Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp), an art dealer and swindler who owes the U.K. government a lot of money, reluctantly agrees to help inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) find a stolen Goya painting. This adaptation of a novel that’s part of a popular series of comic thrillers was maligned by critics and a box-office flop, but it helps to approach it as a bomb. The story is for the birds and there are far too few laughs in this over-the-top, silly adventure… but it isn’t dull and Paul Bettany is amusing as the manservant no woman can resist. Depp is probably having more fun than you.
2015-U.S. 107 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by David Koepp. Novel: Kyril Bonfiglioli (”Don’t Point That Thing at Me”). Cast: Johnny Depp (Charlie Mortdecai), Ewan McGregor (Alistair Martland), Gwyneth Paltrow (Johanna Mortdecai), Paul Bettany, Jonny Pasvolsky, Olivia Munn… Jeff Goldblum.
When her father (Kevin Kline) is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) inside a huge, wintry castle, Belle (Emma Watson) offers herself in exchange for his freedom. Another live-action remake of an animated Disney classic. This one can’t escape a certain sense of pointlessness considering how close it stays to the 1991 original… but that feeling is suppressed by sheer playful buoyancy and colorful opulence. More a lavish Broadway production than just a remake of an animated movie, the film offers a few new songs and really looks like no expenses have been spared. Simply put, it is beautiful and fun. Watson is radiant in the lead and the 3D visuals really draw us into this fairytale world.
2017-U.S. 129 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman. Directed by Bill Condon. Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos. Music: Alan Menken. Song: ”How Does a Moment Last Forever” (Alan Menken, Tim Rice). Production Design: Sarah Greenwood. Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran. Cast: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (The Prince/Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor… Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson.
Trivia: Ryan Gosling was allegedly considered for a role.
Last word: “Disney didn’t know about [LeFou’s infatuation with Gaston] [laughs]. It was something I was thinking about and that I talked to Josh Gad about. Our joke was that one day he gets up and he wants to be Gaston and the next day he wakes up and he wants to fool around with Gaston and he hasn’t quite landed on it yet. It’s just a moment in the film, and I get a little weary about talking about it too much because then it seems like a more heavy-handed thing. But I kind of enjoyed that and it’s in the fabric of everybody falling in love that that couple falls in love too.” (Condon, Flickering Myth)
Twenty years after Mark Renton’s (Ewan McGregor) betrayal, he returns home to Edinburgh to face his old friends; at the same time, the incorrigible Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes from prison… This belated sequel to Trainspotting (1996) reunited the cast and crew and is certainly a nostalgia piece for everybody involved, audiences included. Just like the original, the editing is swift, the camera never stops moving and the story is episodic. But this time the heroin-fueled fantasies have been largely replaced with flashbacks and touchingly relevant, sometimes funny, ruminations on growing older. Uneven, but still stylish and dignified.
2017-Britain. 117 min. Color. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay: John Hodge. Novels: Irvine Welsh (”Trainspotting”, ”Porno”). Cast: Ewan McGregor (Mark ”Rent Boy” Renton), Ewen Bremner (Daniel ”Spud” Murphy), Jonny Lee Miller (Simon ”Sick Boy” Williamson), Robert Carlyle (Francis ”Franco” Begbie), Kevin McKidd, Kyle Fitzpatrick… Kelly Macdonald.
CHOOSE LIFE. CHOOSE A JOB. CHOOSE A DENTAL INSURANCE, LEISURE WEAR AND MATCHING LUGGAGE. CHOOSE YOUR FUTURE. BUT WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO DO A THING LIKE THAT?
In 1996, Republican Senator Bob Dole was fighting an uphill battle as his party’s presidential nominee to defeat Bill Clinton. As he was attacking the President and the entertainment industry as being responsible for the increased drug use among teenagers, he singled out two films as examples of ”romanticizing heroin” – Pulp Fiction (1994) and the British drama Trainspotting, which was released that year. Dole later admitted having never actually seen the latter film. Anyone who had knew that the GOP politician was full of shit. If you want to do heroin after watching Trainspotting, you must have been asleep.
We are introduced to Mark ”Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his circle of friends in Edinburgh. Most of them are heroin addicts like Mark, including ”Spud” and ”Sick Boy” (Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller); Francis ”Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is part of the gang, but a complete psychopath who’s always looking to pick fights. When we first meet them, Mark has decided to quit heroin and is successful after a painful period of withdrawal.
Then he meets a sweet girl (Kelly Macdonald) whom he sleeps with; after learning that the people she’s living with are actually her mom and dad and not flatmates, he’s blackmailed by this 15-year-old to continue the romance. Some time later however, Mark is using again along with his addict buddies. It gets really bad, and tragedy strikes…
Grounded in personal experiences
After making the terrific thriller Shallow Grave (1994), Danny Boyle reunited with McGregor and this one became an even bigger hit, launching both men’s international careers. McGregor’s Mark is hardly a hero, as his life is shit from the start and the people he’s surrounding himself with only reinforce his worst instincts. But he’s still the person we identify the most with, and the one we’re hoping will be able to find a way out of the misery in Edinburgh. Author Irvine Welsh grounded his novel in personal experiences, and Boyle also saw the story as a gripping portrait of what’s positive and negative about male friendship.
Episodic in tone, the film’s narrative is uneven but compelling most of the time, moving swiftly between different phases of Mark’s drug-fueled journey. There is an incredible energy here, aided by Masahiro Nishikubo’s fast-paced editing, outrageous visual sequences (usually sprung out of Mark’s withdrawal nightmares, such as the disgustingly memorable scene where he dives into Scotland’s dirtiest toilet) and a soundtrack of songs that capture this life and era perfectly, ranging most vividly from Iggy Pop’s ”Lust for Life” to Underworld’s ”Born Slippy”. It’s funny, horrifying and desperately dark, such as the tragedy that strikes the group after days of heroin abuse, an experience that comes back to haunt Mark as he’s once again trying to kick the habit at his parents’ place. The cast became more or less iconic, including Carlyle who played the violent Begbie as a closeted man who’s always terrified of being exposed.
The film also has a youthful vitality in spite of its constant flirting with death. Combined with Boyle’s slick filmmaking and the soundtrack, it’s a clue to why some people thought the film was promoting drug use. But here’s a piece of advice: Look beneath the surface.
Trainspotting 1996-Britain. 94 min. Color. Produced by Andrew Macdonald. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay: John Hodge. Novel: Irvine Welsh. Cinematography: Brian Tufano. Editing: Masahiro Nishikubo. Cast: Ewan McGregor (Mark ”Rent Boy” Renton), Ewen Bremner (Daniel ”Spud” Murphy), Jonny Lee Miller (Simon ”Sick Boy” Williamson), Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald.
Last word: “That was a big thing which we decided early on, that the camera was going to be on the deck a lot. No matter where these characters were that’s essentially where they were going to end up – on the floor – so we should just be there and wait for them. That was the basic aesthetic and we just followed it through. You have to plan this in advance and announce it clearly, so that the cameraman has to figure out how to get the camera mobile down there. It was very difficult to do but it was worth it.” (Boyle, interview by Keith Hopper)
It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2017 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.
* The Comedian – Robert De Niro gets a chance to redeem himself after appearing in far too many bad comedies. Directed by Taylor Hackford; Danny DeVito has a supporting part.
* Split – … and this is M. Night Shyamalan’s chance to redeem himself after far too many convoluted, bad horror movies. This one has James McAvoy as a kidnapper with 24 personalities.
* The Founder – Early reviews of this drama following the early days of McDonald’s say the movie may not be a masterpiece, but Michael Keaton is aces in the lead.
* The Lego Batman Movie– Will this spin-off to The Lego Movie (2014) be as surprisingly enjoyable as the original?
* Fifty Shades Darker – Will this sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) challenge its audience more than the original did? The trailer doesn’t look too promising.
* John Wick: Chapter 2 – Keanu Reeves returns for more action. February really is a month for B-movie sequels.
* A Cure for Wellness – Gore Verbinski delivers a horror thriller, his first since The Ring(2002), and it is set in the Swiss Alps.
* Tulip Fever – Alicia Vikander stars in this drama set during the tulip craze in The Netherlands in the 1600s. Also has Christoph Waltz, Zach Galifianakis and Cara Delevingne in the cast. Directed by Justin Chadwick, who made The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) look so good.
* Logan – The world seemed a bit tired of all the X-Men movies, but then came the trailer above for James Mangold’s next Wolverine movie, and now we’re all excited again.
* T2 Trainspotting – Danny Boyle’s long-awaited sequel to Trainspotting (1996) reunites the old cast. Opens January 27 in Britain.
* Kong: Skull Island – The big ape is discovered during a military mission to Skull Island. The first two trailers look great. Stars Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston.
* Beauty and the Beast – The live-action version of the 1991 animated classic. Guaranteed to be a box-office hit judging from the online interest in the trailers. Stars Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor and Dan Stevens.
* King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Guy Ritchie’s version of the oft-filmed legend. The trailer makes it look brutal. Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur.
* Ghost in the Shell – This manga adaptation has Scarlett Johansson in the lead as “The Major”.
* Going in Style – The trailer promises no fireworks, but I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to watch Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Ann-Margret at work.
* The Fate of the Furious– The eighth film in the franchise adds Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron to the cast. The trailer is quite explosive.
* The Lost City of Z – Tom Holland and Charlie Hunnam star in James Gray’s film about a real-life explorer who disappeared while searching for a city in the Amazon in the 1920s.
* The Circle – A thriller about a big tech company, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.
* Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – This sequel comes with a fun trailer that promises more of the laughs and thrills that made the original a hit.
* Snatched – Goldie Hawn returns to the big screen after a 14-year absence, playing Amy Schumer’s mother in a raunchy comedy.
* Alien: Covenant – Ridley Scott returns with this sequel to Prometheus, a film that (judging from the trailer) seems firmly grounded in the Alien universe.
* Annabelle 2 – A sequel that hopefully will improve on the lackluster first film. Lights Out director David F. Sandberg has his work cut out for him.
* Baywatch – The film adaptation of the cheesy 1990s TV show aims for babes, laughs and a few thrills. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are in the leads.
* Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – The fifth chapter in this franchise. Javier Bardem joins the usual gang.
* Wonder Woman – The DC films have largely been disappointments so far after Man of Steel (2013)… but this one could change that. The trailers have us all excited.
* The Mummy – Universal aims to create a monster universe the way Marvel and DC have created cinematic universes out of their superheroes. This one looks exciting, with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe in the leads… but I was hoping for scary.
* Cars 3 – Pixar’s least interesting franchise is beloved by children; this chapter promises to be a little darker in tone.
* Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Colin Firth returns as a dapper agent in this sequel, and he’s joined by several other big stars. Will bigger equal better?
* Transformers: The Last Knight –The fifth movie in this franchise, and Michael Bay shows no sign of wanting to change it for the better. Audiences will show up anyway.
* The Beguiled –Sofia Coppola directs this Western, which is set during the Civil War and has Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in the cast.
* Spider-Man: Homecoming– Tom Holland introduced his Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and here comes a stand-alone movie that looks like a lot of fun.
* War of the Planet of the Apes – The third film in this series pits Caesar against an aggressive colonel played by Woody Harrelson. The trailer is no disappointment.
* Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan delivers a historic epic depicting the famed WWII evacuation of Allied soldiers. As expected, it looks amazing. One of the summer’s few major blockbusters to be grounded in real-life events.
* The Dark Tower – An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that combines Western with sci-fi. Stars Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba.
* The Hitman’s Bodyguard – Action-comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, about a bodyguard who has to deliver a client to the Hague so he can testify against a dictator.
* Villa Capri – Another action-comedy starring an unlikely duo, this time Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in a story that looks very much like Midnight Run (1988).
* It – Stephen King’s novel was turned into a miniseries in 1990, but here comes the film adaptation. Bill Skarsgård plays the terrifying clown Pennywise.
* American Made – Doug Liman joins forces with Tom Cruise for a thriller about a pilot who becomes a drug smuggler. Based on a real-life story.
* Flatliners – A remake of the 1990 movie, which starred Kiefer Sutherland. He’ll make an appearance here as well. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).
* Blade Runner 2049 – The highly anticipated sequel has Denis Villeneuve directing. Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard.
* The Snowman – Tomas Alfredson is directing this adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s bestseller, with Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson in the leads.
* The month also has fresh sequels in the Insidious, Friday the 13th and Saw franchises. If there’s anyone out there who still has confidence in them.
* Thor: Ragnarok – The third film in the series stars Thor and the Hulk, you know, the guys who were too busy to make an appearance in Captain America: Civil War… Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) will also show up.
* Justice League – The DC universe’s answer to The Avengers, uniting its big heroes. Zack Snyder has a lot to live up to.
* Murder on the Orient Express – Kenneth Branagh’s all-star remake of the 1974 classic will feature himself as Poirot.
* The Darkest Hour – The story of Winston Churchill’s early days in World War II. Gary Oldman plays the Prime Minister, Joe Wright is directing.
* Star Wars: Episode VIII – Rian Johnson is directing this film, which will likely devote some time to give Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) a dignified farewell.
* Jumanji – A remake of the 1995 movie, starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black.
* Downsizing – Alexander Payne directs this drama-comedy, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig.
When her husband (Noah Emmerich) comes home with bullet wounds, Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) teams up with a neighbor (Joel Edgerton) to fight a criminal gang. A troubled production eventually brought together director Gavin O’Connor and Edgerton (who both worked on Warrior (2011)) and they’ve staged a traditional Western where revenge must be exacted. Focus lies on Portman’s character, however, and as the story progresses we learn more about the tragic experiences that shaped her. The action is exciting, but on the whole this is conventional stuff with a happy ending that feels somewhat forced.
2016-U.S. 98 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Natalie Portman, Terry Dougas, Aleen Keshishian, Scott LaStaiti, Mary Regency Boies, Zack Schiller, Scott Steindorff. Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Screenplay: Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, Joel Edgerton. Cast: Natalie Portman (Jane Hammond), Joel Edgerton (Dan Frost), Noah Emmerich (Bill ”Ham” Hammond), Rodrigo Santoro, Boyd Holbrook, Ewan McGregor.
Trivia: Lynne Ramsay was originally hired as director, with Michael Fassbender and Jude Law in two of the leads. Bradley Cooper was allegedly considered for a role.
A while ago, I congratulated “Billy Elliott” himself, Jamie Bell on his 30th in a blog entry. Today, we’re saying happy birthday to another young Brit who’s also played Billy Elliott. Tom Holland is 20 years old today and he had a minor breakthrough as Billy on stage in 2010, after having played a friend of the character’s for two years. After that, Holland was Ewan McGregor’s son in the great tsunami drama The Impossible (2012). That was followed by a part in Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea (2015)… and then came Spider-Man.
In the clip above, Holland is a guest on the radio show “Sway in the Morning”. This is from last December, when people knew that he would be playing Spider-Man in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. He’s doing exceptionally well, very much at ease and coming up with good answers to all kinds of questions that would have left me dumbstruck. Six months later, he’s gotten a lot of praise for his performance as Spider-Man, and he has a stand-alone movie coming up, Spider-Man: Homecoming, that will likely also feature appearances by Michael Keaton as a villain, Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark and Marisa Tomei as aunt May.
As if that’s not enough, Holland will also appear in James Gray’s adventure film The Lost City of Z and the upcoming remake of Jumanji (1995). He had loads of charisma in Civil War, so count on a star in the making.
While vacationing in Morocco with his wife (Naomie Harris), a university teacher (Ewan McGregor) is befriended by a boisterous Russian (Stellan Skarsgård) who turns out to have laundered money for the Russian mob… Another John le Carré screen adaptation that entertains for the moment but fails to ignite the screen. Skarsgård and Damian Lewis are fun to watch as the larger-than-life Russian and a very le Carré-esque veteran MI6 operative, but McGregor and Harris are less interesting as a couple who’s struggling with their marriage. As a thriller, the film is uneven but does turn up the heat in the last half hour.
2016-Britain. 107 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Susannah White. Screenplay: Hossein Amini. Novel: John le Carré. Cast: Ewan McGregor (Peregrine ”Perry” Makepeace), Naomie Harris (Gail Perkins), Stellan Skarsgård (Dima), Damian Lewis, Velibor Topic, Alicia von Rittberg.
Trivia: Ralph Fiennes was allegedly first cast in Skarsgård’s part.
It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2016 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.
* 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Michael Bay leaves his robots aside for a while, taking on a politically sensitive subject. Looks far from another Zero Dark Thirty (2012) though.
* Kung Fu Panda 3 – Another entry in this popular animated franchise.
* Jane Got a Gun – Natalie Portman stars in a Western, alongside Ewan McGregor, about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband.
* Hail, Caesar!– Another star-studded comedy from the Coen brothers, where we follow the adventures of a Hollywood “fixer” (Josh Brolin). Looks like great fun.
* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – A film adaptation of the bestseller that promises blood, gore and Victorian romance. Stars Lily James.
* Zoolander 2 – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are back as the dim-witted models that we first met in 2001. The sequel is on a large scale and has many cameos, including Justin Bieber.
* Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds plays the superhero in a movie whose first trailer was wildly praised at its release during Comic-Con. The character is tied to the X-Men movies.
* The Witch – This low-budget horror movie, which follows a 17th century Puritan family as it encounters evil in the New England woods, premiered at Sundance last January and is finally bowing in theaters.
* London Has Fallen – The sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (2013) moves the action to London. Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler are back as the President and his Secret Service agent.
* Knight of Cups – Terrence Malick is back with a movie following a Hollywood screenwriter. Starring Natalie Portman and Christian Bale, the trailer looks very “malicky”.
* The Divergent Series: Allegiant – The last book in the popular series has been divided into two movies; here’s the first part.
* Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – The most talked about superhero movie of the year, a follow-up to Man of Steel (2013). Starring Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.
* The Boss – A new Melissa McCarthy comedy is usually worthy of some attention. This one has her as a ruthless former executive who’s sent to prison. Her husband Ben Falcone directs.
* The Jungle Book– Jon Favreau’s live-action take on the Disney classic was originally supposed to have premiered in 2015. Featuring the voices of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray.
* Everybody Wants Some – Richard Linklater’s new movie has been described as sort of a sequel to both Boyhood and Dazed and Confused.
* Captain America: Civil War – The third Captain America puts Cap (Chris Evans) in conflict with Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). This year’s biggest Marvel event.
* Snowden – Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the famous whistleblower in Oliver Stone’s take on how Snowden leaked classified documents to the press. Expect controversy.
* The Nice Guys – Shane Black is back with another action-comedy that looks overly familiar… but the trailer is funny, and stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling seem game.
* X-Men: Apocalypse – This one follows X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and has the younger versions of our most famed mutants battling the world’s first mutant.
* Alice Through the Looking Glass– I was no big fan of the original Alice in Wonderland(2010), but we’ll have to see what Muppets director James Bobin has up his sleeve. Several of the first film’s stars return.
* The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist – The first film was damned scary, so James Wan’s sequel had better be good. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as the ghost-hunting couple.
* Warcraft – Duncan Jones is adapting the famous game and we’re all wondering if this is the one that will change the sad reputation of movies based on video games.
* Finding Dory – The follow-up to Finding Nemo (2003) has the same challenge as The Conjuring 2 – how can you top a beloved sequel? The trailer shows that Pixar likely has found the lovely tone of the first movie.
* Independence Day: Resurgence – 20 years have passed since the first Independence Day, and this sequel brings back some of the old stars as well as new ones. And, of course, the aliens are back.
* The BFG– Steven Spielberg directs this family-friendly story about a giant. Based on a Roald Dahl story, the script was written by the late Melissa Mathison who also wrote E.T..
* The Legend of Tarzan – Alexander Skarsgård plays Tarzan in this take on the classic story, directed by David Yates. The trailer suggests a rather traditional approach.
* Ghostbusters – The remake of the 1984 comedy classic has women replacing the male ghostbusters of the original. Stars Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig; directed by their Bridesmaids helmer, Paul Feig.
* Star Trek Beyond – The third movie in this new franchise premiered a trailer a few weeks ago that sent fans into a rage. Will it honor the predecessors or turn into a new Fast and Furious?
* The Bourne sequel – It still doesn’t have a title, this fourth movie in the franchise to star Matt Damon, the first since 2007. Paul Greengrass is back as director.
* Suicide Squad – David Ayer directs this dark DC Comics adventure that unites supervillains recruited by the government. Will Smith leads the cast; Jared Leto plays the Joker.
* A Cure for Wellness – We don’t know much about this project, but it’s a supernatural horror movie directed by the very uneven Gore Verbinski. Dane DeHaan has the lead role.
* Sully – Clint Eastwood directs this film about the pilot who heroically landed a plane on the Hudson River. Tom Hanks plays “Sully”.
* Deepwater Horizon – The story of the 2010 disaster that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is directed by Peter Berg and stars Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg.
* The Accountant – Warriordirector Gavin O’Connor is back with a thriller starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons.
* Gambit – After Deadpool comes this, another spin-off set in the X-Men universe. Doug Liman is directing, with Channing Tatum in the lead.
* Inferno – Ron Howard is once again directing this third entry in the franchise that began with The Da Vinci Code(2006); Tom Hanks also returns as Robert Langdon.
* Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Tom Cruise returns as Lee Child’s antihero, now directed by Edward Zwick. This time, Reacher is accused of an old homicide.
* Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch plays a surgeon who discovers a world of magic and different dimensions. Another Marvel adventure gets its big-screen treatment.
* Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – David Yates’s second movie this year is a return to Harry Potter world for him; this is a prequel set in the 1920s, starring Eddie Redmayne.
* The Great Wall – Hollywood’s love affair with the Chinese market continues with this film about a mystery surrounding the construction of China’s Great Wall. Directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Matt Damon.
* The Founder – The story of the man who turned a small hamburger joint into McDonald’s stars Michael Keaton.
* Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A stand-alone film, a prequel to Star Wars (1977), depicting a team of rebels trying to get their hands on the plans for the Death Star. Directed by Gareth Edwards.
* Passengers – Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this space romance set in the future, directed by The Imitation Game‘sMorten Tyldum.
* Assassin’s Creed – The second adaptation this year to possibly save the reputation of movies based on video games. Stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
There are some people out there who call themselves fans of Star Wars but still prefer to pretend like the trilogy of prequels that George Lucas created in 1999-2005 never happened, even though they were as excited about them before the premiere as they are now when the saga continues with Episode VII. The good news is that The Force Awakens, the biggest cinematic “event” in years, is a little stronger than the prequels and on par with Return of the Jedi (1983). Director J.J. Abrams’s greatest achievement is making this film look like a natural continuation of an adventure that ended 32 years ago.
30 years after the fall of the Empire, everything is not hunky-dory. The remnants of the Empire have created the First Order, a new faction aiming to take control of the galaxy. They are fought by the Resistance, consisting of the old Rebel Alliance. When we first meet Finn (John Boyega), he’s a stormtrooper emotionally unable to carry on with his deadly mission. After bolting, along with a Resistance fighter pilot (Oscar Isaac), he ends up on a desert planet where he runs into a scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley), and a droid, which Finn realizes carries an all-important map showing the whereabouts of the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who disappeared mysteriously years ago. After being tracked down by the First Order, Finn, Rey and the droid escape and stumble onto a very familiar ship…
Almost erasing his personal touch
By now we’ll have to designate J.J. Abrams Hollywood’s premier franchise-saver. We all know what script doctors do, but this is a guy who mends entire franchises. Abrams made both Mission: Impossible and Star Trek look good again. We all had our qualms about the same guy also doing Star Wars, but for this film he has become so adept at imitating and recreating a style that he’s almost erased his personal touch; this movie looks like George Lucas or Steven Spielberg went back in time and found their inner twentysomethings again. The story was based on original ideas by Lucas, which were first turned into a script by Michael Arndt. The final result, after periods of rewriting, has me somewhat conflicted. What I think they could have done more work on is a number of ideas that seem a bit lazy – such as a variation on the original Death Star, as if the Empire didn’t learn the lesson the first time round. Still, the film pays homage to the original films while also building tension. Locations are very well varied, from a new desert planet to a showdown in a wintry forest with the new Darth Vader, another masked villain called Kylo Ren. The visual effects, in 3D, make the most out of the chases in space. There are no silly ingredients threatening to kill the entire movie, as in The Phantom Menace (1999). Abrams finds the right tone, combining humor and charm with darkness and surprisingly emotional moments. Watching Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Hamill again is awe-inspiring, but the new cast also deliver, especially Ridley and Driver. As for John Williams’s score, it’s so old-fashioned it’s actually a breath of fresh air.
The one overwhelming sequence of the film is perhaps the franchise’s most heartbreaking moment. The fact that we accept Abrams doing this, and are moved, is about the finest praise for his work here that we can bestow on him.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015-U.S. 135 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Kathleen Kennedy. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt. Music: John Williams. Cast: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega… Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, Simon Pegg.
Trivia: Bill Hader helped create the “voice” of the droid BB-8. Daniel Craig reportedly made a cameo appearance as a stormtrooper; Ewan McGregor and Frank Oz also contributed voices for a sequence. Michael Fassbender and Hugo Weaving were allegedly considered for roles. Followed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).
BAFTA: Best Special Visual Effects.
Last word: “We knew we weren’t just casting one movie – we were casting at least three. That, to me, was the biggest challenge. When we met Daisy Ridley, when we found John Boyega, and then Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver came aboard, we got really excited. And yes, Daisy and John could work together, but what happens when Harrison’s in the mix? What will that feel like? If it doesn’t spark, it’s a fucking disaster. Yes, BB-8 is a great character, amazingly puppeteered, but what will happen when he’s suddenly in a scene with C-3P0 or R2-D2? Will it feel bizarre? Will it feel wrong? Somehow it didn’t. When Anthony Daniels told me, ‘Oh my God, I love BB-8!’ I said, ‘We’re going to be OK.’ Because if he’s OK, it’s working.” (Abrams, Wired)
Arizona, 1882; sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) due to a lack of ambition and courage, but a newcomer (Charlize Theron) in town tries to help him win her back. MacFarlane’s second directing effort reunites the same writers who made Ted (2012) so funny, but results this time are disappointing. Scattershot laughs in efforts to poke fun at Wild West myths, marred by a lumbering final half hour and too many cheap (sheep?) jokes. Blazing Saddles it ain’t, but we do get a terrific nod to Back to the Future.
2014-U.S. 116 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Seth MacFarlane, Jason Clark, Scott Stuber. Directed by Seth MacFarlane. Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild. Cast: Seth MacFarlane (Albert Stark), Charlize Theron (Anna), Liam Neeson (Clinch Leatherwood), Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris… Sarah Silverman. Cameos: Christopher Lloyd, Ryan Reynolds, Jamie Foxx, Bill Maher, Ewan McGregor.
After a successful mission to Barcelona, covert operative Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is sent to Dublin to pose as the wife of an MI6 agent (Michael Fassbender) – but realizes that she’s been set up. 2012 was a busy year for director Steven Soderbergh, but this action flick has better thrills than his other movie that year, Magic Mike. Anchored by a compelling Carano as the tough-as-nails agent, a star-studded supporting cast (consisting mostly of adversaries) and fights, chases and shoot-outs that simply won’t let up, Soderbergh’s work moves at breakneck pace and you’re hooked right from the start. However, it’s awfully slight.
2012-U.S.-Ireland. 93 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed, photographed and edited by Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Gina Carano (Mallory Kane), Ewan McGregor (Kenneth), Michael Fassbender (Paul), Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas… Bill Paxton, Mathieu Kassovitz.
After flying to Kuwait to report on the Iraq War, journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) meets a retired Army operator (George Clooney) who’s been trained in parapsychological skills. You really want to love this film, but it squanders a good opportunity. Loosely based on an actual military initiative, the script chronicles the creation of a “New Earth Army” within the U.S. Army while also following McGregor and Clooney’s misadventures in Iraq. The latter (and Kevin Spacey) are standouts in the cast, but this is never as funny as you’d like. The last half-hour just drops the ball entirely.
2009-U.S.-Britain. 94 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Paul Lister. Directed by Grant Heslov. Book: Jon Ronson. Cast: George Clooney (Lyn Cassady), Ewan McGregor (Bob Wilton), Jeff Bridges (Bill Django), Kevin Spacey, Stephen Root, Robert Patrick.