Malick: on the SuperScreen

The Astor has admired and honoured Terence Malick’s films for many years. We’ve had mini Malick retrospectives in abundance since the release of Tree of Life (2011) and that particular film has graced our SuperScreen more than a few times. His work simply demands the big screen. Or at least that’s what we’d always thought…

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I know George and some of our other staff fell in love with Tree of Life. It was a joy to watch for me too: throughout its narrative it sustained a true sense of the sublime. I found its aesthetic rhythm mesmeric, I loved how softly the characters dancing onscreen grounded the ethereal nature of the film. The wind rustling through trees and fields captured by a wide angled lens harked back to The Thin Red Line (1998) and earlier, but still held its own contemplation relevant to the story in Tree of Life.

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Then came To The Wonder (2012). With this film, Malick was losing me. The conversations around this film have remained contentious and the opinions divided. There is so much to love about the look of the film and the ideas that break the two lovers apart. And yet, somehow, it felt empty to me. Watching Olga Kurylenko dance around a home supplies store just didn’t say anything. I felt as if at a precipice: when Malick next returns to the big screen, I wondered, will I go with him?

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Malick’s depiction of a male/female relationship can be beautiful and heartbreaking, but is that enough?

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At this year’s Berlinale I saw Knight of Cups. With each whispering philosophical contemplation and beautiful waif-like woman dancing around before me onscreen, I found myself falling farther and farther away from the film. There was nothing here for me; no character to cling to, or even to observe with interest; no words that gave the incessant beach side scenes sincerity; no philosophical ideal that gave me pause for thought beyond why I was sat watching something so insufferable.

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Okay, so it’s is not necessarily an auteur’s job to please his or her viewers; theirs is the pursuit of art. For some, I know Knight of Cups will bring joy and revelation. For others, it will be a great disappointment. It is bittersweet that the Astor does not have another calendar in the works, into which we could program Knight of Cups, because ours has always been the pleasure of letting you decide, as the curtains unveil the Astor’s majestic SuperScreen.

And so, we invite you to enjoy Malick once more, as it ought to be seen, in grandeur, at the Astor. Tree of Life screens Thursday February 26, 7.30pm

Inherent Vice

Quick – everyone stop what you’re doing and get excited about Inherent Vice. Oh, you were already excited? Okay, but things just got a whole lot more exciting for Melbourne movie-going PTA fans. Why’s that, you ask? Well, we’re only going to be screening PTA’s latest on 70mm PRINT FORMAT is all. With six-track DTS sound. TWICE.

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Having put the good news in paragraph one, I realise that you may not reach this, paragraph two. But, if you have managed to read on, then thanks, and get even more excited because Inherent Vice is packed with the kinds of loveable, flawed characters and broad caricatures that PTA has become so well known for. It’s got a big cast, it’s a generic hybrid minefield of a movie and another lengthy watch at almost two and a half hours. It’s funny, crazy and bold and the kind of film that wants movie snacks.

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The first film to be adapted from a Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice is certainly ambitious. It’s a drama/comedy/crime caper that blends classic noir with self-reflexivity and stoner gags. PTA apparently describes it as “a Cheech & Chong movie”, while Raymond Chandler served as one of his major inspirations. If you can imagine Bogie’s goofy smile under neon lighting, and if you replaced his smokes with smokes, and if you asked all the femme fatales to get naked, then you’d kind of have PTA’s vision of Pynchon’s world.

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It’s set in a fictional location: Gordita Beach, LA. The protagonist is Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). Doc is an endearing f**k-up. He’s smart and can probably crack the case, but his lackadaisical attitude, propensity to spark up and that broken heart he’s been dragging around town are slowing things down.

True, sometimes his work is dangerous and, as a PI, it seems both the cops and the crooks see him as as adversary. Poor Doc just can’t catch a break.

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The cast is jam-packed with other big names including Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston and Benicio del Toro. Even PTA’s wife, Maya Rudolph, makes a cameo appearance in this star-studded drug-fuelled investigation into the comic underworld of the Golden Fang. There’s drugs, violence, nudity, a man with a swastika on his face and pancakes. It’s everything a devoted PTA fan could want in a movie! And it’s coming to the Astor in 70mm print format, for two very special screenings on March 13th.

To find out who or what the Golden Fang is and why you might want to avoid them, get thee to your local art deco movie theatre and catch this movie the only way it ought to be seen: on the BIG screen, in a BIG screen format.

Inherent Vice screens in 70mm print format at the Astor Theatre in two very special sessions, Friday March 13th, 7.30pm and 10.30pm. No Free List.

Valentine’s Day, once removed

You may have noticed that our Valentine’s Day screening of An Affair to Remember isn’t actually on Valentine’s Day, it’s the day after. Our reasons for putting it on in the Sunday matinee time slot are varied. But, suffice it to say that romantics and anti-romantics alike are welcome to spend that Sunday afternoon welling up in the opulent surrounds of this great building.

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As for V-Day itself, we’ve got our Michael Keaton bat/bird double. Romance doesn’t have to be about schmaltz. Equally speaking, costumed superheroes and theatrical performances about contemporary life and the crisis of authenticity doesn’t have to be anti-romantic. The score in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is truly brilliant and the film’s search for meaning in a (potentially) meaningless world is, for some (me), just about as romantic as it gets.

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Meanwhile, it’s also a Michael Keaton double bill. It has a number of things that may or may not be romantic to you: action, adventure, Kim Basinger, a 35mm film print, Edward Norton giving an insanely great performance, some fantastic music and a whole lot more.

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Whatever your feelings on the matter – and we know they’ll be divided – there is plenty of romance to be had here at the Astor. From Choc-Ice to SuperScreen, with a warm candlelight glow from the chandeliers, any day of the week, we’ve lots of ways to romance you. And so, we look forward to welcoming you Saturday or Sunday – or any other day you want to come while we’re still here. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Turkey Shoot + Turkey Shoot

Get ready for a high-octane action evening! First up is the cult classic feature film, Turkey Shoot (1982), before we come at you with the 2014 remake AND a Q&A with one of the producers from both films, Anthony Ginnane, along with members of the remake’s cast.

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Made by popular grindhouse director Brian Trenchard-Smith, the original Turkey Shoot was a ‘1984′ parable, with a high gore factor, and one that went on to become one of the highest grossing Australian movies at the US Box Office. Released in the US as Escape 2000, Quentin Tarantino cites it as one of his personal favourites. In the UK, Enterprise released it as “not a film for chickens”.

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Packed with mayhem, stunts and special effects, the remake is a warped reflection of the global fascination with increasingly brutal reality-television competition game shows. It’s been re-crafted and updated by co-writers Belinda McClory (X) and Jon Hewitt (X, Acolytes). Set in the not-so-distant future, it follows a smash hit live reality TV show that combines a stalk-and-chase adventure with the ultimate twist: death.

In the wake of a shocking civilian massacre in a foreign war zone, disgraced Navy SEAL Rick Tyler is sentenced to rot in a maximum security military prison until he is offered the opportunity to put his life on the line to win his freedom. A one-man force of nature, Tyler will have to take-on and take-down some of the world’s most ruthless killers in the some of the world’s most brutal locations to win the game, obtain his freedom, and find out why he was set up. The question is, can he accomplish all of this before Game On is Game Over?

What’s wrong with the government and society at large? Well, in a nutshell, lots. The whole thing gets a little satirical and a lot bloody in our Thursday night double bill of Turkey Shoot and Turkey Shoot. Check them out, back to back, on the big screen at the best cinema in town.

Turkey Shoot and Turkey Shoot screen in a double bill on Thursday January 22nd, 7.30pm. This special event screening includes a Q&A with producer Anthony Ginnane and members of the 2014 film’s cast. Advance tickets available. Special prices, $20/$18. No Free List.

 

Maps to the Stars

Hollywood cartography is, like everything else in those buoyant hills, a version of something, that knows both truth and artifice. Tightly bound; entwined, to mask any division between the two; Hollywood relationships form a constellation. There are personal and professional personas in its midst but they all exist for us, mere mortals, to admire.

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In David Cronenberg’s savage satire, Maps to the Stars (2014), he explores these lethal connections. It is not, however, from a distance that we see the fascinating, brightly shining stars of a vast universe. Rather, Cronenberg gives us extreme close-up, so that what we see is flames. Each of these stars can be reduced to burning gases, sucking up all of the available oxygen.

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When Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in Hollywood, she jumps straight into a limo; it’s driver is Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattison). She has made friends with Carrie Fisher (Carrie Fisher) on twitter and is hoping to find work in Hollywood – perhaps as someone’s personal assistant. Her first stop is star gazing at the nothingness left behind. It is the site of the family home of child star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird). We soon learn that he is her brother and that their home was burnt to the ground.

As the connections between this nothingness and Agatha’s past are slowly revealed, her story turns from ‘burn victim from a small town moves to Hollywood to find a job amongst the stars’ to ‘return of the repressed, and battle between multiple and incestuously formed mental illnesses in a troubling family home’. Agatha’s physical scars mirror the much deeper emotional ones that she has suffered through childhood. Her backstory greater resembles the reality of a reality tv show than the reality of real life.

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Alongside this, and true to her twitter word, Carrie Fisher introduces Agatha to a big star: Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). Agatha’s impish, pathetically plain nature is just what megalomaniac Havana is looking for in a new personal assistant. Though their relationship has several moments of faux sentimentality and the sugary sweetness that only a narcissist baiting prey is capable of producing, theirs is mostly sado-masochistic. There is some violence, and much humiliation.

If this sounds subdued for Cronenberg, I can assure you that it’s every bit as savage an attack on Hollywood as any of his earlier works are on conventional ideology and societal values.

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Maps to the Stars follows Cronenberg’s trajectory of body horror well: still concerned with Freudian womb fantasies, only this time showing us the horror of what Hollywood has birthed, he makes us want the characters to return to an impossible state of regression. This is well explored through Havana’s obsession with her late mother, the beautiful movie star Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon), whom Havana hopes to play in a brand new Hollywood remake of her fictitious famous film, Stolen Waters. To this end, Havana is in therapy with Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a popular television quack whose methods include an intense physical therapy that seems to require dubious closeness. He is also Agatha’s estranged father.

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The incestuous relationships between characters – chartered like a constellation out of control, one that can’t help but burn up every other shining star in its wake – are overt and covert. They involve generations, and are linked through an inability to escape the grotesque reaches of intense narcissism.

Cusack and Moore are admired but their fame masks hideously disfigured personalities. Agatha, our physically scarred and emotionally damaged protagonist, is their casualty and their biggest fan. She eventually charts her own way into the centre of their constellation. Inside, it is rotten. Somehow, it is still beautiful. It is true and it is false.

And it really should be seen with its David-Cronenberg-film-featuring-Robert-Pattinson-in-a-limousine companion film, Cosmopolis (2012). Screening in a double bill on Thursday January 15, 7.30pm. All tickets $13

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Blade Runner – The Final Cut

Blade Runner: The Final Cut simply refuses to fade into the vast catalogue of forgotten film history. Its persistence as film’s pedestal sci-fi owing to its innovative and intelligent contemplation over ontological questions of authenticity and artificiality as they pertain to a rapidly, and terrifyingly, techno-advanced, mechanized, global future society.

Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, Blade Runner depicts, through its neo-noir aesthetic, a dystopian future where humans have created their own robotic slave-race known as Replicants. In one sense the Replicants act as soldiers, in a time of hyper-universality on “Off-world” human colonies of other planets. Four dangerous Replicants have returned to earth in the hope of confronting the corporation responsible for their very questionable existence: Tyrrell Corporation. Alerted to their illegal activities in a hyper-modern police state, Blade Runner Unit enlist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to find and “retire” (kill) the four who are merely desperate to prolong what they think are their “lives”.

That the film is set in Los Angeles is far from incidental. Although New York is America’s foremost “global” city with regards to economic and cultural growth/wealth, LA is its “expansive” counterpart in that its spatial development and the sheer scale of its urban planning exemplifies the artificial “constructedness” that the film is concerned with in the first instance. As such, the dark, seemingly boundless sprawl of the dystopian LA landscape operates in the film as a psychogeographical reflection of the labyrinthine, almost indistinguishable cerebrally sound constructs of the Replicants’ cognitive minds.

Beyond their declared “at least equal intelligence to the genetic engineers who created them”, the Replicants, also described as “virtually identical” to humans, are suggestively “evolved” rather than “constructed” beings. The implication of their proverbial “evolution” affords the Replicants with organic rather than robotic capabilities, creating from the outset a distinct atmosphere of ambiguity; blurring the boundaries between the human/non-human attributes they are imbued with, rendering them, in some advanced cases, as liminal beings even unto themselves. Furthermore, following the “bloody mutiny” on Off-world colonies, Replicants have been “declared illegal on earth, under penalty of death”. In light of a Derridean comprehension of binary oppositions the very notion of “death” here suggests “life”, providing further substance to the idea that the Replicants are “living” beings. Moreover, the final two sentences of the prologue to the film read; “This was not called execution. It was called retirement.” The two sentences appear onscreen isolated from one another and from the paragraphs that came before. In using “called” twice in such close proximity Scott emphasizes the semiotic construction of a concept based upon two otherwise abstract things. That is to say that we (human viewers) comprehend the action as one thing and not another through a system of signifiers and signifieds that links the action to its name. This subtle note at the outset is designed to make the viewer think through the implications of the Symbolic Order itself, and therefore the constructedness of everything human, including something that mistakenly considered natural: language. The reminder so early on that almost everything is constructed and/or performed already alludes to Scott’s overarching provocative contention.

But what exactly does it mean to be “living” and where does that leave the boundary between legitimate “born” human beings and illegal “created” Replicants? For the purposes of distinguishing between the two (primarily so as not to accidentally “retire” a human), the Blade Runner Unit have created a test that is “designed to provoke emotional response” from its recipients, measuring their levels of empathy through indicators such as response time and pupil dilation. The only obstacle here being the fear that after a few years they would – in line with the aforementioned process of evolution – “develop their own emotional responses” and it is, for this reason, that their life-span is restricted to a short four years. Moreover, the more advanced and indeed “experiment” Replicants of which Rachael (Sean Young) is one, are given greater access to the concept of humanity through programmed memories which act as a “cushion” for their own subjectivity helping them to believe they are human. It is at this moment in the film that the true nature of every character, including Deckard himself, is brought into question.

Ignoring the extensive implications of this revelation, Deckard denies Rachael’s inference when she asks him if he has ever taken the test himself. Clearly hurt by the determination that she is a Replicant, implanted with memories from Tyrrell’s niece and believing them to be her own, Rachael sheds a solitary tear, displaying clear and unmistakable human emotion. Following this display the two become romantically involved which, if he is human and she is not, is dodgy ethical ground at best, but, if (as Scott certainly intended it to be) they are both Replicants who merely believe themselves to be human is an equally consensual union. The inclusion of this scene operates as reiterative of the Replicants’ ability to experience human desire and also to provide a strong ethical questioning of the resultant actions of a Replicant who considers him/herself to be human.

Like Deckard and Rachael, Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah) are “coupled” Replicants, only in this case they know themselves to be so. The difference here is that along with their knowledge of what they truly are comes another human desire: the will to live. Their mission is to have their lives extended at any cost, their fear of death very human indeed. But it is Roy who goes to see Dr Tyrrell, leaving Pris to defend their newly acquired “home”. His presence at Tyrrell Corporation is met with a combination of kindness and cruelty as Dr Tyrrell lovingly refers to him as the Prodigal Son returned. At this moment Roy becomes Jesus to Dr Tyrrell’s God and Roy’s anger towards his maker results in a murderous crime of passion – yet another decidedly human action. Dissatisfied and disillusioned with the God who created him, Roy returns home to find Pris has bled to death, and Scott lingers on her blood to reiterate yet again the very human qualities of the Replicants.

In the final showdown between Roy and Deckard, Roy makes an ultimate sacrifice of himself, accepting the inevitability of his life cycle. Mirroring his surroundings, like the rain that gushes into the house, Roy is in many ways an organic being trapped into a constructed environment. As he forces a nail through his hand and then his own head through a tiled wall, he further blurs the boundaries between natural and unnatural, removing the confines and limitations that one necessarily holds over the other. In this way the final scenes of the film move towards breaking down Derridean binary oppositions, suggesting that there are grey areas and ultimately that humans are the result of both organic evolution and the extraneous influences and input that are responsible, at least in part, for their existence.

The Directors’ Cut (and with very minor differences this Final Cut) in particular, is the version of this film that led to the discussion surrounding whether or not Deckard was human or Replicant. Ridley Scott has himself professed that Deckard is a Replicant and if we take this reading at its word then he is, by his own admittance, justified by the system: “Replicants are like any other machine: they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” Ultimately serving the system and its self-perpetuating myth surrounding the significance of authenticity versus the threat of artificiality, Deckard is the exemplary product of a well governed police state; unwittingly serving its needs to his own detriment; ignorant of its ideology and only able to see through its constructedness so far as it allows him to. If we however, do not take Scott at his word and allow Deckard to remain ambiguously human then the film does not fail, it merely suspends itself and its determination in the liminal space that it so brilliantly creates.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre. Originally published in an Astor e-newsletter in 2010.

Blade Runner – The Final Cut screens at the Astor Theatre Friday January 9th, 8pm.

Keanu. Whoa.

It’s not that he hasn’t been making movies in the interim, he totally has. But a supporting role in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009), and whatever Generation Um… (2012) was, hasn’t really made a career comeback for Keanu Reeves. Even his dalliance with documentary, starring in Side by Side (2012), didn’t quite edge him back into the limelight. But, thanks be to the movie gods, things have finally turned a corner. That’s right, Keanu is back, and he’s much more badass than before.

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John Wick is a vigilante movie but it’s got something that sets it aside from most other films of its genre. It aligns our genred/gendered sympathy at a remove, using multiple levels of excess to explain and entertain all the while.

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Where Wick‘s contemporary high octane blockbuster vigilante motives such as Taken (2002) and Prisoners (2013) use a female loved one as bait (and in both of these examples, daughters, posited as “innocents”), John Wick, though still employing a female gendered “innocent” for sympathy, does so at a remove. At the outset of the film John’s wife dies of cancer. They have no children. He has a great home, a kick-ass car and a lot of money – much of it in gold bullion, as we soon learn. This means that 1) his adversary has no potential human hostage to take and 2) that the loss Wick feels at the wrongdoing of his adversary is relational (FIRST 10 MINUTES OF FILM SPOILER ALERT – they kill his dog) and associative (FIRST 10 MINUTES OF FILM SPOILER ALERT – they take his car).

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However, using John’s intense grief at the loss of his wife to cancer, and his ray of hope being the female dog that she arranged to be sent to live with him after her death, it can still be argued that there is something genred/gendered someone can “take” from him. One could read the female dog as a stand in female child. She is an absolute “innocent” in generic terms given that, as an animal (a puppy no less), she is unable to defend herself against human ‘evil’ (this is a far too complicated word to be used as lightly and unexplained as I do here, for which I apologise, but my use is in reference to the film’s generic structural arch rather than any broader acceptance of the term as a existent force). Conversely, one can also read the use of a dog instead of a human as a desensitizing removal from the bonds of human (and here familial) relationships.

The result is that what his adversaries take from him is not so much the living thing (though that does play to our sympathies), but the notional symbol of hope that the building of a new relationship with that dog, in the face of complete devastation and isolation, represents. In killing his hope, what his adversary has in fact taken is his ability to see any positive future scenario and, without being able to envision a future in any positive way, Wick is plunged into severe depression, the symptom of which becomes his relentless onset of vigilante justice.

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He has no hate for his adversary. In fact, as we soon learn, there has never been emotion involved in his “work” as a contract killer. Killing in his eyes, the eyes of his colleagues and through the eyes of revenge is not an act of taking a life. His revenge is merely another mission. A task that must be executed with precision. It is like keeping score and the tally must add up correctly. In many ways, John Wick’s role is like that of a (re)activated soldier. There is an enemy but their actions, reasoning, negotiating and lives become irrelevant: they must be annihilated, casualties will occur. Only the rules, like the Geneva Convention, must be observed.

John Wick, forced back into combat, a soldier sent on another, terrifyingly dangerous tour, does so now without hope of any kind. He does not seek redemption and he does not imagine a future. Such is the vision of the vigilante fighting for something already lost to the past. And, entertaining and indulgent for its sheer excess as the film surely is, the spectre of war wages on.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

John Wick, a big screen must see, screens Thursday January 8 at 7.30pm in a very special Keanu Reeves double bill with The Matrix. All tickets $13. WHOA.