Unsaved Progress: The failure of video game adaptations in film

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It should be a slam dunk – a known property with recognizable characters, an established story and plenty of excuse for spectacle. So why has it been so hard for Hollywood to successfully adapt a video game into a good film? Since 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.,” movie studios have tried to capitalize on the billions of dollars of success of video games by bringing them to the big screen. Yet time and again, what lands is a loud thud of a movie, boring to major audiences and befuddling to the devoted fanbase.

Despite the constant critical and/or financial drubbings the films take upon release, producers continue to attempt to adapt video games into successful franchises. “The Angry Birds” movie opened well, but was generally despised by critics, and soon there will be movie versions of “World of Warcraft,” “Assassin’s Creed” and a revamping of “Tomb Raider” franchise. It makes sense why filmmakers and companies are chasing these properties, for all the reasons stated above, but why have they always been such terrible dreck with only occasional flashes of innovation?

The first issue is that video games are immersive properties. Gamers are actively participating in these adventures, instead of watching them unfold passively on the screen. That creates the first hurdle for these films to overcome: how do you create something engrossing enough that it wraps people up in the events and makes it feel like it’s happening to them? Even the best blockbusters struggle with this ability to get audiences to identify and empathize with what’s happening on screen, let alone those made simply for cash-in purposes. Therefore, in order to do justice to these video game properties, filmmakers are already facing an uphill climb.

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Drink of the Week: Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (TCM Fest Salute #4)

Buono Sera, Mrs. Campbell.A truly smart and well-written sex comedy is a thing of beauty and not an everyday occurrence — rare in the past and rarer still in the present. Indeed, my film-besotted compatriots and I had relatively modest hopes for Melvin Frank’s 1968 near-farce, “Buono Sera, Mrs Campbell,” at this year’s TCM Fest. For the most part, we were expecting an entertaining but possibly rather routine 1960s romp and were there largely to check out its legendary star. That would be Italian bombshell-turned photographer and sculptor Gina Lollobrigida, a rather amazing woman on numerous counts who, at 88, still has a few thoughts on her mind and an innately humorous sensibility. The movie, much to our delight, turned out to be nearly as extraordinary as its star.

It’s the story of an Italian single mother who finds herself suddenly in the embarrassing position of reuniting with three men from her war-torn past, any one of whom has pretty much an equal shot of being the father of her now grown-up daughter in those days well before the arrival of easy DNA testing. If the setup sounds familiar, it’s because the plot was appropriated — without credit, so far as I can tell — for the jukebox musical and film, “Mamma Mia.” The difference is that this version is funny, enjoyable and occasionally quite witty and heartfelt.

For my liquid tribute, I thought something with a certain diversity of ingredients that might have been consumed in both Italy and the U.S. was apt. Also, since the cast mixed actors known more for conventional light comedy and drama with burlesque-trained comic Phil Silvers and true thespian wildcards like Shelly Winters and Telly Savalas, a hodgepodge of ingredients seemed appropriate.

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Movie Review: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”

Starring
Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Gary Anthony Williams, Sheamus, Brad Garrett
Director
Dave Green

Contrary to the harshly negative reviews that it received, Jonathan Liebesman’s 2014 reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” wasn’t that bad. The product of a misguided adaptation that was course-corrected with extensive reshoots, the film doesn’t hold up as well on repeat viewings, but it’s still a better-than-average franchise-starter that got enough things right to warrant a sequel. Though “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” isn’t necessarily better or worse, you have to hand it to the filmmakers for actually listening to the fans, because the new movie is such a nostalgia-fueled throwback to the original animated series (the holy grail for adult fans) that it atones for many of the first film’s blunders.

One year after stopping The Shredder from unleashing a deadly virus on New York City – an achievement that news cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has gladly taken credit for to protect the real heroes’ identities – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) continue to watch over the city from the shadows. But when Shredder (Brian Tee) escapes police custody and teams up with mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to open a portal to Dimension X, thereby allowing the nefarious, brain-like alien General Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) to invade Earth with his world-destroying war machine the Technodrome, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) calls in the Turtles for help. This time around, however, Shredder has enlisted a pair of dimwitted mutant henchmen named Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and WWE wrestler Sheamus, respectively) to do his dirty work for him.

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Movie Review: “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”

Starring
Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Chris Redd
Director
Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone

Following the 2007 oddball comedy “Hot Rod,” audiences were eager to see what The Lonely Island – the comedy trio comprised of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer – would cook up next. But while the group found great success with their ongoing series of “SNL” Digital Shorts and Grammy-nominated albums, it’s taken nearly a decade for them to return to the big screen. Their latest film, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” is a funny but flawed “Behind the Music”-style mockumentary that, although it aims to match the comic genius of Rob Reiner’s similarly themed cult classic “This Is Spinal Tap,” doesn’t quite reach the same heights.

Samberg stars as pop superstar Conner4Real, a former member of the hip-hop group the Style Boyz who launched a successful solo career after falling out with lyricist/childhood friend Lawrence (Schaffer). The group’s other member, Owen (Taccone), decided to stick by Conner’s side as his official DJ, watching from the background as Conner rose to the top of the music world with his debut album Thriller, Also. But when Conner agrees to film a documentary centered on the release of his upcoming sophomore effort, the cameras are there to capture his meltdown when the album spectacularly flops (Rolling Stone gives it a poop emoji out of four stars) and his celebrity lifestyle is threatened. Desperate to win back the public’s affection, Conner implements a number of increasingly silly gimmicks into his concert tour with disastrous results while his new opening act, rising talent Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), begins to upstage him.

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Blu Tuesday: Triple 9, Race and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Triple 9″

WHAT: When a group of bank robbers is blackmailed by the Russian mafia to pull off an impossible heist, dirty cop Marcus (Anthony Mackie) suggests killing his new partner Chris (Casey Affleck) – thus initiating a 999, police code for “officer down” – in order to draw every responding cop to the other side of town. But as loyalties are tested and the criminals begin to turn on each other, the whole plan threatens to unravel.

WHY: Director John Hillcoat (“The Road,” “Lawless”) specializes in bleak storytelling, so it makes sense why he would gravitate towards a gritty crime thriller like “Triple 9.” Though the movie isn’t totally bereft of clear-cut heroes and villains, most of the characters (from Chiwetel Ejiofor’s bank robber to Anthony Mackie’s conflicted cop) operate somewhere in between. The complex relationships bred from that moral ambiguity is likely what helped Hillcoat attract so much great talent, but while the film boasts a killer cast from top to bottom, only a few (like Casey Affleck and Mackie) really stand out. Ejiofor’s talents are wasted on an underdeveloped character, Aaron Paul mines familiar territory as a troubled drug addict, and Kate Winslet is miscast as the ruthless wife of a Russian mob boss. “Triple 9” is pulled in so many different directions that it’s unable to provide the focus that each subplot deserves, and although that prevents the movie from reaching the heights of Michael Mann’s “Heat,” it’s still a fairly solid crime thriller thanks to some exhilarating set pieces and an excellent cast.

EXTRAS: There are two short featurettes and a handful of deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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