Step 1: Come up with an angle from which to promote the film and ensure that said angle features prominently in all pre-release promotional materials including fan-oriented press releases and interviews with talent.
For example, suggest that Guardians of the Galaxy is very similar to the original Star Wars as a way to (i) cross-promote two franchises that are owned by the same multinational corporation, (ii) get-over any (Green Lantern-inspired) resistance the target audience might have to a space-based action movie by comparing Guardians of the Galaxy to a film they already know, and (iii) give the adult audience an excuse to infantilise themselves and set aside their cynicism by inviting them to approach Guardians of the Galaxy in the same way as they approached Star Wars as children.
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Transformers: Age of Extinction is something of a paradox. Compared to Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the original Transformers, the film is better acted, better written and better made. Rather than the usual barrage of ill-connecting set-pieces, Age of Extinction’s plot has a beginning, middle and end constructed around a cast of characters who not only speak in complete sentences but also behave in a manner suggesting the presence of recognisable human emotions and comprehensible motives. The comedy (though still irritatingly broad) is somewhat less offensive and better integrated into the beats of the film while the action sequences are much easier to follow thanks to digital effects technology having now reached a point where Michael Bay can finally stage and shoot a fight between two giant robots without having to keep dipping the camera behind obstacles whenever the bit-rate sinks below the photo-realistic. Transformers: Age of Extinction is a real paradox as while it is unquestionably the best made film in the series, it is also the most excruciatingly shit.
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FilmJuice have my review of Nikita Mikhalkov’s five-hour Second World War epic Burnt by the Sun 2.
Burnt by the Sun 2 is one of the most demented films that I have ever come across. Way back in 1994, Mikhalkov co-wrote, co-produced and directed an elegant historical drama named Burnt by the Sun. Set in the run-up to World War 2, the film tells of a complex love triangle comprising an aging hero of the Russian revolution, his beautiful young wife and a concert pianist who spent the revolution on the side of the White Russian aristocracy. Coming relatively soon after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Burnt by the Sun’s nuanced vision of Russian history brought not only considerable critical and commercial success but also the rare accomplishment of winning both an Oscar and a Palme D’Or.
Twenty years later and Mikhalkov has used the international success of Burnt by the Sun to re-invent himself as both a big budget film producer and the man who reportedly leads the institutions of Russian cinema in much the same way as Putin leads the institutions of Russian government. Reportedly one of the most expensive films in the history of Russian cinema, Burnt by the Sun 2 is:
Best described as a five-hour version of Saving Private Ryan directed by a Stalinist Michael Bay. The film opens by taking the complex web of political and personal betrayals described in the original Burnt by the Sun and reducing it down to someone attempting to drown Stalin in an enormous chocolate cake.
The comparison with Bay is quite deliberate as Burnt by the Sun 2 is not only a Russian attempt at making a Big Dumb Summer Blockbuster, it is a damn sight more entertaining than most of the Big Dumb Summer Blockbusters that have graced our screens in the last couple of years.
Oh… and I wasn’t joking about someone trying to drown Stalin in an enormous chocolate cake:
FilmJuice have just uploaded a piece I wrote for them about the films of Paul Verhoeven, director of Robocop, Total Recall, Showgirls and Basic Instinct.
Regular readers of this site will know that I have a marked fondness for unpopular blockbuster directors like Neveldine/Taylor, Michael Bay and Zac Snyder. Part of what drives my fondness for these directors is their willingness to set aside human values in pursuit of absolute spectacle. All of these directors use violence and action to entertain their audiences but they also use sexuality and fascistic imagery in a way that many directors are reluctant to do. My view on these directors is that one cannot defend Big Dumb Blockbusters like Avengers or Spiderman whilst turning one’s nose up at films like Transformers 3. Summer blockbusters are in the business of pushing buttons and to have your buttons pushed is an inherently dehumanising process. The difference between directors like Bay and directors like Spielberg is that Bay is completely unapologetic about what it is that he does. He makes films for the sweaty masturbating homunculus in all of us:
When people talk about blockbuster action movies, their minds naturally gravitate to the works of sexless man-children such as Peter Jackson, Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas. The reason for this strange cognitive bias is that most people feel ashamed about watching big dumb action movies and so they need their violence to be not only bloodless but also presented in terms of absolute moral simplicity. Spielberg always cuts to the heroic working-class dad because cinema audiences need to know that their yearning for cinematic carnage does not make them a bad person. Similarly, George Lucas can neither shoot nor write a love scene because you can’t have people falling in love and then shooting each other in the face. That simply would not do.
My take on Paul Verhoeven is that he is a transitional figure in the history of blockbuster filmmaking as he spent the late 80s and early 90s building up mainstream audiences’ tolerance for sex. Without Verhoeven, people would never have gone to see Snyder’s Watchmen or Bay’s Transformers.
Futurismic have my 38th Blasphemous Geometries column.
The column is one part review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch to one part examination of the nature of blockbusters to one part analysis of trends in popular culture and the way in which video games are coming to replace super heroes as the blockbuster genre medium of choice (hence the length):
Sucker Punch mirrors the growing intertextuality of the video game experience by having Baby Doll shift seamlessly between the reality of the game, the reality of the brothel and the reality of the insane asylum. However, what makes Sucker Punch such an interesting film is not the fact that it displays an impressively detailed understanding of video game aesthetics, but rather the way in which it uses these images and techniques to attempt to create a cinematic effect.