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David Poland

By David Poland

What Am I On About: Fantastic Four Edition

Fantastic Four (2015 edition) is a terrible movie. Most of the critical world seems to be able to agree on that.

But what has raised my hackles this weekend (and still, today) is the coverage of Josh Trank’s career-suicide tweet of August 6, 6:43p. 18 minutes later, I responded “Wow. That was close to suicidal.” No doubt, many others responded likewise. Surely a number within Trank’s personal circle. Within an hour, it was a story.

Here’s where I got cranky about the whole thing.

Everyone who covers the movie business – and is paying attention – knew that there were serious problems on Fantastic Four going back to January, when reshoots were being scheduled.

But amazingly, none of the mainstream media outlets seem to have written (that I can find online) about the reshoots after Fox claimed that it was a 3 or 4 days of pick-ups and no big deal.

Everyone who covers the movie business – and is paying attention – knew that Josh Trank didn’t quit his Star Wars spin-off movie, but was removed, causing the movie to be pushed back a year.

But amazingly, most of the mainstream media allowed Trank and those around him to spin the story that he was just exhausted from making big movies and needed to work on something smaller. Even those who dug a little deeper to find displeasure at Fox didn’t push much further than Trank being aloof. But there are a lot of directors who are not only aloof, but are brutally difficult, who keep getting and keeping jobs. Still… the hint of discomfort was enough.

Everyone who covers the movie business – and is paying attention – knew that Fox was treating Fantastic Four like a rare exotic flower that had to be handled with extreme care.

But amazingly, most of the mainstream media outlets held their powder when tracking suggested that the film would open to neat $50 million domestically.

And then… The Tweet.

Some foolish people (notably, the shockingly bubble-gum Steven Zeitchik of the LA Times) have rationalized the tweet into a clever ruse to distance himself from a movie and successfully put the blame elsewhere.

But here on earth, that tweet was nothing less than a cry for help. I don’t know anyone who thinks Trank is anything less than very smart. He has been stretched on the emotional rack for 8 months-plus, not only on this film but with the Star Wars thing too. The tweet was a slip after a long time holding it in, not just a reaction to a terrible Rotten Tomato score.

There are only three recent (last 20 years) examples of suicide by bad-mouthing your own film that I can recall. Tony Kaye blew his entire Hollywood career by attacking American History X in public in 1998. Kaye (who still makes a lot of money shooting commercials) has not made a movie funded by American money since and has only made a self-funded doc (the masterpiece Lake of Fire) and Detachment, funded overseas (perhaps by Kaye himself) and getting a 15-screen, $72,689 grossing release in 2012.

Gary Oldman spent a decade in movie jail after getting into a public battle with Steven Spielberg over The Contender in 2000. In a performance assumed to be a lock for an Oscar nod, Oldman not only didn’t get nominated (Jeff Bridges getting the nod, presumably in his place), but would only be allowed small supporting roles (like Sirius Black or Jim Gordon) in studio movies until the British-made Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy arrived in 2011.

Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia meltdown at a press conference in Berlin (2011) hasn’t had a direct effect on Von Trier because his films are funded internationally and he doesn’t depend on the U.S. But this is the third famous self-immolation:

And here is Gary Oldman on the Von Trier situation:

And this is my beef with how the media is covering the current situation with Trank…

We, collectively, ignored the problem, continuing to push Fox’s agenda and Trank’s agenda and Disney’s agenda until Trank broke in public… and now, it’s “Fry Josh Trank Week,” which is easy to do because he broke and he exposed himself and suddenly, ripping him a new one is on everyone’s “go” agenda.

Now I’m not saying that everyone in media is trying to hurt Josh Trank. There is a degree to which this is news, especially combined with the box office failure of the film. But there is something about the carnival feeling about it that makes me very sad and a bit angry.

Moreover, I like and respect many of the people covering this story in depth this weekend and now, this week. We all have jobs to do. And if it’s new to you, perhaps it feels like news.

But it’s not enough to say that it’s more grist for the mill and that Trank brought it upon himself and that if you want to become the director of $100m+ pop films, you are putting yourself in harms way. All these things are true. But those things are all finger-pointing and none of them consider our own (as media) complicity in the building up and tearing down of human beings.

Is anyone going to do a serious look at what is happening inside of Fox in the the last couple of years? No. Is anyone going to write a tough piece on the tone inside Lucasfilm before Star Wars launches in December? Not a chance. When is the last time you saw tough words about Colin Trevorrow in a mainstream news piece? Roughly the day before Jurassic World blew up the box office?

I guess what I am saying is… the news doesn’t tend to change much. Josh Trank tweeted… 4 days ago. He broke the cone of silence. But was the feelings expressed in his tweet a surprise to anyone who covers the movie business and is paying attention? No. Did the tweet suddenly change why or if he was dumped or leapt from Star Wars? No. Did the reshoots become more extensive because Trank tweeted? No.

The story on August 6 at 6:43p was almost exactly the story that was there on August 5.

So is it really okay for journalists to slap themselves on the back for digging deep the next day? For getting tough only after a tweet removed the cloaking mechanism that everyone chose to pretend blinded them until The Tweet?

I am not comfortable with that. And this causes some people to call me names and hurl insults. So be it.

Each time I read a piece that starts with some jaunty paragraph about all of this, I keep flashing on Josh Trank… who screwed in many ways… but is the only human being really suffering this agony today. Everyone else, more savvy, with publicists playing easier hands, has somehow left this poor schnuck holding the bag all by himself. And the media is participating in this. He’s guilty. Guilty as hell. But of what? What is a fair cost? Is it the job of the media to dole it out?

I don’t even know that there is a right answer. But I do know that as journalists, we are supposed to be asking those questions… when the story is big yet the story is also only 137 characters long.

25 Responses to “What Am I On About: Fantastic Four Edition”

  1. amblinman says:

    The more I read about this, I take away two items:

    1.) Josh Trank is an asshole who probably doesn’t need any help torpedoing his career.
    2.) Fox didn’t need Trank’s help to create a steaming pile of shit in FF. It sounds like they meddled to the point that the end product resembled nothing that was intended or agreed upon.

    I like the X-Men movies but fuck Fox. They seem to hate superheros, so I”m not sure why they are still in the business of making superhero movies.

  2. Jim S. says:

    Its kind of asinine to write that entire piece and not quote or at least link to Trank’s tweet.

  3. longshanks says:

    Jim – disagree. This blog caters to a savvy audience, the great majority of whom are likely to already be deeply familiar with the tweet, to the point that linking to (or quoting) the tweet would border on redundancy.

    Moreover, the decision to not link or quote the tweet is appropriate thematically – in keeping with the larger theme of disdain as to how the tweet has been covered and spun.

  4. Triple Option says:

    I’ve noticed over the years this site’s propensity to jump straight into commentary without making source material readily available. One presumes the owner has some kind of equity stake in google. I do find it less annoying than the elitist commentators on this site who incessantly use initials for every movie title, foreign or domestic, since Birth of a Nation, and expect everyone to know what they’re talking about despite never writing out the title the first time in their post. This site would greatly benefit from a WTF emoji.

    Anyway, the “press” has made the tweet out to be more than it would’ve otherwise have been. Trunk isn’t a name people know nor follow. If he was hired because they thought he had some huge millennial following, they didn’t do their research.

    Did this same thing happen with Fox and the director of Babylon AD? I’m at least glad those in creative positions care about the quality of the work. Trunk may be a petulant ahole who needs the humbling of prolonged unemployment, ( not that I’d wish it on him) but in terms of saying regretful things, that tweet hardly belongs to immortalized like the words of Anne Rice or Marie Antoinette.

  5. RRA says:

    Didn’t THR on their piece about Trank getting fired from that Star Wars say that he was canned because of the FF shoot? (And without explicitly being said, the movie was a mess too?)

  6. RRA says:

    Mr. Poland – Why did alot of media outlets/journalists held back on this story? One could argue some were afraid of losing their precious set visits (clickbait gold) and early screenings if they bit the hand that fed them. Another argument is that it’s simply ego, the fear of bashing a film’s production…then it becomes a major hit, well who looks like an idiot now?

    Or 3rd possibility: nobody really cared about this FF film at all enough to bother reporting on it.

  7. martin says:

    Hear hear, David.

    I’ve been hammering that same nail since 2013.

    In 2012: DD rights revert, Kingsman bidding war, Vaughn leaves X-Men, Trank is signed, Millar is brought in by Vaughn who shortly becomes FF producer and then voila, FF goes from recast to reboot using Millar’s storyline.

    After that, it’s producer roulette and the Marvel Cold War kicks in.

    It’s hard to tell what Trank is and is not responsible for. If Watts really did reneg on the agreed locked script, days before shooting, and pulled the big VFX scenes, it explains some of Trank’s behavior. But why would they do that, (besides budget), and where were the heavy hitter producers?

  8. PcChongor says:

    Mark Millar is Keyser Söze.

  9. cadavra says:

    David, there’s another, but it just predates the internet era. About 20 years ago, a black female director named Darnell Martin grabbed the brass ring when Sony picked up her first film, I LIKE IT LIKE THAT. In hyping it as the first studio release for a film directed by a black woman, they called the acquisition “a Cinderella story.” Ms. Martin, for what reason no one can say, went absolutely apeshit over this and heaped abuse on the Sony hierarchy (mainly Sid Ganis, one of the sweetest guys in the biz), calling them all sorts of names, most of them starting with “F.” There were only newspapers and TV then, but it did the job, especially as the studio was still digging out from the Guber-Peters-Canton-Henson meltdown. To their credit, they still opened it, but the bad press did its work and it died. That was the end of her studio career; she moved back to NY and has since directed a couple of indies and some TV. But it was still a damn-fool thing to do, especially as it was so frickin’ unnecessary.

  10. Triple Option says:

    I vaguely remember that but I thought Ms Martin went bejerk because they totally re-cut her film. I also didn’t know how public she was. Well, yes, i knew she was mad but not like trashing everyone during like press junket type thing. I was thinking she vowed not to do another film where a studio could lock her out of the editing room. It’s been 20+ years and what I heard was 2nd hand info, noting from seeing accounts in the press.

  11. Stella's Boy says:

    I’ve always hesitated to agree with the contention that Oldman committed career suicide. Looking at his IMDB page, pre- and post-The Contender, his roles look mostly similar. Supporting roles in big budget studio movies and leads in fare like Romeo is Bleeding. He continued to work regularly after The Contender incident. Career suicide seems excessive.

    With Trank it seems like a lot of media (especially online) went out of their way to defend him because they like Chronicle and find it much easier to believe that a studio would unfairly screw over a young, promising director as opposed to the director being the problem.

  12. Greg says:

    Thank god you included your response to his tweet…with the millions of useless tweets everyday, I’m glad you had to let us know yours’.

  13. Mike says:

    Seems like Trank was just a bad choice for the material from the beginning. They’re the Fantastic Four, not the Gritty Gang. Any vision that included the Thing as a killing machine was the wrong vision. Tension on the set, rewrites, power struggles, losing the film all stem from that first bad decision.

    I hope Trank has a career after this, even if it’s TV and indies. But Fox should be raked over the coals for letting it get here.

    I am not a Marvel film fan (some of them have been okay), but clearly the rights should just go back to Marvel who could figure out how to do it properly.

  14. YancySkancy says:

    I’d never heard that Darnell Martin story. I liked I LIKE IT LIKE THAT a lot and thought she was going places. I guess I just assumed the studios lost interest after the film didn’t do well. Her TV work is solid, and I adored CADILLAC RECORDS, which again made me hope for bigger things for her. But it tanked, too, I guess. It’s a shame; she has talent.

    EDIT: This may be off base, but I wonder if she bristled at being advertised as some kind of a quota hire when she’s actually half white.

  15. samguy says:

    Thanks, Poland for bringing up The Contender. Seriously. Thank you. Good adult movie (and by that I don’t mean the kind full of “money” shots!)

  16. Pete B says:

    Romeo is Bleeding! There’s an Oldman movie I need to rewatch. One of the best lines ever: “On or off?”

  17. cadavra says:

    Triple: I know they retitled the film (BLACKOUT doesn’t exactly convey romantic comedy), but I’m unaware of any major cutting. In any event, she had to have read the contract before she signed it. As for the outrage, I think it was more a feminist thing than a black thing; she specifically hated the “Cinderella” angle.

    And call me crazy, but major roles in four Harry Potter movies, the Dark Knight trilogy, and voice work in A CHRISTMAS CAROL and the KUNG FU PANDA films is the kind of “movie jail” I suspect most actors would kill for.

  18. Stella's Boy says:

    Exactly cadavra. Despite lots of speculation about Oldman being punished for crossing Spielberg or whatever, it sure doesn’t seem like his career suffered much. He’s always been seen as a character actor too, not a leading man.

    I adore Romeo is Bleeding, though I haven’t seen it in ages. Back in the days of VHS, during my teen years, it was one of my most watched.

  19. Mike says:

    I can’t speak for the other two, but Oldman had a great point. His character was initially written as having good motivation and made the character more interesting. When he showed up in the finished film, he became an unsympathetic bad guy out to get Joan Allen’s character for no reason. I thought that decision hobbled the film. He probably shouldn’t have spoken out about it, but he was right in my opinion.

  20. Stella's Boy says:

    Oh I agree Mike. I also think he made a valid point, and I’m a huge fan of Oldman’s. He’d make my personal favorites top 10 list. I just don’t think his career suffered much if at all for it. Was he dropped from a movie because of it? Taken out of contention for a lead in a huge studio movie? Not that I’ve ever heard.

  21. Mike says:

    No, I guess Dave is saying that Oldman just seemed to be in line for more and more high profile supporting roles than he got because he was deemed difficult?

  22. EtGuild2 says:

    Maybe the Lily Tomlin evisceration video was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back…but David O. Russell is damned lucky to call Mark Wahlberg his friend.

  23. William Lumpkin says:

    I agree with what is said here. However, please note the following:

    How many changes to a story and characters does it take to dilute them until it weakens and no longer resembles the property that was purchased to begin with? This project kept making change after change from the start and jettisoned a faithful adaptation right away. Do that at your own risk. Remember, please, the following-

    1- the origin was rewritten (not a big deal if a lone change)

    2- They changed the background story of all key characters

    3- choosing not to design the Thing based on the comic character during the acclaimed years. Hiring “Billy Elliot” to play him, who is shorter than the other male cast members. Changing the Thing’s trademark gruff voice and animated, expressive eyebrow (as much a key visual as Raimi pointed out Spider-man’s eye shapes are). Remember that The Thing is one of Marvel’s most beloved characters.

    4- Making the cast kids, thus basing it on inferior Marvel comic attempts at the series rejuvenation, instead of basing it again on the property’s glory years.

    4- Not understanding what makes the Dr Doom character worth doing. Those who love the character: “He’s a megalomaniacal madman who rules his own country from a castle and completes his medieval existence by donning a suit of armor.” The Cons-“He’s a megalomaniacal madman who rules his own country from a castle and completes his medieval existence by donning a suit of armor.”

    5- Ignoring that the characters in the stories would deal daily with a barrage of media hounding reporters and paparazzi that illustrated celebrity life was good and bad and had plenty of satire (Even the Beatles came to their wedding for example, or how they read their own comic books).

    6- The casting was awful, beyond “no name actors.” If one is honest, look at Kate Mara in much of what she does. You will find a very wooden, seldom smiling, inexpressive performance everywhere she goes. No wonder she’s now being hit with “frownyface” quips. Richards needed someone who did not look like the son of Rocky Marciano. Ben Grimm needed a Matt Dillon type (only a better actor please- at least Dillon had the voice). A Young Bruce Willis would be perfect.

    7- The writers had no clue how the comics presented the Baxter Building as a scientific wonderland, Willy Wonka’s factory meets The Nostromo from Alien. Every corridor offered new discoveries and fearful experiments in progress, thus lending so many opportunities for new stories. All that was jettisoned.

    All these things showed no belief in the Lee-Kirby years. Somebody uttered the old “we can’t do that today” drivel. Then don’t do the property. Do what Brad Bird did and make a whole new team based on them like The Incredibles. These choices and many more signaled a lack of confidence and understanding of what made the Fantastic Four worth doing.

    Now we all hear the old “maybe they were not meant for movies” excuses. Meanwhile characters that started in the FF are being used in films, from the Black Panther to soon The Inhumans). The fact is that the Lone Ranger (remember the 1981 version anyone?), the Spirit, Flash Gordon, the Shadow, the FF and more are waiting for the right people to do them, just like the Lord of the Rings books had to wait (anyone remember after the Bakshi film? Word back then was the story could not be filmed. Nonsense.)

    Understand the material you are going to be custodian of before you purchase it, or hire a director and writers who don’t wish to deconstruct it from the get go.

  24. Johnnie says:

    All the above points mean nothing if you’re telling a good story with compelling characters. The fact that FF sucks had nothing to do with those points, unless you’re a fanboy who totes wants the Baxter Building to be all cool and junk.

  25. Bulldog68 says:

    Every time I saw the trailer for FF I always wondered why they included a shot of the big guy swinging a tank. Literally mirroring the money shot from the box office failure that was Bana’s Hulk. (Even though I liked most of it personally.)

    One would have thought that they would have wanted to stay far away from all similarities.

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