The exclusivity wars : Whoever wins, we lose

Netflix and other on demand services of its ilk have had such a huge impact on viewing habits in such a short amount of time. Don’t know about you but I’m getting a bit sick of service exclusive content and I can see some unpleasant things on the horizon. Speaking of which, I assume you’ve heard about Adam Sandler’s four-film deal with Netflix? Basically, the theoretical comedian has made a deal to produce and star in four films for the company. Also, the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will premiere exclusively on the service. That’s great an’ all but what if you don’t have a Netflix account? What if you’ve signed up to Amazon Instant Video instead and can only justify one VOD subscription? Well, the answer seems to be “fuck you”. No terrible Sandler film or potentially great martial arts action for you. If these experiments are successful, you can bet that this’ll only be the start of it. Expect to see more exclusive studio deals with all new and back catalogue titles only appearing on one service. Fancy watching an X-Men film? Fuck you NowTV subscriber, Netflix has a deal with 20th Century Fox and all future, past and Days of Future Past X-Flicks will only be available there, so choke on it. Or, even better, each studio will create its own streaming service. Hooray for Paramount on Demand! Watch Transformers: Age of Extinction and Top Gun for only £7.99 a month! Not available on any other service!

This may seem like a bit of a leap and yes, this is all massively speculative, but I’ve just got a bad feeling about this. That’s not to say I’m completely blinkered. I can definitely see the potential. It means there’s another option for films to reach the masses. We could get showcases for directors the mainstream won’t take a chance on. It could be massive for the indie movie scene. We could get sequels to things that should rightfully have them but are deemed “too risky”, like Dredd. If they’re smart about this, it could be awesome. However, we all know how Hollywood can be, chasing the short-term gain over any kind of rational plan. This is an industry where you’ve got big cheeses like Jeffrey Katzenberg thinking along the lines of a pay by screen size system where cinemas only have films for 3 weeks and then it’s up for download. Of course, what ol’ Katzy hasn’t taken into account is how unenforceable the system would be and the fact that it would make cinemas pretty much pointless and ensure that they make even less on ticket sales than they do now. But that’s just it. They don’t think. With that in mind, why wouldn’t they go for something like this?  They’re already terrified of Video on Demand as a competitor for eyeballs and wallets. So why wouldn’t they ally themselves with the enemy and get a fat payday now so their executives can afford to go diamond parasailing or whatever the hell rich people do for the next few years?

Physical media is already dying so this digital only future may come sooner than you think. Sony posted record losses this year and most of the blame is at Blu-ray’s door. It sucks because I’m a fan of physical media. I like having a collection. I like the convenience of watching what I want, when I want. You don’t have that with VOD services. You’re at their mercy. Films and shows are taken down on a whim and with very little warning. I know some people selling their film collections because they have Netflix. Seems short-sighted to me. At least when you have a Blu-ray or DVD, you actually own the thing and its availability isn’t down to the outcome of various meetings with studios.

All of this stuff diminishes the advantages that streaming has over piracy. People won’t care about all the new exclusive films, because they’ll be ripped and reuploaded on torrenting sites mere hours after they’re made available in a bog-standard file that doesn’t do anything stupid like limit viewing options. If this continues, the only advantage that streaming will have is the fact it’s legal – and we all know how many fucks the general public give about that. Why bother paying per month for a limited library that may or may not have the things you like when you can get an unlimited HD file of something you actually want for free?

Let’s not forget what “exclusive” means: not shared with others; belonging or catering to a minority. It’s a rather worrying trend. So unless you want to spend a ridiculous amount per month, you might be seeing fewer films in the future and that’s pretty saddening.

Brobusters: Why the upcoming female-led Ghostbusters is the best outcome

After years and years in development hell, it seems that a new Ghostbusters is a go, with director Paul Feig hiring writer Katie Dippold to craft a script for a “female focused” reboot. Predictably, knees were jerked and the responses I’ve read are hugely negative, like this one from the comments bit of one of the many, many sites reporting the story (edited to protect the dumb):

So, apart from societal failings and general misogyny why are people reacting like this?

Sure, a new Ghostbusters isn’t warranted at all, but as I said in my review of 300: Rise of an Empire, Robocop 2K14 and countless others, if it has a recognisable name, chances are there are people working on a reboot or sequel as we speak. I hate the fact that studios can’t seem to leave things alone, but that’s the unimaginative business side of filmmaking rearing its ugly head. You can hate the motion of the ocean, but you can’t turn back the tide.

Could it be negative reactions to Feig’s previous stuff like Bridesmaids and The Heat? Well, I wasn’t the biggest fan of either, but they were hardly terrible films nor were they particularly badly reviewed. How about Katie Dippold’s stuff like The Heat and Parks and Recreation? Well, Parks and Rec is fucking funny and generally well regarded. So, what’s the beef, chiefs?

Recently, it seems no franchise is safe from the dreaded reboot. I’m terrified that a new Back to the Future will happen sooner rather than later, for instance. However, this new take on Ghostbusters, at least to me, seems like the best way to go about it. So, here’s why a ‘Busters reboot starring women is a good thing (in list form, so you minutes-long attention spanners and Buzzfeed lovers can appreciate it.)

1) Finally, women get a big franchise of their own

Apart from the aforementioned Bridesmaids and The Heat name another successful recent female-led comedy. Tough one, isn’t it? You may be able to name one or two more, but I’m sure you can agree it’s a short goddamn list. Now name a female-led franchise that isn’t The Hunger Games or Twilight. Yeah, good luck with that one.

Hollywood seems to think that funny women just aren’t bankable. Trouble is, if they listened to the comments above and similar ones I’ve read elsewhere, they might believe that to be right and that’s pretty damn depressing. Funny women rarely get a showcase for their talents. The Ghostbusters name is evergreen. It’s as recognisable now as it was back in the ’80s. To hand those reins over to some comediennes is a great thing. Cards on the table, this new Ghostbusters is probably going to make mad bank based on the brand recognition alone and they almost certainly are already planning sequels. I’ve talked before about Hollywood learning the wrong lessons and taking superficial elements from big hits, recycling them and expecting the same result. Here’s the thing, if GB 3 brings in the dolla dolla bills they may end up learning the right lesson for the wrong reasons and start greenlighting all sorts of women driven stuff. All speculative of course, but not unlikely.

Plus, you know what you get when you type in “female ghostbuster” into Google Images? This:

 

That needs to change.

2) It’s so much better than the alternatives

It’d be really depressing to see a knackered team going through the motions, with Dan Aykroyd being the only one who wanted to be there. I don’t want to see another film about an old Venkman, Ray and Winston, especially as poor old Egon is no longer with us. I would welcome a cameo or two to pass the torch to the new team (I’m almost certain this’ll end up happening and my money’s on Aykroyd). Even 1989’s Ghostbusters II showed us that the “franchise” was already starting to run out of steam, sanding off the edges of our heroes and making massive concessions to being more kid-friendly than the grottier, more mature first film. Whilst I had fun with 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game (considered to be “the third film” by Aykroyd in enthusiastic promo materials) it was mostly cobbled together from rejected ideas for the threequel (the ‘Busters go to a hellish alternate dimension) and fan service (more Slimer shenanigans at The Sedgewick Hotel and another scrap with Mr. Stay-Puft). It was enjoyable, but the fatigue hanging over it all was palpable. A team of women changes that dynamic and shakes up the formula and I welcome that with open arms. Also, I’m not sure where all this talk of it being a “gimmick” is coming from. The first Ghostbusters had the gimmick of successful Saturday Night Live cast members doing a film where the exciting world of supernatural extermination is treated like any other public service. Yes, there is a danger that this new film will just rely on the fact that they’re women as its sole source of comedy, but shit, the script hasn’t even been written yet. Plus, having the old cast return would be just as “gimmicky” as replacing the cast with women is accused of being.

As far as a younger, recast version, they almost certainly wouldn’t cast unknowns and I really didn’t want to see a Ghostbusters film starring any of the This is the End lot (Sony’s stable of popular comedians). I like Seth Rogen et al. but the more I think about it, the more I’m super-relieved that Ghostbusters isn’t going to become a douchey fratboy-esque property with endless unfunny improv:

JAMES FRANCO: Hey Seth, can you stop fucking lighting your joints with the proton packs? It’s leaving scorch marks on the fucking ceiling!

SETH ROGEN: Sorry dude, HUEHEHEHEHEH, I just need some fucking way to relax after that fucking ghost shot up my ass.

CRAIG ROBINSON: Man, that shit was fucked up.

JAY BARUCHEL: *Something whiny, possibly referencing Canada*

It makes my brain hurt.

Yeah, that lot have mass appeal and stuff, but they’re their own brand. I’ve seen people fantasy cast the above actors in a Ghostbusters film but Ghostbusters isn’t and shouldn’t be about that sort of humour.

3) If you don’t like it, it doesn’t take anything away from you

I know this is tough because I’m still personally struggling with this one. Doesn’t make it any less true though. As you probably know, the recent Amazing Spider-Man films have pissed me off more than I thought possible. Thing is, I still have the Spider-Man trilogy and the two good films contained within. Marc Webb hasn’t broken into my house and stolen my boxset, nor has he bashed me over the head with a wrench so I forget all of Raimi’s work, although sitting through The Amazing Spider-Man 2 felt like it at times. Same thing with Ghostbusters. The existence of a new film won’t erase the deep well of nostalgia that people have for the two existing films. As I said a mere few paragraphs ago, I’m scared that they’ll redo Back to the Future, but if it happens, it happens. If it turned out good, bonus. If not, well, it’d suck that there would be a new series of BTTF films I didn’t enjoy, but oh well. This is all really basic stuff, but comments like the ones I saw on Facebook make me think I need to reiterate these things on the off chance one of those losers happens by this site.

Don’t get me wrong. Just because I’ve written all this, it doesn’t mean I’m predisposed to like it. If the film turns out to be reheated shit, I’m going to tear it a new arsehole just like any other film. I’m just floating some positives out there in an attempt to neutralise some of the festering poison out there. Let’s actually wait until it comes out, shall we? I’m cautiously optimistic about the new Ghostbusters. Hopefully the new cast will be shown how they do things downtown, lest they run into some kind of prehistoric bitch.

Rebrand, Bomb, Repeat: Why titles matter

If you haven’t heard- the film released earlier this year called Edge of Tomorrow (quick plug, finger guns, cheeky wink 😉 ) will be renamed Live, Die, Repeat for its home media release. Logic being that since the film performed way below expected numbers, a rebranding is in order, presumably to start anew and give it a massive push for DVD/Blu-ray. They even went as far as changing the title on IMDB (UPDATE: it has now reverted back to “Edge of Tomorrow” but here’s a screenshot so I don’t look like a lying jerkbag). I have a problem with this. Now, I get the complete apathy you may have to this topic, but bear with me, ‘cos I think it speaks of bigger things than just a dumb name change.

…And it is a dumb name.  A lot of films don’t bother with taglines now for fear of not being taken super fucking seriously, but I’ve always liked them.”Live, Die, Repeat” is a great tagline. It’s to the point and snappy. What it isn’t is a good film name. Whilst the title “Edge of Tomorrow” does sound pretty generic, at least it rolls off the tongue better than “Live, Die, Repeat”, which forces you into a Shatnerian way…of… talking. Considering the film’s concept being a single repeating day, “Edge of Tomorrow” actually fits nicely and makes sense in the context of the film. Granted, the film should be called “All You Need is Kill” as that is the name of the source material, but I can see why they changed that one. It sounds like a parody of sorts.

The film underperformed but it got crazy good reviews. Several film sites I go to have had people excitedly talking about how much they enjoyed the film for months. I enjoyed it immensely. I suspect Edge of Tomorrow is a future cult classic. I’ve already seen far more people talking about over the past few months than I ever remember seeing when it came out in cinemas. It’s got word of mouth on its side here. It’s a legitimately decent film. Quality will out if you give it time. I just don’t see how a title change benefits anyone outside of the Warner Bros. execs and the marketing team. Let’s just count off the ways this may hurt the film.

1) Confusing: Yeah, the film didn’t rake in the cash they wanted, but a bunch of people saw this film. They saw a film called Edge of Tomorrow. It’s alienating those people who aren’t as fucking sad as I am and who don’t read film sites all the time and so may not know of the title change. What happens to the people who enjoyed the film and want to purchase it, unaware of the name switch? In general, consumers are like meerkats- one sense of something being off and they dash underground.

2) Negates some word of mouth: People have been reading about the “best film of the summer that they didn’t see”. Plenty of sites (including this one) sang its praises and urged people to watch it. I’m always trying to get people to watch stuff and it can be challenging. The name change alone invites this kind of possible scenario:

Gumbus: Hey, have you seen Edge of Tomorrow yet?

Merle: Nah, I looked for it on Amazon. It kept taking me to another Tom Cruise film called “Live, Die…something”.

Gumbus: Yeah, that’s the one. They just renamed it.

Merle: Oh, ok. I’ll get it later. *forgets*

3) Established name already: The film I and many other people saw in the cinema was called Edge of Tomorrow. There’s no way I can think of this film as anything else but that. Just can’t.

4) It’s a fucking shit name: It’s a fucking shit name

It doesn’t make sense. Surely they should be pushing it super-hard for the home release, with posters plastered with all the 4/5 star ratings it garnered. Box office bombs become famous for being just that. They appear on all sorts of end of year lists detailing the biggest box-office losers. The Lone Ranger suddenly became talked about because of how much it was costing Disney. Plus, here’s the thing- EoT didn’t do well, but isn’t a colossal financial failure. I could have possibly seen the logic if it had done so badly they wanted to distance themselves from the name, but even then I would have disagreed. Plus, box-office talk is mostly bollocks anyway. Eventually, most films make their money back via home sales, rentals, TV rights etc.

Ultimately, it shows a complete lack of confidence in the product. It’s like when Disney dropped the “…of Mars” off the end of John Carter because the film Mars Needs Moms had bombed the year before and their beep-boop logic told them that the “Mars” part of “Mars Needs Moms” was somehow something to do with the failure of Robert Zemeckis’ shitty-looking CGI nonsense that no-one wanted to see . I hate to bring up the phrase “artistic integrity” in a discussion about Hollywood, but it shows a lack of that too.

Titles matter. When I was in school, the practice of coming up with the title for your story before starting the actual writing was drilled into me. I get why now. It forces you to start shaping an idea. Titles are important and can change the meaning of a film entirely. Take Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since it hit DVD, the film officially became known as “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”. You see how that’s not quite the same and not quite as good? Indy is one of the titular raiders of the ark, he just happens to want it for a good purpose. Having the film’s title be Indiana Jones and the…blah blah blah is not as concise. I know it’s to bring it in line with the rest of the series, but I see it as a Rambo situation. First one establishes a famous character (Raiders/First Blood), then it becomes about chronicling the adventures of that character (...and the Temple of Doom/ Rambo III). Plus, the film’s title card just says “Raiders of the Lost Ark” whereas the others have the “Indy” prefix.

I know all of this isn’t the worst thing ever and it doesn’t even come close to some of the completely dumb shit studios pull on a regular basis, but it is irritating. I can only see it being a needless complication to the marketing of a film that didn’t get its due, especially when it had the potential to enjoy the success that Dredd did when it came to DVD. I liked Edge of Tomorrow and want it to do well. Not only because I believe in quality being rewarded, but because Hollywood needs to pay attention to films like Edge of Tomorrow/Live, Die, Repeat/Whatever the Fuck and the only way they do that is if a film makes mad bank. If you can’t tell my position on it already, if you haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, you should get on that.

Photoshop ‘Til You Drop: The Decline of the Movie Poster

I’ve wanted to write a piece about film posters for a while. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that these days they mostly fall under the “Photoshopped Nightmare” category. As I’m the sort of adult who hangs these things on my wall and then wonders why the girls aren’t calling, it’s really disappointing that they’re mostly fucking awful. I’m not going to do a post about the tropes etc. because people have done that shit way too many times over recent years, plus if you’ve set foot in a cinema’s auditorium recently, you’re already well aware of them.

When it comes to blaming someone, people bark up the wrong tree. As is often the case, studios are to blame, not the designers. Check out this informative post that describes some of the constraints put on these people. Fair enough, it’s their actual job to respond to a remit and graphic designers are usually insanely put-upon to try and re-create some uncreative arsehole’s vague vision, but it still seems like a lot to deal with. Plus, the system in place seems directly opposed to any kind of creativity and almost custom built to produce the same grey glurge time and time again.

Much like everything else in the filmmaking process, posters are often focus grouped to death, which is a huge reason why everything looks the fucking same. Here’s the dirty secret about focus groups- they’re not the be-all and end-all. There’s years of documented problems with using focus groups, but they’re still used heavily and their findings are taken as gospel. If you haven’t seen Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant “State of Cinema” speech, I suggest you get on that. In it, he mentions the flaws of the testing system and how it affects everything to do with a movie’s release, including the poster. The thing is, people nearly always want what they’ve seen before. There’s the uber famous Henry Ford quote that springs to mind when he talked about this new fangled motor car he’d produced: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s exactly the same here.

So, the thing that made me think about this all again is that particular Black Widow poster at the top of all this. If you can’t see what’s wrong with it, you need to go outside and see what a real woman looks like (or simply look down if you happen to be a woman, obviously). The proportions are preposterous. At this point, you may be thinking “Sure, but this is just the standard Photoshop problem that plagues magazine covers and the like- nothing new here.” Well, how come both the Cap and Nick Fury posters released at the same time and done by the same people don’t look as freakish? Well, we all know the reason why, don’t we? Women are often portrayed as purely sexual objects and fetishised to a ridiculous degree.  That particular Black Widow poster is made to appeal to the mouth-breathing teenage boy demographic who have no idea what an actual woman looks like and have brought themselves up on twisted pornographic caricatures of women thanks to the plethora of porn sites, video games and comic books that they indulge in. The fact that they felt they needed to give Scarlett Johansson, an almost painfully beautiful woman to begin with, a smaller waist, pixel perfect hair and zipper-busting tits is insane and speaks of problems way bigger than the simple marketing of a movie.

So why am I getting bent out of shape? Surely it’s the film that matters? Well, yeah, but movie posters are a grand tradition. Sure, the release of a poster seems more like an obligation on the studios’ part, but it still exists. The Internet and TV ads are presumably much more effective marketing tools but the poster is still hanging on in there. Shit, you need something to slap up on billboards and bus stops. To me, they represent a lot. As part of my work on this site, I have to find a corresponding poster to head my reviews and they nearly always suck. I remember seeing exciting posters for future films as a kid and just being drawn to them like a gormless moth. My parents used to hate taking me to the cinema because when it came time to leave, I would always lag behind and gawp at the colourful posters on display. In some cases, the film’s art is intrinsically linked to what I picture when I think of the film itself. Marty looking shocked at his watch whilst stepping out of his DeLorean perfectly encapsulates Back to the Future in a single image.The massive shark head coming up out of the depths to munch on a swimmer is Jaws to me. There’s no poster that I can think of it recent years that has made me want to rush out, buy it, frame it and hang it on my wall.

Surely the popularity of the Mondo posters and the minimalist designs shared on places like Tumblr and DeviantArt indicate that there is a market for interesting art out there? One of my favourite recent pieces is the IMAX exclusive poster for Iron Man 3 that I got from a screening, seen below. Sure, I understand why it wasn’t used for general release because it doesn’t really tell you anything about the film or feature ticket-seller Robert Downey Jr’s face or name, but shit, it’s leagues ahead of the theatrical poster where it looks like Gwyneth Paltrow has a broken neck.

DVD/Blu-ray cover art is normally even worse. Sometimes they won’t even use their shitty theatrical art and knock together an even shittier image for the cover. As a film collector with a weird obsession with aesthetics, it really bugs me. It’s one of the main reasons I buy the increasingly popular steelbook editions of films as the cover art is usually far superior to, and way more interesting than, the normal release because it doesn’t have to cater to the sort of people who impulse buy because the cover looks like something they’ve seen before.

So what’s the solution? I have no real idea. I don’t work in the industry. However, I will ask a few questions. As film posters aren’t the most important or effective thing in a film’s promotional campaign, why can’t they be a bit more experimental? Surely now’s the time to do it as nearly every poster looks exactly the fucking same? It doesn’t make any sense to me. They’ve got fuck all to lose and a bunch of things to gain.

Review of the Year

 
Annually resentive.
 

2013 (2013)

2013

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been fascinated by the passage of time and years in particular. Nothing has the ability to move us like years do- they can make us laugh, cry, get angry, practically anything on our emotional spectrum. Thing is, I wasn’t looking forward to the now annual sequels to the series-wide reboot 2000 back at the start of the millennium. 2012 didn’t do much for me and so I felt 2013 wasn’t going to be much better. I was both fantastically right and stunningly wrong.

Featuring the biggest cast list in recent memory (around 7 billion), ranging from Hollywood A-Listers to Joe Pleb from down the street, 2013 had a lot of weight on its shoulders. My personal casting highlights were the people I love and like, who made the punishing runtime somewhat bearable. There were also complete arseholes thrown into the mix, who have no idea how to act properly and seemed to be purely there to fuck with peoples’ enjoyment of the experience. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen enough of this series to become slightly jaded, but there seemed to be more of these arsehole characters about than the other type. I especially noticed a theme of selfishness and blinkered self-preservation running through the populace, which troubled me. I hope it doesn’t become a series hallmark as that would be a great shame. I would take this opportunity to review myself as I had a bit part in proceedings, but I feel that after dismissing about 99.999 (recurring)% of the cast, that would be rather gauche.

My biggest problem with 2013 was its tone. It just didn’t know what it wanted to be. There were births, deaths, marriages, divorces, trips to McDonalds, vicious street beatings, sport, natural disasters, human kindness, love, hate, orgies, papercuts and a whole host of other things going on. It started to hurt my head after a while. As selfish and narcissistic as this may sound, I only managed to retain my sanity by concentrating on the little bit I was in, but even that seemed overwhelming at times. As I mentioned before, the total runtime was a serious problem and I felt myself physically ageing during the proceeds. The writing was either brilliant or poor, depending on what bits you focused on. For instance, somebody thought it was funny to call my character a “fat cunt”, which I’m sure you’ll agree has no wit or creative spark to it whatsoever. Undoubtedly, there are some people that find that stuff funny, but it wasn’t for me.

I suppose 2013 is a divisive one. When it comes down to it, your opinion will differ massively depending on the bits you focused on. It’s completely subjective and as such, kind of pointless to review, unless it takes the form of a weird joke posted out of boredom. As a result, I’m not sure what to give it. Still, even if you loved it, there’s no harm in wishing for the sequel to be better. Here’s hoping. Anyway, Happy New Year from The Popcorn Bucket.

to

Snobbery, Actually: In Defence of Romantic Comedies

I’ve been preparing my end of year stuff and maybe one further review, but I felt compelled to write after my various social feeds blew up with mocking guffaws and gleefully typed smuggery. So, this article has been doing the rounds lately. I’m not here to tear down a writer far more talented and successful than I am or anything. It’s a well-written, funny piece that raises some decent points. I read it as satirical, but judging from the reactions, people are taking it dead seriously. In any case, I can’t shake the feeling the big picture is being missed, either by the writer or the people sharing it as a long-awaited kick to the ribs of a film they don’t like.

I don’t mind rom-coms at all. In general, they have a simple tale to tell and unspool a familiar yarn to a satisfactory conclusion. I have a problem with bad rom-coms that don’t even try to tell a proper story, but Love Actually isn’t one of them. It’s not the greatest, but it’s decent enough. The article keeps banging on about a lack of female personalities and points the finger at Richard Curtis, who fucking dares to have a penis:

“None of the women in this movie fucking talk. All of the men in this movie “win” a woman at the end. This goddamn movie.”

“This is a movie made for women by a man.”

Thing is, this is pretty much all rom-coms, regardless of main character focus or gender. Y’see the main narrative thrust of a romantic comedy is that character A and character B will get together, but not before they deserve that relationship. Character A must undergo a personal transformation to be worthy of Character B’s love. Or vice versa. The relationship is the prize, not the person as such. Yeah, it’s stupid and childishly simplistic, but that’s what people want. Sometimes, Character A will realise two-thirds of the way through that they just had to be themselves and ride a self-esteem engine to Relationship Town. This is barely one step above the “believe in yourself” bullshit a lot of kids’ films trot out. These aren’t soul-searching thinky pieces and as such, don’t do well when coldly dissected. Plus, that whole “made for women by a man” thing- why can’t Curtis to be taken to task on his own merit (or lack thereof) rather than his gender? A lot of female-focused rom-coms are written by women and are completely fucking terrible. Having the corresponding genitals to your audience does not make you able to write good characters of either sex.

Love Actually does have a problem with its female characters, for sure. It also has a problem with its barely-there male characters too. Romantic comedy characters are sketched in the broadest terms. They are very rarely complex, realistic or grounded. Y’know why? Because rom-coms exist for the purposes of projection. You are meant to identify with the lead and project yourself onto them so that when they finally hook up with their dream fella/ladyfella you are satisfied by proxy. It’s cathartic. What you’re basically watching is a live-action cartoon, filled with exaggerated people with amplified emotions. You are happy that your avatar has got their dreamboat and you walk away with hope the same will happen to you. Most rom-coms go for the low-hanging fruit. “Here’s our heroine!”, they simper, “She’s clumsy and quirky and awkward in social situations!”. Pfft. Name me one person who doesn’t think they’re any of those things. There’s normally some artistic flair thrown in for good measure, because every bastard who has ever lived would like to think that they’re creative in some capacity. On the flipside, if our lead is a guy, he’s usually too much of a manchild who totally doesn’t want to get tied down, bro. These characters are the equivalent of a daily horoscope i.e. detailed and complimentary enough so you think it relates to you, but vague enough so there’s some wiggle room and can apply to as many people as possible. It’s safe escapism. It’s like fast food- empty calories, but good to indulge in once in a while.

Rom-coms are comforting. If the endless sequels, remakes and adaptations that made up the list of this year’s highest grossing films didn’t tip you off, people like knowing what they’re getting. I was chatting to my grandmother about some short story she’d read in one of her magazines. It consisted of a woman who moves to a new area, gets to know the handsome town vet (after saving a kitten in the snow). There were various misunderstandings (and maybe something to do with him getting over a dead wife, I can’t remember) but eventually they fell in love and got married. Of course they did. I was rolling my eyes until she concluded the story by saying “It was lovely.” in such a warm and genuine way, I felt like a real rat bastard. I realised that’s what it should be like. It’s the same reason I actually quite like the Fast & Furious series (quick shameless plug), I’m not there for the fucking turgid dialogue or threadbare story, I’m there for the goddamn vroom-vroom. The audience knows what it wants. As I said before, that’s no excuse to not tell a good story or to half-arse it, but it’s a handy framework to build your project on.

So, that’s what I have to say about that. Bringing it back to Love Actually, you can’t not award at least some points for a film that features this track. You just can’t.

Separating the Art from the Artist or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Films

I’m not saying this to be controversial and I’ll try my best not to come across as pretentious or stray too far off-topic, but this whole Ian Watkins thing has got me thinking. In case you didn’t know, Ian Watkins, former lead singer of Welsh band Lostprophets has been sentenced to at least 29 years in prison after pleading guilty to numerous child abuse offenses. It’s some dark, upsetting shit. So- why is this important or even necessary to talk about on a knockabout, sweary film blog? Have I lost my goddamn mind? Well,  I think it illustrates my point rather well. Y’see, there’s been an understandable backlash with now former fans of the band destroying merchandise and vowing to never listen to their music again. The band’s hometown of Pontypridd have even removed a paving stone featuring their lyrics in response to the news and pressure from local politicians. A quick Twitter search of “Lostprophets” will throw up hundreds of results, all echoing similar sentiments. Ignoring the fact that there are other innocent members of the band who are being tarred with the same brush, I think this particular kind of reaction is understandable, but still over the top and knee-jerky. I’ve heard similar reactions and promises of massive cleansing purges when other celebrity/ artists’ names are dragged through the mud. I think it’s a damn shame to throw away something that means something to you.

I don’t claim to be anything approaching knowledgeable on the subject of art. It’s such a broad topic that I would be foolish to even attempt to start postulating on what art is and what it ultimately all means. I simply don’t have the brain power, quite honestly. However, like most people, I know what it means to me. I feel that once art is in the public domain, it belongs to the public, not in terms of legality and copyright, but in terms of the significance people impress upon it. Speaking specifically about films, this is why a lot of people are still up in arms about the changes George Lucas made to the Star Wars films. He may own the rights, but people grew up knowing every line, re-enacting every lightsaber fight and making up their own stories with the action figures. They lived it and made it theirs. It means a surprising amount to people and to change that and instigate various “fixes” could be seen as invalidating peoples’ childhood love for the series. A lot of people still give Tom Cruise a hard time for being a Scientologist. The way I see it, his personal life has nothing to do with the people he portrays on screen. Plus, no matter how you feel about it, that is the way he’s chosen to live his life. You may not see it as a legitimate religion or a creed worth following, but there’s still no reason for that to change how you react to any character he’s playing. Saying something like “Tiny L.Ron enthusiast Tom Cruise is back with another Mission Impossible flick”, as I’ve seen on various review sites, is just as bad as calling a Christian actor a “Bible basher”. It shouldn’t factor into the equation. I don’t “get” Scientology at all, but it doesn’t colour my view of Ethan Hunt, Jack Reacher or Les Grossman. It really shouldn’t be an issue, but unfortunately it is for a lot of people.

It’s tough because a lot of the time, celebrities create an off-screen persona for themselves which usually ties into their performance roles for the purposes of promotion and advertising. Being the current James Bond, people expect Daniel Craig to always be dapper when out and about and is often dressed for public appearances by whichever suitmaker is sponsoring the Bond films. Scarlett Johansson is seen as glamorous and often plays sultry characters, so she’s fronted lots of perfume and make-up campaigns. These companies are selling you a lifestyle and will use stunt-casting to get that point across. It’s all artifice though. This may all seem eye-rollingly obvious to you, but I think it bears repeating. How many times have you heard of a soap opera actor being booed in the street or hit with handbags because their character is involved in a storyline where they’re cheating on their partner or something similar?

Sean Penn once got apocalyptically drunk, tied up Madonna and beat the shit out of her repeatedly for 9 hours. Did that inform my opinion of him in things like Milk and Mystic River? No. Does it inform my view of him as a person? Definitely. Should I retroactively take back the laughs I got from Sleeper and Annie Hall because Woody Allen is a weirdo who has done some fucked up things in his personal life? No, even if that was possible. Once you’ve watched/listened to/otherwise interacted with art, if you end up connecting with it, that’s all that matters as far as I’m concerned. Your personal reaction to a piece of art, regardless of the originating artist’s intent or way of thinking, is just as valid. I think Morrissey is an outspoken bellend, but that doesn’t mean I have to hate his solo work or any output by The Smiths. I can separate the art from the artist, but it’s something I had to learn. You may find your view of the product tainted and that’s fine. That’s your prerogative.

I have fond memories of the film Halloween, because the first time I watched it at a party, it was just after my first proper kiss. I spent the entire film barely able to concentrate on Michael Myers’ impressive knifework because my heart was in my throat and I had a massive smile on my face as I cuddled up to the poor deluded girl next to me. I remember watching Jurassic Park on VHS at 6 am at my grandmother’s house and instantly connecting with Tim, the dinosaur-obsessed kid who won’t shut up, because he mirrored how I was at the time. I also remember revelling in the fact that I was watching a proper “grown-up” film, despite it scaring the living shit out of me. Pixar’s Ratatouille will always have a special significance to me because after a long time of being depressed and unable to enjoy anything I previously found pleasurable, it was the first film that I managed to enjoy in spite of everything. It gave me hope for the future and another reason to fight to get better. These are all things the filmmakers couldn’t have possibly intended, but they’re undeniably part of the films for me. Even if all the actors/directors/whoever responsible for the films mentioned above were convicted of terrible crimes, they still can’t take those things away from me. Thank Christ too.

Anyway, that’s it. S’all I got to say. I just felt like I needed to vent and possibly have something to point to next time a loved actor/director/musician/whatever does something reprehensible and people insist on throwing the baby out with the bathwater. No easy answers or wry sign-offs. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Earth’s Mightiest Xeroxes: The Unfortunate Legacy of The Avengers

“We’re surrounded by shitty knock-offs!”

I’ve spoken before about studios learning the wrong lessons from box office megahits and trying to apply said lessons to whatever franchises they have, whether it suits or not. In the past few days, it’s been announced that Wonder Woman will appear in the still untitled Batman vs Superman film. The first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also hit, giving us not one villain as previously thought, but multiple bastards to deal with as well as massive hints at an expanded universe to come. Plus, we have X-Men: Days of Future Past and as of yesterday, X-Men: Apocalypse in the pipeline, the former promising an all-star mash-up of the established cast of the original trilogy with the swingin’ ’60s versions of the characters from First Class. I should be dancing about my room, yelling about how we live in the golden age of comic book films, but I can’t shake the feeling we’re in danger of having some monumental clusterfucks on our hands.

I’ll take them on in order. Firstly, that whole Wonder Woman thing. I’m happy that she finally gets to make an overdue appearance, but I’m pissed off that she’ll be playing third fiddle to Bats and Supes. Obviously, I have no idea how much she’ll appear in the film, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t going to be taking too much attention away from the two beefy boys. I’ve said it before, but D.C.’s attempts at creating a cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s are a fucking mess. Wonder Woman deserves her own film, not just a glorified cameo. Yeah, they may do a solo outing later on, but my guess is that they’ll be steamrolling ahead with all this Justice League stuff for the foreseeable future and are only cramming Ms. Prince in because people expect some form of introduction to the character before the big team up film, thanks to the groundwork laid by The Avengers. Warner Bros. are grasping at straws and forming a film completely out of knee-jerk reactions. All it is is a shaky response to Marvel’s throwing down of the (Infinity) gauntlet.There’s nothing to go on so far apart from internet tittle-tattle and scant announcements, but I can already feel my caution starting to overtake my anticipation. As with all these entries, I want them to be good and would be delighted if they turned out that way, it’s just I feel that Man of Steel 2: Bruce and Diana Too is not being given the care and attention it needs. We’ll see.

Onto my pet subject: Spider-Man. I’m being honest here, I haven’t had high hopes for this one at all. The first one left me angry and it seems they have no interest in righting their wrongs. Some terrible CGI, rubbish dialogue and the baffling return of bullet time aside, there are more troubling things contained in the trailer below:

If you haven’t spent whole stretches of your life dedicated to the adventures of a smartass, spandex-wearing teen like I have, let me fill you in on what’s going on. Around the 1:14 mark, there are some recognisable villain hallmarks to be seen in the background, namely Vulture’s wings and Doc Ock’s tentacles. It seems like the trailer’s setting up the appearance of The Sinister Six, a supervillain group, pretty much the anti-Avengers, who team up to take down their common arachnid enemy. The roster has changed over the decades so it’s tough to say which line-up they’ll go with, but they could have given us the answer in this trailer and have Doc Ock, Electro, Lizard, Vulture, Rhino and the Green Goblin for their sickening sextet. If you’d have told the 10 year old me that not only would there be loads of Spider-Man films one day, but one featuring The Sinister Six, I think he would have flipped his lid. Thing is, adult me has been hurt before by Spider-Man 3 and more pertinently, The Amazing Spider-Man. Marc Webb et al have already showed they don’t “get” Spider-Man and it’s only going to get worse. I would have liked to have seen at least one more film where Spidey takes on a singular villain without the constraints of being shackled to a spider origin story before we barrel in to a big “event” picture. Having multiple villains can work, but only if a deft touch is used. They couldn’t even handle The Lizard on his own without ballsing it up, so I doubt that they’ll be able to handle three in this sequel and six in future films. They’re trying to run before the can walk. Christ, they can’t even wallcrawl properly yet. I will say this though- Dane DeHaan looks like he’s nailed Harry Osborn and I’m looking forward to see where he takes it.

The X-Men franchise is the one I’m least worried about. I believe in Bryan Singer. Whilst I would have liked another film focused on the First Class lot, I think Days of Future Past is going to be good. Singer cares about character and will hopefully be able to balance all the spinning plates. Besides the time-twisty adventures planned, there’s still a Wolverine sequel to come and spin-offs in the form of an X-Force feature, which could possibly set up a spin-off of its own in the form of a long-awaited standalone Deadpool film. There’s even talk of merging the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes, creating a Fox branded take on the Marvel universe. It’s pretty damn likely to happen too. As you may have noticed- everyone has to have their own version of The Avengers paradigm by law, apparently. If you’re still with me at this point and your brain hasn’t dribbled out of your nose, good on you.

I think the thing that annoys me is the reactionary nature of it all. Studios see the opportunity to sell 5 times as much merchandise and have jumped all over it, not taking time to figure out what made The Avengers good. It’s a fucking miracle that The Avengers worked at all and they need to respect that. In my opinion, they hired the right guy for the task. Joss Whedon had a history of making ensemble things work, from his stint as a writer on the X-Men comics to his TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He has a great knowledge of team dynamics and has a wonderful inclusionary way where you as the reader/viewer/whatever feel like part of the team and share in their triumphs and losses. The lesson to be learned isn’t “Team-ups are in right now. Let’s copy The Avengers and cram as many fucking characters in as the screen can hold and set up our next 70 films”. It says a lot that The Avengers doesn’t work nearly as well as a standalone film as it does as a sequel to all of Marvel’s “Phase One” films up to that point. I realise they’re all rushing these things into production and trying to strike whilst the iron’s hot. Here’s the thing- that particular iron cooled a while ago, it was struck at peak heat to the tune of a billion dollars, and if I may stretch this metaphor to near-breaking point, it might be a better idea to focus on creating their own iron doodads fit for heating purposes. Marvel Studios doesn’t and shouldn’t have the monopoly on superhero team-ups, but it went about it the best way, took its time building the foundations and has already started manufacturing a second iron thingamajig (sorry, I’m swear I’m completely done with that analogy now). I think that’s the lesson that studios should be taking away from the success of The Avengers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to team up with several other crappy little movie blogs and together, we’ll write the biggest and bestest review you ever did see. Be sure to buy the tie-in video game where you get to play as me and struggle to get over a handful of daily views!

Batfleck, D.C. and a distinct lack of Wonder

It’s easier to eat your words when they’ve been physically printed on something.

 

I talk about comics and comic adaptations a lot on here. I can’t help it, I’m a massive fan of superheroes and like it or not, superhero films are as ubiquitous now as Westerns were back in the day. Having grown up with Marvel, I’m usually more invested in what’s going on that side of the fence, but I like a lot of the D.C. roster too. I just enjoy comic book films. This isn’t a tiresome Us vs. Them, Pepsi vs. Coke scenario.

I’m totally baffled by D.C.’s cinematic strategy. It’s a fucking trainwreck. It seems that if it’s not Batman, they can’t make it work. After jealously eyeing that huge stacks of cash Marvel brought in with their shared cinematic universe and Avengers megahits, D.C. decided they wanted some of that money pie too. Man of Steel was the first step towards the long-gestating Justice League film and it shattered its ankle straight out of the gate. It was a hit, but not the fuckingmegahit they wanted. Plus, I’m sure the critical reaction to its questionable tone and lack of basic heroics stung them too. Unlike most sweaty nerds, I didn’t frost my jeans at the prospect of a Batman/Superman flick, especially as it’s a sequel to Man of Steel, not its own separate thing.

The one thing that has me interested in Man of Steel 2: Hey kids, this one has Batman!  is the casting of Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight. Honestly, I think it’s a fucking brilliant shout. Affleck is a great actor and director and I really think he’ll bring a lot to the role. The fallout from this news was mental, people bitching and moaning about Affleck and especially his role in 2003’s Daredevil.  Firstly, I would advise people to go back and watch the Director’s Cut of Daredevil and find out just how overblown the hate is for it. Secondly, even if you take into account things like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Gigli and Daredevil so fucking what? Affleck has proven himself a fantastic actor and director time and time again with films like Hollywoodland, Argo and The Town. He reinvented himself. I don’t see the same criticism being levelled at Matthew McConaughey, despite him slumming in dire romcoms for a while before landing some choice roles and increasing his stock as a legitimate actor. Let’s not forget the instant kneejerk responses to Michael Keaton’s casting as Batman back in ’89, or more recently, the news of Heath Ledger being cast as the Joker for The Dark Knight. I can genuinely see people eating some huge slices of humble pie when Affleck finally dons the cowl.

Anyway, the one thing that really bugs me about D.C. and their rush to get to the Justice League film is the lack of Wonder Woman. There are three core members of the Justice League: Bats, Supes and Wonders. I’d have thought D.C. would have been all over a Wonder Woman film before getting into to JL business. It’d be like an Avengers flick without Captain America. Plus, let’s face it. D.C. are lagging behind Marvel at this point. They’re rushing to compete in a market which has already been won by The Avengers. Shit, Age of Ultron will be have been out for years by the time the Justice League comes to cinemas in 2017. Here’s the thing, who’s to say there will be the same demand for superheroes in four years’ time? Maybe the bottom will have fallen out of the comic book film market by then. I hope not, but it could happen.

I would think they’d have been trying to identify gaps in the market or a way they can offer something unique- maybe like a fucking superheroine flick, something which Marvel aren’t concerning themselves with for the forseeable future. They’re making a Flash film, so why not one for everyone’s favourite Amazonian? Wonder Woman is ripe for a big budget adaptation and the only reasons I can fathom as to why they’re not pursuing it is to do with a blinkered view of the audience and basic, grotty sexism. In case you haven’t left your house for the past 10 years, superheroes are as mainstream as you can get right now. Studios are always looking to cater to the audience they don’t have rather than concentrating on the audience they do.  Why something that has the potential to bring in even more females into the multiplexes isn’t being exploited to shit is completely beyond me. Isn’t that what big business does?

To summarise:

1) Shut the fuck up ’bout Da Fleck. He’s going to be brilliant.

2) Make a Wonder Woman film, you stupid bastards.

Trailer destruction: The lost art of keeping a secret

It’s a tough thing to remember sometimes, but films are a business. As a rule, they’ll toss out any old crap as long as they can con enough people into paying for it. Artistry and quality usually come second. Whilst films have always been marketed widely, it’s safe to say that marketing strategies have become more aggressive and pervasive in the last decade or so. We’re at a point now where half the film’s budget is spent again on marketing the sodding thing. It’s hard to gauge how much a flop like The Lone Ranger has lost in total due to the extra $100 million or so that’s gone on various campaigns.  Like many people, I love trailers. I’m pissed off if I arrive late to the cinema and miss the previews beforehand. It’s part of the experience to me. It’s a fun thing to turn to your friends or the empty seats beside you and decide together whether you want to go and see the film you’ve just been pitched. I’m also the type of person to frantically click on a link to a highly anticipated film and starting geeking my little heart out over this particular detail, that line or whatever. That’s also fun, but not the sort of fun I want people to see me having.

The problem is that trailers give away too much. There’s a real knack for trailer making that’s been lost for the most part. Nowadays, studios seem to have an attitude of “shove all the money shots into 3 minutes and hope it sells our film.” I don’t need to tell you that this attitude sucks. I hate seeing a trailer and feeling like there are no surprises left when it comes time to see the actual film. Man of Steel is a recent example of this. Multiple teaser trailers, several full-length theatrical trailers, a corporate tie-in exclusive trailer plus several film clips were all posted to try and convince people to part with their hard-earned cash. It’s getting ridiculous. Looking back on Man of Steel, I kept thinking about how cool the reveal of Supes’ new suit would have been if I hadn’t seen it plastered over every bus stop, magazine and poster for the several weeks leading up to the film’s release. The superhuman smackdowns  may have had more bite if I hadn’t seen half of them already thanks to the advertising chokehold the film had. OK, maybe that’s pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it would have been nice.

Going back to last year, Prometheus had the same sort of carpet bomb approach, releasing trailers and clips like they were going out of style. So much so,that before seeing the film, some people managed to construct what they thought was the entire film’s narrative purely from the materials released: (Spoilers if you haven’t seen Prometheus yet) http://imgur.com/os5iF . It’s pretty damn accurate with only a few key details wrong, the creators of the picture being restrained by both logic and coherency, something which the film’s writers weren’t. We’re even at the point where there are teaser trailers for other trailers. Check out Ender’s Game and its “trailer announcements” or 4 second teases.  I understand they want to sell a film they’ve clearly pumped a lot of cash into, but there’s got to be better ways to do it.

So, OK. What constitutes a good trailer? To be honest, I don’t really know. I guess one that gives you enough information to work with, but makes promises that bigger and better things are to come. My best recent example of this is the trailer for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity:

I had no real inclination to see Gravity before the trailer hit, but it’s rocketed up my must-see list since. The whole tone of the film is captured in the trailer and it gives fuck all away. It’s brilliant.

It seems counter-intuitive to release a trailer that spoils the whole film for people. You’d think these days, where studios are more desperate for your cash than ever there’d be more of a coy, coquettish approach to selling their films. Sort of like prostitutes in the Old West giving a flash of thigh. If you want the good stuff, big boy, you’re going to have to pony up some coins. That’s what trailers should be like. Just don’t quote me on that.