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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.

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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)
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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
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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.
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Cally. Help us, Cally. Help Auron.

Blake's 7 3.7: Children of Auron

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Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

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