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Guilty Treasures: 1996’s Evita

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If I had a choice, I would round up all musicals, especially mainstream musicals, and pop them in the guilty pleasures pot. I’d leave out the truly outstanding ones, the cult ones, so people can marvel on how exactly you can make a musical without being so ludicrously over the top. You may not agree with me because nearly everyone I know loves musicals, I do too. But when it comes to mainstream movies good acting is abandoned for singing and if you are going to do a movie of that nature, then at least include some stellar performances (see: Moulin Rouge!) Otherwise it just becomes dance numbers and songs, looped together by a strained plot.

The point being is that most musicals are, or should be, guilty pleasures. In particular is this movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita.

Evita stars Madonna and Antonio Banderas and depicts, in flashy song form, the life of Argentinean First Lady Eva Peron and her rise to fame. Starting off life as an illegitimate child who is denied attending her own father’s funeral, Eva is spurred on by being outcast by his middle class family. Eva is determined to succeed and she will leave a string of lovers behind her wake. This is until she runs into Juan Peron, the future Argentinean president….

Why Is It Bad?

There is always going to a problem with translating a much loved stage show to the big film and director Alan Parker runs into many issues. In order to film in Argentina, the movie has to cut a lot of risqué material from the show, much to the show’s dismay as it loses some of those darker elements that work so well on stage. And for some reason, Madonna is sandwiched into every age of Eva, jarring when it comes to her younger self. This process could have worked better opting for a younger actress and aging her.

Also, on the note of Madonna. I have never been a massive fan of hers anyway but Madonna here is testing. Trying hard as Eva, Madonna somehow makes her sympathetic when the whole point of the story is to show how much of an actress and how cut throat Eva Peron was in succeeding. Madonna is given songs that don’t work for the character, extra ones written out of context such as “You Must Love Me” that ruin genuinely subtle moments.

It’s all a bit to grandiose and it means the film suffers.

Why Is It Good?

evitaAntonion Banderas, for one, is an excellent Che. Playing a role of Eva’s conscience and indeed, the voice of reason, Banderas is cutting and judgemental. He delivers a fine performance and succeeds in acting bitter within his vocal and dancing performances. Astonishing to watch, Banderas pulls this movie round.

There are some moments of pure emotion here too, whether it be frightening or enjoyable. The crowd scenes are hauntingly powerful. As crowds chant names just outside the consulate house, the people become this terrifying amalgamation of blind following and it is chilling to watch. This added to the gripping war and protest scenes, Evita does grip you into to its flowery vocal bosom.

And as much as I hate to say this, apart from making Eva a sympathetic character instead of the cutthroat bitch she is supposed to be, Madonna is actually good. Although that makes her music career even more frustrating, Madonna can sing and sometimes, in moments, can act.

Evita is flashy. It is big and bold, grabbing you by the wrist and singing in your face. It is hard to ignore, certainly I’ve had “Goodnight and Thank You!” in my head for weeks now. And although it does abandon some of the realistic or shockingly dark moments for colours and prettiness, Evita is enjoyable. It is a movie you can watch with your family and get past this irritability to enjoy the Webber/Rice music.


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Features

FanTRASHtique #1: Street Trash (1987)

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vlcsnap-2013-10-08-16h40m21s221I suppose I should start this article off with an explanation of what FanTRASHTique is. Basically, it’s an ongoing feature where I watch awful, awful films, as suggested by my editor or Cinema Chords readers, or more specifically, films that are so inconceivably bad that they’re actually quite good. I go in blind each time knowing completely nothing about the film. I watch it, then write this up with the verdict of whether it’s FanTRASHTique, or just plain … trash.  Well, let the suffering begin. We’re starting with Street Trash (1987), a film I knew absolutely nothing about at the time.

Street Trash is about filthy, filthy hobos and their constant war for supremacy in the streets of…not sure? I’d tell you the characters’ names, or actors if they were relevant, or if I actually knew them. For the sake of hilarity (or more likely my own convenience) I’ll use nicknames.

Shabby Hobo is stressed because his brother, Mini Hobo doesn’t talk to him as much since they both became homeless. Meanwhile, Shabby Hobo goes to the local boozery and buys the finest liquor he can, for the astounding price of 1$. What the chubby bearded shopkeeper sold him is an old unknown liquor he found in his mouldy basement, known simply as ‘Tenafly Viper’. His booze is stolen by another hobo, who promptly melts and dissolves down a toilet bowl. Some bums play a fun game of catch-the-dismembered-penis. Meanwhile, Shabby steals an Italian Mafioso’s date, violates her in the junk yard, then leaves her to fend for herself, as she’s horribly gang-raped and killed by street-bums. Detective Tough-As-Fuck takes the case, shaking down the local street trash for her whereabouts. As more and more drink the dreaded liquor, the hobo population begins to dwindle…

A messy synopsis, but rather suiting for a film with about 5 narrative sub-plots, and an improperly planned storyline. The melting deaths are both hilarious, but rather horrifying too (don’t worry, that why we include images). The whole thing is just indescribable. You have this main storyline of this heroic hobo, who mainly just does things for his own want. There’s no real build, as it ‘builds’ up to a confrontation with Vietnam flashback Hobo, for no apparent reason. Meanwhile between these horrifying visual deaths, and seemingly unrelated character events, there’s a Mafia sub plot involving a tough chinned cop and a not-very-Italian Italian man. Again, for seemingly no reason. Not to mention the gang-rape that comes out of literally nowhere. The conversations are also pretty garbled and non-sensical, except for the occasionally golden line of dialogue.

Street Trash is a truly terrible film, and I can only recommend you BUY IT RIGHT NOW AND DON’T LOOK BACK. I’m dead serious. Street Trash is a fantastic film, and a true tome in cult cinema, that everyone MUST see. It’s hilarious, comically bad, captures the entirety of ’80s film-making in about two hours, and I really can’t do it justice. It’ll amaze, appal, astound, and it may possibly be one of the best (WORST) films of all time. Watch Street Trash (MORE LIKE SWEET TRASH), and tune in next time for another edition of FanTRASHTique.

We’ll leave you with the original trailer and also the rare original short film it was based on to whet your appetite for this masterpiece. Be sure to follow this section on Twitter @FanTRASHtique where we’d love you to recommend which bargain basement movies you’d like to see us cover here.


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FeaturesShort Film

A Short Mission #2: Right Place

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The economy of Kosai Sekine‘s short is pretty impressive, with every shot contributing towards the overall theme, including the title animation. It wastes absolutely no time in establishing its character’s personality with quick shots that let us know everything we need to know. It uses established visual cues, such as him going against the tide on the escalator, to inform us about him, but doesn’t linger long enough either for the short to drag, or for us to really have the time to think about how we have seen that device a million times before. It is perhaps the tightly controlled focus of this short that makes it so impressive.

One of its other most notable elements is the sound design. The use of music is very well matched to the story, and in fact functions as a key part of the narrative. It strongly places us within the protagonist’s mindset, in many respects taking the place that dialogue or voiceover would normally hold, which only further enhances the film’s clean and crisp style. When we do finally get some dialogue it’s almost disappointing at first because of how well the film was managing without it, however upon reflection, it is needed at precisely the moment in which it is used, in order to quickly further the story, rather than by taking longer to explain the character’s thought process visually.

All in all Right Place is an extremely well made short. It’s sharply written and directed, has a great sense of style, tells a simple story effectively, and isn’t afraid to use humour to advance the story. It’s a great example of what short films can be, and one which we hope you enjoy watching!

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FeaturesMovie Lists

Before & After: Star Wars

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It been over 35 years since A New Hope stunned audiences worldwide and cinema has changed a lot since then. Incidentally, so have the actors who made up the famous cast of George Lucas‘ first three Star Wars films.

So, who’s been the most successful? And who’s still clinging to their fame from the 1970s? Find out below…

Mark Hamill

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Probably the best way to make a film debut, Mark Hamill hit the screens in 1977 as Luke Skywalker: farmer boy turn Jedi hero. After no more real film success, Hamill took to voice acting, most notably in the recent Xbox 360/Playstation 3 game Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, in which he voiced the Joker.

Carrie Fisher

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Like the rest, she was propelled to fame by Star Wars but has suffered mentally and physically since the films. She is open about her struggle with bipolar disorder as well as prescription drug addiction. Nevertheless, Fisher has been in numerous TV shows and films including When Harry Met Sally and Smallville. She has also written books about her life including Wishful Drinking, which was adapted into a successful stage show.

Harrison Ford

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Cast as the coolest cat in the galaxy far far away, Harrison Ford was shot to stardom with his role as Han Solo. Arguably the most famous out of the bunch, Ford starred in numerous films such as The Fugitive, Blade Runner and also the iconic Indiana Jones.

Peter Mayhew

Peter-Mayhew-–-Chewbacca-While-working-as-a-hospital-orderly-in-London-the-7-foor-3.-When-Mayhew-attended-a-casting-call-for-Star-Wars-he-got-the-job-the-moment-he-stood-up-to-shake-Lucass-hand.

Unphased by typecasting, Mayhew continued his career as Chewbacca by making a living from it. He has made numerous appearances as Solo’s furry friend and the 7-foot actor continues to this day.

James Earl Jones

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His iconic voice spans more films than just Star Wars, but perhaps his most well known is that of Darth Vader. Starring in numerous films, his most prolific is perhaps Lion King, as the voice of Mustafa. Earl Jones continues to work in many areas of entertainment to this day, including an appearance on Two and A Half Men.

Anthony Daniels

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The man behind the gold plated cyborg, Daniels’ iconic performance was replicated in all six of the Star Wars films. And he stuck to what he was best at, voicing in numerous Star Wars console games (The Force Unleashed), television series (Droids) and CGI films (The Clone Wars).

Kenny Baker

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As well as Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker is the only actor to appear in all six of the franchise’s films. In a 2011 interview, he informally came out about his friction with Daniels: “He thinks he was the greatest gift to Lucas and I was merely a nobody operating a robot’s controls and didn’t contribute anything from an acting perspective.”

And with these reassuring words from Ford “It’s not in the bag yet, but I think it’s happening” regarding his involvement in the new Star Wars film and also Hamill and Fisher’s returns heavily rumoured, it’s only a matter of time before we see them back on the big screen, fighting the Empire once again. We’ll leave you with a recent interview with Harrison Ford proving that even all these years later there are still a few grudges that were frozen in carbonite along with Han Solo.

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Features

6 Sequels You May Not Have Known Existed

Attack-of-the-Sequels

Sequels are an odd species.

Sometimes they’re stunning, particularly if James Cameron’s involved – any Part 2 he undertakes is generally the epitome of cinematic perfection: case in point, Aliens and The Terminator 2. Others tend to flail and fall by the wayside, doomed for eternal comparison to their far superior originals. Here’s a list of some of the most prominent sequels that vanished into the ether.


1. The Birds 2: Land’s End (1994)

Poster_of_the_movie_The_Birds_IIThis bizarre TV movie was given the green light a full fourteen years after Hitchcock’s death, so it’s unsurprising that it doesn’t hold a candle to the original. The Birds 2 is a notorious train wreck of a movie – note that Alan Smithee is classed as director, as real director Rick Rosenthal evidently deemed it too dire a project to be associated with. Doing its best to deviate from the plot of Part 1, the film tells the story of Biology teacher Ted (Brad Johnson) and his wife May (Chelsea Field), who take their two children to their island summer house to give Ted time to write an important thesis. Similarities to The Shining are abundant up to this point, but lacking any of Kubrick’s artistic flair or Hitchcock’s ability to build tension and fear out of the frankly dopey premise of killer birds. Ultimately, when the birds do start attacking the cast, it’s a welcome distraction from the consistently clunky dialogue and wonky acting. Most absurd is the town mayor’s persistent denial that the waves of attacks have been caused by birds at all: surely the peck marks and wing-shaped bruises would give it away?

Tippi Hedren makes an appearance, this time as Helen rather than Melanie, though she too publicly denounced the flick. “It’s absolutely horrible,” she told interviewers after its release, “it embarrasses me horribly.” It’s no wonder no one’s heard of it, then, when even its stars are pretending it doesn’t exist.

2. S. Darko (2008)

s-darkoAn indirect sequel to Richard Kelly’s 2001 cult hit Donnie Darko, S. Darko sees Donnie’s little sister Samantha (Daveigh Chase) plagued by sinister visions and creepy bunnies on a road trip to California. Whilst this film admirably stuck to the original’s low budget, it lamentably abandoned its intelligence, ultimately winding up being weird for the sake of weird. Critics lambasted its muddled storyline and superficial dialogue – “The world is going to end!” yells One Tree Hill’s James Lafferty. Chase’s acting is a highlight, but all she does is stand out against a cast of drab co-stars, including Saved By The Bell’s Elizabeth Berkley, which seems a peculiar casting choice, given how perky all the teenagers in that nostalgia-soaked show always were compared to the ample insecurities of Donnie. Worst of all, the intriguing insight into teen angst that Part 1 did so perfectly seems to have been discarded in favour of quirky CGI, and consequently the absence of both Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal is sorely felt.

The film is also notable for its utterly bizarre marketing strategy, in that prior to its release, the film’s PR company uploaded a video to YouTube of faux surveillance footage depicting a child being crushed by a dumpster falling from the sky. Whilst dying children are rarely an effective way to promote a film, the footage was so obviously fake that no one suspected its authenticity for a second. The Comments board on the YouTube page speaks for itself.

3. Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976)

db_5855It’s safe to say that Rosemary’s Baby didn’t need a sequel. Roman Polanski’s horror masterpiece left its most disturbing scene for the last ten minutes, creating a supremely creepy and ambiguous ending for its audience to mull over for weeks after viewing. By the time the chance to direct a sequel rolled around, Polanski had moved on to bigger things, but Ira Levin (writer of the original novel) was evidently eager to continue milking the cash cow, and serves as co-scriptwriter on this subpar follow-up. Based on Levin’s own novel Son of Rosemary, the film depicts the life of Adrian, Rosemary’s son, picking up eight years after the events of Part 1 and sticking with him as he gets adopted by the madam of a Southern brothel until the birth of a child of his own. Ruth Gordon returns as Minnie (the role that won her an Oscar in 1969) but even she can’t redeem this lavish descent into hokey ritual and bizarre mime acts. Whereas the first film preyed on the disturbing idea of satanic forces invading the family unit, compelling us to question the haunting prospect of how much we can really trust our loved ones, the second one is never really sure what it wants to say, or how it wants to scare us. Fans of Part 1 should avoid at all costs.

 

4. Ace Ventura Jr: Pet Detective (2009)

Ace_Ventura_Jr_Detective_de_Mascotas-174747570-largeAnother direct-to-DVD sequel: not a horror film this time – though it may as well be. Ace Ventura 3 stars young Josh Flitter as Ace’s son, forced to step into his father’s shoes when his mother is wrongly arrested for stealing a panda. (You read that right.)

Whilst the two original Ace Ventura flicks were smash hits for the ‘90s and gave Jim Carrey a role that fit him “like a glove,” this one struggles – and fails – to compete in any capacity. Carrey doesn’t show up in this, though Flitter has evidently watched the first two films on a loop to master his impersonation. As a result, it’s a bit like watching those “junior” spinoffs of popular cartoons (Disney Babies, Muppet Babies) which were always fairly weird and extremely pointless.

Under-10s may enjoy it, but judging by the YouTube comments on the film’s trailer page, including “Why is this a thing?” and “Kill it before it lays eggs,” this clearly isn’t the crowd-pleaser it intends to be. Which, again, is probably why it’s disappeared without trace.

 

5. The Sting 2 (1983)

the-sting-2-movie-poster-1983-1020248549The first and only film on our list to be nominated for an Oscar – or for anything – and to actually be any good.

The sequel to 1973 classic The Sting, The Sting 2 picks up on Gondorff and Hooker as they attempt to scam “Countess Veronique” (aka Phoebe from Friends’ mum). Confusingly, certain aspects of the original have been altered for apparently no reason: Henry Gondorff has been renamed “Fargo,” whilst Johnny Hooker is now Jake Hooker and has a background in boxing, and Newman and Redford’s absence is sadly all-too-blatant.

Given the explosive success of Part 1 (seven Oscars including Best Picture, nominated for an additional three, and a profit of over $150 million), you can’t blame them for trying, and whilst this does feel a little Ocean’s Twelve in parts, it’s not abysmal. Fingers crossed, however, that this will never be a trilogy.

 

 

6. I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)

Ill-Always-Know-What-You-Did-Last-Summer_341c098aPart Three of the infamous franchise could opt to take the story to an entirely new realm. It could have Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze Jr. raising their young son in the suburbs, only to have the hook-wielding fisherman reappear to cause havoc for Freddie Prinze Jr. Jr. and family. It could. But it doesn’t. Instead, the premise treads almost identical territory as Part 1, producing what can only be labelled a remake with none of the original’s teen heartthrob cast or its kitschy charm.

It’s predictable, but a shame, that none of the original cast make an appearance. At least the Final Destination franchise kept Ali Larter billowing about for as long as credible storytelling would permit. And can’t you just envisage Jennifer L.H. cropping up as a Wise Old Owl character, living alone in the woods or babbling away in a mental asylum, warning the new young cast of their impending doom? But she doesn’t. Equally strange is how the characters seem entirely aware of the events of the first film, but never choose to question how bizarre it is that history’s repeating itself. If you’re a fan of the first one, you may as well just re-watch it, if only for the nostalgia factor, and for the fact that it was made when direct-to-DVD horror was thankfully rare.


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Short Film

A Short Mission #1: Dr. Easy

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Welcome to the very first of (hopefully) many short film showcases here on Cinema Chords, and we’re kick things of in humungous proportions, as we take a look at Dr. Easy. This is a short film from Shynola, primarily a music video company aiming to branch and expand out of that. It was released by Film 4/Warp Films just a few months back, and had us in awe the first time we saw it following the global release on Twitter.

Dr. Easy places us outside a house presumably in London, with the road littered with police demanding a man inside step down. We see numerous personnel, armed to the teeth. A skinny android unfolds from a small port in a van, and begins to move, it’s holographic face glowing with surging blue light. It ascends the stairs and scans its surroundings before reaching the top floor where the subject stands. We see a man, Michael Sawyer, holding a shotgun. He’s bleeding profusely from the mouth and can’t talk due to a police sniper wound, and seems very distressed. Dr. Easy treats him attentively with a local anaesthetic, before realising what Michael’s intention is. We can only helplessly stare at Michael’s fate as it unfolds, as we see a glimpse of humanity in the robot’s cold display.

Obviously the first praise goes to Dr. Easy, and it’s empathetic voice by Geraldine Jones. It seems so robotic and cold at first, with its gangly frame and garish structure, but the voice and motion goes to personify it as human. By the end of the very brief time frame of 9 minutes, you will almost certainly feel empathy for the machine. The pacing of Dr. Easy is timed to a tee, and manages to build such tension and suspense which is almost impossible for such a short film. From climbing the stairs, analysing it’s environment, and pleading for Michael to surrender. Each step it pulse-pounding, building to a shocking crescendo as the short climaxes.

We can’t recommend Dr. Easy enough. I hope you enjoyed watching it, and I certainly look forward to seeing more of what Shynola can do.

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FeaturesMovie Lists

10 Sequels That Just Weren’t Meant To Be

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There are so many films we all dream will get the sequel treatment but then there are so many we just can’t for a reason understand why they made one, let alone two or three.

Here is the definitive list of sequels which were nearly but never came into existence, ranging from the ‘that needed to be completed’ to the ‘thank you universe for not letting that happen’.


1: Superman Lives

tumblr_inline_mk12s07jd11qz4rgpA reboot of the franchise in the ‘90s, which was to be directed by Tim Burton and written by Kevin Smith. Who was going to be Superman? None other than Nicholas Cage.

The movie would have been an adaptation of “The Death of Superman” storyline from the comics.

Should it have happened?

Judging by what Tim Burton did to the Batman films, a categorical no. And Cage as Clark Kent is just wrong. So, so wrong.


2: Mrs Doubtfire 2

Senora_Doubtfire_Papa_De_Por_Vida-Interior_FrontalAlthough the intention was there, Robin Williams claims that it simply couldn’t be written: the plot couldn’t really go anywhere now that her true identify was revealed.

Should it have happened?

Even though Mrs. Doubtfire was a fresh and funny approach to comedy and is still Williams’ highest grossing film, a sequel would have just seemed like a plug to make more money, therefore probably lacking in originality.


3: Unnamed 4th Spiderman

TOBEY_MAGUIRE_SPIDERMANA film that looked into Peter Parker’s school life. Tobey McGuire quit after reading the script and Sam Raimi was never involved.

Should it have happened?

If Raimi and McGuire were up for another one, as the franchise was a great addition to the superhero genre, it would have been welcomed. But without those two, Spiderman 4 would have been absolutely implausible.


4: Napoleon Dynamite 2

20060718_napoleon_dynamite_2Nothing was confirmed and it is still uncertain how far the project went, but, in 2006 Efren Ramirez, Pedro, told a radio station he was in talks about a sequel. Whilst an animated spin-off series was aired with the entire original cast returning to reprise their roles in January, 2012 it was as soon as May of that same year the Fox announced their decision to cancel said series.

Should it have happened?

Heck yes!


5: ET 2: Nocturnal fears

Drew-Struzan-etA very weird, disturbing proposed sequel involving E.T’s fellow alien chums coming down to earth and torturing Elliot for information about where the little brown guy went. E.T. turns up at the end and takes the kids away to safety. Spielberg later decided it wouldn’t fit in with the original (cant see why).

Should it have happened?

Maybe a sequel involving E.T. would have been a good idea, but one with echoing screams of children in the middle of a forest? I’m not so keen.


6: Matrix 4

am_6_4354462_421079What nearly happened?

It had been rumoured for years and still is and after the Wachowskis had a law suit filed against them for $300 million, accusing them of stealing the idea to numbers 2 and 3, perhaps this will never happen.

Should it have happened?

The Matrix was a classic, but the subsequent sequels were getting worse. Perhaps it would have been good, but with no plot details we will never know.


7: Forrest 2: Gump and Co.

forrest-gump-frases-celebresAfter the massive success of the first Gump film, script writer Eric Roth set to work on another movie in which Forrest makes more cameo appearances in certain historical scenes such as the taking down of the Berlin wall, dancing with Diana and strangely, helping O.J. Simpson escape from the police. This is the kind of stuff you might be able to get away with pre 9/11, but as the script was turned in literally on the 10th of September 2001, it was deemed a no-go. Roth said to slashfilm.com: “We don’t think this is relevant anymore. The world had changed [after 9/11].”

Should it have happened?

It simply wouldn’t have been the same and the thought of seeing Gump help O.J. escape destroys all the warm feelings we have towards Forrest.


8: Gladiator 2: Christ Killer

20090506_nickgladiator_560x335Russell Crowe asked singer-turned-actor Nick Cave to write a sequel to the film, already with the whole plot set out. Cave, according to Yahoo!, described the plot as follows: “The gods are dying so they send Gladiator back to kill Christ and his followers.” In doing so, he becomes an eternal warrior but has to kill someone who ends up being his son.

Very much in keeping with the original, it seems that Crowe was the driving force behind this, but it fell at the first hurdle, rejected by the studio. What a shame.

Should it have happened?

In no way, shape or form. Another case of a classic movie having a proposed sequel simply because the original was popular. A bit like E.T. 2 in the way that it wouldn’t have fit in with the first film.


9: Lord of the Rings (Beatles Style)

BEATLES-LOTRNot the actual title and not really a sequel, the Beatles wanted to make a film adaptation of the legendary book series by Tolkien. Ringo was to be Sam, Lennon to be Gollum, McCartney to be Frodo and George to be Gandalf. With Stanley Kubrick up for the film, unfortunately Tolkien owned the film rights and wasn’t so keen.

Should it have happened?

Erm, yes. John Lennon as Gollum would have been a sight to see.

“Our life together is so precious together…”


10: Batman v Godzilla

bvgartA follow-up to King-Kong vs Godzilla, a chap named Shinichi Sckizawa proposed the idea of Batman and Robin, with the help of Batgirl, facing the giant lizard in a truly epic battle. In an attempt to emulate the success of the crossover of the gorilla and lizard, Sckizawa’s idea never got that far and not even a script was written.

Should it have happened?

With films out there like The Love Guru and Disaster Movie, why on earth was this film not made? Batman and Godzilla is a combination to die for and this film would have been an instant cult classic.


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Cult Cinema

Guilty Treasures: 1969’s Easy Rider

Easy-Rider
Road movies are certainly the most simplistic of movies. Generally appealing to a certain type of film lover, movies with long stretches of road with fast racing vehicles have never been overly complex. Many just enjoy the view, the sentiment and those obsessed with anything with an engine can appreciate the love of cruising around countries.

Easy Rider, despite its box office success and influence, will always be considered a cult classic because it took this effortless plot, threw in copious amounts of drugs and set it loose on a journey of freedom and ideals.

Directed by and starring Dennis Hopper, alongside Peter Fonda, Easy Rider was filmed back in 1969. It follows the adventures of Billy and “Captain America” as they chug from Los Angeles across the back roads of the U.S.A. Along the way, they ingest copious amounts of alcohol and illegal drugs, meet a whole host of friendly characters, encounter hostile ones and ultimately enjoy their freedom. Supported with a great soundtrack from Steppenwolf (because Born to the Wild is one of the most iconic songs here) to Bob Dylan and a wavering hippy ideology, Easy Rider has become a send up of everything the late sixties embodied.

Easy Rider boasts some terrific performances and directing. Despite the fact that director and star Hopper was out of his mind for most of the shoot, he still elicits some seriously provoking moments. One particular moment, in a church in St. Louis is a head trip. High on whatever drugs they can find, Billy and Captain find prostitutes and run amok on the sacred ground. If you have seen any movie with drugs, you’ll know that what follows is essentially a series of crazy but haunting images in a graveyard. But this is cut with an on-point Fonda as high Captain speaking to a statue as if it were his mother. It is one of the many improvised moments that Hopper induced, making Fonda speak to his real-life mother who had committed suicide. Hopper, as temperamental and drugged as he may have been, still managed to craft an impacting movie that sent up and tore down the ideals of a free America.

easy-rider-shotMany will remember Easy Rider for launching star Jack Nicholson into his career. Sure, you follow a loose story about drinking, friendship, campfire chats and awesome bikes. But when they meet Nicholson’s George Hanson, the film begins to ooze with charisma. Nicholson’s engaging personality as the alcoholic Hanson pushes a movie that could easily have become tiresome and boring. And, despite his short screen time, Nicholson is the one that audiences remember the most.

Easy Rider is ironic in the fact that as much as it is about the freedom of the Sixties “hippy culture,” it set about the downfall or certainly, the discouragement of that era. Hopper’s piece is formulated well though and although he was tyrant to his crew and harboured designs for a three hour long epic, those who survived managed to salvage the movie into the status it is now. It transitions through the drug-addled scenes with cutting and choppy realism whilst panning on the driving scenes; using cinematography to capture realism. It stretches, winds, stalls and speeds.

Easy Rider remains the classic and iconic road movie.

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Features

Spartacus Would Be Proud

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You don’t get ranked fifth on the American Films Institute’s ten greatest epic films for nothing, but is Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece simply an ‘epic’ or does it bear more ideological themes than first expected?

Spartacus is the tale of a slave who manages to guide an army to a revolution against the Roman Empire. Based on a true story, Spartacus is truly a revolutionary symbol; that’s all well and good, but this is was over 2000 years ago, so many assume that this is merely a fantastical tale from the past. But, on closer inspection, it’s not as simple as that.

Released in 1960, Spartacus was distributed at the height of the Cold War. Tensions were high and a revolution was the last thing on both the American and Soviet’s wish lists. Make no bones about it, the film was never going to be a catalyst for a revolution, but, in its own subtle way, the film and its creators managed to defy the American government. For example, Kirk Douglas, the actor who plays Spartacus, co-produced the film through his own company, Bryan Productions. Infamously, with the American government on high alert of a communist invasion, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) publically expelled and humiliated ten high-profiled directors and screenwriters, blacklisting them from the entertainment industry. The punishment was so severe for these so-called communist sympathisers that some were sent to prison. This was a farcical and exaggerated procedure as many of their public trials were based on little proof; some simply declined to answer, expressing they did not have to, and they were branded dangerous.

Kirk Douglas, in true Spartacus style, employed a blacklisted screenwriter in Dalton Trumbo to adapt the film. Douglas also hired blacklisted actor Peter Brocco, proving that he strongly disapproved of the government’s actions. Douglas also made sure Spartacus had deep roots in religious grounds. He wanted the story to mirror the story of the Jewish people, as he was a devoted Zionist. This caused a few problems, as screenwriter Trumbo, was more interested in making it a comment on the modern-day politics regarding the Cold War, understandably after his denouncement. Once again, this film openly opposed the government: not only did it employ blacklisted ‘Soviet sympathisers’, the film openly signifies the struggle of the Cold War.

Another way that Spartacus ruffled a few feathers is through explicit dialogue within the film. In the scene where Gracchus is found guilty of helping the revolt against Rome, Crassus (Laurence Olivier) says, “In every city and province, the list of the disloyal have been compiled.” This clear jab, by Trumbo, at the watchdogs is perhaps not so subtle, but neither were the methods of the HUAC. This is made even more poignant for the fact that, at the time of filming, the blacklisting was still on going. Evidently, Hollywood took note: both Hedda Hopper and John Wayne expressed their distaste for the film, condemning it as “Marxist propaganda” prior to its release. Showing their clear right-wing views, these Hollywood legends recognised the anti-governmental messages in Spartacus.

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But what is Spartacus about? Revolution through violence? A humiliation of authority? The ultimate underdog story? Love, explains Douglas: “Love predominates all through the movie: love between Spartacus and Varinia, love among the men; the whole revolt was based on a love of freedom, a love of humanity.” There is no doubt Spartacus is a truly inspiring story, which is wonderfully told by Kubrick. Although the theme of love is predominant, it did cause some controversy with its strong political undertones: the use of blacklisted screenwriters and actors, the explicit jabs at authority and the religious symbolism shows that this film was just as hard-hitting in the 1960s as Douglas’ character was in 60BC. Spartacus would be proud.


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Features

The Keys to Successful Low-Budget Filmmaking

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Their name is Lumiére, and they have just invented what will become one of the most revolutionary technological inventions of the 20th century – the motion picture camera. Their invention was an incredible leap for its generation; to be able to capture movement, and not just a single moment in time, was unprecedented.

In 1895, the Lumiére’s invited people along to a private screening of ten films shot using their patented ‘Cinématographe’, later taking their device and films on tour with them all around the world. Innovators and entrepreneurs descended on the new artistic platform leading to a global boom in motion pictures.

Just like all technology, production costs began to drop, size and weights of equipment began to shrink, and new inventions and advances in sound and colour technology helped revolutionise how films were created.

As the technology advanced, so did people’s understanding of it. This resulted in ‘film’ being viewed as an art form, instead of mere novelty. Early theorists such as Lev Kuleshov and Sergei Eisenstein evaluated film as an art, creating ideas which have since become so crucial and influential to the creation of films.

It would be almost inconceivable to these original innovators that 1.08 billion people would have the ability to create a motion picture with gadgets right in their back pocket. The smart phone has transformed the way that we look at ‘film’, the way we can create, edit and share it with barely any boundaries or limitations, and to a worldwide audience in seconds.

This model is paralleled by DSLR, handheld and video cameras that have all increased in quality and reduced in size and cost. This has given the green light for ‘low-cost films’ to reach successful dramatic release; The Blair Witch Project cost $60,000. Paranormal Activity cost $15,000. El Mariachi cost $7,000. The list continues, and with the continued advances in technology, it will continue to grow.

However, has this liberation led to a decrease in quality?

Every minute, over 100 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube. There were over 45,000 unique titles submitted to Withoutabox (an online film festival submission website) in 2010. But how many of these are actually of any worth?

It’s no lie; film has not been perfect since its creation. There have been huge flops whether that is critically or in the box office. But the sheer quantity of film has increased massively in recent years, and through a gigantic rise in visual media such as cable/satellite TV, smart phones, tablets, social media websites and video hosting websites, we are given access to almost anything we want.

urlNevertheless, some of these crappy cheap flicks strike lucky and reach cult status. Birdemic, for example, directed by James Nguyen was made for $6,000 and has become infamous in the movie world. Despite its nauseating CGI, awful acting and disastrous directing, it paved the way for Nguyen to obtain funding for Birdemic 2 and the intriguingly titled Peephole, the Perverted.

It’s not all bad news for low budget films, with Kevin Smith’s Clerks being a prime example. Made on what is considered to be a shoestring budget of around $27,000, Smith worked in the shop he filmed in to raise money for the movie, maxed out ten credit cards and was forced to use black and white film to reduce the cost. However, Miramax picked up the film after a screening at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was given another $230,000 for post production and distribution. The film went on to make $3,151,130 at the Box Office. As it turned out, Smith had a talent for screenwriting and directing, moving on to be a success in Hollywood.

Smith had a dream, he had a script, and he had the drive, and he found success. That is a model that all wannabe film makers urge to imitate, but often do not. Even with an incredible technical emancipation, talent and luck need to be present too.

The huge quantity of unique titles being submitted to Withoutabox does not necessarily reflect the quality, and only a small percentage will actually go on to win anything.

Where film makers have triumphed is in simplicity. Look, for example, at the amazing success of Paranormal Activity, made for only $15,000 and grossing over $100,000,000. One reason credited to Paranormal Activity’s achievements was its marketing campaign. Paramount’s co-president of marketing, Josh Greenstein, said:

“…we didn’t want to show your usual kind of scenes and cutting-style horror movies have been using. We wanted to use an experiential sell to help dictate how and where it rolled out to the consumer.”

The modern day audience is unconsciously sophisticated. In other words, we have become accustomed to superb quality VFX, HD quality viewing and the over-used viral marketing technique. Paranormal was never marketed as a ‘found footage’ type movie, like the Blair Witch Project, but instead as fiction. The film was made to scare, not for the audience to question its reality.  It also understood that one’s imagination is far superior to whatever VFX can create. We never see the demon in Paranormal, and it’s that very key factor that terrifies us.

So is simplicity the key to a successful low budget film?

It seems that even with what turned out to be hugely popular films, it was the marketing of them that eventually lead to their success, regardless of how strong the idea was. Hollywood blockbusters often have multi-million dollar marketing budgets, and no independent film can match that.

It seems that even with a modern liberation of film production, without a healthy dosage of talent and luck, you’re not going to have the next Reservoir Dogs. But that is no reason to stop making films. As the late and great Stanley Kubrick said “If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.”


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