6 Underground

6under1Oh my fragile senses. What horror that Netflix and Michael Bay just wreaked upon me; I rather feel like I’ve just been somehow assaulted by my television. I’m in something of a stunned daze. I don’t think my eyes or ears are still working and I’m finding it as difficult to string words together into cogent sentences as it does for most of the characters in this fraking movie (“Not the puppies!”/”She’s lost a shit ton of blood”/”Nobody is going to save the world. But we can make it a little less shitty, you know?”).

I’m such a stupid schmuck.  I watched another Michael Bay movie. Oh, I knew what I was doing, I knew the risks, but I knew nothing about this film and as its a Netflix Original, I just thought, well, its going to be a much smaller budget than he’s used to,  it’ll be slower, quieter, more intimate, maybe have a plot even. Wrong. I’m such an idiot.

6 Underground is a $150 million dollar Michael Bay blockbuster with him let absolutely totally loose without a studio bothering to rein him  in or anything, its like anything goes, the ultimate Michael Bay frakfest extravaganza, Welcome to Michael Bay Film School. Its an orgy of exploding cars, exploding people, blood spurting in slow motion, long slow lingering pans over hot women’s bodies, its gun-porn, chase-porn, explosion-porn, bullet-porn, impossible stunts-porn… really, this thing is the very definition of the worst a Mission: Impossible movie could possibly be. I hadn’t realised just how mundane and restrained those Tom Cruise/Christopher McQuarrie arthouse spy flicks were. This film begins with a fifteen/twenty minute car chase through Florence, Italy in which civilians are run over by the good guys, or gunned down by bad guys, streets are wrecked, puppies and babies endangered, cars get ripped in two and bodies are blown apart, impaled, smashed, burned, ripped….

I’ve now reached some kind of epiphany: all those years, when Michael Bay was going around making films like The Rock and those Transformers films, Pearl Harbor or the Bad Boys films, I thought he was just making silly loud blockbusters but really he was perfecting some whole new kind of movie-making, a whole new art-form hitherto undreamed of by any Film School known to man. This thing is the new 3D or the new Imax. This is The Future. Some day all films will be as loud and fast and stupid as this. Yeah, you THINK most films are loud, fast and stupid, but you ain’t seen this, you ain’t seen NOTHING.

So. Lets see if I can stretch what this film excuses for a plot into a paragraph. The 6 Underground are six ‘dead’ people, they are ‘ghosts’ who have faked their own deaths (or had them faked for them) in order to go all A-Team and beat the biggest Bad Guys from beyond the grave- unknowable, untouchable, utterly expendable; these six beautiful people (Ryan Reynolds,  Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy and Dave Franco, yeah that’s right I named seven, its a Michael Bay movie) in beautiful places turning murder and mayhem into a work of art. Ryan Reynolds is the leader, ‘Number One’, a genius tech-billionaire with a conscience (yes there is such a thing, that’s the magic of Hollywood), who has recruited a team of ex-CIA/ex-assassin/ex-underworld experts (‘Number Two’, ‘Number Three’ etc etc) in order to right the wrongs that our lousy untrustworthy Governments refuse to because obviously everyone is corrupt other than our ‘ghosts’. Hence today’s mission is sorting out the dastardly dictator of poor Turgistan (I kid you not), first by killing his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse/Generals while they are vacationing in Las Vegas at a Chemical Warfare convention (or something), and then freeing his brother who has been terrifyingly imprisoned in the Penthouse Suite of the most mindbogglingly lavish billionaire apartment in a city ‘somewhere exotic’  before crashing the dictators state-run television network and then a party on his billionaire yacht.

Naturally doing this involves killing lots and lots and lots of people and blowing up all kinds of shit. Its some kind of brilliant genius, to be sure. At this point in his career, and running utterly amok as he is thanks to those depraved bastards at Netflix, Bay has this down to some kind of relentless, terrifyingly efficient machine, a film posing as Terminator. Its horrible and beautiful and brilliant and bloody awful. Even now, I cannot quite believe it. Did I see it? Did I hear it?

I feel a little like dear old Charlton Heston on the beach: “Those crazy bastards (Netflix). They did it. They really did it. They gave Bay $150 million and Final Cut. Those crazy bastards.” Cue falling to my knees in despair, fists clenched towards my shamed OLED. The End.

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

pru
ok kids, saddle up- time to save the world!

Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was a film that I quite enjoyed– while quite flawed it remained a fun geeky love-letter to KIng Kong, Godzilla and giant mecha/robot stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion. Thanks to del Toro’s canny eye it bettered the Transformers films that it sometimes seemed to be imitating, with a genuine sense of size and scale that beggared belief.  I haven’t seen it for a few years, surprisingly- quite shocked to learn it dates back to 2013.

I suppose the fact that this sequel is somewhat belated is a clue to how it eventually turned out. Pacific Rim was a success but a modest one, so that when a sequel was finally greenlit it came with a few caveats from the studio. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but there’s no smoke without fire, as they say, and there’s a clear indication with Pacific Rim: Uprising that some retooling to the possible franchise was done in the giant robot garage.

More light. More fun. More kids. Oh God, more kids. You know it’s time to run for the hills when you learn that one of the protagonists is a teenage girl who was orphaned in the post-Pacific Rim ruins of a city where she spends her time building her own giant robot suit (a jäger in the parlance of the film). This is as irritating as the kids saving the day in Ready Player One. She should be dirty, starving and emigrating to some place safe where she can be fed and kept warm but instead she’s set up a garage/workshop and demonstrating formidable engineering and mechanical skills that a post-Grad would envy.  Of course she becomes a jäger pilot who with her other classmates at pilot-school save the day when all the adults get massacred (was this plot for the aborted Star Fleet Academy by any chance?).

Okay, I still got a kick from some of the giant robots/monsters decimating another city in eye-popping visual effects but this one clearly lacks the credentials of the original- not quite as bad as that infernal Independence Day sequel but not too off. This isn’t the first time, of course, that a sequel is made that suffers from studio-mandated tinkering. A similar thing happened decades ago when the rather adult Conan The Barbarian was reformatted into a PG-13 kiddie cringefest in Conan the Destroyer and we all remember how well Superman turned into increasingly lightweight fare in Superman III. Look at how well Justice League turned out when Warner had a panic attack after Batman v Superman. 

Which is really spending too much time thinking about this very average and misguided effort. That it ends with our street-urchin having a happy snowball fight with John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost, son of the original film’s hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) for a bit of light-hearted, life-affirming nonsense as if it was the close of an episode of a 1960s Star Trek, says everything. Its like two films in, someone’s pressed the franchise’s  reset button already. Weird, and demonstrates a clear lack of faith. So no, this not Pacific Rim 2, not really. Its something else. I suppose its fun and light-hearted…

 

Pirate Zombies Ahoy!

potc2017.59: Pirates of the Carribean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Or maybe they are more ghosts than zombies (Does it matter? Does anyone care?).

Ahoy there, shipmates- just how do you review, in this day and age, a POTC film?

Answer: I don’t think you can. LIke the Transformers films and quite possibly the Fast & The Furious films (which I haven’t seen), at this point the POTC series defies criticism. Strange to think that films reach some kind of zenith/nadir (delete as appropriate), where public opinion defies all logic and reason. Although box-office was down for this fifth entry in the series, that may be more indicative of a general malaise in box office than the films popularity (particularly in America, where all sorts of films have fallen foul this year).

Curiously, the film sports a different title in America, with the subtitle ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’  instead of  ‘Salazar’s Revenge’. Was it a marketing thing? Not that it’s the kind of thing that’ll keep me awake at night, but I am curious. The problem with the title we’ve got is that I don’t think Salazar was ever mentioned in the earlier entries so his name and ‘Revenge’ doesn’t particularly mean much, and at the very least whilst ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ doesn’t really reflect any particular plot point, it least it refers to a line spoken in the movie.

At any rate, I’m wittering on because I can’t really find much to say about it, except that it ends with some sense of closure which suggests it might be the (welcome) end of the franchise. If so, it isn’t a bad film at all, Pirates-wise you understand, but if they go off on another tangent then this finale rather betrays any good will I have for it.

As it is, it has a few laughs, some terrifyingly deep plot holes, some very good visual effects and a whole heap of excesses which just insult decent film-making and general common-sense. I guess kids everywhere love it,  but the franchise is looking rather tired now (well it looked a bit tired a few films back) and perhaps it should be laid to rest. Unfortunately, whether it’s artistically exhausted or not, whether there’s another POTC story that desperately needs to be told or not, the question that will impact whether we see  another POTC film is simply what the suits at Disney think of this films box-office.  Which is why the series got to this point anyway: money. The greed of the studio and the greed of the film-makers and the cast (I’m looking at you Mr Depp) has more bearing on modern film than such old considerations as originality and quality.

Alien meets its nemesis

…and it’s the US Box Office. Years ago one of the my favourite articles in the monthly Starburst magazine  would be Tony Crawleys annual box office charts, summarising the performance of genre films from the  year before. This was long before the internet, and it was always enlightening to see how certain films had managed at the box office. It was, of course,  no indication of quality -‘the cruelest cut of all’ was how Blade Runner‘s dismal performance was summarised; I’ll remember that line forever. Ever since, I’ve always been curious about box office, the vagaries of cinemagoers taste, critic influence and marketing issues.

So here is the sad case of Alien Covenant, which after a reasonable launch plunged in its second week at the US box office, with a 71% drop in takings. A current final tally of $71 million domestic is a pretty poor showing, and foreign return of $110 million won’t really help the film even break even on a purported $97-110 million (depending who you listen to) budget.

a1
ah, the good old days…

Its funny- the original Alien is perceived as being a huge hit and you have to allow for post-1979 inflation to really know what its then-£80 million domestic equates to in 2017 dollars, but I recall stories back then that the film never actually turned a profit for Fox (rumour  had it that creative accounting was at work to nullify people’s percentages on the profits). For curiosities sake: Aliens $85 million domestic in 1986, Alien 3 $55 million in 1992…

So does this signal another hiatus for the Alien films, despite Ridley Scott’s intention to shoot another sequel next year?

I wonder, what did the studio expect? We are living in a strange world for movies, where studios now have to dodge Marvel blockbusters and DC blockbuster-wannabes and -God help ’em- Star Wars films, and maybe the odd Fox superhero flick or Transformers movie. Where on earth Jim Camerons’ four Avatar sequels eventually fit in is beyond me. Indeed, there seem to be new blockbusters dropped every week in summer- its carnage out there (as King Arthur proved).  

Covenant was originally intended to be released later this year but was brought forward to May- unfortunately two weeks after the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 juggernaut ($336 million domestic, $461 million foreign) and just a week before the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie ($135 million domestic, $392 foreign). When you look at it like that, an R-rated movie (and belated sequel to the ill-received Prometheus) doesn’t really have much hope, does it? A telling comparison is the similarly R-rated Mad Max: Fury Road, universally acclaimed (which Covenant wasn’t) and assumed a hit, which earned $154 domestic and $224 foreign- superior by some margin but on a $154 million budget. So its hard to make out Covenant as some kind of disaster- disappointing yes, but these Alien films have long shelf-lives.

But does it kill any sequel? For all Covenant‘s faults (and I actually quite liked it) I would like to see that sequel, if only to put that Prometheus/Covenant storyline to a rest. It does seem rather doubtful at the moment. Clearly Covenant wasn’t a great film, but was its quality at fault here or rather the swamping of the box office with far too frequent blockbusters and cinemagoers always turning to the Next Thing? I have read that the Pirates of the Caribbean flick is actually deemed the more disappointing by its studio – particularly due to its $230 million budget (foreign box office saved the day for that one). So I guess all things are relative. Maybe Ridley will get one more shot after all.

The 2014 Hitlist Revisited

Readers with a long memory may recall I started this year with a hitlist of movies to watch during 2014. A wishlist of films that either had been on the shelf for too long or new discs I had yet to see, I set up the hitlist thinking it might be enough to drive me into actually watching some of the films. Well, it had mixed results really, and if I decide to set up a 2015 Hitlist I’ll need to be more disciplined/determined about nailing it. Or more choosy about what I put on it.

So looking back at the 2014 Hitlist, what do we have, and how did I do?

betty1) Betty Blue– Well, we’re off to a bad start immediately, as this one somehow slipped through the cracks and didn’t get watched at all. Which is rather odd as I ‘ve always been curious about it, ever since a friend raved about his VHS copy many moons ago. Maybe one to add to the 2015 Hitlist then.

2) Cinema Paradiso– This one I watched, and really enjoyed. Finally I could understand all the fuss and attention around this film for all those years. Indeed, one of the better films that I would see all year.

3) Only God Forgives– Watched this one too. Found it rather odd and disappointing really, particularly after I had enjoyed Drive so much before. Smacked of over-indulgence on all levels really, to the detriment of ‘proper’ or effective storytelling. One to revisit sometime maybe.

4) Cleopatra– Another one slips through the cracks. I’m not expecting anything special, which is why I guess I’ve been putting it off still (well, that and the length of the darn thing). Maybe because I know its a film more famous for the stories behind it than for the film itself. Which is something true of the next film on my list-

hgate5) Heaven’s Gate– What a shocking disappointment this was. I really wanted to like it but good grief it was so poorly constructed with a really lacklustre script. I think it should be screened every year in Films Schools as an object lesson in How Not To Do It. Really, its one of those rare films that even though its bad, I’d actually recommend, particularly to film buffs as its quite an eye-opener. In an odd way, it almost forgives Hollywood for all the ‘safe’, over-marketed and simplistic/sanitized crap we get these days. Subject for discussion one day: Its because of Heavens Gate that we now suffer Transformers.

6) The Maltese Falcon– Didn’t get around to it. Shame on me.

7) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition– This I did see, and quite enjoyed. Frustrating thing is, watching it I have the constant thought that this should have been a live-action Batman or how Nolan’s trilogy ended.

8) Harry Potter 8-Film Collection– Hey, now this I did watch, a boxset binge of a massive film franchise that passed me by on its cinema releases. Unfortunately this is how movies are going these days; turning into boxsets. Its a strange thing really. The Potter films are fine but increasingly fail to function as individual movies, which is a bit of a problem. As a series boxset, there is also an issue that the best of the films is the third instalment, and that its frankly all downhill from there. But hey, its eight films so it was some kind of result actually getting through it. Of course this is how some people now ‘discover’ the Star Wars films or the Lord of the Rings films (one day it’ll be a LOTR saga of six films, which will give newbies a struggle getting through three bloated Hobbit movies before getting to the good stuff).

9) Lolita (possibly the last Kubrick film I have yet to see)- Ah, no. Didn’t get to it, so its a Kubrick I have still to see. It occurs to me that there is something very wrong with the world if I watch so many rubbish films and yet still have a film by Kubrick that I have yet to see.

10) Marnie (one of the few Hitchcock’s I have yet to see) ) No, not this either. Again, I watch stuff like Transformers 4 but I have a Hitchcock film on the shelf unseen? Okay, I hear its hardly vintage Hitchcock but all the same, its got to be seen, yes?

Beyond those ten, I had a further ten, which were films I had seen before but not yet in HD. These were Blu-rays I’d bought usually as upgrades from DVDs but hadn’t watched yet. Unfortunately I only watched two of them, so won’t go into any detail here. Other than to say I must try harder next year, and I cannot believe I haven’t watched my Blu-rays of Big Trouble in Little China or Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. What the hell have I been doing in 2014?