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

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…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

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…

What is this, the Titanic? Screw the women and children first shit, man.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
(SPOILERS) The brutal evidence, if any were needed, that Fox had no interest in the quality of its franchise(s), let alone admiring their purity. There’s almost (I stress almost) something beserkly admirable about Alien vs. Predator: Requiem’s flagrant disregard for anything and everything that set the primary series apart or made it distinctive. You might, at a stretch, argue this is a not bad Predator movie, in that it gives Wolf (not the Gladiator, alas; informally named after the Pulp Fiction character Harvey Keitel has since trodden into the dirt and repeatedly stamped on in a series of whorish adverts) motivation and everything, but that’s really doing it too much credit: AVPR is simply a bad movie.

I hadn’t seen this since its release, when I was marginally more charitable to its appetite for transgressive behaviour. And, to give it its backhanded due, in the establishing sections, the marriage of never-destined-to-meet genre subplots is at least…

I came here to take President Sarkoff back to his people.

Blake's 7 1.11: Bounty

It was inevitable that the series would trot out a retro-planet budget-saver at some point, and it’s a shame that it comes attached to a story as unimaginative as this one. Blake and Cally teleport down to a Federation planet with the intention of returning the exiled President Sarkoff (T.P. McKenna, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) to his people on Lindor.

Sarkoff is under guard so there’s quite a bit of extended ducking and running for Blake and Cally to do, only to find Sarkoff is extremely reluctant to return. He is content to wallow in the historical artefacts that surround him in his small castle. His daughter Tyce thinks he should grow a pair.

The B-plot, which converges eventually with the A, sees the Liberator detect an unidentified ship (we are told later that it is the civilian cruiser Star Queen, which it turns out not to be) and Gan teleports over to investigate. Vila doesn’t like it, and he’s right.

Avon: As a matter of fact, I don’t like it either. …

This is hell, and I’m going to give you the guided tour.

Lock Up (1989)
Sylvester Stallone’s career was entering its first period of significant decline when Lock Up was flushed out at the tail end of his most celebrated decade. His resumé since Rocky includes a fair selection of flops, but he was never far from a return to the ring. Added to that, his star power had been considerably buoyed by a second major franchise in the form of John Rambo. For a significant chunk of the ‘80s he was unbeatable, and it’s this cachet (and foreign receipts) that has enable him to maintained his wattage through subsequent periods of severe drought. Lock Up came the same year as another Stallone prison flick, Tango & Cash, in which the actor discovered both his funny guy chops (resulting in an ill-advised but mercifully brief lurch in to full-blown comedy) and made a late stage bid to get in on the buddy cop movie formula (perhaps ego prevented him trying it before?) The difference between the two is vast. One is a funny, over-the-top, self-consciously bo…

I used to be dead, but then he brought me back to life.

Swiss Army Man (2016)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes I’ll finish watch a movie entirely bewildered by the praise it somehow merited. Spring Breakers was one notable case. Swiss Army Man is another. I’ll readily admit that music video turned feature directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan are incredibly inventive and talented – as writers not so much – and that Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as a corpse shows range I never knew he had (I mean that both ironically and seriously). Otherwise, the experience felt like being harangued by a blowhard hipster for 90 minutes, one who thinks he has something desperately, insightfully deep to say but is actually running on empty after five. It isn’t even all that appealing if you love fart jokes: any given Austin Powers is far more flatulently fulfilling.

I was tempted to label Swiss Army Man a one-joke movie, so impressed with its own single-plane weirdness that it irons itself out into something not really very weird or compelling at all. Which would be …

This planet is a game reserve, and we’re the game.

Predators (2010)
(SPOILERS) By the time this belated Predator 3 arrived, anything that treated either of Fox’s monster franchises with a modicum of decorum was to be embraced, so Predators, overly indebted to John McTiernan’s original as it is, is not exactly a breath of fresh air but nevertheless agreeably serviceable. You might have hoped for something more innovative after 23 years in the standalone wilderness, but at least you didn’t get Alien vs. Predator: Reheated.

Of course, this is essentially Robert Rodriguez’ 1994 screenplay spruced up a slightly, and as such displays the kind of slipshod approach to narrative that has served the writer-director-producer-auteur-in-his-own-bedroom’s cottage industry reasonably well over the past couple of decades .We’re mercifully fortunate he didn’t choose to make it himself (it’s only recently, with Alita: Battle Angel and the Escape from New York remake, that he appears to have been lured back to studio fare, and perhaps some degree of dilige…

You look kind of nervous. Probably your first hostage rescue, huh?

Rock the Kasbah (2015)
(SPOILERS) The chances of making a genuinely insightful, acutely satirical Hollywood movie relating to US interventions abroad, political and military, seem minimal these days, so you might as well go back 25 years to the flawed Wrong is Right. What we have seen most recently appears acknowledge this: desperate attempts to make feel good hay from loosely factual material (“inspired by”), to disastrous effect, both creatively and commercially. 2015 saw Our Brand is Crisis and Rock the Kasbah, both based on documentaries, both plotting uplifting, redemptive tales of self-realisation for their jaded, cynical protagonists when they’re confronted by the realities fostered on other nations by their home one.

Although, reality couldn’t be further from Rock the Kasbah’s Afghanistan (filmed in Morrocco), which has about as much legitimacy as The Men Who Stare at Goats’ Iraq (there at least, the heightened sense was part of the point). Taking 2009 doc Afghan Star as a starti…

Orac has access to the sum total of all the knowledge of all the known worlds.