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Archive for October, 2015

I used to organise a monthly series of posts Groovers and Mobsters Present on the now sadly defunct Movie Mobsters website.  Each month a genre was chosen, myself and Heather (from Movie Mobsters) hand picked other bloggers and asked them to write about their chosen film from that genre.  Most of these posts are lost as they were published on Movie Mobsters.  Some survive including this Halloween horror movie special from 2010.  

What Happened to Baby Jane (1962)

“Yes, she’s emotionally disturbed. She’s unbalanced!”What Happened to Baby Jane

My concept of Halloween is probably skewed: I’m not American and we don’t celebrate it in my country. In theory I suppose What Happened to Baby Jane has no remnants of the visceral terror that one would probably associate with the holiday. Still, the theme is horror and more than just the knee-jerk scares that dissipate before an hour wears out sometimes what’s more horrific is when the terror is established through the monotony of everyday life.

Blanche and Jane are two sisters; both were stars somewhat in their youth although Blanche – now crippled – was the more successful one. A resentful Jane must now be caretaker to her sister and she begins to plot the most monstrous of plans to torture her sister while working on a comeback to the screen. It perhaps reads a little like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, but What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is altogether more disconcerting and freakish. We’ll watch as Jane kills her sister’s pet bird and feeds it to her, she’ll eventually do the same with the rats in the cellar, she’ll drag her up the stairs, kick her in the head and in one of the film’s most disgusting scenes perform a bizarre show-tune. Sometimes What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is so awful to look at its almost parody, but I have a feeling that that might be the point.

But the film’s horror manages to hit home despite the allusions to parody, or perhaps because of it. Robert Aldrich seems intent on showing us how ridiculous and awful the human spirit can be. It’s more than the ageing makeup on Bette Davis, her entire demeanor indicates grotesquery and it’s even more distressing because it all seems to be so logical. The most horrific things are those which make sense, despite their awfulness, and that’s where Jane one-ups so many horror movie villains. Keep your Freddy Krueger’s and Chucky’s. Lock me up in a room with Baby Jane and I’d probably go crazy… if she’s not a horror movie villain, I don’t know what is.

By Andrew K from Encore’s World of Film & TV

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

“There’ll be no morning for us”Dracula Prince of Darkness

How do you pick a movie to write about for something like this? I was struggling to decide so went back to the beginning, the first Hammer Horror movie I ever saw and the one that got me into horror movies. The movie starts with a prologue made up of the closing scenes of the previous film (the first Hammer Dracula) complete with a voiceover explaining the destruction of Dracula (Christopher Lee). We cut to a group of English tourists including Charles Kent (Francis Matthews, a sort of low rent Cary Grant type) who are stranded by a superstitious coach driver whist on their way to Carlsbad. After a coach and horses turns up out of nowhere, they find themselves rescued and accepting the “hospitality” of a dead count in his mysterious castle. I won’t give the plot away but I think you can guess that the castle belongs to Dracula and it is no accident that they have found their way to his castle.

An interesting movie, the story is original but holds many similarities with the original, this is evident in the characters. The traditional Van Helsing character (played by an un-credited Peter Cushing in the prologue) is replaced by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir who went of to play Prof. Quatermass in the Hammer movie Quatermass and the Pit). Charles and Diana Kent (Francis Matthews & Suzan Farmer) are a good stand in for Jonathan and Wilhelmina Harker. Ludwig (Thorley Walters) fills the Renfield part. The movie did two things for the genre: it set the template for the Hammer Dracula movies and also opened the floodgates for Dracula (and vampire movies in general) to move away from the original Bram Stoker novel. Directed by Hammers greatest director Terence Fisher the film has a perfect blend of carefully manipulated tension and just enough gore and horror to make this a great atmospheric movie that only Hammer could have made. There has been some contention as to why Christopher Lee’s Dracula is mute, whatever the reason it just makes it more sinister. A Must for all classic horror fans.

By Andy From Fandango Groovers

The Wicker Man (1973)

“Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.”The Wicker Man

Let me ask a simple question: What scares you? Masked psychos lurking in the shadows, stalking you in your house or through dark and foreboding woods? Alien invasions, full-scale or otherwise, staged by extraterrestrial races with less-than-benevolent intentions? The dead rising from their graves to consume the living– or perhaps menacing you as malevolent spirits rather than shambling, rotting bodies? Perhaps you fear an encounter with a monster thought to be mythic and legendary, a werewolf or a troll? There’s no end to the myriad, ceaseless evils that filmmakers have unleashed upon the hapless characters of their movies for decades, nor to the number of locations and manners in which the victims-to-be might encounter them, but for my money nothing is scarier than something rooted in something real. Which is why almost forty years after being introduced into the world of horror, the residents of the Hebridean island called Summerisle still frighten me more than the deadliest wraiths and the most remorseless slashers.

The Wicker Man is the kind of film that purchases its fear directly from the stores of reality. Relaying the misfortunes of a police sergeant (Edward Woodward) who travels to the aforementioned island at the behest of an anonymous letter tipping him off to a child’s kidnapping, The Wicker Man quickly shifts from a crime thriller into something weirder, and eventually into something incredibly sinister (which, incidentally, occurs around the time that Christopher Lee’s character is introduced). Investigating the kidnapping, Woodward’s devout Christian policeman delves into the customs, rituals, and culture of the island folk– all of whom celebrate a form of Celtic paganism, which among other things involves sexual liberation, animal

sacrifice, and…well, I’ve said enough already. Watch the film for yourself.

Robin Hardy here aims to inspire suspense and dread not through supernatural or otherwise fantastical plot devices but through nothing more than human ignorance. And maybe Hardy’s greatest feat in The Wicker Man lies in the way he makes us, the audience, feel as much like outsiders and interlopers in this pagan community as Woodward’s rigidly Christian police officer. Truly there’s nothing sillier inherent to the belief structures of the pagans than to those of Christian doctrines, and yet it’s hard not to judge the island inhabitants for adhering to such an outmoded dogma as Woodward mingles among them. (And then again, it’s equally difficult not to do the same to the sexually self-repressed Woodward.) Walking away from the film’s climax we realize that in the end Woodward and the islanders could have learned an enormous amount from each other, but chose instead to clash over religion; in this way The Wicker Man seems to be holding up a mirror to human history, and the reflection is utterly sobering and disquieting. Few horror films since have managed to be so bold or brave, nor so deeply disturbing.

By Andrew C from Andrew at the Cinema

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

“Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!”Dawn of the Dead

Anyone that knows me knows that I think Zombies are the end all be all of the Horror genre. And when it comes to Zombies, no one does it better than George A. Romero. Romero has made 6 Zombie films in his “of the Dead” series to date and while Night of the Living Dead is the Bible for all that follow, Dawn of the Dead remains the best film he’s ever made. Here’s the basic idea:

In this first sequel to Night of the Living Dead, a group of four people take up residence in a deserted mall while trying to stay alive amidst the armies of the dead and a vicious gang of militant bikers.

“Dawn”, or the one that takes place in the mall, succeeds on so many levels. First, who hasn’t thought about having free reign over all the stuff in a mall. It’s every consumer’s dream… regardless of whether or not the world is going to hell around you. Second, Zombies make such interesting baddies on film because (a) they’re just relentless and endless and (b) they’re basically us. I mean, what better way to make man take a good look at himself and what he’s capable of than to pit him against his own self. Another thing that makes “Dawn” great is that it was the first time that Romero also began to explore the world beyond people just trying to survive and began to look at the way the living would treat each other if ever they were in a situation where rules and laws no longer applied… turns out, not so good.

To this day, I rarely come across Horror films that are let alone good but offer up chills to boot. Dawn does both and if you haven’t seen it yet, well… get on that!

By Kai from The List

The Changeling (1980)

“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”The Changeling

Nothing like a good haunted house flick to cheer you up when you’re sick and that’s exactly what The Changeling did for me. No, not the attractive Angelina Jolie. You’re thinking of the wrong Changeling movie. I’m talking about the classic one with the less than attractive George C. Scott. He may not be as easy on the eyes as Jolie but he can act circles around her which is a very good thing when it comes to this movie. Scott plays John Russel, a man who has lost his wife and daughter in a terrible car accident. A few months after their deaths he moves to Seattle so he can teach a music course in college and spend time alone composing on his piano. He rents an old home from the historical preservation society but soon finds that he’s not the only resident there.

While typical of a ghost story where the spirit searches for some type of justice and someone, obviously the homeowner, must put the spirit at peace, The Changeling manages to take that simple idea and make a grand conspiracy of it involving a senator and a large sum of money promised in a will. It isn’t very long into the movie that we get treated to the usual scares of the ghost film. Doors opening and closing, hushed whispers and strange visions. The film does manage to generate some dread and tension as it builds to these moments though. Early on the ghost appears in very subtle ways but as John moves closer to uncovering the secret surrounding the ghost’s fate we’re treated to much more intense and frightening situations.

The ghost goes from a simple spirit to a full on poltergeist and the events of the film become more frantic as the mystery unravels. It was nice to see a ghost story that doesn’t rely on excessively loud and sudden music cues to create the fear. Here we’re just left with images or scenes that are just plain creepy. One little ball in the movie is just as effective a scare as any killer jumping out of a closet! The film is apparently based on an experience that writer Russel Hunter had at one time and that story is as interesting as the film. This one probably won’t have your friends jumping out of their seats and cowering in fear but it’s an effective haunted house movie with some genuine moments of tension and creepiness.

By Will from The Film Reel

Poltergeist (1982)

“They’re heeeeeeeeeeere.”Poltergeist

When I think of scary movies and when I think of Halloween, my heart immediately leaps to Poltergeist, one of the most eerie, smartly written psychological mind freaks ever to grace the silver screen. It inspired the horror genre to be a smarter place and realize that things don’t have to jump out to scare you, what seems possible instead of extreme situations is far more terrifying.

It immediately whisks the viewer into a world of suburban reality. Every house is a cookie cut out of another, but the neighborhood continues to grow and grow. A typical family that is clearly happy, yet humanly flawed begins to experience strange events out of nowhere. Their youngest daughter Carol Anne begins talking to the TV and the dog begins to act manic. In the meantime strange electrical currents seem to be having an effect on the house, while summer storms are also plaguing the neighborhood. Nature seems to be out of whack, and clearly is when suddenly the furniture in the families home begins to move around. By itself. Suddenly lives are in peril, and a darkness invades the house.

This is still is one of the most terrifying movies ever made. The special effects never go too far, yet there is an epic feel to it, still balanced by realism. The characters are full on tangible, and never do you feel like yelling at them telling them how stupid they are. It feels like a real situation, where human curiosity becomes the catalyst for the impossible, and a nightmare that no one can wake up from. The creativity of Poltergeist, with it’s terrific writing and direction put it in the category of one of the greatest horror movies of all time, without question for me.

By Heather from Movie Mobsters

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

“If you strangle one, stab another, and one you cut up, and one you don’t, then the police don’t know what to do. They think you’re four different people.”Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer

Evil lives in our world, and it rarely wears an obvious or garish mask of villainy. That’s a truth human beings prefer not to confront. It’s simpler to imagine that true evil is recognizable somehow, that it cannot hide beneath a pleasant-looking surface. John McNaughton, who shot “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986) on a paltry $110,000, understands this elemental human need … and he ignores it. His film is a crumpled snapshot of evil in its basic, most mundane form – a grim reality that can’t be shaken easily.

Talented as he is, McNaughton couldn’t create such a disturbing film without the right actor to play the killer, who must seem harmless enough to function in everyday life but be viciously single-minded in his goals. Michael Rooker, then a relative nobody, plays the part so monstrously well that it’s difficult now, 24 years later, to see him as anyone other than an emotionless murderer. Rooker is Henry, a polite, even-tempered drifter/serial killer who moves into the Chicago apartment of Otis (Tom Towles), newly paroled and not the least bit rehabilitated. When Otis discovers Henry’s secret, he wants to join in, and Henry obliges – but not before schooling Otis on the importance of never developing a traceable pattern. The arrival of Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) causes friction between Otis, who lusts openly after his sister, and Henry, who treats this lost soul with kindness and is flattered by her interest in him. But love and companionship, Becky will learn, mean nothing to Henry.

McNaughton based “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (very) loosely on the story of Virginia-born serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, which lends a feeling of authenticity to the film. More important than that, though, is the director’s pointedly unromanticized direction. He forces us to see through the killer’s eyes – as Henry sizes up potential victims, as Henry and Otis slaughter an entire family, videotape the massacre and watch it again for their own sick pleasure. McNaughton forces us to become voyeurs, and it’s the removal of that protective distance that makes “Henry” so frightening.

By Meredith from M. Carter at the Movies

Audition (1999)

“Happy people can’t act”Audition

Takashi Miike has undeniably earned the title of Master of Horror, and it’s because he really knows how to harness an audience’s imagination. The horror industry is known for shocking, bloody, fright-fests, full of chainsaw-wielding bogey men, but I think that when it comes to scary films, less is oftentimes more. A good horror film is one that’ll give you that creeping sense of dread in the pit of your stomach and Audition certainly fits the bill. There’s nothing more chilling than gradually putting together the pieces of a puzzle that’s been gently nagging at you, and slowly coming to the realization that you’re being manipulated by someone you trust—especially when you’re under the impression that you’ve been the one manipulating her.

Aoyama is a middle-aged widower, and like most single men his age who are dipping their toes back into the dating scene, he’s pretty sure he can land a pure, young virgin—if only he could figure out where to meet one (modern girls can be so uppity these days, with all their book larnin’). So, in a stroke of genius, he decides to put out a casting call for actresses to play a sweet, young thing for some unspecified movie or play or something. You’ve seen this ad on craigslist before: “seeking model/actress, 18-24, attractive, good morals, no fatties!” Since most actresses are accustomed to the degrading audition process (being treated like cattle, revealing intimate secrets to strangers, then never hearing back from them) no one will ever suspect that there was never a real acting job. Unfortunately for Aoyama, this little charade is really only good for discovering good actresses—not good girls. (Queue the maniacal laughter).

Beautiful, innocent-looking, young psychopaths will always shock the conscience. (That’s why any good zombie film worth it’s salt will include a little girl amongst the ranks of the flesh-hungry undead.) Our natural instinct is to love and protect such a fragile creature like this, so we’re utterly horrified when we discover her black heart and unnatural appetites. And that’s even before she pulls out the piano wire and eye-acupuncture kit. Yup, films like this will always have a permanent home in the horror genre!

By Allison from My Film Habit

28 Days Later (2002)

“It’s just people killing people. Which, to my mind, puts us in a state of normality right now.”28 Days Later

A group of animal rights activists break into a laboratory, and, like big turkeys, release a monkey with a certain ailment. Said monkey is infected with Rage, a highly contagious, quick spreading virus that sends the host into a homicidal craze, causing them to run wild, killing and infecting everything they see. 28 days later, the entirety of England has been ravaged by the virus. Enter Jim, who awakes from a coma on to a dead world. As he walks through the abandoned London streets, he soon meets other survivors, and together, they try and escape the city and get to a military blockade. When they get there though, they find something far worse than the infection waiting for them.

28 Days Later… was a real game changer for the zombie horror genre. Not only was it the first of its kind to incorporate zombies infected that sprint, it was also the first of its kind that seemed possible. There was a clear explanation behind the outbreak of the virus, and the way it spreads and behaves, though heavily fictionalized, is quite believable, making 28 Days Later… all the more terrifying. But, it’s the quiet moments that really set Danny Boyle’s film apart from its brothers. Early on in the film, Jim walks through a completely desolate and abandoned London. There is not a single person in the streets. The only vehicles he comes across are stalled in the middle of the road, having been destroyed or ransacked. The only clues he gets to his situation are the out of date newspapers that litter the sidewalk and the posters of missing people that adorn the walls. What is truly amazing about this is that Boyle and Co. achieved these images with absolutely no special effects. That’s right! Zero! The shut down sections of London’s streets and then filmed the scenes. Those early images are incredibly haunting are truly frightening. 28 Days Later… keeps that level of terror up for the entire run time, despite the film going a little off the rails in the third act. Imagine that. A horror movie these days that is actually scary.

Pretty much every single modern zombie movie owes something to 28 Days Later…. Remember how cool it was to see zombies running in Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead? 28 Days Later… did it first, and better. Remember how, in I Am Legend, the shots of Will Smith walking through an empty city looked really cool? 28 Days Later… did it first, and without any special effects. Danny Boyle’s film ushered in a new era for the modern zombie movie. It did away with the usual conventions of the genre, chiefly the concept of a slow moving zombie that anyone could get away from. It was the first legitimately scary movie of its kind since Night of the Living Dead. That one was scary because the concept was brand new. 28 Days Later… is scarier because it takes that concept, and updates it to fit in the real world. Hey, it made me believe that a zombie apocalypse could happen. That’s gotta count for something.

Ok, fine, they aren’t really zombies; they’re diseased humans, but come on! Give a guy a break! Zombie movie is easier to write, say, and read then diseased human movie! Let it go (Here’s looking at you, Nick)!

By Sebastian from Films From the Supermassive Black Hole

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Adam: “Please… Stop…” Otis: “Stop?? Bitch, I have just started.”The Devil's Rejects

Raw and unadulterated, this movie features an unsettling amount of violence brought on by this murdering clan of intensely evil people. The Devil’s Rejects (the sequel to the 70’s throwback House of 1000 Corpses) again follows the Firefly Family, the most vicious Texas backwoods murderers. Yet while the original was full of 70’s B-Movie weirdness to compliment the savagery, this sequel was just full on brutal realism.

The film opens with the Firefly Family barely surviving an incredibly awesome shootout (one John McTiernan or perhaps Luc Besson might approve of) and the entire film becomes a chase to bring the Fireflys to justice. Yet in the case of Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), being that the Fireflys are responsible for the death of his brother, justice goes right out the window. He wants them to suffer and goes on a half-mad quest for their heads. But while the Fireflys are hiding/escaping the law, laying low just isn’t in their nature and they are still content to destroy as many lives wherever they go. Set to the best collection of 60’s/70’s folk music it’s hard not to like this movie even though you will probably never shake some scenes from your brain…ever. Unsettling is an understatement and this movie has been called “The Terminator of horror films” for a good reason. But there is some fun thrown in amongst the gasp inducing sequences and it all ends fantastically with the best use of “Freebird” I’ve ever seen in a movie.

The Devil’s Rejects is the kind of film you need to see because sometimes, when typical hack-n-slash horror won’t cut it, you need something jarring to cleanse your pallet of all the trite horror. I’m not saying you need to see The Human Centipede but give The Devil’s Rejects a shot especially for Halloween. In short this will rock your world. This isn’t for everyone but in this film which is basically visual blunt force trauma it is really really good in a really really bad way.

You see them walking down your street, you RUN the other way!!

By Marc from Go See Talk

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All the best ideas are borrowed from someone else, and what better person to borrow from than Ryan McNeil! In the last few months Ryan has introduced a new final section to his Matineecast Podcast called Further Down the Spiral.  In it, he and his guests suggest something other than movies to go with the film they have discussed.  It could be a record, a tv show, a book, a meal, a drink.  So in homage to that here is my Further Down the Spiral for Spectre:

First Choice: Thunderball

Read the novel that introduced SPECTRE to the world.  It actually started out as a film script by Ian Fleming that he hoped to get Alfred Hitchcock to direct.  When thinks didn’t pan out Fleming adapted Thunderball into a novel:

SPECTRE, hijack a NATO plane for the two nuclear bombs it is carrying, and uses them to blackmail the western world.  Bond is sent to the Bahamas, working with old friend Felix Leiter he meets “Domino” Vitali, mistress of SPECTRE operative Emilio Largo and the sister of the pilot of the hijacked plane.

First published in 1961, 255 pages long.  Fleming’s novels were ultimately pulp so try and pick up an old second hand paperback copy the way pulp should be read.thunderball

Second Choice: Bacon and Eggs

Eggs are one of Bonds favourite foods, and the one Fleming mentioned him eating most often.  Fleming also loved eggs and is reported to have enjoyed  his with crispy streaky bacon and wholemeal toast.

My recipe for scrambled eggs:

Quantity of eggs will vary depending on how many people you are cooking for, just make sure you use an appropriate size pan.

Put a knob of butter in a heavy based pan ideally stainless steel not none stick.  Place it on the smallest gas ring (everything cooks better on gas) on its lowest setting (the slower you cook them the better the texture will be) until the butter melts. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk with a fork – don’t over whisk – add a splash of milk, some freshly ground black pepper (do not a add salt).  You can also add a little fresh parsley or chives but not needed. Pour mixture into the bowl.

As the eggs start to cook on the bottom drag them from the eges of the pan to the centre with a wooden spoon.  Do not stir.  Continue to do this until the eggs reach the desired consistency.  You can now add salt if required, if you serve with bacon it won’t be needed. Serve immediately with bacon and toast.

Third Choice: Coffee

You need something to drink with your bacon and eggs: Ian Fleming’s favourite coffee was Jamaica Blue Mountain.  Noted for its mild flavour and lack of bitterness, it is a really nice coffee but amongst the most expensive in the world.vesper

Third Choice, version two: The Vesper Martini

Coffee not your thing? fancy something more alcoholic? Bond is most often quoted in Fleming s books drinking champaign but will always be associated A Vodka Martini  Cocktail: The Vesper recipe is:

  • Three measures of Gordon’s Gin
  • One of vodka
  • Half a measure of Kina Lillet
  • Shake over ice until it’s ice-cold and strain into a martini glass.
  • Then add a large thin slice of lemon peel

Casino RoyaleAs described by Bond in the novel:    ‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’

‘Oui, monsieur.’

‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?’

‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

He goes on to say:  “This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’

This is how it appears in the movie when Casino Royale was finally made into an official Bond film in 2006.

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Musings on SPECTRE

I don’t see the point in reviewing SPECTRE, there are probably thousands of reviews online already, but I couldn’t let a new Bond film pass without talking about it.  So don’t expect my random musings to be totally coherent but do expect it to CONTAIN PLOT SPOILERS.spectre poster

Firstly a little background; SPECTRE has been a part of Bond movies from day one, The eponymous Dr. No in the first film from 1962 was a member.  The following year they were responsible for the plot in From Russia, with Love replacing SMERSH from the novel.  But they didn’t appear in Ian Fleming’s novels/short stories until the eight book, Thunderball (1961).  SPECTRE was always intended as an antagonist for the movies, Thunderball started out as a film script by Fleming that he hoped to get Alfred Hitchcock to direct.  When thinks didn’t pan out Fleming adapted Thunderball into a novel and Dr. No became the first Bond movie.  SPECTRE and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld appeared in just three Fleming novels, the others being On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) and You Only Live Twice (1964). The stories from the three books follow on from each other forming a trilogy, Fleming last great story arc for Bond.Spectre Christoph Waltz

This is a good point to jump on; SPECTRE has turned Daniel Craig’s four Bond movies into a story arc.  It is sometimes a little forced and disjointed but a more concise arc than we have seen in any other series of Bond films.  In the novel Casino Royale, Le Chiffre is the paymaster for a SMERSH controlled trade union.  By the time the story found its way to the big screen his employers had become a little cloudy.  In Quantum of Solace the big bad is revealed to be shady organisation called Quantum.  The Raoul Silva is also revealed to be a SPECTRE member.  It is a little clunky but it is an arc with a clear conclusion.  Both the introduction and downfall of Ernst Stavro Blofeld represents the end of a chapter for Bond. A lot was made of Monica Bellucci, the oldest woman to play a Bond girl.  unfortunately she isn’t given much to do.  M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are both given more to do than you would normally expect of their characters and make the most of opportunity.  Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) on the other hand isn’t really given anything to do.  Despite this the film fulfils most of the archetypes and motifs of the series making it the most Bond, Bond film that Daniel Craig has made so far.spectre monica bellucci

Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) is an interesting love interest for Bond.  A capable and interesting charter played by a fantastic actress, she is also the daughter of Mr White, a villain from Craig’s first two Bond films.  This is an interesting parallel to Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Although Tracy’s farther Marc-Ange Draco becomes an ally of Bond’s he is still a criminal, the head of a European crime syndicate.  Those who have seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (if you haven’t, it been out for over 45 years, what have you been doing) will remember Bond and Tracy driving away from their wedding in Bond’s Aston Martin.  They pull over to the side of the road where Tracy is shot and killed by Blofeld and Irma Bunt.  As Bond and Madeleine Swann drive away in Bonds restored DB5 I’m sure many people were expecting the worst, but killing her wouldn’t have worked at this time.  Not only would it be too close to Tracy’s death, but also Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale.Léa Seydoux

Ultimately SPECTRE is a really good film that I enjoyed immensely, but don’t think it reaches the heights of Casino Royale and Skyfall.  And this leads me to the conclusion, it would be a good time for Daniel Craig to hand in his licence to kill.  While he is young enough to go on for a few more films, he has had his story arc and is unlikely to have another three plus movie story.  Any further additions will feel like add on’s.  Who would take over and what direction the series should take is question for another day.  I am in favour of a very different actor and a new direction, I still think there is room for a 50’s or 60’s set movie taking the character back to Flemings original character.

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This is EnglandLast week saw the end of This Is England ’90, the British TV drama miniseries written by Shane Meadows.  a sequel to the series This Is England ’86 and This Is England ’88, spin-offs from the 2006 film This Is England.  Severn years older than when we first met them, the actors have grown up with their characters, as they have grown and the world has changed their problems and triumphs have changed, but their story is no less compelling.  It has been suggested that this is the end of the series.  This is a great shame, thanks to the writing of Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne there has been no drop off in quality from the original film to this final series.  It would be interesting to complete the circle and keep retuning to the characters until they had reached 2006, the year the first film was made.  Alternately, as the original film was based on Meadows own experience, it would make sense to go up to a point in the mid/ate 90’s when he started making films.  What would the backdrop be?  What happened in the 90’s?This is England 90

  • Poll Tax Riots
  • Reunification of Germany
  • Hubble Telescope Launched
  • Resignation of Mrs Thatcher
  • Nelson Mandela Freed
  • Birth (and death) of Grunge music
  • Basketball Player Magic Johnson Announces He Has HIV
  • Economic Recession, UK drops out of ERM
  • Collapse of the Soviet Union
  • Operation Desert Storm
  • Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer Is Arrested
  • South Africa Repeals Apartheid Laws
  • Bosnian Genocide Begins
  • Official End of the Cold War
  • Riots in Los Angeles After the Rodney King Verdict
  • Cult Compound in Waco, Texas Raided
  • Use of the Internet Grows Exponentially
  • Channel Tunnel Opens, Connecting Britain and France
  • England fail to make World Cup finals
  • Brit Pop
  • Nelson Mandela Elected President of South Africa
  • Rwandan Genocide
  • Collapse of Barings Bank
  • Auction Website eBay Is Founded
  • Mad Cow Disease Hits Britain
  • Two Royal Divorces
  • First Harry Potter Book Is Released
  • New Labour
  • Hong Kong Returned to China
  • I Graduated from University
  • Pathfinder Sends Back Images of Mars
  • Princess Diana Dies in Car Crash
  • Scientists Clone Sheep
  • Tallest Buildings in the World Built in Kuala Lumpur
  • Tiger Woods Wins Masters
  • U.S. President Clinton Impeached
  • Viagra on the Market
  • The Euro the New European Currency
  • JFK Jr. Dies in Plane Accident
  • NATO Attacks Serbia
  • Panama Canal Returns to Panama
  • Fear of Y2K Bug

But more importantly than all that, I want to see more of these characters.

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As I write this, I am watching Centurion on TV, the best of three movies about Rome’s Ninth Legion.  There are two surprising facts, firstly the Radio Times tells me it is the films UK TV (free to air) premier, secondly, director Neil Marshall hasn’t made a feature film since.  He has been busy of TV directing episodes of Black Sails, Game of Thrones, Constantine and Hannibal.  His Game of Thrones episodes Blackwater (the battle for King’s Landing (2012)) and The Watchers on the Wall (the battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings (2014)) stand as some of the best episodes of an outstanding show.  He has also directed a segment of the horror anthology Tales of Halloween (2015).

Marshall’s upcoming projects listed on IMDb are:

  • Skull Island:Blood of the Kong; a return to Skull Island 25 years after the death of Kong.  I can’t see this film happening with the Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures Kong: Skull Island (2017) well into pre production.
  • The Last Voyage of Demeter; the story of the crew of the ship that carried Dracula to England.  This film has been talked about for the last five years and doesn’t appear to be anywhere near going into production.
  • Troll Hunter; an English language remake of the Norwegian B movie classic.
  • Hellfest; of which there is no information.

Below is what I wrote about Centurion and Marshal when the movie was released five years ago:

If there is one director who has never let me down it is Martin Scorsese… Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. The two directors who have never let me down are Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino…. and Christopher Nolan. Three directors who have never let me down are Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan…and Kathryn Bigelow. Amongst the directors who have never let me down are Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and Kathryn Bigelow. (apologies to Monty Python). Joking aside none of these filmmakers has made a bad movie, even their lesser attempts that don’t come off (like K19 The Widowmaker or New York, New York) are still worth seeing. But these are A list directors, three of then have won Oscars (two for directing) and the other one would have if the academy members had any balls (that’s a story for another day); but there is another director out there who has never let me down. He isn’t a list, he doesn’t get big budgets to work with, he will probably never win an Oscar and he doesn’t make films, he makes movies. Whist a supremely talented director Tarantino makes homage’s, pastiches or just plain copies of exploitation and genre movies, Neil Marshall really makes those movies.

His first movie Dog Soldiers (2002) was a low budget Werewolf movie, an action horror comedy that isn’t afraid to borrow from other movies such as Aliens and The Evil Dead. Next came Marshalls best movie, The Descent (2005), made for around $3.5million it grossed nearly $60million, it came out around the same time as the similarly themed The Cave that cost around $30 million and only just made its money back. The Descent is about a group of woman go on a caving expedition (for fun! are they mad?) and become trapped underground with a some strange humanoid creatures who want to eat them. Then Came Doomsday, a near future Sci-Fi movie set in Scotland after it has been quarantined from the rest of the UK following a deadly virus. The inhabitants are understandably pissed off and live in a world that is something of a cross between Escape from New York, the second two Mad Max movies and the middle-ages. Doomsday was a mess of a film, but it was a really good fun mess! So what does a director like that do next?

Review: Centurion:

Centurion is the story of the legendary Ninth Legion who may or may not have disappeared around AD 117. The Ninth has been the subject of many other movies and books, most recently The Last Legion starring Colin Firth and Aishwarya Rai, and will also be the basis for The Eagle of the Ninth due out later this year directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Channing Tatum and Mark Strong. In centurion, the ninth are sent north to Scotland to kill the leader of the Picts and wipe out the tribe, they get more than they bargained for! After walking into a trap most of the legion is wiped-out; a small group of survivors lead by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) have to find their way south to safety all the time perused by a bloodthirsty group of Picts led by a skilled tracker.

Interestingly the story isn’t really about the Ninth, it’s a behind enemy lines chase movie that could have been set during any conflict. There is a wonderful ambiguity to the two sides, although the story is clearly told from the Roman point of view it is not clear who are the protagonists and who the antagonists are. Depending on your point of view there are heroes on both sides or there are no heroes on either side. There are certainly villains on both sides. The Romans are an invading army and the Picts are a repelling force of natives. When discussing it on the Mark Kermode, Simon Mayo radio show Neil Marshal didn’t appear to want to be drawn into comparisons between the events of the movie and current world conflicts, the most he would say was “The Parallels are there”. Like with most war there are no winners and losers unless you count the winner as the side that lose the least, even they suffer unimaginable losses.

The supporting cast is filled with recognisable faces mainly from British TV and independent cinema, the main star is Michael Fassbender who following two great performances last year (Inglourious Basterds and Fish Tank) is the real rising star of the moment. Strangely the best performance comes from former Bond-Girl Olga Kurylenko whose mute performance as a warrior and tracker with hawk like instincts and senses is visceral and contains more emotion and nuance than Quantum of Solace, Max Payne and Hitman combined.

The movie is well paced and never gets boring with some great set pieces including what appears to be a homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (speaking of homage’s Marshal uses the same Evil Dead references he has used before, it is becoming something of a trademark for him) as well as some bloody, brutal and violent fight and battle scenes. The photography is excellent, both the gratuitous use of helicopter shots of the Scottish Highlands and the up close and personal fight scenes. The movie as a whole has its problems mainly surrounding its predictability and clichéd plot but it does deliver everything you expect it to. Not a great film but a really enjoyable movie.

So whats next for Neil Marshall?  Aaccording to an interview on BBC radio 5 last week a he is working on a film based on the 70’s TV show The Professionals. It has not been cast yet but he expressed a with to work with Michael Fassbender again suggesting he would be perfect as Doyle. He is also working on a movie featuring exploding people in 3D produced by Sam Raimi and called Burst 3D. Possibly the first movie since the renaissance of 3D that could make good use of the gimmick.

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A few years ago I wrote about The Dark Knight Returns and how a previous Batman could return to reprise the role of batman. This type of role is unusual if not unique. Can you imagine an old superman or Spider-Man? But one other comic book character does have a literary source for an older version of the character coming out of retirement, Wolverine.the dark knight returns

Wolverine: Old Man Logan was an eight-issue storyline from writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven, published by between June 2008 and September 2009.  Set in an alternate universe over fifty years in the future (designated as Earth-807128).  A dystopian future where super heroes have been destroyed and the United States is divided five territories ruled by super villains.  Logan, who has long since given up the Wolverine persona for reasons that become clear in flashback, lives in the territory known as “Hulkland”.  The territory originally belonged to The Abomination and later conquered by the Hulk is now run by his the incestuous hillbilly grandchildren.old man logan

Hugh Jackman has hinted that Old Man Logan is the basis for the third and final Wolverine solo film, but has since suggested that this isn’t true.  If true, this would leave the door open for Jackman to reprise the role for at least the next twenty years.  It is common for actors to return to the parts that made them successful (Vin Diesel retuning to both Xander Cage and Riddick, Matt Damon coming back for a fourth The Bourne and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to both The Terminator and Conan.), but it is rare for an opportunity to present itself so easily.arnold schwarzenegger terminator genisys

Jackman’s Wolverine has been a fans favourite since the first X Men movie fifteen years ago.  As good as Jackman is, it isn’t all about him, Wolverine has always been a fans favourite in the comic books too.  So as X-Men Apocalypse that he may or may not be in sees the end of a second trilogy, a reboot, or at least a recasting could be on the cards. Jackman will be a hard act to follow as he has become so iconic in the part (despite being a foot taller than the character in the comic books).  The perfect time for Jackman to reprise his role would be after another character had either failed or had completed a successful run and everyone is debating who will take over the part.The Wolverine

This all assumes there will still be a market for comic book movies in a decade or more.

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Never one to turn down an opportunity for a new experience, I found myself at the ballet earlier this week.  To clarify “new experience”, my knowledge of ballet doesn’t extend beyond The Red Shoes, Black Swan and Billy Elliot.  It is no surprise that my awareness comes from the movies, but it is also very appropriate as my introduction to the art form was Swan Lake, the background to the movie Black Swan.  The venue was Birmingham’s fantastic Hippodrome, the home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet since 1990.  For those who know even less than me here is the synopsis provided by the Birmingham Royal Ballet:

Ballet’s greatest love story returns in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s lavish production. This romantic fable of ill-fated passion, powerfully illuminated by Tchaikovsky’s legendary score, has bewitched audiences for generations.

By a moonlit lake, a grieving prince witnesses the transformation of a swan into a beautiful princess. Compelled by an evil spell to spend her days in the form of a bird, she can only be saved by the power of love.

Filled with exquisite ensembles, lyrical pas de deux and bravura solos, this Swan Lake is atmospheric, romantic and beautiful – an unforgettable experience.Birmingham-Royal-Ballet-shows-Swan-Lake (1)

The story is split into four acts:

  • ACT I: A COURTYARD IN THE CASTLE
  • ACT II: THE LAKESIDE BY MOONLIGHT
  • ACT III: THE BALLROOM OF THE CASTLE
  • ACT IV: THE LAKESIDE

The first was possibly the weakest and felt a little repetitive.  Things got going in act two with the introduction of  Odette, Von Rothbart (the evil sorcerer, who has enchanted Odette) and the swans.  It came as a surprise how long it took to introduce the main character (remember my knowledge costumes and what appears to be hugely technical and complicated dancing and the introduction of Odile (The Black Swan).  The final act starts with the shows standout moment.  For a performance that is all about dancing, the breathtaking moment came from total lack of movement.  The curtain rises on the lakeside we saw in act two.  The stage is filled with dry ice smoke like an 80’s disco (or a scene from Alien).  As the mist pours out over the edge of the stage into the stalls and orchestra pit it reveals a stage filled with the swan-maidens.  The whole performance lasted around three hours including two intermissions, the time flew by.Birmingham-Royal-Ballet-shows-Swan-Lake

You may have picked up from my tone that I enjoyed it, the surprising thing is just how much I enjoyed it.  I have never had any interest in dance or dancing but found the whole spectacle enchanting and enthralling.  I know nothing about technique or the positions and movements associated with ballet but anyone with an interest in art can appreciate aesthetics and form, but like a football match you know when someone has done something special or spectacular.

If you want to know how good the lead dancers were look for a review from someone who knows what they are talking about.  Odette/Odile was performed by Céline Gittens and Prince Singleton by Tyrone Singleton.  I looked them up after the show, they are very highly regarded.  Both are mixed-race, a big deal was made of this when they first took these roles three years ago “it will be the first time the ballerina role has been taken by a black dancer in the UK”.  Although this was portrayed as a positive moment for ballet, it is a shame that it is something was even worth mentioning.  The one thing I did go in knowing a little about is the music.  I have a few albums (yes real albums on vinyl) of ballet music.  It is the one form of classical music that I enjoy.   I am pleased to report that the music performed by The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was fantastic and I would have happily listened to it even if I hadn’t enjoyed the visual performance.rs-swan-lake-celine-gittens-and-tyrone-singleton-sorrow_1000

I am not about to sign up for a season ticket and declare myself as ballet lover, but may well go again in future.  For those interested Swan Lake is on for another few days in Birmingham before going on tour.  

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