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Netflix film Bright is far from the typical big Hollywood holiday release: A new phase for Will Smith?

A $90 million release around Christmas time would suggest just another day at work for any A-List film star in Hollywood, and yet David Ayer’s Bright featuring Will Smith is far from the typical big holiday release.

One of the reasons for the film simply not being seen as a standard Hollywood blockbuster despite featuring all the necessary ingredients – in addition to a top-notch star, there is a tested director (Suicide Squad) and enough big ticket special effects to go well with the popcorn – could have to do with the fact that it debuted in your living room as opposed to the traditional big screen.

In a bid to rewrite the rules of film marketing, Netflix outbid other studios to pick up the dystopian action thriller where mystical figures such as orcs, elves co-exist with humans, pumped in $90 million to get it made and then practically undid the cinematic experience tailor-made for the giant screen by releasing the film on streaming platform.

Will Smith in a still from Bright.

A few years ago Smith’s name would have been enough to get people to the cinema halls but even his presence here, replete with his standard smart-alec one-liners and some truly well-executed action set pieces are not able to help Bright take off. The film was mostly panned and stands at 30% of Rotten Tomatoes.

Bright — as a critic succinctly summed up in terms of its probable elevator pitch- Training Day meets Lord of the Rings with a bit of Minority Report thrown in for good measure — is jaded from the word go and with each passing minute becomes painfully boring. It’s not surprising then that some critics have called this “misguided mashup of cop and fantasy genres” the worst of 2017 and yet Netflix has already green-lit a sequel.

Just like the reaction that Bright generated amongst critics, the call for its sequel, too, might be an expected thing. Netflix could have very well worked out some algorithm magic to ensure that Bright is seen across its 100 million-subscriber audience base and not be dependent on the standard method to optimize the opening-weekend collection. Netflix has been known to invest heavily in emphasising its recommendation software that learns about the viewer taste and suggests the perfect title. Mix that with a familiar face such as Will Smith and what you have is a long-term game at play where cultural conversations would go on introducing and re-introducing films or TV shows to newer viewers regularly.

In fact, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has often credited Netflix of getting new viewers to his show constantly.

Irrespective of the fate of Bright, Netflix is bound to gain one way or the other but where does that leave Will Smith? The only film star in the history to have eight consecutive $100 million blockbusters, Smith’s impact on the box office can be gauged from the fact that Fourth of July weekend was once dubbed ‘Big Willie Weekend’ as that was the time he would set records.

Today, his release debuts on a streaming platform and forget the bad press, there aren’t any numbers to even suggest how many people viewed the film!

If one were to consider the transition in the way stardom is now gauged perhaps Bright could be considered an experiment on the part of a bona fide movie star and also an attempt to keep pace with the change in popular culture is consumed.

For a few years now, Will Smith hasn’t been the colossus that he once was. In the last eight years, he has had more high profile productions (Seven Pounds, After Earth, Concussion, Focus, and Collateral Beauty) faring below expectations than the monster hits that he associated with. Also, Smith’s dip in box office popularity comes at a time when stardom in itself is changing and has said in an interview, “You almost can’t make new movie stars anymore, right?

Moreover, Smith is also very clear that unlike the past where figures such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Tom Cruise were made gigantic figures as fans had limited access, fans today are almost a part of the “creative process.”

In that aspect, could then the bad reviews of Bright — and some are really bad (someone called it stunning in its audacity and its stupidity) — be a small price for Will Smith to usher in a new phase of his stardom? Smith is still a brand big enough to make his kind of films but the studios might not be the best place for him.

Netflix signed a four-film deal with Adam Sandler earlier in March 2017, and so Smith could be getting ready to make your living room screen slightly bigger after his cinema screen shrunk a bit.


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North India’s angry young men: Snigdha Poonam examines a generation’s anxieties in her new book, Dreamers

Upon reading Dreamers, Snigdha Poonam’s splendid cultural study of a generation’s appetite for ruthless ambitions and change, it’s apparent that India’s young men from the north are driven by a peculiar hunger. They chase fame, fortune, power and lofty dreams just like every other millennial but these small town youth are unlike their city counterparts. It’s an unquenchable anger that sets them apart — anger that their country was spoilt by the Congress, anger that corruption was at its peak, anger over their lost izzat, anger over the lack of jobs… Enough anger to make them want to be famous, important and rich beyond their dreams. And while some of them are lucky enough to realise their dreams, some others are stuck in an illusion forever.

Poonam, who writes for Hindustan Times, travelled to India’s towns and villages in the north, besides her own hometown of Ranchi, to find out what these young Indians wanted. “The idea was to [go to a small town] find out four or five people whose stories stood out and follow them for a year to see how close they get to their dreams. As I progressed with that brief, it became a larger project,” she says. Initially, Poonam chose four people in and around Ranchi, but as she travelled to other places, it became 6-7 people in 3 or 4 locations, to whom she kept going back for anywhere between a year and three years.

Snigdha Poonam

Snigdha Poonam

South India and its millennial population feel like a glaring omission from the book, but Poonam says she chose north India for a reason — that it was “representative of the frustrations of this generation because it does more badly than south India; its level of education and employment is poorer. More logistically, the book was never meant to be a sequel to Butter Chicken in Ludhiana [Pankaj Mishra’s travelogue on small-town India]. I was doing the opposite thing; I wanted to limit the number of people and places,” she says.

Among the people Poonam meets is Pankaj Prasad or ‘The Fixer’, an entrepreneurial young man in southern Jharkhand, who is a small-time lobbyist and liaison — an important link between the  state administration and citizens — or rather a go-to man for villagers ready to pay him for sarkari services. Then there’s the founder of WittyFeed or ‘The Click-Baiter’, a startup that thrives on American obsessions from Kim Kardashian and lip-sync battles to banal listicles on Katy Perry’s weirdest faces. To match success stories, Dreamers also has a chapter on the disputers — the angry young men complaining about the future of this country and turning to various Hindu groups who tend to their anxiety. Like Vikas Thakur, with his funky tattoo and beach sandals, who wants to become a politician because he wanted to stand up for Hindus. Or 19-year-old Arjun Kumar who cannot wait for Valentine’s Day year after year because it’s the only day he can deal with couples the way he wants, with an iron rod.

Poonam also gifts us with a rare chapter on an angry young woman — Richa Singh, who fought the Allahabad University elections and won and moved on to mainstream politics. Just like the south Indians who are absent from this book, women too are very obviously missing. But it wasn’t intentional, says Poonam. “I met young women too who had dreams, but when you talk to young men about their dreams, they’re not just talking about their own dreams but also what they want for their country and what they want from the world.” For many young women dreamers, “it was about changing their own lives and in some sense that itself was a huge leap for them to take and they weren’t going to talk about how India should go back to becoming the glory of world civilisation. A lot of the anxiety about their place in India and India’s place in the world was very manly,” she says.

To round off, Poonam has the strugglers as well — men who dream big, plan elaborate and push hard but still remain at the lowest possible level, men like Mohammad Azhar who dream of becoming Bollywood superstars but instead get exploited.

The underbelly of Dreamers not just gives us a peek into toxic masculinity and anger, but also uncovers the appeal of religion, specifically Hinduism, to these men. What does it offer them in a way of appeasing anger or giving them something to move forward? According to Poonam, it offers them a basic sense of identity, honour, and masculinity. “When I spoke to these young men, they were not speaking about religion per se because I knew more about religion than they did and they didn’t connect with any texts, they didn’t have the most basic understanding of what they were fighting for, starting with cows,” she says. And most of the angry men just ended up being Hindu. “I was looking for anger in general, but what I found was that the minorities — young Muslim and Dalit men — were busier looking ahead in terms of opportunities, whereas the Hindu men were looking at the past, at what they had lost, and wanted to restore the old order. Religion had very little meaning in their lives…”

Book cover for Dreamers

Book cover for Dreamers

Essentially, these men always saw a society that’s constantly conspiring against them and their Hindu heritage. They also saw a leader in Narendra Modi — someone like them who’d made it, from tea vendor to Prime Minister — who promised them the India they wanted, whose politics aligned with theirs and whose rhetoric reeked of Hindu nationalism. Modi would transform their beloved India back to its glorious past, they believed. Poonam says that the growing young population she talked to were political in an ambitious, idealistic way in that that there should be smooth roads, no corruption, and trains running on time. “But there was a general hope in Narendra Modi and a lot of disappointment in how Congress had steered the country since independence. That is very common and a lot of that was borrowed perception,” she says.

Poonam writes that less than 17 percent of India’s graduates are immediately employable and only 2.3 percent of the workforce has undergone formal skills training, which means that the country needs to educate about 100 million young people over the next 10 years, “a task never before undertaken in history”. Yet these young Indians, who have grown up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and “cultural values of their grandparents”, are creating opportunities for themselves in various fields with the help of the ubiquitous internet. Facebook especially, Poonam says, is a tool through which young people are able to manage how other people see them. “The sense that they can manage their perception is very common among young people even in the villages. Even if you want to have the slightest of part to play in politics — and these are the people who are doing this at the block, tehsil level — Facebook and WhatsApp is where they like to do that and they’re becoming really good and smart at it.”

Perhaps this is how young Indians will change the world, one status at a time.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM


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Jayam Ravi on upcoming space film Tik Tik Tik: ‘It’ll be a milestone in the history of Tamil cinema’

Actor Jayam Ravi, who established his career by starring in Tamil remakes of several popular Telugu films in the beginning of his career, made really interesting choices in the last three-four years which has paid off handsomely.

From playing a boxer in Bhooloham to turning into a zombie in Miruthan, he was last seen on screen playing a tribesman in Vanamagan. As he awaits the release of Tamil cinema’s first space film Tik Tik Tik, in which he plays an escape artist cum astronaut, Ravi opens up in an exclusive chat with Firstpost about the experience of working in the film which is unlike anything he’s done in his career so far.

Jayam Ravi in Tik Tik Tik.

Directed by Shakti Soundar Rajan, the film marks Ravi’s second collaboration with the director after the zombie actioner Miruthan. Recalling how the project materialised, he said: “After the release of Miruthan, Shakti called me one day and said he has two scripts – a big project and a small film. He asked me which one I want to work on. I told myself that I’m anyway not going to be around to do 200-300 films. Even if I do one film, the experience should be equivalent of doing five projects. I conveyed the same thought to Shakti and that’s when he pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik.”

As much as Ravi was excited about the idea of starring in a space film, deep down, he was hesitant. “Initially, I was very hesitant. But I always look at positives over negatives in anything I do in life. When Shakti pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik, I saw many positives. A lot of people didn’t attempt a space film so far is because of the misconception that we can’t shoot in India and the high cost involved. But Shakti and I had faith in our script and we found a VFX studio (Ajax) in Chennai which delivered the kind of output which was beyond our expectations. We gave them some test shots to work upon and they came out really well.”

Despite his faith in Shakti and the script, Ravi said a lot of people couldn’t believe they could pull off a space film. “When I told some well-wishers and friends that I was going to do a space film, nobody believed in me or in the project. They looked down upon the idea itself. The bigger challenge for us was to script a movie like this in the first place. It needed a lot of vision and clarity. I could foresee the result when I read the script but nobody believed in us expect our producer. But I was quite confident because audiences have always supported whenever I attempted something different. Even though the execution was very strenuous, we were thrilled with the output which was beyond our satisfaction. It’ll be a milestone in my career and in Tamil cinema,” Ravi said, heaping praise on his director.

“A project of this scale and vision requires a lot of research work. Even while shooting, Shakti had to look after so many things as this is a script that’s powered by logic. Since it’s about science and space, he had to keep in mind several things when on the sets. We had to make sure that everything looked believable. Shakti was well backed by art director Murthy. They complemented each other so well. This is a film with a lot computer graphics and most scenes were shot on green mat. A lot of planning went into the shooting process. Everything the actors could touch was actually built from scratch. What the actors couldn’t touch which was mostly everything in the background was created with the help of CG.”

Nearly 80 percent of the film was shot in zero gravity condition. A race against time thriller, it’s a story of five astronauts, who go on a mission to stop an oncoming attack of a meteorite. “As most of the shooting took place in zero gravity conditions, we had to be attached to the harness. We’d wear the space suit and then be attached to the harness for long hours. We’d shoot from morning to evening and most of the times we don’t even take a break because taking off the suit and putting it back on was a time-consuming process.”

Having grown up watching space films such as Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others, Ravi hopes that children celebrate Tik Tik Tik as this generation’s space film, which also stars his son, Aarav, in a pivotal role. “I really hope children warm up to this film. When we made Miruthan, it was passed with an A certificate by CBFC, so it was not suitable for children. I’m sure Tik Tik Tik will appeal to children as well,” he said.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM


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BAFTA 2018 highlights: From Daniel Kaluuya-Timothe Chalamet fist-bump to Ridley Scott’s acceptance speech

Dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the biggest winner at the BAFTA Film Awards, held in London on Sunday, an event which saw the campaign for women’s rights in the entertainment industry take centre stage.

Three Billboards won five awards, including best film, best actress for its lead performer Frances McDormand and a supporting actor award for Sam Rockwell.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh also won for the film’s original screenplay. The film also won the best British film honours, qualifying on the basis of its creative team and the companies involved in producing it, many of whom were British.

Martin McDonagh, Peter Czernin, Sam Rockwell and Graham Broadbent, pose with Frances McDormand, as they hold their trophies for Best Film for 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri' at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Britain February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay - RC19F125C470

Martin McDonagh, Peter Czernin, Sam Rockwell and Graham Broadbent, pose with Frances McDormand, as they hold their trophies for Best Film for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Reuters

But other than the filmmakers, cast and crew members being honoured, there were plenty of other unforgettable moments and moving speeches at the Royal Albert Hall last night. Here are few of the highlights from the 71st British Academy Film Awards.

Time’s up for sexual harassment and abuse

The Time’s Up campaign against sexual misconduct was a recurring theme throughout the evening. Many of the female attendees wore black outfits in a gesture of protest. In his acceptance speech, McDonagh expressed the hope that such protests would bring about change.

“Our film is a hopeful one in lots of ways but it’s also an angry one, and as we’ve seen this year, sometimes anger is the only way to get people to listen and to change, so we’re thrilled that BAFTA has recognised this,” he said.

In addition, many in attendance wore badges citing the campaign against sexual harassment, while honourees and presenters, including Sam Rockwell and British actress Lily James expressed support for the movement. The night’s biggest female winner, McDormand, did not join in the protest, saying in her acceptance speech that though she supported the movement, she had “a little trouble with compliance.”

British newspaper The Observer had earlier published an open letter calling for sexual harassment and abuse to be stamped out, signed by 190 actresses including British Oscar winners Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan.

“This movement is bigger than just a change in our industry alone. This movement is intersectional, with conversations across race, class, community, ability and work environment, to talk about the imbalance of power,” said the letter, whose signatories also included Emma Watson, Sophie Okonedo, Olivia Colman and Carey Mulligan.

Daniel Kaluuya gives lovely acceptance speech

Daniel Kaluuya may have missed out on the Best Actor award but the actor won the EE Rising Star award for his performance in Get Out. On his way to the stage, he fist-bumped fellow Rising Star and Call Me By Your Name actor Timothée Chalamet. On his first BAFTA win, the actor gave an emotional speech in which he thanked his mother: “You break all the rules – levels. My mum is the reason, mum, you’re the reason why I started, you’re the reason why I’m here and you’re the reason why I keep going. Love. Peace. Let’s get it.”

He gave a shout-out to his fellow nominees, saying “Thank you. Tessa (Thompson), Tim (Chalamet), Josh (O’Connor), and Florence (Pugh) … I feel so privileged to be in your guys’ company. He also expressed his gratitude to the British arts funding for helping “product of arts of funding” like him.

Gary Oldman remembers Sir Winston Churchill

Gary Oldman won the much-anticipated Best Actor in a Leading Role award for immortalising former British PM Winston Churchill in the World War II drama, Darkest Hour. The actor remembered Churchill on his third BAFTA victory, describing how the British statesman “in those dark uncertain days in 1940 held the line for honour, for integrity and freedom, for his nation and the world”. The Joe Wright directorial also won the BAFTA in the Make Up and Hair category.

BAFTAs acknowledge Deakins’ talent even if Oscars won’t

Blade Runner 2049 won in two segments – Best Cinematography and Best Special Visual Effects. Ace cinematographer Roger Deakins not only won at BAFTA but also the American Society of Cinematographers Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatrical Releases. He is also nominated at next month’s Academy Awards for his work on the film. He has been nominated 13 times for Oscars prior to his nomination this year, but has never won before, giving him more unsuccessful nominations than any other cinematographer in Oscars history.

Ridley Scott roots for teachers in BAFTA Fellowship acceptance speech

Veteran director Ridley Scott, who was honoured with the Fellowship at the 2018 Baftas, gave a shout-out to the teachers, calling the profession “the most important of all”. The 80-year-old filmmaker, known for films such as Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien and Black Hawk Down, among others, said the social issues will be “sorted” if the state of education is taken care of by the authorities. In his acceptance speech for the lifetime achievement award, Scott said, “I’ve always been a late starter. Years ago when I was 15, my dad was reading my report card and saw that my position in the class was 29th. But the number in the class was 29. I had achieved the distinction of being bottom in the class. dad put his hand on my shoulder and said you know you did the best you can.

Whatever you decide to make do, make sure you love it. Fortunately, I love working with my hands and I was good at two things woodwork and art. “Dad strongly encouraged me to go to art school. College was a revelation. Teaching is the most important of all professions. Sort that out and social problems will get sorted out.” The filmmaker quipped as it was his first Bafta in a career-spanning 40 years, “I’m not going to go quietly.” Scott called films arguably “the most challenging of all occupations”. “Today the explosion of content and social media platform have made this (filmmaking) a far more accessible and democratic art form. It’s important to acknowledge that entertainment can be the most powerful form of education,” Scott said.

Other memorable moments: Sam Rockwell dedicating his award to his ‘pal’, the late Alan Rickman, and Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘rude’ comment after BAFTA host and national treasure Joanna Lumley’s hyperbolic compliments.

With inputs from agencies

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:59 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:13 PM


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