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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Fassbender’

X-Men Franchise Re-Watch

I have spent the last few days re-watching the X-Men movies, here are a few thoughts.  The MCU has reshaped cinema, nine of the twenty  movies have grossed over $1billion.  Their success is responsible, not only for imitators, but also setting a new benchmark for film budgets, and what is deemed successful.  Back when a comic book movie looked like Batman & Robin (1997) this would not have seemed possible.  A series of events, or to be more precise films set the foundations that made the MCU possible.  I believe it started in 1998 with Blade, but there are two other franchises that were the key stepping stones: Spider-Man starting in 2002, and X-Men franchise starting in 2000.  At the time I knew the X-Men better than most MCU characters, I’m sure the same is true for a lot of viewers.  From that point of view, it was probably a safer franchise to begin with.  But they still started off small with relatively small budgets.  After all, none of the X-Men were as big or well known as DC’s big hitters, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, or Marvels big two, Spider-Man, and The Hulk! It’s worth remembering, this is all before Marvel Studios, when Marvel properties were made by other companies under complicated licence agreements that are still being unpicked to this day.  The X-Men movies were co-productions between Marvel Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.   Marvel, 20th Century Fox, and lots of companies are now owned by The Walt Disney Studios.  That’s enough of the business, what about the movies? Here goes:

X-Men (2000) – The first movie X-Men was limited by a relatively small budget.  While $75million is a lot of money (think how many indie movies you could make for that), it is relatively small by blockbuster standards, around half that of The World Is Not Enough (1999), the most recent Bond film at the time.  The financial limitations probably helped with the creativity of writer/direct Bryan Singer, and he his co-writers David Hayter, and Tom SeSanto.  There are a few key reasons the film works: The story starts with the X-Men as a established group, not an origin story.  But we as the viewers have a way into both the world of the X-Men (both the group, and the world they inhabit) with minimal exposition.  We are introduced via Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin).

With a vast array of characters within the comic book universe all with their own abilities, it would have been easy to flood the story with them.  Partly due to the limited budget the groups are kept small, with the X-Men consisting of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm(Halle Berry), and Cyclops (James Marsden).  The Brotherhood of Mutants are Magneto (Ian McKellen), Mystique(Rebecca Romijn), Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), and Toad (Ray Park).  This restraint and the benefit of is shown in later films when the cast gets bloated and it detracts from the story.  This leads nicely onto the next point, the casting is perfect throughout, with a special mention for Stewart, McKellen and Jackman.  The real revelation is Hugh Jackman, a late replacement for Dougray Scott who was stuck doing reshoots on Mission: Impossible II (2000).  At 6’2″ Jackman is a foot taller than the character in the comic book, this is never an issue.  At the time of the first movie, he was a relative unknown, the only thing I had seen him in at the dime was Paperback Hero, a romantic comedy drama.

The plot is relatively simple in a world that is just learning about mutants, but doesn’t accept them there are two opposing views Xavier who believes humans and mutants can live together, and Magneto who believes mutants are superior and should rule the world.  The film is filled with all the ideas that are at the heart of the comic books, the most overt of those are acceptance for people who are perceived to be different.  That people are stronger when they work together as a team.  There is also a recurring idea that no one is all bad, this depicted by Charles’ refusal to give up on Eric/Magneto, and significantly Charles winning in a game of chess.

X2 (2003) – The X-Men were back just two years later, again with Bryan Singer at the helm.  There are two references to the Arthurian novel The Once and Future King (1958) by T.H. White.  Firstly we see Eric/Magneto reading it early in the movie, then at the end Charles asks his class of they know of the story.  While not a blueprint for the X-Men, or the movie X2, there are similarities.  Charles’ School is clearly Camelot, and the X-Men the Knights of the round table.  But who is who.  Charles is not Arthur as you may first think, he is Merlin.  We see in both this and the first film other taking the public lead, such as when Jean Grey address government.  Charles is the power in the background, he also fights with his mind not with his body.  We then have the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Cyclops, Storm and Logan.  Most importantly, in this sits Magneto.  But who is Magneto in this analogy?  He is probably a combination of Morgan le Fay (Sorceress, half-sister and sometime ally, sometimes antagonist of Arthur.  Mother of Mordred) and Mordred (Arthur’s illegitimate son who ultimately kills and is killed by Arthur), but who he is, is less important than who he thinks he is! He believes himself to be Merlin and/or Arthur, he even has his own round-table in the form of the Brotherhood of Mutants.  But he can never be Arthur, as his table is never truly round, he is always at the head of it!

Longer and with a higher budget, it is the step up you expect from a sequel.  The story is a little more complicated both telling its own story, and delving into Logan’s back story.  With a new antagonist, Magneto teams up with Charles and X-Men.  This is one of the most interesting things about the film, the filmmakers understand the character.  Magneto never goes all the way to Charles’ side, they team up to fight a mutual enemy, but he is always on his own side, or more accurately on the side of mutants, at least from his own point of view.  The visual effects also go up a notch.  Amazingly this does not come at a cost, the film is as good, potentially better than the first film.  The notable additions to the cast are Alan Cumming as Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler.  Brian Cox as Colonel William Stryker and Kelly Hu as Yuriko Oyama aka Lady Deathstrike (I don’t think she is actually referred to by this name in the film).

X-Men: The Last Stand (2009) – Bryan Singer left the franchise to make the oh, so dull Superman Returns and handed directing duties to Brett Ratner.  Although not as bad as I remember, the film isn’t great.  To the credit of the earlier films, recognising that film is its own medium, they did not use existing stories from the comic books, they created cinematic ones in keeping with the mythology of the characters.  The biggest issue with this film, they took a beloved story, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and developed it, poorly!

The centre of the plot revolves around a “cure” to the mutant gene.  This results in some interesting questions, the most overt being the mutants being a metaphor for homosexuality and the idea that you can’t cure someone who isn’t sick! while touched upon, it is never really explored.  The plot is unnecessarily  bloated, as is the cast of characters.  To its credit, the film looks good, and the visual effects are good, except the de-ageing of Stewart and McKellen that may have been groundbreaking in its day but is truly horrific.

As the previous films worked for their efficient use of characters, this film is dragged back by them, and the need to give them something to do.  Even killing two major characters, and sidelining two more early in the story there are still too many.  The most notable addition to the cast was Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, a mutant with an ability to walk through walls, or to be precise through just about anything.  Not a new character having had a small part in previous films, but a huge character within the comic books, and portrayed by Page who was on the cusp of superstardom.  As with the comic books, by the time the film was make Logan/Wolverine had become the fans favourite.  In the first film he was the main character (although it could easily have been made Rogue’s film).  The second film had a plot that easily put him to the for front, but here, it always feels forced.  It was clear, Wolverine needed is own movie, and the X-Men needed a to tell a story without him.  Both of these were to come, to good and bad effect!

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – While I had seen the first two movies many times, and The Last Stand twice, this was my first re-watch of Wolverine.  After a cold open showing the origin of Logan, and Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), we get the best part of the film.  The opening credit sequence is truly excellent.  Showing the brothers Logan and Creed fighting together in the American Civil War, WWI, WWI and Vietnam; each time showing Creed getting more bloodthirsty.  The first act with the pair fighting as part of Team X led by Major William Stryker (same character as Colonel Stryker from X2, now played by Danny Huston).  This is brief but good as is the set-up as we see Logan try to live a normal life also works, it is when he gets his adamantium, once Logan becomes Wolverine/Weapon X that the film loses its way.

This is the film that introduces Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) to cinema audiences.  Referred to as Wade Wilson, Weapon XI, and Deadpool, this is the movie that infuriated the fans.  Understandably as it is a million miles from ” the merc with a mouth”.  This is unfortunate, in the early scenes show promise, after they sewed his mouth shut, it was never going to work! Taylor Kitsch’s Remy LeBeau/Gambit isn’t as far from the comic book character, but still isn’t great.  Over a decade later,  the idea of a Taylor Kitsch Gambit movie still keeps comes up every few years but has never happened.  Liev Schreiber is very good as Creed, and would probably have made a really good Logan.

An interesting point of note is the use of the Three Mile Island accident.  This is the first, but not the last time the franchise incorporated real events within the narrative.  The fact that the first (nearly) half of the film is good, but is persevered to be terrible proves the theory that a good final act can save (our perception) of a film, and a poor ending will destroy a film.

X-Men: First Class (2011) – After eleven years, two good, and two not so good movies the franchise took a new direction.  Matthew Vaughn steps into the director’s chair and wrote the screenplay along with Jane Goldman, Ashley Miller, and Zack Stentz.  Expanding on the opening of the first movie with a young Eric/Magneto discovering his powers in Nazi-occupied Poland tells us we are in the same universe as the original films.  Recasting with younger actors and telling the origin story of both The X-Men, and Magneto.  Following the previous films use of Mile Island accident, this film doubles down, and uses The Cuban Missile Crisis.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes off Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, they are both excellent, particularly Fassbender.  There is more than a hint of James Bond about the 1960’s setting.  Every time I see the film I think how good Michael Fassbender would be as Bond.  The film also gives a new and interesting take on Mystique’s origin and her relationship with both Xavier and Magneto.  With hindsight she is the most interesting casting; it was Jennifer Lawrence’s first big budget movie, when she only had one Oscar nomination (Winter’s Bone), and before The Hunger Games.  The main antagonists are Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and in true Bond Villain style his henchwoman Emma Frost (January Jones).  Rose Byrne gets to have fun as Moira MacTaggert, it’s a shame she is so underused in future films.

There are so many things about the film that shouldn’t work from the training montages, the period setting, playing with history, and the actors playing a version of the characters to fit with the older versions; but strangely it does work making it one of the best films of the series.

The Wolverine (2013) –  Just over a year after taking part in the Normandy landings, Logan finds himself as a prisoner of war in Nagasaki in August 9 1945, not the time you want to be in Nagasaki.  Most of the film is set in the present day, after the events of The Last Stand.  Following the events in Nagasaki seen at the start of the movie, Logan finds himself in Tokyo.  This is no great stretch for the character, within the comic book Logan has a lot of stories set in Japan and is closely associated with Samurai and Ronin culture, the character has always essentially been a Ronin.

The most stand alone movie in the franchise up to this point, none of the characters introduced appear again, the only character from previous movies is Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who appears in Logan’s head.  The most interesting of the rest of the cast are the only other mutants to appear in the film (other than a cameo).  Yukio (Rila Fukushima) A precognitive mutant and member of a deadly assassins clan.  And, Dr. Green / Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) one of the movies main antagonists.

A personal story for Logan on a smaller scale than the other movies within the universe, it is more in keeping with a standalone story.  Logan’s “healing factor” has always been his key to his identity, to take that away should diminish the character, in a way it does, but in doing so, it actually enhances the film by raising the stakes.  The whole film, both in plot, and execution feels more grounded and real (until the final act) than previous films in the franchise.  The Shinkansen fight is excellent. Sadly, the final act is terrible, both in story and visual effects, but the MCU struggles with final acts too, so it isn’t exactly unique!

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Days of Future Past sounds like a terrible idea.  Bring the old cast, last seen in The Last Stand, together with the new cast of First Class, and tell a much loved epic tale from the X-Men comic books. However, it really works and is if not the best, close to the best movie in the franchise.  Simon Kinberg provided the screenplay, based on a story by himself along with Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn.  Vaughn was set to direct but agreed to hand it back to the boss, producer and director of the first two movies Bryan Singer.  Understanding that cinema is a very different medium to comic books, the writers took the brave, but ultimately correct decision to not tell the same story as the comic book.  Using a lot of the same characters, and using the idea of travelling back in time to prevent an assignation in the past to save the present/future.

The cast is huge: The bulk of the movie taking place in 1973 with Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and Hank / Beast (Nicholas Hoult).  All are given plenty to do, and most importantly is in keeping with their character, nobody is making up the numbers.  In the furure section we have lots of recognisable characters Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman – who due to the characters slow aging is able to play the part in past and future), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Storm (Halle Berry), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Bobby / Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore).  They are joined by Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto), and Warpath (Booboo Stewart).  The past section also includes a small part for Peter / Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who in one scene steals the movie.

The film looks, and sounds spectacular.  The visual effects are the best we have seen within the franchise, and the photography and production design are both fantastic.  Thanks to changes in the timeline, this film undoes a lot of the narrative of the previous movies leaving (two in particular) of the original characters in a better place than we last saw them.  Given this was the last time the majority of them were to be used in the franchise, this is great fan service without pandering.   The story also leaves the door open to make future stories easier without having to worry about the fitting the continuity,  Sadly they didn’t exactly make the most of it.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – Be careful what you wish for, The Empire review of Days of Future Past ends with the line “We want X-Men: Apocalypse, now.” Sadly the film is terrible, in many ways the weakest X-Men movie.

Oscar Isaac plays the title villain, En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse.  He is hid beneath lots of CGI and makeup, and frankly isn’t very good. Fan favourite from the comics Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is given a sexy outfit, but no character.  She is given more to do than Mei Melançon did in The Last Stand, we know nothing of her.  Even the outfit doesn’t work, it looks like it doe on the pages of the comic book, but not in the flesh.  And that’s kind of the problem with the film it is all big, bold bright, and brash, you would be forgiven for thinking Michael Bay had directed it, it was actually Bryan Singer.  And that’s the sad thing about it, we know Singer can do so much better,  Michael Fassbender gets a couple of brilliant moments that remind us of this.

The cast is huge again.  As well as the usual suspects, Lucas Till, who sat out the last movie returns as Alex Summers / Havok.  He is joined by new younger versions of characters we have seen in the original three movies: Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers / Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Ororo Munroe / Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) Kodi Smit-McPhee, and I believe for the first time in the movies Jubilee (Lana Condor). Evan Peters gets to do another set piece as Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver, taken on its own merit, it is the best seen in the movie, but offers nothing new, and isn’t as good as what we saw in the last movie.  There is no place for Wolverine within the corner they have painted themselves into with the timeline; rather than embracing this they squeeze him into the story.

The bigger, bolder and brasher it got the less I cared about it.  A sad end to Bryan Singer’s time at the helm of the X-Universe!  Let’s it to one side and remember the three great films he gave us.

Logan (2017) – Firstly, it is worth mentioning, for my re-view, I watched Logan Noir, the black and white version that comes on a separate disk with the Blu-Ray version.  It’s the first time I have watched it this way.  While it isn’t as spectacular as Fury Road: Black and Chrome, it does add to the atmosphere of the movie, and what a movie!  While I have described Days of Future Past as the best X-Men movie, Logan is something different, in a lot of ways, it isn’t an X-Men movie, it doesn’t even look like a comic book movie.  Written (along with Scott Frank and Michael Green) and directed by James Mangold who was also responsible for the previous movie, The Wolverine.  Not only is this Logan’s  most personal story, it is also the most grounded movie within the X-Men universe.  The cinematography by long-time Ridley Scott collaborator John Mathieson is fantastic (in both black and white or colour).  The low angles give a feeling of space reminiscent of with a western.  This is further enhanced by big mood skies straight out of an Ansel Adams photograph.

Set in a post super hero universe where very few mutants remain, and a 90 year old Professor X and Logan are the last of the X-Men.  Charles is struggling to contain his powers and Logan’s powers are fading as he is poisoned by his Adamantium.  There is often a theme in movies like this where the hero has to balance their own survival with a reluctant search for redemption associated with helping somebody else.   This comes in the form of Laura (Dafne Keen – who went on to play Lyra Belacqua in His Dark materials) recognisable to comic book fans as X23, a young mutant with abilities with a striking resemblance to Logan’s.  Richard E. Grant is wonderfully sinister as the movies main villain Dr. Rice.  Other notsble cast members are Boyd Holbrook as Pierce, the main henchman, and Stephen Merchant as Caliban, a mutant friend of Charles and Logan.

This isn’t a comic book movie for all.  New fans of the genre, those who have come along since the start of the MCU, and DCEU will not find what they are used to.  But it’s the comic book movie we need, one that doesn’t end with a giant something hovering over a major city threatening to destroy the world.  The stakes may be smaller, but not for those involved, making it more personal, and relatable.  Even before the Disney takeover, Hugh Jackman had decided to end his time as Logan/Wolverine, this is a brilliant and fitting end to his seventeen years portraying the character, he is going to be a hard act to follow in the inevitable remake.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) – OK, time to confess, I didn’t re-watch all the movies.  Its less than a year since I saw Dark Phoenix.  It is only available to me by rental, which I wasn’t prepared to pay for as quite frankly, it wasn’t very good.  This is a real shame, it represented so much: The final film in both the reboot since First Class, and of the whole franchise before Marvel/Disney take back the franchise, But most importantly a chance to undo The Last Stand, and tell a better version of the Dark Phoenix Saga.  Most of the cast of the last movie return including Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender, they are all good.  But Jessica Chastain is totally wasted.  This won’t be the last time we see the X-Men, but it is most likely the last time we see these actors portray them, the deserved a better send-off.DEADPOOL

Depending on your point of view, the bonkers, but brilliant Deadpool (2016), and the pretty good sequel Deadpool 2 (2018) may be set within the X-Men universe, but that’s for another day.

As mentioned, last year The Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Fox, and with it the film rights for the X-Men.  They soon put all film production within the franchise on hold, eventually cancelling all future films except The New Mutants which was already in the can.  The New Mutants is yet so see the light of day following multiple delays and some re-shoots.  This is despite a 2017 trailer promising a release date April the following year.  Its a great shame as the trailer actually looks good, more of a haunted house horror than a superhero movie.  The two most interesting projects to be cancelled were: X-23; James Mangold was to write and direct the continuing story of Laura aka X-23 from them movie Logan.  And, a Kitty Pryde movie.  Had it been made, it would probably have been an origin story as studios seem to like, if that was the case, it is no great loss, but if they were thinking of a stand alone movie with the character from the existing franchise played by Ellen Page, that would have been worth seeing.  Sadly it is not to be!  There will be new X-Men movies made by Marvel/Disney, I just hope they keep them out of the MCU, as the franchises are probably best not mixed.

 

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james bond no time to dieAs the promotion of next spring’s No Time To Die, the 25 James Bond movie gets underway, the merry go round of who will replace Daniel Craig as 007.  The first thing I would say is that I am only talking about male actors, Bond is a man,  and as M (Judi Dench) says in GoldenEye “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War”.  There have been many suggestions that Ian Fleming’s character was actually a closeted or repressed homosexual.  This isn’t as outlandish as it sounds.  The books were written at a time when it was illegal to be gay.  A gay friend, who knows a lot more than me on the subject once told me that the secret services actively recruited gay men at this time.  Putting all this aside, the character would change too much if a woman were cast.  That’s not to say there isn’t room for a female 00 agent.  I would love to see a different film within the same universe.  That said, EON Productions are making a rare departure from Bond with The Rhythm Section due for release early next year, before No Time To Die.  Based on Mark Burnell novel of the same name the film promises to be a more gritty and realistic take on the genre.  Blake Lively stars as Stephanie Patrick an accidental/reluctant spy.  The film has an estimated $50 million budget, as a new property, this is considered a big risk, Bond 25 however cost five times that and will be expecting to smash $1billion in ticket sales.  I hope the film does well for two reasons, the second book is the best in the series, I would love it to see it adapted.  Secondly it would help the idea of a female 00. mark burnell the rhythm section

Back to Bond:  I understand Tom Hiddleston is still favourite, and for my money a good choice.  Tom Hardy, never seems far from the conversation; great actor but I don’t see him as Bond.  Sam Heughan seems to have come out of nowhere, and is the favourite of some bookies.  I didn’t know who he was and had to look him up.  This is often a good thing when it comes to Bond, an A list actor has never been cast in the role.  This also bodes well for lesser know actors: James Norton, and Jack Lowden, as well as TV stars Aidan Turner and Richard Madden.  It isn’t so great for big names: Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Chris Hemsworth.  Of the three my pick would be Fassbender who would make a great brooding Bond in the vein of Timothy Dalton.  Elba would have been a good choice, but I feel the ship has sailed.  At 47, he would be in his 50’s by the time his first movie came out, and his 60’s by the third or fourth.  Hemsworth, I would discount for two reasons: I personally would prefer to see a British or Irish actor in the part, and I would rather see him in more comedic roles.bond

Other actors getting odds of 10/1 or better include Jamie Bell, Cillian Murphy, Henry Cavill, Damian Lewis.  Bell, I don’t see as Bond, I can’t explain why.  Cavill, I think that ship has sailed.  Murphy, I would never have considered, but think he would be an interesting choice (even better if he used his Peaky Blinders accent!).  I’m warming to the idea of Lewis, just as he seems to be dropping out of contention.  The two others who seem to have dropped out of contention are Benedict Cumberbatch and Henry Golding.  Cumberbatch probably comes with too much baggage, If you mention the name of any of the actors who have played Bond: Connery, Lazenby, Morre, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig; Bond is the first think you think of. Cumberbatch is already Doctor Strange and Sherlock Holmes.  As for Golding, he has dropped out the race as quickly as he entered it.  From what little I have seen of him, he seems to have the looks and the charm, but I haven’t seen anything to convince me he is a very good actor.bond2

So who will be the seventh James Bond?  Probably either nobody from this list, or one of the lesser know actors.  But as strange as it sounds, it doesn’t matter that much.  George Lazenby aside (50 years ago), they have never chosen a poor actor.  How good or bad the films are rests with the script and direction.  I have always maintained that Timothy Dalton is the best Bond, he plays the character closest to the one in Ian Fleming’s novels, but he didn’t make the best films.  With GoldenEye (1995) Pierce Brosnan made one of the best Bond films, but his subsequent films ranged from poor to terrible.  This was purely down to the scripts, and nothing to do with the actor.

bond3

The interesting thing will be the setup.  Will Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw return?  From one point of view, I would like to see them back as they are all great, on the other hand, a clean reboot with a new whole cast would be interesting too.  I like the idea of doing something different, either, going back to the books and making a 1950/60’s set period spy movie.  Or a modern day version, but going back to the start, Bond Year One!  A movie about a younger Bond being recruited.  I have also for a long time advocated bringing back Timothy Dalton, or even Pierce Brosnan to play an older retired Bond.

Given the timescales these movies work to, I would expect to see Bond 26 in 2024/25. 

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After posting my choice for the BAFTA rising star award there have been a few comments suggesting other nominees  deserve to win.  While I stand by my choice of Jack O’Connell I actually believe all the nominees are deserving to demonstrate this I thought I would run through the winners and losers from previous years. 

2006

Winner: James McAvoy

Other Nominees: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gael García Bernal, Rachel McAdams, Michelle Williams

2006

2007

Winner: Eva Green

Other Nominees: Emily Blunt, Naomie Harris, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw2007

2008

Winner: Shia LaBeouf

Other Nominees: Sienna Miller, Ellen Page, Sam Riley, Tang Wei2008

2009

Winner: Noel Clarke

Other Nominees: Michael Cera, Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Hall, Toby Kebbell2009

2010

Winner: Kristen Stewart

Other Nominees: Jesse Eisenberg, Nicholas Hoult, Carey Mulligan, Tahar Rahim2010

2011

Winner: Tom Hardy

Other Nominees: Gemma Arterton, Andrew Garfield, Aaron Johnson, Emma Stone2011

2012

Winner: Adam Deacon

Other Nominees: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Chris O’Dowd, Eddie Redmayne2012

2013

Winner: Juno Temple

Other Nominees: Elizabeth Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Suraj Sharma, Alicia Vikander2013

2014

Winner: Will Poulter

Other Nominees: Dane DeHaan, George MacKay, Lupita Nyong’o, Léa Seydoux2014

 

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Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

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Talking about James Bond in last weeks Radio Times, film critic Barry Norman made the statement: Ask anybody: who is your favourite James bond? I guarantee the answer will be the first one they ever saw”. I’m not sure if I am more discerning or just awkward, but it isn’t true of me. To the best of my knowledge and memory the first Bond I saw was Roger Moore in Live and Let Die. Moore is far from my favourite Bond, but I have recently come to the conclusion that I don’t know who my favourite Bond is! For years I have always claimed it is Sean Connery with the caveat that Timothy Dalton is the closest to the character from Ian Fleming’s novels.

I hold with the popular opinion that George Lazenby was the worst Bond, and this is a great shame as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best Bond films despite him. He is closely followed by Roger Moore whose comic version of Bond just doesn’t work for me. He did however make some decent movies, Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me were both really good films. The Man with the Golden Gun isn’t as good but does benefit from a fantastic performance from Christopher Lee as the villian Scaramanga.

So Back to who is my favourite Bond, Sean Connery certainly had the best stories with relatively faithful adaptations of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball. You Only Live Twice is the point where the franchise started to get silly and even became a parody of itself, it was however still a good film in its own right. Connery’s only misstep was Diamonds Are Forever that was both silly and dull.

I have already said Timothy Dalton most closely resembles the character from the books in his portrayal, but there is another actor who probably looks most like Bond, Pierce Brosnan. This may be a bit of a stretch as there is little description of Bonds appearance beyond his short black hair and a resemblance to Hoagy Carmichael. Pierce Brosnan isn’t my favourite Bond either. He is perfect for the films he made and the time they were made, but sadly most of them weren’t actually very good. After a strong opening with GoldenEye the rest of his films got progressively worse culminating with the car crash of a movie, Die Another Day that was as bad as anything Moore did.

This leaves us with two contenders: Timothy Dalton who was hamstrung by only making two appearances both of them being good but not great films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. Had he made more films he could well have been my favourite Bond but for reasons to long winded and complicated to go into today he didn’t. And finally Daniel Craig, Casino Royale is certainly one of my favourite Bond films and Quantum of Solace is underrated and will probably age well, but is he my favourite? Not yet but he may well be in future, with three more movies including Skyfall due out next month, he will certainly have a chance before handing his Aston Martin and Walther PPK to Michael Fassbender, my choice for the next James Bond.

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With just a week to go until the 84th Academy Awards Britain’s foremost film critic, self confessed Luddite and 3D hater Mark Kermode has announced his own awards The Kermode’s. For someone who prides himself on being opinionated he actually talks a lot of sense and as often as not his opinions tend to be spot on. The only hard and fast rule of the awards is you can’t win a Kermode in a category for which you have been nominated for an Oscar. Here are the winners of the statuette that appears to be modelled in equal parts after Mark Kermode, “Oscar” and Richard Nixon!

Best Musical: Directors Renaud Barret, Florent de La Tullaye for Benda Bilili!

Best Documentary: Director: Asif Kapadia for Senna.

Best Actor: Michael Fassbender for Shame.

Best Actress: Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin & Olivia Colman for Tyrannosaur.

Best Movie & Best Director: Lynne Ramsay for We Need to Talk About Kevin.

I haven’t seen Benda Bilili! so can’t comment on that one. As for the others, it is hard to believe they aren’t nominated for Oscars. Check back tomorrow for the first ever Groovers Movie Awards.

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When I posted Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (ten pairs of very different movies with the same or similar titles) last year Katie from The Stories That Really Mattered commented that she “hadn’t realised there were so many movies with the same titles”! there are lots more where that came from. Here are another ten:

Convoy (1927): A silent-film set in the in the time leading up to the first world war starring Dorothy Mackaill about a New York socialite who is recruited Secret Service agent to befriend a man believed to be a spy for the Kaiser.

Convoy (1978): Sam Peckinpah’s road movie/ modern western is based on a country song of same title by C.W. McCall and stars Kris Kristofferson as an independent truck driver and Ali MacGraw as his passenger.

The Black Swan (1942): Notorious pirate Henry Morgan turned governor of Jamaica staring Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara.

Black Swan (2010): Natalie Portman Oscar winning perforce as a ballet dancer on the edge in Darren Aronofsky’s physiological thriller that owns a debt t European horror movies of the 70’s.

Notorious (1946): Loosely based on the same source novel as Convoy (1927) (see above) Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant star, Alfred Hitchcock directs.

Notorious (2009): The rise and fall of rapper Christopher Wallace a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G.

Shame (1968): Haven’t seen this one so my synopsis is copied from IMDB “Ingmar Bergman’s psychological study of how humans react in a situation of war. The film takes place on Gotland, where invasion forces arrives.”

Shame (2011): Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are devastatingly good in Steve McQueen’s portrayal of a man living with sex addiction.

Heat (1986): Burt Reynolds was for a time one of the most bankable stars in the world, this Las Vegas set mid 80’s crime thriller came shortly after that time.

Heat (1995): Focusing on two men on opposite sides of the law, Michael Mann’s crime thriller is both the directors finest hour and the last great performance (so far) from both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Crossroads (1986):Director Walter Hill’s little known gem sees classical music student (Ralph Macchio) teaming up with old bluesman Willie Brown (Joe Seneca) on a road trip to the Crossroads where Robert Johnson made his deal with the devil.

Crossroads (2002): Britney Spears vehicle about a group of friends who go on a road-trip to LA to take part in a karaoke contest. Originally dismissed as a movie for Britney fans only it is actually now more significant for an early appearance by Zoe Saldana.

Jersey Girl (1992): I had not actually heard of this Dylan McDermott, Jami Gertz romance until Mark Kermode mentioned it. I have no plans to see it!

Jersey Girl (2004): The other Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez movie! The good news it is considerably better than Gigli. It doesn’t live up to Kevin Smiths earlier films but has its moments and Liv Tyler is good.

Twilight (1998): A retired ex-cop turned private detective gets involved with a twenty year old Hollywood murder case. Worth a look for Paul Newman who is as great as ever and Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman who provide good support but the plot is a little to thin and it runs out of steam.

Twilight (2008): Catherine Hardwicke’s surprisingly good adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire yarn.

The Avengers (1998): Disastrous movie adaptation of the classic 60’s TV show.

The Avengers (2012): Due for release later this year, the origin of Marvel’s team of superheroes.

Wonderland (1999):Michael Winterbottom’s stunning social realist movie that features a stunning performance from Gina McKee.

Wonderland (2003): The true story of porn star John Holmes and the wonderland murders.

Check back soon for Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood 3

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