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Has Hollywood Gone Too Far With Sequels? By Clayton Pickard

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

AttackofSequels.jpgHollywood seems to be all about sequels and remakes these days. So far this year, 14 out of the top 20 U.S. films have been sequels or remakes. That’s 70 percent! Does Hollywood keep making these sequels and remakes because they don’t want to take any chances with new ideas and these are a known quantity?

The movie business wasn’t always this way. Of the top ten films in 1985, only one was a sequel or a remake. In 1995, none of the top ten were sequels or remakes. But, by 2005, nine of the Clayton.jpgtop ten films were sequels or remakes. I was looking forward to a lot of the sequels this year: Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Captain America: Civil War, Alice Through The Looking Glass and X Men: Apocalypse. But, when I look back on the films I most enjoyed this past year, all of them are based on original ideas. For instance, The Big Short, Spotlight, Room, Inside Out, When Marnie Was There and Monster Hunt. For those of you who don’t know Monster Hunt, it was the highest grossing film in China in 2015 and is the craziest, funniest, action-packed, original film I’ve seen in years.

Some of the overwhelming amount of sequels and remakes were: The Man From Uncle, Fantastic Four, Creed, Avengers Age of Ultron, Terminator: Genysis and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I didn’t see Creed, I heard a lot of people loved it, but did we really need a Sylvester Stallone comeback? I did see The Man From Uncle, which was fun, but it was all style and no substance. Fantastic Four was a total waste of time and money. The plot and the acting were so uninteresting that it failed to hold my attention. I purposefully did not see Terminator Genysis because it looked like IMG_0238.jpga rehash of the last Terminator film. Nor did I choose to see Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. It’s the fifth film in the series and I feel they are milking the franchise for no reason besides money. They are even planning a sixth Mission Impossible!

A great place to see original, creative, theatrical films for kids is at children’s film festivals. I have been going to the New York International Children’s Film Festival for ten years now. I always see the most creative, visionary and uplifting films from around the world. They always premiere a Studio Ghibli film, which is how I became such a fan of that studio. There are children’s film festivals all around the U.S. If there isn’t one in your area, check out www.gkids.com for a list of great children’s films from prior festivals that you can get on DVD. And, don’t forget to look out for KIDS FIRST! Film Festival partners such as the University of Hawaii at Manoa which is doing its 10th KIDS FIRST! Film Festival all summer long.

The Film Musical in Our Current Era by Willie Jones

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

broadway_picture1.jpgThere was a time in Hollywood when musicals were the top box-office earners. They were the award winners, being lauded by audiences and critics alike. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were the top toe-tapping stars of their day, giving box-office smashes such as Top Hat and Swing Time. Then along came the likes of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in their collaborations, a little guy by the name of Frank Sinatra came on the scene and helped make Gene Kelly a star. Before Hollywood knew it, musicals were winning Best Picture. Films like An American in Paris and Gigi (which are both now hated winners) took home the big prize and in the mid-60s, we even had back to back musical best picture winners with My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music, not to mention a few years earlier West Side Story took home the glory. And we can’t forget Oliver winning just some years later.

Then along came the modern-era of filmmaking, focused on more realistic direction and acting The_Little_Mermaid_Musical_Playbill_1.jpgand the theatrical musical was no longer in. Instead, grittier, darker musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret were the (rare) musicals of the time to gain awards traction and audience interest. Musicals wouldn’t become big again until the 80s, when the Disney Renaissance brought in the animated musical, with hits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. These films would eventually make their way to Broadway. As a matter of fact, the live-action musical wouldn’t make its comeback until the early 2000s when Moulin Rouge and Chicago gained Best Picture nominations, with the latter winning. Then suddenly the 2000s began a resurgence in musical films. This time, mixing the gritty style of the 70s with the fun, theatrical style of Classic Hollywood, like in Dreamgirls or even Hairspray.

The turn of the century brought in a new age of cinema, I believe, an age that doesn’t necessarily have a preference, since fantasy films and realistic films both became audience and critic pleasers. See, in the 70s, suspending disbelief for something in your face and theatrical wasn’t in. Gritty, “honest” styles of filmmaking were preferred even in sci-fi films and horror films (a la The Exorcist and Close Encounters of the Third Kind). But, the advent of more advanced special effects and the resurgence in animated films, brought back a simple, childlike yearning of movie audiences. So the musical was back in business. Mind you, they are still directed with a sense of realism and awards caliber acting, but audiences are again willing to sit through singing and dancing.

Now they aren’t coming out as often as they once did in the classic Hollywood days, but films sLes_Miserables_Musical_Poster.jpguch as Les Miserables and Into the Woods made money and were favored by critics. But, in this decade, we’ve yet to have the dance musical. We’ve had more dramatic musicals without any classic flair of innocence and good fun. Of the upcoming musicals being rumored about being created, not many of them are dance musicals, nor are they well known within the film industry. Now, my worry is that this generation of filmgoers, which is rooted in the comic book film, the dark drama and the dry comedy, won’t see musicals. This is unfortunate because musicals are a very legitimate genre that mixes the aural beauty of music with the visuals of film. Looking at Into the Woods which made money because it is a Disney film and it has princesses and fairy tales attached. Les Miserables made money because it’s been etched in American culture since the 80s. But will In the Heights make money? Or Jekyll and Hyde? Or even Gypsy? Musical theater nerds like me will flock to the theaters to see these stage musicals on the big screen in cinematic form, because we know them. But the theatrical world isn’t the money making world, unfortunately and theater isn’t very accessible to the mainstream, unless it’s something like The Phantom of the Opera or a Disney adaptation.Willie1.jpg

To conclude, I’m expressing my worry that the cinematic musical will once again be forgotten within a generation. Despite the fact a show such as Hamilton is crossing the barrier between theater and the mainstream world, there is still, it seems, a vendetta against movie musicals – particularly ones with dance and family friendly fun. It’s just a shame, I think, that musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and On the Town wouldn’t make a buck today.

Person or AI of Interest by Gerry Orz

Monday, June 6th, 2016

person_of_interest.jpgRecently, the last season of my favorite show, Person of Interest aired. One of the main characters in the show is a sentient AI. This got me thinking. Twenty years ago, the thoughts of a robot being able to think for itself or do anything remotely amazing was a thing of science fiction. Now, we are creating computers that can do trillions of calculations a second and truly understand the most complex ideas known to man. Although this is truly spectacular and a great innovation of technology, the real miracle is when a machine made out of 0’s and 1’s is able to be sentient. In recent years, these robots more focused on sentient life than doing advanced science have gotten much better. For example, robots from Asia have such a complex speech and response program, you would swear they have feelings. AI assistants, such as Apple’s Siri are not even close to that Headshot.GerrySM.jpglevel of advancement, but still show how an AI could be useful to people. In the last two decades with the massive boom of the internet, AI systems are created purely online. Right now, you can go to specific sites or download programs and talk to an advanced computer that seems like it has an algorithm, but at other times it seems like it is alive. The thought probably makes you feel a shiver, which is reasonable. In the past, people imagined a future with robots to help, but very few of these sci-fi stories ever concentrated on the fact that humans would be creating life from steel and coding. It is amazing to think what the future will hold and perhaps ten years from now, instead of humans writing blogs, it will be sentient AIs writing blogs and sharing their opinions with the world.

Revenge of the Sequel by Keefer C. Blakeslee

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

sequelprequel.jpgA sequel blog to a remake blog? It sounds like a paradox. For those of you who don’t remember, my last blog discussed remakes and looked at them from a more positive point of view. I thought it would be fitting to talk about another one of Hollywood’s quick cash schemes – the sequels and prequels. You all know them, the continuation or back story to a film that has already been made. Now, I don’t particularly dislike sequels as much as remakes. There are some cases of necessary extension of a film’s story. Indiana Jones (not including Crystal Skull) still kept its charm with each new installment. Each Back to the Future film had enough comedy and adventure to make audiences come back to the theater. Finally, who can forget the Toy Story trilogy. This group of films got better and better as time went on.

I have to say that I am a sucker for prequels. I love the idea of taking a film’s story or character and pushing rewind to see how it all started. Red Dragon managed to give an equally thrilling experience from its predecessor Silence of the Lambs. Audiences saw how Hannibal Lecture was captured and the relationship between him and the man who caught him. One of my favorite prequels is X-Men: First Class. Not only is this film strong enough to be its own film but we’re also exposed to Professor X and Magneto’s original friendship, turned rivalry. That’s what makes a good sequel and prequel. Being able to regain the same essence that made people love the original or, better yet, add something new that makes people love the story even more.

Keefer.2014.5.jpgAll of these are examples of films with good sequels or prequels. Where are the bad eggs and what makes them rotten? Most prequels and sequels that get negative responses happen because they’re unnecessary. Do we really need four Alvin
and the Chipmunks
films? One was enough. Back to the Hannibal Lecture trend, Hannibal Rising is a non-essential prequel that killed the mystery of one of cinema’s most terrifying characters. Audiences don’t ask for films such as this and yet, studios keep pushing them out. Films like these make moviegoers and film buffs continue to believe that Hollywood is running out of ideas.

While we can point the finger at studio executives, we need to understand that certain audiences contribute to the sequel and prequel madness. They say, “I loved Frozen and ‘Let it Go.’ I want more Elsa.”  “Wow, how did Anakin Skywalker turn to the dark side?” A lot of the time audiences want to see and ask for more. I’m not saying we are to blame but we are not completely innocent. When producers or studio board members get a pulse that they’re making a lot of money from a film, they want to see how long they can drag it out. Example, “We made a lot of money with Lord of the Rings, let’s see if we can take The Hobbit and make it into three films and make more money.” I understand that’s a cynical way of looking at it and I’m sure filmmakers are not purposefully trying to make poor sequels and prequels but when they seemed forced and redundant they come across that way.

Should we stop asking for more? Of course not. There are films that many people want to see continued. I’ve personally been waiting for another Incredibles film or maybe see the back story for The Matrix. Sequels and prequels aren’t all bad. They just need to be created naturally instead of forced.

Theater History Lesson: Margaret Hughes by Brianna Hope Beaton

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

MargaretHughes_1.pngAs the first actress on the English stage, Margaret Hughes is said to be the one who  broke boundaries and made the way for many future actresses to come.

There is not much on Margaret’s early life other than she was born on May 29, 1630. On December 8, 1660, she played Desdemona in the production of Shakespeare’s Othello on the Vere Street Theatre. At that time, female and male characters were both played by men. Women were not allowed a career in theater. Margaret made history when she became the first actress to appear on the English stage.

After the debut of Margaret Hughes, the idea of female actresses became increasingly attractive and accepted by the public. King Charles, who loved going to the theater, had observed this change and the many benefits it had to the development of the theater. Around this time and after MarBriannaHopeBeaton2.jpggaret performed on stage, the idea that a man playing female roles became “unnatural.” In 1662, King Charles issued a royal warrant stating that all female roles must only be played by women. This made the demand for female actresses spike as more and more directors began casting woman.

Margaret Hughes played an extremely vital role in the progress of women in theater. It was her beautiful performance in Othello that gave women their right place. She set the stage, in England, for women to have careers in acting.

Thanks to Ms. Hughes for all her wonderful contributions to the world of theater.  I absolutely love performing in theatrical plays and could not see myself being excluded from participating in them. Without you, I’m sure the progression of women in the field of theater would not have gotten to the point we are now.

The Art Of Cinema by Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

Friday, May 13th, 2016

artofcinema_1.jpgThe art of cinema is much more than big budget, Hollywood movies. I  was lucky enough to take a Cinema and Literature course at NYU this past semester. In this course, I was exposed to the art of film and its relationship to the art of literature. From silent films to French New Wave, from low-budget independent films to Italian art films, this course had it all.

The first screening was Metropolis by Fritz Lang. It was released in 1927 and is still considered a masterpiece of the silent genre. This is the only film in the class that I thought was a little slow and boring. Our second screening consisted of a very intense, French New Wave film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. This film was also slow, but in a very interesting, intellectual way. It’s a love story between a French actress and a Japanese man, both of whom are harboring sad memories of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Les Miserables was another film that we screened. There have been many films based on this classic Victor Hugo novel. We watched the 1935 Hollywood version, directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Charles Laughton. I really enjoyed this film. It had action, romance, politics and even obsession.Clayton.jpg Then we screened a wonderful, low- budget, independent film called Sugar Cane Alley. This film is a coming-of-age story of a young boy, Jose, growing up in Martinique. His Grandmother, Martine, makes dire sacrifices in order for young Jose to get a good education.  The most intellectually difficult film we watched was Death In Venice by the Italian director Luchino Visconti. This film is based on the novella by Thomas Mann. It is one of the most gorgeously shot and scored films of all time. It concerns a German composer who is blocked creatively and travels to Venice to get inspiration. The last film we saw was Gemma Bovery, a satire of the original book Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Set in France, it is a charming comedy-of-manners.

This course widened my view of movies. I now have developed the patience to watch these intellectual and slow paced films. Compared to the typical Hollywood blockbusters that are offered, these films are truly an art form that deserve to be studied and belong in a museum. I urge all of you to expand your viewpoint on movies and sample some of these films.

Looking Back by Gerry Orz

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

TCMClassicFilm.jpgWith Turner Classic Movie’s Classic Film Festival taking place in LA, I have been looking at films from 40 plus years ago and realizing how much work was required to create these films. In today’s filmmaking world, anyone with some knowledge of computers and specific programs can impose an image onto a green screen to bring animation to life, fake gun shots and more. However, when films such as Ace in the Hole (1951) were produced, they didn’t have that sort of technology at their disposal. For a green screen, they used big bulky machines. For a gun shot, they had to physically insert a gun shot in the film and physically add thAceinHole.jpge sound. Just a few days ago, during the annual Star Wars Day, people were reminded about how many amazing things were created 40 years ago such as space ships, planets, blasters, light sabers and more. All were created manually along with careful set designs. Now, entire films can be filmed in front of a green screen or in front of panels. For example, in 2013, Gravity was made almost completely in a room filled with TV panels. Sixty years ago, to get the needed look, they built sets the size of cities! The 1916 movie Intolerance was a $2.5 million dollar film ($60 milliStarwars.nh.jpgon in today’s dollars) Oh, how times have changed. It required constructing a life size Great Wall of Babylon. For people in Hollywood, that might have looked similar to the architecture of The Dolby Theater. This set, along with thousands of extras, is a perfect example of how classic films got their desired look. Today, put some people in front of a green screen and you’re good. In some ways, set design and so many other artsHeadshot.GerrySM.jpg applied to filmmaking can be considered a lost art now. It makes you wonder, in another 90 years, what will be considered lost arts of 21st century? Only the future will tell.

Recycling or Re-imagining? By Keefer Blakeslee

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

remakes.jpgHollywood! Whether you love it or you don’t it’s still the movie capital of the U.S. Many of the finest work of cinema come from the palm tree palace. However, with every yang there is always a yin. Case and point – the remake.

Hollywood is known for taking a film that’s already been done and creating a new one with a different twist. Sometimes they can be better than the original and others (most of the time) should have been left alone. Regardless, I’ve always been skeptical about remakes. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” That’s my motto. Why reboot a film that was already amazing. Honestly, if Hollywood wants to do remakes, why don’t they regurgitate terrible films? That way, they have a second chance to make a great new story and if it’s a flop, it no worse than the original. Instead we get remakes like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes (oddly enough both directed by Tim Burton) that, in my humble opinion, tarnish classics.

I’ve always hated the excuses studios give on why they decided to “improve” classics. “Because they Keefer.2014.5.jpgnow have better video quality and special effects.” To me, that is not a valid reason. If you’re going to do a remake don’t rely on CGI tricks. I’m talking about Ben-Hur. Say what you want.  Is Hollywood out of ideas or are they just doing it for the money?  There is another legitimate reason why Hollywood might remake films and it’s a good one – to re-imagine the story.

I don’t hate remakes. Even though I’m not 100% in favor of them, I understand why filmmakers want to create them. I believe filmmakers are smart enough to know that you shouldn’t go into a project with the intentions to top the original. The audience decides that. Instead, they go with the mindset of not re-making, but re-imaging.

Directors have different styles of telling stories. If you gave the story, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to a bunch of different filmmakers, each one would have a different vision. Spielberg would focus on the adventure and wonder. Howard would show the survival aspect. Anderson would probably make the Nautilus a pink hotel. Now, these new visions can breathe new life into these classic stories, but they should also bring back what made them great originally.

As I said before, there are good remakes. Recently, my favorites have been Disney’s live action remakes of The Jungle Book and Cinderella. These films not only re-create the magic that made us love the original, but they also give it a modern touch that invites a new generation to be exposed to these stories. Hollywood has given me hope for good remakes – scratch that, re-imaginings. As much as you and I may hate remakes, you have to admit that good can come from them. Now, sequels and prequels, that’s for the next blog.

Remembering Shirley Temple by Brianna Hope Beaton

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

download.jpgFrom an early age, her parents encouraged her to pursue our dreams. They instilled in her the idea to work hard at what she loved doing. Being the youngest nominee for the Oscars at age six, Shirley Temple took her parents advice.

On April 23, 1928, the world welcomed Shirley Jane Temple with open arms in Santa Monica, California. Shirley was an exemplary actress during the Great Depression. When she was just three years old, Shirley acquired a contract with Educational Pictures, which presented her acting in a clump of low-budget movies dubbed “Baby Burlesques.” Her mother enrolled her in dance classes at 3 ½ and her father took the role of her agent and financial adviser. With all this exposure, Fox Film Corporation made a contrShirleytemple.jpgact with Shirley. She was six years old when she appeared in her first Hollywood feature film, Carolina. During this time, she also attended the Westlake School for Girls and made eight other movies with Fox. President Roosevelt called Shirley “Little Miss Miracle” and even stated “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.”  By 1940, Shirley already had 43 films to her name. Her bubbly personality on screen made her so loveable and she was basically loved by all. Even today, when people watch her films they are reminded how this little girl made them feel and it brings back happy memories.

As Shirley’s entertainment occupation flickered out, she refocused her labors on a career in public service. From 1969 to 1970, she served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Shirley was appointed ambassador to Ghana in 1974. Two years later, she became chief of protocol of the United States, a position she held until 1977. In 1988, Shirley became the only person, to date, to achieve the rank of honorary U.S. Foreign Service officer. In 2005, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.
During all of this time, Temple married John Agar Jr. in 1945, at the age of 17.  They divorced in 1949. During their four years of marriage, Linda Susan was born. In 1950, she married Charles Alden Black, becoming Shirley Temple Black. Two children, Charles and Lori were born of this marriage. Shirley became a widow when Charles died from a bone marrow disease in BriannaHopeBeaton2.jpg2005. Nine years afterwards, on February 10, 2014, Shirley died at age 85 from COPD and pneumonia.images.jpg

I salute Shirley Temple for a lifetime of outstanding achievements as an actor and diplomat. Her legacy is cherished and appreciated by the grown-up and the child in all of us.

What is the Point of Artistic Criticism by Willie Jones

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

filmcritics.jpgThe actors of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice responded to the overwhelmingly bad reviews of the film by saying that the film is for the audience. Essentially, they were saying that the critics’ opinions don’t matter and that films are made for the enjoyment of the audience. But are they?

A common argument in the artistic community is whether or not artists do what they do for fans or for critics. Many actors will say the fans, but I beg to differ. Fans are important, don’t get me wrong. Their support keeps the art alive and atmospheric and they motivate us. By the same token, they aren’t the ones who etch an artist’s work into history among other works of art. Sure there’s the rare cult classic like Scarface (1983) or The Rocky Horror Picture Show that makes reviewers and critics take a second glance at something, but they are a rarity.

It is now a popular thing for fans to not care about the opinions of critics. If a film or play gets a bad review, it usually won’t stop box office revenue, though fans often tend to agree with the critics. Whereas years ago, critic’s opinions meant much more. Art was validated by the positive reviews of major critics. None of this is to dissuade you from experiencing a piece of art because it gets bad reviews, but I want to bring up the point that perhaps a critic’s opinion weighs more than a casual fan’s.

Why is that? Well, consider this. If you are a painter and you’ve just painted something and put it on the street, would a negative review from an expert mean less than a positive review from a casual fan. See, while artists would like for fans to appreciate their art, there are certain aspects of art that only experts and connoisseurs are truly going to appreciate because of their knowledge. No one has greater respect for artists and their work than those who know what it’s like to create or have the intellect and learning to break apart their craft and evaluate what was attempted.

So, while that cliché action movie may seem great to you, critics hate it because of reasons that, frankly, no normal person cares about. What critics look at, and allow me to use film as an example here, are those categories at the Oscars the casual film buff doesn’t care about. Things such as production design or sound mixing or art direction. Those are things most people don’t care about, but they are things that play great importance in the success of a film. The same thing applies to a play or painting or a piece of music. Experts in those fields, whether they are critics who studied it or artists themselves, see and appreciate things that only they and the creator themselves can appreciate.

So, while casual fans provide the money and fame and other such things, it is connoisseurs of the respective craft whose opinions an artist truly cares about. It is a critic that translates an artist’s work. It is a critic that looks deeper into something and finds the meaning and motivation behind it that cannot be found on pure aesthetic. For example, there’s a scene in Taxi Driver when Travis looks into a cup and it bubbles. To a fan, that scene doesn’t mean much and they may even question it, but to those who’ve studied cinema, they recognize that that shot is an homage to shots used in earlier films for the same reason Scorsese used it. While a fan may fawn over the look of the film and the action and even the acting, it is a savant that fawns over things that an artist wishes his fans could see. Willie1.jpg

There is a scene in Bridge of Spies when Mark Rylance wipes off his palette that seems simple and easy and unsubstantial. But, when I spoke to an actor of over twenty years, he said that was perhaps his favorite moment of the movie. He said the way Rylance pays attention to such detail as he did it, and how motivated he was in wiping the palette was beautiful. That is the difference between the appreciation of art from a fan and from a pundit.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that fans are stupid or unworthy or anything of that sort, I am saying that experts of a certain field have opinions, more often than not, that contain more validity because they are formed with the same knowledge and understanding as that of the creator himself. That is often why artists call themselves misunderstood or are called misunderstood by authorities of their craft. They are misunderstood by the majority, which are fans, yet they’re etched in legendary status by the minority, the mavens.

In conclusion, I believe that the whole point of artistic criticism is to give the artist the understanding they need from the people they need it from. They need fans to enjoy their work, but they need aficionados to relate to and appreciate their process shown through their work.

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