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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

Ten Movies Turning Twenty In 2019

March 8, 2019

1999 was a good year for films but really, most years are a good year for films. Some years you may have to look a little harder for them but they’re always being made – here are ten films that are turning twenty this year.

Fight Club

Fight Club (moviemet.com)

This film became a cult classic almost instantly. A fierce and brutal movie about feeling detached from the modern world, feeling like the consumerist culture offered nothing and wanting something simpler and more violent. Edward Norton and Brad Pitt’s characters start having fights in public and amazingly more people join, seemingly made up almost entirely of people who don’t look like the sort of people who get in fights. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) turns them into something far more sinister; along the way giving the legendary rules of the club.

In my opinion Fight Club is both Brad Pitt’s and Edward Norton’s best film, both giving amazing performances with Pitt’s Tyler Durden becoming a film icon. It is a film that feels as relevant today as it did then – watch it.

Office Space

Office Space (20th Century Fox)

This little known Mike Judge film should come with a warning that after watching it you will probably want to quit your job. A hilarious work-based comedy about someone stuck in a job they don’t see the point of and him wondering why he should even care. After a derailed session with a hypnotherapist, the lead character acts on his impulses, turning up late, telling his manager what he really thinks and knocking down a wall of his cubicle. Where does this fearlessness lead? Crime.

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (Gramercy Pictures)

The film that launched a thousand bad British gangster films into production. One of the most damning things I can think to say about this film is that I liked it when I was a teenager and no longer see the appeal. Perhaps I am being too harsh – the film was certainly of its time and made a huge impact. Historically it’s been hard for British gangster films to compete with their American cousins – they were cooler, they had more money (the gangsters and the studios) and everything was on a bigger scale. Lock Stock showed that you could make a successful and popular British gangster film that still felt British.

10 Things I Hate About You

10 Things I Hate About You (freepressjournal.in)

Quite simply 10 Things… is one of the best teen movies ever made. Using Shakespeare’s Taming of a Shrew as a blueprint it told a story of teenage life and love wonderfully. The central four actors are all perfect in their roles and at least two have gone on to become major film stars. The film reolves around the father setting a rule that for the younger sister to date, the older sister must be dating as well, leading to man 1 who wants to date younger sister to recruit man 2 to date older sister – got it? For all of the deviousness going on with the plot, there is a niceness to the film. The two male leads aren’t awful selfish misogynists, the female leads are intelligent women while being completely different characters.

Election

Election (Letterboxd.com)

Alexander Payne’s whipsmart Election is a high-school film like no other. Centred around the election for class president, an almost meaningless office, teacher Matthew Broderick conspires to stop seemingly unstoppable, manipulative and overachiever Reese Witherspoon’s Tracey Flick winning the election. Witherspoon is sensational as Flick, sometimes almost seeming like a sociopath but never quite reaching it. Broderick is at his best as the teacher’s life falls apart – only partly connected to his class president plan.

The Mummy

The Mummy (TheAgonyBooth.com)

The Mummy, likes Jaws, is a film whose reputation has suffered because of the sequels. I forgot that Jaws is a masterclass of tension and acting and I forgot that The Mummy is a hugely enjoyable action adventure romp that rarely got made even back in the nineties. Starring quintessential 90s leading man Brendan Fraser and too-good-an-actor-for-this-film Rachel Weisz the filmmakers were clearly going for a new Indiana Jones style film and while not reaching those heights it is a lot of fun.

Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (DenofGeek.com)

I had never been more excited for a film release in all my life. A new Star Wars film seemed like an impossible event. I remember my dad shouting for me to come downstairs because a tv show was going to play the trailer (which I watched over and over again online, or as much as you could with pre-broadband internet). I managed to convince myself I liked it, focusing on the good bits like Darth Maul and the excellent John Williams score. As time passed though I realised it wasn’t a very good film. After the ferocious maelstrom of criticism that accompanied The Last Jedi I am actively trying to tone down negative feedback – The Phantom Menace was disappointing. It’s albatross hung heavily around the neck of The Force Awakens which against all expectations – including my own – was great.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense (IMDb)

This is surely one of the cultural touchstones of the year – a film that seemingly everyone saw. This, like another film on this list, has a “twist” and is probably the default example of a “twist film”. A great horror/ghost story of a boy who sees dead people and the psychiatrist trying to help him, who naturally enough starts from the position that ghosts aren’t real, and that’s how he’ll help him. The slow realisation that the child might actually be right is played very well. Of course, this is the film that launched M. Night Shyamalan’s career and that has been, at best, a mixed bag. If somehow you still haven’t seen this film go and find it.

Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 (pixartalk.com)

The Toy Story trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy) is held up by some as the best trilogy in cinema history and quite frankly it’s hard to argue. Each film is brilliant yet different from the others. Following the practically perfect Toy Story was always going to be a challenge but the filmmakers succeeded. Toy collector Al, surely one of the greatest villains in cinema history, steals the incredibly valuable Woody causing the rest of the Toy Story gang to band together to get him back. Featuring incredibly fun new characters like Stinky Pete, Tour Guide Barbie and Evil Emperor Zurg – Buzz Lightyear’s archnemesis. The film is a triumph.

Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich (beyondtheboxset.com)

When I first saw this film I didn’t know what to make of it. I liked it but couldn’t quite explain why. It’s one of those films where if someone asked you to explain why it’s good it was a struggle. It still is. A bizarre story of love, jealousy and a portal into the head of John Malkovich, and not a character played by Malkovich, the actor John Malkovich. Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, both known for making weird films this is probably their weirdest.

Editorials

With Great Power Comes An Interesting Film

March 2, 2019

There are many films that show a realistic portrayal of life – people living ordinary lives going to work, raising families, just living and while I would argue that those stories can be incredibly interesting I can’t help but being more immediately drawn to less ordinary portrayals. Boyhood and Logan are both great films but one is about an almost unkillable mutant with a metal skeleton and claws and one about the life of a typical boy. One of those stories is instantly more appealing. But putting superpowers in your film is no guarantee of success and it’s a tricky business balancing a cool superpower with something that doesn’t seem ridiculous.

The very interesting Wolverine (inverse.com)

Most of these characters are going to be based on comic books and I want to say right now – many of these characters are brilliant in comic books but it’s just that not every comic book character will work well in a film.

Green Lantern

One of the biggest comic book superheroes is Green Lantern, seriously, he is a big deal yet the film was a critical and commercial failure. There were many reasons for this but we’re talking about superpowers. In brief, Green Lantern can create physical manifestation of anything he can imagine.

Green Lantern (pinterest.com)

On the surface that’s a remarkable superpower with unlimited potential but really was just a CGI mess – the ability to create anything? It’s just too much, too powerful, for powers to be interesting they have to have limits. One of the brilliant things about Logan was that it showed Wolverine wasn’t always going to come back from anything, his healing powers did have their limits. And it didn’t really explore the fantastical or just plain weird places it could go with such a power. As is demonstrated in scenes of Green Lantern when fights break out is this power really more useful than a gun?

The Superfluous X-Men

Part of the problem is once you’ve got more than a few characters, coming up with interesting powers becomes difficult. There are dozens of mutants in the X-Men films and it has it’s fair share of duds. There is Banshee who can scream in a weird way and also can use this to fly somehow. There’s Angel who has incredibly flimsy-looking insect style wings. There’s Quill who can make short spikes stick out of his body. I could go on.

The very cinematic Magneto (metalarcade.net)

Their powers don’t make a great deal of sense; they’re not useful, they’re not plausible and they certainly aren’t cinematic. I could watch Michael Fassbender using his powers for hours – simple to explain, looks good on film and it’s merits are obvious. That’s a superpower you want in a film. To be a mutant with a bad power feels like the cruellest blow of all – yes mutants are a maligned group in society who live in fear but at least Cyclops can shoot lasers out of his eyes.

Money, money, money

Not all superheroes have superpowers and not only is this not a problem it can make the superhero more interesting. There is a classic get out though – money. A fairly common device is the rich superhero (or indeed supervillain), the two most famous being Batman and Ironman. Apparently, there is nothing that can’t be done with enough money – you want to be stronger, faster, tougher? Buy it and don’t let aerodynamics, ballistics, kinetics or any other killjoy science tell you it doesn’t exist or isn’t possible.

Guess what? This sort of thing is expensive (wdsu.coom)

Obviously, you can achieve a lot with money but surely there are limits and finding a superhero who doesn’t have superpowers or money is hard. Kick-Ass is one of the few examples I can think of and Kick-Ass himself is hardly a successful superhero so it seems if you have no powers you better have some money.

The Man of Too Many Powers

So we come to the apex of ridiculous powers, a character that exceeds virtually all others in their powers making no sense whatsoever and ruining the plot of almost any story they become involved in. I am, of course, talking about Superman.

Superman’s powers are amazing and spectacular and therein lies the problem. Every day Superman fights crime and saves people…well, it’s hardly a challenge for him, is it? Superstrength, flight, x-ray vision, super-speed and there’s more…it must be so boring. When Batman fights a mugger with a gun he might die, with Superman it’s not even really a fight. Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor is a billionaire genius and is the underdog in that fight.

The boring, if impressive, Superman (mic.com)

Graphic novel and film classic Watchmen explored the ridiculousness of Superman further with Dr Manhattan standing in for the Man of Steel. The idea being that someone with so much power would inevitably become distant from the normal people around him and perhaps even stop caring. Dr Manhattan even manages to surpass Superman in powers – he can teleport, make multiple versions of himself, become gigantically big, survive on Mars, see the future and just for fun can literally explode people just by thinking about it. Oh and is essentially indestructible with no convenient kryptonite weakness. The clever twist in Watchmen is that the villain doesn’t attack him physically but psychologically, manipulating him into doing what he wants. Of course, Dr. Manhattan is meant to be ridiculously powerful, Superman just kept acquiring more powers in the comics to try and keep it interesting.

The best Superman film, in my opinion, is Superman II and why is that? It has villains who can stand up to the hero. The vast collection of powers they possess make for excellent fight scenes and that’s Superman’s saving grace – they look amazing. The much maligned Superman Returns has an amazing scene of Superman saving a plane and it is a stunning scene. Just watching Christopher Reeve, Brandon Ruth and Henry Cavill use their powers is worth the cinema ticket.

There are still decades of comic book heroes to go through yet but even so you can’t help but feel the well is running pretty dry on interesting superpowers. Captain Marvel is the next big one to be brought to the silver screen and we’ll have to see how her powers are handled. From the sounds of it she’s going to be another pretty powerful superhero, perhaps the most powerful in Marvel have yet brought to film, so will she be silly or spectacular?

Editorials

Who Will Be The Next Batman?

February 18, 2019

With the news that Ben Affleck will no longer be playing Batman who will take on perhaps the most coveted superhero role in all of Hollywood?

Affleck calls time on Batman

There have been rumours about Ben Affleck quitting as Batman almost since he got the part. Many fans were against his initial casting although lots did come round to his performance. Behind the scenes problems on the Justice League film and a new director being brought in (despite talk of Affleck directing the next one) have been fuelling the rumours for a long time. The new director, Matt Reeves, has stated that the next film will be a noir Batman film and with this new direction it’s not surprising there will be a new Caped Crusader if for no other reason then a new director will like a blank slate.

Justice League (https://images.dawn.com)

Where will this new Batman film fit in with DCEU? Batman was one of the crucial members of Justice League, will he be so in the future? He is arguably the most interesting of all DC characters and making him part of a team is difficult. Since Tim Burton’s Batman films, the character of Batman has been very dark, a loner and certainly to many people, not a hero. It’s said the new film will feature a lot of Batman being a detective which seems a departure from Affleck’s Batman whose gadgets and strengths were dialled up to eleven so he could compete with incredibly powerful characters like Superman. So will the huge Batsuit from Batman Vs Superman and the almost psychotic level of violence be replaced by a deerstalker hat and a magnifying glass? We’ll just have to wait and see what Matt Reeves has in store for us.

The front runners

But who will play this “detective” Batman? First things first, the role of Batman has been somewhat of a poisoned chalice and really the only actor to walk away with their career intact and reputation enhanced was Christian Bale (we’ll have to see how Affleck handles it). That said two names seem to be coming up a lot are Robert Pattinson and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Robert Pattinson (dailytimes.com)

Pattinson has worked hard to not just be “that guy from Twilight” taking parts in heavyweight dramas and odd indie films like Cosmopolis, Rover and The Lost City of Z. And while he has shown himself to be an actor with depth and range the “Twilight” label is hard to shake. Of course, being the co-star of a huge franchise with millions of fans might be seen as a good thing.

Jake Gyllenhaal (yahoo.com)

Gyllenhaal is an immensely talented actor who recently seems to be more interested in taking on peculiar roles and very intense characters and actually seems to be moving away from the classic leading actor trajectory his career seemed to be on at first. Still, these days playing Batman and being a serious actor are not mutually exclusive and a new take on the character could interest someone like Gyllenhaal.

My Contenders

Personally, between Pattinson and Gyllenhaal I would prefer the latter but if I were Matt Reeves there would be two options – Oscar Isaac and Michael B. Jordan. Both actors are extremely talented and very popular right now, Isaacs is one of the central characters in the new Star Wars films and Michael B. Jordan is coming off a hugely successful run of films like Creed and more importantly Black Panther. In my opinion Jordan was the best thing in Black Panther, in fact, so much so that it was to the detriment of the movie overall. Jordan was so charismatic as Erik Killmonger (and in many ways very sympathetic) that I think it was actually harmed the film – he was a bad guy who you liked more than than the hero. Casting Isaac or Jordan would be doing something new with the Bruce Wayne/Batman character and perhaps give a new spin on their history and what they’re trying to achieve.

My dream pick for Batman…

Those two actors are my sensible choices, people I think would do well, be successful and make the fans happy. I do, however, have a dream Batman film which would essentially be a movie of The Dark Knight Returns – one of the essential Batman comic book stories. Ideas from this story have been used in The Dark Knight Rises and Batman Vs Superman but it is definitely deserving of a complete adaptation. In this story, Batman has been retired for years and struggling to deal with this life so eventually comes out of retirement. An older actor would be needed to play this part and I think Jon Hamm would be perfect. Best known as Don Draper in Mad Men, Hamm is a brilliant actor who could play the “old money” Bruce Wayne and has the all important strong jawline to be Batman.

Jon Hamm (newyorker.com)

These days playing a superhero is your ticket to Hollywood superstardom. Chris Pratt went from the lovably goofy Andy in Parks and Recreation to megastar just by appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy. Competition will be fierce and I’m sure dozens of actors are hassling their agents, desperate to demonstrate their gravelly Batman voice for Matt Reeves..

Editorials

Well I Didn’t Vote For You – Fictional Leaders In Films

February 10, 2019

Whether good or bad, competent or useless, noble or corrupt what do fictional politicians tell us about how we view politics?

Christian Bale has a history of dramatic physical transformations for roles and his latest performance as former American Vice-President Dick Cheney in Vice is one of his best as he is almost unrecognisable. Gone is the chiselled physique of a man who once portrayed Batman replaced by a great deal of weight and a lot less hair. A lot of films have been made about real presidents but they have to contend with things like facts, what about fictional leaders who can be as brave, unhinged or greedy as you like?

Politician Type One – The Action Hero

Since the 90s it is seemingly not enough for a president to be an intelligent and honest public servant – they have to kick ass too. Past presidents may have sufficed in giving the motivational speech but Thomas J. Whitmore (Bull Pullman in Independence Day) got very much involved in fighting aliens. Oddly enough at the beginning of the film it seems his presidency is not going well so maybe this alien invasion worked out well for him. I haven’t seen the sequel so have no knowledge of his future political career.

Air Force One (IMDb)

It’s a mystery why President James Marshall (Harrison Ford in Air Force One) even needs Secret Service protection as he’s clearly perfectly capable of looking after himself. Marshall pursued an aggressive interventionist foreign policy which mirrored his aggressive killing-terrorists-trying-to-kill-him-and-his-family policy.

So popular is this trope of the action hero president two films came out at roughly the same time with the same plot – narrative twins White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen saw Jamie Foxx and Aaron Eckhart trying to save their presidential lives while the White House is attacked. Admittedly each film has a separate action hero star that takes charge of most of the fighting but each president has their moments.

Politician Type Two – The Incompetent

Being a world leader is hard. Really, really hard. And that’s at the best of times but films don’t get made about the best of times, they are made about things like alien invasions, nuclear Armageddon or a collapsing civilisation brought about by rampant stupidity. President James Dale (Jack Nicholson, Mars Attacks!) is a man not up to the job of handling first contact with Martians, constantly asking for advice from similarly incompetent advisors (and wife) and virtually giving up when things get tough, with his primary concern being about approval ratings rather than, you know, stopping the alien invasion. He even manages to mess up his last-minute saving the world speech.

Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove) was given a tough time by a rogue general who under his own authority launches a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union but he perfectly satirised the insanity of Cold War brinkmanship. No matter how close the end of the world was the East vs West paradigm continued with advisors shouting about the best way to “win” the battle for control over their radiation poisoned world.

Idiocracy (fictionbrands.org)

Perhaps my favourite fictional president is the wonderfully named Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews, Idiocracy). He is a flamboyant and extravagant man which is to be expected of a former professional wrestler and porn star. He runs a future America where stupidity is destroying pretty much everything and Luke Wilson’s “average” intelligence character is the smartest man in the world. At least Camacho had the sense to spot good talent.

Politician Type Three – The Tyrant

The incompetent leaders are usually found in comedies and many of them ones are at least trying to do a good job and help people. But there are also tyrants – the people who have seized power and will not give it up. President Snow (Donald Sutherland,,The Hunger Games) is an expert manipulator of the population using both fear and hope to control people. Dapper, polite and rather presidential-looking at first glance he may have appeared a perfectly good leader but very quickly his brutality and cruelty are laid bare.

V for Vendetta (onemovieavenue.com)

British politicians are certainly rarer in films than their American counterparts but they have a tyrant of their own – Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt, V For Vendetta); an angry shouting tyrant constantly having himself projected onto huge screens and raging about all the people he doesn’t like which even includes Stephen Fry. The final reveal of what Sutler is really like when things get difficult is very satisfying.

What does this mean for “real” leaders?

So we have three different tropes of politicians in films (and there are many more) but what does this tell us about how we see politicians? The Tyrants obviously exist to show us what could go wrong, indeed V For Vendetta has several sequences taking us step-by-step through the process.

The Incompetents are an important satirical part of culture and it is crucial to be able to laugh at politicians and people in power and be aware that they too panic, get overwhelmed and do stupid things. Looking at three leaders I’ve mentioned each speaks to their time – in 1990s people thought everything became style over substance, in the 1960s it did seem like the world could be destroyed at any moment by arrogant politicians and in the early 2000s people were worried about the “dumbing down” of society.

The Action Heroes are certainly an odd cultural item as most real life politicians are not going to be very good in a fight (with the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt who once delivered an 84 minute speech after getting shot in the chest). They tend to be older people who have spent more time in boring budget meetings than in highly choreographed gun battles. I think it is that politics is rarely obviously heroic – there is a lot of compromise, a need to understand very complicated issues where there is no easy answer, a requirement to listen to committees and opponents and judges instead of doing what you want. On the other hand if terrorists take over Air Force One and are trying to kill you then it’s very easy to get behind your hero president throwing people off his plane.



Editorials

The Future Is Now! – How Sci-Fi Imagined The Future

January 25, 2019

Sci-Fi classic Blade Runner imagined a bleak future for mankind and was set in the year 2019 which through the magic of time passing is now the present. So how do the societies depicted in movies compare to reality?

Blade Runner – set in 2019, Los Angeles, made in 1982

Rick Deckard is a blade runner, a cop who hunts replicants who have made it to Earth. Replicants are artifical creatures that are identical to humans but stronger, faster and maybe even smarter. As Deckard is sent to hunt down a group of replicants he is drawn into the world of the Tyrell Corporation, the somewhat sinister manufacturer of replicants.

The Film – Los Angeles 2019

LA in Blade Runner (IMDb)

This LA is a dark and rainy place, perhaps caused by the radioactive fallout. On top of that, the city is dirty and cramped which is not surprising as the population of LA is 106 million people. Flying cars nimbly navigate this dense mess of towers, surely the only reasonable way to get around. Huge adverts fill the sky and cover skyscrapers and it is hard to escape from their presence.

In terms of technology people use video phones and voice command equipment. But the most obvious technology is one that in the film isn’t supposed to be on Earth – replicants.

The Reality – Los Angeles 2019

LA in reality (Flix Bus)

While not perfect, LA remains a bright and sunny place. The population stands at a more manageable 4 million. And while LA does have it’s skyscrapers it is nothing like the oppressive city Ridley Scott imagined. As for technology, we do have voice command technology and video phones, indeed I’d say we put their video phones to shame, but no flying cars. Nor do we have replicants or anything like them but that’s probably for the best. Perhaps it’s most prescient feature was advertising which is one of the dominant modes of expression in the modern world.

Back To The Future Part II, set in 2015, Hill Valley California, made in 1989

Following on from the hijinks of Back To The Future Doc brings Marty to 2015 to avert a crisis in his family. Once that is settled Marty makes the unfortunate decision to try and manipulate his future which has unforeseen consequences.

The film – Hill Valley 2015

Fashion in 2015 Back To The Future Part 2 (IMDb)

Back To The Future is set in the fictional town of Hill Valley in California but I think we can substitute any small Californian town. Like Blade Runner it has flying cars – seemingly something of an obsession in the 1980s – but additionally flying skateboards. Giant holograms are commonplace and perhaps even a bit old hat. Fashion is bizarre with young people wearing their clothes inside out but that’s balanced by the fact that they change size to suit you. Nuclear reactors are home gadgets, food is hydrated to save space and everyone has LOTS of fax machines.

The Reality – “Hill Valley” 2015

Ben Stiller & Owen Wilson Valentino Catwalk, 2015 (The Independent)

BTTF2 was intentionally a bit out there with it’s predictions so unsurprisingly no flying cars, no holograms on every street corner, no hydrated food. In 2015 the fax machine was deader than Elvis. Clothes weren’t as advanced or worn inside out but arguably fashion was (and still is) just as ridiculous.

2001: A Space Odyssey, set in 2001 made in 1968

2001: A Space Odyssey is an epic Sci-Fi film taking the audience from the birth of mankind to them becoming a higher form of life with a central story revolving around one spaceship’s secret mission and the brilliant computer on board.

The Film -The Solar System, 2001

The supercomputer HAL 9000 (IMDb)

Kubrick focused on two aspects of future technology – computers and space travel. Commercial spaceships drift leisurely through space with clever velcro shoes for flight attendants to deal with the lack of gravity. Not only that but there are even colonies on the moon.

As for computers they have Hal 9000, the world’s greatest supercomputer, thought to be practically infallible although he does speak with an odd arch monotone voice. He spends his time beating humans at chess, lipreading and murdering.

The Reality – The Solar System 2001

In 2001 we just had Windows XP (Computerhistory.org)

Even in 2019 the human race are still stubbornly stuck on Earth with no moon colonies. George Bush scrapped the space shuttle in 2004 and commercial space flight is really just a dream of ambitious billionaires. Deep Blue had beaten Gary Kasparov at chess in the 90s but I don’t think he’d be a match for Hal.

The Running Man, set in 2019 filmed in 1987

A police officer framed for causing a massacre is forced to participate in The Running Man, a brutal gameshow where convicts are forced to fight against trained killers with a chance to win their freedom.

The Film 2019

The Running Man (IMDb)

Another bleak picture of the future – a totalitarian government feeds the population brutal gameshows to keep them quiet. The Running Man is extremely theatrical, the show’s killers have gimmicks and characters and feels like a mix between professional wrestling and The Price Is Right but additionally people die. The audience ecstatically cheer while people are brutally killed the same way they cheer when someone wins The Running Man board game.

The Reality 2019

Mixture of game show and reality TV, Britain’s Got Talent (Celebmix)

Fortunately gameshows and reality television haven’t quite gotten to this stage but there is an increasing element of cruelty in a lot of theses and glee taken in the suffering of others. Fortunately, professional wrestling remains the absurd spectacle it always was with no need to cater to more brutal tastes.

Escape From New York – set in 1997, made in 1981

In a crime ridden future Manhattan Island has been turned into one giant prison, which is fine until the President’s plane crashes on the island. Former special forces soldier Snake Plissken is sent to rescue the President.

The Film 1997

Manhattan – Escape from New York (IMDb)

Crime in America has become a huge problem, in fact, the biggest problem. So much that Manhattan Island has been turned into one giant prison. The island is completely overrun with rubbish and and vicious gangs attack anyone unlucky to cross their paths

NATO is fighting a brutal war with the USSR in Europe that may very well bring about the destruction of the whole world through nuclear Armageddon. One ray of hope is that nuclear fusion has been invented which was hoped to be what brought about peace between the warring sides.

Reality 1997

Reality of Manhattan in the 1990s (huffingtonpost.com)

Crime may have been a problem in 1997 but nothing like the levels seen in the film with law and order largely still in effect. Manhattan Island remained a glorious part of New York City with skyscrapers, museums and Central Park.

As for the USSR by 1997 it no longer existed and the Cold War was long over. Nuclear fusion does happen but only in stars as we haven’t yet worked out how to do it ourselves.

Predictions or Warnings?

It’s important to remember filmmakers weren’t trying to predict the future but merely imagining one way it could turn out and usually their imagined future was not the one they wanted to happen. That said, Blade Runner was very specifically set in November 2019 so we have a little while yet…

Reviews

Review: Mary Queen of Scots

January 20, 2019

A new biopic of Mary Queen of Scots examines the role of women in power featuring an amazing cast.

What’s Going On?

This is a biopic of Mary Queen of Scots and tells the story of her life upon her return to Scotland until her death. Mary’s life is full of power-struggles, romance, intrigue and war. Despite Mary being the title character a great deal of time is spent on her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I who faces many of the same challenges.

The film starts with Mary returning to Scotland after living in France for several years (she was married to the heir of the French throne but he died) and the governing council instantly takes a dislike to her. David Tennant’s John Knox (representing the Protestant Church of Scotland) is dismissed from the council almost immediately, not for being Protestant, but because Catholic Mary wants toleration of religion – a wise move for a Catholic monarch ruling over a Protestant country. But this is only the start of Mary’s problems. Her half-brother does not support her, neither do many of the powerful nobles, with a great many of them seemingly on England’s side. Then there is England, Elizabeth’s council, recognising the threat Mary poses as a Catholic claimant to the throne of England, push aggressive action. There is also intense pressure on Elizabeth to marry and have an heir, if she were to die then Mary would be the next in line.

The film is essentially about how Mary deals with all these problems and certainly these are problems that are capable of destroying a person or burying them.

Behind The Scenes

The film is directed by Josie Rourke who, while new to film, is a successful theatre director. The film is based on John Guy’s book Queen of Scots : The True Life of Mary Stuart.

In Front Of The Camera

While there is a good ensemble cast including Guy Pearce and David Tennant the focus is clearly on the two leads; Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie playing Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, respectively. Ronan is surely one of the best actors working today and can play anything from a vampire to an assassin to a queen and Robbie is coming off for me what was one of the best performances of 2018 in I, Tonya.

Essentially, both women are fantastic in this film. Ronan looks young and innocent and can be playful with her friends but from day one is determined and strong. Virtually every man around her, including those on her side, seems to undermine her at every turn, while shouting at her they will insist her emotions have got the better of her and some outright say they will not obey a woman ruler. And she absorbs all of this and carries on.

I think Margot Robbie might have got the more interesting role as a lot more is made is of Elizabeth’s insecurities. She is jealous of Mary’s youth and beauty – especially after illness diminishes her own – and, of course, Mary’s child. On the one hand she wants peace and friendship but is also riven by envy and numerous political problems and Robbie portrays all of this wonderfully.

Is That What Really Happened?

Obviously, Mary Queen of Scots is a real historical figure and the film is based on a history book about Mary, but is this what happened? It needs to be said it is entirely possible to enjoy this film ignoring historical inaccuracies or without knowing any of the history, and while it’s based on history this is not a documentary.

But to those who this will bother (like me) the film is very loose with history and I think the film certainly has an agenda in bolstering the reputation of Queen Mary whilst focusing on some of the negatives of Elizabeth. Certainly, it is hard to imagine the Elizabeth in this film staring down the Spanish Armada. In fairness though, those films have been made and Elizabeth is respected as one of England’s greatest monarchs so touching on her insecurities and failures may just provide a more rounded character.

It is important to periodically reassess the evidence and see if the popular image is accurate and Mary is deserving of that as any other historical figure.

Does It Work?

Ultimately this film is something of a let-down. While the two stars are very good in their roles, the film does not contain the requisite drama to engage the viewer and considering the material they had to work with this is very disappointing. The film had the opportunity to tell the story of two of the most interesting women in the history of the British Isles but just isn’t up to the task.

The difficult relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is handled well and the film makes it clear why they are sometimes desperate to be friends while at others clear enemies. One problem with the film is that the supporting cast’s relationships with the queens are not as well done. Darnley swings dramatically from charming noble to ignorant drunk around Mary and her half-brother is split between seething resentment and familial bonds . The crux is the director has tried to portray these characters in a particular way but is forced by history to make them seemingly act uncharacteristically.

The film does look stunning. The scenery, the sets and especially the costumes are wonderful. Near the end of the film Queen Elizabeth is shown in increasingly extravagant and dazzling outfits – as her own natural beauty fades. The sets of the English and Scottish courts neatly display the disparities between the two kingdoms with the former outshining the later dramatically.

Throughout the film is the issue of women in power. People of both countries complain about their woman rulers, with especially Mary’s ability to rule call into question. Mary is called a harlot, and worse, for the rumours of an affair while I’m quite sure previous kings’ potential infidelities were not used as proof of their inability to govern. The Scottish nobles are constantly dismissive of Mary and on occasion are willing to manhandle her. Mary’s new husband never stops complaining about how Mary swore to obey him but runs the country without her and bristles at the idea that he has a lower status than her.

Overall the film is good and stars put on a masterclass of acting but feels like a missed opportunity for a great film.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Editorials

The Perfect Post-Apocalyptic Holidays

January 9, 2019

One thing Hollywood and I have in common is an obsession with the collapse of civilisation and the end of the world. I’m not quite sure what fuels this but perhaps it’s just interesting to see how people react to catastrophe. Maybe a brief holiday to some of these destinations can satisfy our curiosity rather than being condemned to a lifetime of it. So whether it’s an admittedly brief singles holiday in Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World or a pub crawl to The World’s End the apocalypse brings up a lot of interesting holiday opportunities.

Road Trips, Cruise & Train Journeys

The nuclear weapon devastated world of Mad Max is the perfect getaway for a car aficionado who’s looking for some adventure. You can take a road trip down the legendary Fury Road and marvel at the eccentrically dressed gearheads who are all too keen to demonstrate how their amazing vehicles work.

Those looking for some live entertainment should check out The Thunderdome in Bartertown where semi-willing participants take part in a very extreme form of theatre – you’ll not find more committed performers anywhere in the world. Due to sparse retail opportunities make sure to bring plentiful water, petrol and ammunition.

Many people love cruises although being trapped on a floating prison for weeks, or even months on end with the same people already sounds like the end of the world to me. But if that sounds appealing Waterworld may be the apocalypse for you. You can sail and swim to your heart’s content, however, despite spending a huge amount on this vacation spot many visitors found it a massive letdown.

Your friendly cruise director, Waterworld (IMDb)

We’ve all heard how wonderful a trip on the Orient Express is – if a little murdery – so recreate the golden age of train travel on board the best train the post-apocalypse has to offer: Snowpiercer. Passengers can enjoy fresh sushi or even the more interesting culinary delights in the lower-class section before moving forward to a world-class nightclub in a train! Snowpiercer is constantly crisscrossing the globe so you can see the Empire State Building buried by snow and…the Taj Mahal buried by snow. Warning – I know we’ve all done it but don’t try and sneak into the first-class carriage if you don’t have the right ticket as they are really strict about that. If you get caught paying a fine will be the least of your worries.

City Breaks

For those who want to rest and be pampered at the same time why not enjoy a stay in The Matrix? You can enjoy long baths and uninterrupted sleep while at the same time luxuriating in the pinnacle of human civilization – the late 1990s, enjoying pre-broadband internet, mobile phones you had to flip open and the dawn of reality television.

Be on the lookout for overly-officious government agents and very eager people pushing red and blue pills. And for those environmentalists amongst you don’t worry – this world uses extremely renewable energy.
Perhaps it’s my age showing but I can’t think of a better historical period to be trapped in for my entire life. This is my idea of the perfect holiday and have always thought our robot overlords set up a very nice post-apocalypse for us.

Family Getaways

For some people family comes first and if you’re looking to bond why not go to The Road? Yes, on first glance it’s possibly the bleakest and most horrible of all post-apocalyptic worlds but you can forge an everlasting father-son relationship. You’ll go on a very, very slow roadtrip taking in scenic views of dead forests, barren fields and gruesome remains. Personally I can’t abide a world that promises an acting masterclass from Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron and then only gives us a few minutes of the latter.

Family fun in The Road (IMDb)

Those with larger families why not take a country house in It Comes At Night – make boarding up windows, collecting water and dealing with the infected a fun family activity! And nothing stokes family unity like the fear of any and all outsiders, whether they simply want to steal your food or are infected with the mysterious but deadly plague that has wiped out billions it’s best to avoid them.

If you’re sick of your hustle and noise of the city – or just your family – A Quiet Place is a wonderful respite. Your children really will learn that silence is golden and you can enjoy countless hours of reading, lying very still and trying not to scream in pain.

The Zombie Experience

Zombies might seem the perfect way to ruin a holiday – after all who wants flesh-eating nearly unstoppable monsters attacking them? Well if you decide to hole up somewhere comfortable it’s not so bad. Do you want an old-fashioned lock-in at a real London pub? Then stop by the Winchester and once the zombie hordes arrive there will be no getting you out.

Enjoying a genuine London pub with friends, Shaun of the Dead (IMDb)

How about going to Zombieland and enjoying the last functioning theme park in the world Pacific Playland? It has exciting rides, sort-of friendly clowns and security is provided by a cowboy-hat wearing Woody Harrelson? Zombieland is also well known for it’s celebrity guests and they are all from the tippy-top of the Hollywood tree.

Some people pick their holiday destinations based on where they can do some great shopping and Dawn of the Dead offers you two fantastic malls in Monroeville. Whether you prefer the more sedate 1970s experience or fast-paced shopping trip from the mid 2000s they’ve got you covered. You’ll have plenty of time to explore shops as stays can last for months. The mall even comes with it’s own shuttle buses which a lucky few actually get to work on!

So there you have it: adventure, relaxation, luxury, whatever you want for a holiday experience the post-apocalyptic world can provide it!

Reviews

Review: The Favourite

January 6, 2019

Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest work is a historical film about a dangerous rivalry for the affections of the Queen of England.

What’s Going On?

The Favourite is a film set in the court of Queen Anne in the Eighteenth Century. Queen Anne was a real queen of England and most of the characters in the film are also based on real people. However, I don’t think the film pretends to be entirely historically accurate or even wants to be. The film focuses on the rivalry between two women at court who are trying to be Queen Anne’s “favourite”. At the beginning of the film, this position is unquestionably held by Sarah Churchill (Winston Churchill is a descendant of her) who not only dictates many matters at court but settles a lot of state business as well. This position is challenged by the newcomer, Abigail Hill, a young cousin of Sarah’s. Their feuding escalates throughout the film, having consequences not just for the court but for the whole nation.

Behind The Scenes

The film is based on a book by historian Ophelia Field. The book is a biography of Sarah Churchill and it seems that the film has only picked certain aspects for the film. The film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, a director who is having a run of successful films (The Lobster, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer) and expectations for The Favourite were high.

In Front Of The Camera

The stars are of the film are a trio of brilliant actors: Olivia Colman (Queen Anne), Rachel Weisz (Sarah Churchill) and Emma Stone (Abigail Hill) and all of them are amazing. Colman portrays Anne as a weak ruler who is too easily swayed by those around her. She excesses in food and drink (Sarah often challenges Queen Anne on her diet), dotes on pet rabbits and can switch from praising a person to striking them in a moment. Of course, at this time the queen was still ruling the country, so her temperament had a huge effect on England.

Emma Stone gives a great performance as Abigail Hill, technically a member of the aristocracy who has fallen on hard times and is always on the lookout for ways to improve her position.

I would say it is Rachel Weisz who gives the best performance. Sarah Churchill is many things in this film and they are often contradictory; she is a loyal friend and a bully, a confidante and a blackmailer, a conscientious agent of government and a seller of influence and Weisz conveys this complex character perfectly. Weisz’s Sarah is a determined and forceful woman who will impose her will on politicians and even the Queen.

Does It Work?

The film is amazing – at times funny, at times touching but whatever is going on you are unable to look away. I’ve already stated that the three principle actors are all superb but this is just the start of how good it is. The film effectively creates an eccentric court life nearly completely cut off from reality. We catch glimpses of scullery maids and there is a brief moment spent in a brothel and that’s about all we see of ordinary people. Some of the politicians talk about the needs of the people but you get the feeling that’s only a convenient political weapon. Speaking of the court it is very helpful that the two political parties, the Tories and Whigs, each have their own distinctive style and so are easily recognised – with Nicholas Hoult looking especially ridiculous.

The rivalry between Sarah and Abigail is played out wonderfully. Sarah is a lifelong friend of the Queen, they have a history of decades of shared jokes, anecdotes and acts of friendship. Whereas Abigail perhaps brings something new and exciting. There is an interesting counterpoint between the two competing favourites. Sarah is not always pleasant to the queen, for example saying that she says she looks like a badger when going to meet a delegation from Russia. The Queen is upset and lets Sarah go in her place. Is Sarah being honest to an old friend to spare her embarrassment or is she simply manipulating her so she can exercise power? Again, Sarah does handle a lot of political matters; is this because she knows the Queen is ill-equipped to handle this and the country needs a leader or she wants power for herself? Certainly it seems the Queen is easily led, often taking the lead from whoever last spoke to her. Conversely, it is made clear that Abigail purely tells the Queen what she wants to hear as and only takes an interest in politics when it benefits herself. Abigail’s analogy that sending reinforcements to an army is like arriving late to a party is not based on strategy but purely on wanting the support of the Leader of the Opposition. What makes things even more complicated in this rivalry is that Sarah’s husband is the man commanding this army; no reinforcements could mean his death.

But I would hate to give the impression that Sarah is completely innocent in all of this. At the beginning to the film the Queen shows Sarah her new “present” – she’s going to build her a palace. While initially Sarah says it’s an extravagance the country cannot afford during wartime (something the Queen didn’t seem to quite understand) she does still get the palace. Also her honesty often overlaps with cruelty and she is shown to be every bit as vindictive and grasping as Abigail.

Aside from the rivalry for favourite the film also paints a vivid picture of English politics where a monarch who has no understanding of the issue has final say. A country where friends can exert influence that will make them rich at the country’s expense or change the course of war. It is shocking to think that for a long time this was how countries were ran.

In short this is a masterpiece of a film with three actors giving three of the best performances you’ll see all year.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

The Favourite (Trailer)
Editorials

May The Fan Film Be With You

December 23, 2018

I am a huge Star Wars fan. So obviously I’ve seen all the films and tv shows many times (even the prequels). I’ve also read fiction set in that universe, as well as non-fiction, I’ve read graphic novels, played computer games and literally bought the t-shirts. However, compared to some people I am not very committed at all. Some people love Star Wars so much they have devoted time, money and resources to create their own fan films, original stories set in the Star Wars universe. They do this without hope of profit or reward and I always admire people who work hard on something simply because they love it. In writing this article I watched a lot of Star Wars fan films and was shocked by just how good they were, so here’s a list of five great fan films that showcase the different types of film being made.

Troops

Troops was one of the first fan films and dates back to 1997. Troops create the format and style of infamous reality tv show Cops and applies it to stormtroopers on Tatooine. A Star Wars comedy parody fan film could easily annoy me but they pitch it perfectly, mixing the almost polite and reasonable behaviour police demonstrate on Cops – for example trying to calm down an arguing couple,  to more typical stormtrooper behaviour like shooting Jawas in cold blood.

There a lot of cute details for Star Wars fans and when we learn that these particular storm troopers are searching for stolen droids we kind of know where this is going. 

The special effects aren’t great but considering when this was made this is not surprising and the grainy appearance could even be intentional. The costumes are dead on and they certainly look like stormtroopers. Overall this a funny and cool film that everyone from casual fans to complete Star Wars nerds will enjoy.

Darth Maul: Apprentice 

This fan film focuses on everyone’s favourite bisected sith apprentice- Darth Maul, to many people he was one of the few good things in The Phantom Menace. In this film, Darth Maul takes on a number of Jedi sent to fight him. There is limited plot and is essentially one long fight scene but it has the best fighting of any fan film I’ve watched.

The stunt work and fighting are very well done, the fights moving quickly and smoothly and while occasionally some of the special effects remind you that you are not watching a Hollywood blockbuster that is a minor gripe as usually they are very well done.

The acting isn’t always top notch but this is a film about getting to watch Darth Maul fight Jedi and in that sense it is a complete success. That said, the actor playing Darth Maul has captured that character wonderfully.

Jakku: First Wave

A lot of fan films focus on fighting. Light sabre-duels, blaster fights and dogfights are all cool but often they lack story and interesting characters. Personally I really need these things and can put up with bad special effects if it makes me think and feel something.

This film has essentially abandoned many of the special effects and set pieces fan films rely on. The film lasts three and a bit minutes and is of several stormtroopers waiting to go into battle talking about why they are fighting. It was an interesting idea as it takes the normally anonymous stormtroopers who follow a clearly evil emperor and shows things from their point of view. The costumes and sound effects are great and I genuinely wanted to know more about their story and what happened to these characters and that’s high praise indeed.

TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story

Star Wars fan films are such a longstanding phenomenon there are awards – which this film won. Like Jakku: First Wave this is taken from the point of view of a person who signs up as a stormtrooper because he believes in the cause of the Empire, he’s clearly not evil but sees the Empire as the legitimate authority and propaganda broadcasts frame the Rebel Alliance wanting a return to the lawless days of the Republic. This is an epic of fan films capturing the chaotic and dirty business of war. Most of the film is focused on a single battlefield, soldiers fire at each other and dogfights go on above them and they even come up with some nifty stormtrooper weapons.

Perhaps most interestingly this film focuses on the fact that in a civil war your enemies can be your friends, your family, your neighbours. How will you feel fighting these people? Why did you choose different sides? Of all the fan films I watched this one felt most like a complete film.

Hoshino

This is a very interesting film that I enjoyed a lot, it is the story of Hoshino who we see both as an apprentice and as a Jedi Master with shots going back and forth from the present to the past. We see in the present that Jedi Master Hoshino is blind, a vicious scar running across both her eyes and when an apprentice this scar is not present. We will learn what happened to her.

The film has great special effects including a very cool sequence of Hoshino assembling her light sabre just by using the Force to combine all the pieces.  There is also some cool Jedi philosophising between Hoshino and the Jedi training her which fits in nicely with the Jedi religion that Lucas created. 

There is a familiar plot of arrogant apprentice rushing into something they’re not properly prepared for but this is handled well and has some interesting features. There is, of course, the question of how a blind Jedi perceives the world and while I don’t know of any such characters in the wider Star Wars universe I wouldn’t be surprised if they existed.

Editorials

Not Watching The Worst Film Ever Made

December 13, 2018
The Worst Film Ever Made

I once went to an all-night cult film festival and the cinema had three screens so essentially you had a choice of three films at any time. First up was The Big Lebowski, Brazil and The Room. The first is probably my favourite film. Brazil is Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece and a film that is so good that it can get away with casting Michael Palin as a sadistic torturer. And The Room is considered to be one of the worst films ever made. Its entire fame is based on that it is terrible and yet people were choosing to see this over either of the two classics. It is a mystery to me why anyone would want to watch it at all. I’ve never seen Raging Bull, Vertigo or Oldboy all of which look brilliant and interesting but I just have never gotten round to watching them and it feels a bit wrong to see something like The Room before Raging Bull.

The Room (IMDb)

The Room would fit into a category of film known as “so bad it’s good”, that a film with glaring and obvious flaws, with failures of writing, acting, directing can be enjoyable because of these flaws. Usually, it’s not just films that aren’t very good, there are lots of those films, normally it needs something more like the filmmakers thought they had something good. That certainly seems to be the case with The Room and while the filmmakers seem to have embraced the awfulness of their film it certainly seems like they weren’t making it ironically.

Despite its terribleness, The Room is genuinely a cultural landmark with special fan screenings across the world and perhaps has wrestled the title of worst film ever made from Plan 9 From Outer Space. Both films are so notorious that each has been the subject to follow-up films (The Disaster Artist and Ed Wood respectively) which to me look far more interesting than the original films. I understand that I am in a distinct minority in this opinion with many people taking great pleasure in watching bad films. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 has been going for thirty years on the simple premise of watching bad films and making jokes about them (while that premise is simple the rest of the show involves evil scientists, talking robots and captured spaceship pilots). There are many bad movie podcasts such as The Flop House, a show with clever, witty hosts who know lots about films – good as well as bad ones.

The Worst Film Ever Made That Cost $125,000,000

Another contender for the worst film ever made is Batman & Robin and I have seen this one and in my defence, I had hoped it would be good. Before Christopher Nolan resurrected Batman it had been thoroughly killed by this film. There is a supposed Batman curse and that accepting a high profile role in a Batman film will harm your career and this was certainly true for Batman & Robin. The careers of George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered severe harm and some have still not recovered. This should have been a big success. George Clooney has since proven himself to be a great dramatic actor, director Joel Schumacher had made good films like Falling Down, and it’s easy to forget that Schwarzenegger was once the biggest movie star on the planet. The film is a total fiasco with everything from the script to costumes being picked apart in the subsequent twenty years for being absolutely awful. Personally, I’d say this is a far worse film than The Room; as that was a small film with no stars and not much money the budget of Batman & Robin was $125,000,000 and for that amount people expect results.

Batman & Robin (IMDb)
Guilty Pleasures

Many people say they enjoy “so bad it’s good” films as a “guilty pleasure”. Personally, I’m with the brilliant comedian Josie Long who said instead of having guilty pleasures said you should have “brazen pleasures”, things you love and are proud to love them. This doesn’t mean everything has to be  Kieślowski’s Three Colours Trilogy but you don’t need to feel guilty about what you love. Ultimately there are only two types of films – bad films and good films, and what goes in what category is just a matter of opinion. It’s hard to make a definitive argument that Citizen Kane is better than Clueless and it is perfectly valid to say that Alicia Silverstone’s performance is better than Orson Welles’. Personally, I really like Clueless and probably enjoyed watching it more than Citizen Kane and have had to defend it to other people who consider it awful. To me, Clueless is not a guilty pleasure it is a film I’m proud to say I enjoy. If a film engages you entertains you and interests you then it must have something going for it.

Clueless (IMDb)

So what do people get out of so bad it’s good films and guilty pleasures? Is it just to see a whole group of people fail? After all, many writers and philosophers have talked about the odd pleasure in seeing our friends fail and apparently we get the same pleasure when total strangers do so as well. Maybe it’s even better for us when they spend hundreds of millions of dollars doing it. It still seems bizarre to me to spend time watching something that even the people who made who it aren’t proud of it. I have no plans to ever watch The Room. Maybe when I’ve watched every good film ever made I’ll move onto watching the bad ones but that will probably take me quite a while as people keep making good ones.

Reviews

Review: Sorry To Bother You

December 12, 2018

Sorry To Bother You is a comedic over-the-top portrayal of a slightly different America and the scary places the pursuit of success and money can take you.

What’s Going On?

Cassius Green is a man down on his luck, living in his uncle’s garage and unemployed. In fact, it seems like most of America is rather down on its luck. Cassius manages to get a job as a telemarketer and following a colleague’s advice, starts talking to customers using his “white voice”. Cassius and his colleague are black and sound black to the customers. Using this voice Cassius is a huge success and is quickly promoted to “power caller” where he sells very different products. The problem being that not only are these different products but they are morally dubious at best. The more successful Cassius becomes the less ethical the products become, leading to truly unbelievable moral dilemmas.

There are several minor plots that mirror Cassius’s struggles. His activist girlfriend, Detroit, has an upcoming art show and considering she makes earrings that are just the words “murder” and “kill” it is sure to be a shocking show. Then there is the fight to unionise the telemarketers to improve pay and conditions which the authorities are absolutely okay in using violence to settle. Finally, there is the ever-present company WorryFree, seen on television, billboards and more. WorryFree offers shelter and food in return for a lifetime contract which sounds disconcertingly like slavery to many people.  

Behind The Scenes

Sorry To Bother You is the directorial debut of Boots Riley (he is also the screenwriter), best known as a rapper as part of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club. I would never have guessed it was someone’s first film and there is a clear vision and purpose with Riley tells a strong story. 

In Front Of The Camera

The film has a big cast and stars Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green who gives a great performance. At the beginning of the film he is very much a man beaten down by life and for the first third of the film he is always walking with a slump and looking down at the ground. When he becomes successful a very different side is shown and gives a realistic portrayal of a man struggling with his principles. David Cross provides the “white voice” of Cassius, with Patton Oswalt doing the same for another character and both sound rightly non-threatening and bland. Tessa Thompson is great as Detroit, Cassisus’ girlfriend who often acts as his conscience. Armie Hammer plays a very believable scumbag billionaire entrepreneur, Steve Lift, owner of WorryFree, turning unspeakable crimes into more palatable PR-approved concepts that will benefit everyone.  

Does It Work?

The film is very funny and enjoyable. Riley makes interesting points about racism and class struggle in America and beyond. The final third of the film makes a big jump into more extreme situations that some people may simply find too unbelievable but undeniably most of the film is utterly fantastic. The more I have thought of the film the more the ending has bothered me perhaps the sheer oddness undercutting the serious messages in the film.

Cassius internal moral arguments are brilliantly realised and his motives are clear. He was never trying to be rich but only wanted to support himself and those close to him. Cassius’ decisions are very relatable especially when confronted with more extreme choices. 

Riley handles the issues around “white voice” excellently. It is pointed out by one character that the voice is not just an impression of a white person’s voice, but how white people would like to see themselves – sorted out, together and there is an implication that none of the white customers would think this applied to Cassius. When Cassius uses this voice at the lower levels of the company few people question what he is doing, perhaps because he was on the very brink. As he becomes increasingly successful the people close to him are less comfortable with it. There are accusations of “selling out” not just because of using this voice but also the work he is doing is betraying those around him and what he used to believe in. There is another black power caller who uses the “white voice” and even Detroit uses a different voice at her art show – her “White British Voice” – which presumably helps her sell her art. It would be interesting to see how other power callers who were white spoke, does everyone need to put on some sort of character to be successful?

WorryFree is scarily believable and for the most part feels only a few steps away from real companies. Sadly, as are the economic hardship endured by many of the characters and thus making WorryFree the only alternative to homelessness. These problems are not just limited to ethnic minorities but show how all groups in society are struggling and sometimes the divide portrayed in the film wasn’t white people and black people but the rich and everyone else. That said, there are moments in the film that speak purely to issues of race, most – but by no means all – of the rich people are white and Cassius is expected to regale them with stories of Oakland’s gang shootings and rap for them.

On the whole, the film is great and gives the viewer a lot to think about. There are problems with the plot as it goes along and I’m sure some people will simply not be able to accept it for being too outlandish. The film reminded me a lot of Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone on a more cinematic scale, a world very much like ours but pushed to be a bit more extreme, like many episodes of these shows the concept and setup of the story is fantastic with the ending being somewhat unsatisfactory.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Editorials

Screens on Screen: Computers, The Internet And Social Media In Films

December 1, 2018

The Internet is constantly taking over more and more of the world as seemingly anything can be improved by a WiFi connection. We watch television through Netflix, buy things through Amazon and google every passing thought or question that goes through our mind. As with any new technology, Hollywood was eager to pounce on the Internet for ideas.

What Could Computers Do?

The Internet and computer networks have been featured in films since the 1980s examining the possibilities of what “hackers” could do from accidentally leading to nuclear war in Wargames to even more sinister – changing your attendance record at school in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It is fair to say Hollywood has an odd relationship with the Internet and that’s not surprising – illegally downloading films was supposedly going to destroy the industry while Netflix almost single-handedly wiped out Blockbuster Video.

Wargames (IMDb)
Online Secrets

Assassination Nation is a recent release that deals with the Internet and social media, and without these, there would be no plot. In this film, a hacker plans to upload all of the messages sent by everyone in the town so secret conversations, insults, gossip will all come out. Judging from the trailer, the whole town collapses into violent anarchy very quickly.

Technology and Storytelling

The new technology computers and the Internet have made possible hasn’t always benefited storytelling. Mobile phones would have ruined the plots of hundreds of films and so often now there is an exposition explaining how it’s a bad reception area. Hacking into secure government files seems child’s play for any teenager with a computer, replacing any interesting and complicated break-in. Tracking someone down was once the territory of hard-bitten private detectives but social media has made it easy to find virtually anyone.

The First Glimpses of the Internet

1995’s The Net was one of the first major films to deal with the Internet and created a terrible world of secret online organisations controlling the world and, if necessary, acting against you. Sandra Bullock stars as a computer programmer and shut-in Angela Bennett, a woman with very few friends or family, who falls foul of a sinister online organisation. They swap her identity with that of convicted criminal Ruth Marx and kill her ex-husband by deleting his allergies from his medical records and pretty much ruin her life. It’s interesting that identity theft has now become an extremely commonplace crime, although not quite how they imagined it. Far scarier these days is not that someone accesses your bank account, that’s just money, but someone accessing your social media and email, that’s your soul. The Net seems laughably clueless now and I think at the time people who knew about the Internet thought it was as well.

The Net (IMDb)
The Good and the Bad

The Social Network is one of my favourite films and I’m still angry that it didn’t win Best Picture at the Oscars. This is a film with a far better grasp of the Internet, social media and computers as, if nothing else, Facebook co-creator Eduardo Saverin was consulted for the book the film was based on. The Social Network talks about algorithms for god’s sake. As films about the Internet go The Social Network is broadly positive – yes, a close friendship is destroyed and most of the characters are thoroughly unlikable but there’s no Black Mirror-style horror. It’s not surprising that most Internet films are about the potential dangers; films need to be dramatic so there’s no film about how awesome Facetime is for connecting with friends abroad, in the same way, there are no films about genetic modification fixing hunger, it’s all murderous mutant hybrids. The Social Network portrays Facebook as largely a good thing, even if the origins of Facebook involve hacking, theft and some pretty mean stuff around rating the looks of women. It would be interesting to see how Aaron Sorkin (writer) and David Fincher (director) would handle making the film now after Facebook’s recent problems.

Ingrid Goes West is a film showing a very dark side of social media. It stars Aubrey Plaza as a young woman who becomes dangerously obsessed with people via their social media (the film’s title is what she names her Instagram account when she moves to Los Angeles). The film feels very current as if social media is in the news it is usually negative – it’s bullying, it’s stalking, it’s catfishing. Ingrid carefully culls her victim’s social media to find out where she shops, where she eats, what things she likes and very quickly her actions escalate beyond simply following someone online. Not to give too much away but unsurprisingly it doesn’t go terribly well for any of those concerned.

Ingrid Goes West (IMDb)

Horror has quickly embraced the darker elements of the Internet. Unfriended is a supernatural horror film viewed entirely as if viewing a computer screen in a twist on found footage films. So you see Skype windows, instant messaging, Facebook updates almost making social media the “setting” of the film. Another recent horror/thriller Cam looks at another often dark side of the Internet – pornography. The film follows “camgirl” Alice who is trying to put on ever more inventive and exciting shows for her viewers when suddenly her identity is stolen: someone has hacked her account and is streaming new videos of her but videos she never made. As well as being a chilling identity theft thriller it also shows some of the real-life impact of working as a camgirl – how devastating it can be if people find out about her career, how viewers profess their adoration but then treat her as less than a person, how getting help is much harder for her because of the way the profession is seen.

What Next?

In many ways, Hollywood still seems to be learning how to use the Internet effectively in stories but given it’s increasing importance it does feature more and more all the time. Unsurprisingly it’s younger filmmakers who have grown up it that are leading the way.