Archive for November, 2019

We have around a year to wait until Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is set for release.  This seems like a good time to revisit David Lynch’s underrated gem.  I first saw the film when on its original VHS video release in the mid 80’s.  I would have been around 10 or 11 at the time.  I loved it and watched it twice in the little over 24 hours before the tape had to be returned.  I immediately told anyone who would listen (and a few who weren’t listing) how amazing it was, I think I said “better than Star Wars”.  Nobody agreed!  Everyone I convinced to watch it hated it.  It wasn’t until years later after I had watched it many times that I understood that the film, bombed at the box-office, was universally hated and received terrible reviews. Dune movie poster

For those not familiar with Dune, it is based on Frank Herbert novel from 1965.  Set around twenty-thousand years in the future; the universe is split into what essentially amounts to medieval fiefdoms.   Two are these House Atreides, and House Harkonnen are sworn enemies.  The former is ordered by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, the effective ruler of the universe to replace the latter as rulers of the planet Arrakis aka Dune.  Arrakis, an inhospitable desert planet, and the only place the only source of melange, or “the spice”.  Spice is the most valuable substance in the universe, a drug that heightens awareness, prolongs life, and is essential for intergalactic space travel.dune book cover

The aforementioned medieval fiefdoms are the crux of both the setting and the plot.  The overlying story is Paul Atreides bith as a hero.  The birth of a hero is an age old concept; the hero experiences loss, followed by hardship, and often exile.  He overcomes his circumstances and then graduates to hero status by confronting and defeating firstly his personal daemons, then his adversary, and the source of evil.  If you wish to explore the character further, there is a strong argument that Paul’s story is a white saviour narrative.

The film looks amazing.  Director, David Lynch had by this time made two stunning movies:  Eraserhead (1977), and The Elephant Man (1980).  He amassed a fantastic, and experienced team including: Cinematographer: Freddie Francis (winner of two Oscars (one at the time)), Production Designer: Anthony Masters – (Oscar nominated for 2001: A Space Odyssey).  The large practical sets have combine Venetian, Victorian, and Art Deco architecture that looks simultaneously futuristic and historical.  The production design include elements of Nazi symbolism, cyberpunk and steampunk.david lynch and frank hurbert dune

I can see some of the reasons why people don’t like the movie.  There are two things that stand out that are at odds with peoples expectations.  Firstly there is an almost entire lack of humour or brevity.  Second the film doesn’t have the clearest narrative.  Most of the plot is set out at the start.  The film is about mood and character, once you accept this, it is more satisfying than a typical formulaic movie.  The film is also more cerebral than emotional making it difficult to fall in love with.  A plotline common to many stories describing the birth of a hero. He has unfortunate circumstances forced onto him. After a long period of hardship and exile, he confronts and defeats the source of evil in his tale.

The film is packed with fantastic characters steeped in back story, some of which is explored, others are left as colour. The cast is perfect; Kyle MacLachlan has the fresh innocence of a young actor giving him space to grow into the part  This is perfectly balenced with the gravitas of the more thespian Francesca Annis, Siân Phillips, Patrick Stewart, Jürgen Prochnow, and Max von Sydow.  This is further enhanced by the over the top Kenneth McMillan, Sting, and Dean Stockwell.  All the characters, as well as a lot of supporting characters I haven’t mentioned inhabit their parts making them totally believable in the fantastical setting. Key amongst the characters are:

House Atreides – Rulers of a water planet of Caladan.  Noted warriors, they have created a new sound based weapon.

Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan): The hero of the story

Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis): Mother of Paul, concubine of the Duke and a member of the Bene Gesserit

Duke Leto Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow): head of House Atreides

Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart): Areides military leader, Pauls teacher, fiercely loyal to Paul and Leto.

Doctor Yueh (Dean Stockwell): Doctor for the Atreides, with an important role in the plot.House Atreides

House Harkonnen – A brutal house, and the villains of the movie.  They have hey have been involved in a feud with House Atreides for a thousand years (in the book it dates back to a slight ten thousand years earlier).

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan):head of House Harkonnen.

Feyd-Rautha (Sting): Nephew and heir of the Baron.

Glossu “Beast” Rabban (Paul Smith): Older but somewhat inept nephew of the BaronHouse Harkonnen

House Corrino – The ruling house of the Known Universe (often called the Imperium)

Shaddam IV, Padishah (José Ferrer):Emperor of the Known Universe

Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen): Daugter and heir to the Emperor, and the narator of the movie.House Corrino

Bene Gesserit – Female social, religious, and political organisation.  Members  train from a young age to obtain superhuman/magical abilities.

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Siân Phillips): Head of the Bene Gesserit, loyal to the Emperor.Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

Fremen: The Fremen, Natives of Arrakis, noted for their bright blue eyes.

Stilgar (Everett McGill): Fremen Naib chieftain

Chani (Sean Young): Freman warrior and Paul’s loverFremen

Spacing Guild – Organization that runs banking and commerce, but most importantly has a monopoly on interstellar travel thanks to their ability to fold space with the help of Melange.  The real power in the universe!Spacing Guild

I have heard fans of the book criticise the film for differing too much from the book.  I don’t see this, Having read the book a few years after seeing the film, it is very faithful to the themes and spirit of the book.  Author Frank Herbert spent a lot of time on set, and in a interview suggested it was one of the most faithful book to film adaptations ever.  I understand Lynch’s preferred cut was three hours long, around 45 minutes longer than the released versions.  It is my understanding that there are two longer cuts available, but not a director’s cut, quite the opposite, Lynch had his name removed from one of them!  In the same way that Star Wars is an adventure story and the TV show Firefly is a western, Dune is a historical epic.  A key theme of the story is how a group of people is a distillation of their leader.  This comes though in the look and costumes of the “houses” as well as their actions.  Arrakis could be seen as colonial Africa, Asia, or the Americas.  The spice Melange is a clear metaphor for the rescores striped from the developing world, such as oil.

At the heart of the story we have a prophecy, this is the most Sci-Fi/Fantasy thing about the movie.  This gives us both the setup and the conclusion to the story.  The Spacing Guild’s power over the Emperor tell us so much, it could be seen as a historic story such as precarious or declining empire such as Rome.  However it could also be seen as a very modern statement about how corporations can be bigger and more powerful than nations.  This may appear to be a very modern idea especially for the 1960’s when the book was written, however, look at William Randolph Hearst in the early 20th century.  There are themes of the book that don’t make it to the film, but they ate more subtext in the first book, but they do become more overt from the second book Dune Messiah.  Frank Herbert has spoken of the underlying idea of being beware of heroes.  Paul is a man who acts, and more importantly is treated like a god.  This fanaticism is clearly frightening and dangerous.  The book ends with Paul setting the Fremen on a Jihad that he knows he cannot control or stop.  This becomes more important in the later books.

It is a film I love, and hope that with the publicity leading up to Denis Villeneuve’s version, I hope more people look it out.  And those who have seen it and dismissed, it, give it another go! 


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The debate over comic book/superhero movies seems to be snowballing.  It started with comments made by Martin Scorsese in an interview with Empire magazine.  Francis Ford Coppola then joined the debate, now comic book writer and creator of the Watchmen Alan Moore has added his opinion.  Alan Moore is an interesting addition to the list.  A comic book writer who has worked for Marvel UK, DC, and 2000AD (publisher changed several times in its 40 something years).  His notable works include original stories: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as well as stories for some of the most recognisable characters Superman (For the Man Who Has Everything), and Batman (The Killing Joke).

While I don’t disagree with any of the points these people make, I take a different point of view. Superhero movies are essentially a combination of Sci-Fi and fantasy, these are as valid and ancient form of art as anything else: Beowulf is around a thousand years old is considered one of the most important works of Old English literature. We are still recycling, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology into modern day mainstream.  To look at it from another point of view, take a look at the two images below, is one a more valid piece of art than the other?  Your opinion on this may point to your opinion on the larger debate!

This brings us to What Makes Us Human? A few years ago BBC radio 2 ran a series within Jeremy Vine’s show where he asked various people the question What Makes Us Human? The question was left open, many people took it as a simple definition of what separates us from other living creatures, others went far deeper.  As a side, film critic Mark Kermode (whose PHD was on horror movies) suggested it is fear that makes us human  his, and 85 others entries in the series are still available online.  Taking the idea of what separates us from other animals, I think the thing that makes us human is the need (not just the ability) to tell stories.  From cave paintings and stories around the camp fire, it is something we have always done.  Art, literature, and religion all boils down to telling stories, and who is to say one story is more valid than the next?  I actually believe fantasy is the purest form of storytelling.What Makes Us Human - Mark Kermode

Once we start telling a story, even a true one, an element of context and agenda is unavoidable making it a fiction.  Think of the unreliable narrator of a Kurosawa movie, or a differing accounts of a real life incident.  Look at all the movies you have seen that are based or inspired by a true story, or my personal favourite “Some of this actually happened.” As I started with Martin Scorsese, I will take his latest movie, The Irishman as an example.  The film tells the story of mob hitman Frank Sheeran from the 1940’s to the 1980’s.  At least two of the “hits” in the movie, including the one the film purports to be about, are disputed. This doesn’t actually matter, as the film is telling a bigger story than what is onscreen.  To quote the aforementioned Mark Kermode, Jaws isn’t about sharks!  The further you get away from reality, the easier it is to introduce subtext and metaphor into a story.  Most stories will have some kind of message, even the simplest of comic book movie is no exception, and many explore the same ideas and ideals and they are the things a nation was formed upon after a revolution a couple of hundred years ago: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.  This brings me to the final question, What is Art? If the artist thinks its art, or the consumer thinks its art, then I think its art, you are entiteled to your own opinion, as is Scorsese, Coppola, and Moore!The Irishman

Having said all of this, if given the choice between a new Martin Scorsese movie, or another entry in the MCU, I would take the Scorsese movie every time!

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lest we forget_edited

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Last night I attended Cineworld’s secret screening.  I was delighted by the choice of Le Mans 66, not only did it proved to be a really enjoyable film, but also one I was really interested in. This is not a review of the film but does contain some plot details that may be considered SPOILERS. Le mans 66

When I heard about Ford v Ferrari as it was originally billed (and is still called in other territories) I was excited. I had read about Carroll Shelby as a kid, and seen lot about him on TV.  The only driver to win Le Mans in a Aston Martin. A race he drove in against doctors orders knowing he could die at any time from a heart condition.  I’m pleased to report he survived the race, and lived for another 53 years until the age of 89, but that’s another story. He was the man responsible for the legendry AC Cobra, and the Shelby/Cobra versions of The Ford Mustang.  As this story tells, he was also the man behind Ford’s Le Man winning team, and the development of the GT40, the car that beat Ferrari.  A Le Mans Story only rivalled by the epic Bentley v Mercedes battle of 1930.

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The story started really started with Lee Iacocca (who passed away earlier this year aged 94), the man credited with saving Ford. In a bid to make Ford sporty and sexy (he had already been instrumental in the introduction of the Ford Mustang), Iacocca proposed purchasing Ferrari. A company second to none on the track, but nearing bankruptcy.  We will never know if Enzo Ferrari didn’t want his company owned by Americans, or if he always intended to sell to Fiat, and used the Ford deal to push the price up, or as is alluded to in the film it was a disagreement over total control of his racing team.  The film doesn’t dwell on this, it concentrates on what happened next.  The epic battle to beet Ferrari on the track, more on that to come.  When I heard the title was being changed from Ford v Ferrari to Le Mans ’66 I thought it was a mistake, as the original title was stronger, more evocative.  However, having seen the film, it makes sense.  As the film explains in its one (or possibly two) Basil Exposition moments, Ford were not really at war with Ferrari.  Ford were at war with Chevrolet; Ferrari was a battle they got into along the way.  Chevrolet were beating Ford, in the new key younger marketplace with the Chevelle, and were considered a more desirable and exciting brand thanks to the their success on track with the Corvette.

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All good stories, or at least interesting ones, are about people, not things, and this film is about people.  Not Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, but Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby, played Christian Bale and Matt Damon.  What I didn’t expect was how much the film is about Ken Miles, possibly even more that Carroll  Shelby.  I knew a little of Ken Miles going into the movie, I had read about him, again as a kid, pre Internet, so didn’t know that much.  But what I did know, was like me he was from Sutton Coldfield, Then a small town in Warwickshire, now a suburb of Birmingham, West Midlands. Nobody famous comes from Sutton so I was intrigued. The most notable thing I had read about him was the end of the 1966 Le Mans race, that I won’t spoil for those who don’t know.  There are so many movie “inspired” by real events where you find charters are composites, or creations of the film makers, as far as I can tell, the key characters here are all real.

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The film whips along at great pace making you forget the two and half hour runtime.  It also sticks firmly to the most important rule of cinema, show don’t tell! As mentioned, there is very little exposition or explanation.  One such thing is the actual origin of the car.  There is a moment in the film where a prototype is flow from England with no real explanation.  What actually happened: after the Ferrari deal fell through and before Shelby was onboard, Ford looked for a partner company who could help them.  They turned to the home of motorsport England, initially talking to Formula One teams Lotus (already a partner on other projects) and Cooper, but settling on Lola.  Lola had already built the “The Lola Mk6 GT”.  Three Mk6 GT’s were produced, taking many of the ideas Cooper had introduced to F1, most notably the mid mounted engine, and putting them into a V8 GT car.  One of the three cars actually competed at Le Mans in 1963, but crashed out.  The GT40 was developed in England by an American Ford team.  The car competed in various races in 1964 without success, notably retiring from Le Mans after 14 hours without being in contention.  This is where Carroll Shelby came in, and the origin of the car we see in the film.  At this time, Shelby’s Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe had just won its class, and finished fourth overall at the 1964 Le Mans.  His car started life out as the AC Ace, a lightweight British sports car, Shelby turned it into the AC Cobra with a stiffer body and a Ford V8, and for endurance racing a GT/Coupe body.  At the time, the road going version, the AC Cobra 427 was probably the fastest production car in the world. To find out what happened next, you will need to watch the film, and/or the excellent 2016 documentary The 24 Hour War.

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As mentioned, this isn’t a review, but I couldn’t end without a few thoughts.  Director James Mangold may not be the biggest household name, but his career highlights are pretty impressive: Cop Land (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Logan (2017).  Two of his actors have won Oscars; Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line, Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted. I mention this as the cast are all fantastic: Christian Bale (Ken Miles), Matt Damon (Carroll Shelby), Caitriona Balfe (Mollie Miles), Jon Bernthal (Lee Iacocca), Tracy Letts (Henry Ford II), Ray McKinnon (Phil Remington), and a special mention for Josh Lucas who does a great job as the films requisite hissable villain Leo Beebe.  Christian Bale even attempts a hint at a Birmingham accent, while Caitriona Balfe as his wife manages a very convincing one.  As mentioned the film is long, but it never feels that way, the story moves along never dwelling on a moment too long.  There are plenty of moments of tension and drama, and just as many of levity and comedy, largely thanks to Bale and Damon.   The film looks and sounds fantastic with extremely well shot and edited racing scenes that are and totally convincing.

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Going back to my earlier point, this is a film about people, but it is also a sports film, a film about fighting the odds.  This is why it works as a film, and not just a motor racing film.  If like me you are a bit of a nerd for motorsport, you will love it, but you don’t need to know the first thing about cars or racing to enjoy it as a film.

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A varied month with debut features, sequels, a soft reboot of a franchise, a TV spinoff and a concert movie.  Here are the contenders for movie of the month: 

Roger Waters, Us + Them – Essentially a concert firm made up mainly of Pink Floyd material.  A sensational audiovisual show with a political edge.  The juxtaposition of proactive images with the timeless lyrics makes a strong statement about the UK and US governments, the refugee crisis, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Worth seeing for the music alone, but it has so much more to say. Roger Waters, Us + Them

Joker –  The clown prince of crime as you have never seen him before.  Joaquin Phoenix is excellent, the film is better than the backlash would have you believe, but not as flawless as early reviews suggested.  I really liked it but didn’t love it. joker

It: Chapter II – The first movie was excellent, part two had excellent early reviews but poor word of mouth.  I liked it, it is creepy without being scary.  The adult cast are excellent in the own right, and at following on from the kids in the first film.  It could have benefited from a tighter edit.  It Chapter II

Downton Abbey – I have seen a few episodes of the TV show but didn’t watch it religiously, as such I kind of knew what to expect, and that is exactly what you get.  Well shot, and well acted, not massively cinematic, but passed the time harmlessly.  Fans of the show will probably love it.  Downton Abbey

The Day Shall Come – Nearly ten years after his first film, Four Lions, satirist/agent provocateur Chris Morris returns with his second film.  A naive, impoverished, and deluded preacher is manipulated into an arms deal by the FBI so they can arrest him as a terrorist to improve their conviction rates.  An absurdist satirical comedy that while fictional in itself, the tagline and the opening caption says: Based On a Hundred True Stories. Lacking both the levels of heart and humour of Four Lions, it is still a compelling if frightening watch.  Marchánt Davis is funny, compelling and confident in what is amazingly his movie debut, I expect to see a lot more from him in the future.The Day Shall Come

Zombieland: Double Tap – Ten years after the first movie, the original quartet are back. Very much the same again: the plot is thin, and only there to link a series of set-pieces together.  However there are plenty of funny moments from the always watchable returning cast with Rosario Dawson and Zoey Deutch making excellent additions. Zombieland Double Tap

Official Secrets – True story of Katharine Gun, the whistleblower who leaked information to the press in the build-up to the  2003 invasion of Iraq.  A little on the nose, with a little too much of characters explaining the plot, but an enjoyable film with an import story to tell.  Keira Knightley is excellent, as are the supporting cast including Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, and Matt Smith.  Rhys Ifans appears to be in a different film playing an over the top character, I am led to believe it is an acurate portrayal. Official Secrets

Terminator: Dark Fate – Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in yet another Terminator, but this time Linda Hamilton returns to the franchise for the first time since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).  Thanks to the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, the plot kind of works with the other films.  The story returns to the plot of the first two movies of Terminators chasing someone, and a protector also sent from future trying to save them.  It is notable that there are essentially three female leads, Hamilton, along with Mackenzie Davis, and Natalia Reyes.  All three are really good, but the script can’t decide who the lead is and sometimes suffers.  Schwarzenegger is used well, but Gabriel Luna lacks the menace of Robert Patrick from T2, or Schwarzenegger in the original film. Terminator Dark Fate

The Peanut Butter Falcon – A young man with Down syndrome is forced to live in an old people’s home, as the state doesn’t know where else to put him.  He escapes and begins an adventure akin to a modern day Mark Twain character.  Zack Gottsagen who like his character has Down syndrome is a compelling leading man, and is supported by an ever reliable Dakota Johnson, and Shia LaBeouf who again reminds us that he is a really good actor and his dalliance with Michael Bay movies was just a blip. The Peanut Butter Falcon

Luce – Saved from a warzone in Eritrea and adopted by a middleclass couple, Luce is an all-star student.  A dedicated teacher suspects there is more going on with Luce than his parents and the faculty see.  The brilliance of the film is in its subtly, it doesn’t answer many of the questions it asks.Luce

The Last Black Man in San Francisco – Jimmie, a young black man spends his spare time returning to his grandfathers old house to maintain it, against the wishes of the current owners.  When they are forced to move out, Jimmie sees his opportunity to reclaim what he believes is his birthright.  Low on plot and deliberately paced, it is a slow and mournful lament.  There is a lot more going on under the surface than a movie about gentrification.  Amazingly it is the feature debut from director Joe Talbot.The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Many people will expect my movie of the month to be Joker, its good, but not quite good enough.  The Peanut Butter Falcon, Luce, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco are all contenders, but the film that has stayed with me is the first one I saw this month:  Roger Waters, Us + Them:Roger Waters, Us + Them Poster

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