The Big Short, or why Margot Robbie explaining economics in a bathtub works

Margot Robbie in "The Big Short" via YouTube

Just how often does one leave the cinema these days having actually learnt something?

It’s a question The Big Short, a movie about the men who managed to profit off the 2008 financial crisis, seems badly poised to answer in the affirmative. Economics plus douchebags seldom, if ever, equals entertainment.

Yet somehow, The Big Short works. And why? Because you’ll leave the cinema both smarter and angrier.

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Could 2016 be the start of the end for Hollywood’s cinema days?

Hollywood Sign in disrepair, circa 1978 by Bob Beecher

Right now Star Wars: The Force Awakens is busy making box office history.

In only its third week of theatrical release the film is set to overtake the all-time US box office record of $760m set by Avatar over 34 weeks, and after its release in China the sci-fi epic may well be capable of beating the record for the world’s largest grossing film in the history of the box office – also set by Avatar at $2.8bn.

But this is an odd story for the cinema industry, which many artists predicted was on its way out due to the effect streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have had on the way we consume movies.

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No need to reboot: Spectre and the genius of the Bond franchise

Daniel Craig in Spectre, October 2015 by TM Danjaq and MGM

Box office figures for the new James Bond film show that the longest-running franchise in cinematic history is in excellent health.

The 24th film in the series, Spectre, broke records in its opening week, racking up ticket sales of £52m ($80.4m) in its first six territories.

And whether you love, hate, or don’t care about 007, the 24 movies are a film phenomenon. Decades before Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars saga, James Bond pioneered something coveted by today’s film studio execs – a “shared universe”.

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Life in the time of excess: A Bigger Splash at the BFI London Film Festival

Image Credit – From A Bigger Splash by StudioCanal

There’s a lot to unpack with A Bigger Splash – from the refugees crisis, to our material culture to, well, arses.

A loose remake of 1969 French-Italian film La Piscine, A Bigger Splash follows rockstar Marianne Lane (played by Tilda Swinton) and filmmaker Paul de Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), a fictional celebrity couple on holiday on a secluded Italian island.

Serenity soon turns to hedonistic chaos with the arrival of an old friend (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter (Dakota Johnson of Fifty Shades of Grey fame). As the partying intensifies, each of their lives begins to unravel.

Undoubtedly the film’s most interesting idea is it’s most subtle. Scattered throughout the film are shots of immigrants, mostly huddled in refugee camps – far from a throwaway reference to the crisis in Europe. The movie fawns over the privileged, white, debauched protagonists, despite their careless and destructive ways, whilst the poor immigrants, who only seek sanctuary, are dismissed and ultimately vilified.

What A Bigger Splash really dances with is the seduction and revulsion of our materialist Western culture.

The film has a scintillating sensuality, objectifying everything and immersing the audience in a world of temptations.  The camera is a wandering eye, one never afraid of lingering on a breast or bum cheek.

That isn’t to say that the film’s objectification is misogynistic – everything is fetishised indiscriminately. Fiennes’ penis makes a surprising number of appearances, and the camera traces Schoenaerts’ physique gleefully. Fiennes’ character Harry is said to be happy to fuck anything, and clearly the camera wants to do the same.

We obviously live in a tabloid culture, one in which we relish reading about celebrity sex lives and who went to what club. It’s easy to romanticise and sensationalise these things; We even find perverse pleasure in high profile breakdowns. But the reality isn’t romantic, and whilst the images and sounds of A Bigger Splash may appear sexy, the characters all feel grimy and damaged.

The problem with material culture is that things become just things, they lose meaning, a truth A Bigger Splash confronts us with. The central question of the film becomes: what effect does this loss of meaning have on how we treat human beings?

Just like the booze and the pills and the clothes, people become disposable in A Bigger Splash. The character’s seem to only care about themselves, not each other.

Undoubtedly A Bigger Splash isn’t for everyone. It’s a sometimes humorous, but frequently dark examination of a lifestyle we all seem to aspire to and worship. The film’s a technical marvel, perfect for film fanatics. But if you’re a regular reader of Heat Magazine, this may be one to avoid.

A Bigger Splash is set for release in the UK on February 12th 2016.

Image Credit – From A Bigger Splash by StudioCanal.

With $1bn in ticket sales, Jurassic World is further proof that franchises are predators

Sketch of deinonychus, Tim Bekaert, 1996 edit

With reports in that Jurassic World has just become the fastest film in history to gross $1bn worldwide, should we celebrate or cry?

The answer is neither. Instead, you should be afraid. Very afraid.

Movie franchises are not a new thing, and neither is the fact that mediocre and bad movies can dominate box offices. After all, Transformers: Age of Extinction was the biggest film of 2014 despite approval ratings of only 18 percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

Granted, the Jurassic Park series is nothing like the Transformers movies. The former sprung from a thought-provoking novel where the latter was made, quite literally, to sell more Transformers toys.

But the problem nearly all franchises share is a studio-led design to produce quantity over quality, mindlessness over intellect. In short, franchises are purposefully made to be simple, popcorn entertainment.

Imagine you’re on the board of a film studio choosing which film to fund. One has no artistic integrity, but is part of a franchise and could make you a lot of money. The other is a smaller movie that won’t do as well, but might one day be a classic. Who’s your daddy?

Anytime a prequel, sequel or inbetweenquel makes a lot of money, an original film dies. Instead of hiring writers and directors to produce original ideas, Disney are producing live action remakes of The Jungle BookBeauty and the BeastMulanWinnie the Pooh and Pinocchio. 

Many would no doubt argue: “It’s only movies, who cares?” The problem is that billions of dollars are spent on productions every year in Hollywood, with many more billions of dollars made in ticket sales. And unoriginal content should enrage us as consumers, if nothing else. After all, would we really accept Coke 2 or a new not-as-good-as-the-original Mars bar?

In the first Jurassic Park film, Jeff Goldblum’s character (Ian Malcolm) gives a warning to the owners of the park that I wish an executive at Universal had been reminded of:

I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: It didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it – you wanna sell it!

Colin Trevorrow himself, who directed Jurassic World, has indicated that he wasn’t happy with Universal execs. In an interview with Italy’s Bad Taste, Trevorrow revealed that he disagreed with Universal over footage they had used to market the film. He also ruled himself out of directing the sequel – a pretty clear indication that he was unhappy with the franchising of a film he was passionate about.

In and of itself, Jurassic World is not a bad thing. But it is a bad omen, a symptom of many, many more years of remakes and reboots and unoriginal films to come. What can you do? Know your consumer rights: Reject sub-standard products.