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…

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…