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Archive for December, 2020

Just like most movie bloggers, at this time of year I start to think about my top ten movies of the year.  Having only seen 28 movies at the cinema (I have averaged about 110 a year for the past two decades) I am not as excited by the idea as in previous years.  However I have watched more TV than ever before, practically through the first lockdown.  The best shows I have watched are The West Wing, and The Wire that I had not previously seen, and Breaking Bad that that I started watching last year.  But what of the new, and ongoing shows?  It’s actually been a really good year:

The Queen’s Gambit – Three years ago Scott Frank gave us Godless, a fantastic seven part western TV miniseries, who would have thought his next project would be about chess? As with Godless, Frank directed every episode, and wrote them with co-creator Allan Scott. Based a novel from 1983 from Walter Tevis, and telling the story of a (fictional) chess prodigy.   I have long thought Anya Taylor-Joy is the best young actor around at the moment, this has proved it, her performance is probably the best I have seen all year, in film and TV.  Hitting a lot of the beats of a sports movie, but where a sports movie has the challenge of making the sport look realistic, this has the problem of making chess exciting, it does it with ease.   As with Godless, Frank directed every episode, and wrote them with co-creator Allan Scott. 

The Mandalorian, seasons 1&2 – We had to wait until this year for the first season of The Mandalorian, it was worth the wait, to add to this, the second season was even better.  Set a few years after the end of the original Star Wars trilogy and telling the story of a Mandalorian bounty hunter.  Created by Jon Favreau and providing a perfect antidote to the patchy sequels.  Essentially a western in space, the stories are great but the real appeal is the characters .  With numerous rumoured spinoffs, it may be the starting point for the next generation of Star Wars, it certainly provides a strong template. 

Normal People – Marianne and Connell are two, well, normal people.  Coming from very different backgrounds in the same small town in Ireland, the story follows them from their final year at school, through their time at university.  Coming just two years after the publication of Sally Rooney’s novel on which it’s based.  Released on BBC Iplayer in one go, it was one of the summers most binge-worthy shows.  The performances from little known Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal are sensational. 

High Fidelity – Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel was adapted into a really good film in 2000 directed by Stephen Frears and starring John Cusack.  The TV show is better than them Movie.  Moving the location to Brooklyn (the book was set in London, the movie in Chicago), but more significantly the casting of Zoë Kravitz changed the dynamic of the show, she is also brilliant.  Criminally, by the time it reached the UK, it had already been cancelled, so we don’t get a second season, this is a great shame. 

Gangs of London – Created by Gareth Evans, the man behind The Raid movies.  An undercover cop finds himself at the centre of a power struggle in London following the death of a gangland boss.  Full of recognisable British actors, but the standout performance comes from Sope Dirisu.  Episode five, is possibly the best single episode of TV this year. 

His Dark Materials – Season 2 is based on The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman’s second novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy.  The first season was good, the second is even better.  Dafne Keen has really grown into the role, as has Amir Wilson who has much more to do than in the first season.  The real star remains the brilliant Ruth Wilson.

What We Do in the Shadows, Season 2 – Based on the 2014 New Zealand mockumentary written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.  Continuing the mockumentary style of the movie but following a different house of vampires, this time in Staten Island.  The beauty of the comedy, is that however absurd it gets (it gets extremely absurd), it is totally deadpan.

Save Me Too – Marketed as Save Me Too, is the second Season of Save Me.  Co-written by star Lennie James.  The story revolves around a man searching for is estranged teenage daughter.  Spoiler: by the end of the first season he hadn’t found her.  The second season picks up eighteen months later, to its credit, it doesn’t always go where you expect. 

Sex Education, Season 2 – With the help of a classmate, the son of a sex therapist starts a sex advice business at school.  Set in an fictional British town that seems to exist out of time, with a school more reminiscent of American TV. What sounds like a terrible idea for a show is actually brilliant thanks to a the brilliant script, and performances.  The kids are all very good, but Gillian Anderson steals the show. 

Alice in Borderland – A late entry ontot he list as it only dropped on Netflix in early December.  A Japanese TV show based on a manga of the same name by Haro Aso.  Three friends find themselves in an abandoned Tokyo.  Trapped in the city they soon find they have to compete in a series of deadly games in order to survive.  Inspired by and taking elements of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”, it is wonderfully bonkers.  A second season has already been announced. 

The honourable mentions: Devs, The Boys – Season 2, I Hate Suzie, Bosch – Season 6, Snowpiercer, The Eddy, Hunters, Lovecraft Country, Warrior – Season 2, The Umbrella Academy – seaason 2, The Expanse, Season 5 (may have made the top ten, but only half the season has dropped at the time of going to press). And finally: Small Axe – Marketed as a miniseries or an anthology, I didn’t include it as a TV show, but is worth a mention as it is excellent.  A series of five movies about the experiences of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s.  All films are directed by Steve McQueen, who also co-wrote them.  The first two Mangrove, and Lovers Rock were the standouts for me. 

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We all have an idea of what a Christmas movie is, there are so many options – Traditional: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947 & 1994), White Christmas (1954) – Trendy: Die Hard (1988), Gremlins (1984), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – Fun/Comic: Home Alone (1990), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Love Actually (2003).  Alternative/Horror: Black Christmas (1974), Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), Krampus (2015).  But if you step away from the usual suspects, what are the Christmas films you can act watch and enjoy:

G0 (1999): Christmas eve in LA is the setting for three interweaved stories. A drug deal goes wrong. A trip to Vegas goes wrong.  A pair of actors are forced into helping the police and it goes very wrong!  You get the idea. The connections between the three stories feel natural not contrived. The direction from Doug Liman (who went on to make some great and varied movies including The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow) walks the perfect tightrope, the film is well paced, well edited and knows when to use comedy and brevity. Full of great comedy moments from the taught, an witty script, but it is the great acting from the young (and little know at the time) cast elevate this film to near greatness.  But is it the a Christmas movie? For many people, Christmas is about family, in this year more than ever as many of us cannot be with extended families this year, the film shows us what family can be.  For these young people, their friends are there family, and this is what Christmas means to them. 

Eyes Wide Shut (1999): Set in the days leading up to Christmas; after his wife confesses that she was once tempted to cheat on him, doctor Bill Hartford is sent into a head spin and spends the night in New York meeting a strange array of characters. This culminates in him gate crashing a surreal ritualistic orgy.  Behind all the gloss and opulence and the dreamy surface this is a gritty and real story of love, sex and relationships.  Just like an  80’s yuppie in peril movie like After Hours, and Into the Night (both 1985), Eyes Wide Shut sends our “hero” into an odyssey that he didn’t plan and doesn’t really understand, and as a viewer it is always on the edge of reality and dream.  Beyond the setting, this another thing that makes it a Christmas movie, the plot, and the larger than life characters are reminiscent of Tchaikovsky Christmas ballet The Nutcracker. 

Batman Returns (1992): You would be forgiven for thinking Tim Burton’s Christmas masterpiece is Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), (directed by Henry Selick, not Burton) it is a great Christmas movie, but Burton’s best Christmas movie can a year earlier with his sequel to Batman (1989).  Christmas baby Oswald Cobblepot is born deformed and rejected by his parents and throw him into the sewer.  Thirty years later, now going by the name Penguin, he is introduced to the people of Gotham by millionaire, philanthropist, and crook Max Shreck.  The Christmas credentials of the movie aren’t that simple, we get a winter wonderland setting, but little else.  Characters are set up for redemptive story arcs  that don’t happen; there is no real story of good will or forgiveness, but what we do get is a slightly cynical dark satirical look of corporate culture and commercialisation of society.  If you don’t like any of this just sit back and watch the bets Batman: Michael Keaton, and the best supporting character in a comic book movie, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

This is by no means a definitive list, just a few movies I intend to watch. After that, if I am still looking for something to watch, I may consider: The Apartment (1960), Lethal Weapon (1987), Carol (2015).

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A few months ago I had the idea imaging the casting of an Avengers film, had it been made in the 80’s.  Having never finished or posted my list, Screenrant beat me to it! With three of their choices being the same as mine, there didn’t seem much reason to finish.  I read this around the same time as I was writing about The Paramount Decree, this gave me the idea to go a slightly different way; taking the same characters they chose, and casting them from the Golden Age of Cinema, as if the film had been made around 1940.

Clarke Gable as Tony Stark / Iron Man – Stark is charming and wisecracking;  chances are he is both the funniest and the cleverest person in the room, but he is also a self obsessed dick!  Who could play that better than Gable?

Burt Lancaster as Steve Rogers / Captain America Cap needs youthful good looks, a certain sense of innocence, but also needs to convey a certain melancholy.  On top of all that he needs to be big and athletic.  Sounds like Lancaster to me.   

 James Stewart as Bruce Banner / The Hulk – Banner is an awkward neurotic genius, but deep down he is good to the core.  Has to be Stewart.

Johnny Weissmuller as Thor – The Austro-Hungarian-born Weissmulle doesn’t have the Norse looks that would be ideal for the part, but he certainly has the stature. 

Vivien Leigh as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow – Romanoff needs to look sweet and innocent, but be far from it, this is something Leigh did many times. 

 Errol Flynn as Clint Barton / Hawkeye – I don’t even need to explain this one, it has to be Flynn!

James Mason as Loki – Screenrant talk about “charming arrogance and wicked bravado” Mason has this in spades.

Gary Cooper as Phil Coulson – Coulson was the hardest character to cast because there is so much going on for so little screen time.  Untimely the character is defined by his honesty and boy scout optimism, Cooper fits the bill.    

Spencer Tracy as Nick Fury – The temptation is to go for a black actor to emulate Samuel L Jackson, but there simply weren’t that many prominent in that era.   But Tracy certainly has the gravity and whit. 

Katherine Hepburn (Maria Hill) Tall and athletic, she certainly looks the part, but she also has the whit needed.  On top off all this, she has Tracy to bounce off!

Such an amazing era of cinema, there are so many great actors who didn’t make the list. 

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A tipping point for cinema?

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that major film studios could be the saviour of cinemas/theatres; it now seems there is no appetite for this.  There have been two big announcements; first Warner Bros. said that all its 2021 movies would debut online on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time as the cinema release. Now Disney have announced some of its films including Peter Pan & Wendy (directed by David Lowery), and Pinocchio (directed by Robert Zermeckis, starring Tom Hanks) will skip cinema’s and go straight to Disney+ subscription streaming service.  On top of this they have announced multiple new Marvel and Star Wars projects for the streaming service.  The suggestion is that Disney see their future online, which is an interesting considering their successful TV channels (that include ESPN, ABC, Lifetime, History, and FX) that are sure to be impacted their TV business.  The TV channels are currently earning them more money than Disney+ but the future is online and Disney look to be taking a hit now in order to future proof the business.   

Looking at it from the other side, as we come out of lockdown two, Cineworld venues in the UK (and the rest of the world) look set to remain closed until March 2021.  In a statement they have suggested they have secured sufficient liquidity to survive another year providing they reopen their 660 venues across the UK and US by late spring.  The financial measures all seem to revolve around managing a near $5bn debt.   Odeon and Vue are opening most venues in tier 1 and 2 areas within the next few days; the great hope to bring people back to cinema is Wonder Woman 1984 due for a UK release on 16 December 2020.  Given the strong reviews and the good will created by the first film it wouldn’t be unreasonable under normal circumstances to expect a box-office in the region of $1bn topping the just over $800million the first film took.  But these aren’t normal times!  Not only are people still slow to return to cinema’s, but have announced that when the film is released the following week, on Christmas day in the US, it will simultaneously be available on HBO Max. While many people will still choose to see the film in the best way at the cinema, a huge proportion of the audience will be lost to those who are happy to see it at home. 

Directors Christopher Nolan and Director Denis Villeneuve have been outspoken about the Warner decision.  This is somewhat understandable when you look at the two directors.  Nolan has long been the champion of shooting films on celluloid and exhibiting them in cinema’s.  He has also made a lot of money for the studio.  Villeneuve on the other hand is in a interesting position; he has a film in the can with Warner.  Dune (adapted from Frank Herbert’s 1965 Novel) was due for release next week, but has been pushed back an entire year.  The issue, his film isn’t actually an adaptation of the book, it is half the book!  Given the $165million budget, it would probably need to achieve over $700million to guarantee a sequel. 

All things considered we are in a precarious position for the future of cinema.  With the Covid-19 situation and the lockdowns associated with this, it was always going to be tough.  However, the real issue is the studios and distribution companies.  Disney and Warner are big hitters, and while they are clearly acting autonomously, they are sure to influence other smaller companies.   You then have to consider the audience; as a film lover, I want to watch films on the biggest screen possible, but many people will be happy to see things at home.  The problem is that if we don’t support cinemas many of them won’t be there in future.  As concerning as the loss of cinema’s making them too exclusive, too expensive. That could be slow death of cinema.

On a positive note, the decline of cinema has been predicted for the past 90 years, and it’s still here!

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I have read a couple of things on twitter recently suggesting certain actors are too old, or too young to play Bond.  But how old is Bond? Ian Fleming made very few explicit references to Bond’s age.  The clearest came in the third novel Moonraker, published in 1955.  Bond states that he is “eight years shy” of mandatory retirement age for a 00, forty-five.  This would make him thirty-seven.  This however only tells us how old he was at the time of this novel as the passage of time between many of the books isn’t always clear.  From reading these I have always seen the character as being late 30’s early 40’s.  But what of the actors who have played the part?

Note: All ages are approximate based on when the film was shot. 

Sean Connery (1930 – 2020) – Connery was 31, in his first Bond movie Dr. No (1962),  He left the role after You Only Live Twice (1967)  age 36.  He returned for Diamonds Are Forever (1971)  age 40 (although he looked about 50!).  He then returned again for the unofficial Bond movie Never Say Never Again (1983) age 52, but didn’t look that much older than in his last official Bond movie.

George Lazenby (1939) – Appearing in just one Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the youngest to date Lazenby was just 29 during production. 

Roger Moore (1927 – 2017) – Moore was actually older than Connery, although considered for Bond around 1967 when he was 40, he didn’t actually get the part until, Live and Let Die (1973) at the age of 46.  Having made seven Bond films he is often regarded as the longest serving Bond, but all the films came in just twelve years culminating in A View to a Kill (1985) by the time he was 57.

Timothy Dalton (1946) – Considered for the part multiple times including as early as 1968 when he was just 21.  He has stated, that he turned it down when he was around 25, as he felt he was too young for the part.  His name came up again around 79/80 when he was around 30.  He finally got the part:  The Living Daylights (1987) age 40.  His second and final Bond film came just two years later, Licence to Kill (1989) when he was 42.

Pierce Brosnan (1953) – Like the previous two Bond’s, Brosnan came close before getting the part.  He was offered the role in what became The Living Daylights before Dalton when he was around 33 at the time, but had to drop out due to a conflict with the TV Remington Steele.  He got the part just under a decade later, his first film GoldenEye (1995) age 42.  By the final film Die Another Day (2002), he was 49.

Daniel Craig (1968) – The longest serving (official) Bond based on years in the role, Craig’s first Bond was  Casino Royale (2006) age 37.  His final film was mainly shot last year but isn’t set for release until next year: No Time to Die (2021) he was 51 at the time of shooting.

So there you have it the youngest Bond was 29, and the oldest 57. What next, how old will the next James Bond be?  A lot depends on the story they want to tell.  If they go for another reboot, they could go as young as they want, pre 00 days possibly to his time as a Royal Naval Reserve, or when first recruited into the secret service.  I have long suggested bringing Timothy Dalton back to play an older retired Bond, this idea could now also work with Pierce Brosnan.  Or, they could do what they have done four previous times (five if you count Connery’s return), just drop a new actor into the part with saying a word, well except a joke in the cold open!

Back in September it was reported that major UK bookmakers had stopped taking bets on Tom Hardy, some even suggested he already had the part.  I don’t believe this to be true, and In some ways this could hamper his chances in the end as it will take a lot of air out of the big announcement when finally made.  Born in 1977, he is 43 now.  They are unlikely to start shooting the next film before an official announcement of the star his made, and they are not going to announce the new Bond until after the release of No Time to Die (hopefully, Covid allowing next year), as a result the next film could go into production in 2022 by which time Hardy  will be 45.  A year younger than Moore in Live and Let Die, so not the oldest Bond debut, but not far off.  This delay could present an interesting opportunity; it has already been confirmed Nomi, the character played by Loshana Lynch (just turned 33) is the new 007, promoted to the role after Bond quit/retired.  Assuming her character is any good and doesn’t get “fridged”, why not make film starring her.  As a 00 agent, it would be a Bond film in all but name that should please those calling for woman to play Bond, and appease those who say a woman cannot be Bond!  Most importantly it could begin pre-production now and script allowing, begin filming as soon as the lockdowns ease.       

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As we wait for cinemas to reopen following England’s second lockdown, I can’t help wondering what their future will be.  Even before we entered the second lockdown in November Cineworld, the UK’s largest and the world’s second largest chain, closed all their venues until further notice.  So what next?  To predict that we may have to look back to the last big change to cinemas.  

In the early days of cinema in the US, the major film studios (Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox, MGM, and Paramount) owned their own theatres that exclusively screened their films.  Films that were produced by writers, directors, technicians, and actors who were under contract to the studios,  They also owned the laboratories, that processed the film and created the prints.  To put is it simply the studios were vertically integrated. 

The Paramount Decree as it became known was an antitrust case correctly titled United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131 (1948).  The case changed the face of film exacerbation in the US, ripples of its effects can be felt all over the world to this day.  The ruling forced the separation of motion picture production and exhibition companies.  This had the desired effect of increasing the number of both independent productions, and independent cinema’s/movie theatres.  As the Hollywood studio system began to breakdown it clearly did its job, and was responsible for the end of what is known as golden age of cinema.  There was also a more far reaching unexpected result;  independent cinema’s free to choose their own programming started to show more international and independent “art” movies.  This was the first steps towards the weakening of the Motion Picture Production Code, the eventual emergence of New Hollywood.  So why is this important now? The antitrust decrees  had no expiration dates, however, last year The United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division began a review of the “Paramount decrees” and decreed that as of this summer they would enter a “two-year sunset period” followed by the termination of the decrees in 2022.  To quote the great Sam Cooke: “a change gonna come“.

The way we consume movies (and television) at home has changed dramatically in recent years.  Just a few years ago here in the UK, a film would be screened in cinema’s, around six months later it would be made available to rent (and sometimes buy) on video, then a few years later be screened on free to air TV.  The first major change to this came with satellite and cable TV channels who began showing films after the video release but before they made it to free to air TV.  Fast forward through a few changes to cable/satellite TV and we have Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video as well as countless other streaming services.  They started screening movies and TV shows, but before long they were making their own content.  Now Disney has joined the party and will soon be the only place to stream Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Disney Content, not to mention the back catalogue of the recently acquired 20th Century-Fox (now know as 20th Century Studios).

Film critic Mark Kermode has long advocated so-called “day-and-date” release, a simultaneous release across multiple platforms.  The concept has been used, mainly by independent films during the disruption caused by Covid 19.  Although the process is likely to reduce film piracy, most cinema chains have resisted the concept fearing it will reduce attendances.  This is most likely true, but given the state of the industry, all bets are off.  Who is most likely to support day-and-date release? Simply the people who own more than one platform.  Will Amazon, Netflix, or Disney move into cinema ownership? Given the money they all have, they are the obvious choices.  What are the consequences of companies like this owning cinema’s?  One notable point, is that there is now a further level of integration with streaming offering a new way method of distribution unimaginable in the Golden Age.  On the flipside, filmmakers are no longer tied to a studio (we can thank Olivia de Havilland for that, but that’s another story).  There are potential advantages.  My biggest problem with Netflix in particular is their reluctance to show films in cinemas.  If they owned the establishments and were pocketing the box-office, it may encourage them to screen films where they belong, on the largest possible screen.  There is another possibility; we are all suffering from platform fatigue!  With an ever increasing number of streaming platforms most of us have to pick and choose which we subscribe to.   Cineworld Unlimited and Odeon Limitless offer unlimited movies for a month subscription.  Is there room for a joint home, and theatrical subscription?  This would certainly be an incentive! 

There are certain to be a few twists and turns before these strange times are over, I just hope there are still plenty of cinemas left when the dust settles.

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