AFTER HOURS & being stressed out

Martin Scorsese’s new movie is coming out on Netflix, could you believe it?  The master of all masters relying on vomit-inducing exploitative true crime friends wanking twitter meme creating cinema killing Netflix to get backing to make what he wants to.  Uncanny and welcome to those dealing with French cinemas unpredictable schedules, and so myself, AND I’M SURE many others delve headfirst into one of life’s contradictions, watching an auteurs vision on your laptop, begrudgingly, as you stew in popular streaming hatred.  Can’t wait.  It has prompted a little look back on said director’s filmography, combing through the hits to find the ones that have been missed by my selective, compulsive brain.  After Hours, 1985, a cult hit known for being the Tim Burton debut that never was, taken on by a man who had won the Palme D’or with Taxi Driver and solidified bankable critically loved status with Raging Bull (he didn’t quite receive GOD-LIKE status until after 1990’s Goodfellas I should think).  At the time, the hacks probably saw it as a strange choice, however that could be the awful spin that Marty has of being a gangster man, I mean the guys made a musical.  In the 80s it could have been an obvious turn for a man with his hands in production companies’ deep pockets, back in the day when skillful filmmakers got access to trouser storage (WHERE ARE YOU DAVID FINCHER?).  Anyway, instead of contemplating on the OBVIOUSLY trampled on ground that is Scorsese’s career, why don’t I egotistically relate an odd movie from the 80’s to stressing out about logistical paperwork and phone sims, as a kind of self-therapy, repulsively introspective way of showing that I can only write about myself.

after hours gif 1.gif

The film is about a guy who meets a girl in a coffee shop, by her interrupting his reading to tell him how much she loves the book.  It’s an incel’s fantasy.  She covertly gives him her number, he calls her when he’s home, she invites him round, he accepts, and then a nightmare of a late-night ensues for the guy, Paul (Griffin Dunne), as he effectively bombs around Soho, NYC, trying to get his end away.  Actually, it’s more like he’s doing the exact opposite, but when the opportunity arises to get his end away, he certainly attempts to seize the opportunity.  After a while, he familiarly gets the feeling of just wanting to get home, because he gets stuck in a logistical misunderstanding dungeon whereby everyone in the neighbourhood hates him and the subway fare has suddenly increased.  Dunne is an everyman for sure, part of that beautiful era where leading men were 5 foot 7 twitchy dorks, crossing over from the seventies into a decade of muscle tight Stallone’s.  He can’t believe his luck that an attractive girl wants to hang out with him, until he discovers the catch, and tries to swiftly get away from her.  Kafkaesque would be an understatement and the horror of the uncomfortable situations are where the films protein is, yet it’s the latter stages when it becomes overwhelming where I found myself relating the most.  In the final third, Paul screams to the skies ‘I JUST WANT TO LIVE!’ and sat in my apartment I had a flashback break of trying to find a working printer in an underfunded French university, or filling out a grant form, or arguing with an American landlord over the phone, or panicking that I’m getting charged by the second for my English phone sim whilst living in a different country.

after hours gif 2

It’s not an anxiety issue or a mental problem, it’s the stuff that gets in the way of life and it is annoying.  Paul is dealing with suicides, burglars and pseudo Femme Fatales, I’m dealing with slow replies to urgent e-mails.  I think the term is subtext, and I AM absolutely convinced that After Hours is about being stressed about life, and menial irritating tasks that add nothing of value to comfort or satisfaction.  Paul has a boring job, he’s a word processor (RIP), and the one chance he has to do something exciting is crushed by dull problems, such as losing his keys or GETTING HIS HAIR SHAVED INTO A MOHAWK IN A TERRIFYING PUNK CLUB.  The razor blade to the skull is when it bubbles to a far greater worry, a far greater fear that definitely wasn’t in the zeitgeist back then like it is now.  Scorsese makes timeless, eternal works of art of course.  I’m talking about climate change, the planet is screwed with no-one making meaningful policy changes to stop it, thinking about a future of swimming to a job you don’t like rather than walking to it.  It’s compound stress on top of all the other pointless shit, and it’s about the only thing worth getting worried about.  The longevity of the human race and the legacy of what you leave behind trumps the fear of death, and what you’re going to do with a media degree when you hate journalism and working for other people.  It’s kind of a twisted relief, and with some complexity, the paperwork takes your mind off the graduating, then the graduating takes your mind off the paperwork, and then the polar bears going extinct takes your mind off the inevitable half of century in the workforce and then dementia at the end of it.  At least we have films by great directors about grimy city settings, and sub-cultures you’re not a part of, swilling at the bottom of a glass, created by artists that can develop these worlds in their minds and restrict access to those clad in a suit and tie.  After Hours is a film of its time, because I think New York City isn’t a constant crime-ridden Halloween anymore?  I don’t know.  The film can be attributed to representing those lovely first world problems, lovely privileged and BORED day to day issues that make living unbearable and the relentless end to it much more inviting.  Also, the lighting is gorgeous and it’s shot better than any film that has come out post 2000.

Five Inspiring First Watches of July

A few words on a few things that have inspired me in July…

 

Face PlacesAgnes Varda

Came out in… 2017

Watched on… Netflix

The first of two Agnes Varda films on this list, and truly a beautiful movie.  I will talk of my affection for Agnes later in this piece, for now, let’s focus on the film.  It is a categorically French documentary, blending soft reality techniques with staged narrative-driven set pieces, guiding us through small-town France meeting the people that actually live in this world.  Agnes and co-creator JR paste large photos on walls, building an adorable relationship, touching on aging, fame, art and the oh so sweet simple life that I am eternally jealous of.  The film is on Netflix, a French stroke of genius, that is incredibly watchable and universal right there waiting for everyone.

 

The Elephant Man

Came out in… 1980

Watched on… Mubi

I have had a level of trepidation about watching The Elephant Man for a while, mostly out of fear, and films don’t scare me easily, but David Lynch does.  He is one of my favourite filmmakers, because of his attitude to the process and the allure of his personality rather than his actual output, so why was The Elephant Man so intimidating to me?  Perhaps due to the image of the disfigured man, that everyone has seen, or the inevitable dull melodrama that a story like this brings.  I was wrong on the second point, and in the end this film might be Lynch’s greatest achievement as an artist, pragmatically at least.  He took the predictable tale of an abused misfit taken in, cared for, and transformed, and made it into a magical experience that is as strange as it is uplifting.  Legendary film critic Pauline Kael praised the film because Lynch created something marvellous from a zilch script, and of course I agree, however I would not recommend watching this at 10am on a Tuesday, it was a teary morning.

Midsommar

New release in cinemas

I wrote a full review of this here, so I’ll keep it brief.  The film is a fishless aquarium, with a breathing ecosystem waiting for it.  Sign me up.  Take your well-rounded characters and structured plot and throw it away, give me the green plant wrapping around the throat of the unsuspecting audience.

The Edge

New release

Rented on… Amazon, also available on YouTube, iTunes and Google Play

It’s very hard to write this without being incredibly biased.  This documentary is about the 2009-2013 England cricket team, a side that was the best in the world for a short time, a side that gave a lot of their life away to get there.  If you are a cricket fan, you will enjoy the film, because it highlights what makes the game special.  I love cricket, and I love that particular era of English cricket even more, so obviously I was gripped throughout.  However, there is space for the non-cricket fan, with the film focusing on the mental toll that the sport takes on a player, showing what it takes to achieve greatness.  Director Barney Douglas does a good job of presenting the mind games and struggles that many of that team went through by going away from archive footage to shoot staged scenes with the actual players.  The film leaves a lot out, and it’s tight in its execution, working for the uninitiated as well as the fanatic.

Varda by Agnes

New release in cinemas

Also available to rent on the BFI Player

agnes varda 2

Started with Agnes, and now finishing with her, as she ends her career by creating a retrospective of her own work.  The film is basically the legendary director talking to crowds about her output over the years, and the process, whilst she plays around a little.  What is instantly striking is her genius as a filmmaker, someone who was always messing with the form, trying a new thing with each film.  She is an artist who makes me happy and now that she is gone, this film will stay as a reminder for how wonderful she and her work was.  The sweetest parts of the film are when she talks of her late husband, another French filmmaking hero, Jacques Demy, a man who after decades is still the most important thing to her.  Her friendships and collaborations are also striking, showing that human interaction and love will never be beaten by a camera lens or the relentless passing of time.

 

 

 

 

 

To What Extent is Netflix Challenging the Validity of Conventional Film Criticism in Assessing the Value of Contemporary Cinema? (Essay)

Foreword:  This is a fully sourced, 3161-word essay on Netflix, that I wrote for a University assessment.  It received a first class grade, and I think that it handles the topic pretty well.  The main obstacle holding the essay back is the lack of meaningful academic research on the subject of Netflix and film, as most of the investigations on the platform revolve around TV.  Nevertheless, it is a burgeoning debate, and an interesting one if you follow the world of cinema, and having failed to sell this thing to any kind of publication, it will die a slow death on here where perhaps another student can find something within it.

Essay

The value of cinema is weighed on by two successes: financial and critical.  These two successes can intertwine, and occasionally what is popular is also deemed as artistically valid.  However, in an increasingly media saturated world where a wealth of content is at our fingertips, the artistic accomplishment of a piece of work could be irrelevant.  The voice of the film critic is perhaps dying, when we live in a society that no longer requires human gatekeepers for entertainment media, news media, or common opinion.  Netflix is the catalyst for this saturation and the instantaneous access of an unfathomable choice of movies to watch in the comfort of your own home, with it not only being a back catalogue of existing titles, but in recent years Netflix’s own original efforts, and own distribution method (McDonald and Smith-Rowsey, 2016).  This idea of choice is questionable, and to truly understand Netflix’s model, you have to try and decipher their techniques, which is not an entirely easy task, and Ramon Labato says in his book ‘Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution’: “While Netflix is an established global brand with 20 years of history, there is still very little agreement about what Netflix is or how it should be understood by the public, scholars, or media regulators,” (Laboto, 2019).  What is clear is Netflix’s popularity and dominance, as they have 137.1 million users as of 2018, their net profit in 2018 was $403 million, and they take up 51% of the market share for streaming services (Iqbal, 2019).   Their ‘Netflix originals’ have broken through to the mainstream, with their 2018 release Bird Box becoming an example of a ‘chat around the water cooler’ kind of popular culture (Bird Box, 2018).  And yet the film received a middling reaction from critics, and appears to add nothing of significance to its genre, so its success is confusing, though it is almost impossible to gauge its actual scientific success, because there are zero box office figures when it comes to video on demand.  On the other end of the spectrum is the film Roma, not a Netflix original but distributed by them, and except for a short, select cinema release, is only available to view on the platform (Roma, 2018).  The film has been hailed by some critics as a masterpiece, was nominated for ten academy awards, winning three, and therefore its critical success is obvious, and outweighs its success in becoming a discussion point in the mainstream like Bird Box.  This is the starting point in wondering whether the values we put on contemporary cinema are changing.

To begin to understand Netflix’s impact on cinema, there must be a look at how the platform works.  As of April 2019 (it changes every month), there are 3,658 movies on Netflix in the United Kingdom (Cook, 2019).  On the homepage (of the desktop version) you can see a total of 228 films if you scroll to the very end of each section (Netflix.com).  This shows the disparity in what is instantly viewable when you first log onto the Netflix, compared to the amount of films that are on the platform.  Netflix’s system of recommendation is what dictates some of what is visible on the homepage, and so what a user is most likely to choose is algorithmic.  This creates the idea that there is a ‘myth of choice’ on the platform, that all of these titles are diluted down to a select few, through the analysation of the audience.  In ‘The Netflix Effect’ Sarah Arnold discusses the ‘data-fication’ of users, whereby viewing figures can be measured more accurately than ever before, which can lead to a predictable audience (McDonald and Smith-Rowsey, 2016).  She notes that Netflix subscribers can be reduced to “characteristics, attributes, and a narrow set of identities,” meaning that Netflix is putting a quick judgement on what a user would like to see, and the algorithm can work after one movie viewing, or one positive rating by the user.  Consequently a Netflix subscriber is more often than not going to be watching similar things, or at least what Netflix is recommending to them, which produces a strange relationship between consumer and seller.  Netflix has become a new gatekeeper for content intake by the masses, by partly cutting out the middle man, the middle man being the critic or the box office numbers.  On a rudimentary level they have almost negated word of mouth, and moulded the word of Netflix.  From this ‘data-fication’ of audiences Netflix can understand mainstream behaviours and wants as a whole, and thus re-create what the masses want.  Of course this is not a completely new phenomenon in the movie business, because since the dawn of cinema Hollywood have been producing genres that are contemporaneously trendy, from film noir to westerns to buddy cop movies to violent male driven indies to superhero movies.  An interesting add-on about Netflix is that they are aiming for the easy monetary win, but also a lot of their ‘Original’ titles and back catalogue are low budget, niche affairs, however the audience’s discovery of these films is on themselves.  Subsequently there is a separate category on Netflix of forgotten films that has spawned a new kind of film journalism, where countless ‘Top ten Netflix movies you have haven’t seen’ features are published every week (agoodmovietowatch, 2019).  And this is an example of media synergy, Netflix being a perfect tool for it, where internet brands can go hand in hand to help one another financially (Dong, 2019).  The movie news and reviews website ‘Film School Rejects’ has a partnership with Netflix, where they constantly promote Netflix films, and are therefore granted access to interviews/preview information on what Netflix is working on (Filmschoolrejects.com).  If popular contemporary cinema is becoming more centred on video on demand, then it is important to note how online media synergy can elevate certain platforms, and movies, through social media and online journalism.

Inevitably Twitter and sites like ‘Film School Rejects’ could be key in how a Netflix films gains serious traction in the day to day mainstream, never mind the covert algorithms of recommended sections and carefully crafted homepages.  The symbiotic online relationship that culture websites have with Netflix is fuel for pushing exactly what Netflix wants at the top of the pile, whereas the time and space between a cinema release and a Tweet can halt the process of promotion.  If you take a look at social media, aside from partnerships with film websites, Bird Box utilised tools like Twitter very well.  The film has a definite hook in its plot, a hook movie producers get excited about, where the characters cannot be harmed by the dangers of the world (the ‘creatures’) if they don’t look at them, and the main protagonists use blindfolds for this.  Consequently it created the ‘Bird Box challenge’, which entailed doing tasks whilst blindfolded, recording it, and uploading the video to social media.  It quickly became a meme, gaining millions of views from all corners of the world, and Netflix had to tweet warning people not to injure themselves doing it, also stating that they didn’t know how it started.  There is a naivety to saying that the challenge originated itself, as Netflix and the filmmakers would have been acutely aware of the motif, and hook they were creating with the blindfolds (Shoard, 2019).  It’s a gimmick and a starting point for audiences when they are discussing the film with their family and friends.  Furthermore this overnight internet trend highlights the power Netflix has in putting something at the centre of the cultural zeitgeist, because Netflix is so interconnected with the online world. Within a few clicks a user could go from a short article fluffing Bird Box, or a 30 second challenge video, to watching the film, which could partly explain the astronomical numbers that Bird Box pulled in.  According to a claim made by Netflix and later verified by TV measurement company Nielsen, 26 million accounts viewed the film (minimum 70% through the runtime) in the first seven days of its release in the US, and 45 million worldwide, but the second statistic has not been independently verified (Loughrey, 2019).  It is their second best reach for a Netflix original, after Sci-Fi series Stranger Things.  Although Netflix are able to share their data on a success, they are less inclined to share viewing numbers on something less successful.  Their only figure for Roma is that 50% of accounts in Mexico viewed the film, which means nearly 4 million, making it the second most viewed film in the country, behind Bird Box (Barnes, 2019).  The lack of information on Roma’s numbers as a whole is an indication of its lack of an audience outside of Mexico (its success in Mexico is unsurprising considering the visionary behind it, Alfonso Cuaron, is a national treasure there).  And of course the basic answer to the question as to why Bird Box is so popular globally, compared to Roma, is that Bird Box is a generic accessible thriller with a recognised star (Sandra Bullock), and Roma is a black and white, small plot film not in the English language.  However the more pressing questions are how Bird Box got so much attention, and how are the values of contemporary cinema changing when a film as applauded as Roma is only available on small screens, where it loses a sense of place in history.

That sense of place is one of the key issues with films distributed on Netflix, and the odd ownership that they have over something that has been classed of artistic importance.  Roma got a small, almost privileged theatrical release, where you had to live nearby a particular arthouse cinema to have any chance of seeing it on the big screen.  Other than that it is only watchable on whatever screen and internet set-up audiences have at their home, streaming the film through Netflix, there is no DVD, Blu-ray, or any trace of physical copy available.  Therefore, Netflix effectively owns a string of computer codes when it comes to the film, which means its place in history is fragile.  The film is loved almost universally by critics, having a 96% Rotten Tomatoes rating, a statistic collated from 357 adjudicated professional reviews (Rotten Tomatoes, 2019).  Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian gave it five stars, and described it as ‘a densely realised, intimate drama developing in what feels like real time.’ (Bradshaw, 2018).  Editor of Little White Lies magazine David Jenkins said in his review that ‘It stands as testament to the awe-striking complexity of humankind.’ (Jenkins, 2018).  In all of the Roma reviews there is a recurring theme that the film is totally cinematic – Cuaron’s use of widescreen, the endless depth of field and the extraordinary sound design built for Dolby speakers being examples of this.  Yet only a lucky few got to see it in cinemas, with Netflix taking away the opportunity to get the full experience of the film, and Bradshaw notes that Netflix has been accused of ‘supressing the big-screen identity of its own product.’  Netflix users are relying on their bandwidth to watch the film in full resolution, and the strength of their in-built laptop speakers to enjoy the scope of the narrative.  Ergo Netflix are diluting a filmmaker’s message down, with simple technicalities of their platform.  It was not only the critics that loved the film, awards ceremonies did too.  The most prestigious of them all, the Oscars (Academy Awards) gave Roma ten nominations, and three wins: Best Director for Cuaron, Best Cinematography for Cuaron, and Best Foreign Language Film (The Irish Times, 2019).  Even though Netflix proudly champions Roma’s critical success, plaudits of this kind are almost irrelevant to them because the film hardly broke into the mainstream.  If you compare this to the critical response to Bird Box, it becomes obvious that for Netflix it doesn’t really matter what the critics say.  Amy Nicholson of The Guardian gave the film two stars and called it a ‘disappointingly clunky waste of a star-studded cast,’ and it has a 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, collated from 147 critics (Nicholson, 2018) (Rotten Tomatoes, 2019).  This cold response from critics does not match the film’s success on Netflix, and interestingly the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 59%, from 6,354 user ratings.  It is a tiny sample of the amount of people that watched the film, and completely unreliable, but it gives the impression that the regular Netflix subscriber was not thrilled by the movie.  Furthermore, it is possibly showing that what is valuable is completely changing when it comes to Netflix products, with something not necessarily having to be good for it to be successful.  It is less and less about the art, and more about how you can package and market it in an online world.

The value of a critic is not entirely going away.  In Roland Barthes essay ‘Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers’ he is assessing the danger of cultural evaluation, when it creates a split between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, or the privileged and the desperate, the educated and the unaware (Barthes, 1971).  He says: ‘Cultural Criticism, that is, must be impatient, it cannot be carried on without desire,’ which concludes his point in the essay that criticism cannot be given up on, despite it creating a gap between classes of people, it must continue to serve.  The void between those that respect and follow a critic’s view, and those that are ignorant to it is larger than ever, with the latter sitting in the mainstream with Netflix.  Therefore critical response is not invalid, but perhaps blunt to the power in numbers that Netflix has and their only real scrutiny has come from the old guard of cinema.  Legendary director Steven Spielberg shot out at Netflix, saying in an ITV News interview: ‘I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theatres for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination,’ (ITV News, 2018).  He believes that Netflix releases should not have the same value as theatrical ones, and whether they are good films or not they have committed themselves to the television format.  This superior thinking again shows the gap between films ruling classes – the cinephile and the mainstream audiences.  Netflix responded to Spielberg say that they ‘love cinema,’ and what is important to note is that Netflix loves diverse cinema (Pulver, 2019).  It is easier for Spielberg to get his family blockbuster movies into cinemas, and less easier for other directors, such as Cuaron.  He questioned after his Golden Globes win, how many theatres he could get a film like Roma into (no recognised stars, not in the English language etc), and its paradoxical to think that Netflix are simultaneously lessening value of films whilst also allowing chance for films with more artistic value to obtain a bigger audience (Variety, 2019).  And arguably the greatest director of his generation Martin Scorsese has also made a film for Netflix coming out in 2019, but it’s not only these recognised artists getting a chance on Netflix, minority voices are getting backed on the platform as well.  Bird Box is directed by a woman, Susanne Bier, and female directors are still sparse in Hollywood.  It has films from Gareth Evans and Duncan Jones as well, other directors who have struggled to get their films financed (Netflix.com).  This quantity, variety and scope of Netflix releases means that major critical organisations cannot ignore them.  In the editorial of the May 2019 issue of Sight and Sound, Nick James writes how the Cannes Film Festival and others can keep their purity by dismissing Netflix films, but Sight and Sound cannot, because of the quality and interest in the works on the platform (James, 2019).  He writes how they must be selective of what they review, because of the sheer amount of film releases available to cover, meaning that Netflix is taken over cinema so much that the critics cannot keep up with them.  Respected magazines like Sight and Sound have to put value on video on demand movies because of the inevitable strength of them, and so critics in this sense give films a value they would be missing if they were un-reviewed.  Ultimately though there is little evidence to show they will sway a Netflix films impact on popular culture.

In conclusion Netflix is changing cinema in many ways, and one of them is the disregard of praise or criticism in taking away or giving value to contemporary cinema.  It all comes down to what is deemed as valuable, is it artistic accomplishment, transgressive meaning, culture changing or monetary success.  Some would argue that the days when a film is of artistic quality and mainstream popularity is long gone, and that contemporary films are worse than ever.  Netflix is not fully to blame for this view, their power to be successful with a poor product because of interconnect-ability online is slightly separate.  The climax to the first stage of the decade dominating Marvel cinematic universe Avengers: Endgame broke all box office records easily, and is deeply engrained into the systems of society (Boxofficemojo.com, 2019).  It is an expertly made film, but has its criticisms, such as being a silly distraction to real world realities, having abhorrent moralities around grief, and it ensures Disney’s complete monopolisation of the movie business (Brody, 2019).  A film journalist has to prepare for some flak from the fans if they publish a negative review of the film, even questioning its issues causes them to receive tweets about how they do not know how to have fun (Shoard, 2019).  And this is what is at the heart of popular culture, the centre of what people see and talk about, the validity of the product is clear when it is shaping the world around us.  And in the end, critics struggle to place value in the world other than in their niche group of readers, who can speak of the greatness of Roma without really being heard, living in their own analytic entity.  D. N. Rodowick sums this up perfectly in the preface to the second edition his book ‘The Crisis of Political Modernism,’ he says: ‘reading (critically) is a performative act, and an active construction of meaning, that not only challenges the preferred meanings of contemporary media, but also helps us recognise, and sometimes create, the utopian anticipation of forms of subjectivity, and way of thinking and desiring, that are occluded in contemporary society,’ (Rodowick, 2019).  This was written in 1994, but applied to this essay, it realises the value of film criticism, or any criticism, is situated around form and content, the messages between the photo print, no matter where it comes from.  Netflix may be a new machine to show the large audiences controlled, autonomous products, that they will unknowingly ingest, but criticism remains the same in revealing the products weight in the world.

 

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  24. Shoard, C. (2019). Avengers: Endgame may well be brilliant – but the pressure to say so isn’t | Catherine Shoard. [online] The Guardian Online. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/26/avengers-endgame-critics-film [Accessed 8 May 2019].
  25. Shoard, C. (2019). Netflix warns viewers against Bird Box challenge meme: ‘Do not end up in hospital’. [online] the Guardian online. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/jan/03/netflix-bird-box-challenge-meme-sandra-bullock-blindfold [Accessed 23 Apr. 2019].
  26. The Irish Times. (2019). Oscars 2019: The full list of winners – Roma, Green Book and more. [online] Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/oscars-2019-the-full-list-of-winners-roma-green-book-and-more-1.3804488 [Accessed 1 May 2019].
  27. Variety (2019). Alfonso Cuarón – Golden Globes – Full Backstage Interview. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEyR9m_GlWE [Accessed 8 May 2019].
  28. Xuebing Dong, Yaping Chang, Shichang Liang, Xiaojun Fan, (2018) “How online media synergy influences consumers’ purchase intention: A perspective from broadcast and interactive media”, Internet Research, Vol. 28 Issue: 4, pp.946-964, https://doi.org/10.1108/IntR-08-2017-0298

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Man and The Gun & Roma – Smiling Through Tears

Sometimes you fall in love with a film so much, that you simply want to say thank you to the film-makers. Thank you David Lowery, and thank you Alfonso Cuaron, you are two of my favourite directors working and your efforts this year are beautiful. I have been seduced by their latest films The Old Man and The Gun and Roma, swept off my feet, blushing red in my cheeks as I accept their proposal. It’s a proposal to feel something, two very different, but often similar feelings. Lowery with pure happiness and Cuaron with pure despair. Films are my passion because they effect me in a profound way, and perhaps it’s because I can’t get a grasp on true reality, as I’m always the weakest in the cinema, or in the case of Roma, the weakest in my bedroom. I cry at any slight emotion in a moving image, and when a film reaches peak form, my body shudders. I’m touched like an ecstasy high, near death, new years kiss force of nature, and I’m thankful to the film-makers for when that happens.

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If you are not familiar with David Lowery, you will be soon. He’s only 37 and got a few lovely films behind him, including one transcendent experience: A Ghost Story. A film about loss, grief, relationships and death, it’s a haunting piece of work, where it takes only a still from the movie to shatter me. This is where Lowery reached peak artistry, and so will forever be a great auteur in my eyes, but his latest film has touched a new nerve. The Old Man and The Gun stars Robert Redford, in reportedly his final film, as career criminal Forrest Tucker – a man who can’t help but rob banks, where ‘it’s not making a living, it’s just living’. He does it in the most charming way, where he dresses smart, walks casually up to the teller, smiles, and says that he has a gun and to put the money into a bag, then he walks out. Gentle police detective John Hunt, Casey Affleck, begins to notice Tucker’s antics as he goes from town to town, so he makes it his mission to catch him. I had a big grin on my face from start to finish during this film. Redford, of course, is the perfect screen presence, with his wry smile and the twinkle in his voice. His performance is joyous, whether this is his last film or not, but knowing that gives his character a melancholic edge. In the opening moments he meets Jewel, a widower played by Sissy Spacek, and their connection remains sweet throughout the film. Their relationship is endearing, tentative, and wonderfully hopeful. Lowery deals with this with such softness, and understands the language of an instant, easy friendship. The camera stays close and the shots cut are together delicately, with the sense that you could be sat at the table with the characters, but they wouldn’t notice that you was there.

I’m a Casey Affleck fan, he’s repented for his sins and his acting mesmerises me. When he is introduced into the film, his face is overflowing with a strange bored sadness, and the amount of empathy he is showing is endless. We are quickly friends with him, just as we are with the Redford character. When the two of them clash during the film, all I wanted was the two of them to become friends, and actually they don’t really clash. That is where film becomes completely likeable, because there is no unneeded conflict, no pointless obstacle to get over (even when someone gets shot, it’s brushed passed and solved quickly). Redford’s character is happy-go-lucky and geared totally in the present, and hopeful of the future. Affleck’s character is determined, but aware that once he has caught Forrest Tucker, he will be without a purpose once again. It’s sublime film-making, capturing instances of thrills and human connection, using absorbing actors to keep your attention. Late on in the film, it goes through Tucker’s several successful escape attempts from prison, and Lowery cheekily uses a shot of Redford from an earlier film. It was incredibly moving, seeing a younger version of him, and with his back catalogue including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, there is an added weight to the film. Lowery’s respect for story and characters made it a great film, and his compassion within the frames caused me to adore every second of it.

ROMA

SPOILERS! And it matters, it really matters…

Happiness over, now onto despair, with Roma. However despair does not sit alone in the film, and it is not a depressing runtime, as mixed with it is humour and affection, pulled together with astonishing technique. Cuaron, at this point, is a master of his craft. Y Tu Mama Tambien is amorous, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best franchise movie ever made and Children of Men sits on a pedestal of modern cinema. With Roma he is returning to his roots, almost literally, telling the tale of a middle class Mexican family in the early 1970’s, as they go through a family change. In the middle is their maid Cleo, Yalitza Aparicio, who is going through her own troubles, whilst looking after the house and the children. To say I was excited to see this film would be an understatement, I feel like I’ve been waiting for years to see this film, and despite all the controversy over a cinema versus Netflix release, I would have watched it on my phone if I had to. In the end, I watched the film on my laptop, but the visuals still impressed me. And oh my gosh are the visuals impressing – every scene is packed with life, real life moving along behind the main characters. The choice to shoot the film in black and white leads to engrossing imagery, that is both gorgeous and impactful, due to its starkness. There is a Fellini 8 ½ kind of depth to the shots, where the field of view is never ending but it definitely has Cuaron’s languid, lucid stamp on it too. He stunningly positions each moment in a dream state, whilst completely grounding the content with tangible meaning. This tangibility comes from the sound design, which is remarkable, even little noises like the folding of clothes gets you right in the soul.

The film is slow paced and building, and this is where Cuaron shines. He deceives us for most of the film with this portrait of privileged Mexican life, where the setting is an ambient bystander. Through these subtleties, and tentative interactions we are fooled by, and embraced by the world Cuaron presents, then he amazes us. There is a scene in the film where Cleo is taken to a furniture store by the family Grandmother to pick out a cot for the baby she’s expecting. A student riot is happening outside, and from the window of the store we see it explode, occurring in real time. It’s an unbelievable shot, that emits intense panic and fear because of the monotonous that has come before. I felt my bones shake, my heart stop, my blood curdle, and tears ran down my face. I’m probably a bit pathetic but I was floored by Cuaron’s skill and the emotion he cut out of this scene. And it doesn’t stop there, because this is when the despair comes in. This event, and what follows, results in Cleo losing her baby. It’s born dead, and that is an inherently sad thing, but the way Cuaron presents it makes it much harsher. He does not shy away from anything, and we see a frontally deceased baby, and that created honest despair inside me. My tears were suddenly not from raw, powerful film-making, and were from absolute anguish.

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I’m still not sure how interesting gushing about clearly brilliant films is. I’m trying to get people to see these films, and have a similar reaction to them. One of the downsides of having such visceral connections to film is that it can often be a lonely thing, where I’m wiping away my tears surrounded by blank faces, so it’s nice when I can share the feeling with someone. I’m looking forward to watching The Old Man and The Gun with my parents, especially my dad, because it’s a film almost from an earlier generation, that can bring joy to anyone. Unfortunately Roma is a tougher sell – foreign language, black and white, meandering pace, but everyone should give it a go, and be patient with it. It’s on Netflix so there’s nothing stopping you!

 

(Quick note: Roma could be a masterpiece, and much more could be written on it)

Annihilation – Film Review

Alex Garland is a creator who means a lot to me.  His first novel The Beach is probably my favourite of all time, and since then he’s wrote loads more things that I love, such as the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine. In 2014 he made his directorial debut with Ex Machina, and it was terrific, so I’ve been excited for his latest film since then.  However the news that it was only getting a Netflix release in the UK disappointed me, because I’m someone who likes the cinema experience.  There are pros and cons to both sides of the Netflix argument, so I’ll leave that for a different piece, and try to focus on the film itself.

Natalie Portman stars as biologist Lena, who is currently working as a professor but is ex-military.  Her husband is also military and he has been missing, assumed dead, for over 12 months.  Through a series of events that I won’t reveal, Lena discovers that her husband was sent into an area of land sectioned off by the US government.  To further investigate the area Lena and a team of four others head into this strange zone, knowing that they may not return.

This film works as a plot if you watch it right through to the end.  There is a payoff to the narrative as it draws to a close, so bear with it if you find the beginning slightly arduous.  It just takes a while to settle in, but once it gets going the film holds you tightly.  The content of the movie is quite horrifying, and uncomfortable.  It’ll make your skin crawl, and give you a fright or two.  Garland directs this well, because it’s not always easy to frame your main set pieces around CGI.  The effects are good in the film, if a little bleak.  A lot of the film is a little bleak, though purposefully so.  It’s lit in a way to never lift your spirits and it keeps you in a mode of utter terror.  I cannot emphasize enough that the second half is where the greatness of the film is, after a brilliant moment of sheer dread that changes the narrative completely.

Portman is the best thing about the film, and I’ve not always been a massive fan of hers.  She’s broken, and sunken in this role.  Her look and physicality is perfect for this character, and I found her really engaging.  The rest of her team are a less watchable, but mostly fine.  I think the film is about her character and the relationship with her husband over anything else.  Portman’s excellent performance drives this in the film, and the breaks to flashbacks to that relationship then back to the action gel together superbly.  For all the talk of this film being a mind-fuck, or difficult to understand, it’s pretty simple in its execution of its ideas.  This ‘zone’, the life-forms and the characters interactions with them are interesting.  All the way through I wanted to work out the mystery, and by the climax the film reveals enough for you to get a handle of it.

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It’s both a beautiful and ugly film that I wish I got chance to see on the big screen.  At times the aesthetics suffered because of my small laptop screen and dodgy internet.  Yet Garland’s impeccable tonal writing, Portman’s acting and its distressing plot pull it through.  Did I enjoy it?  I’m not entirely sure, but I’m glad that I’ve seen it, and I’ll be checking it out again sooner rather than later.

 

Is it worth your time on Netflix?

100%.  Two words to describe this film: worth watching.

Mute – Film Review

When Duncan Jones started making films he was like an exciting young footballer with loads of potential.  Moon is a good first effort, and Source Code is an excellently crafted thriller showing signs that Jones can tackle any genre.  Warcraft wasn’t a step backwards, nor was it a step forward, so his latest film has been eagerly anticipated.  Jones has been teasing this film for years now, however when it was announced it would be only published on Netflix, it lost some steam.  Simply because there has been several Netflix misfires, and a sense of over-saturation of middling products on there.  After watching the film I can say it’s the first film of the year where I can’t quite work out whether I like it or not.

It’s Berlin forty years into the future.  The mute bartender Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) is in love with mysterious waitress Naadirah (Seyned Saleh).  When she goes missing Leo delves into the criminal underbelly of the city to try and find her.  What he encounters is a series of interesting characters in a cycle of strange nothingness.

The concept of this film is an interesting one, and when writer/director Duncan Jones began talking about it, it appeared to be some sort of future noir thriller.  However the film is little like that.  It’s less of a journey, or an investigation by a hero character and more of an entanglement of bad people.  At first this subversion of plot is disappointing, because the cool sci-fi detective story is lost, but after a while you settle in to what the film really is.  And what the film really is, is incredibly flawed.  Jones does his best to bypass the Netflix original look of B-rate TV show, where it looks drab and constructed without care.  Actually the visuals of the movie are quite nice, and the world building is solid.  All the effects and neon colours do make it seem like it’s in the future, and Jones does enough with the camera to make it engaging.  Though at times it does have that look of a low-budget attempt, without much cinematic flair.

Leo as the lead character is fine, though his technophobe nature and past are a bit hammy.  The whole film has this off-colour thing about it, where the writing and delivery fail constantly.  Scenes appear out of place, and characters appear uncomfortably on the screen when they talk.  Elements of the narrative repeat themselves, and the writing gets itself in a knot thanks to a story that is actually very dull compared to its initial concept.  Most of the film is weird, and jarring, which at least made it entertaining.  Justin Theroux’s character in particular (Duck) is an outlandish one and he brings the best things out of the film.  It’s a fun performance in a troublesome character and more watchable than the rest of the runtime.  Paul Rudd as Cactus Bill has some enjoyable moments, yet overall felt overly unpredictable.

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This review is a tough one, because I’m having trouble criticising the film despite it being pretty bad.  I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again, because the end product of the scenes, characters, and plots are utterly lacklustre.  The film has something to it, a curiosity that actually makes you want to keep watching.  If anything it made me realise how much I’d love creative directors like Jones to get cinema releases, so that they can get big budgets, and big screen sensibilities.  Looking back on the film I will see it as a missed opportunity, but it’s not nearly as bad as all the reviewers are saying.

 

Is it worth your time on Netflix?

Sure because for all its annoyances, and flaws, I never wanted to be doing something else whilst it was on.