The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Review: Mr. Holmes (UK Cert PG)

Sir Ian McKellen reunites with his Gods And Monsters director Bill Condon for Mr. Holmes, an adaptation of Mitch Cullin's novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind which features an elderly version of the great detective.

It's 1947 and the 93 year old Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) lives in retirement in Sussex with his housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker). Holmes is happy with his bees, preferring to stay out of the limelight after John Watson's stories of Holmes' cases have become famous. However, after more than thirty years, he is haunted by his final case; the case which ended his career. There was always something troubling about it, something that never rang true in Watson's version of events. Holmes resolves to figure out what. Not easy when the world's greatest detective is suffering from dementia and his once sharp intellect is waning. 

McKellen plays Holmes as both the younger detective and the older, more decrepit retiree and is superb at both. The older Holmes' dementia provides some poignant moments as he tries to put the pieces back together and there is a marked physical change between the two versions of Holmes. McKellen is the kind of actor that could read the phone book and make it sound like Shakespeare and he acquits himself brilliantly in the role. 

It's a shame the same can't be said of some of the supporting cast (but that's more to do with the material than the actors). Laura Linney is a much better actress than the material she's given here and she's practically wasted in the role which has her little more than a disapproving harridan. Some facile attempts to give the character character fall flat and feel shoe-horned. Milo Parker is better in the role of Roger, luckily eschewing any precocious brat instincts and acting as a good foil for Holmes. However, both Linney and Parker suffer from wandering accent syndrome, sounding at times West Country then Irish then occasionally Scottish which is a little off-putting, to say the least.

Hattie Morahan plays Ann Kelmot, the subject of Holmes' last case, with a beautiful fragility and it's actually quite a wrenching moment when all the pieces come together and you realise the truth of the last case. There's a supporting cast of top-notch British acting talent- including Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Phil Davis, John Sessions and Frances Barber- which rounds out things nicely.

It's a well shot and well designed films, the costumes and make-up are superb and it evokes the spirit of the times in which it is set. However (and it's a big however) the script is what lets the film down. It's poorly structured and one of the main storylines- Holmes' sojourn to Japan to find a plant that is reputed to help with senile dementia- is rather weak. If it had focused on the final case alone, the film would have been stronger. 

Ultimately, this is a pleasant, slow drama which would be perfect for a Sunday evening. Whilst the plot is inconsistent, it's worth seeing for the bravura performance by McKellen. 

Rating: 3 out of 5


Thursday, 2 July 2015

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015 - Part One

Averaging four-to-five hours’ sleep a night and surviving off caffeine for a week doesn’t sound like much of a holiday, but when it’s the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I proudly sport my panda eyes and end up on first name terms with the staff at Starbucks (other coffee shops are available in Scotland's capital, but not all of them are right outside the cinema).

The world’s longest running film festival is in its 69th year. It could have been blind luck when I picked what I fancied watching, but 2014 felt like EIFF’s strongest programme for a while. With EIFF, there’s usually a handful of films you'll want to add to your DVD shelf. Last year, almost everything I sat through, bleary-eyed, was well above your average cinema fare. James Ward Byrkit’s directorial debut, Coherence, Uberto Passolini’s Still Life, 2014’s best prison drama, We Are Monster, and my favourite of the festival, Jeff Baena’s Life after Beth were just a small number of highlights.

Disclaimers, Terms and Conditions, etc. etc. Like last year, I was up in Edinburgh for a week, as my wallet, and my body clock, can’t hack any longer. This means I couldn't see every big film of the festival (missing out on Back to the Future, accompanied by a live score, is what I’m most gutted about!), but I tried squeezing every last penny out of my delegate pass. This time I stayed in Edinburgh from the 15th to the 22nd June.

Amy (UK/English dialogue/123 min)

Amy Winehouse passed away in 2011. With her second album, Back to Black, selling millions across the globe, Amy was an easy target, belittled by the media, who portrayed her as a crazed, booze-addled drug addict. Asif Kapadia, director of the Oscar-winning documentary Senna, has compiled hours of home videos, concert footage, and interviews with friends, family, and those within the music industry, to give a thorough and respectful portrait of Winehouse.

Whatever your thoughts of Amy Winehouse, Kapadia immediately puts a line straight through them, showing you films of Amy before she was famous, growing up, messing around with friends, and performing at small venues and auditions, trying to get noticed. You’re introduced to a young woman who says it how it is, hates being the centre of attention, and can go from shy to fiery at the click of a finger.

I saw Winehouse perform, middle of the afternoon, at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2005. Seeing her onstage, nervous, apologising because this was the biggest crowd she had performed to, then singing as loud and passionate as her lungs could manage, made me an instant fan. Playing virtually all of Winehouse’s music, showing the lyrics written out on scraps of paper, who fading in-and-out on the screen, Kapadia makes you appreciate how talented she was, not just as a singer, but as a songwriter, a storyteller. Several times during the film, Amy admits to having depression, using music as her way of coping. Kapadia shows how honest Amy’s writing was, no holding back, wondering if this record will sell, she wrote her heartbreak, her jealousy, her regrets all down, accompanying them with a traditional, stuck-in-your head catchy jazz melody.

Critics, fans, people who knew Amy, will be arguing whether Kapadia’s documentary is unbiased. Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse, has already given interviews, unhappy with how the family are shown, that they are accused of not giving her the support she needed. When you watch Amy, it’s hard to disagree with Kapadia. During one of many tragic moments, Amy goes to a reclusive island to get clean, inviting only close friends and family. Her father is there, but so is a film crew he has brought along to follow Amy wherever she goes. Amy’s ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, appears, and while you wonder how much of his interview wound up in the documentary, the finger of blame points at him in terms of getting Winehouse hooked on class A drugs, as well as using her as a meal ticket.

As you would expect, Amy is an uncomfortable watch at times. Archive footage early on shows how Winehouse had the sound of great jazz vocalists such as Betty Carter or Dinah Washington; no singers of her generation came close. Later we see the Amy paraded on the news and in newspapers the world over: swaying, mumbling, slurring her words. The scene which brought tears to my eyes was Kapadia’s use of my favourite Winehouse song (in my humble opinion, one of the greatest songs of this century – there’s a reason why Prince sang it at his O2 residency in London), Love is a Losing Game, playing it alongside a montage of photos of Amy, starting off as a beautiful, healthy-looking young woman, then seeing her slim down to next-to-nothing as her drug and alcohol addiction worsens.

Kapadia does not use cheap tricks or cut corners, this is an engrossing, poignant film that gives you a real sense of who Winehouse was, away from the paparazzi and media attention, occasionally making you laugh when you see how casual and straight talking she was (during a TV interview, the journalist compares Winehouse to Dido, suggesting both artists write honest, timeless lyrics. Winehouse is polite enough, but her face says it all). Amy Winehouse was a breath-taking talent, Kapadia doing her every bit of justice.

4 out of 5

Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream (UK/English dialogue/94 min)

From a tiny flat in Edinburgh, Bob Last and Hilary Morrison set up Fast Product, a record label that would sign critically acclaimed bands Gang of Four, Joy Division, Dead Kennedys, and The Mekons, before breaking into the mainstream with The Human League and their 1981 Christmas number one, Don’t You Want Me

Writer/director Grant McPhee’s documentary uses interviews from some of the big names in Scotland’s music history to explain how Fast Product, a company set up to give a voice to new, cutting edge talent, ended up reaching across the world.

You can’t help but get caught up in the passion that has gone into this film, McPhee having a genuine love for his subject matter. Everyone he interviews is fired up, explaining everything that went on during Fast Product’s years. It’s an impressive roster including Alan McGee, Bobby Bluebell, Norman Blake and Edwyn Collins to name just a small few.

Fast Product feels like something from a completely different time, distant history; record companies whose priority was putting the music out there, money, making a profit, being miles down the To Do List.

There are some interesting facts and anecdotes in Big Gold Dream. If you thought the best Scottish music from the late-seventies to late eighties came mostly from Glasgow, McPhee makes you think again. Fast Product were a predecessor to Rough Trade – still a record shop when Fast Product was getting all the attention – while Factory Records didn’t even exist.

The trouble with Big Gold Dream is it feels like loads of pats on the back, but not enough content to match. It’s well researched, and you would struggle to find another documentary that gets all the greats from Scotland’s post-punk/indie scene together, but it could easily have been an hour long BBC 4 documentary instead of a ninety-minute long feature.

3 out of 5

Hector (UK/English dialogue/87 min)

Peter Mullan is one of those “what’s his name?” actors; you’ve seen him before, you just can’t remember what in. Mullan is a tragically underrated actor, having played a number of astonishing roles (Tyrannosaur, Channel 4’s Red Riding). Currently taking the lead in BBC 2’s adaptation of Iain Banks’ Stonemouth, hopefully he finally gets the recognition he deserves.

In Hector, Mullan plays the title role, a homeless man making his annual pilgrimage to a London homeless shelter in time for Christmas. On his journey, he tries getting back in touch with his family, with varying degrees of success.

Mullan is both likeable and believable as Hector, the irony being that if he wasn’t this unkempt man sleeping on the streets, you would happily go down the pub with him and chat over a pint. Jake Gavin (who also directs) has come up with a script that does the rare thing of being natural, giving us snapshots of how people interact, whilst holding your attention throughout and occasionally making you laugh. There’s a smart, touching moment when Hector and his brother meet for the first time in fifteen years. Instead of arguing, the brothers carry on as normal, joking with each other; best friends again.

The one scene that felt redundant was Hector explaining how he became homeless. It’s a good minute-long monologue that not only feels out of place, Gavin could easily have got away without it. Otherwise, Hector is a film that gets the mix of warmth and tragedy absolutely right. It’s a sad story, but there’s enough humour and compassion to make you smile and feel less cynical about people.

4 out of 5

It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (Hong Kong/USA/English and Cantonese dialogue/79 min)

Thirty-somethings Ruby (Jamie Chung) and Josh (Bryan Greenberg) meet one night in Hong Kong. There’s chemistry, an attraction, but the timing is all wrong (Josh lets on he’s in a relationship and the night goes into free-fall). A year later, they bump into each other again. Circumstances have changed, but things are still complicated. Are Ruby and Josh willing to shake up their lives, hurt the people they love, so they can be together?

Romantic dramas, that put love and relationships under the microscope, sink or swim depending on the performances of their leads. Thankfully Chung and Greenberg (engaged in real life) are both convincing; you like them after nearly minute on-screen. Writer/director Emily Ting asked her leads to improvise the dialogue, telling them where each scene starts and ends, then letting the cameras roll. Chung and Greenberg both rise to the challenge, the dialogue intelligent and occasionally making you laugh out loud. While questions about love and fidelity have been asked before (Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and its sequels), Ting and her cast put a unique spin on these issues by also discussing Ruby and Josh’s dreams as artists (Ruby wants to be a fashion designer, Josh a novelist), and how life, paying the bills, gets in the way. Watching It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, you want the two of them to get together, but they meet at the wrong points in their lives. If it had been a year-or-two earlier; different story.

Josh Silfen’s handheld visuals capture the flurry, the clash of cultures (Stella and Carlsberg signs opposite traditional stalls and restaurants), as well as the eccentricity of Hong Kong. You’re shown the well-known tourist spots – Victoria Peak getting plenty of screen time – but you also get a clear sense of what living in Hong Kong would be like, how unique and thriving it is.

My one gigantic issue with Ting’s film is the ending, or lack of it. We stop, at a crucial moment, and are left to make up our own minds. Some call it profound, I call it lazy, Ting taking the easy way out.

While It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong might not have as much to say about relationships as the Before films or Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, it is clever, enjoyable, and bittersweet rather than saccharine.

4 out of 5

Maggie (USA/English dialogue/95 min)

Whenever me and my mates up in Edinburgh mentioned this film, we called it “Arnie versus zombies.” Get any images of Arnold Schwarzenegger cutting down an army of undead with a minigun straight out of your head, Maggie is much more The Walking Dead than Raw Deal.

John Scott 3’s script sees Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) caring for his teenage daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin – the kid from Zombieland grew up!), who has been bitten by a zombie. As Maggie’s health worsens, Wade has to decide what to do when the inevitable happens.

Maggie could easily have been an episode from AMC’s record breaking TV series, it’s that smart and emotional. While much of the film’s praise has gone to Schwarzenegger, the star of the show here is Breslin. When we first meet Maggie, she is terrified, she does not want to die, yet ends up accepting her fate, making the most of the time she has with friends and her father. Tragically, while father and daughter have always been close, their bond gets stronger as Maggie is dying.

While Schwarzenegger is unlikely to get an Oscar nomination out of Maggie, he proves to critics that he can do more than play a dead-behind-the-eyes machine. While Dutch off of Predator wouldn’t be your first choice to play a kind-hearted, non-violent father, Arnie does a respectable job. Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin gives us plenty of close-ups of Schwarzenegger, his expressions, his reactions, whether it’s father and daughter reminiscing, losing themselves, stopping when they crash back down to earth, or hesitating when having to kill his undead neighbours. Wade is a complicated man, struggling with what to do as his child becomes more walking corpse, less flesh and blood, barley keeping it together; with Arnie there is plenty going on behind the eyes.

Considering Maggie had nowhere near the budget of The Walking Dead, the visuals are just as impressive, each frame filled with muted colours, the landscape – fields and crops – dying as well as the humans, but with tiny glimpses of sunlight breaking through the clouds or gaps in the curtains. While the zombies don’t appear all that often (Maggie has nowhere near the body count of Commando), the make-up and the ways they’re dispatched (Arnie pushes a broom handle all the way through a corpse’s neck) are just as gory as you’d expect, plus Maggie’s transformation as she starts to decay – fingers shrivelling, flesh drying up, veins appearing beneath the skin – is horrible to watch.

While you already know how the film will end, Scott 3 doesn’t make things too predictable. Maggie’s final scene is shuffle round in your seat tense then, cleverly, when you realise what is happening, grabs hold of the heartstrings. It’s cleverly written stuff!

Just when you thought the zombie subgenre had been done to death, John Scott 3 and director Henry Hobson come up with something that respects the traditions first set in stone by George A. Romero, but plays with expectations just enough to give us something pleasingly different. It’s an odd thing to say about a zombie film, but Maggie is gentle and heart-breaking, as well as being skilfully made.

4 out of 5

The Marriage of Reason and Squalor (UK/English dialogue/88 min)

Artist Jake Chapman adapts his novel for the small screen, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, into a TV series for Sky Arts, starring Sophie Kennedy Clark as Lydia, a young woman who is given a holiday to a remote island as a wedding gift by her fiancé (Rhys Ifans). Once Lydia sets foot on the island, things get strange. Very strange.

I like a film that turns weird all the way up to eleven, making you try and work out what’s happening (Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko), but the trick is to tease the audience with clues, portions of narrative, to keep them watching, put up with all the craziness that’s going on. Chapman ignores this completely, following one insane scene with another, creating an incoherent mess that pushes your patience.

You can’t fault the visuals, this is a film where every frame looks fantastic in a David Lynch directs a tropical paperback romance kind of way. You have stop motion animation, grotesque make-up, good use of green screen, stock footage, and clear blue beaches that stretch for miles – just some of the numerous ideas.

As far as the performances go, you can’t help but wonder if everyone involved signed a deal where, the more they overact, the more they get paid. I’ve got a lot of time for Ifans, he’s underrated, but as Helmut Mandragorass he’s so off-the-wall it becomes irritating. It’s like watching the A-level drama diva take centre stage and wishing they would stop. I appreciate Kennedy Clark is playing the clichéd flaky English aristocrat, but it’s a thankless role that she can’t do anything with.

The best way to describe The Marriage of Reason and Squalor is it’s like an undergraduate film student was given a giant bucketful of money to go and make a film. The imagination’s there in the visuals, just not in the script. The strangest thing about Reason and Squalor is Chapman clearly thinks it’s more complex than it really is. Not the worst film of this year’s festival, but close.

2 out of 5

Narcopolis (UK/English dialogue/96 min)

A thriller set in the near future where drugs are legal. It’s dark most of the time and there are blazing neon signs in almost every frame. Blade Runner on a budget: sounds good, right?

Narcopolis could have been one of the best films at this year’s festival, and one of the best British thrillers of 2015. Tragically, director and screenwriter Justin Trefgarne’s script throws everything against the wall and, if it doesn’t stick, it gets put back up anyway. Trefgarne could have picked a handful ideas (the consequences of legalising recreational drugs, drugs that make you time travel, how parents unknowingly scar their children, the public image of global companies compared to what happens behind closed doors – just some of the subtle and not-so-subtle subtext in Narcopolis) and developed them, really made the audience think. Instead, so much is going on, so thinly spread, that you quickly stop caring about what’s happening.

Elliot Cowan (Da Vinci’s Demons) makes a decent enough lead, even if Frank Grieves is your seen-it-all-before burnt out cop with an estranged family. The minute James Callis (Battlestar Gallactica) appears onscreen, posh accent, sharp suit and cunning smile, it’s no great surprise when he turns out to be the villain, while Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Tomorrow Never Dies) gets little to do as a by-the-numbers scientist; anyone could have played the role.

Narcopolis’ one saving grace is its visuals, Trefgarne pushing his budget as far as it will go. London streets at nightfall, threatening skies and shimmering skyscrapers. While every scene looks typically murky and brooding, Trefgarne gives a strange beauty to his backgrounds; the usual views of London, but with a near-future, off-world twist.

I got bored with Narcopolis. It traipses along, slick visuals and editing trying to distract you from the glaring problem that scarcely any time or attention was spent on the script, that none of the ideas have been thought through or make any sense. Impressive and talented production marred by a below average – dredging up more than a few science fiction clichés – screenplay.

2 out of 5

The Pyramid Texts (UK/English dialogue/Black and White/98 min)

A man giving a monologue to the camera for well over ninety minutes doesn’t sound like something you would happily hand your money over to go and see, but the debut film from The Shammasian Brothers (Ludwig and Paul) is something special.

James Cosmo (another actor who has never received the attention he deserves) plays retired boxer Ray. Setting up a video camera in his gym, he discusses his life, his thoughts, his regrets; the footage meant for his estranged son.

There are a small number of films where you can’t imagine anyone else in the role, anyone doing a performance equally as good. Cosmo does just that in The Pyramid Texts. He deserves awards recognition for his portrayal of Ray, flitting between passion, anger, and tear-jerking regret and being totally believable. This is a father opening up to his son, apologising; you’re engaged from the second Cosmo appears onscreen, right up to the end.

The cinematography is mostly close-ups, Cosmo staring into the camera. Early on Ray explains why he’s recording himself instead of writing a letter: you can see his face, hear the delivery of his words – there is no confusion over what he is saying, what he means. Cosmo’s expressions, his stare, all just as impressive as his dialogue. Shot entirely in black-and-white, this brings extra gravitas to Cosmo’s words. Thanks to some well set up lighting, we see all the lines on his face; Ray has been through the wars, bottled up his thoughts and feelings for years, and finally they all come spilling out.

Originally a stage play, BAFTA Award-winning writer Geoff Thompson’s adaptation is naturalistic, draws you in and, most impressive of all, it’s subtle. The dialogue is emotional, but doesn’t lay it on thick. While Ray is recounting his life, confessing his sins, there’s still a lot that he holds back, Cosmo’s expressions, his gaze, filling in the blanks.

My one and only issue with The Pyramid Texts is the last couple of minutes. Considering how reigned in the rest of the film is, the twist, the real reason why Ray is making this video, is handled with all the consideration of a sledgehammer. You could have had Ray switch off the camera and walk out of the gym; audiences would still have got the message. The film doesn’t come off the rails, but it’s a tiny bit jarring compared to how understated and exceptional the other ninety-odd minutes are: Shakespeare with everyday dialogue.

For the most part, The Shammasian Brothers’ first feature film is a powerful and moving powerhouse; definitely one of the best of this year’s festival.

4 out of 5

Therapy for a Vampire (Austria/Switzerland/German dialogue with English subtitles/87 min)

Vampires used to live in far-off, hard-to-pronounce European countries, wealthy aristocrats living in isolation. Now, thanks to Twilight, they’re slicked with hair gel and glow like disco balls when they step in the sun.

David Reuhm’s Therapy for a Vampire is both a homage to, as well as taking the piss out of, the lavish bloodsucker films starring Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. The cinematography is gorgeous; it’s as if Tim Burton had directed Bram Stoker’s Dracula rather than Francis Ford Coppola; a Victorian costume drama with the German impressionism of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.

You can tell all the actors had fun during filming; there’s no scale on earth that can measure how camp the performances are here. Plenty of laughs come from how over-the-top Tobias Moretti and Jeanette Hain (as Count and Countess von Kösznöm) are whenever they’re onscreen.

Therapy for a Vampire is a lot of fun, at no point will you be fidgeting, or glancing at your watch. While there is minute-after-minute of visual gags that will make you smile and laugh-out-loud, you walk away feeling that Reuhm could have done more, really gone for the jugular (excuse the pun). Interview with the Vampire, for instance, takes itself so seriously, it’s begging to have the mickey mercilessly taken out of it. There are a couple of inventive jokes – fountains of blood spray across the screen as Countess von Kösznöm chomps into a victim, then realises she’s hardly drank anything – you just wish the laughs were always that smart.

3 out of 5

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Dear Hollywood... Stop It!

Another week, another story claiming that yet another film is being remade. Recently, there's been news that Kindergarten Cop, Sister Act and The Craft are all to undergo a remake. We've got a remake of Ghostbusters in the works, along with The Crow and quite a few others.

Frankly, I'm sick of it.

I'm sick and tired of this mindless rehashing of previous material.

(At least Robert Zemeckis has said a remake of Back To The Future will happen over his dead body. Literally.)

 Firstly, let me preface my remarks with a caveat: not all remakes are bad. There have been some decent remakes over the years.Al Pacino's Scarface is a remake, and a damn good one at that. The 1954 remake of A Star Is Born (with Judy Garland and James Mason) is sublime and- in a rarity for a horror remake (more on that to come)- 2006's remake of The Omen at least managed to capture some of the menace of the original. The 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate makes a decent fist of updating the Cold War paranoia of the original. George Clooney's bash at Ocean's Eleven had some charm and wit (least said about the sequels the better) and even The Italian Job should get a mention because it at least tries to do something with the established formula (although the original is obviously better)

However, the vast majority of remakes are bad. In some cases, really bad. But nearly always emotionally bankrupt and utterly vapid. Case in point - last year's remake of RoboCop. A few flashes of inspiration aside, it was a dull, dull film and resembled the original about as much as I resemble Danny DeVito: the most passing of resemblances, but generally nothing alike. Arthur - atrocious. The Women - a waste of talent. Straw Dogs - terrible. Do you see where I'm going with this?

The phenomenon of horror remakes seems particularly egregious. It seems as if every seminal horror film- Psycho, Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Wicker Man, Friday The 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, My Bloody Valentine, Dawn Of The Dead, Carrie, Black Christmas, The Thing, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist and When A Stranger Calls to name but a few- have had a remake or retread or 'reimagining'. And with very few exceptions, these have been dull, bludgeoning unimaginitive fare with all the subtlety and menace of the originals leached out. The reason most of these original films work is the atmosphere that's created and that is sorely lacking in the remakes, who tend to throw atmosphere out of the window and go for cheap shocks and gore.

I'll be the first to admit that the original versions of Psycho and The Wicker Man are two of my favourite films. So any attempt at a remake was always going to have a oh-hell-no kneejerk reaction. But Gus Van Sant's virtual shot-for-shot colour remake of Hitchcock's masterpiece is awful. Why go for a shot-for-shot remake? Unless a remake improves on the original in some way, there's no point in doing it. As for Neil LaBute's truly execrable Wicker Man remake, there's absolutely nothing to recommend it- apart from the fact that it spawned an amusing gif with Nicolas Cage and the bees.

No! Not the bees!
I get that Hollywood is there to make money and that's why franchises do so well- you hit upon a successful formula and rework it and rework it and people know what they're going to see and settle back and enjoy it. Fast And Furious 7 is one of the highest opening films of the year and the phenomenal success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films show there's a definite appetite for franchise.

However, this shouldn't be at the expense of original screenplays and original work. Independent cinema is providing some of the most thought-provoking and original films which deserve to be seen on a grand scale. Occasionally you get a breakthrough/crossover- the prevalence of Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel at this year's Oscars, for instance- but so much good cinema is being lost or becoming niche because they can't get a distributor.

Hollywood is a multi-billion dollar industry. Surely some of that prodigious and slightly obscene wealth can be used to bankroll a couple of decent original screenplays? I'm not saying all cinema has to become an indie darling's fantasy (I'm too much of a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for that) but take a chance now and again. Invest in some original talent. And leave perfectly good films that don't need a revamp alone.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Ron Moody (1924-2015)

Announced the same day as the death of Sir Christopher Lee, The Watchers were also saddened to hear of the death of Ron Moody who has passed away at the age of 91.

Born in Tottenham in 1924 as Ronald Moodnick, his surname was legally changed to Moody in 1930. He was educated at a state grammar school and then studied at the London School of Economics where he trained to be an economist. During World War II, he enlisted in the RAF and became a radar technician.

Moody only became an actor when he was twenty-nine and made initial uncredited appearances on film in Davy (1958) and Make Mine Mink (1960). However, it would be the stage that would manoeuvre him to his best known role. After starring on stage in Leonard Bernstein's Candide in 1959, he created the role of Fagin in Lionel Bart's stage adaptation of Oliver Twist- now called Oliver!- which opened in London in 1960.

Eight years later, Oliver! was adapted for film, directed by Carol Reed. Despite Columbia producers wanting the better known Peter Sellers in the role, both Lionel Bart and Carol Reed insisted on Moody reprising his role as Fagin. Moody is an engaging and endearing presence on-screen, despite being the nominal villain of the piece, and his performance of 'Reviewing The Situation' is just sublime. He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy and was also nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA Film Award for this role, also tying for Best Actor in the Moscow International Film Festival! He would also go on to be nominated for a Tony Award in 1984 for playing Fagin on Broadway.

Aside from his role as Fagin, Moody appeared in a range of roles both comic and serious and was adept at both. He appeared as the comic beggar Autolycus in a 1962 TV adaptation of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale opposite Robert Shaw and Patrick Macnee and starred in Murder Most Foul (1964)- the third of four films in which Margaret Rutherford would play Miss Marple- as a hammy theatre director and long-time friend of Marple. He also appeared in Summer Holiday (1963) opposite Cliff Richard as the mime artist Orlando and as the Prime Minister in The Mouse On The Moon (1963). His performance as Uriah Heep in the 1969 TV version of David Copperfield was also very well received.

In 1969, Moody was offered a television role which he declined and later went on to describe it as 'the worse decision' he ever made. He was the producer's first choice to replace Patrick Troughton in Doctor Who. Moody declined the role and the producer's second choice- Jon Pertwee- was duly offered the role instead. Pertwee obviously accepted and the rest is history.

In 1970 he appeared opposite Frank Langella and Dom DeLuise in Mel Brooks' The Twelve Chairs as part of a gang looking for a treasure of jewels that were hidden inside one of twelve dining chairs. He reunited with Oliver! co-star Jack Wild in the 1971 film Flight Of The Doves. Moody also worked extensively in television, appearing in Gunsmoke, Tales Of The Unexpected, Hart To Hart, Highway To Heaven and Murder, She Wrote.

In 1981, Moody appeared in a TV version of Dial M For Murder opposite Christopher Plummer and Anthony Quayle and took the role of Iago in a production of Othello opposite Jenny Agutter and William Marshall. He also provided several voices for The Animals Of Farthing Wood and also made appearances in British shows such as The Bill, Last Of The Summer Wine, Holby City and EastEnders.

Moody admitted that, after Oliver!, his career never really took off. 'I was offered Fagin-type roles but I wanted to do new things. I could have worked in America, but there was a recession in the British film industry and I wanted to work in England. I've no regrets. You take responsibility for your actions. You don't kvetch'.

Even if Fagin was the only role Moody ever played, he would have still left behind an indelible mark on cinema and British musical theatre. But he was so much more than just that one role. 

Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

The Watchers
(Rhys, Matt & Tez)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

We at The Watchers were deeply saddened to hear of the death of acting legend Sir Christopher Lee, who sadly passed away on 7th June. He was 93 years old.

In a career spanning eight decades and over two hundred screen appearances, Lee has played everything from iconic horror villains, suave assassins, charismatic lords, evil wizards and scheming counts. 

Born in 1922 to a professional soldier and an Italian countess, Lee's family lineage could be traced back as far as Charlemagne. His parents divorced when he was six years old and he was sent to a preparatory school in Oxford. When World War II broke out, Lee volunteered to fight for the Finnish forces in 1939 and later volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He was retired from the RAF in 1946 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. There is some mystery to some of Lee's wartime work. He mentioned that he was attached to the SAS from time to time but could not disclose any specific operations, preferring the euphemistic term 'Special Forces'. 

Once home from the war, Lee applied to the Rank Film Organisation to become an actor and was initially signed on a seven-year contract with them and was a student at their 'Charm School' (an acting school for young contract players). One of his first screen roles was as an uncredited spear-carrier in the 1948 film adaptation of Hamlet, directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. He appeared as Bernard Day in Scott Of The Antarctic (1948), Georges Seurat in Moulin Rouge (1952) and Submarine Commander Alan Grieves in The Cockleshell Heroes (1955)

In 1957, Lee made his first appearance in a Hammer Horror film playing The Creature in The Curse Of Frankenstein, opposite Peter Cushing as Victor. Despite having both appeared in Hamlet and in Moulin Rouge, this was the first time that Lee and Cushing met. They formed a deep friendship which lasted until Cushing's death in 1994, appearing in over 20 films together.

1958 saw Lee taking on one of his most recognisable and iconic roles for the first time: Dracula. Opposite his friend Cushing as Van Helsing, Lee epitomised suave seduction and danger as the titular Count. Lee would reprise his role a further nine times on screen. Whilst it is undeniably one of his most popular roles, Lee demurred from the title of 'horror legend', saying he 'moved on from that'. He also went on to play The Mummy in Hammer's 1959 film of the same name.

In 1959, he appeared as Sir Henry Baskerville in The Hound Of The Baskervilles, opposite Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. Three years later, Lee took on the role of the titular detective in Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace. In 1970, he completed a rare trifecta by playing Holmes' brother Mycroft in The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, directed by Billy Wilder.

Throughout the 1960s, Lee immersed himself in horror films such as Crypt Of The Vampire (1964), Castle Of The Living Dead (also 1964) and The Skull (1965). He portrayed Rasputin and Sax Rohmer's Chinese criminal mastermind Fu Manchu and was uncredited as the voice who accuses the guests of their various crimes in the 1965 film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. His performance as the Duc de Richleau in the 1968 adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out is particularly chilling.

In 1973, Lee took on one of his greatest roles as Lord Summerisle in seminal British cult thriller The Wicker Man opposite Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and Diane Cilento. There's a wonderfully seductive edge to Lee's Summerisle as his earthy paganism clashes with Woodward's staunch Christianity. Lee worked for free but considered it one of his very best performances, and it's very hard to disagree.

In 1974, he added one of the biggest film franchises of all time to his filmography when he appeared as assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun, opposite Roger Moore as James Bond. Frankly, Lee is easily the best thing in the film, really raising the source material (which isn't strong). Interestingly, he was cousin to Ian Fleming.

He rounded out the 1970s with roles in To The Devil, A Daughter, Airport '77 and Return From Witch Mountain. In 1982, Lee made one of the more unusual entries into his filmography- and I'm not talking about voicing King Haggard in The Last Unicorn: he played Prince Philip in a TV movie called Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story! (David Robb and Caroline Bliss played the titular couple with Margaret Tyzack as the Queen).

Throughout the 1990s, Lee appeared in films as diverse as Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Police Academy: Mission To Moscow and Jinnah. He also provided the voice of Death in two animated versions of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels- Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music- and appeared as the Narrator in an interactive video game version of The Rocky Horror Show! He played faithful manservant Flay in the TV adaptation of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast and he also began his association with Tim Burton with a small role in the 1999 film Sleepy Hollow.

In 2001, Lee joined the cast of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring as duplicitous wizard Saruman. He was the only member of the cast who had ever met J.R.R. Tolkien and prior to being cast made a habit of reading the trilogy once a year. He reprised his role in the two sequels (although his scenes in The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King was initially cut from theatrical release and reinstated for the extended edition). He also made appearances as Saruman in The Hobbit films. As if that wasn't frankly awesome enough, in 2002, he joined the cast of the Star Wars prequels, playing Count Dooku in Episode II: Attack Of The Clones (where his character has a memorable light-sabre fight with Yoda) and Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

Lee took further roles in Tim Burton's movies, appearing in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Dark Shadows, and giving voice performances for Corpse Bride and Alice In Wonderland. He also appeared in The Golden Compass, Season Of The Witch, Hugo and The Wicker Tree (a companion piece to The Wicker Man, in which he cameos as the Old Gentleman). He had completed filming on Angels In Notting Hill and was in pre-production for The 11th at the time of his death.

Lee was knighted in 2009 for his services to drama and charity and was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011.

Aside from his impressive acting career, Lee was also a skilled linguist, speaking French, German, Italian and Spanish and getting by in Greek, Russian and Swedish. He also holds the record for being the oldest living performer to enter the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (at the age of 91 years and 6 months) with a heavy metal Christmas song called 'Jingle Hell'. Lee had recorded several EPS of heavy metal covers, and won the Spirit of Metal award in 2010.

An icon. A gentleman. A true acting legend. He will be sadly missed.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

The Watchers
(Rhys, Matt & Tez)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (UK Cert 15)

Thirty years after Mel Gibson left the Thunderdome, Mad Max is back on screen, once again directed and written by franchise creator George Miller.

The apocalypse has hit. Max (Tom Hardy) is left in the wilderness and is captured by the War Boys, servants of the warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and is used as a 'blood-bag' for the weaker War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Joe rules the wastelands, even controlling the water supply for his embattled subjects. Everything is based on trade and Joe sends a convoy of fuel out to another township. However, the convoy leader Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has other ideas... with the War Boys in hot pursuit of Furiosa and her contraband cargo, Max is dragged into the chase.

What is essentially a two-hour car chase becomes something so much more thanks to some sumptuous visuals, some brilliant performances and a good dose of downright insanity. 

Furiosa is a brilliant character and played brilliantly by the ever-dependable Theron. She's not a damsel in distress (this is the kind of film where even the damsels in distress are not exactly your typical swooning female ciphers), she is the catalyst for the entire story and she certainly doesn't need Max to help her or save her. If anything, at the start, he's more of a hindrance. It's also refreshing that it doesn't lapse into a romantic relationship either. Furiosa is her own woman, from start to finish. The film has been accused of trying to sneak feminism in by the back door but, frankly, after the paper-thin insults that are the usual popcorn fodder idea of female characters (Michael Bay, I'm looking directly at you) I'm all for it. 

Hardy's performance as Max is decent enough, although his accent wanders something dreadful. Max is a solid, laconic figure, acted upon rather than acting. Hoult gives a great turn as War Boy Nux, desperate for Immortan Joe to notice him and praise him. He also forms a bond with one of Furiosa's associates that is oddly sweet. Keays-Byrne makes for a formidable enemy and it's not his first time at the rodeo- he played the villainouse Toecutter in the original Mad Max

The Namibian desert doubles for the apocalyptic wastelands of Australia and the visuals are just stunning. It's definitely worth seeing on the big screen (although not necessarily in 3D) as the desert vistas really have some scale from bleached white sunburnt sands to the cooler bluer shades of night. The convoy heading after Furiosa and her is immense and there's a really inspired (and crazy) decision to have a rig covered in drums with a guitarist- known as the Doof Warrior- to act as a kind of pace-keeper. Not only does it give rise to some of the best visuals in the entire film, it also adds a nice amount of diegetic music as the rig gets closer.

Whilst I enjoyed it a damn sight more than I expected to, I just wonder whether it needed to be a 'Mad Max' film. Max is such a peripheral character, almost a supporting character in his own film. It could have been any dystopic post-apocalyptic setting, put in a generic action hero in place of Max, retained the War Boys and the kick-ass Furiosa and had the same effect. Hell, it could have just been called 'George Miller's Fury Road'.

Despite this, it's a decent slice of entertainment with enough to satisfy the petrolheads as well as those in search of something a bit more substantial.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Monday, 4 May 2015

Comic-Book Round-Up: May 2015

So it's been a while since we did this and there's been a lot of comic book news out recently, so it's only right we have a quick (well, not so quick) round-up of the news.


A leaked trailer of the hotly-anticipated DC Universe movie precipitated an acceleration of the official version being released. The trailer does a good job of setting the scene whilst telling you virtually nothing about the film's plot. You can make out the voices of Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor) and Jeremy Irons (Alfred) in the trailer:

First look photos of Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Eisenberg as Luthor have also been released:


David Ayer's Suicide Squad movie has had its first readthrough with the director releasing this cast picture:

Alongside previously announced cast members Will Smith, Jai Courtney, Margot Robbie and Cara Delevigne, the film will feature Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (rumoured to be playing Killer Croc), Jim Parrack and Ike Barinholtz. Joel Kinnanan will take the role of Rick Flagg as Tom Hardy has had to withdraw from the movie, whilst Viola Davis is confirmed as Amanda Waller. Rapper Common has also been cast in an unspecified role.

There's one noticeable omission from this cast line-up: Jared Leto (who may have been taking the picture). However, the first picture of Leto in his Joker make-up has been released and it's pretty bloody terrifying:

Ayer has also released a full shot of Task Force X in costume:

From left to right, you have Adam Beach (Slipknot), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Cara Delevingne (Enchantress), Karen Fukuhara (Katana), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flagg), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Will Smith (Deadshot), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc) and Jay Hernandez (El Diablo).

Here's a better look at Will Smith's Deadshot costume:


Sony and Marvel Studios have struck a deal to allow Spider-Man to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sony will still finance, distribute, own and have creative control of the films. Spider-Man will appear in an unspecified movie (rumoured to have been Avengers: Age Of Ultron but now likely to now be Captain America: Civil War) whilst he will get his own solo film in 2017. Kevin Feige has confirmed that this solo film will not be another origin story (thankfully) although it does look as if the role will be recast as the character will be in 'the high school years'. This is a shame because Andrew Garfield was pretty good as Spidey. Let feverish speculation over casting commence!


There's been a change of director for Gal Gadot's solo Wonder Woman film, due in 2017, as Patty Jenkins has replaced Michelle MacLaren. MacLaren left the project in mid-April citing 'creative disagreements'. Jenkins was originally due to direct Thor: The Dark World but withdrew due to 'creative differences' and was replaced by Alan Taylor.


Directors Joe and Anthony Russo will be in the driving seat(s) for Avengers: Infinity War. Joss Whedon will not be returning for the third and fourth Avengers movies, handing over the reins to the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. Chris Evans has dropped a hint that he will appear in both films which will be filmed back-to-back over a period of around nine months.


Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lana Condor and Ben Turner have all been cast as younger versions of mutants in Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse. Sheridan will play a young version of Cyclops whilst Game Of Thrones' Turner will be Jean Grey. Shipp is Storm, Smit-McPhee is taking on the role of Nightcrawler, Condor is Jubilee, and Eastenders' Turner is Angel. Lucas Till is returning as Havok and Olivia Munn will also join the cast as Psylocke.

Pictures of Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler have been released:

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters and Nicholas Hoult will reprise their roles from X-Men: Days Of Future Past whilst Rose Byrne will also appear as Moira MacTaggert.

Producer Simon Kinberg has stated that the events of X-Men: Apocalypse will have an impact on spin-off films Gambit and Deadpool.


Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish's contribution to Ant-Man will be recognised as a dispute over screenwriting credits has now been solved. Wright was originally due to direct but left over 'creative differences' to be replaced by Peyton Reed. Adam McKay and Paul Rudd rewrote Wright and Cornish's screenplay and all four will share screenplay credit, with Wright and Cornish also receiving a 'story by' credit.


It's going to be another star-studded Marvel film as there are several cast members returning from previous films. Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo and Scarlett Johansson will star opposite Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans. Elizabeth Olsen will reprise her role as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch from Avengers: Age Of Ultron while Daniel Bruhl joins the cast as Baron Zemo and Chadwick Boseman makes his first MCU appearance as Black Panther.It is widely expected that Marvel's Spider-Man will make his appearance in this film, with a casting decision due by the end of May.


Josh Brolin will return as Thanos and Karen Gillan will return as Nebula, but Lee Pace won't as Ronan is very much dead. James Gunn returns to direct with the main cast- Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Dave Bautista- also returning. The film is due for 2017.


Ryan Reynolds has posted a picture of himself in Deadpool's costume:

Reynolds will reprise his role from X-Men Origins: Wolverine alongside Gina Carano as Angel Dust, Morena Baccarin as Copycat, TJ Miller as Weasel, Ed Skrein as Ajax and Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead (yes, really!)

The film is expected in early 2016.


Nicole Perlman (Guardians Of The Galaxy) and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out) have been confirmed as screenwriters for the project which is intriguingly billed as Carol Danvers' 'first solo cinematic appearance' (suggesting she may appear in an earlier Marvel film). Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain have been linked to the lead role of Carol Danvers but no official casting has been announced. 

Interestingly, both Blunt and Chastain have previously been cast in MCU films but had to withdraw. Chastain was due to play Dr. Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3 (but the role was then taken by Rebecca Hall) whilst Blunt was previously offered the roles of Black Widow and then Peggy Carter but had to turn them down due to scheduling.