There is absolutely nothing fun about war. In the movies, though, the cinematic spectacle of battle is exciting, thrilling, and often an impressive sight to behold. And while many films have tried to portray war as anything but glamorous, the safety net of seeing combat presented through the form of a motion picture allows us to enjoy the carnage on a visceral level. You remember the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, right? For all the brutality on display, it’s also a brilliant piece of filmmaking that boasts the same morbid thrills that action movies and splatter fare provide.
Still, what constitutes a “war film” is debatable. In some movies, the war itself is a backdrop to another story which features little to no combat sequences. Fact-based documentaries and newsreels about war also count by some people’s definition, and I’d argue that those are the most chillingly effective as the real-life element hits harder. For this piece, though, I’ll be referring to dramatized or fictionalized war movies where combat is a central component of the film.
In the following essay by The Discarded Image, Julian Palmer looks at realism in war movies, focusing on films such as Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, The Hurt Locker, and Redacted, and the “perverse” thrills they provide through action and suspense.
How Real Are War Movies? - YouTube
As this excellent essay notes, even filmmakers who’ve approached war films with the most respectful of intentions still fail to capture the true essence of battle. Not only are the films he mentioned prime examples of how cinema has turned combat into a thrill ride, but sometimes they’re also beautiful to look at. As the video highlights, for some filmmakers this visual tapestry is an intentional artistic statement. However, the nature of war movies as populist entertainment means that filmmakers do set out to make them as easy to digest as possible. Prettiness helps to accomplish this.
We also must acknowledge that these movies do take some liberties with historical accuracy. By doing that, the veil of realism is further stripped away and it’s easier to enjoy these films without feeling guilty for doing so. Rewriting history is an economic necessity for some movies, but some viewers might not fully appreciate the magnitude of the horror of the “true events” when said events have been fabricated by filmmakers.
That’s not to say war movies can’t be upsetting, though. I’ve balled my eyes out over many of them, but that’s usually because I’ve been suckered in by their emotional cues. Strong characters, compelling emotional performances, and a John Williams score can go a long way. But do these aspects stylize our interpretation of war?
The reality is that unless you’ve experienced battle first-hand, it’s impossible to know what war is really like. Depicting accurate realism might not be possible, but some movies have employed effective filmic techniques that make us question our enjoyment of this genre.
This video essay from Ask Clauswitz looks at how Elim Klimov‘s Come and See takes a different approach to achieve maximum impact. The end result is one of the best anti-war films ever made.
Come and See: Crafting the Unknown - YouTube
The film follows a teenage boy over a few days as he joins up with a fighting unit to take on invading Nazi forces during World War II. By centering the story around someone who shouldn’t be involved in combat, Come and See becomes a different kind of war movie — one which focuses on the loss of innocence and how war doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the plight of civilians.
The first paragraph of Roger Ebert‘s review sums up the harrowing power of the film in a nutshell:
“It’s said that you can’t make an effective anti-war film because war by its nature is exciting, and the end of the film belongs to the survivors. No one would ever make the mistake of saying that about Elem Klimov’s ‘Come and See.’ This 1985 film from Russia is one of the most devastating films ever about anything, and in it, the survivors must envy the dead.”
As the video essay notes, Come and See captures that feeling of horror by employing horror movie techniques. The idea that what we don’t see is scarier than what we do see. German soldiers are portrayed as almost mythic and ghost-like. They dwell in the fog and exemplify that fear of the unknown. Civilians rarely see the opposing army in war, but they do feel their wrath.
Come and See is also a somber movie, despite the carnage that surrounds the child protagonist and the other residents of his village. The action-packed thrills that are synonymous with the genre aren’t thrilling. There are explosions and gunfire, but the “thrills” are intentionally dour and the cinematography is bleak and dull. The movie is out to punish the viewer. This adds a feeling of hopeless, as we know it’s only a matter of time before innocent people are slaughtered by an enemy they can’t see coming. I think it’s easier to empathize with a war movie like this one because it focuses on the persecution of everyday people.
Klimov co-wrote the screenplay with Ales Adamovich, who aided in his country’s war effort as a teenager. The events clearly took their toll on him and Come and See was made to document evidence of the nature of war and make a rallying call for peace. Maybe movies will never truly capture the horror of combat as it really is on the battlefield, but Come and See is by far the most horrifying portrayal of war you’re ever likely to see.
Where does one begin when recreating the iconic? Nearly every human on the planet has access to Queen on their TV, their iPad, and their phone. At any moment you can press a button and relive Freddie Mercury’s monumental performance at Live Aid, and bang your head to the most raucous concert event ever filmed. To simply imitate it cinematically would just not do.
As the director of photography on Bohemian Rhapsody, Newton Thomas Sigel was determined to put his audience on the stage with Rami Malek. Striking the right poses and dressing the set appropriately is one thing, but reinforcing the emotional experience of the character living that moment is something completely different. To achieve such a feat, Sigel threw himself into an intensive state of research.
Bohemian Rhapsody | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX - YouTube
I spoke to Sigel on his day off from shooting his new movie, Dhaka (starring Chris Hemsworth and David Harbour). He explained his trepidation of imitating the Live Aid performance, as well as adhering to Queen’s period-specific lighting design. From our conversation, it is clear that Sigel was happy to step away from superhero cinema for a bit and tackle the real-world of rock ‘n’ roll. We talk about shooting in IMAX, the pleasures of the Alexa 65 camera, and how the transition from Bryan Singer to Dexter Fletcher affected his day-to-day job.
Here is our conversation in full:
So, I thought we should start where probably everyone wants to start, and that’s at Live Aid performance. Having to recreate something that’s so memorable in pop culture, that is a heck of a challenge. Where do you even begin with something like that?
Well, it’s interesting. You know, it was the framing device of the movie. The movie starts with a tease where you’re backstage, and you’re about to go out on stage and just at that moment we cut to the backstory and then don’t return to Live Aid until the end of the movie. So, it’s our sort of critical opening and closing of the movie. And, Live Aid was recorded and was broadcast on 13 satellites by the BBC, so the actual performance exists out there, and you can watch it on YouTube. You can see the exact choreography and dressing of the stage and the set and the lighting that was used. So, it’s all there to be seen, which is both a great resource and also a real challenge because there’s no point making a movie just to recreate what you can watch on YouTube.
Right, and when the film ended, I immediately went to YouTube to watch the actual show.
Yes. So for us, the challenge was only partially real, like how high was the stage? And where was the piano exactly? And how many Pepsi cups were there? That was a challenge, but a fairly straightforward one. The real challenge was how we tell a different story than you saw by watching the concert on TV. And for me at least, that was very much about putting the audience in with Freddie, right inside on the stage, almost as a fifth band member where you’re, as much as possible, watching the concert from the inside out.
While there were too many handheld cameras on the stage from the BBC performance, the broadcast was predominantly sort of more objective, traditional camera coverage. We wanted to put the audience right in the middle of the band as if they were a part of the band to tell the emotional side of the story from the inside out. And also, of course, we are leading up to Live Aid with understanding some things that are going on in Freddie’s life and in the band’s life. And, in doing so, you know, we already have the advantage that there’s more of an emotional resonance right from the beginning. At the end of the day, Rami Malek’s sensational performance just really carried it to a level that is hard to get from the TV experience.
Now you’ve shot for IMAX before, but when you watch something like Live Aid presented in such a fashion – it’s a tremendous tool for placing the audience on that stage as you were saying.
Well, you know, the thing about IMAX today now is of course that there’s IMAX and there’s IMAX, right? Traditionally IMAX was a more square format, and it was meant to be presented on a screen that was 50 some feet high and now, with the exception of some of the museums – space museums and science museums – predominantly, the IMAX theaters have a 1.9:1 aspect ration, so they’re a little more like a traditional theater, just of massive screens and they use a dual projection system, typically with their own sort of digital remastering.
For Bohemian Rhapsody, I pretty much just made a general overall adjustment from the color correction than I did for the DCP, the normal digital projection, to accommodate for the IMAX. Some of the purposeful old lenses and grain and imperfections that were built into the original photography, I didn’t want to lose by just going to IMAX. So, we did very little sort of changing of the baseline color correction for the IMAX screen.
But the one huge advantage we had is that the overwhelming majority of this film was shot with the ALEXA 65 camera, which is already sort of a very high-resolution camera that has a tremendous picture detail and can hold up on the largest of screens. I was fortunate to go to the premier in Wembley Arena in London where it was shown on a 28-meter screen, a purpose-built screen that was the biggest screen in all of the United Kingdom and was absolutely dumbfounded by how well the image held up on that size of a screen.
You recently shot the Thurgood Marshall film as well. Does your process differ when you’re tackling real subjects? I mean obviously, with the Live Aid scenario, it certainly had to because that performance was already available to us as an audience. But how does your process in the beginning stages differ on something like Marshall or Bohemian Rhapsody than the X-Men films or Jack the Giant Slayer or something like that?
You know, I add my own sort of personal aspects to the process, which always sort of kind of stay the same, but clearly when you’re doing a film like Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s a very different kind of a journey you take in your prep than you would on a, say an X-Men movie or Superman. Whereas those films involve a tremendous amount of visual effects and pre-visualization and world-building, so to speak.
With Bohemian Rhapsody, like the Thurgood Marshall film, but even more so, for me it was really about learning everything I could about the band, reading all of the biographies on Freddie Mercury and on Queen, listening to the music, watching all the archival footage I could, both documentaries and live performances because one, they just inspired me and formed the kind of story I wanted to tell. But they also, they really, they showed me their sort of metamorphosis of lighting and lighting design and that was something that I wanted to be very respectful to in terms of our story. You know, starting with the sort of college venues and taking you all the way into Madison Square Garden and eventually into Wembley Stadium.
So, the archival footage for the concert stuff, in particular, was very, very important. I drew not only inspiration, but I really studied what instruments they were using, what was the design, what kind of cues they were doing. And of course, their lighting design changed not only as they grew more successful as a band, but by just by the logistical nature of it, things they had to adapt their lighting rigs to a certain degree to the different venues that they would play in.
So, I tried to, as best I could, replicate the sort of different phases of their evolution of their stage. In their stage shows there was very little poetic license really. And you know, I tried to use period lights, use the sort of color pallet and lighting design that they used over the years as well.
With so much available material to research, I would be afraid of falling into a black hole of information. How do you navigate that material?
I mean Brian May was great in making the Queen archive available, but there’s not as much live footage as you would think, you know? There’s a handful of concerts over the years, all over the world and obviously a lot of still photographs, but the height of Queen’s popularity was before the age of the Internet and the age of video or easy video recording. So, the footage from the relevant period, which for us was 1970-1985, is actually not that voluminous.
I tried to be careful too. I saw Queen and Adam Lambert perform live and I saw some recordings of Queen’s recent tours. I really tried not to watch that stuff too much because the current stage design of Queen’s concerts is far more sophisticated in part because of the financial means they have, but really in great part because of the modern technology and just because I think they chose not to be stagnant as performers.
So, I didn’t want to get kind of confused or sidetracked by looking at too much of the stuff that they did after Freddie’s passing. But the stuff that does exist, it’s a manageable quantity that you can see.
So what is your initial process when you get the screenplay? Not just this one, but also any of the films you worked on.
Well, first thing, you know, I’ll read through the screenplay a few times, and the first time I read through it, which is fairly typical, I’m really reading through it like I’m reading a story like I’m reading a novel. I just want to soak up the story, the drama, the language, the rhythm, the characters. I don’t even read the slug lines. I’m thinking less about, “Oh my god this all night.” Or, “How am I going to film on boat?” Or those kind of things. And really just trying to soak up the story.
Then I get to the end, and I go back, and now I start to break it down, and I start to look at like, “Oh, well what are the different phases of this story? What is the arc? Over what period of time does it take place? What is the environment? What is the context? What do these environments look like? What is the tone?” And then once you kind of feel like you start to know what the movie is, you have the very nuts and bolts thing, which is, how much is day? How much is night? How much in interior? How much is exterior?
You get more and more into the kind of actual mechanics of how you’re going to make the movie. And then you start getting involved with production design, usually first and foremost as well as costume design, visual effects, and that kind of stuff. And, searching whether it’s Internets or libraries or archives for source material for inspiration, for things that you want to draw in or steal or homage or.
Then depending upon where you’re shooting – this was a London-based story and we shot everything in London and 90% of the story takes place in London. So, there was that, you know, sometimes on a movie, you’ll spend more time or a certain degree of time trying to understand the location. You know, I’m doing a movie today, which is supposed to take place in Bangladesh, and we’ve been shooting in India and in Thailand. So, there’s a situation where you try to learn as much as you can about the location and how you can stay true to the location, but also draw inspiration from it.
There are certain things that are similar in every movie in terms of the process, but then every movie presents its own unique challenges. After decades of shooting movies, I’ve never really found two movies that are exactly the same, even having done four X-Men movies and filmed Cerebro in blue in more ways than I ever care to again, there’s still always very different kinds of challenges when you approach a film, and it’s one of those things that makes shooting a feature a little different from shooting episodic television.
With Bohemian Rhapsody, when you first encountered the screenplay, what was the first element that struck out to you?
Well, I think the first thing that I realized is that the story is written as a kind of segue from the end of the counterculture movement to sort of through glam rock and into disco and the ’80s. And so, it’s kind of my youth and coming of age. So for me, it was kind of exciting to delve back into that kind of cultural references that I grew up with and do our best put those on screen in a way that felt true.
You’ve worked with Bryan Singer on all of his films.
Everything since The Usual Suspects. He did one film I think just as he was either right at the end of or right after he graduated from USC called Public Access, but sort of his first real feature film was The Usual Suspects. And yes, I’ve done 10 movies with him.
And on Bohemian Rhapsody, he left towards the end of the shoot, and Dexter Fletcher came on. Did that transition affect your job in any significant way?
You know remarkably, it didn’t in the sense that the film really was near completion on photography and I think I had really found the voice of the film relatively early on and the kind of tonality for it and a lot of the design for it. I’d done a lot of storyboarding for certain sequences and shot-listing for others. So, I felt pretty comfortable with the movie we were making and I think Dexter saw a rough cut of the bulk of the movie and was very respectful to the direction we were going and really, you know, he was a child actor and very successful actor. I think he’s very sensitive to performance and to actors. Between the bond, he was able to establish with the actors and sort of his respect for the look and the style of the movie we had been making up to that point. It was actually quite an easy transition.
What was your big takeaway from Bohemian Rhapsody?
The movie that I’m doing right now is more of an action-driven drama, a very gritty and tough kind of a story, and about as different from Bohemian Rhapsody as you can get. But, I’ve always loved shooting music and Bohemian Rhapsody really reminded me how much I love it and how much fun it was to do and how inspirational the story was. And also how much I’m attracted to real material and material that, however stylized, has a foundation in what’s happening in our world and in commentary on humanity and.
I look to a film like Three Kings, which was a highly stylized film but was very much grounded in real world events and real world issues. I think Bohemian Rhapsody really sort of was great, and it just felt great to get back to something like that. Not that I’m not proud of or didn’t enjoy doing superhero movies and that kind of stuff, but I really do get a lot of inspiration from stories about the real world.
Well, Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I really appreciate it. I’m in awe of the recreations you achieved in the film.
I’m in Bangkok and today is our day off, and I actually went with a few of my crewmembers to the film because they wanted to see it and thinking like, “Oh god, I’m going to see it again.” And I got to tell you; I cried at the end. The moment when Freddie Mercury blows a kiss to his mother just no matter how many times I see the movie, it just kills me every time.
Bohemian Rhapsody is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best adaption of the comic book series for the big screen yet. Adapted from a comic book arc written by Spider-Man authors Dan Slott, Christos Gage, David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky, Into the Spider-Verse introduces audiences to a whole new universe of Spider-Man characters and stories.
Streamlining the story from the comics, the movie turns its focus on Miles Morales and Old Man Peter Parker trying to stop The Kingpin from making a catastrophic mistake. Morales and Parker make a compelling team with their rapport between student and mentor and they get most complete back story in the animated feature. Morales is the first black Spider-Man and made his first appearance in Ultimate Comics: Fallout #4. The movie takes ideas from his appearance in the comic books regarding his origin, but adds more wrinkles specific to the film universe. Old Man Parker, is Peter Parker as we know him, except that age has caught up to him. He is in his 40s, overweight, and separated from Mary Jane. He’s a little tired of the whole superhero business, but maybe Miles Morales can change his mind.
They aren’t the only new characters though.
Real Name: Gwendolyne Maxine Stacy
Voiced By: Hailee Steinfeld
First Appearance: Edge of Spider-Verse #2
Gwen Stacy had a rough history. Marvel killed her in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #121 in June 1973. The Spider-Verse story allows the character to come back empowered and in charge of her own destiny, not to just be a damsel in distress. Spider-Man writer Dan Slott first came up with the concept of Spider-Gwen for the Spider-Verse story. Collaborator Jason Latour was familiar with Stacy only as a character that had been killed for the sake of plot progression. This was an opportunity for that character to grow.
In her story, Gwen Stacy is the one bitten by a radioactive spider. She is a drummer in a band with series stalwart Mary Jane and two other classic Spider-Man characters. Peter Parker exists in this timeline, but instead of becoming a hero, he becomes Spider-Man arch nemesis The Lizard. The chemical that Parker used for the transformation has a taken a toll on his body and he succumbs to the battle with chemical and dies in front of his friend, Gwen Stacy. Spider-Gwen has become one of the most popular heroines in Marvel comics, often inspiring cosplay and fan art of her costume and designs.
Real Name: Peter Parker
Voiced By: Nicolas Cage
First Appearance: Spider-Man Noir #1
Spider-Man Noir is like the traditional Spider-Man except for the fact that he become the superhero we know and love in the 30s during the Great Depression. After the death of his Uncle Ben, Peter Parker beings working for The Daily Bugle’s Ben Urich. Parker believes that Urich is onto a big story and goes to investigate. The Green Goblin is known as a gangster during this time period and his henchmen are unloading some stolen antiques to make a little money.
Unbeknownst to our hero, there is an ancient spider statue that when opened unleashed hundreds of spiders. One of those spiders contains the elements that make Peter Parker into the hero Spider-man. Based on military fatigues of his late uncle, Parker wears a World War 1–era airman uniform. Parker soon learns that Urich is blackmailing The Green Goblin to fuel his drug habit. The story of Urich, Green Goblin, and Parker is what ultimately makes up the Spider-Man Noir beginning.
Real Name: Peter Benjamin Parker
Voiced By: John Mulaney
First Appearance: Marvel Tails Starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham #1
Originally a parody character created by Tom DeFalco and Mark Armstrong, Spider-Ham gained a following for himself. Peter was born as a spider (stay with me), and he lived in the lab of animal scientist, May Porker. When May Porker was working on an atomic hairdryer, she doused her head in water and irradiated herself. This made her a little crazy and in a fit of rage, she bit Peter and he transformed into a pig. Even though he was now a pig, he kept many of his spider abilities.
His adventures comprised taking on traditional Spider-Man enemies that had an animal twist. Villains such as King-Pig (Kingpin), Ducktor Doom (Doctor Doom), and the Buzzard (The Vulture) littered the pages of the series. His character was on hiatus for much of the 90s and 00s until the Spider-Verse crossover. They brought his character back into the fold and he played a big part in helping the team overcome their enemies.
Real Name: Peni Parker
Voiced By: Kimiko Glenn
First Appearance: Edge of Spider-Verse #5
Unlike traditional Spider-Man characters, Peni Parker is not enhanced with special abilities. Her father died when she was nine and she lives with her Aunt May and Uncle Ben. She can control the SP//dr mech because she allowed the spider that controls Sr//dr mech to bite her. The originally concept was designed by My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way and artist Jake Wyatt. The character is a Spider-Man take on the world of Japanese animation such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Gundam Universe.
The Edge of Spider-Verse series allowed the creators to get inventive with some new takes on the traditional Spider-Man lore. The Spider-Verse movie goes in a dramatically different idea for her character. Instead of being a serious Spider-Man / Evangelion crossover, her character is given a gloss over as being more cute or kawaii. Apparently she and a lot of Spider-Verse characters are going to be featured once again in a new comic book series entitled Spider-Geddon that is hitting the marketplace.
To a casual bystander, it might seem like Barry Jenkins‘ star rose practically overnight in 2016 with the incredible, Oscar-winning Moonlight, but the reality of the filmmaker’s story is very different. After making his feature film debut in 2008 with the well-received Medicine for Melancholy, a micro-budget ($13,000) indie that premiered at South by Southwest before going on to screen at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, Jenkins experienced multiple false starts in trying to get a second film made. He did commercial work to pay the bills while continuing to work on developing his own projects. In 2013, he wrote early drafts of the screenplays of both Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, which would end up becoming his second and third feature films.
While Jenkins’ public profile did rise rapidly over the course of 2016 with the success of Moonlight, with his place in film history solidified through the film’s 2017 Oscar win, it was a long road to get there, and he’s learned a lot of valuable lessons on the way. Here are six of his best tips:
Master the Tools
After getting accepted into the Florida State University film program, Jenkins realized that he knew very little about the filmmaking process. After a semester, he approached the Dean about taking a year off — ‘[to] bring myself up to speed’ — so that he could come back, ready to make the most of the opportunities the program provided. The Dean said yes, and Jenkins has said that this year of independent study is one of the most valuable decisions he’s made in his career. Jenkins elaborated on what this experience taught him in the masterclass he did at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, published online in February 2017:
“I guess the first lesson I learned in filmmaking was, no matter how strong your voice is, if you don’t have a mastery of the tools, that voice is going to be suffocated. Now, you can work with people who have a mastery of the tools, but I wanted to control the way my voice was going to be filtered through the craft.”
You can watch the full masterclass here (the above quote starts at 15:44):
Masterclass Barry Jenkins - YouTube
Make It Personal
Jenkins has shared variations on this piece of advice frequently. Here’s one version that he told M24, the Monocle radio station, in an interview first aired in December 2018:
“I think when you’re sitting in the cinema and you see something that comes from the source, that comes from the heart, that comes from the gut, that is personal, you can feel the difference. And I think in that way, when I meet young filmmakers, and they ask me, ‘What do I have to do to get a career in film?,’ there are only two things I can really tell them with truthfulness and honesty, is to work with your friends and make it personal. I do think we need a more personal aesthetic, a more personal cinema.”
Jenkins with actor Alex Hibbert on the set of ‘Moonlight’
Productive Images Over Positive Images
One thing that is particularly remarkable about Moonlight is how it features individuals who fill certain highly stereotyped roles — drug dealer, crack addict — but are fully fleshed out, dynamic characters, empathetic without being romanticized. Jenkins elaborated on the mindset that fostered this approach in an interview with The Fader published in October 2016:
“Overt positivity can sometimes deflect attention away from the problem, or create myths that aren’t helpful. The way I described it to the actors was, ‘Everything in this movie is a gray area. The characters are gray, the situations are gray.’ There’s some very dark shit in this movie, but you have to acknowledge the ugliness. You just have to.”
Jenkins and actor KiKi Layne on the set of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ (Photo Credit: Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Pictures)
Actively Engage Your Audience, Foster Empathy
When addressing an audience member question while visiting as a guest on the BUILD series in November 2018, Jenkins broke down some of the technical considerations behind a scene in If Beale Street Could Talk, which happens to feature shots of actors looking directly into the camera, a technique which Jenkins also used to great effect in Moonlight. His reasoning behind his choices culminated with some pretty awesome advice:
“There’s a moment where this Miles Davis song plays in the background. […] and as we introduce score, we take that song, and now, you’re sitting in an auditorium, just like this — there’s speakers all around — so instead of turning that song off, which you normally do when you introduce score, we took that song, and I wanted it to feel for the audience the way it feels for the characters, and so we start panning it around the room and reverb, it comes in, it comes out, and that, to me, is helping orient you guys — radical empathy — now you’re hearing things the way the characters hear them, as opposed to just being a participant, a passive participant, in an audience. And I think when the characters look you directly in the eye as well, again, instead of being a voyeur, outside, the camera’s always here [gestures away], now the camera’s here [gestures in front of his face], and who’s the camera? You. You. And so I think in that way you can really use the tools of the process to actively engage the audience, activate their empathy.”
You can watch the full interview, which also features If Beale Street Could Talk stars KiKi Layne and Stephan James, below (the quote above starts at 25:30):
Barry Jenkins, Stephan James & KiKi Layne Discuss "If Beale Street Could Talk" - YouTube
Don’t Diss the Voiceover
Show, don’t tell. It’s one of those storytelling mantras that anyone who’s gone through an English curriculum has heard. Beyond its general form, it has many, often more field-specific, variations, including a rather widely held filmmaking belief that voiceover is a sign of laziness. Jenkins, however, begs to differ, as he told The Atlantic in December 2018:
“As somebody who grew up being obsessed with Wong Kar-wai, I’ve always been attracted to narratives that feature voiceover. Part of that is — and I’ve said this in the past — I don’t think cinema is the best medium for interiority. In cinema, everything has to be acted out in flesh and blood. In film school, our professors were like, ‘Voiceover is a trope; it’s a crutch.’ So I always wanted to find a way to defy those teachings. I think when done well, like in the hands of Wong Kar-wai, it can be incredibly evocative.”
Jenkins and actor Naomie Harris on the set of ‘Moonlight’
Just Keep Making the Work
Jenkins delivered the film keynote at SXSW 2018. His hour-long speech included plenty of great advice, including excerpts from his prepared Best Picture acceptance speech he didn’t get to give in the craziness of the infamous La La Land mixup. He also shared the following words of wisdom regarding the value of perseverance:
“Being talented is not enough. Making a wonderful film is not enough. […] You kind of have to just keep making the work […] and in some way you just have to have faith that as the work gets better, as the skills get better, somehow, not that the industry will come, but you will find your place. You will find a place to apply those skills, and I think, most importantly, be fulfilled both financially and spiritually in the work.”
You can watch the whole speech below (the quote starts at 59:51):
Barry Jenkins | Film Keynote | SXSW 2018 - YouTube
What We Learned
I was lucky enough to be one of the 50 students selected to take part in the 2016 Telluride Student Symposium, and as such got to take part in a Q&A session with Jenkins the day after Moonlight premiered. He was the only guest speaker to go around and ask us all our names, and when the next director slated to speak with us was a no-show, Jenkins stuck around and kept answering questions for another half hour. His hope with Moonlight, he told us, was to reach as wide an audience as possible. Even though we all loved the film, I don’t think anyone brought up the possibility of it going on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. But it did (and the Student Symposium Facebook group page celebrated because we had been rooting for Jenkins all the way).
I share this anecdote because it further illustrates two lessons to be learned from Jenkins as both a filmmaker and a public figure. The first is that small, considerate acts can go a long way — any time you see Jenkins speak at a festival, for instance, you will see him do things like take a moment to spotlight the efforts of the volunteers. His thoughtfulness does not just make him the sort of figure you root for wholeheartedly but also reverberates in his films as a fundamental aspect of their allure. The second is to never underestimate the potential of a great story, well told. The most specific, personal tales can end up proving to have universal appeal.
One last job. We’ve been here before. The gig never goes well for the criminal working on their exit strategy. Yet, despite our familiarity with the concept, the audience is always eager to watch this particular self-destructive descent. The on-their-way out gangster storyline is a bare-bones structure that allows actors to ignore narrative complication and embrace the character.
We don’t need to worry about how A will lead to B and end up at C. The audience is given permission to focus on performance, study the face that will lead to the soul of the being in crisis. Put the right actor on such a barren stage and the tired concept is revitalized.
Asher bears a strong resemblance to several other films. Ron Perlman is an aging hitman who freely gave himself to sin decades ago, but when a kill goes wrong early on in the movie, the villain is forced to reevaluate the life that led him here. Director Michael Caton-Jones surrounds the wretch with other compelling faces like Richard Dreyfuss, Famke Janssen, and Jacqueline Bissett. Your attention might wander under the guidance of lesser artists, but these personalities are impossible to resist.
Asher - Official Trailer - YouTube
I spoke with Perlman and Caton-Jones over the phone. Both men saw the potential in Asher to strip a screenplay to the thinnest of frames and find emotional heft in the long silences between stares. Here is a character who would choose to jam a screwdriver in your head rather than suffer an exchange of pleasantries, and Perlman was hooked on the thought of stuffing that rage into every facial twitch.
Or at least he was after a little cajoling from Caton-Jones. “What is sacrosanct is the minimalism of it all, how little is explained,” says Perlman. “We never ever explain who he’s killing or why. We very, very rarely explain anything about his prior life. Most of it is explained with just a gesture, or nuance, or look, or photograph on the wall. Everything is incredibly understated, which gives way to the making of a movie that’s more stylistic than it is substance oriented.”
For Caton-Jones, Asher was also an opportunity not to check the usual Hollywood boxes. “A lot of scripts these days tend to be somewhat politically correct, and try to cover all bases and create sympathy here, there, and everywhere,” he explains. “Here was one that left an awful lot open to the imagination, and I’m of the opinion that the less you do, the more of the audience finds some intrigue or some interest. They can actually be a participant in the experience.”
There is a danger to playing the plot so close to one’s vest. Assume too much as a storyteller and you could lose your audience. However, Perlman put his faith in the viewers, “If we give them the right clues as to what they’re seeing, they’re going to understand, they’re going to fill in all these blanks, that we deliberately left out. That was something I had to fight for.”
Perlman has played every kind of roll. We celebrate him for Hellboy, Beauty and the Beast, and as the nightmarish patriarch of Sons of Anarchy. He’s often used as a spice to liven up a meal, tantalizing your palate as he rages through Pacific Rim, Season of the Witch, or Desperation. His name in the credits causes one to perk up and pay attention.
That doesn’t mean he has to find a rut and work through it. “I really am trying my hardest to steer clear of repeating myself,” says Perlman. “There might be similarities in what a guy does for a living, but the psychology of the characters is what fascinates me most. If I’m reading a character and I feel like I’ve already solved his psychology, I’m not eager to go back and try it again, under another guise.” Asher is not Nino from Drive.
Caton-Jones agreed that Asher offered a possibility to use Perlman in a manner we’ve not seen before, “I felt ‘you’ve got a face like Mount Rushmore, mate. Just sit there and let the audience look at that and let them imagine what’s going on in your head.'” The director strived for a reduction. “I kept trying to get stiller, stiller,” he says. “After a while, Ron understood it and he was going with that. I just think that’s one of the strengths of the film. A lot of what you’re thinking is there on our face.”
Perlman appreciates his place in cinema, but he’s also looking to free himself from studio constraint. In 2014, Perlman launched Wing and a Prayer Pictures so that he could steer some of his creativity behind the camera, and gain some control on the content. “Acting is kind of like a drug for me, and I’m never going to give it up,” he says. Dominance on a project is indeed thrilling. “Producing requires that I’m involved in every single decision and aspect. Every single hire, including the above the lines, directors, actors, designers, and below the line, crew, I’m involved in.”
Why was Asher a film that demanded his full attention? The answer is simple, “I felt like when I read the script, I was able to see the world and what the world should look like, and Jay Zaretsky’s incredibly original writing needed to be protected.” So, Perlman made it his mission to guard his baby by throwing himself into the film and surrounding the character with an army of talented people.
Actors don’t come much more accomplished than Richard Dreyfuss, and while he does not fill too much screentime in Asher, his presence hangs like doomsday over the proceedings. To snag such a tactician was an incredible rush for Perlman, “You’ve heard the expression, ‘Pinch me moments?” Simply sitting across from Hooper was a rush. “I mean look, man, I did most of my dreaming about who I wanted to be in the movies, the kind of stuff I wanted to do in the movies, by watching Richard Dreyfuss’ early work in the 60s and 70s.”
As Perlman recalls the moment in which his character squares off against Dreyfuss’ mafioso overlord, childish whimsy feels Perlman’s breath, “There I am on set with him, grappling with these realized dreams, and finding him to be as boyishly enthusiastic about what he’s doing as he ever was.” For once, meeting your heroes paid off. “These fantasies that one has about working with somebody as iconic as that, were born out in real time. What a fucking great dud this is. Look at how much fun this is playing with him, and how much he really loves that boyish act of just role-playing, being an actor.”
Staring at the poster for Asher, you gaze into the eyes of Perlman, and you look down the barrel of his pistol. The image might be easy to scroll past or dismiss in a theater lobby, but then you catch those names at the top. Perlman, Dreyfuss, Janssen, Bissett. That’s a cocktail you can’t find in the average dive bar. You need a taste.
Asher is now playing in select theaters and on Digital HD and VOD.
Along with my beloved Godzilla, Ultraman is arguably the most famous pop culture dynasty to emerge from Japan. Since 1966, the franchise has been a permanent fixture in television, movies, and other mediums of entertainment, and even after all these years it’s still bringing joy to people’s lives. Suffice to say, Ultraman’s everlasting legacy speaks for itself. Of course, a glossy American reboot was bound to happen someday, and it’s currently in the works.
The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Tsuburaya Productions — the company founded by Tokusatsu wizard Eiji Tsuburaya — has partnered with Starlight Runner Entertainment to give the franchise a western reboot and expand its mythology for the digital age. If all goes ahead as planned, we can expect movies and TV shows spread across multiple platforms for years to come. And the best part? There will also be toys. We should never lose touch with our inner child.
No directors or writers are attached to helm any planned projects yet, but Starlight’s CEO Jeff Gomez seems like a good dude and a genuine fan who aims to do right by the franchise. As he told THR, “Ultraman is one of my greatest childhood heroes. We’re honored to be embarking on this mission to bring this family of characters back to the world stage.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, the basic premise is this: an alien arrives on earth and forms a special bond with a man who works for a special agency tasked with protecting our world from monstrous and extraterrestrial invaders. This bond basically enables our guy to transform into the giant superhero known as Ultraman and throw down with all manner of creatures.
The planned reboot will mark the first western Ultraman adaptation in over 30 years. Back in 1987, Hanna-Barbera co-produced an animated flick called Ultraman USA, which at the time was only the second Ultra property to be produced outside of Japan (the first was Thailand’s Hanuman vs. 7 Ultraman). Elsewhere, some of the original Japanese series’ were dubbed and repackaged for overseas audiences, but, overall, Ultraman has evaded Hollywood until now.
That said, you might be wondering why it’s taken so long for this iconic franchise to be given the makeover treatment. Here we have a pop culture institution that’s been popular for over half a century in Japan, and despite rarely leaving its native shores, the franchise is globally recognized. What’s been the hold-up, Hollywood?
Well, according to the fine folks over at Anime News Network, the foreign distribution rights to the franchise were at the center of a very complicated and messy legal battle for years. The dispute was finally settled last year after years of bickering and lawsuits, but you can see why no company wanted to get caught in the middle of that drama.
That’s irrelevant now, though. Let bygones be bygones. The only thing that matters is that Ultraman’s star is about to shine brighter on a global scale than ever before. And while it remains to be seen just how epic in scale the upcoming projects will be, Ultraman has the potential to be a huge blockbuster saga on the same level as any modern superhero movie or giant monster flick. Right now, we’re experiencing boom periods for both genres, and since Ultraman combines the best elements of each, the money-making potential has never been greater.
Moreover, Hollywood seems to finally be making adaptations of Japanese properties that are befitting of their legacy. After seeing the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters trailer and the way it embraces some of that old school Toho weirdness and charm, I really hope Ultraman doesn’t shy away from its original sensibilities too much, either. Make the reboot bigger and fancier, sure, but keep it absurd, unique, and distinct from all the other superhero fare that’s out there at the moment.
As is the case with Michael Dougherty and Godzilla, whoever is tasked with helming Ultraman should be a monster enthusiast with an affinity for the classics, as well as someone who can bring some human heart to proceedings. And while I believe that Ultraman can be translated just fine for western audiences, it’d be cool to see them follow in Marvel’s footsteps and opt for movies that celebrate Japanese culture from an authentic point of view. Diverse stories are more interesting, and now that we’re seeing them reap box office rewards, there’s no real reason to avoid exploring these avenues on this scale.
While current blockbuster trends will serve Ultraman well, this has the potential to be something really special and different in the current cinematic landscape. I have no idea where they’ll take it, but to know it’s happening is good enough for now. In the meantime, you can look forward to a new Netflix anime series in 2019.
The infectious musical stylings of the late performer Selena Quintanilla are about to be revitalized for the masses in a huge way. Amid the current boom of musicalbiopics in the works across Hollywood, Netflix has announced that they have greenlit a fresh biographical take on the Queen of Tejano. Watch the video promotional spot for the new series below.
Selena: The Series | Announcement [HD] | Netflix - YouTube
The short ad channels one of the musician’s biggest hits, “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” as it reveals a title card for Selena: The Series. This scripted show will adapt Selena’s inspirational life story, having been described by the streamer as a coming-of-age narrative. Moisés Zamora (American Crime) has been hired as the series screenwriter.
Notably, the Quintanilla family will feature as executive producers of Selena: The Series, with the pop star’s sister and former bandmate Suzette Quintanilla saying in a statement via Netflix:
“Selena will always have a lasting place in music history and we feel great responsibility to do justice to her memory. With this series, viewers will finally get the full history of Selena, our family, and the impact she has had on all of our lives.”
Netflix has a tricky coup on its hands; one that is bursting with potential because of its subject’s true timelessness. Despite all the merits of the 1997 biopic Selena starring Jennifer Lopez, I’m exhilarated at the thought of Selena: The Series introducing a renewed era for an exceptional icon.
It feels genuinely difficult to adequately sum up the importance of Selena in the world of entertainment as a whole. Known as one of Latin pop’s most enduring performers, Selena rose to stardom by being the best kind of celebrity possible. She was dubbed the “Tejano Madonna” thanks to her high-caliber performances that channeled not only the Queen of Pop but also the likes of Janet Jackson.
Concurrently, she was known for being lovely to fans and had an effervescent personality, accruing an excellent public image over the years. Selena’s recognizable outfits garnered her attention as a vital fashion icon. She was known for her feminism and philanthropy, as well. Her unique, well-rounded artistry ultimately gave her a universal appeal while proudly displaying her roots in the Latinx community.
Although known for integrating all sorts of genres into her tunes, Selena is credited for boosting the popularity of Tejano (or Tex-Mex) music. Starting as part of the band Selena y Los Dinos (which was founded by her father and included her sister and brother), she continued to be a prominent international voice for the genre through her groundbreaking solo work.
Selena’s self-titled debut album opened doors for a crucial female voice in a typically male-dominated genre. She went on to be the first female Tejano singer to be certified gold after her sophomore record Ven Conmigo sold over 50,000 units. Her third and fourth releases, Entre a Mi Mundo and Amor Prohibido, became consecutive number ones on the US Billboard Regional Mexican Albums charts.
Selena - Como La Flor (Live From Astrodome) - YouTube
Bittersweetly, Selena’s untimely death in 1994 did increase the salience of her public profile. Her fifth and final album Dreaming of You — a posthumous release — debuted atop the US Billboard 200. To this day, her influence in the music industry includes and extends beyond Tejano and Latin pop. Moreover, her popularity resonates with a plethora of other artists, including actors like Jackie Cruz (Orange is the New Black) and Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives).
We’re used to hearing about certain projects being “the thing we need right now.” However, a summary of Selena’s influence alone attests that she is one of those stars whose relevance cannot be overstated. The film Selena may be two decades old now, but 2018 has evidently been a noteworthy year of resurgence for the singer.
Selena: The Series comes on the heels of another fictional rendition produced by the Quintanilla family: an untitled ABC series announced in January that is primed to bring a Selena-inspired tale to life. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Netflix’s venture will act as a stark contrast to El Secreto de Selena either. Based on a book by journalist María Celeste Arrarás — one that has since been denounced by the Quintanillas — that TNT series implies that hidden dark details lurk behind the singer’s sunny exterior.
Regardless, Selena’s immense success marked many cultural turning points and provided wonderful representation for the Latinx community. Any onscreen Selena would have massive shoes to fill. Nevertheless, considering the sheer reach that Netflix has across the globe, this rival biopic will likely turn the most heads. It could be a formidable depiction that will keep Selena’s legacy alive if done right.
If you found yourself in love with the rich textures of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or King Kong, then you may not know what to do with yourself when you finally get a glimpse of his sticky-icky early films.
Before being inundated with hordes of CG orcs and mo-cap suited Englishmen, Jackson was in New Zealand crafting DIY special effects of exploding alien heads for his first cinematic love affair: Splatter Movies.
And while Jackson’s illustrious career has taken him far away from his early horror days of Bad Taste and Dead Alive, longtime fans have held steadfast that we would eventually see the Kiwi, along with Fran Walsh, return to the subgenre. But these foundational, bizarre films haven’t been made widely available for years. Until now.
“I’ve decided to go back and do this to my old films — the first four I made, which I own but never rereleased. I’ve done some tests on ‘Braindead,’ where we took the 16mm negative and put it through our World War I restoration pipeline — and shit, it looks fantastic! I’m pretty keen to actually just get them back out there again. That’s sort of my plan for now: to do a nice little box set — the early years! The naughty years!”
Along with the gross-out puppet comedy Meet The Feebles and arguably his best work, Heavenly Creatures, the re-release of his early Splatterpieces is amazing news. But we’re not here for that. We’re here for this:
“Oh, I’m very happy to be disgusting again if the right project comes along. It would be interesting to see how disgusting Fran and I could be in our older age compared to our younger years because we’ve learned a few things since then. We know a little bit more about the world than we did then, so maybe our levels of disgusting could go into whole new places!”
That’s about as definitive a promise we can get for a new splatter film from a director who does not make movies like he used to. This is as if Steven Spielberg said, “I want to revisit the spirit of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind!” The success of a new Peter Jackson horror film would be as resounding as Sam Raimi’s own genre return, Drag Me To Hell.
After making three The Hobbit films, we think Peter Jackson really deserves to cut loose. A step outside of the massive studio system and a reminder of that fiery spirit that made us fall in love with his goopy early career. All he needs is a good idea, right? Well, Mr. Jackson, let us try to stoke your creative fire with these pitches for your inevitable return to the Splatterpiece:
An EC Comics Adaptation
Little known fact, unless you’re a big ol’ nerd like me, The Frighteners was originally a sequel to Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight. But Jackson and Fran Walsh’s script impressed Robert Zemeckis so much that The Frighteners flew solo while the official follow-up, Bordello of Blood, left everyone with a, ahem, bad taste. But this means that Jackson had EC Comics on his mind, and if he leaned on the archetypal structure the original series provided, he could have a framework that’ll allow him to paint the screen in crimson red again. Hell, Creepshow is returning to television via Shudder, so why not have Jackson helm a followup film that could rival Stephen King and George Romero’s timeless classic!
The Spleriod Piece
Peter Jackson’s newest documentary has him immersed in the history of World War I. But even he has probably taken the time to watch the trailer for Godzilla: King of Monsters, especially after he made his own giant creature feature with 2005’s King Kong. But what if he tried to splice these interests together, contrasting the bloody violence of a world war with the fun spectacle of a monster flick? With the audience enthusiasm for Julius Avery’s Overlord, maybe the world is finally ready for the “Spleriod Piece,” a Splatter Period Piece.
An Ode To His Influences
It’s well known that Peter Jackson has an affinity for the work of stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen. The animator himself has a wealth of unproduced work that, perhaps paired with Jackson, could be a match made in blood red heaven. One of Harryhausen’s projects was to be an adaptation of Thorne Smith’s comedy-horror novel Skin and Bone. The novel is about a photographer whose skin disappears when drunk, only to find that people like him way more as a skeleton. While it didn’t have commercial viability in the 1960s, with Jackson’s indelibly disgusting touch and deft hand at emotional storytelling, it has the pedigree to be a horror-comedy classic.
A Splatter-Gangster Film
Goodfellas is one of Peter Jackson’s favorite films, and if movies tell us anything its that gangsters are super violent! While gangster-horror isn’t a thriving subgenre, with its prevalence of violence, marrying wiseguys with splatter makes sense. While I think its safe to say that the most extreme we’ve seen gangsters go is the bloody-pulp death in Casino, if Jackson ever took a crack at making a “Splat-ster Film,” I doubt we’ll think of Joe Pesci’s buried face again.
A Sequel to Bad Taste or Dead Alive
Like the Schrodinger’s Cat of Ideas, the most and least likely choice for Peter Jackson would be to simply return to the stomping ground he’s already squashed. After all, if you consider both of his Tolkien trilogies as two long films, he’s never made a genuine sequel. Especially not like Evil Dead II, the biggest influence over his cult smash Dead Alive. What about Bad Taste 2: The Aftertaste or give a nod to an international title and call it Dead Alive II: Braindead! While maybe not the most creatively inspired, Peter Jackson returning to the sandboxes he sharpened his talents in would be nothing short of a cinematic treat for longtime fans.
Collaborate With A Modern Splat-Master
While I’m sure he would have created something as uniquely inventive as Deathgasm if Peter Jackson never made his early Splatter films, fellow Kiwi Jason Lei Howden is much better because of Jackson’s influences on New Zealand cinema. By Jackson collaborating with someone like Howden, not only would it be a passing of the torch should he never dip his toes back into the splatter pool again, but also gives us a rare creative duo. A cinematic trailblazer working with an artist extremely influenced by his predecessor’s work. With their twisted minds combined, I can only begin to imagine the gory artistry they could create.
Film fans were aghast this week after news broke that several musical scores have been disqualified from being nominated for the 91st Academy Awards. Casualties include Kris Bowers‘ music for Green Book, Michel Legrand‘s score for the long-lost Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind, and John Williams and John Powell‘s Solo: A Star Wars Story, the last of which was left out because someone forgot to register the film before the November 15th deadline for entries.
The elimination that is the biggest sore point for most of us is that of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose score for the Nicolas Cage psychedelic horror Mandy has been hailed as one of the best of his career and a fine swan song. According to Variety, it wasn’t technically disqualified but “ran afoul of Academy rules — the movie was released on VOD before it completed its qualifying run, a knowledgeable source said. Hence Johannsson’s score was never considered.” IndieWire asked for further confirmation from a representative for the film, who advised that the “qualifying run means the film is released in one week in Los Angeles with a minimum of three screenings per day.”
This is where it gets interesting, however: the Academy guidelines mention nothing about completing the run. Rule Two, per the list at Oscars.org, simply states that to be eligible a VOD film must meet the following relevant criteria:
Be shown for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily, in an LA county theater.
Not receive nontheatrical exhibition before the first day of the qualifying run.
In fact, there’s a specific question in the Oscar guidelines FAQ that deals with this:
Q: What about same day and date VOD?
A: VOD can occur simultaneously with the first day of the qualifying theatrical release but not before.
Mandy was released on VOD on Friday, September 14th. On the same day the film began showing at the Laemmle Monica Film Theater in Santa Monica, LA County. It ran for seven days, finishing on Thursday, September 20th. So from this, it would appear that Mandy would have been eligible, at least according to the online guidelines. But the reality was apparently contained in the comment on IndieWire, where it was stated to be eligible the film needs to have been “released in one week in Los Angeles with a minimum of three screenings per day.”
To get further clarification, we spoke to Natalie Kojen of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, who shed further light on what actually happened with Mandy.
“In order to be eligible for Academy Awards consideration,” she told me, “a feature film must be publicly exhibited for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County, for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily. (Rule Two, Paragraph 2d.)
“Mandy opened at the Laemmle Monica Film Center on September 14, 2018, the same day it became available on VOD. This initial theatrical engagement did not meet the requirements for a qualifying run because the film was only shown twice daily (at 1pm and 7pm). Subsequent engagements with more screening times at other theaters did not qualify because the VOD release had already occurred.
“The provision regarding the number and schedule of daily screenings has been in effect since the 2016 (89th) Academy Awards.”
So while Mandy was released day and date with the initial theatrical run, that run did not qualify the film because it didn’t meet the three-showing criteria.
This is obviously hugely sad for fans of Jóhannsson, not least because this was his last film, but also because his score is incredible. Unfortunately we could not obtain any comment from the film’s representatives on the decision, but rumor has it that they were pushing a small campaign based on the score. Regretfully, speculation over whether it would have been able to garner a nomination is now a moot point.
But while this has been cleared up, the rules regarding these situations are something that will surely be privy to further scrutiny. As day and date VOD steadily becomes a more viable channel of distribution for independent films, awards bodies must eventually keep up with the changing times. I imagine if there was ever a thought of a category specifically for nontheatrical released films, there would be an immediate schism (look at the recent polarized reaction to the apparent need for Roma to be seen theatrically).
Beyond awards, this still ties into larger discussions about the evolution of film distribution. The mainstream exhibition side has made itself clear, refusing to exhibit any films which are released day and date theatrically and through VOD. Many believe a welcoming of day and date into mainstream exhibition would signal a death knell for films being shown theatrically.
In any case, Jóhannsson’s score for Mandy is a treasure we still have, regardless of awards status (we included it in our best scores of 2018). But it would have been nice to have said goodbye with an award or nomination at least.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a whirlwind of a year after reaching the climax that its story world has been working towards — Avengers: Infinity War saw so many of our beloved heroes disintegrate into dust, along with 50 percent of the world’s population thanks to Thanos’ mastermind scheming. So how can the MCU possibly pick up the pieces of a mess this big?
It’ll start with 2019’s release of the Infinity War follow-up, Avengers: Endgame, the recently released first teaser trailer giving a glimpse at what’s to come. Marvel will surely remain impossibly tight-lipped about the film until its release, but the studio is already beginning to compile some of the films that will make up “Phase Four” of the franchise, which will begin after Endgame. Spider-Man: Far From Home will be our first taste of what the post-Endgame landscape will look like, but the newest addition to the lineup is a Doctor Strange sequel.
The Hollywood Reporter has revealed that Scott Derrickson is officially slated to return as director following his work on the first Doctor Strange film. A returning director is always a plus, since that typically ensures the sequel will remain consistent with its predecessor. Also returning will be Benedict Cumberbatch as the title protagonist, having already signed on for a second Strange film in the past. But the MCU is a much grander, more intricate franchise than most, and this film will have a lot more to take into account than your run-of-the-mill sequel. And after all that’s happened, how will Doctor Strange fit into this universe?
For those who might have forgotten the events of Infinity War (although who could forget that heartbreak?), audiences last saw Strange disintegrating into thin air after Thanos snapped his fingers and wiped half the population off the face of the universe. This, naturally, makes it incredibly unclear as to how his story will continue — but then again, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is returning with his own sequel, despite poor Peter Parker himself being one of Thanos’ more devastating victims. A lot of these questions cannot be feasibly answered until the release of Endgame, but based on what we know about Strange’s character, we can begin to think about what role he might play in the future of the MCU.
Perhaps the easiest way to begin looking at it is from a small-scale perspective: how might Strange’s character continue along the narrative that was initially provided in the first film? If peace ends up being mostly restored after the events of Endgame (and that’s a big if), we could potentially find Strange back at his post in the New York Sanctum as a Master of Mystic Arts. It has yet to be seen if Rachel McAdams will be making a return as Dr. Christine Palmer, but hopefully the character will serve as more than just an excuse for another fleeting, lackluster MCU romance — McAdams certainly has more to offer, and a greater arc for Christine might help to soften that infamous Stephen Strange power complex. Another supporting character confirmed to return is Benedict Wong as Wong, fellow master and sidekick to Strange who was also present in Infinity War.
Aside from Strange developing his relationships with other characters, there are still lingering threats from the first Strange film that have not been firmly resolved. Strange defeated the powerful Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, where time is non-existent, by simply wearing him out in an endless time loop that frustrated the demon so much that he merely gave up and returned to his own dimension. While there’s a chance that that was the last of Dormammu, it feels as though his defeat was a bit of a temporary solution. And considering his origins in the Dark Dimension, he could potentially end up playing a role in the events of Endgame.
The Doctor Strange post-credits scene also left another loose end untied: Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), former mentor to Strange, is seen stealing the power that paraplegic Jonathan Pangborn used to regain the ability to walk. He was also quite put off by Strange’s decision to defy laws of nature when defeating Dormammu, setting himself up as another perfect antagonist who Strange will surely have to confront in the sequel.
But onto bigger, more unstable ground. Doctor Strange disappeared at the end of Infinity War, and while it remains unclear as to what the circumstances of his presence in the sequel will be, it is quite likely that he will be playing a major role in the cleanup of whatever catastrophe is wreaked in Endgame. After all, Strange is the person who saw the one possible future out of approximately 14 million in which the Avengers are able to defeat Thanos. That kind of knowledge will surely not go swept under the rug, and his character could easily be a crucial component of Endgame.
Considering Strange’s position in the battle against Thanos, whatever happens in Endgame will more than likely spill over into the Strange sequel. His ability to manipulate magic and time arguably makes him one of the more powerful figures in the MCU, so his role will likely include not only taking down Thanos but building a plan for what’s to come after. However, the context that this will take place in is hard to know: it cannot be said that Strange’s lifestyle will return to normal after all the chaos, and he might not even be back in New York after all is said and done — or the same dimension, for that matter.
For now, the Doctor Strange sequel is being eyed for a projected May 2021 release date. While seemingly distant, it’s only really a few films away in the world of the MCU. Much will have to remain a mystery for the time being when it comes to the future of Doctor Strange, but it’s reassuring to know that, at least for now, there is one.