While I’m glad to see an actor as talented as Eddie Redmayne stepping into J.K. Rowling’s universe, I still have concerns. Obviously not much can be said of the plot at present, but from this footage I’m mainly worried about the level of cheese we’re going to have smeared in our faces. What was brilliant about the Harry Potter films was that they matured over time and became darker, however this appears to be heading back to more lighthearted and (forgive me for saying this) childish territory. I want this to be fun but without crossing the line into stupidity.
It’s the start of a new year, the Golden Globes have embarrassed the Hollywood Foreign Press for another year, the BAFTAs are slowly approaching, and it is nearly time for us to be served our annual dose of outdated opinions as the Academy will soon be announcing nominees for the Oscars. Yes that’s right, in 2016 we are still being told what fits the definition of “best” within a particular art form by old white men.
Because if there is anything history can tell us, it’s that the world has rarely heard the opinions of old white men…
I don’t see why people are still paying attention to the Oscars when clearly the results don’t actually matter. Perhaps in 1929 when the awards first started society wanted to hear the opinions of white men, pontificating about which other white men should receive an ego boost next, but we simply don’t need to hear such opinions today. In a world that is constantly striving for equality in all forms, be it linked to gender, race, sexual orientation etc. we do not need to hear the opinions of the Academy, an institution which according to recent statistics is said to consist of nearly 6,000 people, 94% of which are white, 77% of which are male, and over 50% are above the age of 60. It doesn’t sound particularly balanced or fair does it? I would argue so strongly that the results we are given from the Academy are disgustingly biased that they have absolutely no relevance and should not be taken seriously. We do not need to continue this yearly ritual of letting old white men hand awards to other white men and branding them as “best.” By repeating this process we are ratifying their opinions, maintaining the Oscars as the “most prestigious” film awards instead of moving forwards. In a modern world we don’t need people shoving their opinions down our throats, whilst desperately clinging to their old fashioned views of white male supremacy.
Now I know already some people will criticise me for writing this, claiming that it doesn’t matter and that I should just ignore the Oscars like a lot of people already do. However, I would argue that it does matter. The Oscars are held as the most prestigious awards for the film industry so their influence is huge. This isn’t petty schoolyard bullying we’re talking about here, it’s not even just individual acts of prejudice, what we’re talking about is structural, it is about the bias that leads to privilege among some groups but not others. It’s not as simple as bog standard favourtism, it’s more much insidious. All you need to do is consider that the film industry is one that is rife with inequality, seen clearly through the fact that women are paid significantly less than men for doing exactly the same job, and it is institutions like the Academy that feed this inequality on a consistent basis. The fact that someone’s paycheque can be altered based on whether they have won an Academy Award is outrageous, because it means the same people are rewarded on a regular basis for no reason whilst others are left forgotten.
Obviously I can’t speak for everyone else but I know that I’m sick and tired of such a large institution, with immeasurable influence throughout the industry and across the internet, feeding inequality by persistently undermining the work of particular groups within Hollywood based on aspects of their identity. The Academy may see them as minority groups in terms of filmmakers, but despite this rather erroneous notion being made it doesn’t justify neglecting their contributions to cinema. There is so much nonsense surrounding the awards, so much glaringly obvious bias, that I can’t help but support the argument that the Oscars are and always have been whitewashed.
I try to be as open minded as possible, however there are certain things I simply will not support:
I. The repetitive cycle as we see the same names repeatedly nominated and awarded because they are favourites of the Academy. This is the institute who in 2013 gave 12 nominations to the film Lincoln because it was a Steven Spielberg picture, and yet the year before gave no nominations to Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is still one of the best films of our time. I believe the Academy absolutely have their favourites so it is pointless to sit back and simply watch them hand out awards to the same people. Of course they can nominate Woody Allen for his screenplay writing 16 times, but why on Earth would they nominate Gillian Flynn for her exceptional adapted screenplay for Gone Girl? It’s one of the most gripping films of our time and the screenplay is fantastically written, so what should they do? Ignore it of course. Cretins.
II. The Academy’s definition of “best” when this includes the nomination of 396 male directors across 80 years, and yet only 4 female directors, only one of which went on to win the award.
III. An institution that repeatedly neglects the work of women, black people and other groups within society, whilst consistently praising the work of white men who simply do not deserve it.
IV. An institution that understands female directors account for 7% of all directors currently working in Hollywood, but then chooses to ignore the 7%. Just because there are less of them it doesn’t mean their work should not be considered. It would be like having a class at school that consists of 24 boys and 5 girls, and the girls are performing on the same academic level as the boys if not a higher level, but then because there are less girls the teacher decides to ignore their successes and focus on rewarding the boys instead. If that were to happen on a such small scale there would be uproar, and quite rightly, so why do we let it happen on such a large scale? It’s this close minded attitude that has lead to some genuinely fantastic films directed by women being completely ignored in the awards season of their respective years, such as Belle (2014) directed by Ama Asante, We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) directed by Lynne Ramsay, The Babadook (2014) directed by Jennifer Kent, and American Psycho (2000) directed by Mary Harron.
V. An institution that has its head lodged so firmly up the arse of its own country, that they actually feel the need to have separate categories for “Best Picture” and “Best Foreign Language Film.” The two aren’t mutually exclusive. A film is either good or it isn’t, the language spoken in it should not be held against it, and it certainly shouldn’t warrant the creation of a completely separate category. Once again I have to use the hypothetical classroom scenario; a teacher does not divide the test results of students based on nationality or mother tongue because it is simply unfair. It is high time that the Academy accepted that maybe America is not the center of the universe, and that there have been countless films in a foreign language that deserved the title of Best Picture more than any of the nominated films spoken in English. It sparks of desperation and jealousy to see such a large institution refusing to accept the work of other countries as better than their own. Almost sounds like a spoiled child that always wants to win, or the drunk old man who sits in the corner of a pub claiming that trained professionals from other countries stole a job he wasn’t qualified for. Funny that.
VI. Spending another year waiting to hear the opinions of the Academy after their nominations last year saw numerous people shockingly neglected despite being worthy of nominations. The aforementioned Gillian Flynn was not nominated under the ‘Adapted Screenplay’ category, Ava DuVernay was not nominated for ‘Best Director’ for the film Selma, and most annoyingly David Oyelowo was not nominated for his leading performance in the same film. That last point is interesting when you consider that the winner and indeed all of the nominees in that category were in fact white. Coincidence?
VII. The Academy that would choose to give multiple nominations to the same person in one category, whilst completely excluding other people who produced work to a similar, if not higher quality. Last year for instance in the “Best Original Score” category, all five of the nominees were male, including two nominations for the same person, Alexandre Desplat. This annoyingly undermined the fantastic work of Mica Levi for the film Under the Skin, which is one of the best scores I have heard in recent years. I shall amend the words of my previous question: in a category consisting entirely of male nominees is it a coincidence that the Academy neglected the work of a female British composer? You decide.
VIII. An institution that votes based on outdated attitudes. This is the same Academy that in 2014 admitted some members voted for the film 12 Years a Slave to win “Best Picture” without actually having seen the film. They voted because they felt morally obligated after realising it was about slavery. We shouldn’t tolerate this kind of foolish behaviour. Of course 12 Years a Slave is a phenomenal piece of film and Steve McQueen is one of the finest directors of our time, but the film should have been voted for because the Academy appreciated it as a powerful piece of art, not because they felt it was the right thing to do, and because the guilt of a country’s atrocities still hangs over them.
There are of course many more issues with the Academy and their approach to films, but I would argue those linked to the undermining and neglecting of particular groups in society should be addressed first and foremost. If you wish to look further into the Academy and their bizarre approach to films then I would recommend researching the winners and nominees of the Best Picture category, noting their bias against particular genres, such as Science Fiction which is still yet to have a winner, and Horror which has only ever had one winner.
The Academy is clever though. They are slowly managing to fool everyone into thinking that they are forward thinking liberals who are unbiased in their decisions. They’re doing this by occasionally making a decision that shocks people. For instance the previous two winners of the ‘Best Director’ award have been Mexican directors, and when we hear this we’re meant to think “Mexican? Not American? My gosh, how daring!” It’s pathetic, and yet they believe this is a fair way to give awards because it’s the way it has been done for year. I have a better suggestion, how about they stop using labels such as “female” and “foreign” altogether, and simply judge a film based on whether it’s good or not. Or better still, let them watch the films with limited information. They should watch the films without knowing the writer or director, make their minds up, cast their votes, and then see on the night who receives the awards. They may find that the usual suspects such as Mr Spielberg and Mr Eastwood remain seated for the duration, whilst more women take to the stage to receive awards.
The most terrifying thing to consider is that in the bigger picture the influence of the Academy is much more insidious. Over time more people have started to listen to the results of the Oscars and actually hold them as a credible source when passing judgement on films. A lot of us are guilty of it, even I have been in the past, making passing remarks about how many times an actor has won an Oscar, or how many Oscars a particular film received. It’s ridiculous that we still use the outdated opinions of the Academy when arguing on the quality and value of films. People genuinely care about what the Academy have to say and hold the Oscars as important. Whatever happened to people thinking for themselves? If a film doesn’t win the Oscar it doesn’t matter because it’s still good. I wrote about this topic a couple of years ago in reference to Leonardo DiCaprio and how people are furious that he still hasn’t won. In the aforementioned blog post I actually took the time to make a list of actors and directors who have been nominated but have never won, some of which never won an Oscar before passing away. The general message of this was that the Oscars don’t matter. Think about it, Alfred Hitchcock only ever won an honourary Oscar and yet he is accepted as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Did the Academy help us decide that? Absolutely not.
Let someone’s work speak for itself.
What the awards are to me are one day a year for us to let the outdated morons think they’re still relevant. If we didn’t give them this opportunity then they would continue to pontificate all year long as they desperately attempt to prove their conservative attitudes are still relevant. So what we do instead is a bit like when you go for a picnic and find yourself bothered by wasps. Instead of letting them terrorise your entire spread of food you select one piece of food, let’s say a cake for example, and you use it as a sacrifice, placing it a certain distance away from the spread of food in the hope that the wasps will be satisfied with your offering. That’s what the Oscars are. They are one day out of 365 that the liberal intelligentsia that largely populates the Earth have given to the Academy, so that the rest of the year can be spent peacefully without having to hear the moronic mumblings of such a poisonous institution.
So when the nominations for this years Oscars are released, and when the night of the ceremony arrives, I will not be paying attention. Until the day arrives when the Academy steps into the modern era I will not be listening to them. Until they accept that white men are not the dominating force in one of the most popular art forms in our culture, until they accept that women are a talented force to be reckoned with, and that films made outside of their mother tongue are superior to the cliche ridden shit spat out by American production companies, until then, I will pay as much attention to the Academy as they have paid to all of the talented individuals that have gone without recognition simply because they are not white men.
Forget the silly golden statuettes, and let someone’s legacy be built on how their work resonates among audiences.
So this morning I woke up after a night of drinking, head still a little fuzzy, not really sure what day of the week it was, and just generally trying to work out what my name was and whether I could stand up or not. As a lot of people tend to do in the morning I started to scroll through my phone, whilst avoiding looking at my face in the mirror because I know I owe it an apology for last night. At this point I stumbled across a tweet concerning the upcoming Doctor Strange film which sparked my interest and required some light research on IMDB. It was at this point my research drew to a stand still as I found that the first trailer for Captain America: Civil War had dropped.
I wish I could have taken a selfie at the time because I know my reaction was priceless. Alas I couldn’t, because I dropped my phone. On my face.
For many people this will be quite exciting because it’s a new blockbuster that’s going to be one heck of an experience, but for those of us who read the comics, this is insane! This is what we’ve been waiting for! Ever since Marvel made their big Phase Three announcement over a year ago we’ve all been looking forward to this. It’s one of the best modern comic books, it has the Russo brothers in the director’s chair(s), it has all of the characters we love in one film together, it’s just an overload of awesomeness.
The trailer that was released is incredible, it has a lot of footage sealed in tight and a lot of new things to get our heads around and it is so cool! I mean the comic book geeks like myself are already sold on the film, all this has done is initiated a global scale nerdgasm. Now I know some people won’t have bothered looking into the trailer as much as the geeks have but there were certain things that caught my attention:
1. The Plot – this is arguably one of the most interesting elements that the trailer revealed because up until this point it has been mere speculation as to how the story from the comic book would transfer to the big screen. The thing about the Civil War thread is that it is an epic, it has so many characters (some of whom aren’t currently in the Marvel cinematic universe) and different narratives all happening at the same time, so a direct transfer would be absolutely impossible. Until this point most people (myself included) assumed they would transfer the basics of the Civil War plot and add a twist to it so it’s dealing with the backlash of the events that occurred in Age of Ultron. However it seems like at the moment they’re tying in a Bucky Barnes related twist too, which I have absolutely no complaints about and I can’t wait to see the fully developed narrative they’ve made.
2. Bucky remembers Cap – I know there’s all of the fast paced action and explosions and fist fights, but this moment stood out because it shows good things about the writing. They’re allowing for characterisation and it’s going to pay off in the long run if they want us to engage in the film. It’s the little details like this that make the audience feel emotionally attached to the characters and I’m glad they took time to show it.
3. General Ross is back – I’d heard rumours that William Hurt was reprising his role in the MCU but I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen because as far as I’m aware I thought we were all trying to forget The Incredible Hulk (2008) ever happened. I don’t have a problem with this of course because it shows that it isn’t all going to be loud action sequences, we’re going to get some heated dialogue and office politics, with Thunderbolt Ross in the manager’s chair. Bring it on.
4. “Sokovia Accords” – this is where I know I went full geek but I don’t care. If you have good eye sight and/or pause the trailer at the right moment you can see the name of the document General Ross gives Captain America. It’s unknown at this point what this actually is but at the moment I can only assume it’s teasing the legislation the government is enforcing (known as the Superhero Registration Act in the comic) whilst linking it to the events in Age of Ultron. This is also where we might see some of the disagreement starting. For those who have read the comic you’ll be familiar with this but for the uninitiated the Superhero Registration Act is formed because the government wants to keep a lid on superhero activity. They want the secret identities to be thrown away, they want the superheros working under their management, on their payroll, and above all to limit what they can and cannot do. So any superhero who doesn’t agree is seen essentially as an enemy of the state and faces imprisonment. This results in our heroes being split into schisms, with Tony Stark backing the government and Captain America fighting against it, causing quite a violent conflict between superheroes. Obviously we don’t know at this point how direct the transferal of this will be, and it is a Captain America film not an Avengers film so the focus will have to be shifted slightly, but the “Sokovia Accord” does set things up quite nicely to follow a route I think we’d all be comfortable with.
5. Frank Grillo is back and revamped – this was a blink and you’ll miss it clip from the trailer but it basically saw actor Frank Grillo, AKA Brock Rumlow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, reprising said role and under the character’s alter ego Crossbones. On a side note if you haven’t seen the photos of the characters together filming on location then I kind of have to question where you’ve been hiding for the last few months. Like I said, he’s in the trailer for a split second having a fight with the Cap, and it’s unknown as to how large his role in the film is, but it was still quite exciting to see the character on screen. If only all too briefly.
6. The teams are emerging… – there wasn’t an awful lot to suggest who is siding with Tony Stark, other than War Machine obviously, but I think we pretty much saw the entirety of Captain America’s team, consisting of The Winter Solider, Falcon, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch (all pictured above). It sounds unfair to only show one side but it just means there is still a lot of guess work to be done based on what characters we know are in the film but haven’t been shown yet, whilst also taking into account those who may not even pick a side and fight, as many in the comic book choose not to get involved. Guess work is half the fun before the film is released so I think this leaves us in quite a good place.
7. Black Panther – YEAH THAT’S RIGHT, SOMEBODY’S BEEN TO WAKANDA! As soon as I saw Black Panther on screen I had to internally scream so I didn’t wake the neighbours. It’s stupid because we all knew he was going to be in the film, Chadwick Boseman was officially cast, but it was still exciting to finally see the character on screen in front of me. And what’s better, he was on screen kickin’ some serious butt! I was under the impression that because this was the first time we’ve ever seen the character on the big screen that he’d be something of a minor role, but now it feels like Black Panther will have quite a big involvement, which is awesome! Also in the comic book Black Panther features very briefly, says he’s not getting involved, and then is basically gone from that point on, so it’s interesting that they’ve chosen to given him such a big role before his solo film. Not complaining obviously! Just intrigued.
8. That last line though… – I don’t even need to repeat that last line. We all know what I’m talking about. Hopes of a Tony Stark and Cap bromance are shattered eternally in just two lines of dialogue. Emotions man, emotions.
9. The directing is still on point – again this is one that might not be important to many people but I was relieved that after the success of Winter Soldier the Russo brothers are still at the top of their game. What was so good about Winter Soldier was that it took a character who was ruined by their first film, put him in the hands of two guys who hadn’t really done any noteworthy work yet, and then completely surprised everyone. We can all admit we went to see that film ready to tear it to shreds, but what we got instead was a genuinely well directed action film and one of the best standalone Marvel films ever made. I have not only confidence but respect for the Russo brothers, I believe this project is absolutely in safe hands. Just look at the last fist fight we see in the trailer, with the fast paced hitting and shield throwing between Iron Man, Cap and Bucky, it just worked so well and it looked awesome. I can’t wait to see more.
10. Stay for the credits – again this is geeking out but fuck you, I don’t care. Once you see the title of the film at the end of the trailer all of the names and job titles appear on screen that you usually ignore right? In this case don’t ignore them. If you pause the video like I did then you’ll see the most accurate cast list you are going to see by this point, confirming that certain people are in the film that you may not have seen on screen. People like Paul Bettany as Vision, Paul Rudd as Ant Man, and most interestingly it confirms that Daniel Brühl is in the film. It doesn’t say who he is playing but he has long been rumoured to be playing the Captain America villain Baron Zemo. Either way we know that Brühl is one of the biggest named actors of our time and he’s now tied into the MCU. Who wins? Everyone.
There is still a lot we are yet to see that is being kept from us at the moment, like footage of Ant Man and the newly cast Spider-Man and who exactly Martin Freeman has been cast to play, but for the time being this was a very promising first look. As teasers go this was without a doubt one of the best we’ve had all year. Its filled me with even more confidence in the film, and I genuinely think it could be really good. At the moment Marvel are churning out some truly fantastic films, with more planned that have huge potential. Civil War is the starting point of Phase Three, and I want it to be good. I want it to completely smash Batman v Superman out of the Box Office and show Zack Snyder that he needs to learn how to direct traffic before he attempts directing a film again. We’ll just have to keep our ears to the ground and see what else they’ll dangle in front of us before the release next year.
In the mean time I may head back and read the comic again because I’m sure the trailer probably had more in it that I’ve missed. And if anyone hasn’t read it but is thinking of doing it then I would thoroughly recommend it. You will not be disappointed.
This is quite simply one of the most repugnant films I’ve ever seen. On a technical level there’s perhaps some merit, but apart from that it’s just distasteful rubbish. It is solid proof that the Academy Awards mean fuck all, because if this film deserves the award for Best Screenplay then we should give fucking Danny Dyer the award for Leading Actor. Forget the eleven Oscars and the Box Office figures, this is badly written, self important horseshit that ignores compelling true stories, and essentially exploits the deaths of hundreds of people to give James Cameron an extortionate pay cheque.
It appears the world has gone somewhat mad after the trailer for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad debuted at Comic-Con, however there are still few of us left feeling rather apprehensive.
I’m trying to convince myself that I wasn’t the only one to watch the trailer for Suicide Squad and think “what the fuck was that rubbish?”. Seriously, I know people have been waiting a long time for this and it has comic book nerds fainting worldwide every time a new photo is released online, but I was honestly expecting a lot more.
The premise of the film is something that I do not have any problems with, it actually sounds like it could be rather interesting, but the delivery as of yet looks as though it’s going to make quite a dull film. I don’t know, I’m just never really taken in when a trailer tried to ram as much action down my throat as possible and convince me that it’s going to be a thrilling experience. In the case of this trailer I gave a heavy sigh as soon as I realised it was a trailer that was going to consist of quiet “emotional” music with intercut scenes of action, with infrequent voice overs from mysterious characters.
What we have to consider is the person who is at the helm of this project, Mr David Ayer. Now I’m not about to completely dissect his back catalogue because he has been involved in some good films in the past. Most notably I did like Fury just recently, and Training Day still stands as something of a guilty pleasure for me, so he is a man that does have the potential to make good films. The person who wrote the line “king kong aint got shit on me!” deserves at least some credit. However, I do have to question someone whose back catalogue also contains S.W.A.T, End of Watch and the starting point of the franchise we have all come to know and dislike: The Fast and Furious. It is films such as those that make me question how this project is going to turn out, not just because he is the director but because he is writing it too. I think if you’re going to have a project as big as this being made, with high expectations from cinema goers all over the world, it would at least be wise to place it in the hands of someone we trust a little more. I don’t want to sound like a culture fascist, but we are living in a world where filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan are working so hard to radically reinvent the action genre and change it for the better, the result of which is our expectations being raised considerably.
This leads me onto the next element of the film that makes me feel uneasy: the cast. It is all over the place. You have a few big names thrown in there to make us think “oh they’re in it! nice!” but then the rest are just people that make you think “who?” and that’s a problem considering the fact it’s quite a big film that has a lot of people’s attention. I’m already questioning why certain people are in it, but it’s in two different ways. For example the first would be for people such as Jai Courtney, the ones I am questioning for being in it because as of yet their acting capabilities have been shown as rather limited. The second applies to people such as Margot Robbie and Will Smith, the ones I am questioning for being in the film because surely they have better things to be doing with their time than attaching their name to a project such as this (hence my rather smug altering of the title as shown above). From the trailer the performances appear to be quite varied, ranging from the cliched to the hopeful, which again makes me feel quite on edge. When dealing with big villain names we are all familiar with there needs to be some consistency.
What I also found quite interesting about the cast is how Ben Affleck is listed as playing Batman, having been announced to play this character in the upcoming Zack Snyder project Batman v Superman next year. I am still intrigued by this, not only because people are still finding it hard to forgive Affleck twelve years on from Daredevil, but also because we haven’t even seen him in one film as Batman yet. So why then would you sign him up to do multiple films as this character before you have feedback from the audience? It’s what my old sociologist teacher would call the “test drive”: you wouldn’t buy a car without testing it first, so in this case you wouldn’t sign an actor to a role for multiple films without testing them first. I think if anything this would be the first film I’d sign them up for because Batman is something of a secondary character here, with the focus shifting more onto the villains, but plans have already gone ahead and it’s still going to result in me being pissed off. Hooray.
The only character that is looking promising at the moment is Harley Quinn, and that is because they have cast the fantastic Margot Robbie to play her. It’s the first time that the character has been brought properly to the big screen, and already it looks as though Robbie has mastered the beautiful chaotic nature of her character. I admit the character has been altered aesthetically for the modern audience, but it still looks as though the mannerisms and the voice of Robbie’s Harley Quinn are really going to bring this character alive on screen. It has been a long time coming but finally we are not only going to see this character on screen, but we’re going to see them at their best. I truly believe it is performances such as Robbies’ that could work in this film’s favour. I can only hope that as the writer and director Ayer has utilised Robbie’s talents properly.
The main problem I have with the cast, and I am not alone in saying this, is the utterly absurd decision to cast Jared Leto as The Joker. Now people have flocked to the internet to moan about how the appearance of The Joker isn’t right and it doesn’t look good, but quite frankly I couldn’t care less about that because that is the least of our troubles. What concerns me is that Leto is not a good enough actor to take over the role of The Joker. We’ve already had acting heavyweights play the role brilliantly, including Heath Ledger in what is essentially one of the best acting performances of all time, so why would they choose to pass on such a complex character to someone who has barely proven himself as an actor? The thing is I care about the character of The Joker, he is one that I have been fascinated with from a very young age, starting with Jack Nicholson in Burton’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s voice work for animated projects, it is a character that means a lot to me. I do not want to see this character ruined by someone as flimsy and annoying as Jared Leto.
If you have seen the trailer then all you will see of Leto is that he is trying to sound like Heath Ledger’s Joker, and failing quite badly. I think with The Joker he does have quite a distinct voice and laugh but there is of course free roam for the actor playing him to adapt their own take on it, and this is what we would expect. With Leto is just sounds like he is recycling previous incarnations we have seen of The Joker, he doesn’t appear to be bringing anything new or noteworthy to the role. It doesn’t look as though the character is right for him at all and at the moment I’m not buying into this idea of him being The Joker. It’s funny because when it comes to comic books films you’ll quite often find on Youtube that many fanboys, prior to the release of a film, have made “unofficial trailers” which usually consist of rehashed footage from existing films along with footage they have shot of themselves in fancy dress in their bedrooms. They’re usually very poorly acted and give us all a good laugh. That is what Jared Leto’s appearance in this trailer felt like. As soon as I saw him on screen and heard him talking, it just felt like I was watching an “unofficial trailer” shot by and starring a teenager who is currently experimenting with a new camera as part of their creative media course at college. It didn’t frighten me, it didn’t excite me, it didn’t grab my attention in the slightest. All it made me do is think “I told you so”.
However, I can’t possibly pass too heavy a judgement on the film having not seen it. I would like to make it clear that I am not forming an opinion on the film based solely on the trailer. Just because the trailer isn’t particularly impressive and I don’t like the director that doesn’t mean to say that the film won’t be good. I honestly want it to be good, I want it to be the sort of film that proves me completely wrong. There’s a common misapprehension that film fanatics and film critics like being right all of the time WRONG! One of the best things is being proven wrong. When you have a predisposition and expect a film to be bad it is the best experience to find that actually you were wrong and it is a fantastic film. That’s what I want to happen here.
Overall I would say I’m quite apathetic at the moment. What I see and know of the film as of yet have not grasped my attention enough as I perhaps would have liked, but that does not mean to say it will be bad. I genuinely want this film to work and for it to be a good film because I love the concept and I love the characters so it would make me a very happy man if they nail. Quite often people accuse me of being too bitter and only wanting to write about bad film, but actually I much prefer writing about about good films. It’s too easy to find rubbish films and have a rant about them, and quickly people become bored of reading it, but when you manage to find a genuinely good film that you can write about and praise, that’s something special. I am hoping that Suicide Squad pulls it off and makes me eat humble pie, so watch this space a year from now and see whether or not Ayer has succeeded.
Keep your attention turned towards your local multiplex, because this year may just bring us one of the best horror films of the modern age
If you listen carefully whilst looking down the listings at your local cinema, you’ll hear a faint beeping noise at irregular intervals
That’s the sound of the horror genre’s heartbeat nearly flatlining as more and more awful horror films are released on a frequent basis.
It’s getting to the point now where I am asking when horror got so boring. When did we decide that we would stop making genuinely scary films that are paced perfectly and that have intelligent brains, and would instead switch to the dull formulaic structure of slashers and supernatural nonsense? Who made that decision?
Horror films of the modern age, it would appear, are made for an entirely different audience, an audience that’s been raised to believe films like Paranormal Activity are good. When we think about modern horror the main element that springs to mind is jump scares. Volume increasing from low to high suddenly, often accompanied by an image appearing on screen. That’s scary? Really? We jump sure, but that’s not because it’s scary. It’s because our central nervous system naturally responds to a change in the environment. It’s not scary, it’s jumpy, but that’s what people of this generation prefer. So when a genuinely scary and well made horror film is released people don’t have the patience for it. They don’t want intelligent horror with a beating pulse, they want cheap jump scares and a hollow carcass of a film.
I remember getting quite annoyed just recently because I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and I found a tweet from someone roughly my age, simply saying:
“The Babadook is the worst film ever made”
What made me annoyed is that this is the mentality that a lot of people share. I know many people of my age who watched The Babadook and claimed that it was rubbish, that it was boring, that it wasn’t scary. I’m not going to say they’re wrong on that front because they’re entitled their opinion, but it was obvious they said those things because they do not have the patience for it. Jennifer Kent’s writing for The Babadook is superb, and while it may not be a film full of jump scares and graphic violence, it is genuinely scary. It is a film that uses the power of suggestion, that focuses on the things you see in the corner of the screen, that really crawls under your skin and makes every hair stand on end. For me it is one of the most important films of our generation and stands as one of the best modern horror films, it’s just such a shame that more people did not have the patience for it.
When I listen to film critics, journalists and just people who are generally older than me I hear such fantastic stories of how cinema used to be. I hear stories of how every Friday night a group of friends would pile together as much money as they had to go and see and latest horror flick that would scare the living daylights out of them, stories of film critics trying to dress like adults in order to enter a screening of a horror film, and it all sounded fantastic. What we have nowadays is films being dimmed down in order for the BBFC to give them a 15 certificate rating, thus allowing more people to see the film and the film to make more money.
It’s annoying that money should even be valued with horror cinema because originally money wasn’t even thought about. You had people independently financing films and making them on their own terms. If you look back far enough you’ll hear stories of Alfred Hitchcock risking his entire career and his money to make the version of Psycho that he wanted cinema audiences to see and it showed how filmmakers had spines and would strive to make the film they wanted people to see, not what made money. In Business terms it was what you might call “one off production”. Nowadays it has switched to mass production, with film companies pulling the levers, churning out generic film after generic film, which is why we’re faced with cinema listing this year that contain a third Insidious film and yet another Paranormal Activity installment and it is all just so tedious.
Obviously I couldn’t possibly look to discredit all modern horror as this would unforgivably neglect the modern horror films that are very good. Most notably I would draw your attention to films such as The Descent, a very small budget film that showed just how little money is needed to terrify the audience, and also The Borderlands which completely surprised me and managed to transcend my expectations as a found footage film, so clearly not all modern horror films are ruining the genre, it would just be nice to see more keeping it alive.
This brings me to the main point of this post, and quite possibly some of the most exciting news I have heard regarding cinema for some time. Later this year we will be able to see a new horror film entitled Crimson Peak. The reason this is exciting news is because the film is directed and co-written by one of the greatest minds working in cinema today: Guillermo Del Toro.
If you are unfamiliar with his work then I cannot recommend him highly enough. Someone who started out making horror films such as Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone which are hard hitting horror films that really crawl inside your head, and then moved on to make more mainstream work many will be familiar with such as Hellboy, Pacific Rim, and his triumph Pan’s Labyrinth. The man is a genius, and he has proven on numerous occasions that he is the king of dark worlds, he is the absolute master of bringing darkness to the screen and making the audience love every minute of it.
What makes me happiest about Del Toro making a horror film for modern audiences is that his head and his heart are in the right place. This is the man who strives to make films on his own terms. He has had trouble with film studios before and it resulted in him hating the films that he made, most notably Mimic is the one film he claims to be his worst due to the studio interfering. Since then he works on his own terms. He constantly turns down offers from film companies because he knows he would lose the power to make the film he wants to. He has already proven he is the king of horror film through not only his early directing work but his modern work in which we see him as producer, such as The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes. The fact he is now making another horror film is exactly what horror cinema needs, it needs a filmmaker who will work their hands to the bone in order to get the version of their film they want it.
Interestingly Pan’s Labyrinth is Del Toro’s best film and one of the greatest films ever made, and he proved with that film that having the confidence to protect your work really pays off. Del Toro received multiple offers from Hollywood producers, offering him twice the budget provided that the film was made in English. He said no. Del Toro didn’t trust translator’s to get the English subtitles for his film right, so what did he do? He did the work himself and translated the spanish screenplay into English alone. To get the film recognised what did he do? He gave up his entire salary and put the money towards pushing his film out there. And what was the result of this? It has become one of the greatest films of all time, it received multiple Oscars, and best of all when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival it received a standing ovation and applause for over twenty straight minutes. That ladies and gentleman, is how you make a film. Del Toro is a man that knows what he wants and will go above and beyond to protect it because he cares about cinema.
It would be foolish to discuss Del Toro’s work without mentioning visuals. Now if you have ever seen a film made by Del Toro then you will understand how visually impressive his films are. He is one for experimenting with prosthetics and physical effects as opposed to relying solely on computers. All you have to do is look at a project like Pan’s Labyrinth to see how visually stunning his work is. The sequences in which the faun glides across screen, or the scene in which we see the creature known only as ‘pale man’ which is such a surreal but mesmerising piece of cinema. It is clear that Del Toro is very good at creating such fantastic creatures and bringing them to life on screen, which is a part of what can make good horror work so well, when it presents beings that the audience does not understand, that are physically scary and just as a whole make us feel uneasy. I think we can expect a lot of this in Crimson Peak as it is an old school horror with a dickensian feel to it, and I am thoroughly excited to see what creatures are presented to us this time.
The whole idea of working with physical effects is something that seems to have died out, with more filmmakers relying on CG and flashier directing styles. Jennifer Kent did provide us with some impressive visuals for The Babadook but other than that the best examples of visual effects in horror come from films that are a lot older:
The Fly (1986): this is one that won’t surprise many. Cronenberg was famous for using visual effects in films such as Videodrome and the famous head exploding scene at the start of Scanners, but The Fly is undoubtedly his masterpiece. The visuals of the film still manage to terrify modern audiences, with sequences of Jeff Goldblum pulling his fingernails off, or spewing acid onto someone, or seeing his skin splitting to make way for new bodily forms, it is still jaw droppingly brilliant.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): before Michael Bay’s appalling reboot you had Wes Craven’s original masterpiece. Craven was famous for experimenting with plastic moulds and physical effects to present scenes that were shocking and actually looked real. That is why the original NOES has such memorable scenes, such as Freddy Krueger’s mouth appearing at the mouthpiece of a phone, or the figure of Krueger being pressed through the wall above someone’s bed as they sleep, filmed literally by pressing actor Robert Englund into a sheet of leathery plastic.
The Thing (1982): words cannot even begin to describe how much I love this film. I watched it a few years ago and it terrified me, and I watched it again recently and it still has the same impact on me. It is one of the most impressive pieces of horror cinema to have been made, and it is the plastic moulds and the physical effects that make it so.
Alien (1979): The artist H R Giger did fantastic work with Alien, not only for the set but in actually making the creatures we see on screen. The design for the Alien itself has become one of the most iconic, along with the famous ‘chest bursting’ scenes which impressively was shot in just one take. It stands as one of the best films ever to have been made, and the visuals triumph over any modern horror.
It films such as the ones mentioned above that stand as the epitome of good horror films. That is the sort of film that Del Toro will make. He is already well known for being the king of visual effects in modern cinema so it would not be surprising to see his talents transferred appropriately for Crimson Peak.
There isn’t really much else to say, other than I am thoroughly excited to see Crimson Peak and I think it will be one of the best films of this year. I’m trying to avoid learning too much about it, hence I’ve watched the trailer once and avoided doing too much research into it. I want to go in with an open mind and see what Del Toro has for me this time. I have every faith in Del Toro to make the film he wants, which based on his back catalogue, we can assume will be nothing short of terrifyingly beautiful.
Recently I found myself with a free day to continue going through recent film purchases. This brought me to the position of rewatching the 1994 Tim Burton film Ed Wood. Now in the past I have been guilty of insulting Tim Burton’s work, I’ve never been a fan of his newer films that have been released in recent years, however it is in this act of stupidity that I neglected to talk of how much I admire Burton as a filmmaker. It is films such as Ed Wood that remind me is a very talented man with a great eye for cinema. This only leads me to ask the all important question: what happened?
When I was a child I remember so clearly watching Burton’s films and loving every second of them. Edward Scissorhands has remained with me as a film I really like, it managed to capture such beauty that stays in the mind without diminishing. Then there were films like The Nightmare Before Christmas which everyone wrongly attributes Burton to as the director when actually he was the writer, but still it proves itself as such a wonderful story with disturbingly funny characters. I think the highlight for me of his work when I was a child however was The Corpse Bride which is such a wonderfully dark film I can just keep coming back to and fall in love with it a little bit more with each viewing. Even some of his more questionable work was a part of my childhood, such as Batman Returns which was good but somewhat overlooked since the release of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and even films like Big Fish that I never really understood the big fuss about but I’m aware I need to rewatch it now that I’m older. He was just a brilliant filmmaker who made beautifully haunting films that you would rewatch countless times no matter how much they creeped you out, but it was all a terrific experience.
If I had to pick one film of his back catalogue that I would say is a favourite for me, it is a tough choice, but ultimately I do know what it would be. Ed Wood and The Corpse Bride would both fall a very close joint second place, but the top spot has to be filled by his 1988 masterpiece Beetlejuice. I am fully aware that the film is not perfect and it is looked down upon by many, but every element of the film pleases me. From the outstanding performance by an energetic Michael Keaton, right down to the makeup and the obscure creatures and locations the film offers us, I just find myself smiling every time I watch the film. I’m aware that Burton was not involved with the writing of the film but I think his directing for the film is unparalleled with the rest of his back catalogue, a truly weird and nonsensical film that stands strong in the test of time.
Considering those films previously mentioned, along with others that I have left out, it is a real shame to see that Burton has slipped off the mark with his newer films. He once stood as a director praised for his gothic visual style and obscurity, but now he seems to be someone who is trying to hard to be the weird one in Hollywood. I have to admit that with a lot of his new films I have not seen eye to eye with them at all.
Firstly if we consider Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the 2007 horror musical… thing. It was a project that seemed perfect for Burton, with the dickensian atmosphere and the unabashedly dark subject matter it looked like if anyone was going to master it then it would be Burton. However for me there is just something about the film that does not work. It is a film that feels as though it should have stayed as a stage production, it’s very theatrical. This doesn’t necessarily work when mixed with Burton’s gothic style because it feels too forced. It is as if Burton was trying to go darker, trying to make it more gothic than it already is, but we already know the story of Sweeney Todd all too well and so it just makes the whole experience unnerving. It’s not a film you can sink into as much as something like Ed Wood. With films like Ed Wood they’re a presence that settles into the room. Sweeney Todd enters the room like a bluebottle, flies around without ever settling, makes an annoying sound in your ear, before leaving two hours later and amounting to quite frankly not a lot. I admire Burton for making the film he wanted to, but ultimately it didn’t quite work for me.
Next we have to consider the 2010 annoyance that was Alice in Wonderland which really did not need to be made. It’s not just because the screenplay is hugely unamusing and the acting is resemblant of that in a primary school production, but it’s because Burton tried to make it his own. The thing with Alice in Wonderland is that the world created by Lewis Carroll is so distinctive enough as it is. If someone mentions the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat or Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee people automatically think of Alice in Wonderland because it has characters and locations that we all know so well. So having Burton come along and try to make this his own was never going to work, and I don’t think it’s Burton’s fault because no director would be able to make it their own. If anything even talented fantasy directors like Guillermo del Toro would be unsuccessful in such a venture, so I don’t think this is solely Burton’s fault. It is as if the book is a piece of material suspended between two poles. In some cases the book is like clingfilm and is easy for the director to push through it with their own style. In this case the source material is made of leather, and so no matter how far Burton tries to push through it he is never going to get through it. I admit the new narrative structure featuring a near adult version of Alice was interesting, however it was not utilised properly and so resulted in the film resembling a balloon with no air in it.
Finally, although there are others I could mention, I don’t think I could forget to mention the problematic 2012 reboot of Dark Shadows. I’m aware I have talked about this film numerous times on my blog and I have thoroughly ripped it to shreds, so basically all there is to to say is that it is rubbish. It is absolutely awful. Not only in an upsetting way but in an infuriating way too because I sat watching it thinking “this is the man that made Corpse Bride, we know you are better than this so just get it together man!”. It just feels like segments from different films that have been sewn together, and sewn together badly may I point out, so as soon as it starts walking it falls apart piece by piece like a patchwork zombie. First the nose falls off, then the ears, then by the time you reach the final act of the film you’ve got limbs falling off, before this steaming pile of shit eventually stops painfully crawling and reaches and ending that should have happened immediately after it began.
Up until this point it is evident that Burton’s new additions to cinema have not been up to scratch. His body of work up until a certain point was so impressive and it built the pathway to everyone viewing him as the auteur we all know and love. Because the standard was set so high with films like Ed Wood it is understandable that anything that falls short of our high expectations would be viewed less positively. However I have a strong feeling that this is changing. You see I have not yet seen Burton’s latest film, Big Eyes, and I have to say I have a very good feeling about it.
The main reason I am so excited is that Burton’s heart is clearly in the right place, he is making this film because the true story that inspired the film is one that means a lot to him. Burton was part of the generation that grew up with the art of Margaret Keane, featuring in houses and business all over the place, finding this unique style haunting but beautiful. At the time he was obviously unaware of what actually happened concerning her husband Walter, much like a lot of people nowadays, so it is admirable that Burton wants to spread awareness and inform people of this shocking story.
There is something about Burton making a film from a true story that makes me feel so relaxed and unworried about the project. After his triumph with Ed Wood it is clear that he can apply his style of filmmaking appropriately to make a film that is nicely balanced between artistic and informative, between style and substance. That’s what I want from Big Eyes. I want a film that has a sound and informative narrative, wrapped in the visual style that Burton masters wonderfully. I know he is capable of it and I am feeling increasingly optimistic about the film. I’m not expecting it to be as good as Ed Wood because that was a level of filmmaking that is hard to parallel, but I at least want this to be a solid piece of film that shows Burton heading back in the right direction.
What was always brilliant about Burton’s older work is that each piece meant something. Of course they were visually intriguing and created humour in the nonsensical, but then at the core they all meant something and had a beating heart. Think about it. Corpse Bride, when you take out the singing skeletons and eyeballs that pop out, the film presents a powerful message about love and how greed inevitably leads to self destruction. Edward Scissorhands delivers a wonderful message of letting in the unknown and finding beauty in it. The Nightmare Before Christmas in it’s most basic form is about respecting other people’s cultures that differ from your own, the list goes on! It is obvious they all meant something, they were rich in substance. This was lost in newer films like Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland which focused way too heavily on style. It’s a real shame when you consider how much I love Tim Burton as a filmmaker and how impressive his back catalogue is. But I think if any film were to bring him back to making good films that mean something, it’s going to be this one.
As I said before I have not seen Big Eyes yet but I intend to watch it very soon. Once I have watched it I will probably write a follow up analysis, just to see if it met my expectations and did, as I hope it will, bring Tim Burton back to top form.For such a talented filmmaker he deserves to be one that I hold as one of my favourites. For the time being he has slipped away from this, but I am hoping Big Eyes will be the film to bring him back. I know he can do it, I just need to see it happen on screen.
We are currently living in a time where composers are making their mark on cinematic history
It is with great relief that I can finally say that gone are the days when I attempt to talk about film scores and someone mentions the name Hans Zimmer. It used to be that upon asking someone who their favourite composer was I would often hear Zimmer’s name in response. He may be one of the most popular film composers and a name that everyone is familiar with, which is perfectly understandable as he is a very talented man with an incredibly impressive body of work. However, we are living in time when other film composers are biting back against this and making their mark, putting their flag firmly in the ground and showing that they are a force to be reckoned with. I love Hans Zimmer and the work he produces, but he has healthy competition in his field, and it is beautiful.
Pictured above is the composer Alexandre Desplat, taken this year upon receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a terrific film with an outstanding score. I remember so clearly walking out of the cinema after seeing the film last March and purchasing some of the tracks from the score when I got home because they were just so utterly brilliant. Incidentally however Desplat received a double nomination this year, one for the film previously mentioned and one for his score produced for The Imitation Game. As much as I loved his work for The Grand Budapest Hotel, personally I feel that Desplat deserved the award for his work on The Imitation Game. The Grand Budapest Hotel’s score was very upbeat and jolly and suited the theatricality and style of the film perfectly, but for me the score for The Imitation Game carried more emotional weight. The scenes in which we see Alan Turing running through fields, or running from building to building once he has made a breakthrough with his work are accompanied beautifully by such powerful music that really adds to the cinematic experience. The one scene in particular that stands out for me is the scene in which Turing and the other minds that worked at Bletchley Park are burning their work in a huge fire, with focus on sheets of paper floating in the breeze and the flames rising higher, the music of the scene was just utterly sensational and it is a genuinely moving moment of cinema.
I have to say it was fantastic to see Desplat winning the award this year, having been a fan of his for a number of years now I am fully aware that his body of work speaks for itself and he does not need an Academy Award to show how talented he is. However it was wonderful to see him take to the stage and have an entire building of people applauding him and celebrating his talent in such a manner. He is honestly one of the greatest film composers this generation has seen, having been a short running collaborator with Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr Fox which I liked very much and Moonrise Kingdom which again he did wonderful work for. Aside from that he has worked on other large projects such as the recent Godzilla film, The King’s Speech and Argo, all of which were fantastic films with Desplat composing beautiful unique music to accompany them. The man is an unprecedented genius and I cannot wait to see what work he will produce next.
I’m aware some readers may not be familiar with his work, so if I was to name the films most people will have seen that allowed them to experience his work I would draw your attention to the final two Harry Potter films. In particular I would draw your attention to the first track on The Deathly Hallows Part One score entitled ‘Obliviate’, one of my favourite songs composed by Desplat. It manages to capture perfectly this idea that the story is reaching its darkest point and the characters are no longer children, they are facing death directly in the face and it is thanks to Desplat that the opening to the film is so weighted and dark.
While still vaguely on the topic of the Academy Awards I feel I should briefly return to Hans Zimmer for just a moment. As many will know he received a nomination this year for his score composed for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. He was tipped very heavily to win, but, and I am not alone when I say this, it was not his year. The score for Interstellar was good and it does hold some fantastic tracks such as ‘Mountains’, ‘Imperfect Lock’ and ‘S.T.A.Y’, however it was clearly not consistent enough to win. It was a score that was too loud in places and did feel somewhat out of place. The thing about Interstellar is that it is a film that contains shots that are accompanied best by silence. Seeing such a tiny spacecraft travelling through the vast infinite parameters of space is more haunting in silence as it makes you contemplate just how small mankind is in our universe. Zimmer has produced some fantastic work in the past and has unfortunately had more questionable work such as the much unwanted big screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s tedious work The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, both of which are ludicrously bad. So I do not have a problem with Zimmer, I have a lot of respect for him and his work, but people of my generation are finally realising he has healthy competition consisting of equals and indeed betters.
Obviously in any year of cinema only one person can win the Academy Award for Original Score but it is interesting to see those nominated. Usually it is a category that manages to capture some of the best talents of the year. However they do on occasion completely overlook certain individuals. For example one of the biggest disappoints this year was seeing that Antonio Sanchez was completely overlooked for his work on Birdman, a fantastic score consisting of haunting short tracks with only a drum kit playing pieces that mirror the twisted mind set of Riggan Thompson as he descends deeper and deeper out of contact with reality and into the mind of his onscreen alter ego, as his lust for fame consumes him. The score works perfectly with director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s vision of the film being one continuous shot. It is the perfect accompaniment for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s work as the score guides us through the labyrinthian set of the theatre, twisting around corners and from floor to floor, through doorways, out onto the streets, it was just outstanding. The rhythmic structure of the score mirroring footsteps or elevated heartbeats or just the nonsensical noise of the character’s madness was something that was captured brilliantly by Sanchez as a first time composer and it was a real shame to see him overlooked, but still an absolute pleasure to appreciate his wonderful work.
Whilst on the topic of composers who are overlooked one cannot possibly fail to mention Jonny Greenwood. He was overlooked by the Academy shockingly back in 2008 for his work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and has again been overlooked this year for another Paul Thomas Anderson film, Inherent Vice. Greenwood is an exceptional talent and his work for cinema has been genuinely fantastic. There Will Be Blood’s score was of course some of his finest work as he manages to delve into the mindset of Daniel Plainview and follow him on his journey from loneliness, to success, then onto greed and eventual madness. His scores often feel like they are part of the individual characters which works perfectly with PTA’s film as they are very heavy on character and substance. Greenwood has unfortunately been overlooked consistently, however he is a talent that does not need to step onto that stage to collect a golden statuette; his work speaks volumes that the Academy will never be able to comprehend.
It is difficult for me to talk about music composed for films in terms of favourites because I have so many composers that I hold close to me. I think if I absolutely had to pick one favourite, it is a tough choice, but ultimately I would have to say Howard Shore. Not only has he produced beautifully indescribable work for the Lord of the Rings films but he is also a long-time collaborator with David Cronenberg, one of my all-time favourite film makers. This means he has composed wonderful scores for films such as The Fly and A History of Violence, the recent Cronenberg hit Maps to the Stars, and even less known films like Cronenberg’s 1996 masterpiece Crash that has such a haunting score that really lingers in the brain and resonates in a way that makes you feel so uncomfortable, but in a really good way. For me his body of work is unparalleled and when he collaborates with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra it is enough to knock someone as dogmatic as me into a state of stunned silence, as the beauty of the music just completely takes over and obstructs my capacity to verbalise efficiently. He is a wonderful man and stands in my mind and one of the greatest talents of cinema.
One final note on this topic that I feel has to be mentioned, it would unforgivable for me to discuss film composers that are writing their names as the greats without mentioning what was one of the best film scores of last year, the phenomenal first time composer of the score for Under the Skin, Mica Levi. The Academy completely overlooked her work, but this was expected. This does not undermine the fact that Levi composed one of the best scores I have heard for a very long time, a chilling mixture of sounds that really crawls underneath your skin and feels like it’s trying to turn you inside out. Often it is hard to distinguish between the score and sound effects of the film because they merge together at points to sound like clunking machines or noises from technology and beings that are not of this world. It was one of the most bizarre and non-conventional scores that really works to contort the mind and bend your brain into a new position and relocate it elsewhere in the body, but this is an utterly fantastic experience. A dark science fiction film that explores what it means to be human and the destruction of the human body, accompanied by a score that scrambles your mind. Mica Levi is undoubtedly a talented composer and this was an unbelievable breakthrough, I honestly cannot wait to see what she produces next.
The main point I am trying to make here is that while making film composers competitive is silly because they are all so unique, it is oddly functional. It allows us to see just how many talents there are working in cinema at the moment. It presents brilliant ground for discussion as we are given the opportunity to look at numerous composers and examine their work in more detail. I do not feel that the competitive nature of the awards is functional in terms of looking for a winner, but it is healthy because it allows us to talk about the big names we all celebrate and the up and coming names such as Antonio Sanchez, thus strengthening our value of important fragments that build our culture.
And then there are wrecking balls such as Mica Levi. Composers that turn things on their head, transcend our expectations and give us an experience that cannot possibly be replicated.
Mica Levi is the type of composer that really says
“audiences watch this space, and Hollywood, watch your back”
Why is modern cinema so insistent on drowning us in waves of tedious action films?
I remember when I was a lot younger (and cuter) I was always excited by the prospect of new action films. I was raised on The Matrix, Indiana Jones and various superhero films, all of which still stand as good films. But what seems to have happened to action films is that they are substituting substance for style. Well I say “style”, I mean more bulk, more explosions and set pieces, and it is incredibly annoying to see the genre being ruined. One of the main culprits in this movement is the increasingly tedious Fast & Furious franchise.
It’s strange to think about what has happened with this film series because it appears to have died and then been reanimated. You see the first Fast & Furious film came out, it wasn’t particularly important but everyone just seemed to accept it as something different, fine. Then the second film was released and we see the stupid dial being turned further towards eleven but we could still abide this. By the third film it was turned fully to eleventy-stupid and it was all going to Hell in a handcart, looking like the franchise was dead in the water. Then somehow they bounced back from that, making the action louder and more stupid, yet people still flocked to see them. It just makes you ask that all important question: what the fuck is happening to the human race?
The problem I have with the films is that they have very little substance. They have set piece after set piece of badly directed action, crashes and explosions left right and centre, and it just doesn’t mean anything. It is all just stuff. Not only that but badly directed stuff. It’s like CRASH, BOOM, WHACK, KABOOM, end credits. It’s not interesting in the slightest because the plot (and I use that word loosely) is so thin. They attempt to add substance in the screenplay by overusing the word “family”, by constantly saying “we’re family, he’s family, yeah family” but this doesn’t add to the film in any way. It doesn’t aid characterisation and it certainly doesn’t make me feel more engaged. It’s a futile attempt by the screenplay writers to make it seem like it all means something when it really doesn’t. It’s a series of films where the second unit director has more input than the first unit. It’s just silly nonsense for the easily pleased, for people who go “look! Look at the cars! They’re dropping out of a plane! Oh and there’s a tank too! Tanks go boom!” as they wait for their mother to finish warming their milk.
I think one of the bigger problems with the franchise can be attributed to two separate outcomes, but the general point is the scale.
Firstly, because the franchise has continued for so long the films have grown bigger and so consequently the stunts have grown bigger. So what you have is a franchise that has advanced from half decent street races to absolutely ludicrous set pieces featuring tanks, planes and God knows what else. This results in a cinematic experience that gets even more boring with each new film, and action sequences with countless civilian deaths that we’re not meant to care about. It’s just absurdity.
Secondly the scale of the franchise has changed the purpose of the films. They used to be made for entertainment purposes, but now it is purely financial. They know they can pump out any horse shit they can manage and people will still flock to see it. It is a franchise measuring success by how much money the films earn, as opposed to the quality of the films. By this point they’re just squatting down every two years and shitting out a bad film then waiting for the millions to roll in. What you have to consider is that Box Office figures don’t equate to quality of film. Think about it, in 2009/2010 Avatar took more money at the Box Office than Inception. Which is the better film? Inception. It’s the same with Fast & Furious. Earlier this year Furious 7 took more money than films like Whiplash and The Theory of Everything. Is it a better film than either of those? Not even close.
Fans of the franchise try to defend it by saying it’s not all about the money. But as the film critic Doctor Mark Kermode pointed out, the studio aren’t evening hiding the fact it’s all about the money.
Kermode attended a press screening of Fast & Furious 6 before it was released, and as per usual being a film critic he received the press notes. Now, normally the press notes are used to say what the filmmaker’s vision was, what the film means, why it was made etcetera. In the case of Fast & Furious 6 the press notes consisted of three paragraphs about money and one small paragraph at the end attempting to persuade the reader that the film means something. So their intentions were made clear. The press notes pontificated about how much money the film cost to make, how much money the previous films took at the Box Office and how successful they feel the franchise is based on how much money it takes, and so it was clear that money was their primary focus, thus explaining why the film was so rubbish. It’s a typical case of a franchise just pumping out sequel after sequel because they know that people will pay to see them regardless of how awful they are, like Pirates of the Caribbean. The studio is well aware that each sequel will take more money than the previous film which is why they will keep watering the money tree for as long as they can.
So as the ludicrous stunts are taking place and all the gunfire and explosions are happening on screen there is one thing that works in the franchise’s favour. The only feature that works to an extent, but still needs improving, is the gender equality. It is refreshing to see an action film with strong female characters who kick arse as well as any of the men do. I like that Michelle Rodriguez is still looking to play the female action character that is a challenge for any man on screen, much like her smaller roles in older films like Resident Evil and Avatar. However this is still not enough to make up for the ill-disciplined action sequences that account for a considerable amount of the screentime.
It’s not that I’m a film snob who doesn’t like action films at all. On the contrary I really like action as a genre. I’ve grown up with Marvel films which often make very good action films, such as the recent Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m also a big fan of Matthew Vaughn who directed Kick Ass, which still remains one of the best films of recent years. The problem is that action is a genre that slips into stupidity very easily, so with films like Transformers it’s incredibly boring seeing building after building get smashed for two and a half hours. Thankfully, it is a genre that is mastered brilliantly by certain people.
If you want to watch a really good action film then I cannot recommend highly enough the Indonesian hit The Raid, directed by Gareth Evans. It is the perfect example of an unabashedly bold action film that has a beating heart and an intelligent brain. It is a brutal film about a SWAT team attempting to clear out a tower block inhabited by criminals and gang members, and for such a simple premise they managed to make a fantastic film out of it and transcend everybody’s expectations. The action sequences are directed with such pinpoint precision, and it’s shot in such a fantastic manner whereby the camera moves like liquid from floor to floor and the action looks and feels real. You can feel the weight of every hit, every kick, and because the narrative takes its time to develop you genuinely feel scared for the main character and establish an emotional connection with him. Most importantly this means that the events of the film matter to you as the audience. It is genuinely a fantastic film and proves that action does not have to be stupid.
However it’s not just the smaller action films that impress me, the big blockbusters can often be good action films. Just recently I finally got around to watching the new Godzilla project, which I thought was very good. It was a relief to see the talents of Gareth Edwards growing after his success with Monsters. I also got around to watching Robert Schwentke’s RED which I was well informed was a good film by my friend Molly and indeed it was. And of course I have to mention how some franchises are still holding their dignity, most notably Star Trek which J.J.Abrams has done wonders for, and James Bond which Sam Mendes completely mastered with Skyfall and whom has everybody’s support with the follow up project Spectre.
Unfortunately not every director thinks like Abrams or Mendes. There’s a common rule among filmmakers, particularly action filmmakers, that the way to make a film a success is to be more stupid than the audience. Fast & Furious sticks to this rule, with every film being bigger and louder and more stupid than its predecessor, and they’re more than welcome to do this. However this will never stop filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, making films like Inception and The Dark Knight, filmmakers who treat the audience as intelligent sentient beings, and most importantly who understand that small arthouse films and big blockbusters don’t have to be exclusive. The Fast & Furious team can keep churning out sequel after sequel, but there will always be filmmakers out there proving that action films do not have to be stupid.
Interestingly Vin Diesel has been promoting Furious 7 rather ruthlessly this year, paying various tributes to Paul Walker in the process, for which he has my utmost respect. During this period Diesel revealed that there is an eighth film in the works. Which wasn’t a surprise to anyone because we all live on planet Earth and know it will take even more money than this film.
He also was quoted as saying that Furious 7 could win an Oscar. That’s the same attitude adopted by the studio that brought us Transformers: Age of Extinction, the same studio that actually gave it to the Academy for consideration in the ‘Best Picture’ category.
Check the nominations, see how well that went.
For some time now I have been thinking about why exactly I struggle to connect with modern additions to the romance genre. I haven’t been able to explain it in an adequate manner. However, I believe I finally know why I cannot connect with these films, and the main fault lies in the writing.
What I have often found with newer romance films is that I do not like the characters. They are meant to be people I can connect with and furthermore sympathise with when things go wrong, and yet they just annoy me. So the problem that comes from them annoying me is that I lose interest; I do not care about what happens to them. If they are unhappy then I’m not particularly bothered, it’s a fitting consequence of them being an annoying little shit. That may sound unreasonable but if the writers want me to engage in a film I need to do so in my own way without them telling who I like.
In the past I’ve written about romance films I didn’t like, and upon examining all of them it is evident that this rule applies.
The first example I should draw your attention to is the recent over hyped but underperforming schmaltzy pile of nonsense The Fault in our Stars. Now already I can hear the sound of people saying “oh you didn’t like it because you’re a boy” WRONG! My gender has absolutely nothing to do with it. I love romance, it’s one of my favourite genres and actually for me it’s one of the most important genres in cinema. The reason I didn’t like TFIOS is because it genuinely is a really bad film. A dull, self indulgent, appallingly written and poorly acted piece of cinema that had an excessive running time and characters that are beyond irritating. I don’t have any moral qualms with Hazel, she is a strong willed realist whom I think is an interesting character. But Augustus.
It is a shame that Hazel’s love interest has to be such an annoying arsehole. Not only is he a dull, arrogant and unfunny idiot who blames his disability for his failure in losing his virginity, but he also relies on this absurd little hipster metaphor in attempt to parallel his cancer with smoking cigarettes. He keeps a cigarette in his mouth without lighting it, allowing him to be arrogant of the fact he isn’t giving it the power to kill him, the same as if he sat in his car without turning the engine on and then claiming he’s not giving it the power to kill him in a collision. This is meant to be like his cancer, until you consider the multiple reasons as to why the metaphor does not work. Most notably because his cancer is out of his control and does eventually kill him (thus rendering the metaphor redundant) but also because smoking is a choice, cancer is not. It’s little quirks such as this, and his annoying habit of using Hazel’s first and middle name, that make me dislike him. As soon as this happens I start to lose interest in the character and so I become less engaged in the film.
This is not the only culprit however, I couldn’t possibly write about this topic without discussing a film I have slated on numerous occasions: 500 Days of Summer. In the past when I have discussed this film I made it quite clear that the main reason I didn’t like the film is the characters. I can’t stand the character of Tom because he’s an idiot for placing his happiness entirely in one person’s hands despite this person expressing clearly that they don’t want a relationship, and on the other side of that coin I found Summer to be cringeworthingly annoying with her disorganised approach to life and ‘anything goes’ attitude. Together they were clearly dysfunctional and yet I’m meant to feel bad that things don’t work out? Absolutely not, it’s their own actions that lead to their unhappiness. They need to grow up, stop kidding themselves by hammering mismatched jigsaw pieces together, and accept they’re not meant to be. By the end of the film I don’t care if they’re happy or not, I don’t feel sad that they’re not together because it is glaringly obvious that they do not work as a couple, so the writer needs to stop attempting to make me feel bad for Tom.
I’m not trying to say that everything should be completely functional in a romance film, because obviously that would be boring and would indeed undermine my argument from a few weeks back. What I am instead suggesting is that I dislike it when romance is covertly dysfunctional, when it doesn’t have the courage to tell us that the characters are written for a certain audience and won’t be liked by everyone else. This my problem with TFIOS, the young couple are meant to be happy and I’m meant to feel pleased for them but it doesn’t work because Augustus is so bloody annoying. If the writers of the film stopped trying to make him seem like a nice guy and to make me like him and actually admitted how annoying he is then I would connect more with it. I would be able to accept his flaws there and then and continue developing an interest in the film. If they made it so he wasn’t such a flat surface, such a two dimensional character without depth, then I might find it easier. Hollywood writers need to stop trying to make my like their characters.
If you look back at some of the best writing in romantic films you can see that the characters are not perfect because they’re not meant to be, they reflect how people are in real life. We see every element of them, the good and the bad wrapped in a three dimensional package so we can make up our own minds without being forced to like or dislike them. But in these cases the writers aren’t trying to make them seem like decent people, they are showing us how people can be complete wankers or bitches beyond belief, and yet we can still connect with the film because they are giving us the truth, they are giving us every angle of realistic characters that could be real human beings.
Take for example one of my favourite films, Ruby Sparks written by Zoe Kazan, you’ve got a main character called Calvin who is very conflicted. At the beginning of the film he appears to be a very solemn person who is distant from those around him. He is rather lonely but what he really wants is a functioning relationship, and so we do somewhat feel sympathy for him because deep down every human wants to be loved. But then as the film progresses and we see him developing the ability to control Ruby just by writing down a statement on his typewriter we see a darker side to him. We begin to see how controlling and manipulative Calvin can be in the sense that he wants Ruby to be absolutely perfect for him and for her to meet his every desire. He wants to control who she sees, how often they see each other, how happy or sad she is, and it does turn the circle into a sphere and develop who he is. It does take a rather psychotic turn towards the end as we see his actions take a more serious turn, but he is still a character we connect with. Kazan was not trying to make us like him, she was showing what a human would do if they had this power and then leaves it for the audience to make up their own mind. It is as if she is saying “right, there’s both sides to him, you decide” and I actually feel that it is one of the most admirable scripts of recent years.
I’m about to sound like a stuck record with this next point but I couldn’t possibly be talking about characters in romance films that we’re not meant to like without mentioning the work of Woody Allen. It seems to be a recurring element in his work that we are presented with main characters we are not meant to like. With Annie Hall the character of Alvy is shown as his most neurotic self and Allen is clearly not trying to make us like him. Alvy is given to us as someone who has never quite gripped reality properly, who talks too much and ruins things in a relationship by making sex one of the most important elements, and yet we are in no way distant from the character. We see how Alvy is a tender person and he genuinely cares about Annie. One of the most hard hitting scenes of that film is when Alvy goes round to see Annie at three in the morning, long after they have broken up. She is in tears and yet he still goes round to listen to her and comfort her. It’s one of the most human moments you will ever find in film. It may be a surreal comedy that relies on the nonsensical and absurd, but Alvy is still a three dimensional character that the audience can engage with through developing their own opinion based on what they see.
This thread does run throughout Allen’s work, for example in Hannah and Her Sisters the main characters are not the most likable. It is made clear from the start that they are a conflicted bunch. Mickey is shown to be a hypochondriac who is annoying as hell with his constant health scare nonsense, and then Elliot is someone who is falling out of love with his wife and in love with his wife’s sister. They are not likable characters and Allen does not for one minute attempt to make us like them nor dislike, which makes the film more engaging because we are able to develop our own individual connection with the characters. We find other ways to connect with the characters without the need to try and fool us into thinking they are decent people. The same goes for the main character in Manhattan, a character whom is often looked upon with untrusting eyes due to the fact he is a middle aged man in a relationship with a young girl, who then falls for someone else, only to realise he still loves the girl and then has to attempt to win her back. He is not a likable character and it is clearly a dysfunctional romance film, but this is made clear from the outset and so we know where we stand. We’re not fooled into initially thinking everything is fine and these characters are nice people, to later find we were deceived. Allen is very good at writing characters that are incredibly annoying or just plain nasty and yet the films are still engaging and we are still somehow connected to the characters on screen.
Obviously it is quite a tough argument because I don’t think there is a set way romance films should be written. What I don’t like is having a character rammed down my throat and then being told to like or dislike them. I don’t want to be judged for not liking a romance film when the characters were so annoying they ruined it for me. I would much rather make my mind up for myself. In some cases I like the characters and the film is better in my opinion, in other cases the characters are more annoying as so the film doesn’t work. Either way I am still an open minded film fanatic and so I am more than willing to give every film a fair chance.
Unfortunately I am never going to see eye to eye with TFIOS, let’s just keep it that way.