Skip to main content

Don't be afraid, I'm part of the family.

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

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…

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

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.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)
(SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II’s on YouTube, and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

In a way, that’s good, as there can be no real defence that the fault lies elsewhere. What was Russell Mulcahy thinking? What was anyone thinking? Th…

So, you want to go overseas. Kill some Nazis.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
(SPOILERS) I suppose you have to give Kevin Feige credit for turning the least-likely-to-succeed-in-view-of-America’s-standing-with-the-rest-of-the-world superhero into one of Marvel’s biggest success stories, but I tend to regard Steve Rogers and his alter ego as something of a damp squib who got lucky. Lucky in that his first sequel threw him into a conspiracy plotline that effectively played off his unwavering and unpalatable nobility and lucky in that his second had him butting heads with Tony Stark and a supporting selection of superheroes. But coming off the starting block, Captain America: The First Avenger is as below par as pre-transformation Steve himself, and I’m always baffled when it turns up in best of Marvel Cinematic Universe lists. The best I can say for it is that Joe Johnston’s movie offers a mildly engaging opening section and the occasional facility for sharp humour. For the most part, though, it’s as bland and impersonal as…

I once fought for two days with an arrow through my testicle.

Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut (2005)
(SPOILERS) There’s an oft-cited view that Kingdom of Heaven, in its unexpurgated as-Ridley-honest-to-goodness-intended director’s cut – in contrast to some of his other, rather superfluous director’s cuts, in which case – is a goddam masterpiece. It isn’t, I’m afraid. First and foremost, Orlando Bloom is not miraculously transformed into a leading man with any presence, substance or conviction. But there are other problems, more than evident, mostly in the form of the revisionist pose William Monahan’s screenplay adopts and the blundering lack of subtlety with which his director translates it.

Definitely the perfect prisoner’s friend.

The Avengers 1.20: Tunnel of Fear
(SPOILERS) As Alan Hayes observes (in the booklet accompanying the DVD release of this recently discovered Season One episode), there’s a more than passing kitchen sink element to Tunnel of Fear. You could almost expect it to form the basis of a Public Eye case, rather than one in which Steed and Dr Keel get involved, if not for the necessary paraphernalia of secrets being circulated via a circus fairground.

I apologise for Oslo's low murder rate.

The Snowman (2017)
(SPOILERS) Maybe Morton Tyldum made Jo Nesbø adaptations look deceptively easy with Headhunters, although Tyldum hasn’t show such facility with material since, so maybe Nesbø simply suits someone with hackier sensibilities than Tomas Alfredson. It’s a long way down from the classy intrigue of John Le Carré to the serial killer clichés of The Snowman, and I’m inclined to think that, even if Alfredson had managed to film that 15% of the screenplay he says went awry, this wouldn’t have been all that great.

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…