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Filmism.net Dispatch October 6, 2016

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Hollywood is a business and a town run by trends, and the latest one is the backlash against casting. In today's age of hysterical cultural sensitivity and an almost moral panic about misrepresenting race on screens, Mickey Rooney's portrayal as the Japanese neighbour in Breakfast at Tiffany's seems like it was done in another universe, let alone 50 years ago.

No film is immune from the media chatter and social media uproar about casting white actors to play characters born in Asia or the Middle East in the shadow of #BlackLivesMatter. The sudden firestorm over Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton (a Welshman and an Aussie) as Egyptian brothers tripped Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox up over Exodus: Gods and Kings, and they were left scrambling to defuse it and bring the conversation back to the merits of the film.

Alex Proyas apologised in advance for the casting of Gods of Egypt (by all accounts he actually should have apologised for the whole movie). Tina Fey tried to take control of an outburst before it happened by acknowledging how dodgy casting Brit Alfred Molina as an Afghan high official was in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Most recently, commentary about racism is embroiling the animated hit Kubo and the Two Strings with Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara playing characters in ancient Japan.

(There's a strange twist here that shows how fickle and scattershot the Twittersphere cultural conversation about movies can be. No such 'please explain' media missives were ever generated about the Kung Fu Panda series, which starred Jack Black, Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and Seth Rogen as ancient Japanese characters. Did we take less offence because it was seen as a less 'serious' movie?)

All of which bodes very badly for Matt Damon adventure The Great Wall, where he leads a Chinese cast working for a Chinese director and – given top billing – will undoubtedly play the hero who saves the day. I can see the sneering headlines now; 'White slaver comes to the rescue of simple-minded colony coolies', veiled demands of director Yimou Zhang about why he didn't cast an Asian actor as the hero.

In other news, 2016's northern summer movie has gone down in history as having a level of creative bankruptcy the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time. After so much excitement about how 2013 was the best year for movies in a long time (Captain Phillips, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Her, Nebraska), an outsized number of 2016's offerings have been badly received by critics and audiences (and as always, a truckload of box office doesn't mean it's a good movie, it just means it was well marketed).

The Boss, Suicide Squad, Ghostbusters , Independence Day: Resurgence, X-Men: Apocalypse, Zoolander 2, Gods of Egypt, Knight of Cups, The Conjuring 2, The Huntsman: Winter's War, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, The Free State of Jones, Warcraft, The Legend of Tarzan, Alice Through the Looking Glass, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, The BFG, Ice Age: Collision Course and Ben-Hur were all trainwrecks, some of them expensive ones, eliciting one resounding 'meh' after another.

Sure there were some creative successes (Hell or High Water, Hail, Cesar!, Deadpool, Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, Pete's Dragon , Sausage Party), but it's the mood that counts around here, and the mood in the ivory towers of agencies and studios right now is absolutely bipolar.

Down here in the real world the rest of us should be dancing in the streets. The bit they don't tell you about the huge box office for Suicide Squad huge box office take is that it fell of a cliff on the second week, a clear indication of the same awful word of mouth Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice elicited.

We told them we're not interested in yet another iteration of the century-old Tarzan myth and would like something original, please. We told them we want movies to be like a fun dinner date (Captain America: Civil War), not marriage counselling for a couple that hate each other so much they want to slit their wrists (BvS:DoJ).

We told them we're not interested in lazy cash grabs containing more big fat Greek weddings, Independence Days or Ninja Turtleses. We're also not averse to sequels, we just want movies to be good. Is that (excuse the uncharacteristically profane anger in what's usually a pithy and professional communiqué) too fucking much to ask?

Maybe the clear signals we've sent Hollywood's way this year will trickle down into those one-track executive brains and we'll see things really change...or maybe we'll just keep flocking en masse back to TV and Netflix for real quality.

On that note, I encourage you to seek out Sausage Party. Not only is it an important artefact in what I'm talking about above because of the financial success of an original idea, it's deceptively well written considering the premise.

Another film that got its due was the ace Don't Breathe. Fede Alvarez's follow up to his remake of The Evil Dead was a very pure cinematic experience, wrangling sound, image and performance to deliver a very effective thriller.

At the other end of the scale, I watched the kind of schmaltzy TV adaptation of the hit book The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Despite the very televisual aesthetic, it swept me away simply because it translated the interesting and sweet idea I found in the book.

One you might be surprised I hated, especially if you loved it back in the day, was John Boorman's Excalibur. If your fondness for it's based on memories of the last time you saw it decades ago, I encourage you to try it again... and brace yourself.

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