007 Festival – 4K Digital remasters

This one has been a long time in the pipeline. It’s probably close to two years since we first heard that the James Bond titles would be getting the 4K treatment. Digitally remastered DCPs – when done well – can look glorious (not ‘better’ than film – they’re different formats and not truly comparable – but spectacular in their own way). Having made room on a couple of calendars to date, the DCPs will finally be ready for us to unveil onscreen this year, starting on October 18th with the very first and second 007 titles: Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963).

Beginning with Sean Connery and making our way forwards with George Lazenby and Roger Moore, our 007 Festival brings a popular character back to the big screen where he belongs. According to our calendar (which will be hitting the streets next week!) Sean Connery is the Bond we love best. Who’s your favourite Bond? And what about Bond villains? Does 7’2″ with steel teeth impress you or are you more interested in plots focused on world domination? There’s plenty of nefarious types to choose from and yes, the series does come with a large dose of sexism delivered through dialogue, narrative and lack of agency. In typical Bond style the women are showcased as beautiful but aren’t given all that much to do besides.

In terms of further exploring the world of 007 we’ve got you covered there too – the Sunday before our 007 Festival begins we’ll be screening a documentary that delves into the world of villains, beauties and a British guy who values being suave above all else. It’s called Everything or Nothing (2012) and it screens Sunday October 12th at 4.30pm. 

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Full listings and details will soon be up on our website but until then, here’s the line up for our 007 Festival:

Bond 1Saturday October 18th 7.30pm
Dr No [1962] (PG) + From Russia With Love [1963] (PG)
Sean Connery, the Bond we love the best, investigates strange occurrences in Jamaica and overcomes the evil Dr. No, who of course has a serious plot to rule the world. After intermission, pitted against a blonde Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya with a dagger in her shoe, Connery returns. Plenty of suspense and action, and one of the longest, most exciting fight scenes ever staged.

Bond 2Saturday October 25th 7.30pm
Goldfinger [1964] (PG) + Thunderball [1965] (PG)
Full of ingenious gadgets and nefarious villains, with a hair-raising climax inside Fort Knox. After intermission there are plenty of gimmicks and Academy Award winning special effects as the world is threatened with destruction, set in the Caribbean.

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Saturday November 1st 7.30pm
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969] (PG)
Lazenby, as the first non-Connery Bond, battles Blofeld amidst incredible action sequences, and a plot with a novel twist. The requisite components persist: nefarious villain, beautiful women and scenery, and great action sequences, but this Bond film is set apart by its maturity and emotional depth of characterization.

Bond 4Saturday November 8th 7.30pm
The Spy Who Loved Me [1977] (PG) + For Your Eyes Only [1981] (M)
In this lavish adventure 007 joins forces with a seductive Russian agent to quash arch villain Stromberg’s plans for world destruction. Nobody does it better, indeed. After intermission, bereft of the space age gadgetry, cartoon villains and female mannequins, we have the Bond film that has created the most debate among 007 fans.

Bond 5Saturday November 15th 7.30pm
Octopussy [1983] (PG) + A View to Kill [1985] (M)
When a “00” agent is found holding a Faberge egg, the British are suspicious and send James Bond to investigate. 007 discovers a connection between the priceless egg, an elaborate smuggling operation and a plot by a renegade Soviet general to instigate World War Three. After intermission, it’s Moore’s final appearance as 007, but hardly the strongest of the Bond series. An investigation of a horse-racing scam leads 007 to a mad industrialist who plans to create a worldwide microchip monopoly by destroying California’s Silicon Valley.

All films presented in brand new, remastered 4K DCP format.

Missed it at MIFF – catch it at the Astor

Every year we take a gander at some of the titles screening during MIFF (sadly we can’t get along to all of them – there are just too many!) and this year we’ve been programming while the festival was going which made it that little bit harder to see enough before we chose titles to hit our own very big screen. We know many of the films do get a release and working out which ones will be best BIG, shining on our glorious SuperScreen (across 19m and up 9m), is always both a joy and a challenge.

grandmaster001-thumb-630xauto-35213Add to that a schedule already jam-packed with so many great retrospective titles across cult and classic cinema and the space certainly is limited! But the ones that we can tell you about, for now, are: The Grandmaster, screening Wednesday October 8th, The Immigrant, screening Sunday October 19th, Locke screening Wednesday November 5th and Two Days, One Night screening Sunday December 14th. We’ll admit that there’s a bit of a wait for some of those but we know it’ll be worth it because each of those films will look incredible up on our SuperScreen.

snowpiercer-1We’ve also made sure you’ll get a chance to see and hear Snowpiercer as large and loud as it ought to be experienced (what a wild ride that’s going to be!) so we’ve programmed it twice – Friday September 12th in a double bill with Under the Skin and again on Wednesday October 22nd in a double bill with The Matrix. Don’t say we never give you anything ;)

medium_emma_smokingWe’re also bringing Palo Alto – Gia Coppola’s stunning adaptation of James Franco’s not so wonderful short story collection – because it simply has to have the big screen treatment: the cinematography is every bit as breathtaking here as it is in her aunt Sophia’s films. What an insanely talented family those Coppolas are. Plus, Luc Besson’s latest, crazy blockbuster Lucy is another that we are pleased to announce. How could you possibly imagine what it would be like to use 100% of your brain capacity anywhere other than in the opulent surrounds of the Astor?

5703_TPT_00043R_720For festival lovers who missed it earlier this year there’s the Swedish/Croatian screen adaptation of The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, screening Sunday October 12th. AND, we are definitely screening the comic book adaptation that has become a recent hit sensation, Guardians of the Galaxy, set for Thursday September 11th – that’s soon!

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-second-movie-trailerThat’s a lot of great cinema coming to our SuperScreen and we haven’t even started telling you about the incredible rep content we have in store! Keep an eye on our social media this week as we slowly unveil some of the brilliant things our next calendar is truly bursting with. It’s going to be another three months of stupendous good fun so grab your diary and start making some serious time for the Astor experience.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Edge of Tomorrow

The Astor calendar has, over more than thirty years, become a staple fixture on fridges and toilet doors across Melbourne. In fact, it’s so iconic that we even get requests to send the calendar to the odd ex-pat overseas! There’s something comforting about seeing it taped up on a wall, or stuck to the door you’re about to open each time you eat or make tea. One hitch that comes with quarterly programming, however, is changes to release dates. Occasionally distributors will move the release date of a given title and, as in this instance, that release date will be after our previously confirmed screening date.

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As a rep theatre, we don’t run new release titles on their first run. We usually screen ‘new’ titles 5-8 weeks out from their theatrical release, which is called second run. And so you have it as we do with Thursday night’s calendar listed double bill of Earth to Echo and Edge of Tomorrow. The release date for Earth to Echo has been delayed (for reasons we don’t know so please don’t ask!) which means that we had to pull the title from our double bill. We looked at the options for replacing the film with another recent release title (from the same distributor, as all double bills must come from the same distributor) and, in this instance, didn’t find a substitute that we felt would work too well with Edge of Tomorrow.

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Which brings me to the point of this here blog post: Thursday August 7th will now be a single session screening of Edge of Tomorrow. From what we hear (we still haven’t quite caught up with the film ourselves) there’s plenty to keep you occupied in this bombastic blockbuster as Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt go through a futuristic type of groundhog day at war. With a finger on the reset button, we’re sure there’ll be more than enough Tom Cruise for everyone!

Edge of Tomorrow screens Thursday August 7th at 7.30pm.

Your year long film festival is always here, at the Astor

Victoria has been dubbed (via number plates) “the garden state”, “on the move” and “the place to be”. The state as a whole is a pretty big place (larger than the entire UK if we’re talking physical land mass) and it’s difficult when you work in Melbourne and dwell only around its suburban fringes to know just how garden like, moving and ‘to be’ it really is elsewhere. That said, when I think specifically about Melbourne, one of the things that springs to mind is how very many festivals the city plays host to.

Speaking specifically about film, over the years, the Astor has housed far more than a handful of brilliant festivals including; MIFF, St Kilda, MIM (Made in Melbourne), Manhattan Short, Australia’s Silent, Yew TV, NZ Short, and many others. It’s always a pleasure to host the buzz that comes along with a designated event – but then, that’s no surprise seeing as it’s also what we do all year round!

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The Astor is known for many things – from its grand foyers, golden curtains and famous Choc-Ices to the unique style of programming we do, keeping cult and classic cinema alive with many a double bill on our awesome, toilet-door/refrigerator-adorning quarterly calendars – and it’s the unique style of diverse programming from recent releases to repertory titles that we pride ourselves upon most of all. The programming – which proprietor George Florence has crafted since 1982 (!) – offers a year long film festival with all manner of different strands for Melbourne cinephiles and movie-goers to enjoy.

We’re currently putting together the next one and we can already tell you that it’s a cracker! There’ll be so much to announce in the coming weeks (keep an eye on our social media for updates and announcements) but something we can tell you right now is that we are truly Melbourne’s (and Australia’s) home to the grand film print format known as 70mm.

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It’s incredibly rare to have the opportunity to see some of the brilliant things we regularly show, like Baraka (1992), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Vertigo (1958), Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1982), Aliens (1986), Hamlet (1996), The Master (2012) and, in the past, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Titanic (1997), Ben Hur (2003) and a number of blow-ups like Gremlins 2 (1990), The Mission (1986), The Right Stuff (1983) and The Last Starfighter (1984).

Now, not all of these films are available for us to screen – y’all know the Titanic story because we posted it about a week ago, and if you’ve been attending the theatre or following up online updates for a while you’ll also know what happened to Lawrence (short version: we loaned it to a film festival in Korea and they burnt Korean subtitles into the print) – but what we can still screen, you can bet we will. We’re always working on bringing you the very best year-long film festival in an environment abuzz with grandeur and great atmosphere!

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

Cinema Fiasco Presents… HERCULES!

Fresh from its triumphal tour of Tasmania, Cinema Fiasco returns to the Astor this Friday, July 25 at 8pm, for a presentation of the 1983 version of Hercules starring Lou Ferrigno.

Clearly the Hercules getting all the press right now is the soon-to-be-released version starring The Rock and, even though I haven’t seen that one yet, I can tell you categorically right now that Lou’s version is the one to see.

Hercules

Why? Well, first of all, Lou’s version doesn’t have a lot of expensive, fake-looking CGI. You want to create a startlingly realistic bear fight? Stick a stuntman in a bear suit, cut in some stock footage of a grumpy grizzly and there’s the job done and at half the price.

Secondly The Rock is too good an actor to play Hercules. Hercules doesn’t have to act. He just has to lift up heavy things and throw them into outer space. And when The Rock speaks you hear his real voice. Hercules is supposed to be dubbed. Lou is. Thank the gods!

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Thirdly, the costumes for the new version were not designed by a drag queen on acid.

Fourthly Lou has a bigger chest than The Rock.

Fifthly Lou’s co-star Sybil Danning has a chest almost as big as his.

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Finally, Friday night’s screening will have commentary by Geoff Wallis and Janet A. McLeod, whose appreciation of bad movie-making is matched only by their need to talk. It will be an epic experience in every sense of the word. Please note that Janet and Geoff will be talking all the way through Hercules. If you want to see it without commentary, please get some professional help.

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Written by  Geoff Wallis 2014

Cinema Fiasco Presents HERCULES screens Friday July 25th at 8pm.

Companions in the Dark

Last week I wrote about going to the cinema alone so this week I thought I’d talk about cinema-going with friend(s). Though the experience of watching a film is mostly about engaging with what’s on the screen, is also about engaging with the other people in the auditorium, which is why choosing the right person(s) to accompany you is so important. The level of wanted engagement with someone else varies for us all, but even for the most solitary of souls, there is something powerful at play during those unspoken moments we share in the dark.

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The first thing that we need to take into consideration when choosing our cinema-going companion(s) is film selection; genre, format, style, tone, rating, duration, and all manner of other aspects that pertain to our individual tastes. For example, while I wouldn’t take my mother to tonight’s session of The Babadook (2014) and Patrick (2013) – because she doesn’t like horror films and finds it difficult to sit through a double bill – next Wednesday’s single session of Samsara (2011) would be a perfect choice for the two of us – not least because we both loved Baraka (1992) and agree that these are the kind of films that you just can’t see anywhere other than at the Astor. It’s important to make sure that the film(s) you choose will be something both (or all, if you’re gathering your “celluloid posse”) of you will enjoy. There’s no point dragging someone along to see something that you know they won’t like just because you want to see it – in these instances I tend to do what I wrote about last week and just go it alone.

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Once film(s) and friend(s) are selected and it’s actually time to attend the cinema, the degree of sharing starts to kick in. Now I know words are important (I use them here every week to tell you about some of our many cinema-going passions at the Astor), being sure that your cohort won’t overtake what’s going on in the film is a priority – I once went on a movie date where the other person kept leaning over to make mind numbing remarks about what was happening onscreen. Admittedly it was a not very engaging blockbuster, but suffice it to say that relationship never really “blossomed”. At the same time, however, having someone who is in tune with you and your responses can be incredibly comforting. I know that when I see a comedy it is definitely enhanced by the shared laughter in the room and if I’m watching a tear-jerker it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s subject to the magical manipulation of the movies!

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Though I’m a big advocate for staring directly at the screen, some of my favourite movie memories involve an awareness of my fellow movie-goers. Seeing my two nephews discover the big screen for the first time in their seats next to me, singing loudly along (and wildly out of tune) with friends to the well known songs from Grease (1978) and having toast fall at my feet while watching The Blues Brothers (1980) are all memories I truly cherish. Holding hands in the cinema with a loved one, sharing a bag of jaffas with my mother and just seeing the joy, shock, horror, excitement and surprise on a friend’s face as I snuck a sidewards glance the first time they saw one of my favourite John Waters’ movies, Female Trouble (1974), are all experiences I’ll remember as much as the movies themselves.

2001 - Pod in the Astor

When we sit collectively in the dark we also give our experience to the room and it’s absorbed and intensified by those around us. The 70mm film print of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) has the most incredible six-track magnetic sound that allows you to hear every breath Dave takes. When surrounded by friends as well as strangers suddenly there’s hundreds of other breaths that inhale, exhale, stop, slow and quicken at precise moments that make the entire experience so much more affecting.

I guess what I’m saying today is that the reason we all want to see movies on the big screen is not just because it’s big. It’s about immersion. And it ignites all of our senses; from seeing and hearing what the filmmakers have crafted to inhaling the intoxicating smell of freshly popped corn, and crunching down on a home made Astor choc-ice while the tactile feelings of those around you comes alive. It is a truly embodied experience, and that’s what makes going to the movies so marvelous.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Chaplin Greats

Given the world’s ever-increasing obsession with technology – the way gadgets control us more than we control them; as these technologies, supposedly designed to make our lives easier, only lead to further reliance on technologies – Modern Times (1936) is now more timely than ever before. The promised future of a world where machines do everything, allowing humankind to bask in an eternal glow of idleness, shall never arrive, for the machines will always be dependent upon humans to build, oversee and repair them (and many of the products made by the machines need to be replaced – see the comedy masterpiece The Man in the White Suit, 1951). And that’s exactly how the wealthy industrialists of the world want to keep things: the worker shackled to a life of fruitless labour, threatened with the prospect of unemployment at a moment’s notice if he or she refuses to toe the line and accept substandard working conditions, lowly remuneration, and lack of entitlements.

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Such is the plight faced by the hero of Modern Times, a nameless factory worker (played by Charlie Chaplin, who also wrote and directed the film) who finds himself at odds with the monotony of work and harsh realities of unemployment, as well as numerous other misadventures. In a cinematic climate (and society in general) cluttered with motion pictures that attempt to sell us on the idea that avarice is admirable and everyone can be rich (which is a bit different from saying that anyone can be rich), a world that teaches the workers to demonise the unemployed (instead of encouraging the workers to direct their rage  – as they should – towards the capitalists who rely on the perpetuation of poverty to maintain their wealth), and would have us believe that stealing a loaf of bread is akin to attempted murder, Modern Times is refreshing for its enlightened view of society.

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It is a film that casts a sympathetic eye over the mitigating circumstances that makes so-called criminals out of decent people, as well as being a film that is disdainful towards those capitalists who strip workers of their dignity and reduce them to little more than slave labour. Despite becoming the biggest name in the world of motion pictures (for a time) and the toast of Hollywood, Chaplin never forgot his impoverished roots back home in England. Modern Times is not only a satire of modern factories and machinery, it is also Chaplin’s valentine to the indomitable spirit of the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, those desperate individuals who have nothing but their dreams, a few garments of clothing, and perhaps one last remaining shred of integrity, in the face of adversity.

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A mostly silent film (similar in this respect to the mostly silent recent revival film The Artist, 2011), and generally considered to be the swansong for Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, Modern Times also proved to be the breakthrough picture for Paulette Goddard (Chaplin’s third wife), playing the role of the Gamine (a more charming street urchin I’ve never seen – she is one of my favourite motion picture characters).  Chaplin and  Goddard would later reunite in front of the cameras for the talking picture, The Great Dictator (1940), featuring Chaplin in the dual role of a meek Jewish barber, and Adenoid Hynkel, ruler of Tomainia. I don’t believe I need to tell any of you readers who is being lampooned by the latter character, but you might be interested to know that according to records kept by the Nazis, the real-life Führer twice watched The Great Dictator. Alas, no record was kept of Hitler’s reaction to the film (this being a source of frustration and curiosity for Chaplin for the rest of his days).

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The running gag throughout the film is the uncanny resemblance between the Jewish Barber and Adenoid Hynkel, inevitably leading to a case of mistaken identity. Consider the more recent tyrants and the cults of personality that surround each one: how much stock do their followers place in the carefully-fabricated image, and how much do their followers know of the person behind the facade? If the so-called important politicians of the world are so special, why are they as interchangeable as light globes? Could anybody become a dictator, given the right image, fed the appropriate words and blessed with a little bit of luck? It’s a sobering thought, and it’s exactly what continues to happen across the world with terrifying frequency.

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ModernGoddardKnife_smPaulette Goddard appears in the picture as Hannah (named after Chaplin’s mother), and it was Chaplin’s intention to write a romance starring his spouse, but according the Chaplin, from My Autobiography (1964);

“I  could make no progress. How could I throw myself into feminine whimsy or think of romance or think of the problems of love when madness was being stirred up by a hideous grotesque, Adolf Hitler?”
Thus instead of an old-fashioned romantic comedy as his follow-up to Modern Times, Chaplin gave us The Great Dictator, an audacious political satire that for all of its humour, is best remembered for The Speech, a profoundly poignant monologue where Chaplin breaks the fourth wall, and seemingly breaks into a third character, that of himself. It is one of the greatest spiels committed to film; but how strange, how wonderful, that such a serious speech was written and delivered (magnificently) by an actor known mostly for silent comedy.

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Modern Times and The Great Dictator are films rich in humour, pathos and humanity, from one of the guiding lights of early motion pictures, Charles Chaplin. For those of you who are enjoying the Jacques Tati retrospective, it should go without saying that Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and The Great Dictator are staples of the era, recommended most highly, as two veritable landmark achievements in the history of cinema.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

Modern Times and The Great Dictator screen as a double bill on Sunday June 22nd, 7pm.

1973: A Great Year For the Future

There is a tendency for less enlightened film viewers to classify old motion pictures as “dated” due to superficialities such as quaint anachronisms present in the dialogue (“Groovy, daddy-o!”), wardrobe choices that haven’t been fashionable for decades (turtlenecks and bell bottoms, to name just two), archaic production design (loud wallpaper, mirror balls), right down to hairstyles that are nowadays considered offensive (seemingly, anything prior to the 1980s).

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When I think about the year 1973, in film, the first two works that spring to mind are Soylent Green and Westworld. And both films just so happen to be right up there with my all-time favourite motion pictures. Even though less perceptive types ridicule these two futuristic science fiction thrillers for being “dated” – due to the aforementioned though insubstantial reasons – the reality is that Soylent Green and Westworld are more relevant to what’s happening right now than whatever short-life noisy blockbuster you watched yesterday.

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Granted, the visions of the future as depicted in Soylent Green and Westworld look very much like … well, it’s all very similar to 1973 – albeit with a few genuinely futuristic trimmings here and there. Still, one of the reasons why I enjoy watching 1970s science fiction is because it’s so obvious when the films were produced, just from looking at them. However, the primary reason I’m so infatuated with these two films is the ideas behind them. Yes, these films are brilliant pieces of entertainment, but they also happen to be about something. They have imagination, they make me think; and I never tire of watching and thinking about them.

Soylent Green depicts New York City in the year 2022. The population of the Big Apple has swollen to more than forty million inhabitants. Organic wholefoods (in addition to water and fossil fuels) are scarce, and much of the (mostly impoverished) population depends on a line of highly processed foodstuffs for their nutritional requirements: Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and the new (and by the looks of things, extremely popular) Soylent Green. In scenes that resemble a Soviet Russian breadline, the teeming masses crowd the streets, desperate for Soylent Green.

But what is the secret of Soylent Green?

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Somebody knows, and others know that certain somebody can no longer be trusted to keep the secret, leading to an assassination, followed by an investigation from hard-nosed detective Frank Thorn, played by Charlton Heston (and let’s face it, Chuck was as hard-nosed as they came). Assisted by his police-issued “human book” and housemate, Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson, in his silver screen swansong), Thorn attempts to solve the murder case, but what he shall discover is something so horrifying…well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself!

Soylent Green opens with a wonderful montage showing North America from its earliest days of European colonialism, following through to the various ages of technological advancement, humankind’s encroachment upon the natural world, and finally dropping us in the midst of its hellish illustration of the year 2022. The film is a scathing indictment of capitalism, depicting New York City as being, for the most part, a third-world country, as the so-called middle class masses have been obliterated, creating an insurmountable abyss separating the impoverished millions from the wealthy few. Perhaps Soylent Green was a little hasty in its prognostication of the breakdown of the capitalist system and the levels of poverty created by it, at least as far as New York City is concerned – perhaps the film should have been set in Detroit – but, give it time…the century is yet young.

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Just as Soylent Green doesn’t hold much hope for the future of capitalism, nor does it paint a cheerful picture of the coming years if you happen to be female. The women in Soylent Green come in two types: the miserable wretch who stands alongside the menfolk, enduring insufferable levels of smog and heat to procure her meagre rations of highly processed food, and…

Furniture: this is the dehumanising description applied to the glamorous femmes who are thrown into the bargain when a well-to-do male purchases an exclusive apartment in the world of Soylent Green. To put it  plainly, the women in the film are either beggars or prostitutes. And for all of the noise made about the ostensible emancipation of women in modern society, it only takes a stroll down Chapel Street to see that above all else, the female of the species is still prized as decoration, an artifact – or a piece of the furniture – for male consumption. Superficially, things might be different, but in essence, it is my opinion that little if anything has changed for women the since the days of Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre.

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Aside from examining the implosion of capitalism and the subjugation of women, the film asks us to consider the ecological question: whether Mother Earth can survive our present exploitation of her resources. It never rains in the perpetually heat-stricken world of Soylent Green, and if it did, it would probably rain acid. Looking at the world today, Society encourages the consumer to strive for the most expensive clothes, the fanciest motor vehicles, all the cosmetics we can cram into an overnight case, yet we happily accept food (a necessity) of the most lowly variety – which is to say, many of us consume garbage as a dietary staple. The present-day Much Making of Things will mean that in the future, third-rate food shall no longer be a lazy option, but the only option, for millions of economically disenfranchised persons, in a world of depleted natural resources. But will we care? Even in the world as it is today, we are taught to consider a luxury motor vehicle or a pair of designer shoes as a higher priority than the air we breathe and the food we eat, so how different shall it be in the future?

Soylent Green, far from being a dated motion picture, is a film fit for our time.

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The same can be said for Westworld, a science fiction techno-thriller about an ultra-sophisticated amusement park for adults. James Brolin and Richard Benjamin appear as two vacationers who visit the eponymous amusement park, populated with robotic hosts, to indulge in their wildest Wild West fantasies. In sharp contrast to Soylent Green, the future prophesied in Westworld seems idyllic; after all, who would complain about a world where for one thousand dollars a day, one can indulge in the fantastic computerised virtual reality of the Old West, complete with (harmless-to-humans) gunslingers and barroom brawls? Alas, to realise such a world, an overwhelming dependence upon technology would be required and, naturally, since human beings are not perfect, it stands to reason that nothing we create could be truly infallible – especially when dealing with robots designed to mimic the actions of humans in every possible way. And, when you arm robotic gunslingers with live firearms, you’re simply asking for trouble – especially when one of them happens to be made in the likeness of Yul Brynner (a most clever piece of casting that heightens the film’s sense of authenticity. Rather than watching Yul Brynner as a robot, we are given the feeling that it’s a robot deliberately constructed to resemble one of the iconic Brynner’s gunslinger film characters. In fact, the actor wore the same outfit he sported in the 1960 western The Magnificent Seven.

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Again, what we have in Westworld (as in Soylent Green), is a society paying the price for its hedonism, albeit on a much smaller scale. So often we are given cause to believe that we cannot do without modern technology but, as we see in Westworld, technology can certainly do without us: the machine becomes the master. Humanity is destroyed by the things it creates – could any message contained within a science fiction film be closer to the truth?

Westworld is often noted as the first feature film to utilise digital technology (not to mention the first sci-fi western feature), but unlike countless science fiction movies of today, writer-director Michael Crichton’s classic employs digital visual effects sparingly. That is to say, they are in service of the film and cleverly heighten tension in the movie, instead of being mere Oscar-bait for a film that would otherwise not be considered for any gongs from the Academy. Along with its cutting edge pixel technology, one must admire the fabulous work from Fred Karlin, the film’s composer. Is there such a thing as Wild West music from the future? Fred Karlin shows us how it’s done. It just so happens to be one of my favourite motion picture soundtracks.

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indexIn addition to being considered a splendidly-matched science fiction double feature, the pairing of Soylent Green with Westworld can also be viewed as a Dick Van Patten double – see if you can spot the Eight Is Enough (1977-1981) actor as he makes a cameo appearance in each film!

Though both films might looked dated on the surface – especially to the eyes of children raised on the noisy, ultra-glossy science fiction monstrosities of today – but, if you take a closer look, you’ll see that these film don’t provide gratuitous special effects or boisterous soundtracks. Instead, they boast imagination and relevance to the world of today, not to mention some rather fine acting (of the “acting without acting” variety) and genuinely tense drama. They are films that, to this film fanatic, simply get better with age.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

Soylent Green and Westworld screen in a double bill this Sunday June 15th at 7pm.

Acting Without Acting: On Michael Caine and Lee Marvin in Sunday’s Crime Drama Greats

Several years ago, I attended the Melbourne leg of a national speaking tour by Australian ex-pat journalist and humourist Clive James; back Down Under to promote his latest book, Cultural Amnesia. For some obscure reason that I cannot recall, during the audience interaction at the event, the subject of actor Michael Caine cropped up for discussion. James had the following to say about the English thespian:

“Michael Caine cannot act. He can’t act any better than you, he can’t act any better than me. He simply is.”

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My own opinion is that Michael Caine can indeed act, but I do agree that Caine seems to be at his best when, as James put it,’ he simply is’. In other words, Caine is at his best when he doesn’t try to give a performance – or as it’s sometimes (paradoxically) called, ‘acting without acting’, where the player merely reveals another facet of his or her real-life personality.

For his part in the film Get Carter (1971), Caine obviously allowed the more ornery side of his personality to take over, as he appears as a ruthless, heartless bastard named Jack Carter, an English underworld figure whose general lack of humanity would make Margaret Thatcher look like a saint by comparison. Between his role in Get Carter and his much more recent outing as the eponymous vigilante in Harry Brown (2009), I’d hate to see Michael Caine angry in real life.

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Get Carter takes place in Newcastle, England. Jack Carter is visiting for the funeral of his brother, Frank, whose death was allegedly subject to ‘accidental circumstances’. Jack, believing that foul play was the cause of brother Frank’s demise, hangs around Newcastle to find some answers. Basically, this is Michael Caine in full-tilt bastard mode. He’s playing a gangster. He’s extremely angry. Need I tell you that much mayhem ensues?

Directed by Mike Hodges (his feature directorial debut – he went on to direct Flash Gordon in 1980!), Get Carter had been recommended to me a number of years ago, and when I finally got around to experiencing it at the Astor the year before last, it surpassed even my loftiest expectations. The jazzy theme music by composer Roy Budd is absolutely sublime (it will be stuck in your ears for days, if not weeks, after the screening), the script is teeming with witty dialogue and sharp one-liners (it’s quite funny, in a dark sort of way, for a gangster film), and despite the occasional deadpan comic relief from Michael Caine, the whole affair is immersed by an air of impending danger. As the film moves closer to its climax, the feeling of suspense grips tightly and doesn’t let go until just before the closing credits.

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Get Carter is a gangster film devoid of heroes and bereft of glamour. The world presented is as sordid as one could imagine, Newcastle in the early 1970s looked like it would’ve been a positively miserable place to live (at least insofar as it’s depicted in the film), and nobody seems to be safe; not even Doreen, Jack Carter’s niece (?),  the most innocent character in the film. But aside from its aforementioned strengths in various areas, Get Carter would be a much less impressive film without the work of Michael Caine; it’s a character that you couldn’t imagine anybody else playing, as Caine certainly puts his stamp on the film.

Let me make this perfectly clear: if you have even the slightest interest in the gangster genre, or you simply relish truly great cinema, Get Carter is must-see material.

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Following hot on the heels of Get Carter is Point Blank (1967), directed by John Boorman (who would later go on to helm Deliverance, 1972). Lee Marvin (in this instance, acting without acting – see how well it works?) brings to life the role of Walker, survivor of a violent double-cross, who is out to claim a sum of money (ninety-three grand, to be precise) that he feels is owed to him for his part in a heist. Just remember, kids, this was 1967 – these days, that would work out to be more than half a million dollars.

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Point Blank doesn’t reveal much about its protagonist, thus leaving us with few clues as to Walker and his past – basically, it’s an existential crime/action/drama, and it’s the sort of film that even if you’ve seen it before, warrants a second look. It’s also worth catching if you want to see what cinema tough guys looked like back in the 1960s, before your standard Action Movie Hero became interchangeable with the latest air-brushed, Laser-White smiling, manicured-and-pedicured cover boy from Men’s Health magazine. Lee Marvin didn’t have the body of Adonis, nor was he blessed with matinee idol features, but he was authentic. Suspension of disbelief is not required when Lee Marvin, playing the role of Walker, slices through anybody who stands in his way. Also, check out that horrendous-looking scar that adorns Marvin’s stomach – how in the hell did he get that? Forget about a washboard abdomen, you want to impress the ladies with how tough you are, you get yourself marked up with one of those! [Ed's note: couldn't find an appropriate scar image, you'll have to get along on Sunday to see it on the big screen, folks!]

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Point Blank, when viewed along with Get Carter, also led me to believe that no crime drama from the late 1960s/early 1970s was truly complete unless the protagonist, in a search for somebody, wanders into a swingin’ nightclub, complete with groovy music and hip young things dancing their troubles away. It also happens to Clint Eastwood in Coogan’s Bluff (Don Siegel, 1968). Lesson learned: if anybody is chasing you, don’t run into a nightclub, especially if it’s full of hippies, beatniks and mods, because you’re going to get caught. Those kids have a habit of attracting trouble.

Get Carter and Point Blank are ideally-matched as a double feature. This is rare chance to experience two of the most acclaimed gangster films of their period in their original theatrical format. Screening Sunday June 1st, 7pm.

Written by Mark Vanselow for the Astor Theatre

SoundKILDA is coming…

Proudly presented by the City of Port Phillip, the St Kilda Film Festival, Australia’s premier short film festival, is back at the Astor! It’s already underway and so far it’s been a schedule roaring with goodness. Featuring Australia’s Top 100 short films, music videos, archival screenings, filmmaker development programs and more – including SoundKILDA - it’s time to get excited and get down here if you haven’t already.

On Thursday 29 May, SoundKILDA will screen and award the best music videos of local and international musicians by some of country’s most talented filmmakers. We’ve even got three films featured here to whet your appetite!

Child Bride by CocoRosie

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Child Bride is a fairytale but in reality, every year an estimated 14 million girls are married before they turn 18. Robbed of their childhood, denied their rights to health, education and security. Child Bride is the latest clip in an ongoing collaboration between Brooklyn-based CocoRosie and award-winning Australian filmmaker Emma Freeman.

Twin Rivers by Big Scary

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A praying mantis struggles to find contentment in a modern world. The crew waited patiently for Florence to move into a good position or give a look with personality. She is now retired and is kept as a pet by filmmakers Shaun and Maxine.

Quasimodo’s Dream – Tim Rogers

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Using the evocative setting of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide, Tim Rogers falls again and again like a suicide on repeat. Quasimodo’s Dream features in Tim Rogers’ new feature film, The Boy Castaways, directed by Michael Kantor and featuring Megan Washington and Paul Capsis.

Known as Australia’s only dedicated music video competition, collaborations include Director Natasha Pincus with The Paper Kites, Director Emma Freeman with CocoRosie, Director Summer DeRoche with City Calm Down and Directors Charlie Ford and Josh McKie with Vance Joy.

But that’s not all! There’s also the Under the Radar Competition, on Wednesday 28 May, that will showcase the extraordinary work being produced by young filmmakers under 21 years of age.

As Australia’s oldest and largest short film festival, the St Kilda Film Festival showcases exceptional films by emerging artists, providing the most comprehensive overview of the country’s short film industry.

The St Kilda Film Festival is also now an ACADEMY AWARDS® qualifying event with award-winning films eligible for consideration in the OSCARS® Short Film Awards.

The full program is available to view now at www.stkildafilmfestival.com.au