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Cole Stratton

Different movies have different ways to entice audiences and to introduce themselves. You know what kind of film you’re facing by how it wants to present itself in the media. Some movies try to appeal to that feeling of intellectuality and profundity that is now associated with Christopher Nolan films: this idea that the film in question is not just “for fun”, but also introduces important questions about our world and society. Other movies are so sincere with their stupidity that it is even admirable: to come out and say “this is a dumb movie. Wanna see it?” is nothing short of courageous. A faint demonstration of courage, yes, but courage nevertheless. Some movies try to pander to that small demographic of sophisticated people who seek for alternative movies that escape from those mainstream conventions: in many ways, such films too represent some sort of escapism, for they escape from the common grounds of modern cinema. But one type of film that I have been seeing very much lately is the “ensemble” film. As the name suggests, they are films filled with notorious actors to such an extent that is clearly noticeable.

There will be debates about how many notorious actors it takes for a film to become an “ensemble” film. Some will say four; others might as well say ten. My personal number is six: when it reaches this number, I perceive it as an ensemble film. There will also be some debates about if we should count actors in films long before they became famous. If a film has many actors that would only reach gold afterwards in their careers, will the film count as an ensemble film? I like to think so, retroactively speaking, and you may say otherwise. But one thing we might indeed agree is that they can be anything: from cheesy action flicks with Sylvester Stallone, to serious war films, to superhero movies, to Oscar bait and even family flicks.

Wikipedia describes what would constitute an Ensemble cast:

An ensemble cast is made up of cast members in which the principal actors and performers are assigned roughly equal amounts of importance and screen time in a dramatic production. In Hollywood, the term has recently begun to be misused as a replacement for the old term "all-star cast"; meaning a film with many well-known actors, even if most of them only have minor roles, such as cameo appearances.

Let's try to picture why the term "all-star cast" has become aged, to the point it has been replaced by the more specific term "ensemble". In the idea of Hollywood, just the fact the movie has many celebrities already makes it an ensemble, for this is a more "respectful" term. Think of it this way: it's an assembling of talents, and just the fact some are not as explored in the film as others are doesn't make it less of an ensemble. Some small cameos can be very gratifying, with actors giving a lot to the small roles they are given, like John Candy in "Home Alone", Daniel Stern in "Hannah and Her Sisters" and Tom Cruise in "Tropic Thunder". But in other cases - like Paul Simon in "Annie Hall" or Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett in "Muppets Most Wanted" - the goal of the celebrity in the small role is simply of being into the film, without adding a real substance, in a role that could have been made by any figurant. To use irresponsibly a cast filled with many powerful names to make the film more attractive... is a bit like to use irresponsibly a black-and-white photography to make the film more "interesting and alternative". Calling a bunch of famous people won't do: you have to cast them in the right roles and to give them an effective screenplay, like in the great neo-noir "Sin City", that uses both a cast filled with many powerful names AND a black-and-white photography. For another analogy, dealing with a cast like such is akin to dealing with a gun: you need to be responsible about it. You need to know how to deal with such ensemble, or you may end up doing some massive damage.

To mention a film that uses in full the talents of its cast, take a look at the masterpiece “Short Cuts”, by Robert Altman: that movie used its ensemble in a clever way, hiring the right actors for the right roles. Altman didn’t simply hire actors for being famous: every actor was in a paper that would utilize in full their nuances and talents, most memorably Tom Waits as a deadbeat (classic Waits). Many people like to insult the mediocre "Armageddon" by Michael Bay, but you have to give the movie this much: it was wonderfully cast, pulling the right choices that made much sense for the roles. Think like this: the film could have turned out to be WAY worst with the wrong casting, and every A-star in the film does a commendable job with the parts that they're given. When I saw very good “The Grand Budapest Hotel” - another fruit from the teaming of hipster master Wes Anderson and Oscar toyboy Scott Rudin -, some roles are so insignificant to the actors who are given them that I caught myself momentary departing from the film and saying “oh! I see Bill Murray!” or “I see Owen Wilson!”. Many actors fit wonderfully into the parts, like Willen Dafoe’s interesting hitman, or Ralph Fiennes’ triumphant lead that he needed so much in his career. But other roles may seem much more like a showcase for the actors to grace the screen with their presences than genuine casting choices.
In the internet, there is a term known as “meme overload”: it is when you have many internet memes or pop culture icons mashed together in one single image or topic. Many indulge in doing this, but many others hate it: they have this idea that by adding many memes together, they are ultimately striping their significance for what they are individually. They see this as a trivialization of something they like, and I can say the same can happen in movies. I remember I used to see publicities about “Ocean’s Twelve” here in Rio de Janeiro, and they gloated over the fact that “the last time you saw this many celebrities together at once was at the Oscars”. See what I mean? Before this being a good film, it is an assembling of celebrities, which I find denigrating to the work. Speaking in George Clooney here, it's funny to see how he became very much associated with heading stellar casts. From the god-awful "Batman & Robin" to films like the "Ocean's" trilogy, "Burn After Reading", "The Men Who Stare at Goats", "Syriana", "The Monuments Men" and "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", Clooney became a synonymous of someone who will only be accompanied with the best, like if he was bringing his exclusive entourage to several of his films (most notably his best pals Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts). In "Gravity", he literally spent all of his time in the movie only with Sandra Bullock; it could have been a chance for him to give a more personal performance in a dramatic film, but instead, he basically played himself, serving as some sort of comic relief. Another one associated with such casts is Soderbergh himself, and among his many films, the great “Traffic” had its celebrities giving their peak performances. This, combined with a wonderfully written screenplay, made the film one of the greatest of the decade. It was the movie that launched the career of Benicio del Toro, earning him an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

In animation, this can happen. In fact, it is even more easy for this to happen in animation than in life-action, as a famous and expensive actor can make a cheaper price due to his role being much more practical than body-acting: it's seemly easy to just speaking to a microphone, for maybe less than a month. But as I've seen (or that would be, heard), it's simply not as easy. For this reason, an animated film or serial can have many celebrities at once, such as "Shark Tale" and "Kung Fu Panda". But the question is that a famed actor may not be a vocal talent. DreamWorks is a particular offender on this level, as it popularized the notion of a voice cast with notorious actors, but who would not necessarily fit with the characters they are voicing: they are being called for who they are in the Hollywood scenario. Pixar, in the other hand, cares very much for the vocal talent of their actors than for their fame. Brad Pitt has became a notorious choice in film voice casting, but I've never pictured him as a true voice actor. It's just that his presence in the credits makes the movie more attractive. And to add insult to injury, some of these movies - for being family romps - may have much more dubbed copies than subtitled overseas, meaning many people outside the Anglosphere may rarely get to hear the movie with these celebrity casts. Speaking in animation, it is very interesting to see what has been happening to “The Simpsons”. Back in the past, the employment of a celebrity guest was genuinely for a requirement of the episode’s plot: when Lisa became a vegetarian, the writers must have thought it would be a nice idea to have Paul and Linda McCartney in the episode. When Homer met an alien, they must have thought it would be wonderful to have David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in the plot, narrated by Leonard Nimoy. And when Homer met two old hippies, it seemed like an appropriated idea for one of them to be voiced by George Carlin. Today, the celebrity is employed as the starting point: "hey guys, let's have Lady Gaga! The plot? We'll come with something in the way". The plot becomes secondary.
“Crash” is perhaps one of the most infamous ensemble cast movies ever made, and it is not so much just because it won Best Picture, or because of its blunt, heavy-handed thematic. No, “Crash” made some noise for being an incredibly cheap project that nevertheless had the presences of Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Michael Peña, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard and even Ludacris. All of this in a movie that cost less than 7 million dollars. So how did they pull that out? It is seemly simple: first of all, we’re not talking about stars that were ultra-hot by the time of the film. Bullock hadn’t won yet her Oscar; Cheadle is perennially a supporting actor; Dillon and Fraser were in a process of decadence (and "Crash" certainly didn't do a lot for their careers). With those “Moneyball” tactics, director Paul Haggis managed to pull together a cast that helped to bring the film into success. Meanwhile, the “Expendables” saga also utilized of this, by calling several decadent, forgotten, washed-up and plainly renegade stars to make its cast, adding to that nostalgic and self-referential feeling of the films. They were cast along with some new stars like Jason Statham, and people who were not actors at most, like athletes Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Steve Austin and Rounda Rousey (because even women had to be manly in those films). The final results were movies with many actors playing unnecessary and lifeless characters, without much more to add into the film, making for a saga visually entertaining (again, the “dumb movie” appeal), but ultimately dull for having so many actors whose function is simply to be there being a celebrity (even if a has-been celebrity). In “The Expendables 2”, Jet Li – one of the few actors that could indeed bring something different to the film – is discarded right at the beginning, and not seen again. In the embarrassingly PG-13 rated “The Expendables 3” (which ironically grossed far less than the previous R-rated films, if grossing was the consume of the film), things descended into washed-up celebrity porn, with many actors like Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford confirming, almost personally, what everyone has been saying about them: they're done.
“Around the World in 80 Days” may have had an enormous holster of celebrities (and it is said that it only won Best Picture in the 50's because these said celebrities voted for their own movie), but it has an effective screenplay, scope, personality and a nice message about the then-forgotten wonders of the world, forever more pessimistic in the Cold War era: some of these many celebrities do appear in the movie "to be there", but others - such as Frank Sinatra - cannot help but to grace the film with their unique charms. And besides that, the film by itself works like a charm, as each of its factors played finely. "The Lord of The Rings" saga is something I like to call "ensemble by accident". Because it was a saga that seemed to go for the best names possible for the roles, and before you knew, it was an ensemble of the best kind. “Reservoir Dogs” is a triumph in ensemble casting: it’s incredible how they bring so much to the the film and from each other, to the point we don’t even care these are famous people. We care about their characters, about the film. Edward Bunker - Mr. Blue - was not even an actor, but a crime author that landed into the film. However, in the brief moments he is in the film, he displays such a naturality for his role that we regret he doesn't actually appear more. You know he was a great casting choice from the moment he delivers the line "what's specialTake you in the back and suck your dick?". Maybe, he and Tarantino didn't have much screen time because they were not professional actors. Which is a shame, really, since they showed much charisma to the camera. Tarantino proceeded to helm other ensemble casts like in "Pulp Fiction", "Jackie Brown" and "Inglourious Basterds", but his debut remains as his masterpiece.

Meanwhile, “Love, Actually” has a typical predictable rom-com screenplay by Richard Curtis that utilises the power of its actors to raise the film from mediocrity to mildly pleasant, and in the process kicking in the (fortunately short-lived) genre of "ensemble romantic comedy in a holiday", like "Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve". To be honest, “Love, Actually” does not count only with the fame of its names, but also their talents. Liam Nesson and Hugh Grant (that wasn't his first rodeo, son) display some fine acting, which proves that at least the movie had some insight in casting, but didn't have a lot else going for it. It uses well its star power, but it doesn't offer a lot else, falling dead-straight into the chick-flick zone. "Machete Kills", by a sadly decadent Robert Rodriguez, believes too that having a massive gathering of celebrities would make up for its problems. But the problem with "Love, Actually" was of basically having a by-the-number screenplay in the moulds of modern rom-coms; a problem that could be masked (not corrected) by its talents. The problems in "Machete Kills" are more deep than that: they are its inoperative plot, dull story and clichés meant to be self-referential, but that reduce the film to deeply annoying. "Kills" is such a mess that its cast can't elevate it, like the world's greatest sailboat team in a sinking boat.

"Tropic Thunder" to me feels like it genuinely was a satire about the cult of Hollywood, so it seemed appropriated for it to be loaded with stars. While the actors do their best, the screenplay that they are given is greatly unbelievable, maybe because Ben Stiller thought he could get away with it due to the film being a comedy. So while the plot may be lacking, it's up to the gags to carry the film. And from my part, they don't: it feels like the film is desperate for some laughs, tossing everything at us. Some moments are much more awkward than actually funny: the scene of Jack Black tied to a tree while offering to swallow Jay Baruchel's semen in return of being released to snort cocaine seemed unpleasant, like a botched controversial joke. In the end, Stiller may have imagined that the film's star power would naturally make it great, and while they may improve the film considerably (again: Tom Cruise really registers on screen in his cameo), I felt it was a waste of potential, for they deserved better. The indication of Robert Downey Jr. for Best Supporting Actor was nothing short of an Oscar novelty. Another ensemble cast R-rated comedy was the salvaged "A Million Ways to Die in the West", by Seth MacFarlane. After his mega-hit "Ted", Seth followed it with a more ambitious project. And it had all sorts of insane cameos, like Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown, Jamie Foxx as Django and Bill Maher as... well, himself, apparently. The film showed that Seth cannot stay away from our pop culture even in a film set in the late 19th century. And many felt that, among so many stars, MacFarlane casting himself as the lead meant fame getting into his head (and make no mistakes: Seth MacFarlane loves to be a celebrity). While I do not think the movie was horrible, it was the sort of film in which you can hear its ambition speaking loudly. You can hear the film saying how incredible it believes itself to be. And this is never a good signal.

Ultimately, what is wrong in this whole story is to pander to excessive celebrities as the main selling point of the work while lacking in the rest, and/or to utilize much more the fame of the celebrities than their talent. These are problems, and more precisely, of lack of substance.


Is there any doubt that - with all this pressure - DeviantArt is going to pull off or at least fix all this Core nonsense before the end of this year? It is their birthday time, and this is no reason to celebrate. 


I'm a graduate in Cinema and I enjoy writing screenplays, editing and taking pictures of unique moments. I also do some mediocre drawings. I like studding economical and political subjects, drifting across my city, and keeping up with my football team Flamengo.

My favourite visual artists
-Andy Warhol
-Bob Ross
-Bill Watterson
-Charles Schulz
-Eddie Campbell
-Frank Miller
-Jamie Hewlett
-Lauren Child
-M.C. Escher
-Maitena Burundarena
-Marjane Satrapi
-Norman Rockwell
-Philippe Chappuis
-Robert Crumb
-Roy Lichtenstein
-S. Neil Fujita
-Scott Adams
-Shepard Fairey
-Stephen Wiltshire
-Steve Purcell
-Tim Kreider
-Will Eisner

My favourite films
-2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick, 1968
-The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - Stephan Elliott, 1994
-Akira - Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988
-Amélie - Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001
-All About My Mother - Pedro Almodovar, 1998
-Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
-Babe - Chris Noonan, 1995
-The Big Lebowski - Joel Coen, 1998
-Blade Runner - Ridley Scott, 1982
-Brazil - Terry Gilliam, 1985
-Chariots of Fire - Hugh Hudson, 1981
-Das Boot - Wolfgang Petersen, 1981
-The Exorcist - William Friedkin, 1973
-Gandhi - Richard Attenborough, 1982
-Koyaanisqatsi - Godfrey Reggio, 1982
-Lawrence of Arabia - David Lean, 1962
-Mad Max 2 - George Miller, 1981
-Manhattan - Woody Allen, 1979
-The Matrix - Andy and Larry Wachowski, 1999
-Midnight Cowboy - John Schlesinger, 1969
-Planes, Trains and Automobiles - John Hughes, 1987
-Raiders of the Lost Ark - Steven Spielberg, 1981
-Reservoir Dogs - Quentin Tarantino, 1992
-Spirited Away - Hayao Miyazaki, 2001
-The Sting - George Roy Hill, 1973
-Taxi Driver - Martin Scorsese, 1975
-Three Colours: Blue - Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1993
-Toy Story - John Lasseter, 1995
-West Side Story - Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961
-The Wild Bunch - Sam Peckinpah, 1969
-Y Tu Mamá También - Alfonso Cúaron, 2001

My favourite albums
-2Pacalypse Now - 2Pac
-Angel Dust - Faith No More
-Autobahn - Kraftwerk
-Avalon - Roxy Music
-Black Widow - Lalo Schifrin
-Blade Runner Trilogy: 25th Anniversary - Vangelis
-Breakfast in America - Supertramp
-A Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi Trio
-Combat Rock - The Clash
-Debut - Björk
-Dirty Mind - Prince
-Discipline - King Crimson
-Discovery - Daft Punk
-The Doors - The Doors
-From Chaos - 311
-From Here to Eternity - Giorgio Moroder
-Give Me The Night - George Benson
-Heyday - The Church
-The Hurting - Tears For Fears
-I'm Your Man - Leonard Cohen
-Incesticide - Nirvana
-Jailbreak - Thin Lizzy
-Kill 'Em All - Metallica
-Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin
-Let My Children Hear Music - Charles Mingus
-Look Sharp! - Joe Jackson
-Marquee Moon - Television
-Moon Safari - Air
-The Music From Peter Gunn - Henry Mancini
-Natty Dread - Bob Marley & The Whalers
-Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols - The Sex Pistols
-Nouvelle Vague - Nouvelle Vague
-Off The Wall - Michael Jackson
-Offramp - Pat Metheny Group
-Oxygène - Jean Michel Jarre
-Paranoid - Black Sabbath
-The Piper at The Gates of Dawn - Pink Floyd
-Play Deep - The Outfield
-Please Please Me - The Beatles
-Porgy and Bess - Miles Davis
-Pretty Hate Machine - Nine Inch Nails
-Pyromania - Def Leppard
-Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine
-Ramones - Ramones
-Rocks - Aerosmith
-Selected Ambient Works 85-92 - Aphex Twin
-Stink - The Replacements
-Street Songs - Rick James
-Super Trouper - ABBA
-Tango in The Night - Fleetwood Mac
-Taxi Driver - Bernard Hermann
-Ten - Pearl Jam
-Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division
-Violator - Depeche Mode
-The Voice - Bobby McFerrin
-You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic - Ian Hunter
-Zenyatta Mondatta - The Police

My favourite TV shows
-Angels in America
-Another Period
-Boston Public
-Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
-Courage, The Cowardly Dog
-The Decalogue
-Flight of The Conchords
-Full House
-Gravity Falls
-Key & Peele
-Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
-Married... with Children
-The Nanny
-Punky Brewster
-Regular Show
-South Park
-Spitting Image
-Step by Step
-Top Gear
-True Detective
-Will & Grace
-The Wire

My favourite books
-1984 - George Orwell
-Animal Farm - George Orwell
-Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
-From Hell - Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
-In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
-The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
-The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling
-The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
-The Lord of The Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
-Sex, Drugs & Magick - Robert Anton Wilson
-Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

My favourite authors
-Alan Moore
-Eric Hobsbawm
-George Bernard Shaw
-George Orwell
-J.R.R. Tolkien
-Philip K. Dick
-Robert Anton Wilson
-Rudyard Kipling
-Sam Harris
-Truman Capote

My favourite games
-Batman: Arkham City
-BioShock Infinite
-Borderlands 2
-Dead Space
-Euro Truck Simulator 2
-Flight Simulator X
-Forza Horizon 2
-Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
-Hotline Miami
-L.A. Noire
-Max Payne
-Mirror's Edge
-Need For Speed Underground 2
-SimCity 4
-Team Fortress 2

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amanda4quah Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2015  Student General Artist
Thank you for joining the Top Gear Fan Club :) We look forward to seeing your works!
TheDrifterWithin Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2015
Don't mention it: you're welcome.
FitzOblong Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2014
Thanks for the :+fav: . :icondweebdanceplz:
TheDrifterWithin Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2014
You're welcome, Fitz.
AllentownDarkWater Featured By Owner Sep 20, 2014
There is a God in Heaven after all! Sorry, I wanted to leave a comment on your journal entry, but the comments were disabled. I HATE the Nostalgia Critic too. He's so annoying and more than half of what he bashes doesn't deserve it! And another thing I hate is when people who do like him read my posts about how I don't like him and attack me and say shit like I have no right to say negative things about him. I hate Spoony and Linkara too. You sir are okay in my book! :)
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