Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

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During the 13th edition of the Dubai Film Festival – in the majestic Jumeirah Mina A’Salam hotel, overlooking the sea and the Burj Al Arab – I sat down with pioneering Emirati director Ali F. Mostafa (director of City of Life, the first Emirati feature to be distributed throughout the MENA region and screen around the world) and producer Rami Yasin (Rattle the Cage, Sea Shadow), to learn about genre filmmaking in the Arabic language and making the United Arab Emirates’ first survivalist horror film The Worthy (released this week in UAE cinemas).

Your three films have all occupied different genres,  multi-narrative drama (City of Life), road movie (From A to B) and now horror with The Worthy. Was this a conscious choice?

Absolutely. It was a complete conscious choice. The choice was to try and tap into as many genres as possible and make the Arab versions of them. And also selfishly, as well, is to try and better myself as a filmmaker. The more genres you tap into, the more versatile you can try and make yourself, I think the more you can grow as a filmmaker.

And what was it about this moment in time that horror seemed like the right choice, rather than a western for example?

Right, well it was one of those things. I was in the middle of editing and I got given the script by Image Nation, so it was something that was handed to me. I was very much interested in doing a horror, although this I could consider more action / thriller, with horror elements, but I was interested very much in doing a horror, mainly because I wasn’t necessarily a horror fan. I appreciated and respected horror films, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch one.

Was there any particular horrors you did like and had as references?

Oh well, obviously we have all seen The Exorcist, but there is also stuff that even – not necessarily horrors – but the way Hitchcock makes his films definitely has that element. But also when I knew I was getting into this film and having Peter Safran & Steven Schneider attached to it, I would have felt silly had I not seen The Conjuring for example, so I went out of my way to watch The Conjuring – it took me actually two and a half days to watch that film – it was really frightening and because of how well made it was. These guys are at the top of their game so we really have to be at the top of our game when making this film.

In terms of bringing this kind of film to the audience here, were there any responsibilities you felt you had, or any things you wanted to achieve?

It’s the first of its kind I guess, in terms of post-apocalyptic kind of film, but in terms of responsibility is to try and do the best film I can make with the means. Knowing that the audience here are very much fans of Hollywood films – I mean those are the films that really do well in the cinemas here – you have to try and make the film with that sensibility. You have to give them that style, in terms of how the film is produced.

So you’re trying to tap into the appetite?

Yes! 100% Without a doubt. But in Arabic. [laughs]

That leads us onto the development of the script. In terms of creating a film of this nature in Arabic, how did you work through that process?

Rami can help with that, Rami is a producer on the film. The script was handed to us… it was an American script initially, so we were playing around with the script a lot and Rami had a huge input.

Rami Yasin – The first question we asked ourselves was: “if this was in our world and our region, what kind of world would we be living in and where would our world be in 10 years time?” We banked on the stuff we know now of what’s going on around the world and our region; as a region that suffers from water shortage, so that was a great thing to have in there to start with and from there we worked backwards with the characters. Who would these characters be? We actually changed a lot of the characters and their backgrounds, built them up from scratch, changed a lot of the relationships between them. For example, one is the father and his son and daughter: what kind of tension would be between the daughter and her father and the son and his father? The other thing that we wanted to do, both of us, is that we wanted to present very strong female characters in this world, because we said in the future our world is not the same, women are on par with men and they are very strong. In fact we heard a lot of comments yesterday [at the world premiere at Dubai Film Festival] from audiences who said: “we loved the fact that the women were so equal to men in this film…” so that’s an achievement that we felt was great.

After this project what’s your next step?

Ali F. Mostafa – Well Rami and I are currently producing Mohammed Saeed Harib’s first feature film, first live-action film. That’s what’s happening currently. And then next, i’m not too sure. I would like to try and do something – even though our films aren’t considered very ‘high budget’ – I would like to try and do something as more of an experiment to me, with a much lower budget, to see if we could still make a good film.

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zz64c5954e1It’s difficult to avoid the influence of superheroes at the cinema today. The blockbuster comic book movies have become staples of not only the American box office, but international theatres as well. Despite the overwhelming visibility of comic book titans like Marvel and DC, many countries have put their own spin on the superhero movie. These are a few of the heroes that have had a lasting impact on the genre or are about to make their own splash.

Guardians

Russia is not one to be slept on when it comes to film. When they finally decided to try their hand at superheroes, the results did not disappoint. Guardians features a gigantic, musclebound, shirtless man with the head of a bear that fires a gatling gun—and makes American superhero films look positively tame by comparison. The movie focuses on a team of Soviet superheroes made during the Cold War who represent the different nationalities of the former USSR. And it manages to tap into the rich culture of the nation while besting the Americans at their own game for superhero spectacle. A recent trailer has the movie looking better than ever and it’s hard not to be excited for this level of cinematic extravagance. It’s officially being released on February 23, 2017 and promises to become an immediate cult hit, proving there’s more to superheroes than The Avengers.

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3 Dev Adam

Spider-Man

Spider-Man might be an American hero by origin but his popularity has spawned more than a few imitators throughout the world. Notable among these is the 1973 Turkish action movie, 3 Dev Adam, where Spider-Man is actually the bad guy and fights against Captain America and legendary Mexican luchador, El Santo. Other notable foreign takes on the beloved wall-crawler include the Japanese Spider-Man show where the hero is given his own giant robot and would go on to influence the show that would eventually become Power Rangers. The heroes from Marvel comics are famous worldwide and have long been ripe for licensing through various media, as evidenced through the varying Marvel titles detailed online that are available at popular casino sites. Comic book heroes are frequently used in games like this throughout the world, which only speaks to their incredible appeal. The fan-favourite continues to delight fans
in international markets and his upcoming film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, is sure to be another success.

Krrish

Of course Bollywood was eventually going to offer its own take on the superhero genre with its trademark flair—but it’s also amazing. The franchise has become the second-highest grossing film series in Bollywood (no small feat) with a fourth film set to come out in 2018. The series began with Koi…Mil Gaya in 2003 before going on to become the incredible franchise it is today. 2013’s Krrish 3 was praised for its spectacular visual effects and broke many box office records upon its release. Those records will likely be shattered upon the release of Krrish 4 as the series manages to combine the song and dance staples of Bollywood with the visual explosiveness of American superhero movies.

These are only a few of the heroes that have helped to showcase the international influence of superhero cinema, but there are many other countries that have offered their own unique spin on the genre. There’s far more to the genre than just what hits the American box office, and the trend of more films like this sprouting up around the world is likely to continue.

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When you see a great foreign-language film, you can often sense the Hollywood executive leering over it. It can be both a welcoming and alienating thought upon viewing, and it would be the case for Victoria were it not for its insanely striking aesthetic. Many films use the long-take to wondrous effect, and you can see hundreds of film articles that explore the abilities of Haneke, Thomas Anderson, Scorsese and Iñárritu. Victoria pushes the boundaries completely; a 134 minute take that has surely captured the attention of Hollywood, and should for every film fan.

We follow the eponymous Victoria, a kind-hearted Spaniard living in Berlin. At the start she is letting her hair down, bouncing around to dubstep in an underground club. Moving outside she starts chatting to a group of men, who invite her out for an after-party, which eventually descends into a criminal partnership. If the synopsis sounds as though events unravel quickly and unrealistically, you’d be wrong. You could argue that Victoria is happily submissive to the charms of the guys, but 21st century people live their lives, attracted to the rush of uncertainty. At least that’s how we are supposed to take to the narrative. Based on the interactions you may or may not have had over yours years out, Victoria either seems like a very familiar personality, or is someone you’ve never met or heard of. This is the issue that may prevent Victoria from being a universal cult favourite.

For those supporting the film’s efforts, it is every bit as enthralling as people have said. Perhaps the best thing about the film is not what is technically achieved, but how realistic the characters appear. Laia Costa is a revelation, a beautifully assured actress who takes us on a journey we become so engaged with. As she begins to fall for the chatty Sonne (a wonderful Frederick Lau) we see the most subtle shifts in smiles or discourse, continually changing right up until the end. It is a film of movement and momentum, and seeing Victoria evolve over the two hours is a fascinating piece of entertainment. A lot of the film is improvised in terms of dialogue (Lord knows they couldn’t wing it for some of the technical aspects), and the flow of conversation is as natural as the direction.

Sebastian Schipper directs this film masterfully; to control so much for an extensive period of time is superbly skilful. Most directors will have chance to cut, regroup themselves and the crew, and attempt the shot a couple of times over. Schipper’s effort, in regard to this, along with his DP, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (who deservedly gets first billing once the credits roll), should be highly praised. This film took three attempts to shoot, and to imagine the frustration when something went awry, and to see the final outcome that is unforgettable, makes you appreciate this dedication to the cinematic form.

As the action amps up, the camera snakes through the bustle and many will become disorientated. For those okay with the speed, it’ll be a nail-biting series of sequences. You can often see snippets of detail that would otherwise go unnoticed with other DPs, but Grøvlen is a clearly an expert. He knows how to control that camera as if it were an extension of himself. There is nothing more exhilarating for a film fanatic than seeing this craft remarkably in operation.

Not everyone will find a relatable element in the film, as its a youthful, anarchic thriller. However, it is also a romantic and innocent look at joie de vivre. The narrative’s development from Before Sunrise-esque romance, to a vérité-infused heist thriller is so unique, it’s bound to have its admirers and critics. One thing, above all else, is that the film should not be missed.

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Here at Lantana Publishing, an independent publishing house dedicated to challenging the lack of diversity in children’s books, we have been watching the Oscars’ ‘Diversity Debate’ unfold with interest.

Hardly a day has gone by in the past few weeks without the news reporting that another industry heavyweight has waded into this dispute. Follow the #OscarsSoWhite and you can see the world’s reaction to the 2016 Oscars shortlist unfold: Hollywood power couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, as well as esteemed director Spike Lee amongst others, have made it clear that they intend to boycott this year’s ceremony, while meanwhile, the debate has reached all the way to the White House. Barack Obama recently made his voice heard, commenting on the importance of everybody working within the film industry getting a “fair shot”.

While semantics might seem unimportant given the gravity of an issue that even the American president has seen fit to comment on, the inflammatory labels that have been applied to this news story – row, scandal, problem, furor to name but a few – threaten to turn what could be a debate into a cartoonish battleground: the gung-ho ‘for diversity’ team facing their bullish ‘against diversity’ opponents. Media coverage seems destined to turn the issue into a simple binary or a story with a clear-cut trajectory, moving from uncomplicated problem to solution.

In this vein, many commentators have lambasted Helen Mirren for her claim that “it’s unfair to attack the Academy”, because she speaks from a position of white privilege. However, it appears Mirren was not intending to dismiss the current criticism of the Academy, but inviting us to dig deeper and find the root of a wide-scale problem that simply reaches its culmination in the Academy’s nomination process. More often than not, it is her initial statement (in defence of the Academy) that is criticised as opposed to her later support of diversity in the film industry more widely. In fact, Mirren was adamant that “the issue we need to be looking at is what happens before the film gets to the Oscars – what kind of films are made, and the way in which they’re cast, and the scripts.”

In order for this to truly be a ‘debate’, defined as a public forum in which people exchange views and thrash out an issue, we need to accept that there are not only two sides to the argument; there are not simply two teams waving ‘yes, diversity’ and ‘no, diversity’ placards at each other but a whole spectrum of angles and views which deserve to be considered if we want to move forward to create a fairer and more tolerant space in which the arts can flourish. Under this aegis, the diversity debate should not simply be about awards ceremonies but about grass roots; not simply about race, but about the fair and equal representation of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age and disability in all walks of life and in all facets of arts production. To pounce on Mirren’s statement as simply ‘what you would expect’ from a celebrated white woman is to undermine the terms of this broader debate.

As a representative of the publishing industry, we would be the first to point out that this conversation is welcome – we strive to give authors and illustrators of minority backgrounds the opportunities to publish stories that celebrate their diverse and multicultural communities, beliefs and customs, and are aware of how unusual this makes us. What we know from experience is that it is a conversation that is complex, and should be on a large scale, taking into account many different industries and areas of public life – not just Hollywood. In fact, the attention shone on the film industry over the past few weeks – although a welcome call to arms – has created a glare that might prevent many from seeing the lack of diversity inherent in other industries.

There have been several high profile campaigns drawing attention to the lack of diversity in children’s books, not least the interest that transformed the Twitter #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign into a fully-functioning not-for-profit with a mission to promote diversity in publishing. The attention heaped on film, and the Academy’s failure for the second year running to nominate any actors from ethnic minority backgrounds, begs the question of why film generally makes the headlines more often than other media. Does the fact that films feature actors (and often those who have reached celebrity status) make the industry’s lack of diversity any more damaging than the corresponding lack of (fictional) characters from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds found in children’s books?

Surely, if we are to acknowledge that the Oscars’ ‘debate’ is actually a complex and nuanced discussion about the endemic problems within cultural representation, we also need to be aware of the fact that many of the people who work in high profile industries have their outlooks shaped by the books they read in their early years, before they even enter a career. Perhaps, as well as looking at the film industry and questioning why there are not more roles available to people from minority ethnic backgrounds, we should also consider the inequalities at the heart of book production that see barely 5% of the UK’s and US’s publishing output represent authors of cultural minorities.

Challenge the lack of diversity in children’s books and we may go a long way to educating future generations about the importance of every art form representing humanity in all its myriad forms.

To find out more about Lantana Publishing and their high quality, multicultural picture books for children, visit the website: www.lantanapublishing.com.

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A pet project of the now veteran actor Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead is the ten-years-in-the-making “biopic” of the legendary Jazz musician Miles Davis. Much like Davis’s approach to his “Jazz” music (a term he didn’t care for personally), this film is more of an impressionistic series of sketches, to build up a characterised idea of the man himself.

As such, the film largely plays like a suspended, drug-addled daydream, drifting between the cocaine infused “present” of New York, 1979 – four years after Davis’ last public performance and release – and the early 60s where he married his wife Frances Taylor and experienced racial profiling by the police.

The atmosphere Cheadle creates in both his performance and direction suits the narrative well. While there is no real indication how true, or false, anything that is happening here is, the film does provide an excellent insight into being a legendary figure in an art-form which isn’t bound by rules or conventions; this translates into Cheadle’s film-making form.

Miles Ahead turns in some excellent performances from its ensemble cast, including the always excellent Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Steve Jobs, Trumbo), as well as the up-and-coming Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12) and Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere) as the aforementioned Taylor. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor brings the film some star-power as Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden.

Reportedly, the project took so long largely due to funding issues, with Cheadle this past week explaining at the Berlinale how he had to write in a white co-lead role, in the form of a dutiful Ewan McGregor, just to get studios to back the film.

While this is a shameful reflection of the state of Hollywood filmmaking (and the perception of the film’s audience), McGregor’s naive, shaggy-haired reporter (who interestingly retains McGregor’s natural Perth accent), is expertly handled by Cheadle’s direction. It would have been all too easy to mishandle this invented character, but McGregor approaches the role with the right balance of subtlety and professionalism – even when his character borders on being the comedy buddy role – to avoid being an unwelcome visitor to the set.

So while Miles Ahead is by no means perfect, it does provide an interesting insight into the great Davis, celebrating his music while simultaneously questioning the integrity of his character; particularly his relationship with wife Frances and drug addiction. It is a quiet reminder than the biopic needn’t be an overblown show-pony, but can be an art-form of its own when properly realised – Cheadle does that here with some real class.

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Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.50.06Kicking off the 2016 edition of Glasgow Film Festival last night was The Coen Brother’s new romp Hail, Caesar! their ode to the Studio System era of 50s Hollywood. As to be expected with the Coens, they deal with their subject with an equal amount of love and cynicism, looking at the “Golden Era” of their craft with a healthy dose of post-modern irony.

As is now customary with the Coens, the brothers direct a star-studded ensemble cast in their lighthearted love-letter to a bygone era, excellently re-creating the studio lots of Capitol Pictures. Binding the multiple simultaneous projects together is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the studio’s fixer who solves the various problems of the studio’s cast and crew, as well as batting away questions from scoop-hungry twin sister journalists, both played by Tilda Swinton.

Nearing the climax of the studio’s production of their “premier picture Hail, Caesar!” however, central star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears on an assumed “1 or 2-day bender”; though the party line is that he has a “high-ankle sprain”. In actual fact, Whitlock has been kidnapped, in a scheme actualised by a couple of extras on the set of the film, and taken to a strange place where nothing is quite as it seems.

Although they set the film up a potential road-caper, The Coens don’t, in fact, focus merely on Whitlock’s disappearance, but also the studio’s “the show must go on” attitude, in spite of adversity due to a tight schedule and budget. While Mannix is aware of the problem and its severe nature, it doesn’t suddenly jump to the top of his priorities list in his daily roles, as he must keep various other stars and directors happy with their own problems, while also considering a highly lucrative and much more comfortable job offer of his own.

This is when the film is at its best, showing the rather manic Studio System as it churns out its latest epic, western, drama and musical, all the while needing a cool pair of hands at the centre of it all (Mannix) who – while clearly respected within the studio – has no elevated status, which is reserved for the “key talent”. While Mannix doesn’t seem to mind this, he does battle his own personal demons and Catholic guilt, with a secret smoking habit and a tempting job offer. Despite this he is a seemingly decent man who genuinely loves and respects his family.

Brolin plays the, on the face of it, controlled Mannix with aplomb, and is excellent as lynchpin for the entire picture. While Clooney and other star cameo turns (Johannsson, Tatum, McDormand, Swinton) are all highly enjoyable, the film simply wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without Brolin.

The trouble is that the film as a whole fails to really capitalise on the wealth of talent on offer. While it is highly entertaining, there is nothing here that really sticks with you for much longer than the screen-time. There is plenty of humour and enjoyment to be found in the Coen’s faithful recreating of 1950s Hollywood, including an exaggerated nod to the blacklist and “Communist threat” of the era – playing at times like a twisted version of the recent biopic Trumbo – yet the film doesn’t dig much further than that.

While this isn’t necessarily a problem given the Coens have largely made a career out of films where nothing really happens, or works, it equally is that expectation which befalls Hail, Caesar!. Any fans of the brothers’ work can find various re-treadings of ideas they’ve done before and much more successfully.

For instance, the setting and ideas on display here are also in the masterful Barton Fink, the comedic road movie caper in The Big Lebowski, the kidnapping trope in Fargo, the theological considerations of A Serious Man. These films explored their central ideas very successfully and while Hail, Caesar! is clearly more light-hearted fare, one can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before and in more entertaining circumstances.

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Montgomery Clift’s Chuck Glover, a modern man, finds himself in the midst of a dated landscape with a forward-thinking mind-set, making him a very commendable cinematic character at the centre of this wonderful 1960 modernity drama from Hollywood master director Elia Kazan.

With a great change sweeping through America by the late 1950’s, Wild River came at a time where some doubted the Government’s initiatives, and racial injustice took over headlines. The 1930s setting that Elia Kazan’s film takes place in is an archaic, bigoted one, prone to debate. The depiction of such morals thirty years after 1930 – and now eighty-five years after – shocked and enraged; Kazan’s power is to realistically portray these events, attempting a timeless, non-biased approach to them.

Wild River has had such a great influence on the country-folk vs the Government storyline that its blood still pumps through modern day cinema. Take Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, about Matt Damon’s fracking salesman trying to persuade a local town to sell some of their land. This, compared to Clift’s Tennessee Valley Authority buying people off their land in order to flood it and build a dam, is along the same lines decades down the line. Not only does the story allow for contemporary audiences to and enjoy it without jarring context, but it is shot and acted in a very modern manner. Many older films have the tint of age over their aesthetic, the notion that this is from a long time ago and difficult to engage with, but Wild River is consistently absorbing.

There are a few drags in the plot though, with a love story that feels forced, yet Kazan has a very meticulous handling of narrative. The 110 minute run-time passes by in a flash for the most part, with a satisfying ending that neatly ties everything up. Coming from the director of On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden, there shouldn’t be much doubt as to the tactful handling of humanity. Chuck is, on paper, a wooden product of the “system”, trying to take the land off of rural innocents. However, Clift, Kazan and writer Paul Osborn present him as a humble state employee. We watch him on tender-hooks, hopeful that he will succeed, especially as he loses so many battles. The abject realism, akin to John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath, draws you in, largely thanks to Clift’s performance.

Perhaps forgotten over time by wider audiences (despite its selection for preservation in the United States National Film Registry), the newly restored and released version of Wild River should hopefully elevate its status yet again. There is a lot of beauty and heart in the film, perfect for a Sunday afternoon watch. We often take for granted these studio films of old, but Wild River has never really had its due – do yourself a favour as a film fan and seek it out.

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