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Archive for May, 2016

Stuck in 2nd Gear

I haven’t read any of the fallout from last night’s new iteration of Top Gear.  If I did they would probably say what a disaster it was and how terrible it is.  It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t very good.  There was no chemistry between Chris Evans and  Matt LeBlanc.  Everything seemed forced and scripted.  This is something you could never accuse the Clarkson era of.  I am sure it was scripted and rehearsed, but it never came across, the three presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have real chemistry.  When they bicker and take the piss out of each other it always seemed real.2nd Gear

In last night’s first episode, Evans seemed delighted by the fact they had won “custody” of The Stig.  The Stig was an invention of the Clarkson era, they should have let him go to Clarksons new Amazon show, The Grand Tour, and come up with their own gimmick instead of revelling in what they have won from the “divorce settlement”.  There is a scene in the Tina Turner movie What’s Love Got to Do with It where she explains that all she wants out of her divorce from Ike Turner is her Name, she worked for it and it is the most valuable asset she could own.  I don’t know how true this was to the singers real life, but given her success in the decades that followed its rings true.  The same is true of Top Gears 2002 reboot.  They took the name and the currency that it held and did their own thing with it.  That is what this new show should have done, they haven’t!  The new show has largely stuck to the old formula.   This was a big mistake, it makes comparisons easier and less favourable than if they had done their own thing.  When the old version of Top Gear was cancelled in 2001, produced John Bentley along with presenters Quentin Willson, Tiff Needell, and Vicki Butler-Henderson moved to channel five to make 5th Gear.  They wanted to retain the name Top Gear but BBC retained the rights.  The show never lived up to Top Gear, but at least it changed its formula over time making it its own thing and not just a pastiche of the old show.top gear

This is something the BBC have to get right, in a time when they are trying to save a million here and there, Top Gear is one of its biggest cash cows.  When you include magazine sales, and licensing agreements as well as direct sales overseas Top Gear is worth around £50 million a year to the BBC.  But then the BBC haven’t exactly handled the situation well.  Jeremy Clarkson’s indiscretion that caused all the problems was well published at the time.  It is often stated that he was sacked by the BBC, this isn’t entirely true.  After much deliberation and procrastination, the BBC decided that they would “not be renewing his contract” as stated in press release from Director-General Tony Hall.

But there is hope; When the show was rebooted in 2002, I was a little slow to catch on missing the first few episodes.  I have since seen a couple of the early shows, but they are not readily available the way season two onwards are.  The reason, they weren’t that great.  If you can track one down you will find the familiar faces of Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, but no James May.  Instead the first series featured Jason Dawe who was soon replaced by May.  The main reason for the problem was a lack of chemistry and coordination with the presenters, by season two they had found their feet and the rest is history.  This is the one glimmer of hope for Evans and LeBlanc, but also the reason I am looking forward to the show The Grand Tour staring Clarkson, Hammond, May, and significantly produced by former Top Gear producer Andy Wilman. And on that bombshell… 

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In a very meta moment in X-Men Apocalypse, a group of young X-Men walk out of a screening of Return Of The Jedi (we are now in the 1980’s) discussing if Star Wars or Empire Strikes back is the better movie.  Jean Grey (now played by Sophie Turner replacing Famke Janssen) ends the conversation “At Least We Can All Agree The Third One Is Always The Worst”.  Probably intended as joke/stab at the woeful X-Men: The Last Stand (2006),  it turns out to be even more meta than intended as the comment is also true of the movie in which they are in.  X-Men Apocalypse is the third instalment of the rebooted X-Men franchise that began with X-Men: First Class in 2011 and by far the weakest. x-men-apoc-ukposterbanner-01

For those that don’t remember X-Men came out in 2000, directed by Bryan Singer.  By the standards of modern comic book movies it was relatively low budget, something that does show looking back now.  It is a solid film with good characters, well cast.  Singer followed it up three years later with X2, a bigger and better movie.  Singer then made the unwise choice to walk away in favour of Superman Returns (2006) leaving Brett Ratner to make the aforementioned X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).  Killing off a couple of main characters and possibly the franchise with it.  The stand alone X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) did nothing to give any hope for the franchise.  Then out of the blue Matthew Vaughn gave us X-Men: First Class, effectively an origin story.  Written by Jane Goldman the film did everything you would expect from an X-Men movie and coupled it with a 1960’s setting.  Set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis it most of the setting.   Bryan Singer then returned in 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Combining the cast of the original trilogy and the reboot, the film based on one of the comics most beloved stories.  Possibly the best X-Men movie.X Men

So where did they go wrong?  The biggest problem with the film is the story.  It loses most of its depth by not involving any of the politics of the time.  The film also seems to be made up of just two parts, the first half the film is setup, the second a huge battle filled with colossal destruction.  The problem could be the lack of Jane Goldman as a writer.  The movie also suffers from a lack of a credible villain.  While Apocalypse is often considered the great X-Men adversary in the comic books, he doesn’t translate well to the screen.  His abilities seem to range from all-powerful to underwhelming from scene to scene.  His motivation is never explained.

Then we come to the other misused characters.  Cashing in on the popularity of Jennifer Lawrence, Mystique is set up as the franchises greatest hero, something akin to Wolverine in the original trilogy. She plays it with an unbelievably dour tone, think Katniss but blue.  It made me miss Rebecca Romijn’s coldblooded killer interpretation of the character.  They clearly didn’t know how to handle Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, so basically rehashed what we saw him do in Days Of Future Past, it isn’t bad but it gets tiered very quickly.  Angel is better than in The Last Stand but still an ineffective screen character.  Psylocke gets some good action scenes but mothering dramatic to do.  Her costume is interesting.  Where Bryan Singer has only ever hinted at the characters comic book looks, Psylocke is taken straight from the pages of a comic book, or at least a cosplay interpretation from a comic book convention. It isn’t necessary wrong, it is just distracting.psylocke

It isn’t all bad, Sophie Turner isn’t bad as Jean Grey but lacks both the depth and intensity of Famke Janssen.  Tye Sheridan and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both good as Cyclops and Nightcrawler respectively. Alexandra Shipp is good as Storm but could have done with more to do.

Better than The Last Stand, but certainly the weakest of the prequels.  The next X-Men movie is the as yet untitled Wolverine movie.  Production started last month with a release date pencilled in for early next year.  It will be the third Wolverine movie and potentially the last to star Hugh Jackman.  Lets hope they buck the trend and the third one isn’t the worst!

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Last night I was lucky enough to catch a preview of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys (2016).  As much a satire about modern society as glimpse of the past.  The film moves along at a great pace not giving you time to think too much about what is going on.  The chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling is fantastic but there is another more important angle to the movie, at times it is devastatingly funny, often because of Goslings physical, sometimes even slapstick comedy.  We shouldn’t be surprised by this given Black’s directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005).  Not a commercial success, but a cult classic and probably the film that begun Robert Downey Jr’s renascence. Before all that, Shane Black’s greatest claim to fame was as the writer of Lethal Weapon (1997) the film that reinvented at set the bar for buddy cop movies.  That the inspiration for this list of Buddy Cop Movies you may have overlooked, all released between Lethal Weapon and The Nice Guys,:theniceguys

Alien Nation (1988) – Probably the most surprising movie on the list.  A sci-fi movie about an alien civilization that has trying to integrate into human society. James Caan on excellent form plays a racist, xenophobic cop paired with the first alien detective.  As you would expect it is an allegory for race relations.  If you look beneath the prosthetics the alien cop, Det. Samuel ‘George’ Francisco is played by Mandy Patinkin best known as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride and Saul Berenson in homeland.Alien nation

Taxi (1998) – Comedy , crime movie about a cop who inlists the help of a taxi driver.  don’t be  confused by the terrible American remake.  This French modern classic is screwball delight.  Written by Luc Besson before his more famous and nasty recent films as a writer and/or produced.  The film works on some great set pieces and the chemistry between Samy Naceri and Frédéric Diefenthal. It also boasts an early performance from Marion Cotillard.  The first sequel is worth watching, subsequent films are not. taxi

Blitz (2011) – Cop, (Brant) An unlikely inclusion on the list.  British crime thriller, Jason Statham plays on cop on the hunt for a serial killer.  The buddy in question is played by Paddy Considine, an unlikely pairing as you would expect for the genre but one that makes the movie really work.  An excellent film that doesn’t always go in the direction you expect.  Lookout for Mark Rylance in a rare movie appearance.Blitz

Dredd (2012) – Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd puts right all the mistakes of Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 effort.  Rooky Judge Olivia Thirlby provides the buddy and is actually the heart of the film.  A great film that deserved a bigger audience.  The constraints on the plot by the limited environment of the apartment block really help the movie.  Comparisons to The Raid(2011) are inevitable but favourable for Dredd.Dred

Miami Vice (2006) – An ultra slick, ultra stylish film take on the 80’s TV show.  Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx are on great form as Crockett and Tubbs.  Michael Mann crafted a film far better than it has ever given credit for, not a nostalgia trip based on the TV show or the high octane all action film the trailers promised, but an intelligent drama/thriller.Miami Vice

If you haven’t seen them recently, check out these five movies along with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the first two Lethal Weapon movies.  Also be sure to check out The Nice Guys when it is released next week. 

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Last year I posted a clip from Casablanca asking the question if it is the perfect movie scene? 

At the time of posting I didn’t realise that the French actress, Madeleine Lebeau who plays a pivotal part in the scene that has become known as “duel of anthems” was Casablanca’s last surviving cast member.  I just learned of her passing at the age of 92 when my dad, who is also a big fan of the film emailed me a link to her obituary.

Its worth clicking the link to read the whole thing, this is one paragraph that stood out to me as it helps explain why the scene is so amazing: “Many cast members of Casablanca were refugees from Europe who had recently fled Nazi occupation. Madeleine Lebeau herself had left France for Hollywood with her then husband, Marcel Dalio, a French actor of Jewish origin, shortly before the Germans invaded Paris. During the filming of the “duel of anthems”, several of the actors were genuinely crying. “They brought to a dozen small roles in Casablanca,” wrote the film historian Aljean Harmetz “an understanding and a desperation that could never have come from Central Casting”.”

 

 

 

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America is the home of the high-school movie, it’s a genre that doesn’t work in Britain and Ireland, except when it works, it really works.  I have been lucky enough to catch a preview of Sing Street a couple of weeks before its general release.Sing-Street_poster

The downturn in the Irish economy in the mid 80’s hits a middle class family.  In a bid to save money, teenager Connor’s (excellent newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) dysfunctional parents (played by Aidan Gillen from Game of Thrones and Maria Doyle Kennedy from The Commitments and Orphan Black) move him from a fee paying school to a church run state comprehensive.  Connor quickly finds new direction as he forms a band.  His actions aren’t inspired by fame and fortune or even to escape his current existence, he does it for the noblest of reasons, to impress an unobtainable older girl (Lucy Boynton).Ferdia Walsh-Peelo sing street

Writer director John Carney has made his name in music based movies with Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013).  With more plot and a difficult to master teenage story, Sing Street is possibly his most ambitious film to date.   He pulls it off in the same way as he has before, he has crafted a film that is held together by great performances.  His young cast are largely unknown and are awkwardly realistic.  The music is also essential to the formula, mixing 80’s tunes with the bands original songs that perfectly imitate the era.  Never afraid to throw comedy and emotional moments in, it is probably Carney’s funniest film.  The music and the band are essential to the plot, but ultimately it isn’t about music, it is about people and about families.  It’s this grounding that makes it so  relatable.Lucy-Boynton-Sing-Street

There is nothing especially new or original about the film, in fact it ticks just about every cliché box, some of them twice over.  This really doesn’t matter, they beats of the movie may be clichéd but they are staples of the genre, signposts to viewers who are literate the genre.  The film isn’t afraid to remind us that it is borrowing from an American genre as characters in the film talk about the dance scene from Back to the Future.  But it is also grounded in its Irish setting, It shares very few plot points with The Commitments but we are still reminded of it from time to time in the actions and interactions of the characters.

Another fun and charming film from John Carney.

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Nine movies, one was rubbish, four were okay, four are contenders for movie of the month:

Eddie the Eagle: Dexter Fletcher’s take on the true story of British ski jumper Eddie Edwards.  What could have been a joke is actually, warm funny and uplifting.Eddie the Eagle

The Huntsman: Winters War: Part sequel, part prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).  The cast including Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt deservers better.  The visuals are good, but the story is confused and falls flat.The Huntsman Winters War

Midnight special: Jeff Nichols moves into sci-fi with a film that manages to tip its hat at Spielberg without ever feeling like a pastiche. Like many of the best sci-fi it’s a film about people and relationships.Midnight special

The Man who Knew Infinity: True story of self taught mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.  Well acted by Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel but the story telling is a little pedestrian.The Man who Knew Infinity

Eye in the Sky: Thriller that explores the pitfalls and moral complexities of modern drone warfare.  Often tense, but not without comic moments.  A great film elevated by performances from Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman who are on top form.Eye in the Sky

Bastille Day:  Silly action thriller set in Paris.  It lacks the nastiness and xenophobia of many similar films.  It is also helped by the always watchable Idris Elba.Bastille Day

Louder than Bombs: Told in a mixture of present day and flashback, a man and his two sons deal with the death of his wife.  A mesmerising film thanks in no small part to a monumental performance by Isabelle Huppert.  A brilliant little film that deserves a bigger audience.Louder than Bombs

Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle writes, directs, produces and stars in this sort-of biopic of Miles Davis.  A hugely entertaining caper movie that gives a good backdrop to Davis’ music.  It however total fails as a biopic.  Cheadle is great, however it’s a film that would have been far more interesting if made 30-40 years ago with Davis playing himself.Miles Ahead

Captain America: Civil War: The collateral damage of their actions cause a showdown between super heroes.  Sound familiar?  The idea is largely the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  However, Civil War succeeds in just about every way that Dawn of Justice fails.  It is coherent and fun, it even manages to avoid the biggest failing of the MCU, an original final act, not a rehash of previous movies.Captain America Civil War

The month boils down to four real contenders: Eye in the Sky, Midnight special, Louder than Bombs and Captain America.  Louder than Bombs was probably my favourite and Midnight special will be held with the highest regard in future, but the movie of the month is Captain America: Civil War. Captain America Civil War poster

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