2015 – A Lookback on the Past Year (part one)

Another year has passed us by, and it seems every movie critic and website is posting top/bottom 10 lists. Now, I’ve stated before (back at HERE  for example) I don’t truck with that ‘top list’ mentality. So, like last year, I’m going to go for a general look back at the year in films in some kind of loose groupings – some serious, some silly.

2015 promised much, but delivered little. The so called “amazing year of film” turned out to be a tad average overall, but in amongst it all there were some gems that stood out. Let’s kick off with my pick for:

Film of the Year

WHIPLASH

Now, let me clear something up. I know I don’t do top lists, but some folk have asked me how I can therefore have a ‘film of the year’ (which they, understandably, think means ‘best film of the year’). Well, let me clarify – my ‘film of the year’ always goes to the film which struck me, and impacted on me the most. It may not be better than other films, but something in the film resonated with me, and thus it is classed as a film which I believe everyone should see. There were a host of really strong contenders for this spot this year, especially from The Martian, Steve Jobs, and from Birdman, but Whiplash is just such a powerful tour de force that it is the film that, to me, defines 2015.

Not my tempo!

“Okay, after me, one two three… Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum!”

At the base level, Whiplash is a film about a drummer and his battle of wills with his tutor. On paper, that basic description sounds like one of the most boring concepts ever, but the skill with which the film draws you in, and makes you care very early on is staggering. The performances by Miles Teller (who shall resurface later in this article for totally different reasons) and the ever stellar JK Simmons crackle with electric intensity, aided by a well written script, and some dark humour. Whether or not this film is ‘your tempo’ it is hard to deny that all the elements involved are well realised.

Bridman would be a close second choice for the stylistic manner in which the film was presented. A fake single-take element to make the film feel like a stage play about a film about a stage play (if you have seen it, you will know what I mean) makes for a remarkable viewing experience, and Michael Keaton is on fine form in the lead role.

The ‘What the hell went wrong’ Award

Okay, let’s get the Miles Teller mention out the way early on. How on earth did Fantastic Four go so wrong (and I’d like to point out that I’m not going to go the childish route that some folk have gone and mock the Fant4stic logo, claiming it isn’t something Marvel would have done, becasue…well…look at the pic of one of the issues of the comics from a few years back).

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Wow! Look at how Marvel would never do anything so silly with the title of the comic!

I know it is cool to mock the previous FF films (by Tim Story), but I’ve got a soft spot for them. Whilst both films are flawed, they have the tone of the comics right, with a cosmic whimsy and family dynamic that works. The first film suffered by being an origin story with multiple characters, whilst the second suffered by not having a strong payoff in the final act (I don’t have a problem with ‘Galactus-cloud’ but more in the way the world devourer didn’t feel much of a threat overall). However when Josh Trank was attached to the reboot, I was excited. Having seen what he could do with a small budget on Chronicle, I was optimistic to see what he would make of the FF, which I must make clear that I have adored in comics since I was a wee little boy (it was the first Marvel comic bought for me as a kid, and what introduced me to my love of superheroes). The cast were announced, and there were some damn good names in there. Yes, they were ‘young’ but I understood this was a film inspired by Mark Miller’s Ultimate Fantastic Four series (which the initial trailers confirmed), so was happy to see decent actors attached (I’m not going to even bother tackling the race issue – it wasn’t an issue). When the film came out, Trank was quick to disown it on Twitter.

The film started off promising, with the first 20 minutes being a decent introduction to the characters, especially the friendship between Ben and Reed. The cast show their strengths early on, and Miles Teller and Jamie Bell convince as long time friends. But then they get their powers, the film flips ahead in time, and it all goes so…erm…studio controlled. You can genuinely see the point at which the studio lost the faith in the director, and made copious changes. Stories of on set struggles, and re-shoots without Trank add fuel to the fire, and the end result is a film which rapidly descends into a garbled mess by the final act – one which, I may add, seems tacked on and doesn’t seem to match any of the trailers or promo materials.

Making the FF a ‘dark film’ in the vein of Fox’s X-Men franchise was a serious mis-step. The FF have adventures in space, and in the microverse, as well as through time. They should never be ‘dark’ in nature. After the film came out, Fox were insistent that they were still making sequels, but everything has gone quiet on that front now.

Bubbling under in this category would be Terminator Genysis, but let’s be honest, that was always going to suck.
star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterBest Blockbuster of the Year

What else could it be, other than Star Wars: The Force Awakens? If I need to explain further, then you seriously can’t have seen the film yet (and so I won’t post any spoilers). Fair enough, a lot of the blockbusters have been major disappointments this year, so it didn’t have much competition, but what this film did have was a decade and a half of disappointment to erase the memory of, and prove that there is life in the franchise yet. Whilst the marketing played around the buzz of the old cast returning (and the secrecy of the story), the true surprise was not only that the film was good, but that the old cast weren’t really needed as the new faces were so immensely enjoyable to watch. Yes, the film is pretty much a retread of the original film (in the same manner that Singer’s Superman Returns followed the beats of Donner’s film), isn’t that what we needed to kick-start the franchise? A reminder of what made it so much fun in the first place, and proof that it can still work now.

Since the film came out, Lucas has been whining and moaning about it wherever he can (his most recent moan is that he was kept out of the creative process, and that the film is not original at all – clearly he thinks his Hero’s Journey tale inspired by old Flash Gordon serials was somehow ‘original’). Who cares what he thinks? After all, he wasn’t even responsible for the best of the original trilogy (and he also disliked that film too).

Bubbling under is Mad Max: Fury Road, which leads me to…
The ‘Holy Crap that was Awesome’ Award

Look, Fury Road may be just one long chase scene, and one which sums up as ‘Max Furiosa goes to one place, runs off to another, then goes back the way he she came’ but, wow, what a ride. Two hours of glorious carnage with a plethora of practical effects (and a smattering of CGI, but well positioned), and a cast that, in among the carnage, you get to care about. If you haven’t yet enjoyed the thrill of the film, just stop reading here and go watch it, then come back and be happy that you just sat through two hours of fun.

This was the underdog blockbuster that showed up the big-boys of the Summer. Max may have been a minor character in his own film, but the world in which he rides was fleshed out so well that you didn’t care.

Look, for this character alone, the film kicks ass!

Look, for this character alone, the film kicks ass!

On the flipside…

Biggest Disappointment of 2015

Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to, but we had no reason to doubt that it would be anything other than great. Marvel’s train has been rolling for a few years now, and each time they go for something, people get skeptical, only to be proven wrong when the film arrives. Here we have a great villain from the comic, and the team all re-unite with Joss as director again. But the end result felt too much like it was forced out just to get everyone back together, and unlike the first film was less of an end-act to the ‘phase’ of movies, and more of an extended trailer of the next phase. The menace of Ultron in the trailers was lost

as he became a snark-throwing bland villain. The action set pieces felt too familiar, and the spark was just lost somewhere along the way. It is telling that Ant-Man (which was basically just a rehash of Iron Man) was considered the best Marvel film by many this year – not that Ant-Man isn’t good, quite the opposite, but the point is that something with a new character was better than something with characters we are told we have come to love.

"I've got no script...to hold me down..."

“I’ve got no script…to hold me down…”

Still, it doesn’t stop the excitement for Phase 3 and Black Panther and Doctor Strange, along with Civil War. The Marvel engine may have stumbled a bit, but it hasn’t derailed yet.

The ‘Did I watch the same film as everyone else’ Award

Jurassic World isn’t a bad film, but it seems that everyone saw a different film than me as many herald it as one of the best films of the year! Personally I’d rank it just alongside Jurassic Park 3 as ‘entertaining fodder’ and nothing more. The biggest issue I have with the film is that it relies on your memories of the original film in order to enjoy it. Throughout the film is nods and references the first film, in an attempt to cover up the lacklustre script. “Yeah, but so does Force Awakens, and you liked that!” I hear some of you cry. The difference is, Force Awakens had characters you care about. Here’s a simple test – quickly name 4 new characters from Jurassic World. Okay, make it three. Okay, just tell me the name of one of the kids. Nope? Right, now name 4 new characters from the new Star Wars film. Oh, you reeled off 5 names right off the bat! How come? Oh yeah, because they were well realised characters that you cared about – heck we knew the names of them before the film landed and already cared.

"Hey can we expand that Pratt guy's role out more now he's a big name?  Maybe force a love story in there with Bryce?  Who cares if they have no chemistry?"

“Hey can we expand that Pratt guy’s role out more now he’s a big name? Maybe force a love story in there with Bryce? Who cares if they have no chemistry?”

Jurassic World is just a mess of action sequences thrown together, but actually fails to utilise the peril that it promised. Here we have a fully functioning theme park, packed with guests (despite the film trying to tell us that it is struggling), yet the peril only affects a handful of people until toward the end when one sequence sees random folk being attacked…only for minutes later everyone to be sat at the docks waiting for boats, with no sign of anyone in distress at having seen their loved one killed! Heck, one minor character gets attacked, dropped, and eaten in a manner which you feel is supposed to make you cheer (like audiences did at the accountant on the toilet in the original), despite the only bad thing this character did was try to babysit two annoying brats of kids! Yeah, someone who was assigned to watch over kids is considered a character to ‘hate-kill’.

Nope, Jurassic World isn’t a great film. It’s not as bad as Terminator Genysis (no, seriously, that film was garbage), but it ain’t the amazing return of the franchise many claim it to be.

 
Phew – that’s a fair bit covered already, and I still feel I have more to cover. So, consider this ‘Part One’ of my lookback on 2015, and watch out for ‘Part Two’ soon (where I will look at animations, comedies, pleasant surprises, and the films I am ashamed to have missed).

Release Schedule Fever

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Over the past week Marvel released their updated slate for the next five years, and whilst there were no real surprises at a sequel to Ant-Man and a new Spider-Man film, the internet has gone crazy at the news of 3 unnamed films in 2020.  Pretty much every news source have crafted long winded articles speculating on what three films they will be, ranging from a third Guardians of the Galaxy film, to a third part for Infinity War, and even (oh I wish) a Howard the Duck film.  That’s not forgetting the debunked Fantastic Four theory – although some people still believe a deal was made with Fox as similar debunking was done regarding Spider-Man.  But, with so much page space taken up this week with articles about the three new films, what do we actually know?

Well, simply put, we know nothing.  Zip.  Nada.  Zilch.  All we know is Marvel are releasing 3 films in 2020.  How the heck is that considered news?  They are releasing 2 or 3 films each year over the next 4 years anyway, so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine 3 films in 2020.  Heck, why didn’t they go the whole hog and outline plans for 3 unnamed films in 2021, another 3 in 2022, and then go crazy with 4 in 2023 (after all, they can drop some later if they wish…nobody will miss a film they don’t even know the name of)?

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Look, I'm serious. Just give us a proper Howard film already!

I love Marvel films as much as any other member of Stan’s Merry Marvel Marching Society, but this rush to release ‘plans’ for the next half decade of film slate is getting a tad ridiculous.  If there isn’t any actual news to release, then just don’t release it.  Marvel aren’t the only ones at fault here.  Look at DC/Warner and their ever shifting schedule.  In a race to show they can match Marvel, DC announced a slate of films a couple of years back which included standalone sequels to Man of Steel.  This year the slate was updated, and along with a variety of films moving release dates from one year to the next, now MoS 2 has vanished, and Batman is added to the mix.  In fact the DC slate changes so often that the only definite thing so far is Suicide Squad and BvS next year.

You may argue that these long term announcements with no real detail creates a buzz, and generates excitement, but does it really?  Seriously,  you know something is coming out in 5 years but don’t know what.  Speculate all you like about it being a New Universe spin off, or Secret Wars 1, 2 and 3 filmed back to back, but all that will happen is that when it is revealed to be Iron Man Armour Wars, Planet Hulk, and another Thor film, you will just feel a bit daft for having gotten giddy about wild speculation.

Let’s focus on the actual films in production, not the flights of fancy from an undetermined future.

Daniel Craig Hates Being Bond (or how the Internet blows something out of context)

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Earlier this week Time Out published their interview with Daniel Craig, the star of the upcoming Bond film, Spectre.  In the days since the article was posted, the story has grown from being a simple interview, to Craig stating he never wants to play the role again, to him stating he doesn’t care about the character, and now to him saying he’d rather kill himself than be in another Bond film.  The public response to this has been generally a lot of comments about how ungrateful he is, and how he should just sod off then if he hates it so much.  But did he really say he hated the role?

Well, anyone who actually read the interview fully will have seen that it was conducted in July.  Craig had only finished filming for the movie four days earlier, after a gruelling 8 month shooting schedule.  If you know anything about films then you will know that an 8 month schedule is quite extensive.   Now the interview begins by making clear it is early morning, and the actor is knocking back espressos like there is no tomorrow. Here’s a guy who is finally getting a chance to relax after a long shooting schedule. Earlier questions in the interview are responded to with Craig’s usual dry wit and bluntness. Then, the question that every media outlet has focused on over the past few days is rolled out…

Can you imagine doing another Bond movie?
‘Now? I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists. No, not at the moment. Not at all. That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. We’re done. All I want to do is move on.’

Whilst I read that, and imagined a wry smile on the actors face, the junk media has taken it as venomous spite, as though it was yelled in anger, and have clearly missed the other questions about the role and his responses… especially the very next question in the article…

You want to move on from Bond for good?
‘I haven’t given it any thought. For at least a year or two, I just don’t want to think about it. I don’t know what the next step is. I’ve no idea. Not because I’m trying to be cagey. Who the fuck knows? At the moment, we’ve done it. I’m not in discussion with anybody about anything.

It is worth noting that production on Spectre began pretty swiftly after Skyfall, so the series has dominated Craig’s life for a good while now. All he was saying was that he just wants to take some time off, look at other projects (an earlier answer highlighted that the schedule for something like Bond meant he had to turn away other jobs), and doesn’t want to even think about the role for a while. He further goes on in later questions to point out how great it is to be associated with such a character, and how much of an opportunity it is for an actor to be a part of something so important to so many. As he concludes himself in the interview…

You’ve got to push yourself as far as you can. It’s worth it, it’s James Bond.

The reporting of this story by various press outlets this week has highlighted how you should never pay attention to second hand storytelling. As any good historian will tell you, first hand evidence is the important stuff, and any secondary recitals will contain embellishment and must be taken with a hint of skepticism. If you ever read an article that refers to another article, make sure you check out the original article yourself. That way you can see the story in the correct context and not be duped by sloppy reporting.

So, if you haven’t already, check out the full interview at Time Out

Superheroes in Decline?

This past week has seen some reporting on the number of superhero movies that are released each year, all started with a reasonably presented statement by Steven Spielberg in an interview with The Associated Press:-

US-OSCARS-ARRIVALS

“We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western,” said Spielberg. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.”

That’s a perfectly valid point to make. After all, there was indeed a time when the Western genre accounted for the bulk of the film releases in each year, but then grew out of favour, so it is important that the industry recognises that whilst the superhero genre is strong right now, it may decline (particularly if the quality of the films declines, and so audiences move away from it). The Western was pushed aside during the advent of the sci-fi and horror films of the 50s and 60s, with glossy (for the time) effects and main characters who were generally young teens (albeit played by older actors), thus relatable to the core audience of the time. In addition, the rise of awareness of the race issues associated with the Western genre made some of the films quite embarrassing and in reflection caused a re-think of how to present the old frontier legends, and whilst attempt have been made in recent decades to bring it back in films such as Young Guns, Unforgiven, and True Grit, it certainly hasn’t become a major genre again.

Seriously, watch this film – best example of a remake in recent years.

But, you could argue, Superhero films are diverse, with the fantasy sci-fi of Guardians of the Galaxy being significantly different to The Dark Knight in tone and content. Yes, that’s true, but the same could be said of the classic western genre. There were the generic, and somewhat corny westerns, and there were the grittier ones, such as Clint Eastwood’s series of films. However, as stated, the young audiences moved to the sci-fi and horror genres of the time in droves, which is an important factor in the decline. What genre could they move to now, given that most genres are already covered these days, and the days of effects really impressing us so much with something new are generally gone (with the rare exception of films such as The Matrix and Avatar)?

All that aside, Spielberg’s comment has been taken out of context by many, and he is in no way being demeaning to the genre – heck, the guy is a Producer on the Transformers films. No, he is simply proffering a warning to the industry to not anticipate the genre lasting forever, and maybe they should also invest in other ideas and genres too.

Then Emma Thompson weighed in on the debate in an interview with Vulture:-

emma-thompson“I loved the original Superman with Chris Reeve because there was a real tongue-in-cheek-ness to it,but their constant appearance at the theatre is getting old. After a while, you do get a tiny bit cynical about it.
The fact that I know they’re going to win out in the end has now slightly interfered with my continuing to go to those movies. If I see yet another Spider-Man, I’m going to have to actually hang myself.
I can’t do it any-more! They’re all marvellous, but how many times can you make this franchise, for crying out loud?”

It does feel that the final sentence was tacked on when she came to the realisation that she had just managed to alienate her from every major studio – unless, of course, she really thinks they are all marvellous…including Fantastic Four. However, her general statement sums up to, “I hate knowing that everything will work out in the end for the heroes, so am fed up with them!” Okay, that’s fair enough, but isn’t this the same for pretty much any genre of films? Don’t we know, generally, that the boy and girl from opposite sides of life will get together in the end? Don’t we know that the pure, innocent girl will survive the attack by the knife wielding psycho, whilst the highly sexed best friend will be killed in the second act? Don’t we know that the criminal who has evaded those two cops for decades will finally have a showdown with one of them in a one on one fight, and be taken down? To refer to a franchise that Thompson herself was part of, didn’t we know that Harry would win and Voldermort would be defeated? Heck, don’t we know that the rowdy kids that won’t listen to the nanny will eventually be amazed by her magical abilities, and the family will become a perfect unit by the end?

Yes, there are examples in every genre where things don’t go the predictable route, and the hero dies, the killer gets away, and so on – heck, even Amazing Spider-Man 2, which Thompson appears to not be a fan of, kills off the love interest (sorry, it’s a spoiler, but seriously the comic told that story decades ago) – but we watch the bulk of films (particularly the summer blockbuster) for a sense of enjoyment, the thrill of the spectacle, and to see good defeat evil because if we wanted to see evil win all the time we would stay at home and watch the news. The superhero genre is escapism, and a way to believe that all evil can be overcome, delivering us hope in ourselves. That’s why I read comics, and that’s why I watch films – to escape.

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And because of shots like this! Damn, this film was awesome!

If Thompson sees another Spider-Man she is going to actually hang herself? Really? Better get the rope ready then, love, as he’ll be in Civil War next year. Will she follow through with her ‘actual’ claims? I get what she is trying to say, the plethora of Superhero films are dragging her down. You know, there are just so many each year! I mean, this year alone has seen…erm….three released (four if you feel the need to include Kingsman as it came from a comic, but seriously it isn’t the same thing). Last year saw 5 (7 if you include TMNT and Transformers: Age of Ex-Stink-Shun, or 8 if you throw Birdman into the mix). This is a lot, isn’t it. No wonder celebs feel the need to weigh in on the fatigue they feel about it all.

However, this year (2015 for those caught in a timewarp) also sees 19 horror films, 53 comedies, 12 biographies, and 51 dramas, as well as a load of sci fi, thrillers, and documentaries. “But the comedies are all different sub-genres!” I hear some of you cry out. Okay, let’s just use the 7 romantic comedies then (the smallest breakdown of the comedies this year). Looking at those figures the 3 Superhero films don’t seem that excessive, do they? You can’t even argue that they dominate the box office, which makes them take away from other films, as only one (Age of Ultron) resides in the top ten for the year (at number 3).

This won’t be the last we hear of this debate, after all the subject has come up every couple of years since Iron Man hit the screen. Regardless of whether the genre does decline, lets just enjoy the fantasy whilst we have it, and stop trying to predict its failure.

What I learned re-watching the Mad Max films recently.

***Note: I originally intended to post this before the release of Fury Road, but didn’t get round to finishing it.***

With Mad Max Fury Road finally arriving on the big screens over a decade after it was originally intended to be made (and if you still haven’t seen it, then get out and do so now), it seemed an opportune time to revisit the films about Max, the road warrior.  It has been a long while since I last saw any of these films – in fact it was round the release of Beyond Thunderdome, a film so disappointing at the time that it retroactively destroyed all memories of the first two films.  Whilst re watching the trilogy, I began to realise a few things about the series, and why they are so iconic.

1: The first film is the only ‘true’ story of Max
Now, I’m not trying to claim that there really is a road warrior out in the Australian outback, ramming cars into bikes, trucks, and strange men in gyro copters.  No, what I’m saying is that the first film is the only part of the series that is realistic and restrained to some kind of grounded setting.  As the origin story for our protagonist, it is told as is, not via voice over of someone telling the tale.  Grounded in reality it may look cheap at times (hey, it was a low budget film), but it tells  powerful story of a lawman who tries to put his family first, but loses everything and is pushed over the edge.  By the end of the film to all intents and purposes Max has lost his mind and gone off the deep end.  The Mad of the title can be seen not as a word for angry, but for genuine insanity.

2: Kids imaginations are responsible for the bondage-punks style of the villains
Mad Max 2 introduced the , mythical aspect of the road warrior by telling the tale via flashback.  The opening and closing is narrated by an elderly tribe leader, talking about his encounter with the mysterious stranger.  The thing is, as we find out to the end (did I say spoiler alert?), the narrator is the feral boy from the film, a primitive character who was quite clearly a disturbed young child (he had a bladed boomerang – that’s not normal).  The story he is telling is quite clearly exaggerated by his childhood memories, and likely enhanced to make for a better story.  So, the good guys dress in white (or cream colours), the bad guys have weird masks, spiked leather bondage clothes, and drive cars built out of Satan’s meccano.  This is similar to when you start to tell your mates about that time you got in a fight on a night out, but realise that the reality (that you were beaten up by a girl and ended up a bloodied mess on the floor crying) wasn’t that impressive, so you add 14 armed bouncers to the mix, who you deftly took out one by one until that one guy sucker-punched you.  Yup, the events of the second film were probably just a small argument at a petrol station which turned into a bit of a fight, but as told by this aging madman it becomes a mythical adventure, inspired by old stories of lone cowboys fighting off bandits.
Now Fury Road may seem to dismiss this theory, as the opening voice over is by Max, but to which I refer you to the last line of the first point.

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Hold on..that's Weird Science! Ah well..

3: Practical effects from decades ago look better than modern CGI
Look, they just do, you can’t deny it.  Whilst some CGI can look great (the recent Planet of the Apes films for example), so much today looks cartoon like and fails to impress.  When you watch CGI cars flipping around in Transformers films, you can’t help notice that they are bouncing wrong (we all know how gravity works).  Now, regardless of how old it is, if you have a shot of a real car smashing through a real bus, it will always look like a car smashing a bus because, well,  it is.  Same goes for dismemberment and blood spurts – yes, it does look a bit fake at times, but the fact it was done practically with models and fluids makes it still work better than doing similar with CGI.  Thankfully the new film, according to reports, knows this and we can expect real stunts and blood bags ahoy in Fury Road.

4: Thunderdome wasn’t actually that bad
Look, it is a bit of a mess, and mashes two stories (Bartertown and the plane survivors) unconvincingly, and Tina Turner is a bad choice, but it still has some great moments.  Just accept it as a warped tale being told by an aging survivor trying to recite his encounter with Max, possibly whilst getting drunk with his mates (see point 2), and you can find it a lot easier to accept the failings of the film.

5: They can tell any tale in this world
Thanks to the mythical nature of the series since that second film, you can spin any story out of the setting.  Seriously, think about it for a second.  Say, for example, someone came up with the idea to pit Max against a mutated hyper-intelligent dog, well they could easily add a back story of genetic research being conducted some time before the fall of civilization, and we’d just chew it up and accept it so long as it had cars and bad guys in bondage.

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Even epic vehicles like this!

This is also why everyone has been quite accepting about the new film being made.  Bear in mind that reboots and remakes get a bad rep, with many judging before it is even made, Fury Road was warmly embraced from day one, even when it was made clear that Mel Gibson wasn’t coming back.  The world collectively said, “So what? Just give us cars and carnage!”  Think of Max in the same way as James Bond, anyone can play the role so long as it sticks to the basic conventions of the setting (Bond = spy, Max = twisted future).  Although if in the next film (which has a script ready to go) Max drives an invisible buggy to an ice castle, I’m out.

Silence Please

When going to the cinema these days it is a sad fact that you have to accept a certain level of disturbance as just ‘par for the course’.  From the rustle of bags, to the munching of popcorn, the annoyingly incontinent person who manages three toilet breaks in 90 minutes, and then whispers, “What did I miss?” on their return to their friend.  These things, sadly, are not only the norm, but are the minor inconvenience compared to the unacceptable things such as the person on the row in front who insists on texting her friend or checking Facebook every 10 minutes, the guys who laugh annoyingly at moments that aren’t even funny, the person behind you who has not only had their feet up, but has chosen to remove their shoes, and the person who insists on adding a commentary to the whole film (“Oh,  he’s behind them and going to jump out!  What will they do?” How about watching the film to find out? If I needed audio description I’d ask for a set of headphones at the box office!)

We all know these frustrations, and some of you out there may even be guilty of providing them.  As a worker within the cinema industry, watching for these on a daily basis has had the result of making me hypersensitive to even the most minor of disruptions, which, as you can imagine, makes attempting to watch a public showing of a film nigh on impossible.   I have lost count of the number of times I’ve ended up missing most of a film as I am too busy asking people to put phones away, be quiet, sit down, or stop kicking the chairs.  I have even become obsessed with counting people out the screen as they go to the toilet, then back in again, occasionally catching screen jumpers sneaking in by doing so.  All of this on my days off work, trying to relax with a film.

So, as a result, I tend to watch private showings for staff or screenings for press instead, especially on the films I am anticipating the most.  You would expect staff and press to have some common courtesy and respect for others watching, as we are all lovers of the art, so wouldn’t want to disturb or disrupt it for anyone.  Surely that is the case?

Well, as I discovered today, sadly that is not always true.  Today (as with a few other times over the years) I encountered a few amateur bloggers for a popular site who seemed to be under the impression that chatting and discussing the film whilst it is playing was, in some way, perfectly acceptable.   Their total disrespect for the rest of us trying to watch the film without the usual disturbances was frustrating, and I can only ponder how much of the film  they were actually taking in for review purposes, and how much they were just there to see the film before anyone else.

Now I understand the taking of notes during a press screening, jotting down important points in a pad, slight rustle of paper and maybe one of those pens with a torch built in so what you write is legible.  But discussion during the film only highlights how little attention you are paying to the scenes you are talking over (which tend to be those boring scenes with, you know, dialogue…otherwise known as the plot).  Save the discussion until after the film, have a pint and chat about what you loved or hated, but during the film keep the noise down…its just professional courtesy.
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The Sting in the Tail (or credits)

**The original version of this post was made over at World of Superheroes last summer, but with the release of Age of Ultron, it seemed an opportune moment to re – draft it.**

The post credit sting has become something synonymous with comic-book movies over the past decade, and I find myself spending a lot of time explaining them to others. But why do we have these stings, and indeed are they needed at all?

The sting is a reasonably recent phenomenon – and by ‘recent’ I mean’ within my lifetime, which admittedly may not be classed as recent to others. The first noted use of the sting was in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, and from that point onward it became a common occurrence in comedies. Most of the time it was in order to throw out one last throwback gag, such as at the end of Airplane! (1980) with the passenger in the taxi, still sat waiting for Striker to return (this scene also followed some amusing end credits, which was a particular shtick Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams loved). When Ferris Bueller told people to, “Go home,” at the end of his 1986 film, he was merely retreading what Animal had told us back in 1979.

It was in 1980 that the first occurrence in a comic-book movie was used when Flash Gordon finished with a tease that Alex Raymond’s hero would be back to fight Ming again (sadly, he didn’t – disappointing box office put the stop to that). However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the post credit sting made its way to comic book movies again, and it wasn’t a ‘superhero’ film either. The excellent Ghost World, adapted from the Daniel Clownes comic book, rewarded loyal credit watchers with a fourth wall breaking extra, offering an alternate take on an earlier scene. By this point the sting had become prevalent in comedy and horror films, and had begun branching out into other genres (there were 18 general releases with an end credit sting in 2001). Since then we have seen films such as Daredevil (2003), Hellboy (2004), Blade: Trinity (2004), Constantine (2005), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Transformers (2007), and more throw tags on the end of their films, to hint at the future of the franchise – and how we smirk at those which never see a continuation.
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In 2008, something changed. Iron Man flew in and thrilled audiences as Marvel set the stage for their grand ideas. Their plans were revealed in a post credit sting that had fanboys and geeks around the world fist-pumping the air in excitement, as Col. Nick Fury (played, of course, by Sam Jackson – him having been the inspiration for the Ultimate version of the character) told Tony Stark about something called ‘the Avengers Initiative’. From that point onward, audiences to Marvel films expected something extra on all their films. Iron Man 2 teased out Thor, which led to Captain America, and then tumbled into The Avengers. The small extra scenes sowing the seeds of the arc, and Avengers itself gave a mid-credit scene showcasing a future villain in the form of Thanos.

But how important are these scenes? Well, to the casual audience member, not very. They usually leave those who don’t know the comic books baffled as to why they just sat through 12 minutes of end credits just to see a hammer/glowing cube in a suitcase/etc. Those are the folk who usually end up asking people like me what it means, and then regretting asking ten minutes later as I am around a quarter of the way through explaining the Infinity Gems (and don’t get me started on those who thought Thanos was Hellboy!) But to us fans, these are juicy nuggets of information. A five second glimpse of a hammer told us that Thor was coming, and things were going to be epic. We knew that one would come to take the hammer, and all manner of Asgardian wonder would ensue. Generally I suggest that if you are a fan, stick around, if not then don’t bother – you can catch it on the DVD release later.

But, there is also confusion. So synonymous with Marvel films the end stings have become, that audiences expect them on films which are Marvel, but not ‘Marvel’ – i.e. X-Men, Spider-Man, and other properties owned by Fox, Sony and the like. Some even expect them on DC films, which results in quite accusatory questions being levied at cinema staff when one doesn’t appear (“Why isn’t there a bit at the end?” “Because the film makers didn’t put one there!” “Really? I find that hard to believe!” – seriously, this happens more often than you would think!) Additional confusion came last year with Amazing Spider-Man 2, which shoehorned in a tease for X-Men: Days of Future Past, which had nothing to do with Spider-Man, but left general audiences expecting a crossover between the two franchises (it was a deal in order for Sony to keep Webb directing the second Spidey outing despite still being under obligation to Fox).
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But, confusing or pointless, end credit stings are a big thing now. Recent early viewers of Guardians of the Galaxy at worldwide premiere screenings last year were kept from seeing the sting for that film, Disney/Marvel wanting the secret of the sting to be kept for the opening weekend. Was it worth waiting for? As a fan of Howard the Duck, I thought it was (and I mean the comic book, not that dreadful film from the 80s – seriously, if you’ve never read Howard, give it a shot.   Heck there’s a new comic series out now which is hilarious.)  However many people hated it, and I mean really hated it.  Avengers: Age of Ultron has a small mid-season scene (and it isn’t that fake Spider-Man one that’s been going around), which I look forward to having to explain over the coming weeks (thankfully this time the groundwork has already been laid in explanations of past stings).

Like them or hate them, the sting is here to stay.