Where the Hell is Richard Kelly?

Where the Hell is Richard Kelly?

It was interesting to grow up in the 2000’s when there was a very eclectic selection of independent films that seemed to spring up overnight. Christopher Nolan’s career defining Memento, Darren Aronosky’s sophomore hit Requiem for a Dream, Jared Hess’ awkwardly hilarious Napoleon Dynamite, and Michel Gondry’s beautifully heartbreaking Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were all destined for greatness. But let’s not forget the oddity that was Donnie Darko. Coming out on the heels of one of America’s biggest recent tragedies (released October 2001) it became a cult hit the catapulted writer/director Richard Kelly to fame. Since then he’s had a small, but interesting body of work. The question is, Where is he now? Let’s start back where it all began.

-The Dawn of Darko-

Donnie Darko is a film that has had an interesting life in these past fifteen years. Going from that obscure title setting on the shelf of Hollywood Video, to Internet cult sensation, to Hot Topic fodder it gained fans. Ask most people in their late 20’s and early 30’s if they’ve seen it and odds are they have. It was a weird film that dealt with time travel, 80’s culture, and the dark undercurrent of suburban life. It even got a director’s cut release on DVD (with A Kevin Smith commentary, weird). People have debated the philosophical meanings of this film ever since it’s release. It took a few years, but this film became the calling card for Kelly to build his career upon.

-The Sophomore Slump?-

With the success of Darko Kelly had built up enough goodwill in Hollywood to begin production on Southland Tales. The original premise was to be a satire of the Hollywood culture, but morphed into a dark political satire after 9/11. The story took on the Patriot Act, the oil crisis, and whole mess of other threads. I use the word mess quite literally. When the film premiered at The Cannes Film Festival in 2006 it was met with the most brutal audience reception in recent memory. Aside from the incoherent story it also fell back into some territory that Kelly already explored in Donnie Darko. While I can not defend this film by any stretch of the imagination it is something of an interesting oddity. Kelly tried to make 21st century equivalent of Dr. Strangelove, I can’t say he fully succeeded.

-Button, Button-

Hot off the heels of Southland’s extremely limited released news popped up of Kelly crafting an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s popular short story and Twilight Zone episode Button, Button entitled The Box. Simple synopsis: A couple gets a package with a button inside. If they press the button they’ll earn a large sum of money, but at the same time someone they don’t know will die as a consequence. A pretty novel idea that was ripe for a fresh take. Once again Kelly’s ideas bog down a solid story with water cubes, lightning strikes re-animating people, government conspiracies, and whether people’s ethics will damn humanity to extermination. It goes off the rails and once again what could have been a taut thriller became more about the same philosophical questions that were in his previous stories. Much like Southland Tales The Box is worth seeing, but whether or not you’ll like it is a whole different thing.

-Now What?-

Since The Box’s release in 2009 Kelly has had projects he intended to direct that ultimately ended up in development hell. Corpus Christi, a film collaboration with Eli Roth fell apart due to budget and casting issues. Another project Amicus was intended for release in 2014 has had no further information released. Although IMDb Pro lists a film entitled Soulmates directed by Kelly with a 2016 release I couldn’t find a single piece of news anywhere else online. The only indication that Kelly hasn’t completely disappeared is his production company Darko Entertainment being part of some recent releases.

So what does the future hold for Richard Kelly? His career could be permanently forced to being in the producer’s seat helping get more commercial films into productions. Or maybe he’ll make a huge comeback with some new and exciting project. Time will tell. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Are you a fan of Richard Kelly’s films? Do you like everything he’s been a part of or just Donnie Darko?

Remember, I’m on Twitter. So follow my incoherent thoughts on Twitter @SDFilmThoughts.

Why We Need to Fight for Fair Use.

Why We Need to Fight for Fair Use.

The past few months a movement dubbed Where’s the Fair Use? (or #WTFU) has been circling the Internet and most notably Youtube. Spearheaded by Doug Walker of Nostalgia Critic fame Where’s the Fair Use? was originally created to take aim Youtube’s strikes and claims policy and how it can be abused by unscrupulous people looking to cash in on a content creator’s hard work. Since then it has grown into a larger debate about what is copyright infringement. So today I wanted to discuss why fair use needs to be protected and how some people are trying to frame this fight in a negative light.

-Like it or Not, Media is Changing-

I’ve talked about this before on here, but it needs to be said again. Traditional media has been left scratching their head when it comes to how Youtube works. I’ve read articles and seen newscasts that act as though it’s some fluke that Youtubers are actually making money off the “little videos” they post. How could some random person point a camera at their face, upload it to this site, and get people to watch it? This right here is the problem. The old guard can not fathom why someone would watch online videos when their products are made with more money and better resources. What they fail to see is that these creators keep a more watchful eye on their audience and know what they want. Studios are still using antiquated market research to greenlight films and TV shows with no exact certainty of how they’ll pan out. This gives online creators a much stronger connection to fans and makes for more entertainment people want.

-How is Fair Use Suppose Work?-

Before we dig into the recent problems let’s talk about what Fair Use entails and how it’s suppose to work. In a nutshell Fair Use states that a person can use snippets of copyrighted material for news segments, parody, criticism, research, and academic purposes without having to pay to use said material. This means someone could take clips from a film and use them in their videos so long as you’re not uploading the entire film.

-In “The Grey” Area-

This where things get tricky. Studios are beginning to say that because Youtubers can monetize videos where they use copyrighted material they’re reaping the benefits of other people’s hard work. In turn, they claim that this affects the sales of the original product in a negative way. Apparently, if you see a person online making fun of a film or playing a video game you yourself are not going to see the film or play the game. While I can only speak for myself this has been quite the contrary. I’ve watched numerous films that I never would have regularly based on how someone online spoke about it. I remember seeing the trailer for The Grey and thinking, “This looks like another bland Liam Neeson action film.” In spite of that I watched a review online where the critic spoke of how the trailer misrepresented what the actual film was about. I decided to give it rent and to my amazement it was a stellar film. What looked like another bland action film about men being chased by wolves turned out to be a harrowing story of man vs. nature.

-Why is This an Issue Now?-

I guess this would be the main point of my article. There have always been people who have operated under Fair Use in the past and it’s been perfectly fine. Without Fair Use we never would’ve seen “Weird Al” Yankovic’s career take off as it has over all these decades. We also would’ve never been able to hear Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel debate the merits of the films that would playing in our local theaters every weekend. So why after all these years are studios getting up in arms about now? My only guess is because the Internet is so readily available that once something gets posted they know more people would see it now than they would have in the past. This in turn makes them assume that if bad news travels faster then less people will get suckered into their mediocre products.

No matter what you may think about online content creators this is a very serious issue. If it keeps going the way it has who knows how many artists will be forced to quit creating. Or even how many will never get their chance because they’re too afraid of being told, “No, you can not say that because we’ll make sure your video gets taken down.” Let your voice be heard in this debate at the link below. And if you want more information and first hand accounts of how Fair Use is being trampled check out Walker’s video, “Where’s the Fair Use?”

https://www.takedownabuse.org/

Sequels I Actually Want to See Get Made

Sequels I Actually Want to See Get Made

Yes, we’re going to talk about this. The film industry thrives on franchises and will not stop even if they fail. Last week The Huntsman: Winter’s War opened to terrible reviews (currently 17% on Rotten Tomatoes) and an underwhelming box office (less than $20 million and in 2nd place). This isn’t going to stop a single studio from greenlighting a boatload of sequels. Because in spite of such a chilly reception (pun intended) for Huntsman most sequels will make money. Next weekend we’re going to see Captain America: Civil War open and clean up. But there are some sequels that are sitting in limbo that may never get made, so I’m going to talk about them. Here we go.

-Crank 3D-

Not going to lie, the previous two are some of my favorite action films of recent years. Neveldine/Taylor dialed it up to eleven and it paid off. With the first film coming up on it’s ten year anniversary we need to see what’s the status on part three. Last year Mark Neveldine stated that everyone was interested, but it was all about timing. I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance this gets made.

-Tron 3-

It took close to 30 years for a sequel to Tron to get made and I was ecstatic. I discovered the original one afternoon on the Disney Channel. Immediately I was drawn into the world and wanted more. Ten years later I got my wish and Tron: Legacy was released. While it pulled in over $400 million at the box office Disney kept being hot and cold with the property. When it finally looked like Disney was going to pull the trigger last year they cancelled it. While Disney says there’s still a possibility of the film happening and Garrett Hedlund is optimistic I think there’s a 30/70 chance it’ll happen.

-Hellboy 3-

This one really stings. As the first two Hellboy films are some of the best comic book adaptations in my opinion I wanted to see this story get a conclusion. Since The Golden Army’s release there has been rumblings about what this 3rd film would entail. Rumor is that one Hellboy and Liz’s twins would be the destroyer of humanity and the other would be our savior. While Ron Perlman continues to keep fans spirits buoyed, but Guillermo del Toro has pretty much said it’ll take a miracle to get the film made. At this point: 20/80 chance the film gets made.

-Dredd 2-

After Stallone’s flaming garbage can of a Dredd film it was going to be an uphill battle for Urban and co. Fortunately the film was a brilliant take on the 2000AD comics that felt like a perfect franchise starter. Unfortunately the movie wasn’t a financial hit. I remember when I went to it opening weekend there was no one else in the theatre. While both Alex Garland and Karl Urban have said that they want to make a sequel producer Adi Shankar said it’s highly unlikely. Unless Urban gets a lot of clout in the coming years I’d assume it’s a 10/90 chance we’ll see Dredd 2 in the future.

-The Bourne Legacy 2-

Yes, this year will see the return of Matt Damon to the Bourne franchise, but what about Aaron Cross? Once Damon and Greengrass bailed on the series and made Green Zone (i.e. Kinda Bourne) the franchise’s writer Tony Gilroy stepped up. He and Jeremy Renner were going to the take the franchise in a different direction while keeping everything that previously happened in continuity. The Bourne Legacy was a sequel/reboot intended on leaving the door open for Jason Bourne to possibly return and team up with Cross down the line. Critics and audiences didn’t click with this new hero or the “chems” story, but it did double it’s budget at the box office. With Jason Bourne returning this year we have to wonder what this means for Cross. Optimistically, they’ll reference him in the new film and set-up a team up film. Worst case, they’ll completely ignore everything from Legacy. I’ll give Renner a 50/50 chance of returning.

So what are your thoughts? What films do you wish would get sequels? Or are you sick of all sequels?

Will Slated.com Become the Future of Indie Filmmaking?

Will Slated.com Become the Future of Indie Filmmaking?

Anyone who has tried to make a film knows that finding money is the biggest issue that can plague a production. Like seeing a mirage a in a desert, the closer you get to funding the less likely it is to be real. This has lead to people using alternate revenue streams for financing. Sam Raimi asked Michigan dentists to pay for The Evil Dead. Kevin Smith sold comic books, maxed out credit cards, and used FEMA money he was awarded to make Clerks. In recent years websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been havens for up and comers. But a recent beast to emerge is Slated.com. What is this and why is it so important? Let’s take a look.

-Background-

Stephan Paternot was once upon a time (the late 90’s to be exact) a co-creator of the website theglobe.com. Never heard of it? Neither had I until researching for this article. What was one of the original social networking websites (we’re talking pre Friendster or Myspace) went from booming success to plummeting failure in the span of a year. When the smoke cleared Paternot went on two separate paths. While investing in angel funds  for tech start ups he also built his own film production company PalmStar Entertainment. It was only a matter of time before these paths merge back together.

-A New Site-

Around 2012 Paternot started slated.com with the goal of taking the very closed off filmmaking community and positioning it to be more friendly to outsiders. While Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made it possible for people to get budgets Slated goes a step further. Paternot’s idea meant taking the interactions of social media and using that to connect directors, writers, actors, producers, financiers, and sales agents in the hopes of getting films made. Right now the site boasts over 50,000 members from all facets of film. The great thing, membership is completely free

-Has This Been a Success?-

Slated has evaluated thousands of projects basing their viability off the script and talent involved, but has it been working? Thankfully yes, a large pool of major Hollywood talent (including Oscar winning producer Lawrence Bender, writer/director Nia Vardalos, and actors like Ashton Kutcher, Ron Perlman, and Heather Graham) are already part of the Slated community. And films are in fact getting made. Off the top of my head, I think of two films that I’ve seen in recent years. The Kristen Bell dramedy The Lifeguard and the Emily Browning musical God Help the Girl both got made with the help of Slated. And according to Slated’s website 68 percent of the films that were at the Sundance Film Festival this year were made by members of their community.

-What Does the Future Hold?-

This is the multi-million dollar question of the day. Four years running Slated has been building a momentum and getting projects that odds are wouldn’t get traditionally financed off the ground. What can we hope to see from Stephan Paternot’s glorious creation? Indie films that will breakthrough and become huge financial hits and award winners. I think it’s only a matter of time. We need these smaller films to get a light shined on them. Otherwise we’ll only be seeing movies that studio execs think we want to watch. But the major problem is the what if. When Kickstarter got raided by Zach Braff and Spike Lee it trumpeted the beginning of the end. I cross my fingers that they keep the evaluation process unbiased and not let bigger names get preference.

As usual, what are your thoughts? Do you think Slated is the future of indie filmmaking or is it going to get co-opted by famous people? Will we see a competitor site pop up? Are you going to look closer into Slated as a way to make your next film?

PS: I need to leave some shameless self-promotion. Follow me on Twitter @SDFilmThoughts.

Is Batman V Superman the Iron Man 2 of DC’s Film Universe?

Is Batman V Superman the Iron Man 2 of DC’s Film Universe?

Now that all the smoke has cleared and everyone has had their opinion posted all over the Internet I wanted to give my major observation about Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I’ll admit that I have mixed feelings about the film (I’m hoping the director’s cut will fix some of these), but I am still interested in where Warner Brother’s takes the DC film universe. My major feeling when walking out the theater was, “This is DC’s Iron Man 2”. What do I mean by that? Keep reading to find out.

-Too Much World Building-

While recent Marvel films have found the proper balance to strike between telling the title character’s story while planting the seeds for the future of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that has never been the case. The majority of the MCU’s Phase One solo films suffered from this, but especially Iron Man 2. While we have a majority of plots that center around Tony Stark (we’ll get those in a moment) there was the issue of the Avengers set-up. Around the mid-point of the film Nick Fury (last scene at the very end of the previous Iron Man) approaches him talking about getting him back in shape for what’s ahead. He also mentions an issue in New Mexico while revealing Natasha is in fact an agent. This isn’t all of it. Toward the end Fury returns to tell Stark he’ll now be consulting for S.H.I.E.L.D. Behind them is a wall covered with easter eggs. Similar problems befell Batman V. Superman with Wonder Woman, the “Knightmare” scene, and videos of other Justice League members. Both of these films suffered from worrying about the future instead of focusing on the present.

-Too Many Storylines Surrounding the Core-

Iron Man 2 had a lot of plot threads that weren’t even connected to the Avengers. Whether it be Tony’s arc reactor poisoning him, the senate hearings pressuring him to turn his tech over to the government, his relationship with Pepper, and Colonel Rhodes caught between his friend and his duty to the country. That’s a lot of plot to take in a single film and of course some of this came out half-baked. With Batman V. Superman we have just as many, if not a few more plots. Wayne becoming a more jaded person, Superman is taking part in a congressional hearing in the wake of Man of Steel’s ending, these two character’s distrust of each other, Lois and Clark’s relationship, and Batman tracking a Russian arms-dealer’s movement. All of this bogged down each film muddying what the central plot truly was. If both films had just removed a couple ideas and had sharper focus it would’ve been for the better.

-Two Villains are Not Better Than One-

Marvel hasn’t had the most stellar track record in regards to the antagonists in their films. Aside from Loki they’ve been two dimensional at best. Some of the worst offenders were Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer. While both hated Stark for their own personal reasons, I did not feel like either of them had strong motivations. Now can anyone explain to me Lex’s motivations for hating Superman? All I can gather is that he despises intergalactic illegal aliens. And when it comes to Doomsday it’s even worse. While in the comics Doomsday is the product of a scientist sending a humanoid creature out into Krypton’s harsh environment to die and be cloned over and over. This continued for decades until he was impervious to almost anything and traumatized beyond recognition. Pretty screwed up, but in the film he is the product of Lex putting Zod’s corpse along with his own blood into a pod on a Kryptonian ship. There is zero motivation for his anger aside from being a blend of two psychopath’s DNA. In both scenarios neither villains were all that strong in the story and could’ve been cut down to a single foe.

So what can we take away from all of this? If you’re going to build a shared universe in film there needs to be a balance struck between a solo character’s story and the overarching story of the entire series. While Marvel stumbled a bit they managed to find their footing and have been doing gangbusters since. I truly hope Warner Brothers and DC can do the same. As usual, what are your thoughts? Did you think people were too harsh on Batman V. Superman or Iron Man 2? Are you excited for Justice League or Avengers: Infinity Wars? Or are you just silently hoping Dredd 2 and Hellboy 3 finally get made?

Titus: TV Ahead of it’s Time

Titus: TV Ahead of it’s Time

Comedy on basic television always tends to take a softer side to reality. Sure, every now and then there came a show like All in The Family, Roseanne, or Married… with Children that had a few unpolished edges, but in 2000 came Titus. This show shined a light in the dark spots of family life where others tip toed around the subject. Today I’m going to talk about how this series that ran for three seasons (54 episodes) would have fared better in today’s climate.

-The Rise of Cable Series-

Nowadays channels like FX and AMC are cranking out hit television shows almost every year. Over a decade ago a lot of what was on cable tended to be re-runs of older shows from the basic four channels, older movies, and shows that were often on the more “sleazy” side. If you wanted a show to actually find an audience you had to air it on either ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. In the late 90’s/early 00’s ABC had positioned itself as the “Family” channel. NBC had positioned itself as the “serious” channel. CBS was and still tends to be the channel for an older audience. FOX on the other hand has always been a wildcard. They often went for the more “edgy” and weirder stories. This was good, but more often if the show wasn’t an instant hit it got cancelled after a year. Had FX (a subsidiary of FOX) been as big as it is today it would’ve been the perfect place for Titus.

-What was on TV in 2000?-

It’s easy to see that Titus was a beast unto itself in 2000. Other comedies were more light-hearted in their content. Here’s a list of some sitcoms from that era (Friends, My Wife & Kids, Becker, Everybody Loves Raymond, Dharma and Greg, The King of Queens, Yes Dear, etc.) Yeah, not exactly hard hitting entertainment. Let’s look at Dharma and Greg in particular. If you grew up during this time odds are you caught an episode here or there. If you didn’t grow up then and are asking yourself, “What is Dharma and Greg?” you’re one of the lucky ones. This show had a flower child and blue blood marry after first meeting and the “wacky” antics the families got into. It was fluffy crap that was easy to digest. This being a complete counterpoint to everything Titus stood for. With Dharma and Greg conflicts often tended to be along the lines of, “Your family and mine have different viewpoints… hilarity ensues.” Titus on the other hand, “We broke up and slept with other people. Now we need to get tested for AIDS”. Titus wasn’t going to play into the traditional sitcom tropes of the era.

-Online Streaming Resurrection-

Of course I’m going to once again touch on this, because it’s the truth. Netflix and Amazon Prime are often more than willing to pick up the pieces of shows that traditional TV throw to the side. Titus was a comedy about family dysfunction that ran for three season on FOX before getting cancelled. Hmm, why does this sound so familiar? Oh yeah, this same outcome would befall the also brilliant Arrested Development four years later. Only four years separated the cancellation of these shows, but big things happened in that time. Luckily for Arrested Development it gained a following when the Internet and DVD were making it easier to share a show you watched with friends. Because of such a loyal (and very vocal) fanbase, Arrested Development got a 4th season… seven years after being initially cancelled. What if Titus had been given the same opportunity?

It’s hard to believe that it’s been sixteen years since Titus debuted. And I was twelve at the time. How did I get away with convincing my parents to let me watch this? Probably because they thought it was hilarious as well. As usual, what are your thoughts? Could Titus have done better if it had been on FX a few years later? Would you love to see the show make a comeback? Or were your parents more strict than mine and wouldn’t allow you to watch it?

PS: You can follow this blog on Twitter for additional insights and jokes @SDFilmThoughts.

China Comes to Hollywood

China Comes to Hollywood

If you’ve been paying attention these past few years you’ve probably read an article or seen a blurb online talking about how China is becoming a growth market for films. We’ve recently seen their box office eclipse the United States and of course Hollywood is taking notice. Just recently Perfect World struck a deal to spend $500 million to co-finance as many as 50 films with Universal Pictures. Today I’m going to delve into what this means for the future of filmmaking and the potential pros and cons that may lay ahead.

-Globalization of Cinema-

It use to be that films lived and died by their North American weekend debut. If a film didn’t make it’s money in the US and Canada all hopes of a sequel were crushed. Lately it’s becoming more common place for films rack up cash in the foreign markets. Most notably China. I’ll drop a handful of examples. Last year’s Terminator Genisys ended it’s domestic box office run at just under $90 million. In China the film scored over $113 million, around a fourth of it’s total gross. Transformers: Age of Extinction was the first of the series not to make over $300 million domestically, but in China it made $320 million. That’s almost double what Transformers: Dark of the Moon made a few years prior.

-Censorship of Stories-

This is a very worrisome aspect to me. Whenever you receive money there tends to be a couple strings attached. American films have occasionally hit a couple snags when it comes to censorship in China and sometimes even getting banned entirely. This is usually based around plots/dialogue/characters considered offensive to Chinese culture. With the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End all scenes featuring Chow Yun-fat’s character Sao Feng were deleted due to the fact that this character, “vilifies and humiliates Chinese”. The recent film Deadpool was flat out banned in China due to the excessive violence and sexual content. If studios take money from China it could mean films would  be forced to be approved or edited before production. This in turn would coerce a filmmaker to compromise their vision.

-Diversifying Talent-

In the past few years there has been a lot of controversy in Hollywood due to whitewashing a number of roles. Recently, there has been two major casting choices that have been talked about due to their homogenization of the source material. The release of the Doctor Strange teaser revealed that the Ancient One a traditionally Tibetan man was being played by Tilda Swinton. While I personally have no problem as Marvel tends to cast an actor based more on their talent than the traditional character’s look (i.e. Idris Elba as Norse god Heimdall), but a lot of people are wondering what’s up. Secondly was the rumor that Paramount tested CGI on Scarlett Johansson to make her look more Asian for the upcoming Ghost in the Shell  live action remake. If China gets behind some of these films it might force studios to actually cast actors of different races in these larger roles.

-Shifting Studio Priorities-

At the end of the day every film is made with the hopes of turning a profit. And so we’re forced to wonder how this influx of Chinese money might change what studios are willing to produce or distribute. We’ve already seen the number of mid-level budget films that get made shrink every year. So with this money is in play it could mean studios will be even less likely to take risks. Indie films are already seeing smaller theatrical distribution. If this continues will more films be forced into heading direct to VOD or not get picked up by studios all together?

Things are definitely going to change in the coming years. But, not all of it will be bad. We’re just on the cusp of another chapter in film. China’s influence will vary from studio to studio, but aside from Universal there are a ton of deals being made. I’m optimistic that we’ll see great films from this, but as usual what are your thoughts? Do you think this is going be good or bad for film? Is it inevitable that U.S. filmmaking will become more global?

PS: If you’re interested in keeping up to date on other random thoughts I have you can check you my Twitter @SDFilmThoughts.