In this week’s issue of The Business, a podcast hosted by Kim Masters, Masters interviews director Bill Condon on his most recent and incredible success, Beauty and the Beast, which hit theaters on March 16th and broke box office records, raking in over $175 million in the opening weekend. It made the most money during opening weekend than any other PG movie in history, and it also made the most money than any other March release in film history. However, with its roaring monetary success also comes some disdain from several who do not appreciate the inclusion of homosexual characters.
Condon made LeFou a gay man in this piece, a deviation from the beloved animated version released by Disney in 1991. This has received much criticism in the media to the point that some have boycotted the film for including this controversial topic of homosexuality in a children’s film. Russia even threatened to ban the film, but eventually allowed people over the age of 16 to view it. Condon reports that he never intended this aspect of the film to become such a hot item in the media. Condon explains why he made this decision to make the character homosexual. His rationale is that the story, which is over 300 years old, is about acceptance and looking beneath the surface, and in Condon’s own words, “if you’re going to make that in 2017, you want to be more inclusive.” He admits that he did not consult Disney about this decision. In fact, it was not even in the script. He simply thought of it on the spot and decided it was best for the film.
Condon definitely shocked and angered many people with this piece, but of course, he also got a lot of praise from film critics and the LGBT community for including the “gay moment” in this beloved fantasy tale. In my own view, if you are going to remake a film, why not add different elements to make it a bit unique? I think the entire conflict over this small moment on screen has been blown out of proportion, and I believe Condon would agree. Despite this blowback, it has still seen incredible success, and I believe Condon is happy with his work.
Graham Winfrey posted to Indiewire about director Christopher Nolan’s most recent film endeavor entitled Dunkirk. This project follows the lives of English soldiers on the French beach of Dunkirk during World War II as they are pitted against German forces with almost certain doom. Nolan revealed his sentiments about this film at CinemaCon on Wednesday. Nolan expressed that this event in human history is “the ultimate suspense story.”
Looking at the trailer, one can see that this is going to have a trademark of all of Nolan’s films: strong characters. Much of Nolan’s success has been achieved through captivating actors portraying emotional and realistic characters, and fortunately, Dunkirk is no exception. To help with this, Nolan has again utilized an amazing cast, including Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Cillian Murphy. The film also features some fresh faces that Nolan claims will become more and more popular over the years because of their distinct talent. Nolan claims, “This combination of talent produced an ensemble the likes of which I’ve never had before.” This quote is not to be ignored, considering that Nolan’s films have almost always included incredible performances and actors. Dunkirk appears to be an ambitious project with a strong cast and gripping story. I am definitely interested in seeing this piece.
Dunkirk will be released on July 21st, and like other Nolan projects, it will have an IMAX option that Nolan strongly encourages the viewer see to fully appreciate the magnitude of the film.
Kim Masters interviewed James Mangold, director of the recent Logan film, this week on The Business. Masters reported that “before he had got involved with the X-Men franchise, Mangold had built his career on character driven dramas…” much to say about the modern action/adventure genre, primarily his distaste for its lack of original content and depth. He compares many of the modern franchise Marvel movies and other action series to very expensive television episodes, which blurs the line between film and television. Mangold even goes so far as to say that these franchise films (most of them anyways) are not movies. He argues they are simply a way to promote the next “bloated” episode in the series, which leads to formulaic writing that does not allow each film to stand alone as a strong piece of cinema. Mangold did not wish for Logan to be another episode, so he set this film in a much darker world than other X-Men movies, which contributed to it being R-rated, a departure for many Marvel films which usually don’t go past the PG-13 rating (with the exception of Deadpool in 2016). This film has much more profanity and heavy issues, like parenthood, brain diseases, and child experimentation.
Mangold knew from the start that if he were going to do this film, he would need to set it in a darker, more drama-oriented field than the other Marvel movies in order to stay true to his artistic vision. He was not the only one. Hugh Jackman, the actor who has sustained the role of Wolverine (Logan) for over a decade, decided that he wanted a more complex character to play before he left the role completely. This is Jackman’s last appearance as the character of Wolverine, and he wanted to portray much more depth to his character than he had in previous X-Men films.
Mangold and Jackman did an excellent job by maintaining their artistic integrity. The film translates as much more character driven than other X-Men movies, and it is much more intense as a result. It departs from the usual cookie-cutter Marvel movie and shows Mangold’s affection for adult dramas while still allowing it to enter the realm of the Marvel universe with great fight scenes. One can only wonder if another Mangold will be given the chance to direct another Marvel film and offer more sincere superheroes. As Mangold demonstrated, rich characters and action films are not mutually exclusive elements when making a great film.
Indiewire writer Anne Thompson recently disclosed the MPAA statistics from 2016. She reported many facts about box office numbers, both domestically in the United States and internationally, including digital prominence in cinema, the attraction of 3D technology in Asian countries, and the increase in indie films. One of the most striking discoveries made in this data is the fact that white membership in the theaters declined while attendance increased by ethnic minorities and women. Thompson reports, “The Asian/Other demo is now the fastest-growing group of frequent movie goers (5.6 million)…” Thompson also mentioned that blockbuster films like Finding Dory and The Jungle Book “attracted the largest female audience…”
Many of the films mentioned in the article were big-budget blockbuster films. While these are not usually artistic in the academic sense, it is still great news to hear that women and ethnic minorities are growing in the cinematic landscape. It demonstrates that more perspectives and voices are being added to the creative medium that is film. One could make the argument that a larger audience of minorities might convince studios to include minorities as directors, if only to capitalize on the growing demographic. One could also make the argument that an increase in minority attendance is inspiring more minorities to enter the cinematic universe and contribute more perspectives and ideas, which will strengthen the art form.
It is great to hear that more and more ethnic minorities and women are attending the movie theaters. It gives them more power because their majority attendance drives demand, so more innovative movies that provide their stories may be supplied. Hopefully, this trend will continue in 2017.
On this week’s edition of The Business with Kim Masters, Masters interviews Ryan Murphy, creator of several FX television series, including Feud, American Horror Story, and American Crime Story. About a year ago he established the Half Foundation, which stipulates that 50% of the people working on his shows or films must be either women or minorities. During the interview, Murphy primarily focused on his efforts to provide opportunities for women in the entertainment industry. He recalls his time in film and television was and still is dominated by white, straight men. His foundation also seeks to teach young women more about the process of making films and television series.
Murphy realizes that the lack of opportunities for female directors is atrocious. Murphy says, “We live in a culture of one woman at a time is allowed to have power, and that’s it. And that’s been around forever, particularly in Hollywood. So women fight for that one position. You don’t see men doing that.” Expanding upon this point, one can see this system as hindering to the creative process that film represents. Women are in an unfair competition with each other to gain the slot of “female director” while a multitude of men is in charge of the majority of entertainment. Murphy’s foundation attempts to eliminate this singular slot and offer many directorial roles to women.
Murphy’s Half Foundation is a great step towards equal opportunities for women in the film industry. There is still a lot of work to do before that goal can be achieved. More people like Murphy need to step up to the plate and make concrete strides rather than spouting off ideology. The ideology has been expressed time and time again, and now is the time for action. Filmmakers and television producers need to follow Murphy’s lead and construct similar plans that force television programs and films to be directed by women. There is talent and perspective that is being squished under the boot of male dominance.
Indiewire writer Zack Sharf recently reported that Chinese director Jia Zhangke is attempting to start an international film festival in China. Zhangke’s goal with the festival is to highlight local Chinese films, which is often ignored. Rather than screening Western films, which already receive enormous international attention, Zhangke’s film festival, called the Pingyao Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon International Film Festival, will allow local Chinese independent filmmakers to display their talent and hard work while providing a cinematic opportunity to celebrate and/or criticize Chinese issues, whether they be political, social, or economic.
I have seen Jia Zhangke’s 2013 film A Touch of Sin, and it was absolutely spectacular. The cinematography was marvelous, the characters were complex, and the story was heartbreaking. One can only feel more respect for this brilliant filmmaker as he allows other Chinese filmmakers to show their works. Sharf’s article mentioned Zhangke’s guilt over neglecting local cinema while he has been to several other international film festivals showcasing his own films. This new festival is a way to rectify his abandonment.
This is not only a great opportunity for filmmakers, but also for film critics. The article also mentioned that Zhangke wanted to give a voice to Chinese cinephiles. He wants a safe environment where Chinese critics can share their opinions about international and local cinema. This is a brilliant idea that lends to the legitimacy of Chinese cinema because now critics and filmmakers from the country have more opportunities to engage in intellectual conversations about cinema.
The Pingyao Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon International Film Festival will premiere October 19th, and it will last until October 26th. It will take place in the Culture and Art District of Pingyao, Shanxi. Based on Zhangke’s previous successes as a filmmaker, it will be surprising if this film festival is anything short of innovative and majestic.
In the most recent episode of The Business, Matt Belloni of the Hollywood Reporter and Kim Masters dissected the Oscars debacle that occurred just less than two weeks ago. As most everyone knows at this point, the wrong name was called for best picture. La La Land was announced as best picture, and after a couple of minutes of acceptance from the La La Land team, it was revealed that it was a mistake, and the actual winner for best picture was Moonlight. The specific details for this massive faux pas can be found in numerous news sources. Masters and Belloni discuss through impassioned tones how the Academy can put this embarrassing moment behind them.
Personally, I think analyzing this mistake with such intensity is a bit overdramatic. It was an embarrassing blunder, and the La La Land team should not have been humiliated like they were. However, this scandal has been blown out of proportion. At the end of the day, someone read the wrong card at an awards ceremony. Military secrets have not been divulged, and no one died, but people escalate this issue to the level of horror. Much of this overreaction stems from the value placed around the Oscars. The Oscars are an entertaining evening where people can see some of the critically acclaimed films over the past year, yet somehow, people glorify the ceremony as the alpha and omega for film viewing. Film society has placed too much weight on this traditional evening of “bests.” While the Oscars are entertaining, and I do believe they should stick around, I think society needs to deflate their importance. This blunder was embarrassing, but the overt examination from others is even more humiliating.
Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant comes out May 19th, and according to actor Guy Pearce, it is sure to be a marvelous film that reminds fans of the franchise of the original film. In an Indiewire post written by Kate Erbland, Pearce is interviewed about the new Alien film. Pearce plays Peter Weyland, CEO of the Weyland Corporation, introduced in Prometheus in 2012. Pearce informs viewers that this newest installment in the Alien saga goes back to the Ridley Scott’s original film Alien (1979). Even though Pearce has a minor role in the film, he can tell that Ridley Scott is bringing back the heart of the series while still managing “to do it in an innovative way.” He claims, “It’s not going to feel dated or old.”
With so many installments in this major film franchise with several different directors behind the stories (David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Ridley Scott), the series has taken many turns in directions that have disappointed many fans of the original 1979 movie. Going back to the roots of the original story with the original director behind the camera lens will produce a film that is sure to please fans and create a gripping story. With Scott’s reputation for creativity and groundbreaking Hollywood cinema, he is not going to rehash the same 1979. He will push the boundaries like he always does while still giving the audience a sense of nostalgia and familiarity with the one that started it all, Alien.
In the most recent edition of The Business with Kim Masters, Masters interviews reporter Gary Baum, who calls attention to a corrupt process in Hollywood in which actors pay to audition for minor roles. Gary reports that, on the surface, acting workshops are opportunities for young actors to improve their acting skills. In reality, young actors pay roughly $50 per “lesson” to audition. This already seems morally suspect, but Baum highlights the real horror of this corruption when he reports that young actors are dependent on these workshops, resulting in the expense of over $1,000 a year (depending on the willingness of the actor). Baum explains that these are big costs in relation to the low wages that many young, aspiring actors make while they pursue their dream. It is now essential for them to pay for an audition. For the people running the workshops, this practice is very lucrative, and that is precisely why it is so common. However, this is not lawful.
Paying to audition is illegal. In fact, the city government of Los Angeles is looking into this system, and criminal charges are being placed on several individuals who have supported this uneven playing ground. They have sent in under cover actors to explain the workshop system. Now that it is public that there is an investigation being conducted, several workshops have already closed down out of fear. Baum is certain that Hollywood will continue on without this system, even though this corrupt casting workshop system has been very popular in the industry. He believes Hollywood will always need new talent.
It has always been tough to be an actor, but this system is an abomination to the artistic realm. The roles should go to the people with talent rather than people with money who can afford these “workshops.” Fortunately, the LA city attorney’s investigation into this system is helping to deteriorate the pay-to-play practice. However, this also means that actors are going to have to find new ways to make connections to people in the casting departments of networks and studios, an incredibly challenging task.
A recent Indiewire article written by Chris O’Falt reported the value of the arts and argued against President Trump’s plans to dissolve the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). Firstly, the article identified the economic value of the arts by reporting that the NEA actually profits from contribution to the arts. According to the New York arts institution, “every dollar the NEA contributes leads to nine additional dollars being donated from other sources.” The NEA is not a waste as Trump has indicated. In fact, it is very profitable. A businessman like Trump can do the math and realize the NEA is worth keeping.
O’Falt also mentioned that American cinema is glorified all over the world. With Trump’s obsession with power and image, it seems counterintuitive to reduce funding on a program that aids in projects that are idolized and envied across the globe. Decreasing funding for this would only serve to reduce the appeal of America, which is already fairly low as a result of this new administration.
Film and other forms of art do not only enhance American image. They help people live. The New York arts institute also added, “a veteran’s exposure to art therapy brings healing and hope. A student’s participation in music class improves math scores and critical thinking skills. Art shapes achievement with profound and practical effects.” These are very powerful words. Art transforms lives and brings color to an otherwise dreary world. Defunding the NEA is not only economically flawed, but it would also deprive people of the opportunity to see unique artistic expressions, which can shape the personality of an individual in very positive ways. There is simply no good reason to eliminate this program.