When Franchises Hog Talent Andrew Garfield

Red Riding

Originally posted at Jeff Goldblum’s Laugh

With the seemingly infinite number of franchises bubbling about at the moment more and more actors are being snapped up to appear in an adaptation of a comic book or YA novel. The actors we have grown to love for their intimate roles in independent films are suddenly committing years of their lives by signing up in appear in numerous big budget action movies. In some cases these actors manage to maintain their career outside of the franchise but for a few the pull proves too strong and they disappear inside never to be seen in a different role ever again… or at least until the film series comes to a close.

What sparked this worry off in my mind was my love for the work of Andrew Garfield, the thick haired transatlantic actor who is mostly seen swinging around in a tight red and blue suit under the guise of Spider-Man. It wasn’t always this way, oh no, Garfield used to wear jumpers and have low-budget emotions. Ah… those were the days.

Never Let Me Go

In 2007 Garfield starred in the low-budget British drama Boy A about a young man recently released from prison having served time for committing murder as a child. His performance was subtle and flawless, a feat he repeated in 2009 when appearing as a young journalist investigating a murder in the Red Riding trilogy on Channel 4. There was no denying his acting chops and his choice of roles seemed to favour quality over box office potential or fame.

The end of 2010 and start of 2011 saw Garfield hit a career high with his roles in both the highly successful The Social Network and the Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction staple Never Let Me Go. Garfield was suddenly my favourite actor in the world ever, no take-backs. What would he do next, what indie gem would he grace with his presence?

Since February 2011 Andrew Garfield has not been seen outside of his spandex suit and much as I enjoy him in the role this simply is not good enough. As a consumer I have a right to have my opinion heard!

I can’t help but feel like the Amazing Spider-Man franchise has stolen Andrew Garfield from our screens and stopped his diverse career from progressing. He may be a household name now but with great fame has come great… uniformity. His special lady friend and co-star Emma Stone has somehow escaped this fate and has made five films during the Amazing Spider-Man process. The series’ director Marc Webb suffers a similar fate to Garfield having only made the brilliant (and brilliantly misunderstood) (500) Days of Summer prior to getting sucked into Spider-Man vortex.

The Amazing Spider-Man

It is at this point that my argument collapses around my feet. This is the point in the article where I list the dozens of other actors who have entered franchises and failed to make other work but as you’ll soon see they vehemently refuse to fit my hypothesis which is rude and highly inconvenient.

Jennifer Lawrence has taken on both Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class franchises and still managed to put in Oscar nominated performances in more traditional films. Samuel L. Jackson is in every film that comes out that even tangentially relates to the Avengers behemoth and still is making more non-franchise films than I can keep track of. As for directors Joss Whedon has his finger in as many Avengers pies as Jackson and still managed to make the Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing apparently when we weren’t keeping a close enough eye on him.

Contrary to my original fears it can be done; you can have it all and getting involved in a franchise doesn’t have to ruin your career. And by “ruin” I am naively assuming that a career is ruined the minute you become fabulously rich and famous but have a slightly less diverse roster of films. That said I can’t help but think that the big budgets franchises do limit the choices the actors can make.

Perhaps this all stems from a selfish desire to see my personal favourites appear in a larger number of films that don’t involve a single explosion (OK, I’ll allow a small one) or any mutant superpowers. When I look back at the career of Robert Downey Jr. I see Chaplin, Wonder Boys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, and Zodiac whereas now all we see is Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. The films are fun, don’t get me wrong, but do they give the actors involved as much scope to test their acting mettle? I don’t think so.

Am I just being selfish, do I hate my beloved actors appearing in more mainstream films that give me less enjoyment but allow them more exposure? Am I just being a snob in assuming that acting in a franchise is less worthy than acting in an indie drama? Obviously the answer here is yes but that doesn’t change how I feel.

I for one will be glad when Andrew Garfield hangs up the spidey senses in favour for screaming on beaches and watch with trepidation as newer actors like Tom Hiddleston, Shailene Woodley, and Elizabeth Olsen take their first steps from the indie world and into the kingdom of franchises. I hope they come back out the other side and still make smaller films. If Emma Watson can manage it then so can they.

Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction, Introducing a Sub-genre

Every now and then I discover a specific sub-genre of film in which so many of my favourite films fit. Sadly these sub-genres don’t actually exist so it is up to me to name and define them. I’ll start with a sub-genre I’ve mumbled about in the past; Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction or HeKniSciFi for short.

What are you talking about?
Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction covers all of those films in which there is a strong science fiction element at the crux of the plot and the film’s main focus is on the emotions of the characters rather than the fictional science itself.

Science Fiction tends to be quite futuristic, have a cast of characters in form-fitting clothing, and the futuristic technology is sleek and shiny. In a HeKniSciFi film the characters do tend to be wearing a lot of knitwear (just look at the image above) and the technology is often much more rustic. It is the difference between a man in Lycra on a spaceship travelling through time and a man in a sweater on a farm travelling through time and being emotional about it.

Sci-Fi has science fiction driving the plot throughout whereas HeKniSciFi takes the science fiction as a catalyst and then concerns itself with focussing on how miserable everyone is (in the best possible way.) Budgets are lower; you can expect a lot more wood and natural fibres in the furnishings in a HeKniSciFi and infinitely fewer explosions.

What’s wrong with Science Fiction?
Absolutely nothing! Did I say there was anything wrong with Science Fiction? You are being very defensive.

My only issue is that I think the term Sci-Fi automatically conjures up an image of humanoid aliens and galaxies far, far away and doesn’t accurately represent the full spectrum of the genre. Later I will list films that fall within HeKniSciFi and I hope that you will agree that while they contain fictional science they are a far cry from Sci-Fi.

Give me an example
A good comparative example comprises of Michael Bay’s 2005 action adventure film The Island and Mark Romanek’s 2011 indie drama Never Let Me Go. A look at a still from each film should give a good idea of what I am writing about:

The top image shows the leads in The Island, the bodysuits just scream Sci-Fi while the second image of three young adults with wavy hair could be taken from any indie drama of recent years. And yet they have the same plot. Both feature individuals in a secluded society who discover that they are clones who will eventually have their organs harvested when someone in the outside world needs them.

In The Island the clones live in an underground compound, wear tight white bodysuits, and upon discovering the truth go an adventure to find their real selves while being chased by a mercenary. As this is Michael Bay you can rest assured that explosions and fast bikes are included.

In Never Let Me Go the clones are brought up in an English boarding school, wear heavy knitwear, and upon discovering the truth do very little about it. While they do have a day trip to find one of their real selves the focus of the film is on the central love triangle. There are no explosions beyond Andrew Garfield shouting on a beach.

The Island is a glossy product, one in which Bay tries to keep you entertained and does not worry too much about the emotion side of the story. In Never Let Me Go everything is that little bit more textured and the characters are brought much more to the surface. The Island is shiny metal and Never Let Me Go is scuffed wood. The Island is Sci-Fi and Never Let Me Go is HeKniSciFi.

What other films fit the genre?
Other films in this genre include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a man wipes his memory of a past love and in doing so relives their relationship), Another Earth (a young woman falls in love with a man whose family she accidentally killed while a second Earth appears in the sky), Womb/Clone (a woman gives birth to a clone of her dead boyfriend and experiences confusing emotions), and Cold Souls (an actor literally swaps his soul to better act in a Chekhov play). In each of these films there is a fictional technology at the film’s core but our focus is on the emotions of the lead character. They all feature heavy knitwear too but that is not an essential requirement.

The next time you see a low-budget film with a high concept and a chunky jumper just think about it. Are you watching Sci-Fi or HeKniSciFi? Does Looper fit the bill or Safety Not Guaranteed? Discuss.

Top 20 Films of 2011

As 2011 comes to a close is it my obligation as a film blogger to put together my pick of 2011’s releases. I’ve gone for my top twenty as narrowing it down to just ten would be too harrowing a task and my only rule is that they must have been released in UK cinemas during 2011. This takes us from The Next Three Days (absolutely not in the list) to The Lady and The Artist and is only limited to films I have seen. I’ve also chosen not to speak to the wider Mild Concern team, mostly due to laziness, barring watching Waste Land at Kat’s insistence. This was a decision I have come to regret considering the rambling you will find below.

The scene properly set, let’s get onto the list. Looking back 2011 has been a great year for cinema, here are my top 20 releases of 2011:

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Not at the Oscars – Never Let Me Go

There was a time when everyone seemed to be excited about Never Let Me Go, but that was a while ago and felt like it ended long before the film actually came out. Maybe if the film had opened in the UK first it could have gained some support before tackling the US. Instead it flopped in the US and then continued to flounder in the UK market.

With no real excitement any more and not much attention the studio seems to have given up on this little treasure. Without an Oscar campaign, something that is depressingly vital for award success, the film that opened the London Film Festival has no Oscar nominations to speak of. Hell, it didn’t even make the Baftas.

Beautiful direction, careful writing and stand-out performances all go ignored. Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan are heart breaking and Keira Knightley is surprisingly good in her unsympathetic role. The film unfolds slowly and manages to not gives itself away in the opening act. Surely something in here deserves a little recognition?

Even a nomination for all the heavy knitwear would have been enough.

Out Now – 11th February 2011

Today is quite a good day for releases, a mix of quality films, romantic comedies and 3D kids movies. Pick your date movie…. now!

Gnomeo & Juliet
A fully British cast, complete with our own Jason Statham, retell Shakespeare using gnomes. You get the feeling this is little more than a clumsy pun taken too far.

Just Go With It
Jennifer Aniston once made films you wouldn’t be ashamed to have on DVD. Though looking at her filmography, that hasn’t been for nine years now, I doubt this will be a return to form.

Never Let Me Go
A beautiful love story with a bit of a difference, something the trailer has thankfully not revealed. We really liked it, and not least because it features Andrew Garfield.

True Grit
The plot becomes almost irrelevant when the Coens are involved but for the sake of it: “A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father’s murderer.” The perfect film for Valentines day if your significant other has a taste for quality film and has already seen Never Let Me Go.

Yogi Bear
Someone wants to close Jellystone Park so Yogi, Boo Boo and Ranger Smith team up to ruin our childhoods.

My Kidnapper (limited release)
Documentary in which a kidnappee receives an email from a former kidnapper and goes to meet him. Should be pretty powerful stuff. No joke.

Son Of Babylon (limited release)
“A willful young boy follows his just as obstinate grandmother in a journey across Iraq, determined to discover the fate of her missing son, Ahmed’s father, who never returned from war.”

Two In The Wave (limited release)
The dramatic story of a friendship that shaped French cinema. Can you sense I’m running out of time?

The Best is Yet to Come: 2011

Today we’re looking ahead at out most anticipated releases of 2011… and there’s a lot. A few glaring omissions perhaps but we have no interest in giant robots fighting.

So what can top 127 Hours and The King’s Speech?

Friday 14 January 2011
Blue Valentine
Made the headlines by getting its rating reduced in America as they claimed the sex scene wasn’t obscene just realistic. If that doesn’t tempt you how about a realistic portrayal of a marriage and career best performances?

Friday 21 January 2011
Black Swan
It’s great, powerful stuff and yet is another with more coverage of a single sex scene that the rest of the film. Portman is at her prime and Kunis ain’t too shabby either.

Friday 11 February 2011
Never Let Me Go
True Grit

A small British sci-fi with a beautifully subtle plot and the Coen brothers’ latest acclaimed production. Good Friday.

Monday 14 February 2011
Paul
For some reason sneaking out on a Monday, Pegg and Frost’s latest is funny if not up to the standard of an Edgar Wright collaboration. We saw it, reviewed it and got asked to take it down.

Friday 18 February 2011
Chalet Girl
A hopefully above average romantic comedy starring our own Felicity Jones and the slimy one from Gossip Girl.

Friday 25 February 2011
No Strings Attached
Waste Land

Natalie Portman tries her hand at a comedy about two friends trying out casual sex before Mila Kunis gets the chance. And on the same day we have one of our favourites from the London Film Festival, though most likely only at three cinemas.

Friday 4 March 2011
Rango
The Tempest

Animated comedy starring Johnny Depp as a lizard that is set to offer something better than the average animated film accompanied by the apparently less than perfect Shakespeare film featuring… Felicity Jones!

Friday 18 March 2011
Submarine
A film everyone should see as Richard Ayoade makes a strong directorial debut with a near perfect tale of young love and awkwardness.

Friday 1 April 2011
Sucker Punch
Zack Snyder kicks you in the face with amazing visuals, sexy crazy girls and general madness.

Friday 8 April 2011
Attack The Block
Joe Cornish made a film with a slightly bad sounding premise. Can Cornballs make a bad synopsis into a great film?

Friday 15 April 2011
Scream 4
Winnie the Pooh
Your Highness

A triple whammy in mid-April. First the fourth in the Scream series starring the cast of the entire TV alongside the usual faces. Then we have a hand animated Disney film about everyone’s favourite bear and a medieval comedy starring future Mrs Mild Concern, Zooey Deschanel and with her third film in four months, Natalie Portman.

Friday 22 April 2011
Source Code
Duncan Jones tries to top Moon with sci-fi action thriller involving confusing time travel in which Jake Gyllenhaal consistently fails to find the bomber on a train.

Friday 29 April 2011
Thor
Michael Gambon directing a comic book movie? Surely worth a look. Oh, hello Natalie Portman.

Wednesday 18 May 2011
Pirates Of The Caribbean 4
They’ve promised to keep it simple this time and have lost the less interesting characters, we’re excited.

Friday 15 July 2011
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part II
Because Part I was so good this can only be the peak of the Potter series.

Friday 29 July 2011
Captain America: The First Avenger
It might be terrible but is the lead-in to The Avengers which might also be terrible. Wait, it could be good too!

Friday 5 August 2011
Rise Of The Apes
John Lithgow and James Franco! And monkeys!

Friday 19 August 2011
The Inbetweeners
Super 8

The spin-off from E4’s best output and J.J. Abrams top secret new film. Funny and surprising… and deeply shameful.

Friday 26 August 2011
Final Destination 5
Guilty pleasure alert… I like to see people die in ridiculous ways…

Friday 2 September 2011
Friends With Benefits
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Mila Kunis gets to do the friends having sex comedy to see if she can top Portman. Portman doesn’t care after having so many other films out.

Friday 7 October 2011
Johnny English 2
“It’s only a bit of poo.” Heh.

Friday 14 October 2011
Footloose
The Thing

A musical remake of a personal favourite and a prequel starring Ramona Flowers. It could be a glorious pair or a double disaster.

Friday 21 October 2011
Paranormal Activity 3
With no new Saw film this is all we have for Halloween. Boo!

Wednesday 26 October 2011
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
Because the best British writers all seem to have had a hand in the writing of this particular film. Wright, Moffat and Cornish? Wow.

Never Let Me Go – Review

Never Let Me Go is science fiction to its core and yet mostly consists of beautiful people in heavy knitwear in old houses. Because while there is indeed a fictional piece of science involved, the focus is on humans, emotions and violin music playing in the background.

In short the film follows Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield through their time at an unusual boarding school and through early adulthood as they discover themselves and the real world. Never Let Me Go is sad, beautiful and questions the nature of souls and the ethics of… something I won’t reveal. The film slowly unveils its plot and I’m not going to ruin that here.

All you need to know that this is not a cheery film, but it is gorgeous and features everyone’s favourite Spiderman. Knightley haters will even find themselves with little to complain about. Amazing to think this was made in just a few weeks for £15 million, long life Film4.

Never Let Me Go shares a similar plot to a certain Michael Bay film, but handles the issue in a distinctively British way which reminded me of a specific bit of Eddie Izzard material. Trust me after watching the film you’ll need a laugh.

Never Let Me Go is on general release 21st January 2011.

Film4 Gets a Boost

After the axing of the UK Film Council things weren’t looking too great for the British film industry but yesterday we got some good news. To coincide with the opening of the London Film Festival, Channel 4 announced that they were increasing the budget for Film4 by 50%. Lovely.

Just looking at Film4’s output at the Festival makes it clear why this is a good thing. Both opening and closing galas, Never Let Me Go and 127 Hours were Film4 productions along with much buzzed about Submarine, Another Year and NEDs. Three of these we will be reviewing next week.

I’d even go so far as to say that Film4 has a better track record of quality films than the UK Film Council.

London Film Festival

Yesterday the line up for this year’s BFI London Film Festival was revealed and it’s a glorious mix of biggish American movies, small British films and sexy European flicks. My two personal faves are Never Let Me Go and Black Swan but I’m hoping to be surprised by a few other gems too, and with any luck get into the surprise film.

You’ll be glad to hear that Mild Concern will be hitting the festival hard so if you can’t make it down to London you can at least read some vague reviews of some of the films.

The full line-up can be found on the BFI site and tickets go on sale on 20th September for BFI members and a week later for the cheapskates. That gives me over a week to best plan a route of attack.