Archive for the ‘Movie Blog’ Category

Having declared last month that I was going to return to my movie of the month segment I have fallen somewhat behind.  We are two thirds of the way through March, and I am yet to report on February.  I only actually made four trips to the cinema throughout the month, but don’t feel I missed out on much.

Knock at the Cabin – When you mention M. Night Shyamalan the first thing people think about is plot twists, it is a lazy shorthand I am guilty of too.  My favourite of his films is the one where I didn’t see the twist coming, Unbreakable (2000).  On the other hand, I saw the twist a mile off in his beloved masterpiece The Sixth Sense (1999) and have never really liked the movie.  Would I have liked it more had I not worked out the twist?  Maybe! While there are many twists in his movies, that isn’t all they are about, Knock at the Cabin is no exception, and is one of the better films in a very up and down career. 

Based on The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay but with a significantly changed end that also changed the meaning.  A seven-year-old child, Wen and her parents Eric and Andrew are on holiday, staying in a cabin in the woods (nothing bad ever happens in a movie set in a cabin in the woods, does it?).  They are confronted by a quartet of home invaders led by Leonard, brilliantly portrayed by Dave Bautista.  Leonard is calm, polite and softly spoken to the point of menace!  He explains the great sacrifice they must make for the good of humanity.  What follows is a tense and well measured thriller that unfolds rather than containing any massive twists.  While the story is laced with religion and theology, it could easily be read as an allegory for climate change with the message that there is hope, but only with sacrifice.   All things considered, a film I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to. 

The Whale – Brendan Fraser has recently won the best actor Oscar for this movie where he portrays Charlie, a many who is terminally ill from the effects of his obesity. He wants to reconnect with his estranged daughter played by Sadie Sink who is also excellent playing a truly horrible person.  There is fantastic performances from supporting characters played by Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton. 

The single location set is effective in demonstrating the prison Charlie has created for himself, but it also betrays the movies theatrical origin.  The refences to Moby Dick throughout the film remind us of director Darren Aronofsky’s disinterest in subtlety, but again it works.  What Aronofsky is brilliant at is taking an ordinary character and pushing to the extremes of their actions.  The film seems to be telling people they can have faith without religion. While the film does get bogged down in its own theology (not sure I have ever used that word on this blog before, now I have used it twice in one article!) it is lifted greatly by the good pacing and great acting. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantomania – The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) hardly put a foot wrong with twenty-three films in eleven years split into three phases collectively known as “The Infinity Saga”.  Then came Phase Four, the start of a new series of films, “The Multiverse Saga”.  Phase Four is made up of seven distinctly average movies that failed to live up to what went before, Phase Five is the time to get back on track, and Quantomania needs to be the film to do it.  It is after all the film that was going to introduce the villain for the rest of the Saga (well sort of). 

The plot for what it’s worth involves Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and his Ant-family get sucked into the quantum realm, which turns out to be very different to what we had been led to believe from Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).  The film leans into its weirdness which is good, but the story is very dull and lightweight.  As with the two previous Ant-Man movies Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne / Wasp is given nothing to do.  On a positive note, Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror makes in interesting villain. 

Woman Talking – You would be forgiven for thinking Woman Talking was based on a play, its limited locations and long speeches certainly give that impression.  It is actually adapted from a 2018 novel (of the same name) by Miriam Toews.  The visuals would also make you think it was set a long time in the past, unlit it becomes clear it is set in the very recent past.  The most shocking revelation is that it is inspired by a true story. 

The film centres on a group of who have to decide what to do following the revelation that a group of men within their community have been drugging and raping the woman.  The main issue they face is that they live within an isolated Mennonite colony.  The woman have little to no education, cannot read or write, and have never evens seen a map of the area surrounding where they live.  Most significantly they have the huge spectre of religious dogma clouding an rational ability to make a decision. 

The second Oscar winning movie in this month’s roundup, writer/director Sarah Polley won this years award for adapted screenplay.  This is well deserved as the screenplay is fantastic, not just because it is a dialogue heavy story,  but also for the structure it gives the film, keeping it interesting, and not repetitive.  The strongest thing about the film is the acting from a fantastic, mainly female ensemble cast, the standouts are Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Rooney Mara. 

A clear and easy movie of the month winner: Woman Talking


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A few years ago I stumbled upon a twitter poll asking what the best vampire movie of all time was (stick with me, I will get to westerns in a minute).  I forget what the other three choices were but one of them was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), I flippantly (as I do), suggested that not only was it not the best Vampire movie, it isn’t even the best Dracula movie.  In response I was invited by Nico, one of the hosts of Movie Mount Rushmore to listen to the podcast where they came up with the four movies in the poll.  So I did!  This is what I found.  In their own words:

Join the Silver Screen Dudes, Anthony “AJ” Jordan & Nico Lurot, for the best TOP 10 movie show out there: the Movie Mount Rushmore. Each of us gets given a new movie topic each week, we count down our individual TOP 10 lists, then combine to make the Mount Rushmore; these are the MUST-SEE 4 movies of each week’s movie topic.

They often ask for suggestions as to what to cover.  I frequently suggested Westerns which they tell me they hare shortlisted but keep putting off as they freely admit it is something of a blind-spot for them.  In order to help them out I thought I would compile a list of recommendations.  This is by no means definitive but I think it gives a strong overview of the genre including some must see classics, and some movies that offer something a little different to the genre.  I have largely ignored modern or contemporary set westers: Hud (1963), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) No Country for Old Men (2007).  Or Movies from other genres that essentially westers: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Outland (1981), Serenity (2005). 

The Iron Horse (1924) – I haven’t seen many silent westerns, and a lot that I have seen are derivative and unremarkable.  Although it’s been a long time since I watched it, this one stands out.  The first epic western from John Ford (you will be seeing that name a lot on this list) who had dabbled in the genre previously.   His most significant work came later.  

Stagecoach (1939) – John Ford’s first talkie western, and the movie that made John Wayne.  The passengers on the stagecoach are a cross section of society.  Made a few years after the great depression, the villain is a banker, still relevant today! It is also the movie that set them template for years to come.

My Darling Clementine (1946) – Not the best telling of the gunfight at the OK corral, but a great western and one that set the blueprint for the genre over the next generation.  For once Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is a more interesting character than Doc Holiday.

Fort Apache (1948) The first and possibly best of John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) make up the rest of the trilogy.  Confusingly for a so-called trilogy, the thirst film is a sequel to the first, the second is only connected by theme and genre).  As well as being possibly the best of the three, it is also notable for its depiction of Native Americans, although there is an element of “cowboys and Indians” you would expect of the time it is a lot more authentic and sympathetic portrayal of  Native Americans than you would expect. 

High Noon (1952) – Told in pretty much real time to create tension.  The story is a thinly disguised criticism of McCarthyism/blacklisting, it’s also an early example of a “revisionist western” although not as blatant or violent as those of the 60’s and 70s.

Shane (1953) – Widely regarded as one of the best movies of the genre.  To be honest I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, so am suggesting it more on reputation than recommendation.

The Naked Spur (1953) – Most remembered for Its a Wonderful Life, and Hitchcock movies, James Stewart appeared in a lot more westerns than you would think, this is one of his best.  Nothing exceptional or unusual about it, just a really solid movie.  Winchester ’73 (1950) is also worth a look for the same reason.

Johnny Guitar (1954) – Nicholas Ray’s movie is like no other western, its more melodrama and gangster movie than western.  Sterling Hayden gets the title role, but it’s all about Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge.

The Searchers (1956) – Possibly the best western ever, John Ford at the top of his game.  The crux of the movie is the hero is not a good man, and he knows it, but he hasn’t come to terms with it.  It is also the starting point for Ford starting to address the genre’s treatment of Native Americans.  Try and get a Blu-ray version to make the most of the stunning VistaVission.

Gunfight at The O.K Corral (1957) – Second of four versions of this story to make the list.  As is often the case Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) is a bit stoic and dull making Doc Holiday (Kirk Douglas) the most interesting character.  Lookout for a young Dennis Hoper as one of the Claytons and DeForest Kelley from Star Trek as one of the Earp brothers.   

3:10 to Yuma (1957) – You have probably seen the remake, the original is better in many ways, not least its smaller scope and simpler story  both are worth watching.

The Left Handed Gun (1958) – Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, what’s not to love?  Random fact, it takes is name from the fact Billy was left handed, we know this from a photograph of him.  Except, somebody spotted a few years ago that the picture was printed back to front!  

Rio Bravo (1959) – John Wayne’s best none John Ford movie, and Tarantino’s favourite movie.  What more reason do you need to watch it?  Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, and Dean Martin!

The Magnificent Seven (1960) – Akira Kurosawa was influenced by American directors including John Ford and saw his samurai movies as Japanese westerns, so when John Sturges remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954)  things came full circle!  Not the last time a Kurosawa movie would be remade as a western.  And, not to mention, the incredible cast.

One-Eyed Jacks (1961) – The only feature directed by Marlon Brando, no other reason needed.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – As the director who made the biggest westerns with the most amazing vistas, Ford is known for romanticising the west, but this is him in full revisionist mode.  Shot in moody black-and-white (it often looks like a noir) on Paramount’s back lot and  soundstages as appose to on location the way Ford normally worked.  I won’t give away the plot, but there are no great surprises, you will see where it is going, it’s the subtext that really makes it stand out. Ford is telling us the west, and the romanticised myth of the west he helped create is a lie!  He only made one more western after that, Cheyenne Autumn (1964) a largely courtroom movie about the mistreatment of Native Americans. 

The Dollars Trilogy – A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – The “spaghetti western” reinvented and rejuvenated a fading genre.  All Leone’s Dollars trilogy are worth watching, this the final entry is the best.  Worth watching just for Ennio Morricone’s score.  If you watch closely the action is cut to the rhythms of the music, this is the earliest really successful example of this I have seen.  

Django (1966) – Sergio Corbucci’s seminal work is the next best and most influential spaghetti western after two or three of Leone’s.  The man at the bar who says “good name” to Django (Jamie Foxx) in Django Unchained is Franco Nero, the original Django.  If you need any more reason to watch the movie, his main adversary is the Klan, and he kills a lot of them!

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – If you have seen the Dollars trilogy you may think you know what a Sergio Leone western is all about.  This is a very different movie, a more conventional western, a slower paced and more sombre affair.  After a career of mainly heroic characters, Henry Fonda is very much against type as the films main villain.  As you would expect Ennio Morricone’s music is spectacular. It also has one of the best movie openings ever.

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Sam Peckinpah’s seminal Western attracted is seriously violent, the polar opposite modern comic book violence sometimes shown in vivid and visceral slow motion.  While John Ford’s movies are about the frontier spirit, the settlement of the west, and the birth of America, Peckinpah tells of the end or an era and a way of life heavily laden with doom and despair.  It was a movie made at the time of the Vietnam war as many people were coming to terms with a nations loss of direction and innocence.   

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – when you think about it this is a strange film, as much a buddy comedy as a western, but it still manages to be a great western along the way.  Made in the end of the 60’s it is also a melancholic allegory for the end, or failure of the free spirited idealism of a generation.

Little Big Man (1970) – Comedy drama and an early example of a “revisionist Western”  that uses the story of a white man raised by the Cheyenne nation to explore the impact of American pioneers on Native Americans.  It also works as an allegory against the Vietnam War which was going on at the time of production. 

Blazing Saddles (1974) – If you think of the great Mel Brooks movies (Young Frankenstein, High Anexiety,  Spaceballs) they all work on their own as a movie as well s being a clever parody, Brazing Saddles is possibly the best of them. 

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – When it comes to wester Clint Eastwood will always be known for The Dollars Trilogy (1964-66) and Unforgiven (1992) but The Outlaw Josey Wales is probably his most interesting western.  The fifth feature (and second western) he directed it appears to be a typical revenge thriller, but its really an exploration of a nation searching for identity and a statement about the futility of war.

The Long Riders (1980) – The 1980’s were a bit of a barren patch for Westerns, the genre was considered old fashioned and didn’t fit with the glossy plastic and neon of the decade.  But, there were a few films that broke through, amongst the best was Walter Hills tale of the James-Younger gang.  Not the best telling of the story (that’s later on the list) but a really good movie with an interesting gimmick.  The four groups of brothers in the  movie are played by real life brothers the Keache’s, Carradine’s, Quaid’s, and Guest’s. It bombed at the box-office, probably one of the reasons there were so few westerns for the next decade.

Young Guns (1988) – The Brat Pack goes west.  Good fun telling of the story of the Billy the Kid story that is just as historically inaccurate as all the others! 

Dances With Wolves (1990) – Not the best Kevin Costner Western (see later in list) and despite picking up the best picture Oscar it wasn’t the best picture of the year (that was Goodfella’s) but don’t let any of that put you off, its is still a great film, and very different to just about any other western of up to that time. 

Back to the Future Part III (1990) – The genre was dead by the end of the 70’s, so for a lot of kids, this would have been the first new western they had seen, it may even have been THE first western they had seen. 

Unforgiven (1992) – I’m not sure if there is any more to say about Unforgiven; a movie that could only be made by a legend of the genre, and at a certain stage of his career.  You have probably seen Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece and think you know it, but watch it again especially after watching some other classic westerns, the collective knowledge of what went before makes an outstanding film even better.

Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994) – Two very different stories about the legendary lawman.  Tombstone is the better film, but Kevin Costner is a better Earp than Kurt Russell.  If you are going to watch just one of them it must be Tombstone simply for Val Kilmer, the best ever portrayal of Doc Holiday, especially in the scenes opposite Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo. 

The Quick and the Dead (1995) – A wild west quickdraw competition with an amazing cast. It’s dumb, but so much fun! 

Open Range (2003) – The third and best Kevin Costner movie on the list.  Costner and Robert Duvall play a pair of “open Range” cattlemen driving a heard across Montana in 1882 until the come up against a rancher who believes in barbwire and ownership.  Set at a very particular time during the expansion west and the changes of the nation after the civil war.  It is also a really entertaining movie and has some of the best gunfights seen in the genre, shot with a real sense of realism a long way removed from the poetic gloss of the classical western. 

3:10 to Yuma (2007) – I have already mentioned the 1957 original bother based on Elmore Leonard’s 1953 short story “Three-Ten to Yuma”.  A reluctant hero, a charismatic but ruthless bad guy are tropes of cinema in general not just western.  The story of transporting a prisoner while under attack has been done countless times.  But when done well it makes for a supremely entertaining movie, and this film does everything really well.   

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – As promised, the best Jesse James movie.  Its slow and pondering, but lyrical and beautiful.  A stunning film that lingers in the back of your mind for days after watching it.  Look out for Nick Cave (whore wrote the score along with Warren Ellis) playing the balladeer in an excellent scene late on in the movie. 

Appaloosa (2008) – Quirky film, with a great cast including by Ed Harris who co-wrote and directed the movie. 

Meek’s Cutoff (2010) – I’m not a fan of Kelly Reichardt’s work and found this dull, but everyone else seems to love it, and Michelle Williams is really good as ever, so you may want to give it a go. 

True Grit (2010) – This isn’t the first adaptation of Charles Portis story of grizzled Deputy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn.  The 1969 Henry Hathaway version starring John Wayne is excellent, but The Coen Brothers version is better.  Jeff Bridges is fantastic as Cogburn but the real star is thirteen year old Hailee Steinfeld in her standout role. 

The Salvation (2014) – A Danish western! America was built on immigration, and the west was settled by people from all over Europe, it surprising there aren’t more movies like this.  As you would expect Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green are fantastic. 

Hostiles (2017) – Described as a “classic revisionist Western” while this terms are clearly intended as a contradiction they are a perfect description of the movie.  The message of the movie is a little heavy handed but is a universal truth that we need to be reminded of from time to time. Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike are both amazing, given the calibre of their filmographies, it is no small statement to say they are among their best performances. 

The Harder they Fall (2021) – I could end with Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog which is a good film and worth watching, but from the same year I am going for something altogether more fun, Jeymes Samuel feature directorial debut.  Taking all the flair of a 70’s Blaxploitation and blending it with a spaghetti wester style revenge story it is an absolute riot.

By no means a definitive list, but hopefully it will give AJ and Nico (or anyone else who stumbles across the list) a few ideas what to watch. 

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There is always a film that everyone is talking about, earlier this year it was Top Gun: Maverick, a few years ago it was Cats.  Maverick, because it was so good, surprisingly good,  Cats on the other hand was for the wrong reason, it was a car crash (so I’m told, I chose not to see it).  But now we have another film that everyone is talking about for the wrong reasons, Don’t Worry Darling, not because it it’s a poor movie, this started way before release.  It is all because of things that may or may not have been going on behind the scenes.  This is a great shame because the film is actually really good!  I’m not going to go into what has gone on, that’s all pretty well publicized, but I will just dip into the effect before getting back to the film.  The film is currently sitting on an IMDB rating of 6.2 but when you dig a little deeper and look at the spread of voting it looks like there is more going on.  Nearly half the voters gave it seven or more out of ten, so you would expect an average in the mid sevens.  However, a whopping 23.3% of voter gave it one out of ten.  Even movies that average around five out of then only get 10-15% one out of ten votes.  In the interest of balance 13.6% gave it ten out of ten, this is also artificially high.  Possibly the Harry Styles effect?  Whatever the reason, I suspect the ratings are even less reflective of the movie than usual.  But so many people choose to watch a movie based on ratings and reviews.

Back in 2009 I predicted Olivia Wilde to be the next breakout movie star.  She was coming off the back of a show stealing performance in The OC and was also outstanding in House, and starting to get film roles.  Although she has had a good career, she hasn’t been the star I predicted.  Little did I know that was a good thing, as it gave her the time to pursue her real interest, directing.  Her first feature Booksmart (2019) was fantastic, and she has a couple of future projects rumoured to be in pre-production including the obligatory comic book movie.  Don’t Worry Darling is a far mor ambitious project in scope, style and production.  Set in an idyllic late 50’s company town that is drenched in pastel colours as much as it is in sunlight.  The production design is nothing short of perfect combined with the cinematography the film has a real visual style and language.  This doesn’t happen by accident; this is clearly a director taking charge of every detail.

It is difficult to give a synopsis beyond the setup, most of which is in the trailer:  Every morning the men, many of whom are somewhat insecure and dweeby, leave their beautiful homes and even more beautiful wives, dressed in perfect suits, and get in their stylish 50’s cars and drive out of town and race across the desert to work at the “Victory Project”, a mysterious endeavour they are not allowed to talk about.  The wives stay at home cooking and cleaning or go shopping and to dance classes.  They know nothing of their husbands work beyond it involves “progressive materials”.  Our focus is on the youngest and most beautiful of the couples, Jack and Alice Chambers (Harry Styles and Florence Pugh).  Making the most of their perfect lifestyle we are introduced to them at a party with their friends and neighbours.  Everyone in the movie, including a pregnant woman seems to have an alcohol intake that James Bond or Don Draper would struggle to keep up with.  The hedonistic lifestyle is personified by Bunny (director Olivia Wilde), she seemingly spends most of the film with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other.  Wilde is fantastic and would steal the show if Pugh weren’t so mesmerising.  The Line “work hard, play hard” is even spoken at one point.  The guru at the centre of the Victory Project is Frank (Chris Pine) and his wife Shelly Gemma Chan, both on top for with a strange creepy charisma of a cult leader, or serial killer.

There is clearly more going on than what we can see on the surface, as the movie unfolds and reveals itself it manages to hold the viewers’ attention and interest, but it never totally lives up to the early promise.  The ending and payoff is good but not spectacular.  If there is a crissum, it is with the script.  The story is a little thin for the visual treat and propulsive direction.  There must come a point when the movie reveals itself, and while the reveal is handled well, it is no great surprise.  This prevents it from ever reaching the greatness of a few movies I was going to mention but won’t for fear of spoilers.  But this doesn’t make it a bad film.  It is dripping with style, and the performances, particularly Pugh and Wilde. Harry Styles isn’t bad, he isn’t the best actor in the world, but he clearly has a lot of charisma.  He spends most of his time alongside Florence Pugh who has repeatedly proven to be one of the best young actors around since her debut less than a decade ago in The Falling (2014), and her breakout role in Lady Macbeth (2016), this sometimes helps him, but at others shows him up. 

While it has its visual style firmly in the 50’s melodrama this isn’t a piece of fluff, but then most 50’s melodramas weren’t either!  There is a lot going on thematically, and its deeper than the trailer would have you believe.  These themes and the subtext are never far from the surface.  Rather than try to put them into words, I am going to borrow the words of Terri White: There are a handful of brilliantly compelling ideas at the heart of Don’t Worry Darling. Bodily autonomy, female desire, misogyny, radicalisation, coercive control, female complicity, late-stage capitalism, the dysfunction of the nuclear family. There is a certain section of society (I would include the 45th US President in that list) who will hate this movie, because its about them.  They will not knowingly go to watch a movie like this, I just hope a few of them stumble into see it by mistake.  Having said that they probably wouldn’t recognise themselves on screen anyway! 

A potentially exciting note to end on, I don’t think this is Olivia Wilde’s masterpiece, I believe she has a lot more to say.  To temper that optimism, if she were a man there would be no question she would get the chance, its never as certain for a female filmmaker.  But don’t worry, I somehow don’t think she is going to let anything stop her. 

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Happy New Year

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A little (two weeks) late, its time for my movie of the month. I only watched five movies at the cinema in October, but it was a great month.  Venom was a little better than I expected, the other four were all excellent:

The Last Duel – Ridley Scott is a little hit and miss as a director, he has made some of my all time favourite movies, he has also made some really bad ones, and lots of average ones.  As he doesn’t write his own scripts, he is very much limited by the material he has to work with.   Happily, he is well served by screenwriters Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Nicole Holofcener.  Its the first time Affleck and Damon have worked on a script since their Oscar winning debut.  Based on the true story of the last legal Trial by Combat in Medieval France.  Told in a Rashomon style with three chapters, each reflecting the perspectives of the three main characters.  The whole cast is excellent, but Jodie Comer really holds the story together. 

Dune – Denis Villeneuve ‘s adaptation of (half of) Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel is finally with us.  I first watched David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune when I was around ten years old.  I loved it and have watched it numerous times since.  A couple of years later I read the book, it was even better.  Villeneuve’s film looks amazing, the cast is fantastic and the storytelling is sublime.  It hits all the same beats of the Lynch movie but is a true adaptation to a movie as it relies on show don’t tell where the earlier version uses a lot of voiceover to speed the story along and vocalise the inner monologue of the characters.  The great news is that part 2 has been green-lit.

The French Dispatch – Wes Anderson is back with an anthology film that is just about the most Wes Anderson movie ever.   The ensemble cast is filled with all the Anderson regulars and a few faces to his repertory company.  Wonderfully quirky, I have heard mixed reviews, personally I loved it. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage – The first Venom movie had some fun moments thanks to Tom Hardy, ultimately it wasn’t very good, it did however take over $850million at the world boxoffice.  This time they have hired performance/motion capture expert Andy Serkis, but the CGI isn’t the noticeable difference; the story is smaller, simpler and more contained, this is a good thing.  While still flawed, it’s still fun, and better than the first film. 

Last Night in Soho – Edgar Wright’s much anticipated movie is very different to his previous work.  Flipping between drama and thriller it is essentially  a psychological horror that owes a debt to giallo.  Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are both sensational; it is also a fitting final performance for the great Diana Rigg.  If I am hyper critical, it loses its way a little in the final act, but it still works.

If I am objective, Dune is a better movie and will probably be higher on my end of year list, but for now, my movie of the month is the film that haunted me for days after watching it: Last Night in Soho.

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Bond movies have been with us for nearly 60 years, longer than I have been alive.  In that time we have had 25 movies, nearly half of them have featured an Aston Martin.  Every Bond other than Roger Moore (more on that later) drove an Aston at one time or another.  Sean Connery will always be associated with the DB5 from Goldfinger, but he only actually drove the car in that movie and the pre-credit scene in his next movie Thunderball.  I haven’t added up the screen time, but would suggest of all the Bond actors Daniel Craig has spent the most time behind the wheel of an Aston, including two in his latest movie No Time to Die. 

Bond’s relationship with the brand goes all the way back to Goldfinger, not the 1964 movie, but the novel on which it was based.  Fleming’s eight novel, first published in 1958 predates the introduction of SPECTRE (that came two books later in Thunderball), at this time Bonds main adversary was the Russian security service in particular SMERSH.  The chapter where the Aston Martin was introduced is even named after the car “Thoughts in a D.B.III”.  There wasn’t actually a car called the BD III, it was actually, a BD Mark III an evolution of the DB2.  The first mention of the car sees Bond driving the car (fast) towards Sandwich to play golf against Auric Goldfinger at Royal St Mark’s Golf Club (inspired by Royal St George’s Golf Club).  “James Bond flung the DBIII through the last mile of straight and did a racing change down into third and then into second

The next paragraph goes back  to explain how Bond, who up to this point had mainly driven his own Bentley, came to be in an Aston Martin.  “The car was from the pool.  Bond had been offered the Aston  Martin or a Jaguar 3.4.He had taken the DBIII.  Either of the cars would have suited his cover – a well-to-do, rather adventurous young man with a taste for the good fast things in life.  But the DBIII had the advantage of an up-to-date triptyque, an inconspicuous colour -battleship grey-and certain extras which might or might not come in handy.  These included switches to alter the type and colour of Bond’s front and rear lights if he was following or being followed at night, reinforced steel bumpers, fore and aft, in case he needed to ram, a long-barrelled Colt .45 in a trick compartment under the Driver’s seat, a radio pick-up tuned to receive an apparatus called the Homer, and plenty of concealed space that would fox most Customs men.” 

Not only did this represent the first time Bond Drove an Aston Martin, but it was also the first time he drove a Q Branch car with gadgets.  Other than a re-read of Casino Royale around the time the movie came out, I haven’t read any of the books since the 90’s,but don’t remember any other mentions of Aston Martin.  By the time the film came along, the latest Aston was the short lived but iconic DB5 (just over 1,000 were produced between 1963 and 65).  I probably don’t need to say any more about the most recognisable Bond car, other than to say it represented the first product placement deal in a Bond movie.  The DB5 (the same actual cars used for Goldfinger) returned for Thunderball in 1965, but were only used in the Pre Credit scene.  This was the last we saw of the DB5 until it made memorable return thirty years later.  But there are couple more cars to talk about before we get to that. 

By 1969 and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Connery had stepped down from the part, and was replaced by George Lazenby, an Australian model with no prior acting credits.  At this time there were two Aston Martins in production, the now dated DB6 that was really an evolution of the DB4 & 5.  And the new more modern looking DBS. This is the car Lazenby drove in the movie. It made sense, a newer more modern car for the new Bond. The car and actor both looked the part, but the Australian’s acting wasn’t that great and diminished what could have been one of the best films in the series. Connery did return to the part for Diamonds Are Forever (1971), his final (official) Bond movie, but didn’t get to drive as Aston this time.  A DBS does feature in the movie, but only as background vehicle.  It can be seen in Q Branch with a missiles being fitted into the engine bay.  Not sure where the engine would go!  Set mainly in America, the “hero” car was a bright red Ford Mustang Mach 1. 

After a false start with Lazenby, Connery’s replacement was found in the shape of Roger More.  Moore never drove an Aston Martin in a Bond film, his most famous car was probably the white Lotus Esprit that turned into a submarine in The Spy who loved me.  And just like that the Story of Bond and Aston Martin ended, Just like the other brand synonymous with Bond, Rolex that has been replaced my Omega as anyone who has seen Casino Royale know. For those that haven’t, seen the movie there is a sledgehammer subtle reference to Bonds new timepiece.

Although he didn’t drive an Aston as Bond, he did have a couple of memorable screen appearances with them. Shortly before he became Bond, Moore appeared in The Persuaders! a TV show that ran for one series of 24 episodes between 1971 and 1972. His character Lord Brett Sinclair drove an Aston Martin DBS.  The car that featured in the show was sold a auctioned a few years ago for a then record for a DBS of £533,500. Moore’s second screen Aston came in the 1981 movie The Cannonball Run, where he played a character called Seymoore, who claimed to be Roger Moore, and drove an Aston Martin DB5 with a lot of the gadgets from the Goldfinger Aston.

The Franchise really lost its way in the mid 80’s with Moores final two movies (Octopussy and A View to a Kill) ranking amongst some of the worst Bond movies.  Fortunately they came back with a bang!  After first choice Pierce Brosnan was unavailable due to TV commitments Timothy Dalton, who had previously turned down the part was convinced to step in.  He may have only made two movies, that while very good, are not amongst  the very best the franchise has to offer.  What he did however was take the character back to something closer to the one from the books.  And, as it turned out it wasn’t the end of the Aston Martin/Bond story. Dalton’s Bond was back where he belonged, behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, two actually despite Q’s attempt to make us believe them to be the same car.  We briefly see Bond driving a Aston Martin V8 Volante (their name for a convertible).  Before it is “winterised” by Q (we see a hardtop being lowered into place).  Its worth going on a slight tangent here.  The reason Bond is driving THAT car is down to one man, Victor Gauntlett.  The then owner/chairman of Aston Martin, Gauntlett negotiated the product placement to get Bond back into Aston.  The reason for that particular car was simple, it was Gauntlett’s car and daily drive at the time.  The Volante fitted with the more powerful Vantage engine, an option that had only just released for sale.  The coupe version seen later in the film was the standard V8 (made to look like a vantage).  Filled with even more gadgets than the DB5 back in the day. This is my favourite Bond car.  Partly I think because I saw one of the production cars up close at a car show when I was a kid, and partly just for the car itself.  It has made a surprising but welcome return to the franchise this year. 

Set in America, Bond doesn’t drive his own or a Q branch car in Licence to Kill. Dalton’s third Bond movie was held up by a legal dispute, and ultimately never happened.  This gave the filmmakers a chance to get their man, Pierce Brosnan.  His first, and by far his best movie GoldenEye came out in 1995, the same year as the BMW Z3.  You guessed it, by this time Bond was fully on-board with product placement (the movie is full of them) and  drove the Z3.  Fortunately there is a scene early on in the movie somewhere along the way somebody conceived a fantastic race scene between Bond in an Aston Martin DB5 and the Ferrari F355 driven by Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) who turns out to be the movies main henchwoman.  It is never made clear if this is Bonds own car or a Q car, but it does have a few gadgets. The DB5 makes a brief appearance in Tomorrow Never Dies, more than can be said for The World Is Not Enough where it a scene was shot with the car but left on the cutting room floor. 

Brosnan’s last movie Die Another Day (2002) is possibly the worst Bond eve.  However, it was the start of a product placement deal with Ford (who owned Aston Martin at the time) allowing Bond to drive the Aston Martin Vanquish.  They really jumped the shark with the invisible car,  but the ice chase was the one good part of the movie, not least because they gave the villain an equally tricked out car, a Jaguar XKR. Its worth looking out the making of documentary to see the lengths they went to to prepare the Vanquish for the ice chase. Jaguar and Land Rover that also belonged to Ford at the time were also used, and have continued to be used in Bond movies ever since.

In a post Jason Bourn world 2006’s Casino Royale gave us a new and very different Bond played by Daniel Craig.  For many watching the new Bond drive a Ford Mondeo was something of a joke.  It was actually yet more product placement as it was the Pre-Production version of the yet to be released new car.  Craig commented at the time, as a prototype it was more valuable than all the Astons and they were paranoid about letting him drive it. Things quickly got better when he won a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 in a poker game.  The second half of the movie is based on the book of the same name, where in the book he drove his own Bentley here, he is given his “company car” an 07 Aston Martin DBS.  An excellent film, but as with so many Bond cars, things don’t end well for the DBS. Quantum of Solace is the first direct sequel in the franchise, despite the unfortunate ending for his last car Bond is given another DBS. While not a traditionally Bond colour, it looks stunning in black. The film opens with a spectacular car chase; the car does survive, sort of!  

Skyfall (2012) gave us a plot reason to drive an old car.  The one he chose really messes with the continuity  of the series, but if you are worried about continuity, don’t bother with this franchise! Bond doesn’t pick the left hand drive DB5 he won in Casino Royale, but BMT 216A, the same car as in Goldfinger and Goldeneye, including all the gadgets.  Car fans, don’t worry, the one that got destroyed was a 3/4 scale replica. 

Spectre (2015) ends with a DB5 (supposedly the car from Skyfall restored by Q) but earlier in the movie Bond takes the car intended for a different 00 agent, a DB10.  A fictional car made for the movie.  A stunning car, but a strange choice for the movie, one of the movies villains drove a concept car that also never made it into production, the equally stunning Jaguar C-X75.

This brings us up to date with No Time to Die that was finally released in 2021.  The now retired Bond is first seen driving the DB5 he was driving at the end of the last film. Spoilers, the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) drives a DBS Superleggera.  The Valhalla hypercar was promised but only appears as a background vehicle.   If you have seen the trailer, you will know the fate of the DB5, he then visits his London lockup (same one as in Skyfall?) and drives away in my all time favourite Aston Martin, a V8 Vantage that shares its number plate with the similar car from The Living Daylights.  The car ends the movie in way that is a fantastic nod to a similar car in an earlier movie, that’s about as much as I can say without getting into spoiler territory. 

I am sure to have missed something, feel free to comment below.  I will leave you with this thought, a franchise that always has one in on the past and is always willing to nod to a previous movie, it is safe to say we haven’t seen the last of these cars.  Daniel Craig’s Bond has twice visited a London lockup and pulled back a tarpaulin to reveal an immaculately restored car from the characters past.  Maybe the next Bond, or the one after that will do the same, but this time they will drive away with Pierce Brosnan’s Vanquish or Craig’s DBS, because one thing is certain, James Bond WILL return…

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Nine movies makes August my busiest movie going month since the start of the pandemic last year.  I have seen some very good films and enjoyed them all, but one really stands out as my movie of the month.  Here are the contenders. 

Jungle Cruise – Given how poor the Pirates movies were you would be forgiven for being concerned about a Disney movie based on a theme park ride, but as bad as the sequels were, the first movie in that franchise was actually really good.  Jungle cruise doesn’t live up to the first Pirates movie, but is better than the sequels.  The plot for what it’s worth involves Emily Blunt hiring a boat captain Dwayne Johnson to take her upriver in search of a MacGuffin pursed by a German prince in a U Boat.  Silly, and predictable but Johnson and Blunt are likeable leads.  The inevitable sequel has already been green-lit.

Stillwater – A real change of pace for Matt Damon sees him travel to France to visit his estranged daughter, who is in prison for a crime she claims she didn’t commit.  The set-up sounds like a Taken style thriller, far from that, it actually has more than a passing resemblance to the Amanda Knox case.  Damon is excellent in what is probably his most low-key role.

Free Guy – Ryan Reynolds is at his most Ryan Reynolds as a none player character in a video game who become sentient.  The story is very slight, but good fun.  Reynolds is on great form as are Jodie Comer and Taika Waititi.

Reminiscence – Feature debut for director Lisa Joy best known as writer/producer of Westworld.  Blending an old-school noir with a sci-fi thriller.  The central conceit of replaying memories is reminiscent of the superior Strange Days, when you get past that it’s an enjoyable if predicable movie largely thanks to a likeable cast of Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, and Thandiwe Newton.

Pig – Nicolas Cage plays a reclusive truffle hunter.  When he goes looking for his stolen pig, you would expect a John Wick style revenge thriller.  What we get is a much more low-key and thoughtful movie, and Cage’s best performance in years. 

Censor – Set in the height of the video-nasty scare of the 1980’s Niamh Algar plays a censor who losses her grip on reality as her twin obsession for her work and her sister, missing since childhood, overlap.  Algar is excellent, but the real star is writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond who has a clear love and affinity for the genre.

The Courier – Benedict Cumberbatch plays Greville Wynne in the true story of a salesman who is recruited by the security services as a courier for a Russian source during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The real life case on which its based was reportedly John le Carré’s inspiration for The Russia House.  Very by the numbers and lacking any originality, but well made with some real tension and strong performances. 

The Night House – Rebecca Hall is outstanding playing a woman coming to terms with her husband’s suicide.  Living in the isolated lake house they built, she begins to question what is real as tries to understand what happened she.  Including but not depending on jump scares it is far more intelligently constructed than you would expect for the story. 

Our Ladies – Five friends travel from their small town in the Scottish Highlands to Edinburgh as part of a choir from their catholic girls school.  They are given an afternoon of freedom in the big city with the caveat of some very strict rules set by Sister Condron (an excellent Kate Dickie), this all goes out the window as all they have on their minds is sex and booze!  Comparisons with Derry Girls are inevitable, it isn’t as funny or as irreverent, but very heartfelt and no less enjoyable. 

I have enjoyed all nine movies this month, but there is one clear standout, my movie of the month is:

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13 Reasons Why was a television series developed by Netflix and released on their platform in 2017.  It is based on the 2007 novel of the same name (stylized as TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY) written by Jay Asher.  The show was well written and directed, and featured excellent performances from the young cast.   The thing that set it apart from other similar shows was the brilliant concept: [spoiler alert] high school student Hannah Baker takes her own life leaving behind a set of cassette tapes detailing thirteen reasons why she killed herself. [end of spoiler] Each episode focuses on different cassette, each tape one of the thirteen reasons (or more specifically thirteen people) of the title.  The show was very good, and extremely popular, for the first season at least!  This was its undoing! What should have been “one and done” was strung out for a further three convoluted seasons, the last of which was truly bad.  Am I just bitter, that The OA, a stunning TV show with a planned five season arc got cancelled after season two? Probably!

Cruel Summer is a original idea created by Bert V. Royal.  Each of ten episodes focuses on the same day over the course of three consecutive years: 1993, 1994 and 1995 from the point of view of two girls: Kate Wallis a popular girl who goes missing, and Jeanette Turner an awkward girl desperate to be popular. The point of view alternates between the two girls each episode.  Skipping backwards and forwards between the three times is what makes it really work. drip-feeding the viewer.  Riddled with clichés and contrivances and a few plot holes, it isn’t up to the same standard as 13 Reasons, but is still an enjoyable show.  Making the most of the 90’s setting, the music choices are a little obvious but good.  The show is currently streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK having premiered on Freeform in the US in April.  The show had already been renewed for a second season before making its way to the UK. 

There many reasons a second season could be a problem, not least that the story started running out of steam towards the end, with final twist that was telegraphed from early on.  Is there really that much more story to tell? The structure of the show is fundamental to its appeal, but to repeat it for a second season wouldn’t be as effective.  The same was true of Quantico that ran for three seasons from 2015.  The first season had a similar high concept, the second repeated it to reasonable effect if you could get past the contrivance.  The thirst and final season became a villain of the week procedural shortly before its demise.  Had 13 Reasons Why stopped after one season, leaving audiences wanting more it would be forever remembered as a great show, now it is likely to be remembered for its terrible final season.  Cruel Summer doesn’t have as far to fall as 13 Reasons, but it would be better to leave audiences wanting more, rather than the inevitable disappointment of a weaker second season.  This does beg the question, will I watch season two?  Of course I will!

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