Spielberg Sleepwalking

I haven’t been excited about a Spielberg film in close to a decade. The year was 2008. The film was Indiana Jones 4. The results were middling. It’s been 12 years since he made War of the Worlds, in my opinion, the last interesting film he made. Since then he’s made ultra-safe award bait- Lincoln (2012), War Horse (2011), and Bridge of Spies (2015)-and unspectacular blockbusters: BFG (2016), Adventures of Tintin (2011) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Chrystal Skull (2008). It isn’t that he’s forgotten how to direct. It isn’t even that these films are bad. I like many of them, but he could make these films in his sleep. The artistry is gone.

Now I see the trailer for his next film, The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and I’m bored already. An inspiring true story. A-list actors. It’s destined to get a number of Oscar nominations, and then slink into Oscar bait obscurity. Next year, he’s adapting Ready Player One. A possible return to his days of producing great spectacles? I hope so. I was underwhelmed by the trailer.

I love Spielberg’s popular entertainments: Jaws (1975), the Indiana Jones trilogy, Minority Report (2002), plus the war epic Saving Private Ryan (1998). I also privately love The Terminal.  I’m hoping Spielberg puts himself out on a limb once more while he’s still working, but it doesn’t seem like he’s out to prove anything.

-Walter Howard-

Last Minute Replacement

Two months ago, the first trailer for Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World came out, just ahead of the release of Blade Runner 2049. One of its big selling points appeared to be Kevin Spacey in layers of special effects makeup as the real-life figure, J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world for a time, with the plot revolving around Getty’s callous renegotiating of his grandson’s ransom in the 1970s. The film was meant to hit theaters in December, just in time to make Oscar waves. However, Sony now has bigger concerns than whether or not their big movie will get any Oscar love. Last week, Sony announced that they were reshooting all the scenes with Spacey as Getty, using Oscar winner Christopher Plummer instead, in lieu of the recent allegations against the former. That is bizarre. It’s definitely warranted, and if they can pull it off and still push their movie out on time, it’s the right business decision, but it’s absurd to me because we already have a trailer with Spacey.

This trailer is now an artifact. It’s essentially a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist since new actor means new movie in my eyes. Are you familiar with the trailer for Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four (a real trailer for a non-existant film)? This trailer is almost as farcical as that one.

To end on a more positive note, here’s why I think this last minute alteration can be a blessing. Just from a technical standpoint, and not factoring in heinous allegations against Spacey, Christopher Plummer fits the role better. Getty was in his seventies during the film’s events,, which caused Ridley Scott to indulge his worst habit of over-doing the aging special effects. If you look at Spacey in the trailer, his appearance is a distraction rather than a boon for the drama. I’m assuming, since Plummer is nearing 90, that they will let him play the role freely, without this obstruction. Even before recent revelations, I would have preferred Plummer in the role. It should be worth the millions it’s reportedly costing the studio to reshoot J. Paul Getty scenes. Mark Whalberg and Michelle Williams costar.

-Walter Howard-

 

R.I.P Kevin Spacey

Image result for kevin spacey la confidential death

At the age of 58, Kevin Spacey’s career is now over. After more than three decades in the business, the two-time Oscar winner, Broadway regular, and star of a Netflix series,  will probably never work again. He started out in theater, made a brief appearance in the ’80s flick Working Girl as a creepy boss harassing Melanie Griffith, but the ’90s is when he really hit quite the stride: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), The Usual Suspects (1995), L.A Confidential (1997), A Bug’s Life (1998), and American Beauty (1999). In recent years, he had revitalized his career by playing a string of villainous roles that includes most prominently, House of Cards for television.  By now, everyone pretty much knows. He is part of the massive hammer being dropped on Hollywood abusers that may have claimed another yesterday in Louis C.K. We’ll see. There’s been a number of claims over the past three weeks. Ever since Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein is as big and powerful as it gets in Hollywood, or was. If he could be brought down, it seems it was only a matter of time before all the guilty followed. Should any of the accused be given the benefit of the doubt? Probably not. There’s no innocent until proven guilty in the court of public opinion, and there has been no reason to defend any of the accused yet. It’s more pertinent to talk about degrees of shame. On one side of the scale, you have the assaulters: Weinstein and Spacey for example. They’re dead. On the opposite side, you have old-school male chauvinism (Trump’s locker room talk), with actors like Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss. They used their power as elite movie stars to embarrass females that worked with them. I’m curious to see what kind of penalty there will be (if any) for them. There’s not much one can do to them in terms of taking away work. As opposed to Louis C.K, who has been kicked off of everything. It’s more about how big of a hit will their legacy take. Remember that Errol Flynn slept with underage girls apparently, and I don’t believe it has done much to hurt his fandom or watchability.

-Walter Howard-

Justice League: Questions

This upcoming month offers two blockbuster super hero films: Thor Ragnarok and Justice League. I am positively giddy about the former, and highly skeptical (when I’m not feeling indifferent) about the latter. For reference, I thought Batman v. Superman was so-so, Suicide Squad was horrific, and Wonder Woman was solid. Yes, even Wonder Woman, to me, was not great. However, if Justice League can achieve that film’s level of competence and entertainment, I’ll be pleased. I am pessimistically predicting a turd. A travesty. To prove me wrong, the film will need to answer these questions:

  1. The tagline is, “You can’t save the world alone.” Why can’t they? This should be the most obvious and thus the easiest for Justice League to address. If you want us to believe and invest in this band of characters, you have to show why they’re needed. What does each individual character bring to the table that makes them absolutely necessary? I know it’s just an excuse to tie a bunch of film properties together and make a load of money, but it can’t feel like that during the movie. Superman is “dead,” so that takes care of part of the problem because in what world does Superman need Batman?
  2. Will juggling two directors cause tonal problems within the film? The main director behind this project is Zack Snyder, who previously directed Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, but, due to a tragic family situation, Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the job. Whedon (known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and directing the Avengers) helped a bit with the script, so continuity might not be a huge concern, but it’s still something to watch for. These kind of films are made on the fly anyways, and I’m honestly surprised more of them don’t turn into a Suicide Squad style mess.
  3. How can Justice league shake off The Avengers comparisons? The Avengers came first (the film, not the comics). Marvel’s brilliant business model of the “cinematic universe” came first. Justice League is following on the heels of, and openly copying Marvel’s model. Where exactly does Justice League plan on leaving off? The Avengers (2012) was characterized by: a big abstract super villain, antagonistic banter between heroes, constant action and explosions, and Joss Whedon direction, all of which Justice League can check off as well. I don’t want to see a knock-off Avengers.
  4. How far into the film does Superman swoop in and save the day just as everything looked so bleak causing the audience to cheer stupidly as if they didn’t know it was coming? I’m making a presumption.
  5. Are Aquaman and Cyborg going to be cooler than they sound? People who watch superhero cartoons, what do you think? The Flash seems to be the comic relief, so what are Cyborg and Aquaman’s roles?
  6. Does Batman get some kind of character buildup or are they drifting off of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s fumes? At no point during Batman v. Superman did the story ever offer any character development for Bruce Wayne. He’s just a bland, stone faced plot device.
  7. How long will this film? With the couple of dozen characters the film is dealing with, I’m expecting a long running time to attempt to balance the cast. The Avengers was 2 hours and 20 minutes, so expect something similar.

-Walter Howard-

Aladdin and Its Token White Guy

To this point, the year’s biggest film has been Disney’s Live Action remake of Beauty and the Beast. That will most likely change once Star Wars hits, but the point is that Disney has found a considerable cash cow in simply recycling old classics in updated, live-action fashion. People will jump at the chance to relive their favorite films on the big screen, and so follows a slate of remakes in the near future that includes: Dumbo, The Lion King (why?), and Aladdin. I’ll air my problems with The Lion King later. This post is for Aladdin, which I’m mostly looking forward to, with major hesitations all involving the cast. Set to be released in May of 2019, the live-action edition of Aladdin will be directed by Guy Ritchie, and star relative newcomers Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Jasmine, and Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. Will Smith is headlining the film, taking on the most difficult replacement act, as Genie (originally voiced by Robin Williams). I’m going to leave the main actors alone. I don’t know them, and hopefully they’re great. I’d like to think the days of whitewashing are through, and credit to Disney for taking their time to find the right people for Aladdin and Jasmine. I’m not going to knock Will Smith either. No one is going to replace Robin Williams. Smith’s best bet is to push that version of Genie to the side, and create a completely different character. He still has the charm and charisma to pull it off. The main part of the cast are all question marks to me, but I am most skeptical about the addition of Billy Magnussen in a new role created specifically for the new film. He will play Prince Anders, a rival suitor seeking Princess Jasmine’s hand. Many hostile bloggers are upset at what they see as an unnecessary token role for a white person to fill in what would have been maybe the only Disney ever not to feature a white performer (I’d have to research, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of one Disney film that doesn’t have white characters). His casting, presented in click-bait form as it generally has been, does seem shady. Does Disney not trust the film to sell without some white mixed into the palette? I do think they’re probably nervous, but I’m going to play a rare role for me, and be Mr. Positive, and argue for why it will all be okay.

Image result for billy magnussen aladdin

Mainly, I like that Aladdin seems to be veering away from the original. Cinderella (2015) and Beauty and the Beast (2017) were huge hits, but they felt like shot for shot remakes, and they could never beat the originals. Just looking at the cast, I see no Iago. I see the addition of Billy Magnussen’s character Prince Anders, but I also see the addition of a character named Dalia played by an Iranian actress. So it seems like Guy Ritchie is fleshing out  and expanding the story. I personally hope there are a number of creative differences in this adaptation.

Secondly, we have no idea how substantial Magnussen’s role will be. I vote we wait and see how big of role he plays before we decide how upset we are. If he’s in it 5 minutes, who cares?

 

Predicting a James Cameron Failure: The Avatar Sequels

     Image result for james cameron funny photos

       Four new Avatar films set in that video game looking world created by James Francis Cameron. Who asked for this? Let me preface, before I explain, since there is some respect due. For all that is said about him, James Cameron just seems to make one enormous hit after another. He gambles wildly with production costs (his upcoming Avatar sequels are said to have a budget of $1 billion), critics cry out that his upcoming film will end his career, and then it’s released to record box office numbers all over the world. He deserves credit for Terminator 2 and Titanic and Avatar, all trailblazing blockbuster films that pushed special effects forward and influenced a decades worth of films thereafter. All this to say, I’d like to go on record, right now, declaring that these upcoming Avatar sequels (four of them to be exact) will fail spectacularly. Gradually at first, right before they fall off the cliff. The first Avatar, which was Pocahontas with aliens, or Dance with Wolves with aliens, or The Last Samurai with aliens (the point being that its plot device has been done to death), was a mediocre entertainment that some how hit the jackpot on timing and…I don’t know what else. I guess just timing. Cameron’s ideas on 3-D technology seemed like the next great innovation, but, like his film which championed it, has drifted into its place as a barely remembered zeitgeist moment. A fad. A moment in history. Hey, remember when the 3-D scam was a big thing? Hey, remember when Avatar was the biggest movie in the world? It made what can round up to 3 billion dollars. And yet has it pervaded pop culture the way, say Star Wars (the benchmark) has, or Game of Thrones in television? I haven’t seen it. I can’t recall hearing one person talking about Avatar in the 8 years since its release. Maybe once with someone confusing it with The Last Airbender, that M. Night Shyamalan film made during his travesty period. How many characters from Avatar can you name? It’s not on the level of Star Wars or other big movie franchises, so the question becomes, does it need to be in order to make the amount of money its budget demands? I predict a severe if not fatal drop off from film 1 to film 2, and then an all out box office bomb for film 3. As it stands now, Avatar 2 comes out in 2020, and Avatar 3 comes out 2021. Eleven years between first and second film. We’ve moved on.

Films of August Results (2017)

My siblings and I took our best shots at predicting the success (both critically and commercially) of various films released last month. Here’s the results (note that if a film already had enough reviews, we didn’t bother to predict its Rotten Tomatoes percentage):

August 4

The Dark Tower

Image result for the dark tower

Nobody saw this film. It’s surprising to me how big of a film this was projected to be. Wasn’t just one or two years ago that Ben Affleck was attached? The final product suggested none of this early perceived potential. I’ll take a point for box office performance, though none of us guessed the Rotten tomatoes score.

Actual: $48 million/16%

Me: $50-60 million/20-30%

David:$80-90 million/20-30%

Ava:$90-100 million/30-40%

Detroit

Image result for detroit 2017 movie

I’ve yet to see this critically acclaimed drama from Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow. Her films, for whatever reason, just do not make money. We all thought more people would go check this one out in theaters.

Actual: $16 million

Me: $100-110 million

David: $60-70 million

Ava: $80-90 million

Kidnap

Image result for kidnap movie

This Halle Berry flick received almost no promotion, and we rightly predicted low commercial/critical returns, but it wasn’t a complete failure at the box office. In fact, sadly, it made more money than Detroit. David and I will take points for box office.

Actual: $30 million/34%

Me: $20-30 million/ 5-15%

David: $20-30 million/15-25%

Ava: $10-20 million/10-20%

August 11

Annabelle: Creation

Image result for annabelle creation

Unremarkable but solid horror film that made enough to ensure we get at least one more   (but probably 6 more) Annabelle films.

Actual: $93 million

Me: $140-150 million

David: $80-90 million

Ava: $140-150 million

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

Image result for nut job 2

Man this movie was predictably bad. With a subtitle like Nutty by Nature, what did you expect? David can take a point for correctly guessing its crappiness.

Actual: $26 million/ 10%

Me: $70-80 million/ 15-25%

David: $50-60 million/ 10-20%

Ava: $100-110 million/ 40-50%

August 18

Logan Lucky

Image result for logan lucky

Ocean’s 7/11 indeed. A well received indie and return to filmmaking for Soderbergh (I knew he couldn’t stay retired).

Actual: $26 million

Me: $45 million

David: $60 million

Ava: $80 million

David and i tie with two points a piece. I did slightly better this month, but the upcoming stacked months of fall should offer more chances to nail predictions.

-Walter Howard-