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Dead Good Performances

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Written By: Robb Sheppard (@RedBezzle)

For a good few months, there’s been a disturbance. It was difficult to put a finger on at first, but now it’s as clear as day. Whilst everyone was busy pissing and whinging about Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; their hackles being raised like an X-Wing from a swamp, it served as a stark reminder that it wasn’t always like this.

Many film fans’ necks were well and truly wound-out over the resurrection of Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin’s characters in Rogue One, this writer included. But posthumous performances in the past were often revered and heralded like the final hurrah, with the director charged with carrying out the actor’s final wishes and preserving the actor’s reputation. So why all the hate now?

The primary difference of course, is that Peter Cushing had been dead for nigh on twenty years before his Grand Moff Tarkin reclaimed the Death Star. As a result, he had very little to say regarding the use of his image, and his uncanny appearance polarises opinion to say the least. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, on the other hand, reported that Carrie Fisher loved the eerie baby-faced version of herself, achieved via a body double and facial recognition mapping.

But this kind of tech wizardry has long been used to finish off a film when death comes-a-knockin’. It just seems a little easier to stomach. Example?

The Crow

It felt like a fitting homage to The Crow star Brandon Lee that his character could continue on to avenge the death of his wife. Thanks to CGI and with honourable mentions to face paint, long hair and stunt doubles, Lee himself was resurrected in parallel to his protagonist Eric Draven (geddit?!). A shotgun wound to the stomach was the official cause of Brandon Lee’s death when live rounds were fired instead of blanks.

The Crow (1994) soon secured its status as a cult classic, no doubt in part due to the macabre fascination with the death of its lead. His tragic death aligned him with figures such as Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix and Jimi Hendrix and the conspiracy theories only accelerated his myth. Similarly, Bruce Lee, Brandon’s father, died during the filming of Game of Death (1978) with many claiming alleged links to Chinese organised crime and/or a family curse. Officially, the recorded cause of death was an allergic reaction to a prescribed painkiller and his scenes in Game of Death were famously completed with the aid of some unconvincing cardboard cut-outs.

Sadly, both Bruce and Brandon Lee reached iconic status only after their death. Speaking of iconic…

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

Who’s your favourite Joker? It’s probably a two-horse race with Heath Ledger’s turn in The Dark Knight (2008) in the lead by a nose. The general consensus often seems to be that the Clown Prince of Crime was Heath Ledger’s final role. Of course, it’s his most memorable and arguably the most famous posthumous Oscar win (for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role) but in the minds of many, it’s also the role which drove him into an accidental overdose. Tales of him shutting himself away for days on end to get into the mind-set of The Joker mythologise the man behind the make-up, much like Brandon Lee and The Crow.

As the I’m Heath Ledger (2017) documentary revealed, Ledger was not some tortured artist a la Cobain at all, but instead a man who didn’t have enough time: a man who was constantly creating, trying to capture a moment and who always wanted more life. Perhaps he would have been proud then, that his untimely death made Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus even barmier than originally intended.

Tony (Ledger) is a mysterious straggler befriended by a sideshow troupe and falls in love with Dr Parnassus’ daughter. Once inside the Imaginarium – a mind-controlled world that is, frankly, trippin’ balls – Tony is instead depicted by Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law in turn. Seeming like a show of respect and act of condolences, the place-holding actors gave the film an even more absurd, yet fitting edge. Just don’t ask me exactly what happens in it.

Fast and Furious 7

A main stay of the improbably successful film franchise, Paul Walker’s death nearly got Furious 7 parked indefinitely. The actor’s tragic death was all the more poignant due to its nature: Walker’s collision with a tree whilst in a Carrera GT could have been lifted from the script. Well, you know, if you throw in some wrecking balls, explosions and a submarine.

With half the movie already in the can, difficult decisions had to be made. Starting with the idea of Brian (Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) splitting and each taking their own road seemed like a fitting send-off idea and a fond farewell. The story was reverse-engineered from there.

Walker’s brothers,  Caleb and Andy were recruited to double for him, both physically and vocally whilst some deleted scene dialogue was chop-shopped to plug the gaps.

Not being a fan of the franchise didn’t detract from the emotional heft of that final scene. To  paint a picture of how beloved Paul Walker was, every once in a while I see a souped-up Corsa or a Fiat 500 zoom past, and for the briefest moment, you can spot a bumper sticker detailing his date of death and the line; “I  almost had you.”

Gladiator

Would Oliver Reed’s comeback role have been treated with such reverence if he hadn’t died during filming? Gladiator (2000) saw the legendarily unruly actor return to prominence as Proximo, a slave trader, retired gladiator and now trainer. Art reflected life with a man reminiscing on his glory days, given one last chance and living vicariously through his new charge (Russell Crowe).

Director Ridley Scott had the opportunity to reshoot all of Reed’s scenes (this time at the insurer’s expense) but instead refused. A script rewrite (Proximo was originally Maximus’ final fight), shadowy asides and CGI carried Reed’s character through the rest of the film.

Of course, this is the complete antithesis of, say, Kevin Spacey, whose scenes for Scott’s All the Money in the World were famously completely reshot with the character recast. Not exactly posthumous, but Spacey is dead to us now. So same, same.

Which posthumous performances did you think were dead good? Let us know in the comments below.

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Features

How Casinos Can Improve a Movie

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When it comes to movie themes, you got them all. From war movies to romance films, there is something for everybody. However, the gamble theme is not often present but some casino scenes really mattered. For example, the roulette ball in Casablanca that landed on 22 two times, all this was possible thanks to the rigged roulette. 

Another example is found in the movie 21. This movie is mainly made after a book called Bringing Down the House and just like the movie, it’s about a group of students “robbing” a casino playing Blackjack. Actually, the robbing process consists in one person taking a seat at a Blackjack table and that person just counts the cards. After a while, their friend joins knowing which cards were already played. As expected, they get caught and the action begins.  

Daniel Craig and Casino Royale 

If it’s not already obvious, these examples cannot go further without mentioning Daniel Craig starring as a MI6 agent in the movie Casino Royale. This movie was not like any other James Bond films. Firstly, the new actor had blond hair and blue eyes. This new look was not welcome at all especially for die hard 007 fans. Daniel Craig had nothing in common with the previous agents such as Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan. Moreover, back in 2005, right before the Casino Royale release, many fans were sure that Daniel will ruin the series. In fact, Casino Royale ended up being one of the best James Bond movies ever.  

After all, some changes were needed so the movie can have a fresh feeling. If we got used to every James Bond movie starting with the same scene, Casino Royale made it different. Until then, every single film started with a gun barrel sequence in which James walks in a white room, he turns, then fires and the blood drips down the screen. In the new 007 film, the movie starts with a black and white scene and at the end of this sequence, when we think that its first victim is dead, Daniel turns around then fires and we have the first gun barrel scene.  

As an illustration on the movie name, there are three poker scenes that make this film better. The first one has a well made old-fashion feel that is mainly made through the dissolve process. This technique was usually seen in the 80s and is a post-process film editing that makes the transition from one image to another.  

The second poker game is when Le Chiffre destroys James. Right after this game, there is a sequence that lets the agent sit alone on the table with nothing left, making the MI6 agent more natural. This is a high contrast with all the old cliché movies where James Bond was invincible. Further, Daniel gets poisoned by Le Chiffre but the secret agent survives by using the defibrillator from his car. Then he comes back and says ”I’m sorry, that last hand, killed me”.   

Like I said, casinos can be a good way to improve a movie. Also, land-based casinos suffered many changes over the years. Like most casinos that are now using online and mobile platforms. For about 400 years, casinos were just ”gamble houses”, but now they adopted new technologies. The most important change was of course, the online platforms which made it possible to enjoy casino games from the comfort of our house.  

For few years know, these virtual gamble houses started to show up everywhere. Moreover, there is a new online British casino called Admiral Casino and has a wide variety of fruit machines. In addition, their app is present on the App Store and you can now play slots like Sizzling Hot and Golden Sevens. Both games have 5 reels and are made by Novomatic. As has been noted, casinos made their contributions in many areas and now, thanks to the mobile technology they can be taken in your pocket. 

 

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Sequels Deliver at the Box Office

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Jurassic World was a gigantic hit in 2015, in fact, at a worldwide gross of $1,671,713,208 it remains the 5th highest grossing film of all time just behind Infinity War and The Force Awakens. That’s impressive for any franchise, let alone one long considered extinct. 

With its sequel, Fallen Kingdom, currently dominating the box office, it is worth looking at just how well sequels tend to do, the mixed fortunes they find themselves in, the biggest success stories and some considerably embarrassing failures. 

Fallen Kingdom hasn’t been a big hit with the critics (51% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 71% for the first film) but this evolution of the series has still resonated with audiences, currently sitting at $932,387,335 and very likely to pass the hallowed billion dollar mark in the next week or so. A billion dollars is nothing to be sniffed at but there is still every chance the studio will consider it something of a failure that it was unable to eclipse its predecessor. 

A few other franchises worth examining; 

Fast and Furious 

A franchise that rose from the ashes of almost going straight to DVD, with the 7th installment staking its claim in the big leagues, ironically 7th highest of all time, but when Fate of the Furious came just two years later, it made close to $300 million less. Is that audiences simply getting sick of cars doing ridiculous things, or something else? Fast 7 was unfortunately bolstered by the death of star Paul Walker, giving it increased media attention. 

Star Wars 

As previously mentioned, The Force Awakens is one of the biggest box office hits of all time, and whether or not it will be unseated in third place by Infinity War is almost too close to call but it will be incredibly close. 

But it terms of diminishing returns, The Last Jedi made over $700 million less than The Force Awakens. Why is that? The answer for this one is pretty simple, The Force Awakens was such a huge, once in a generation event, that it wasn’t going to happen a second time. Not that The Last Jedi’s box office is low, it sits at 11th of all time. 

But Star Wars has a different problem, it is now a series that digresses from the main saga and moved into spin off territory. Rogue One was a big hit, being a member of the billion dollar club, but Solo, a film plagued with production troubles, has really struggled, pulling in a fairly weak $368,879,115. The blame for this lies in the release window, with Infinity War still making good change, and Deadpool the week before, Solo hit in the middle of one of the most crowded summers in recent memory, with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom snapping quickly at its heels. 

What is considered a success or a failure in these terms anyway? It’s hard to know for sure. Sony’s second attempt at the Spider-Man franchise (Amazing Spider-Man if you find all these Spider-People confusing) was a decent hit, and the sequel only made $50 million less but was considered such a failure by Sony that they ended up handing the character back to Marvel. Which we can all agree was the right thing to do. But just $50 million was enough to make them wonder, not the other $650 million it made. Sequels are expected to make more money. 

Now, one last point. The highest grossing film of all time?  

Avatar. $2,787,965,087.  

That will probably never be beaten. Avatar 2 has a release date of December 18th 2020. Will it come anywhere close to the first film? This seems unlikely. Or maybe not, James Cameron should never be counted out, he might very well end up with the top 3 highest grossing films of all time. Or will Star Wars Episode 9, which goes into production this week, come back with a bang and topple Cameron’s big blue cat people? 

Only time, and a lot of money, will tell. 

 

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Cinema FOMO

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FOMO; the fear of missing out. Defined in 2015 by the Oxford English Dictionary as, ‘anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media’.

It’s true that in our online, digitally driven world, FOMO is thriving on a global scale, however that doesn’t mean it’s a new phenomenon. Throughout cinematic history, audiences have craved a shared experience, using quotes and characters as shorthand in their own conversations. No-one wants to be left out of the discussion.

Even in this technological age, the world’s leading film magazine Empire, remains an important and relevant source in the world of film journalism and with its much-loved features and interviews with Hollywood’s A-List, you can avoid serious FOMO by joining their subscription service today, meaning you’ll never miss a review or important update from the world of film.

When the teaser trailer for Black Panther landed, it was viewed 89 million times in just 24 hours. It was the most tweeted about movie in 2017 (before it was even released) and has gone on to become the most tweeted about film ever made. People wanted to be a part of the #BlackPanther and #Wakanda phenomenon and Twitter gave them the community they desired, adding in Q&A specials and a Black Panther custom emoji.

But what about before the dawn of Twitter? Back in the dark depths of 1999, a little film called The Blair Witch Project dropped. Using the internet, online forums went mad with leaked rumours about a film created from the found footage of three missing filmmakers. The accompanying website presented credible back stories and realistic style news interviews. Missing person leaflets were also distributed to enhance the story. (Spoiler alert; if you don’t already know, it was all entirely fictional). At the time however, this clever and original marketing fed directly in to our FOMO receptors.

But what if we take social media and the internet out of the equation. Do we travel back to a pre FOMO time? The truth? Absolutely not, so you can put the DeLorean away.

Back in 1961, Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho. Whilst his reputation was already established, this was a self financed film, so a lot was riding on its success. He made the decision not to screen for critics first, meaning audiences got to see the film at the same time, with no preconceptions. He refused cast interviews and to pump curiosity, issued an edict that nobody would be allowed in to cinemas after the picture began. Would you want to be the only one not to know what was happening inside the Bates Motel? Absolutely not. People flocked, queues stretching around the block to ensure they experienced this new cinematic milestone. Quite simply, FOMO struck again.

In truth, it’s an innate human desire to want to belong and regardless of marketing, it doesn’t get much better than sharing the joy of a cinematic experience with friends.

 

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