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Author: Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I recently completed my masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.
Editorials

How The Blair Witch Project Changed Horror

May 13, 2019

Certain horror films define their era, because of their impact on the genre or on general popular culture. And many horror milestones have been low budget surprises. Night of the Living Dead spawned the zombie apocalypse film on a $100,000 budget. Halloween took $325,000 and popularised the slasher film. And today we’re going to look back at one of the last horror milestones of the 20th Century, and ask, what made it so impactful? The film that took a $60,000 budget and helped birth the found footage genre, The Blair Witch Project.

Summary

The Blair Witch Project follows student filmmakers, Heather, Mike and Josh who set out to make a documentary on the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, the creepy legends about the surrounding black hills; their supposed connection the Blair Witch. But when the team venture into the hills they get lost and begin witnessing strange things, like cairn’s and stick effigies appearing around them. Eventually, Josh goes missing. Upon investigating Mike and Heather are attacked by unseen forces and are never seen again.

How The Blair Witch Project Stood Out?

It’s hard to believe now, as found footage is a staple of the horror landscape, but the style was once both new and credible. The Blair Witch Project was among the first movies to use an unprofessional style to create an air of authenticity. Audiences were used to slickly produced horror films. But the low-grade film stock, shaky camera, realistic audio, with no score, and no monster made this movie seem like someone’s home movie, not a professional film. And the film furthered its connection to reality by employing a different kind of filming process to get its performances.

To push the film’s realism, the directors cast unknown actors and wanted them to improvise all their dialogue. To do this, the actors were sent into the woods to film with the filming equipment and a GPS tracker. According to co-director Daniel Myrick, “Using GPS, we directed them to locations…where they’d leave their footage and pick up food and our directing notes”. Which often encouraged the actors to bicker amongst one another. And the crew would pull gags on the actors at night such as shaking their tent. Meaning that much of the acting feels close to reality because, for most of the production, the cast really were living like their characters.

The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first found footage film of course. Cannibal Holocaust and The Last Broadcast used many of the same tropes to appear real. But Blair Witch reached a wider audience and cemented its authenticity in the public’s eyes through its promotional material.

The filmmakers made a website before the film’s release to play up the legend behind the film. The website showed pictures of police investigations, interviews with Heather’s mother and “uncovered” audio clips from their expedition. The filmmakers also put up missing posters at film festivals and directed a short mockumentary, disguised as a traditional documentary which aired on the sci-fi channel called The Curse of Blair Witch. All this material combined, made many audiences believe that the film was real and that the actors really were missing, presumed dead. IMDb even listed the actors as missing.

Missing Poster for The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Which eventually resulted in a film with a $60,000 budget, making back $248,639,099 – Over 4000 times its budget. Making it one of the most profitable movies ever made.

The Blair Witch Follow-Ups

Inevitably for a film that successful, franchise appeal came calling. The film spawned a sequel in 2000, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and a soft-reboot/sequel in 2016’s Blair Witch. Which despite their financial success, never received the same recognition as the original. And it isn’t hard to see why.

Book of Shadows traded in the found footage conceit and was shot like a conventional horror movie. It also attempted to satirise and explore the impact of the first movie and the power of media to influence people. But many didn’t appreciate the typical presentation after the ground-breaking feeling of the original.

And while Blair Witch went back to the found footage conceit, even following the originals lead with a viral marketing campaign capitalizing on the secrecy of the production, the film didn’t garner much praise upon release. Because despite its nods to the original the film, this film focused more on jump scares and was more slickly produced. Using professional actors and multiple high-quality cameras. Making it ironically seem again like a conventional movie. And because of the prevalence of found footage films released since the original, Blair Witch 2016 ultimately seemed like pointless brand reinforcement.

Blair Witch (2016) Poster

The Influence and State of The Blair Witch

Because everyone is now fully aware that found footage films aren’t real. And with the atmosphere of the marketing campaign forgotten, many feel that the original Blair Witch Project doesn’t hold up today. But it is important viewing from a historical standpoint.

Of course, all modern found footage movies owe their existence to Blair Witch. With Paranormal Activity, Unfriended and The Visit all becoming box office success using small budgets and found footage tropes to tell their stories. But there are also movies like 28 Days Later, which took stylistic influence from Blair Witch by using low-quality footage to make the film more gritty and real and made back over 10 times its budget. And it was, of course, the forerunner of viral internet marketing, which has since become so prevalent. With every movie and TV show using their online presence to get viewers interested.

However, even with everything that came afterwards, the original Blair Witch Project remains a testament to ingenuity. It proved you don’t need a big budget or a monster to frighten an entire generation. Just an idea, an internet connection, a camera and a committed cast.

Also Read: The Human Centipede: A Love / Hate Story

Editorials

Top 5 Stephen King Movies Adaptations

April 28, 2019

Stephen King – a name synonymous with frightening fiction. Though primarily known for writing horror, he’s had an incredible impact on popular culture since he released his first novel in 1974. He is a regular fixture of the New York Times Best Seller list and has influenced generations of creatives in many different mediums. And one medium that certainly has a fascination with King is film.

Stephen King movie adaptations are currently experiencing a resurgence. With IT parts 1 and 2, Pet Sematary (2019), The Dark Tower, Geralds Game and 1922 proving that King’s name can still attract new talent and audiences. But this is no new thing. Film adaptations of King’s work have been a fixture of release schedules ever since the late 1970s.

So today I am going to look at what I consider to be the five best film adaptations of King’s work. But because there’s over four decades worth of material to choose from, to make things more interesting I will be picking only one film per decade. So let’s see which Stephen King adaptations manage to float above the rest.

1970s – Carrie (1976)

Although there aren’t many 70s Stephen King movies to choose from, Brian De Palma’s adaptation of King’s first novel is still a true classic. And deserves mention on any best adaptations list.

Carrie tells the tragic story of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek). A shy, introverted girl who is bullied at school and lives under the control of her religiously fanatic mother (Piper Laurie). One day, however, Carrie learns that she has telekinetic abilities. As she begins to discover more about herself her sympathetic classmate (Amy Irving) gets her a date for the school prom. But some of the girls want revenge on her for putting them in detention. Leading to a prom that no one will ever forget.

Carrie is iconic. The prom scene is permanently etched into our culture. But many often forget how good the rest of the movie is. All the performances are incredible. Sissy Spacek is, of course, the standout. She is incredibly sympathetic and easy to relate to as Carrie. But there are so many subtleties to the rest of the performances that make everyone feel real and not like caricatures, which many lesser quality King works often fail to do. Then there’s De Palma’s direction that wrings incredible suspense from every situation and makes everything flow so naturally. Topped off with beautiful visuals and a mesmeric score, you have a movie that set the bar high for all king adaptations to come.

Carrie surrounded by fire in Carrie (1976)

1980s – The Shining (1980)

The 80s is where selecting a single film becomes difficult. Many 80s King adaptations including Stand By Me, Christine and Pet Sematary are remembered fondly. So some may disagree with this selection. Especially given King’s open dislike of this particular adaptation. But for the best 80s Stephen King movie, the honour has to go to The Shining.

The Torrance family are looking after the Overlook hotel for the winter. They have all the food they can eat, space for young Danny (Danny Lloyd) to play and a lot of time for Jack (Jack Nicholson) to work on writing his novel. But as isolation sets in ghostly apparitions start appearing, affecting Jack’s sanity. Eventually, Jack breaks down and decides to “correct” his family, chasing them through the hotel with an axe. With the winter snows closing the place off, can Danny and his mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) escape?

Like Carrie, I can say nothing about the Shining that hasn’t already been said. King purists will protest its deviations from the source material but for me, it does what good adaptations are supposed to do. Take what works about the source material and add a new distinct voice to it. And you can’t get more distinct than Stanley Kubrick. The film is a marvel of atmosphere. The lingering camera, some of the most disturbing images ever captured on film, the unnerving score, the cold lonely location and performances that feel just a little too real. It all goes together to create a haunting portrait of madness and generational guilt that lingers in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

Jack Nicholoson’s iconic turn as Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980)

1990s – The Shawshank Redemption

Again the 90s had several films that could have filled this spot. Including Green Mile, Misery or the IT mini-series. But I would be lying if I didn’t put The Shawshank Redemption in this spot on the list.

Red (Morgan Freeman) is a prisoner at Shawshank penitentiary. He’s spent a long time inside. But despite his placid nature, he’s never made parole. He seems to be ready to just run out the clock in Shawshank. But when he meets Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), he begins to rediscover what it means to feel human again. Only Andy doesn’t intend to stay inside. With the corrupt system poised against them will the two men ever be able to find a way to escape the harsh reality of Shawshank?

The Shawshank Redemption is not only a testament to King’s adeptness at writing in genres other than horror, but it’s also one of the most beloved movies of all time. It has held the number 1 position on IMDb’s top 250 films since 2008 and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a film that takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride. The story of escaping the prisons we make for ourselves is one that we can all relate to. All the actors are also fantastic. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give career-best performances and manage to make you empathize with criminals of dubious moral fibre, Which is no small task. And when combined with Frank Darabont’s confident direction and incredible character interplay, the result is a genuine classic, that will enchant many generations to come.  

Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins giving the best performances of their careers in The Shawshank Redemption

2000s – The Mist

This is both Frank Darabont’s second appearance on this list and yet another no brainer for the time period. After Darabont’s success adapting Green Mile and Shawshank he proved himself yet again as possibly the best director to put King on the screen with The Mist.

The Mist concerns a family in a small Maine town. One day the town is engulfed by thic fog. Which wouldn’t normally be a problem but inside the fog are otherworldly creatures intent on killing all in their path. The family hold up in a supermarket with most of the town and what follows is a two-hour meditation on the nature of humanity in crisis.

The main reason why the Mist is so effective is because it keeps it simple. For most of the movie, we are trapped inside the supermarket with our main characters. And as the film progresses we slowly learn more about them and the situation. This intrigue coupled with the tension brought by the agendas of the other captives and the monsters outside helps keep the audience on the edge of their seat as the movie heads towards an ending that will play on your mind for a long time.

Poster for The Mist

2010s – IT (2017)

As the 2000’s went on King film adaptations began to decrease. His stories became more the domain of TV shows. But in 2017 King came back in a big way with two Netflix original movies (Geralds Game & 1922) and two theatrical releases (IT & The Dark Tower). And of those releases, IT was definitely the most significant.

It concerns a group of friends called the losers club. Over the course of one summer, we follow Bill, Eddie, Richie, Ben, Stan, Mike and Bev as they form lasting friendships with one another and battle the dark forces that hide in their home town of Derry. All of which are linked to a child-snatching spectre. Which mostly manifests in the form of Pennywise the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard).

IT accomplished a lot. Not only did it prove that a remake can in many ways improve on its predecessor. But it also proved to be a very fun movie in its own right. With fantastic performances from the child cast, inventive ideas and cinematography and an incredibly creepy turn from Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise who managed to equal the iconic nature of Tim Curry’s performance from the 1990 mini-series. IT also managed to tap into the nostalgic magic that made properties like Stranger Things popular. And acted as both an affectionate tribute to and critique of people’s nostalgic memories for the 1980s; because of IT we can look forward to many more adaptations of King’s work on the big screen.

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in IT (2017)

Conclusion

So ends our list of the top 5 Stephen King movie adaptations. As I said many times throughout this list, it was incredibly hard to narrow down my choices when there are so many good movies based on Stephen King’s books. So please let me know your opinions.

Do you agree with my choices? What are some of your favorite King films that I missed? Sometimes, other opinions are better.

Reviews

Retro Review: Eyes Wide Shut

April 17, 2019

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most revered film directors of all time. His films were championed as art which displayed the power of cinema. And many are held as some of the greatest movies ever. However, his final film Eyes Wide Shut has often slipped through the cracks.

Many critics were left disappointed when the film came out. Which is understandable. When the film was released Kubrick hadn’t made a film in 12 years. And with his great track record, many were probably expecting a masterpiece. With such high expectations, it’s understandable why the film didn’t fare well upon initial viewing. But with the film celebrating it’s 20th Anniversary this year, today we will be looking back to see if Eyes Wide Shut deserves its reputation as Stanley Kubrick’s worst film.

The Story

Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) are a well-regarded New York City couple. Bill has a good job as a doctor, the couple has a child together and is very active in high society. But after a series of intimate flirtations with other people at a Christmas party, they begin to have doubts about how secure their relationship is.

After Alice admits to having sexual fantasies about another man, Bill embarks on an odyssey around New York to find out more about himself. His curiosity leads him to several encounters that will test his commitment to his relationship. Eventually causing him to cross paths with a secret society who don’t take kindly to strangers.

What did I like?

If you are a fan of cinema Eyes Wide Shut delivers something truly unique. It uses its basis as an erotic thriller to ask some interesting questions about relationships. What does marriage mean to people? Is it possible to truly know someone? And does true love really exist? And these interesting thematic points are accompanied and conveyed through great performances and a confident script.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s performances are some of both actor’s best work. They have fantastic chemistry, which makes the films questions about relationships more impactful because theirs feels so genuine. They were of course dating at the time. Tom Cruise being Hollywood’s go to charming leads makes Bill easy to like. But he’s equally effective when the film shifts and shows him in more vulnerable or compromising positions. And he makes each character shift work by wholly committing to the emotion required from the role. And Kidman shows her strong dramatic capabilities and how committed she can be. She’s willing to commit to nudity and brings dramatic weight to her simplest actions. The scene where she and Cruise discuss their relationship is incredibly powerful, because of her performance. And all the supporting performers although given limited screen time, manage to make their characters feel like fully rounded people.

The script is also one of Kubrick’s best. It creates a seamless world that blends both the real and surreal perfectly. The dialogue between the characters all feels natural. It doesn’t seem pretentious or forced. It feels like these are characters voicing their opinions, and aren’t just actors reciting dialogue. Even the exposition, although there can sometimes be a lot, fits what the characters are going through. And it allows room for interpretation, with so much being left unexplained for the audience to interpret. While also being a complete narrative. With all of the major characters arcs completed in a natural way.

And the cinematography is some of the best of Kubrick’s career. Cinematographer Larry Smith makes every scene look like a painting come to life. The colourful lighting and smooth tracking shots make the film a joy to look at. And he creates a palpable atmosphere through adding a haziness to many of the shots. Making the film feel like a dream. Which makes the more surreal frightening parts of the film all the more plausible.

But there are still elements that may bother viewers especially those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s work.

What did I not like?

Firstly, the slow pace that favours character interaction, mood and visual metaphors over an efficient, traditional narrative can make the film a chore for people simply wanting to watch a story unfold rather than trying to decode what the movie means. Many will also be dissatisfied with the directions the story takes. The payoffs to many of the story’s arcs happen off-screen and are explained away in dialogue or favour intimate images over big spectacle, which can make some audience members feel cheated.

The direction doesn’t help. Kubrick’s films often lack intimacy. Favouring wider shots over close-ups and cold/washed out colours, which keeps the audience at a distance and inspires a depressing feeling. Coupled with the actors slower, more methodical delivery, this can make the film seem stagey and un-real. Which may keep you from becoming engaged with the drama.

Alternately there are times when some might feel that the movie is patronizing them. Some scenes literally vomit dialogue about what has occurred. Which is necessary for the characters but not for the audience. The pool scene being the worst offender.

Finally, it is easy to see some take against the portrayal of women in the film. Many may feel the film paints all women as being obsessed with sex and are portrayed in an enticing way for the male viewer. Which is not an inaccurate conclusion. Though it is worth pointing out that the film does hold Bill’s character accountable for his chauvinist views. And many of the films male characters are controlling, manipulative and driven by self-interest (though they have significantly less nude scenes).

Verdict  

Twenty years after it’s release, it’s easy to see why some audiences took against Eyes Wide Shut. Because it favours atmosphere over tight narrative structure. Goes in directions that many may not expect. While also offering up a possibly unflattering view of women and to those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s style it can seem alienating and hard to read.

However to those looking for something different or are familiar with the directors work the film delivers a one of a kind experience. It asks big philosophical questions in a way that allows the audience to think and come up with their own conclusions while still functioning as complete narrative. The characters are memorable and interesting. All of the actors commit themselves in ways that are very admirable and play to and against their strengths. And the film is a feast for the eyes with a vibrant colour scheme that attracts and repels at the same time.

It’s a hard nut to crack. But once you have, it is a rewarding experience and a worthy swan song for one of cinemas greatest voices.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Shazam!

April 4, 2019
Shazam Movie Screenshot

Comic book characters have been a staple of big Hollywood films for nearly twenty years now. But recently we have seen a growth in obscure and niche (by mainstream standards) comic book properties being used as inspirations for big box office hits. Guardians of the Galaxy, Aquaman and Captain Marvel have all scored big, using obscurer comic figures that many fans never thought would get their time to shine.

And now DC is trying their luck again, with the live-action feature debut of Shazam. But can the hero who was once considered more popular than Superman hit a home run with his first film outing?

The story

The wizard, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is growing old and is searching for an heir to his powers, to protect the world from the seven avatars of sin. After searching for years, he finally chooses young orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel). Billy is then granted the ability to turn from a teenager into a superpowered adult (Zachary Levi) by saying the word, “Shazam”. But Billy has no interest in being a hero.

Having been abandoned by his mother as a child, Billy has spent most of his life moving from foster home to foster home while looking for her. So naturally, he has a cynical streak that makes him ill-suited for his powers. But when Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) a man rejected by the wizard years before, comes to claim Billy’s powers, Billy must prove he is worthy of them by fighting to protect the innocent and his foster family from Thaddeus’ wrath.

What did I like?

After several years of DC movies being unduly grim and gritty, it’s nice to see them becoming more fun. Although Shazam has dark moments, they feel appropriate. Because the story is about a troubled teenager coming to grips with the world around him. Ultimately though this movie is about family and childish power fantasy, and the script achieves that with gusto.

The empowerment side of the story works well. Billy, of course, begins using his powers to do childish things. Which is very entertaining. But slowly he realises that he must grow up and become responsible or he will become like Thaddeus. Turning the film into a coming of age tale where Billy learns that strength comes from those around you. Time is also dedicated to giving visibility to a spectrum of genders, sexualities and abilities. Before paying them off in an empowering way that many will find satisfying. Coupled with this the movie is incredibly funny, with Pop culture references and over the top childish wackiness ensuring a laugh from most audiences. Some may find the family side of the story clichéd, but it does add another level of emotional investment to the story.

I also really enjoyed the performances. Zachary Levi is of course the standout. Playing a child in an adult’s body can easily become creepy or aggravating. But when watching Levi his energy, enthusiasm, and sincerity capture your attention. He is a joy to watch as he channels his inner child and he easily carries the entire movie. Mark Strong also does good work as Thaddeus. Some may see Thaddeus as just another generic villain but the occasional moment where Strong lets the mask slip revealing something more childlike underneath really does work as a good foil for Levi. And many of the supporting cast also get their time to shine. Special mention goes to Cooper Andrews as Billy’s warm foster father. And Jack Grazer as Freddy whose comedic timing never fails to get a laugh.

What did I not like?

But while I like most of what the film is doing, it’s sometimes a rough ride getting there. On the technical side, the CG used to create the avatars of sin and the action scenes never looks convincing or original. It’s all designs and feats we’ve seen done elsewhere. Thankfully the film does not rely too much on these but when it does it becomes too unreal and generic to engage. Which does become a problem in the third act.

As well as this, the films occasional overreliance on humour undermines the attempt at eliciting emotion from the family storyline. With pathos sacrificed for a joke. And when so much of the film relies on humour there is the risk of alienating the audience if they are not engaged by the jokes. Which did happen a few times with the audience I saw the film with.

Lastly, the film does occasionally slip into the same pitfalls as many other DCEU movies. Some of the acting feels forced and unnatural, particularly Thaddeus’ family and the bully characters. There are also segments that could have been tweaked to make a better impression on the audience. For example, the fight between Billy and the bullies, which doesn’t happen simply because they are hurting Freddy, but because they insult him not having parents which Billy takes personally which makes him seem more selfish than he needs to be. And of course, DC can still think of no other way to end a film than by having a big fight with indiscriminate CGI bad guys. Which is especially disappointing here because the character focused conflict between Billy and Thaddeus is way more interesting than the generic avatars of sin.  

Verdict  

Shazam! is a mixed bag. It is brought down by unconvincing CG villains as well as an occasional overreliance on humour to the detriment of other parts of the narrative. The lack of attention to minor details in the story and occasionally bad acting also drags the film down. But it still feels like a breath of fresh air among modern superhero movies. It is an almost perfect example of what the genre is meant to be, wish fulfilment for little kids. Buoyed by fun performances, a fantastic sense of humour and a script that nicely treads the line between sincere and goofy.

It is impossible not to have a good time with Shazam!. It isn’t a genre redefining masterpiece nor is it an exceptional film, but it’s a damn good version of what it’s trying to be.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Shazam! is in UK cinema on from Friday 5th April.

Shazam! (Official Trailer)
Editorials

The Human Centipede: A Love/Hate Story

March 28, 2019
The Human Centipede 3

Since the Human Centipede series debuted in 2010 with The Human Centipede (First Sequence) it has provoked outrage and disgust across the world. All the films in the series were savaged by the media and the general public.

However, despite its venomous reception, the films have gained longevity over the years. With their shocking nature managing to accumulate quite a large cult following of loyal fans. But what is it about this series that has managed to inspire such loyalty?

Today we will look back over the series. Reviewing the positive and negative reactions that it received. And asking how the series accumulated the fanbase it has.

The Creator and Premise

The series focuses on various insane individuals who disable people and then stitch them together from rectum to mouth to form the titular human centipede. With each film offering up slight variations on the premise.

The first film is about two tourists who get lost and subsequently kidnapped by a mad surgeon. This film focused more on traditional horror conventions than the viscera of the premise. The second movie then sought to address complaints of the first films tameness. The film is about a loner who obsesses over the first human centipede movie and decides to make his own human centipede – with messier and more disturbing results. Finally, the third movie sees a prison warden who watches the first two films and makes the prisoners into a human centipede as punishment. With it eventually being accepted as what America needs. But who birthed this idea?

The series was created by Dutch director, Tom Six. Six began his career working on the Dutch version of Big Brother. He eventually created his own production company which produced the controversial Gay in Amsterdam and the black comedy I love Dries. It was only logical that Six would combine the controversial and blackly comedic for the Human Centipede films.

Six said the idea for the series came from a joke he used to make about how to deal with criminals (which subsequently became the premise for Human Centipede 3 (Final sequence)). Six also stated he was influenced by the shock films of his youth, like Salo. And that he wanted his films to provoke a reaction from audiences. Six regularly encourages this on Twitter, where he retweets positive and negative feedback on his films; provokes discussion through personal tweets. Giving him a reputation as a provocateur. And he is good at it.

Tom Six encouraging conversation on twitter

The Reaction

All three films were generally negatively received by critics upon release. With critics like Roger Ebert (and later Simon Abrams) either refusing to give the films ratings or giving them a thumbs down. Ebert said of the first Human Centipede:

I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it… Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.

-Roger Ebert

These negative sentiments were echoed in various reviews of the series, such as those of Mark Kermode.

Regarding the general audience, none of the films have a rating above 4.4 on IMDb, at time of writing. And the films suffered increasing diminishment in ticket sales. Showing that the films never received much love from the mainstream.

And the series courted its share of controversy. The second film was rejected by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) and was only released after over 2 minutes’ of footage was cut. Thus, causing many news outlets to take up the charge against the film as morally reprehensible.

The fanbase

But while many derided the series, it does have its defenders and fans. Critics such as Kim Newman have spoken in defence of the series. In a review of the final film Newman said it “fuses the shock tactics of avant-garde drama with ’70s exploitation. Like it or not, Six has contributed something fresh and demented to pop culture”. And Rebecca Hawkes praised the films as what cinema really needs. Because they are viscerally shocking in a way that no glossy Hollywood film can be, which helps shake cinema up creatively and deal with modern concerns. Including crime and punishment and the effects of media.

There are also many horror fans who enjoy the series for it’s disturbing/disgusting content which challenges societal taboos. Fans regularly post messages praising the challenging subject matter of the film and admiration of Six and his films on twitter. And there are plenty of forums dedicated to fan art, merchandise and making memes from the series. Which shows that the fans can find humour and artistic meaning in both the series and people’s perceptions of it.

Dr. Heiter fan art by DerWimmers on DeviantArt

This puts the series in a similar vein as classic midnight movies, like Pink Flamingos and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Movies that were either bad or too weird to achieve success but struck a chord with a smaller niche audience. And shows that meaning can be found in these films if you look for it.

What does it all mean?

To summarise, there are many arguments to be had on the merits of Tom Six’s provocative trilogy. With its disgusting central premise, it’s easy to see why most critics and the general public view the films as solely degrading shock horror. But the series fanbase view the films differently. They are movies that challenge audiences in ways no other movies do and offer cynically satirical looks at the society surrounding them. Or are sources of ironic humour that offer safe respite from real-world horrors.

Perhaps this story is ultimately about irony? Tom Six created this series from a joke and managed to make a trilogy despite box office telling him “no”. The series is juvenile in its obsession to offend but deals with real world issues. And people are able to take it so seriously as to be offended or inspired to find artistic meaning in movies based around the consumption of excrement. Maybe The Human Centipede trilogy is the greatest prank ever pulled on film watchers, with Six and ironic internet users just having a great laugh at our expense.

But regardless of your stance, The Human Centipede series has become a benchmark for modern shock cinema. They are something that school children speak about in hushed whispers and dare friends to watch. And inspires passionate hatred and love at the same time. But wherever you fall you will not be apathetic about the series and in the days of media oversaturation, Six deserves praise for that. If nothing else.  

Tom Six’s cameo in Human Centipede 3
Editorials

5 Documentaries To Watch On Netflix

March 13, 2019
Netflix Banner

Who doesn’t love a good documentary? They offer informative and intriguing glimpses into the world that surround us. But the best documentaries are not just talking heads reciting information at you. The best documentaries are the ones that take you on a journey and leave a lasting emotional impact on you.

And with Netflix having a treasure trove of documentaries available at your fingertips, today I’m recommending five documentaries, both films and TV series, for you to queue up and watch as soon as possible.

Five Came Back

Netflix has created many engaging original documentaries, but today I am giving special mention to two. The first being Five Came Back, which chronicles the lives of influential filmmakers William Wyler, George Stevens, Frank Capra, John Huston and John Ford, and the film industry that surrounded them, before, during and after World War II. Beginning with the first rumblings of the second world war and how Hollywood dealt with it, to many of the men seeing active service. Through their involvement with American propaganda and how the war impacted their careers after coming home. The series is a gripping and intensely personal character study of how the directors’ wartime experiences shaped them and their films. All the men’s stories are captivating. Their personalities are conveyed so well through archival interviews and insight from modern filmmakers, who share common traits, that you forget the documentary’s retrospective nature and become completely absorbed in the experience. The use of music and the directors archival battle footage makes the series as gripping as any war film and shows that art isn’t merely escapism. It helps us process the world around us. And is essential to the healing process of both artists and society.

Five Came Back Poster (2017)

Planet Earth

This entry can apply to any of David Attenborough’s documentaries. Many are available on Netflix and all are worth watching. But for the definitive Attenborough wildlife documentary, look no further than Planet Earth. Being one of the world’s foremost natural historians you know that Attenborough knows what he is talking about when it comes to the subject matter and he delivers information in a way that is easy for all to enjoy. His smooth and authoritative voiceover invites the viewer in and makes the information easily digestible, which would be enough to recommend a documentary alone. But when combined with some of the most stunning wildlife footage ever captured, that gets up close and personal with the storied lives of earth’s tiniest insects, most feared predators and even endangered species from across the world. It makes for the definitive wildlife documentary series.

Planet Earth BBC Poster (2006)

Senna

I’ve never been a big sports fan but I love sports documentaries. Because the best sports documentaries help you understand and empathize with the people who participate in these global events. And one of the best examples of this is Senna. Senna tells the story of Brazilian Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna. From how he won the F1 world championship 3 times in his careers through to his tragic death in 1994. What makes this documentary stand out is that it’s made up entirely of archival and home movie footage/voiceover about Senna. Which gives the movie an authentic feeling as everything is rooted in recorded history. What is truly impressive is how the film builds such a comprehensive picture of Senna, his life and his mindset while also being as thrilling and engaging as any fictional sports movie. Proving that learning about history doesn’t need to be boring and that real life really can be just as exciting as fiction.

Senna movie poster (2010)

13th

Now for my second Netflix Original choice. 13th is a film that looks at the history of the USA and posits that slavery never actually went away. Though ownership has gone, the USA’s judicial and governmental system is still so poisoned against minorities and black people in particular, that many are now locked up and used for free labour for having the audacity to defend themselves and demanding a fair trial. From that description, it’s easy to see why 13th pushed so many people’s buttons. It is not an easy topic to think about, nor should it be. But the film delivers this difficult subject matter in a way that is easy to understand and showcases some truly disturbing material that has resulted from this oppression, but in a way that feels purposeful rather than exploitative. It is a polemic but it is incredibly successful at being one and at best stimulates a conversation that is worth having. As a good documentary should.

13th Netflix Poster (2016)

Paris is Burning

Finally, we go for an older documentary which is altogether more uplifting though in places no less sad. Paris is Burning documents the New York underground drag scene at the end of the 1980s. Looking at the competitions that bring the community together and the personalities of the contestants that take part. Paris is a fascinating time capsule. Although it could be looked upon as a glorified home movie, it holds significance because of what it represents. It is a glimpse inside a culture that, at the time, was very marginalized. As a result, the unprofessional and grainy presentation makes the film feel real and reflects its underground subject matter. It also doesn’t coyly skirt around discussions of transvestism, racism and homosexuality within the 1980s either. Focusing on how the community formed itself under the oppression, brutality and indifference of the culture. And although the subjects have their doubts about themselves and their place in the world, you ultimately come out feeling uplifted, for the film’s celebration of love and beauty in a marginalized group.

Poster for Paris is Burning (1990)

So there are five documentaries available on Netflix to get you into the world of non-fictional entertainment. Of course, there are many other documentaries available on Netflix. Both old and recent, and covering a range of different subjects. Do you have a favourite Netflix documentary you would like to recommend? Then please mention it in the comments. And help us discover more real-life stories to treasure.

Reviews

Retro Review: Alien

March 5, 2019

Today we are looking at another significant film celebrating an anniversary. As this year Ridley Scott’s Alien turns 40. Alien has become a phenomenon over the past 40 years. Spawning one of the most iconic horror movie monsters, heroines and one of the best sequels ever made. But 4 decades on, has Alien aged well? Or has the franchise it spawned eclipsed the significance of the original film? Let’s find out.

The story

While heading back to Earth the crew of the spaceship Nostromo are awakened from cryo-sleep by the ship’s computer to investigate a distress signal coming from a nearby moon. During the mission, Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by a creature, which attaches itself to him and incapacitates him. Against officer Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) wishes, Science Officer, Ash (Ian Holm) lets him back onboard.

Eventually, Kane is freed from the alien’s grasp. But the lifeform left inside him by the alien kills him by erupting from his chest. Now, with an alien loose on the ship, the crew must find a way to survive. Will they stop the alien? And is the alien the biggest threat to the crew?

What did I like…

You can accomplish a lot with a simple idea. The concept of a monster on the loose in a confined area killing people is nothing new. But Alien presents itself so well that the unoriginal premise never impacts it.

Firstly, Dan O’Bannon’s script is a marvel of showing without telling and natural characterization. The Nostromo crew aren’t action heroes but everyday people who just want to complete their job and go home. Actions define these people. Rather than being handed information we discover more about them and their world through their interactions. The space setting also makes most of their lapses in judgment feel warranted and serves the narrative. Because running away is impossible. Thus, when the alien begins stalking the crew, the film becomes tenser because we relate to and fear for these people. And dread is built effectively because of what is left to the imagination. The alien itself is constantly changing and the company the characters work for is just a vague entity hanging over them, playing on our fears of the unknown.

The acting of Alien also works with the writing to create a believable world in an unbelievable situation. The actors use understated and restrained delivery to sell their characters. Even their hysteria feels natural and not forced. With each actor adding something to their performance that makes them feel unique. Whether it be Sigourney Weaver’s hard attitude, John Hurt’s everyday charm or Harry Dean Stanton’s goofy obliviousness. Many of the characters are memorable. Even if the writing was not strong these actors would still be able to carry the film.

Alien Cast
Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton in Alien

And then there is the production design and direction. The first thing most people think of when they think of Alien is H. R. Giger’s legendary creature design. Which evokes many subconscious fears. But it becomes scarier because we rarely see the whole thing on screen. Instead. we see close-ups or out of focus shots of it in the background. Again playing up the idea that what we don’t see is scarier. And the gothic, mechanical set design heightens the tension. We watch as the clinically clean safe rooms slowly change to unnerving mechanized monstrosities. With the direction letting atmosphere grow naturally through long shots and attention to editing. Allowing us to get use to the safety of certain things before slowly breaking them.

What I do not like…

But while the elements work together overall there are still hindrances that prevent the movie from being perfect. The film effectively builds atmospheric tension, but several jump scares are used at random points. Seemingly just to remind the audience that they are watching a horror film – which feels cheap.

Some could also argue that the characters feel a little underdeveloped. Because the script focuses more on their actions relating to their current situation many could claim that we don’t get to know the characters as individuals. We don’t get to learn all their facets as we have become used to in films. Which will be distancing for some. Also, while the actors mostly do a good job Tom Skerritt is a weak link. Unlike the rest of the cast, he feels ill-suited for his role as leader. He never leaves an impression, coming across more as whiny than as authoritative.

Finally, there are some lapses in logic that can take some audience members out of the experience. Some are relatively minor annoyances such as Ripley risking her life for Jonesy in the finale. Which doesn’t sync up with her previous characterisation as someone who puts survival first. But then there are bigger questions. Such as: if the company wanted the alien why did they entrust the job to space tuckers rather than a group of marines or people who would be more prepared to deal with the alien? And, Ash’s presentation in several scenes make his treacherous intentions too obvious to ultimately be surprising.

Verdict

Despite its hype and long legacy, Alien is still engaging all these years later. It does rely too much on jump scares. Some characters can be seen as underdeveloped. Tom Skerritt offers little to his part. And the plot requires the audience to suspend their disbelief a lot. But these flaws never damage the movie too much.

The characters are relatable people doing a job beyond their capabilities. And the film creates effective tension by keeping certain plot elements vague and unseen. The actors are also very natural in their roles making them easy to believe and giving them an innate likability. And it’s all played out against some of cinemas best production design. Which combined with the slower direction and pace creates a palpable atmosphere. It’s easy to see why everyone gravitated towards it. A genuine classic that deserves revisiting.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Alien (1979) Trailer
Reviews

Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

February 26, 2019

Five years and several spinoffs after the surprise hit of the Lego Movie we finally have an official sequel. So its time to see if the Lego Movie 2 can prove people wrong a second time. Can the sequel live up to the standard set by the original? Can everything truly be awesome again? Well take a seat on your double-decker couch and come with me on this journey to find out.

The story

Five years after the defeat of Lord Business, the Lego world is at war with the inhabitants of the Systar system. A race of Duplo aliens who are bright, colourful and worst of all covered in glitter. Their constant battles with the Lego world force the residents to become hardened and grittier, except of course for Emmet (Chris Pratt), who is still his old peaceful and lovable self. When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) kidnaps his friends to attend a ceremony hosted by Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), Emmet must journey to the Systar system with the help of Rex Dangervest (Chris Pratt again) and his Raptor helpers to save them. But what is Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi’s plan? Do his friends really need saving? And what is happening to the beings whose minds control this universe?

What did I like?

It was always going to be difficult to make a sequel to The Lego Movie. The first movie was a well-told self-contained narrative that, despite its flaws, managed to be the best version of what it wanted to be. A smart, funny and sometimes poignant ode to childhood innocence and its value in the modern world. Since then the spinoffs largely traded charm for brand recognition and heaping’s of self-reference, so things looked bad for the sequel. As original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller are only writing this time and with the final twist of the first movie it makes it difficult to view this story in the same way as we did before. But with all those points against it, Lego Movie 2 manages to be a decent sequel.

One of the movies best points is that it continues with the thread that the first movie left us with. Now that we know this universe is an extension of children’s minds, the film focuses specifically on issues relating to children interacting among themselves in a way that feels like it’s written by children rather than adults. The blunt and overblown character names, the visualizations of girlhood and boyhood culture and the way the characters act feel very real as extensions of the child characters. Unlike the first one, it’s clear that this film is aimed more at a child audience than a family one. But the film captures a child’s mindset well and keeps the thematic meat of the story easy for kids to understand without talking down to them. Eventually resolving with a good moral lesson that nicely ties the Lego characters story to the real world.

The film also continues to be hilarious and thoughtful with its characters. All the older characters get their time to shine, Will Arnett’s Batman continues to be the standout, and some are updated in interesting ways. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), having learned to accept Emmet’s world view in the first movie, must learn to accept who she is and how that makes her special. Emmet is sent on an unexpected journey where he learns what it means to be “strong” and Batman must learn to let go of his self-imposed loneliness in order to be happy. Just like before the voice actors strike the perfect balance between serious and self-parody, making the jokes funnier. And all the new characters bring a new perspective or flavour of humour to the table, Rex Dangervests’ chatty Raptors being my favourite addition.

The movie continues the Lego tradition of being a technical marvel. The animation is incredible, and the colour scheme is a feast for the eyes. Also, the music is just as catchy as ever, the lead song (Catchy Song), even plays up this angle for laughs. Musical numbers are even included along with the new songs to ensure that boredom is impossible. Overall a very entertaining experience.

What did I not like?

While the film is good, there is nothing about it that has the same wow factor as the first. It feels like a classic case of sequelitis. The second film goes bigger with its scale, music and message but ironically it feels like less is at stake than the first film. Mostly this is due to a lack of focus. Rather than focusing on Emmet as the centrepiece and letting the other characters grow around him, we focus on several characters at once. This means that we lose the impact that comes from spending time developing a single character. The bigger set pieces, musical numbers, and live action segments just feel like a diluted experience from the first film; their sparse use in the first film made them feel impactful, but now they feel overdone.

Along with that, the characters, despite being fun and interestingly updated seem inconsistent or ill-fitting to this story. Wyldstyle fits as the film is a call for acceptance of feminine culture, but other characters feel out of place. Batman’s learning to accept people is the same arc he went through in the Lego Batman movie. Making his addition feel obligatory rather than organic. Emmet’s arc of becoming tougher also feels out of character. In the previous film, he saw a world-ending conflict where one of his friends died but he kept his innocence, only fighting others briefly to get to Lord Business. It feels bizarre that he begins considering toxic masculine bravado as a way forward. And the other returning characters just seem to be here for callbacks and references, which is disappointing considering how well these characters suited the previous film’s narrative.

Finally, the movie has many inconsistencies that minorly compromise the film. For example, the inhabitants of the Systar system act differently from scene to scene. Some display a teenage level of development and others act like babies which doesn’t sync up with how the sister character acts in the real world. The film also tries to wrong-foot the audience by passing off the conflict as the brother’s fault. But Emmet tries to make peace with the Systar system at the beginning, but they open hostilities through their threatening behaviour. And the obviously deceptive way the Systar characters act throughout the movie only serves to setup the twist. But, upon second watch the Systar characters suspect behaviour feels pointless. And only there to force conflict. These inconsistencies may feel minor, but they add up. Eventually serving as a reminder of how much better the first movie worked as a whole.

Verdict

Despite my complaints Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is not a bad movie. It keeps up the original’s standard for sound and animation. The characters are still incredibly funny, and there is a refreshing moral that is communicated to its child audience in a way that treats them like adults. The only problem is that being a sequel it is impossible to avoid comparisons to its predecessor. And under that light the movie just falls short. The inconsistencies of this movie remind you how much care and attention was given to the first film. The characters are being made to fit the narrative rather than the narrative being made to fit them and no matter how big or lavish the musical numbers and set pieces, they never equal the simple charm of “everything is awesome”.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The Lego Movie 2 Trailer (Warner Bros.)

Read our review of the original Lego Movie

Reviews

Retro Review: The Lego Movie

February 21, 2019

February Half Term is here so it’s time to enjoy some family time at the cinema. With The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part looking to storm the box office this half term, lets first take a look back at the original movie. Which proved all naysayers wrong and went on to become a box office smash and spawn a franchise of Lego spinoff movies. But half a decade later, does the first movie still hold up?

The story

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a normal, generic Lego construction worker, happily going through his life conforming to the will of big businesses. But when he follows resistance fighter and master builder Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) off the beaten track he ends up fused with the legendary “piece of resistance”. This apparently means that he is the legendary “special”, prophesized to bring down Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and bring peace to the universe. The only problem is Emmet really isn’t special. He is not creative, does not possess the skills of a master builder (people who can build anything from everyday materials) and doesn’t wish to get involved. Never the less he is pursued by Lord Business.

While on the run Emmet must work with many colourful characters to find a way to stop Lord Business from freezing the world forever with his superweapon, The Kraggle. Can Emmet defeat the enemy with nothing to work with his but his everyday knowledge and fondness for double-decker couches?

What did I like?

The Lego Movie’s success really did come out of nowhere. Upon release, everyone thought it would just be another cash grab. With a celebrity voice cast collecting a paycheque. An inconsequential story and brand recognition placed above creativity. But the Lego Movie dashed all of those presumptions.

Firstly, the film looks amazing. The colour scheme is vibrant and full of variety making it an absolute joy to look at. The film also shows great affection for the Lego fanbase by having many of the characters move at a lower frame rate to give the illusion of stop motion animation, similar to Lego online videos. Which elicits plenty of affectionate charm and admiration for its creativity, backed up by gorgeously flowing animation.

Then there’s the sound. The voice cast is uniformly terrific. Everyone brings perfect comedic timing to their roles, Will Arnett’s Batman and Morgan Freemans Vitruvius being particular highlights. Each character’s voice suits and parodies their archetypes simultaneously. For example, Will Arnett’s send-up of Christian Bale’s Batman voice is made funnier through his self-aware smugness. So, the well-written jokes have extra layers to unpack through their delivery and timing. The sound design is also fantastic. The score is also beautiful, often adding an OTT silliness to the proceedings. Great thought is also put into sound details such as how walking, construction and fights sound in this Lego world. And all capped off with “Everything is Awesome”. A song that ridicules and celebrates corporate pop music in a way that ensures you’ll never forget it.

As well as looking and sounding amazing, The Lego Movie’s characters are all unique, funny and offer something to the story. Emmet makes for an easily likeable protagonist, being the only down to earth person who just wants to be nice. Wyldstyle, despite her hostile introduction, shows herself to be a strong person who takes Emmet’s self-lessness to heart and unites the world. And the supporting cast all offer different flavours of critique on “adult” perspectives or showcase the joy of childhood wonder. And the story offers different things to different generations. The simple nature of the story makes it easy for children to follow and the satire easily engages the adult viewers. And by the end, despite the cynical nature of some of the jokes, it brings both audiences together. Showing that sometimes we need to let go of adulthood for a while and be children again.

And that is the ultimate key to why The Lego Movie works so well. It blends adult craftsmanship and satire with childlike joy and enthusiasm in a way that feels complementary rather than derogatory to the overall experience. Ultimately showing that despite our cynical nature, we all have the potential to be special in our own way.

What I do not like?

However, amongst the achievements of this film there are a few missteps. The biggest problem being the way it represents women. There are only two prominent female roles in the film. Unikitty is repressed and Wyldstyle has penis envy. The twist does explain these choices and the characters never feel insulting or malicious. However their roles are still unflattering.

Lastly, some of the humour is a little too reliant on self-awareness or referencing popular culture. Though not a terrible source for jokes, most are even executed really well, their occasional overuse becomes tiresome. At some points, it even becomes alienating to people trying to become absorbed in the world and the story. The constant fourth wall breaking draws into question how invested we should be in characters who have no regard for the narrative. Though these moments are usually well delivered and spaced out enough to not be a huge issue.

Verdict 

While occasionally too self-aware, lacking a decent female insight and an overreliance on reference humour, The Lego Movie is a great family movie that deserves revisiting. It finds unique ways to appeal to both children and adults without feeling overstuffed or disingenuous. It includes a fantastic cast inhabiting interesting and hilarious characters in a beautiful world that clearly had a lot of passion behind it. And every time you return there’s something new to chew on. The Lego Movie is a testament to the power of imagination and storytelling and for me, the best animated film of the decade so far.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Lego Movie (Trailer)

The Lego Movie is available on DVD and digital stores.

Editorials

How Cinema Attendance Hit Record Levels In 2018

February 7, 2019

In a world of streaming and affordable home media, the death of cinema distribution is often talked about. A belief that many would agree with. After all, why go to the cinema when you can watch a film multiple times at home for a fraction of what they would pay going to see those films at the theatre?

It’s therefore interesting that according to the UK Cinema Association, UK cinema attendance in 2018 was at its highest since 1970, with 177 million admissions. This is impressive considering all the factors going against cinema in 2018, including a boiling summer and competition from the World Cup.

UK Cinema Admissions (UK Cinema Association)

But why did cinema attendance decline during the 1970s? And what was it about this past year that encouraged people to return in larger numbers? Well, join me as we dive down the rabbit hole and try to find out.

1970: Starting to decline

1970 was the year the UK saw the general release of many perennial favourites, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Kes and many others. It was also the year when cinema audiences began to decline dramatically in numbers, going from 193 million admissions in 1970 to 176 million in 1971. By the end of 1980 admissions only reached 110 million.

Many blame the expansion of television and the video recorder for the decline. And with Hollywood going through major changes at the time due to several large flops, the big crowd-pleasing spectacles that had been largely used to showcase its superiority to home viewing quickly dropped off. These pictures then took a back seat in the UK, replaced by a mix of personal and experimental projects that appealed to niche audiences as well as television adaptations and sex comedies. From there although attendance was not always in continual decline, and tentpole blockbusters returned, the audience figures never reached the numbers they once had – until 2018!

In 2018 attendance numbers rose with huge hits like Bohemian Rhapsody, Mamma Mia Here we go again, Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther.

The biggest UK film hits in 2018

2018: What has changed?

There are of course many factors that could have contributed to the rise in cinema attendance. Some insiders put it down to the value of the cinema experience. Going to the cinema is not just about the film anymore, it’s about the communal experience. The ability to buy food, drink, alcohol and enjoy a film with your family and friends on a large screen with luxury seating without having to spend as much as you would for a night at the opera or a football match.

The number of venues dedicated to showing films across the UK is also growing, in different geographical areas. This means that it is easier for audiences to get to cinemas, no doubt helping to encourage repeat visits.

On the other hand, the rise could be a result of Hollywood using their old hits formulas with a new approach. The big hits of 1970, M*A*S*H, Love Story and Airport all had pre-existing fanbases, all being based on novels (some specially written to drum up interest for the movie) and stars with name recognition. Airport having Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin, M*A*S*H having Donald Sutherland and Love Story having Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. Hollywood often used these tactics in the past, but these films also covered a range of genres: disaster, romance, war/comedy and demonstrated an attempt to appeal to different tastes. Airport focused on Hollywood spectacle, Love Story on personal character drama and M*A*S*H on anti-establishment humour rampant at the time. Helping to attract different audiences.

All these elements can be seen in the big hits of 2018. The genres range from musical to superhero and biopic. And all demonstrate a commitment to bringing in broad audiences through either brand recognition or having a big name attached to the project.

But these films also tackle modern issues that help them appeal to different audiences. Instead of focusing exclusively on white straight men we now have stories about black superheroes, LGBTQ icons and women exploring their sexuality and coming to terms with their own identities. With a lot of money spent on these projects, it must be an attractive prospect for underrepresented groups to see representation on the big screen. All the aforementioned films are also rated 12a. And with cinemas being more easily accessible it makes it easier for every member of the family to watch these diverse tales. The issues of today are being told with old school Hollywood spectacle, which seems to have struck a chord with people, regardless of your opinions on the films.

A long way to go

But despite rising attendance figures, these must be viewed within context. Comparing the populations of the times the average person in 1970 would have visited the cinema around 3.5 times a year. In comparison the higher population the average person will only visit the cinema around 2.7 times a year. Which makes a difference when considering box office takings


UK population estimates and projections, 1951 to 2041 (Office for National Statistics )

With the average ticket price in the 1970s being £6.83 (45p, adjusted for inflation) the total box office takings of 1970 reached £1,318,190,000. Beating 2018’s takings of £1,277,122,327 despite the higher average ticket price and higher number of cinemas.

The average viewer just does not visit the cinema enough to equal the 1970 numbers. So, if cinema is to return to the high attendances it once had, there is still a long way to go. And with the predicted continuing increase of the population, cinemas will need to do all they can to encourage visitors to return or attendance will continue to fall. This could result in cinema closures or another rise in the average ticket price.

What now?

Despite this, the high attendance figures of the past few years indicate that if cinemas continue to appeal to audiences, through showcasing big films that can be viewed by diverse audiences at affordable prices, then maybe we will reach the attendance figures of cinemas heyday again.

Editorials

Disney Strikes Back: Disney+ Breaks The Internet

January 29, 2019

It truly is an exciting time to be a film viewer with so many streaming sites vying for our attention. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and so many others are competing to be your go-to entertainment streaming service. And soon another company will join the streaming wars. Disney announced last year that at some point in 2019 it will launch its own streaming service, Disney+. Many have prophesized that the entertainment behemoth could give Netflix a run for its money. So, today we are going to ask, what effect Disney+ could have on the streaming landscape. Will Netflix be able to compete with a company as giant as the house of mouse? And what could this mean for the future of film distribution?

What is Disney+ offering?

Disney+ is stated to be a child-friendly streaming hub for all of Disney’s owned films and TV shows. These include properties like Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, and National Geographic. Hulu will broadcast the more adult-oriented content owned by the company. So far, the service has not set a price, but has promised that it will be cheaper than a Netflix subscription. Similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime, Disney+ also plans to host exclusive content. These include Star Wars: The Mandalorian and a series based on Marvel’s Loki. It will also be the first place where all the latest Disney films become available.

How will this effect the industry?

Disney+ could herald the beginning of the next generation of streaming. With the studio’s pedigree and the exclusive big names they have, including Star Wars and Marvel, it seems likely that the production value of their exclusives will be high, with both properties usually focusing a lot on spectacle. And if the service becomes successful with a cheaper price, other streaming companies will have to step up their game. Perhaps lowering their price, offering new selling points or allotting higher budgets for their new projects. Competition breeds creativity and Disney+ seems poised to encourage that.

It is also interesting that Disney does not intend to dismiss cinema distribution. Allowing films to run their course in theatres rather than exclusively releasing it on Disney+. It is interesting that despite the rise of streaming, cinema exhibition continues to generate over £1 billion in revenue each year. And this display from Disney reinforces the importance of cinematic distribution. Therefore, cinemas will still benefit from the income that big releases bring to them. As well as allowing a broad audience to see the films before it becomes exclusive and potentially allowing platforms for smaller films to be seen by a larger audience.

However, if Disney+ is successful it’s not hard to see other big studios forming their own streaming companies to retain distribution rights. Meaning that a movie will run its course in cinemas and then become exclusive to that studio’s website. Customers will thus lose the variety of current streaming sites. Instead, they’ll have to sign up to multiple companies, with different prices to find what they want. This isn’t a particularly consumer-friendly environment to encourage. Plus with the four highest grossing movies of 2017 being produced by them, it’s not hard to see why Disney wants to keep using the cinema box office.

Netflix Vs Disney+

And with Disney+’s announcement, many saw it as a direct challenge to Netflix’s hold on the market. With a cheaper price, a large back catalog as well as original programming and exclusive retention of its latest cinema releases, many predict that Disney+ will be a great Netflix competitor. However, this judgment seems rash. It is exciting to see what Disney will bring to the table. And the more family-focused content of Disney+ makes it unique amongst current streaming companies. Which mainly focus on offering content for different age ranges. But ultimately it is hard to see Disney+ felling Netflix completely for one simple reason, a lack of variety.

The reason platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have succeeded is because they provide a vast range of content for all ages and interests. Genre cinema, documentaries, critically acclaimed work, schlocky trash, foreign language cinema from all over the world, kids films and the latest blockbusters are all available on those platforms. And not everyone wants to watch a Disney show or movie when they get home. Some people want to watch an adult-oriented comedy or violent action films, not exclusively family-orientated films.

Just look at the domestic box office figures for Disney’s releases last year. Their box office takings are incredibly sporadic. With some projects earning hundreds of millions while others never reach the hundred mark. Fatigue can set in easily when there is little room to breathe between brand projects (comparatively speaking). Even big-name brands don’t guarantee success, see Solo: A Star Wars Story for proof of that. Disney+ will undoubtedly have a big fan base to rely on. But the limited audience range and content makes it seems more like an Amazon Prime add on than something you would exclusively pay for. 

Disney at the 2018 Box Office

What does the future hold?

Ultimately these judgements are merely speculation and we will find out what happens when Disney+ launches later this year.

It will be interesting to see how established companies will deal with the challenge posed by Disney. A healthy dose of competition is sure to produce a good amount of change. Both in business and in the products produced. And the retention of cinema distribution will give faith to cinemagoers and smaller filmmakers looking for potential platforms to reach a wide audience.

But it is also hard to not be pessimistic about what this could do to the industry by promoting insular distribution rather than reaching the widest possible audience. Overall this feels like something being done for business rather than art. And even devoted fan culture can get burnt out when given too much to chew.

Editorials

5 Underappreciated Films From 2018

January 19, 2019

We are still in January and most of the films currently in the cinemas are holdovers from last year. So I’m here to showcase five films from 2018 that didn’t get the appreciation they deserved.

In the year when superhero movies, Bohemian Rhapsody, Disney and the battle between A Quiet Place and Hereditary ruled the conversation, these are the films that got a little lost in the shuffle and deserve their time in the spotlight.

The Other Side of the Wind

Netflix scored big hits this year with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and positively received seasons of Bojack Horseman and Daredevil. They also acquired the rights to many interesting films like Cam, Roma and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. But two films among their catalogue definitely deserved more attention, this being one of them. The Other Side of the Wind did garner attention before it’s release as the final film of legendary director Orson Welles. Since then it seems to have had little discussion, which is baffling as it’s a posthumous credit from a revered director. Other side of the Wind is a scathing look into the life of a well-regarded filmmaker, as well as the people and media landscape that surrounds him. Alternately, a fascinating semi-autobiographical glimpse into Welles life and opinion of himself. It’s an interesting look at the origins of archive footage and a cinematic trip through a haze of egos and scorched refined visuals. While not the next Citizen Kane it is still a satisfying film that adds a great epilogue to the tale of one of cinema’s most intriguing figures.

Poster for The Other Side of the Wind (lastpodcastnetwork)

Apostle

Here’s the second Netflix release you should all check out. The director of The Raid brings us an effective horror story about a man going to find his kidnapped sister. But his life is put in danger when he learns the secret of the island she is on. That summary sounds generic for a horror movie, but Apostle does some things so well that it’s easy to forgive a lot. It’s a film of two halves. The first half is incredibly tense, as our hero sneaks around investigating the island. In the second half, the film goes nuts as the blood flows and surprise reveals pile up. For this reason, it’s understandable why the films second half may lose some people. After such effective tension building, the change to blood and gore and the introduction of fantastical elements, feels somewhat disappointing. But the first half is so well done that I’m willing to go along with it. It is still very entertaining. And it’s refreshing to see a horror movie made with genuine passion. Sometimes enthusiasm is enough.

Netflix’s Apostle Poster (bloody-disgusting.com)

Knife + Heart

I am not surprised this movie was underappreciated. Knife + Heart had a limited release at film festivals so general audiences will not have seen it. Even when I saw it, it divided the audience. The plot concerns a gay porn director trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. While her crew are killed off by a masked figure. That description alone indicates this movie will not be for everyone. It’s a movie that deals with frank depictions of sexual themes as well as (depending on your interpretation) showcasing a conflicting attitude towards its characters sexuality. It’s also a movie that goes for dream logic and magical realism over cause and effect reality. Which some viewers may not like. It’s destined for cult stardom. Some will love it others will detest it. For me, it was a one of a kind experience. It showcased great affection for a cinematically underrepresented group and I saw nothing like it all year.

Opening to Knife + Heart (variety)

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Of all the listed movies, this is the most difficult to watch. Tigers Are Not Afraid tells the story of a girl who loses her mum in the Mexican drug war. She receives a piece of chalk which she believes will grant her wishes. She then uses these wishes to help her and several other children made homeless by the feuding. But all her attempts to help have dire consequences. I saw this movie listed at several horror festivals this year and heard buzz about it from the community but no one else. Having seen it I understand why. This movie pulls no punches when it comes to showing the impact that the drug war has on the Mexican people. Even children aren’t safe. Because this movie deals with such a sensitive and relevant topic it is not likely to be for everyone. Some may find the movie to be in bad taste or just too much to handle. But, like the movie shows, sometimes we need stories like this to help us process the world around us.

Tigers are not afriad poster (molinsfilmfestival)

The Hate U Give

My favourite release of last year was a film that I knew nothing about going in. I saw no trailers; none of the actors on talk shows and no one I knew was talking about it. But when I emerged from the cinema I felt so drained and excited. For the first time in a while, I felt the power of cinema. I cared about the fates of all of the characters. I never knew where the story was going. There were moments that affected me on an emotional and physical level and I felt like I was watching something important. This film speaks so much to this generation and this point in time that it is truly a feat. Because of this I want you guys to experience the film the same way I did. Don’t look up anything about it. Just know that the story concerns a teenage girl named Starr trying to navigate the ups and downs of growing up in modern America. It’s a film that deserved way more than it got and one that I will continue to fly the flag for as long as I can.


Amandla Stenberg in the poster for The Hate U Give (ComingSoon.net)

Thus ends my list of five little seen gems from last year. I hope that you will check all of these out and hopefully you will find at least one that you enjoy as much as I did.

What was your favorite underappreciated 2018 movie? Let us know in the comments. I look forward to seeing the underappreciated gems that this year will bring us.