Wonder Woman has been banned in Lebanon

(Note: This article is correct at time of writing- 31/05/17)

Wonder Woman has been subject to some of the most pathetic ‘controversies’ I’ve ever had the misfortune to glare at over my morning cornflakes. They include the ‘expected’ controversy over whether or not her costume is too sexy (which according to the director it isn’t.)

To an actual controversy about whether or not the Amazons would have shaved their armpits or not (I told you the ‘controversies’ were pathetic.)

Then the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater received some negative responses for announcing a series of women’s only screenings of the film now, they are taking place after the premier of the film and for charity but I still have mixed feelings on the subject.

But the award for most astonishing and in some ways most pathetic controversy belongs to the country of Lebanon. Which has banned the film completely. Not for moral or ethical reasons or because their still scarred from Suicide Squad and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn. It’s not even really for religious reasons.

Rather it’s because Gal Gadot is an Israeli.
Lebanon, which has been officially at war with Israel for decades, has a law that encourages boycotts of Israeli products and bars Lebanese citizens from traveling to Israel or having contacts with Israelis.

And this has been a seriously last minute ban- allegedly coming into effect a mere 2 hours before projectors started rolling.

The ban was prompted by a group called Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel – Lebanon, which pressured the government in Beirut to block the movie. On its Facebook page, the group said it is advocating a ban because Gadot was a soldier in the Israeli army, and has expressed support for Israel’s military policies against the Gaza Strip, a coastal Palestinian territory run by the militant Hamas group.

In a widely shared posting on her Facebook page, Gadot had praised Israel’s military during the Gaza-Israel 2014 war, sending prayers to Israeli soldiers “who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas.”

Even though Lebanon enjoys a greater margin of freedom of expression than other countries in the region, prior censorship remains in place, particularly with content relating to Israel, religion and homosexuality.

Ironcially, the same council that decided to ban Wonder Woman failed to get Batman v Superman: Dawn of Migraines banned in the country. And other Gadot films (like the Fast & Furious installments she starred in and Tom Cruise vehicle Knight & Day) were also shown in the country.

And despite the ban in Lebanon, Wonder Woman is set to open as scheduled during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan across theatres in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait on Thursday. It is scheduled for release June 22 in Oman and June 29 in Bahrain. Although this may change at any time.

Interestingly, In 2013, the Lebanese government heeded a call by the Arab League to ban Lebanese-born filmmaker Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack” because it was shot in Israel. As a result, the film was “massively pirated across Lebanon where the DVD was prominently showcased and sold in all major pirate DVD stores there,” says the film’s Middle East distributor Gianluca Chakra, head of Dubai-based Front Row Entertainment.

“Did they actually stop people from watching the film? Absolutely not,” he said.

And I figure the same will happen here.

Alien Covenant Review

“I’m really excited, I love the Alien franchise as much as you love Mad Max Fury Road & Dredd.” Wittered my scriptgremlin from underneath his rock. And, as I looked at him, his little face full of hope and expectation, I wondered what exactly he was basing this delusion on.

Because lets face facts, the last good Alien film was released in 1986. That’s 31 years ago! Since then we’ve had to deal with Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, Alien Vs Predator, Alien Vs Predator: Requiem  and Prometheus. I seriously hope he wasn’t talking about Aliens: Colonial Marines. But maybe he was talking about the creatures numerous appearances in graphical novels? I mean wow has the xenomorphs gotten around in its life. As well as taking on the Predator, The Alien has taken on Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, Tarzan, Buffy, Archie, Star Trek: The Next Generation AND of course, my own beloved Judge Dredd.

None of these are regarded as classics and almost non of them are regarded as cannon within their own universes.

But hey, every 111 million dollar film directed by man who gave us 2010’s Robin Hood deserves to be looked at as it’s own entity. It’s own, mediocre, unsure of what it want’s to be so it winds up being a hybrid of Alien and Aliens.

I mean it, you’ve got your people answering a distress call and winding up dealing with the Xenomorph on a planet which is hopefully the birthplace of wherever the always superb Michael Fassbenders accent calls home, and then finish up the film back on board their spaceship which i’m pretty sure the people from Space 1999 would like back at some point.

And as this is an Alien film, allow me to introduce out not-Ripley for the evening- the mono-named Daniel’s, portrayed by Fantastic Beasts star Katherine Waterston who for me seemed less like a woman finding her inner steel so that she could defeat one of the most deadly animals in the universe, than  a head girl trying to decide whether or not to tell the head teacher that someone keeps disliking her Instagram posts.

Your going to spot every twist from a mile away and resent every scene that doesn’t have Fassbender in. I mean everyone else is fine, but there’s no memorable lines or characters in the entire thing. Even my notes only refer to them as ‘redshirt’ ‘redshirt in hat’ and ‘cowardly redhsirt.’

It had some tense moments and some points where I was squirming in my seat and yes, the music was very impressive and unsettling and it did fly past fairly quickly and inoffensively but this could have been a much better film if there had been better and less dialogue, not telegraphed their plot twists in advance, had a lot more Fassbender and a lot less everybody else and realized that the xenomorph is supposed to be a practical effect that you don’t really see allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks and not a CGI creation. Especially not when the budget is running low.

It’s defiantly not the worst film I’m going to see this summer, but it’s certainly not the best.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-watch a 31 year old Vietnam metaphor.

My Score- If Nothing Else 

Whats going to go wrong with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets?

So far in this series, I have waited for the films to be released into the cold, hard, unforgiving world for their brief moment in the light before dissecting their still warm corpses to see what lessons we can learn but for this one, I’ve got enough evidence to say that there’s no need to wait.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is going to bomb and it is going to bomb bigly. The only question is how much it will bomb by and how many careers will be destroyed by it.

Now, on paper, Valerian seems like a pretty safe bet. Based off of Valérian and Laureline a French science fiction comics series, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. So plenty of source material to work from, the fact that the series has been sold all over the world implies that there is some sort of market out there.

Legendary French director Luc Besson has allegedly been given 209 million dollars to play with and had assembled a cast of stars including Cara Delevingne, Dane DeHaan, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna, Clive Owen and John Goodman.

So, a legendary (in France anyway) series of graphic novels comes to Hollywood for its moment on the silver screen. Wheres the issues?

Eveywhere.

Valerian didn’t come to Hollywood to play. It stayed in France. This is France’s highest budget film…. ever. And it’s not close in any way shape or form.  The closest contender is a French movie called Asterix at the Olympic Games, which cost $82 million to make. Now, with the budget for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets reportedly coming in at a staggering $209 million, that puts it at almost triple the budget of the previous record holder. Now, most Marvel films don’t have budgets of 200 million dollars and they’re as safe as films can get. This is an untried, untested franchise that has very little, if any name recognition outside of its native France.

But, thinks you Luc Besson is directing it! He directed The Fifth Element! That he did, 20 years ago. And it’s been dividing audiences ever since. I feel that I should also point out that nothing he has done in intervening two decades has come anywhere close to the scale of this project. Yes, Besson has done Stopmotion, CGI  and action films but none of them have had budgets anywhere near a hundred million dollars, let alone 209 million! And he’s not consistent in the quality of his films either. For every Lucy he’s made, there’s a Taken 2 or 3. I don’t he’s ever made a flop, but he’s no Spielberg.

But leaving all that aside, you then have the issue that we are currently experiencing something of a glut of blockbusters at the moment. At least Jupiter Ascending (the last time anyone tried to do a new space opera franchise) had the good sense to be released in the wasteland of January, a time when there was very little to compete with because to my mind, even if Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had no direct competition it would be a tough sell, but the week before Fox is releasing War for the Planet of the Apes and Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic Dunkirk will be competing with it directly. Not to mention that Spider-Man: Homecoming will still be hanging around for its third weekend at the box office. With so many tried and true franchises out there, why would you sped your hard earned money on anything else?

And then we move on to star power.

There isn’t any really.

I’m not saying that Cara Delvigne isn’t a star, but she’s a new one and she has never headlined a major film before. Her role in Suicide Squad was little more than a glorified cameo and as for Dane DeHaan, his highest profile role was as Harry Obsbourne in the Incredible SpiderMan 2. I’ve seen him in a few films and whilst he never disgraces himself, he’s never looked like leading man material to me. Especially when according to Wikipedia his character can be described as “as a typical square-jawed hero figure, who is strong and dependable”

Even looking at two comparable films Enders Game and Jupiter Ascending, you find nothing to cheer about. Enders Game had a budget of 110–115 million but made only
125.5 million,  As of January 2014, Lionsgate was waiting to make a decision on a sequel film, and was also considering a television series. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Jupiter Ascending on the other hand had a budget of $176 million and made a mere
184 million with any talk of a sequel being met with hysterical laughter. Hell, even The Wachowskis have claimed that it’s pretty much killed their career as far as high budget blockbusters go.

So there you go, all the reasons why, as far as i’m concerned,  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will be one of, if not the biggest bombs of the year.

But what do you think?

 

Free Fire Review

A low budget film with a very, very simple plot: After a deal goes south a group of gangsters wind up in an abandoned warehouse shooting each other and trading snappy dialogue.

Why does that sound so familiar?

I’m sure it’ll come to me in a second. I mean it’s not like the answer would be number 75 on IMDB’s top 250! That would be stupid.

But unlike other low budget films with similar pretentions towards becoming cult classics *coughTheAssignmen/Tomboycough* this one’s actually going to pull it off. Because it works. It’s not perfect, but it works.

I mean for the first time since…. Hell, Deep Rising back in 1998 where there is no ‘good’ character. None of these people are undercover cops or journalists, no vigilante has turned up to stop an arm deal and started trading bullets. Every single one of these people is a criminal with terrible aim and seemingly unlimited supplies of ammunition, and to be honest the human race is better off without almost all of them. It’s kind of refreshing in a sick, twisted way.

The dialogue snaps back and forth as these characters make and break deal with each other, set up truces that break almost immediately it’s a blast of nihilism.

It’s not perfect though. Like I said, none of these characters is fighting for truth, justice and the American way so it’s kind of hard to empathise with any of them. And after a while it’s kind of hard to tell which bloody, swearing dirty mess is on which team and I couldn’t quite get a handle on the layout of the warehouse meaning that most of the time I couldn’t really tell you what was going on.

But it was funny, my God was it funny in a sick, black humour kind of way. Aside from one person behind me who alternated between sleeping and kicking the back of my seat someone in my screening was laughing about every thirty seconds or so.

All of the cast seem to be having fun with their characters from Arnie Hammer (for once almost coming close to acting) as a consummate professional to Sharlto Copley as an idiot gun runner to Brie Larson as an out for herself kind of girl, every single character has good lines and moments (as well as several bullets in places where they would rather not have bullets)

I don’t want to fall into the trap of overthinking this because it’s not supposed to be some deep think piece on the human condition, it’s a ten million dollar film set completely in a warehouse in 1978 Boston but filmed completely in Brighton of all places and I loved it.

I would have liked each character to have a distinctive item of clothing so I knew what team they were on and it did take a about five to ten minutes too long to get going, and there was just something about the film that didn’t quite click with me but this is a film that’s going to be just about perfect for when you’ve had your mates over and had a few beers.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to work out why ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ is stuck in my head.

My Score- See It

 

 

Beauty and the Beast Review

And so, in the year 2017, in the most expensive musical ever made with a budget of 160 million dollars, starring Emma Watson and… some guy off of Downtown Abbey,  all the debate surrounding the classic tale of a young girl coming to grips with her inner furry via the time honored medium of Stockholm Syndrome has been about the character of LeFou who is the first ever officially gay character in a Disney film.

And I do mean all the debate, In Russia,Duma member Vitaly Milonov (who has previously compared homosexuality to bestiality) agitated the culture minister for banning of the film, but instead it was given a 16+ rating (children under the age of 16 can only be admitted to see it in theaters with accompanying adults). Additionally, a theater in Henagar, Alabama will not screen the film because of the subplot In Malaysia, the Film Censorship Board insisted the “gay moment” scene be cut, prompting an indefinite postponement of its release by Disney, followed by their decision to withdraw it completely if it could not be released uncensored. The studio moved the release date to March 30, to allow more time for Malaysia’s censor board to make a decision on whether or not to release the film without changes and will be released on the said date with a PG-13 rating but with no cuts. In the end, the Malaysian Censorship Board decided not to ban the film.

But what shocked me the most though, was that China who usually have a ‘no gays ever, under any circumstances’  policy on films . And that’s probably because there’s not really anything there. I mean I wasn’t exactly expecting him to stomp around the set waving a rainbow flag and I did find him a bit too Smithers’y for my taste but there was no line or moment that I haven’t seen before in a Disney film. The charterer of Hades from Hercules comes to mind.

But in a way i’m glad for this pointless controversy because what else is there to say? Have you seen the original? Good, stop there and save yourself the hassle because you have seen this film. And the singing is better. And it’s a mere 81 minutes instead of a bloated 129 minutes and the servants actually look kind of cute instead of horrifying nightmare fuel.

I did like that a plot aspect from the Broadway show – that the servants are becoming more mechanical with every petal that falls, the songs that apparently come with it? Not so much. Just because a song works within the limitations of a stage doesn’t mean it’s going to work in a film adaptation!

Beauty and the Beast is the latest in the baffling live-action adaptation faze that Disney seems to be going through. It passed the time well enough but it’s bland, forgettable and in dire need of the editors scissors.

My Score- If Nothing Else 

What Went Wrong With Live By Night?

2016 was not a good year for Ben Affleck.

Not only did he feature in both Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad which… i’ll be charitable and say split audiences down the middle whilst neither one made anywhere near the level of money that was expected on them.

And then there’s the ongoing mess of The Batman in which Affleck has not only stepped down as director but there are rumors of script rewrites and even those who are whispering that he may step down as the Dark Knight altogether.

But to my money, the biggest mess for Affleck was Live By Night a passion project that was released in the US on December 13 and over in the UK on the 13th of January.

Up until now, Affleck has been a very solid director.  His directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone (2007) (Budget $19 million Box office $34.6 million, 94% on Rotten Tomatoes) which he also co-wrote, was well received. He then directed, co-wrote, and starred in the crime drama The Town (2010) (Budget $37 million, Box office $154 million 94% on Rotten Tomatoes). For the historically inaccurate political thriller Argo (2012) (Budget $44.5 million, Box office $232.3 million, 96% on Rotten Tomatoes), which he directed and starred in. Affleck won the Golden Globe and BAFTA Award for Best Director, and the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Academy Award for Best Picture. Becoming the first director to win these awards without a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director. Also, Alan Arkin’s nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Argo meant that Affleck’s first three films all secured Academy Award nominations for an actor or actress in a supporting role.

The point i’m trying to make is that when Ben Affleck makes a film, he typically makes money which keeps the executives happy, earns critical praise and awards which keeps the actors happy and praise as a director for himself. And as he’s made films across several genres, all of which have been well received I imagine that it was with little difficulty that he got the green light to adapt Live by Night – a crime novel by Dennis Lehane that was published in 2012. It won even won a 2013 Edgar Award for novel of the year.

And by rights this should have worked. Previously the two had collaborated on Gone Baby Gone which had worked well. And yet… something got lost somehow. I’ve already reviewed this film and found it to be beautiful to look at somehow empty and soulless. A very episodic nature didn’t help either. I figured it would do OK  and I would probably never have to think about it again.

Except then I started to hear some disturbing things about Live by Night. First was the reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave the  film a mere 35% with other critics noting that   “Live by Night boasts visual style and an impressive cast, but they’re lost in a would-be crime saga that finds producer, director, and star Ben Affleck revisiting familiar themes to diminishing effect.”

There was the lack of praise for how he used his actors with absolutely no awards buzz in any way shape or form. And then came the big issue. Money.

Live by Night had a budget of 65 million and probably the same again for advertising but it took a mere 20.8 million dollars at the box office making it the first (but by no means last) box office bomb of 2017.  But it gets worse.  Live By Night had the biggest third-week drop in cinema screens since records began, according to Box Office Mojo. The film lost over 94% of movie theatres willing to show the film. In its second week of release the movie was showing on 2822 screens, but a week later just 163 were prepared to have the movie.

The loss of 2,659 screens in a single week tops that of previous record-holder, Eddie Murphy’s ‘Meet Dave’ from 2008, the sci-fi ‘comedy’ in which Murphy played a space craft which looks like Eddie Murphy, piloted by 100 tiny humanoid aliens, one of which was played by Eddie Murphy. (Budget $60 million, Box office $50.7 million, 19% on Rotten Tomatoes)

That movie, as well as losing its shirt at the box office, dropped from 3,011 screens in 488, while last year’s ‘Hardcore Henry’, in third place, dropped from 3,015 to 519. (Budget $2–3 million, Box office $14.3 million, 49% on Rotten Tomatoes)

So what happened? According to Scott Mendelson, a Forbes contributor, the problem is that films these days have to compete with several blockbusters that both children and adults want to see, like “Rogue One” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

“Part of the problem is that so many of the big blockbuster-y movies… are playing to adults as well as kids,” he said. “So the actual adult movies are fighting for a smaller piece of the pie. Since most casual adult moviegoers go to the movies once or twice a month, if that, if they spend that date night checking out ‘Rogue One,’ then the actual adult movies suffer accordingly.”

Mendelson said there is only room for a few big hits each season.

“There is usually one or two adult films that can thrive in a given season, ‘Arrival’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ over the holiday; ‘La La Land’ and ‘Hidden Figures’ over the New Year. But otherwise it’s a tough going for most studio programmers.”

And whilst I agree with most of his points, I don’t feel that the film would have done better if it had been released in say May. The critical response would still have been the same, what little word-of-mouth there was would still have been the same. I doubt that the marketing would have been more effective, in fact it would have been less effective had it been released alter in the year when all of the big budget blockbusters were ruling over cinema.

Every director gets to make one disappointment and I guess that this is Afflecks. It certainly won’t hurt anyone’s career and it’s a good bit of trivia to have in the event of a pub quiz.

But what do you guys think? Did you see Live By Night and what film do you think most deserves to bomb this year?

Let My Films Go!

The Shallows was released in the United States on the 29 of June. It’s due to be released in whatever’s left of the United Kingdom in August.

The Purge: Election Year was released in the United States on the 1st of July. Again, it’s due to be released in the United Kingdom in August.

The BFG (despite being written by noted British Author Roald Dahl) is slightly better- the 1st of July and 22nd of July respectively.

I could go on, but I think that this makes my point- Staggering movie release dates is (in this day and age) an exercise in complete and utter futility.

It used to make sense to release films region by region. It takes time to market a film and staggered releasing means that each market could be properly exploited. And in any case, each market was pretty isolated, so if the film did poorly in… say the USA, it could do perfectly respectable business in Europe and neither would ever have to know.

But then the internet hit.

And the world became faster.

In 2016, if a film is of low quality it’s takings can drop in days rather than weeks. In the age of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and others, films have nowhere to hide. And more to the point, staggered releasing is (as far as i’m concerned) actively hurting films.

Those films I mentioned earlier? I could wait a few days, watch them online in HD quality and have my review good to go weeks before the official UK release date. I won’t, but I could. Other film lovers however, possess neither my Jedi like patience or Cineworld Unlimited card.

The end result?

The film gets watched online which results in it making less money in the box office and therefore less likely to spawn a sequel or encourage studios to invest in ‘riskier’ mid to low budget films.

Giving films a global release date ends all of these problems. Everybody gets access to it at the same time, meaning that if the film is of low quality it can make more money before word gets out. Similarly, if its a good film then people wont download it out of impatience.

What do you guys think?