Filmism.net Dispatch January 7, 2024

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First off I'd like to refer you back to a former Filmism.net Dispatch, in which I argued that every time a project with a female creative lead either in front of or behind the camera, we (rightly) celebrate it, but how we also suffer a weird kind of cultural amnesia about everything that's come before.

Every time a female-driven movie catches on (see Wonder Woman, Barbie, et al), the film firmament and media all breathlessly pray thanks we're 'finally' seeing stories about complicated women on screens, forgetting the story about a complicated woman on screen that probably came out the month before and the years worth of them that preceded that.

It irks me because it devalues and insults all the female directors, writers, actors and craftspeople who've done/been doing fantastic work in movies and TV going back decades, and I was reminded of it again recently when a director named Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, talking about her forthcoming Star Wars project, said'it's about time we had a woman come forward to shape a story in a galaxy far, far away'.

Is she, or CNN.com (the media outlet that ran the quote) serious?

Have we already forgotten Deborah Chow, who directed several episodes of The Mandalorian and did such a good job they gave her the entire series of Obi Wan Kenobi, or Susanna White, who directed several episodes of the highest quality product to come out of the Star Wars IP universe since The Empire Strikes Back (Andor).

Come to that, shouldn't we remember the entire franchise is in the hands of a woman, with LucasFilm head honcho Kathleen Kennedy maintaining an iron fist on output to the extent she has no compunctions jettisoning powerful creative voices who don't agree with her (just ask Colin Trevorrow, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, Josh Trank or Patty Jenkins)?

Now, in researching this filmmaker, I learned there's currently a social media pile-on over 2015 comments resurfaced where she talks about wanting to make men uncomfortable, and I don't want to throw my lot in with that.

In any case, a TikTok user named Isabel Brown reacting to Obaid-Chinoy's comments goes on to articulate that aspect of the problem of Disney trying to woke itself out of existence better than I could.

But a couple of years after Obaid-Chinoy's movie comes out (assuming it's successful), are we all going to wave the gender representation flag for the next Star Wars project directed by a woman like it's never happened before all over again?

But to another topic that captured my attention last year. I watched Michael Bay's typically over the top action chase thriller Ambulance, starring Jake Gyllenhal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as best friends who rob a bank and flee in a hijacked ambulance to make their getaway.

In typical Bay fashion they don't just send a couple of cop cars after them but a fleet of police choppers (that fly under bridges), armoured trucks with rocket launchers, high tech surveillance buzzing overhead and an elite police commando unit, the chase causing more destruction and explosions across the streets and waterways of Los Angeles than a hurricane and an open cut mine put together.

It's very Bay-ean fare and it's perfectly enjoyable, but even despite coming out after the worst of COVID lockdowns were over and most of us were vaccinated, it flopped, scraping a pretty miserable $52m back from a $40m budget.

But what interested me the most at the time was the amount of excitement about the movie I read on social media, and the disappointment when it failed to catch on. One post I remember quite well said (and I'm paraphrasing) that Bay gave us all a gift and we squandered it.

The intimation was that we had a good, solid, old school action thriller at a time when we all needed what cinema had to offer more than ever (escapism) and we ignored it.

Suddenly Bay was cast as a victim. He'd had the means to be cinema's hero, and we rejected him.

The reason I found it so fascinating was because for most of his career, despite making the exact same kind of movies full of masculine swagger and globe-stopping, frenetic set pieces, he'd been a pariah.

Critics hated him and his movies were like porn, nobody admitting to watching it but somebody making him one of the most successful directors working.

He'd been the embarrassing stepchild of the industry forever, but because he was one of the only powerful directors left who make real movies for big screens, suddenly he was the great white hope for revitalising cinema. And when Ambulance failed to do so it was our fault, not Bay's. How fortunes change...

Not to blow my own trumpet, by the way, but as far as I'm aware I'm one of the few movie reporters to ever ask him about his status in those days, which I did during a press conference in Sydney for Transformers way back in 2007.

And for the record I proudly count myself a fan of his. I didn't half mind Ambulance at all, and despite whether you like the style Bay hath wrought on movies, I've long been a defender of his status as a more than competent director, even an auteur, which I argued in a blog post for the movie site C.H.U.D back that same year.

On screens lately, as a cineaste I duly lined up for Killers of the Flower Moon... and came away underwhelmed. For such a brilliant actor Leonardo DiCaprio plays his role with too much dichotomy, and it makes for a character who's irritating more than intriguing.

Speaking of Leonardo, I also watched Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, but only because I was on a plane and there wasn't much else on.

I loooooove the 1990 version that came from Golden Harvest, director Steve Barron and Jim Henson's Creature Shop, but everything since has just felt like a copy done with other coloured crayons. The animation is interesting enough, but do we as a culture really need to revisit this mythology as many times as we do Batman or Robin Hood?

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