Sunday, September 2, 2018

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN, TOTALLY MILD

The Palais Theatre
May 4, 2018

Arriving at the support band start time of 7:45, I have to re-check that I’m at the right venue. The Palais seems totally deserted. Inside it’s not that different. Is it possible that fans of Scotland’s finest sextet have moved on to fresher sounds? Was my friend right when he claimed, “they’ve been shit for years. Eighty per cent of their good stuff is from the 90s.”? Was the combined cost of ticket and babysitter just too much for Melbourne’s punters?  By the time local guitar pop combo Totally Mild are halfway through their set, trading banter and making a joyful noise with tracks off their new album Her, the Largest Seated Theatre in Australia is at about ten per cent capacity. Regardless of the energy and charisma that singer Liz Mitchell channels into the band’s twisting, unsettling songs, the audience give little back. That the rest of the band seem to have brought all the energy of a Friday afternoon at the day job to their Friday evening show doesn’t help either, but songs like Today, Tonight, From One Another and the closing Down Together are so good they barely need to be sold at all.

Then, as if on cue, and with just ten minutes to showtime, the Palais fills with enthusiastic fans, many decked in stripy tops, some with their children, more with less hair than they had last time Belle and Sebastian played here, in 2015. A brief nod from energetic frontman Stuart Murdoch, and we’re back in 1997, with the first song from their first EP, Dog on Wheels. It’s a winning introduction, and from there the energy level only rises. I’m a Cuckoo, Step Into My Office Baby (complete with an in-song reference to Bob Hawke, “he’s one of the good ones, right?”) and some quizzing of songwriter Stevie Jackson over the inspiration for a song about internal office romance, and the band make it almost impossible to dislike them. Twenty years of success hasn’t stolen the humility that made their music so adored by introspective teenagers and lovers of folk pop (or, as they’re referred to in the film High Fidelity, “old sad bastard music”). Murdoch and co are onto a winning formula, and very good at seeming like they don’t know it. Their latest release, a collection of three EPs with the unassuming title of How to Solve Our Human Problems, is mined for some of it’s more danceable tunes: the low key urging of We Were Beautiful, the bossa disco of Sweet Dew Lee and the instantly catchy Poor Boy, the song that brought relief to the many fans afraid that the magic might have disappeared.

Unlike their last concert at the Palais, in which their new and not especially strong album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance dominated the setlist, tonight the energy is brighter and we span time with the band. Jumping between decades, from Murdoch in his early twenties writing for himself (Stars of Track and Field), the band cocking a wry eye to the mainstream (Legal Man), a love song from Murdoch to his wife (Piazza, New York Catcher), late-career dancefloor bangers (The Party Line) and a brand new song “we’ve only played once before”, (There is an Everlasting Song). It’s all gloriously familiar and we’re all on board for all of it, up and down in our seats as the energy demands it.

The band are obviously enjoying themselves, too, though only Murdoch is physical enough to show it which he does with every opportunity, clambering onto speakers, sitting at the front of the stage and donning a cut-off t-shirt with the Australian flag on the front. Stevie Jackson remains po-faced, even when cracking the odd dry joke, Chris “Beans” Geddes stays focused on his keyboards, Sarah Martin keeps a caring eye on Stuart and bassist Bobby Kildea stays a beacon of cool in the shadows on stage left. After closing their set with a version of Judy and the Dream of Horses that moves effortlessly from intimate to rousing, we call them back out for a three song encore, Murdoch describes as “something we don’t usually do”. After a quick huddle they elect to go with “a deep cut, a B-side, a song we haven’t played in years. You might have to help me with the lyrics”. And it’s true, he has forgotten some of the many lines of Photo Jenny, and so have we, but it matters not. The thrill of hearing something unexpected yet familiar from a discography as vast as Belle and Sebastian’s is a gift to a theatre crammed with fans.

Just like the venue filling at the last minute, with tonight’s show Belle and Sebastian throw off suggestions that they’ve got nothing new to offer, or that over 2,000 Melbournians won’t come out to see a band that was so important to them, and that they’re more than capable of winning over a new generation of fans.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Laura Palmer, Maddy Ferguson, Carrie Page...Sheryl Lee


Sheryl Lee on working with David Lynch and returning to her iconic role of Laura Palmer.

More than anyone, Sheryl Lee is the face of Twin Peaks. Since she was first seen, wrapped in plastic, in magazines, on billboards and millions of television screens around the world in 1990, Lee's face has been the subject of countless homages and reinterpretations. As the first, last and enduring image of director David Lynch's 18-hour television series Twin Peaks: The Return, Lee is once again at the forefront of pop culture.

“My relationship with Laura Palmer has been a very interesting journey,” she says from her home in Los Angeles. “She’s been with me much longer than I thought she’d be. Creatively it’s been fascinating to find an understanding of why, and what she means at different phases in my life. I hadn’t watched the series or the film, Fire Walk With Me, for 25 years, so revisiting them at 51 years old, and as a mother, I see it all from a different perspective. I’m in awe of what David Lynch created.”

Lee’s inclusion on the bill of the multi-city event Twin Peaks: Conversations With the Stars, surprised many of the show’s fans. Lee has rarely spoken about the show, or about her long relationship with the character of Laura Palmer, and barely at all about the deepening of her iconic role in Twin Peaks: The Return.

For 27 years, Laura Palmer was known as a victim. A queer sex worker and prom queen whose murder prompted not only the series' narrative drive, but countless other television series that opened with the death of a teenage girl. Last year's series revealed that Laura Palmer was much more than just a girl. She was, it was possible to read, a celestial creation born from a beatific spiritual realm with the sole purpose of defeating an ancient evil force embodied in her father. Lee is unphased by this expansion of her character's history.

“When you work with David Lynch, you have to accept the you’re working with the unknown," she explains. "It’s all about being in the present. A logical approach, you know, ‘what’s my motivation? What does this mean? Why am I saying this?’ that’s never going to work. For me, I need to trust and surrender. By being present like that, you open up and you can access this bigger force.”

Also known for her performances in the films Backbeat, Cafe Society, Wild at Heart and Winter’s Bone, Lee’s filmography is impressive, but it's her role as Laura Palmer than has allowed her to showcase her true talents. Twin Peaks: The Return not only saw her return as Laura Palmer, but as the new character of Carrie Page, a Texan waitress whose crucial appearance in the final episode allowed the series to spin out in a new direction. Again, Lee was asked to inhabit a role built with scant details

“That’s all in the direction,” she says. "Carrie Page or Laura, it’s all from David. I don’t know any more than is on the page. David only gave me my scenes, so I never knew where they fit in. When I came to work on the set, there were a lot of familiar faces, cast of course, and crew, so it felt like a safe and respectful place. There were a lot of new faces too, but the atmosphere was the same.”

Originally hired for several days work, just to play the famous corpse, Lee was at brought back to film several flashback sequences. Then as the role of Laura Palmer’s cousin, Madeleine Ferguson, who was also brutally murdered. After the series was cancelled, amid abysmal ratings and months after Lynch had moved on to other projects, Lynch asked Lee to star in Fire Walk With Me, which necessitated her inhabiting the role of once again, but this time as author of her own trauma. Her performance as Laura Palmer with its subject-led depiction of incest, drug abuse and spiritual loss is one of most harrowing roles in modern American cinema.


“Watching Fire Walk With Me again, it's not hard, because there is so much richness in the film. I was really impressed by Ray Wise (Leland Palmer) and Grace Zabriskie (Sarah Palmer). Their ability to make you scared, and cry and laugh just like that. I’m such a fan of theirs. After we finished Fire Walk With Me, I just had to do something completely different. You can imagine, after playing Laura Palmer for so long, I really wanted to do something different, anything different. So I did a play, and then I did [Beatles biopic] Backbeat. Playing [photographer and girlfriend of Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe] Astrid [Kirchherr] was a great experience, and about as far away from Laura Palmer as you can imagine.

“I’m still trying to understand what Laura Palmer symbolises,” Lee says, reflecting on the journey that may not yet be over. “A lot of people have shared their stories of incest and how Laura’s story was important to them. the questions around Laura change in me as I get older. There are so many versions of her story out there. If Laura’s story is still continuing, how can it help?”

Series co-writer Mark Frost has admitted that he still has more stories in mind and would be willing to return to Twin Peaks. Lynch however, will only admit that the future for Lee's other character, Carrie Page, is "calling… but the signal has a lot of disturbances".

Lee's costar Kyle MacLachlan described another season as "certainly possible". As for Lee, "I would always be open to it."

Monday, September 12, 2016

Why The Parent Trap isn’t the film you think it is

Lindsay Lohan as Annie and Hallie in The Parent Trap DISNEY PICTURES
The Lindsay Lohan-starring nostalgic cult classic and proto-feminist masterpiece is ready for rediscovery.

This year marks the 18th anniversary of the release of the film The Parent Trap, the story of identical twin girls separated at birth who meet by chance, switch places and scheme to reunite their parents. Like many of that era’s most entertaining films it’s more Shakespeare farce than ‘serious cinema’, yet, investigating it as such reveals one of the most unjustly ignored movies of recent decades.

Despite the film’s the box office success and a warm reception from the Queen at a Royal Screening, The Parent Trap has all the features of a cult classic.


The film boasts strong, lovingly drawn characters inhabiting a richly-detailed world in a smartly-paced story that stars actors on the top of their game. In an age of children’s movies featuring lightning-fast edits, a bombardment of focus-group tested cross-cultural slapstick and sly adult references, The Parent Trap is a stronger film than ever.

Husband and wife team of producer Charles Shyer and director Nancy Meyers were still fresh from the massive success of Father of the Bride and its sequel when they chose to remake Disney’s 1961 classic The Parent Trap. Even among supporters and detractors of Meyers, The Parent Trap is rarely discussed. Its many millions of fans share their affection for it among friends and siblings. It’s loved, but not openly. As a sign of how this is changing as its fans are aging, Shyer signed three Parent Trap posters hours before our interview. “It’s getting to be a regular thing,” he admitted.

Like all cult films, there is a subversive edge. The Parent Trap is a proto-feminist tale so sweetly and satisfyingly told that even its conservative fans don’t notice.

“It would never occur to us to make a film that did anything but empower young girls or young women,” said Shyer as if considering the film in this light for the first time. “We just thought of it as a cool story.”

Annie and Hailee deduce they’re sisters at Camp Walden. DISNEY PICTURES
The ‘cult’ with whom it is classic is that most devalued and belittled of viewers, young girls, an often-misunderstood and frequently ignored audience rarely catered for by movie studios looking for a safe bet.

Younger girls are typically catered for directly by the hyper-materialistic glitz of formulaic series such as The Princess Diaries and the output of the Olsen twins. Age up slightly, and you have the coming-of-age riches of Mean Girls, Clueless, The Hairy Bird and Bring It On. While the girls in these films have escapist fun in modern settings, none of these settings are as meticulously imagined as Meyers’, no story is as satisfying as The Parent Trap’s tried and true screenplay, or role as demanding as Lindsay Lohan’s dual-performance as twins Annie and Hallie.

The term ‘family film’ typically refers to boy-starring fare such as E.T., Stand by Me, Jumanji, Son of Rambo and the early Harry Potter movies. While they’re rightfully cherished, Hollywood clearly sees boys as a more lucrative target market with girls expected to bond with secondary characters — sisters, sidekicks and comic relief.


Shyer and Meyers’ cast the almost unknown actress in a role that saw her play opposite herself with the aid of a double and careful editing.

“Lindsay was quite brilliant in the movie, there’s no doubt about it,” says Shyer.

Simon Kunz, who played English butler Martin, agrees. “She was 11 when we shot the series, but she’d been lurking in some sort of family TV series [Another World] since she was eight ­so she was seasoned in a way. One is used to seeing precocious American kids like Drew Barrymore on screen. When American actors get it right they have this amazing, relaxed sense of quality. She was cracking wise the whole time and full of energy.”

Lindsay Lohan, Lindsay Lohan and some photographic trickery. DISNEY PICTURES
Few live action films targeting young girls are worthy of being watched by anyone other than their intended audience. Fewer still hold up to scrutiny in this hypercritical era, and almost none focus on the power of young girls to effect lasting change in the world of career-oriented adults.

Lohan’s likeability is a key reason why this film works today. The Parent Trap is not only a modern fairy-tale, but it’s one that has a very clear idea of — to paraphrase Meyers’ biggest box office success — what (young) women want. The English Annie lives with her mother Elizabeth, in a version of London that can only exist in works of fiction such as Mary Poppins or Made in Chelsea. “Elizabeth has a pretty good life,” the late Natasha Richardson said of her character. “I’m English, so of course I have a butler! I also happen to be a designer of wedding gowns and I can’t think of anything more romantic and feminine than that.”

American twin sister Hallie lives in a sprawling Spanish colonial mansion in Napa Valley with her adoring winemaker father [Dennis Quaid] and loving nanny Chessy played by Lisa Ann Walter. They’re perfect settings from which to begin a tale of happy people seeking the only thing keeping them from perfection. At no stage is anyone’s welfare is threatened and only Elaine Hendrix’s gold-digger temptress Meredith has nefarious intentions.

‘Hang on,’ thinks everyone over the age of eight, ‘what sort of mother would abandon a daughter and not tell the other about her father or identical sister?’

Shyer demurs. “The big problem was how do you justify a couple saying ‘I’ll take one, you take the other?’ It’s a fucking weird decision to make! We rationalised it to some extent and it worked, but I have nine year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and it’s unthinkable!”

Richardson said of her role as the girls’ mother, “I think Elizabeth has felt that she had this terrible secret locked inside her. A piece of her that’s never there because she has this other daughter who isn’t with her.”

Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson and Lindsay Lohan DISNEY PICTURES
“It’s an extraordinarily Greek situation really,” says Kunz laughing. “You have a pair of twins and you don’t tell them about each other! It’s a hell of a premise. It’s a really old kind of story, it’s like Oedipus being taken as a child.”

Rather than responding with a justifiable fury that leads to substance abuse, detox, occasional relapses, years of counselling and a lifelong need for affirmation, Hallie and Annie are overjoyed to discover that they can meet an estranged parent. As their plan unfolds, viewers join the two Lohans in their safe but unfamiliar environments aligned as co-conspirators in a situation every kid adores: knowing something an adult doesn’t.

This is one of the masterstrokes of the original text, Lottie and Lisa, a German children’s story by Erich K√§stner first published in 1931. At its heart is the story of two children plan to engineer the very thing that seems the epitome of disgusting — a romantic attraction between their parents. Each girl recognises the others desire to meet a parent they don’t know and “making mom and dad fall in love” is the only way to maintain the connection with the new parent. Like most classic fairy-tales and Shakespeare comedies, the premise is ridiculous and the ending predictable, yet the story is so simple, the structure so elegant and its world so gracefully constructed that it feels like a well-worn classic. Like the 1998 version, the 1961 film adaptation starring Hayley Mills was a tale told without cynicism, no concessions to an adult audience, and almost entirely without boys.

Much as Back to the Future is celebrated as a nostalgic cult classic, The Parent Trap can now be seen as evocative of a pre-adolescent era. As 15 year-old contributor Chana B wrote at Teenink: “When I think of The Parent Trap, I just feel very, very lucky for being among those privileged enough to grow up with this movie and to really experience the joys of childhood.”

Film critic Anders Furze credits The Parent Trap with helping him realise his sexuality. “As a young gay boy in a country Australian town, The Parent Trap helped me realise that if I wasn’t gay, then I was at least different. At the age of eight I longed to be a fusion of both Lindsay Lohans: to have the hip pop culture smarts of Hallie and blend them with Annie’s mannered sophistication. Revisiting it I was struck by how much it offers a gay audience: Elaine Hendricks’ gloriously camp performance as “Ice Queen” Meredith aside, when Annie nervously reveals that she isn’t Hallie, Chessy’s emotional, sympathetic response is the stuff every queer kid’s coming out fantasy is made of.”

Hailee (Lindsay Lohan) hatches a plan. DISNEY PICTURES
On its release the film received middling reviews from mainstream film publications, and unanimously glowing reviews from Christian film reviewers, thrilled to find a product of Hollywood that espoused traditional family values.

“These Christians…you know…” producer Charles Shyer sighs in exasperation. “You can’t control it. You get these accolades from Christian and religious groups and you go ‘OK, great, but that’s not what we were going for. We were going for a movie that made you laugh, made you cry and made you feel good.’”

Moralising reviewers overlook the fact that Richardson’s character built her successful business as a single mother, excelling in a way that would have been impossible were she married and raising children in California. She is a capable, instantly likeable woman who adores her daughter and the only man she needs in her life is a butler. “Mom is so cool!” Annie whispers to Hallie on one of their secret transatlantic phone calls. “Dad is the greatest!” she replies.

The Parent Trap still excels because it foregrounds the girls, gives them agency, brains, ingenuity, a sense of humour and one of the strongest motivators known to filmmakers: the reuniting of family. Quaid and Richardson were given the unenviable task of being instantly lovable without any chances to establish their characters beyond their relationship to their daughters, and later, to each other.
“With Natasha and Dennis and Lindsay and Simon [Kunz] and Lisa Ann Walter, those people were so fantastic, it really, really worked,” Shyer sighs. Man that was a good shoot. The chemistry was just wonderful. There was no tension at all. Natasha came after us for that role, she really wanted it. It was such a shame what happened with her,” he says of her fatal skiing accident in 2009. “She was such a wonderful, lovely woman.”

“I was very lucky,” says Kunz. “Lucky to be part of a film that gets watched again and again and becomes a favourite, and to have a few little moments that make people go ‘oh that! I remember that!’ It’s quite touching.”


The Handshake

The Parent Trap Handshake DISNEY PICTURES
Quotes and memes from The Parent Trap are not of the Tina Fey-‘stop trying to make fetch happen’-zinger variety. They’re conversational and can only be learned through repeat viewings.
If any moment from The Parent Trap has left its mark in popular culture, it’s the distinctive handshake Lohan’s character Annie shares with her butler, Martin.

“The handshake is a big deal isn’t it?” says Shyer with a warm laugh. “It was in the script — we were all involved in writing it, but Simon [Kunz] and Lindsay worked it out on the set. They really hit it off those two, they made it their own. It was a really good idea.”

“In the interview [for The Parent Trap’s DVD extras] I made up some old rubbish,” laughs Kunz, “but I can remember exactly. Lindsay was in town to do the London sequences and we were in the house where Lindsay and her family were staying. We did it in one afternoon. Nancy and Charles would say ‘OK, we love this move, but can we have some of that in it’. It didn’t take as long as some people might think. It was a just a good bit of fun. Lindsay and I started laughing together and just mucking about really. There were certain elements of a handshake that people might recognise ­– maybe a little tricksy handshake — and then we just went a bit further with it and it got sillier and sillier.”

Should you need it broken down, several instructional videos exist, including the one above from the handshake’s ‘official choreographer’ Jeanefer Jean-Charles.



Meeting the Queen

L-R: Director Nancy Meyers, Lindsay Lohan and producer Charles Shyer shoot a deleted scene from The Parent Trap in which Hailee meets the Queen. DISNEY PICTURES
A scene from the film in which Hailee is driven through London to the strains of The La’s Britpop classic There She Goes was meant to conclude with her accidentally meeting the Queen, but an even more royal fate befell The Parent Trap. The film was selected for a Royal Variety Screening, an annual event in which British royalty attend a specially-selected film and money is raised for charity. Shyer cites it as a highlight of his career.

“We were given a complete drill about what you can and can’t do. Don’t speak to her unless she speaks to you, don’t touch her, call her M’am all these things,” he laughs. “We sat right behind her during the screening, the Queen and the Prince [Phillip] and she had these little white gloves on. She’d clap and go ‘haugh haugh haugh’ during the screening it was a little bit like an out of body experience you know — ‘What am I doing here?’ Hayley Mills came too, and her father the brilliant actor John Mills [Great Expectations]. It was really special. Once in a lifetime.”

“The protocol when you do these screenings is that the people directly involved in making the film stand in the front line and their spouses stand behind them,” says Simon Kunz of his experience. “And Meg Ryan had come over, because she was with Dennis [Quaid] at the time. I’m sure she thought she was going to say hello to the Queen, and poor woman, she was stood behind Dennis in the lineup and I was next to him and the whole time I was imagining that Meg Ryan was standing there thinking “My God, I came all the way here for this!”




Saturday, April 9, 2016

Did David Bowie call Australia “a fucking craphole of a country”?

David Bowie - Postcards from Sailor - Edition 23

Fans of David Bowie have known for years about his double life on the internet, posting on official fan forums and communicating using the alias Sailor. Renown for being among the first stars to chat openly with fans via his pioneering site/server BowieNet, Bowie has long been rumoured to have frequented other Bowie fan sites as well – Teenage Wildlife, Bowie Wonderland and Bowie Station – answering questions and sharing opinions via the same handle.

Between 1998 and 2004 Bowie spent so much time interacting with fans that some publicly wished he’d get offline and go back into the studio. “I remember when ever he posted suddenly hundreds of replies would end up in the thread,” says DavidBowie.com user Swebby. “There would be page after page of stuff the moment he just said two words or more.” So far, two books have been made of these postings.

Dispensing with the elevated personae by which he was best known, Bowie wasn’t afraid to express himself robustly as Sailor, especially when it came to one topic: how much he hated Australia.

In 2004, months after his last Australian tour, Australian fan Adam lamented on Teenage Wildlife that Bowie didn’t release the entire 35 hours of the Outside/Inside sessions.

Sailor replied with a post entitled ‘Whining kangaroo eater!’:

So do you ask every rock legend to sort through 35 hours of material or just the ones who recently had heart surgery? Have you no shame? I came to your fucking craphole of a country to perform, but that's not enough. No sir, let's all ask the old man to walk on fuckin water and bend over backwards because we're the fans. Whatever, girlfriend!

When fellow Teenage Wildlife user Ziggfried suggested other fans post the question that Bowie would least like to answer, Sailor leapt in again:

…every time someone gets on my case about touring in Australia I want to smack them. Any country that produced both Paul Hogan, Yahoo Serious, and the Crocodile Hunter is one that I generally try to stay away from.

A complete list of Sailor’s contributions to Teenage Wildlife can be found here. Unfortunately Bowie’s extensive posts at BowieNet were lost when the site closed down in 2006 but many gems, such as Bowie’s response to the passing of mime artist Marcel Marceau – “no last words?” – have been immortalised by fans.


Since first arriving in Australia on his Isolar II World Tour in 1978 (Isolar, an anagram of Sailor), Bowie has publicly professed his love for the country. He shot the pioneering Let’s Dance and China Girl film clips here and owned an apartment in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay in which he sporadically lived between 1983 and 1992.

In an online chat in 1999, Bowie’s wife Imam mentioned that she’d never visited Australia and that “David has always promised to take me”. Later that year in another online chat Bowie explained his long absence as nothing personal: “I just haven't been asked to tour there in eleven years.

Bowie berated Australia for its racial intolerance in a 1983 interview, he said: “as much as I love this country, it's probably one of the most racially intolerant in the world, well in line with South Africa…there’s unbelievable intolerance."

While Aboriginal Australia and the outback fascinated Bowie, it seems Australian culture (and Sydney’s escalating property prices) didn’t impress him much. Perhaps these conflicting feelings, growing stronger as he grew older, only make Bowie more Australian than he realised he was?

Sail on Sailor.

REVIEW: Gods of Egypt and the Australian film industry

Some are more sequel than others

Should you be wondering where public funding of the Australian film industry has gone, besides the $6 million into a film discouraging asylum seekers, you couldn’t much worse than watch new blockbuster Gods of Egypt. A US$140 million behemoth of CGI and ceaseless bombast filmed in Australia after the uncommon generosity of the New South Wales government who agreed to foot 46% of the bill via tax credits.

Whether the $75 million in generated income promised by the government when they chose to offer tax credits to the swords-and-sandals epic eventuates remains to be seen. What turns up on the screen is far from what anyone would consider an ‘Australian’ film.

The last few months have seen a concerted negative buzz build around Gods of Egypt even before its much-vaunted pre-Super Bowl trailer debut. It seems director Alex Proyas missed the backlashes against Ridley Scott’s whitewashed casting of his Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, Darren Aronofsky’s all-white Noah. Kevin Reynolds’ Biblical mystery Risen, also out this week, similarly trades realistic skin tones for an all-white, mostly American, cast.

To his credit, Proyas and the production company Lionsgate apologised for their casting decisions: “We failed to live up to our own standards,” Proyas said in a press release. “I sincerely apologise to anyone offended by the decisions we made.” That was in November, so the diversity obsession that has seen forthcoming films cast African American actors in roles originally intended for white actors.   

Despite the shortlived #EgyptSoWhite tag (Chadwick Boseman’s dozen-odd lines as Thoth hardly buck this trend) it turns out it’s young, cheap and talented Australian actors who will be either wearing the shame of Gods of Egypt, or using it as a learning experience and moving swiftly on.

The film is set ‘before history’ in an Egypt in which gods walk among mortals. Bryan Brown’s Osiris bestows his crown to his chosen son, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Horus only to have the family black sheep turn up, Set (Gerard Butler), who -along with an army of CGI minions - wrests power and launches a tale of revenge in motion. Mortal teenager Bek (Brendon Thwaites) and love interest Zaya (Courtney Eaton) have a parallel story involving the afterlife. That the architect of destiny Geoffrey Rush’s sun god Ra rides a glass ship and battles the essence of chaos with a rod of light doesn't seem out of place says much about the balminess of this film.

While the story itself could be riveting in other hands, here it’s a series of CGI setpieces shot with restlessly vertiginous camerawork, frequent explosions and Marco Beltrami’s relentlessly bombastic score. Apparently Sydney’s Centennial Park stands in for the grand palace, but best of luck spotting it.

When a film reaches a budget this big and is aiming for middle America, it seems concessions to innovation must be made. In this case there is plenty of cleavage, but no nudity. Violence aplenty, but no blood, anger and passion, but no swearing or anything hinting at sex. It’s so boldly ‘family friendly’ that its sheer blandness becomes offensive. 
                                          
Like most big-budget international films Australia courts, Gods of Egypt is destined to be a critical failure and probable box office bomb. Along with similar stinkers I, Frankenstein, Knowing, The Matrix sequels or the Star Wars prequels, it’s another example of an iconic Australian city, in this case Sydney, standing in for somewhere else and providing a raft of film industry professionals leaving an expensive premiere with eyebrows raised and muttering "well, at least it kept some of us in work for a bit."

Expect it to happen again soon with the next raft of blockbusters brought to Australian film studios promising of hundreds of short-term insecure employment opportunities and little chance of attracting the burgeoning location tourism industry as happens with so many films and TV series.

In March Screen Australia announced the following films were due to be shooting at least part of their production in Australia: two Lego Movie sequels, the forthcoming Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, the next Thor and X-Men films, David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan and Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. Scott inadvertently spoke for all of these film’s directors when he promised his Alien sequel would feature “fairly formidable CGI”. Like the creators of Gods of Egypt no doubt, Scott promised the possibility of sequels to be shot in Australia, “if the film is successful”.

All major studios are looking to find a franchise that can pick up where Harry Potter and Hunger Games left off, and it seems Gods of Egypt will join the boldly-funded ranks of The Golden Compass, Lemony Snicket, Eragon and Inkhart as films full of promise, twists on familiar material and a raft of new faces hoping for an illustrious start to their career.


While arts funding across the board has been subject to cuts from the government, film funding has been more savage than most. Screen Australia, the nation’s most notable funding body has $10.3 million taken from its budget over the next four years. The Thor and Alien sequels will be receiving nearly $50 million from the government in what has been one of the most explicit signs of valuing the foreign blockbuster over Australian stories. If Gods of Egypt is anything to go by, bean counting precedent set by the government seems to have carried all the way down to the very last pixel.