Alistairm's Blog

With Reference to your chosen American films, compare to the extent their messages and values reflect the times in which they were made

Posted in Uncategorized by alistairm on April 19, 2010

Gran Torino – 2008 film directed by Clint Eastwood, and Odds Against Tomorow – 1959 film directed by Robert Wise are the films I have chosen to reference. The large time gap between the production of both films reflects the change of attitudes in American cinema between the two different generations. Odds Against Tomorow is quite modern for the time in which it was made as it’s narrative addresses racism in a degrading way. However, it still contains racial slurs and other discriminative features which would be unacceptable to a present day audience but would have been part of the zeitgeist thus accepted as the norm. Gran Torino still uses the same degree of racial slurs, but they serve to debase the character of Eastwood, Walt, by portraying him negatively. His views are outdated with the ever-evolving America, welcoming a larger immigrant population and pushing his dated attitudes aside. His redemption in the penultimate scene, by sacrificing himself for the Hmong, shows his change of attitude an amendation of his regrets, such as Vietnam.

Odds Against tomorow is strongly influenced by the Cold War, which occured during the time the film was produced. The apocalyptic-esque explosion in the penultimate scene reflects the cold war threat, but also juxtaposes it with racism. The lack of co-operation with the black protagonist, Johnny Ingram, leads to the death of the main characters. Though the film is mainly concerned with the heist, several other factors come to surface such as gang culture and gender roles. Gang culture is reflected in a more organised way, as opposed to the roguish gangs portrayed in Gran Torino. Gang culture is also shown as revolving through generations in Gran Torino, as Thao is forced to join the gang by the Hmong gang members by attempting to steal Walt’s Gran Torino – this is ironic as it leads to them becoming attached, the gang’s demise and ultimately, Thao’s reposession of the Gran Torino. The gang is also pervading in Odds Against Tomorrow,  by becoming involved in Johnny’s gambling and compelling him to join the heist and fits in with gangster films by mocking the American dream, which was popular at the time as America was suffering economic decline. Earl’s reasons to join the heist draws upon the American dream as he says ‘I want to make it’. His feeling of being belittled by the reverse gender role in his and Laurie’s relationship also compells him to do the heist – the mirrored shot of Earl and Laurie show’s his self reflection of this. The American dream is also drawn upon in Gran Torino, portraying the son of Walt as a successful business man living in a typical modern middle-class American house. This depiction also has a sinister side, as the children are portrayed as disrespectful and the family’s relationship is fragmented.

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Alternative Distribution in Films

Posted in Uncategorized by alistairm on March 8, 2010

Several films, particularily indie films, use alternative distribution methods to promote the film, pay for the expenses of the film and to possibly pay for a sequel. Unconventional methods of release not only makes the film more successful, it also helps to attract a larger audience.

The Age of Stupid – crowd funded and having a no personal gains attitude, The Age of Stupid introduced the groundbreaking indie screening model. This model provided buyers with the ability to possess the license to screen the film and take profits from it’s screening. The model proved to be successful as it was screened in 682 cinemas in the first 4 months of it’s release. This generated enough money to pay for the development of the film and the shareholders. As the film didn’t reap any personal benifit, the method is successful way to promote screenings however unsuccessful in earning money. The film was solely for generating viewer awareness, however, so profit was not an issue.

Star Wreck – Finnish film Star Wreck hosted a free screening, whereby it was free to download the film but accepted donations and sold DVDs to afford a sequel and cover the cost of the film. The film aired on TV channels in countries such as Finland, Italy and Belgium. The film was a success, generating enough money to make a sequel ‘Iron Sky’. The ability to download online generated much popularity, as the film had 3 million downloads. Online downloading allows distributers to screen to a large audience at a minimal cost. The fact that the film was free to download further increased the film’s popularity and success.

Paranormal  Activity – American horror film Paranormal Activity used a ‘demand to see in your area method’. Internet users were to vote, using eventful.com, where the film went next. This method of Viral Marketing was the first of it’s kind to generate success though the distribution relied heavily on word of mouth. Paranormal Activity generated large success as this method is also a form of advertising and became largely popular quickly. When the film reached 1,000,000 demands, it was shown nationwide and soon after Paramount distributed it worldwide. This method was successful as the producers could directly see the demand for the film thus they were able to confidently distribute it worldwide without the risk of not developing enough attention and loosing money.

Similarities and differences between Gran Torino and Odds Against Tomorrow.

Posted in Uncategorized by alistairm on March 2, 2010

Odds Against Tommorow is a 1959 Film Noir. The film is significant as it was the first in it’s time to incorporate a black protagonist. This element serves as a contributing factor to the gritty realism of the film and it’s fiery conclusion. It is apparent that the film alludes to the 1950’s nuclear war tension, stating a solid message that racism will bring the end of the world. Gran Torino is a drama film, alluding characteristics of film noir and melodrama. The narrative works in a similar way, showing that life cannot work with racism as Walt is isolated and contemptuous towards other races. He eventually realises the ills of his ways and redeems himself.

Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino delivers a message of racism and redemption. Whilst we scorn his racial slant, we also sympathise with him and come to terms with why Walt is racist. He is depicted as an archetypal aged white American, despite his Polish origin his prejudice to other races, undoubtedly caused by his veterancy, is evidently set in stone.  Sacrificing himself for the Hmong shows his change of heart. Odds Against Tommorow depicts racism in a way that the audience at the time would have related to, however the penultimate scene displays the consequences of having such views, the fiery conclusion of racism and prejudice in general.

Social intergration, between blacks and whites, is a valued virtue in both films. Where the white protagonist and ethnically contrasting characters must work together to solve the antagonising problem. The outcome of both films show not only that it is necessary to socially intergrate but also that by not doing so can have heavy consequences. Gran Torino conveys this by depicting Walt as a bad character; prejudice of his neighbours, the Hmong. Odds Against Tommorow conveys this by the oil rig explosion and the fiery outcome.

Odds Against Tommorow is a film noir, which dramatises the racism. The failed heist, caused by the uncooperative nature between the two characters, is the incorporation of the typical pivotal moment in a film noir – which serves to deliver a message and have a dramatic outcome. Similarily, Gran Torino has a similar outcome whereby Walt becomes aware of his impending death and decides to sacrifice himself for the Hmong. The film noir element helps to contribute to the overall anti-racist message and make it more prominent to the audience.

Walt and Earl share similar chararacteristics in the way that they are both typical Melodrama protagonists, both being war veterans who have been burdened heavily by war. Their burdens are carried as they share similar indignation towards ethnic minorities. Though Odds Against Tommorow is a film noir, it still contains certain aspects of melodrama which contribute to the apocalypse-alluding ending. Their war veterancy makes their racism justified, yet not acceptable. The large time-lapse between the two films releases also conveys the changing attitudes of the audience. Odds Against Tommorow, despite the message being less clear, offers a less resolving ending, conveying the message that the racism in the film is an on-going problem. Gran Torino however shows that Walt is isolated from the rest of the community because he is racist, but slowly intergrates within it; He becomes happier, accepting the Hmong as an ideal family opposed to his own spoilt family.

Despite the time-lapse, the films offer similar message in the way that society is hindered by prejudice views and that resolve is essential. Both films overlap in terms of narrative structure and genre elements and share the same anti-racist message throughout however the contrasting audiences make it necessary for the films to evolve, as Gran Torino could arguably be the evolution of society, caused by the need to change society, depicted in Odds Against Tommorow

Messages in Gran Torino

Posted in Uncategorized by alistairm on February 8, 2010

Gran Torino is an American drama film produced by Clint Eastwood, who also stars in the film. The film touches on controversial subjects, such as racism, gang culture and cultural integration into America. Though it is difficult to specify the genre of Gran Torino, certain aspects allude to melodrama, thriller and crime aswell aswell as pertaining to vigilante films, as Walt takes the law into his own hands.

Anti-racism is clear in Gran Torino. The main culprit of racism is Walt, who is introduced as quite a detestable character. Walt retains his racist outlook throughout the film however it is clear by the end that his view his dignified. We’re introduced to Walt’s racism  by him using racial remarks, such as ‘swamprats’ and ‘gooks’. This offers quite a negative portrayal of Eastwood in a modern-day audience, as his earlier works have racism as a norm. This change in view could be to reflect Eastwood’s career and his casual attitude towards racism; eventually becoming out-dated and scorned upon by the present-day audience. Though his racist views are scorned upon, Walt is looked upon as an archetypal white, aged american, despite his Polish origin. This conveys the sociological message of ‘white flight’ – whereby people feel alienated by an ethnic group solely based on their skin color. His redemption, whereby he sacrifices himself for the welfare of the Hmong family, shows that he has had a change of heart. He considers the Hmong family to be his close friends and also Americans at the end of the film, as he gives Thao his Gran Torino – a symbol of americanism.

The gang, pervading the neighbourhood and the Hmong family’s life, act as an antagonist for Eastwood and the Hmong family. Though this he is able to achieve his redemption. As his relationship grows with the Hmong, it becomes clear that he reveres the Hmong family more than his own. Thao becomes a figurative son for Walt, as his own family is depicted as spoilt and uncaring. Thao’s atonement strengthens this relationship and Walt ultimately regards Thao as his son, rather than his legitimate daughter, which is shown through Thao’s inheritance of the Gran Torino. This conveys the message that Walt, albeit set in his old ways, becomes accustomed to the Hmong way of life and respects them.

Eastwood’s aging is also symbolised in the film. Rather than being a typical Eastwood character, such as Dirty Harry, he is more of a ghostly figure, seeking redemption for the atrocities he commited in Vietnam, and his disregarding family. Though his persona is continued in many ways, such as his ruggedness, aggressiveness and his vigilante resolve in the penultimate scene, Gran Torino displays him in a more sorrowful way, contrasting with his deadpan acting in previous films.

Marketing Case Study – Cloverfield

Posted in Uncategorized by alistairm on November 22, 2009

Cloverfield is an American monster film, produced by Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot Productions, directed by J.J Abbrams. The film was marketed in several ways such as film posters; trailers; viral marketing campaigns and interviews. The film is about 5 New York residents who go to a party on the night of a monster attack. The film is known for its shakey camera style of cinematography.

Usually, nameable actors are clearly listed on a film poster, this helps to attribute and sell films based on cast. Cloverfield however was unable to do this due to it’s lack of nameable actors hence character posters weren’t made and the film was marketed in several other methods.

Film Posters

This teaser poster is a successful as a marketing device. Several characteristics of the poster hint towards a monster attack, such as the claw mark in and the decapitation of the Statue of Liberty; these attributes give viewers a notion as to what the film will be about. The poster also pertains 9/11 allusions which inspired criticism but didn’t hinder the film’s success. The image of the stirring water and the ravaged city scape are characteristics of Apocalyptic sci-fi films along with blurred font of the title, which is typical of the sci-fi genre. The tag-line ‘Some thing has found us’ tells us clearly that it is an entity which is the threat however the identity of the threat still remains concealed which is successful in making the film even more desirable to watch.

This teaser poster portrays the notorious monster as a shadow. It is an excellent marketing device as viewers want to unconceal the monster’s identity because of the monstrous characteristics and the obscurity of the shadow. The caption ‘hide’ emphasises the danger associated with the unrevealed monster. The information on the poster is minimal however the film is recognisable by the distinctive monster’s shadow. The film was yet to be named when this poster was produced.

Viral Marketing

A number of sites were created in order to market the film, reportedly only one of them was official (1-18-08.com). This interactive site provided potential viewers the ability to decipher the storyline prior to the release. This site would have been a successful marketing device as it would be cheaper to produce than an advertisement and would spread quickly throughout the internet because of the popularity of the film, eventually spreading to those who had not heard of the film via social networking.

Media was distributed when www.cloverfieldmovie.com was created. This provided viewers a trailer and a number which, when texted, provided a phone wallpaper of a destroyed Manhattan and a ring tone of the monster’s distinctive roar. These are effective marketing devices as the distinctive roar would spread quickly through a ring tone, and it provides another means of advertising, outside of film posters, websites and trailers.  A ‘widget’ was placed on the site which could be linked in any mainstream social networking site. This ‘widget’ was a brief snippet of the film. A competition arose whereby a user would post the widget on his/her favorite social networking site and, based on the amount of clicks, could win a screening of the movie. This worked as an effective marketing device as the snippet would be spread around the internet and viewed by the vast majority of social networking users. The site also provided a vague synopsis of the film which worked as a marketing device by not providing the reader sufficient information, making them eager to find out.

Susho!,a drinks company, provided images relating to the film of sonar images of a monster heading towards Manhattan. This is effective in advertising both Cloverfield and the company so the advertisement would be inexpensive.

Trailers

The synergy of film producers allowed them to wide-scale advertise the film as the first trailer was debuted in front of Transformers, which was a summer blockbuster. It was later placed on www.cloverfieldmovie.com. This trailer provided little insight into the film and the film was still yet to be named, but avid fans scoured the internet in attempt to find any traces of the film hence the success of the viral marketing sites. A second trailer was released which was more of a conventional than the prior. The second trailer, debutted in front of Beowulf (another blockbuster), provided more insight than the ambiguous film posters and other forms of media. This shed light on the shaky-camera style which was incorporated. The use of cliff-hanging moments during the trailer and the distorted story line helps create suspense and entices further viewing. The decimated Manhattan setting portrayed in the trailer helps create an ambience for the film to follow on. The second trailer presented the core group of characters in which we’d follow, fans by this time would know that the film didn’t contain any stars but the success of the film wasn’t hindered by this.

Summary

The viral campaigns and the obscurity of advertisement (until the release) inspired fan scrutiny, whereby fans would feel compelled to see the film solely because they spent so much time deciphering the plot of the film. The marketing of the film is very effective and typical of JJ Abbrams in the way that the plot line is distorted as to avoid any spoilers prior to the film’s release.

Genre Case Study – Sci-fi

Posted in Uncategorized by alistairm on November 9, 2009

Sci-fi, or science-fiction, is a genre which is difficult to characterise due to the immense variations in the genre, Damon Knight summed up the difficulty by stating that “science fiction is what we point to when we say it”. Generally, sci-fi films depict an advanced frontier of knowledge or time which the present day has not yet reached. Realistic speculation contributes to the iconography of the genre such as portrayals of future civilisations and of outer space colonisation, such as Dune and the Star Trek franchise. Other common depictions include technological advances such as time travel (Time Traveler’s Wife), Seemingly impossible space travel, such as ‘lightspeed’ depicted on Star Wars and highly advanced common day amenities such as hover cars (The Fifth Element) and nanotechnology such as identity chips, of which are portrayed regularly in dystopian sci-fi’s. Psionic abilities, such as telekinesis and  telepathy is a recurrent theme in sci-fi; The Shining being an example of extraordinary powers.

Sci-fi is easily recognised as a genre through the quasi-scientific iconography, an enhanced or distorted depiction of reality or even a present-day natural disaster. Dystopian societies such as the film adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four and A Clockwork Orange are less easily recognised as sci-fi but are attributed as social sci-fi which concerns itself with human behaviour and development in the long run rather than technological and astrological advancements, this deviates from the commonly displayed Hard sci-fi however shares similarities with Soft sci-fi which, rather than having speculative ideas of the future, use less evidence based facts.

Science-fiction protagonists are often portrayed as heroic (Armageddon), Rebellious(The Matrix) or just curious (The Time Machine). Heroic protagonists are commonly depicted as an anti-disaster force or a figurehead of a revolt in a dystopian society, similarly to that of a rebellious protagonist. The Time Machine hosts a typical soft sci-fi protagonist, a scientist whom creates a time machine to try save his late girlfriend.

Authors of sci-fi often incorporate social themes into the plot line. An example of this is global warming, which was depicted in The Day After Tomorrow as a result of increased social alarm of the situation. A more recent example is the 2012 conspiracy being incorporated into a film. These immediate apocalyptic sci-fi’s are criticised by scientists, claiming that they contribute to common anxiety.

Sci-fi is generally a more open genre that has seen large commercial success (2001 Space Odyssey). The genre will continue to expand with new concepts deriving from fundamental sciences and social studies to amaze, shock and scare the viewer

ufo

Common depiction of UFO

Star Profile – Keanu Reeves

Posted in Uncategorized by alistairm on September 21, 2009
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Keanu Reeves - Ted - Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Keanu Charles Reeves (born September 2, 1964) is a Canadian actor most commonly known for his starring roles in Bill & Ted’s Excellent AdventureThe Matrix and Speed. He began his acting career as a supporting role in Youngblood in which he worked with alongside major stars such as Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe. During his film career he has won 10 awards with 19 nominations and built up a unique persona and a film portfolio of contrasting genres, shaking off the Ted stigmata and being able to play roles such as a psychopathic killer in The Watcher. Despite much criticism for his deadpan acting, he has had commercial success paralleled with A-List stars.

Straying from the macho-hero stereotype, Reeves plays a more effeminate protagonist which can be tied in with the evolution of the film industry and the deviation from alluring Bond-like heroes. Despite his countless amount of roles, Much of  the response to his acting capabilities post 1989  is still blemished by his portrayal of the airheaded Ted.

Persona

Reeves is commonly portrayed as a main protagonist , this is apparent by his leading roles in films such as The Matrix and Speed however there are deviations to this such as his role as the central antagonist in The Watcher. despite being heavily critisised, Reeves has built up a unique and singular persona in which

Themes

Although Reeve’s acting forte is difficult to pinpoint, sci-fi films are prominent in his success, such as The Matrix Trilogy, The Day the Earth Stood Still and (arguably) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, coinciding with his success in thriller films such as the supernatural Constantine and the intense Point Break along with one of his first commercial successes Speed. Reeves has enjoyed success on a vast array of genres and has worked with highly regarded directors such as Francis Coppola (Godfather films and Apocalypse Now to name a couple) and Ron Howard (Apollo 13 and The Da Vinci Code) along with co-starring with major actors such as Jack Nicholson and Cameron Diaz.

Major Hits/Commercial Success

Before Reeves was in the film industry, he did commercials (such as Coca Cola) and small scale theatre work. Prior to The Matrix, Reeves had fluctuating success. his major breakthrough role in The River’s Edgeprompted him as an actor with sufficient range to land him into high budget films.  His first popular success was with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure however it wasn’t until 1994 with the release of Speed that he was noticed as a prominent actor in the industry. Reeve’s popularity declined mid 90’s due to lukewarm responses to his portfolio and personal matters which prevented him from making films. Reeve’s popularity escalated to that of an A-list star with the release of The Matrix which is, still today, one of the highest grossing films and enabled him to become a big draw at the box office. Following the success of The Matrix, Reeves played the lead in Constantine which was also a commercial success.

- 1. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) Neo $736M
     
- 2. The Matrix (1999) Neo $456M
     
- 3. The Matrix Revolutions (2003) Neo $424M
     
- 4. Speed (1994/I) Officer Jack Traven $283M
     
- 5. The Day the Earth Stood Still(2008) Klaatu $230M

Fandom

Despite receiving mixed reviews, Reeves is still regarded as a major cult icon of the 80’s as the air headed Ted. despite his arguably impassive acting ability, he has built up a massive fanbase with sites such as http://keanu-reeves.net/http://keanuconnection.com/ and http://www.keanuvision.com. Ultimately, Reeves is an actor whom is either zealously loved or critically eviscerated by the viewer.

keanureeves2

Keanu Reeves: The Matrix - Neo