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Just six new movies and one screening of a modern classic this month:

Man Up: British romantic comedy centring on the fallout of a woman who finds herself on someone else’s blind date.  Lake Bell is fantastic and Simon Pegg provides good support.Man Up

Danny Collins: Inspired by the true story of singer Steve Tilston.  Al Pacino has great fun with the part and manages to give a funny and compelling performance and avoids his tendency to shout instead of act.  Annette Bening provides fantastic support and has real chemistry with Pacino.Danny Collins

Survivor: Perfunctory spy thriller.  Milla Jovovich is miscast but likeable, Pierce Brosnan looks uninterested in a role that he should have some fun with.  Not a terrible film, but one to catch on TV on a Sunday afternoon, not one to pay to see.Survivor

Mr Holmes: Ian McKellen was born to play Sherlock Holmes.  Rather than rehash the old and well trod stories, director Bill Condon (who directed McKellen in Gods and Monsters 1998) uses the novel by Mitch Cullin.  An older Holmes with a fading memory looks back on his final case, it is more a film about mortality, aging and memory than investigation.  Child actor Milo Parker is also excellent.Mr Holmes

The Longest Ride: Nicholas Sparks adaptations follow a tried and trusted formula.  This one offers nothing original or outstanding but is solid and enjoyable romantic melodrama.  The cast is great with Britt Robertson again proving to be a star in the making.  Scott Eastwood makes a compelling leading man and looks frighteningly like his dad in his younger days.The Longest Ride

Amy: Director and producer Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees are back with portrait of singer Amy Winehouse.  As compelling as Senna (2010), the real brilliance of the film isn’t the telling tale that played out in front of the worlds press, but the less know and more intimate story of the tragic figure.Amy

The Terminator: The effects are looking a little shaky, but the 1984 classic remains the best of the Terminator franchise.  NOTE: although I list cinema screenings of reissue films they aren’t in contention for movie of the month.The Terminator

The odds were against it as I am not a rom-com fan, but thanks to a funny script and an outstanding performance from the delightful and brilliant Lake Bell, Movie of the month is:man_up_movie_poster - Copy

Three years ago I wrote about how licensing agreements will keep certain Marvel comic book characters our of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  I looked forward to the time when expiration of deals, lawsuits and mergers would start to brink characters back to the fold.  The first of them appears to be Spider-Man.  19-year-old English actor Tom Holland who impressed in The Impossible (2012) has been cast as the new Peter Parker / Spider-Man.  His first appearance will be in Captain America: Civil War next year before his 20th Birthday making him significantly younger that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield (27 and 29 respectively when they first played the character).  Significantly I understand this will not be an origin story.  By the time we see him on screen Peter will have had already had an encounter with a radioactive spider, uncle Ben will be six feet under and Spider-Man will be a fully fledged (but teenage) crime fighter. He will then get his own film in 2017.  The big question, should Spider-Man be in the MCU and potentially an Avenger? The way he has got there is a big of a mess, but unequivocally yes, Spider-Man should be there.  But what, or should I say whose next?tom-holland

A reboot of Fantastic Four is on the way in August, rights still with 20th Century Fox so still outside the MCU.  The chances of some kind of crossover or team-up is certainly helped by the reboot, had they stuck with the original cast we would have the problem of Chris Evans appearance in both franchises.  On the subject of casting, the new movie is full of promise; Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell.  The trailer makes it look darker than the first two lightweight movies, this will fit better with the direction The Avengers are heading.fantastic four

Peggy Carter first appeared on screen in Captain America: The First Avenger played by Hayley Atwell.  She has since made a successful move to the small screen in Agent Carter.  Could a character go the other way?  Daredevil has already appeared on a the big screen in the 2003 with Ben Affleck who has since made the big move to DC.  Although a moderate success it received mixed reviews.  I enjoyed it, however the TV show is considerably better.  Already commissioned for a second series, it could work as a movie,  I am not sure the very localised story will fit the vast canvas of The Avengers, but could see a cameo.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started slowly but found its feet and benefitted from a change of direction thanks to the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier.  A plotline that has been developing from the start has been revealed to be The Inhumans.  This is going to develop further, It isn’t clear if this is going to be part of the current show, a spin-off or a movie.  It would be good if they can find a standout character or two that can make the move to The Avengers.

I stand by my previous comments that although Wolverine, Sabretooth and Storm have all been Avengers in the comic books they don’t fit into the MCU, The Avengers would be obsolete in a world where the X-Men exist.  It would also be difficult to introduce them now having never mentioned mutants before.  Whatever happens and whoever they introduce the age old problem remains, there are too many men and not enough women.marvel-avengers

A look at the cast of characters for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) reveals all the usual DC suspects: Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, The Flash, Perry White.  It’s a similar story with Suicide Squad (2016): Harley Quinn, Batman, The Joker, plus a few less well known (to me at least ) Enchantress, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Rick Flagg, Killer Croc, El Diablo, Slipknot.  Then you have the other upcoming DC Universe movies : Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League Part One (2017) & Part Two (2019), The Flash (2018), Aquaman (2018), Shazam ( 2019), Cyborg (2020), Green Lantern (2020).catwoma

So who is missing? Catwoman.  I can understand the reluctance to give her a standalone movie following the unmitigated disaster of the Halle Berry vehicle Catwoman (2004), but surely there must be space this most beloved of characters somewhere within the universe.  Although a tricky character to get right, two films have got it very right.   Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) and Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  The brilliance of the two portrayals is twofold; firstly they get both Catwoman and Selina Kyle right; secondly they are completely different to each other making them fight their respective films perfectly.catwoman

Everyone remembers Michelle Pfeiffer PVC catsuit and her fight scenes but some of her best moments are out of the costume, including when she comes back from the dead and meets Bruce Wayne in Max Shreck’s office; or when she is dancing with Bruce Wayne when they both realise who each other is.  The same is true of Anne Hathaway, we first meet her out of costume as a jewel thief and then we get her “there’s a storm coming” speech that features in the trailer, incidentally also whist dancing with Bruce Wayne.  Will there be time for moments like this in a movie with such a large cast of characters as the DC movies seem to be?  However they do it, I can’t imagine a DC Cinamatic Universe without Catwoman, so have to ask the question, is this the one secret they are keeping from us, or are they yet to decide what do with this most tricky of characters?  With a heavy bias towards male characters so far, it is something they need to decide on quickly.Anne Hathaway Catwoman

When someone suggests that a film is miscast it suggests a poor performance, but that isn’t always the case, it may just be misleading.  One such example is James McTeigue’s Survivor. 

Kate Abbott works in the American Embassy in London, her job is to asses people attempting to obtain visas to travel to America and employ more stringent checks to help weed out potential terrorist suspects.  There is a suggestion that she works for the CIA.  She narrowly escapes a bombing that kills her team, she soon becomes the prime suspect.  In the true spirit of “wrong man” movies like The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936) and North by Northwest (1959) she goes on the run to both clear her name and avert the ultimate greater crime.Milla Jovovich survivor

The problem is that Kate Abbott is played by Milla Jovovich.  Her filmography includes: Leeloo (The Fifth Element 1997), Joan of Arc (Joan of Arc1999), Alice (Resident Evil 2002 – 2016), Violet Song Jat Shariff  (Ultraviolet 2006), Milady de Winter (The Three Musketeers 2011).  These characters bring with them a certain baggage, this baggage combined with an all action, running, jumping and shooting trailer give a false impression of the film and the character.  We would be forgiven for expecting something more akin to Angelina Jolie in Salt (2010).  Survivor doesn’t have to be Salt, and could have benefited from a more honest trailer and a leading lady without action credentials.The-Fugitive

When reviewing The Fugitive (1993) Barry Norman made the suggestion that the film would have been more interesting if Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones swapped roles.  His reasoning, nobody would believe Harrison Ford could have killed his wife, this was obviously pre What Lies Beneath (2000).  Had they played the other parts, there would always be a possibility that Dr. Richard Kimble may be guilty.  On the Empire Podcast Helen O’Hara made a similar suggestion regarding Jurassic World (2015).  Her idea Chris Pratt should have played the uptight executive and Bryce Dallas Howard    the fun and heroic character.  Both of these ideas are interesting.jurasic world

However, there is always something to be said about playing against type.  Think Tom Cruise as Vincent in Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) or Henry Fonda as Frank in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968), all these films were improved by the surprise of an actor playing against type.Henry Fonda Once Upon A Time In The WestTom Cruise Collateral

So where does this leave Survivor? The film exists in that strange nether-region  between a high quality direct to DVD/VOD movie and a run of the mill cinematic release.  The star power considerably out ways the quality of the script.  Pierce Brosnan and Frances de la Tour have fun with their roles but Robert Forster is wasted.  Ironically it is the potential miscasting of Milla Jovovich that saves the film as she makes a likeable character.  In case you are wondering, my recommendation; if you happen to see the film on the TV schedule, watch it, don’t bother paying for it!

Northern Soul

Northern Soul was released last October with mixed but generally positive reviews.  Unfortunately like so many small British films its release was tiny, or “limited” as distributors like to say.  Receiving just a three day release across 120 screens before moving to DVD and VOD.  During its short release it played to near capacity resulting it making the box-office top ten despite the limited screens.  I have just caught up with it on DVD.     Northern Soul (2014) DVD Label

1970’s Lancashire: In his final year of school John Clark (Elliot James Langridge) is a bit of an outsider and loner until he meets Matt (Josh Whitehouse).  A young man with aspirations of becoming a DJ on the Northern Soul scene.  They plan to visit America to build the best collection soul records.  After visiting the famous Wigan Casino the pair get more immersed in Northern Soul scene.northern soul

The young cast are excellent, as is the attention to detail, the film looks like drab 70’s England.  The soundtrack is fantastic with a good mixture of recognisable tunes and forgotten classics of the era.  The plot is a little thin, but the movie is all about the mood and sound of the scene.

The day after watching the movie I went to get my hair cut.  Both the customer next to me in the chair and the guy cutting his hair had aspirations to be DJ’s and were discussing where they had played and who they had seen play.  They then moved on to the merits of technology, the one declaring how he doesn’t own any CD’s or vinyl and mixes straight off a memory stick.  Their conversation made me think of the film I had seen the night before and nostalgic for a time I don’t know.northern soul

The film works as both a coming of age drama and or an insight into the era but is really all about the music. Don’t   expect anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, just sit back and enjoy the vibe. 

With so many films coming out something has to be very special to make me want to go back and see it a second time. One such film is Mad Max Fury Road. Taking advantage of a week when little of interest came out I went back to see it for a second time. The first thing to report, is that the 3D is a waste of time as ever. Having originally seen it in 2D only a 3D screening was available to me for my second screening. This potentially vindicates my decision not to see it in IMAX. I would have liked to see it in the large format, but didn’t want the 3D. The best I can say for the 3D is that the film is so bright and colourful that the light loss experienced with 3D glasses was far less noticeable than usual. I would also point out the 3D was effective in one moment towards the end of the film when it resorted to the gimmick of having something flaying out of the screen at the audience, these tricks are what 3D is good for, not to make the film more immersive! But I am not here to talk about the evils of stereoscopy.

I am not here to talk about Max, or even the heart and soul of the film, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). I am here to talk about the potentially controversial part of the movie, the five wives. *** Warning, what I am going to say from here contains spoilers. *** My first reaction to the movie was that the wives were little more than walking talking MacGuffin’s. Their presence is essential to drive the plot but they have little use beyond that. Had Furiosa not taken them, she would have incurred far less wrath from Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and made her escape safer and easier. There are two possible reasons for her actions, she could have taken them for revenge against Joe, or out of concern for the women. Either one presents an interesting point and makes me like her character even more. But what of the wives? It is the one part of the film that critic Mark Kermode has a problem squaring. He is a critic I hugely respect, not least for his appreciation of genre and exploration cinema, however I think he has got this one wrong. He keeps alluding to having a problem with the characters without ever fully expanding his augment. In his Guardian review he states:

“Miller’s film can’t quite reconcile its horrors-of-patriarchy narrative with its exotic fashion-shoot depiction of “The Wives”, leaving its gender politics weirdly conflicted”.

On the other hand Ian Nathan makes little mention of the Brides in his five start Empire review. In the one paragraph he devotes to them, he states:

“The brides too make for a gaggle of amusingly grouchy individuals” and “You could say there is a crackers feminist subtext at work”.

I get the impression he overlooked the characters in a similar way to me on his first viewing.mad-max-fury-road-wives

Who are the wives? Each one has a distinct personality and play a different part in the story, they are:

The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley: As Joe’s favourite and visibly pregnant, Angharad is the focus of the brides for a lot of the film. She often appears to be the leader of the five woman, and the most socially aware of the group. She is demonstrates a different side of feminism to Furiosa. In a conversation with Nux she at one point says “Then who killed the World?” implying it was men, and that woman with save or t least resurrect it. She understands her power over Joe, unfortunately exerting this power, along with a freak accident it cost her life.The Splendid Angharad

Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz): is more practical, she is the one to reload Furiosa’s gun and take inventory of weapons when the other wives do not want anything to do with guns.Toast the Knowing

Capable (Riley Keough): is the one who shows empathy, particularly towards Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who she brings into the group and appears to have a bond with up until his death. It is his connection to her that appears to motivate him to sacrifice himself to save them.Capable

Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton): has the most interesting arc. She begins the least convinced of their plan and twice wishes to return to Joe. However in a nice twist she baits the viewer by appearing to make this decision for a third time, before revealing it was a trick to help Furiossa.Cheedo the Fragile

The Dag (Abbey Lee): who it is revealed is also pregnant but not showing, is possibly my favourite character of the five and is just one of many little things that add to the brilliance of the film. She is often the first to spot danger and alerts the others in a very matter of fact way. Like with Theron and Hardy, Abbey Lee does an huge amount of acting with her eyes, unlike Hardey and Theron who are accomplished actors, Lee is a fashion model in her first film. A lot of her dialogue (and that of the other wives) sounds like ADR, to notice this you would think would be desecrating, quite the opposite, it is actually otherworldly and strangely soothing, it is also another thing I only noticed on a second viewing. Although all the wives remove their chastity belts, it is The Dag that we actually see cutting it off, she is also the one who expresses the greatest emotional reaction to its removal.The Dagthe dag chastity belt

A lot has been made of the wives costumes. Essentially white sheets and bandages. Various interviews have suggested the actresses chose their own from a selection of bandages and sheets.  As well as Mark Kermode’s uncertainty, Noah Berlatsky also in The Gaurdian says:

“The fact that those freed prisoners all look like supermodels dressed in lingerie is a standard WIP (WIP refers to “women in prison” films, something Berlatsky describes as “one of the most despised exploitation movie subgenres”)trope.”

He isn’t necessarily criticising the film or the way the characters look, more reminding us that Fury Road hasn’t moved that far from the exploration cinema that spawned the first two Mad Max films. He goes on to praise Angharad’s “Pregnancy as empowerment” as something new to the genre. Eileen Jone writing for In These Times questions the feminist credibility of the film that enlisted The Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler to coach the actress.

“The first full shot we get of the escaping women shows them standing tall against a gorgeous sun-blasted horizon, wearing white muslin bikinis and other resort-wear, and looking exactly like supermodels posing for a Vogue shoot in the deserts of Namibia.”

She reminds us that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was awarded the rank of Victoria’s Secret “Angel” (whatever that means) and has previously topped Maxim magazine’s “Hot List”. Had we seen characters dressed like this in a Michael Bay or Justin Lin movie, or anything associated with Roger Corman back in his day, it wouldn’t have raised more than the odd eyebrow. It is simply the fact that it appears in film that wants to promote its strong female characters that it appears to be receiving a backlash, all be it, a small one against almost universal praise. There is no denying that the characters are scantily clad, the film wants to have its cake and eat it, but this is the movies and, a fantasy/Sci-Fi movie at that, the rules of the real world do not apply. We can have our strong women and dress them this way for the titillation of the audience, this is nothing new.  Given the story, the way the brides look makes perfect sense, well as much sense as anything else in the film.  It is kind of a cheap shot drag out the flawed Bechdel test, but there is no getting away from the fact Fury Road does pass the test.The Wives

For a film that on the surface is a two hour chase movie, it is amazing how much more I took from a second viewing, most notably how the wives enhance the movie.

Forever associated with his most famous role, Dracula, legendary actor Christopher Lee’s career began back in the 1940’s and included around 280 films.  His film career began after the war where he served as an RAF intelligence officer.  Already the veteran of over 50 films when he first portrayed Dracula for Hammer.  Many of his early Hammer films co stared Peter Cushing, the paid remained close friends until Cushing’s death in 1994.  Knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009 and receiving the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011.  When I was about ten years old I was introduced to Christopher Lee, I had no idea who he was. A few months later Channel 4 started showing a series of old Hammer Horror movies starting with Dracula: Prince of Darkness. This is when I first got interested in horror movies.

In the mid 1940’s Lee joined the Rank Organisation and was given a seven-year contract (as was the norm of the day), during this period he made numerous movies. His first significant roles came a decade later when in 1957 he played the monster in Terence Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein alongside Peter Cushing as Frankenstein. The following year Fisher made Dracula (1958), he cast Lee in his most iconic role Dracula and Cushing as Van Helsing. He reprised the role in sequels: Dracula Prince of Darkness in 1965, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Lee’s other work for Hammer included The Mummy (1959), Rasputin, the Mad Monk and the little known classic Taste of Fear (1961). Possibly his best Hammer movie and one of his (and my) personal favourites was the occult adventure/horror/thriller The Devil Rides Out (1967) based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley. He also appeared in two versions of the Jekyll and Hyde story The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) and I, Monster (1971) (only the former being made by Hammer).

Having already played Sir Henry Baskerville (to Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes) in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) Lee went on to play Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962), and Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s smarter brother) in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). He played Holmes again in the TV movies: Incident at Victoria Falls (1991) and Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1992). A step-cousin of author Ian Fleming, he was rumoured to be in contention to play James Bond, he was offered the part of Dr. No in the movie of the same name (1962) but was vetoed by the movies producers. He did eventually play a Bond villain, Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and was the best thing about the movie. As cinema, particularly horror cinema changed in the 1970’s the gothic horror he was most famous for became outdated he appeared to be moving with the times making one of his best horror films The Wicker Man (1973). Sadly the quality of his roles dried up with a lot of TV movies and lesser work in the decades that followed.

More recently his career has gone through a renaissance with a small part in Sleepy Hollow (1999) leading to further collaborations with Tim Burton: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Dark Shadows (2012). Following Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness who appeared in the original Star Wars (1977) Lee plays Sith Lord, Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). But his most notable role in recent years came in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A great fan of The Lord of the Rings Lee has stated that it was a life long dream to play Gandalf, the Peter Jackson film trilogy came too late for him to realise this ambition but he did get a significant part in the movies playing Saruman. Later this year he will be reprising the in the prequel film The Hobbit. Retuning to the studio that made his name Lee had a small part in the new Hammer movie The Resident (2011). More significantly for a actor who has made so many movies he appeared in Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema Hugo (2011).

He will be sadly missed, but leaves an incredible body of work for us to enjoy.

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