Emily Nelson – A Simple FavorA Simple Favor

Reynolds Woodcock – Phantom ThreadPhantom Thread

Lou – Ocean’s EightOcean's Eight

Dominika Egorova – Red SparrowRed Sparrow

Anyone from Wakanda – Black PanthaBlack Panther


No Female Bond?

In a recent article on the BBC website (quoting an interview in the Guardian) James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli stated her belief that James Bond will “probably” never be played by a woman. “Bond is male. He’s a male character. He was written as a male and I think he’ll probably stay as a male.” She went on to say “And that’s fine. We don’t have to turn male characters into women.” The same article went on to quote an article where Halle Berry also said that Bond should remain male, she however suggested a new Bond type female character could be created.  While it may not be a popular, or politically correct opinion at the moment, I agree that Bond only works as a man.  We are however, at a point in time where Bond casting can be colour-blind, while Bond needs to remain British (and male), we are a multicultural society, despite the views of a vocal minority, you don’t have to be white to be British.  This leaves the door open, not just for Idris Elba, but for any other British actor regardless of race, I believe Henry Golding has joined the debate!The Next James Bond_

To change the sex of Bond would impact on all his interactions with other characters to such an extent it would distract from the story.  Regardless of what I, or anyone else thinks, Broccoli is the person most directly responsible for casting the part, so will ultimately decide the direction it takes. This isn’t to say characters are locked into being one sex.  The BBC article I mention, refers to the new series of Doctor Who, starting tomorrow with the first ever female Doctor.  Ghostbusters (2016), wasn’t terrible because of the idea, or the casting of woman, the cast were good, the issue was with the terrible script. Barbara Broccoli

Back to Halle Berry and her idea: There has previously been a suggestion that her character Jinx Johnson, from Die Another Day (2002) would get her own spiff-off movie or TV show.  Fortunately, this did not happen, she was a terrible character from a terrible film.  The only positive thing I have ever heard about the character, is that she looks good!  Truely representing all that is bad about Bond!  There are far better characters in the Bondverse to get their own movie, characters with a little agency, would be: Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) from Licence to Kill (1989), Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), or Camille (Olga Kurylenko) from Quantum of Solace (2008).  I’m not sure any Bond shared universe is a good idea, do we want a new Bond related film every year?  The current format of a film every few years, reboot every decade or so works. Female Bond Spin-offs

It would be better to start from a clean slate, developed a new completely different character in their own universe and having their own characteristics.  Fortunately, that is exactly what Barbara Broccoli is doing.  In a rare none Bond movie, EON Productions next movie will be The Rhythm Section adapted from the book of the same name by Mark Burnell.  The first of four books about the character Stephanie Patrick.  In the books Stephanie Patrick is a couple of turns short of rock bottom in a downward spiral following a traumatic event.  She is working as a prostitute to fund her drug problem until a revelation from a  journalist sends her life in a completely new direction.  The books are about identity and purpose, but work on a more surface level too, with great action.  There are four books in the series leaving at least three more stories to adapt, but with author Burnell onboard writing the script, there could be more than that.  Blake Lively is staring, and looks like a good choice.blake lively

And finally the elephant in the room, who will be the next Bond?  The name we can’t escape is Idris Elba, I think he would make a fantastic Bond, but fear his time may have passed.  At 46 he is about the right age now, he should be making his second film.  As it is, he would be 50/51 before he made his debut, giving him time to make three film before he is too old.  I am not going to list contendors or speculate on who will take the part, that’s for another day, but I am going to keep banding the drum for my Bond Movie idea, I know it will never happen but it doesn’t stop me modestly suggesting it’s a great idea: Bring Timothy Dalton back to play a long retired James Bond, forced back for one last mission (there are multiple story ideas to facilitate this).  As he gets older, the same idea could also work for Pierce Brosnan. Old Bond

An interesting month with some excellent films, and a movie of the month that may surprise you, it surprises me and I just chose it! 

Searching – Thriller about a frantic farther looking for his missing daughter.  The gimmick of showing a movie as if on a computer screen seems to have taken over from found footage, it’s going to get tied very soon.  The film is so gripping and John Cho so compelling in the lead that the gimmick is soon forgotten.  Some of the twists are obvious, others less so.  All in all, a solid thriller.Searching

Hearts Beat Loud – Inspired by a throw away comment and a burgeoning  romance, a young woman writes a song that leads to forming an unlikely band (of sorts) with her farther. What could have been a disposable and forgettable little indie film turns out to be a clever, funny and heart-warming.   Kiersey Clemons and Nick Offerman are great in the lead and are well supported by Toni Collette, Sasha Lane and Ted Danson.  Unlike many films of the type, the songs are good too.heartsbeatloud

Yardie – Idris Elba’s feature début as a director.  A young low level Jamaican criminal with unresolved issues from his past is sent to London in the early 80’s The look, vibe, and spirit of the scene are brilliantly realised.  The characters are believable and well played, the standout being Stephen Graham.  Elba directs with the same confidence and swagger that he acts making it a hugely enjoyable film even if it isn’t always best served by the story/plot that is a little thin.  Elba made the right decision to stay behind the camera so as not to distract from the leads, I look forward to seeing what he directs next.Yardie

American Animals – In 2012, Bart Layton gave us The Imposter, a documentary with a few dramatic reconstructions.  Now he has flipped the idea it on its head giving us a dramatic film cleverly interspersed with real life talking head testimonies.  En engrossing film about a group of students who embark on an attempt at a heist  so inept you won’t believe its a true story until you look it up. American Animals

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – In the early 90’s a teenage girl is sent to a gay conversion therapy centre by her religious  guardian.  The frightening thing about the narrative is the people running the camp feel that they are doing the right thing.  The most notable element of the film is the subtle and measured performance of Chloë Grace Moretz. The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Cold War – The passionate affair of a mismatched couple over about a decade and a half from post war from communist Poland to the 50’s Jazz scene in Parris and back again.  By now we know what to expect from Pawel Pawlikowski, this movie more than delivers, it is beautiful to look, and is uplifting, heartbreaking, and devastating at different times.  All this is elevated by fantastic performances from Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot. Cold War

King of Thieves – One of many dramatisations of the Hatton Garden heist from three years ago.  The all star cast (Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent and Paul Whitehouse) are all fantastic, but the film is a little plodding and by the numbers with a lack of flair or excitement.  Nothing wrong with it, but nothing outstanding or original to set it apart.  Worth watching for the great cast, but not worth rushing to see at the cinema.King of Thieves

The Rider – Only a couple of degrees away from being a documentary; a rodeo rider who can no longer ride following an serious accident plays, a rodeo rider who can no longer ride following an serious accident.  Full of contradictions, none actor Brady Jandreau is excellent in the lead, other none actors are a little wooden.  The film doesn’t go anywhere, and little is resolved, but there is so much bubbling under the surface.  Often beautiful and compelling, at others it makes the viewer feel like a voyeur.  Not a film that people will be rushing to see, but one that those who see it will not forget in a hurry. The Rider

The Predator – Following the events of Predator (1987) and Predator 2 (1990), a secret government organisation is on the lookout for visiting predators (although they are unaware of the off world antics of Predators (2010)). A special forces soldier who witnesses one such arrival gets dragged into the affair, as do his family, and anyone he meets during the movie. The first too movies asked as many questions about the Predators as it answered with little explanation of exposition. The biggest flaw of this film is the way it crowbars information in that we would be better off not knowing. While Boyd Holbrook isn’t a terrible leading man, he lacks the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the charisma of Danny Glover. Full of good ideas, but there is probably a better movie to be told with these characters using as the lead Olivia Munn and keeping Holbrook as a supporting player and link to the character of his son played by Jacob Tremblay (less annoying then you would expect of a film like this). The action is good, but the comedy doesn’t always land, and the story is all over the place. The sequel baiting ending is terrible.The Predator

A Simple Favour – Two very different woman played by Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively become unlikely best friends.  When one goes missing the other is determined to find out what has happened.  I am not a fan of Paul Feig’s previous films, but loved this one.  It looks amazing and is directed with a cheeky swagger reminiscent of lighter Hitchcock movies.  You won’t be surprissed by any of the twists, but this isn’t always a bad thing.  The two leads are both fantastic and appear to be relishing the parts.  A marvellously trashy tale, it has its flaws, but they are easy to forgive as it is so much fun.   A Simple Favour

Climax –  In a remote disused school building a French dance troop conclude their final rehearse for a tour of Europe and The USA.  As soon as they finish, they start to celebrate and party, things quickly go downhill when the sangria is spiked with LSD.  There is a school of thought that the opening few shots of a film should layout everything that is to come.  Climax starts with exactly this, not that you realise it at first.  What follows is quite bizarre in both structure and content, but no more than you would expect from provocateur Gaspar Noé. Strangely the sex is totally unsexy, and violence is clinical matter of fact, but put together the film is oppressive and disturbing.  I am not sure if I like it but I am very impressed by it. Climax

Mile 22 – Director and star pairing Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have made three other films together, the two I have seen aren’t bad, this fourth collaboration is just lazy.  The action scenes aren’t bad, but the rest of the film is terrible, topped off by Wahlberg’s character being a totally unlikable. The rest of the cast are wholly underserved; Ronda Rousey isn’t a great actor but can do action, but her character departs the story before the real action gets going.  Lauren Cohan has what could have been an interesting side story, that is totally mishandled.  John Malkovich telephones his performance in (at least they had the sense of humour to literally having him at the other end of a phone-line from the rest of the cast).  Star or The Raid Iko Uwais is totally underused.  A pointless mess of a film. MILE 22

The Little Stranger – Sometime after the second world war a doctor from working class origins returns to practice in the backwater where he grew up.  Over time he becomes more and more involved with the local big house, long past its Victorian grandeur.  Will Poulter and Charlotte Rampling provide excellent support, Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly cold and reserved for the part, but as is often the case, it is Ruth Wilson that shines through with a fantastic performance.  A study of class and its evolution wrapped up in a beautifully ambiguous ghost story.  Don’t confuse director Lenny Abrahamson’s deliberately languid pace as being slow, there is too much of interest going on. The Little Stranger

A tough choice; at the start of the month, I thought it would be a choice between two of the first films I have seen: Hearts Beat Loud and The Miseducation of Cameron Post.  As I sat down to write this, it was a clear choice between Cold War ans The Rider.  But if anyone asked me to recommend a film from this month, I would have to say A Simple Favour.  The most accessible, and the most fun, and the one I am most keen to see again.movie of the month contendersBizarrely, the only movie that I can hand on heart claim to be the movie of the month is one that has haunted my thoughts in the week since I saw it, but will probably never watch again, The Movie of the Month is: ClimaxClimax

We lost Burt Reynolds last week at the age of 82.  In a conversation at work in the following days it appears that he is an actor not on the radar of a lot of younger film fans.  Growing up in the 80’s he was a mainstay of my movie watching with Smokey and the Bandit being one of my favourite films, I probably watched it once a week for a couple of years!  For a time he was a massive box-office draw.  In 1977 Smokey and the Bandit came second only to Star Wars beating Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Saturday Night Fever at the American box-office.  For those who don’t know his films, a good way of giving an idea of the type of actor he was, is to look not at his films, but the ones he turned down (and regretted turning down): James Bond (after Sean Connery quite the first time), Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Han Solo in Star Wars, the Richard Gere role in Pretty Woman, and posibly his biggest regret, Jack Nicholson’s roles in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Terms of Endearment.  He is also reported to have turned down Die Hard but has said in a couple of interviews that he doesn’t remember being offered it.  Now you know the films he could have made, sit back and watch some of the ones he did make.  Most of his best films were in the 1970’s and are very much of their time, here a few highlights and my favourites as they spring to mind, in chronological order:

Sam Whiskey (1969)  – A comedy western and heist movie with a twist, he is trying to get gold back into a mint. Sam Whiskey

Deliverance (1972) – His first iconic role, in a film that works as an allegory in a couple different ways, as well as being a great action adventure drama on the surface, also one of John Boorman’s best movies. Deliverance

White Lightning (1973) – An early example for Reynolds of the good ol’ boy movies that he would become associated, as kim morgan of Sunset Gun calls them “wily, rough and tumble men (and some women) usually of the Southern persuasion”.  Also take a look at the sequel Gator (1976), this was his directorial debut. White Lightning

The Mean Machine (1974) – For those scratching their heads, this was the UK title, you may know it as The Longest Yard.  Having attended university on an American Football scholarship this was the perfect vehicle for the rising star. The Mean Machine

Smokey and the Bandit (1977) – The ultimate good ol’ boy movie, Reyolds most iconic, and the most fun car chase movie you will ever see. Smokey and the Bandit

Hooper (1978) – Honouring his time as a stuntman, the unsung heroes on movie making, and directed by stuntman turned director Hal Needham.  Not as fun or as funny as Smokey and the Bandit, but a film I have revisited it a couple of times, it has aged really well.   Hooper

The Cannonball Run (1981) – Probably the last great film of the type for Reynolds, and the best of many coast to coast race movies that came out around that time.  The ensemble cast is amazing, and also the first time I (like many western audiences)  had seen Jackie Chan. The Cannonball Run

Sharky’s Machine (1981) – An attempt at a more serious cop thriller, Reynolds made a few, this is the one I remember as the best. Sharky's Machine

Boogie Nights (1997) – After two decades of TV, and average movies Reynolds was back with his last great role.  Although he reportedly didn’t like the movie, it earned him his only Oscar nomination, It is also probably my favourite Paul Thomas Anderson movie. Boogie Nights

Al the films mentioned above are worth a look, but if you only watch one of them, It has to be Smokey and the Bandit, enjoy!

I have been a little selective with my movie going this month, I could have seen a lot more.  On the whole I chose well with three fantastic films that will be in contention for my year end top ten.  A couple of really solid and enjoyable films.  One disappointing but still not bad sequel.  The weakest film was the one I expected least from, the latest YA dystopian yarn, that provides further proof that the genre ran out of ideas a long time ago.  Here are the contenders:

Ant-Man and the Wasp – Lighter and more comedic than the rest of the MCU, Ant man is never going to be the best of the franchise but it is always fun.  Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are both excellent in their own right, but have little to no chemistry together.  Walton Goggins is as great as ever, but seems to be in a different movie to everyone else.  Michelle Pfeiffer is underused.  Michael Peña offers his usual comic relief.  Rising star, Hannah John-Kamen provides an interesting and compelling antagonist. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Pandora’s Box – Seminal Louise Brooks movie, the masterpiece of director G W Pabst.  Screened thanks to the BFI in what they call a “New 2K DCP of the 2009 restoration of Munich Film Museum’s definitive cut, with score by Peer Raben”.  Telling of the rise and fall of desirable and seductive but naive young dancer Lulu (Brooks).  It still stands up as a mesmerising film nearly 90 years on with simple modern storytelling, you soon forget you are watching a silent film and just appreciate it as a film. Pandora's Box

The Equalizer 2 – Denzel Washington’s first ever sequel see’s him returning as Robert McCall, the character inspired by the 1980’s Edward Woodward TV show.  The set pieces are all excellent, but the story that links them is disjointed and inconsistent.  Not as good as the first film, but not without enjoyable moments. The Equalizer 2

In The Fade – If you exclude Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, this is Diane Kruger’s first German-language film.  I went into it having read a synopsis and heard a brief review; this is too much information, as it gave me an impression of what to expect, a false impression. A stunning film largely thanks to Diane Kruger amazing performance.In The Fade

A Prayer Before Dawn – The true story of Billy Moore based on his book A Prayer Before Dawn: A Nightmare in Thailand; a British boxer who finds himself in a brutal prison in Thailand. Much of the dialogue is in Thai without subtitles leaving the audience only understanding as much as Billy, a disconcerting but effective choice.  Often hard to watch, it is an unforgettable film that will haunt your mind for days after seeing it, Joe Cole, best known for Peaky Blinders is exceptional.  A Prayer Before Dawn

Unfriended: Dark Web – A sequel to Unfriended (2014) dips its toe into the burky world of the dark web.  As before, all the action takes place on a computer screen.  Effective but unoriginal horror. An interesting idea, I understand there are two different endings. Unfriended Dark Web

The Darkest Minds – The latest in endless stream of YA dystopian future set movies.  Totally derivative of everything that has gone before particularly Divergent and the Maze Runner.  Amandla Stenberg (who was in the first Hunger Games movie when she was 13) makes a likeable lead. The Darkest Minds

BlacKkKlansman – Spike Lee is back on form with the true story of a African-American policeman who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970’s.  John David Washington has all the charisma of his famous farther and is well supported by the always excellent Adam Driver.  Lee’s attempt to juxtapose the narrative with recent events isn’t subtle, but it is extremely effective. BlacKkKlansman

The Children Act – This is the second film the year with a screenplay from Ian McEwan based on on his own book.  Despite excellent performances the inner monologue of On Chesil Beach failed to translate to the screen.  The Children Act centres around Emma Thompson as a family court judge forced to make life changing decisions for other people while seemingly oblivious to the crumbing state of her own marriage.  Thompson is outstanding in the lead elevating the film way above what it could have been, she works best when playing against Stanley Tucci as her husband, who is also brilliant in a smaller supporting role. The Children Act

I don’t include re-releases in contention for movie of the month, that rules out Pandora’s Box leaving a straight fight between: In The Fade, A Prayer Before Dawn, and BlacKkKlansman.  As well as being the best films of the month, they are also the hardest hitting and most memorable, films that you will still be thinking about days or weeks later.  The movie of the month is:In The Fade poster

pandoras-box-1929-poster-1000x750SPOILER WARNING – this article contains spoilers for a ninety year old movie, and a three thousand year old myth – SPOILER WARNING

I think everyone knows the story of Pandora’s Box from Greek mythology.  Pandora  was created by various gods on the orders of Zeus to punish humanity after Prometheus stole the secret of fire.  She was given “a shameful mind and deceitful nature” and had the power to seduce and felt compelled to do so.  The gods gave Pandora a gift of a pithos (a jar, mistranslated as box a few thousand years later) containing all the evils of the world.  She could not resist the temptation, and opens the jar/box thus releasing evil on the world.  In some versions of the story, a dove remains representing hope (more on that later). Pandora

So why am I telling a well known story from around 8th centuries BC?  I have just watched G W Pabst’s 1929 masterpiece Pandora’s Box at the MAC in Birmingham, thanks to the BFI in what they describe as ” New 2K DCP of the 2009 restoration of Munich Film Museum’s definitive cut, with score by Peer Raben”.

For those who don’t know, Pandora’s Box tells of the rise and fall of desirable and seductive but naive young dancer Lulu (Louise Brooks). origonal poster

Both an artistic and technical masterpiece, the film draws on the contemporary (German) studio realism, and French (Impressionist) as well a recalling earlier Expressionism.  There are numerous standout scenes, the backstage at cabaret performance is a master class in editing.  But all this disappears into the shadow of the film’s star Louise Brooks, with her iconic haircut, hypnotic eyes and enchanting smile.  Made during the final death rattle of silent cinema, Pandora’s Box Premiered less than two years after The Jazz Singer (1927).  At 23 Brooks gives a career best performance, but like the silent movies she appeared in her time was up.  Her career was all but over two years later. lulu

Today’s screening started with a caption explaining that no known original negatives survive.  This definitive restoration is made up of three early prints.  This made me look into different versions of the film.

Wikipedia describe a French version: the film was significantly re-edited, making Alwa’s secretary and the countess become Lulu’s childhood friend. Lulu is found to be not guilty at her trial, and there is no Jack the Ripper character, as the film ends with Lulu joining the Salvation Army.

IMDB describes an American cut: the film was released in a heavily censored 90-minute version, with a happy ending. This ending – in which Lulu joins the Salvation Army – was so unconvincing that when the film played in New York, its distributors placed a disclaimer at the beginning, emphasizing that they were not responsible for the censorship forced upon them, and they apologized for what was termed “an added saccharine ending.pandoras box louise brooks Alice Roberts

The current version isn’t the first attempt to restore the film, an attempt was made in the 1980’s but was around 20 minutes shorter than the original version.  This could be due to missing scenes, or running it at 24 frames per second, not 20.

I have seen the film three times before, the first time was in the early 90’s, I think possibly the American cut described above.  It therefore came as something of a surprise on my next viewing when Jack The Ripper entered the story.  My most recent viewing came on DVD five or six years ago, the same or similar to the cut I saw today, it sounds like this version described on IMDB: A 133-minute version, distributed by Janus Films from Film Museum München, was broadcast in America on the IFC channel in 2006. It has an unidentified orchestral score, including a 2-minute overture at the start, and it listed the credits in German, some of which were translated into English. With German inter-titles and English subtitles. This version was released on a British Region 2 DVD).Louise Brooks Lulu

The final act sees Lulu living in destitute squalor in London with Alwa and Schigolch.  Encouraged by Schigolch, and with only the weakest of protest from Alwa, Lulu resorts to prostitution.  Her first customer is Jack the Ripper, who appears to be fighting a losing battle with his sanity and urge to kill.  As he climbs the stairs to Lulu’s lodgings we see Jack drop his knife, but in the closing scenes he spots a knife (in true Chekhov’s gun style we saw Lulu us it earlier).  This is the last we see of Jack or Lulu.  Why don’t we see her die?  Is it the sensibility of the time and the censors, or did she survive?  As long as we don’t see her die, there is hope! pandoras box lulu and jack

The only time I have discussed the film or its meaning at any length was after seeing it at university.  I went into the debate knowing less than nothing.  Those who hadn’t seen the film before knew nothing, I knew less than nothing as I went in thinking I knew the film having seen it a couple of years before, but the rug was pulled from beneath me as I saw a different version.  Others came with an agenda to argue; sexual, feminist, political, socio-political. It was suggested that Lulu was punished for her wicked ways, or at least her refusal to conform to social norms.  Or that she was punished for her sexual liberation and ambiguity.  Those that argued on both sides saw this as a positive and a negative, does the film condemn or lament her? I wouldn’t argue with any of these, but I read it a different way, as mentioned above, as a message of hope.  Lulu, made mistakes, and refused to conform, but no matter how low things get, there is always hope, if she could be the one woman who encountered and survived Jack the Ripper, she could survive.  To be fair and give context, to this argument, I was in a class where truth and reality came a distant second to how well you argued your point, and as a cock eighteen-year-old I revealed in disagreeing with everyone else in the room.  However, two further screenings and twenty years later, I still see a glimmer of hope.