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12a-and-pg13This weekend, I went to see the new version of The Magnificent.  While it is true as many critics say that the film is unnecessary, it offers nothing new to the story or the genre, it is an entertaining couple of hours. However, one thing struck me about the film, the violence. Not the amount or severity of it, the nature. I grew up in the 80’s watching action and horror films on video. I was about 13 when Die Hard and Lethal Weapon came out, I loved them and still do.  Around this time, I was also catching up on classics like The Terminator and Mad Max as well as the classics from the golden age of Hollywood.  I was also watching contemporary Horror alongside Universal monster movies and Hammer Horror, I remember loving Hellraiser and the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I was possibly a little too young when I saw Don’t Look Now, and it really got under my skin. Many of these films have since been reclassified as 15 not 18, that is a whole different conversation that I have discussed before, and will again. I am more concerned with 12A or its closest American counterpart PG13. They both have the same basic premise as I understand it, a viewer must be the prescribed age or older to watch the film or accompanied by an adult whose responsibility it is to ascertain if the film is suitable for them. I have no issue with the mechanics of it. I think it is correct that a parent should be able to decide if their child has the emotional maturity to watch a film, after all all kids (all people) are different. My issue is with the films it is spawning.magnificent7

Back in the days of The Motion Picture Production Code (often (erroneously) refereed to as The Hays Code, after Will H. Hays, then president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA)), there were huge restrictions placed on filmmakers, this often led to great creativity, especially in genre movies. The 80’s VHS rental market had a different effect, knowing films would have a second life on home video let studios produce 15 and 18 certificate films. But things have changed. Since the introduction of the 12A in 2002 there has been a move to make most mainstream films 12A. Roughly speaking if a film gets PG13 in America it will most likely get 12A in the UK and vice-versa. The two systems have very similar guidelines *see my not below for more information. An R or 15 rating can be problematic at the box office, NC-17 or 18 can be seen as box-office suicide. There are exceptions to this rule, some horror movies or broad comedies market themselves on the hard hitting higher rating, this is the exception not the rule. So this brings us back to The Magnificent Seven.motion_picture_production_code

The new version of the Magnificent Seven is a very violent film, but it is a certain type of violence, a largely bloodless violence that we see in comic book movies. This is purely to keep the certificate down and get the family marked and teenage kids into see a big blockbuster. But what message does this send to the younger viewers, both the 12/13 year olds and the even younger children who will watch the film. Is making violence and death more palatable a good thing? Or is the brutal, bloody and visceral violence of Sam Peckinpah or Quentin Tarantino, a better and a more honest approach to violence? Viewers, especially young impressionable ones need to know that violence and death are serious issues not to be taken lightly. My argument isn’t a morel one, I am over 18 and can watch what I like providing my local multiplex chooses to screen it, I am concerned with the heart, soul and substance of the film industry. When we see lots of blood, the violence is often called gratuitous, however, the violence of Peckinpah and Tarantino has been earned, it is integral to the stories, surely it is more gratuitous when it is throw away, disposable violence. Are we becoming an age of mindless middle of the road consumers? Would we not rather watch something with more edge, something that takes us out of our comfort zone and shows us things that we don’t want to see. Is it not these painful, difficult moments that elevates the good times and make us enjoy them more? Think of a classic example of this, blood splatter was removed with CGI from a key scene in The Hunger Games to keep the certificate down. Despite the story of the film and the body count, there never seemed any real sense of threat as a viewer. Had the stakes been higher, out connection to the characters and our involvement would have been higher. Now think of 18s films like The Terminator, Aliens, Platoon or Predator. All 18 films in their day, all now revered as classics a few years on. Are we denying a generation their classic genre movies by hamstringing them with a family friendly certificate?the-hunger-games

But there is another angle, there has been a big shift in recent years from movies to television. Where in the past to be a successful TV show you needed to be prime time and family friendly. In recent years we have had extremely violent television programs like Spartacus, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Are these taking the place of certain types of films? To an extent, I think they are, but I don’t care. As much as I have enjoyed them, at the end of the decade, I want to be able to look back on more than Comic Book and YA adaptations, I want this generations Terminator, Aliens, Platoon or Predator, I want this generations The Wild Bunch, I even want this generations Young Guns (R in US, 18 in UK). Most of all, I want to be treated like an adult when I sit down to watch a movie. But there is something else I want, I want to be shocked and surprised from time to time. the-wild-bunchyoung-guns

 

*Film rating systems

MPPDA

  • G General Audiences “Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.”
  • PG Parental Guidance Suggested “Parents urged to give ‘parental guidance.’ May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.”
  • PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned “Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.”
  • R Restricted “Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.”
  • NC-17 Adults Only “Clearly adult. Children are not admitted.”

BBFC

  • U – Universal. Suitable for all
  • PG – Parental Guidance – general viewing but some scenes may be unsuitable for young
  • 12A no-one younger than 12 may see a ’12A’ film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult.
  • 15 – no person under the age of 15 to be admitted.
  • 18 – no person under the age of 18 to be admitted.

When I heard about Blair Witch I was more intrigued than interested.  The original back in 1999 was a phenomenon.  Marketed by a  clever online campaign, the first of its kind, and snowballing out of control with its word of mouth.  It was the film everyone was talking about, and everyone was going to see, even those who didn’t go to the cinema often.  When it finally hit UK screens in October 1999, three months after its North American release and nine months after its Sundance debut, it sold out.  I went to see it on a Sunday evening, a couple of days after its release.  Not only was the screening I intended to see sold out but the next two for that evening were also sold out.  Instead I ended up seeing John Carpenter’s Vampires, also released that weekend.  A film so ordinary and average it had sat on the shelf for over a year.  I wasn’t a terrible film and I understand it made back its $20million budget on its American release giving it a small world wide profit and resulting in two direct-to-video sequels (Vampires: Los Muertos (2002) and Vampires: The Turning (2005)).  In contrast The Blair Witch Project mage around quarter of a billion dollars form a budget of around $60,000.  While The Blair Witch Project represented something new, Vampires was very much the old, a story of a vampire hunter that had been made to look dated in the extreme by Blade (1998).  I did get to see The Blair Witch Project a week later and remember enjoying it.  A genuinely creepy horror that left just enough to the imagination.  It was also the first found footage film for years so was fresh and original.   Blair Witch Project

This isn’t the first time an attempt has been made to cash in on the success of The Blair Witch Project.  Just a year after the first film, a sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000).  It had a good concept; set in the real world a year after the first film, a group of fans of the film visit the filming locations.  Dropping the shaky cam found footage in favour of a regular film.  Sadly the film wasn’t very good.  I saw it on its initial release but haven’t seen it since.  I seem to remember it being pretty rubbish but not the worst film ever made as some people labelled it at the time.  It made around $50million from a budget of about $15 million. book-of-shadows-blair-witch-2

So that brings us onto Blair Witch.  Like Book of Shadows the concept is ok.  Set in the present day but back in the world of the first movie.  They have reverted to the found footage genre, but have found a way to make the continuous  filming a little more plausible.  The most interesting thing about the film was how it came out of nowhere.  Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett shot the film in secrecy with Vancouver doubling for Burkittsville, Maryland of the first two films.  The film was tiled The Woods and even had a poster and a trailer, then at San Diego Comic Con, the first proper trailer was shown revealing the film to be Blair Witch.  The subterfuge made the whole project interesting, the world has changed a lot since 1999, and to try and market a film in a slightly different way was in keeping with the original film.  I was also interested to see what Wingard and Barrett would come up with after their impressive previous outing, The Guest (2014). the-woods-and-blair-witch-posters

There isn’t actually much wrong with Blair Witch, there just isn’t anything new or interesting about it.  Had it come out in 1999, it would have been fine.  That’s the problem, there is just nothing new, original or interesting about it. It has been too long since I have seen the first film to call it a note for note remake, however it certainly hits all the key notes and feels very much like a reboot not a sequel.  This isn’t always a bad thing, it didn’t harm The Force Awakens, but Blair Witch needs more. blair-witch

But not all is bad, there are still decent horror films being made, last month’s Lights Out this month’s Don’t Breathe are among recent highlights.  I went into Don’t Breath with a little trepidation despite a strong trailer I was a little cautions given director Fede Alvarez’s previous film, the somewhat pointless remake; Evil Dead (2103).  With a lean 88 minute runtime Don’t Breathe is a perfect horror thriller.  It is full of tension, has a contemporary social commentary and just enough of a nasty underbelly.   dont-breath

The Fifth Beatle

eight-days-a-weekAs the somewhat awkwardly titled “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” hits our screens to rave reviews I thought I would list a few of the people who have been referred to as The Fifth Beatle.victor-spinetti pete-shotton derek-taylor mal-evans monty-python bruno-koschmider stuart-sutcliffe pete-best andy-white jimmie-nicol

Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles, is photographed in New York City on Aug. 11, 1966. (AP Photo)

sir-george-martin neil-aspinall tony-sheridan billy-preston eric-clapton murray-the-k george-best little-richard klaus-voormann

DM (WE) 14/09/02 P30 Jimmy Tarbuck with his Rolls with its special number plate COMIC.

mitch-benn

It is traditional to start a review with a brief synopsis of the movie.  However with this film the story unfolds in such a way that it is best not to know.  This makes it a little hard to review the film, for that reason I will keep my comments to what you can see in the trailer.  Having said that, it would be preferable if you can avoid the trailer.  Based on a novel by M.R. Carey about a dystopian future.  Concentrating on a small group Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) a teacher, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) one of her pupils, Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) a single minded research scientist and Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) a soldier.  The group are central within a zombie outbreak.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-film-poster

The strength of the film is its multifaceted nature, the surface and the layers are equally as important and interesting.  With a young adult slant the film, or to be precise, its adult characters have a certain fear, mistrust and lack of understanding of the teenage protagonists, this is a universal fear of the next generation.  The next layer is a more general but also overt analogy for the state of mistrust and fear in the world as w whole.  All this would be powerless if the film on the surface wasn’t so good.  On the surface, it is a modern zombie movie given focus and originality by its low budget and a new twist.  There is an air of Greek mythology within the narrative that is nicely mirrored in the stories told in the film.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

As much as many people try and avoid the zombie debate, it is not only hard to avoid but actually an interesting question.  In 2002 Danny Boyle introduced us to the infected in 28 Days later.  Two years later Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) gave George A. Romero style zombies a new turn of pace.  Where these creatures zombies?  Who cares, they are as different from Romero’s zombies as they were from the zombies of classic movies like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie.  Simply, if you want to call them zombies, do, if you don’t, don’t.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

Referred to as “hungries”, as with other infected, the zombie-like antagonists are both villains and victims.  This makes our heroes, both heroes and villains, or more to the point there are no heroes or villains, themes previously the reserve of Guillermo del Toro.  I have not led the book, but am led to believe the race of the two main characters Justineau and Melanie have been switched, while it would be easy of accusing the producers off whitewashing to cast Gemma Arterton, there is a bigger impact.  Arterton’s character is a more passive protagonist with Sennia Nanua’s Melanie being the actual main character, indeed the title character.  I don’t know if the filmmakers were looking for a black girl or simply cast the best child actor they could find.  Either way, Nanua is excellent providing both the heart and the narrative of the film, in her we may be seeing the birth of a new star.  The rest of the cast are also brilliant with nuanced performances form Arterton, Close and Considine.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-sennia-nanua

On a side note a lot of the film was shot in my home town of Birmingham, a relatively new experience as England’s second city has never had a film industry.  I look forward to seeing more recognisable places, but also hope they become less distracting as they become more common.

Making the most of its small budget The Girl with All the Gifts is a handsome and interesting film that contains moments of both tension and excitement.  Elevated from what could have been a direct to DVD or VOD movie by both casting and originality.   With just enough exposition to keep the story going, the subtext asks more questions than it answers leaving the viewer with lots to think about. 

Eight films seen this month, there are a few more out I would like to catch up with if I find the time.  Although I enjoyed all the films this month, the movie of the month shone out by a mile, I think you may spot it when you read my comments:

Suicide Squad – On the plus side, Margot Robbie, Will Smith and Viola Davis are all excellent and perfectly cast.  On the negative side; DC has all the best villains, if you are going to turn them into heroes you are left with a rubbish villain.  When you add to this a disjointed story you are left with a decent film that should have been a great film. You can’t help thinking how much better Marvel would have handled it.Sucide Squad

Nerve – Emma Roberts is 25, it’s about time she stopped playing 17 year olds and developed a career.  The film is largely disposable fun, best not to think too much about the plot and it massive holes.Nerve

The Shallows – Entertaining but silly woman against shark movie elevated by a strong, largely solo performance from Blake Lively.  Shot with a lustful gave on its female lead that falls somewhere between shampoo commercial and the pornographic gaze of Michael Bay.  You could argue that it is gratuitous, or that it is the point of the movie, who am I to say.The Shallows

Julieta – Pedro Almodóvar returns to the family drama focusing on female characters.  While I love The Skin I Live In, this is what Almodóvar does best, and possibly better than any other Auteur. A treat for fans of Almodóvar or just fans of cinema.Julieta

Lights Out – Effective horror with a great concept, a perfect, short run time and some great performances particularly from Maria Bello.Lights Out

Swallows and Amazons – Enjoyable version of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s book.  The introduction of the spy story subplot works surprisingly well.  The unknown child cast are good, Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott are all good in the adult roles.  Purists will bemoan both the lack of sailing and how poorly the sailing scenes are filmed.Swallows and Amazons

The Purge: Election Year – A direct sequel to the second Purge film ” Anarchy ” with Frank Grillo reprising his role.  The only criticism is that where the second film moved things on, this third film offers nothing new.

The Mechanic: Resurrection – Unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary remake.  There is some good action, Jason Statham is fun as you would expect.  Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones and Michelle Yeoh  are all wasted.  The makeup department should have given Sam Hazeldine an moustache to twirl.The Mechanic Resurrection

An easy choice, movie of the month is:Julieta poster

BBC Culture recently asked 177 film critics from 36 countries to name their favourite films of the last 16 years.  Here are the top ten compiled from their choices:

  1. Mulholland Drive (2001)
  2. In the Mood for Love (2000)
  3. There Will Be Blood (2007)
  4. Spirited Away (2001)
  5. Boyhood (2014)
  6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  7. The Tree of Life (2011)
  8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)
  9. A Separation (2011)
  10. No Country for Old Men (2007)

So here are a few stats from my point of view:

  • Number of the top ten I have seen: 7
  • Number of the top ten I enjoyed: 7
  • Number of the top ten that make my top ten: 3
  • Number of the top ten I have never heard of: 1
  • Number of the top ten I own on DVD: 3

I have seen a few of these lists cropping up recently.  It seems like a strange time to compile the list, why not wait for 2020 or 2025?  I have no idea, but as the saying goes, if you can’t beat them join them join them.  Here is my top ten of the 21st Century so far*:

  1. Oldboy (2003)Oldboy
  2. Mulholland Dr. (2001)Mulholland Drive
  3. City of God (2002)City of God
  4. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)Pans Labyrinth
  5. No Country for Old Men (2007)no country for old men
  6. The Dark Knight (2008)The Dark Knight
  7. Lost In Translation (2003)Lost in Translation
  8. Boyhood (2014)boyhood
  9. Memento (2000)Memento
  10. Serenity (2005)serenity
* criteria for choice: I decided to do no research, I didn't look back at what I had said in the past about a film, these are the films that immediately come to mind.   I set myself the limitation that if I didn't buy the DVD it didn't deserve a place on the list.  I didn't limit my choices to films I had seen at the cinema, but incidentally, all the films I chose, I did see for the first time at the cinema.

Last night I visited the cinema to watch two perfect movies; Nerve and The Shallows.  When I say perfect, you may think they were instant classic movies that will contend all the awards and will rank amongst the greatest ever made.  Sadly this is not true, they are flawed movies that are average at best.  However, they are exactly what they are supposed to be,  they are disposable fun B movies.Nerve and The Shallows

The B movie started life in the early days of cinema using sets and stages from major pictures to make cheep films in an effort to maximise studios return on investment.  They were also a useful way of breaking new contract players into movie making.  The major studios were full of potential leading men and ladies, ingénue’s straight of the bus, a small number of whom would become stars.

Many of the B pictures became series, or followed a formula that would make you think they were a series.  Away from the eight major studios, the so called Poverty Row studios made nothing but B movies.  In the last days of the silent era and the early days of the talkies into the Golden Age of Hollywood, the B movie evolved into second features.  Throughout the 30’s and 40’s B movies were often genre pictures and usually clocked in at between 60 and 70 minutes for the poverty row studios and up to 90 minutes for the majors. As antitrust rules killed off second features, B movies evolved.  They continued to focus of genres; monsters, gangsters and cowboys were joined by the post war explosion in Sci-Fi.  The 60’s saw the birth of Exploitation movies.  Many of the directors credited as visionaries of American New Wave got their break in 60’s exploitation and B movies.

So back to last night’s double feature: Nerve is a teen (although most actors haven’t been teens this decade) satire on social media dressed up as an adventure thriller.  The plot isn’t as good as the concept and loses its way as it develops but is helped by engaging performances from Emma Roberts and Dave Franco.Nerve

The Shallows is an effective horror thriller about a young surfer who is stranded on rocks 200 yards from shore by a killer shark.  The surf scenes are well shot and Blake Lively manages to hold the viewers interest in a largely solo performance.  The plot is full of clichés and goofs but does feature a main character who doesn’t make the stupid decisions you usually associate with the genre.the shallows

So what is so good about the movies? They are 106 and 96 minutes long respectively.  If Scorsese or Nolan want to make a three hour masterpiece, great, they have proved they can do it, but do popcorn B pictures need to be two plus hours long? Simply NO!  Many two hour movies could be dramatically improved by being trimmed down to sub 100 minutes.  A perfect example of this:King Kong

If you watch the original, and still the best version of King Kong (1933) staring Fay Wray and directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack (both uncredited) and run it alongside Peter Jackson’s 2005 version, you may be surprised at what happens.  The older film runs for around 96 minutes, and is ending at about the same time as Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody arrive at Skull Island.  In fact, you could watch the old film twice in the time it takes to watch the new one once.  Did beauty kill the beast, or was it boredom?