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Archive for August, 2013

Last week saw the second attempt to launch a franchise based on a successful series of young adult novels. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on The Mortal Instruments series of five novels (with a sixth on the way) written by Cassandra Clare. Lily Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) plays Clary Fray a seemingly normal teenager who discovers she is a Shadowhunter, a sort of daemon hunter. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with less (intentional) comedy. The other movie earlier in the year Beautiful Creatures is based on The Caster Chronicles: Alden Ehrenreich plays Ethan a seemingly normal high school student ( is this sounding similar?) who has a recurring dream about Lena played by Alice Englert (daughter of Jane Campion), a girl he has never met, until she turns up as the new kid at school. Both films are fun and entertaining movies with a suitably gothic tone. However they are also sadly unremarkable and unoriginal. Beautiful Creatures failed to find an audience making a sequel unlikely.  On the other hand the confidence in Mortal Instrruments is such that City of Ashes the second Mortal Instruments film is already in pre-production.  Shooting is due to start next month with a release next summer. This got me thinking about similar themed books that have been adapted into movies. Some have done better and more successful than others:

City of Bones and Beautiful Creatures

Harry Potter (2001-2011): The undisputed champion of the book to film adaptation in recent years has been Harry Potter having grossed nearly $8billion from its 8 films (based on 7 books). The success of the films comes partly from the great casting and the faithful (so I am told) adaptation from J. K. Rowling‘s books. But it goes further than that, a film should be its own entity and survive on its own merits not requiring the viewer to have read the books. This helps the audience grow over and above the fans of the novel. I didn’t see any of the films until 2011 but watched them all in a short space of time and have to admit I enjoyed them.Harry-potter-films

Chronicles of Narnia (2005-2010): Based on C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series of books and produced by Walden Media in association with first Disney then Fox. Three of the seven novels: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) have been adapted into films so far. Faithful to the source novels and like the source novels, the movies are distractingly preachy but good entertaining fun. Commercially successful grossing over $1.5billion, the first is amongst the top 50 all time highest grossing movies. It appears the series has stalled with complications since Walden Media’s exclusive rights have lapsed.The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Golden Compass (2007): Was an unfortunate mess of a movie. Well cast and beautifully shot but completely ruining Philip Pullman’s fantastic story. If reports are correct it was nothing short of a clusterfuck for New Line Cinema. One of their most expensive films ever with a budget estimated at around $180million, it took around $70million at the US box-office. New Line then sold the worldwide rights to cover the production costs, it went on to take over £300million. In one way it is sad that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is unlikely to be adapted into a film anytime soon, on the other hand I am glad the series stopped before they made things any worse.

The Golden Compass

The Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012): Coming second only to Harry Potter in the book adaptation box-office, The Twilight Saga had its detractors who were almost as vocal as its fans. It also had its ups and downs artistically; Eclipse (2010) directed by David Slade representing the high point and New Moon (2009) directed by Chris Weitz the low point. The first film directed by Catherine Hardwicke was arguably the most important as its success secured the budget for the ongoing saga. Love them or hate them, you can’t argue with nearly $3.5billion from 5 films (based on 4 books). Not great films but completely inoffensive, I really can’t see why people get so worked up about them.twilight-saga-poster

Tomorrow when the War Began (2010 – ?): Based on the first of a series of seven Australian novels that have a striking resemblance to Red Dawn. The first movie was well received in Australia but failed to find an audience in the rest of the world. Two sequels have been suggested but are yet to materialise.Tomorrow when the War Began

Percy Jackson & the Olympians (2010 – ?): Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) are based on the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series of books by Rick Riordan. An updating of Greek mythology, Percy is a demigod, and son of Poseidon (based on his exploits in defeating various monsters, he appears to be based on Perseus, son of Zeus). The first film was a financial success but the second has only just managed to make back its budget making an adaptation of The Titan’s Curse less likely.Percy Jackson

I am Number Four (2011): Based on the first of four (to date) novels about alien children hiding out on earth from a second alien race who took over their home world. Finding a good balance between sci-fi action and high school drama the movie is entertaining if disposable. The cast is quite good but Timothy Olyphant is criminally underused and Teresa Palmer’s ‘number six’ is a more interesting character than Alex Pettyfer’s ‘number four’. Made on a relatively small budget (the money was all spent on producer Michael Bay‘s robot hitting exercise) for this type of movie it made a reasonable profit. A sequel was announced but then shelved.I AM NUMBER FOUR

The Hunger Games (2012-2015): Thanks largely to the perfect casting of Jennifer Lawrence the Hunger Games was a huge success. Grossing nearly $700million and becoming the best selling DVD/Blu-ray of 2012 a sequel was guaranteed. The first sequel Catching Fire is scheduled for release later this year with the final book Mockingjay split into two parts, Part 1 will be released in November 2014 with part two twelve months later. My only concern the second and third books were much weaker than the first creating a real challenge for the script writers.The Hunger Games

So what’s next?

Seventh Son: Based on the first (there are twelve so far) of Joseph Delaney’s children’s dark fantasy novel series The Wardstone Chronicles. The highlights of the casting are Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. Scheduled for release next January (February in the UK) next year.Seventh Son

Vampire Academy: Based on a series of six young-adult paranormal romance novels by Richelle Mead. I haven’t heard of any of the principle cast but the supporting cast includes Olga Kurylenko, Gabriel Byrne and Joely Richardson. Scheduled to be released February next year.Vampire Academy

Divergent: Unlike the other films mentioned, Divergent is based on the first of an intended trilogy. It has been adapted into a film before parts two and three have been published. It is the debut novel by American author Veronica Roth. The film version is directed by Neil Burger and has an interesting cast including: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Maggie Q. it is scheduled for release next March next year.la_ca_0708_divergent

I’m not sure we have seen ‘The Next’ Twilight or Harry Potter yet but The Hunger Games is looking like the best and the most successful.

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I normally try to avoid writing anything political on this site, however once in a while some things shouldn’t be left unsaid. Films unlike any other art form (with the possible exception of music) have the ability to inform, educate and provoke debate at the same time as entertaining.  That is why on this day, 50 years after the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a dream” speech, I can’t help thinking someone should make a film about this important turning point in history.  A film to inform those unaware of the history and to remind the rest of how far we have come and how far we sadly still have to go.march on washington martin luther king jr

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

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Most of the films I have spoken about so far in this series are either all time classics or more recent and highly regarded movies (mainly animated as that is where my blind spot lies) but Remo Williams is in a strange way the most appropriate movie for the series. Born in the mid 70’s I grew up in the 80’s watching thousands of movies on VHS as a kid. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, or Remo: Unarmed and Dangerous as it is known in the UK market is the type of movie I would have watched in the 80’s. For example I remember watching a glut of cop thrillers involving revenge and or corruption including: Raw Deal (1986), Cobra (1986), Lethal Weapon (1987), RoboCop (1987), Number One with a Bullet (1987), Red Heat (1988), Blue Jean Cop (aka Shakedown) (1988), Cop (1988), Tango & Cash (1989) and Next of Kin (1989). However I didn’t see Remo Williams, why? Because I had never heard of it until I started blogging, over the last couple of years the name keeps coming up, usually on Man I Love Films and the MILFCAST. So it suddenly became an essential movie I hadn’t seen, a Blind Spot.remo-williams-the-adventure-begins-poster

Based on The Destroyer series of pulp novels; the first Created, The Destroyer was written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir and published in 1971. The series now runs to nearly 150 books, but only one movie. The American title “The Adventure Begins” suggests the start of franchise, future films failed to materialise. There was a 1988 TV pilot with Jeffrey Meek in the title role, but it wasn’t picked up. A reboot has been suggested, most recently in 2009 when there were reports of Charles Roven and Steve Chasman, the producers responsible for The Dark Knight and the Transporter respectively (Jason Statham as Remo Williams could be interesting) taking an interest, but things don’t seem to have gone beyond speculation.remo williams

Sam Makin (Fred Ward) is a tough New York cop and Marine Corps veteran who is unwillingly recruited by CURE a secret government organization who rename him Remo Williams. Williams is sent to Korean martial arts master, Chiun (Joel Grey – best know as the MC from Cabaret) who trains him in the fictional “Sinanju”. Quickly sent on his first mission involving a dodgy weapons manufacturer and the resulting corruption within the US Army, he comes across Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew – captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager) who is investigating the same thing.Remo Williams The Adventure Begins

Directed by Guy Hamilton who had previously been at the helm of a Harry Palmer and four James Bond movies, the potential franchise was in good hands. The interesting thing about the film is that it isn’t actually that good, in fact there are lots of things wrong with it. Chief among the problems, It looks cheep and the story lacks scope, ambition and direction. The portrayal of Chiun by Joel Grey rivals Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in its awkwardness. The film never knows when it should be serious and when it needs to be a comedy. Having said all this, it has its moments and is often good fun. Fred Ward makes a good reluctant and moody hero and surprisingly good leading man. The big set piece fight on the Statue of Liberty is well choreographed and shot as are some of the other fight scenes. The first meeting between Remo and Chun is excellent, reminiscent of Morpheus and Neo. This along with the bullet dodging makes me think The Wachowski’s are fans. Composer Craig Safan’s score is often cheesy 80s synth’ but actually fit’s the tone of the movie well and is lifted the kung fu movie inspired sections. I can’t help thinking had I seen it in the 80’s I would embrace the good and overlook its problem the way I can with films like The Running Man (1987) and Road House (1989).Remo Williams the statue of liberty fight

As a fun action movie the film works, but it lacks any depth or subtext. I’m glad to have seen it but it is far from an essential classic and because I saw it 25 years to late it lacks the emotional nostalgia that I have for other 80’s movies.

You can find the rest of the Blind Spot Series at The Matinee 

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Elmore Leonard 1925 – 2013

Elmore Leonard 1925 – 2013

From pulp western novels in the 1950’s to the brilliant TV show Justified via Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, Elmore Leonard was nothing short of a legend. Below is a selection of movies and TV shows based on his books and scripts. I recommend you watch any that you haven’t seen.Movies and TV shows based on Elmore Leonard books and scripts

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The greatest revelation of the month; The Lone Ranger isn’t a bad film, in fact its actually quite enjoyable. Armie Hammer’s deadpan, fish out of water portrayal of the Lone Ranger is good. Johnny Depp does some great physical comedy in the vain of Chaplin and Keaton. It’s great to see the brilliant Ruth Wilson on the big screen and she makes what she can of the thinly drawn clicked character. And William Fichtner is William Fichtner which is all you ever want him to be in a movie! There are some great sets used for real set pieces and physical special effects rather than overused CGI (doubly a good thing because the CGI is shaky at best). So why am I glad the movie is “underperforming” ? Lots of reasons:The_Lone_Ranger_Banner

The runtime is a few minutes short of a week, well actually it is only 149 minutes. This doesn’t even feel that long when you are watching the movie especially when you compare it to Gore Verbinski’s oh so long and dull Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. But, at 100 minute movie would have been so much better. I have often said that the greatest art comes from overcoming constraints, if you have creative freedom to make a film on as bigger budget as you want and no real constraints on the runtime you will become lazy as a filmmaker and that is what Verbinski has become, lazy. To such an extent that I don’t even remember why I loved the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but I do remember loving it. Had they taken all the little quirks that do nothing to progress the plot or develop the characters out of the movie, it would have been so much better. Had they been restricted on running time we would have seen the best bits of the chain chase and not the whole convoluted thing.The Lone Ranger and Pirates of the Caribbean

And this brings me onto the next thing. The budget, it is estimated at $250,000,000. What could they possibly have spent $250million on? Could they have told the story for half that amount? Had they done so the movie probably wouldn’t have gotten the backlash it has got from audiences and reviewers, it would have turned a profit and Verbinski would have been given the opportunity to do what he appears to like doing more than anything. Make a sequel or three. It’s not my place to tell Disney how to spend their money, but someone please tell them this does not make good business sense, did they learn nothing from John Carter? Before either Gore Verbinski or Andrew Stanton (director of John Carter) are let lose with another multi million dollar budget they should be made to prove they can remember how to work within constraints. I suggest something like “The Duel Project”. for those who don’t know, producer Shinya Kawai challenged Ryuhei Kitamura and Yukihiko Tsutsumi to make a movie each using just two principal actors/actresses and one location. They had a week to complete the project and came up with Aragami and 2LDK (both 2003).The Lone Ranger John Carter

I have more of a problem with the Monument Valley location than I ever thought I would. The real issue is John Ford, he famously used Monument Valley as a location for his westerns from his early silent days working with actor Harry Carey through his seminal movies including Stagecoach (1939), the “Cavalry Trilogy” (1948-1950) and The Searchers (1956). The first problem is where Monument Valley is (over 500 miles from any part of Texas). This really wasn’t a problem in the 1920’s and 30’s when ford first started using the largely unknown location as it was no less authentic than the Hollywood back lots that other filmmakers were using. It was new to audiences, where as today it is familiar and distracting. Ford was famous for his epic widescreen landscapes, Monument Valley was the most iconic of these but it was more than just a pretty backdrop. Located on the Utah, Arizona border Monument Valley represented freedom, freedom for the studios 650 miles away in Hollywood. It was also home to a Navajo Reservation that gave for access to extras for his films as well as helping fuel his interest in Interest in Navajo culture. This location along with a few others including the Colorado River became mainstays of Ford’s movies representing many different parts of the old west. Ford wasn’t just telling stories, he was creating a legend that endures to this day, Ronald L. Davis said it best in his book John Ford, Hollywood’s Old Master “He captured the nations creation myth on film”. this spirit of freedom and independence is trampled on by a movie made by Disney with a budget somewhere north of $200million. Then you have the biggest issue. If you are going to film a western in Monument Valley, whether you intend it or not you are invoking the spirit of Ford and his movies, and that is something that should be done with care. The silly tone of The Lone Ranger can be overlooked for the positive portrayal of Native American’s within the culture but that is one tick in a positive box against a lot of negatives.The Lone Ranger and Stagecoach

Finally, the real issue, the film is a mess. Although it condemns genocide, it does it in an almost cheerful and off hand way. Does the film wish to be a hard hitting commentary on the poor treatment of the native Americans, or does it want to be a fun romp? Unfortunately I can’t help thinking it wants to be the latter but pretends to be the former in defense of Depp’s casting as a Comanche.  To put it simply although an okay movie, its failure might just prompt film makers to think a little more and work a little harder to make good movies not just okay ones. Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan have proved that big budget movies can be fun and intelligent at the same time and still make a profit.

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Inspired by Spring Breakers from earlier this year I was wondering is there a film that represents each month of the year. For some there are lots to choose from, others are a little harder to think of. Here is what I came up with:

JANUARY In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007)
New Years Day

in search of a midnight kiss

FEBRUARY Some Like it Hot (1959)
February 14, 1929 – Saint Valentine’s Day massacre.Some Like it Hot

MARCH Piranha 3D (2010)
Spring breakPiranha 3D

APRIL A Night to Remember (1958)
April 15, 1912 – The Titanic sank. A Night To Remember

MAY Dazed and Confused (1993)
May 28, 1976 – the last day of school at Lee High School, Austin, Texas.Dazed and Confused

JUNE Bobby (2006)
June 5, 1968 – Robert F. Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded while leaving the Ambassador Hotel.Bobby

JULY Independence Day (1996)
Independence DayIndependence Day

AUGUST Richard III (1995)
On 22 August 1485 Richard III become the last English king to die in battle. Richard III

SEPTEMBER Dirty Dancing (1987)
Labour DayDirty Dancing

OCTOBER Halloween (1978)
31st OctoberHalloween

NOVEMBER Pieces of April (2013)
ThanksgivingPieces of April

DECEMBER Die hard (1988)
Christmas EveDie hard

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Films based on comic books and graphic novels are big business taking billions of dollars at the box office but this wasn’t always the case. After years of the rights to Marvel comics being sold off for TV shows and rubbish films (often with a tiny budget) movies, then came Marvel studios, their first film, Blade (1998) was a co production with New Line Cinema. Not risking one of their big name comic books their first film and in some ways their most important was Blade. Without its success would all the other Marvel properties have been made, and made with such vast budgets if not for the success of Blade.Blade Comic

A couple of years ago it was reported that the rights to Blade had reverted to Marvel Studios, there has been numerous reports that there was a new film in the works. Would it be a fourth in the existing series or a reboot? If a continuation of the series would Wesley Snipes continue in the title role or would he be replaced? Idris Elba has been frequently mentioned as a replacement. This could be genius casting, not only because he could well be perfect but for the opportunity it creates. The original film series rewrote Blade’s back story, a reboot would give the opportunity to return to an origin closer to the one from the comic books. An origin that like Elba that began in London. Eric Brooks was born in Soho, London in the 1920’s the son of a prostitute. When his mother Tara Brooks experienced difficulties in labour, a doctor was called for but what actually came was the vampire Deacon Frost. Frost feasted on Tara killing her in the process. Blade was born with many of the abilities of a vampire, but without their aversion to daylight. When he was nine years old Eric came across the home of Jamal Afari, vampire-hunter and jazz trumpeter during a vampire attack. The pair destroyed the vampires and Afari became Eric’s mentor training him in hand-to-hand combatant and the use of edged weapons. As he mastered these practices he took the name Blade and became the vampire hunter that first appeared in The Tomb of Dracula comic book.idris-elba

Idris Elba is not new to the world of vampires having appeared in the fantastic Chanel 4 mini series Ultraviolet (1998). He is also no stranger to comic book movies having already appeared to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), Thor (2011) and will be appearing in Thor: The Dark World later this year. A diverse actor Elba could bring the same dry humour and comedy that Wesley Snipes did to what is essentially a dark story. The tone for a new version would be set by the direction the director chooses, something between what Guillermo del Toro did with Blade II and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films would be perfect. Now the rights are back with Marvel asks the interesting question of where a new series will fit into the existing Marvel Universe. Given the fact that in the original trilogy the vampires existed without the knowledge of the public at large the same would probably be true of a new story. This would allow Blade to exist in the same universe as The Avengers without them necessarily having to come into direct contact, but given the option to crossover in future. It would work just as well if not more so it Blade existed in his own universe without the interference of any other Marvel characters.Wesley Snipes Blade

Whatever happens it will be good to see new life breathed into a franchise that has already given us to excellent and underrated movies (and a third best forgotten). I just hope they avoid the Disney pitfall of making it a 12A or PG movie, part of the appeal of the Blade is that despite the comic book action it was at its heart a vampire horror.

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