Monday, 27 September 2010

The Social Headache

I know I've talked far too much about the genesis of David Fincher's THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Now that the movie is coming out in 2 weeks I'm pretty certain the film will be unable to measure up to the brilliance I've reserved for it in my head. Still, there are a few films coming out that are either about the phenomena of social networking like Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman's demented CATFISH (voted TIME magazine's most anticipated film of this autumn), or about landmark internet discoveries such as Groundswell Productions adaptation of Googled: The End of the World As We Know it. One of the most curious aspects about these movie treatments of geekdom is the casting opportunities it presents. I'm sure that Shawn Parker- former president of Facebook and co-founder of Napster- never thought that Justin Timberlake will be playing him in a major prestige film tipped for serious awards recognition. But that's exactly what has happened.

We're living in really interesting times and have been ever since the internet became a populist force 15 years ago. In that short time it's changed the lives of everyone and the means by which we access information, socialise and entertain ourselves. When Shawn Parker and Shawn Fanning developed Napster in 1999 we all discovered we were suddenly able to download every song in the world at absolutely no cost. Napster shook the music industry in a profound way; a way it really didn't see coming and has never recovered from. Despite a slow start, the last decade has seen entertainment industries fight tooth and nail to re-educate consumers to the virtues of paying for the music and movies they download. Their efforts have been earnest, desperate to try and reform a generation before they become accustomed to the notion of music being something you simply smash and grab. Feargal Sharkey has renounced his former life as an awkward punk from Derry who sang about wanking in his bedroom, to now spending his time excoriating Britain about the moral failings of downloading illegally. In his role as Head of UK Music, Sharkey has become the voice of a music industry attempting to save itself from extinction. Too bad none of them saw the launch of MULVE coming last weekend. Mulve is without a doubt the biggest threat to the music industry in a decade. Just when it thought things couldn't get much worse it's all gone totally tits-up. Mulve has emerged offering users millions of tracks to download for free. A Mulve representative said, "Without giving too much away, I can tell you that we are obviously not a P2P client and in fact we don't search open FTPs. Instead, we directly connect to a few other servers overseas (most probably in Russia) which store the music. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal which these are." Mulve allows users to search the web for a song and download it to their computer whilst staying completely anonymous. Mulve is never fully a part of your computer as once downloaded it stays in limbo where you can use it but nobody can track the fact you have it. The program is completely free. It has been tested for viruses and is an entirely innocuous application.

It's too early to tell what legacy Mulve will leave. (Producers are advised to hold off from optioning Mulve's life story just yet.) At a time when most internet phenomena's demand you to register and join their network of followers, Mulve requires no membership and has no sense of feigned community. It's almost as if the makers of Mulve have stuck two fingers up at everything most internet entrepreneurs are precious about. It's a breath of fresh air: a type of fresh air Feargal Sharkey must be choking on right now.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Pop Goes The Willow

Willow Smith is the 9-year old daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Her brother is the 12-year old incipient action-star Jaden Smith- who starred in this summer's mega-hit remake of The Karate Kid. You've probably seen Willow Smith in I Am Legend in which she played the challenging role of Will Smith's daughter. It seems both Smith offspring's are channelling different aspects of their father's career as Willow Smith has signed with Jay-Z's Roc Nation music management company (British acts signed to Roc Nation are Ting Tings and Mark Ronson) and is releasing her new song WHIP MY HAIR BACK. Before anyone dismisses Willow's track as trite paedo-pop, I ask you to listen to it because it puts some of her more established R&B peers to total shame. The track is produced by neophyte music producer Jukebox, and was written by the 9-year old Willow (yes, an infant wrote it!). The beat is dope and balances tuneful ingenuity with kid-friendly melody. No matter how cynical you want to be about WHIP MY HAIR BACK, you have to give props to the kid.

While Willow Smith is not the first actor to become a recording artist, there are very few movie stars who manage to do it with aplomb. Russell Crowe in 30 Odd Foot in Grunts, Juliette Lewis in Juliette and the Licks, Dennis Quaid in Dennis Quaid and the Sharks and Keanu Reeves in Dogstar are examples of embarrassing musical vanity projects where the actors should never have given up their day jobs (not that they ever did). These bands are case studies in the arrogance of actors who conceitedly assume the public's adoration for them will materialise fruitfully when they put their capped talents to other creative ventures such as music. Thankfully, the public are not as dunce as what your average movie star presumes as none of the acts mentioned have anything more than a sycophantic niche following. None of us are thick enough to buy into bands coasting by on the celebrity status of one of its members, in doing so denying more deserving groups the chance to score record deals.

As much as I can't hack egotistical movie stars forming inane bands, there are some actors who kind of deserve their success in the music world. Johnny Depp wasn't always a film star whose international box-office so far exceeds $6 billon. No sir; Depp had originally come to Hollywood in search of a record deal after having spent his formative years playing in sundry garage bands in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was only after a chance meeting with Nicholas Cage, and the failure of his band Six Gun Method, that Depp decided to become an actor on 21 Jump Street. The rest is history. More recently I've been pleased to see Jared Leto's band 30 SECONDS TO MARS win Best Rock Video at last week's MTV Video Music Awards. This is not to imply I have any love for 30 SECONDS TO MARS' music or videos. In fact, I think they're a shite American pop band that makes even shitter music. But I do like Jared Leto. Just like Johnny Depp, Leto came to Hollywood in search of a record deal but to make ends meet fell into acting, playing Jordan Catalano in Winnie Holzman's stupendous 90s teen drama, My So-called Life. His pretty-boy looks meant he was never taken too seriously as an actor, nevertheless he went on to co-star in classic movies like Fight Club; Girl, Interrupted; Panic Room; Alexander; Requiem for a Dream and Lord of War. Each one of these movies was directed by greatly esteemed filmmakers who no doubt saw something special in Leto; yet still he has never been taken seriously as an actor. To put an end to this, Leto took on the role of infamous psychopath Mark Chapman in Jarrett Schaefer's 2007 dramatisation of John Lennon's murder, Chapter 27. In an injudicious demonstration of method acting gone wild, Leto gained 70 pounds to play Chapman by drinking liquidated pints of ice cream mixed with soy sauce and olive oil: daily. This was such a medically dangerous endeavour that Leto suddenly had to use a wheelchair due to the stress the sudden increase in weight put on his body. None of these sacrifices would have mattered if Chapter 27 had worked for Letto. Alas, the film was derided by audiences and critics alike. Sean Lennon went on record calling the film, "tacky." It seemed Leto had truly failed to shake off his handsome aesthetics; never being acknowledged as the seriously minded actor he is. None of this matters now as Leto's band has the momentum of a speed train. Last year's album This is War in the week of its release sold over 67,000 units in America and did pretty well in other territories too, having sold in excess of 100,000 copies in the UK. What's more, Leto's past experiences with great movie directors seems to have served him very well as he directs all of 30 SECONDS TO MARS' award-winning videos under the moniker of Bartholomew Cubbins.

So Willow Smith has any number of examples she can follow on her musical voyage to ultra-stardom. What will be surprising is if she follows Joaquin Phoenix's (who did give up his day job) example in I'm Still Here, meaning her whole hip-hop act is simply a meaningless charade designed to fool us all for no apparent purpose other than trying to make monkeys out of us. Casey Affleck- director of I'm Still Here and Joaquin Phoenix's brother-in-law- stated this week that Joaquin's reinvention as an urban artist was pure make-believe that duped the entire world. No it didn't. We just didn't care. Here's wishing Willow Smith better luck.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Indians are coming

Picture yourself as a white middle-class British person with a passion for cinema. Better yet, picture yourself as a white middle-class British person who's so into cinema you're working in either film production or distribution. You're the smartass of the company and everyone you know considers you the motherfucking Oracle of cinema. All your colleagues defer to your judgement on everything to do with movies. You come into the office every Monday morning and log on to EDI to see what's done good business over the weekend at the UK box-office. Everything is always pretty much as you expected. You were right in your assessment of what movie would rule and what would flop. You've also even seen pretty much everything on the chart... but one film. It's a film with a funny sounding title that's come from nowhere and has the highest screen-average of anything in the charts. You go online to read up on this bastard film as you know you'll have to discuss what's been happening at the UK box-office in your company team meeting. You discover the funny sounding film is some Bollywood movie that's storming the nation, but you had no idea it even existed. You arrange to meet your token Asian pal Deepak (although you've anglicised his fucking name to 'Deeps' because, he too, is more comfortable with it that way) and arrange to meet for drinks that evening. Deeps and you hook up and you ask him about this pesky Indian flick. It's at this point you realise that Deeps is as clueless and middle-class as what you are. Since Deeps started dating some white chick called Audrey who works as an assistant to a talent agent, he's pretty much shunned anything that isn't bland. This is a problem for you. You need to find out- not just assume- why these Indian movies are catching you by surprise. You ask me to investigate.

It seems that every week sees a new Bollywood movie come crashing into the box-office and then fade away just as fast. Indian cinema's international profile is booming right now and the movies it's producing are earning big money. It's not uncommon to see Indian titles sitting comfortably in the UK, US and Australian box-offices. Exclusive Indian film distributors like Eros and Yash Raj have global offices in all important markets and the multiplexes are riddled with Bollywood fare. In an earlier post I talked about how KITES was the first ever Indian movie to crack the US Top 10 Equally, last week saw I HATE LUV STORYS (sic) oust more expensive Hollywood blockbusters and nest comfortably in the UK Top 5. These movies may attract a significant audience, but that audience often comprises exclusively of Indian sub-continental diasporas. In recent years the Hindustani film industry has been very focused on the international market. Despite big-budget Bollywood movies like VEER, RAAVAN, KITES and BLUE struggling to succeed in India, they have done rather well internationally. The bone of contention for the Indian film industry is how to fully maximise profits by getting white folks to take their films seriously. Studios like Sony (Saawariya), Disney (Roadside Romeo), Fox (My Name is Khan) and Warner Bros. (Chandni Chowk to China) have made pathways into investing in Indian films, often with inauspicious results. The Indian film industry has attempted to appease Western palates; whitewashing the ethnic strength of their films by giving them Western hybrid sounding titles (God Tussi Great Ho, Jab we Met, Singh is King). I suppose the greatest obstacles preventing mainstream crossover for Bollywood movies is largely due to their odd nature. Bollywood makes movies marred by superficial content and hyperbolic sentiment. There is never really any intelligent subtext or sophistication to them other than intoxicating production values. They're mostly unreal stories, and the notion of characters breaking into random song is simply weird. Indian films have tried to shorten their intimidating running-time, but that's still not been good enough. To top it all, Bollywood movies are rampantly camp and a suspension-of-disbelief is hard to develop when watching them.

I suppose what really matters is that Indian films are making a lot of money overseas and have a lucrative following known for spending money on movies. It's totally understandable why American studios want to get in on the act. The recent success of Indian themed movies has spurred many into taking the whole thing very seriously. What is all the more surprising is that the real crossover Indian themed films of recent times have not been written nor directed by personnel of Indian lineage. Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire and Chris Morris' Four Lions are films about the Asian cultural experience, but made by white middle-class men. Both of these films have been massive successes and as a result the bar for these kinds of pictures is now set very high. There was a time when Gurinder Chadha could get away with making insipid ethnic comedies that play to the lowest denominator, but her last film It's a Wonderful Afterlife died on arrival. Filmfour is pressing ahead with their pointless sequel to East is East but it's questionable whether there's still a sizable audience for it. Britain has a big Asian market and one that is known to adore Bollywood films. The key is producing films that stretch beyond the perceived core audience. There are innumerable UK film producers wanting to strike it rich with Asian audiences, but they need to craft great original stories that are inclusive of the Asian experience; not just ethnic for the sake of making money. There is the underlining danger of commissioning executives expecting too much too soon from the Asian market. That's already happened in radio with BBC Radio 1 ghettoising their once primetime Asian music show, and now announcing they're shutting down the BBC Asian Network because of competition from other Asian themed stations. (Why the same argument can't be applied to closing BBC Radio 6 is baffling as there are as many 'white boys with guitars' radio stations out there competing with it.)

The real question here is can Bollywood movies actually crossover into the Western mainstream? Maybe it can, but not without multilateral thinking. I get the feeling Indian filmmakers are assuming they know what will click with Western audiences, but falling short. Likewise, producers in Britain seem to be over-embracing the zeitgeist and rushing to make silly films about caricature Indians and their cute idiosyncrasies. For me, the project to keep an eye on is Danny Boyle's BOMBAY VELVET (a thriller set in the 1940s and based on real criminal incidents that occurred in Bombay), which the former will produce and Anurag Kashyap will direct. Boyle has been taking his role on this film very seriously and has been commuting twixt London and Mumbai; successfully negotiating the involvement of leading-man Aamir Khan. Boyle's commitment to creating quality Anglo-Indian movies is further exemplified by him optioning Suketu Mehta's Mumbai set non-fiction book MAXIMUM CITY. If anything, to create successful crossover films the two industries- East and West- have to truly inspire one another, collectively. There can't be any second-guessing about whose vision is superior. It must be a combined prediction focused on creating universal stories: not just superfluous marketing exercises destined for failure.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Fincher for President

Gus Van Sant has a new film called RESTLESS coming out in which Mia Wasikowska plays a terminally ill girl who falls for a boy who attends funerals for fun and one day they both encounter the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from World War 2. It sounds like a tough sell and one that distributor Columbia Pictures is not entirely sure how to market. Regardless of how RESTLESS has turned out, it seems Gus Van Sant's follow up to the Academy Award winning Milk should have been released within the next 3 months so that it can be considered for Oscar contention. Not so. RESTLESS will be dumped in American cinemas on 28th January, 2011. This means it will miss out on the prestige picture shebang and awards season race. It seems rather harsh treatment for a guy whose last movie was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, of which it won 2. RESTLESS cost $15 million to produce, not expensive but not necessarily cheap either. No matter how esoteric the actual movie is, one still would've thought Columbia Pictures may try and cash in on the success of Milk by giving RESTLESS a 2010 release. Then again, Columbia Pictures has their award movie in the bag as David Fincher's THE SOCIAL NETWORK is out 1st October, 2010 (15th October, 2010 in the UK) and reports are Amy Pascal (Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc, and listed as number 1 on the 15th annual Women in Entertainment Power 100 list) is so convinced by the brilliance of Fincher's new masterpiece that she's ploughing all her awards marketing muscle into it. The only other Sony release vying for awards recognition is perhaps Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's THE TOURIST, but that film hasn't got the momentum of Fincher behind it.

David Fincher is arguably the most prolific youngish Hollywood filmmaker making movies right now. His films are made, marketed and seen on strength of his name alone. Sony is so in awe of his work on THE SOCIAL NETWORK that they've tapped the filmmaker to helm their remake of Stieg Larsson's GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, to be released Christmas of next year and starring Rooney Mara as the infamous Lisbeth Salander. Rooney Mara is one of the main actresses in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and was cast at Fincher's insistence, that despite the studio wanting everyone from Carey Mulligan to Keira Knightley for the role of Lisbeth Salander. That's not all as Andrew Garfield, who plays Eduardo Saverin in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, has been cast as Peter Parker in Columbia Pictures' SPIDERMAN REBOOT, even though the studio was screen-testing everyone from Josh Hutcherson to Jamie Bell for the part. It seems Garfield's potentially award-winning turn in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and Fincher's recommendation, finally clinched it for him. Fincher is a cinematic god right now. This is evinced by today's report in the Hollywood Reporter that states Media Rights Capital is negotiating with Fincher to produce movies under his own signature. Details are sparse at the moment as they've yet to actually put ink to paper, but it looks like Fincher will get to put his own spin on at least two films as part of the deal. MRC has done a similar deal with M. Night Shyamalan to develop and oversee a series of supernatural movies under his moniker: Night Chronicles; the first in the series is John Erick Dowdle's DEVIL which is released today, and will be followed by Daniel Stamm's REINCARNATE next year. The best news about all this is that Fincher's MRC films could be similar in tone to his famed thrillers like Seven, Panic Room and Zodiac. MRC is heading for deep, dark, and downright creepy projects. If this is any indication of their direction for the Fincher deal, we could be looking at his departure from drama and a welcome return to the reprehensible. It's exactly the kind of movies we need right now.

At a time when first-dollar gross movie stars are struggling to open movies, the burgeoning proliferation of savvy movie audiences are watching films based on directorial talent associated with pictures. This summer's Inception was mainly marketed on Christopher Nolan's name and less on DiCaprio's involvement. Inception worked wonders for Warner Bros. There are a crop of filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro and Timur Bekmambetov who could equally generate branded film concepts like the current MRC deal with Fincher. These films will hopefully be talent driven. It's a good thing because it's putting power back into the hands of the creative minds that make great movies and not on some vanity driven movie star or money obsessed Hollywood producer.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Hammering it Home

There's Panic on the streets of Carlisle; Dublin, Dundee, Humberside: and especially at the London HQ of Hammer Films who are bracing themselves for their first movie release in over 30 years, Matt Reeves' LET ME IN- released October 1st, 2010 in the US and 5th November, 2010 in the UK. LET ME IN is the English language adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's Swedish vampire novel Let the Right One In, originally made into a highly acclaimed 2008 Swedish film of the same name by filmmaker Tomas Alfredson. Lindqvist's love of The Smiths and Morrissey is peppered throughout his literary work, hence the initial title (and my clever opening), but the American remake has simplified things by keeping its title short in effort to make the movie more ominous and less arty. The aim is to capitalise on the young folks' love of all things vampires and deliver a box-office hit for Hammer Films that establishes them as a newish force in horror. LET ME IN was screened at last week's Toronto International Film Festival 2010 as the opening night movie of Fantastic Fest. Early reviews in the trades have been rather brilliant, but the internet reviews from younger film critics on movie websites has been less appreciative. That's worrying when one considers that Hammer Films will need the support of these guys in order to drum up excitement for the film. After all, American film critics were supper supportive of Alexandre Aja's remake of Piranha 3D last month and that film topped out with little more than $24 million at the US box office, barely enough to cover its production costs.


Hammer Horror started in 1934 by comedian William Hinds and found its stride in 1955 with the production of gothic horror movies based upon classic myths. Many of these stories had already been made in the 30s and 40s by Universal Pictures but Hammer Horror gave these old tales a distinct tone, upping the sexual quota with buxom titillation and subtly heightening themes of social unease between the rich and poor. Hammer Horror also had a uniquely sumptuous visual aesthetic, the likes of which greatly inspired India's Ramsay Bros. horror movies, and more recently Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. Hammer movies were very British and travelled well internationally, especially in America where the Hammer Horror films were distributed thorough Warner Bros. (Universal Pictures were not interested in partnering with Hammer). Hammer was on a winning streak, cranking out classic after classic; that is until the 1970s when big-budget horror movies like The Exorcist and The Omen revolutionised the genre. Lower budget American horror movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween brought a grittier feel to horror content, debasing Hammer Horror. Hammer upped the tits and blood content of their luridly gothic horror films but they still seemed off-kilter with the new horror wave that now set its stories in the real world, not vicariously vintage Europe. Hammer tried to get hip with the kids, releasing Dracula A.D. 1972, where the eponymous vampire stalks the streets of trendy London, disco-dancing with groovy young bastards before sucking them dry. Hammer went bankrupt, both financially and creatively. By 1979, Hammer Horror was no more than a great legacy in British cinema. That is until the Noughties when private equity companies and savvy media capitalists like Simon Oakes of Exclusive Media Group decided to resurrect the Hammer corpse in order to generate some money off of its brand recognition.


Simon Oakes' re-launch of Hammer Films at once seems honourable yet cynical. For a British horror shingle, it's disappointing their first releases will be American set horror films. THE RESIDENT (ironically filmed before LET ME IN but still awaiting release), which stars Hilary Swank and Hammer icon Sir Christopher Lee, is a New York based psychological thriller. However, Hammer Films announced last month the all-British production of THE WOMAN IN BLACK, starring Daniel Radcliffe, to be released next year. Oakes also confirmed in this month's Empire that Hammer Films has ambitions beyond horror and will launch new intellectual properties via live theatre, television, internet, comics and novels. He also claims the ongoing development for remakes of Hammer's CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (the original being a fun but shameless attempt to cash in on the Shaw Bros. kung-fu craze of the 1970s: it failed badly). News of Hammer remakes seems odd when Oakes has stated: "I always felt we had to prove ourselves with new movies rather than mine the back catalogue". With the exception of THE RESIDENT, all upcoming Hammer releases and development projects are remakes. Much like the new Ealing Studios, Hammer Films may just crank out irrelevant genre movies and perfunctory remakes that will hardly make the type of impact their predecessors made. It's a shame because Hammer Films has a real opportunity to try and kick-start the genre by finding projects that will rejuvenate horror. Audience appetites are cyclical and once this generation of youngsters is usurped by a kids who aren't going to understand their elder siblings' penchant for 3D street-dancing movies, they'll no doubt return to horror films, but a new type of horror film, one that's yet to be hatched. This is where Hammer Films can really come into its own by sourcing visionary young talent that really understands and loves horror; talent that wants to bring something totally innovative to the table. The truth is that although LET ME IN may be a commendable horror remake, it does look a tad dull and may struggle to outmatch PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 and SAW 3D, both due out next month. The Hammer Films brand means nothing to average audiences and by engaging in a series of unwanted remakes and producing tedious American horror films, it may have dug its own proverbial coffin before it's even had a chance to breathe properly.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Kings of Selling Out

The music blogosphere has gone crackers this afternoon as the KINGS OF LEON unleashed the new music video for RADIOACTIVE, the first release from their new album COME AROUND SUNDOWN. As expected, the elitist UK music press has been unfavourable to the new song, throwing particular disdain on the 'pastors-green' themed music video. The immediate reaction shouldn't surprise anyone, especially not the KINGS OF LEON themselves who were a few weeks ago forced to abandon a show after they were hit by pigeon droppings. It seems the shit just keeps on coming as The Guardian called RADIOACTIVE "[the] worst video we've seen in ages". No doubt the coming hours will welcome similar vitriolic sentiment from the NME et al, but is this a fair criticism?

COME AROUND SUNDOWN is the fifth studio album by KINGS OF LEON and is produced by the producers of all their previous albums, Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King. The album will be released October 18, 2010 and is almost guaranteed to be the biggest album of the year. The genesis of KINGS OF LEON is a peculiar one. They came on to the music scene in 2003 with Youth and Young Manhood which was followed by Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004), Because of the Times (2007) and Only by the Night (2008). The UK took an immediate shine to KoL and remained hugely loyal to the American rockers. They were the darlings of the music press who proper dug their hideous facial hair and barn-burning 3 minute songs. While KoL were quintessentially an American by-product of religious fervour and country music (elements that are certainly in opposition to the secularly decadent values of British youth), the band were embraced in a way their own country failed to reciprocate. That was until 2 years ago when Only by the Night went Platinum with US sales of 1,961,828-plus. It was at this point the UK music press started accusing lead singer Caleb Followill and his brothers (and one cousin) of selling out. The once devoted 30-something followers of the band got real ugly when KoL fashioned a new clothing line called KOLxS2A in which a patented leather jacket cost the princely sum of £720. The Daily Telegraph's retail editor, James Hall, said "The [KOLxS2A] clothes were crappy, beaten-up, cheap, and invisible." It seemed fans were none too preleased either, accusing KoL of transforming into teen pin-ups, no longer musicians of integrity. KoL retorted in last month's NME by saying they turned down having their music used in television shows such as Glee, as well rejecting a cameo in Ugly Betty. Bassist Jared Followill said: "We got an offer to appear on an episode of Ugly Betty. They wanted us to play ourselves. We were supposed to come in and help [Ugly Betty] out with some problem or other." Jared went on to say: "We could have sold out so much more. We turn stuff down constantly." The key phrase here is 'sold out so much more', which denotes a level of culpability regarding the wholesale prostitution of the band.

But is this a big deal? Does anyone have a go at Dizzee Rascal for creating the poppy pigshit called Tongue N' Cheek and contributing to Playstation's SingStar videogame? Likewise, when indie-kid Johnny Depp starred in Pirates of the Caribbean no one accused him of selling out. The same goes for director Doug Liman who has gone from atypical indie American comedies like Swingers and Go to making silly big-budget fare like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper. Nobody has rebuked Liman's commitment to cinema. Christ, even Craig Brewer is following Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan with Paramount Pictures' unexciting remake of FOOTLOOSE.

KINGS OF LEON have sold out: I admit it, you admit and, to a degree, the band does too. The video for RADIOACTIVE is shit and the song is pretty crap too. It's a radio-friendly confection designed to get played endlessly, feature in adverts and appeal to the masses who'll like the harmless sonic melody of it all. It's geared to make money. It's no different to what Coldplay has done, and what U2 and R.E.M has been doing for decades. KoL want to be the world's biggest band. Noel and Liam Gallagher (who also has a fashion line) had similar unashamed ambitions for Oasis and none of us waved a finger at them. It pays to sell out. Nevertheless, one can never accuse huge bands like Radiohead or Portishead of having ever made music to get famous. With each album they've taken greater risks, eschewing conventional melody in favour of tracks that demand work on the part of the listener. They've proved that sometimes it pays even more being true to one's self.

 Eid Mubarak!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Britain’s Next Big Thing

Matthew McConaughey is a handsome American movie star who takes top-billing in inane romantic comedies like The Wedding Planner, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Fool's Gold. Some may find this hard to believe but Matthew McConaughey was at one time positioned as a seriously important actor. His first role was in Richard Linklater's brilliant Dazed and Confused which eventually led to Joel Schumacher's 1996 film adaptation of John Grisham's novel A Time to Kill. It is around about this time that McConaughey scored the shit-hot management and publicist services of Creative Artists Agency and Rogers & Cowan Public Relations, who spectacularly splashed McConaughey's face across every leading magazine and newspaper in America. He was hailed as not just a gorgeous face but also as an amazing actor of his generation. It almost worked. By the end of the 90s Spielberg cast him as the lead in historical slave prestige drama Amistad and Robert Zemeckis had him star opposite Jodie Foster in his thinking man's sci-fi drama Contact. Yet McConaughey failed to capitalise on the hype and was eventually relegated to man-candy roles in shitty chick flicks. McConaughey may have been a good actor but his comedic talents and buff visage pissed all over his efforts to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor.

What then of Gemma Arterton? This young British thespian has come from nowhere and is now thought to be the prime contender for every major hot young female role. News came yesterday that Ridley Scott is desperate for her to star in his upcoming 3D ALIEN PREQUEL VOL 1 & 2. The Sunday Times reports a meeting was requested by Ridley Scott after he viewed her overrated performance in The Disappearance of Alice Creed. But Ridley's not alone as Stephen Frears was also totally won over by Gemma Arterton's grace and ability, thus cast her in the lead for TAMARA DREWE. It's an amazing accomplishment for an actress who less than 3 years ago had not starred in a single film. After her role in St Trinian's, Arterton became the disposable Bond Girl in Quantum of Solace which was followed by a string of prescribed love interest parts in Hollywood action movies like Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia. None of the latter roles did her any credibility and she attempted to counter it by going all serious in The Disappearance of Alice Creed. The public wasn't convinced as neither her performance in the Prince of Persia nor Alice Creed won the attention of mainstream audiences. Arterton has never been shy about exploiting her shapely curves to win roles, but she must now fear the hype surrounding her isn't connecting with moviegoers. She eloquently stated in The Daily Mail, "[For] me, it can really be frustrating when you're just seen as the totty, and I know that I've always taken acting so seriously. The Bond film took me into that "hottie" category. I don't want to play those characters any more. Now I'm starting to be in the kinds of films I would go and see - quirky and interesting, and not particularly blockbustery." Lucky then for Gemma that last night she was named 'Woman Of The Year' by GQ lads readership. (She even shamelessly attended the event).

This is almost like McConaughey in reverse. The problem is Artertron's management is positioning her as the UK's next greatest export, but neither her Hollywood roles nor serious British parts are gaining the kind of traction she and the people behind her want. Her publicist today denied the reports regarding her sought after involvement in Ridley Scott's ALIEN PREQUELS, but it's possible that Gemma Arterton's camp is just trying to cover her tracks for speaking about the project too soon, and that she will still be meeting with Ridley Scott to appear as the female lead in the Untitled ALIEN PREQUELS sometime in the near future. Either way it seems a shame for the British film industry to once again be positioning a generic pretty middle-class (I know her mum was a cleaner but there's fuck all trace of that in her current prissy personality) white girl with standard acting abilities. On the other hand Archie Panjabi is a British Asian actress who won an Emmy last week for her role as Kalinda Sharma in CBS' The Good Wife, but you don't hear about Ridley Scott wanting a meeting with her for the Untitled ALIEN PREQUELS. (Must mention that Ridley Scott is an Executive Producer on The Good Wife, which makes it even worse.) Not even Mike Newell thought about casting Archie Panjabi as Princess Tamina in The Prince of Persia even though she'd have been more ethnically appropriate for the role than what Arterton was. It seems shocking that Archie Panjabi had to go to America to breakout because her own country failed to support her in the way they have Gemma Arterton. Shame on you Britain!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Is Anyone There?

There's a minor trend in movies coming out which are all thematically tied by the concept of being alone in precarious situations. Lionsgate will distribute Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés' film BURIED with Ryan Reynolds who stars as a US contractor buried alive by Iraqi insurgents with only a mobile phone and lighter to hand, battling in a race against time to escape from his claustrophobic death trap. Danny Boyle's 127 HOURS is a dramatisation of Aron Ralston infamous ordeal where he used a pocketknife to amputate his own arm and free himself from a boulder that fell and trapped him for five days in a remote desert canyon in eastern Utah. The trend is furthered by Alfonso Cuaron's GRAVITY - about a woman astronaut who has a calamitous accident that separates her from the Hubble on a declining orbit in the vastness of outer space. (GRAVITY will be shot in 3D for Warner Bros. sometime in May 2011 and will co-star Robert Downey Jr. but the studio is struggling to cast the lead female astronaut part after Angelina Jolie turned down the role for a second time, this despite the studio offering her a massive pay deal.) Likewise, Morgan Creek (with Universal Pictures handling US distribution) is in pre-production on Gabriele Muccino's $90 million sci-fi movie called PASSENGERS that will star Keanu Reeves as a spaceship traveller on a journey to another planet who is prematurely thawed from cryogenic slumber a century before anyone else and wrestles with the moral idea of unthawing a fellow female passenger to keep him company.

These types of movies have been made before. In the past few years we've had Cast Away, Open Water, Moon and I Am Legend to name a few, all of which were concerned with isolation. I can't speak for Rodrigo Cortés, but the most glaringly obvious thing about 127 HOURS, GRAVITY and PASSENGERS is that they are all directed by esteemed filmmakers known for their masterful dramatic work. None of these filmmakers are American, in the case of Danny Boyle, Rodrigo Cortés and Gabriele Muccino all being European. All of these movies deal with the emotional pain and suspense of isolation, while BURIED and GRAVITY further heighten the dramatic stakes by featuring protagonists who are constantly in contact with the outside world but hopelessly doomed by the situation they're trapped in. In short, all of the filmmakers helming these movies are serious dramatists, not workman like directors who make standardised mainstream material.

What seems constant is that these films seem to be concerned with very real characters caught up in fantastically bleak situations. With Hollywood studios steering clear of straightforward dramas about real people coming to terms with emotional predicaments, filmmakers like Cuaron and Muccino are now directing genre films that are more emotionally complex than the high-concept packages they come in. Britain has been doing this kind of thing for years through literary works about apocalyptic events that focus more on the emotional turmoil caused by such situations rather than simply revelling in the spectacle of cataclysm. Mary Shelley's The Last Man and M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud are novels depicting ordinary men coming to terms with being the last men on Earth. Richard Jefferies' 1885 romance After London brilliantly depicted an England that has reverted to a neo-medieval civilisation after a disaster's disrupted the Earth's climate. John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, John Christopher's The Death of Grass, Sydney Fowler Wright's Deluge and Anthony Burgess' The Wanting Seed are all British novels examining how ordinary communities deal with fantastically depressing events but never allow fantastical elements to overshadow the human tragedy. In this sense I think the new trend of suspense thriller/ dramas about isolation may be one of the most exciting minor movements coming out of contemporary Hollywood. These movies may, in certain cases, even be superb genre movies infused with a delicate cerebral quality not seen since Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, only hopefully not as boring. Should these movies find an audience then there'll be similar films greenlit. The worry is that the studios may eschew the subtle dramatics of these stories in favour of upping their disaster themed components which better lend themselves to expensive special-effects. Should these movies fail then an already risk-averse studio system will continue to generate formulaic fare. So even if Hollywood options the movie rights for the Chilean miners trapped deep below ground they'll probably not hire an edgy filmmaker like Darren Aronofsky to direct it; rather more opting for someone like Rob Marshall to shoehorn it into palatable 3D musical.

For the time being, being alone has never seemed more appealing.