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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

(Some Of) The Best Fights in Film Franchises

June 5, 2019

As an avid fan of film fights here are a selection of some of the best fights from film franchises – everything from gun battles to slugfests to martial arts extravaganzas.

The Matrix – Subway Fight

  • Combatants – Neo Vs Agent Smith
  • Setting: Subway Station
  • Weapons – Briefly guns, then fists

Watching The Matrix again now and you see just how influential it was. So many action films since have similar balletic fight scenes, highly choreographed and done with precision and care but I don’t know if The Matrix has ever been topped. As good as Keanu Reeves is in The Matrix Hugo Weaving is better and in many ways a far more interesting character. Everything about Agent Smith from the way he talks to the way he moves seems like it has been very carefully chosen. Youtube has videos that consist entirely of Agent Smith saying “Mr Anderson”.

Depending on how much you buy into into Neo being The One at this point really effects how likely it is that you think he’ll win. It is specifically said that every person who has tried to fight an agent has died. The fight starts with the infamous bullet-time but quickly becomes a martial arts master class. Agent Smith has a curious conservation of movement and energy and rarely looks like he’s actually trying whereas Neo is battered and bloody and clearly putting his all into it.

The climatic moment of the fight when we think Agent Smith is dead but then steps off the train is genius and also means that in one of the best fights in the history of cinema no one is actually killed.

Body Count – 0

John Wick – Club Fight

  • Combatants: John Wick Vs A Lot Of Russian Gangsters
  • Setting: A Night Club
  • Weapons: Guns and fists

Yes, Keanu Reeves gets two. Obviously, the fight scenes in John Wick are the most important parts of the film and they don’t disappoint – arguably setting the bar for all future action films. There are number I could pick but I often come back to the fight in the night club. This is genuinely a blood bath and I had the body count at around 29 over the space of seven minutes and it showcases all of Wick’s skills – hand-to-hand fighting, shooting, weird kung-fu, all of it. Wick’s prowess at killing people almost seems supernatural but never quite strays over that line. Interestingly despite cutting through so many people Wick doesn’t even win the fight, his target escapes and he ends up being thrown over over a barrier to the floor below. But really with John Wick if he’s not dead you haven’t really won.

Body Count – I counted 29 but I’m not confident in that number.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Elevator Fight

  • Combatants : Captain America Vs Various S.H.I.E.L.D Agents
  • Setting – A lift (AKA an elevator)
  • Weapons – Electric shock weapons, fists.

A brief fight to be sure but perhaps my favourite in all of the Marvel films. I like a fight scene that happens in a place that rather restricts the fighting and makes directors think outside the box and this definitely qualifies. Captain America is set upon by eleven (I think, it’s a little hard to count) men and then for most of the fight has one hand stuck to the wall. So often with fight scenes you feel like you’ve seen it before but I can’t think of another scene quite like this.

Body Count – Nobody dies but I count 11 people on the floor.

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Church Fight

Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Combatants – Superspy Harry Hart and various fundamentalist Christians.
  • Setting – Church in America.
  • Weapons- Guns, knives, grenades, an axe, whatever you can put your hands on

I would go so far as to say this isn’t a good film. This one scene, however, makes it worth watching. Colin Firth is not your typical action hero but he really pulls this off. As all inside the church are essentially brainwashed into an orgy of violence a massive fight breaks out which leaves only one person standing – Harry Hart. Everyone in the church is fighting everyone else with nearly five minutes of utter mayhem in what becomes the Where’s Wally of fight scenes as you search the screen picking out individual confrontations.

Body Count – I have no idea and didn’t even try to count.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – Plane Fight

Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Combatants – Indiana Jones Vs A Big Nazi (with assistance from Marion and assorted Nazis respectively)
  • Setting Air Strip in Egypt
  • Weapons: Fists, machine gun, propeller

Indiana Jones does not like a fair fight. Not when he’s fighting someone bigger, tougher and stronger than he is. And is a Nazi. In this fight Indy tries every underhand trick he can think of and in the end he doesn’t really win as much the other guy loses. While certainly not played for laughs there are a couple of moments of real humour, the first time Indy is punched by the Nazi soldier he doesn’t just get knocked over but his legs just give way leaving him dazed and on the ground.

Much of the fight in Indy actually trying to avoid his opponent quickly realising there was no way he was going to win and the legendary moment when his opponent does meet his end is surely one of the best conclusions to a film fight.

Body Count – One of the main combatants and a number of other German soldiers who showed up and got on the wrong side of a machine gun.

The Dark Knight Returns – Batman Fights Superman

Batman Vs Superman Part 1 (Part 2 at end of article)
  • Combatants – Batman Vs Superman (each with a few helpful assistants)
  • Setting – A deserted section of Gotham.
  • Weapons – Superman’s superpowers & Batman’s gadgets

In writing this article I did some reading around “great” fights and I was surprised to see Batman Vs Superman from Batman Vs Superman, in my view a terrible fight. So instead I have included the Batman Vs Superman fight from The Dark Knight Returns, animation but certainly one of my all time favourite fights and a vastly superior movie. This film handles the idea of why the two are fighting so much better than Zack Synder’s film and you also think that Superman might actually kill Batman, something we all knew wasn’t going to happen in Synder’s film.

Weakened from the detonation of a nuclear missile – just go with it – Superman is not at his best already and Wayne brings everything from sonic weapons to a super-strong batsuit to try and defeat him and in the end, well, he wins. A victory of ingenuity and admittedly billions of dollars over the the near-invincibility of Superman.

Body Count – 0

Also Read: Superhero Standoff: Superheros Vs Art

Reviews

Review: The Silence

May 27, 2019

New Netflix film The Silence tells the story of a family trying to survive in a country ravaged by monsters that hunt by sound and to have any hope of survival you must be silent.

The Elephant In The Cinema (or Netflix in this case)

The plot outline of The Silence sounds very similar to recent horror hit A Quiet Place and the word “mockbuster” has been thrown around describing The Silence. A mockbuster is a film that has a plot and title similar to a very successful film and is not a coincidence but a very cynical attempt to leech off the success of the blockbuster. It should be pointed out The Silence is based on a book that predates A Quiet Place. Personally, I would say the quality of the film and its origins means it isn’t a mockbuster but it’s still impossible not to directly compare it to the other film.

What’s Going On?

The film follows a single family and how they deal with a nationwide catastrophe; strange winged creatures are spreading across the country and killing countless people. After watching news reports it becomes clear that the creatures hunt by what they can hear – meaning if you can be quiet you’re safe. As the family has a deaf daughter they are used to communicating non-verbally. After a tense few hours of deliberation, the family decides to drive out into the quieter and presumably safer countryside. To their horror, they find that the monsters are not far behind and not only that but there are other things dangers to be wary of.

Behind The Scenes

The film is directed by John R. Leonetti a cinematographer and director with a history in horror, his biggest directing credit being for 2014’s Annabelle. The writers are Shane Van Dyke and Carey Van Dyke whose involvement in Transmorphers: Fall of Man and The Day The Earth Stopped (films that, surely coincidentally, are reminiscent of Transformers franchise and The Day The Earth Stood Still) has somewhat added to the perception problem as a mockbuster.

In Front Of The Camera

I’ll admit that it was the cast that made me interested in this film – namely Stanley Tucci, who plays Hugh, the Dad, and Kieran Shipka, who plays Ally, the daughter. Stanley Tucci is a great actor, that’s just a fact, his monologue in Margin Call about building a bridge is one of my favourite scenes of all time. Whereas Kieran Shipka is best known for her phenomenal performance as Sally Draper in Mad Men and more recently as the eponymous character in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Unsurprisingly Tucci gives a great performance as an ordinary Dad in extraordinary circumstances, a calm, gentle man, who while retaining his decency shows he is tougher than people might think. Shipka’s performance was good, as was most of the cast to be honest, but not quite what I was hoping for.

Does It Work?

The film is moderately enjoyable, especially if you are a fan of this post-apocalyptic, or in this case during-apocalyptic movie. This is, in fact, the main difference between The Silence and A Quiet Place, the latter is set some time after the problems started and the complete collapse of civilisation, whereas The Silence only gives us the first moments of what is happening. After all, throughout most of the film Ally talks via Skype with a schoolfriend discussing what is happening and surely if Skype is still working things haven’t got that bad yet.

The film is quite predictable and offers little in the way of surprises. The monsters are CGI created and are not always terrible fearsome, the film making the mistake of many monster movie in that they show the monster far too often. The most terrifying monsters are only glimpsed by the viewer. Overall I wasn’t convinced that the monsters posed an existential threat to humans, they did not seem that fearsome or dangerous, yes they could kill a person but they were described in the film as unstoppable nightmare creatures.

The film takes an odd turn away from the danger of the monsters to the danger of other people. Now, this is a fairly common trope of disaster/apocalyptic films that humans can be as bad as the monsters. What is absolutely bizarre in this film is that the normal, civilised people got completely batshit crazy in literally two days. While scavenging Hugh and Ally encounter a creepy man and it turns out he has a bunch of creepy friends who have already started mutilating themselves and talking about women in terms of “fertility”. This has to be the most rapid descent into apocalyptic madness I have ever seen and it is simply too much to accept that people would turn so bad so quickly. I’m not even sure the old adage that a civilised man is only three meals away from barbarity as I don’t think they had missed that many meals.

So, the big question, how does it do compare to A Quiet Place? Not well is the quick answer. A Quiet Place was hugely enjoyable and genuinely tense and The Silence just doesn’t match up in any way. But even without this comparison The Silence barely feels like a film and more like a long episode of a moderately successful tv show. At best it will only appeal to fans of this genre and will not be remembered as a particularly worthy addition but still too good to be a mockbuster.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

The Silence (Official Trailer)

Also Read: How The Blair Witch Project Changed Horror

Reviews

Review: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

May 21, 2019

Keanu Reeves’ action franchise returns for its third instalment and this time it has Latin in the title.

What’s Going On?

Super-assassin John Wick has a $14,000,000 bounty placed on his head after breaking one of the cardinal rules of the Continental Hotel – no business is conducted on hotel grounds. As this is a hotel for assassins, “business” means killing people. In the world of this film, assassins lurk around every corner and John is set upon by an endless array of killers. Eager to get out from under this death sentence, John delves deeper into the mysterious world of assassins to find a solution to his problem.

Behind The Scenes

John Wick was directed by Chad Stahelski who, famously, before that film had been a stunt co-ordinator and as such was incredibly focused on the fight scenes. Stahelski stayed on to direct Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 and the fight scenes are still amazing, at times truly dazzling and clearly directed by a world-class expert. I am something of a connoisseur of good fight scenes and I still winced at how real some of the blows felt while marvelling at the technical capabilities of all involved.

In Front Of The Camera

Keanu Reeves obviously dominates the film as he plays John Wick and continues to bring an almost stoic sensibility to non-stop life and death fights. Alongside Reeves’ acting talent is sheer ability to be in this film, I am unaware exactly how much of Reeves’ fighting is done by a double but he certainly seems to be taking on a lot. Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston, manager of the Continental Hotel (the assassin hotel that has placed the bounty on Wick for breaking their rules) and with him also returns Lance Riddick as the ever helpful concierge, Charon. Lawrence Fishburne is also back as the unnamed Bowery King – the ruler of another mysterious group of criminals who pose as homeless New Yorkers. There are newcomers – the primary antagonist is the Adjuciator, a representative of the High Table, the rulers of this world of assassins played by Asia Kate Dillon, who not only wants Wick dead also wants New York shaken up a bit. Perhaps more important is the addition of Mark Dacascos, an assassin and sushi chef billed as someone actually capable of taking on John Wick. Real star power is brought by Oscar winner Halle Berry, who operates a similar hotel as that managed by Winston but in Casablanca. Angelica Houston pops up playing The Director, who doubles as ballet director and crimelord whose help John Wick seeks and provides a little more backstory to the character of John Wick.

Does It Work?

I consider John Wick a great action film, a twist on a simple revenge story, driven by Keanu Reeves’ performance and some of the best fight choreography ever. John Wick 2 was entertaining, and again, had amazing fight scenes, but it wasn’t quite the same and I feel much the same with John Wick 3. It’s certainly an enjoyable film and I was never bored but the more it’s delved into this world the less I get out of it. It somehow lacked the magic of the original and this might be as simple as I knew what to expect, whereas Chapter 1 was a surprise. I do think that there is a problem with John Wick’s motivation, in the first film it was revenge but in the other two there is something more complicated going on – debts owed, rules broken and the schemes of powerful people.

The more that is revealed about the Continental, the High Table, the Bowery and so on the more convoluted and less satisfying it becomes. The sheer number of assassins that exists not just in New York but seemingly any spot on the globe is astounding and stretches credulity. The thing that seems most unbelievable is that surely there aren’t this many assassinations to support such a huge number of assassins.

Whereas the first chapter was based entirely in New York, Chapter 2 took us to Rome and Chapter 3 continues with this international perspective. John Wick [Chapter 1] felt very contained, everything happened in a couple of days in a couple of locations but increasingly the franchise is eager to spread its wings. Doing this does allow for a bit of variety but personally, I would have preferred a more claustrophobic setting.

There was a cool touch in John Wick where after one fight scene early in the movie the police turn up. They know John who is, simply ask if he’s working again and then stay out of his way but you can’t help but think the level of carnage caused in this film would warrant some kind of police response. There are even suggestions of supernatural powers or mystical techniques possessed by some of the assassins, that to me, make John Wick’s phenomenal killing abilities less impressive.

Of course, John Wick was never supposed to be set in the real world, this hyper-violent world of secret assassins and globe-spanning criminal syndicates was supposed to be escapist fun but I think after the first film the balance between reality and fantasy has moved too far to the latter.

But really most of these complaints and minor gripes and is just what separates a good film from being a great film. If you enjoyed the previous John Wick films you will almost certainly love this. The fight scenes continue to offer something new, whether it’s drafting in Boban Marjanovic, a seven foot three inches tall basketball star, to serve as an early opponent or adding horses and dogs to the weapons John Wick utilises. While I feel the story has become a little bogged down with secret organisations the core of the film remains the same- John Wick having to fight a seemingly impossible number of people.

The biggest plus in the film is certainly Mark Dacascos. In the two previous chapters, there was no one who, individually, was thought to be John Wick’s equal when it came to killing people. There wasn’t one bad guy for him to fight there would be a couple of dozen. Of course, John Wick still has to fight through dozens of opponents but it all leads to a showdown with Dacascos.

Overall this is a very enjoyable action film that doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first instalment but compared to other franchises on their second sequel this is amazing stuff.

Verdict 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

John Wick 3 (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Ten Movies Turning 20 in 2019!

Editorials

Who Will Be The Next James Bond?

May 19, 2019

Daniel Craig will be stepping down from the iconic role of James Bond after the next film and I think it’s fair to say his run as Bond has been a huge success. The high point to me was Skyfall which while still an amazing spy-thriller also has something to say about Bond as a character, who he is, what his life means. More so than ever a change in the actor playing Bond will mean a change in the character so who are the contenders to play Bond, and what type of Bond would they be?

The Contenders

Idris Elba

Idris Elba (dailytimes.com)

Why Him? As always many names are being thrown around but Idris Elba has been a contender for some time. Elba not only brings a lot of experience for action films he is also a very talented actor lauded for his performances in The Wire and Beast of No Nation. Two other things would work for Elba – he is an exceptionally handsome man and he is very cool.

What Type Of Bond Would He Be? In his mid-forties already Elba could carry on the Daniel Craig persona of an old-hand, someone who hasn’t changed with the world. Skyfall played with the idea that Bond was “past his best”, in Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond film, he was described as a Cold War dinosaur, so for some this idea has been a big part of Bond.

Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy (weheartit.com)

Why Him? I think it’s with recent hit Peaky Blinders that Cillian showed he could play this kind of character. In that show, he plays crime boss Thomas Shelby, who while very tough, is most effective when using his mind.

What Type of Bond Would He Be? – Murphy doesn’t exactly look tough, nor does he look his age, seemingly barely ageing since his star-turn in 28 Days Later all those years ago. To me Bond often doesn’t seem very good at espionage. Don’t get me wrong – he’s very good at killing and fighting, but being subtle and discreet? Never. So maybe this could be what Murphy brings – a more intellectual hero who is actually good at being a spy.

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron (flickdirect.com)

Why Her? She might just be the best actress working today. Not only that she starred in the best action film of recent times, Mad Max: Fury Road and showed in Atomic Blonde that she is absolutely capable of all the fighting and action a Bond film would throw at her.

What Type Of Bond Would She Be? Theron was very cold and extremely ruthless in Atomic Blonde so maybe we could get an anti-hero Bond. After all, the world of espionage is not made up of heroes, it’s made up of liars and con artists who are perhaps not terribly likeable.

Daniel Kaluuya

Daniel Kaluuya (latimes.com)

Why Him? This British actor has been on fire the past few years and already has been successful in America, from horror gem Get Out to a supporting role in superhero success Black Panther. He can play law enforcer with a conscience, as he did in Sicario or simply be intimidating as he was in Widows.

What Kind Of Bond Would He Be? Kaluuya is a good deal younger than many contenders which could take the franchise in a new direction. – a young man brought into MI6 with lots of potential. This could perhaps a more idealistic Bond, a man not worn down by years of fighting.

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill (yahoo.com)

Why Him? Cavill is perhaps the most obvious choice to go with. In terms of his previous acting experience, it’s almost like he has been destined for this part- he’s already played spies in The Man From U.N.C.L.E and apprenticed with Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Fallout as well as headlining a major franchise by playing Superman in the recent DC films. He certainly has the right look for a Bond and undoubtedly has the physical presence, who can forget the amazing bathroom fight scene in Mission Impossible: Fallout and the even more amazing moment where Cavill “reloads” his arms?

What Kind Of Bond Would He Be? I expect this Bond would be a more typical hero. Honourable.Decent. Noble. Perhaps a bit boring?

An interesting bit of Bond news was reported not long ago in that they had hired an additional writer for the next Daniel Craig film – Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The woman behind two recent television hits – Fleabag and Killing – is certainly a hugely talented writer but perhaps not the sort of person who would usually be found writing for James Bond. This could be suggesting a change in tone in Bond, and well, if Phoebe Waller-Bridge is writing it we might as well cast….

Jodie Comer

Jodie Comer (latimes)

As Villanelle in Killing Eve Comer gave us a compelling and mesmerising performance as well as being something of a cultural sensation and I would love to see her take on such a well-established character as Bond.

What Type Of Bond Would She Be? This would really feel like a real change, not because Comer is a woman, but she’s most famous for playing a sociopath assassin and is absolutely the bad-guy. But if you really want a change she could be it. When you look at what Bond does and how he behaves, he’s already the villain, just he’s on “our side” so we see him as the good guy. This wouldn’t even be an anti-hero or someone a bit morally grey but an outright villain. Let’s unleash a truly wicked Bond and see what happens.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those That Didn’t) – Part 2: James Bond.

Editorials

Star Wars: Course Correction

May 10, 2019
Star Wars Episode 9

Spoiler Warning – this article will contain massive spoilers about The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens

The Last Jedi divided opinion while still being a tremendously successful film, but you would assume in an ideal world Disney would want both the money and the fan approval. I had mixed feelings on the film – parts of it were undeniably great with some amazing ideas, first-rate fight scenes and stunning visuals. But I was also annoyed by a lot of it. An article about the criticism of The Last Jedi has to deal with the issue that some (but not all) of the criticism was awfully misogynistic. I liked the addition of Rose, she was a character that to me represented the grass-roots of the organisation, she wasn’t a Jedi, a general or a cool fighter pilot but she believed in the cause. Kelly Marie Tran was subject to such abuse she abandoned social media. This was absolutely appalling but I have never understood anyone’s specific problems with her (of course, no one should have to go through that). The first trailer for the concluding part of this trilogy has just been released so should be different in The Rise of Skywalker?

Rules Exist For A Reason

The controversial light speed collision tactic (medium.com)

The Last Jedi seemingly broke the accepted rules of the Star Wars universe in a couple of ways. First, General Hux announced they were able to track ships once they jumped to light speed. Second, Admiral Holdo light speed jumping into another ship to destroy it. These might seem like minor points but they are potentially hugely important. Regarding the first point, this effectively means no one can ever get away. At the end of The Empire Strikes back the Millenium Falcon jumps to light speed and escapes – if they had had the technology Hux has Darth Vader would have found them easily. Of course, that’s in the past, but it is still true, how could anyone ever escape again?

Using light speed to jump into another ship raises the question that why had no one ever done this before? Why didn’t the Rebels do that to the Death Star? In any good science-fiction or fantasy, there need to be rules to how things work otherwise it’s just nonsense and you can get out of any situation just by saying there is a new bit of technology. It might seem – and probably is – a bit pedantic to dwell on how made up technology works but it suggests it hasn’t been thought through by the writer.

No more “Casinos”

The much maligned Casino Planet (bizjournals.com)

I don’t literally mean casinos, I mean no more weird side-plots that take up a lot of time but don’t really serve much purpose. The side-plot in which Rose and Finn looked for an expert hacker on a casino-planet to help the Resistance fleet escape is universally unloved. The only purpose I can see for in the film is to provide a visually pleasing spectacular of aliens, droids and people in fancy outfits to contrast with most of the rest of the film taking place on spaceships. And look, each and every one of us would, given the opportunity, write in a part for Benicio Del Toro but he could have been used so much better.

No More Rehashing Scenarios From The Original Trilogy

This is a hard one as they get criticised either way – if they try and forge their own path and come up with new ideas people are upset – or absolutely furious in the case of The Phantom Menace. If they rely on setups from the original trilogy they are criticised for bringing nothing new. The Force Awakens had a huge world-destroying superweapon. The Last Jedi saw an assault by the bad-guys on a remote base. We’ve seen this before and I want something new even if it’s just drawing from films other than Star Wars. I thought it was a such a missed opportunity that we ended up with the exact same dynamic of the First Order (which is virtually identical to the Empire) fighting a handful of Resistance/Rebels.

There Better Be Something About Snoke

Supreme Leader Snoke (pinterest.com)

Who was Snoke? Where did he come from? How did he become so powerful? To introduce him as the mastermind behind the First Order but be eliminated so easily seems odd and I really want answers, as it stands he just seems like a lazy Palpatine rip-off.

Stay The Course – Things The Last Jedi Got Right

  • Rey’s parentage – the obvious and easy route would be to tie Rey to someone already mentioned in the saga, make her a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, maybe even a Palpatine. I know for many fans this was the biggest issue but I really liked it and Kylo Ren explicitly stated that she wasn’t part of the story. Well, you know what? The fate of the galaxy shouldn’t just be the concern of the extended Skywalker family.
  • The End of the Jedi – well, maybe not the end, but I loved how it was pointed out by more than one character that the Jedi weren’t all they were cracked up to be. They never saw who Palpatine really was, they let themselves be manipulated into fighting a huge war and were then so easily eliminated. Maybe the Jedi Order as it was had run its course.
  • Luke Isn’t Perfect – Luke was essentially the main character of the original trilogy. He was good, noble and had amazing superhuman powers but The Last Jedi showed he was still a flawed human. He made a terrible mistake with Ben/Kylo Ren and essentially drove him to the Dark Side. I’d also say his confrontation with Kylo Ren at the end of the film was genius – Luke had already confronted Kylo Ren with violence once and made things worse, his solution seemed a very Jedi thing to do.

The Last Jedi wasn’t perfect but it was a very enjoyable film. The problem is when it comes to Star Wars films it seems the fans want something amazing or nothing at all.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those That Didn’t) – Part 4 [Star Wars]

Editorials

What Makes A Tarantino Film?

May 2, 2019

I was only eleven when Pulp Fiction was released but when I finally saw it a lot of references suddenly made sense. Pulp Fiction had a huge cultural impact and as well as influencing films it was referenced everywhere from Spaced to adverts for Cartoon Network. Quentin Tarantino is undoubtedly one of the most important and influential directors of the last thirty years. With his new film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, coming out later this year I have been watching a lot of his films – so what can you expect from a Tarantino film?

Interesting Dialogue For The Sake Of Interesting Dialogue

Reservoir Dogs (lataco.com)

Tarantino has a very particular style of dialogue. A lot of filmmakers would say dialogue that doesn’t move the plot on is unnecessary but many of Tarantino’s films contain long conversations that are just people talking. They aren’t setting up for something later in the film or giving important exposition, they just talk. The best scene in Reservoir Dogs is the discussion between hardened criminals about whether or not they should tip in restaurants. Inglourious Basterds opens with a harrowing but mesmerising scene of a French farmer being interrogated by an apparently very polite Nazi and while this does set up a lot of the plot I would argue you could do that in ninety seconds. Later in the film characters play a version of the Rizla Game which is equally riveting. Many people have tried to imitate Tarantino’s dialogue and failed and he is probably one of the most quotable writers working in Hollywood today.

The Actors

Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown (Imdb.com)

Like many auteurs Tarantino likes to use the same actors again and again. Samuel L Jackson has featured in seven Tarantino films (eight if we include True Romance) and actors like Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Uma Thurman pop up again and again. Tarantino also has an odd trait of casting actors who perhaps wouldn’t be on most directors’ wish-lists. Who will get a small role in one of his films – someone like Oscar-nominated Christopher Walken who gave a great performance in Pulp Fiction or someone like Don Johnson, star of Miami Vice, who certainly managed to say his lines in the right order in Django Unchained? These unusual choices are all the more mystifying when Tarantino’s credibility and budget would allow him to hire just about anyone.

Music & Sound

Tarantino soundtracks are usually very, very good. Not only in picking good songs like Misirlou by Dick Dale and Del-Tones or Woo Hoo by The 5.6.7.8’s but just in picking short bursts of music and sound. Songs that get featured in Tarantino films can lose all other context, Stuck In The Middle With You is a very good song and has a very pleasant sound but for millions of people, it will bring back one of the most brutal scenes in Tarantino’s work.

It doesn’t even have to be whole songs, it can just be a snippet of music – in Kill Bill: Vol 1 the character Elle Driver whistling as she calmly walks down a corridor to murder someone and after watching it the sound will be stuck in my head for days.

Tough Women

Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (thehypegeek.com)

Tarantino does have a habit of including tough, strong women in his films. Obviously, four of the five Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in Kill Bill are women (as well as one member’s bodyguard, Go-Go). Shoshanna in Inglourious Basterds is an unstoppable force of nature, Daisy Domergue is as dangerous a villain as anyone and, of course, Jackie Brown is a much more toned down and realistic portrayal of a strong woman. The shot of Uma Thurman wearing the yellow and black jumpsuit holding a samurai sword is already an iconic image.

However, Tarantino’s sensitivity is not always what it could be, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 has a very distressing rape scene which I don’t think needs to be in the film at all and I have heard people say they were disgusted at the violence meted out against Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight; as they felt it was being played for laughs. With all that being said I do think Tarantino shows women in roles they often don’t get to play.

Adult Themes

A less violent image from Django Unchained (rte.ie)

Tarantino films are violent and characters swear a lot. There’s lots of sex and drugs. Sections of Kill Bill are blood-drenched massacres. A Youtube edit of Pulp Fiction in which every word apart from the F-bomb is removed is almost four minutes long. If you make films about gangsters, drug dealers, assassins, slave-owners etc then you’re going to have to include unpleasant things. I’m not complaining about this as such, but it’s something to be aware of. Jackie Brown, a film about drug dealers, is probably the tamest, with the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) only giving it a 15 certificate, practically a family-friendly film in Tarantino’s world.

The Problems

Tarantino is by no means a perfect director and there are many problems with his work. Tarantino makes long films and I think even the biggest fan of his work would admit he needs an editor, or more accurately, someone to tell him not all of his ideas are brilliant and you can cut bits out. The Hateful Eight was over three hours long and bear in mind, nearly all of that film takes place in one building.

Then there is his other notorious problem – he keeps casting himself in his own movies when he can’t act. Sometimes it’s tiny, almost unnoticeable roles, like Answering Machine Voice in Jackie Brown but in Reservoir Dogs he was one of the gang and in Pulp Fiction he has the utterly bizarre role of one Jules’s friends. Not only did he cast himself in Django Unchained he made the unwise decision to adopt an Australian accent. Tarantino may well be a filmmaking genius but he’s been told that far too many times.

As I have mentioned Tarantino is a fan of strong language and he is very loose with using certain words – racial epithets – that he should think more about whether he really needs to use them.

So there is a brief overview of Tarantino’s work, how will Once Upon A Time In Hollywood fit in with it?

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (Trailer)
Editorials

Five Sci-Fi Films To Watch Right Now On Netflix

April 15, 2019

Netflix has hundreds of films from blockbusters to indie gems to cult classics and it has no shortage of great science-fiction.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (comicbook.com)

The Plot – The film follows Jyn Erso a woman who has been on the run from the Empire since her childhood because her father is the man who designed the Death Star. Forced by the Rebel Alliance into a mission to extract her father from the Empire’s clutches and so disrupt their plans, Jyn becomes more and more involved in the civil war that is only just beginning.

Why It’s Great – In my opinion this has been the best of the new crop of Star Wars films. A self-contained story (more or less) that fixed perhaps the biggest plot-hole in all of Star Wars – namely, who builds a priceless weapon of mass destruction with such an easy Achilles’ Heel. The cast is sensational with Felicity Jones and Diego Luna as great leads, Ben Mendelsohn doing his Evil Scumbag routine in space and with great actors like Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker taking on small roles.

Verdict – A wonderful addition to the Star Wars Saga.

Inception (2010)

Inception (hit.com)

The Plot – Leonardo Di Caprio plays Cobb, a very special kind of criminal who enters peoples’ dreams to steal information. Challenged to the seemingly impossible act of “inception” – implanting a new idea in a dream that the dreamer will believe to be their own Cobb puts together a crack team to accomplish his goal.

Why It’s Great – Christopher Nolan doesn’t make bad films. Or at least he hasn’t yet. Inception was the first film Nolan directed after Nolan makes blockbusters like no one else, making them as intelligent and original as they are a spectacle. There is a lot of the “one last job for a criminal” motif going on but that is just a great jumping off point. The special effects are truly stunning with the city landscape being twisted and folded as the high point and even if the writing and acting were terrible – which they aren’t – it would be worth watching for the effects alone. As frustrating as the ambiguous ending might be, I like a film that is brave enough not to give you all the answers.

Verdict – A dazzling and smart sci-fi blockbuster.

The World’s End (2013)

The World’s End (kino&co)

The Plot – Gary King wants to reassemble his school friends to complete the “Golden Mile” a pub crawl along twelve pubs in their home town. Sadly for Gary much has changed since school, the group is estranged and he is no longer – if he ever really was – their leader. As the friends reunite and start their pub crawl things in the town become increasingly odd leading to a sensational fight in a pub toilet that reveals what is going on in the town.

Why It’s Great – All of the Cornetto Trilogy are more than what a simple category can describe – all of them are excellent examples of their genre but excel in being films about people. The World’s End is a film about aliens slowly taking over the planet but it’s also about friendship, betrayal, dealing with disappointment in life, youth (and losing your youth), what is life about and more. I would say this is my least favourite of the trilogy but that still could put it in my top twenty films of all time. It has another feature of the Cornetto Trilogy in combining huge, over the top scenarios, in small unlikely places. Few films pack the emotional punch of The World’s End let alone comparing it to other sci-fi comedies.

Verdict – A triumphant end to the Cornetto Trilogy.

Back To The Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)

Back To The Future (npr.org)

The Plot – After accidentally travelling backwards in time teenager Marty McFly interrupts the meet-cute between his parents and thus will never be born. Recruiting the younger version of the scientist who sent him back in time, Doc, Marty seeks to set the timeline right and save himself. In Part 2 Marty and Doc travel to the future to avert a disaster for Marty’s son only to make things much worse everyone – well, nearly everyone. And Part 3…well Part 3 is set in the Old West for some reason ( just go with it, it’s fun).

Why It’s Great – I suppose it’s cheating to put a whole trilogy into one slot but it’s surely a crime to break up these wonderful films when they make such a satisfying collection. It’s hard to overstate the impact these films had on science-fiction and pop culture in general. For many these are the films that made time-travel (and all the paradoxes, dangers and opportunities that come with it) vaguely possible to understand, partly through literally drawing it on a blackboard in Part 2.

Verdict – If for any reason you have not seen these films prepare to watch three of the most enjoyable films ever made.

Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation (midwestfilmjournal.com)

The Plot – Lena’s soldier husband returns mysteriously to their home but something is very wrong with him and it isn’t long before the government swoops in and takes control of the situation. It turns out her husband was sent on a secret mission into The Shimmer – a mysterious area of land where normal rules do not apply and her husband is the only person to return from numerous missions. Lena, a scientist and former soldier joins the next team determined to find out what happened.

Why It’s Great – While it does feel somewhat fitting to include a Netflix original film on this list doesn’t mean Annihilation doesn’t got a free pass – it’s a great sci-fi film, and in a way that few sci-fi films are. It has gunfights and monsters and all those things going on it has also has unusual ideas that make you think about the world and the universe. Science-fiction gets a lot of criticism but to me it’s always been the genre of big ideas – whether that’s time travel or space flight or what it means to be human. Written and directed by filmmaking genius Alex Garland and adapted from the successful Southern Reach book trilogy this film comes with exemplary sci-fi credentials.

Verdict – Bizarre mind-bending sci-fi epic.

Editorials

The Newest Additions To The MCU: X-Men & Fantastic Four

April 9, 2019

As the unstoppable Disney juggernaut buys 21st Century Fox the long-awaited consolidation of the Marvel Universe is at hand.

Selling Priceless Treasures

Back in the late 1990s, no one knew how big superhero films were going to be. After all, it wasn’t that long after the trainwreck of Batman and Robin. So it made sense to sell the rights to some properties and let film studios take all the risk while Marvel still got a big pile of cash. Then X-Men was a huge hit and this started a slew of superhero films – some great, some not so great and Marvel came to regret giving up cinematic control to some of their most valuable superheroes.

The 2000s and 2010s saw an explosion of superhero films – a seemingly never-ending parade of CGI fight scenes, origins stories and heroic struggles. A bright spark had had the idea of making all of Marvel’s superhero films exist in one universe, a huge sprawling world full of heroes and villains and it was all connected. Each film would build on the shared success meaning that people would need to watch each one if they wanted to fully appreciate the whole. I have reservations about this idea but undeniably it has been hugely successful and there is definitely a feeling that you need to see them all. It was very cool to see Iron Man making fun of Captain America in Avengers Assemble, or Thor and the Incredible Hulk fighting in Thor: Ragnorak or seeing Spider-Man team up with Wolverine and Reid Richards in…well, that one hasn’t happened yet and that’s because 21st Century Fox used to own the rights to X-Men and The Fantastic Four.

There is, of course, something that has to be pointed out. While the X-Men films have been commercially and sometimes even critically successful launching a nearly twenty year ascendancy none of the three Fantastic Four films has made much of an impact. And I’m not sure how many people, outside of hardened comic books fans, have been calling for Fantastic Four to be incorporated into the MCU. But there is good stuff there to work with and they could be a useful addition and will satisfy completists out there.

X Men OriginsL Wolverine (www.nitwitty.net)

Lessons To Be Learned & Problems To Avoid Rebooting X-Men and Fantastic Four:

  • X-Men – if you have run out of ideas for interesting powers stop making characters. I’d rather characters have similar powers than the barrel-scraping powers that have popped up in the X-Men films.
  • Fantastic Four – Sue Storm has the power of invisibility (as well as being able to create force-fields) and while such a power could lead to dozens of interesting ideas it falls flat on screen and there has to be an interesting way to use that power in a film.
  • X-Men – The role of Wolverine made Hugh Jackman a huge star and is probably the lead character of those films so don’t try and repeat that trick when it’s rebooted, do something different. Wolverine isn’t the be-all and end-all, they’re a team, let some of the other X-Men shine.
  • Fantastic Four – this may be controversial – find a way to make Doctor Doom and Silver Surfer into interesting cinematic characters or let them go – it’s okay to make new stuff up.
  • X-Men – Too powerful – Stop making people all-powerful. Wolverine is practically indestructible and immortal and every so often Jean Grey becomes all-powerful and, Professor X can do everything from mind control to stopping time

But it’s not just going to be problems and things going wrong and it has the potential to do some really interesting stuff.

Infinity War (superherohype.com)

What Fans Want (or at least what this fan wants)

  • Deadpool with the X-Men – Deadpool was a great film and while not exactly an X-Man he’s X-Man adjacent and in the graphic novels he is definitely part of that world. The terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine already had one go at this and completely wasted their opportunity so maybe finally the MCU can give us the insanely over-the-top fight that a Deadpool Vs Wolverine Battle of the Indestructible Mutants deathmatch that we all desperately want.
  • Who’d Win In A Fight Between….every playground’s favourite argument is who’d win in a fight between two people who should have no reason to fight. A popular one is who would win in a fight between The Hulk and The Thing (my money is on The Thing as The Hulk is driven by impulses whereas The Thing very much remains Ben Grimm). Reid Richards is a genius who could perhaps knock some of the smug out of Tony Stark while Magneto is perhaps the best villain in any of the Marvel films to date.
  • Making Up For Past Mistakes – The Fantastic Four films were a disaster from start to finish and the X-Men franchise has not always struck gold so maybe this time they can take two decades of experience and get it right. The MCU has a had a go with the odder and wackier superheroes with Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy and I don’t see why they can’t apply the same skill to a new Fantastic Four film. As for the X-Men, putting Gambit in the regular line-up as I feel his presence has been sorely missed in the films. They could also have another go with Rogue, again making her a regular X-Man from the start, bring in Jubilee, and Cyclops doesn’t just have to be the boring guy going out with Jean Grey.

So there we have it what the MCU rebooted films of X-Men and Fantastic should avoid and what they should do. Getting these films right is trickier than it might appear and it can be a fine line between enjoyable superhero film and ridiculous folly that cost $300,000,000.

Reviews

Review: Us [Spoiler Free]

March 25, 2019

An onslaught of violence, terror and doppelgangers in new horror film, Us.

What’s Going On?

A family holiday back to the beach she visisted as a child brings back unsettling memories for Adelaide and triggers a sense of something truly terrible coming. Unfortunately, her feelings are proven right when late at night a group of four people, a family, are spotted hanging around outside their holiday home. As Gabe, husband and father, confronts the group things quickly escalate and soon it’s a house invasion at which point Adelaide, Gabe and their children realise their attackers look exactly like them.

Behind The Scenes

This is the second film by Jordan Peele after 2017’s Oscar-winning Get Out and expectations are high. Peele was known primarily for many years as one half of comedy sketch group Key and Peele, who while not well known in the UK were a big deal in America. After two films Peele is already making a name for himself as a master of horror and he seems like the perfect person to present the rebooted Twilight Zone. As someone who is not a huge horror fan Peele’s films have had a big impact on me.

In Front Of The Camera

Most of the cast play two characters so Winston Duke has to be both reassuring father Gabe and violent brute, Abraham. While the focus is on the whole family Lupita Nyong’o is undoubtedly the star of the movie with two amazing performances as Adelaide and her doppelganger, Red. The children, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, are both great and are especially creepy when being the doppelgangers.

Does It Work?

As I said, expectations were high after Get Out and this film met those high expectations. As soon as the doppelgangers arrive the film is a non-stop terrifying ride. Each doppelganger is their own unique brand of horrifying: Adelaide’s speaking in a rasping voice about what horror she has been through and what awaits, Gabe’s is a brute dishing out violence at any opportunity, Zora (the daughter) has an unsettling manic look to her and Jason (the son) acts more like an animal, scuttling around the room with a very creepy mask. Each doppelganger takes on the original in an apt way (e.g. Zora is told to run and is chased by her double as Zora had recently discussed quitting Track and Field events) which suggests an in-depth knowledge of the family.

The film has many twists and turns and unexpected events so I won’t go too much into the plot so as to avoid spoilers. The normalcy of the family at the beginning sets up a wonderful family life. Gabe is such a “Dad” character making stupid jokes, telling off the children and insisting on planning activities none of the others wanted to do – I assure you, Gabe, nobody wanted to go fishing. There are problems that are hinted at such as Adelaide’s possibly traumatic past and how Jason seems to always wear a mask (I couldn’t work out whether it was meant to be Chewbacca or just a generic creature) but overall they seemed a very happy family. The film also manages to be funny, especially before the horror gets going, it’s a rather nice comedy of a happy family and is a gentle reminder that for a long time Jordan Peele was primarily a comedian.

Adelaide’s character goes on a harrowing journey that begins with her as a terrified mother, relying on her husband or the curiously missing police to save them to a truly formidable presence. It is hard to overstate just how brilliant Lupita Nyong’o is in the film, playing the fragile Adelaide or giving intense monologue’s as Red to Adelaide finding her strength.

The film primarily seems to be about identity and the feeling of how if things had been different you could be a completely different person. What connection does a genuine doppelganger have with you? Who has the greater claim to “your” identity? Does undergoing horror make you horrific? Are we only good because we live in a pleasant society where you can make a life without being bad? The viewer is left to make up their own mind about most of this.

Of course this isn’t just a philosophical film about identity but a brutal horror movie. The violence feels awfully real and a great deal of convincing blood is shed. The sheer oddity of battling a mirror image of yourself increases the disturbing nature and surely everyone watching would be imagining how they would have handled their own evil doppelganger.

The films looks great. The doppelgangers have a very distinct look, wearing identical red boilersuits and a single leather glove and all are armed with very sharp scissors (at the cinema I saw the film at the staff wore the same red boilersuits). The image of the doppelgangers standing outside in the darkness, barely illuminated, is very disturbing and memorable. Jason, the first to spot them, instantly identifies them as a family and I think that is exactly how they appear. The beach town is a beautiful backdrop to the horrors than unfold, a favourite touch of mine was the carnival attraction that young Adelaide gets lost in, in the 1980s its a cultural appropriating Native American “spirit journey” but in the present a more generic, and less offensive, Wizard Forest.

The film also uses music really well. I don’t know if I’ll ever listen to Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys without getting a chill down my spine. But there is a trade-off that because of this film I might laugh at Fuck The Police by N.W.A. The original soundtrack is positively chilling with the song “Anthem” bringing dread, fear and auditory flashbacks to many other great horror film soundtracks.

This film is a success on every level and I’m surprised to say that I might have actually enjoyed this film more than Get Out. If you’re a fan of horror or not go and see this film – albeit it might be too much for the very squeamish or easily creeped out.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Us (Official Trailer)
Reviews

Review: Await Further Instructions

March 22, 2019

A claustrophobic horror thriller centred around a bitterly divided family.

What’s Going On?

Nick brings his girlfriend, Annji, back to his family home for Christmas after an absence of several years. It is not long before the tensions in the family boil over, particularly the racism directed towards Annji. After making the decision to leave Nick and Annji find out they are trapped in the house by metal shutters placed there by some outside power. Their only outlet to the outside world is through the television broadcasting instructions on what they should do. The already fractured family are put through increasingly intense dramas that only brings out the worst in them.

Behind The Scenes

The film is directed by Johnny Kevorkian and written by Gavin Williams and this is probably their biggest project to date. The film certainly has it’s interesting moments but neither the direction or the writing particularly stand out.

In Front Of The Camera

The main actors are Sam Gittins (Nick), Neerja Naik (Annji) and Grant Masters (Tony, Nick’s father) and they are all asked to a lot but don’t manage to pull it off. Of the three Naik’s performance is the best as she tries to withstand a familiar line of abuse, ranging from unpleasant comments about immigrants to vicious slurs yet not lose her temper. Gittins plays the dependable boyfriend and (as well as Naik) the voice of reason to the encroaching madness. Masters isn’t quite believable as the ringleader of what happens and fails to convincingly portray a normal man who goes too far.

The most recognisable member of the cast will probably be David Bradley best known as either Filch from the Harry Potter films or Walder Frey from Games of Thrones. Bradley plays Granddad – the family member who never even tries to welcome Annji or moderate his behaviour at all.

Does It Work?

The film starts off with an interesting premise of a family, already on edge, being pushed further by the horrendous circumstances. Often films where people are trapped together in a small space they start as friends or strangers but before any of the horror starts there are clear dividing lines in the group. It’s hard to not think that this is a post-Brexit film; the issues of immigration and race are specifically brought up, with each side thinking the other is utterly ridiculous and completely to blame. The first half of the film definitely works better and Abigail Cruttenden plays the mother desperately trying to reconcile the different elements of her family and maintain the peace quite well.

When they wake up on Christmas day and realise they are trapped these fault lines only harden. Tony tries to take control of the situation but that is limited to blindly following the instructions via the television, trying to disguise his blind obedience as sensible and practical behaviour.

There are a few cliches that get wheeled out and when things start getting out of hand it’s not a surprise when the most obviously unpleasant character is the first to suffer. Then there is the presence of Nick’s sister, Kate, heavily pregnant, used as justification by her husband for his behaviour and, of course, making her incredibly vulnerable.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the slip from imprisonment and mild paranoia to outright violence and worse is incredibly quick. It is only hours before all manner of terrible things are being done and even with their existing problems, it’s hard to reconcile such extreme behaviour with their circumstances. Even families that don’t get along will have their limits and most people place their family’s wellbeing as the centre of their world.

What the film reminded me of most was an episode of Black Mirror, or probably more accurately, a sub-Black Mirror inspired show. The film comments on hysteria, the power of media, the fear of the Other but without any subtlety or particular originality. The film also reminded me of one of the most infamous experiments in all of psychology – Stanley Milgram’s study on obedience. Participants were asked to give electric shocks to a person every time they got a question wrong, increasing the voltage with each wrong answer. Most participants carried on past the point their victim begged them to stop with one of the researchers telling the participant they must continue. Importantly no one was actually harmed in the experiment but people thought they were harming people. The film is partially a study on obedience to authority; obeying the government, obeying your father, obeying those with power over you. Each character responds differently to these different authorities and this is one of the film’s most successful aspects.

As the film nears the end and the madness is ramped up even further the bizarreness of the ending does not feel justified. I can go along with all manner of oddness if I feel it has been earned or handled in an interesting way but it just felt silly – the worst thing that can happen to a horror film.

Overall Await Further Instructions is not a good film, despite a good beginning and an intriguing idea of bringing the division of the country into one home. I would say in its defence that I was never bored and did want to see where it was going and how it would all end, but I could already sense that the ending would not be able to tie up the loose ends sufficiently let alone deal with some of the bigger plotholes.

Verdict 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

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?