Skip to main content

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

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.

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 keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

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…

What is this, the Titanic? Screw the women and children first shit, man.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
(SPOILERS) The brutal evidence, if any were needed, that Fox had no interest in the quality of its franchise(s), let alone admiring their purity. There’s almost (I stress almost) something beserkly admirable about Alien vs. Predator: Requiem’s flagrant disregard for anything and everything that set the primary series apart or made it distinctive. You might, at a stretch, argue this is a not bad Predator movie, in that it gives Wolf (not the Gladiator, alas; informally named after the Pulp Fiction character Harvey Keitel has since trodden into the dirt and repeatedly stamped on in a series of whorish adverts) motivation and everything, but that’s really doing it too much credit: AVPR is simply a bad movie.

I hadn’t seen this since its release, when I was marginally more charitable to its appetite for transgressive behaviour. And, to give it its backhanded due, in the establishing sections, the marriage of never-destined-to-meet genre subplots is at least…

I came here to take President Sarkoff back to his people.

Blake's 7 1.11: Bounty

It was inevitable that the series would trot out a retro-planet budget-saver at some point, and it’s a shame that it comes attached to a story as unimaginative as this one. Blake and Cally teleport down to a Federation planet with the intention of returning the exiled President Sarkoff (T.P. McKenna, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) to his people on Lindor.

Sarkoff is under guard so there’s quite a bit of extended ducking and running for Blake and Cally to do, only to find Sarkoff is extremely reluctant to return. He is content to wallow in the historical artefacts that surround him in his small castle. His daughter Tyce thinks he should grow a pair.

The B-plot, which converges eventually with the A, sees the Liberator detect an unidentified ship (we are told later that it is the civilian cruiser Star Queen, which it turns out not to be) and Gan teleports over to investigate. Vila doesn’t like it, and he’s right.

Avon: As a matter of fact, I don’t like it either. …

This is hell, and I’m going to give you the guided tour.

Lock Up (1989)
Sylvester Stallone’s career was entering its first period of significant decline when Lock Up was flushed out at the tail end of his most celebrated decade. His resumé since Rocky includes a fair selection of flops, but he was never far from a return to the ring. Added to that, his star power had been considerably buoyed by a second major franchise in the form of John Rambo. For a significant chunk of the ‘80s he was unbeatable, and it’s this cachet (and foreign receipts) that has enable him to maintained his wattage through subsequent periods of severe drought. Lock Up came the same year as another Stallone prison flick, Tango & Cash, in which the actor discovered both his funny guy chops (resulting in an ill-advised but mercifully brief lurch in to full-blown comedy) and made a late stage bid to get in on the buddy cop movie formula (perhaps ego prevented him trying it before?) The difference between the two is vast. One is a funny, over-the-top, self-consciously bo…

I used to be dead, but then he brought me back to life.

Swiss Army Man (2016)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes I’ll finish watch a movie entirely bewildered by the praise it somehow merited. Spring Breakers was one notable case. Swiss Army Man is another. I’ll readily admit that music video turned feature directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan are incredibly inventive and talented – as writers not so much – and that Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as a corpse shows range I never knew he had (I mean that both ironically and seriously). Otherwise, the experience felt like being harangued by a blowhard hipster for 90 minutes, one who thinks he has something desperately, insightfully deep to say but is actually running on empty after five. It isn’t even all that appealing if you love fart jokes: any given Austin Powers is far more flatulently fulfilling.

I was tempted to label Swiss Army Man a one-joke movie, so impressed with its own single-plane weirdness that it irons itself out into something not really very weird or compelling at all. Which would be …

This planet is a game reserve, and we’re the game.

Predators (2010)
(SPOILERS) By the time this belated Predator 3 arrived, anything that treated either of Fox’s monster franchises with a modicum of decorum was to be embraced, so Predators, overly indebted to John McTiernan’s original as it is, is not exactly a breath of fresh air but nevertheless agreeably serviceable. You might have hoped for something more innovative after 23 years in the standalone wilderness, but at least you didn’t get Alien vs. Predator: Reheated.

Of course, this is essentially Robert Rodriguez’ 1994 screenplay spruced up a slightly, and as such displays the kind of slipshod approach to narrative that has served the writer-director-producer-auteur-in-his-own-bedroom’s cottage industry reasonably well over the past couple of decades .We’re mercifully fortunate he didn’t choose to make it himself (it’s only recently, with Alita: Battle Angel and the Escape from New York remake, that he appears to have been lured back to studio fare, and perhaps some degree of dilige…

You look kind of nervous. Probably your first hostage rescue, huh?

Rock the Kasbah (2015)
(SPOILERS) The chances of making a genuinely insightful, acutely satirical Hollywood movie relating to US interventions abroad, political and military, seem minimal these days, so you might as well go back 25 years to the flawed Wrong is Right. What we have seen most recently appears acknowledge this: desperate attempts to make feel good hay from loosely factual material (“inspired by”), to disastrous effect, both creatively and commercially. 2015 saw Our Brand is Crisis and Rock the Kasbah, both based on documentaries, both plotting uplifting, redemptive tales of self-realisation for their jaded, cynical protagonists when they’re confronted by the realities fostered on other nations by their home one.

Although, reality couldn’t be further from Rock the Kasbah’s Afghanistan (filmed in Morrocco), which has about as much legitimacy as The Men Who Stare at Goats’ Iraq (there at least, the heightened sense was part of the point). Taking 2009 doc Afghan Star as a starti…

Orac has access to the sum total of all the knowledge of all the known worlds.