The All-New 2006

Wednesday, 11 January 2006 — 7:45pm | Film

In my article in Tuesday’s Gateway, “A poor 2005 hopefully means roadkill for contrived animation”, you’ll notice the glaring omission of any mention of Cars. This was, to the extent that I was trying to make an argument in a limited amount of space, intentional. To be honest, in spite of my pessimism about animation in 2006, I can think of maybe four feature films between now and December that I’m dying to see, and two of them are fully CG. In case you are curious, they are Cars, V For Vendetta, The Fountain and Flushed Away. On the first and the last: it’s clear to me that Pixar and Aardman are playing in a whole other league than virtually everybody else in the movie business, never mind the animated one. I don’t do their films the indignity of lumping them in categorical industry trends.

The Fountain is a sci-fi written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. He ditched the now-cancelled Watchmen to do it, and I mean, he’s Darren Aronofsky. Don’t argue with this one. As for V For Vendetta, the word from early screenings in December is that it’s everything a fan of the Alan Moore graphic novel hoped it would be, unless his name was Alan Moore. Beyond wanting to see a good movie based on a majestic fugue on fascism and anarchic terrorism, I want to see it succeed if only to get Watchmen back on the drawing board.

Only four? This would make 2006 one of the least exciting years in film I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing emerge from the horizon, but it is in large part due to lack of information. Movie seasons are so end-loaded now that August would be a much better time to roll out lists of the most anticipated films in the twelve months to come, since the December deluge has something to show for itself and next summer’s schedules are usually set by then.

There are a number of movies about which I am very curious, and in the absence of heartfelt anticipation I think I’ll list a few.

There’s Che, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Benicio Del Toro as everybody’s favourite guerrilla T-shirt icon. I’ve always thought of Soderbergh as hit-and-miss, and to this day I maintain that Erin Brockovich is a piece of crap, but this feels like the perfect subject matter for a reunion between him and the star of Traffic. The way things are looking, though, this won’t make it to the screen until 2007.

Then there’s The Departed, the remake of the Hong Kong modern classic Infernal Affairs with Leonardo DiCaprio sitting in for Tony Leung and Matt Damon replacing Andy Lau (or maybe the other way around), and Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen as their bosses. I’d normally pay this no mind – Infernal Affairs is probably the best cop drama I’ve ever seen, and I’d much rather see it get an untampered distribution deal over on these shores – but on the strength of the cast, and with Martin Scorsese in the director’s chair, I couldn’t possibly neglect it.

Here’s another Watchmen connection: Paul Greengrass, who was slated to direct it before the project was canned, went to work on Flight 93. This is a dramatization of Flight 93 – which, if you don’t recall, was the one that hit neither the Pentagon nor the World Trade Center thanks to passengers armed with cellular phones and a hell of a lot of initiative. It comes out in April. No doubt comparisons will be made to Oliver Stone’s WTC fireman picture, September or something of the like, once it comes out in August. Apparently some folks object to the idea of 9/11 dramatizations out of taste, but it was going to happen eventually, and I’m grateful that it’s these two accomplished gentlemen in the vanguard.

None of the above are big franchise pictures, unless you count V For Vendetta as an adaptation of a twenty-year-old cult hit only comic book fans know about. Maybe this is why the feverish-anticipation roll call is so short this year: these lists usually consist of sequels, remakes and depictions of existing texts. So what of the big names?

Personally, the only ones that spark any interest at all are Casino Royale and Superman Returns. In Bond’s case, I think Daniel Craig fits the role in an appropriately old-fashioned way and I liked director Martin Campbell’s work in GoldenEye and The Mask of Zorro enough that I’m elated to see him back (with fingers crossed that the stinker that was Vertical Limit was a fluke). However, I’m disappointed they’re not doing it as a period film. If I had control over the Bond franchise, I’d take it right back into the Cold War era. Maybe this is one of the reasons I don’t have control over the Bond franchise. But half a kick in the ass is still a good kick in the ass, and it’s about time James Bond got back to doing some debonair espionage in the key of Fleming. Brosnan was probably the best Bond actor of them all – yes, better than Connery – but after GoldenEye, he was wasted on scripts that were consistently heavy on action and light on class.

As for Superman, again, I like the cast and director. The Man of Steel has always bored me – Clark Kent is the interesting one – but if he’s only ever as good as his adversary, then a Lex Luthor played by Kevin Spacey gives me hope. After Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins, superhero adaptations have a whole new standard to live up to, and I think Bryan Singer knows it – just look at his exponential improvement between the horrid X-Men and its redeeming sequel. This one’s a gamble, and it’s all in the writing.

The last film I want to talk about, which necessitated the creation of a list I marked as curious, is The Da Vinci Code. I’m no fan of the book. Never mind that it’s a walking, perhaps even waddling cliché – it’s the writing that really stinks. Hereusement, ici c’est Ron Howard. The Howard/Grazer/Goldsman team knows how to make an exceedingly conventional film look good, and coupled with the exceedingly conventional all-star cast (Tom Hanks as a boring everyman professor! Audrey Tautou as a French girl! Jean Reno as an angry French guy named Fache! Ian McKellen as an old wise guy with a British accent and a walking stick! Paul Bettany as an evil albino assassin!) the film should actually be interesting. Or as I’d like to put it, curious. The story is thinner than a thread of yarn, but at least nobody will be able to claim the book is better than the movie… I hope.

I’m probably missing some. But I’ll talk about them in August.

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