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Category: Editorials

Read the latest editorials and opinion pieces from Big Picture Film Club.

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Happiest Season

November 29, 2020

Anyone who knows me will understand that Christmas is not my thing. I do not get swept away in the magic, I rarely listen to Christmas songs unless they’re sad and gloomy (‘River’ by Joni Mitchell, come through!), and I don’t spend December watching Christmas movies. In fact, I have a list of only five movies I find acceptable during the season of giving: Die Hard, The Family Stone, Batman Returns, Carol, and Tangerine. However, in 2020, I was willing to expand that list with Happiest Season, the latest Christmas rom-com from Clea Duvall because, well, it was gay.

The film follows Abby (Kristen Stewart) as she agrees to spend Christmas with her girlfriend, Harper (McKenzie Davis), and her family for the first time. The catch? Harper isn’t out to her parents, and for the five days they’re staying with them they’ll have to pretend to be “roommates” and hope that no one picks up the 1970s undertones of that word. Abby begrudgingly agrees, but their trip brings into question Harper’s commitment to their relationship and also brings up her past; one in which she has acted cruelly towards an ex-girlfriend and has an ex-boyfriend who her family thinks she’ll eventually marry. It pits Stewart and her queer world against Harper’s family – a wealthy, white, seemingly conservative, political family who are seeking donors for the father’s mayoral campaign.

Happiest Season
“HAPPIEST SEASON.” (Credit: Sony Pictures / Hulu)

Despite my reservations about the holiday itself, I was excited for Happiest Season. Clea Duvall is a great comedic actress who I loved as Margery on Veep, and, on top of that, I enjoyed her directorial debut well enough, The Intervention, in 2016. The latter being a mid-range ensemble comedy that dealt with the breaking down of a relationship. I also love Kristen Stewart from her reckless swearing on SNL, to her fashion sense, to her nuanced performances in films like Personal Shopper, Certain Women, Still Alice, and The Clouds of Sils Maria, for which she won a César (the French Oscar) and became the first American woman to do so. When you add to that a cast that includes Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, and Mary Steenburgen I was entirely sold. After watching it, however, I’m not so sure.

Whether or not Happiest Season is “queer” enough isn’t a conversation I’m interested in having any more. I think there are valid conversations to be had about its whiteness and its cis-ness, though. While art can be inherently political and, through its casting and narrative it does subvert typical norms, it still conforms quite neatly to a heteronormative ideal – with Abby planning to propose to Harper at Christmas despite her friend John (Levy), reminding her that she’s “engaging in one of the most archaic institutions in the history of the human race.”

The Family Stone - Happiest Season
“THE FAMILY STONE.” (Credit: Sony Pictures / Hulu)

In the film, even though the spectre of heterosexuality looms large, the two leads are lesbians (well, one of them might be bisexual but the movie doesn’t offer much in the way of this interpretation.). In the past, mainstream Christmas movies have allowed queer couples only to exist as supporting characters. In one of my acceptable Christmas movies, The Family Stone, Tyrone Giordano, and Brian White play a gay couple who are members of the titular family. Their sexuality, which is used occasionally to develop the stony and lost-for-words Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), is not often discussed (but, in a movie that features so much bed-swapping and romantic drama it is sad to see them sit it out.)

There is no straight romance to counteract the gay in Happiest Season and there is no straight drama to hide behind. Yet, it does feel like it’s accessible to both gay and straight people. Usually, that would bother me. It did with 2018’s Love, Simon, or even, a few months ago, with Supernova, the Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci two-hander. The desire to appeal to straight people by either offering a diluted version of queer people – i.e. basically classically handsome straight-acting white people – or (spoilers for Supernova) killing them off so audiences can feel sympathy for them. God forbid straight folks might have to empathise with the gay experience that doesn’t involve death!

Anyway, I’ve digressed slightly, but what I mean to say is this; Happiest Season is potentially a step in the right direction but it depends how you look at it (well, apart from the overwhelmingly white part, that’s bad from every angle.) Stewart, an openly queer woman, shines in all her pantsuit, beanie hat, and sneakers glory. She is funny and awkward, while able to capture the difficulty her character has with being forced back into the closet. Also, spoiler alert for Happiest Season, no one dies.

I might watch it again next year, if not just to see the palpable sexual tension between Stewart and Plaza (I know I’m not the first to say it, but those two should be together.) It may even open a conversation with people who might not normally engage in that kind of discussion, about how the holidays can be difficult for queer folk who often have to hide who they are.

I suppose, it’s time for me to stop expecting so much from mainstream movies. I still will continue to be vocal about the number of queer characters that die, but I don’t think it’s time for me to give up on seeing myself in them. Instead, I’ll reframe them gateway films (so they don’t make me so mad!)

Gateway films, like gateway drugs, are a low-level intro into something larger. Happiest Season is sedate enough that it might creep into the average home but, just like Love, Simon it’s queer enough for young folks to get it. These films might reach the young queer kids who aren’t able to see the more radical or bold queer cinema such as Kajillionare or Ammonite (both of which premiered this year too.) It might act as their gateway to seeing themselves on screen, which in turn will feed a curiosity in other representations. It might lead them to bigger and better things.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Nicole Kidman

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Editorials

The Mandalorian – A New Hope For Star Wars

November 26, 2020

Since Disney bought Star Wars in 2012 it would be fair to say they have had mixed success. Apoplectic fans have denounced all three of the last trilogy and Solo was not well-liked either. The TV series The Mandalorian has actually been there most successful creation (successful here means critical and fan appeal, not making money, in that sense I think Disney are very happy).

The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian with "Baby Yoda" (Credit: Disney)
The Mandalorian with “Baby Yoda” (Credit: Disney)

The show stars Pedro Pascal as the titular character, an exceptionally good bounty hunter always hidden behind his near priceless Mandalorian armour. The character’s bounty hunter code is challenged when sent after a morally difficult target and he chooses to do the right thing. The show is set in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens and is heavily focused on the chaos that follows the death of the Emperor.

The Golden Age Of Television

There was a time when film was the perceived cultural superior to television but in the last twenty years things have changed – this is the Golden Age of television. Film and television can tell stories in different ways – in my opinion, Goodfellas and The Sopranos are the high-points of the portrayal of gangsters in their respective mediums but have different strengths and weaknesses. The Mandalorian has a main story arc but within that are numerous smaller stories, characters who get to shine in a particular episode. It often felt with the Star Wars films you are getting a glimpse of a huge universe, whilst and TV shows can go into depth.

One benefit to doing a TV show over another film trilogy would be that a film trilogy would inevitably feel it had to be about saving the galaxy and with some even bigger ultimate weapon. The Mandalorian is about saving one child and a smaller story can actually be more engaging.

The Trouble With Trilogies

Star Wars - The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace (Credit: Disney)

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about a film as I was about The Phantom Menace and like many, I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad, but that couldn’t last. The prequels were a disaster with a few redeeming features – there are many, many problems with them ranging from casting to too much CGI to just being boring. The text crawl at the start of The Phantom Menace talks about tax disputes and while I do think a movie could be made about war sparking from something that dull The Phantom Menace failed.

Star Wars: The Last jedi
The Last Jedi (Credit: Disney)

It’s hard to even discuss the sequel trilogy without being overwhelmed complaints of the fans – they’re too much like the original trilogy, they’re too different to the original trilogy, Rey is a Mary-Sue, they ruined Luke, and then there’s the torrent of sexism that was also present in much of the criticism. For what it’s worth I think the sequels have problems but are much better than the prequels. The Last Jedi is an uneven film yet it has amazing parts to it – Luke and Kylo Ren’s confrontation is incredibly well done and a brilliant way to deal with their history. The biggest problem might have been it felt that the different directors had different ideas of what they wanted to do.

The Star Wars Universe

Star Wars - Nien Nunb & Lando Calrissian
The next hero of a Star Wars TV show – and I don’t mean Lando (Credit: Disney)

There is a wealth of material for more television shows. Aside from the films, there are a variety of TV shows, dozens of books, graphic novels, computer games and more:

The Old Republic – The Empire overthrew the Galactic Republic but there would be wars, conflict and interesting stories throughout this period. It could explore the time when the Jedi were at the height of their power.

It’s not all about the war – There’s a lot more going than just the civil war between the Empire and Rebel Alliance – there are bounty hunter guilds, crime syndicates, strange religions and more.

So Many Characters – There are a wealth of interesting existing characters. What about Chewbacca’s life before Han? Or ace rebel pilot Wedge Antilles – the only pilot to have fought in both Death Star battles? I was genuinely thrilled when Nien Nunb (pictured above) turned up in the sequels – for those who don’t know Nunb is the small alien who co-piloted the Millennium Falcon with Lando Calrissian in Return of the Jedi and would love to see more of him. If they’re willing to embrace the Dark Side, Disney could explore Darth Vader’s war against the Jedi.

Whatever happens next we all know Disney aren’t going to stop making Star Wars films and tv shows – let’s just hope they’re worthy additions.

Also Read: Was It Really That Bad?: Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker

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Editorials

Great Video Games That Should Be Adapted Into A Movie

November 24, 2020
Uncharted - Tom Holland

The adaptation of mega-successful video game franchise Uncharted has just finished filming and it is hoped it will add to the rather slim library of good video game films. The first draft of this article was 600 words on the great injustice that Nathan Fillion was not cast in the lead role in Uncharted, but as all my articles could be 600 words complaining why Nathan Fillion wasn’t cast in every film ever made, instead I made a list of other potentially great video game adaptations.

Bioshock

Bioshock - 2K Games
Big Daddy and Little Sister from Bioshock (Credit: 2K Games)

A plane crash survivor stumbles upon the underwater city of Rapture, imagined as a utopia but now descended into anarchy, inhabited by terrifying humans and sinister monsters. From the start, Bioshock looked amazing, released in 2007 game designers were putting as much effort into “set design” as any filmmaker. The first game featured monsters so compelling – the gigantic hulking Big Daddies and the Little Sisters they protected – that in the sequel players took control of a Big Daddy.

Who Should Direct – surely a job for Guillermo Del Toro, creating a bizarre but beautiful world and especially suited if the Big Daddy was to be the monster-hero protagonist.

Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto  - Rockstar Games
Grand Theft Auto from 1997 (Credit: Rockstar Games)

There are lots of GTA games, some which are undeniable high points of video games, but I want a specific game – the first Grand Theft Auto. Released in 1997 it’s hard to explain the dizzying level of joy this game delivered there had been nothing like this before. More important than plot, acting or even making sense will be capturing that sense of anarchic fun this original had.

Who Should Direct – It would be very easy to tip over into the grim horror of the at times amoral GTA world, instead bring in the genius comic-action director Edgar Wright.

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Rockstar Games
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Credit: Rockstar games)

Another game franchise that already looks like a movie – YouTube is full of videos of people simply riding around the beautiful scenery. A western set in the dying days of the Wild West with little room for cowboys and outlaws. A morally nebulous world of crime and adventure, working for the authorities as often as fighting them and often little hope of every actually getting to any sort of better life.

Who Should Direct– John Hillcoat – looking at the westerns and not quite westerns that exist in multiple layers of moral ambiguity his back catalogue would make him an excellent choice.

Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart - Nintendo
Super Mario Kart (Credit: Nintendo)

We’ve had a Super Mario film and I think we all agree it was terrible but there has been no Super Mario Kart film, surely one of the best video games of all time. I propose a nightmarish horror-action extravaganza of monsters, dinosaurs and plumbers battling it out on dazzlingly bright M.C Escher inspired racetracks full of insane bursts of speed and turtle shell violence.

Who would direct – With Mad Max: Fury Road George Miller brought us a brilliant film that was one long car chase, I’m sure he could do one long car race on a similar scale.

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus - Sony Computer Entertainment
Shadow of the Colossus (Credit: Sony Computer Entertainment)

A curious and unusual game, Shadow of the Colossus had players travel the world and kill sixteen (mostly) gigantic creatures – known as Colossi, in doing so the life of another person will be saved. The departure from most games is that there are no towns to explore, no NPCs to interact with, no legions of lesser enemies to wipe out – you simply fight the Colossi. Each enemy is different and designed with a huge amount of detail and depth, each way to kill them is different.

Who Should Direct – there are two options – first a more traditional fantasy take helmed by Peter Jackson who if nothing else can do spectacle. The second would be Paul Thomas Anderson in a There Will Be Blood style – long periods of not much talking, it looks stunning and brief moments of shocking intensity – Daniel Day-Lewis could even play one of the colossi.

Also Read: When Great Video Games Become Lacklustre Movies

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Editorials

Fast & Furious: The Story of A Multi-Billion Dollar Film Franchise

November 21, 2020
Fast 9 Poster

It’s hard to believe, but when Fast 9 releases next year, it will have been 20 years since we first met Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor in The Fast and the Furious. In that time the series has transitioned from street racing to globe trotting spy action. While still maintaing the core of being about “Family”.

The franchise now sits as the 10th highest-franchise of all time. With 9 films released, and several others in development. While the main story is set to end with part 11, it’s unlikely “la familia” will be driving off into the sunset for good. It’s fair to say that the series has lasted longer than anyone anticipated.

“A Quarter-Mile at a Time”

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker weren’t big names in 2001 (Universal, 2001)

Inspired by an article about street racing, the original film “The Fast and The Furious” wasn’t trying to be the next billion-dollar franchise. On a modest budget of around $38 million and relative unknowns starring (Diesel’s biggest credit was Pitch Black). The film did much better than the studio expected, opening at number one and quickly earning over $200 million. A sequel was quickly greenlit.

While Paul Walker returned, Diesel decided to work Chronicles of Riddick instead. This led to Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris being cast as Roman and Tej, who would later rejoin the series in bigger roles. While 2 Fast, 2 Furious wasn’t reviewed as highly as the original, it managed to knock Finding Nemo off the number one spot at the box office, and greenlight another sequel.

The third film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, has no actors from the previous films returning, despite a brief cameo from Vin Diesel at the end. The original script actually followed Toretto learning to drift while solving a murder but was rewritten to focus on new characters. Introducing us to Sung Kang’s Han, an instant fan-favourite, as well as Justin Lin, who will direct several other entries. The film did well at the box office, but was the least successful of the trilogy, leaving the series future uncertain…

“From Misson: Impossible to Mission: In- freaking-sanity!”

The introduction of Dwanye Johnson’s character Lucas Hobbs was part of the series’ transformation (Univeral 2011)

Vin Diesel’s cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift renewed his interest in the series and managed to reunite the main cast of the original film for the first “true” sequel. Lin directed again, and Kang reprised his role as Han, shifting the timeline to resurrect him. The car culture elements were toned down, giving the series more general appeal. It was a huge commercial success and renewed interest in the series.

The real change came with Fast Five. Featuring only one actual race, focusing on action and heists, as well as introducing Dwayne Johnson to the series. This is where the series becomes how we recognise it today. Considered by many to be the best in the series, it was a huge critical and commercial success, and perhaps the first instance of a trailer being revealed on a star’s Facebook Page. The films continued to be massive hits onwards, during press for Furious 7 Diesel announced spin-offs were being discussed, the first of these, Hobbs & Shaw was released in 2019.

“Let’s make some money”

 Hobbs & Shaw
The first spin off, Hobbs & Shaw was a huge success (Universal, 2019)

After the release of Tokyo Drift, theme park attractions based on the franchise started. While starting as just vehicle stunt shows, they have gradually expanded into full experiences and rides, with characters from the films “appearing”.

Several videogames based on the franchise have also been released, mostly mobile games but several console games. The highest-profile games are arguably the expansion for Forza Horizon 2 and the Dodge Charger in Rocket League. Several replicas of the cars used in the films have been produced by Hot Wheels and in 2020, a LEGO model of the Dom’s Dodge Charger was announced. In 2019 Fast and Furious Spy Racers, an animated series focusing on Toretto’s cousin aired on Netflix.

Against all odds, The Fast Saga has not only survived but it has gotten stronger than ever. Even the tragic death of co-lead Paul Walker hasn’t been able to stop it, with Furious 7 going on to gross $1.5 Billion (£1.1 Billion) worldwide alone and the entire film franchise grossing more than $5.8 Billion (£4.4 Billion) in cinemas worldwide. With the main series set to end with number 11, it seems like there is nothing that can stop it.

Also Read: How To Revive A Franchise After Many Years

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Editorials

#FilmTwitter Gives Their #UnpopularOpinion On Movies – Do You Agree?

November 17, 2020
Simpsons mob against unpopular opinions [Source GQ]

Over the years certain opinions have become dominant in the film community, such as Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made, the Star Wars prequels are bad; Hollywood is out of ideas and it becomes unpopular to disagree. But, today we are going to look at some unpopular film opinions on Twitter, and analyse what makes them unpopular.

1. Star Wars: The Rise of Positivity

The only thing Star Wars fans agree on is that Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back are great. However, from there opinions vary wildly. Some find Return of the Jedi either a fitting end to the original trilogy or a dumbed-down entry for kids. Most people initially didn’t like the Prequels and Disney’s handling of the property has produced mixed critical and fan reactions, to say the least. So perhaps the most controversial thing a Star Wars fan can do currently is resist the pull of the dark side and say, “there are zero bad Star Wars movies”. Well, MoviePreviewShow managed it.

2. My Not so Fair Lady

My Fair Lady was a real winner in its time. It won 8 Oscars including Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Picture. Although, viewed all these years later people like Martin Something-or-other find that My Fair Lady leaves a lot to be desired.

3. Defending Daredevil (2003)

The exact opposite of our last entry. The Ben Affleck Daredevil movie was derided upon its release. However, since then it has gained a cult following. It was also given a director’s cut release which many say makes the film into something special. Because superhero movies are currently taking a break maybe it’s time to revisit Daredevil (2003)? You may find yourself like Retro Gamer.

4. Battle of the Directors

Martin Scorsese is considered one of the best directors of all time. Creating great films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, and Wolf of Wall Street to name only a few. But can he compete with Brian De Palma the director of classics like Carrie (1976), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables, and underappreciated gems like Phantom of the Paradise and Dressed to Kill? Not according to RVD the Dudar.

5. Excellent Adventure Vs Bogus Journey

When most people speak about the Bill and Ted films, they talk about the first entry, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Which is understandable, because it is the highest-rated and highest-grossing film in the franchise. But Direct Questions thinks the claim that it’s the series’ best film is bogus. He believes Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey is the superior film.

6. Streaming Wars

With a lot of production companies moving into the streaming market, many are beginning to make their content exclusive to their own services. Which definitely doesn’t sit well with Jonathan Boyd.

7. The Horror of Children

The opinion that children in movies are more annoying than they are effective is nothing new. Though kids in horror films not being scary when movies like The Innocents (1961), The Exorcist, The Omen (1976), and The Shining (1980) exist? Eric S. Kim’s opinion is definitely controversial.

8. Trashing Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is one of modern cinema’s most acclaimed filmmakers. With several of his films being considered among the best ever made. However, as with anyone who is well acclaimed there are always those who believe them to be overrated. But which camp do you fall into? Are you a true Tarantino aficionado or are you like Global Affairs?

9. Stay Mysterious

Many agree that trailers and reviews sometimes give too much away. But how much should you know about a movie to become interested? To Rigmarole Film a movie is improved vastly when you know as little as possible going in. And therefore, have more of an open mind.

10. Henry Cavill’s Superman

Henry Cavill’s Superman films generally divided opinion among both audiences and critics. However, some people, like (thereal)Chris Grant Jr., consider him to be their favourite Superman portrayal.

So ends our brief look at unpopular film opinions circulating social media. What do you think about some of these controversial opinions? What are some of your film hot takes? Please let us know.

Also Read: The Film Fan’s Guide To Time Travel

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Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Nicole Kidman

November 15, 2020

If you, like me, are just desperate to feel something other than existential dread during Lockdown 2: Back in the Habit, then you’ve likely been watching The Undoing. If you haven’t, the twisty thriller, based on a book by Jean Hanff Korelitz, stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant as a wealthy New York couple caught up in a horrific murder case. Not only is it providing some level of escapism, with its lavish Manhattan apartments, dramatic plot twists, and its lack of social distancing (it was filmed pre-pandemic), but is also airing one episode a week, reminding me that time is indeed passing and we are not stuck in some stagnant version of hell. Instead, each week is marked by an hour of Nicole Kidman doing what she does best; wearing wigs and acting everyone off the screen.

As a queer person, I routinely discuss how much I love actresses. From Laura Dern to Dakota Johnson, Holly Hunter to Kristen Stewart I love the work of women (I am basically that clip of Saorise Ronon saying “women” emphatically) but Kidman, has always been a point of specific interest. The first time I remember seeing a Nicole Kidman film was likely Moulin Rouge when I was around thirteen. My high school, quite inappropriately, decided to adapt the movie for the stage as that year’s school play (long before the Broadway version existed) and I watched the film over and over during rehearsals. Not so much because I had a big role (I was in the chorus and had three dance numbers which I slayed) but because I became obsessed with Kidman as Satine, a courtesan dreaming of a life elsewhere. I used to listen to her version of ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away; as if it applied to my own teenage existence on frosty Winter mornings as I wandered to school. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Moulin Rouge was also a crucial film in the emancipation of Kidman.

Moulin Rouge

When Kidman first broke into Hollywood in the late nineties, she was primarily seen as Tom Cruise’s girlfriend. Despite success with the thriller Dead Calm, Cruise was the biggest movie star in the world, and ultimately his overall star power consumed Kidman too. They worked together in films like Days of Thunder, Far and Away, and Eyes Wide Shut – all of which gained attention for starring the real-life couple. Her other films, well-reviewed but lacking impact (like Gus Van Sant’s To Die For or Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady) flew mostly under the radar. At the same time, her more significant blockbuster roles (in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever) were often written off as campy. Her move, from a respected indie actress to a major movie star, facilitated by her marriage to Cruise, provided both pros and cons. As Ingrid Sischy wrote in a 2002 profile of Kidman, “She went from being an actress who had begun to taste success—and who had always insisted on living on her own, even during her various romances—to a woman inside the engine of the Hollywood machine.”

When Kidman and Cruise divorced, the tabloids raised the question of who would “win” the break-up. Would it be Cruise? The megastar with millions of adoring fans and a proven track record in Hollywood. Or would it be Kidman? An Australian actress whose highest-profile roles were directly connected with her husband. The answer seemed obvious.

To Die For - Nicole Kidman
To Die For (Columbia Pictures)

In early 2001, the couple announced their divorce, and later that year, in May, Moulin Rouge premiered at the Cannes film festival. The film went on to be nominated for eight academy awards the following year including a Best Actress nod for Kidman. That year she lost to Halle Berry – a historic win of its own – but this nomination cemented her position in Hollywood moving forward. Not only was she well-reviewed and Oscar-nominated but the film made $179.2 million at the box office, more than doubling its original budget. When this was put together with The Others, which came out a few months after Moulin Rouge and was also a critical and financial hit, it was clear Kidman was more than the sum of her celebrity marriage.

A few years ago, a friend asked me if Nicole Kidman had ever won an Oscar. “She’s been nominated four times and won once,’ I said, surprised at how quickly that knowledge came to my mind. My friend followed up, asking which films she’d been nominated for. “In chronological order,” I said, “Moulin Rouge, The Hours (which she won for), Rabbit Hole, and Lion.” Again, I hadn’t realised I’d absorbed so much “kidmanformation” (I just coined this, we’ll see if it catches on) in my everyday life. Of course, my daily life (as a queer movie person that watches Oscar acceptance speeches on YouTube in my spare time) is not the same as everyone else’s.

Nicole Kidman - Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies (HBO)

Her performance as Virginia Woolf in The Hours is one of my all-time favourite Kidman performances. Spurred on by the rawness of a significant public break-up, Kidman embodied the writer who was on the brink of suicide. She captured a woman lost and struggling with how to be and how to act. She transformed herself physically too, something Kidman regularly does but often doesn’t get much credit for, proving that she was an actress to reckon with. Despite the Oscar win, her public persona was somewhat confused. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Kidman was written off by many and was often cited as having a “comeback” any time she made something critics liked. In a 2017 article for Buzzfeed, Anne Helen Petersen wrote,

Kidman — like Witherspoon and Dern, like Stewart and Woodley, like so many actresses, of seemingly every age, who aren’t named Meryl Streep — has to prove herself as more than the sum of her pretty parts every time she comes onscreen.

Alan Helen Petersen, Buzzfeed

Post-The Hours, Kidman straddled arthouse movies and big blockbusters. She had critical hits and major flops; she moved into producing, and through her work on Big Little Lies she made a huge impact on TV too. She has worked with Yorgos Lanthimos, Sofia Coppola, Park Chan-Wook, Lars Von Trier, Nora Ephron, and Noah Baumbach, to name a few. She routinely takes risks and jumps between genres, but isn’t afraid of a big pay check gig – like Aquaman – either. She is the modern movie star who understands the requirements of Hollywood (one-for-me-and-one-for-you) but plays that so keenly to her advantage that it never feels like she’s selling out. To put it plainly, Kidman is the GOAT and we’re lucky that we’re alive to see her thrive. 

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Sex Scenes

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Editorials

MCU Storylines That Are Still Unresolved

November 12, 2020

After a mammoth 23 films and 11 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wrapped up the long-running “Infinity Saga”, the main story that the franchise had been building towards. Characters like Iron Man and Captain America reached the end of their arcs. The Infinity Stones were dealt with, and big bad Thanos was defeated. Phase 3 ended with “Spider-Man: Far From Home” as it’s epilogue.

Although the main characters and big plotlines were resolved, the story isn’t over. After all, heroes like Thor, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange all have films coming, continuing their adventures. However, there are some threads that seem to have been forgotten. Will Phase 4 resolve them?

Samuel Sterns – The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk
The last time we saw Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) he was transforming into The Leader (The Incredible Hulk, 2008)

While not remembered as fondly as some of the other films, The Incredible Hulk is one of the most interesting. Acting as a psuedo-sequel/reboot, the film finds Banner on the run from the military and trying to cure his “condition”. He enlists the help of Samuel Sterns to help him, who later starts to mutate into his alter ego “The Leader”.

We haven’t seen him again since, and there hasn’t been a small reference to the character. The Incredible Hulk occupies a strange place in the franchise’s history, with the character tied up in a rights issue and Banner being recast for subsequent appearances. General Ross reappeared in Civil War, and the events have been referenced, but no mention of Sterns as yet. Interestingly the actor was contracted for 3 appearances, so he could still return one day. Kevin Fiege himself has ruled it out, it’s just a matter of finding the right place for him, with no sequel in sight, that isn’t the easiest task.

The Mandarin – Iron Man 3

This Mandarin was revealed to be a fake (Iron Man 3, 2013)

The controversial Iron Man 3 saw Tony deal with PTSD after the battle of New York. While a new terrorist group led by the Mandarin attacks. Tony discovers that the Mandarin is actually a character, played by an out of work actor. Aldrich Killian then claims to be the villain in the finale, but the one-shot “All Hail the King” reveals that another, more comic accurate version, is the true one.

Tony Leung has been cast as the Mandarin in “Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings” which should hopefully connect some of the dots. “All Hail The King” ends with Trevor being taken to see the real Mandarin, which is presumbly the one who will appear in Shang-Chi. Whether the Iron Man 3 versions were inspired by or just using his name remains to be seen

Ultron Lives? – Avengers: Age Of Ultron

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, when peter is trapped inside the crate he finds  an Ultron bot made by Tony Stark : MovieDetails
The red eyes imply the head is still active (Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017)

The second Avengers film sees the team reunite to defeat Tony’s rogue A.I protector. Ultron quickly hacks the internet, makes thousands of copies of himself and plans humanity’s extinction. The Avengers defeat him with the help of Vision, an android Ultron intends to use as a new body. Vision removes Ultron from the internet and is left alone with the last drone.

It’s made clear in Age of Ultron that if one drone survives then he could return at full strength. The final exchange between Ultron and Vision is left ambiguous, but it’s fair to assume Vision destroyed him. Where it gets murkier is the apperance of an Ultron head in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. The final battle with Ultron took place in Sokovia, so why is there a head in New York? Further, it’s in the posession of Adrian Toomes and crew, so it’s not on it’s way to be destroyed. While this could be little more than an easter egg, it would be interesting to know where it ended up.

Time Travel – Avengers: Endgame

Avengers Endgame
Once you’ve introduced time travel, it makes everything compicated (Avengers: Endgame, 2019)

After their devastating defeat at the hands of Thanos, The Avengers are lost. Half of all life in the universe has been extinguished, and the world mourns. After 5 years, with some helo from Ant-Man, Tony Stark discovers time travel, allowing them a second chance. The Avengers perform a “time heist” to gather The Infinity Stones, to bring everyone back. After, Captain America returns the stones to their proper place in the timeline.

It’s unclear if the Avengers tell the public about their time travel adventure. But it’s possible that some people like Nick Fury are aware. Bruce Banner is still a public figure and time travel is a huge scientific breakthrough, so what are they going to do with it? It’s hard to believe the Avengers are just going to let it sit in their base gathering dust, but they can’t exactly use it for guided tours. It’s established that they can’t affect the future with time travel, but that wouldn’t stop them from looking at events in the past to solve mysteries or crimes. It’s likely this one won’t be resolved for a while until they need it again.

Also Read: Has The Marvel Cinematic Universe Reached It’s Peaked


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Editorials

Suicide Squad: Release The Ayer Cut?

November 9, 2020

2016’s Suicide Squad was one of the biggest disappointments of the year. It was a film I was very excited about as I enjoy the idea of the good guys being the bad guys. Sadly, it wasn’t a good film, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn being perhaps it’s best feature, which has lead to Robbie reprising the role for Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey and James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Director David Ayer though is now pushing for the film to be released the way he had originally intended – The Ayer Cut.

The Lost Forty Minutes

Zack Snyder's Justice League
The Snyder Cut (Credit: Warner Bros)

The Ayer Cut comes hot on the heels of the Snyder Cut of Justice League, the DC film originally directed by Zack Snyder who was replaced by Joss Whedon after a family tragedy for Snyder. Fans campaigned for a version they believed was closer to what Snyder had envisioned and were successful. Ayer now wants the same for Suicide Squad. Ayer has said forty minutes of his film was cut by the studio which would surely have an impact on any film. Studios insisting on their own edits of films is nothing new – sci-fi classic Blade Runner had voiceover added that completely changed central parts of the film, leading to a slew of other “cuts” that better represented what director Ridley Scott had in mind.

What was wrong with Suicide Squad?

Jared Leto as The Joker
Jared Leto as The Joker (Credit: Warner Bros)

Suicide Squad was unpopular with both critics and fans (but there are those who champion the film, or at least parts of it) and the film had many problems.

  • The Joker – while not a pivotal character in the film Jared Leto’s portrayal still managed to attract a lot of disdain with few people enjoying it. While I didn’t care for it I didn’t judge Leto or Ayer too harshly, following in the footsteps of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s legendary performances they needed to make a distinctive Joker – it didn’t work but at least they tried.
  • The Characters – When you have a large ensemble cast you run the risk of no character having enough time and this certainly felt true of Suicide Squad. The introduction of every character felt rushed and bare bones and I didn’t really care about any of the characters. There were characters like Katana who just seemed to be there – another person to fill out the cast without serving any purpose (despite having an interesting character premise).
  • The Villain -I am a firm believer in that the secret of success for many comic book films is the villain. The Dark Knight had Heath Ledger’s Joker, Black Panther had Michael B. Jordan’s Eric Killmonger, after a lacklustre villain in Red Skull having Robert Redford play Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a stroke of genius. Suicide Squad had a witch…or her brother, and her brother? The film was always going to be in a tricky place with a villain as the whole point is they’re the villains but undoubtedly the forgettable villain they had wasn’t good enough.

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad

Harley Quinn in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (geektyrant.com)

Of course, this battle is yet to be resolved on the horizon is the release of The Suicide Squad. How will The Ayer Cut effect this? I doubt it will at all. It seems most people have simply written off Suicide Squad as a mistake, the Ayer Cut is at most a chance to show there was a good film there. The success or failure of The Ayer Cut will not matter and I doubt would have any impact on the already inconsistent DCEU.

Will It Happen?

If the fans get behind the idea it probably will. The Snyder Cut really did show that fans have the power to get alternate cuts released and there’s no reason to give up that power. Whilst in this instance it’s being done under the impetus of the director, it’s important to remember that fans don’t always know best, for years there was a Kickstarter campaign to edit Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, specifically to digitally remove the rat that appears in the final scene. Whether or not you feel this was a bad decision by Scorsese I think you need to essentially trust a director on their decisions.

Before we all start clamouring for new cuts of films we feel could have been improved, remember Star Wars is a prime example of that sometimes it’s just better to leave things alone and that you can never please all of the fans.

Also Read: Flashpoint: The Defining Film of the DCEU


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Editorials

Research Shows How Cinema Therapy Helps Reduce Anxiety

November 6, 2020
Cinema Group of Friends

Right now I imagine everyone is looking for ways to help them des-tress and reduce anxiety in this stressful year. Well according to Sorina Daniela Dumtrache’s article “The Effects of a Cinema-therapy Group on Diminishing Anxiety in Young People, cinema is just what we need. Today we are going to be looking over the details of Dumtrache’s Science Direct article. We will look at what methods the study used to explore its hypothesis and the conclusions the study came to. But first, let’s briefly summarise the study’s aims.

Aims

This study’s purpose was to identify how cinematic-therapy (use of cinema and/or movies to help with mental health issues) affected the personal development (namely the anxiety levels) of young participants. The study’s other purpose was building, enacting, and adapting a personal development cinema-therapy program to help its participants. But how did they plan on doing this and measuring the results?

Methods

This study used 60 subjects selected using cluster sampling. 30 participants were used in an experimental sample (focusing on using cinema therapy). 30 were used in a control sample (separate from the influence of the cinema therapy study). The participants were all between 19 and 22 years old.

The experimental sample divided into 3 groups of 10. They then met for 10 4 hour sessions across 3 months. The participants helped select the study’s movies based on how they generated reflection, identification, differentiation, and self-awareness in them. The films were further sorted into categories based on the issues they dealt with. Including childhood and family universes, couple relationships, social relationships, and relationships with yourself. And they used the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale Questionnaires, to rate how severe their anxiety was. The Hamilton questionnaire asks participants to rate the severity of certain feelings e.g. tension or depression on a 0 (none present) to 4 (very severe) scale.

Dumtrache then began the study, at the initial meeting before the cinema sessions, the experimental groups discussed the types of films they wanted to see as well as games they could use to test each other’s inter-knowledge and find out their problems and needs. There were then 10 cinema group sessions. These sessions began with the therapists instructing the participants to focus attention on one’s own inner moods and experiences. Then they watched the movies and afterwards looked at personal analysis and group awareness. The final session focused on feedback and used the Hamilton Anxiety Questionnaires to attain the group’s final anxiety levels.

Results

After the researchers collected the data from the control and experimental groups, they used the “t-test statistical procedure” to test for the differences between the samples. And they found there was a more significant drop in anxiety levels with the experimental group than the Control group. Thus, showing that the use of films in therapy helped to reduce the participants’ anxiety.

Conclusion

The study’s research and methodology are somewhat hard to follow. But further research supports its findings. For example, Lee Powell said that group cinematherapy intervention is statistically and clinically effective at improving hope and optimism. Even individuals like our own Laura Huckle can attest to the healing power that cinema can have on our mental health.

Whether you’re watching films with a cinema audience or your friends and family at home, movies are a powerful force that can restructure and transform our lives. And especially with everything the world is going through, we need movies to help us relax. Now more than ever.

Also Read: Films That Have Supported My Mental Health


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Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Sex Scenes

November 1, 2020

There is nothing that emphasises a dry spell more than your upstairs neighbours having near-pornographic sounding sex at 7am on a Thursday. It’s incredibly tricky when that dry spell is government-enforced. In May, the government in the Netherlands told single men and women they should organise a “sex buddy” if they wanted to enjoy physical contact during lockdown. They asked people to consider their sexual partners based on how many other people they might see and plan the safest way to meet up for a shag. Going through someone’s social calendar and organising which position you’ll be in based on how likely it would be to transmit an airborne virus is not precisely foreplay though, is it? 

As for in the UK, the government offered no such suggestion – although,  having Chris Whitty or Boris Johnson dictating the specifics of my sex life would kill what little libido I have left – and thus, we were told we wouldn’t hug a stranger until 2021. So whether it was organising a sex buddy with the precision of a NASA Space Launch or being forced into celibacy by government restrictions, for most single people, sex has become, well, unsexy. 

This has become increasingly harder to deal with when watching movies with sex scenes. The touching, the kissing, the licking, the panting, the sweat; all of which feel both dangerous and off-limits now. Recently, I watched Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannell’s get it on in Joe Mantello’s The Boys in the Band remake. It’s only for a few seconds, but the two beautiful men kiss, drenched in sweat and passion, and all I could think was they’re definitely not six feet apart. I couldn’t find it hot (which objectively it was) because all I could think of was all the germs that might be passed around in their hot breath. 

The Boys in the band
The Boys in the Band (Credit: Picturehouse Entertainment.)

The pandemic has made sex unsexy and has made even watching sex scenes tough because it requires a physical closeness that most of us fear now. We can’t be near people, but when we see actors on screen, in movies filmed sometime last year, getting too close, it’s hard to un-train the brain to not panic at the sight of their touching. 

As Raven Smith noted in Vogue earlier this week, it’s not only the closeness but also the current climate stopping us from “feelings super-duper horny” these days. News of Trump, Brexit, Boris Johnson, death tolls, tiered lockdown systems, social unrest, racism, violence, and corruption are not exactly subjects that lead to being turned on. It’s hard to spend all day on Zoom taking in news updates, and rumours of impending lockdowns, and still have the mental capacity for sex – if the option is still available to you. Plus, any sex scenes I watch just serve to mock me. Not only because I wince at the touching but because they say to me: Look at all the fun you could have been having if you weren’t in the throes of a major historical event. 

Disobedience (Credit: Curzon Artificial Eye. )

I used to see sex scenes as a marker of boldness, especially in queer cinema. Whether that was Jake Gyllenhaal bottoming on a stomach full of baked beans, or Taron Edgerton, as Elton John, getting into bed with Richard Madden, it often signified a film’s willingness to “go there”. Was the filmmaker unafraid of alienating a straight audience by showing queer sex? Rachel Wiess spitting in Rachel McAdams mouth in Disobedience, Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu rolling round in the mud in God’s Own Country, or the sandy-handy on the beach in Moonlight set them apart from the “straight-friendly” LGBTQ+ movies that tried to toe the line. 

I hope, soon, I can return to that mindset. One in which I’m excited by sex scenes again and take pride in the unabashed sexiness. In fact, I’m just as keen to enjoy sex scenes as I am literal sex. Still, as my neighbours taught me at 7am last Thursday, not everyone is in the same boat.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On the Value of Youth


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Editorials

With No New Big Budget Films At Cinemas Will Indie Films Have Their Time to Shine?

October 30, 2020

2020 hasn’t been the year any of hoped it would. As events were cancelled, people were forced to stay inside, it’s been tough on everyone. Ordinarily, we could go to our local cinema and escape for a few hours, but with many big releases now not arriving until 2021, things are different. Many theatres aren’t open at all, while others have reduced opening hours. Even when they are open, some are eerily quiet.

But there are still some films to watch. With the likes of Bond and Fast and Furious and even Wonder Woman are holding back, to the dismay of cinema chains, independent films are shining. Without the large budgets to make back, smaller, cheaper films are filling the gaps studios normally stay well clear of. This summer was supposed to see the release of blockbusters such as Black Widow, Candyman and Top Gun: Maverick. Instead, Trolls World Tour became the film everyone was talking about, ushering in a wave of films being released to streaming sites. But this isn’t just good news for Trolls, it means that most theatres have been left wide open…

Cheap Thrills

James Bond
The delay of No Time To Die has reportedly cost around $50 million (MGM: 2020)

Independent films are often buried when the new big summer blockbuster is out. Cinemas can only show so many films after all. Often if given the choice between an indie drama or another showing of a blockbuster, the latter will win. With most people in Britain only going to the cinema 3 times a year, they like to get their money’s worth. Watching something they know they will enjoy rather than take a gamble on something they haven’t heard of. Blockbusters are often longer, so it feels like more of an occasion. However, between the actor’s and crew’s salaries, post-production and marketing costs, these films are expensive and have to earn much more money before they start returning a profit.

Independent films can still be expensive (the original Iron Man is technically an independent film) but they are traditionally much cheaper to produce in comparison. This often means they have much lower expectations behind their performance. One advantage of this is that directors often have more creative control and more freedom. When millions of dollars aren’t at stake, some risks seem affordable, and different stories can be told in interesting ways. It also means that if the film is delayed, it isn’t bleeding money through delayed marketing, like Tenet and No Time To Die. Warner Brothers decided to release Tenet and it wasn’t quite the success they were hoping for. Meanwhile, After We Collided, a romance based on One Direction fan fiction did better at the box office than The New Mutants.

The Times Are Changing

Host - Horror Film
Released online, Host has been one of the suprise hits of this year (Shadowhouse Films, 2020)

Does this mean huge blockbusters will be gone soon? Definitely not. But it could mean that studios, and cinemas, stop relying on them. Indies can be treated as “filler” to use screens and keep cinemas afloat until the next big film. But this year has proven this isn’t sustainable. Instead, cinemas should embrace smaller films. Not only does it allow new talent to shine and get exposure, but it also allows different films to be more widely seen. A common complaint of the industry is that it’s always the same few properties having endless sequels, prequels, spin-offs and reboots, but independent films help prove that is not the case. Films like Saint Maud, Queen and Slim, and Babyteeth, as well as the success of this year’s virtual London Film Festival, have shown that there is plenty of good stuff to watch.

So next time you plan on going to the cinema, and don’t see any films you recognise, give an independent film a try. You might be introduced to your new favourite director, or the next big actress. Cinemas and audiences alike should start embracing independent films.

Also Read: Disney Shifts Its Focus Away From Cinemas To Its Streaming Platform


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Editorials

Disney Shifts Its Focus Away From Cinemas To Its Streaming Platform

October 28, 2020
Disney Hulu ESPN [Source: Whats on Disney Plus]

Recently Disney announced its future plans regarding its content and distribution. And today we’ll analyse how Disney’s decisions could affect the cinema industry as it still tries to weather the effects of the covid-19 pandemic.

Disney’s Restructuring

Last week Disney announced a huge restructure with its Content creation and distribution being separated. Content creation will now focus on creating big franchise content for theatrical and streaming distribution, as well as general entertainment and sports content for Disney’s streaming platforms and TV networks. Meanwhile the “Media and Entertainment Distribution group” will handle monetisation and distribution of all the company’s projects. And with Disney reporting over 60 million Disney+ subscribers worldwide their efforts have shifted towards creating content for and distributing content on their streaming platforms.

How Will This Affect Cinemas?

Disney movies attract incredibly large cinema audiences. And with Cineworld’s recent closure due to the lack of big releases needed to sustain themselves during the pandemic, this move could be rather damaging. Especially since studios like WarnerMedia and Comcast are seemingly following Disney’s lead. Recently they reorganised to focus on streaming service’s HBO Max and Peacock.

However, despite Disney shifting focus to streaming, analyst Rich Greenfield said, “nothing can achieve the per picture economics that Disney…generate through a global theatrical release”. Showing that Disney still needs cinema distribution to ensure their projects make their money back. This move may be meant to recoup losses further down the line. With projects aimed at attracting new customers to Disney’s subscription services and keeping people subscribed; paying for content, as they proved they could do with Mulan (2020). And as Disney has access to a huge amount of resources, and bankable studios, it’s hard to see this becoming an industry trend. Not every studio has the resources needed to shift towards streaming over cinema. Cinemas still matter but can they remain open without the support of many big tentpole releases?

How Can Cinemas Survive?

There are no concrete answers, but cinemas currently have a lot of avenues available. For example, the largest audience for UK cinema releases is consistently 15-24-year-olds. Other statistics show that BAME and LGBTQ filmgoers, as well as adults with children under 18, make up a high percentage of cinema audiences. Cinemas could target these audiences by providing discounts or exclusive screenings to encourage certain demographics to keep returning (similar to how The Light and Odeon cinemas currently offer discounts for former Cineworld customers). Rewards can also be offered to make customers feel valued. And classic and recent content could be offered to draw in BAME and LGBTQ audiences.

Also, recently smaller movies like After we collided and Unhinged have done relatively well at the UK box office. Showing that smaller films can do well with a bigger platform. And with many smaller releases still on the horizon, cinemas have an opportunity to encourage audiences to try something new. They can do this by increasing social media awareness. Offering discounts/rewards. Or perhaps even organising local cinema clubs, as many of the previously mentioned groups are more likely to respond to the idea of a film club. Plus the localised nature of film clubs could be a great comfort to regions in higher lockdown tiers.

Of course, if cases spike cinemas will have to close. But other options are available. For example, during the lockdown, Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema partnered with various streaming and VoD sites. Offering free trials for their members, and virtual screenings that split the money evenly with the Showroom if you used their site. These options allowed people to watch films safely from home. And helped keep the Showroom on its feet.

Conclusion

Despite Disney’s shift to focus more on streaming, many studios don’t have Disney’s money and resources. So it’s hard to see this becoming an industry trend. Cinema distribution will still be needed to cover big-budget production costs.

But cinemas must adapt to survive without huge tentpole releases. There are many independent productions out there to entice audiences. And offers and rewards, targeted marketing, film clubs, virtual screenings; profit-sharing with VoD, and streaming services are certainly options that can help cinemas to make money. But will they succeed? Only time will tell.

Also Read: What’s Next For Disney?

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