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Earlier in the year saw the latest round of the battle between opposing views on film distribution and exhibition.  The battleground, the Caane film festival.  In 2017 Netflix had two films in competition: Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories.  This years the festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux, imposed a rule that all films shown at the festival must receive a French theatrical release.  This wouldn’t be a issue in most countries including the UK and USA, but France have more ridged rules on distribution.  Once a film is shown in a French cinema/theatre, it cannot be sold on DVD, or pay-per-view for four months, furthermore, it cannot be streamed on a subscription service like Netflix, or Amazon Prime for three years.netfix cover

So why is this a big deal?  Simply, Netflix is morphing into one of the biggest film production company in the world.  With an annual budget for new content reported to be around $8Billion, they are planning to make around 80 films this year.  Unlike Amazon Prime who are giving their higher profile movies cinema releases, Netflix distributes its content exclusively on its own platform.  This is beginning to look like the vertical integration of the big studios during the golden age of cinema.  That particular era ended in 1948 when United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. ruled that the system was in violation of US antitrust laws.

I am a firm believer that the cinema is the best place to watch a film, and do so frequently.   Over that last ten years, I have averaged about 2.5 trips to the cinema every week. I do however, also subscribe to both the streaming services I have mentioned here.    So where does that leave us?  Should there be restrictions on where, when and how films are distributed? Film critic Mark Kermode has spoken frequently and vocally on how films should be available simultaneously on multiple platforms.  Will imposing more restrictions help of hinder the situation?  Bizarrely, I think the best option may be one that would probably fall foul of competition laws.  If Netflix were to do a deal with a major cinema chain to give there bigger releases a cinema release, this would provide the best of both worlds.  They could then give free or heavily discounted tickets to their subscribers (the cinema will make their money selling food and drink).

I don’t think there are any simple answers to the issue.  I live in a major city with at least one cinema from all the major chains and several independents.  I also have superfast broadband, I am therefore well covered on all fronts.  But what of those who live in isolated places who don’t have access to a cinema? Or those that do have a cinema but no access to streaming?  Doesn’t the industry owe these people a chance to see more movies?  Ultimately, I think we all accept the MGM motto “Ars gratia artis” is at best a thing of the past at worst a myth. MGM-LOGO

Whatever the future holds, it is clear we are in a period of transition in the film industry, but then it could be argued that that it is an industry that is always in transition. 

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I know trailer breakdowns are a big thing, but I have never bothered writing much about trailers.  I don’t even go out of my way to watch them, but one has caught my attention; The Girl in the Spiders Web.  I have had the book on which it is based, for a couple of years, but only just gotten around to reading it.  David Lagercrantz was commissioned to write the book (and potentially a trilogy) by the Stieg Larsson estate.  The story has a more focused narrative and is less sprawling than the original books.  He is however, less assured in his use the leading characters; it is almost as if he hero-worships Mikael Blomkvist, and is afraid of Lisbeth Salander (or her legion of fans).  I got to impression that Blomkvist appeared in the story far more than Salander, he got more of whatever the literary equivalent to screen time is called.  Then I saw this trailer:

As far as I can see, Blomkvist doesn’t appear in the trailer.  I only recognise one character from the book other than Salander (I won’t mention who to avoid spoilers) and it inst Blomkvist.  Most of the scenes in the trailer are not from the book, or play out differently.  This is probably not a bad thing, it is a different medium after all, a good adaptation doesn’t have to be a faithful one! The photography and production design look impressive, reminiscent of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal TV show.Lisbeth Salander

The most significant thing about the trailer is Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander.  I was very excited about what she could do with the character after seeing her in Unsane earlier in the year.  Having seen a glimpse of her in the trailer I am even more interested.  As well as her performance, I am glad to see the filmmakers have given her, her own look and not copied Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara.

The Girl in the Spiders Web is Set for release in November this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Exciting Times?

We keep being told that there are no mid budget films being made at the moment, we only get big blockbusters (usually franchises) and very low budget films.  While this is true, I am expecting something exciting to happen soon. 

When I was a student, around two decades ago, I made some short films.  The best format available to me was SVHS, one step up from home video cameras.  I could only dream of being able to make something of cinema quality.  Around this time, I read Rebel Without a Crew, Robert Rodriguez’s account of how he made El Mariachi for $7,000 (about $11,500 in today’s money).   Rodriguez’s managed to get his hands on an old Arriflex 16S 16mm camera, I seem to remember him mentioning that he purchased film a roll at a time as he didn’t want to waste money on it if the camera stopped working. rebel without a crew

But things have changed with two high profile films: Tangerine (2015) and Unsane (2018) made by Sean Baker and Steven Soderbergh respectively, both using just iPhones.  Baker used an Apple iPhone 5S, Moondog Labs anamorphic adapter allowing him to present the movie in 2.35:1 widescreen.  Soderbergh went for the later model iPhone 7 Plus but without the additional lens. unsane

Whether you love, hate, or haven’t even seen these movies is irrelevant, the important thing is that they exist, or more to the point that they can exist.  At no time in the history of filmmaking, have the tools of the trade been so readily available to so many people and at such a respectively low price.  The next Spielberg or Scorsese may not come from film school, or learning their trade at the side of an existing filmmaker, they could be shooting in their neighborhood and editing in their bedroom. sean_baker_tangerine_with_steadicam_smoothee_iphone_5s

Taking it to the next level, Gareth Edwards made Monsters (2010), a full special effects Sci-Fi movie for around half a million dollars rendering all the visual effects at home on his own computer.  Six years later his third feature set in a galaxy far, far away had a budget four-hundred times that of monsters. Gareth Edwards

The most exciting thing, the film I describe could already be in production.  

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Around ten years ago I watched Martyrs on DVD based on multiple recommendations. I understand it had a cinema release but certainly not at any of my local multiplexes (I didn’t visit independent cinemas often back then). My feeling at time was that I thought the film was excellent, but I didn’t want to see it again. Fast forward a decade and one of my local independent cinema’s, the Mockingbird in Birmingham advertised a 10 year anniversary screening. Never one to pass up the opportunity for seeing a classic on the big screen, how could I refuse!

Below are my thoughts on the film from my first viewing a decade ago published at the time:

Martyrs I sat down to watch Martyrs with no real prior knowledge of what it was going to be about. It had been recommended to me and I put it on my DVD rental list without reading a synopsis or review. It actually went on general release in the UK earlier in the year but didn’t make it to my local cinema. The disk came through a few days ago, I watched it not knowing what to expect.

I sat down to watch Martyrs with no real prior knowledge of what it was going to be about. It had been recommended to me and I put it on my DVD rental list without reading a synopsis or review. It actually went on general release in the UK earlier in the year but didn’t make it to my local cinema. The disk came through a few days ago, I watched it not knowing what to expect.

The film is split into three relatively distinct parts, it begins with a girl escaping from captivity. This is done without any back story of who she is, how she came to be imprisoned or who her captors were. Traumatised she is put in a home where she befriends a girl of a similar age. It looks at this stage as if the film could develop into a ghost story along the lines of The Orphanage or The Devils Backbone. Then suddenly the story jumps forward fifteen years to where the rest of the film is set other than a few flashbacks. The second part begins with a happy family eating breakfast on a Sunday morning, clearly this must be connected to the earlier story but at this time we don’t know how. The final part is completely unexpected. It is impossible to say any more without giving the plot away so I will leave it there. The final third takes the most unexpected turn and is truly difficult to watch. Without describing what happens it probably isn’t possible to put into words the experience of watching it but I will try; disturbing, traumatic and upsetting all spring to mind but all fall woefully short. The film doesn’t so much have a twist but it unfolds in an unusual direction, I can’t draw any conclusions as to the meaning of the film without giving away the plot. For the same reason I won’t include the trailer, it gives too much away.

Controversial in its native France, it was released uncut here in the UK in cinemas and on DVD with a simple warning “Contains sustained strong bloody violence and horror”. It has been mistaken by some reviewers as torture porn. Whilst in many ways it is far more brutal than Hostel or Saw, there is far more going on here. There are rumors of an American remake on the way, if you want torture porn wait for that, I’m sure it won’t disappoint. Taking a step away from the horror and controversy of the film the thing that sets it apart from many other films of the genre is that it is really well made. The main attraction of the film is great acting. The two female leads give really strong performances. Mylène Jampanoï who plays Lucie is well established but Morjana Alaoui who plays Anna is a relative newcomer in only her second film.

A little like with Antichrist, it is such a strong and powerful film, with so much to say for itself that I feel I must recommend other people see it. However I make this recommendation fully in the knowledge that many viewers will hate and detest the film, others will be sickened and offended by it, even the ones who like it will be shocked by it. You have been warned!

So what do I think after a second viewing?

The film is just as powerful and disturbing as before. Whereas first time around I was unsure of what to make of the ending, I now believe it is intentionally left open to interpretation. I have a stronger view on the meaning of the ending but would rather people drew their own conclusions. After all, the meaning is probably as influenced by what the viewer brings to it as what they see on the screen.

The second feature for directed by Pascal Laugier, it was reported at the time that his next film would be a sequel and/or remake of Hellraiser. This fortunately didn’t happen, some movie are just too iconic to be remade! his next film was actually the Canadian and French (English language),The Tall Man (2012 film), an under-seen and underrated horror thriller. His next film, Ghostland (2018) is in the can but does not have a UK release date as yet. The remake of Martyrs I mentioned came along in 2015. I haven’t seen it so can’t comment, given the 4.0 IMDB rating (22 Metascore) I’m not in any rush.

I have already booked to return to the Mockingbird next month for a double bill of Audition (1999) & Battle Royale (2000). Another film I loved first time around but haven’t re watched, and one that I have seen many times and have since read the book on which it is based.

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Annihilation

Before I say anymore, let me nail my colours to the mast; the cinema is the best place to watch films, I watch over a hundred films in the cinema and have done so for the past twenty years.  Regardless of how good a home setup is, it isn’t the same, therefore home viewing is a last resort! Why am I telling you this?

I have recently watched Alex Garland’s new movie Annihilation at home, and not at the cinema, not by choice, but because short of a transatlantic flight it wasn’t possible for me to see the film as the director intended.

To give a little context, this is not a direct to video release in the traditional sense, made by Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions, the film was intended for a cinema/theatrical release.  Then a financier at Paramount got cold feet when test audiences described the film as “too intellectual” and “too complicated”.  Said financier was then kind enough to spare us stupid audiences the embarrassment of being confused by the film, what a hero!  The studio decided to release the movie properly in the US and China but sold the rest of the world rites to Netflix for their streaming service.

I suspect anyone reading this will know who Alex Garland is.  For those who don’t, he is a bit of a Renaissance Man.  I first came across him in the late 90’s when he wrote his début novel and cultural touchstone The Beach (1996), that was later turned into a far better than it is given credit for movie.  His next novel The Tesseract (1998) was equally as good; it was also turned into a film but was far too abstract to work on screen.  His final (as yet) novel The Coma (2004) featured fantastic woodcut illustrations by his father, Nicholas Garland.Alex Garland Novels

Garland then turned to screenwriting producing a mixture of adaptations and original stories for: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).Alex Garland screenwriting

He then made his directorial début with one of the best, and most intelligent movies of 2015, Ex Machina, the film that also introduced most of us to the brilliant Alicia Vikander.  This brings us up to date and to Annihilation.   As you may expect from all this background, I loved Annihilation and am greatly disappointed that I did not get to see it as intended on the big screen.Alicia Vikander Ex Machina

A brief synopsis: A lighthouse in Florida is hit by a meteor.  The area is quickly overtaken by a “shimmer” that blocks all communication with the outside world.  For reasons that happen in the first act, but I don’t want to spoil, a biology professor (Natalie Portman) joins an expedition led by a doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to ender the shimmer.  Things get a little strange from here.Annihilation

I went into the movie knowing about as much, possibly even less than I have described above and think the film is the better for it.  What follows works on so many levels.  The film is loosely based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, it is reported that Garland read the novel once, then wrote a script based on it without refereeing back to the book.  Without reading the book, which I haven’t it is impossible to tell how much of the subtext is Garland and how much is author Jeff VanderMeer.  The strongest themes that come out are grief and depression, but this is all overshadowed by a compulsion to dominate and destroy.  Does this refer to the West’s interference in the rest of the world, our refusal to accept integration, or simply our destruction of the environment?  Probably a mixture of all of the above! Its strength comes not from the answers it gives, but from the questions it asks, thus making the film not about black and white absolutes, but about what we the audience bring to it.  I have heard comparisons with  Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival; while the subject matter has little more than a passing resemblance, the mood very similar.Annihilation

As well as the brilliant, and aforementioned Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the cast also includes Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac, all of whom are excellent.  The subject of the largely female cast is broached and dismissed brilliantly within the narrative.  However, I can’t help the sad feeling that at least part of the studios lack of confidence in the project stems from the shortage of Y chromosomes!  I can only assume that Netflix paid all or most of the budget, reported to be around $50million, why else would the studio take such drastic action, they would have almost certainly made its money back.  Interestingly, it is actually Netflix that come out of this looking best following the critical mauling they have recently received for their Sci-Fi, “Netflix Originals” needed a credible movie.  What Happened to Monday was good but lacked any buzz on release the way it would have given a cinema release.  David Ayer’s Bright, and Duncan Jones’s Mute were both better than reported.  The Cloverfield Paradox’s surprise-release certainly got people talking, but not in a good way, I haven’t seen it so don’t know if the reaction is fair.  With Annihilation, Netflix have a degree of credibility, and have also got people talking, this can’t be a bad thing for them.Annihilation

We are in a strange time for cinema as technology is moving faster than the film industry can understand.  It may be a period that ends with films being simultaneously released for both home and theatrical release as advocated by film critic Mark Kermode.

This all adds up to a brilliant film, that should be seen on a big screen, a screen we measure in feet not inches!

 

 

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Today is International Women’s Day at a risk of being accused of mansplaining, I thought I would take a look at the five female nominees for the best director Oscar.  With Greta Gerwig recently becoming the fifth woman to be nominated in the 90 year history of the Academy Awards it is hard to avoid.  Is the problem a lack of woman making movies or those that are not getting the recognition?  Probably a combination of both. Here are the female directors who have been nominated for a best director Oscar to date:  

1976 – Lina Wertmüller for Pasqualino Settebellezze aka Seven Beauties – Unfortunately I haven’t seen this movie and couldn’t get hold of a copy before writing.   Described as a comedy drama, the film appears to tells the story of an Italian who will do anything to survive through crime, prison, a mental institution, the army and a concentration camp.  At the time of her nomination, she was in her late forties with about a dozen credits behind her.  She was also nominated for the screenplay.  A strong year, the other nominees were Sidney Lumet (Network), Ingmar Bergman (Face to Face), Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men), and the winner, John G. Avildsen (Rocky).  Amazingly, Martin Scorsese wasn’t nominated for Taxi Driver.  Now 89, Wertmüller has continued to make movies, her last credit was for a documentary: Roma, Napoli, Venezia… in un crescendo rossiniano (2014).  Amongst her credits are Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto aka Swept Away, the film that was remade by Guy Ritchie and starring then wife Madonna. Pasqualino Settebellezze

1993 – Jane Campion for The Piano – A generation later New Zealand director Campion became the second nomine with her third movie, The Piano.  I must admit I find the movie a real slog, however it is worth watching for Michael Nyman’s amazing score.  The film won Oscars for Holly Hunter (Best Actress in a Leading Role) and Anna Paquin (Best Actress in a Supporting Role) as well as Campion for the original screenplay.  It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Cinematography (Stuart Dryburgh) Best Costume Design (Janet Patterson) and Best Film Editing (Veronika Jenet).  The other nominees were Robert Altman (Short Cuts), Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father), James Ivory, who has just won his first Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, Call Me by Your Name, (The Remains of the Day) and the winner Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List).  Campion continues to write, produce and direct for film and television.  For me her most interesting work includes the poorly received In the Cut (2003) and the TV show Top of the Lake (2013 and 2017). The Piano

2003 – Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation – Coppola was best known as the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and for her (not great) performance in The Godfather Part III.  Then in 1999 she made a sensational directorial debut with The Virgin Suicides.   Then came Lost in Translation, the film that made a star of Scarlett Johansson and reminded us how great Bill Murray is.  The film was also nominated for Best Picture (and for my money should have won) and Coppola won her only Oscar to date for the Original Screenplay.  The other nominees: Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Fernando Meirelles (Cidade de Deus aka City of God), Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) and the winner, Peter Jackson(The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).  Return of the King also won best picture despite being the weakest movie nominated in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, and the weakest of the Lord of the Rings movies.  Coppola has made another four features since her nomination but none have improved on her masterpiece. Lost in Translation

2009 – Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker – Finally we have a winner.  This was the last Oscars I actually watched.  I feared it would lose out to the  giant Smurph movie.  There was no need to worry, it walked away with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Film Editing, Making Kathryn Bigelow the only woman to have won a best director Oscar.  The film was also nominated for Best Actor (Jeremy Renner),  Best Original Score (Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders), Cinematography (Barry Ackroyd).  The other nominees for best director were: James Cameron (Avatar), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Lee Daniels (Precious), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds).  In the decade since The Hurt Locker was released Bigalow has only made two further films, Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit.  While I can’t complain about the quality of his work, I would like her to be a little more prolific, after all her back catalogue includes two of my favourite movies, Point Break and Strange Days. The Hurt Locker

2017 – Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird – Gerwig co-directed the low budget Nights and Weekends.  A decade later, her solo feature début made her the fifth woman to be nominated for a best director Oscar, she was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  The other nominees are Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Jordan Peele (Get Out), Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) and the winner Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water).  While I think the right person won this time, I am keen to see what Gerwig does next on both sides of the camera. lady bird

Who will be the next woman to win a directing Oscar?  I am keeping an eye on Ava DuVernay, Lynne Ramsay, Sally Potter, Clio Barnard, Amma Asante and Patty Jenkins. 

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