Thursday, October 22, 2009

Times Online Mentions Rob: Cirque du Freak

A few years ago, a friend of mine spent the night in Los Angeles as the houseguest of the head of production at Warner Bros. The latest Harry Potter movie had just opened and in the early hours of Saturday morning my friend was woken by the sound of the phone ringing. “Who on earth could be calling at such an ungodly hour?” he thought. It was J. K. Rowling, hoping to discover the first day’s grosses.

In Hollywood, a successful movie franchise is a gold mine. It generates what people in the business call “Scrooge McDuck” money — enough to fill a swimming pool and then dive in. It’s hardly surprising, then, that sensible people go a bit doolally in pursuit of this holy grail. Paul Weitz, who has chalked up some decent credits (About a Boy, In Good Company), is a case in point. Nothing else can explain the full horror of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.

There’s little doubt he’s hoping to start a franchise. As with Rowling the story and characters are taken from a multivolume series of fantasy novels by a British children’s author — in this case Darren Nash — and the similarities don’t end there. The central character (Chris Massoglia) is a bland teenager who is plucked from his small-town existence and plunged into a secret world where he possesses super powers. He quickly finds himself at the centre of a battle between the forces of good and evil in which the future of the world is at stake.

OK, he doesn’t possess a Nimbus 2000, but he can “flit” — move around at lightning speed — which is the next best thing. A more accurate name for this film would be Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Pinch.

Another source of inspiration is Twilight, the vampire franchise that was successfully launched last year. The teenage protagonist of Cirque du Freak is a “half-vampire”: he allows himself to be bitten by the 200-year-old clan chief (John C. Reilly), but doesn’t go round biting people himself. Vampirism in this film is treated as an addiction and the characters are in varying stages of recovery. The baddies, known as “the vampaneze”, are like full-blown alcoholics: they binge on human blood until their victims die. They are the sworn enemies of common-or- garden vampires, who take only what they need to stay alive — they’re more like social drinkers. Why these two clans are at war is a mystery as there’s no shortage of local claret. As far as I could tell, it all comes down to a question of etiquette: which is the correct way to drink human blood? It’s a tragedy of manners.

The success of Twilight was at least partly due to the performance of Robert Pattinson, the English actor cast as the male lead. He’s been catapulted to stardom and will reappear next month in New Moon, the second film in the saga. A similar fate is unlikely to befall the leading man in Cirque du Freak. Chris Massoglia stumbles from one scene to another looking slightly startled, as if he can’t quite believe he’s in a movie, and his face seems to be made of Plasticine. Perhaps Weitz should have recruited Nick Park to give Massoglia a greater range of expression.

But the biggest shortcoming of Cirque du Freak is the absence of a proper, self-contained story. So convinced is Weitz that his film is going to spawn a dozen sequels that he spends most of his time setting up the characters and their relationships. He appears to have overlooked the fact that unless Cirque du Freak is entertaining in its own right the franchise will be stillborn. Universal Studios, which is behind the film, has had a number of flops this year, including Land of the Lost and Funny People, and Cirque du Freak is unlikely to reverse that trend. Something tells me that Darren Nash won’t be calling up the head of production tomorrow morning to discover the first day’s grosses.A few years ago, a friend of mine spent the night in Los Angeles as the houseguest of the head of production at Warner Bros. The latest Harry Potter movie had just opened and in the early hours of Saturday morning my friend was woken by the sound of the phone ringing. “Who on earth could be calling at such an ungodly hour?” he thought. It was J. K. Rowling, hoping to discover the first day’s grosses.

In Hollywood, a successful movie franchise is a gold mine. It generates what people in the business call “Scrooge McDuck” money — enough to fill a swimming pool and then dive in. It’s hardly surprising, then, that sensible people go a bit doolally in pursuit of this holy grail. Paul Weitz, who has chalked up some decent credits (About a Boy, In Good Company), is a case in point. Nothing else can explain the full horror of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.

There’s little doubt he’s hoping to start a franchise. As with Rowling the story and characters are taken from a multivolume series of fantasy novels by a British children’s author — in this case Darren Nash — and the similarities don’t end there. The central character (Chris Massoglia) is a bland teenager who is plucked from his small-town existence and plunged into a secret world where he possesses super powers. He quickly finds himself at the centre of a battle between the forces of good and evil in which the future of the world is at stake..


Read the article at thetimesonline.com

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