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Archive for the ‘Movie Blog’ Category

1: Portrait of a Lady on Fire – I did a half year list during the first lockdown, this came second; on re-watch, it’s even better and jumps up to number one.  I went into this movie not knowing anything about it, that’s probably the best way, so I am not going to give a synopsis to give anybody who hasn’t it the same opportunity.  The film is beautiful to look at, and tells a beautiful story that unfolds to devastating effect.

2: Parasite – My number one at the half year stage, a beautifully crafted movie, it doesn’t lose anything on rematch, but it didn’t haunt me the number one did.   Again, I will not give a synopsis, or even genre.  I went in knowing nothing, again the best way to see the movie.  There is no one outstanding performances, the whole cast is sensational.  The direction is sublime, and the story subtly brilliant, with movements of humour, pathos, and overflowing with subtext.

3: JoJo Rabbit – I saw a preview of  this in December 2019 (that seems like a lifetime ago!) but it didn’t come out in the UK until January 2020.  I made a decision few years ago to pick my annual top ten based on UK release dates.  A satirical comedy about a ten year old member of Hitler Youth, whose imaginary friend is an incarnation of Hitler, sounds like a bad idea.  But when the Writer, Director, Hitler is Taika Waititi it all strangely works.  The film is light and very funny, that makes it even more hard hitting in the serious moments.  An absolute masterpiece.

4: 1917 – Set on the Western Front in northern France at the height of WW1, two young British soldiers are tasked with delivering a vital message.  Made up of long takes (up to nine minutes at a time) and near seamlessly edited together to look like a single take.   It’s not the first single take movie, and far from the longest take, but it is certainly the most ambitious given what is depicted.  Although fictional, it is inspired by a true story told to writer/director Sam Mendes by his grandfather.  An outstanding and breathtaking movie that is so much more than the (effective) gimmick of its shooting.  Dean-Charles Chapman and particularly George MacKay are both excellent.  I watched the movie in IMAX, and have avoided re-watching it on TV as I fear it won’t be the same. 

5: Diqiu zuihou de yewan (UK title: Long Day’s Journey into Night) – Technically not a 2020 film, it received a limited UK release in the last week of 2019, but didn’t see the inside of many cinema’s until the following month.  A man returns to his hometown for his father’s funeral.  He reminisces about an old friend killed years before, and sets out to find a lost love.  The whole film has a dreamlike quality as it skips around in time and space until the final hour depicts an actual dream, shot as one long unbroken shot.  A lot is left unexplained leaving the viewer to decipher the story from the flashbacks and the dream.  Stunning throughout, the film is at its best in the final hour.

6: Mangrove – I normally only pick from movies seen at the cinema, in a break from tradition Mangrove was made for TV and originally show on the BBC as part of the “Small Axe” series of films.  Directed by Steve McQueen and set in London in the 1960s and 1970s all the films depict the lives of West Indian immigrants.  The story of the “Mangrove Nine”, comparisons with Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 are inevitable.  While it lacks the comedy of its American counterpart, Mangrove is a better film.  While hard hitting, it doesn’t paint its protagonists as victims.   

7: The Invisible Man – Following the abject failure of The Mummy (2107) Universal’s overly ambitious  so-called Dark Universe didn’t happen.  This left the door open for the Blumhouse treatment.  The story is as grounded and real as The Invisible Man could be, and also benefits from the always brilliant Elisabeth Moss.  Not only better than expected, but genuinely good.  Like all great thrillers and horror movies, the story has real world relevance.  

8: Saint Maud – Marketed as a horror, Rose Glass’ feature debut defies genre.  Morfydd Clark’s titular Maud’s religious devotion is treated in a way reminiscent of something more demonic.  The gloom and despair of a faded British seaside town all helps with the oppressive nature of the film.  What the film is about is open to interpretation, what is not is the sense of melancholy, dread and malevolence that haunts the film. 

9: Queen & Slim – I thought long and hard about including this film of the list, because it’s so timely, I was concerned how it would hold up over time.  Looking back after nearly a year I decided I had to include it, partly as a testament for the time it was made, but mainly because it is there on merit.  For those who don’t know, the story follows a young black couple on a first date; things spiral out of control following a routine traffic stop.  More than just a road movie, it uses the language and conventions of cinema to make a powerful statement.  Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are outstanding. 

10: The Gentlemen – Guy Ritchie, returns to what Guy Ritchie does, British gangsters.  While not as fresh and original as his early work, it is a refreshing change from some of the rubbish he has made more recently.  It’s all too slick and contrived to be great, but is exactly what a film like this needs to be, fun.  Worth watching for standout performances from Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant.

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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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Back in 2010, there was a thriving movie blog community. There are very few blogs that have have survived to this day. This very site is hanging by a thread as life and work get in the way of my writing. Not to mention Covid-19 curtailing my cinema going. Listeners to the BBC’s flagship film program will know that the cinema code of conduct is ten years old. To celebrate the anniversary, listeners have suggested updating it for there strange days in which we are living. This made me think of the original code and my suggested additions.

It started with an idea from Wynter Tyson from CinemaScream (now defunct, but you can still read his wise words at Clameur Du Cinema) suggested we propose our own additions to the code of conduct. I thought my suggestion that people not be “Space Invaders” was more relevant than ever. I’m not sure I can endorse my other suggestion any longer, firstly as most cinema’s have done away with boxoffices, and because I almost never read a review until after I have seen a film. This philosophy worked out particularly well recently when I went to see Saint Maud knowing nothing about it, an approach I would certainly recommend with this stunning film.

Here is my original post from a decade ago:

Listeners to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review show BBC Radio 5 Live will be familiar with the Wittertainment Code of Conduct. Devised by them with the help of listeners to make cinema going better for all.

Wynter from CinemaScream asked us to post the Code of Conduct on our blog along with our own 11th rule. I couldn’t decide between two so here are my 11th and 12th rules.

11: No Space Invaders: We are not talking about 80’s video games (but I suggest you don’t play them in the cinema either), I am talking about the people who insist on sitting directly in front, behind or to the side of you despite the cinema being nearly empty.

12: Read Film Reviews: The ticket office staff are not there to tell you if a film is any good. If you haven’t decided what movie you want to watch don’t join the queue!

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Cinemas are in the process of reopening after four long months.  This is certainly something to celebrate, but as the title of this post suggests, there is another reason to celebrate, this month marks 20 years of my unlimited membership.

Prior to Unlimited I used to buy a 4 or 8 week Mega Pass from Virgin.   Virgin operated two cinemas in the area: The 9-screen located in the Arcadian Centre in Birmingham City Centre (originally opened in 1991 as an MGM cinema, before being purchased by Virgin four years later).  The second was a little further out, but worth the trip.  The 13-screen at Great Park Rubery, was the best cinema I had ever visited at the time with large screens, stadium seating and best of all THX sound throughout.

The Arcadian was closed in the early 2000’s and Rubery sold off to Empire Cinemas a few years later, But I had all but stopped going to both by this time, Virgin had announced the a shiny new venue on Broad Street in the centre of Birmingham.  It never actually operated under the Virgin brand, by the time they opened they had been taken over by the French company UGC. Broad Street

While the name, UGC was a little uninspiring, the was and remains fantastic, and the Unlimited Card was a brilliant idea.  £9.99 a month (as it was at the time) for unlimited movies, what more could you ask?  The price has remained pretty consistent since then going up in line with ticket prices.  You need to see two movies a month to make a saving.  I have averaged two a week, for twenty years.  When you adjust for inflation, and average out matinee and peak prices, it gets complicated, but best guess I have saved £12,000.

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The first film I watched at the new Broad Street cinema back in 2000 was The Perfect Storm.  I was less than impressed.  I remember commenting after that George Clooney had only made a few decent films and would never be a really big star! Shows how much I know!  But I have seen many amazing films since.  My favourite films I have seen at UGC/Cineworld are Mulholland Dr. and Oldboy.  The latter I saw prior to its UK release as part of the Tartan Asian Extreme Festival, then again last year in a  4K Restoration.

While I live with a city with some excellent independent Cinema’s that I also support, may favourite place to watch films remains Cineworld, Broad Street Birmingham.  Now I’m looking forward to another twenty years of Unlimited movies, hopefully without the interruption of another global pandemic!

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I’m not a great collector of ornaments, or memorabilia, but do have two things in my house that could be described as both ornaments, and memorabilia.  Model cars, both gifts from my brother.  One from a movie and one from a TV show: a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am form Smokey and the Bandit, and a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T from The Dukes of Hazzard.  Both of these cars have become problematic recently, as they both feature the Confederate flag.  I have read reports that Warner Brothers have announced they will stop selling any Dukes of Hazzard merchandise featuring the Confederate Flag*.  At the same time many retailers, including Amazon, and eBay have said they will stop selling items with a Confederate flag.  A quick search on both sites show that General Lee models are still widely available, although now at an inflated price.  General Lee and Bandit One

What does all this mean and why am I talking about it?  Being from the UK, I can look at the flag with some detachment.  A flag is merely a symbol, and as such it on means what we choose let it signify.  To many the Confederate Flag is a sign of an outlaw spirit that the south symbolises for many.  This is why it was so perfect for The Dukes of Hazard, and Smokey and the Bandit.  These were people living outside the law,  but “never meanin’ no harm”.  The authority figures who they were pitted against were either corrupt, or tyrants.  They are after-all from a country whose existence began with a war of independence were it freed itself from it colonial masters.  But this seance of freedom is always overshadowed, and undermined by by those who adopted the flag to suggest that some people are less than them because of their race.  It is impossible to overlook the words of the great filmmaker Spike Lee, who suggested [the flag made him feel] “the same way my Jewish brothers and sisters feel about the swastika”.

In conclusion, I have no problem displaying toy replica’s of cars featuring Confederate Flag, but I would not wave the flag, and would have a problem if I observed anybody doing so.  I would not wear a T’shit showing the it, and would question the reason anybody did at this time!

*Note, The flag in question is variation on the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, that was featured as part of: The second national flag of the Confederate States of America.  The version as seen on the General Lee and adopted by racists and white supremacists was never represented the Confederate States of America as a country, nor in that form was it ever officially recognised as one of Confederate States national flags, the  and its variants, in short it is a Confederate Flag, it is not The Confederate Flag, nor is it the “Stars and Bars”, that is an entirely different flag (that was actually The Confederate Flag for a time!).  However the flag in question has become known as the Confederate Flag, so for simplicity I will call it that for the purposes of this article.

And to give a brief flavour of the movies, I am talking about, below is an article I published on this site when I was more prolific, about ten years ago.

* * *

When I was a kid (from the age of around five) The Dukes of Hazzard was my favourite program on TV. It was therefore no great surprise that when as a family we got our first VCR I gravitated to a certain type of movie.

I don’t know what to call it, a genre or sub genre I guess, I’m not sure if anyone has ever given it a name. Sometimes B movies, others were high grossing blockbusters. Usually featuring bootleggers, truckers and small town sheriffs and nearly always set in America’s southern states. Typically the men (it is a very male genre) are simple talking, rough tough men with rough edges but a heart in the right place. The characters often spent their time just the wrong side of the law or taking the law into their own hands. These films were all made in the 70’s and they belong in the 70’s, there have been attempts to recreate the style many times but they don’t really work in the modern era. Quentin Tarantino has given us a nod at the genre but Strangely Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson has probably come closest with the remake of Walking Tall and Faster, but you have to go back to the original movies of the 70’s to appreciate the genre.

Although it’s a 70’s genre its roots go back before that to films like the Robert Mitchum bootlegger classic Thunder Road (1958). Mainstay of 70’s cinema and the genre, Burt Reynolds stars as Bobby “Gator” McKlusky in White Lightning (1973). Reynolds plays a moonshine runner who is let out of prison to help bring down a corrupt sheriff (Ned Beatty) who was responsible for the death of his younger brother. Cars are an important part of the genre and this movie is no exception. Gator’s vehicle isn’t an exotic sport car but a working class hero, a suitably anonymous muscle car, a souped up Ford Custom 500. From the same year Last American Hero sees a young Jeff Bridges as Elroy Jackson Jr. a character based on real life moonshiner turned NASCAR driver Junior Johnson. Also from ‘73 the original Walking Tall stars Joe Don Baker and is loosely based on the life of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser who cleans up his small town at great personal cost. Forget the remake and watch the classic original.

An underrated actor, Jan-Michael Vincent. Is probably best know in the UK for the TV show Airwolf, his first entry on this list is in White Line Fever (1975). Returning home from Vietnam and setting himself up as an independent truck driver that predates Convoy by three years. A lot of the movie is of its time, but the themes of fighting against corruption and oppression are timeless.  I started by talking about The Dukes of Hazzard, Moonrunners (1975) was actually the origin on the TV show: directed by Dukes of Hazzard creator Gy Waldron, the Balladeer (Waylon Jennings) introduces us to cousins, Grady and Bobby Lee Hagg, who run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse. A lot of the elements of the movie were toned down for the family friendly TV show but were reinstated for the (rubbish) 2005 movie. Although fictional Moonrunners was inspired by the life of bootlegger turned stock car racer Jerry Rushing. Rushing was a contemporary of and raced against Junior Johnson mentioned above. The movie is dated but worth a look for fans of the genre. I’m not aware of it ever being released on DVD and the hard to find VHS copies date from the early 80’s but you can find it streaming online with the claim it is now in the public domain.

Burt Reynolds returned in Gator (1976) a sequel to White Lightning, with a similar story to the first movie it is very much a case of more of the same, it is most notable as Reynolds first feature as a director. Continuing the theme of returning Vietnam veterans, Rolling Thunder (1977) is the story of Major Charles Rane (William Devane) a former POW who returns home to a small town in Texas. A brutal revenge drama the movie has more in common with Walking Tall than the other films on the list. It is also one of the best movies from the ever reliable William Devane and an early film role for Tommy Lee Jones.  Possibly the most well known movies of the genre Smokey and the Bandit (1977) was a huge hit and spawned two sequels and countless imitators. A lighter more fun and comic film than the others mentioned, the movie is basically one big car chase from Texas to Georgia. Reynolds may be the star of the movie but Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice has all the best lines and steels the movie from under him.

Reynolds was back again in Hooper (1978) reunited with Smokey and the Bandit director Hal Needham and co-star Sally Field. It also featured Jan-Michael Vincent. Although very different to the other movies I have mentioned in story and setting, it has the same spirit of character as many of them so I felt compelled to include it. Reynolds plays a veteran stuntman and Vincent the new up and coming rival. It is as much a story of an end of an era as it is a tribute to movie stuntmen. Very fitting as Reynolds and director Hal Needham both began their careers as stuntmen. Is Convoy (1978) an attempt to cash in on the CB radio craze of the time? Or a protest at the 55 MPH speed limit? Or even an exploration of equality or race? Its probably a combination of all three. Like Hooper above it is also the story of an end of an era, and this is the speciality of director Sam Peckinpah. Kris Kristofferson and Ali MacGraw are perfectly cast, but the real star is Ernest Borgnine.

By the 80’s the genre was dead having become a pastiche of itself with movies like The Cannonball Run. But we still have a whole decade of movies to enjoy and to remind us the 70’s was about more than New Hollywood, Jaws and Star Wars.

 

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There a lot of movie subscription services available in the UK, I am signed up to two of them, but there are plenty of movies available to stream free of charge.  The BBC selection even includes a Hitchcock film, meaning it has one more than Netflix!  Here are a few recommendations:  

BBC iPlayerbringing up baby

There are some excellent movies available on the BBC streaming service including 23 RKO movies.  Here are a few I would recommend:

 

Spotlight (2015) – The best picture Oscar winner from 2016 tells the true story a Boston Globe report that uncovered the scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the Catholic Church.

Election (1999) – Quirky comedy from Alexander Payne.  Matthew Broderick plays a teacher whose life spirals out of control when he goes against overachieving student Reese Witherspoon.

The Company You Keep (2012) – Thriller directed by and starring Robert Redford.  A thriller of the type they don’t really make these days, probably why it went under the radar on release in 2012.

The Elephant Man (1980) – Atmospheric and beautifully shot true story of John Merrick.  David Lynch’s second feature.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) – Howard Hawks’ delightful Screwball comedy with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and a leopard!

Citizen Kane (1941) – The best film of all time is a hard burden for a movie to carry; in recent years it has been fashionable to push back against this and claim to not like the film.  Don’t believe the detractors, Orson Welles’ masterpiece may not be the best film ever made, but it is still fantastic.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – Alternatively,  take a look Welles at his follow up.  Butchered by the studio, it isn’t exactly the movie he intended, but is still fantastic.

King Kong (1933) – Forget the Peter Jackson version, or the recent Skull Island, the original 1933 is the true King of the monsters!  stop motion animation was as groundbreaking in its day as modern CGI is now, and Fay Wray is fantastic in the lead.

Suspicion (1941) – Joan Fontaine plays a shy young heiress, Cary Grant the charming but penniless playboy she falls for, and marries.  He may or may not be planning to kill her for her money.  Fontaine won the Best Actress Oscar, the only acting Oscar in a Hitchcock film.

Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – The first two of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy.  What more do I need to say.  Watch them!

Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944) – Low budget horror classic from legendry producer Val Lewton, and director Jacques Tourneur.  The influential movie is a perfect example of less is more in the genre.  The sequel came just two years later and is also excellent.

I Walked With a Zombie (1943) – Atmospheric zombie movie, also from director Jacques Tourneur.  More disturbing than scary,  its  masterpiece of the genre.

All 4 The Warrior

The streaming service for all Channel 4, including Film 4 also has a large selection of movies, here are my picks:

 

Sweet Sixteen (2002) – Ken Loach movie about a teenager determined to raise enough money to get a home for himself and his mother who soon to be released from prison.  The film stars Martin Compston in his first acting role.  Having recently signed for the Scottish second division side Greenock Morton, he was more interested in a career in football than acting.

The Warrior (2001) – Asif Kapadia doesn’t just make documentaries.  The Warrior stars Irrfan Khan (who recently passed away) as a warrior in feudal Rajasthan attempting to give up the sword.  Shot in the Himalayas and the deserts of Rajasthan the film looks stunning.  It won the Alexander Korda and Carl Foreman BAFTA’s.

Slow West (2015) – Revisionist Western, and directorial début from John Maclean, previously best known as keyboard player/DJ and founder member of The Beta Band.  A strange mix of tone, it is often violent, but also very funny, while still remaining at its heart a western.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – Danny Boyle’s Best Picture winner launched the career of Dev Patel.  As a teenager is accused of cheating on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” we see flashbacks of his extraordinary young life.

Tangerine (2015) – I haven’t actually seen this film, but it comes highly recommended; director Sean Baker’s next film The Florida Project was excellent.  Shot entirely on an iPhone.

Rakuten TV The Ninth Gate

The VOD site has a small number of movies that are free to stream, my pick of them are:

 

The Ninth Gate (1999) – Curio from Roman Polanski that takes him back to the demonic supernatural of his earlier career.   Johnny Depp is perfectly cast.

The Crazies (2010) – Remake of the George A. Romero classic from 1973.  It isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a good fun horror.  Radha Mitchell and Timothy Olyphant are always worth watching.

My 5 Triangle

Chanel 5’s streaming service also has a reasonable selection of movies, here are few recommendations:

 

Bad Lieutenant (1992) – Abel Ferrara’s story of a detective on a downward spiral of drink, drugs, prostitutes and gambling, but there is a faint hope of salvation and redemption in his latest case.  Harvey Keitel is truly outstanding in the lead role.

Cold In July (2014) – Revenge thriller from director Nick Damici and his long-term writing partner Jim Mickle.  The plot has enough twists and turns to hold the interest.  The cast is excellent particularly Sam Shepard.

Triangle (2009) – Time loop horror thriller.  A low budget masterpiece from writer/director Christopher Smith.  The success of the film rests on the excellent performance from Melissa George.

eXistenZ (1999) – One of David Cronenberg’s most David Cronenberg movie!  The plot keeps you guessing all the way, and Jennifer Jason Leigh is brilliant.

Camp X-Ray (2014) – Kristen Stewart is fantastic in her first movie after the final twilight film.  Stewart plays a young inexperienced guard at Camp X-Ray at the Guantanamo Bay eight years after 9-11.  The theme of the film is exactly what you would expect, but it is a lot more subtle and nuanced than you would expect.

ITV Hub

only has The Equalizer and a couple of Carry On movies available at the moment. 

 

I Hope there is something here of interest!  

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