Skip to main content

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.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism