Mission Impossible II is a film that remains eternally fascinating to me, particularly as the demonstrable nadir of, otherwise, one of cinema’s most consistently entertaining blockbuster franchises.
The better entries of the Tom Cruise-led modern adaptation of Bruce Geller’s iconic 1960’s espionage TV series are easier to write about, in many respects. You have the Euro-centric, Hitchcockian suspense and classic retro thrills of Brian De Palma’s first 1996 take on the material, and once JJ Abrams and Bad Robot get their hands on the property from 2006’s Mission Impossible III onwards, the franchise becomes a much slicker fusion of all-American spy thrills, combining modern technology, action spectacle and ‘spy-fi’ theatrics. Abrams’ III is an adaptation of his TV series Alias in all but name. John Woo’s II is the clear, harder to define aberration.
In a way, it also remains the most interesting.
Last Action Hero is both ahead of its time and perfectly positioned *within* the era it was made, such is the paradox of a forgotten curiosity of 1990’s action cinema and the stratospheric career of Arnold Schwartzenegger.
Here’s my story and why I’m writing about Last Action Hero some twenty five years on from its release. I was 11 years old when Last Action Hero was released in cinemas, in the US one week after Steven Spielberg’s decade-defining Jurassic Park. In theory, I was the perfect age to consume a film which is entirely about the youthful obsession of a similarly-aged child, Austin O’Brien’s Danny Madigan, with action adventure cinema. Jurassic Park I badgered my parents to take me to see three times yet I didn’t go anywhere near Last Action Hero. It didn’t even register with me. It has taken me until age 36 to actually sit down and watch it, and this is after spending at least the last twenty years being an enormous fan of Schwarzenegger’s movies and career. Last Action Hero was always the Arnie film I missed.
Adaptations of successful stage experiences to the silver screen are not always adept at capturing the magic of what drew people to the piece in a theatrical setting. The Woman in Black is probably the best example; widely regarded across the world as one of the most terrifying experiences an audience can have in a theatre, both of its cinematic versions retained for many a sense of atmosphere but lacked the potent dread and fear. The jury will be out as to whether the same is true of Ghost Stories.
Having never seen Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman’s original play performed on the West End stage, I shall refrain from drawing comparisons between the source material and its adaptation. That can be left for others who have had both experiences. As a piece of cinema, Ghost Stories does manage to capture a level of creeping, dreamlike enigma, shot through with not a little dash of the kind of jet black comedy Dyson added as part of The League of Gentlemen foursome – he was their Terry Gilliam, the unseen on screen writing partner, aside from a cameo – indeed you may spot him in Ghost Stories in a similar function if you’re eagle eyed. Ghost Stories is by no means as broad as the BBC comedy, and is first and foremost a dramatic tale, but there is an undercurrent of gallows humour to the piece which at times grounds it in a sense of normality, as it ventures into strange waters.
It would be tempting to suggest I Kill Giants is a direct result of the critical and commercial success of Patrick Ness & JA Bayona’s A Monster Calls, but given this adaptation of the Joe Kelly & JM Kim Niimura’s indie-graphic novel from 2008 was filmed in September 2016, before A Monster Calls was released, this suggests the two are just a happy, coincidental accident.
I mention this because I Kill Giants owes a huge debt to Bayona’s film, both in terms of narrative structure and thematic sensibility. This is ironic because Kelly & Niimura’s source material was published a good three years before Ness published his novel, which Bayona subsequently made into a film, so in many respects perhaps the inspiration should be flipped on its head. Had I Kill Giants been filmed and released first, that may well have been the case, although somehow I doubt it. For the principal reason that Anders Walter doesn’t nearly manage to evoke the same level of heartfelt anguish, awe and pain from Kelly’s script adaptation of the graphic novel as Bayona managed from Ness’ screenplay adaptation of A Monster Calls. The two may have a great deal of DNA in common, but they are significantly apart in successful execution.
What you make of Love, Simon, and undoubtedly what you take from it, could well depend on your identified sexuality. It shouldn’t, but it doesn’t quite feel we’re at the point yet where gender fluidity and honesty about our sexual preferences is not important. Greg Berlanti’s film, in fact, is all about the fact it still matters.
Love, Simon has been intentionally, specifically crafted to evoke movies and decades past. Adapted from the novel ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli, Berlanti’s film wears its inspirations on its sleeve – principally John Hughes, maestro of the 1980’s teen angst comedy, who managed to fuse the colour and vibrancy of that decade with the love-lorn sense of existential trauma about what it means to be young and trying to figure out who you are in that world. The 80’s and 90’s seemed perfectly placed for those kinds of pictures, whether The Breakfast Club or St. Elmo’s Fire, even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (even if that’s built around more of a narrative gambit), through to films such as Empire Records or the early American Pie films. They may differ in style and tone but all share that same common element of DNA: teenagers figuring out where they fit in.
If ever a cinematic franchise in the making deserved the reboot treatment, it was probably Tomb Raider. The adventures of British Lady, Lara Croft, she of pixelated bosom, cut glass accent and frightening wealth, who so entranced video gamers in the late 1990’s, have not to date had the most auspicious history on the big screen.
For half a generation, Lara Croft was epitomised by Angelina Jolie. The bosom came naturally, the accent less so, but she certainly gave it her best shot in two pictures adapting Eidos’ massively successful female replica of the Indiana Jones series – firstly 2001’s slick, hollow Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, in which Jolie-Lara fought Ser Jorah Mormont who went looking for a magical triangle to stop time (or something) and later in 2003’s slick and, yes, hollow Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, in which Jolie-Lara again teamed up with (bellow it) GERARD BUTLER! to stop Mance Rayder (in yet another Game of Thrones connection) from unleashing Pandora’s Box. Not figuratively, you understand, but literally. *The* Pandora and her Box.
Suffice to say, despite fairly decent box office, neither of these films did anything to successfully lift the long-held ‘video game to movie’ curse which has swirled around adaptations of computer games to the big screen since their inception in the 1980’s. The rot undoubtedly started with the fetid 1993 take on Super Mario Bros (arguably the biggest game of the 80’s) and has festered ever since through a cornucopia of cinematic versions of beloved games, some of which were tackled by half-decent directors with fairly strong casts. Assassin’s Creed last year, helmed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender (both fresh off a great new take on Macbeth), was considered the Great Video Game Hope but, alas, it was critically panned. Mind you, I think that film is seriously underrated. But that’s another story. Back to Lara and her tombs…
Amidst the online furore around the release of Annihilation, there’s a worry the film itself could well get lost in the haze, which would be unfortunate. Alex Garland once again, with this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, proves himself a growing allegorical auteur.
Garland first found fame of course as the scribe behind Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, a stripped back, British take on the zombie genre popularised originally by George A. Romero. Garland has always been interested in dystopian surroundings, whether in a post-apocalyptic future where a deadly virus has ran amok, a corporation-fuelled, oily near future crime saga (in Dredd, which star Karl Urban just this week claimed Garland ghost-directed), or his previous, much-celebrated picture Ex Machina, which tackled the thorny subject of artificial intelligence and sexuality, helping to make stars of Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander in the process. These are films using an often disturbing future-lens to reflect anxieties of our time. He’d be very at home in the company of Black Mirror.