Pet projects: Why they go wrong


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Pet projects: Why they go wrong

Minority blues: Juan embodies Moonlight(2016)’s impact


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Every so often, a movie comes along that changes my perceptions of cinema and the world. These flicks let us see directly into the characters, their lives, what they like/dislike and how they act in or react to the events of the narrative. For their run-time, they deliver everything cinema should offer on a regular basis. Moonlight is one of those delights. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished play, Moonlight proves every frame can be essential to the overall effect.

Sadly, Moonlight is the movie now synonymous with Academy Awards stuff-ups. This $1.5 million independent feature went up against a musical, docudramas and war epics during this year’s Oscars ceremony. The lead-up was spectacular, with the film gaining industry recognition for its depiction of the gay-black experience, life in lower-class America, and familial conflict. However, thanks to one Price-Waterhouse Coopers’ representative’s folly, this and La La Land are tied together eternally.

rs_1024x683-161212061514-1024.Moonlight-Mahershala-Ali-JR-121216This article is not saying La La Land is not important, exciting, interesting etc. Indeed, the movie is notable for being the exact opposite of moonlight. Its reach-for-the-stars vibe  balances out a melancholic ending with scintillating effect. Moonlight is nothing like this. From the opening sequences, this narrative smacks of realism and heartache. It’s in these opening moments where director Barry Jenkins places his feelings on his sleeve (for the audience to take in). If you’re squeamish, head out of the theatre and head straight towards the nearest blockbuster (you may feel safer there).

We meet drug dealer/kingpin Juan (Mahershala Ali) dealing drugs in Miami’s Liberty City. The opening shot is propulsive. Jenkins never talks down to anyone or simplifies anything for the audience. Juan’s body language and tone proves he rules the roost. The neighbourhood responds to Juan’s presence with glee (in the saddest way possible). Yes, he’s a drug dealer. Aware of his presence, the area loves him because of what he supplies. He is seen as the businessman, the top dog and enviable leading man type all rolled in one.

Is after this initial introduction, we feel his presence throughout the movie. Juan finds the protagonist of this story, Chiron “Little”, hiding from bullies in an abandoned block of flats/crackhouse. Juan first comes off as the hero, a strong man saving a young boy from bullies and the dangerous environment around them. Juan overcomes his stoicism to do what he knows is right. By the five to ten minute mark, one of Moonlight‘s supporting characters has shown a depth and range rarely seen in mainstream lead characters.

Juan wants, in this instance, to make a valuable first impression. He knows Chiron will run away or ignore him if the truth came out. These glimpses add to Jenkins’ and co. arresting vision. Even a sparsely utilised supporting character ties intricately into everything else. It is in this moment we meet his significant other, Teresa (Janelle Monae), before Chiron is taken back to his crack-addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). To become a role model, or at the very least more likeable person, Juan sets Chiron up with a mini-family. The Juan, Teresa and Chiron embody the father-mother-and-child vision of American life. The characters hold onto their time together – envisioning shiny, new lives and aiming to overcome or even step away from their current status’.

ad_234908624-e1487004604539Throughout their time together, Jenkins develops a beaming, ultra-positive father-son dynamic between Juan and Chiron. Juan, despite his life choices (profession), seeks to keep Chiron from the ugly truth and divert him towards a better future. Juan helps Chiron with the ‘basics’ (learning to swim etc.) to increase his intelligence and abilities. Our father figure, thinking of his own regrets, contemplates his role in Chiron’s life. A wordless Chiron listens intently to Juan’s story. Juan recalls of an old lady talking to him, saying black boys turned blue while running around in the moonlight.

It is here Juan gives Chiron the ultimate, coming-of-age ultimatum – “At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself what you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you”. Juan passes on whatever knowledge of the world he has onto Chiron. Although giving only slivers of information, Juan pushes Chiron to find a new path through the ghetto and adulthood. The mystical-magical-negro type – depicted in many films as providing younger, better looking white characters with inspiration – is now a lower-middle class man filled with regret and sadness on the inside, with only a tough exterior guarding people from knowing the truth.

Juan is the ultimate supporting character – on-screen for short periods and continually making an impact. His frustrations and weaknesses rise to the surface whenever Paula comes into the mix. In their first meeting, Juan explains Chiron’s disappearance overnight. Paula, seemingly threatened by Juan’s fatherly affection to Chiron, rejects Juan’s assistance. Overcompensating for Chiron’s lack of father figures, Paula acts with full-throttled anger. Instead of listening to or thanking Juan, she stares him down and snaps at him until he leaves. The lioness asserts her dominance, to Chiron’s detriment. Her dominance and choices make for an unsettling near future for Chiron.

“At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself what you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you,” Juan (Mahershala Ali) – Moonlight, 2009.

Juan and Paula’s next encounter shows Ali and Harris to be two of Hollywood’s most esteemed character-actors. Juan confronts Paula after seeing her smoking crack with one of his regular customers. Channelling his deep-seeded fatherly love, Juan stands up for Chiron. His interrogation, in another film, could potentially change Paula’s point of view and make for change. More sugary fare might lead Paula down more redemptive path and, possibly, into Juan’s arms. Here, however, Paula once again establishes her raw, untethered emotion.

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She berates Juan for coming into their lives, convinced she is protecting her son’s best interests. Paula, thanks to her issues, is a threatening presence for everyone in her path. Paula shares her true feelings of Chiron, convinced his homosexuality has led to isolation from peer groups at school. She says Chiron, against the norm,is cast aside and punished by the majority. In such a tough area, his skin does not help him blend in. The bullies look beyond anything concerning race; seeing only an outsider and threat to their way of existence.

Juan is overwhelmed by Paula and her attitude to parenthood. He, after discovering Chiron’s mother’s lack of care or consideration, is convinced the truth may in fact scare the boy into going down the right path. Juan, Teresa and Chiron sit together at the table, aping the appearance of the family unit sharing quality time together. Juan attempts to understand Chiron’s plight, discussing Chiron’s sexual orientation as acceptable. Juan here represents the understanding, tolerant parent (like Teresa and less like Paula). Chiron, however, focuses only on Juan’s profession and way of life. Chiron, disappointed in Juan for selling drugs to Paula, leaves the home. The pair never interact again, with Juan hanging his head and crying in his last scene.

Ali and Jenkins deliver a powerful, subdued supporting character. Though starring in only the first third, Ali conveys an entire emotional and psychological arc with just a handful of expressions and scenes. Unlike many supporting actor/actress winners, Ali chooses subtle, quiet performance over loud, brash eccentricities. Instead of drawing eyes towards him, the actor allows us to soak up his role and the frame around him simultaneously.

Juan encapsulates the movie’s undying affection for Chiron. Ali and Jenkins subvert the stereotypical poor, negligent dad type. Whereas Chiron’s biological father appears to be long gone, Juan attempts to get closer. Realising he could be something greater, Juan sees an opportunity and tries to take it. He turns from drug dealer to father figure, with the audience sympathising and empathising with him throughout his and Chiron’s time together.

Belated sequels: Why they go wrong?


The belated sequel is, for all intents and purposes, a sign that Hollywood is close to running out of ideas. The plan is simple: take a famous property, convince everyone it needs to come back, deliver a final product and pray that old and new viewers show up. The basic elements of this system are designed to prey on an audience’s basis desires. The studios, obviously, think audiences and average moviegoers will devour anything with recognisable packaging wrapped around it.

anchorman2The marketing departments rule the roost here. The studios, like with every other movie, TV show etc., tell their marketing departments to coerce audiences to attend. From the get-go, these departments have advantages at their disposal. Due to immense coverage/ speculation/rumours by fans and the media, studios, producers, actors, directors etc. are seemingly coerced into dusting off old projects.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – out in 2013, nine years after the 2004 cult-hit original – was sold on getting the band back together. Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd had moved on to leading man roles and engaging movies after the original’s underwhelming release. Their career trajectories, along with Anchorman‘s slowly growing fandom, drew interest for the long-awaited follow-up. These three leading men were hounded for years over the movie’s delayed development.

The industry’s reliance on brand recognition over star power slowly diminished Anchorman 2’s chances of critical and commercial successes. The sequel was released to mixed reviews from audiences and critics. Its cast’s energy was seemingly nowhere near enough to save the finished product. Fortunately, the three have gone on to Marvel Movies, Oscar-calibre material and truckloads of paycheques. Despite their talents and charm, Ferrell and co’s movies have made smaller profits and diminishing returns compared to earlier efforts. Ferrell, in particular, has gone from bad to worse of late. Get Hard and Daddy’s Home swung for the fences and missed spectacularly.

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Many belated sequels were not worth the wait. Dumb and Dumber To was the result of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels being hounded for the better part of 20 years (and we all know how that turned out). Super-flop Zoolander 2 stuck too close to the original, but left the comedy (and actors’ dignity) behind. The stinker was sorely missing the original’s slew of memorable lines and fun performances from once-fresh-faced comedians Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.

The past two years have seen numerous belated sequels including My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, Bad Santa 2, Finding Dory, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Inferno. A large number of these suffered due to pure laziness. They coast on the originals’ success and didn’t come close to creating something worthwhile. The rare recent exception is Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting. The follow-up to the 1996 cult classic sees its characters come home to roost and accept who they are with entertaining results.

o1XC96sFsE-5Q2Fpp4HQ6g___tmp_11_715_The audience sees the cast (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller etc.) and filmmaker return to this beloved property. The original was an out-there crime-thriller against the establishment, the ever-expanding United Kingdom and popular culture. Since its release, McGregor and co. have starred in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows. Meanwhile, Boyle has picked up a Best Director Oscar and made a slew of hits. They have since become The Man.

T2: Trainspotting pokes fun at everything from new-age drug culture to social media without being overbearing. In this character-based drama, our leads are older, tireder, full of regret and ready to take their anger out on one another. Unpredictably, Renton (McGregor) is far from the fulfilled, reformed man we first think he is. The movie’s big revelation – Renton admitting to his failures, lack of worldly experience etc. – turns him into the loveable loser he was back in the day.

The sequel comments on its own belatedness, with every character questioning themselves and the world around them throughout. Whereas most belated sequels rehash character arcs, story beats and jokes, T2: Trainspotting reflects on the length of time between drinks. The movie is informed by, but not entirely reliant on, our general knowledge of the significant social, political and cultural changes between the mid-1990s and today.

ID4RHEADER-1The majority of belated sequels – comedies especially – rely almost 100% on a copy-and-paste formula for a quick fix. In fact, many feel like little more than hubris and laziness blended together. However, the better examples are aware of their own peculiar existence, commenting on the movie’s world and the real world without nudging us too violently. It is not so much who is involved and what they are doing, by why we should be watching that matters most. With numerous belated sequels scheduled (Wedding Crashers 2), this trend is not slowing down. I wonder which movies out today will get follow-ups 20 years from now. An Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling re-team for La La Land 2: Still Tapping maybe?

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Top of the Tube: The best YouTube movie critics


Since its inception into popular culture in 2005, YouTube has become a pioneering force for worldwide video sharing. The service has since surpassed several key entertainment mediums to become the go-to source of entertainment. The past decade, indeed, was a mixed bag for entertainment mediums and modes of all shapes, sizes, and functions. But YouTube moved with the times.

As print formats continue to descend into the darkness (or online), YouTube is bolstered by comedy, drama, and action videos shared by anyone – many of whom long for their 15 minutes of fame. Even Hollywood has come on board with the phenomenon, with eager filmmakers picked from obscurity after uploading their work onto the behemoth site (see the original Pixels short).

Nowadays, trailers, clips, and behind-the-scenes videos are only a couple of clicks away. The rise of the YouTube film critic has been huge for many Generation X and Y-ers. They provide heads-up examinations of each new movie and TV show. My chosen critics have stepped up to the microphone; hitting well above their weight and higher than the competition.

photoThousands of hits, spiteful comments, and copycats later, they have evolved into becoming some of the most influential critics/citizen journalists working today. The self-employed film buffs including Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckmann and Schmoes Know have enough range and charisma to attract the attention of viewers and advertisers. So, how exactly have these critics and filmaholics broken away from the scores of YouTubers currently blogging, vlogging, and flogging?

Jeremy Jahns, pronounced many different ways by many different people, is a one-man machine working from home. His YouTube channel, launching in mid 2009, was a sure-fire, quick-witted response to the CGI-induced nightmare that is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Since then, Jahns has been uploading his opinions on everything including movies, trailers, video games, and TV shows.

The YouTube sensation’s style can best be described in one word: Laymen. Beyond the cool suits and calm attitude, the man speaks like you and me. He delivers each video like a guy talking to you in a bar. That’s what makes him so approachable and interesting – his ability to analyse each movie, communicate his ideas, provide witty humour and deliver a final blow within each short, concise video. Jahns is a one man 3-D experience (and not just because he stands so close to the camera).

maxresdefault (1)Chris Stuckmann is of a similar breed of heavy-hitting YouTube stars. This other thirty-something has embedded himself in popular film criticism and social media. Popping up on Screen Junkies and across the internet, his friendly face and welcoming personality pull you in. More so, his analyses are memorable and thoughtful enough to keep you around. Like with every YouTube critic, his biggest videos focus on the year’s most anticipated movies. Every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie review connects to the audience whilst informing everyone else. His hilariocity reviews and in-depth spoiler discussions always provide something new. Prometheus and Drive are seen in a different light thanks to Stuckmann’s deft approach.

The best of the best critics break through language divides to create original and entertaining discussions. What the Flick?! is one of the milestone achievements of online and YouTube film criticism. The four leads – Ben Mankiewicz, Christy Lemire, Matt Atchity and Alsonso Duralde – are part of Los Angeles’ broadcast and online film journalism elite. The four star in video reviews with each other and/or a slew of similar guests.

Their reckless energy keeps eyes glued to the screen no matter the subject at hand. It is a unique skill – conveying charisma, charm and immense knowledge in a modest fashion. The crew’s reviews, opinion segments and interviews are worth the subscription. Their reviews of Marvel/Netflix shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist explore each episode, character, storyline and underlying element with ease.

Screen Junkies takes the cake for modern online criticism and entertainment. Sprouting from humble beginnings several years ago, the group kicked off with the uber-successful Honest Trailers along with interviews/kooky segments/other hosted by Hal Rudnik. Their sundance-news-sj-universe1entries continually break the mould – providing fun and funky ideas for their audience to bounce off of and have a good time with. Since then, movie fights and honest trailer commentaries have become part of their ongoing campaign for online ratings. Screen Junkies News is the cherry on top of the sundae. The News channel’s array of hosts and topics (movies, TV etc.) appropriately balances expert opinion and laughs.

A lot of people think it is easy to become a YouTube/internet sensation. Video apps are chock-a-block with people pointing cameras at themselves, surrounding themselves with cool backgrounds and spewing their opinions for the masses to devour. However, it is almost impossible to connect with viewers and maintain a high level of interest from them. The aforementioned channels and organisations prove talent in front of and behind the camera – along with blood, sweat, tears and dollars – are needed to make YouTube careers go from dreams to reality.

Deepish Thought: The Line Between ‘Director’s Cut’ and ‘Final Cut’


In 1982, sci-fi-action-thriller Blade Runner polarised critics and audiences. Acclaimed movie critic Roger Ebert tarnished whatever reputation it had, becoming one of the strangest Hollywood projects of its decade. The film tanked, forcing Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford to reconsider their options.

Directors-Cuts-Scott-072015Blade Runner ‘Final Cut’ came out after several re-jigged versions of the 80s smash, removing everything Scott and Ford disliked. The move kicked off the rise of extended/special/director’s cuts in home entertainment. Today, it is considered one of contemporary Hollywood cinema’s most ground-breaking blockbusters. The film shaped an entire generation of filmmakers, convinced the film was the pinnacle of Hollywood potential.

Over cinema’s history, there has been a strong divide between the director’s cut and theatrical version. A film’s producers, refining the run-time and content to fit the rating system and avoid ambiguity, typically decide the theatrical cut. The director’s cut is longer, broader, and more explicit than the theatrical cut, presented as the director’s approved copy.

The director’s cut refers to what is decided on in the editing process. This particular copy comes between the rough and theatrical cuts, leaving in everything the directors they accepted and endorsed. Many of these are released after the original version, with ‘Director’s Cut’ or ‘Extended/Special Edition’ DVDs selling like hotcakes and attracting increased critical attention.

Many theatrical cuts exist to fit in more screenings per day at the cinema complex. However, with most blockbusters stretched to two-and-a-half-hours, the call for more cuts and minimal directorial control may be necessary. There are two key examples of how studio, director, and producer dynamics have transformed some projects into some of the most memorable productions in contemporary cinema.

avengers-age-of-ultron-team-noscaleThe Avengers: Age of Ultron is a packed middle chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whilst telling its own story – introducing a new villain, protagonists, settings etc. – the 11th franchise instalment forced director Joss Whedon to set up future flicks including Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, and Thor: Ragnarok. To achieve his vision, Whedon set his sights on a four-hour cut to complete this monumental task. The move would have potentially split the instalment into two parts, fleshing out each element to its full potential.

However, the film was designated as one instalment by MCU/Disney heads – receiving mixed reviews from critics and fans for pushing too much into one production. Here, Whedon and the studio clashed head on. Whilst Whedon’s idea would have provided more bang for your buck, the MCU’s plans for future movies would have been stalled. Age of Ultron left the director and studio butting heads, leaving the debate over Whedon’s vision up in the air.

Whereas Age of Ultron blurred the lines between Whedon and the studio’s visions, Ridley Scott’s features make a clear distinction. Scott, from Blade Runner onwards, has had several projects flipped and switched by the studios. For the 2003 re-release of Alien, Scott agreed to create an alternative cut to satisfy 20th Century Fox directly. However, with films including Gladiator, American Gangster, and Black Hawk Down, Scott and the studio’s vision matched directly. All three were released as extended/special editions for DVD editions.

df04719ef97e67c26eb87ab73301ed5fOf course, the most common version of the director’s cut is adding more scenes to extend its run-time. The theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven was met with mixed reviews and dim box-office returns upon release in 2005. Despite being considered a failure, Scott stood by the project throughout its production, release, and reception. The underrated crusades-epic was given the green light, with Scott developing a director’s cut for release several months later.

Screened at the Laemmle Fairfax Theatre on December 23rd, 2005, the director’s cut is approximately 45 minutes to one hour longer than the original. As the version Scott wanted for release, the director’s cut – at 194 minutes – includes a more thorough, fleshed-out version with an overture and intermission. The film received a much stronger reaction from critics, praising Scott for sticking to his original vision. The film, thanks to Scott’s version, is considered one of the filmmaker’s best movies.

The debate between theatrical and director’s cuts has pros and cons on both sides. Big-name, visionary directors including Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg have final cut privilege over their films to positive results. On the other hand, producers, taking advice from focus groups and people involved, have good reason to change the edit, understandably protecting their investment to gain commercial success.

Why I’m not on-board the Redmayne Train


It is easy to confuse three of Great Britain’s best actors working today – Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne. Cumberbatch, thanks to everything from Doctor Strange to 12 Years a Slave, has developed a sterling reputation. His weird and wonderful performances showed off a bright personality. Indeed, over the past few years, the actor has starred in almost everything. Along with his star-making turn on Saturday Night Live last month, the performer has stepped out of his heroes’ shadows and become a solid A-lister.

Hiddleston is a multi-talented performer and all-around jokester. Like Cumberbatch, Hiddleston’s internet fame relies on gifs and memes. His turns as Loki in the Avengers flicks, along with numerous independent flicks and out-there character-dramas, have also assisted the British Thespian. Admirably, Hiddleston and Cumberbatch have extended their talents to London’s West End (whenever they get time off from tinseltown).

Redmayne, on paper, has yielded critical and commercial acclaim. Statistically speaking, very few actors ever have had everlasting success in Hollywood. He deserves praise for achieving what so many try at and fail to accomplish. However, does he deserve it? On the one hand, his earlier performances in My Week With Marilyn and Les Miserables are noteworthy. The performer once turned seemingly indistinguishable characters into charming rogues.

In those performances, his off-screen charm came to the fore. On the Graham Norton/late night show format, Redmayne provides (coasts by on) a fresh smile and cute stories about his career. More often than not, his appearances are worth tuning in to. He also engages with the other guests better than most seasoned A-listers do. His Graham Norton Show appearances alongside the likes of Jennifer lawrence and Bryan Cranston make for series highlights.

So, what is going wrong on screen? For one, he is continually sidelined with woeful material. On paper, Jupiter Ascending, Fantastic Beasts, The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl are interesting choices. In execution, they all suck. In his defense, even the best actors could not save those particular projects from their woeful direction and messy scripting. Maybe it’s his agent’s fault after all…

The four aforementioned stinkers have turned me away from Redmayne as a performer. Jupiter Ascending is, of course, an inconsequential mess of biblical proportions. The Wachowski siblings have only deliver one worthwhile movie (The Matrix…17 years ago). Since then, their pride and ambition have continually tripped them up. Jupiter Ascending is the worst of the bunch. Redmayne’s tiresome performance sums it up – laughable and over-the-top without purpose. Taking a turn into villainy, Redmayne makes (theoretically) interesting choices. Some lines are whispered, others are screamed in a high-pitched wail. His waspish, wimpy persona makes for a stereotypical Gary Oldman-villain turn without anything going on beneath the surface.

Of course, The Theory of Everything placed him directly in the spotlight. He picked up the Oscar for Best Actor and never looked back, leaving Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) star Michael Keaton without that elusive golden statue. As you could probably guess, I believe Keaton should have won it that year. Keaton poured his soul into that performance – expertly playing a washed-up, over-the-hill performer with one more breath left to give. Despite the mixed reception to the movie, everyone praised Keaton’s magnetic performance and return to A-list status. Of course, typical docudrama/Oscar bait saw Theory of Everything‘s star cross the line first.

The Danish Girl was even more egregious and disastrous than the latter movies. Director Tom Hooper, fresh off overrated misfire The King’s Speech and slightly-better Les Miserables, wanted to grab another golden statues with both hands. He failed spectacularly. In this case, Redmayne is underserved, nay obliterated, by Hooper’s annoying direction and the screenplay’s pure sappiness. Redmayne is thrown into a wholly underwritten role. Playing a transgender, true-life figure, his role and performance should have knocked it out of the park. However, the IT-actor is left to give an array of over-the-top flourishes.

Of course, Redmayne is a rich, acclaimed actor working on his own career and life. Hollywood is certainly a treacherous stretch of terrain for everyone, and he seems to be handling fame well. Future projects may indeed give Redmayne his first 100% beloved performance. However, he is currently walking a tightrope between sensitivity and a sub-par Hugh Grant impression. For now, we’re left to fear what franchise or hot property he will be involved in next.

Article: 88th Academy Awards Winners


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Article: 88th Academy Awards Winners