Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

This is a post because I'm not going to talk to heavily about the impending release of Kip William's rather rushed sequel to Oren Peli's stupendously successful Paranormal Activity, inventively titled PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. The film's trailer hit American cinemas today in order to capitalise on the hordes of school age girls going to watch a new Twilight movie.

Now, it's funny how Paramount Pictures have managed to spool a 1 minute trailer when PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 only started shooting a couple of weeks ago; perhaps that's why the trailer is predominantly footage from the first film, including audience reaction shots. Before the negative outflow comes cascading forth and people go on about how this is simply a studio cashing in on the success of the first film, I must say Paranormal Activity scared me and I'm fairly immune to horror films. I saw the film at the cinema and while watching thought it was disappointing. It wasn't until I got home and went to bed that night that the real horror began and went on for four or five nights after.

If you're still unsure about PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 then re-watch this trailer and pause it when the dark figure of the possessed woman appears. Now look at the reflection between the crib and the mirror... notice anything unusual with the baby?

Monday, 28 June 2010

Such a Tease

There was a time I used to be in love with movies. I still like them, but I used to think about nothing else other than movies all day long. Things are different now because I merely take an enthusiastic interest in films as opposed to ardent fanaticism. I'm more intrigued by the film business mechanisms that power the movie machine than the actual products it produces. This may be due to the fact that working in films has watered down my previous obsession, or perhaps it's a result of movies not being very good nowadays. I get more excited by watching well-crafted trailers for movies that are coming soon rather than the actual films themselves. Saying that, there are always one or two movies every year that I really get into and the last time that happened in a serious way was in 2008 when I saw Danny Boyle's excellent Slumdog Millionaire and David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fincher has a special place in my heart because as far as I'm concerned he directed the greatest film of all time: Fight Club.

 I am anticipating Fincher's THE SOCIAL NETWORK which will be released Stateside on October 1st 2010. (No UK release has yet been set by Sony.) A teaser trailer was officially launched today and it is truly only a teaser as other than sparse dialogue bites there is no actual film footage included. At a time when studios insist on basically condensing the movie into 2 minutes, the trailer for THE SOCIAL NETWORK totally avoids this. One can argue how successfully it manages to intrigue audiences into finding out more about the movie, but you've got to give credit for them doing something refreshingly anachronistic. Movie trailers in the 1970s were often intentionally opaque and still managed to open big. If anything, I believe that fans of Fincher's work will be even more psyched for THE SOCIAL NETWORK after having seen the teaser trailer. I'm lucky enough to have read Aaron Sorkin's screenplay for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which is adapted from Ben Mezrich's non-fiction book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal. I wasn't blown-away by Sorkin's script, but still want to see what Fincher does with material that on paper seems fairly ordinary. It is also the first project from Fincher that's totally about young people and features a talented young cast. Furthermore, with a production budget at $47 million, it's the most mid-budget movie he's made since Se7en, and a way modest amount than the $160 million he spent on Benjamin Button. Fincher, like Spike Jonze, is a filmmaker who cut his teeth on music videos for the burgeoning MTV generation. Much like Jonze, Fincher is now a part of Hollywood's filmmaking elite and his movies trade on the actuality they're made by him and not anyone else. He is one of the only directors who can challenge a studio into permitting the kind of teaser trailer he's just released for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Fincher is prepping a seemingly pointless American remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, but in his inspired hands it'd be wise to hold judgement till we at least get a gander of the film's teaser trailer.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

It’s not Size that Matters

I reported last Sunday on how the current economic climate has tightened the onetime unfettered reign of A-list directors. Directing a high-profile Hollywood movie is a serious commitment for any filmmaker and because movies are a director's medium you would think it essential for studios to perhaps cutback on other perks rather than devalue the status a great director by requesting they submit a multimedia presentation in order to convince executives they're worthy of the gig. A movie will take up at least 2 years of a director's life and they will usually shepherd the movie from development through to eventual release. While an actor or editor will accommodate more films within that two-year timeframe, a director will be slavishly devoted to just that one movie. Therein lays the problem when some young prick with a shitload of ambition comes along and manages to snag a gig merely because he was a more cost-effective option.

How are these cinematic wunderkinds being taken so seriously? It maybe economics but that's not the whole story. They're going to great lengths to catch studio eyes and investing a great deal of their own creative investment and money into creating platform products that illustrate their worthiness to handle more epic material. We all know that British short-film director Rupert Wyatt is directing RISE OF THE APES for 20th Century Fox off the back of a couple of calling-card shorts and a British indie feature that was merely a modest critical hit with even poorer box-office results. Yet, Wyatt is now making what promises to be one of next summer's major hits and will feature a pretty solid cast. There now seems to be a craze of late with short films/extended trailers like Patrick Jean's Pixels, Carl Erik Rinsch's The Gift or Kevin Tancharoen's Mortal Kombat reboot being used to generate interest in full-on features. Even Jamie Foxx has spent the past two weeks shooting a trailer to serve as a pitch for a potential drama series entitled Tommy's Little Girl. Sam Rami's Ghost House Pictures shingle acquired the rights to Fede Alvarez's 4-minute short sci-fi Ataque de Panico and signed him up for a seven-figure sum to craft it into a longer feature film. What's shocking is Alvarez made Ataque de Panico for an alleged $500.

Perhaps upon hearing what happened to Alvarez, Aaron Schoenke invested $27,000 of his own cash into a 30-minute short film called Batman: City of Scars. I guess the plan is for studios to consider Schoenke as someone worthy of taking on bigger projects for a fraction of the price. It is even being rumored Marvel Films is planning on releasing a number of 10 minute short films before its upcoming superhero movies in theaters in order to introduce secondary comic book characters that may end up with their own full-length feature films in the future. If anything it seems short films are now becoming a major commodity for anyone wishing to prove their stripes. We in Britain have never been fond of having to go the extra length by investing our own time and money into doing anything on spec. most writers here are unwilling to write a screenplay unless it's on commission. In a way it's understandable because the UK is, and will be, a cottage film industry. But you don't get something for nothing and to really break out one may have to seriously consider seemingly reckless moves that could potentially deliver greater dividends.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Dramatic Times for Directors

Times are tough for everyone in the UK. George Osborne's new budget to be announced on Tuesday 22nd June will no doubt deliver job losses, or massive pay cuts for those lucky enough to hold on to their jobs. Even the British Film Institute's new film centre on the South Bank was informed that the government will withdraw £45 million of funding for the scheme.

If you thought times were hard here then spare a thought for the multitudes of seasoned filmmakers in Hollywood who are finding it even tougher to make ends meet. Tatiana Siegel's article in yesterday's Variety was a fascinating account of how the economic crunch has unsteadied the stock value of the most powerhouse directors in Hollywood. Despite having directed TWILIGHT, Warner Bros. demanded Catherine Hardwicke curb her previous asking price for directing next year's fantasy drama THE GIRL WITH THE RED RIDING HOOD. Similarly, Ridley Scott is no longer able to command his $10 million directing fee and McG was forced to slash his $8 million quote to a palatably $4 million for directing 20th Century Fox's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. (Fox surprisingly eschewed McG in favour of hiring David Fincher who insisted on maintaining his $10 million quote.) Top directors who were once relentlessly sought after are finding themselves having to audition for directing jobs as can be seen by Adam Shankman, Timur Bekmambetov and Sam Raimi who all made formal presentations to Disney executives in an effort to land OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. In recent weeks, numerous directors have been chasing a handful of open directing assignments: WOLVERINE 2 at 20th Century Fox, THE HOBBIT and FINAL DESTINATION 5 at New Line Cinema, an UNTITLED JACK RYAN project at Paramount, GHOST RIDER 2 at Columbia Pictures, THE BOURNE LEGACY at Universal, and ALL YOU NEED IS KILL, CLASH OF THE TITANS 2, GODZILLA and SNABBA CASH at Warner Bros.

As salaries and job opportunities decrease, the amount of time required to make special effects heavy blockbusters is actually increasing, further reducing the earning power of directors as they tend to have to spend much more time shepherding these types of films. The studios are now in a position where they're increasingly squeezing out established directors in favour of fresh directing talent who command more reasonable fees in the $200,000-$250,000 range. A great example is Sony entrusting its proposed rebooting of the Spider-Man franchise to music video director Marc Webb, who will earn roughly $9 million less than what Sam Raimi made on SPIDER-MAN 3. Likewise, Warner Bros. has hired first-time director Jason Winer for its ARTHUR remake, yet still paid out for a top cast that includes Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner and Nick Nolte. New Line Cinema handed the reins of JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH 2 to relative newcomer Brad Peyton, who beat out original director Eric Brevig. Likewise, the New Line also declined to put a more recognised director on FINAL DESTINATION 5 and instead hired Steven Quale, the second-unit director for Avatar.

So I guess we should all be humbled by the strife of (up until now) overpaid movie directors who are struggling to keep their heads above water like the rest of us. A part of me likes the idea of a fresher breed of filmmakers infusing stale studio product with a more daring spin, but this ain't the 1970s when the basic economy of the studios collapsed and radical filmmakers like Frances Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, et al began to emerge. That recessionary period of 1972-1973 saw studios also cut back on projects and become more willing to take chances on cheaper, as-yet-unproven, directors. The playing-field is more different now and studios know what product they want and are willing to bet on a rookie as long as he/ she's willing to give them big-brand movies for mass consumption at less cost. The new class of feature film directors also seems more eager to please studio executives by actually creating fleshed-out presentations in order to get gigs. Sony hired Harald Zwart over Thomas Carter for its KARATE KID reboot because he had a presentation that included a hand-crafted model of key set pieces. Brad Peyton's presentation for JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH 2 included an elaborate presentation rendered in 3D. Similarly, South African helmer Jonathan Liebesman compensated for a short resume by spending months on a computer to create a key scene from Sony's big-budget sci-fi epic BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. It's a rare case where energy and enthusiasm is perhaps being taken as a serious virtue by Hollywood. Whether the eventual movies being formed in this exciting phase are any good is a more questionable debate.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Grim Up North

For anyone who caught ITV's brilliant 4-part drama FATHER AND SON screened over four consecutive nights last week will know how well British television can deliver strong stories about relevant issues. Written by the late-great Frank Deasy, the drama handled the balance of gritty subject matter and familial frailty with verve. Although there is a sneaking suspicion that ITV may have commissioned the drama as a response to gritty American television successes like The Wire, it did feel very British and very real. The drama is set in the violent underworld of Manchester and deals with a former gangster of Celtic stock (Dougray Scott) returning to Manchester to help his estranged son (Reece Noi) who has been convicted of a shooting he didn't commit. It's all done very confidently and Manchester is very much the beating, throbbing, tangled backdrop of everything that's going on. It's always a refreshing presence when UK dramatists decide to create stories set in the North of England as there aren't very many of them and there's a whole lot of England beyond the M25. The Angry-Young-Man/ Kitchen-Sink films of the 1950sand 1960s were very much profound stories about complex Northern characters struggling with existential angst. These films were celebrated globally and remain potent examples of distinct British storytelling. Even the recent FOUR LIONS is a successful British comedy about a rag-tag group of Muslim Jihadists in Sheffield planning a suicide mission. For the wealth of stories one can create about people in North England it's disappointing no one has tried making a film about the middle-classes residing in cities away from London. ITV's COLD FEET is a great example of a character driven series about professional people living in Manchester, although the original script set the characters in North London but was moved to Manchester because it was cheaper to film there and would be easier for British television audiences to relate to.

For all the Full Monty's and Billy Elliot's, the North of England is still lacking in its versions of Notting Hill or Fish Called Wanda's. Perhaps a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant called Bradford doesn't have the same ring to it but surely it's worth a try... isn't it?

Monday, 7 June 2010

Over Boyled

I am looking forward to Danny Boyle’s 127 HOURS which has just completed filming in Utah and will hopefully come out sometime soon. I simply adored SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and was a great admirer of TRASINSPOTTING. Boyle is a good Northern bloke who’s made exceptional works and deserves to be singled out as one of the best things in modern filmmaking. He has also made some very shit things and today’s article in The Times suggesting the organisers of the London Olympics 2012 are hungrily tapping Boyle to direct its opening ceremony makes me think he’s about to undertake another Beach. Some overpaid dickhead closely involved in planning the London Olympic 2012 Games said Boyle was a favoured candidate because, “We want the most imaginative ceremony the world has ever seen. Nothing has been signed yet, but we do fully expect him to do it.” Boyle was quick to retort by saying (in blunt Northern tones); “I can’t say any more. It would be lovely, wouldn’t it?”

So it seems it’s blowjobs all around as Boyle as the London Olympic 2012 fuckers spend money we can’t afford to put on a masterful display of performing dogs, flat-cap wearing ventriloquists, Pan’s People revival routines, terrible Bhangra shindigs, Hip-Hop dancing crap, jerk-chicken stalls, jellied eel eating contests and lots of other embarrassingly shit British things fit for the Royal Variety Performance of any year. Danny Boyle resides in Mile End so he does live where the Olympics are taking place and he has lived there for some time, but he must know the London Olympics 2012 will suck. China fucked us all by hosting an Olympic Games that cost £17 Trillion and was handled with such aplomb that we as a mediocre nation can never live up to it. We are dull and stiff, and we don’t know how to do anything cost-effectively. We’re also fucking broke as a nation and don’t have the money to pull off a high-profile Olympic ceremony.

Fuck it. Let them do what they want. They’ll only fail.

A Word in your Tinker

As you all know, Working Title Films are a production house I admire and despise in equal amounts. For the entire wank BRIDGET JONES, WIMBLEDON, NOTTING HILLS and other inane Richard Curtis romantic confections they’ve manufactured; they’ve also produced fantastic films like UNITED 93, THIRTEEN, DEAD MAN WALKING and any number of Coen Bros. movies. I’ve even respect their versions of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and STATE OF PLAY. Now comes the news Working Title Films are making a film version of John Le Carre’s venerated spy novel TINKER TAILOR, SOLDIER SPY. The project is apparently so far ahead (and within WTF greenlighting budget) that that the superb Gary Oldman has been cast in the lead role and Colin Firth, David Thewlis and Michael Fassbender are in hot negations to play assorted twisty intelligence heads and potential mole suspects. What really got my eye is the creative talent WTF have tapped to helm and write the project which will be respectively handled by director Tomas Alfredson and scriptwriter Peter Morgan. Alfredson has come off minor masterpiece LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and Morgan’s canon of work speaks for itself. To compliment this package WTF has put together top-tier acting talent that will hopefully do this project justice. Reports claim the studio will keep the mid-1970s setting of the original story. The book is set during the height of the Cold War and revolves around British spy George Smiley- a middle aged and ordinary intelligence expert- lured out of retirement to hunt down a Soviet mole in ‘the Circus’; the highest department of MI6. The character of Smiley is different to your usual spy in that he’s not particularly affluent and has a wife who is cheating on him (no word on who will be playing her part but methinks it’ll be someone of high repute). Basically, he’s distinctly British and the antithesis of what we’ve come to expect from hardened spies.

You’ve got to give it to Working Title. It’s a smart move on their part. While MGM have to wait and see where they’ll get the money to make the next BOND picture and Universal Studios struggle to get the talent together to make another BOURNE movie, TINKER TAILOR, SOLDIER SPY promises to be the kind of movie that incorporates the thrills and sophistication to be gratifying and different to everything else around. It also seems very British without being uninteresting (rare thing for a UK film). The hope is TINKER TAILOR, SOLDIER SPY will be a grown-up spy thriller that will hit its commercial marks as well as its intelligence targets. Reports suggest shooting will get underway this September and will be released late next year, though most likely we’ll get to see it in 2012 when the UK will be on everyone’s conscience because of their ‘poor-man’s’ staging of the Olympic Games. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Dappy Motherfucker

Antoine Fuqua announced today he is preparing to tell the story of the late actor and iconic hip hop artist, Tupac Shakur. Fuqua revealed that the project has just been greenlit by Morgan Creek chairman James G. Robinson and will lens later this year. Add this to the New Line Cinema biopic of NWA titled STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON; we can see the American studios want to commission a series of stories of rap icons of the 90s. This may have a lot to do with the actuality teenagers of the 90s are now 30-somethings and have the money power to be taken seriously as lucrative movie attendees. Furthermore, many of the studio commissioning executives are 30-somethings who want to make movies about their era of coming of age.

So what of Britain? Tupac and NWA have always been niche market stuff here as the UK has been traditionally driven towards white boys with guitars, therefore the marketability for either gangsta rap film is a tricky prospect in Blighty. Yet, there's something strange about the youth movement in Britain today. White boys and their guitars aren't kicking-ass like they used to. Instead, British kids are becoming seemingly 'street'. Up until last week STREET DANCE 3D was the number 1 movie at the UK box-office and this week Dizzee Rascal's DIRTEE DISCO is the number 1 record. Even the modicum of talent known as Noel Clarke has out today and looks set to score pretty big with that pile of shite. Channel 4 announced this morning they've commissioned Whizz Kid Entertainment to produce a six-part series called BEING... N-DUBZ that'll follow the band with HD point-of-view cameras fixed to Dappy's cunt head as he goes about his everyday life threatening to execute Radio 1 listeners who've offended him by sending in truthful text messages. Unfortunately, N-DUBZ are even threatening to wreck the eardrums of American listeners by having signed a US deal with Island Def Jam Records who also have Rihanna and Kanye West on their books and may use the star power of either performer to enhance the credibility of N-DUBZ. N-DUBZ manager Jonathan Shalit said today, "N-Dubz [is] currently the UK's most successful urban act." Does that mean UK film production houses are looking to generate a biopic about the 4-foot wankness of Dappy? After all, N-Dubz has written a biography called Against All Odds: From Street Life to Chart Life, that is simply vying to be optioned. I mean, the current acceptance of black entertainment seems to lack veracity. Dizzee Rascal has reinvented himself as a Blue Peter presenter in order shift into the mainstream and N-Dubz has never really been any more street than SCOUTING FOR GIRLS. Middle-England is now buying into the whole Grime scene whereas 10 years ago you needed crappy pop bands like BLUE to cover American R&B songs and repackage for tastes of white middle-class girls in Boston-on-Spa who were back then fearful of black faces.

Tupac, NWA, Hughes Bros., John Singleton,... all these people were part of an exciting movement in America, not just a passing phase which is how I feel about what's happening in Britain right now. None of the current UK urban acts or filmmakers has anything of substance to say about the state of Britain or the position of youth-poverty affecting inner-city kids. DEVLIN may be spitting lyrics about crime, violence and deprivation; but how long will it be before the suits at his record label tell him to water it down and do what PLAN B did with his pop album The Defamation of Strickland Banks. This is all transitional. I think in five years the UK pop-cultural landscape will change for good and we'll cotton-on to insincere hollowness of current UK urban films and music. White boys shouldn't give up on their guitars yet. Their time will come again.