I am pretty sure I am in the majority when I say I didn’t give a shit about the first Avatar, and I especially didn’t give a shit when they announced the new one. It’s not a hot take but this franchise never pulled me in or made me care. Nevertheless, I knew I had to see it. For the visual effects alone, I knew it would still be an entertaining and thrilling watch. But after seeing it in a packed-out cinema yesterday, I can safely say I was surprised…
James Cameron made an excellent decision going into this film that completely saved it for me – Avatar 2 isn’t about Jake Sully or Neytiri. Instead, it is about the kids. One of the worst parts about that first movie is how boring the protagonists are. They have no charisma and charm and have a super predictable arc. In this movie, we explore the relationships between the children and the reef clan. These characters are engaging and for once I care about these blue people on the screen. It truly saved the franchise and made me excited to see them grow up.
As the lights went dark and the film started rolling, I quickly settled into the world of pandora once again. Avatar 2 starts at a breakneck speed that I loved. It gets the audience up to date and doesn’t waste any time. What’s even better is that the film keeps this pacing. It bounces between action set pieces in a thrilling first hour. Then, we go into the Water Clan. Now I enjoyed the dynamics between the families and a lot of the underwater scenes, but it just goes on for about 15 minutes too long. In particular, the Tulkun set peices. I get it’s pivotal for the themes and arcs but some of it could be cut out.
You can’t talk about Avatar 2 without going into the Visual Effects. They are obviously incredible. I think they especially shine in the action scenes in the final act. The way the fire and water bounce of each other is astonishing. I also love the style of this film. Each shot has this super exaggerated lighting that is refreshing amongst a slate of grey action films. The colours pop and bounce and the Navi were never not convincing as real beings.
While all of these elements worked for Avatar, it still had some fundamental flaws. The main weakness (which has been said plenty) is that the story is predictable. It has no twists or turns and went the exact way I expected. Although it didn’t ruin the movie for me, this needs to change if they want to keep this franchise exciting.
Another core issue I had with Avatar 2 was the performances. Everyone kind of blended in together for me and didn’t stand out. It’s not that they were terrible it’s just a movie this big should have better performances. I truly believe it’s because James Cameron is so focused on the VFX and action that he doesn’t give his attention to the actors. Even Kate Winslet felt underutilised with her range. I know how talented these actors are and I would love to see them really attempt something bigger in the following movies.
SHOULD YOU SEE AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER?
Absolutely. Avatar 2 is a movie that must be seen in cinema for the Visual Effects alone. While the story is predictable, it is still a thrilling and entertaining ride that has incredible action set pieces.
I think I must be one of the few people in the world who didn’t love the first Black Panther. While the first two thirds were great, that last act was so terrible that I cannot rate the movie highly. But after seeing the trailer for Black Panther Wakanda Forever, I was excited for the sequel. It looked like a completely new direction for this series and the MCU entirely. But does it live up to the hype of the first movie? Read on for more.
Black Panther 2 is unlike any other Marvel film (the closest one I would compare it to is Winter Soldier simply for the pacing). It is a carefully crafted movie that takes it’s time with each character. While it does have some moments where it drags, the story doesn’t feel like we are trying to get from Point A to Point B but instead delves into some heavy concepts. In particular, the exploration of grief and vengeance creates one of the most emotionally layered and complex Marvel Movies. It effectively feels like such a breath of fresh air in the recent slate of formulaic films.
What adds to this excellent writing is a beautiful looking film. Each shot is vibrant and bursting with colours. The costumes, lighting and set design keep your eyes glued to the screen and add a depth to these incredible worlds. On top of this, the VFX look realistic. With the recent Marvel films looking like garbage, Black Panther 2 once again stands out. Only 2 shots in this movie look a little rough and that is completely respectable considering the scale of these set pieces.
The action in Black Panther Wakanda Forever never feels like the focus of the film. It is simply a backdrop for the story. Nevertheless, the few actions set pieces in this movie are very entertaining. Ryan Coogler weaves in his signature style to create fast paced and high stakes fight scenes. Each punch feels like it hurts and for once we see some people get stabbed.
What I loved most about this movie was the performances. Maybe it is because they are drawing from Chadwick Boseman’s passing but every actor is bringing 120%. In particular, Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett. How they portray their grief for T’CHalla’s death is some of the most outright heartbreaking acting the MCU has ever seen. I also loved the introduction of Tenoch Huerta as Naymour and Dominique Thorne as Ironheart. As usual, they have cast actors who are perfect for these roles, and you instantly want to see more of.
The final act of this movie had me on the edge of my seat. Not because of the suspense or stakes but simply because I thought they would botch the ending like every other Marvel film. But honestly, they didn’t. Ryan Coogler wraps up this spectacular film with an amazing action set piece and a touching conclusion for Chadwick Boseman.
Should you see Black Panther Wakanda Forever?
Definitely go see this in cinemas. It is an epic story that deserves to be seen on a big screen. And if you loved the first film, this one is even better.
I went into this film knowing absolutely nothing. One thing drew me in and that was the flood of positive reviews that were coming out. And honestly, they could not be more accurate. Barbarian is one of the most tense and refreshing horrors I have seen. Its script is tight and keeps you guessing and glued to the screen from the opening shot. While the horror is genuinely scary, what made me love this movie was the mystery. It is such and intriguing plot that drip feeds you information. On top of this, every single performance in Barbarian was amazing especially Bill Skargard and Georgina Campbell. Barbarian may be my favourite film of 2022.
I watched X and Barbarian about a week apart and both made me realise how much of a return quality horror movies are making. X is a perfect blend of 70s style slashers like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and modern high concept horrors. It weaves a subtle core theme of fame and chasing dreams into a gruesome slasher. Also, this film has a very engaging characters that each have their own specific voice and feel. And obviously, Mia Goth is a incredibly talented actress who carries this movie.
When I first watched Nope, I didn’t love it. But after sitting on it for a few days, I realised how incredible it truly was. I think this was a consequence of how different the plot and structure were to what I was expecting. Nope honestly feels like the modern-day Jaws and had some of the most striking visuals in a film I have seen in a long time.
4. Scream (2022)
I loved Scream. Like Top Gun Maverick, it balances that old campy style with a new retelling. Obviously, the story is predictable because it’s part of this franchise, but it was still such an entertaining movie. I think this comes down to the world that is built. It’s filled with completely unrealistic characters that make the dumbest decisions. However, cause the writers create this 90s throwback world, these decisions make sense.
5. Bodies Bodies Bodies
Similar to scream, Bodies Bodies Bodies was just entertaining from the beginning. It didn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, but it certainly kept me engaged. The plot kept me guessing and I never felt like I knew what was coming. This is an amazing feeling in a movie especially when you trust the director. In addition, the actors were perfectly cast and I am so happy they didn’t just go with big name actors but people who fit the characters. While this movie does drag a little bit, I am definitely glad I saw it.
These are just some of my favourite horros that I have seen this year. There are so many more I need to watch like Sissy, The Black Phone, Men and Pearl.
Nathan Simmons is a Brisbane based filmmaker. He is currently in his second year at University and runs a production company known as Salty Dog Media. Recently, he was the show runner for the horror web series The Pallidura. After watching Episode 4, I was amazed at how well crafted and scary this series is. It will definitely be an amazing horror web series that I am very excited for. Read on for more.
What is the Pallidura?
“It is a story about a couple – Curtis and Jessica – who are celebrating a birthday. An old friend comes to the party with a mysterious painting and once he enters the party Curtis’s life is never the same.”
What was your big inspirations for this project?
“The idea came in a writing workshop we had. The educator said, think of an object in your home and how it can attract a character. I thought about how some people can have a fascination for a painting and some people can have a hatred for it. The story has evolved from a divorce story where one partner hates it and one loves it to where it is now.”
Throughout the whole process, how do you maintain motivation and a good headspace?
“I never had bad feelings. It’s because I love it and I love making films. I really wanted to make the story as good as it can be. We spent like 50 hours writing it in the writer’s room. It was also a learning opportunity to as well because these ideas came from my head and I had to communicate it with 60 other people.
What are your plans for releasing it?
“60 people worked on this so it would be cruel if people didn’t watch it. We are currently looking at what festivals it can go out to. Obviously, there are a lot of horror festivals it would suit. YouTube would probably be the very last place we would stick it. We might even take the idea to screen Queensland. I wouldn’t mind telling the idea again…”
What specific movies or shows inspired the Pallidura?
“The Babadook was a heavy one. I love the allegory of depression and grief. Oculus was another good one as well. The original idea was inspired by The Ring but I have never seen it, I have seen Scary Movie 3 though. I really like Jordan Peele’s movies, I’m on board for everything he does.
Are there any key writers and directors that inspire you?
“I love Tarantino. I was also watching Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul at the time and it’s where I got a lot of visual style from. Big fan of Spielberg but I didn’t use any of his techniques.”
What scares you personally when you watch horror?
“Not knowing. I hate jump scares and don’t find them scary. I just find them really annoying. I saw SPIRAL and that movie pissed me off because they just relied on loud noises. I also watched Dahmer and that had some terrifying moments, especially where the cops let a victim back in.
What is the worst thing people do at the cinemas?
“Fucking talk. Shut the fuck up when you watch a movie! I watched Halloween Kills last year and there was these people who kept talking and saying they didn’t find it scary. I can’t stand in, don’t ask me about the plot.”
Where do you want the Australian film scene to be in 5 years?
“The movies they are making are more aimed at the older target audience. Movies like The Dry and Red Dog are created for that age demographic. I just think there should be movies about a random thing that happens in an Australian city. Like the Matrix was shot in Sydney is a perfect example. Ultimately, they just haven’t hit me as a target audience yet.”
If a film genie came to you with one wish, what would it be?
“I would love to direct a feature. If I was funded, I would love to write, direct and edit a feature and show it in the cinema with my family and friends.”
What’s next for you?
“Salty Dog Media. It’s my new business media company with Chris Radman where we make content for other people and we are open to collaborating with others.”
“Huge thanks to all the students involved in creating the Pallidura. Especially Abbey Rose who helped out as the series coordinator. Everyone should be super proud of what they have done. Can’t wait to show the world what all of us have made.”
When you hear the term “Australian horror” not much usually comes to mind. Maybe Wolf Creek, The Babadook, Rogue and potentially even Picnic at Hanging Rock. And while these films have their merits, I truly believe there is one that constantly flies under the rug. It is a film that I have never stopped talking about since I was 16. A film that Martin Scorsese himself raves about. A film that makes you feel so uneasy and uncomfortable it is almost hard to recommend – Wake in Fright.
Since most people reading this haven’t heard of Wake in Fright, I will give a small recap (I would honestly go watch it first though). Wake in Fright is a horror/ thriller directed by Canadian director Ted Kotcheff. It is about John Grant, an English school teacher living in a small town in 1970s Australia. On the holidays, he attempts to leave the town to visit Sydney. However, he gets stuck in Yabba – a tiny mining town – after gambling and drinking away his money.
Now hearing that may make you think that this film does not belong in the horror genre. But I think that’s exactly what makes it so special. It is not your stereotypical horror story about a killer or monster. Instead, the horror lies in the town, the people, and the situation.
Upon John’s arrival at ‘the Yabba’, it is very clear how much of an influence gambling has over this town. From the two up games to the obsession with the pokies, Kotcheff displays this horrifying hold that gambling has over people. Like a ghost, it possesses this small town and keeps them hooked. And soon enough, it grabs John and takes a complete hold of him. John forgets his ambitions and dreams of making some quick money. But with any gambling addiction, the end is never pretty. John loses all the money he has worked so hard for and can no longer visit his girlfriend.
One of the smartest parts of this movie is the use of climate. In particular, the focus on Australia’s harsh and unforgiving heat. Every scene makes you feel like you are profusely sweating. The sun constantly beating down on our protagonist is draining both on John Grant and us. It effectively makes the audience constantly uncomfortable from the moment this movie starts.
Wake in Fright reveals one of the most fundamental flaws of Australian culture – toxic masculinity. As John starts talking to Jannette, a man around the table says, “he would rather talk to a woman than drink?” Every woman in this movie is either insulted, used for sex, or abused. It reveals to us this dangerous but very realistic misogynistic attitude that exists deep down in Australian culture. A deep-rooted and horrifying perspective of women being inferior.
But perhaps the greatest horror of Wake in Fright is the portrayal of alcoholism. From John’s arrival in Yabba till the end of the film, he is force fed this poison. Declining alcohol in this town is the equivalent of slapping someone in the face. The physical queasiness this had on me was something I don’t often feel in films. It was such an accurate portrayal of the Australian drinking culture that I completely understand why this movie didn’t do well – people don’t want to see the truth. They don’t want to see an outsider expose their country’s biggest faults.
The Yabba is not simply a small outback Australian town. Instead, it is a hell. All these themes display a horrible and dangerous outlook on life. John Grant is trapped in a place that has drained him of any ambitions. A place that has transformed him into what he once hated most. John has been infected with this nihilistic perspective on life. What Kotcheff shows the audience is that this way of life is the horror. These views and substance abuse can lead to a wasted and toxic life, whether you realise it or not.
After years of drama, gossip and rumours Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling is finally here. Before the film was even released, it had been trashed for the performances and plot. This can instantly destroy a movie. Audiences go into the cinema jaded by reviews or potentially don’t even see it. So is Don’t Worry Darling as horrible as everyone says? Is Harry Styles’ performance that atrocious?
Don’t Worry Darling is one of the most beautiful looking films of the year. The cinematographer – Mathew Libatique – creates this pristine and elegant world. Every shot has the perfect light that accentuates this idyllic 1950s’ town. While the constant lens’ flares aren’t for me, I am 100% here for the world that he and Olivia Wilde have created.
Beautiful cinematography needs to be coupled with a well-constructed and tight plot. With a run time of 2 hours and 3 minutes, the audience must be kept engaged from the get-go. Unfortunately, I was not. I just found myself kind of bored in this movie. Scenes drag on for way for too long and once you figure out what’s coming, it just feels kind of bland. I know Olivia tried to include some moments to keep you hooked but they just weren’t enough. Ultimately, the beats of this story feel repetitive and dragged out.
What really failed for me in this movie was the horror. I understand it’s meant to be more psychological than physical, but it felt very flat. I cannot even recall some of the sequences because of how forgettable and repetitive it was. It didn’t feel like any new horror was brought to the table but instead just repeating what has been done in cinema for the last 30 years.
Florence Pugh certifies herself as an incredible actress. She is so talented at being scared that if all she did for the next 10 years was horror I wouldn’t mind. On top of this, Florence delivers some dodgy lines excellently. I truly believe she puts this film on her back and carries it to the finish line.
Now the backlash on Harry Styles’ performance is warranted – it’s not great. He isn’t even that bad it’s just that there are so many other talented actors out there who would have smashed this role. It always feels like he is trying to give an Oscar worthy performance by screaming and yelling a lot when it isn’t warranted and doesn’t make sense. In a movie this high budget and high concept, Harry doesn’t belong.
Everyone else is good. Chris Pine replicates this type of Andrew Tate man in a way that I haven’t seen in a film yet (no spoilers). Olivia Wilde shows off her comic abilities and adds this light-hearted touch to the film. Gemma Chan and Nick Kroll were amazing but just not in it enough. With all of Nick’s talents, he should have been in this film much more.
Before I go into spoilers, I want to highlight the soundtrack. John Powell has created a new and refreshing horror movie sound. Every time it played it made me genuinely remember to write about how good the music was. He has blended breathing, humming and music together to create a chilling horror theme that feels very different to everything being made right now.
The twist in this movie is one of the most predictable and bland pieces of writing I have seen. 15 minutes into this film I had guessed what it was and spent the rest of the film praying it wasn’t that. The problem with Don’t Worry Darling is that the writer and director think they have this Sixth Sense level twist on their hands and spend the whole movie building up to it. But it isn’t. Instead, the audience should have been shown earlier what is going on and the rest of the film should have been her working it out and attempting to escape. Imagine if this film had a similar plot to the Truman Show but really focused on how horrifying and scary this situation is. There could have been stronger ties to abusive relationships and control instead of this washy garbage. There is just so much wasted potential for this high concept idea that really could have been something special.
Should you see it in cinemas?
No, this is definitely a streaming movie. While all the pieces are there, it ultimately just falls flat due to a predictable script. If Harry Styles wasn’t in this film, it would be on Amazon Prime right now.
How does one know thyself? When confronted by the realities of our station in life, how do we respond to them? Will we take advantage of what time we have left to fulfil the passions that burn within us?
These questions percolated in my mind as I read Tim Lucas’ novel The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes, a fictionalized account on the making of Roger Corman’s 1967 psychedelic opus The Trip – which first appeared in cinemas on this day 55 years ago.
By the mid-1960s, Roger Corman, a top-tier producer/director for B-movie studio American International Pictures (AIP), had become dissatisfied by the constraints of his series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price. Endeavouring to make films that reflected the controversies of the times, his first attempt at such a movie, The Wild Angels (1966) – a biker drama starring Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, and Bruce Dern – was a major box office success. For its follow-up, Corman turned his attention to a particularly hot-button subject: lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or acid.
Directed from a screenplay by a long-time member of Corman’s talent pool, Jack Nicholson – better known today for playing a certain Clown Prince of Crime! – the resulting film, The Trip, follows disillusioned commercial director Paul Groves (Fonda) as he seeks to gain personal insight through an LSD trip: the first of its kind depicted in a motion picture. Guided by his guru friends John (Dern) and Max (Dennis Hopper), Paul witnesses a parade of sensual and terrifying imagery throughout his hallucinogenic odyssey that forces him to consider his place in the world, and especially his relationships with women; he is torn by his feelings for his wife Sally (Susan Strasberg), who he is soon to be divorced from, and Glenn (Salli Sachse), an acquaintance of Max’s with whom he feels a mutual attraction.
Alternately confounding, nauseating, sexy and funny, The Trip remains a thoroughly engrossing watch, marked by its rapid editing and depictions of nudity, both of which were considered ground-breaking for the time. Although its style and subject matter reflect key interests of the hippie movement (LSD was made illegal across the United States soon after its release, and the film’s portrayal of it prompted the British Board of Film Censors to ban the movie for 35 years), the film’s thematic underpinnings still carry weight decades after the Summer of Love. As someone who doesn’t have any experience with such drugs, I was pleased that the film wasn’t an excuse for flashy imagery, and that it grounded the psychedelic experience in human drama through its focus on whether Paul can form personal connections amidst the emotional turmoil of a divorce. Among those The Trip impressed upon its initial release was a young film buff from Cincinnati named Tim Lucas…
A renowned film critic/historian with fifty years of professional writing experience, Lucas is best known for co-publishing (with his wife Donna) the pioneering home media review magazine Video Watchdog (1990-2017), and for writing the celebrated critical biography Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (2007). He has provided audio commentaries on the DVD and Blu-ray releases of over 100 movies, covering not only most of Bava’s films and several of Corman’s, but works by directors as varied as Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergio Leone and Orson Welles. Lucas has also penned three published novels: Throat Sprockets (1994), The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula (2005) and The Secret Life of Love Songs (2021). A throughline that connects Lucas’ work is his focus on our capacity for experiencing and expressing love for each other. This is an appropriate motif, given the themes of Corman’s film and the story he has weaved about its creation.
In 2003, Lucas began writing a comical screenplay about the making of The Trip with his friend, writer/artist Charlie Largent. Their story was structured around Corman’s revelation that, despite not outwardly fitting in with the counterculture of the period, he prepared for the film by undergoing an LSD trip on the beaches of Big Sur, California, surrounded by colleagues who witnessed and recorded his observations.
Although The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes was soon optioned by Corman’s protégé, Gremlins (1985) director Joe Dante, and it is set to be co-produced by SpectreVision (Elijah Wood’s production company), the film has yet to see the light of day. The closest the project has come to being actualized was a 2017 script-reading at the Vista Theater in Los Angeles, billed as “The Greatest Film Never Made”; reviews of the reading unanimously praised Bill Hader’s portrayal of Corman. These aborted attempts to make the movie inspired Lucas to rewrite Kaleidoscope Eyes as a novel, drawing on correspondence with Corman’s wife/producing partner Julie, and his long-time assistant Frances Doel, to expand the story beyond what was in the script, which by this time had undergone several revisions, including contributions from writers Michael Almereyda and James Robison.
Lucas’ earlier novels are characterised by their unconventional approach to narrative structure. Primarily written from the first-person point of view of the protagonists, they frequently take unexpected turns into other modes of writing, including transcripts of film scenes and interviews (Throat Sprockets);diary entries, letters and commentaries written by characters years after the referenced events (The Book of Renfield, in the style of Bram Stoker’s Dracula); and songs (The Secret Life of Love Songs).
The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes continues this trend, albeit to a lesser extent than its forebears, by presenting its first four chapters out of chronological order, with chapter titles indicating the month and year in which the events take place: the story begins in November 1966, with Peter being awed by Jack’s script for The Trip, before flashing back five months earlier to Roger in the throes of post-production on The Wild Angels. It diverges from Lucas’ previous works by being his first novel to be largely written in a narratorial third-person style, with its only ventures into first-person occurring in Chapter 11, which chronicles Roger’s trip. As a reading experience, I would describe Kaleidoscope Eyes as Lucas’ most accessible novel, and appropriately his most cinematic.
As with his earlier books, Lucas demonstrates meticulous attention to detail: his vivid overview of the changing cultural landscape in mid-60s Hollywood in Chapter 2 (which he describes as “the Summer of Foreplay before the Summer of Love”) infuses the location with a sense of excitement, where anything is possible and change is the law of the land. His imagination is on full throttle in his renderings of Roger’s trip, which are appropriately thoughtful yet bizarre. Consider the passage where Roger’s musings over the grains of sand that comprise Big Sur’s beach evolve into the observation that “God was a surfer”.
Given the setting, comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) and its 2021 novelization are inevitable (Lucas has revealed that Tarantino was among the first to read Kaleidoscope Eyes’ script, and quickly voiced his desire to play the role of Roger’s friend, screenwriter Chuck Griffith). Like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which revels in its tributes to classic Hollywood TV shows, movies and Spaghetti Westerns, Kaleidoscope Eyes is full of references to Corman’s other films. These include his civil rights-themed drama The Intruder (1962) – the commercial failure of which makes Roger hesitant to make more “personal” films – and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), the poster art for which helps him devise an on-the-spot pitch for The Trip to his AIP bosses Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson.
I also spotted several funny references to The Little Shop of Horrors (1960): when Chuck tries to buy LSD from a dealer at Venice Beach, the dealer promises “Lots plants cheap”, a verbatim reference to a sign on Mushnick the florist’s wall, and Audrey Jr.’s catchphrase “FEED ME!” rears its head during Roger’s trip. The book is also packed with period detail (such as Metrecal, a predecessor to Sustagen that Roger drinks), and references to the music of such artists as Herb Alpert (“Spanish Flea”). As with the call-backs to Roger’s movies, these might throw off a reader unfamiliar with them, but Lucas’ fast pace allows 60s novices to get back on track to the heart of the narrative.
An advantage of the novel’s third-person approach can be seen in Lucas’ fleshing-out of the book’s cast. With a few exceptions, the supporting characters of his other novels tend to be abstract, in part due to the often-egotistical perspectives of the protagonists. Here, most of Roger’s friends and colleagues are clearly-defined, likable creatives who you want to see achieve success. Peter is a wide-eyed dreamer who wants to carve a legacy of his own, rather than simply being “Hank’s boy”. Jack is a hardworking, emotive artist who is frustrated by the bad hand life has dealt him thus far – his divorce from actress Sandra Knight inspires Paul and Sally’s split – but is determined to reward Roger’s friendship and trust.
Appropriate given her background and Oxford education, Frances is very much the Alfred to Roger’s Batman, a sounding board as much as she is a faithful assistant. Chuck – who recalls Harry Connick Jr.’s portrayal of Dean McCoppin in The Iron Giant (1999) – is a cool beatnik who happily guides Roger through his trip despite his initial 600-page script for The Trip being discarded in favour of Jack’s more streamlined take. Another of Roger’s protégés, Peter Bogdanovich – whose directorial debut Targets (1968) is prominently foreshadowed by Lucas – is a sharp-witted dandy keen to make the leap from critic to filmmaker. In their brief scenes, Bruce and Dennis are intellectual, curious thespians eager to give Roger their best work in their performances as John and Max, and while he does not turn her into a fully-fledged character, Lucas offers a nice appreciation of Salli and her portrayal of Glenn.
Whereas Lucas’ previous novels can be described as ranging between melancholic or tragic in tone, Kaleidoscope Eyes is the first to demonstrate his lighter side, imparting a sense of optimism that shines through the darkness. It shares a view with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that, as long as you have friends in your corner and take risks, you can clear the hurdles Hollywood puts in your way.
What about Roger himself? Given the book’s generally light tone and its loving tributes to several celebrated talents, it might have been easy to make him an amiable everyman, a vehicle through which the story unfolds, but Lucas turns the maverick moviemaker into arguably his most complex protagonist yet.
In his audio commentary for Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Lucas notes that the heroes of many of the director’s films are truth-seekers. This is an attribute that also describes the leads of Lucas’ prior novels, and one which he applies to Roger, whose persona is defined by his incongruities: he has the dress-sense of an old fogey, the mind of a businessman, the heart of an explorer and the soul of an artist. Despite his personal tastes not lining up with those of his younger hippie colleagues, he is determined to accurately portray the psychedelic experience with as much realism as possible in the confines of a low budget, consulting Chuck and Jack about their experiences with LSD and extensively reading the works of such proponents of the drug as Dr. Timothy Leary in preparation for his trip and the film informed by it. Roger’s various faculties come into play in not only how he conducts his work – he views himself as a problem-solver who wants to work out “how to turn $300,000 into several millions” – but his love life.
Reading through Lucas’ books, I have been struck by his consistent focus on the relationships between his main characters and the women in their lives. His stories cover a wide spectrum of how men interact with “the fairer sex”, including seeking a partner with mutual erotic interests (Throat Sprockets); experiencing the pain of unrequited love and the danger of seduction (The Book of Renfield); and discovering the duality between spouses and muses (The Secret Life of Love Songs). Here, Roger is depicted as a 40-year-old serial monogamist; although courteous and deeply attracted to women (“The Earth is a woman… and I am HUMPING HER!” he screams during his trip), he has trouble allowing them to embrace his multifaceted makeup. Despite having three different girlfriends over the course of the story, Roger’s behaviour is carefully portrayed by Lucas as not creepy or predatory, but indicative of someone who ends relationships as soon as it is clear they are not long-term.
Paralleling Paul’s conflicted feelings for Glenn in The Trip, Roger is unsure about the deepness of his friendship with Julie Halloran, a researcher who shares his passion for problem-solving. He deliberately falls out of contact with her while preparing for the movie, fearing that she would not approve of his own “research”. The manner in which Lucas resolves this will-they-won’t-they dynamic not only does justice to the climax of The Trip, but the union they would eventually share together.
Lucas delivers two symbolic masterstrokes during Roger’s trip, which serve to convey his attitude to life: the constant, heightened ticking of his watch, and a “journey” into a giant rabbit-hole covered by screens showcasing every movie that has been, and will be, made. Unlike Paul, who is subconsciously ashamed of the commercialism of his chosen profession, Roger (in both the story and real life) has always embraced the artistic and commercial aspects of filmmaking. His determination to take advantage of what time he has left (in typically punctual fashion for Roger, his trip ends ahead of schedule!) has led him to not only push boundaries in his own movies, but also foster promising talents who might not have otherwise gotten the big break they needed. Indeed, numerous graduates of Roger’s informal “film school” would go on to become Oscar winners, including Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme and James Cameron.
And the ending? Well, although you can already find out about it online (Dante has already shot part of it as a form of “insurance”, and Ozploitation legend Brian Trenchard-Smith has told me that he was involved as a stand-in), I encourage you to discover its power – it’s a provocative capper that’ll leave you with those burning questions I asked at the start of this deep dive. Without giving too much away, it also neatly harkens back to both the ending of The Book of Renfield, and a phrase Roger may (or may not?) have uttered towards the end of his trip. This line, in turn, is a reference to a phrase claimed by Stephen King to have been uttered by Ray Milland’s character in an unedited version of the ending to X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes…
A fun, hauntingly beautiful tribute to one of the great craftsmen of the film industry and the power of his work, The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes earns my highest recommendation. I only hope it’s a matter of time before the rest of the movie version is made…
If you have been to any film festival in Brisbane, you will have seen Sam Monaghan’s face. AISLE 4, Follow that Taxi, It’s Christmas, Heist, Copperpillar, A Werewolf in Byron Bay – these are some of the many short films and web series Sam as acted in. On top of this, he is in Cheeky Moon’s upcoming web series It’s a Cult, is one third of HIRED GOONS and has been in Thor Ragnorak and Aquaman. Please do yourself a favour and watch some of these shorts at the bottom of this article.
Recently, I had the pleasure to go over to Sam’s house and have a chat. We dived into his career, his goals, all about film and in particular, the Australian film scene. It was one of the best conversations about this chaotic industry I have ever had. What was so refreshing was that Sam didn’t bullshit me. Unlike a lot of people in this industry, he told me how challenging this life truly is. But ultimately, Sam’s passion for film was always there. While it may have dipped, the love always came back stronger than ever. Read on for more.
A Brief Introduction
FRAZIER: Can you just introduce who you are and your many roles.
SAM: I feel like I am introducing myself from Hitchikers Guide – resident of planet earth…
I consider myself first and foremost a creative person. I love to act, enjoy writing and have done a whole bunch of other roles so I can do those things (producing, directing).
FRAZIER: So you produce to act essentially?
SAM: There’s not a lot of opportunities to act in Brisbane so you got to make your own work. You get to have a lot of fun and write some stupid roles like Half man half caterpillar.
FRAZIER: What is hired goons – for people who don’t know?
SAM: Hired Goons is a film production company. It was started before I joined by Pearce Hoskinson and Tim Goodwin who are very amazing creatives themselves. They started it in 2017 and the goal was to do corporate work to fund creative work. I joined in 2018/2019 just when their growth hit so I will say it’s a correlation not a causation. We used all that money – much to my wife’s dismay – to make stupid comedy films.
FRAZIER: So, you had a career before film?
SAM: I left well-paying jobs to come do this. My wife didn’t marry into that when we were dating. I kind of just got fatter and more creative. But she’s highly supportive.
Sam’s Film Journey
SAM: I will kind of tell you the journey I have been on if you like?
FRAZIER: Yeah absolutely.
SAM: Back in 2014, my Mum had a big car accident. She was in a coma for about 4 months and in hospital for a year and a bit. I was doing this job I didn’t really care for. I thought “oh man, you could really die tomorrow.” Pretty cliché, but it was a wakeup call. I knew I wanted to do film and came in super bright eyed, and bushy tailed to the industry.
SAM: I was like 25 and all the other 25-year-olds were so jaded from auditioning for so long. I kept thinking “what are you guys upset about you get to do this!” Because of that, I had this energy at the start and was booking stuff. They were just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring and I was like “go make stuff.” I went through all that until I was jaded like them and burnt out…
SAM: Since then, I am now taking a long-term approach to my film and creative work. I have met some of the most creatively talented people who have been doing this work for 30-40 years and they are still striving. While it doesn’t sound inspirational or like any of the self-help books you read, the reality is that some of the most talented people never make a sustainable career out of their creativity. My goal is to have a fulfilling life while working on my creative outlets.
FRAZIER: Your comedic timing in your body of work is excellent and so noticeably good. But has it improved over time or were you always like that?
SAM: I haven’t done any formal training. I did one semester of film at university when I first went. I think I have always had a natural inclination for timing and comedy. I used it in my family when I was growing up to diffuse a lot of tension which made me good at it. Weaponised comedy has been my approach to life outside of film. I use it to disarm people, test people, charm people.
FRAZIER: Can you dive into the Follow that Taxi feature film?
SAM: So Follow that Taxi, Peirce wrote into a feature film. We were lined up to shoot that in March. We raised an exceptional amount of money. You think, it’s just two people talking in a taxi and I then I read it and it was probably one of the best screenplays I have ever read. It was full of heart, hilarious, good rhythm, we cast it and produced it. And then, covid…. We looked at rescheduling it but we never knew when it was ending.
FRAZIER: What separates a good director versus a shit one for you in terms of talking with actors?
SAM: I think the very first thing you should do as a director, particularly if you have written it, is let go of your ideas. As soon as you get there, you got to let it go and see what they bring. It could be so much better then what you were thinking. Never direct an actor before they have done a take as well. And always let me improvise. You can cut it out later but you just got to let me get it out of my system.
FRAZIER: On that note, what separates a big Hollywood set versus an indie film. Excluding the money and budget?
SAM: I think it’s the same with any big business, the bigger you get the more care you lose. When you are an indie, you can be very nimble and adaptive. I was an extra on Thor Ragnarök. It was a weird experience. We were there for 6-8 weeks everyday which is unheard of.
FRAZIER: 6-8 weeks as an extra!?!
SAM: We were reshooting these group scenes constantly. I just think there’s more opportunities when you have more resources but having two much resource can limit your creativity.
FRAZIER: When you are first reading a script, what do you look for?
SAM: I want to see that someone understands plot, makes sense, the characters have real motivations. It’s not just meandering for no reason. On the other side, if it’s a sketch it just needs to be fuckin funny man. It must make me laugh and think that’s funny.
SAM: I have written a short that I am going to direct and put together in the next few months. It is absurd. It’s one of my favourite scripts because of how dumb it is. It is such a waste of people’s time.
FRAZIER: Is that how you are going to get them in? “It’s a waste of your time”
SAM: Well… it’s about an oom-pah Loompa who gets diagnosed with diabetes. It’s just tragic and straight. There’s a lot of puns in the first scene but it’s just funny because it’s so sad. I even had a friend graciously make me an entire miniature oompah Loompa set out of paper Mache. She took a year and a half to do it..
FRAZIER: Holy fuck.
SAM: Yeah, it was a crazy amount of work, but it looks sick.
FRAZIER: So, it’s got to win an oscar now.
SAM: Yep… I am also in a couple of short films coming up. I just did It’s a Cult with Cheeky Moon.
FRAZIER: Oh yeah, I recently did an interview with them. Can you talk about working on that set with Alastair and Claire a little?
SAM: Alastair and Claire are two of the most incredible people I have ever met. That’s it, that’s all I have to say… Nah, it was such a delight because I came from being exhausted and burnt out from film work. It’s a Cult came, and it was so refreshing. It is just beautiful. It’s heartfelt and funny. I got to be a bit straighter and more serious.
FRAZIER: I was talking to Cheeky Moon about your comedy skills, and they were saying how incredible you were as a dramatic actor. Especially some really challenging scenes.
SAM: Well that’s what I found so exciting about it because I had been stuck in Comedy for so long. My character in this show had real feelings. I got to focus on the moment and being a part of something so moving.
FRAZIER: In terms of working with directors, who is your dream person to work with or project to get off the ground?
SAM: To start with, I would make the Follow that Taxi Feature film because that was such a blow and I need that closure. I would love to work with Ricky Gervais and Robin Williams I would die to work with. I would have to now as well. What is the right answer though?
FRAZIER: Fuck it’s a hard question aye.
SAM: Yeah told you ya prick.
FRAZIER: Probably Edgar Wright though…
SAM: Oh fuck yeah that’s definitely the right answer. Hot Fuzz is probably my favourite comedy as well.
FRAZIER: Or Martin McDonagh. He is my favourite writer.
SAM: Oh my god of course! Best writer for sure.
The Brisbane Film Scene
FRAZIER: This is always a challenging one, but where do you want to see the Brisbane film scene move. Even if you just change it or just progress it.
SAM: A long time ago, I was passionate about it. I always thought, I am going to change this place. Hired Goons goals was to showcase the talent here. Now that I am old and jaded, I don’t give a fuck about Brisbane.
FRAZIER: Hahahaha. See I am like you were before you were jaded.
SAM: You will get their kid, you are just a boy… But I would still love to see it grow and expand. If I ever do get traditionally successful, I will never forget Brisbane. I would love to come back and do indie projects.
Make sure to go check out Sam’s short films below. Whether he is acting, directing or producing, they are truly some of the most entertaining and hilarious productions I have ever seen.
Charlie Baz is a Brisbane based writer, director, and actor. He is a co-creator of a new production company known as 2nd Circle Studios whose focus is on creating work that is story driven. 2nd Circle studio’s film show reels and promotion for people looking to get their work made. Through this, Charlie has written and directed an upcoming romance known as It’s nice to meet you. Talking with Charlie reminded me why I love interviewing creatives – seeing how passionate artists are about their projects. I am extremely excited to dive into this interview because of how enthusiastic Charlie truly is.
What is It’s nice to meet you?
“It’s fancy boys’ night and Chris falls in love again. Will she be the one? This story is a classic love story that is very close to my heart. I wrote it from how I have interpreted romance my whole life.”
Where did this idea come from?
“A few years back, I had this very deep crush and fascination with this girl. I kind of based it around what that could look like. It is not a real story, but it came from real feelings.”
Why should people see this film?
“Everyone loves a romance. Even if you don’t, there is something so sweet about watching people fall for each other. It also looks amazing, and I can only thank Jarod, our DOP, for that (Jarod Woods). The music is also stunning as well – written by Natalie Ferris. “
“It’s also short, so it will take you 15 minutes if you watch it twice…”
Biggest challenge of making an indie short film?
“Postproduction. I was editing it and I now know why a director shouldn’t edit their own films. There is so much technicality and obsession with getting everything perfect.”
“All in all, it was just praying that it would work. Just hoping it would translate from script to screen.”
Charlie’s Writing Process
How long was this idea bouncing around in your head?
“Honestly, subconsciously, forever. I started writing this short film in 2020. It was very boring and a clinical romance film. Something that came off that was “is that how I interpret romance?” I just realised the relationship to romance and love in my own life and I think that brought out the feeling that this film brings. “
How long did it take you to sit down and write?
“It was never really done. I could always go back and rewrite it. But probably like 6-7 months of proper rewriting.”
“When I’m drunk and out with friends, I will write on a scrapbook a lot. I will think of a moment, open my notes, and write it. The next day I look at it and think why was this anything.”
How did you put yourself into the script?
“Its quite a raw snapshot of me a year ago. Even when I was directing it, it’s like I was directing something so close to my heart.”
When you are writing, how do you keep focused when writing?
“I kind of don’t…”
“I really enjoy writing and telling stories. I want to do that for a living. I use distraction to help me write. I try and write a page a day. I will then take a break for a few days and when I come back it’s like I was too in it.”
What are the core challenges of writing a romance?
“Making the characters interesting. I look at films like La La Land where both characters are interesting and feel like distinct people with personalities. The struggle is writing an interesting relationship and not interesting characters.”
How has an acting background helped with writing and directing?
“I direct people how I would want to be directed. I came from a place of just talking a lot. From a writing perspective, we were reading so many monologues and scripts. You get a gauge of what you actually like.
What are your final goals with It’s nice to meet you?
“I think my dream for this film is for people to see it. For me, I want it to work as a proof of voice. I want it to be accepted into festivals but that’s also not the end of the world for me.”
Favourite movie, director, and show?
“My favourite film is easily La La Land. I do love Damien Chazelle. I really really love Bertie Gilbert. He makes lovely short films. My favourite show is Normal People, it’s just a bloody beautiful show that doesn’t need to be recreated or touched.”
If you could choose your dream project to make or be apart of, what would it be?
“Working with Bertie Gilbert would be amazing. Acting or on crew. I also have this short, long film idea. It’s a story about a band who is on the verge of breaking up. I really want to be able to do that with crowds and mosh pits. Honestly though, just being able to go to work and make cool stuff with my mates, that’s all I need.”
Where do you want to see the Brisbane film scene move in the next 5 years?
“The film scene in Brisbane is pretty good. I would love for more of a community involvement. Its very insular, in its own little section that is pushed off to the side. I would love for more people to get amongst it.”
“With Australian films, a lot of the time it is the same stories. A bushman, small town, someone who needs to belong, a murder etc. It can be interesting – Baby teeth – but I would like to see more films that don’t have an Australian feel to it.”
The short film is out this Friday July 15th on the 2nd Circle Studios YouTube Channel. Make sure to like it and share around this incredible project.
Thor Love and Thunder is finally here. Now I’m not going to bother with the whole spiel about who directed this and the cast and the plot and the blah blah blah. We all know who Thor is and we all know who made this film. At this point, Taika Waititi feels like he owns Hollywood. He is in every film; can choose any project he wants and seems to have complete creative control over his movies. Now I love his other films. Jojo Rabbit, Boy and Hunt for the Wilder People are incredible, but I was never that obsessed with Thor Ragnarök. Going into Thor 4, I was hoping he would prove me wrong. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Let me explain…
Taika Waititi has been building up how crazy and silly this movie is for years. In every interview, he goes on about being surprised what Marvel let him do – after seeing it, it’s certainly not a flex. There is certainly some weird shit, but it honestly never felt true to the story or character. It just seemed like Taika wanted to go as crazy as possible just to be different. Its like he was so focused on being weird and wacky, he forgot to write an interesting story and compelling characters.
The fundamental problem with this is the number of fucking jokes. I’m all for a strict comedy and I love Taika’s humour but in this it felt so draining. Even in dramatic moments, he seems intent on making everyone be as stupid and idiotic as possible. I cannot remember a single scene that just lets the characters feel real and authentic. This is so disappointing because Taika is one of the best directors and writers when it comes to dramatic moments. In all his films, he has these scenes that really punch you in the heart. But for Thor, I cannot think of a single one…
There is some big fucking names in this film, and everyone is doing something completely different. Chris Hemsworth is as good as ever. His comedic timing is excellent and is as sexy as ever. However, he doesn’t seem to push the character in the right direction (This probably isn’t his fault). In this film, it feels like Thor has taken a step backwards instead of forwards. He has returned to that same destructive idiot we see in the first film. I think it would have been much more engaging to focus on a Thor who was really depressed, had PTSD and had given up fighting. They touch on it a bit but don’t dive into it as much as I would have liked.
Christian Bale holy fuck man. He is taking 50 shots and making 40 of them. Bale absolutely goes for it in this film, and I am here for it. He has some really heartbreaking and dramatic moments that only work through his performance. On the other side, Christian can be so terrifying when he chooses to be. It’s so refreshing to see an MCU villain that actually feels scary and has a purpose in their movie. I have a theory that he took some inspiration from working with Heath on Batman. Both characters take up so much of the screen and make it their film. Essentially, they bring something new to the villain stereotype that we haven’t seen before.
Natalie Portman… I hate shitting on actors I know are talented but what the fuck happened here. Natalie Portman is an amazing actress who has some deep range. Unfortunately, comedy is not included. She is so talented at dramatic acting but whenever she tries to be funny in this film it is hard to watch. I have a slight tingle that a lot of these lines were forced improv and you can see how forced and unnatural it is for her. Other then that, her fight scenes are amazing and she really sells being a Thor.
Action (minor spoiler)
There is a lot of action scenes in this film and all of them are pretty forgettable. Sure, Taikia has a striking 80s style he injects into Thor but the choreography or set pieces never really stuck out to me. Except for one scene…
The fight on the Moon planet. What a fuckin fight scene. Choosing to make it black and white was a perfect decision. The way the light from the hammers shines in the bleak darkness and how contrasted and stylised this world is (Chefs Kiss) is so refreshing. Marvel always gets a lot of shit for its bland colour palette, and I think Taika knew that. By taking away all colour, it is actually more effective then just dumping a bunch of it in like the rest of this film.
I know I talk about the MCU a lot and that is for one key reason – it’s the biggest thing in the world. The MCU is pumping out so many shows and movies its even hard for me to keep up. And I truly believe this affects Thor a lot. If Thor love and Thunder came out 5 years ago, I would be praising this film and so would critics. But there is so much superhero content that is all equally good that films now have to be a 10/10 movie to stand out. Remember Shang Chi, Eternals and Black Widow? I don’t at all. Not necessarily because they are bad but because there is so much of this being pumped out. I remember the Batman. That is because it’s a crime film first and a superhero movie second. Thor just feels like another superhero movie with some wacky moments and a lot of jokes.
Should you watch Thor Love and Thunder in cinemas?
Yes absolutely. This film is still a very entertaining and engaging movie but as Scorsese says, it is just a theme park ride. There is no memorable scenes or heartbreaking moments. Honestly, if the story was a bit more complex and layered, this film could be so much more. There is to much focus on getting from point a to b and not on exploring these once interesting characters.