the balcony fool

serious film discussion. seriously.

REVIEW: Quantum of Solace

Posted by Balcony Fool on November 24, 2008

runninbondJames Bond is about to get an apology from me.

Over the years, I’ve been awfully hard on 007. The legacy films were not a part of my formative experience (my parents objected to the sexual overtones), so I evolved without a knowledgeable appreciation of the world’s favorite super-spy.

What I did have, however, were vivid imaginations of what the James Bond movies might be, absorbed by osmosis and embellished by my own adolescent fetishes, and these were sultry fantasies indeed. In my young mind, James Bond existed in a cosmopolitan noir, darting through the shadows of exotic locales, trading barbs with diabolical villains and long, loaded gazes with treacherous sirens. There were secret codes, mysterious passageways, and underground hideouts. There were rogue operatives, false identities and double-double-crosses; a seamy, smoke-filled world of furtive glances, surreptitious signals and clandestine rendezvous, all simmering just beneath the glossy facade of tailored tuxedos and expensive drinks. It was rich stuff.

Here, then, is a partial list of things that did not exist in my imagined Bond universe: invisible cars, space-lasers, x-ray sunglasses, robots, jet packs, hovercrafts, and flamethrowing bagpipes. Therefore, it was a rather cruel surprise when I reached an age of independence and started sampling the actual 007 films for myself. I’ll admit, the crushing disappointment was a result of my own misguided preconceptions, but there it was. After a brief sampling, I washed my hands of 007 and his big, cartoony, pseudo-sci-fi world.

But then came Casino Royale. I had no interest in seeing it, of course, but enthusiastic friends badgered me into a reluctant rental, and that night a small part of me was born again. Many praises have been rendered in honor of Martin Campbell’s reboot, so I’ll simply say this was the Bond film for which I had always pined. It was smart, tense, sexy, and believable. It was populated with dangerous characters who knew they were playing with the highest stakes, and acted accordingly. They didn’t seem to realize they were in a spy movie. Daniel Craig imbued Bond with personality instead of a persona, and he made 007 someone we could root for, rather than marvel (or worse, laugh) at. In the space of three hours, I became a convert.

My love for this new incarnation of Bond gave me further incentive to jeer at the rest of the canon. The perfection of Casino Royale drew the absurdities of the old films into even sharper relief, making them that much easier to dismiss. For me, Casino Royale was more than just a good film, it was vindication. This, at last, was what I always knew James Bond movies were supposed to look like.

And so it was, with the fanaticism of a new convert, I found myself purchasing advance tickets for Quantum of Solace. I was there on opening night, ready to experience what was sure to be a riveting new chapter in the saga of Bond reborn.

I’ll bet it was pretty good, too. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see about 70% of what happened in the film, because director Marc Forster and his editors were so busy trying to punch me in the retinas that they forgot to actually show what was going on. There are no reserves left in my well of forgiveness for directors who shoot action scenes as if the whole point were to disorient the audience. It doesn’t create tension or momentum. It’s disassociative, in fact, and it’s lazy filmmaking. This was a loud, mindless, action movie, so poorly shot and cut that I resented it before the end of act one. Quantum of Solace is every bit as raucous and dumb as Casino Royale was subtle and smart.

I’m pretty sure there were a few lines of dialogue in this movie, but they served mostly as respite between beats of the Chase Scene, which started in a car, then continued on foot, over rooftops, on motorcycles, in boats, and finally (why not?) in airplanes. Ask yourself this: when you stage that many action sequences, plus the obligatory seduction scene and explosive finale, in a 100-minute film, how much time is left for drawing characters, constructing plot, creating ambience, and building tension? I’ll answer for you: not much. It’s a matter of simple mathematics.

In a Herculean feat, Daniel Craig single-handedly saves the film from being unwatchable. Despite the headache-inducing foolishness around him, his Bond always remains believable and engaging. Mathieu Amalric shows promise as the snaky villain Dominic Greene, but he’s ultimately defeated by the weak material.

I will give Quantum of Solace two terrific moments. First is the virtuoso opera house sequence, in which Forster goes a bit over the top, but succeeds in creating an echo of the tension and bad-assery that characterized Casino Royale. Second is the climactic throw-down between Bond and Greene, which was as visceral and brutal as they come.

So, if this was such a rotten movie, why do I owe James Bond an apology? Over the last few nights, the cable channel Spike has been showing some of the older flicks, and since I had Bond on the brain, I sat through a couple. You know what I noticed? I was able to follow every moment of Pierce Brosnan crashing his invisible car through a palace made of ice while a laser melted it from outer space. I always knew who was getting speared as Sean Connery did battle with a platoon of underwater assailants. Those old Bond flicks, yeah, okay, maybe they were silly, and maybe they weren’t what I wanted them to be, but they were shot by people who knew how to tell a story in a visual medium, and they had distinct personalities. Quantum of Solace made me realize, hey, maybe I wasn’t giving those legacy films enough credit.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Superman, By The Numbers

Posted by Balcony Fool on August 26, 2008

Apologies for having disappeared over the last few weeks. I hate it when personal matters get in the way of obsessing about movies. I know, you do too. Shhhhhh.

Following up on our previous Superman discussion, it appears Warner Brothers has officially decided to reboot the franchise, just two years after the release of the last film. Per this interview with the Wall Street Journal, WB president Jeff Robinov states:

Superman didn’t quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to,” says Mr. Robinov. “It didn’t position the character the way he needed to be positioned.” “Had Superman worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009,” he adds. “But now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman…”

I’m against a reboot, but most of the message boards I frequent have received this news with great rejoicing, so there you have it.

However, I am sick to death of hearing people say Superman Returns was a “bomb.” I’m not usually a numbers guy, but this angle really annoys me so I took a quick trip to The Numbers and did a little research.

Superman Returns had DVD sales of around $81 million. WB sold the television rights for about $20 million, and merchandising revenue was “more than $60 million.” So that’s $160 million dollars that WB is in the clear. Subtract the $40 million dollar advertising budget, and that leaves them $120 million dollars ahead of the game before you even begin counting box office revenue.

So for the movie to be profitable, they needed to bring in more than $150 million. The movie brought in $391 million. Let’s give the theaters a generous 25% of the box office. That leaves WB with $293 million.

In other words, on a film that cost an absurd $270 million dollars, they managed to make a clear profit of $140 million (and, technically, Australia gave them a $28 million tax break, so they actually cleared about $168 million). That’s fairly amazing, especially considering many fans didn’t like the movie.

Could that pot have been sweeter? Sure. WB execs no doubt had visions of Spider-Man revenue dancing in their heads. Unfortunately, the flick just wasn’t as well-received as Spider-Man, and the studio lit a fair amount of their own potential profit on fire. For one thing, $40 million dollars of that budget comes from failed development over the last ten years. Seriously. They paid various parties $40 million to not make the movie. The remaining budget of $230 million is ludicrous for any film. No reason that movie needed to cost more than $180 million (especially given how little of that money was onscreen).

If $168 million isn’t an acceptable profit, they simply need to put the sequel on a reasonable budget, make it shorter, and require more action from the script. The average moviegoer isn’t as discerning as the fanboys. If they’re interested in Superman, they’re not going to stay home just because the last one wasn’t very good. The Star Wars prequels proved that. And The Incredible Hulk proved that a reboot won’t necessarily bring in a bigger audience.

So can we put to rest this nonsense about Superman Returns being a failure? Movies that fail don’t make $391 million. Movies that are mismanaged, however, can sell $391 million worth of tickets and still not meet profit expectations.

Posted in Newsfoolery | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »

Tron 2? Yes, please.

Posted by Balcony Fool on July 25, 2008

Cyberspace is afire with news that Tron 2 (aka TR2N – seriously?) is on its way. Not only is the project finally a go after all these years, they’ve actually already shot some footage! Yesterday at ComiCon, Disney screened a three-minute promo, featuring — and this is where the story gets really good — Jeff Bridges, the original party tronster. But is he a villain this time around? And will Bruce “I Was Actually Tron” Boxleitner appear as well? What about the mousy chick? Disney somehow managed to keep this whole thing a secret, and it sounds like they’re going to operate under a veil of secrecy for the foreseeable future. (UPDATE: Peter Chattaway points out that this wasn’t much of a secret, after all.) While we wait for more details to emerge, let’s all take a moment to the thank the Great Spirit (Cecil B. DeMille) that this is a sequel, and not a remake. How lucky are we? Thanks, Hollywood! You’re so good to us.

One other interesting note: apparently the promo was originally going to screen in 3-D, but the process wasn’t ready. Will the movie itself be shot in 3-D? I know we’re living at the dawn of a new cinematic age and all, but I still tend to think of 3-D as a gimmick. Nevertheless, this is one film that could really take advantage of the technology. Imagine an immersive Tron world! My imagination quakes.

The director is some guy called Joseph Kosinski, whose sole credit appears to be the not-yet-shooting remake of Logan’s Run. Nothing against Mr. Kosinski, but why not Steven Lisberger? As co-writer and director of the original film, I can’t think of a reason why he wouldn’t get a shot at the sequel. Last I heard, Lisberger was working on this, but either that project has fizzled, or he just wants to make it an even twenty years between films.

I don’t know about any of you, but for me this ranks just below the Star Wars prequels in terms of anticipation. Let’s just hope this one works out a little better. (Is it even possible for it to work out worse? Or even as bad?) Tron fans have been waiting 26 years to see their heroes on the screen again, so don’t screw it up, Joe. (No pressure.)

Posted in Newsfoolery | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »


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