Daily Film Thoughts (5/23/17): Is ‘Baywatch’ dead on arrival?

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

5/23/17

Baywatch is opening over this long Memorial Day weekend. The Paramount film is being destroyed by critics, sitting at a just 14% on Rotten Tomatoes. In theory, it should’ve been an easy sell. Make an unaplogetic big-screen comedy out of a campy but loved TV series with charasmatic stars in the leads. That’s what the Jump Street films did. But despite the prescence of Zac Efron’s abs and Dwayne Johnson’s arms, the film doesn’t seem to have drummed up much interest. Paramount hasn’t sold the nostalgia factor. Nor have they sold it as a buddy comedy like Jump Street. I’m not entirely sure of the strategy behind the marketing. Who is this movie for? Although, the marketing folks at Paramount probably aren’t to blame. With word on the movie so bad they maybe had nothing of quality to sell.

It’s not going to have a great opening in the states. I’d be shocked if it gets anywhere close to the $45-50M number over its five-day opening weekend that early tracking suggested. Hell, $30M may be tough to beat given the reviews and competition in Disney’s latest Pirates film. The production budget for Baywatch is just $40M, but based on recent comparables and continually raising costs it’s safe to assume that at least another $40M was spent marketing the film. Maybe it’ll stay out of the red if audiences like it more than critics. Maybe. Even then, when you consider oppurtnity cost, it looks like a failure for Paramount, a studio that also saw Ghost in the Shell bomb earlier this year and the disaster that was Ben-Hur last year. It’s been a tough stretch for the studio as their only recent film that’s really out-performed expectations was Arrival. They better hope the latest Transformers hits big next month.

The Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson fan in me is upset, as I think both are surprisng comedic talents capable of carrying studio films. Efron may be limited, but he thrived as a bro in both Neighbors films and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates as well. Johnson is obviously a capable star, one of the biggest in the industry, but unless he’s aprt of a franchise or paired with a comedic sidekick like Kevin Hart who has their own appeal, I’m starting to wonder about his real draw.

Daily Film Thoughts (5/21/17): ‘Okja’ looks dope.

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

5/21/17

Thanks to a well-received world premeire at Cannes (despite the anti-Netflix sentiment) and a kick-ass new trailer, buzz for Bong Joon-ho’s Okja has never been higher. The latest from the acclaimed helmer of The Host and Snowpiercer stars Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyleenhaal, and newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun. The plot concerns a young girl named Mija (Seo-hyun) trying to prevent a large company headed by Swinton’s character from taking her best friend away, a gigantic hog/hippo-esque animal named Okja.

Here’s the trailer.

Most of my initial anticipation for the film stems from my love for Bong Joon-ho, a true auteur who seamllessly made the transition to english-language filmmaking with Snowpiercer. He has a great control of atmosphere, and his writing does a fine job bringing weighty themes into genre films. Okja looks like another homerun.

Okja comes on Netflix June 28th.

Daily Film Thoughts (5/18/17): ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and the Anti-Establishment ideals of 70’s Hollywood

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

5/18/17

I wasn’t alive during the 70’s. If you need someone who was to function as a primary source, I highly recommend following my friend Shane on twitter (@Shane1Alexander). But based on what I’ve read and seen, there seemed to be a great deal of social confusion amongst Americans. After the war in Vietnam and the counterculture movement that accompanied it domestically, but before the rise of home computers and the supply-side economics of Ronald Reagan and Robert Mundell; it was a decade in American history where folks on both ends of the spectrum didn’t know what or who to believe. When certain events happened (like Watergate, for instance), people knew they were angry, but not entirely sure where that anger should be directed beyond the obvious figureheads. People were searching for leaders at all levels of society.

I think. At least that’s what I’ve seen in movies.

Many films from the New Hollywood movement in the 70’s explored this confusion. Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider were the unofficial start of the movement in the late 60’s, but it wasn’t until a new generation of directors rose that studios began to show faith in auteurism. This creative freedom granted to filmmakers who came of age during controversial wars and periods of social change in America (rather than rah-rah WWII types) brought about not only technical innovation but also a willingness to explore existentialism and anti-establishment thought through everyman characters pushed to dark psychological extremes. Some films were meant to disturb. Some were meant to satirize. Some were meant educate. Think of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Robert Altman’s Nashville, and Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men.

I recently watched Sidney Lumet’s 1975 masterwork Dog Day Afternoon again, and spent most of the film trying to put myself into the mind of a twenty-something seeing it in a theater on its original release, and how recreated the aforementioned zeitgeist. The film, based on true events that happened in Brooklyn three years prior, tells the story of a bank robbery and hostage situation perpetrated by Sonny (Al Pacino) and Salvatore (John Cazale). Beyond working as a perfectly acted, sharply edited, pulse-pounding thriller; Dog Day Afternoon is very much about the sensationalism of the crime, seen from the perspective of the robbers and their hostages.

The film opens with the robbery, no preamble. It’s clear from the jump that Sonny and Sal are out of their element, despite Sonny having worked in a bank before and Sal having been hardened by prison sodomy. These aren’t your typical masked gunman. Once the police quickly get word of what’s going down and the robbery develops into a hostage situation, unorthodox relationships develop between the hostages and the robbers, specifically Sonny. To put it simply, he seems like a nice guy who doesn’t want to hurt anybody. The film humanizes him but refuses to paint him as some sort of hero. He’s kind to the hostages, constantly reassuring them that everything is going to be okay. The bank’s security guard suffers from asthma, so Sonny lets him go. After a few hours, he even orders pizza for everyone. In one of the film’s stranger moments, Sonny, a veteran, teaches on of the tellers how to properly flip a rifle, even letting her hold the loaded weapon as he laughs. Again, Sonny isn’t your typical bank robber.

As the police surround the bank to an excessive extent, chaos arises. The media floods in, as do crowds of pedestrians who begin to root for Sonny as they learn more. In perhaps the film’s most heavily-quoted moment, Sonny, stepping outside the bank to survey the situation, gets upset with the number of seemingly trigger-happy police locked on him. He repeatedly screams “Attica! Attica!” in reference to the infamous prison riot that occurred four years earlier and resulted in 43 deaths. The crowd goes wild for Sonny. Lumet deploys a great many extras and wisely chooses angles to shoot them from, showing their restlessness. At another point in the film, Sonny comes outside and throws some of the cash he was stealing into the air. As it blows all over the place, the crowd busts down police barriers in effort to grab some. They’re like ducks rushing to bread tossed in a lake. Sonny gets great joy from this.

Sonny’s motivations for the robbery are revealed about halfway through the film. Sonny’s spouse Leon is a pre-operative transgender woman, and the money from the robbery is meant for sexual reassignment surgery. This is, obviously, a very progressive detail given the period. We learn from a newscast in the film that Sonny is immediately praised by some of the gay community, even called a hero. And it’s not just that Brooklyn subculture that lionizes or roots for Sonny. The hostages express genuine concern for what Sonny is going to do. The crowd chants his name. For a few hours, Sonny becomes a quasi-celebrity, a tragic hero who problematically comes to represent all marginalized people. I use the word “problematic” because, well, he’s a bank robber holding innocent people hostage at gunpoint.

There are strong emotional moments throughout the film thanks to the work of Pacino, Cazale, and Chris Sarandon as Leon. This is perhaps Pacino’s strongest performance. He livens up Sonny as intelligent but cynical, paranoid but strangely amused by what’s happening. For brief moments, shown subtly through Pacino smirks and energetic body quirks, Sonny seems to actually enjoy his hopeless moment of fame. Cazale says so much despite minimal dialogue, perfectly communicating Sal’s disconnection from all basic emotions.

Despite these strong character moments, Dog Day Afternoon hits its highs when it shows how nameless masses react to the events; reporters, onlookers, unfortunate policemen who happened to be on duty at the time. In a larger historical context, the robbery means nothing. Sal is killed, Sonny is is arrested, and all the hostages make it home safely. No legislation or even mild social protest comes as a result. But the film set entirely in one location, taking place over just fourteen hours, manages to make this ultimately insignificant event seem like a microcosm of an entire decade. It’s a gem, one of the strongest American films of the 70’s and essential viewing for anyone hoping to understand Hollywood’s evolution from a by-the-textbook entertainment industry to a factory of intelligent and often progressive art.

Daily Film Thoughts (5/17/17): Top 10 Ridley Scott Movies

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

5/17/17

Continuing my anticipation for the release of Alien: Covenant this weekend, I count down the top 10 films of Sir Ridley Scott, a visually ambitious filmmaker accomplished in multiple genres.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The cool crime romance Someone to Watch Over Me, featuring an outstanding Tom Berenger.
  • The Counselor, while critically panned, is actually a a bold and sexy attempt at something new from Scott that is immensely watchable.
  • The director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven, a historical epic that’s arguably problematic but filled with cool visuals and strong performances, specifcally from Edward Norton.
  • Hannibal may not be Silence of the Lambs and may be a bit silly, but it’s so much fun to watch Anthony Hopkins in the title role.
  • The stylish Black Rain, an unapolegetic action film that’s one of the forgotten gems of late-80’s violent cinema.

And now for the top 10…

#10) Matchstick Men

Was this the last great Nicolas Cage performance? True to its themes, the film is always jumping around. But it’s thoroughly well-acted and always interesting with its scathing humor. It also features Sam Rockwell doing Sam Rockwell things. Easy to see why it’s become a cult classic of sorts.

#9) The Martian

Scott’s critically-acclaimed and commercially succesful *realistic* sci-fi film was funnier than anyone expected, thanks to an exceptional Matt Damon. It also features some of the best 3D photography since the tech has been invented. Maybe its optimism holds it back from being truly thought-provoking, but it;s a fun film that proves Scott still does space as well as anyone.

#8) Legend

This 80’s cult classic is arguably Scott’s most visually immersive film, thanks to some groundbreaking makeup and beauitful cinematography from Alex Thomson. Scott wanted the film to play like old fables of old, in the sense that there’s a lot of darkness to them. The film is a bit muddled, but the visuals and Tim Curry’s work in the final act make it well worth your time.

#7) Prometheus

I wrote about this film in more detail yesterday, but let me just add that this largely unheralded blockbuster, much like The Martian, proved that practical effects and sets can work well with 3D photography.

#6) Thelma & Louise

Different than any other Scott film, this tragicomedy disguised as buddy road film remains an iconic piece of cinema decades later thanks to its memorable ending and feminist over/undertones. It’s a daring work from a director too often associated with bland studio filmmaking. Oh, and Susan Sarandon is the best.

#5) Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down was arguably the first great modern war film, and not just because it’s actually about modern war. Much like Kathyrn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker years later, Scott’s film takes an apolitcal approach, focusing more on physically detailing the conflict than sending a message. It received some critique for its lack of character work, but I think the omission was intentional and fitting. Scott used his technical prowess to show the lack of personality in war.

#4) Gladiator

Scott’s most successful film, a popular best picture-winning epic, throws an awful lot at you. Enormous sets, a heavy narrative, very aggresive sound mixing. He’s able to tell a human story though and reignite the sword-and-sandals subgenre because the film has two truly great characters, played by Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. The fight scenes are perfectly edited, and the more melodramatic moments don’t come off as cheesy.

#3) American Gangster

Stylized much like gangster films of old, Scott’s film tackles corruption and ambition and race all the while remaining competent as a popcorn movie. Denzel & Crowe are both great and the film has so much fun with its period detail. Though not usually cited as a major work from Scott, American Gangster is a great crime drama that belongs right there with Scorsese’s The Departed, which won best picture the prior year.

#2) Alien

An atmsopheric sci-fi horror film that ignited a franchise and argued on behalf of slow-building tension at a time when genre films were getting more and more forceful in their pacing, Alien is probably the film Scott will be most remembered for. It’s surprisingly beautiful given its subject matter, and more concerned with character than James Cameron’s sequel. Who these people are and how they think matters. Add in iconic design elements and you’re looking at a true classic.

#1) Blade Runner

A perfect film, truly. Rife with ideas on society and humanity, equally rooted in film noir and pulp fiction, this film was so far ahead of its time that despite its classic standing today it was a box office failure and received poorly initially. Scott’s visualazation of the future has proven wildly influential, and Harrison Ford gives his strongest dramatic performance. If by some chance you haven’t seen this masterwork, make sure to get the director’s or “final” cut, just not the theatrical cut with the god-awful narration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Film Thoughts (5/16/17): Y’all are wrong, ‘Prometheus’ was great

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

5/16/17

In defense of ‘Prometheus’

Alien: Covenant opens this week. While Ridley Scott’s latest gets its title from his 1979 sci-fi classic, its story is more closely connected to 2012’s Prometheus. This has bothered many critics, who weren’t too high on Prometheus. The film was a victim of questionable marketing and the expectations that stemmed from that. Sold as an Alien prequel, Prometheus was really its own story that just happened to be set in the same universe as Alien. It was less a horror film about monsters terrorizing those on board a spaceship and more a mystery about human origins and faith. Despite a $403M haul at the box office (a very strong number for an R-rated movie), the general consensus about Prometheus five years later is that it was a dissapointment. That is was bad, even.

I could not disagree more. Prometheus is one of the best blockbusters in recent memory; the rare film that’s visually stimulating, thematically rich, and littered with fun performances from an all-star cast.

Prometheus tells the story of the crew of the Prometheus, a spaceship that’s traveled to a distant planet seen on various star maps from primative cultures on earth, hoping to find the origins of humanity. Being a Ridley Scott film set in the Alien universe, things quickly turn sour. Gross creatures do gross things. Different characters reveal secret motivations. The crew discovers that the voyage isn’t going to be as magical as they thought. I won’t spoil anything in case you haven’t seen it.

Scott and DoP Dariusz Wolski shot the film in 3D but did so with minimal green screen use. Over 16 different sets were built, and they give Prometheus a very physical feel relative to other 3D films set in space. There’s a lot of grey coloring, a lot of gravel and rock. Prometheus finds its aesthetic beauty by not being beautiful in the classic sense. Before anything even really happens something about the planet just feels off due to how it looks. To paraphrase a line from the film, the place looks like death. Arthur Max, a production designer who created the sets with Scott, deserves a ton of credit for the finished product.

The film’s overall aesthetic is aided by a score from Marc Streitenfeld, a usual Ridley Scott collaborator, that can be both both eerie and sweeping depending on what a scene requires. As something to look at listen to, Prometheus was a great theater spectacle.

The work of the supporting cast helps elevate what are rather thin characters. Idris Elba plays the captain of the Prometheus. He’s blunt but well-intentioned. Elba manages to make the character stand out despite only having a couple scenes where he says more than one sentance. It’s a scruffy role for an actor usually reveled for his handsomeness. Also playing against type is Charlize Theron as the woman in charge of monitoring the expedition. She’s the closest thing the film has to a clear villain, but even her motivations come from a decent place. Charlize plays the part with an aura of practicality that comes off as cold. It’s a fun role for her, and signaled her shift to genre blockbuster superstar that she’d later explore with Mad Max: Fury Road and The Fate of the Furious.

But the real scene stealer is Michael Fassbender as the Lawrence of Arabia-quoting android David, a mysterious thing at the center of every important moment in the film. Fass nails the robotic movements required. Every step is efficient, and his face always completely emotionless even as carnage surrounds him (he’s back for Alien: Covenant, btw). It’s a brilliant physical performance. Everyone knows that Fassbender is one of the finest actors working today. Prometheus provides him with a different outlet though. He’s never been cooler or scarier, and he’s played some pretty cool/scary roles.

The most intense scene in Prometheus comes when Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace), pregnant with an alien thingy, has to go on a medical pod and have it surgically removed. It’s not for squemish folk, but will appease anyone who finds entertainment from the chest-bursters in Alien. It’s sharply edited and shows the operation in pretty gruesome detail but never reverts to drowning the lens in blood.

Prometheus caught a lot of criticism for not really answering the questions it raised (no surprise when you realize Damon Lindelof helped pen the film). That’s fair, to an extent. The film was clearly made with a sequel in mind and it’s far from the first film to leave things open for the next chapter. If you’re averse to that sort of franchise filmmaking, so be it, but don’t act like the sin is something only Prometheus is guilty of. I personally found the ending of Prometheus to be very satisfying and fitting thematically. Folks came to this planet looking for answers. Instead they got terrorized and more questions were raised. A fine tragic ending.

 

 

Daily Film Thoughts (5/15/17): Chasing Amy (Schumer); Cannes shames Netflix

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

5/15/17

‘Snatched’ isn’t quite a Trainwreck, but it’s far from another hit for Amy Schumer.

Amy Schumer seems to have an awful lots of haters considering she’s had one of the most successful comedy shows of the decade and also wrote/starred in Trainwreck, one of 2015’s most pleasant surprises, a rare female-driven raunchy comedy that made a lot of money (there’s Bridesmaids, Bad Moms, and ummm…that’s it?). I sort of understand why. Her brand of humor is quite brash. She jokes about vaginas almost as much as Seth Rogen jokes about dicks. And she really, really likes to talk about the fact that she doesn’t have the body of a typical movie star. Her transition from up-and-coming comedy star to full-fledged movie star has not been smooth, and she can come off as very unlikable in interviews. But don’t sell her short. Her show has featured some of the sharpest satire on TV, and Trainwreck really was great.

Snatched, the latest Amy Schumer star vehicle, a Mother’s Day comedy co-starring the one and only Goldie Hawn, opened at just $17.4M domestically (barely half of what Trainwreck opened at, and below studio projections). That’s by no means a disaster given its light $42M pricetag, but it’s going to have a hard time turning a profit for Fox. Reviews haven’t been kind either. While Trainwreck proved a solid date-night movie, Snatched had a whopping 77% female audience. It’s hard for a film to make money given that percentage, as politically incorrect as the statement might seem.

I’m yet to see the film, but from what I’m reading, Schumer is by no means the one to blame for its commercial and/or creative problems. The chemistry between her and Hawn has received praise, with most of the criticsm directed towards the script (Schumer didn’t write this one). So two movies into her attempt at box office stardom, Schumer has one hit and one mild failure.

It’d be silly to stick a fork in her as a star considering how we’ve overlooked much worse bombs from folks like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, etc. I’m excited to see what happens with her next (she’s got a few projects in pre-production).

Cannes changes rules when it comes to Netflix/Amazon

At this year’s Cannes Film Festival (starts this week), two of the high-profile in competition films will ultimately see distribution via Netflix; Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. In response, Cannes has changed its rules starting next year. If a film hopes to compete for the prestigous Palme d’Or, it must get a French theatrical release before it is on any streaming service.

This is just the latest in a larger battle between the conventional film distribution industry and companies like Netflix and Amazon; though Amazon has been much more willing to play ball with their films, at least domestically, where the exclusively theatrical window is supposed to be 90 days (see, Manchester by the Sea). Netflix has commented “the establishment is closing ranks against us, see Okja on Netflix June 28th”. It doesn’t seem like this is going to get resolved anytime soon, with bodies like Cannes and even American collectives stuck in their ways, not to mention Netflix committing $6B to original content in 2017 alone.

My take? The industry needs to adapt. I see the value in the theatrical release, both from a financial standpoint and artistic one, but forcing Netflix to follow strict rules and lengthy windows seems silly. They’re not going to to intimidate Netflix. It’s not like Netflix is going to stop making and buying high-profile films. The music industry has finally excepted streaming as their main distribution method. We’ll probably never get there with movies (there’s always going to be desire to see movies on the big screen), but to treat Netflix like the enemy is a very dated move.

Peace.

Daily Film Thoughts (5/14/17): ‘Get Out’ laughs at liberals; we all laugh at Guy Ritchie.

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

May 14th, 2017

So I watched ‘Get Out’ again…

…and it’s exceptional. Jordan Peele’s undefinable (at least in terms of genre) smash hit seems even more carefully constructed on second viewing. Get Out could’ve been a less ballsy film and still made a boatload of money. Peele could have had his protaganist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) get kidnapped by a bunch of confederate flag-waving, tobacco spitting, toothless racists. Structurally, that would’ve worked all the same. But the genius behind Peele’s thoughts on race in America stem from the fact that the white folks here aren’t your typical movie-screen racists. These are affluent lake-house liberals; people so afraid of offending anyone of color that their careful wording actually backfires. These are the people who employ hashtags on twitter and hang medical degrees on their walls. These are people, as the film shows, who remind every black person they see that they would’ve voted for Obama again if they could have. This film suggests, at least for its white audiences, that the annoyance caused by the unnatural effort not to offend is just as much part of the black experience as actual, intentional offensiveness.

Initially, Peele finds humor through this dynamic. Yet there’s always a sense of dread that surrounds Chris. Brilliant pacing and the use of sound to mine tension out of something as simple as a spoon tapping a glass show off Peele’s directorial chops. By the time the film shows its hand and ventures into the ridiculous, you’re so invested that its relatively lackluster ending doesn’t hinder its overall impact.

There’s also some clear slavery imagery that Peele makes use of. The Armitage families lakefront property is made to look like a plantation, or at least how plantations have looked in Hollywood productions, with its large open spaces and apparent isolation from the rest of the world. Even more overt is the use of cotton. When Chris is strapped to a chair and undergoing the final hypnosis, he saves himself by plugging his ears with cotton he ripped from the chair. That little white fluff, so long a symbol of America’s gross racial history, is what ultimately costs the whites here. It’d be hilarious if it didn’t happen amidst such disturbing circumstances. But that’s Get Out in a nutshell, right?

Stop giving Guy Ritchie money.

Greg Silverman, the Warner Bros exec who greenlit King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, was given the axe six months ago. It was a long time coming. He oversaw other box office bombs such as Jupiter Ascending and In the Heart of the Sea. It’s safe to assume Warners was prepared for King Arthur to flop, but still, to flop like this? Yeesh.

The critically-panned film reportedly cost over $175M in total, and it won’t open at even $15M domestically. The international numbers aren’t any better. There’s no way this film creeps into the black. This could be a potentially nine-figure loss for WB.

As for the films apparent ineptitude, I’m not exactly surprised. Guy Ritchie has shown absolutely nothing since making the transition from crime caper auteur to studio puppet. His Sherlock Holmes films are messy, only saved by the prescence of Robert Downey Jr. 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was lifeless despite its sexy cast and thrilling basis. Ritchie, when given a large budget, has left a lot to be desired. He’s a capable filmmaker. Fun films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch don’t happen by accident. But he needs a career intervention, because if he helms another big budget disaster, he won’t get the chance again.

Unfortunately, Ritchie is currently in pre-production on Disney’s live-action Aladdin. The film is still in the scripting phase so maybe Disney will make a change, but I doubt it. They were surely way aware that King Arthur was unlikely to be successful when they hired Ritchie. We’ll see.

Quick notes:

  • Cannes starts this week, so we’ll get first reactions to some of the year’s most-anticipated films. Cannes films I’m keeping the closest eye on? Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
  • On the TV front, it’s an awesome time. The Leftovers, American Gods, Silicon Valley, and Better Call Saul are entertaining the hell out of me so far this season. Unfortunately I can’t say the same thing about Fargo.
  • The second season of the Aziz Ansanri’s critically-acclaimed Master of None came on Netflix this weekend. It’s good, though not as poignant as the first, a little caught up in its own privleged world. The first five episodes are great though.