Friday, 23 August 2013

This movement starts NOW

Where is our subculture? What culturally defines our generation? What sets us apart? We have horribly mass produced clothing led by massive fashion houses with no concept of what real people can afford or want to wear. Where is our music? Bland chart successes that overtly manufacture to reach their maximum audience. What about political decisions made on behalf of us by the rich few who have  had to live off such limited means. Are we going to sit down quietly and swallow this mundanity which is offered to us? What are we waiting for? You need permission? I'm giving you permission, what do you want to do? Make a film? Form a fashion label? Write a play? Start your own business? Band? Movement? What is it, what moves you? Yeah we all need to pay our rent and feed ourselves but bigger than that we need to satisfy ourselves by creating. Creating something for us, a sound, look, image, brand, whatever?! The time is now and we have the freedom. We have the power of the Internet and more knowledge available than ever before. You are not alone, the current economic climate is dissatisfying more and more of us. We are all the result of beatniks, hippies, punks and ravers. A hundred different subcultures have gone before us and we can encapulate and exploit every one of them for inspirational means. I want to hear from you, are you a musician, designer, photographer, writer, actor, choreographer, singer, artist, visionary? Let's join together and coin this movement, lets support, write about, be inspired by and collaborate. Together we have the means to do this. What's your latest idea? Need a creative forum? To meet more artists like yourself? 

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We don't just want you to 'like' what we are doing on Facebook, we want to hear about you and your projects! Act and create NOW.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Rich's Televisual Ramblings - Ray Donovan

You may well have seen a trailer I put on tumblr for Ray Donovan. That was kind of an unofficial preview for my third column. Over the last few weeks I’ve been bombarded by family, friends and colleagues with ideas for my next column. With that in mind I have a confession to make, I am not up to date on the following shows Boardwalk Empire, Man Men and Breaking Bad but perhaps worst of all, I have never even watched an episode of The Wire. These are all shows that have been suggested to me but I’ve always stated that the principle of this column was to spotlight shows that aren’t on people’s radar. Ray Donovan is now only seven episodes in on Showtime in the US and certainly falls under that category. Ann Biderman, the show’s creator (who is best known for the movies Primal Fear and Public Enemies), has flown in the face of the unfair stereotype that the most engaging TV of today is being created by those who are young (Biderman is 62) and male (Biderman is called Ann and therefore a woman) to create some truly engaging television. 

Ray Donovan is the story of a professional “fixer” for a law firm in Hollywood. What does a fixer do you might ask? A fixer is a trouble shooter for Hollywood agents or lawyers but not in the most conventional sense. If you represent a married basketball star that has just had a hooker die in his hotel bed, then a fixer will cover up the scandal and ensure it never reaches the media. It’s not a pretty job but someone’s got to do it right? Well in this case that man just happens to be Ray Donovan.

Played by Liev Schrieber (Sabretooth from X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Ray Donovan, is a man who’s trying to keep his life together while it slowly falls apart. His marriage with his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), is on the rocks (due in part to Ray’s infidelity) and his relationship with his children is also becoming increasingly strained. As if that wasn’t enough, his father, Mickey has just been released from the prison. Played by Jon Voight (most famous for fathering Angelina Jolie), Mickey, has a difficult relationship with his son, to say the least, and topping that list is his son’s involvement in his imprisonment. Jon Voight chews the scenery in a way that only a great actor with a role he relishes can do. Mickey is a character full of contradictions, menacing but a coward, compelling yet repellent. Ray’s brothers Bunchy and Terry don’t have it any easier either. Bunchy (Dash Mihok), was sexual assaulted by a priest as a child and this has left him suffering from depression, addiction and with a child-like disposition. Terry (played by British actor Eddie Marsan) is a former boxer turned gym owner who is dealing with the degenerative Parkinson’s disease.

A South-Bostonian through and through, Ray Donovan, is the one child in the Donovan family who has never allowed himself to be manipulated by his father. Ray even went as far as moving with his family from the East Coast to the West Coast for a better life and in attempt to avoid Mickey’s influence. The law firm he works for in Los Angeles is run in part by his closest friend and mentor Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould) with whom he shares a number of deep and dark secrets. Ezra is struggling with his conscience and his behaviour is becoming increasingly erratic. You feel that at any time whatever secrets he and Ray share, could be revealed and Ray’s life could collapse like a tower of cards.

Ray Donovan is a show with a great ensemble class and an array of wonderful supporting actors.  Biderman has created a show with two enormously strong lead characters, Ray and Mickey, and whenever Schreiber or Voigt are on screen together the feeling is reminiscent of a powder keg ready to explode. This show, even after seven episodes still has plenty of uncertainty that leaves the viewer keen for more answers and compels them to watch. One thing is for certain though, even for a professional fixer there are problems that even they can’t solve.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Censorship Part 1: Moral panics and Kick Ass 2, or Why Jim Carrey Should Have The Courage Of His Convictions

This is part 1 of a 2 part article.
Two films currently on general release have both attracted controversy for their supposedly violent natures. Only God Forgives attracted boos and walkouts at Cannes earlier this year over its violence (something that is becoming a tradition at Cannes in recent years), whilst Kick Ass 2 star Jim Carrey has withdrawn his support from the movie, stating via his twitter feed “I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. My apologies to... others involve with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.” I will post my own opinions on these films in the next few days but I want to examine the relationship between real world violence and media violence, and society's attitudes towards that relationship.

Chloe Grace Moretz, Carrey's co-star in Kick Ass 2, suggested in a Guardian interview last weekend that Carrey had felt forced to distance himself from the film as he was involved in lobbying for gun control laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, and could foresee the accusations of hypocrisy that would fly in his direction whenKick Ass 2 was released. This isn't a stance that's without merit; certainly I would agree that doing something to curb the utterly insane right of US citizens to bear arms trumps the importance of publicising a superhero movie (and, indeed, the comic's creator Mark Millar has suggested Carrey's denunciation was worth $30 million of free publicity, so it could be Carrey is having his cake and eating it), but by distancing himself from the film I believe Carrey is tacitly accepting the idea that fictional violence and real world violence are linked, and in doing so he is actually damaging the causes of gun control and of free speech.

Let's start by stating the facts. No study has ever shown any conclusive correlation between exposure to fictional violence and one's propensity for real world violence (a recent US Supreme court decision criticised existing research as inconsistent and methodologically flawed). Moreover, mass shootings of the type seen at Sandy Hook are far too rare to be attributed to any single source. If watching the Matrix and listening to Marilyn Manson caused people to commit atrocities (as was widely argued by apparently sane people in the wake of Columbine) then the turn of the century would have been marked by a level of worldwide bloodshed unseen since 1945. As violence in the media – and the realism of violent video games have increased – levels of violent crime have dropped. In their 2002 evaluation of school shooters, the U.S. Secret Service found no evidence to suggest that these perpetrators consume more media violence than anyone else.

Following the Sandy Hook massacre The Sun and The Daily Express newspapers both ran stories about gunman Adam Lanza being a fan of Call Of Duty (The Sun's front page headline was “Killer's Call of Duty Obsession”). Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik was also cited as being a fan of the game series (in fact, aside from his insane ideology it's almost the only think I know about Breivik, which goes to show how widely this insignificant fact was reported). A quick check on Wikipedia reveals that Call of Duty: Black Ops (released in 2010) has sold 25 million units worldwide. Those are first hand sales – that figure doesn't factor in second hand sales and people borrowing or sharing games. Given that there have been 9 Call of Duty games released in the past decade, totalling over 100 million sales, and that “As of March 31, 2012 there are 40 million monthly active players across all of the Call of Duty titles” (Wikipedia) it seems reasonable to estimate that, in total, somewhere in the region of 50-100 million people have played a Call of Duty game at some point. It's hardly surprising that a couple of those people have done something awful.

There are numerous examples over the past half century of violent media being blamed for the ills of society. As well as the attempts to blame Columbine on Goth culture (and really, doesn't it show the ignorance of the people making these claims that it was the goths whom they found the scariest people in youth culture?), the one that made the biggest impression on me during my youth was the controversy over Child's Play 3, and the attempts to link this exceptionally silly and tame horror film with the tragic and horrifying murder of toddler James Bulger by ten year olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. For the record, there is no evidence whatsoever that either Thompson or Venables had ever seen this movie. The only link between the movie and the case at all is that Venables father had rented the movie a few months before the murder. As Venables was not living with his father at the time, and as police psychiatric reports state he disliked horror movies, it is extremely unlikely that he ever saw the film, let alone that it had any influence on his later behaviour.

A toddler is murdered in the most horrific manner by two ten year olds. A lone gunman kills 77 people, mainly teenagers, in a pre-planned killing spree – driven by a hatred of muslims. Two teenagers kill 13 people, then themselves, in a mass shooting. Another gunman kills twenty elementary school children and seven adults before killing himself. Movies and video games are blamed. Why?

I believe that violent media is scapegoated because this act of scapegoating allows our society to avoid having a much more complex and meaningful discussion about the real causes of these awful events. In the Bulger case, the real issues involved were particularly profound. Both boys came from abusive family backgrounds. Both were barely over the age of criminal responsibility and were tried in an adult court – a process that the European Court of Human Rights decided in 1999 had denied them a fair trial. The then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, increased Thompson and Venables' sentence following a campaign by The Sun newspaper (this intervention was later overruled by The House Of Lords as illegal). The Prime Minister, John Major, said in response to the case that “society needs to condemn a little more, and understand a little less". Rather than discuss the appropriate age of criminal responsibility, the causal effects of nature and nurture, how we as a civilised society should deal with children who are capable of such appalling acts and whether social services should intervene more in the case of antisocial families of the kind that spawned Thompson and Venables, the two common reactions (propagated by the press and endorsed by politicians) were to a) blame Child's Play 3 and b) write two ten year old boys off as having been born pure, unmitigated evil. Even blaming a movie makes more sense to me than the latter.

In the case of Sandy Hook the issues were much simpler. Adam Lanza suffered from multiple psychological and neurological issues and had access to a wide variety of firearms. This is not to say that a combination of the two will always lead to mass murder, but if you keep rolling two dice, eventually you will roll snake eyes. Attempts by the right – notably Fox News – to pin the blame on violent media are an attempt to distract from the urgent need for reform of the country's gun laws.

Politicians are only too eager to play into this narrative as it allows them to take quick and decisive action that gives the appearance of effectively dealing with a matter that, in reality, defies easy fixes. These moral panics are always focussed on things that exist outside the mainstream of popular culture - horror films, rock music or video games. These aren't the things that are enjoyed by the opinion formers and elites of society. They are things that are enjoyed by the “other” - by the youth or outsiders in society. They offer easy scapegoats because the people doing the scapegoating – and by and large the audience for such scapegoating (I'm looking at you here, Daily Mail readers) – can place culpability for society's problems on an external force, that is not a part of their day to day existence, rather than examining their own responsibility for the problems of the society on which they live. Politicians can then take steps to ban or regulate these scapegoats without fear of a backlash from the majority of their voters. Note how quickly an attempt to blame the Aurora shooting on media violence foundered – Batman is simply too mainstream these days to credibly blame mass murder on. I believe this is also why video games have replaced horror movies as the default target for such moral panics: the savage cinema wave of extreme horror films started in the early 70s and, as a result, many people now in their fifties and sixties will have enjoyed these films in their youth and know that they weren't corrupted by them.

In Part 2 I will examine censorship itself and why it doesn't work.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Theatre v film?! Discuss.......

We have just started editing our first piece, and I know the film editing process is what truly defines film from photography and also from theatre but you know what? I find it dull! I feel it slows the process of creativity down, makes us rely on technology and removes the very art of it from our hands. The other members of my team disagree with me. The thing is I adore theatre, the fact that you can capture the imaginations of an audience when they are basically sat in a black box. If you can get an audience to buy into the story then, well then you have talent. You have truley suspended reality. That's magic.  Forgive me I love the medium of film but I'm no film buff, I like stories and I like live. As an actor your control over the finished outcome of a film is entirely out of your hands. However when you do a piece of theatre you have an attempt at creating perfection every single evening. Yep I'm biased as an actress and maybe in time I will learn how to edit, to appreciate the process. It as an amazing way to capture the complete moment of perfection. And employing different, more exciting skills other than that which confined by the space of a theatre. Will shall see..........

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Future of Film?

Michael Bay once said “I make movies for thirteen year old boys, and I make no apology for that.” This may seem to some like a valid defence for his woeful filmography, but my instantaneous reaction was that Michael Bay has contempt for thirteen year old boys. It cannot be a coincidence that the only two films he's made which are even watchable (Bad Boys and The Rock) are not aimed at thirteen year old boys. Moreover, do thirteen year old boys really even want movies that are aimed at them? I doubt it.

This summer the crisis that has been threatening Hollywood for the past decade appears to have finally boiled over (please note that, for reasons of length and reader patience, this article intends to exclusively discuss mainstream American cinema). Audience figures so far for 2013 are down, way down, after a season of extraordinarily tired and tiresome blockbusters. Analysts have begun to call it the “summer of doom”. The blame has been put, basically, on the internet – not just online piracy but also the wide variety of alternatives to cinema which are now available to modern teenagers, from social networking to Youtube, and on reduced consumer spending power as a result of the great recession. Though this may have some validity, I suspect it is only part of the issue.

People will only turn to alternatives to cinema if they see those alternatives as better than cinema. This is where I believe the true problem lies. For almost twenty years now Hollywood has focussed relentlessly on the youth audience. The logic was sound. Teenagers and tweenagers made up the largest proportion of the audience, so it made sense to maximise your potential audience by ensuring that your films were not given age ratings that restricted that audience's ability to see movies. The inception in the 1980s of the 12A/PG13 certificates offered the opportunity to do just that – audiences of any ages could go see the films, yet these movies would be, in theory, not so neutered as to alienate an adult and older teenage audience.

There is nothing wrong with this. 12A/PG13 is a perfect fit for many types of movies – in particular comic book movies. 12A is certainly exactly the right rating for a Bond movie, and it allowed Star Wars to go far darker than ever would have been thought possible when the first movie was released in 1977 (it was also far shitter than anyone thought possible in '77 but that's a different matter). The problem arose when the 12A certificate became mandatory for all decent sized films – regardless of the film's suitability for that rating. When Die Hard and Terminator movies are being watered down to 12A (remember that the original movies were both rated 18 when first released in the UK) something has gone seriously awry.

Though in the short term aiming movies at the widest possible audience seems like a smart move, I believe that falling cinema audiences are, at least in part, the inevitable long term consequence of this approach. As a child of the 90s my friends and I were all cineastes. Go round the playground of my (admittedly all male) High School in the mid 90s and ask the kids what their favourite movies were, and they would reel off a list of 18 certificate movies – Terminator, Aliens, Die Hard, Robocop, Total Recall – that they should never have legally been allowed to see. A huge part of the experience of childhood is learning about the adult world, often illicitly, whilst parents and social authority figures attempt to stem the tide in a battle they know they're losing – that in fact they have to lose because the gradual losing of that battle is how children become adults. Furthermore, we knew that there were films in existence that even adults weren't allowed to see. This was a time when Natural Born Killers, A Clockwork Orange, Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and many other were unavailable in the UK. When we were able to get imported copies of these movies we devoured them, because their very illicitness made them attractive.

In today's society children have access to things way beyond what was available in 1995; things which are infinitely more shocking than anything Paul Verhoeven ever came up with. The internet has transformed our society in ways that we are still coming to terms with, and yet at a time when a click of a button can take children to the most extreme material movies are offering them nothing but safe, unthreatening, bland, inoffensive generotainment. When I was a kid we watched movies we weren't supposed to in order to see things we weren't supposed to see. Today's kids don't have any movies they're not supposed to see, so they go elsewhere for their naughty kicks. Sure, studios didn't make much money in the 90s from my love of 15 and 18 certificate movies, but they made a truckload of cash from me in the longer term through a) the love of cinema those movies instilled in me and b) the fact that I've now bought most of them three times, first on video, then DVD and Blu Ray.

With that in mind, is it any wonder that movies have started to seem less interesting to kids of today? Recent audience figures show that adults are now going to the cinema more than teenagers. I would suggest that is because adults are the only people who remember when movies were still exciting. However adult audiences are also down significantly from their peak, probably partly because no movies are actually aimed at adults any more. Movies used to be the premiere entertainment art form. Now they've been overtaken by television and video games.

As audiences dwindle the problem compounds itself. Studios play it safer and safer, pumping out sequels, reboots and remakes as if there were only 20 IPs in existence. As the movies get ever less interesting the audience dwindles further and the cycle continues inexorably.

Fortunately, there are signs now that times may be changing. Last year's Prometheus was the first R Rated blockbuster I can think of for almost a decade. In two days Elysium, Neill Blomkamp's follow up to District 9, will be released in the States with an R rating (the BBFC have classified it 15 in the UK). The British independent movies Dredd and Kick Ass both went for an R rating, and though Dredd flopped Kick Ass 2 is out next week, again with an R rating. David Twohy and Vin Diesel have opted to self fund Riddick, the second sequel to Pitch Black, to avoid the studio imposed 12A neutering of the franchise that scuppered the first sequel, Chronicles of Riddick.

I will go to see these movies, regardless of reviews, because I want these films to be successful. I want to remind Studios that there is an audience out there for this stuff, and that they were making more money when they made films for adults, because a film aimed at everyone satisfies no-one. I really don't want to walk into a cinema in 2023 and have to choose between X-Men 15, the latest Spiderman Reboot and Batman versus Superman versus Green Arrow versus Catwoman. Most of all, I really, really don't want to not be able to go to the cinema at all in 2023 because the audience has dwindled to the point that cinema itself is not viable.

Vote with your wallets people, it's the truest form of democracy we have.