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BURNING BRIGHTLY AND BRIEFLY…SOME OF THE DIRECTORS TO PEAK TOO SOON

Almost three years after The Box failed to grasp film-goers, Richard Kelly returns with Corpus Christie, with Edgar Ramirez set to star as an Iraq veteran who develops a relationship with a Svengali-like Texan businessman. Of course, it’s easy to be cynical about this sort of set-up, but it’s hard to dismiss a strong hunch that the relationship is going to cause some problems along the way. Judging by his past output, it’s likely to be closer to Apt Pupil than Goodnight Mister Tom.

Kelly, once widely lauded as one of Hollywood’s foremost emerging talents after Donnie Darko emerged as the confused teenager’s go-to film of the millennium, and gave us the most tedious Christmas number one until the British public rose up to stick it to Simon Cowell by buying the wrong record – all the revenues went to the same record company; way to go, British public! His script on the life of socialite/female Dog the Bounty Hunter Domino Harvey was snatched by Tony Scott and Keira Knightley, and he was given a relatively modest chunk of budget and presumably told to ‘do another Darko’. Life was good.

And then Southland Tales happened. Southland Tales is a fascinating film, with some truly intriguing sequences, Justin Timberlake miming a musical number and The Rock in his pre-franchise Viagra days. Sadly, it seems to tangle itself in knots as it tries to disappear up itself. After confidently striding into competition in Cannes, it crawled out shamefaced after Kelly’s original cut was derided by critics, with Roger Ebert describing the screening as having been as well-received as the screening of Brown Bunny at the festival three years earlier. Yes, that’s heartwarming little Vincent Gallo flick in which his then-girlfriend Chloe Sevigny fellates him on screen.

After not going down very well at Cannes (ahem), its release was met with a resounding ‘huh’ from critics. It scrabbled back around $350,000 worldwide on a budget of around $17 million. Needless to say, it was an inauspicious follow-up to his debut.

his was followed by The Box, in which Cameron Diaz and James Marsden were driven to murder by half of Frank Langella’s head and a box. While it crept above budget, it was hardly considered a hit, feeling very much like a lazy pastiche of the sort of well-crafted weirdness with which Kelly had made his name. Indeed, for those who have watched the director’s cut of Donnie Darko, the over-simplified, sanitised cut that he actually approved does raise questions about whether he actually ever had ‘it’. Whatever it may be.

Still, Kelly manages to secure work, and with Hollywood seemingly happy to give him a few more chances, he still has a chance to resurrect a flagging career.

He’s not the only one, however, whose time basking in the glory of a strong start to a career. Remember the Wachowski brothers? They quietly announced their presence with Bound, an effective, if somewhat derivative, pastiche of film noir, then followed this with The Matrix which, well, it’s The Matrix. Sure, it has become something of a cliché, tediously parodied and subjected to some unsavoury accusations of having glamorised guns and inspired the Columbine massacre, but at the time it was so new and different. Even Keanu Reeves seemed less doltish than usual.

Of course, we wanted more. And lo, it was granted. The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions lurched into cinemas, and immediately collapsed under the weight of heightened expectation and the siblings’ Lucas-like belief in their own genius. Both films are indeed terrible, a tribute to Hollywood’s bloated excess – but, crucially, they were successful. This gave the Wachowskis the oomph to have a big-budget adaptation of the Manga series Speed Racer, and after a break to lick their wounds after the press rose up, spun in mid air and delivered a brutal critical backlash, out it came.

Speed Racer was a gaudy, horrible mess – like getting punched in the face by a kaleidoscope, and a box office flop. This, however, has somehow not deterred Hollywood from giving the siblings another chance, and they are currently working on an adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The film will feature Hugh Grant in multiple roles, including a rapist and a cannibal. Go figure.

Interestingly, the film will be co-directed by another filmmaker who appears to have peaked too early. After announcing himself with the kinetic madness of Lola Rennt, Tom Tykwer ground out a series of rather forgettable, pretentious films such as Der Krieger und die Kaiserin and Heaven, which though competently directed, just didn’t have the same immediacy as his debut. Perfume: Story of a Murderer, was a passable adaptation of a novel that the studios probably shouldn’t have bothered adapting, and The International was the standard loud, engorged, sub-Bourne swill that has become the norm after people realised loud noises and dizzying camerawork made money. Of course, Tykwer had begun his career with a film that made loud noises and dizzying camerawork exciting. Rather than translate this from a low-budget German film to Hollywood, he seems to have lost his way.

Of course, there are a number of other filmmakers who have fallen by their wayside. Remember Simon West? Con Air, though noisy, messy and not to everyone’s taste, is a rather jolly slice of action-nuttiness. West then went on to direct the likes of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Jan de Bont? Speed was another fantastic piece of action filmmaking. Even if we ignore Speed 2: Cruise Control, he then went on to direct the sequel to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

Whether or not Corpus Christi is able to show Richard Kelly is more than a one-hit wonder remains to be seen, but even if he fails, at least he’ll be in illustrious company.

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Comments

  1. Good day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

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