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Twin PeaksThirty years ago today saw the premier of the greatest TV show ever, Twin Peaks.  By the time it reached the UK in October of the same year it was already a phenomenon; 34.6 million people watched the pilot on US TV, people were already quoting “damn fine coffee”, and Cherry Pie.  I watched it because of David Lynch.  I had seen Dune (1985) shortly after release, and loved it (despite popular opinion), and had recently seen Blue Velvet (a little young at 14).  Both directed by Lynch, and like Twin Peaks, both starring Kyle MacLachlan.  Like everybody else, I didn’t know what to expect from the show. The Radio Times described it as an “offbeat murder-mystery drama”.  I seem to remember people having a problem with the long-form  story arc.  One review, possibly also in the Radio Times called it a Soap Noir suggesting it had more in common with soap operas than quality TV, which at the time was episodic.  Little did they know that it was a glimpse of the future.  But it is more than that, this is TV at its most cinematic.  After all, it was television directed by a visionary filmmaker, something that would be almost the norm two, and three decades on.  Lynch may be known for his quirky characters and absurd scenarios, but he is also an elegant filmmaker.  Take a scene early on; Laura Palmer’s parents (Ray Wise & Grace Zabriskie) are talking on the phone, she is missing but they don’t know she is dead, we as an audience do.  As they are talking we see a police car pull up in the background.  As with so much of the show it is subtly brilliant.  That’s not to say Lynch and co creator Mark Frost are afraid to lean into the melodrama of soap!  The “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” advertising campaign was directly influenced by the “Who shot J.R.?” campaign from the show Dallas a decade earlier.  Like a soap, there are over thirty main characters.  There are also the strange encounters and conversations , many which are left hanging and are not connected to the plot, but all add to the colour. laura-palmer

Ultimately the long form nature of the show was its downfall for me, for a while at least.  Early in the second series, I went on Holiday and missed an episodes when the recording failed.  An episode or two later I stopped watching intending to pick it up again when re-run.  Ultimately, this opportunity came a couple of years later when I borrowed the VHS from a friend and watched both season  all the way through.  I have watched it all the way through at least three times since then. dale cooper audrey horne

The title sequence shows both the simple splendour, as well and the mundane of small two life.  There is something strangely beautiful about watching a giant saw-blade being sharpened, or is that Angelo Badalamenti’s theme music doing the heavy lifting?  The theme that is echoed throughout the rest of score perfectly captures the grief and melancholy that hovers over the show.  It doesn’t take a music expert to recognise that Laura’s theme (that is repeated throughout the show), and the theme music are of the same piece.  Other parts of the score reflect the absurdity and obscurity of the show.  The music is bizarrely brilliant, and totally timeless; it sounds like nothing else, but is also reassuringly familiar.    The evil lurking under the surface of a seemingly perfect and idyllic community is not new ground for Lynch having explored it in Blue Velvet (1986).  But lets not forget this is a murder mystery, and that is where Mark Frost’s expertise rests, his credits include around fifty episodes of Hill Street Blues as scriptwriter and/or story editor.  If you strip away all the strange characters and events, it is still a great murder mystery, just not one with the conclusion you would normally expect. Part of the brilliance comes with the setting Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) talks about how murder isn’t a faceless event, not a statistic, and how Laura Palmer’s death affected everybody in town.  Pure evil is more noticeable and more meaningful than if it had been set in a large city. Twin Peaks Black Lodge

Like all the best shows, it hasn’t dated (except possibly the 4:3 aspect ratio), even after thirty years.  Initially cancelled after two seasons, but as a final act, Lynch made the boldest of moves.  Taking a storyline that goes back to early in the first season as a jumping off point, he revisited the show (just over) twenty-five years later.   Twin Peaks The Return, as it is sometimes known dove deeper into the supernatural that always been there, often just below the surface.  The result was a very different experience, that makes you look differently at the original show.  Like a film with a very different sequel, you can take Twin Peaks as the original thirty episodes of seasons one and two, or you can take all forty-eight from all three seasons; either way, it was as groundbreaking as it was brilliant! twin peaks the return

Following my list of Space Adventure movies in the century so far, I thought I would take a similar look at TV from the same time period. 

Farscape (1999 – 2003), Where better to start a list of programs from this century, than in the previous one! The Australian-American series ran for four seasons, before being concluded with a three hour mini-series.  The Jim Henson Company, were responsible for both the alien make-up/prosthetics and animatronic puppets. The show had a great cast, the highlight being Claudia Black.  The world-building was excellent, but the standout was the story.  In a time before longform TV as we know it now, most of the episodes were standalone or short narratives over a small number of episodes, however, there is always an overarching story arc.  Farscape

Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000) Produced by the Sci Fi Channel, and regarded by many as the definitive version of Frank Herbert’s novel.  I found it a little tedious, and prefer David Lynch’s 1984 film version.  A second series: Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune (sometimes called Dune Apocalypse) followed in 2003.  Based on the books Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune.  A better series overall, mainly thanks to James McAvoy as Leto II.Frank Herbert's Dune

Andromeda (2000 – 2005) Marketed as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, it was based on an and unused material by the late Roddenberry.  The show ran for 110 episodes over five seasons.  Set in a future dystopian, post-apocalyptic universe, the premise of the show is fighting against the odds to make things better, a very Roddenberry idea.  I seem to remember the show was no very late at night in the UK, I watched the first episode and then saw odd episodes over the years.  I remember enjoying what I saw, but never enough to seek out a whole series. Andromeda

Cowboy Bebop (2001 -2002) – Japanese animated series made up of 26 episodes and a movie.  Set in a future where Earth almost uninhabitable, and humanity has colonized most of the Solar System.  The story concentrates on a an Inter Solar System Police. Described as a cyberpunk blend of Western and pulp fiction, it meets all the space opera credentials for this list.  An American live action version is reported to be in production for Netflix, although recent reports suggest it will be much delayed due to a knee injury suffered by star John Cho. Cowboy Bebop

Star Trek Enterprise (2001-2005) Running for 98 episodes across four seasons, Enterprise was set around a century before the original series and captain Kirk’s five-year mission telling the early years of Starfleet, and the first starship Enterprise. I lost interest during the first season, but understand it got better. Star Trek Enterprise

Firefly (2002 – 2003) The show that gives this article its title.  Cruelly cancelled mid season, there are only 14 episodes, but they are all fantastic. Although episodic, flashback episodes tell the origins of the characters.  Set on the fringes of civilised society echoing pioneer culture and western movies, key members of the crew fought on the losing side of a civil war.  Handled differently this could have been very problematic.  A combination of fantastic world-building and characters set the short lived show head and shoulders above others, this made it easy for them to transition into Serenity, the movie that finished the story. Firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) When I was kid in the early 80’s I used to watch the original Battlestar Galactica every Sunday evening for years. Or did I? How the mind plays tricks on us, it only ran for 21 episodes (plus 10 episodes of Galactica 1980, which I didn’t see).  While I loved the show at the time, re-watching it in the 90’s revealed that it wasn’t very good.  However, the re-imagined version is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Retaining the original concept, and technically a sequel to the original show.  The action and drama of the show were enhanced by a smart script with political undertones with contemporary relevance.Battlestar Galactica

Stargate Atlantis (2004 – 2009) Although I watched and enjoyed the original Stardgate movie, I have never seen any of the TV show.  I did however start watching Stargate Atlantis, which I understand to be a continuation of the original show.  A military survival series, set in a new galaxy and unable to contact earth, I enjoyed the first season, them it moved from free to air TV and I haven’t seen any further episodes. Stargate Atlantis - Season 5

Doctor Who (2005 – ) Doctor Who ran for over 700 episodes from 1963 to 1989.  When it returned in 2005, nobody knew what to expect, I don’t think anybody expected it to be so good and to re-cement itself as a British institution.  It has lost its way since the departure of Steven Moffat, but still remains fun and watchable. Doctor Who

Star Wars The Clone Wars (2008 – 2020) The clone wars were mentioned by Princess Leia, and then again by Luke and Ben in Star Wars, without any explanation as to what they were. Following the prequels (clones were introduced in Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)) came The Clone Wars filling in the can between episodes II and III.  I have never seen any of them, but understand they are popular. Star Wars The Clone Wars

Stargate Universe (2009 -2011) An exploration team find themselves onboard an Ancient spaceship several billion light years from our Galaxy. Running for 40 episodes over two seasons, the show was cancelled after the final season was in the can resulting in an ending described as a semi-cliffhanger.  A shame, as I enjoyed the show. Stargate Universe

Caprica (2010) – Set a generation before Battlestar Galactica and telling the story of the creation of Cylon’s and sowing the seeds for the destruction of the twelve colonies.  The show was filled with interesting characters played by some really good actors.  Sadly the story unfolded too slowly and it failed to find an audience and was cancelled before the first season had finished airing.  This is a great shame, the tease real for the unmade second season look really good.Caprica

Agents of SHIELD (2013-2020) The MCU’s longest running TV show is largely earth based, but the whole firth season is set in space, and is pretty good.Agents of SHIELD

Dark Matter (2015) Six people wake up on a deserted spaceship with no memory of who they are or what they’re doing there. Running for three seasons, I am yet to see it. Dark Matter

Killjoys (2015-2019) What started out looking like it was going to be a second-rate Syfy channel space opera gradually became more interesting and compelling.  As well as an overriding story arc, it also included more relevant characters and storylines.  Beyond all this, the real reason for watching is the shows secret weapon, rising star Hannah John-Kamen in the lead role.Killjoys

The Expanse (2015- ) Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  Set in a future with a colonized Solar System, a fragile cold war like peace exists between Earth, Mars and the Belt (an asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). Essentially a cold war/conspiracy thriller, the brilliance of the show is that as an audience we don’t take sides; all three sides are represented, and there are good and bad on all sides.  This is further complicated as the good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have redeeming features, just like real life!  Simply one of the best shows around at the moment.The Expanse

Lost in Space (2018 – ) When I was kid in the 80’s I loved the re-run of the 1960’s show.  I only watched the first two or three episodes of the new version before loosing interest.  It appears to be popular with a third season being commissioned. Lost in Space

Star Trek Discovery (2018 – ) Moving away from the single episodes of most of the Trek franchise to telling one long form story per season has changed the show dramatically.  Interesting stories and fantastic casting have made it a positive move.  Set before the events of the original show, the writers have done an amazing job of fitting the story into existing narratives. Star Trek Discovery

Altered Carbon (2018 – ) With two seasons aired so far, Altered Carbon has become legendary for its cost of production.  The high budget really shows with the lavish production design.  Based on the 2002 novel of the same title by Richard K. Morgan, a key to the story is how, memories and consciousness can be transferred from one body to another allowing recasting to  become part of the narrative. Altered Carbon

Krypton (2018 – 2019) Set on Superman’s doomed home planet around 200 years before his birth. Running for twenty episodes across two seasons to mixed reviews.  I haven’t seen any so can’t comment further.Krypton - Season 2

Nightflyers (2018) Billed as a psychological thriller (aka a pretentious horror) about a spaceship exploring the universe for alien life.  Based on a novella by George R.R. Martin.  It ran for 10 episodes, I lost interest by the second. Nightflyers - Season 1

Another Life (2019-2020) A crew travel into space to try and unlock the mystery of an alien artifact that may be threatening life on earth.  Combining adventure with mystery thriller the concept of this show looks really good.  Unfortunately It didn’t work for me, I gave up after two episodes. Another Life

The Mandalorian (2019- ) Episode One of Jon Favreau’s Star Wars TV show snuck in before the nations cinemas closed, and screened in UK cinema’s as part of the Disney streaming launch.  All the hype seems to have surrounded the character who has erroneously become known as baby Yoda.  The show, is actually very good! The Mandelorian

Star Trek Picard (2020- ) Patrick Stewart returns to the Star Trek universe as a now retired Jean-Luc Picard.  The story makes reference to the events of Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) and brings back a few characters from the past, and introduces some really good new ones.  On the whole it is excellent, but isn’t as consistently good as the first season of Star Trek Discovery. Star Trek Picard

A few weeks ago when it was becoming clear that cinemas would be closing I tweeted to jokingly suggest I was compiling my top ten movies of the year.  Now the cinemas are all closed, and all the big releases have been put back, it isn’t clear how many more movies I will be seeing on the big screen this year, so I thought I would post my top ten of the year.  The top five would probably have made my top ten had they come out in any of the past ten years.

  1. Parasite Parasite
  2. Portrait of a Lady on FirePortrait of a Lady on Fire
  3. 1917 1917
  4. Long Day’s Journey into Night Long Day's Journey into Night
  5. Color out SpaceColor out Space
  6. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)Birds of Prey
  7. The Invisible ManThe Invisible Man
  8. The LighthouseThe Lighthouse
  9. The True History of the Kelly GangThe True History of the Kelly Gang
  10. Little JoeLittle Joe

Bonus/Redux Pick: JoJo Rabbit*JoJo Rabbit

* I just remembered, I saw a preview of JoJo Rabbit in December last year.  Following the advice of Chris Hewitt of Empire Magazine/Podcast, I only included films released that year for my 2019 best of list.

The other films I have seen so far this year (excluding re-issues of older films) are as follows (in the order seen).  Let’s hope I have seen a lot more than 21 by the end of the year!

  • The Gentlemen
  • Just Mercy  
  • Seberg 
  • Bad Boys For Life 
  • Bombshell
  • Queen & Slim 
  • The Rhythm Section
  • Dark Waters
  • Underwater
  • Greed
  • The Hunt

This will be my last Movie of the Month for the foreseeable future.  I have been blogging for over eleven years, although I post far less than when I started, the one constant is Movie of the Month, I have posted every month without fail and usually on the first of the month.  However, world events have overtaken me, and I, like the rest of the nation will not be visiting the cinema due to the lockdown associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  The movies I saw this month are:

Portrait of a Lady on Fire – I went into this movie not knowing anything about it, other than how good it was.  To give anybody reading this the same opportunity, I am not going to give a synopsis.  The film is beautiful to look at, and tells a beautiful that unfolds to devastating effect. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

The Invisible Man –  Following the abject failure of The Mummy (2107) Universal’s overly ambitious  so-called Dark Universe didn’t happen.  This left the door open for the Blumhouse treatment.  The story is as grounded and real as The Invisible Man could be, and also benefits from the always brilliant Elisabeth Moss.  Not only better than expected, but genuinely good. The Invisible Man

The True History of the Kelly Gang – A grubby and grimy Western that subverts the myth of the legend of Ned Kelly.  A Dark and unsettling  movie that  filled with outstanding performances. The True History of the Kelly Gang

The Hunt – Far blander than the its controversial reputation would suggest.  A 21st century take on an often told story.  A final act revelation even softens the any chance of controversy.  In no way revolutionary or outstanding, but well made, fun with couple of really good actions scenes.    The Hunt

I have averaged 111 films per year at the cinema for the last ten years.  Its unlikely I will see that many this year, regardless of how many films I see this year, I am confident that this month’s movie of the month will make my year end top ten: Portrait of a Lady on FirePortrait of a Lady on Fire poster

I have been writing this blog for over eleven years; during this time I have intentionally avoided anything political or even particularly serious, in short, I write about movies, and occasionally TV.  However, on occasion, to be blunt, shit gets real!

One of my local independent cinema’s is The Electric Cinema.  Established over 110 years ago, it holds the honour of being the oldest working cinema in the UK.  On Monday, they tweeted about how they remained open through two world wars, and the Spanish Flue pandemic (the one that infected about a quarter of the population a century ago). Today, The Electric took the drastic step of closing amid the unprecedented issues associated with the coronavirus pandemic.  This followed most of the UK’s cinema chains deciding to close until further notice.

Cinema’s are far from the only places to close.  The UK government are promising help for businesses.  While it is essential to maintain the national economy, and the businesses that keep the proverbial wheels turning, we have to also think of the things that make life fun and enjoyable.  We have to protect, and maintain the theatres, restaurants, pubs, clubs, and sports clubs that we all attend, the things that make life worth living.  Winston Churchill possibly said it best:

The story as I understand it dates back to the Second World War; as the cost of war was escalating and the government struggled to balance the nations books a minister suggested cutting funding for the arts to prop-up the war effort. Winston Churchill response was to ask the simple question:  “Then what are we fighting for?”

The HuntThe marketing for the movie The Hunt tells us: “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen”.  The studio, Universal Pictures pulled its release last summer.  It had already drastically scaled back the marketing following a mass shooting in America.  The Donald Trump (who I understand had, not, and has still not, seen the film) got involved accusing the producers of inciting violence.  Having now seen the film, it is neither inciting or provocative, it is actually a run of the mill action thriller within a sub-genre that crops up from time to time.  The modern twist is the hunters are “Woke” liberal elites who are truly horrible, and the prey are call “deplorables”, basically people who have expressed less than woke views.  the film is fun and has some interesting ideas, but isn’t cutting enough to be a true satire on modern society. The Hunt

The first film of the genre was probably The Most Dangerous Game (1932) based on Richard Connell’s short story of the same name.  Anyone who has seen Zodiac (2007) will remember the reference to this movie, if the events of that movie are to be believed it even provide inspiration for the real life Zodiac killer. It has also inspired filmmakers for nearly 90 years with numerous, copies imitators and remakes. The idea was even used for an episode of The Avengers (The Superlative Seven) and is spoofed in The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XVI).The Most Dangerous Game

Made in 1932 parts of the movie look dated, the most notable of these are the use of close-ups of exaggerated facial expressions, a clear hangover from the silent era. The movie starts onboard a ship, all exterior shots are clearly a model and not up to the standard of King Kong (1933) that it actually shares a lot with (including one of its directors, sets and cast). Other than this the movie stands up really well and is wonderfully atmospheric. Due to the relatively low production cost it actually made more money than the better known King Kong. Coming in at only a fraction over an hour the movie is incredibly short, but its stripped down simplicity is to its credit.

A Game of Death (1945) directed by Robert Wise is a direct remake of The Most Dangerous Game, shot towards the end of WWII, the madman is a Nazi, not Russian.A Game of Death

The Tenth Victim (1965) is an Italian Sci-Fi entry to the genre featuring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress.  “The Big Hunt,” is a televised competition with contestants who must survive five rounds as a hunter, and five as the prey. For years a hard to find obscurity, it is now available on Amazon Prime in the UK (complete with a terrible dub).  The Tenth Victim

One of the most interesting and controversial examples is the excellent Punishment Park (1971) shot as a bleak mockumentary. Punishment Park

Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle based on a Stephen King story (as Richard Bachman), The Running Man (1987) looks far more satirical and incisive in today’s world of reality TV than it did back in the day. The Running Man

One of my favourites of the genre: Hard Target (1993) is possibly the only Hollywood film by John Woo to live up to the bonkers fun of his Hong Kong movies.  Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a man down on his luck hired to find a missing man, he soon finds himself in the same “Most Dangerous Game” headed up by Lance Henriksen.Hard Target

This was closely followed by Surviving the Game (1994) with Ice-T as a A homeless man hunted by Rutger Hauer and Gary Busey. Surviving the Game

Battle Royale (2000), and its sequel (2003), Series 7: The Contenders (2001), The Hunger Games (2012-15), The Belko Experiment (2016) all take a slightly different angle, as the prey are also the hunters, forced to kill each other. 

While Predators (2010), features and extraterrestrial hunter, it fulfills most of the tropes of the genre, even more so than other films in the series.  Predators

Revenge (2017), is also worth a look.  The setup is very different, put it soon finds itself in familiar  territory with a few interesting twists along the way. Revenge

Finally, if you fancy a different medium, take a look at the Jack Reacher novel Past Tense (2018) by Lee Child.Jack Reacher Past Tense

We are in an interesting period in the movie calendar:  The awards bait movies have been and gone, the blockbusters are waiting in the wings, amongst the dregs there are often a few gems, there certainly has been this month:

The Rhythm Section: As a big fan of Mark Burnell source novel this movie had a lot to live up to, it sadly fails. The story has been simplified from the novel loosing the nuance and a lot of the meaning.  On a positive note, Blake Lively is very good.The Rhythm Section

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn): Suicide Squad (2016) was a horrible mess of a movie, but it had one thing going for it, Margot Robbie was excellent as Harley Quinn.  Birds of Prey understands this and has Harley front and centre, not to take away from the supporting cast are also excellent.  It is fun and funny, simply everything a film like this needs to be, and everything that Suicide Squad wasn’t.  Also surprisingly violent, properly violent, not just comic book violent.   Its a shame it isn’t finding more of an audience.Birds of Prey

Underwater: Disater/Sci-fi movie set seven miles under the sea at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  Aside from being unoriginal, and very predictable, there is nothing actually wrong with the movie, it just never really gets going, and is all just very average.  Kristen Stewart is very good though.Underwater

The Lighthouse: Robert Eggers follow-up to The Witch is just as intense, but even more bold and visceral.  It isn’t always clear what is going on leaving a lot of the film open to interpretation, the film is all the better for this.  Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are both excellent.The Lighthouse

The Lost Boys: Re-mastered version of the classic 80’s teen horror.  As fun and funny as ever. Great to see it on the big screen.The Lost Boys

Dark Waters:  A legal drama based on a true story is a departure from the expected for Todd Haynes. There is a constant sense of dread, this combined with a lack time is spent in courtrooms makes it feel more like a conspiracy thriller.  Mark Ruffalo is utterly brilliant in the lead; Anne Hathaway isn’t given much to do in a much smaller supporting role, but has a few great moments.Dark Waters

Little Joe: Director Jessica Hausner’s first English language movie; Sci-Fi thriller with about a plant that is engineered to have antidepressant qualities.  The film has the dread and anxiety of a horror movie but without gore or violence.  The pastel colour design is disturbing in itself, as is the unusual score.  Emily Beecham and Ben Whishaw subtly brilliant in an un-showy way.  There is an interesting subtext that could be about medication, mental heal, or GM crops, maybe it’s about all three?Little Joe

Greed: Writers/Director Michael Winterbottom reteams with long-time collaborator Steve Coogan in a film about an unscrupulous fashion tycoon.  Often funny but with a very serious message, far from the directors best work but still very good.Greed

Color out Space: Things start to get a little strange for family living in an isolated woodland home.  Directed by Richard Stanley, his first feature since 1992, and based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft.  Nicolas Cage, does exactly what you expect him, Madeleine Arthur probably has the most screen-time, and is also very good.   I expect it to divide opinion, I loved it!Color out Space

Not the best film, of the month, but the most surprisingly good: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn):Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn