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Category: Editorials

Read the latest editorials and opinion pieces from Big Picture Film Club.

Editorials

Why James Cameron’s Avatar Sequel Has Come At The Right Time

January 17, 2020

In 2009, James Cameron’s Avatar took cinemas by storm. It quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time (a record that has since been beaten). The film had been in development for several years, along with Alita: Battle Angel, Cameron had been working on both in the years since Titanic, his previous film, which was released in 1997.

After technology finally caught up to his vision, development was paused on Alita and Avatar took centre stage (Cameron would eventually take a backseat on Alita, due to focusing on Avatar and it’s sequels). It was released to critical as well as commercial acclaim. While the film dominated the conversation in 2009, and sequels are planned, the film doesn’t have as passionate a fanbase as franchises like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), leaving some to question the demand for a sequel.

However, a lot has changed since 2009, both in the world of film and the world at large, and many of Avatar’s themes are more relevant today than they ever were…

Imperialism

Jake Sully - Avatar
The struggle between the technology-based RDA and the nature-based Na’vi is at the centre (20th Century Fox, 2009)

The story of Avatar follows Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine who takes the place of his deceased twin brother and travels to Pandora, an alien planet whose atmosphere is deadly to humans. Sully and his team use avatars to explore the planet and interact with the local people, the Na’vi. After falling in love with one of the Na’vi Jake and his team of sympathisers switch sides, and help force the humans off the planet.

The final battle of the film revolves around the Hometree, a huge tree that, while considered sacred to the Na’vi, is on top of a large mineral deposit. Although Cameron has been understandably vague about some of the themes, he has hinted that the evil corporation may have connections with America and it’s pursuit of oil in other countries.

Cameron has stated the parallels to Iraq and Vietnam are “by design“. With a technologically superior military force, facing off against natives. While this has led some people to consider it an example of “The Messiah Complex“, a white man saving an indigenous people, a common complaint of several stories (and something Black Panther avoided) while others have disagreed with this, arguing that the main character is himself paraplegic, and actually discards his human body for his Na’vi avatar at the end.

Environmental Themes

Avatar, Dragons, Jake Sully
The Na’vi fight alongside the creatures of Pandora rather than against them. (20th Century Fox. 2009)

While climate change was an issue in 2009, it has become a far more pressing concern in the decade since Avatar. James Cameron has actually “declared war” on climate change and the film is very overt with its environmental message, rivalling Wall-E. The brief mentions of Earth refer to it as having “no green” and a “dying planet”. Pandora itself has an atmosphere that is toxic to humans. The film is set in 2154. Scientists estimate the planet could be well on course for such a fate. The energy crisis that results in the humans travelling to Pandora is another problem we are facing today. Science fiction is a way for us to explore our hopes and fears, and Cameron is clearly showing us his fears.

The Na’vi have the exact opposite relationship with their home planet. An almost symbiotic bond with nature, they can literally connect to other life with their hair. Cameron hoped the film would make people reconsider their connection to nature. The film clearly takes the side of nature being superior, with the Na’vi winning with the aid of the creatures of Pandora. Jake is originally promised a fix for his legs if he helps the RDA but is given a whole new (and physically superior) body by choosing nature over technology.

The Sequels

Jake Sully & Neytiri, played by Sam Worthington & Zoe Saldana
Only James Cameron knows for sure what the sequels will be (20th Century Fox, 2009)

Almost as soon as Avatar grossed $1 Billion at the box office, an (inevitable) sequel was announced. With several others planned, the first of which is aiming for a 2021 release date (although this is after several delays). With rumoured titles of “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Avatar: The Seed Bearer,” “Avatar: The Tulkun Rider,” and “Avatar: The Quest for Eywa”, the ecological theme seems to run through the sequels as well. Although very little plot details have been given. According to some reports, Fox had to donate a considerable amount to Cameron’s environmental fund before he would even sign on for the sequels.

The sequels will likely follow similar themes of the importance of nature, but the titles hint at slightly more specific concerns. “The Way of Water” could be focused on rising sea levels and the damage of human waste to ocean life forms. “The Seed Bearer” could deal with plant life, and Tulkun Rider on creatures and their habitat. In the lore, Eywa is a goddess of all life, meaning the film could deal with our connection to living things.

Whatever the sequels end up being about, they will definitely be incredibly ambitious, as with all James Cameron films. He has planned this world in great detail and clearly has a lot to say. What messages it brings will be revealed when the films are released…

Also Read: “Little Women” & Cinema for the self-partnered

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Editorials

A Quiet Place Part II: A Film Too Far?

January 16, 2020

Warning – this article contains major spoilers for A Quiet Place

For me, A Quiet Place came out of nowhere. One day I heard there was a new film coming out where the hook was none of the characters spoke or made noise in the film. This was A Quiet Place and while it wasn’t as silent as the original stories suggested to make a film with so little dialogue was very ambitious. The film could have been a disaster, it could have been a gimmicky movie that just didn’t work and it’s a testament to all involved that it was a great film. With IMDb estimating the budget at $17,000,000 and it making around $50,000,000 in its opening weekend in America it’s not terribly surprising that a sequel is coming out.

What happened in Part I?

A Quiet Place (source: bloody-disgusting.com)

A Quiet Place showed a post-apocalyptic world where society had completely collapsed, the cause was terrifying monsters who hunted by sound but essentially couldn’t see anything. The film followed the Abbott family as they tried to survive in this world, going to extraordinary lengths to not make any noise. Viewers immediately picked up on one potential problem which was Evelyn Abbot was pregnant. The film was a masterpiece in tension with the audience constantly on the lookout for potential causes of noise – at one point a loose nail sticking out of a floorboard was shown and everyone knew it was a matter of time before someone stood on it. At the end of the film, Evelyn managed to give birth but they lost the dad, Lee Abbot (played by Josh Krasinski), who sacrificed himself to save his family.

The Trailer

A Quiet Place Part II (source: themarysue.com)

The trailer shows us some glimpses of the moment these monsters arrived and the chaos they caused but mainly focuses on the life of the Abbot family, forced to leave their home and find somewhere safe. The sight of them trudging out is not at all hopeful and not long after reaching a deserted city they set off a trap. Fleeing this trap leads them to Cillian Murphy’s character who seemingly saves them. They join a community of survivors of which Murphy is a part, but whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is not quite clear.

Potential Pitfalls

The monsters – in the first film the monsters were barely glimpsed, sometimes you saw a flash of movement, sometimes not even that. Yet in the new trailer, it is clear you see more of the monsters. It’s long been a cliche of horror films that you shouldn’t show too much of the monster as it will always be disappointing (Alien perhaps being the classic example of getting this right with only glimpses seen until the very end of the film). Secondly, while many monsters are terrifying it’s often hard to imagine how they would seemingly overwhelm modern armies. Yes, they’re good at killing, but are they better than helicopter gunships?

Stretching Credulity – the first film had a very contained environment, most of it revolving around the family’s home consisting just a few buildings in a secluded area. The family went to extraordinary lengths to limit the sound they made and that was how they survived. It’s hard to imagine the family simply taking off and managing to keep the requisite level of silence – and, of course, they also have a newborn baby. And as the trailer shows – they are going to find a lot of people, how will their survival be explained?

Losing The Mystery – People always want to know how a situation came to be, in this case, how did these monsters destroy society but it’s not always a good idea to give them what they want. Sometimes the mystery is better.

Lightning Never Strikes TwiceA Quiet Place is ninety minutes long, which is about as short a film you can get away with these days, the director, also Krasinski, knew that after a while an audience would get sick of the confined world of virtually no dialogue. It’s a very clever idea but it could very easily have been a bad film and it is very risky thinking that idea will stretch to a second film. It’s a good sign that Krasinski is back to direct but I’m not sure it’ll be enough.

Should There Even Be A Part II?

A Quiet Place Part II (source: www.metro.news)

I’m sure we all have examples of films where you wish the sequel hadn’t been made; where an interesting and original film was left as a complete story. Will A Quiet Place II be one of those films? I’m not sure as I am intrigued by the trailer but I certainly think the first film did not need a sequel. There was no need to continue the story, especially as the first film ended on a note of tragedy the sequel cannot possibly match. Still, whatever happens A Quiet Place will remain a great film.

Also Read: The Best Horror Films of the Decade

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Editorials

Weapon of Choice: Iconic Weapons in Movies

January 13, 2020
Leatherface - Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Whether you’re a hero or villain you need a great weapon to help you vanquish your foes. And cinema is full of amazing weaponry. So, today we’re going to look at seven iconic movie weapons, who wielded them and their real-world origins.

Lightsaber (Star Wars Franchise)

The weapon of the most powerful beings in the galaxy far far away, the Sith and the Jedi. Many famous Jedi and Sith have wielded the multi-coloured laser swords. Including Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, his son Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Maul, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, and Rey. George Lucas decided to include a futuristic sword in the original Star Wars as a symbol of honour and chivalry. And with only a 4×5 camera flash attachment (the hilt), sticks wrapped in reflective material (the blade); the hum of a projector and the buzz captured from a TV set (the sound effects) Lucas and company birthed arguably the most famous movie weapon of all time.

Vader and Luke’s lightsaber duel from The Empire Strikes Back [Source: Arbin Instruments]

Freddy Krueger’s glove (Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise)

Horror films have created several iconic weapons, some of which we will get into later. But horrors most inventively creepy killing implement is Freddy Krueger’s Razor Glove. Envisioned by director Wes Craven as a throwback to mankind’s primal fear of claws grafted onto modern equipment, not only is Freddy’s glove inventive but its very look is surreal and frightening. Perfectly fitting with the story’s nightmarish aesthetic.

Freddy Krueger's iconic glove
Freddy Krueger’s iconic glove [Source: NME.com]

Nunchaku (Bruce Lee Movies)

This traditional Okinawan martial arts training weapon has become a staple of martial arts movies specifically because of Bruce Lee. Bruce used Nunchaku in several of his movies (Enter the Dragon, Way of the Dragon & Game of Death). He wielded them with such speed, grace, and effectiveness that they were transformed in the public’s mind from mere training implements into incredible weapons in their own right.

Bruce Lee's nunchaku in Game of Death
Bruce Lee’s nunchaku in Game of Death [credit: Columbia Pictures / Sony Entertainment]

The Infinity Gauntlet (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

The MCU needed to give its ultimate villain Thanos a weapon that would make an impression on audiences after ten years of build-up. Made of Uru metal, forged by the dwarves of Nidavellir, with a design ripped straight from the original comic and armed with the infinity stones that collectively give the wearer the ability to do practically anything, including wiping out half of all life in the universe, the Infinity Gauntlet is, without doubt, the most destructive weapon on this list.

Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.
Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet [credit: Disney / Marvel Entertainment]

Chainsaw (Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise)

Employing household tools as weapons is a common practice in slasher movies, and this is one of the movies to thank for that. Director Tobe Hooper originally thought of the idea to use a chainsaw as his movie’s weapon when he was wondering how to get out of the busy store and saw a chainsaw in the hardware section. One thing’s certain, audiences have never looked at chainsaws the same way since.

Leatherface's Chainsaw in Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Leatherface’s Chainsaw in Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) [Source: Syfy Wire]

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (Monty Python & The Holy Grail)

In 1975, the Pythons gifted us with possibly the silver screens silliest weapon. When confronted with the dreaded Rabbit of Caerbannog, King Arthur and his knights use the Holy Hand Grenade, originally used by Saint Atilla, to destroy the beast. Shaped like the Sovereigns Orb of the United Kingdom there is no better weapon to destroy your beastly foes and satirize religion.

The Holy Hand Grenade - Monty Python & The Holy Grail
The Holy Hand Grenade [Source: Addicted to Quack]

Revolver (Western Genre)

Everyone loves westerns and the one weapon that typifies the western is the revolver. Patented by Samuel Colt (later developed by multiple companies in the 1800s) as a singlehanded firearm, that can be fired several times without reloading. The revolver has become a symbol of the old west gunslinger. A weapon of great destructive capabilities that requires a keen eye and steady hand to master. No Mexican standoff is complete without one.

Clint Eastwood with iconic western revolvers
Clint Eastwood with iconic western revolvers [Source: AMC]

So ends my list of seven iconic movie weapons. Be sure to fire your suggestions for great movie weapons I missed into the comments.

Also Read: The Best Action Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

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Editorials

The Best Horror Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

December 31, 2019
Horror Movie Collection

There have been many fantastic horror movies released this past decade. So today I am celebrating the decade’s end by picking my 10 favourite horror movies from 2010 – 2019.

I’ll pick one movie from each year (using the IMDb release year as reference), briefly summarise each movie and explain why you should watch it. I’ll also include honourable mentions for you to also enjoy. Well, let’s get spooky.


2010: I Saw the Devil (Dir. Kim Jee-Woon)

This horror/thriller follows a detective (Byung-Hun Lee) who tracks down his wife’s murderer (Min-Sik Choi) and aims to drive him insane by continually capturing, brutalizing and releasing him. From there the mind games escalate until you’re not sure who you should be rooting for. With violence that’ll make even hardened gorehounds’ wince, I Saw The Devil is an experience you won’t soon forget.

HM: Tucker and Dale vs Evil

I Saw The Devil (Official Trailer)

2011: Kill List (dir. Ben Wheatley)

Beginning as a movie about a former assassin returning to work to make some money and gradually morphing into something more horrifying, Kill List benefits from knowing as little as possible going in. But thanks to its perfectly pitched naturalistic presentation, which makes the outlandish plot feel realistic, Kill List is now considered one of the most disturbing movies ever made.  

HM: You’re Next

Kill List (Official Trailer)

2012: The Woman in Black (dir. James Watkins)

Arthur (Daniel Radcliffe) a recently widowed solicitor is tasked with settling the affairs of Mrs Drablow at her estate, Eel Marsh House. However, something is stalking the Eel Marsh grounds. Could it be linked with the deaths of several children in the neighbouring village? Hammer Studios’ best modern film is a perfect old-fashioned ghost chiller. Dripping with atmosphere, backed by a solid cast, and genuinely effective jump scares.

HM: Maniac (2012)

The Woman in Black (Official Trailer)

2013: The Conjuring (dir. James Wan)

Using the Perron Hauntings case as its basis, The Conjuring is one of the decade’s most fun horror films. With likeable leads in Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as real-life figures Ed and Lorraine Warren, some inventive camerawork and eery production design. The Conjuring is a thrilling modern haunted house ride that leaves you invigorated.

HM: Mama

The Conjuring (Official Trailer)

2014: It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

After having sex with her boyfriend, Jay (Maika Monroe) discovers she’s been cursed. Now a demon follows her wherever she goes. Her one advantage is that it can only follow her at walking speed. It Follows is a wonderful genre tribute with relatable characters, suspenseful direction, a beautiful score and a creepy monster that’ll have viewers checking over their shoulders next time they’re in a crowded place.

HM: The Babadook

It Follows (Official Trailer)

2015: The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers)

My personal vote for the scariest movie of the decade. A paranoid period piece, The Witch, like Kill List, is most impactful when seen with little knowledge of the plot. However, rest assured you’re in for a skin-crawling slow builder with great performances and brilliant direction that will constantly leave you doubting your own judgment.

HM: Green Room

The Witch (Official Trailer)

2016: Raw (dir. Julia Ducournau)

Justine (Garance Marillier) a devout vegetarian vet in training is forced to eat meat in a university hazing ritual causing her to develop a craving for human flesh. Hilarious, disturbing and touching, Raw speaks to many modern fears about identity, gender and sexuality; and keeps the audience thoroughly invested with fantastically drawn characters and perfect visual storytelling. Plus a woman eats her sisters’ finger, so there’s that.

HM: Hush

Raw (Official Trailer)

2017: Tigers Are Not Afraid (dir. Issa López)

Sadly underappreciated by mainstream audiences, Tigers tells the heart-breaking tale of Estrella (Paola Lara) who attempts to use three “magic wishes” to help a group of children caught up in the Mexican drug war. Firmly grounded in harsh reality and never pulling its punches when it comes to the violence, Tigers is a tough but rewarding watch.

HM: It (2017), Get Out & The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Tigers Are Not Afraid (Official Trailer)

2018: Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster)

A family unravels after their grandmother’s death as a mysterious outside force invades their lives. Featuring one of the decade’s greatest performances from Toni Collette and incredible tension. Courtesy of a sympathetic cast of characters and magnificent direction that subtly (using of camerawork and visual cues) and overtly (the scares) keeps the audience on edge to the end.

HM: Climax & Incident in a Ghostland

Hereditary (Official Trailer)

2019: Midsommar (dir. Ari Aster)

Dani (Florence Pugh) attempts to get over a family tragedy by going to Sweden with her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his friends. Initially, the locals seem welcoming but as the Midsummer festival begins a sinister plot emerges. While slowly paced Midsommar hits hard because of Florence Pugh’s performance and subtle tension building through camerawork and the performances of the villagers. Culminating in one unnervingly weird finale.  

HM: Extra Ordinary & Us

Thus ends my list of the 2010s best horror movies. If I’ve missed some of your favourites, then list them in the comments. One thing’s certain, with so many new masters of horror, the 2020s will be very exciting to see.

Also Read: Horrors On Horror Sets

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Editorials

Quibi And The Rise Of Short Films

December 30, 2019
Quibi Short films

The streaming wars are well underway, and while not every service has launched yet, they are starting to get expensive as people decide how many streaming services they actually need. While some platforms are getting by having access shows like “The Office” or “Friends” others are spending millions on exclusive content that people just have to see, whether for watercooler moments or awards potential.

Quibi, however, is trying something completely different- all of its programmings will be around 10 minutes or less (The name is a mash-up of “quick bites”). Its content is designed to be watched on a smartphone or tablet, perfect for on your break or waiting for the bus, similar to a lot of Snapchat’s content. but with added production value, as well as wider variety.

Who is supporting it?

Just some of the people developing projects for Quibi (Fortune, 2019)

The company has raised over $1 billion investment which it plans to spend on content, with 7,000 short episodes as a target. It has even attracted some big names, including Guillermo Del Toro, Sam Raimi, Jason Blum, Anna Kendrick, Laurence Fishburne and Kiefer Sutherland all have projects that will debut on the platform, in a variety of different genres. “Spielberg’s After Dark” (Yes, that Spielberg) will only be available after dark (get it?) and will be unavailable during the daylight.

This kind of experimentation forms much of Quibi’s ethos, as well as most short films in general. The shorter format allows for some interesting results, with filmmakers being put under a short time limit or having a smaller budget they often have to get creative. Quibi hopes to be more creative and unique with its content than other streaming providers like Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Short films have often been an important step on the road to feature films, with many directors honing their skills with shorts before directing their first feature. Films such as Taika Waititi’s “What We Do In The Shadows”, Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” and the original “Saw” film all started as short films before finally becoming the films we’re familiar with (The short film versions of these and a few others can be viewed online). These are often submitted to festivals such as the London Short Film Festival or Aesthetica Film Festival, in the hopes of gaining an audience. Some even have their own premieres before being posted online (Big Picture Film Club sometimes helps with this).

How will this change streaming?

Quibi is designed to be used on either a smartphone or tablet (credit: Quibi)

With such big creators focusing on short-form entertainment, Quibi could attract a lot of viewers that don’t have time in their lives to sit down and watch a three hour epic like The Irishman or binge all of Mr Robot. People have busy lives and, if Quibli is successful, we could see more content geared towards it. Short films could become much more popular. Feature films get released on platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, could we get short films released on there too? Having names like Spielberg, Del Toro would help create buzz, and move away from the “student film” label many shorts are given. It is also giving some projects a new lease of life. “When the Stree Lights Go on” was originally envisioned as a feature, then a series, and will now premiere as a series on Quibi.

How other platforms adapt to Quibi is a mystery, as it will launch in April of 2020, it is unlikely that the big streaming sites will suddenly only have short programming, but we may see a rise in it. As Co-Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said “Quibi is not a substitute or a competitor for television” rather it aims to have your attention instead of YouTube, Snapchat, or other apps used on your phone during the day. Although some people may rather wait for a full season and watch the short episodes all at once. The main issue it could come across is the subscription. Why would people pay when they can watch YouTube for free? (Which also has it’s own subscription model). Whether people will want to spend their commute watching “Biggest Little Cook-Off” or scrolling through Instagram remains to be seen.

If you would like to sign up to Quibi’s newsletter or apply to be a part of their team, you can do so here

Also Read: British Brown Girls: Short Films Re-Defining British Asian Women On-screen

More: Advice For Firest Time Independent Feature Filmmakers

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Editorials

The Anatomy of a Christopher Nolan Film

December 27, 2019
Christopher Nolan Movie Collage

Christopher Nolan is perhaps the quintessential director of the twenty-first century. Nolan’s first film, Following, came out in 1998 but his name was really made with 2000’s Memento. Since then he has made everything from reality-bending thrillers to intense and epic war films where the enemy aren’t even seen.

Warning – spoilers ahead for Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk

Ambition

Leonardo DiCaprio - Inception
Inception (source: csmonitor.com)

I don’t mean this as a theme in the storytelling or characters, it’s part of Nolan’s work. Few directors have the scope and vision that he has. Even with Memento, one of his earliest films, he was pushing the boundaries of storytelling with a disjointed non-linear masterpiece that demands to be watched more than once. He took the burgeoning superhero blockbuster genre and not only made the films that in my opinion are the high watermark of the genre in terms of action but also storytelling – and breaking open the elusive worlds of the Oscars. When we come to something like Inception it’s hard to even begin describing it and it’s hard to imagine another director who could pull it off. The resources poured into making a film that could accurately portray the landscape of dreams – the whole world exploding or streets bending back on themselves.

Time

Dunkirk (source: youtube.com)

What is the beginning? What is the end? Many of Nolan’s films play with time. The narrative of Memento is confused from the start of the film, in Inception dream time moves so much faster than real life offering the wonderful/terrifying prospect of spending a lifetime in a dream and Interstellar dealt with the mind-blowing ramifications of time with space travel. Dunkirk has a brilliant structure – three stories set around the Dunkirk evacuation. One from the perspective of soldiers on a beach, one from a RAF pilot providing cover and one from someone sailing their little ship to help. The soldiers are on the beach are there for a week yet the pilot’s story is over in one hour and all the stories mix together.

Obsession

The Prestige (cinemablend.com)

Nolan’s first big success came with Memento, a film about a character suffering from anterograde amnesia – a condition that means you can access old memories but you can’t make new ones. Leonard is obsessed with his final memory – the murder of his wife. This obsession leads Leonard to take huge risks with his safety – and that of others – in that he is someone who really needs round the clock care but instead embarks on a mission of revenge. The Dark Knight trilogy has a number of characters driven by obsession, most notably Wayne with the murder of his parents, but often the villains as well – none of whom are driven simply by desire for money or power. The Prestige features two characters obsessed with each other, obsessed with defeating their opponent and quite simply obsessed with being better. Both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale’s characters go to extreme – even insane – lengths to simply be the better stage magician.

Lying And The Truth

Memento Film
Memento ( source: theverge.com)

A lot of lying goes on in Christopher Nolan’s films. The plot of Memento hinges on several big lies and how in Leonard’s condition he is very vulnerable to dishonesty. Indeed Leonard lies to himself. At the heart of the Dark Knight trilogy, there are several important lies, the first being the obvious deception that Bruce Wayne is Batman but more importantly the lie told by Batman and Gordon regarding the truth about Harvey Dent, with both believing it was better for society to be lied to. Likewise, The Prestige is a film about magicians who “trick” their audiences but just about every relationship and important event in the film is a lie upon lie upon lie, you are never sure of a person’s loyalty, the accuracy of memory, about exactly who is who and how far do you let a lie dominate your life. The Prestige even lies to the audience. Interstellar shows a society that lies to itself in the hope of moving forward as it is judged necessary to rewrite history so the Apollo moon landings were faked by the American government. Cobb’s life in Inception is destroyed by a lie he tells his wife. You could say that Nolan has been telling us for a long time – don’t trust anyone, not even yourself.

Tenet

John David Washington - Tenet
Tenet (source: scifimoviepage.com)

Christopher Nolan has a new film coming out for 2020 – Tenet. A trailer was just recently released but it’s still hard to say exactly what the film is about; spying and time travel seem to be the big plot points. The film stars John David Washington (son of Denzel Washington and star of BlackKKlansman), Robert Pattinson (of Twilight fame) and Elizabeth Debicki (probably best known for Widows). The trailer is typical for a Nolan film, with it not giving much away, looking very impressive and having tense and booming music. But does the trailer really matter? For me, Nolan is a director who I would see without a trailer or any prior knowledge of a film – not all of his films have been classics but they’re always worth watching.

Director, Christopher Nolan (credit: Warner Bros)

More: The Many Faces of Andy Serkis

Also Read: For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

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Editorials

“Little Women” & Cinema for the Self Partnered

December 26, 2019
Little Women

When Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women she didn’t want Jo March, her fiery, emboldened, and strong-minded lead, to be married by the novel’s end. This was, like Greta Gerwig’s new film adaptation stresses, a choice of her publisher and a sign of the repressive times she lived in. Alcott herself defied that rule in real life, choosing not to marry and instead devoted herself to artistic endeavours. In fact, history is littered with literary women who decided to forego their expected life paths such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Emily Dickenson, and more. 

Gerwig’s film is really an ode to those, to borrow a phrase from one of its stars, self-partnered women. Women who have defied the confines of marriage, whose passion is just as important as their prospective nuptials. As Gerwig said of her aspirations for Jo’s relationship with the audience, ‘What if you felt when she gets her book, the way you generally feel about a girl getting kissed?’ Thus can you imagine, if we cared as much about a woman’s achievements as we do whether or not anyone puts a ring on it? 

The Cast of Little Women
Little Women (credit: Sony Pictures)

Gerwig rearranges the story thematically and structurally to breathe new life into it on screen and puts marriage firmly at the centre. The film begins with the March sisters on the precipice of adulthood. Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is living in New York writing wild stories about violence because that’s what sells. Meg (Emma Watson), the eldest sister, is living in marital bliss with two young children – except she’s broke. Amy (Florence Pugh) is in Paris, practising her painting and being courted by the super-rich Fred Vaughn, and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) the youngest, is at home with her mother, her heart weakened by a bout of scarlet fever. They’re four twenty-something women with their childhood in the rear-view, their memories and losses framing the decisions they make. Meg is releasing the life she aspired for isn’t always perfect while both Jo and Amy navigate the decision on who to marry or if they should marry at all. 

‘I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe,’ Jo says (a line lifted from Alcott’s journals), though she fears the loneliness of such a life, even if she believes that women are capable of more than just love. While Amy sees marriage as an economic proposition, something she can use to support her family. ‘I believe we have some power over who we love, it isn’t something that just happens to a person,’ she says, in a debate that frames her as sensible and explicitly aware of her role in the world. How a woman approaches that role and marriage, be it with contempt of Jo, the practicality of Amy, or head-over-heels love of Meg, is something that still lingers today. 

Florence Pugh in Little Women
Little Women (credit: Sony Pictures)

The shape of marriage in our modern world is shifting. It’s moving away from its history as a business transaction (one that could procure a dowry and help business) and toward being the pinnacle of romantic idealism. Just entirely how that happened, no one is really sure. Capitalism undoubtedly played a significant role – the selling of the ‘dream wedding’ to women soared as a business since Victorian times. Then, of course, came the idea of ‘marrying for love’, a new way of entrapping young singles when their betrothal didn’t come with the promise of a small plot of land and a few cows to boot.  

The fact is that marrying for ‘love’ only entered our collective consciousness around 250 years ago. Before then it was merely one of several factors to be considered when pairing up young singles (and, dear reader let me tell you, it wasn’t very high up the list of concerns either). As Stephanie Coontz wrote in her book Marriage, a History, “it was inconceivable that people would choose their mate on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love.” And, while people did indeed fall in love, the choice to marry because it was seen as a threat to a particular social order, one that could risk men and women abandoning their commitments to family, neighbours, and, above all, God. 

Even if marriage has rebranded itself as the symbol of ‘everlasting true love’, does that mean it can outrun its deeply gendered history? The gendered concepts of such a union are still unavoidable with a 2014 study of Harvard Law School graduates showing that more than half of the men surveyed expected their careers to take priority over their spouses. As writer Jia Tolentino notes, in her book Trick Mirror, “gender inequality is so entrenched in straight marriage that it persists in the face of cultural change.” Thus, Jo’s (and indeed Alcott’s) disdain for settling down still seems more than reasonable and, in 2019, she wouldn’t be alone. 

The cast of Little Women
Little Women (credit: Sony Pictures)

This past year has been peppered with films that celebrated singlehood. Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers focused on women’s ambition, sisterhood, and their refusal to continue to face abuse from the ruling classes. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s Frozen 2 offered Elsa, a Queen who aspired to fulfilment and self-actualisation while being the first Disney princess to nix falling into the arms of an interchangeable price with a china doll face. Sophie Hyde’s Animals came with the view that marriage is an obstacle to a lifelong friendship rather than something to be sought after and prized. While the sad obsessive loner who ultimately commits heinous acts of violence in Todd Phillip’s Joker is #SingleGoals for faceless bros on Twitter. 

Whether it’s 2019 or 1869, marriage still looms large over society and, indeed, cinema. The choice to remain single is still a threat. As the philosopher, Alain de Botton wrote,

“Anyone who lives alone and manifests no longing to be in a relationship is – in our times – almost automatically (though more or less secretly) viewed as both pitiable and deeply troubled. It’s simply not thought possible to be at once alone and normal.” 

– Alain de Botton

Do any of the Little Women end up alone you ask? Gerwig wants you to think so as she suggests that the ending of Jo’s novel (which sees her fall into the arms of a man) isn’t the one Jo chooses for herself and this is an act of tribute to Alcott. It blends the author and fictional character together even further. Gerwig chooses, as Alcott did, not to follow what is expected, to defy the end of the novel and say, boldly, that marriage is not all a woman is fit for, both then and now. 

Little Women is in cinemas nationwide on 26th December.

Also Read: How To Revive A Franchise After Many Years

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The Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

December 23, 2019
Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade

‘Dredd’, dir. Pete Travis (2012)

Dredd (hollywoodreporter.com)

As with some of the other films on this list, Dredd deserved to be a massive hit. It is a brilliant, intense and brutal film that dealt with one of the most unappealing comic book “heroes” there ever was – Judge Dredd. I think part of the reason of Dredd’s lack of success is it came out around the same time as The Raid and both films had a similar plot, that being you’re the police trapped in a building and surrounded by enemies. Karl Urban is sensational as Dredd especially as he never removes his helmet and many actors might understandably not want to do this. As brutal as Dredd is he also comes across as very fair, which is important to broadly staying on his side. This has to be one of the films of this decade that I have rewatched the most.


‘Arrival’, dir. Denis Villeneuve (2016)

Arrival (credit: Paramount Pictures)

Denis Villeneuve is on something of a roll and there’s no sign of it stopping any time soon. This film starts off with the premise of Independence Day, big alien spaceships arrive hanging over Earth but that’s where all similarity ends. Whereas Roland Emmerich just wanted to blow stuff up Arrival is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and emotional science-fiction films ever made. Most of the drama is around learning how to communicate with the aliens who not only have a very different life and understanding of the universe but perceive it in a completely different way. Amy Adams stars as an expert linguist in what is the performance of her career in my opinion, where she deals with the entire gamut of human emotion and experience.


‘Rogue One’, dir. Gareth Edwards (2016)

The cast of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (source: www.beckett.com)

This is the only Star Wars film to make the list and I feel this is easily the strongest of the new films. Rogue One neatly dealt with the biggest plot hole in Star Wars, namely, why did the Death Star have such a weakness. It had a great cast with Ben Mendelsohn on superb villain form and even bringing in actors of such calibre as Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker for what are quite small roles. As we get into the final quarter of the film it becomes pretty apparent what is going to happen to virtually every character in the film and yet it is not a downer ending. The end of the film directly matching up with the beginning of A New Hope was a brilliant idea.


‘Ex Machina’, dir. Alex Garland (2014)

Ex Machina (mashable.com)

Amazingly despite a long Hollywood career, this is Alex Garland’s directorial debut. A film about the creation of artificial intelligence which leads to the viewer asking themselves all sorts of questions about what it means to be alive. A very small cast of Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Domnhail Gleeson and Sonoyo Mizuno, all of whom are superb but especially Vikander and Mizuno. The film is essentially an example of the Turing Test, Alan Turing’s thought experiment about how you could judge if a computer had become intelligent. The scene of Isaac and Mizuno dancing was at once entertaining and deeply unsettling and is one of the most memorable scenes of the decade. There is a lot of mystery in this film with questions being asked about exactly what, and who, is being tested. The 2010s have been a very good decade for Oscar Isaac, starting with a small part in Drive to starring in the Star Wars trilogy.


‘Blade Runner 2049’, dir. Denis Villeneuve (2017)

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 (credit: Warner Bros.)

This is what Denis Villeneuve did after Arrival, creating a sequel to possibly the most influential sci-fi film ever, and in my opinion, he pulled it off. Blade Runner 2049 is a great film in its own right as well as a suitable continuation of The Blade Runner story. Whereas the original had Harrison Ford playing someone who hunts replicants, Gosling is a replicant who hunts replicants. Not surprisingly this brings up mixed feelings in Gosling’s character over the course of the film. The film brings in it’s own original ideas like Gosling’s holographic girlfriend Joi and the prospect of an evolution in replicant, and human, life.


‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, dir. James Gunn (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (credit: Disney)

I had a long think about what, if any, superhero films should be on the list. I normally consider most superhero films a sub-genre of sci-fi but I decided to exclude most of them, one of the two exceptions being Guardians of the Galaxy, as this felt far more like a space-adventure Sci-Fi film than a superhero one. This film was a wonderful surprise, it was not a comic I was at all familiar with and when I saw a trailer with a talking raccoon and walking tree I admit to not being terribly enthusiastic. My reservations were blown away from Peter Quill’s scene dancing across an alien landscape. All of the other “guardians” made their mark from the literal-minded Drax to even verbally challenged Groot. As well as being action-filled there was a surprising amount of emotion.


‘The World’s End’, dir. Edgar Wright (2013)

The World’s End (source: rogersmovienation.com)

The partnership between Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg must surely be one of the greatest between director and writer. The World’s End is the last of the so-called Cornetto Trilogy – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, and while this is the weakest of the three it is still an amazing movie. In a film about robots duplicating people and trying to take over the world it could be argued the film is more about friendship and trying to deal with life. Pegg plays the often very unsympathetic character of Gary King who has never really gotten over his life as a teenager, still chasing that feeling. King reunites his old school friends for a pub crawl which includes emotional moments about bullying, alcoholism and the meaning of life with pulling the heads off robots.


‘Edge of Tomorrow’ dir. Doug Liman (2014)

Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live. Die. Repeat) (credit: Warner Bros.)

This is a truly sensational film and in any sensible universe would have been one of the biggest hits of the decade. Based around the very clever idea of time resetting itself whenever the protagonist died everything in the film is practically perfect – Tom Cruise’s smarmy advertising executive who slowly becomes the hero, Emily Blunt as outright badass and the wonderful playing around with time, death and causality. The “jacket” – the slightly over the top metal exoskeleton leads to some of the best action scenes of the decade with Cruise and Blunt having enormous fun exploring just what these jackets can do. Like I said, it’s a practically perfect film, if this passed you by watch it.


‘Inception’, dir. Christopher Nolan (2010)

Christopher Nolan - Inception
The cast of Inception (credit: Warner Bros.)

I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan who I think is one of the most important and talented filmmakers of the 21st century, equally adept at intricate and unusual films like Memento and The Prestige to huge blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Dunkirk. Inception was made coming off the high of The Dark Knight and it was a worthy followup. A film about entering dreams to steal knowledge or even implant ideas – inception – it handles dealing with numerous different levels of reality deftly while creating stunning and groundbreaking special effects. The gravity distorting fight scene between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and various bad guys is truly exceptional. And then we start thinking about the clever games Nolan played with the soundtrack and trying to distinguish what is reality just elevates it to an even higher level. It’s hard to imagine another director taking on this project and being commercially and critically successful.


‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, dir George Miller (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road ( source: nytimes.com)

To me, this is not only the best sci-fi film of the decade but the best film. A film that had dazzling non-CGI special effects, spectacular action scenes and unforgettable cinematography that also had an unbelievable amount of heart and great characterisation. The instant the film finished I knew I had to see it again as soon as possible and that it was already one of my favourite ever films. Charlize Theron and George Martin deserved Oscars for this film and credit is due to Tom Hardy in being able to accept being the supporting player in a film with his character’s name in the title. If there is any doubt about the fact that it is Theron’s Furiosa who is the central character those are blown apart when Furiosa literally uses Max as a gun rest. Often when asked the question of what is my favourite film ever/of the year/of the decade I go down a long road to weighing up many different great films but not for this list- Mad Max; Fury Road was always going to be first.

Also Read: The Best Action Films of the Decade.

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Editorials

Alternative Christmas Movies

December 19, 2019
Alternative Christmas Movies

It’s that time of the year again! Christmas is the time where we gather round and watch a festive film with our loved ones. Sometimes they may not even be particularly good films. Often they are films you’ve seen dozens of times, they’re classics for a reason. But if you’re growing tired of quoting “Home Alone” or “Elf” this year, or just need something a little different, then consider these alternative Christmas films…

Lethal Weapon

Nothing says Christmas like getting to know your new work friend (Warner Brothers, 1987)

While every year the debate goes on about whether Die Hard is a Christmas film (it is), the original Lethal Weapon is conspicuously absent. Aside from being set at Christmas time, it’s about family. Riggs is in a dark place having lost his, but slowly comes to accept Murtagh as his new family. The film ends with him being invited in for Christmas dinner. Can’t get much more Christmassy than that.

Lethal Weapon is available to buy/rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube, as well as physical media.

Batman Returns

You likely won’t get a fully functioning Batmobile for Christmas, but you can watch Batman do it (Warner Brothers, 1992)

If you like your Christmas films a little more creepy, then a tale about a bat, a cat and a penguin is a good choice. While often overlooked or underrated, this stylish and unique is an excellent alternative to Burton’s classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Gotham city is covered in snow at Christmas time, and the bat-signal shines in the sky like a star and a kiss under misletoe. It doesn’t quite have the themes of family or coming together for the season, but this is a list of alternative films after all.

Batman Returns is available on DC Universe as well as buy/rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube, as well as physical media.

Iron Man 3

Be honest, if you got an Iron Man suit for Christmas, you’d sit in it all day too (Disney/Marvel 2013)

Marvel fans also have some festive superhero action to celebrate with. Tony Stark’s battle with PTSD and the Mandarin takes place over Christmas (like most of Shane Black’s films). Despite the heroics, the film does emphasise that the holiday is a time to spend with loved ones. It also works as a version of the Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol”, with Stark as Scrooge and facing ghosts from his past, in order to save his present and future. It’s even listed as a Christmas film on Disney +.

Iron Man 3 is available on Disney+, as well as able to buy/rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, as well as physical media.

Brazil

Just because you live in a dystopian future, doesn’t mean Santa won’t bring gifts (20th Century Fox/ Universal Pictures 1985)

It’s actually easy to forget that this Orwellian Sci-Fi is set around Christmas time. It’s drab grey corridors and cramped buildings don’t exactly promote Christmas cheer. But that’s what makes the few glimpses of Christmas we do get that much more impactful. Brazil is an excellent Christmas film, as Sam dreams of a better life and escaping his mundane one, and the holiday is a good representation of that.

Brazil is available on Amazon Prime, as well as physical media.

In Bruges

Monopoly with the family gets quite intense (Focus Features, 2008)

Like Brazil, it’s easy to forget this one is set at Christmas, as the characters make very little mention of it. Aside from a few scattered decorations, the opening takes place in a church and the film features a lot of reflection and looking to the future, things usually associated with New Year but also at Christmas. Ray, Ken and Harry make a very dysfunctional family, and naturally fight over Christmas, although hopefully, the average family Christmas squabble involves fewer bullets.

In Bruges, is available to watch on Netflix, as well as buy/ rent on Google Play and physical media.

Also Read: The Grinch: Who Did It Better?

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Editorials

The Best Action Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

December 14, 2019
The Best Action Films of the Decade

With 2020 approaching many are currently reflecting on all the positive points of the past decade. Today I’m doing the same, as I list the best action movies of each year from 2010-2019.

These films were picked based on their creativity, the impact of the action and how well the story complimented the action. And because there were so man good action films this decade I will be including honourable mentions for you to also watch. Without further ado, let’s begin.


2010: Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan)

With an interesting story about implanting ideas into someone’s mind while having to battle through not only the subject’s mental defences but your own baggage as well as incredibly staged action sequences like the rotating hallway fight and using minimal CGI, Inception is a true sci-fi action masterpiece.

HM: Kick-Ass & 13 Assassins.

The Rotating Hallway fight (Inception)

2011: The Raid (dir. Gareth Evans)

After a swat team is ambushed in an apartment complex the survivors must reach and arrest the kingpin before his henchmen kill them. From this simple premise, The Raid quickly ratchets up the tension as we are never sure who will escape alive. And the action sequences use of flowing choreography, camerawork and editing turn the film into a remarkable ballet of violence.

HM: Captain America: The First Avenger & X-men: First Class.

The Hallway Fight (The Raid)

2012: Dredd (dir. Peter Travis)

Similar to The Raid, Dredd finds two judges (police officers who are judge, jury, and executioner) Dredd (Karl Urban) and Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), trapped in a skyscraper, having to fight their way to the kingpin to escape. However, Dredd keeps The Raid’s tension while also injecting a healthy dose of comic book action. With bloody violence, great world-building, beautiful slow-motion usage and endearing characters, Dredd, packs a punch despite its small stature.

HM: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises & Skyfall.

Slow-motion break-in (Dredd)

2013: Snowpiercer (dir. Bong Joon-Ho)

While the premise is far-fetched (the remnants of humanity are trapped on a perpetually running world-spanning train after a climate crisis), Snowpiercer’s story about humanity in microcosm and fight scenes are very affecting. The skirmishes are protracted and merciless, combined with the claustrophobic setting and masterful editing, Snowpiercer will keep you riveted till the end.  

HM: The Worlds End & Elysium.

The train massacre (Snowpiercer)

2014: The Raid 2 (dir. Gareth Evans)

After surviving the first film, Rama (Iko Uwais) must infiltrate the mob and bring them down from inside. From there this sequel improves on everything great about the original. With more impressive choreography, more brutal violence; even more memorable characters, all wrapped around a fantastic story of family and loyalty. The Raid 2 is my favourite action film of the decade.

HM: Captain America: The Winter Soldier & Guardians of the Galaxy.

Rama vs Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (The Raid 2)

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)

Mad Max: Fury Road puts all other 2015 action movies to shame, with an effectively slight story about Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) helping a band of women escape an oppressive patriarch; spectacular vehicle stunts. By the movie’s end, you’ll feel exhausted by the relentless action. Impressed by the practical stunts and special effects. And moved by characters like Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Nux (Nicholas Hoult). High octane action at its finest.

HM: Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron & Sicario.

Driving back to the Citadel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

2016: Captain America: Civil War (dir. Joe Russo)

Civil War is the highlight of the MCU. The story grounds the conflict in each heroes’ hopes and fears, examining them and playing them against each other expertly. Every character is relatable, making the fights more impactful. And each action sequence is creative. From the opening robbery to the final 2 on 1. Marvel has made many good films, but none topped the impact of Civil War.

HM: Deadpool.

Part 1 of the Airport Fight (Captain America: Civil War)

2017: Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Depicting the titular WWII evacuation from three perspectives: the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk waiting for rescue, the civilians coming to evacuate the soldiers and the airmen covering them from above, Dunkirk’s tension becomes almost unbearable as we hope the soldiers escape in time. The use of practical effects, incredible sound editing, and Hans Zimmer’s tense score make the film effective and harrowing.

HM: Baby Driver.

Death from above (Dunkirk (2017))

2018: Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse (dir. Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman)

The perfect balance of spectacle, personality, and high personal stakes. Into the Spiderverse is an expertly crafted love letter to comic books. With beautiful visuals that are used inventively in action sequences, all anchored by protagonist Miles Morales. Who allows us to feel his wonder, excitement, and fear better than any other spiderman.

HM: Avengers: Infinity War.

Fight at the Parker house (Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse)

2019: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahelski)

Parabellum marks the culmination of everything great about John Wick. The story is full of unique, intriguing characters, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still thoroughly engaging and the grounded, varied, constant action easily beats the overblown spectacle of other films this year.

HM: Avengers: Endgame.

Motorbike Fight (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum)

So ends my list of the 2010’s best action movies. Be sure to tell me your favourite action movie of the decade in the comments. There have been some great action films this decade, now let’s see what the 2020s have in store.

Also Read: How to Revive a Franchise After Many Years

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The Best LGBTQ+ Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

December 12, 2019

If the 1990s gave us New Queer Cinema, and the 2000s gave us mainstream successes, like Brokeback Mountain (2005), then what did we find in the 2010s? There was, of course, more mainstream entries like Love, Simon (2018) or Dallas Buyers Club (2013). There was the return, whether we liked it or not, of Queer Eye (aptly dropping ‘For The Straight Guy’ from its title) which showed that LGBTQ+ centric content was on the minds of studio executives but that maybe they were still making the same mistakes.  

However, a dominant swell of independent cinema (sometimes called New-Wave Queer Cinema) that took on identity, the intersection between sexuality and race, homophobia, our collective history, the AIDS epidemic, sex, and so much more came to the forefront. Yes, LGBTQ+ independent film left few stones unturned over the past ten years as it portrayed varied and nuanced experiences. Even so, there is still a significant lack of representation of disabled LGBTQ+ folk, as well representation of trans folk and people of colour is still substantially lower than it should be which will hopefully change in the decade to come.

These films from the past 10 years grappled the challenging decade it has been and found hope, anger, and desire in the process. Here are some of the highlights…


Pariah‘, dir. Dee Rees (2011) 

Focus Features: 2011

Dee Rees’ has become one to watch over this past decade, with her work on HBO’s Bessie and Netflix’s Mudbound, her hazy and fresh style landed her an adaption of Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted (scheduled for release next year). But it all began with Pariah, adapted from her earlier short film, it is a story of a teenager in Brooklyn navigating identity, first love, and familial pressures. 


Weekend‘, dir. Andrew Haigh (2011) 

Peccadillo Pictures: 2011

In this early indie hit, Russell and Glen men meet at a bar and go home together. Over the following days the two battle with the idea of commitment, monogamy, intimacy, and love in Andrew Haigh’s debut film that is simple, subtle, and modern with a mixture of pathos and joy. 


Stranger by the Lake‘, dir. Alain Guiraudie (2013)

Les films du losange: 2013

A French sexual thriller that dared to be bold and vivid, the film utilised graphic portrayals of sex and violence. The film revolves around a murder in a prime cruising spot and a sexual relationship that is complex and dangerous, passionate and risky. Featuring stark nudity, rising tension, and gorgeous cinematography, Stranger by the Lake is a sultry and dangerous ride. 


Tangerine‘, dir. Sean Baker (2015)

Magnolia Pictures: 2015

A genuinely original independent production shot entirely on iPhones, Tangerine is a brash, bold, and initiative film filled with humour and struggle. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor star as two sex workers looking for an ex-boyfriend on Christmas Eve in LA, and their performances are deeply grounded and light up the screen with a flurry of energy and presence. Also, it’s the best queer Christmas movie to date!


Carol‘, dir. Todd Haynes (2015)

The Weinstein Company: 2015

The slow, cold, burn of Todd Hayne’s Carol whipped people into a frenzy in 2015. The adaptation of famed lesbian author Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film saw Cate Blanchett’s housewife fall for Rooney Mara’s sensitive shop-girl in a wildly cinematic romance that could put classic cinema to shame. 


In Between‘, dir. Maysaloun Hamoud (2016)

Peccadillo Pictures: 2016

The story of three women who share a flat in Tel-Aviv who have to navigate their conservative families and the cultural divide. One that leaves them influenced by the West but living in the Middle East – a situation that brings into question things like religion, sexual violence, tradition, sexuality, and female kinship. The director, Maysaloun Hamoud, had a fatwa issued against her for her frank depictions of sexuality, drugs, and womanhood.


Moonlight‘, dir. Barry Jenkins (2016) 

A24: 2016

Taking the Best Picture Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards, Moonlight cemented itself into cinematic history. The film explored queer longing and desire from the black masculine perspective in a way that was tender with cinematography that firmly placed male beauty and black men at its centre.


120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)‘, dir. Robin Campillo (2017)

Memento Films: 2017

Boldly political and deeply enthralling, Beats Per Minute follows the Parisian branch of ACT UP in the 1980’s as they fight for visibility and recognition. It’s an elegy for the people who were lost and visceral protest for them too. Enthrallingly rich, sexual, personal, and queer BPM is queer cinema at its most perfect. 


A Fantastic Woman‘, dir. Sebastian Lelio (2017)

Sony Pictures Classics: 2017

Sebastian Lelio brings his hazy glow to the story of Marina (Daniela Vega), a waitress and nightclub singer, who is grieving the loss of her boyfriend while also facing suspicion from the police that she was involved in his death. Vega’s performance is one of the best this decade with nuance and anger rolled into a mish-mash of jubilation and sadness.


God’s Own Country‘, dir. Francis Lee (2017)

Picturehouse Entertainment: 2017

Set in the Yorkshire countryside, Francis Lee’s protagonists find romance amongst premature lambs and blistering cold. Decidedly dark and moody, the film is beautifully tender with erotic sex in the mud, self-sabotage, and questions of commitment, xenophobia, and love. 


1985‘, dir. Yen Tan (2018) 

Peccadillo Pictures: 2018

1985 flew mostly under the radar but packed an emotional punch into its short runtime. Adrian, (Cory Michael Smith) returns home to his family with some news he’s reluctant to tell them. Smith and Jamie Chung, who plays Adrian’s high school best friend, are superbly matched in this tribute to a generation of LGBTQ+ people who were abandoned. Brutally emotional and superbly considered, 1985 is a true revelation.


The Miseducation of Cameron Post‘, dir. Desiree Akhavan (2018) 

Vertigo Releasing: 2018

The decade brought with it a Vice President of America who believed in conversion therapy. Akhavan’s sweet, harrowing, mature, and underrated tale about a group of young people finding each other at that one of those camps was the perfect antidote. Both politically and emotionally engaging, Akhavan blends the format of a teen comedy with the prevalent spectre of right-wing bigotry as the film found joy in the kinship of queer folk, the awkward nature of teenage sexuality, and examined the evil within those that want to convert them.


Pain and Glory‘, dir. Pedro Almodóvar (2019) 

Sony Pictures Releasing International: 2019

No list on Queer Cinema would be complete without Pedro Almodóvar and his deeply personal 2019 film about legacy, mortality, and memory was extraordinary. Through the vessel of Antoni Bandaras, Almodóvar creates a portrait of himself, his losses and his relationships with supreme precision and emotion. It is a master working at the height of his craft and it’s thrilling to watch. 


Portrait of a Lady On Fire‘, dir. Céline Sciamma (2019)

Pyramide Films: 2019

Radical and tender, Portrait of a Lady on Fire oozes with longing and passion. It’s part gothic novel and part feminist reclamation of the past. There is a trend of ‘repressed lesbian period dramas’ of late, but this film feels more modern than most movies released in 2019 with its approach to examining female autonomy and gaze, with an exceptional retelling of a famous Greek myth to-boot. A true must-see!


Honourable Mentions: And Then We Danced (2019) / End of the Century (2019) / Can You Ever Forgive Me (2018) / Sauvage (2018) / Paris 5:59: Theo & Hugo (2016) / Certain Woman (2016) / Nasty Baby (2015) / Grandma (2015) / Pride (2014) / Love is Strange (2014) / Lilting (2014) / Keep The Lights On (2012) / Kaboom (2010) 

Also Read: Rebel Without A Pulse, Art Without A Soul

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Editorials

Who Did It Better?: A Christmas Carol

December 7, 2019
Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carolv(Source: Disney Wiki)

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the modern Christmas story. The tale of the old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by the ghost of his dead partner and the embodiment of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, to learn the value of kindness to his fellow-men is iconic. The story has had many adaptations over the years. For stage, radio, television (a new version comes this year courtesy of Steven Knight) and, of course, film. So, today we’re going to see which Christmas Carol film adaptation is the best.

With films of Carol dating back to 1901, I’ll only be looking at five of the most well-known theatrically released movies; comparing them to see which ones did certain things better. Those movies being Scrooge (1951), Scrooge (1970), Scrooged, Muppets Christmas Carol and A Christmas Carol (2009).

For this comparison I have chosen to look at, the portrayals of Scrooge, the portrayals of the ghosts, the supporting cast members, and how much they bring to their films, the production value of each film and which film best told the story overall. So, after all that set up let’s begin.

Who’s The Best Scrooge?

Ebeneezer Scrooge is one of fiction’s most iconic characters. His name has even become a part of the English language. With such a reputation you need equally brilliant performances to bring him to life. But who is the best, Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Bill Murray, Michael Caine or Jim Carrey? For my money, Alastair Sim’s iconic turn from Scrooge (1951) is the best.

Unfortunately, while Finney and Carrey are clearly trying their best, their vocal affectations make it hard to take them seriously. Also despite loving Caine’s Scrooge and Murray’s modern interpretation, Frank Cross, Caine’s cold-heartedness does thaw a little too quickly for his change of heart to carry a large amount of weight. And Murray fits the bitter sardonic side of Scrooge better than the renewed Christmas lover.

Sim, however, embodies every aspect of Scrooge perfectly. His miserable nature is believable and never feels over the top. But when he changes his ways it feels like a perfectly played evolution of the character. And Sim communicates the character in every aspect of his performance. From his tone of voice to his body language and the words he uses. For my half a crown he’s the best Scrooge out there.

Winner: Scrooge (1951)

Alastair Sim in Scrooge (1951) (Source: IMDb)
Alastair Sim in Scrooge (1951) (Source: IMDb)

Who Are The Best Ghosts?

Scrooge may be the narrative focus, but it’s the visiting spirits that ultimately change him. So, which ghosts gave us the best hauntings over the years?

Firstly, we must consider Jacob Marley’s ghost. Often shown as a sickly figure dragging a long chain behind him, he’s been portrayed by many fantastic actors. Including Michael Hordern, Alec Guinness, and Gary Oldman. Some of the more creative interpretations include Muppets Christmas Carol, who have critics Statler and Waldorf playing Jacob and Robert Marley. Who come to criticize Scrooge and provide advice for his improvement. While Scrooged presents Marley, as an old retired boss who, humorously, resembles a zombie more than a ghost.

Christmas Past varies the most in appearance between adaptations. Scrooge (1951) and A Christmas Carol (2009)’s ghosts resemble the description in Dicken’s original story. However, both are still different. Scrooge (1951) has an angelic, androgynous figure, while A Christmas Carol has a floating candle carrying a cap. Both functions well as translations of the text but don’t show too much imagination. Scrooge (1970’s) Christmas Past is a middle-aged woman who feels like a mother figure to Scrooge. Going over his past mistakes like a mum bringing out the family photo album for guests. Scrooged’s Christmas Past is a loudmouth Taxi driver who ferry’s Frank around the past. While the Muppet version gives Christmas Past the visage of a child. Whose innocent appearance makes the overall message more poignant.

Of all the ghosts of Christmas Present, the Muppets and Scrooged are the most interesting. The Muppets’ Present, like Scrooge (1970), is more humorous in nature. Very much someone who lives for the moment. Though Muppets’ Present has more depth, as his initially lively nature contrasts greatly with his melancholy later as he begins to waste away. And Scrooged’s Christmas Present is the most original. A cute fairy that slaps people to get them to pay attention to the world around them. A nice change from the usual bearded, robed giant.

Christmas Future is the most consistent in appearance. Every version portrays Future as a hooded figure wearing a dark robe that never speaks. But, of all the adaptations the Muppet version is by far the most unsettling. Nothing about it looks human. It towers over the rest of the cast, with long arms and seemingly no face inside its hood. Making it equal parts fascinating and terrifying.

So, which film has the best ghosts? It has to be a tie between Scrooged and Muppets Christmas Carol. As both display a great amount of imagination in realizing Dicken’s old ideas. Without sacrificing what made them great.

Winner: Muppets Christmas Carol & Scrooged

The Ghosts of Christmas Present (Scrooged left, Muppets Christmas Carol right) (Source: The Viewers Commentary)
The Ghosts of Christmas Present (Scrooged left, Muppets Christmas Carol right) (Source: The Viewers Commentary)

Who Has The Best Supporting Cast?

Of course, Carol’s supporting cast is also important. The Cratchit Family, Scrooge’s nephew and every other character that populate Scrooge’s life add a little extra to the story. All these adaptations have incredible actors in the supporting cast. But Scrooge (1951) and Muppets Christmas Carol use their supporting actors best.

Not that there aren’t incredible actors in the other versions, but unfortunately Scrooge (1970)’s cast never really does much to elevate themselves, remaining functional but largely forgettable. A Christmas Carol (2009)’s motion capture continually distracts from the performances in favour of showing what was possible with motion capture. And many of Scrooged’s prominent supporting players aren’t given enough time to make an impact.

But, Scrooge (1951) and Muppets Christmas Carol’s supporting cast are incredibly memorable. Scrooge’s supporting cast includes greats like Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit (the best version in my opinion). Brian Worth as Fred and Carol Marsh as Fan are great. And memorable faces are dotted throughout like Jack Warner, Ernest Thesiger, and Hattie Jacques. Each character has a memorable moment and every actor gives an incredible performance that will leave the viewer riveted. And Muppets Christmas Carol has great fun filling out the supporting cast with regular Muppet characters. Such as having Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy as Bob and Emily Cratchit and Gonzo as Charles Dickens. Which adds a great amount of humour to the proceedings. And makes all the characters memorable because of the names behind them.

Meaning this segment again ends with a tie. One film showcases the power of incredible performances and great writing. The other demonstrates that sometimes all you need is the right name to make something memorable.

Winner: Scrooge (1951) & Muppets Christmas Carol

The supporting casts of Muppets Christmas Carol & Scrooge (1951) (Sources: Flickr & GQ)

Which Version Has The Best Production?

It’s been interesting to see how each Carol adaptation reflects different attitudes to cinematic production. Scrooge (1951) focuses more on creating an authentic-looking Victorian world for the characters to inhabit. While the blocking and camerawork make for a very classical production. Scrooge (1970) aims for spectacle with varied settings, beautifully muted colours and having the cinematography play a more active role. Using long takes and camera movement to accentuate key moments. Scrooged places emphasis on practical effects and capturing modern metropolitan life. The Muppets use their titular characters to help tell the story, while also incorporating musical numbers. And A Christmas Carol (2009) aims to showcase the capabilities of motion capture and create a thrilling blockbuster. For me, Muppets Christmas Carol is the best of them all.

Everything about the Muppets Christmas Carol is a joy to watch from a visual standpoint. The puppetry is amazing. Within minutes you forget that you’re watching puppets and become completely absorbed into the experience. The special effects also hold up better than many other versions of the story. And is further complemented by the beautiful set design and well-done cinematography. Which comes alive during the musical segments.

Winner: Muppets Christmas Carol

Gonzo and Rizzo in Muppets Christmas Carol (Source: Muppet Wiki)
Gonzo and Rizzo in Muppets Christmas Carol (Source: Muppet Wiki)

Which version tells the story best?

This segment is hard to judge objectively as each interpretation attempts to do something different with the text. But how well does each adaptation achieves its goals?

While A Christmas Carol (2009)’s goal to be entirely faithful to the source material is admirable its attempts to show off the capabilities of motion capture and including over the top action sequences ultimately cheapens the overall experience. Scrooge (1970) also stumbles as it doesn’t have the pomp and energy needed to make a musical work. And the inclusion of these elements doesn’t add anything to the story other than compounding what we already know. Lastly, while Scrooged is a smart modern update of the story, with a great sense of pitch-black humour, unfortunately, it runs out of steam towards the end. Falling back into what we all expect from A Christmas Carol.

Meanwhile, The Muppets is a marvel of juggling tones. It’s consistently funny thanks to the absurd humour found in placing these weird creatures against the human actors who play their roles 100% seriously. But it also knows how to effectively pull on the heartstrings when needed. The inclusion of musical numbers also works better than Scrooge (1970). Because of the effective editing and how the songs tell us more about the characters and the story. The one disadvantage is that the film is overstuffed with ideas. And it does make a few missteps along the way regarding pacing.

And Scrooge (1951) tells the best straightforward version of the story it can. Focusing on the actor’s performances, the writing and the realization of Dickens’ world. While also expanding on certain aspects of the story. Sections that are glossed over in other adaptations are given real depth and weight here. For example, we get to follow Scrooge’s evolution into a miser in great detail. Which gives us great insight into his character. And we finally get a reason for why Scrooge resents his nephew so much. Which adds a tragic layer to both characters.   

Ultimately, despite some lacklustre special effects and minor grievances, I cannot deny that Scrooge (1951) tells its story the best. By being to the point and focusing on/expanding what worked in the source material rather than delivering overblown spectacle.

Winner: Scrooge (1951)

Scrooge & Tiny Tim from Scrooge (1951) (Source: Histomil)
Scrooge & Tiny Tim from Scrooge (1951) (Source: Histomil)

Overall Winners: Scrooge (1951) & Muppets Christmas Carol

Scrooge (1951) & Muppets Christmas Carol Posters (Source: IMDb)

Final Thoughts

The story of A Christmas Carol has truly given us many quality adaptations over the years. There’s something interesting about the fact that the closest adaptation of the book (A Christmas Carol (2009)) is the least interesting. Each of the other adaptations brought something new to the table.

If you want a generally entertaining and good-looking version of the story then Scrooge (1970) is for you. For an effective modern update to the old story, then go with Scrooged. If you want the definitive version that has incredible performances, fantastic design and expands on the source material in a way that feels natural and, in many ways, improves the story then watch Scrooge (1951). And if you want the best modern adaptation, packed full of imagination, memorable characters and perfectly blends humour, music, and drama then check out Muppets Christmas Carol.

Also Read: Who Did It Better?: How The Grinch Stole Christmas

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