No. It doesn’t. Now you can move on with your life.
Seriously though, apart from the curious case of Matt Damon not being able to refrain from speaking (yet again), the release of Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater (find my review here) was accompanied by quite a controversy. After Vanity Fair published a piece in which McCarthy admitted that the story was loosely inspired by the case of Amanda Knox, who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a murder of a fellow student when she was studying in Italy, the entirety of the discourse surrounding the film – such as it was – coalesced around this affair.
Tell me, when you go to a restaurant, are you overwhelmed by the menu? Do you have a sudden urge to order every single starter, main and dessert to make sure you know what everything the restaurant has to offer looks like, smells like and tastes like? Or do you sit down, consider what you’d like to eat and make a conscious decision?
WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for M. Night Shyamalan’s Old
It took me longer than I would like to admit to come up with a title to this text that wouldn’t immediately ruin the film for anyone who has not seen Old yet. And although I think did a good enough job in remaining slightly vague while still making sure the title corresponds to what I wanted to touch on, something tells me (based on the dwindling conversation surrounding the film and the negative word-of-mouth extinguishing the film’s presence in the zeitgeist) that there aren’t many people left in the world who would care that much anyway.
There’s no debate: the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world. It almost feels like an eternity ago when we didn’t have to worry about maintaining personal space, wearing face coverings, self-isolating and everything else that has since become a staple of our existence. I think it is undeniable that we are living through a paradigm-shifting event of gargantuan proportions and imposing momentum that we have no frame of reference for. And as we are slowly getting used to the new reality, we have to understand that some of the things that used to be the norm are gone forever.
If you ask any young boy who he wants to be when he grows up, you will hear ‘an astronaut’, ‘a rocket scientist’, ‘a professional footballer’, ‘a pilot’. I suppose a correction for Gen-Alpha should be made by adding ‘a youtuber’ and ‘an influencer’ to the pool of answers, but the general theme surrounding the answers to such a fundamental question is achievement. Boys are told to succeed from the minute they become mobile. “Sure, you can do it”, they hear when they are about to take their first steps. “You’re a real champ. you’re are real pro, Billy”, a boy will hear after kicking a ball, and it doesn’t matter if he’s really showing promise or not. What matters is setting little Billy on a path to success. Now Billy knows he not only wants to be an astronaut or a pro wrestler, but he is convinced it is an achievable goal.
Although it is completely coincidental, I find it uncanny and extremely interesting to me as a film lover that just after we recorded a new episode of The Uncut Gems Podcast (coming to your ears very soon) on Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the man himself spent a weekend doing the talk show rounds and he ended up appearing on a bunch of podcasts to boot. As a result, our own discussion, which invariably touched on the Weinstein scandal, Uma Thurman’s crash and much more, has been given an interesting new context, ex post facto as it may be.
I didn’t grow up with Paddington. I come from a different cultural background, so nobody ever read these books to me, nor did I have a personal stuffed rendition of this apparent icon to sleep with as a child. And even though I have resided in the UK for long enough to become aware of Paddington’s existence in the cultural sphere, I’d like to say that I was going to watch Paddington and Paddington 2 relatively unbiased.
As I have been busy working on a piece about Zack Snyder’s Justice League (which hopefully you’ll be able to see over at CLAPPER at some point), I have inadvertently found myself following down the rabbit hole of fan theories, interview snippets, off-handed comments posted on social media by people associated with the production and a whole lot more pointing out just how much of a mess it was at the time. And still remains to this day, to be completely frank.
It’s an open secret that WB has been completely mistreating its DC properties for a number of years now and – with a few notable exceptions – their output in this department has not been well-received at all. And a good chunk of the reason why that might be could be associated with the studio’s ambition to create their own version of what Disney/Marvel have: a self-sustaining cinematic universe which generates continuous high profit and ensures a devoted fanbase. However, they have not been able to make it happen (and they likely won’t be, at this point). I have touched upon this when I appeared recently on ClapperCast, but I think this point is worth reiterating: WB is operating using a combination of force feedback and looking at Marvel’s endgame position (pun not intended), which basically means they willingly and knowingly put themselves in a position of playing catch-up with their competition.
This may also have something to do with the way they have historically allowed filmmakers associated with DC-related properties (Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, Christopher Nolan) a fair degree of creative freedom and control over these projects, which arguably yielded net positive results. To this day Tim Burton’s Batman movies are loved by many, while Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy has been considered iconic by the vast majority of fans. In fact, It was Nolan’s take on the DC universe that shaped the initial guise of what the DC cinematic universe was supposed to look like. There is a reason why Man of Steel looks the way it looks and that Zack Snyder was considered a perfect fit to formulate the artistic toolbox for any future films within this universe. WB moguls explicitly wanted (a) to capitalize on the clout generated by Nolan’s movies and (b) to differentiate themselves from Marvel, who were already cashing in on their painstaking and financially risky strategy of building up towards the Avengers tentpole in 2012. In contrast to Marvel, who were driven by their own long-term vision, WB was basing their entire strategy around a reactionary postulate of being not like them.
After Man of Steel brought satisfactory financial results and generated a considerable fan appeal, I distinctly remember the studio was vindicated in their strategy of differentiation and went on record as stating that any future DC movies would be dark, gritty and serious. This coincided with them giving Snyder a bit more freedom to do ‘his thing’, which is exactly what happened after Burton’s Batman became a hit and WB allowed him to go nuts with Batman Returns. This partially explains why the follow-up BvS became what it became: more stylized, denser and more messy (though somewhat loveable). Now, I don’t want this to turn into a historical account of how WB has conducted itself, though some of it may feature in that other piece I am working on, but I do want to point out what happened next. Because BvS was poorly received, WB moguls immediately changed tack and imposed drastic changes in their upcoming features currently in production: Justice League and Suicide Squad, a yet another example of reactionary thinking dictated by nothing more than short-term crisis management as opposed to calculated long-term strategic planning.
Da liegt der Hund begraben, as Germans would say. This is where the problem is. Although I have never considered myself a fan of what Marvel is doing with their idea of terraforming the blockbuster landscape, it has to be acknowledged that what they are doing is clearly working and generates immense profits. And it is most likely thanks to their central planning. Kevin Feige doesn’t hire directors and screenwriters to allow them any latitude to ‘do their thing’. He hires them to do a job and execute on the overarching vision which has been pre-planned, pre-written, and pre-visualised. There is very little room for individuality in the marvel blob (you can read more about it in my piece on WandaVision here) which is a philosophy big studios used to adopt prior to the New Hollywood era. They oversaw their project and retained the last word on anything, which is exactly what Marvel is doing now.
On the other hand, what happens in WB looks completely different because the studio would like to generate the same results while still leading their filmmakers to believe they have something to say about the direction of the projects they are hired to helm. However, when their approach doesn’t seem to work, they blatantly interfere. They don’t oversee. They meddle. Naturally, they probably have every right to do so, as I would imagine the contracts they sign with filmmakers are structured in such a way that allows them to step in at any point in time. Unfortunately, they do not have the CCP-esque three-decade plan that Marvel has, so when they do end up stepping in, they behave like a bull in a china shop. And that’s why we are here now with two Justice League films out there, David Ayer openly complaining his movie was taken away from him, Cathy Yan admitting she was locked out of the editing room and Wonder Woman 1984 looking like an ersatz Marvel production with its tacked-on sense of humour.
At this point it’s probably a good idea to ask yourself what you like more: a unified army of clones controlled by the iron fist of an autocratic studio oversight, or a colourful cacophony of styles resulting from a band of misfits being brought together under a collective umbrella of working towards the same goal. I personally prefer the latter even at the cost of the DC universe never materializing into a coherent vision capable of sustaining an overarching narrative stretched over a dozen movies. And I would like for WB to stop meddling with their projects or at least refrain from doing so until they formulate a vision for what they want to achieve. Though, at this point – judging how Zack Snyder’s Justice League performs vis-à-vis the theatrical cut, the fans would rather have the filmmakers at the helm instead.
I’ll be honest here: I have been gearing up to write on the subject of film criticism for a long while now. Sadly, finding motivation to sit down and write is a challenge for me these days. In fact, I wanted to write an article on this subject (my problems with motivation) as well, but – ironically enough – I can’t motivate myself to write it. But that’s a topic for a different day.
I’ll be honest: I was half-heartedly thinking about writing a short summary of upcoming 2021 releases I am excited about the most, but it is a bit of a doomed endeavour. Nobody knows what the release slate will look like or when (if?) cinemas reopen worldwide at some point in the year. It’s all a bit of a mess especially when you factor in the differences between release calendars on various streaming services that may not be available everywhere. So I am not exactly sure when and how I will be able to see Dune or any other WB release, let alone smaller indie productions some of which might get lost in the shuffle only to reappear months later on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I still have no idea if and when I will be able to see Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow and it breaks my heart. But alas…