The Global Appeal of Blockbusters

Movie poster courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

Movie poster courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

This past weekend, Avengers: Age of Ultron had its much-anticipated North American opening. Box office experts predicted that Age of Ultron, the sequel to the wildly popular Avengers release in 2012, would exceed the $207 million that its predecessor made in its opening weekend. With the results in, it is official: it didn’t break the record, but the studio shouldn’t be too worried. Age of Ultron almost earned its entire budget back before its US release with countries around the world screening the film a week in advance.

Age of Ultron’s domestic opening weekend brought in an estimated $191 million, a full sixteen million under its first entry, and thirty million under the prediction. This comes as a surprise because the first sequel to a large franchise almost always surpasses the first in terms of opening weekends. To put things in perspective, Transformers 2 improved on Transformers by $40 million, Catching Fire made $6 million more than Hunger Games, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest brought in a whopping $90 million more than the first in the series.

Picture courtesy of destructoid.com

Picture courtesy of destructoid.com

There’s no mystery to why sequels make more money. Audiences are familiar with the characters and the story, and are eager to see what happens next with characters that they are already invested in. Studio executives take full advantage of marketing campaigns so that the next entry can appear to be bigger and better. This strategy was in full swing for Age of Ultron, but even with its massive opening, it failed to meet the original’s $200 million-plus number.

While the North American box office may be plateauing, the rest of the world is certainly not taking a break. As of right now, 70% of ticket sales for Ultron have come from outside of the US. Global audiences have taken quite the liking to US blockbusters; last year’s Transformers made only $245 million overall in the US, but passed $1 billion thanks to international markets. The strength of these numbers indicates a trend in modern film production: moviegoers around the globe are willing to sacrifice well written characters and dialogue for explosive, high octane action sequences with little thought involved. Movies like Transformers play especially well for those who don’t speak English as a first language. With less complicated story and dialogue to follow, audiences can simply enjoy the movie without missing important plot points or misunderstanding dialogue.

This brings up a much talked about concern over the current state of the film industry. This summer’s movie line up consists of a large number of sequels and spinoffs, which forces one to ask: Is our film industry running out of creativity? Is it more business-savvy to cater to international crowds at the expense of quality storytelling?

Avengers: Age of Ultron is almost guaranteed to gross over $1 billion overseas (it already has $400 million in foreign receipts), and Avengers: Infinity War (Part 1 and 2) is scheduled for release in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

France’s climate change commitments

I sat numbingly and mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook news feed, my eyes unenthused crescent moons, my fingers robotic, my body a stone. After irrelevant minutes, I came across a picture that turned my waning crescents into full moons. I immediately perked up as I came across something that was actually worth my time. It was a picture my friend had posted while abroad in France. The picture was this:

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

My friend Julie captioned the photo, “Paris – Gare du Nord. You can sit at one of these tables with bike pedals and physically charge your phone by pedaling! So eco-friendly…epoustouflant!”

Now, you may be thinking this is fairly uninteresting like most things online. What’s the big deal? Why this picture? Well, as an environmentalist, I was very excited. I shared it on Facebook with my environmentalist friends and they all liked it. Any new sustainable invention or article sucks me in and sometimes makes my heart flutters from joy because of it. And, to be honest, I don’t understand why every single human doesn’t feel the way I do about sustainability advancements.

Luckily for Earth (and for my mental health and stability), there are fellow activists out there working, and environment issues are becoming a greater part of human lives. At the 2014 Climate Summit, more than 100 global leaders gathered in New York to discuss their plan to reduce their respective country’s carbon footprint. There were 44 countries that made commitments to carry out feasible solutions to the increasing environmental issues.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014. Photo from Google.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014, photo from google.com

Because the picture my friend posted was from France, I took interest in sustainability advancements in France. France’s leaders pledged that France “will commit $1 billion to Green Climate Fund over the ‘coming years.’”

“Coming years”? What does that even mean? But, to be fair, France’s pledge almost sounds better than the United States’, which states, “President Obama signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into international development programs and investments. The U.S. is also deploying experts and technology to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters and plan for long-term threats.” None of that sounds clear cut with a plan for a specific quantifiable result.

I wondered if other francophone countries were that vague with their commitments, but not all were. Belgium, for example, pledged to “reduce emissions by 85% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” Luxembourg, another francophone country, committed “$6.8 million to the Green Climate Fund — %1 of the country’s entire GDP.

Examples of renewable energy, photo from google.com

Examples of renewable energy, photo from google.com

After hearing about France’s somewhat imprecise commitment at the Climate Summit, I was frustrated. So, naturally, I did more research to see what were some actual attainable, concrete goals that France has set for itself (and for the world, for that matter) before and since the Climate Summit.

Since 2013, France has focused a large part of its country’s efforts on renewable energy. As of 2013, France has “committed 2 billion euros to renewable energy and energy efficiency” over a three-year period. France has also concentrated a large part of its efforts on sustainable energy in Africa to both rural and urban areas. France has invested millions in programs and resources towards many types of energy in France and countries in Africa. “By funding more than 230 million euros, France has developed the geothermal potential of the Olkaria site in Kenya, which is among the most important sites in Africa.”

In December, France will be hosting the Climate Conference Paris 2015. At this conference, 196 countries will commit to a solution to combat climate change. This climate conference will alter and update countries’ commitments to create a more sustainable Earth, as well as set new goals. The previous climate conferences and summits, while successful, have been criticized by using a ‘top-down’ approach, whereas for the Climate Conference Paris 2015, the goal is to shift the conversations towards hearing from each country what they would like to do and what is best for their infrastructure.

Photo from Google

Photo from google.com

Researching  about France’s (and other countries’) sustainability advancements and goals gives me hope and satisfaction. Because for me, the picture my friend posted on her Facebook was so much more than a cool post from a good friend in a different country. It sparked in me a hope for humanity. I saw this invention of a bicycle charger and I felt a sense of content for the world. Maybe we’re not all dooming Earth for the rest of our lives.

Oftentimes I get very overwhelmed by the weight of the world. I spend hours upon hours each week learning about the ways in which we harm the environment. I’m taught and teach others ways in which humans can change the path we’re headed towards and actually make a difference. I get very preoccupied on worrying about how we’re all going to clean up the giant dump we’ve taken on Earth, and I forget to look up and notice the positive, innovative, incredible things that thousands of people are doing right now through policy and service.

So thank you to Julie Rozanski for her picture. I doubt she ever thought it would make another human so content.

Vaginas connect cultures, end violence

Vagina.

I know, it’s a scary word, right? But why? Why are we all scared of a body part? Think of how bizarre it would be if people reacted the same way to the word “elbow” as they do to the word “vagina.” The funniest part to me is that even women are afraid of the word. It seems as though every time I say the word “vagina,” I’m given a startled look/blush followed by a “shh!” and by biological WOMEN: humans who have and see and touch and are connected to their own vagina every day. It’s sad that some women have this sort of “vagina-shame”, but it’s not their fault, really. It is the society we were all born into.

There are strong social constructs that cause words like “vagina” to be taboo. Luckily, there are people worldwide deconstructing these constructs and dismantling the oppressive systems that control our daily lives and dialogues. One such woman is Eve Ensler.

Eve Ensler, photo from vday.org

Eve Ensler is a feminist, activist, and playwright queen. Her best known play is “The Vagina Monologues,” written in 1996. The play is a collection of monologues that tell stories or experiences of a woman or multiple women. These monologues range from funny and uplifting stories about body positivity, women loving or discovering their own vaginas, love, menstruation, and, in contrast, incredibly heavy and raw stories of sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and abuse.

The first time I saw “The Vagina Monologues” was almost exactly a year ago today. The production was hyped all over campus, especially in the social justice organizations I was in. I was a freshman in college (at the University of Missouri) and I had no idea what “The Vagina Monologues” was, but I went because what’s more intriguing than a play all about vaginas???

Photo courtesy of MU Vagina Monologues

 

It was incredible. I laughed and cried and I was shaken by how important stories can be. In the two hour span of the show I learned more about women’s bodies, cultural customs of women, intimate partner violence, and feminine experience than I ever could have imagined. My sentiment after watching the production was something along the lines of “Wow. I have a vagina. And I rock!”

Now, one year later, I am preparing to perform in “The Vagina Monologues.” I knew before joining the cast that “The Vagina Monologues” was a production to raise money for local organizations to help end violence against women and girls, BUT I didn’t know that it was an actual international movement.

V-Day movement logo, photo from vday.org

 “The Vagina Monologues” is only a part in the V-Day movement, a movement that creates events and performances to raise money and awareness for violence against women and girls including rape, sex slavery, incest, and genital mutilation. The V-Day movement and “The Vagina Monologues” are an international movement that is increasingly spreading across the world. The production of “The Vagina Monologues” has been translated into over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. In Brussels in 2012, nine members of the European Parliament even  performed “The Vagina Monologues” as well as danced on February 14th to help raise awareness of the V-Day movement.

A crucial role in being a part of “The Vagina Monologues” cast is education and awareness of women’s issues and body positivity (loving your body as it is). Being a part of the production and getting to hear various monologues really reinforces the importance of storytelling and human experience. Women are treated differently and oppressed differently in each culture. The monologues give a heart-wrenching sneak-peak into the lives and truth of women’s experiences. Not only that, but the monologues provide a unique perspective of women’s lives in various cultures and parts of the world.

Throughout the process of being a performer of “The Vagina Monologues,” I have become one with my monologue.  I will be reading from the monologue called “The Vagina Workshop,” which is about a woman who discovers and falls in love with her vagina in a workshop. It’s truly inspiring to me how one woman’s story could hold so much weight and meaning into my life. What’s more, I think of how many women have also been affected by the same monologue throughout the years of thousands and performances, and it’s astonishing.

These monologues don’t just hold value for those watching and/or listening, they hold the same, if not more, for those performing. I am forever changed because of my experience of seeing and being in the production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

And that is something to blog about.

How the Edukators Taught Me

The Edukators: Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei (2004) directed by Hans Weingartner

The chances are overwhelming that you’re not Burghart Klaussner. I’m also willing to bet you’ve never come home to burglars rearranging your furniture as a form of political discourse.  In ‘The Edukators,’ a 2004 Palme d’Or nominee at the Cannes Film Festival, you can see just that in a sneakily riveting indie flick.

Two of the first German actors with whom I ever became familiar were Daniel Brühl (Private Friedrich Zöller in Inglorious Basterds) and Burghart Klaussner (from Goodbye Lenin! and Yella), and together they form a divisive duo atop this cast. Brühl plays Jan, a left-leaning revolutionary bent on sending the rich capitalists a message. He and his friend Peter (played by Stipe Erceg) break into wealthy homes and rearrange furniture before leaving notes like, “Your days of plenty are over” or simply, “You have too much money.” That second one is cheesy I know, but imagine seeing that plastered across your wall while all your furniture stands in the corner in a magnificent heap. The attack on their sense of security is the most powerful.

"You have too much money. - The Edukators"

“You have too much money. – The Edukators”

Their string of successful break-ins comes to a stop though when Hardenberg, played by the unshakable Burghart Klaussner, catches them in the act. The plot turns noticeably darker in this scene when Jan has to incapacitate Hardenberg until they figure out their next step.

Jule and Hardenberg meet again.

Jule and Hardenberg meet again.

I’ll leave some plot to the imagination, but what follows is the crux of the film, as the Edukators and Hardenberg have a series of long, in-depth conversations about the differences between the rich and poor in a capitalist society, something to which all Germans had to adjust following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Much like a lot of recent literature, the film tells of a struggle to maintain one’s identity in a changing world.

Jan and Hardenberg realize their similarities.

Jan and Hardenberg realize their similarities.

It’s hard to see past the glaring holes in the revolutionaries’ plan, wherein they have no idea how society would function if their plans actually succeeded, but I found at the heart of the film a more important lesson.

*Spoiler Alert* (even though you’re going to keep reading anyway)

As the four protagonists live and converse in the wooded mountains of Austria, Hardenberg goes through a brief transformation where he relates his own youth to that of the Edukators. It turns out he was the spitting image of their ‘free love, anti-establishment’ ways, until he grew up and adopted capitalism in order to pay the bills. At a closer look though, I watched the characters realize that their struggle was not so important as the fact that they fought proactively to establish their identity. It’s a good message for post-Wall Germans and viewers alike, that although society may not play itself out as we’d hope, it’s nonetheless important to struggle for our own place and identity.

This place seems like a good one to find my identity...

Peter and Hardenberg discuss their takes on identity in the picturesque Austrian Alps

The final scene is a bit discouraging, as it turns out Hardenberg has re-assumed his capitalist ways, and turns the kidnappers in to the police. They’re fortunately one step ahead and have already left the country by the time the police arrive. The final note bears an ominous message that really drives home the anti-capitalist sentiment of the film: “Some people never change.”

"Some people never change."

“Manche Menschen ändern sich nie.”

The viewer is left to ponder his or her own opinions but Weingartner presents an intelligible, well-constructed argument against capitalism that at the very least makes the viewer step back and wonder, and I believe that to be a vital aspect to spinning a good yarn.

 

 

 

Check out the movie’s interactive website here and the review written by Joe Yang from ‘Foreign-Films-For-You’

All pictures courtesy of Echte Tunus from his blog.