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Archive for April, 2019

Blogathon The Film That Started It AllThis blog post is part of The Film That Started It All Blogathon on Let’s Go To The Movies. I haven’t participated in a Blogathon for several years, but when Caz suggested this one I couldn’t resist.  Not only because Caz was the first fellow blogger I connected with ten years ago, but because it’s such an intriguing idea.  The brief:

“We all have that one truly special film, the one that really made your love for film and cinema so deep. I thought it would be a fantastic idea to share this with each other and it could really create some positive thoughts and discussion.”

The problem I have with this proposition is I don’t remember a time before I was obsessed with movies, but one event stands out in my mind.  Sunday October 24th 1982 at 7:15pm, I was six years old when Star Wars made its UK television Premiere.  I’m not sure how I came to be watching it. I remember my parents building up the cultural significance of it.  Looking back this seems strange.  I don’t think I had shown any real interest if films prior to this, and my dad has an irrational disinterest bordering on distain for Sci-Fi.  But however it happened, we stayed up way beyond my bedtime, and I was hooked.

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I don’t think I need to give a synopsis, but here goes: Before being captured and held hostage by the evil Imperial forces, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hides a message in a droid and sends him to find Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) a friend of her late father.  Along the way the pickup Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a farm boy who dreams of fighting the empire.  They hire freighter pilot/smuggler, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and set off on a adventure to rescue the Princess and restore justice to the galaxy.

To give it some context, by this time in my young life, I had never visited a cinema.  In fact I only visited the cinema eight times before the age of eighteen.  I kind of made up for lost time after that seeing an average of 10 movies per month at the cinema every week for the past 20 years, but that’s a different story.  I spent most of my formative years watching movies on video, but at this time we didn’t have a VCR.  The first film I watched on video was Superman (1978), but again that’s another story.  Had I not seen Star Wars on that day, would I have seen another movie, and my lifelong obsession with movies started?

But where did Star Wars come from? During the great depression there was an appetite for escapism in movies, characters like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were a mainstay shown in serial form.   World War II and the development of the atomic bomb led to a period of paranoia and a so called Golden Age of Science Fiction, but most of these films didn’t trouble the mainstream.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were the biggest grossing Sci-Fi movies of the era; a long way from space adventure.

Following the events of Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, the world was prime for an epic science fiction adventure.  Fortunately 20th Century Fox had the perfect film, the tagline said it all: “An adventure you will never forget”.  The few people who saw it promptly forgot Damnation Alley.  A post-apocalyptic adventure loosely based on the novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny.  Fortunately Fox had another film, one set: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….  So how did this happen?  George Lucas had made two movies THX 1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973) (possibly Lucas’ best film), and wanted to make a space opera like the ones he loved as a kid  His original idea was an adaptation of Flash Gordon, but couldn’t get the rights.  He set to work writing a treatment with similar plot points to Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958).  Refining the script over several drafts before coming up with the film we now know.

Why did it strike such a chord with me, and so many other movie fans, I think its a perfect blend of familiarity and originality.  Around this time I had seen reruns of the old serialised movies from the 30s and 40 that had been shown on early morning TV when I was kid, things like: Tarzan,  The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, Zorro.  Many of them followed a similar and simple formula of an adventuring hero battling against an oppressive villain.  That is probably why Star Wars was so familiar on first watch.  But Star Wars took this formula and put it in a premium package.  The old series were low budget, but Star Was cost around $12million, a lot for 1977, and it showed.  The six Oscars it won included: Visual Effects, Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Costume Design.

So what happened next?  I think everyone knows about the sequels and prequels that have been made, and are still to come.  For me it was a lifetime before I saw another star wars movie, an impossible span of time for six year old to comprehend: about two years.  That was the time we really entered the 1980’s, we got our first VCR.  By the time I saw The Empire Strikes Back(1980) (or Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back to give its full title), I already knew about the twist at the end, it was relatively common knowledge. I also knew the story of Return of the Jedi back to front.  I hadn’t seen the film, but I had received the Return of the Jedi Annual for Christmas.  This was the Marvel comic book adaptation of the film collected together into a single hardback book (I still have it).  I also had a shed load of the toys, again I still have most of them in my loft today.

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The toys probably framed my thoughts on Star Wars.  By my mid teens, I saw them as kids films and had largely lost interest.  You can read about my favourite films from that time HERE.  But then at eighteen I went to university. On a lazy weekend afternoon a group of us gathered around a small TV in a friends room and watched videos from our collections.  Until someone came up with Star Wars.  Some of the group, like me loved it as a kid, but hadn’t seen it since, others had never seen it, and a couple declared it to be their favourite film of all time. My love of Star Wars was rejuvenated.  In the coming days we watched the rest of the trilogy.  Later that year, I acquired the trilogy on VHS (anyone under the age of twenty, ask your parents), the last time the original trilogy was available in its original form, before George Lucas went back and messed with it.  Then in my final year at university The Special Edition of the original trilogy was released theatrically, and I got to see them in cinemas for the first time.  Two years later I attended a midnight screening of The Phantom Menace, again, that’s another story!

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We all know the idiom “To kill the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs”, referring to  an unprofitable action motivated by greed, but what does this have to do with TV?

Once upon am time there were just three TV channels,  BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, it was all free to air, well sort of, there has always been a TV licence fee.  Then in the 1990’s came satellite and  cable TV and a new world order of pay TV had begun.  The 21st century gave us high-speed internet, and with it streaming.  Initially I subscribed to Amazon Prime as it is now called, then came Netflix, and more recently Now TV (Sky).  My Now subscription will probably only last as long as the final season of Game of Thrones!

Game of Thrones is for the moment Sky’s big draw.  With just six episodes to go, they need to find something else epic to keep my attention.  Upcoming seasons of Westworld and Big Little Lies are probably the most interesting things to come.  Netflix has Stranger Things, Black Mirror, The OA and The Good Place.  Amazon’s standout show Into the Badlands is coming to an end, but still has American Gods (that so far has failed to live up to first season promise), Bosch (the most underated show on TV), Mr Robot, and The Grand Tour.

But soon these channels way be under threat from a new competitor; Disney +. As I wrote this there were no announcements suggesting when or if they would will launch anywhere outside the US.  However, its surly only a matter of time.  But we all knew it was only a matter of time.  Then a few hours later Disney announced that Disney + would go live in the US on 12th November 2019, and in other territories within two years.  This caused me to delay publication and slightly rewrite.  I understand Disney Plus is set to cost $6.99 per month, or $69.99 per year.  No UK prices have been mentioned but speculation suggests It’s likely it will cost £6.99 per month or £69.99 per year. Given the exchange rate, that means we will be paying around 30% more than America.

So what does this new service offer?  Drawing from the Disney back catalogue, and those of its acquisitions, but nothing R rated, so no Deadpool.  The suggestion is over 7,500 episodes and 500 films will be immediately available.  Disney has also been rapidly cutting ties with other streaming services and has several new shows planned based on their largest properties.  At least two Star Wars TV shows, The Mandalorian, and a prequel to Rogue One with Diego Luna reprising his role as Cassian Andor.  Their other major property Marvel are set to figure strongly including shows featuring: Scarlet Witch, Vision, Loki, Falcon, The  Winter Soldier, and Hawkeye.

So what will another streaming service mean for UK audiences? Let’s work on the assumption that in future, each service will have a handful of good shows and at least one great program each.  How many people will take on four subscription streaming services?  And do they need to?  There are various HDMI-port plug-in devices (some branded and associated with the above channels) that can be used via apps freely available online to stream most TV and movies via file sharing.  Despite not being exactly legal the practice is easy and therefore relatively widespread.  History is filled with reports of nations raising tax rates, resulting in tax revenue falling as more people evaded/avoided taxes.

So what will happen if the price of multiple platforms gets too high and viewers turn their back on subscription streaming in favour of file sharing?  The most notable thing could be the loss of income resulting reduced budgets for new original programming.  Lower quality, or fewer programs in turn results in less subscribers.  And thus starts a vicious circle that ultimately kills the proverbial goose.  Will we see a day when competing streaming services share content?  At the moment, we are clearly in a golden age when it comes to the availability of content, if not the price of it! 

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Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years
I’m rocking my peers
Puttin’ suckers in fear

“Mama Said Knock You Out”  LL Cool J

In the last couple of years there have been a few high profile horror movies that have critical praise, and a healthy box-office: Us (2019), Mandy (2018), The Witch (2015), A Quiet Place (2018), Suspiria (2019), It (2017), Get Out (2017), Hereditary (2018).  This has resulted in suggestions on both social and mainstream media that we are in some kind of golden age of horror, or there is some sort of renaissance.  This is somewhat misleading, as LL Cool J said: “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years”.

Horror has existed since the birth of narrative cinema with  the short film Le Squelette Joyeux (1895) possibly being the first.  After the first world war, German Expressionist cinema saw a growth in the genre with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) being two great examples.

It wasn’t long before Hollywood was on the bandwagon, most famously the Universal Horrors starting with Dracula (1931), and Frankenstein (1931) and reaching a pinnacle with Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

The biggest name in British Horror, Hammer entered the genre via TV when The Quatermass Experiment was adapted into The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), this was closely followed by their versions of two age old classics; The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958).

Throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s Italian Giallo movies like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and A Bay of Blood (1971) by directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento became a mainstay of horror.

Born in the 70’s I grew up in the 80’s watching horror movies, here are a few of my favourites of the decade: The Shining (1980), An American Warewolf in London (1981), The Evil Dead (1981 and Evil Dead II 1987), The Thing (1982), Videodrome (1983), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Aliens (1986), Near Dark (1987), The Lost Boys (1987), Hellraiser (1987).

The 90’s are often regarded as a poor decade from horror, but it is the decade that gave us Silence of the Lambs (1991), Scream (1996), and The Blair Witch Project (1999).

This quick overview shows that horror has always been with us, but is just the very tip, of the tip of the iceberg of the genre.  But there is more to it than the longevity of horror.  Critically well received and commercially successful aren’t a new combination, if you adjust for inflation some of the highest grossing horrors include: Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), Young Frankenstein (1974), Jaws (1975).

To rub salt into the wound of the disrespect shown to horror movies, there is also a contingent that suggest that there this new crop of horror movies are not horror, or even that they are more than horror.  The terms Elevated horror or (insert relevant adjective) Thriller, seem to be used a lot.  These films are not more than, or better than horror, or even a different genre with elements of horror.  So where does  this all come from?  The simple answer is prejudice.  Horror has always been the black sheep of the movie family, and rather than admitting they like horror movies, some people choose rebrand them to help move them to a new pigeonhole.

Horror movies have always been with us, and will always be with us, or to put it another way: “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years“. 

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A busy month with fifteen movies, and a complicated movie of the month:

Fighting With My Family – Based on the true story of a pair of British siblings (Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden) who dream of making it big in WWE wresting.  Enjoyable but lightweight comedy drama elevated by fantastic performances from Pugh and Lowden.Fighting With My Family

The Aftermath – In post World War II Hamburg a German architect gives up his house to a british officer and his wife.  You don’t have to be a genius to work out what happens next.  Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke, and Keira Knightley (particularly Knightley) are all excellent, but the film lacks originality and never really gets going.  The Aftermath

Alien (40th Anniversary Screening) – The perfect blend of slasher and haunted house movies all rolled into a sci-fi setting.  As great and as fresh as when it was first made.  Alien

The Hole in the Ground – low key, but effective and creepy Irish horror. Seána Kerslake has to carry most of the film on her own, and does an fantastic job.  Not a classic, but well worth a look. The Hole in the Ground

Free Solo – Oscar and BAFTA winning documentary about climber Alex Honnold’s attempts to be the first person climb El Capitan in Yosemite National park, “free solo”.  Simply stunning!  The next time anyone asks me what the scariest film I have ever seen, the answer will be Free Solo. Free Solo

Captain Marvel – It only took ten years and twenty movies, but Marvel has finally given a female character a sole leading role.  Very good, if not one of their best.  Brie Larson is excellent as are the supporting cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, and Annette Bening. Captain Marvel

The Kindergarten Teacher – Maggie Gyllenhaal has a back catalogue littered with great performances in quirky little films, this is the latest. Compelling throughout, the film appears to go off the rails in the final act, before pulling it all back with a subtle, but killer ending. The Kindergarten Teacher

Gräns (Border) – The first thing that comes to mind after watching Border is what the fuck.  On first viewing it isn’t clear if it is a bizarre modern fairy tale, or a subtle metaphor.  On reflection it is probably both, whatever it is I loved it! Gräns

Todos Lo Saben (Everybody Knows) – A woman returns home from overseas for her sister’s wedding.  Ghosts of the past are never far away.  Nothing particularly original, but extremely well put together with sizzling chemistry between Penélope Cruz  and Javier Bardem. Todos Lo Saben

Wild Rose – After a fantastic performance in Beast I was keen to see what Jessie Buckley did next, she didn’t disappoint.  A troubled young woman from Scotland wants to make it as a country singer.  Not massively original, but to its credit, it doesn’t always go where you would expect. Wild Rose

Under the Silver Lake – The downside to David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to It Follows is that it has a feel someone trying to emulate David Lynch or the Coen brothers.  The plus side, is that it looks amazing and has some great moments of flair.  It doesn’t always work but on the whole I really enjoyed it. Under the Silver Lake

Us – Jordan Peele could never follow Get Out, or could he?  The least you know about Us going in, the better. On first watch it may not appear as good, or as satisfying as Get Out, but I guarantee it will get under your skin. Us

mid90s – A thirteen-year-old boy gets away from a troubled home life with a newfound love of skateboarding and the group of friends that come with it.  Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is low key and simple, but very assured. mid90s

Shazam! – The second Captain Marvel movie of the year (look it up!) may just be the better of the two.  Moving away from the recent darkness and doubling-down on the silliness of Aquaman, its the most fun movie I have seen in ages. Shazam!

Lords of Chaos – Biopic “about truth and lies” of the band Mayhem, and the early days of the Norwegian black metal scene. Gruesome and nasty depiction, that is surprisingly effective and enjoyable. Lords of Chaos   Out of Blue – Basted on Martin Amis’s novel Night Train, I wanted to love the film as much as I love the book.  Sadly the film just doesn’t work for me.  It looks great, and is full of interesting ideas, they just don’t gel together into any kind of satisfying narrative. Out of Blue

I can’t choose a movie of the month, Free Solo was the best movie I saw, but it came out three months ago and has already won the Oscar and BAFTA.  I also can’t not give movie of the month to Us, therefore my joint winners are:  Movie of the month march 2019 winners

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