What’s with all the sequels, Hollywood?

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The Geologist and I went to see Joel & Ethan Coen’s True Grit last night, (great acting, directing and cinematography – but where did the rest of the Oscar nominations come from?!) which reminded me of a Moviefone blog post that I stumbled across recently.

Basically, they spoke to a handful of actors and filmmakers at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and asked them what they would change about Hollywood. And the answers were largely the same – and something that’s a major gripe of mine. Filmmakers and studios need to be more original, take greater risks with the material they produce and – for the love of all things good and holy – stop churning out remakes, sequels and franchise films.

If you look at the list of films scheduled for release in South Africa in 2011, you’ll notice it’s jam-packed with sequels with ridiculously large numbers (Saw 7, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Scream 4, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Hangover 2, Transformers 3, Cars 2, Spy Kids 4, Final Destination 5, Paranormal Activity 3), remakes and adaptations (The Green Hornet, The Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America, Water for Elephants, Footloose, The Three Musketeers, Never Let Me Go and Let Me In) and other, massive franchise films (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two and X-Men: First Class). *

And it all boils down to money, really. Studios know that no matter how crap the sequel is, if the first film was good enough, people will stream into cinemas and wave their wallets around. Look at Transformers 2 – where even the cast and crew involved reckoned it was a load of rubbish. So it’s a safe bet – why spend $20-million funding an original film, no matter how amazing the cast/crew/script, when you can splash out $100-million on a big-budget remake and/or sequel and just watch the money roll right on in? Continue reading

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Hollywood paycheques: Men vs. Women

Jack Sparrow

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow

A colleague of mine pointed out something interesting yesterday.

In the top 20 of Vanity Fair’s list of the top 40 earners in Hollywood there are only two women. In the entire top 40? Only six. Six out of 40. And not one in the top ten.

Reese Witherspoon was the lowest lady on the list at number 36 with R106-million earned in 2010. Katherine Heigl clocked in at 33 with R117-million, America’s sweetheart Sandra Bullock claimed 22 with R160-million and was pipped to the post by Angelina Jolie, who earned R171-million.

In the top twenty former Friends star Jennifer Aniston (seriously, how does this girl keep getting movie deals?) who raked in R179-million last year. And the highest rated woman? Twilight Saga star Kristen Stewart, who snatched 13th place on the list of the top earners in 2010 with R208-million.

Let’s put this in perspective. The top earner was James Cameron, who earned R1.8-billion last year. Granted he lucked out with that tiny movie he made about blue people last year, but my mind actually warps when I try to picture having that amount of money in my bank account. (Jim, if you’re listening – I’m putting my younger brother through university and I could happily use one hundred thousandth of your earnings. Seriously.)

But comparing Cameron and Stewart isn’t helpful. He wrote, directed and produced Avatar, so naturally he’d have a claim to a lot more money than any of the actors he cast in it. So the highest actor on the list? Johnny Depp, at position two. Captain Jack Sparrow himself earned a massive R729-million last year – he scooped R291-million for starring in Alice and Wonderland.

So the divide between the highest paid actor and the highest paid actress? A cool R521-million.

The great divide

Yes, I know it’s Johnny Depp and he’s, well, Johnny Depp. I love the guy to pieces. But the Twilight Saga is the thirteenth highest-grossing film franchise of all time. And The Twilight Saga: Eclipse? The third film in the franchise was the sixth-highest grossing movie of 2010. It’s not like Kristen Stewart and company aren’t raking in the cash!

If we’re looking at big names, there are no two bigger on the list than Angelina Jolie and Depp. And hey! They starred in a movie together – The Tourist – which the critics absolutely loathed. And she earned a whole million dollars less than he did for the film. And it’s Angelina-freaking-Jolie!

Surely there’s something wrong here, right? It’s clear that women are getting paid a whackload less than men are – whatever the “official” reasons are, I have no idea. Not being a Hollywood bigwig myself, I can’t provide justifications for why this happens. If you do know, then let me in on the secret please.

But the numbers really, really don’t lie. Where Johnny Depp earns a R255-million fee for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kristen Stewart earns a combined R182-million fee for both parts of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. And at the moment, I’d feel they are both ridiculously bankable stars. (Just ask the millions of Twi-hards chomping at the bit for the next vampire love fest).

It’s the Hollywood Boys’ Club, I’m afraid. Much as women don’t get paid nearly as much as their male counterparts, they also don’t get nearly as many award nominations when it comes awards season – particularly for directing … which is a rant for another day.

Reviewed: ‘Black Swan’

Black Swan movie posterOriginally published on iafrica.com.

Natalie Portman delivers the stand-out female performance of 2010 in the breathtaking psychological thriller Black Swan – a film which is at once wickedly sexy and deeply disturbing.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan is set against the backdrop of a prestigious New York dance company and their performance of the classic ballet Swan Lake. It is, as Vincent Cassell’s character says, a ballet that has been “done to death … but not like this”. Not like this indeed. It is the intention of Cassell’s character – sexy, ruthless dance director Thomas – to strip the ballet and make it more visceral, and it’s something that Aronofsky parallels in his direction of the film.

Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers, an immensely fragile ballerina with only one goal – absolute perfection. She spends hours alone in the studio and in front of the mirror at home, refining her technique. The only world she knows outside of the studio is the cramped apartment she shares with her proud and overprotective mother, played by Barbara Hershey. When Thomas announces that Nina will be the ballet’s Swan Queen – and will dance the demanding dual role of the Black and White Swans – we watch her already fragile state of mind begin to fracture further. She is constantly reminded that she is too innocent, too uptight to successfully dance the Black Swan – despite Thomas’ attempts to seduce her and his encouragement that she explores her as yet untapped sexuality. The presence of the free-spirited and wildly sexy Lily (Mila Kunis in a charged performance) only pushes Nina further over the edge, as she convinces herself that Lily is out to steal her role.

Superbly cast, intensely filmed and set to an exquisite score by Clint Mansell, Aronofsky has pulled together a powerhouse of talent to produce Black Swan. The outstanding supporting performances by Kunis, Cassell and Hershey and a brief but terrifyingly memorable appearance by Winona Ryder make this one of the best cast films of 2010. Aronofsky and his cinematographer, Matthew Libatique – who worked with Aronofsky on Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain – combine uncomfortable close-ups, shaky hand-held shots and epic wide-screen shots to create a charged atmosphere that doesn’t relax for even a frame.

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