Overthinking: Can Contemporary Journalism Exist in a Bond Film?

It has recently been reported Daniel Craig will star in two more James Bond films.  This after he infamously claimed, ‘I would rather slash my wrists than play James Bond again’. The current run of Bond films, which was rebooted with Craig in 2006 with the gritty Casino Royale, will now continue more than one film beyond Craig’s contract and make him the oldest actor to play the role.

With Daniel Craig locked in the rumour mill has started on who will direct. Sam Mendes directed the last two instalments but will not return for what is currently working titled as Bond 25 or its sequel which is expected to be a reboot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Favourites include Christopher Nolan, Ben Wheatley and Susanne Bier.

Will this mean that the last two Daniel Craig Bond films will be a sort of sub-reboot to the franchise?

Possibly, as certainly Mendes provided a distinct new feel to his instalments. After the relatively lacklustre commercial and critical performance of Quantum of Solace Mendes brought a sense of the aesthetic and pace to Skyfall while also subtly steering the rebooted Bond away from a rapidly changing contemporary world.

Once upon a time Bond films raced to include technology and visions of the future. In the 1970s, Bond, his allies and those

smartwatch
Bond had the first smartwatch?

he sought to foil travelled and fought in Jetsons-like amphibious cars, jets, submarines, and individual space shuttles. It wasn’t just transportation which the films invented but general technological gadgetry which didn’t exist then and still doesn’t today due to either impracticality or sheer implausibility. A possibly exception is Bond’s communications methods which were sometimes prescient when they were at their most simple.

The Daniel Craig Bond was rebooted to be competitive with the Jason Bourne films. The aim was to remove the far-fetched gadgets and add a sense of realism. This worked in the mid 2000’s but became difficult as the decade progressed. International decentralised terrorism posed a bigger threat than any villain in a volcano lair and the advent of smart-phones meant that we all had gadgets in our pockets as powerful as anything Q had ever provided to Daniel Craig or his predecessors. Rather than try to keep up with or predict the future of gadgets or villainy Craig and Mendes took a polite side-step of avoidance.

In Skyfall Daniel Craig operates without gadgets and drives a sixtiejamesbondskyfalls Aston Martin (the same model as driven by Sean Connery). The film’s showdown takes place against the backdrop of nature, the Scottish Highlands, rather than a space station. The heroes use ancient rifles and booby traps rather than lasers or rockets.

In the latest film, SPECTRE, Mendes double dipped in his avoidance of the contemporary by using the old-world settings of Mexico, Tangiers and the Moroccan dessert and the retro villain of Christopher Waltz’s Blofeld as the threat to Bond and the world. Aesthetically, SPECTRE is a beautiful film but fails on a story level with its desperate desire to connect Bloomfield’s villainy and menace to the events of the preceding films.

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Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux looking suave after a murderous train trip and ride in a 1948 Rolls through the Morroccan desert.

Unsurprisingly SPECTRE also avoids tackling modern international terrorism and its religious fundamentalist connections. Instead the looming threat to the world and freedom is the idea of surveillance and technology. This threat rings false though as the film refuses to ever fully examine real contemporary internet culture or even show the ubiquity of smart-phones. Indeed pivotal plot points where the media indicate Bond’s movements are detailed via printed newspapers rather than any form of MOJO.

An aside:

In contemporary journalism MOJO, mobile phone created and curated journalism, is increasingly becoming the most common and efficient way of reporting breaking news. Stephen Quinn in Mojo and the Mobil Journalism Revolution writes that the ‘revolutionary aspect of “full” mojo is the fact that all work is done on the device (a smartphone) – filming, interviewing, editing and creating the voice-over (6)’. Smartphones are able to act as the tool of transmission and often the end user will view the report on a similar device rather than traditional news mediums with push notifications able to alert users to breaking news in almost real time.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican
Pope Francis surrounded by phone cameras(CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters) (May 15, 2013)

MOJO allows journalists to operate on a more mobile basis and with far less overheads then required by traditional camera equipment and crews. News can be compiled and filed or published quickly in the instance of breaking news events and the flexibility of MOJO allows reporters to easily story-build around events.

Another advantage is that since mobile phones are ubiquitous they are generally less intimidating for interview subjects. A phone can be operated by one person so that an event can be filmed inconspicuously and interviews can be conducted one on one. Most people have filmed or been filmed with a phone and will be more relaxed in front of a phone than a video camera.

It will be interesting to see whether a new director decides to do a soft reboot on the series so that it once again feels exists in the contemporary world. Some people are saying Bond will struggle to remain relevant in a post Trump world and the increased pace of political events. By the same token in a world where the president is responding to reporters on Twitter can a contemporary spy drama continue to avoid smart-phones and the story-building strength of mobile journalism?

Embracing rather than avoiding the issue could be the best thing that ever happened to the franchise. To avoid aping Mission Impossible and the conceit of prosthetic masks perhaps Bond will become a darker and more underground John Le Carré type of spy operating in the shadows and on the periphery of society and only irregularly rather than habitually showing up at gala balls. If nothing else perhaps in his last two films Daniel Craig will be a little more circumspect about telling all and sundry his name is Bond, James Bond.

bondshadows

 

 

 

OVERTHINKING: Is Vice TV post-convergence journalism?

I watch most of the new Vice TV shows at least sporadically. I would watch more often but I’ve gotten out of the habit of viewing traditional network tv. It’s only the shows which existed before the TV channel on YouTube that I have kept up with regularly, Matty Matheson’s Dead Set on Life and Action Bronson’s Fuck That’s Delicious. I’m expecting too that I’ll watch Damien Abraham’s new wrestling documentary when it is released even though I don’t like wrestling.

I watch these shows because I like the hosts and I realised recently I liked each of these personalities before they started tv shows. The Vice tv shows are almost a by-product or a side-hustle to each presenter’s original vocation. Matty Matheson is a successful chef and restauranteur, Action Bronson a successful rapper and Damien Abraham (an outlier to the argument) is the singer of the band Fucked Up who were successful but are less prolific than they used to be (though just as good) and is an increasingly successful podcaster.

The conventional wisdom in modern media would suggest these shows would not only need to build upon the established brand of the respective presenters but also cross promote the network shows and serve a set of sponsors to monetise the show and turn profit for the channel. This doesn’t seem to be the case and my impression is that these shows are a by-product of Matty Matheson’s food related appearances and Action Bronson’s music tours.

There are ostensibly few if any obvious sponsors. The locations and venues could, in rare instances, be a form of brand placement and there does seem to be a sort of eco-system with which Vice operates within and which producers occasionally double dip upon but I think more than anything the aim is to shirk conventional wisdom and provide candid and often rough food and travel television in the manner of traditional network tv.

       Impact of convergence:

In news reporting convergence has impacted journalists by requiring that they be skilled at multi-media reporting and can use the best platform or platforms available. Journalists can no longer specialise in just one form of reporting (i.e. print or radio) but must use multimedia to meet time or contextual demands of news for modern news consumers.

Another key impact of convergence is the need for adaptability. In Convergent Journalism: An Introduction (Flak, 2014) and The 21st Century Journalism Handbook (Holmes, 2014) convergence is examined in the context of the rising prevalence of smartphones and prevalent use of twitter. Technology and internet culture evolves so rapidly and in unexpected directions that, in 2017, the financial future of Twitter is uncertain though tools such as the GIF which were expected to become obsolete are now commonly used in meme imagery which, itself, has led to different semiotic signifiers. The Snapchat model of temporal consumption has affecte

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A meme about signifiers from a meme generator website. Author Unknown.

d the speed of image consumption and the perception of permanence. This model has spread to other platforms and is still being experimented with by big and small news providers as a method of reporting.

Increased internet literacy is constantly impacting on the idea of convergence and the role of the modern journalist. Clickbait journalism is an example of how quickly users quickly learnt the literacy of headlines and how to avoid clickbait articles. With the rise of the snapchat model of temporal imagery and meme language will journalists need to learn how to convey news in more rapid image based mediums?

Matheson and Bronson both benefit immensely from living in a digital age. They self-market with social media and the increasing popularity of their shows and their own social media documentation of filming along their tour stops adds also to the allure of their tours. It helps too that their shows, while roughly presented, look great. Dead Set on Life in particular looks amazing because of the frequent sweeping aerial shots from drone cameras. The accessibility of this technology to Matheson and crew means that their show looks better than all but the top tier (i.e. Attenborough) of previous travel shows.

Both shows have now run their third seasons. Where will they go next? Can they keep this sort of candid feel? Perhaps this is a new level of convergence which sees journalists required to not only multi-skill but also multi-career and side-hustle in this way? Will the hosts need to adapt and evolve with the VICE as a channel and their own career progressions or is the long-term goal of Vice to buck the trends and adapt a style that seeks to ignore convergence and continue to provide network style television? If so, and if this is post-convergence journalism/media it plays eerily like the pre-convergence.

Trumbo (2015)

Jay Roach

Such an amazingly mundane film and amazing because while assumedly isn’t hard to make a boring film it is surely difficult to make one so boring out of such interesting source material. The two-hour running time to this movie drags as an eternity as the film struggles with the formation of the red scare and McCarthyism in America in the wake of WW2 and the beginnings of the cold war.

I think most people are aware of the film because Bryan Cranston was nominated for best actor in the 2016 academy awards for his portrayal of the titular Dalton Trumbo. Knowing parts of the story of Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 from the You Must Remember This podcast and having also read about Trumbo in Steve Martins auto-biography Born Standing Up I’ve been eager to watch this film ever since I missed it in cinemas. Amidst the many amazing brushes with historical figures in Steve Martins book his interaction with Trumbo during the time Martin was dating his daughter stood out the most. Martin wrote that it was the first time he had been around such intellectual radicals and described Trumbo as an intense and passionate man despite the troubles he’d gone through with the Hollywood black lists and his time in prison.

On the screen, the film does many things well. It seamlessly interweaves original archival footage and recreates similar footage where necessary. The film is always well acted and the cast, one and all, do a great job of portraying some of the most influential players in Hollywood history.

But there is never a sense what it is to live in America at the time. Kong: Skull Island managed a better job in it’s opening credits with short introductory montage of news clippings and footage. Trumbo never seems confident enough to dive too far into history or examine closely why the cold war lasted for so long or why communism was pursued so vehemently domestically.

A particularly weak moment slowly passes by when the gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper threatens to publish the real, Jewish names, of the studio heads and the aura of anti-Semitism which operates in tandem with McCarthyism is left to the audience to be interpreted as a general fear of foreignness. This lack of general political and national scope to the film is problem enough but the film is even less effective with its central subject. There is no indication of how Trumbo came to be where he is. The film introduces him in his thirties as the highest paid screenwriter to date. There is no explanation for his communism or stubbornness or exploration of his past as a war correspondent or even how he grew as a writer. He is birthed fully formed into the film and as such there is never any reason to like him.

Even as Trumbo is blacklisted and jailed there are no real stakes. On Trumbo’s release from prison he and his family move to a palatial house in the city whereas in real life, they moved to Mexico. It is these kind of disconnects which not only, biographically, make it difficult for the film to explain key moments (such as the inspiration for his second Oscar winning film The Brave One) it also is just one of many instances where an opportunity for crisis or real stakes for Trumbo and his family are side-stepped for convenience. Keeping the film in Hollywood allows the filmmakers to concentrate the cause and menace of McCarthyism into the single villain of the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as played by Helen Mirren.

The only real crisis the film bothers to present is that as a workaholic Trumbo might be at risk of losing his family and even this small stake is discarded as his drug and alcohol fuelled work is shown to not be the mission of a stubborn obsessive but the ultimate foil to his nemesis Hedda Hopper. The film portrays this outcome between these two individuals as the main cause of the end of the blacklists, the red scare, McCarthyism and the whole dark chapter of American history. Meanwhile the epilogue cards explain that the blacklist was still in partial operation for a further twenty years and negate even the flimsy premise of crisis and battle the filmmakers invented.

The film is a boring failure made by a director of bad comedy films (notably the Austin Powers sequels) and a tv writer. Though the acting within the film is good I’m not even sure that Cranston deserved to be nominated for work in a film weighed down by such an ironically bad script.

I know now why I’ve never really met anyone who’s seen this film. Very few did. Though I would say to anyone that was interested that they would better spend their time listening to Karina Longworth’s much more interesting, entertaining and accurate stories of Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten on the You Must Remember This podcast.

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Tell it fast?

I’m currently writing a review of (Tom Cruise’s) The Mummy and a look at the state of Universals fledgling dark universe.

It’s been widely reported that The Mummy is a bad movie and it is on most fronts though it has the potential for a good (if not great) movie within it. One of the bigger problems I have with The Mummy is that the story is completely linear and the story time, as far as I could tell, is perhaps only 12-16 hours.

Linear story lines with short story times seem to be relatively common over the last year. Rogue One was a very straight ahead story and other than a flash back in it’s opening scene the events took place over the course of less than 12 hours. Wonder Woman uses a present day framing device to tell the story of the movie within flash back and also shows Diana’s upbringing through flashback but is otherwise also a very linear story with maybe 48 hours of total story time.

There doesn’t seem to be any obvious connection between these films. The Mummy and Rogue One share the commonality of not being great films that probably should have been. Wonder Woman fares better though it’s third act suffers because of the usual poor CGI boss battle common to all DC films to date.

My theory is that all of these movies have sought to model themselves after Mad Max: Fury Road and it’s linear story with a scantmadmax 12 hours of story time. Mad Max worked because the action was so tactile, sensational and innovative. It was also a chase movie and didn’t ask for the audience to need  know or care to much about the titular or support characters.

By contrast the films above insist and rely upon empathy with the main characters, are trying to tell stories and to fit into bigger universes (Star Wars, DC, and Dark Universe respectively) and don’t provide enough or big enough action for such straightforward stories.

It’s a shame that these films were probably created under such heavy influence from Mad Max: Fury Road. I wonder what they could have been otherwise? I also wonder how many other films will try and fail with the same formula?

Perhaps the upcoming Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan will create a new trend. There is no running time released yet but the trailer hints at multiple character arcs and story lines and it seems safe to assume the movie will come close to the three hour mark. I don’t expect it will lead to superhero movies running to three hours but perhaps, hopefully, it will mean a return to less linear and longer style of story within big budget films and an end to trying to emulate a movie as unique as Mad Max.

 

And another thing…

I also forgot that there are at least two references to Josepf Conrad’s Heart of Darkness novel in Kong: Skull Island. Tom Hiddleston’s character is called Conrad and John C Reilly’s character’s last name is Marlow. I didn’t notice the Marlow while watching but the Conrad reference pulled me out of the film a little.

Marc Evan Jackson on the I Was There Too podcast claimed these references just went to show how invested director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was in creating a homage to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. Again I think that might have been more evident and worked better if the film had been prepared to be a cruler film in the way it depicted the humanity as a whole rather than glossing over and racial tensions and making the war/anti-war themes so black and white.

Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

Jean Rhys

Considered a colonial interpretation of as well as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea is a well-written and constructed book which uses it’s Caribbean setting to provide a gothic landscape and setting for the sins of the father and a ghost in the attic. Rhys draws influence from Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier in creating this sense of fear and unease in her setting and I found that it was this tone that was the most interesting part of the book.

The setting, the tone and the writing I liked but as usual I personally just didn’t find the themes of power struggles between men and women very compelling. A glimpse into the history of creole and the islands was an interesting bonus but, even so, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book unless perhaps it was to someone who was interested or a fan of its influences. That said I read it fast for a uni subject with a massive book list and I do still wonder what I missed and may re-visit one day. That probably won’t happen any time soon as the shelf of books waiting to be read is fast outgrowing those I’ve read. As it is this one may have to join the stack of classics which I haven’t appreciated and, in that, at least Rhys will have good company with Dickens and George Eliot.

Southern Bastards – Vol. 1: Here Was a Man

Jason Aaron & Jason Latour

I’d heard a lot about this book. Well, actually no, not a lot to describe it but just general buzz around it. Eisner winner, good word of mouth and I’d known about and been attracted to the title for quite a while. This, the first issue, is good and perhaps even great. Volume 1 delivers enough to warrant the buzz though it seems too that this is also a kind of prelude to what this series is ultimately about which is, I’m guessing revenge, the sins of the father and ownership of places and communities.

It’s hard to say much else without spoiling the story and as I haven’t read the next volume yet I don’t know just how important these initial events are. It seems though that this series is seeking to create a history around a place. This idea of place is also emphasized in the intro by Jason Latour where he talks about his love/hate relationship with the South. As someone from country Australia the feelings he expressed rang familiar and inclined me to like the book more than I might have. The idea of the southern gothic is threaded through the story and the books explores the idea of our birth place and what it means in relation to identity and how we may seek to revisit a place and/or attempt to reject its meaning.

Again, it’s hard to judge the series off this, the prelude first volume. Having read this far I know that I still really like the title and that it relates well to the content. This is a graphic novel grounded firmly in reality, there’s a good amount of violence and the art is suitably rough but full of detail and though I was going to say the story shines stronger perhaps the art sits on an even level in its stylistic choice.

Very keen to get more volumes of this series.