Skip to main content

... you’re being uncharacteristically non-hyper-verbal.

Movies on My Mind
Week Ending 7 May 2016

The Irishman

The Irishman (formerly I Heard You Paint Houses, based on Charles Brandt’s account of mob hitman Frank Sheeran, who was chums with Jimmy Hoffa, whom he professed to have offed) has been gestating for what seems like forever. I’d been wondering about its expiry date, as the names attached throughout have been the ever-longer-in-the-tooth holy trio of De Niro, Pacino and Pesci.

Now it seems there's a tight window (we’ll know by this time next week) for financing coming together. It seems the plan is to using de-aging technology (most recently seen making Downey Jr look less than zero in Civil War) to work its regressing magic on these wise guys. I’m a bit uneasy about that, as no matter how good it is, it’s distracting. Not that I think Scorsese would go there if he didn’t think he could pull it off, but it will still be there in the viewer’s mind.

Hopefully he’ll make going back to the Mob worthwhile; I’d presume so, as if his words in 2013 hold true it seems to be one of only a few projects left on his slate before he retires. We’ve got the also long-on-the-cards Silence due this year, and then there’s a Sinatra biopic. That said, he announced Devil in the White City after that interview, and a Mike Tyson biopic is rumoured (again using aging technology), as is a Ramones movie, so maybe such pronouncements are akin to Soderbergh saying he’s going to retire.

Black Widow

Just how tantalising is the prospect of a Black Widow movie, one of the least engaging of the Marvel supporting characters? About as much as a War Machine one. A Falcon movie, I could maybe get behind, at a stretch, as Anthony Mackie’s character is at least fun and engaging. But nothing about Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Natasha Romanov makes me want to spend two hours (or two and a half, following Civil War’s example) in her company.

And, since the glaring omission of female-powered Marvel superhero movies is due to be redressed with Captain Marvel (making her debut in Avengers: to-be-called-something-other-than-Infinity Wars) and the co-led Ant-Man and Wasp, it isn’t as if Kevin Feige will be stumbling about looking for possible properties. Joss Whedon attempted to beef up the roles of Black Widow and Hawkeye in Age of Ultron, and only managed to underline why they’re at-best supporting characters. Maybe it’s partly the actors, although Hawkeye would be an uphill struggle for anyone to make exciting (and, to be fair to Renner, he’s great in lots of movies, he’s just not a “star”; Johansson is a star (at least until Ghost in the Shell comes out), but she entirely lacks the prerequisite accompanying charisma); I’d have been into the idea of Emily Blunt as Natasha, but alas it wasn’t to be.

The Mummy

Russell Crowe as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? I’m trying to think when he last played anything approximating unhinged. He can do menacing, no problem (I Heard You Throw Phones). I guess we’ll find out soon enough, as he’s apparently going to be cameoing as one or the other or both in The Mummy. I expect it’ll just be the former for now.

Who knows how this is going to turn out; adjusting the Universal classic monster crew for a present day setting may end up blanding the whole thing out, losing the sense of what made them so regarded. On the other hand, it’s more creditable to try than taking the lazy option of an identikit ye olde London CGI-d period setting. The big question mark is Alex Kurtzman as a director. And the guy who writes synopses for these things. We’re promised (threatened?) “a surprising intensity and balance of wonder and thrills in an imaginative new take that ushers in a new world of gods and monsters”. Here’s hoping the script reads better than that.

Justice League

One only has to witness his stony face from the interview rounds for Batman V Superman to know Batfleck was none too chuffed with the way things turned out. He’s escaped without too much bruising, that being reserved for Zach Snyder, but he’s understandably keen to ensure it doesn’t all go pear shaped a second time with Justice League. Which is why he’s being reported as the newly appointed executive producer. Except… didn’t Ben also have significant input in the fashioning of Dawn of Justice? Which is how Chris Argo Terrio came on board? The position sounds good on paper, but one can only be dubious that, with the movie already in production, this is a PR exercise after horse has bolted.

His solo bat outing is rumoured to feature a whole villains’ gallery. Well, why not? Stuffing your picture to the gills worked so well with Dawn of Justice, after all. I remain to be bowled over by Affleck as director. He’s an above average filmmaker, but none of the material he’s selected thus far has been more than agreeably serviceable, and his penchant for putting himself or his sibling in starring roles suggests he sees himself as more of an Eastwood type multi-hyphenate than he actually is. The hype surrounding his new found second career is as undue as the evisceration he received during his Bennifer era fall from grace.

Why We’re Killing Gunther

Arnie’s post-Governator, resumed movie career has been distinctly underwhelming. Not so much his performances (he’s the best part of both Escape Plan and Terminator Genisys by a long shot) but the stumbling material (anyone seeing Sabotage would think twice about the prospect of David Ayer’s forthcoming Suicide Squad being any good, studio butchery or no studio butchery).

Why We’re Killing Gunther has an attractive premise, but penned by SNL veteran and first time feature writer-director Taran Killam, it may be a little premature to get hopes up. However, Arnie as an arrogant (but really good, ya?) hitman, who so infuriates his fellow tradesmen that they decide to off him, and fail spectacularly, sounds like it could work like a charm based on not-quite-so-prodigious-any-more muscleman’s oafish charm. I see the Variety report references the on-again, off-again Legend of Conan (once King Conan) as his next project, but I’ll believe that when it enters production.

Space Jam 2

Just why? Because Warner Bros suits (not exactly a studio going great guns just now) think it’s a now ripely nostalgic property and they’re are all out of ideas on how to make dough from their cartoon legacy (and generally)? Does Justin Lin know what he’s letting himself in for?

An ordeal, if Joe Dante’s experience on the royally shafted but actually quite enjoyable Looney Tunes: Back in Action is anything to go by. That film found Dante attempting to ensure something like Space Jam, desecrating hallowed characters as it did, didn’t happen again (there was a Jackie Chan vehicle, Spy Jam, planned as a follow up at one point). It looks as if he’ll have to resign himself to another case of mistreatment (“It doesn’t matter what the characters used to act like. They should act like they’re contemporary characters today” was the studio’s mandate). Maybe, to make amends, Warners could dust off Termite Terrace, the film he and Charlie Haas planned about the studio’s early animators, set in ‘30s (and focussing on Chuck Jones). Chance would be a fine thing.

Box Office

Captain America: Civil War’s lack of a $200m+ opening weekend in the US will have DC defenders rejoicing, even though Marvel professes to have always expected its likely ballpark as $175m. Does it signal anything that it hasn’t outperformed the studio’s expectations? Probably nothing more than a line-up of superheroes not being quite the same must-see third time out, even if the quality is well up to par, and that right after the fizzle of the Bat and the Steel Man general audiences may not be so whetted in appetites (although the opening is still coming in ahead of Dawn of Justice). It’s going to have no problem hitting the magic $1bn mark globally, unlike DoJ, and will thus be a Top Four Marvel movie, which no one is going to sneeze at.

The performances of openers in the near future become more debatable, however. Will Neighbors 2 buck the trend in underperforming comedy sequels? Will Nice Guys find a niche? Will The Angry Birds Movie swallow all competition? Have X-Men: Apocalypse and Alice Through the Looking Glass got any chance of doing anything like the business their predecessors did? And that’s just the rest of May.

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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

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 guy practically lives in a Clue board.

Knives Out (2019)
(SPOILERS) “If Agatha Christie were writing today, she’d have a character who’s an Internet troll.” There’s a slew of ifs and buts in that assertion, but it tells you a lot about where Rian Johnson is coming from with Knives Out. As in, Christie might – I mean, who can really say? – but it’s fair to suggest she wouldn’t be angling her material the way Johnson does, who for all his pronouncement that “This isn’t a message movie” is very clearly making one. He probably warrants a hesitant pass on that statement, though, to the extent that Knives Out’s commentary doesn’t ultimately overpower the whodunnit side of the plot. On the other hand, when Daniel Craig’s eccentrically accented sleuth Benoit Blanc is asked “You’re not much of a detective, are you?” the only fair response is vigorous agreement.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

It's their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can't eat scenery!

Local Hero (1983)
(SPOILERS) With the space of thirty-five years, Bill Forsyth’s gentle eco-parable feels more seductive than ever. Whimsical is a word often applied to Local Hero, but one shouldn’t mistake that description for its being soft in the head, excessively sentimental or nostalgic. Tonally, in terms of painting a Scottish idyll where the locals are no slouches in the face of more cultured foreigners, the film hearkens to both Powell and Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!) and Ealing (Whisky Galore!), but it is very much its own beast.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993)
(SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Of course, one m…

You're a dead tissue that won't decompose.

Collateral Beauty (2016)
(SPOILERS) Will Smith’s most recent attempt to take a wrecking ball to his superstardom, Collateral Beauty is one of those high concept emotional journeys that only look like a bad idea all along when they flop (see Regarding Henry). Except that, with a plot as gnarly as this, it’s difficult to see quite how it would ever not have rubbed audiences up the wrong way. A different director might have helped, someone less thuddingly literal than David Frankel. When this kind of misguided picture gets the resounding drubbing it has, I tend to seek out positives. Sometimes, that can be quite easy – A Winter’s Tale, for example, for all its writ-large flaws – but it’s a fool’s errand with Collateral Beauty.

Now we shall keep our mysterious rendezvous.

Ice Station Zebra (1968)
The fourth big screen adaptation of an Alistair MacLean novel, Ice Station Zebra was released in the same year as the more successful Where Eagles Dare. 1968 represents probably the high water mark for interpretations of the author’s work, although The Guns of Navarone remains the biggest hit. As with most movie versions of MacLean novels (or, let’s face it, movie versions of anybody’s novels) fans of the book find much to gripe about; the latter half diverges greatly from the page. Those who complain about the languid pace are onto something too. To be sure, there’s an array of valid criticisms that can be levelled at Ice Station Zebra. But it also has a factor going for it that elevates John Sturges’ movie, and keeps me coming back to it; the über-cool presence of Patrick McGoohan.

The man who played The Prisoner (he filmed Zebra during a break from the TV show, which helps to explain the only truly hopeless episode in the run; Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, …