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Twin PeaksThirty years ago today saw the premier of the greatest TV show ever, Twin Peaks.  By the time it reached the UK in October of the same year it was already a phenomenon; 34.6 million people watched the pilot on US TV, people were already quoting “damn fine coffee”, and Cherry Pie.  I watched it because of David Lynch.  I had seen Dune (1985) shortly after release, and loved it (despite popular opinion), and had recently seen Blue Velvet (a little young at 14).  Both directed by Lynch, and like Twin Peaks, both starring Kyle MacLachlan.  Like everybody else, I didn’t know what to expect from the show. The Radio Times described it as an “offbeat murder-mystery drama”.  I seem to remember people having a problem with the long-form  story arc.  One review, possibly also in the Radio Times called it a Soap Noir suggesting it had more in common with soap operas than quality TV, which at the time was episodic.  Little did they know that it was a glimpse of the future.  But it is more than that, this is TV at its most cinematic.  After all, it was television directed by a visionary filmmaker, something that would be almost the norm two, and three decades on.  Lynch may be known for his quirky characters and absurd scenarios, but he is also an elegant filmmaker.  Take a scene early on; Laura Palmer’s parents (Ray Wise & Grace Zabriskie) are talking on the phone, she is missing but they don’t know she is dead, we as an audience do.  As they are talking we see a police car pull up in the background.  As with so much of the show it is subtly brilliant.  That’s not to say Lynch and co creator Mark Frost are afraid to lean into the melodrama of soap!  The “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” advertising campaign was directly influenced by the “Who shot J.R.?” campaign from the show Dallas a decade earlier.  Like a soap, there are over thirty main characters.  There are also the strange encounters and conversations , many which are left hanging and are not connected to the plot, but all add to the colour. laura-palmer

Ultimately the long form nature of the show was its downfall for me, for a while at least.  Early in the second series, I went on Holiday and missed an episodes when the recording failed.  An episode or two later I stopped watching intending to pick it up again when re-run.  Ultimately, this opportunity came a couple of years later when I borrowed the VHS from a friend and watched both season  all the way through.  I have watched it all the way through at least three times since then. dale cooper audrey horne

The title sequence shows both the simple splendour, as well and the mundane of small two life.  There is something strangely beautiful about watching a giant saw-blade being sharpened, or is that Angelo Badalamenti’s theme music doing the heavy lifting?  The theme that is echoed throughout the rest of score perfectly captures the grief and melancholy that hovers over the show.  It doesn’t take a music expert to recognise that Laura’s theme (that is repeated throughout the show), and the theme music are of the same piece.  Other parts of the score reflect the absurdity and obscurity of the show.  The music is bizarrely brilliant, and totally timeless; it sounds like nothing else, but is also reassuringly familiar.    The evil lurking under the surface of a seemingly perfect and idyllic community is not new ground for Lynch having explored it in Blue Velvet (1986).  But lets not forget this is a murder mystery, and that is where Mark Frost’s expertise rests, his credits include around fifty episodes of Hill Street Blues as scriptwriter and/or story editor.  If you strip away all the strange characters and events, it is still a great murder mystery, just not one with the conclusion you would normally expect. Part of the brilliance comes with the setting Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) talks about how murder isn’t a faceless event, not a statistic, and how Laura Palmer’s death affected everybody in town.  Pure evil is more noticeable and more meaningful than if it had been set in a large city. Twin Peaks Black Lodge

Like all the best shows, it hasn’t dated (except possibly the 4:3 aspect ratio), even after thirty years.  Initially cancelled after two seasons, but as a final act, Lynch made the boldest of moves.  Taking a storyline that goes back to early in the first season as a jumping off point, he revisited the show (just over) twenty-five years later.   Twin Peaks The Return, as it is sometimes known dove deeper into the supernatural that always been there, often just below the surface.  The result was a very different experience, that makes you look differently at the original show.  Like a film with a very different sequel, you can take Twin Peaks as the original thirty episodes of seasons one and two, or you can take all forty-eight from all three seasons; either way, it was as groundbreaking as it was brilliant! twin peaks the return

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A few weeks ago when it was becoming clear that cinemas would be closing I tweeted to jokingly suggest I was compiling my top ten movies of the year.  Now the cinemas are all closed, and all the big releases have been put back, it isn’t clear how many more movies I will be seeing on the big screen this year, so I thought I would post my top ten of the year.  The top five would probably have made my top ten had they come out in any of the past ten years.

  1. Parasite Parasite
  2. Portrait of a Lady on FirePortrait of a Lady on Fire
  3. 1917 1917
  4. Long Day’s Journey into Night Long Day's Journey into Night
  5. Color out SpaceColor out Space
  6. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)Birds of Prey
  7. The Invisible ManThe Invisible Man
  8. The LighthouseThe Lighthouse
  9. The True History of the Kelly GangThe True History of the Kelly Gang
  10. Little JoeLittle Joe

Bonus/Redux Pick: JoJo Rabbit*JoJo Rabbit

* I just remembered, I saw a preview of JoJo Rabbit in December last year.  Following the advice of Chris Hewitt of Empire Magazine/Podcast, I only included films released that year for my 2019 best of list.

The other films I have seen so far this year (excluding re-issues of older films) are as follows (in the order seen).  Let’s hope I have seen a lot more than 21 by the end of the year!

  • The Gentlemen
  • Just Mercy  
  • Seberg 
  • Bad Boys For Life 
  • Bombshell
  • Queen & Slim 
  • The Rhythm Section
  • Dark Waters
  • Underwater
  • Greed
  • The Hunt

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This will be my last Movie of the Month for the foreseeable future.  I have been blogging for over eleven years, although I post far less than when I started, the one constant is Movie of the Month, I have posted every month without fail and usually on the first of the month.  However, world events have overtaken me, and I, like the rest of the nation will not be visiting the cinema due to the lockdown associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  The movies I saw this month are:

Portrait of a Lady on Fire – I went into this movie not knowing anything about it, other than how good it was.  To give anybody reading this the same opportunity, I am not going to give a synopsis.  The film is beautiful to look at, and tells a beautiful that unfolds to devastating effect. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

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. The Invisible Man

The True History of the Kelly Gang – A grubby and grimy Western that subverts the myth of the legend of Ned Kelly.  A Dark and unsettling  movie that  filled with outstanding performances. The True History of the Kelly Gang

The Hunt – Far blander than the its controversial reputation would suggest.  A 21st century take on an often told story.  A final act revelation even softens the any chance of controversy.  In no way revolutionary or outstanding, but well made, fun with couple of really good actions scenes.    The Hunt

I have averaged 111 films per year at the cinema for the last ten years.  Its unlikely I will see that many this year, regardless of how many films I see this year, I am confident that this month’s movie of the month will make my year end top ten: Portrait of a Lady on FirePortrait of a Lady on Fire poster

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I have been writing this blog for over eleven years; during this time I have intentionally avoided anything political or even particularly serious, in short, I write about movies, and occasionally TV.  However, on occasion, to be blunt, shit gets real!

One of my local independent cinema’s is The Electric Cinema.  Established over 110 years ago, it holds the honour of being the oldest working cinema in the UK.  On Monday, they tweeted about how they remained open through two world wars, and the Spanish Flue pandemic (the one that infected about a quarter of the population a century ago). Today, The Electric took the drastic step of closing amid the unprecedented issues associated with the coronavirus pandemic.  This followed most of the UK’s cinema chains deciding to close until further notice.

Cinema’s are far from the only places to close.  The UK government are promising help for businesses.  While it is essential to maintain the national economy, and the businesses that keep the proverbial wheels turning, we have to also think of the things that make life fun and enjoyable.  We have to protect, and maintain the theatres, restaurants, pubs, clubs, and sports clubs that we all attend, the things that make life worth living.  Winston Churchill possibly said it best:

The story as I understand it dates back to the Second World War; as the cost of war was escalating and the government struggled to balance the nations books a minister suggested cutting funding for the arts to prop-up the war effort. Winston Churchill response was to ask the simple question:  “Then what are we fighting for?”

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The HuntThe marketing for the movie The Hunt tells us: “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen”.  The studio, Universal Pictures pulled its release last summer.  It had already drastically scaled back the marketing following a mass shooting in America.  The Donald Trump (who I understand had, not, and has still not, seen the film) got involved accusing the producers of inciting violence.  Having now seen the film, it is neither inciting or provocative, it is actually a run of the mill action thriller within a sub-genre that crops up from time to time.  The modern twist is the hunters are “Woke” liberal elites who are truly horrible, and the prey are call “deplorables”, basically people who have expressed less than woke views.  the film is fun and has some interesting ideas, but isn’t cutting enough to be a true satire on modern society. The Hunt

The first film of the genre was probably The Most Dangerous Game (1932) based on Richard Connell’s short story of the same name.  Anyone who has seen Zodiac (2007) will remember the reference to this movie, if the events of that movie are to be believed it even provide inspiration for the real life Zodiac killer. It has also inspired filmmakers for nearly 90 years with numerous, copies imitators and remakes. The idea was even used for an episode of The Avengers (The Superlative Seven) and is spoofed in The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XVI).The Most Dangerous Game

Made in 1932 parts of the movie look dated, the most notable of these are the use of close-ups of exaggerated facial expressions, a clear hangover from the silent era. The movie starts onboard a ship, all exterior shots are clearly a model and not up to the standard of King Kong (1933) that it actually shares a lot with (including one of its directors, sets and cast). Other than this the movie stands up really well and is wonderfully atmospheric. Due to the relatively low production cost it actually made more money than the better known King Kong. Coming in at only a fraction over an hour the movie is incredibly short, but its stripped down simplicity is to its credit.

A Game of Death (1945) directed by Robert Wise is a direct remake of The Most Dangerous Game, shot towards the end of WWII, the madman is a Nazi, not Russian.A Game of Death

The Tenth Victim (1965) is an Italian Sci-Fi entry to the genre featuring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress.  “The Big Hunt,” is a televised competition with contestants who must survive five rounds as a hunter, and five as the prey. For years a hard to find obscurity, it is now available on Amazon Prime in the UK (complete with a terrible dub).  The Tenth Victim

One of the most interesting and controversial examples is the excellent Punishment Park (1971) shot as a bleak mockumentary. Punishment Park

Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle based on a Stephen King story (as Richard Bachman), The Running Man (1987) looks far more satirical and incisive in today’s world of reality TV than it did back in the day. The Running Man

One of my favourites of the genre: Hard Target (1993) is possibly the only Hollywood film by John Woo to live up to the bonkers fun of his Hong Kong movies.  Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a man down on his luck hired to find a missing man, he soon finds himself in the same “Most Dangerous Game” headed up by Lance Henriksen.Hard Target

This was closely followed by Surviving the Game (1994) with Ice-T as a A homeless man hunted by Rutger Hauer and Gary Busey. Surviving the Game

Battle Royale (2000), and its sequel (2003), Series 7: The Contenders (2001), The Hunger Games (2012-15), The Belko Experiment (2016) all take a slightly different angle, as the prey are also the hunters, forced to kill each other. 

While Predators (2010), features and extraterrestrial hunter, it fulfills most of the tropes of the genre, even more so than other films in the series.  Predators

Revenge (2017), is also worth a look.  The setup is very different, put it soon finds itself in familiar  territory with a few interesting twists along the way. Revenge

Finally, if you fancy a different medium, take a look at the Jack Reacher novel Past Tense (2018) by Lee Child.Jack Reacher Past Tense

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Last year, shortly before the Oscars I wrote about how I thought Green Book was in with a real shout of winning the best picture Oscar Because of the way the best picture is voted for, it can be seen that the most popular film, doesn’t necessarily win, it is more that the least unpopular movie wins.  A quick recap on how voting works:  In other categories the voter picks their favourite and the person/people/movie with the most votes wins. In the Best Picture poll however, each voter ranks the films from favourite to least favourite.  All the votes are counted and if a film achieves over 50% of the vote it wins.  If however there is no clear winner, the film to achieve the lowest number of votes (or number one picks) is eliminated.  The vote is recounted; the second place pick of anyone who voted for the eliminated film is now elevated to the first choice.  This process is continually repeated until one film achieves over half the ballot and is declared winner.

Thus the least unpopular movie triumphs.  Green Book probably wasn’t the film to get the most number one picks, but it probably got a lot of 2nd, 3rd or even fourth place picks.  The complication this year is that it’s a really strong field, with no obvious Green Book.  The closest is probably either Ford v Ferrari, or Little Women.  Another curveball, Netflix.   It is often suggested that lots of voters don’t go to the movies so haven’t seen all they have voted for.  Sure, they get screeners of nominated films, but is there a higher chance that the will already have seen a movie on a screening platform like Marriage Story and The Irishman.  They we have the Hollywood effect, Hollywood has no vanity and doest vote for movies about itself does it?  Films about films and the industry tend to do well, and Once upon a Time in Hollywood is a real love letter to the town and the industry.  Joker and Jojo Rabbit may be just a little to divisive and Parasite has the massive battle of subtitles to overcome.

So who will win? who knows, and who really cares? The true merit of a film is how much the viewer enjoys it, not how many awards it wins, or how much money it makes!  With this in mind, here is my ranking the best picture nominations from favourite to least favourite:

  1. Once upon a Time in HollywoodOnce_Upon_a_Time_in_Hollywood_poster
  2. ParasiteParasite
  3. 19171917
  4. Jojo RabbitJojo Rabbit
  5. The IrishmanThe Irishman
  6. Marriage StoryMarriage Story
  7. Ford v FerrariFord v Ferrari
  8. Little WomenLittle Women
  9. Jokerjoker

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The new year has started strongly with some excellent movies:

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 really good fun.  Worth watching for standout performances from Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant.The Gentlemen

Just Mercy  – The true story of Bryan Stevenson (a guest of Desert Island Discs a few years ago – still available on BBC website) a Harvard law graduate who sets up the Equal Justice Initiative, to help people who can’t afford suitable legal representation.  The story is powerful and moving concentrating on a wrongly convicted death row inmate.  Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx are both excellent, Brie Larson isn’t given much to do. Just Mercy

Seberg – Focussing on a small period of Jean Seberg’s life when she is targeted by the FBI’s surveillance program COINTELPRO following her brief relationship with Hakim Abdullah Jamal (a cousin of Malcolm X and proponent of the Black Power movement).  The period detail looks amazing Kristen Stewart is superb but the film is a little lacking in direction and drive.Seberg

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. 1917

Long Day’s Journey into Night – 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 unbroken long take 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.Long Day's Journey into Night

Bad Boys For Life – 25 years after the first film Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back for the long mooted third installment.  The film essentially has one joke; the family man wants to retire, and his partner has nothing to live for other than his job.  Sound familiar, Lethal Weapon did it better 30 years ago.  Having said that it is fun and the action is well choreographed.  Bad Boys For Life

Bombshell – The true story of the downfall of Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News for sexual harassment.  Centring on three women; Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie, the performances are ultimately stronger than the movie itself.  The production has been praised for the make-up by Kazu Hiro (who won an Oscar for Darkest Hour, and is nominated for this), I found it distracting.  On investigation Theron, and Kidman look incredibly like the characters they are portraying, but prior to watching the movie, I and many audiences outside America didn’t know who these people are.  The performances would have been enough on their own without the prosthetics.  I felt more engaged with Margot Robbie playing a composite of multiple people, and Kate McKinnon playing a fictional character. Bombshell

Parasite – I will not give the obligatory synopsis, or even genre for director Bong Joon Ho’s movie.  I went in knowing nothing.  I had seen snippets of the trailer, and nothing more.  I think the film is best enjoyed this way.  While there are no 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. Parasite

Queen & Slim – A line from the movie (and trailer) “Well, if it isn’t the black Bonnie and Clyde”, seems to have attached itself to the marketing of the film.  The setup and subsequent road-trip actually has more in common with Thelma & Louise, than the criminal exploits of Bonnie and Clyde.  The story snowballs from an incident that has been explored in many other movies, this is possibly the subtlest and most powerful I have seen.  The brilliance of the film is that it gives a hint of the power of legend, media and public perception, but it never tells that story instead sticking with the main protagonists Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith.  A first feature for director Melina Matsoukas, I will be interested in seeing what she does next. Queen & Slim

1917, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Queen & Slim, would all have been worthy winners, but they all fall short of the amazing movie of the month winner: Parasite.Parasite Poster

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