La l’Arrival, and Other Nominees

Opening Monologue

Here we are again, at the one almost consistent feature of my blog: the annual run-down of the Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars. Apart from two or three years of the past ten, I’ve given my opinion on each of the films up for the main award in the past decade, and I’m not going to stop now just because Trump is in the White House. As usual, I’m ranking the movies in my countdown, moving from lowest to highest rated, just to induce the highest rate of discomfort in those reading.

 

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9. Hacksaw Ridge

Plot: A biopic of Desmond Doss, a young pacifist who joins the US effort against the Japanese during World War II, and his struggle for acceptance as a soldier that does not fight.

Why it’s nominated: I don’t know.

Analysis: The suspension of disbelief is an important part of watching a movie. A movie has to initially introduce you to a story, and then keep your attention for the duration, without reminding you that you are watching a movie. How it does this is not important: it can be through an interesting story, it can be through believable characters, it can be through charismatic actors. I think the only way to suspend disbelief in Hacksaw Ridge is if you have never heard of Andrew Garfield. If you had never heard of Andrew Garfield, then you would not cringe at his every line in the opening act, for you would not know that he is just doing his normal thing, but with a terrible American accent. Perhaps even if you had seen a few Andrew Garfield movies, by chance you had grown accustomed to him and could hold your suspension of disbelief until the second act. Unfortunately, a second challenge awaits. Perhaps, if you had never seen a Vince Vaughan movie, and those moments in a Vince Vaughan movie where his carefree character must pretend to be serious to convince someone of something, then you will still be engaged with the story as it enters its third hour. For those who get there with their attention unfazed, there is some joy, as for a period of about 20 minutes they will find some of the greatest battle scenes ever filmed. Unfortunately, these are interrupted periodically not only by Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughan, but ultimately the sobering reality that this is a Mel Gibson film, and someone needs to be Jesus personified. Maybe you love Jesus, Mel, or maybe you found it’s an angle to get big-budget movies made, but there are other literary devices out there to centre your movie around.

Oscar Chances: Maybe in special effects or makeup.

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8. Hidden Figures

Plot: The true story of the black female mathematicians who helped the NASA in the early days of the United States Space Program.

Why it’s nominated: It makes you feel all warm inside.

Analysis: A cynical person would say that Hidden Figures is nominated for two reasons: 1) Best Picture allows more nominees than every other category and therefore some are included just to make up the numbers; and 2) #OscarSoWhite. I’m a somewhat cynical person, and I’m opening myself up to a lot of criticism with that opinion, but there are some caveats. Hidden Figures is a classic feel-good movie: if families are still sitting down together watching TV at Christmas in 20 years, this is one movie that will be on the schedule. It’s a sloppy, cliché-filled, predictable mess of a movie, but that doesn’t stop you cheering on the protagonists and feeling good when they succeed. It gets added points from me by it’s title being a truly awful mathematical pun.

Oscar Chances: Best Supporting Actress, possibly.

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7. Lion

Plot: The true story of a very young boy who, In 1980’s India, gets separated from his brother several hundred miles from home. Without knowing even the name of his hometown (or his mother), he is placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by an Australian couple. Years later in Tasmania, he attempts to use Google Earth to locate his hometown and find his family.

Why it’s nominated: Powerful, heart-breaking story, and an upbeat ending.

Analysis: While I was thinking of what I would write about each of the Best Picture nominees this year, the one that I would always forget about was Lion. I had to google “Best Picture 2017” every time I sat down to write my notes just to remind myself of the ninth nominee. And that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. I’ll admit: I did not want to watch this one, and I didn’t like watching it. The issue was not the story or the acting, it was that I knew what would happen at the end: they were marching us very slowly towards the main character reconnecting with his family. This story would not have been told if it didn’t end well. Despite all the criticism, Titanic succeeded in telling an epic story even though everyone knew what was going to happen; the ending mattered because it brought other stories to their conclusion. In Lion, there is an excellent and effective first half, but then an hour or so of hoping Dev Patel gets to the point, and we can all go home. When he finally does, it is extremely effective, and I’ll admit that I did shed a tear or two.

Oscar Chances: No.

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6. Hell or High Water

Plot: Two brothers in Texas embark on a series of bank robberies in order to raise funds to save their family home, and possibly more.

Why it’s nominated: It reminded older academy members of the movies in the 1970’s.

Analysis: Unlike the rest of the movies on this list, I watched Hell or High Water without the knowledge that it would be nominated for Best Picture. Back in October, after reading some reviews from trusted sources, I gave it a go and found it mostly forgettable. Mostly forgettable, though, means that in a running time of 102 minutes, I forget all but the last 10. The last 10 minutes of this film stayed with me for days, in what could rank as one of the greatest scenes in cinema history. This isn’t an action scene: no one gets killed. This isn’t a plot twist: no information gets revealed that wasn’t apparent from the first minute. It’s just the two main characters talking, and explicitly discussing the main theme of the film, from their own point of view. All I can say is that all Americans should watch this movie, and analyse intensely the last scene. It is the story of your country.

Oscar Chances: Best Supporting Actor is a possibility.

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5. La La Land

Plot: An actress and a jazz pianist, both with dreams of stardom, meet in Los Angeles and begin a singing, dancing relationship.

Why it’s nominated: Hollywood loves singing, dancing, and stories about Hollywood.

Analysis: Since the start of the year, La La Land has been the favourite to win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, and since this was noted, La La Land has been getting a lot of criticism. The movie tells a very simple story, there’s too much singing and dancing, and so on. I can see why a lot of people don’t like it: it’s a throwback to the kind of musical that was popular 60 years ago, and we as a modern audience don’t really like it when the main actors burst into song. Possibly because I was watching the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at the time, I didn’t have a problem with this being a musical. Watch it again, and look for the colour purple. This is a fine movie, with some excellent direction and cinematography, and the songs weren’t bad either. Except the first one, with the people dancing on cars. They should have cut that.

Oscar Chances: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Song.

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4. Manchester by the Sea

Plot: A man returns to his home town to deal with the death of his brother.

Why it’s nominated: A very strong central performance from Casey Affleck, and a truly devastating plot.

Analysis: Don’t see Manchester by the Sea if you are depressed. It is not heart-warming, it is not uplifting, and it is not feel-good. This is a movie about loss; a loss so devastating that there is absolutely no going back to any degree of normalcy in life, or even civility. The main character can hardly even pretend to be concerned with the type of cares normal people would stress over: his is a life that consists of just going through the motions. Manchester by the Sea is a film that succeeds by first creating a mood, and then explaining the reasons for this mood. If you don’t like Casey Affleck after this move (and despite all the rape claims), I don’t know what will do it.

Oscar Chances: Casey Affleck should win Best Actor, but will possibly miss out due to a lot of people hating him for those rape allegations. A Best Screenplay award is likely.

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3. Fences

Plot: In 1950’s Pittsburgh, a working class black family is dominated by its damaged patriarch.

Why it’s nominated: Very powerful central performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, as well as effective and lingering themes.

Analysis: Of all the movies on this list, Fences is the movie I wanted to watch the least. The plot is not very appealing, added to the fact that it is 140 minutes long and it has an inexperienced director (Denzel Washington) adapting a stage play. All of this made me very wary, and it took a rainy Sunday with nothing to do to force me to sit down and watch it. Firstly, Denzel is not a good director. Fences never escapes the feeling that it is a stage play, and his visual imagery could be bettered by an amateur teenage film student. Secondly, and more importantly, Denzel is one of the greatest actors of all time, and this movie is mostly Denzel giving long monologues. This, along with the obvious strength of the material (the play is 30 years old and still running), elevate Fences to heights it should never reach. It definitely needed a better director, but still Denzel ensured a story was told that many people (myself included) would never have heard otherwise.

Oscar Chances:  A real possibility of both Best Actor and Best Actress.

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2. Moonlight

Plot: Told in three acts over three key periods of his life, we see a young black man struggle with his sexuality.

Why it’s nominated: It’s practically perfect in every way.

Analysis: One way of describing Moonlight would be Boy(z n the )hood. On the one hand, it is a naturalistic story of a boy growing up to be a man (Boyhood), but also it is a naturalistic story of a black boy in urban America growing up to be a man (Boyz n the Hood). Moonlight is in the same genre of both of these great films, but it has its own thing going on. Part of that thing is that not only is the protagonist overwhelmed with the pressures of adolescence, poverty and social exclusion, he has also realised at a very young age that he is gay, and thus it is a brutal and lonely path towards adulthood. That’s just part of it, though. Moonlight is a lot more than a story about a gay black kid growing up. It’s well acted, has a great musical score and the visuals are amazing. It’s very nearly a perfect film.

Oscar Chances: Moonlight is the only threat to La La Land for Best Picture, and it would be a real upset for this to occur. Best Supporting Actor is a lock.

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1. Arrival

Plot: Alien spacecraft suddenly appear all over the world, hovering slightly above ground. As the different governments decide on how to react, the US military enlists a group of scientists, including mathematicians and language experts, in an attempt to work out a way to communicate with the extra-terrestrial arrivals.

Why it’s nominated: Strong directing, cinematography, plot, themes, acting.

Analysis: Intelligent science fiction is not a genre that one should find in a list of movies that could win an Oscar for Best Picture. Interstellar two few years ago is one exception, and that move indeed bears a lot of comparison to Arrival. Both tell convoluted stories of people coming to terms with the burden of parenthood with the help of inter-dimensional travel. While Interstellar failed with audiences by losing the theme in the enthralling storyline of travelling through space, Arrival succeeds by having humanity play existentialism as a home game, as we never leave earth. There’s no physics to explain, there are no mind blowing effects to leave us enthralled; we are alone with the themes, which are fascinating. What is the nature of language? Can it affect our behaviour? What is time? Only this movie asks these questions, and looks absolutely stunning while doing it.

Oscar Chances: All it can hope for is possibly a visual effects award.

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Closing Monologue

That’s it, nothing really to say here. If you would like to cast your own vote, please do so here:

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2016: This Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Introduction

Who would have thought that we were living through a golden age? Possibly the most depressing thought about what is going to happen to the world in the coming years is the fact that pre-2016 will now be fondly referred to as ‘the good old days’. The days where you could laugh off extremist and racist views as those of a dying minority, safe in the view that progression was inevitable and common sense would win the day. The days where you could watch a video on YouTube called ‘Zeitgeist’ and wonder to yourself who on earth would believe such nonsense. The days where you could call George W. Bush one of the stupidest people in history. Well, those days are gone, because 2016 was the year the internet was made flesh, as complexity, nuance and logic were completely disregarded and replaced with lies, conspiracy theories and reality TV stars.

Even still, at possibly the darkest hour in a few generations, time must be made to review the inane and irrelevant things that occurred this year in movies, TV, music and memes. That is the purpose of this post, and I will do my best to stay on-topic. I’ll be back at the end for more depressing thoughts. Here’s a tip: if the text is in blue and underlined, it’s clickable and will explain what I’m talking about

2016

THE YEAR IN MOVIES!

Movies of the Year (unranked): Arrival, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Neon Demon, Rogue One, Captain Fantastic, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,

Biggest Let-Down: Ghostbusters. There is a theory going around that Sony themselves were the ones to highlight the sexist comments posted on social media about the new all-female Ghostbusters, in order to give the movie marketing a narrative that didn’t revolve around how bad the movie was. I believe this theory.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: The Brothers Grimsby. Most comedies these days are absolute garbage, so I have no idea why this one got such terrible reviews. I was laughing throughout.

The Annual “Lesser of Two Evils Award” for which movie was the better of two movies that had exactly the same plot: Captain America: Civil War was the best movie this year about a pair of superheroes being manipulated into fighting each other by sinister forces. On the other hand, I barely remember anything about it, which tells me that although Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was bad, it was not necessarily as bad as we all thought at the time.

Amnesia Award for instantly forgettable movie: Several times throughout the year I saw a description of the movie Demolition, starring Jake Gylendhall, and decided that I should sit down and watch it. A few minutes into it, I would realise that I had actually watched it last January.

The (Spoiler-free) Official Verdict On the new Star Wars Movie: I said it this section last year that it has taken me a few years to get on board with the new system of possibly experiencing a new Stars Wars movie every year until I die, but this is what’s going to happen so we might as well get on board. Rogue One is fine, if unnecessary. The opening hour or so is quite boring, but the last 45 minutes or so make up for it. Also, the final scene gives hints as to how the Star Wars series will deal with the death of Carrie Fisher.

Film ad of the Year: The Sun’s front page on June 23rd, combining the newspapers love of leaving the European Union and also its love of Independence Day: Resurgance, which was to be released on June 24th.

The movie was released by 20th Century Fox, which is a subsidiary of News Corporation, which also owns The Sun. Corporate synergy has never combined so many terrible things. (Later on in the year, The Sun would repeat the idea by showing a still of Donald Trump from The Simpsons on its front cover once Trumpy was president-elect. The Simpsons is also produced by a company owned by the News Corporation).

THE YEAR IN TV!

TV Show of the Year: The Crown. It took me a while to convince myself to sit down and watch this show about a young Queen Elizabeth II in 1950’s England, but once I did, it had me in thrall like no other TV show since The Wire. It’s not bingeworthy, and you will not be able to take more than two episodes at a time, but I was at work and looking forward to going home to watch anoth episode.  Set in a time period that we don’t know a lot about, and documenting a class of people that mostly we just assume we understand, in my opinion this is Netflix’s greatest show.

Sitcom of the Year: Bojack Horseman. If I hadn’t watched The Crown, this would be my TV Show of the year. I said it in this section last year, it’s one of the smartest TV shows around today .

TV Disappointment of the Year: The Walking Dead. I only watched the new season because my girlfriend made me put them on the TV for her.

THE YEAR IN MUSIC!

Song of the Year: Portishead – S.O.S.

If ever a song could define 2016, it’s this one: A depressing cover of a song that older people may remember fondly from the early 1980s.

Performance of the Year: The Swedish hosts in the Eurovision.

 

Here’s some 2016 music that I actually listened to and liked this year. Most are from movies, TV shows, and memes, which shows how in tune I am with modern music. All I can say is that you can make fun of Kanye all you want: he makes great songs even when he is quite obviously going through a nervous breakdown.

THE YEAR IN SPORTS!

Game of the Year: Liverpool 4-3 Dortmund. I am still upset that Klopp is not currently the Arsenal manager.

Goal of the Year:

Robbie Brady, Italy v Ireland. I was left speechless twice in two days in June 2016. The first time was when Robbie Brady scored this goal to send Ireland through to the knockout round of Euro 2016. Once the game ended, all I could do was try as best I could to say goodbye to the people I was watching it with in the pub. I went home and began making travel plans to go to Ireland’s next game in France (and against France!), the following weekend. I’m glad I didn’t book anything, because two days later, the Brits had voted for Brexit, and I was in no mood to celebrate anything.

Contrarian Statement of the Year: Leicester winning the league wasn’t a fairy-tale for me, it was downright depressing. All those years of getting depressed about Arsenal’s failure meant nothing, as Leicester showed any old team could do it if they play well. Arsenal can’t even complain about being outspent by their rivals anymore.

 

THE YEAR IN INTERNET!

Tweet of the Year: Those poor stateless kitties. The most poetic illlustration of the absurdity of Britains decision, in one simple tweet.

Tragedy of the Year: The Death of Torrentz. To a certain type of person, Torrentz was an important part of daily life on the internet. A visit in the morning defined what movie/tv show could be watched in the evening. Many people have not recovered from their decision to liquidate, despite the emergence of torrentz2, which is a vastly inferior product.

Stupidest Meme of the Year: Uplifting lists of good things that happened in 2016. Scientific discoveries, pandas multiplying, disease eradication etc. are great, but people who write these things have missed the point. None of those things “happened” in 2016, they were simply the results of decades of work funded by the system that we soon will regard as the good old days.

THE YEAR IN REALITY!

Thing of the Year: The Internet. Like Anakin Skywalker, the internet was supposed to bring balance to the force, and no one really imagined that this would be a bad thing. One would have thought that by making all the information of humankind available to everyone that this would be a good thing, a new enlightenment that freed minds all over the world. Alas no, as all it resulted in was that different people believe in different facts.

Person of the Year: Vladimir Putin. I actually gave him this award in my 2014 version of this review, and all I wrote here was “because the whole world has gone to shite anyway”. How funny was I two years ago? And who would have thought that Russia would end up winning the Cold War?

Idiots of the Year: Liberals. While the world changed around them, the liberal heroes of the internet argued about how to construct a sentence that was in no way offensive. Like many liberals (myself included), we trusted enough in our opinions to know that what we wanted to happen in both Brexit and the US election would just happen. Liberal smugness like this is why the Right hate the Left. To win an argument, it isn’t enough to know that you are right. The Right think they are right too, if that makes sense. There are two extreme groups on the internet: the alt-right, and the always right. Neither are very pleasant.

The “Kardashian Award” for News We Shouldn’t Care About But Was News Nonetheless: Post-election/referendum protests. Many thought these were important, and that it could have led to something. It was just clickbait. A quasi-intelligent version of fake news, offering a glimmer of hope through archaic loopholes and laws, while ignoring the political situation completely. Brexit’s gonna happen, Trumpy will be president. You don’t have to accept it, but for gods sake why did you click on all that stuff about the Electoral College possibly revolting against Trump?


Conclusion

Well, I tried as much as I could to leave the current state of the world out of the mini-rants above, but as you know, the events of this year completely permeated every aspect of our culture, both on- and off-line. Here I have not even mentioned the carnage of Aleppo, nor the horrors of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Germany, or even the continuing suffering of refugees all over Europe. None of this is likely to improve in the near future, as well as the state of affairs with regards to climate change. Some of you may have noticed that I have been publishing less on this site recently, and all I can say is that this is a result of the events of this year. The things I write about really are not very relevant or interesting in comparison to things that have occurred in 2016.

That’s not to say I haven’t been writing: I just don’t see the point in publishing. On the night of the Brexit referendum, I wrote a blog about how Germany (I moved there this year) was a quasi-fascist state. I went to bed without publishing it, and I’m glad I did, because by the time I woke up, the United Kingdom was a bone-fide fascist state. A few weeks ago I wrote something about how Westworld was disappointing, but in this climate, who cares? I didn’t publish that either, but I hope to get back on track in 2017 with my usual aim of a new post every two weeks. Thanks to all of you who have read this far, or indeed anything I have written in 2016 or before. I’m not going to say 2017 will be better, but at least we are all now awake to what is happening. It’s not a joke anymore, but that’s not to say it can’t be funny. Have a great 2017, everybody!

 

For those who would like a trip down memory lane, here is my review of the year in 2015, 2014 and 2013.

Update of the Megafranchise

 

The state of play in all the big Hollywood blockbuster megafranchises, from Marvel to Monsters.

If you have been following this blog for more than a year or two, you will know that periodically I take a time out from my usual format blog posts (which are usually about me showing how clever I am) to discuss the big Hollywood trend of the next few years: the megafranchises. For those who didn’t read these previous posts, or who don’t want to, a megafranchise is different from a normal Hollywood movie franchise in that it involves a single story played out over a series of interconnected movies, using many different characters who may also star in their own movies, and these movies will also be connected to the overall story of the megafranchise. The best example of this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which since 2008 has carefully built a world around several key characters (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America), and every few years lets them all team up in movies together to get the real overall plot out of the way. Other movie studios saw how profitable this franchise model was, and a race began for each of them to create their own megafranchises.

When I first wrote about this topic back in October 2014, it was because a few other players had just announced their intentions to create megafranchises to compete with the MCU: namely the Star Wars Universe, and the DC Universe (Batman, Superman etc.). Back then, I noted that by spring 2016, all the big megafranchises will have released a major movie, and therefore this would be a good time to do an update on the model as a whole. So here I present an update on the world of megafranchises. I mentioned that there is pressure on every studio to possess one of these cash cows, and not everyone can own a Superman, a Spider-Man or a Skywalker, so there is a lot of clutching at straws by some studios to forge whatever character rights they own into potential megafranchises. I have therefore put each of the current 9 announced megafranchises into ordered tiers, categorised by likelihood of success. I devote a lot of time to the DC Extended Universe, because at this time, it really needs to be talked about.

 

 


Part 1: The Literal Megafranchises

The top level of megafranchises contains many of the most well-known entertainment brands in the world: Batman, Superman, Chewbacca, Spider-Man and the Avengers. Even if a movie from one of these megafranchises is terrible, the overall brand is so strong that the series is unlikely to be affected substantially.

 

DC Extended Universe

While developing a sequel for 2013’s Man of Steel, the writers and producers were suddenly asked to expand the story they were working on, and include more characters from the DC Comics Universe. Warner Brothers, the movie studio that owns the rights to these characters saw what a success Marvel/Disney had made of teaming up superheroes in the Avengers, and they wanted a piece of that action. DC Comics had Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and many more in a super hero group just like the Avengers, called the Justice League of America, and Warner Brothers wanted a Justice League movie as soon as possible. While Marvel spent four years and around 7 movies (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America etc) building up to the original Avengers movie, the plan here for DC was to lay all that groundwork into one movie, which was the recently released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In it, we are introduced to a grumpy new Batman, a heavily-accented Wonder Woman, and some YouTube cameos from the rest of the Justice League.

A few weeks before release, rumours started coming from Warner Brothers that BvS was not very good, and definitely not good enough to springboard the Justice League to Avengers level. This was a problem, because the studio already has already filmed two more movies in the megafranchise (Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman), and was already shooting the first Justice League movie. The investments were already made, so there was no real choice in the matter: the movie had to be released, and everyone involved in making it had to pretend it wasn’t a pile of garbage. The critical and public reception to the movie has confirmed that it really was a pile of garbage.

To understand Batman v Superman, and Warner Brothers decision to skip a few movies in developing a universe before throwing us in and expecting to care about it, is to understand the pressure all the other movie studios are under to develop a megafranchise to compete with the MCU. If you don’t have one, you just aren’t a major player in Hollywood. The DC Extended Universe will be given a few movies to redeem itself, although it doesn’t look likely that it will succeed.

What’s next?: This summer’s Suicide Squad.

And after that?

dc

 

Star Wars Sequel Trilogy & Anthology Series

The ridiculously successful recalibration of Star Wars into The Force Awakens surprised most people, and the future looks bright. The real test for this burgeoning megafranchise lies not with it’s direct sequels, but in its expansion beyond the main storyline. When Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars universe in 2012, their stated mission was to release a Star Wars movie every year, possibly forever. They didn’t want to release direct sequels every year, but rather to release a couple of standalone movies set in the Star Wars universe in between the sequels. The first of these spin-offs comes this December with Rogue One. The success of the Star Wars megafranchise depends on how the public reacts to this Star Wars story that probably doesn’t involve a Skywalker. After Episode VIII next year, the next spinoff will be a young Han Solo story in 2018. The new Han Solo is rumoured to have a cameo in Rogue One, so be prepared in the next few months to be outraged at which completely inappropriate young actor will take over the role.

What’s Next?: Rogue One, this December

And after that?

sw

 

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

These guys invented the megafranchise, and they have perfected it. While I am not the greatest fan of the MCU (I prefer my superhero movies to be a bit more complex and pretentious), I am a big fan of how they have built there world over the past 8 years or so, movie by movie, and even through their TV shows. The issues that drive the recently released Captain America: Civil War, were plain to see in both the Jessica Jones and Daredevil TV shows, neatly setting up the themes for the macro stage In the big movies. On the other hand, I imagine 50% of the cinema-going public will be completely shocked when they realise that Guardians of the Galaxy exist within the MCU, and will definitely end up in future Avengers movies. The MCU is both big, and small. Apparently they plan to keep going forever.

What’s Next?: After Civil War comes Benedict Cumberbatch in November as Doctor Strange.

 

And after that?

mcu

 

 

 

Part II: The Wannabe Megafranchises

Not all megafranchises are created equally. Warner Brothers (DC) and Disney (Star Wars & Marvel) were lucky enough to own the rights to highly lucrative and well-known characters to build worlds around. The other big movie studios were not nearly so lucky.

 

Universal Monsters Shared Universe

Universal Studios big plan to compete with the three big players is to build a megafranchise around a few characters they have owned for the best part of a century: the classic horror movie monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Invisible Man. The last time I wrote about this, I said that if they were able to keep their costs down, they might be able to compete at a lower level than their more illustrious competitors. They didn’t listen to me, and have gone the opposite way entirely, hiring an A-List actor in each of their announced movies so far. Tom Cruise will fight The Mummy next year, Scarlet Johansson will do things with The Wolfman, Angelina Jolie is wanted as the Bride of Frankenstein and Johnny Depp will appear as the Invisible Man. Universal’s dream is that they all end up in the same movie together one day. I doubt that will happen. In fact, I doubt even The Invisible Man movie will happen. And they’ve already paid Johnny Depp.

What’s planned?

universal

 

Godzilla/King Kong Monster Mash

Inspired by Universal’s idea of having monsters fight each other, Legendary Pictures plan to get themselves into the mainstream is to have two monsters they own the rights to fight each other, and then possibly team up and fight other things. First up is a King Kong prequel, titled Skull Island. These guys have only announced 3 movies so far, so their restraint could make them a success.

What’s planned?

gkk

 

X-Men Shared Universe

20th Century Fox’s plans to build a shared universe in the X-Men world took a strange turn in February when they released Deadpool, which turned into the most successful movie ever in their entire (not yet mega)franchise. Before this, there was a lot of pessimism about the idea of multiple, interconnected X-Men movies: the Gambit movie had been shelved, and Jennifer Lawrence had said that this years X-Men: Apocalypse would be her last showing as Mystique. Now J-Law wants more, and Fox have ordered a Deadpool sequel, and are looking into more characters (apart from Wolverine) they can build a megafranchise around. This is going a lot better than that megafranchise Sony tried to build around Spider-Man in 2014.

What’s Planned?: Another Wolverine movie, a Deadpool sequel, and a Gambit movie sometime in the future. We will know more after X-Men: Apocalypse debuts.

 

 

Part III: The Wannabe Wannabe Megafranchises

While the above second-tier megafranchises at least had something to go on, the next level down is scraping the bottom of the barrel. All are currently in development, but I doubt many of these will develop into megafranchises, or even a first movie.

 

Hasbro

Paramount doesn’t have a lot of faith in the Transformers megafranchise, so at the same time it is developing a similar ‘working group’ around several of Hasbro Toys characters. GI Joe and Micronauts are the most famous of these, and it’s all downhill from there. If a movie from this ever sees the light of day, there will be slightly more optimism about it than any future Transformers output.

Transformers

Yes, Paramount are trying to build a megafranchise around their terrible Transformers movies. They did this by having an open call for ‘Transformers Universe Scripts’, open to all screenwriters in Hollywood.

Valiant Comics

Sony Pictures is the notable absentee from the studio rundown so far. They has a troubled history with megafranchises: they wanted to build one around Spider-Man, but then the North Korea email hack happened, and some of them were about major studio producers not liking their current Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) too much. After that, Garfield wanted no more, and Sony decided to lease Spider-Man to the MCU. This is why you see Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. It’s because of Kim Jong-Un, and that Seth Green movie that pissed him off. Anyway, Sony’s latest idea is to buy the rights to all the characters of another comic book publisher: Valiant Comics. The plan is to build a megafranchise around these characters in the same way that Marvel did, and DC tried. I had never heard about Valiant Comics before this deal was announced, and I haven’t heard of them since the deal was announced, and that was over a year ago.

 

 

The Outlook?

We’re at a point now where all the MCU competitors are discovering that building a megafranchise is not as easy as Marvel made it appear. Marvel, DC and Star Wars will be with us for at least another 5 years, but the rest of the potential megafranchises I wrote about above will probably not exist if I ever write about this again. The next pivotal moment in megafranchises will be Tom Cruise appearing in The Mummy next summer. It is on his lithe, 50 year old shoulders that the success of the next big megafranchise rests on. I’m just wondering if he has his usual contractual clause put in where he is obliged to have at least one shirtless dialogue scene. At least he will look young compared to The Mummy.

Previous megafranchise posts:

Original post: https://curvesofindifference.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/rise-of-the-megafranchise/

Update 4/15: https://curvesofindifference.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/return-of-the-rise-of-the-megafranchise/

Leo, The Bear, and Other Nonsense

 

Opening Monologue

It’s that time of year again, and 8 movies have been chosen to fight it out for the grand accolade of Best Picture this Sunday in Hollywood. The 8 movies in question aim to join ‘whoever won last year’, and ‘whoever won the year before that’ in the grand pantheon of movies that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. As usual, I have watched as many of them as I could tolerate, and present them here, ranked in reverse order of how much I enjoyed the movie in question. It’s as close to a listicle as it gets around here, so let’s enjoy this departure from the usual long read, and get straight into the countdown. With regards to spoilers, I do go into plot details that I think are relevant to any discussion of the movies, but do not reveal endings or plot twists.

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(Unranked) Room

Plot: A woman attempts to create a nice and pleasant environment to raise her son, despite them both being imprisoned for years in a tiny room by her abusive partner.

Discussion: Look, I feel bad enough about myself and the world as it is. I don’t need to watch stuff like this to feel terrible, despite what potentially hopeful message it has at the end. I tried to consider watching this, but failed each time.

Oscar Chances: Absolutely locked in in for Brie Larson as Best Actress.

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7. The Revenant

Plot: Leonardo Dicaprio plays a fur trapper in 19th Century US wilderness who gets mauled by a bear and left for dead in the middle of nowhere by his colleagues. He summons the will to survive and attempts to wreak vengeance on those who done him wrong.

Discussion: Yes, the undisputed Oscar frontrunner is ranked at the bottom of my countdown. Westerns are my favourite movie genre, and I was expecting big things from this tale of vengeance and survival from director Iñárritu , but came away feeling quite bored and very, very cold. The Revenant is a perfectly serviceable movie and is extremely well made, with some great performances from Dicaprio, the bear, and particularly Tom Hardy. Despite all this, all of the talk in the media about the movie is centred on how difficult it was to make: how it was filmed in the middle of nowhere, with only a few hours of light available to film each day, and how poor Leo had to be cold a lot in order to show the desperation of his character to the audience, such as having frost in his beard. I understand that the movie was quite difficult to make, but that does not mean we all should necessarily care too much: no one asked them to make the movie, and we all would be doing just fine if they hadn’t made it at all. The fact is that if you take away the ‘nightmare shoot’ narrative of The Revenant, there isn’t much left to discuss. It’s a very simple story of survival, vengeance and protecting your family: there is nothing here we haven’t seen before. I would watch a documentary about the film shoot, however.

Oscar chances: The internet will explode if Leo doesn’t win Best Actor for this, and it will more than likely pick up Best Director and Best Picture too.

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6. Bridge of Spies

Plot: Tom Hanks plays a lawyer in 1950’s US who comes up with the idea of saving a convicted Soviet spy from execution, and instead using him in a prisoner exchange to get a US spy back from the dirty communists.

Discussion: I don’t know about you, but I was expecting more bridges, and more spies. By the midpoint of the movie I had realised all we were going to get was just one bridge with just the spies we had seen already, and I was disappointed. It is Spielberg and Tom Hanks, so it is obviously well made, and mostly entertaining. Mark Rylance as the Soviet spy held by the US as a bargaining chip steals the show. Once again, it’s a perfectly serviceable Oscar-bait movie that is not out of place in a list of Best Picture nominees, but there were a few issues in it that left a sour taste in my mouth. While it may have been sold to us as spy thriller, what Bridge of Spies is really about is the glorification of US due process and the role of the American legal system in its victory over the USSR in the Cold War. We see the trial of each spy: one in the US, and the other in the USSR, and the verdicts are exactly the same, yet they are portrayed onscreen differently. They are both show trials, being undertaken for reasons of propaganda, yet only the USSR trial is portrayed on screen as such. Both verdicts dictate life imprisonment, yet the US version is seen as mercy while the Soviet equivalent is seen as a horrific death sentence. Similarly, we are briefly told in a throwaway line of dialogue that the Soviet spy has been interrogated by the Americans, yet we see explicitly how the US soldier is treated by the Soviets. I know it is probably impossible for a US movie, but it is about time we had a realistic, non-ideological movie about the Cold War. We can take it.

Oscar Chances: It could possibly win Best Supporting Actor, but other than that, it’s just here to make up the numbers.

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5. The Martian

Plot: On a mission to Mars in the near future, botanist Matt Damon is left behind by his NASA crew and must use his wits to survive the long wait for a rescue team.

Discussion: The Martian is a very decent blockbuster, carried by a Matt Damon performance that probably deserves more credit. Leo was cold a lot, yet Matt is talking to himself for 99% of his scenes. The movie is also surprisingly funny, and the political nature of the NASA organisation was very interesting to see, particularly when it comes to releasing information on a possible life-or-death situation to the public. The problem with The Martian however was that it was unbearably light, it was a throwaway rescue mission movie disguised as science fiction and as a result, it fell under the shadow of Interstellar. Love or hate Interstellar, but you have to at least admit that it contained ideas within it that resonated long after the movie ended. The Martian had no such issues, and after leaving the cinema, I had a very empty feeling once the stimulation of 3D and special effects had worn away. I realised that I had been fooled into thinking I was watching an intelligent, pretentious science fiction movie, and it was really just an enjoyable, expensive, instantly forgettable popcorn movie instead. It’s rare that you will hear this, but the movie could have benefited from being a little more pretentious.

Oscar Chances: None.

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4. Spotlight

Plot: The journalists of the Boston Globe newspaper undergo an in-depth investigation into the cover-up of child abuse within Boston’s powerful Catholic Church establishment.

Discussion: True story, important issue, great cast, great director: this is the most Oscar-y of all the movies on this list, and it is difficult to picture the movie getting funded at all without the explicit intention of competing for this year’s Academy Awards. Spotlight is a gripping movie, and benefits from staying with the journalist team throughout, rather than showing the perspective of the Evil Priests. Liev Schreiber gives one of the best performances I have seen as the aloof, quiet new editor who doesn’t see the big issue with going after Boston’s Catholic Church. This movie is set in 2001, and therefore some very interesting issues are brought forward, as the article is ready to publish in time for September 11th, yet all involved are then occupied by covering the aftermath of 9/11. There are hints that there is pressure from above not to publish such a depressing story after 9/11, so the journalists elect to allow Boston to have their Christmas without more bad news, and publish after New Year’s. This aspect of modern journalism was what I found more interesting, which is probably because I’m Irish, and priests abusing children just does not shock me.

Oscar Chances: Don’t be surprised if it wins Best Picture.

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3. The Big Short

Plot: From the mid-2000’s we follow the separate stories of a disparate group of traders who each independently see that something is not quite right with the structure of US mortgages. Each party invests heavily in ‘shorting’ (betting against) the US Property Market at the height of its prosperity, and we follow all involved until the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

Discussion: The Big Short is a comedy starring Steve Carrell, by the director of Anchorman (who is also nominated for Best Director). The reason it’s in this list of nominees is that it’s a comedy in the Ancient Greek sense of the word, rather than jokes about cologne and the etymology of San Diego. The main joke of the piece is that we all know our protagonists are absolutely right, and that it’s the rest of the world who are wrong and blind to the imminent disaster. We, the audience, and the select excellent cast are in on the joke that is about to rip the world a new asshole, and both them and us are put through a lot in order to get to the punchline. You know it’s a comedy because, by the last act of the movie, you are actually wishing the financial crisis happens just to prove the unbelievers wrong.

Oscar Chances: It has about a 20% chance of winning Best Picture.

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2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Plot: In a post-Apocalyptic World, a man assists some women in escaping the clutches of a powerful warlord.

Discussion: If I knew one year ago that Mad Max: Fury Road would be nominated for Best Picture at the 2016 Oscars, I would have gone to every betting agency in my neighbourhood with fistfuls of tenners, and beg them to take my money. Even 100-1 odds would have seemed stingy by the betting houses, and probably 1000-1 would be the odds I would look for. The movie is the fourth installment of a somewhat successful franchise, the equivalent of a future instalment/remake of The Neverending Story being rated as not just good, but among the best of the year. Yet this nomination has been coming since the world first glimpsed the Fury Road back in May last year, as anyone who saw this movie in a cinema will tell you that it is something they had ever seen before. Long distance races in the desert were possibly the reason why 3D was invented, and are definitely the only time I have watched a movie in 3D and thought the technology enhanced the experience. The level of inventiveness in every action scene, the practical special effects, and the insane otherness of what we all watched in those dark rooms across the world back in May 2015 are what make the inclusion of this movie in the list of nominees here so expected, however. The movie starts with a brief contextual sentence about the end of the world, and from then on, you’re on your own: if you don’t understand why someone is doing something, the movie has already progressed without explaining it and you just have to accept that this is a different society with different rules. This movie explains absolutely nothing about its world, and is all the better for it. It’s bleak, it’s brutal, it’s hopeful and it’s beautiful. The best action movie since The Matrix, and I would like to say that it’s a game changer, but it isn’t, it’s an anomaly. There is only one person in the world who could make a movie like this, and it took George Miller 30 years to do it.

Oscar Chances: Miller deserves Best Director.

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1. Brooklyn

Plot: In 1950’s Ireland, a young girl realises that her only option for a decent future is to emigrate to New York. We follow her in her new home in Brooklyn as she questions her decision.

Discussion: Yes, it finally happened: I liked a movie with a female main character. It had to happen eventually. I may even have cried at the end, and in the middle. Brooklyn hits a few nerves with me as not only is it about Ireland, it is about migration. I am Irish, and am a serial migrator, so a lot of themes brought up here resonate and really hit home, and I would possibly go so far as to say it’s the best movie about emigration I have seen. This is not a story about someone fleeing war, destitution or persecution, it is a story of a normal person deciding to leave her country of birth because there simply was no room in her own country for any sort of successful life. She suffers no great hardships in New York: no crime, no corruption or no dilution of her values. Her biggest obstacle is her homesickness, and this passes eventually. After eventually fashioning herself some kind of life in New York, she visits her family back home in Ireland and is given the choice of whether to stay or return to Brooklyn. The choice she faces here is something all economic migrants face at some point, and I really don’t think I have seen it made so well as in Brooklyn. I’m crying again, so I’ll stop.

Oscar chances: Not really, but possibly could snatch a Best Screenplay award for Nick Hornby.

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Closing Monologue

There you have it. I’ve been doing this for a few years now so if you want you can check out what I thought of the Best Picture nominees of 2013, 2014 and 2015 by clicking on the appropriate link embedded within the year! But enough about me, what did you think of this year’s Oscar bait? Vote for your favourite in the poll below. I’ll be back next year telling you what I thought of whatever crap Hollywood thinks we should appreciate then!

A Pirate’s Life For Me

Prologue

A few weeks ago, Bollywood actress Kriti Sanon was on a flight to Delhi with her mother, and just so happened to peek in the direction of the passenger sitting next to her, who was watching a movie on his phone. She couldn’t help but notice that she was the star of the movie that her neighbour was watching, and she also couldn’t help but notice that it was her most recent movie, the big budget Bollywood blockbuster Dilwale, that he was watching on his phone. The problem here was that Dilwale had only been released in cinemas the previous week, and therefore the passenger sitting beside Ms. Sanon was obviously watching a pirated version of the movie, badly filmed from the cinema audience. She was annoyed, and did what any girl in her mid-20’s would do when annoyed: she vented on Twitter, posting a picture of the passenger to her (almost half a million) followers.

So, this guy, in the course of a plane flight was shamed online by one of India’s most popular actresses, all for simply watching a(n admittedly terrible copy of a) movie on his phone. This story stuck with me for a while, as I myself was at the time enjoying the spoils of this year’s DVD Screener season (a late December/early January online release of every movie hoping to be nominated for that year’s Academy Awards. The movie studios send DVD quality ‘screener copies’ to those who vote for the awards, and one of these always leaks online, meaning that it is possible to download a perfect copy of the years “best” movies often weeks before the movie actually opens in cinemas). I didn’t really see anything bad in downloading these movies: for one thing, I already had purchased a ticket to see The Hateful Eight in the cinema when it was released at the end of January, and I knew full well when purchasing the ticket that I would have seen it already by the time the ticket is validated.

It did get me thinking however. I am someone who keeps track of every movie I see, and by my Rotten Tomatoes reviews, I saw 75 movies released in 2015. I paid to see 9 of them, and of those 9, 2 were on Netflix and therefore included in my subscription plan, leaving me with 7 movies in the past year that I have paid to see as an individual product in a cinema. I paid around €85 to the movie industry in 2015, yet by their estimates the bill would probably run closer to €1000. Am I, and Kriti Sanon’s unfortunate airplane buddy, destroying the movie industry?

cinema1
What is a Cinema?

A movie is made, it is promoted, it is released in cinemas, and then a few months later it is released on DVD/BluRay/Digital Download for purchase. This conveyor belt model of a movies product life cycle is common knowledge to us all, as we grew up with it as part of our lives, yet really the truth is that the whole thing doesn’t make a lot of sense. To us it is natural that a highly reproducible and distributable product like a movie remains available only for viewing in a few select physical locations for the start of its life cycle, and that a premium must be paid to watch this copy at that location.

For a very long time, this was actually true. Before TV, before video, before the internet, a movie theatre was the only place anyone could watch a movie. The building was a necessary physical infrastructure to any community, built big and expansive so that as many people as possible could fit in a room and watch the same movie. Obviously since there were so many people there, a social aspect developed, as well as the idea of a trip to the cinema being a classic ‘date’ event. For decades, cinemas held a monopoly in access to movies of any kind for the general public, and this was only threatened once VCR/video players reached critical mass in the late 1980’s. Since most high-end movie markets could now choose to watch movies at home, cinemas emphasized the social aspect of physically ‘going to the movies’, and differentiated the singular experience of seeing a movie as a large group rather than in your own living room. However, once DVD’s replaced VCR and HDTV’s replaced screen static with clear digital images, cinemas faced a new challenge: the home copy of a movie was actually better quality than the one shown at a premium in the local crappy fleapit. The social experience argument wouldn’t win this one, so the product differentiation had to come in the form of a switch in movie production from film to digital, and most abhorrently: the rise of 3D movies, an experience which (unless you are an idiot who bought a 3D TV) could not be replicated at home.

What A Cinema Is Now

So the humble cinema/movie theatre has come a long way in its existence over the past century: from acting as an absolute monopoly for many decades, to qualitatively differentiating its product due to the threat of competition, and more recently to being forced to invest in new technology in order to actually make the act of going to a physical location to watch a movie worthwhile, and perhaps even good value relative to the cost. Nowadays a cinema is merely a way to watch a movie, rather than the way to see a movie. If you want to see the movie in 3D, you pay a ~€15 fee, and you are ok with it because there is no other way to see it in that format. Plus, it is genuinely more enjoyable to see a movie with a large crowd of people (if that movie is actually entertaining). I have watched The Force Awakens twice now, in 3D and in IMAX, and it was worth every cent of the circa €30 in total I spent to see this movie.

The same could not be said of Spotlight, a film I had been looking forward to for a long time, and yet one I knew I would never pay to see in the cinema. The movie tells the story of a Boston newspaper that fights to unearth the culture of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. It’s obviously not in 3D. It was filmed digitally, yet the digital rendering would probably be crisper on an average HDTV than a large cinema screen. Therefore the only reason I would go to see Spotlight in a cinema was if I enjoyed the social aspect of the experience. I’m going to state this for the ages: I don’t necessarily want to be in a large room full of people who want to be in a room full of people who want to watch a movie about child abuse. The only reason I would ever pay to watch this in a room full of people would be if this were the only way to watch it, and due to the DVD Screener season, it obviously was not.

The pressing issue here is that in 2016, there are precisely two ways to watch a copy of a highly reproducible, highly distributable, new movie: either pay €10+ to watch it in public, or else download it illegally. Cinemas obviously are not the only way to watch a movie, they are a way to experience one: either through advanced technology (digital 3D, IMAX etc.) or the social aspect of seeing a movie in a large group. If this is the case, then the movie itself is not the product, and therefore cinemas actually sell their own specialised qualitative good (as well as expensive popcorn) that cannot be replicated outside their walls. If this is actually the case, then it follows that as well as being released in cinema on opening day, a good copy of the movie should be available to download online for a reasonable fee, directly from the movie distributor, free from the moral dilemma of piracy. The technology to price discriminate certainly exists, and it is only the industry power of cinema chains that maintain the antiquated monopoly power of their business model. I for one would certainly consider paying €5 to watch a newly released movie, especially without the threat of being unable to pause it in the middle to go to the bathroom.

Epilogue

There is definitely a romantic aspect to the cinema, we all remember the first time we were taken by our parents, and we all remember some iconic scene in a movie like Cinema Paradiso that celebrated the escapist power of a movie theatre within a community. What needs to be realised however is that even when most people reading this paragraph first visited a cinema, their business model was out of date. The movie theatre industry has been redundant for over 30 years, and has kept on going as if nothing has happened, as if it still owned monopolistic access to a movie for the first few months of its life cycle. A cinema obviously does have a product to sell, in its social aspect and high resolution 3D display, yet still it exists now as a slightly unnecessary middleman in the otherwise straightforward distribution of a single mp4 file. Some might say that it is unethical to engage in movie piracy, and that all should pay the market prices for a unit of entertainment such as a movie. The thing is, the market price for a product is dictated by the price and ease that product is available for, and therefore for example if it is a choice between paying €15 for a movie that starts at a specific time and in a specific location, or downloading a good copy for free and watching it whenever you want, the real market price is probably closer to €0 than it is €15. Something else must be inflating the cost, and it is probably worth the industry’s time in discovering what that something is. Answering my moral dilemma, in the wake of Kriti Sanons Twitter shaming of a man who didn’t want to pay to see her movie in a cinema: in a capitalist society, it is not the duty of customers to ensure the profit pools of an industry, it is the industry’s responsibility to adapt to a market disruption and find new ways to extract profit from its customers within the new business environment. Don’t blame the customers, blame the business model. We are already there, you just haven’t organised us yet.

Star Wars: A Newer Hope

I am part of an aging generation that still remembers when there was a movie that was actually called Star Wars. Before Disney, before the prequels, before the special editions, the first way that George Lucas began to tinker with his legacy was by gradually changing the name of the movie originally released as Star Wars in 1977 to initially Star Wars: A New Hope, and finally by 1981 the movie was officially Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. None of this mattered however, as in the early 1990’s when I was growing up and becoming aware of the film series, no one paid any attention to the word “episode” in what was then the Star Wars Trilogy, and the movies were simply known as Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Despite the marketing and rebranding attempts of Lucasfilm over the previous decade and a half since the now “Original Trilogy” ended, it was not until the late 1990’s that the word “episode” became forever associated with the franchise. This was because a movie marketed as Episode I appeared, and now it is commonplace to refer to the movie formerly known as Star Wars as Episode IV. As I grew up calling the movie Star Wars, it has been difficult for me to make the transition to calling it Episode IV, or even A New Hope. Since there are now 7 movies in the series, and the promise of many more to come, it is difficult to call the movie Star Wars and have people understand which specific movie you mean, therefore it is inevitable that the movie’s title will finally be specified as what Lucasfilm always wanted it to be.

I first saw the movie I then knew as Star Wars on television, which in the days before the internet was the primary way of finding out about anything. On television it was punctuated by commercial advertising breaks, which were very annoying, so I asked my parents for the VHS of the movie that Christmas and could therefore watch uninterrupted. In 1997, it was the 20th Anniversary of the movie (and Lucasfilm needed to remind younger viewers of the series since they had Episode I in production), so they released the so-called ‘Special Editions’ of each of the Original Trilogy into cinemas over the course of three months. I went to see all three. Later that year, the Special Edition Trilogy was released on VHS, and I bought that too. As technology moved away from magnetic media and towards digital, the trilogy was released on DVD in 2004, and I bought them then too.

A Newer Hope

Now, I count watching a movie with ad breaks in the middle as paying to watch it, so therefore by my count I have paid to see Star Wars (and the other movies in the Original Trilogy) five times, and bought the damn thing three times. I am not even going to list here all the Star Wars merchandising I have bought during my lifetime, as it would probably run into four figures, and probably funded the purchase of a single green screen in the production of the prequel trilogy. I really have thought about this a lot over the past two weeks or so, as in the build-up to The Force Awakens I wanted to rewatch the Original Trilogy so as to be able to recognise details in the new movie that referenced its predecessors.  Yet the last time I bought Star Wars was in 2004, and the world is now a very different place. First of all, I have bought a total of one DVD since 2005, when broadband internet finally made it possible to download files of 700mb+ in a reasonable amount of time. I have three copies of Star Wars in my bedroom, yet my bedroom is 2,166km away from where I currently live. Also, I currently possess the technology to play only one of the three different versions of that movie that I own (VHS tragically died sometime in the last century). I obviously feel like I have rewarded the creators of that movie enough and paid them accordingly, so I had absolutely no qualms about downloading it illegally via torrents.

I was fine with that, and they would never know, so it was all good. Then I was searching on YouTube for the trailer for The Force Awakens, and saw this in the search results.

Starwars

For those who don’t speak German, or can’t work things out based on context, it is the option to watch Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for €16.99, on YouTube. This annoyed me on several levels. Firstly, €16.99 for an almost 40 year movie, to watch in a web browser must surely be a joke. This is the equivalent of two months of unlimited Netflix streaming, or the cost of a 3D IMAX viewing of the newest movie of the franchise. If you go further into the ‘offer’, you will find that this copy you paid for will be owned by you, unlike the Netflix content that you simply borrow. So for €16.99 you can own the right to access a YouTube video whenever you want, which sounds suspiciously like YouTube not understanding what the internet is.

The cost aside, the main thing that annoyed me about this was that just like me, basically anyone over the age of 25 has already paid to see Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) at least once. Anyone around the age of 50 paid to see it in the cinema, anyone around the age of 40 watched it on TV and suffered through the ad breaks, and anyone under 40 more than likely had a video or DVD copy too. The only people who have never paid to see those movies are probably under 15, and therefore incapable of paying for anything. In all honesty, on rewatching the original Star Wars movie this month, I found it has dated terribly and most of its enjoyment nowadays comes from nostalgia, and therefore no child will be convinced to engage with the franchise from that movie alone. The scale is small, the acting is old-fashioned and the pacing is more like a 1970s detective drama rather than a modern blockbuster. Even I found it boring at times, let alone a millennial child raised on the Transformers and Avengers movies.

So what is to be done? Any adult buying a digital copy of the original Star Wars movie will feel cheated because they have probably paid for ownership of the same product multiple times over their lifetimes (and probably feel that more iterations are still to come), and any child will not be satisfied watching a movie that was the spaceship of its day, but is now nothing more than a slowly paced taster of things to come. At this stage, almost 40 years after it was made, I think the time has come for the powers that be to put the oldest Star Wars movie out to pasture and release it into the public domain. That movie should be free for anyone to watch anytime. Most of us grew up with Star Wars shoved down our throats: it is impossible not to be aware of it, and that is especially apparent in the past few weeks during the build-up to the release of The Force Awakens. Everyone knows Star Wars, everyone gave money to Star Wars, and through constant discussion of the movies everyone advertises Star Wars. Children buy the toys, play the videogames and watch the animated TV shows that expand upon the original story, so there is no excuse for trying to milk them of every last bit of money by forcing them to pay for a movie they won’t enjoy. Similarly there is no reason to lie to older Star Wars fans by telling them if they buy a particular version of the movie, they will own it: we all have owned it, and we all know now that there is no such thing as owning a piece of media.

The makers of the movie I originally knew as Star Wars have changed practically everything about the film since I have been alive, even so far as to dictate to us a new name that it must be called. They re-released it multiple times and charged me for the privilege of possessing each version. They diluted the franchise (probably irreversibly) by producing prequels to explain plot points that nobody needed explained. The least they could do is stop trying to extract money from us for the dated masterpiece that started it all.

Superheroes & Social Justice: How Megafranchises Diversified the Blockbuster

On Friday November 20th, Netflix released the entire first series of a new TV show, Jessica Jones. The main character of Jessica Jones is naturally a woman named Jessica Jones, a private detective with superhero powers who is coming to terms with a stressful ordeal she experienced shortly before we meet her. Her nemesis is an abusive former lover who can control the minds of others to make them do anything he wants, which is how he managed to form a relationship with her in the first place. She is therefore a rape victim, and sees it as her duty to stop the man from doing the same to anyone else. Since the man can control minds, she has trouble with society actually believing that he exists or did anything wrong, so the rape metaphor continues, and the main plot of the series is how Jessica can prove his existence and somehow stop him. Jessica is helped by her foster-sister, her black lover Luke Cage, and her lesbian lawyer (Trinity from the Matrix). Jessica Jones therefore is a superhero story covering a very female storyline, led by women, and featuring further social minorities in the supporting cast. Further to the point, things do not go well for any white man that appears in the show. This makes Jessica Jones sound like the fan fiction of a Tumblr Social Justice Warrior, but it is important to remember that the show is actually a big budget, highly glossed superhero story. What is more important is that it is the TV expansion of a megafranchise,.

Yes, Jessica Jones is part of the megafranchise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which includes all of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, as well the individual movies of Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the like. Jessica exists in the same world as all those guys, and rumour has it she may meet them at some stage in the future (to talk about diversity in the Avengers, I guess). More specifically, Jessica Jones is part of a side project of the Marvel Megafranchise which focuses on street level crime in New York City. It started in April this year with Daredevil, followed by the recent Jessica Jones, next spring it continues with a Luke Cage series, then a few months later another hero (Iron Fist) gets a series. Once these four series have concluded, all four of these protagonists join together for a miniseries called The Defenders, and these guys will probably then move from TV to the movies to join up with the Avengers. So while the Jessica Jones series that was just released in November does tell a single story, the show itself is merely a cog in a giant machine that will be spewing out similar interlinked content for years to come, with little risk, as it is just part of a massively diversified Marvel portfolio. Therefore Jessica Jones could afford to take chances in its storytelling and character diversification that not many similar standalone big budget TV show possibly could. While Jessica Jones is not a movie blockbuster, it is blockbuster TV, and exists solely because of the acquired and future capital of the Marvel Megafranchise, and it is worth looking at how it and the other megafranchises are using their considerable power to promote diversity in mainstream media.

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I started thinking about this while one eye was on the TV, where Jessica Jones and Luke Cage shared a lover’s embrace, and my other eye was on my laptop, as I watched the newly released trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I risk accusations of both racism and sexism, but the fact is that they both feature love stories between a white woman and a black man. The Star Wars Megafranchise kicks off in a few weeks, and it has diversity written all over it. While characters from the old movies do appear, the main storyline focuses on new characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (David Boyega). Star Wars is therefore showing it has moved on from the original trilogy, which featured two women (in fairness, both held leadership positions), and one black man (again, in fairness it was Billy Dee Williams, the coolest black man around at the time) in the course of three movies. The prequel trilogy had more women (although most seemed to be pretending to be Natalie Portman), and one more black man (again, they went for the coolest black man around at the time: Samuel L. Jackson). It is commendable that the makers of the new Star Wars movies decided to correct these perceived wrongs, and they will go further next year when they release their first spinoff, Star Wars: Rogue One, which has a woman as the main character.

The Star Wars Megafranchise therefore has not even started yet, and is already shunning the traditional route of casting young handsome white men as the lead characters in the movies. The same cannot be said of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), despite its recent Jessica Jones social justice crusade. The MCU started in 2008, and still, after 12 movies, has yet to have a single movie about anything other than a white man (or superhero teams led by white men). Scarlett Johanssen has been in the background of a number of these films, as has the coolest black man available at the time (yep, Samuel L. Jackson again), but these characters merely served as bridges through the multiple movies rather than having real stories of their own. This is about to change when Marvel get around to releasing a Black Panther movie in 2018, about an African king who can harness the power of nature. In 2017 they will release a movie about a female superhero, Captain Marvel. So it will have taken them almost a decade to release a movie about about anything other than a super-powered white man. Jessica Jones can be seen as a way to achieve forgiveness for this, as well as a testing ground for what kind of female-centric stories that audiences will tolerate.

Finally, the last of the three main megafranchises, the DC Extended Universe, kicks off next year with Batman v Superman and was envisaged from the outset to produce a Wonder Woman movie as quickly as possible. This turns out to be in summer 2017, and they have already started producing their black superhero movie, Cyborg, which is released in 2020.

So, taking the output of all three megafranchises into account, there are five blockbuster movies coming out in the next five years that focus on superheroes other than white men. Add to this the Netflix TV shows, and you can see that there is definitely a trend emerging. While social equality has always been around in some shape or form, the past two years have seen a palpable change in attitudes towards such things as the gender pay gap, as there has been a persistent effort to keep this inequality in the limelight, to entrench it in the imagination to the extent that it becomes more than just a fleeting “cause of the day”. Hollywood blockbusters are not known for their diversity, and the Hollywood system of movie making is extremely conservative: spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a movie means that movie studios rarely will take chances, and stick instead to formulas, and characters, that have worked in the past.

The emergence of megafranchises within the studio system has changed this game a little, and there is room to take chances. Since the megafranchises entail a large series of interconnected but independent parts, no longer can the future of a franchise be put in jeopardy by a single bad movie in the series. If the next Captain America movie is terrible, this is irrelevant to the future of the other Avengers movies. Therefore in the individual movies that appear in-between the big group movies, it is definitely possible to tell stories that would be deemed financially risky by conservative investors if the movies were not part of such a grand, diversified portfolio that the megafranchises consist of. I am not implying that movies about black superheroes are funded due to Hollywood movie studios promoting diversity, but that they are far less risky under the protection of the megafranchise umbrella, and that the movie studios can therefore fund a $200m Wonder Woman movie and be impressed if it succeeds, but not too worried if it fails. In my least cynical terms: the megafranchises are giving diversity a chance, in as risk-averse a setting as possible in Hollywood. In my most cynical terms: the megafranchises don’t care about diversity, they just want to see if they can make money from it.

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They will definitely make money from all of the movies I have mentioned, but the real issue is what happens next: when the megafranchise umbrella is removed, will we be seeing anything other than white men leading other big movies? Well, I’ve told you already: Hollywood sees these superhero movies about women and black men as tests to see if such movies can make money, so it really depends on how successful movies like Captain Marvel and Black Panther are at the box office. Hollywood is not a social justice warrior, it’s a business: it knows that movies with handsome white men can make money, and therefore it favours these movies. In turn, movie writers know that movie studios like movies about white men, and therefore their screenplays will start from this building block. It’s a circle that can only be broken if a viable alternative is demonstrated to be successful, and the focus of any pro-diversity criticism of Hollywood should be on this aspect rather than current or recent output. Decent roles for women and minorities will not be found by simply criticising them with things such as the Bechdel Test, they must come from producing quality characters and storylines that revolve around those people, and this emanates from the screenwriting process.

If the diversity-infused megafranchise movies make money, the acceptance of a screenplay about women and minorities will be much easier in the Hollywood system, and therefore the future of diversity in Hollywood blockbusters has been democratised. The studios have found a way to make massive movies about something other than white men, with little financial risk, and are pumping these movies with every marketing resource used for traditional blockbusters. The question of whether this continues or not is solely down to the success of these films, and of shows such as Jessica Jones, and not in analysing and complaining about what went before. If you want diversity in big movies, go see Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Cyborg, Wonder Woman and Rogue One when they are released, and hope that they are all good. Hollywood is a business that has no obligation but to make passable movies that they hope will make money, so there is absolutely no point in complaining about them in the hope they will one day see sense and enforce equal opportunities and affirmative action. They owe us nothing, but at least with the megafranchises they can explore whether or not they should listen to what the pro-diversity critics are saying. They have found a way to do it that suits everybody, and what happens next is up to the viewing public.