Category: Editorials

Editorials

Top 5 Movies That Don’t Need a Sequel, Reboot or Remake

October 17, 2018

In the age of franchises and name recognition, every day another sequel, remake or reboot seems to be announced. From cinematic royalty like A Star is Born to the obscure reaches of Maniac Cop, no brand is too high or low profile to be used to get bums in seats on opening night. Not that all these films are bad. Blade Runner 2049, Creed, Star Wars VII & VIII, the retellings of A Star is Born and Stephen Kings IT and even soft reboots like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, prove there is still room for new artists to put their spin on other stories. However, some upcoming film updates just seem like a bad idea. And I’m going to list 5 movies that, in my opinion, do not need to be updated in any way.

Before we begin I’d like to clarify three things. Firstly, with so many updates coming, it would be easy to just list movies within a certain category or genre and call it a day e.g. the Disney live-action remakes. So, to keep this list interesting I will limit myself to one entry per genre and they will be presented in no particular order. Secondly, just because I express trepidation in this list I do not automatically think these upcoming movies will be bad. Like any film goer I love being surprised and if any of these movies turn out to be great I will gladly retract my words. This is merely a speculative piece, using available information to inform my reactions. Finally, this list is just my opinion. If you disagree with me, that is fine. But let’s keep this civil and constructive. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

1) Halloween (Horror): By the time you read this article the new Halloween movie will already have hit theatres and the horror community is alight with anticipation. The problem is, Halloween is a movie that never needed a sequel. Like it’s contemporaries, the original Black Christmas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween thrived on using the unknown to terrify audiences. Michael Myers was scary in the original film because there was no explanation for his murderous rampage. He stalked and killed those he came across, for no reason. The problem is that many of the sequels and reboots focus too much on giving Michael a motive for his actions. The new movie brings back Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode and retcons Halloween 2’s (1981) revelation that she is Michael’s sister. While Laurie Strode is the quintessential final girl, and it’s nice to see Jamie Lee Curtis return to the franchise, the revenge motive still gives too much reason for Michael to be around. And this retreads the themes already explored in Halloween H20: 20 years later. Making the film seem like an uninspired cash grab that does not understand what made the original great. Not saying that the new film won’t be entertaining. But, for the scariest Halloween experience, watch the first movie as a standalone. You will never feel safe going out on Halloween night again.

Halloween Opening  (IMDb)

2) The Lego Movie (Children’s Animation): The Lego movie is a victim of its own success. When it came out in 2014 it was a breath of fresh air. A Lego branded kids movie that was not a low effort to scrape money from brand recognition. Instead, it was a smart satire on consumer culture, fandom, and genre tropes while also being an entertaining and heart-warming action film that was suitable for all audiences. Since then the spinoffs prove that the Lego movie formula really was lightning in a bottle. With the new films not understanding the essential ingredients. Continually trading on brand recognition and glib self-referential dialogue without the interesting characters, social commentary or sense of pathos that made the Lego movie great. So now they have decided to continue the Lego movie with a direct sequel. But the Lego movie worked better as a self-contained narrative. It told its story in a way that felt conclusive and this made the film unique. Therefore a continuation of a story that has already told everything it needed to, is sure to become tedious fast. Which is a sad state of affairs for arguably the best-animated movie of the decade.

The cast of the lego movie (IMDb)

3) The Crow (Comic Book Action): The crow is a rare beast. Not only a good action film in its own right, but it also stands as a memorial to lead actor Brandon Lee, who died in an on-set accident during filming. With that history behind it, continuing or retelling the story is both futile and in poor taste. As proven by the low effort sequels. No one will top what director Alex Proyas and star Brandon Lee did in adapting the crow. So doing a crow movie at this point is only being done to exploit the fondness a whole generation has for the movie and the source material. Other movies on this list have the potential to, at least, entertain audiences, but this is one property that won’t work with anyone else. So, stop trying to make it happen.

The crow poster (IMDb)

4) West Side Story (Musical): In today’s climate of racial tensions, constant violence and the degradation of the younger generation, it is understandable why West Side Story would be remade. It is a film that perfectly fits into modern times. It addresses all the above issues in an entertaining and thought-provoking way. But the original film still exists. And is not only a classic, which deals with the aforementioned topics in ways that are as heavy as they need to be without becoming preachy, but includes performances, songs, and scenes that have passed into film legend. So why remake it? It smacks of the same logic that brought us the Psycho remake. A movie made solely to remind you of how great and ahead of its time the original was. With Steven Spielberg as director, the film will be technically flawless. But this seems like a waste of his talents. Especially when he could be creating the next underappreciated Oscar gem or the next generations childhood touchstone.

The sharks and jets (IMDb)

5) Avatar (Science Fiction): Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation). Its imagery was beautiful, its production technology revolutionary and blockbuster cinema to this day owes a lot to it. But once you get past the technical aspects, Avatar is kind of boring. It tells the same story we have all heard a thousand times before about not judging and the destructive powers of colonialism with no nuance or subtlety. Its characters are all broad archetypes buoyed by Sam Worthington’s boring performance. And its mammoth runtime makes getting through it a chore because it stretches its runtime to show us visually pleasing but thematically irrelevant spectacles rather than trying to engage us through relatable characters or unique storytelling. And the prospect of watching more movies with these flat characters, when the original’s plot was stretched beyond breaking point, does not excite me. No matter how beautiful the visuals are.

The classic Avatar poster (IMDb)

Thus, concludes my list of remakes, reboots, and sequels that do not need to happen. But I would like to know what you guys think. Are there any upcoming or hypothetical continuations to movies you do not want to see? Do you agree or disagree with any of the choices on my list? Then please let me know and let’s get a discussion going. And while all these movies are on a negative list, like I said at the beginning I always hope to be proven wrong. So here’s to hoping that these updates do just that.

Editorials

Unsane and the iPhone Revolution

September 4, 2018

Steven Soderbergh (Director of Traffic, Ocean’s 11,12,13, and Magic Mike) won an Oscar for Traffic in the year 2000. Recently the Academy Award rated Best Director decided to make a new movie. It’s called Unsane. Genre wise this is a bit of a thriller and stars Claire Foy who won a Golden Globe for Best Actress with her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the 2016 Nextflix show; The Crown. Back to Unsane; where Claire plays the main protagonist (Sawyer Valentini) who gets committed to a mental institute. This is full-blown spoiler territory now so I’ll stop here, but to be fair, the title is a dead giveaway and did I mention this movie was filmed on an iPhone?

Why would an A-List Hollywood Director, film a movie on an iPhone? Well because Steven Soderbergh (SD) is not your typical A-Lister. In an interview with Hey U Guys Steven Soderberg said it was a creative choice, as he saw the iPhone 7Plus as being a small capture device which gave him a flexibility he couldn’t get from a bigger device.

It seems the iPhone was instrumental in pulling off certain shots in this movie. So instrumental, that Soderberg also said he’d use the device again in the future! Well if It’s good enough for him, it must be good enough for us, right?

iPhone vs Arri

So now that we’ve realised we have a Hollywood capable film camera in our possession right now, it kind of begs the question: What do we actually need from a movie-making machine and what’s the difference between the iPhone and a proper film camera? There are actually many things to consider when choosing your capture device for video production: resolution, frame rates, audio bit-rate, sensor, lenses, how the camera reacts to light.

At the time of writing, a popular film camera used in Holywood is the Arri Alexa. This camera could be considered an Indusrty Standard and has been used to film movies like The Avengers, Drive and a million other huge titles. Let’s take a brief look at how that compares to the iPhone used to film Unsane.

iPhone 7Plus Vs Arri Alexa
Resolution: 4K (30 fps)  Vs 2K (60 fps)
Frame Rates: Up to 60 fps Vs Up to 120 fps
Audio: 44.1KHz Vs 48 KHz

Potato Jet did a video review which shows that although the iPhone can produce good pictures, it really doesn’t compare to the might of the Alexa. You’ll lose something in terms of quality, but then you’ll gain in terms of mobility and It’ll be great for your budget.

iQuality

With filmmaking being an art, it’s always difficult to debate whether the increasing pixel count of the new technically superior digital cameras are actually producing better images than those of analogue film cameras. Does sharper and more crystal clear actually mean the story will look better? We’ve gone from grainy black and white pictures, to full-colour Standard Definition, all the way up to 4K and beyond. But someone out there will tell you they prefer the way a vintage Alfred Hitchcock movie filmed on a Mitchell BNC looks, compared to the sharp and polished 4K look you get from a modern Red One.

iMovies

Rage (2009) may have been the first major theatrical release shot on smartphones and there’s been a number of notable smartphone movies since. #STARVECROW is the world’s first selfie movie and Tangerine was filmed completely on the iPhone 5s. This iMovement has picked up pace since it’s inception in 2010 and now the iPhone Film Festival judges received over 2000 submissions in 2017. IndieWire has some interesting movies in their iMovement list if you want to find out more about this sub-culture.

iGear

Dougal Shaw (Senior Video Journalist at the BBC) decided to delve into iPhone videography himself and his kit list included the following: iPhone 6S Plus, Filmic Pro App, some sort of rig to stabilize the phone, a collection of lenses, a tripod, a microphone and a computer with video editing software. All of this is so much cheaper than getting a pro Arri Alexa setup!

iMoney

The fact that Steven Soderbergh did shoot a movie on an iPhone, is proof that you don’t need a huge budget to film a movie. Having said that, there’s a lot more involved in shooting a movie then just having a camera and pressing record. Also, the budget for Unsane was pretty low for a Hollywood movie, at $1.5m. But that’s astronomical in terms of a low budget indie production. Unsane only made $10.7m in the Box office, which is Soderberg’s lowest grossing movie by far. I wonder if a better camera would have equated to better box office sales?

iDirector

If iPhone’s are so great, do you need to bother buying a camcorder or DSLR? This is where personal preference comes in. Me personally I know how things can go wrong with technological devices and I prefer to have separate bits to do specific jobs. The thing is sometimes we’re short on space (so we buy a printer and scanner 2 in 1). Sometimes we’re short on budget (so I bought an all-rounder DSLR instead of a camera excellent at taking stills and a separate video camera). Using your iPhone all day to film movies will drain your battery and constant charging will shorten the lifespan. Steven Soderbergh has years of experience, a team of professionals and a million dollar budget. His iPhone movie would be awesome but I doubt you could get the same results. If you’re asking me could I film a movie on an iPhone? The answer is yes. Would I? No. But Steven Soderberg did.

Check out the trailer for Unsane. The full movie is available to purchase on Youtube now.

Editorials

Understanding Violence in Film

August 22, 2018

“He’s just eaten that dog, hasn’t he?”

My child’s reaction to her first viewing of Jurassic Park 2, when the T-Rex has a kennel hanging out of its mouth, and my first foray into dealing with violence in a film which I definitely should not have let my 3-year-old watch. That particular film was rated PG – parental guidance – but I was looking at it through the rose-tinted haze of nostalgia, not the more sensible reasoning that live-action, carnivorous dinosaurs might not be the best viewing for my pre-schooler.

This particular incident didn’t have any long-term damage, as far as I can tell, there were no nightmares and she still says her favourite dinosaur is a T-Rex. But what of the claims that violence in films and television is having a detrimental effect on young people who are ignoring the age rating and watching? Can on-screen violence lead to deviant behaviour in the real world?

In Britain, film classification is decided by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). During this process, several factors are taken into account such as discrimination, imitable behaviour, language, drugs, nudity, sex, sexual violence, theme and violence. However, public opinion is also taken into consideration and, as this changes, so does the classification of certain films. This means that as certain topics become less of a taboo, then they are less likely to shock audiences and so require a less severe age rating. However, the group is aware that younger audiences are more likely to watch age-inappropriate movies at home when they are released on DVD or streaming services. They provide descriptions of the issues found in films in a bid to educate people before watching.

So what is meant by “violent imagery”? When classifying a film, the BBFC lists the following as issues which will be put a production into a higher categorisation:

  • the portrayal of violence as a normal solution to problems
  • heroes who inflict pain and injury
  • callousness towards victims
  • the encouragement of aggressive attitudes
  • characters taking pleasure in pain or humiliation
  • the glorification or glamorisation of violence

If films are seen to pose a risk to audiences they can be asked to cut certain parts out or, in some cases, be refused classification.

Although it is clear that extremely distressing scenes could pose a risk to audiences, particularly to those too young to fully grasp the context within which the violence is set, can individual acts of violence be directly attributed to movies?

In 1993, movie violence and its potential impact on young audiences were highlighted in the James Bulger murder trial. Initially, the Judge, Mr Justice Morland, claimed that exposure to violent videos might have encouraged the actions of the two 11-year-old killers. The film in question was Child’s Play 3. As a result of its link to the trial, the title was withdrawn from shelves and removed from television schedules at the time. Police refuted any link between the film and the actions of the two boys. But this isn’t the first and only time that connections have been made between violence on screen having a direct link with violent actions.

In a study conducted by Dr Nelly Alia-Klein of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, and posted in the science journal PLOS ONE, it was found that watching violent images does make people more aggressive – but only if they are of a violent disposition, to begin with. The study focused on two groups of men – one group was inherently more aggressive with some having a history of physical assault, while the other group was much calmer. When shown the violent imagery, the group that was predisposed to aggression showed less activity in the area of the brain which controls emotional reactions to situations; basically, they were showing signs of less self-control. However, aggression is a trait that develops from childhood so if media does have an impact on people then this is something that is part of their nature from a young age rather than suddenly being impacted by what they see on screen.
So what about the filmmakers themselves? Should they take more responsibility for what is shown to audiences or should they be allowed to produce whatever they want in the name of “creative license”? Quentin Tarantino has been described as one of the most violent filmmakers of this time and he is unapologetic about this. Tarantino does not see himself as responsible for the actions of those who watch his movies and sees screen violence and violence in reality as two separate entities. In films such as Django Unchained, Tarantino argues that he is showing the brutality of reality at the time, something which he feels people need to be aware of. The same argument could be applied to 12 Years a Slave. Tarantino mentions that in his films the victim often becomes the victor. But it is argued that, where a character’s use of excessive violence is seen as a positive thing, this can create negative role models for young people. Rambo, Terminator, the list goes on. The characters are predominantly male and this type of role model can only feed into toxic masculinity which makes boys and men feel that violence and aggression are the only acceptable ways of expressing themselves.
But is all violence the same? In a word, no. Let’s face it, animated characters fighting one another is never going to compare to that head popping scene in Game of Thrones (I can still hear it sometimes!) but the animated violence is still going to have some sort of impact on younger audiences. The important thing is to educate younger audiences about violence in films and their own emotional intelligence to deal with what they see. This is difficult in a world which is becoming more and more desensitised to images due to things being shared constantly via social media and children now having easier access to things they should not be viewing at a young age.
The most important thing we can do to educate audiences is to talk about the issues. Focusing on media literacy in schools is a massive step in helping make topics less frightening. Being aware of fake news is something that children need to learn and it’s surprising, as a teacher myself, how many false ideas students believe to be true because of what they have heard or read in the media. My daughter recently asked why a man had put a bomb on the tube in London. A question which caught me very much off guard but my job was to answer her in a way that wouldn’t frighten her.
We can shield our children as best we can but banning these things is not really the answer – this often gives a violent film cult status. We just need to answer their questions and educate ourselves. Or, as the Index on Censorship puts it; “tackle actual violence, not ideas and opinions.”  Maybe just keep the 18 films on the shelves that are out of reach too!
Editorials

Hollywood & The Military: A Special Relationship

August 14, 2018
Independence Day - Will Smith & Jeff Goldblum

What do the headquarters for the United States Department of Defence and Shia LaBeouf have in common?

Not a great deal actually apart from the fact that the above-mentioned department, also known as The Pentagon, worked closely with Michael Bay on 2007’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which LaBeouf also starred in. The term “worked closely” might be a slight understatement as, in exchange for the use of military grade weapons and real personnel as extras, the Pentagon had a huge influence on the final script.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the Pentagon and US Military have been backing productions since the beginning of Hollywood itself. The very first Academy Award in 1929 was won by Wings, a movie heavily supported by the Pentagon. But is this influence a positive one? Despite the fact that production companies are paying for the use of military equipment and locations, the Pentagon still gets the final say on which films get the go-ahead. Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, unsurprisingly, did not get Pentagon approval. Perhaps they had an issue with the General’s “unorthodox” way of getting a nuclear attack organised!

When you consider that military provisions are technically “owned” by the tax-paying public, surely the military should not get this level of control and a degree of impartiality should remain?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In David Robb’s book Operation Hollywood he highlights both the humorous and disturbing elements of the military’s special interest within the film industry. One such instance is the nationality of an Admiral in the James Bond Movie GoldenEye changing from American to Canadian because he was perceived as too incompetent. Laughable, right? However, this level of influence gets more sinister as Robb shows when he discusses the film Thirteen Days. This movie focused on the Cuban missile crisis but was rejected by the Pentagon due to its depiction of Generals being in favour of invading Cuba. The issue? This depiction was based on actual taped discussions from within the White House at the time. In this instance, the director, Kevin Costner, refused to make the changes but it is frightening to consider how many directors have accepted the Pentagon’s ‘revised’ version of events simply to get their movie made.

With the development of special effects, directors are not as reliant on the military backing as they used to be. Independence Day was denied Pentagon funding because Will Smith’s character was dating a stripper, something that was simply unacceptable for a member of the military (*cue eye rolls*) The production company’s response? They just did it themselves; technology had developed to such a point that the backing was not needed.

So what does the military get out of this financial backing of Hollywood blockbusters other than a mention in the end credits? It is said that recruitment in the Navy went up by 400% after the release of Top Gun (another backed film). Yet, now the films being given funding are largely aimed at children (Transformers, Iron Man and G.I Joe.) Is this an attempt to make war look fun? A new way of upping those recruitment figures? It is alarming and does not present the idea of special interest groups in a positive light.

Perhaps it is interesting to note the positive outcomes from the lack of involvement from a particular interest group. Gabriela Cowperthwaite intended to document why SeaWorld was so successful and how it kept families returning time and time again. However, when SeaWorld refused to be involved in her project so began their downfall as it led to her uncovering ‘the dark side of SeaWorld’ in the hugely successful 2013 documentary Blackfish. Many positive changes have occurred since the release, most recently top UK travel agent Thomas Cook have said they will no longer sell tickets to the park.

Of course, there can be positive outcomes from outside influences in the film industry. Slowly, but surely, there are more LGBTQ+ voices being heard in Hollywood, along with people of colour. Gay rights activist, Ronald Nyswaner wrote the 1993 film Philadelphia which was seen as groundbreaking at the time in its portrayal of the homophobia surrounding HIV/AIDS. Oprah Winfrey, who can be considered an institution in herself, became involved in the 2014 film Selma as producer and Ava DuVernay, a woman of colour, as director who had to allegedly rewrite 90% of Paul Webb’s original script.  Although these aren’t outside ‘groups’, their influence and experience had a positive impact on the productions.

Special interest groups tend to want a particular image to be projected, the military is an apt example of this. Unlike product placement which aims to reach new audiences but not necessarily influence their viewpoint, the involvement of special interest groups can have a suffocating effect on the creativity that the film industry should ultimately inspire. While the influence of activists and minority groups can definitely bring a positive contribution to a production, perhaps the military should stick to what it knows rather than wading into Hollywood. But don’t expect them to loan anyone their fighter planes!

Editorials

Time To Rethink The Box Office Film Charts?

August 8, 2018
Box Office - http://thetoweronline.com/

Last week news broke that the Andy Serkis directed Mowgli was acquired by Netflix and won’t see a large scale theatrical release and will be on the streaming platform in 2019 (not later this year as originally intended). This decision marks two important changes in the film industry: major film companies becoming more risk-averse with theatrical releases, and the ability for streaming services to now take on would-be “blockbuster” film releases.

Earlier this year Sci-Fi horror Annihilation suffered a similar fate, going directly to Netflix for its international release. And with 11 million viewers in its opening 3 days the Netflix original Bright, starring Will Smith, was a glimpse into what a big budget feature film can do while still being premiered on a streaming service. So, how does the rise in straight to Video-On-Demand platforms change how we should view the film charts? When can a VOD movie be considered a commercial success? And what does this mean for the film industry?

Where do they stand?

The basic cinema experience hasn’t changed in the last 100 years. Major film companies like Warner Bros & Paramount Pictures have primarily worked on the basis of a theatrical release of a film. This has meant we’ve had a fairly consistent measure of what the current popular films are as a measure of revenue generated at a cinema’s Box Office on any given week. For the UK cinema Box Office, this information has been collated by analytics company ComScore since 1991. Cinema admissions in the UK have remained fairly stagnant over the last 10 years, with most annual admissions in this timeframe being between 165 million – 170 million. Therefore the growth in domestic ticket revenue has been driven by higher ticket prices and premium cinematic formats such as IMAX & 3D cinema.

On the other hand, by the start of 2018 over 11 million households in the UK held a subscription to Netflix, Amazon or NOW TV, up 25% from the same period the year before. This represents just over 40% of UK households signing up for a Subscription Video-on-Demand service. More notably, streaming revenue is expected to overtake traditional Box Office revenue in the UK by 2020.

Gnarls Barkley (Danger Mouse & CeeLo Green)
Gnarls Barkley (Danger Mouse & Ceelo Green)

Although both industries have their differences, comparisons can be drawn from the music industry. A key watershed moment in the U.K music industry landscape was in 2004 when digital downloads were included in the charts, which saw Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” land the number 1 spot from digital downloads alone in 2006. 10 years after the introduction of digital downloads, the UK’s Official Charts Company incorporated streaming data into the charts for the first time in 2014. While the music industry has arguably had a tougher time monetizing its music and avoiding piracy, it has in recent years been more receptive in changing its measures of success to better reflect how people are consuming music. Although the Box Office remains the gold standard for measuring commercial success of a film, the growth of Netflix, Amazon Prime and others will surely begin to question how we measure success within the film industry.

A measure of success

As part of the eligibility criteria for feature-length films, both BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television Awards) & Oscars require films to have a commercial theatrical release, with films that have had their first exhibition on streaming platforms ineligible for consideration. Smaller, more niche film awards like the Streamys & The Webbys have emerged in an attempt to fill this void. This resistance of the ‘old guard’ to acknowledge new media is nothing new in arts and entertainment. The recent banning of Netflix at the Cannes Film Festival is further proof of this. Despite opposition, The Venice Film Festival is bucking the trend and will screen 6 Netflix films this year. Whilst it’s a risky move for the festival, ultimately it is one that would see it on the right side of history in years to come.

In a world shifting towards Netflix & Amazon, great talents within the filmmaking industry are still not properly being acknowledged for their work on those platforms. A large part of this issue is what our measure of a successful film is in this day and age, an intermediate solution might a secondary industry-recognised film chart based on streaming. Or maybe we should look into adopting a version of the music industry model?

In the immediate future expect the Box Office chart based on cinematic ticket sales to remain. However, in an industry where money talks this discussion will continue, particularly as the revenue and influence of subscription streaming platforms continue to grow. If the music industry has successfully amalgamated digital, streaming and physical retail sales into a chart to accurately reflect the most commercially successful films of the moment, surely the movie industry can too?

Editorials

The Ingredients Of A Cult Classic

July 27, 2018

Take a huge helping of interesting, often strange, characters. Add a dash of quotable dialogue and a sprinkle of marketable merchandise. Mix it all together with an audience dead set against the consumerism taking over Hollywood and you should have the makings of a cult classic. But is that really all you need to create a film which will be passed down through the generations? Films that can often spawn their own sub-cultures, festivals and even religions?

The Oxford Dictionary definition of a “cult classic” is; a film which has “enduring appeal to a relatively small audience” and exists outside of “mainstream” cinema. Cult films consist of an eclectic collection; there is no set genre which these wonders stem from.

During Hollywood’s formative years, there was not a great deal of opportunity for films to reach cult status with the quick turnover of productions. However, this began to change with the introduction of Midnight Movie screenings. These often featured films which were considered too shocking for mainstream audiences. “Freaks”, the 1932 MGM production, was one such controversial feature of the midnight screening.

However, the status of the cult film gained momentum with the development of distribution. Whereas before, low-budget, non-confirmative films had to rely on midnight screenings to reach viewers, home cinema allowed potential cult movies to reach a wider target audience. Television channels began to provide their own form of the “midnight movie”, showing films that didn’t cost a lot. (This is actually where I remember catching my first glimpse of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – a cult classic which is firmly cemented as one of my favourites!)

This access to films only increased with the creation of VHS. Now fans could pass on the treasures they had discovered to other, like-minded potential fans. If a movie had been banned then this only added fuel to the cult film fire. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange gained such notoriety when it was withdrawn, meaning that any rare copies of the film added a particular magic for the cult following it amassed.

Much like A Clockwork Orange, the success of the cult classic seems to lie in it having some sort of controversy attached to it. As previously mentioned, these films often appeal to a small, niche audience and tend to challenge the typical conventions instilled by Hollywood. Many productions have reached the dizzying heights of cult status due to their focus on extreme, and often taboo, subject matters. The aforementioned Clockwork Orange had such graphic depictions of violent acts that it was withdrawn in the UK for  27 years after comparisons were made in high profile crimes.

Another way that a film can become a cult classic is by being so bad that it’s good. Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room is one such offering- it has been described by critics as one of the worst films ever created.” As a result, it has gained a massive cult following. So much so, that another film was created just last year, The Disaster Artist, to celebrate just how bad it is!

But what of those hugely successful films which have followings around the world? The Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises have gargantuan fan bases and have stemmed a multitude of sub-cultures such as festivals, conventions and even theme parks. Do these productions warrant the title of cult classic? Or do they fall short somehow? And if so, why?

Perhaps it is because these films have become so commercialised that they cannot be given the title of cult classics. Those films deserving of the title do so because of the microcosm that is their fan base; that “have you heard of this film?” moment. Whether you have watched the big blockbusters or not, you’ve definitely heard of them which is not always the case with those movies that are deemed cult films.

Some critics argue that the term has lost its value with it now being attached to any production which seems to break away from convention or challenge the mainstream. But the real cult classics will stand the test of time; that’s what makes them a classic after all.

 

Editorials

Artificial Intelligence: The New Art of Storytelling?

July 10, 2018
Robot Writing

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication. It is how we handed down the ancient myths and legends and how lessons have always been taught. Before written words, stories were communicated through pictures or symbols. Stories help to stimulate our imaginations and, perhaps most importantly, build a relationship between the storyteller and their audience.

The same can be said for media texts; they are stories which the writers and directors feel need to be shared and they have particular ideas about how these tales should be told. These decisions are influenced by numerous factors including environment,  personal experience and emotional ties.

So is the emerging trend of using Artificial Intelligence (A.I) taking away the personal touch that writers, directors and editors bring to a production? Or is this simply the direction that the film industry is moving in and we just need to get on board or get left behind?

AI has been used in other areas aside from the film industry to help predict the success of a piece of work. Wattpad is an online program and app which currently has 65 million users worldwide. People are able to publish books via this website and it has seen some become bestselling authors. Sounds brilliant, but where does AI come into it? The website uses ‘plot-analysing software which is able to determine which subjects and content have previously been successful, profile audiences and basically create the perfect plot for a target audience -all a user has to do is write the book to fit.

One person who did just that is Beth Reekles, author of the highly successful book ‘The Kissing Booth’ which she published at just 15 years of age. In 2013 she sold the film rights to Netflix and it is now one of the streaming sites most popular searches.

Wattpad now has its sights set on the film industry with its additional creation, Wattpad studios, and aims to continue its successful use of artificial intelligence.

Jack Zhang’s company, Greenlight Essentials, uses a specially created algorithm to discover which plot will be successful based on existing lucrative productions.

Greenlight used this strategy to come up with a script for a new horror called “Impossible Things” – they made the trailer for just $30 and it accumulated 2.3 million views on YouTube. Needless to say, potential investors quickly showed an interest.

Surely though, this reliance on computers is sapping the feeling from the scripts being created? That’s one thing artificial intelligence is yet to master: emotional intelligence.

This possibility was tested when director Oscar Sharp and Ross Goodwin, a New York University AI researcher used a ‘recurrent neural network’ (that helpfully named itself Benjamin) to create a sci-fi script called Sunspring. The machine was fed scripts of existing sci-fi success stories including classics like Ghostbusters and more recent offerings such as Interstellar and created its own script in a similar way to predictive text on your smartphone. (The term “predictive” implies that creativity isn’t a crucial factor here!)

The result? A script that consisted of completed, coherent sentences individually yet, when these were put together, it all started to go a bit downhill! The film created looks professional and the actors played their parts well but these aspects had nothing to do with artificial intelligence, highlighting that human influence is surely a prerequisite of a successful production.

Zhang agrees and feels that the creativity is still the most vital aspect of storytelling stating; “If you give 50 screenwriters the same [plot] elements, they’ll still come up with 50 different screenplays.” This seems to be the crux of the issue; artificial intelligence can help in the creative process prior to production by looking at what elements have proved successful, although even that could take away from the next surprise hit.

I’m sure Zhang won’t mind me saying that he sums it up perfectly:  “[A.I] is like a compass, but someone still needs to sail.” Based on Sunspring, I don’t think scriptwriters have too many stormy seas to navigate just yet!

 

 

Editorials

Film Critics vs Film Audiences: What Happens When They Don’t Agree?

July 4, 2018
Movie Theatre

A trip to the cinema is a luxury these days what with having to arrange babysitters and, more often than not, prop my eyes open with matchsticks; so I need to know I’m going to relish the experience instead of wishing I’d stayed home in front of Netflix…again.

I’ve always sought out reviews of the latest releases to help me decide on what films are worth the immediacy that a trip to the cinema elicits and which films I can happily wait to arrive on my screen at home. Most recently, this was the case for John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place; the rave reviews did not disappoint.

But what happens when the film doesn’t live up to the hype?

Ari Aster’s film Hereditary received high praise when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this year, with many critics describing it as one of the most terrifying horrors of all time. It received an 89% rating from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, yet only 57% as an audience score with some calling it the worst film they had ever seen. The stark contrast in opinion is often difficult to fathom. Perhaps it is important to consider whether it is the film that is an issue here or those providing the reviews.

A recent study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism entitled Critic’s Choice? found that of the top 100 films of 2017 only 24% of the top critics, those featured in major publications, were female and 11.2% were from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. It is questionable whether a critic can give a true review of a film in which a multi-cultural audience can engage with if they themselves are analysing it through a narrow lens.

The Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences, the group which selects the Oscar nominations, has this year extended invites to 928 people in a bid to diversify their group of critics. Now, 38% of the Oscar’s governing body is made up of people of colour with 49% being female. Not a moment too soon considering there was talk of the event being boycotted due to its primarily white nominees in recent years.

The Time’s Up Now campaign recently posted on their Instagram; “When top critics deciding which movies are ‘good’ are overwhelmingly white and male, audiences aren’t getting the full picture….”  While it is vitally important for the issue of diversity in film to be addressed until it is no longer an issue, would film criticism be doing its job if it only talked about what was “good”?

Alissa Wilkinson, in her article for Vox, does not feel that it would be. She believes that critics are art makers in their own right stating, “the art a critic makes is a review or an essay, something that is less about “supporting” a movie and more about drawing on an individual’s experience with a film to make an argument about that movie. It includes evaluation of the film, but it also, done well, is a passionate argument for the importance of art itself.”

With the rise of social media and websites such as Rotten Tomatoes, anyone can now be a “critic” and due to the viral nature the internet, these are often the first reviews that potential audiences see. However, these people are often just criticising the films they have not enjoyed whereas a good film critic analyses and evaluates a film, discussing both the positives and negatives. Yes, it is influenced by their own experience but the majority of critics do their job for the love of film rather than just to say what they like or don’t like in the box office at that moment in time.

Critics can offer a unique interpretation of the films they review, as can audiences who also offer their opinions, however it is necessary to add diversity to those with the power to influence in order to provide audiences with a cacophony of voices to help form their own interpretation.

Editorials

Equal Writes: Why We Need More Female Writers

June 18, 2018

Diablo Cody. It was a name that first came to my attention when I was 17, sat in a cinema on an awkward double date, watching the opening credits of Juno. I didn’t consider the writer at that time but the character she created has stayed with me since and is one I return to frequently. Juno makes me laugh and makes me cry in almost equal measures; she is strong yet vulnerable, funny yet awkward, confident yet desperate. All things that she should be, that all women and girls are, and Cody translated that perfectly for my awkward 17-year-old self along with a host of others, I have no doubt.

However, only 16% of working film writers in the UK are female, an independent report from The Writer’s Guild has found.  The Sundance Institute reports that just 4.2% of the 100 top grossing American films are directed by women, the amount written by them is much lower.

At a time when teenage girls are facing ever-growing pressures from social media, exam stresses and every other hurdle that adolescence brings, surely there needs to be far more people writing from their perspective? By that, I don’t mean creating the common characters that girls are almost forced to aspire to, due to lack of alternatives, such as princesses who’s happy ever after involves a handsome prince who saves them from danger in that typical Propp trope of damsel in distress waiting for the protagonist to rock up. I mean characters with dimensions; with feelings; with flaws; with vulnerabilities.

But this isn’t just a necessity for teenagers. Young women are now finding themselves in a world where their voice is being heard, where they are told to speak up, yet they are still dealing with the damage resulting from difficult teenage years where they were reading articles entitled “10 ways to keep your man interested.”

Fleabag, written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and first aired in 2016, tells the tale of a young woman manoeuvring her way through sexual encounters, family disputes and her unwillingness to deal with the loss of her best friend. Initially, it seems like Waller-Bridge is just challenging the idea of feminism in this series adapted from her award-winning play but it is, in fact, a funny and, at times heartbreaking, analysis of the effect that objectification has on women. Not just the objectification that women are victim to on a daily basis, on the street, in the workplace, online but the objectification that is presented as normal in the mainstream media. Ultimately, it is relatable. Whether you don’t see much of yourself in the main character or it feels like a mirror image – the issues caused by, what Laura Mulvey dubbed The Male Gaze, continue to have a lasting effect on the female audiences consuming media texts and experiencing issues with very few scripts or characters which present these experiences from the women who experience them.

However, this isn’t just an issue for women; this also impacts men. If you get told something enough, you begin to believe it – so it is hardly surprising that women are perceived as weak, sexual (without being promiscuous, of course), objects by some men when that is the only representation of them available. And this is why it is important to allow women to tell their stories – because men need to hear them too.

So what is being done about this issue? The Writer’s Guild are calling for “programme-level TV equality monitoring data to be released” and for “public funders to pledge a 50/50 split between male and female-written films by 2020.” A 50/50 split when over half of the UK is female seems perfectly reasonable. Although, it is only recently that voices are being raised against the embedded white male misogyny which has run Hollywood since its very beginnings. Not only do we need to break down barriers for female writers but we need to break down barriers for those minorities who struggle even more to get their story told; women of colour, women of the LGBTQ+ community, transgender women – all of these stories matter and all of them can and will have a lasting impact on those people who feel they have never seen themselves on screen.

I only hope that every young girl gets their Diablo Cody moment.

Editorials

Mark J Blackman’s 5 Must See Sci-Fi Films

May 6, 2018
Neon Short Film - Big Picture Film Club

Big Picture Film Club screened Neon last year as part of our Hidden World event. Neon is a Sci-Fi / Fantasy Drama, which tells the story of Elias, A man is forbidden by higher powers from pursuing love, culminating in the plan to end his life and finally escape his heartbreaking existence. Writer / Director, Mark J Blackman’s short film takes the idea of Cupid and masterfully embellishes the underlying mythology and transplants it into a new dark and twisted world.

We caught up with Mark J Blackman’s to give us his 5 Must-See Sci-Fi Films, which he feels are important in understanding and contributing to the genre, here are his recommendations:

1. PI (1998)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

I don’t think any film has ever succeeded in a more intense juggling act. As far as debuts go, this – for me – is the one. Fusing faith, math, stocks, stock (16mm) and a post-industrial jungle soundtrack from former PWEA boy (one Clint Mansell) the result is pure punk filmmaking of the highest order. A film that I obsessed over and decided would be a terrific first-date film many moons ago. Suffice to say, the success of the date was not a sealed deal. A life-long love of all things Aronofsky on the other hand…

2. TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER (1992)

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

I was far, far, far too young to see this on bootleg VHS when it came out. It repulsed, fascinated and inspired me beyond words, Tsukamoto’s ethic becoming something that I have long since admired. I get a lot of flack for preferring this over the body-horror of his more revered original, but this one has a nauseating control of its audience, pummelling away with its sound and fury as it explores parental paranoia and deformed masculinity in a manner that elevated Tsukamoto from Japan’s DIY Lynch to Asia’s Cronenberg: films about national displacement and isolated identity rather than just pure viscera. Tsukamoto’s themes are – along with Tarkovsky’s – perhaps the most beautifully presented within the genre.

3. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

A Clockwork Orange

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Whilst 2001: A Space Odyssey IS the better of Kubrick’s two forays into science-fiction (how many films are about life itself?), it’s Alex’s journey that I always find the more pressing picture: featuring a structure only ever once almost bettered (Goodfellas), its exploration of unapologetic sadism, deconstruction by the state and un/deserved rebirth is a pitch-perfect horror-show that always tears me up inside as a viewer. A cinematic Molotov, it’s at once a hypnotic, nauseating, humorous, sickening and wonderful ride. It also earns an absolute aesthetic salute from me due to its mesmerising use of stark, scummy brutalism.

4. MIRACLE MILE (1988)

Miracle Mile

Director: Steve De Jarnatt

I was invited to present an introductory talk on this mostly unsung gem at the amazing Sci-Fi Theatre that runs once a month in London. Actually, let me rephrase that: I strong-armed my way into presenting an introductory talk on a film I have been obsessed with since being utterly terrified of it as a child. I’ve always been a romantic. I’ve also always adored apocalyptic nightmare fuel: fuse them together, add Tangerine Dream’s best score (yes, even over Thief and Sorcerer) and you end up with a film that uses the beating heart of love as the countdown to the ultimate nightmare. Whilst some of the film has not aged well at all (hair. HAIR), Miracle Mile is a real diamond in the dark. Watch at your peril. A huge influence on me and what love stories can be.

5. STRANGE DAYS (1995)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Scripted by Cameron yet directed with a mix of emotion, rage and pitch-black playfulness that I could never imagine him mustering, Strange Days is a perfectly dense 140 minutes of mini-disc MacGuffined, death-squad-promising, immaculately soundtracked neo-noir. An almost-cyberpunk almost-epic that presents a window into what people thought the last days of 1999 were going to be, it’s now a frightening mirror as to what America has almost become: wired into the feeds of others for entertainment, oblivious and/or indifferent to the increased police presence and a progression of race relations that – in the light of the likes of Charlottesville – feels like the country truly needs a thunderbolt from God. Bigelow’s best, hands down.

Mark J Blackman’s own short film, Neon will be released on Wednesday 16th May, available on www.neonshortfilm.co.uk

Editorials

Will Virtual Reality (VR) Films Ever Takeoff?

March 23, 2018

Much has been said about how Video-On-Demand services like Netflix have changed the movie industry over the last years, with Netflix and Amazon Prime being key plays leading the charge. Cheaper technology has also allowed for a lower barrier entry for filmmakers – even Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Unsane, was shot on an iPhone! Although the technology is still maturing, tech companies are investing heavily in Virtual Reality (VR), will this be the next area the film industry can capitalise on?

VR in Games

VR currently has a 90% public awareness, according to YouGov. Further indicators of early mass adoption of VR can be seen in the gaming industry. VR Systems saw a 23.5% year-on-year rise in 2017, cracking the £100m barrier for the first time. Currently, 6% of the British population own virtual reality headwear; At the equivalent time after widespread release, wearables had 4% penetration and tablets had 3%. The gaming industry has led the charge in this area with PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift & HTC Vive making up the vast majority of sales and with more game developers working on games specifically for VR growth in VR games looks to be strong moving forward.

The major film studios have been a lot slower to adopt VR as a way to exhibit films. However, VR  is used as a medium to create immersive experiences based on a film title, rather than actually making a movie to be watched via VR. In this instance, particularly with horror films like The Conjuring 2, a VR based experience acts as a great promotional tool to complement a wider marketing roll-out.

Should We Expect a Breakout of VR Films?

A current problem is that currently there simply aren’t that many platforms designed for VR films – particularly feature-length ones. Currently Video-on-Demand powerhouses Netflix & Amazon Prime do not support VR, however tech giants Facebook & YouTube have enabled 360 VR videos to be uploaded onto their platforms. This makes the two social media platforms a key testing ground for wider adoption of films in VR.

Many more experimental independent filmmakers have begun to explore VR as a method of producing short films. The Invisible Man (shown below) is an example of how the medium can be utilised to produce a compelling film.

 Moving Forward

Since its inception over 100 years ago how we experience film has remained largely unchanged, however, what we have seen through television/VoD services, as well as 3D cinema is complementary user experiences running parallel to traditional cinema. At least in the immediate future what seems most probably is that VR will simply add another dimension to the ways we can experience the “moving picture”. With new technology, new ways to creatively exhibit films will surely soon follow.

Editorials

Five Must See Films for 2018

January 7, 2018

As the 2018 “awards season” approaches, we get the opportunity not only to celebrate the biggest films of 2017 but to start looking ahead at what’s to come for 2018. We decided to put together a selection of five of five must-see films for the coming year. Our list comes from a selection of filmmakers who have screened films with Big picture Film Club.

1. “The Sisters Brothers”

Directed by Jacques Audiard; starring Jake Gyllenhaal & Joaquin Phoenix [Recommended by Brady Hood]

Brady: Upon first reading the novel of the same name I instantly fell in love with the writer Patrick De Witt and immediately bought all of his novels (as well as enquired about the rights!). Add this delightfully wicked and charming story to a director who I consider one of the greatest around and surely we’re on to a winner!! But most appealing is to observe what Audiard will do with the comedic tone of this story when all his other films have very little to laugh about. A very appealing prospect to behold and what I hope will be a fantastic move for two very talented storytellers.

2.Ready Player One

Directed by Stephen Spielberg; starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke [Recommended by Nick Barrett]

Nick: I guess the only film I’m really looking forward to is Spielberg’s Ready Player One as I’m a big fan of the book and all round eighties nostalgia geek. From the trailer it looks like they’ve nailed the look of the ‘stacks’ and the virtual Oasis environment – can’t wait!

3.A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava DuVernay; starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine & Gugu Mbatha-Raw [Recommended by Molly Boughen]

Molly: I am eagerly awaiting the release of this film as I am a huge fan of Ava DuVernay, a brilliant director who leads the film with a strong female cast, writers and her as a director.

4.Breakthrough

Directed by Harry Hitchens [Recommended by Molly Boughen]

Molly: Breakthrough is an independent documentary funded through Kickstarter by the production company Studio Everyday. It is a wonderful documentary by Harry Hitchens following other artistic people and why people make art.

5.The New Mutants

Directed by Josh Boone; starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Maisie Williams [Recommended by Dan Horrigan]

Dan: I’m really looking forward to New Mutants and it’s array of characters. That alongside a rumoured horror vibe sends the anticipation levels through the roof. This will be awesome.

Big Picture Film Club would like to thank Brady Hood, Nick J Barrett, Molly Boughen & Dan Horrigan for their contributions.