10 items from 2016
Sure, it’s not Ghostbusters or Star Wars or a superhero, but the release of a new film directed by Warren Beatty seems like reason to celebrate. I’m fascinated by dream pictures, movies that directors try to get made for years or even decades, projects that they push slowly and surely up a hill like a cinematic Sisyphus. Sometimes they turn out beautifully, and sometimes they are overcooked train crashes. You can get Apocalypse Now or you can get Battlefield Earth. When Martin Scorsese made The Aviator, he pulled off something a number of other filmmakers had tried and failed. As white whales go, Howard Hughes seems to pose a particularly tempting challenge, and guys like Christopher Nolan and Michael Mann have walked away frustrated after trying to figure it out. Whatever I expected from this one, “screwball comedy” wasn’t on the list. That doesn’t mean it »
- Drew McWeeny
At the Shanghai International Film Festival, Jackie Chan kicked off the Jackie Chan Action Movie Week festival program, which screens a selection of the star’s recent films, with a speech extolling the virtues of the Chinese film industry, specifically their commercial potential. Chan said though the Chinese market was dismissed for many years, it’s now become a force to be reckoned with. He pointed to Duncan Jones’ video game adaptation “Warcraft” as a sign of the Chinese market’s dominance. “‘Warcraft’ made[$91 million] in two days — this has scared the Americans,” says Chan. “If we can make a film that earns [$1.5 billion], then people from all over the world who study film will learn Chinese, instead of us learning English.”
Jones’ “Warcraft” has performed exceptionally well overseas. It opened in over 20 countries around the world before it opened in the United States, including France, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Hong Kong, and many others. Though “Warcraft” has only made under $25 million in the U.S., it has made over $280 million worldwide, much of that stemming from the Chinese market.
Jackie Chan began his career as a stunt man before transitioning into acting full time. He had great success in Hong Kong cinema for many years, and only broke through in Hollywood in the mid-1990’s with the film “Rumble in the Bronx.” Chan then went on to co-star in the “Rush Hour” series, “Shanghai Noon,” and later, the “Karate Kid” remake starring Jaden Smith.
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- Vikram Murthi
We check out the John Travolta films that have been bypassing cinemas over the past few years...
In the days leading up to writing this article, which will cover a recent period in which he’s made a bunch of films that have quickly drifted to DVD or VOD, I had to stop and ask myself a genuine question: how do I actually feel about John Travolta?
The answer that rose from the depths of my coal-black, hell-bound soul was weirdly surprising. Brushing aside his personal life – which is not worth getting into here – I found I had nothing but good feelings surrounding his work as an actor.
I grew up with Carrie, Grease, Look Who’s Talking and perhaps his best film, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out. I also grew up with some of his clunkers, like the Look Who’s Talking sequels and 80s concept comedy The Experts. He’s been acting since before I was born, so he’s always been in the background of my pop culture landscape – working solidly for more than 40 years.
Over those decades, his catalogue has defied explanation. He seems to unapologetically pick whatever he feels moved to be a part of regardless of criticism and, goddamn it, there’s something inherently admirable about that. Unlike, say, Bruce Willis, he doesn’t seem happy with doing just a couple of days work on a shoot in a smaller part; more often he will choose to be the star, or at least have equal-ish screen time – even if the project isn’t boasting a huge budget or a big name director. When Pulp Fiction thrust him back into the mainstream, he was still picking up stuff like Phenomenon and Michael in the following years.
I can confidently say that I’ve never seen the man actively 'phone in' a performance and even when he’s overcooked it, there’s usually a decent reason. I mean, if you find yourself on the set of Face/Off going up against The Cage, you’re gonna need to fight fire with fire. Even in Battlefield Earth, he was at least trying.
But in the last half decade we’ve found ourselves in a deeper Travolta trough than we’ve ever been in before. His films aren’t quite cutting the mustard in the industry like they used to and, after a run of flops that have seen him drift back into television with an impressive turn as Robert Shapiro in The People V. O.J. Simpson, I find myself wondering 'will Travolta ever be big business again?'
So, I took a look at four of the films that Travolta’s worked on in the last few years - each of which has effectively gone straight to DVD (save for a few days in a cinema) - to see if anything’s slipped under our radar that needs a boost…
The Forger (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 7% IMDb Rating – 5.7/10
In The Forger, John Travolta is a man serving a prison sentence who makes a call to get out of it early so he can spend more time with his dying son. In exchange for help with bribing the judge to release him early, John’s expected to help forge a Monet for his erstwhile crime boss, played by Hell On Wheels’ Anson Mount.
As the film casually flits between the forge/heist story and the bonding relationship between John and his son, it’s a testament to director Philip Martin - who comes from a TV background where he’s learnt his trade by helping to bring Prime Suspect and Wallander crime stories to life – that it isn’t a complete disaster. In someone else’s hands, it very well could have been.
Instead, The Forger has a delicate touch and a lot of the shots are interesting and unexpected without being jarring. It flows very smoothly and there’s an undercurrent of genuine love stemming from Travolta’s performance. After losing his own son, making a film about losing a son might have been cathartic and definitely quite close to the bone. I don’t want to read too much into Travolta’s choices, because that way madness lies, but it does really come across as though he cared about this one.
The Forger’s family scenes - with Travolta’s son Tye Sheridan and father Christopher Plummer - play really well, and while the tone of these scenes doesn’t gel with the heist elements of the plot, there’s good stuff here.
Overall, there’s not quite enough substance to sail the whole thing smoothly down the river, but it’s not bad by any stretch and the reviews have been a little harsh on what is actually a perfectly average film. No, you won’t watch it again, but neither will you probably regret watching it in the first place.
Criminal Activities (2015)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 47% IMDb Rating – 5.8/10
Hoo boy, that title. That’s the worst title. I can’t imagine anyone involved could have wanted it. It’s maybe the most generic title I’ve ever seen. It’s so bad that even when I picked up the DVD, looked at the cover and saw that Michael Pitt (Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire) and Dan Stevens (The Guest, The Guest, The Guest) were Travolta’s co-stars in this, I still felt like I was drowning in the beigeness of it.
The film itself - Jackie Earle Haley's directorial debut - is an unfortunate mess. The plot, such as it is, involves Michael, Dan and the rest of the lads from their childhood gang borrowing money from a mob boss (Travolta) to invest in some sure-fire stocks that immediately collapse, leaving them out of pocket and in John’s. To pay off the debt, he wants them to kidnap a guy, because that guy’s friend kidnapped someone else. It’s convoluted and makes little sense, due to the fact that there’s a big twist coming at the end which will clarify most, if not all of it.
The actors are doing wayyy too much in the film - directed by an actor who clearly wants the actors to have room to act - and therein lies the fundamental problem. Apart from a great turn by Edi Gathegi (Gone Baby Gone, X-Men: First Class, Crank) it’s impossible to point a finger at anyone else in the cast and say 'yep, you, good job' because there’s just too much going on.
The twist is actually decent, but everything leading up to it is a headache. Working on a low budget, most of the scenes are dialogue-heavy, arduous and reliant on excessive coverage – so what you end up with is a film where a load of dudes sit in a room together and shout and swear at each other a lot. I wanted to take that final twist aside, buy it a drink, hug it, and reassure it that it deserved better.
I’m afraid to say there’s not much here to recommend, which is ironic given that it’s had the most positive reviews of the bunch.
I Am Wrath (2016)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 13% IMDb Rating – 5.2/10
I Am Wrath is the worst film of these four by a long chalk.
Here, John stars as a man who decides payback is needed when his wife (Rebecca de Mornay) is killed before his eyes. That’s really all there is, plot-wise. See, it turns out he’s a man with a very particular set of skills and yada yada yada off he goes.
The script - written by Paul 'nope, nothing you’ve heard of' Sloan - is so very, very bad. I am going to tell you how bad it is, so you don’t think I’m just whistlin’ Dixie here:
During his wife’s funeral, John tells the priest that he’s an atheist after the priest gives him a bible in his time of need. Later, Travolta flings this bible across the room angrily. He then stops, pulls a full Joey Tribbiani 'smell-the-fart', slowly approaches the discarded bible, picks it up and reads a line about wrath with the dumbest revelatory expression on his face as the music builds. He sees this as a sign that he should become wrath, despite his earlier insistence that he thinks religion is total garbage.
Later, when asked who he is, Travolta looks determinedly into a mirror and says “I am wrath” – he said the name of the movie you guys! Holy shit. Honestly, I could not believe how hackneyed the whole thing was, not to mention bizarre - the film regularly abandons its serious 'violence begets violence' tone whenever John’s Bff Christopher Meloni turns up, suddenly becoming a jokey buddy comedy.
This was hard to get through. Please avoid it at all costs, for there is nothing here to keep you warm at night.
Killing Season (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 11% IMDb Rating – 5.4/10
De Niro and Travolta – together at last?
Well, the opening sequence gives us a bit of background on the reason we’re all here. Something bad happened during the Bosnian War that will bring our two main dudes together for some serious vengeance. The sequence is sepia, because past, and ohhhhh god, here comes the present…
It’s at this point that we discover that John is going to attempt an Eastern European accent. It is Not Good. It is not John Malkovich in Rounders, but it is Not Good and we are stuck with it for the duration.
His facial hair during this first scene is also completely ridiculous. I can’t adequately describe how bonkers it is, but try to imagine a werewolf that can only grow stubble carefully shaving a circle into its face. It’s a relief to find that they decided to tone this down for the rest of the film - he looks more like he’s wearing a black chinstrap from then on.
Despite the accent and the questionable chin beard, it’s a lot easier to buy Travolta as a man on a mission of vengeance during Killing Season than it was during I Am Wrath. He’s obviously jazzed to be working with De Niro and he’s knuckled down to bounce off him, keeping it low-key and making an effort not to overdo it.
As a result of this equilibrium, we also get a glimpse of a pre-Meet The Parents De Niro - which is very much welcomed, sweet lord - and the two men head into the second act ready to take each other on, hunt each other down and resolve those Bosnian sins of the past in the most violent way possible.
The script - by proposed Tomb Raider reboot scribe Evan Daugherty - occasionally stumbles, but is solid enough. The direction is fine. It’s fine. It’s probably Mark Steven Johnson’s best film (but when his other major films are Daredevil and Ghost Rider, that’s not exactly a gush) and as the two leads hunt and trap each other, a lot of Predator love oozes out of the frame. Unfortunately, this is not Predator, but you could do worse on an evening than to sit through this instead (if you don’t own Predator).
…Oh my god you guys. We should totally watch Predator right now.
Until next time, and until the next rebirth of Mr Travolta, I bid you adieu.
Next time: the straight to DVD movies of John Cusack
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See related Bruce Willis: examining his recent straight-to-dvd movies DVD & Bluray Feature Movies Kirsten Howard John Travolta 14 Jun 2016 - 05:16 The Forger I Am Wrath Criminal Activities Killing Season »
Emerging from a long and storied production, Legendary’s budding franchise-starter Warcraft: The Beginning is now starting to make its bow overseas, as fans prep for Duncan Jones’ live-action video game movie to touch down in the States on June 10.
After some confusion over the film’s embargo, early reviews for Jones’ lavish fantasy adventure have now surfaced online, and they range from moderately good, to average, to downright scathing.
Without further ado, here’s a collection of those reviews:
Variety: Imagine “Battlefield Earth” without the verve and you get this sludgy, tedious fantasy adventure, a fun-starved dud that’s not even unintentionally hilarious. The cast seems mostly adrift, with only Schnetzer giving what might be considered an actual performance. The usually reliable Foster is reduced to gadding about like a prog-rock Jesus in a series of robes that make him look like he’s posing for the side of someone’s van, »
- Michael Briers
American network Epix is working on a TV version of Get Shorty. The show will be “a reimagining” of Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same, rather than a straight remake of the 1995 movie adaptation (which boasted an immense amount of talent: John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito on screen, with Barry Sonnenfeld directing).
If you’re unfamiliar, Get Shorty centres on Miles Daly, a member of a Nevada crime ring who tries to change professions and become a movie producer. Things, er, don’t exactly go to plan when he gets to La.
The summer movie season is currently in full swing, with kids and adults alike flocking to their local theaters to catch this summer's crop of blockbusters. While superheroes and sequels will likely dominate the box office this summer, with Captain America: Civil War already crossing $1 billion worldwide, there is one non-superhero movie that a large section of fans have been waiting years for. In just a few weeks, Legendary will release the long-awaited video game adaptation Warcraft, which hits theaters on June 10. Earlier today, the first wave of reviews were posted for Warcraft, and they aren't exactly positive.
Before we delve into these critiques, it's worth noting that only five reviews have been posted on Rotten Tomatoes thus far, two of which are positive and three of which are negative, resulting in an early 40% Rt score. Of course, dozens of reviews will certainly come flooding in over the next few weeks, »
Critics throw the term “soulless corporate filmmaking” around with abandon, but movies like “Warcraft” really manage to redefine the term. A film adaptation of the hugely popular Mmorpg (that’s Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), this latest video game adaptation ranks near the bottom of the deadly genre. Imagine “Battlefield Earth” without the verve, or the unintentional comedy, and you’ve got “Warcraft.” With his first two films, “Moon” and “Source Code,” director Duncan Jones took high-concept science-fiction stories and spun them into taut tales that never lost sight of their characters or the toll of the extraordinary circumstances in which. »
- Alonso Duralde
Daniel Crooke here. Just in time for the newest season of Game of Thrones, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich’s presidential aspirations are officially, swiftly deceased – leaving the door open for a brave new world even more horrific than some of the worst doomsday scenarios we’ve seen on the big screen. Now that Donald Trump has ostensibly become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, science fiction has officially become reality. When you consider the inherent havoc in a candidate who makes light of civilian casualties, discards women, ensures bigotry and violence, and endorses straight-up rights snatching – not to mention his microscopic, ahem, vocabulary – many cinematic dystopias and alternate realities once thought to be cataclysmically dreadful begin to sound imminently habitable if he were to actually be elected. Next to the fascist plunder-land of Trump’s America, living in these broken worlds would be downright nirvana.
Dr Strangelove or: »
- Daniel Crooke
Just because a movie bombs at the box office, that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It could just mean that its budget was too bloated to reasonably expect to fill the money pit back up, or the marketing was lackluster, or the competition was incredibly stiff on opening weekend.
Or yes, maybe it was also a bad movie. Because sometimes the numbers are simply indicative of audiences saying “Thanks, but no thanks, that film appears to be garbage and I’d rather buy a couple of beers at the pub than watch your expensive garbage.”
Still, tucked away beneath all the rightful flops like Gigli and Battlefield Earth is a small collection of movies that, while they didn’t make any money for the studio, should be able to enjoy much better reputations. They may not have been great financial successes, but they’re actually pretty solid, »
- Jacob Trowbridge
In a story that really should have the headline “Man Arrested 14 Years Too Late For Renting Horrible Film,” a Concord, N.C. man was charged with failure to return a long overdue VHS copy of Freddy Got Fingered to a local video store. Wsoc-tv is reporting that James Meyers was pulled over by police March 23 for what was originally a faulty tail light. After the cops ran his information through the system, they asked Meyers to step out of his vehicle. That's when the story gets weird. “The guy brings me to the back of the car and he goes, ‘Sir, I don’t know how to tell you this but there’s a warrant out for your arrest from 2002. Apparently you rented the movie Freddy Got Fingered and you never returned it…and we’re here to take you to jail’.” Meyers recounted. According to the network, Meyers was »
- David Eckstein
10 items from 2016
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