Skip to main content

You really want to head back out there, huh?

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.

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…

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…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

If this is not a place for a priest, Miles, then this is exactly where the Lord wants me.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes a movie comes along where you instantly know you’re safe in the hands of a master of the craft, someone who knows exactly the story they want to tell and precisely how to achieve it. All you have to do is sit back and exult in the joyful dexterity on display. Bad Times at the El Royale is such a movie, and Drew Goddard has outdone himself. From the first scene, set ten years prior to the main action, he has constructed a dizzyingly deft piece of work, stuffed with indelible characters portrayed by perfectly chosen performers, delirious twists and game-changing flashbacks, the package sealed by an accompanying frequently diegetic soundtrack, playing in as it does to the essential plot beats of the whole. If there's a better movie this year, it will be a pretty damn good one.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…