Film

FILM INQUIRY:

Just a quick update to say I am still alive. I’m super busy with university work at the moment and haven’t had the time to make many updates here. I hope to post something new soon, but in the meantime feel free to check out some of the work I’ve been doing over at Film Inquiry!

Here is a Beginner’s Guide to one of my favourite directors, Danny Boyle. I also wrote an essay about the place for screwball comedy in modern cinema, which you can check out here. Lastly I wrote another Beginner’s Guide for the late, great John Hughes, which you can read on this link.

Expect some new updates both here and on Film Inquiry in the very near future. In the meanwhile, here are some trailers for my most anticipated films in the coming months…

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Film, List, Opinion

2015 IN FILM

Looking back on an amazing year in cinema. 

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The end of the year is almost upon us – and what a year it has been for cinema. My Cineworld Unlimited card was put to good use over the past twelve months and I managed to cram in an impressive number of viewings. Whilst there have been a few disappointments along the way, there were also plenty of high points, and even a couple of masterpieces. I have compiled here my top five films of the year – no easy task – with a few honourable mentions for good measure. Let me know what your cinematic highlights were in the comments section!

TOP 5:

BROOKLYN

Director: John Crowley

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson

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Chud

It feels like every year cinema is getting bigger and as the MCU and other superhero worlds dominate the box office the human element can be left behind. Richard Linklater reminded us of the extraordinary power of the ordinary with Boyhood last year, and John Crowley has followed suit with Brooklyn – based on the novel of the same name by Colm Toíbín – adding a period setting for good measure. Brooklyn is an understated masterpiece, blending gorgeous visuals with a simple and powerful story, alleviated to near perfect status by the incredibly apt casting  – Ronan has been scooping awards for her central role, and oscar glory is well within reach come February.

On a more personal level, Brooklyn resonated with me much more than I expected it to. The film is about a girl close to my age being torn between her desire to be home with her family and to forge a new life in America, a common struggle that transcends time. Brooklyn is a welcome reminder that a film doesn’t have to have superheroes or CGI to impress.

Read my review of Brooklyn here.

ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

Director: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman

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Anticool

After the smash hit success of The Fault in our Stars last year, another John Green adaption was a safe bet, and sure enough Paper Towns came along this summer. The film was marketed on Cara Delevingne, who was mostly absent from the largely forgettable flick. However, the genre had some life breathed back into it by Alfronso Gomez-Rejon, who took a script from Jess Andrews (author of the book of the same name) and came up with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, a film that avoided cliche whilst still packing an emotional punch.

I was not initially hopeful  – the marketing made the film look like a quirky Fault in our Stars rip-off – but it stood out due to its rarely static camera work and the incredibly funny script – it reminded me of 50/50 (2011) in that it manages to be a film about cancer that is funny without being crude. Add this to strong leads, a brilliant supporting turn from Nick Offerman and an incredible soundtrack (which I discussed here), and you have one of the most memorable films of the year.

LEGEND

Director: Brian Helgeland

Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccleston

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Trailer Addict

Based on The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, Brian Helgeland takes on the Krays in his biopic, which sees Tom Hardy in the dual role of Reggie and Ronnie. The gangster genre is overcrowded, so its hard to nail the genre in a way that stands out, but the Krays are hugely interesting source material and this film is worth seeing, if only for the technical wizardry of seeing Tom Hardy fight himself.

Legend is not without faults – Emily Browning’s character Frances is used as a narrative device to get to the story of the twins and is criminally underwritten as a result – but it still stands out as one of my favourite films of the year. Mixing the funny with the violent, Legend brings a distinct sense of Britishness to the gangster genre, and is all the better for it.

STEVE JOBS

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

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There is a good chance that audiences – particularly those in the US – are getting Steve Jobs fatigue. Since the Apple founder and CEO passed away in 2011 there has been a slew of material on the man, but it would be foolish to pass on this latest effort from Danny Boyle, with a script by Aaron Sorkin.

With a theatre-like three act structure, Steve Jobs is a far cry from the done -to-death biopic structure, and Sorkin’s razor sharp script blends perfectly with Boyle’s unique eye for visuals, and Fassbender manages to inhibit the character despite not physically resembling him. It’s Fassbender’s film through and through – as the title would suggest, he is the focal point of the entire film – but he is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast with Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet all providing fantastic turns in their own right.

Read my review of Steve Jobs here.

KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK 

Directed: Brett Morgen

Starring: Kurt Cobain

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Since his suicide in 1994 Kurt Cobain has been somewhat of an enigma, the voice of dissatisfied youth, and the wealth of unauthorised material produced on the man did little to dispel any of the myths that arose. However, Brett Morgen’s documentary – the first to be done with the agreement and co-operation of Cobain’s family – cuts through the cultural obsession to look at the man. Morgen stated in an interview that the film aimed to:

“….present an American icon – a revered American icon – in a completely naked and honest manner. Without tearing him down and without building him up, but where we can look him in the eye.”

Blending animated segments with interviews, Montage of Heck is a welcome departure from the typical over reliance on talking heads in documentaries, and is without a doubt the definitive account of who Cobain was. The only thing missing is an interview with Dave Grohl, as a member of Nirvana he seems like a crucial person to talk to about that period in Cobain’s life, and his presence is missed.

Whilst it is at times unsettling to see how deep-set his issues were, and knowing what happened to him makes it all the more upsetting,  Montage of Heck is essential viewing for Nirvana fans, and an enjoyable watch regardless.

RUNNER UPS:

DOPE 

Dope manages to be a crime caper, a comedy, a drama and a coming of age story all rolled into one excellent script. Rick Famuyiwa’s film tells the story of Malcom, Jib and Diggy, three geeks obsessed with 1990s culture who accidentally end up with a rucksack full of MDMA. The lead performances are fantastic and A$AP Rocky even shows up for a supporting role. The film is one that is designed to make you think about the role stereotypes continue to play in society, and it will stay with you long after the credits roll.

MISTRESS AMERICA

Director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, who penned the script together, are at their best in Mistress America, a screwball comedy that allows Gerwig to shine. Their collaboration, which worked so well in Frances Ha (2012) has been honed to perfection here, and the film is full to  the brim with laughs, as well as raising some interesting questions about the self obsession in the age of technology.

SUFFRAGETTE 

Undoubtedly one of the most important films of the year, it’s hard to believe UK women’s  fight for the vote had not already been committed to the screen. Starring Carey Mulligan and Helena Bohem Carter, with an appearance from the ever-fantastic Meryl Streep, Suffragette is a fantastic period drama made all the more emotive by the fact that it is based on true events.

MOST PROGRESSIVE: 

SPY/MAD MAX:FURY ROAD

It would be madness not to include Mad Max: Fury Road in talks about progressive depictions in cinema, but I have not yet seen it, so alas my comments cannot extend much further than acknowledgement of what is by all accounts an incredible film.

However, I genuinely believe in years to come Paul Feig’s Spy could be looked back upon as a landmark in comedy. Spy is a sign of progress – perhaps the most notable since Bridesmaids (2011) – with women who are capable, independent and not used as the butt of jokes. The film turns everything that is so awful about James Bond on its head – here we have men that are inept, being helped along by badass women (not a damsel in distress in sight) – and it’s about time.

It seems real change is finally on the horizon, and as ridiculous as it is that it is only the case in 2015, that can only be a good thing. Misogynists need not worry too much – Spectre brought the already questionable James Bond back a few steps in the progressive stakes (read more on that here). You win some, you lose some I guess.

BIGGEST LETDOWN:

KILL YOUR FRIENDS 

Based on John Niven’s (who also penned the script) novel of the same name, Kill Your Friends had the potential to be the British American Psycho (2000), but turned out to be a hollow disappointment. Despite the best efforts of the cast, led by an appropriately stoney Nicholas Hoult, the script feels empty and you’ll be hard pressed to remember the film long after viewing.

Read my review of Kill Your Friends here.

BEST ANIMATION:

INSIDE OUT 

A true return to form for Pixar, Inside Out shows the studio do what they do best – blending beautiful animation with innovative storytelling that tackles big themes in a way that is accessible to all ages. The casting is incredibly well sourced – Phyllis Smith was born to voice sadness – and the timeless concept is one that has already solidified Inside Out as a modern animated classic.

WEIRDEST:

THE LOBSTER 

The english language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthinmos, The Lobster is without a doubt the most unique film of the year. A hilariously deadpan story about a hotel where single people go and if they fail to find a partner in 45 days, they a turned into an animal. The film satirises social constructs in a hilarious manner, and whilst there is no doubt that it won’t appeal to everyone, I found the film to be one of the funniest I saw all year.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Not forgetting Macbeth, Ant Man, Trainwreck, Ex Machina, The Martian, Man Up, Mr Holmes, Danny Collins, Jurassic World, Irrational Man and so many more…


 

I’ve shared this video before, but it’s so good that I’m going to share it again. Ben Zuk created a 2015 Salute to Cinema on Vimeo, incorporating 164 movies into a wonderful montage that reminds us just how great movies can be. Enjoy!

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/147217969″>2015 Salute to Cinema</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/benzuk”>Ben Zuk</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What was your favourite film of 2015? Let me know in the comments section below!

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THE MISLEADING MARKETING OF MOVIES

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Since the dawn of the internet we have been living in a world where information is more widely and easily available than ever before. This has made pretty much everything more competitive, especially in the entertainment industry. It is harder than ever before to get a film made, and even if a great film is backed by a studio it will still bomb if it isn’t marketed in a way that gets people interested.

Advertising is in itself a huge business, and there are people out there who have dedicated their entire lives to working out what it is that sells things to people. It turns out that we as the human race are not an overly imaginative bunch, and mainstream cinema audiences are more likely to react to marketing that they recognise – be that a notable actor/actress or a typical narrative, marketing experts will generally gear advertising material about a film to fit certain quotas.

PicMonkey CollageThis can often lead to misleading marketing material that more often than not doesn’t actually represent the product that is being sold to us. This can work both ways, either selling an indie film as more mainstream fare (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl earlier this year was very much marketed as a YA adaption in the vein of The Fault in Our Stars in spite of being a vastly different film, for example) or tricking audiences into seeing a generic flick.

The ways in which marketing material can be misleading varies in a number of ways, but most tactics generally centralise around the ‘bait and switch’ idea where material will lure audiences in before turning out to be something totally different – this is done with actor/actresses, notable directors and trailers, as well as posters and even titles of films.

The thing is, advertising works. As much as many of us would like to believe that we are not susceptible, but with advertising being a multi-billion dollar industry the odds are stacked against us, and a lot of what makes marketing material work is the fact that it can sometimes operate on a subconscious level.

This post will look at these tactics in more detail using various examples of real life marketing material that was essentially misleading in the representation it provided of the film in question.

POSTERS:

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Posters are one of the main forms of marketing when it comes to movies – they generally set the tone and establish the stars of the film, as well as generally alluding to what the film is about. However, there are plenty of examples of times where distributors have provided movie posters which quite drastically misrepresent the film in some way.

A notable example from earlier this year was Legend, which made the headlines when it was revealed that it had strategically placed a two star review from The Guardian to look like it was a five star review. The review, from critic Benjamin Lee, was decidedly less than complementary about the Tom Hardy starring gangster biopic, yet the way the stars had been placed in the poster made it look like it was yet another excellent review of the film, leading to Lee himself writing an article about the dangers of misleading advertising. He pointed out that this was far from a one off, and the practice of taking critics quotes or ratings out of context and placing them in marketing material is a surprisingly common.

Other examples of posters which were essentially misleading include one of the US posters for The Aviator (2004) which tries to entice fans of Saving Private Ryan type films by taking an action still completely out of context, or the Spanish poster for The Godfather (1972), which was based on an early draft of the script which involved a spaghetti restaurant and just ends up coming across as promoting stereotypes.

Here are some of more examples of misleading movie posters…

  • PicMonkey CollageKramer . Vs. Kramer (1979) – shows a happy family even though the film is the depiction of the breaking up of said family
  • Drugstore Cowboy (1989) – selling a movie about drug addicts is always going to be hard, but the main characters on the poster are much chirpier than they appear in the film.
  • My Sister’s Keeper (2009) – Much like Drugstore Cowboy, marketing a movie about cancer is difficult, but this poster contains a lot more smiling than we ever see in this tearjerker

TITLES:

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It goes without saying that a movie title is one of the most important elements, as it tends to be a consumers first point of contact with the product. A poor or bland title is unlikely to entice audiences, and sometimes quirky or unusual trailers can be used for generic films, or vice versa. Titles differ from other marketing materials in that they are often taken from other mediums – for example, if a film is based on a book the title will often be retained.

However, there are examples of films based on books where the title was changed, presumably as part of the marketing strategy. This would include the likes of Slumdog Millionaire (2009), which was based on Q&A by Vikas Swarup. From a marketing perspective the name change is quite obvious – the idea of a slumgod millionaire is much more evocative than a Q&A session, and it immediately gives the consumer a bigger insight into what the film is about.

Love, Rosie (2014) is based on Irish author Cecilia Aherne’s second novel, entitled Where Rainbows End (2004) and is another example of a title change, with the movie title nodding more towards rom-com material.

trainspottingFilms such as Trainspotting (1994) retained their book titles, but no longer make sense in the context of the film. The book contains a line which alludes to the act of trainspotting and also acts as character development for the pyschotic Begbie, who was immortalised on screen by Robert Carlyle. However slight this alluding to the title was, it was still present, and no such instance occurs in the film, essentially making the title obsolete. This did nothing to impact the overall quality of the movie however, and it was going to be a hard task for the marketing strategists to come up with a title for a film about Edinburgh based heroin addicts and sociopaths.

Film titles can also change from country to country, the most famous recent example being the Avengers/Avengers Assemble instance in 2012. The culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was markered in the US as The Avengers, whilst in the UK it was distributed as The Avengers Assemble. This was done due to the existence of a TV show titled in The Avengers in the UK, making it crystal clear to audiences that they were not the same thing.

Other examples of differences between the US/UK movie titles include…

  • Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_postersHarold and Kumar go to White Castle (US) became Harold and Kumar get the Munchies (UK) due to the lack of White Castle fast food chain in the UK.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (UK) became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (US) – there is much debate as to why this was the case, but it is generally deemed to be because the idea of a sorcerer was one that implied ‘magical’ more than philosophers in to the US market.
  • Dracula 2000 (US) was changed to Dracula 2001 internationally due to the fact that it was released the year after. Apparently audiences wouldn’t buy that a film about Dracula was set a year in the past.

Whilst these title changes are not misleading in themselves, it shows how important titles are as part of the overall marketing strategy, with distributors being willing to actually change a title if they feel it will sell a movie better.

More examples of titles that are misleading…

  • The Squid and the Whale (2005) – It’s not about a squid, or a whale, though dioramas of both are seen in the film at the American Museum of Natural History. Does this count?
  • Antichrist (2009) – Whilst it may sound like your run of the mill horror/possession/exorcism movie, its actually part of Lars Von Trier’s overly depressing depression trilogy.
  • 12 Monkeys (1995) – It’s not about 12 monkeys, ok?

STARS:

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The old bait and switch is one of the oldest tricks in the book – marketing a film with a well known star at the forefront of all the material, only for them to hardly appear in the film itself, which people will only find out once they have already paid to see it. It’s a concept thats still around because it works, and despite social media making it easier and easier for audiences to deduce what is going on before a film comes out, we are still being collectively duped more than you would think.

Just this year the marketing material for Suffragette (2015) had us all thinking that Meryl Streep was in the main cast as the notable real life campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst. She featured heavily in all the material including trailers and posters, but turned out to only be in the film for a grand total of about five minutes. There was no reason to believe that Streep had anything less than a leading role, but it turned out that Cary Mulligan was the lead, with Helena Bohem Carter appearing in a supporting capacity. Streep was really no more than a cameo, making her appearance in the marketing material extremely misleading. It’s clear why this was the strategy however – Streep is one of the most famous and successful actresses of all time, and whilst Bohem Carter and Mulligan are both respected they in no way carry the level of traction that Streep does. Featuring her heavily in the marketing was also a clever move in enaging with US audiences, who will recognise her much more than the British Mulligan and Bohem Carter.

One of the first notable uses of the bait and switch of a star was in Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho (1960), which was marketed with Janet Leigh as the lead. She is then killed off in the first half an hour of the film, a feat that was famously repeated by Wes Craven with Drew Barrymore in Scream (1996). Both films were hugely successful – arguably partly due to the marketing of famous actresses Leigh and Barrymore as respective leads.

Other examples of this in practice include…

  • 273894_oriLeprechaun (1993) – The DVD release of this horror film capitalised on the fact that Jennifer Aniston, who has a relatively minor role in the movie, had struck gold as Rachel Green on Friends (1994-2004), and she is featured on the cover design.
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – Sean Penn is implied as the lead but it actually just part of a larger ensemble cast.
  • Halloween: Resurrection (2002) – Marketed almost wholly on the grand return of Jamie Lee Curtis, who is then killed off in the first half.
  • The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) – Marketed on Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper’s names, completely leaving out the other half which focuses on their sons, played by the then lesser known Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen respectively.

DIRECTORS:

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This is a trend that is slightly less obvious, but is still prevalent across Hollywood marketing material. Once a director has made a name for themselves, sticking their name on a poster or in a trailer is a surefire way of convincing people that a movie is worth seeing. The thing is, advertising will tend to stick a directors name on it even if their involvement with the film was not in a very large capacity, as it is easier to sell a picture on their name than that of a newbie or a less established film-maker.

Guillermo del Toro is a director that has had his name attached to several films, to the point that he actually spoke about it in an interview, saying:

“I only do it when – (a) I am introducing a filmmaker to the world, but (b) I endorse and say I believe in this movie very, very strongly. For whatever reason, it’s a more risky proposition in one way, but it’s one that I believe needs to continue to support first-time filmmakers. . . . I only do it when I fully believe I was involved in the product in a way that is meaningful.” 

del Toro was attached to Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2013), which was directed by Troy Nixey and The Orphanage (2007), directed by J . A Bayona. Regardless of the reasons why a director may choose to allow their name to be attached to a film, there is no doubt that it is both an effective and misleading marketing tactic. Audiences are going to see something based on the fact that they know and like the work of the director appearing on the poster, which can sometimes lead to them seeing a rubbish movie bolstered by the name, or give an up and coming film-maker a chance by viewing it, albeit under false pretences.

Other examples include…

  • The_nightmare_before_christmas_posterNightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Generally marketed as Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. Whilst the king of kook is responsible for the concept and is credited as a producer, the film was actually directed by Henry Selik.
  • Hostel (2005) – Splat pack director Eli Roth’s super violent torture horror film had Quentin Tarantino serve as an executive producer, and it was his name that the film was marketed on in spite of the fact Roth both wrote and directed the film.
  • Sanctum (2011) – Advertised as coming from executive producer James Cameron ‘the creator of Avatar and Titanic’, the way it is written on the poster makes the words James Cameron, Titanic and Avatar the ones that stand out. Considering they are two of the most financially successful films of all time, it is little wonder that is the slant the marketing took, in spite of the film being directed by Alister Grierson, who has no such accolades on his CV.

TRAILERS:

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Trailers are increasingly becoming the most important part of the marketing of a movie, providing without a doubt the biggest insight into what the film is going to be about. However, like everything else that has been explored in this post, they can be edited in a way that totally misrepresents the narrative and overall tone of a film.

The films of Nicolas Winding Refn are notable for being marketed in ways that do not fully represent the final product. Three examples are Valhalla Rising (2009), Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013). Valhalla Rising’s entire marketing campaign piggy-backed on the success of Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006), right down to the DVD cover and posters. However, the film is actually a deep study of a norse warrior. Drive is a neo-noir crime thriller that was marketed as a Fast and Furious style caper, whereas the final product is something much darker and broodier. Only God Forgives was advertised as a marital arts flick, but again was a thriller where marital arts was only a component factor. The marketing of these films, along with the fact that the very bankable Ryan Gosling (who is also featured heavily in the advertising) starred in the latter two allows them to be accessible to mainstream audiences in a way that they may not have without these elements.

Some other examples of misleading trailers include…

  • 126166377_iron-man_406735cIron Man 3 (2013) – the one that left comic book villains the world over bitter, the trailer advertised famous Iron Man foe The Mandarin as the big bad, only to pull a bait and switch and reveal Ben Kingsley’s character to be an drunken actor.
  • Magic Mike (2012) – Steven Soderbergh’s film was a deep character study marketed as a flashy chick-flick based around male strippers.
  • The Grey (2011) – capitalised on the Liam Neeson as an action lead phenomenon that began with 2009’s Taken, but The Grey was actually a study of the human relationship with death that is surprisingly light on the action.
  • Cabin in the Woods (2011) – marketed as a run of the mill teen slasher flick, but Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods takes the idea of meta-horror to a level that makes Scream (1996) look as though it lacks self-awareness.

Which films do you think had misleading marketing campaigns? Let me know in the comments section!

 

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5 GREAT FILMS THAT WERE BOX OFFICE FLOPS

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When it comes to mainstream cinema it’s all about the numbers, and the box office performance of a film is often what dictates whether it was successful or not. This can lead to sequels of bad films – Terminator Genysis, for example, is pretty sure to have a sequel in spite of appalling reviews and poor box office turnout in the USA due to the fact that it proved itself to be a money making machine in the gargantuan cinema-going demographic that is China. It can also lead to films that are actually pretty excellent only getting recognition years later due to a poor financial performance. Here are five films which performed poorly at the box office in spite of being great films…

Honourable mention…

Steve Jobs (2015)


Director:
Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

maxresdefault (2)An honourable mention due to the fact that it is still out in cinemas, Steve Jobs significantly underperformed upon it’s initial US release earlier this year. The film, structured like a three act play, stars Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs and goes behind the scenes in the time leading up to three significant product launches. Penned by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) the film has garnered $18 million since its release. On a budget of $30 million, the film still has a way to go before even making its money back.

There are a few contributing factors which may explain why the film has been a financial flop in spite of excellent critical praise. Director Danny Boyle blamed the marketing strategy, believing that the film had to wide of an initial release and did not generate enough word of mouth. There is also the issue of Steve Jobs fatigue – the Apple founder has been the subject of dozens on films and documentaries, and the critical and commercial failure of the Ashton Kutcher starring Jobs (2013) is still fresh in the minds of US audiences. The film was released by Universal, who reportedly still have faith that the film can recover if it stays in cinemas until closer to awards season.

Amy Pascal of Sony passed on the film, seeing it as too big of a risk after the likes of Christian Bale did not agree to star, and rumours suggest that Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell actively tried to stop the films warts and all portrayal. Both Sorkin and Boyle have been very vocal about their belief that the film is not a biopic, but Powell’s sway in the tech community may be another factor as to why the film didn’t perform well.

5 – The Iron Giant (1999)

Director: Brad Bird

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal

iron-giant-hogarthBased on the Ted Hughes novel The Iron Man (1968), this Warner Brothers Animation changes Hugh’s English setting for Cold War America. Set in 1950’s Maine, the film charts nine year old Hogarth Hughs (Eli Marienthal), a young boy who discovers a fifty-foot tall metal eating iron giant. The film was the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who is now best known for his work with Pixar, which includes The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007), and incorporated a mixture of traditional animation and elements of CGI.

The film made around $23 million on a $70 million budget, making it a financial failure in spite of critical adoration. The film had a pre Fast and Furious Vin Diesel in the titular role, as well as roles for America’s sweetheart Jennifer Aniston and Fraiser’s John Mahoney, but selling animations on their star power are more difficult than live action films. The film also used a washed out colour palette and held some pretty strong anti-government themes. Take into account that the film is a non Disney animation and that Bird was yet to make his name, as well as the fact that it came out the same year as Toy Story 2 (1999) and that Pixar were making CGI films popular and it becomes clearer why the film made a loss.

The film received a limited rerelease in cinemas this year ahead of the release of the Blu-Ray edition, which contained two minutes of new footage, and the film is considered one of the best non-Disney animations. Bird’s work at Pixar also went on to be some of the most financially successful for the studio, so it’s not all bad.

4 – Heathers (1988)

Director: Michael Lehmann

Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannon Doherty

Heathers2Heathers is an excellent black comedy/satire from Michael Lehmann. The film stars a young Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannon Doherty, and is pretty fearless in its approach to tackling issues such as bullying and teen suicide. The film was made on a very low budget of $2 million but still only managed to make back around half, meaning it was still a financial flop.

The film was very well received by critics, but a couple of noted individuals such as Roger Ebert took issue with the films extremities. The film came out in the late 80’s – making it a great showcase of the fashion of the era – which means it came out in the midst of the John Hughes era. Seeing as the film was a total subversion of everything a Hughes teen film stood for, this is probably a significant reason as to why the film did not fare well commercially.

The films stars Ryder and Slater were also yet to make their names – Ryder was only 16 upon filming and had appeared in Beetlejuice (1988) the same year, but only really became better known in the 1990’s with roles in the likes of Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Mermaids (1990). Similarly, Slater was 19 when the film came out with only a few credits to his name. Notoriously difficult Shannon Doherty also hadn’t had a chance to prove how notoriously difficult she was, with her roles in Beverly Hills 90210 and Charmed coming in 1990 and 1998 respectively. This lack of percieved star power is another reason the film failed to gain any financial traction.

3 – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers

tumblr_inline_nmh0a4Ufom1r4j8j1_500Frank Capra’s holiday classic, based on 1939 short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, is one of those rare films that it is very difficult to find anyone who dislikes it. However, whilst it may be hard to believe, the film was a letdown at the Box Office, debuting in 26th place. Made on a $3 million budget, the film only made $3.3 million in its initial run despite starring the hugely popular Jimmy Stewart in the central role of George Bailey, a man who is contemplating suicide and is visited by an angel, Clarence (Henry Travers) who shows him what life would have been like had he never been born.

The story doesn’t end there however – it was due to a copyright issue that the film went on to become a festive favourite. The film originally had a 28 year copyright claim, and when it expired the rights were not put up for renewal. This meant that in 1975 the film entered the public domain, leading to it having heavy circulation on television during the holiday season. This led to the film being reevaluated as a classic, and it has since garnered over $60 million in DVD and home video sales. NBC now own the rights and there is a good chance they won’t be giving them up anytime soon.

An interesting side note is that the FBI actually pinpointed the film as communist propaganda. A 1947 memo entitled ‘Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry’ argued it was propaganda due to its populist theme and negative portrayal of rich bankers. The film was not blacklisted in the infamous McCarthy era, but it is interesting to think that the FBI were concerned about the feel-good classic.

2 – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Director: Frank Darabont

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman

shawshank-musicThe seven times Oscar nominated film written and directed by Frank Darabont and based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is one of the more surprising entries on this list. The film is currently at the top of the IMDb Top 250 Films list. The film was made on a $25 million budget, but debuted in ninth place on its opening weekend with only $2.5 million.

The film is regularly quoted amongst favourite films/top films of all time lists, so why did it fail to gain any traction? Producer Liz Glotzer has argued that the film didn’t achieve any word of mouth promotion due to people being unsure how to pronounce the title. It could also be argued that the title gives too much away, though it’s not as though it gives away the main details of the plot (we are looking at you The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), the winner of the most spoilerific title of all time).

Things become even more confusing when we see what The Shawshank Redemption was up against at the Box Office. Opening on 23rd September 1994, other films that opened that day included It Runs in the Family, Shadows of Desire and Terminal Velocity. Not exactly bonafide classics. However, it is also worth noting that NBC’s beloved sitcom Friends debuted on the same date, drawing in some 22 million viewers for its pilot episode. Did this stop people going out to see the film on its opening night?

The film is similar to It’s A Wonderful Life in that it became more popular after its original cinematic run, and TV circulation and word of mouth in recent years has seen the film become the classic we know it as today, but exactly why The Shawshank Redemption underperformed on its initial run will always be a point of cinematic speculation.

1 – Fight Club (1999)

Director: David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bohem Carter

the_coolest_inside_facts_about_22David Fincher’s cult classic Fight Club, based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name, made only $37 million on a $63 million budget. The film came out four years after his critically acclaimed and financially successful Se7en (1994), which also starred Brad Pitt in a main role. However, Fincher followed up the film with The Game (1997) starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, which was again critically successful but saw significantly less box office returns compared to Se7en.

Fight Club has gone on to achieve cult status due to the fact that it was hugely successful when released on DVD, selling over 6 million copies and making its money back in that way. Whilst the film is now regarded as a modern classic, it was extremely divisive amongst critics upon its initial release. The films depiction of violence and counterculture led to criticisms from some critics, including Roger Ebert who said years later that it was “beloved by many, not by me.”

Another issue came in the marketing. Fincher reportedly had very specific ideas about how he wanted to market the film, but executives at 20th Century Fox didn’t like the film when they viewed it. The company were unsure of how to sell a film that is so openly critical of consumerism. The films release was delayed several times, and the film eventually came out after the Columbine High School Massacre, meaning that audiences were arguably much less open to a film with such graphic violence at its core. Brad Pitt was undoubtedly the most bankable star in the film, but Fincher refused to have him as the focus of the marketing campaign for fear of misrepresentation, and the lacklustre campaign is arguably the biggest factor in Fight Club’s poor box office performance.

The film was without a doubt one of the most talked about the of the year, and the controversy that surrounded its violent nature is arguably what made it successful in DVD sales, meaning it was not a total failure.

Which films do you think are great in spite of a less than stellar box office performance? Let me know in the comments section!

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Film, Reviews

FILM REVIEW: STEVE JOBS

Dir: Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet

Cert: 15

“How come ten times in a day I hear Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?”

20-fall-preview-movies-steve-jobs-michael-stuhlbarg-michael-fassbender-kate-winslet.w750.h560.2xSteve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) poses this question to the titular Jobs (Michael Fassbender) in the trailer of Danny Boyle’s latest film, written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), making it immediately clear that this is not going to be anything like the celebratory Apple advertisement it could have been.

What Boyle and Sorkin have done is provide a deep character study of Jobs – who died in 2011 – without mentioning Pixar, cancer,the iPhone or his widow Laurene Powell. Sorkin has stated that the avoidance of the typical ‘greatest hits’ biopic structure was a conscious decision, and a good one it was too. The film instead takes on more of a theatrical structure, essentially consisting of three real-time acts with a few brief deviations, all taking place in the run up to a notable product launch. It is this that makes Steve Jobs stand out from the wealth of other material that has been produced on the Apple co-founder, particularly the 2013 film Jobs, which starred Ashton Kutcher in the central role. The structure also allows you to immediately do away with the notion of the film as a biopic and thus at the same time stepping away from all the normal expectations that would come with watching a biopic, one of which is the ‘facts’. I personally feel this is a film that should be taken very much as artistic interpretation, based of course on fact but not to be taken as concrete fact in itself.

steve_jobsThe film is an intense character study – it’s Fassbender’s film through and through, and whilst he doesn’t look particularly like Jobs, but also isn’t unlike him enough to be distracting – and there is no doubt that Jobs was an interesting character. The film explores many interesting themes through the character, notably ambition. The film is incredibly brave in tackling the mythological status that has descended upon Jobs, especially following his death. Jobs is shown to be stubborn, difficult and at times incredibly harsh. He is also shown to be relentless in his drive and ambition for success, and it is the different aspects of Jobs’ character as presented in the film that makes it so much more interesting than any biopic could ever be.

Whilst Jobs is without a doubt the main character, the supporting cast also do a stellar job. Kate Winslet is strong, in spite of a wobbly European accent, as marketing executive and Jobs’ longtime friend Joanna Hoffman. Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Scully is also worthy of mention – the dynamic between him and Fassbender provides one of the most electric portions of the film. One of the highlights however comes in the form of Rogen’s Wozniak, who acts as the voice of reason or moral compass in a sense, highlighting some of the main themes in his dialogue.

Screen-Shot-2015-07-01-at-11.45.08-AMThere is no doubt that the film is going to draw endless comparisons to The Social Network, but whilst both films are interesting studies of the men behind tech phenomenons, there aren’t many comparisons to be held. Whilst David Fincher’s film is a relatively dark study, Steve Jobs has an abundance of energy. Boyle puts his stamp all over this film, which is visually impressive in a way that has come to be an expectation of the director, who’s unique style has been showcased in every film since his debut Shallow Grave (1994). The grand venues for  each launch provide a perfect setting for these distinct visuals, and they do not disappoint.

Another staple of Boyle’s films has always been music, and this is another strong entry in that area. The pulsing beats are essential in creating and maintaining the mood of the film, and it also effectively communicates the time periods – 1984, 1988 and 1998 without sounding overtly ‘retro’.

Steve Jobs hasn’t performed particularly well in the US Box Office, though this may be because after Jobs (2013) proving relatively disastrous people feel like they have seen it all when it comes to the man. Yet here is a film with a wealth of talent behind it, that offers something entirely new. It’s not a biopic – its much more than that, and its strong critical reception has kept it well and truly in the awards race.

Steve Jobs is out in cinemas across the UK now.

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Film, List, Music

5 BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS:

The Lord of the Rings score was recently crowned the greatest movie soundtrack of all time for the sixth year in a row. The Classic FM poll listed a whole host of classic in it’s list, including Schindler’s list, Gladiator, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Soundtrack is one of the make or break elements of a film – would Halloween be anywhere near as terrifying without John Carpenter’s endlessly creepy two note score? Would Titanic pull on your heart strings half as much without Celine Dion giving it all she’s got in My Heart Will Go On? The soundtrack is the often unsung hero of so many beloved films, and whilst I would probably have to agree with the ruling of Lord of the Rings as the greatest ever (probably on Concerning Hobbits alone), I have compiled a list of my personal favourites, a few of which depart from the traditional scoring and focus on pop culture instead.

5- ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

me-earl-dying-girlDirector: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler

Soundtrack Highlight: The Big Ship – Brian Eno

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name, Me Earl and Dying Girl has proved to be one of the surprise hits of the year. Pretty much the anti-Fault in Our Stars, the film is a fantastic breath of fresh air for the YA genre. It is especially bolstered by its soundtrack, which largely comes from the fantastic Brian Eno. As well as Eno, there is a real eclectic mix to enjoy, from Roy Orbison to Cat Stevens. It perfectly walks the line of between hipster and accessible and plays a huge role in the films quirky genius, building up to an incredible finale with Eno’s The Big Ship, which was composed especially for the film. I really can’t stress how great The Big Ship is (listen below for yourself) as both a piece of music in its own right an as a perfect accompaniment to the film. It catches the offbeat, touching atmosphere of the film to a tee – without a doubt the best soundtrack of the year, from one of the best films for that matter.

4 – WALK THE LINE (2005)

Walk-the-Line-movie-stills-walk-the-line-13722960-874-904Director: James Mangold

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Soundtrack Highlight: It Aint Me Babe – Joaquin Phoenix & Reese Witherspoon

This soundtrack is so good that it won a Grammy, and there is no question why. The 2005 biopic of the late, great Johnny Cash and the love of his life, June Carter is one of my favourite films of all time. This one deserves a place on the list based on the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon alone – they performed all of the songs themselves, lending the film a sense of authenticity it could never have achieved otherwise. Replicating Cash’s legendary bass-baritone voice is no mean feat, but Phoenix totally inhabits the role and the songs, almost making it look easy. He pays the perfect homage to the man in black with classics such as I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues and Get Rhythm, capturing whatever it is that makes a Cash track so special in the first place. Witherspoon also shines, capturing the charm of June Carter, particularly in her rendition of Wildwood Flower, which is so good it threatens to overtake Carter’s version. There are also some other gems from other artists which perfectly encapsulate the genre and period. The real magic happens when Phoenix and Witherspoon duet on Jackson and It Aint Me Babe, perfectly capturing the chemistry and genuine love that existed between the real life Cash and Carter. Walk the Line is everything you want in a music biopic, and the tunes are everything you want from a soundtrack.

3 – BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

imagesDirector: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J Fox, Christopher Llyod

Soundtrack Highlight: Power of Love – Huey Lewis and the News

Anyone who knows me will know my undying love (obsession?) with this film, and the soundtrack is a huge part of what makes it so great. This one is a great mix of songs and score, mixing a suitably cinematic sound with some classic and nostalgic tunes and coming up with something pretty close to perfection (I did warn you of my undying affection for this film). The Outatime Orchestra (named after the number plate of the iconic DeLorean) perform the score, which was composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri – a frequent collaborator of Zmeckis – has a very Speilbergian feel to it (he produced the film), which is always a surefire ticket for success. The film also manages to provide a fantastic time-bending blend of the 1950’s and 80’s, with the Power of Love proving to be the signature song an obvious highlight (fun fact – Huey Lewis plays the judge who tells Marty his band is just “too darn loud” when they play a hard rock version of the song near the films beginning).  And who can forget Michael J Fox rocking out to Johnny B Goode? There is just so much to love.

2 – TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

trainspotting_2505786bDirector: Danny Boyle

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly Macdonald

Soundtrack Highlight: Born Slippy .NUXX

Another hugely popular soundtrack, this one sold so well that it spawned another album the following year, consisting of songs that inspired the film. Whilst it is also excellent, it will never reach the dizzy heights of the songs featured in Danny Boyle’s cult classic. From Iggy Pop to Lou Reed, the mix screams 90’s and has been most teenagers claim to cool ever since the film came out. Danny  Boyle has always been fantastic at selecting soundtracks – 2013’s Trance is another highlight – and this is quite possibly the pinnacle of his success. Riding the wave of britpop, the soundtrack is an effective blend of the bands of the decade and their predecessors, the soundtrack (and the film) is a product of its time and a gift that keeps on giving. One of the most effective closing songs of all time is Born Slippy .NUXX, the perfect blend of uplifting and trippy, and the beginning of a lasting collaboration between Boyle and Underworld.

1 – PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012)

perks-042_df-07440c (1)Director: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson

Soundtrack Highlight: Heroes – David Bowie

Stephen Chbosky, the author of the 1999 novel of the same name, brought his work to life in 2012 with the film adaption of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Much like Trainspotting, the film is a perfect example of one that captures the era it is depicting. Again it is the early 90’s, but the focus is American high schoolers as opposed to Edinburgh junkies. This is one of my favourite soundtracks ever because it so brilliantly captures the essence of the film – even though there is only one composed piece in the film (Charlie’s Last Letter – Michael Brook) you would easily believe more of the tracks had been specifically written for the film. It is the sort of music the characters listen to, and it allows us to achieve a better understanding of these characters with its mix of soft alt. rock, new wave and dream pop from the late 80’s/early 90’s. Bowie’s Heroes is the perfect song to summarise the main themes of the film, and the tunnel scene where it is played remains electrifying and triumphant on multiple viewings.

Here is a playlist of the 5 best songs from this list, enjoy!

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