Browsing all articles from July, 2010

Leong, Hong & Wong.

“Which iconic, Chinese character actor from the days when VHS was king would you rather have a pint with?” It’s a question that has perplexed scholars and film journalists for years, and it’s a question that I’ve finally decided to try and answer.

Knowing little about their personal lives and not possessing the force of will to find out, my research will be solely based on their film roles. And if you’re wondering why it’s not called ‘Wong, Hong, Leong or Pat Morita?’, it’s because Morita doesn’t rhyme with Wong, Hong and Leong and because he was Japanese. Shame, because I have it on good authority that Pat loved nothing more than to wax-off his evenings with a tipple.

But I digress. Without further ado, let’s move on to our first contestant.

Victor Wong (far right) – Best known for his roles in Big Trouble in Little China, The Golden Child, Bloodsport and Tremors. Or The Last Emperor if you read newspapers with a words-to-pictures ratio of greater than 0:1. Wong is instantly recognisable for his slightly lop sided face, crazy facial hair and crazier acting style.

Judging from his film roles, Wong would probably be a great companion to have a few beers with. He’d be funny and slightly odd at first, then, as drinks continued, he’d probably get funnier and odder before no doubt revealing some great bottom of the glass wisdom and a magic trick. The old rascal.

Though like inevitable hangovers it isn’t all good news. Judging from his roles, Wong isn’t the most trustworthy of people and while he may have the best intentions he could well vanish into thin air when it’s time to pay the bar bill.

Still even if he stiffed you for the drinks, for entertainment value alone Victor Wong gets a very solid 4/5. Well done, Victor.

James Hong (middle) -From his work you’d be forgiven for believing James Hong to be the most evil of Chinese character actors. For example as Lo-Pan he pretended to be old and infirmed to get free food and help crossing the road, when all the time he was thinking about killing Kurt Russell and stealing his girlfriend! Hong’s villainy in the 80s was so immense that he kept a troll as a pet and would think nothing of feeding you to it.

His villainy continued as his laissez-faire attitude to evil saw him enrage the normally mild mannered Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell (again). He even managed to annoy celebrity Buddhist Richard Gere! Recent years tell a different story however as Hong has since appeared mainly in comedies and family movies playing uncles and kindly eccentrics.

But the real question remains, if you were to go for a pint with Hong which would you get, kindly old gentlemen or evil, immortal phantom with troll? And who’s to say he wouldn’t start off nice before Lo-Panning you in the face after a few too many?

The eternal James Hong hero/villain dichotomy gets him a wary 2.5/5. Caution advised.

Al Leong (left) – If something bad happened in the Los Angeles area on film or TV in the 1980s then chances are Al Leong had something to do with it. Leong is in the unique position of going up against Knightrider, The A Team, Magnum PI, The Equalizer, MacGyver, TJ Hooker and The Fall Guy. In fact the only person who wasn’t bothered was Manimal (presumably because Leong is impervious to dolphin, puma and falcon attacks).

This pattern of enraging TV characters continued long into the 90s. In the first series of 24, when Jack Bauer’s wife and daughter are kidnapped he could have saved himself (and the viewer) a lot of time by going straight over to Al Leong’s house. In fact Leong is so crazy that his idea of a lighthearted comedy role is playing Genghis Khan.

So it goes without saying you wouldn’t go for a drink with Leong right? Well I guess that would depend where it was. If you had to go for a drink in a place favoured by unsavoury types (Peterborough perhaps) there’s probably no one better to hang around with than Al Leong. For one thing he’d probably be on first name terms with everyone and if Knightrider turned up you’d have your lift home sorted.

For knowing which side his bread’s buttered on Al Leong gets a 4/5. Congrats Al, please don’t kill me.

So there you have it, both Victor Wong and Al Leong would be equally amusing drinking partners. James Hong should be your 3rd choice should you struggle to find any other iconic Chinese character actors to share your pork scratchings with.

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Harrison Ford actually moves slower than this in the film.

One of the many benefits of having children is that your social life is dictated by the availability of family members / unwitting fools, making themselves available to babysit. So by the time I can make it to the picture house to watch the latest flickering thing of interest, early word is out and I can normally avoid the complete stinkers – though please permit me a moment to shake my fist in the general direction of Predators.

One significant bullet dodged was Indiana Jones 4. Although I wasn’t one of the thousands of people who staggered out into the summer sunshine of 2008 with levels of film-induced rage not seen since Richard Littlejohn watched a subtitled film about a man without a job, I knew that my moment of reckoning wouldn’t be too far away.

For the past two years it’s played on my subconscious like an upcoming visit to the dentist, reminding me that at some point in the not too distant future I’m going to have something horrible thrust down an unwilling orifice by an old man who appears happy and carefree but in reality is a joyless husk who gets pleasure from pissing on people’s (metaphorical) chips. And until I do, I’m never truly going to be happy.

Well this particular appointment was made this weekend, and like a visit to the dentist it left me with headaches, a slightly nauseous taste in the mouth and a feeling that I never want to go through the experience again. But unlike a visit to the dentist, I didn’t get a sticker afterwards to cheer me up. 

Age is undeniably the strongest theme in Indy 4, the protagonist is old, the makers are old and, like an old person, you’re not quite sure what just happened when it’s finished – though you can be sure that you’re not going to get that time back. Even more coincedentally,  the whole experience is akin to an OAP screening: relatively inoffensive but marked by a general lack of excitement and a curious smell of biscuits.

As famous ex-carpenters go, Harrison Ford is easily in the top 3 (between Jesus and Karen). Here he looks like he’d much rather be off planing a bookshelf than swinging a whip. Of course, it’s entirely possible that he’s been hanging around furniture so much that he’s adopted their way of life, like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves or that bloke from Avatar who makes for an unconvincing screen star, even when standing next to a 9ft tall, blue cat-alien.

Indy moves so slowly from the outset, an action scene set in the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, that it’s like Spielberg used ‘lethargy’ as a motivational buzzword, then played the resultant footage back at half speed, but not before spiking Ford with Ambien, covering him in wet cement and filming the whole thing in a tank filled with treacle.

Even the return of Marion, Indy’s flame from Raiders, fails to raise the pulse of the star and the viewer, probably because the once former, feisty love-interest  now looks like she keeps too many cats. There’s barely an ounce of the spark that made her such a pleasure to watch all those years ago and that is a heartbreak in itself.

Indy and Marion’s reunion, which should be a cause for all-inclusive mutual celebration, only serves to remind of the passing of time, human frailty and the transient nature of all living things. Basically, the exact opposite of what you should be getting from a film featuring the ‘Indiana Jones’ prefix – unless of course it was followed by ‘and the 21 Grams’. And if you’re going to hand over the reigns to Alejandro González Iñárritu you’re going to need some piss-funny computer generated monkeys to distract you from the resultant misery.

Which brings us to another failing of Indy 4: the inevitable prevalence of CGI

For several years, The Berg and Ford told anyone who would listen (and that was basically EVERYONE)  that George Lucas was holding up the film because he thought that the script wasn’t ready. Well, anyone who’s seen a George Lucas film from the past 25 years would know that this theory doesn’t hold much water. It’s like Shymalan’s latest being credited to Alan ‘Night’ Smithee for having too many plot twists and decent performances. Unless of course the writers were receiving pages back from George with ‘Morr poo jokez’, and ‘Howard duck heer’ scribbled on the page in (computer-generated) crayon.

But like the poo jokes themselves, the evident reproach in any conversation featuring ‘George Lucas’ and ‘CGI’ is old hat and, despite a tidal wave of criticism, this emperor is not about to (digitally) alter his clothes – and not because checked shirts are finally hip again.

A few months ago, when conversing with a colleague about favourite films, he argued the case for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Even after I countered “but there’s no shark, or Rutger Hauer on a rooftop in his underpants”, he explained that in his opinion Raiders takes the mantle, not because it offers any semblance of a deeper theme but because it’s a well-polished piece of entertainment with every scene offering a perfect mix of humour, surprise, adventure and strong characterisation. If you took the film apart, like a stick of rock you’d find the same elements running through each scene. It’s deceptively simple and fulfills its obligations to the viewer spectacularly.

In Indy 4 you’ll find similar consistency but only in so much as nearly every scene offers an old person, rubbish CGI and more flapping than an episode of ‘Springwatch Nights’. If it offers anything resembling positivity it’s a tick in the box marked ‘Yes, I now agree with euthanasia’.

Age in itself isn’t an issue; it never stopped Pat Morita (well, until it STOPPED, stopped him) and Danny Glover made something of a career out of being too old for varying degrees of shit. The real tragedy with Indy 4 isn’t that he got old, it’s that he lost his dignity. And if you’ve ever fallen off a chair with your pants around your ankles, you’ll know that dignity isn’t something that can be easily regained. So perhaps it’s time for Indy to say goodnight for good.

My suggestion is for one last adventure. A flight across the map with the dotted red line leading to a nice little clinic in Switzerland. There, surrounded by his loved ones: Marion, ‘Shitty Beef’ and a comedy CGI rodent, he can lay in a private room and go to sleep, forever, with his hat on to avoid any unwelcome spin-offs. At least they won’t have to look far to find someone who could craft a lovely pine box.

Good night Indy. Please don’t come back.

Here’s a review of The Happening I wrote for the blog of a company I was working for in 2008. Unfortunately, that company no longer exists, though ‘Nightman’ is still being allowed to make films. It seems we’re destined to learn nothing from history.

Anyway, as the great man is back with The Last Airbender, I think it’s worth travelling back in time to when The Happening was widely considered his worst film.

Enjoy!

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Kids pointing sticks in dark rooms – the magic of Potter.

Imagine the most exciting fantasy film EVER! It would no doubt contain incredible actors fighting against some of the most fantastical creatures ever committed to celluloid. It would be directed by one of the most awesomest directors and would probably last forever. There’d be enough fights and action and derring-do and acting to convince you that you’re experiencing an event for the ages.

I’d love to experience this event but alas, it hasn’t been made yet. Some may tell you that the title belongs to the Harry Potter films but the one I recently experienced consisted of nothing but children standing around a darkened room pointing sticks at each other, while taking it in turns to tell Harry about more exciting events taking place elsewhere and involving better actors.

Unfortunately, by the time it all kicks off the special effects budget has already been spunked, presumably on unseen action sequences involving mega-snakes, flying unicorns, panther-hawks, man-apes and a giant 2-headed barbarian, played by Danny Trejo and Marc Singer. Certainly not on a giant texture-less half-wit made out of the worst CGI since Tregar invited small children into his dungeon – unless the makers charged by pixel size and the bill was settled in magic beans.

Anyway, after the kids are saved from a thrilling detention by 2 middle-aged ginger gentlemen on broomsticks, we eventually get an action sequence set in a public urinal in which Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Jason Isaacs and some other notable British thesps throw flour at each other until Gary Oldman falls over and dies. The end.

After ‘Harry Potter and the Good One With Gary Oldman’ I was convinced that the series had finally found its feet after the embarrassingly shit first two which successfully captured the feeling of starting a new school perfectly in that each seemed to last for 7 years and watching them was a bit like being repeatedly kicked in the balls by people with bigger feet.

The last two, however have continued to explore the theme of shitness but, as befitting film dealing with teens, with slightly more awkwardness and embarrassment for all and sundry. 

If magic exists in the Potter film universe it’s in the abilities of the producers to talk them up. “It’s the darkest one yet.” They repeat it as if in hope of creating a self-fulfilling mantra (if not a magic spell). And by that token, you’ve every right to expect the next film to feature Harry with AIDS, Hermione knocked up and Ron performing magic handjobs down Diagon Alley for skag. By the way, if someone who has read the book can confirm this, I may add it to my Lovefilm list.

If however, it continues the trend of ‘Harry’s adopted family are dicks, goes back to Hogwarts, meets a new adult who appears bad/good (delete as applicable), is warned about the bad wizard (again!), finds a new room in Hogwarts, finds out that the new adult is actually good/bad then survives an attack from the bad wizard’ then the most exciting fantasy film EVER will only ever exist in the pages of my primary school notebook.

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More like ‘Meh’-dators. Amirite?

The following review contains spoilers for Predators.

I’m hesitant to write in any detail why Predators was a hapless, lazy, predictable snooze-fest, as giving any other analysis beyond ‘it was shit’ would already be spending more time and effort thinking about it than the scriptwriters did. And believe it or not, they actually got paid to create this crapfest.

But if I can get the positives out of the way first, I’ll go into more detail than is probably necessary, explaining what am wrong wiv it…

When teasing the project, producer Robert Rodriguez promised largely practical effects, which he duly delivered in the form of a cast of characters who appear to be made entirely of cardboard. In fact, the most plausible way for them to survive so long on a planet of nasty aliens would probably be to turn sideways.

[Here endeth the positives]

I’m now breaking up the flow of the review to type something completely unnecessary that won’t last long but will leave you scratching your head as to why you’re reading it, which is not dissimilar to the baffling cameo in Predators.

In case they were concerned about having a cast who are too flat, they (almost literally) roll out Larry Fishburne, as someone who’s been eating survived for several years on the planet. It must have been a fair amount of time because judging by the size of him, no spacecraft would be able to haul him off the ground, let alone create a parachute large enough to stop him from becoming Larry Fishcake on the planet’s surface.

Not that it matters because before you can re-arrange ‘jump’, ‘shark’, ‘the’ and ‘ing’ into something that makes more sense than the script, he’s exploded by one of the buggers who’s not overly concerned with taking a souvenir from the one prey they’ve been chasing for 10 years. Then again, maybe their mantelpiece wasn’t sturdy enough to support a larger-than-life-size ashtray made from Larry Fishburne.

Speaking of the Predators themselves, the filmmakers have already described the supernewawesome ones as iPods to the original film’s Walkman. They’re not. They’re more like the Zune: largely pointless, kind of stupid and only their creators think they’re a good idea. If you are after a slightly tenuous Apple analogy, with their insistence in tediously demonstrating their fancy new gadgets they’re much like an aggressive bunch of early iPad adopters, ruthlessly demonstrating the ‘ultimate user interface’ to control a weird robot bird thing.

Despite the changes, what ultimately raises ire above mere apathetic levels is the laboured references to the original film. Lines and situations are recycled for no other reason than to remind you that a better film will no doubt be starting on ITV 4 in the next few minutes. Adrian Brody’s casting is, on one hand, a step in an interesting direction but by the time he’s covered him in mud and engaging in fisticuffs you’ll finally understand why the Children’s Film Foundation never added “Sammy’s Super Predator” to their roster.

I could go on about the film’s flaws* but what would be the point? The best version has already been made and it seems that even half-decent filmmakers are unable to summon up the effort required to make a good contemporary re-imagining But since the original still holds up as a master class of action cinema with perfect pacing almost infinite rewatchability it seems they, like pencil-pusher Dillon, just didn’t know when to quit. Shame.

*For example: Does the Japanese character only have a sword fight because, well, he’s Japanese? Or the scene under the waterfall which not only contains a nonsensical recount of the first film but also includes advice on how to hide from their hunters, which is strangely ignored. Basically, the whole film is a Russian doll made out of nonsense.

Bennett

“It’s actually wool. I know, crazy right?”

As part of my best man duties last year I took it upon myself to try and track down some celebrity well wishers for my mate Dan’s wedding. Part of this was because he managed to snag an autographed photo from tall and handsome millionaire Peter Jones for my wedding the year before, and part was just due to the fact that even if my speech was a dud, who’s going to remember when faced with a good luck message from the French policeman off Allo Allo (who, believe it or not, wasn’t really French)?

I drew up a short hitlist of targets to approach, based mainly on silly in-jokes, bad films watched (and re-watched) and musicians you’d only admit to liking among polite company.

Commando was one such inspiration. The tale of Arnie trying to get his daughter back from his former comrade and the General of possibly the worst army this side of Walmington-on-Sea, left a colossal imprint. Whether you enjoy it for the ‘plosions, or the plot holes, it’s a film that keeps on giving. So getting a message from one of the cast was a must. And there was only one real choice.

Commando’s villain, Bennett, is an eternal paradox. He’s supposed to be in peak physical condition, as befits a man going against early career Schwarzenegger, but seems to break sweat scaling fences that wouldn’t trouble Warwick Davis. He’s also supposed have been a part of the almost unbelievably hetero sounding fighting force ‘The Unit’, but with his leather pants, weird pseudo chainmail vest and large moustache, he seems better suited to the kind of combat that happens between consenting male adults, and rarely leaves permanent physical injury.

On one hand, Bennett claims to hate Col. John Matrix (Arnie – though I doubt I have to explain the plot machinations of Commando), but he’s also completely obsessed with him, and even turns money down for a chance to “get his hands on him”.

When people mention 80s films that feature the wrath of scorned lovers they always mention Fatal Attraction, but I’d argue Commando is a better example. For one, aside from the villain, only a rabbit gets killed in Adrian Lyne’s film, but in Commando, an entire country’s worth of metaphorical rabbits get boiled in a pan (not to mention shot, blown up, impaled and have their heads sawn open).

Of course you could argue that Commando’s protagonist was not a willing participant in the affair, but if you’re going to have a go at Michael Douglas for fucking something he shouldn’t you might as well lecture a fish for being wet.

Largely pointless digressions aside, I contacted Vernon Wells’ agent and got the following reply.

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Awesome! I wasn’t expecting such a friendly, positive response (mainly because Vernon wore assless chaps in 2 of the 3 roles I’d seen him in).

Preconceptions to ventilative legwear altered, I forwarded Dan’s phone number and an address and waited. Eventually I asked him if he’d had an ‘interesting’ phone call. He hadn’t, so I sent Vernon another email.

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But that was the last we ever heard of Vernon.

Part of me can’t help but think that perhaps Bennett and Vernon aren’t so different after all. He’s got Dan’s number, so maybe he’s just waiting for the day when he can kidnap his daughter, call him up and taunt him.

Although he probably just forgot.

Anyway, I’d consider getting an email from the great man an achievement in itself. And I did manage to get some reserve autographs.

Pics below:

Duncan 'Stop' Bannatyne

I see your Peter Jones, and raise you one dour Scotsman.

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Dominic West aka McNulty from The Wire. Best message ever.

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James Gandolfini aka Big T. He wrote this on vacation and his assistant Fed Ex’d it to get there on time. What a trooper.

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“Wads wid dis fackin tie bizness?”

The original Predator is the very definition of a guilty pleasure. Unlike most 80s action cinema it falls somewhere between genre transcending classic and Internet meme, depending on who you’re talking to, how well you know them and how much you’ve had to drink.

If Predator’s legacy could be defined by anything it’s as the go-to film for anytime you’re suitably inebriated, staring at a big black rectangle in the company of your fellow man and simply feel like dusting off that Y chromosome. Or alternatively, when you simply can’t be bothered to watch your Tarkovsky boxset for the 100th time.

So the upcoming release of Predators is kind of a big deal; it’s like Twilight for people who can grow facial hair, Sex and the City for those that don’t try to hide their facial hair, or Episode 1 for those whose tears have long since been absorbed by facial hair.

Basically, if facial hair worked on a pH indicator scale then the release of Predators would be a piece of litmus paper and the end result would be yellow, or blue, or whatever a chemist might deem the most exciting colour.

But with excitement comes apprehension. And understandably so, what they’ve done to the Predator in the remaining years makes what happened to ‘Chim’ Hopper’s men in the jungles of Central America look remarkably civilised.

First up they pitched him against Danny Glover, who was by then already well known for trying to ruin action films by being old. Then they added Gary Busey to the mix, an actor who’s so far through the looking glass, he makes the story of a giant sociopathic alien hunting a gang of Aswad gone Asbad Jamaican psychos in a war torn Los Angeles of the future seem like one of Alan Bennett’s scripts for Talking Heads that didn’t make the grade because it was too realistic. And if that wasn’t humiliating enough, they featured a scene where the Predator was ‘hilariously’ twatted by an old woman with a broom.

Is it any wonder they gave up acting for over a decade?

Then came the Aliens Vs Predator films, whose most notable achievement was making people who declared AvP 1 as: “the worst piece of fucking shit I’ve ever seen” revise their statements by the time of the almost biblically shit part 2 starting stinking up cinemas. Incidentally, it was also around this time that people began to look forward to the Mayan prophecies of 2012 (if not Roland Emmerich’s film – lulz) and Al Gore switched off Powerpoint and began to look at videos of amusing cats on Youtube.

But now we have Predators, the announcement of which was met by almost universal derision from its target audience. I mean, Predator was an embarrassingly simple premise executed to perfection (minus Carl Weather’s comedy magic arm), so to follow up with 1 disappointment and 2 outright abortions is proof that if Satan is real, he’s no longer encouraging misguided people to smoke loaded shotguns, he’s out there convincing them to give Paul WS Anderson work (that’s also assuming PWS Anderson isn’t actually Satan himself, which wouldn’t exactly be reaching).

By that rationale the fact that Predators looks pretty damn good could well be proof that not only does God exist, but he (‘she’, ‘it’ or whatever you might call a nebulous gas) is marking his (or hers, its or whatever a gas does) appearance with winning lottery tickets, a fourth series of Deadwood and a mass-smiting of the Radio 1 building and anyone who’s appeared on All Star Family Fortunes (the Vernon Kaye version – Les Dennis has suffered enough).

Of course I’m going by a trailer so accusations of hyperbole wouldn’t be completely unfounded. But in this day and age, when a sequel to ‘Went the Day Well?’ would probably be called ‘Yes’, you’ve got to have hope. And even if it is crap, at least we’ll always have Predator.

What a gwaan

What a’gwaan?

The main problem with Robin Hood 2010 is not necessarily Russell Crowe’s accent, which veers from a low-rent impression of Fred Trueman from the Indoor League, to broad scouse, before taking a wrong turn up a Jamaican patois cul-de-sac; it’s not even the fact that by now Ridley Scott has been back to the medieval well so much that he seems to have caught creative leprosy from the water, and could theoretically direct a castle siege in his sleep (and probably did – lulz).

No, the real problem is the fact that when going for a theoretically realistic retelling, of what is quite clearly bollocks, they decided to cast Russell Crowe. Now, suspension of disbelief plays a large part in any cinematic entertainment but when you have someone who is in medieval terms, and putting it as politely as possible, is not so much reaching his twilight years as wondering where the light’s gone, playing a common archer you can’t help but feel that he’s perhaps been kept back in the ‘special group’ for a few years.

If archery were studied at degree level, you get the impression that Russell Crowe’s character is about to take his attempt at an NVQ into double figures. Then again, he’s really good with a bow and arrow, so maybe he’s only recently taken it up, like old people who volunteer for work in their retirement. That would make sense I suppose.

Digressions aside, I kind of enjoyed the film, despite the age and accent of the lead, the fact that the merry men’s personalities were so interchangeable they were more like a bearded hydra, obsessed with ale, song and wenchery; despite the ride of the midget army at the end – and basically, the end itself.

I think if the problems of the film are symptomatic of anything it’s when the major creative forces on a film are allowed to do whatever they want, because, short of hiring a music video director, there is no surer way of creating a cinematic shark sandwich.

Of course the example of this phenomena that’s so text book it should be given its own ‘ism’, is George Lucas, whose ‘Lucasism’ was to return from a 20 year directorial break with The Phantom Menace. By producing Howard the Duck and not a lot else in the interim, he wasn’t spending all this time working on the script and VFX, he was essentially taking an extended gap year – though I’ve had friends spend a single gap year more productively, and all they did was blow up a cow with a rocket launcher and investigate the lady-boy paradox before (or maybe after) going mental.

Another, more tragic case of Lucasi-sm is Peter Jackson, who not only managed to make elves cool but also broke the curse of the third part of a trilogy being total balls and helping to create one of the best visual effects of all time: Orlando Bloom appearing to have screen presence. But when he’s earned the right to do whatever he wished, he came back with King Kong, which despite being half-decent, was needlessly over-long and featured a dinosaur chase sequence that was so poor, it appeared to have been created using the world’s largest treadmill and the processing muscle of a computer bearing Alan Sugar’s company logo.

Following Gladiator, Ridley and Russell’s return must have seemed as impressive on paper as it is in alliteration. And with a reputation of assaulting workers in the service industry, what would Crowe do to a well-paid film producer were they to dare suggest that Robin Hood probably didn’t sound like Bubbler Ranx in a Lilt advert?

Now I’m not suggesting that film producers should solely have their way, but if the creative forces can be reigned in by money men with occasional interjections of common sense then we may get more enjoyable films. But with news of Mafia Wars and Ice Road Truckers films being green-lit then perhaps common sense, as a commodity in Hollywood, is rarer than finding the word ‘good’ in their eventual reviews.