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Buzz: It’s A Man’s Word

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I Written by Rehna

“People go to see films that have a buzz around them,” said Meryl Streep.

We all listened intently, our fingers poised to record the pearls of wisdom that would fall from the mouth of a movie goddess, the most nominated actress in Oscar history, the woman who has become a byword for excellence.

At this point, you might be expecting me to say that our expectations were dashed. That Meryl dropped a clanger and we were all disappointed. No, our eager fingers were not deprived of something noteworthy to write. We all jotted down what came next from La Streep because it was genuinely interesting.

“Well, I wanted to see how that buzz is created, ” she continued. ” So, I went deep into the Rotten Tomatoes website. I looked at who was contributing the reviews. 168 women. Not bad, I thought. Until I saw there were 760 from men.”

Ms Streep paused to let the ratio sink in.

“So,” she added, perhaps unnecessarily, “the tomatometer is slanted to one taste – that of men. People accept this as received wisdom. And films liked by men get the buzz.”

Streep was speaking at LFF 2015 at the press conference for her film Suffragette. After some initial hype, that solid ‘women’s film’ with strong performances from the likes of Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham-Carter and Streep herself, fizzled out early both at the box office and during awards season.

It had no buzz.

I was reminded of Streep’s words today when I read a powerful piece by Shannon Plumb, the film maker wife of acclaimed director Derek Cianfrance. I can’t recommend strongly enough that every film fan read this heartfelt and insightful account of what it’s like to put your heart and soul into a movie only to see it dismissed by a jaded critic who has long forgotten that the silver screen was meant to be a world of magic, an antidote to our real lives.

The article can be found at www.thetalkhouse.com and is entitled The Man in the Ring.

It paints Cianfrance as the bloodied fighter taking cheap jabs from hacks who have either lost all sense of wonder and romance or wilfully dismiss anything with real emotion as a ‘chick flick’ unworthy of their serious attention. I reviewed Cianfrance’s The Light between Oceans For Movie Marker

In the review I gently mock the gender split in the reaction to the sadder parts of the film but I also note the thunderous, five minute ovation both sexes gave it at the end.

Ms Plumb says she wept openly at the appreciation her husband’s labour of love received but in a video I made of the ovation she wasn’t the only one with tear stained cheeks. The ovation merely allowed the built up emotion to flow. It was the beauty and romance of the film that had brought on the emotion in the first place. And isn’t that the purpose of film? To write large and beautifully on screen the hopes, fears, dreams, feelings we often try to hide in life?

Naturally, Ms Plumb is loyal to her husband. She worries that the early, grumpy reviews probably knocked a couple of million off the U.S. opening weekend Box Office. (Hopefully the film will fare better in Europe where the reviews have been very good – so good that after reading one in the Evening Standard, my brother declared he’d like to see the film). But she also makes a wider point.

‘The Romance genre is in danger of becoming extinct,’ she warns. Do these critics who wave aside a film as a ‘weepy chick flick’ think only ‘chicks’ have feelings, she asks.
She makes a plea to critics to not ‘veto the viewing’ of such films with these kind of dismissive words. She describes the cinema as the ‘last sanctuary for vulnerability’ – something to which even the most macho are not immune.

So, how do we help create ‘buzz’ for films that tell human stories? After all, they are the films that we remember, long after we’ve erased the CGI of Transformers 536 from our mind. It’s the moments of human connection in a film that stay with us yet the films that provide those moments are not the ones being feverishly discussed on forums. They often fail at the box office and only slowly gain a following in the years that follow their release after people catch them on DVD or late night television.

Suggestions:

1. Well, more female critics would help. Men and women do often have different tastes. Not better or worse. Not more important or less important. Just different. And they should openly embrace those tastes without fear of not being seen as a ‘proper’ critic.

2. More targeted marketing for groups who might particularly enjoy a film rather than a generic ‘ we haven’t really thought about how to sell this movie because it’s about feelings and that’s girly and scary, so here’s a trailer and make of it what you will’.

The Light between Oceans is actually a good example here. It’s about motherhood, yes but it’s also about a soldier emotionally wounded in war, now afraid of his own feelings. It’s about the boys own job of lighthouse keeping. It’s a love story. It’s about moral dilemmas – good people doing bad things. In short it’s far from ‘just’ a ‘weepy.’

3. More and better use of social media. Hire people to look after this aspect of promotion.women are as active on social media as men.

4. Clever use of multi media forums and tie ins. Just as children’s films team with food outlets and toy manufacturers, why can’t films like TLBO spark debates in women’s magazines and newspapers, do deals with clothing companies and tourist boards.
Instead of token gestures like a female Ghostbusters, if women are to be a valued market, they need to be as well catered for as the Marvel and DC fans.

5. Advertise in small, quiet towns where the cinema is the only real form of entertainment, especially for families , not just in busy cities where people have more options.

Raise the awareness in every way possible.

Create a buzz!

And once there is ‘buzz’ for a ‘women’s film’, the male audience will show up too. Stoned eyed and hard of heart, maybe, determined not to cry but they will turn up because, hey, a good film is a good film.

Awards News

Black Panther Aiming For Best Picture, Not Best Popular, According To Chadwick Boseman

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It’s Hollywood’s worst-kept secret; Marvel Studios’ chief Kevin Feige wants an Oscar. And not just a technical Oscar either. Following in the footsteps of Walt Disney, Feige’s ultimate goal is for one of his movies to win Best Picture. With Black Panther being a cultural juggernaut, the producer-extraordinaire sees it as his best chance yet and has reportedly hired veteran award strategist Cynthia Schwartz’s company – Strategy PR – to push for the nomination.

However, The Academy themselves threw a spanner in the works last month, when they announced the introduction of a brand new category at next year’s awards ceremony: Best Achievement in Popular Film. With Black Panther presently the highest-grossing film of the year domestically, and the second-highest internationally, it’s the clear favourite to win in the new category (at least, to the best of everyone’s knowledge – The Academy have, frustratingly, refused to define the new award). However according to King T’Challa himself, Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, that’s not the goal.

“We don’t know what [Best Popular] is, so I don’t know whether to be happy about it or not,” Boseman told The Hollywood Reporter, “What I can say is that there’s no campaign for Popular Film; like, if there’s a campaign, it’s for Best Picture, and that’s all there is to it.”

“A good movie is a good movie,” the Get On Up star continued, “and clearly it doesn’t matter how much money a movie makes in order for it to be ‘a good movie’ because if [it did], the movies that get nominated and win [predominantly low-grossing, highly-praised art-house fare] wouldn’t get nominated; and if it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter on both sides. For my money, the only thing that matters is the level of difficulty.”

“What we did was very difficult. We created a world, we created a culture … we had to create a religion, a spirituality, a politics; we had to create an accent; we had to pull from different cultures to create clothing styles and hair styles. It’s very much like a period piece. … So, as far as that’s concerned, I dare any movie to try to compare to the difficulty of this one. And the fact that so many people liked it — if you just say it’s [only] popular, that’s elitist.”

Chadwick has a point – the gross of a film has never, and should not, affect a film’s chances at winning Best Picture. However, whilst The Academy has made clear that a film can be nominated for both Best Film and Best Popular (frustrating many members who have then rightfully asked what the point is), they have somewhat written themselves into a corner when it comes to Black Panther. See, through a very specific sequence of events, The Academy have manufactured a situation where the most likely events to play out on the night will be Damien Chazelle’s buzzy First Man, a movie with an all-white cast and crew, winning Best Picture… whilst the all-black cast and crew of Black Panther accept the new ‘separate but equal’ award for Best Achievement in Popular Film. Yikes.

Black Panther is available on Digital, DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K now, and is rated 12A.

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Awards News

Danny DeVito To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award At The San Sebastian Film Festival

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Batman Returns star Danny DeVito is set to receive the coveted Donostia Award, honouring him for his career achievements, at the sixty-sixth annual San Sebastian Film Festival this September.

“The award recognizes a career of almost five decades related to acting in theatre, film and television, telling stories as an actor, producer and director,” the Spanish festival’s organisers said in a statement, “The Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner is known for his roles in television series Taxi and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and movies such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Terms of Endearment, Romancing The Stone, Twins, Ruthless People, and Tin Men.”

“He has also directed – and starred in – hugely emblematic films, including The War of the Roses (1989), Hoffa (1992), Death to Smoochy (2002), Throw Momma From the Train (1987), Curmudgeons (2016), Duplex (2003), The Ratings Game (1984), and The World’s Greatest Lover (1977).”

The San Sebastian Film Festival will run from the 21st to the 29th of September. Danny DeVito can next be heard in animated children’s flick Smallfoot, which will premiere on the 23rd at the Festival.

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Oscars 2018

THE BURDEN OF OSCAR: POLITICS AND FILM.

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2017 was not overly kind to Hollywood. A drop in cinema audiences. Dismal summer box office. Increasing competition from the rise of Netflix and compelling television shows. Decreasing ratings for movie awards shows. Justice League.
And please, nobody even mention Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey.

In short it all went a bit Pete Tong for La La Land last year.
In fact the La La Land /Moonlight mix up at the Oscars in February now seems a rare bright spot in the 2017 tinsel town calendar. Reading out the wrong best picture winner? Light relief! Oh, how we can laugh now at a ‘wrong envelope mishap’ in the wake of #metoo and #sheknew

So, where and when did the rot start?
I’d suggest November 2016. On 8th November to be precise. Hollywood was tux and gown ready to celebrate the presidential victory of the woman whose campaign many A listers had funded to the tune of millions. However, 60 million Americans had a different plan. Enter the Donald!
The rest is outrage history.

Hollywood has since used Twitter, late night chat shows the press and most of all, awards shows to bash Trump……….and by association the 60 million who voted for him. 60 million potential movie fans.

Some love the political content of awards shows. Some are infuriated by it. But for many the politics has just got old really quickly. All they want from their movie and tv stars is entertainment. Yet the one industry that has the power to bring polarised communities together isn’t managing it. Nor does the entertainment media help.

The dumbest question on the movie red carpet in 2017 was one that was repeated the most, earnestly each time as if it was something unbelievably profound: what do you think will Trump voters make of your film?
Alexander Payne when asked it at the Venice film festival was one of the few who refused to be baited. He said he hoped that he made films for everybody. Unfortunately for him, his film Downsizing didn’t exactly please everybody but at least he recognised that his role is as a filmmaker not political campaigner. Similarly, while other stars have lost fans due to their relentless political tirades, Frances McDormand has been gaining them by being funny, entertaining and making it clear that her politics are her private business. But Payne and McDormand are rare. Too many stars and filmmakers take the media bait or can’t resist lecturing the world on the cause du jour when it isn’t the time and place to do so.

That is the issue. There is a time and place to make earnest speeches, to berate, to demand change, to highlight injustice. The Oscars podium isn’t it.

I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Oscars. It was a terrific experience. It was everything I’d imagined the Oscars to be; glamorous, fun, starry and an escape from the norm. The dresses were colourful and gorgeous. The jokes were funny. Everyone was out to party!
Was it frivolous, unreal and superficial. Yep. And it was all the more wonderful for that because I’d come to the event from conducting a 15 day case in the High court about a paedophile ring. So I know about the real world, thank you. And so do the millions who watch the Oscars on television around the world. The Oscars is their escape from the real world, as it was mine.

Yes, the Oscars has always been political to a degree; Marlon Brando sending a Native American woman to collect his Oscar for The Godfather, Michael Moore leading the charge against President Bush and the Iraq war, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon highlighting Haiti and many more issues. But those were moments in a lengthy ceremony. The rest of the show remained light and fun. The atmosphere overall wasn’t somber, even funereal. In the last 3-4 years the politics has completely overshadowed the films and the film stars.

The Oscars now seems to be first about race, sexuality, political affiliation, hashtag movements with the actual work second.

The #oscarssowhite in 2016 campaign was the first year that I can remember when a cause dominated the coverage, pushing the films and actors in contention for the awards out of the limelight. But it has continued. Last year the subject was President Trump. This year it’s #metoo and #TimesUp.
Around Oscar time I get asked 3 main questions: which of the nominated films do I recommend? Who do I think will win? Who had the best dress?

The first suggests that being nominated/winning really does help a film’s box office. And since the Oscars is essentially an industry event at which the film business shows off its wares, that’s a good thing. The second shows that humans are a competitive lot at heart. It’s why we love sport. No one truly likes ‘participation prizes’. We want there to be a ‘best’ so we can endlessly argue about it for evermore afterwards.
And yes, the third question is every bit as legitimate as the first two. Hollywood is the epitome of glamour. Fashion is big business that employs many people. The Oscars brings the two together on a world stage. And yes, women get asked about their dresses because it’s what many people tune in to see. The men’s tuxedos are the same each year. They aren’t the draw.
Funnily, the questions that don’t crop up are ‘what does Chris Hemsworth think about Brexit’ or ‘ What are Rebel Wilson’s views on the fiscal crisis’.
Maybe, just maybe, people don’t really care.

As I write this, some media outlets are reporting that Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster will present the best actress award this year instead of Casey Affleck. He withdrew recently from the tradition of the previous best actor winner presenting the new best actress winner with her gong, most likely, because he didn’t want or need the media coverage that would have dogged him in respect of allegations of sexual misconduct which were subject to an agreement between him and two women. None of the trio are legally allowed to speak publicly about the agreement. No one outside their respective close circles and legal advisers knows what the terms of the agreement were. Affleck could have agreed terms because he’s guilty as hell and didn’t want a court trial to prove it. The women could have been lying through their teeth and didn’t want a court trial to prove it.

Or, you know, the truth could lie somewhere in the middle. As it often does. Point is, we will never know.

That, of course didn’t stop hysterical speculation last year on social media of what Casey Affleck was ‘definitely, absolutely, 100% guilty of” – because – wait for it- he always plays creepy guys on screen! And it wouldn’t have stopped it this year, specially in the wake of #metoo. So Affleck stepped aside.

If it’s true that Lawrence and Foster will replace him, has the Academy really thought it through? What’s the message here:

That it takes two women to replace one man?

That there are no men left in Hollywood who can even safely present a woman with an award?

That only women can present an award to a woman because gender segregation is where we’re at in 2018??!!

See, this is what happens when you add politics to the mix. You may think you’re doing something right but it can come out all wrong.

On Oscar night on Sunday, armed police and security guards will protect stars who will go on stage and speak passionately against guns. Actresses who cheered and gave standing ovations to convicted child rapist Roman Polanski will now speak passionately against sexual predators. The list is endless of hypocrisies Hollywood can be called out for, so the wise thing to do might be to leave politics outside the door and, you know, entertain on the biggest night of the glamour industry.

However, I’m not betting on it.

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