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Friday, 29 March 2019

Disney Now Owns These Films



Last Week, Disney completed its high-profile deal with 21st Century Fox after 15 months of intense meetings and negotiations. For the eye-watering sum of $71.3 billion, it has acquired the 20th Century Fox film studio and its offshoots (including Fox Searchlight and Fox 2000), the FX and National Geographic Channels, and a controlling stake in the streaming service Hulu. Most importantly, it now owns all of the movies and TV shows produced by the studio over the years. These will be added to Disney’s forthcoming streaming service Disney+, demonstrating their focus on providing a rival to Netflix and allowing the company to be stronger and more successful than ever in an era of immense change for the movie industry.

There are numerous reasons to be suspicious about Disney’s big spending. In an age where we are becoming increasingly wary of the excessive power enjoyed by big corporations, seeing one of the most powerful film conglomerates in the world gain acquire even more properties can leave a rather sour taste in the mouth. In the last two decades, Disney’s acquisition of Luscasfilm and Marvel Films allowed them control over two of the most successful movie franchises in the world, and the studio has assets worth almost $100 billion. The purchase of Fox adds an extra $30 billion, and ensures that Disney’s share of the US cinematic market rises from 26% to around 36- 38% . In addition, Disney’s reputation for being safe and bland has generated fears that they will meddle in any film produced by Fox or Fox Searchlight, and rumours that Disney heads Alan Horn and Bob Iger will have plenty of creative control are understandably worrying in this context.

However, the move makes plenty of sense for Disney. For instance, it allows them to enter the adult film market. Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures, which used to be Disney’s divisions for distributing more adult films, both fell into dormancy during the 2000s and Disney can use 20th Century Fox to replace them and produce blockbusters aimed at an older audience. In addition, its ownership of Fox Searchlight allows Disney to compete in the Oscar race. The studio have done this before (They owned Miramax for 17 years) but their control of Fox Searchlight represents a way of gaining the critical legitimacy and respect they have often lacked. Disney’s reliance on a handful of expensive big name blockbusters has been incredibly limiting from a creative perspective, and the numerous mid-budget and low-budget films from the Fox production arms can allow Disney to diversify their output. Media coverage has focused on the fact that Disney now have ownership of the Marvel heroes not owned by Marvel Studios (X Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool), The Simpsons and Avatar. However, it also owns a wide range of movies which were produced and distributed by various parts of the 20th Century Fox Company over the years. As a result, these movies are now technically part of the Disney library. In around 84 years of existence, Fox has been responsible for releasing over 4,000 films. Listed below are 15 Fox films which are now owned by Disney and eligible for a place on Disney+ or Hulu. Some of them fit the studio perfectly, whilst others are ludicrously inappropriate for the House of Mouse…

Fairy Tales


Disney’s reliance on fairy tale films, and their popularity and influence means that they have defined the form during the last century. The acquisition of Fox strengthens Disney’s claim to dominate the American fairy tale genre, as they now own three of the most unique and creative fairy tale films to be released by Hollywood…

After the acclaimed Pans Labyrinth and the cult favourite Crimson Peak, Guillermo Del Toro cemented his status as “king of the adult fairy tale” with the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water. Set at an unspecified time in the 1960s, it tells the story of a mute cleaner who works night shifts in a mysterious scientific facility. When she comes across a mysterious fish-like creature being imprisoned there, she begins to form a connection with it, and soon breaks it out of the facility and hides it in her apartment. Del Toro’s film possesses a wonderfully beguiling atmosphere, with the dark blues and greens of the cinematography highlighting the watery feel of the story and adding to the intrigue. Although the protagonist Elisa and her water-dwelling new friend are unable to speak, they are a compelling central couple, and the fairy tale feel of the story gives their relationship additional power. In addition, The Shape of Water makes some effective observations about the prejudice in America at this time. Elisa’s friends include an African-American woman, a closeted gay neighbour and a Russian double agent, whose outcast status plays a key role in their decision to protect the creature. In contrast, the fanatical villain Strickland is the epitome of the American Alpha male. Making progressive political points whilst providing a uniquely escapist work, Del Toro effectively highlighted the power of fairy tales to provide both a release from the world and a greater understanding of it – The Shape of Water definitely deserved its Best Picture win.

In many ways, The Shape of Water is a typical Beauty and the Beast story, but its adult elements are present immediately - Most fairy tale films don’t begin with the protagonist pleasuring themselves in the bath. There are also some pretty disturbing moments of violence, and that’s without mentioning the infamous underwater sex scene. Despite this, The Shape of Water is certainly not an example of cheap sensation, as the more controversial elements advancing the story and developing the characters. When Disney created a special banner to advertise their new acquisitions, they used the poster of this movie to represent the Fox Searchlight production arm. This confirmed its status as one of the most iconic fairy tale films of recent years, but also demonstrates how far removed it is from the traditional Disney formula.

Before directing Disney’s billion-dollar live-action remake of Alice in Wonderland (and their new version of Dumbo) Tim Burton established himself as one of the quirkiest and most interesting directors in Hollywood, with the 1990 film Edward Scissorhands cementing his status as a major name. The premise is a variation on Pinocchio and Frankenstein, as a mad scientist creates a an extremely lifelike robot from scrap metal, but dies before he can provide it with a proper pair of hands, leaving it with giant scissor blades instead. Edward is discovered by a saleswoman and taken to her home in the suburbs, where his ability to cut hair and create impressive ice sculptures wins the attention of the snobby locals. However, as the dire side effects of having blades for hands become clear, Edward becomes increasingly isolated by the community.

Burton’s followup to his blockbuster adaptation of Batman, Edward Scissorhands is one of the purest expressions of his iconic style. The clash between the gothic and mundane is on show throughout, whilst Burton’s idol Vincent Price has a short but memorable role as Edward’s creator. However, the film has a tragic dimension which most of Burton’s work lacks, as Edward’s deadly hands prevent him expressing his love for (played by Winona Ryder) and lead to him being cast out of his new world. These two paragraphs alone contain more words than Edward speaks in the entire movie, but Johnny Depp does an excellent job of using his unique body language to bring the character to life. Another highlight is Danny Elfman’s enthralling score, which perfectly captures the feel of a fairytale where most of the action takes place around Christmas time. Edward Scissorhands has earned its reputation as one of Burton’s finest films, and it is a worthy addition to the Disney library.

With iconic catchphrases such “Inconceivable!” “As You Wish.”  And “My Name is Inigo Montoya. You Killed My Father. Prepare to Die.” The Princess Bride has become one of the most quoted fairy tale films of all time. It’s not hard to see why this movie is now a genre classic. Written by the legendary screenwriter William Goldman and based off his own novel, The Princess Bride tells the story of the relationship between Princess Buttercup and her farmhand Westley. When Westley vanishes, Buttercup is forced into an arranged marriage with the slimy Prince Humperdinck, but Westley soon returns to win her back. The story is framed as a fairy tale being told by a grandfather to his poorly grandson, and the grandson’s growing interest in what he initially dismisses as a “kissing book” reflects the growing engagement of the wider audience.

Except for the first two Shrek movies, few non-Disney fairytales have enjoyed such an impact on popular culture. Whilst Westley and Buttercup are likeable leads, the best characters are in the supporting cast. Inigo Montoya and Fezzik are initially hired by Humperdinck to kidnap Buttercup, but soon befriend Westley and join his mission, proving to be invaluable allies. In addition, Wallace Shawn, Mel Smith, Peter Cook, Peter Falk and Billy Crystal make memorable cameos – who can forget the pompous and hot-tempered Vizzini, or the ancient and talkative Miracle Max and his wife?. Disney have been trying to develop a stage adaptation of The Princess Bride for several years, but the fact that they now own the original is definitive proof of how far it has crossed into the mainstream.

Musicals


Whereas Disney are kings of the animated musical, Fox are the studio most associated with their live-action counterparts. Oklahoma, The King & I, Moulin Rouge, and The Sound of Music are just some of the iconic musicals produced and distributed by the studio, but the three below represent particularly interesting additions to the Disney library…



Disney have acquired ownership of all of Fox’s animated properties, including The Simpsons and the Ice Age franchise. They have also gained this 1997 hit, which once represented a formidable challenger to the Magic Kingdom. This film was based on the premise that Anastasia, the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, survived the Russian Revolution to end up in Paris with no memory of her past. In real life, she died a horrible death along with the rest of her family, but no-one expects historical accuracy from a film where Rasputin is portrayed as a demon sorcerer responsible for the demise of the monarchy. Anastasia teams up with two conmen to find the last remaining members of her family, but Rasputin is following in a bid to finish off the Romanov dynasty once and for all…

Released as the Disney Renaissance was slowing down, Anastasia had the feisty princesses, nasty villain, colourful sidekicks and memorable music associated with Disney’s recent hits but provided its own unique spin. Animation icon Don Bluth, who had been Disney’s primary challenger in the 1980s (he directed the brilliant An American Tail and The Secret of NIMH) directed and produced this film, providing a more detailed and epic variation on his signature style. A modest hit in its initial release, it appeared to signal Bluth’s return to form after several years of mediocre and childish movies, but the failure of his followup Titan AE and the wider demise of hand-drawn animation led to Bluth fading back into obscurity. The movie has been immensely popular with millennials and was eventually adapted into a stage musical, which eliminated the supernatural elements from the story. It is just about to conclude a 2 year run on Broadway, and has demonstrated that Anastasia has enjoyed the same enduring impact as Disney’s animated hits. Its new status as part of the Disney library allows fans to put Anastasia along with the other Disney princesses, but her movie still remains a unique alternative to the antics of Ariel, Belle and Pocahontas…

There are few musicals like 1974’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A cinematic adaptation of Richard O’ Brien’s underground stage musical The Rocky Horror Show, it follows the classic B movie storyline of a couple getting lost and ending up in a sinister castle, but with numerous changes to the formula for the era of sexual revolution and liberation. Here, the stereotypically wholesome Brad and Janet end up in a mysterious mansion populated by numerous odd characters, most notably the cross dressing mad scientist Dr Frank N Furter and his blond beefcake creation, the titular Rocky Horror. These eccentric inhabitants leave Brad and Janet questioning the sexual certainties of their suburban world, and in the words of the narrator, they will have “a night to remember for a very long time”.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show introduced the world to the reliably entertaining Tim Curry, who is deliciously camp as Dr Furter, and featured early roles for Susan Sarandon and Meat Loaf. The atmosphere is wonderfully over the top and ridiculous but still faithful to the dark spirit of classic horror, whilst the songs blend lurid and witty lyrics with catchy instrumentals. Unsurprisingly, this genre and gender defying film was not a hit at first, but when New York cinemas began to show it as a “midnight movie”, The Rocky Horror Picture Show became one of the definitive cult classics, amassing a devoted fandom which endures today. Screenings of the movie often utilise audience participation, including ringing bells and throwing toilet paper in the air – it is certainly a long way from the traditional sing-along showings. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has inspired numerous outlandish and subversive musicals in the decades since, but the likes of “Sweet Transvestite” remain as fresh and entertaining today as they were when this film was first released.

The Greatest Showman is one of the most unlikely hit films of the last decade. A passion project for X Men icon Hugh Jackman, it is based on the life of the infamous circus empresario P.T. Barnum, a tireless self-publicist whose ability at creating and promoting sensationalistic entertainment made him a major figure in 19th century America. The film depicts Barnum as a family man who establishes an unusual circus show for “human oddities” that catapults him to fame. Historical accuracy is discarded in favour of the Barnum myth, with an all-star cast (including Michelle Williams and Zac Efron) and plenty of flashy cinematography providing the sense that it is more focused on applying Barnum’s showmanship to his life story rather than providing an actual examination of his work and impact.  Initial reviews of The Greatest Showman were rather hostile, with many criticizing it for its attempts to whitewash the story of Barnum and the inherently exploitative nature of the “freak shows” which he pioneered. However, just as Barnum and his stars overcome the snobby critics to win over the general public, the movie did the same in real life. Over Christmas 2017, it became an unexpected sleeper smash. It made $175 million in America (despite the fact it made less than $9 million in its opening weekend) and earned over $400 million worldwide.

There is one major reason for the success of The Greatest Showman - the incredible soundtrack. Blending intense rock and even hip-hop inspired tunes, sombre power ballads and upbeat inspirational anthems, it sounded nothing like the music of Barnum’s day, and was all the better for it. The Greatest Showman soundtrack proved to be that winning blend of modern and timeless, eventually becoming one of the biggest selling compilations ever created. The likes of “This is Me” and “A Million Dreams” have captured the imagination of girls all over the world in the same way as “Let It Go” and “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” did five years ago, and it is likely that they will remain staples of the musical genre for decades to come.  

Strong Women


Disney have spent the last three decades creating a formidable line up of strong and relatable female leads. The addition of the Fox library adds numerous female-centred films to this lineup. These three films contain memorable and compelling female leads who represent excellent sources of inspiration for Disney’s future heroines.

Disney’s recent hits Tangled, Frozen and Moana all follow a similar pattern. They concern a feisty yet naïve young woman who leaves her sheltered world behind to go on an incredible adventure with a grizzled male hero. The heroine becomes stronger, the male becomes kinder and there are plenty of meta jokes and references to familiar adventure tropes. It is not hard to see why this formula works so well, and it has played a huge role in Disney’s recent success. However, before Disney entered their revival, this basic approach was successfully used by the 1984 adventure comedy Romancing the Stone. The film tells the story of Joan Wilder (played by Kathleen Turner), who writes trashy romantic melodramas in her New York apartment. When her sister is kidnapped in Colombia by crooks (one of whom is played by Danny DeVito) seeking a precious diamond, Joan sets off to find her, but gets lost in the South American jungle. In order to rescue her sister and avoid an even more vicious villain also after the gem, Wilder must team up with mercenary Jack T. Colton (played by Michael Douglas). Needless to say, life soon begins to imitate art, and Wilder soon finds herself in the adventure that can only end with her defeating the villains and finding true love…

Although Joan and Jack’s adventures are a bit more violent and raunchy compared to those of Anna and Kristoff or Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, it is pretty clear that Romancing the Stone shares plenty of DNA with Disney’s hits from the last decade. It was somewhat ahead of its time in being a jungle adventure film clearly centred on its female protagonist, with Turner ditching her femme fatale image to play the ordinary but unexpectedly brave heroine. She was aided by a lively script written by waitress Diane Thomas, who famously pitched it to Douglas at a café. The movie had a turbulent journey to the screen, with numerous stars turning down the role of Jack T. Colton and several reshoots and rewrites taking place. However, it was all worth it in the end -The film was a hit, Turner won a Golden Globe for her performance as Wilder, and director Robert Zemeckis gained the credibility needed to make his pet project Back to the Future. The sequel Jewel of the Nile quickly followed but proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment (it didn’t help that the film turned Joan into a more generic love interest), although it did feature the wonderfully entertaining Billy Ocean hit “When the Going Gets Tough” on its soundtrack. There have been numerous attempts to revive Wilder and Colton for sequels and TV series, but these have all fallen through. Hopefully, Disney will be able to bring the two back into the spotlight.



The last queen of Egypt, Cleopatra is one of history’s most famous and tragic female rulers. This powerful and ambiguous leader is an odd inclusion to the line-up of Disney princesses, but she now qualifies for this group due to Disney’s acquisition of this 1963 epic. Iconic diva Elizabeth Taylor played the ill-fated Egyptian monarch, with Richard Burton as her love interest Mark Anthony (Burton and Taylor’s infamous on-off relationship begun during the making of this film) Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar and Roddy McDowall as Anthony’s enemy Octavian. “Swords and sandals” epics such as Cleopatra were to the 1950s and 1960s what superhero movies and live—action remakes are to the modern cinematic landscape, and this movie is a defining example of this grandiose old genre.  

The making of Cleopatra is even more fascinating and incredible than the film itself. Originally intended to be two three hour movies, Cleopatra was edited into a single epic over four hours long. Shooting was delayed numerous times, and a range of illnesses and scandals forced the filming to be moved from Britain to Italy. Over 79 sets and 26,000 costumes were used, and the sheer scale of the production led to shortages of building materials across Italy. Cleopatra was one of the highest-grossing movies of the 1960s, yet was still considered a colossal flop due to its exorbitant budget – The $44 million spent on making it is worth around $250 million in today’s money. Cleopatra is a useful addition to the Disney library - Its fate at the box office provides the newly inflated studio with a stark warning of what happens if they allow hubris to take over and let their blockbusters to get too big.

Among Disney’s acquisitions is Fox 2000, which specializes in mid-budget productions often aimed at a teenage audience. One of most recent and interesting movies from the studio is The Hate U Give, based on Angie Green’s hit YA novel. The book follows Starr, an African-American girl from a deprived Californian neighbourhood who goes to an affluent and predominantly white school. When she witnesses a childhood friend getting shot by a cop, Starr’s life is thrown into chaos, as she tries to work up the courage to speak at the trial whilst coming to terms with the everyday racism around her.

Played by Amandla Stenberg, Starr is a compelling and relatable protagonist, and it is easy to invest in her struggle to balance her black identity with the need to conform to a “white” standard of behaviour at her high school. The hot topics of police brutality, rioting, crime and racial prejudice are handled excellently. The anger at the injustices and dangers which affect young African Americans is clear throughout the story, but the film also includes flashes of hope and humour which make the subject matter palatable. Although its box office earning were unexceptional and it got no awards recognition, The Hate U Give is one of the most interesting films in the YA genre, and is a must-watch for those who want to see films of this kind directly tackle contemporary social issues. Sadly, Fox 2000 is going to be closed down by Disney, but only after completing the films which it has in the pipeline, including an adaptation of Thomas’ follow-up novel On The Come Up and the recent YA phenomenon Children of Blood and Bone. It would be great to see these get released, and hopefully Disney will allow Fox 2000 to do them justice before they retire the studio.


Adults Only


There are numerous films in the Fox Library that Disney would never contemplate producing or distributing. However through the magic of corporate deals, these are now technically Disney films. Whether ultra-gory revenge stories, satanic horrors or tasteless comedies, these are as distant from the world of Micky Mouse and Queen Elsa as it is possible for any film to be…

Titus



Theatre director Julia Taymor became a household name with her innovative stage adaptation of Disney’s classic The Lion King. Over two decades after it premiered, it is still one of the highest-earning productions on Broadway, comfortably out-grossing Disney’s other stage musicals every single week. The success of The Lion King gave Taymor the freedom to do anything she wanted, and she really took advantage of it.  Her first project after The Lion King? A film where the signature scene features a character unknowingly eating a pie containing the remains of her two sons…

Titus is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s early play Titus Andronicus, an immensely violent tale of revenge set in ancient Rome. Though incredibly popular in the 1590s, it has been overshadowed by Shakespeare’s later, more nuanced tragedies such as Hamlet and Macbeth. Anthony Hopkins is the intense and sinister Roman general driven to madness by the death of his children, whilst Jessica Lange plays his nemesis Tamora. However, the highlight of the film is Taymor’s production design, which is full of detailed and impressive symbolism. Harsh colours were used to convey the brutality of the story, and the look of the production combined ancient Rome and modern Italy, with characters driving both cars and chariots, and wearing both business suits and suits of armour. This epitomized both the universal dominance of war throughout the ages and the specific ideas and values which the characters are associated with. Titus will remain an acquired taste compared to other Shakespeare films, but it is an impressively nasty showcase for Taymor’s creative vision, and a strong contrast with her more family-friendly work.

Disney owe a lot of their success and popularity to their focus on children, who are often ignored as most film studios chase the fabled 18-35 demographic.  However, the 1976 horror hit The Omen takes the opposite approach, featuring one of the most infamous evil children in cinema history. It follows Robert Thorn, an ambassador who secretly adopts a baby after his son dies in the womb. But a series of suspicious incidents start to happen and Robert begins to realize there is something odd about the new child. The 666 etched on Damien’s scalp and the inability to find his birth mother lead to a startling conclusion – Damien is the son of Satan himself, and Robert will have to kill him in order to prevent him from becoming the Antichrist.

The Omen combines a heavy religious atmosphere (including the eerie Oscar-nominated score) with numerous grisly “accidents” that affect any priest or family member who begins to get suspicious of Damien. The blend of sophisticated and gory meant that the film was more downmarket than predecessors such as The Exorcist, but far superior to the numerous cheap horrors which followed in its wake. The cast is especially impressive for a movie of this genre, with the legendary Gregory Peck playing Robert Thorn and the likes of David Warner, Billie Whitelaw and Patrick Troughton also having key roles in the narrative.  There was plenty of interest in satanic goings-on during the 1970s, and production of The Omen was noted for several misfortunes which allegedly affected the cast and crew of the movie, adding further creepiness to its story-line. The Omen provide to be a box office hit and generated a minor franchise, with three sequels and a remake (released on 6th June 2006). Despite its status as one of the most notable horror movies of the 1970s, don’t expect Disney to bring Damien back in the near future…

Borat (AKA Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan)



Fox have produced numerous lowbrow comedy hits, including Dodgeball and There’s Something About Mary, but none are as shocking and transgressive as Borat, a politically incorrect comedy centred on the character created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for Da Ali G Show. Borat Sagdiev is a misogynist, anti-Semitic and Anti-Ziganist (yet oddly lovable) reporter from Kazakhstan, who heads on a road trip across America with his sidekick Azmat. In the USA, Borat encounters car salesmen, college kids, humour experts and politicians, before his journey culminates in an attempt to kidnap Pamela Anderson and make her his bride.

Needless to say, Borat (which possesses the unwieldly and poorly translated full title Borat: Cultral Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) is not for the easily offended. Highlights include Borat’s overjoyed reaction after hearing about the death of his wife, a sequence where a stay at a bed and breakfast is ruined when Borat realises that the couple running it are Jewish, and a scene where he and Azmat fight in public whilst totally naked. If you prefer child-friendly types of comedy, then you will probably find Borat totally unwatchable. However, there is method behind the madness, as Baron Cohen improvised most of his scenes, interacting with people who had no idea that Borat was a fictional character. Sometimes, their reactions to Borat’s inappropriate behaviour can be amusing, but they can also be disturbing, as they accept or even endorse his awful comments. The social satire can be clever, but there is one thing which really makes Borat stand out - it is as funny as hell. After Borat premiered in 2006, it became a bonafide cultural phenomenon, with viewers dressing in Borat’s Mankini and repeating his “Is Nice” catchphrase. Baron Cohen was never able to emulate its success, but Borat secured his place in comedy history.


Male Stories


Blood, sweat and testosterone are rarely present in the world of Disney, but Fox have made numerous films aimed at male audiences which showcase the masculine imagery and belief systems rarely seen in Princess films. Of the three works listed below, one celebrates macho masculinity, one satirises it and one showcases the violent world where it was necessary for survival. However, all three are far removed from the prettiness and cleanliness one associates with Disney…

Fight Club



David Fincher is one director who is definitely not likely of working with Disney in the future, as his most popular films blend dark moody visuals and frequently sociopathic characters with a pessimistic (and borderline nihilistic) view of the world. Having previously worked with Fox on his ill-fated directorial debut Alien3, Fincher returned to the studio for his 1999 film Fight Club, which became one of his signature hits. It tells the story of an insomniac who attends emotional support meetings for cancer patients in order to find a release from the monotony of his life. He eventually comes across Tyler Durden, a mysterious macho figure who possesses the confidence and charisma our unnamed protagonist lacks. They two create the titular bare knuckle brawling club, and soon find much more extreme ways of venting their frustration at the society surrounding them…

Based on a novel by Chuck Panihuk, Fight Club provides an excellent project for Fincher’s cold but immersive directorial style, with Edward Norton playing the narrator, Helena Bonham Carter as a fellow support-group voyeur and Brad Pitt ruthlessly subverting his pretty-boy image as Durden. Critics were unsure whether the film satirised or celebrated the unsavoury characters at the centre, and it initially flopped at the box office. However, it soon gained a passionate fanbase due to its memorable visuals, big ideas and intricate twists, eventually becoming one of the Top 10 highest rated films on IMDB. Although it was created to react to a specifically late 90’s state of malaise, Fight Club feels uncomfortably timely in an age of incels and political division (in fact, “snowflake” – the disparaging term for those opposed to the offensive worldviews of others - originated from the novel). With brutal violence, soap bars made from human fat and scathing commentary on consumerism and capitalism, it could not be any less appropriate for Disney, which is what makes it such a perfect inclusion here.

The Revenant



18 years after he was first nominated for Best Actor in Titanic, Leonardo Dicaprio finally won the accolade for his role in The Revenant, a brutal drama set in the American West during the 1820s. DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who gets badly wounded in a bear attack. When the head of his hunting team abandons him for dead and kills his son, Glass has to use every survival skill he knows to carry out his revenge on the rest of the group.  The Revenant is based on a true story, but is considerably more violent, with a lot more murder than Glass’s real-life odyssey. Through its focus on an inhospitable winter landscape, The Revenant provides the brutality and moral ambiguity associated with revisionist westerns, but its depiction of a man trying to survive in a cold and harsh environment makes it a unique spin on the subgenre.

Director Alexander Gonzalez  Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki were the duo behind 2014 Best Picture winner Birdman, and The Revenant represented a gruesome and atmospheric follow up that allowed the two to further showcase their skills. Almost all of the movie was shot with completely natural light, and the numerous long takes highlight the brutality of the violence and the desperation which fuels Glass throughout the movie. For the majority of the 156 minute film, he is alone on screen, willing to do anything to survive long enough to carry out his mission, including cauterise his wounds with gunpowder, eat raw meat and hide inside animal carcasses to keep warm. DiCaprio keeps us invested in Glass during this harrowing journey, and his awards recognition was richly deserved. Despite going considerably over budget, the film became a pretty huge box office hit, making over $500 million worldwide.

Bulging biceps and machine guns are the last things you would expect to see in a Disney movie. However, Fox have produced several lurid action movies, including Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1985 hit Commando, which embodies the mindless formula which was so dominant in the mid-80’s. There is a story – Arnold plays a former colonel who has to rescue his daughter from hoodlums trying to involve him in an assassination plot – but it is little more than a pretext for all the ridiculous stunts and slaughter, as the professional bodybuilder fights his way through a plane, a shopping mall and a Caribbean island, shooting, punching and impaling any villain foolish enough to stand in his way. Put bluntly, there is no nuance, complexity or character development, but there is plenty of OTT action, and the movie succeeds on its own ludicrous “shoot-em-up” terms.

Arnold was already a star by this point due to the two Conan movies and The Terminator, but Commando was the film which cemented the Arnold Schwarzenegger formula - Lots of guns, lashings of violence and ludicrously terrible one liners.  Over the next 2 decades, Schwarzenegger would star in numerous films of this variety, ranging from the enjoyable to the terrible. As a result, the image of the muscle-bound, superhuman action hero went on to define the genre for much of the 1980s, and the likes of Chuck Norris and Steven Segal tried to cash in on Arnold’s winning formula. However, the “Austrian Oak” surpassed his rivals became one of the biggest names in America. For all the flaws of Arnold and his films, their trashy appeal is pretty obvious, and it is pretty amusing that Disney now has ownership of Commando – it represents quite a counterpoint to the usual singing princesses and cute animal sidekicks…

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