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Movies on My Mind 
Week Ending 21 May 2016


The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

So Terry Gilliam’s eternally gestating Don Quixote film is completely, finally, really, truly happening this time? Well, it seems closer to realisation than it has in a while, at any rate, with Adam Driver and Michael Palin in the frame for what was an ad exec and is now a filmmaker-turned-publicist and what was Don Quixote but is now just a guy what played Don Quixote who now thinks he is Don Quixote. Which makes you wonder if Gilliam’s spent so much time working and reworking his screenplay (co-penned with Tony Grisoni) that he now just thinks he’s making a Don Quixote film. Budget was reportedly a factor in the rewrites, as well as both a natural an unnatural honing process.

This latest version does sound as if it has that slight air of over-spun, but I hope I’m wrong. It could be profoundly complementary as the latest stage of Gilliam’s enduring exploration of the struggle between dreams and reality, and lacerating in its industry targets, as well as, hopefully, returning the triumphs of the imagination that have been been under duress in his last couple of features. I hope too that his approach to the production process itself is tighter and more pre-planned, as he’s a better director when he storyboards scrupulously, when that free-form imagination has an anchor preventing it from lifting off completely.  

The original project ran aground in 2000 of course, when it featured Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort as the leads. That saw actual time travel; how the fantasy elements in this entwine remains to be seen, but by the sound of it, it has more in common with a Fear and Loathing road trip than a horseback plod through the middle ages. In the decade-and-a-half since, various headliners have come and gone, including Ewan McGregor, Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Gerard Depardieu (mooted at any rate) and Jack O’Connell. Driver’s a great pick, an indie darling as well as a topliner thanks to The Force Awakens, and Gilliam had first suggested Palin as an option back in 2008. Something seems very fitting about them collaborating again, particularly since he elicited one of Palin’s best performances in Brazil.

The BFG

The BFG seems to have received a generally admiring response from Cannes critics, but one can never be sure how this sort of affair from Hollywood royalty coalesces down the line. A bit like the way Q magazine always gives Rolling Stones albums four stars initially. Steven Spielberg’s recent New York Times interview has him holding forth like a bit of an old giffer when it comes to superhero movies (again), attempting to sound sage about their lifespan in terms of popularity (Verhoeven has also been at it, in inimitably Dutch fashion, God love him).

But what does he actually mean by the sub-genre having legs? Can the current pace be maintained? I suspect not, and as DC and the Marvel-rights holders (Fox, Sony) are discovering, the magic Marvel itself is wielding is hard to come by, certainly on a consistent basis. But even if there are peaks and troughs, we’ve had almost four decades of “legs” now, since Superman. This isn’t a new thing, and it’s sufficiently embedded to be a proper bona fide genre.

It’s interesting that the ‘berg suggests a firewall between sci-fi and superhero, given his admiration for Guardians of the Galaxy, which put the two in a blender, as the way forward will likely be to increasingly mix genres once fatigue sets in for the current “ultimate team up” phase.  As for calling Transformers a superhero franchise, that really is an old giffer mumbling on. I just hope Steve isn’t suffering from the over-confidence he admits to being prone to when he saddles up for Indy 5. We don’t want another Crystal Skull thanks (hey, I’d rather settle for Lost World any day, despite his maligning it).

The Irishman

The Irishman is happening. Presumably it will be Scorsese’s next, what with all the hype surrounding the $50m deal. STX (with Chinese funding, the production outfit has assembled a variable slate since its founding in 2014, and one could quite imagine barely anyone noticing their forthcoming flicks, pairing Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan in Martin Campbell’s The Foreigner – it isn’t 1995 anymore – with even the highest profile, Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross and starring Matthew McConaughey, in no way guaranteed to be a hit) will distribute internationally, Paramount in the US.

At $100m it doesn’t come cheap, a period picture with big bucks spent on de-aging effects. Presumably there’s confidence in Steven Zaillian’s script, who has been no sure thing himself on adaptations (Exodus, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hannibal) but has also come up trumps in based-on-fact fare (Moneyball). The cachet of Pacino, De Niro and (maybe not) Pesci has little real bums-on-seats value any more (did anyone actually see Righteous Kill?) but Scorsese in the realm of mob faction seems a more fitting farewell to the genre than the pastiche of The Departed.

AA Milne

We’ve had Potter and Barrie, so why not a big bag of pooh? Revolving around the “difficult relationship between him and his son Robin” (I’m not really surprised, given his capitalising on the poor child through the medium of literature; parents, eh?) What I really want to see is the heart-warming tale of Enid Blyton, focussing on her passion for golliwogs.

Empire’s 
The 80 best ‘80s movies

Okay, you can expect Empire magazine to be less than judicious in its choices of great movies (although neither do I quite buy that it’s a mere stooge for studio product; it just understandably plays safe most of the time), but its selection of ‘80s movie greats is seriously misjudged.

Did Ran make it to 11 merely because everyone on the staff checked out the 4k Blu-ray a month back? To be fair, everything in their Top 20 is at least understandable, until you reach Return of the Jedi (come on, “this is a threequel as comfortable in its gloominess as its wit” can only being coming from someone who skipped through everything other than “Fly casual” and the Luke-Vader-Emperor confrontation). After that, it’s nice to see Local Hero, but you get a several highly optimistically placed Zucker brothers efforts (fun, but Top 30?) Stallone in the okay but hardly mind-blowing First Blood (really, out of a decade’s worth of movies, this makes the Top 40?) and the unexceptional Lethal Weapon 2 (the first doesn’t place). Later still, there’s a string of mediocrity including The Goonies and The Karate Kid, Labyrinth, The Lost Boys, Dirty Dancing, Top Gun, and Batman (at which point, it’s only a surprise Three Men and a Baby doesn’t appear), which shows this is really a list of the most uncritically nostalgic movies of the ‘80s rather than the best.

The big problem is that the lower half is full of movies that should switch places: Crimes and Misdemeanours, Manhunter, Mad Max 2, The Thing, The Untouchables, Gremlins, Midnight Run, Robocop, Heathers.

There are some decent artier pictures, like Leone’s Once upon a time in America, and Fitzcarraldo, but how about some really inspired choices, ones that don’t even need to be impenetrable Euro-waffle: The Elephant Man, My Dinner with Andre, Time Bandits, Baron Munchausen, The ‘burbs, Eureka, After Hours, Repo Man, Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, The Unbelievable Truth, Bad Timing, Into the Night, Back to the Future Part II, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Excalibur, Cutter’s Way, Reds, The Verdict, The Right Stuff, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Prizzi’s Honor, Static, Big Trouble in Little China, The Name of the Rose, Down by Law, Salvador, Something Wild, House of Games, River’s Edge, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, They Live, Dead Ringers. Obviously these lists are always curate’s eggs, but it’s as if they didn’t want to be even remotely classy in their picks. Funny, that.

Rules Don’t Apply

I had all but given up on the prospect of a new Warren Beatty film, particularly one based on his long-gestating fascination with Howard Hughes. I have to admit, it took me a while to get with Beatty’s appeal, since my initial entry point was lesser fare such as Heaven Can Wait, Ishtar and Dick Tracy. But his span from Bonnie and Clyde through to Reds includes some remarkably fine features, from a man with remarkably fine features, and shows that for all that he may have been (pre-nuptials) a self-regarding Don Juan, he was also a keen and shrewd thinker (and vacillator, as Peter Biskind’s excellent Star biography illustrates), one with strong shepherding instincts even when the material didn’t appear strong or likely to succeed.

He used his stardom in interesting ways during that decade, and if the the likes of Heaven Can Wait and Dick Tracy are lesser beasts (I really must revisit the latter, however), he came back in the ‘90s with his most overtly political work since Reds, the lacerating, frequently hilarious Bulworth. That would have been a sufficient high to call career quits, except he had to go and make universally reviled (and enormous bomb – the long production and retooling saw it cost $100m, going on to make back a tenth of that) Town and Country.

Beatty’s now 79, and has Rules Don’t Apply due out in November, only his fifth film as director. He plays Hughes (which, since this is set in the late ‘50s, means he must be playing about 20 years his junior), but the picture focusses on the romance between one of Hughes’ contract actresses Lily Collins, and her driver Alden Ehrenreich (young Han Solo). Even if it doesn’t turn out to be vintage Beatty (as with Bulworth, there are no reports of massively swelling budgets, overruns or extensive reshoots, which may bode well), seeing what he’s come up with after 40 years of noodling around with the subject ought to be fascinating. Change that title, though.

Star Trek Beyond

I do want Star Trek Beyond to be good, but nothing about the latest trailer is screaming must-see to me. Justin Lin’s a more than competent director, but where’s the story to get your teeth into? I just keep thinking of Star Trek Insurrection “blah” when I see the trailers, but with added action (and heinous 23rd century motorbikes). Also, introducing us to the picture by referencing Kirk’s daddy issues (when the mighty Shat had none to speak of), is a fair old marker of how rote Hollywood (and Abrams) vacuum-formed characters are these days. Still, Karl Urban is great, and teaming up Bones and Spock should reap some degree of dividends.


With regard to the new CBS Trek TV show, and this week’s unveiled teaser trailer, it’s certainly an interesting notion to promise new crews (apparently this will be an anthology series, with – presumably – a different starship each season), and the emphasis on “new” in announcing every feature of the show cannot be less than a dig at the creatively deficient Into Darkness. Prior to Hannibal, I’d have said showrunner Bryan Fuller could do little wrong, having overseen Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, as well as what was good about Heroes. Hannibal dented that, a show many adored but which was fundamentally wrong footed in its approach to the source material and blandly repetitive for all its vibrant production design. Nevertheless, there’s cause for optimism here, not least Star Trek II maestro Nicholas Meyer being on board.




On Television: 
Bloodline

I finally got round to checking out Netflix’ murderous family soap, just in time for the second season. It makes a lot of sense that Todd and Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman are the creators, as Bloodline flourishes a similar approach to plotting as their earlier Damages (which was really good during the first couple of seasons, although I gave up after the dreadful fourth run). Most obviously, it’s there in the dramatic framing device of advanced knowledge of a terrible deed and how it leaks into our perspective on preceding events, even if unconnected on the face of things.

Also crucial to Bloodline are past events, and how family secrets and iniquities lace together to instruct the present. In this case, the repercussions of the death of a sister of the Rayburn siblings during childhood, and particularly how it affects disenfranchised eldest son Danny (Ben Mendelsohn). The Rayburns are wealthy and successful, running a hotel in the Florida Keys, but Danny’s return heralds the disintegration of an apparently tight and happy unit.

If the show has a fault, it’s that there’s no casting Mendelsohn against type, and so it’s impossible to watch him on screen for more than a couple of minutes without expecting the worst from his character. The consequence being, it’s very difficult to buy anyone he encounters giving him the benefit of the doubt on first sight, let alone repeatedly over 13 episodes. Mendelsohn is an incredibly compelling screen presence, of course, and if the writers rather overdo Danny’s ability to inveigle himself and get under the skin at various points (and also his obsessive listening to the crucial police interview tapes), they certainly succeed in bringing viewer antipathy towards him to a crescendo.

Everyone here is cast well, from Kyle Chandler as solid, dependable good son (and law officer) John, to Linda Cardellini as non-committal attorney Meg. Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek, are memorable as the parents, particularly the latter’s portrait of the mother blinded to her offspring’s character flaws. Perhaps the standout is Norbert Leo Butz (he sounds like a Simpsons character) as combustible Kevin, though, a perpetually clueless and inept boatyard owner. Whether the show needed a second season, particularly as it’s furnished with Mendelsohn’s spectral return, will become evident soon enough, but it definitely felt like it had a one-and-done quality and may have a struggle persuading audiences otherwise.

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

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