I’m Not Trying to Sell You Anything, But Jude Law Is

Jude Law, short film, photo, advertisement, Johnnie Walker Blue

Jude Law stars in The Gentleman’s Wager for JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL Blended Scotch whisky

It is not often I feel the need to do a post about an advert (or as Ralphie Parker* would say, “A crummy commercial”), but this one came to my attention today and while it may be simply because it stars Jude Law, whom I’ve been thinking about more than usual of late, but I find it so unusually impressive, I feel the need to talk about it.

The ad is nominally for Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which, if you’re going to drink a blend, as opposed to a single malt, this is a good one. I say nominally, however, because the makers of what can only be called a short film, are not doing the hard sell here.

The film has a title. It’s called A Gentleman’s Wager, and along with Law it stars Giancarlo Giannini (whom most of you probably know best as Rene Mathis, in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, which is too bad. It means you’ve missed, among other things, the films of Lina Wertmüller.)

The film tells the story of a wager between two men striving for personal progress through the quest for a truly rare experience. The Gentleman’s Wager sees Law in the role of a man who, despite having it all, challenges himself to strive for something he wants that money can’t buy. The film begins with Law and Giannini sipping Johnnie Walker Blue Label on a gorgeous hand-crafted boat as they look out across a stunning ocean seascape. We hear Law’s character state that he wants to buy the boat, but it is not for sale and the only way he can get it, is by putting on a truly unique performance. The wager begins.

What makes this short remarkable is its pedigree. Sure, there have been any number of high-profile advertisements in the past decade, featuring both A-list actors (Clive Owen, Brad Pitt) and directors (Guy Ritchie, Michael Mann), the latest of which was the “It’s Good to Be Bad” campaign for Jaguar featuring Mark Strong, Tom Hiddleston and Sir Ben Kingsley. But not many have the talent both onscreen and behind, that Johnnie Walker has assembled.

A Gentleman’s Wager is directed by Jake Scott. If the first name isn’t familiar, it probably will be soon, but the last name should be. He’s one of those Scotts. He’s the son of Sir Ridley and nephew of the late Tony. His own resume includes Welcome to the Rileys and Plunkett and Macleane (with Jonny Lee Miller and which I liked. Don’t judge) as well as a slew of big-name rock-docs.

It was shot in The British Virgin Islands, Caribbean and London by John Mathiason, who was the cinematographer on Ridley Scott films like Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood as well as Phantom of the Opera and X-Men: First Class. Production design was by Joseph Bennett, responsible for the look of HBO’s “Rome”. Costumes are by Scott regular Janty Yates, in conjunction with London bespoke mens outfitter, Mr. Porter. The film was produced by Jules Daly (The Grey, Assassination of Jesse James) and Tracie Norfleet of Scott Free.  That’s a lot of stops that were pulled.

Commenting on his role and involvement in the film, Law says: “The film is about improvement and progress and this is something I try to do in my work and my everyday life. I had to learn new skills shooting this film and that combined with the places we visited and shot in, alongside working with Jake and with Giancarlo, made it a truly rare experience.”

Take the above with a grain of salt or a slug of Johnnie Walker. I’m sure Mr. Law was paid a boatload of pounds sterling for his “rare experience”. Oh well. A Gentleman’s Wager is still a classy and entertaining little bit of footage.  And if it were up to me, I might give Jake a shot at the next Bond film. Whenever Sam Mendes decides to pack it in, of course.

*A Christmas Story (1983)

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Will The Raven Fly Over Olympus?

Gerard Butler, Kable, Gamer, Lionsgate, The Raven

photo courtesy Lionsgate

Gerard Butler is, according to The Hollywood Reporter, in talks to take the lead of a sci-fi action adventure called The Raven. (Not to be confused with either the Edgar Allan Poe poem or the 2012 movie it supposedly inspired. That film was the cinematic equivalent of a night with a few too many martinis. It was fun at the time then you wake up with a headache and vow to never do it again. Poor John Cusack.)

This new film, to be directed by Peruvian Ricardo de Montreuil, will be based on his own 2010 short of the same name. The short was made for $5000 over the course of a couple of weekends and became a YouTube sensation. The feature version been in development since then. Back in July of 2010 it was announced that Mark Wahlberg would star and produce for Universal Pictures. The last we heard of it, Liam Hemsworth was attached to star, but Wahlberg would stay on to produce.

Ricardo de Montreuil, The Raven, Gerard Butler

photo via imdb

The short, which you can see below, is about a young man, Chris Black aka The Raven, with telekinetic powers being chased around downtown Los Angeles by assorted police drones and mecha, while a giant police ship hovers above.

At first blush, swapping Liam Hemsworth for Gerard Butler might not make much sense. I can, however, think of a few reasons why the producers would think it could work, aside from the fact that Liam Hemsworth has in no way proven he can carry a movie.

First, we really don’t need another “teens in peril in a dystopian future” movie (see: The Hunger GamesThe Host etc) or even “teens at the mercy of their own powers” movie (see: the Twilight series- if you must, City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures, Chronicle).

And second, making the hero older increases the likelihood that The Raven will be R-rated.

Traditionally, those making action movies walk the line between PG-13 and R, trying to stay on the side of the former, the logic being a lower rating means more butts in seats. The problem with that is two-fold. Not only do adults not want to share every cinematic experience with their tweens, but that line has been blurred and obscured so badly, the envelope has been pushed, (use whatever metaphor you like) to the point that the inevitable backlash has begun. Why is the massive amount of violence shown to those under seventeen so more acceptable than sex? How much is too much? (For my own part, I’d like to know who the arbiters of these things really are.  Who makes up the governing body known as the Motion Picture Association of America and what are the hows and whys of their decisions? The head of this august body is former Conn. Senator Christopher Dodd, more than likely chosen for his history of “bringing much-needed attention to children’s and education issues”.)

As usual I digress. My point is that an R-rating increases the probability of some no-holds barred action, sci-fi and otherwise, as well as the possibility of a sweaty, “hurry up before they find us” love scene. (I am ever hopeful.). This would seem to be less of a financial risk with reference to The Raven and the possible casting of Gerard Butler as he is just coming off the (surprise) success of another hard R action movie, Olympus Has Fallen, not to mention his greatest box office success to date, 300, was also rated R, thereby giving him a proven track record.

So if Butler is indeed cast, Michael Gilio, who wrote the script (Justin Marks did an earlier draft) will have to do a little tweaking since it’s thought that cameras will likely roll on the film later this year.

Wahlberg and Steve Levinson, who brought the project to the attention of Universal, will produce alongside Gold Circle’s Paul Brooks.

The premise of The Raven (which will more than likely get a name change before all is said and done) has potential.  This could be a good move on Butler’s part. It’s territory he should be comfortable with and at the same time, there is the possibility of covering new ground. I’m not providing any startling insight when I say that it will all depend on the script.

Butler had to have been as disillusioned as anyone with the box office failure of the last few films prior to OHF. The critical drubbing he’s probably used to, but it’s easier to shrug that off when you’re raking in the dough. As I’ve previously pointed out, love ’em or hate ’em, Butler’s movies usually make money. No actor sets out to make a “bad” movie. Critical response to Olympus Has Fallen was split, but the box office was decisive. (Another thing I’ve talked about before is how tirelessly Butler supports his projects (and how well Olympus Has Fallen made use of social media), and how often his enthusiasm doesn’t seem to be merited. While I’m all for an actor breaking out of their comfort zones (note to Gerard Butler: I will continue to repeat this until it somehow makes its way to you: You really, really need to get a meeting with Matthew McConaughey’s agent. At the very least, there should be some heart-to-hearts on the set of Thunder Run) and he has a project that would seem to have some gravitas on his docket with Dynamo, that one’s not due for a couple of years. So even if The Raven plants him in familiar territory (re: Gamer), if it’s a hit, no one will care.

*****

In other, more disturbing news, the director of that other The Raven, James McTeigue, is set to helm an “action thriller” called Survivor with Clive Owen and….Katherine Heigl. What is this fuckery?  With all due respect to Ms. Heigl, I don’t think she’s in Clive Owen’s league. At all. Are they planning to change it to an “action comedy”? That’s the only way her casting makes sense, but then it doesn’t explain Owen.  See the above with reference to comfort zones, but I’m skeptical about this.  It’s being shopped in Cannes. We’ll see.

A Few Thoughts While I Wait…

I have to wonder if Relativity Media and the producers of Machine Gun Preacher realize just how much those us who are looking forward to the film, are in fact looking forward to it.

While I’m sure they’d rather that everyone were in that number, it is a testament to not only Gerard Butler’s popularity and his abilities as an actor, but to our faith in his abilities. Let’s face it, he hasn’t given us a lot of reason to hope the past few years. While I personally am as supportive as I can be, and try to look beyond the surface and see the reasons behind some of his choices lately, I’m not the norm. I’m not one of those who found him with 300 and expected that’s what I was going to get from then on. Nor was I among those who could only see him as Gerry Kennedy etc etc.

No, there is a contingent – a strong core of his fanbase that have been waiting for something meaty, something to showcase his dramatic abilities that we’ve known were there since at least “The Jury” or Dear Frankie.

Much like the man himself (I suspect), we want him to be seen as something more than a pretty face or a slab of beefcake. We want him to be considered for the same types of roles as a Russell Crowe or a Clive Owen, not just the Jason Stathams.

We are all literally chomping at the bit to see Machine Gun Preacher, and Coriolanus, ready and willing to support these fims in any way we can, not just with a single ticket purchase. This is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s finally happening: the recognition, the critical acclaim, etc.

In a way, all of that is as much for us, as it is for G and the film makers whether they know it or not. We’re being vindicated and rewarded for our faith.

So, if the producers don’t know how much those of us who are looking forward to the film, are in fact looking forward to it, they’re about to find out. As I type this, fans all over the country are petitioning, via emails and phone calls, their local theaters in order to get them to bring in Machine Gun Preacher. I have no doubt that on some level it will work. It worked (to a degree) five years ago when fans of Gerard Butler secured a limited US release for Beowulf and Grendel. This time around, there’s a much bigger machine running in the background.

Okay, all of that is well and good, but what exactly are we to do about the perception of the press and so called critics?

Can someone please explain this to me? Machine Gun Preacher, a movie I have admittedly and obviously been looking forward to seeing, on the morning of its release in only two markets, LA and NY, is sitting at a “rotten” 19% from the critics (of 32 submitted reviews, only 6 were favorable, and I’m betting the consensus from their peers has already started to make them rethink their positions), but it stood at 78% with audience members. As of this writing it has moved up to 22% with critics and 80% with audiences. Moviefone stood at 90% with the audience and 47% with critics. What. The. Hell?!?

In case you think my bias toward this movie is too strong, let me give another example. Killer Elite is a film that boasts a cast that includes Robert DeNiro, Jason Statham and Clive Owen. It is just as much fun as you would expect a movie version of 'spy vs spy' to be and the opinions of others should not be allowed to suck the fun out of it for anyone. One critic, who has a considerable reputation and has been at this for a number of years said that the climactic fight scene between Statham and Owen “happened so fast” that she couldn’t tell “who was doing what to whom”. How could a critic of her standing so totally miss the point? It didn't matter who was “doing what to whom” because there would be no ‘winner’ nor no clear ‘loser’, just like it is never clearly defined who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. My point in mentioning all of this is that Rotten Tomatoes had this movie at 26% with critics and 80% with the audience.

How can the pendulum of opinion between a film’s audience and the critics swing so widely for the same movie? I know I’ve talked about this before, but come on, there has to be a reason and I’m going to keep looking for it until I find it.

Does buying a ticket to a movie and sitting in the theater with fellow paying members of the audience predispose one to more favorably view a movie and forgive its flaws?

Or does assuming the mantle of “critic” and having a movie screened for you, perhaps make you feel it necessary to be more harsh; because the ticket is free, is there an obligation to try to avoid the appearance of pandering?

What we need to bear in mind here, whenever we come upon a review, is that any review, I don’t care whose name is on it, is one person’s opinion and we’re all entitled to have one.

So called professional critics are paid (and I don’t care if you’ve got a day job or not, if you write a review and are given any sort of compensation for it, be it a ticket to a screening or that mousepad with a film’s logo on it that you got in the mail from Warner Brothers, that makes you a paid professional) to give you theirs and some may be better than others at articulating why they feel as they do about a certain film, but ultimately it is their opinion.

The internet has created a new breed of movie critic and allowed them to proliferate. Everyone and their brother, myself included, has a movie blog and is willing to offer their opinions to the world. Some have been at it for a long time, some are more widely read than others but it is amazing to me, how many people out there are willing to give them all equal weight.

When did we stop thinking for ourselves? Am I a dinosaur because I remember the days before the internet when we let the previews before a movie in the theater or an ad on tv give us a taste of what was out there and we based our decisions on what to see accordingly? I don’t recall seeing a greater percentage of ‘bad’ movies before I had access to this deluge of information and opinion. The good news is that the majority of those people who have been thinking for themselves seem to have been enjoying themselves at the movies. 

While I realize this is teetering on the verge of becoming a full on rant, there is one more issue I want to vent my spleen about. (To be honest I’ve been doing it all weekend by leaving comments on sites and by tweeting the facts.)

Machine Gun Preacher opened in New York and Los Angeles on two screens in each city. That’s a total of FOUR. You don't compare its earnings to Moneyball or Killer Elite or A Dolphin's Tale all of which got releases so wide their screens number in the thousands. Each. You can legitimately compare it to Puncture, starring Capt. America Chris Evans which also opened on 4 screens and made $35,700 or $8,952 per screen.

MGP had a higher per screen total than all of the top 5 grossing films. That actually makes it the number one movie in the country by percentage. Do you think it was reported that way? No it was not.

BOTH of the following ridiculous comments came from "Entertainment Weekly", from two different posted articles by two different writers:

This one came from John Young, posted Saturday September 24: “In limited release, the Gerard Butler action film Machine Gun Preacher mustered only $10,000 at four theaters. ”

As I asked them at their site, I’m wondering exactly how much money the author of this article thinks Machine Gun Preacher should have made on FOUR screens in one day?

This one was posted on Sunday September 25. The numbers are correct. It’s the interpretation that I have a problem with.

“In limited release, the action biopic Machine Gun Preacher — starring Gerard Butler as real-life biker-turned-defender-of-Sudanese-orphans Sam Childers — underwhelmed with $44,000 at four theaters.”

How exactly is $11,000 per screen UNDERwhelming? Again I asked the writer, “What would, in your estimation, constitute a successful weekend on four screens?”

This, JMHO, is blatant bias. I just don’t know toward whom. Is it Gerard Butler? Is it the director, Marc Forster? Surely it’s not the King of All Hollywood, my bff Ryan Kavanaugh or Relativity Media? Is it Virgin Produced? Oh I know! It’s Sam Childers and his foundation, Angels of East Africa! These people are all on the payroll of Joseph Kony and the LRA!

No?

You explain it then. Me, I’m just counting down until Friday when I can see it for myself.

Another rant with pictures

Clive Owen is 47 years old today. (He’s on my list. He used to be number one but that was before I fell under the spell of Gerard Butler many moons ago.) And while I wish Clive many happy returns of the day, there’s nothing remarkable about that…is there? In the youth obsessed film industry, he’s still getting work as a leading man, which is wonderful, although I am anxious to see how well say, Jennifer Aniston, now 40 but looking 30, will fare in seven years.

In “King Arthur”, he was cast opposite Keira Knightley. She was 19, he was 42 at the time of the movie’s release (which I suppose isn’t so bad considering that according to the film’s timeline, he was supposed to be playing 25.) How long before they start pairing Clive up with Hayden Panettiere? They’d better hurry up, she’s already turned twenty.

I saw “Duplicity” recently and I loved it. It was written and directed by Tony Gilroy who has penned some of the smartest films of the last few years, including Oscar nominated “Michael Clayton” which was his directorial debut. “Duplicity,” in addition to being well written, was incredibly well acted by a cast that included the wonderful Tom Wilkinson and the brilliant Paul Giamatti. It was the best movie about a sting since, well, “The Sting.” Perhaps I’m naive but I did not see the ending coming from a mile away, always a plus.

But what really stood out for me about this film was the fact that the leads, the ROMANTIC leads (Clive Owen and Julia Roberts), were both over 40. When was the last time that happened? I couldn’t tell you. I do, however, know of at least one instance where it will happen again. In 2010,when “The Bounty” with the above mentioned Aniston and Gerard Butler, who won’t technically be 40 until November of this year, but will be by the time it is released. This is, of course, a film I am very much looking forward to. And as usual, I digress.

I am wondering if this in some small way signifies a sea change, not a tsunami but perhaps a ripple, in the Hollywood machine’s thinking. While our culture as a whole, magnified to the nth degree by the movie industry, is still youth obsessed, is it possible that this is the start of a comeback for ‘Adult oriented’ (that was with a capital A, I’m not talking porn) entertainment? Are they starting to get that as the 18 yr olds who have developed a passion for the movie going experience age, that their tastes age and mature as well? That they may even have a few more bucks to spend on that passion than a teenage boy, at whom most entertainment is aimed?

“R rated” comedies did extremely well this summer, and while their content might not be considered high-brow, it should mean that there is an audience for entertainment in which nothing blows up and is not targeted squarely at the youth market. In the past, film makers have been forced to edit films, sometimes gutting the life right out of them, in order to avoid the dreaded “R”. The theory has always been you won’t get as many butts in the seats unless you dumb it down and make it palatable to a PG-13 audience.

Which brings me to my point, if I have one, that if we, as thinking adult film goers, don’t want to be spoon-fed sophomoric pablum, we have to support the mainstream releases that are not just the latest rehashing of the “Porky’s” blueprint, with OUR butts in the seats. Sure, we will occasionally seek out the little independents, like the current “Bright Star”, but we’re more likely to wait for dvd. Even big budget productions like “Duplicity” did better on dvd than in the theaters. Very often these days a movie’s real money is made in the home market, but to the powers that be, the Box Office still matters.
If we want more entertainment geared toward our demographic, we have to prove that our demographic buys tickets. To that end, I think I’ll take myself to see “The Informant” this afternoon. It’s rated R.

And now for My Daily Moment of Zen…