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I haven’t seen many movies this month, but have enjoyed most of them.  Here are the contenders:

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – The latest instalment in the MCU introduces characters I had never heard of.  A solid entry into the franchise with a cast of likeable and diverse cast.  Like a lot of the MCU, the storytelling is a little saggy in the middle, and the ending is just the usual CGIfest.

Copshop – More bonkers fun from Joe Carnahan in a film that owes a lot to Assault on Precinct 13 and Rio Bravo. Frank Grillo and Gerard Butler are on great form but the real MVP is Alexis Louder.

Prisoners of Ghostown – a bonkers Nicolas Cage movie made was recently my Movie of the Month, this movie won’t get the same accolade, it’s just a mess!

Candyman -Sequel and soft reboot to the excellent 90’s horror. Beautifully shot with a great socio-political subtext, but it lacks the great horror of the original.

Dune – No, I haven’t seen a preview of Denis Villeneuve’s new movie, this is David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation.  I first saw the movie when I was about ten (around five years before I read the book) and loved it.  The film looks amazing and is perfectly cast.  The only issue is the pacing, he really needed over three house to tell the story. 

The Green Knight – David Lowery’s movie adapted from the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Not afraid to embrace its origin, the narrative is poetic and ambiguous.  The photography is stunning, and  Dev Patel is fantastic.  Finally an Arthurian movie to rival Monty Python and John Boorman.  Sadly it didn’t get a much of a release, but believe me its worth the effort to see it on the big screen.

No Time to Die – Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond has really divided opinion.  While it has all the themes and tropes of a Bond movie, the pacing and storytelling is very different from a Bond movie. The performances are great, and Craig is the funniest he has been as Bond. The are a few plot/story choices that are very bold, that I’m not convinced work. On the whole, I liked it but with resonations. 

A couple of Bond movies have been movie of the month, but not this time, my movie of the month has to be:

Nine movies makes August my busiest movie going month since the start of the pandemic last year.  I have seen some very good films and enjoyed them all, but one really stands out as my movie of the month.  Here are the contenders. 

Jungle Cruise – Given how poor the Pirates movies were you would be forgiven for being concerned about a Disney movie based on a theme park ride, but as bad as the sequels were, the first movie in that franchise was actually really good.  Jungle cruise doesn’t live up to the first Pirates movie, but is better than the sequels.  The plot for what it’s worth involves Emily Blunt hiring a boat captain Dwayne Johnson to take her upriver in search of a MacGuffin pursed by a German prince in a U Boat.  Silly, and predictable but Johnson and Blunt are likeable leads.  The inevitable sequel has already been green-lit.

Stillwater – A real change of pace for Matt Damon sees him travel to France to visit his estranged daughter, who is in prison for a crime she claims she didn’t commit.  The set-up sounds like a Taken style thriller, far from that, it actually has more than a passing resemblance to the Amanda Knox case.  Damon is excellent in what is probably his most low-key role.

Free Guy – Ryan Reynolds is at his most Ryan Reynolds as a none player character in a video game who become sentient.  The story is very slight, but good fun.  Reynolds is on great form as are Jodie Comer and Taika Waititi.

Reminiscence – Feature debut for director Lisa Joy best known as writer/producer of Westworld.  Blending an old-school noir with a sci-fi thriller.  The central conceit of replaying memories is reminiscent of the superior Strange Days, when you get past that it’s an enjoyable if predicable movie largely thanks to a likeable cast of Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, and Thandiwe Newton.

Pig – Nicolas Cage plays a reclusive truffle hunter.  When he goes looking for his stolen pig, you would expect a John Wick style revenge thriller.  What we get is a much more low-key and thoughtful movie, and Cage’s best performance in years. 

Censor – Set in the height of the video-nasty scare of the 1980’s Niamh Algar plays a censor who losses her grip on reality as her twin obsession for her work and her sister, missing since childhood, overlap.  Algar is excellent, but the real star is writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond who has a clear love and affinity for the genre.

The Courier – Benedict Cumberbatch plays Greville Wynne in the true story of a salesman who is recruited by the security services as a courier for a Russian source during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The real life case on which its based was reportedly John le Carré’s inspiration for The Russia House.  Very by the numbers and lacking any originality, but well made with some real tension and strong performances. 

The Night House – Rebecca Hall is outstanding playing a woman coming to terms with her husband’s suicide.  Living in the isolated lake house they built, she begins to question what is real as tries to understand what happened she.  Including but not depending on jump scares it is far more intelligently constructed than you would expect for the story. 

Our Ladies – Five friends travel from their small town in the Scottish Highlands to Edinburgh as part of a choir from their catholic girls school.  They are given an afternoon of freedom in the big city with the caveat of some very strict rules set by Sister Condron (an excellent Kate Dickie), this all goes out the window as all they have on their minds is sex and booze!  Comparisons with Derry Girls are inevitable, it isn’t as funny or as irreverent, but very heartfelt and no less enjoyable. 

I have enjoyed all nine movies this month, but there is one clear standout, my movie of the month is:

13 Reasons Why was a television series developed by Netflix and released on their platform in 2017.  It is based on the 2007 novel of the same name (stylized as TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY) written by Jay Asher.  The show was well written and directed, and featured excellent performances from the young cast.   The thing that set it apart from other similar shows was the brilliant concept: [spoiler alert] high school student Hannah Baker takes her own life leaving behind a set of cassette tapes detailing thirteen reasons why she killed herself. [end of spoiler] Each episode focuses on different cassette, each tape one of the thirteen reasons (or more specifically thirteen people) of the title.  The show was very good, and extremely popular, for the first season at least!  This was its undoing! What should have been “one and done” was strung out for a further three convoluted seasons, the last of which was truly bad.  Am I just bitter, that The OA, a stunning TV show with a planned five season arc got cancelled after season two? Probably!

Cruel Summer is a original idea created by Bert V. Royal.  Each of ten episodes focuses on the same day over the course of three consecutive years: 1993, 1994 and 1995 from the point of view of two girls: Kate Wallis a popular girl who goes missing, and Jeanette Turner an awkward girl desperate to be popular. The point of view alternates between the two girls each episode.  Skipping backwards and forwards between the three times is what makes it really work. drip-feeding the viewer.  Riddled with clichés and contrivances and a few plot holes, it isn’t up to the same standard as 13 Reasons, but is still an enjoyable show.  Making the most of the 90’s setting, the music choices are a little obvious but good.  The show is currently streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK having premiered on Freeform in the US in April.  The show had already been renewed for a second season before making its way to the UK. 

There many reasons a second season could be a problem, not least that the story started running out of steam towards the end, with final twist that was telegraphed from early on.  Is there really that much more story to tell? The structure of the show is fundamental to its appeal, but to repeat it for a second season wouldn’t be as effective.  The same was true of Quantico that ran for three seasons from 2015.  The first season had a similar high concept, the second repeated it to reasonable effect if you could get past the contrivance.  The thirst and final season became a villain of the week procedural shortly before its demise.  Had 13 Reasons Why stopped after one season, leaving audiences wanting more it would be forever remembered as a great show, now it is likely to be remembered for its terrible final season.  Cruel Summer doesn’t have as far to fall as 13 Reasons, but it would be better to leave audiences wanting more, rather than the inevitable disappointment of a weaker second season.  This does beg the question, will I watch season two?  Of course I will!

Soon after starting this blog back in 2009 I started a movie of the month segment.  The first post of every month, usually on the first of the month I would name the best movie I had seen in the previous month.  I started by naming the top few contenders before crowning on the Movie of the Month.  I soon changed to writing a short paragraph review of each film I had seen at the cinema. Then cinemas closed as we went into lockdown following a global pandemic, you may have heard it mentioned once or twice in the past 18 months!  I last posted a movie of the month in August of last year when made two trips to the cinema after the first lockdown.  I managed three movies in November and December between lockdowns two and three but didn’t post about them at the time, so that’s where I will start

November and December 2020

Pixie – The titular Pixie sets out to on a mission to avenge her mother’s death, and escape her small time life by way of a heist, obviously things don’t go to plan. Somewhat derivative, but always fun, and Olivia Cooke is excellent as always.

Wonder Woman 1984 – Sequel to the best of the DCEU, by the standards of the franchise it’s a solid middling entry to the series.  Given how good the great the first movie was, it has to be considered as disappointment.  Gal Gadot remain perfectly cast, Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal are good in supporting roles, but everyone is let down by the story.

Dreamland – It’s impossible to make a dustland-fairytale of 30’s depression outlaws without invoking Bonnie and Clyde. Dreamland also has a hint of Malick’s Badlands at its core. To invoke such films you are always going to fall short, but the movie is engaging thanks to strong performances from Finn Cole and Margot Robbie.

This brings us onto 2021 and the reopening of cinemas in May.

May

Those Who Wish Me Dead – Actor tuned writer, Taylor Sheridan’s second film as a director (he doesn’t count 2011’s Vile) following Wind River (2017).  A rung below Wind River and not in the same ballpark as his masterpiece (as writer) Sicario (2015).  A nice blend of disaster movie and crime thriller, Angelina Jolie is agreat as you would expect, Sheridan regular Jon Bernthal mprovides excellent suport, as do Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult.  The best supporting character is superbly portrayed by Medina Senghore.

Godzilla vs. Kong – I missed Godzilla: King of the Monsters at the cinema in 2017, but caught it on streaming during lockdown, it was really poor!  This new entry to the franchise is better, but that isn’t saying much given the seriously low bar.

Cruella – Emma Stone is fantastic as the young Cruella de Vil, she even manages to outshine Emma Thompson, who as the films villain you would expect to be the more showy part.  The only issue, the film cannot decide if it’s a retelling, or a prequel to 101 Dalmatians.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Mr Do It – Based on a true story is something of a stretch.  The weakest of The Conjuring Movies but still good fun.  Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are both great as ever.

June

Nomadland – Chloé Zhao’s third feature following the sublime The Rider won her the best director Oscar (only the second woman to win), it also won Best Picture and Frances McDormand’s second Best Actress award.  I originally saw the movie via streaming, but thought it deserved a big screen viewing.  It did! 

A Quiet Place Part II – The title tells you what you need to know, this isn’t A Quiet Place 2, this is part 2 of the story.  Picking up directly after the events of the first movie, along with a perfectly judged flashback, it is exactly the film it needed to be. 

Nobody – Writer Derek Kolstad is best known for John Wick, he hasn’t moved far from that premise with this movie.  What if John Wick was played by an ordinary person? That’s pretty much what this is with Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk in the lead.  For some inexplicable reason, it really works, the movie is great fun!

The Farther – Another Oscar winner in the shape of Anthony Hopkins as best actor.  A directorial debut from Florian Zeller based on his own play.  The acting and staging always feels a little stagey, but the structure of the movie outweighs this.  Best to watch without reading too much about it.

Monster Hunter – Video game adaptation from the husband/wife, director/star frequent collaborators Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich.  Far from a masterpiece, but filled with sufficient action and fun to make it worth watching. 

In The Earth – Ben Wheatley’s lockdown take on a folk horror is a tough film to get a handle on.  Not as inaccessible as  A Field in England but falling short of his best work, Kill List, Sightseers and High-Rise.  The performances from the small cast are all excellent.  

Fast & Furious 9 – The Fast & Furious franchise evolved from a retelling of Point Break to Mission Impossible.  The quality of the films varies greatly, but they were never dull, until now.  The bigger the stunts get, the less interesting the film becomes. At least Charlize Theron is having fun!

July

Freaky – What if the director of Happy Death Day remade Freaky Friday as a high school slasher horror? That is exactly what Freaky is, and it is so much fun!  Vince Vaughn is really good (yes, really) but is totally overshadowed by Kathryn Newton who is excellent. 

Black Widow – Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow was never the biggest star in the MCU, but in many ways she was the most interesting.  There is no way of reconciling the fact it took so long for her or any other female character to get her own movie within the biggest franchise in movie history.  Scarlett Johansson is excellent as you would expect, as are co-stars Rachel Weisz and David Harbour, but the MVP by a mile is Florence Pugh who has  genuine chemistry with Johansson.

Another Round – In 2012 made an outstanding film called The Hunt starring Mads Mikkelsen.  The pair are back with another stunning movie.  Exploring men’s relationship with alcohol, and each other it asks a lot of questions of its characters and audience, to its credit it doesn’t try to answer them.  The winner of the best foreign language movie at the Oscars this year, I think it’s a better film than the (six out of eight that I have seen) nominations for best picture. 

The Suicide Squad – Not to be confused with the 2016 film with a very similar title.   Notably better than that film, but then the bar wasn’t that high!  As before, Harley Quinn remains the most interesting character, although she was the best moments of the film she isn’t as well served, or the film as good as Birds of Prey. The performances are all spot on, but the plot is somewhat thin especially for the 132 minute runtime. 

To name a movie of the month from just two or three choices doesn’t really work, for this reason I will just name one movie of the month(s), and hopefully return to naming a movie each month moving forward. My movie of the Months is:

I recently re-watched a movie by a director who to use the modern idiom, has been “cancelled!” The thing that struck me was just how good the film is.  There is an argument for separating the art from the artist, especially given the fact that some of my favourite films from the golden age of Hollywood were made by “problematic” directors, producers and stars.  Some of my favourite more recent movies were produced by THE most problematic producer, including one that would probably never have been made without his intervention.  But is there a step further, is there an argument for some sort of redemption for some people involved?  It isn’t just directors and producers, there have also been actuations made against some actors.  Some of whom have denied any wrongdoing (in some cases despite evidence of guilt), others have owned their actions, apologised and tried to be better.   

You may have noticed I am not mentioning any names.  This is partly so I don’t accidently say something libellous, but mainly because this isn’t about any individual but about the concept.  Let’s be clear I am not talking about the individuals who committed crimes.  Most notably those convicted of crimes.  But there have been abuses of power and position where people have been made to suffer inexcusably that do not fall into a prosecutable crime.   Long before the Time’s Up and Me Two movements there was a very high profile case of an actor/director whose career appeared to be over following personal issues and unsavoury things he  had said.  These were not just allegations, some of his actions were recorded.  While he hasn’t returned to the heights of his earlier career, he has certainly come back from the brink.  So where does that leave other actors, directors and producers? Clearly some are in where they belong, in prison, others have continued to work, many have disappeared from the spotlight. 

As a middle-aged white man who does not work in the film or television industry, the first thought, certainly mine is do I have the right to talk about these issues?  But on reflection, yes absolutely! This is not an issue where the victims stand alone, and only they and the accused have a voice.  The world as a whole needs to stand up and talk about injustice and inequality when we see it.  Only by talking about issues can we keep them on the agenda.  Back in 2018 in the fledgling days of the Times’ Up Movement, there was a call for women attending the 75th Golden Globe Awards to wear black.  At first it was suggested it was a gimmick and would have no impact.  Most woman attending did indeed wear black, some brought activists to the awards ceremony as their plus one, many attendees male and female wore Time’s Up badges (pins if you are American).  All in all it was probably the only time the Globes have ever been relevant!  The spotlight helped the movement raise around $15 million for the Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund.

This in many ways is the hardest article I have ever written, simply because I have no answers.  As I have no answers, I will end with a question:  Is it better that people are pigeonholed by their misdeeds and shut away  out of sight, out of mind; or would it be better for them to try to find some kind of redemption by admitting their mistakes, apologising for them, attempting to be better people?

Black Widow has a problem, a big problem, timing! The issue is twofold, firstly it has been hugely delayed due cinemas being largely closed throughout last year and the start of this year.  The second more serious problem is that it is set before the previous two movies removing any real jeopardy for the main character.  Whether it can overcome these hurdles depends on different factors, on a critical level, the film is good; financially, we may never know!  It has received the strongest opening numbers since the start of the pandemic, but this is still way down on other movies in the franchise.  It is also available as a premium offering on Disney+ that may help with the ultimate bottom line but not the published box-office.  I would normally advocate watching movies in the order they were made.  However, in this case, I would suggest if you are new to the MCU that you slot this one on in somewhere between Captain America: Civil War from and Avengers: Infinity War. 

Following a prologue set in 1995 the movie kicks off with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) on the run from the authorities aka Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) for breaching The Sokovia Accords (see Captain America: Civil War).  A MacGuffin and an attempt on her life later she finds her way to the often mentioned Budapest and on the hunt for a ghost from her past in the shape of General Dreykov (Ray Winstone).

Before I star anything that resembles a review, I have to admit I was predisposed to like this movie.  I have always felt that Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow and Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are the heart of the MCU, the franchises most interesting character, but they have never been given the screen time they deserve.  I am also a huge fan of a couple of Cate Shortland’s earlier movies. To add to this, the film most resembles, even echoes a lot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film that is both one of my favourites in the franchise and also the film that prior to getting her own film gave Scarlett Johansson the most screen time in the MCU.  Interestingly the final act (the MCU’s Achilles heel) is similar to, and has the same issues as the winter soldier. 

There are three big and several small action set pieces. As you would expect for a Marvel movie the action is well shot, and well choreographed, but this isn’t the films greatest strength.  The titular Black Widow is surrounded by great characters in the shape of her “family”  Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh),  Alexei Shostakov aka Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz).  Both the performances and the dialogue are excellent.  The bickering and piss-taking all feels very real and natural as you only see with family or close friends.  Weisz has a level of calm and superiority that perfectly bounces off Harbour’s comic relief, but Pugh is comfortably the MVP.  She plays the part with a perfect combination of childlike sincerity and amazement with a certain grit and cynicism.  There have been suggestions that if this truly is Johansson’s Marvel swansong that Pugh will take on the mantle of Black Window within the Avengers.  While it would be a shame to lose Johansson, Pugh would make an excellent addition, it appears she has already been confirmed to reprise her role in the Hawkeye TV series due to hit Disney+ later this year. 

Like the aforementioned Winter Solider the villains are more grounded than many in other MCU movies, this isn’t a bad thing.  When a story is well told, personal tragedy and  grounded adversaries are just as significant as those that threaten worlds or universes! The plot is slim taking a central idea from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (although a different Bond movie is reverenced and another invoked!).  The accents drift in and out of Russian, often for no real reason.  But these and any other issues spring to mind after the film has finished, because while you watch it, you just go with it! This is testament to the taught direction and  great performances.  What could have been a paper thin narrative used to string together the action set pieces actually comes across as a fun hang-out movie.  The characters are so strong that you may want the action to stop so they could spend more time hanging out and arguing with each other, fortunately this never happens, because the bickering continues  during the big action scenes. 

Marvel have made 24 movies in a decade and half, a similar number to what James Bond Managed in nearly fifty years and around double the Star Wars output in around forty-five years. when you get to this point, you cannot just judge an MCU movie on how good it is, you have to look at in relation to the rest of the franchise, the greater world of comic book movies, and its competitors from the DCEU.  It’s far from the best MCU movie as it doesn’t move the narrative forward, it actually has little to no impact on the franchise as a whole, and you would not miss anything by skipping it, but that would be a shame, and a mistake.  It does something that a lot of the other movies in it stable cannot, it stands on its own.  You could watch and enjoy the movie without having seen any other MCU movie.  And for the record, it’s better than most of the output of the DCEU. Go see it support your local cinema and have some fun!

Easy Rider (1969) didn’t chronicle the end of the decade/era, and the death of hope and optimism that the 1960’s promised, but it certainly symbolised it. It could be argued that the loss of hope wasn’t followed by despair, but by a new more measured hope with less lofty ambitions, a more weary even cynical hope, but hope none the less. And this is what we saw on the big screen, the cinema of new Hollywood. In truth, a child of the 70s, I saw it on late night TV, and VHS in the 80s and 90s. The Watergate scandal of 1972 may have ground zero for the political and conspiracy thrillers of the time, films like The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), but the spirit, or lack thereof found a place on screen before that, it found it on the road!  There has always been a link between cars and movies, the two were invented around the same time, and both found popularity in the United States, a country built out of exploration, and a country built on a dream; and as Mark Cousins reminded us The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a (2011) “movies look live our dreams”.


While there had been movies about cars and drivers before, the road movie as we know it was born in the 70s, buit on a foundation from the Golden Age of Cinema. We are not talking the capers of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), or the various Gumball/Cannonball movies (various movies from mid 70’s to mid 80s), I am referring to the existential road movies like Two Lane Blacktop (1971), and Vanishing point (1971). Existential movies, where to drive is to live, to stop is to die. Kowalski (Barry Newman), the hero of vanishing point is just driving, we never understand why. He drives for the sake of driving the way we live for the sake of living.  If you don’t know the film, the plot of the film revolves around a man delivering a car 1,200 miles from Denver Colorado, To San Francisco.  He has a week to get there but for reasons never explained is compelled to do it in a couple of days.  There is little plot, and almost no explanation, but flashbacks give us an idea of what is going on.  The Driver (James Taylor) and Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) in Two Lane Blacktop may not have names but they have more of  purpose, or do they.  They cruise around looking for action in the shape of drag races like the subjects of a Bruce Springsteen song, but when we look a little deeper, they have no purpose, they are racing for money to fund their lifestyle, so they can continue racing.  They are not the unwilling or repentant criminal looking for one last job so they can go clean, they are living day to day, a modern take on the hunter gathers of our past.  But does that make them any different to anybody working a day job, as Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt from Fight Club ((1999) said nearly 30 years later “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”.  Are they closer to the breadline than the average wage earner, or do they have a fallback? Both films have an other-worldly character enhanced by uncertainty and ambiguity,  this was lost in the 90s, made for TV remake of Vanishing Point, everything they gave Kowalski by way of motivation, stripped away a layer of meaning from the subtext of the movie. 

Although most associated with America, the genre isn’t exclusive to the nation. By the end of the 70’s the angst and desire had been forgotten, swallowed up by “blockbusters”.  Australian filmmaker George Miller fussed the road ideas of the road, if not the road movie itself with a dystopian future.  For a more recent generation, their knowledge of the Mad Max franchise may not stretch beyond the fourth, and most recent instalment: Fury Road (2015), but it started long before that in 1979. Inspired by the fuel crisis and economic crash of a few years earlier the first film depicted the beginning of society crumbling. Max, the movies “hero” first hits the road for revenge, but by the end of the first movie, he disappears down the road.  Not with the glory of a cowboy riding into the sunset, but a long and dark road, as a man with nothing, and nothing to live for.  Max’s only option for survival it to live, to exist, and he can find this simplicity, only after he has lost himself on the road.  A generation later, the characters of Fury Road think they can find hope, redemption, or even eternity on the road, for most none of this is true. 

Both as surreal and mainly masculine genre, director Chloe Zhao gave her a new take, and grounded and more real take.  Nomadland is loosely based on Jessica Bruder none fiction book of the same name we see real life people living a nomadic existence.  This, like many other road movies was exist in the traditional heartland of the western genre, but this isn’t a pioneering story of A to B, of someone with a destination. It is the story of a person not looking where to live, but how to live.  As the world gets smaller, and cars have begun to lose importance in the world, we may think the days of the road movie are numbered.  I don’t think they are, we may see a day were they become nostalgic chronicling relatively recent past rather than telling their own contemporarily stories, but in the hands of talented filmmakers, this artifice will not prevent the real story, one that is lingering beneath the surface. 

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the third (final with original star Mel Gibson), and weakest in the Mad Max franchise.  It is actually better than it is given credit for, but the best thing about it remains the title song, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” by Tina Turner.  The words to the song suggest the people it is speaking for don’t need a hero, they just want a better life.  The film then explores the myth of the hero.  Max the hero of the film has become a shell of a man following the events of the previous two films, he isn’t looking to be anybodies hero, but as things tend to go in movies like this he finds redemption by offering hope to the kids in the film, not too far removed from the most recent, and superior instalment, Mad Max: Fury Road.  But max is a grittier hero, not the type that you see wearing spandex in a comic book.  Comic book hero’s, and villains are distilled to their purest form, of good and bad.  For many the line that a comic book her cannot cross is killing the bad guy, and this the core theme of the new TV show Jupiter’s Legacy.  As we reach saturation of the genre in movies and on TV, is there does the show offer anything new or interesting to say to justify its existence. 

We all know from Spider-Man that “With great power comes great responsibility”, although when you look a little deeper the idea goes back before that.  A variation of it was used by Superman’s farther in the 1940’s.  Similar things have been said by British MP’s and American Presidents, and it is known to be in popular use during the French Revolution.  The earliest written example probably goes back to the bible “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required”.  With this in mind, it probably isn’t a stretch to call it an overused theme! Not that would be a totally bad thing if it has anything else to say, and I would certainly expect it to have something to say, and come with a certain edge, after all it is based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely.  Miller’s past credits certainly have fulfilled these criteria before; his DC work includes Superman: Red Son.  For Marvel he was responsible for Civil War, and Wolverine: Old Man Logan.  But possibly most significantly, he deconstructed the idea of the super hero in Kick-Ass. 

The bar has been raised by recent TV shows.  Having disavowed the many Marvel TV show’s we now have the MCU on TV.  The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has the production values of a movie, and is a timely exploration of race and how we treat the disenfranchised.  WandaVision may not have anything new to say that we haven’t already seen in the MCU, but really pushes the boundaries of storytelling.  But then there are two hugely significant TV shows Watchmen, and The Boys.  Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen follow on from the story of Watchmen that we all know, but goes beyond anything we saw in the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel and Zack Snyder’s movie.  The Boys is based on the premise of another famous saying, this time from English historian Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Based a comic book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, it is set in a universe where superheroes are essentially assholes!  Super-powered individuals work for a shady corporation whose sole aim is to monetizes them. Most of the “heroes” are arrogant and corrupt, many are much worse!  This show works on so many levels. 

This brings us back to Jupiter’s Legacy, are we oversaturated with superhero movies and TV shows, and the only way to depict them is to deconstruct them? This may be the case, but unlike shows like The Umbrella Academy, and the aforementioned The Boys,   Jupiter’s Legacy does not commit to this.  Telling its story in two time periods, one depicting the origin of the heroes in depression era Chicago.  The second timeline in the present day explores their “legacy”.  The period part of the  show works well but the modern section is hampered by terrible wigs and makeup. But more significantly it doesn’t have anything new to say.  Ultimately, I can’t help thinking that unlike the people in the song, we don’t need another hero.   

We have been waiting a long time for a new James Bond movie.  Development began on No Time To Die all the way back in 2016, a few months after Spectre’s October 2015 release (itself delayed a couple of times).  Danny Boyle was originally attached to direct but left the project in 2018 due to creative differences.  Cary Joji Fukunaga was then hired.  Fukunaga worked with script writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade on a new story, the third script/story as Purvis and Wade’s (who had scripted all of Daniel Craig’s previous Bond movies) original idea had been scrapped when Boyle signed on to direct.  This caused the first significant delay with principal photography commencing in  late April 2019, four to five months after it was originally scheduled.  They wrapped around six months later with final pick-up shots taking place in December.  A month after the originally scheduled release date in November 2019.  The release date was immediately pushed to February 2020 when they announced Boyle’s departure, and then to April 2020 during production.  By February it was clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going away anytime soon, and On 4 March 2020, MGM and Eon Productions announced that the release was to be postponed again, this time until 12 November 2020.  Two further delays have been announced, first to  2 April 2021 and then to 8 October 2021, nearly two years after Danny Boyle’s film was scheduled for release. 

Over the past year I have read numerous stories and tweets from Bond Fans who are undertaking marathon re-watches of the whole Bond film series.  But what do you do when you have watched the movies so many times you can remember every Roger Moore quip,  or know just what time to go and put the kettle on t avoid having to watch Sheriff J.W. Pepper?  What are the other spy films to keep Bond fans entertained while they wait for No Time To Die?  Here are a few suggestions, some obvious, others less so:

North By Northwest (1959): Ian Fleming didn’t intend Dr. No to be the first Bond movie, it wasn’t even going to be based on one of his novels, it was going to be an original idea, that eventually became the basis for his eighth novel  Thunderball (yes you guessed it this was where the infamous Legal disputes started). Fleming wanted the Alfred Hitchcock to direct, but he declined as he had only just made a spy thriller and wanted to do something different.  The spy movie he had just made was North by Northwest, the something different turned out to be Psycho, and Thunderball is a great book so it didn’t turn out too bad, but just imagine a Hitchcock Bond movie! For those who don’t know, North By Northwest is my favourite Hitchcock, and one of my favourite movies.  Taken one of the directors well used tropes of “the wrong man” on the run, the film is absolute perfection.  It zips along with such ease and pace I am always staggered how long it is, the time flies by when you watch it. 

The Ipcress File (1965): Based on Len Deighton’s novel The IPCRESS File, despite sharing a producer with Bond, Harry Saltzman this is far from a Bond movie.  Like When Eight Bells Toll, it is intended to be more realistic than Bond, with its sneering look at bureaucracy  it is almost satirical at times.  But the real difference is the main character, Harry Palmer, played by Michael Caine.  Bond loves his job, or more to the point he loves the trappings of his job, his fancy suits, his Swiss Watch, fast cars, fancy hotels.  Harry Palmer is a reluctant spy, British army sergeant forcibly drafted into the security services to avoid a prison sentence! He just wants to do his time, and would like a pay rise.

When Eight Bells Toll (1971): Made with Bond audiences in mind, but with the intention of being more gritty and realistic.  Based on a novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean, British Treasury secret agent Phillip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins) investigates hijacking of cargo ships in the Irish Sea.  Intended as the first in a series around the time when the Bond franchise was rumoured to be in trouble following the departure of Sean Connery.  Further films never materialised, partly due to poor boxoffice numbers in America, and possibly due to Connery returning to Bond later the same year.  Not a classic, but good fun adventure movie, at 95 minutes it won’t outstay its welcome.  I would watch it over Diamonds Are Forever!

The Russia House (1990): I have largely avoided movies based on John le Carré novels here as they are a very different beast to Bond.  More thoughtful and realistic and lacking the action and adventure associated with Ian Fleming’s creation.  I am not including this as it has any of those elements, quite the opposite,  I have chosen it, because it stars Sean Connery, and he is excellent playing a very different part Bond.  

The Rock (1996): Hands down Michael Bay’s best movie low bar, I know but this is genuinely good! The third and final Sean Connery movie on the list, here, he plays a former British SAS captain and MI6 operative.  Some fans have suggested the character is Bond in all but name, but in a lot of ways he is more badass  than his Bond ever was.  The plot is unimportant filled with McGuffin’s and contrivances but the film is great fun, Connery and co star Nicolas Cage are excellent together. 

The Bourne Identity (2002): Probably the most obvious choice on the list, but an excellent one! Based on Robert Ludlum’s novel of the same name, this first film in the franchise is the only one to take any real plot from the novel series.  Directed by Doug Liman, and often overshadowed by Paul Greengrass who made a further three movies in the series.  My favourite of the Bourne movies, it has the best story and some great performances throughout.  It is also notable for the impact it had on Bond! Released in the summer of 2002, Die Another Day would have been in the can by this time, but it the next Bond movie, Casino Royale four years later was the closest the franchise has come to a reboot, and it was all the better for it. 

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006): If you want spoof of Bond and other spy movies of the genre it isn’t Austin Powers, it has to be Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, AKA OSS 117.  Both Jean Bruce’s OSS 117 spy novels and the first film adaptations of them predate  Ian Flemings Bond novels and EON’s adaptations of them.  I know nothing of the French novels or films beyond the fact there is a lot of them! However, in 2006 the character was re-imagined  by writer director Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo (Hazanavicius’s wife).  You may recognise these names, they went on to make the multi Oscar winning The Artist (2011).  A parody of the genre, OSS117 is an idiot who a little like Inspector Clouseau solves cases by either luck, or other people doing it for him.  There was a sequel  OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009), and a third film is due out this year OSS 117: Alerte rouge en Afrique noire (2021).

Atomic Blonde (2017): What if John Wick was a woman, and she was a spy? That is pretty much what Atomic Blonde is.  Directed by David Leitch who was an uncredited  co-director with Chad Stahelski on the first John Wick movie.  Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City; set in Berlin in 1989 in the last days of the Berlin wall, the plot is a typical find the McGuffin story, this time a list of double agents.  What sets the film apart from anything else, is the style, and breathtaking action.  Its like a Bond or any other film on this list stripped back and boiled down to its core elements.

Red Sparrow (2018): A fictional version of the real life use of “sexpionage” by the Soviet Union, and possibly Russia in the post soviet era.  A decent film with although it does over rely on the charisma of stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton.  Better than the movie I would recommend the trilogy of books (the movie was based on the first) written by Jason Matthews, a former Central Intelligence Agency Officer.  Matthews sadly passed away a few weeks ago, so these three books are his only books. 

Kingsman (2014): As much as I love the Craig era Bond movies, but to quote Harry Hart when asked if he likes spy movies “Nowadays, they’re all a little serious for my taste. But the old ones… marvellous. Give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day.”  A truly silly film that manages to be a great spy movie and a great spoof of a spy movie at the same time! 

And finally, a few honourable mentions: Mission Impossible (1996–present): Tom Cruise’s movie series based on the 60’s TV show. Hanna (2011): Saoirse Ronan as a teenage assassin. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015): Guy Ritchie’s movie based on the 60’s TV show had decent reviews but failed to find an audience.  Its good fun id a little lightweight.  Inception (2010) More a high concept sci-fi heist movie than a spy movie, but there are a lot of elements reminiscent of classic Bond movies.  No Way Out (1987) A crime thriller set against a backdrop of espionage. Well worth watching if you haven’t already seen it.   

As infuriating as the delays to No Time To Die are, was the right thing to do, all I really want is to watch the movie in a cinema on the biggest screen I can find.

Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios president has recently confirmed that Deadpool 3 is going to be part of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  The character as portrayed in the first two Deadpool movies exists in the same universe as the X-Men, but not the MCU.  This has been made possible by Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox.  It will be impossible to weave the existing X-Men into the MCU, the continuity would be impossible to reconcile.  Looking at the X-Men movies in their entirety, you may say what continuity! But as Deadpool exists on the fringe of the X universe rather than at its heart, this can still work.  But is does lead to the question, will the X-Men make their way into the MCU.  The answer is that they more than likely will. [WandaVision – SPOILER WARNING] For as moment it looked like it had already happened when it appeared that Evan Peters who portrayed Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver in three X-Men movies appeared in WandaVision as Pietro Maximoff.  It transpired that he wasn’t , in effect preventing the actor from future MCU appearances [end of spoilers].  

How will this happen?  There had been suggestions that the X-Men have existed in their own timeline, and will merge with the MCU via events in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), the TV show Wandavision (2021), or even the time travel antics of Avengers Endgame (2019).  One of these has proved not to be the case so far.  Existing in their own timeline, then merging would explain why we haven’t seen them before in the MCU, and why they didn’t help out in the small matter of Thanos.  Let’s not forget “The Twins” Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch), and Pietro Maximoff (Quicksilver) gained their abilities from experiments with an infinity stone.  In the comic books, they are mutants, and furthermore, the children of Magneto (they first appeared in The X-Men #4 (March 1964)).  Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) both featured versions of Quicksilver.  The only other option would be to totally reboot them, and suggest that mutants have only just started gaining their abilities, again this would likely be connected to events in an existing property.  However they do it, some kind of reboot to the X-Men is inevitable.  With Logan (2017) marked the end of Hugh Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine, the other original X-Men had pretty much handed over to the new cast from First Class (2011), who in turn had fizzled out making two excellent films: First Class, and Days of Future Past (2014); followed by two terrible ones: Apocalypse (2016), and Dark Phoenix (2019).  The latter was the first movie in the franchise to be a fanatical failure, with Deadline Hollywood sighting it as the biggest box office bomb of 2019.

While the X-Men and the avengers don’t spend much time together on the page, they do exist in the same universe and do crossover from time to time.  Their first appearance came on The X-Men #1 (September 1963).  As with other properties, their histories, origins, and outcomes have changed as new writers come onboard, and storylines play out.  Sometimes there are huge contrivances to make the plot fit, then you have the comic book favourite, alternate universes, and just plain reboots and retcons.  Nothing is sacred, and even canon isn’t really canon!  

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are credited with the invention of the X-Men.  Years later Lee explained he came up with the idea as an easy way of introducing an infinite number of powered characters with a variety of abilities: “I couldn’t have everybody bitten by a radioactive spider or exposed to a gamma ray explosion. And I took the cowardly way out. I said to myself, ‘Why don’t I just say they’re mutants? They were born that way.'”  There is one MCU character who has a significant crossover with the X-Men in the comic books.  Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968).  At this time she did not have her Kree powers and was a United States Air Force officer and colleague of the Kree superhero Mar-Vell aka Captain Marvel.  She was accidentally subjected some MacGuffin she mutated on a genetic level into a Human/Kree Hybrid superhuman going by the name of Ms. Marvel.  Rogue then permanently absorbed Danvers powers leaving her in a coma.  She eventually recovered , regained her powers and took the name Captain Marvel. 

This presents two opportunities.  So far in movies we have only seen Anna Paquin’s Rogue temporarily absorbing powers and crippled by the guilt of putting her first boyfriend in a coma. While a great performance, it lacks the fun, and attitude of the character from the comic books.  It isn’t clear if this was an artistic choice, or one made in a universe that didn’t include Danvers.  Whatever the reason, it would be fun to see a very different Rouge in future.  It is also worth remembering she started out as a villain in the comic books before joining the X-Men.  The second opportunity relates to Captain Marvel, like Superman, she is too powerful to be interesting.  This gives her the chance to sell an interesting story without having to find a advisory with similar power.

A final thought, if the X-Men can join the MCU, so can the Fantastic Four.  I’m sure it is due for another reboot, if not, from his Captain America duties, Chris Evans could return as Johnny Storm / Human Torch.  Unlikely, but worth it for the moment Wade Wilson mention’s how much he looks like Cap!