Disliking director Steven Spielberg, who has two films coming out over the next month, is a form of masochism in which the sick bucket’s always within range when we get to the last 10 minutes of his films.
They’re either unrealistic like Schindler’s List, when World War II oh so conveniently ends just when it’s looking bleak. As if Hitler would have ever invaded Russia like that. Or downright cruel like Hook, the tale of an honest working man given a second chance at parenthood, whose dreams are cruelly snatched away by the epitome of Wall Street greed.
But if that fails, then Spielberg does his best to drown the ending in sentimentality. Minority Report, Munich and War of the Worlds would have all benefited from downbeat endings, and it’s interesting to note that the ‘director who wouldn’t grow up’ didn’t write the screenplays for any of them.
With the exception of AI, the continuation of a Stanley Kubrick project, Spielberg stopped scribbling scripts early in his career with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist and The Goonies – and none of them have bad endings. So, it would appear that Spielberg doesn’t ruin his own scripts, only other writers’.
Six stars from The Post
The feel-good ending of Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated The Post (83 on Metacritic; released on April 5) has also come under fire. Set in the early 1970s, it recounts the battle the Washington Post (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and half the cast of Breaking Bad) had with the US government over its plans to publish damning information about the Vietnam War.
Despite a good score on Metacritic, some reviewers contend that the film is too calculated in its bid to reflect today’s sociopolitical climate. Out of interest, the Washington Post gave it the highest possible rating, matching the Boston Globe’s assessment of Spotlight.
Player Number One (Not Released Worldwide; March 29) sees Spielberg return to his favourite genre: nerdboy fantasy. In a dystopian future, most citizens prefer to spend their time in the OASIS, a virtual space where anything is possible. When its creator dies, he sets a challenge that will reward the winner with ownership, and an evil corporation wants to win at all cost.
The potential is huge: it could end up being as big as The Matrix … as long as it doesn’t try to play all its cards at once. The Matrix succeeded because it drip-fed the premise slowly; subsequent sequels failed because they overloaded the viewer.
Even if the pedigree of creator Ernest Cline doesn’t fill us with optimism, the producers have done a sterling job at acquiring the rights to use a whole host of licensed film icons, from DC Comics and Lords of the Rings characters, to Freddy Krueger and Chucky from Child’s Play, to the DeLorean from Back to the Future.
Four to feast on
The makers of You were never really here (87; March 22) managed to acquire the rights to Joaquim Phoenix – an actor who has firmly joined the likes of Daniel Day Lewis and Joe Pesci in the almost impossible to hire club – for this dark tale of child prostitution for which a strictly adult constitution is obligatory.
The same is true of A Quiet Place (77; April 5) in which a family live in absolute silence to avoid ghoulies that go bump in the night every time you accidentally bump into something. Real-life wife and husband Emily Blunt and John Krasinski co-star.
The constitution of Harry Dean Stanton held out long enough for him to complete his final film, Lucky (79; April 5), a fitting finale that includes a cameo from regular collaborator David Lynch.
And the constitution of the United States is at stake in Battle of the Sexes (73; April 12), a recreation of the famous tennis game between Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) by the same directorial team that brought us Little Miss Sunshine.
Wide berth busters
Pacific Rim 2: Uprising (NRW; March 22) isn’t from the same director as the original (recent Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro). And hardly any of the cast have been retained either.
The same is true of this Tomb Raider (46; March 15) reboot – its second as a 2007 origins story spectacularly bombed, although it didn’t have a great height to fall from. At least Angelina Jolie’s replacement Alicia Vikander doesn’t have loads of annoying tattoos to airbrush.
Rampage (NRY; April 12) would kill for that kind of CGI quibble. We’re talking big apes, wolves and crocs – and the only man who can save New York is the Rock. King Kong has a new rival.
A Wrinkle in Time (52; April 5) is as thick with CGI as its leads Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon are with make-up. This tale of female empowerment would have had a shout at the Oscars given the current climate – if it had only been half-decent.
If only heist thriller Den of Thieves (49; April 5) starring the rarely likeable Gerard Butler and horror The Strangers: Prey at Night (50; March 22) were half-decent. They’re not.
Animation and amour
Elsewhere, we have a trio of cartoons, although it’s doubtful Peter Rabbit (52; March 22) will be screened with English subtitles. The general rule is that the more adult ones are, such as Nick Park’s promising prehistoric romp Early Man (68, March 22) and the Oscar-nominated Loving Vincent (62; March 15), a treat for fans of van Gogh as the whole film has been animated to look like his paintings.
Finishing with three romances, Every Day (53; March 22) is another risible take on Groundhog Day in which the object of a girl’s affection changes bodies every day. In Midnight Sun (NRY; April 12), a girl who is allergic to daylight finds love (with Big Arnie’s son, Patrick Schwarzenegger) – so not that far off the plot of Twilight. And The Leisure Seeker (46; March 15) teams up Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren in this year’s most pointless film.
Trust in television
Sutherland is also the star of new TV series Trust (HBO Nordic; March 26), which retreads the kidnapping of John Paul Getty’s grandson, as told in For all the Money in the World.
Also on HBO Nordic, Billions returns for a third season and Barry, a drama about a hitman who takes up acting (a little like Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos), makes its bow (both on March 26). Krypton, an embryonic Superman origins series, made its debut on March 22.
Not to be outdone, Netflix is offering British supernatural thriller Requiem (March 23), which screened in the UK to mixed reviews in February, and The Defiant Ones (76; March 23), a highly recommended miniseries that centres on Dr Dre’s relationship with his producer.
Following in April are Paterno (HBO Nordic; April 7) in which a college football coach (Al Pacino) deals with the revelation that an associate sexually abused kids; Killing Eve (April 8), a hitwoman drama starring Sandra Oh (Sideways, Grey’s Anatomy) that promises a little more than the usual teenage fantasy kicks; and Kiri (April 4) in which a child is abducted by her biological family.
Annihilates the opposition
Last but not least we have this issue’s best straight to small screen film, the hauntingly good Annihilation (79; Netflix, March 12), Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina, which you will have probably already seen by the time you read this.
Its absence from the cinemas is great news for residents of The Beach and anyone who likes to keep a sick bucket in easy range. But with a name like ‘Annihilation’, Spielberg spewage is unlikely.