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Once upon a time in a far and distant land people’s favourite entertainment was the theatre.  There were only two theatres in the land, and if you wanted to use them you had to pay a fee every year.  They were sort of independent, but the government who controlled how much the fee was, and who had to pay it.  They were on something of a short leash. Then came a third and a fourth, and eventually a fifth, they were independent from the other two.  They didn’t charge an annual fee instead, they used to stop the plays every so often to let salesmen in.  These salesmen paid the theatres lots of money to convince the audience that they wanted to buy shit they didn’t need.  Then the government stepped in and made rules about which salesmen could come in, at what time and for how long, it helped a little.  But here’s the catch if you ever visited one of these independent theatres, you still had to pay the fee to the original ones.  Then one day another company came swooping down from above and opened lots of little theatres.  They charged another even higher fee.  They were closely followed by another and before long the two companies had merged.  The reason for their success, they not only showed plays, but also all the sport.  While all the theatres had performers from far and distant lands,  this one had all the plays from a distant land across the see to the west, and they had them before anyone else. 

The problem with all these theatres, is they choose what was on and when.  If you didn’t like what was on, all you could do was walk down the street and watch something different.  But if you wanted to see a particular play, you had to be in the right place at the right time.  The old theatres were accused of repeating too many of their plays and being poor value for money.  This was probably true, but they didn’t spend their money on plays, they had other ways to inform, educate​and ​entertain​. 

Then one day everything changed a magician came from the land across the sea to the west and flicked his magical net across the land.  He created a special magical theatre where every visitor chose what they wanted to watch and when they wanted to watch it.  The choice was massive, there were thousands of plays to watch, long and short, old and new.  They could watch half a play or just a few minutes of it and come back and watch the rest another time.  Things would never be the same again.  He charged everyone who came to visit a monthly fee, for this they would get a password they needed to get.  They were allowed to share this password with all the people in their house, but nobody else.  However, some people only visited occasionally and didn’t want to pay every month, but this was okay because if you had a friend who would share their password.  The magician new this was happening, but he didn’t mind because more and more people were visiting.  While all this was going on a magical book salesman had being making his own magical theatre.  Nobody noticed because it wasn’t as big or as good, and it really confused people because it kept changing its name.  But slowly it grew and became a serious rival for the magician. 

Then over time, everyone learned the magic and lots more magic theatres opened.  All the old-fashioned theatres opened magical theatres along side their big old ones.  They didn’t show anything new, but you could watch all their old plays, or catch up on something you had missed.  Best of all they didn’t charge any extra.  It wasn’t all good.  Some of the theatres were poorly built and frequently stopped working.  Some of them still let the salesmen in, they would stop the plays for even longer than in their other theatres because they had different rules.  It was a brake new world, and for a time everything was good.  Because you could watch anything at any time, the theatres started telling longer story broken up into lots of little plays that you could watch a bit at a time or all in one go and people loved it.  This had been done before but they spent all the money in the world and did it so much better.  The people declared it a golden age.  Then a plague swept through every land across the globe and people couldn’t meet up in public for two whole years.  The magical theatres that let people be entertained in isolation thrived as they entertained the world.

But then over time the cracks started to show; there were countless magical theatres across the land, too many!  People didn’t have the time or money to visit them all so had to pick and choose the ones they wanted, but the choice wasn’t always easy.  The magicians who owned the magical theatres started spending more and more money to attract people to their theatre and away from the competitors.  For many years the first magician who owned the biggest and the best theatre wouldn’t tell anyone how many people came to visit his theatre or what plays they were watching.  Very quickly the audience began to smell a rat so the magician gave some cryptic information to appease the masses.  It didn’t really work, but it gave them something to talk about.  The magician wasn’t exactly evil, but he was ruthless and had a wicked streak running though him.  He created a magical device that he called the algorithm.  The algorithm was a cold hard and heartless machine, it didn’t care about the people, its only goal was to please its magical master.  The algorithm quickly worked out that shiny new plays would bring in new audiences at a faster rate than the existing audiences would leave if their beloved plays were cancelled.  The algorithm was really clever, it knew that some plays were really popular and could be stretched out for a very long time, even if they got progressively worse.  It cancelled many beloved plays that were really popular, but it knew they had stropped bringing in new audiences, but it distracted them with new stories every week.  Often disposable rubbish that wouldn’t last long.  Occasionally very good but equally doomed.  But the plan was foolish and short-sighted.  The plays were no longer entertainment, they were content, an opium to distract the masses. 

The cracks turned into rifts.  The magician was spending more money than he was bringing in and the quality of his plays was dropping.  Nobody knew if his theatre was still the biggest, but everyone could see it was no longer the best.  There were many new players in town.  One was a magical mouse, that despite a dubious past was beloved across all the lands.  The other was one of the biggest companies in the world, according to the legend it had made its money selling stylish but overpriced fruit.  The magician had to do something, so he made a plan.  He had two ideas.  The first was he would give some of his customers a discount, but in return he would let the salesmen.  The other was to put guards on the doors to make sure nobody was sharing their passwords with other people.  If people were caught in the act they would be made to pay or not let.  Many people had already stopped visiting, it was clear things would get worse.  But it wasn’t the magician that was having a hard time.  the original two theatres were constantly restructuring and downsizing as they battled with the government over how much their fee should be and what sort of plays they should make.  All this was happening at the worst of times following two years of plague and a war in the east made everyone’s food and heating bill higher. 

I don’t know how the story ended, but it was clear the magician was on shaky ground and his theatre wasn’t as well built as he thought it was.  Would it last?  And surely there were two many theatres charging too much money, some would have to merge or go bust?  One day we will find out what happened next, I don’t think that will be a happy or pretty story for everyone!

This story is entirely fictional, any resemblance to actual persons or streaming service living or dead is entirely coincidental.

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“This Never Happened To The Other Fella”

The continuity between Bond films has never been totally clear, but following the events of No Time to Die, Bond is set for a total reboot.  While I wouldn’t go as far as to call my headline clickbait, it is slightly misleading in that I am not here to talk about the next actor to play Bond.  There is already enough speculation about that, most of which comes from people who know as much about it as me, absolutely nothing!  The one thing I will say on the subject is look at the actors who have gone before; the part has never been given to a movie star.  Most of the actors became stars after they took the part but they started out as TV actors or from smaller movies. 

I have spoken before about how there is a missing movie in the Daniel Craig story arc.  Casino Royale gives us the young upstart becoming a 00 agent and learning some valuable lessons along the way. Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel that picks Bond up as a cynical and slightly jaded, almost broken man working through the loss and apparent betrayal of Vesper.  This (along with the Timothy Dalton movies) is probably the closest the Bond has got to the character in Ian Fleming’s novels.  Coming out the other side, moulded rather than healed, this is the complete and optimal James Bond, a cold, cruel, detached man, someone who appreciates life but doesn’t exactly enjoy it.  But then came Skyfall; taken on its own merit, its one of the best Bond movies, but it’s the wrong movie.  Skyfall depicts an older Bond past his prime, what we should have had was a more fun Bond in his prime, something like The Spy Who Loved Me or Goldeneye. 

This leads to the question how old should the next actor be?  Craig was 37 when he started out in Casino Royale, and 44 when past his prime in Skyfall.  Younger than Moore in his first film, and older than Connery in his last (EON) film.  But how old is Bond?  In Mookraker, Fleming’s third novel, Bond was 37, incidentally the same age as Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.  We know this as he states he is eight years away from retirement age of the 00 division, which is 45.  Independent scholars John Griswold and Henry Chancellor both constructed what they call “high-level chronology of James Bond’s life”, based on their findings this would make Bond 31 at the time of Flemings first story Casino Royale, and 43 or 44 by the final novel The Man With the Golden Gun.  But the character in the books was a fully formed character from the first book.  That’s not to say a younger Bond hadn’t been toyed with.  Timothy Dalton was considered for the part as early as 1968 when he was just 21.  He turned it down when he was around 25, as he felt he was too young.

The perception has always been that Bond is late 30’s early 40’s, in truth, the youngest actor to play the part was George Lazenby at 29.  The oldest was Roger Moore at 57, he was 46 in hist first appearance.  Realistically the actor could be any age depending on when within his life and career they wish to tell the story.  I have advocated the idea of bringing back a former Bond actor to play an older retired version of the character.  I originally suggested Timothy Dalton, but Pierce Brosnan would also work.  To go to the other extreme, we have Young Bond, a series of five novels and one short story by Charlie Higson and a further four by Steve Cole published between 2005 and 2017. When he started the project Higson was instructed by the Fleming estate to ignore the movies and continuation novels, and just use the original Fleming novels as canon.  He also used aspects of Ian Flemings childhood, and Bond’s obituary from You Only Live Twice.  While neither of these will form basis for the next movie, it does help illustrate the point that Bond could be any age.  There is a school of thought that suggests they shouldn’t over think it. Go with the best person for the film they want to make at the time.  Afterall, every incarnation of Bond has had to deal with issues that have resulted in changes to timing and casting over and above the best laid plans.  They have included contract (pay) disputes, actors who can’t act, unavailable actors, rights issues, a writer’s strike, and covid 19.

In conclusion, the actor who is chosen will go a long way to deciding what story they want to tell.  It may even go the other way, the actor may be chosen as he fits the story.  I like the idea of going back to the start and adapting the books in order set in the 1950’s and 60’s.  This won’t happen, but one thing that has been hinted at is a younger Bond, possibly a pre 007 Bond.  One of the actors linked to the part Aaron Taylor-Johnson is only 32 suggesting this is an option.  The biggest decision the filmmakers need to make is, are they going to make a series of films with a set character as they did for the for the first 40 years, or is he going to develop from movie to movie? In the words of Gareth Mallory:

Good luck, 007. Don’t cock it up”.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a twitter poll asking what the best vampire movie of all time was (stick with me, I will get to westerns in a minute).  I forget what the other three choices were but one of them was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), I flippantly (as I do), suggested that not only was it not the best Vampire movie, it isn’t even the best Dracula movie.  In response I was invited by Nico, one of the hosts of Movie Mount Rushmore to listen to the podcast where they came up with the four movies in the poll.  So I did!  This is what I found.  In their own words:

Join the Silver Screen Dudes, Anthony “AJ” Jordan & Nico Lurot, for the best TOP 10 movie show out there: the Movie Mount Rushmore. Each of us gets given a new movie topic each week, we count down our individual TOP 10 lists, then combine to make the Mount Rushmore; these are the MUST-SEE 4 movies of each week’s movie topic.

They often ask for suggestions as to what to cover.  I frequently suggested Westerns which they tell me they hare shortlisted but keep putting off as they freely admit it is something of a blind-spot for them.  In order to help them out I thought I would compile a list of recommendations.  This is by no means definitive but I think it gives a strong overview of the genre including some must see classics, and some movies that offer something a little different to the genre.  I have largely ignored modern or contemporary set westers: Hud (1963), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) No Country for Old Men (2007).  Or Movies from other genres that essentially westers: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Outland (1981), Serenity (2005). 

The Iron Horse (1924) – I haven’t seen many silent westerns, and a lot that I have seen are derivative and unremarkable.  Although it’s been a long time since I watched it, this one stands out.  The first epic western from John Ford (you will be seeing that name a lot on this list) who had dabbled in the genre previously.   His most significant work came later.  

Stagecoach (1939) – John Ford’s first talkie western, and the movie that made John Wayne.  The passengers on the stagecoach are a cross section of society.  Made a few years after the great depression, the villain is a banker, still relevant today! It is also the movie that set them template for years to come.

My Darling Clementine (1946) – Not the best telling of the gunfight at the OK corral, but a great western and one that set the blueprint for the genre over the next generation.  For once Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is a more interesting character than Doc Holiday.

Fort Apache (1948) The first and possibly best of John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) make up the rest of the trilogy.  Confusingly for a so-called trilogy, the thirst film is a sequel to the first, the second is only connected by theme and genre).  As well as being possibly the best of the three, it is also notable for its depiction of Native Americans, although there is an element of “cowboys and Indians” you would expect of the time it is a lot more authentic and sympathetic portrayal of  Native Americans than you would expect. 

High Noon (1952) – Told in pretty much real time to create tension.  The story is a thinly disguised criticism of McCarthyism/blacklisting, it’s also an early example of a “revisionist western” although not as blatant or violent as those of the 60’s and 70s.

Shane (1953) – Widely regarded as one of the best movies of the genre.  To be honest I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, so am suggesting it more on reputation than recommendation.

The Naked Spur (1953) – Most remembered for Its a Wonderful Life, and Hitchcock movies, James Stewart appeared in a lot more westerns than you would think, this is one of his best.  Nothing exceptional or unusual about it, just a really solid movie.  Winchester ’73 (1950) is also worth a look for the same reason.

Johnny Guitar (1954) – Nicholas Ray’s movie is like no other western, its more melodrama and gangster movie than western.  Sterling Hayden gets the title role, but it’s all about Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge.

The Searchers (1956) – Possibly the best western ever, John Ford at the top of his game.  The crux of the movie is the hero is not a good man, and he knows it, but he hasn’t come to terms with it.  It is also the starting point for Ford starting to address the genre’s treatment of Native Americans.  Try and get a Blu-ray version to make the most of the stunning VistaVission.

Gunfight at The O.K Corral (1957) – Second of four versions of this story to make the list.  As is often the case Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) is a bit stoic and dull making Doc Holiday (Kirk Douglas) the most interesting character.  Lookout for a young Dennis Hoper as one of the Claytons and DeForest Kelley from Star Trek as one of the Earp brothers.   

3:10 to Yuma (1957) – You have probably seen the remake, the original is better in many ways, not least its smaller scope and simpler story  both are worth watching.

The Left Handed Gun (1958) – Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, what’s not to love?  Random fact, it takes is name from the fact Billy was left handed, we know this from a photograph of him.  Except, somebody spotted a few years ago that the picture was printed back to front!  

Rio Bravo (1959) – John Wayne’s best none John Ford movie, and Tarantino’s favourite movie.  What more reason do you need to watch it?  Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, and Dean Martin!

The Magnificent Seven (1960) – Akira Kurosawa was influenced by American directors including John Ford and saw his samurai movies as Japanese westerns, so when John Sturges remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954)  things came full circle!  Not the last time a Kurosawa movie would be remade as a western.  And, not to mention, the incredible cast.

One-Eyed Jacks (1961) – The only feature directed by Marlon Brando, no other reason needed.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – As the director who made the biggest westerns with the most amazing vistas, Ford is known for romanticising the west, but this is him in full revisionist mode.  Shot in moody black-and-white (it often looks like a noir) on Paramount’s back lot and  soundstages as appose to on location the way Ford normally worked.  I won’t give away the plot, but there are no great surprises, you will see where it is going, it’s the subtext that really makes it stand out. Ford is telling us the west, and the romanticised myth of the west he helped create is a lie!  He only made one more western after that, Cheyenne Autumn (1964) a largely courtroom movie about the mistreatment of Native Americans. 

The Dollars Trilogy – A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – The “spaghetti western” reinvented and rejuvenated a fading genre.  All Leone’s Dollars trilogy are worth watching, this the final entry is the best.  Worth watching just for Ennio Morricone’s score.  If you watch closely the action is cut to the rhythms of the music, this is the earliest really successful example of this I have seen.  

Django (1966) – Sergio Corbucci’s seminal work is the next best and most influential spaghetti western after two or three of Leone’s.  The man at the bar who says “good name” to Django (Jamie Foxx) in Django Unchained is Franco Nero, the original Django.  If you need any more reason to watch the movie, his main adversary is the Klan, and he kills a lot of them!

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – If you have seen the Dollars trilogy you may think you know what a Sergio Leone western is all about.  This is a very different movie, a more conventional western, a slower paced and more sombre affair.  After a career of mainly heroic characters, Henry Fonda is very much against type as the films main villain.  As you would expect Ennio Morricone’s music is spectacular. It also has one of the best movie openings ever.

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Sam Peckinpah’s seminal Western attracted is seriously violent, the polar opposite modern comic book violence sometimes shown in vivid and visceral slow motion.  While John Ford’s movies are about the frontier spirit, the settlement of the west, and the birth of America, Peckinpah tells of the end or an era and a way of life heavily laden with doom and despair.  It was a movie made at the time of the Vietnam war as many people were coming to terms with a nations loss of direction and innocence.   

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – when you think about it this is a strange film, as much a buddy comedy as a western, but it still manages to be a great western along the way.  Made in the end of the 60’s it is also a melancholic allegory for the end, or failure of the free spirited idealism of a generation.

Little Big Man (1970) – Comedy drama and an early example of a “revisionist Western”  that uses the story of a white man raised by the Cheyenne nation to explore the impact of American pioneers on Native Americans.  It also works as an allegory against the Vietnam War which was going on at the time of production. 

Blazing Saddles (1974) – If you think of the great Mel Brooks movies (Young Frankenstein, High Anexiety,  Spaceballs) they all work on their own as a movie as well s being a clever parody, Brazing Saddles is possibly the best of them. 

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – When it comes to wester Clint Eastwood will always be known for The Dollars Trilogy (1964-66) and Unforgiven (1992) but The Outlaw Josey Wales is probably his most interesting western.  The fifth feature (and second western) he directed it appears to be a typical revenge thriller, but its really an exploration of a nation searching for identity and a statement about the futility of war.

The Long Riders (1980) – The 1980’s were a bit of a barren patch for Westerns, the genre was considered old fashioned and didn’t fit with the glossy plastic and neon of the decade.  But, there were a few films that broke through, amongst the best was Walter Hills tale of the James-Younger gang.  Not the best telling of the story (that’s later on the list) but a really good movie with an interesting gimmick.  The four groups of brothers in the  movie are played by real life brothers the Keache’s, Carradine’s, Quaid’s, and Guest’s. It bombed at the box-office, probably one of the reasons there were so few westerns for the next decade.

Young Guns (1988) – The Brat Pack goes west.  Good fun telling of the story of the Billy the Kid story that is just as historically inaccurate as all the others! 

Dances With Wolves (1990) – Not the best Kevin Costner Western (see later in list) and despite picking up the best picture Oscar it wasn’t the best picture of the year (that was Goodfella’s) but don’t let any of that put you off, its is still a great film, and very different to just about any other western of up to that time. 

Back to the Future Part III (1990) – The genre was dead by the end of the 70’s, so for a lot of kids, this would have been the first new western they had seen, it may even have been THE first western they had seen. 

Unforgiven (1992) – I’m not sure if there is any more to say about Unforgiven; a movie that could only be made by a legend of the genre, and at a certain stage of his career.  You have probably seen Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece and think you know it, but watch it again especially after watching some other classic westerns, the collective knowledge of what went before makes an outstanding film even better.

Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994) – Two very different stories about the legendary lawman.  Tombstone is the better film, but Kevin Costner is a better Earp than Kurt Russell.  If you are going to watch just one of them it must be Tombstone simply for Val Kilmer, the best ever portrayal of Doc Holiday, especially in the scenes opposite Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo. 

The Quick and the Dead (1995) – A wild west quickdraw competition with an amazing cast. It’s dumb, but so much fun! 

Open Range (2003) – The third and best Kevin Costner movie on the list.  Costner and Robert Duvall play a pair of “open Range” cattlemen driving a heard across Montana in 1882 until the come up against a rancher who believes in barbwire and ownership.  Set at a very particular time during the expansion west and the changes of the nation after the civil war.  It is also a really entertaining movie and has some of the best gunfights seen in the genre, shot with a real sense of realism a long way removed from the poetic gloss of the classical western. 

3:10 to Yuma (2007) – I have already mentioned the 1957 original bother based on Elmore Leonard’s 1953 short story “Three-Ten to Yuma”.  A reluctant hero, a charismatic but ruthless bad guy are tropes of cinema in general not just western.  The story of transporting a prisoner while under attack has been done countless times.  But when done well it makes for a supremely entertaining movie, and this film does everything really well.   

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – As promised, the best Jesse James movie.  Its slow and pondering, but lyrical and beautiful.  A stunning film that lingers in the back of your mind for days after watching it.  Look out for Nick Cave (whore wrote the score along with Warren Ellis) playing the balladeer in an excellent scene late on in the movie. 

Appaloosa (2008) – Quirky film, with a great cast including by Ed Harris who co-wrote and directed the movie. 

Meek’s Cutoff (2010) – I’m not a fan of Kelly Reichardt’s work and found this dull, but everyone else seems to love it, and Michelle Williams is really good as ever, so you may want to give it a go. 

True Grit (2010) – This isn’t the first adaptation of Charles Portis story of grizzled Deputy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn.  The 1969 Henry Hathaway version starring John Wayne is excellent, but The Coen Brothers version is better.  Jeff Bridges is fantastic as Cogburn but the real star is thirteen year old Hailee Steinfeld in her standout role. 

The Salvation (2014) – A Danish western! America was built on immigration, and the west was settled by people from all over Europe, it surprising there aren’t more movies like this.  As you would expect Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green are fantastic. 

Hostiles (2017) – Described as a “classic revisionist Western” while this terms are clearly intended as a contradiction they are a perfect description of the movie.  The message of the movie is a little heavy handed but is a universal truth that we need to be reminded of from time to time. Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike are both amazing, given the calibre of their filmographies, it is no small statement to say they are among their best performances. 

The Harder they Fall (2021) – I could end with Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog which is a good film and worth watching, but from the same year I am going for something altogether more fun, Jeymes Samuel feature directorial debut.  Taking all the flair of a 70’s Blaxploitation and blending it with a spaghetti wester style revenge story it is an absolute riot.

By no means a definitive list, but hopefully it will give AJ and Nico (or anyone else who stumbles across the list) a few ideas what to watch. 

There is always a film that everyone is talking about, earlier this year it was Top Gun: Maverick, a few years ago it was Cats.  Maverick, because it was so good, surprisingly good,  Cats on the other hand was for the wrong reason, it was a car crash (so I’m told, I chose not to see it).  But now we have another film that everyone is talking about for the wrong reasons, Don’t Worry Darling, not because it it’s a poor movie, this started way before release.  It is all because of things that may or may not have been going on behind the scenes.  This is a great shame because the film is actually really good!  I’m not going to go into what has gone on, that’s all pretty well publicized, but I will just dip into the effect before getting back to the film.  The film is currently sitting on an IMDB rating of 6.2 but when you dig a little deeper and look at the spread of voting it looks like there is more going on.  Nearly half the voters gave it seven or more out of ten, so you would expect an average in the mid sevens.  However, a whopping 23.3% of voter gave it one out of ten.  Even movies that average around five out of then only get 10-15% one out of ten votes.  In the interest of balance 13.6% gave it ten out of ten, this is also artificially high.  Possibly the Harry Styles effect?  Whatever the reason, I suspect the ratings are even less reflective of the movie than usual.  But so many people choose to watch a movie based on ratings and reviews.

Back in 2009 I predicted Olivia Wilde to be the next breakout movie star.  She was coming off the back of a show stealing performance in The OC and was also outstanding in House, and starting to get film roles.  Although she has had a good career, she hasn’t been the star I predicted.  Little did I know that was a good thing, as it gave her the time to pursue her real interest, directing.  Her first feature Booksmart (2019) was fantastic, and she has a couple of future projects rumoured to be in pre-production including the obligatory comic book movie.  Don’t Worry Darling is a far mor ambitious project in scope, style and production.  Set in an idyllic late 50’s company town that is drenched in pastel colours as much as it is in sunlight.  The production design is nothing short of perfect combined with the cinematography the film has a real visual style and language.  This doesn’t happen by accident; this is clearly a director taking charge of every detail.

It is difficult to give a synopsis beyond the setup, most of which is in the trailer:  Every morning the men, many of whom are somewhat insecure and dweeby, leave their beautiful homes and even more beautiful wives, dressed in perfect suits, and get in their stylish 50’s cars and drive out of town and race across the desert to work at the “Victory Project”, a mysterious endeavour they are not allowed to talk about.  The wives stay at home cooking and cleaning or go shopping and to dance classes.  They know nothing of their husbands work beyond it involves “progressive materials”.  Our focus is on the youngest and most beautiful of the couples, Jack and Alice Chambers (Harry Styles and Florence Pugh).  Making the most of their perfect lifestyle we are introduced to them at a party with their friends and neighbours.  Everyone in the movie, including a pregnant woman seems to have an alcohol intake that James Bond or Don Draper would struggle to keep up with.  The hedonistic lifestyle is personified by Bunny (director Olivia Wilde), she seemingly spends most of the film with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other.  Wilde is fantastic and would steal the show if Pugh weren’t so mesmerising.  The Line “work hard, play hard” is even spoken at one point.  The guru at the centre of the Victory Project is Frank (Chris Pine) and his wife Shelly Gemma Chan, both on top for with a strange creepy charisma of a cult leader, or serial killer.

There is clearly more going on than what we can see on the surface, as the movie unfolds and reveals itself it manages to hold the viewers’ attention and interest, but it never totally lives up to the early promise.  The ending and payoff is good but not spectacular.  If there is a crissum, it is with the script.  The story is a little thin for the visual treat and propulsive direction.  There must come a point when the movie reveals itself, and while the reveal is handled well, it is no great surprise.  This prevents it from ever reaching the greatness of a few movies I was going to mention but won’t for fear of spoilers.  But this doesn’t make it a bad film.  It is dripping with style, and the performances, particularly Pugh and Wilde. Harry Styles isn’t bad, he isn’t the best actor in the world, but he clearly has a lot of charisma.  He spends most of his time alongside Florence Pugh who has repeatedly proven to be one of the best young actors around since her debut less than a decade ago in The Falling (2014), and her breakout role in Lady Macbeth (2016), this sometimes helps him, but at others shows him up. 

While it has its visual style firmly in the 50’s melodrama this isn’t a piece of fluff, but then most 50’s melodramas weren’t either!  There is a lot going on thematically, and its deeper than the trailer would have you believe.  These themes and the subtext are never far from the surface.  Rather than try to put them into words, I am going to borrow the words of Terri White: There are a handful of brilliantly compelling ideas at the heart of Don’t Worry Darling. Bodily autonomy, female desire, misogyny, radicalisation, coercive control, female complicity, late-stage capitalism, the dysfunction of the nuclear family. There is a certain section of society (I would include the 45th US President in that list) who will hate this movie, because its about them.  They will not knowingly go to watch a movie like this, I just hope a few of them stumble into see it by mistake.  Having said that they probably wouldn’t recognise themselves on screen anyway! 

A potentially exciting note to end on, I don’t think this is Olivia Wilde’s masterpiece, I believe she has a lot more to say.  To temper that optimism, if she were a man there would be no question she would get the chance, its never as certain for a female filmmaker.  But don’t worry, I somehow don’t think she is going to let anything stop her. 

“That’s not how quantum physics works” Tony Stark

Since Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) the multiverse seems to be the latest trend in sci-fi/fantasy.  Despite Avengers: Endgame telling us there was no such thing as the multiverse, it has become an important part of the MCU first on TV in Loki and What If…? But now on the big screen Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, despite the fact the multiverse makes no sense, at least in the way depicted in this movie. 

As much a Sam Raimi movie as an MCU movie.  It has been suggested he was given more creative freedom than on the Spider-Man movies, and it shows.  While it fits within the franchise the tone is closer to Rami horror than his previous foray into superhero movies.  The idea of possession and reanimation are straight out of Evil Dead as is the Darkhold, that they may as well have called the Necronomicon.  To top it all off there is a great Bruce Campbell cameo.  The fulcrum on which Phase Four is placed, and probably the introduction to phase five as it opens the door for characters who weren’t previously available in the MCU due to complicated rights issues. 

The MCU is beginning to feel like a comic book, not just something based on a comic book.  It is common in comic books for larger stories to be told across multiple titles.  As well as Endgame and the previous Doctor Strange, this movie references Spider-Man: No Way Home, WandaVision and What If…?  The latter most significantly despite being the least seen.  At the centre of the film we have a new character America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) a character with the ability to travel the multiverse.  A fun character that works well playing off Strange.  If they don’t find a way of using her, she could be reduced to a human MacGuffin a little like Ava Starr / Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) in Ant-Man and the Wasp.  This would be a shame.  Just to make those of us who have been with the MCU from the start feel old, Gomez is younger than the franchise.  Born in April 2006, the same month Jon Favreau was hired to direct Iron Man some months after the franchise was conceived. 

Ultimately as you can probably gather from what I have said, that I enjoyed the movie.  However, there is an issue, it makes absolutely no sense.  I am not talking about the fantastical side of the story, you have to suspend disbelief to what any movie, I am saying the multiverse as seen here doesn’t make sense.  There are far too many theories on how a Multiverse works, but within the MCU the suggestion seems to be that they are Quantum.  A quantum multiverse creates a new universe every time a diversion in events occurs.  This is similar to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.  In these theories the alternate universes are endless as each decision, each flap of a butterfly’s wings will create a new branch.  Therefore, in theory, it is possible that in some universes a character could have a doppelganger.  However, this could only happen if the changes that made the new branch happened after the character was conceived.  Given that on average, each time men ejaculate they release nearly 100 million sperm, and each sperm would result in a different person, or no pregnancy at all!

 If we concentrate on what they call Earth-838, we know that there are certain characters that exist (or existed) in both this universe and the MCU Earth-616 (did I get those the right way around?): Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen).  The first deviation we know happened is that Peggy Carter became The First Avenger, possibly in the way seen in What If…?.  This one would imagine would have a different outcome to the war and Hydra.  What we do know is that it appears that the creation of Shield didn’t happen.  The power in this world is The Illuminati. (Forget Dan Browns conspiracy fiction, there really was an Illuminati.  The Bavarian Illuminati, founded on 1 May 1776 in Bavaria.  An Enlightenment-era secret society, their goals were to oppose superstition, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power) Given that this major diversion from the timeline happened somewhere around 1941it is likely that a lot of these characters would have been born.  That’s before we get to Wanda’s children.  How did a variant of Wanda have the same children as the ones created by Wanda in the fantasy in WandaVision? 

Shortly after Doctor Strange came another multiverse movie, Everything Everywhere All At Once.  Written and directed by Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert based on the Modal realism theory.  The title refers to the “villain” of the movie, who has the power to see and feel everything everywhere all at once.  This results in the belief that nothing really matters, in any universe and the plan to suck all of the multiverse into an infinite void of nothingness.  This is an interesting point, as it has often been a criticism of the use of time travel and multiverses within stories.  It reduces the stakes.  As is often said, No one stays dead except Uncle Ben. In this movie our hero (Michelle Yeoh) doesn’t exactly travel between universes, the way it is used is a little different to anything.  Receiving universal critical praise and doing exceptionally well at the box-office, it is a better and more fun movie than Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness

Around the same time as seeing these two movies I read a book The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.  This gives a more believable multiverse within its own fantasy.  The protagonist, Nora chooses to take her own life.  She wakes up in the library of the title, where she is given the choice to live a different life, the life she would be living had she made a different decision in the past.  As she steps into the different lives it becomes clear that the decisions she makes effect not just her, but all the people around her.  The promise, when she finds the life in which she’s the most content, she will remain and live out that that life.  There is no great surprise, the message and the outcome are clear from very early on.  If we are not to multiversed out by then, there will be a movie adaptation, StudioCanal and Blueprint Pictures optioned the film rights a week before the book was published in 2020. 

The presence of Reed Richards/ Mister Fantastic (John Krasinski) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) suggest this is the door that will bring The Fantastic Four and The X-Men into the MCU.  But, it is a door they cannot close!  This is going to require some creative storytelling so we don’t end up with all MCU stories being multiverse movies, as much fun as they have been they could get very boring very quicky.  The more we explore it the less sense it will make, and lets not forget, we no longer have Tony Stark to tell us “That’s not how quantum physics works”. 

In 2019 I posted about how I thought Green Book would win the best picture (it did), and not the bookies favourite, Roma.  For the same reason, I believe CODA and Belfast have as much chance of winning as the bookies favourite Power of the Dog.  This is not to say any one of the movies is the best film of the year, my personal favourite is Dune, but even that can not be considered “The Best” as art is far too subjective to say one thing is better than another. 

The important thing to remember about Best Picture, is that the nomination and voting process is different to the other categories.  It is the only category in which every member of the Academy is eligible to submit a nomination and vote on the final ballot.  But more important than this is the vote itself.  In all other categories voters simply tick the box for their favourite; the best picture is decided by a preferential ballot (also known as: instant-runoff voting, ranked-choice voting, or single transferable vote), Essentially, a movie needs to achieve over 50% of vote.  To achieve this, each voter has to rank the movies in order of favourite.  If more than half of voters pick a film as their number one choice, it wins.  If no film achieves this, the lowest ranked film is eliminated.  The votes that went to the lowest ranked film are transferred to the next highest ranked film on each ballot paper.  This process is continued until one film achieves over half the ballot. 

The result of this, is that the film that gets the most first place votes, often doesn’t actually win.  For this reason, the none offensive middle of the road movie that gets lots of second and third place votes is more likely to win than the bolder more controversial movie. 

Drive My Car is favourite to win Best Foreign Language Film.  A category with possibly the fairest voting process.  There is no guarantee that anyone voting for best picture (or any other Oscar) has actually seen the film.  Except the Best Foreign Language Film, where not only must they watch the films, but must watch them how intended, in a cinema.  The nominated films are selected by the Foreign Language Film Award Committee (who watch all the submitted films).  So called “screener” DVD’s are not used in this category (not sure how covid has affected this), any Academy members wishing to vote must attend an official screening of all five nominated films.

If CODA does eventually win, I will be happy, as it is my second favourite of the nominated films I have seen, and accept Dune is both a genre picture that doesn’t fare well at the Oscars, but is also only half a movie.  Maybe Dune Part Two will do as well as Return f the King did despite being the weakest of the trilogy! 

My somewhat belated top ten movies of 2021 is here!  I wanted to re-watch a couple of movies before setting on both the ten, and the order.  There have been a couple of changes.  Since 1998 I have been visiting the cinema a couple of times a week averaging around 110 movies a year.  Then 2020 happened! We entered 2021 in lockdown with all UK cinema’s closed.  From when cinema’s reopened in May until the end of the year, I saw 51 movies; if you pro-rata that for a full year i would still have seen less than 80 films in a full year.  Let’s hope for an improvement in 2022!  Back to the matter at hand.  I always pick my top ten movies of the year based on films released in the UK in said year, and seen by me in the cinema.   Two things came together to prompt a slight change, I couldn’t decide on the final film in my top ten, and there was only one film I streamed that would have made my list.  That is how Promising Young Woman made the list:

1: Dune – Denis Villeneuve ‘s adaptation of (half of) Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel is finally with us.  I first watched David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune when I was around ten years old.  I loved it and have watched it numerous times since.  A couple of years later I read the book, it was even better.  Villeneuve’s film looks amazing, the cast is fantastic and the storytelling is sublime.  It hits all the same beats of the Lynch movie but is a true adaptation to a movie as it relies on show don’t tell where the earlier version uses a lot of voiceover to speed the story along and vocalise the inner monologue of the characters.  The great news is that part 2 has been green-lit.

2: Another Round – In 2012 Thomas Vinterberg made an outstanding film called The Hunt starring Mads Mikkelsen.  The pair are back with another stunning movie.  Exploring men’s relationship with alcohol, and each other it asks a lot of questions of its characters and audience, to its credit it doesn’t try to answer them.  The winner of the best foreign language movie at the Oscars this year, I think it’s a better film than the (six out of eight that I have seen) nominations for best picture. 

3: Last Night in Soho – Edgar Wright’s much anticipated movie is very different to his previous work.  Flipping between drama and thriller it is essentially  a psychological horror that owes a debt to giallo.  Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are both sensational; it is also a fitting final performance for the great Diana Rigg.  If I am hyper critical, it loses its way a little in the final act, but it still works.

4: The Green Knight – David Lowery’s movie adapted from the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Not afraid to embrace its origin, the narrative is poetic and ambiguous.  The photography is stunning, and  Dev Patel is fantastic.  Finally an Arthurian movie to rival Monty Python and John Boorman.  Sadly it didn’t get a much of a release, but believe me its worth the effort to see it on the big screen.

5: Petite Maman – A modern day fantasy/fairy-tale written and directed by Céline Sciamma.  Clocking in at just 82 minutes and with little plot beyond the concept, on the surface it is a very slight film, its is however enchanting and enthralling.

6: Titaine – It’s taken Julia Ducournau five years to follow up her debut feature, the visceral horror Raw, it was worth the wait.  Comparisons with David Cronenberg are inevitable both for the body horror, and the auto-eroticism, while valid there is a lot more going on.  There is so much to unpick both in the story, and the subtext, I am looking forward to a second viewing.

7: Spider-Man: No Way Home – I went into this with very low expectations, I wasn’t a fan of Far From Home, and the multiversity had already been explored to brilliant effect in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  To add to this the MCU hasn’t had its best year.  I was so wrong, not only was the film excellent, probably my favourite live action Spider-Man movie, and also a fantastic cinematic experience as other audience members reacted to what was happening.

8: Pig – Nicolas Cage plays a reclusive truffle hunter.  When he goes looking for his stolen pig, you would expect a John Wick style revenge thriller.  What we get is a much more low-key and thoughtful movie, and Cage’s best performance in years.

9: The French Dispatch – Wes Anderson is back with an anthology film that is just about the most Wes Anderson movie ever.   The ensemble cast is filled with all the Anderson regulars and a few faces to his repertory company.  Wonderfully quirky, I have heard mixed reviews, personally I loved it.

10: Promising Young Woman – Many people got to see Emerald Fennell’s movie a couple of years ago, we only got it in the UK in 2021.  Sadly it dropped during lockdown so I only got to see it on TV.  The basic story is given away in the trailer, but it doesn’t always go where you think it will.  Carey Mulligan is devastatingly brilliant.

The final month of the year has been a good one at the cinema despite the best efforts of Covid.  The eight movies I have seen include more than one of my top ten movies of the year.  I got to see one of my favourite classic films at the cinema, I was also invited to a regional premier, giving me the chance to see The Kings Man three weeks before general release.  Here are the movies I watched:

Petite Maman – A modern day fantasy/fairy-tale written and directed by Céline Sciamma.  Clocking in at just 82 minutes and with little plot beyond the concept, on the surface it is a very slight film, its is however enchanting and enthralling.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City – Just five years after Resident Evil: The Final Chapter the game based franchise has already received the reboot treatment.  Where the original mainly franchise focussed on one character this film operates as more of an ensemble, Kaya Scodelario as Claire Redfield is nominally the lead, but Hannah John-Kamen as Jill Valentine is the MVP.  Leaning more into horror, it isn’t a great film, but it is largely enjoyable and fun.   

The Kings Man – Explaining the origin of The Kingsmen by weaving them into the events of the first world war.  The tone doesn’t completely work as it flips between serious/sombre, and silly fun.  It largely gets away with it as the cast is excellent.  Not as good as the first film but much better than the sequel.

Spider Man: No Way Home – I went into this with very low expectations, I wasn’t a fan of Far From Home, and the multiversity had already been explored to brilliant effect in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  To add to this the MCU hasn’t had its best year.  I was so wrong, not only was the film excellent, probably my favourite live action Spider-Man movie, and also a fantastic cinematic experience as other audience members reacted to what was happening.

West Side Story – I’m not a fan of musicals so was never going to love this, but I did enjoy and appreciate it.  As you would expect from Steven Spielberg it is supremely well made and looks amazing.  The cast is excellent especially Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose.

The Matrix Resurrections – Written and directed Lana Wachowski without her sibling and usual collaborator, this belated sequel was something of a risk.  The Matrix was a masterpiece, the sequels were a disappointment, did we need another instalment?  In short yes!  It isn’t a great film, but it has merit for a couple of reasons, it provides a coda that actually makes the sequels better, but most of all, it’s great to see Neo (Keanu Reeves), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) again, as well as few excellent additions, notably Jessica Henwick. 

The Red Shoes – Never missing a chance to see one of my favourite classic movies projected on the big screen. Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece is one of my favourite movies and one I have long wished to see at the cinema.  It didn’t disappoint.  

Titane  – It’s taken Julia Ducournau five years to follow up her debut feature, the visceral horror Raw, it was worth the wait.  Comparisons with David Cronenberg are inevitable both for the body horror, and the auto-eroticism, while valid there is a lot more going on.  There is so much to unpick both in the story, and the subtext, I am looking forward to a second viewing.

But what’s my movie of the month? There a few contenders but it has to be the one I am still thinking about, Titane.

Check back in the next few days to find out which of these movies made my top ten of the year.

Happy New Year