Film Flops I have Seen (3)

Some of the films listed on the biggest flops ever can be a surprise.

But not this one.

If you ever needed proof positive that throwing a big name director together with a big name cast, then adding a budget of $155,000,000 was never guaranteed to result in a great film, then ‘Alexander’ (2004) is it.

I can imagine the studio licking their lips at the prospect. Seven production companies, guaranteed worldwide distribution, and Oliver Stone in the director’s chair. Then there was the cast. Colin Farrell as Alexander, along with Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Val Kilmer, and Jared Leto. Every generation of fans covered, and all actors with a track record of being big box-office draws.

Stone toured the world with pre-release interviews about just how great the film was. He had hired the foremost authority on Alexander’s army, a man who knew the period, the way battles were fought, and what the people of the time would have been wearing. He took the man along for those interviews, so he could convince the pundits. Historical authenticity was guaranteed. Worldwide film locations included Morocco, Thailand, and Malta.
Carbon footprint was not an issue for this production.

I was excited. After all, Stone had brought us JFK, which was great. Farrell was solid, with ‘SWAT’ and ‘Phone Booth’ showing he could act the part. Kilmer had been fabulous in ‘Tombstone’, and very good in ‘Heat’. Jolie had captivated me in ‘Changeling’. As for Anthony Hopkins, enough said.

But then I watched the film.

Never had a cast been so miscast. They not only didn’t suit their roles, they didn’t seem to relate to each other in any way. Stone’s insistence on that historical accuracy left me (and everyone else) wide-eyed in disbelief, and numerous other historical experts up in arms. It turned out that Oliver’s hired specialist was a self-deluding nut-job who made it up as he went along.
Oliver had been fooled, and we were left wanting.

The critics panned it, and the audiences stayed away. Then Stone added to his folly. He decided to drastically cut and alter the DVD release of the film, to make it less wordy, and more exciting. The resulting mess lost any cohesion, and became a jumble of unconvincing battle scenes populated by extras who looked like they had wandered in from a ‘Mad Max’ film. And I had been stupid enough to buy it, hoping that the much-lauded ‘Director’s Cut’ would be better than the screen version.

This film is just awful.

Small wonder that it lost an estimated $90,000,000, and took the place at number seven of all-time flops.

Film Flops I Have Seen (2)

I am continuing this series of film flops with this completely unnecessary remake, from 2004. As a child, I went to see John Wayne starring in ‘The Alamo’, in 1960. It was a more-or-less factual account of the famous defence of the Alamo Mission in 1836, against the superior Mexican forces led by Generalissimo Santa Anna.

For some reason best known to themselves, Touchstone Pictures, and producer Ron Howard, decided to do a by-the-numbers remake, 44 years later.

They scraped together a decent, if far from stellar cast, including Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid in the main roles. Both leading men had been in far better films, and it is fair to say that both were in the autumn of their film careers. It is also fair to say that the ‘target market’ for such a film had already seen the 1960 original, probably many times. And like me, they undoubtedly retained a fondness for it. Besides that, it was on TV all the time, dirt cheap on DVD, and there was zero demand for it to be remade.

From anyone, anywhere.

Disney refused Howard’s over-optimistic budget, and the original cast members Russell Crowe and Ethan Hawke left during the financial arguments. The director insisted on complete historical authenticity, and many details were changed from the John Wayne version. Deciding on presenting a ‘serious’ view of the Alamo battle proved to be the film’s undoing.

The critics didn’t like it. The public didn’t like it. Too much detail, too much talking, and action sequences that were not as exciting and involving as the 1960 film. With the critical panning, the audiences stayed away in droves. It wasn’t 1960 anymore, and they had all seen bigger and better historical blockbusters. Then there was that John Wayne original. It was undeniably a better film. More stirring, more involving, and overall more exciting.

The film lost a fortune. It cost $107,000,000 to make, and took less than $23,000,000 worldwide, including DVD sales.
That left it at number six, of the all-time film flops.

I watched the film the year after its US release, and can only agree with the critics, and the public. Another pointless remake.

Will they ever learn? I suspect the answer is “No”.

Significant Songs (204/205)

Good Luck, Good Luck.

I know I can come across like a grumpy old man, most of the time. I moan about the weather, complain about getting old, and generally like nothing better than to be grumbling about something or other.

But I have another side, and that’s my musical one. I have loved all kinds of music for as long as I can remember, and even now I am that age that I complain about, music brings out the youth still lurking in my soul.

In 2004, I was 52 years old. But I didn’t let that number affect my taste for funky music. Give me a good beat, some powerful vocals, add a catchy chorus, and I was on board.

Basement Jaxx was a British duo, and their forte was electronic music, sampling, and creating a very British version of Dance Music. Not the sort of band your average fifty-plus man was listening to at the time, I grant you. They wisely chose not to sing themselves, instead recruiting some of the most talented vocalists around at the time, and using many of them to front their lively record releases. One of those was Lisa Kekaula, an American singer with a retro sound, and huge voice.

They came together on this standout track, ‘Good Luck, Good Luck’, and I was on it as soon as I heard it played on the radio.

Fifteen years later, it still makes my feet go, and my body move.
Though perhaps a little more slowly…

And writing this reminded me of another one of their songs.
Great Bollywood/Dance Music fusion! And classy video too. 🙂

One film, two versions: Man On Fire

Many of you might have seen Denzel Washington giving his usual reliable performance in the 2004 kidnap thriller, ‘Man On Fire’. But did you know it was a remake? All too often, very good original films become forgotten or overlooked, when a big-budget remake with an A-list cast hits the screens, appealing to a new generation of film fans. This occasional series will attempt to address the issue of remakes, good and bad, and hopefully introduce you to some original versions you may not have been aware of.

In 1987, I saw a French/Italian film, starring the American actor Scott Glenn. It was based on a 1980 book, and the cast included such well known names as Jonathan Pryce, Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello, and Brooke Adams. It was about the rash of kidnappings in Italy, when wealthy families were held to ransom by Mafia groups who targeted family members, especially children. Some rich people began to hire private bodyguards, in the hope of stopping this happening to them.

Along comes weary and burned-out ex CIA man, John Creasy. (Glenn) Plagued by flashbacks of the war in Vietnam, suffering from PTSD and wandering aimlessly around Europe, he reluctantly accepts a job as bodyguard to a 12 year old girl. He forms a strong protective relationship with the girl, who idolises him, despite his gruff manner, and apparent indifference.

Then she is kidnapped, and John is seriously wounded trying to stop that happening. In hospital, he determines to rescue the girl, whatever it takes, and to track down her kidnappers. His vengeance is ruthless, as caring nothing for his own safety, he takes on organised crime to get her home to her parents.

I really enjoyed this film. It felt moody, low key, and interesting. Glenn was completely convincing as Creasy, and the supporting cast all did their jobs very well. Good locations, often visually stunning, as well as the short but violent set pieces being very effective. It had mixed reviews at the time, and seemed to disappear very quickly, getting little attention.

Seventeen years later, and a new version is released, with little or no mention of the original, or the fact is is a remake. Directed by Tony Scott, with a big budget, and a suitably impressive cast. Washington as John Creasy, ably supported by Dakota Fanning, Christoper Walken, Rachel Ticotin, and Mickey Rourke. Creasy is a depressed burned-out former CIA man, dependent on alcohol, and drifting aimlessly in life. (Sound familiar?) The setting is now Mexico, and the villains are the kidnappers of the drug cartels. An American woman, married to a rich young Mexican man, fears for their daughter, and wants to hire a bodyguard for her. Creasy reluctantly accepts the job, and forms a protective relationship with the girl, teaching her to swim, and tolerating her adoration of him. (Stop me if you have read this already…)

She is of course kidnapped, and Creasy is badly wounded trying to save her. He decides to track down the men responsible, and wreak a terrible revenge on them, with no regard for his own safety. OK, flippancy aside, this is a pretty good remake, something rare indeed. If you had never known about the original, you could well be swept away by the great cinematography, and solid performances from all involved. There are minimal changes, and the action follows the original in almost every respect. But it loses much of the mood of the 1987 film, and that European feel that made it something very different at the time.

Let me know what you think of remakes, in the comments. I will post some more like this during the year if anyone else finds them interesting..

Significant Songs (51)

Somewhere Only We Know

In 2004, I frequently heard a hit record performed by the British Indie band Keane. It was a nice enough song, but I was not a great fan of that group, and I hardly gave it another thought. I would not have considered buying the album containing the song, as I did not like the band that much, and it was somewhat different to their other material anyway.

Nine years later, before Christmas 2013, a new version of the song appeared. It was for use on the TV advertising campaign for the department store, John Lewis. To accompany the song, there was an extra-length TV segment, running over two minutes, and featuring cartoon animals. Lily Allen, daughter of the well-known actor and comedian Keith Allen, had enjoyed a varied career in the music business, with distinctive self-penned songs delivered in a strong London accent, and a unique vocal style. The nursery rhyme feel of this song was ideally suited to her voice, and the track took on a timeless quality as a result. She is quoted as saying that she was unhappy with it, and thought that she sounded too ‘screechy’. I don’t agree, as to my ears, she is just perfect for a song that could have been written for her. But wasn’t.

This is the longer version, showing how the cartoon film was made.