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.

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…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

You use a scalpel. I prefer a hammer.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
(SPOILERS) The latest instalment of the impossibly consistent in quality Mission: Impossible franchise has been hailed as the best yet, and with but a single dud among the sextet that’s a considerable accolade. I’m not sure it's entirely deserved – there’s a particular repeated thematic blunder designed to add some weight in a "hero's validation" sense that not only falls flat, but also actively detracts from the whole – but as a piece of action filmmaking, returning director Christopher McQuarrie has done it again. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an incredible accomplishment, the best of its ilk this side of Mad Max: Fury Road.