Sunday, July 27, 2014

Too Tokarev to be true

When I saw the posters up around Melbourne for a new Nicolas Cage film called Tokarev, I was understandably encouraged that it was another step away from the career purgatory that has occupied him for much of the 2000s, but has lately been repudiated in the form of such films as Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Kick-Ass and Joe. Sure, the poster made it pretty clear it was a genre film, but with a name like Tokarev, it had to be something interesting ... right?

Even seeing it pop up on our Fetch box -- in other words, our version of OnDemand -- on or around the date of its theatrical release, I was not discouraged. After all, that's becoming an increasingly common practice, and may just be an indication that a movie is sort of a tough sell. With a title like Tokarev, I imagine it would be.

So did the studios. In the world's most unsurprising discovery, which I made just a couple days ago, the film is not called Tokarev in the U.S. It's called Rage.


I have never actually seen a movie called Rage, but I've "seen" movies called Rage. They are never very interesting. They are never as interesting as movies called Tokarev.

But wait, Vance -- it's the same movie!

True. But the title actually does have an impact on our perception of a movie, doesn't it? Doesn't it?

Take the panic I felt a couple weeks ago when I learned (erroneously) that they were changing the title of my favorite movie of the year so far, Edge of Tomorrow. Set aside the fact that you can't change the title of a movie after it's already hit theaters -- there was credible evidence to suggest it might actually be happening. The new title would not, however, be All You Need Is Kill, the name of the original graphic novel, which is the actual title of the film in certain Asian markets (and which I actually don't like much as a title -- makes it sound like a cult movie). Instead, the new title would be Living on the Edge.

It would have been the same movie, sure. But I just couldn't get behind loving a movie called Living on the Edge. In fact, that title might have been enough to keep me from seeing the movie in the first place.

Thank goodness my information turned out to be wrong.

I find we can be very protective of what we think of as the "right" version of a film's title. A lot of the time this has to do with how we first came to know the movie. For example, there may be reasons why Leon is a better title for the Luc Besson movie than The Professional, but I came to know the movie as The Professional and therefore reject any attempt to retroactively refer to it as Leon. Of course, it wouldn't actually be retroactive, since the French title of the film is Leon. But I didn't know it was called Leon until I'd been aware of the movie for at least a couple years, at which point it was too late for my brain to make the adaptation.

I get similarly grouchy when people want to refer to Paul Thomas Anderson's first film as Sydney. It's Hard Eight. It's not Sydney, even if that was its original title.

In both of the above examples, I'm kind of taking the reverse position from the one I'm taking in the Tokarev/Rage debate. I'm arguing in favor of a more general title and against one that's more specific -- a name -- but says less about what the movie is about. Rage may describe what the movie is about more -- may, but probably doesn't -- but it lacks the attention-getting specificity of a title like Tokarev. Actually, Rage probably does a worse job describing the movie, since Tokarev is not the name of a person, but rather, a type of Russian gun that I understand figures prominently into the plot.

But am I being too idealistic here? Did I really think there was ever a chance that the name Tokarev could stand in the American market, and have any chance of delivering any money to the movie?

And maybe it was not wrong to change the name. I'm having trouble accessing any Australian box office figures for Tokarev, but they can't have been good. That could be one of the main reasons it appeared so early on Fetch, even though its Fetch release would likely have been strategized long before any hard dollar figures would have been available on the film's performance.

It's also possible that Australia and other countries were serving as a test market for how Tokarev would perform, and only after that was the name changed to Rage in the U.S. After all, the movie opened sometime back in April or May here, and only just got its U.S. release a couple weeks ago. Actually, I guess that's not the case because it opened online in the U.S. back in May. Online? I can't keep track of release strategies for movies anymore.

Anyway, the title change leaves me at a loss for how to perceive this movie. As Tokarev, I was almost certain to prioritize seeing it before the end of the year. Even if it was just your standard Nicolas Cage paycheck movie, the fact that it bore the title Tokarev -- that someone considered it eligible to carry such an uncommercial title -- gave it potential to be ... something else. Something more.

As Rage, though, it truly isn't worth my time.

As for any real prospect of Cage leaving movies like Rage behind him, and going for more movies like Tokarev, well ... he's got the Left Behind reboot coming out this fall, so you do the math.

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