Archive for the ‘Movie Blog’ Category

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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I recently re-watched a movie by a director who to use the modern idiom, has been “cancelled!” The thing that struck me was just how good the film is.  There is an argument for separating the art from the artist, especially given the fact that some of my favourite films from the golden age of Hollywood were made by “problematic” directors, producers and stars.  Some of my favourite more recent movies were produced by THE most problematic producer, including one that would probably never have been made without his intervention.  But is there a step further, is there an argument for some sort of redemption for some people involved?  It isn’t just directors and producers, there have also been actuations made against some actors.  Some of whom have denied any wrongdoing (in some cases despite evidence of guilt), others have owned their actions, apologised and tried to be better.   

You may have noticed I am not mentioning any names.  This is partly so I don’t accidently say something libellous, but mainly because this isn’t about any individual but about the concept.  Let’s be clear I am not talking about the individuals who committed crimes.  Most notably those convicted of crimes.  But there have been abuses of power and position where people have been made to suffer inexcusably that do not fall into a prosecutable crime.   Long before the Time’s Up and Me Two movements there was a very high profile case of an actor/director whose career appeared to be over following personal issues and unsavoury things he  had said.  These were not just allegations, some of his actions were recorded.  While he hasn’t returned to the heights of his earlier career, he has certainly come back from the brink.  So where does that leave other actors, directors and producers? Clearly some are in where they belong, in prison, others have continued to work, many have disappeared from the spotlight. 

As a middle-aged white man who does not work in the film or television industry, the first thought, certainly mine is do I have the right to talk about these issues?  But on reflection, yes absolutely! This is not an issue where the victims stand alone, and only they and the accused have a voice.  The world as a whole needs to stand up and talk about injustice and inequality when we see it.  Only by talking about issues can we keep them on the agenda.  Back in 2018 in the fledgling days of the Times’ Up Movement, there was a call for women attending the 75th Golden Globe Awards to wear black.  At first it was suggested it was a gimmick and would have no impact.  Most woman attending did indeed wear black, some brought activists to the awards ceremony as their plus one, many attendees male and female wore Time’s Up badges (pins if you are American).  All in all it was probably the only time the Globes have ever been relevant!  The spotlight helped the movement raise around $15 million for the Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund.

This in many ways is the hardest article I have ever written, simply because I have no answers.  As I have no answers, I will end with a question:  Is it better that people are pigeonholed by their misdeeds and shut away  out of sight, out of mind; or would it be better for them to try to find some kind of redemption by admitting their mistakes, apologising for them, attempting to be better people?

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Easy Rider (1969) didn’t chronicle the end of the decade/era, and the death of hope and optimism that the 1960’s promised, but it certainly symbolised it. It could be argued that the loss of hope wasn’t followed by despair, but by a new more measured hope with less lofty ambitions, a more weary even cynical hope, but hope none the less. And this is what we saw on the big screen, the cinema of new Hollywood. In truth, a child of the 70s, I saw it on late night TV, and VHS in the 80s and 90s. The Watergate scandal of 1972 may have ground zero for the political and conspiracy thrillers of the time, films like The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), but the spirit, or lack thereof found a place on screen before that, it found it on the road!  There has always been a link between cars and movies, the two were invented around the same time, and both found popularity in the United States, a country built out of exploration, and a country built on a dream; and as Mark Cousins reminded us The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a (2011) “movies look live our dreams”.

While there had been movies about cars and drivers before, the road movie as we know it was born in the 70s, buit on a foundation from the Golden Age of Cinema. We are not talking the capers of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), or the various Gumball/Cannonball movies (various movies from mid 70’s to mid 80s), I am referring to the existential road movies like Two Lane Blacktop (1971), and Vanishing point (1971). Existential movies, where to drive is to live, to stop is to die. Kowalski (Barry Newman), the hero of vanishing point is just driving, we never understand why. He drives for the sake of driving the way we live for the sake of living.  If you don’t know the film, the plot of the film revolves around a man delivering a car 1,200 miles from Denver Colorado, To San Francisco.  He has a week to get there but for reasons never explained is compelled to do it in a couple of days.  There is little plot, and almost no explanation, but flashbacks give us an idea of what is going on.  The Driver (James Taylor) and Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) in Two Lane Blacktop may not have names but they have more of  purpose, or do they.  They cruise around looking for action in the shape of drag races like the subjects of a Bruce Springsteen song, but when we look a little deeper, they have no purpose, they are racing for money to fund their lifestyle, so they can continue racing.  They are not the unwilling or repentant criminal looking for one last job so they can go clean, they are living day to day, a modern take on the hunter gathers of our past.  But does that make them any different to anybody working a day job, as Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt from Fight Club ((1999) said nearly 30 years later “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”.  Are they closer to the breadline than the average wage earner, or do they have a fallback? Both films have an other-worldly character enhanced by uncertainty and ambiguity,  this was lost in the 90s, made for TV remake of Vanishing Point, everything they gave Kowalski by way of motivation, stripped away a layer of meaning from the subtext of the movie. 

Although most associated with America, the genre isn’t exclusive to the nation. By the end of the 70’s the angst and desire had been forgotten, swallowed up by “blockbusters”.  Australian filmmaker George Miller fussed the road ideas of the road, if not the road movie itself with a dystopian future.  For a more recent generation, their knowledge of the Mad Max franchise may not stretch beyond the fourth, and most recent instalment: Fury Road (2015), but it started long before that in 1979. Inspired by the fuel crisis and economic crash of a few years earlier the first film depicted the beginning of society crumbling. Max, the movies “hero” first hits the road for revenge, but by the end of the first movie, he disappears down the road.  Not with the glory of a cowboy riding into the sunset, but a long and dark road, as a man with nothing, and nothing to live for.  Max’s only option for survival it to live, to exist, and he can find this simplicity, only after he has lost himself on the road.  A generation later, the characters of Fury Road think they can find hope, redemption, or even eternity on the road, for most none of this is true. 

Both as surreal and mainly masculine genre, director Chloe Zhao gave her a new take, and grounded and more real take.  Nomadland is loosely based on Jessica Bruder none fiction book of the same name we see real life people living a nomadic existence.  This, like many other road movies was exist in the traditional heartland of the western genre, but this isn’t a pioneering story of A to B, of someone with a destination. It is the story of a person not looking where to live, but how to live.  As the world gets smaller, and cars have begun to lose importance in the world, we may think the days of the road movie are numbered.  I don’t think they are, we may see a day were they become nostalgic chronicling relatively recent past rather than telling their own contemporarily stories, but in the hands of talented filmmakers, this artifice will not prevent the real story, one that is lingering beneath the surface. 

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Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the third (final with original star Mel Gibson), and weakest in the Mad Max franchise.  It is actually better than it is given credit for, but the best thing about it remains the title song, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” by Tina Turner.  The words to the song suggest the people it is speaking for don’t need a hero, they just want a better life.  The film then explores the myth of the hero.  Max the hero of the film has become a shell of a man following the events of the previous two films, he isn’t looking to be anybodies hero, but as things tend to go in movies like this he finds redemption by offering hope to the kids in the film, not too far removed from the most recent, and superior instalment, Mad Max: Fury Road.  But max is a grittier hero, not the type that you see wearing spandex in a comic book.  Comic book hero’s, and villains are distilled to their purest form, of good and bad.  For many the line that a comic book her cannot cross is killing the bad guy, and this the core theme of the new TV show Jupiter’s Legacy.  As we reach saturation of the genre in movies and on TV, is there does the show offer anything new or interesting to say to justify its existence. 

We all know from Spider-Man that “With great power comes great responsibility”, although when you look a little deeper the idea goes back before that.  A variation of it was used by Superman’s farther in the 1940’s.  Similar things have been said by British MP’s and American Presidents, and it is known to be in popular use during the French Revolution.  The earliest written example probably goes back to the bible “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required”.  With this in mind, it probably isn’t a stretch to call it an overused theme! Not that would be a totally bad thing if it has anything else to say, and I would certainly expect it to have something to say, and come with a certain edge, after all it is based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely.  Miller’s past credits certainly have fulfilled these criteria before; his DC work includes Superman: Red Son.  For Marvel he was responsible for Civil War, and Wolverine: Old Man Logan.  But possibly most significantly, he deconstructed the idea of the super hero in Kick-Ass. 

The bar has been raised by recent TV shows.  Having disavowed the many Marvel TV show’s we now have the MCU on TV.  The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has the production values of a movie, and is a timely exploration of race and how we treat the disenfranchised.  WandaVision may not have anything new to say that we haven’t already seen in the MCU, but really pushes the boundaries of storytelling.  But then there are two hugely significant TV shows Watchmen, and The Boys.  Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen follow on from the story of Watchmen that we all know, but goes beyond anything we saw in the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel and Zack Snyder’s movie.  The Boys is based on the premise of another famous saying, this time from English historian Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Based a comic book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, it is set in a universe where superheroes are essentially assholes!  Super-powered individuals work for a shady corporation whose sole aim is to monetizes them. Most of the “heroes” are arrogant and corrupt, many are much worse!  This show works on so many levels. 

This brings us back to Jupiter’s Legacy, are we oversaturated with superhero movies and TV shows, and the only way to depict them is to deconstruct them? This may be the case, but unlike shows like The Umbrella Academy, and the aforementioned The Boys,   Jupiter’s Legacy does not commit to this.  Telling its story in two time periods, one depicting the origin of the heroes in depression era Chicago.  The second timeline in the present day explores their “legacy”.  The period part of the  show works well but the modern section is hampered by terrible wigs and makeup. But more significantly it doesn’t have anything new to say.  Ultimately, I can’t help thinking that unlike the people in the song, we don’t need another hero.   

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We have been waiting a long time for a new James Bond movie.  Development began on No Time To Die all the way back in 2016, a few months after Spectre’s October 2015 release (itself delayed a couple of times).  Danny Boyle was originally attached to direct but left the project in 2018 due to creative differences.  Cary Joji Fukunaga was then hired.  Fukunaga worked with script writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade on a new story, the third script/story as Purvis and Wade’s (who had scripted all of Daniel Craig’s previous Bond movies) original idea had been scrapped when Boyle signed on to direct.  This caused the first significant delay with principal photography commencing in  late April 2019, four to five months after it was originally scheduled.  They wrapped around six months later with final pick-up shots taking place in December.  A month after the originally scheduled release date in November 2019.  The release date was immediately pushed to February 2020 when they announced Boyle’s departure, and then to April 2020 during production.  By February it was clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going away anytime soon, and On 4 March 2020, MGM and Eon Productions announced that the release was to be postponed again, this time until 12 November 2020.  Two further delays have been announced, first to  2 April 2021 and then to 8 October 2021, nearly two years after Danny Boyle’s film was scheduled for release. 

Over the past year I have read numerous stories and tweets from Bond Fans who are undertaking marathon re-watches of the whole Bond film series.  But what do you do when you have watched the movies so many times you can remember every Roger Moore quip,  or know just what time to go and put the kettle on t avoid having to watch Sheriff J.W. Pepper?  What are the other spy films to keep Bond fans entertained while they wait for No Time To Die?  Here are a few suggestions, some obvious, others less so:

North By Northwest (1959): Ian Fleming didn’t intend Dr. No to be the first Bond movie, it wasn’t even going to be based on one of his novels, it was going to be an original idea, that eventually became the basis for his eighth novel  Thunderball (yes you guessed it this was where the infamous Legal disputes started). Fleming wanted the Alfred Hitchcock to direct, but he declined as he had only just made a spy thriller and wanted to do something different.  The spy movie he had just made was North by Northwest, the something different turned out to be Psycho, and Thunderball is a great book so it didn’t turn out too bad, but just imagine a Hitchcock Bond movie! For those who don’t know, North By Northwest is my favourite Hitchcock, and one of my favourite movies.  Taken one of the directors well used tropes of “the wrong man” on the run, the film is absolute perfection.  It zips along with such ease and pace I am always staggered how long it is, the time flies by when you watch it. 

The Ipcress File (1965): Based on Len Deighton’s novel The IPCRESS File, despite sharing a producer with Bond, Harry Saltzman this is far from a Bond movie.  Like When Eight Bells Toll, it is intended to be more realistic than Bond, with its sneering look at bureaucracy  it is almost satirical at times.  But the real difference is the main character, Harry Palmer, played by Michael Caine.  Bond loves his job, or more to the point he loves the trappings of his job, his fancy suits, his Swiss Watch, fast cars, fancy hotels.  Harry Palmer is a reluctant spy, British army sergeant forcibly drafted into the security services to avoid a prison sentence! He just wants to do his time, and would like a pay rise.

When Eight Bells Toll (1971): Made with Bond audiences in mind, but with the intention of being more gritty and realistic.  Based on a novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean, British Treasury secret agent Phillip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins) investigates hijacking of cargo ships in the Irish Sea.  Intended as the first in a series around the time when the Bond franchise was rumoured to be in trouble following the departure of Sean Connery.  Further films never materialised, partly due to poor boxoffice numbers in America, and possibly due to Connery returning to Bond later the same year.  Not a classic, but good fun adventure movie, at 95 minutes it won’t outstay its welcome.  I would watch it over Diamonds Are Forever!

The Russia House (1990): I have largely avoided movies based on John le Carré novels here as they are a very different beast to Bond.  More thoughtful and realistic and lacking the action and adventure associated with Ian Fleming’s creation.  I am not including this as it has any of those elements, quite the opposite,  I have chosen it, because it stars Sean Connery, and he is excellent playing a very different part Bond.  

The Rock (1996): Hands down Michael Bay’s best movie low bar, I know but this is genuinely good! The third and final Sean Connery movie on the list, here, he plays a former British SAS captain and MI6 operative.  Some fans have suggested the character is Bond in all but name, but in a lot of ways he is more badass  than his Bond ever was.  The plot is unimportant filled with McGuffin’s and contrivances but the film is great fun, Connery and co star Nicolas Cage are excellent together. 

The Bourne Identity (2002): Probably the most obvious choice on the list, but an excellent one! Based on Robert Ludlum’s novel of the same name, this first film in the franchise is the only one to take any real plot from the novel series.  Directed by Doug Liman, and often overshadowed by Paul Greengrass who made a further three movies in the series.  My favourite of the Bourne movies, it has the best story and some great performances throughout.  It is also notable for the impact it had on Bond! Released in the summer of 2002, Die Another Day would have been in the can by this time, but it the next Bond movie, Casino Royale four years later was the closest the franchise has come to a reboot, and it was all the better for it. 

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006): If you want spoof of Bond and other spy movies of the genre it isn’t Austin Powers, it has to be Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, AKA OSS 117.  Both Jean Bruce’s OSS 117 spy novels and the first film adaptations of them predate  Ian Flemings Bond novels and EON’s adaptations of them.  I know nothing of the French novels or films beyond the fact there is a lot of them! However, in 2006 the character was re-imagined  by writer director Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo (Hazanavicius’s wife).  You may recognise these names, they went on to make the multi Oscar winning The Artist (2011).  A parody of the genre, OSS117 is an idiot who a little like Inspector Clouseau solves cases by either luck, or other people doing it for him.  There was a sequel  OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009), and a third film is due out this year OSS 117: Alerte rouge en Afrique noire (2021).

Atomic Blonde (2017): What if John Wick was a woman, and she was a spy? That is pretty much what Atomic Blonde is.  Directed by David Leitch who was an uncredited  co-director with Chad Stahelski on the first John Wick movie.  Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City; set in Berlin in 1989 in the last days of the Berlin wall, the plot is a typical find the McGuffin story, this time a list of double agents.  What sets the film apart from anything else, is the style, and breathtaking action.  Its like a Bond or any other film on this list stripped back and boiled down to its core elements.

Red Sparrow (2018): A fictional version of the real life use of “sexpionage” by the Soviet Union, and possibly Russia in the post soviet era.  A decent film with although it does over rely on the charisma of stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton.  Better than the movie I would recommend the trilogy of books (the movie was based on the first) written by Jason Matthews, a former Central Intelligence Agency Officer.  Matthews sadly passed away a few weeks ago, so these three books are his only books. 

Kingsman (2014): As much as I love the Craig era Bond movies, but to quote Harry Hart when asked if he likes spy movies “Nowadays, they’re all a little serious for my taste. But the old ones… marvellous. Give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day.”  A truly silly film that manages to be a great spy movie and a great spoof of a spy movie at the same time! 

And finally, a few honourable mentions: Mission Impossible (1996–present): Tom Cruise’s movie series based on the 60’s TV show. Hanna (2011): Saoirse Ronan as a teenage assassin. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015): Guy Ritchie’s movie based on the 60’s TV show had decent reviews but failed to find an audience.  Its good fun id a little lightweight.  Inception (2010) More a high concept sci-fi heist movie than a spy movie, but there are a lot of elements reminiscent of classic Bond movies.  No Way Out (1987) A crime thriller set against a backdrop of espionage. Well worth watching if you haven’t already seen it.   

As infuriating as the delays to No Time To Die are, was the right thing to do, all I really want is to watch the movie in a cinema on the biggest screen I can find.

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Last year I wrote about The Paramount Decree, and how it had been decided the decree will be terminated in 2022 following a two-year “sunset period”.  At the time I suggested this would open the door for major studios like Disney and Warner to purchase, and possibly save stricken cinemas.  There appears to be no appetite for that in the industry, as the major studio look in a different direction for film distribution.  It may therefore may be time for something similar to the decree that fundamentally changed cinema all those years ago.  A decree to save cinema from itself!

First a quick recap: In the early days of cinema in the US, the major film studios (Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox, MGM, and Paramount) owned their own theatres that exclusively screened their films.  Films that were produced by writers, directors, technicians, and actors who were under contract to the studios,  They also owned the laboratories, that processed the film and created the prints.  There weren’t distribution companies as we know them today as they were releasing their own product.  To put is it simply the studios were vertically integrated.  The Paramount Decree as it became known was an antitrust case correctly titled United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131 (1948).  The case changed the face of film exacerbation in the US, ripples of its effects can be felt all over the world to this day.  The ruling forced the separation of motion picture production and exhibition companies. 

The way we access movies is rapidly changing as physical media is being replaced by online content, it is likely to change further and quickly.  As we come out of lockdown, will people be so happy to be able to visit the cinemas that we will see a massive upturn in attendance, or will people be wary of social interaction?  My experience of online movies came by something of a backdoor.  I subscribed to Love Film, a DVD postal rental service.  When they were taken over by Amazon, they started offering streaming as well as DVDs.  They soon dropped the DVS and became a streaming platform; following several surprisingly seamless rebrands, we went from:  Lovefilm video-on-demand, to Amazon Instant Video, Amazon Video, and now have Prime Video.  Meanwhile, Netflix that also started life as a mail-order DVD rental business in California, in1997. By the time it reached the UK in 2012 it had become a subscription-based streaming service.  When I got a new “smart” TV in 2015 I embraced streaming and also subscribed to Netflix. I still have both to this day.

The problem is that we are becoming inundated with subscription streaming services. There is no doubt about the quality of some of the best movies and TV shows across the services, but its getting spread very thin. Here are a selection of the better know services available in the UK and what they cost (if my research is correct):

  • Netflix £5.99 – £8.99
  • Prime Video £5.99 (plus extra add on channels)
  • Now TV (Sky) Sky Movies Pass – £9.99, Sky TV – £6.99
  • Apple TV Plus £4.99
  • Mubi £9.99
  • BFI Player £4.99
  • Disney + £5.99 recently increased to £7.99

Disney is the most significant of these, as they are a major studio, THE major studio.  With their acquisitions of Marvel, Fox and Lucasfilm they control a large number of the big franchises and dominate the top echelons of the box office charts each year.  They have been bringing all their properties under their own umbrella to the extent that when certain licensing agreements expire. At the same time they are creating new streaming only contend, what we used to know as TV shows for their various IP’s, mainly Star Wars and Marvel. We aren’t far of a time when outside of cinema’s Disney + will be the only place we will be able to watch their “content”.   HBO Max ($14.99 per month) is going the same way in America (we don’t get it in the UK) with Warner properties.  It will soon be the only place to see the fabled Snyder Cut of the Justice League movie.   They are also planning to release all their major films for 2021 online first, or at the same time as in US theatres. Paramount Plus ($5.99 with adds or $9.99 without), (yes Paramount are still around after all these years) is going to be more than just a rebrand of CBS All Access.  Their big headline is that they will show big tent pole Paramount such as Mission: Impossible 7 within 45 days of their theatrical release.  Smaller films will be even sooner, possibly day and date.  This will put them at loggerheads with cinema chains.  Lets not forget, the same is happening in the other direction, with streaming giants Netflix and Amazon creating their own TV and movie content.

I don’t think I really need to spell out what I am thinking! But I will! Should governments legislate to stop studios owning streaming services? And likewise, should streaming services be aloud to make their own content, effectively turning themselves into studios? Or should we let the industry continue as it is until it finds its own solution?

I actually don’t think a new variation on the Paramount Decree is the answer, but I do think something needs to happen for the good of consumers, and possibly for the long-term good of the industry. It isn’t just about the viewers, streaming services and cinemas need to work together to provide a platform so smaller and independent films get seen. We are already at a stage where viewers who wish to see a wide range of movies (and TV shows) they need to subscribe to multiple services.  Governments will tell you that competition  is good for consumers, but this isn’t always the case.  We had a situation in the UK (England and Wales to be more precise) where you could only watch Premier league football on Sky TV.  Then the government stepped in and said no single company could have the rights to all the games.  Just over a decade later fans need to subscribe to three different service to see all the games, with no noticeable drop in price due to competition. What I am suggesting is simple, if studios were banned from owning their own streaming platforms, or even showing their content exclusively on limited platforms, it would create a different type of competition, possibly leading to the merger of many sites allowing consumers to watch more content, of a higher quality for less money.  This would not be a universal fix all, it could create a situation like we have in cinemas where the large chains show all the same blockbusters and ignore all the independent and foreign films, but it’s a start!

If I can end on a what is both a massive tangent, and a positive note.  Things aren’t as expensive as we may think, or as expensive as they used to be.  If you paid £1 to rent a movie on VHS in 1982, that would be £3.61 in today’s money.  But then you would need something to play it on.  A Ferguson Videostar VHS video recorder (a popular British video recorder in the day -we had a second hand one in the mid 80’s) would have cost £599, that is equivalent to £2,162 when adjusted for inflation.  And what about the a TV?  A 20″ or 22″ was about normal for a larger living room TV a PYE or Ferguson would have cost around £500, or £1,805 in today’s money.  I’m sure there are people out there today who have spent £4,000 on a TV, I certainly wouldn’t!

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I have been listening to the Movie Mount Rushmore Podcast recently, and have dipped into their back catalogue.  Movie fans who haven’t already, should give it a listen.  Two long-time friends Anthony Jordan, aka AJ and me Nico Lurot, talking about movies; in their own words:

cast (available on most major platforms) here you can check out our weekly Movie Mount Rushmore, where we count down our individual TOP 10 lists of a specific topic, then combine to make the Mount Rushmore; these are the MUST-SEE 4 movies of that topic / genre

This week’s subject, “The Best Movie in a Franchise”  was chosen by me, so I thought I would pick my top own top ten.  The intention was to pick the best film within a given series, not necessarily the best franchises.   However, I’m sure AJ and Nico will come up with their own interpretation.  I’m sure there will be some disagreement on what constitutes as franchise!

Aliens (Alien is a masterpiece, and the is a strong argument that its the best, but  – Aliens Vs. – weakest: Predator – Requiem

The Terminator (T2 gets all the love, but for me the original is the best) – weakest: Terminator Genisys (2015)

The Empire Strikes Back (obvious choice, but by far the best)  – weakest: Revenge of the Sith (borderline unwatchable)

Thor: Ragnarok (For a long time I would have said The Winter Soldier, but Ragnarok edges it) – weakest: Close call between Thor: The Dark World, and Ant-Man and the Wasp

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (after 25 years and a few less impressive movies, the franchise was at risk of becoming a parody of itself, then came this movie, that isn’t just a good Star Trek movie, it stands out as been a really good movie in its own right) – weakest: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (with the original crew, The Next Generation, and the reboot, there are a lot of good and bad movies.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (I’m not a Potter fan. I didn’t read the books. I didn’t start watching the movies until this one purely because of director Alfonso Cuarón. I have since gone back to watch them all. This remains the best) – weakest: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (long and dull movie with lots of walking and camping. Dubbed Harry-on Camping by Simon Mayo.) 

Wonder Woman (by far the best of the DCEU) – weakest: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (yes, it’s worse than Suicide Squad)

Fast Five (This is the tipping point were the franchise moved from, silly but grounded, to ridiculous to Mission Impossible) – weakest: Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – This is a tricky one, as all the movies are brilliant or terrible depending on your point of view!

Logan (AJ and Nico, don’t like this movie???) – weakest: Dark Phoenix (If you have seen it, explanations will not be required)

The Bourne Identity (everybody loves the Paul Greengrass  movies, my favourite is the  first movie directed by Doug Lima) weakest: The Bourne Legacy

Honourable mentions:

Superman 2 (the best Superman movie, not just of the best of the Christopher Reeve movies)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (too close to call with Raiders of the Lost Arc)

The Dark Knight (the best Batman movie, closely followed by Batman Returns)

The Fellowship of the Ring (the one that won all the Oscars was the weakest!)

Bumblebee (the first Transformers wasn’t bad, all the sequels are terrible except Bumblebee which is great)

James Bond: I can never decide the best between Russia With Love, and Casino Royale, Die Another Day is by far the weakest. 

And as a final word: AJ, Nico Die Hard is the best of the series not Die Hard with a Vengeance!

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“You wake up to eerie silence. You call out ‘Hello?’ but no-one answers. You’re alone except for a film projector and speakers with infinite battery life and five of your favourite films at the foot of the projector. You have nowhere to be so start watching the films. What are they, where are you and how will your story play out?”

This is the scenario presented to us by Claire Packer at the recently rejuvenated Cinematic Delights.  Her expectation goes beyond just choosing the five films.  Find out more HERE.

  • My five films: What are the five films you would happily watch for the foreseeable future and why?
  • My fate: Where have you been deserted – are you adrift like Hanks in Castaway or are you an end of the world survivor like Smith in I Am Legend?
  • My finale: How will your time alone end? Will you be saved by Spielberg or will you live happily ever after on your own like Disney?

Let’s start in the middle where am I? I prefer to go with the Desert Island Discs/Hanks in Castaway option, as it always gives a degree of hope!

As for the movies, I set myself an extra challenge.  Eleven years ago, hosted a similar event that I called Desert Island DVD’s also taking its inspiration from the long running BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs.  I have decided not to choose any of the eight movies I picked before, they were: My movies back then were:

  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Some Like it Hot (1959)
  • Two Lane Blacktop (1971)
  • Goodfellas (1990)
  • Dazed and Confused (1993)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Oldboy (2003)
  • Serenity (2005)

Like last time, it isn’t just about my favourite films, its about films I can watch over and over and not tire of. One thing I can say fore sure, limiting us to just five films was cruel!

Chinatown (1974): I’m not sure there has ever been a film dripping with despair as Chinatown.  Not only is it one of my favourite movies, but it is strangely perfect for this scenario.  When I watched it during the first lockdown last year there was something comforting about watching people whose situation was more hopeless with than me. 

Fandango (1985): The most sentimental film on the list.  The film that give its name to my Blog and twitter handle.  This film has to be on the list for so many reasons.  Just taken on its own merits, it’s a great and under seen film.  It also lends a little much needed brevity to my list.  It is also associated with great memories; the favourite film of a close friend, it was on hard rotation when I was a student, we also visited some of the filming locations while on holiday in West Texas a few years back. 

The English Patient (1996): I loved the film from when I first watched it at the cinema twenty-five years ago.  It has since been either forgotten, overlooked, or dismissed.  I don’t care what anybody thinks, it’s an absolute masterpiece.  One of the few films that I actually think is better than the book on which it’s based.  Like Chinatown, I see more every time I watch it. 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): There is a conversation at the heart of the movie between Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) about why the characters are doing what they are doing.  The answer is simple, they are all looking for either hope or redemption.  That’s kind of what all movies are about! And that’s just one of the reasons the film is so perfect. 

Atomic Blonde (2017): Comparisons with another film that came out a few years before are inevitable, but Atomic Blonde is both the slickest and most fun of its type.  It does the near impossible task of invoking other great films, without making me wish I was watching them. 

The final question: How will your time alone end?  That’s not for me to say, but we are nothing without hope!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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