Poster for TNT's Snowpiercer

(Photo by TNT)

On May 17, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer will become a TNT television series starring Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs. It’s not the first property to jump from the big screen to the small one (it was technically a French graphic novel first), and it certainly won’t be the last. For decades now, television producers have been going to the movies and asking themselves if they could make what they’re watching work in an episodic format. Who needs writers to come up with ideas when the movies can do it for you?

The resulting series have been all over the map critically, from projects that were canceled early to ones that ran for years, nearly obliterating the original film from viewers’ minds. It got us thinking about the variety of approaches that creative voices have taken when they try to sing a cinematic song on TV. The jury is still out on whether or not the futuristic vision of Snowpiercer will translate into a multi-season hit, but here are the eight approaches that have worked in the past with an example from the top tier of the film-to-TV canon for each.


Make It Your Own: Fargo

Ewan McGregor in Season 3 of Fargo

(Photo by ©FX)

When Noah Hawley entered the world of Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1995 masterpiece, he knew a literal approach wouldn’t work (and not just because it had already been attempted in 2003 with Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson in a failed TV pilot). He decided to use the atmosphere and language of the Coen-verse to tell his own stories, and the result became an award-winning critical darling. The best singers don’t just cover a song, they make it their own, reworking it in a way that redefines it. Fargo wouldn’t exist without the work of the Coen brothers, but no one would argue that it’s a direct interpretation of their creativity either. As much as Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal stands alongside both the Thomas Harris books and films, these shows use their cinematic sources as inspirations instead of a template waiting to be copied.


Make It a Prequel: Bates Motel

Freddie Highmore in Season 5 of Bates Motel

(Photo by Sergei Bachlakov/©A&E)

Sometimes the best way to adapt a cinematic property is to go back to the beginning. On paper, a young adult version of Norman Bates in contemporary times sounded like a horrible idea; it could have ended up just another teen drama like Gossip Girl, but with a little more murder. But the creators of Bates Motel deftly balanced nods to the Robert Bloch book and influential Alfred Hitchcock film throughout, culminating in a stellar final season that really tied it all together in unexpectedly moving ways. By going the prequel route, the creators had the freedom to tell a new story, even if it ultimately led to a familiar set of stairs.


Make It a Corrective: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

(Photo by © 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

It may have a cult following now, but writer Joss Whedon notoriously disliked the way his 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer was altered from his original intention. And so he convinced a fledgling network called The WB to give him a second shot at the character in weekly form, and the rest is TV history. It’s funny to watch the film now and see echoes of it in the series, which is darker, denser and more nuanced in ways that Whedon wasn’t allowed to be on the big screen. It’s a case in which the film probably should have been a TV series from the very beginning.


Make It Fun: Ash vs. Evil Dead

Lucy Lawless, Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, and Ray Santiago in Ash vs. Evil Dead

(Photo by Matt Klitscher/©Starz)

Twenty-three years after Army of Darkness, no one expected to return to the world of Ash and the Deadites, but along came Starz’s gloriously gory Ash vs. Evil Dead, which carries in every frame an air of “can you believe we’re doing this?” Much like the Netflix reboot of Wet Hot American Summer, this show recognizes the fact that most people involved never thought they’d get the chance to make it, and so they’re going to have as much fun as possible while they can. And that fun can be infectious. Not everything needs to be “Prestige TV;” sometimes fans of a film just want to rekindle that fun sensibility that made movies like Evil Dead 2 and Wet Hot into cult hits in the first place.


Make It Feel New: Westworld

Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld

(Photo by John P. Johnson/HBO)

One wonders how many people trying to decipher the current season of Westworld have any idea it’s even based on a movie. While some adaptations exist to call back to their cinematic fan bases (see previous entry), others barely acknowledge the existence of the original property. The back story of a show like Teen Wolf doesn’t depend on knowing the Michael J. Fox original, and you don’t need to have seen the 1973 Yul Brynner film (or its truly dire 1976 sequel, Futureworld) to be invested in the saga of Dolores Abernathy and the Man in Black. And that’s just the way HBO likes it.


Make It Unexpected: The Girlfriend Experience

Riley Keough in The Girlfriend Experience

(Photo by Kerry Hayes/©Starz)

Sometimes the best shows are developed from films that no one involved ever thought would become a TV show (Snowpiercer might fall into this category). Steven Soderbergh’s drama about a high-priced escort didn’t exactly scream weekly drama, but the Starz adaptation found new stories to tell within this concept. Sometimes TV shows can even build on their source in ways that make them feel more creatively accomplished, such as Netflix’s Dear White People, which unexpectedly turned a good film into a great series. Going the blockbuster-to-show route can often lead to mediocre product, but shows like The Girlfriend Experience prove that there’s no specific “type” of movie that will succeed as a series.


Make It the Same: What We Do in the Shadows

The cast of What We Do in the Shadows

(Photo by )

The most common creative tenet of film-to-TV adaptations seems to be “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” After all, if people liked it on the big screen, they’re bound to like it on the small screen, right? While this often produces faded carbon copies of creative ideas, it also just works sometimes. The dynamic between Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple that went from stage to screen to TV didn’t need to change. The movie Fame practically played like a pilot for the show. And the Taika Waititi hit that blended reality TV filmmaking with vampire lore was a perfect fit for the series, now on FX, without much alteration to the formula other than dividing the storytelling into bloody chunks and a change in location from New Zealand to Staten Island.


Make It Emotional: Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

(Photo by ©NBC)

The main thing the best TV adaptations do is provide a recurring emotional connection that usually naturally dissipates after the credits have rolled on a film. Millions of people spent years with the families on shows like Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, two programs that are arguably on the Mt. Rushmore of film-to-TV because they treated the source material as something not just to copy but to emotionally enrich. The format allowed the creators of these shows to go deeper and make these characters a part of viewers’ families for multiple seasons. People may have first checked out FNL because of the movie, but they hung around because of their emotional connection to the show. If only more film-to-TV adaptations were this good.

AmySeimetz

 

The representation of prostitution on television isn’t exactly rare. However, aside from shows like Secret Diary of a Call Girl (with Billie Piper), comedic turns like Patty the Daytime Hooker (Dale Dickey) in My Name is Earl,  and the 1984 television movie My Mother’s Secret Life (with Loni Anderson and Amanda Wyss), prostitutes have usually been portrayed in a stereotypical manner.  

The Girlfriend Experience, premiering this weekend on Starz, looks to remedy things by presenting a three dimensional look at the life of a high end call girl in Manhattan, adapted from Steven Soderberg’s 2009 drama.

Executive producer Soderbergh hired Amy Seimetz to co-write, co-direct, and serve as an executive producer on the series. While she might not be a household name just yet, Seimetz has been a Jane-of-all-trades for years. Her notable acting roles include The Off Hours, Family Tree, Upstream Color, and The Killing, but she’s a gifted, acclaimed indie filmmaker as well, having written and directed Sun Don’t Shine and various other projects. Seimetz fell into a shocking new world where budgets were large and she could freely create. Here, she tells us what that transition has been like for her, what the job offer phone call was like, and how real ladies of the “experience” live.


Kerr Lordygan for Rotten Tomatoes: You’re now a showrunner for an awesome, new Starz TV series. Did you feel you were ready for that? What challenges did you overcome, if any?

Amy Seimetz: Knowing now what I do, yes, I was definitely ready, but going into it, of course not! I’ve made movies for $100,000 or less for years and I acted, but not directed television. But in my first conversation with Soderbergh, I was like, “I don’t know how to direct television.” And he said, “Oh, you gotta learn somewhere.” What’s sort of amazing about it is he saw something that he thought was going to translate to the television format. Television is sort of the Wild West right now, so it’s not just me that’s getting chances like this; there are tons of other filmmakers that are getting chances because everyone is waking up that independent film translates really well to television. Not just in a cost efficient way, but viewers are craving original content.

Rotten Tomatoes:  It’s difficult to stand out during Peak TV now.

Seimetz: Yeah, completely. But at the same time, you’ve got this group of — most of the people that I’ve “grown up with” in independent film are now delving into television, mostly because it’s such a beat-down to get your small movie out there. And here is sort of a format that you can make content that is personally yours, because we’re in that realm right now, but it has distribution built in. So it’s sort of a dream for independent filmmakers for this to be happening right now.

Girlfriend Experience

 

Rotten Tomatoes: You’re a director/actor/writer; is any one more rewarding than the others? Or do they all just feed into each other?

Seimetz: They all feed into each other. I started as a writer/director because when I was very young, I just wanted to be a writer/director. But because I was learning my craft and was maybe a little insecure about what I wanted actors to do, I would just act in my own stuff. So all of it sort of developed together, and now they all feel connected. I was just telling somebody that when I’m acting, it’s almost the greatest undercover job ever to go to somebody’s set and be like, “Oh, this is really interesting how they’re doing things [laughing].” For the most part, the things I’ve acted in have had larger budgets than I’ve had, so even doing that and getting exposed to how people are working at different budget brackets — it’s really interesting for me. Because I didn’t come from money and I had to use the resources around me, I just sort of adapted my filmmaking and my producing to the fact that I didn’t have any money. And now that I’m being exposed to budgets — actual budgets and things like that — it’s interesting that it’s still essentially the same thing. But you’re not going in debt, you’re not worried about paying your rent. You’re not worried about getting a wheelchair instead of a dolly [laughing]. But you’re still using the same sort of knowledge; it’s just that you get fancier tools, I guess.

Rotten Tomatoes: The Girlfriend Experience has a very dark premise with a very dark character, and audiences eat that up these days. Do you have any thoughts as to why we devour that darkness so much?

Seimetz: Personally I always lean towards darker [laughing]. I think we’re in a really dark period of time right now, to be honest. I think in any sort of post-war situation, you’ll find movements of our fascinations with trying to understand what the human condition is — sort of breaking apart what the norms used to be — where it’s like this form of art has led us to war, and that’s where Dadaism came from, that’s where Surrealism came from, that’s where impressionism came from. All these movements of art are breaking apart whatever form we feel we are identifying with, and now we want something new. And I feel like we are sort of ignoring — publicly or politically — some of these darker aspects of where we’ve ended up, like hyper capitalism — which pertains to our show — or I guess Breaking Bad. I think it’s just sort of trying to understand what our society is doing. I find it bleak. Maybe I’m a little doomsday about it, but that’s my theory, in a way.

gf4 edit

 

Rotten Tomatoes: What do you think is the correlation between office politics — or even the legal industry — and something like prostitution? Are you trying to make that comparison? Does the show have a specific point of view?

Seimetz: As dark and sort of moody as the show is, we’re not trying to say that this is bad — that the world is bad. Or good. We’re just sort of showing it and trying to draw conclusions as to how we act as human beings. In general, whether it’s law or business or prostitution, I think most interactions are transactional — whether it’s money or what somebody can do for you or how they make you feel. You want something out of an exchange from a human being in general in your life, right? And I think any business or any sort of part of your life is also about creating boundaries and knowing when a relationship isn’t good or isn’t benefiting you anymore.  Which I think, in the world of escorting, is sort of heightened, because there are these ready-made relationships that you step into and you’re immediately intimate. The expectation is to immediately become intimate with somebody. It’s this sort of heightened — or a much more dense — version of how we operate in society.

Girlfriend Experience

 

Rotten Tomatoes: What a job skill, having to turn on the intimacy in 0 to 60.

Seimetz: Yeah. I mean I’ve had friends who are sex workers, and we’ve interviewed lots of sex workers. I use a part of my personality that is similar to that to be an actor, a director, and writer. To enter a room with a stranger alone is not a leap. It’s not part of my personality [laughing]. It’s definitely not a job for every woman. To each his own, you know? But to me personally, it’s simultaneously terrifying and elusive and sexy. But ultimately the terrifying aspect wins, for me on a personal level [laughing].

Rotten Tomatoes: Very similar to acting, when you have to go into an audition and instantly emote.

Seimetz: Yeah, or even just working with people. When you’re on set, you’re using your emotional tools. So a lot of times you get into deep stuff and you share secrets with people on set that you don’t normally talk about in this very bubble-like atmosphere with people that maybe met two weeks ago. They’re trying to get something out of you and they’re asking you to pull — again because I lean much darker, but even in comedy too — trying to pull something out of you that is deep-rooted. You find yourself sharing a lot more on set in that atmosphere than you would over coffee with a stranger.

GES1_102_031715_1486.jpg

 

Rotten Tomatoes: Christine is referred to as a “female Ted Bundy.” She doesn’t seem to like people. Then it makes her question herself. Is she a good person, and what sort of character arcs can we expect from that personality type?

Seimetz: I don’t really know what a good person is. I come from a laundry list of extremely complicated human beings [laughing]. And so there have been moments where they’re not so great and there have been moments when they are wonderful. So I don’t know. I think what’s interesting is her feelings, in general. The conflicts that occur in the show are from the aspects of her personality where she is extremely unapologetic about how she feels. She has a flicker of a moment where she wonders if something is wrong with her — if she’s a sociopath. But that’s only because somebody said that to her. But really she’s like, “You know what? I really don’t care.” And she just keeps going. Most of the conflicts come out of that unapologetic nature of the female character, because in our society — and in television — we don’t see a lot of women who are unapologetic, or are sort of OK with how they are in life, and whether or not that meets everyone’s norm. She’s not struggling to understand herself — she already knows herself. She’s just discovering her superpower, in a way [laughing].

Girlfriend Experience Season 1

 

Rotten Tomatoes: When do we see the real Christine? Is it when she’s working, or out socially, or alone?

Seimetz: I think that’s up to the viewer to decide. Part of the allure of what we wanted to do from the series is for the viewer to constantly question who the real person is. Whether Christine is herself when she is doing her law stuff or if she is herself when she is with her clients, I don’t think any one personality is that simple. I like to say that I am myself no matter what, but I don’t treat the clerk at the grocery store like I do my mother. I feel like we’re all playing roles every time we make a transaction or every time we are in social settings. Not that we’re all completely changing our point of view, but we are all sort of playing a certain part that participates in whatever is convenient to the situation.

Rotten Tomatoes: You mentioned earlier that you interviewed people in the industry. What other research did you do to put this together?

Seimetz: When [Steven] Soderbergh first called me – he really did call me on my telephone and just offered me a television show. That really happened [laughing]. It was crazy, just weird. I think I was at Whole Foods or something in Vancouver, and I didn’t have good reception, so I had to step out into the parking lot and answer his call. That makes me sound so bougie: “I was at Whole Foods…” I’ve had a weird life. When I was on the phone with him I said, “What do we do next?” because I didn’t know what to do. He said, “Oh, we’re going to fly to Northern California and we’re going to interview some high end escorts — or GFEs [industry acronym for girlfriend experience].” I said, “OK!” So [Philip] Fleishman — one of the other executive producers, I think — I’ve asked him — I think he just cold emailed then on the internet [laughing] and found some women to come in and do this interview. I think there was a lot of, you know, “No, it’s legit” on his part. Anyhow, he found someone then, and then there was a woman that Steven used that was his consultant on the movie as well that we interviewed. And they’re all very different. The thing that I find most interesting is that they are all very unapologetic about what they do. They don’t feel bad about it. Also even on the topic of whether it’s right or wrong, they just kind of shrug and say, “This is what I do. You can believe whatever you want to believe, but this is what I do and it’s fine for me.” Which I find really, really awesome.

gf8 edit

 

I’m not a religious person and I’m not a judgmental person, and if women are willingly doing this and they really want to be doing this and they’re really fine with it, then I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to “save them.” Obviously there’s a whole underbelly that is not the world that we are exploring. Any sort of industry has its own underbelly of abuse and slavery, right? That’s sort of my take on the whole thing: you take any industry and there’s going to be abuse of power and abuse of human beings and different variations of it. Whether it’s people participating in a willing act and they’re adults, obviously, that’s completely different.

Even that story that apparently James Franco just bought the rights to, the woman [Zola] that took the trip to Florida. It’s actually really fascinating. This woman was a stripper in Detroit and she went with this other woman who was a stripper. They went on this road trip to Florida and she quickly found out that she was pressured/manipulated into becoming a prostitute. This guy was putting out ads on her and whatever. But what I found is, it is extremely entertaining but, at the same time, when I found myself reading it, this is so upsetting and it seems much more common of how women end up becoming forced into this situation. All of this stuff happens — people get kidnapped, people get this [and that] — but I think in America when we talk about people being forced into the industry, I think it’s much more manipulative. It’s people that you know and trust and are preying on sort of an emotional weakness that [the victims] have. I find that really fascinating as well, which is a completely different world.

Girlfriend Experience

 

I think that’s also why I find our lead character — or women who want to be doing this — so interesting. They are breaking so many social codes that we expect from this line of profession — that they are willingly entering into a situation of objectification or whatever you want to call it. But they like it and they want to be doing it. Do they love their clients? Do they like their clients? I don’t know how to answer that — it’s not for me to answer that — but I think that’s why it’s so fascinating and why I think it’s so alluring — stepping into this situation that seems so dangerous and nasty. But a lot of these women have clients for, like, ten years and more, in specific instances. I’m not saying that’s the norm. It’s just this specific world that you enter willingly and you enter in the sort of higher-end world where they are looking for somebody who is intelligent and college-educated. This is an echelon of prostitution that isn’t across the board. It’s a specific world. And they want women who are intelligent and obviously beautiful. But for the most part, the women that we interviewed were very beautiful, but they just seemed normal. I think that was the appeal. They didn’t seem like what you would expect. You wouldn’t be able to point them out in a room and say, “That’s a prostitute.” Put it that way.


The Girlfriend Experience premieres Sunday on Starz at 8 p.m.


Coraline

Seven years in the making, Henry Selick’s Coraline is a mind- boggling feat of stop motion animation. Presented in glorious 3-D as a Sydney Film Festival first, Selick’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s award winning 2002 novella harks back to the spooky traditions of the Brothers Grimm.

In classic fable lore, Coraline is the story of a girl moving to a new home with her neglectful parents. Discovering an alternate world where her ‘Other Mother’ dotes on her, Coraline delights in this greener grass until she realises that all is not what it seems.

Thematically and visually, Coraline is like a delightful cocktail of Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia and Pan’s Labyrinth, with a sprinkle of Psycho and a dash of Beetle Juice. Selick — who has The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach to his name — is clearly in his element. He unapologetically subjects his pint-sized protagonist to the dark, Grimm story of a dream disintegrating into a nightmare. Indeed the film strays far into the shadows, despite looking like a kids film.

Breathing life into Selick’s magnificent animation is the talented voice work of Dakota Fanning (Coraline), Teri Hatcher (Mother/Other Mother), Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (as the batty burlesque duo Miss Forcible and Miss Spink). Ian McShane rounds out the cast as the captivating circus type Mr. Bobinksi. It is a testament to the these actors and Selick’s adaptation that you come away from the film wanting to spent more time with this colourful cast of characters.

Colourful they most certainly are, thanks to Selick’s marvellous team of animators. The visuals are, quite simply, magic and fortunately they chose to avoid using the 3-D in a kitschy way, opting instead for the effects to be seamlessly woven into the world of Coraline.

Fascinating too is the reflexive use of animation. As the film careens towards its climax, the alternate world literally crumbles under Coraline’s actions in a way that seems to investigate the art of animation itself. A world so long in the making being dramatically unravelled — back to a blank canvas — just as easily works for the story as it describes the filmmaking process.

However this undoing occurs a little too abruptly. For a film that spends so much time establishing not one world but two, Coraline‘s climactic ‘game’ feels rushed, which almost threatens to undermine the central conceit created by the old adage: ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul.’

Despite this concern — which again stems from a desire to spend more time in this world — Coraline is a beautifully realised, modern day fairytale. Following in the footsteps of beloved classics, Gaiman and Selick privilege the macabre over the saccharine to create a familiar fable for future generations.


The Girlfriend Experience

“Did you like the movie?”

“It wasn’t what I expected.”

Sex and lies are back on videotape in Steven Soderbergh’s latest cinematic experiment, The Girlfriend Experience. In his second low budget digital feature for HDNet (the first being 2005’s Bubble) Soderbergh offers us a slice of life from high-class escort, Chelsea (Sasha Grey) as she navigates clients, business and love amidst the tumult of the Global Financial Crisis and the 2008 Presidential Election.

At the festival to introduce the film, Ms. Grey revealed this backdrop was really a coincidence and that the film is, “responding in real time” to the economic collapse. This can only add another feather to Soderbergh’s stuffed cap — that he was able to shift gears to capture the Zeitgeist in such an intimate and powerful way.

In fact this portrait of Chelsea is probably more about the real whores of Manhattan — the corporate elite — who are captured in all their narcissistic glory as Soderbergh cuts between dates, life and a group of guys en route to a lost weekend in Vegas. Although shot in chronological order, Soderbergh creates a tapestry of referential edits, where a word or a throwaway line can trigger a cut to another scene. Chelsea’s emotional arch is probably the one through line, though ’emotional’ is certainly not the word you’d use to describe Grey’s performance.

Indeed Chelsea is so aloof, with cold eyes and a reluctant smile that one wonders what kind of girlfriend experience she was trying for. Her flat affect only accentuates this — even in her quasi declaration of love — that one can only presume this was Soderbergh’s intention, rather than Grey’s inexperience in mainstream filmmaking. It could be that Chelsea is a cypher, a non-entity upon which men can foist their own girlfriend experience. This certainly seemed the case, where Chelsea asked her dates about their lives (and their wives), or sometimes merely sat in silence across from client’s litany of woes.

Countering Chelsea’s steely professionalism is real-life film journalist Glen Kenny’s turn as the erotic connoisseur. In the post-screening Q&A Grey disclosed Soderbergh’s directorial note behind Kenny’s hilarious and improvised dialogue: he should act like Harry Knowles.

However the real scene-stealer is Soderbergh’s cinematography. From the mix of warm and cool tones in the mise-en-scene to the almost omnipresent Arco lamp, it is Soderbergh’s composition, and particularly his use of focus, that is truly a joy to experience. Shot using available light, this film is assuredly a more-than-money-can-buy advertisement for the luminous capabilities of the Red Camera.

In a world where acronyms abound, Soderbergh brings us an intelligent, provocative and uniquely cinematic combination of the GFE and the GFC.


The Girlfriend Experience

As it heads towards its untimely finale, the 56th Sydney Film Festival’s final week has served up some fine first-runs for these shores (Black Dynamite, In the Loop and Soul Power all being standouts) and a bizarre bag of ‘international guests’.

Case #1: Sasha Grey. A last-minute addition to the festival’s sparse ‘star’ power, Ms Grey will be familiar to many as an infamous flesh-baring face of porn. Having ‘gone serious’ (i.e. quit porn), the 21-year-old found a sympathetic (or exploitative?) ear in director Steven Soderbergh (he being the man who made sex, lies and videotape all those years ago). Soderbergh’s latest chin-stroking offering? The Girlfriend Experience (or ‘Experiment’ as one colleague dubbed it). Cue a series of rambling, sexless scenes involving our gal as an escort, with a wet, fitness-instructor boyfriend, and a clutch of fat cats offering pointless drivel about the Global Financial Crisis. Read: This film is relevant. Only it’s not. Being a fan of Soderbergh, I was dismayed to find the film smacking of opportunism, pretension and a shallow, soul-less narrative. But the film will no doubt fair reasonably well in arthouse locales on Oxford Street.


Teri Hatcher (left) in Coraline

Case #2: Teri Hatcher. I was dubious, to say the least, when we were told at the festival’s launch some weeks ago that a Desperate Housewife — with less than a stellar career in film — would be the ‘big name’ for this year’s event. The film she’s plugging — the animated Coraline — may be good, but does anyone even vaguely interested in movies give a toss about a TV star? I doubt it.

Case #3: James Nesbitt. Although not publicised for his presence here, the Cold Feet star has been spotted about town (a bit like Pink, who’s here on tour), supposedly soaking up what’s left of our beloved-but-threadbare main event that is the festival. I’m sure he’s a lovely chap, but can’t we do any better than a lukewarm body part, a forgotten Star Trek co-star, or a porn queen who’s disturbingly young to be suddenly craving credibility?


Ché

Red-carpet ranting aside, the final weekend has much to offer (hats off to the programmers for some very impressive selections this year). Soderbergh’s other festival highlight, Ché (yep, the Cuban revolutionary on t-shirts the world over) stretches across five hours, is split into two parts, and has its only screening on Sunday.

And to close the old dog? A sea of speeches, awards that have to handed out, and possibly a back-slap or two. The film that wraps up the whole thing: Denmark’s Lone Scherfig’s latest, An Education, filmed in England. Just imagine if we’d had Black Dynamite or In the Loop as the finale. They’d be breaking the doors down.

The Girlfriend Experience screens Friday June 12 at 7.15pm and Saturday June 13 at 10am at the State Theatre, Market Street.

Coraline screens Saturday June 13 at 12pm at Hoyts-Greater Union, George Street.

Ché parts 1 and 2 screens Sunday June 14 at 2.15pm at the State Theatre.

An Education screens Sunday June 14 at 7.30pm at the State Theatre.

For full program details, see the Sydney Film Festival’s website

This week at the movies, we’ve got deadly machines (Terminator Salvation, starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington); historical hysterics (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, starring Ben Stiller and Amy Adams); and dance fever (Dance Flick, starring Damon Wayans Jr. and Craig Wayans). What do the critics have to say?



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Terminator Salvation

With Terminator Salvation, director McG has brought the venerable sci-fi/action series back to the screen, with plenty of chases, explosions, and yes, machines. But critics say he’s forgotten the key ingredient that made the originals so compelling (besides Arnold, of course) — the human factor. Christian Bale is John Connor, leading the human resistance against Skynet, which has conquered our dystopian planet with its armies of Terminators. The pundits say the action sequences are well handled, but the performances are middling, and the story inspires little emotional investment. Salvation is the worst-reviewed entry in the Terminator franchise. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Bale’s best-reviewed films, and Jen Gets Terminated, in which RT editor Jen Yamato provides her take on every film in the franchise.)



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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Night at the Museum was a big hit with audiences (if not with reviewers), so a sequel was inevitable. And the result, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, is bigger and better than the first, while still overdosing on comic mayhem. Ben Stiller returns as hapless night watchman Larry Daley, whose pals at the Museum of Natural History have been inadvertently shipped to the Smithsonian in Washington, where they’re threatened by such baddies as Al Capone and Napoleon; fortunately, Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) is on hand to help. The pundits say this Night is funnier and more madcap than its predecessor, but it’s essentially a series of loosely connected gags, with precious little discipline to make it work as a whole, and it squanders a veritable all-star team of comedic talent.



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Dance Flick

Dance Flick is yet another spoof of contemporary cinematic tropes, a subgenre that has been critically ravaged in recent years. However, the critics find Dance Flick to be one of the better recent entries – which is hardly a glowing recommendation. Featuring a veritable army of Wayans in front of and behind the camera, Dance Flick aims to score laughs by mining the rich comic vein of such deathless classics as Save the Last Dance, Step Up, and High School Musical. And the pundits say the Wayans’ relentless energy is good for a few chuckles, but overall, Dance Flick is essentially a scattershot collection of gags that only occasionally hit their targets.


Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Burma VJ, which compiles footage from video journalists’ chronicles of living conditions in dictatorial Myanmar, is at 92 percent.
  • Kabei: Our Mother, a delicate drama about a woman’s efforts to keep her family together in the midst of World War II, is at 88 percent.
  • O’Horten, an absurdist Norwegian comedy about a retired train engineer, is at 84 percent.
  • The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story, a doc about the acrimonious relationship between the siblings who crafted some of Disney’s most memorable movie music, is at 83 percent.
  • Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight, a doc about the graphic designer who co-founded New York Magazine and created the iconic “I (heart) New York” logo, is at 83 percent.
  • Steven Soderbergh‘s The Girlfriend Experience, staring Sasha Grey as a high-end call girl who offers her clients a quasi-relationship, is at 72 percent.
  • Easy Virtue, starring Jessica Biel and Colin Firth in an adaptation of a Noel Coward play about the shakeup caused by a posh Brit’s marriage to an American racecar driver, is at 67 percent.

  • Sasha Grey

    Filmmaker
    Steven Soderbergh made waves when he premiered his latest film,
    The
    Girlfriend Experience
    , at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — not so much due
    to its subject, a high class call girl, but rather thanks to who plays her:
    adult film actress
    Sasha Grey, the 21-year-old award-winning star of countless
    films we can’t mention here. An avowed cinephile and French New Wave enthusiast
    who once considered taking the stage name
    Anna Karina (and has been known as a
    Godard devotee ever since), Grey shared her Five Favorite Films with Rotten
    Tomatoes, revealing a penchant for intense character dramas that dare to be
    honest and open — much like Grey herself. Read on for more about Sasha Grey’s
    Five Favorite Films, her improvised central performance in The Girlfriend
    Experience
    , what it was like to share the screen with film critic
    Glenn Kenny
    (who appears in a cameo role), and more.

     


    Stroszek (1977, 100% Tomatometer)



    Stroszek
    Stroszek
    by Werner
    Herzog
    . It’s such a hard movie not to like. You have this character who has
    these hopes and dreams, he wants to come to America and he’s a struggling,
    failed musician but he also really cares about everybody else around him, and he
    doesn’t judge the people around him, no matter what their faults may be. I like
    the characters and just the story itself.

    Pierrot le Fou (1965, 76% Tomatometer)



    Pierrot Le Fou
    To
    me, it’s just a very romantic story. It’s the ultimate, “let’s just drop
    everything and run away together” movie; the way the story was told was so
    unique. There’s one scene in particular where
    Anna Karina
    is on the beach, and she rolls over and she just says, “F— me.” To put that in
    a film in that time period — you just didn’t expect that to come out of her
    mouth. It’s titillating, I guess you could say.

    Fat Girl (2001, 72% Tomatometer)



    Fat Girl
    I
    don’t really know how to go into detail about it; the story is so intense, and
    you’re not made to feel a certain way towards these characters. You see this mom
    who’s kind of a b—- and doesn’t really care about her youngest daughter, and
    you see this older sister who’s a b—-… especially at the end, you don’t really
    feel sorry for these people.

    I had a list of films that my theater teacher gave me, when I was about 14 or
    15. One of the things he always told the class was you should be watching one
    film per week, to study other actors and study the language of film. Fat Girl
    just happened to be one of the films on the list.

    A Woman Under the Influence (1973, 91% Tomatometer)



    A Woman Under the Influence
    I
    think there’s something about all of these films that resonate with me — they’re
    all stories and situations between characters that you couldn’t make with an
    American studio today. A Woman Under the Influence is so raw, it’s so
    wrong… it’s like, you knew those neighbors. It’s a really emotional film, and I
    think for
    John Cassavetes
    to have his
    own wife
    play that character, it was even more challenging and even more of a risk.

    Escape From New York (1981, 81% Tomatometer)



    Escape From New York
    It’s
    John
    Carpenter
    ! I mean, come on. John Carpenter,
    Kurt Russell
    as f—in’ Snake Plisskin — it doesn’t really get any better than that.

    Was that on your theater teacher’s list?

    It was not. [Laughs]

     

    Can’t get enough Sasha Grey? Check out her Five Favorites in video form when she sat down with our friends at Current


    Next: Sasha Grey talks shooting fast in New York, future roles, and
    dishes the dirt on film critic Glenn Kenny.

    The Girlfriend Experience was shot fast, and beyond writers Brian
    Koppelman and David Levien’s outlines, was highly improvisational. How much of
    your character was laid out for you before you came onboard, and how much did
    you create her yourself?

    SG:  There really was no
    character on paper. I think Steven kind of left that up to me to do or not to
    do, and I thankfully did. I wrote a character back story, and once I was happy
    with that I gave it to Steven and asked him what he thought; he agreed with what
    I had on paper, I guess you could say. A lot of the things in the film were
    actually picked up from two escorts that Steven and I actually met; a lot of the
    idiosyncratic behavior of Christine, or Chelsea — you see her buying a prepaid
    phone, or she screens her clients with these personology books, or the way she
    writes in her diary — a lot of those things were picked up from these women we
    met. The casting director sent us links to these anonymous escorting blogs and I
    read those; I tried to incorporate as much as I could into this character
    because I knew going on set, Steven would want a very natural reaction in all of
    the scenes. So it was finding a way to build this character and who she is, but
    at the same time allowing these natural reactions to happen.

    [rtimage]MapID=1211836&MapTypeID=2&photo=1&legacy=1[/rtimage]

    If the shoot lasted only 16 days, how much prep time did you
    spend — working with Steven or otherwise — prior to filming?

    SG: A lot of the things I did were solitary, because he
    didn’t want me to do a lot. From the first time I met him to the time we went
    into preproduction, it was a year and a half. In the in-between time I would
    keep in touch with him, and I asked him if there were any films he wanted me to
    watch, and he only named two: Vivre sa vie and Pierrot le fou. Aside from that,
    I spent a good two, two and a half months [preparing].

    Since Rotten Tomatoes is a film review site, I wanted to zero in
    on one of your co-stars in particular: film critic Glenn Kenny, who plays an
    escort blogger dubbed the “Erotic Connoisseur.” Tell us what it was like to work
    with him.

    SG: He was just brilliant. It was so hard for me not to
    laugh at some of the s— he said. We actually talked about it a couple of weeks
    ago when he interviewed me in New York, but that was… he was just insane. You
    could tell he was a writer [from his dialogue], because he was just so good at
    it.

    [rtimage]MapID=1211836&MapTypeID=2&photo=3&legacy=1[/rtimage]

    As an actress, musician, and adult film star, how much does the
    concept of persona play a part in your life, both professional and personal?

    SG: I would say there’s about ten percent reserved for me,
    and it’s mostly to do with personal safety issues. I really try to be honest and
    open, and to be myself, as much as I can, and I think that’s important
    especially dealing with the primary industry that I’m in. So I try not to have a
    separation between the two, and I just look at it as my life, and not just my
    career. I think the only thing I don’t do as much publicly is, I probably curse
    a lot more when I’m with my friends.

    Will we see you in the near future in more mainstream roles?

    SG: I actually have a film coming up in August, it’s a lead
    role, a great role, and it’s against type. And I have two more that I was
    actually just offered. Another film, Smash Cut, will be coming out at the end of
    the year as well.

     

    Read reviews and more from
    The Girlfriend Experience
    , in theaters this Friday.  For more Five Favorite Films, visit our archive.

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