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Author: Jack Kirk

Editorials

Coronavirus: How It’s Affected The Film Industry

March 25, 2020
Cinema screen

Right now it seems that Covid-19 has affected just about every aspect of our lives. With more extreme measures being introduced every day, every industry is taking big hits. Many are temporarily shutting down completely during the pandemic. The film industry especially has seen major disruption. While a lot of the effects may not truly be revealed until after the pandemic, here are some of the more immediate results.

Releases Delayed

James Bond
Bond has some extra time to die on his hands now (MGM, 2020)

In an effort to stop the spread of the virus, people were advised against attending large gatherings, such as concerts and weddings, with many being cancelled or postponed until a later date.

The 007 Franchise is one of the biggest, with the latest instalment carrying lots of positive behind the scenes buzz. In addition, it will also be the swansong for Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond. Originally scheduled to release on April 2nd, and at the height of marketing, with the title theme released and press tour about to begin. It will now release in November, a whole eight months later, in light of the Coronavirus situation.

Bond was arguably the biggest release of the summer, but it was shortly followed by several others, including Mulan, Peter Rabbit 2, A Quiet Place 2, Black Widow and ironically Fast 9, as well as some smaller releases.

Perhaps one of the biggest casualties is The New Mutants, which has now been delayed four times, from its original date of April 13th, 2018. Currently, there is no release date, like most of the delayed films, although it could still happen this year.

Productions Stopped

Skydance 2020 Movie
A deadly virus that will affect millions on a global scale seems like something Ethan Hunt and the IMF should have dealt with (Skydance, 2020)

In addition to completed films having their releases delayed, films and many tv shows, are halting production, films like Matt Reeves’ “The Batman”, “Mission Impossible 7” “Jurassic World: Dominion” “The Matrix 4” and the third instalment in the Harry Potter prequel “Fantastic Beasts” series have all suspended production..This is all done for the health of cast and crew as well as an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

While these delays are understandable, they will likely have knock-on effects. While many of these films are not due for release until next year at the earliest, depending on how long this situation goes on for, this could result in some of, if not all, these films being delayed due to the new timetable.

Film release windows are a delicate science, with studios needing to consider potential competition, as well as the target audience and other factors when releasing a film, so some of these films could have severe delays, such as Fast 9 being delayed by a full year.

Festivals Cancelled

Cannes Film Festival
Could Cannes be Canneclled? (THR,2020)

As part of cancelling large gatherings, many film festivals have been cancelled, including SXSW. This is a major blow to countless independent and smaller budget films that count on the exposure gained from these festivals to get distribution. Cannes is working on a backup plan, a “virtual marketplace” where films can be screened, and presentations from filmmakers. It would also allow for video meetings, for deals to be hashed out and more.

New Releases Streaming

The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man is just one of several new releases that are available on demand during their theatrical run (Universal, 2020)

With most cinemas closed, the few films that are releasing aren’t bringing in big numbers at the box office. As a result, several studios, like Universal, have released their films online, with some on the same day as they are released in theatres. Frozen 2 and (soon) Onward can also be found on Disney+. While this is a simple and effective solution to the current isolation measures put in place, it does bring into question the future of cinemas and new releases. Traditionally there is a gap of several months between a theatrical release and a film being available on demand. With these extenuating circumstances, this “rule” no longer applies. Christopher Nolan recently wrote a letter in defence of cinemas.

It remains to be seen what kind of effect this will have on digital releases in the future. Jason Blum predicts that there will be a change after the pandemic has subsided, with fewer films being given theatrical releases or having shorter runs in theatres. Netflix has encountered this problem, giving The Irishman a short stint in cinemas upon its release in order to qualify for Oscar nominations. This could give streaming another leg up over cinema, if people can watch a new release at home or go to the cinema, which would they choose?

Hopefully, cinemas will still be around for a long time yet after this crisis is over, even if we might have to wait a little longer for some of this year’s big releases.

Also Read: The Simpsons’ Obsession With Films

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Editorials

7 Great Films about Bad Weather

March 22, 2020
Into the Storm

There are few things better than watching a film on a rainy day. Some films are even about rainy days. In fact, there’s an entire genre about adverse weather conditions. Director Roland Emmerich rose to fame because of them.

If you find yourself stuck inside on a rainy day, here are several appropriate films to help you pass the time away. While there are many disaster films about earthquakes and the end of the world, these films are about the weather. No matter how bad the weather is, at least it isn’t as bad as in any of these films.

The Impossible (2012)

The Impossible Movie
Yes, Tsunami’s aren’t “bad weather” but they aren’t exactly beach weather either (Warner Brothers/Summit Entertainment, 2012)

Based on a true story of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, The Impossible follows the (fictional) Bennet family as they attempt to find each other and survive in the aftermath of the tsunami. Featuring a young Tom Holland in his feature film debut, as well as an Oscar-nominated performance from Naomi Watts and an excellent turn from Ewan McGregor. The tsunami itself was achieved with a mixture of practical and digital effects, including miniatures. Holland and Watts spent several weeks in a giant water tank during filming.

Frozen (2013)

Frozen Disney
It’s very hard to resist singing “Do you want to build a snowman?” whenever it’s snowing (Disney, 2013)

Even for those who haven’t seen this one, it’s hard not to know about it. It seemed like the whole world had Frozen fever when it was released. The story of two sisters, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Indina Menzel) and their bond, as they try to save their kingdom from an eternal winter. A more modern fairytale than some other Disney classics, it won Oscar’s for Best Animated Feature and Original Song for “Let it Go“.

Sharknado (2013)

Sharknado Movie
The worst thing about a sharknado is nowhere is safe (The Asylum, 2013)

A tornado scoops up sharks and heads towards land. That’s it, that’s a Sharknado. The series starts off with this simple premise, but later progresses to include a space battle and time travel! The hero, Fin (yes really) fights to protect his family and the world from the sharks flying through the air. It’s got plenty of cameos, from David Hasselhoff to George R.R Martin and even Jedward. Perhaps the weirdest part though, is that a sharknado is actually possible

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

The Day After Tomorrow
Although climate change flooding is an issue, it’s unlikely we’ll have to deal with this (20th Century Fox, 2004)

Roland Emmerich directs this cautionary tale about climate change, following a scientist and his son as they try to reunite against the dawning of a new ice age. The film was a box office success, and though several scientists have issues with its science, they have applauded its awareness on the issue of climate change.

The Fog (1980)

Anyone who’s ever driven in the fog knows how difficult it is, boats must be even trickier (AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1980)

While John Carpenter may be more well known for his slasher and sci-fi films, he also took a stab at a weather-based horror. A hundred years after a ship mysteriously sank nearby, a small town is covered in a mysterious fog. Although it has since gained a bit of a cult following, Carpenter himself is rather dismissive of the film, due to the troubled production.

Twister (1996)

Twister Movie
“Just popping out for some milk dear” (Warner Bros/Universal, 1996)

Written by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton and produced by Steven Speilberg, Twister follows Helen Hunt and her estranged husband Bill Paxton as storm chasers, driving right into twisters in the name of science. Its special effects were nominated for an Oscar, and it gave us this cow scene. The shoot was full of injuries, like a crewmember being hit by a camera. Paxton and Hunt were actually temporarily blinded during the shoot, and someone was stook inside a collapsing house!

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs Movie
How most of us would react if it started raining food (Sony Pictures Animation, 2009)

Probably the least likely weather occurrence on this list (although you never know), water molecules in the air are turned into food. The result is a sleepy fishing town has rainy days of burgers and a snow day with ice cream. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller intentionally parodied disaster movies and explain the weather with lots of pseudo-sciences.

Also Read: The Greatest Horror Villains of Each Decade

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Editorials

1994: The Year of Jim Carrey

March 7, 2020
Jim Carrey as Dr Robotnik

1994 was a great year. Seal released “Kiss From A Rose“. The original Playstation made it’s way to homes everywhere as well as Friends airing its first season. Alongside this, we had some classic films released. The Shawshank Redemption, The Lion King, Pulp Fiction. It was an especially great year for Jim Carrey.

Carrey had his breakout year in ’94, with arguably his best-known work all being released during the year: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask. These films propelled him into a household name and some of his best performances. 1994 was the year of Carrey.

“Pleasure To Meet You, Mr. Camp, And Congratulations On All Your Success. You Smell Terrific.”

Carrey's breakout role as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Carrey’s breakout role as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

After a few years in stand-up, and a failed audition for Saturday Night Live, Carrey got a start on In Living Colour. In the February of 94, Ace Ventura Pet Detective was released. Although the film wasn’t a hit with critics, it was with audiences, grossing over $107 million on a very modest budget, and gaining a cult following. Carrey’s over the top performance helped make it very quotable, including the iconic “Alrighty then!

Originally, Rick Moranis was approached for the role, but after he and several others turned it down (including Alan Rickman), Carrey was cast for his sketch comedy work. He was allowed to rewrite the script and improvise a lot. The inspiration came from several places, like a desire to be “unstoppably ridiculous” and a bird.

“I’m Smoking!”

The Mask - Jim Carrey
The Mask, is the perfect role for Jim Carrey (1994)

Before Ace Ventura became such a big hit, Carrey had signed on for an adaptation of The Mask. A much lighter version of the comic book. Carrey was attracted by the cartoon-esque nature of the project, and was so animated himself he saved on some VFX budget. Being released after Ace Ventura, gave it some added, and unexpected, star power. It also launched the career of Cameron Diaz.

Jim Carrey is the closest thing the world has to a living cartoon, and The Mask is a perfect example of that. The premise allows him to be as wacky as he can be in a way no other film has allowed. The Mask is also the most successful film, critically and commercially, of Carrey’s 94 films. Until recently, it was also the most profitable comic book film ever, before being overtaken by Joker. Carrey was nominated for a golden globe for his performance.

“The most annoying sound in the world”

Carrey as one half of the iconic Dumb and Dumber leads (1994)
Carrey as one half of the iconic Dumb and Dumber leads (1994)

After two successful films in the year, Jim Carrey was certainly a star to watch. However, he wasn’t quite done yet, as December would see the release of Dumb and Dumber. This time Carrey was sharing the spotlight with Jeff Daniels, who was more known for his dramatic roles. Despite some mixed reviews overall, Carrey and Daniel’s performances won lots of praise.

The film owes a lot of it’s success to it’s two main characters, and has become a cult favourite. Like Carrey’s other 94 ventures, it spawned a sequel and an animated series, although this sequel took much longer, arriving in 2014, a whole 20 years later.

“Good Morning! And in case I don’t see ya, Good Afternoon, Good Evening and Good Night!”

arrey's most recent big-screen role, Dr Ivo Robotnik or "Eggman" in Sonic the Hedgehog   (Sega 2020)
Carrey’s most recent big-screen role, Dr Ivo Robotnik or “Eggman” in Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega 2020)

Of course, Carrey’s career didn’t stop there, he would go on to fight Batman as the Riddler, explore dramatic roles in The Truman Show, and most recently, chase a blue blur in the Sonic the Hedgehog film. He is currently back in TV, working on the sitcom “Kidding”. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before he graces our screens with his unique brand of quirky comedy.

Also Read: The Unique Style of Wes Anderson

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Editorials

Netflix By The Numbers

February 23, 2020
Netlix logo on a laptop

Netflix needs no introduction. Chances are even if you don’t have an account, you probably use someone else’s. The streaming service has become a huge giant in recent years. Being the biggest hitter in the “streaming wars” and spawning the phrase “Netflix and chill”. It’s hard to imagine life without Netflix.

As a celebration of how Netflix is always there for us, whether we’re hungover or going through a bad breakup. Here are 7 fun facts about the streaming giant you may not have known.

Netflix has been around since 1997

Netflix originally mailed out DVD's for rental
Netflix originally mailed out DVD’s for rental (Credit: CNN, 2019)

While many think the company started around the time the streaming service debuted, it actually started much earlier. Originally it was envisioned as a competitor to Blockbuster. It even sent out physical DVD’s of the show/film customers wanted to watch. The rental chain actually had the chance to purchase Netflix, but the CEO never even considered it. He probably regrets it now…

YouTube inspired it’s streaming

YouTube is another site that has exploded in popularity as streaming has become popular

While the idea of renting films without the hassle of posting a DVD was always on the company’s mind, thing’s could have been quite different. Because of internet speed and bandwidth back then, the idea was to have a “Netflix box” which would download the film overnight, having it ready for the next day. However, the rise of YouTube made them reconsider, and adopt a streaming method, instead of downloading.

Netflix has 10 of the best TV Shows

Stranger Things is one of Netflix's most popular original shows, both with critics and viewers.
Stranger Things is one of Netflix’s most popular original shows, both with critics and viewers (Netflix, 2017)

Netflix has quickly become known for its original programming, as well it’s a massive library of licensed content. Since 2013, it has produced its own “Netflix Originals”, with 10 of these being rated on IMDb’s Top 250 TV list. The highest-rated of which is Narcos (Number 52 at 8.8) and Stranger Things (55 also at 8.8). Other Netflix Originals on the list includes Bojack Horseman, Daredevil and Mindhunter.

The “Netflix Effect” on Breaking Bad

Netflix not only helped make Breaking Bad one of the most popular shows ever, but also helped develop the sequel film.
Netflix not only helped make Breaking Bad one of the most popular shows ever, but also helped develop the sequel film. (Netflix, 2019)

It’s hard to imagine now, but in 2010 Breaking Bad wasn’t the influence it is now and was almost cancelled after the third season. Netflix needed a big hit for it’s streaming service and Breaking Bad needed more viewers. Luckily it worked for everyone, as the show was introduced to a whole new audience just in time for its fourth season. This partnership is still ongoing, with the sequel El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie premiering on the site, as well as new episodes of spin-off Better Call Saul.

They’re an International Distributor

While Annihilation got a theatrical release in the US, in many countries, like the UK it was released on Netflix.
While Annihilation got a theatrical release in the US, in many countries, like the UK it was released on Netflix (Netflix, 2018)

On top of their Netflix Originals, and library of licensed content, they also distribute some new releases internationally. In 2018, they premiered The Cloverfield Paradox after a surprise reveal at the Super Bowl. They have also dealt with international distribution for films such as Alex Garland’s Annihilation and Andy SerkisMowgli: Legend of the Jungle“.

It’s one of the most visited websites

Many Netflix accounts have multiple users (Netflix)

The exact ranking’s vary day to day, but Netflix is one of the most visited websites on the whole internet. At the time of writing, it is currently ranked at number 21. In 2019, there was reportedly 158.8 million viewers in the US alone, this figure is expected to grow to 2023 177.5 million. That’s over 18 million more viewers in 4 years!

It’s won eight Oscars

Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” was nominated for 10 Oscars (Netflix, 2019)

Since 2014, Netflix has been nominated 54 times over various categories. Their films have in total been nominated in 21 of the 24 categories, and have won in the Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron), Best Supporting Actress (Laura Dern). Several of their documentaries have also won Oscars.

Also Read: The Netflix Problem

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Editorials

When Great Video Games Become Lacklustre Movies

February 12, 2020
Video Game Movie Collage

Video games allow gamers to inhabit some far off world’s, experience the thrill of high-speed driving, or even being a goose. As video games have become more advanced, the stories that they have been able to tell and world’s they have created have become more expansive. Many games are filled with characters, backstories and events that are fleshed out in other media such as books, comics and sometimes films.

However, film adaptations of video games rarely do well, both critically and commercially. Some have even gone as far as to say the genre is cursed. Will the upcoming release of Sonic the Hedgehog, be able to break the infamous curse and prove that Detective Pikachu’s success wasn’t a one-off? Or will it turn out to be like the infamous Super Mario Bros?

Experience Vs Viewing

Michael Fassbender plays dual roles in the Assassin's Creed film, playing both an Assassin and his modern-day descendant reliving his memories (credit: 20th Century Fox, 2016)
Michael Fassbender plays dual roles in the Assassin’s Creed film, playing both an Assassin and his modern-day descendant reliving his memories (credit: 20th Century Fox, 2016)

One of the key differences between film and video games is that, while both are primarily visual mediums, games are interactive. Films are a viewing experience, that the audience has no control over, although there are some exceptions which blur the lines between the two.

The Assassin’s Creed series of games, for instance, transports players to detailed historical settings, allowing them to explore and interact with famous figures and climb lots of towers. The plot of the games centres around the centuries-long conflict between the Assassins and the Knights Templar. The detailed backstory is often told through journal entries or optional elements in the game. The 2016 film based on them, however, is forced to give all this information upfront. Dragging the pacing down as it has too much plot to cover in such a short time, rather than naturally over several hours.

Gameplay Vs Story

The Mortal Kombat film nails the look of the games (credit: New Line Cinema, 1995)
The Mortal Kombat film nails the look of the games (credit: New Line Cinema, 1995)

Another problem involved in the translation is they have different goals. Games have to focus on gameplay, with the story and other elements sometimes being an afterthought. This often means that a game can be fun to play, but not always to watch.

A good example of this is the Mortal Kombat film. The game features a cast of characters from multiple worlds fighting in a tournament. While the story itself does get deeper at times, the gameplay is the fights between these characters. The film focuses on the fights, but this leaves the actual fighters feeling one dimensional and a very loose plot. However, the plot is not the reason people play Mortal Kombat, so the film was successful in a sense. The newer games have brought its popularity back, prompting another attempt at a film, with James Wan producing.

Player Vs Audience

Even Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Karl Urban are poor replacements for a player's imagined backstory (Universal Pictures, 2005)
Even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Karl Urban are poor replacements for a player’s imagined backstory (credit: Universal Pictures, 2005)

Video games are much more personal experiences than films. Roleplaying games (RPG) and First Person Shooters (FPS) often try to make the experience immersive. As part of this, they often leave the player character intentionally vague, allowing them to fill in the details themselves. The idea is that makes it more personal and immersive.

This idea doesn’t work as well for films. The main character needs a personality in order for an audience to care about them. The Doom series, for instance, places you in the shoes of “Doom Guy” and that’s pretty much all the context you get. The filmmakers clearly realised this and created a squad of marines for the film, but the game makes a point of one character being all-powerful and marines as disposable. Even The Rock himself couldn’t carry the film and cites it as an example of what not to do.

However sometimes just getting the lead right is not enough. The Lara Croft: Tomb Raider films cast Angelina Jolie (And Alica Vikander in the reboot) as the title character and she plays the character well. However, the rest of the film falls flat, with reviewers citing flat characters and a generic plot. IGN went so far as to give the original a rating of 0 stars.

The Future

Detective Pikachu does an excellent job of bringing the Pokemon to life, as well as being a fun kid's film (Warner Brothers, 2019)
Detective Pikachu does an excellent job of bringing the Pokemon to life, as well as being a fun kid’s film (Warner Brothers, 2019)

Recently, there have been some exceptions to this rule. While the Resident Evil films have had some box office success, they aren’t exactly highly regarded. They are so far removed from the game that they only share some character and location names.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was released last year and was well-received. While some criticised its plot, there was near-unanimous praise for the creatures themselves. Likewise, Netflix’s recent series of The Witcher has been another win for video game adaptations (Although the plot is based on that of the books)

Things do slowly seem to be turning around for video game movies. After all the comic book genre was once thought of in the same way. Now comic films are some of the biggest films each year. Sonic the Hedgehog could speed up their credibility if it manages to hit the mark.

Also Read: Weapon of Choice: Iconic Weapons in Movies

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Editorials

The Rise of Jon Favreau

January 31, 2020

Jon Favreau has quickly become one of the royalties of Pop Culture. Between kickstarting the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, creating a Christmas classic with Elf, and giving the internet its newest obsession with Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian, it’s hard to imagine he originally considered becoming a fireman.

It’s clear that pop culture would look very different without his contributions, so with the start of a new decade, let’s take a look back at how Favreau rose to power

“I’ve always wanted to call the shots because I would rather fail than not have a chance to figure it out on my own”

Favreau and Vince Vaughn in "Swingers"
Favreau and Vince Vaughn in “Swingers” (Miramax, 1996)

Favreau studied at Queens College in New York but dropped out (twice) to pursue a career in comedy in Chicago. While there he scored a role in Rudy where he befriended Vince Vaughn on set. He had a few smaller roles, including a clown on Seinfeld. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he would get his big break.

While in LA, Favreau wrote and starred in Swingers where he plays a struggling comedian from New York. Vince Vaughn, who plays a struggling actor, befriends him and helps him get over his ex-girlfriend. Despite the low budget and guerilla filmmaking, the film was a success, making a star out of Vaughn and director Doug Liman.

“For a movie – any movie – to work, all the bread has to fall jelly side up; everything has to go right. You have to hit the zeitgeist “

Photo by REX/Shutterstock (436743s) WILL FERRELL AND DIRECTOR JOHN FAVREAU 'ELF' FILM  - 2003
Photo by REX/Shutterstock (436743s) WILL FERRELL AND DIRECTOR JOHN FAVREAU ‘ELF’ FILM – 2003

After Swingers, Favreau had a few more acting jobs. Including a billionaire UFC fighter who dated Monica during several episodes of “Friends”. He also appeared as himself in an episode of “The Sopranos”. He plays a Hollywood Director faking interest in a screenplay, in order to use the material for his own.

He also made his directorial debut with “Made”, a film about aspiring boxers getting involved in mafia crime. While it recived positive reviews, it had a very limited release. A few years later he played Foggy Nelson in Daredevil, his first interactions with Marvel.

But before Marvel came “Elf” the first post-SNL film from Will Ferrell. Favreau wasn’t initially interested, as it was “too dark” for him, but another rewrite and it became the classic we all know. This was the biggest film Favreau had ever worked on, but things were about to get much, much bigger.

“‘Batman Begins’ set the bar very high for the superhero movie, as it showed that you could get a great cast for these movies and take a real filmmaker’s perspective”

Favreau on the set of "Iron Man" with Terrence Howard and Robert Downey Jr. (Paramount/Disney 2008)
Favreau on the set of “Iron Man” with Terrence Howard and Robert Downey Jr. (Paramount/Disney 2008)

After Elf, and several TV cameos, came his next film, Zathura: A Space Adventure. It received positive reviews but was not very successful at the box office.

In 2008 Iron Man was released. The film had gone through an arduous development process but was finally moving ahead. His experience on Daredevil had introduced Favreau to Marvel producers, and they liked his grounded, spy take. The casting of Robert Downey Jr in the title role raised many eyebrows, but Favreau insisted he was the perfect choice.

Downey proved his critics wrong of course. Iron Man went on to be the eighth highest-grossing film of 2008, and launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many of the films in the MCU follow Iron Man‘s structure, as well as tone.

“I think the bigger the movie is, the harder it is to maintain the idea of an auteur. You’re servicing something beyond just your own vision”

As well as serving as a producer on the Iron Man, Avengers, and Spider-Man film, he also appears as Tony Stark's aide Happy Hogan (Sony/Marvel 2019)
As well as serving as a producer on the Iron Man, Avengers, and Spider-Man film, he also appears as Tony Stark’s aide Happy Hogan (Sony/Marvel 2019)

After directing the follow-up, Iron Man 2 and serving as a producer on crossover team-up, The Avengers, Favreau decided to step back on the third film. Instead choosing to direct Magic Kingdom, he still worked as a producer and appeared in his role as Happy Hogan though. He directed the adaptation of Cowboys vs Aliens which did not do well critically or commercially.

After working on several multi-million dollar studio films, Favreau decided to take a break and developed a pilot for the TV show Revolution as well as directing the first episode. He then made Chef a “back to basics” indie film about a travelling chef. Several people saw the film as a response to Favreau’s experience with Marvel and wanting to strike out on his own again. It was well received and has even spun off into a Netflix show

Although the Magic Kingdom project has yet to move forward, he did work on two beloved Disney properties, the “live action” remakes of The Jungle Book and The Lion King. He has continued his work with Disney, creating and show-running The Mandolorian a series set in the Star Wars universe, for Disney+. This has also received widespread acclaim, as well as introducing the “The Child” or “Baby Yoda”.

With a second season on the way, as well as the Jungle Book 2 in development, it doesn’t look as though he will be slowing down anytime soon.

Also Read: The Biggest Financial Film Flops

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Editorials

Why James Cameron’s Avatar Sequel Has Come At The Right Time

January 17, 2020

In 2009, James Cameron’s Avatar took cinemas by storm. It quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time (a record that has since been beaten). The film had been in development for several years, along with Alita: Battle Angel, Cameron had been working on both in the years since Titanic, his previous film, which was released in 1997.

After technology finally caught up to his vision, development was paused on Alita and Avatar took centre stage (Cameron would eventually take a backseat on Alita, due to focusing on Avatar and it’s sequels). It was released to critical as well as commercial acclaim. While the film dominated the conversation in 2009, and sequels are planned, the film doesn’t have as passionate a fanbase as franchises like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), leaving some to question the demand for a sequel.

However, a lot has changed since 2009, both in the world of film and the world at large, and many of Avatar’s themes are more relevant today than they ever were…

Imperialism

Jake Sully - Avatar
The struggle between the technology-based RDA and the nature-based Na’vi is at the centre (20th Century Fox, 2009)

The story of Avatar follows Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine who takes the place of his deceased twin brother and travels to Pandora, an alien planet whose atmosphere is deadly to humans. Sully and his team use avatars to explore the planet and interact with the local people, the Na’vi. After falling in love with one of the Na’vi Jake and his team of sympathisers switch sides, and help force the humans off the planet.

The final battle of the film revolves around the Hometree, a huge tree that, while considered sacred to the Na’vi, is on top of a large mineral deposit. Although Cameron has been understandably vague about some of the themes, he has hinted that the evil corporation may have connections with America and it’s pursuit of oil in other countries.

Cameron has stated the parallels to Iraq and Vietnam are “by design“. With a technologically superior military force, facing off against natives. While this has led some people to consider it an example of “The Messiah Complex“, a white man saving an indigenous people, a common complaint of several stories (and something Black Panther avoided) while others have disagreed with this, arguing that the main character is himself paraplegic, and actually discards his human body for his Na’vi avatar at the end.

Environmental Themes

Avatar, Dragons, Jake Sully
The Na’vi fight alongside the creatures of Pandora rather than against them. (20th Century Fox. 2009)

While climate change was an issue in 2009, it has become a far more pressing concern in the decade since Avatar. James Cameron has actually “declared war” on climate change and the film is very overt with its environmental message, rivalling Wall-E. The brief mentions of Earth refer to it as having “no green” and a “dying planet”. Pandora itself has an atmosphere that is toxic to humans. The film is set in 2154. Scientists estimate the planet could be well on course for such a fate. The energy crisis that results in the humans travelling to Pandora is another problem we are facing today. Science fiction is a way for us to explore our hopes and fears, and Cameron is clearly showing us his fears.

The Na’vi have the exact opposite relationship with their home planet. An almost symbiotic bond with nature, they can literally connect to other life with their hair. Cameron hoped the film would make people reconsider their connection to nature. The film clearly takes the side of nature being superior, with the Na’vi winning with the aid of the creatures of Pandora. Jake is originally promised a fix for his legs if he helps the RDA but is given a whole new (and physically superior) body by choosing nature over technology.

The Sequels

Jake Sully & Neytiri, played by Sam Worthington & Zoe Saldana
Only James Cameron knows for sure what the sequels will be (20th Century Fox, 2009)

Almost as soon as Avatar grossed $1 Billion at the box office, an (inevitable) sequel was announced. With several others planned, the first of which is aiming for a 2021 release date (although this is after several delays). With rumoured titles of “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Avatar: The Seed Bearer,” “Avatar: The Tulkun Rider,” and “Avatar: The Quest for Eywa”, the ecological theme seems to run through the sequels as well. Although very little plot details have been given. According to some reports, Fox had to donate a considerable amount to Cameron’s environmental fund before he would even sign on for the sequels.

The sequels will likely follow similar themes of the importance of nature, but the titles hint at slightly more specific concerns. “The Way of Water” could be focused on rising sea levels and the damage of human waste to ocean life forms. “The Seed Bearer” could deal with plant life, and Tulkun Rider on creatures and their habitat. In the lore, Eywa is a goddess of all life, meaning the film could deal with our connection to living things.

Whatever the sequels end up being about, they will definitely be incredibly ambitious, as with all James Cameron films. He has planned this world in great detail and clearly has a lot to say. What messages it brings will be revealed when the films are released…

Also Read: “Little Women” & Cinema for the self-partnered

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Editorials

Quibi And The Rise Of Short Films

December 30, 2019
Quibi Short films

The streaming wars are well underway, and while not every service has launched yet, they are starting to get expensive as people decide how many streaming services they actually need. While some platforms are getting by having access shows like “The Office” or “Friends” others are spending millions on exclusive content that people just have to see, whether for watercooler moments or awards potential.

Quibi, however, is trying something completely different- all of its programmings will be around 10 minutes or less (The name is a mash-up of “quick bites”). Its content is designed to be watched on a smartphone or tablet, perfect for on your break or waiting for the bus, similar to a lot of Snapchat’s content. but with added production value, as well as wider variety.

Who is supporting it?

Just some of the people developing projects for Quibi (Fortune, 2019)

The company has raised over $1 billion investment which it plans to spend on content, with 7,000 short episodes as a target. It has even attracted some big names, including Guillermo Del Toro, Sam Raimi, Jason Blum, Anna Kendrick, Laurence Fishburne and Kiefer Sutherland all have projects that will debut on the platform, in a variety of different genres. “Spielberg’s After Dark” (Yes, that Spielberg) will only be available after dark (get it?) and will be unavailable during the daylight.

This kind of experimentation forms much of Quibi’s ethos, as well as most short films in general. The shorter format allows for some interesting results, with filmmakers being put under a short time limit or having a smaller budget they often have to get creative. Quibi hopes to be more creative and unique with its content than other streaming providers like Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Short films have often been an important step on the road to feature films, with many directors honing their skills with shorts before directing their first feature. Films such as Taika Waititi’s “What We Do In The Shadows”, Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” and the original “Saw” film all started as short films before finally becoming the films we’re familiar with (The short film versions of these and a few others can be viewed online). These are often submitted to festivals such as the London Short Film Festival or Aesthetica Film Festival, in the hopes of gaining an audience. Some even have their own premieres before being posted online (Big Picture Film Club sometimes helps with this).

How will this change streaming?

Quibi is designed to be used on either a smartphone or tablet (credit: Quibi)

With such big creators focusing on short-form entertainment, Quibi could attract a lot of viewers that don’t have time in their lives to sit down and watch a three hour epic like The Irishman or binge all of Mr Robot. People have busy lives and, if Quibli is successful, we could see more content geared towards it. Short films could become much more popular. Feature films get released on platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, could we get short films released on there too? Having names like Spielberg, Del Toro would help create buzz, and move away from the “student film” label many shorts are given. It is also giving some projects a new lease of life. “When the Stree Lights Go on” was originally envisioned as a feature, then a series, and will now premiere as a series on Quibi.

How other platforms adapt to Quibi is a mystery, as it will launch in April of 2020, it is unlikely that the big streaming sites will suddenly only have short programming, but we may see a rise in it. As Co-Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said “Quibi is not a substitute or a competitor for television” rather it aims to have your attention instead of YouTube, Snapchat, or other apps used on your phone during the day. Although some people may rather wait for a full season and watch the short episodes all at once. The main issue it could come across is the subscription. Why would people pay when they can watch YouTube for free? (Which also has it’s own subscription model). Whether people will want to spend their commute watching “Biggest Little Cook-Off” or scrolling through Instagram remains to be seen.

If you would like to sign up to Quibi’s newsletter or apply to be a part of their team, you can do so here

Also Read: British Brown Girls: Short Films Re-Defining British Asian Women On-screen

More: Advice For Firest Time Independent Feature Filmmakers

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Editorials

Alternative Christmas Movies

December 19, 2019
Alternative Christmas Movies

It’s that time of the year again! Christmas is the time where we gather round and watch a festive film with our loved ones. Sometimes they may not even be particularly good films. Often they are films you’ve seen dozens of times, they’re classics for a reason. But if you’re growing tired of quoting “Home Alone” or “Elf” this year, or just need something a little different, then consider these alternative Christmas films…

Lethal Weapon

Nothing says Christmas like getting to know your new work friend (Warner Brothers, 1987)

While every year the debate goes on about whether Die Hard is a Christmas film (it is), the original Lethal Weapon is conspicuously absent. Aside from being set at Christmas time, it’s about family. Riggs is in a dark place having lost his, but slowly comes to accept Murtagh as his new family. The film ends with him being invited in for Christmas dinner. Can’t get much more Christmassy than that.

Lethal Weapon is available to buy/rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube, as well as physical media.

Batman Returns

You likely won’t get a fully functioning Batmobile for Christmas, but you can watch Batman do it (Warner Brothers, 1992)

If you like your Christmas films a little more creepy, then a tale about a bat, a cat and a penguin is a good choice. While often overlooked or underrated, this stylish and unique is an excellent alternative to Burton’s classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Gotham city is covered in snow at Christmas time, and the bat-signal shines in the sky like a star and a kiss under misletoe. It doesn’t quite have the themes of family or coming together for the season, but this is a list of alternative films after all.

Batman Returns is available on DC Universe as well as buy/rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube, as well as physical media.

Iron Man 3

Be honest, if you got an Iron Man suit for Christmas, you’d sit in it all day too (Disney/Marvel 2013)

Marvel fans also have some festive superhero action to celebrate with. Tony Stark’s battle with PTSD and the Mandarin takes place over Christmas (like most of Shane Black’s films). Despite the heroics, the film does emphasise that the holiday is a time to spend with loved ones. It also works as a version of the Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol”, with Stark as Scrooge and facing ghosts from his past, in order to save his present and future. It’s even listed as a Christmas film on Disney +.

Iron Man 3 is available on Disney+, as well as able to buy/rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, as well as physical media.

Brazil

Just because you live in a dystopian future, doesn’t mean Santa won’t bring gifts (20th Century Fox/ Universal Pictures 1985)

It’s actually easy to forget that this Orwellian Sci-Fi is set around Christmas time. It’s drab grey corridors and cramped buildings don’t exactly promote Christmas cheer. But that’s what makes the few glimpses of Christmas we do get that much more impactful. Brazil is an excellent Christmas film, as Sam dreams of a better life and escaping his mundane one, and the holiday is a good representation of that.

Brazil is available on Amazon Prime, as well as physical media.

In Bruges

Monopoly with the family gets quite intense (Focus Features, 2008)

Like Brazil, it’s easy to forget this one is set at Christmas, as the characters make very little mention of it. Aside from a few scattered decorations, the opening takes place in a church and the film features a lot of reflection and looking to the future, things usually associated with New Year but also at Christmas. Ray, Ken and Harry make a very dysfunctional family, and naturally fight over Christmas, although hopefully, the average family Christmas squabble involves fewer bullets.

In Bruges, is available to watch on Netflix, as well as buy/ rent on Google Play and physical media.

Also Read: The Grinch: Who Did It Better?

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Editorials

The Snyder Cut Saga

November 25, 2019
Justice League - Snyder Cut

On November 17th 2017, Justice League arrived in cinemas everywhere. After several missteps, the DCEU was finally going to rival the MCU. Then people saw it.

Reviews were mixed, with the film currently sitting at a 6.4 on IMDb. After director Zack Snyder stepped down due to a family tragedy, Joss Whedon finished the film. Despite reassurances that the film would not be affected, the result was a Frankenstein of a film. Tonal shifts, deleted scenes, bad CGI and the infamous moustache removal. The final product did not live up to the hype. But then whispers of another cut began to emerge- The Snyder Cut

So what’s so special about it?

Snyder’s cut of the film included the villain Darkseid, amongst other characters that were cut from the theatrical release (WB, 2017)

Snyder’s original plan for the film was part of a five long film arc. Starting with “Man of Steel”. However he was forced to edit much of part 2 Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, most of this was eventually restored in the “Ultimate Cut”. Parts 3, 4 and 5 would have been a Justice League trilogy (with standalone movies for each character appearing in between). His cut of the film would have felt much more like part of that universe, with the “Knightmare” scene becoming a key plot point, and the heroes actively working to stop it.

Regarding the heroes, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg was supposed to be a much bigger role. Jason Momoa’s version of Aquaman was largely created by him and Snyder, and the original film was supposed to introduce a lot of the mythology surrounding him before his own film. Snyder frequently posts images and teases from his version on his Vero and Twitter accounts.

Why is this such a big deal?

The Snyder Cut reportedly featured Cyborg in a much bigger role, exploring his origin and relationship to the Mother Boxes featured in the film (Snyder, Vero, 2019)

The theatrical cut of Justice League disappointed almost everyone. In an effort to please everyone, they pleased no one. While Snyder’s films often get mixed reviews, he does have a dedicated fanbase, as do DC comics and their heroes.

The Release the Snyder Cut movement started shortly after the film was released, and has gained a massive following. Several big names in the business have given their support, including Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot. Even Ben Affleck has joined the chorus, despite no longer being Batman.

The Snyder Cut movement has been all over the internet since it began, especially anything related to DC films and although they have developed a reputation for being entitled and mean, that isn’t always true. For San Diego Comic Con 2019, the movement set up a crowdfunding page and bought billboards around the convention center. The additional funds went to a suicide prevention charity, in honour of Zack Snyder’s daughter and the reason he stepped away from the project.

Is it finished?

The fan movement bought ad space around the area for SDCC 2019, despite WB not actually attending (Twitter, 2019)

This one is a little trickier, as there are a lot of mixed reports. Snyder himself claims that “it’s done“. Reports say that principal photography was completed, with some VFX work still in progress, which is more likely. However several people, like Jason Momoa, have seen it, so it is at least viewable, albeit likely with several effects shots not finished.

The problem is whether the film is in a suitable state. Unfinished edits are nothing new, as test screenings often have unfinished VFX or audio. If the cut were to be released, it could potentially look something like the “alternate universe” cut of Into the Spider-Verse, with unfinished scenes and storyboards with sound slotted in. The problem with this is how much unfinished footage would be added. Of course, it is entirely possible that WB or Snyder could spend the extra time and money to complete it. But is it worth it?

Is the Snyder Cut good?

That can’t really be answered until we see it. Of course, all art is subjective. Snyder’s films, especially Batman V Superman, are rather divisive. The Snyder Cut would likely be similar in tone to that film, as well as picking up plot threads. However, Directors Cut’s are often seen as improvements over the theatrical releases. Snyder himself has several Director’s Cuts, with the aforementioned Ultimate Cut of Batman V Superman adding in 30 minutes of cut material, and his Directors Cut of Watchmen. The Snyder Cut is presumed to be around 214 minutes (about 3 and a half hours) long. So it likely depends on how you feel about his previous film.

Will we ever see it?

Never say never. Director’s Cuts are popular. And although the DCEU has moved away from the original plan, there is still clearly a big demand for this version. All cards seem to be in WB’s hands, and some suspect a release on HBO Max. The 2 year anniversary of Justice League gave the movement a big resurgence, so it seems like they won’t stop until it’s released.

Also Read: Joke’s On You: A History Of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis On The Big Screen

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Editorials

Rebel Without A Pulse, Art Without A Soul?

November 21, 2019
James Dean

Recently it was announced that James Dean would be playing a lead role in “Finding Jack” a drama about a Vietnam soldier trying to rescue the dog he served with. Normally an actor being cast in a film isn’t that big news, it is their job after all. Except that James Dean has been dead for over 60 years and the film will use his “digital likeness”.

But it’s not actually going to be him though, is it? It might look like him and maybe even sound a bit like him, but it’s not going to BE him on set. Actors die during productions and need stand-ins for workarounds sometimes, but this is being billed as his fourth role. The press release mentions his family approve of the “casting” but others in the industry have been less kind. Can it work?

Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today”– James Dean

Robert Deniro in The Irishman, showing how digital effects can be used to age a person up and down (Credit: Netflix, 2019)

Unfortunately, cast and crew passing away mid-production is nothing new. When a key character dies, it can often add extra complications to a film as they may not have finished all their scenes. If most of their scenes were complete, a few rewrites and additional lines from other characters could suffice, others require more creative approaches. If their scenes were not very far along or it was a small role, they may simply be recast.

As technology and visual effects have advanced, the options available to filmmakers in this potion has grown. Recently de-ageing has become popular with films such as “Captain Marvel” and “The Irishman” allowing actors to play roles across decades. This allows them to look age-appropriate in flashbacks.

If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man” – James Dean

A look at the process of transforming Guy Henry’s performance into Peter Cushing (Credit: Lucasfilm/Industrial Light & Magic, 2016)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story infamously featured Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Tarkin from the original film. This process involved having an actor on set (Guy Henry) and then digitally compositing Peter Cushing’s face. It’s a similar process to deepfakes. But it’s the original actor’s choices that made the character what it is. A computer is just trying to recreate it.

Dean died in 1955, long before this idea of CG “resurrection” had ever been conceived, and as such his likeness is not protected from usage after his death. Robin Willaims restricted usage of his likeness for 25 years after his death. This practice could become more common as technology evolves. Worldwide XR, the company who owns the rights to Dean’s likeness, also owns several other deceased famous faces. This list includes Malcolm X, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and Rosa Parks. So does this mean we’ll start seeing them in films too? Well, nothing is stopping them.

To me, acting is the most logical way for people’s neuroses to manifest themselves, in this great need we all have to express ourselves” – James Dean

Hatsune Miku is a Vocaloid, a virtual popstar who sells out stadiums worldwide (Crypton Future Media)

Obviously, the whole idea of an actors face being used years after their death is a serious debate that’s only going to get louder as time goes by. But one aspect worth considering is the effect on actors currently working. It’s hard enough to have a successful acting career, but they have to worry about competing with dead ones too?

Taking this into science fiction territory, could we see films without traditional actors at all? Animation only requires actors for voices, but this technology must allow for voices to be synthesised. Could we see Orson Welles voice the villain in the next Toy Story? Could Dean win an Oscar for his role? The rules are always changing, so it wouldn’t be unheard of.

Another consideration is the rise of holograms. Recently technology has allowed musicians like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Amy Winehouse to tour and perform “live” at concerts. If we can have people perform at a concert, and have them appear in a new film, could we get them to promote it too? Could a hologram appear on a talk show?

Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world. You are all alone with your concentration and imagination, and that’s all you have” – James Dean

This is all speculation, of course, a lot can go wrong between a film being announced and it being released. Dean’s “performance” could just be a marketing ploy (despite the director’s claims). But if it does work, this “necromacting” could be just the beginning.

Also Read: Your Favourite Movies Deepfaked

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News

Was It Really That Bad? The Mummy (2017)

October 28, 2019

In the wake of the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, studios saw the huge amounts of money it was making, then went through their back catalogues to see what they could make their own shared universe out of. Soon, everyone had a shared universe. The MCU, The DCEU, the Monsterverse, and The Dark Universe.

The Dark Universe was to feature characters from Universal’s classic library of monsters, such as the Frankenstein, the Invisible Man and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. The first entry was The Mummy (After a failed start in 2014). It is also the only entry to have been released. 5.5 IMDb rating too harsh? Grab your map, get your notebook and ask whether The Mummy was really that bad…

“A new world of Gods and monsters”

Sofia Boutella is excellent as the Mummy, both in performance and design. (Universal, 2017)

This version of the Mummy switches out Brendan Fraiser for Tom Cruise, which, while not a bad thing on paper, turns this from a fun Indiana Jones- lite adventure flick, into Mission Impossible: Ancient Egypt. Cruise is playing Tom Cruise and all of the charm that comes with it. His character is amusingly outmatched, ill-prepared and mostly disinterested in the history and lore the film attempts to set up.

Sofia Boutella is also great as the eponymous mummy, and gives a stellar performance despite all the prosthetics and dodgy CGI surrounding her. Cast after her role in Kingsman, she is clearly the star of the show here. It’s a genuine shame she is sidelined as much as she is.

The rest of the supporting cast doesn’t really make much of an impression. Even Russel Crowe, as Dr Jekyll (yes that one) looks like he’s confused and bored by most of the exposition he gives. Crowe’s character is arguably the biggest problem, as his character bears little weight on the actual story, and exists simply to set up other films. What Marvel did in a post credits scene is instead done halfway through the action. It’s almost the cinematic equivalent of pausing the film, looking up the next few films, then pressing play again.

“Where’s your sense of adventure?”

's
Tom Cruise defines this film, in both a good and bad way (Universal, 2017)

The Mummy could be a solid, if generic, action flick. Some of the set pieces, including the infamous plane scene featured in the trailer, are genuinely impressive. But as reviewers have pointed out, the film is largely too unfocused, not knowing what it wants to be. Forcing it to rely on Cruise’s star power and the faint promise of more to come.

As some more generous reviews point out, there are some good points. The film sets up the protagonists as morally ambiguous originally, with no one entirely trusting each other, but this never really goes anywhere.

The film is largely a Frankenstein of several different ideas wrapped together. It’s horror routes are acknowledged, but not present enough to actually scare. It’s not as campy as the 90’s version, but the action is serviceable if uninspired.

Really That Bad? Yes

Cruise is game as always, and The Mummy herself is great, but there’s nothing here that is particularly memorable or noteworthy. The whole thing just feels rather soulless. It’s best ideas are used either in the first thirty minutes or not explored enough.

Also Read: Was It Really That Bad? Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

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