The Last Word
Can you think of any other superior sequels? Let me know in the comments section below!
Audiences had to wait six years for Director Joe Dante to follow up 1984’s Christmas critter classic Gremlins and what they got wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. This manic metropolitan movie ditched the traditional sequel formula in favor of a buck-trending, anti-movie that relished in sticking two slimy green fingers up at not just movie fans and pop culture trends - but the people that make those movies and trends too. Spielbergian family frightener, this was not. Dante and co left the quaintness of part one in Kingston Falls - this was New York and 1990’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch was a different beast entirely, bolder and better than its predecessor.
Where to start? The bigger, crazier and more chaotic philosophy of sequels is sent into overdrive with Dante and writer Charles S. Haas throwing anything and everything at the wall to see what sticks. However it’s likely the film’s ‘self aware’ qualities are what first signified that this was something perhaps a little too ahead of its time for the audience that received it. Meta references may be ten-a-penny in 2018 but 28 years ago they were hardly common place. The Gremlins’ mid-movie multiplex takeover - complete with Hulk Hogan cameo (or a John Wayne re-edit if you’re watching at home) - is an early warning sign but by the time Dante gets to shutting down Kate’s (Phoebe Cates) stock sob story before the film’s shocking climax, the writing’s on the wall. This is far from business as usual.
The Last Word
Let’s be honest, Gremlins 2: The New Batch is hardly going to get the mainstream recognition it deserves - ‘schlocky, monster movie sequel’ doesn’t exactly scream critical acclaim. Yet stick the movie on 28 years later and it’s hard not to get sucked right in. Lots of great movies were released in 1990 so the fact that we’re still talking about this film at all is in itself a triumph. This could be down to a lot of things: a nostalgia factor, for sure but the film’s dry humour, eye-popping practical effects and complete smirking disregard for everything that lured fans in in the first place makes it less of a straight follow-up and more of a mutated relative. The ambition of Dante and his crew was high, perhaps higher than it even needed to be for a film like this (Key and Peele’s brilliant Gremlins 2 sketch sums this up perfectly) but it’s because of this that the film has endured and proven itself as a truly superior sequel.
Can you think of any other superior sequels? Let me know in the comments section below!
In just a few weeks time we’ll be returning to Jurassic World where in all likelihood, all hell will break loose. We know this because we’ve seen the chaos teased in trailers - alongside the reveal that at least half of this planned calamity will take place off Isla Nublar in a new, previously-unseen mainland environment. Spoilers? Well, sort of - but apparently not spoilerific enough to make Universal Studios decide not to use this info as part of their pre-release marketing campaign. All those waiting for the lights to dim before discovering all of Fallen Kingdom’s secrets... well they might want to give social media, cinema trailers, telly - hell, even web adverts - a miss for the time being, as tricky as that may seem.
And yet revealing (or heavily alluding to) major plot points in movie trailers appears to be becoming more and more commonplace, especially when major tentpole releases are concerned. It’s kind of ironic, especially when you consider these big-budget, CGI-heavy films are often the ones the majority of audiences will mindlessly flock to regardless. Usually sequels, prequels, series installments or spin offs; these franchises with built-in viewers are surely among the easiest sells in any film PR team’s release slate?
Adding to the problem is the fact that these same movies happen to be the ones that come with the highest risk of spoilers. If you’re a fan of this specific brand of spectacle cinema, you’ll likely want to go in blind to ensure maximum enjoyment. Sure, Infinity War requested viewers’ remain tight lipped about its key plot punches but not before dishing out a healthy chunk of marketing material beforehand. Anything eyebrow raising in the Avengers’ recent outing may have technically been new to viewers but it was hardly surprising. With this in mind, maybe it’s time to do away with trailers altogether? After all, it’ll hardly stop the likes of die-hard Star Wars fans from handing over their cash and it could even boost Box Office returns. Not feeling Fallen Kingdom’s military-bred dinos? No trailers leaves you none the wiser until your money’s left your account!
It almost makes you nostalgic for a time before YouTube, smart phones and 24 hour content accessibility. Back when movie news was a lot harder to come by. Imagine the thrill and excitement of seeing that mystery cliffhanger ending in Back To The Future Part II, fresh and for the first time - or unexpectedly experiencing the uncanny worlds of Blade Runner without a heads up. Sadly, these experiences could be a thing of the past - or in the words of Ian Malcome: ‘Don’t you mean extinct?’
Do you think we still need movie trailers? Let me know in the comments section below!
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the sixth studio album from Sheffield quartet Arctic Monkeys hit listeners' ears and immediately split them down the middle. Some were left grinning and chin stroking, admiring yet another deft surprise from the band’s smirking frontman Alex Turner. Others meanwhile were left wondering when the stadium-sized indie anthems the band have become known for were going to kick in. That latter group had a long and ultimately fruitless wait. Whatever you thought Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was going to to be, this certainly wasn’t that.
Although surely that’s to be expected, right? Look at Arctic Monkeys today and they’re almost unrecognisable compared to the scruffy indie-lads that burst onto the scene in 2006 with an endless supply of earworm hooks and mile-a-minute lyrics delivered in an overtly Northern twang. That record alone got so much airplay at the time that it quickly cemented itself as a definitive new wave Brit-rock classic, paving the way for similar acts whilst simultaneously birthing a brand new music scene. Fans ate it up and came to expect more of the same from these four lads from Sheffield. The band? They had other ideas.
Each album release has been a gamble for Arctic Monkey fans - and with each the band has tried their hardest to change identity. From Turner’s greaser look for the 2013 unveiling of AM; complete with shades, leather jacket and slicked back quiff, to the mod-look of Suck It And See and their new long-haired European film star guise donned for this recent release - each collection of new tracks has come from, arguably, a completely new band. However isn’t that what all bands who withstand the test of time do? The Beatles, Radiohead, Blur - All three have transcended to legendary status and all three have universally dividing back catalogues of work and starkly changing personas.
Those original indie fans stuck around for the ride though, patiently awaiting the return of the band that gave them ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ while selectively filtering out the records that might not have provided the same rush (Humbug, we’re looking at you). Meanwhile other indie acts filled the gap, crafting a hit-formula with songs that can often be distilled into easily yelled sounds or football-adopted chants. The Sheffield lot returned to reclaim their crown five years ago with AM and its radio-friendly feel but now they seem to be at it again, itchy to throw their fans off the scent. Imagine the scene: crowds of eager Arctic Monkey fans at midnight Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino listening parties, patiently waiting for the band’s next indie ‘banger’ to drop. Hopefully, someone brought a pillow.
That said, it’s hard not to enjoy the whole thing. With wild new track titles like “The Ultracheese” and “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip”, you can almost hear the grin on Turner’s face. Clearly, they’re in on the joke - and we should be too. After all, it’s no coincidence that the record that defined Arctic Monkeys with fans was literally titled Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Good bands don't have time to get comfortable and the clues have been there all along.
Did you enjoy Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino? Let me know in the comments section below!
Watch Out: This post contains *SPOILERS* regarding Avengers: Infinity War - If you haven't seen it, stop reading now… or don’t. I’m not the eye-police.
Having looked at the superhero movies that slipped through the cracks en-route to Avengers: Infinity War last week, perhaps it’s time to focus our attention on the main event and a slight issue that threatens to render all its years of planning and mystique a little flat. If you’re one of the few who’s yet to see it, here’s a quick catch up: spoiler alert - Thanos wins. After gathering all five Infinity Stones (a collection of non-edible, incredibly powerful jelly tots), the purple headed monster heads to Earth and with the combined power of the universe on his fist, clicks his fingers and instantly deletes half the population of the universe. Bad times.
While us normies made up the majority of Thanos’s body count, a handful of Supers were also reduced to dust. Black Panther, Doctor Strange, the Guardians - even new recruit Peter Parker - are all lost to the ether as Infinity War closes on a particularly precarious note, forcing audiences to speculate on the fate of the Marvel Universe from now until the still-untitled part two arrives next May. What a cliffhanger, right? Well sort off. With fans’ feverish appetite for movie news - and with Studios overly keen to plan our their franchises years in advance - it’s sort of hard to get too caught up with the potential finality of Infinity War’s deadly closing twist.
Let’s not forget - Marvel’s already fleshed out its slate until at least 2020, with Guardians of the Galaxy confirmed for a third volume and Tom Holland’s recently deceased Peter Parker confirmed to return as early as July 2019. Combined this with the raw popularity of these heroes and rogues amongst fans and it’s hard to imagine Marvel following through with their threat of killing off half of the cast they’ve worked so tirelessly to assemble. It’s not just release dates that squash any sense of peril either. Sometimes, a quick look on IMDB can often confirm or deny the inclusion of potentially spoilerific cameos and plot-curves, erasing the surprise element that audiences often say they want yet seemingly love denying themselves of.
That said, a handful of directors still seem intent on keeping the unpredictability of pre-Internet cinema alive. JJ Abrams’ had the Ewok chops to off Han Solo in The Force Awakens - and more importantly keep him dead - and his Star Wars successor Rian Johnson did a fine job of keeping Yoda’s return underwraps in The Last Jedi. With this in mind it’s worth remembering that Marvel has displayed similar gusto in the past, with Joss Whedon stopping Quicksilver in his path with a death scene in Age of Ultron.
Throw in the fact that a handful of Marvel’s heroes are nearing the end of their contracts and perhaps Disney’s caped-cash cow is avoiding the curse of franchise TMI by pulling a fast one on us. Interestingly, its the Avengers’ most seasoned heroes like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers and not its cinematically deceased stars of tomorrow that seem destined for pastures new. Should we be more concerned for those who survived Thanos’ wrath than those who actually died? That’d certainly be one way to keep audiences on their toes.
Like me, would you watch a TV show called The Eye Police? Let me know in the comments section below!
Infinity War has finally arrived, marking the culmination of ten years of planning (and 18 cinematic releases) from Marvel Studios. It’s an undeniably impressive feat and one that’s not been achieved by any other studio to date, no matter how many Dark Knights or Kryptonians they have helping them. While the superhero genre currently reigns supreme, it’s not entirely been smooth sailing with some titles slipping through the cracks, doomed to an eternity in a HMV bargain bin. They may not have set the Box Office alight - and they’re certainly not without their flaws - but each has its own strengths that perhaps proved too divisive for mainstream audiences.
Take Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, a movie that by today’s standards seems miles away from the light-hearted-yet-epic tone perfected by Marvel Studios. Instead, Lee made a movie that was pensive, dark and took its own time to tell its story. Undoubtedly it was the type of Bruce Banner tale Lee wanted to tell, even if audiences disagreed - and yet choosing Directors with differing and distinct styles seems to be the Studio’s winning recipe. Louis Leterrier’s 2008 reboot The Incredible Hulk upped the ante as Marvel’s second feature; ultimately a monster movie with considerably more action than Lee’s take but one that failed to match the financial return set by Iron Man. Throw in a fumbled relationship with its lead star and the future of this Hulk iteration was smashed in no time.
Rival DC Studios has had worse luck. Their attempts to fast-track their own super group with 2011’s The Green Lantern fell flat thanks to an inconsistent script and some dodgy CGI but their ambition was clearly there. However, the silver lining of their attempt at lighting the Lantern was some impressive dedication to world building and the injection of some much needed humour to a comic universe that has a tendency to be bleaker than Batman's Pinterest boards. Sadly it wasn’t enough - proof that even though these franchises have unrivalled audiences on paper, they’re no guaranteed hit when it comes to bringing them to the screen.
Then there’s the curse of forward planning. Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man double-hitter showed what a loved-up Peter Parker might look like while still at high school - a lighter touch that was counterbalanced with some nifty bad guys with vicious streaks. Unfortunately Andrew Garfield’s take on Spidey was cut short due to circumstance but the strain of an over-packed story lacking a clear direction was already starting to show at Sony. The race the compete with Marvel’s slow-and-steady trail of success has spelt doom for many who have attempted to go up against them. While these titles all fell through the cracks, it’s interesting to see what worked, what didn’t and to remember what stand-alone superhero movies looked like before interconnected universes were the go-to. Love them or hate them, it’s unlikely we’ll see their type again.
Do you miss stand-alone superhero movies? Let me know in the comments section below!
Remember when Bruce Wayne was debating packing in the whole Batman thing in The Dark Knight and Harvey Dent suggested he might actually be on to something? “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain,” he said, shortly before becoming a villain himself. While it’s usually not advised to take the advice of supervillains, The Simpsons might be able to learn something from this Rogue Gallery baddie. Especially following their recent fumbled response to accusations of cultural appropriation regarding Springfield regular and Kwik-E-Mart clerk Apu.
Miss this? Here’s a quick recap: In late 2017 TruTV aired stand-up comic Hari Kondabolu’s documentary The Problem With Apu, a film that explored exactly what its title might suggest by inviting a handful of recognized names to discuss the subliminal negative impact Springfield’s solo Indian American character has had on modern popular culture. Reaction online was swift and soon enough the question was raised as to how The Simpsons’ creative team might counter these accusations. It was a tricky situation made trickier when you consider that Apu has been around for the long haul and that he’s voiced by caucasian actor and voice artist Hank Azaria. If this was an episode of the show, they’d probably throw an awkward collar tug in right about now.
As America’s longest running sitcom - one that’s deftly handled its fair share of hot topics with a combination of comedy and wit in the past - expectation was high. However instead of serving up a smart, considered response, sensitive to the social expectations of the day, the show’s eyebrow-raising retort fell spectacularly flat, not only shying away from addressing the issue head on but sweeping the whole conversation under the rug altogether. To borrow a phrase of another Springfield resident, it was probably the worst handling of a topical issue, ever.
Maybe the show’s writers were banking on using the speed at which social issues like these come and go, hoping to offer a brief note, wait out the storm and carry on as usual. However instead of just being a rubbish response, this comes across more like the final nail in the coffin for a show that’s been in a steady decline for almost as long as its Golden Age lasted. When The Simpsons arrived in 1989, it had the gift of being fresh and undoubtedly paved new ground. If it wasn’t for Matt Groening and The Simpson family, it’s unlikely that we’d now have South Park or Family Guy - shows that have arguably taken Springfield’s format and improved upon it for a new generation.
With this in mind - and with new shows, for new demographics, tackling new, topical issues in new ways - it makes you wonder whether we really need to see the slow demise of a once-pioneering show that’s now old and struggling to keep up. The legacy of The Simpsons at its peak is too sharp and revered to be handled this carelessly by a revolving door troupe of new writers. Suddenly, Harvey Dent’s advice sounds all too apt. Maybe The Simpsons has survived long enough to see itself do more harm than good. Maybe audiences need a little vacation from Springfield.
Do you think we've seen enough of The Simpsons? Let me know in the comments section below!
Modern horror has been killing it recently. From 2016 frighteners Raw, The Ghoul and knocked-up knock out Prevenge to last year’s tension builder It Comes At Night and throwback mega-hit It, the horror genre has been riding a wave of smart, challenging and most importantly - really good - films that cater to both mainstream and die-hard indie audiences alike. What’s more, this wave of goodness shows no sign of slowing. Just this week we’ve been treated to Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s cryptic chiller Ghost Stories and John Krasinski’s critically praised terror A Quiet Place and we’re barely four months into 2018.
Could this resurgence result in the horror genre being taken a bit more seriously? It’s a thought so appealing you almost don’t dare utter it out loud. If the release of Jordan Peele’s surprise hit Get Out last year is anything to go by, then perhaps this new wave of horror means a little more than just a few decent movies. It’s safe to say that not even Peele himself ever envisioned his twisted take on racism in popular culture would have taken him all the way to the Academy Awards. However the fact that he ultimately found himself taking home an Oscar for the movie says tonnes about the way audiences are beginning to change their perceptions of the genre. If a smart horror like Get Out can be deemed award worthy in the eyes of the Academy, then surely we can expect more filmmakers follow suit.
Krasinski’s A Quiet Place may well be the first drip of the flood. His sophomore feature couldn’t be more mainstream - it’s a monster movie directed by none other than Jim from The Office - and yet critics from all outlets are already singing its praises as a film with both scares and substance. Clearly filmmakers are already starting to tiptoe down the route that Peele paved with Get Out and with Toni Collette’s horror mystery Hereditary due out in just a few months, it’s a safe bet that this path is about to get much more crowded.
Or maybe not. If Hollywood’s known for anything, it’s cashing in on crazes and bleeding them dry. Maybe Get Out’s success will signal nothing more than a flash in the pan, leaving the horror genre lurking in the bottom shelves of DVD stores and deep-scrolled pages of Netflix sub-genres - and that’s fine too. After all, the unique selling point of this cult corner of filmmaking has always been its underdog appeal - films so nasty, mainstream viewers just can’t handle them quite yet. The horror genre will continue to kill it - whether or not mainstream viewers want in on the action sooner rather than later is up to them.
Do you think horror movies are about to have their day in the sun? Let me know in the comments section below!
Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is like a pick and mix bag full of sweets aimed squarely at hungry pop-culture fans. Adapting Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name, the film takes us to a not-too-distant future where humanity has dropped out and plugged into the Oasis, an online VR simulation where anything is possible. Its creator was an 80s-obsessed tech nerd who - shortly before his death - left the keys to his digital kingdom hidden within three geeky Easter eggs, igniting a frantic race-to-the-finish that'll impact the future of Earth’s digital utopia.
That’s the hook although to be honest, it’s almost secondary. In Ready Player One’s photo-real pixel world 80s pop-culture is the main currency, and for viewers it’s also probably the main reason why you’ll be buying a ticket. From Marty’s DeLorean to the Iron Giant himself, the film is literally packed with references to iconic movies and movie franchises, many of which come directly from Director Steven Spielberg’s own wheelhouse. It’s busy - crazy busy - and at times, verges on being a little too much for your eyes to physically take in.
However at the same time, it’s undeniably satisfying. It's the contradiction of meta-movies - they're both the best and worst things ever - selling you something you’ve already bought into whilst disguised as something entirely new. After all, there’s a reason why this small sub-genre of meta-films exists in the first place. Movie fans love it when stories make a nod-and-wink reference to another property whilst in the midst of their own adventure, so why wouldn’t they lap up a fully-fledged feature that specialises in exactly that? It’s a tightrope walk though, one which needs to be treated with care so the crux of the primary story is compelling and not neglected in favour of a quick, selfreferencial win.
Earlier films have successfully dipped their toes into this formula. Robert Zemeckis’s animated mash-up Who Framed Roger Rabbit not only wowed by seamlessly splicing animation with reality back in 1988 but, perhaps more impressively, negotiated a merger between Disney, Warner Bros and Max Fleischer characters - much to the delight of us viewers. 1993’s Arnie movie send-up Last Action Hero did it too, albeit lightly, twisting the genre on its head while taking us on an uncanny trip through popular cinema. Both kept the meta-secondary and achieved relative success, and both had a primary hook strong enough to stop things getting lazy.
Maybe that’s the key. Whether or not fans will feel Ready Player One adheres to this rule too is yet to be seen - Perhaps they'll think its all a little too much. Only time will tell. Whatever the case, it's clear that movie fans love a little in-joke every now but their love of an original story is just as strong.
Is meta filmmaking good or bad? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
What does it take to ensure a film’s success? These days, you’d be forgiven for thinking that having a big name star to focus all your movie-marketing around is a no-brainer when it comes to box office gold. After all, the majority of today’s film media spends so much time talking to (and about) famous faces that audiences may even feel as though they know them well enough to consider them friends. When it comes to spearheading a new feature (an original feature, that is - not an adaptation or a reboot), slapping their face onto an unknown story surely greatly increases their chances of success, right?
Not always. Especially if the underwhelming release of Jennifer Lawrence-shaped spy thriller Red Sparrow is anything to go by. This in itself raises an interesting problem. If a star as ubiquitous as Lawrence can’t guarantee a hit film in 2018, then just who can? Could it be that star over-exposure has reached its peak? Unlike audiences before us, the cinema-goers of today find themselves in the unique position of being able to (in some cases) pick up their phone and literally speak directly to actors. Barriers have clearly been broken down but has it had an impact on the ways in which viewers digest new stories featuring their favourite famous faces?
It’s not just social media, either. A quick Google search of some of the top names of today reveal the varied ins-and-outs of their private lives and hot topic opinions before serving us examples of their on-screen work. Perhaps this transparency - or awareness of every single nook and cranny of an actor’s private life - has actually made it harder for us to suspend our disbelief and invest in a performance of a character that’s not already familiar to us. That’s certainly what the facts and figures show in the case of Red Sparrow. Present us Lawrence as Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen and we’ll bite your hand off. Give us the exact same star in an unfamiliar hard sell? No, thanks.
Compare the same circumstance to those who lead more private lives and the reverse appears to be true. Other than his humanitarian and environmental efforts, little seems to be known about the everyday life of Leo DiCaprio. As far as audiences are concerned he’s pretty much a blank canvas. Could this be why we buy him as a wheeling-dealing wall street hot shot just as easily as we buy him as a revenge-ridden revenant? It’s an interesting thought. For many seeking a career in the industry, fame and fortune are unwanted guests that hitch a ride along with your emerging success. However if this idea proves anything, it’s that they’re worth keeping an eye on. Sometimes being too famous can do more harm than good.
Is being too famous a bad thing? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!
Being a film fan in the English regions can often feel frustrating. Unlike the music industry or even the literary world the talent you so admire rarely visits. That’s not to say national and international faces aren’t up for discussing their work with keen audiences - they are - however the industry itself can sometimes feel cursed by an inequality divide regarding opportunity and location. A quick Google search regarding film events in the UK tells you all you need to know: those involved in bringing movies to audiences seem to think that they stop existing altogether once you leave London. Hell, some have even gone so far as to moan about the abundance of events that happen right on their doorstep. Heaven forbid they move out of the capitol...
This has gone on for so long that change felt all but impossible, until recently. Thanks to a handful of determined and innovative film programmers, the UK’s regional cinema scene is currently thriving. In fact, just last week independent picture house HOME in Manchester celebrated its most successful week on record and topped off this jam-packed week by hosting a post-film Q&A with You Were Never Really Here Director Lynne Ramsay, one of her only audiences events outside of the Glasgow Film Festival. More impressive still is that this type of film add-on activity isn’t rare for the venue; with Directors, Actors, Producers and Musicians regularly visiting for similar events, from big name stars to tomorrow’s ones-to-watch.
They’re not the only ones doing this either. Frustrated fans have even taken on the role of event programmers to help bridge this equality gap and provide an eager audience with something they’re sorely missing. On the cusp of celebrating its third year (or season as they like to call it), Pilot Light TV Festival invites a handful of established and emerging stars to venues across Manchester to celebrate the continued success of small screen entertainment. The same team also host regular (and regularly sold out) Retro And Dangerous Film Screenings of cult classics, each with a celebratory and raucous vibe typically reserved for airings of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room - and before you ask, yes, they’ve hosted that one too and audiences loved it.
What do these examples of regional success tell us? Well, they quantify something that people who live here already know: that audiences for this type of content not only exist but they’re actively passionate about it and bored of waiting for it to arrive. Proof that there’s endless scope for events of a similar ilk and if Distributors don’t take notice soon, fans aren’t afraid to take matters into their own hands and do it themselves.
Full Disclosure: I also work for HOME in Manchester but that doesn't mean I've sugar-coated the work do or made it seem more relevant than it is. They do lots for regional film fans and its all good, regardless of perspective.
Do you think we need more film events in the regions? Let me know in the comment section below!
Author: Simon Bland