Television is More Diverse Than Film

Blockbuster films took a huge step forward over the past few years with the casting of John Boyega in a lead role in the new Star Wars trilogy and Diego Luna in Rogue One. Black Panther became the highest grossing, predominantly black movie ever in February, and Crazy Rich Asians showcases Asian Americans, in what I’m sure will be a hit worldwide. Film is heading in the right direction, I like to think, but it still has a ways to go to catch up to television. Name a demographic or a minority and there’s probably a show. Indian American: Master of None, and it’s not just that the show features an Indian American lead. Aziz Ansari created the show and writes for the show, meaning his voice is there. Single mothers, young black singles, Asian Americans,  traditional Hispanic families, twenty-something white women, etc. There’s a show. Obviously, the reason television is more willing to branch out has to do with the relative inexpensiveness it takes to produce a show, but film should takes notes on how wide open television has become. Television is more diverse than ever before, and people are watching television more than ever before.

-Walter Howard-

 

Idris Elba Would Make an Excellent James Bond

What is it that we like about James Bond? My first experience with the character and the franchise, Goldfinger (1964), starring Sean Connery, left me bewildered and significantly entertained. Bewildered because, at times, in one scene in particular, Bond wasn’t very heroic. I remember a stressful sequence where his “love interest,” Tilly (Tania Mallet) gets in a bind, and I’m thinking, how will Bond rescue her? The answer: he doesn’t. She dies, and he moves on pretty quickly. Not to mention, Tilly was already the sister of another girl, Jill (Shirley Eaton), he slept with and saw die earlier in the film. I’ve since seen at least 20 Bond flicks, and you learn to put up with a fair share of eye rolling and questionable antics (though the franchise has improved in some areas). All the accusations of misogyny and sexism are valid, and yet I, along with many people around the world enjoy these films, and it has to do with the opening music number, the title sequences, the action, the gadgets, the cars, the beautiful women, outlandish villains, and exotic locations, all surrounding a central character that’s supposed to embody cool. Sean Connery, the prototype, did that, and I think Idris Elba could do that too, given the chance. Rumors leaked out at the end of this past week that he’s being given strong consideration, and I think (though there could always be some dark horse unknown candidate) that he’s the right man for the job.

Image result for idris elba james bond

Before getting in to his qualifications- because I honestly think they should go without saying-let me address the objections people seem to have. He’s 45 at the moment. In other words, too old for the role. That’s pretty weak, and there’s precedents in the Bond franchise (as well as the fact that Tom Cruise is 56 years old and going strong in his Mission Impossible franchise) that render that argument groundless. I mean, Daniel Craig is 50 right now, and everyone seems pretty excited about his coming back for one more Bond film. Roger Moore did Bond until he was 58, and did his best Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, at 50. Honestly, the only young Bonds were the first two, Connery and the woeful George Lazenby. I don’t believe people actually care how old Bond is. The real objection is, of course, the idea of a black Bond, and I don’t personally dismiss it as mere racism. “Why not get your own character,” some say? I think Doctor Who’s dealing with some of these feelings with the casting of Jodie Whittaker; a female stepping into a, heretofore, male role. I know I might be a little upset if, say, they rebooted Indiana Jones as a female character, but a reboot is different from Doctor Who and Bond, series without end. Changing Bond’s skin color, in reality, does not alter his character in any way. It doesn’t, and that’s the distinction I would make. Bond is a supremely skilled assassin and lady killer, always ready to save the world. Idris Elba in that role would still be that.

The original author, Ian Fleming, supposedly modeled the character after himself and American pianist Hoagy Carmichael.

Image result for hoagy carmichael

Eon Productions, the studio behind the films, has long left this image behind. Sean Connery became the standard bearer, truly, as soon as Dr. No hit. Tall, dark, and handsome became synonymous with Bond, and I’d argue that Daniel Craig veers furthest from this original film image. Shorter in comparison to earlier Bonds, blonde, and yet he proved to reinvigorate the series, and was a wise choice. How do you follow Craig? Eon could get a younger Craig-type, or they could be bold, which they always have been, which is why the franchise is ongoing and successful. Idris Elba already has an audience, he’s a strong actor, he’s cool, and I’d be anxious to see what he did with the role. Picking Elba is rolling the dice, whereas going with what’s already been done will make Bond stagnant. To be clear, Bond doesn’t need to be black to be exciting moving forward. I’ve heard Tom Hardy’s name tossed around. That could be good, or maybe there’s some guy that I don’t know, but the next Bond needs to be different, and why not Idris Elba?

-Walter Howard-

The Black Renaissance in Film is Real

Someone asked Spike Lee a few years back if he was impressed with the amount of films made by and starring black people recently. I don’t recall exactly what he said, but it approximated to, “no.” He felt it was a fluke, not a significant sign of change. He was right at the time. The following years seemed barren of diverse roles for black actors. Medea movies were still the main outlet. I’d be interested in what his answer to that question is now, though, one year after the incendiary satire Get Out, in 2018-a year when the highest earning film is Black Panther, and the picture many people consider to be the best of 2018 is Sorry to Bother You. Spike Lee’s own film, BlackKklansmen, is released today, his best reviewed movie in ages it seems. It tells the story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), a black detective who infiltrated a local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan with the help of his partner, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver). I couldn’t be more intrigued by this film, its raucous trailer, or this brilliant poster:

Image result for blackkklansman poster

What’s next on the horizon? Rumors that Idris Elba could be the next Bond. If this were to happen, I’m sure it would be greeted by groans and applause, in equal measure, and that Elba would kill it. For something more definite though, the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival is full of exciting projects featuring black casts and made by black filmmakers:

  1. Widows, directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), and starring Viola Davis leading a group of women finishing a bank heist their husbands died attempting.

 

2. If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), adapted from a                novel by James Baldwin.

3. The Hate You Give, directed George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food), adapted from the                         recent popular YA novel by Angie Thomas.

What we’re seeing is a range of films from thriller (Widows) to out-there artistic fare (Sorry to Bother You) to Superhero blockbuster (Black Panther) to personal dramas (The Hate U Give and If Beale Street Could Talk). I’m optimistic that this breakthrough is sustainable and will carry over into the years to come.

-Walter Howard-

The Academy Awards is Heading towards being The People’s Choice Awards

What gives a metal trophy meaning? Because anybody can go out and purchase one for themselves. What makes a four hour ceremony special? Because there’s one of those on every channel now it seems. What separates the Oscars from the rest has always been: history, tradition, exclusivity, and mystique. Yesterday, the Academy announced a number of changes that had the internet in an uproar, and rightfully so.

From here on out, there will be a new category for “Achievement in Popular Film.” It was clear to everybody who pays attention to these things, that the Academy is afraid not to give an Oscar to Black Panther. Achievement in Popular Film is the dumbest sounding award I have ever heard. What do they even mean by “Achievement in Popular Film?” Does it just go to the highest earning film? When people complain about not getting an award, it doesn’t mean they want you to make up a lame new category. I imagine the handing out of this award at next year’s show is going to be… awkward. I hope the people there give a standing ovation out of sarcasm, because it inches the Oscars closer to the “everybody gets an award” attitude in peewee sports.  I’ve also heard it compared to senior superlatives. The Academy is watering down their own trophy. By handing out more trophies, you take away from its mystique and exclusivity. The Academy says they want to be more “accessible.” Really? Accessible? Synonymous with obtainable, available, approachable. That’s what people want in their awards? The Oscar is meant to be hard to achieve. Al Pacino went two decades of being snubbed before getting one. Complaining about who or what got snubbed was part of the enjoyment.

Worse still, they are cutting the Oscar telecast by about an hour, which many believe means cutting a number of the awards for technical achievement from the show. That’s truly sad to me. What’s the difference between you and the Golden Globes now? It takes a lot of people with a variety of skill sets to make a movie. The Academy has always been about honoring that, not chasing ratings or popularity. Are actors and filmmakers going to sit by while their colleagues get shafted?

I can only hope at this point that enough vitriol from Twitter causes the Academy to turn back to the light. I doubt it happens immediately, but maybe if the show at the beginning of next year (they’re moving the show up, the only change I like) bombs, they’ll reconsider.

Awards lose credibility as soon as they allow themselves to be dictated to. At last year’s Grammys, there were complaints about the lack of female nominees, to which the head of the Grammys replied with something like, “female artists need to step up.” He was wrong of course, but I prefer the ones in charge of doling out awards to be stingy, pig-headed, and snobbish rather than accessible. Artists should wonder what they have to do to get an award. The award shouldn’t be wondering what needs to happen  for a particular artist to get one.

-Walter Howard-

All Originality is in Horror Films Right Now

Take a look at this year’s box office standings. The top ten highest earning films, as of right now, stands as: 1. Black Panther 2. Avengers: Infinity Wars 3. The Incredibles 2 4. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 5. Deadpool 2 6. Solo: A Star Wars Story 7. Ant-Man and the Wasp 8. A Quiet Place 9. Ocean’s 8 10. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Nine of the ten films are either sequels or Marvel movies. The non-cynical side of me says, “most of these are fine movies, so who cares,” but I do ask myself, and I’ve heard many people say it, “where is the originality?” And it’s been like this for years now. Last year’s final results: 1. Star War: The Last Jedi 2. Beauty and the Beast 3. Wonder Woman 4. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 5. Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 6. Spider-Man: Homecoming 7. It 8. Thor: Ragnarok 9. Despicable Me 3 10. Justice League. Compare that to twenty years ago: 1. Saving Private Ryan 2. Armageddon 3. There’s Something About Mary 4. A Bug’s Life 5. The Waterboy 6. Doctor Doolittle 7. Rush Hour 8. Deep Impact 9. Godzilla 10. Patch Adams. The only two non-original films in that bunch are Godzilla and a very loose remake of Doctor Doolittle. I hear the complaints all the time. It’s all super hero movies and sequels and remakes that no one asked for. That’s clearly true to an extent. Studios aren’t rolling the dice anymore. The only unique films coming out recently seem to be in the horror genre.

Looking back at this year’s top ten, you’ll notice A Quiet Place. Directed by John Krasinski and starring Krasinski and his wife, Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place imagines an apocalyptic future over run by creatures that hunt by sound, forcing the small town Abbot family to live their lives noiselessly or be killed. This was a fresh idea and it hit big in April when it was released. Last year, we had Get Out, a film so wildly original and fresh that it was a contender for Oscars and has seen some of its ideas become part of today’s lexicon (“the sunken place”). It made over $250 million on a $4 million budget. Original movies clearly can still make money, but they don’t guarantee returns like super heroes and sequels. The reason all of the originality has moved to Horror, is that the genre is able to produce movies at such a small budget that producers are willing to take chances. My feeling is that mainstream blockbusters will only get worse in terms of originality, while Horror films and television gets all of the new ideas.

-Walter Howard-

Questions for Films at TIFF

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival starts next month on September 6th. One of the most influential film festivals around, I’d say it plays the biggest role in generating Oscar buzz for films as we head into Fall. The following ten films are not just ones I’m anticipating, but ones I think will factor into this year’s Oscar ballots:

Beautiful Boy

Starring Steve Carrell in a staight dramatic role as the father of teenager, played by Timothee Chalamet, hooked on drugs, will this film go for more than emotional manipulation or settle for being an Oscar bait tearjerker?

Everybody Knows

Early reviews are mixed, which would seem to eliminate it from serious contention, but the pedigree is still there. Director Asghar Farhadi has won two Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film this decade, and Everybody Knows represents his first Spanish language film, starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. The trailer looks gripping, but how does the film separate itself from Farhadi’s previous domestic thrillers?

First Man

I wasn’t as high on La La Land as most, but Damien Chazelle is definitely very talented. This, his third feature film, stars Ryan Gosling as Neal Armstrong. Unfamiliar with the book it is based on or and only vaguely familiar with the subject as a whole, will this film take an epic approach to the Apollo 11 mission or a more intimate look at Neil Armstrong and his family life?

A Star is Born

I could see this remake going either way. The Barbra Streisand, vanity project route, or the classic, 1950’s Judy Garland route that showcases its star’s talent but also tells a compelling story. The biggest question is can Lady Gaga act?

-Walter Howard-

 

 

Farewell Movie Pass

After six months of movie theater bliss, the end has come. Movie Pass has just emailed me, stating, among other things, that certain blockbuster titles will no longer be available, and that they will be bumping up the price. Here’s that email, verbatim:

Dear MoviePass Members,

First and foremost, I want to personally apologize to each of you for the inconsistencies and unreliability of our service over the past few days. Additionally, I regret our lack of proactive communication with you during this time; we are working hard to improve the communications to our community moving forward.

Over the last several days, we’ve begun making changes to our service that will help us continue to offer our members a high-value, low-cost, in-theater movie experience.

We believe that the company we have built — the fastest growing subscription company in history with more than 3 million members — has revolutionized the movie industry in the U.S. The first half of 2018 saw the total box office grow by almost 10 percent compared to last year, and we know MoviePass is responsible for a significant portion of that unprecedented growth.

In order to continue growing our service and maintaining a high level of financial discipline, we need to make some modifications:

  • We must reduce availability for big new-release titles, such as Mission: Impossible – Fallout and other popular new releases, at least for a while as we adjust the business model. We are working on making this more clear in the app so you know which titles are available.
  • Showtimes that are offered through our service will vary from day to day, and every showtime may not be available. We encourage you to check the MoviePass app for showtimes before you leave for the theater.
  • While our customer service team has made great strides of late, we still have a long way to go to provide the most responsive customer service experience for you. In the meantime, access to immediate support may become limited. However, we are working to prioritize the requests of members who are at the theater and introduce more self-help tools, as well as focus our resources on fixing glitches and bugs in the app.

Finally, we want to be as transparent as we can with these changes and any future changes. We are committed to giving you the best experience. We count on your support and loyalty while we implement these necessary steps for the company you’ve grown to love.

Thank you for your understanding and patience, and we’ll be in touch with more updates as we have them.

A quick glance at their ap has confirmed that this email was indeed not a bad dream, nor was it a joke. No Mission Impossible: Fallout. No 3-D or Imax screenings. No repeat viewings. No thank you. What exactly am I now paying for? I didn’t complain, on my blog anyways, about them forcing me to take a picture of my ticket with every purchase, but that was when they were saving me money. Since then the inevitable has happened. A good thing has gone away. I knew (though I tried to tell myself that I shouldn’t give up hope) that MoviePass would not last. It was too good. I let my guard down, and I believed. I guess we had a good run. Meanwhile AMC theaters have put out their own competing service, and I’m thinking I’ll give it a try. I’m hearing it’s 3 movies a week for $20 a month. That works for me.

-Walter Howard-

5 Films of August (2018)

August. The most lackluster of movie months. Caught between the Summer blockbuster season and Oscar season, traditionally, August has settled for not fitting into either. Sure, a few years ago, Guardians of the Galaxy came out in August, and changed things for a while, but in 2018, it looks like August has reverted back to being unimpressive. That’s not to say there aren’t any good movies. Here are five:

August 3

Christopher Robin

Not to be confused with Goodbye, Christopher Robin starring Domnhall Gleason and Margot Robbie, which nobody saw, this one stars Ewan McGregor as the titular character, who deals with the reappearance of Pooh and company in his adult life. It seems to me, that there is a lot of interest in this film where there wasn’t for Goodbye, Christopher Robin, or maybe it’s just a matter of the latter being an independent film versus this, a bigger budgeted Disney release. In any case, I’m intrigued, though to be honest, I never really watched Winnie the Pooh as a child, so nostalgia will not be a factor. I’m guessing it will register in the 70-80% range on Rotten Tomatoes and gross a successful, $90-100 million, with longevity.

Searching

An independent film that scored big at Sundance, Searching stars John Cho as a father using social media to find his missing daughter. The films use of social media could be an annoying gimmick, but reviews have me excited.

August 10

The Meg

This summer has been low on dumb fun, and I’m optimistic that The Meg can fill this void. A diverse cast led by Jason Statham find themselves stuck at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and under attack by a massive creature known as a Megalodon. The trailers suggest to me that this will be a good time. I’m going to say it barely makes fresh status with a low 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and garners a modest $100 million at the box-office.

BlacKkKlansmen

This wild story about a black cop (played by Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington) going undercover as a Klu Klux Klansman with the help of his Jewish partner (played by Adam Driver) looks like a return to form for director Spike Lee, who, at his best, is a supremely gifted provocateur. A full wave of reviews for the film have been available for a while now, and all indications are that it delivers. It’s been ages since a Spike Lee Joint (not including his short films) has been relevant in Oscar discussions.

August 24

The Happytime Murders

Nothing in the trailers has actually impressed me, but I’m still holding out that Melissa McCarthy and R Rated Muppets can make a funny movie. Directed by Jim Henson’s son, Brian, Happytime Murders imagines a world where humans and Muppets coexist, albeit with the Muppets getting second class status. Melissa McCarthy plays Detective Edwards teaming up with Muppet and private eye, Phil Phillips, to catch a serial killer. The idea has potential, but I could see the final product going either way.

-Walter Howard-

 

 

 

A Live-Action Princess and the Frog

Former Pixar and Disney Animation titan, John Lasseter had this to say about the midling success of The Princess and the Frog back in 2009, “I was determined to bring back [hand-drawn animation] because I felt it was such a heritage of the Disney studio, and I love the art form … I was stunned that Princess didn’t do better. We dug into it and did a lot of research and focus groups. It was viewed as old-fashioned by the audience.” The film, as mentioned in the quote, was a return to the hand-drawn style of animation used during Disney’s hey-day and all the way through until about the mid-2000s when computer animation took over. Was the style the problem? Has 2-D animation really become so antiquated that audiences were unwilling to turn up for a film of that type. Pretty much every single  other Disney Princess movie has made a boatload of money. The directors of Princess and the Frog had previously made Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, and have since made Moana. All of which raked in the dough. I’m just not sure Princess and the Frog’s limited commercial success can be attributed to the art style, and I’m not ready to bring race into the picture, since Moana (Pacific Islander), Aladdin (Arabic), and Mulan (Chinese) all did very well at the box office. Another titan believed it had more to do with marketing, saying that putting princess in the title led people to believe that the film was only for girls. Whatever the case may be, does Princess and the Frog stand any chance of a live-action reworking?

Image result for the princess and the frog

I, personally, would rather see live-action remakes of films Disney didn’t get 100% right (reference my Black Cauldron article) than a remake of Aladdin (I remain highly skeptical). Why not take a chance and see if you can’t remedy your earlier mistakes with a remake? I’d also consider making Prince Naveen black since that was one of the main complaints people had regarding the movie. There’s never been a black prince. Granted the animation and special effects would have to take over since most of the film is centered on talking frogs and an alligator. Hmm?

-Walter Howard-

The Plot of Jurassic World 3

*Spoilers*

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom just hit theaters. I was disappointed. In it the characters debated whether or not to save the remaining dinosaurs from an imminent volcanic eruption, or let the die off, once again. In the end, the dinosaurs are saved, of course, and the main characters, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) drive away to an uncertain future with Maisie, a newly orphaned girl. Dinosaurs now exist in the world outside of Jurassic Park.

Image result for jurassic world fallen kingdom

Now for third entry in the reboot series. As disappointing as the second one was (I mean, it was fine), it sets up what could be a truly epic and exciting third film. Why not jump ahead several years? To a post-apocalyptic future, where dinosaurs outnumber humans ten to one. Human civilization has largely died out. They’ve reverted back to clans and tribes. A brilliant mad scientist has discovered a way for mass cloning which could put humans back in power over the dinosaurs. He enlists Owen Grady and his family/tribe to bring the solution across the country, which leads to a long and dangerous journey.

-Walter Tyrone-