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The bottle is more distinguished than its wine.

Movies on My Mind
Week Ending 11 June 2016

Box Office

With all my previous ragging on the box office prospects of Warcraft (reviewed here), I failed to even consider that it might eke out a wee niche somewhere in the world, one that could turn it from abject failure to franchise-spawning monster. That wee niche turns out to be China, where the game has a huge fan base, estimated at about half its global players, and the only country where movies can out-gross once-mighty US takes. Admittedly, the studios don’t see the same percentage trickling back into their coffers, but if there’s enough of a response – as in hundreds of millions – the market becomes highly lucrative. That was part of the thinking of one of the picture’s production partners, it seems, and if the movie can approach Furious 7 size returns ($300m+), a sequel is pretty much guaranteed.

It needs to be big, though; Terminator Genisys did rather well there, grossing over $100m, but it still wasn’t enough to justify the outlay in the face of critical and audience derision (a $440m worldwide gross, yet no sequel is on the horizon; compare that to the $400m tally for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, its follow up Alien: Covenant currently filming). It will be interesting to see how all this washes out. Genisys made $90m in the US, and Warcraft won’t even get close to that, so has the potential of being a historic case where the US market is entirely incidental to a series’ fortunes.

Pacific Rim 2

Pacific Rim is another movie that had a sequel greenlit on the basis of Chinese box office, just nothing approaching the level of Warcraft, which was why it was touch and go for a while. Rim’s gross there ($111m) was only a little higher Warcraft’s first two days, but we’re still talking a quarter of the worldwide.

I’d like to say del Toro absenting himself from the director’s chair this is a good thing, but that would be assuming he’s doing something more worthwhile instead, so I can’t really. The first movie had some predictably strong visuals contrasted with appalling characterisation and consequently unconvincing acting. Can Stephen S DeKnight ameliorate such problems? I’d be more optimistic if he had a writing credit, having been a stalwart contributor to Joss Whedon’s Buffy and Angel, and more recently moving on to Daredevil (which conversely makes me slightly less convinced).

Instead we have an unappetising mishmash of del Toro, Zak Penn, Jon Spaihts and (heaven forfend) Derek Connelly. DeKnight cut his directing teeth on Angel and this will be his first big screen outing, which seems rather foolhardy, in terms of weight on his shoulders (and we’ve seen a number of first-timers fall out of high profile projects lately, including The Flash and Star Trek Beyond). Why John Boyega would sign up, other than because he’s a really nice guy, is beyond me, though. Perhaps he’s profoundly optimistic.

Trainspotting 2

I was a lot more invested in Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor burying the hatchet years back, when it seemed like both still had untold filmic potential to offer. Boyle’s technically as proficient as ever, but the danger there is it leads the way if the material isn’t up to snuff; as impressive as aspects of Steve Jobs and 127 Hours are, he’s increasingly delivering dazzle over content. McGregor, alas, just hasn’t been the same since being passed over on The Beach and having Lucas drain away his childhood nostalgia in the Star Wars prequels.

As such, the highlights of both their careers occurred 20 years ago, with the one-two of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Going back to the well with Porno never seemed like a good idea (McGregor even said the novel wasn’t up to snuff), and with those two particularly, never wanting for work, it was something they didn’t need. John Hodge is attached as before, and the novel is apparently only a starting point, but well, some of his recent credits (The Sweeney, Trance) have been less than scintillating. I hope for the best, and with Anthony Dod Mantle on board as cinematographer, it’s bound to look nifty, but the key to Trainspotting was not simply its visual acumen, but how it affected you.

The Passion of the Christ 2

The Passion of the Christ didn’t affect me very much, beyond reconfirming my preconception of the lasting effects of a Roman Catholic upbringing. I did at least appreciate it as a snub to Hollywood assumptions that they know it all and can manufacture public tastes, though.

Christian-minded businessmen have been attempting to replicate its phenomenal success ever since, but where pictures like God’s Not Dead and Heaven is Real can make a pretty packet in the US, they have minimal export potential; Passion made 40% of its money internationally. Major studios’ attempts to tap into the religious ticket have either been laughably inept (Exodus: Gods and Kings, where agnostic disdain isn’t the best way to woo devout cinemagoers) or abrasively unyielding (Noah – perhaps being an atheist isn’t the way to win an audience for a $100m+ movie; that it did as well as it did is most surprising). The Narnia series only succeeded up to a point, ultimately hamstrung by makers who didn’t care enough about the material, looking over their shoulders at Peter Jackson’s success as a reference point, and who weren’t savvy enough to adapt it to best effect.

I’m intrigued to discover what Mad Mel will do with Passion 2. Bereft of the blood, lashings, impalations and general misery, he’s left staring down the barrel of an antithetically optimistic tale, possibly too optimistic for one of his furrowed demeanour to get the most from. I’m sure he can have a great old time with Thomas, but the main fascination will be how he engages with material when he can’t fall back on viscera (which is all Torture Porn of the Christ was, really). Does he have anything to say about his ostensible faith beyond the ephemeral? Besides which, of course, Gibson is a first-rate filmmaker, and on that basis alone Passion 2 merits attention.

Murder on the Orient Express

Sir Ken most decidedly isn’t a first rate filmmaker, of course. Occasionally, his penchant for Dutch angles and epileptically swirling camera moves has suited the subject matter (Thor) but more often (Dead Again, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and yes, Hamlet) it has been a detraction and/or laughably out of place. That’s because as a director he’s a good actor, in the same way as a director Chris Carter makes a decent producer. Sir Ken lacks Gibson’s instinctive grasp of filmmaking. And, while the ensemble is bound to be the talking point of this Murder on the Orient Express remake, I doubt he can assemble a roster of talent as notable as Sidney Lumet did for his, Finney-d up film (the first of the thesps confirmed to don period frocks looks to be Angelina Jolie).

Which isn’t to say I have any objection to its existence; I just doubt that it’ll make a lasting or definable mark, in much the same way as Ken’s remakes/updates of Cinderella, Sleuth and Jack Ryan didn’t. I can also make an educated guess that Branagh’s Poirot will be closer to Finney’s deranged performance than Ustinov’s marvellously good-humoured incarnation. Express’ real appeal will be in exposing Christie’s most famous whodunit to a current generation ignorant of its outcome, though.

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

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