Saturday, 9 July 2016

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Movies on My Mind
Week Ending July 9 2016

Box Office

It’s the sure sign of a piss-poor movie summer (not that there’s been much sign of seasonal splendour in the firmament either) when you find yourself casting about for prospective movie offerings and coming up short. I’m clearly not alone, as aside from Finding Dory audiences have been determinedly unpersuaded by the slew of suckage at the US theatres, and internationally the prospects aren’t all that much rosier.

There’s a roster of movies that will have to settle for the $200m+ mark globally, nothing to be sneezed at if you’re reasonably budgeted, but something of a disaster if you’re a costly pic and one following a predecessor that made twice that amount (or more). So Alice Through the Looking Glass, Now You See Me 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Closet, follow The Huntsman: Winter’s War as more than a tad disappointing.

What isn’t so disappointing is that crap originals aren’t tempting cinemagoers to flock obediently to the follow-ups (anyone would think the great unwashed had taste, right?) It’s gratifying to see Seth Rogen’s boorish oaf failing to appeal in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, which has barely scraped $100m, and won’t finish up with half the original’s tally. Independence Day: Resurgence may top $300m, but that’s still half a billion less than its two-decades-old predecessor, while X-Men: Apocalypse comes in a good $200m short of Days of Future Past. Of those tarnished jewels, I’ve only seen the latter two, because none of the originals, or the advance word for their follow-ups, remotely enthused me.

And it isn’t just the sequels this summer, with Warcraft managing to provoke column inches over the power of the Chinese dollar (well, yen) but still looking too costly to merit further unexciting adventures in unMiddle Earth ($400m and stalling). Elsewhere, a property that might reasonably have been expected to double its total, given its brand recognition, Angry Birds Movie is only in the $300+ range, a modest result for an animation in the current climate.

Add to those ranks The Legend of Tarzan, the one I was mulling a look at during the last week and elected to refrain. It appears even less captivating than Greystoke, which at least had the unlikely prospect of serious, heritage-minded movie going for it. What Tarzan needed was to have the loin-clothed one fight dinosaurs, or troglodytes or some such. Give him something whacky to do, and pulpy, as that’s what he is, whacky and pulpy.

The BFG has also taken a bath, provoking some to suggest Spielberg has lost his touch. That may partly be it, but he also needs to get with a cinematographer who can provoke a childlike sense of wonder, rather than one who wants to get back to that serious-minded fare.

In weeks to come there’s the femme Ghostbusters, which I can’t get too excited about, although I rather like Kate McKinnon’s general turnout. I’m far from outraged over the gender swap; my nonplussed-ness is entirely down to finding the last one, 33 years ago, a bit of a snooze, and (sacrilegious to say) I didn’t actually LOVE the original. So this one doesn’t necessarily have to do a lot to win me over, other than actually muster me to go see it.

And then there’s Star Trek Beyond. Has a rousingly rejuvenated franchise ever soiled its goodwill so quickly? Simon Pegg (who is suddenly a Trekkie, but I could have sworn Doctor Who was always his bag, when it wasn’t Star Wars; it definitely wasn’t Babylon 5, which as we know was a big pile of shit) seems more fixated on Sulu’s sexual preferences than whether he’s concocted a decent story (interrogating the nature of the Federation may sound like a worthy subject to tackle, but you have to remember this comes from someone whose last writing credit was the underwhelming The World’s End and that the last serious minded Trek was  one no one can recall despite having the estimable and Oscar-winning F Murray Abraham as the main villain). So while I’d really like Beyond to be beyond average, I’m not holding my breath.

The only bona fide big hits of the summer are the unstoppable Pixar and The Conjuring 2, and the latter looks to meet the first one for gross rather than turning into a latter-day Exorcist. The biggies (The Jungle Book, Civil War, Zootopia) all came during the spring season, and it rather speaks to a continued crumbling of traditionally carved-up periods where a designated box office sensation could berth.

The Secret Life of Pets looks to do reasonably well, but perhaps not as well as it might have if it had been truly inspired (although that hasn’t stopped Illumination before). Ice Age 5 may become another near-billion grosser or a take bit of a dip; I haven’t really familiarised myself with the fatigue factor of the franchise, but since this one has brought in UFOs, it may be that it’s getting into Police Academy desperate straits. And Ben-Hur is going to stink the place out. Pete’s Dragon may yet be the hit BFG wasn’t, but why would one appeal and the other not (everyone has nostalgic memories of the slightly rancid original)?

Which leaves some ifs (Nine Lives, The Founder) and a couple of sure things. Jason Bourne should rule August, unless it’s somehow rubbish. As for Suicide Squad, it has certainly made a dent in terms of public awareness, but David Ayer’s ability with material, tone, and general taste and flair is reliably variable. I’m expecting it to be rather a mess, which won’t necessarily preclude it from becoming a big hit. After that, it could easily be November (Dr Strange, Fantastic Beasts) before anything really tickles the public’s fancy.

Alien 5-ish

Given that Sir Ridley is firmly back in the land of aliens with Covenant, I’d have liked to think he had good sense and taste enough to send young jock Neill Blomkamp packing when he came in suited up in his replica Aliens power loader (he’s been redesigning it every movie he’s made), shouting about how he’s on an express elevator to xenomorph heaven, and mostly intends to make a sequel to Cameron’s not-quite-classic, mostly. Unfortunately, Sir Ridley has been deficit an ability to see a good screenplay for decades, even when it Glaswegian kisses him, and besides, Blomkamp probably had the ear of the same Fox bean counters who greenlit those AvPs.

Because this is a really bad idea. Not only to sweep two sequels under the carpet which, whatever their deficiencies, at least dared not to follow generic courses, in stark contrast to Blomkamp’s desire to do a direct, diligently bereft follow-up to a movie he still wakes up all sweaty about 30 years later. He risks alienating the very fans he’s trying to appeal to, the ones who wrote fanfic (or Dark Horse comics) about canoodling Ripley and Hicks, and grown-up Newt. The whole thing’s quite horrible really. And, while Sigourney’s in good shape, she is also in her mid-60s. As was Harrison when he proved returning to Indy was a bad idea, with a young inheritor who was an even worse one.

Blomkamp got lucky with District 9, basically. He’s a proficient technician but a dreadful scenarist, and Alien 3.1 stands to be as eviscerated as the AvPs and (slightly unjustly) Resurrection as yet another stillborn in the saga. Thank goodness (relatively) we have Scott unaccountably still carrying the torch for the franchise. He must just love Fassbender.


If you’d told me in 1988 that a talented action director would be steering a direct follow up in which Ripley’s new family packed punches against an alien hoard, I’d have been ecstatic. But I was young then, and knew no better. It seems Blomkamp still knows no better, but then that’s self-evident if you’ve seen Elysium or Chappie. We can but hope the audible backlash over this finds its way back to Fox, but they’ve never been a studio with professional pride, at least not since Murdoch’s been running things.

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

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