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The Dukes of Hazard, The Fall Guy, Knightrider, Battlestar Galactica, The A Team, Magnum, P.I.  I remember watching all of these movies as a kid.  One thing they had in common with all TV of the time, I watched one episode a week for the duration of their time on TV.  If I missed an episode, I missed it, unless I happened to catch a rerun.  On the whole this was never an issue as most shows were made up of self contained episodes.  There are exceptions, to this day, there still remains an episode of magnum that I haven’t seen, the second of a two part story. the dukes of hazard

Things changed a few years ago with programs like The Sopranos, Firefly and the new version of Battlestar Galactica.  Shows that I watched on DVD not when they aired on TV.  This was my first experience of binging TV shows.  With Amazon and Netflix shows like Bosch, The Man in the High Castle, Preacher and The Marvel TV shows Binging took on a whole new meaning. Battlestar Galactica

I recently bemoaned that American Gods was released one episode per week, however, some shows better savoured.  The long awaited third season of Twin Peaks and the TV version of The Handmaids Tale are perfect examples.  While every episode of American Gods leaves you wanting more Twin Peaks in particular needs time to sink in.  Part 8 is a perfect example, esoteric in the extreme and abstract in places.  After watching it, I wouldn’t have watched another episode straight after that even if it had been available.   Part 8

So what is the conclusion to all this?  Are TV shows best savoured or binge watched?  There probably isn’t an answer, it depends on the show, and the person watching it; I just thought I would share my thoughts and ramblings, what else is a blog for!

I have had something of a strange and strange relationship with the director Brian De Palma. I remember watching his movies as a teenager, movies like: Carrie, Obsession, The Fury, Dressed to kill, Blowout, Body Double, The Untouchables, Casualties of War, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, and of course Scarface. I enjoyed all of these movies, however, I was immersed enough in a in film to see some of the problems with some of them. This however, did not detract from the filmmaking skill on display. But then things changed. I went to university and started studying film. De Palma was persona non-grata. He was considered something of a hack who had built a career on ripping off Hitchcock. As an impressionable student I quickly took on this mantle too. But then I watch Carrie again and realised this is a dam good movie. And started evaluating and questioning what I’ve been taught.Brian De Palma

Then something even stranger happened, De Palma directed the first Tom Cruise, Mission Impossible movie.  This was before the Bourne movies and before Sam Mendes had made a film, let alone a Bond film.  Given the gig to direct the first in what turned out to be a hugely successful franchise, De Palma had suddenly gained credibility by directing what was essentially an action adventure popcorn movie. The hugely successful Tom Cruise vehicle started asking questions about other similar movies within the genre. The suggestion was that James Bond maybe better if it is listed top big-name directors like De Palma.Carrie Blow Out Scarface Body Double

Little did I know this was the beginning of the end for the director as his output began to slow dramatically he has today’s only made six movies in the 21 years that followed Mission Impossible. These movies have been varied to say the least. Snake eyes is a bit of a mess but a tremendous fun of a mess largely thanks to an over the top performance by Nicolas Cage and the stylish long tracking shots and use of split screen. Of the other five movies only femme fatale is interesting. It is clearly not a great movie, it is clichéd and a little disjointed; the plot is unnecessarily convoluted, having said all of this it is actually an enjoyable and fun movie to watch. And this is what De Palma its best that. His films may not be as good as those of Hitchcock but they are largely of the time and very watchable. It is difficult to imagine what more we can expect other filmmakers. True, we want to be challenged and maybe even educated but ultimately we want enjoyable entertaining experience and that is what De Palma has always given us.The Untouchables Mission Impossible Snake Eyes Femme Fatale

Why am asking these questions and making these points now? Very simply I have just watched the documentary entitled De Palma. Hearing him talk passionately about the films he has made has reminded me how much I am enjoyed many of them and really should watch some of them again. In this age of movies that are contrived with the bottom line more important than the entertainment and artistic merit of the film we really should be embracing directors like this, directors who love what they do, directors who love movies.

Back in 2001 I was hooked by an interesting piece of marketing.  A small booklet came with my copy of Empire film magazine.  I read it thinking it was a short story.  It was actually the first chapter of a book; Chameleon by Mark Burnell.  I went out and purchased the book and loved it.  I then went back and read the first book in the series The Rhythm Section.   It was announced yesterday that Blake Lively will star in an adaptation of the first book produced by Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson and directed by Reed Morano who directed the first three episodes of the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale.AgeD10-096.dng

This isn’t the first time Burnell’s work has been suggested for a movie adaptation.  Back in November 2009 an article in Variety reported that Broccoli and Wilson had purchased the rights to an upcoming Mark Burnell novel Remote Control.  Neither the book or the film have appeared yet.  In fact, Burnell hasn’t published any books since 2005.

The film will probably differ greatly from the book, this isn’t a problem, like James Bond, Stephanie Patrick is a great character with a lot of millage.  A brief synopsis of the book: Following the death of her family in a plane crash the stories heroine, Stephanie Patrick is on the edge, she has developed a drug and drink problem and is working as a Soho prostitute. Her descent into self destruction is halted by a journalist who has discovered the crash that killed her family was caused by a bomb. What follows is a story of Stephanie’s search for the truth, for retribution and more than anything to find herself. This is a story about identity. She soon realises that she has moved too far from the person she was before the tragedy to ever be that person again.  She could never be the person she would have been if not for these events, she has to invent herself. This isn’t easy when she has so many aliases and plays so many different parts. She starts as Lisa, the “chemical blonde” prostitute but also becomes: Marina Gaudenzi, a Swiss businesswoman, Susan Branch, an American student Elizabeth Shepherd, an English management consultant and the most compelling alias the deadly and brutal Petra Reuter, German anarchist, mercenary and terrorist. As Stephanie gets involved with a mysterious government agency she becomes more embroiled in a terrorist plot that has frightening similarities to the September 11th terrorist attacks (the book was published two years before the attacks).The Rhythm Section

There are four books in the series:  The Rhythm Section 1999, Chameleon 2001, Gemini 2003, The Third Woman 2005.  Burnell also wrote two previous unrelated novels: a supernatural thriller Freak 1994, and a Vampire horror/love story Glittering Savages 1995.  It will be interesting to see further casting and the setting for the film, will it be set in the 90’s or updated to today?  With the inclusion of Californian Blake Lively will the character be English or American? As an international story, the origin of the character is probably not that important.  From one point of view it is good to see a female director getting the gig. From another prospective, it is a shame that it is news.  Reed Morano has a background as cinematographer.  Her debut feature was Meadowland (2015).  As well as The Handmaid’s Tale she has directed episodes of  Billions and Halt and Catch Fire.  She has an upcoming feature; I Think We’re Alone Now (2018) starring Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning. Stephanie Patrick Mark Burnell

For those interested in reading the book, to the best of my knowledge the book of the Rhythm Section is out of print but there are usually cheep second hand copies available from Amazon, if the film goes into production it will probably be reprinted. 

Michael Bay is a director obsessed with spectacle, critic Mark Kermode has described him as having pornographic sensibilities.  His films have a certain leering quality that is sure to appeal to fourteen year old boys.  As a filmmaker this could be forgiven if not for the fact that he appears to have forgotten how to tell a story.  The perfect case in point is his latest opus Transformers: The Last Knight. Transformers The Last Knight poster

The set-up: In Dark Ages England, Merlin (Stanley Tucci) has been keeping a crashed alien spaceship secret.  As King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) faces defeat from a hoard (I think they called them Saxons), Merlin begs the Alien for help.  He is given a staff and the aliens transform into a three headed dragon and fly to help.  1600 years later Quintessa who may or may not be the creator of the transformers plots to destroy earth to save Cybertron.

The film introduces three new main characters: Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), Izabella (Isabela Moner), Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) who are joined by Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) from the previous movie.  So what do all these new characters do to save the world? Actually not a lot:

  • Cade Yeager: Uses a sword that appears from nowhere (if actually transforms from a MacGuffin) to save Optimus Prime from execution.
  • Vivian Wembley: Pulls the staff (another MacGuffin) out of the ground stopping whatever the fuck is going on.
  • Izabella: tells her transformer sidekick to go and blow up a gun.
  • Sir Edmund Burton: not much, he is basically Basil Exposition.Transformers The Last Knight

To make matters worse it is suggested that Quintessa can only make her dastardly plan work with the staff that only Vivian Wembley can find.  So what do our heroes do? They track the staff down from its secret hiding place and give it to the enemy to set up the obligatory big thing hovering over earth impending doom finale required for this type of movie.  Furthermore, Viviane Wembly’s presence is only required as she is the last living member of the “Witwiccan”, does this mean that Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky (seen in a photograph) is dead. Transformers The Last Knight

So in summation, the plot of the movie is: The big bad has a plan that can’t come to fruition without the help of the heroes finding a MacGuffin.  The heroes only know of the existence of the MacGuffin because the person who is supposed to keep it secret has told them about it.  Not only do they lead the enemy to the MacGuffin but they hand it over then go on a mission to get it back.  For a film that is about two and half hours long it appears they forgot to write a middle act, the film is equal parts set-up, exposition and conclusion.

Please Michael Bay, if you intend to make more movies go away and learn how to tell a story. 

Eight films is a somewhat improvement of last Junes sport interrupted three.  Amongst them there are two films that would have been movie of the month contenders in other months along with the eventual winner that as we hit the half way point of the year is certainly on my shortlist for the year end top ten. The contenders are:

Wonder Woman: Origin story of Wonder Woman from Diana an Amazon princess through her first adventure.  Perfect castling, a good story and sublime direction make for a classy comic book movie.  I would go as far as to say, the best DC movie since The Dark Knight nearly a decade ago.Wonder Woman

Gifted: Family drama about a single man raising a child maths prodigy.  Not totally original but not falling into all the clichés you would expect.  Its greatest strength is its performances couples with well told story.  Proof if you needed it that Chris Evans has a career beyond Cap.  Gifted

The Mummy: Universal launches its “Dark Universe” reimagining its classic monsters.  Unfortunately, it isn’t very good.  There are some good moments,  Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella are good, Russell Crowe is terrible.  All in all, it is a missed opportunity. The Mummy

My Cousin Rachel: A young man is unsure whether to plot revenge against, or fall in love with his late cousin’s widow who may or may not have killed him.  Rachel Weisz is sensational in this Daphne Du Maurier adaptation.  Not perfect but extremely good. My Cousin Rachel

Baby Driver: the story of a getaway driver since before he was old enough to drive sounds like a genre B picture, in a way Baby Driver is, but in the best way.  Is it Edgar Wright’s best film?  That is too subjective to answer, but it is certainly his most accomplished and my favourite. Baby Driver

Churchill: Brian Cox is perfect as Winston Churchill, Miranda Richardson is even better as Clementine Churchill.  The film is both interesting and largely enjoyable but considering the subject matter sadly a little lightweight and insignificant. Churchill

The Book of Henry: With a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the low 20’s  and reviews including: “Grotesquely phony and manipulative” and “a sub-Spielbergian pastiche, “The Book of Henry” is mostly a tedious”. This is unkind, the movie is flawed and predicable (other than the mid movie left turn/genre change) but is well made and well acted.  it isn’t great but it doesn’t disserve the vitriol. The Book of Henry

Transformers: The Last Knight: A total mess of a film with an ill-conceived and poorly realised plot.  It looks good and the actors appear to be having fun.  There is little to recommend it beyond saying it is less offensive than the last couple of instalments of the franchise. Transformers The Last Knight

Had it found its way to the screen in any other month, there is a good chance Wonder Woman would have achieved the accolade of movie of the month, but there is one film that is head and shoulders above the rest, the movie of the month is:Baby Driver Poster

Baby Driver

“My daddy was the family bassman

My mamma was an engineer

And I was born one dark gray morn

With music coming in my ears

In my ears”

Baby Driver Poster

Back in the mid 90’s I was a student of film, obsessed with every new idea whilst simultaneously being immersed in the movies of the past.  Just to confuse matters I also had one eye looking to the east; I was discovering films from both Europe and Asia in depth for the first time.  It was at this time that I first saw Quentin Tarantino’s first two movies Reservoir Dogs (a couple of years after its original release) and Pulp Fiction (on opening night).  As with many other people at the time I couldn’t decide if I should marvel at the originality or recoil at the plagiarism of Tarantino.  I soon came to realise what Tarantino was doing wasn’t plagiarism, it wasn’t even homage, it went so much deeper than that!  Quentin Tarantino was, and hopefully still is a sponge sucking up all that he comes into contact with; but when you squeeze that sponge, you don’t get what went in, you don’t even get a mixture of what went in, you get the best bits of what went in coloured by Tarantino’s own vision.  Why am I saying this? Because this week I have seen Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, the British director I can’t help comparing to Tarantino. 

Yet to be released in the UK or USA, Baby Driver currently has a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 100% based with an average rating of 8.5/10; to put it another way, its bloody good!  Is it Edgar Wright’s best film?  That is too subjective to answer, it is certainly his most accomplished, and I think it is my favourite.  For the uninitiated, here is the obligatory synopsis:

baby driver Ansel Elgort

Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been a getaway driver since before he was old enough to drive.  Following a childhood accident we learn about as the narrative unfolds, Baby suffers from tinnitus.  To drown out the hum of his condition he listens to music on his IPod (other fruit and none fruit based devices are available).  Anything beyond this would be a spoiler, the trailer already gives too much away.

Kevin Spacey Baby Driver

What is so good about what on the surface is a genre movie with a thin plot? The answer to that is both obvious and strangely intangible.  The largely recognisable cast (Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx) are all fantastic, particularly a surprisingly understated Kevin Spacey.   His performance is as measured and deadpan as when he appeared in the David Mamet penned Glengarry Glen Ross a quarter of a century ago.  Elgort is a revelation displaying both more subtlety and likeability than in his more teen friendly movies.  Hamm and Foxx are clearly having the most fun with the most character roles.  But the brilliance goes so far beyond just the performances.  The characters anchor the movie but the sublime script keeps the movie ticking along perfectly keeping the audience in the palm of its metaphorical hand.  I wouldn’t go as far as calling the trailer bait and switch, but it is as wonderfully misleading as you would expect in a few subtle ways.

Baby Driver

The aforementioned references to other movies are exactly subtle, but they aren’t heavy-handed either.   I can see Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Driver (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), Point Break (1991) and Heat (1995).  There is probably also a bit of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Drive (2011),not to mention Monsters, Inc. (2001) that is both seen and referenced. I haven’t even mentioned the music yet.  Edgar Wright has described writing a scene for every song used, a feat he really has accomplished.  It’s so easy slip a few classic tracks into a movie, Baby Driver does so much more than that.  The music choices aren’t always obvious, but they are always perfect, and perfectly fit the movie.  There are little moments of brilliance including scenes cut to the rhythm of the song, or rewinding a song to time with the robbery.  There are also moments we hear from Baby’s point of view with the drone of tinnitus.

Ansel Elgort;Lily James

This is Baby’s story so we only get as glimpse or a mention of the other characters when they are not interacting with Baby.  This works well for the film as a whole but does leave Lily James’ Debora a little thinly drawn.  This is a filmmaking choice rather than a mistake.  It actually works to the benefit of the other characters, namely; Doc (Kevin Spacey), Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González) who we don’t always know what to expect from them.  The Atlanta setting is also key, set in LA, Chicago or Boston it would be a different film (It couldn’t be set in New York traffic) it also gives us marvellous southern accents and evokes the outlaw spirit of films from the 70’s and 80’s.

Fun, funny and charming, Baby Drive manages to be both original and familiar a totally joyous  experience and the perfect antidote to the soulless blockbusters and heavy counterprogramming of the summer.   

 

A couple of weeks ago I saw King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Guy Ritchie’s cockney geezer take on the legend.  While not as bad as has been reported (I actually enjoyed it) it was all a little pointless.  An over told story that more often than not disappoints on screen.  The worst of the film was trying to shoehorn elements of the legend into the directors vision.  Surely it would have been better to tell a new original dark ages story?  Even better tell a real one. William Marshal coat of arms

The battle of Lincoln (or to be precise the second battle of Lincoln) took place on 20 may 1217 between the forces of Henry III of England (an eleven year old child at the time) and (the future) Louise VIII of France.  The child kings forces were led by his Regent William Marshal.  The 70 year old Marshal was reported to be at the centre of the action and fought fiercely despite his age, this helped cement his reputation as the “best knight that ever lived”, a eulogy originally bestowed by the English Cardinal Stephen Langton.  Marshal’s was successful and set the ensured that Henry reigned for another fifty years and preventing the future king of France from taking the English throne. The battle of Lincoln

William Marshal, grew up during The Anarchy in the 12th century, and was held hostage by King Steven to help ensure the loyalty of his farther John Marshal.  He went on to spend his adolescence in Normandy in the household of William de Tancarville.  In 1168 while in his early 20’s he earned Royal Favour, he was involved in and ultimately injured and captured in a skirmish following an ambush.  Before injury and capture he fought fierce rearguard action allowing the escape of some of the party. His bravery help earn him favour with his captors who fed him and dressed his would.   His ransom was paid by Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen consort of Henry II of England) resulting in him rejoining the court of King Henry II. heath ledger a knight's tale

He went on to receive the title of Earl of Pembroke through marriage.  He spent many years as champion tournament competitor, and was an inspiration for Heath Ledger’s character, William Thatcher, in the movie A Knight’s Tale.tomb of William Marshal

In 1216, he was appointed Regent and protector for the nine-year-old Henry III, and regent of the kingdom.  He continued in the role until his death three years later.  He was invested into the order of the Knights Templar on his deathbed and was subsequently buried in the Temple Church in London, his tomb remains there to this day.

This is a brief snapshot of an incredible life, and surely one that deserves a movie.