August 2017 = a rare month of great cinema !

 

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It’s unusual these days to go to your local cinema and see not one or two but a handful of quality movies that cater to a variety of tastes.  This was common in the 80s and the 90s but after 2005 we just began seeing formulaic superhero franchises, lame remakes attempting to cash in on nostalgia, and low budget horror flicks .  Too many times I’d peruse the offerings at my local cinema and sadly note there was nothing I wanted to see OR that I’d seen the only decent film showing there.

The only exception to this quality cinema void, is Oscar period each year – that 4 months from November to February when the studios and indies release all their ‘intelligent’ films to be in the running for the Academy Awards.  Other than that period – most of the year is filled with the kind of films that had us groaning out loud or staying home and binging on Netflix.

But this past month at my local cinema has been replete with good quality well made films of a decent range of subjects and genres  = Variety – that one magic word that had been missing for a while from my local cinema.  And when I look around, I see the same promising content at other cinemas too.

If ever there was a time to go to a cinema in the hope of being pleasantly surprised, or thrilled even – this is it.

Look at the content that’s out at the moment : The Lost City of Z, Maudie, American Made, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk, Spiderman Homecoming, The Big Sick, The Trip to Spain, Wind River, Valerian And the City of a Thousand Planets, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

Earlier this month we had :  A Monster Calls, War for the Planet of the Apes, Ghost Story, Paris Can Wait, The Beguiled, , It Comes At Night, Wonder Woman [was still showing in some cinemas in the beginning of August].

If you’re still skeptical about the point I’m making – take a closer look at these films:

The Lost City of Z is something we don’t make anymore but should – a big scale humanistic exploration and adventure film that asks the big questions about imperialism, civilization, the search for wonder.

Maudie is a good biopic of folk artist painter Maud Lewis. It has Sally Hawkins who shone in Happy-Go-Lucky and soars in this. It also has my personal northstar – Ethan Hawke.  He always picks interesting unconventional projects and makes great choices as an actor. I know if he’s in something – there’s a good chance it’s pretty darn fine.  [Ethan Hawke and the concept of a northstar , will be the subject of another blog post soon].

American Made sees Tom Cruise shake off the dross was The Mummy and back in form with director Doug Liman in this gripping true story about the TWA pilot who ended up bring drug running for the CIA.

Even the most flawed of these movies – Valerian – is still fascinating and brave and does venture into new territory with resonant themes, spectacular unique imagery and a rocketing story, even if the leads are a let down.  It doesn’t feel generic or dull in any way.

The superhero entries that played in the cinemas this August are probably the best ones we’ve seen in recent years. Wonder Woman did gangbuster business as the first positive portrayal of a female superhero coming from DC.

Spiderman: Homecoming is a superhero flick as a John Hughes film in disguise, and is a lot better than it has any right to be.

Dunkirk is another grand film from visionary Christopher Nolan tackling a rarely visited war story with an approach that feels like a visceral first person POV experiment. It’s the closest you’ll get to being there without actually being there.

Baby Driver is a fantastic car chase heist film that oozes style and panache, and a kickarse soundtrack.  I absolutely adored this film, except for the ending which was unexpected but had me on the fence.  See it as soon as you get a chance.

Atomic Blonde is a brilliant action-spy film of the same calibre of the best recent Bond or Bourne films.  If you really want to know what a female bond looks like than watch Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton. As highly efficient, deadly and capable as Bond, Charlize Theron rocks a steely resolve and cool unruffled demeanour that exudes a world weariness that is very familiar. But unlike Bond, Charlize Theron is vulnerable – she takes a beating and every one of her wins are earned, and does have the odds stacked against her. Bloody eyed, bruised and battered but stolid and relentless – she’s a bona fide action star who deserves a whole franchise playing this character. She really is THAT good.  Atomic Blonde has nail biting action sequences and unexpected twists, and the perfect lead performance is bolstered by a great supporting cast too. James McEvoy always delivers the goods as the devilish Brit agent connection in Berlin, Eddie Marsan, and Bill Skarsguard and John Goodman make welcome appearances in key roles.

And speaking of kickarse soundtracks – Atomic Blonde has that late 80s ultra cool pop-rock fusion that’ll have you digging out your old records.  If Wonder Woman was aspirational feel-good girl power, than Atomic Blonde is the power of a steely eyed pragmatic woman.

The Big Sick is the rom-com for those who lost faith in rom-coms and thought that nothing good could be made in this genre anymore.  It’s surprisingly good. Just ignore the title. The title is terrible, the film is not.

Logan Lucky is a comedy heist that sees Steven Soderburgh make a welcome return to the cinema. After he threatened retirement, it’s great to see him back making smart, funny, accessible movies. He was once the shining star of intelligent humanist accessible cinema. He made stylish relatable movies without obvious flashy ‘auteur’ touches that might otherwise put off non film buffs. Logan Lucky may not be on the super high level of ‘Out of Sight’ but it’s still really good.

And coming out this week we have well reviewed Australian horror, Killing Ground. A film that will make you think twice next time you decide to go camping. Get off your arse and see it before it gets swallowed by the next blockbuster in the cinema schedule !!

Look at that survey of cinema titles this month and what do you see ?

There’s a whole variety of genres in all those titles – horror, biopics, action thrillers, car-chase flicks, war movies, sci-fi, murder mystery, superhero flicks, rom-coms, comedies.

And they are all good quality films !  Well structured, visually striking, and well paced with stories and characters you could care about.  Some titles may appeal to one crowd, some titles to another – but it felt like one of those rare months where there was something for everyone.  I hadn’t felt that since the 1990s.  A tentative flame of optimism has been lit in my soul.

[ The only major genre I see missing is kids movies.  And that’s usually the only genre where something decent is on throughout the year, but this year, it’s where we had the one of the few major celluloid crappers on the screen – The Emoji film. The less said about this – the better].

But still – overall it’s been a great month at the movies !

Don’t believe me ?  Compare August 2017 to last year – the major releases were Suicide Squad [all the proof Luc Besson needed to prove that Cara Delevingue can’t really act and he ignored it and gave her a lead role in Valerian. (Sigh)…], Ben Hur [a horrific unnecessary remake of an old era cinematic gem], Nine Lives [even cat lovers couldn’t save that flick], The Legend of Tarzan [even Alexander Skarsguard’s spectacular abs couldn’t elevate that flick], The Secret life of Pets [almost as banal as the Emoji movie].  And there was a boring Jason Bourne film. The only shining light that whole month was a little film called ‘Don’t Breathe’.

This August is a massive improvement and an answer to all those naysayers that say cinema is dead.  There’s been a bunch of great original films [Dunkirk, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver etc], and good franchise entries, and great adaptations of fresh existing intellectual property that hadn’t been tackled before [Atomic Blonde is an adaptation of a graphic novel].

August 2017 should restore your faith in cinema. Good movies ARE still being made. You just need to go out and see them.  And hopefully box office support means we might see a wide choice of good movies every month not just around Oscar time.

 

 

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Do audiences really want to see original films ?

 

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I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret – sometimes people say what they think you want to hear.  And to go further with this notion ; Too often what people say ain’t what they really mean, but what they actually DO in their actions and their choices = that’s the truth right there.

I’m starting on this note because too many times I find that reality is at odds with the ideals that the public has stated they want. Eg.  Free education and healthcare – yet they vote for folks who do the opposite,  a clean environment – yet they leave plastic bags and litter everywhere. And this maxim rings true with entertainment too.

Case in point – endless movie remakes and sequels. You’re totally over it, right ? Wrong !

-Always the feedback I see online is ‘oh another remake, sequel, prequel – how boring  ! Hollywood has run out of ideas and is run by hacks, my grandma could do it better blah blah’

-I took these proclamations at face value and totally sympathised until recently.  How dare these uncaring studio suits keep foisting thoughtless remakes and pointless sequels on us ? Why does this keep happening ???

And the answer is….

Because you make it happen !  The box office numbers show that most of the time, audiences flock to existing IP instead of going to see original movies.

2017 Yearly Box Office Results

2016 Yearly Box Office Results

[I could put links for the whole decade – but I’m sure you get the picture].

IRL –  you vote with your wallet and every time you prioritise seeing these derivative films instead of original content then you send a message louder than all your whiny posts on FB, Twitter, Instagram etc.

Yeah there are exceptions – Arrival, Interstellar, Oscar nominees , Don’t Breathe, La La Land, and Get Out buck the trend – just to name a few.

But these are TOO few and far between.

Then make better movies – you say. Filmmakers are trying to.  But you need to go and see them. Your dollars talk louder than your Facebook likes.

LIFE – a alien vs human sci-fi thriller released In March this year, kinda proves my argument. It had a social media campaign, a mid sized budget – $58M – name stars amongst the cast, a diverse cast etc.

It’s also a good film. Not perfect but damn entertaining – it marries clever execution of the simple but strong premise with relatable humane, well rounded characters, and measured pacing that rockets along.  Yes, the alien menace plot is not fresh but it does a good job with it.

Yet, LIFE  didn’t open strong enough.  It may just break even, but it’s not the knockout hit at the box office it needed to be to get more mid-sized original films funded.  And then, of course, there’s Passengers, the $110M original sci-fi film with the two biggest stars on the planet – Jennifer Lawrence, and Chris Pratt.  And even THAT couldn’t save it.

Even Having Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal Doesn’t Mean an Original Film Will Be a Hit These Days

Whereas a crappy blockbuster of $100M plus based on an existing idea will either scrape through or become a hit. Eg. Transformers [any of the ‘Bay fest’ films], Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DC films – BvS, Suicide Squad etc [they might have been critical flops but they broke even or are in the black, financially and that’s what counts with the suits in charge, otherwise they wouldn’t keep pumping them out].

Why is this really happening ?

From stage left, waiting in the wings, are four theoretical Gita’s who will try and solve this conundrum :

1} Enter cynical Gita :  People are sheep. They want to play safe and stick to what they know.  Pre-existing IP such as Disney Classics like live action ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Marvel films, remakes etc. means they kinda know what to expect when they go to the cinema so they won’t be wasting $ with unwelcome surprises. Cinemagoer : “Movies are expensive, goddamnit. And I’m not risking my hard earned cash on weird experimental shit my kid could’ve crapped out with his Iphone”  [say it with a southern accent and it sounds even better].

2} Enter logical Gita : People can’t go to what they don’t know about. I mean who’d heard about ‘Cure for Wellness’ ?  If it ain’t on BuzzFeed, What Culture, Junkee, HuffPost, N Y Times or new.com.au etc, then how am I suppose to know ?

This is actually a good argument. Most films under $50 million, don’t have the advertising spend to compete with the sheer onslaught that a studio blockbuster will do. From social media meltdowns over extensively highlighted trailers, exhaustive coverage in any and all press online, as well as traditional avenues such as bus station posters, train station billboards, radio ads, TV spots etc – all require the kind of spend that most original films made, simply don’t have the budget for.

This argument works well for why most indie films fall by the wayside, but it doesn’t explain the larger scale original films that were starved of audiences.

And surely in this glorious online age where we’ve learned to subscribe to Netflix, buy stuff on Itunes for our latest fix, and use Google for research – it can’t be too hard to subscribe to a blog, or sites that covers news of original movie releases of the kinds of content you like, and when they are coming out to cinemas. Get a newsletter to your inbox, or see posts about those films you’re intrigued by via liking and following an appropriate film page on FB. You can fix the information blackout if you really wanted to… Remember Google is your friend.

3} Enter emotional Gita: But I don’t feel like seeing that original film because “it’s not my cup of tea / doesn’t appeal to me / I just don’t feel like seeing this kind of thing now”.  And you know what – if this is your reason than fair enough.

There’s no argument against emotions and personal taste – no one can or should dictate that …but I will leave you with this tale. On Good Friday this year, it was family movie night. We’d agreed to a late session so we could do dinner beforehand.  I was all primed to see Beauty and the Beast because I wanted to get all sentimental and romantic and shamelessly drown in nostalgia mush. But the rule of family night is that we all have to agree on a film to go to see it together. And my brother was dead-set against seeing Beauty and the Beast.  We were at an Event Cinema because I had a family pass gift card I wanted to use up, and the choices that night weren’t great – the girls voted against The Fate of the Furious, no one wanted to see Ghost in the Shell [nothing against Scarlett Johannson but we’d seen the anime version and the feature didn’t look like it would top that],  Mum, and the sister-in-law, had no interest in ‘Logan’ – much to the disappointment of my brother,  and that left us with a film called LIFE – an original film, as in – not based on any book or franchise,  whose title was vague and whose poster looked sci-fi but revealed nothing visually.  I didn’t really want to see it, but the clock was ticking and this was the only night we had so we all compromised and picked that one as the film for the night. And it turned out to be a great choice. A nail-biting survival thriller that united our family in unanimous approval, and had us discussing first contact, and our deepest fears long afterwards. Sometimes taking a risk and going against your obvious inclinations can reward you.  I will still see Beauty and the Beast at some point but I’m glad I didn’t get my way that night.

4} Enter practical Gita : This is a ‘double punch to the gut’ argument and it feels like this ;  It’s not on in a cinema near me and I ‘won’t/can’t/don’t’ travel to a cinema where it’s showing. It’s not showing at a time where I can see it, and by the time I get a night off to check it out, it’s already gone off the cinema !

The ‘punch to the gut’ is because it’s painfully true and it hurts filmmakers and cinemagoers alike.  Too many titles have a limited release at specific cinemas that will only show them at decent times [6pm onwards] for about a fortnight. After that fortnight the screenings shrink to once or twice a day at times when only the grey haired army would turn up to a cinema.

I’m still head scratching on how to counter this problem but I’ve got a couple of ideas :

#1 – Instead of lining up to be amongst the first to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2, chomping at the bit to see that latest Alien franchise ripper,  or camping out to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, on opening night in December – take a rain check and prioritise going to a kickarse original film instead on it’s opening week, and see the blockbuster the following week or two. Because the Blockbuster [your Star Wars, Marvel, big $ remake] will still be showing at watchable times for another month whereas that original film you were intrigued about – no such luck, unless it performs like a badass race car in its first week of release. It’s not a fair playing field and your blockbuster film already starts ahead of the pack with it massive marketing clout. And then like any behemoth – they rig the game:  Studios prebook the best cinema slots months ahead so exhibitors like your Event Cinemas, Hoyts, etc contractually have to show these garguatuan movies for many weeks after release.  Exhibitors do have some say in this relationship but studios hold the balance of power on this one. I can talk with some confidence on this point because I used to work at a cinema has a second job. The boss would show me their upcoming releases and their programming schedules – what films got what slots at what time, and for how long – and it was a real eye-opener.  The indie films were lucky to get a few nights in the first week with late evening sessions, than if there was no traction they were shunted to the morning sessions = the kiss of death to any film that’s not aimed at the grey haired crowd. Most of the good spots each week were filled with back to back screenings of blockbuster rehashes.  If I’d had any sense, I’d have abandoned any thoughts of a film career than and there. But who goes into filmmaking because it’s a sensible career ?!

You might say – Oh but if I don’t see Star Wars/whatever blockbuster coming out on the first week, everyone’s going to spoil it for me !  And my answer = really, REALLY !  You couldn’t guess the plots of these films ??  Because most of them aren’t re-inventing the wheel, or even changing the street directions in these stories. They are, beat for beat, the same tale as a previous entry in the existing franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a near total reproduction of Star Wars: A New Hope.  The structure of Iron Man, Ant Man, Thor are all similar.  And I’ll bet my bottom dollar that Alien:Covenant is not breaking new ground.  This is not news here folks.

Yeah, you might get thrown a few unexpected elements – the repentant stormtrooper, Han Solo’s kid turned bad. And a few new twists – Han Solo dies.  But if you want to avoid being spoiled you can stay off the internet for a while – that’s a tough one, I know. Or choose not to read them and berate those who do reveal details without prior warning.  Or pick door number 3 – learn to enjoy the pleasure of anticipation over surprise. Let the spoilers come, and go later anyway, biting your nails waiting for the ‘big surprise moment’ to occur.  I often opt for this – it’s not as bad as it sounds. A spoiler free universe doesn’t exist here, and I adapt to that reality, but I understand if it’s not for you. Different strokes for different folks and all that jazz.

2# Got friends who want to see an original indie film and who might join you ?  Then look up Fanforce and request that film at a selected cinema on a particular night. If they haven’t got a film you wanna see on their list of titles – then email them a request.  If enough people request a film and are prepared to pre-buy the tickets – that screening will happen !  This may not work for every original film on any date – but it’s worth a shot.  It’s kinda like crowd-sourcing a film screening – you buy the ticket up front but you only get charged if the venue sells the minimum target required for the screening to go ahead. There’s lots of intriguing indie film titles on there you might want to see, from thrillers, westerns, dramas and docos.  Check them out on the site here :

FanForce website link here.

 

The-Osiris-Child-Poster

Instead of lining up like a lemming to see Alien:Covenant, then griping on Facebook about the shortcomings, you might be better off checking out another dark sci-fi film set on a foreign planet, being released today in Australia called ‘The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One’ by Australian genre filmmaker Shane Abbess. It’s ambitious, gripping and unexpectedly moving. It doesn’t have xenomorphs or big star power but it plays like a sci-fi novel with chapters and moves at a furious pace, with enough unfamiliar elements to keep you guessing.  It does have very limited release in cinemas around Australia, so you do have to get in quick before the next bloated blockbuster drives it off, and then you’ll have to see it online. Having been fortunate enough to see a preview screening of it, I can tell you that it’s a film that does merit the big screen experience.

For more on the Osiris Child, check the website link here

Likewise if you’re looking for a thrill ride or a few good scares, you might put Pirates of the Carribean : Dead Men tell no tales , and The Mummy, on the backburner, and check out ‘It Comes at Night’, ‘Wind River’, ‘Lady Macbeth’, ‘The Bad Batch’.  You might find a new love or something you debate over or you might hate it but at least you’re going into something different than that tired franchise film you’ll groan about.

Discover some new filmmakers with fascinating story worlds ready to wow you.

At the end of the day – the power is in your hands. We either build the world we want to see, or let our unconscious choices create the world we howl against. And if a diverse cinema with original stories, fresh universes to explore and exciting new characters to meet, matters to you – than start making your choices align with your stated values.  The franchise blockbusters can wait, the original films – big or small, can’t.

 

 

Genre prejudice at the Oscars

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Forget the Moonlight and La la land debacle. The bigger question is why ‘Get Out’ a film with a near perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes didn’t get nominated. The answer = because it’s a horror film.

Likewise great comedies don’t get nominated.  Fantasy films = also largely ignored. This is less of a problem for science fiction films but the problem still persists.

The consequence of this deliberate oversight is that, often, the films nominated for the Oscars are films that have been largely unseen.  Specialist genre films attract audiences easier than straight drama films.  There are set audiences who are looking for a particular genre because they have certain expectations, and an appetite for those story conventions that specialist genre caters for. With a drama you don’t know what to expect in terms of form, structure, tone. You blindly hope that the trailer is a good indication of the type of film you will see.