Cast: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassandra Scerbo, Billy Barratt, Yanet Garcia, Porsha Williams, too many minor celebrities to mention…
The Sharknado series has long been a bastion of awfulness, a treasury of trash, and a castle keep of constant calamity. It’s fast becoming the movie franchise that cannot, will not, die, with a new instalment being released each year with alarming regularity of purpose and design. And so we have the latest farrago in a series of movies that just keeps on coming and coming and coming. Rest assured (if that’s the right word), Sharknado 5: Global Warming won’t be the last in the series (and you’ll know why if you manage to make it to the end), and though Jaws 19 directed by Max Spielberg won’t ever happen, it’s more than likely now that in 2032 we’ll be having Sharknado 19: The NeverEnding Story streamed directly onto the back of our eyeballs.
This far in there’s very little point in offering up a proper review, or trying to differentiate between this instalment and any of the others. They’re all genuinely bad movies, and the producers seem to have decided that they need to be made that way deliberately. Fans of the series will get as much or as little out of Sharknado 5 as they have all the rest, detractors will have their views confirmed yet again, and the casual viewer will probably wonder how on earth a movie this bad has managed to get made in the first place. In the beginning, it could have been argued that the first Sharknado was a modern-day variation/update on the kind of monster horrors from the Fifties and Sixties, but without the radiation fallout to start things off. Now though, it’s a cultural anomaly that just keeps on giving and giving, even though the majority of us don’t want it to.
Rating: 3/10 – with only its celebrity cameos giving it a lift, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming is the franchise’s nadir, an appalling waste of everyone’s time and money; with the producers seeming to think that the series needs to get sillier and more deliberately stupid with each entry, it’s a poor reflection on their latest instalment when the cleverest thing about it is its tagline: Make America Bait Again.
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Patrick Wilson, Kate Kneeland, Justin Randell Brooke, Griff Furst
For those of us who live outside the good ole US of A, the idea of the American Dream seems like a typically grandiose American proposition, as if the US is the only place where dreams can come true, where people can become anyone they want to be, or where success can be won if you work really hard to achieve it. At the risk of upsetting any American readers of thedullwoodexperiment, it’s a strange kind of conceit; in reality, what makes the States any different from anywhere else in the world when it comes to people achieving their dreams? The obvious answer is: nothing. But it’s an idea that many Americans believe wholeheartedly, and one that fuels the story of Ray Kroc (Keaton), the man who gave us McDonald’s, the corporate behemoth that grew out of one independent restaurant in San Bernardino, California, and now spans the globe.
When we first meet Kroc it’s 1954. He’s a milkshake mixer salesman who’s about as successful as a butcher at a vegan commune. But he’s his own boss so he keeps plugging away at it, facing rejection at every turn, when one day his secretary, June (Kneeland), tells him they’ve received an order for six mixers from a restaurant in San Bernardino, a place called McDonald’s. Surprised, he decides to visit the owners, Mac and Dick McDonald (Lynch, Offerman), and they elect to tell him their story, one that involves many false starts and setbacks in setting up a burger restaurant, until they realised that by stripping down the menu and speeding up the delivery time, they could maximise their sales. Kroc is astonished by how effective their business is, and finds he can’t stop thinking about it.
The next day he proposes the brothers expand their business into a franchise. But they’ve tried this also, and it hasn’t worked, mostly because they were unable to guarantee the same quality of operation as at their own site. Kroc persuades them to let him take on the challenge, but fearful of what he might do in the process, they get him to sign a contract that states all changes must be agreed by them first. Kroc sets about building the McDonald’s brand but encounters problems when wealthy investors are involved. Instead he tries to attract middle-class couples who will work hard to make their franchise a success. Soon there are franchises opening all across the Midwest, but Kroc is getting little financial reward from it all. His contract gives him a very small percentage of any profits, despite the amount of effort he’s putting in, and the McDonald brothers won’t change the terms.
A chance encounter with a financial consultant, Harry Sonneborn (Novak), sees Kroc changing his approach to both his finances and his relationship with Mac and Dick. By focusing on the real estate needed by the franchisees, Kroc not only increases his own revenue, but is able to leverage his deal with the brothers to make changes to the overall operation, including replacing the ice cream in the milkshakes with powdered milk. The brothers resist, but by this stage, Kroc is effectively the face of McDonald’s to anyone who’s interested. And soon, he’s in a position to force out the brothers from their own business, and continue his expansion of the McDonald’s brand…
Your reaction to The Founder is going to be based on one of two things: whether you feel Ray Kroc was right in the way that he treated the McDonald brothers, or whether you feel that he mistreated them. But Robert D. Siegel’s engaging script isn’t solely about fair or foul play, or whether Kroc is a hero or a villain (like a lot of people he’s both, depending on the circumstances). Rather, it’s also about the very thing Kroc mentions in his opening sales pitch to an off-screen customer, and later to various groups of potential franchisees: opportunity. Ray Kroc was in the right place at the right time, and he instinctively knew that creating a franchise was the way to go. He was blinkered in his attitude, dismissive of his critics, and willing to roll over anyone and anything to make the McDonald’s brand a nationwide success. As he tells the unfortunate Mac and Dick: “If I saw a competitor drowning, I’d shove a hose down his throat.”
Throughout the movie Kroc seizes on opportunity after opportunity, triumphing over every setback and potential obstacle until he gets what he wants. And although you may indeed feel that his treatment of the McDonald brothers was akin to bullying, there’s a kind of grim inevitability to the story that makes Kroc seem like an instrument of Fate. The question then becomes, if Ray Kroc hadn’t met the McDonald brothers, would their one restaurant have grown into a franchise operation with approximately thirty-six and a half thousand outlets worldwide? The movie makes it clear: no. And so the movie becomes about the how (the why is obvious). And if sharp practice is the order of the day, then that’s going to come with a side order of fries and a drink (preferably Coca-Cola).
Inevitably, audiences will decide that Ray Kroc treated the McDonald brothers abominably, because that’s exactly how he treated them. The movie doesn’t shy away from this, or from his shoddy treatment of pretty much everyone around him, and particularly his long-suffering wife Ethel (Dern). As Kroc, Keaton is a mesmerising presence, tightly-wound, arrogant and determined. Even when he’s still, he looks as if fires are raging beneath his skin. In 1954, Kroc was fifty-two and suddenly possessed by an idea that would consume him until his death in 1984, and Keaton displays this “possession” as if it was a calling. But Keaton also shows the venal side of Kroc’s nature, the need to be seen to succeed after so many years toiling in fields of failure, and so the movie also becomes, however uncomfortably, about one man’s redemption through the mistreatment of others.
As the McDonald brothers, both Offerman (in a rare serious role) and Lynch provide equally good performances, showcasing the naïvete and increasing stubbornness that would prove their undoing, and see them forced – eventually – out of the restaurant business. Dern gives a quiet, controlled portrayal as Kroc’s wife, while there’s a cameo role for Wilson as an interested franchisee whose wife (Cardellini) attracts Kroc’s attention. It’s all set against a vibrant period backdrop that highlights the sense of immeasurable promise that the US held for itself in the Fifties, and Hancock marshals the various plot strands and storylines with skill, maintaining the movie’s forward momentum despite several occasions when exposition threatens to overwhelm everything. As a cautionary tale – be careful who you do business with – The Founder is a good example of inexperience (and some degree of pride) going before a fall. It may not be the most positive of messages, but then, not everyone or everything in this world is going to treat you as you yourself would like to be treated, something Ray Kroc, despite his faults, knew all along.
Rating: 8/10 – anchored by a strong, forceful performance by Keaton, The Founder is a judicious mix of history and biography that looks behind the scenes at the beginnings of a global corporation with insight and sincerity; whatever your feelings about the fast-food industry, or McDonald’s specifically, this won’t necessarily change your mind, but as an object lesson in getting what you want – at all costs – then this should be required viewing.
There’s been an awful (awful) lot of speculation recently about whether or not the next James Bond movie will see a different actor in the role, or if Daniel Craig will relent on his apparent assertion that he’s done with the part. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that the role has changed hands, but in amongst all the talk of Tom Hiddleston or Idris Elba or Jamie Bell stepping into Bond’s shoes, one thing seems to have been overlooked. It’s not about the role per se, more about the nature of the Bond movies and their need for reinvention. Putting aside the involvement of George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, this week’s question is:
With the franchise showing continual signs of decreasing returns in terms of quality once an actor has reached his fourth outing, should the producers now look to limit an actor’s involvement to only three movies before rebooting the whole set up again and again?
With X-Men: Apocalypse receiving a very mixed reaction from critics and audiences alike – it’s either a terrific adaptation that feels like a filmed comic book, or it’s turgid nonsense that lacks structure and has too many characters – the recent announcement by Bryan Singer that he won’t be around for the next X-Men movie may not have come as much of a surprise. Having returned to the franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), and steered it to nearly three quarters of a billion dollars at the international box office, it seemed certain that Singer – along with writer/producer Simon Kinberg – would be able to repeat that instalment’s success with X-Men: Apocalypse. But it’s a funny thing: maybe Singer isn’t to blame, and maybe it’s not Singer who should step away from the franchise (though he probably does want to make other non-mutant filled movies). No, perhaps it should be Simon Kinberg, the writer of X-Men: Apocalypse, and wait – hang on, the writer of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) (that quote of Jean Grey’s – “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst” – begins to make sense now). And wait just one second – he wrote Fantastic Four (2015) as well! (WtF?) With this in mind, this week’s question is an easy one:
With the latest X-Men trilogy now completed, is it time for a fresh pair of hands to take control of any further X-Men movies and bring a new perspective on it all, or should we let the same people carry on and potentially devalue the franchise even further?
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Alessandro Cremona
And so, here we are again, back in familiar territory: after a run of three movies with a new actor playing James Bond, and with the material getting worse and worse, we arrive at a fourth movie that neither grips or excites, boasts a decent script or direction, and which labours through its extended running time like an asthmatic running a half-marathon. We could be talking about Die Another Day (2002), but instead we’re talking about Spectre, the latest in the oft-rebooted franchise, and possibly Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond (he may do one more but nothing’s definite yet).
It’s been a relatively short nine years since Casino Royale exploded onto our screens in a welter of frenzied, punishing action sequences, and one of the best Bond scripts ever. It was everything you could ever hope for from a Bond movie, and then some, and for many fans it went straight to the top of their favourite Bond movie list. There were some psychological aspects to it in terms of Bond’s behaviour, the best Bond villain for an age, and as an “origin story” it worked much better than most. But most of all it was fun with a capital F.
And then there came the inevitable stumble with Quantum of Solace (2008). A straight-out revenge flick but with James Bond as the central character, it was basically a direct follow-up to Casino Royale that suffered from a weak villain and a mid-section that dragged as if the writers had lost focus on the story they were telling. But it did have some great action sequences, just as tough and brutal as before, and a great performance from Craig. (If you watch it back to back with Casino Royale as a four hour movie it plays a lot better than on its own.)
Now at this stage, the producers brought on board Sam Mendes to helm the third outing for Craig, and he delivered the most successful Bond movie to date: Skyfall (2012). But while critics and fans heaped praise on the first Bond movie to make over a billion dollars at the box office, less easily swayed viewers could see the cracks starting to show as the writers tried to include a mystery relating to Bond’s past. And there were problems elsewhere, where the script showed signs of laziness (the train crash – how could Silva have “known” that he and Bond would meet at that particular place and time for the train to come crashing through the ceiling?).
That laziness has been extended to Spectre, with its tired action sequences (only the fight on the train between Bond and Mr Hinx has any energy or verve about it), eggshell thin characterisations (why does it seem as if Vesper Lynd is the only female character in the Bond franchise with any depth?), nonsensical reason for the villain’s actions (whatever happened to blackmailing the world’s leaders into not killing them with hijacked nukes?), and nods to previous entries in the franchise that only serve to remind audiences of the good old days when Bond just got on with the job and didn’t have to deal with questions about his lifestyle or any emotional scarring arising out of his childhood.
There’s also the absurd plot about linking all the world’s security systems under one (though it looks as if Waltz’s character is already doing that anyway), and then there’s Christoph Waltz’s ersatz-Blofeld scampering around like an escaped inmate from Bellevue, and providing none of the menace required to make his character a match for Bond’s determination and drive; in fact, he has more in common with Elliot Carver, Jonathan Pryce’s crazed media tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) (but that’s still not a recommendation). Waltz is a good actor, but he’s all too often an actor making his own decisions about playing a role, and without, it seems, much instruction from the director. Here he tries the playful über-villain too often for comfort, and for the head of an organisation that included Le Chiffre and Raoul Silva as mere agents, looks entirely like someone’s younger brother who finally gets to play with his bigger brother’s toys.
Once again, the female characters are there for decoration, with Seydoux going to sleep in a hotel room fully clothed and then waking up some time later in her slip, and Bellucci wasted as the wife of a man Bond kills in the opening sequence. Harris though, does get more to do as Miss Moneypenny (we even get a glimpse of her home life), but beyond that it’s business as usual, with no other female roles of note, and the focus firmly on the macho posturing that occurs elsewhere throughout (even Whishaw gets a moment out in the field where he encounters some danger). Fiennes is a grumpy-looking M (though he does get the movie’s best line), Scott is a slimy-looking C, and Bautista is all the more imposing for being dressed in bespoke tailoring throughout. The returning Christensen is a welcome sight but he’s only there to reiterate what he said in Quantum of Solace (though “we have people everywhere” now becomes “he’s everywhere”), and his one scene is over far too quickly.
Returning as well, of course, is Mendes, whose handling of Skyfall meant he was always going to be asked to return, but perhaps it would have been better to go with someone who could inject some much needed energy into proceedings. Mendes is good at the MI6 stuff, prowling the corridors of power and highlighting the power games surrounding the shake up of the security services that serves as the political backdrop for the movie, but “out in the field” he’s less confident, and on this evidence, less engaged. There are too many scenes that go by without making much of an impact, and too many scenes that could have been more judiciously pruned in the editing suite. Instead, Mendes does just enough to make Spectre a facsimile of Skyfall, but without the emotional ending (here Bond rides off into the sunset with Seydoux’s character, but you know she won’t be back for the next movie).
If Craig decides not to play Bond one more time then the producers will need to go back to square one and start afresh – again. If they do, then let’s hope this whole let’s-give-Bond-an-origin-story-he-doesn’t-need angle is dropped in favour of seeing him do what he does best: being a one-man wrecking crew with no time for niceties. In many ways, Ian Fleming’s creation is a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”, but it’s what we’ve loved about him for over fifty years now, and in their efforts to give us a “new” Bond for contemporary times, the producers have lost sight of what makes him truly Bond: he doesn’t do introspection or guilt, and because of that he’s good at his job. (And if a reboot is in order, then let’s get Martin Campbell back in the director’s chair – he seems to know what he’s doing.)
Rating: 5/10 – not a complete stinker – it’s production values, along with Craig’s still committed performace see to that – but not the best Bond outing you’re likely to see either, and proof that the series, in this stretch at least, is heading downhill fast; when even the action sequences in Spectre feel tired and lacklustre, then it’s time for the producers to take a step back and work out where they really want to take Bond next, because right now, it doesn’t look as if they know.