What goes through a movie star’s head when they’re acting in a really generic movie? Are they hoping: maybe it’s not as bad as I think? Or do they know, even as they schlep through yet another tired and derivative scene, that the scene is tired, and derivative, and that some things you just do for money… for a new boat. Deception (the new erotic thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman) is so formulaic it needn’t even have been made. The producers could have written on the poster: “just think of [blank] and save yourself some money!” and even if nothing came to mind, you would be more thrilled than if you’d sat through this machine-tooled piffle.
What did spy movies look like before James Bond? Was there actual spying going on? It’s hard to credit the idea of spy movie these days without glamorous locations, mouth-watering women and enough car chases and explosions to make espionage synonymous with a demolition derby. Before Bond, spies were all Smiley’s People. Nowadays, even comedy spy movies come with artillery. Get Smart, based on the Sixties TV show of the same name, can’t be Austin Powers again after three Austin Powers movies, so instead it opts to be True Lies with more laughs (and less racism). It’s all in the best tradition of spies who don’t spy.
Guillermo del Toro is a cinematic auteur who would be quite happy directing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. You probably couldn’t say the same of Michael Haneke or Jean Luc Goddard. Auteurs are men usually desperate to Say Something, but del Toro seems to be content to say, “I [heart] Games Workshop” (that confirmed bachelors’ emporium of miniature troll figurines and multi-sided dice). He makes movies that are, unashamedly, designed for people who grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons back in the 1980s. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a movie that seems ready made to be a board-game.
Would someone hurry up and write a Hold Steady musical? It surely couldn’t be a worse idea than Tim Burton’s decision to keep the blood in Sweeney Todd (not that that was a bad artistic decision, but commercially… not so much) The Hold Steady (for those who don’t cling desperately to popular music) is a bar-band from Brooklyn. They play the kind of music Bruce Springsteen would approve of, but the losers in Craig Finn’s lyrics seem lost by choice, not victims of circumstance. In bar-light, she looked alright/In daylight, she looked desperate… So goes one chorus. Who wouldn’t want to see a musical based around that?
If you want: Mummies! Yetis! Perambulating Skeletons! Brendan Fraser (Back from the Dead)! …this is your movie. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has a colon in the title, and that colon says “of dubious quality” as sure as if the movie carried a Made in Myanmar stamp. The movie belongs to a long line of gormless CGI twaddle that dates back far beyond the first Mummy, and either you accept its bad dialogue, ludicrous plot twists and comedy yaks or you go and watch something Michael Haneke-y and pretend comedy yaks don’t amuse you. For my part, I’m with any movie where John Hannah screams “Die you mummy bastard!” But maybe that’s just me.
T.S. Eliot once wrote that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood; whenever Bob Dylan spouts poetry in I’m Not There, it’s like the opposite (you understand he’s talking bullshit the moment you hear it). For those not there back when Dylan was Dylan, this new movie confirms your every doubt about the wheedling, wheezy 60s-era Woody Guthrie. The movie is like a badly told lie; it wants to convince you of some guys’ mystique, but all it succeeds in is sophistry. It’s like divining meaning from fashion magazine covers. Even as I try to write about it I get Dylan-y (adj. to speak in gnomic utterances; to put the sound of words before sense).
Honestly – who gives a shit? Another movie based on a TV series; a dearth of ideas buoyed by cynicism and desperation. Even David Duchovny looks detached from it… bored, listless, delivering his lines like a fax machine. Time was, The X-Files was a monster hit for Fox (the faceless multi-national corp., not Mulder). But that was the 90s. We were young. We thought shell suits were cool and that The Happy Mondays would last forever. Seeing The X-Files now – in light of Lost – it looks old. Those gormless 10.23pm West Virginia-subtitles, Duchovny’s complete and lasting inability to act his way out of a paper bag…that cheap, icy theme tune.