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Why the Found Footage Genre Is Broken (and How to Fix It)

Filed under: Movies, Best and Worst
found footage moviesThis week, "Project Almanac" comes out in theaters nationwide. It's the tale of a group of teenagers who stumble upon a time machine and use it for their own personal gain. It harkens back to movies like "Back to the Future," with the potential hazards of messing with the space-time continuum revealed as the movie goes along. But the movie is filmed as though it is being recorded by one of the kids, in an aesthetic commonly referred to as "found footage." That's right, it's grainy and shaky and purposefully amateurish, and while the movie mostly works, it's still not enough to make you wish the movie was photographed and edited like an actual movie.

The found footage genre, exemplified by genre exercises like the "Paranormal Activity" series, has reached an impasse. Audiences are bored with it, and there's been barely any new spin on the aesthetic since 1999's groundbreaking "The Blair Witch Project." There were films that were supposed to feel real, but those mostly took the form of phony documentaries (mockumentaries), perfected by Christopher Guest, who starred in "This Is Spinal Tap" and went on to direct "Best in Show," "Waiting for Guffman," and "A Mighty Wind." Found footage is typified by the idea that something horrible has gone wrong, someone has found this footage and are thus now screening it. Who put the footage together, editorially, almost always remains an unsolved riddle, although one of the very best found footage movies, George A. Romero's "Diary of the Dead," addresses this issue hilariously.

And that's one of the reasons why the found footage genre is currently broken: it's not funny enough or self-aware enough. The entire subgenre is a stylistic quirk, and usually housed inside of other genres that are known for their playfulness or willingness to experiment (there are, of course, rare dramas like "Time Code" and "End of Watch"). This should be mandated, even in movies that are scary -- have fun. This is why the original "Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" were such smashes -- they invited you in and that inclusiveness made them funnier and scarier. It can be a sly wink or a repeating gag but some acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of the scenario should be made... and then we should all move on.

Which brings me to another thing that all found footage movies should do, which is stick to the rules. This is a genre where dozens of people are asking you to believe that it's the work of a handful of nonprofessionals, and yet the phoniness of the set-up keeps rearing its ugly head. Anytime one of these movies has a score I want to scream at the screen: Why would there be a score if we're watching the footage following some apocalyptic event? Who put it there? Ditto a title sequence where you list off the cast members. This happened in the opening moments of Ti West's otherwise convincing "The Sacrament," ruining a terrific premise before the movie even had a chance to get going. Even "District 9," arguably one of the best science-fiction movies of the last decade, waffles when it comes to key issues of perspective and point-of-view. Who, exactly, is filming the prawns when they're alone? Movies are a magic trick, and found footage movies require an even defter amount of sleight of hand. Filmmakers who commit to the conceit need to follow through or lose it entirely.

Of course, that's not to say they can't mix and match. One of the best things about "[rec] 3," the third film in a series of Spanish-language found footage zombie movies, is when, after about 30 minutes, the camera is broken and it just turns into a real movie. Now that is fun. There could also be a scenario where we are watching, in a more traditional narrative sense, a group of characters discover the footage, wherein the movie could switch to the found footage style and then switch out for the bookends. This would have been nifty for something like, say, "The Thing" remake/sequel. (But there wasn't a single great decision made on that movie, so it's kind of a moot point.)

What's so infuriating about the found footage genre, too, is that it was a way to enliven the horror genre when it was ailing, by both calling back to previous horror films that had a pseudo-documentary look (everything from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to "Cannibal Holocaust") but pushing things forward technologically. (Since, of course, horror movies do a great job of refracting and presenting modern fears in mythological contexts.) But just as quickly as the found footage genre was freshening up a stale brand, it became stale itself, complete with hoary clichés that are trotted out, time and time again (including, of course, the old "turn on the night vision to see the monster lurking in the dark" trick). One of the best ways to avoid this trope and to add some dynamism is for the filmmakers to "collect" the footage from various sources; this is what makes Barry Levinson's little-seen gem "The Bay" stand out (as well as the climax from "Chronicle"). You can maintain the found footage POV while still drawing upon many sources, and is something that should be implemented more frequently.

"Project Almanac" isn't exactly a great movie, but it is a good one, and it shows that there is an elasticity in the types of stories that you can tell with the format. Which brings us to how the genre can be saved. In addition to sticking to the rules (or ignoring them altogether) and having a more playful attitude towards the genre's built-in restrictions, there should be different types of found footage movies. Why hasn't there been a found footage romantic comedy? Especially considering how many relationships develop online, either through various forms of social media or via internet dating websites. Now that would be incredible. Or what about a found footage period film, perhaps in the '80s, around the advent of the camcorder technology? (Yes, I know one of the "Paranormal Activity" movies did this, but I'm talking an out-and-out period film, along the lines of what Oscar-nominated foreign film "No" tried to do.) Now that would be fascinating.

I can't wait to see what the next take on found footage is, but if it's ghosts creakily opening doors, I might be done with found footage forever.

Matthew McConaughey Is 'Born to Run'

Filed under: Movies
21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - ArrivalsMatthew McConaughey has traveled through a wormhole, but he's signing up for what is perhaps an even more arduous adventure.

Deadline reports that the Oscar winner will star in an adaptation of Christopher McDougall's best-selling book, "Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen."

The book chronicles McDougall's journey to Mexico's Copper Canyons to learn how to run without injury or pain from the Tarahumara Indians. The journalist uses their secrets, along with scientific research, to find out how to push a runner's body to the ultimate limit. The book culminates in a big race pitting elite runners against the tribe. "Born to Run" was such a huge success that it helped kick off the barefoot running movement.

McConaughey has become known for outside-the-box choices; his string of acclaimed performances has been dubbed the "McConnaissance." Will "Born to Run" continue his golden age?


Shay Mitchell: Kissing Girls Feels Fine on 'Pretty Little Liars'

Filed under: Interviews, TV News
US-ENTERTAINMENT-PEOPLEBy Jessica Herndon, Wonderwall

We're heavy into season 5 of the hit ABC Family show "Pretty Little Liars," which airs on Tuesdays, but all actress Shay Mitchell, one of the show's stars, wants to talk about is this season's finale -- which airs on March 24, 2015.

"It's so twisted," she squeals to Wonderwall.com during a recent interview. Unfortunately that's all she can dish of the thrilling teen drama, on which she plays Emily Fields. If she gives away any more, "I'll get fired," she assures. "But the writers just nailed it!"

Filming on "PLL" resumes in March and Shay is ready to get back to work and continue with her detailed storyline, which currently includes recovering from a breakup with Paige McCullers (played by Lindsey Shaw). Playing a lesbian on the show is "so important because that's the life that we live in," says Shay when asked why her character's romantic status is impactful.

"When I get asked 'How does if feel to kiss a girl?' Honestly, completely fine," she adds. "I'm in this character. I know what it's like to love somebody, so how is that any different just because it's another girl? Sometimes I enjoy it more. I know they are going to smell pretty and I don't have to worry about all of that. But it's not a big deal."

In the future, Shay says she wants the next girl, or whichever straight actor plays a gay character, to not get asked how it feels, as she often does. "You wouldn't ask Lucy Hale what it feels like to kiss a guy," she adds of her "PLL" costar. "I love my character's love life and this revolving door of different girls. It's fun and I get to work with a lot of amazing actresses."

One of the family network's top-rated shows, "PLL" has turned many of it's lead actors into stars, including Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson, and of course Shay, who has her own fashion and lifestyle blog Amore & Vita, her own YouTube channel, which gained 100,000 subscribers the day it launched, and over 5 million followers on Instagram. She's also the new spokeswomen for Carmex Moisture Plus.

"Love and life go hand-in-hand and Amore & Vita came about because I am in love with everything Italian," says Shay of the her blog, which she runs with pal Michaela Blaney, who she grew up with in Vancouver, Canada. Each week the girls pick a new theme to base their content around. This week's posts are all about the Super Bowl, from healthy recipes for that big Bowl party, to football themed manicures.

"It's a passion project," Shay says, adding that the blog also features how she stays fit, her makeup routine, highlights of her travels, and what products she carries in her bag. "I have like four Carmex lip balms in my bag at all times while traveling."

Shay recently returned from a vacation in Bali, a trip she documented through gorgeous photos posted to social media. Based on the shots, Buzzfeed called the fashionable beauty a "mythical goddess," and we couldn't agree more. So of course we had to get the details on her stunning boho vacation style.

"I stress about packing, but most of the time I figure it out when I get there," she says of what she chooses to slip on while on vacation. "Different wraps, scarves, and pashminas I bought abroad. I bought one of the scarves from this woman outside of an art gallery and I wore it the rest of the time."

But when she's back home in Los Angeles it's all about snagging those chic, universal toppers. "I have this floor-length, camel-colored wool coat from Aritzia that I wear all the time when it's chillier," she says. "A coat is such a statement piece!"

Playing Emily on "PLL" also has its style perks. Shay admits she snags one main item from her character's wardrobe: "Her Nike sneakers. That's what I take the most." Though she admits she'd much rather don a pair of heels above sneakers these days.

But in many ways, the actress says she is very similar to her character. "She's extremely loyal to her friends and very protective. That I am," she says. " I have a good ear and I listen and I'm also a good secret holder. I would do anything for my friends and my family."

Instagram on Location: Stars at Sundance 2015

Filed under: Movie Photos, Movies

From old stars to new stars (to not-yet stars), the best talent the indie circuit has to offer was all over Sundance this past weekend. Rather than gathering up premiere photos or throwing together some Sundance Portraits, we decided to dig a little bit deeper.

Here are some of the best Sundance photos from fans and photographers straight from Instagram, offering a more authentic glimpse at what the streets of Park City, Utah are really like this time of year.

sundance photos 2015

'The Huntsman' Sequel Is Axing Some Dwarves

Filed under: Movies
The HuntsmanThe sequel to "Snow White and the Huntsman" already won't feature Kristen Stewart's Snow White. Now, Deadline reports, most of her seven dwarves are getting axed, too. Only two dwarves will be in the "The Huntsman," though it's unclear exactly which two.

It is known that Nick Frost ("Cuban Fury"), Toby Jones ("Captain America: The Winter Soldier") and Eddie Marsan ("Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows") will definitely not be in the movie. Marsan has a scheduling conflict with his work on Showtime's "Ray Donovan." And Bob Hoskins died last year, so he won't be part of the project either.

"The Huntsman" is a prequel that will show the titular character (Chris Hemsworth) and Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) crossing paths before the events of the first movie. Emily Blunt is on board to play a villain, reportedly a Snow Queen who is Ravenna's sister.

"The Huntsman" is set to be released April 22, 2016.

That Steve Jobs Biopic Finally Has a Cast

Filed under: Movies
BRITAIN-ENTERTAINMENT-CINEMA-X-MENThe game of musical chairs that is the Steve Jobs biopic has finally come to an end (we think).

The Aaron Sorkin-penned project has seen several stars come and go (Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale), one high-profile director come and go (David Fincher), and even a studio come and go (Sony gave it up, now it's being made by Universal). The quagmire of a movie became somewhat infamous due to the Sony email hack.

Well, now all is settled. "Steve Jobs" began filming this week, with these actors: Michael Fassbender as Jobs; Seth Rogen as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak; Jeff Daniels as former Apple CEO John Sculley; and Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, former Macintosh marketing chief.

The movie is made up of three, long, real-time scenes, the last of which focuses on the 1998 launch of the iMac. At the least, that should prove to be colorful.

Watch the Trailer for Tom Hardy's Cold War Thriller 'Child 44' (VIDEO)

Tom Hardy has never met a funny accent that he hasn't fallen wildly in love with. His latest is a gruff Russian number for "Child 44," a new film based on Tom Rob Smith's best-selling historical thriller that follows a former secret policeman (Hardy) who is investigating a series of grisly child murders in Soviet Russia. And you can hear that accent and see Hardy in action in the gripping new trailer.

"Child 44" is based, in part, on a real life serial killer dubbed the Red Ripper who murdered more than 50 women and children in Stalin's supposedly perfect Russia. Hardy plays a man who is clued into the killer after a friend's child is murdered. This looks really intense. The all-star supporting cast includes Gary Oldman (Batman reunion!), Joel Kinnaman, Vincent Cassel (glimpsed briefly in the trailer), Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, Noomi Rapace (re-teaming with Hardy after "The Drop") and Dev Patel. It was directed by Chilean-Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa ("Safe House") and adapted by the great Richard Price, a stellar novelist in his own right. Soviet Russia is a fascinating place to set any kind of movie, but a hardboiled thriller like this seems downright perfect.

Should the movie prove successful, it could be a rare franchise for adults, since the Hardy character took center stage in two more books written by Smith ("The Secret Speech" and "Agent 6"). We'll all find out when "Child 44" opens on April 17th.



Watch the Big Game Spot for 'Hot Tub Time Machine 2' (VIDEO)

If there's one sequel everyone is excited about in 2015, well, it's probably "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." But maybe the second most anticipated sequel is "Hot Tub Time Machine 2," the follow-up to 2010's sleeper hit "Hot Tub Time Machine." And while this new Super Bowl spot is insanely brief, well, it certainly lets you know what to expect from the eventual movie.

The plot for "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" has the goofballs (Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, and Adam Scott, filling in for John Cusack for reasons that have never been made particularly clear) venturing into the future, in an attempt to foil an assassination attempt on Corddry's character. Because, you know, you go to "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" for its intricate plot.

This new spot features jokes about the Patriots and inflated balls. So... You can imagine how that goes. Just watch it. And get ready for "Hot Tub Time Machine 2," out on February 20th.

'Hot Tube Time Machine 2' Super Bowl TV Spot

Here's the Fangtastic New 'What We Do in the Shadows' Poster (EXCLUSIVE)

Filed under: Movies
what we do in the shadows posterOne of the true delights of last year's South by Southwest Film Festival was watching "What We Do in the Shadows." It was one of the last days that I was attending the festival and had tried to see what ended up being a much lesser horror comedy but was locked out of the screening. Instead, I walked over and watched "What We Do in the Shadows," with only the vaguest understanding what it was supposed to be, and laughed myself silly. It's a huge thrill that it is finally coming out, with some assistance from Funny or Die, and that we can exclusively debut the new poster (below).

The poster for the film, co-directed by "Flight of the Conchords" principles Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, is mostly text-based, featuring the various outlets that called the film hilarious, as well as the three main vampires from the film that are hovering amongst the text -- there's Viago (Waititi), Vladsislav (Clement) and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the young pup who is "only" 183 years-old. The film, which premiered around this time last year at the Sundance Film Festival, is a mockumentary about the lives of a house full of vampires in Wellington, New Zealand. That's about all you need to know (and all you should know) to enjoy this uproarious delight. Seriously, this feels like a cult classic in the making.

"What We Do in the Shadows" will be released on February 13th. Bring someone who you wouldn't mind necking with (get it?)
what we do in the shadows poster 2015

The 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Also Has a Release Date

Filed under: Movies
Following yesterday's awesome casting notice that the big budget "Ghostbusters" reboot (can we please stop giving it a "Female" or "Lady" prefix? These are your Ghostbusters, period) had cast Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, a release date for the Paul Feig-helmed comedic horror film has also been established. Next summer, get ready, because bustin' makes me feel good.

According to Feig's Twitter page, the new film will debut on July 22nd, 2016. Considering how long a third film in the franchise had been in development, this feels like it's coming out tomorrow. And we are so, so excited.

Our friends over at HitFix had posted some additional details about the story and the characters, but Sony made them take it down. Still, we read the original report and while we can't remember the specifics of who everyone will play, we can reiterate that Feig and the studio want none other than Bill Murray to play a villainous government official, in a role similar to the William Atherton part in the original film. Can you imagine how cool that would be? If they snagged Murray, it would be a huge coup, especially considering how reluctant he's been to return to the franchise.

Either way, July 22nd, 2016 can't come soon enough.

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