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:

Continue reading

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?