Category Archives: 2012

How do US Box Office Trends compare to the Rest of the World?

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Over the past few years the worldwide box office has increased its share of the box office pie. As a result the importance of the foreign market is increasing for Hollywood studios and they are increasingly looking at trends in emerging markets like China to try and maximise revenue.

There are a few different things we might consider when comparing the two markets. In trying to answer these questions I have looked at the Top 20 Grossing Movies Worldwide in 2012*. From doing so I’m hoping we can spot some differences in trends between the two regions.

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Top Five Films of 2012

The end of one year gives film fans like myself the chance to reflect upon the past twelve months and consider what has past.

2012 was a year which saw The Artist cruise to Best Picture at the oscars.

The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and Skyfall all broke $1 billion worldwide showing that sequels/franchises continue to be box office gold. In fact 9 of the Top 10 Highest Grossing Movies of 2012 were sequels or part of an existing franchise.

It also saw films as diverse as Cloud Atlas and John Carter receive a thumping at the box office… or at least the American Box Office, which tends to be the only one reported. John Carter actually made $283 million worldwide against a budget of $250 million. Likewise Cloud Atlas could still break even after it gets a full release worldwide. One unmitigated disaster, however, was The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure which made back only 5% of its $20 million budget. If you’re curious as to why, this article offers a good explanation along with some mind-altering clips.

Anyway, onto the main feature:

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5. The Imposter
I have a suspicion of documentaries that ‘tell a story’ or purposefully withhold information from the viewer, rather than merely showing them things and letting them make their own mind up.
The Imposter breaks this rule, but the way it structures its narrative is such that I didn’t really mind. The story, of a young spanish man who poses as a missing american teenager, is so difficult to believe anyway that telling it like a Hollywood thriller really does suit the nature of the tale.
Finally, getting the antagonist of the film to not only agree to the interviews but be so up front about what he did, gave the whole film a creepy Silence of the Lambs feel that you do not see very often in documentaries. At times astonishing, at times disturbing and at times heart-breaking; make sure you check it out if you missed it.

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4. Looper
Brick and The Brothers Bloom showed the invention of director Rian Johnson, and in some ways are reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s early films like Momento and The Following.
Looper showed what Johnson could do with more of a budget. Like Nolan’s Inception its plot is full of complex twist and turns, however, unlike Inception, the characters, ideas and substance of the film are able to match said complexity.
In making the lead character deal with killing his older self, Looper also manages to do something creative and interesting with the time travel genre, without getting itself too wrapped up in the finer details of how it all works.
Looper was a smart, engaging film which kept the audience on its toes the whole time without resorting to an over-the-top twist or withholding too much information (cf. Prometheus). This year’s best sci-fi film by far.

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3. Cabin in the Woods
Avenger’s Assemble may be the Joss Whedon movie most people saw in 2012, but Cabin in the Woods is the one that shows us just how creative he can be when he is given the space to do so.
Collaborating with fellow Buffy writer Drew Goddard, Cabin in the Woods is a twist on the traditional horror set-up; with five young people going on a vacation that can only have terrible consequences.
With a third act that thrilled like few films can, Cabin in the Woods was one of the most surprising and fun films of the year that is sure to be remembered as one of this decade’s best horror movies.

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2. The Angel’s Share
Ken Loach is renowned for his brand of ‘social realism’ which normally sees things going from bad to worse for his working class characters. The Angel’s Share has moments like this (a scene where the protagonist has to confront a victim of his crimes for example), but mostly it’s an upbeat affair about a young father trying to turn his life around through whisky. One scene in particular had me laughing more than anything else I saw at the cinema this year (the one involving two Irn Bru bottles for those who have seen the film).
Overall the film was ‘feel-good’ without being saccharine, a story where you feel the story and characters have really earned the right to smile at the end.

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1. The Muppets
I grew up watching The Muppets Tonight on BBC and also The Muppet Christmas Carol pretty much every Christmas since it was first released. So when I heard they were making a movie much like the original films/tv series I was very excited.
The film did not disappoint; completely capturing the spirit of the films/series of the 70s/80s whilst creating a tale that made sense of The Muppets absence from popular culture for the past few decades. No other film this year brought me just as much joy as The Muppets, and for that reason it simply has to be number one.

Agree/Disagree? Feel free to provide your own Top 5 Films in the comments below:

London’s Burning Bright

The police shoot. Man down.
Anger and misinformation abound
Facebook, BBM, Soon flash mobs mob
They Smash and grab. Raze and rob
Trainers and TVs. It’s what they need.
Never mind jobs to find or mouths to feed
Some young souls set the place alight
London’s Burning Bright.

One year later. A different place?
Too much money? Can we hack the pace?
We see a land. So pleasant. So green.
Give way to a revolution. Then Queen and Bean.
We love the NHS! That Bonkers song…
Sir Steve Redgrave? The torch is passed on
Some young souls set the place alight
London’s Burning Bright.

EIFF Round-Up: Part Two – Killer Joe, Young Dudes and NFA

Part Two of my Edinburgh International Film Festival Round-Up sees films centering on a KFC-loving hitman, an apocalypse, and homelessness respectively.

Killer Joe

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Opening this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival was Killer Joe, a controversial film about a family is desperate need of just about everything.

Chris (Emile Hirsch), the son, is in desperate need of cash, he owes a local drug lord a lot of money. He finds out his estranged alcoholic mother has a life insurance policy for $50,000, so approaches his father (Thomas Haden Church) to concoct a plan to kill off the mother and get the money. Rather than carrying out the deal themselves, they decide to hire Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a police officer with a side business in killing.

The only problem is they don’t have the $25,000 Joe needs to carry out the deed, however Joe agrees to take Chris’ other-wordly sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as ‘collateral’ until the family gets their cash.

As the description suggests this is a black comedy at its very blackest. It is clearly not a film interested in the morality of the characters (since aside from Chris and perhaps Dottie) they have none. Instead, it seems more interested in the deranged situations such amoral characters can find themselves in.

Each actor is perfectly cast and carries out their role to perfection. In particular Juno Temple adds layers to a young, innocent character trying to find her identity in an environment no young person should be near.

In many ways, however, Killer Joe felt a bit pointless. Unless you’re a fan of this blacker than black humour, there’s not much in terms of character development, story or theme to chew on.

It reminds me of the final scene of Burn After Reading in which J.K. Simmons’ CIA character muses on the movie’s events by saying, “What did we learn?” and failing to answer the question goes onto say, “I guess we learned not to do it again.”

Likewise with Killer Joe it’s a film that actively avoids analysis and instead opts for a series of apparently pointless events. In short, not my kind of film.

Young Dudes

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Heralding from Taiwan, Young Dudes was probably the most disappointing of the films I saw at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.

It concerns two young men who believe the apocalypse is coming, and so start a kind of online cult to try and build an ark that will save them from the end of the world. They soon enlist the help of an Eastern European female, and the three do a series of web shows and publicity stunts which capture the imagination of the world’s media. However, it’s not long before one of them gets abducted by beings out of this world.

The problem with Young Dudes was that while the concept and humour the piece was engaging, its characters and their relationships were not. It’s a film which seems interested in the internet and popular culture, but what it’s actually saying about these things is unclear.

In fact most of the film seems purposefully unclear. As such, I was just left pondering what exactly I had seen and why it was important. Young Dudes is certainly an imaginative film, but also one lacking in the traditional story-telling techniques to allow me to engage with its themes.

NFA

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NFA, on the other hand is a film with a clear theme and narrative. Homelessness is on the agenda, as the film’s main character, Adam (Patrick Baladi) finds himself in a hostel with no recollection of how he got there.

Things get stranger as he tries to make his way back to his house only to discover its abandoned and the police claim there is no record of his residence there. Could it be Adam, articulate and thoroughly middle class really is homeless?

The film is mainly well done, and is carried through to its conclusion without the type of over-the-top ridiculous twist that could have blighted such a story. As it zips along, it deals well with the real issues those who find themselves homeless in Britain must come across.

Nevertheless, once you realise what has happened to Adam and consider the events of the film post-credits, it starts to unravel a bit. As such, the main problem with the film is that in choosing a middle class character to be the film’s homeless lead, it seems like there’s too many hoops it has to jump through to make it work.

Rainbow, the film’s director, used to work in a homeless shelter, and said he came up with the idea for the film after hearing so many answer the question “How did you end up homeless?” with “I don’t know.”

I must say, I would have rather heard a more realistic story based on all the people he met, than the contrived version we ended up getting, presumably to make middle class audiences more engaged with the film’s theme.

It seems ironic that in trying to get middle class people to engage with the issues of the film, Rainbow felt it necessary to put them at the heart of the movie rather than the people it actually effects.

EIFF Round-Up: Part One – Exit Elena, One. Two. One & Berberian Sound Studio

The Edinburgh International Film Festival ended around a week ago, so here’s my first of three round-ups detailing one American, one Iranian, and one British film respectively.

Exit Elena

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Shot in 4:3, there’s something incredibly intimate and also unnerving about Exit Elena, the story of a young live-in carer made to feel a little too welcome by Cindy, the matriarch of the house.

Elena is tasked with looking after Gert, Cindy’s almost immobile mother. However, her difficulty comes not in trying to do her duties as a nurse, but in trying to get the balance right between professionalism and familiarity in her first-ever job as a carer.

The film is small on budget, scale and location, giving a sense of claustrophobia that is both very funny and very cringe-inducing. With a sense of humour that will be familiar to fans of The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm, this is a film which loves to grasp the truth of situations. The results are often funny but also insightful.

If there’s a complaint to be made about Exit Elena, it’s almost that its situation is so well-defined, it could just as well be a documentary as a drama. In the Q&A after the film we learned that all the characters play versions of themselves. Cindy, for example, is the director’s mother. As such you could argue this is a film high on truth, but low on imagination.

One. Two. One.

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The middle of Hunger sees a long dialogue between the films protagonist, Bobby Sands and a priest. In a film dominated by silence, it’s an incredibly affective scene, not least because the ten minute scene was shot without cuts. This gives it a sense of urgency and reality as both characters are unable to escape the difficult questions they ask of each other.

One.Two. One is a whole film of such conversations. Set in Iran, it sees its main characters coping with the aftermath of an attack by an ex-lover a woman which has left her with scars over her face.

Each scene lasts around ten minutes and does not contain any cuts. It sees characters in a variety of every-day locations (a bank, beauty salon, cafe, etc.) mainly conversing about the aftermath of the attack.

The unusual nature of the film takes a while to get used to. However, once I got in tune with its rhythm I found it very rewarding. Everything about the film is incredibly carefully constructed, meaning a look or a word can carry a lot of emotional depth.

The film certainly won’t be for everyone, it is possibly more on the side of experimental than wholly engaging. Nevertheless, for those who can get into its ebb and flow quickly, the performances, dialogue and unique use of long takes offer a creative and insightful cinematic experience.

Berberian Sound Studio

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Dun dun. Dun dun. Dun dun dun dun dun dun…..

Sound matters. Especially when it comes to horror movies. Imagine Jaws without the music. It would just be a camera moving gracefully through water. In many ways Berberian Sound Studio is a celebration of sound. Especially when it comes to horror movies. Italian horror movies to be precise.

Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a British foley artist who has been got a job on his first horror movie. More used to making British nature documentaries, there’s a clash of cultures as his unfussy British ways collide with the Italian passion and flair of his colleagues.

The film gives an insightful and funny insight into the world of post-production sound. Vegetables, high heels and frying pans are used to make all sorts of weird and wonderful noises. None quite so weird and wonderful, however, as those who must impersonate goblins and witches. Unsurprisingly the unusual effects produced provide some of the most hilarious moments in the film. Especially as no shots from the film-within-a-film are ever shown. Director , Peter Strickland, knowing the audience’s imagination is far more powerful than whatever grotesque image he could have shot to match each sound.

As the film nears its conclusion the often claustrophobic film starts to get stranger and stranger. Gilderoy starts to find it harder to keep it together as he finds himself listening to effects in his flat one moment, then without realising it finding himself at work the next. The sound of the film remains the same as before, but the images that accompany it start to seem out of place.

The ending of the film is unusual enough to be quite jarring and a little unsatisfying. Nevertheless, the film is brave, unique and funny enough up to this point for it not to matter too much. For lovers of film, sound and Italian horror in particular it is surely a must-see.

EIFF 2012: Two for animal lovers: Rent-a-Cat & The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus

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Rent-a-cat is a Japanese film about a young woman (Sayoko) who is a lover of felines. She has so many felines she decides to lend them to lonely strangers, “to fill the hole in their hearts”.

Like the protagonists in Amelie and Clueless/Emma, we soon find out that although Sayoko loves helping people, she needs help just as much as her lonely customers. For example, she displays many of her life goals on her wall, the most important of which is that she gets married by the end of the year.

The film has a very light-hearted tone, key moments are repeated through out the film, such as the customer’s shock as how cheap the rent-a-cat service is, and Sayoko’s apparently far-fetched alternative methods of income (ranging from fortune telling to stockbroking). Another highlight is Sayoko’s ugly neighbour who constantly derides her with ridiculous insults.

The film’s nature relies heavily on its eccentric characters and premise, and you will probably know within about ten minutes whether this is the type of film you like. It has charm and personality in spades, but does not attempt to bring anything new to the medium of film.

As such, it is the type of movie perfect for a relaxing Sunday afternoon, but perhaps lacking the same level of imagination as similar films like Amelie or Kiki’s Delivery Service.

In summary, Rent-a-Cat is a film a bit like a hot cup of tea: something that will give you a warm glow after you experience it, but not something that will drastically change the course of your life.

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The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus is the latest film from Alexander O. Philippe whose The People Versus George Lucas was shown at EIFF two years ago.

Paul, for those of you with the memory of an aquatic sea creature, correctly predicted all seven of Germany’s matches at the World Cup in 2010, and then went on to predict the winner of the final, Spain, giving him a record any sport’s pundit would be bragging about for the rest of their career.

The film is probably more in-depth than a film about a psychic octopus has any right to be. We get interviews the employees of Paul’s aquarium in Oberhausen; his English agent; Spanish world cup winners; bookmakers; and even the late Paul himself (via two “animal communicators”).

Like The People Versus George Lucas, it also features fan videos with a surprising number of songs from a surprising number of countries written in honour of the eight-legged soothsayer.

What Philippe does with this film is to strike a great tone between the bizarreness of the topic and the public’s undeniable obsession with it. So on the one hand we have the animal communicators hilariously contradicting each other about Paul’s message for humankind, and on the other we have an academic talking about famous sea creatures in ancient mythology and how Paul causes us to question just how much we know.

As a result we get a documentary which is very entertaining to watch, but also asks the right questions about why it is we become so obsessed with something we know cannot possibly be true.

In the Q&A after the film Philippe talked about his interest in pop culture and how easily it is often dismissed. Whether it’s Star Wars or psychic animals, it’s great to see filmmakers exploring these areas because trivial as they may be on one level, people’s interest in them is undeniable; and that seems to be what interests Philippe most.

The Life and Times of Paul the Pyschic Octopus doesn’t work quite as well as The People Versus George Lucas for precisely that reason; people just are not as obsessed with it. However in and of itself it is still a highly entertaining, smart and engaging documentary.

EIFF’s Love Stories: What is this Film called Love? & Future My Love

Documentaries come in many shapes and sizes. Most are about biographical, whether that be other people or organisations (like say Grizzly Man; Man on Wire; or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room). Rarely are they about the autobiographical, unless it is an attempt to use their experiences to promote a cause, like Al Gore or Morgan Spurlock.

Two films at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival are the exception to this rule. Both deeply personal and both about love, although in very different ways.

What is this Film Called Love? is Mark Cousins’ latest film after the epic 15-hour The Story of Film: An Odyssey. It is the polar opposite of such a film in scale and ambition. It opens with Cousins explaining he has three days in Mexico City alone, and that he has decided to cut himself off from the world, but record what he is doing on a tiny, mobile-phone sized camera (the same ones he gave to the children in Iraq in My First Movie).

Early on he decides to print off and laminate a picture of Sergei Eisenstein, the Russian director of Battleship Potemkin, and bring it with him as he walks the streets of the most populated city in the Western world.

As he walks along he starts to imagine conversations with the deceased director in his head, he imagines what places Eisenstein must have seen when he shot a film there many years before. He wonders what he would make of things as varied as mobile phones, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the grand cathedrals of Mexico City.

Interspersed with all this are Cousins’ own thoughts as he sees an old woman struggling with her bags; remembers the time a few weeks earlier he stripped naked in the valley of the gods; and sees a fly teetering on the edge of a bridge above some heavy traffic. It’s at this point he quips:

This started out as a film about nothing, now it’s a film about less than nothing, a fly.

This line kind of sums up the film. It’s a film about nothing, or less than nothing. Yet, more simply it’s just living in Mark Cousins’ head for three days, seeing what he sees, walking where he walks, and allowing ourselves to think as he thinks.

A deeply personal film, which despite its self-centredness is never boring. Spending time with Cousins is reminiscent of spending time with Herzog in his documentaries. Both have a way of thinking and expressing themselves quite different to the norm. At times their ideas and expressions sound crazy, yet it’s that intelligent kind of crazy you can’t help but engage with and reflect upon.
What is this Film Called Love? is not an easy-sell, but for those willing to give it time, joining Cousins on his strange and glorious journey of self-discovery should provoke similar strange and glorious thoughts on our own discovery of the self.

The second very personal documentary I saw was Future My Love by Maja Borg. It’s a film which cleverly balances two strands. The first is a poetic message to Borg’s ex, as she tries to come to terms with their separation by revisiting Jacque Fresco, a subject in her previous documentary, Ottica Zero.

Fresco takes up the other strand. He is a ‘futurist’ who believes society is fundamentally broken and instead of dreaming up inventions that make lives better on an individual level, we need to start over and use technology to design a society that works for everyone, not just the fortunate few.

Borg’s choice of subject is certainly interesting. Fresco, now in his nineties, is a passionate, articulate interviewee. And his opinions, while far-fetched do have a certain appeal to them. The problem comes in that Borg seems uninterested in conducting interesting interviews like Herzog or Theroux might, interviews which really get to the heart of their subjects and reveal things only they as interviewers could reveal.

So after thirty minutes, I felt like I got everything Fresco was saying and had to listen to him witter on for another hour about essentially the same thing. Fresco is not the only person Borg interviews, but most of the others have little extra to offer and as such the film meanders more like an art project than a narrative.

The poetic messages Borg narrates to her ex have a little more weight to them. Her reflections on love and the future are honest, reflective and seem to build a lot better than the rest of film. Nevertheless I suspected after thirty minutes of Future My Love I would be offered little new, and for me this proved to be the point.

While its subject-matter is well chosen and there is a lot of thought put into the film, as a documentary I don’t feel Future My Love works; as an art project however, it has merit. But I feel its lack of cohesion and direction overall holds it back from being something much better.