Summer 2016: We Can’t Go On Like This

So the parade of dull, CGI heavy ‘blockbusters’ has finally wheezed its last and now we get to pick over the bloated carcass trying to find out what the hell went wrong with 2016.

Because on paper, there was no cinematic offering that sounded like an absolute stinker. True, there was no offering that sounded amazing, but for the amount of money that was spent- the returns were absolutely shocking.

Now, obviously the main film that everyone is focusing on is Suicide Squad which according to backstage sources needs to take 750 million dollars just to break even. And now that it’s been denied entry to China that’s not going to happen.  And to make enough profit to have been worth everyone’s while? It would need to take 1.5 billion dollars or become the fifth highest grossing film of all time between The Avengers and Furious 7. That’s just not going to happen.

But what about Ghostbusters? The most pointlessly controversial film of the year? That’s on course to lose 70 million dollars and despite allegedly renaming itself the “Super Power Dare Die Team.” Which I would watch in a heartbeat was again refused a licence in China because.. well…  most films that films that promote “cults or superstitious beliefs” get rejected by the state film board. Don’t worry though, because franchise desperate Sony is still going to be making more films under the Ghostbusters name- it’s just going to be animated. And released in 2019

Now before I go on, a quick not about how much films cost. Whilst finding out the filming budget is relatively easy, finding out how much the advertising costs is next to impossible. A general rule of thumb is to assume that the amount spent advertising is roughly the same amount as was spent in making it. Which is why the 2005 movie Sahara – despite being a pretty good action adventure film managed to lose over 105 million dollars.

Back to 2016- What about the already forgotten Independence Day sequel? Whilst it did take 382.1 million against a budget of 165 million, you might think that this counts as a hit, right? Except when you factor in the marketing, it cost roughly the same as it took, leaving the heavily hinted at sequel in severe doubt.

Hell, even Star Trek Beyond, released in the franchises 50th year, with such an in-built fan base that it should have turned a profit in its sleep… took 212.5 million against a budget of 185 million which again-  doesn’t factor in advertising costs. Meaning that a fourth film is probably going to happen but with a reduced budget.

Finally, The Nice Guys – the lone film in the last three months that I’ve given my highest rating to?  57 million against a 50 million dollar budget. The sequel probably isn’t going to happen despite the fact that it currently has a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Now, films failing to make money isn’t something new. I mean, according to the paperwork Return Of The Jedi (Yes, THAT Return Of The Jedi) is still in loss. But with the amount of big budgeted  films released this summer, that only Finding Dory (and Civil War depending on when you think that the summer blockbuster season begins) is making anything like the money that these films ‘need’ to make in order to be worth anyone’s time, we really need to have a look at film because this high-risk high-reward strategy just isn’t sustainable.

Backstory

When Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, it’s budget was 115 million which at the time was a shocking amount, people were convinced that it would ever make its money back, and now? People would be worried that the budget would be to small, a comparable film Guardians of the Galaxy released in 2014 required a budget of 232.3 million!

And yet, for the two years I’ve been reviewing as well as all the years before that I’ve been a film buff the only recent blockbusters that I enjoyed so much that I would watch again, let alone own I could probably count on one hand. (Of course one of them is Mad Max: Fury Road) 

A major part is the growth of CGI, meaning that we could do things in films that were unimaginable 20 years ago when I was growing up. But on the flip side decent CGI is horrifically expensive and to my mind will never look as good as either a practical effect or even the nearly extinct art of stop-motion. A good way forward would be to treat CGI as a glace cherry, used sparingly it can be a rather nice treat but used to excess it loses its effectiveness quickly and can make me feel rather sick.

We also need to talk about the effect that Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy has had. Sadly not in bringing back model-work and practical effects but in making convincing movie executives that all films need to be ‘dark’ and ‘gritty.’ Now obviously an exception is the Marvel Universe but i’m going to get to that later. But in general, most films this summer were dark, depressing, with no witty banter or actually interesting dialogue. Seriously, people special effects and A and B list actors can only take a movie so far. It’s writing a good, decent, script that takes time to establish interesting characters over time that is more memorable and is more likely to be watched again and again than these CGI heavy, explosion and cardboard character filled things…

And bringing things back to the Marvel movies, on thing I am beginning to get seriously annoyed about is the setting up of cinematic universes. Something that’s happened in the last few years is that a film isn’t really allowed to tell a complete story. Because films are so expensive to make and market it’s easier to try to make every film the next episode of an ongoing saga than to try to create new films with new charterers every time And whilst I do understand this it means that I never really feel anything at the end of the film. And it never used to be like this! Indiana Jones, Star Trek, even my own beloved James Bond franchise never really bothered with continuity until the last few years. They didn’t need to. And I miss films that end. And no film this summer ended! Even The Nice Guys sequel baited desperately. And whilst sequel baiting has been a part of film since forever it typically happened after the film had wrapped up and lasted for less than thirty seconds. It wasn’t happening continually during the damn film!

Things have to change. Because cinemas are more profitable than they have ever been, and there are small movies that come out and are awesome but more and more they are getting drowned out by unimaginative sludge that like the blob just keeps coming and coming no matter what you do. I mean Sony is so desperate for a franchise that it overlooks that fact that it’s mid-budget movies really are good and make 200-300 million at the box office but when everyone else is making billions who can blame them?

But what did you guys think of this summer? I’m off to go watch something from when films were allowed to be fun. And violent. And probably from the 80’s.

Warcraft: Budget 160 million- #1 video game film of all time- still considered a major financial flop with takings of 433 million

Gods of Egypt: Budget Budget 140 million- takings 145.7 million

Jason Bourne: 120 million- takings 250.9 million

The Legend of Tarzan 180 million v 347.7 million

Alice through the looking lass: 170 million V 292.3 million

 

 

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Someones Suing Suicide Squad

Another day, another story about Suicide Squad.

Now I had no intention of saying anything else about this film, because, well, what else is there to say? It’s not the savior of the DC Universe that the suits so desperately want it to be, its ticket sales have dropped by 41% going into its second weekend (Civil War’s was a mere 19%). It’s probably not getting released in the worlds second largest market- China, meaning that it’s really going to struggle to reach the 750 million dollars it need to break even and it’s being sued by a Scotsman known as BlackPanther2016 over it’s lack of Joker.

Wait, what?

Yeah, apparently BlackPanther2016 was forced to drive all the way from the barren wasteland of ‘Not London’ which apparently doesn’t have any cinemas to the Utopia of London which does. There, he paid his money, took his ticket, watched the film and then- in his own words.

“Movie trailers are like food menus, they give you a preview of what you’re gonna get. You look at a McDonald’s menu and you choose to get your favourite burger, presented in a nice picture with pickles, chicken, mild cheese (your favourite, in fact that’s the only reason you’re getting this burger, because you love mild cheese). You use your hard-worked money to pay for this burger, you get the burger, only to find out that this isn’t the burger you ordered. Yes it has pickles and chicken but it doesn’t have mild cheese, it has regular cheese.

“Suicide Squad trailers showcased several specific Joker scenes that I had to pay for the whole movie just so that I can go watch those specific scenes that Warner Bros/DC Comics had advertised in their trailers and TV spots. These scenes are: when Joker banged his head on his car window, when Joker says ‘“Let me show you my toys’, when Joker punches the roof of his car, when Joker drops a bomb with his face all messed up and says, ‘Bye bye!’ None of these scenes were in the movie.

“I drove 300 miles to London to go watch these specific scenes they had explicitly advertised in their TV ads…and they didn’t show them to me. Adding to this, they were also two specific Katana scenes they advertised that were also the reason I wanted to go watch the movie. These scenes were: Katana’s eyes going black, and a slow motion shot of her and her sword taking souls in a smoky kind of style. These scenes were advertised several times in the first trailer and many TV ads but they didn’t show it to me in the movie. I wasted a lot of money paying and travelling to go watch this movie because of these specific scenes they had advertised to me and all of us saying, ‘Hey, check out our preview! This will all be in our movie, come watch it on the 5th!’ All lies.

“If you advertise something, give me what you have advertised. Period. This is becoming a habit with movie studios, showing epic scenes in trailers that are never shown in the movies. It’s unjust.

“I just want to say, join me if you feel the same way. Let’s stop this nonsense of false bulls***ery and don’t let them bribe you with their ‘deluxe premium special directors gold extended edition supreme cut’ nonsense. You should get what they advertised as their first theatre showing and what you have paid for based on what they have showed you in their advertisements.”

Now, I wish Mr. Panther the best of luck with the lawsuit that he claims his “lawyer brother” will handle. I would also like to point out that this type of lawsuit does have precedent. A resident of Michigan sued the distributor of the 2011 film Drive as it   “bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film … having very little driving in the motion picture” and in a more serious note- “substantially contained extreme, gratuitous, dehumanising racism directed at members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith”. I can’t find out if she won or not.

Someone who did win their case was a New Zealand film buff, named only as J Congdon who sued Jack Reacher for a less than 1 second missing explosion that was allegedly was ‘the defining part of the ad’. He won has case and was refunded his ticket.

Now whether you enjoyed Leto’s Joker or regarded it as one of the worst portrayals of the character ever (and opinions do seem seem strangely polarized) I have to confess a strange admiration for Mr. Panther and his ‘lawyer brother’ and do hope they succeed. Trailers do lie to the public (mostly over how much I’m going to enjoy their mediocre offering) and if this is the start of change then it can only be a good thing.

Note-At time of writing (10/08/16) Neither Warner Brothers no DC have responded to the threatened legal action.

Suicide Squad Review

To say Suicide Squad has had some issues would be a massive understatement. The script was allegedly written in six weeks (apparently after box-setting the entire Resident Evil film series.) It was then subject to massive re-shoots after the criticism leveled at Batman V Superman Dawn Of Migraines.

And then you get to the cast, after Tom hardy bailed to do The Revenant, you were left with the star of the rebooted Robocop, the star from After Earth, Jai !@”!! Courtney, a former model, a former soap star and erm… others. Although not Miles Teller for some reason.

And owing to DC decree 04027 both Batman and The Joker turn up. Bat’s get 5 seconds of screen time, Joker slightly more but you could have removed both from the film completely and it would have made minimal difference.

But, to answer the big question- Is this film better than Dawn Of Migraines? Yes

And the extended edition.

But that’s mostly because it’s trying to be it’s own film with some hints towards setting up other films instead of trying to set up 15 others AND be it’s own thing and it does that by keeping it’s plot really, really simple.

A truly generic villain with a henchman straight out of Gods Of Egypt is planning to take over ze vorld! By the use of… a giant floating portal in the sky. Because of course it is. Feeling that it has no other options the Government sends in six villains on a suicide mission to destroy the portal, kill the villain and try to save an entire cinematic universe.

And all I wanted this film to do was copy classic war film The Dirty Dozen, swap Nazis for CGI monsters and blackmailed US soldiers and your pretty much there. And they couldn’t.

For a start, as the biggest stars, both Smith ad Robbie get the most screen time, and that’s fine apart from the fact that it makes the rest of the squad feel shoe-horned in. Hell, Katana and Captain Boomerang could have been removed completely and no-body would have noticed.

Most of the battles are CGI based and not really very exciting as 99% of the villains army are basically zombies and seem to pose very little threat to the team. The fight choreography sucked as well.

And whilst I didn’t read a lot of DC growing up (I’m a solid 2000ad man) I was always pretty sure that the Suicide Squad didn’t go everywhere backed up by a hell of a lot of people with guns… because, well, if ordinary people with the power of guns can defeat this threat then is the squad even needed?

Also I found the film rather conventional. A depressing number of the squad seem to have hearts of gold and for a city that been overrun by hive minded zombies, the squad seems to have a lot of time to just chill.

And did I mention that you can really tell where the re-shoots took place? Because whilst the film was released in the UK with a 15 rating, it really didn’t feel like a 15, it felt like a 12a with a few re-shoots designed to bump the rating up. But even then, I didn’t see anything  that I haven’t seen in any other 12 a.

Naturally, it’s shot in the DC style of doom, gloom and I found very little humor but that’s what i’m coming to expect from this universe.

Make it more anarchic, give the squad a threatening villain and throw in some jokes and you could have a much better film. As it is, this film has been banned in China for all time and I cant really see that their missing out on much. Not when they could be watch the much better 2014 Assault on Arkham or even The Dirty Dozen. 

Maybe the inevitable unrated cut on DVD will be better but until then?

My Score- If Nothing Else

Pokemon Go and the Holocaust

 

For those of you that have been living under a rock for the past week, Pokemon Go is a VR game that encourages you to go out into the real world to catch the eternally popular pocket monsters.

The game has been released in the UK,which is a relief because if the pound keeps falling at this rate, going outside to catch animals might be the only way I ‘ll be able to feed my family in about three/six months.

Now, the game has already been responsible for broken bones, the discovery of a dead body and numerous accounts of trespassing in the aid of ‘catching them all.’

There’s even reports of a Pokegym in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, home to snipers, mines, artillery and the worlds best preserved rain-forest (see above as for why)

And yet, the worst story to come out of this noble attempt to deal with the worlds obesity crisis involves the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.

The problem is simple. The museum is a ‘Pokestop’, a location where players can acquire free in game items, and there are 3 such stops in the museum. There’s even reports that a Koffing- a poison type pokemon that emits clouds of poisonous gas has been appearing next to an auditorium that shows the testimonials of Jews who survived the gas chambers.

Now, the museum has requested that it is removed from the game as according to  Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director “Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,”

And I cant help but agree. There is a place for Pokemon Go- anything that gets people up, active and exploring outside of their usual routines can only be a good thing in my book, but this is one thing that I cannot condone. Especially as people have been coming to the museum specifically to catch Pokemon- barely throwing the exhibitions a glance.

What do you guys think?


 

 

 

The Legend of Tarzan Review

For a character that’s been knocking about in films since 1918, you’d think Tarzan would have greater public awareness than the two things he’s known for. One of which is that chest beating noise (which was used in the fifties!) and the other is a certain exchange of dialogue which never happened in any of his films. Ever.

But one thing I’m very sure of is that he wasn’t Batman.

And yet that’s what this film tries to turn him into.

And you can see why- they have very similar origin stories- orphan, rich, trained in combat, and Batman makes a lot of money. Except Tarzan isn’t Batman. Not by a long shot.

Lets leave aside the somewhat awkward racial subtext and fact that the last semi-decent film of his bizarrely had Phil Collins do the soundtrack (ask your dad) and focus on the main issue. Tarzan (both the film and the character) is dull.

The character has no flaws, or tics or any form of charisma. He’s author wish fulfillment of the worst kind. And whilst the actor playing him is incredibly ripped- he’s completely acted off screen by Margot Robbie -who declares that she isn’t a damsel in distress and then proceeds to get kidnapped for the entire film. Christoph Waltz is fine as the villain but I would have preferred him to be a bit larger than life as villains that Tarzan faces off against usually are, mostly to offset how completely boring he is.

And then you get to Samuel L. Jackson playing a real life anti-slavery campaigner (did I mention the slavery? No? There’s slavery in this film as well.) He plays a comic relief character who could have been completely removed and the film would have been either the same or slightly better.

It was all filmed in England except for a few panning shots which means that one of the most naturally beautiful places on Earth looks like a handful of sets and Doctor Whos old gravel quarry.

It’s also appallingly shot as well. Tarzan fights using the ancient mystical art of Quick-cut-fu, the camera swoops when it should be still is still when it should be swooping and even had my physically closing my eyes at some points as it was making me feel sick. Its dull to look at.

The soundtracks good though. Apparently the orchestra took the Tarzan=Batman idea to heart and based the soundtrack off of Batman Begins.

The CGI animals look awesome though. Easily as good as the ones in this years Jungle Book remake. The CGI everything else just looks awful.

How hard can it be to stick some actor in a loincloth and have him fight against Dinosaurs, Russian gangsters or Ant-Men, all which he’s encountered in previous incarnations?!

It’s a dull, uninspired, CGI slog in a summer which seems to contain nothing but dull, uninspired CGI slogs.

My Score- Poor

Top Cat Begins: Review

Given that the previous Top Cat film (released in 2011- avoid at all costs) was made in Flash animation, I guess that this film has graphics that look like a shoddily made PlayStation 1 game is to be considered progress?

Whatever, just because the animation is horrifically unconvincing and the vast majority of characters are just… well.. horrific doesn’t mean that the film itself is going to be awful? A big budget does not an amazing film make.

Nor does the fact that the film is only 80 minutes long- with ten minutes of credits to ensure that it reaches the minimum length required to be screened in cinemas. The Land Before Time is only 69 minutes long and that film is awesome.

I’m not even going to hold the fact that it can’t decide what era it’s in- one minute the music is singing Megan Trainer and the next it’s telling me that ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend.’ After all, you have to introduce the ankle-biters to decent music somehow.

I’m not even going to get annoyed at the constant toilet humor and worn out jokes at cross-dressing because in the films defense its…

Its…

Awful

Terrible

Without a single redeeming feature.

The main character is basically a sociopath. It’ts incredibly dark for a children’s  film with constant mentions of death and implications of torture. The plot feels stretched and padded with sequences seemingly thrown in simply to pad the films pathetically short running time.

The animation is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, it never convinces of life and barely convinces that the characters are actually speaking.

There may be worse animated films out this year than this… thing

But I doubt it.

My Score- Fire 

A Hologram For The King Review

Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Tom Hanks Tom Hanks
Alexander Black Alexander Black
Yousef
Sarita Choudhury Sarita Choudhury
Zahra

 

A man who’s right in the middle of a mid-life crisis is sent to Saudi Arabia to pitch a new technology to the King. As film premises go, I’ve heard and seen worse.

Add in the fact that it stars Tom Hanks and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this could be good. A bit of fish out of water comedy, a bit about finding yourself and an exploration of a country that doesn’t really appear on screen. (It doesn’t here either- it was filmed in Egypt, Morocco and Germany of all places.)

It probably shouldn’t remind me of Waiting For Godot.

Nor should it bore me almost to tears.

Adapted from a novel that I haven’t read, this film starts of flirting with flights of fantasy and then discards them. What little plot there is, you can work out in the first twenty minutes. Most of the jokes don’t work and the cast all look like they wish they were somewhere else.

Tom Hanks completely fails to convince as a man who’s like has fallen apart. In a role that screamed out for a man who looks like their only just hanging on by their fingertips he’s just too composed and calm.

There is the gem of a good idea here, but for once this is a film that needed to be longer, to allow us to truly explore this characters background and his descent into his mid-life crisis.

As is? Is a dull, boring slog that no-body looks like their enjoying.

My Score- Poor