Hollywood's blockbuster season this summer has seemed more overstuffed than ever with the studios' major "tentpole" releases, and more often than not this year, these highly touted big-budget movies have bombed miserably.
The special-effects-driven comic-book tale R.I.P.D., about ghost police officers patrolling the spirit world, is one of the latest flops. It follows the likes of the fairy-tale battle epic Jack the Giant Slayer, the Disney Johnny Depp western The Lone Ranger and Will and Jaden Smith's sci-fi star vehicle After Earth. Other expensive movies that weren't necessarily flops but didn't exactly perform that great included Brad Pitt's zombie adventure World War Z and director Guillermo del Toro's giant robots vs. monsters movie Pacific Rim and The Wolverine.
All offered the kinds of thrills that have drawn the popcorn-munching masses in the past, but these days it seems moviegoers are pickier. And when there is a new tentpole erected each week, the choices are made even more difficult.
The situation could indicate that the "implosion" predicted by directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, in which only a handful of blockbusters are made each year with ticket prices being much, much higher, could happen sooner than anyone expected.
For my part, I've enjoyed most of these movies that have bombed, particularly The Lone Ranger, which I thought was great fun.
And I've been looking forward to R.I.P.D., mainly because I've been digging the previews. The story has Ryan Reynolds as a smart-aleck young Boston cop who is killed in the line of duty. He's immediately snapped up by the Rest in Peace Department, a lawkeeping body in the spiritual world that takes care of evil souls who won't go away peacefully. Reynolds' rookie is partnered up with a gunslinging U.S. marshal out of the Wild West, played by none other than Jeff Bridges, who combines his characters from The Big Lebowski and True Grit. They search for "deados", ghostly criminals who refuse to cross over to the spiritual realm. To work in the real world the lawmen no longer look like themselves – Reynolds appears to be veteran Chinese-American actor James Hong while Bridges is a leggy blonde Victoria's Secret supermodel.
Other stars include Kevin Bacon as Reynolds' Boston police partner and Mary-Louise Parker as Reynolds' new police chief in the ghost world.
It's directed by Robert Schwentke, who scored a major hit by adapting another comic book with Red. The box-office flop of R.I.P.D. suggests he should have stuck with the better-performing Red 2 instead.
Along with audiences staying away, critics have been unkind to R.I.P.D., who have derided it as a rip-off of Men in Black. But it appears to still have its moments, thanks to the Dude Rooster Cogburn. It's in converted 3D in some cinemas. Rated 13+.
The Liability – Actually this looks like a better bet than R.I.P.D., especially if you like British gangster movies like Snatch or Performance. After a 19-year-old smashes up his gangster stepfather's BMW, he's assigned to pay off his debt by driving around an ageing hitman – a very grumpy-looking Tim Roth. It's a darkly comic journey that takes the kid (Jack O'Connell) into a nightmarish world of murder, sex trafficking and revenge. Peter Mullan and Talulah Riley also star. Craig Viveiros directs. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to positive. Rated 18+.
The Big Wedding – A long-divorced couple acts like they are still married as their family reunites for a wedding in this remake of a 2006 French film Mon frère se marie (My Brother is Getting Married). Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton head the cast as the divorced parents, with Susan Sarandon as the woman who apparently broke up their marriage. With their adopted son getting married in a strict Catholic ceremony, the divorced mom and dad decide to pose as a couple. Strained hilarity ensues. The ensemble cast also features Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace and Ben Barnes with Robin Williams as the priest. It's directed by Justin Zackham, who previously did The Bucket List. Critical reception is mostly negative, with the consensus being the star-studded cast is totally wasted. Rated 15+.
Yam Yasothon 3 (แหยม ยโสธร 3) – Actor-director Petchthai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkamlao and his comedy kin return for a third outing of hayseed hijinks that hark back to the colorful era of rural Thai movie musical romances of the 1960s and '70s. It follows the first entry in 2005 and the 2009 sequel. The focus is more on the younger members of the cast, with Yam's sons Khathathep (Likhit Butrprom) and Khamphan (Paythai Wongkamlao) falling in love with the daughters of the village chief, Kamnan Poy (Chen Chernyim). He's an old rival of Yam's and he stole Yam's first love (played by Mum's real-life wife Endu Wongkamlao). Rated G.
Chennai Express – Bollywood has its share of major tentpole releases too, though they still tend to rely on pure star power rather than huge budgets and special effects. Chennai Express features the formidable pairing of Deepika Padukone and superstar Shah Rukh Khan, reunited for the first time since their 2007 mega-hit Om Shanti Om. A colorful, action-packed tale with plenty of comedy, and, of course, songs and dancing, it's about the star-crossed romance between a northern Indian bachelor who meets a southern Indian lady by accident on a train journey. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Rama III. Opens Friday.
The Friese-Greene Club – The month of documentaries continues at the FGC, a private cinema club. Tonight, it's Inside Job, about the recent corporate meltdown. Tomorrow it's Streetwise, about streetkids in Seattle and on Saturday it's Anvil! The Story of Anvil. It's about a real band that could well have served as the inspiration for the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. Sunday offers another classic by the great Frederick Wiseman, Basic Training, and next Wednesday is Errol Morris' profile of Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara in The Fog of War. Showtimes are at 8pm. The FCG is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. It's open Wednesday through Sunday from around 6pm. With just nine seats, the screening room fills up fast, so please check the website to make bookings.
Changement d'adresse (Change of Address) The Alliance Française screens free movies with English subtitles at 7.30pm every Wednesday. Next week's show is a 2006 comedy by Emmanuel Mouret about the trials and tribulations of a young musician and his roommate.
The Purge – In a dystopian near-future, crime and unemployment in the U.S. are at an all-time low, and everyone is prosperous, and it's all thanks to a government program that, once a year, makes most violent crimes legal for a 12-hour period, allowing everyone to blow off steam. One family comes under siege and struggles to survive the terrifying night. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey star. It's directed by James Demonaco, who talks a bit about the movie to The Nation. Producers include Michael Bay (Transformers) and Jason Blum (Insidious, Sinister). While mega-budget blockbusters have been flopping like fish on the deck, smaller-budget horror thrillers like this one have been raking in the dough this season. Critical reception is mixed. It's in sneak previews from around 8 nightly in most multiplexes before opening wider next Thursday. Rated 18+.
To 3D or not to 3D? That is the question.
Not all 3D movies are created equally. In recent weeks I've been attempting to tip you off about the differences by specifying whether they are "converted 3D" or "actual 3D", usually referencing a handy website called RealOrFake3D.com.
So-called "fake" or converted 3D movies, such as The Wolverine or this week's R.I.P.D., were filmed in conventional 2D but had 3D effects added in post-production. These are quite commonplace as the studios and theater chains try to capitalize on the higher ticket prices charged for these films.
However, audiences are starting to wise up and there are signs the fad is dying out, with 3D revenues sinking as viewers opt to watch movies without having to pay to rent funny-looking glasses. At some point, perhaps the studios might opt to cut their losses and stop the conversions.
I tend to agree with the trend and I don't think converted 3D movies are worth seeing. The effects are simply too gimmicky and rarely ever add anything to the story.
An exception might be the 3D conversion of a classic older film, such as Jurassic Park.
There are rare hybrid 3D movies – I think Pacific Rim might be the only example – that had portions filmed in 3D and other parts converted from 2D. I still went for the 2D version of Pac Rim and don't feel like I missed out.
Actual 3D movies, which were filmed stereoscopically with a dual-camera set-up, are actually quite rare because they are vastly more expensive and complicated to make.
The actual 3D movies these days are mostly computer-animated features, such as Monsters University or Turbo, and again, I'm not sure seeing them in 3D adds much value. Though I will say I enjoyed the re-released 3D versions of the first two Toy Story movies.
There are occasionally actual 3D live-action movies, such as the South Korean-Chinese special-effects showcase Mr. Go, which has a motion-capture animated gorilla alongside live-action characters. It might be worth seeing in 3D, but because it's in a language other than English, there are technical difficulties with subtitling that the Thai movie distributors seem unable to overcome. So it's Thai-dubbed only in 3D. Viewers wanting an English-friendly version of the movie will have to make do with the 2D version.
Another example of an actual 3D movie was The Great Gatsby, which was filmed in 3D but also offered in 2D. Again, I went for the 2D version and don't feel like I missed out on anything because I don't think the movie ended up being all that great, despite the visual flair of director Baz Luhrmann.
Indeed, memorable experiences with 3D movies have been rare for me. One of my best 3D memories remains Avatar followed closely by Werner Herzog's documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which enlisted 3D as an immersive storytelling tool rather than as a way of selling special effects. Other decent 3D experiences have included Life of Pi and Martin Scorsese's Hugo, also both actual 3D movies that used the 3D effects to immerse the viewer, not just simply wow them with occasional flourishes of things popping out of the screen.
An upcoming actual 3D film from Thailand will be Tom-Yum-Goong 2, a martial-arts film starring Tony Jaa. Due out on October 23, it might be worth seeing in 3D even if the effects are cheesy.