Author Archives: Doug Whelan

The-Founder-Teaser-Poster-Michael-Keaton

What you may need to know:

1.
It’s awards season, which means the historical biopics are getting their annual workout. The Founder sees Michael Keaton play salesman Ray Kroc, who recognised the potential of the “fast-food” concept established by the McDonald brothers (John Carroll Lynch and a distressingly facial hair-free Nick Offerman) in the 1950s. He helped build it into a billion-dollar business before stealing it out from under them, completely legally.

2. It’s the American dream in action, then.

3. The events were previously dramatised in…wait for it…the Mark Knopfler song Boom, Like That.

4. The timing of the release suggests The Founder’s producers had an eye on a few Oscar nominations – especially since director John Lee Hancock’s last two features Saving Mr. Banks (2013) and The Blind Side (2009) were very awards-friendly works. Despite positive reviews though, it has failed to make much of a splash on that front.

5. Perhaps the broader timing is the issue. Big-business anti-heroes have long been a staple of cinema, from Gordon Gekko all the way through to Jordan Belfort. But now that we’re in the era of you-know-who, it might be slightly harder for audiences to take to a character whose “ruthless drive to succeed alienates everyone in his yadda yadda yadda…but he’s really an OK guy!”

6. The comparisons are impossible to avoid though, of course. Laura Dern, who play’s Kroc’s first wife Ethel Fleming, called it “wonderfully appropriate timing. The theme of the film addresses a much larger question: Can capitalism and compassion coexist? It is really incredible to look at what’s happening right now in this country and ask that question. It’s not just that we’re seeing severe narcissism. We’re seeing people who need to attack and bully others. I think there are a lot of parallels to what’s happening right now.”

7. The role of Ray Kroc looks to be a perfect fit for Michael Keaton, whose penchant for barely-concealed manic energy bubbling just below the surface is well-suited to an obsessive businessman. His recent career renaissance that we’ve mentioned before has served him well, but other than this year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, his slate’s looking a little dry. Let’s hope he hasn’t expended all that goodwill that came after Birdman (2014).

8. It may look ultimately like a big-screen marketing exercise, but eventually comes across as a sort of confession. “It’s an ad that becomes a warning before circling around and becoming another, darker kind of advertisement,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz of Rogerebert.com. “In the end, it seems vaguely ashamed of itself for letting this happen.

Doug’s verdict: I’m Lovin’ It

Release date: February 10.

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What you may need to know:

1. Sigh. Bright Lights is a documentary set to premier on HBO in the States this Sunday (next Tuesday on Sky Atlantic], following the lives of inseparable mother-daughter duo Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, both of whom died suddenly within days of each other last month.

2. No, this wasn’t hastily thrown together to capitalise on their deaths; Bright Lights has been doing the festival rounds since last summer, and was set to air later this year. Following the sad events, HBO announced its decision to move the screening forward to this weekend.

3.
Bright Lights’ technique of filming the mother and daughter in their home environment doing everyday things is strongly reminiscent of the Maysles Brothers’ ground-breaking “direct cinema” documentary Grey Gardens (1975)

4. Carrie Fisher was already known for her anti-celebrity down-to-earth persona; this film looks like it will only expand on that and create a lasting legacy.

5. Sometimes, documentaries take on an extra level of meaning due to unexpected events during or after filming that – if you’ll excuse the morbidity – make them infinitely more effective than they already were.

6. Think One Million Dubliners’ devastating and masterful ending; Metallica’s unexpected freefall in the bizarre and tragically hilarious Some Kind of Monster and more. Bright Lights was already a love letter from daughter to mother and back again; now it’s an unexpected eulogy for two generations of Hollywood royalty.

Release date: Sky Atlantic at 9pm on January 10

bladerunner

What you may need to know

1. Hmm.

2. It turns out nothing, in fact, is sacred. Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to Ridley Scott’s astounding, monolithic and baffling 1982 sci-fi drama Blade Runner. In the original, Ford played the titular detective tasked with tracking down and destroying a group of rogue replicants, murderous androids on Earth illegally after absconding from their off-world work zones. The sequel sees Ryan Gosling, also a blade runner, “unearth a long-buried secret with the potential to plunge what is left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Ford), who has been missing for 30 years.

3. For fans of the original, a sequel presents some problems right away. There are no less than FIVE official versions of Blade Runner, each with its own characteristics and differences, some minor and some major.

4. The biggest one is the debate over whether Ford’s character is in fact a replicant himself. Depending on what version you watch, he either definitely is, definitely is not, or might be. Ford and Ridley Scott have themselves disagreed over the years. Will this sequel answer that question, add to the mystery or simply sidestep it? Whichever one it is, it couldn’t possibly satisfy everyone.

5. The sequel has been in development since 1999.

6. Naturally, this teaser trailer doesn’t reveal much, other than the fact that Harrison Ford cares little for nostalgia about his body of work. Indiana Jones, Han Solo and now Rick Deckard. Indy 4 was an embarrassment, Han Solo he got away with. One out of two ain’t bad so far.

7. The cast includes Jared Leto, Robin Wright and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista. No sign of Sean Young, however. That hardly seems fair, does it?

8. Blade Runner’s ambiguous ending(s) is one of many great things about it, another being its extraordinary feat of world-building. It was one of the first sci-fi films of the modern era to propagate a “lived-in” future.

9. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel looks keen to stick to that very same aesthetic – driving rain, seedy streets and a claustrophobic atmosphere, contrasted by otherworldly neoclassical interiors and warm – but hardly comforting – light.

10. The better option would be to not make this film at all, but if they must, Villeneuve is a perfect choice to direct. In this year’s superb Arrival, also Sicario (2015) and Prisoners (2012), he has shown a talent for understating typically bombastic genres. If he can walk the line between expanding the universe but not showing TOO much of it, they may well get away with it. Blade Runner’s Los Angeles of the future is nothing if it’s not understated, so, sacrilegious as it may be, cautious optimism is justified.

11. Just please, no attack ships on fire, C-beams or tasteful shots of the Tannhauser Gate. Nobody ever knew what they were, and it’s important that it stay that way.

Verdict: Dry those tears in the rain.

Release Date:
October 6, 2017

dunkirk-poster

What you may need to know

1. The new film from Christopher “just give me a god-damn Oscar already” Nolan.

2. He changed superhero movies (possibly peaked them) with the Dark Knight Trilogy and re-energised smart science fiction with Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014); Nolan is back now with this surprisingly conventional-looking World War II drama based on the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940, when hundreds of thousands of British and Allied soldiers were stranded at the northernmost tip of France. Surrender was on the cards, until a flotilla of fishing boats, yachts and merchant vessels set sail from across the south of England to mount a daring rescue. It’s known as “the miracle of the little ships”.

3. Brexit: the movie basically.

4. The events were previously dramatised in Joe Wright’s Atonement (2007) with this extraordinary 5-minute tracking shot.

5. Good showing for Ireland on the cast, which includes Cillian Murphy – a regular member of Nolan’s troupe – and Love/Hate cat killer Barry Keoghan.

6. Yes, that’s One Direction dreamboat Harry Styles at .48. Now that the pop career has started to dry up, he’s decided to try his hand at acting…and landed a role in the biggest film of the year by the biggest director in the world. How jammy can one kid be? All while Dancing with the Stars and I’m a Celebrity… beckon for the other four. The other three? Whatever.

7. Nolan has been gunning for an Oscar for years. The Dark Knight was denied a richly-deserved nomination in 2008 (the snub eventually led to an increase in Best Picture nominees); Interstellar was in there in 2014, but never had a hope of winning. The director is clearly heeding Ricky Gervais’ advice to Kate Winslet.

8. The production spent $5m on an authentic former Luftwaffe fighter, with the intention of strapping it with an IMAX camera and then crashing it. You’d wonder what is the point in the age of CGI everything, but there you go. Might be a load of guff too, for that matter.


9.
It’s a somewhat underwhelming trailer to be honest. That said, it’s the first film Nolan has made without any science fiction or high-concept elements (other than the good-but-not-great Insomnia (2002)), so that’s what is missing. Knowing his propensity for going big on the psychological elements of his characters and stories, one expects that Dunkirk will be just as concerned with personal battles as explosive ones.

Verdict:
War, what is it good for? Absolutely Nolan.

Release Date: July 2017

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What You May Need to Know

1. Everyone scoffed when it was first announced back in 2007/2008, but here comes the sixteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first full-length outing for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, after his show-stealing introduction in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Next year will also see the release of Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2 and Thor: Ragnarok.

2. The “Homecoming” title isn’t just a reference to the film’s high-school setting. It’s also a knowing nod to the fact that Marvel Studios has regained control of the character after the screen rights spent several so-so years in the hands of Sony Pictures. There we had Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire’s hit-and-miss trilogy (2002 – 2007) and two kind of pointless films with Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield (2012 – 2014).

3. Some may balk at the teenybopper Spidey, but really what would be the point in casting another smouldering, conflicted twenty-something and remaking the same film we’ve seen five times already? According to Marvel head-honcho Kevin Feige, the films of John Hughes are a strong influence on Homecoming. Make of that what you will.

4. The trailer works hard to make everyone know this is part of The Avengers franchise. There’s Robert Downey Jr’s presence, for one thing (and Jon Favreau lurking in the background, as he does in these movies since relinquishing directorial duties), the mask-wearing bank robbers, the brief shot from Civil War, etc. Holland is also set to appear in The Avengers: Infinity War in 2018.

5. Michael Keaton making the most of his Birdman-based career renaissance by playing…wait a minute…Birdman? Not really, he’s something called The Vulture. Feige also let slip that the great Cate Blanchett has been cast as the villain in another upcoming Marvel film. They really do run the game at the moment.

6. Let’s hope Keaton and Marisa Tomei share a scene together, it can be a reunion of the forgotten-but-excellent newsy comedy The Paper (1994)

7. Sixteen films later, and it’s generally understood that Marvel films are basically the same thing over and over. Colourful chemistry, witty dialogue, forgettable villains (sorry Michael) and a baffling CGI aerial climax. But it’s been box-office gold for Marvel (aka Disney), hence Star Wars following suit, along with DC Comics (showing us how NOT to do it); expect to see lots more “shared universes” in the coming years.

8. What it’s really about though, is getting bums on seats. Just like it did back in the 60s when television first exploded, the current golden age of TV has mostly been kicking cinema in the teeth. Studio bosses are keen to re-establish themselves as the prime purveyors of storytelling, so just as TV has been cherry picking cinematic elements for itself, cinema is taking tips from TV. Namely cliff-hanger/to-be-continued endings and episodic storytelling.

Verdict: Spidey-sense tingling .

Release date: July 7, 2017

mummyposter

What you may need to know:

1. The 2017 blockbuster previews keep coming, so here’s the Tom Cruise’s latest excuse to run fast and jump off things, The Mummy. He plays a military type charged with transporting an entombed mummy from the deserts of Egypt to London, only to find the creature (Sofia Boutella) is alive and set on causing chaos and revenge.

2. Yes, technically this is a remake of the immensely silly Indiana Jones rip-off The Mummy (1999), but it’s actually a franchise that goes all the way back to the 1930s, when the likes of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney played the titular creature. Things got a bit out of control when Abbot & Costello got in on the act.


3.
It’s a well-established fact that blockbusters and sequels aren’t enough anymore; at least four movies are required in any franchise, so Universal Pictures are getting the band back together.

4. So The Mummy is the first in a series that will see outings from Frankenstein’s monster, Count Dracula, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein and more.

5 Russell Crowe plays none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll, of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Here Jekyll is the head of Prodigium, an organisation which tracks the whereabouts of these creatures, which is presumably how the producers will crowbar those eventual team-ups off the page. They haven’t got a script yet, but they can bang one out by Friday.

6. Rather than the retro swashbuckling of the Brendan Fraser movies, or the gothic nature of, say, Penny Dreadful, this is a supernatural film set very much in the present, with what looks like the same globe-trotting antics as something like Mission: Impossible.

6. Tom Cruise seems to be giving less of a **** as he gets older. He’s got little to prove, and seems to choose roles based on what kind of stunts he gets to do. Rumour has it he actually spent a weekend in a body bag in a morgue before filming.

7. The Mummy is directed by Alex Kurtzman, the seasoned writer best known for the likes of the newer Star Trek movies. Kurtzman says he wants audiences to fall in love with each character first; if they can do that, then a world will present itself. “You have to make great individual movies, first and foremost,” he told journalists at a briefing last week. “And if you do that, then the audience will follow you.”

Verdict: The Meh-mmy.

Release date: J une 9, 2017

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What you may need to know:

1. Martin Scorsese is back with his latest Oscar-bait, an adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel. Silence was previously adapted for the screen in Japan in 1971.

2. As the trailer deftly illustrates, Silence follows two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) on a dangerous journey through 17th-century Japan seeking their mentor (Liam Neeson), who has apparently renounced the Church. In that period, teaching the Catholic faith was illegal, and Christians were known as Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians).

3. Silence has been in development since 1990, yet another ‘passion project’ for Scorsese. (To be fair, all his films are described as passion projects). On the topic of keeping Silence on his radar all that time, Scorsese had this to say:

“As you get older, ideas go and come. Questions, answers, loss of the answer again and more questions, and this is what really interests me. Yes, the cinema and the people in my life and my family are most important, but ultimately as you get older, there’s got to be more. Much, much more. The very nature of secularism right now is really fascinating to me, but at the same time do you wipe away what could be more enriching in your life?”

4. In 2012, Scorsese was sued by investors who alleged that Scorsese was in breach of contract after pushing back a start date to shoot the film several times since their original deal was signed in 1990. Cecchi Gori Pictures wanted a slice of the profits of each film he had made while Silence was on hold. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2014.

5. The budget for Silence was so tight that everyone, including the A-list cast, Scorsese himself and veteran producer Irwin Winkler, worked for scale. Without superheroes, monsters or spaceships in the script, some studios are jittery about handing over their cash – even when someone like Martin Scorsese is involved.

6. Silence receives its world premiere at the Vatican tomorrow.

7. At first glance, the historical setting makes Silence look like a companion piece to Marty’s poorly-received 1997 drama Kundun. Any excuse.

Verdict: Kun-do.

Release date: Tomorrow (Rome)

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What you may need to know

1. The giant ape living on an island in the south Pacific is back. It’s a reboot of a reboot of a reboot of the 1933 original.

2. Blockbuster and their sequels aren’t enough anymore. Warner Brothers are getting in on the “shared cinematic universe” train by making this a prequel to the so-so Godzilla (2014), setting up a showdown between the two in the ingeniously titled Godzilla vs Kong, pencilled in for 2020.

3. All going well, the long-term plan is to bring to life more and more Kaiju monsters, which has been a consistently popular genre in Japan since the 1950s.


4.
Kong: Skull Island is set in the 1970s, hence the noticeable Vietnam War motif running through the trailer: Creedence Clearwater Revival, the helicopter fleet, napalm and John C. Reilly doing a PG version of Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now (1979). Tom Hiddleston’s got his work cut out for him lopping the head off that giant buffalo though.

5. Despite winning Best Actress at this year’s Oscars, and playing a leading role, it’s strange that Brie Larson doesn’t warrant any lines in this trailer.

6. John Goodman makes everything better.

7. Hollywood’s go-to motion capture guy Andy Serkis (presumably) passed on Skull Island, so the titular ape is being played by Serkis’ Planet of the Apes co-star Terry Notary.

8. Part of the appeal of the aforementioned Godzilla reboot was that it wasn’t played for laughs; director Gareth Edwards attempted to inject some actual drama into the scenes between the carnage. That wasn’t always successful, but it’s still somewhat disappointing that this movie is heading back towards the Marvel brand of action comedy.

Verdict: Ape-pocalypse Now

Release Date:
March 20, 2017

jackie

What you may need to know

1. In another case of the coincidences that cinema is capable of, just as the USA stumbles through a political and social crisis that could well be its undoing, along comes this intense-looking drama recreating another of that country’s defining moments.

2. Following the assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) attempts to make sense of her own shattered life as American politics swirls around her. The story is framed by the famed “Camelot” interview Kennedy did with Life magazine’s Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) following her husband’s funeral.

3. Far from being a cloying, formulaic historical drama, however, Jackie has been described as having “the sophisticated psychological aesthetic of a Jonathan Glazer movie”.

4. Speaking of Glazer, Jackie’s soundtrack has been composed by Mica Levi. Levi is responsible for the distressing score to Glazer’s equally distressing Under the Skin (2013). That should give one an idea of what to expect.

5. Prolific Chilean director Pablo Larraín is behind the camera. He has already released two films in 2016, (El Club and Neruda), and is making his English-language debut here.

6. Spielberg had his eye on the script originally, before it got in to the hands Darren Aronofsky (who directed Portman to her Oscar for Black Swan in 2010). Aronofsky eventually passed it on to Larraín and took up producer duties himself.

7. From the opening close-up, Natalie is obviously gunning for her second Oscar. She’s appeared in some awful tripe since Black Swan, but at the end of the day there’s nothing wrong with taking a few Marvel paychecks while waiting for the next big fish to come along. She  also wrote, directed and starred in Hebrew-language historical drama A Tale of Love and Darkness.

8. At first glance, Jackie may look like histrionic Hollywood Oscar-bait, but the arthouse credentials behind the camera and Larraín’s distinctive visual style suggest something much more interesting. No doubt Jackie will feature heavily come Awards season.

Verdict: Jackie O Face

Release date: December 2, 2016

collateral-beauty_poster

What you may need to know

1. Brace yourself.

2. Wealthy New Yorker Will Smith suffers a personal tragedy and, after withdrawing from the world, Makes Sense Of It All™ by writing a series of letters to the universe itself.

3. Miraculously, the universe replies. That, or his friends hire actors to pretend to be his cosmic pen pals. Which would be an extraordinarily cruel thing to do to a man with mental health issues.

4 Hugh Jackman, Jason Segel and Johnny Depp were all set to star before Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment took over and he cast himself. No sign of Jaden this time.

4. Poor old Will Smith doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going these days. A Grammy-winning start in music led to enormous success in TV, before he would become one of the world’s most bankable blockbuster stars. But his forays into dramatic territory over the years have mostly misfired.

5. There’s no denying his charisma, but Sidney Poitier he ain’t. All the way back to and including Ali (despite the Oscar nomination) there’s just always something that doesn’t click. Try as he might, he has just never managed to shake the Fresh Prince.

5.He was mad to turn down Independence Day 2, even if it was tripe.

6. Lots of fine actors slumming it in the supporting cast, in particular the enormously likeable Michael Peña. Catch him next year in a comedy reboot of CHiPs (yes, as Pancho) and also Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express.

7. Ed Norton, Kate Winslet, you’re better than this. Kiera Knightley, as you were.

8. But we’ll watch Helen Mirren in anything.

Verdict: Cinematic Diabetes

Release date:
December 30