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It was recently announced that Jill Soloway has been hired to write and direct an adaptation of Red Sonja, a film that seems to have been in development forever!  Robert Rodriguez announced at Comic-Con in 2008 that he intended to make a version of the story with then partner Rose McGowan is the title role.   He never got beyond a poster and concept art.  It was reported a couple of years later that he had failed to raise the required funding to get the movie off the ground.  The  underperformance of Conan the Barbarian (2011) probably didn’t help.  Then in 2011, Empire reported that Simon West (Con Air) had been hired to direct and Amber Heard was favourite for the lead ahead of Megan Fox and Rachel Nichols.  I haven’t heard anything since.Rose McGowan Red Sonja

I don’t know much about Jill Soloway whose writing and directing seems to be more TV than film.  The most notable thing about the appointment is that Soloway appears to be the first woman who has been linked with the job.  It seems something of a no-brainer to appoint a female director to helm the story of a strong woman.  The comic book as has been written by women for several years now, Gail Simone since 2013 and Amy Chu since 2017; more about that later.

This isn’t the first time the character has been filmed, Red Sonja (1985) was directed by Richard Fleischer and starred Brigitte Nielsen in the title role, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a supporting role that was Conan in all but name (for contractual reasons), Schwarzenegger got top billing (probably also for contractual reasons)!  A year earlier Fleischer had made Conan the Destroyer with Schwarzenegger.  Sadly the film isn’t very good, largely due to weak script and bad acting. Red Sonja 1985

The character of Sonja is often credited as being created by Robert E. Howard, which is technically true, but the character owes as much if not more her comic book creators.  Red Sonya of Rogatino appeared in Robert E. Howard’s pulp short story “The Shadow of the Vulture” originally published in The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934. The story was a fictional story set in set in the 16th century around the real life Battle of Mohács and the Siege of Vienna in 1529.   Starting as a supporting character, she didn’t appear until  Chapter four of seven, she then became the co-lead for the rest of the story.  Fans of her comic book persona will be familiar with her famous scale mail bikini, but the character described by Howard dresses very differently:

“It was a woman, dressed as Von Kalmbach not seen even the dandies of France dressed. She was tall splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel Escape rebellious stresses that rippled red gold in the sun over A compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt fine Turkish mash-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which with thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended along Hungarian Sabre. Overall was carelessly throwing a scarlet cloak.”shadowofthevulture

In 1973 Roy Thomas and Barry Smith re-imagined the character introducing her into the Conan Comics.  Published by Marvel Comics, her first appetence came in Conan the Barbarian #23.  The story was largely the same as The Shadow of the Vulture but transposing it to the Hyborian Age and with Conan taking the place of Gottfried von Kalmbach.  Shortly after this, artist Esteban Maroto is credited with creating “metal bikini” look when he submitted “an un-commissioned illustration” for Savage Sword of Conan that he considered to resemble other female characters of the time.  After a couple of years of guest appearances in Conan comics, she had her own publication that is still going today following a couple of reboots. Marvel_Feature_1_(1975)

Some of the historic storytelling is a little problematic with.  In one version of her origin, her family is killed and she is brutally raped.  The red goddess Scáthach appears to her, and gives her the strength and skill to get her revenge.  The ability came with the condition that she never lie with a man unless he defeats her in fair combat. Gail Simone rebooted the character in 2013, in this series , Sonja was neither raped, nor received her ability from a goddess, thus not making her vow of chastity.  Instead she learned to fight as a gladiator.  Her appearance that many may find problematic is brushed away in one of her early stories; when told: “Your armour, woman – it scarcely protects your modesty, let alone your vitals” she responds: “men are easily distracted. Most of them never even noticed my sword… Until their heads roll off their neck’s.”wonder woman gal gadot

What can we expect from a Red Sonja movie?  With over 40 years of comic books to work with there is plenty of stories within the source material.  As with the MCU, the best approach will be to develop a new story within the character from the comics, but not faithfully adapt a story.  I would also suggest we jump right into a fully fledged character, we have seen far too many origin stories in recent years. No word on casting yet.  It is crucial they get it right.  At 6’1″ Brigitte Nielsen looked the part in the earlier film, but didn’t have the acting ability to deliver the lines.  When Wonder Woman was cast a few years ago, there were fan suggestions for Gina Carano.  While she would have been great at the action, Gal Gadot is the better actress and is surprisingly perfect in the role.  I like the idea of an unknown actor getting the part, but suspect a studio will want/need a big name to sell the film.  And that will be the tricky thing.  Films like this worked in the 70’s and 80’s on a tiny budget, but haven’t fared as well as blockbusters.  And that is what it needs to be, a blockbuster.  Following the end of Game of Thrones, and the appetite it has created, there is probably no better time for a new sword-and-sandal’s franchise. 

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tyler durden

I first saw fight club on its cinematic release 20 years ago, Like so many of my generation it spoke to me.  Tyler Durden’s speech above was at the heart of this; “We have no Great War. No Great Depression”.  I didn’t desire any great hardship, but could see the stupidity of the IKEA, Gap, Starbucks generation that I was a fully paid-up member of.  I had grown up in the 1980’s and had seen a generation of Hollywood filmmakers trying to understand and come to terms with the Vietnam war. Many movies of this time retold and re-fought the war, both visually and metaphorically. Films like First blood, and platoon showed us the true tragedy of Vietnam not just the futility of the war, but the treatment of those who came home.  fight club poster

I remember at the time people suggesting the film was misogynist, or at least anti-feminist.  At most it was a reaction to the political correctness and supposed caring shaming ideas of the 90’s.  I believe the Daily Mail even called it Monstrous!  I don’t think back in 1999 I had heard the expression toxic masculinity, but have since heard it used as a stick with which to beat Fight Club.  Before the introduction of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), Edward Norton’s character, the unnamed Narrator is suffering from insomnia.  When he tells his doctor that he is in pain, a plea for a magic drug to solve all his problems, he is told to visit a self help group for men with testicular cancer.  He is then able to feel better about himself by experiencing those who are worse off than him.  Is this any different to what we, the viewer get out of many movies?  This is the real starting point of the film, this is where we, and Norton first meet Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter).  Norton’s character is incapable of forming any form of relationship with Marla, either platonic or sexual.  He is not a man who hates woman, he is a man who doesn’t understand women, is possibly even a man who scared of woman.   Unlike the other members of the support group, he has his testicalls, physically at least!  Is it a film about men afraid of losing their balls, or trying to find them?  Or, is Fight Club actually a just romcom? More on that later?fight club marla singer

There is an argument that the things that Tyler Durden is fighting against are the things that emasculates me, and yet the final images of the film see his alter-ego The Narrator losing his identity.  He is stood with his back to us without trousers hand in hand with Marla Singer, the pair looking largely the same from behind.  All this just a few moments after he has “killed” Tyler Durden, his masculine ideal image of himself.  But Norton’s character hasn’t had these things taken away from him, he has given them up, potentially given them up for Marla.  This goes back to the idea that Fight Club is a romcom; the plot of every romcom. Act One: Boy meets girl.  Act Two: Boy does something stupid and loses girl. Act Three: Boy gives something up to get girls back.  It’s not a million miles from the plot of Fight Club!fight-club-ending

Be careful what you wish for!  Two years after the release of Fight Club the world changed and would never be the same again.  Following the events of September 11th 2001, our generation had its war.  And it was a war so complicated and controversial it made Vietnam look like simple and straightforward.   Suddenly the carefree 90’s looked kind of appealing.  When I watched Fight Club around this time, I still loved it, it is after all a supremely well made film representing a career high for its stars, and its director.  It is also devastatingly funny, far funnier than most comedies of the time.  But it didn’t have the same impact, the acts of terrorism, which Project Mayhem ultimately is,  suddenly doesn’t sit as comfortably.    But Fight Club is still a satire, it just doesn’t feel quite so relevant.  But then it has found new relevance in time.  Since the credit crisis and recession that followed, we have heard politicians talking about the “squeezed middle”, the middle classes that supposedly feel recent society has forgotten. fight club

Is there an ultimate and overriding meaning to the film?  The themes of crisis of masculinity, and a rejection of consumerist culture are clear.  A response to the feminization of America is less clear cut, but could be argued.  I have never quite got the exploration of the rise of European fascism, however there is an argument.  What happened after the film ended?  We know from the events of the film that Project Mayhem cells had formed in cities across the US.  Were other building destroyed that night, and was this the start or the conclusion of Project Mayhem?

So how do I feel about Fight Club twenty years on?  For a few years it was in my top three favourite films of all time.  It has slipped out of that place in the past ten years, but if I sat down to work it out, it would probably still find a place in my top ten.  I can understand the problem its critics have  with the themes of the film, or in some cases their perception of them.  But, I can’t see beyond how brilliant Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter are.  David Fincher’s direction is sublime, walking a fine line between unflinching brilliance and unacceptable.  Chan-wook Park is the only other director working today that I know of who could make such an uncompromising movie.  I have read Chuck Palahniuk’s source novel; while he can be credited for the story, Fincher and the cast bring so much more, not least the comedy.  It was the perfect movie for the end of the millennium, with age the cracks are starting to show, but like a great work of art, these cracks im some ways make it a richer experience than the perceived perfection of two decades ago.   

As we move into the summer months, I have only visited my local multiplex three times.  However, I did see four movies at local independent cinemas, it was at one of these in, the MAC (Midlands Arts Centre) in Birmingham where I saw my movie of the month.  Here are the contenders:

High Life –  You would be forgiven for thinking a sci-fi thriller starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche would be Claire Denis’ most accessible film to date.  In some ways it is, but it is still dark brooding, thoughtful and full of ambiguity.   Leaving you with more questions than answers, most viewers will love or hate it, I love it.  High Life

Styx – Susanne Wolff is a doctor sailing solo from Gibraltar to Ascension Island until she comes across a stricken boat of refugees. If All Is Lost is an existential crisis, Styx is a commentary on one of the biggest world issues today.  The title tells you all you need to know: In Greek mythology Styx is the river between the land of the living and the land of the dead.  Passengers must pay the ferryman, if they have no money they must remain on the river for 100 years.  Styx

X-Men Dark Phoenix –  The final film for the First Class cast before Marvel/Disney take back the franchise.  The iconic Dark Phoenix story was told in Last Stand, that was a disaster, this isn’t much better.  Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender are all good, but Jessica Chastain is wasted. X-Men Dark Phoenix

Brightburn – This film would be better if you went in blind, but as all the marketing gives away the premise, I will too; what is superman turned evil in his adolescence?  The premise is good and the execution starts out well but quickly runs out of steam.  It would have been better if the filmmakers had something to say, rather than just asking the question. BrightBurn

I Love My Mum – A bickering mother and son duo have to get home to London from Morocco with no money, no passports, and dressed only in nightclothes.  What could have been an interesting commentary on the migrant crisis quickly becomes a lowest common denominator comedy.   Funny but slight film.  Show as part of a tour of director Alberto Sciamma whose Q&A was very entertaining.I Love My Mum

Society – Cult 80’s horror show as 30th Anniversary screening.  The script, particularly the dialogue is poor, as is the acting.  It does however have a totally bonkers ending with fantastic physical effects.  It is also an effective satire on class, wealth, entitlement. Society

Diego Maradona – Concentrating mainly on his time at Napoli, Asif Kapadia’s documentary tells the story of Argentinean footballer Diego Maradona.  An interesting film that humanises Diego Maradona but is less compelling than his previous movies, mainly due to less sympathetic subjects; Ayrton Senna  and Amy Winehouse. Diego Maradona

High Life is excellent, Diego Maradona supremely well made, but there is a clear winner for the movie of the month: Styx Poster

Star Wars TV

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that in their ongoing effort to take over the world, Disney have announced a series of television programmes in the Star Wars universe. You would be forgiven for thinking by the title this is about those shows, it isn’t!  This is about other Star Wars television programmes, in other words television programmes from the past and currently airing that like Star Wars are set in space and feature some form of conflict.  There are many other shows that fit the criteria, some that I have seen, others that I haven’t, these are my recommendations: 

Blake’s 7 (1978-81) I saw the last ever episode of Blake’s 7 as a kid, I then watched the whole series over thirty years later.  Made by the BBC in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the production design is amazing but the production values are on a par with early Doctor Who.  A group of political dissident’s, rebels and criminals escape the totalitarian federation who rules Earth and its colonised planets. As with many of the best shows on this list the thing that makes it great is a combination of a great cast of characters and timeless political subtext. blakes 7

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) The most relevant Star Trek show to this list.  A spinoff from The Next Generation, DS9.  Set on a space station rather than a exploring starship,it is a departure from the other shows in the Star Trek Franchise.  There are two distinct story arcs the involving conflict with other races.  Although not as initially popular as The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine holds up better to repeat viewings. Star Trek Deep Space Nine

Babylon 5 (1994–1998) Airing at the same time as DS9 above and sharing some similar ideas.  Set in the 23rd Century on the Earth Alliance space station Babylon 5, located in neutral territory, it becomes the centre of the universe and its best chance at peace, and survival.  Filled with diverse characters and interesting stories with contemporary relevance.  revolutionary  in its day as the creators went into the project with a five season story arc planned out.  It dived opinion in its day, but has been hugely influential since. Babylon 5

Farscape (1999–2003) Similar to Blake’s 7 and Firefly with its mismatched crew of fugitives and the totalitarian regime.  Our way into the show is a modern-day America who arrives via a wormhole.  The notable thing about the show is the Henson Company puppets.  I haven’t actually seen the final season of the show, but like what I have seen enough to include it on this list.  Farscape

Firefly (2002 -03) – Running for just fourteen episodes and often referred to as the most prematurely cancelled shows.  Created by Joss Whedon, it is essentially a space western.  Set in a future where mankind has colonised space.  A mismatched crew are living on the edge of society run by the totalitarian “Alliance”.  Keeping exposition to a minimum, the brilliance of the show is a snappy script, universally relevant stories, and a fantastic cast. firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) When I was kid in the early 80’s I used to watch the original Battlestar Galactica every Sunday evening for years. Or did I? How the mind plays tricks on us, it only ran for 21 episodes (plus 10 episodes of Galactica 1980, which I didn’t see).  While I loved the show at the time, re-watching it in the 90’s revealed that it wasn’t very good.  However, the re-imagined version is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Retaining the original concept, and technically a sequel to the original show.  The action and drama of the show were enhanced by a smart script with political undertones with contemporary relevance. Battlestar Galactica

Killjoys (2015- ) What started out looking like it was going to be a second-rate Syfy channel space opera gradually became more interesting and compelling.  As well as an overriding story arc, it also included more relevant characters and storylines.  Beyond all this, the real reason for watching is the shows secret weapon, rising star Hannah John-Kamen in the lead role. Killjoys

The Expanse (2015- ) Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  Set in a future with a colonized Solar System, a fragile cold war like peace exists between Earth, Mars and the Belt (an asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). Essentially a cold war/conspiracy thriller, the brilliance of the show is that as an audience we don’t take sides; all three sides are represented, and there are good and bad on all sides.  This is further complicated as the good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have redeeming features, just like real life!  Simply one of the best shows around at the moment.  The Expanse

I have only visited the cinema six times this month, but I choose well, although very different, all the  films were excellent in their own way. Which will be movie of the month?

Booksmart – On the eve of graduation two friends played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever come to the realisation they have worked too hard and not had enough teenage experiance in high school and vow to make up for it in one night.  Olivia Wilde’s feature debut as a director is a revelation.  What looks in the trailer to be something akin to American Pie or Superbad has more in common with Eighth Grade, while Lady Bird.Booksmart

Beats – During the dog days of the 90’s rave scene, two friends, Cristian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald set out to attend an event, now outlawed by the Criminal Justice Act.  The idea of ‘one final blow-out’ is a staple of movies, particularly teen movies, here it feels quite fresh, not lease because of the anti-establishment tone that is very relevant today. Beats

Vox Lux – 1999, after surviving a high school shooting, teenager Celeste sings at a memorial.  This becomes a springboard to superstardom.  We initially see her early steps to stardom played by Raffey Cassidy.  Then half way through we meet her again eighteen years played by Natalie Portman with Cassidy taking on the role of Celeste’s daughter Albertine. Scott Walker’s orchestral score is fantastic, Sia’s original songs didn’t work for me.  It doesn’t all work, but it is always interesting, and Portman and Cassidy are both excellent. Vox Lux

John Wick: Chapter 3 -Parabellum – If you have seen the first two movies, thats all you need to know about John Wick: Chapter 3, more of the same bonkers, silly mayhem and fun as Keanu Reeves returns to the role he was born to play.John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll – Documentary about the Jersey Shore, boardwalk town that will always be associated with Bruce Springsteen.  Founded in the late 19th century and measuring just 1.6 square miles; thanks to a unique blend of blend of jazz, soul, R&B, rock and blues m music it became the beating heart of the Jersey Sound.  This is the story of how all that came to a tragic end, and what has come out of the ashes in recent years. Asbury Park Riot Redemption Rock & Roll

Rocketman – I don’t particularly like musicals, so went into this with more than a little trepidation.  Fortunately director Dexter Fletcher is far more than a safe pair of hands, he brings flair and originality to what could have been another by the number music bio.  This is a full-blown fantasy, but it has a few things going for it.  Firstly  Taron Egerton is excellent, and likeable, relatable and sympathetic in the lead, more so than Elton John comes across when interviewed.  It also has the advantage of some great Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs to tell the story.  As important as this is the framing device that Fletcher uses that justifies the format. Rocketman

For the first time ever, I am not going to pick a movie of the month, I recommend everyone reading this watches all six movies! Movie of the month May 2019.jpg

 

It has been more than a week since the final episode of Game of Thrones.  Now the dust has settled it is time to take measured look at it. 

On the whole I have been a little critical of the final season, simply because after making us wait, so long, it all feels a little rushed.  Rather than working in the constraints of feature films, Game of Thrones has always made the most of, even relished the time it has to tell a story.  It goes even further than that though; unlike in earlier seasons, recent episodes have not depicted time and space particularly well, there is no sense of how far apart places are and how long it takes to travel between them.  The same is true of Daenerys’ story arc, her decent from entitled, self-important, and slightly paranoid to downright homicidal, while inevitable was very quick.  However, the final episode is a fitting end.  To bring the dreaded “B” word into the conversation, the conclusion of Game Of Thrones is like Brexit.  We will never have a satisfactory brexit, because brexit means so many different things to so many people.  Likewise people who have invested (too much) into the outcome of the show will not be happy unless their chosen character ends on the throne.  That is why, Drogon destroying the throne was the perfect way to deal with it.  Bran is the king the show needed, rather than the one the fans wanted. Drogon destroying the throne

Having finished with the fan pleasing large scale battles in earlier episodes they were able to return to what the show does best, building character and plot through interaction.  A highlight for me was the return of the small council and the wit that comes with it.  Moments like this have always been the best the show has to offer, far more than the CG action.  The other brilliant thing, is the attention to detail.  As we have spent more time in the north, and winter has reached the south, the colour temperature, and the brightness of the show has dropped dramatically.  This helps give a perfect moment, when Tyrion is led from his cell we do not know how long he has been there, but we see the bright warm light coming from the window above him.  This is the first indication that winter is over, and that something new is coming in the next scene.

Given the speed that the Starks were dispatched in the early seasons, you would be forgiven for thinking none would make it to the end.  As it turns out, the narrative has always felt like theirs.  On the whole, they didn’t do too badly.

Jon Snow, got the best end he could have realisably have hoped for; As Aegon Targaryen and the true heir to the throne (if there really is such a thing), he would always have been a cloud over Bran’s rule if kept in play.  The Night’s Watch always felt like the best fit for him.   However, I can’t help wondering, what the Night’s Watch’s job is now the wildlings are allies, and the white walkers defeated? Jon Snow

Sansa has probably undergone the best character arc of the show, going from selfish child to bold leader, but boy did she suffer to get there.  By declaring The North independent of the other kingdoms and crowning herself, she got to be queen as she always wanted, but in a more satisfying way than we could have expected. Sansa

Bran was the perfect choice for King, because from his fall from the tower to the first episode via his mystical journey, he was never in the conversation, he was the one person nobody suggested should be king. Bran

The only member of the family who hasn’t been well served by the last couple of episodes is Arya.  After the moment of the series when she killed Night King in “The Long Night”, she hasn’t had much to do.  Although, killing the Night King was probably the most significant moment in shows entire run, and in hindsight what her character was building to.  To add to this, her ending, leaving to explore the west, beyond the maps is fitting and beyond perfect, it is also prime for a spin-off show. Arya

 Beyond the the Stark family, the other fan (and one of my) favourites, Tyrion’s end was also quite fitting.  Hand of the King is the perfect role for him.  He was set up early in the show as the cleverest person in the land, then his actions and their consequences proved him to be far from as clever as we were led to believe.  This final episode comes full circle proving his brilliance, and showing that his flaw wasn’t his intelligence, it was his misplayed faith in Daenerys.  His speech on the power of stories is not only true in the real world but goes to the heart of the success of the show, it is then perfectly undercut when we find he has been omitted from the book telling the history of recent events.Tyrion

For a long time, it looked like Daenerys would prevail.  Each season ended with an image off her as she worked closer to her “destiny”.  As mentioned her decent from Breaker of Chains to mad tyrant was inevitable, if rushed.  For those who found her genocide the previous episode “The Bells” a little ambiguous, the final episode featured an address to the masses lifted straight from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.  Her end was inevitable.

A long running show is always hard to end.  Lost (2004–2010) for example destroyed any good will with a terrible end.  Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009) left people with mixed feelings.  On the whole I liked it but was not totally convinced.  While many dislike the outcome of Game of Thrones, I’m sure in time people will look back at the show as a one of the best TV programs ever, and the ending is part of that! 

I have just seen Rocketman, despite my disdain for musicals, I enjoyed it; however, it doesn’t compare to the best Elton John movie moment ever: