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We lost Stan Lee this week at the age of 95.  Many people first became aware of him from his cameo’s in Marvel movies, but his impact on popular culture goes far beyond that:  For better or worse, make your own mind up; without Stan Lee we probably wouldn’t be seeing all the comic book movies that are dominating cinema screens.  Like many people I first became aware of him from the animated shows of the 1980’s.  These animated show were the start of a push to develop Marvel properties into other media.  Initial results were mixed at best but eventually led to what we now know as the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Stan Lee 1922 2018

But it all started before that, growing up Lee born (Stanley Martin Lieber) loved swashbuckling movies, and dreamt of becoming a novelist.  One of his earliest jobs as a writer came writing obituaries before at the age of 17 a family connection got him a job as an assistant at Timely Comics, the precursor Marvel Comics was at the time a new division of a pulp magazine.

Lee’s first job actually writing in a comic book came with the text fillers for Captain America Comics #3 in 1941.  This was the first time he used the pseudonym Stan Lee, which later became his legal name.  Before long he moved from fillers to writing the backup feature, “‘Headline’ Hunter, Foreign Correspondent”.

His early creations Jack Frost, Father Time, and Destroyer may not be household names now, but things were about to change.  At the age of just 19 Lee was made interim editor, a position that quickly became permanent, one that he remained in for just over thirty years before becoming Publisher.  After the war, were Lee served in first the Signal Corps, and then the Training Film Division, he formed a partnership with artist Jack Kirby, together they created a few characters you may have heard of: the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and the Fantastic Four. x men fantastic four thor iron man black panther hulk ant man

He also created Daredevil with Bill Everett. And with Steve Ditko with, Doctor Strange and his (and Marvel’s most successful character) Spider-Man. Doctor Strange Daredevil Spider-man

As significant as the characters they created, in 1963 gathered them together along with some older character, most notably Captain America to create the  Avengers, a rival to DC’s Justice League (originally Justice League of America). With various reboots, relaunches, spin-offs, alternate universes, and ever changing line-up, The Avengers have been a constant fixture within the comic book world.     The Avengers

In 1981 Lee moved from New York to California in 1981 to develop Marvel’s movie and TV, while the live action of these were forgettable at best, the cartoons introduced a whole new generation to Marvel.  They also provided the springboard of what was to come.  The success of Blade for New Line Cinema, X-Men with Fox Studio’s and Sony’s Spider-Man movies proved there was a market for quality comic book movies that snowballed into the MCU, and who knows where that will take us? Excelsior!

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Sequels Suck?

In a particularly meta moment in the oh so meta Scream 2, Randy (Jamie Kennedy) tells us “Sequels suck!” and “By definition alone, sequels are inferior films!”. Classmate Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) disagrees “It’s bullshit generalization. Many sequels have surpassed their originals.”  He suggests T-2, another classmate played by Joshua Jackson thinks “Aliens. Far better than the first.”  While I don’t totally agree, I prefer The Terminator to T-2, and love Alien and Aliens equally, there are however, some horror sequels and second films is series that I prefer to the first:Aliens and T2

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): I love the original, but the sequel has the edge.  Together cinematographer John Mescall and art director Charles D. Hall, director James Whale created Expressionist masterpiece that isn’t just a horror movie, it’s also a social satire and a comedy.  The greatest of the Universal horrors. Bride of Frankenstein

Dawn of the Dead (1978): George A. Romero’s masterpiece came a whole decade after the original film, Night Of The Living Dead. Tom Savini (who also appears in the film) provided the zombie makeup that makes the film so effective.  The allegory of modern consumer society is more and more relevant as time passes.  A film that manages to be both a truly gruesome horror and a clever satire.  Dawn of the Dead

Evil Dead II (1987): Bruce Campbell returns as Ash in Sam Raimi’s sequel to The Evil Dead.  It is essentially more of the same from the first film but more polished, more gory and a hell of a lot funnier. Evil Dead II

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966): Most fans will tell you the first Hammer Dracula, Horror of Dracula from 1958 is the best.  While a great film and one of the studio’s best, it is a retread of Bram Stoker ‘s original often told story.  Prince of Darkness is an original story, and a really effective one. It lacks  Peter Cushing as Van Helsing (except a prologue recap of the previous film) but Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor is a suitable substitute.  Famously, Christopher Lee doesn’t speak in this film (as the dialogue in the script was so bad), this makes his performance is more chilling.  A true horror that has a feeling of dread from start to finish. Dracula Prince of Darkness

Blade II (2002): Wesley Snipes is perfectly cast as the half human, half vampire “daywalker” vampire hunter.  Predating the MCU, Blade (1998) proved what Marvel movies could be.  It works as both a horror, and an action movie, with suitable amounts of both gore and humour.  How could you make this better?  Hire Guillermo del Toro to direct it!  del Toro brings even more style, but also, as always  he plays with the idea of who the monsters are. blade II

The Devil’s Rejects (2005): Admittedly this one has something of low bar, 2003’s House of 1,000 Corpses wasn’t great, but this second instalment of the (mis)adventures of the Firefly family is a really solid grindhouse inspired gore-fest.  By far the best Rob Zombie directed movie, and the end is fantastic.  A third instalment 3 from Hell is in post production and due out in 2019. The Devil_s Rejects

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016):  Totally different to the original, telling a very different story, and dropping the now tired found footage gimmick.  Most of the film is a claustrophobic three-hander; John Goodman is fantastic, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is even better. 10 Cloverfield Lane

I have only included horror movies, there are plenty of examples from other genres, I have also stuck to examples where I think the sequel is better than the original movie, not merely good sequels.  

With fourteen screenings, October is my busiest month of the year to date.  Four of the fourteen were reissues of older horror movies (not eligible for my movie of the month). 

Black ’47 – 1847, returning home from fighting for the British Imperial Army a soldier finds Ireland in the grip of the Great Famine.  A series of events set him on revenge mission.  Taking all the tropes of a revenge western and transposing them to Ireland is surprisingly effective.  As you would expect the film doesn’t shy away from song violence’s, what is more surprising is the snippets of uncomfortable history that it manages to incorporate.  Not the widest of releases, but worth searching out.Black '47

A Star is Born – I think we can skip the synopsis, I think everyone knows the story by now.  Lady Gaga is getting all the plaudits for her performance, but it is also a career defining performance from Bradley Cooper.  Coopers direction is also confident and well measured.  Helping the film over so many movies about singers, the songs are good, and the live performances (shot at real festivals) really work.  It’s not without problems: Beyond Gaga, there are almost no female characters, and the final act is a little rushed and as such doesn’t quiet earn its ending.  Not the five star masterpiece some people are claiming, but a really good film.  I look forward to seeing more of Gaga in front of the camera, and Cooper behind it. A Star is Born

The Wife – An author (Jonathan Pryce) and his wife (Glenn Close) travel to Stockholm where the former has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  As the cracks in their relationship become clear, we learn via flashback how they dot to this point.  While there are (unsurprising)plot revelations along the way, this is more about character than plot.  The smallest of gestures tell a story, and it is an enthralling one largely thanks fantastic performances from Pryce, and particular Close.  How has she not won an Oscar yet?The Wife

The Hate U Give – A black teenage girl lives a double life, she goes to school in an affluent area, but lives in the deprived mainly black neighbourhood.  Her life is turned upside down when she is witness to the fatal shooting of a friend at a traffic stop.  The important story is poorly served by a disjointed plot and a heavy-handed narrative.  On a positive note the acting is pretty good, particularly from Amandla Stenberg in the lead. The Hate U Give

Halloween (1978) – Never one to turn down an opportunity to see a classic on the big screen, I visited my local multiplex for a 40th Anniversary Screening of Halloween.  Blumhouse Productions have an MO, making moderate budget genre movies, some of which breakout and make a shed load of money.  This isn’t a new thing, Blumhouse didn’t invent the concept, 40 years ago one of the best examples was made by a then up and coming director, John Carpenter.  I probably don’t need to give a plot synopsis, but will for those who are new to this classic: As a child, Michael Myers kills his teenage sister on Halloween night, fifteen years later he escapes and returns to his hometown.  Halloween didn’t invent the slasher movie, but it certainly revolutionised and popularised the genre making it a mainstay of horror throughout the 1980’s.  Costing around $300,000, and grossing $70 million (when you adjust for inflation, that’s around, $1.2million and $300million respectably), it is actually more fugal and more profitable than most Blumhouse movies.  It has spawned multiple sequels (with another due later this month), a remake, and countless imitators, does it deserve all this?  Hell yes, it is a true horror masterpiece.  Modern audiences may find the deliberate pacing slow, they are wrong, not a second of the 91minute runtime is wasted.  Michael Myers is a blank cipher with little back-story and no discernible motive.  He is a classic movie monster, but one all the more frightening because unlike Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, or the Wolf-Man, he is just a man, he is a real world boogeyman.  The films emotion comes from Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence, but the Steadicam mounted camera is as much a character as any of these people.  If you haven’t seen it, look it out now before seeing the latest sequel. Halloween 1978

Bad Times at the El Royale – Noir movies are full of down on their luck characters, the El Royale is a down on its luck location, a Hotel half in Nevada, half in California.  As four disparate, and somewhat desperate people find themselves at the titular establishment the story unfolds in carefully orchestrated chapters.  There is a point where you would be forgiven for thinking you are watching sub Tarantino, but then the pieces fall into place and you realise that it is better than anything Quentin Tarantino has made since 2009.  Then it suddenly gets even better.  Try and avoid the trailer. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYAL

First Man – Spoiler alert, Neil Armstrong makes it to the moon.  Despite what the trailer or the poster tells you, this isn’t the story of how that happened.  Along the way, we do get a whistle-stop tour of the events starting around the time of the Gemini VII.  It is more the story of the man and his emotional journey.  The emotion of the story is kept in check partly by director Damien Chazelle, but mainly by the outstanding reserved performance from Ryan Gosling.  Claire Foy is also outstanding in the small part she is given.  A first rate film, but one I appreciated more than enjoyed, and respected more than loved. First Man

Mandy – Marmite! I’m not sure how well known the expression Marmite is known outside the UK, for those who don’t know, Marmite is a food spread made from yeast extract.  In the 1990’s it ran an advertising campaign based around how you either Love it, or Hate it.  The same is probably going to be true of Mandy.  I am not going to give a synopsis beyond saying it is a revenge thriller.  After seeing the film, the first thing I thought was that was the most Nicolas Cage film I have ever seen.  It therefore came as a surprise, that not only was the part not written for him, but that director Panos Cosmatos wanted him for a different character.  A totally bonkers film that is both a visual treat and a total mindfuck.  It does have some issues though.  For a start its 30 minutes too long.  The pacing is all over the place.  Expect to see this film on best and worst lists for the year. Mandy

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – 50 years ago was year zero for the modern zombie movie.  Just about every zombie movie in the past half century draws influence from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  But how does it hold up as a film in its own right?  Shown in a 4K restoration, it was as good as ever, and looked better than ever.  Working as a visceral horror and a allegory of a nation tearing itself apart.  A perfect horror movie. Night of the Living Dead

Halloween – A sequel to the 1978 masterpiece that ignores all the previous sequels, even going as far as debunking some of the things that happened in the other sequels as rumours.  The idea is good, and Jamie Lee Curtis is outstanding.  The story is a little all over the place lacking the brilliant simplicity of the original.  An excellent final act is preceded by a slow fist act and a confused second.  It is however, never boring like many modern horrors.Halloween

Venom – Venom was poorly served in the terrible Spider-Man 3, in a post Deadpool world, this is the chance to make a funny and fun super(anti)hero movie, it fails.  The plot is a little plodding, the action isn’t a patch on anything Marvel has done in the past decade.  It does however have an ace up its sleeve, Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed, all of whom are always worth watching.  A mid credit scene suggests a sequel, with the origin out of the way, hopefully a second film will live up to the promise. Venom

Bohemian Rhapsody – Biography of the band Queen, most notably its legendry front man Freddie Mercury.  It avoids any major controversy as you would expect for a biopic where two of the producers appear as characters in the story (Brian May and Roger Taylor), this doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable.  The acting is good, particularly Rami Malek as Mercury and the recreation of Live Aid is spectacular. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

The Fog (1980) – The second in a series of John Carpenter movies to receive a 4K restoration.  A small town celebrating its centenary is enveloped by a fog that brings with it a reckoning from the past.  A spooky almost old-fashioned horror that is relatively tame, but enjoyable none the less.  Notable of the first onscreen pairing of Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh. The Fog

The Evil Dead (1981) – Five young friends unwittingly release and are possessed my daemons while on holiday in a cabin in the woods.  The effects show their budget, the acting isn’t always great and the editing is conspicuous.  None of this stops it being a stone cold classic.   The Evil Dead

While A Star is Born and First man are getting all the plaudits, the one I enjoyed most and my movie of the month is: Bad Times at the El RoyaleBad Times at the El Royale (1)

A couple of days ago I read a tweet from a mainstream movie magazine promising a link to a synopsis/breakdown of the trailer for Avengers 4.  Said tweet information has been “leaked” and may or may not be true. I am sure many fans of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) will lap this up.  It could be a publicity stunt, or a genuine leak. Either way, I did not follow it and read the story.  I am a moderate fan of the MCU, having seen all of them, liked most, and loved a couple.  I will see Avengers 4, Infinity War 2, or whatever it will be called; if I am invested in a film series, or if a film is from a director, or within a genre I like, I will probably see it regardless of the trailer.  Equally, I am not the person who avoids trailers (I have a couple of friends who are, one of whom reads this blog ( you know who you are)), averting my gave and playing on my phone in the cinema.Avengers-4

So what is the state of trailers in modern cinema?  As the title alludes to I grew up in the era of “voiceover man”.  Trailers started with the words “In a world…..” proceeded by the description of the man’s quest (yes, in the 80’s more often than not the story centred around a white, North American or British, heterosexual male) of the movies protagonist.  More recently in the era of mega blockbuster, tent-pole comic book movies, trailers tend to follow a Bait and Switch narrative.  The Bait and Switch quite simply, like the twist in a movie itself sets up a scenario purely with the intention of misguiding, or wrong stepping the viewer.  An interesting example of this came in the trailer for Mission: Impossible Fallout  – WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD – In the trailer there is a brutal fight in a bathroom, the trailer is cut to look like the characters played by Tom Cruise, and Henry Cavill are fighting each other. In fact, there is a third person in the scene, Cruise and Cavill are in fact fighting together against this third man.  As it transpires Cavill is the villain, and Cruise does end up fighting him.  The trailer telegraphs the characters intentions and character making it easy for viewers to unpack the narrative and be ahead of the characters on screen (although to be honest, the film itself telegraphs this without the prior indoctrination). END OF SPOILERS

So back to the question, of what is the role of a trailer in modern cinema?  The is a trailer for Psycho containing little or no footage of the film, it simply has Alfred Hitchcock explaining that patrons who arrive late will not be admitted. Then you have movies like Layer Cake.  The main UK trailer features celebrity chef Marco Pierre White comparing the ingredients of the film to that of a cake. This is interspersed with random scenes from the film that are obfuscated by a lack of context.

Put simply A trailers sole job is to sell the film.  This can be done in many ways; titillating with gratuitous sex, violence, or violence. Intriguing with the promise of an enthralling plot.  Or parading the credentials of the talent on show.  The new Gerard Butler movie Hunter Killer is unlikely to trouble Oscar voters, but the trailer proudly tells us that co star Gary Oldman is an Oscar winner.  But this trailer commits a more fundamental sin; assuming there is not too much bait and switch, the trailer to has at least two major plot revelations, and final act shots. There is nothing worse than feeling that you have seen a movie before you have seen it.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to promote a film, I personally am just getting a little tired of a film getting three trailers proceeded by a teaser which in turn is proceeded by a teaser for the teaser. All of which starts the best part of a year before the film is released.  Please give me an original trailer, largely free from spoilers.

Emily Nelson – A Simple FavorA Simple Favor

Reynolds Woodcock – Phantom ThreadPhantom Thread

Lou – Ocean’s EightOcean's Eight

Dominika Egorova – Red SparrowRed Sparrow

Anyone from Wakanda – Black PanthaBlack Panther

No Female Bond?

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

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

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

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

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