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Filmism.net Dispatch April 6, 2023

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First up, and in a running theme here on the Filmism.net Dispatch, something I wrote about in the recent past has been seemingly validated by developments behind the scenes in entertainment.

To whit; I talked about how, after a decade and a half of being Hollywood's golden child, Marvel Studios' unshakeable reputation was starting to wobble thanks to stories about the mistreatment of VFX vendors and film people who've spoken out about the way the company does things.

No sooner had that unseemliness left the news cycle when Kevin Fiege's 2IC Victoria Alonso was suddenly shown the door. The official reason Disney gave was her involvement as a producer on Oscar-nominated documentary Argentina, 1985 because it was made with a competing studio.

But Alonso has now said (through her lawyer) it was because she disagreed with the decision to blur a rainbow sticker in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to secure its release it Kuwait, a strict anti-gay rights country.

There were reports immediately upon Alonso's firing that it was in fact her alone putting undue pressure on Marvel's VFX vendors, but is that just sour grapes from somewhere? Deep Disney PR spin to deflect any more criticism, pinning it onto a former regime so they can say Marvel isn't like that anymore? The plot thickens...

But to this month's topic, I'm ageing. I mean, we all are, that's obvious. But I can feel time passing in a strange and interesting way, and owing to the usual subject matter of the Filmism.net Dispatch, it's got to do with movies.

I've talked plenty of times about how your taste in pop culture is set between about 10 and 20, everything prior to that a bit lame and fusty, everything after it nonsensical and vapid.

The recent death of one of cinema's old school sex symbols, Raquel Welch, made me realise how many people who created the art I latched onto in my formative years are now gone.

We're talking about people who were active in the movie industry in the 70s and 80s, and because most of them were in their 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s at the time simple arithmetic (and biology) dictates many of them would be gone by now. But it's still a shock.

One of the coolest parts of being a movie reporter has been the chance to meet and talk to the people who've made movies I love and I've been able to do that plenty of times.

I've interviewed Bob Zemeckis, the Zucker Bros and Jim Abrahams, Christopher Lloyd, Chris Nolan and plenty more.

But when I consider the movies I've loved and the people involved in them, my interview wish list is still long.

The entire Star Wars saga has been done to death in articles and deep dives by now, but even if I wanted to do something on it, Sir Alec Guinness is long gone, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse and Kenny Baker have left us in the last few years and even Carrie Fisher died far too young.

I've always had a semi-formed plan to do the definitive account of The Crow, another of my favourite films. I've made a few overtures to getting some time with director Alex Proyas over the years but they've never materialised, and that's why I didn't ever pursue it very seriously (it's not very definitive without the director involved).

Of course it's famous for being the reason star Brandon Lee died, and Michael Massee who played Funboy (the actor who pulled the stunt trigger that killed Lee; in the final cut he throws a knife at him), passed away a couple of years back. But a lot of their co-stars like Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson, Sofia Shinas and David Patrick Kelly are all still around.

But the biggest blow to covering The Crow came with the recent death of producer Ed Pressman, a beloved figure in the industry who took a lot of creative gambles that played off, James O'Barr's 1993 cyberpunk graphic novel just one of them.

Years back when I figured out why production designer/concept designer Ron Cobb cast such a shadow over my childhood ( Conan the Barbarian , The Last Starfighter, Aliens, Robot Jox, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and countless others) I set about interviewing him.

At the time he'd already left Hollywood to move to my native home of Sydney and I got a kind email from his wife Robyn thanking me for my interest but saying he was too ill to take part. A few years later Cobb passed away at 83.

But perhaps the ultimate expression of such regrets stares me in the face all day. Hanging over my desk is a framed one sheet from the 1976 version of King Kong , one of my favourite movies (and posters).

Writing a long oral history or feature story on its making based on interviews with all the principal cast and crew would have been my movie journalist holy grail (although it's already been done by a writer called Ray Morton, who I mentioned a few months back.

But the two biggest drivers, director John Guillermin and producer Dino di Laurentiis, died in 2010 and 2015 respectively. Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr left us in 2014, composer John Barry in 2011.

Costars John Randolph died in 2004, Ed Lauter in 2013, Rene Auberjonois in 2019 and Charles Grodin in 2021. Even John Berkey, the artist behind the immortal poster art and the three or four pieces that accompanied it with Kong's distinctive roaring face, has been gone since 2008.

In fact, as I look up at the poster only two names are left, stars Jeff Bridges (who we feared we might lose last year after his battle with lymphoma) and Jessica Lange.

Within 10 years as I write these words, it'll be the 2030s, a lifetime since the Gen X movie era. Almost everybody involved in making the movies I loved will be gone. Not even Spielberg or Lucas can live forever.

And because of what I've already mentioned, about how the movies during your childhood form your gold standard but nothing since is so pivotal to the person you are, it may well be that cinema itself loses a bit of mystique. Ghostbusters , Gremlins, The Last Starfighter and all those other classics will be viewed as anachronistically as people my age viewed the films with names like Gardener, Chaplin, Colbert, Bogart or Bacall.

On screens recently, two absolute crackers I can't recommend enough (and about time too, it's been so long since I've seen something that really grabbed me I was worried I was losing my grip).

The first is Prey, the five-qual (?) to 1987's original Predator. Few other franchises have gone down so far in quality with every subsequent entry, and when not even the instalment with such strong links to the original (2018's The Predator, directed by Shane Black) was any good, a decent movie from the Predator universe seemed impossible.

Then came Dan Trachtenberg's slick, neat, self-contained little action thriller that tells the story of the iconic monster battling Native Americans in the colonial era with just the right amount of scares, gore and running time. It has the curiously (and increasingly) rare quality of being a great movie that's great in itself, sets out to entertain and no more, and doesn't contain an ounce of fat.

Another winner is Emily the Criminal, starring and co-produced by Aubrey Plaza. It's a stripped back, straightforward thriller that nonetheless reaches two dizzying creative heights. The first is such searing element of realism it feels like it's happening in the real world, not in a movie. But the second is the way a story that's not the least bit preachy speaks thematic volumes about the world the heroine (and many of her real-world peers) live in.

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