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Movies on My Mind
Week Ending 14 May 2016

The Accountant

I’d like to have seen a trailer this week I could get behind, but… Gavin O’Connor is perhaps the most irksome kind of director, one makes technically surefooted movies but nurses the illusion there’s some actual weight to his projects, when all he leaves in his wake is resounding vacuity. Somehow he attracts stars, probably because there’s a lot of vacuity out there and his veneer of substance serves to hoodwink them. Here, Batfleck plays an autistic assassin. And why not? It’s fun to exploit disabilities, after all. Not so much to listen to Radiohead, if you want a reasonably positive day. All that said, this is a well-put together trailer, in a “The Accountant might do reasonable business on its opening weekend” way. By my count, though, Ben has about one unqualified hit (Gone Girl) he didn’t also direct in the last decade, so it’s definitely not a foregone conclusion.


Billy Long’s Halftime Walk

Super-special 120 frames per second high definition vision from Ang Lee (“But it looks like video”, rebounds the universal complaint). Always an interesting film-maker, even if his ambition doesn’t always come off (Life of Pi left me both impressed an unimpressed). The forced irony of this trailer isn’t really selling Billy Long to me (the umpteenth version of Heroes, a teary platform for a medal, the leading question that everyone knows the answer to, even if it’s just through seeing First Blood; “It weren’t good”).

Additionally, how many of these personalised war movies do we need that circumvent the broader political motives for slaughter on both sides? It’s all very well to be individually cynical, or probing of the emotional fall-out, but it provokes nothing but a cosy teacup tornado before returning to one’s chicken salad. The not-quite-Coming Home of the two thousand and teens? Joe Alwyn will probably become a star off the back of it, regardless. On top of which, it looks like no-brainer Oscar bait. Also, Vin Deisel’s in it, and Gareth Hedlund is still getting work after Pan, so that has to count for something.


Assassin’s Creed

I had a lot more interest in this (which wasn’t enormous anyway, to be fair) before I saw Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, an adaption of the Bard that led  you to suppose he was the kind of ‘wright who made a habit of skimping on plot. Surely, this Creed trailer has its fair share of well composed shots, stylistic moves and impressive cinematography, but all those things were true of Macbeth, and that was a borderline stinker. Maybe this will be good, but it’s from the writers of Exodus: Gods and Kings, so probably not.


Lucky Logan

Did Steven Soderbergh hope people would sit with bated breath, holding out for him to start making movies again, what with his massive, er, four-year, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hiatus from features? I’ve always been receptive to his work (although I couldn’t be doing with The Knick; I lasted about four episodes), but he’s sadly the very definition of a passionless filmmaker, and thus one who doesn’t engender passion from filmgoers clamouring for his next opus.

Soderbergh makes clever movies, sometimes insightful movies, occasionally topical movies, and also reasonably funny movies, but he’s only ever made one movie that feels like he cares about the characters, and thus a resultantly warm movie (although it makes me a little queasy to say so) and that’s Out of Sight. And it’s his best movie (as the Russo Brothers noted in a recent interview, where they extolled his virtues as a mentor).

Lucky Logan, a crime movie set during a NASCAR race, will star Channing Tatum (naturally), Adam Driver and maybe Seth MacFarlane (because the world needs more Seth MacFarlane in movies). That it was previously called Hillbilly Heist tells me enough of what to expect here, that it will go on the pile of movies Soderbergh made but never knew quite why he made them, other than he had the the technical moxie to do so (so, most of them). Maybe he should go make a superhero movie. That might at least be different for him, present a challenge. Who knows, everyone involved might come up smelling of roses. (As for the femme Ocean’s 11 spin-off, good luck to all concerned, but to make it interesting they want to do something as skew-whiff as Ocean’s 12, maybe the director’s most fascinating feigning of a commercial Hollywood exercise.

Inferno

I’m sure someone could make a silk’s purse out of Dan Brown novel, but it definitely isn’t Ron Howard. Felicity Jones either needs money or hasn’t seen the last two instalments. Hanks (likely the first and last movie he’ll make where he’s informed “You are humanity’s final hope”) and Howard both need hits, so much so they’ve skipped The Lost Symbol until they’re really desperate.

Maybe there’s still an audience for this (Wikipedia requires a citation for the six million copies Inferno has sold to date), but if anything’s going to make people sick to the back teeth of the merest whiff of a conspiracy theory, it’s a Dan Brown concoction. As for David Koepp, who should surely have realised a lost cause when he adapted Angels and Demons, he’s now officially a much better director than he is purveyor of screenplays.


Godzilla 2

So Gareth Edwards isn’t attached any more. Which can’t be too much of a surprise, really. I’m guessing it’s an indicator that he isn’t lukewarm about the prospects for Rogue One. To be honest, I’m dubious about any big screen monster movie of this ilk coming good. That is, when you have the monster as an effective protagonist. Jackson’s King Kong is eggy and indulgent, and Edwards’ Godzilla has a big black hole where its characters should be. As unpopular as it may be to suggest, Emmerich’s Godzilla is a much better monster movie than either. Will Kong: Skull Island be a hit? I mean, apart from Tom Hiddleston being so hot right now? I don’t hold out great tranches of hope, unless they come up something really intriguing in terms of how to plot the thing. The tail always ends up wagging the dog, with bloated effects leading and under-sustained everything else.

X-Men: Apocalypse

Reviews have begun to trickle out, and they seem to be confirming what everyone with eyes to see (and possibly even just those who could hear a good line, of which there weren’t any) knew from the trailers. That it sucks. I had in mind this coming in under the $600m mark, but if it’s as lousy – and plain boring – as they say, it may not hit $500m. Given how expensive it was, that’s very bad news for Fox. Really, they’ve had one big hit in this franchise (the last one) since Brett Ratner shat out the third movie, as he’s wont to do.

On the plus side, Murdoch’s movie house may finally realise that, far from being the life blood of the franchise, Bryan Singer is a hindrance, bringing with him stylistically unexceptional chops and a long-since inappropriate aesthetic. He’s been talking up where he’d like to take the series next. It’s always good to sound optimistic, before the grosses start coming in.  

Fox should have taken their cues from the best in the series, not coincidentally Matthew Vaughn’s contribution, when they could. Now they find themselves in a year where a cheap throwaway, Deadpool, has proved an unlikely salvation, out-grossing Days of Future Past (the biggest X-hit), which cost four times as much. It comes to a point where Fox and their producers incarnate should admit they know nothing and hand the keys someone who has a clue. They’re talking about a fun-er Fantastic Four (with maybe the same cast) but they already had a fun-er Fantastic Four, and it was rubbish (actually, I liked the derided Josh Trank reboot quite a bit more than Tim Story’s movies, but I’m no Four-ite).

Dungeons and Dragons

On the rethink front, Warner Bros already appears to be pre-empting the possible (likely?) underwhelming reception for Legendary’s Warcraft (irrespective of whether or not it’s any good, and with Duncan Jones at the helm I find it difficult to believe it will be outright bad) by taking the humorous approach to fantasy game adaptations. Rob Letterman, no stranger to so-so family movies (Monsters vs. Aliens) and bad ones (Shark Tale, Gulliver’s Travels; I’ve yet to see Goosebumps, which appears to have sealed his deal for this) will be steering this ship, and everyone will be hoping it does better than the previous, Tom Baker-headlining effort. If Warner isn’t careful, though, this could be another Land of the Lost.

Box Office


What are the chances the summer of ’16 could witness a whole spate of underperformers? Bad reviews don’t preclude a movie going great guns, of course, far from it. It’s more a question of the appetite for the material in the first place.

Apocalypse lacks (very much of) Hugh Jackman (Wolverine’s solo outings illustrate he doesn’t guarantee a hit, but his absence certainly doesn’t help) and any clear hook (I wouldn’t call the ‘80s a hook). Alice Through the Looking Glass may be based on the false assumption that anyone liked the original (as opposed to liking post-converted 3D), and doesn’t even have Tim Burton in charge, which may spell bobbins. Warcraft is betting the bank on two notoriously difficult genres; fantasy (outside of Tolkien, how many hits can anyone guarantee?) and computer game adaptation (outside of Resident Evils, which come cheap, it’s a disaster zone).

Independence Day: Resurgence? Still a big question mark without Will Smith. Ghostbusters has some very vocal ill-will attached its female reboot, so it will be interesting to see how much of that is merely bluster (it also depends on whether the movie is, you know, funny). Star Trek Beyond; after screwing the pooch with the last one, all bets are off for this, especially now audiences can get an annual fix from Star Wars-related movies and there’s a new Trek TV show in the pipeline. And Legend of Tarzan and Ben-Hur may find audiences against the odds, but then again, probably not.

On Television: Twin Peaks

David Bowie was going to be in this? What a complete bummer. Contrastingly, it’s nice to hear how kitchen sink Lynch has been about this whole return (despite the occasional conspicuous absences), particularly as the majority of Philip Jeffries ended up on the Fire Walk with Me cutting room floor.

I’ve been revisiting On the Air, or I should say visiting, since I can’t remember ever catching more than one episode when it was first broadcast. I’m askance that ABC ever commissioned it, let alone approved a pilot, let alone made seven episodes before pulling the plug. It isn’t the greatest thing Lynch has been involved in, but it’s inimitably from his mind, and occasionally quite brilliant (notably the ones with Lynch’s name in the writing credits). At least there’s no danger of Peaks ’17 being compromised. Whether it’s good or bad, it rests entirely on the shoulders of Jimmy Stewart from Mars.

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

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Vampire Academy (2014)
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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…

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.

‘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…

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.

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

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
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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 …

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…

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).