Cameron Diaz urges women to watch comedies

with Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz wanted to make The Other Woman because it was a story about female friendship. “But it wasn’t,” she exclaims, when I talk to her at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “I am not interested in telling stories about revenge. You have known me long enough and seen all of my films to know that I don’t do movies where women attack other women.” But she quickly realised that it was there to serve the comedy, and it paid off. The film topped the US box office this weekend with $24.7 million, in spite of the lukewarm reception from critics.

Directed by Nick Cassavetes, The Other Woman follows three jilted women (Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton), who fight over a philandering husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) before they unite to exact revenge against him.

“I love telling these stories,” the 40-year-old actress beams. “Young women are starting to realise that there are movies that will be made for them to see themselves in it, if they ask for them. And I think that vote of confidence is by seeing films like this.”

Indeed, 60% of the audience were women. This was also the case with previous successful female comedies: Bridesmaids (2012) and The Heat (2013). Evidently, the success of these comedies is impelling Hollywood to release more of them.

Once a staple of summer and the most bankable genre in movies, comedies had to take backseat in recent years, because, unlike special effects-driven action movies, comedy doesn’t translate well in the international market, which has become more important than the US market with over 60% of the global box office intake.

Sensing the insatiable appetite of the masses for 3D bigger-than-life spectacles, Hollywood has been deluging the market with franchises, sequels and reboots, at a hefty cost – most these movies cost well over $100 million to make- in the last decade. The strategy has paid off;  billion of dollars has streamed in from around the world, boosting Hollywood’s confidence to make even more and bigger films, so much that in the summer of 2013,  the market became so crowded that some of those tentpoles either collapsed under the weight of their leviathan size or just cannibalise each other at the box office. Consequently, nearly 60% of those once considered a guaranteed box office success, bombed. The casualties included originals, sequels and reboots such as R.I.P.D, Kick-Ass 2 and The Lone Ranger.

Amazingly, these giant blockbusters were sometimes beaten at the box office by comedies, often made for less than $50 million. In fact, all of 2013 summer’s studio comedies but one were profitable, including The Heat,  Grown Ups 2,  We’re the Millers and Hangover III. Each one of these comedies grossed over $100 in the box office, yet ironically their total budget is less than the $250 million cost of The Lone Ranger, one of the biggest flops of the summer.

The studios watched and scratched their heads. Evidently, there is dough to be made from comedies without the inherited risk of big budget actioners. In fact, Sony Pictures, which suffered 3 major flops (After Earth, Elysium and White House Down) was saved by the box office triumph of This Is the End ($126 million) and Grown Ups 2 ($246.9 million).

The studios were quick to react, unleashing a long list of comedies this summer, including Bad Neighbours, Blended, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Chef, 22 Jump Street, Sex Tape and Tammy.

“The Studios will make those movies if there’s an audience for them,” Diaz asserts. “I think the studio system was very much on the awkward young boy, who wanted to escape in a dark room and see superheroes and Hobbit lands, because they he was not ready to go into the world and himself in it. Young girls are more socialised, they go out in groups, and they don’t go into dark theatres by themselves and escape into superhero land. It’s better than making movies for boys, because boys go by themselves, or one friend, and girls go with like ten,” she laughs.

The Hollywood superstar is probably right in her sociological assessment, but comedies are not immune from failure either and can only be profitable when they are made cheap and done well, because they don’t have the cushion of the international market, that often offsets the losses of superhero movies. Furthermore, the success of one superhero movie can easily dwarf the income of all the comedies combined in one year. So there will be laughter, but also a lot of action this summer

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How New Wave was François Truffaut’s cinema?

In its 18th edition, Colcoa (City of Lights, City of Angels) Film Festival, which is considered the biggest French film festival
outside of France, screening this year 61 films this year, celebrated the legacy of iconic French director, François Truffaut, who passed away 30 years ago, with a screening of one of his movies The Man Who Loved Women (1975), ensued by a panel discussion that injects doubt into his allegiance to the New Wave movement that he had spearheaded.

Like in many of Truffaut’s films, The Man Who Loved Women, a comedic tale of a serial womaniser, Bertrand, whose obsession with the opposite sex leads to his demise, has an underlying autobiographical resonance. In this case, the flashback sequence of Bertrand as a child struggling to connect with his mother clearly refers to Truffaut’s own loveless childhood, which was the topic of his feature debut The 400 Blows (1959), which garnered him the Best Director award at Cannes Film Festival in 1959.

Ironically, it was his difficult childhood that impelled him to seek refuge in cinemas from the exigencies of reality, and later became a source of inspiration for his films. Speaking at the panel discussion, his daughter Laura Truffaut said that she had met her grandparents only once when she was 8, because they didn’t like children.

Truffault began his professional career as a film critic  for Cahiers du Cinema, where he lambasted the contemporary traditional French cinema, for its overt sentimentality and lack of innovation. Panelist Oscar-winning director Claude Lelouch, whose film We Love You, You Bastard opened the festival, said that Truffaut’s writing often dismayed him because it disparaged some of his favourite classic directors.

Soon, the young critic swapped his pen for a camera and became one of the pioneers, alongside other critics most notably Jean-Luc Godard, of the New Wave Cinema movement, which rejected the conventional filmmaking methods and espoused shooting on location and using natural light.

He became the face of the New Wave movement, because the world became aware of it thanks to the sensational success of his film The 400 blows at Cannes Film Festival in 1959.

Lelouch, though, insists that the New Wave movement would’ve not existed had it not been for the new developments in film technology, particularly fast film ASA 400, which enabled filmmakers to shoot in natural light, as much as paint tubes had enabled impressionist artists to paint outdoors. “It was not new cinema; but rather a new cinematography,” he stresses.

New Wave cinema, however, was also as innovative in its style and storytelling as Jean-Luc Godard demonstrated in his revolutionary, Trufault-scripted,  film Breathless (1961), which featured jump cuts, hand-held camerawork, a disjointed narrative, an improvised musical score, dialogue spoken directly to camera, frequent changes in pace and mood, in addition to the use of real locations.

“Godard, not Truffaut, personifies the New Wave,” said Lelouch, who is seemingly not fond of the Godard. “I learned from Truffaut how to make use of the camera and from Godard how not to use it,” he chuckled. “Truffaut directs the camera as if it were an actor, an invisible one, but for the Godard the camera is just an extra.”

Lelouch’s comment about Godard was met few groans from the audience. Nonetheless, one couldn’t deny the evident disparity in the two new wave directors filmmaking, in form and substance.

While Godard continued to audaciously experiment in his films, Truffaut retreated into classical methods of filmmaking, following the commercial failure of Shoot The Piano Player (1960); Godard’s cinema was poetic and rebellious and Truffaut’s was lyrical. Furthermore, Truffaut fiercely rejected Godard’s use of cinema to promulgate his radical political views, while the latter accused him of telling lies in his movies. The relationship between the two men reached a breaking point following the release of Truffaut’s Oscar-winner Day for Night in 1973, and they never spoke to each other again.

“My father’s movies were sentimental,” Laura confirmed. “They dealt with real people and their daily life, human relations and love.”

Lelouch nods his head in agreement. “It’s interesting that Truffaut ended up embracing the classic cinema that he had so aggressively attacked.”

Considered one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation and an inspiration for the younger ones, Truffaut made 25 films, 5 short of his declared goal. He still had numerous films in preparation when he died from a brain tumor at the age of 52.

Is Johnny Depp to blame for Transcendance box office failure? – interview

with Johnny Depp

The dismal performance of Johnny Depp’s starrer “Transcendence” in the US box office over the weekend heralded the 4th flop in a row for the Hollywood superstar. The $100 million production opened with just $11 million. The actor’s other movies that failed to deliver in the box office were: The Rum Diary (2011), Dark Shadows (2012) and The Lone Ranger (2013). Has Depp’s star power waned or is he making bad choices?

Directed by Wally Pfister, who shot Chris Nolan’s Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy , “Transcendance” has a high concept and explores pressing issues about our society and the repercussion of its reliance on technology from a new moralistic perspective. Hence, any star, including Depp, is bound to succumb to the temptation of being part of such a promising endeavour, particularly when it’s supervised by Christopher Nolan, Hollywood’s master of “big ideas” movies.

Depp inhabits the character of Dr. Caster, an artificial intelligence scientist whose consciousness is uploaded to the internet by his wife (played by Rebecca Hall) when he is assassinated by a radical anti-Technology group. Soon, his consciousness becomes viral, multiplying uncontrollably and causing havoc to all aspects of daily life.

Reading the script for the first time, Depp was captivated by Dr. Caster’s character. “Dr. Caster is just a sort of a very normal guy, who happened to be a brilliant scientist, but his normal human behaviour was until a certain point,” he tells me when I talk to him at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “And then it’s about growing within the computer. Regenerating that person back together in the computer and mapping out the times of how old is he now in the computer, how savvy is he, how collected is he? and the ambiguity that is involved.

“So, I wanted people to question whether he was good or whether he was bad. I suppose that was it. I thought there was a great love story in it as well.”

Unfortunately, the love story that he refers to, between Dr. Caster and his wife, was not well served in the movie and fell unconvincingly flat, in spite of the valiant efforts of Hall to feign affection to his ubiquitous fuzzy image on computer monitors.

Artistically the film has failed to deliver, prompting critics to pan it (only 19 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes). But audiences are often indifferent to critics opinions when it comes to blockbusters like “Transcendance” that provide them with the necessary ingredients for pop entertainment namely a superstar and ample amount of impressive special effects, which begs the question why didn’t they flock to see it?

It has often been stated that since the late nineties, film stars don’t necessarily open movies anymore. Last year alone, we witnessed massive star-studded flops, even the king of summer blockbusters, Will Smith failed to save “After Earth” from from crashing, and hot Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx couldn’t save “White House Down” from drowning. And one of the biggest duds was delivered by none other than Depp himself in the shape of “The Lone Ranger” which crumbled in its opening weekend.

Last year, a studio executive told me: “Kids who are playing video games don’t care about stars; they want to see monsters fighting monsters.”

The executive, however, was proven wrong a few weeks later, when “Pacific Rim,” which boasted some of the biggest giant robots swinging battleships around, sank into an ocean of oblivion like its defeated alien monsters. Evidently, computer-generated monsters and dazzling effects on their own are no longer alluring to an increasingly sophisticated audiences, who demand more than just light and thunder.

Perhaps kids don’t care about stars anymore but they evidently care about their favourite characters. The Marvel Comic-based thriller “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has amassed a worldwide total of $585.6 million in the last three weeks. Other such sequels and prequels featuring familiar characters made similar splashes in the box office last year too. Most notably “Iron Man 3,” which grossed a whopping $1.2 billion worldwide.

In fact, sequels and reboots seldom lose any money, if at all, albeit they often don’t feature big stars and if they do, they masquerade them in elaborate costumes and suits. Henry Cavill wasn’t well-known let alone a star, but his playing Superman last year did not hurt the box office for the “Man of Steel,” which grossed $668 million globally.

Nonetheless, Hollywood will continue to court stars for its blockbusters, because although they don’t seem to pull audiences in, they certainly push movies out. And it’s still easier to promote and sell a picture with a familiar name on the marquee. The stars have become an insurance policy.

Having witnessed the slaughter of many of their original blockbusters last year, Hollywood studios are gearing up to deluge the market with a flood of sequels and reboots this season, starting with “The Amazing Spider-man 2” this month, followed by “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Godzilla,” “Transformers: Edge of Extinction,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Planes: Fires and Rescue,” and “Expendables 3.”

It’s hard to blame Hollywood for embracing familiarity and eschewing originality. After all, Hollywood is a business, and it can’t survive without producing a profit. This year, Sony pictures succumbed to the pressure of its investors and cut its production slate from 25 to 18 movies, due to costly flops last year, such as “White House down,” “Elysium,” and “After Earth.”

In this kind of environment, Warners Bros deserves a kudos for taking the risk in releasing “Transcendance,” and for offering another highly anticipated original “Interstellar” later in the year from director Christopher Nolan. After all, no one can predict the success of movie from the outset, and hence throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at one should not be taken lightly.

And charging Depp with failing to open the movie is absurd, though he admits that playing a role like Dr. Castor, whereby he had to sit in a box and deliver lines in a deadpan face is not his forte. “I feel much more comfortable in comedy but I also feel much more comfortable hiding if you will, because there are more possibilities,” the 50-year-old actor says. “I mean you give the director eight, nine, twelve ways of timings and things like that to go with a scene.”

That was perhaps what his fans were missing in this movie: his charming eccentricity. But they will get that soon in his upcoming caper movie “Mortdecai,” which he seems to be very proud of.

“Mortdecai has something very unique and special,” he enthuses. “It’s very different from anything I have done before. We haven’t seen that type of caper movie for a number of years. So I am really looking forward to that one.”

Who knows whether Mortdecai will resurrect his box-office power or not, but we can all be sure that the next “Pirate of the Caribbean,” sequel, which is currently scheduled for 2016 release, will most likely do.

Is Hollywood to blame for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose?

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from a drug overdose has shocked Hollywood and the world. Considered one of the finest actors of his generation, the Oscar winner was loved by his peers and revered by his fans. In his 20-year illustrious career, he performed in nearly 50 films, in addition to theatre plays and TV shows. Yet, in spite of a perpetual presence on the screen and his international fame, he was rarely featured in celebrity or gossip magazines. He eschewed the party circuit and shunned celebrity culture, dedicating his life to his craft and art and delivering some of the most compelling performances on screen and stage in the last two decades.

The troubling question is: How could such a noble artist fall for such an ignoble habit? And is there a merit for the accusations that Hollywood glorifies drugs and does nothing to discourage its stars from abusing it?

The truth is that Hoffman began abusing illicit drugs and alcohol in his early twenties when he graduated from Ticsh Drama School in New York in 1989, as he admitted at an interview with CBS’s 60 minutes show in 2006, saying that “I consumed everything I could lay my hands on. I loved it all.”

Hoffman was able to defeat his addiction and be sober for 23 years until May 2013, when he checked in for rehab. But it seems that was in vain. Unfortunately, he was unable to vanquish the hideous habit. While investigating his death, the police search unveiled 50 bags of Heroin.

Indeed, a number of stars lost their lives to drug overdoses such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Heath Ledger, and some went into rehab for drug addiction such as the infamous Lindsay Lohan, Zac Efron, Charlie Sheen, and others are still defiantly consuming drugs such as Justin Bieber, who was found intoxicated when he was recently arrested for driving under the influence.

Nonetheless, we shouldn’t forget that the news of a star’s death makes headlines around the world and evokes widespread emotional reactions on social networks and internet forums, while the daily passing of hundreds of regular addicts goes unnoticed. The fact is that the illicit drug-induced deaths are a tiny minority in Hollywood, and the dominant cause is actually the abuse of legally-prescribed drugs, as was the case in the deaths of the aforementioned stars.

Whitney Houston ingested a cocktail of cocaine and prescription drugs before her final breath. Most notably, the toxicology report revealed that 12 bottles of different prescription drugs, including anti-anxiety medication Xanax and the muscle relaxant Flexeril, were littered across her hotel room.

Heath Ledger gulped a mix of different sleeping pills before he sank into his last sleep, never to wake up again. While a higher dose of sedative drug, administered by a doctor, brought the end of Michael Jackson. Even Hoffman had blamed his latest bout of addiction to a misuse of prescription drugs.

Drug addiction is not merely a Hollywood problem but an American epidemic. And the source of the epidemic is not the consumption of illicit drugs like crack cocaine and ecstasy that were prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s but the prescribed ones that are easily obtainable and are used for non medical reasons. According to a report from the centre for Disease Control and Prevention, overdoses from prescription drug medication kills up to 15,000 addicts every year, more than the toll from cocaine and heroin combined. The number of infants born addicted to prescription drugs every year has also tripled in the past 10 years, to approximately 13,500, according to a report in the Journal of Medical Association.

In spite of these perplexing figures, American TV channels continue to broadcast commercials promoting medical drugs as if they were food products. Anyone could obtain these drugs simply by paying a visit to their doctor. Hence, it’s the pharmaceutical companies which are to blame for promoting these drugs and making them easily accessible, not Hollywood or its movies, as some have suggested.

Hollywood is one of layers of American society’s fabric. Whatever inflicts the American society is bound to affect Hollywood and vice versa. Recent studies show that, in 2010, one in every twenty Americans consumes prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. By and large, these drugs are potent painkillers that elicit euphoric effect, such as Hydrocodone, Methadone, and Oxymorphone. These drugs are addictive and could be fatal if taken without a doctor’s supervision.

Likewise, most of the drug users in Hollywood are predominantly young stars, who resort to drugs in order to fill the resulting void after achieving a quick fame and fortune. The majority check in for rehab and heal. But those who succumb to these poisonous substances, are jettisoned by Hollywood. They lose their career and their dreams, and often their lives.

Is 12 Years A Slave relevant in Obama’s America?

Since its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, has been making headlines and gaining praise from critics and audiences alike for its uncompromising depiction of the horrors of slavery in pre civil war America. This month, it has scooped 7 Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor in a drama, best supporting actor, best supporting actress and best original score. It’s the first black film to attain such illustrious recognition.

12 Years A Slave, which tells the true story of a free black man, Solomon Northup, kidnapped in 1841 in Washington and sold into slavery in New Orleans, is easily the most hard-hitting portrayal of this dark chapter in American history since the 1977 TV blockbuster “Roots”. Other acclaimed movies have visited the subject, such as Amistad, Beloved and Glory, but gained little attention in the box office and quickly sank into the abyss of oblivion. However, last year’s Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s blend of spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation, which exposed the masochistic brutality of slave masters and the suffering they inflicted on their subjects, was a box office hit and a critics darling.

When I met him in Toronto, McQueen told me that his film was different. “It’s basically non-fiction, a firsthand account of slavery,” he said. “The specification of what happened, the location, all those people in that movie actually existed. I think that is the thing we haven’t seen on the big screen and that’s what I wanted to emphasise, the reality of the unfortunate situation of slavery.”

The British black director wanted his movie to be for slavery films what Schindler’s List was for Holocaust movies, hence he didn’t spare us slavery’s intermittent and incidental horrors. Through the eyes of Northup we witness black people being sold in a slave market like cattle, children raptured from their wailing mothers and callous plantation owners whipping, rapping and hanging their slaves arbitrarily and sometimes for sheer pleasure. McQueen’s relentless portrayal of physical and psychological suffering and his lingering on scenes of torture is so painful and uncomfortable to watch that it eggs you to leap out of the comfort of your seat to redress the injustice unfolding before your eyes.

Although proving effective in shocking audiences, the extreme violence depicted in the movie has also stirred controversy. Some African American critics, such as Armond White, have dismissed the the film as an exercise in “torture porn,” suggesting that this kind of victimology is unsuited for the contemporary needs of black communities. Others have retorted that the legacy of slavery, which was driven by racism, continued to resonate in American society, evidenced by the the fact that the African-American incarceration rate is six times the national average to this day and the unemployment rate for blacks is double that of whites.

Indeed, the racism that stripped Northup of freedom and plunged him into slavery 150 years ago is echoed in contemporary movie Fruitvale Station, in which an unarmed 21-year-old black man, Oscar Grant, is fatally shot by a white police officer in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day of 2009. None of Northup’s kidnappers were prosecuted, in spite of the compelling evidence against them. Grant’s killer, on the other hand, was sentenced to only 2 years in prison. Evidently, little has changed in the US judicial system since the bleak days of slavery, in spite of the election of a black president.

12 Years A Slave is not merely a history lesson; it’s a stark reminder that the racism that justified slavery 150 years ago is still lurking in the American society and must be confronted in order to pave a better future for humanity. “I think it takes time for people to heal and get a chance to reconcile with their past,” McQueen said. “I think it [the movie] galvanised a lot of people to want to engage with slavery.”

The film has no doubt revived and stirred debates about the issue of slavery that had been pushed aside by the media and Hollywood. Its critical and commercial success is a testament to audiences’ healthy appetite for exploring and understating the past, no matter how grim and hideous it was.

The tumultuous journey of Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Lea Seydoux, Abdellatif Kechiche and Adele Exarchopoulos celebrating in Cannes

Lea Seydoux, Abdellatif Kechiche and Adele Exarchopoulos celebrating in Cannes

There is no other movie that merits a Golden Globe nomination more than Blue is the Warmest colour, which has garnered more accolades than any other film this year since it began its journey at the Cannes Film festival, where it was awarded the prestigious Palme D’or, after it had stunned audiences and critics with its explosive graphic lesbian sex.

Indeed, this three-hour emotional epic boasts the longest sex scene in recent history, but it also lingers on other life pleasures such as food, art, literature, music and conversation. Directed by acclaimed French-Tunisian director, Abdellatif Kechiche, the film unflinchingly bares reality to its core and daringly delves into the most intimate human experiences and challenges societal conformities and inhibitions.

The film is a sexual coming-of-age story about a high-school girl, Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), who, having failed to sate her carnal pleasure with her boyfriend, falls for a slightly older blue-haired female artist, Emma (Lea Seydoux). The couple embarks on a passionate, steamy love affair, that eventually crumbles under the mundane pressures of life.

Critics raved about film’s honest and poignant portrayal of first love, and the fearless performances of Seydoux and Exarchopoulos, and their ability to capture their hunger for each other and for life.  But not everyone was impressed.

Julie Maroh, who wrote the graphic novel on which the movie is based, charged that lesbians were missing in the sex scenes, which were enacted by two heterosexual actresses.  But when I spoke to Kechiche, he said that the sexual propensities of the actresses was irrelevant. He just wanted two actresses who were able to incarnate the passion of the two characters and their attraction to each other. In fact, he refrained from choreographing the sex scenes, and let the actresses be guided by their passion for each other. “The only mandate was to experience it for themselves and that the camera was there to capture what was happening but it was also there to protect their freedom to explore and just experience it,” he said.

Shot from every angle with different lenses, the sex scenes are quite explicit and clinical, prompting some to compare them to pornography. But unlike pornographic movies, which abstract women for the mere intention of sexual arousal, Blue is a compelling emotional journey of a young girl, who experiences the joys and pains of profound love. Sex is merely a manifestation of the depth of her passion for her lover, and it was not the only activity that deepened the bond between them. They shared all aspects of their lives through the vicissitudes of their affair: the taste of food, socialising with friends, intellectual conversations and family visits.

The explicit nature of Blue has not been the only source of controversy. In September, a fight broke out between the director and his actresses, who had claimed in a press interview that he was “horrible” and a bully, vowing never to work with him again. Though subsequently, Exarchopoulos distanced herself from these comments, when I spoke to her, saying that she would love to work with Kechiche again, in spite of the hardship she had to endure during the shoot. “He is a genius and I owe him a lot,” she stressed.

However, Seydoux, the granddaughter of Pathe chairman Jerome Seydoux, broke into tears when we discussed the subject, insisting that she would never work with the director again, in spite of her admiration for his work.

Kechiche’s reaction to his actresses’ grievance was utter shock, and he flatly denied the allegations. “To this day, I had only statements of love and gratitude for taking them onto this journey,” he told me. He also accused Seydoux of poisoning young Exarchopoulos’ mind with her polemic, suggesting that had she not come from a powerful family, she would’ve not made those statements. He even hinted that perhaps Seydoux’s powerful family were trying to nudge him out of the system.

“I hired two actresses; they knew my prior work and knew the project they were getting into. The shoot was supposed to last two and a half months, but I had trouble drawing the performance from Seydoux, so it took twice as much time to shoot the film,” he said.

To ensure the survival of the project, Kechiche invested 1 million euros of his own money, and asked Seydoux to step out, but she fought back and he relented to her persuasion. “It’s indecent of Lea to speak of suffering when we are doing the most beautiful profession in the world. It’s hard to understand the motivation behind this criticism,” he agonised.

Later in September, the film was hit by another blow when the Academy of Motion Picture, Art and Sciences deemed it ineligible for Oscar’s Best Foreign Picture race, because it was not released in the US before the September 30th. It was released on October 9th.

Notwithstanding the challenges and obstacles, Blue has continued to gain critical praise and box-office success.  It’s an indelible cinematic experience that will be remembered for a long time.

 

How did The Conjuring conjure the masses?

This weekend, The Conjuring, a small budget horror movie about a family who endure frightening experiences after moving into a possessed house , beat Hollywood’s big blockbusters like R.I.P.D and Turbo in the US box office, debuting to $41 million.  Why do filmgoers have such an insatiable appetite for such superstitions?

Since the dawn of history people have believed that demons and other spiritual entities could possess creatures and places. Possessed humans often exhibited hideous symptoms, such as a personality transformation, unseemly behaviour, aggression, unnatural voices, physical deformities and epithets spewing. Those hapless individuals were treated by an exorcist, usually a man of deity, who performed an elaborate ritual or simply commanded the ungodly entities to depart in the name of a higher power.

Following the advances in medical science, which ascribed possession symptoms to mental illnesses such as epilepsy, psychosis, Tourette’s syndrome, schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder, the practice of Exorcism began to fade in the 19th century. But not anymore.

Following the release of the classic horror movie, The Exorcist (1973), which claimed to be based on the true story of a girl who was possessed by demons, exorcism reportedly experienced a staggering resurgence, prompting the Catholic Church to train priests in the forgotten ancient practice in order the satisfy the overwhelming demand.

Other than giving millions of people around the world a fright, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, spawned a multitude of other films about the subject, and although none has matched its originality, creativity and critical acclaim, they have still commanded commercial success and instilled fear in the hearts of millions. Like The Exorcist, the ensuing movies often claimed to be based on true events, perhaps because they were too incredulous to be accepted by a rational mind. After all, how do you expect someone to believe that Linda Blair could spin her neck 360 degrees without breaking it or float in the air unsuspended in The Exorcist!

The Conjuring also claims to be inspired by a true story based on the accounts of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who come to assist the Perron family in evicting the demons that tenanted their house and tormented them.

Demonic possessions are mainly experienced by religious people, but the Perron family is secular. Ironically though, they seek out the help of the people of God instead of science. We all see visions and imagine things around us, but unless we are firmly religious, we either ignore them or  resort to medical help. After all, visual science taught us that seeing is believing.

Apparently, the cast of the movie were also conjured.  When I met them  in San Francisco prior to the release of the movie, they told me that they had all kind of spooky experiences on set, while making the film, like fire alarms going off, or three slashes appearing on the computer screen. Actress Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren, pulled a photo from her cellphone to show me a blue claw mark on her thigh, which apparently appeared the day after they started shooting. “Unless I had a mosquito bite and I scratched it with these three fingers, I don’t know what happened.”

Unlike Lorraine Warren, who had an unshakable conviction in the metaphysical world of demons and spirits, Farmiga insists that she neither has such convictions nor is a religious person. “It doesn’t matter what I believe about the spirit realm or the diabolical, Satan, God, none of that matters. What matters is that I buy into the story because I am portraying her.”

Interestingly, the Oscar-nominated actress, who has recently delved into the horror genre in the TV show Bates Motel and directed Higher Ground, a movie that deals with spiritually, perceives these projects as merely love stories, and that is what truly draws her to inhabit their characters. “I love the love,” she exclaims. “I feel like I am a monk, looking for all types of enlightenment, and I love overtly projects that challenge you, to define conceptually what God means to you, projects that challenge your belief or lack thereof, but even in those projects, I hard boil it down to love stories. If you YouTube any video of Lorraine and Ed together, they have such a mystical, beautiful, rare kind of love.”

Indeed, there is a tender love story at the core of this movie, but romance is a genre you wouldn’t ascribe to it. This is a scary movie, and that was exactly what drove the masses to see it; they were looking for sensational fear, and they got it. But how much truth is there behind the sensation?

While I was watching the movie, the image of Jim Carrey, playing the a cop with dissociative identity disorder, in Me, Myself and Irene leapt into my mind. Every time, he forgot to take his medicine, he turned into a hideous character, with many of the symptoms of a possessed person. But instead of fear, that film elicited laughter in our hearts.

I confess that expulsion of demons is far more dramatic and entertaining than taking a pill, but I very much doubt that such an ancient practice is a valid form of treatment for people afflicted with mental illnesses. In fact, there were incidents in which the procedure was fatal, as it was dramatised in The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), which tells the story of a priest who was persecuted for causing the death of a mentally-disturbed girl while performing exorcisms on her. So why do we still embrace these superstitious beliefs of demonic possession?

“There’s an aspect to all this which is like you may be scared, but if you keep scaring yourself, then there’s still something in you that want to be that and experience it,” say Formiga, who had a scary spiritual experience in her youth.

Indeed, fear is a weapon that has often been exploited by religion and authorities, to spread their dominance over the multitude. Filmmakers, on the other hand, are using it for the sake of entertainment and selling tickets at the cinema theatres.