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Author: Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.
Editorials

Why Watchmen Is One Of The Best TV Shows In Recent Times

January 24, 2020
Watchmen TV Series

Let’s start at the beginning. Watchmen was a comic book series written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons and released in 1986. Alan Moore is probably the most respected and critically acclaimed comic book writer of his generation. The comic book is essentially an in-depth look at superheroes with characters in this book as stand-ins for famous superheroes or superhero types. The comic book was so beloved it was listed on Time Magazine’s list of top 100 novels over the lifespan of the magazine. Whilst beloved it was often regarded as unfilmable and certainly Moore had no wish for it to be made into a film. After years of stalled projects and different directors, Zack Snyder released his version in 2009 to mixed reviews. In 2019 we had a Watchmen TV show, brought to us via HBO and Damon Lindelof (best known as the man behind Lost). I’ll say this now – this is one of the greatest television programmes I have ever seen.

The TV Series

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (source: variety.com)

While some characters from the graphic novel/film reappear like Adrian Veidt and Laurie Blake the central character is newcomer Angela Abar (played in a superb performance by Regina King), a detective in the Tulsa police department. Importantly in this world, all cops wear masks after a coordinated attack on police officers at their homes years before so cops became anonymous and detectives adopted costumes – Angela is Sister Night. The show effectively goes through Angela’s entire life over the course of the season (something it does for other characters in less detail) explaining how she became the person she is. The main plot follows the machinations of The 7th Cavalry, an extreme right-wing racist organisation who seem to want to wage an all-out race-war and were behind the “White Night” when police officers were attacked.

Seemingly completely separately a bizarre story of an old man living a lonely if palatial existence on a grand English estate (that maybe doubles as a prison) is played out, his only companions are maddeningly obedient servants. I don’t think it’s meant to be a secret that this is Adrian Veidt (played by Jeremy Irons in the best performance I’ve seen from him in a long time), one of the characters from the graphic novel whose superhero identity is Ozymandias. As well as being incredibly wealthy and the smartest man in the world Veidt takes credit for saving the world whilst killing three million people – but only a handful of people are aware of this.

Why Is It Great?

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (source: vox.com)

Characters Are Key

Watchmen is a television show that puts understanding characters first and all the events that transpire are rooted in how these characters would act. It could be said that the whole season is explaining Angela Abar – her childhood, her marriage, her family, her job, her whole life and even events that happened before she was born. All of what happens makes sense, there are no inexplicable character decisions just to make the plot more exciting. And it is not just Angela whose life is analysed, many of the main characters’ lives are examined through flashbacks, such as her costumed cop colleague Wade Tillman/Looking Glass. The single most important thing in any story is you have to care about the characters, love them or hate them, the outcome is important and Watchmen achieved this in spectacular fashion. Rarely have I been as invested in a character as I was with Angela.

Dealing With Loss

Watchmen (source: popsugar.com)

Everyone in this show has lost something – whether it be people or sometimes more intangible concepts. Fitting in with a common superhero trope Angela is an orphan, Looking Glass lost his faith and peace of mind, Laurie Blake lost her superhero identity as well as an actual superhero. Much of the plot revolves around a murder that takes place in the first episode. Adrian Veidt rages against his lost power and influence and when someone as talented as him is going through grief there will be consequences.

Relevance Today

The first scene of the TV show is a portrayal of the Tulsa Massacre, a real event where white people essentially destroyed one of the most prosperous black neighbourhoods in all of America. The significance of this event on the rest of the story is not immediately apparent but slowly comes together across the episodes gradually unfolding, making more sense and not only shedding light on the current TV series but origin stories of characters created in the graphic novel. The 7th Cavalry talk about race traitors, look up to the KKK and occasionally complain about how hard it is to be a white man in America – it is difficult viewing.

A lot of time is spent analysing the never-ending struggle between freedom and security, justice and vengeance. The graphic novel did not like the idea of superheroes a great deal and thought about who actually goes out and beats criminals to a pulp (or worse) and the TV show continues that tradition.

There is also the dive into the worlds of the super-rich, mega-billionaires with resources that eclipse nations and what exactly their motivations are.

The Story

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (cracked.com)

The intricate story at the heart of the TV show is expertly delivered to the audience, there are plots, secrets, twists, villains and maybe one or two heroes, all of it is fascinating and told in an original and exciting way.

The End

There are many more reasons to watch this show than just what I’ve been able to list in this article and I am sure it will stand up to repeat viewings. And it may well have to as Damon Lindelof has stated he doesn’t want to do a second season and HBO aren’t going to do it without him, So you have just one practically perfect season to enjoy.

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

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Editorials

A Quiet Place Part II: A Film Too Far?

January 16, 2020

Warning – this article contains major spoilers for A Quiet Place

For me, A Quiet Place came out of nowhere. One day I heard there was a new film coming out where the hook was none of the characters spoke or made noise in the film. This was A Quiet Place and while it wasn’t as silent as the original stories suggested to make a film with so little dialogue was very ambitious. The film could have been a disaster, it could have been a gimmicky movie that just didn’t work and it’s a testament to all involved that it was a great film. With IMDb estimating the budget at $17,000,000 and it making around $50,000,000 in its opening weekend in America it’s not terribly surprising that a sequel is coming out.

What happened in Part I?

A Quiet Place (source: bloody-disgusting.com)

A Quiet Place showed a post-apocalyptic world where society had completely collapsed, the cause was terrifying monsters who hunted by sound but essentially couldn’t see anything. The film followed the Abbott family as they tried to survive in this world, going to extraordinary lengths to not make any noise. Viewers immediately picked up on one potential problem which was Evelyn Abbot was pregnant. The film was a masterpiece in tension with the audience constantly on the lookout for potential causes of noise – at one point a loose nail sticking out of a floorboard was shown and everyone knew it was a matter of time before someone stood on it. At the end of the film, Evelyn managed to give birth but they lost the dad, Lee Abbot (played by Josh Krasinski), who sacrificed himself to save his family.

The Trailer

A Quiet Place Part II (source: themarysue.com)

The trailer shows us some glimpses of the moment these monsters arrived and the chaos they caused but mainly focuses on the life of the Abbot family, forced to leave their home and find somewhere safe. The sight of them trudging out is not at all hopeful and not long after reaching a deserted city they set off a trap. Fleeing this trap leads them to Cillian Murphy’s character who seemingly saves them. They join a community of survivors of which Murphy is a part, but whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is not quite clear.

Potential Pitfalls

The monsters – in the first film the monsters were barely glimpsed, sometimes you saw a flash of movement, sometimes not even that. Yet in the new trailer, it is clear you see more of the monsters. It’s long been a cliche of horror films that you shouldn’t show too much of the monster as it will always be disappointing (Alien perhaps being the classic example of getting this right with only glimpses seen until the very end of the film). Secondly, while many monsters are terrifying it’s often hard to imagine how they would seemingly overwhelm modern armies. Yes, they’re good at killing, but are they better than helicopter gunships?

Stretching Credulity – the first film had a very contained environment, most of it revolving around the family’s home consisting just a few buildings in a secluded area. The family went to extraordinary lengths to limit the sound they made and that was how they survived. It’s hard to imagine the family simply taking off and managing to keep the requisite level of silence – and, of course, they also have a newborn baby. And as the trailer shows – they are going to find a lot of people, how will their survival be explained?

Losing The Mystery – People always want to know how a situation came to be, in this case, how did these monsters destroy society but it’s not always a good idea to give them what they want. Sometimes the mystery is better.

Lightning Never Strikes TwiceA Quiet Place is ninety minutes long, which is about as short a film you can get away with these days, the director, also Krasinski, knew that after a while an audience would get sick of the confined world of virtually no dialogue. It’s a very clever idea but it could very easily have been a bad film and it is very risky thinking that idea will stretch to a second film. It’s a good sign that Krasinski is back to direct but I’m not sure it’ll be enough.

Should There Even Be A Part II?

A Quiet Place Part II (source: www.metro.news)

I’m sure we all have examples of films where you wish the sequel hadn’t been made; where an interesting and original film was left as a complete story. Will A Quiet Place II be one of those films? I’m not sure as I am intrigued by the trailer but I certainly think the first film did not need a sequel. There was no need to continue the story, especially as the first film ended on a note of tragedy the sequel cannot possibly match. Still, whatever happens A Quiet Place will remain a great film.

Also Read: The Best Horror Films of the Decade

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Reviews

Review: Jojo Rabbit

January 8, 2020

What’s Going On?

Jojo Rabbit is a film about 10-year-old Jojo living in the last months of Hitler’s Germany. Jojo is a very devoted member of the Hitler Youth and believes so passionately in the Nazi party his imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. Jojo lives with his unconventional mother and to his surprise a Jewish girl who his mother is hiding – the patriotic Jojo is torn between his devotion to the Nazi Party and not wanting to get his mother into serious trouble. It is described by its director as an anti-hate satire and is largely a comedy but obviously touches on many issues full of tragedy and horror.

Behind The Scenes

Jojo Rabbit (variety.com)

Jojo Rabbit is the latest film by Taiki Waititi, director of Thor: Ragnorak, What We Do In The Shadows and many more, It is based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens. I have not seen all of Waititi’s films but every one that I have seen is very, very good, even doing the impossible and making me care about Thor.

In Front Of The Camera

Jojo Rabbit (source: bristol247.com)

Jojo is played by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, Elsa, the Jewish girl in hiding, by Thomasin McKenzie, probably best known for her role of Tom in Leave No Trace. There is a large ensemble cast including Scarlett Johansson as Rosie, Jojo’s mother, Sam Rockwell as world, and possibly war, weary Captain Klenzendorf, Stephen Merchant as the local Gestapo officer and Rebel Wilson as an extremely enthusiastic Nazi. And of course, Taiki Waititi played Hitler (Jojo’s imaginary-friend Hitler anyway).

Does It Work?

Jojo Rabbit (source: refinery29.com)

I had very high expectations for this film, mainly because of my love of Taiki Waititi’s work but also the trailer had me hooked immediately. I shall say straight away that I loved it. Many films have shown up fascism, the Nazi Party and Hitler as evil, ridiculous, cruel and worthy of mockery, Jojo Rabbit does this but also makes a strong case for love, freedom, kindness and dancing. The film is moving, capturing the many different ways fascism hurt people, as well as being very funny. The scenes with Jojo and Hitler are particularly funny, with Hitler trying to find parallels with his world of global domination with Jojo’s struggles as a young boy. Much fun is had with Captain Klenzendorf who often takes a sideways glance at Nazi propaganda and this works even better when coupled to Rebel Wilson’s character, who wholeheartedly believes all of it.

The crucial part of the film is that Jojo is not really a Nazi, he’s too young to understand what that means and whenever he is given the opportunity to really be a Nazi he doesn’t take it. Early in the film older members of the Hitler Youth want him to kill a rabbit, to show his strength, and he won’t do it (hence his nickname Jojo Rabbit). Jojo is basically a good person, the same is true for his friend Yorki, a similarly enthusiastic member of Hitler Youth whose message of hatred and cruelty crumbles before his basic good naturedness.

It’s always dangerous mixing comedy with topics so infused with horror, hatred and outright evil but I think Waititi succeeds admirably. At no point does it feel like the film being funny comes before showing Nazi Germany for what it was. For all, it’s a comedy it has two of the most moving scenes I have seen in recent years, one of which I am still trying to come to terms with.

There were times it reminded me of Death of Stalin, another film mixing comedy and the darkest of events. When we saw the daily madness of living under such a regime, the bizarre lies you would have to tell yourself, the complete abandonment of common sense and logic, as well as the horror that you could get caught up in these horrors so easily.

Jojo Rabbit (deseret.com)

The film revolves around Jojo and Elsa, and both actors are great, Roman Griffin Davis never strays so close to Nazism that the audience turns against him. Thomasin McKenzie runs through a gamut of emotions of righteous anger to hopelessness perfectly and believably. The ensemble cast is very good, with Scarlett Johansson giving a tremendous and at times heartbreaking performance. Sam Rockwell’s performance is an odd one, in many ways we are supposed to like Captain Klenzendorf, the eccentric frequently drunk soldier who never seems entirely convinced by fascism and does good where he can, while at the same time he wears the uniform and fought in the army and I’m still unsure what Waititi was going for with this character. Stephen Merchant is very funny as the local Gestapo officer, an embodiment of all the nonsense and stupidity of fascism. And there is Waititi playing the imaginary friend Hitler, a mix of charismatic tyrant and idiotic, petulant child, at times trying to buoy Jojo’s spirits or placing insane demands on him.

Jojo is a film at times is funny and even manages to be joyous about life as well as being deeply moving and thoughtful and it is a rare director who can this in one film.

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

JoJo Rabbit (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Parasite (Review)

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Editorials

The Anatomy of a Christopher Nolan Film

December 27, 2019
Christopher Nolan Movie Collage

Christopher Nolan is perhaps the quintessential director of the twenty-first century. Nolan’s first film, Following, came out in 1998 but his name was really made with 2000’s Memento. Since then he has made everything from reality-bending thrillers to intense and epic war films where the enemy aren’t even seen.

Warning – spoilers ahead for Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk

Ambition

Leonardo DiCaprio - Inception
Inception (source: csmonitor.com)

I don’t mean this as a theme in the storytelling or characters, it’s part of Nolan’s work. Few directors have the scope and vision that he has. Even with Memento, one of his earliest films, he was pushing the boundaries of storytelling with a disjointed non-linear masterpiece that demands to be watched more than once. He took the burgeoning superhero blockbuster genre and not only made the films that in my opinion are the high watermark of the genre in terms of action but also storytelling – and breaking open the elusive worlds of the Oscars. When we come to something like Inception it’s hard to even begin describing it and it’s hard to imagine another director who could pull it off. The resources poured into making a film that could accurately portray the landscape of dreams – the whole world exploding or streets bending back on themselves.

Time

Dunkirk (source: youtube.com)

What is the beginning? What is the end? Many of Nolan’s films play with time. The narrative of Memento is confused from the start of the film, in Inception dream time moves so much faster than real life offering the wonderful/terrifying prospect of spending a lifetime in a dream and Interstellar dealt with the mind-blowing ramifications of time with space travel. Dunkirk has a brilliant structure – three stories set around the Dunkirk evacuation. One from the perspective of soldiers on a beach, one from a RAF pilot providing cover and one from someone sailing their little ship to help. The soldiers are on the beach are there for a week yet the pilot’s story is over in one hour and all the stories mix together.

Obsession

The Prestige (cinemablend.com)

Nolan’s first big success came with Memento, a film about a character suffering from anterograde amnesia – a condition that means you can access old memories but you can’t make new ones. Leonard is obsessed with his final memory – the murder of his wife. This obsession leads Leonard to take huge risks with his safety – and that of others – in that he is someone who really needs round the clock care but instead embarks on a mission of revenge. The Dark Knight trilogy has a number of characters driven by obsession, most notably Wayne with the murder of his parents, but often the villains as well – none of whom are driven simply by desire for money or power. The Prestige features two characters obsessed with each other, obsessed with defeating their opponent and quite simply obsessed with being better. Both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale’s characters go to extreme – even insane – lengths to simply be the better stage magician.

Lying And The Truth

Memento Film
Memento ( source: theverge.com)

A lot of lying goes on in Christopher Nolan’s films. The plot of Memento hinges on several big lies and how in Leonard’s condition he is very vulnerable to dishonesty. Indeed Leonard lies to himself. At the heart of the Dark Knight trilogy, there are several important lies, the first being the obvious deception that Bruce Wayne is Batman but more importantly the lie told by Batman and Gordon regarding the truth about Harvey Dent, with both believing it was better for society to be lied to. Likewise, The Prestige is a film about magicians who “trick” their audiences but just about every relationship and important event in the film is a lie upon lie upon lie, you are never sure of a person’s loyalty, the accuracy of memory, about exactly who is who and how far do you let a lie dominate your life. The Prestige even lies to the audience. Interstellar shows a society that lies to itself in the hope of moving forward as it is judged necessary to rewrite history so the Apollo moon landings were faked by the American government. Cobb’s life in Inception is destroyed by a lie he tells his wife. You could say that Nolan has been telling us for a long time – don’t trust anyone, not even yourself.

Tenet

John David Washington - Tenet
Tenet (source: scifimoviepage.com)

Christopher Nolan has a new film coming out for 2020 – Tenet. A trailer was just recently released but it’s still hard to say exactly what the film is about; spying and time travel seem to be the big plot points. The film stars John David Washington (son of Denzel Washington and star of BlackKKlansman), Robert Pattinson (of Twilight fame) and Elizabeth Debicki (probably best known for Widows). The trailer is typical for a Nolan film, with it not giving much away, looking very impressive and having tense and booming music. But does the trailer really matter? For me, Nolan is a director who I would see without a trailer or any prior knowledge of a film – not all of his films have been classics but they’re always worth watching.

Director, Christopher Nolan (credit: Warner Bros)

More: The Many Faces of Andy Serkis

Also Read: For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

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Editorials

The Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

December 23, 2019
Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade

‘Dredd’, dir. Pete Travis (2012)

Dredd (hollywoodreporter.com)

As with some of the other films on this list, Dredd deserved to be a massive hit. It is a brilliant, intense and brutal film that dealt with one of the most unappealing comic book “heroes” there ever was – Judge Dredd. I think part of the reason of Dredd’s lack of success is it came out around the same time as The Raid and both films had a similar plot, that being you’re the police trapped in a building and surrounded by enemies. Karl Urban is sensational as Dredd especially as he never removes his helmet and many actors might understandably not want to do this. As brutal as Dredd is he also comes across as very fair, which is important to broadly staying on his side. This has to be one of the films of this decade that I have rewatched the most.


‘Arrival’, dir. Denis Villeneuve (2016)

Arrival (credit: Paramount Pictures)

Denis Villeneuve is on something of a roll and there’s no sign of it stopping any time soon. This film starts off with the premise of Independence Day, big alien spaceships arrive hanging over Earth but that’s where all similarity ends. Whereas Roland Emmerich just wanted to blow stuff up Arrival is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and emotional science-fiction films ever made. Most of the drama is around learning how to communicate with the aliens who not only have a very different life and understanding of the universe but perceive it in a completely different way. Amy Adams stars as an expert linguist in what is the performance of her career in my opinion, where she deals with the entire gamut of human emotion and experience.


‘Rogue One’, dir. Gareth Edwards (2016)

The cast of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (source: www.beckett.com)

This is the only Star Wars film to make the list and I feel this is easily the strongest of the new films. Rogue One neatly dealt with the biggest plot hole in Star Wars, namely, why did the Death Star have such a weakness. It had a great cast with Ben Mendelsohn on superb villain form and even bringing in actors of such calibre as Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker for what are quite small roles. As we get into the final quarter of the film it becomes pretty apparent what is going to happen to virtually every character in the film and yet it is not a downer ending. The end of the film directly matching up with the beginning of A New Hope was a brilliant idea.


‘Ex Machina’, dir. Alex Garland (2014)

Ex Machina (mashable.com)

Amazingly despite a long Hollywood career, this is Alex Garland’s directorial debut. A film about the creation of artificial intelligence which leads to the viewer asking themselves all sorts of questions about what it means to be alive. A very small cast of Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Domnhail Gleeson and Sonoyo Mizuno, all of whom are superb but especially Vikander and Mizuno. The film is essentially an example of the Turing Test, Alan Turing’s thought experiment about how you could judge if a computer had become intelligent. The scene of Isaac and Mizuno dancing was at once entertaining and deeply unsettling and is one of the most memorable scenes of the decade. There is a lot of mystery in this film with questions being asked about exactly what, and who, is being tested. The 2010s have been a very good decade for Oscar Isaac, starting with a small part in Drive to starring in the Star Wars trilogy.


‘Blade Runner 2049’, dir. Denis Villeneuve (2017)

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 (credit: Warner Bros.)

This is what Denis Villeneuve did after Arrival, creating a sequel to possibly the most influential sci-fi film ever, and in my opinion, he pulled it off. Blade Runner 2049 is a great film in its own right as well as a suitable continuation of The Blade Runner story. Whereas the original had Harrison Ford playing someone who hunts replicants, Gosling is a replicant who hunts replicants. Not surprisingly this brings up mixed feelings in Gosling’s character over the course of the film. The film brings in it’s own original ideas like Gosling’s holographic girlfriend Joi and the prospect of an evolution in replicant, and human, life.


‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, dir. James Gunn (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (credit: Disney)

I had a long think about what, if any, superhero films should be on the list. I normally consider most superhero films a sub-genre of sci-fi but I decided to exclude most of them, one of the two exceptions being Guardians of the Galaxy, as this felt far more like a space-adventure Sci-Fi film than a superhero one. This film was a wonderful surprise, it was not a comic I was at all familiar with and when I saw a trailer with a talking raccoon and walking tree I admit to not being terribly enthusiastic. My reservations were blown away from Peter Quill’s scene dancing across an alien landscape. All of the other “guardians” made their mark from the literal-minded Drax to even verbally challenged Groot. As well as being action-filled there was a surprising amount of emotion.


‘The World’s End’, dir. Edgar Wright (2013)

The World’s End (source: rogersmovienation.com)

The partnership between Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg must surely be one of the greatest between director and writer. The World’s End is the last of the so-called Cornetto Trilogy – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, and while this is the weakest of the three it is still an amazing movie. In a film about robots duplicating people and trying to take over the world it could be argued the film is more about friendship and trying to deal with life. Pegg plays the often very unsympathetic character of Gary King who has never really gotten over his life as a teenager, still chasing that feeling. King reunites his old school friends for a pub crawl which includes emotional moments about bullying, alcoholism and the meaning of life with pulling the heads off robots.


‘Edge of Tomorrow’ dir. Doug Liman (2014)

Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live. Die. Repeat) (credit: Warner Bros.)

This is a truly sensational film and in any sensible universe would have been one of the biggest hits of the decade. Based around the very clever idea of time resetting itself whenever the protagonist died everything in the film is practically perfect – Tom Cruise’s smarmy advertising executive who slowly becomes the hero, Emily Blunt as outright badass and the wonderful playing around with time, death and causality. The “jacket” – the slightly over the top metal exoskeleton leads to some of the best action scenes of the decade with Cruise and Blunt having enormous fun exploring just what these jackets can do. Like I said, it’s a practically perfect film, if this passed you by watch it.


‘Inception’, dir. Christopher Nolan (2010)

Christopher Nolan - Inception
The cast of Inception (credit: Warner Bros.)

I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan who I think is one of the most important and talented filmmakers of the 21st century, equally adept at intricate and unusual films like Memento and The Prestige to huge blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Dunkirk. Inception was made coming off the high of The Dark Knight and it was a worthy followup. A film about entering dreams to steal knowledge or even implant ideas – inception – it handles dealing with numerous different levels of reality deftly while creating stunning and groundbreaking special effects. The gravity distorting fight scene between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and various bad guys is truly exceptional. And then we start thinking about the clever games Nolan played with the soundtrack and trying to distinguish what is reality just elevates it to an even higher level. It’s hard to imagine another director taking on this project and being commercially and critically successful.


‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, dir George Miller (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road ( source: nytimes.com)

To me, this is not only the best sci-fi film of the decade but the best film. A film that had dazzling non-CGI special effects, spectacular action scenes and unforgettable cinematography that also had an unbelievable amount of heart and great characterisation. The instant the film finished I knew I had to see it again as soon as possible and that it was already one of my favourite ever films. Charlize Theron and George Martin deserved Oscars for this film and credit is due to Tom Hardy in being able to accept being the supporting player in a film with his character’s name in the title. If there is any doubt about the fact that it is Theron’s Furiosa who is the central character those are blown apart when Furiosa literally uses Max as a gun rest. Often when asked the question of what is my favourite film ever/of the year/of the decade I go down a long road to weighing up many different great films but not for this list- Mad Max; Fury Road was always going to be first.

Also Read: The Best Action Films of the Decade.

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Editorials

How To Revive A Franchise After Many Years

December 5, 2019

Usually, sequels come out a couple of years later, as you want the original still fresh in the audience’s mind. It has to be said that sequels are often disappointing with a lot said about notable exceptions that might actually be better than the original, such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Godfather Part II or Aliens. But what do you do when it is decades later?

The Shining and Doctor Sleep

The Shining (bloody-disgusting.com)

Original: The Shining, released 1980, Director: Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd.

Sequel: Doctor Sleep, released 2019, Director: Mike Flanagan, starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran.

Years between films: 39

To me, The Shining is one of the greatest films ever made and is made by one of the greatest directors ever, based on a book by the most successful horror writer in the history of the world. It’s hard to imagine the trepidation of director Mike Flanagan when he got the job. The sequel to the book of The Shining was only released a few years ago so providing filmmakers wanted to wait for an “official” sequel they had to wait for Stephen King.

Blade Runner & Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (forbes.com)

Original: Blade Runner, released 1982, Director – Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young.

Sequel: Blade Runner: 2049, released 2017, directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.

Years between films: 35

Blade Runner must surely rank as one of the most influential Sci-Fi films in existence. People still quote Rutger Hauer’s final speech as an ode to life and death. It’s depiction of cities, replicants, and even something like advertising is iconic.

Mad Max Trilogy & Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road (theverge.com)

Original: Mad Max, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, released between 1979 and 1985, Director George Miller, starring Mel Gibson

Sequel: Mad Max: Fury Road, released 2015, Director George Miller, starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Hugh Keays-Byrne

Years between films: 30

The cult classic trilogy of what started out as an Ozploitation film has a warm place in the hearts of many, the latest chapter is probably my favourite film of the decade.

All three of the original films left room for the continuation of the story. Danny may have escaped but what about the rest of his life with these powers? Blade Runner ended with Deckard fleeing with Rachael with huge questions remaining about his own identity. And Max Max never seems to have a definitive ending, just more of Max wondering the world.

While I think all three are good films it’s fair to say one was a runaway success both critically and commercially – Mad Max: Fury Road. I think there are a number of reasons for this:

  • George Miller – the director of the original trilogy made the new sequel. It seems throughout the intervening years a fourth film has never been far from Miller’s thoughts. Keeping the same director not only means continuity of ideas, themes and aesthetics but it will satisfy a certain section of fandom who are easily ostracised.
  • Mad Max has a mixed reputation – While the Mad Max trilogy are cult favourites and certainly have their charms, they were never up there with The Shining and Blade Runner in cinematic reputation. The odds of making a film that would live up to The Shining or Blade Runner were slim, almost inevitably you were going to disappoint people. I don’t think the same is true for Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
  • You don’t always wants answers – it is true there was potential for more stories within the world of The Shining and Blade Runner maybe you don’t want them. Would learning more about Danny and his powers make for a good film? Would learning the absolute truth about Deckard’s identity be a good thing? Already this question causes controversy with different cuts of the original film suggesting different answers. Sometimes part of what makes a film so special is that you’re left wondering, perhaps for decades, about what it was all about? Each Mad Max film has been different but never really explained what happened to the world and Fury Road didn’t try to answer that question, just added another chapter to the story.

That’s not to say Doctor Sleep and Blade Runner 2049 did everything wrong. Blade Runner 2049 assembled a great cast including Harrison Ford and got one of the best directors working – Denis Villeneuve – to make the film. Doctor Sleep was always aware of the legacy of The Shining and played this perfectly, it contains lots of references but ultimately is its own film.

More Films Coming Back…

These three aren’t the only films that had a lot to overcome. The Rise of Skywalker is getting released in a couple of weeks and this has the monumental weight of the Star Wars franchise on it, but next year we have a variety of sequels and reboots of classic films -a new Ghostbusters with the original cast, a live-action Mulan and Bill & Ted Face The Music. And they’re making a new Top Gun as well which I’m told some people are excited about.

I often complain about the lack of new ideas in Hollywood, and we live in an era when any “franchise” is resurrected to make some more money but I wouldn’t complain quite so much if they met the high standards of these three films.

Also Read: Five New Categories That Should Be Included In The Oscars

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Reviews

Review: The Irishman

November 28, 2019

Perhaps the most anticipated movie of the year featuring a cast list covered in Oscars, a director rightly hailed as one of the best there ever was and a writer who’s written everything from Schindler’s List to Moneyball. And it’s on Netflix.

What’s Going On?

The Irishman (source: buffalonews.com)

The Irishman follows the life of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) from meat-delivery driver to well… not in the Mafia, but certainly doing a lot of work for them, after all, he’s Irish, not Sicilian. Frank is effectively brought into this life by Russel Buffalino (Joe Pesci) a high up person in the Mafia. Frank does a lot of work for him up to and including killing people. After a few years, Russel sends Frank to watch over Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), head of the Teamsters union and very much in business with the Mafia. The film follows the course of this relationship and especially how Frank is pulled in opposite directions because of his friendships with Russel and Hoffa.

Behind The Scenes

I’m sure this isn’t a surprise to anyone – the director is Martin Scorsese, certainly one of the best directors alive if not one of the best directors ever. And this is a crime movie with an incredible cast, hardly unfamiliar territory for Scorsese. He’s already directed what in my opinion is the best Mafia movie ever – Goodfellas and expectations are high.

In Front Of The Camera

The Irishman (source: denofgeek.com)

First, there is the key trio of De Niro, Pesci and Pacino, and already that’s amazing. De Niro is the narrator and gives an excellent performance especially as things become strained as the film goes on. Pesci, normally known for his wild, unpredictable and maybe a little crazy criminal characters plays against type as a very calm and, for the mafia, reasonable man. However, it’s Pacino who I think gives the best performance. Hoffa is a man surrounded by criminals, murderers even, and never bats an eyelid. He will argue with them, he will insult them, he’ll get in fistfights with them. He’s a larger than life character and you can see how he ended up union president.

Outside of those three roles, the cast is still full of diamonds. Actors like Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel and Ray Romano taking on small roles. I was convinced that Plemons was going to go through the movie and not actually have a line. Paquin, and indeed the child actors who play her characters, are excellent and act almost like the conscience of the film, judging the bad people around her, including her father Frank Sheeran. At one point Paquin says a single word that seems to break Sheeran.

Historical Note – Jimmy Hoffa & The Teamsters Union

Jimmy Hoffa was a very famous person in America, and in many ways still is, and I don’t think there will be a person in America who doesn’t already know where the story is heading and Scorsese made this film knowing that. I only knew of Hoffa from references to him in American film and TV but didn’t really understand who he was or what happened to him. After all, union bosses don’t tend to be that famous. Again, I’ve heard of “teamsters” but didn’t really know what that was but it’s enough to say this was the largest union in America at the time, giving Hoffa an incredible amount of power and influence, and in looking after their pension fund, access to literally billions of dollars. My perhaps controversial opinion is you look Hoffa up on Wikipedia before you watch the film.

He Looks Good For His Age

The film shows these characters at various stages of their life Scorsese employed some clever de-ageing special effects which I thought were flawless.

Does It Work?

The Irishman (source: slate.com)

My expectations for The Irishman were very high, not only is Scorsese one of my favourite directors many of the early reviews were saying that was his best film in a long time. Personally I would put this in the second-tier of Scorsese films, with Gangs of New York and The Departed, it’s great but not quite up there with his best. Let’s be clear, it’s a great film, it’s three and a half hours long and keeps you engaged throughout, the acting is all first-rate and is full of brilliant little flourishes – one scene of a person having to psych themselves up to start their car as they were worried it might explode was one such moment. But I was a little disappointed and perhaps thought it was a mistake for Scorsese to return to territory he has already thoroughly explored. I am a big fan of Wolf of Wall Street and see it as a kind of Goodfellas for a different sort of crime and was a good move for him and I think maybe another gangster film wasn’t the best use of Scorsese’s time and talent.

That said if this was a film by virtually any other director I would only be singing it’s praises and really the only problem is it’s Martin Scorsese so you’re hoping for a masterpiece.

Even before this film, the debate about are Netflix films proper films was surely settled and this just adds to the argument that they are. They’ve made everything from Oscar-winning drama like Roma to fantasy special effects-laden frippery like Bright, not everything is gold but the same is true for every studio.

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

The Irishman (Official Trailer)

Also Read: For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

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Editorials

For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

November 24, 2019

As the year nears its end we head towards what is perhaps the most magical time of the year – Oscar Season. This is when studios tend to release the films they want to be seen as Oscar contenders as apparently academy members have very short memories so being recent helps a lot.

The Oscars

The Oscars have been going on for decades, the first being held in 1929, and has been held every year since, not letting war, industry strikes and indifference get in the way. Importantly, the Academy, the people who vote for the Oscars are all in the filmmaking industry. This is in contrast, to say, the Golden Globes, which is voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Membership to the Academy is by being nominated or winning an Oscar or being nominated by two existing members.

Campaigning

Being nominated or winning an Oscar is not simply about being the best. Studios, and sometimes individuals, campaign for an Oscar. There is a small industry in Hollywood around this with millions of dollars being spent on advertising and promotional events. There’s not only campaigning for your own but if you want to do a little to damage to another film’s campaign so be it. When Good Will Hunting was looking like a strong Oscar contender a rumour started that the film wasn’t written by the stars, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, but by their friend and filmmaker, Kevin Smith. The Oscar business can be pretty cut-throat.

The Right Sort Of Film

I do have a couple of axes to grind with the Academy in terms of who wins Oscars. And while I am still angry The King’s Speech beat The Social Network for Best Picture that’s not what I’m going to talk about. There are certain types of films that win Oscars. They tend to be dramas. They tend to be on weighty topics. They have tragedy in them. Films are often described as Oscar contenders before anyone has seen them simply by knowing what the film is about. And in my opinion, there are two genres that do not get the level of respect from the Academy they deserve: science-fiction and comedy.

Annie Hall (source: oionline.com)

To deal with the latter first, as I said, the Academy loves tragedy. Give them a sad story full of death, illness and struggle and you’re halfway to your Oscar. But if you make them laugh, they might enjoy it but you’ll probably not win any awards. Judging by my own criteria the last comedy to win Best Picture was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall in 1977 (films like The Artist or Argo may have comedic moments but are not comedies). So no nominations for The Man With Two Brains, This Is Spinal Tap or Shaun of the Dead, films far superior to some Oscar winners. I think comedy is far harder to do than drama, to paraphrase a famous quote that has been attributed to many people – Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

Next up is science-fiction. I went back to 1950 and couldn’t find a Best Picture Oscar winner film that was science-fiction, in Best Director only Gravity comes close to that category. 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most iconic and influential movies ever made, wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture and while I’m sure actual nominees Rachel, Rachel and The Lion In Winter are great films I feel the Academy made a mistake there. The categories that sci-fi films do traditionally get nominated in are technical awards. Only recently have superhero films managed to crack into Oscar awards territory, Logan was nominated for Best Screenplay and Black Panther for Best Picture. Many people think that The Dark Knight‘s omission from Best Picture nominee was what prompted the Academy to increase the number of nominees.

Mad Max: Fury Road (credit: Warner Bros.)

One of the most egregious Oscar snubs of recent years was the film The AV Club recently put top in their list of films of the decade – Mad Max: Fury Road. The film did win some Oscars, e.g. Costume Design, Sound Mixing and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director but I was stunned that there was no nomination for Charlize Theron. Not only was Theron brilliant (and already an Oscar winner) but the film ticked a lot of boxes for Oscar films – there was tragedy, there was suffering and there was drama. Theron’s character, Furiosa, even managed to upstage Max, whose name is in the title of the film.

Groundhog Day (source: nofilmschool.com)

The comedy equivalent is a bit further back but the truly brilliant Groundhog Day which got a grand total of zero Oscar nominations. What more do the Academy want? Groundhog Day is a hilarious comedy, with a unique premise, an amazing central performance from Murray, and is a film that somehow manages to tread a careful line of being funny whilst musing on the meaning of life. And has numerous suicides.

As I said, Oscar season is soon upon us and we shall see if this year bucks the trend.

Also Read: Rebel Without A Pulse, Art Without A Soul?

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Editorials

Was It Really That Bad? Alexander

November 12, 2019

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who liked Alexander – this being Oliver Stone’s 2004 film about the life of Alexander the Great. But it is a film I like. At the start, I should say I am obsessed with history and – as with zombie films – I will overlook a lot of problems in a historical epic.

Conquer your fear, and I promise you, you will conquer death

Alexander (irishcentral.com)

Alexander had a big cast featuring Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie but the titular character was played by Colin Farrell. Farrell is often a divisive figure and even my own opinion on him is divided – he is undeniably brilliant in In Bruges but he doesn’t always hit those heights. What follows is a combination plot synopsis and sort-of history lesson. Alexander was the son of King Philip of Macedonia and inherits the large kingdom upon his father’s death, eager for revenge and glory Alexander invades the huge Persian empire. Seemingly unstoppable, Alexander marches across the known world, going all the way to India. As well as his military glory he also has childhood companion and lover Hephaiston who accompanied Alexander on his conquests until his own death. Alexander dies young, only thirty-three, and seemingly within hours of his death, his great empire is already breaking apart.

No man or woman can be too powerful or too beautiful without disaster befalling.

Alexander (collider.com)

Alexander was not a successful film. IMDb rates it at a lowly 5.6, Rotten Tomatoes has a truly damning critic rating of 16% and a slightly better audience rating of 35%. For a director of the stature like Oliver Stone that must hurt. Stone subsequently released two different cuts, perhaps trying to rescue a work he believed in but with little impact with the public. The bad reviews are something to behold – “Stone has made an excruciating disaster for the ages” The AV Club, “emotionally and intellectually incoherent” Newsweek and “Puerile writing, confused plotting and shockingly off-note performances make Oliver Stone’s epic film a disappointment.” The New York Times. The criticisms fall into three main categories:

  1. It’s boring.
  2. There isn’t much of a story
  3. Colin Farrell’s performance

While I don’t find the film boring it’s such a common complaint that it’s hard to argue with, and truly it is a staggering achievement to take the life of one of the most famous people in all of history who lead an amazingly interesting life and bore people.

As for the story…well obviously this stuff really happened so you are sort of stuck with the facts to some degree. Perhaps it’s because Alexander the Great was so successful it’s hard to make an interesting narrative, there are no real setbacks, no defeats. There is no Robert the Bruce watching the spider in the cave moment where he overcomes adversity, just endless success.

Finally Colin Farrell; as I said I have a bit of a soft spot for Farrell but this is not a great performance by any stretch of the imagination. We obviously don’t know what the Macedonian accent was like over 2000 years ago but I doubt it’s the one Farrell and his friends have. It does seem like they realised Farrell was going to struggle with doing an accent and simply told the rest of the cast to mimic him. Perhaps, as some critics suggest, most actors would struggle to capture the gigantic presence and personality Alexander must have had.

“My poor child. You’re like Achilles; cursed by your greatness.”

Alexander (bestmoviereviews.co.uk)

Okay, so what is good about Alexander? The biggest plus are the battles which look amazing. Tens of thousands of soldiers or at least what looks like tens of thousands, battling it out. The Macedonians fight in a phalanx with their huge spears as cavalry rage back and forth, hundreds of arrows fill the sky, the battles are genuinely epic.

I would agree that Farrell isn’t quite up to playing Alexander the Great but I did enjoy the love story between Alexander and Hephaiston (played by Jared Leto). While Alexander did marry the film portrays his real love as Hephaiston and this was not a secret. The other Greek epic film that came out around the same Troy got some criticism as it removed the Achilles-Patroclus relationship entirely and the only reason that could be, or at least that I can think of, is that they didn’t want to portray a gay relationship.

There are a two enjoyable and slightly over-the-top performances of Alexander’s parents. Philip is played by Val Kilmer and Olympias by Angelina Jolie. Jolie especially seems to have a lot of fun chewing the scenario and plotting against just about everyone else in the film.

My final reason for enjoying Alexander is that I love history and these days you rarely see films like this. It’s lots of fun seeing scenes I’ve read about in history books recreated on a massive scale. Admittedly, if you’re not a history nerd this film may less to offer you.

Was It Really That Bad? No……but it’s not far off.

Also Read: Was It Really That Bad? The Mummy (2017)

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Editorials

Was It Really That Bad? Jennifer’s Body

November 1, 2019
Jennifer's Body

I know that the theme of this series is to look at films that maybe aren’t quite as bad as people think but I have to say – I love this film. It’s not “so bad it’s good” it’s not a “guilty pleasure” and there is no “ironic appreciation” going on here. This was the film Diablo Cody wrote after Juno and was directed by Karyn Kusama who went on to direct The Invitation and Destroyer, so there was a talented team behind the film so why does it have such a bad reputation?

“No, I mean she’s actually evil, not high school evil.”

Jennifer’s Body starred Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox, the latter playing the eponymous Jennifer. This is the plot – an unsuccessful indie band decide to sacrifice a virgin to get in with the Devil and therefore help their career. Unfortunately, their sacrifice, Jennifer, isn’t a virgin, meaning that she doesn’t die but becomes a demon. Using her position as the pretty and popular girl in school she lures other high school students to their death, where she eats them. Jennifer’s best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried), works this out and confronts her best friend.

“Hell is a teenage girl”

The demonic Jennifer ( source: vice.com)

Jennifer’s Body IMDb score is a lowly 5.2, Rotten Tomatoes critic score 44% and the audience score 34%. The audience score is particularly damning as sometimes films which critics hate are redeemed by an audience who “gets” it, but seemingly very few got it. This IMDb rating is worse than the Jennifer Aniston vehicle Bounty Hunter, arcade-mashup catastrophe Pixels and the Vin Diesel bodyguard/babysitting film The Pacifier all scoring 5.6. Reviews were mixed at best, with comments like “Jennifer’s Body comes across as a tame, derivative vehicle for the girl from the Transformers franchise” and “is never scary and it’s only sporadically amusing” . Many of the reviews compare it unfavourably to Juno, which while frustrating, is not unusual for a follow-up to such a hit.

But despite the critical mauling and audience rejection I love this film and recognise it as the true overlooked cult classic it is. First of all, the script is largely great, I love Diablo Cody’s dialogue in everything of hers I’ve seen and it is endlessly quotable. Next, the horror, I think this film has genuine moments of horror, from recently turned Jennifer arriving at Needy’s house and throwing up the most disgusting stuff imaginable to Jennifer pooling the blood of her victim’s in her hands so it is easier to drink. Most importantly of all is the relationship between Jennifer and Needy – it is incredibly relatable. If you’ve never had a friend in school who didn’t always treat you well but you remained friend’s with because you’ve always been friends with them — this film is for you. Jennifer consistently tries to put Needy in her place and even in moments of full-on horror and danger the problems in their relationship are laid bare. As well as the horror of demons there is the very real horror of being a teenager and it is this collision of worlds of horror and high school film that is the best thing about it.

“God, do you have to undermine everything I do? You are such a player hater.”

Every high school film needs a prom (source: IMDb.com)

One reason I give for the poor reviews is the presence of Megan Fox and the connotations she brought with her. This was absolutely unfair as every film, and every actor’s performance should be judged individually and critics who thought that because Fox was going to be in this film it was going to bed bad, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. That said, I was such a person and it was only later after having heard people discuss the film in detail that I decided to watch it.

“I am still socially relevant.”

Was Jennifer’s Body really that bad? No. I think it’s a great film and hopefully will become a cult classic.

Also Read: Was It Really That Bad? The Mummy (2017)

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Editorials

Batman & Joker: The Future of the DCEU

October 22, 2019
Batman Vs Joker

Joker has been a big success commercially and for the most part critically, but what does this Joker mean for the DCEU?

Warning – major spoilers for Joker below

Not A Superhero Film

Joker is many things. In my opinion, it is a great film, an intense film, a controversial film but it’s hardly a superhero film at all. There is very little of the comic book about it – no superpowers, no gadgets and absolutely no heroes. Joker has far more in common with Taxi Driver than The Dark Knight and that film is evoked often. The titular character is Arthur Fleck, a man who is struggling to survive in Gotham City. He lives with his mother who is in poor health, he works a poorly-paid job where his colleagues laugh at him when he rarely tries to reach out to anyone it does not go well. Arthur also has very serious mental health problems for which he sees a court-appointed therapist as well as taking lots of medication. At the beginning of the film, Arthur seems to be trying to stay on a positive path but that is proving increasingly difficult.

Joker without his makeup (source: indiewire.com)

The “origins” of Joker are the grim, horrible circumstances of what such a person, in reality, might have. While still cinematic Gotham is a seedy, dirty, city, a million miles from the Gotham of the Bale or Affleck films. If we were still in the Affleck-Batman world there could be no way of integrating these two characters or these two universes (the same would be true of the Nolan films). Not a successful way of doing it anyway, but they may well have tried. And while the Robert Pattison Batman is an unknown quality it would be hard to imagine a Batman that would work with this Joker. The instant the batmobile made an appearance would cause some terrible schism of the comic book universe where such a vehicle could happen and the brutal and dirty universe where such a thing is plainly ridiculous and impossible.

Jared Leto as the Joker (source: reddit.com)

Too Many Jokers

But some of you might say well we have a perfectly good Joker right here…well, a Joker anyway, in the shape of Jared Leto from Suicide Squad. I was quite forgiving of this incarnation of the Joker, yes, it was bad, but trying to follow the iconic performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger was going to be damn-near impossible. Leto’s IMDb page still has an Untitled Joker film in the works but such was the rancour directed at his portrayal I doubt we’ll see him reprise the role. I have heard some people suggest that Joaquin Phoenix’s character is not the Joker but rather perhaps an inspiration for him, with that being said could both Leto and Phoenix’s Joker appear in the same film? I can’t see how this would work, already comparisons between the two different portrayals have not been kind to Leto and putting him in scenes with Phoenix would only make it worse.

A Billionaire Playboy

An interesting facet of Joker that I had not at all anticipated was the anti-wealth aspect. When Fleck kills three stockbrokers many of the citizens of Gotham see someone striking back against the greedy upper class. Thomas Wayne is shown as an unsympathetic character, harbouring his own prejudices against the poor and his murder was motivated less for material gain than as a political killing. What type of figure would Bruce Wayne be in this world? There has been a meme going around for years that said if Bruce Wayne really wanted to help Gotham he would use his vast wealth in more orthodox ways. Would we get a Batman who delighted in attacking the less fortunate who had resorted to crime because of their circumstances rather than criminal insanity? Those denied essential services, with no opportunities to improve their lot, that would hardly seem heroic.

The glamorous Gotham of Christopher Nolan (source: polygon.com)

I still think of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as the pinnacle of superhero films, a genius director, a fantastic cast and the money to make it happen. For me, and many people, Batman Vs Superman was an outright disaster and I was so disillusioned I didn’t even bother with Justice League, but undeniably it has a different feel to Nolan’s films. So coming up with a whole new distinct world might be difficult, especially so as I hope Joker is quarantined and kept safe from any other DC films. Joker is a brilliant film and should be allowed to be that and not just the first part of another story.

The Next Villain

As we now know Robert Pattison is taking over the role of Batman and very recent news seems to suggest the villain will be The Riddler (played by Paul Dano) so it may be that the DCEU lets the character of the Joker rest a little while. However, I’m sure they will return to the character, after all, he is best-known and most iconic Batman villain.

Also Read: Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis

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Editorials

#Cancelled: Being Offended and Offensive in the 21st Century

October 9, 2019
Jojo Rabit

Monty Python’s Life of Brian, The Human Centipede, Borat, Cannibal Holocaust and South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut – all films considered extremely offensive. At least by some people. There’s everything from mocking religion, gory death and songs chock full of swearwords in that list and a wide spectrum of quality and artistic merit. Indeed, one of my all-time favourite films is on that list (to be clear, it’s Life of Brian). In these polarised times it can seem that everything has some scandal attached to it, but is this true?

Monty Python’s Life of Brian – at the time considered by some to be extremely offensive (source: sabotagetimes.com)

There is an attitude that people are more easily offended these days than in the past, that once upon a time people believed in freedom of speech, a time before PC culture ruined everyone’s fun. I don’t really believe such a time ever existed, when Life of Brian was released there were protests up and down the country and The Exorcist saw queuing audiences splashed with holy water. I think nowadays people would be quite surprised that these films caused such an uproar.

There are too many issues of what is offensive to deal with them all in just one article, but an issue that has been in the news recently is “whitewashing” in which roles which either from real-life inspiration or original source material were people of colour but for the film release either played by white people pretending to be that race or had the race changed to suit the actor. The titanic cultural institution of The Simpsons was caught up in this; the character Apu is an immigrant from India but is played by the white actor, Hank Azaria. Apu, especially at the beginning of The Simpsons, is very much a stereotype of an Indian person. To make matters worse, Azaria has said part of the inspiration for Apu’s way of speaking came from an Indian character in the film The Party, who was played by Peter Sellers, a white person. The comedian Hari Kondabolu made the film The Problem Of Apu about this issue, Kondabolu an American whose parent emigrated from India to America and despite his great love of The Simpsons, he remembers many childhood insults based around the character of Apu. Another complication is that The Simpsons’ longevity means that when the show started very few people saw this as an issue.

The Problem With Apu (source: pbs.org)

Something very much caught up with this is social media. When people were offended by something in the past they had few options, a letter to the creators was usually the best they could do. In modern times it is relatively easy to mobilise literally millions of people with social media. While this can allow disparate individuals to help unite for a cause social media has never been a medium for careful and considered reflection and sometimes well-meaning groups have unleashed unpleasant forces. Jon Ronson’s brilliant book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed goes into various Twitter-fuelled examples of this.

The 2016 Ghostbusters ( source: movieweb.com)

There is a perception that the people being so easily offended are all on the left, politically speaking. They are offended by sexism and racism, issues of representation and more but there are millions of people who while might not describe themselves “offended” their behaviour suggests that they are. Whether it’s the audacity to remake Ghostbusters with female stars, or the fact Damien Chazelle didn’t specifically show Neil Armstrong planting the flag in First Man, they are terribly upset with a lot of films. The remade Ghostbusters is perhaps the best example of this as the cry that the remake was “destroying my childhood” was everywhere. It does seem that all people, not just those of one particular political leaning, are very quick to get upset.

It does seem that right now these issues are particularly strong and that is linked to wider trends in society and politics. To go back to the recent Ghostbusters remake – stating whether or not you liked the film seemed to be making a larger statement about your views on a whole host of issues. Many people who didn’t like it stressed that was because of the failings of the film rather than issues around sexism.

An argument often made is that a culture of people being offended will stifle freedom of expression and any art form will be worse off because of that, however in recent years we’ve seen films like the thoroughly disgusting Brothers Grimsby and Nymphomaniac Vol I and II, which I’m sure needs no further explanation as to what it’s about, and Taika Waititi’s upcoming Jojo Rabbit where Waititi plays Hitler – well, a boy’s imaginary friend version of Hitler – so I don’t think creativity has been stifled.

Jojo Rabbit (source: vice.com)

Despite being the politically left-leaning liberal that I am I don’t think filmmakers should let the idea of other people being offended by their work stop them from making it – filmmakers need to think carefully about their work, its impact on people and potential interpretations but ultimately it’s their decision. However, free speech doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with the consequences of what you make, that freedom equally applies to criticism.

Unfortunately, there are no simple rules on what is offensive or is so offensive the filmmaker shouldn’t have made the film – the difficult answer is to judge every piece of work and artistic decision individually and in context and then decide for yourself.

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

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