THE WITCHING HOUR: I’m peeved about Hollywood remaking The Craft.

I have to admit that my heart shattered a little this morning when I saw the latest victim of the Hollywood remake machine: 90s cult classic The Craft.

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I saw The Craft for the first time about eight years ago. I went through a mild obsession with the occult alongside one of my best friends when I was about thirteen and this movie was our Bible.

Dazed and Confused have praised the early creative choices, such as having emerging horror director Leigh Janiak at the helm. Meanwhile, I find the whole prospect of remakes, particularly of movies that are younger than I am, to be the laziest trick in the film-making repertoire.

I should’ve seen it coming. The Craft is probably the most inevitable choice for a version 2.0 in 2015. In retrospect, its aesthetic has nineties nostalgia written straight through it and its theme slots perfectly into a renewed interest in the horror genre (or horror-lite), recently re-popularised on television by shows such as American Horror Story and Bates Motel. The fact that its main characters are all interesting and well-written women gives it an extra feminist boost as well.

But all I can see when I close my eyes and imagine what this 21st century reboot might look like, what comes to me looks more like a parody of the original that’s trying way too hard to be edgy.

That might seem like an awfully quick judgement for a movie that hasn’t even been cast yet, but the utter laziness and blatant capitalist incentive behind remaking this classic makes me roll my eyes so hard they’re practically coming out of my ears. Mainly because this movie is younger than me, but also because of the misconception that these types of recreations are for artistic purposes.

Everyone realises that it is Hollywood’s job to capitalise on whatever trends are getting people buying at any given moment; you only need to look at the recent onslaught of live-action Disney remakes to see that.

I recognise that I’m essentially just a bitter fan-girl, but the idea of a cult hit such as The Craft, a high school flick that finally showed what it felt like to be an outcast, getting ready to be recast by a Hollywood lens feels strange and irreconcilable to me.

Awards season: decadence or deserved?

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Every year, the film industry is granted two months in which the geniuses of decades past and present are celebrated and brought to the forefront of pop culture.

However, as awards season draws to a close, the criticisms intensify once again, all following a similar line of argument: is this all simply a spectacle of self-congratulation validated by the media?

After all, the Academy Awards alone costs tens of millions of pounds to host every single year, factoring in the host’s fee, venue fee, catering, performers, the cost of making the statuettes and of course the dresses. While the parade of beautiful actresses competing like pedigrees at Crufts’ to be best in show and the media storm over “who” they are wearing provides the fashion world with a key event in their calendar, the frock show inevitably detracts the attention from the films themselves and feeds the point of view that their celebrity stars are the true focus of the awards season spectacle.

Indeed much of what is televised and promoted revolves around the obviously talented actors and actresses that the audience is familiar with. The equally talented and hardworking editors, animators, costume designers, cinematographers and general “behind the scenes” people are routinely ignored, their achievements included in an apparently tasteful five-minute segment at the very end of the televised ceremony. How many media outlets have been agonising over who will take home the no less coveted prize of Sound Mixing? Precisely.

However, the advantages of ‘awards season’ should not be overlooked in spite of the arguably biased presentation of the ceremonies themselves. In an interview with Edith Bowman on the BAFTA Red Carpet earlier this month, Birdman star Michael Keaton spoke specifically of awards season’s importance to the film industry in motivating filmmakers to create excellent drama in a world where blockbusters tend to offer a ‘safer’ financial reward. Without the awards shows offering huge exposure and prestige, would drama films lose their appeal to filmmakers and audiences alike? It’s highly unlikely that bigger studios would opt to fund and advertise films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel over the latest Fast and Furious without the motivation of a golden statuette at the end of it.

In the case of the Academy Awards, despite the multi-million dollar cost of hosting the event, the ceremony brings in an estimated 130 million dollars in to the Los Angeles economy, making the financial burden of one evening well worth the investment.

Now of course the film industry is awash with prestigious film festivals that some would argue are a better representation of excellence on a global, unbiased scale. However, the months between November and February are the designated time of the year for movies to dominate public consciousness and mainstream media. In spite of the contrived and biased presentation of the ceremonies, dominated by dresses and celebrity self-congratulation, the financial benefits of the ceremony is perhaps too great to dismiss.

Review – Unbroken (2014)

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Director: Angelina Jolie
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Finn Wittrock, Takamasa Ishihara, Garrett Hedlund
Length: 137 minutes
Country: USA

Rating: 3/5

Unbroken is the much-hyped sophomore effort from Hollywood heavyweight Angelina Jolie and her first English-language effort following her Bosnian War-set romantic drama In The Land of Blood and Honey in 2011. To do justice to the incredible life of the recently-deceased Olympic athlete and war hero Louis Zamperini, Jolie enlisted the rarely-disputed talents of The Coen Brothers, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson to adapt Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 book of the same name. The lead role was taken on by a relative newcomer to the big screen: British actor Jack O’Connell.

Unfortunately, this epic war drama recounting Zamperini’s exploits from the Olympics, to being stranded at sea and eventually interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp falls short of its hype. Jolie’s close friendship with Zamperini prior to his death and her obvious admiration of him handicaps the film rather than helping it. There is a consistent lack of subtlety throughout the film as Jolie attempts to drive home the character’s value as an inspiration. Every single scene is intended as a demonstration of his heroism, meaning that the audience is taken through a series of snapshots narrating various events instead of being taken through his journey. While Jolie does show her potential for excellence in the future, she doesn’t seem to realise that many of her strengths lie in more subdued scenes, such as the death of one of Louis’ colleagues after over 40 days stranded at sea. At times, she relies too heavily on symbolism and sequences representing the emotions of the scene, which leads to a very hit-and-miss finished product. The overuse of elements such as slow-motion results in key moments losing much of their impact and others appearing contrived. Meanwhile, the cinematography is brilliantly executed by Roger Deakins, but certain shots once again serve to ram the message of the movie too far down the audience’s throat. Little is left to the imagination and we are too often being talked at as opposed to told a story.

Nevertheless, Jolie’s casting and direction has given the movie a few very promising performances. The film’s leading man, Jack O’Connell, carries the movie through the entirety, appearing in nearly every frame without ever losing the audience’s attention. However, despite the initial excitement for a possible Academy nod, this doesn’t look to be the film to grant him gold. While there is little doubt over his ability, O’Connell is insufficiently challenged by the material. Louis is a strangely underdeveloped character, showing little signs of independent thought towards the war and being almost entirely passive. He appears very one-dimensional in his strength and heroism, hardly faltering from the perseverance he was taught despite the horrors he endures. The majority of O’Connell’s work, although faultlessly executed, revolves around depicting Louie’s challenges rather than embodying the man.

Although their characters are both too underdeveloped to convey their significance to the plot, both Finn Wittrock and Garrett Hedlund put in stellar supporting performances as Francis ‘Mac’ McNamara and Commander John Fitzgerald, respectively. Wittrock manages to illicit both sympathy and anger in the audience as the more selfish and weakest of the three stranded soldiers in the first section of the film, while Hedlund manages an assured and wonderfully restrained effort as Louis’ mentor during their time at the prisoner of war camp and a surrogate for the former’s older brother, arguably the defining figure of his life.

The sole acting disappointment in Unbroken comes from its least seasoned performer, Takamasa Ishihara, as the film’s primary antagonist “The Bird”. The violent, sociopathic war criminal is possibly the film’s best written character as an embodiment of all the things that Louie must survive against, yet Ishihara’s performance is unfortunately too contrived to communicate his importance.

While Unbroken isn’t by any means a bad film, it is unfortunately a victim of its own hype. It shows immense respect for the life of Louis Zamperini, yet isn’t brave enough to explore his darker side and engage more with his character. Although no longer an Oscar contender, this film can be defined as a showcase of directorial and acting potential from Jolie and her cast of young, brilliant actors.