Sunday, 27 December 2015

2015 Was a Year of Hollywood Fan Fiction

“As this generation of baby boomers grew older, they still clung to the infantilism of their youth.” Melanie Phillips, British journalist and columnist. 
Cinema was pretty rotten this year. It was riddled with the dead franchises of yesteryear, somehow revived for audiences desperate to hold on to stuff of their formative years. It’s such a weird phenomena that no-one seems perturbed by its presence, perhaps signalling a much bigger issue in which adults look for constant comfort by revisiting resurrected material linking to their childhoods. 2015 was a year where dormant film titles were dusted off and pushed back into cinemas so that moviegoers could engage in regressive cultural consumption, eager to settle for things they’re familiar with over blockbusters that were new concepts. 
The madness of this situation tells more about how wide the berth of movie reminiscence sits. You’ve effectively got four generations of audiences flocking to see the reanimated cadavers of dead movie franchises, most often grown adults needing to suck on the proverbial teat of movie nostalgia. 
Below are the guilty culprits:  
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 
You can’t get a more pro-establishment and conservative film brand than the Star Wars franchise (Ronald Reagan loved it). This has always been a showcase for childish excess, an overlong advert to sell toys and memorabilia, propped up by a series of movies taken so seriously by audiences that one must question their saneness. 
The Force Awakens was fan fiction of the highest order. Coming a decade after the last George Lucas helmed prequel, this film jettisoned the man with the plan (as in originator Lucas) and brought in a new collection of personnel who were more fanboys than creative groundbreakers. Director-writer J.J. Abrams essentially remade 1977’s A New Hope with enough recombined elements to satisfy indiscriminate tastes. This is what currently qualifies as material destined to be the biggest hit of all time.
Jurassic World 
Released 14 years after the lacklustre performance of Jurassic Park III, Universal Pictures commissioned a new team of filmmakers to revive the franchise’s fortunes by producing the fan fiction blockbuster of summer 2015. 
The public went bananas for it; with audiences eager to bask in the nostalgia of watching computerised dinosaurs do whatever they did back in 1993 all over again, only this time somehow looking more like soulless software than before. Jurassic World was replete with sequences and set pieces that shamelessly ripped-off sequences and set pieces of its forbearer. There was nothing new to see here, yet we still went in our droves and treated it as something worthwhile. It wasn’t.
Terminator: Genisys 
When the director of the original Terminator appeared in a promotional campaign extolling the virtues of a new fan fiction instalment of his original baby, we knew something was rotten in Hollywood. 
James Cameron had nothing to do with this fifth version of the Terminator franchise other than not say anything bad about it. Lucky for Jim that we the audience defamed Terminator Genisys on his behalf because the film sucks. Terminator Genisys was, not unlike previous instalments, a picture that constantly riffs on recognisable moments seen in the 1984 original, tipping its hat and expecting us to applaud it. It watered down the violence and upped the nostalgia factor, all in the service of a movie that was made because the studio has a limited window of opportunity to exploit the property before the rights revert back to Lucky Jim. It was a characterless product that has pretty much killed off the franchise, hopefully.
Hollywood really misjudged the public’s appetite for all things nostalgia when reviving this 1980s comedy franchise. Audiences steered clear of this woefully unfunny revival of the Griswold family’s return to vacationing in Walley World. 
This fan fiction flop overestimated America’s love for a franchise that has never been considered−−by most grey matter-blessed citizens, at least−−as anything other than overproduced toilet humourVacation peddled forth a series of skits that are designed to service an absent sense of nostalgia for the original National Lampoon’s Vacation, even wheeling out geriatric versions of Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo as senior figureheads of the Griswold clan, while also throwing in enough variations of Lindsey Buckingham’s Holiday Road signature track. In a summer littered with crap that homages its predecessors’, bringing back this so-called ‘classic’ proved to be an exercise in serious brand unawareness.
American culture has this weird veneration for Rocky Balboa that proves massively dumbfounding to those of us from the outside looking in. Eddie Murphy summed it best in Raw when he ridiculed blue-collar American society for its unbridled passion for all things Balboa, often at the annoyance of everyone else. 
Creed is the oddest Hollywood fan fiction piece of 2015, only inasmuch as how seriously Americans seem to take it. This movie focuses on the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed called Adonis (Creed?), who dons his late father’s iconic Stars’n’Striped pugilist pantaloons (Apollo, as you know, died in Rocky IV), all the while floating like a butterfly and stinging like a mundane bee in a middling filmic affair that essentially repeats all the known story beats from Rocky. 
Creed proved to be a sensational hit with American critics and audiences alike. Rife with montages and moments seen in previous franchise instalments, the word is that this mediocre melodrama is tipped for serious Academy Award attention (Sylvester Stallone is actually decent in it). I guess you’ve got to be a true American to really appreciate all of its conservative nationalistic greatness because otherwise this plays like a pointless TV special.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Cinema is Everywhere, Anywhere and Anything

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s new film By the Sea hits the UK tomorrow. It was released in the States a scant few weeks ago, where it died on arrival. Mainstream audiences, who revel in the tabloid column inches both movie stars generate, didn’t care to watch the power couple’s perceived pretentious film project, and more educated audiences stayed away from it for exactly the same reasons. 
So now it’s up to European audiences to salvage the lacklustre fortunes of By the Sea, which seems possible because the film is a paean to the 1970s art movies of filmmakers like Antonioni, Bertolucci and Visconti; seriously sophisticated films set in picture postcard locations in southern European resorts that feature characters laden with marital ennui. It is, in a way, highbrow cinema for audiences with postgraduate diplomas in humanities. 
Yet By the Sea is an even bigger anomaly considering its bearings. It’s a proper Hollywood studio movie made by Universal Pictures that cost more than $10 million to produce (and even more to distribute internationally). There is an argument that a picture like By the Sea would have sought art-house-crossover fortunes even up until the last decade, but in this current climate of anti-intelligence and low creative risk-taking in Hollywood, the existence of a film like this is both astounding and thoroughly perplexing. 
By the Sea isn’t a terrible film - no way as bad as US commentators will have you believe, but it’s misguided on almost every level imaginable, from its intentions as a profound homage to serious European cinema, to its assumptions that movie stars still matter. On paper, the onscreen coupling of real life partners Jolie and Pitt must have seemed like a deal worth making for the studio, but the reality of that assumption has materialised in a significant financial write-off. 
It all points to the bigger issue of audiences not wanting to see anything other than branded blockbusters all year round. The give and take was that the film industry operates on a basis where the summer period is dominated with expensive high concept blockbusters and the winter brings about prestige fare designed to win awards for movie stars and filmmakers, while also bringing in a princely box-office sum for its investors. Think of it as the summer was for the kids and the winter for the grownups, but in an era where middle-aged men await the new Star Wars film while decked out in licensed Jedi accoutrements, you know something has changed in our cultural expectations of cinema. 
There is a risk here that mainstream cinema is losing all sense of plurality, thus becoming a one-note manufacturer of oversized industrial products that delight in spectacle and immaturity. Sandra Bullock’s turn in Our Brand Is Crisis, Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the eponymous Apple founder in Steve Jobs, and Brangelina’s star presence in the already discussed By the Sea, are just four reminders of A-list casualties shunned by audiences not entirely swayed by their actorly significances. This month will see awards-baiting performances by Will Smith in Concussion, Jennifer Lawrence in Joy and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, all serious studio films desperate to be thought-provoking features that, in turn, make few bob due to the fact that they are original and credible pictures.
The Revenant is a particularly intriguing project because one assumes that its fate is less assured than any film released this year. A savagely brutal period piece with an adult rating that was filmed entirely on location using only natural daylight; The Revenant seems both a technical tour de force and experimentally groundbreaking feature. This ought to be the movie event of the season as it stars a true movie icon in DiCaprio and its director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, won the Oscar this year for Birdman, but that may not be the case. The Revenant’s complex production and taxing artistry meant the film went massively overschedule and punishingly over budget. It cost $135 million to make (it was meant to originally cost a thrifty $60 million), which means that The Revenant will have to do blockbuster-type playability to break even. Now it should be mentioned that this is a film featuring sequences of mauling, castration and disembowelment – all in separate scenes. If audiences were resistant to check out a movie about the origins of their ubiquitous iPads, then The Revenant seems an even tougher sell. 
It all points to where cinema as we know it is headed. Francis Ford Coppola, the director of The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now, while speaking at this year’s Marrakech International Film Festival, contemplated the future of his medium. The filmmaker was cautiously optimistic, saying: “We have had so many great films made so far, it’s hard to imagine that films won’t always be like that. But you can’t get there without experimentation. And experimentation means you might fail.”
This perhaps suggests that cinema will have to become something more malleable in the future, a fluid medium that breaks the limitations of the silver screen and redefines our perceptions about the televisual experience. Cinema will have to take narrative risks and review the ways in which it courts audiences. Its salvation will depend on us readjusting our collective views on how cinema is accessed and valued. It can no longer be exclusively pigeonholed by filmmakers, executives, distributors, booking schedulers and exhibitors, and has to be better defined by our demands as consumers. In that sense cinema must no longer be the preserve of movie theatres, not if it wants to survive and remain relevant. It must become a prevailing entity that equally occupies the big screens in multiplexes and flat screens at home. There needs to be options for audiences or else the only thing that will suffer is cinema itself. Likewise, we needn’t look down on movies that bypass a theatrical run in favour of streaming services, while also not labelling exclusive cinema releases as soulless mainstream corporate products. It’s all cinema. 
Coppola himself best sums the final word: “There is no more film, there is no more television – there is cinema. And it can be everywhere and anywhere and it can do anything.”

Monday, 30 November 2015

-Music Videos on my Mind- Dilly Dally's "Candy Mountain"

Toronto four-piece alternative group, Dilly Dally, is going to be huge. They’re going to hit big because they’ve been hyped by the American music press as literally the second coming of serious-minded rock music. They’re young and credible, which means that rosy-eyed Gen X journalists are reminded of their own youths', in turn able to relate to a band channelling a grunge energy hitherto thought amiss. Heck, just watch the music video for Dilly Dally’s new tune Candy Mountain and tell me there’s not some heavy MTV 120 Minutes vibes at play there. 
Dilly Dally’s debut album Sore has scored some of the best reviews across the Atlantic this year. Rolling Stone magazine compares them to Nirvana and The Pixies, arguing that 2016 will be their year. That’s big. 
Such adulation will undoubtedly ire the UK music press, only because that’s the way it works. If they (the US) like it first then that’s uncool, however, if Blighty had identified them as noteworthy from the start then they’d have been praised to seventh heaven. One has never understood this transatlantic tug-of-war twixt our two nations’ cultural tastemakers. 
Let’s just say that Dilly Dally is alright. Nothing revolutionary but nay bad neither. They are just right.