Humdrum haunted house horror harking the Hammer days but without enough kitsch to make it interesting.

Disappointing that the film is made by the Spierig Brothers whose first film Undead had at least some hokey humour and their follow up films Daybreakers and Predestination were in my top ten for their years.

Since then they have done Jigsaw and now WINCHESTER, both projects that have come to them, not originated by.

WINCHESTER is set just outside San Francisco in what is counted as the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester here played by black clothed and veiled Helen Mirren, heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week mania for decades, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters…

For her niece and young son, this spells spooky doom. For the troubled Doctor Eric Price whom she has summoned to the house under the auspices to report on her sanity, it spells a weird redemption.

There’s no doubt that the Spierig’s are masters of the shock cut and there is palpable frisson of spine tingling follicle raising in some scenes, but the narrative is naff, and there is no leavening humour in the screenplay, which is a very dour and pedestrian affair.

Sarah Snook is impressive as always as the nervous niece who is given a Ripley moment against a couple of sinister spectres and Jason Clarke is solid as the laudanum addicted doctor.

A bit of laugh is to be had at the presence of Bruce Spence as the lurching butler of Sarah Winchester, deliciously deadpan and stoically solid.

The premise of lost souls who have died by firearms and seeks retribution to the weapon makers is an interesting one but given rather too shallow and short shrift here. Instead, there is a spurious connection that the supernatural caused the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.


Bernie Van Tiel (Jade) and Jordan Cowan (Maya) promoting JADE OF DEATH at Fair Day

Stylish and supernaturally creepy, JADE OF DEATH, is making its public premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival on February 23rd.  Lucky me, I had a chance to see the series of 6 x 10 minute shows before it opens as a 60 minute offering.  And luckier still had the chance to speak with Erin Good (writer / director) and Taylor Litton-Strain (producer) of the show. Continue reading JADE OF DEATH: A STYLISH SUPERNATURAL MYSTERY


After a near financial disaster which threatened Tropfest’s existence it has risen phoenix like in its new home at the Crescent in Parramatta Park. The fact that it survived is due both to its founder and Executive Chair John Polson and ‘rescue sponsor’ CGU Insurance.

At the time of Tropfest’s existential crisis Susan Sarandon’s attendance had to be deferred.

As a fulfilment of her commitment to attend Ms Sarandon chaired a distinguished group of jurors comprising of Oscar nominated actress Rachel Griffiths, Emmy nominated director Garth Davis (Lion), BAFTA nominated Australian documentarian Jennifer Peedom and  Logie award winning actor Rob Collins (Clever Man).

A crowd of 45,000 watched the 16 short film finalists whose theme this year was the inclusion of a rose.

In a first for Tropfest, during intermission, a crowd was entertained by multi award winner Tim Minchin, and the evening proceedings were hosted by Andy Ryan, Christie Best, Zan Rowe, and Susie Youssef.

After a long wait for the jury’s decision 23 year old  Greta Nash’s film, Two Piece  was announced as this year’s  Best Film.  It is a tender coming of age film  about a 13 year old girls’ humiliating embarrassment- shopping for a bikini with her mother.

Two Piece lead actress fourteen year old Freya Van Dyke was judged Best Female Actress for her poignant performance.

Thirty three year old Hugo Johnstone-Burt won  Best Male Actor for his role as a terrified delivery man in COMBINATION  FRIED RICE.

Nick Baker and Tristan Klein took home Second Prize for ROCK BOTTOM and Third Prize went to Damian McLindon for THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU.

Trop Jr, held earlier in the day, for filmmakers 15 years and under was won by Tadji Ulrich.

Next year’s theme for Tropfest is candle and for Trop Jr is pizza.

Featured image – Best Actress Freya Van Dyke (‘Two Piece’) with Best Actor Hugo Johnstone-Burt (‘Combination Fried Rice’). Pics by Ben Apfelbaum.





Image above from TropJr winning film: Outcasts Anonymous
Banner Image: Best Actor winner: Dad from Rainbow Chasers

It’s the urban noise we all recognise , a large group of teenagers excited about something.  Travelling up the escalator to the cinema for the TropJr judging, the noise is inescapable.  And it’s not just the competitors in the prestigious event who have a buzz about them.  Siblings and carers all gather to watch as we media take photos, chat with the young people and do on camera interviews. Continue reading TECHNICAL SKILL THE MAIN INGREDIENT FOR TROPJR FINALISTS


Madman Entertainment will shortly be bringing you THE DEATH OF STALIN – a bitingly sharp political-satire featuring a stellar ensemble cast including Steve Buscemi, Rupert Friend, Simon Russell, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko and more.

To celebrate the film’s upcoming release Sydney Arts Guide is giving away 20  in-season double passes to see the film. For a chance to win, simply email the Editor on with THE DEATH OF STALIN GIVEAWAY in the subject heading. Please provide your postal address as the passes will be mailed out. Winners will be initially advised by email.

Banned in Russia, and loosely based on true events, THE DEATH OF STALIN will open in cinemas on the 29th March.


The 29th Annual Alliance Francaise French Film Festival is due to begin soon. The Festival will run from the 27th February to the 27th March. As usual, the films will screen at Sydney’s Palace Cinemas; Norton Cinema, Verona Cinema, Chauvel Cinema, Palace Central and the Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne. Continue reading TEN DOUBLE PASSES TO THE FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 2018


Greta Gerwig the actor has undoubtedly benefited from her time on set and in the company of Woody Allen, Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach.

From her exposure to these giants of modern cinema, Greta Gerwig the writer director has blossomed and bloomed, giving us LADYBIRD, a lovely, layered, luminescent work that has earned five Oscar nominations and made the field so much harder to pick.
LADYBIRD elevates the teen/coming of age movie to sacramental level without ever degenerating into the saccharine.

Set in Sacramento in 2002, LADYBIRD is primarily the love story between a mother and her daughter, a love story that is tempestuous, tortured and taut.  Saoirse Ronan plays the title character, a high school senior whose academic achievement is no impediment to her ambition to applying for a university post far from home.

Her mother, Marion, played by the incomparable Laurie Metcalf, wants her to stay at home and attend a local college, a cheaper, practical option.  And so the friction between mother and daughter is fuelled by the dreams of one and the practicality of the other.
In the middle is dad, Larry, played by Tracy Letts, devoted spouse and sperm donor, diplomatically trying to broker peace between the warring factions under his roof.

Ladybird, meanwhile, is experiencing her burgeoning sexuality, and two boys loom large on the canvas of carnal knowledge. These characters are played by Hollywood hot bods, Timothee Chalamet, Oscar nominated for his performance in Call Me By Your Name, and Lucas Hedges, currently playing Frances McDormand’s son in the Oscar nominated Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

With LADYBIRD, Greta Gerwig has made a film that takes place immediately in the post-9/11 world, which ushered in the complete erosion of the middle class in America. The invasion of Iraq and the terror of war and the uncertainty of the job market are effectively used as the backdrop to crushes and conflicts, families and friendships, illustrating how life doesn’t divide itself up into subjects.

There’s not history over there and personal life over here. It all happens together.

The characters in LADYBIRD are fascinating and embraceable because of their flaws, not in spite of them. Supporting players are given their own weight and back stories.

Ladybird steeps herself in the school dramatic society and Gerwig has endeavoured to shoot the picture always having a sense of the proscenium, of the film unfolding in a series of placed scenes like Stations of the Cross presents the story of the Passion.  Certainly Catholicism pervades the picture with its aspects of faith, forgiveness and reconciliation.

LADYBIRD is laugh out loud funny and feel inside deeply. Greta Gerwig, nominated for both writing and directing Oscars, has re-imagined the teen movie, just as Guillermo Del Toro has redefined the creature feature in The Shape of Water.



Seeking to repeat the success of the Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, director Stephan Elliott has written yet another comedy lit by a harsh Australian sun, illuminating the garish coloured wardrobe of its actors.

SWINGING SAFARI is set on  the Gold Coast at the height of a 1970’s summer. The comedy seeks to capture the innocence of an era of constant sunburn, careless parenting and lewd adult behaviour.

The film has an all star cast including Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce, Rhada Mitchell, Julian McMahon, Asher Keddie and Jeremy Sims.

SWINGING SAFARI opened in cinemas on the 18th January.






This year’s Red Carpet was a victim of the success of our industry. Most of our biggest stars were working overseas and unable to attend, nevertheless there was enough glitz and glamour on show at Star City to satisfy even the most jaded paparazzo. These are some of my favourite pics.  

Featured image – Susan Prior and Damian Walshe-Howling. All pics (c) Ben Apfelbaum.


This image: Janie Dee as Phyllis Rogers Stone in FOLLIES at the National Theatre (c) Johan Persson

Sondheim fans rejoice! This is a dazzling , very moving absolutely HUGE production with a cast of 37 and incredible costumes.

The original Broadway production of FOLLIES was in 1971. This is the first time FOLLIES has been staged by the National in the UK . Here in Australia , there have been a couple of concert versions – 1998 and 2016 but so far as I am aware no fully staged version .
Directed by Dominic Cooke FOLLIES has an absolutely stellar cast led by among others Imelda Staunton and Philip Quast. Maestro Nigel Lilley conducts a fabulous orchestra of 21 that is hidden from view but plays superbly. Continue reading NT LIVE: FOLLIES


Saroo Brierley 

TROPTALKS are here and with the extraordinary array of guest speakers, tickets will be snapped up quickly.

Presented by Western Sydney University  TROPTALKS are part of a week-long extravaganza of events, including the Craft Awards, Launch Party, and Trop Jr; with the week coming to a spectacular finale with the Tropfest main event on Saturday 17 February at Parramatta Park. Continue reading TROPTALKS ARE HERE: BETTER BUY QUICK


As the debate continues about the appropriate date to celebrate our national day, a provocative piece of programming invades our cinemas this Australia Day.

SWEET COUNTRY begins with a close up of a boiling cauldron into which first is placed a black substance, soil, perhaps, followed by a white additive, sugar maybe. The audio is of a confrontation, a fight between men.  This simmering commencement is an encapsulation of the themes examined in Warwick Thornton’s expansive film. Continue reading SWEET COUNTRY: FIRST GREAT AUSTRALIAN FILM OF THIS YEAR


This image: ROCK BOTTOM

Following on from the recent news that Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon is heading the Jury this year, Tropfest today announced the 16 finalist films for Tropfest 2018, supported by foundation partner CGU Insurance. Diverse cultural perspectives, poignant dramas and hilarious comedies take center stage in the kaleidoscope of films set to premiere on Saturday 17 February 2018 at Parramatta Park, on a live national broadcast on ABC COMEDY, and livestreamed online on YouTube globally. Continue reading TROPFEST FINALISTS ANNOUNCED


Royal Opera House 2017/18 Live Cinema Season begins in February with RIGOLETTO.

Featuring filmed performances from the world-renowned Royal Opera House in London, the program presents the very best opera and ballet from the iconic venue, captured in jaw-dropping detail for Australian audiences to enjoy as if they were there themselves. Continue reading ROYAL OPERA HOUSE LIVE CINEMA SEASON


This image: Still from LOVE , ELLA. Katerina (Kat) Alexander
Banner image: Shooting RUN (Matthew Simmons)

In contrast to last year when it was so hot that the Trop Jnr films were transferred indoors, the announcements of the finalists for Trop Jnr this year was full of shivers.  At Old Government House Rotunda, Parramatta Park there was no shortage of lip gloss, leather jackets protecting young men and women from the wind and of course, caps on backwards. Nervous chatter from the young people and proud mums and dads comparing notes about other events and the legalities of copyright filled the space before a laughter filled group photo of the many creatives in front of the Tropfest Wall.  Continue reading TROP JNR FINALISTS ANNOUNCED


Nominated for six Oscars, PHANTOM THREAD is an exquisite achievement of narrative power, visual splendour and aural perfection, redolent of the best of Hollywood’s golden years.

Nominated for Best Picture of the Year, PHANTOM THREAD is the sum total of its awesome collaborative parts. Continue reading PHANTOM THREAD: SWOON SWANSONG FOR DAY-LEWIS