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Movies on My Mind
Week Ending July 2 2016

War on Everyone

How can this possibly fail? Michael Peña, riding high after being the best part of Ant-Man, and Alexander Skarsgård, just pleased he still has a career after The Legend of Tarzan, and penned-directed by John Micheal McDonagh, the man who gave us The Guard and Calvary (and whose brother gave us In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths). With its focus on a couple of lovably corrupt cops, this looks to be more in The Guard territory than the tragi-comic Calvary, revelling in the kind of coarse repartee McDonagh makes look easy but very few can write well.

In highly idiosyncratic style, he and his brother are filling the gap in top quality crime fare absented by Tarantino and the Coen Brothers when they’re off dabbling in other genres. So much so, the McDonaghs are pretty much the new reigning champs. His leads appear perfectly paired, Peña evidencing little in the way of traditional parenting skills towards his son (“little Lord fucking Fauntleroy here”) and Skarsgård…. doing a pterodactyl impression. The only issue I have with it is the title. It’s a bit… straight-to-video?


Trolls

I hope Dreamworks are confident they have a Smurfs-size hit on their hands, because this bears every semblance of the apocalypse foretold. Quite aside from a troll shitting cupcakes and offering someone said faeces as food, it’s advertised by way of a putrid cataclysm of dance anthem detritus, unpleasant design work (no doubt hence the “from the makers of Shrek”, but that movie’s central character was at least pleasantly ugly, and his unsightly physiognomy was the whole point) flattened into generic characters entirely indistinct from any other animated movie characters – aside from being branded “Trolls” (Timberlake and Kendrick are doing nothing to sell this either, and there’s the added bonus of James Corden to really encourage you to miss it). This movie likely deserves a stretch in purgatory, by way of being consigned to an eternity of self-flaming on Internet message boards. It will probably make half a billion.


Voyage of Time

It’s only six years since we first heard about this documentary (off the back of Tree of Life), but that’s Terrence Malick for you. He has about 20 movies backed up and waiting for release, none of which have much truck with traditional narrative form. I can’t say I’m over enthused by Brad Pitt’s lacklustre attempt at selling the wonder to us (although Cate Blanchett is also providing her dulcet tones tones to the feature-length, non-IMAX version, so that’s something), but this meditative odyssey through creation, from birth to thermal death point, could be something else, a successor to those Godfrey Reggio pictures. And if it isn’t, no doubt the next gen of stoners will simply watch the trippy pictures with the sound down. Mind you, then they’ll be missing the Morricone score, which would be a crime.


Sully

Not the latest Monsters, Inc. sequel, Sully actually looks vaguely interesting, in terms of being a movie about whether someone doing the right thing doesn’t suit the people holding the purse strings. Of course, a poignant trailer doesn’t necessarily mean Eastwood’s complete piece won’t be languorous and lacking focus.

On the other hand, he showed surprising rigour in the heat of the tour-of-duty scenes in American Sniper, as unsatisfying as that movie was overall. Let’s face it, though, Eastwood movies are generally so-so at best. He was always more interesting as an actor when he wasn’t directing himself (and had a strong director, rather than a handpicked mate) and he was always only interesting as a director when he had a decent script (which has only happened a clutch of times). One also gets a bit of Flight déjà vu, except that Sully wasn’t actually on the voddy tat the time. Still, I’ll warrant that, for Hanks fans, this is better than Inferno. And, if he wants to, he’s got the right look right to go ahead with that live-action Polar Express sequel everyone’s been clamouring for.


Box Office

The summer slump continues. A couple of performing sequels (Finding Dory, The Conjuring 2, The Purge 3) doesn’t not a season of success make. Independence Day: Resurgence’s sputtering returns aren’t going make that costly Fox outlay easy to swallow (and bowing to the yen has only helped returns so much), Central Intelligence is merely doing okay, Now You See Me 2 isn’t a total bust internationally, but no kind of magic act either, and now Tarzan isn’t going to set anyone’s jungle alight (unlike the Book).

The BFG sounds like it has turned out rather sluggish, Spielberg not quite retaining his facility for telling disarming tales for family audiences (what possible reason could it have to clock in at two hours, other than the maestro thinks he’s so important now that all his movies should reflect this in unwarranted weight?) Is there any reason to think Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond wont underperform too, or that Ice Age 5 may well not be an unstoppable force? At this rate, we’ll learn that Jason Bourne is a bit shit.

Westworld

HBO definitely needs a hit, with Game of Thrones in its last laps and any other relative newcomers getting either a cold reception (Vinyl) or never rising above cult status (The Leftovers). Could Westworld be it? It certainly has a lustrous sheen, and by taking its AI cues from the likes of Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) and Philip K Dick, it looks to have sufficiently distinguished itself from the original. It even has its own Roy Batty psychology (“What are your drives?”: “To meet my maker”). 

The trailer makes it seem as if the focus is the androids, but given the expanded series narrative I suspect that’s just a hook for selling it (and with Ben Barnes and the always-interesting Jimmi Simpson in the James Brolin and Richard Benjamin roles it appears to be well-appointed elsewhere). Both Jeffrey Wright and, for a change given his last decade of roles, Sir Anthony Hopkins look like they have something to get their teeth into. Fingers crossed that this one’s teething troubles were worth it.


Stranger Things

‘80s nostalgia, and especially for Spielberg’s Amblin, has had mixed results, from Abrams’ Super 8 to the recent Midnight Special, but this particular soup seems to possess all-important substance, with well-cast, rather than annoying, kids (more Stand by Me than The Goonies) and a scenario that seems to take in influences as eclectic as John Carpenter, Stephen King and Poltergeist (all evident from the trailer, and all referenced in an Irish Examiner interview with the writer-directors), as well as featuring Noonie herself, all strung out but as becoming as ever.

Most enticingly, though, this was originally titled Montauk (it’s now set in Indiana, for reasons as yet unknown, but it suggests conscious distancing from alleged events). The Duffer brothers, twins Matt and Ross, previously served up scripts for Wayward Pines (which I’ve been wayward about getting round to watching), so clearly like their small town mystery narratives, and Stranger Things is self-evidently based on that most fascinating and elusive of purported occult intrigues of the last century, one that rivals the (inter-connected) Philadelphia Experiment (not so much the Michael Paré movie, though) in terms of reality bending paradigm shifts, parallel time-lines, and time travel, with its tales of military mind-control experiments, test subject Montauk boys, and even the materialisation of a thought-form beast that wreaked destruction at the base. Preston Nichols and Peter Moon have written a whole series of – increasingly tenuously linked – books on the subject. And for tenuous connections, check out Andre Gregory’s account of a bizarre initiation ritual in the classic My Dinner with Andre (made long before the goings-on there had gained currency).

I haven’t made any further progress with the second season of Bloodline thus far, but Stranger Things appears to have the sense not to hang around digressing; at eight episodes it has the potential of being punchy, and if the Duffers (and Shawn Levy, but hopefully that’s in no way indicative) include only a sliver of the subject matter, this promises to be a highly engrossing experience (notably, however, they make no mention whatsoever of the Montauk Project in that interview, so let’s hope it isn’t a missed opportunity to bring the material to a wider audience).




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

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