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August has been another stellar month, eight trips to the cinema, most have them have been good, I have enjoyed them all in some way.  Only one can be movie of the month, here are the contenders:

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Two decades after The Fifth Element Luc Besson returns to space for a sci-fi adventure.  Adapted from Besson’s favourite comic strip Valerian can’t decide if it wants to be the camp fun of Flash Gordon, or something more nuanced.  Cara Delevingne should feel a little miffed as despite being the main character and best part of the film, her character  Laureline has had her name expunged from the comics original title.  The content of the film seems to divide opinion one thing that can’t be disputed is how fantastic it looks. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Atomic Blonde – Charlize Theron proved with Æon Flux that she had a affinity for action, sadly the film wasn’t much good.  It wasn’t until Mad Max: Fury Road that she had a suitable vehicle for her talent.  Former stunt man/coordinator David Leitch, half the team behind John Wick has created the perfect movie for her talents.  Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, Theron gets to play a character somewhere between James Bond and John Wick.  There is a little more plot than the movie needs but the action is great and it looks amazing. Atomic Blonde

A Ghost Story – Director David Lowery reteams with his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.  Not much happens, and it happens very slowly without much dialogue, what should be terrible and boring, is actually brilliant.   A Ghost Story

Overdrive – Low rent rip-off of The Fast and Furious franchise.  The multiple twists and tunes in the plot are clearly signposted and are unlikely to surprise anyone. There is some good action and the survival rate of the classic cars is better than the aforementioned automotive franchise. Overdrive

The Dark Tower – Having not read any of the Stephen King sauce material I didn’t know what to expect from this adaptation.  The narrative is a bit of a mess and lacks the epic feeling I was led to expect, but I actually enjoyed it.  Idris Elba is excellent, Matthew McConaughey shows moments of brilliance but on the whole his performance is as disjointed as the film.  Not a disaster, but it could have been better.The Dark Tower

Annabelle: Creation – Prequel to the spinoff of The Conjuring.  Well constructed horror that is as enjoyable as the Conjuring movies largely thanks to the right balance of creepy build-up and jump scares; not to mention a supremely creepy doll._T2A7437.dng

American Made – Based on the true story of Barry Seal, an airline pilot recruited by the CIA to take reconnaissance photos, he soon finds himself working for the Medellín Cartel.  Tom Cruise makes a charismatic star as ever. Directed with verve and style by Doug Liman, one of the most underrated directors working today. Domhnall Gleeson is wonderfully slimy.  American Made

Logan Lucky – Steven Soderbergh returns from retirement with a blue collar Ocean’s Eleven. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are great in the leads but the best performances come from Riley Keough and Daniel Craig.  Not the best that Soderbergh has to offer but still a really good and enjoyable film. Logan Lucky

Ever since seeing it I intended the movie of the month to be A Ghost Story, a movie that has haunted me (pun intended) for weeks.  However, as is so often the case, my movie of the month, is the one I most want to see again: Atomic Blonde.Atomic Blonde poster

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With Mixed reviews, you may be wondering if The Defenders is worth watching.  The Simple answer if you have seen and enjoyed any of The other Marvel TV shows, yes, if you haven’t, No.  This doesn’t stop me expressing my thoughts: 

Story: If you are reading this, you probably already know all you need to know; the stars of their respective shows: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist team up to fight The Hand in New York. Although not the best story we have seen so far in Marvels TV universe, it is probably the most focused.  The meeting of the quartet is less forced than it could have been.  The villains are believable with coherent motives.   After a little build up and a brief introduction of the characters for the uninitiated, the action kicks in and doesn’t really stop.  Each ending on note that strikes the perfect balance between narrative closer and making you want to watch, just one more episode, it is the closest Marvel have come to recreating for the screen what it is to read a comic book; but its on Netflix so you don’t have to wait a week for the next part!  The Defenders

Main Characters: All four characters are archetypes and this is exacerbated by the scenario, they each become an even more extreme example of who they are.  The story does play a little on their individual abilities and character traits, but not as much as you would expect.

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter): remains the best character. The cynical, hard drinking private detective is possibly the most clichéd of the characters but Ritter pulls it off with such charisma and fun that it really doesn’t matter.  It is like she is in a different show to the others, but in a good way.

Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox): A great charter in his own show; dramatically, he shrinks a little in the presence of the others, he does have some great dialogue with Ritter, and some of the best fight scenes.  Daredevil is a more interesting character the angst/catholic guilt ridden Matt Murdock.

Luke Cage (Mike Colter): The boy scout of the crew, Luke Cage can’t help but do the right thing regardless of personal consequences, the Captain America of the group.

Danny Rand (Finn Jones): The weakest link from their own shoes, Iron Fist has the most significant role within the plot.  The billionaire needs to be a little more fun, a little more Tony Stark.   Defenders

Secondary Characters: Most of the secondary characters have already been seen in the individual shows.  While a few of these characters have previously been the most interesting and compelling characters in the shows, they are largely sidelined here to make space for the leads:

Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson): The MVP of the individual shows isn’t given anything to do, but is as great as you would expect with the little she has to do.

Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson): The weakest character in the show has one perfunctory role within the plot.

Misty Knight (Simone Missick): Joins up a few tots in the plot and provides a little sass. We also get a hint at where her character is going.

Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick): Has her moments in the latter episodes but is largely sidelined.

Stick (Scott Glenn): Given the dual role of (deadpan) comic relief and Basil Exposition Glenn performs admirably.

Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor): Has one interesting scene and does nothing else.

Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll): Given precisely nothing to do, the character could have been totally dropped without any real impact on the plot. The Defenders Secondary Characters

Villains: We have already seen The Hand in Iron Fist and Daredevil, now they are out of the shadows, front and centre with an agenda.

Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver): Ever wondered who is in charge of The Hand? Sigourney Weaver leaves us in no doubt, Alexandra Reid is the epitome of the Alpha Dog, Weaver plays her with determination, but also in a believable way.

Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung): Brought back from the dead, Elektra provides both the antagonist and strangely some of the heart of the show.  As you would expect, she also gets a lot of the best action.

The five “fingers” of the Hand also include Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) reprising her role, and Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez) who we met in Iron Fist as Wing’s former sensei. The Hand

Conclusion: The show has its issues but with a punchy high action plot it is compelling and binge worthy in the way Netflix must have hoped.  In keeping the characteristics of the individual characters undiluted the show can still work for an audience that hasn’t seen, or doesn’t like all the previous shows.  This takes us back to the beginning; if you have enjoyed any of The other Marvel TV shows, you will probably like this. 

At a time when action movies have become CGI laden and often dull, there are occasionally films that break the mould.  Shortly before his short live retirement,  Steven Soderbergh made Haywire (2011).  The story goes that while channel surfing late at night Soderbergh spotted Gina Carano fighting in an MMA fight on TV.  He quickly developed the idea of Mallory Kane, a highly trained operative working for an independent contractor.  One of the notable things about the film is the way the fight scenes are staged.  Shot at mid range with long takes, much the way MMA and Boxing is shot.  This is a world away from the ultra close-up highly edited style that can make anyone look like an action hero.  Then came John Wick (2014); former stunt men and stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch made their feature debut.  Making the most of Keanu Reeves martial arts skills the fight scenes and gun fu are highly choreographed making the whole spectacle like a ballet. The photography and editing combines styles with a mixture of long takes and quick cuts.John Wick Haywire

While Chad Stahelski made John Wick Chapter 2, his former directing partner, David Leitch went his own way and made Atomic Blonde.  An action spy thriller the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s.  Charlize Theron stars MI6 field agent sent to Berlin in the last few days before the fall of the wall to retrieve a McGuffin that anyone who has seen Mission: Impossible or Skyfall will be familiar with.  The film is so stylish it makes a Luc Besson look passively plain, the action is fantastic and Charlize Theron is a  charismatic and likeable lead.  The film is a little too plot heavy to be as fun as John Wick; there are a series of twists and turns that you will see coming a mile of, but none of this matters, it is still an enjoyable movie.attomic blonde

In the near thirty years since the film was set films have changed a lot so I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the spy and or action movies of 1989:

Starting with the spy thrillers: Licence to Kill was Timothy Dalton’s second and final James Bond movie.  A more violent and action based movie than earlier Bond movies, it recived mixed reviews on release.  I loved it and am happy to report it has aged well and in the era of Daniel Craig’s Bond people are beginning to re-evaluate Timothy Dalton’s time as 007.Licence to Kill

The same is not true of The Experts; a  John Travolta vehicle in the pre Pulp Fiction wilderness years.  I seem to remember enjoying it at the time but re-watched it about ten years ago and was surprised just how bad it was.  It was also considered a box office bomb at the time.the experts

Technically a 1988 move: Red Scorpion was released in the USA and UK in ’89.  Significant as it portrays Dolph Lundgren as a soviet soldier who ends up fighting African freedom fighters against Soviet oppression.  I remember liking the film at the time, it did however receive poor reviews, I must re watch it to see.Red Scorpion

We think of Marvel and DC comic book movies as a modern thing, with about three each a year as well as TV spinoffs, but both comic book giants had movies out in 1989.  The more significant of the two: Batman; Tim Burtons vision of the dark knight was revolutionary.  A dark brooding gothic fairytale Batman a world away from the camp of the60’s TV show.  The Batmobile looked amazing and the black sculpted latex batsuit was revolutionary.  I’m not sure if Michael Keaton is the best Batman, he is certainly the best Bruce Wayne.  Over at Marvel, Dolph Lundgren was staring as Frank Castle, aka: The Punisher.  Taking the idea of the Marvel character but changing many details of his origin.  The film isn’t great, and is a world away from current Marvel movies, but it isn’t terrible either and has a certain charm.Batman The Punisher

Cop movies, particularly buddy cop movies were all the rage at the time, the best of the bunch was Lethal Weapon 2. Almost as good as the original, this first sequel had all the action and excitement of the first in the franchise but with a lot more comedy.   Other entries to the subgenre worth watching are: Black Rain and Tango & Cash.Lethal Weapon 2 Black Rain Tango & Cash

One of the best movies of the year and possibly my favourite of the franchise: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Taking a big risk with a very self indulgent origin or the character prologue that not only works, it enhances the film.Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Two years after Dirty Dancing and two before Point Break, Patrick Swayze’s star was on the rise, he had two movies out in ’89 the better of the two was: Roadhouse. Dumb action fun, it isn’t a great film but its impossible not to like it. Roadhouse

One of the biggest action stars of the time, Jean-Claude Van Damme had two movies out in ’89: the sci-fi action adventure Cyborg, and the fight movie Kickboxer.  I saw Kickboxer around the same time as the previous year’s Bloodsport and can’t differentiate between them in my mind. cyborg and kickboxer

Finally: Blind Fury is a Zatôichi inspired action movie starring Rutger Hauer.  Robot Jox is a low budged B movie masterpiece from Empire Studios about people fighting giant robots similar to the Jaegers from Pacific Rim. Blind Fury Robot Jox

Better late than never, I missed my usual first of the month slot, not through excessive cinema going; Today I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, my first trip to the cinema for over a week, but you are going to have to wait until next month to see what I thought of it.  Today is all about July’s movie of the month, the contenders are:

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Do we need yet another Spider-Man re-boot? The simple answer is no, but if we are going to get a new version, this is the one we want.  I’m not sure if Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man we have seen to date, he is certainly the best Peter Parker.  It doesn’t do any harm that Michael Keaton is an excellent an more nuanced villain than we have come to expect. Spider-Man Homecoming

It comes at Night – Billed as a horror, actually more a character driven exercise in tension.  Joel Edgerton has again proved to be an actor willing to make interesting choices. It comes at Night

War for the Planet of the Apes – The weakest of the new generation of Planet of the Apes movies but still a step above the usual blockbuster.  Technically brilliant and supremely acted but a plot that lacks any surprises. War for the Planet of the Apes

The Beguiled – Sofia Coppola’s take on Thomas Cullinan’s novel lacks predatory seediness that made the Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood version so compelling.  Coppola’s version is however perfectly cast and stunning to look at.The Beguiled

Dunkirk – My first IMAX movie of the year, it was so worth it.  As you would expect from Christopher Nolan, this isn’t just a straight telling of the story, it is enhanced by a perfectly executed structure.  The tension never lets up and is only enhanced by the lack of CGI and the imposing score. Dunkirk

The Big Sick – Comedian Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in an autobiographical rom-com.  Both compelling and funny, it is so much more than I have come to expect from a Judd Apatow produced movie.  Nanjiani is good in the lead role, Zoe Kazan and Ray Romano are excellent in support, Holly Hunter steals the show as you would expect. The Big Sick

All the movies I saw in July were good, one stood out head an shoulders above the rest, Movie of the Month is:Dunkirk poster

The Dukes of Hazard, The Fall Guy, Knightrider, Battlestar Galactica, The A Team, Magnum, P.I.  I remember watching all of these movies as a kid.  One thing they had in common with all TV of the time, I watched one episode a week for the duration of their time on TV.  If I missed an episode, I missed it, unless I happened to catch a rerun.  On the whole this was never an issue as most shows were made up of self contained episodes.  There are exceptions, to this day, there still remains an episode of magnum that I haven’t seen, the second of a two part story. the dukes of hazard

Things changed a few years ago with programs like The Sopranos, Firefly and the new version of Battlestar Galactica.  Shows that I watched on DVD not when they aired on TV.  This was my first experience of binging TV shows.  With Amazon and Netflix shows like Bosch, The Man in the High Castle, Preacher and The Marvel TV shows Binging took on a whole new meaning. Battlestar Galactica

I recently bemoaned that American Gods was released one episode per week, however, some shows better savoured.  The long awaited third season of Twin Peaks and the TV version of The Handmaids Tale are perfect examples.  While every episode of American Gods leaves you wanting more Twin Peaks in particular needs time to sink in.  Part 8 is a perfect example, esoteric in the extreme and abstract in places.  After watching it, I wouldn’t have watched another episode straight after that even if it had been available.   Part 8

So what is the conclusion to all this?  Are TV shows best savoured or binge watched?  There probably isn’t an answer, it depends on the show, and the person watching it; I just thought I would share my thoughts and ramblings, what else is a blog for!

I have had something of a strange and strange relationship with the director Brian De Palma. I remember watching his movies as a teenager, movies like: Carrie, Obsession, The Fury, Dressed to kill, Blowout, Body Double, The Untouchables, Casualties of War, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, and of course Scarface. I enjoyed all of these movies, however, I was immersed enough in a in film to see some of the problems with some of them. This however, did not detract from the filmmaking skill on display. But then things changed. I went to university and started studying film. De Palma was persona non-grata. He was considered something of a hack who had built a career on ripping off Hitchcock. As an impressionable student I quickly took on this mantle too. But then I watch Carrie again and realised this is a dam good movie. And started evaluating and questioning what I’ve been taught.Brian De Palma

Then something even stranger happened, De Palma directed the first Tom Cruise, Mission Impossible movie.  This was before the Bourne movies and before Sam Mendes had made a film, let alone a Bond film.  Given the gig to direct the first in what turned out to be a hugely successful franchise, De Palma had suddenly gained credibility by directing what was essentially an action adventure popcorn movie. The hugely successful Tom Cruise vehicle started asking questions about other similar movies within the genre. The suggestion was that James Bond maybe better if it is listed top big-name directors like De Palma.Carrie Blow Out Scarface Body Double

Little did I know this was the beginning of the end for the director as his output began to slow dramatically he has today’s only made six movies in the 21 years that followed Mission Impossible. These movies have been varied to say the least. Snake eyes is a bit of a mess but a tremendous fun of a mess largely thanks to an over the top performance by Nicolas Cage and the stylish long tracking shots and use of split screen. Of the other five movies only femme fatale is interesting. It is clearly not a great movie, it is clichéd and a little disjointed; the plot is unnecessarily convoluted, having said all of this it is actually an enjoyable and fun movie to watch. And this is what De Palma its best that. His films may not be as good as those of Hitchcock but they are largely of the time and very watchable. It is difficult to imagine what more we can expect other filmmakers. True, we want to be challenged and maybe even educated but ultimately we want enjoyable entertaining experience and that is what De Palma has always given us.The Untouchables Mission Impossible Snake Eyes Femme Fatale

Why am asking these questions and making these points now? Very simply I have just watched the documentary entitled De Palma. Hearing him talk passionately about the films he has made has reminded me how much I am enjoyed many of them and really should watch some of them again. In this age of movies that are contrived with the bottom line more important than the entertainment and artistic merit of the film we really should be embracing directors like this, directors who love what they do, directors who love movies.

Back in 2001 I was hooked by an interesting piece of marketing.  A small booklet came with my copy of Empire film magazine.  I read it thinking it was a short story.  It was actually the first chapter of a book; Chameleon by Mark Burnell.  I went out and purchased the book and loved it.  I then went back and read the first book in the series The Rhythm Section.   It was announced yesterday that Blake Lively will star in an adaptation of the first book produced by Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson and directed by Reed Morano who directed the first three episodes of the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale.AgeD10-096.dng

This isn’t the first time Burnell’s work has been suggested for a movie adaptation.  Back in November 2009 an article in Variety reported that Broccoli and Wilson had purchased the rights to an upcoming Mark Burnell novel Remote Control.  Neither the book or the film have appeared yet.  In fact, Burnell hasn’t published any books since 2005.

The film will probably differ greatly from the book, this isn’t a problem, like James Bond, Stephanie Patrick is a great character with a lot of millage.  A brief synopsis of the book: Following the death of her family in a plane crash the stories heroine, Stephanie Patrick is on the edge, she has developed a drug and drink problem and is working as a Soho prostitute. Her descent into self destruction is halted by a journalist who has discovered the crash that killed her family was caused by a bomb. What follows is a story of Stephanie’s search for the truth, for retribution and more than anything to find herself. This is a story about identity. She soon realises that she has moved too far from the person she was before the tragedy to ever be that person again.  She could never be the person she would have been if not for these events, she has to invent herself. This isn’t easy when she has so many aliases and plays so many different parts. She starts as Lisa, the “chemical blonde” prostitute but also becomes: Marina Gaudenzi, a Swiss businesswoman, Susan Branch, an American student Elizabeth Shepherd, an English management consultant and the most compelling alias the deadly and brutal Petra Reuter, German anarchist, mercenary and terrorist. As Stephanie gets involved with a mysterious government agency she becomes more embroiled in a terrorist plot that has frightening similarities to the September 11th terrorist attacks (the book was published two years before the attacks).The Rhythm Section

There are four books in the series:  The Rhythm Section 1999, Chameleon 2001, Gemini 2003, The Third Woman 2005.  Burnell also wrote two previous unrelated novels: a supernatural thriller Freak 1994, and a Vampire horror/love story Glittering Savages 1995.  It will be interesting to see further casting and the setting for the film, will it be set in the 90’s or updated to today?  With the inclusion of Californian Blake Lively will the character be English or American? As an international story, the origin of the character is probably not that important.  From one point of view it is good to see a female director getting the gig. From another prospective, it is a shame that it is news.  Reed Morano has a background as cinematographer.  Her debut feature was Meadowland (2015).  As well as The Handmaid’s Tale she has directed episodes of  Billions and Halt and Catch Fire.  She has an upcoming feature; I Think We’re Alone Now (2018) starring Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning. Stephanie Patrick Mark Burnell

For those interested in reading the book, to the best of my knowledge the book of the Rhythm Section is out of print but there are usually cheep second hand copies available from Amazon, if the film goes into production it will probably be reprinted.