Reboot Fatigue

Well, its not just reboots, I guess sequels/prequels and other spin-offs could all be lumped into the same category, as they are all pretty much the same thing. As I wearily suffered the further death-throes of the Predator franchise this weekend, I was reminded of just how many of the movies I saw in my childhood continue to linger around in some shape or other. We’ve had Alien films, Predator films, far too many variations of web-slingers and caped crusaders. Warner Bros continue to struggle with bringing back The Matrix. No doubt we are due another incarnation of the Batman. We have seen yet another Halloween (well, I haven’t yet but I guess I will see it eventually), there’s a new Top Gun in the works, more Godzilla and King Kong, more Avatar, another West Side Story, more Bad Boys, more MIB, another Terminator timeline, and even (perhaps unlikeliest of all) a Passion of the Christ sequel, which goes to show those folks that own the rights to Spartacus that even a crucifixion needn’t spell the end of any franchise.

I’m told that a remake of Jacobs Ladder has been shot. That’s just so wrong, I just hope it’s some kind of social media filmnut modern myth, or that its as bad as I fear and that it languishes in a film vault somewhere, so bad that even Netflix refuse to bail it’s studio out.

Name any Disney animated classic and I’d say its a safe bet it’s getting a live-action remake soon (anyone else see a blue Will Smith playing the genie in Aladdin and freak out a little? There ain’t nothing someone won’t do to make some money).

And the Marvel films continue to storm the box office, so there’s no end in sight for the comic-book/superhero genre. Must confess I reckoned on that particular bubble having burst by now, more fool me. Not that I think those films are bad, they are wholly entertaining for the most part, but they are hanging an uncomfortable shadow over film-making in general. Mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery in tinseltown, and you can see studios trying to shape their own properties in the Marvel mould all the time- no film gets made now without an eye on the five that could follow it.

Of course I’ve moaned about this kind of thing before here, in many posts over the years. And nothing I write will be anything new or cause any change, but the last few days have had me in a pretty dark mood.

I love movies. Have done most of my life, probably even before Star Wars blew me away back in 1978, but I generally mark that film as the cause of all those many thousands of hours watching films since. There is considerable truth in the argument that Star Wars saved the film industry (back then, cinemas were going the same direction that pubs are going now) but there is also some truth to the argument that Star Wars was the start of films becoming more business than art. Well, thats a sweeping generalisation, as films have always been business, whatever Hollywood historians may say, and the Oscar never did mean anything beyond Hollywood politics. But the quality of American Cinema of the 1970s and what amounts to American Cinema is today is telling. Where is our next Taxi Driver? Our next Godfather or Apocalypse Now? Our next Three Days of the Condor? There’s probably more chance of them turning up on HBO or Netflix than there is them turning up at the local cineplex.

(So no, Mr Spielberg, I love most of your films but I think you may be wrong trying to keep Netflix away from the Oscars, as if those ‘awards’ really mean anything anymore).

The deep irony is that the film I am most looking forward to, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, is not just one film but two, and is a (sideways) remake of not just a 1984 film but two mini-series that followed it. At least it’s not a remake of a classic film like 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead it returning to a property that merits another attempt, as the Lynch film was horribly flawed. I suppose you could correctly argue its based on the book, not the Lynch film, but as the makers of the Dredd film found, it’s always hard to break the shackles of earlier film attempts.

Hopefully Dune will be great. But I am certain that there are many other fine science fiction books, old classics and new ones unknown to me, that would make fantastic movies, if only some studio had the nerve to take a punt on one. Unfortunately, it would be easier if it was already a comic or a tv show or old movie that somebody already knew.

Instead, more sequels, more reboots, more remakes. Mind, in a world where so many ‘new’ properties crash and burn, its inevitable I suppose. I remain curious regards Mortal Engines (disc pre-ordered), as it at least looked pretty different, but maybe it was too different, as it managed a paltry $83 million worldwide on a purported $100+ million cost ($250 million to just break even?). Films, I think, cost too much money today, and I imagine that’s where the real problem lies. BR2049 managed nearly $260 million worldwide, a respectable figure for an adult, cerebral  sci-fi film based on a 1980s flop- but it unfortunately cost $150 million to make, muddying the prospects of any future films.

(I adore BR2049 but even I would contend it would be just as fine had its ambitions had been reined in a little bit into a $100 million film- but then again, it’s just what these films cost now, the scales are enormous, just the cast alone. And who’s going to go out and watch a film with a cast of unknowns, is that even a thing anymore?).

I am curious regards box-office though. I’d love to see home video sales/digital rentals/downloads added to a films initial box office, as I suspect that might be quite illuminating, but we never see those figures, don’t know why (or maybe I’m not looking in the right places).

Anyway, how did we get here? I’m off on some weird tangent again. Oh yes, reboots etc.

Mark Wahlberg is going to be The Six Billion Dollar Man, apparently. I think I’ll stop right there, and rest my case. Be assured however, this Reboot Fatigue post will no doubt get a sequel all of its own, or maybe a genuine reboot. Its sadly inevitable, just like I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu (I nearly choked on my toast when I saw that trailer, who the hell thinks up this garbage?).

 

 

 

Sicario (2015)

Now THATS a film poster...
Now THATS a film poster…

The prospect of director Denis Villeneuve helming Blade Runner 2 is more exciting than ever having seen Sicario. It also reinforces his evident fascination with humanities dark side, being a particularly grim, and at times unrelentingly tense, thriller with some fantastic performances (oddly, I did find a particular comparison here with Blade Runner, albeit unintentional- just as Harrison Ford was overshadowed by Rutger Hauer in the 1982 film, here Emily Blunt is overshadowed by the performance of Benicio Del Toro in what is ostensibly a supporting role that simply steals the movie). Alas news that LIonsgate seem keen to move on with a Sicario 2 is a little depressing even if somewhat predictable considering how the film ends. Sicario simply does not need a sequel and I fear it will be weakened by a follow up- I guess this is just a further demonstration of the times we live in, but it’s such a shame that a film like this can’t be allowed to stand by itself anymore. Indeed, it has hardly been given time to be released before the studio has raised the prospect of a sequel. My own response to the news of a sequel was “what? WHAT?” as if it was some kind of joke. Imagine Heat being followed by a Heat 2 and a Heat 3…. it’s heartbreaking really how cannibalistic the film industry is now, success breeding some kind of instant feeding frenzy.

(While those films that deserve or suggest a sequel, like Dredd or John Carter, haven’t a teardrop in Hell’s chance of ever getting one).

sic3I wouldn’t by any means describe this film as perfect- there are a few pacing issues with Sicario that leaves the middle somewhat laboured, but it remains a superior thriller with ambiguous lines of morality that is quite refreshing. Clearly there is Good and Evil here but its all shades of grey rather than simplistic black and white… There is no moral high ground championed, rather just a vague sense of futility trying to make sense of it all, the distinctions of right and wrong blurred in somehow trying to define a Greater Good, the central question being does the end justify the actions getting there. Having seen his previous film,  Prisoners, it comes as no surprise that Villeneuve has no problem establishing a realistic milieu with fine performances from his cast. What does come as a welcome surprise, considering how intellectual that films probing of human darkness was, is how well Villeneuve manages Sicario’s action sequences. It’s no overstatement to suggest it is so accomplished it recalls Michael Mann’s Heat, but even when the bullet’s aren’t flying it is the threat of violence that is most powerful and impressive. We live in age of films laden with cartoon violence with cities portrayed collapsing in photorealistic detail, whether it be due to superheroes or giant robots or giant monsters, but the implied threat of violence when being trapped in a traffic jam is here far more overpowering. Tension is ramped up incredibly high in three sequences, but beyond that there is a dark feeling of dread, of a world out of control. Its a tragedy, in many ways.

Clearly this film consolidates Villeneuve as one of the most promising directors at work today. Roger Deakins photography, meanwhile, ensures the film looks utterly beautiful, if such a thing can be said about a film as uncompromisingly as bleak as this is. I must stop mentioning BR2 but goodness, one can only wonder at the possibilities of these two working on the project, and what they might come up with if left alone and given decent material (i.e. a decent script). One can only hope and wonder. As it is, Sicario simply remains one of the best films of the year and really deserves some recognition come awards season.

 

John Wick (2014)

jwickJohn Wick. Hell of an action movie. Don’t know what the body-count in this one is but it’s got to be up there. If you want a high-octane action flick with some astonishingly well-choreographed stunts/fight sequences, this one fits the bell admirably.Its this years Taken (although a better film than Taken, to be sure), John Wick also reminds me a great deal of Payback, Brian Helgeland’s noir thriller that starred Mel Gibson as a bitter criminal seeking revenge on his back-stabbing partners in crime (indeed it shares a similar plot and modern-noir swagger- if you liked Payback you’ll likely love John Wick).

Sure, one could take issues with some of the twists of the plot, and how realistic it is for one guy to take on a Russian crime-bosses army of thugs in a city seemingly bereft of a police force, but that’s not the point with films like this. Its an action romp with a plot that simply serves to pile on the mayhem. And what mayhem it is, a welcome antidote to the toy-town violence of something like The Expendables 3, here its an adult violence, brutal and graphic and with consequences, more like that of The Raid films (indeed it could be said that with The Raid films, Dredd, Mad Max:Fury Road and John Wick the modern action film is enjoying something of a resurgence of late). Thankfully like those films, the film is brisk and doesn’t over-complicate things. Keeping it simple seems to be the modern action film, and it doesn’t hurt to hark back to the golden age of the 1970s in style and sensibility.

Keanu Reeves does well as the titular character. In truth the part suits him well; he doesn’t have to emote very much but he does have a sympathetic streak and shows some vulnerability to his character that helps the audience empathise with what might otherwise have been a heartless one-dimensional cold-bloodied killer. Reeves handles the physicality of the role -its stunts etc- very well indeed, as might be expected from his Matrix films. It took me most of the film to finally recognise Michael Nyqvist from the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo films- you know how it is when you recognise the face but can’t quite place it (although he has aged some to be fair)- well, Nyqvist bugged me for most of the film. He’s very, very good here as the mafia boss whose son has wronged his ex-hitman John Wick, so good he nearly steals the show. Alfie Allen is great as the bad-to-the-bone son Iosef whose over-confidence threatens to bring down his fathers empire, and there are also lovely turns by Willem Dafoe and Lance Reddick (a favourite from the good old Fringe tv-series days)- it’s a great cast.

Beyond all the violence and the blood, there is a lovely mythology to this film, a shared history between the characters, almost as if we are watching film two of a trilogy- sly references and reminiscences between them slipped into the dialogue. Nothing is over-explained, just threads left hanging there- background characters like a cop that knows Wick and turns a blind eye to some bodies,or the leader of a clean-up squad always keen on more business, or Ian McShane’s excellent cameo as the proprietor of a hotel whose guests, assassins all, are strictly under pains to behave (or else). There is a lovely sense of logic to it and humour. I’d prefer the film to be left as it is, but I’m sadly confident that its success will gestate inferior sequels that will dilute it (seems to be how the film industry works these days); I’d prefer to have it left as it is and for the threads to just stay open to the imagination. Why spoil it with more movies?

It is what it is. Leave your brain at the door and enjoy one of the better action films of the last few years. Some people will be horrified by John Wick and question its violence, its politics and gender-roles but that’s not the point of films like this (at least until it is ripped apart by film theorists in twenty years time). Its just a cool action movie. Expect no more and you’ll be pleasantly entertained.

Dredd (2012)

dreddbluNote I’ve dropped that insane ‘3D’ from the films title that backfired so badly on the film’s theatrical release last September. As I’m someone who read the Judge Dredd strips in 2000 AD back when it all started in 1977, who bought the American reprints and various graphic novels, who even bought a Judge Dredd baseball cap back in the day, I guess I would be considered a dead-cert punter for the movies cinema release, right? Well, if they couldn’t even get me in through the box-office door what chance did they have? Okay, I may be a minority with my apathy for 3D (though the films utter failure makes my minority suspect), but really, the 3D-centric marketing and distribution evidently did it no favours at all.  So here we are several months later with the film’s Blu-ray and DVD release, and we are still stuck with the 3D nonsense, but at least we get a better choice regards seeing the film in 2D.

But the shadow hanging over this release is the shockingly poor box-office returns that this ambitious and, as it turns out, very good movie suffered last year which seem to have nixed any possibility of the mooted trilogy of films panning out. What should have been the first in a trilogy of ever more ambitious movies is just yet another frustrating  ‘what-if’ viewing experience like Michael J Bassett’s Solomon Kane film was a few years ago.  You can sense that a second, bigger and better film should follow it- that this film is sort of ‘proof of concept’ project, a tentative step into the larger world of Judge Dredd. But that second film won’t ever come.  And I’d contend its not the films fault.

Dredd, as the title would infer, is set in a dystopian future, in a  huge crime-ridden metropolis called Mega City One that is surrounded by irradiated apocalyptic wasteland.  Budgetary restrictions limit the films depiction of the city compared to the huge futuristic sci-fi world of the comic, but this actually helps the film regards cementing its sense of reality. I rather think  Dredd‘s Mega City One is an embryonic, formative version of that of the comic. It is pretty much a fascist police state, in which Judges patrol the anarchistic streets on machine-gun equipped bikes. These Judges are cop, jury and executioner, dispensing instant and brutal justice in an attempt to prevent society collapsing into bloody chaos.  In the comic the setting is used as an exaggerated allegory of our own world, with much darkness and twisted humour, and nuances impossible to digest into a 90+ minute movie.

Dredd has a simple plot, in which Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is tasked with  assessing psychic rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) whilst on patrol. Drug lord and  gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) is manufacturing and dispensing a virulent new drug called Slo-Mo which, when smoked, heightens its users sense of time. Ma-Ma maintains her lordship of Mega Block Peach Tree Towers as brutally as the Judges in the city beyond, literally skinning alive three of her competitors, but she comes under the attention of Judge Dredd when the bodies of said competitors are reported. Dredd takes  Anderson into the Peach Trees Megablock on a drugs bust. In order to stop Dredd and Anderson taking one of her right-hand men back to the Halls of Justice, Ma-Ma closes down her Megablock, shutting the Judges off from the city and any assistance. What follows is a violent life and death struggle as Ma Ma sets her army of thugs onto them- indeed, Dredd is pretty much one long violent set piece.

dredd_still_11

Its simple, its direct, its violent. Its a wonderful throwback to films like Dirty Harry (which is perfect as that film, and Eastwood’s Harry persona,  was obviously a big influence on the original strip back in the day), and the films of John Carpenter’s glory days such as Escape From New York, complete with a thundering techno score eerily reminiscent of Carpenters own early scores. Anybody who loves those films will find much to enjoy here. Its a kind of movie we don’t see much of anymore.

The film has inevitably attracted some criticism for its violence but I think its simply because its a violence that hurts, and I’d contend that this is preferable to that of most action films nowadays. In most action films we see now, characters are depicted surviving fights and stunts that would rip arms and legs off – its a cartoon videogame-influenced violence with characters as indestructible as Captain Scarlet. I much prefer violence that has a sense of reality- I remember back in 1982 how violent Blade Runner seemed; not because of how much action there was in it, but rather because the action resulted in cuts and bruises and broken bones to the characters to the effect that the audience empathised and felt the violence.

Dredd may be the perfect Judge Dredd movie.  Yes, I guess we’d all like to have seen more of Mega City One as it was in the comic,  but I guess a true depiction of the comic’s world would require a huge sprawling blockbuster budget, and we’ve already seen where that leads with Stallone’s frankly anaemic version some years back. Keeping to a low budget (reported between $35-$45 milllion) allowed the film-makers to stay true to the comics violent, nihilistic tone. That further Dredd films may have indeed managed to show more of the comic’s wider canvas just makes everything regards its financial failure even more depressing. I can only hope, vain as it may be, that Dredd‘s possible success on home video (because there really does seem to be a lot of people like me who were turned off by the original theatrical emphasis on 3D who are buying it on disc now) might result in a rethink regards green lighting another film. Because I’m sure there is a market for future Dredd films- its just that this crazy preoccupation the post-Avatar movie industry has right now, with turning film experiences into amusement rides, has simply got to stop. Its not about the technology and being able to charge the punters more, its about the storytelling.

Word has it that Dredd only got greenlit at all because of the 3D angle, and I firmly believe from my personal experience that, ironically, that is what killed it at the box-office. There is a lesson there but I doubt anyone’s taking stock of it in Hollywood. That’s really the most depressing thing about it all. I’ll say it again- its not about the technology and being able to charge the punters more, its about the storytelling.  Please.