10 November 2017

Daddy's Murdered on a Train, Other Stuff

There's two major film openings this week, folks, and neither are really big blockbuster action-types, but both have some franchise aspirations in their own way. Spoiler, but neither is going to light up the cinema, either. I can call this a mile away. I can tell you that a redux of Murder on the Orient Express (2017) isn't going to do well. Why would it ever do well? Daddy's Home 2 (2017) is one of the least-inspired comedies in a while, but considering that somehow Daddy's Home (2015) is second only to Elf (2003) in Will Ferrell's all-time grosses (The LEGO Movie [2014] technically out-grossed it, and you could even call it a live action Ferrell movie, but that doesn't feel Ferrell-esque as much as his more classic films), it was only natural that we get a sequel. Let's talk about each of these films in that order.

For real
FUR real
I don't even know if I have much for Murder on the Orient Express. There is an all-star cast here, with Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, and Daisy Ridley. Before you get too excited, with the exception of Ridley doesn't that sound like an amazing cast twenty years ago? I don't think the woes of the current Hollywood system are as much about actors not being appealing anymore as it is a reliance on A-listers that were popular in the 90s. This is all to say that I don't care. Depp has been slumming in everything lately. Dafoe has always slummed in weird shit. Pfeiffer has underwent a mini-renaissance the last few years and she's actually a bit more interesting as an elder actress than she was in Scarface (1983). So that's a mixed bag at best.

Kenneth Branagh is terrible. He does Shakespeare well and pops up randomly in mainstream shit ranging from Wild Wild West (1999) to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2001), and of course, this year's Dunkirk (2017). Still, his last few directorial projects in order are Cindarella (2015), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), and THOR (2011). Why. Why in every sense of the world is this someone whose art is worth seeing?

The worst part may be that the first fucking image you see is Branagh in the most ridiculous moustache ever, but it's played completely seriously. Look, I know it's a European period piece, but have some restraint to make things palatable to today's cynical audience, dammit. This film just doesn't seem like it's doing itself any favours. It's definitely going to play to an older crowd. No young person has ever heard of Agatha Christie, much less can appreciate her work.

Now, the merit of the film will largely depend on how accurate the adaptation is, but considering this is the fourth live-action screen adaptation, including previous films and TV movies, is there anything new to say? It's a mystery story - isn't not knowing the ending critical? This story has been around for 80 years, man! Of course, maybe the young audience doesn't know whodunnit, and maybe even the older target audience has forgotten. It's going to have to be a compelling movie, but I'm struck the same way I was when that shitty Alex Skarsgard Tarzan movie came out last year. Who the fuck cares about Tarzan? Studios seem to be grabbing anything with name recognition for the sake of name recognition, not whether that property is even engaging.

Murder has like a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes right now and may do okay, but it'll fade out of consciousness quickly. To me that's the greatest crime of all, and is the source of a lot of the vitriol in this preview. Why could this try to be new or cool or interesting? It's just a bunch of shit that we won't think about next week or next year or in the next ten years. Who cares. It's a cultural tragedy.

Altho isn't this tough cameo lessened by how goofy
John Cena has become the past few years?
Moving on from that trainwreck (wha-hey!) we have Daddy's Home 2. What I can say about this one? I was eager to see the first film because it did really well and Mark Wahlberg for some reason plays off Will Ferrell so well. It was such a damned waste of time. It's a film that doesn't know how goofy it wants to be. Tonally it's like Kicking and Screaming (2005) without any of the fun cameos or cheekiness meets Step Brothers (2008), but without the surreal nuance. It's crazy to see what director Sean Anders does while he's trying to be Adam McKay. The Other Guys (2010) and Step Brothers had such solid world-building around them where every actor was so game for subtle weirdness. Daddy's Home tries so damn hard but falls flat over and over again. And this guy made That's My Boy (2012), which counts me as the only existing fan in the world!

Anders returns for the sequel, which hasn't made anything appealing at all. It's all very Meet the Fockers (2004)-esque, where it portends to bring a bunch of new older characters played by former A-listers into the mix to challenge and reverse the roles of the former protagonists and antagonists. For some reason people seem weirdly cool with Mel Gibson now, who has appeared in a ton of movies for someone with his racist and conservative views. But that's stunt casting for sure. John Cena is now always welcome, and John Lithgow is a doof, but that seems to work well here. It all makes me think about how much more pigeon-holed and thrown in a corner capable actress Linda Cardellini is going to be.

This is a Christmas movie, which is coming out far too early. Then again, we had A Bad Moms Christmas (2017) last week for reasons that completely escape me. It could make some bank because the first one is well-liked, but I think that novelty has worn off, and this November is looking pretty busy already. It's not totally a family-friendly comedy. Then again, I have no idea what the audience for Daddy's Home was (was it new parents? college kids? bros? working stiffs? Moms who wanted to see Mark Wahlberg's chest?), and maybe those people will turn out again. I don't see this doing well financially and culturally...I mean, how often do you quote Daddy's Home?

Hollywood is not incapable of churning out interesting new and exciting quotable films. A lot of the major 2017 releases have just been junk. Will Ferrell is already having a rough year as he finds it difficult to find new ways to riff on his immature persona. Adult movies like Orient Express aren't really that sexy, either, at least how this has been presented. It's not just that moviegoers only want to watch superhero movies and horror movies, those are just the only ones doing a good job at capturing our attention. They're what's in with culture now. Turning your nose up at that trend isn't good for anybody.

What will you watch this weekend?

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