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Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Movies on My Mind
Week Ending April 9 2016

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Directly contrasting with director Matthew Vaughn’s comments in the most recent Empire (“I think the world would like to see Colin again, but sadly we’re not a sci-fi movie”), the Kingsman 2 teaser poster rather suggests we will be seeing the return of Harry Hart. For which, I for one would be grateful. As fine an actor as Taron Egerton is, and more than capable of carrying his own picture (see Eddie the Eagle), I felt The Secret Service achieved a perfect balance of elements prior to Colin Firth’s decisive exit from the proceedings, leaving a hole afterwards.

It wasn’t a Ben Kenobi-sized hole, more of a Han Solo-shaped one, where you’re ecstatic that, having sloped off, he returns to save Luke from Darth Vader in the Death Star trench. Of course, there’s the possibility Vaughn took a look at the general critical response to, and box office take of, Grimsby, and decided it might not be wise to release another movie about an oik who teams up with Mark Strong to fight bad guys.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Talking of Star Wars, the first “Anthology” entry, no scratch that, “A Star Wars story” trailer has hit. And, well, yes. I quite like the music, riffing as it does on a number of trailer tropes via the classic John Williams theme, with its post-Inception bassy rumbles and Alien/Prometheus –esque sirens.

Some have suggested Rogue One looks like the Star Wars: Battlefront video game, but I wouldn’t know about that. I did get a strong Full Metal Jacket vibe, though, from those AT-ATs stomping about on a bunch of palm trees. Which, if you’re going to imitate a war movie, is definitely one to pick. Ben Mendelsohn looks rather splendid in his beige ensemble, there’s a running robot rebel, and director Gareth Edwards has a great eye, possibly even two. But then, Godzilla also looked fantastic, didn’t it?

Mostly it’s Felicity Jones’ character that concerns me. She’s got attitude, she’s feisty (“This is a rebellion isn’t it? I rebel”); she’s an undiluted, post-modern, post-Abrams, post-Whedon, post-Buffy well-worn cliché. Add to that familiar far away galaxy touchstones (Death Star, Star Destroyers, Mon Mothma, stormtroopers variants to keep the toy range lively) and Rogue One mostly looks too-reassuringly safe, even with its determined “grit”. Which is what Disney wants, of course, a guaranteed, non-confrontational hit. I’m not sure they wanted to evoke memories of Battlefield Earth, however, which is what happens every time I see or hear Forest Whitaker in a science fiction spectacle.



Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman continues to plummet, rather than taper off in its global box office performance. Back at the beginning of the year, I estimated an $850m worldwide gross, which is looking like a fairly reasonable guesstimate, if possibly a bit too high, and is definitely a result Warner Bros will be rueing.

As I said in my review, I don’t have enough interest in the DC-verse to be up-in-arms over the treatment of Superman, although I certainly get the beef. More of a concern is that, if this represents the kind of storytelling we can expect going forward, the WB/DC movies won’t even able to rely on strong openings before very long.

It will be interesting to see how Suicide Squad fares, particularly from a director (David Ayer) not exactly known for his commercial touch. There isn’t even a semi-official budget out there for the picture, which ballooned from a smaller, Deadpool-sized production ($40m) to a $100m-plus one, complete with Big Willie on board. One source even suggests $250m, which is insane, but WB has been making some insane decisions regarding their comics franchise, so maybe that’s accurate. Certainly, with the reshoots and the positive reaction to the Bohemian Rhapsody trailer, Suicide Squad now has considerable expectations riding on it, where originally it might have been the one that snuck in there and pleasantly surprised (like Deadpool, which whatever your feelings on the movie, has outperformed even the most extravagant expectations).


The BFG

The Big Fucking Git was published a little too late to become a Roald Dahl childhood favourite, so I’m not invested in the film version respecting its source material the way I was The Fantastic Mr Fox (which didn’t, but it was Wes Anderson, so neither could I really complain too much about its transgressions). It definitely has Mark Rylance going for it, who’s so hot right now.

Really, this trailer could be for any tinkly-winkly prestige kids’ adaption, from a Harry Potter (or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) to doing a Burton in terms of look. Spielberg’s become that indistinct, a much of which is down to his ever-present cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. The BFG himself is currently (perhaps the effects will be finessed over the next few months before release) a very obvious motion capture creation (while his fellows look like they’ve wandered in off Warcraft monitor screens). Listen to that John Williams score evoke awe, and be less-than-dazzled by the blandly colour-graded photography.  Perhaps future trailers will liven things up with an outbreak of flatulus.



Edge of Tomorrow 2

Wherefore an Edge of Tomorrow sequel? Because Tommy C is clinging on for dear life to any non-M:I property that might maintain his slender box office star status (that Jack Reacher sequel certainly won’t)? I suppose the attached writers might pull a rabbit out of the hat, and devise something as convolutedly satisfying as Back to the Future Part II. Other than that, this seems like the most egregious example of an obvious “Just don’t go there” you can think of, apart from a Blade Runner 2


Blade Runner 2

This sequel’s really happening, and it’s certainly possible to hope it won’t be a complete wash-out. Rick Deckard virtually personifies Harrison Ford’s weary, couldn’t-give-a-shit latter-day performance persona, so he’ll surely have no trouble reassuming the mantle. And the casting thus far, of Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright and a shoe-in-to-be-a-replicant Dave Bautista, is promising.

But this is still produced by Ridley Scott, who clearly didn’t get that the ambiguity of Deckard was integral to the original (and really, it works so much better if he isn’t one). And Denis Villeneuve, highly accomplished as he is technically, has been let down to a greater or lesser extent by sloppy scripting in his Hollywood ventures thus far. Of which, Hampton Fancher’s name suggests fidelity to the original, but it’s the absence of David Webb Peoples that really gives me pause. The tester will be whether Vangelis comes back. The original film is Vangelis.


The Predator

Shane Black’s filmmaking choices are alright with me, so I guess he knows what he’s doing if Fiddy Cent is indeed appearing in The Predator. Perhaps he plays someone who can’t act. Perhaps he’s there to make Arnie look vital? Perhaps he and Steven Seagal will be killed off in the first reel?


Blood Father

Grizzled, hoarse and haunted Mel, with a big bushy beard, being relentlessly tough? He may be persona non grata, but Gibson’s screen presence remains indelible even when he’s mimicking Arnie’s shotgun move from T2. This might well turn out to be forgettable B-movie material, although Mel’s last starring role (Get the Gringo) was highly enjoyable (and little seen), and Jean-François Richet is a more than capable director.



The Night Manager

I don’t tend to keep an eye out for BBC shows these days, mainly because so much of their output has been so mediocre, and they’ve been attempting to (inadequately) copy US TV, for such a long spell now. Yet with The Night Manager, following on the heels of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Wolf Hall, they’ve produced three superb adaptations in only two years, which is something of a resurgence, despite their endemic problems in terms of remit and reach.

Everyone’s talking about Tom Hiddleston as the next 007 in the wake of his surefooted, confident performance in the John Le Carré adaptation (it was Tom Hollander who really impressed me, but I can’t see a five-foot Bond happening; there are some barriers to equality that just aren’t going to be broken any time soon). I’m not quite so certain, as there’s something about him that’s almost too suave and charming. But definitely appealingly to bruiser Daniel Craig, so welcome on that basis alone (Craig still seems in a permanent grump at all that money he gets from having to pump up those massive man tits every couple of years, so I’m not sure he’ll really be missed). I still think Henry Cavill, following his Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., clearly on to a loser as long as Zach Snyder is around to hate Superman, is the pick of the mooted names.


Chalk

As far as the BBC copying US TV goes, we have the self-regarding (whyever not, genuine fans should be in short supply after the disastrous last couple of seasons of Doctor Who, despite having picked a perfect leading man, and turning Sherlock from a surprisingly fresh take on the classic detective into an entirely inward-looking, redundant one in an incredibly short space of time) Steven Moffat  announcing his Who spin-off Chalk, I mean Class.

Clearly intent on the kind of mini-mogul status old colleague and boss Russell T Davies held, but narcissistically wanting to top that, Moffat has out-endured him as Who’s executive producer (which, in return for one good season – his and Matt Smith’s first – is no kind of recompense) and now plans to give us his own Torchwood. One set in a Coal Hill School bearing such remote resemblance to its 1963 counterpart that fans will doubtless be running for the inexplicably popular Remembrance of the Daleks as a template for how to revisit iconic spots from the show’s history.

Moffat also invoked the new show as "a British Buffy". Wait, isn’t that exactly what Russell did eleven years ago when he established nu-Who as revolving around Wose? The most shocking aspect of Moffat’s progression to showrunner has been the deterioration of the reliable writer responsible for some of the best episodes under Davies into the sloppiest, most complacent and self-congratulatory of writer-producers. So I’m sure Chalk, I mean Class, will be a breath of fresh air.

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Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

Romulan ale should be illegal.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
(SPOILERS) Out of the ST:NG movies, Star Trek: Nemesis seems to provoke the most outrage among fans, the reasons mostly appearing to boil down to continuity and character work. In the case of the former, while I can appreciate the beef, I’m not enough of an aficionado to get too worked up. In the case of the latter, well, the less of the strained inter-relationships between this bunch that make it to the screen, the better (director Stuart Baird reportedly cut more than fifty minutes from the picture, most of it relating to underscoring the crew, leading to a quip by Stewart that while an Actor’s Cut would include the excised footage, a Director’s one would probably be even shorter). Even being largely unswayed by such concerns, though, Nemesis isn’t very good. It wants to hit the same kind of dramatic high notes as The Wrath of Khan (naturally, it’s always bloody Khan) but repeatedly drifts into an out-of-tune dirge.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

Cally. Help us, Cally. Help Auron.

Blake's 7 3.7: Children of Auron

Roger Parkes goes a considerable way towards redeeming himself for the slop that was Voice from the Past with his second script for the series, and newcomer Andrew Morgan shows promise as a director that never really fulfilled itself in his work on Doctor Who (but was evident in Knights of God, the 1987 TV series featuring Gareth Thomas).

I think we’ve returned to Eden. Surely this is how the World once was in the beginning of time.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
Ridley Scott’s first historical epic (The Duellists was his first historical, and his first feature, but hardly an epic) is also one of his least remembered films. It bombed at the box office (as did the year’s other attempted cash-ins on the discovery of America, including Superman: The Movie producers the Salkinds’ Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) and met with a less than rapturous response from critics. Such shunning is undeserved, as 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a richer and more thought-provoking experience than both the avowedly lowbrow Gladiator and the re-evaluated-but-still-so-so director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. It may stand guilty of presenting an overly sympathetic portrait of Columbus, but it isn’t shy about pressing a critical stance on his legacy.

Sanchez: The truth is, that he now presides over a state of chaos, of degradation, and of madness. From the beginning, Columbus proved himself completely incapable of ruling these islands…