Author Archives: Joe Queenan

‘Contrived, vulgar and stupid’: Going in Style and the rise of the geriatric buddy movie

The OAP gangster caper is the latest example of a Hollywood staple that’s well past its sell-by date – manipulative, nauseatingly heartwarming films that invariably seem to star Michael Caine

In the predictably inert, if not explicitly vile, geriatric buddy movie Going in Style, Michael Caine plays an octogenarian prole who is about to lose his home to a heartless bank. His cashflow problems necessitate the obligatory senior tete-a-tete with the obligatory insensitive bank manager, a stock character previously seen in Saint Vincent and Drag Me to Hell. Dissatisfied with the result of their little chinwag, Caine and his fellow retirees Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin decide to rob the bank.

Going in Style was co-produced by Steven Mnuchin, a hedge-fund manager recently named secretary of the US treasury by the irrepressible Donald Trump. During the financial crisis of 2009, Mnuchin made a fortune for himself by investing in a mortgage bank that had a nasty habit of foreclosing on peoples’ homes. In fact, he invested in several of these enterprises. Anyone who thinks the Age of Irony is dead should think again.

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Lost in space – why does watching modern sci-fi hurt my head?

As films such as Life and Arrival groan under the weight of microhydraulics, astral protozoa or the space-time continuum, swaths of the audience are being left behind

SPOILER ALERT: this article contains spoilers for Life and Arrival

Last week, in an increasingly common occurrence, I went to see the same movie twice. The film was Life, which stars Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal as outer-space-based scientists who have a big problem. They are trying to prevent a malignant entity that wiped out life on Mars from entering Earth’s atmosphere, where it could really do some damage. And the malignant entity seems to have the drop on them.

Life was reasonably entertaining, but that is not the reason I went to see it twice. I saw it twice because it was yet another motion picture about science, and specifically space science, that I couldn’t follow. I saw Arrival twice and I couldn’t follow it. Ditto Interstellar, Gravity, Passengers and The Martian. And don’t get me started on films such as Inception, which lay far outside my bailiwick.

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B-movie king Roger Corman: ‘Death Race isn’t an essay on violence – it’s an action comedy’

With the release of Death Race 2050, a remake of his cult classic, the veteran director talks about the film’s political undertones – and how he became the king of trash

To be considered a genius, you need only one great idea. For Moses, it was parting the Red Sea, then closing it with Pharaoh’s army still inside. Bach had counterpoint. And Lady Godiva did that thing with the horse.

Six decades ago, Roger Corman got a really great idea. Realising that young people were being ignored by Hollywood, he began making tons of super-low-budget films about vampires, monsters, mutants, ghosts and moody bikers. The films had names such as Swamp Women, She Gods of Shark Reef, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fast and the Furious. This was preferable to films with names such as That Touch of Mink and Father Goose.

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Mel Brooks: ‘Donald Trump doesn’t scare me. He’s a song-and-dance man’

One of America’s great comics for the past 60 years, the maker of films Blazing Saddles and The Producers talks about why he can’t take the president seriously – and the White House sidekicks that are no laughing matter

Related: Mel Brooks to receive the 2017 Bafta fellowship

On Sunday night, the legendary director, producer, screenwriter, gag writer, standup comic, composer, impressionist and drummer Mel Brooks will be honoured for a lifetime of comedic excellence by Bafta. Noting that an awful lot of great British comics – Morecambe and Wise, the two Ronnies, even Rowan Atkinson – never made it big in the US, Brooks says, “I was happy that they got my work in Britain. And I was surprised.”

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Born to Be Blue: Ethan Hawke on the fast life and mysterious death of Chet Baker

He was the hypnotic trumpeter with a divine voice who lost it all to heroin. As Ethan Hawke plays Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue, he talks about perfection versus charisma – and the perils of early success

When asked how much he knew about jazz before playing the fabled trumpeter Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue, Ethan Hawke starts off by mentioning the Miles Davis LP he filched from his mother while still only a boy. She only had about 20 LPs, he reports, so the heist did not go unnoticed. He then moves on to discuss Baker’s attempts to impress the laconic, distant Davis, Charlie Parker’s influence on the music of the 1950s, and Baker’s working relationships with trombonist Gerry Mulligan, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianist Herbie Hancock. The actor also mentions a snippy remark Wynton Marsalis once made about the ageing, past-his-prime Baker. By the sound of things, Hawke already knew plenty about jazz.

In the bittersweet Born to Be Blue, Hawke gives a superb performance as the deeply troubled jazz trumpeter Baker, whose up-and-down career ran completely off the rails when he had his teeth knocked out by vexed drug dealers in 1966. Baker had achieved great success in his 20s playing with the legendary Gerry Mulligan, but drugs took over his life. Then, without his front teeth, things got really difficult.

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Why I give a hoot for competing dead jazz musician movies

Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue immortalise Miles Davis and link him to Chet Baker. I’m all for expanding the cinetrompette genre: candidates pick themselves

Related: ‘It has to be hot. It has to be creative’: Don Cheadle on his 10-year quest to play Miles Davis

Rarely in the history of motion pictures have two films featuring the same dead jazz trumpet player been released simultaneously. In fact, as far as I can determine, it has never happened. Yet today jazz aficionados find themselves blessed with two very different films featuring the legendary Miles Davis.

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From Titanic to The Revenant: why don’t movie stars learn from their characters?

Leonardo DiCaprio’s experience at the end of Titanic helped him survive The Revenant. The Martian enabled Matt Damon to do what he couldn’t in Interstellar. Look and learn, Domhnall Gleeson

In the famous farewell scene toward the end of Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio treads water while speaking to Kate Winslet, desperately trying to stave off the effects of hypothermia. He lasts about eight minutes, which is probably a record for this sort of thing, as the glacial waters of the north Atlantic in February would normally be expected to kill off even the hardiest soul within three. But eventually the gallant DiCaprio succumbs, and drifts off to his watery sepulchre.

In last year’s The Revenant, DiCaprio had a similar bone-chilling experience, when he was forced to plunge into an icy river in the middle of winter to escape from vengeful Native Americans. The water must have been positively frigid, and he would have needed to stay submerged for a reasonably long time to escape his pursuers. Given that he had recently been ripped to shreds not once, but twice, by an ill-tempered grizzly bear, you’d assume that DiCaprio would have gone down for the count pretty quickly. Yet, this time around, defying all known physiological and hibernal-aquatic rules, DiCaprio survived the gruelling ordeal. How? Why?

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Set phrases to stun: why Benedict Cumberbatch should be given every classic movie line | Joe Queenan

If you’ve got a zinger in your film, it helps to have a powerhouse speaker, like Ving Rhames, to deliver it. But failing that, there’s a breed of magnificently inappropriate actor who can inject fun into anything

In the unjustly neglected 2013 direct-to-the-abyss gangster film Force of Execution, Ving Rhames mouths these memorable words: “Look, I don’t know what the fuck happened to you. But I’m the big dog here now. And my bite is far worse than your bite would ever be. You know all that karate shit, that shit is cool, but we six-oh. We put one to the dome. You feelin’ me?”

It is quite a mouthful. Playing an ambitious crime underboss bucking for a promotion, Rhames warns a young thug who possesses impressive martial arts skills that even the most complete mastery of karate and tai chi and aikido and kung fu will be of little use against an adversary armed with a .45. Nor would jiu jitsu or taekwondo be much help in this context. In violent confrontations, firearms trump martial arts every time. For so it is written in the I Ching.

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Dan Rather on Truth, Robert Redford and taking on George Bush

He reported from firefights in Afghanistan and Vietnam. But when the face of America’s news took on George W Bush, he lost. As new film Truth tells his story, the anchor shares his regrets and settles scores

Two intriguing films about relentless American journalists have been released this year. Spotlight details how a group of Boston journalists went toe-to-toe with the powers-that-be to expose a systemic cover-up of the abuse of young boys by Catholic priests. It just won the Oscar for best picture.

Truth, a film about one of the most famous events in the history of American journalism, did not make the same impression. This is perhaps because, unlike Spotlight, Truth is a film about how the good guys lost. People don’t like that kind of movie as much. What’s more, not everyone agrees the good guys lost.

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From The Departed to Black Mass – why is Boston always so grim onscreen?

The New England city is always portrayed as chippy and tough. What is it about its unusual psychology that lends itself to such rough treatment?

In the understated but highly effective new film Spotlight, the city of Boston, Massachusetts, is depicted as a grey, inbred small town dominated by the Catholic church, one major ethnic group, a cabal of ethically malleable lawyers, and a small group of civic leaders who all seem to know each other and who join together to keep a lid on things. In new film Black Mass, the city of Boston, Massachusetts, is depicted as a grey, inbred small town dominated by the Catholic Church, one major ethnic group, a cabal of ethically malleable lawyers, and a small group of civic leaders who all seem to know each other and who join together to keep a lid on things. Not all the villains in these films are my fellow Irish Catholics. But an awful lot of them are. An awful lot.

Spotlight and Black Mass, which share a somewhat subdued emotional tone, come on the heels of such Beantown fare as The Town, Mystic River, The Boondock Saints and, most importantly, The Departed, all of which depict Boston as an inbred small town that … well, you get the general idea. The obvious question is: what did the great city of Boston ever do to end up so black and blue?

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How Paranormal Activity turned my life into a horror show

An exercise in movie flop-watching turns nasty, as cross-dimensional sneezing leads to haunting by computer download

As a general rule, I avoid horror movies because I like movies with movie stars, and horror movies tend to have actors who never became movie stars because they have faces that look like they belong in horror movies. But a couple of weeks ago, I went to see all five movies that had flopped the previous weekend to see if they had anything in common. And two of them were horror movies.

The movies included Rock the Kasbah (washed-up California-based rock manager tries to get his career back up and running by discovering a feisty young female singer), Jem and the Holograms (washed-up California-based rock manager tries to get career back up and running by discovering a feisty young female singer), Steve Jobs (washed-up California computer whiz tries to get career back up and running by introducing a feisty new computer called the iMac), and Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension (California family with feisty young kid tries to hold back the forces of Satan.) The fifth movie was Vin Diesel’s The Last Witch Hunter. I am not saying this to be mean, but asking the cataleptic Vin Diesel to share the screen with Michael Caine is like asking a lump of coal to share the screen with Daniel Day-Lewis. Diesel is not so much an inert actor as an inert gas.

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Bets, wisecracks, tics and tells: why are gambling films so hard to follow?

Mississippi Grind is just the latest casino drama to completely fail to explain the games at the centre of its story

In Mississippi Grind, Ben Mendelsohn plays an all-purpose loser seeking redemption through an all-or-nothing poker game run by a legendary gambler who once threw a (sedated) tiger into the pot when he ran low on cash. He makes his pilgrimage in the company of the bouncy, chipper Ryan Reynolds, briefly People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, still quite sexy and very much alive. A competent but by no means superlative gambler, and a man who has serious relationship issues – Sienna Miller isn’t enough to keep this guy satisfied – Reynolds has agreed to bankroll Mendelsohn. It is never entirely clear why.

Related: Ryan Reynolds: from buff buffoon to Hollywood heavyweight

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Why bad films aren’t getting the disrespect they deserve

Adam Sandler’s Pixels was a recent rare example of a truly terrible movie getting a cinema release. With studios now burying their turkeys on Netflix, we’re unlikely to enjoy the pleasure of hating another Showgirls or Gigli

Moviegoers are always talking about films or directors that do not get the respect they deserve. Brilliant films are slighted at the Oscars, while tripe and offal is honoured, they say. Audiences go wild over inane cartoons, while brilliant animated films from Japan or Iran remain little more than obscure cult favourites, known only to a select few. Everyone sees the mass-produced Hollywood trash; nobody sees the hidden, low-budget, indie, foreign gems. It’s just not fair. And it’s not fair for one simple reason: because the films did not get the respect they deserved.

There are, on the other hand, films that do get the respect they deserve. They get exactly the respect they deserve. That is: they get no respect whatsoever. When Adam Sandler’s new film Pixels opened a few weeks ago, both the critics and the public jumped all over it. It was stupid. It was trash. It was Sandler’s fourth bomb in a row. It was pathetic. “Ho-ho-ho!” said the critics. “Ho-ho-ho!” the public agreed. Perhaps, at long last, Sandler would go away and take his stupid, post-prepubescent films with him. But there is a key point to bear in mind here: Pixels may have been a flop, but it was a high-profile flop. It was not a flop that quietly came and went without anyone noticing. It got the disrespect it deserved.

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Why Terminator Genisys is a disaster that could be averted

It didn’t have to be this way. With all their apparent understanding of time travel, the makers of this absurdly convoluted turkey can still go back and abort it

Spoiler alert: this article does its best to explain the plot of Terminator Genisys.

Terminator Genisys is not doing terribly well at the box office. Some say this is because the insanely complicated plot is too hard to follow; some fault the disastrous decision to cast the bland, useless Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, the putative saviour of mankind; some fault the curious decision to cast the perky but not especially intimidating Emilia Clark in the role made famous by the fierce Linda Hamilton; and some say the series has simply run out of gas. All of these criticisms have merit – the film is just plain awful. The question is: could this catastrophe have been avoided? The answer is yes. If only the producers had used time travel for the benefit of mankind.

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From Wonder Boys to Irrational Man: why Hollywood loves a hot professor

Woody Allen’s new film is just one of a canon of flicks featuring middle-aged scholars charming winsome maidens. So what do film-makers see in dusty denizens of academia?

In Woody Allen’s new film Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix plays a morbid, cynical, dissolute, paunchy, middle-aged college professor who gets a new lease on life after he jumps into bed with a student half his age. It helps that the student is the buoyant, radiant Emma Stone; it also helps that the reliably off-kilter Parker Posey, playing a hard-drinking, unhappily married chemistry professor, is also available for emergency house calls. The moral of this story? When gazing directly into the abyss, there’s no better pick-me-up for a maudlin, middle-aged dipsomaniac than a tag-team pair of star-struck female admirers.

Related: Irrational Man review: Woody Allen’s philosophy lesson is no head trip

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I missed a crucial moment in Jurassic World. Have I misjudged every movie? | Joe Queenan

A phone call meant I wasn’t present for Jurassic World’s important foreshadowed GM-shark. So what other pivotal scenes in potential masterpieces have trips to the loo led me to overlook?

  • This article contains spoilers about Jurassic World, Ida, Spartacus, Jaws and Braveheart

Jurassic World concludes with an epic, mano-a-mano free-for-all between two genetically-modified dinosaurs that do not seem to like each other. The outcome of the tussle is still very much in doubt when something totally unexpected occurs: the proverbial deus ex machina appears out of nowhere and brings the battle royale to a surprising conclusion. And that’s that.

I found this finale so jarring and unexpected that I complained about it to my friend as we left the theatre. I felt like I’d been played.

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From Insurgent to Blade Runner: why is the future on film always so grim?

A miserable vision of tomorrow has taken hold of Hollywood: bad food, lousy transport and Alice Cooper styling. You’re better off dead

We are now living in a golden age of dystopian films; that is, incredibly depressing films set at some point in the future – often, the relatively near future – where life is a complete mess and no one is happy, not even the fascist scum who run things. In the few instances where people seem to be happy, it’s only because the fascist scum have tricked them into thinking they’re happy. Well, they won’t stay happy for long. This is not utopia. This is utopia turned on its head. This is dystopia.

Last year, there was a tsunami of dystopian films, including The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Robocop, The Purge: Anarchy, Snowpiercer, The Rover, Automata and The Giver. This record-breaking plethora of dystopian motion pictures – not all of which were of the highest artistic quality – arrived fast on the heels of Elysium, The Purge, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Oblivion, released the year before, which themselves followed Looper, Cloud Atlas, Dredd, Total Recall and the original Hunger Games, all of which lit up the screen in 2012. The message in all these films is identical: we have seen the future. And it looks bad.

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It’s a dog’s death: why are so many pups being killed in movies?

From the pooch in Kingsman: Secret Service to Keanu Reeves’ puppy in John Wick, man’s best friend has been having a tough time of it on screen recently

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The tyranny of Netflix: you must watch this movie. Now!

Thanks to video-on-demand, films never go away any more – so when I tell you to watch a weird Austrian cowboy movie, I expect you do it. This week

Netflix and video-on-demand and Hulu have created immense new pressures on hardcore movie lovers. In the olden days you could tell a friend, “You just have to see House of Games; it’s the best scam movie of the year!” or “I will not stop badgering you until you see Nine Queens! It’s the best South American scam movie of the year!”

And back in the olden days people would reply: “Yeah, sure, I’ll get to it when I get to it.” But then the film would end its theatrical run, so your friends had a legitimate excuse to ignore you. They would assure you that they would get around to seeing that Argentine movie about the bank robber with epilepsy or the French movie about the woman who mistakes a tax attorney for a shrink as soon as it came out on DVD. Or VHS. And that would be the end of it.

Related: Joe Carnahan’s Stretch review: limo drivers are as miserable as the rest of us

Related: The Interview review – Rogen and Franco soon run out of laughs

Related: Only God Forgives – review

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Even Batman must play by the rules

The Dark Knight Rises does what any good action film does and teases its audience. So why must it ruin it all with a puzzling and unsatisfactory ending?People who have not seen The Dark Knight Rises should read no further, for this column concerns the … Continue reading

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