Skip to main content

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.


Jones cites M*A*S*H’s Trapper John McIntyre and Hawkeye Pierce as his inspiration for Cactus Bill (Rudd) and Duck (Theroux), noting their capacity for being very cruel to those they didn’t like. Rudd in particular has gone all out to take this literally, growing a massive Elliot Gould moustache and sporting a howling Hawaiian shirt. He’s a ringer. If Trapper John were a knife-wielding maniac with serious anger issues (but a daughter he adores). The refashioning of Donald Sutherland’s character as a disarming paedophile with an Owen Wilson blonde mop is an even greater leap, however.


As queasy as Duck’s narrative line is – I tend to think you need very good reason for pursuing this sort of subject matter in genre movies, or you run the risk of seeming glib or manipulative, and Jones doesn’t really pass that test – there’s a degree of astuteness going on in the characterisation of Bill realising Duck’s predilections and his subsequent warnings to him. Unfortunately, when the picture reaches a climax in which Duck takes off with Bill’s daughter, it moves into the kind of territory Bruce Robinson cited as troubling (“I don’t want to see a child in jeopardy as a piece of entertainment” he said of Neil Jordan’s reworking of his paedophile serial killer screenplay In Dreams).


Theroux does a very good Owen Wilson, it has to be said (you can tell Duck’s a bad seed as he has a penchant for unassuming cardigans), while Rudd’s metamorphosis into an extremely threatening villain is nothing short of a revelation (I’d never have taken him for convincing in that area). It’s perhaps unsurprising then that they effortlessly wrest any glimmers of attention from Leo (Skarsgård), as pretty much everyone here does likewise; also seen fleetingly are Robert Sheehan as a transsexual cabaret act, Dominic Monaghan as a geisha with a room full of sex-ware, Dudley-Moore-in-Foul Play-style, and Noel Clarke as an obnoxious Brit.


The Amish mute of the title, Jones’ bartender-cum-amateur detective protagonist is that exact two-word description – the Amish mute bit – in search of a character. Skarsgård has nothing to work with – his romance with Seynbeb Saleh’s Naadirah isn’t sufficiently engaging to make his hunt for her dramatically compelling – and even when Leo’s on the rampage (taking out a club full of Russians with a big stick) there’s a sense of something missing. It doesn’t help the overall tone of the piece either that Naddirah turns out to have been murdered by Bill, emphasising the dearth of good reasons to enter this less than salubrious world.


Mute didn’t start out with a sci-fi backdrop, so it should come as little surprise to learn there’s no point at which it feels remotely relevant. Sure, it’s nice to see Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell(s) again (“Lunar Industries ex-employee questioned by panel in presence of scores of his clones” announces a TV bulletin), but that’s the thinnest of motivations. The Amish-technophobia element could as easily have been applied to a present-day setting, if it came down to it, so that’s not really selling it either. Essentially, Mute offers art direction in search of cause. And costuming too, which appears to be entirely indulging Jones’ ‘80s retro-future obsession (shockingly coloured hair, new romantics, neon). The Berlin underworld is equally unnecessary but better finessed (it gives Bill and Duck an appropriately jaundiced fish-out-of-water quality; they’re refugees of the perpetual Afghan conflict).


The movie invites inevitable comparisons to The Shape of Water for its vocally-challenged lead character, but Leo never comes close to matching Elisa’s affecting presence. And if Guillermo del Toro’s picture is about outsiders’ mutual acceptance of each other for their differences, the decision to return Leo his speech is a baffling one, not least because Duck’s reasoning completely fails to translate (he wants him to apologise for killing Bill?!)


It’s worth noting the director’s departing dedication to his dad and nanny, but as a paean to surrogate parenthood the picture feels as half-baked as the idea that the Amish proverb opening the picture announces its theme (“In order to mold his people, God often has to melt them” – I don’t know if that’s an actual Amish proverb, but okay). Mute’s underwhelming reception will surely be particularly gutting for Jones, given the personal traumas that preceded and accompanied its production.


He’s reunited with Moon cinematographer Gary Shaw and composer Clint Mansell here, but the further we move away from the director’s commendable debut, the more worrying becomes the thought that he might have wowed us with a one-off. Source Code came with a string of positives, but it was very much made to order, while Warcraft was simply an overblown, unwieldy dud. Mute is better than that, at least, but there could be a lesson here that there’s sometimes good reason for failing to get a cherished project off the ground. Fingers crossed that isn’t crystallised when Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote arrives in a few months’ time.



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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

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…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
Cheeseburger Film Sandwich. Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon. Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie. Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie, arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate terms, it only sporadically fulfils…

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.

Poor A. A. Milne. What a ghastly business.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
The absolutely true story of how P. L. Travers came to allow Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, after 20 years’ persistent begging on the latter’s part. Except, of course, it isn’t true at all. Walt has worked his magic from beyond the grave over a fairly unremarkable tale of mutual disagreement. Which doesn’t really matter if the result is a decent movie that does something interesting or though-provoking by changing the facts… Which I’m not sure it does. But Saving Mr. Banks at least a half-decent movie, and one considerably buoyed by the performances of its lead actors.

Actually, Mr. Banks is buoyed by the performances of its entire cast. It’s the script that frequently lets the side down, laying it on thick when a lighter touch is needed, repeating its message to the point of nausea. And bloating it out not so neatly to the two-hour mark when the story could have been wrapped up quite nicely in a third less time. The title itself could perhaps be seen as rubbi…