Friday, July 27, 2012

Daring to Dream

The summer movie season, as we all know, is dominated by Blockbusters. This year that means a Spider-Man reboot, another Batman sequel, another Bourne sequel (minus Matt Damon) and a Total Recall remake with Colin Farrell replacing Arnie. This is to be expected I suppose, although, I do not always feel so sanguine about the parlous state of modern mainstream movie making. The problem with all of these films is that they do not exactly inspire anticipation or strong feelings of any kind, for that matter. Right or wrong, good or bad, most people have already made up their mind about what those films are going to be like.

But what about those entertainments that are not as easy to second guess?

The winter schedule, however, is shaping up rather differently. Typically dominated by awards worthies, this year, the Hollywood studios have backloaded many of their most colourful projects by their most visionary directors.

I don't expect all of these films to be good (in fact, I would wager that at least one of them will be an absolutely Turkey). Whenever you take a chance, you risk failure and even ridicule - ask Andrew Stanton. But risk is synonymous with creativity and it is really creative films that excite me most because, when the investment in time, money and effort pays off, the result is invaribly spectacular.

Here are 11 reasons why the Winter is better than the Summer:


The latest outing from Australian director John Hillcoat. Following hot on the heels of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and his feature film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road comes this story about criminal gangs and law enforcement officials in Prohibition era America. 


An outlandish but beguilingly simple premise - a young time travelling bounty hunter is hired to assasinate his older self. Story and characters are at the centre of every good film, regardless of genre and provided Rian Johnson gets those aspects right (as he has done in his previous two films, Brick and The Brothers Bloom) I think we can expect good things. Also, when Bruce Willis is good he is very good and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is about to become a big star. 

The Master

Do you like bleak existentialist dramas with great acting and exquisite Kubrickian direction? Well, step right up because boy do we have a show for you ladies and gentleman.

Rumoured to be P.T. Anderson's take on Scientology, Philip Seymour Hoffman is a proto L. Ron Hubbard offering pearls of wisdom to a troubled naval veteran played by Joaquin Pheonix.

Is everything what it seems? I doubt it very much.

After the towering performances and epic imagery of There Will Be Blood a few years ago, count me intrigued, even if I am more than a little apprehensive as well. The trailer is creepy as hell and I don't trust any of these people, although, I suspect that is probably the point.  

Cloud Atlas

This has unmitigated disaster written all over it. No. Wait. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It could equally be something very special indeed.

The first film since Speed Racer from the Wachowskis. And Tom Tykwer (most well known for helming Run Lola Run) to boot.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant.

The biggest budget 'independent' film of all time. Most of the estimated US$130 million production cost came from German financiers, although the film has now been picked up for domestic (that is US) cinematic distribution by Warner Brothers.

An 'unfilmable' novel set over the course of 1,000 years, with the same actors playing multiple roles across five distinct time periods, Blackadder style.

If anyone can pull this off, it is probably the trio mentioned above.

Not many people liked Speed Racer. The Matrix sequels disappointed many. Was the original Matrix movie just a fluke? We're about to find out.


I was not looking forward to this very much until I saw the trailer.

It looks a little bit serious, but the promise of Ben Whishaw as Q and the presence of a Brit director in the form of Sam Mendes gives me hope that the finished film will find sufficient fun (what Bond is really meant to be) to conterpoint the brooding menace Daniel Craig plays so well.


Daniel Day-Lewis returns to our screens this year as the non-more iconic 16th President of the United States of America Abraham Lincoln in a film directed by non-more iconic beardy filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

There has been nary a peep about what the film is actually about - what parts of the Lincoln legend will be covered and in what fashion - but with a cast list that reads like a Who's Who of great character actors from the last 20 years, I am expecting nothing less than an historical epic in the tradition of Lawrence of Arabia.

Not asking too much is it?

Life of Pi

What an intriguing challenge Ang Lee has set for himself. How do you make an exciting and engaging adventure film set almost entirely on a boat that is lost at sea and occupied exclusively by a peasant boy and a Bengal tiger. If, through some strange alchemy, Lee can convince me that the premise is anything less than ludicrous, he will be richly deserving of the Oscar is likely to receive for his efforts.

The Hobbit

Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth twice more (or, if the rumours are to be believed, thrice more), this time will Martin Freeman in tow. Will The Hobbit be hampered by its association with the The Lord of the Rings epics and the desire to 'tie-in' with the original trilogy of films, or will it be allowed to stand or fall on its own merits and remain true to the more personal and adventurous (as opposed to portentous) spirit of Tolkien's earlier, sprightlier novel.

Jack Reacher

This is the only film on this list where the primary attraction is the star, as opposed to the director or the premise. Originally named after the first novel in the Jack Reacher series, One Shot, many fans of the book already feel alientated by the casting of Cruise as their treasured 6'5'' blonde bruiser. I have not read the books myself, but can understand perfectly well how Cruise's laser-like intensity could make up for his lack of height. 

Django Unchained

Back in the early 1990s, when so-called independent films were in danger of disappearing into Sundance-inspired self-indulgence, an ex-video store clerk made a movie about a bunch of small time hoods and a bank robbery gone wrong that reminded everyone what cinematic storytelling looks like when someone with a passion for the medium and a desire to express themselves gets a fresh script to the screen. Pulp Fiction won the Oscar but Reservoir Dogs was a landmark 'declaration of principles'.

Tarantino has not always delivered on that promise. Kill Bill works well in parts but was ultimately too baggy. Likewise, Inglorious Basterds has sequences that are among the best Tarantino has ever written, whereas some others probably should have probably been cut.

In spite of that, Tarantino remains one of the most readily identifiable and important voices in modern cinematic discourse.

Django Unchained is what Tarantino has himself described as a Southern. Set in the mythical American West at the turn of the 20th century, it tells the story of a black former-slave played by Jaime Fox, who is aided in his quest for vengeance by a German bounty hunter played by Christophe Waltz. The villain of the piece is Leonardo DiCaprio (whom Tarantino originally wanted to cast as Col. Hans Lander in Inglorious Basterds - the mind boggles) as an amoral slave owner called Calvin Candie.

The one big concern I had was the casting of Jaime Fox. At one point, there was talk of Will Smith Britain's very own Idris Elba taking on the mantle of Django. In the trailer, however, Fox is as smooth and charming as one has come to expect and not nearly as out-of-period-place as one might have feared.

An intriguing plot, witty dialogue and DiCaprio playing a villain for the first time.

Count me in.

The Great Gatsby

Another visionary director is planning to make a splash in December. Adapted from One of The Best Novels Ever Written, staring Leonardo DiCaprio (again!) as Gatsby, Baz Lurhmann is one director who will not cowed by audience expectation. For good or ill, Lurhmann goes his own way, whether you like it or not, and he knows what he is doing and why.

When it works - Romeo + Juliet - it is spectacular, but even when it doesn't - Australia - it is never less than interesting.

Mr Lurhmann is not to everybody's tastes. He paints on large canvasses in unashamedly broad
brushstrokes - not to say he cannot be subtle, he is a director in complete control of his craft. The fact that small-minded people who seek to dampen and dillute his vision because it does not accord with their personnel opinion of what is in 'good taste' is a sure sign that he is doing something right. That we should have such bold and daring artists working in a mainstream medium is a wonderful thing. The last thing anyone could fault is his ambition.

Go for it Baz!


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