Author Archives: Doug Whelan


What you may need to know:

1. Hmm.

2. HMM.

3. Incredibly bad timing, or incredibly good timing?

4. Amid the scandal engulfing Hollywood currently (which, in fairness, has been brewing for 100 years), Louis CK has starred in, written and directed, practically in secret, this dangerously on-the-nose comedy drama about creepy old filmmakers, young women and the nature of complicity.

5. The thing is, even without the Weinstein drama, there’s all sorts going on between the lines here. Louis CK himself has been the subject of some pretty sleazy rumours over the past few years. The comedian Jen Kirkman has been most vocal about it, while also maintaining her own distance. Now more than ever, such accusations and allegations need to be taken very seriously so…yeah.

6. Louis is even more in Woody Allen mode than ever before here, so…oh for fu-

7. Look, it’s a film, it’s been made, it’s out later this year.

Verdict: Verdict? Really?

Release date: November TBC

What you may need to know…

1. Disney “dropped” the long-overdue trailer for The Last Jedi last night during Monday Night Football in the States.

2. The first teaser arrived in April, followed by a behind the scenes feature in July; this is the first that offers more firm plot details. Director Rian Johnson offered this caveat.

3. In terms of plot, it’s as you might have guessed. Rey (Daisy Ridley), last seen on Skellig Michael in Kerry, has begun her Jedi training with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, looking decidedly Oliver Reed-esque). He seems concerned about just how powerful she is, as does Snoke (Andy Serkis), who hints that he’s more interested in her than in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, angsty).

4. On Ren’s side, he’s still struggling with the Dark Side, as illustrated by his hesitation to blow his own mother’s ship to smithereens. Unless this is a big fake-out, it’s sad to see that Leia (Carrie Fisher) has been hastily written out of the film due to Fisher’s sudden death last year.

5. Could Rey and Ren be about to switch allegiances?

6. The cute little animal thingies are called Porgs. Presumably there’s a factory in China knocking out 5,000 Porgs an hour, of various sizes, to be shipped to Disney stores all over the world in time for Christmas. Gotta get those toys out there. Merchandising is the real reason Disney paid $4bn for LucasFilm back in 2012, after all.

7. It’s a good trailer, does the job. But to me it feels like there’s something off about Star Wars’ image at this stage. With the firing of Colin Trevorrow from Episode IX (2019), the firing of Lord & Miller from the untitled Han Solo Movie (2018), and various other changes and replacements, it feels like we’re getting to see the sausage made.

8. LucasFilm and Disney are so fiercely protective of Star Wars that they are unwilling to take a single risk. When this film finally arrives, it’s clear that the immensely talented Rian Johnson will have toed the line completely, and the finished product will have been audience tested again and again, edited by committee and approved by a zillion executives to push all the right nostalgia buttons and so on. Is it the directors they don’t trust, or the audience?

9. That’s not to say it won’t be good. You could interpret it as a return to the old studio system that Hollywood operated until the 1960s, where the producer had complete creative control and the director was a mere technician. Marvel (arguably) keep getting it right, after all. What that led to was an independent film revolution, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the whole “Hollywood is out of ideas” thing. Which it is, but it’s all part of the cycle.

10. Anyway, I shouldn’t complain. Yeah Star Wars!

Doug’s Verdict: Doesn’t matter. Will be huge no matter what.

Release Date: December 15

What you may need to know

1. IT’S SO QUIRKY

2.
The latest quirky oddity from that ever-so-aloof master of whimsy, Wes Anderson. He’s returning to the stop-motion animation style he employed for his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) for this story of a near-future Japan in which all dogs are banished to live on a garbage island.

3. A young boy travels to the island to rescue his own best friend (sorry), and a positively Anderson-esque adventure ensues.

4. Animation aside, all of Anderson’s many trademarks are present and correct. These include the sprawling all-star cast (going by the poster, could it be his most sprawling and all-star to date?) delivering droll, sardonic dialogue, symmetrical angles, flat camera shots, unusual close-ups and cuts, the works.

5. People either love or hate Anderson’s shtick. I’ve found him hit and miss over the years. It’s often said that he cares more about the process than the finished product, hence the obsessive attention to detail on all of the above.

6. There’s no doubt he’s a brilliant storyteller though who has been out there on his own, with his own voice, right from the start. As such, anything he does is worth paying attention to, and if it ends up one of his less well-received outings, there will doubtless still be lots to love about it.

7. SO quirky

Doug’s verdict: So fetch

Release date:
March 23, 2018

What you may need to know

1. Here comes comedy royalty Armando Iannucci, creator of (among others) The Thick of It, In the Loop, Veep, The Day Today, Time Trumpet and more, with his second big-screen outing The Death of Stalin. It appears that one of the great satirists of our time has decided that the modern world is indeed beyond satire, so there is no point anymore.

2. Instead, he has assembled a remarkable cast to throw back to Moscow in the 1950s when, upon the death of soviet dictator Stalin, various factions within the Soviet Central Committee began squabbling over who could, should and would succeed him.

3. The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Fabien Nury.

4. Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Khrushchev, alongside Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale and more as a host of real-life figures whose names we really couldn’t be bothered spelling out here.

5. As if it wasn’t perfectly obvious, that thing about modern life being beyond satire is even more accurate than you think. At a recent talk in Sydney, Iannucci revealed an unused story for The Thick of It was for a politician to walk to Westminster in order to seem “more relatable”, only to insist on a car following behind to carry his briefcase. The idea was eventually abandoned the idea because it seemed just a little too unrealistic.

6. Some months later, it emerged David Cameron was keen on cycling to the House of Commons…with a car following behind containing shoes and a clean shirt.

7. After that you can see why the decision was taken not to drag The Thick of It out any longer than it had to. Why waste time hanging politicians out to dry when they’re perfectly capable of doing it themselves?

8. Anyway, The Death of Stalin screens at the Toronto Film Festival next month, and will arrive in cinemas in October.

9. Speaking of Stalin, any excuse. “Not a lot of people” know about this historical TV drama with just about the greatest piece of casting you’ve ever seen.

Doug’s verdict: Potempting

Release Date: October 20

As you may have heard, the original and biggest ‘Con took place in San Diego over the weekend, as illustrated by the steady flow of tentpole trailers rumbling onto the net Saturday night.

Some went down better than others, and some sank without trace.

Here goes with the highlights…

Ready Player One

1. Between Stranger Things, Star Wars, Trainspotting 2 and any one of a number of properties that have been dusted off over the past number of years, we are truly living in the age of hardcore nostalgia.

2.
Here comes “cinematic game changer” Spielberg to hitch his wagon to that post with Ready Player One, an adaptation of Ernest Cline’s “holy grail of pop culture”.

3. Steady on lads. If Ready Player One was set in the run-down Ohio of the future glimpsed in the beginning, I’d be interested, but this hyperactive CG bonanza, complete with 80s references left, right and centre, makes this look like Attention Deficit Disorder: The Movie.

4. That said, it will be great to see Spielberg back in sci-fi territory for the first time in more than a decade. Let’s hope this is more Minority Report than War of the Worlds.

Release date: March 30, 2018

Thor: Ragnarok

1. Now this looks like a scream.

2. As we’ve noted before, Chris Hemsworth has showed himself to be a talented comic actor through the Marvel film series, so it’s good that New Zealand revelation Taika Waititi is behind the camera for his third standalone outing.

3. Much is made of the interplay between him and Mark Ruffalo (who may never star in his own Hulk movie due to rights issues between Marvel and Universal), while Cate Blanchett is having a ball as the villain, north of England accent and all. Sounds like she went from Coronation Street straight to Asgard.

Release date: October 27

Stranger Things 2

1.
This is how you cut a trailer.

2. Rising tension, tease out the plot and promise to escalate the supernatural action to beyond expectations.

3. High-concept shows like Stranger Things tend to head south very quickly after promising debuts (Heroes, we’re looking at you), but a talented young cast, a good grip on the nostalgia meter and this outstanding teaser look like Stranger Things 2 has plenty to offer.

Release date: October 31

Star Trek Discovery

1. Disappointed by this trailer, both as a piece of work and in terms of the direction Star Trek seems to be taking. It’s quite unfocused, with little explanation of what’s going on and where in the ‘Trek universe this new series is set (it’s pre-Kirk era fyi).

2. It offers little in the way of plot, but not in an intriguing way, more of a messy way like they just flung together what they could with what they had and added a cod-philosophy monologue.

3. The redesigned Klingons look a bit silly, as do some of the VFX shots (that explosion near the start looks like it was rendered on an Amiga 500). And does every trailer need a sexy pop song over it these days?

4. Change and evolution is good, but this neither looks nor feels like Star Trek. Bring back the Borg, we say.

Release date: September 24.



Justice League

1. Every time Marvel makes it look easy with their latest teaser, DC aren’t far behind, continuing to flail about, slightly unsure of what they want their film series to look or feel like.

2.
There is little hope that this won’t be a bloated mess, seeing as that’s what Zack Snyder’s movies always turn out to be.

3. The wild success of Wonder Woman put a bit of wind in the series’ sail, and there does seem to be a little wit here that was absent from the joyless Batman vs Superman.

4.
Snyder has stepped back from production due to a personal tragedy, with Joss Whedon (The Avengers etc) overseeing post production. Whether that will save the film from itself remains to be seen.

Release date: November 17

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=109&v=phFM3V_dors

WestWorld – Season 2

1.
Finally, HBO presented an ever-so-teasery teaser for the second series of its ambitious/baffling (delete as appropriate) sci-fi fusion WestWorld.

2. The first run look and sounded extraordinary, featured flawless performances (in particular from Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton) and promised much with its (very) slow-burning storyline.

3.
Jonathan Nolan would want to tighten things up for the next season though. Ambitious is good, challenging is good, but entertaining is a must too.

Release date: “Sometime in 2008.”

What you may need to know:

1. With Wimbledon currently taking place, no better time to serve this trailer for Borg/McEnroe, a Swedish-made drama exploring the rivalry between two of the greats of the game, John McEnroe (Shia LeBeouf) and Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason).

2. Their match in the 1980 Wimbledon final has been touted as one of the greatest games of tennis ever played. It was not, however, the one in which McEnroe heckled the umpire with his immortal “You cannot be serious” line. Some of his many on-court tantrums can be seen here.

3. Petulant spoilsport or perfectionist genius? That appears to the thrust of the film is about for LaBeouf’s character, contrasted with Borg’s lifetime in the game in Sweden under the tutelage of coach Lennart Bergelin, played by the always-great Stellan Skarsgård.

4. Naturally, Shia LaBeouf states he was attracted to the role of John McEnroe due a similarity between the pair: both misunderstood in their passion for what they do. Not sure McEnroe was ever on camera racially abusing a police officer, but there you go.

5. McEnroe did get in a bit of bother recently with his comments about Serena Williams though. While they were slightly taken out of context, the jist of it (which he did decline to walk back on even after getting all the stick) was while she’s probably the greatest female player of all time, she’d probably rank around the 700s in the men’s game. If ever there was a sweeping statement that proves why feminism exists, it’s that. “Look, she’s amazing, but there’s probably like 700 men better than her and that’s that.”

6. Which leads us nicely to the other tennis movie we’re getting this year….

That’s right, as is so often the case, Borg/McEnroe isn’t the only fact-based tennis movie we’re getting in 2017. Steve Carrell and Emma Stone will star later this year in Oscar-bait Battle of the Sexes. It tells the high-stakes 1973 exhibition match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, a milestone in the mainstream acceptance of women’s professional sport.

8. Until then, smouldering Bjorn Borg and over-excited McEnroe will have to do.

Doug’s Verdict: Advantage Stone

Release: September (both)

What you may need to know:

1. You might recall some months ago, photos of Pierce Brosnan on the set of his next film emerged, in which he bore a striking resemblance to Gerry Adams. Well, we’re delighted to report that wasn’t an exaggeration and this is a real film that got made. Here comes The Foreigner, also starring Jackie Chan, who it appears has come of age and is ready to challenge Liam Neeson for the disgruntled father with a particular set of skills niche.

2. The trailer unleashes most, if not all of the plot so instead let’s talk about Gerry…sorry, Liam Hennessy. The blurb says he’s a British government official whose own past may hold the clues to the elusive killers (of Jackie’s daughter, that is). The timing of releases like this is really something. We almost never see film or TV address the IRA in a modern context (broadly speaking – feel free to correct me below).

3. Now, when there’s a worry that things may start to slip backwards if we’re not careful, wouldn’t you know it, they’ve made a knockabout Taken-style action movie that appears to imply that the IRA are not only detonating bombs in London, but also that DEFINITELY FICTIONAL reformed terrorists-turned-Deputy First Ministers are actually anything but reformed.

4. The last major cinema release about the Troubles was the brilliant ’71 (2014), which declines to take sides, instead depicting good and evil on all sides of the conflict. The result felt as if John Carpenter and Ken Loach made a film together.

5. Anyway, The Foreigner. The filmmakers got a slap on the wrist when filming, by blowing up a bus on a London bridge. Not everybody got the memo that it was for a movie.

6. The film reunites Brosnan with his Goldeneye (1998) director Martin Campbell, who also gave us Casino Royale (2006). That said, he also gave us The Green Lantern and The Mask of Zorro, so swings and roundabouts.

7. Jackie Chan may be getting on a bit, but it looks like he can still swing off/jump over/jump off things with the best of them. This looks to be a bit of a departure. Usually his stunt-heavy, kung-fu crazy roles are played for laughs (think Rush Hour and, I dunno, The Tuxedo or one of them). This movie, and his character in particular, look to be quite humourless (not for nothing, of course).

8. He hasn’t been seen on the big screen here since 2010’S The Karate Kid remake, but has been knocking them out at a ferocious rate in China. He was also awarded an honorary Academy Award in November last year, for his “extraordinary achievements” in film.

9. Based on Stephen Leather’s novel ‘The Chinaman’, which was a title that definitely needed changing. Any excuse.

10. Some eagle-eyed internet people spotted that his passport (@57) says he’s Vietnamese and that this itself is a slur as Chan is Chinese.

10. Finally, it’s Pierce Brosnan so again, any excuse.

Verdict: This is a work of fiction

Release: September 28

What you may need to know.

1. Look, I know it must seem like Marvel movies are the only trailers I actually write up here, and you’d be right, but it’s hard not to when they’re knocking them out this fast. If you don’t like the look of them, you should see the absolute tripe that comes and goes. Transformers 5? Cars 3? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

2. That said, I am looking forward to Manchester by the Sea 2: Electric Boogaloo.

3. Anyway, here comes Marvel, making it look easy again. Every trailer they roll out, whether it’s Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming and now this, is met with near-complete enthusiasm. In contrast to blockbuster rivals DC’s ongoing woes, that is. Wonder Woman has been very well received over there but the upcoming Justice League looks like another hyperactive, adolescent, CGI overkill snore festival.

4. While the format and formula looks largely to remain unchanged something-teen movies in, they key to that enthusiasm is the studio’s sharing and rotating creative contributions with appropriate directors. In the role of Thor, Chris Hemsworth has shown an unlikely comic talent, so the reins to Thor: Ragnarok were handed to What We Do in the ShadowsTaika Waititi. And Black Panther being Marvel’s first black superhero (est. 1966), who better to direct than one of the most talked-about young African American directors of the moment, Ryan Coogler.

5. Coogler is currently two for two, having made his debut with Cannes-prize-winning indie Fruitvale Station (2013), and the improbably excellent Creed (2015), his hip-hop hymn to Rocky Balboa. Both films, and this one, star The Wire alumnus Michael B. Jordan. Coogler was tapped for the Black Panther job just as Creed was being released, but it was too late to cast Jordan in the title role, since Chadwick Boseman was already filming the character’s debut in Captain America: Civil War (2016).

6. Alongside Boseman and Jordan, you’ve got Lupita Nyong’o, Forrest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Marvel regulars Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman.

7. Strong use of Legend Has It by Run the Jewels, currently the toast of hip-hop and of whom Marvel Comics are big fans. Their fist/gun symbol has featured on more than one Marvel cover in the past couple of years.

8. Now. Black Panther was Marvel’s first superhero and it’s not insignificant that the Studio is now putting up the cash for an Africa-set, black-cast, black-directed blockbuster. Relatively few black actors have fronted mega-budget blockbusters (Will Smith is the only one I can think of off the top of my head); for an unknown like Boseman to lead one is unheard of. Combine that with the recent feminist success of Wonder Woman this month, and it’s apparent that attitudes are changing in Hollywood. Who said Blockbusters don’t matter?

9.
Not linking to it, but racist dicks on 4chan and Twitter are having their say all the same. Something about a liberal agenda, you can guess the rest. It will be interesting to see how the film will address racism as it exists in the world today.

10. On the topic of “#OscarsSoWhite and the steps taken by the Academy to revise its imbalance, read this excellent New Yorker article.

11. That remarkable Afro-future costume design comes from another Coogler collaborator Hannah Beachler.

Verdict: Panther like a Panther

Release Date: February 9, 2018

What you may need to know

1. To quote another fantasy series, we come to it at last: the great battle of our time.

2.
The seventh season of Game of Thrones, despite coming three months later than the usual April debut, consists of just seven episodes. An eighth and final season will follow in 2018.

3. The shorter season and later debut mean that more time has been spent on writing and filming, while vastly more cash has been spent on each episode. That’s quite clear from those sweeping battle shots and brand new sets.

4. Filming was also pushed back so as to avoid the usual summer (as in last summer) shooting schedule. It’s winter in Westeros now, so shooting took place later in the year in Northern Ireland.

5. It’s endgame time: Season 7’s plot will see the long-gestating confrontation between, well, everybody, as the war for the Iron Throne enters its (apparent) final phase. Fresh from her Corleone-esque massacre of her enemies, Cersei Lannister sits on the Iron Throne but her reign promises to be a short one as Daenerys Targaryen arrives to reclaim her throne. Meanwhile, in the North, Jon Snow aims to keep the White Walkers on the right side of the Wall, because if he fails, it doesn’t matter who rules King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Arya Stark may just make it back to Winterfell, Tyrion will continue to find his place in the world and a zillion other plot points will approach their conclusion.

6.
If all that sounds like gibberish to a non-fan, well, it is, but make no mistake, Game of Thrones is the real deal. Everyone may live in castles and swing swords, but themes of politics, class division, family religion and faith, the horror of war and more make it one of the most brilliantly realised TV dramas of this or any other era.

7. On top of that, and the masterful acting and production value, I’ve always said the key to Game of Thrones addictive success is the same as what made Breaking Bad such a hit. Right from the very beginning, the question was put to the audience: how’s it going to end? With BB, the question was what will happen when Walter White is caught; here the question was and is who will be the last one standing? Each time a new person has climbed those steps over the past six years to sit on the throne, it has always felt temporary. Now that Dani and (as it turns out) Cersei Lannister are set to go to war with one another, whichever one comes out on top really will be the conqueror.

8. This show famously hasn’t shied away from killing off its heroes, don’t forget, so it’s entirely possible that fearless, scheming thunder-bitch Cersei might well be that last one standing. Unless (personal prediction alert): history repeats itself and the Kingslayer becomes the Queenslayer, but we could go on about that all day.

9. Along with the vast returning cast, the great Jim Broadbent has taken up a role for season 7.

10. As with season 6, events of the show have long overtaken the events of George R.R. Martin’s source novels. His last instalment, A Dance with Dragons, was published in 2011, while The Winds of Winter is still a work in progress. In your own time, George.

Verdict: Do we even need to say?

Date: July 16, Sky Atlantic.

poster

What you may need to know

1. A few months ago I said to look out for lots more shared universes on the big screen. While you wouldn’t quite call the collected works of Stephen King a shared universe, he is certainly being tapped heavily at the moment as filmmakers look for ever-more ways to get bums on seats.

2, With that, here comes The Dark Tower, an adaptation of King’s epic eight-book cycle (1982 – 2012); part The Lord of the Rings, part The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966). The film has been in various stages of development over the past ten years; J.J. Abrams was attached to direct at one point (when is he not?), before Ron Howard came close with a hugely ambitious alternating film-TV-series-film project covering each book. Howard remains as producer, with Danish director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel in the chair now.

3. Condensing is understandable given the sprawling nature of the source material, but this looks to be a very, very, condensed. Proceedings look to have skipped most of the first two books and eliminated several earth-bound characters that otherworldly “gunslinger” Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) encounters on his travels.

4. Fact fans: King’s original inspiration for the story was the 1855 poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, by Robert Browning.

5. A companion TV series covering other segments of the book series is planned for 2018, according to Entertainment Weekly.

6. There was confusion in the air when Matthew McConaughey was first cast; rumours flew that he was to be cast as Randall Flagg, the villain in a new adaption of King’s apocalyptic masterpiece The Stand. Flagg in that book and The Man in Black here are implied in the text to be the same character (along with several other King novels). Sadly, The Stand – in development as a trilogy by Ben Affleck before he torpedoed his own career by taking the Batman gig – has once again been shelved. Which is a shame because McConaughey is perfect for that role. Maybe that shared universe would work after all.

7. And speaking of shared universes, let’s play a game of Good Idea/Bad Idea. As well as The Dark Tower, It, and any one of a number of his novels currently in “development hell”, Castle Rock was announced quite quietly some months back. It’s a drama series apparently blending characters, stories and situations from several of the author’s best-known works. J.J. Abrams is involved. When is he not? Anyway, Gotham was relatively successful at something similar, and as we keep seeing, everyone wants a piece of that shared universe dollar. It’s a good dollar.

8. The Dark Tower looks very, very different from what one might have expected from the books, where there’s a gloomy, sorrowful atmosphere to proceedings. Mid-World (King’s fantasy Wild West) is shrouded in a dream-like atmosphere, while the visits to Earth were originally set in the 1960s and 70s, taking time to explore the social issues of those eras. Eliminating those situations and characters, and putting the focus on to 11-year-old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) really makes this look like just another teen dystopian adventure, the kind Hollywood has been churning out non-stop over the past few years.

Verdict: Might hang on for IT instead

Release Date: August 4