Thursday 8 December 2016

Sun screen: films to watch this summer

Paul Whitington

Published 03/07/2016 | 02:30

Big-budget fantasy: Steven Spielberg is the director behind the summer's adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, The BFG.
Big-budget fantasy: Steven Spielberg is the director behind the summer's adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, The BFG.
Ricky Gervais in David Brent: Life on the Road.
Swallows and Amazons.
Left to right: Zachary Quinto plays Spock, Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah and Karl Urban plays Bones in Star Trek Beyond.
Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln.

I blame Steven Spielberg myself. It was he and his friend George Lucas who inadvertently established the template for the summer blockbuster — fast-paced, big-budget adventures with simple, merchandise-friendly storylines that got mass released accompanied by a promotional blizzard. And while Jaws and Star Wars were fantastic films in their way, their success paved the way for some real dross.

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As the new genre established itself through the 1980s, we got more gems from Spielberg and Lucas like Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET, as well as action classics like Die Hard and Back to the Future. But in the 1990s, the blockbusters got bigger and brasher thanks to directors like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay, who made loud noises and garish special effects essential components of the summer hit, and began a race towards the bottom.

Nowadays, an intelligent release from a big studio at this time of the year is a rare and precious event, and stupidity is a given in most summer blockbusters. This year’s no different, though, as usual, Pixar defy the prevailing trend towards dimness, and there are one or two other summer films to look forward to, including the return of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Here’s my guide to the big releases.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Released yesterday but some years in the making, Jennifer Saunders’ film based on her hugely successful 1990s sitcom reunites all the old regulars from the TV show with an impressive list of celebrity cameos. Edina and Patsy wake up after a wild night on an oligarch’s yacht to find that they’ve accidentally killed Kate Moss. Forced to go on the run, they become more and more paranoid about who’s after them. John Hamm, Harry Styles, Rebel Wilson and Graham Norton are among the guest stars, but maintaining the  sitcom’s messy charm through an entire feature film isn’t easy.

Out yesterday.

The Legend of Tarzan

It’s been almost 20 years since the last Hollywood Tarzan film, and Warner Brothers will be hoping this latest reboot is the beginning of a profitable new franchise. Alexander Skarsgard plays an older and wiser Tarzan who has been living an aristocratic life in England for decades. He returns to central Africa as a government trade emissary and gets mixed up in an international plot. Margot Robbie plays his wife, and Samuel L Jackson and Christoph Waltz co-star, but whether or not Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Edwardian hero will appeal at all to a digital age audience remains to be seen.

Out on July 8.

Ghostbusters

Hysterical internet invective greeted the news that Paul Feig and Ivan Reitman were making an all-female version of Reitman’s 1984 summer classic. Why? Because internet trolls are knuckle-dragging idiots, perhaps, since only the most addled misogynist could find anything offensive about this harmless comic remake. But whether it all works or not is another matter. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones play a team of scientists who set out to save Manhattan from a plague of spooks, and Chris Hemsworth co-stars as their lovely secretary. With all that talent involved, it’s unlikely to be awful. Out on July 15.

Star Trek Beyond

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Few franchise reboots manage to improve on the original product, but JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies have done just that. Chris Pine is perfectly cast as the cocky and swaggering young Kirk, who in this latest adventure must rally his crew after they’re attacked by aliens and forced to abandon the Enterprise for a deserted and dangerous planet. A British villain is almost inevitable in these kind of films, and Idris Elba plays the dastardly Krall. This latest run of Star Trek films mix humour and action with great skill, and I’ll be very surprised if this one isn’t another big hit. Out on July 22.

The BFG

Steven Spielberg returns to the summer blockbuster race with this big-budget fantasy inspired by the stories of Roald Dahl. Adapted by the late Melissa Mathison, who also collaborated with Spielberg on ET, The BFG stars Mark Rylance as a kindly giant who befriends a young girl called Sophie and helps her track down the evil and carnivorous gang of giants who’ve been invading the human world. Looks interesting. Out on July 22.

Finding Dory

Pixar have taken the risk before of making sequels to much-loved films, but this must be seen as their biggest gamble yet. Finding Nemo is one of the best-loved children’s film ever made, so an inferior sequel would not be well received, but reviews of Finding Dory in the US have been glowing, and it’s been described as “funny, poignant and thought-provoking”. Let’s hope so. This time the forgetful blue tang, Dory takes centre stage, and ends up in a Californian aquarium after embarking on a quest to find her parents. Ellen DeGeneres voices her brilliantly, and Albert Brooks returns as her fretful companion, Marlin. Sure to be one of the biggest hits of the summer.

Out on July 29.

Jason Bourne

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He went away, and now he’s back. Matt Damon quit the Bourne franchise half a decade ago, and was replaced by Jeremy Renner in The Bourne Legacy. It didn’t really work and now Damon is back, and the even better news is that he’s joined by director Paul Greengrass, who did such a brilliant job of directing the earlier Bourne films. Several years after he disappeared into New York’s East River, Bourne resurfaces to find he’s still being hunted by his former employers. Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones and Vincent Cassel co-star, and I’ll be surprised if this one’s not a cracker. Out on July 29.

Pete’s Dragon

Noticing a pattern with all these  summer films? They’re all either remakes, reboots or sequels, and even though it sounds original, this Disney fantasy is no exception. A live-action remake of a 1977 Disney animation, Pete’s Dragon sounds like one of those innocuous and warm-hearted kids’ films that should do respectable business. Robert Redford plays an old woodsman whose tales of a local dragon have always infuriated his grown-up daughter (Bryce Dallas Howard), until she finds out that they’re real. Out on August 12.

Suicide Squad

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a superhero film, more’s the pity, but this one will claim that it’s something original. Expect something of the sarcastic swagger of the recent Marvel hit Deadpool in this DC Comics tale of imprisoned super-villains who are given their freedom if they agree to carry out a series of dangerous black ops missions. Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Joel Kinnaman are among the all-star cast of a film that will need to do well to recoup its very large budget. Sounds great — only trouble is, I hated Deadpool. Out August on 19.

David Brent: Life on the Road

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Fans of The Office will fear the worst in advance of the release of this David Brent resurrection. Written, produced and directed by Ricky Gervais, Life on the Road is set 15 years after the end of the TV show, when Brent has left Wernham Hogg and is touring with his rock band, Foregone Conclusion. He allows a film-maker to follow him on his travels, but will soon have cause to regret it. A revival too far? We shall see. Out on August 19.

Swallows and Amazons

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Not the first film to be made of Arthur Ransome’s classic 1930s children’s tale, this modern version was filmed in the beautiful Lake District and follows the fortunes of a group of children who take to the waters in sailing dinghies to find more adventure than they bargained for. Rafe Spall, Kelly Macdonald, Harry Enfield and Andrew Scott play the hammy adults in a film that may be a little too old-fashioned for today’s tough and media savvy nippers. Out on August 19.

Ben-Hur

Who in the name of God thought this was a good idea? By my count the fourth film to have been inspired by Lew Wallace’s hack novel, this latest version will, I predict, fail to emerge from the giant shadow cast by William Wyler’s 1959 classic. Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur, the Jewish prince who’s sold into slavery  before resurrecting his fortunes as a  champion chariot-racer, and we can expect Russian director Timur Bekmanbetov’s special effects to be intrusive, and heavy-handed.

Out on August 26.

If you watch one film…

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The film is partly based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's historical biopic, Team of Rivals, and follows Abraham Lincoln's wily campaign to push an amendment banning slavery through Congress while managing the endgame of the Civil War. Lincoln might make demands on your intelligence but is anything but dry, and Day-Lewis is nothing short of astonishing as the greatest American president of them all. Sally Field is excellent as Lincoln's histrionic wife, and Tommy Lee Jones oozes quiet authority as the veteran anti-slavery agitator Thaddeus Stevens.

In spite of its Oscar nominations and that Best Actor win for Daniel Day-Lewis, I'm not entirely sure that Lincoln got all the attention it deserved. It's on this Monday on Film Four (9pm), and if you haven't seen it, you're in for a real treat. Because I think it's one of the best ever historical dramas, and surely no one else but Steven Spielberg would have gotten Lincoln made. A $65m dollar political drama that lasts the guts of three hours and makes absolutely no concessions to the cheap seats must have been a pretty hard-sell, but Spielberg brought his usual quiet determination to bear on a project that he'd been quietly planning for more than a decade.

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