Tag Archives: review

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Today, I’m going to dig into the 1990 Andrew Dice Clay vehicle, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.

The central plot of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A vulgar private detective is hired to find a missing groupie and is drawn into a mystery involving a series of murders tied to the music industry.

The credited writers for The Adventures of Ford Fairlane were David Arnott (Last Action Hero), Daniel Waters (Demolition Man, Hudson Hawk, Heathers), and James Cappe (Freddy’s Nightmares).

The film’s director was Renny Harlin, a noted action director whose credits include 12 Rounds, The Legend of Hercules, Driven, Deep Blue Sea, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, and Cliffhanger.

The cast of Ford Fairlane is headlined by comedian Andrew Dice Clay, with supporting roles filled by the likes of Robert Englund (A Nightmare On Elm Street), Gilbert Gottfried (Aladdin), Priscilla Presley (The Naked Gun), and Wayne Newton (Vegas Vacation, License To Kill).

The cinematographer for the film was Oliver Wood, who also shot The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Child 44, Rudy, The Other Guys, The Brothers Grimsby, The Bourne Identity, and Die Hard 2, among others.

The editor on Ford Fairlane was Michael Tronick, whose cutting credits include The Scorpion King, Straight Outta Compton, Remember The Titans, The Green Hornet, Less Than Zero, Hudson Hawk, and True Romance.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane earned a number of Golden Raspberry Award nominations, which are given out annually to the judged worst performances and films of the year. It wound up co-winning Worst Picture with Ghosts Can’t Do It, and also taking the Worst Screenplay and Worst Actor awards, the latter for Andrew Dice Clay.

The role played by Robert Englund was initially meant for rock star Billy Idol, but he was forced to drop out after a significant motorcycle accident, prompting Renny Harlin to bring in Englund on short notice.

Despite being a significant flop in the United States, Ford Fairlane has a cult following in a handful of foreign markets, like Hungary and Norway, thanks to some popular foreign language dubs.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was made on a production budget of $40 million, on which it grossed $21.4 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making it a significant financial failure. Critically, it garnered mostly negative reviews: currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 6.3/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 29% from critics and 68% from audiences.

The first and biggest issue with The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is its star: Andrew Dice Clay. Not only is he immensely irritating, but his crass and misogynistic style of humor taints any positive elements of the film. Apparently, he was a significant problem for the cast and crew on set as well, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise given his persona.

Honestly, I like the concept behind the film: the idea of a comedic, self-aware neo-noir has worked for Shane Black more than once. However, the Andrew Dice Clay stink all over this film makes even the more clever quips and sequences unbearable, which is a disservice to a screenplay that seems like it may have had some potential at one point.

Roger Ebert’s scathing one-star review sums up my general feelings about Ford Fairlane pretty succinctly:

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is a movie about a hero I didn’t like, chasing villains I didn’t hate, in a plot I didn’t understand. It is also loud, ugly and mean-spirited. That makes it the ideal vehicle for Andrew Dice Clay, a comedian whose humor is based upon hating those not in the room for the entertainment of those present.

Basically, this is a movie to avoid. Andrew Dice Clay deserves to reside in obscure footnotes for a bygone era of comedy. Because this movie is so inexorably connected to him, that’s where it belongs as well.

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The Alamo

The Alamo


Today, I’m going to delve into a historical war drama from 2004, which also has the distinction of being a major financial flop: The Alamo.

The plot of The Alamo is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Based on the 1836 standoff between a group of Texan and Tejano men, led by Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, and Mexican dictator Santa Anna’s forces at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

The Alamo was directed and co-written by John Lee Hancock, who has since helmed the films The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Founder. The other co-writers for the film’s screenplay were Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana) and Leslie Bohem (Dante’s Peak, A Nightmare On Elm Street 5).

The cast of The Alamo includes Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Bad Santa, The Man Who Wasn’t There), Jason Patric (Speed 2: Cruise Control, The Lost Boys, Sleepers), Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Watchmen, The Conjuring), Dennis Quaid (Jaws 3-D, The Right Stuff, Innerspace), and Jordi Mollà (Bad Boys II, Blow).

The editor for the film was Eric L. Beason, whose other credits include the recent horror hit Don’t Breathe, A Simple Plan, and Joy Ride. The Alamo was shot by veteran cinematographer Dean Semler, who also provided cinematography for 2012, Stealth, Click, xXx, Waterworld, Last Action Hero, Dances With Wolves, The Road Warrior, Young Guns, and Super Mario Bros., among many others.

The film’s musical score was composed by Carter Burwell, who has provided work on films like Seven Psychopaths, Anomalisa, Howl, A Serious Man, The Founder, Fargo, In Bruges, Three Kings, Blood Simple, and The Big Lebowski, among many others.

The story of the resistance and fall of The Alamo was famously brought to the screen in 1960, in a film that both starred and was directed by film icon John Wayne. However, that wasn’t the first time that the tale had been adapted: the first feature-length film that depicted the legendary story was 1915’s Martyrs of the Alamo by Chrsity Cabanne, which was itself predated by a 1911 short called The Immortal Alamo.

At one point early on during the production, Ron Howard had expressed great interest in directing the film, with Russell Crowe on board as his lead. However, as often happens, the plans fell apart, and the production ultimately wound up with the final team of Thornton in the lead and Hancock directing.

The Alamo had a production budget of $107 million, on which it only managed to take in $25.8 million in its lifetime theatrical run. This made it one of the biggest financial flops in movie history.

Critically, the movie didn’t do much better. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 6.0/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 29% from critics and 45% from audiences. However, one of its key proponents was Roger Ebert, who gave it a positive review, saying:

Here is a movie that captures the loneliness and dread of men waiting for two weeks for what they expect to be certain death, and it somehow succeeds in taking those pop-culture brand names like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie and giving them human form.

As Ebert mentioned in the blurb above, one of the strengths of The Alamo is how well it builds the central characters: many of whom are quasi-legendary icons, whose enormous reputations in the cultural mindset outshine their truthful tangibility. The best scenes in the movie have either David Crockett or James Bowie staring down their bloated reputations. Ultimately, the result of the way the movie handles these figures might be less romantic than what people wanted or expected, but I think it is quite a bit deeper, and probably more faithful to the real men.

That said, there more than a few issues with the film. One of the biggest problems with this film is the pacing: it is just a bit weird structurally, and movie feels longer than it actually is because of it. This is at least partially because of the lengthy quasi-epilogue, which shows the victory of Sam Houston that followed the events at The Alamo. While there is some catharsis to showing this, it doesn’t merit the amount of time it wound up eating on screen. Some sort of stitched together montage could have gotten the idea across without so dramatically back-loading the film with a sequel built into the third act.

This brings me to something that I couldn’t help but think about on this re-watch: the key similarities and differences between The Alamo and a similar historical underdog war drama that hit theaters just two years later: 300. While 300 certainly has its fair share of issues, it succeeds on a couple of levels where The Alamo fails. First off, 300 has a very brief and effective epilogue that leaves the audience with a sense of fulfilled justice. Just like in The Alamo, the “good guys” won in the end. However, 300 didn’t require a whole extra plot to deliver that feeling to the audience (for the time being, let’s just ignore the sequel).

More importantly, however, is that 300 managed to get people to buy tickets, despite having a cast with very little star power. I think that this is mostly due to the way the battle sequences were done in the two films: The Alamo is very traditional, with frenetic energy and grime making up most of the war action. 300, on the other hand, is very stylistic and unique with its action, almost like a vicious dance. The movie (and, more accurately, the graphic novel) manages to use the claustrophobia of the setting as a way to place the audience/reader right in the thick of the action, right along the warriors. In The Alamo, the point-of-view of the audience is particularly detached, and I think that this affected the tension quite a bit. I don’t think that The Alamo did anything wrong, necessarily: it just didn’t take any big risks that would have gotten audiences talking about it afterwards.

As far as other positives go, I think that the key performances are generally pretty good in The Alamo, particularly from Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Wilson (in one of his earliest film roles), but the movie definitely suffers from the lack of A-list marquee talent. Had this movie had a couple of more bankable names at the top of the cast, I dare say that it wouldn’t have bombed so hard, despite the quality of the performances.

Overall, I think that The Alamo was only one or two tweaks from being a really good movie, or at least a decent popcorn flick. The material, at the very least, could be elevated a lot by a visionary director with financial means. This adaptation of the story, while having good elements, plays it a little too safe stylistically, and is also a bit unpolished structurally. I still think it is worth checking out for people who are interested in the story, but for film fans, I think that it has been rightly pushed to the margins. However, the movie is by no means as bad as its financial reputation might lead you to believe.

The Core

The Core

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Today, I am going to take a look at one of the most infamously terrible natural disaster movies: 2003’s The Core.

The plot of The Core is summarized on IMDb as follows:

The only way to save Earth from catastrophe is to drill down to the core and set it spinning again.

The screenplay for The Core had two credited writers: Cooper Layne, who also penned the remake of The Fog, and John Rogers, who wrote Catwoman and worked extensively on Cosby and Leverage.

The Core was directed by Jon Amiel, whose other film works include Copycat, Creation, Entrapment, and The Man Who Knew Too Little. On top of that, his television credits include work on shows like The Tudors, The Borgias, Marco Polo, The Singing Detective, and Hemlock Grove.

The substantial cast for the movie includes Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Thank You For Smoking, Suspect Zero), Stanley Tucci (Road To Perdition, Lucky Number Slevin, Spotlight, The Lovely Bones), Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Insomnia, Boys Don’t Cry, The Next Karate Kid), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Flight), Delroy Lindo (Domino, Sahara, Gone In Sixty Seconds, Broken Arrow, Get Shorty), Tcheky Karyo (Bad Boys, The Patriot, GoldenEye), and Richard Jenkins (Bone Tomahawk, White House Down, The Cabin In The Woods, Six Feet Under).

thecore4The cinematographer for The Core was John Lindley, who also shot St Vincent, Legion, The Good Son, The Sum Of All Fears, True Believer, Field of Dreams, The Serpent and The Rainbow, Pleasantville, and Money Train. Terry Rawlings, who has cut films like GoldenEye, Entrapment, Alien, Alien 3, and Legend over his career, provided the primary editing.

The musical score for the movie was provided by Christopher Young, whose other music credits include movies like Sinister, The Rum Diary, Drag Me To Hell, Spider-Man 3, Swordfish, Rounders, Trick or Treat, and Hider In The House, among many others.

A fictitious material known as “Unobtanium” is referred to a handful of times in the movie. “Unobtanium” is essentially a short-hand code word in science-fiction to refer to a non-existent material with inexplicable powers or properties. The term will occasionally make its way into film scripts: most prominently in James Cameron’s Avatar. However, it is widely viewed as a lazy move.

At the University of British Columbia, The Core is routinely shown in a course on “Earth and Ocean Science” as a demonstration of bad science in movies. However, Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait, who specializes in criticizing bad movie science, didn’t take as much of an issue with the movie as you might think.

The Core is essentially a high-budget remake of Deep Core, a low-budget science fiction movie from 2000 that starred Wil Wheaton, Bruce McGill, and Terry Farrell.

Made on a $60 million budget, The Core wound up with a lifetime theatrical gross of $73.5 million. While this was able to cover the costs of production on paper, it likely didn’t make much in the way of profit once advertising and post-production costs were taken into account.

thecore3Critically, The Core was instantly the victim of mockery for its outlandish concept. It currently holds an IMDb user score of 5.4/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 41% from critics 33% from audiences, and is widely remembered as one of the goofier disaster movies of the era.

Upon a re-watch, the first thing that stood out to me about The Core is that the effects haven’t aged well: a lot of the CGI that probably looked good in the early 2000s looks like it belongs in a SyFy original movie today. While this is a testament to the speed of technological innovation, it doesn’t do the film any favors.

One of the reasons that The Core is still remembered today is because of the huge liberties it took with movie magic science. While the premise is certainly goofy, I didn’t find the bogus science nearly as distracting as I expected: the film actually does a pretty good job of immersing the audience in its exaggerated reality, and somehow it holds up the suspension of disbelief.

thecore2Aaron Eckhart, as always, is a charming lead. However, I feel like he was a bit miscast: the character was clearly written to be a bit of a helpless nerd who lacks assertiveness and confidence, and who grows from the experiences of the story. Eckhart, however, just looks too much like a movie star. Outside of his pretty awful hair cut, I didn’t find him a good fit for his character’s needs. Stanley Tucci, on the other hand, is fantastically hammy in his semi-villainous role, and was perfectly cast. Outside of those two, there are so many character actors in this movie that I couldn’t possibly list them all.  What is important, however, is that they all put in decent performances, from the top to the bottom of the cast.

Rewatching it now, one of the biggest issues I have with The Core are the excessively agonizing character deaths for generally likable characters. Typically, the more painful deaths are saved for characters with vices, or ones who have in some way earned their demise, based on their decisions or behavior. Think about how often the unlikable jocks are killed off in horror movies, for instance. In The Core, however, the two most brutal deaths are experienced by supporting characters who are, more or less, flawless. Why do these characters suffer such terrible deaths, like being slowly crushed or boiled alive? My best guess is that this was a simple way to raise the stakes of the plot, and reinforce the inherent danger of their mission. However, it definitely left me with a weird taste in my mouth. The traditional karmic wheel that mandates character deaths just doesn’t seem to be in motion.

Overall, The Core is a very shallow movie when it comes to plot and character. However, it almost makes up for it with the performances from the cast, and the sheer silliness and popcorn-friendliness of the flick. The biggest issue with the movie in retrospect are the overabundance of CGI effects, which certainly haven’t aged well. That said, I think this is a b-level blockbuster worth digging back up for a fun watch: just don’t expect much substance underneath the surface.

Jockstrap Slaughterhouse

Jockstrap Slaughterhouse

Today, I’m going to be fulfilling a request from one of my gracious Patreon patrons, and talking about Jockstrap Slaughterhouse.

The plot of Jockstrap Slaughterhouse is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An evil football player terrorizes a group of nerds in this bloody throwback to 80’s slasher flicks.

Jockstrap Slaughterhouse was written, directed, produced, shot, and edited by Leopold Vincent Medley, who has a handful of independent short films and features to his credit going back to 2011.

As with most small independent projects helmed by weekend warriors, Jockstrap Slaughterhouse clearly faced the natural limitations that come with working on a low budget. That said, the blood that is shown on screen looks quite good. However, its appearance is sporadic: there are moments where blood should absolutely be present when it isn’t, like in the (theoretically) bloody denouement. There also isn’t much in the way of makeup work, which could have gone a long way for the production: the villain is in an obvious Halloween mask, and he could have looked a lot better with a little bit of makeup work (that wouldn’t have broken the bank).

Jockstrap suffers from a handful of issues that can easily be chalked up to inexperience. For instance, there is a lot of distractingly shaky handheld camera work where a tripod would have made a whole lot more sense. Honestly, that’s just a thing that happens, and is typically rectified by just having multiple takes to choose from. Watching over the footage at the time could have helped the production avoid having to deal with unsatisfactory, wobbly footage as well, though the shakes aren’t always obvious until an image is blown up.

While there are a number of technical issues with the film, the thing that hurt the film the most from my perspective was the writing. First off, a lot of the attempted humor fails to come across as intended. Imitating and mocking the shallow characterizations that defined 1980s horror movies is tricky business. If you do it wrong, you look, at best, like a lazy writer playing into the stereotypes that you had intended to satirize. At worst, you like an asshole punching down at marginalized groups.

On top of the issues with the comedy writing, there seem to be some structural issues with the screenplay: there were a number of times while watching the film that it didn’t seem to have a blueprint. The screenplay, on top of providing dialogue for the characters, should be a pacing tool, which bolsters the natural act structure of the story. In Jockstrap, there doesn’t seem to be a logical sequence of events. For most of the run-time, characters are just getting picked off at random by the killer. Rarely do these deaths have any consequences: characters never go to the police, come up with a plan, or even evacuate the home that they know the killer has free access to. This sort of lack of logical progression in a story results in a diminished investment on the part of the audience: if the characters don’t behave or think like people would, then how is an audience to identify with them? On top of that, if there are no consequences for actions, and the characters aren’t capable of making logical decisions, then there isn’t much tissue left to connect scenes to each other. When scenes aren’t connected to one another, then your movie doesn’t have any flow, and your audience will inevitably get bored.

On a positive note,  I will say that Jockstrap effectively uses a few local landmarks to try to keep the visuals interesting. Making the most of your surroundings and keeping an eye open for distinct locations can lead to some cool results. In the case of Houston, it is a city that isn’t often seen on screen, so there should be a lot of open possibilities.

Something that specifically stuck out to me about Jockstrap is that it attempted a couple of montages and a chase sequence. These are both complicated sorts of sequences that require adept editing to come off right. Honestly, while they all left a lot to be desired, but there were some flashes of decency in the chase. The best thing I can recommend to the team is to attempt some earnest imitation: pick some chase sequences and montages that you know that you like, then watch them a whole lot. Break them down, and think about what makes them good. Experiment with techniques like match cuts that can help make sequences more fluid, and see what you can do based on your observations.

Overall, Jockstrap Slaughterhouse is clearly an early effort from a group of filmmakers with some drive. There is a lot of polishing to do, but having the energy and motivation to create is always the first and hardest step in the process of creation.

Jane Got A Gun

Jane Got A Gun

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Today, I want to dig into an early 2016 flop that I think is worth a second look: Jane Got A Gun.

Jane Got A Gun has three credited screenplay writers: the duo of Joel Edgerton (The GiftThe Rover) and Anthony Tambakis (Warrior), and initial screenplay writer Brian Duffield (Insurgent).

The director for the film was Gavin O’Connor, whose other credits include Warrior, Pride & Glory, and Miracle. He also directed the movie The Accountant, which released just a few months after Jane Got A Gun in 2016.

The cast of Jane Got A Gun includes Natalie Portman (Black Swan, The Professional, Jackie, Thor, Heat, Mars Attacks!), Joel Edgerton (The Thing, The Gift, Loving, Midnight Special, Black Mass), Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, The Island, I Love You, Phillip Morris, Nightwatch), Noah Emmerich (The Truman Show, Frequency), Boyd Holbrook (Narcos, Milk), and Rodrigo Santoro (300, WestWorld).

Mandy Walker provided the cinematography work for Jane Got A Gun, following up previous credits on films like Shattered Glass, Australia, Truth, and Tracks. The current critical success Hidden Figures is her latest shooting credit.

The editor for the film was Alan Cody, who cut the films Speed 2: Cruise Control, Inspector Gadget, and Corky Romano, as well as a number of episodes of shows like Black Sails and The Pacific.

The music for Jane Got A Gun was provided by the duo of Lisa Gerrard and Marcello De Francisci, who have worked on films like Samsara, Gladiator, Layer Cake, Tears of the Sun, and Ali.

The original script by Brian Duffield was named to the 2011 Black List, which is a survey of the most-liked unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. Other screenplays that made the 2011 list and have since seen a screen treatment include The Imitation Game, The Accountant, Dirty Grandpa, Bad Words, and Maggie.

Initially, Jane Got A Gun was planned to be a very different-looking movie than what ultimately hit the screen. Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, and Jude Law were all at one point or another attached as main players in the movie during its tumultuous pre-production. Fassbender reportedly departed due to scheduling conflicts, though rumours also indicate a clash with the originally attached director, Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin). Ramsay herself left the production shortly before filming over a conflict with one of the producers, which led to a lawsuit for breach of contract. Her departure saw both Jude Law and the cinematographer Darius Khondji leave as well, throwing the movie into last-minute disarray. This prompted a screenplay re-write, the arrival (and subsequent departure) of Bradley Cooper, and the last minute casting of McGregor to replace him.

The initial release date announced for Jane Got A Gun was August 29, 2014. After a number of delays, and the production company Relativity Media ultimately filing for bankruptcy, the Weinstein Company acquired the film’s distribution rights, and quietly released it on January 29, 2016.

On top of not being promoted much by the Weinstein Company (a Variety critic said it opened “with only slightly more advance notice than a traffic accident”), Jane Got A Gun ultimately wasn’t screened for the press ahead of its release, which is typically a sign of either a poor quality film, or an indication that the studio doesn’t care about the project.

While it did get a wide theatrical release, Jane Got A Gun wound up being an early flop for 2016, raking in a paltry $3 million in its lifetime theatrical gross on a production budget estimated at $25 million.

Critically, the movie didn’t fare any better. As of now, Jane Got A Gun holds a Metacritic score of 49, a 5.8/10 user rating on IMDb, and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 38% from audiences and 40% from critics.

In his review for Variety, Joe Leydon specifically pointed out something that I think had a significant impact on the perception of Jane Got A Gun for critics:

For those who have perused the countless accounts of last-minute cast changes, musical directors’ chairs and repeatedly delayed release dates, it may be difficult to objectively judge what actually appears on screen here without being distracted by thoughts of what could have been, or should have been.

First off, I want to point out that I watched this movie a good while after its initial theatrical run, and didn’t do any reading into its background going into it. I only vaguely remember its brief theatrical release, and didn’t recall all of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that plagued its production. I had the luxury of watching it with my girlfriend after coming across it on Netflix, in a relative vacuum of public opinion, industry gossip, an critical chatter.

Personally, I think that the film is populated by good performances from the entire primary cast. I fully agree with Leydon, who specifically cites Portman as “persuasive and compelling”, Edgerton as hitting “the right balance of sullen gruffness and soulful sincerity,” and lauds how McGregor “artfully entwines amusement and menace as he serves generous slices of ham.” I particularly concur with his assessment of McGregor, who embraces his role of a western villain with a particularly emphatic mustache twirl. Likewise, I think Edgerton is probably one of the most underappreciated talents in the business: not only in regards to his performances, but with his writing and directing as well. If you haven’t seen them already, both The Gift and The Rover have been masterpieces of imaginative tension in the last few years, and both have his fingerprints all over them.

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The screenplay for the film provides a good siege setup, and allows the tension for the final conflict to build throughout the meat of the film. I particularly appreciate how it bounces between revealing flashbacks and siege preparations in the present day, which slowly reveal histories and relationships between the various players. I will say that I thought that the ultimate payoff was a bit lacking, and that the conclusion was pretty weak, but if you value the journey over the destination, there is quite a lot to enjoy here.

As with the negative buzz and reporting that haunted Jane Got a Gun before its release, the production was also hexed with a handful of bad trailers, and a lackluster marketing campaign. Despite the way the movie was pitched to audiences, it isn’t really a story about Natalie Portman being a badass gunslinger. The tale is significantly more grounded than that, and far less showboat-y. Portman’s Jane is human and relatable above all else. The story begins as she is unexpectedly backed into a corner, and she then spends most of the film fighting with everything she has in order to hold her ground. At no point is she more than what she started as: she is always very human, even in the midst of combat. She never turns into a spontaneous superhero in a firefight, like Jamie Foxx’s Django. Because of this, Jane Got A Gun is more of a spotlight on an average person pushed to the edge than the story of a stereotypical badass. In a market dominated by cookie-cutter superheroes and badasses, it is actually kind of refreshing to see if you ask me.

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On top of that, Jane Got A Gun is a story that is imbued with a lot of emotions: grief, desperation, heartbreak, and fear most prominently among them. If an audience was expecting a relentless series of firefights to snack on popcorn to, getting hit with this heavy, darkly atmospheric movie probably wouldn’t be a welcome experience. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been satisfied with the result if I had seen the trailers for the movie ahead of time.

On top of providing inaccurate representations of the movie, the international trailers were particularly bad about revealing too much information. Information control is kind of essential to this film: the reveals of past relationships, character traits, and outcomes of past events over the course of the film are key to maintaining the audience’s intrigue. The trailers, however, give far more information than is needed, spoiling a number of reveals that are far better when done organically in the film itself.

I mentioned previously that I was disappointed with the film’s ending. Personally, I felt like it was far too tonally inconsistent with the rest of the movie: it is just too Hollywood, which feels out of left field for such a bleak movie. Not only does the optimistic ride into the sunset not work for the style or the tone of the screenplay, but it doesn’t logically work very well, either. For the sake of not spoiling anything, I won’t go too far into it, but last 10 minutes of the movie made me seriously wonder if there was going to be a Brazil twist.

Overall, I think that Jane Got A Gun is a worthwhile neo-western, if not anything revolutionary. I think it certainly deserves some props, especially given the problems with production. I’m still surprised at how harshly it was received by critics: I definitely get why audiences had trouble digging it, given its marketing, but critics are usually a different story. I suspect the initial hype and coverage over its long production poisoned the well a bit for them, and started a lot of people off on the wrong foot. The Weinstein Company not screening it for critics almost certainly exacerbated things as well. All in all, I think this film was a victim of semi-paranoid prognosticating on the part of the industry media and the online buzz-machine, and is worth another look. If you like Edgerton’s or O’Connor’s other works, or just have a fondness for neo-westerns as a genre, give this one a go. That said, know what you are in for: a slow-burning, emotionally-driven, grounded siege movie.

 

Worst of 2016: Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt

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Today, I am going to be kicking off an entire month dedicated to the worst films of 2016. First up is the controversial bomb, Gods of Egypt.

The plot of Gods of Egypt is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Mortal hero Bek teams with the god Horus in an alliance against Set, the merciless god of darkness, who has usurped Egypt’s throne, plunging the once peaceful and prosperous empire into chaos and conflict.

Gods of Egypt was directed by Alex Proyas, who is best known for movies like Dark City, The Crow, and I, Robot, among others.

The screenplay for the movie was written by the duo of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who recently penned Dracula: Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, and wrote the script for the upcoming Power Rangers movie.

Gods of Egypt stars Gerard Butler (300, Olympus Has Fallen), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones, Headhunters), Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, Maleficent), Geoffrey Rush (Mystery Men, Green Lantern, The King’s Speech), and Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War, 42).

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Richard Learoyd served as the primary editor for the film, after cutting Proyas’s previous movies, Knowing and I, Robot. The cinematographer for Gods of Egypt was Peter Menzies Jr., who has shot such films as Four Brothers, The 13th Warriors, Kagaroo Jack, The Incredible Hulk, and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Also of note among the crew was the production designer, Owen Paterson. His design credits include work on The Matrix trilogy, Red Planet, V for Vendetta, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The musical score for Gods of Egypt was composed by Marco Beltrami, who has had a number of high profile film scores over his career, including Scream, Snowpiercer, Blade II, The Hurt Locker, Jonah Hex, The Faculty, and Mimic.

This plot of Gods of Egypt is a heavily modified version of the Egyptian myth “The Contendings of Horus and Set”, in which the gods Set and Horus vie for the rule of Egypt. Set, played by Gerard Butler in the movie, was the Egyptian god of the desert, storms, disorder, and violence, and served as lord of the red land (essentially, the deserts of Egypt). His foil, the protagonist Horus, is played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and is the Egyptian god of the sky. Horus is the son of Set’s brother, Osiris, whom Set ursurped and murdered in his quest for power. Because of this, Horus and Set are at odds in Egyptian mythology, a conflict that is carries over into Gods of Egypt.

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Other Egyptian mythological figures who appear in the film include Ra, the sun god; Osiris, the god of resurrection and the afterlife; Thoth, the father of science, religion, magic, and the written word; Apophis, the enemy of Ra and lord of chaos; Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty; and Anubis, who was the lord of the underworld, and tasked with ushering souls into the afterlife.

Gods of Egypt was filmed in Australia to stand in for the Sahara desert. While this was partially because of safety concerns, Australia also offers significant tax incentives to bring in film productions. Between these incentives and pre-selling international distribution rights, Lionsgate and Summit had very little risk involved with the project (rumored to be only $10 million), and almost certainly made a solid profit.

The title of the movie was modified in a number of markets to be Kings of Egypt, in order to avoid potential religious controversy and censorship. Interestingly, one of these countries wound up being Egypt itself.

Controversially, Gods of Egypt features no Egyptian actors, and hardly players any of African descent. This caused a significant backlash from internet figures and film critics, prompting a wave of apologies from the director and the studio. Chadwick Boseman, who portrays Thoth in the film, had the following to say to GQ about the movie’s whitewashing of Egyptian mythology:

“When I originally was approached with the script, I thought this [critique] might come up, I really did. And I’m thankful that it did, because actually, I agree with it. That’s why I wanted to do it, so you would see someone of African descent playing Thoth, the father of mathematics, astronomy, the god of wisdom…people don’t make $140 million movies starring black and brown people.”

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On the flip side, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Horus in the movie, told The Red Bulletin his feelings on the controversy:

A lot of people are getting really worked up online about the fact that I’m a white actor. I’m not even playing an Egyptian; I’m an 8-foot-tall god who turns into a falcon. A part of me just wants to freak out, but then I think, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” You can’t win in that sort of discussion.

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Following the near-universal negative reception to the movie, director Alex Proyas did what most directors of prominent flops seem to do: he lashed out at film critics.

They can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming “white-wash!!!” like the deranged idiots they all are….we have a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass. Trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality say is good or bad.

Gods of Egypt was made on a production budget of $140 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of just over $150 million dollars. While this ultimately covered the production, the production budget number doesn’t take into account post-production and marketing costs. However, thanks to the pre-sales and tax incentives, the film was probably profitable when all was said and done, though not the blockbuster smash that was hoped for. It is interesting to note that Gods of Egypt only made $31 million of its total gross domestically: the movie had to rely heavily on foreign markets to even get to it’s ultimate lackluster take.

In keeping with the disappointing monetary take and pre-release controversy, critics and audiences had little positive to say about Gods of Egypt. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 16% from critics and 38% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 5.5/10. Peter Bradashaw, in his review of the movie for The Guardian, said:

It’s…fuelled with its own absurdity, like an ecologically unsafe type of diesel.

I don’t think I could have said it better, honestly. Gods of Egypt has an awful lot of problems that plague it from top to bottom. First off, it lacks a clear direction or mission, often shifting focus from one McGuffin to the next, such as one or the other of Horus’s eyes, or Ra’s staff. The writing also relies heavily on prior knowledge of Egyptian mythology, rarely introducing characters or elaborating on any objects, people, or beasts not at the very center of the primary plot. Ra’s solar barge is glossed over, as is his space worm opponent. Likewise, the rules of the afterlife seem rather convoluted and prone to change, and further, apparently the afterlife as whole is edible? Also, it is heavily implied that Horus’s powers were either magnified or manifested from his eyes, until it was revealed that they weren’t actually connected, and that his eyes are mostly irrelevant. However, his eyes are still magic and capable of blinding mortals.

While the design and appearance of the movie is impressive at first glance, the shiny veneer and immaculate production design are often ruined by shoddy CGI, even outside of the cringe-inducing action sequences (which I’ll get to shortly). One frequently used, yet inconsistently applied, digital element in the film is the size differential between mortals and humans. Sometimes, the gods appear only slightly taller than most humans, and in other scenes, they look like giants. I understand wanting to make the gods look superhuman, but unlike the impressive perspective work done in Lord of the Rings for the hobbits, Gods of Egypt never nails down the art of pulling this off effectively, and it mostly served to make my eyes confused for the first few minutes of the run time.

While watching the movie’s action sequences, I was reminded of the climactic fight between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel: in spite of all of the damage and punches being thrown, I was pretty bored after only a few seconds. The hits never look like they have weight, and the rapid movements and cutting distract from any kind of tension or compelling visuals. That said, there wasn’t much to see in the first place: the animal transformations of Set and Horus that appear in most of their fights just look goofy. They are a little too fluid and shiny to be tangible, and stand out like two big, cartoonish sore thumbs whenever they show up. This is really unfortunate, because they should be cool, and I’m willing to bet that their designs on paper were fantastic. Similarly, a 9-foot-tall Geoffrey Rush on fire fighting a space dragon should one of the coolest things you could ever see, but the result on screen just looks like a bad video game.

There are some good things to say about a few of the performances, however. Chadwick Boseman’s hammy portrayal of Thoth is refreshing, and adds some genuine humor to the movie. Gerard Butler also seems really comfortable in the role of a heel, and I hope he continues on his path of villainous portrayals. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is the platonic ideal of a stone-faced, handsome protagonist, and his comedic banter with his co-stars is genuinely charming at points. However, there are also some less than stellar performances to be found, particularly among the cast of mortal characters. Brenton Thwaites, who plays the (I guess) protagonist Bek, is absolutely terrible, from his inconsistent accent to his awkward deliveries. His romantic interest, played by Courtney Eaton, is also far from stellar (again, a bad accent), but is relegated to basically being a McGuffin herself instead of an actual character with an arc or discernible traits. Speaking of which, the accents n this movie range all over the place: I kind of suspect that there wasn’t any kind of directorial edict as to what the Egyptians would sound like, so each actor did whatever they felt like.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth reiterating again: Gods of Egypt has a pretty damn cool idea on paper: the designs of the sets and costumes are ambitious, bold, and interesting, and the classic story makes for a solid base for a film. However, the execution here was way off the mark. Partially, I think this is because the necessary budget to pull off the number of creatures and sets required to meet the vision was beyond the production’s grasp, so the production team settled on a number of less-than-ideal versions that came slightly cheaper.

The insensitivity and lack of foresight in the casting, which has come to embody the impact and legacy of Gods of Egypt, is 100% the result of Hollywood thinking: they clearly didn’t anticipate the backlash, and just wanted faces they thought would be marketable with a relatively affordable price tag. Hollywood is still trying to catch up with the zeitgeist on whitewashing: Ghost in the Shell, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Gods of Egypt are all indicative of that. Partially due to obliviousness, partially due to stubbornness, and partially due to a powerful, capitalistic drive, a whole lot of studios and producers have held on to the model of The Conqueror: “John Wayne can be Genghis Khan, because he’ll sell the tickets and that’s what people want!” The only way to change this is to keep chipping away at the profits of these movies: don’t buy a ticket, and complain on social media as loud as you can. Eventually, the financial losses and toxic word of mouth will lead to some changes. At least, we can hope so.

As far as a recommendation goes, there are some positives to the film, but they don’t come anywhere near outweighing the negatives. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t. Or, if you are deathly curious, look up some clips. I just wouldn’t advise putting any money into seeing this.

Disturbing Behavior

Disturbing Behavior

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Today’s feature is a 1998 high school set science-fiction horror movie not call The Faculty: Disturbing Behavior.

The plot of Disturbing Behavior is summarized on IMDb as follows:

The new kid in town stumbles across something sinister about the town’s method of transforming its unruly teens into upstanding citizens.

Disturbing Behavior was written by Scott Rosenberg, who also penned screenplays for High Fidelity, Con Air, Kangaroo Jack, Gone In Sixty Seconds, and the upcoming Jumanji reboot.

The director for Disturbing Behavior was David Nutter, who has done extensive directing work for television shows like Game of Thrones, The X-Files, The Flash, Arrow, Homeland, The Mentalist, The Sopranos, Supernatural, and The West Wing, among others.

The cinematographer for the picture was John S. Bartley, who shot the film Wrong Turn, and also worked extensively on television shows like 21 Jump Street, The X-Files, Lost, and Bates Motel.

behavior4Disturbing Behavior was cut by Randy Jon Morgan, who has had a long career editing on television, including on shows like Law & Order, ER, Criminal Minds, CSI, and Nash Bridges.

The music for the movie was composed by Mark Snow, who provided music for shows like The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen, Starsky & Hutch, and T.J. Hooker over his career.

The cast of Disturbing Behavior is made up of James Marsden (Westworld, X-Men), Katie Holmes (Phone Booth, The Singing Detective, Batman Begins), Nick Stahl (Terminator 3, Sin City), Steve Railsback (Nukie, Lifeforce, Deadly Games), Bruce Greenwood (Capote, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Thirteen Days), Katharine Isabelle (American Mary, Ginger Snaps), and William Sadler (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile).

behavior1Although an original director’s cut of Disturbing Behavior was approved by the studio for release, the feature was forced into re-cutting by the studio after a mixed test-screening that yielding criticisms of the ending and a sex scene, which were both ultimately removed. In response to the studio interference, the director tried to have his name removed from the movie, but eventually allowed it to remain in spite of his reservations. The director’s cut of the movie has never been released officially, though all of the removed scenes are featured as extras on the official DVD release.

The movie currently holds a 5.5/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 35% from critics and 39% from audiences, making it overall pretty poorly regarded.

Disturbing Behavior had a lifetime domestic box office total of $17.5 million on an estimated budget of $15 million, which I assume probably made it break even with relatively low advertising costs. However, I’m sure that a far more lucrative return was hoped for.

Holmes and Marsden are both perfectly serviceable supporting actors if you ask me, but I don’t think that either of them are emotive enough to carry a feature as a lead. In a best case scenario, they could lean on their co-lead to carry them. But, as is the case in this movie, when both leads are stone-faced pseudo-stoics, the movie as a whole suffers.

That said, for as much as Marsden and Holmes don’t work in this movie, Stahl does. His character feels a little more tangible and real than everyone around him, despite some moments of ridiculously quippy dialogue. When his character is eventually turned, his performance really makes it work, and is really the saving grace of the movie.

behavior3Something that bothered me a bit while watching the movie was the fact that not much time was given to exploring the hormonal rage side effect exhibited by a few of the characters. I thought this was the major conflict would come in during the climax: that eventually all of the students would be in a permanent rage-state as a result of their surgeries, leading them to attack everything that moves. While that would be less Stepford-like, which is what the movie was clearly going for, I think it could have made for an interesting sort of youth-in-revolt, generational conflict movie.

Speaking of the concept, I like the general idea of putting The Stepford Wives in a high school. There are a lot of social dynamics at work there, most prominently the fear of unruly youth in rebellion, the social dynamics of high school cliques, and the control each generation tries to exert upon the next. That said, this film didn’t quite capitalize on this potential, mostly by not showing much of the adult plot and motivations. Also, I think there was a missed potential here for a race angle: the violence people fear in schools, particularly “inner-city” ones, is almost always spawned from racism, something that isn’t at all addressed here (until the stinger at the end of the film, in a minor way). The in-group / out-group dynamic would also have been far more powerful from that perspective, and the film could have even had a plot based around the idea of school integration. Alas, it is what it is.

As with most high school movies, Disturbing Behavior just can’t resist bowing to the overdone, cartoonish, and exaggerated clique divides that dominate the genre. While the in-group out-group dynamic does serve a purpose for the plot, the initial introduction to the school introduced a ton of different “classes” which are never brought back up again. So, why even include E-heads and nerds if they don’t play into the story at all? Ultimately, this story is a conflict between the “fixed” kids and everyone else, so these other cliques weren’t ever necessary to establish.

Another pretty serious issue with this movie is the evil plot at the center of it. Not only is the villain a cartoonish (yet not entertaining) caricature of a mad scientist (who utters “science is god” just prior to being defeated), but his plot hinges entirely on the idea that all of the parents in the town will universally agree to mind control their children. If even one set of parents refuses to comply and reports him, the gig is up. The story never even addresses this issue: the parents are all more than happy to subject their children to experimental brain surgery without their consent, which is almost as fucked up as it is wildly unrealistic.

From reading about the crew, it was interesting to see how many of the key members came from an explicitly television background. Somewhat predictably, the movie looks and feels like it belongs on television as a result: something about the style seems more fit for a TV movie than a feature release. And, honestly, I think this movie probably could have been made as a television movie if they had creatively avoided some of the unnecessary CGI shots, and hired down with the casting a little more.

Overall, Disturbing Behavior is weighed down a lot by the lack of chemistry between the leads, some lazy writing that doesn’t do the intriguing concept justice, and a studio-interfered final cut that loses some key details. With all of that said, it is easily as watchable as any given episode of a late season of The X-Files.

I would recommend giving it a shot if you happen to come across it somewhere organically, but I don’t think it is worth specifically seeking out. The Faculty, its better-regarded and more fondly-remembered psuedo-twin is just a lot more fun: it has a better comedic voice to contrast the dark scenario, and has a far more dynamic and sympathetic cast of characters. It think Disturbing Behavior is rightfully overshadowed by it, and the comparisons it draws will always leave it with the short end of the stick.