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Archive for July, 2019

Over the weekend Marvel have made some pretty big announcements, possibly the biggest of these, not only is Natalie Portman returning to Marvel as Jane Foster, but she will also be Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say I predicted it, but I certainly suggested it as a possibility, and am excited by the possibilities.  Below is an article I originally posted in March 2018: Natalie Portman Thor

 

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The beginning of the end is near.  The next movie in the MCU, Avengers: Infinity War is less than a month away.  That will just leave Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel (a prequel to existing films rather than a continuation), and then an as yet untitled Avengers film, with it Phase Three will be over.  And with the end of Phase Three we will potentially see the end of some of the characters.  It has been reported that the following actors intend to hang-up their super hero costumes next year: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers aka Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark aka Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor). Chris Evans Robert Downey Jr Chris Hemsworth

This will leave just Tom Holland (Peter Parker aka Spider-Man), and Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa aka Black Panther) as the only remaining Avengers deemed significant enough to have their own films.  They will be joined by any surviving cast.  They can’t simply recast, this will be conspicuous at best, disastrous at worst.  There is another answer within the existing cast: Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier aka White Wolf), Don Cheadle (Lieutenant James Rhodes aka War Machine).Natalie Portman Sebastian Stan Don Cheadle

In the comic books on which the MCU is based, these characters have all taken on the part of other heroes: Bucky Barnes – Captain America, James Rhodes – Iron Man, Jane Foster – Thor. Bucky Barnes Captain America Don Cheadle Iron Man Jane Foster Thor

There have been many other incarnations of the comic books where existing characters have taken on the mantle of other heroes, they include Sam Wilson aka Falcon as Captain America and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow as Thor. Sam Wilson Captain America and Natasha Romanoff Thor

You may remember the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron when the Avengers take it in turns to try and lift Mjolnir, all except  Black Widow, should this tell us something?

Having said all this, they could just introduce some new characters! 

 

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Revvin’ up your engine
Listen to her howlin’ roar
Metal under tension
Beggin’ you to touch and go

Kenny Loggins, lyrics by Tom Whitlock

Belated sequels are a terrible idea right? Not always, When Martin Scorsese directed The Color Of Money in 1986, it had been 25 years since The Hustler (1961).  The brilliance of the film was that it was totally different to the original.  Paul Newman reprised his role of “Fast” Eddie Felson, but he was a supporting character to Tom Cruise’s Vincent Lauria.  The original film is regarded as the better of the two, but the sequel is still excellent, and of the two the one I have watched more frequently, and enjoy the most. Can Tom Cruise pull it off again?  We will find out June 2020, with the release of Top Gun: Maverick!

This trailer dropped today.  Don’t worry, I will say what you are thinking: this actually looks GOOD!  By the time the film comes out next summer, it will have been 34 years since Top Gun (1986).  If like me you grew up in the 80’s you will have gone through the cycle with Top Gun: “it’s the greatest film ever”, “this is fun, but it’s really dumb”, “I can’t believe I ever watched this shit”, “Oh, yea, I saw Top Gun when I was a kid”, “I’m not interested in Top Gun”, “This is really good fun”, “I actually quite like it!”top gun maverick

Director Joseph Kosinski fits quite nicely into this mix, born in 1974, he would have been eleven or twelve when the original film came out.  He has two other credits as a director; Oblivion (2013), an underrated Tom Cruise vehicle, and TRON: Legacy (2010), another belated sequel, coming out 28 years after TRON (1982).  The cast looks strong, Cruise and Val Kilmer return from the original film, and are joined by Jennifer Connelly,Jon Hamm, Miles Teller and Ed Harris who has a prominent role in the trailer. The trailer is perfect with some great visuals, a voiceover (from Ed Harris) that could easily have come from Tom Skerritt in the original film, some great visuals, and no plot details.  I’m sure this will change in future trailers, for now, I’m looking forward to Top Gun: Maverick. 

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These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all

Paul Simon

At 2:32 pm BST on 16 July 1969, exactly  50 Years ago, Apollo 11 launched.  Three days later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first of just twelve people to walk on the moon. 

Earlier this month I watched Apollo 11, there is one word to describe it Wonder!  With no talking heads, no voiceover, and no explanation, just stunning visuals and a fantastic score, it is about the emotion and the wonder of an extraordinary event, the first men on the moon.  As well as the stunning images of the mission, there were a lot of images of people watching the from around the launch. apollo 11 movie

This made me think of two movies:  The Martian (2015), and The Dish (2000).  The Dish is about a satellite dish in the middle of nowhere in the Australian Outback integral to the satellite interface needed to receive and relay images from the moon, and how important those images were to the world.  The Martian (2015), is about a the efforts to save an astronaut stranded on Mars as the world watches.  Walking out of seeing it at the cinema, the friend I was with said the only problem he didn’t believe that all the people portrayed watching the around the world would be that interested in space exploration.  The Martian

This begs the question, have we lost the capacity for wonder?  With the MCU zooming around the galaxy, and Disney making photorealistic remakes of their animations, it is now possible to recreate anything.  To add to this, the world as we know it is out our fingertips, not just on home computers the way it was a generation ago, but on the phones we carry in our pockets, the phones that are rarely a few meters from their owners.

But it goes deeper than that, the world is in a pretty shity place at the moment.  The catalyst that accelerated the Space Race was President John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech” at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962:President John F Kennedy Moon Speech at Rice Stadium

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Today we seem to be taking the easy option.  We are destroying the natural world for our convenience.   Two great nations with proud history of immigration are becoming more insular and closing themselves off from the rest of the world.  Flying in the face of the words written on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” President Donald Trump has become obsessed with building a fence to keep out immigrants.  At the same time, Brittan is tearing itself apart over Brexit a misguided plan to leave the European Union.

But there is hope, shows like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet reminds us of the wonder of the natural world has opened many people’s eyes to the damage we are doing, such as the  legacy of single use plastic.  Ultimately,  Kennedy’s speech wasn’t about getting to the moon, and it wasn’t about winning the space race, it was about hope, and as long as we have wonder, we have hope!

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In recent years Luc Besson has been at his best when making totally bonkers films with extraordinary vision: Angel-A (2005), The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010), Lucy (2014), and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017).  At the same time he has moonlighted as a writer, producer, mentor, or just contributing a story idea for other directors.   These have resulted in some excellent B pictures: Taxi, District B13, and Lockout, as well as some not so good movies/franchises: Taken, From Paris with Love, and 3 Days to Kill.

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This makes his latest film, Anna, something of a curiosity.  On one hand it is return to the world of assassins, the subject of his best films, Nikita (1990) and Léon (1994), (or at least my favourite).  Anna has a lot more in common with Nikita, taking a young girl with a drug problem and a deadbeat boyfriend and training her as a killer.  To its credit, the film skips the usual training montage, and takes Anna from recruit to deadly killer in a moment.  The downside to this is a lack of character development.  Anna is looking for a way out of her life as an assassin before it has even begun.  The use of time is problematic.   The story keeps jumping backwards and forwards as a narrative device.  This works well in some ways, but, I’m not convinced adds up; probably best not to think too much about it.  Then we have the setting.  The main part of the story is set in 1990, so we are in Atomic Blonde territory,  the last days of the Cold War, and yet the film seems to be telling a story at the height of the tensions as seen in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  This leads to further issues of distracting technology, mobile phones, laptop computers, and USB drives appearing five, ten or even fifteen years before invented.

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The film is peppered with action set pieces all of which are well choreographed and shot, but they are interspersed with the spy stuff that is far less interesting and convincing.  This all results in the story feeling both rushed and too long.  Newcomer Sasha Luss is suitably attractive, and good in the action scenes, but doesn’t have the charisma, acting ability, or comic timing to match Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson, Anne Parillaud, and Jennifer Lawrence who have all played similar characters better.  Ultimately what we are left with is a film that doesn’t know if it wants to be Atomic Blonde or Red Sparrow (more the plot driven book, than its film adaptation) but ends up being an inferior retelling of Nikita. I enjoyed Anna, and would certainly watch a sequel should it be made, but will not rush to re-watch this one. 

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It was recently announced that Jill Soloway has been hired to write and direct an adaptation of Red Sonja, a film that seems to have been in development forever!  Robert Rodriguez announced at Comic-Con in 2008 that he intended to make a version of the story with then partner Rose McGowan is the title role.   He never got beyond a poster and concept art.  It was reported a couple of years later that he had failed to raise the required funding to get the movie off the ground.  The  underperformance of Conan the Barbarian (2011) probably didn’t help.  Then in 2011, Empire reported that Simon West (Con Air) had been hired to direct and Amber Heard was favourite for the lead ahead of Megan Fox and Rachel Nichols.  I haven’t heard anything since.Rose McGowan Red Sonja

I don’t know much about Jill Soloway whose writing and directing seems to be more TV than film.  The most notable thing about the appointment is that Soloway appears to be the first woman who has been linked with the job.  It seems something of a no-brainer to appoint a female director to helm the story of a strong woman.  The comic book as has been written by women for several years now, Gail Simone since 2013 and Amy Chu since 2017; more about that later.

This isn’t the first time the character has been filmed, Red Sonja (1985) was directed by Richard Fleischer and starred Brigitte Nielsen in the title role, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a supporting role that was Conan in all but name (for contractual reasons), Schwarzenegger got top billing (probably also for contractual reasons)!  A year earlier Fleischer had made Conan the Destroyer with Schwarzenegger.  Sadly the film isn’t very good, largely due to weak script and bad acting. Red Sonja 1985

The character of Sonja is often credited as being created by Robert E. Howard, which is technically true, but the character owes as much if not more her comic book creators.  Red Sonya of Rogatino appeared in Robert E. Howard’s pulp short story “The Shadow of the Vulture” originally published in The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934. The story was a fictional story set in set in the 16th century around the real life Battle of Mohács and the Siege of Vienna in 1529.   Starting as a supporting character, she didn’t appear until  Chapter four of seven, she then became the co-lead for the rest of the story.  Fans of her comic book persona will be familiar with her famous scale mail bikini, but the character described by Howard dresses very differently:

“It was a woman, dressed as Von Kalmbach not seen even the dandies of France dressed. She was tall splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel Escape rebellious stresses that rippled red gold in the sun over A compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt fine Turkish mash-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which with thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended along Hungarian Sabre. Overall was carelessly throwing a scarlet cloak.”shadowofthevulture

In 1973 Roy Thomas and Barry Smith re-imagined the character introducing her into the Conan Comics.  Published by Marvel Comics, her first appetence came in Conan the Barbarian #23.  The story was largely the same as The Shadow of the Vulture but transposing it to the Hyborian Age and with Conan taking the place of Gottfried von Kalmbach.  Shortly after this, artist Esteban Maroto is credited with creating “metal bikini” look when he submitted “an un-commissioned illustration” for Savage Sword of Conan that he considered to resemble other female characters of the time.  After a couple of years of guest appearances in Conan comics, she had her own publication that is still going today following a couple of reboots. Marvel_Feature_1_(1975)

Some of the historic storytelling is a little problematic with.  In one version of her origin, her family is killed and she is brutally raped.  The red goddess Scáthach appears to her, and gives her the strength and skill to get her revenge.  The ability came with the condition that she never lie with a man unless he defeats her in fair combat. Gail Simone rebooted the character in 2013, in this series , Sonja was neither raped, nor received her ability from a goddess, thus not making her vow of chastity.  Instead she learned to fight as a gladiator.  Her appearance that many may find problematic is brushed away in one of her early stories; when told: “Your armour, woman – it scarcely protects your modesty, let alone your vitals” she responds: “men are easily distracted. Most of them never even noticed my sword… Until their heads roll off their neck’s.”wonder woman gal gadot

What can we expect from a Red Sonja movie?  With over 40 years of comic books to work with there is plenty of stories within the source material.  As with the MCU, the best approach will be to develop a new story within the character from the comics, but not faithfully adapt a story.  I would also suggest we jump right into a fully fledged character, we have seen far too many origin stories in recent years. No word on casting yet.  It is crucial they get it right.  At 6’1″ Brigitte Nielsen looked the part in the earlier film, but didn’t have the acting ability to deliver the lines.  When Wonder Woman was cast a few years ago, there were fan suggestions for Gina Carano.  While she would have been great at the action, Gal Gadot is the better actress and is surprisingly perfect in the role.  I like the idea of an unknown actor getting the part, but suspect a studio will want/need a big name to sell the film.  And that will be the tricky thing.  Films like this worked in the 70’s and 80’s on a tiny budget, but haven’t fared as well as blockbusters.  And that is what it needs to be, a blockbuster.  Following the end of Game of Thrones, and the appetite it has created, there is probably no better time for a new sword-and-sandal’s franchise. 

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tyler durden

I first saw fight club on its cinematic release 20 years ago, Like so many of my generation it spoke to me.  Tyler Durden’s speech above was at the heart of this; “We have no Great War. No Great Depression”.  I didn’t desire any great hardship, but could see the stupidity of the IKEA, Gap, Starbucks generation that I was a fully paid-up member of.  I had grown up in the 1980’s and had seen a generation of Hollywood filmmakers trying to understand and come to terms with the Vietnam war. Many movies of this time retold and re-fought the war, both visually and metaphorically. Films like First blood, and platoon showed us the true tragedy of Vietnam not just the futility of the war, but the treatment of those who came home.  fight club poster

I remember at the time people suggesting the film was misogynist, or at least anti-feminist.  At most it was a reaction to the political correctness and supposed caring shaming ideas of the 90’s.  I believe the Daily Mail even called it Monstrous!  I don’t think back in 1999 I had heard the expression toxic masculinity, but have since heard it used as a stick with which to beat Fight Club.  Before the introduction of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), Edward Norton’s character, the unnamed Narrator is suffering from insomnia.  When he tells his doctor that he is in pain, a plea for a magic drug to solve all his problems, he is told to visit a self help group for men with testicular cancer.  He is then able to feel better about himself by experiencing those who are worse off than him.  Is this any different to what we, the viewer get out of many movies?  This is the real starting point of the film, this is where we, and Norton first meet Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter).  Norton’s character is incapable of forming any form of relationship with Marla, either platonic or sexual.  He is not a man who hates woman, he is a man who doesn’t understand women, is possibly even a man who scared of woman.   Unlike the other members of the support group, he has his testicalls, physically at least!  Is it a film about men afraid of losing their balls, or trying to find them?  Or, is Fight Club actually a just romcom? More on that later?fight club marla singer

There is an argument that the things that Tyler Durden is fighting against are the things that emasculates me, and yet the final images of the film see his alter-ego The Narrator losing his identity.  He is stood with his back to us without trousers hand in hand with Marla Singer, the pair looking largely the same from behind.  All this just a few moments after he has “killed” Tyler Durden, his masculine ideal image of himself.  But Norton’s character hasn’t had these things taken away from him, he has given them up, potentially given them up for Marla.  This goes back to the idea that Fight Club is a romcom; the plot of every romcom. Act One: Boy meets girl.  Act Two: Boy does something stupid and loses girl. Act Three: Boy gives something up to get girls back.  It’s not a million miles from the plot of Fight Club!fight-club-ending

Be careful what you wish for!  Two years after the release of Fight Club the world changed and would never be the same again.  Following the events of September 11th 2001, our generation had its war.  And it was a war so complicated and controversial it made Vietnam look like simple and straightforward.   Suddenly the carefree 90’s looked kind of appealing.  When I watched Fight Club around this time, I still loved it, it is after all a supremely well made film representing a career high for its stars, and its director.  It is also devastatingly funny, far funnier than most comedies of the time.  But it didn’t have the same impact, the acts of terrorism, which Project Mayhem ultimately is,  suddenly doesn’t sit as comfortably.    But Fight Club is still a satire, it just doesn’t feel quite so relevant.  But then it has found new relevance in time.  Since the credit crisis and recession that followed, we have heard politicians talking about the “squeezed middle”, the middle classes that supposedly feel recent society has forgotten. fight club

Is there an ultimate and overriding meaning to the film?  The themes of crisis of masculinity, and a rejection of consumerist culture are clear.  A response to the feminization of America is less clear cut, but could be argued.  I have never quite got the exploration of the rise of European fascism, however there is an argument.  What happened after the film ended?  We know from the events of the film that Project Mayhem cells had formed in cities across the US.  Were other building destroyed that night, and was this the start or the conclusion of Project Mayhem?

So how do I feel about Fight Club twenty years on?  For a few years it was in my top three favourite films of all time.  It has slipped out of that place in the past ten years, but if I sat down to work it out, it would probably still find a place in my top ten.  I can understand the problem its critics have  with the themes of the film, or in some cases their perception of them.  But, I can’t see beyond how brilliant Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter are.  David Fincher’s direction is sublime, walking a fine line between unflinching brilliance and unacceptable.  Chan-wook Park is the only other director working today that I know of who could make such an uncompromising movie.  I have read Chuck Palahniuk’s source novel; while he can be credited for the story, Fincher and the cast bring so much more, not least the comedy.  It was the perfect movie for the end of the millennium, with age the cracks are starting to show, but like a great work of art, these cracks im some ways make it a richer experience than the perceived perfection of two decades ago.   

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As we move into the summer months, I have only visited my local multiplex three times.  However, I did see four movies at local independent cinemas, it was at one of these in, the MAC (Midlands Arts Centre) in Birmingham where I saw my movie of the month.  Here are the contenders:

High Life –  You would be forgiven for thinking a sci-fi thriller starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche would be Claire Denis’ most accessible film to date.  In some ways it is, but it is still dark brooding, thoughtful and full of ambiguity.   Leaving you with more questions than answers, most viewers will love or hate it, I love it.  High Life

Styx – Susanne Wolff is a doctor sailing solo from Gibraltar to Ascension Island until she comes across a stricken boat of refugees. If All Is Lost is an existential crisis, Styx is a commentary on one of the biggest world issues today.  The title tells you all you need to know: In Greek mythology Styx is the river between the land of the living and the land of the dead.  Passengers must pay the ferryman, if they have no money they must remain on the river for 100 years.  Styx

X-Men Dark Phoenix –  The final film for the First Class cast before Marvel/Disney take back the franchise.  The iconic Dark Phoenix story was told in Last Stand, that was a disaster, this isn’t much better.  Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender are all good, but Jessica Chastain is wasted. X-Men Dark Phoenix

Brightburn – This film would be better if you went in blind, but as all the marketing gives away the premise, I will too; what is superman turned evil in his adolescence?  The premise is good and the execution starts out well but quickly runs out of steam.  It would have been better if the filmmakers had something to say, rather than just asking the question. BrightBurn

I Love My Mum – A bickering mother and son duo have to get home to London from Morocco with no money, no passports, and dressed only in nightclothes.  What could have been an interesting commentary on the migrant crisis quickly becomes a lowest common denominator comedy.   Funny but slight film.  Show as part of a tour of director Alberto Sciamma whose Q&A was very entertaining.I Love My Mum

Society – Cult 80’s horror show as 30th Anniversary screening.  The script, particularly the dialogue is poor, as is the acting.  It does however have a totally bonkers ending with fantastic physical effects.  It is also an effective satire on class, wealth, entitlement. Society

Diego Maradona – Concentrating mainly on his time at Napoli, Asif Kapadia’s documentary tells the story of Argentinean footballer Diego Maradona.  An interesting film that humanises Diego Maradona but is less compelling than his previous movies, mainly due to less sympathetic subjects; Ayrton Senna  and Amy Winehouse. Diego Maradona

High Life is excellent, Diego Maradona supremely well made, but there is a clear winner for the movie of the month: Styx Poster

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