Kick-Ass is undoubtedly a truly fun experience for watching. It’s filled with stabs of smart, profane humour and knowing touches and nods to inspirations peppered throughout. The performances, particularly from the future superstar Aaron Johnson and the ridiculously precocious Chloe Moretz are superb. The action sequences, though occasionally creaking under budgetary concerns, are packed to the gills with energy and kineticism. They may occasionally lose touch of themselves, but they have a slick vein of humour that drives all the events which occur.
But… I have seen precious little comment about the way that the violence is depicted, not on an aesthetic level but on an emotional, consequential level. As with Wanted, also based on a Mark Millar graphic novel, Kick-Ass revels in the violence and killing perpetrated by both the good and bad guys. We are consistently told to chuckle at the ultra-violent content, including a man exploding, one being eliminated in a car crusher and numerous splattering headshots.
I’m not preaching that this is necessarily wrong, director/writer Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman are going for something, and they mostly succeed. This is supposed to be a post-modern superhero story which nods and winks at its knowing, desensitised audience. You could even make an argument that the film is so arch as to be specifically pointing out this macabre sensibility in its audience, akin to Haneke in Funny Games, but I don’t think that’s where is going. If so, this is a film which has its cake, the person’s next to it and then eats everyone’s.
The killing that happens is so fetishised and so cheered it’s very hard to feel anything but a little discomfort at what you are seeing. There would appear to be a stupefying lack of emotional consequence to the violence which happens, even though much of the violence which happens is driven by emotional concerns. Sure, the Hit-Girl and Big Daddy characters are seeking revenge, but shouldn’t there at least be a slight acknowledgement in Hit-Girl’s character of the amount of murder she takes part in? Many of the human characters in the film, henchman though they may be, are dispatched with such a sense of glee, with no remorse or consequence for the perpetrator. There is no recourse to the violence, it just happens and we are supposed to cheer and laugh. It may be in a comic-book world, but there just seems too much having and eating of cake going on for me.
At the UK premiere of Invictus, Matt Damon has said that the next Bourne film is likely to be a prequel or a reboot (shudder!!). Add to that the reboot of Spiderman which is on the way and the only comment I can make is “What the heck are movie companies thinking of?”
First off, spend five minutes with me and you will realise I am not a big fan of reboots. The only film that was rebooted recently and was likeable (Batman Begins aside) was in my opinion Star Trek, which I thought was very good, but I have seen it three times now and each time I like it less, so this is subject to change. My main problem with reboots of recent years is that they seem to miss the point. The first that springs to mind is the upcoming remake/reboot of Lake Mungo, a flawed but very good Australian horror/thriller. This film was made on a shoestring budget and is shot like a documentary (the film has a very Discovery Channel feel to it), and the shocks mainly come from this premise – clips are re-shown and zoomed in to reveal that a parent’s dead daughter is in the frame. Now I speak the honest truth here when I say the reboot is about to be made without ANY documentary style footage. My first reaction to this would be “then it’s not a reboot, it’s a different film”!
That is like making The Red Shoes without any dancing, Jurassic Park without dinosaurs, rebooting Clerks with a $300m budget.
My second problem with this news is that the Bourne Supremacy got its ITV premiere in 2009, that is, less than a year ago this film was seen for the first time on terrestrial TV; the trilogy was released on Blu-ray in June 2009. Now to me, this is probably at least 10-15 years too early for a re-imagining of a show, I mean, to be honest the final film in Paul Greengrass’ trilogy is still quite fresh in my mind, the DVD hasn’t even got a scratch on it yet for god’s sake and I double up DVDs as beer mats!
Thirdly (and finally you will be pleased to know), what are they trying to achieve? The three films gained critical acclaim and as previously stated in my top films of the decade, forced Bond to reinvent itself. They also grossed $945 million worldwide, so in what way can they improve with a reboot? With Spiderman, while it didn’t receive critical acclaim, the 3 films manage to acquire a large amount of moolah for all parties involved.
Now, I am by no means an oracle – these films could surprise me and be great and make me say that the originals were trash. My opinions of reboots could change if a few came along where the director has obviously made a conscious effort to keep the spirit of the movie, if they started rebooted bad adaptations (Silent Hill for one), but when you start messing with classic films like Predator, Halloween and Robocop they are fighting a losing battle.
There is plenty of criticism to fling at the article written on The Quietus this week by Josh Saco seemingly in defence of Peter Jackson, currently drowining under a flood of criticism for his The Lovely Bones adaptation. Just for the purpose of keeping this simple, I’ll concentrate on the assertions made about the film itself and its place in Jackson’s body of work.
“In The Lovely Bones he plays out his darkest, most macabre, and most mature film to date, exploring the afterlife and life in ways he never has before.”
I would agree that Jackson definitely explores the afterlife in ways he, indeed no one, has done before. Jackson’s CGI-rendered afterlife, or ‘In-Between’, involves shifting landscapes of mountains, perfect green grass and glistening bodies of water. The CGI (and I realise how much I have marked myself out as a luddite-misanthrope as regards this technology) is unbelievably poor for the man behind the creation of Golem. There are moments in which it resembles a PS1-era edition of Final Fantasy, while the man appears pathologically intent on using effects work even when simply having a camera move through a window. Not a spectacular, otherworldly window, just a basic window which could have been built without even one computer in the room.
Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street investment house, is reportedly harbouring plans to make its ‘Hollywood Stock Exchange’ fake money spread-betting game a reality, offering investors the opportunity to make real-money bets on the financial performance of films.
Though the concerns around this are far beyond the movie world – insider trading likelihood, expanding the volume of risky products at market etc. – this could likely have some serious consequences for the quality of movies that come out of Hollywood.
Studios are already overly-focused on money-making in the films they release. This is not necessarily a negative; movie-making is a business and all movies, all of them, are not made with the aim of losing money. But the skewed view which has been fostered in Hollywood is that bigger is better or, more expensive is better. Blockbusters like Transformers 2 and Avatar, and before them the superhero and comic book adaptations, have become the central currency of Hollywood.
Audiences have been conditioned not to see films because of the talent behind them, but because of what the film is about. This has driven the growth of the wide universe of films based on existing properties (superhit children’s books, superhero comics) and has caused nothing but problems for the auteur-based projects out there. Even when you see an anomalous hit (Inglourious Basterds and District 9), this seems to have almost no influence on what kind of movies are coming out of Hollywood. They continue to operate on the assumption that the more money you spend, on production and marketing, the more money you will make at the box-office.
It’s hard to argue that this isn’t normally the case, though the reason that these films do so well is never down to the quality of the product. The behemoth summer releases are scattered across the season in a bid to make sure that, essentially, there is no other choice for the passive movie-goer. When they turn up at the cinema looking to see a film, there is a good chance that Transformers will be on in five of the twenty screens at their local multiplex and probably starting every half-hour or so. What we snobby critics and cinephiles would describe at the ‘worthy’ releases get relegated to sparse showings at inhospitable times of the day, or are just ejected from multiplexes altogether, meaning that casual watchers, those who really drive up box-office, don’t see them through a combination of inconvenience and ignorance.
Should this Cantor plan come into play – and any improvement in the economic environment and return of confidence to investment markets would make this almost inevitable, if only in germ form at first – it would surely only encourage studios to focus on huge movies, placing all their available energy into the tentpole releases so as to make them as profitable as possible. There is a chance that this could well mean that studios take more notice of aspects like script, character and direction if they do this, therefore maximising the change of turning a profit. But the incredible success of Avatar, for all its qualities, would, I venture, communicate to studios that big and simple is the best way to go. Unfortunately, the component they would fail to note would be James Cameron (or, The Talent) which is what actually turned the film into something special and successful. Chuck a journeyman behind the camera and Avatar would have fallen into the annals of flop history.
In addition, making a spread-betting market for movies would instantly shift the business aspects further to the centre of investor thought, meaning that any concerns over the quality of movies would become further sidelined (check out this Raw Story article on the news). Through neat trickery, brokers would be able to shift enough money around that even bad or unsuccessful movies become profitable, something which would remove that consideration in the minds of executives to make films, you know, ‘good’.
This is all conjecture at this point. It could well be that studios will become more cautious with budgets and spread marketing spend across their properties to achieve profit from all releases. The drop in production budgets could well have the influence that so many wanted District 9 to have this past year in making directors have to improvise and get creative due to constraints in what they can do. Plus, spreading around marketing budgets would give many independent films a significant boost in the amount of money they have to promote themselves. It’s possible that this could be a hugely positive move for the quality of output in Hollywood.
Of course, the actual problems with this lie in the risk profile of such investments, so whether the quality of films coming out of Hollywood will rise or fall will be of little concern to financial regulatory authorities. Still, worth a thought as to whether a shift in the financial model of Hollywood could prove good or bad for the industry, because heaven knows the current model is resolutely failing to promote everything equally and has skewed the focus from art to business.
I liked Tom Ford’s debut film quite a bit. An adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name, the film is meticulously constructed throughout, both in terms (predictably) of the costumes and set design and the editing style. The latter probably harms the film somewhat, especially during the first few scenes in which Ford and editor Joan Sobel intercut and jump-cut all over the place. It does have a jarring impact which reduces as the film goes on, but it causes the first ten/fifteen minutes to be confrontationally creative and difficult for the audience to sink into.
The film succeeds through two components. The performances are excellent; Julianne Moore is superb but she does slightly suffer from her English accent which dives between the Queen’s and an East London trader in her closing inflections. Colin Firth though, who I’ve never been a fan of, is astounding. So easily is this the best performance of his career, that you worry that he will end up missing out on the Oscar (probably owing to Academy atonement towards Jeff Bridges) on the one occasion when he has absolutely found a synergy between his style and a character. More of that on the coming podcast.
The other thing that A Single Man does perfectly is intimacy. The relationships between all the characters are pitched just right. Firth and Moore, playing old friends and former flames – before Firth fell in love with Matthew Goode’s enchanter – manage to communicate all the years of hurt and regret which would exist between friends in which friendship is the desire for only one of the two. Moore, despite the accent issues, carries in her eyes all the years of quiet heartbreak which erupt into unintended attacks in a couple of barbed exchanges. Better though is Firth and Goode’s relationship. The two complement each other beautifully, and the scene in which the two are listening to music, huddled on a sofa and both reading, wholly captures the kind of quiet intimacy that any long-term, utterly right-for-each-other couple would have.
On Valentine’s Day weekend, in which the television screens will be bombarded by constant romantic comedies and the cinema is clogged by the shit-tacular-looking smugfest named after the day, you would be well advised to take the moments between Firth and Goode in this film as both an antidote to the saccharine crap being pushed onto you and as a touching representation of true love.
Kevin Smith has made an appeal to fans to donate to back his next movie, the long-delayed horror movie Red State, after heeding a suggestion made to him through Twitter.
There has been some backlash against the idea, and it doesn’t seem even close to fullproof, but this could prove a really interesting acid test of a new financing model for moviemaking. Smith is a famous enough director, with his first studio film (and first non-written director project) coming out soon, that he will garner much in the way of press coverage for the move. If successful it could open some doors for those with difficult and uncommercial projects to get to market.
The problem, as I see it, is unfortunately potentially multifold. First, there is a need to consider that you are making a commercial product which will seek to generate a profit. Taking donations to do finance this could prove troublesome unless Smith pledges to put all profits into his next project or redistribute the profits to the donors, effectively transforming them into investors. That would undermine the process in the first place to a degree, although the lack of clarity over how the system would work is, in itself, slightly troubling. If this is to work then Smith will have to put together a real-life business plan to outline his plans
The second major issue is the potential backlash which could come should the fans decide they want to have a little creative control over the project. If there are particularly hefty donors, which is a problem which could easily be remedied through creating an actual business plan and providing information on how much one could donate, there is a danger that, given they are currently not going to be expecting any kind of return, that they will want to get special consideration on their creative desires. Any sense that this would be turning into a crowdsourced movie could well end up with a supersize disaster/experiment which Smith won’t want to get involved in.
However, if successful, it does put the fans into the power seat, at least in a very small way. The people who actually care enough to have a movie made, people you could argue are true fans of moviemaking, would have a hand in the industry, something which may drive young filmmakers to start to consider the method for financing their own smaller pictures. Though it would require a significant amount of money, and a strong donation infrastructure, to succeed, this could definitely start a grass roots movement in moviemaking if the right intentions are able to take precedence.
There has yet to be a great use of the internet as a distribution model reaching a wide audience for new filmmakers. What is out there appears often too niche or exclusive (the very cool but uber-artsy Garage, part of The Auteurs) to really capture the imagination. I have only cynicism that the likes of Michael Bay will ever be defeated by the small, heartfelt independent moviemaking which keeps the art form rolling, but at least a black eye could be dealt to the industry if enough smart, committed people can take the germ of the idea from Smith and run with it.
Lists are made to be argued with, so I won’t deny that primal urge, but I do feel obligated to hold onto Movie Overdose’s position as the only, and it does seem only, defender of Batman & Robin as a movie experience.
The film was today voted the worst film of all time by Empire Magazine readers, something I just cannot agree with. I don’t deny that Batman & Robin is a terrible film, but what was everyone expecting? Batman Forever is a far less joyful and dumb experience, one which still believed that things were going down a good path. Joel Schumacher has proved again and again that with a budget, he’s a douche. I was never expecting Batman & Robin to be great and, therefore, why not just sit back and enjoy the relentless stupidity of everything that happens.
Also, consider what it’s actually doing. This is not a film which is pretending to be cool or clever. Everyone in it, especially the dead-eyed Clooney, completely understands that this is a terrible film. Even Schwarzenegger has to bring his quip A-game to the party to attempt to ring some fun out of his insane dialogue. To contend that a film with such low aims doesn’t manage to succeed to meet them is one that lies to opinion. If you feel this film didn’t meet its aims, it probably is among the worst films ever. But I would argue this film meets those low, low aims perfectly well.
Yes, Batman & Robin is a terrible film, but it wholly crosses the line to be so bad it’s watchable. If you are watching this movie with The Dark Knight in mind, shame on you. That film was expected to be, and was, really good. It took a better storyline, better villains, better actors and a much better director and, shock horror, resulted in a better film. Batman & Robin took a dying franchise which thoroughly deserved to die and be taken in a completely different direction and thuddingly, camply thrust the knife into the heart of the series.
Without this overblown mess, you would not have what followed in the future, and there are many more bad films which have pretensions of grandeur and greatness which thoroughly deserve to be consigned to the shitter of history. But let us keep Batman & Robin, the most gloriously terrible superhero film we have.
Reading the most recent issue of Time, there was a brief note during its Oscar predictions on the comparable box-office totals for The Hurt Locker and Avatar.
The first, an essentially apolitical Iraq war movie which explores the psyche of those addicted to conflict, made a total of $12m at the US box-office. That’s a total of $12m over its entire run in the US.
The second, James Cameron’s uber-blockbuster and undoubtedly a treatise on either environmentalism or, pertinently, the imperialist ambitions of the US in the Middle East, has made that per day. Yes, it’s total box-office in the US so far is around $400m, meaning an average of $12m per day.
So, two points. First, any suggestion that movies about Iraq cannot work isn’t quite true, they just have to be 3D and wrapped in Pantheistic theory. Second, isn’t it slightly depressing that a film which seeks so desperately to understand something about the human condition is trounced so heartily by a bloated, arrogant but visually impressive film. An on-mass example of someone fleeing towards the shiny goods instead of the quality produce.
It would seem that, given that the two are emerging as the key contenders for the Oscars this year, that the Academy has an opportunity either to reward hollow commercialism with a mixed message, or vital independent filmmaking in which the ‘message’ is eschewed in favour of probing the mind of those at the heart of our generation’s conflict.
I watched James Gray’s Two Lovers last night, his polarising relationship drama starring Joaquin Phoenix which, inevitably, was unfairly caught in the storm of madness which surrounded his breakdown and (hopefully) botched rap career launch.
Gray’s films are a strange experience. The man appears to have very little sense of irony on the surface of his work, creating worlds which seems to be deadly serious and yet tinged with a sense that a knowing hand is at work. Two Lovers is, for the most part, an extremely uncomfortable experience, in which we are given Phoenix’s Leonard, a bi-polar, semi-suicidal sometime photographer, who falls in love in two completely different ways with two entirely separate potential mates. The first, Sandra (who is played incredibly well by Vinessa Shaw), is the daughter of one of Leonard’s father’s business acquaintances and friends with whom his father is presently seeking to broker a merger of their respective dry cleaning businesses. She makes her attraction to him known during their first exchange alone, giving Leonard the knowledge that this option has become open to him, something he later takes advantage of on two separate occasions.
The other is Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) who is the antithesis of Sandra. She is a fuck-up, a former addict conducting an affair with a middle-aged married man in a city law firm, who moves into Leonard’s building and subsequently his life. There is even a sense that I got that her coming into his world wasn’t entirely by accident on her part. She becomes an infatuation for Leonard, someone for him to look after and play the man for, to take her to hospital appointments and give approval on her lover, all the while harbouring notions of a romantic relationship with her.
The triumph of the film is in making the audience understand these relationships, if only from a distance. I could never place myself within the role of Leonard and understand, despite the heroic ideals she drives in him, why he would persist in going after Michelle. But that would be a view from my perspective. Extracting myself from the story and just watching the characters, richly drawn as they are by Gray, I could wholly empathise with the path that Leonard chooses to take in pursuing something with Sandra.
For Leonard, she represents an opportunity to escape an existence of being looked after. His mother near-coddles him when he is at home. His father allows him unlimited leeway whilst working in their dry cleaners. Even in his burgeoning relationship with Sandra, he becomes the one being looked after, a sense beautifully communicated by a scene in which she purchases him a pair of gloves. Leonard sees in Michelle an opportunity to escape this way of living, to take on the task of being the one doing the looking after.
Yet we understand that this relationship is doomed. Despite understanding Leonard’s attraction to Michelle, Gray leads us constantly into knowing that she will break his heart by the denouement of their relationship. Indeed she does, and the moment forces Leonard into understanding his place in life, that he needs to have someone to look after him. The final few scenes, in which this emotional transition occurs and concludes with Leonard using the ring he bought for Michelle to propose to Sandra, is the moment in which Gray’s film shifts from anthropological study of human love to a truly personally empathetic experience.
The film is imperfect, primarily because the detachment which makes it so admirable does not translate into having a truly emotional experience. But there can be no denying that Gray, for all his lack of subtlety in writing relationships, completely understands the inner motivations and desires of his characters.
So, which year in the last decade was the best for film? For me, the shortlist dropped down to two years immediately, 2000 and 2006.
In a column for the Guardian over the weekend, Joe Queenan used A Serious Man to stand in example of movies by directors which stand apart from the rest of their filmography. In the case of A Serious Man, Queenan writes:
A Serious Man falls into that category of films that, for whatever reason, do not have the same texture or mood as a director’s other films. It may be a decision the film-maker has made deliberately, or it may be entirely inadvertent, but these films stand apart from the other movies in a director’s body of work. It is as if the film-maker abruptly decided to take a holiday from his own personality and make a film in somebody else’s style.
He goes on to cite other examples of this theory for great directors. He notes Werner Herzog for Rescue Dawn (“…a well-crafted action picture. And nothing more.“), Spike Lee’s Inside Man (“…certainly doesn’t have the feel of any other Spike Lee film. It is work for hire.“) and Ang Lee with The Hulk (“…one of those catastrophes so bad that its sequel seems like the industry’s personal apology to the movie-going public for what has gone before.“)
He also cites a few examples of better one-offs, such as Scorsese’s Age of Innocence, Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County and, inexplicably, Peter Weir’s Green Card.
I’ll leave what he considers good or bad to the side (seriously though, Green Card?) and just comment on the mistake of characterising so many of these films as being far apart from the other work by directors.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR PARANORMAL ACTIVITY FOLLOW
Welcomed as a returning hero this year by the horror genre, Paranormal Activity heralded the commercial arrival, or re-arrival, of the ‘found footage’ genre (we’ve already got James Marsh entering the fray). The Blair Witch Project, a film still entirely underrated, popularised the sub-genre in the late-90s, though without it ever fully becoming a horror movement in the way that so-called ‘torture porn’ has managed.
So, in the wake of Transformers revenging the fallen all over our minds, we were in need of cooling down from the sheer anger and exhaustion felt in the studio. Though Sunshine Cleaning should have been a great example of an indie to bring us back onto home turf, it ended up an underwhelming experience. The eminently crushworthy pairing of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, along with the solid Alan Arkin and roles for Steve Zahn and Clifton Collins Jr, just couldn’t quite drive us into anything beyond a tepid lack of satisfaction. Ideas involved were strong, but the execution was half-hearted, even if all of the above tried really hard to elevate the material. Continue reading →
Being in the UK, deciding what actually constitutes summer in our increasingly muddled weather environment is pretty darn difficult. Should we start with May? Well, if summer is the period of the year in which things were sunny and bright and lovely, then May, June and July are all out for us UK folks. Our summer never really arrived, overshadowed as it was by the constant humidity and rain. Instead of going with weather calculations, our summer will start in May, or the end of April to be precise, when the blockbuster season kicked-off in multiplexes, and plexes, across the land. Begin post-jump… Continue reading →
There’s a great blog post on The Guardian from Phelim O’Neill extolling the virtues of the “old-fashioned, miniature model work’ done for Moon. As anyone who listens to our podcast will know, Tom and I are luddite-esque on our anti-CGI attitudes, something pushed to a mass-extreme over the summer from Wolverine, through Terminator: Salvation and Transformers 2 and ending with GI Joe.
We are not wholly luddites in our view on using CGI. The belief here is that CGI should be used very sparingly, only ever to allow filmmakers to achieve visual aesthetics and objects which simply cannot be done any other way. The problem with many films now is that CGI becomes the dominant technology on screen, overtaking even using actual landscapes which could so easily be found and would be so much more tangible on screen. CGI can never, ever, replace actual, physical objects and beings. Beings most notably. I Am Legend has become our go to for films with terrible CGI which completely ruins the experience. Those ‘vampires’ in the film are useless, there is just nothing interesting or frightening about these things because they are not there, they are not standing next to Will Smith.
Moon is a wonderful example of how to use CGI. The effects are used only to prevent the miniature work from looking too much like Button Moon, to further the overall aims of the filmmaker rather than substitute any sense of imagination or ingenuity in the process. O’Neill notes that CGI has killed such a significant amount of problem-solving amongst filmmakers. They can rely so much on computers to create what they want that they simply give up on trying to create worlds with any sense of reality. The expectation is that, taking GI Joe as example, a massive underwater base with obese shark-like fish swimming around it will be awe-inspiring. It isn’t because, although you certainly would struggle to build something like that, it looks so wildly unreal that the only visceral reaction to that reveal is one of laughter at the utter ridiculousness of the creation.
We have questioned whether studios may start to cut budgets for filmmakers amid the recession, something which does not appear to have happened at all. If this happened, I would argue this would produce a rise in filmmakers trying to solve problems through a little lateral thinking, or pairing back on overblown CGI creations to create tangible worlds and beings. A man in a suit will always be better than a prancing sprite.
We chatted, angrily and with utmost Fox-aimed contempt, on the podcast a few weeks back about the news that the studio were planning to replace the entire original voice cast of Futurama for its return to television screens. The fury with which the majority of the online world and Futurama-fanbase reacted to the news was primarily borne out of residual anger against Fox for its televisual mistakes of the past and, more perhaps, by such a blatant attempt to win a PR war they were entirely ill-equipped to succeed in.
I understand the executives at Fox are under pressure the majority of the time, given the problems they have faced in trying to match the box-office thump heralded by rivals Warner Bros and, to a lesser competitive extent, Disney. But they just don’t help themselves. The news at the end of last week that the cast of Futurama have now been signed on to work on the new TV series was entirely expected in the face of the furore which erupted in the wake of news they would not return. The question is, why would Fox seek to piss so many fans off at a time when their stock could hardly sink any lower?
The entire move appears to have been an attempt to drive down the salaries of the main players amid the recession. The studio should, and I emphasise SHOULD, understand that their tactics to achieve this goal – essentially involving threatening to fire these people should they refuse to take a pay cut – could, would and will never work within an internet era. The moment the news broke, fingers will have begun to slam onto keyboards across the world to criticise the entire concept that you could replace an entire voice cast. A few years ago, this may have been avoided through sheer fact that the social internet had yet to form into a worldwide community. Maybe it could have grown into an issue, but not in the instant that it will do nowadays.
On our podcast, my esteemed colleague Tom briefly noted the move by Family Guy to replace Lacey Chabert with Mila Kunis in voicing Meg, a move which prompted absolutely no reaction from anywhere. Why? Because one minor cast member is just about doable. You can replace a single voice cast member with a similar vocal actor because, outside of a few initial confusions and annoyances, everyone will get over that. You just cannot, ever, replace the entire voice cast of a show. Further to that, you absolutely cannot replace an entire voice cast on a show which is being brought back through sheer popularity. The only reason the show is to return is because of its popularity in the straight-to-DVD movie form. It’s like a record label signing a band which has just been dropped, only to insist that all members be replaced before they will put a record out. Ridiculous.
Will Fox learn? I sincerely doubt it. They have shown time (Arrested Development) and time (Firefly) and time (original Family Guy/The Tick/Undeclared/Wonderfalls/The Ben Stiller Show/Greg the Bunny/Andy Richter Controls the Universe) again that they have almost no ability to choose, exhibit or promote good quality television. Sure, 24 was great, if entirely in line with the ideological viewpoint of the Fox Network, and there are other good shows that they produce, but just consider some of the cancellations they have made over the years and you get to feeling like all TV folk are on a losing path from day one.
Another question to pose quickly though, will Futurama be any good coming back in this form? Family Guy’s first three season are immensely brilliant, but that show has descended into a quagmire of self-parody and creaking joke-writing. The creation of a Cleveland spin-off should be the final death knell. When these shows get cancelled, we often feel the pangs of pain that they are no longer with us. But really, if we consider it fully, do we need Futurama to come back?
NOTE: It was pointed out by HitFix that the company involved in the negotiations is 20th Century Fox. Given they, and the FOX Network, are both owned by News Corp and likely have a party line to follow, it seems only right to use the capitalised Fox as a catch all for the widespread idiocy within its television operation.
Writing for The Guardian in the past week, Dave Eggers ran down the movies of his life and provides some information on how they fit into his make-up. It caught my attention partly owing to our recent autobiographical season on the podcast but also because of one small comment he makes which seems so beautifully to illustrate why I have such an aversion to 3D movie-making.
Talking about Days of Heaven, the elegiac and drop-jaw beautiful Terence Malick film, Eggers writes that Malick’s films ‘are 3D without being actually 3D, if that makes any sense’. That is such a great way of describing why 3D is completely pointless to the artistic process. Not everyone in the world can be Terence Malick, but great films do tend to have a sense of place and time, a texture to them in the way they are film, the juxtaposition of lighting, sound, performance and style. Putting a film into 3 dimensions seems pointless if you have the ability and understanding of how important it is to put films into their spatial context.
Just think about the great films you have seen and how they transport you to a place and time, then consider why on earth any of them would need to be shorn of that extra modicum of imagination.
It came out in the past week that Joss Whedon, the genius creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly/Serenity and Dollhouse, has turned down a chance to write the big screen reboot of Buffy. We reported about the series returning to movie screens recently and it seems to me this could be the best thing for the reboot.
Whedon will bring so much baggage to writing that screenplay. He will come to a Buffy movie with the entire series under his belt, not to mention the original movie and the subsequent comic incarnation of the character. Any reboot of the series would need some new thinking and fresh perspectives to have any chance of breaking away from the established template.
Now, this by no means suggests that this can only be good without Whedon involved. That kind of assertion would seem nye-on insane to me. Whedon is among the best writers of his generation and I’m sure he would create something which would give the fans a huge hug and make them feel comfortable and at ease with any reincarnation of the character.
This was the double-edged sword that he brought to Serenity, the big-screen version of his Firefly series. That, by no means, needed to be a reboot in any way, shape or form. That needed to be a concluding continuation and it serves its purpose magnificently. But it didn’t win over too many converts. If you had watched Firefly, you would love Serenity. If you hadn’t, it was a decent sci-fi action film where the uninitiated don’t quite get treated to the kind of satisfaction that Firefly watchers were given. Artistically, not a problem. Business-wise, not so great.
Again, that’s not to say that Buffy should be entirely about business. That’s part of the problem that Whedon may bring, but more than that would be that Buffy doesn’t really need any continuation from its original television incarnation. Firefly needed finishing. Whedon’s Buffy was finished. A new take may not be great, but it’s the only way to reboot and reincarnate the character for a new generation.
The Harbour Lights in Southampton
NOTE: This post has been slightly edited owing to some clarification given by Picturehouse’s Vince.
The Guardian had a nice piece over the past week asking to know what people’s favourite cinema was? The majority of it obviously depends on where you live and the number of cinemas near you. A great deal of people in the UK living in rural areas often have little in the way of option but to visit their local Odeon or Cineworld, neither of which represent even remotely nice experiences for the most part.
Where I hail from, in Southampton on England’s south coast, we were never blessed in the most incredible manner but we didn’t do too badly. Not much in the way of independent cinemas, but the mega-multiplex Leisureworld at the bottom of town, replete with hideous nightclubs wedged outside and in, is big enough, and attracts such a particular crowd, that when they would play independent or arthouse films, it was often only cinephiles, budding or otherwise, that would go. The rest of the place would be clogged up with shitty ‘parody’ movies, horror and blockbusters.
The other cinema in the area was the Cineworld at the bottom of town. It went through a large number of different ownerships and incarnations before settling on Cineworld for the past few years. It used to be very close to an arcade of shops on the dockside, but this has been deleted in favour of enormous new flats for the budding white collar industry of the town. For those who don’t know, Southampton has become an incredibly divided city in terms of wealth and class – it essentially breaks down into a town centre surrounded by alternating council estates and luxury developments. Anyway, that cinema, much like most Cineworld outlets, is serviceable but somewhat basic, like the easyJet of cinema chains.
The jewel of the town was the Harbour Lights, a part of the Picturehouse Cinemas group. It’s literally only a few hundred yards from the aforementioned Cineworld, in the development known widely as Ocean Village. It is an absolutely superb cinema and entirely out of sorts within the setting it lies. It shows retrospectives of Hitchcock and various other, mostly British, auteurs and is the go to place for the discerning cinema fan in the city. If you are ever in Southampton, look it up.
Now we’re in London, the choice is significantly wider, but so is the gulf between good and bad.
My favourite cinemas are in their place for quite different reasons. The best multiplex, by some distance, is the pretty excellent Islington Vue. The prices are standard London but they get a really good selection of movies playing in the place and, above all, the leg-room is unbelievable. The tiering of the seats is good enough that you’d need Shaq in front of you to obscure anything, something you don’t get in most multiplex Cineworld or Odeons in the City.
Of the independents, the BFI Southbank is a pretty marvellous little place, most especially given the quality of retrospectives they hold. To provide an example, in the past few months I have seen 2001, Nashville, The Passion of Joan of Arc, 8 1/2, A Bout de Souffle and The 400 Blows, to name but a few, through their retrospectives and one-off screenings. The best moment for that cinema came with watching Brazil when, out of nowhere, out pops Terry Gilliam to introduce the film and answer questions.
Also great is the Everyman Hampstead, one of a chain of luxury cinemas often located conveniently in the range of London’s top celebrity regions. Hampstead is the home to the likes of Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais while the other premiere luxury cinema, the Electric, is in Notting Hill, within quick distance of the Chelsea/Kensington set. The Everyman is pretty great though. It’s one where you sit in sofas or armchairs and, prior to the film starting, can press little buttons on your accompanying table to order drinks or food without moving. Maybe a little too close to the future depicted in Wall-E for some, but pretty great for my money. The place also sometimes has music before proceedings begin, often pleasant-enough acoustica, and the whole thing is solidly sophisticated. Best moment for there? Seeing The Dark Knight while putting away a bottle of wine, undoubtedly influencing the five-star rating that one got given.
Also noteworthy in London are Cineworld’s Haymarket site, a converted theatre in which they have made a geniune effort to create a nice experience, although the leg-room isn’t great. Noteworthy for a completely terrible reason are the West End premiere sites, all of which are grossly overpriced, poorly set out and normally filled with complete divs/loud tourists. One of them, I’m pretty sure its the Vue, fucking stinks. Literally makes your eyes water.
Anyway, those are a few of the most notable for me, what about the rest of you?
Some strange activity coming from the news surrounding Sin City 2. It’s been an active property in recent weeks, garnering much press over the potential hire of Angelina Jolie to join the selection of lithe, leather-clad women which make up that side of the Sin City cast.
Now it seems, despite a name like Jolie circling the project, that the rights for the sequel are being shopped around Hollywood, apparently indicating that Weinstein Co/Dimension has lost the rights to the sequel. This was first reported by IESB and then denied by the company in an article in Entertainment Weekly.
The latter is, according to the report in the Hollywood Reporter, still insisting that it does hold the rights. It notes a statement in EW from Bert Fields, the lawyer for The Weinstein Company, who described the rumours that the company had lost the rights at “hogwash”.
HR cites producers however saying the rights have been shopped by representatives of Frank Miller’s estate who are seeking a new place to house the sequel.
According to the HR:
“If the Weinsteins’ option did lapse, it could have happened for reasons ranging from development inactivity to a decision not to pay to re-up. Sequel rights generally require a certain amount of activity within a defined period to remain with the original rights holder, though in many deals those periods stretch much longer than the four years that have elapsed since the original “Sin City” came out.”
The article indicates that Robert Rodriguez involvement in the project is not fully known as yet, although the understanding of most what that he would direct alongside Miller, akin to the working relationship on the film film.
It is possible that Miller has got a taste for directing, despite the awful reception for The Spirit, and is working to try and take the project over for himself. Rodriguez, after all, has a long-running relationship with the Weinstein’s and Dimension.
As most have noted, the original film made $158m on the back of a $40m budget, so it does seem unlikely that the Weinsteins would let a relatively bankable project fall from its grasp.
I was probably sitting right in the centre of the grand Watchmen debate. I didn’t hate the film with fanboy outrage or the bemused annoyance of the un-anointed. But I didn’t sing its praises in the way many others did. I will freely admit the film is a startling vision, but beyond looking just about right in comparison to its source material, it was poorly handled emotionally and imaginatively. Director Zack Snyder was my primary source of scorn. I don’t doubt the difficulty of the position in which he was placed. No one, Greengrass or Gilliam included, could possibly have pleased everyone with an adaptation of such beloved graphic fiction.
But, while that can be taken into account briefly, his attempt to please as many people as possible meant the overall work was compromised, ending up giving the world and mixed, muddled and messy moving storyboard of frames linked only briefly in the running time. He works so hard to make everything so close to Alan Moore’s print vision that he forgets to differentiate in his own mind between the two mediums. He is desperate to fit in as much dialogue and as many scenes from the novel as he can, in the process sacrificing any creativity which should be brought to any adaptation.
Watchmen feels flat and lifeless on the screen, only managing to break into moments of greatness through the generally good performances and some superlative sequences. Is it not telling that easily the most brilliant moment of Watchmen is the opening title sequence? Tracking the alternative history Moore sets up through visually breathtaking montage; re-appropriating Dylan’s ‘The Times Are A-Changin’ to be an anthem for his history rather than for 1960s America; these are the brave moves taken by a director who understands he cannot possibly fit the source material onto the screen wholesale and must improvise. It’s that moment, when Snyder gives himself the freedom to interpret the source material in his own way, that you feel finally as though a real adaptation is occurring in front of your eyes.
For me, although I think Watchmen is a finer achievement of scale, Dawn of the Dead is still the most successful and satisfying project of Synder’s. Here, he had no qualms about giving his own take on a classic original film, eschewing the political and social concerns of Romero’s original to produce a visceral, thrilling action film. He interpreted the material brilliantly, something he resolutely fails to do in either Watchmen or the turgid 300.
Snyder has now been talking up his next project, Sucker Punch, and the bravery of Warner Bros in putting out his films in the past. I don’t deny WB has become the top major studio for taking risks with its major projects. But Watchmen directed by Zack Snyder is nowhere near the risk which would have been involved in taking on Watchmen by Gilliam or Watchmen by Greengrass (even if his re-contextualisation would have been a step too far). Sucker Punch, which will follow a young girl sent to a mental asylum and her fantasies of escaping alongside her fellow inmates, doesn’t really sound like much of a risk either. Snyder’s Watchmen may not have done the kind of business many were hoping for – although I will continue to argue against that – but this is a project in which a relatively bankable director has recruited five very attractive young women (lead Emily Browning joined by Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Evan Rachel Wood and Emma Stone) to take part in what I predict will be a series of semi-intense action sequences and recall the kind of Grindhouse films Tarantino so desperately aimed for a couple of years back. I don’t deny that sounds entertaining, but I can’t imagine this will provide any evidence to contradict that Snyder is a competent director with a knack for divisive slo-motion action and no ability to harness the emotional core of a story.
Xan Brooks wrote a Guardian blog post today to espouse the virtues of the new tactic being employed by the Industry Trust in the UK to try and combat film piracy. He has found some solace in this recalibrated method of thanking audiences who do no practice film piracy, rather than scorning those who do.
The previous campaign, which has run for quite some time, worked to try and emphasise that film piracy is only a small cog in a much larger criminal machine, trying to shame those indulging in the practice by equating it to stealing televisions or handbags.
Brooks may well come over as somewhat pompous and self-righteous in the post, promoting his own achievement of never having downloaded a movie, but I think he, and the Industry Trust, are still missing the point.
The problem is that people who practice downloading appear to have a vastly greater understanding of the process. Those who download will tell you that the kind of tinny, crappy copies of movies which are highlighted by anti-piracy advertising are not the norm. The vast majority of movie downloaders with any sense would never download something so completely useless as a watching experience. Those who do are not movie fans, rather fans of supremacy in being the first see a given film, rather than having any enjoyable experience in actually watching.
Most film fans who download will wait until a good version of the film is available and, more pertinent, will often then purchase movies they like on DVD. I understand that this may seem a skewed method of viewing and distribution for the industry to get it’s head round, but isn’t this just part of a wider consumer culture in which the power has shifted? People don’t have to spend money on a movie to see it, meaning the crap which comes out will often be quickly sidelined.
What this should do is spur film industry players to make better movies, rather than making movies they think will sell based on face values. That kind of cynical methodology is still very much in play. Consider the likes of Lionsgate, which often will not screen its shitty horror films to critics in advance for fear that bad reviews will prevent audiences from flocking to them in droves. Doesn’t there seem to be a disconnect there between the desire to make good films and make money? Surely, all studios should want people to see their films because they are good and interesting, not because the posters and trailers promise action, gore and nudity.
I don’t agree necessarily with the practice of pirating. But I think what should be considered by studios is how distribution and exhibition methods can adapt to deal with it, rather than suppressing any advance in these lines to try and prevent audiences from having any influence over the frequency of quality movies being produced.
Just a quick post but I want to point everyone in the direction of The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus forum which has been set up to raise awareness of the movie which, despite being the final film of Heath Ledger and having a cast which includes Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, has yet to pick up a distribution deal.
Please join up to the site and help the film get released so we can all not only enjoy the final works of Ledger, but also so we can see another troubled, exciting project from Terry Gilliam.
A recent post on Screener. Movie Stuff raises some very interesting issues as regards the treatment of so-called ‘hipster’ stylistic values in cinema. It’s sparked by the reviews to have been put forward for the Where the Wild Things Are trailer, noting reviews which seems to identify the two key creative protagonists behind the adaptation, director Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers, as ‘hipster kings’.
This kind of criticism, and the wider snarking over the use of so-called indie hallmarks (animated title sequences, specifically independent musical soundtrack etc.), does seem to serve to place independent cinema of this kind into a separate negative category of filmmaking, that of ‘hipster movies’ which are made to appeal to the better-than-thou intellectual pretensions of this stereotyped crowd. In doing so, they identify the film within an exclusive sub-genre which is unlikely to appeal to anyone outside of the New York crowd and often damage the sentiment towards the films before they even come out. It’s something which is spreading into popular journalistic circles, having previously been the surfeit of the populist cinema sector in the dubbing of movements like ‘mumblecore’.
I understand the need for critics to take on issues they feel strongly on, but damaging the reputation of a movie through a reactionary critique based entirely on face style and a two-dimensional viewpoint seems to negate the place of critics entirely. Screener argues quite rightly that, especially with Where the Wild Things Are, you have two legitimately talented people behind the project, making what appears a beautiful adaptation of a beloved children’s book.
I would add, in minor defence of those not fond of the trailer, that maybe they are in love dearly with the book and feel a fanboy-like reaction to any even minor criticisms. A work like Maurice Sendak’s will inspire devotion and will be envisaged in different ways by film critics and commentators around the world. To me, it looks inspired. To others, it may well look all wrong. No arguing with opinion, folks.
When you write criticism, films and music primarily, you are constrained into rating a piece based on a set scale. This normally takes the form of a 4-star or 5-star pictorial option or a marks out-of-ten barometer to give your readership a quick and easy way to understand your sentiment towards what is being reviewed and gauge exactly which spectrum of the scale you fall in. Are you indifferent? Do you love the piece? Do you truly hate the piece? Is is somewhere lurking between all said options.
Occasionally, you come across something to review which is so utterly execrable, you award it no stars. This is a very satisfying and simple way to get across how awful something is. You can even slip into minus figures should it be, say, a Kevin Federline album or a Friedberg & Seltzer movie (or vice versa!). But, at the other end of the scale, there is little to satisfy should you find something which is so completely perfect that simply providing it with five-stars doesn’t seem enough. You will have already awarded five-stars to other pieces in the past and your thoughts will stray to how you could have done such a thing and placed it on even keel with the mastery you’ve experienced. Sometimes, you need to award an extra star, an extra mark, just to communicate the gravity of the situation.
Today I spent a magnificent 106 minutes rewatching Carol Reed’s masterpiece, The Third Man. It occurred to me once finishing that this really could not be fully encapsulated with a mere five-star review, which I’m sure it has received on a number of occasions in the past. The Third Man falls into a select group of films which can only really be categorised by six-stars, one extra, seemingly meaningless but symbolically imporatant further mark which will exhibit to readers everywhere that this is a film of such perfection, such untouchable brilliance, that it must be placed on a pedestal with only a select circle deserving of such praise.
I would immediately throw out names like Vertigo, Seven Samurai, Ran (most Kurosawa masterworks), Taxi Driver, The Godfather Parts 1 & 2, A Bout de Souffle. Just a few off the top of the head which deserve to be categorised as six-star works, too perfect that they must be exalted outside of traditional ratings systems into a rarified position looking over the rest.
So, the question is, what films would you consider six-star works?
Avatar, the 3D mega-project from James Cameron, was the subject of a profile in Time Magazine which, among a variety of other things about 3D cinema and its potential as the future of moviemaking, noting that Avatar’s budget has now soared beyond the $300m mark, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made.
Avatar has been a pet project of Cameron for a long time but I’m still a little wary of this potentially being the biggest flop in movie history.
I’m not fully convinced about 3D yet, especially given the inability of the majority of filmmakers who utilise the medium to eschew the use of gimmicks and tricks to show off the technology, rather than just making a great story. It’s a similar dichotomy to the one which exists in the relationship between Pixar and DreamWorks CGI animation. That did eventually turn around with Kung Fu Panda managing to tell a simple, non-pop-culture-referencing story from the DreamWorks studio which, while only matching the lesser works of Pixar, was still a hoot.
I have no doubt that films like Coraline will help to bring 3D into a more sophisticated balance with the basics of traditional storytelling, and perhaps Avatar will manage to do this to an even greater degree. But surely the infrastructure is not quite there yet to provide Avatar with the kind of space to make back $300m. Not enough 3D cinemas exist and, as I have been told from the past year, seeing 3D films outside of specialist exhibition houses can prove a migraine-inducing chore. It’s also, lest we forget, a science fiction film, and a wildly ambitious one at that. Cinema-goers may well be able to remember that this man brought them Titanic, but I’m not sure Cameron has the kind of commercial juice he’s going to need to make this one a giant hit and get the average cinema-goer to put down their prejudices and misgivings over certain genres.
I suppose that raises a question of whether it needs to be a hit. Avatar will, if nothing else, drive forward the development of new technology in the exhibition of movies and could well be among the most startling visual experiences viewers will ever have. But that doesn’t always mean box-office dollars and studios will rarely finance movies of similar ambition and ilk if the money didn’t role in the first time round. If Avatar fails, it could be a disaster for the filmmakers of the world who are seeking to further push the boundaries.
If not though, and from the descriptions given in the Time piece, this may well be among the most incredible filmic experience any of us ever undertake.
I Love You, Phillip Morris, the gay love story starring Ewan MacGregor and Jim Carrey, has thus far failed to pick up a distributor and, according to The Times, may end up going straight to DVD in the US.
Devin Faraci over at CHUD said the movie does have explicit gay sex scenes, noting one in which Carrey cums into another man, but notes that it is both relatively expensive for an indie (around $13m) and gained some, if not slavering, praise when it played at Sundance.
Jim Carrey certainly isn’t the box-office draw he once was and MacGregor is an acting name that, while famous, isn’t really an opener. But these two should really be enough to get a film into cinemas, and the $13m would be easily made back if the marketing was smart enough and the company behind them pushed it with the requisite level of gusto.
In short, the movie seemingly isn’t crap, meaning placing it on the shelf with the stars it has must have other reasons behind it. It is only speculation at the moment, but should this happen, it would be a huge step back for Hollywood and its ability to drive home messages of equality inherent in the films it promotes. Wouldn’t it be interesting, given the heightened rhetoric around race and corporate ethics in the current climate, if the US had elected a gay president in 2008 and California had come out in force againsts Prop 8. I wonder if this film would struggle in an environment like that.
Our sincerest condolences to any and all he knew Natasha Richardson, the outstanding British actress who died early this morning. To her family and friends we offer our deepest sympathy for her untimely passing and lament her loss both as a to theatre and film and to the causes of which she was patron.
RIP Natasha Richardson.