Skip to main content

There’s something going on inside the government that’s really wrong, and I can't ignore it.

Movies on My Mind
Week Ending 30 April 2016

Snowden

The trailer for Snowden is kind of hilarious, making everyday Ed into a prodigy and airport novel hero as it sexes-up the thriller elements, all the while accompanied by Joseph Gordon-Levitt determinedly reproducing the cadences of NSA’s most wanted man. It’s a strange, unwieldy mismatch, but should that really be a surprise? Oliver Stone has been on a steady decline ever since he ran out of things he really wanted to say following JFK, and his jackdaw meanderings over material that ripe for interrogation since (even leaving aside the conspiracy potential), be it Nixon, World Trade Centre, W. or this, suggests a man actively renouncing his reputation, and in doing so delivering work that, while it may be competent, has no one really talking about it. Which is surely exactly what it should do. Maybe Stone just isn’t angry any more – maybe all that ayahuasca has fried his brain – but for too long he’s been reduced to little more than a technically proficient filmmaker producing indifferent material.

There are several striking aspects of the trailer, though, besides JGL’s vocal performance. Namely, Rhys Ifans doing what appears to be an impersonation of Sam Elliot, the sight of Nic Cage in a (relatively: I’m not suggesting anyone will actually go and see this) mainstream movie, complete with a pronunciation of “haystack” that makes Tony Hancock’s announcement of “HHHH-ancock’s Half Hour” seem restrained, Ed having sex – and being surveilled! – and cybersphere visuals that look like they were used 10 years ago in an ad for online dating.


Alita: Battle Angel

James Cameron’s publicity machine appears to have woken from its slumber over the past few weeks, with all the talk of Avatar sequels and now the long in development Alita: Battle Angel moving forward with news of the potential lead (Rose Salazar, Maika Monroe or Zendaya).

I have no investment in the source manga, which appears to be yet another example of Cameron working through his ongoing obsession with masculinised women, but I do wonder if his choice of director suggests he is sitting high in his very own Xanadu hatching hare-brained schemes for the hell of it. Of all the possible talents out there, he chooses Robert Rodriguez? While Cameron has defied the odds in his directing career, not everything he touches turns to gold. Dark Angel managed to survive three seasons based on his name, but it hardly set the world on fire, or made Jessica Alba much of a star. Who knows if a similarly indifferent fate awaits Battle Angel; it surely stands at least as much chance of being really, really good as Ghost in the Shell. I’m just glad Rodriguez’ Barbarella remake never came to anything.

The Flash

In the pantheon of bright ideas, giving the untested Seth Graham-Smith (as a successful screenwriter, let alone as a director) the reins of The Flash has to rank up there with the brief period when Robert Orci was attached to Star Trek 3. Did more sensible studio heads prevail, or was it really the cited “creative differences” that saw him exit?

Word is of Warner Bros turmoil over the state and fate of the DC Universe in the wake of Batman v Superman, but alas nothing can turn the tide on the already in production Justice League, martialled by jock-auteur Zach Snyder, so I guess it makes sense to take swipes at the tentative offshoots of their broken multiple franchise starter. Would it be such a disaster if James Wan left Aquaman? If he can genuinely make if fun, yes, but I’m doubtful, on the face of it, that he’ll be able to impress such a sensibility on the glowering beardiness of Jason Momoa, courtesy of Snyder’s vision.

DreamWorks Animation

The excitement over the $3.8bn sale of DreamWorks Animation to Comcast/Universal has provoked many a column inch on Universal mimicking the empire Disney has created through a decade of acquisitive manoeuvres (Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm). You can’t really argue with the Mouse House success story, and while it seems regulators just nod passively at every new stride towards industry monopolisation and consequent reduction of variety, they did block Comcast’s bid for Time Warner Cable.

The strategy to place Despicable Me and Illumination Entertainment brain Chris Melendandri in the equivalent of the John Lasseter position at Disney-Pixar, overseeing DreamWorks creative content as well as his Illumination duties, further emphasises knowing a good business strategy to snaffle when you see it. But, if that’s a sign of things to come, all may not be rosy.

Arguably, Disney animation has been rekindled under the eye of Lasseter, even if their traditional animation has dried up completely. Pixar, though, has become increasingly bankrupt creatively, relying on sequels to prop up what was once an exemplar of creativity and originality. And, when it has tried something new (last year), it had to balance a big hit with by far its biggest failure. I guess the plus side is that neither Illumination nor DreamWorks can profess to histories of following other than the lowest common denominator, but somewhere along the line someone is sure to lose out in this.

The Nice Guys

The Deadline Hollywood comments section probably isn’t the first port of call for erudite insights into movies, but calling out Warner Bros for a trailer seemingly designed to evoke memories of Grindhouse is pretty dead-on. Their marketing department didn’t seem to have much idea of how to sell The Nice Guys from the start, and now they’ve evidently given up all hope, reduced to appealing to the five people who think a dirt and grime, mis-spliced retro-vibe is cool. Given the debacle that was the selling of the Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration this is tantamount to an admission of defeat. In distinction to that mess, I have high hopes for Shane Black’s film, but it already looks like another great movie of his no one will go and see (after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).


Twin Peaks

The cast list announced at the beginning of the week for Twin Peaks included various interesting and eclectic names (Jim Belushi, Monica Belucci – perhaps they will play a married couple and keep their surnames –  Richard Chamberlain, Ernie Hudson, Robert Knepper, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew Lillard, Max Perlich, Tim Roth, John Savage, Tom Sizemore) as well as Lynch universe prior detainees (Balthazar Getty, Naomi Watts). Jeremy Davies’ appearance should be no surprise; his entire acting career has been leading up to a role in a David Lynch project.

Of course, I’m most excited by Miguel Ferrer, Russ Tamblyn and – yes! – David Duchovny coming back. Perhaps they’ll even find James Marshall something to do, other than pout a lot and ride his bike. They’ve even found a place for Alicia Witt, which is quite something.

Most notable are the non-shows. No Man from Another Place Michael J Anderson, no Sheriff Truman Michael Ontkean (Robert Forster is playing the sheriff, it has been suggested, although whether this is Truman or another sheriff is unclear; Forster was in the running for the Truman role first time out), no Annie (which is a crying shame, as of all the original cast Heather Graham has only improved over the intervening quarter of a century).

Also no Chris Isaak (perhaps Lynch is swapping in musicians; Trent Reznor and Eddie Vedder both appear) or Keifer Sutherland, so it could be the Fire Walk with Me continuity, despite Harry Dean Stanton’s involvement, will be on a backburner. Mention of the movie is also a reminder that, sadly, we can’t expect a reappearance from David Bowie’s indelible Philip Jeffries.


As for the absence of Kenneth Welsh as Windom Earle, who was, in my view, the saviour of the second season, it may be suggestive of Lynch wishing to avoid some of the detours the series made during that run, but it’s still a significant hole to fill. It’s certainly notable that neither Bob nor Earle, the main villains of the show, are back (although, Ray Wise, as dead dad Leland, features in some capacity).

Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

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…

If a rat were to walk in here right now as I'm talking, would you treat it to a saucer of your delicious milk?

Inglourious Basterds (2009)
(SPOILERS) His staunchest fans would doubtless claim Tarantino has never taken a wrong step, but for me, his post-Pulp Fiction output had been either not quite as satisfying (Jackie Brown), empty spectacle (the Kill Bills) or wretched (Death Proof). It wasn’t until Inglourious Basterds that he recovered his mojo, revelling in an alternate World War II where Adolf didn’t just lose but also got machine gunned to death in a movie theatre showing a warmly received Goebbels-produced propaganda film. It may not be his masterpiece – as Aldo Raines refers to the swastika engraved on “Jew hunter” Hans Landa’s forehead, and as Tarantino actually saw the potential of his script – but it’s brimming with ideas and energy.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
(SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump. And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Hey, everybody. The bellboy's here.

Four Rooms (1995)
(SPOILERS) I had an idea that I’d only seen part of Four Rooms previously, and having now definitively watched the entire thing, I can see where that notion sprang from. It’s a picture that actively encourages you to think it never existed. Much of it isn’t even actively terrible – although, at the same time, it couldn’t be labelled remotely good– but it’s so utterly lethargic, so lacking in the energy, enthusiasm and inventiveness that characterises these filmmakers at their best – and yes, I’m including Rodriguez, although it’s a very limited corner for him – that it’s very easy to banish the entire misbegotten enterprise from your mind.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I am forever driven on this quest.

Ad Astra (2019)
(SPOILERS) Would Apocalypse Now have finished up as a classic if Captain Willard had been ordered on a mission to exterminate his mad dad with extreme prejudice, rather than a mysterious and off-reservation colonel? Ad Astra features many stunning elements. It’s an undeniably classy piece of filmmaking from James Gray, who establishes his tone from the get-go and keeps it consistent, even through various showy set pieces. But the decision to give its lead character an existential crisis entirely revolving around his absent father is its reductive, fatal flaw, ultimately deflating much of the air from Gray’s space balloon.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

The adversary oft comes in the shape of a he-goat.

The Witch (2015)
(SPOILERS) I’m not the biggest of horror buffs, so Stephen King commenting that The Witchscared the hell out of me” might have given me pause for what was in store. Fortunately, he’s the same author extraordinaire who referred to Crimson Peak as “just fucking terrifying” (it isn’t). That, and that general reactions to Robert Eggers’ film have fluctuated across the scale, from the King-type response on one end of the spectrum to accounts of unrelieved boredom on the other. The latter response may also contextualise the former, depending on just what King is referring to, because what’s scary about The Witch isn’t, for the most part, scary in the classically understood horror sense. It’s scary in the way The Wicker Man is scary, existentially gnawing away at one through judicious martialling of atmosphere, setting and theme.


Indeed, this is far more impressive a work than Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, which had hitherto been compared to The Wicker Man, succeeding admirably …