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Nine movies, one was rubbish, four were okay, four are contenders for movie of the month:

Eddie the Eagle: Dexter Fletcher’s take on the true story of British ski jumper Eddie Edwards.  What could have been a joke is actually, warm funny and uplifting.Eddie the Eagle

The Huntsman: Winters War: Part sequel, part prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).  The cast including Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt deservers better.  The visuals are good, but the story is confused and falls flat.The Huntsman Winters War

Midnight special: Jeff Nichols moves into sci-fi with a film that manages to tip its hat at Spielberg without ever feeling like a pastiche. Like many of the best sci-fi it’s a film about people and relationships.Midnight special

The Man who Knew Infinity: True story of self taught mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.  Well acted by Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel but the story telling is a little pedestrian.The Man who Knew Infinity

Eye in the Sky: Thriller that explores the pitfalls and moral complexities of modern drone warfare.  Often tense, but not without comic moments.  A great film elevated by performances from Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman who are on top form.Eye in the Sky

Bastille Day:  Silly action thriller set in Paris.  It lacks the nastiness and xenophobia of many similar films.  It is also helped by the always watchable Idris Elba.Bastille Day

Louder than Bombs: Told in a mixture of present day and flashback, a man and his two sons deal with the death of his wife.  A mesmerising film thanks in no small part to a monumental performance by Isabelle Huppert.  A brilliant little film that deserves a bigger audience.Bastille Day

Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle writes, directs, produces and stars in this sort-of biopic of Miles Davis.  A hugely entertaining caper movie that gives a good backdrop to Davis’ music.  It however total fails as a biopic.  Cheadle is great, however it’s a film that would have been far more interesting if made 30-40 years ago with Davis playing himself.Miles Ahead

Captain America: Civil War: The collateral damage of their actions cause a showdown between super heroes.  Sound familiar?  The idea is largely the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  However, Civil War succeeds in just about every way that Dawn of Justice fails.  It is coherent and fun, it even manages to avoid the biggest failing of the MCU, an original final act, not a rehash of previous movies.Captain America Civil War

The month boils down to four real contenders: Eye in the Sky, Midnight special, Louder than Bombs and Captain America.  Louder than Bombs was probably my favourite and Midnight special will be held with the highest regard in future, but the movie of the month is Captain America: Civil War. Captain America Civil War poster

To be……….

Today is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare (and possibly the 452nd anniversary of his birth).  It is amazing to think that his words are still spoken today, but when you hear them it soon becomes how they have stood the test of time.  I was going to write something to mark the day and was torn between an article on the best movies to take their plot from Shakespeare plays or best movies of his plays.  In the end I decided against either.  I hated Shakespeare at school! I couldn’t stand reading stupid old plays that I barely understood, they may as well have been in a foreign language.  It wasn’t until I went to university and a friend convinced me to watch a film of one of his plays, Henry V as I remember, that it clicked.  Plays are not to there to be read like a book, they are to be performed by actors.  That’s why I decided to post a few clips of performances of the Bards work.  I was planning to pick clips from different plays but couldn’t decide which version of his most famous Soliloquy so I decided to go with multiple versions of it.

I couldn’t find a version of Nicol Williamson from Tony Richardson’s adaptation, except bizarrely one dubbed into Russian.  I didn’t include that but did use Grigori Kozintsev’s Russian adaptation.  I haven’t seen any version for several years, from memory, the Kenneth Branagh version looks amazing and the Franco Zeffirelli/ Mel Gibson one is better than you would expect it to be.

It was a brave move for Marvel to reboot Daredevil as a TV show rather than a movie, but having just binge watched the second series it is increasingly looking like a good one.  A few years ago the idea of a studio relegating one of its major properties to the small screen would have been unthinkable.  The newly found status of TV helps but on its own isn’t enough for the gamble to pay off, the content has to be good too.  A point proven by the fact that I gave up on Gotham and The Arrow after a few episodes each and haven’t seen any of the other DC, TV shows. The ongoing sagas of comic books do lend themselves to TV but there is something else.  Daredevil is a better fit for TV than film.  Where The Avengers work on a global scale Daredevil and his alter ego, Matt Murdock are firmly rooted in their Hell’s Kitchen home.  This is problem that DC are going to have to contend with as they move Batman out of Gotham and  into the world of the Justice League.daredevil

With a far darker tone than Agents of Shield and Agent Carter the series exists on the edge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the better for it.  The beauty of its execution, there is no need to see any other MCU property to make sense of it, and likewise, you don’t need to see it to complete the story told in the movies.  Like the rest of the universe the odds have gone up as time has gone on.  Although there hints a bigger story in season one, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) was largely a local villain.  Season two moves things onto a whole new level, introducing an outside threat.  It is however careful with its introduction of new characters.  Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) and Frank Castle aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) are the most notable additions.elektra

We know that The Defenders is on its way, a new series where Daredevil will hook-up with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the yet to be introduced Iron Fist.  To its credit, Daredevil resists the temptation of introducing the new characters.  The only overlap being a cameo from Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) from Jessica Jones and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple who has appeared in both shows.  Elektra and The Punisher are better served than in any of their big screen outings with real motivations.  The plot is well served giving character arc’s for all the main protagonists, both new and old.  The new story both is tied up nicely and left open for future development.The Punisher

TV will never replace cinema for me and I still expect to see the bigger stories on the big screen but some stories belong on TV, and good TV is better than second rate movies. 

Video may have Killed the Radio Star, but the internet certainly killed the video shop!

My love of movies wasn’t born in the cinema, I have mentioned more than one occasion on this site that I didn’t visit the cinema very often as a kid.  I grew up in the 80’s, so like so many of my generation I grew up with video, and I watched a hell of a lot of them.  Back in the 80’s video’s were very expensive to buy and weren’t available for purchase until years after cinema release.  When you could eventually buy a movie it would cost at least £9.99, that’s about £38 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation.  So the only option was to rent a video for £1 (nearly £4 adjusted for inflation).  The first film I remember watching was  Superman (1978).  After that my parents would bring films home from a mythical place called a video shop.  I am sure I must have had some input towards some of the films we watched but there was one time I remember picking a film myself. Possibly my first experience of choosing films myself, it came when our local newsagent stated having a small selection of films available to rent.  As a huge Star Wars fan the first film I remember choosing myself was Dune (1984).  Very different to Star Wars and my first experience of David Lynch, at the age of nine.  My entire family hated it.  I loved it, and still do to this day.superman

A few years later, we had moved house and had a video shop walking distance from home.   By the age of around the age of around twelve or thirteen, the owner of said establishment informed me I could have my own account and rent videos myself, I didn’t need my parents to do it for me.   He insisted I only took age appropriate films, but never thought to ask my age.  I went straight for the 15 certificate films.  I still needed my mom to rent 18 certificate films, things like Mad Max, The Terminator, and the better horror films for me.Mad Max (1979) 1

My obsession with video continued until I went to university and started visiting the cinema at least once a week.  I continued to rent videos from time to time after this.  By then the smaller independent shops had disappeared and been replaced by chains like Choices, Titles and Blockbuster, they too have also since vanished.   I still rent DVD’s from a well known mail order company, and also use their streaming service.  It isn’t the same as browsing the through the a video shop, looking at the covers, reading the blurb and picking a movie.   Sometimes picking a new release that I had heard Barry Norman talk about six months earlier at the time of the cinema release; other times going for an unseen classic or an older genre film that caught my eye.

Had I not been struck by the cover photo of Nikita I would never have seen the film (not the cover seen below that is an American one).  A film that proved my gateway into European and then world cinema.  I remember walking to the counter clutching the empty box hoping they didn’t ask me for ID, it was an 18 certificate film and I was two or three years too young to be renting it.  I got to the counter, the woman took the case from me and went to look for the tape.  She came back tape in hand and was about to put it in the case, and paused.  I was waiting for her to point out the 18 certificate.  Instead of asking for ID, she asked if I realised the film was subtitled.  I had no idea that the film was in French and that I would have to read subtitles, but still liked the look of it and replied, yes.  I think I said something about Luc Besson the director of The Big Blue and Subway, films I had never heard of but had read about in the blurb on the back of the box.  I walked out with the video and went home and watched it immediately.  I think I saw it another twice before returning the tape.nikita

That was twenty-five years ago and things have changed.  I watch two or more movies a week at the cinema (30 in the first three months of this year) and am convinced that it is and will remain the best way to see a film.  However, miss video shops.  You could argue that a video shop offered more choice than the cinema, but that argument falls flat with the various streaming services and readily available illegal streaming/downloads.  The quality argument goes out the window, with Smart HD TV’s  and superfast broadband, picture quality is much better than VHS ever was.  But that isn’t the  point.  Video shops are from a place in time that offered so much more than was available to us in a time of three TV channels.

Then we have the people who work in video shops.  By the time the big chains had taken over, they were staffed by spotty teens or middle aged women, all working part time and none having no knowledge or interest in the films.  But the independent shops were owned often and run by people with a knowledge and love of film, they could often recommend films and were always willing to reserve titles for regular customers.  If you happened to be a customer of a certain video store in Manhattan Beach, California you may have been served by Quentin Tarantino!  Like with so many people, it was a video shop owner that recommended The Thing and Blade Runner to me years before they gained their cult status, it was these people that made cult hits out of movies.

I probably have an overly romanticised memory of what video shops were, but they served me well in my formative years and I will always have fond memories of them.

A couple of questionable movie rub shoulders with five great contenders for movie of the month, they are:

Hail Caesar: The Coen Brothers most Coen Brothers movie in years.  The film looks great and the ensemble cast is fantastic.  As cleaver as it is funny.Hail Caesar

How to be Single: Dakota Johnson is engaging and Rebel Wilson is devastatingly funny in this surprisingly good comedy.How to be Single

The Witch: Horror thriller tale of an English family in 17th century New England.  As bleak as it is beautiful, the films greatest achievement is the way it makes the viewer doubt and question what  they see.  It’s hard to believe it is Robert Eggers’ directorial début.The Witch

The Divergent Series: Allegiant: Half of the weakest book in the Divergent Series is the basis for what is by far the weakest movie in the series so far.  Shailene Woodley deserves better.The Divergent Series Allegiant

Anomalisa: Stunning use of stop motion and an intriguing concept are hampered by dull storytelling.

10 Cloverfield Lane: Claustrophobic thriller that very different from Cloverfield.  Depending on your point of view the title is either a great benefit or significance hindrance to the plot.  Either way hugely enjoyable film with great turns from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman.10 Cloverfield Lane

High-Rise: Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel about society condensed into an apartment block. Not without flaws but ultimately stunning and thought provoking.High-Rise

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: There are lots of good things about DC’s attempts to catch up with Marvel, most notably Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne / Batman but ultimately it is disappointing and a little dull.Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice

Disorder: Moody and French.  Matthias Schoenaerts is excellent.  What on the surface is a home invasion thriller is really a deeper story of PTSD. Worth looking out.Disorder

There are five genuine contenders for movie of the month: Hail Caesar is fun, How to be Single is funny, The Witch is thought provoking, 10 Cloverfield Lane is riveting, High-Rise is bonkers.  It seems unfair to pick such small margins from so diverse movies, however, there can be only one, thus High-Rise is my movie of the month by a whisker.High-Rise movie poster

“I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in

I watched myself crawling out as I was a-crawling in

I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind

I saw so much I broke my mind”

Mickey Newbury

As I walked out of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice I sent a tweet renaming the movie Yawn Of Justice Review.  This was a little unkind as the film isn’t truly boring, it was just disappointing. When I heard that director Zack Snyder was inspired by Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns I had a glimmer of hope.  The last time a director took inspiration from a Frank Miller Batman novel it was Christopher Nolan and Batman: Year One became Batman Begins.  So what went wrong?batman vs superman

Zack Snyder is something of an easy target for criticism, but I have never felt like an apologist when defending his work.  Despite my love for the original I liked his remake of Dawn of the Dead(2004); 300 (2006) was dumb camp fun with a great cast (and referred to by tour guides  when I went to Athens last year); Watchmen (2009) is a monumental and underrated adaptation of what is probably the best graphic novel ever.  Sucker Punch (2011) has its problems book looks amazing and really isn’t as bad as you have been told; Man of Steel (2013) is far from perfect especially the Transformers style finale, but, the build up and character development is really good.  Henry Cavill and Amy Adams where perfect casting.  So I ask the question again: So what went wrong?batman vs superman batman

Before I get to that, what did he get right?  Ben Affleck could be a great Batman.  I have long thought Michael Keaton should reprise his Batman for The Dark Knight Returns (with the right director even George Clooney could get away with it), Affleck plays the older jaded and on edge Batman to perfection, this truly is a performance that needs a better film.  The same is true of Jeremy Irons as Alfred, he deserves his own film.  Henry Cavill is still a decent Superman, but given that this is supposed to be a superman movie he isn’t given much to do.  Holly Hunter is excellent in a small part, and Gal Gadot seems okay in what we have seen of her.  So for a third and final time, went wrong? For a start Jesse Eisenberg.  Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is annoying at best, I would go as far as saying he is as bad, and as annoying as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin or Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey in Batman Forever.  He hight of got away with his performance if they were remaking the 60’s TV show, but only just.  I can only imagine Zack Snyder’s direction when something like this:batman vs superman wonder woman

Zack “do you remember when you played Mark Zuckerberg”

Jesse “Yeah”

Zack “I want you to do the same”

Jesse “Ok, I can do that”

Zack “Not exactly the same, do the Zuckerberg thing, times ten, imagine you are on crack, and be so annoying even your mother hates you”

Jesse “you mean like this?”

Zack “yes, but more zany and crazy” batman vs superman lex luthor

For all Eisenberg’s zaniness the film totally lacks fun or humour.  There is one funny moment in the entire film, unfortunately, when it came I had already seen it a dozen times in the trailer.   But the problems go beyond the lack of humour, the film is simply dour and uninteresting.  The plot is thin but overly complicated and constantly explained to the audience.  The mass destruction in the final act is no worse than what we have seen from Marvel (I include X-Men as well as MCU) in recent years, but at least they have a little fun along the way, and they have with Ant-Man (2015) and Deadpool (2016) proved that a lower  scale final act can work.  Worse than that, the final act is disjointed from the narrative that leads up to it.  We have to wait an eternity for the Batman v Superman that the title promises.  When we get there the set up and the conclusion are contrived beyond belief.  I could except that Luthor’s plan makes no sense, that it doesn’t fit with the narrative and that it is poorly executed, but to have all three issues are unforgivable.  I saw the movie in 2D, but understand there is a 3D version too.  Allowing for the light loss of 3D viewers must have missed half the movie in the gloom.  Again Dawn of Justice may not be the best title, The Dark Night Before Justice may be more appropriate.  Batman movies should be dark and gloomy and the washed-out colour works, but Superman should be bright and technicolor.  To serve both characters in one movie was always going to be tough, but they failed on both counts.  Even Zack Snyder’s biggest critics must admit that he has a visual flair and style, however, in this film it works against him.  The best visual scenes are all dream sequences, this could have worked well, but they are too long and distract from the plot rather than enhancing it.  Even the conclusion is pointless as we all know that by the time The Justice League Part One arrives in 2017 there will be a happy twist to the unfortunate event at the end of this movie.batman vs superman superman

There is some truth to the suggestion that Marvel earned the right to make the Avengers with the foundation of Iron Man and Thor, that they learned their lessons from two Hulk movies,  and that DC jumped right into the Justice League without that foundation.  But the problems go deeper than that.  Dawn of Justice opens with the events of Man of Steel, shown from the point of view of Bruce Wayne as the city is destroyed around him.  This would appear to be an acknowledgement of what they dis wrong first time around.  It isn’t, it is just a pre-cusser to more destruction.  Christopher Nolan’s name appears proudly on the movies credits, but his fingerprints are nowhere to be seen in the movie.  The film lacks the weight and scale of The Dark Knight, replacing them with CGI and gloom.  Batman & Robin was by far the weakest Batman film, but in a way it was a noble failure, I think I know what Joel Schumacher was trying to do; create a Batman that combines the dark edge of Tim Burton’s movies with the fun camp of the 60’s TV show and the bombast of the comics.  He failed in just about every aspect and I hate the film, but he tried.   Zack Snyder on the other hand got so much right but ultimately failed having created a disappointing film, a film that incites emotions of indifference and apathy.  A disappointing film is far worse than a bad one.  I only hope Suicide Squad, due out later this year has the same fun and humour that Marvel demonstrated in Ant-Man, Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and sets a new direction for DC movies.

Clint Mansell Uneasy Listening

Just be yourself, sir. Whatever happens, they can’t take that away from you.

I love live music.  While I still go to see big bands from time to time, many of the singers and bands I see are less established.  This has the benefit of smaller more intimate venues and cheaper tickets.  Unsigned or on independent labels most will never “make it” in the traditional sense.  They will never become millionaires and I am unlikely to hear their songs played on the radio, but they are professional musicians making a living playing music and performing cover songs on Saturday night TV talent shows looking for their fifteen minutes. 

So why am I telling you all this?  On Wednesday night I went to a very different concert, and one that made me think of all the great singers and bands I have seen that have then disappeared into obscurity.  Clint Mansell didn’t just “make it”, he made it twice; first in the 80’s and 90’s in the band Pop Will Eat Itself then in the past twenty years as a film composer.  A chance meeting with Darren Aronofsky, who at the time was looking for a composer for his début feature Pi has lead to one of the most enduring collaborations in recent movie history.  And that is what I was there for, a live performance of some highlights from his movie scores.  A friend had purchased the tickets way in November last year and asked it I was interested.  Clint Mansell

But before we get to Wednesdays show; the thing that got me thinking about past bands and gigs, was Mansell talking about all the Birmingham venues he used to play back in the day.  He reeled off a list including The Barrel Organ, The Golden Eagle, The Powerhouse and the Hummingbird (later reopened as The Academy).  But tonight was different, he was playing Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, regarded as one of the world’s best concert halls and home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  Located on my doorstep since it opened twenty-five years ago, I am ashamed  to admit I have never been there before.  I felt better when I later learnt that this was also Clint Mansell’s first visit.  Self-deprecating all evening he was never overawed by the location but was almost apologetic about being there.  Had dropped to his knees and quoted Wayne’s World I wouldn’t have been surprised, he didn’t, and he didn’t have to worry about his himself or his music belonging in the esteemed hall, they were a perfect fit.  Given the setting I was expecting an orchestra, instead we were treated to fully amplified band combined with a string quartet.  Given Mansell’s reputation for combining orchestral music with electronic instruments it was the perfect blend.  The entire ensemble were brilliant by the way.  Clint-Mansell-live

I remember loving the music for Requiem for a Dream whilst watching the film, but when lent the CD recently found it a hard listen as a piece of music.  I was stunned by Black Swan when I saw the film but appreciated the brilliance of it even more after visiting the ballet and hearing Swan Lake performed by a live orchestra.  I would say these were highlights of the night, but every piece had its own highlight.  Pi, were it all began didn’t have the souring orchestral highs of Noah or The Fountain but had other charms.  And for those who think Mansell only works with Aronofsky, take a look at his filmography.  It includes but isn’t limited to Moon (Duncan Jones), Stoker (Chan-wook Park) and the High-Rise (Ben Wheatley).  He played pieces from both Moon and High-Rise but sadly not Stoker.

Don’t think it was a stuffy and serious show.  Between the music Clint Mansell told stories about his past life as a pop star and a funny story about visiting Madonna’s house, all of which helped make the night a real treat, but a rare one.  He has only performed this show a handful of times, I believe it will be less than twenty shows in five years by the time the tour finishes next week.  Finally, for those who are wondering the quote at the top is from the movie Trading places, Denholm Elliott’s character says it to Eddie Murphy’s before his first day at work when he is worried that he won’t fit in.  Clint Mansell quoted it early in the show, it became more relevant as the night went on. 

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