19 August 2016

One More for the Summer! War, Hur, and Kubo

This will be the last Road to a Blockbuster post for Summer 2016, although the column never really dies. We just aren't as energized talking about Mechanic: Resurrection (2016) and Sully (2016) as some of the big dogs. Actually, we should definitely discuss Mechanic: Resurrection. What is he resurrected from? Anyway, this weekend shouldn't really could, but it's sort of summer, and these movies are trying to be sort of big, so let's go at it. Like every weekend, we've got three films that are pulling audiences in bonkers directions. Let's start with the first, most obvious franchise non-starter.
Part of the Caribbean Exchange Program.

Ben-Hur (2016) should never really be followed by a "2016" in parentheses. The original is a quintessential timeless classic that won awards more for its exuberance and epicness than any merit, even if that merit is damn significant. Ben-Hur (1959) is a cultural landmark whose influence has echoed across cinema for the past fifty plus years. At the time it was the most expensive movie ever made and somehow went 11/12 at the Academy Awards, a feat matched only decades later by Titanic (1997) who went 11/14, and then by The Return of the King (2003), which stunned, dropping 11/11. This isn't the kid of film you just casually remake with no cast, script, or credentialed director!

So they totally casually remade this with no cast, script, or credentialed director. Generally, when you search google for Ben-Hur and the 1959 one pops up first, that's not a great thing for your new big movie coming out today. Your lead's most notable role so far is that douchey mafia son who woos Rosalyn in American Hustle (2013). Yeah, that dude. That is your Charlton Heston? Director Timur Bekmambetov has had some really interesting films, but none since Wanted (2008). Any good will was summarily erased by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) which probably has more to do with the fact that that property was too campy to be adapted (or at least adapted straight, like Bekmambetov attempted). He still feels like a poor man's Zack Snyder which is NEVER something you want to be.

There's also Morgan Freeman. Although Morgan Freeman is almost turning into Sam Jackson the way he pops up in every movie ever. That's not a black thing. Or maybe...it is! Shit! Toby Kebbell is also slowly proving that he's a villainous version of Taylor Kitsch that despite his chops and well-cast roles can't open anything. Anyway you slice it, the late August dumping of a once-revered property is a rough demonstration that the studio is lacking any kind of support for this dumpster trash. There's almost no way this movie makes an impact in our lives other than these three paragraphs. Next.

Let's take on War Dogs (2016), which is an interesting true story telling from Todd Phillips, who by and large despite his choice of subject, is an outstanding director. He actually does a great job of pumping us full of empathy for awful people, with a scathing wit that tends to go for the worst decision in any scenario. This sounds perfect for a crime / drama / war / comedy. It's actually already getting some decent reviews, which is nice to hear.

Miles Teller seems to get a lot of flack because he's supposedly a douchebag, but he's still a damn fine actor. Jonah Hill also seems to have this "tortured artist" persona, although it's really pretty far from the truth. It does seem like perfect casting, though. Throw in Bradley Cooper, who will likely get an Academy Award nomination for this, and there's a pretty likable cast at work here.

So why do I kind of don't care about seeing this? Maybe because it seems to be The Social Network (2010) meets Lord of War (2005). Wait, those are both great movies, why don't I want to see this? I'm not sure, but something's holding me back. It could be a nice late summer hit, and without any other film having much a marketing presence and with Suicide Squad (2016) winding down (tremendously), and not much serious competition from either Sausage Party (2016) or Pete's Dragon (2016), it ought to clear $20 million and win the weekend pretty easily.

But will it stick in our public consicousness? Maybe. It's fairly distinctive. We all remember American Ultra (2015) as that weird stoner-Bourne movie, right? Won't we remember War Dogs as that somewhat silly Iraq War Gun-runner comedy-ish movie? What's that? No one remembers American Ultra? Well, it's got some hope.

Lastly we have Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), which is a kind of oddball claymation movie from oddball claymation studio Laika, which has given us a slew of underrated gems like Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), and The Boxtrolls (2014). Kubo actually looks like the best of this lot, mostly because it eschews the studio's Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)-esque creepy claymation schtick in favor of an entirely new genre of medieval Japanese warriors. Or something.

The voice cast is pretty sublime, including Matthew McConaughey, who for some reason also has a second animated film dropping in a few months, Illumination's SING (2016), which looks all sorts of awkward. But for now he joins Charlize Theron, George Takei, and Rooney Mara on a romp in animated animal Japan-land, which looks original and cool and interesting.

Of course, animation has been the one thing that's really hit this summer, and even though I keep hypothesizing that each new film won't have room to distinguish itself, that hasn't really happened. Except for Ice Age: Collision Course (2016). Even Sausage Party did enough to show it's really its own genre to put some butts in seats. Kubo is certainly its own animal, although I have some doubts as to whether or not it can catch on like a Secret Life of Pets (2016). Okay, so there's no way it's going to do that sort of business, but a lack of cute animals or characters, or an easily deciphered plot is going to be an issue. Who exactly is this movie made for?

I don't suppose Laika is really shooting that high, though. So far they've churned out three films for $60 million a pop which have all pulled in about $50 million domestic and just over $100 worldwide. My guess is Kubo snatches that pretty easily, especially with its international bend. Culturally I can see it earning its place like Coraline or ParaNorman did, which isn't quite at the head of the class, but certainly fond favourites in their own right. Kubo might be even a bit stronger because it seems a little more action-geared. I suppose it's really a true pre-teen sort of movie, which is an interesting audience to target. I hope it does well.

So that's it. See you next Summer! Or at least until the next totally misguided remake of an immortal classic. Sooo...The Magnificent Seven (2016)? Sure, let's set a date for September 23rd, folks.


  1. How did "Ben Hur" get the green light? I have no idea. But I think a bunch of studio execs were look over all the classic action set pieces they could remake and the chair race came up. Then we got this movie. Ugh. That trailer was painfully bad too. I don't think I ran into anyone who was even curious to see this movie. Just a what the hell moment all the way around.

    But there is one sad thing about it failing. Composer Marco Beltrami is no attached to two dogs this year "Ben Hur" and "Gods of Egypt". I hope it doesn't affect his career too much. Because these things end up sticking.

    1. Haha, I totally forgot about Gods of Egypt. I don't know why these films seem like good ideas. Throw Exodus: Gods and Kings in there, too. There's like, Gladiator, The Mummy, and 300 as the good modern sword and sandal pictures, and for some reason we're still riding that wave


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