Feeds:
Posts
Comments

This weekend I will be visiting my local cinema to see Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.  The true story of Oscar winning actress (Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Bad and the Beautiful,1952) Gloria Grahame and her relationship with young actor Peter Turner.  Based on a book by Turner, he is played by BAFTA winning actor (Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Billy Elliot 2000) Jamie Bell; Grahame is played by four time Oscar nominee (how has she never won?) Annette Bening. Quad-Main-AW_31162-Film-Stars-Dont-Die-in-Liverpool-1068x801

Gloria Grahame was about thirty years older than Peter Turner and working in English theatre, her movie star days behind her.  If you have seen the trailer, you will understand the films title.  Listening to the press for the film a few things came out.  Neither the age difference or the different worlds they were from was never an issue between Grahame and Turner.  There was also a suggestion that Grahame, who had been married four times, had not been treated well by the men in her life before meeting turner. This made me think of my favourite of Gloria Grahame’s movies; In a Lonely Place. Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is the prime suspect in the murder of a young girl who had visited his apartment shortly before being killed.  His only alibi comes from his neighbour, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) who saw the girl leaving.  Bogart gives an amazing performance as the volatile but vulnerable writer; Grahame is perfect playing opposite him.  The pair have amazing onscreen chemistry resulting in a totally believable relationship. in a lonely place

The film is all about timing, not always good timing; timing is the reason Dixon Steele becomes a suspect, the reason Laurel Gray becomes his alibi but most importantly in the films conclusion Gray spells it out “Yesterday, this would’ve meant so much to us. Now it doesn’t matter… it doesn’t matter at all.” Even the making of the film was a matter of timing; Grahame was married to director Nicholas Ray, a tumultuous relationship filled with separations and reconciliations, they didn’t last long after the film, divorcing within two years.  Perfectly constructed the film gives purpose, direction and a glint of happiness to its characters but never lets you forget it can all be pulled away at any moment.  This in itself is far from unique, but it manages to do it in such a subtle way that it is more disturbing than any bombast could have achieved. Gloria Grahame

Firmly pigeonholed as a film noir, it is very different to, but strangely darker than any detective thriller.  It is for this reason that I wasn’t that impressed when I first saw the film as an 18 year old.  It is also the reason I loved it so much when I watched it again twenty years later.  Director Nicholas Ray went on to make Born to Be Bad, Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without a Cause but never committed anything to film as devastating, as heartbreaking as In a Lonely Place.  Grahame and Bogart both went on to win Oscars but if either gave a better performance during their careers, I didn’t see it.

I am unsure of what to expect from Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, I have avoided reviews, but with Annette Bening involved it is sure to be worth seeing. 

Advertisements

Justice lugues posterI drove past a billboard displaying a massive Justice League poster the other day.  The notable thing about, only one woman.  But given the fact the one woman was Gal Gadot, who with Wonder Woman is the only person on the poster to have a decent movie in DC’s current run of super heroes.  Not to say all the recent DC movies were disaster: The various Batman and Superman movies have made good money.  The Suicide Squad was a mess but it had some good elements (Margot Robbie and Will Smith).  My first thought was the big topic this year, not only have DC given a female character her own story, but it’s the best film they have made so far in the series that appears to be trying emulate the recent success of the MCU.  Marvel are seventeen movies in and still haven’t given a woman her own movie.  As it stands that will come in 2019 with Captain Marvel.  That will appear somewhere between the two Infinity war movies, the second of which will mark the end of Phase Three.  What will Phase Four bring us?  many have speculated that it will be a re-boot; others believe it will be a continuation of the franchise, but without the main characters from the earlier phases (Iron Man, Thor, Hulk).  This suggest suggests an end to fan hopes of a Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow standalone movie.

 

wonder woman

However there is one film series that has had something approaching equality in its characters, the X-Men.  Despite being called Men, the movies and the comics feature a healthy mix of both genders as well as a subtext of equality.  As with the comic books on which they are based, Logan/Wolverine became an instant fans favourite, thanks in no small part to the brilliant casting of Hugh Jackman. Rogue (Anna Paquin), was introduced to the X-Men at the same time as Logan and in many ways was the main character of the first film in 2000.  Of the existing team, outside of Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier, the most memorable characters were Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Ororo Munroe / Storm (Halle Berry).  In fairness depending on your point of view Halle Berry was either miscast or misunderstood.  I’m not convinced director Bryan Singer knew what to do with the character.  Of Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) villains, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) was by far the most interesting and became a mainstay of the series.  When Matthew Vaughn rebooted the franchise in 2011 with X-Men: First Class he cast Jennifer Lawrence just as she was about to become one of the biggest stars in the world, ensuring the already interesting character a higher profile.  She continues to be one of the most interesting characters in the franchise.X-Women

 

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) was a disaster and made a mess of another fan favourite character Psylocke, I couldn’t tell you how good or bad Olivia Munn was in the part, as she wasn’t given much of a chance to do anything.  The film did however introduce Alexandra Shipp and Sophie Turner (best known for Game of Thrones) as Jean Grey and Ororo Munroe / Storm respectively.  They were far better handled, and have led to the next film X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2018).  Dark Phoenix, is one of the big story arcs in the comic books and a theme that was touched upon on the second and third installments of the movie franchise.

Finally we have the best comic book movie of the year, Logan.  Including an uncredited cameo in X-Men: First Class, Hugh Jackman has appeared in every X-Men movie to date.  His tenth and final appearance came earlier this year, in the brilliant Logan.   His co-star was eleven year old Dafne Keen as Laura / X-23 a child cloned from Logan.  The character was as much the star of the film as Jackman’s Logan, and seminal to the plot.  There have been suggestions of bringing the character into the X-Men movie (who gave up on continuity long ago).  There have also been a far more interesting suggestion of her own stand alone movie following on from Logan.  It isn’t clear if this would be involve recasting to portray a grown up version of the character or continue with Keen who would be a young teenager by that time.  Either option has merit, the inclusion of Logan director James Mangold would be a welcome addition.Logan

So while we are bemoaning the lack of a female lead in Marvel movies or celebrating the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (and its announced sequel), just remember that X-Men have been around on the big screen since the turn of the millennium and aren’t doing a bad job, some of the films even pass the (flawed) The Bechdel test!

Ten movies, most good, a couple are great, here are the contenders:

Home Again – Enjoyable but lightweight rom-com.  Pairing a forty year old woman with a twentysomething man is a welcome reversal of the cinematic norm.  Reese Witherspoon is always a likeable screen presence. Home Again

Goodbye Christopher Robin – The story of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories is a deeper and darker one than you would expect.  Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie are both excellent, Kelly Macdonald is better. Goodbye Christopher Robin

Blade Runner 2049 – My love of the original Blade Runner is no secret, it is therefore no surprise that I was apprehensive about a sequel.  If anyone was going to make it work, it is Denis Villeneuve, and he really does make it work.  Truly a sequel picking up the story of the original film and taking it in an interesting direction. Blade+Runner+2049-1

The Snowman – A first rate cast does a great job in a stunning looking adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s novel.  Unfortunately the Tomas Alfredson directed movie is a mess with disjointed plot.  Not even three time Oscar wining editor Thelma Schoonmaker could save it. The Snowman

Double Date – A young man desperate to lose his virginity is pushed into approaching two women by his cocky friend.  Unfortunately for them, the two sisters are serial killers looking for a virgin.  Comedy horror is so hard to get right, but this low budget British offering really gets it right. Double Date

The Death of Stalin – Armando Iannucci made an interesting choice with his cast using a mix of British and American accents in this story of the power struggle in the days that followed the titular death of Starlin.  Farce and satire in equal parts, with a really dark undercurrent, the risk pays off, it is brilliant and hilarious. Andrea Riseborough

The Party – One location, a 71 minute running time, and a small cast (Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall), The Party is essentially a filmed play. The cast are all excellent mainly playing unlikeable people.  Sure to divide opinion, I was unsure to begin with, but loved it by the end.  The Party

Happy Death Day – You can imagine the pitch “its Groundhog Day, meets Scream”.  That is essentially what it is, a college student is murdered but has to re-live the day over and over until she solves the crime and survives the day.  Disposable but surprisingly enjoyable. Happy Death Day

Thor: Ragnarok – Taika Waititi movies are bonkers, given a major franchise movie you would expect him to tow the line and make a generic sequel or find himself out of a job (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller!!!), fortunately that isn’t the case.  Ragnarok is as barmy and as funny as you would expect.  In Hela, played brilliantly by Cate Blanchett Marvel have found their best villain since Loki.Thor Ragnarok

Breathe – Andy Serkis’ first movie as a director.  Remarkable true story of a couple’s life together after one contracts polio and isn’t expected to survive for long.  A little jolly and lightweight but well shot with great performances and likeable characters. Screen-Shot-2017-06-29-at-6.47.39-PM

The two funniest films of the year; The Death of Stalin and Thor: Ragnarok came close, but the movie of the month is the monumental Blade Runner 2049Blade runner 2049 poster

Following my last post inspired by Stranger Things and featuring my favourite movies of 1984, here are my favourite albums of 1984.  The criteria, I only picked actual albums not compilations or best of albums.  And most importantly, I only picked albums that I own.

Bon JoviBon Jovi

Bon Jovi – Like most people, I didn’t go back to discover Bon Jovi’s debut album until two years later when Slippery When Wet was a huge hit.  Standout track: Runaway

Born In the U.S.A.  Born In the USA

Bruce Springsteen – You couldn’t turn on a radio in the mid 80’s without hearing a track from this album.  Seven of the twelve tracks were released as singles.  There isn’t a bad track on the album making it hard to pick out a standout track, the title track is one of the most recognisable records of all time, I would go for either: Glory Days or Dancing in the Dark.

Like a Virgin Like a Virgin

Madona – I haven’t listened to this album for over twenty years but had to include it as it was the first record I purchased on CD.  Standout track: Material Girl

Private DancerPrivate Dancer

Tina Turner – I recently picked this album up on vinyl from a charity shop, it still sounds great, Standout track: The title track, Private Dancer written by Mark Knopfler.

Purple RainPurple Rain

Prince – I didn’t like Prince or listen to this album until I saw the movie Purple Rain a couple of years later.  Standout Track: When Doves Cry.

RecklessReckless

Brian Adams – Another one I haven’t listened to for about twenty years, but earns it place because of the amount I played it back in the day.  Standout track: Run to You or Summer of 69.

Ride The LightningRide The Lightning

Metallica – I didn’t start listening to Metallica until their fourth album …And Justice for All in 1988,  by the time their massively popular self titled album came out in 1991 I had purchased the first three albums including the excellent Ride The Lightning.  Standout track: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

She’s So UnusualShe_s So Unusual

Cyndi Lauper – Fantastic debut album from Cyndi Lauper.  The first single Girls Just Want to Have Fun is probably the best know, but for me, the standout track is: Time After Time.

The Unforgettable FireThe Unforgettable Fire

U2 – Having made the debut in 1980 with Boy, this was U2’s fourth album and a slight change in style.  Standout track: Pride (In The Name Of Love).

Various PositionsVarious Positions

Leonard Cohen – Cohen’s seventh studio album, and a new direction with a modern synth sound and backing singer.  The most famous (and covered track) is Hallelujah, but for me the standout track is: Dance Me to the End of Love.

Bonus selection.  As I said I have not included any compilations or best of albums, but had to mention Dire Straits fantastic live album Alchemy and the standout track, having first appeared on the 1982 album Love over Gold, the epic: Telegraph RoadAlchemy

The new season of Stranger things has hit Netflix.  It’s 1984 and the kids are dressing up as Ghostbusters for Halloween.  Then, there is a gratuitous shot of a cinema showing The Terminator, it seemed like a good time to look back at my favourite movies of 1984:stranger things season two

A Nightmare On Elm Street: Wes Craven’s horror thriller about serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams.A Nightmare On Elm Street

Beverly Hills Cop: Eddie Murphy’s best movie role. Culture clash action comedy about a Chicago cop to travels to Beverly Hills catch a killer. Beverly Hills Cop

Blood Simple: The Coen Brothers criminally under-seen debut about a rich man who hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her lover (obviously things don’t go to plan). Blood Simple

Dune: David Lynch’s criminally underrated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi novel. Dune

Ghostbusters: If I need to explain Ghostbusters, give up now!Ghostbusters

Repo Man: Alex Cox’s bizarre sci-fi fantasy about a punk who becomes a Repo Man.gnp-0428-dvd.jpg

Night of the Comet: Two valley girls, a trucker and a group of mad scientists are amongst a small group of survivors after a comet wipes out most of the population and turns the rest into zombies.night of the comet mac10

Streets of Fire: “A Rock & Roll Fable” Walter Hill wrote and directed the story of a mercenary who is hired to rescue his now famous ex-girlfriend who has been kidnapped by a motorcycle gang.Streets of Fire

The Company of Wolves: Neil Jordan’s Gothic horror fairy tale based on a story by Angela Carter.  A clever reworking of Little Red Riding Hood that is possibly a allegory on the end of innocence. The Company of Wolves

The Terminator: James Cameron’s seminal Tec-Noir, Cyberpunk thriller about a killer cyborg who travels back in time to change the future.

The Terminator

Other 1984 movies to check out: 1984, Tightrope, Paris Texas, Top Secret, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Romancing the Stone, The Bounty, The Killing Fields, Against all Odds, The Natural, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Purple Rain, This Is Spinal Tap.

Netflix V Cinema

I subscribed to Netflix, predominantly for TV, namely the Marvel TV shows.  I have enjoyed them all, Jessica Jones being the best of them.  I have since mainly watched TV show, including: Breaking Bad, The OA, The Expanse , 13 Reasons Why, Hannibal, and Orphan Black (that I had started watching on the BBC).  I have recently also started watching Star Trek Discovery and Mindhunter, both of which are excellent from the couple of episodes I have seen. 

I have also watched several movies, mainly older ones that I have wanted to re-watch.  This is because I see most films that I want to see at the cinema.  Netfix (and Amazon Prime) can be useful for catching up on films that I missed at the cinema, and those that didn’t get a wide enough release to make in to a cinema near me.  And this is the problem.  With Netflix (and Amazon) getting more into the business of making movies are the chances of seeing some films on the big screen diminishing?  Is this a 21st century version of the vertical integration of Hollywood’s studio system? A system ended in 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Paramount decision, aka the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948.  Not exactly but there are similarities.  I hope the industry can find a solution to the issue without the need for legislation, or one of the methods of screening suffering.mcu-netflix

The reason I have come to this conclusion; I have seen two films recently on Netfix that I would have liked to have seen on the big screen.  The first, Gerald’s Game is a Netfix Original, the second The Bad Batch skipped UK cinemas after Netflix acquired SVOD rights.

Gerald’s Game: Based on a Stephen King novel and directed by Mike Flanagan who had previously made the excellent Oculus.  Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood play a married couple who visit an isolated lake house in an attempt to rekindle their relationship.  Gerald (Greenwood) suffers a heart attack leaving Jessie (Gugino) handcuffed to the bed without the hope of rescue.  At times it goes where you expect it to, at others it will surprise you. Geralds Game

The Bad Batch: Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  A young woman (Suki Waterhouse) dropped inside a vast fenced-in wasteland, declared to be outside of the U.S. and thus, American laws no longer apply.  There she encounters many strange people, most notably a group of cannibals.  The movie drifts along with a strange dreamlike narrative occasionally finding its way back to a plot.  It has been compared to every near future or exploration movie you can think of, none of these are appropriate, although the look and tone sometimes make me think of Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park.the bad batch

I really enjoyed both movies but with one big reservation.  I really wanted to see them on the big screen, but for different reasons.  The Bad Batch is beautifully shot in a vast landscape that needs a big screen.  As a horror/thriller, Gerald’s Game has moments that are best enjoyed with an audience.  But my thoughts go deeper than this;  if Netflix are making movies, or buying distribution rights before they make it to the big screen, this is surely the start of a new era of filmmaking.  A two tier system where cinema can be the only loser, and if cinema is a loser, the ultimate loser is the audience.

It is clear that streaming is the future of the home cinema market.  I don’t have a problem with movies being released on VOD at the same time as at the cinema; letting people watch movies at home legally and cheaply is a good way to cut down on piracy, but not when it’s at the expense of cinema screenings.  Streaming needs to be an addition or alternative to cinema not a replacement. 

I have just been to see Blade Runner 2049.  I’m pleased to report it doesn’t disappoint.  However, I don’t want to write about it, I think the less you know about the plot going in the better.  I knew nothing other than what’s in the trailer.  Instead I am going to talk about the film I am about to watch.  Strange Days.  While watching the original Blade Runner a few days ago I thought it was about time I watched Kathryn Bigelow’s take on the Tec-Noir thriller.  Having been met with mixed reviews on its original release (Roger Ebert is one of the few critics to praise it), and a poor box-office performance, the film isn’t that well know.  It has slowly found an audience on video and DVD, has recently had a shiny new Blu-ray release, but has never found the cult status of Blade Runner or The Terminator.  With themes that are sadly as relevant today as they were in the 90’s, it is a film that feels strangely modern. strange days poster

 

For those who haven’t seen it here is the obligatory spoiler free synopsis: Near future films are always flawed as they are out of date so quickly, that is the amazing thing about Strange Days, over twenty years have passed since it was made and nearly twenty since it was set but it isn’t dated. The main reason for this is that it isn’t a futuristic Sci-Fi spectacular, it is a contemporary noir thriller that uses its eve of the millennium setting as tool and not the crux of the story. It also helps that the SQUID device is a piece of technology that still does not exist but is could possibly exist in the near future. The mini disc recording devices look a little dated in an era of solid state storage, but they are a necessary MacGuffin.

kathryn-bigelow-strange-days

On the subject of the story it was written by James Cameron the ex-husband of director Kathryn Bigelow (1989-91), he also produced the movie. Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a former cop now a dealer in “clips” illegal virtual reality playback that taps directly into the cerebral cortex.  Lenny refuses to deal in snuff clips, known as black jacks, In a self delusional belief that he has a sense of morality.  Like all good detective stories the narrative unfolds slowly revealing many layers, and our hero, or should I say antihero Lenny, is always half a step behind the viewer.  As new years eve approaches the LAPD are on high alert, the streets are like a powder keg following the shooting of Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer), a rapper who is outspoken on police brutality. Lenny doesn’t know what he is being dragged into when Iris (Brigitte Bako), a prostitute and friend of his comes to him for help suggesting his ex, Faith (Juliette Lewis) is also in danger.

ralph fiennes strange days

Throughout the movie Lenny is helped by Mace (Angela Bassett) a chauffeur and security expert that Lenny met whilst he was still a cop. Mace provides both the spirit and the soul of the movie and is also a moral compass for the unscrupulous Lenny. Explaining her aversion to clips Mace tells Lenny “Memories were made to fade Lenny, they’re designed that way for a reason”. Mace represents two of the main recurring themes you associate with James Cameron, in herself she is a strong female character, probably the strongest character in the movie both physically and morally. Together with Lenny, she/they represent the mankind’s struggle to find a balance with technology, the same theme that is more overtly explored in the Terminator movies. Given the way that the internet has taken off with you tube, facebook and even blogs like the one you are reading the theme of computer technology as drug is strangely prophetic.

angela bassett strange days

The visuals are truly stunning, shot mainly at night with LA looking like a neon lit ghetto. This is most evident in the seedy nightclubs and the new year street scenes. Showing what the characters see while using the wire technology allows Bigelow to take the point of view photography used in the foot chase scene in Point Break to a whole new leave with long single take scenes. It is all part of the frenetic nature of the movie that keeps you on edge.  As you would expect of a film that shares its name with a seminal album, music is very important to the film.  Real bands: Season to Risk, Testament and most notably Skunk Anansie are all seen performing in the film.  The most significant songs are grungy covers PJ Harvey’s  Hardly Wait and Rid of Me performed by Juliette Lewis.  Angela Bassett’s line “Right Here Right Now” was later sampled by Fatboy Slim for his single of the same name.

juliette lewis strange days

The movie conveys a sense of despair and paranoia, Fiennes’ twitchy nervous performance is perfect for this vibe, while every leading man of the time was considered for the part, it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Lenny Nero. Fiennes manages to walk the fine line of his anti-hero character balancing the sleazy loser with the lovable rouge whose heart may just be in the right place. Made just four years after the infamous Rodney King beating and three years after the subsequent Los Angeles Riots. What we are dealing with is flawed characters living broken likes, a grim reflection of society looking for direction.  I have got this far without talking about villains and antagonists, its not that the film doesn’t have them, or that they aren’t any good.  Quite the opposite, there are plenty of characters to boo, his and loath, but they aren’t really the villains, they are desperate characters in a broken society.  Society is the villain.  At the time Kathryn Bigelow said “If you hold a mirror up to society, and you don’t like what you see, you can’t fault the mirror. It’s a mirror”. The characters of the movie represent society as whole and for the movie to work as much as the villains have to be exposed Lenny has to find redemption. His first step on this path to redemption is the leap of faith he takes in Mace and the similar show of faith from Mace in trusting a man she has no reason to trust.  While Blade Runner asks big existentialist questions, Strange Days is more concerned with more gritty and immediate questions of morality, how we live, not why!

strange days

It takes immense nerve to make a film that starts by depicting corrupt cops and a racially aggravated murder, and culminating in a black women being beaten by riot cops on an LA street just a few years after Rodney King.  It takes immense skill as a director to not only get away with it but make a profound statement from it.   The film ends with the coming of the new millennium and with it a hint of hope and optimism.  Hope and optimism that is sadly lacking, hope and optimism that we need to rediscover.