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Blockbuster (Podcast)

behind the scenes, Documentary, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The technological revolution is rapidly changing the way that we watch movies and consume stories. For those of us who can remember when movies – mainstream and arthouse – were the main event when it came to cultural consumption, it may all seem like doom and gloom, however, one ray of hope is the podcast medium. The in-depth AAA interview with our favourite filmmaker or the retrospective story about the making of a classic film, both of which used to be available in magazine form, is now freely available on various podcast platforms of choice. Into the latter camp comes Blockbuster, a first of its kind 6x episode podcast that investigates the relationship between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, which changed the cinema landscape forever.

There have been various documentary style explorations of the making of classic movies, but Blockbuster is unique in its dramatisation of the story, putting scripted words into the mouths of actors playing the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, John Williams and of course, Lucas and Spielberg, and possessing a story arc that keeps you gripped throughout.

Immaculately sound designed, with a score that pays tribute to the John Williams music that changed soundtracks forever, the podcast is appropriately, the brainchild of journalist/filmmaker Matt Schrader, whose best-known previous work is Score, an award-winning podcast and documentary. Schrader’s sombre tones narrate throughout, segueing between the dramatised sections.

If there’s a failing to Blockbuster, it’s the lack of critical faculty. Sure, we hear about these mythological people’s personality flaws, however, the whole notion of the negative changes that Spielberg and Lucas’s cinema wrought are not explored – not in the first episode, at least, though we highly doubt the other 5 eps will delve into this murky area. There are impressive elements of Peter Biskind style retrospective storytelling to Blockbuster, however, where Biskind took no prisoners, Schrader is obviously a superfan and the result is intriguing – there are reams of interesting factoids revealed – and engrossing, but ultimately this is nostalgia pop culture of the highest order, with, appropriately enough, ‘the final episode due to drop during the week of May 25 – the 42-year anniversary of Star Wars’ release, which would play in theatres for over a year continuously’, in the words of Schrader himself.

Available through iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Breaking Habits

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Good documentaries need good subjects, but sometimes a good subject just isn’t enough. Ex-BBC documentarian Rob Ryan obviously thought that he was on to a winner with this one. It is an account of a woman calling herself “Sister Kate” (she actually isn’t a nun at all, but more of that later). She and a group of her friends are into growing and supplying medical marijuana in Merced County, California. They espouse hemp-based products rich in CBD (but not the psychotropic THC). CBD is indeed remarkable, and we have yet to fully explore its potential for treating everything from seizures to cancer pain.

Ryan follows Kate and the other “sisters” as they walk around their local town. We don’t really get to see much of the public’s reaction to them but, then again, this is America where attention-grabbing stunts are ten a penny. There is one revealing scene where a man upbraids Kate for posing as a nun which he, as a Catholic, finds offensive. Kate quickly back peddles by saying how much she respects his right to believe what he believes etc, but this just leaves one wondering why they feel the need to dress as nuns in the first place.

In fact, Kate’s motivations are always a little mixed throughout, although Ryan gives her enough time and space to explain herself. She was apparently a “high powered” businesswoman, but when her marriage fell apart, she suddenly found herself with a need for cash. Somewhat opportunistically (and at the suggestion of a brother that she later fell out with), she becomes a grower/supplier. Kate lived in Holland for eight years where she presumably learned to enjoy the product – THC and all.

We also get a bit of Kate’s somewhat vexed relation to her grown up son and her occasional run-ins with the local gangs. These gangs rightly see ripping off Kate’s crop as an easier way to get product than growing their own and, this being America again, they have no shortage of guns to enforce their point. This takes the picture toward more extreme and violent territory, but it doesn’t quite know where to go with that angle.

Then there is the issue of the local sheriff. He’s a bit of a straw man, but the film needs an antagonist. He’s not a complete redneck incidentally (and he realises that pot is here to stay), but he rightly worries about the violence that potentially big profits bring. Ryan clearly tries to understand the sheriff’s position, but he also realises that Kate is better doco material.

All of this could have made for a fun ninety minutes, but somehow the film doesn’t hang together that well. A lot depends on one’s interest in the self-obsessed Kate. Though she is brave to expose herself to the documentarian’s lens, she is, in the end, not as interesting as she thinks she is.

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Rocking the Couch

Documentary, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Rocking the Couch takes a rudimental approach in its coverage of #metoo that resultingly ends up scattershot and well-trodden. From interviews of actresses who have experienced sexual abuse to history lessons on misconduct in Hollywood, Rocking the Couch’s ambitious efforts to cover a broad spectrum of information within a sixty-minute runtime is admirable, however, sees it unable to effectively dissect important issues facing Hollywood and culture at large.

Where female interviewees share their traumatic experiences on screen, it is with the male respondents, often members of law enforcement or producers, and their dissociative responses on how female victims should behave that highlight something culturally problematic. It is unclear whether Rocking the Couch has something interesting to say about this male perspective – the bizarre manner in which interviews are conducted, involving green screen backgrounds and interviewees drinking wine, is distracting to the point that important themes come across as satirical.

Issues with editing are prevalent throughout Rocking the Couch, with director Minh Collins’ decision to embellish the film with cheap transition effects and stock-images that interrupt interviews being of high school PowerPoint presentation quality.

In title, Rocking the Couch makes a bold declaration that its timely subject matter will disrupt Hollywood, which despite its earnest attempts to do so doesn’t rock the couch as much as it brushes past it.

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Damon Gameau: That 2040 Film

Following the massive success, both in cinemas and its impact on society, of That Sugar Film, the actor turned filmmaker has made a highly entertaining family climate film full of solutions for our future.
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Amy and Hal

Being There, Coming Home, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Harold and Maude were some of the best films of the New Hollywood of the ‘70s, all directed by one of the least celebrated filmmakers of that era. Until now.
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Kelly’s Hollywood

Documentary, Featured, Festival, Review, This Week 1 Comment

The straight-to-the-point plotline of the documentary, Kelly’s Hollywood – in which a young man helps his sister with Down Syndrome taste a little of the fame and adulation that she yearns for – suggests a feel-good charmer with heart and warmth to burn. And while this doco certainly has that in spades, it also offers much, much more, along with a number of thematic detours that hit with an unexpected wallop. The fact that the film is directed by the young man in question, Brian Donovan, affords an extraordinary level of intimacy; indeed, the film is so personal, and its connection to its subject so deep, that you occasionally question whether you should actually have the right to be allowed into its very singular world. The powerful emotions provoked by this generous invitation, however, are nothing short of staggering.

A jobbing actor from the sleepy surrounds of Buffalo, New York, Brian Donovan would eventually find fame via voicing every kid’s favourite taijutsu hero, Rock Lee, in the popular anime series, Naruto, as well as playing the character of Davis in the equally popular hit, Digimon. Before getting there, he appeared in a host of small film and TV roles while grinding out an on-screen living in Los Angeles. With him every step on his journey to fame was his younger sister, Kelly, who was born with Down Syndrome. She too dreams of being in the spotlight, and Brian helps her get there by staging Kelly’s own starring vehicle at a Hollywood theatre.

The extraordinary relationship shared by Brian and Kelly, however, is not all sunshine and flowers. Utterly co-dependent (a fact that Brian fully acknowledges and is totally aware of), their iron-strong bond works to the exclusion of his romantic partners, with Brian’s ex-girlfriends (some of whom are bravely and candidly interviewed) often left in Kelly’s dust. But when he meets charming Aussie writer and former Home And Away star, Tempany Deckert, Brian’s relationship with Kelly is really put to the test.

This is territory rarely glimpsed on screen before, as we see how difficult a relationship with a family member with special needs can be, and not in the usual ways. Kelly and Tempany almost battle in a romantic way for Brian’s attention, which is deeply troubling and utterly heartbreaking. Brian doesn’t deny being complicit in this fraught psychodrama either, copping to a major case of “hero complex and Peter Pan Syndrome.” Boundaries quickly crumble and blur at an alarming yet. Donovan’s bravery in putting this dilemma on screen is unquestionable and admirable, as is his refusal to shy away from his sister’s romantic needs. Kelly develops intense fantasy fixations (which Brian fully indulges) on a variety of unattainable men, from David Hasselhoff, The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb and Colin Firth through to a number of supervisors at her workplace. It’s often uncomfortable to watch, but Donovan wants to depict his sister in her entirety, and this is a vital aspect of her personality, as is her constant attention-seeking and keen facility for manipulation. She’s an amazing and loveable person, but Donovan doesn’t take the easy canonisation route, and the film is all the richer for that.

Kelly’s Hollywood, however, is still a feel-good, three-hanky weepy of the first order. Brian and Kelly Donovan are truly fascinating and incredibly likeable people, and their unconventional relationship is the stuff of great cinema. You’ll likely never see anything quite like it again.

Kelly’s Hollywood is screening April 16 in Brisbane and April 19 in Byron Bay, with each screening followed by a Q&A with Brian Donovan. The film is also available for you to host your own screening through Demand.Film.