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Category: Editorials

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

Editorials

5 Documentaries To Watch On Netflix

March 13, 2019
Netflix Banner

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

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

Five Came Back

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

Five Came Back Poster (2017)

Planet Earth

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

Planet Earth BBC Poster (2006)

Senna

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

Senna movie poster (2010)

13th

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

13th Netflix Poster (2016)

Paris is Burning

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

Poster for Paris is Burning (1990)

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

Editorials

Ten Movies Turning Twenty In 2019

March 8, 2019

1999 was a good year for films but really, most years are a good year for films. Some years you may have to look a little harder for them but they’re always being made – here are ten films that are turning twenty this year.

Fight Club

Fight Club (moviemet.com)

This film became a cult classic almost instantly. A fierce and brutal movie about feeling detached from the modern world, feeling like the consumerist culture offered nothing and wanting something simpler and more violent. Edward Norton and Brad Pitt’s characters start having fights in public and amazingly more people join, seemingly made up almost entirely of people who don’t look like the sort of people who get in fights. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) turns them into something far more sinister; along the way giving the legendary rules of the club.

In my opinion Fight Club is both Brad Pitt’s and Edward Norton’s best film, both giving amazing performances with Pitt’s Tyler Durden becoming a film icon. It is a film that feels as relevant today as it did then – watch it.

Office Space

Office Space (20th Century Fox)

This little known Mike Judge film should come with a warning that after watching it you will probably want to quit your job. A hilarious work-based comedy about someone stuck in a job they don’t see the point of and him wondering why he should even care. After a derailed session with a hypnotherapist, the lead character acts on his impulses, turning up late, telling his manager what he really thinks and knocking down a wall of his cubicle. Where does this fearlessness lead? Crime.

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (Gramercy Pictures)

The film that launched a thousand bad British gangster films into production. One of the most damning things I can think to say about this film is that I liked it when I was a teenager and no longer see the appeal. Perhaps I am being too harsh – the film was certainly of its time and made a huge impact. Historically it’s been hard for British gangster films to compete with their American cousins – they were cooler, they had more money (the gangsters and the studios) and everything was on a bigger scale. Lock Stock showed that you could make a successful and popular British gangster film that still felt British.

10 Things I Hate About You

10 Things I Hate About You (freepressjournal.in)

Quite simply 10 Things… is one of the best teen movies ever made. Using Shakespeare’s Taming of a Shrew as a blueprint it told a story of teenage life and love wonderfully. The central four actors are all perfect in their roles and at least two have gone on to become major film stars. The film reolves around the father setting a rule that for the younger sister to date, the older sister must be dating as well, leading to man 1 who wants to date younger sister to recruit man 2 to date older sister – got it? For all of the deviousness going on with the plot, there is a niceness to the film. The two male leads aren’t awful selfish misogynists, the female leads are intelligent women while being completely different characters.

Election

Election (Letterboxd.com)

Alexander Payne’s whipsmart Election is a high-school film like no other. Centred around the election for class president, an almost meaningless office, teacher Matthew Broderick conspires to stop seemingly unstoppable, manipulative and overachiever Reese Witherspoon’s Tracey Flick winning the election. Witherspoon is sensational as Flick, sometimes almost seeming like a sociopath but never quite reaching it. Broderick is at his best as the teacher’s life falls apart – only partly connected to his class president plan.

The Mummy

The Mummy (TheAgonyBooth.com)

The Mummy, likes Jaws, is a film whose reputation has suffered because of the sequels. I forgot that Jaws is a masterclass of tension and acting and I forgot that The Mummy is a hugely enjoyable action adventure romp that rarely got made even back in the nineties. Starring quintessential 90s leading man Brendan Fraser and too-good-an-actor-for-this-film Rachel Weisz the filmmakers were clearly going for a new Indiana Jones style film and while not reaching those heights it is a lot of fun.

Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (DenofGeek.com)

I had never been more excited for a film release in all my life. A new Star Wars film seemed like an impossible event. I remember my dad shouting for me to come downstairs because a tv show was going to play the trailer (which I watched over and over again online, or as much as you could with pre-broadband internet). I managed to convince myself I liked it, focusing on the good bits like Darth Maul and the excellent John Williams score. As time passed though I realised it wasn’t a very good film. After the ferocious maelstrom of criticism that accompanied The Last Jedi I am actively trying to tone down negative feedback – The Phantom Menace was disappointing. It’s albatross hung heavily around the neck of The Force Awakens which against all expectations – including my own – was great.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense (IMDb)

This is surely one of the cultural touchstones of the year – a film that seemingly everyone saw. This, like another film on this list, has a “twist” and is probably the default example of a “twist film”. A great horror/ghost story of a boy who sees dead people and the psychiatrist trying to help him, who naturally enough starts from the position that ghosts aren’t real, and that’s how he’ll help him. The slow realisation that the child might actually be right is played very well. Of course, this is the film that launched M. Night Shyamalan’s career and that has been, at best, a mixed bag. If somehow you still haven’t seen this film go and find it.

Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 (pixartalk.com)

The Toy Story trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy) is held up by some as the best trilogy in cinema history and quite frankly it’s hard to argue. Each film is brilliant yet different from the others. Following the practically perfect Toy Story was always going to be a challenge but the filmmakers succeeded. Toy collector Al, surely one of the greatest villains in cinema history, steals the incredibly valuable Woody causing the rest of the Toy Story gang to band together to get him back. Featuring incredibly fun new characters like Stinky Pete, Tour Guide Barbie and Evil Emperor Zurg – Buzz Lightyear’s archnemesis. The film is a triumph.

Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich (beyondtheboxset.com)

When I first saw this film I didn’t know what to make of it. I liked it but couldn’t quite explain why. It’s one of those films where if someone asked you to explain why it’s good it was a struggle. It still is. A bizarre story of love, jealousy and a portal into the head of John Malkovich, and not a character played by Malkovich, the actor John Malkovich. Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, both known for making weird films this is probably their weirdest.

Editorials

The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Three [Marvel Cinematic Universe]

March 6, 2019

Marvel has come a long way since Robert Downey Jr first donned the Iron Man suit in 2008 and took on Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane, with a wide range of villains coming and going throughout the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s realisation. Every protagonist needs a worthy antagonist, and many directors have tried (sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing) to bring a comic book bad guy to life effectively on the big screen.

The MCU has gifted us some enduring villains (like the brilliant Loki) and completely forgettable ones (remember Whiplash in Iron Man 2? No?). Some of these bad guys were merely temporary foils for our favourite superheroes to gleefully slap around in a few big-budget action sequences and ultimately played a small role in any build-up before the film was released. Some, however, were absolutely critical to the plot and featured heavily in trailers and publicity material prior to making their anticipated appearance on screen.

As we complete our series on Villains, let’s take a look at two Big Bads in the MCU, one of whom hit the nail on the head, and one who ultimately proved to be a let-down.

Part Three: Marvel Villains

Ultron – so much potential, so little payoff

Ultron

Calm down, this is just my opinion.

When the first teaser trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron dropped and I heard James Spader growl “I’m going to show you something beautiful”, my instant reaction was…..oh yes. Spader has one of the best voices in Hollywood, and I thought he was the perfect choice to play the evil, evolving robot hell-bent on destroying humanity and the Avengers. And of course, he delivered every line exquisitely – better, in fact, than some of his fellow actors in the movie.

There is, however, only one word to adequately describe what Age of Ultron turned out to be – meh.

I’m probably in the minority here, but I was disappointed with this movie in the end. The first Avengers is just so good, one of the most enjoyable Marvel movies by far, perhaps with the exception of Thor: Ragnarok. Joss Whedon had set the bar pretty high in 2012 and had a lot to live up to with his 2015 sequel. His previous villain had been Loki, after all – not an easy act to follow.

But Ultron, in spite of everything he appeared he would be in the trailers, was ultimately a pretty two-dimensional villain. Yes, he had some complex daddy issues with Tony Stark and his actions resulted in the necessity for the Sokovia Accords, which caused the fallout in Captain America: Civil War, and yes, he helped create Vision, but Ultron just didn’t do it for me in the end. Age of Ultron itself isn’t written as well as its predecessor either and becomes a bit muddled towards the end – maybe if the film as a whole had been more successfully executed, Ultron would have reached his full potential.

Thanos – well worth the decade of anticipation

Thanos

I’m a huge fan of how the Russo brothers brought Infinity War to life on the big screen. It was a monumental challenge given the sheer number of characters involved, all of whom had their own personal backstories, but they pulled it off. You can read my glowing review here.

And one of the primary reasons for the success of that film is, I believe, its antagonist.

Marvel had been building steadily towards the big reveal of Thanos since his first cameo appearance in Thor in 2011. And when the titan finally appeared, he did not disappoint. In his first scene, he bumps off two of those enduring MCU characters we talked about and beats Hulk in a fist fight, which very few others can claim to have done. And that’s just him getting started.

I was always a little worried that Thanos would be just another two-dimensional villain driven by an unwavering desire to take over the universe, and while cosmic annihilation is indeed on his agenda, there’s something that very clearly sets him apart from all other villains in the MCU – he actually achieves his goal and defeats the good guys.

There are some pretty great villains in Marvel’s grand project, but for me, Thanos is the one who absolutely nailed it and very much lived up to the hype.

The bottom line

So there we have it – the movie villains who were worth the wait, and those who ultimately let us down (or let me down, anyway). Hope you’ve enjoyed my little rants, even if your opinion differs completely. But I’m sure we can all agree on one thing: a really great villain can raise the bar for any film.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Two [James Bond]

Editorials

Big Screen Blinders

March 3, 2019

With filming of the fifth series of the hit now show complete, will the Shelby Family be making their big screen debut?

I was a little late to the Peaky Blinders party, only getting around to watching the show in 2018. (I might have binge-watched the first three series on Netflix and then had to order series 4 on DVD because I couldn’t possibly wait!) From its sharp script to Tommy Shelby’s sharper cheekbones; I was hooked from the start.

Peaky Blinders boasts a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has also received several accolades including the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series and a National Television Award for Most Popular Drama. The show has amassed a cult following since its BBC2 debut in September 2013, with it now being the inspiration for tours, bars and themed live-action events. (Cardiff’s Depot is set to host its second ‘By Order of…’ event after last year’s roaring success.) It even has its own gin!

For those of you who haven’t watched Peaky Blinders, it follows the notorious Shelby family who have the run of post-WW1 Birmingham. They are engaged in countless criminal plots which provide a great deal of the action in the series. However, the show also looks at the impact the war had on industrial cities such as Birmingham and the men who were left to deal with the emotional and physical trauma it caused. Depravity, hedonism and morality become blurred amongst the rising political tensions of 1920s working-class Britain.

The rumour mill has been busy for a while, with whisperings of a film in the pipeline, but the show’s creator, Steven Knight, seems to have confirmed this to be the case.

“We’re getting approached to do all kinds of things- the ballet, the musical…and the movie would be great.”

Cillian Murphy, who plays Tommy Shelby, has also confirmed he would want to be involved if “the writing was as good as the show.”

Knight has said that he wants to make seven series in total and end “with the first air raid siren [of the Second World War] in Birmingham”, 25th June 1940. Potentially, a big screen version of the show would happen before the end of the series itself. So what would the film version need to live up to the small screen powerhouse that is Peaky Blinders?

Awe-inspiring Aesthetics

The cinematography in this show is absolutely breathtaking. Within the grim context of post-war Birmingham, where crime was rife and prostitution was often a necessity rather than a choice, particular shots can powerfully contrast this misery or emphasise it. It’s little wonder that the show, specifically George Steel, won the British Academy Television Craft Award for Photography and Lighting in 2014.

Opening Scene, series 1

Fire, smoke and shadows are utilised to perfection in this show, encapsulating the internal struggle of the characters it follows. It’s a Media Teacher’s dream!

Series 4

Multi-faceted Characters

The Shelby Boys are a notorious criminal gang who threaten, maim and kill anyone who stands in their way. Yet they are also vulnerable men, picking up the pieces after a brutal war, who look after those who matter to them. Tommy Shelby, the organiser of the biggest heists, is so damaged by post-traumatic stress that he is reliant on narcotics to even sleep at night. Arthur Shelby, the oldest of the brothers, also struggles with his own demons throughout the series. It is this vulnerability of outwardly strong characters which is a particular strength of the show; it humanises them. This might have something to do with Knight’s family links to criminal gangs which he was told about during his childhood. In an interview with Radio Times, he said; “These were people just like us, you know. They were no different to us, inside.

The female characters, too, are complicated which makes a refreshing change from often one-dimensional roles for women. The family is ruled by a strong matriarch, Aunt Polly Gray (fantastically played by Helen McCrory), who manages the affairs of the Peaky Blinders. Her strength is undeniable, both in heated discussions with Tommy and in harrowing situations brought about by a vehement love for her family. Polly’s inner demons are never far from the surface and often bubble over during times of particular desperation; just like anyone else.

That Soundtrack

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ moody track Red Right Hand is now synonymous with Peaky Blinders. This show knows how to use music to its advantage, picking gritty songs which pair perfectly with the harsh depictions on screen. It just as easily juxtaposes a softer sound, such as Laura Marling, with painful scenes. The show’s soundtrack is able to ratchet up the emotion with a swift key change. The BBC have compiled an excellent Peaky Blinders playlist while NME have listed the ten best songs from the soundtrack, in their opinion. (Be warned, this list does feature some spoilers!) It might help that one of the composers is Antony Genn of the band Pulp. He and Cillian Murphy discuss what songs are Peaky in NME.

Script Writing Perfection

It has already been mentioned how important the quality of the writing is before a potential film can move forward and it’s easy to understand why. Each strand of a storyline is defined and developed. This coupled with fully rounded characters, the scripts have it all. It is difficult to fully explain just how well written the show is but it seems to have the perfect blend of witty lines and philosophical musings delivered in that wonderful Birmingham drawl.

We can look forward to series 5 being back on our screens this year with a move to BBC1. Hopefully, the big screen will follow soon after. It is an exciting prospect to see what tale will unfold in a feature-length telling of the Peaky Blinders, the possibilities are endless!

Peaky Blinders – Season 1 Trailer (BBC)
Editorials

With Great Power Comes An Interesting Film

March 2, 2019

There are many films that show a realistic portrayal of life – people living ordinary lives going to work, raising families, just living and while I would argue that those stories can be incredibly interesting I can’t help but being more immediately drawn to less ordinary portrayals. Boyhood and Logan are both great films but one is about an almost unkillable mutant with a metal skeleton and claws and one about the life of a typical boy. One of those stories is instantly more appealing. But putting superpowers in your film is no guarantee of success and it’s a tricky business balancing a cool superpower with something that doesn’t seem ridiculous.

The very interesting Wolverine (inverse.com)

Most of these characters are going to be based on comic books and I want to say right now – many of these characters are brilliant in comic books but it’s just that not every comic book character will work well in a film.

Green Lantern

One of the biggest comic book superheroes is Green Lantern, seriously, he is a big deal yet the film was a critical and commercial failure. There were many reasons for this but we’re talking about superpowers. In brief, Green Lantern can create physical manifestation of anything he can imagine.

Green Lantern (pinterest.com)

On the surface that’s a remarkable superpower with unlimited potential but really was just a CGI mess – the ability to create anything? It’s just too much, too powerful, for powers to be interesting they have to have limits. One of the brilliant things about Logan was that it showed Wolverine wasn’t always going to come back from anything, his healing powers did have their limits. And it didn’t really explore the fantastical or just plain weird places it could go with such a power. As is demonstrated in scenes of Green Lantern when fights break out is this power really more useful than a gun?

The Superfluous X-Men

Part of the problem is once you’ve got more than a few characters, coming up with interesting powers becomes difficult. There are dozens of mutants in the X-Men films and it has it’s fair share of duds. There is Banshee who can scream in a weird way and also can use this to fly somehow. There’s Angel who has incredibly flimsy-looking insect style wings. There’s Quill who can make short spikes stick out of his body. I could go on.

The very cinematic Magneto (metalarcade.net)

Their powers don’t make a great deal of sense; they’re not useful, they’re not plausible and they certainly aren’t cinematic. I could watch Michael Fassbender using his powers for hours – simple to explain, looks good on film and it’s merits are obvious. That’s a superpower you want in a film. To be a mutant with a bad power feels like the cruellest blow of all – yes mutants are a maligned group in society who live in fear but at least Cyclops can shoot lasers out of his eyes.

Money, money, money

Not all superheroes have superpowers and not only is this not a problem it can make the superhero more interesting. There is a classic get out though – money. A fairly common device is the rich superhero (or indeed supervillain), the two most famous being Batman and Ironman. Apparently, there is nothing that can’t be done with enough money – you want to be stronger, faster, tougher? Buy it and don’t let aerodynamics, ballistics, kinetics or any other killjoy science tell you it doesn’t exist or isn’t possible.

Guess what? This sort of thing is expensive (wdsu.coom)

Obviously, you can achieve a lot with money but surely there are limits and finding a superhero who doesn’t have superpowers or money is hard. Kick-Ass is one of the few examples I can think of and Kick-Ass himself is hardly a successful superhero so it seems if you have no powers you better have some money.

The Man of Too Many Powers

So we come to the apex of ridiculous powers, a character that exceeds virtually all others in their powers making no sense whatsoever and ruining the plot of almost any story they become involved in. I am, of course, talking about Superman.

Superman’s powers are amazing and spectacular and therein lies the problem. Every day Superman fights crime and saves people…well, it’s hardly a challenge for him, is it? Superstrength, flight, x-ray vision, super-speed and there’s more…it must be so boring. When Batman fights a mugger with a gun he might die, with Superman it’s not even really a fight. Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor is a billionaire genius and is the underdog in that fight.

The boring, if impressive, Superman (mic.com)

Graphic novel and film classic Watchmen explored the ridiculousness of Superman further with Dr Manhattan standing in for the Man of Steel. The idea being that someone with so much power would inevitably become distant from the normal people around him and perhaps even stop caring. Dr Manhattan even manages to surpass Superman in powers – he can teleport, make multiple versions of himself, become gigantically big, survive on Mars, see the future and just for fun can literally explode people just by thinking about it. Oh and is essentially indestructible with no convenient kryptonite weakness. The clever twist in Watchmen is that the villain doesn’t attack him physically but psychologically, manipulating him into doing what he wants. Of course, Dr. Manhattan is meant to be ridiculously powerful, Superman just kept acquiring more powers in the comics to try and keep it interesting.

The best Superman film, in my opinion, is Superman II and why is that? It has villains who can stand up to the hero. The vast collection of powers they possess make for excellent fight scenes and that’s Superman’s saving grace – they look amazing. The much maligned Superman Returns has an amazing scene of Superman saving a plane and it is a stunning scene. Just watching Christopher Reeve, Brandon Ruth and Henry Cavill use their powers is worth the cinema ticket.

There are still decades of comic book heroes to go through yet but even so you can’t help but feel the well is running pretty dry on interesting superpowers. Captain Marvel is the next big one to be brought to the silver screen and we’ll have to see how her powers are handled. From the sounds of it she’s going to be another pretty powerful superhero, perhaps the most powerful in Marvel have yet brought to film, so will she be silly or spectacular?

Editorials

The Unhealthy Obsession With Prince Less Than Charming

February 25, 2019
Zac Efron as Ted Bundy

The archetypal “bad boy” has been the focus of countless books, television series and films. The idea that an aloof, brooding type can be won over by the persistence of a plucky, likeable heroine is a tried and tested trope which always seems to draw in audiences. But is it the healthiest narrative for, largely female, audiences to be consuming?

This is not a new phenomenon. Frankly, bad men have been romanticised in literature for hundreds of years. Charlotte Brontë’s depiction of Mr Rochester is one of a passionate man who is “tightly and inextricably knotted” to the protagonist, Jane Eyre. Jane returns to her man after hearing his disembodied voice calling her from afar. (We’ve all used that excuse!) The fact that he had his wife locked in the attic after she had been deemed mad was quickly forgotten for the happy ending that Brontë desired! At least Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy was only emotionally stunted! The Brontë sisters seemed to love a toxic male protagonist – Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff was a volatile, controlling and aggressive character yet became a literary heartthrob – the fact that he locked up a girl because she looked like his former obsession is often overlooked.

Speaking of people who have a ‘type’, Ted Bundy’s atrocious crimes have now become the focus of Netflix’s documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes as well as Joe Berlinger’s film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile starring former teen, and now grown up, heart-throb Zac Efron. Many have argued that the casting of Efron is further romanticising a killer who had women defending his name in droves while he was on trial for horrific crimes against innocent girls. (For an excellent take down of Bundy I highly recommend the All Killa, No Filla podcast)

It would be comforting to think that these are just products of their historical context but unfortunately this idea that women can change fundamentally bad men has been perpetuated in the mainstream media for decades.

However easy it would be to blame Hollywood for subconsciously imbedding the idea that all bad boys can be changed with the love of a good woman, it actually seems that human psychology has a lot to do with it. A study at the University of Durham found that women were naturally more attracted to men who possessed the Dark Triad of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellism. Sounds dreamy! This is mainly because these men are incredibly confident, say all the right things (in the beginning, at least) and often seem like an absolute catch. And they are – in the short term. The study noted that the traits possessed by these men often link to primal mating instincts and this is why these men seem too good to be true in the first few weeks and then inevitably show that to be the case if and when things become more long term. It seems we just can’t shake those cave days of needing protection and to procreate for the survival of the species. The risk-taking, enigmatic man who seems strong and exudes sex appeal still makes us weak at the knees.

So the initial attraction to these men is explainable through science, but what about the reasons why women stay once the honeymoon period has worn off?

Unfortunately, after a certain point, women feel like they can’t leave particularly toxic relationships. This might be down to fear but, more often than not, women believe that the sweet, caring person they fell in love with will eventually reappear. Or, they think that enough love will make their significant other realise their true feelings. It is hardly surprising when film and television creates the impression that this type of rehabilitation is possible or that glaring red flags should be overlooked.

Let’s go back to 2008, I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t the only 17 year old at the time who had a crush on Twilight’s Edward Cullen; his intense stare, the insistence on ‘taking care’ of his love interest Bella and his protective nature. Looking back as an adult, it is clear to see that this “love story” was romanticising a highly obsessive relationship. The fact that the guy breaks into her house to watch her sleep is bad enough but there are also more subtle signs of abuse which are largely overlooked.

Flash forward to this year and Netflix’s binge-worthy series You has had its second series commissioned much to the delight of fans. However, there is an incredibly dark undertone to this fan base with girls wishing the protagonist, Joe, would kidnap them and saying how much they love his character. The worrying phenomenon even caught the attention of the show’s star, Penn Badgley, who took to Twitter to respond to the tweets lusting after his murderous character.

It really is frightening that women would feel that they deserve or would want an abusive relationship, particularly when femicide in the UK involving a woman being killed by a current or ex partner, accounts for 46% of female deaths. It’s a startling statistic but one that should be considered when creating and analysing characters for a mass audience.

The impact of these negative depictions is not just on women and girls. Impressionable young men could see this behaviour as acceptable or even desirable based on the reactions of female fans, thus creating the foundations for incredibly unhealthy and damaging relationships.

So maybe 2019 needs to be the year that the bad boy persona gets chucked in the bin in favour of respectful, emotionally and mentally stable male characters. Preferably ones who don’t have soundproof glass cages in their basement.



Editorials

Women In Horror: An Ode to Laurie Strode

February 20, 2019
Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode (etonline.com)

Horror is a strange genre of film. For all of its freedom to create a frightening piece of work, it also seems to be the most restricted, the threat of it being ‘too scary’ looming over its head. It’s a fine line to walk between ‘creepy’ and ‘cliché’ – with every one person that finds The Nun horrifying, there are nine more who find it laughable.

Yet, for all of its rules, the genre also seems to understand that it needs to evolve in order to stay relevant. No longer is it just the masked man wielding a chainsaw out to get you, it’s also the chavs you stumbled across on your romantic getaway. No longer is it just malevolent forces whose home you have just moved in to wanting to rip you apart, it’s also someone who just wanted to kill you for the sheer thrill of it. The characters themselves have evolved over time – men are no longer void of emotions aside from sexual desires; they’re remorseful, protective, impassioned.

Women have evolved too and are no longer the pure virgin, the damsel in distress waiting to be saved, lungs sore from screaming the whole film – they’re mothers protecting their children, they’re stronger, finding ways to defend themselves so the fight against evil isn’t so one-sided. Laurie Strode defines that evolution.

Happy Halloween

Halloween (1978) Opening Sequence

Halloween was released in 1978 and became an instant horror classic. From the opening shot of Michael’s first murder to the music that travels around Michael to that William Shatner mask, John Carpenter created (perhaps unwittingly) a horror legacy. The film follows Michael Myers, an escaped convict, as he returns home on Halloween night, fifteen years after killing his sister in order to kill again. His new obsession? Laurie Strode.

Laurie in the 1970s was a fair-haired, intelligent teenager. Naive but sweet. She had the aura of a girl who would roll her eyes if you asked her for the homework answers but would still hand you the completed worksheet. In fact, one of her friends asks her to look after the girl she’s babysitting in order to go and see her boyfriend – after much back and forth, eventually Laurie agrees to. A typical character of the time, a lovely girl who no one expects bad things to happen to.

From the moment Myers first stabs Laurie’s shoulder, there is a hint of what Laurie could be, the strength she has inside. She smashes a window open in order to escape, she makes sure the children are safe by keeping them upstairs away from the chaos and she stabs Myers in the neck with a knitting needle, with the aim of killing him. However, with knowing that Myers’ doctor, Dr Loomis, is out there looking for him there is a sense of waiting. Waiting for the heroine to be rescued from the big bad wolf.

After the infamous closet scene, where Laurie stabs Myers in the eye and then promptly stabs his chest with his own dropped knife, she begins to slip back into her exhaustion. Myers rises behind her and strangles her, taking advantage of her state of near unconsciousness. Though she puts up a good fight, it’s not until Loomis appears and shoots Myers that he stops. After falling from the balcony and after being shot and stabbed multiple times, Myers still finds the energy to get up and slip away. Laurie sobs, knowing the fight isn’t over, knowing that he’s still alive – and that is the final shot of Laurie Strode in 1978.

Though Myers kills others in this film, there’s a disturbed intent on killing Laurie. Even after she believes she’s killed him (twice), instead of disappearing as he does after he’s been shot, Myers immediately attempts to kill her again. It’s as if he can’t rest until he’s finally killed her, which he attempts to do again, forty years later.

Laurie’s Return

Halloween (Official Trailer) – (Universal Pictures)

Laurie Strode in 2018 is a stranger to Laurie Strode in 1978. Her hair is still wild, but white, her smile is gone and she is hardened by the events that have happened to her in the past. She has weapons in her house and she’s been training forty years for Myers’ reappearance. Gone is the naivety, her underlining strength becoming the forefront of her very self. Though she has mental health issues, having a panic attack at her daughter’s house, it doesn’t deter Laurie for she has more than just herself to fight for – she’s fighting for her estranged daughter Karen and for her granddaughter Allyson.

Though Laurie is hell bent on destroying Myers once and for all, she also understands the importance of keeping her family safe, just as she understood the importance of keeping those children safe all those years ago.

In the final scene of the more recent Halloween film, Laurie (with the help of her family) traps Myers in a safe room as it fills with gas. She lights a flare and tosses it into the room, setting it and the rest of the house aflame. It’s redemptive – she doesn’t sob with fear, nor is there a hint that Michael is still alive. She works together with her family, her courage coming from them as well as from herself. The three women embrace as they’re taken to safety, relieved that a forty-year nightmare is finally over – and that is the final shot of the film and of Laurie Strode.

Though the 2018 film may have had more of an impact on Halloween’s progression had there not been many more films in the franchise, it is hard to deny to the impact the films have had on horror lore as a whole. Laurie Strode defines those films just as much as Michael Myers. Her evolution from sweetheart to conqueror is just as vital and iconic as the William Shatner mask.

Editorials

Who Will Be The Next Batman?

February 18, 2019

With the news that Ben Affleck will no longer be playing Batman who will take on perhaps the most coveted superhero role in all of Hollywood?

Affleck calls time on Batman

There have been rumours about Ben Affleck quitting as Batman almost since he got the part. Many fans were against his initial casting although lots did come round to his performance. Behind the scenes problems on the Justice League film and a new director being brought in (despite talk of Affleck directing the next one) have been fuelling the rumours for a long time. The new director, Matt Reeves, has stated that the next film will be a noir Batman film and with this new direction it’s not surprising there will be a new Caped Crusader if for no other reason then a new director will like a blank slate.

Justice League (https://images.dawn.com)

Where will this new Batman film fit in with DCEU? Batman was one of the crucial members of Justice League, will he be so in the future? He is arguably the most interesting of all DC characters and making him part of a team is difficult. Since Tim Burton’s Batman films, the character of Batman has been very dark, a loner and certainly to many people, not a hero. It’s said the new film will feature a lot of Batman being a detective which seems a departure from Affleck’s Batman whose gadgets and strengths were dialled up to eleven so he could compete with incredibly powerful characters like Superman. So will the huge Batsuit from Batman Vs Superman and the almost psychotic level of violence be replaced by a deerstalker hat and a magnifying glass? We’ll just have to wait and see what Matt Reeves has in store for us.

The front runners

But who will play this “detective” Batman? First things first, the role of Batman has been somewhat of a poisoned chalice and really the only actor to walk away with their career intact and reputation enhanced was Christian Bale (we’ll have to see how Affleck handles it). That said two names seem to be coming up a lot are Robert Pattinson and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Robert Pattinson (dailytimes.com)

Pattinson has worked hard to not just be “that guy from Twilight” taking parts in heavyweight dramas and odd indie films like Cosmopolis, Rover and The Lost City of Z. And while he has shown himself to be an actor with depth and range the “Twilight” label is hard to shake. Of course, being the co-star of a huge franchise with millions of fans might be seen as a good thing.

Jake Gyllenhaal (yahoo.com)

Gyllenhaal is an immensely talented actor who recently seems to be more interested in taking on peculiar roles and very intense characters and actually seems to be moving away from the classic leading actor trajectory his career seemed to be on at first. Still, these days playing Batman and being a serious actor are not mutually exclusive and a new take on the character could interest someone like Gyllenhaal.

My Contenders

Personally, between Pattinson and Gyllenhaal I would prefer the latter but if I were Matt Reeves there would be two options – Oscar Isaac and Michael B. Jordan. Both actors are extremely talented and very popular right now, Isaacs is one of the central characters in the new Star Wars films and Michael B. Jordan is coming off a hugely successful run of films like Creed and more importantly Black Panther. In my opinion Jordan was the best thing in Black Panther, in fact, so much so that it was to the detriment of the movie overall. Jordan was so charismatic as Erik Killmonger (and in many ways very sympathetic) that I think it was actually harmed the film – he was a bad guy who you liked more than than the hero. Casting Isaac or Jordan would be doing something new with the Bruce Wayne/Batman character and perhaps give a new spin on their history and what they’re trying to achieve.

My dream pick for Batman…

Those two actors are my sensible choices, people I think would do well, be successful and make the fans happy. I do, however, have a dream Batman film which would essentially be a movie of The Dark Knight Returns – one of the essential Batman comic book stories. Ideas from this story have been used in The Dark Knight Rises and Batman Vs Superman but it is definitely deserving of a complete adaptation. In this story, Batman has been retired for years and struggling to deal with this life so eventually comes out of retirement. An older actor would be needed to play this part and I think Jon Hamm would be perfect. Best known as Don Draper in Mad Men, Hamm is a brilliant actor who could play the “old money” Bruce Wayne and has the all important strong jawline to be Batman.

Jon Hamm (newyorker.com)

These days playing a superhero is your ticket to Hollywood superstardom. Chris Pratt went from the lovably goofy Andy in Parks and Recreation to megastar just by appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy. Competition will be fierce and I’m sure dozens of actors are hassling their agents, desperate to demonstrate their gravelly Batman voice for Matt Reeves..

Editorials

The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Two [James Bond]

February 13, 2019

“Bond. James Bond.”

Famous words so often uttered not long before a villainous henchman-dispatching, cat-stroking maniac on a mission is thwarted once again by Her Majesty’s greatest double-O agent…after a few vodka martinis have been downed, of course.

James Bond has become one of the enduring symbols of heroism in cinema since his first big screen incarnation in Dr. No in 1962. As England’s most potent agent of espionage with a “licence to kill”, Bond has consistently overcome a variety of foes (ranging from the unnervingly-plausible to the downright ridiculous) while being played by a variety of actors (ranging across the same sort of spectrum). Some of his opponents have been largely forgettable (remember the antagonist in Quantum of Solace?), while others have undeniably left their mark on the Bond franchise.

Continuing with our theme from last time, let’s take a look at two villains in the Daniel Craig era, one of whom was disappointing, and another who was surprisingly effective.

Part two: James Bond villains

Ernst Stavro Blofeld – late and not worth the wait

Christoph Waltz as Blofeld

When I first heard that Christoph Waltz was playing the primary antagonist in Spectre, the 2015 follow-up to Skyfall, I was thrilled. I love Christoph Waltz. He’s spectacularly villainous without really having to try. And I was even more intrigued about how he would portray a classic Bond baddie – Ernst Stavro Blofeld (the inspiration for Mike Myers’ Dr Evil, no less) – in the sequel to 2012’s Skyfall, which is by all accounts one of the best movies in the series. Sam Mendes was set to return to the helm, with another outing for Daniel Craig as 007 on the cards. It all sounded too good to be true.

And, alas, it was.

Spectre is a good Bond film, but it fails to hit the heights of its predecessor. And I believe the main reason for that unsatisfactory outcome was because of a misfire in the villain department.

Waltz is an Oscar-winning actor with incredible talent. His portrayal of Blofeld should have been scintillating, mesmerising, captivating…totally unforgettable and worthy of Bond himself. But it just wasn’t. Waltz’s considerable powers were horribly underused. His first real appearance in the film was hiked up and up and up, and while some of his lines were certainly chilling (“It was me James, it’s always been me – the author of all your pain”), he was easily beaten in the first instance, and easily captured by Bond in the second.

Having an actor like Christoph Waltz in your movie and simply not using him to anywhere near his full potential is the equivalent of getting behind the wheel of a Formula One car and driving it at 20mph to the shop for milk and teabags.

Yes, he’ll be back of course, but for a villain who essentially orchestrated every negative experience for Craig’s Bond since Casino Royale, Waltz’s Blofield was woefully underwhelming when he finally stepped out of the shadows.

Raoul Silva – a fitting nemesis

Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva

Skyfall was a far superior Bond movie to Spectre, and a significant aspect of what made it great was its antagonist – Raoul Silva.

Played by the always-brilliant Javier Bardem, Silva was a disillusioned former MI6 agent with a penchant for cyberterrorism and an unwavering desire to get revenge on Judi Dench’s ‘M’, with whom Bond had a love-hate, quasi mother-son relationship since well before the Daniel Craig era. Silva blames M for disavowing him to the Chinese government and will stop at nothing to kill her.

Like Christoph Waltz, Javier Bardem is fantastic at embodying pure evil in his portrayal of a villain (think Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men) and really makes the character he takes on his own. Silva is wonderfully weird, irreverent and, at times, actually quite funny, all the while poised on the cusp of maniacal wickedness. He’s an actor from whom you can’t look away when he’s on screen, and as a Bond villain, he achieves something very few manage to do – he matches 007.

The bottom line

In pretty much every respect, Bardem succeeds where Waltz fails. Or rather, Sam Mendes unlocks the potential of the former and leaves the latter largely dormant. I’m a huge fan of both actors and was so disappointed to see how bland and two-dimensional Waltz was in Spectre, especially after Mendes had so successfully tapped into Bardem’s ability in Skyfall.

In the final instalment of this little series on villains, we’ll take a look at Marvel and discuss which Big Bad was exactly what we hoped for, and which one should have been left on the shelf at the comic-book store.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part One [Harry Potter]

Editorials

My Journey From The UK To Bombay

February 12, 2019
Anisa and Shuja Ali

Although I grew up watching Bollywood films, (some prefer to stick to saying Hindi cinema) I am not sure if the realistic me thought that I would ever go out there and work in the industry. During university, I auditioned for a feature film to be shot in India, and to my surprise was selected and flew to Mumbai for a look test (screen test). This lead to a three-month workshop process, but unfortunately, due to differences in opinion between producer/director, a couple of us did not get to do the film in the end. Though this was heart-wrenchingly awful for me at the time, I realised this was just the beginning of a new journey, which would later show me, in India, anything is possible.

A changing Bollywood

I was recently featured in Anita Rani’s BBC 2 documentary titled “Bollywood, The World’s Biggest Film Industry“, we had a very candid chat talking about politics, culture, and sexism. The Indian film industry is the largest in the world and attracts thousands of people to the city of Mumbai every year – not only from smaller towns around India but from all over the world. Mumbai, at present, is more cosmopolitan than its ever been before. And with distribution channels like Netflix and Amazon now running, they’re also creating original Hindi content shows for audiences around the world. This surge is helping bridge the gap between the west and east. On a more positive note, we are also seeing more emerging actors on film. This is definitely refreshing. a major difference I noticed six years go in India, was that this did not exist as it does today. Fast forward to 2019 and the game is changing.

Anisa in BBC Documentary “Bollywood: The World’s Biggest Film Industry” (Instagram)

What’s the difference

As an outsider and an actor born and raised in the UK, there are definitely differences I recognised then, which still exist now. The positive being that web-based platforms are allowing new talent to come through, in what most definitely is an industry based on nepotism. I am super stoked that I have had opportunities that maybe wouldn’t have been possible when I first went out there, as well as seeing fellow actor friends thrive as they have never before.

Nonetheless, there are a few observations I have made, which I argue is still lacking in the Hindi film industry. The major one for me is work ethic. Through education in the UK and the work I have done professionally, be it on stage, or short films, I can definitely say the work ethic has been fantastic. There is a respect for all levels of cast and crew and no differentiation of treatment between actors, that I have noticed.

In India, the A-list actors are definitely treated in a different capacity to the crew and extras. Extras are often never paid and are sold the opportunity based on it being be part of a big budget Bollywood film. The concept of minimum wage, or specific unions such as Spotlight, do not really exist [in the way it does in the UK]. There are a few unions, however, if mistreatment has happened on a production, or a production pulls you out after you signing contracts, I haven’t seen any of the unions being able to take any stand.

Punctuality is also an issue within the film industry in India. Things rarely happen on time. I have been blessed to work with bigger productions like Dharma Productions and Excel Entertainment, who have definitely set better examples of this, which is encouraging. I do think there is still much room for greater improvement.

Anisa (on the far left) at the film premiere of Netflix’s Brahman Naman

Working with talent agents

Another difference which still exists is the formality of both industries. In the UK, it is somewhat impossible to hear about great auditioning opportunities unless you are with an agent. I struggled with this when I immediately graduated from university (studying Drama) because I did not attend a drama school. Presently, I feel due to the increase of management companies in the UK, there is a greater chance today to be able to get with an agent. The top 5 agency’s in the UK are still very difficult to get into, unless you’re a big name or cast in something great. I find it can be a vicious circle. As a new actor you want experience and of course you want to be cast ultimately. In order to get this however, you need an agent, yet the best agents want you to have had that experience. Tricky tricky!

In India, the concept of having an acting agent is fairly new. There are many more personal managers who tend to handle celebrities and make sure they accompany them on their shoots. Casting coordinators play a bigger role in the Hindi film industry. They take a commission cut for any audition you get through them, similar to how agents work in the UK.

What’s being made

Last but not least, I feel another major difference is the type of content being made, and hence the demand on the artist is different. Bollywood is known for creating fantasy worlds of escapism, with beautiful costumes, sets, music, and dance.
Though the industry is changing, and we now see more writers and directors emerging with their own styles. There are also more indie films being made for festivals, but the commercial popcorn cinema (as some call it) is still very much existent though. These are the kind of films the masses in India want to see.
For the commercial films, the typical model-like features of being tall, with a great figure is essentially what is in demand. The actor is seen as a product, and though this is of course true worldwide, there is definitely less demand on being physically “perfect” in the UK. One may argue Hollywood and Bollywood both, for commercial films, do demand a lot more “perfection” from actors in terms of how they look. The male actors, normally have a ripped physique and are required to have some basic dance skills. Though this was what was dominating at one time, the surge of young fresh actors, not always linked to film lineage, has meant we are now diverting our attention more to the craft than the actor’s body. Again, I think we have a long way to go, but the small changes are an indication of what is to come, and I am happy to see this.

I hope this article was able to shed some light on the differences of working as an actor in the UK and India. There is definitely no formula or guarantees for success. I believe hard work and perseverance is the ultimate characteristics to have, and the focus to keep getting better at the thing you love to do. I could have gone on and on about more intricate differences, but then I think I could write a book on this one day. Till then, I hope I was able to share a peak of life between both places. They’re both incredible and fascinating, and both have so much to offer in their unique ways. I am blessed to be able to work in both places.

Editorials

Well I Didn’t Vote For You – Fictional Leaders In Films

February 10, 2019

Whether good or bad, competent or useless, noble or corrupt what do fictional politicians tell us about how we view politics?

Christian Bale has a history of dramatic physical transformations for roles and his latest performance as former American Vice-President Dick Cheney in Vice is one of his best as he is almost unrecognisable. Gone is the chiselled physique of a man who once portrayed Batman replaced by a great deal of weight and a lot less hair. A lot of films have been made about real presidents but they have to contend with things like facts, what about fictional leaders who can be as brave, unhinged or greedy as you like?

Politician Type One – The Action Hero

Since the 90s it is seemingly not enough for a president to be an intelligent and honest public servant – they have to kick ass too. Past presidents may have sufficed in giving the motivational speech but Thomas J. Whitmore (Bull Pullman in Independence Day) got very much involved in fighting aliens. Oddly enough at the beginning of the film it seems his presidency is not going well so maybe this alien invasion worked out well for him. I haven’t seen the sequel so have no knowledge of his future political career.

Air Force One (IMDb)

It’s a mystery why President James Marshall (Harrison Ford in Air Force One) even needs Secret Service protection as he’s clearly perfectly capable of looking after himself. Marshall pursued an aggressive interventionist foreign policy which mirrored his aggressive killing-terrorists-trying-to-kill-him-and-his-family policy.

So popular is this trope of the action hero president two films came out at roughly the same time with the same plot – narrative twins White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen saw Jamie Foxx and Aaron Eckhart trying to save their presidential lives while the White House is attacked. Admittedly each film has a separate action hero star that takes charge of most of the fighting but each president has their moments.

Politician Type Two – The Incompetent

Being a world leader is hard. Really, really hard. And that’s at the best of times but films don’t get made about the best of times, they are made about things like alien invasions, nuclear Armageddon or a collapsing civilisation brought about by rampant stupidity. President James Dale (Jack Nicholson, Mars Attacks!) is a man not up to the job of handling first contact with Martians, constantly asking for advice from similarly incompetent advisors (and wife) and virtually giving up when things get tough, with his primary concern being about approval ratings rather than, you know, stopping the alien invasion. He even manages to mess up his last-minute saving the world speech.

Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove) was given a tough time by a rogue general who under his own authority launches a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union but he perfectly satirised the insanity of Cold War brinkmanship. No matter how close the end of the world was the East vs West paradigm continued with advisors shouting about the best way to “win” the battle for control over their radiation poisoned world.

Idiocracy (fictionbrands.org)

Perhaps my favourite fictional president is the wonderfully named Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews, Idiocracy). He is a flamboyant and extravagant man which is to be expected of a former professional wrestler and porn star. He runs a future America where stupidity is destroying pretty much everything and Luke Wilson’s “average” intelligence character is the smartest man in the world. At least Camacho had the sense to spot good talent.

Politician Type Three – The Tyrant

The incompetent leaders are usually found in comedies and many of them ones are at least trying to do a good job and help people. But there are also tyrants – the people who have seized power and will not give it up. President Snow (Donald Sutherland,,The Hunger Games) is an expert manipulator of the population using both fear and hope to control people. Dapper, polite and rather presidential-looking at first glance he may have appeared a perfectly good leader but very quickly his brutality and cruelty are laid bare.

V for Vendetta (onemovieavenue.com)

British politicians are certainly rarer in films than their American counterparts but they have a tyrant of their own – Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt, V For Vendetta); an angry shouting tyrant constantly having himself projected onto huge screens and raging about all the people he doesn’t like which even includes Stephen Fry. The final reveal of what Sutler is really like when things get difficult is very satisfying.

What does this mean for “real” leaders?

So we have three different tropes of politicians in films (and there are many more) but what does this tell us about how we see politicians? The Tyrants obviously exist to show us what could go wrong, indeed V For Vendetta has several sequences taking us step-by-step through the process.

The Incompetents are an important satirical part of culture and it is crucial to be able to laugh at politicians and people in power and be aware that they too panic, get overwhelmed and do stupid things. Looking at three leaders I’ve mentioned each speaks to their time – in 1990s people thought everything became style over substance, in the 1960s it did seem like the world could be destroyed at any moment by arrogant politicians and in the early 2000s people were worried about the “dumbing down” of society.

The Action Heroes are certainly an odd cultural item as most real life politicians are not going to be very good in a fight (with the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt who once delivered an 84 minute speech after getting shot in the chest). They tend to be older people who have spent more time in boring budget meetings than in highly choreographed gun battles. I think it is that politics is rarely obviously heroic – there is a lot of compromise, a need to understand very complicated issues where there is no easy answer, a requirement to listen to committees and opponents and judges instead of doing what you want. On the other hand if terrorists take over Air Force One and are trying to kill you then it’s very easy to get behind your hero president throwing people off his plane.



Editorials

How Cinema Attendance Hit Record Levels In 2018

February 7, 2019

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

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

UK Cinema Admissions (UK Cinema Association)

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

1970: Starting to decline

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

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

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

The biggest UK film hits in 2018

2018: What has changed?

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

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

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

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

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

A long way to go

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


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

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

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

What now?

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