If Only They Were This Good at Brexit

This is the post that announced my quiz award on Chandler Swain’s blog.

CHANDLER SWAIN REVIEWS

NEWS FLASH FROM ENGLAND:In an atmosphere of revelry rivaling that of both VE Day and anytime Kenneth Branagh leaves the country, the people of Beetley are celebrating the success of local Ollie owner and the only resident of the town to have personally flashed a rude gesture at Benjamin Disraeli, Grouchy Pete. in his landmark victory in cracking the Enigma Code that is the Classic Film Images Photo Quiz.

Brexit Stalls as Parliament Investigates Suspicious Security Breach From Beetley; Dog Will Testify

In a move that has stunned NATO and forced an admission from French President Emmanuel Macron that Parisians are indeed “annoying”, an ancient Beetley native known only by the alias Pete (which in the Welsh dialect means either “angry Rainman” or “Ollie’s burden” depending on how many whiskey shots you have consumed), has solved what has been called by prominent scholars at the ivy…

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Code 8: A Short Film

Mt friend Antony sent me this 10-minute film.

It is a vision of the near-future, with people struggling to make a living, despite the possession of enhanced physical and mental powers.
The Police respond in kind, with draconian laws, and robotic cops delivered to crime scenes by drones. Surveillance is all, and nobody escapes…

This is an exceptionally well made film, in high definition. It is sadly all too short, and feels like a trailer to a longer film that would be a huge hit.

Just ten minutes, and worth your time, I assure you. Let me know what you think of it.
(You may need to turn up the volume. I had to)

Film Flops I Have Seen (4)

You can enjoy a film whilst at the same time realising it has flaws, and is definitely not a ‘great’ film. During the 1990s, it seemed that many film studios were convinced that stuffing a cast with big-name stars was enough.
A decent story and credible plot helped, but was not necessarily a requirement.

When I read about a new film starring Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding Jnr, and Donald Sutherland, my interest was piqued. I had seen all three in some memorable roles, and the casting of all of them in one film looked like a recipe for success. So I went to see ‘Instinct’, in 1999.

If you don’t know the film, it is about a man (Hopkins) who has been living in Africa, and studying gorillas. He went so far as to be accepted by the gorilla family, and when it was attacked by poachers, he killed some of the men responsible. When it turns out that the men were apparently Park Rangers, he is arrested for murder.

A psychiatrist (Gooding) becomes very interested in the case, and the strange jungle man is given his day in court.

This is a film that deals with mankind’s treatment of animals, and various issues surrounding our understanding of wildlife. It delves into the reasons behind why someone would choose to live along in a jungle, and how different the modern world is when he emerges. Or is it? Has he replaced one cruel jungle with another?

I will say no more about the film, to avoid spoilers.

And this post is about why it lost a small fortune.

I quite enjoyed it. Hopkins overplayed his role, something he is prone to do. But that didn’t spoil it for me. Some of the characters are very sympathetic, others less so. That is to be expected. If it tried to make a point about human encroachment on animal species, it succeeded. But that wasn’t exactly ‘breaking news’ in 1999.

The critics were unimpressed. Lukewarm reviews, and audiences waiting for it to turn up on DVD, or TV. This wasn’t a film that had to be seen on a big screen to get impact, and it didn’t have enough action to satisfy the mass-market. So it slipped off the viewing radar very quickly, until it found its spot at number 55 on the all-time 100 film flops, losing the backers around $70,000,000.

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”.

Film Flops I Have Seen (1)

It might not surprise you to find out that many films have been financial disasters, failing to recoup a fraction of the cost it took to make them. I haven’t seen all of them, but I have watched my share over the years. It is easy to see why some of them failed, but many of the biggest cinema disasters are actually excellent films. In this occasional series, I will be giving my own opinion about some of the cinema industry’s greatest flops.

The Cotton Club (1984)

This film made no impact at the box office, despite the presence of the big star, Richard Gere. It was also written by Mario Puzo of ‘Godfather’ fame, and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who made ‘Apocalypse Now’, so the talent was lined up. Along with Gere, we got Bob Hoskins, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, Lawrence Fishburne, Nicholas Cage, and Allen Garfield. At least the cast list looked promising.

Then there was the story. The Mob, A Harlem Club, famous gangsters, Jazz, great music and dancing. Add to that the faithful recreation of the club itself, and the feel of 1930s New York, and it had to be a winner. When it was released, the critics loved it, and it got nominated for a slew of awards. It won a Grammy for the soundtrack, but that was all.

But the public didn’t get it. They didn’t flock in their droves to see it, and they didn’t rush to buy the VHS tape of the film either. It had taken five years to make, and the notoriously over-spending Coppola had been lavishing in excess of $250,000 a DAY on the sets, costumes, and musical arrangements alone. As well as arguing with the studio, Coppola took money from Las Vegas hoodlums and international arms dealers to keep financing the project. Puzo was replaced as the screenwriter, and one of the investors was killed in an alleged drug gang hit, when he failed to pay them the promised return.

It all started to go wrong, very quickly.

The film grossed less than $26,000,000 worldwide, leaving the investors out of pocket by an estimated $77,000,000.

I went to see the film, and I actually really enjoyed it. It was not by any means a ‘great’ film, but I liked the period atmosphere, most of the acting, and all of the music.
Sadly, my entrance fee wasn’t enough to save it from being number 23 on the list of all-time film flops.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

The best camera ever?

(I woke up thinking about this today, but this post is only of interest to photographers and camera collectors)

In 1986, Canon brought out a new top of the range SLR manual focus film camera. It was designed in Germany, and really looked sleek and desirable.

I already owned three other Canon cameras at the time; the basic T50, the slightly better T70, and the older and heavier A1. So, I couldn’t justify the expense of buying this new professional model.

But I really wanted one.

Two years later, it had come down in price enough for me to rationalise getting one. I already had plenty of compatible lenses, so bought it ‘body-only’.

This was a film camera, not digital. It took four AA type batteries in the base, and all picture taking and composition had to be done through the optical viewfinder. There was automatic film advance and rewinding, so no film lever to spoil the look of it. Canon had added the luxury of multi-spot metering, and shadow and highlight control. There was also the ‘safety shift’ feature, which adjusted shutter speed or aperture to make sure you got the shot in awkward lighting conditions.

Despite being aimed at professionals and serious amateurs, it also retained the ‘Program’ option, for easy point-and-shoot photography. A window at the top supplied extensive information about settings, saving the need to look through the viewfinder to see them.

The back of the camera was an object lesson in simple design, with everything you needed, and no more.

It was very solidly built, and though weighty, never felt awkward or heavy in the hand. It could be bumped and dropped, and still work, making it a hit with some professionals.

Despite already owning some lenses and a flash that all worked on this new model, I bought a 24mm wide angle lens, and a 400mm telephoto prime too.

I have never enjoyed using a camera so much, before or since.

Many years later, in 2000, I felt that I now needed autofocus, as my eyesight was not what it was. I traded the camera in, with all the other bodies and lenses, and bought a new Minolta film SLR with one lens, a 24-105mm. As the man in the shop took away all my traded kit, I felt a real pang of regret watching it go.

This summer, I decided to buy one again. I got a decent used version on Ebay, and a compatible lens from the website of a camera shop.

I doubt I will ever use it. Film is a lot of hassle and expense these days, and my eyes are even worse.

But I just love to look at it.