"Original" Content

Like a lot of people, I didn't see The Lone Ranger, and I do mean a LOT. And Disney is obviously not happy about that. After surviving development hell and a constantly changing roster of talent willing to make the film, the $215m monstrosity is by all accounts an abysmal failure having earned just shy of $60m as of this writing. This was the film that Disney was counting on to be the sure thing for the year. Instead it's become that other sure thing they banked on -- John Carter.

In wake of this disaster and the fore-mentioned John Carter, Disney has essentially announced that they will no longer be making "original" content. They will concentrate only on sequels and franchise films, having determined the originality of the Lone Ranger to be the reason no one went to see it. I'll wait for you to stop laughing at the fact that Disney considers the Lone Ranger to be an "original" film.

Sure Lone Ranger got trounced by Despicable Me 2, a sequel itself, and their own Monsters University, a prequel, but there's another film that kicked it's ass. A little girl comedy called The Heat from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. That's right, this $43m film is going to break $100m by the end of the weekend. You could make 5 movies like The Heat for what the Lone Ranger cost. Original content. But you could make the argument that The Heat is counter-programming, and that's why it's doing so well.

Another little movie opened this weekend. A small, intimate story about giant robots fighting giant monsters called Pacific Rim. It's estimated to earn over $50m before the weekend is through. Within a week, it will have outgrossed The Lone Ranger. Pacific Rim is an original screenplay not based on anything other than pop culture influences. To make things even more skewed against it, it really has no stars to speak of. The biggest names on the bill are Idris Elba and Charlie Day. Don't get me wrong, I think Idris is absolutely badass, but no one would ever mistake him to have the same potential box office draw as Johnny Depp.

Still Disney says they're giving up on "original" content. Perhaps they should just concentrate on making better movies than always trying to launch or sustain a franchise. People want original stories, and they will show up for them when they look promising. But most people I know who went out to Pirates of the Caribbean 4 or Hangover 2 felt duped and betrayed -- suckered into giving up money for a shitty movie on the promise that they could get that lovin' feeling back.

Ultimately it comes back to the old adage of Hollywood that everyone knows and no one follows -- anybody who knows what will succeed and what will fail is lying, so just make the best movie you can instead of trying to please everyone.

Die Hard - A colour comparison

Die Hard colour

A Good Day to Die Hard opens today to some of the worst reviews any film in this franchise has received and no doubt will create new box office records. But as I take the time to go back and enjoy the earlier films, one thing that strikes me is the stark difference between the look of the films.

The first two films enjoy a very similar colour palate, the first benefiting more from Jan De Bont's terrific cinematography. But there was an emphasis of contrasting natural skin tones against colourful backgrounds to make people pop out and create events that were larger than life. Even the night or cold snowy scenes that were washed in blue were always done so with a very vivid blue that was still bright and colourful.

The third film, directed by John McTiernan like the first, was treated very similarly with the most notable difference being less colourful overall. Perhaps it was because the film was set in New York, or that it was the 90s and filmmakers like David Fincher were playing with colour effects like bleach bypass, but there's no doubt that this film looks much grittier. Still though, it always lives in a very natural colour spectrum. Flesh tones are flesh tones, and the concrete jungle of New York, while very grey, is never crushed to the point of bleakness.

Then we come to Live Free or Die Hard. I've since decided that one of my least favourite things about this film is the colour. Len Wiseman loves to do what so many filmmakers these days like to do in an attempt to bring style to a film. They saturate the hell out of the backgrounds and shove everything into a monochromatic cyan range while bringing up the oranges in the actor's faces. There is quite literally no life in the frame that lives outside of the actor's faces. It's a nice contrasting effect, but it becomes extremely wearing with the added detriment of making the entire film feel artificial. (and therefore inconsequential)

A Good Day to Die Hard appears to be taking this colour palate even further. Bruce looks absolutely orange and the backgrounds are complete devoid of anything other than teal and little flourishes of yellow. I know they're trying to portray post-communist Russia, but this is beyond bleak... and far from uncommon.

Every action filmmaker is utilizing this colour range and has been for the last 8 years. As a professional colourist, I understand the reasons why... it adds an extra layer of style (read production value) to a film and makes it feel edgy. The biggest problem I have with it, is the aforementioned artificiality. Pushing everything into these blue-green backgrounds and throwing a power mask over your actor to bring them out and pump up the yellow-orange to contrast them is very, very far from natural. It doesn't look like any world that I live in. Take a look at the realistic everyday colours in the Die Hard With a Vengeance shot again. Sure Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis are literally popping out of the frame, but then again it feels like they're inhabiting a world that they interact with. It has a real weight and sense of sincerity while still being cinematic.

I for one am tired of this style and consider it outplayed. If you want us to care about the plight of characters in your film, then don't force us as an audience to fall back on suspension of disbelief just to buy the world the characters live in.

The Gretel Factor

Gemma Arterton - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters actually did really well over the weekend, bringing in $19m, which I find a little surprising since I've rarely seen a movie that can't decide who it's audience is more than this film. It's an R rated movie that feels like a PG-13. The only thing that really nudges it into adult rated territory is a running joke of profanity through the movie to create some anachronistic fun. But once they knew they were going for an R rating, they didn't bother going all the way into awesome cult legacy territory. Regardless, it's a really fun movie, even if one aspect of it did bug me, and that's the Gretel factor.

I've been a fan of Gemma Arterton's ever since her excellent performance in the underappreciated Disappearance of Alice Creed. So being the type of kick-ass woman that I am, I got all excited at the trailers of seeing Gemma be all kick-ass action hero-y in the movie. And it's all there. The movie kicks off into high gear very quickly and one of the first bits of action we get past the perfunctory prologue is seeing Gretel stare down town Sheriff Peter Stormare and break his nose with a head butt. And so goes on, Hansel and Gretel each getting in equal licks, and equally getting their butt kicked in the process and it's awesome. I suppose it's a little bit easier to see them as equals when they're brother and sister.

But at the midpoint of the movie it's like they realized they needed a damsel in distress and the only options were Hansel's love interest or Gretel, and it's kind of hard to develop a love interest story when the characters can't be together. So off Gretel goes away to be chained up and await her inevitable rescue from the evil witches. There's dozens of them, each unique creatures from all over the world, and Hansel is walking in with a small arsenal a lot of attitude. We're set up for a bloodbath, and even if the film never delivers to the epicness that I want, sometimes anticipation is more fun than the reward, and I was eating it up. But part of me was crying inside watching Gretel just hanging helplessly for what is doubtlessly the juiciest action scene of the film. Gemma carried herself so well with such a tough chick attitude throughout the movie that I desperately wanted it where the movie needed it most. So frustrating.

It's the Gretel Factor. It's filmmakers wanting their Lara Croft, their modern feminist badass woman, but still falling into the trap of having to have women play the same part in the story they always have... the victim that needs rescuing. I would be a little less upset about it if the film didn't spend such a good deal of time setting up Gretel as a strong and capable woman who can stand up to even the strongest men and hold her own. So when the movie completely reverses that and falls back on age old tropes, it's going back on it's initial promise to the audience. I suppose in that sense it's a little like the movie, they couldn't figure out who they were making for and weren't willing to go all the way into awesome cult legacy territory. So want you get is a lot of awesome mixed with a lot of predictable.


Black Friday

I'm sure everyone by now has seen the disaster that is Rebecca Black's "Friday." But just for posterity, here we go:

So where did Rebecca Black come from? You don't have to dig too far to come across Ark Music Factory, a production house that boasts being able to turn your child into a celebrity.  Ark will handle everything from writing the song, shooting the music video and promoting your child through various avenues including Ark exclusive events.  They don't do this for free however, so expect to fork over a hefty fee in exchange for trying to turn your child into the next Justin Beiber.  Basically it's the world's most expensive pony.

Black became a celebrity alright, with her video quickly going viral and becoming one of the most watched video's on YouTube.  Yet I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks it's a good song or video.  Parodies started appearing overnight and I've watched crowds of people gather around to watch this video with all the wide-eyed astonishment of a train wreck.  While "Friday" was never recorded to be a comedy video, that's exactly what it's become and people are laughing AT Rebecca Black,  not with her, if she's even laughing at all.

Last week Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert promised to perform "Friday" if a donation level was met and they held true to their promise:

On one level, this hurts my brain even though I find it addictively enjoyable.  Colbert and Fallon are performing a straight up and, dare I say it, inspired rendition of the song with lots of help and production value from many talented performers.  Just look at the Bay City Dancers out there giving it their all for "Friday."  But despite the fact that this is a highly enjoyable performance, it's still played for comedy, and the only thing that's supposed to be funny about it is our awareness of this song's place in pop culture and that it is bad.

Indeed, Black is getting an early life lesson in what I call "train wreck celebrityhood."  You can toss Charlie Sheen in there as well, but as we've discovered, he's more adept at juggling that particular ball.  If Black had any real ambitions of being an artist, she's already destroyed them at a young age in exchange for her 15 minutes.  That's the thing about train wrecks, people get bored of them and move onto the next one.  No one is going to care about anything that comes out of this girl's mouth for a very long time.

But the insane success of this song is a total byproduct of living in a remixed culture.  Something like this can achieve instant penetration very specifically because of it's sincere lack of any real merit and as a result get tossed into the pop culture grinder and spat back out in various forms for a meta-reingesting.

We've trained ourselves to crave this sort of entertainment now where we can all share in the joke of familliarity and await the next inspired recreation of something.  Now I'm not some purist who looks down on this sort of entertainment, quite the opposite.  I've seen some great results of living in a remixed world.  Just look at some of the great work that comes out of the world of electronica for example, and lately it's become vogue to refer to Tarantino's films as pop-culture remixes rather than as a director who liberally steals from other movies.

There's always been a tenous and thin line between influence and outright theft, and I would argue that our remixed culture has erased that line, or at least pushed it back further than a prostitute's cherry.  We have a generation of directors that grew up with video stores and as a result shape their films based on other people's films, and with the ever pervasive nature of YouTube, it's inevitable that people will take anything captures their attention and rework it into something their own.

The problem with the sort of remixing and popularization of videos like Rebecca Black's "Friday" is that in it's own way, it promotes a sort of success through failure, that the best way to be an emerging artist is to make something so god-awful that real artists will want to take it and do something with it.

You're welcome,


Background Noise - Inception

Now that Inception is on blu-ray, I've had the opportunity to see it another 3-4 times, for which I will say the movie still totally holds up.  Along with the 2 times I saw it in the theater, that brings my total views up to 5-6.  What can I say, I love this movie.

One of the complaints I have heard about this movie however is the action.  Not the incredible rotating room fight featuring the impeccably dressed Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but rather the whole snow fortress scene.

The scene, for those who haven't seen it, or those who may not remember, occurs in the last third of the film and there ends up being a good deal of skiing, shooting, and exploding, all with very little information provided as to why.  We do know that a seemingly endless army of goons is Fischer's (Cillian Murphy) subconcious defense and our protagonists must fight them off to get Fischer close enough to the idea they want to implant in his head.  But what we're provided with is an exterior of an action scene where Tom Hardy seems to effortlessly, and without much danger, eschew and outgun this private security army.

Let's just say this is not how John Woo would have done it.

But I will say that I think people who felt this was a fault were missing the greater point of the scene.  Sure there's this constant action going on that feels for the most part inconsequential, but that's the point.  The action itself isn't inconsequential, but the consequences of it are.  It's action that we don't care about and we're not supposed to.  Our attention is being directed to the emotional core of the scene that the action surrounds, and that's Fischer being presented with the grand and fabricated ephiphany that ultimately causes him to change direction in the real world... ie. the ultimate goal of inception.  Anything that would distract from this would be damaging to what I find is a very emotionally effective scene.

So why even bother with the action if it doesn't affect the stakes in any way?  If there's no stakes involved in an action scene, then it's just noise, and if the scene doesn't have any greater purpose, it's a dead scene.  This is just Screenwriting 101.  But I would argue that the action in this scene is there for a greater purpose and it's one of pacing.  It literally does exist for the sole purpose of background noise.  When you take into account the pacing of the entire movie it makes total sense.  In fact, all the layers of the dream have a certain amount of a background noise going on: the initial sequence is constantly bombarded by rain, the hotel sequence is ravaged by regular earthquakes and then the final sequence is all out gunfire and explosions.  All of this helps to ramp up this constant stacatto rhythm and to create an environment where never for a moment are you allowed to believe it's safe to stop moving.

Even on my first viewing, I became very aware of how the snow fortress action felt more like well paced music than anything that was meant to thrill me.  It's there to drive the pacing of the scene, nothing more.  I can't think of another time I've seen action used in such a way and if you told me before seeing it that it would work, I'd probably disagree.  But here it does.  Here it drives the scene forward with a constant tension.  Personally, I think it's brilliant.

You're welcome,