Skip to main content

He's a friend to all mankind. Pure of heart and mind!

Movies on My Mind
Week Ending 4 June 2016

Doc Savage

Have no fear, the Man of Bronze is here! I loved the 1970s Doc Savage when I was a kid. I’m fully aware that it doesn’t stand up, divested of such fledgling enthusiasm (it can’t quite sustain the camp brio of Adam West’s Batman or Roger Moore’s Bond it so wants to), but it felt like the perfect distillation of all things superheroically pulpy.

It was ahead of its time in some respects, anticipating the throwback adventuring of Lucas and Spielberg’s serialised storytelling (it even ended on a cliffhanger, and I was accordingly most disappointed there was no follow up to be had; as doubtless was Warner Bros, when the film was lacerated by critics and shunned by the public), and the po-faced, slightly sent-up heroism of the Christopher Reeve Superman.

Where it was fundamentally shipwrecked was in the choice of director Michael Anderson, never a visionary, but a guy who sometimes got lucky (Logan’s Run, a couple of years later, lives on, but more due to Jenny Agutter than filmmaking prowess). That Savage was producer George Pal’s last film also testifies to its status as the tail end of a certain approach to movie production, lumbering along rather than spurred by enthusiasm and invigoration (I say that, but Flash Gordon, also camp and lumbering, has become a cult favourite).

Doc Savage was a movie that, like The Land that Time Forgot, I cherished, not as cheap and cheerful, or laughably shoddy in places, but as wildly imaginative. Can Shane Black distil the essence of the Man of Bronze? I shouldn’t really be proprietorial, as I haven’t read any of the stories, and for some strange reason have a desire to see him done right because of a movie most people don’t rate at all.

I think if anyone can, Black can. He’s got a lead with bags of natural charisma and a great sense of humour, regardless that Dwayne Johnson hasn’t had a really strong starring role in his career thus far. There’s also the simple fact that Black’s one of the best writers in Hollywood (to be fair, there isn’t a lot of competition, but that’s not to do him down). The question that interests me less since Iron Man Three’s PG-13/12 is whether he can rein himself in for a family movie. Which leaves whether he can bring his unique style to a period romp, some forty years prior to his recent period romp. I’m betting he can; it’s only a shame this can’t leap frog The Predator into production. Oh, and he should definitely re-use the theme song.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

So Disney suits didn’t warm to a movie all the pre-publicity announced was tonally different from a straight, episodic Star Wars movie, owing to it being more of a war movie, because they’ve now discovered it’s tonally different from a straight, episodic Star Wars movie, owing to it being more of a war movie? Well, it’s good to know they keep up with their memos. I suspect this means that, if Alan Tudyk’s droid wasn’t a funny droid before, he will be now, because, you know, Tudyk is a funny guy. 

I didn’t have much anticipation for this from the get-go, and the trailer failed to change that one iota. The cumulative sense from Monsters and Godzilla is that Gareth Edwards might be best off making movies carrying a glacially distant, cerebral theme (if he could just find one), but with bags of action, so getting past the small problem of not really being able to invest in his characters. His visuals are full of portent, but unsupported by content. But hey, I’m sure this will be a fun-filled romp by the time the reshoots are complete. Alternatively, all of the above (including some reports suggesting up to 40% is to be done over, which does sound absurd) is BS, and there's no big deal at all. Which may or may not be damage limitation and spin.  


Monster Trucks

Just, WTF? It boggles the mind, this. I’d understand if Chris Wedge made Monster Trucks as some sort of vanity project package, guaranteeing an Ice Age 19, but it’s from Paramount. Perhaps that explains it; they’re a studio desperate for a decent franchise (they have Transformers, but I did say decent), or one they can keep afloat (I’m looking at you Star Trek, and Jack Reacher), and are unable to boast even a successful animation beyond SpongeBob. Thus they have a string of pictures audiences will struggle to find remotely enticing, including a Rings sequel, xXx3, Ghost in the Shell, Baywatch, and World War Z 2. The latter might turn out okay, depending on whether zombie fatigue has set in, but there lie slim pickings.

And what’s with animators’ obsession with cars? Is it because they were all nerds and they’re now enacting some sort of wish fulfilment over being uncool at school? I have no idea how Monster Trucks got the green light, and why anyone thought E.T. developing a symbiotic relationship with a carburettor would sell tickets. On one level I admire the flagrant impulse to flush money down the toilet. On another, the pursuit of the most banal imagining imaginable is quite tragic. The creative equivalent of a sterile promontory, but then, this is from Derek Connolly, co-writer of the highly imaginative Jurassic World and the likely to be equally so Kong: Skull Island. And, alas Star Wars Episode IX. I hope no one’s expecting Monster Trucks to make a fortune. Or even half of what Cars 2 brought in (minus merchandising).


No Exit

Last week I expressed my doubts over the glorification of Deepwater Horizon, with Peter Berg turning an environmental disaster into a chronicle of oil rig heroes battling the odds. No Exit is another upcoming tale of valour in the face of the scourging of nature, documenting the 2013 Yarnell fire in Arizona and focussing on the Granite Mountain Hotshots, only one of 20 of whom survived. This sounds like more laudable subject matter than the Beg movie (or treatment thereof, at least, with the caveat that the screenwriter also penned Black Hawk Down), but it still feels like the pursuit of a vague, slender hope of audience response. We all know firefighting movies are popular. To wit Backdraft, and Ladder 49

The big shame is how director Joseph Kosinski’s TRON 3 fell through last year, after Disney (of all studios, given they have more dead certs than any kid on the block) got cold feet and pulled the plug. I bet now they’re wishing they’d gone with it rather than Alice 2. One has a definite cult following, the other had a definite number of kids trying out 3D specs. There’s a vocal view out there proclaiming that TRON: Legacy sucks, but purveyors of such opinions probably also decry Prometheus. They’re both movies with more than their share of flaws, but if you can’t get with the plus points, well, I pity the fool.

Batman v Superman: Brunch of Justice

Sure, there have been longer versions in the past that have either completely salvaged (Once upon a Time in America) or rehabilitated (Heaven’s Gate) maligned or mangled movies. Generally, though, these have been arisen from the ashes of studio edicts or tampering in the first place. To be fair, I doubt the longer cut will harm Batman v Superman in any way. It might make it even duller, yes, but I feel fairly certain it couldn’t render the opening half less coherent. Unlike many, I didn’t outright despise the picture, but I felt it fundamentally lacked drive and pace, which is probably the worst thing for a superhero movie.


Box Office

The summer sequel slaughter continues. I didn’t expect most of these to improve on the performance of the originals, but neither did I expect audience indifference to so accurately mirror my complete lack of interest in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Alice Through the Looking Glass and now Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Which arrives with an opening weekend take of about half the original’s. And is anyone going to line up for Now You See Me 2 next week?

At least The Conjuring 2 ought to perform, so that weekend shouldn’t be a complete flounder (Warcraft also topples headfirst onto US screens, having failed to make much impact internationally). For the rest of June, Finding Dory is a no-brainer. Can Central Intelligence find a space for itself? Independence Day: Resurgence might prove to be an Alice 2, or it might be a less substantial echo of Jurassic World  (it at very least needed Will Smith to stand a chance of being that kind of monster). And Free State of Jones might prove successful counterprogramming, or it might just disappear.

The potential for further summer cinematic corpses doesn’t end there. In July, The BFG and Jason Bourne ought to click, The Purge: Election Year will probably turn out fine, and The Secret Life of Pets might benefit from not being a sequel at that point, or get crushed by Ice Age 5. Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond and The Legend of Tarzan have big question marks hanging over them, though. And in August, while Suicide Squad is sure to open, less confident are Pete’s Dragon, War Dogs and – surely a stinker of Warcraft proportions – Ben-Hur.  

Does this mean kids thought TMNT 1 was lousy, all told? In which case, there’s hope for the next generation, and its success can be put down to the kind of aberrance that saw Inspector Gadget garner an audience. Perhaps international grosses will make up the difference for Out of the Shadows. If not, bring on the next reboot.

Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.