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Author: Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.
Editorials

The Films Of Martin McDonagh

July 1, 2020
Martin McDonagh's Films

Martin McDonagh started writing plays and was very successful at it too. McDonagh’s first foray into filmmaking was with short film Six Shooter, his first full-length film was 2008’s In Bruges, his third film, Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a huge critical hit, earning two actors Oscar wins for the cast.

Warning – McDonagh’s films are full of swearing and violence and, especially Three Billboards…, deal with very difficult subject matter. Also, some spoilers for each film are contained within the article.

In Bruges

In Bruges
In Bruges (empireonline)

For me, this is a contender for the greatest directorial debut of all time. Back in the long-long-ago, through the mists of time, Netflix used to actually deliver DVDs in the post. You couldn’t even pick which film you wanted but had to have a list of films and prioritise them – I fudged the list as much as I could to get this film as soon as possible. I watched it twice in two days, exceeding my already high expectations. The film is a story of two gangster hitmen sent to lie-low after a job went wrong, and bizarrely, sent to Bruges. Colin Farrell stars in a career-best performance as Ray who seemingly is the happy-go-lucky of the pair but is also weighed down with something terrible that is eventually revealed to be that during the last job he accidentally shot and killed a child. The film is a superb black comedy but at its heart it’s a story of redemption – what is Ray to do with his life now? How can he make things right? Is that possible? Brendan Gleeson is the experienced gangster, Ken, sent along on the mission and now trapped with Ray in Bruges. Amazingly the third main character, Ralph Fiennes’ Harry doesn’t appear until half-way through the film. All three main actors are astounding, Ray and Ken making as an odd double-act, with Harry being an over-the-top mob boss (Harry screaming at his wife, “You’re an inanimate f*****g object” and promptly apologising, insisting she isn’t, is gold). In true film-snob style, I have to cite Bruges itself as a character in the film. McDonagh has said that Ray and Ken exemplified his perception of the city when he first arrived, he was Ken, he loved it’s medieval beauty but quickly became Ray – bored as there is very little to do aside from sightseeing.

Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths
Seven Psychopaths (slantmagaine.com)

Following up In Bruges was never going to be easy. Farrell remained as the central character (playing an Irish scriptwriter named Marty), Gleeson and Fiennes were gone but the cast now boasted Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson, so a fair trade. The plot revolves around Marty trying to write a script he’s called Seven Psychopaths but doesn’t want it to be a cliched action film, despite calling it Seven Psychopaths. Aided and hindered in scriptwriting by his friend Billy (played by Rockwell, a professional dog-kidnapper); things get out of hand when Billy kidnaps a gangster’s dog who vows revenge. There is a lot going on in this film – perhaps too much, as well as just the action-comedy of the battle with the gangster there is an analysis of filmmaking and discussions thinking about religion, revenge and the power of stories. One memorable scene has Marty, Billy and Hans (Christopher Walken) discussing possible endings for Marty’s film, and despite Marty insisting he doesn’t want a traditional gunfight ending that is what Billy suggests. Billy’s ending is an insane shootout involving exploding heads, hidden crossbows and the escape of a pet rabbit/death of Marty’s girlfriend (leading to perhaps the film’s most memorable line “You can’t let the animals die in a movie… only the women”).

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (vulture.com)

There have been criticisms that McDonagh’s films focus heavily on men, certainly, the women characters in his first two films are peripheral, I don’t know whether Three Billboards… is a response to that criticism but this film’s central character was Mildred, played by Frances McDormand. Whilst still a dark comedy the subject matter is far more serious than in previous films. Mildred is a woman in deep grief after the rape and murder of her teenage daughter; after the police have failed to solve the crime she rents three billboards, calling out the local police chief by name for his failure. The idea being that, as Mildred explains, a crime is more likely to be solved the longer it stays in the public consciousness.

A great film it also contains an unforgettable cinema-going experience for me – there is one hell of a punch to the gut as it reveals something Mildred said to her daughter before she was murdered where the cinema audience I was in gasped in shock and heartbreak or in some cases groaned in pain.

McDormand is brilliant and won a second Oscar for this performance and seems to have an almost unstoppable force of nature sense to her, she has no power, no money, no authority but she will make things happen. Harrelson is on great form as the weary police chief who seems genuinely heartbroken he has failed Mildred and her daughter and we also learn is dying of cancer. The fact that Mildred is well aware of both of these facts but pushes on regardless shows her determination. Perhaps the most complicated and controversial character is Dixon (played by Sam Rockwell), a deputy who sums up the worst of the American police force – brutally violent, racist and bullying anyone who stands up to him. Perhaps even worse the rest of the local force is well aware of Dixon’s problems but aren’t terribly bothered (and maybe are the same just better at hiding it) – Harrelson’s character even trots out the line that if they got rid of all of the racist cops, there would hardly be any cops. The reason Dixon’s character is so controversial is whether or not he has a redemptive arc and is that acceptable in a character who has done such terrible things. Personally I don’t think we’re meant to see Dixon as “redeemed”, I don’t think he’s meant to have changed and at best put aside his personal animosity for Mildred to try and achieve something important.

Not For Everyone…

McDonagh’s films are very dark comedies with even darker none comedic storylines going on underneath, and that’s difficult to get right, and certainly, these films aren’t going to be for everyone but have been some of my favourite films of recent years.

Also Read: The Anatomy of a Christopher Nolan Film

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Editorials

What The Snyder Cut Could Mean For The DCEU

June 16, 2020
Justice League

Things have never gone quite smoothly for the DC Extended Universe, often seen as the poor relation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and always playing catchup. The DCEU does not seem to have had the same overall guidance that the MCU had and with the announcement that HBO will screen the “Snyder Cut” of 2017’s Justice League things are only going to get more complicated.

What Is The Snyder Cut?

Justice League - The Snyder Cut
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (credit: Warner Media)

When DC wanted to create its own superhero universe, the DCEU, one director was pushed to the front – Zack Snyder. Snyder directed the first film in the DCEU, Man of Steel, in 2013. He then went on to direct Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, which brought Batman and Superman into conflict and introduced the character Wonder Woman. Naturally enough, a Justice League film was planned, this being a team of superheroes that worked together from the DC comics. Again, Snyder was to direct. However, after a family tragedy Snyder stepped down from directing and the project was taken over by Joss Whedon. Many fans were disappointed with the finished product with some believing Whedon had taken the film in a different direction to which Snyder had wanted. And so an internet campaign was born for the so-called “Snyder Cut” to be released.

The Two Film Problem

Doc explaining the diverging DCEU timelines (backtothefuturefandom.com)

This has created a rather thorny philosophical problem – which is the real Justice League film? To use the correct term – which is canon? In the past this wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, canon was not something that worried the people who made Batman Forever, whilst nominally a sequel to Batman Returns it was very much its own film. But in the DCEU this is important as it will have repercussions to the other films and tv shows. In the world of comics, canon is at once incredibly complicated and incredibly simple. There is no one story for a superhero, there are multiple stories, they can be set in different time periods, change important details of the story, retell old stories in a new way. This is a perfectly natural part of comic books that allows them to remain refresh when characters can be decades old. Such a reset is probably coming to MCU relatively soon.

The DCEU machine is already winding up for the release of The Batman with Robert Pattison taking on the role. Obviously this will be a younger Batman/Bruce Wayne than Ben Affleck’s Batman and raises the question of where does this sit in the DCEU storyline? I have tried to find this out but it seems very unclear. Similarly what about Suicide Squad, The Suicide Squad, and Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey? Affleck’s Batman briefly appeared in Suicide Squad and as Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn runs through them it could be assumed they are all in the same universe.

I doubt in terms of plot too much would be different between The Snyder Cut and the original film. I can’t imagine that Snyder’s will feature a massacre of the main characters or a completely different outcome but if nothing else fans obsess over small details.

The Darkest Timeline

Abed in Community wearing his evil beard (www.community-sitcom.fandom.com)

My own rather impractical solution is to have two separate DCEUs running alongside, each branching off from their own version of Justice League. The idea of having two competing DCEU timelines with the same actors and same plots is certainly intriguing, given that it’s DC you’d have to assume that each would be competing to be the darkest timeline – in the vein of Abed’s infamous belief, in TV show Community, that of six possible different ways for the show to go, there was a “darkest timeline”. Like in Community (as inspired by Star Trek) all characters in DCEU would wear goatee beards, the acknowledged universal symbol of evilness.

Abandon The Universe

Joker (deseret.com)

My unpopular opinion on the MCU is I don’t think it promotes good storytelling. The MCU currently consisted of twenty-three films (as well as tv shows that are meant to take place in that universe) and every new film has to fit in. There can be a lot said for telling a story over multiple films and adding scope to the narrative but I see it as so much baggage.

Joker is probably the most critically acclaimed comic book film ever as well as being hugely financially successful and popular with traditional fans and it is not considered part of the DCEU. I would like DC to embrace this idea. They didn’t have to worry about how this film would fit into the wider story and just make a great film. If they want to do another Green Lantern film there is no reason for it to fit in with an existing story, it can be it’s own self-contained entity, allowing them to be more experimental. This will allow DCEU to have over-the-top minor character mad-cap adventures like the recent Harley Quinn and their brooding dark Batman films.

If nothing else the release of The Snyder Cut could be an interesting watershed for films with huge fandoms, fans made this happen. Much has been written about what effect fan dissatisfaction had in relation to the recent Star Wars films and it’ll be interesting to see how fans will use this new power.

Also Read: The Snyder Cut Saga

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Editorials

Five Reasons To Watch Succession

May 31, 2020

Recently I started watching HBO hit Succession and was quickly sucked into a world of treachery, wealth and truly unpleasant people. Here’s five reasons you should watch.

1. It’s Being Called The New Game Of Thrones

Succession Cast  HBO
Succession Cast (deadline.com)

So, I should say Succession is it’s own programme, with its own ideas, but there are similarities. I should also say Game of Thrones is a fantasy programme filled with zombies and dragons and Succession is set in present-day America about a rich family so there are plenty of differences. The main similarity is the struggle for power. The show is focused on the Roy family – Logan Roy is a self-made billionaire and owner of a huge business empire and he has a number of children vying to take over that company. As far as I’ve seen no one has yet murdered anyone to seize power but sometimes it feels like that is definitely coming. In fact, if people start poisoning each other it would feel very much like I, Claudius the masterpiece BBC drama showing the struggle to control the Roman Empire.

2. You Will Hate All The Characters So Much

Kieran Culkin stars as Roman Roy (Peter Kramer / HBO)
Kieran Culkin stars as Roman Roy (Peter Kramer / HBO)

I don’t have if I have ever wanted to punch a character more than Roman Roy (played wonderfully by Kieran Culkin). Not actually evil but smug to the point of ridiculousness when he has achieved precisely nothing. There are two things in particular that incur my ire in regards to Roman: 1- he is unbelievably wealthy and is a dick about it. There are few things I hate more than rich people who love to shove that wealth in everyone else’s face, something Roman does repeatedly. 2. Perhaps, more importantly, the man cannot sit on a chair. Throughout season one virtually every time you see him sitting it’s never the right way. But Roman is simply the most immediately objectionable of a very bad bunch – there’s Logan who seemingly enjoys pitting chis children against each other, Kendall, the heir-apparent business bro, the already mentioned deplorable Roman and their sister manipulative Shiv. The oldest child, Connor, who has decided to stay out of the family business and perhaps seems the most likeable quickly turns out to be not so nice and even Greg, the stoner-slacker cousin is soon corrupted.

3. Fantastic Insults and Swearing

Logan Roy preparing to swear at someone (cheatsheet.com)

Perhaps the best swearing in television since The Thick Of It and while the characters don’t have the verbal imagination of Malcolm Tucker the delivery of each curse is wonderful. You can spend a lot of time admiring the way Logan Roy tells people to “f**k off”. There are no punches pulled when it comes to insults with everything from recovering addiction problems to childhood trauma seen as fair game.

4. Character Complexity

Best friends Tom and Greg Suceesion HBO
Best friends Tom and Greg (polygon.com)

It’s almost impossible to work out the motivations of any character with my idea of every character being rewritten with every episode (with the possible exception of Roman who is just a dirtbag through and through). The two characters where this is most apparent is Logan Roy and Tom Wambsgans. Logan at first seems to have virtually an Alexander the Great plan of succession, wanting to leave his empire to the strongest, but there are moments, glimpses, of when you think he might actually care about his children. Tom is even more fascinating – starting the show as Shiv’s fiancee I was 100% convinced he did not care about her at all, his only goal being the advancement in her family’s company. But as the show goes on this becomes less and less clear and their relationship more complicated. Perhaps even more enjoyable is his bizarre “friendship” with Greg, does he hate Greg? Does he like him? Is he trying to destroy him? Is he trying to mentor him?

5. The Worst Family In America

Happy Family (harpersbazaar.com)

The Roys are undoubtedly a contender for the worst family ever portrayed on television. The siblings are constantly at each others’ throats looking for any potential weakness. At times when Logan asks them to be on their best behaviour to look vaguely normal, they can barely manage five minutes. Another show it reminds me of which has a similarly dysfunctional family is Arrested Development, with some of the characters like Tom, Roman and Greg needing only a minor tweak to fit into the world of the more comedic and silly world of the Bluths.

Also Read: Why Watchmen Is One of The Best TV Series Ever

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Editorials

Quentin Tarantino Directing A Star Trek Film? Here’s What It Would’ve Been Like

May 18, 2020
Star Trek

As any Star Trek fan will know the films are a mixed bag – ranging from the genuinely brilliant Wrath of Khan and First Contact to the practically unwatchable Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The recent run of films, starting with J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, breathed new life into the franchise, but I never cared for these, to me they felt more like Star Wars than Star Trek. And then a little while ago it seemed like there would be a new director for the next Star Trek film – Quentin Tarantino. Perhaps not the first name that would spring to mind, but what would a Tarantino directed film be like?

Bloody Violence

Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: First Contact (denofgeek)

Star Trek films have typically shied away from much of the possible blood and gore of fight scenes. Even when featuring Klingons, whose favour sword-like weapons, there was little blood. But even if you know next to nothing about Tarantino you will probably know his films are bloody. Kill Bill 1 and 2 are horrific limb slicing, blood spurting rampages. Reservoir Dogs has THAT scene involving Stuck In The Middle With You. At times Django Unchained is drenched in blood and one would expect Star Trek: Tarantino would be too. The traditional weapon in Star Trek, phasers, have never seemed to do too much damage but I’m sure Tarantino would have them blasting off arm and leaving gaping holes in people. I would have said at some point there would have been a samurai fight but with Star Trek already having done a sword fight maybe not.

Swearing

Reservoir Dogs (youtube.com)

There has never been much swearing in Star Trek. Certainly, at times it has been seen as a broadly family show. I watched it as a young child and only learning a few Klingon insults. Obviously, with a show running over decades, the idea of what they can and can’t be said has changed, the original series was usually restricted to Bones shouting dammit. I distinctly remember being shocked at Data’s use of the word “shit” in Generations. Quentin Tarantino, however, fills his films with profanities, The Dallas Observer went through his films and totalled up the swearing, Tarantino dropped the f-bomb 269 times in Reservoir Dogs, and throughout all his films has used that word 901 times. While it does point to a downward trend in swearing within Tarantino films we could expect Bones to be far more aggressive when explaining what he can’t do.

Star Trek Further Into Darkness

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (syfy.com)

The single biggest change would simply be the tone of Star Trek. Traditionally, it has been a “nice” show, Earth and the Federation were beacons of justice, prosperity and equality. The original series was praised for its diverse cast and over the years it has become a near-utopian vision of the human race. They journeyed through space as explorers and scientists, never looking for a fight. The more recent films have tried a grittier and darker view of the universe they inhabit and I think it’d be safe to say Tarantino would raise this 1000%. In Tarantino even the good guys aren’t that good, in Inglourious Basterds, the heroes explicitly go out to torture, maim and do everything they can to terrorise the Nazis. In Kill Bill The Bride seeks revenge on those who wronged her but she spent years doing exactly the same work, hardly a hero. Would Captain Kirk go a revenge rampage? Is Spock using the science labs to make drugs? Has the ultimate epitome of Federation-niceness Captain Picard started mutilating captured Klingons? You dread to think what the actual villains might be like.

The problem with auteurs…

Star Trek: The Original Series
Star Trek: The Original Series (startrek.com)

Ultimately the problem with having Tarantino direct Star Trek is that it wouldn’t be a Star Trek film, it would be a Tarantino film. I think this is what happened with Star Trek directed by J.J. Abrams – he is a director with a very particular style that I don’t think he could relinquish for the good of the franchise. On top of that a director like Tarantino would want to make his presence felt, much in the way Abrams did, starting over and rewriting what happened so he could tell the story he wanted to tell.

At the time of writing, it seems like this film won’t happen and another director will take over, which I think is broadly a good thing. Of course, there is a perfect Star Trek vehicle for Tarantino – the Mirror Universe, the alternate reality where all the main characters are evil. This is the origin of the trope of evil versions of good characters having beards, referenced in everything from South Park to Community. In the Mirror Universe, the director could have the characters go full Tarantino without spoiling Star Trek itself.

Also Read: What Makes A Tarantino Film?

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Editorials

Never Less Than Great: The Films of Edgar Wright

May 8, 2020
The Films of Edgar Wright

Edgar Wright is a phenomenal director. He can do action, he can do comedy, he can do tragedy – and he can do it all in one scene. Let’s start with the greatest thematic film trilogy of all time…

#1 Strawberry – Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead (whats-on-nettflix.com)

In the early 2000s, I remember reading that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, co-writer and director of the brilliant sitcom Spaced, were working on a film and I thought “that’ll probably be good”. I was wrong – it was a great film. I would go so far as to call it a perfect film, there is not a single part of it I would change. A film that was billed as a zombie spoof became far more than that (although even as a zombie spoof it works fantastically well), one of the best comedies ever made with more emotional depth than Oscar-winning dramas. Simon Pegg made a fantastic everyman hero, Bill Nighy excelled as unloved stepdad Philip and even Dylan Moran stretched himself to play a character who wasn’t a version of Dylan Moran. You can see the film as a zombie story, a tale of Shaun getting his girlfriend back or a film about Shaun sorting his life out. Jokes range from relationships to zombie horror with tangents into orangutan impressions. This a film that completely obliterated my expectations and remains one of my all-time favourite films.

#2 Chocolate – Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz
Hot Fuzz (focusfeatures.com)

As with Shaun of the Dead what could have been a cheap parody became one of the best, if not the best, example of the genre. In a sensational example of misdirection, we are lead to believe a rampage of murder and destruction is all about supermarkets going out of business but is actually a terrifying tale of people trying to make the perfect village. The film easily going from cop action film to claustrophobic British horror (everyone who has visited a small town has heard the “he’s not even from around here” statement). Even more so than with Shaun of the Dead the cast is packed with amazing talent; there are two Oscar winners in the cast (Olivia Colman and Jim Broadbent), small roles are filled by people like Alice Lowe and Rory McCann. I firmly believe that Simon Pegg as Nicholas Angel is the best portrayal of any police officer ever seen on film or television – hugely effective yet understands the importance of rules for the police, understands the letter and the spirit of the law, works with the community and doesn’t like guns.

#3 Mint – The World’s End

The World's End
The World’s End (theverge.com)

The final part of the so-called Cornetto Trilogy that is not really a trilogy. There are themes than run through them all like friendship and growing up, but there is no common story. The World’s End changes things up a little with Simon Pegg playing the irresponsible character and Nick Frost being the more stable person. Pegg’s Gary King is still stuck in his teenage mindset, immature, irresponsible and at times downright idiotic but convinced of his own brilliance. He corrals his old friends to finish a pub crawl they started in their youth only to discover that the town has been taken over by robot duplicates. The World’s End deals with genuinely weighty and emotional topics- addiction, suicide and feelings of failure whilst still being very funny and still a first-rate sci-fi film.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (sky.com)

I saw this not knowing the source material at all. I loved Wright’s films and I knew Michael Cera from Arrested Development but I had decided I liked it even before any actors appeared. The Universal logo was rendered in 1980s 8bit graphics and I was already on board. What followed was nearly two hours of nerdy awesomeness as Scott battles his prospective girlfriend’s seven evil exes. Scott himself is not a terribly likeable character but grows on you through the film, especially as exes are uniformly bad people ending with supremely smug Gideon Graves. Another fantastic castlist including Superman, Captain America, Johnny Storm and Huntress. Chris Evans stealing the show with insufferable skateboarder/blockbuster movie star Lucas Lee who has his stunt doubles join the fight. Again Wright throws a curve ball when what saves the day is not Scott’s love for Ramona but in finding self-respect and dealing with the bad things he’s done.

Baby Driver

Baby Driver (youtube.com)

Edgar Wright has perhaps made the best zombie, the best police action film and best graphic-novel-adaptation-set-in-Toronto film and he has probably made the best car chase film. Or at least the best chase; which you can watch in entirety as well as the charming several minutes of Ansel Elgort singing along and sort-of-dancing to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on youtube. This scene was based on a music video Edgar Wright directed a long time ago, with Noel Fielding playing the driver and presumably it was his previous obligation to the Great British Bake Off that stopped him reprising the role. There is a slightly loose plot and villain of the film switches between Kevin Spacey, Jamie Fox and Jon Hamm but the film is still stunning. There are amazing car chase scenes but there is also the music. Music has always been important in Wright’s films but some people have said this film should be viewed as a musical. Using the device of Baby constantly listening to music to drown out his tinnitus there is seemingly music always playing. Many people have commented that the film often feels like a musical, not just because of the music but the way scenes are filmed – colour matching laundrettes and gunshots synchronised to the music.

Never Less Than Great

This surely has to be one of the most impressive resumes in film history, beloved cult classics, endlessly quotable, with some of the funniest moments in any film ever. Wright has at least two of all my time favourite shots. Some filmmakers are praised for “never making a bad film” whereas Edgar Wright should be celebrated for only ever making great ones.

Also Read: The Unique Style of Wes Anderson

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Editorials

Returning to The Lord of the Rings

April 27, 2020
Lord of the Rings

I am what most people would call a massive nerd. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, I tick all the nerd boxes. Except for Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit as a child and tried to read the book trilogy but…I got bored. It’s a long time before anything happens and I mean really long. Like just about everyone else I watched the film trilogy when it came out. I even had a marathon watch of all three films – the special editions as well. And that’s about twenty-nine hours. While I liked these films I never understood their huge appeal but recently I thought I’d give them another try. One note, certain criticisms of the films might be thought of as unfair as they are things directly from the books, as this is a review of the films.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship - Lord of the Rings
The fellowship (marysue.com)

Like the book, the film has a long time before much happens. We get an extended period of time just looking at the idyllic world of The Shire. One of the problems I have with LotR is the hobbits, they aren’t the most interesting of races. I know that Tolkein very specifically chose the hobbits to be the ultimate heroes of the books, these creatures that no one expected much of who actually go on to save the whole world but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re boring. The idea of learning more about the lives of the elves or the dwarves, or following Aragorn or finding out what Boromir was up to, could be extremely interesting. But can you imagine a film set in the peaceful Shire? Anyway, I have to say, once Aragorn shows up things do get more interesting. I don’t have time to go into everything but they have a meeting, people argue quickly showing the audience the fault lines in the anti-Sauron camp, they form the fellowship, Gandalf “dies”, Boromir goes a bit weird, there’s a battle with some new tougher orcs, two hobbits are captured and two other hobbits go off alone.

The character I most identified with was Boromir, he wanted to use the Ring to defend his people who, he rightly points out, are the ones who are constantly fighting orcs. Obviously, the Ring would have corrupted him but it’s still a better plan than the insane one they come up of nine people – four of whom had never left the Shire – to walk into Mordor and destroy the Ring. If anything seemingly making Sauron’s job easier for him.

One does not simply "meme" - Lord of the Rings
The birth of a meme (digitalspy.com)

Highlights – the wraiths attacking Frodo and his race to Rivendell, Gandalf’s last stand and Sam’s refusal to leave Frodo.

Lowlights – too long in the Shire, Elrond’s constant complaining about the inconsistency of Men while planning to run away, “comedic” hobbit moments.

The Two Towers

The Two Towers (youtube.com)

In the first film, there is one central narrative: there is one group you follow. In this one, it splits in three:

Narrative 1 – Frodo and Sam (and then Gollum) heading to Mordor.

Narrative 2: Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli rushing first to save Merry and Pippin, then helping Rohan, one of the kingdoms of Men.

Narrative 3: Merry and Pippin’s capture, escape and teaming up with the Ents.

There is a lot of cutting back and forth between these narratives but this is done quite well. The introduction of Gollum is very odd. I think Frodo is both meant to feel pity for him as well as worrying that is what he will become and so looking for Gollum to be redeemable. The problem being Gollum is the least convincing redeemed person ever, even for the short period of time he might have actually be redeemed. Nobody would ever trust him for a second.

Battle of Helm's Deep - Lord of the Rings
Battle of Helm’s Deep (sfcritic.com)

Aragorn et al not only fail to find the captured hobbits but seem to get distracted and wander off. In fairness, they get distracted by Gandalf returning from the dead and deciding to and help a king (I think Gandalf is meant to have assured them Merry and Pippin are safe). This leads us to the main thrust of the film – the fall of Rohan. The kingdom is on the brink of collapse and after Gandalf does some quick exorcising their king decides to head for Helm’s Deep, his kingdom’s stronghold. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is surely one of the greatest battles in cinema history, there is a real sense of scale, of thousands of people on either side crashing against each other. It does fall to one of the classic film mistakes in that they allow the heroes to engage in utterly ludicrous fights the only thing saving them is the handy Script Immunity you get from being one of the central characters. Aside from this minor quibble, it is genuinely amazing.

I was very surprised in how involved I became in the struggles of Merry and Pippin in this film. They start the film facing a literal fate worse than death and end it storming the bad guy’s castle. I quite liked the Ents too, even though they’re slower at getting round to doing stuff than hobbits.

Highlights – the battle of Helm’s Deep set the bar for battle scenes, The Extraordinary Adventures of Merry & Pippin and the fact that it was thought necessary to call elephants by a different name and chose oliphaunts.

Lowlights – the idea of anyone trusting Gollum.

The Return of the King

Lord of the Rings - Return of the King bar scene
The Return of the King (flickchart.com)

Fortunately back then it hadn’t occurred to anyone to split the last film into two films as they really would have done it. I’ll say now this was the one I enjoyed the least but that’s not to be unexpected, endings are hard to get right (that said, they have about five attempts). Very brief plot synopsis – Sauron is now focused on another kingdom, Gondor, if this falls Sauron has pretty much won. Talking of the Ring Gollum – returned to his outright evil ways – plans to betray the hobbits and take the Ring, as who didn’t see that coming? Frodo, that’s who. Merry and Pippin join the army of Rohan and Gondor respectively. There is another huge battle which could only feel like an anticlimax after the huge battle in the last film. While people are fighting and dying for Gondor, Aragorn has recruited an army of ghosts who arrive at the last minute and wipe out the entire enemy in about thirty seconds in what has to be one of the laziest and worst deus ex machinas I’ve ever seen.

Lord of the Rings Orc
I need the ugliest orc you have….no, that’s too ugly (lotr.fandom.com)

What about Sam and Frodo? Well, Gollum orchestrates a split between the two by the medium of breadcrumbs and then sends the unsuspecting Frodo into the lair of a giant spider. Sam comes back, saves the day, and they make their way to Mount Doom with only a ten thousand or so orcs in the way. Aragorn takes the soldiers he has left to attack Mordor, a suicidal attack the only aim of which is to distract Sauron and his orcs. A battered and beaten Frodo and Sam make it to Mount Doom only for Gollum to reappear, stealing the Ring and falling into the fire. Sauron dies, his army of orcs panic and flee and the good guys win.

Despite this film winning Best Picture at the Oscars, it does feel like the weakest, and most of what happens you feel like was done better in the previous films. There are some bizarre moments, such as Frodo turning against Sam, or when Frodo and Sam dress in orc armour to blend in despite obviously not being orcs. One of the problems I’ve always had with these films are the stark choices of good and evil that exist – Sauron is the very incarnation of evil. Is he? Why? Is he just fundamentally evil? The ending of the film suggests everything is going to okay now but I can’t help but think in five years time Aragorn will have annexed Rohan and the elves and dwarves will be fighting interminable wars.

Highlights :

  • Frodo not being able to destroy the Ring was a great idea as it showed just how strong a hold it had.
  • The endings – yes it has a lot of endings but I do really like at least one. Aragorn is crowned king and everyone bows before him, when the four hobbits do Aragorn asks them to stand saying, “You bow to no one,” is fantastic and does come full circle on the hobbits being the most unlikely heroes.
  • Eowyn killing the witch-king.

Lowlights:

  • The endings – yes, it’s both a lowlight and a highlight but it does go on, seemingly giving all the traditional cues of “this is the end of the film” and then refusing to end. I dread to think how long the post-credit scene would be if it was made now.
  • Being back in the Shire – I don’t know how any of the hobbits are meant to go back to their old lives – is Sam still a gardener? That said, I’m divided on Frodo leaving as well as I can’t imagine anywhere else giving him the peace he wants that the Shire (even as a reliably told he is effectively going to the afterlife).

To sum up…

The Lord of the Rings films are a staggering cinematic achievement and Peter Jackson deserves unending praise for bringing these films into the world. I still don’t love Lord of the Rings – I like it, it’s entertaining and certainly cinematic but it’s never going to be as important to me as it is to some people.

Also Read: Was It Really That bad?: Star Wars Episode 1

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Editorials

The Most Important Cinema In The World (To Me)

April 10, 2020
Tyneside Cinema

Scene 1 – No cinema

Let’s picture a scene. It’s April 1999, a 15-year-old version of me stands in the rain outside the closed ABC Cinema in Sunderland. Distraught and devastated this young movie fan now has no cinema in his hometown. Throwing his last ticket stub, for the surprisingly enjoyable Blast From The Past, at the boarded-up building, he keeps a lonely vigil until a cinema returns to the city. There would not be a cinema in Sunderland until November 2004. Okay, the bits about me in there aren’t true, but it is true that for years the city had no cinema (in credit to Sunderland they still managed to have a film festival during this time). This story is to illustrate just how important the Tyneside Cinema became to me. I didn’t actually visit this cinema until the release of Bowling For Columbine in 2002 and by this point, I was attending university in Newcastle which had cinemas – Plural. Growing up in the outskirts of Sunderland in a town split between being part of Sunderland City and Durham County councils, as if neither wanted to take full responsibility, did sometimes feel like I was living in a bit of a cultural wasteland.

Sunderland's ABC Cinema
Sunderland’s ABC Cinema (twitter.com)

The Tyneside Cinema was built in the 1930s by Dixon Scott (directors Ridley and Tony Scott are relatives of his). As a news cinema, it went on to become a wonderful independent cinema. And in my angry late teens, I saw it as a welcome outpost of culture. Over the years I’ve seen everything from John Cameron Mitchell’s comedy/drama/sex film Shortbus to action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road. Undoubtedly had the cinema not existed my experience of film would be very different.

There is more to Tyneside Cinema than just a place that shows films – but let’s talk about films for a second. It’s a cinema where I had the wonderful double-bill of The Raid and Moonrise Kingdom, where I was able to watch brilliant films that I had been too young to see at the cinema: Jaws, The Princess Bride and Casablanca to name but a few. Every Christmas they have sell-out screenings of It’s A Wonderful Life. Their bar screens regular cult classics as well as family films on Sunday mornings over a nice brunch. They have legendary all-nighter film marathons; once I saw The Big Lebowski-Mad Max-The Thing-The Bride of Frankenstein-The Princess Bride and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I will say it was a mistake to end with 2001 as it gets too trippy for someone who is sleep-deprived. For the sake of balance, I should say I also saw 1962 French New Wave classic Jules et Jim which is perhaps the worst film I’ve ever seen in the cinema and probably would not have were it not for this cinema – it was so bad I was glad when the First World War started as I thought something interesting might happen. It didn’t.

The Gallery – a small screening room for films and art exhibitions (tynesidecinema.co.uk)

Scene 2 – Continuing With Normal Life

Let’s imagine a second scene (but this one is entirely true). It’s January 2010 and I am in the Tyneside Cinema watching possibly the most depressing film ever made – The Road. I am in a nearly empty screen on a weekday afternoon and I am able to see it at this time because I am unemployed. I am able to afford it as the ticket cost £1; that is how much they charge the unemployed (and refugees and asylum seekers). When you’re unemployed a lot of your “normal” life is abandoned but because of this ridiculously low price I could keep films in my life and that really helped me.

In addition to showing films, the cinema also boasts some of my favourite places to eat and drink in Newcastle. The best burger I’ve ever eaten was in the Tyneside Bar Cafe (obviously it’s called The Royale with Cheese). They run excellent film quizzes there for people who really know about cinema (which I have won on more than one occasion – but not many more). They have the decades-old institution of the Tyneside Coffee Rooms and the modern coffee and cocktail bar Vicolo. The cinema runs workshops for young people, helping them learn how to make all sorts of films. Then there is building – both inside and out it looks stunning and is a Grade II listed building.

Scene 3 – A Temporary Absence

And now for the final scene, it’s February 2020 and I’m in a very busy screening of Parasite. I had been dying to see this film for a long time after hearing exceptionally good reviews and having seen some of the director’s previous films. It’s a great film and it seems like most of the audience enjoyed it. This is the last film I see before the cinema is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic... It’s possible the cinema might not reopen due to financial issues. It’s been a long time since 2002 when I first went to the Tyneside Cinema and the cultural world has changed quite a bit. A fifteen-year-old today isn’t dependent on just what’s being shown at a local cinema. Being able to stream films from home is great, but getting to see a film in a cinema is still a great experience, sitting amongst people who are all there for the same reason. Newcastle, and me, would be infinitely poorer without it.

To find out more about the Tyneside Cinema (and to donate if you want to) go to https://tynesidecinema.co.uk/

Tyneside Cinema

Also Read: COVID-19 In Movies: Five Films About The Virus That Shook The Earth

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Editorials

Seven Great Films From the 80s To Add To Your Watchlist

March 30, 2020
Planes, Trains & Automobile

Despite being born in the 1980s there are a lot of supposedly classic 80s films that I don’t like. I won’t mention any names but let’s say kids going off looking for pirate gold and people hanging out together at around breakfast time I don’t particularly like. But here are seven undeniably great 80s films:

This Is Spinal Tap

This Is Spinal Tap -1984 (bloomberg.com)

This is not only one of the funniest films ever made it also invented the “mockumentary”. Directed by Rob Reiner as part of his legendary run of films including When Harry Met Sally and Stand By Me the film follows the ludicrously over the top band Spinal Tap on a less than successful tour. Eternally quotable for it’s discussions around amplifier volume and the colour black it’s also has a who’s who cast of American comedy.

Best Line – the two-word review of Spinal Tap’s album Shark Sandwich “Shit Sandwich”.

A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda
A Fish Called Wanda – 1988 (Credit: MGM)

A classic crime-caper-comedy in which the best thing about this film is undoubtedly Kevin Kline in a singularly great comic performance that was rightly rewarded with an Oscar. Bear in mind this film also stars comedy geniuses John Cleese and Michael Palin who are always overshadowed by Kline. The film revolves an elaborate diamond heist and features too many double-crosses to mention. Kline plays Otto, crazed American assassin/thief who thinks he’s smart but isn’t and shines in every scene he is in, whether it’s dangling John Cleese out of a window or his general hatred towards British people.

Best Line – Otto “You pompous, stuck-up, snot-nosed, English, giant, twerp, scumbag, fuck-face, dickhead, asshole”.

Aliens

Aliens 1986
Aliens – 1986 (abcnews.com)

It’s important to say that as a work of cinema, Alien is the better film, but the one I enjoy watching more is Aliens. James Cameron’s follow-up might just be the best sequel ever made and an all-time classic of sci-fi action. Not only did it give us the best weapon in science fiction – the M41A Pulse Rifle, it further cemented Sigourney Weaver’s status as a first-rate action hero. Often the addition of a young child to a film is a disaster but the relationship between Ripley and Newt is one of the best things about the film, especially as we learn that Ripley’s own daughter died while she was in hibernation. For an explosive action film, it has some amazing lines of dialogue that are some of the most memorable quotations from the 1980s.

Best Line – Hudson “That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?”

Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice
Beetlejuice 1988

This is a film that gets just about everything right – it has a sensational cast where seemingly every actor is perfect, the soundtrack is spooky and fun, the costumes and set design tell you everything you need to know. The assorted ghosts, monsters etc all look perfect and the special effects have a very old-school feel to them. This is Tim Burton at the height of his creepy powers and you get all of this in ninety-two minutes.

Best moment – the possessed dinner party/dance party where they all start singing Day-o.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark -1980
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark -1980 (Amazon.com)

Indiana Jones is one of the great heroes of cinema, not only a tough adventurer but an intellectual professor who spends a lot of time punching Nazis. In a rare moment of clarity for The Academy, this film was even nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. The film is non-stop brilliance, from the unforgettable opening scene in the tomb to Indy stealing the truck which contains the Ark, surely one of the best action set-pieces of all-time (and contains lots of Nazi punching). There is so much of this film that has passed into our cultural consciousness – the boulder chase, the snake-filled tomb, shooting the highly skilled swordsmen and even the very last of the warehouse seemingly full of dangerous treasures from around the world.

Best Line – Too many to choose – but Indy shooting the highly skilled swordsman is great.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes, Trains And Automobiles-1987
Planes, Trains And Automobiles-1987 (filmschoolrejects.com)

It would be hard to talk about films in the 80s without mentioning John Hughes, who wrote and directed many of the decade’s most memorable films. Perhaps the best was Planes, Trains and Automobiles featuring a pair of comedy greats who normally warrant a single starring role. Often mistakenly remembered as being a Christmas film Steve Martin’s character is actually trying to get home for Thanksgiving. Due to poor weather, his originals travel plans are cancelled and he endeavours to get home however he can but is accompanied be talkative and good-natured Del Griffith. Not only is this a hilarious film but it has a lot of moments of genuine emotion and tragedy.

Best moment – The bit that will forever stick with me is when they nearly get crushed between two trucks and when Martin glances at Candy he has become the Devil.

The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride - 1987
The Princess Bride – 1987 (intofilm.org)

Considering it has one of the worst trailers the world has ever seen The Princess Bride is an amazing film. Another film directed by Rob Reiner but this time written by screenwriting legend William Goldman, The Princess Bride is a story about love and adventure. It is a wonderful film starting with a grandfather reading a book to ill grandson and developing into an unforgettable story. It is surely one of the best scripts ever written with practically half the text remembered as quotable lines. It has what was billed to be the best swordfight in cinema history, a battle of wits over poisoned goblets and to top it all it has Andre the Giant in it. This is a film that works perfectly for both children and adults and due to its fantasy setting has barely aged at all (perhaps in a current telling of the story Princess Buttercup would be a bit more proactive).

Best Line – there are so many but – Westley – “Life is Pain. Anyone who says different is trying to sell you something.”

Also Read: 7 Reasons Characters Die In Horror Films

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Editorials

The Simpsons’ Obsession With Films

March 23, 2020
The Simpsons - A Clockwork Orange

This is a film website but this is not an article about The Simpsons Movie, rather an article about how The Simpsons is the ultimate television show for a lover of film. The legendary animation is arguably the greatest television show ever made and is completely and utterly obsessed with film, with hundreds, if not thousands, of references crammed into the show.

Watching That Hollywood Hogwash

The Simpsons is not the only show to reference films a lot. British sitcom Spaced was equally obsessed and perhaps even more subtle but not as prolific or as famous. Then there is Family Guy, which I would argue is very clumsy with their references, forcing them into any situation, whereas The Simpsons seamlessly weave them into the show, to give just one example in “Dog of Death” The family dog runs away and is taken in by Mr Burns and trained to be an attack dog, part of his training is being restrained and forced to watch violence against dogs, the scene referencing A Clockwork Orange but makes sense on its own. You don’t need to have seen the film but it’s adds something to it. This is a show with layers and I still watch episodes from twenty years and find new jokes and hidden references in it.

Won’t Somebody Please Think Of The Children!

The Simpsons - A Clockwork Orange reference
indiewire.com

I watched The Simpsons from an early age and so the references I got as a child were mainly around Star Wars or Indiana Jones but, thankfully, I never watched Stanley Kubrick films as a young child. The Simpsons is littered with references to Kubrick and some are frankly unsuitable for what was, in the beginning, a children’s television show. So we have Homer riding a vibrating chair that goes into the trippy ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Homer imitating Major Kong, riding an A-Bomb as in Dr. Strangelove, and after decorating Todd Flanders talking about the “red room, red room, over there” an impression of Danny from The Shining. At least six Simpsons characters have been portrayed as droogs, the vicious gang from A Clockwork Orange. Homer has been seen as both as a monkey from the beginning of 2001 and the galactic space baby from the end of 2001. There have been two Treehouse of Terror instalments solely focused on Kubrick, first the stupendously good “The Shinning” and then a replay of most of Kubrick’s career in “A Clockwork Yellow”.

You May Remember Me From…

Troy McClure in The Planet Of The Apes Musical (youtube.com)

The Simpsons isn’t just obsessed with watching films, they very like the world behind films. Springfield has at least two film stars – Rainier Wolfcastle, an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type action hero and Troy McClure, one of the greatest characters in television comedy. McClure is usually portrayed as a washed-up actor, with a bizarre personal life, who has appeared in a long list of ridiculous films with such brilliant titles as The Greatest Story Ever Hulu’d, Dial M for Murderousness and The President’s Neck Is Missing. Whilst incredibly funny in his own right, McClure is a way poking fun at Hollywood and the movie-making industry, such as his unscrupulous agent MacArthur Parker who suggests getting fake married to make him seem less weird.

Thank God We’re Back In Hollywood Where People Treat Each Other Right

The episodes “A Star Is Burns” and “Radioactive Man” both depict a less than flattering portrayal of the movie business. The first deals with the Springfield Film Festival in which Homer is chosen as a judge over Martin Scorsese and the latter with when the superhero film Radioactive Man is filmed in Springfield, the joke being it is the small-town Springfieldianites who swindle the Hollywood big-shots.

Stop Him! He’s Supposed To Die!

The Simpsons referencing James Bond
The Simpsons referencing James Bond

There are a number of standout episodes that basically steal their plots from films. There is “Rosebud”, the episode about Mr. Burns’ missing childhood teddy bear which is as blatant a Citizen Kane homage as you’re going to get from the title of the episode to the design of the gates of Mr Burns’ mansion. The episode “Cape Feare” is not surprisingly a riff on Cape Fear but also contained references to many other films including Edward Scissorhands and Night of the Hunter. And then there is “You Only Move Twice”, often cited as the best episode of the show, in which Homer goes to work for Hank Scorpio, an amalgamation of numerous James Bond villains.

The Simpsons made these references because Star Wars, James Bond, Spielberg are cultural touchstones. Just about everyone, even those who haven’t seen the film, will get a joke about E.T or Jurassic Park. So it’s very fitting that The Simpsons has become as big a cultural touchstone as any of these films. I would say that in the future it will be The Simpsons that will be referenced but that’s already happened.

Also Read: 7 Great Films About Bad Weather

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Editorials

Making A Coen Brothers Film

March 13, 2020
Coen Brothers

One of the trailers for recent Coen Brothers’ release Hail Caesar! was only around thirty seconds long and most of that was simply listing some of the Coen Brothers’ previous films. You didn’t need to know what Hail Caesar! was about, the fact that it was a Coen Brothers film told you all you needed to know. And really – that’s right, they have a body of work any director would be proud of.

The Typical Coen Brothers Film…

To be blunt there is no typical Coen Brothers film, they move from knockabout comedy to incredibly tense thrillers – genre seems to mean nothing to them and is certainly no predictor of quality – they’re as comfortable making stoner comedies as gangster films. It is genuinely astounding that it is the same people who made O’ Brother Where Art Thou? as No Country For Old Men. Other directors also play with genre – Quentin Tarantino for example – but whether it’s a revenge thriller or western they are still distinctly a Tarantino film. The Coen Brothers go beyond that and I would argue that without any prior knowledge no one would suspect Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing were made by the same people. Looking at their work I split their films into three categories.

The Violent

No Country For Old Men
No Country For Old Men (Empire.com)

These films are tense. No Country For Old Men is a lesson in tension, what should have been an idle bit of chit chat in a petrol station became perhaps the standout scene of this Oscar-winning film. And what was causing the tension? The outcome of a coin toss. No violence, no guns, and only the barest suggestion of threat and you can’t take your eyes off the screen. That said, they are a dab hand with actual violence as well with deftly choreographed scenes of fighting in No Country For Old Men, True Grit and Miller’s Crossing.

The Funny

The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski (brandontalksmovies.com)

Not only are the Coen Brothers very funny they can do different types of humour. One of the funniest scenes of recent years is the now legendary back and forth in Hail Caesar! of a director trying to coach an actor into saying a line the right way – so much is put into just the two characters repeating that line at each other. They also create fictional porn films where the Dude goes bowling with a Valkyrie in what might be best the dream sequence ever filmed. It is safe to say they have comedic range.

The Tragic

Inside Lleywn Davis
Inside Lleywn Davis (latimes.com)

When they want to the Coen Brothers can make you sad. A Serious Man is one of the most tragic films I have ever seen as you watch everything good in a man’s life being drained away and how he struggles to still do the right thing. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to watch Inside Llewyn Davis again as you see an extremely talented person just knocked around by life, his fortunes so low he has no winter coat for the freezing cold New York.

The Perfect Coen Brothers Film

They have at least one film that brings these three things together perfectly and that is Fargo. The film that won Frances McDormand her first Oscar, cemented a stereotype of North Dakota and inexorably linked Steve Buscemi to the idea of being ground up in a wood chipper. The film is funny, tragic and violent and does it all in less than 100 minutes. The story of Jerry Lundegaard hiring perhaps not the best criminals to fake kidnap his wife so he get the ransom from her extremely wealthy father is riveting from the first scene.

The tension that the viewer has for Marge Gunderson, the heavily pregnant cop who is drawn into the crime is immense and grows over time, what will happen in the inevitable showdown between cop and criminal? The criminals are perhaps more violent and conspicuous than Jerry hoped for, leaving a trail of bodies behind them, ending of course with one of them killing his partner in a famously gruesome way. As for tragedy – Jerry Lundegaard may be the most pathetic figure in cinema history with failure and idiocy dogging his every move and his inaction and incompetence only growing as his plan spirals out of control. Then there is the bizarre meeting between Marge and an old school acquaintance, of no relevance whatsoever to the plot, but with brilliant performances from both actors.

As for comedy…well it’s certainly very dark comedy, a lot coming from the very pleasant and smalltown people who find themselves as everyday characters surrounded by murder and violence. That said, Marge, who is as pleasant and smalltown as any of them is also shown to be extremely determined and capable so maybe don’t underestimate them.

The Coen Brothers – what’s next?

Of course, their real genius is that usually their films contain all three of things in varying amounts. According to IMDb their next film is Macbeth and really I don’t know what to expect – a bloodsoaked rampage, a comedy of errors or the saddest portrayal of the Scottish Play ever made.

Also Read: The Anatomy of a Christopher Nolan Film

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Editorials

The Unique Style of Wes Anderson

March 3, 2020
Wes Anderson

It would be fair to say that Wes Anderson has a style. He is an auteur and his particular filmmaking choices have been celebrated and mocked in equal measure, for the many that love his work, there are perhaps as many who hate it.

A Fantastic Acting Troupe

The truly astounding cast of The Grand Budapest Hotel
The truly astounding cast of The Grand Budapest Hotel (castittalent.com)

Anderson has established an impressive list of actors who repeatedly appear in his films. Most prominent would be Bill Murray – appeared in all except Bottle Rocket – but frequent collaborators include Jason Schwartzman, Owen and Luke Wilson, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton…I could go on. This collection of brilliant actors aside I put forth that Anderson gets amazing things from his actors. The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson’s third film, contains the best performance of most of the cast – Ben Stiller, Gwenyth Paltrow, Owen and Luke Wilson have never been better in anything else. Paltrow, an actor I do not usually like, is sensational in this film, Stiller brings a sense of sadness to this role I’ve never seen him duplicate. For me, it even ranks highly among screen legend Gene Hackman’s performances. Ralph Fiennes was robbed of an Oscar when he didn’t win for Monsieur Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel (and yes I know he wasn’t even nominated) bringing both tragedy and comedy to the performance.

Rich People

The Darjeeling Limited
The Darjeeling Limited (offscreen.com)

Most of Anderon’s characters seem to be quite well-off. The Tenenbaums’ “jobs” all seem like things they only do because they enjoy them rather than need the cash, despite complaining about money Steve Zissou has a submarine and an island, in The Darjeeling Limited the family have some unspecified wealth that allows them to enjoy neverending holidays. Even in Rushmore, a film about Max Fischer from a family of reduced means is surrounded by privileged people and attends a school that seems to have it’s own light aircraft.

Beautiful and Distinctive Design

The pleasingly symmetrical world of Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel (thefilmexperience.net)
The pleasingly symmetrical world of Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel (thefilmexperience.net)

I could simply spend all of this article writing about the pleasingly symmetrical world of Anderson’s films but I can’t really justify that, suffice to say, there is a lot of it. Aside from symmetry Anderson films are immaculately designed, costumes are amazing (characters are often like cartoon characters in that they wear the same outfit constantly), indeed the three Tenenbaum children seem very much trapped in their costumes. The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably the greatest example of this, every costume is brilliant, every set stunning, everything down to the smallest detail is carefully chosen. Fantastic Mr. Fox deviates a lot from the book but a lot of Mr. Fox’s den is based on things from Roald Dahl’s house, that is how far Anderson is willing to go.

The Perfect Song

The Royal Tenenbaums (youtube.com)

I honestly don’t think there’s anyone better at using music in films. He has this uncanny knack of perfectly pairing scene and music, for example -Margot getting off a bus to meet Richie while These Days by Nico plays, then there is Richie’s suicide attempt set to Needle In The Hay, the wild montage of Margot’s romantic life set to Judy is a Punk or the truly heart-breaking scene of Margot and Richie listening to The Rolling Stones as they discuss love and suicide. And yes, those examples are all from one film – The Royal Tennenbaums, this does not include the countless musical gems contained in the rest of his work.

A Bit Pretentious

If nothing else that hat is pretentious - Rushmore (dvdbeaver.com)
If nothing else that hat is pretentious – Rushmore (dvdbeaver.com)

A lot of what I’ve written about in Anderson’s films could be said to be style, it looks good, it sounds good, but to me his films are so much more. One thing Anderson and I have in common is that people have said we’re “a bit pretentious”. I think whenever you try to make a meaningful statement about life, art, love, friendship and a million other things you run the risk of being called pretentious and I think it’s a shame that so few directors are willing to risk this. Anderson’s films are emotional and try to make the viewer feel things. Few films have resonated with me as much as The Royal Tenenbaums, the relationship between Monsieur Gustave and Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most endearing in all of cinema and the lengths to which Max in Rushmore is prepared to go for love are astonishing. But all of the things I love in these films could be written off as pretentious. Themes that appear again and again are difficult family situations, unusual friendships, love between misfits, these are things everyone can relate to, even if the world they’re found in is not quite like our own.

What To Watch

Not everyone is going to like Wes Anderson, for me, he has made some of my favourite films, If you’re unfamiliar with his work I’d suggest starting with one of his latest films – The Grand Budapest Hotel, everything from the characters to the furniture is beautiful and it has more of a plot than a lot of his films.

Also Read: The Anatomy of a Christopher Nolan Film

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Editorials

The Difficult Road Of The New Mutants

February 21, 2020

Apparently, it’s really hard to release a film. And I don’t mean all the actual work of filming, acting, costumes etc, I just mean to get it out there. Any number of brilliant scripts fail to make it. Talented directors sit waiting for someone from a studio to like their idea. I have heard of this described as “development hell”. And even then when it’s filmed things don’t always go smoothly as such with the latest instalment in the X-Men series: The New Mutants.

A Sure-fire Hit

The New Mutants
The New Mutants (horrornewsnetwork.net)

The film The New Mutants is based on comic book series of the same name, essentially taking place in the same universe as the X-Men films and comics but with a different sensibility and focusing on teenaged characters. The director is Josh Boone who is probably best known for directing The Fault In Our Stars and the film stars Maisie Williams (Arya Stark from Game of Thrones) and Anya Taylor-Joy (from The Witch and Emma). This is a pretty good formula for success – a hugely successful franchise, a talented director and some popular, likeable and skilled actors. But despite being finished filming years ago the film is currently scheduled for release in April 2020. I remember seeing the trailer for it and being quite excited, it seemed to have a darker tone than the X-Men films, perhaps even something closer to horror than sci-fi.

What exactly is this film about? Well, imagine you’re an unlucky mutant who instead of ending up in Charles Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters – a place of nurturing and education, you found yourself trapped in a very sinister and isolated hospital. The handful of mutants seem to have a very dark past with their powers – of harm and violence and are told they need to get better and they can do that in this hospital. This very sinister hospital.

What Happened?

The comic book version of The New Mutants (source: denofgeek.com)
The comic book version of The New Mutants (source: denofgeek.com)

I watched the trailer quite some time ago, in fact, a suspiciously long time ago. A lot of work goes into deciding when a film is released. Should it be late December/early January for an Oscar push? Or a summer blockbuster? Do you want to counter-programme against blockbuster with something completely different? And timing it badly can be disastrous to the success to the film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has this planned out for years and every other film has to work out how best not to get crushed by the latest MCU movie. In the case of The New Mutants it was originally scheduled for release April 13 2018, however, after realising this clashed with Deadpool 2 it was pushed back to February 2019, which then clashed with Dark Phoenix so it was pushed back to August 2019. So a summer 2019 release then, well, no, Disney bought 20th Century Fox and rumour is were not impressed by the film and had raised the idea of not having a cinema release and putting it straight onto Disney+. Obviously, being released on a streaming service is no longer the sign of a bad film anymore with Netflix boasting a number of great films that never saw the inside of a cinema, but still, it could be seen as something of a demotion. There seems to have been a lot of reshoots, never a good sign with a film, with the idea to further lean towards the horror genre.

An Addition To The MCU?

Avengers: Endgame
Avengers Endgame (source: forbes.com)

Then comes the inevitable question, the dilemma that stalks every new X-Men film, where will it fit into the MCU? I’ve written on this site before that I don’t think every Marvel film needs to be part of the MCU and with the acquisition of 20th Century Fox and X-Men that the X-Men especially should be kept free from it. My basic feeling is that a world full of mutants doesn’t mix well with a world of superheroes, compared to Wolverine, Captain America is not terribly impressive. Concerning The New Mutants…part of this rests on where The New Mutants fits in with X-Men, will other Professor X or Cyclops show up? Keeping the timeline of the X-Men films clear is already far too complicated, will adding The New Mutants push things too far?

Without any additional problems getting in the way, the film is due for a UK release of 10th April and so we’ll all be able to see whether it has been worth the wait.

The New Mutants (Official Trailer)

Also Read: When Great Video Games Become Lacklustre Movies

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