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Might I offer you some advice?

Movies on My Mind
Week Ending April 16 2016


Suicide Squad

I get that Warner Bros wants to emphasise the amusement factor with Suicide Squad, particularly in light of the financial fizzle that is the dour Batman v Superman, and most of what I’m seeing in the trailers is fairly agreeable; Margot Robbie is an instant hit, Will Smith may actually only get about three funny lines in the entire film, but at least he does get three funny lines, and Jai Courtney actually seems quite promising character and performance wise, which isn’t something you can say about every movie he’s in. Or any movie he’s in. But really, the studio’s marketing team are like the nerdy guy surprised he told a joke that made everyone laugh…. And then he tells another that goes down like a bag of cold sick.

This time they’ve attempted to rehearse the applause that met the Bohemian Rhapsody trailer, pasting two at variance tracks over the footage with ungainly lack of care, and it seems faintly desperate. The other thing I’m not sure about is Jared Leto’s Gruffalo Joker. He reeks of someone who’s trying too hard. The kind of method fellow who “gifts” his co-stars used condoms. But we’ll see.



Spielberg Hearts Rylance

It’s heartening when a decent director develops a love affair with a really shit-hot actor… Just as long as that decent director puts him in decent movies. The BFG, much-loved classic? Fair play, whether or not it turns out great. Ready Player One? Hmmm. Most people are suggesting the ‘berg shouldn’t have gone near it, let alone tarnishing respected thespians by association. Doubtless before long we’ll hear Mark Rylance has been signed up as the villain in Indiana Jones V.

He’ll be the pope in The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, which sounds fascinating, exploring the nineteenth century (rather than its continuing bloom in the twentieth) anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church as it relates to the kidnapping of the title character and his raising as a Christian (owing to being baptised as an infant). The only cause for concern here is Spielberg, as nuance and complexity are largely outside his mitten-like grasp. He’ll probably turn those Rothschilds into heroes…


World War II is Back!

I’d completely forgotten Robert Zemeckis was making a WWII movie (with Brad Pitt). That may just be because none of Zemeckis’ movies of late have screamed memorable. I do wonder when batches of like-minded pictures flock together, though. Sometimes its clearly rival studios seeing who will blink first (The duelling Jungle Books being the latest example). At others, it’s pure coincidence.

But when you have these big budget dives into largely dormant genres, you do start to wonder if someone is actively trying to reinvigorate and muster interest for reasons best known to themselves. Zemeckis’ imaginatively-titled Allied is written by Steven Knight, who’s no slouch (Locke is a sterling little film), so it might come good. I’m less disposed towards Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, though, since it smacks of him trying to do a Sir Dickie epic, only he doesn’t have a William Goldman screenplay to help him along. I’m assuming Nolan see this as his Titanic; the non-SF bid for peer respect. Probably, like James Cameron’s soggy love story, it will be showered with Oscars, but also provide the clearest evidence yet of Nolan’s limits as an auteur.


Doctor Strange

I really want this to be good. It’s Marvel’s biggest test – not that they really need to worry about such things any more – of cinema goers’ capacity to embrace the offbeat since Guardians of the Galaxy. So why does it look so safe and familiar? You could tell Guardians was shooting for something different from the get-go. Doctor Strange, though seems wholly intent on reminding you how much like other movies, be it The Matrix or Inception, it is.

Scott Derrickson’s an agreeable journeyman (like most Marvel picks, then), prone to the goofy sound bite (“a mind trip action film”) in a manner that rather confirms studio head honcho Kevin Feige is holding this baby close to his chest. I really hope it’s a blast, but from the teaser, Doctor Strange appears so clean and polished, so CG-wallpaper trippy, rather than actually psychedelic and outré, my expectations are tempered.

As for Benedict Cumberbatch (“Who has an incredibly complicated emotional structure going on” – wowee!) he sounds like he picked up a 40-a-day habit before trying his American accent (and glued-on beard) on for size. I never took him for the Bale school of throaty emoting.




How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Cumberbatch voicing the Grinch? Why not? He’s playing every other part at the moment – him and Jai Courtney – and this couldn’t be worse than the execrable Ron Howard version. Horton Hears a Who! was actually pretty great, so there’s clearly a chance of a big screen Dr Seuss turning out well. Picking Cumberbatch for anything right now suggests a lack of inspiration at the starting block, however.


The Mummy

Tom Cruise somehow slipped into this without anyone much noticing or caring, probably because Universal’s plans for rebooting their classic monster franchise are as tentative as Warner’s with DC. It doesn’t help that the relatively untested (on anything of this size) Alex Kurtzman is directing (see what happened to his sometime writing partner with Star Trek Beyond – the much vilified Robert Orci, partly for daring to be a conspiracy theorist, but mostly for co-penning some fairly rotten screenplays).

Universal’s Dracula Untold was a borderline bust, and now they have a mid-50s Cruise (but moisturising like crazy) playing the insanely-named Tyler Colt, a Navy SEAL in Iraq accidentally unleashing the Mummy(!) I guess kudos for not making a period movie, and kudos for not going the whacky route again. But, on the other hand, Joe Dante might have made a Mummy more than 20 years ago, and still could given half a chance, and you can bet it would have been a much better Mummy than anything Stephen Sommers or Alex Kurtzman could or can come up with. Jon Spaihts furnished the screenplay, still unproven but with lots of potential riding on his name (Prometheus, Passengers, Dr Strange, er, the Pacific Rim sequel) so maybe this will be interesting. I’m not holding my breath, though.


Other Superheroics

All this superhero news coming out of Comicon… Do I want to see a Ben Affleck directed Batman movie? Sure, I’m certain it will be as solidly made, entertaining-but-entirely-unremarkable as the other films Ben has directed starring himself, or his brother.

Spiderman: Homecoming? Michael Keaton should be a bundle of fun as the Vulture, if that’s who he’s playing. Fun generally seems the vibe coming of this reboot, given the positive word about Civil War and Peter Parker/Spidey character therein. I didn’t mind those Andrew Garfield entries, despite the messy Kurtzman and Orci screenplays, but they did leave a resounding indifference to where the character went next. This certainly looks like it will change that.


Avatar 2-5

James Cameron’s having a larf, isn’t he? The thing is, while everyone and their dog appears to be doubting the solid ground for creating a franchise from a picture no one is (vocally) rooting to spawn, those Thomases should remember it was exactly the same when he unleashed Titanic. And after that the first Avatar. 

By the sound of it, The Jungle Book will be indicative of whether audiences remain ready to flock to a film based entirely on the immersive 3D experience, six years on from the one that initiated it all, now the initial appeal has long-since lost its lustre. Yeah, Avatar’s merely so-so, but I wouldn’t bet against Jimbo. Not unless he decides to make Tom Arnold happy and finally get True Lies 2 underway.


Young Han Solo

Alden Ehrenreich? I say go for it. He’s a fine actor, if his performance in Hail, Caesar! is any indication. Of course, being a fine actor and essaying an iconic role only Harrison Ford can play are two different things. Would that it were so simple to fill his shoes.


The Neon Demon

This looks like the sort of thing you’d get if you stuck De Palma and Lynch in a blender. Meaning, I’m doubtful Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest has much more going on for it beneath the surface visuals and weirdness (unlike Lynch). But that might just be enough.



The Stath head-butts the Shark

Is Jason Statham really going to fight a giant shark? I hope he does so as his character from Spy. That would be terrific.


Ghost in the Shell

I’m often wilfully out of touch with what people want, probably as much as the movie studios trying to second guess them. Who would have thought Michael Bay’s horrific take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would find a rapturous and aesthetically indifferent audience? The long gestating Ghost in the Shell is finally set for release next March, with the dazzling combo of Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Scarlett Johansson (because her stunt double did such good work as Black Widow).

This has doomed written all over it, as loudly as Warcraft, but I guess the studio put down a lot of cash for the rights and those years of development hell, and they want all that investment to pay off, even if that means making an ENORMOUS loss. Check out the really good anime instead (unless, against the odds, this actually really good, but you should still check out the really good anime). Paramount are surely aware of how hopeless this one is, ducking for cover with each new news piece on the project. The latest finds them desperately seeking damage limitation over the reported tests turning ScarJo Japanese.


Box Office

The success of Zootopia, heading towards $900m worldwide, raises the question of how well the rash of forthcoming animations can do. Or rather, which ones will fall by the wayside, since the chances of all of them equalling such stratospheric numbers are remote.

The Angry Birds Movie, in May; for it not to be a hit, would display ineptitude on Sony’s part of such proportions one might be led to think they were capable of squandering the potential of, say, a Spider-man franchise. Finding Dory, in June, would be deemed a miss if it didn’t hit a billion, I suspect. But it’s hotly followed by the highly buzzed The Secret Life of Pets from Universal and Fox’s Ice Age: Collision Course in July. Although, the latter series is traditionally far bigger globally than on US turf. Vying for the same audiences are The BFG (July) and Pete’s Dragon (August). Something has to give.



I’ll be seeing The Jungle Book next week, so I’ll be able to report if my bafflement at its potential was fair or foul. It certainly seems as if Disney can do no wrong right now, and they already have a sequel in the starting gate, so my estimation that this might not break the bank looks to be very wrong (for the record, I’ve also been very wrong so far this year about Deadpool – by about half a billion –  and Zootopia – probably the same when all is said and done – so it’s a good thing I’ve got nothing riding on these guesstimates, particularly when Rogue One takes more than a billion at the end of the year).

I thought it entirely misconceived conceptually, in terms of casting choices (right down to the lazy pick of Bill Murray or Baloo), the uncanny valley CGI, and attempting to squeeze in those classic songs. What is evidently surmounting that, even in cynical critics’ minds, is the Avatar effect – just look at that 3D world!


What’s a comedy star’s shelf life? Other than Will Ferrell, who makes so many movies, every so often one’s bound to turn out to be a hit? Melissa McCarthy’s been riding high in cinemas for half a decade now, with precious few misfires along the way. Jim Carrey had about a decade’s heyday, Robin Williams likewise (if you put Good Morning Vietnam as his first big flush). In retrospect, Eddie Murphy was spluttering after six years or so, before reinventing himself as a family man for about the same span again. And they’re the more successful ones.

As long as McCarthy keeps allying herself with Paul Feig, who it appears can do no wrong at the box office, even if artistically is another matter, rather than her director hubby (see The Boss, or it seems, avoid it), who’s evidently jealously intent on sending her star status down the pan (Ben Falcone is McCarthy’s John Derek…), she could keep her quick-fire mouth above water for a few more years. But shtick inevitably gets old, even if it means she has to fall out of favour before falling back in again. I didn’t say if I found her funny, did I? Well, I did see Bridesmaids at the cinema.


On TV

I’ve been catching the first season of Hap and Leonard – hopefully there’ll be more, or the final shot will remain an eternal tease – which provides an effective introduction to the duo. James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams have a strong rapport, although there are aspects I’m not so sure about. The anti-Big Chill harping on the ‘60s gets old quickly, even if Bill Sage’s eminently corruptible hippy archetype is well-observed, and Jimmi Simpson’s psycho killer is the kind of push-button crazy you introduce when you’re all out of ideas. Nevertheless, the laconic friendship between the main characters sees it through. You want to see more of their adventures, and in its favour is the sense to keep the episode count down to a length suiting the content. Six episodes felt right, without the need for superfluous subplots.



There’s so much TV being made right now, by traditional and non-traditional means, it’s virtually impossible to keep up with what’s good and what’s not. You have to pick and choose, and rely on at least getting some of the cream of the crop in your line of sight. I didn’t expect Black Sails to be one of those, to be honest.

A Michael Bay-produced, piratical piece on the Starz network, neither exactly benchmarks of quality, a prequel to a children’s yarn (Treasure Island) with lashings of sex and violence. It sounded as ropey as a yardarm. But, having recently finished the third series (I’m still a few from the end), it’s become a must-see. Certainly, some of the casting is unlikely –  Luke Arnold especially took some getting used to as an against-type John Silver –  but it’s led by Toby Stephens on towering career reinventing form as Captain Flint. At one point he seemed destined to languish in the memory as the villain from one of the biggest Bond turkeys and be forever a footnote to his more renowned and respected parents.


The series takes a rightful place alongside another first rate spin-off from Robert Louis Stevenson, the ‘80s Return to Treasure Island (a reunion with a popular yarn’s child protagonist that can be counted as a resounding success, unlike Burton’s Alice in Wonderland). Arnold will have to get some extreme hammery in between now and the series’ close if he’s to stand any chance of eclipsing Brian Blessed’s thunderous Silver in that show.

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