-in-chief, Kimmel mainly kept things nice and balanced across the board.

He was smiley and self-depreciating, had good timing and kept the jokes flowing at great pace. In contrast to recent hosts like Neil Patrick Harris and Seth MacFarlane, Kimmel flourished while working the crowd and keeping the tone brisk and chipper.

Box Office favourites go home empty-handed

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Sticking with the time-honoured tradition of awarding films that nobody saw, the Academy Awards this year chose to ignore the films that have drawn the biggest crowds – namely smash-hit Hidden Figures – in favour of more independent fare like Manchester by the Sea.

In a year where viewing figures for the Oscars telecast dipped to their lowest number in nearly a decade, you’d think the Academy would be more inclined to recognise the movies that actually make people get up off their butts and go to the cinema.

Suicide Squad – seriously?

How a film where it looks like Margot Robbie’s face was plastered on with Homer Simpson’s makeup shotgun was chosen for Best Makeup and Hairstyling over something like Star Trek Beyond is utterly beyond me (pun intended). Honestly, that kerfuffle about Best Picture is one thing but this here is the real crime.

Full list of winners
Best film – 
Moonlight
Best actress – Emma Stone: La La Land
Best actor – Casey Affleck: Manchester By The Sea
Best director – Damien Chazelle: La La Land
Best supporting actress – Viola Davis: Fences
Best supporting actor – Mahershala Ali: Moonlight
Best original screenplay – Kenneth Lonergan:  Manchester By The Sea
Best adapted screenplay – Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney: Moonlight
Best cinematographyLa La Land
Best original scoreLa La Land
Best original songLa La Land
Best sound editingArrival
Best foreign language filmThe Salesman
Best film editing Hacksaw Ridge
Best visual effectsThe Jungle Book
Best production design La La Land
Best sound mixingHacksaw Ridge
Best documentary feature O.J: Made in America
Best animated film – Zootopia
Best animated short film – Piper
Best documentary short subject – The White Helmets
Best live action short film – Sing
Best make-up – Suicide Squad
Best costume design – Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films, Icon Film Distribution & 20th Century Fox

 

Sex, Drugs & Violence In Film: A Brief History

Corey Hogan 

Most of us see someone get killed, have sex, curse or pop drugs in the films and shows we watch nearly every day, and we barely bat an eyelash. This is what we’ve come to expect of the media we consume. It’s no wonder it takes a truly volatile film to shock us. But it’s taken media a very long time to reach this point. Throughout history, a war has waged between filmmakers and their determination to put their vision, no matter how obscene, to the screen. Here’s a brief rundown on some of the events and films throughout history that pushed those boundaries and shocked people to their core.

1890’s – 1920’s

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Since the very dawn of film, people have tried to capture shocking or lewd images for the screen, and people have protested these and ushered in censorship. One of the very first films ever shown commercially to the public was Thomas Edison’s The Kiss in 1896, an 18 second clip of a couple nuzzling and locking lips. This stirred outrage in moviegoers and the Roman Catholic Church – since kissing in public was prosecuted at the time – and the “threat to morality” was met with the first demand for censorship.

Film controversy continued to heighten in the 1910’s, with the first pornographic films introduced and a surge of pro-war propaganda as World War I commenced. D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, though a landmark of film history for its innovative storytelling, was of course met with great contempt for its racist content and glorification of the KKK. Protests and riots broke out, with many activist groups condemning the negative influence of movies, especially on the youth, and their glorification of violence and obscenities.

1930’s – 1950’s

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The few decades produced some of history’s best-known films – Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, All About Eve, The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ In The Rain and so on. Studios were soon huge, though their films found a formula, and usually avoided explicit content in order to market to as wide an audience as possible. Understandably, people saw movies as escapism during wartime; with real horror happening in the world, no one needed to be reminded of it in the cinema. And yet there were still filmmakers willing to experiment and push the boundaries.

All Quiet on the Western Front used brutal scenes of soldiers being gunned down as an effective anti-war message, and was recognised by the Oscars for turning violence on its head. Conversely, the original Scarface wound up banned in several states for its graphic (for the time) shoot-outs and supposed glorification of gangsters. Sex remained suppressed in mainstream cinema as it did in public places, until the 1953 raunchy comedy The Moon is Blue dubiously used prohibited words like “virgin”, “seduce” and “mistress” and depicted mainstream characters preoccupied with sex for the first time, paving the way for open-minded attitudes in film.

1960’s – 1980’s

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By the sixties, society’s morale was beginning to relax more. A number of efforts to get films censored or banned were rejected by state and federal courts, now that people were not only more care-free and open-minded; many were anti-establishment and advocates of freedom of speech, especially with the presence of the Vietnam War and its backlash. People were experimenting and artists were too, and refusing to back down when authority came knocking. In 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni chose to release Blow-Up without an MPAA seal rather than cut its nude scenes, with other directors following his lead. In response, the MPAA introduced the X-rating, forbidding anyone under 16 from entry.

Not that it really mattered, since such content in film had now become so commonplace. Drugs were shown not only without judgement, but also portrayed as fun in everything from Easy Rider to Sid and Nancy. The great Stanley Kubrick made his mark not without controversy; Lolita raised the underage issue by depicting a romance between a pubescent girl and middle-aged man, and the gleeful ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange appalled viewers so much that Kubrick himself withdrew it from circulation. Midnight Cowboy became the first and only X-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar, and mainstream thrillers like Straw Dogs and The Last House on the Left were now completely unafraid to use graphic rape as plot points.

1990’s – Present

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With visual media now a key component to Western lifestyle, desensitisation to what once shocked audiences was only inevitable. Martin Scorcese, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino made the blood-soaked, profanity-laden films that defined the 90’s, while the likes of Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, Enter the Void and others built their plot around explicit drug use. The most popular horror films belonged to the “torture-porn” subgenre; with over-the-top gory hits like Saw, Hostel and Wolf Creek were designed to empty the contents of audiences’ stomachs rather than have them cowering behind their seats. HBO’s rise saw to adult content becoming a mainstay on television too; now the most popular shows on television (namely Game of Thrones, among countless others) feature a steady stream of horrific murder, graphic sex scenes, nudity, incest and rape.

There are still films that cause a stir every few years. Though satirical, Stone and Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers supposedly inspired a number of copycat murders in real life; similarly, David Cronenberg’s Crash, about a couple who became aroused by causing car crashes, created concern over fetishising something heinous. Larry Clark’s Kids and Ken Park came under fire for their unsimulated sex scenes between teenagers, as anything with graphic sex – 9 Songs, The Brown Bunny, The Dreamers, Blue is the Warmest Colour – often does. Extreme sexual violence – Irreversible’s prolonged rape scene, Antichrist’s genital mutilation and A Serbian Film’s necrophilia – remains a walk-out prompter. And let’s not get into The Human Centipede trilogy.

Studios will always cut and tone down content to secure as large an audience as possible, while independent producers maintain artistic freedom – hence why something supposedly erotic like Fifty Shades of Grey appears so tame and shows so little in its sex scenes, while Nymphomaniac is unrelenting in actual shots of penetration. Though filmmakers have always strived to tear down the boundaries of what is possible to capture on film, it seems most audiences remain comfortable with milder content and the occasional thrill. But with the readily available internet pornography, violent video games and access to any film or TV show at the click of a button, who’s to say how long it is until extreme sensationalism has pushed to its absolute limit?

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films, David W. Griffith Corp. & Epoch Producing Corporation, Universal Pictures, Chapel Distribution & MGM