Crashing the Sausage Party

Sausage Party may be lewd, crude and beyond lowbrow, however, it should be congratulated for doing something new and refreshing within the animated genre and giving audiences a different kind of movie to the formulaic mostly average fair that has been presented throughout this summer’s blockbuster period.

We’ve had the usual assortment of remakes (Ghostbusters/Ben Hur) and sequels (Independence Day: Resurgence) none of which have proved revolutionary. The only films to have put a dent in the worldwide box office since June have both been animated: Finding Dory ($945m) and The Secret Life of Pets ($766m).

Suicide Squad ($678m and rising) and X-Men: Apocalypse ($543m) have also done respectful business for comic book movies but none come close to Captain America: Civil War earlier this year. Could it be a knock on effect from the Olympics? Could it be that our On-demand services and television shows are so good now that it really has to be an event movie to merit going to the movies? Or could it just be that this year’s selection of films has been neither good nor original enough for audiences yearning to see something new and exciting?

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Not that I’m saying Sausage Party is anything more than an entertaining and at times hilarious comedy but it’s an original idea. Hollywood studios seem to be so terrified of producing anything other than known quantities over the last few years it takes a very long time and a lot of lobbying from a team of people to get anything off the ground. It took at least six years for Seth Rogen before a studio would take a chance on Sausage Party. This isn’t an isolated incident, Ryan Reynolds waited about a decade before he could finally play the Deadpool he wanted to play thereby making one of the films of the year in the process.

Maybe it’s a case of both these movies being deemed too adult for general audiences but surely if a film is good enough it doesn’t matter what certificate it is anymore. Gone are the days when a higher certificate means the death knell of a movie. Obviously the family favourites will still take the majority of money at the box office but films like Deadpool have gone on to become very economically fruitful whilst still garnering huge critical acclaim and retaining its essence.

Sausage Party also stays true to itself and although it’s easy to dismiss it as an excuse for Rogen to get all his buddies along and swear down a microphone for a healthy pay cheque there is a message underneath. A very well crafted metaphor for religion, which is portrayed in a very interesting manner. It may at times be rammed down the audience’s throat at times but the notion in which different foods represent a diverse range of races, religions and characteristics adds an extra layer to a film in which a vaginal douche seeks revenge on a sausage that denied him access to his ‘promised land’.

Yes, it’s occasionally stoner comedy at its most puerile and predictable but Sausage Party took a chance, was very enjoyable and funny and a perfect film if you just want to have a little fun at the cinema. Film is at risk of taking itself so seriously at the moment, and whether is likes it or not, is at war for audience attention with the Golden Age of television, so maybe, we need a few more risk taking movies that aren’t afraid to take a few chances even if they may offend some people.

The Next 007

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SPECTRE is only a few months away. The anticipation is growing with intriguing trailers and the rumours over the coveted job of the singer of the iconic title music in full flow. Another question that has been heavily discussed is that of who will continue to play 007 after Daniel Craig has left the franchise. Originally, Craig was going to exit after Skyfall, but is reuniting with director Sam Mendes for SPECTRE which is frequently being touted as his last outing in the role. He will leave the franchise with not only his dignity intact after a barrage of criticism before Casino Royale but with the honour of reigniting the series and making it something new and exciting.

Speculation about the new Bond is already well underway with pretty much every actor working in the film industry being suggested as a possible replacement. Look at the betting odds and you’ll find such names as Peter Dinklage, Vinnie Jones and even John Travolta further down the odds list but here are some of the people more likely to fill Bond’s shoes…

The Bookies Favourite – Damien Lewis

Damian Lewis as Nicholas "Nick" Brody in Homeland (Season 2, Episode 12). - Photo:  Kent Smith/SHOWTIME - Photo ID:  Homeland_212_1559
Damian Lewis as Nicholas “Nick” Brody in Homeland (Season 2, Episode 12). – Photo: Kent Smith/SHOWTIME – Photo ID: Homeland_212_1559

Originally touted as a dark horse, in recent months Damien Lewis emerged as the bookie’s favourite for the next reincarnation of James Bond. You can see what appeals about him; in Homeland and Wolf Hall he has exhibited his wide acting range. He has a strong voice and domineering presence whilst being charming and likeable. But with the swathes of criticism aimed at Daniel Craig of him being blond how will everyone react if a redhead takes over the role?

The Fan’s Favourite – Idris Elba

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Idris Elba was once almost nailed on to get the role of James Bond before Craig departed. The current 007 has stated how great he would be in the role. Elba is hugely popular with film critics and audiences alike and everyone thought the time had come to finally get out of the dark ages and present Bond as black.

Sir Roger Moore, however, thought otherwise and infamously vocalised the small minority that still doesn’t want a black actor stating that Bond should be “English-English”. With this slip of bigotry not only did Moore damage his own reputation somewhat but he seems to forget that his predecessor in the role was Scottish and his replacement was a Welshman.

If we can suspend belief and allow the fact that Bond has been played by a variety of people of varying nationalities why can’t Idris Elba play him. Elba admitted recently that “If there was any chance of me getting Bond it’s gone” but with his cool personality and touch of class I’m hoping this isn’t the case.

The Traditional Choice – Henry Cavill

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If you were a casting director it is clear that Henry Cavill is the no brainer choice for the part. He’s suave, sophisticated, British (from the proud island nation of Jersey) and according to my wife “No man should ever be that good looking.” He’s got everything and almost got the job back in 2005 for Casino Royale. There was a time that he could have easily given up after not only being second choice for Bond, but also for Batman and The Man of Steel for Superman Returns in 2006. His persistence paid off and he eventually became Superman a few years later whilst cementing himself as a real Hollywood A-Lister. His upcoming role as Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E will no doubt showcase his abilities acting in a spy role and you’d think he’d be the best choice.

The No Brainer – Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy attends "The Drop" premiere on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Tom Hardy’s name keeps cropping up as one of the favourites for the role and it’s clear why. He has been excellent in every role he’s played and would be remarkably cool as Bond. It would also maintain a nice consistency that Craig’s replacement would also come from the excellent Layer Cake. He’d bring a real energy and intensity to the role and has stated he’d love to play the role, especially if Christopher Nolan, who is eager to direct a Bond film is on board which would be a dream match. Audiences would be massively on board with Hardy and he’d look right at home in that tuxedo.

The Juggernaut – Michael Fassbender

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Why wouldn’t people consider one of the best actors of the last ten years? Michael Fassbinder’s eclectic body of work has demonstrated his huge acting abilities. His role as Lt. Archie Hicox in Inglorious Basterds is a great of example of the Irishman looking suave and doling out the charm. He would be a natural choice and would lend a real authority to the character.The question is would he want to dedicate himself to another franchise after playing Magneto in X-Men?

The Oscar Winner – Eddie Redmayne

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a British actor who wins a Best Actor Oscar will be considered for James Bond. The casting directors could do worse than Eddie Redmayne as well. Although many would deem him perhaps too ‘soft’ for the role the charm and style is certainly there. He’s probably got a lot on his plate with upcoming roles in The Danish Girl and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but who knows?

The Outsider – Kit Harington

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With the uncertainty of how long again before we see Jon Snow, if ever again, on Game of Thrones we can assume that Kit Harington is going to want to embrace a variety of roles in the near future. So, why not go for the most coveted role in the film industry and audition for James Bond? He has already dipped his toe in the espionage genre with Spooks: The Greater Good and shown his flair for action in Pompeii. He’s well liked and has the right hair colour for all the die-hard Bond fans so why not? He’s certainly one to consider.

These are just a few of the candidates, just like Damien Lewis, someone else could just one day became the favourite and steal the role from under everyone’s nose. Other actors suggested for the role include Dan Stevens, Richard Armitage, Jamie Dornan, Dominic Cooper and Tom Hiddlestone. Until the decision is reached though, at least we’ve got SPECTRE to look forward to in October!

This blog post is dedicated to my wife Hannah. Without whom I would have never watched all the Bond films 🙂

Comedy Actors In Superhero Movies

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Most of the time, in comic book movies, we like our superheroes mighty and daring, but, also likeable and often witty. In our villains we want an evil calculated side whilst desiring a sense of humour that is smart and fiendish. Both of these traits suggest that there should be more comedy actors in superhero and villain roles. Comedy is often mentioned by great actors as being the hardest thing to do right. However, the past has proven that it can be an absolute disaster to hire a comedic actor to play your superhero or villain unless they are mocking and parodying.

The most notorious case of a villain being cast in a comedic role was Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever. In 1995, Carrey could of been in whatever movie he so wished. He was unequivocal box office gold and producers knew anything he was in would make massive amounts of money. However, Batman Forever was a critical disaster and almost ruined the franchise before Batman and Robin plodded along to finish the job several years later.

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That’s not to say that Carrey was the worst thing in Batman Forever, the massive influence from the campiness of the 1960’s show that strayed away from the world created in Batman and Batman Returns by Tim Burton and the horrible chemistry between the leading actors Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman and Chris O’Donnell, also has to take the blame somewhat. Carrey has a body of work that any actor would envy, both in comedy with The Mask, Dumb and Dumber and the wickedly dark and massively underrated The Cable Guy, and drama, for Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and The Truman Show in which he should have won best actor ahead of Roberto Benigini in 1999.

However, looking back at Batman Forever, you see how miscast he was. It was like director Joel Schumacher let him do whatever he wanted on set and just rolled the cameras whilst he improvised continuously. His moments and jokes in the film go on too long and make The Riddler little more than a farce rather than a threat. The Riddler should be Batman’s psychological equal and challenge Bruce Wayne’s intellect with his genius and cunning. Instead, he just dances around the room with Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face and doing weird accents whilst prancing and laughing.

There is a big parallel for me with Richard Pryor’s casting in Superman III in which director Richard Lester let him improvise for huge amounts of time which turned the film’s tone into something strange and centred the movie on the story of Pryor’s character as opposed to that of Superman. Superman very much became the second string character in his own movie because Richard Pryor was beloved by the American public and directors thought he could be shoehorned in to lend humour to the franchise. It would be like Kevin Hart or Rob Schneider being the sidekick to Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel in the upcoming Batman v Superman. Just writing this now, I remember, with regret that Rob Schneider already played a sidekick to Sly Stallone’s Judge Dredd…

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Other cases include that of Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet. Like Jim Carrey and Richard Pryor you could say that Rogen is also the comedian of his generation, he is always guaranteed to make a huge amount of money at the box office with his comedies and he is massively well liked, some would go as far to say he has been the era defining comedian of the past decade. Unfortunately, the move to a superhero film didn’t suit him. It’s a lot more likely that the disastrous outcome of the film was not because of Seth Rogen and his inability to be serious or understand the tone of the movie. It’s a lot more to do with the many production and personnel issues on the movie.

Rogen has stated in interviews that when he wrote the movie with co-writer Evan Goldberg they had an idea that started well and began to change as the budget escalated. The screenplay was often heavily scrutinized by studio executives, nipping needlessly at pieces of dialogue. This explains the confusing tone of The Green Hornet which is constantly changing. Director Michel Gondry, better known for his excellent independent films, had also never worked on a big budget movie before. Even though the same can be said of Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, at least he had the support from Steven Spielberg and studio executives who knew what they could expect and just wanted to make the best film they could.

The Green Hornet was not Rogen’s fault, like Batman Forever wasn’t Jim Carrey’s, but they’re the ones who get left with the mess while the director’s, the writers and the rest of the cast go about their careers without any criticism by the mainstream audiences. Because they are actors more known for another genre, they are pinpointed and given the most criticism as clueless hacks tell them to go back to “what they do best”. Although not strictly a comic actor you could argue Ryan Reynolds got a similar treatment as both Deadpool in the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which he is atoning for with his forthcoming standalone movie, and the perennially derided The Green Lantern.

Which brings me to Marvel’s newest offering Ant-Man. It’s been over a ten year wait as the baton of director has been passed from Edgar Wright to Peyton Reed but throughout the entirety of Ant-Man’s production history the lead actor has always stayed the same. Paul Rudd is an actor of immense quality and is known mostly as a comedy actor; it is the genre that he has appeared in most and if you were to think of three Paul Rudd films off the top of your head the chances are they would be comedies.

Both the filmmakers and Rudd are taking a huge risk with Ant-Man because if this film flops, it will flop hard, considering Marvel are currently on such a winning streak. Sadly is would be harder for Rudd to recover than Marvel, it won’t ruin his career but it will be a blot on an otherwise wonderful oeuvre. He will forever be known as Ant-Man which would always have those negative connotations and would be the face of the Marvel movie that didn’t quite meet the standards of the others. Some people survive the bad reviews, comedic actor or not (George Clooney in Batman and Robin) and some don’t (Brandon Routh in Superman Returns and arguably Halle Berry in Catwoman) we will see what the audiences think in a few weeks’ time.

What Marvel are great at doing in terms of casting is hiring actors who are deemed serious actors, and then add the comedy as opposed to hiring comedians and then writing the script to suit them. The Marvel writers make the characters witty and funny, and that is due to great writing and the charisma of the actors, especially the likes of Robert Downey Jr. But it’s fair to say Paul Rudd could boast the same amount of charisma as any of The Avengers.

These days you don’t see too many comedians in these films. When people like Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler, Ricky Gervais, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel are making millions and millions of pounds with their movies why would they want to risk sullying their career with a massive flop of a superhero film. They don’t need that grief, especially as the superhero movies now move into the deep echelons of darkness; there may not even be room for these talented actors within the genre.

I think Paul Rudd is going to excellent as Ant-Man, whether the film will be equally great is another matter. He can take a ray of light from the fact that before The Guardians of The Galaxy last year, Chris Pratt was primarily a comic actor with Parks and Rec, The Five Year Engagement and What’s Your Number, with only really cameo appearance in films like Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty to flex his acting chops, but has now established himself into the go to action hero for casting directors in Hollywood.

Movies Banned Across The World

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I have always been interested in film censorship. I wrote my university dissertation on the Video Nasties of the 1980’s and am fascinated by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) website which I peruse frequently. I think it is a case of being interested in what is deemed suitable or not and why this is the case. Whether its sex, violence or bad language, how do we know what people can tolerate and put an age restriction on it or even ban it completely. Obviously this is different according to the censors, context and even the circumstances in a particular country.

Therefore, I decided to look at what films are deemed to be unsuitable all over the world, especially the movies that we would think to be mostly innocuous. No amount of cuts by the censor could prevent it from being banned in a certain country. I’m bypassing the movies that would be banned for obvious reasons, mostly those of sexual violence (Cannibal Holocaust, A Serbian Movie, I Spit on Your Grave, etc) so I decided to share with you all some that you probably wouldn’t expect to see in the restricted zone.

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Schindler’s List – Spielberg’s Oscar winning masterpiece of modern cinema is a very hard watch due to its subject matter and intense visuals. However, it is probably one of the most important films of all time. This isn’t seen to be the case in Indonesia where censors banned it in 1994, some cite that it is due to the film being sympathetic to the Jewish cause and there is no place for it in a heavily Muslim populated region. The National Censorship Board insist however it is due to too much nudity and violence.

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Brief EncounterBrief Encounter is, by today’s standards, massively innocuous in its treatment of an emotional love affair between two married people who meet at a train station. There’s no sex scene or heavy petting, it’s all implied within the dialogue. However, this is still too much in Ireland where the film is still banned because the movie is too “permissive of adultery”. This is a big surprise, especially if you’ve seen the movie, which is rated PG in England, but they seem to be sticking to their guns as the ban doesn’t seem to be lifting any time soon despite all the highly sexed films we see today.

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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: Probably not too surprising, the ban has still not been lifted in Kazakhstan (as well as Russia) where it was deemed offensive. This would be in part to the opening and closing scenes that portrayed the locals as poor and stupid or rapists. Countries all over the world have been portrayed with negative and unflattering stereotypes but this was just deemed too far from Sasha Baron Cohen. Kazakhstan, however have since thanked Borat for the boost to their economy from tourism as a result of the movie’s success.

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Zoolander: Another set of locals to get offended by western comedy was that of the Malaysian government who didn’t see the funny side of the movie’s plot to assassinate the Malaysian Prime Minister. I don’t think they were too impressed with the depiction of the sweat shops visited by Derek Zoolander either. The country has form in this area who have also banned Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

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The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning portrayal of the life of Jordan Belfort pushes all the boundaries, but looked like it pushed a few too many in Kenya where the Classification Board banned the movie citing “extreme scenes of nudity, sex, debauchery, hedonism and cursing” as the main reasons. It is against the law to watch the film within the boundaries of the country and arrests were made last year when pirate copies started to circulate which could have resulted in a couple of years in prison.

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2012: Roland Emmerich’s film was not banned for being an average disaster movie but for showing the apocalypse happening in the year 2012. Although the Mayans had this in their calendar as the end of humanity for a very long time the North Koreans had a different way of thinking. Because it was the hundredth year anniversary of the birth of ‘The Great Leader’ Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il declared it was the year that North Korea was to “open the grand gates to becoming a rising superpower”. Therefore watching a film about the world’s destruction would be highly inappropriate and anyone caught watching the film was to be prosecuted. Not really worth it in my opinion, they should watch The Road instead.

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The Simpsons Movie: Whether this one is genuine or not is a mystery as there isn’t enough written on the matter but apparently The Simpsons Movie and its TV show counterpart are both banned in Burma because the censors in the country don’t allow the colours yellow and red combined on screen. Baffling.

In Britain in America there are not that many films that don’t get past the censor these days, the only ones lately to have come up against some trouble here lately are The Human Centipede 2 and A Serbian Film, both of which required cuts. Every Classification Board knows the context of the society in which they live so they should be the best positioned to make these decisions but sometimes those decisions may be deemed questionable.

You Saw It Coming

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When you walk into a blockbuster movie in the present day, I think it is fair to say, we are not going in waiting to be as shocked and surprised like we used to. Most of the time a film’s trailers will give away large amounts of information, sometimes to the extent where the entire plot is revealed. From there each frame from trailers and sneak peaks are speculated about on message boards, blogs and social media until, if we wanted, we could all have a good idea of where the movie is going in a narrative and character sense. I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all, in fact, sometimes the anticipation and speculation outweighs the excitement derived from the actual film. What I am saying, that in this day and age the movie has to understand that a large chunk of its audience will have been exposed to its money shots and best lines of dialogue already, so instead of insulting their intelligence it’s all about embracing the predictability.

Predictability is not a bad thing, some would say it is connected with a film being boring. However, the ubiquity of a massive summer blockbuster and the marketing associated with it will not change. Jurassic World has handled this fantastically and is a great example of producing a film with the knowledge that everyone is going to have a good guess at the storyline and will have watched the trailers quite a few times.

In the last month, the marketing team behind Jurassic World has been hitting us hard. Trailers, TV Spots, merchandise, magazine covers and not to mention the app where you can build your own Jurassic World (if you have the money to buy the £40 packs of cards to play the game via in store purchasing) my point is, you know there’s a new Jurassic Park film coming out and you know the basis for the plot and have already seen the dinosaurs. Add this to the fact that a lot of people going to see this film have seen Jurassic Park I-III or at least the first one which Jurassic World mainly derives it ideas from. It all looked set up for a potential disappointment where we’ve seen it all before. But director Colin Trevorrow was probably aware that this would happen which is why he just went all out.

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The best case and point would be that of the new park attraction, the hybrid dinosaur Indominus Rex. The early trailers tried to mask the appearance of this creature but with the merchandise coming out many months before in Lego form and as its design was starting to be shown online and on magazines, the cat was out the bag and from that stage you might as well show it as much as you can in the film. The Indominus is shown very early in the movie, unlike Jaws which this movie borrows from in some respects. Trevorrow mentioned in an interview these days you don’t get the luxury of just one trailer like Jaws had 40 years ago so you can keep your best secrets hidden, so, to his credit, he just went all guns blazing and it worked wonderfully. Also, the main reason the suspense was so great in Jaws was down to the mechanical shark not working and so Spielberg had no choice but to keep the shark hidden for the majority of the film.

In Jurassic World we knew the raptors we’re going to be smart and Chris Pratt was going to be their trainer, also the Mosasaur was going to play some part, as we also knew that Bryce Dallas Howard holding a flare in in front of an opening of a door can only mean one thing is coming up. The plot was massively derivative of the first film where two children, who are related to somebody very important in the running of the park are left to alone with carnivorous dinosaurs. However, it does it in a way that is still entertaining and because there isn’t the element of surprise that Jaws or the original Jurassic Park had in 1993, Jurrasic World presents us with huge amounts of action and a well written script from Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa.

This isn’t the only franchise in which the movies must up their game to survive at the box office. Although studios know that lots of people like the same thing presented, there has to be some difference, something new to keep us coming back to the cinema. Studios that have become complacent and have churned out the same rubbish all the time have suffered bad financial returns. People are not that easily fooled and many franchises have needed a reboot to survive or been destroyed completely (Terminator Salvation, Speed 2, Batman and Robin, Spiderman 3, etc.)

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A studio like Marvel has to keep upping its game to create a sense of something you haven’t seen before with the huge amount of films they have produced in such a short space of time. When we had Phase One with Iron Man, 1 & 2, Thor and Captain America, that all culminated in The Avengers which was ground breaking because of the build-up and the sheer scale of the movie. Now, with Avengers: Age of Ultron, new characters are being established to give the audience something new but through marketing and the previous films we have already seen so much in the last few years. That’s why Guardians of the Galaxy was so great, because it was such an original choice of comic to adapt compared to the normal Marvel universe. Age of Ultron was a well made film but it lacked surprises and didn’t do anything special, besides establishing the vision, to remedy the overused formula.

Jurassic World is a great movie though, whether my opinions are deep seated in nostalgia is one for everyone else to determine but it was so great to go into a movie in which I had seen the trailer to death and not be disappointed with the end product. I can only hope that it is the same with The Force Awakens. Although J.J Abrams does like to keep a lid on his films and not give too much away it’ll be a big ask in the world we live in now. At this moment, we’ll just have to speculate.

Stepping Into The Superman Series

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We all have gaps in our film watching knowledge. Whether you’re unfamiliar with La Nouvelle Vague, or haven’t seen a Woody Allen movie, there is always that allusive movie or series you keep meaning to spend a weekend with but never get around to it. With the best intentions we try and sit down and spend our precious time with the unfamiliar but ultimately it is so much easier to put on a Blu-Ray of Jurassic Park and just slump on the sofa.

Personally, I like to think I have a good grasp of a wide range of movies, but obviously there will be massive chasms of knowledge that I may have to fluke my way through. For example, you could count the number of Bollywood films I’ve watched on one hand and please don’t expect me to know a great deal about The Japanese New Wave movement because I’d probably just start to change the subject onto Star Wars. It’s not that I don’t enjoy and respect these movies, they’re purely gaps in my ongoing film education and I’m sure I’m not the only one out there to admit this.

I even have these gaps in popular film. It wasn’t until the last year in which my wife’s obsession for all things 007 compelled me to watch the entire series of James Bond films. Previously I had only seen Goldfinger and the Bronson/Craig movies post 1995. Looking back, I’m very glad I had somebody to share their enthusiasm otherwise I may have continued without watching them and wouldn’t have found out that the Timothy Dalton movies were actually really good and how politically incorrect many of them were. It’s great to watch something, especially something that a huge amount of people have seen already and make your own assessment of it.

This brings me to another very popular series in which I was only recently introduced to in its entirety. The Superman series of films that began in 1978 with Superman:The Movie and commenced with Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. I had already seen Superman Returns, that besides Kevin Spacey I didn’t enjoy very much and 2013’s Man of Steel, that besides the ridiculous amount of wanton destruction in the final third, I did enjoy very much. So, I went into Superman: The Movie with a basic idea of the mythos, the characters and Richard Donner’s other work but not much else. Here are my thoughts on Superman I-IV:

Superman: The Movie:

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Unlike today, movies weren’t afraid to have really long opening credits. A massive amount of names come speeding towards you in a space of 5 minutes as John William’s amazing score gets the audience ready for something epic. I’m really surprised that the opening scene shows General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his accomplices sent to The Phantom Zone where it is not referenced again until the next movie. It’s a really brave move to spend five minutes setting up a sequel in an already very long film with lots of exposition and although both Superman movies were shot simultaneously it is still an interesting move.

From there we get the origin story that looks like it inspired pretty much all that came after it and before you know it we have our Superman who is played sublimely by Christopher Reeve. In fact the whole film is excellently cast; Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Margot Kiddo and Jackie Cooper are all really inspired choices.

The special effects are really amazing for its time and although I’m watching it out of the period it was made and have therefore seen hundreds of bridges collapses and helicopter crashes in movies it still holds its own.

Unfortunately many of the dramatic and romantic scenes do feel very much of their era and feel a bit overlong. However, it’s a very likeable movie and although tonally it is all over the places sometimes it very much feels like a pioneering piece of work.

Superman II

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I watched the 1980 sequel without knowing much about the controversial shoot that seems to have haunted the production of Superman II. It’s a strange thing that there were so many issues on set between Richard Donner and producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind and it doesn’t show in the movie.

In fact I think Superman II is better than the first, it brings us two of the greatest villians in movie history Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and General Zod (Terence Stamp) and combines their two motivations to create a real force for Superman to deal with. There seems to be more at stake throughout the romantic scenes as Kal El must choose between his powers and Lois Lane and it’s ultimately sharper and funnier than the previous film.

They must have had an excellent editor because it really sounded chaotic behind the scenes. Richard Donner, director of the previous movie, and most of this film (he claims 75%) had a row with the producers over the final cut amongst other issues. They, in turn, hired another director, Richard Lester, who has his name as director on the finished movie. After this, many of the cast and crew including Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando, both of whom finished almost all their scenes under Donner refused to return. After Brando sued the Salkinds for $50 million, he had his scenes removed and Hackman had his role reduced and everything else was filmed with a body double.

We still don’t know for sure how much footage was shot by Donner or Lester, however in 2006 a Richard Donner cut with Brando’s scenes reinstated was released. What we do know is Richard Lester did come back for the sequel…

Superman III:

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Oh boy did Richard Lester come back for the sequel. A huge amount of what Richard Donner was trying to do in the first Superman was incorporating verisimilitude, which is placing a reality into the narrative of cinema, making it feel real, making it feel like a man can fly without it looking like he’s floating on wires. What Richard Lester incorporated was a slapstick, comedy tone. Superman III is a very different movie. No Brando, no Hackman and Margot Kiddo, another supporter of Richard Donner, is only present for about five minutes before she is sent off to cover a news story for the entirety of the film.

The opening scene is as campy as they come; I thought I was watching The Great Muppet Caper with the amount of pratfalls. Then we get to the “story” which is essentially Richard Pryor’s story, In fact it might as well be a Richard Pryor movie with Superman in the background. Don’t get me wrong, I love Richard Pryor, he is a comic genius, Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Brewster’s Millions are classics in my eyes but there is a time and a place for his comedies. For instance, you wouldn’t see Ricky Gervais as the lead in Avengers: Age of Ultron because it would dramatically alter the tone. On the making of documentary you can clearly see everyone, especially director Richard Lester is overawed by Pryor and let him improvise for minutes at a time despite how it might change the movie. It is very much a case of the star being bigger than the movie and the crew not knowing how to use his abilities.

Anyway, Richard Pryor, through a series of events embezzles money from his employer Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) and ends up building a super computer for him. Meanwhile, Superman goes bad after encountering some kryptonite and starts acting like a dick, blowing out the Olympic Torch and straightening up The Leaning Tower of Pisa for a laugh. It all culminates in a fight between his two selfs in a scrap yard.

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Probably, as a comedy it would be regarded as a classic but it looks like a series of films that as declined and died due to the greed of the producers and the self indulgence of some of the cast and crew.

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace:

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Not to worry, every franchise has that film where the standards are not as high. Superman IV promised so much more with Gene Hackman and Margot Kiddo back as Lex Luthor and Lois Lane respectively and the director of The Ipcress File, Sidney. J. Furie at the helm. Surely Superman III was just a blip…unfortunately Superman IV is just as bad if not worse. It clocks in a half an hour shorter than the other movies and pretty much every member of the cast and crew knew it was going to be a disaster. The Salkinds had already sold the franchise, thinking it had run its course and the budget was being slashed in every way by the new production company Cannon Films.

What little story there is one big, heavy handed Cold War metaphor. Lex Luthor is broken out of prison by his annoying nephew, they then steal a strand of Superman’s hair and attach it to a nuclear missile that Superman throws into the sun. From this, comes Nuclear Man, a one dimensional muscle man. He fights Superman a few times and then I think his powers are taken away when there is an eclipse. Oh, and there is a subplot where The Daily Planet is taken over and made into a tabloid newspaper. Apparently there are an extra 45 minutes of footage including another Nuclear Man. Luckily I will never witness it in my life.

Well, there you go. My first viewings of this classic series and it is very much a case of two great films and two terrible films with a massive production battle in the middle. Whatever the outcome I still enjoyed the movies for myself and if, next year, Superman v Batman references Superman III at all, I’ll get the reference!

The Luke’s Film Blog Awards 2015

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The time has come again for my favourite blog of the year in which I can look back upon all those great movies from the past 12 months and decide who will receive a Luke’s Film Blog award. Some have argued that 2014 hasn’t exactly been a vintage year for film; however, there was still a huge amount to enjoy and to choose from. With the awards season already in full swing, and with no real consistency in some of the key categories, including Best Actor and Best Director, it is a very exciting and unpredictable time. Hopefully, my personal choices will celebrate some of those in contention for Academy Awards and mention those whom have been overlooked in the last few months. So, please read on and discover who has excelled and enticed this humble film blogger this year:

Best Film 

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A few months ago, when I was in the early stages of thinking of the films I’d enjoyed over the year I thought of The Grand Budapest Hotel and thought it would never get near an awards ceremony because it was released so early in the year. I was both shocked and delighted in equal measure when I discovered how many various nominations it had attained. For a film to have come out this time last year and still be in contention for some of the top prizes is usually unheard of. However, it is a film with a certain magic about it. A spectacular ensemble of a cast, headed by a delightful Ralph Fiennes, and Wes Anderson’s wonderful script and direction are just a few of the reasons that it would stay in the mind long after its theatrical release. There isn’t a more innovative auteur working today than Wes Anderson. The Grand Budapest is vibrant, colourful with effortlessly beautiful cinematography throughout that gives the film a unique originality lacking in many Hollywood productions today. The dialogue is sharp, witty and ultimately it’s a great story. It’s a film I can go back to again and again and enjoy new things, whether it’s a small line I’ve missed or a miniscule aspect of the mise-en-scene. Although it was tough to decide against the likes of Birdman, Interstellar and Calvary it is a truly deserving winner of this and any other award it accumulates.

Best Director 

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Birdman was a real treat of a film; original, intelligent and very funny. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu did an outstanding job of building up a huge amount of intensity in the confined area of its theatre setting. The idea of having the movie shot in very long takes worked so well and both Inarritu and his cinematopgher Emmanuel Lubezki should be applauded for that. It gives Birdman a very natural and realistic feel. Inarritu must have asked a lot of his performers to cater to the technical nature of the movie but they all certainly delivered to his high standards.  It’s different to his other movies that have been in contention for awards in the past, the gripping 21 Grams and overrated Babel but Birdman must certainly be his masterpiece.

Best Actor

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Brendan Gleeson is an actor who gives consistently fantastic performances but is rarely given much of a mention when awards season comes around. In recent years he has been outstanding in In Bruges and The Guard and he re-teamed with the latter’s director John Michael McDonagh in Calvary. Gleeson plays an Irish priest, who is told in confession he will be killed in a week, he must deal with the issues surrounding religion in the modern day and his own personal problems, not to mention the problems of his congregation as the date of his doom marches towards him. Gleeson is believable in the role and very likeable with the most subtle of glances giving the character real depth, but there is also a great pain at times that he pulls off wonderfully.  It is both a terrific film and my favourite performance of the year.

Best Actress

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Although this role didn’t receive a huge amount of praise because she has been so good in other things recently I feel that Anne Hathaway deserves some recognition for her role in Interstellar. Hathaway Plays it a lot straighter than she usually does as Biotechnologist Amelia Brand and loses the glamour we usually associate herself with in other roles. She is really developing as an actress and this role adds another element of versatility, building upon roles such as Fantine in Les Misarables. The character is believable and has great chemistry with Matthew McConaughey. She’s a very strong female character with a drive and purpose and played excellently by Hathaway.

Best Supporting Actor

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The supporting actor category of any awards has always been a tricky one as one must always decipher if an actor is a lead or a supporting role. It is sometimes the case that a definite lead will sometimes find themselves in this category, such as Steve Carrell for Foxcatcher. However, although Edward Norton can very well hold up a film by himself, he is my best supporting actor for his role in Birdman. Lately, Norton has been in a great deal of comedy roles including Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel and has demonstrated a real talent for it. Although his performance in Birdman seems merely idiosyncratic there is a lot more depth, hiding underneath and Norton has a real talent for delivering dialogue with his own unique style. His performance in Birdman is still, at times, as intense as Fight Club or American History X and Norton has a wonderful unpredictability and likeability to him.

Best Supporting Actress

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Scarlett Johansson has had one hell of a year; with leading performances in both Under The Skin and Lucy she has been extremely busy. She has also had time to appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as Black Widow (Aka Natasha Romanoff) where she was fantastic. She has developed her character over the last few Marvel films to give Black Widow her own unique character so she doesn’t just fade into the background. Her partnership with Captain America played by Chris Evans really delivers and I look forward to seeing her in Avengers: Age of Ultron in a few months’ time.

Best Original Screenplay

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Last year, Gravity came very close to winning the Best Picture Oscar but was beaten by 12 Years a Slave. However, it did still win a huge amount of awards. Whether this is the reason Interstellar has failed to take the Oscar nominations by storm I don’t know. The thought of two science fiction films doing well in two years may be overkill for the Academy. However, Interstellar was a film I thoroughly enjoyed and respected. It had a very intelligent script that was so full of original ideas that it could have lost many of its audience in the telling but didn’t. Written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan with much of the physics coming from scientific consultant Kip Thorne Interstellar was not only the story of finding a new planet and travelling through wormholes but that of a family and these two themes combined to make a great script. It’s clever, inspiring and funnier than a lot of Nolan films before with TARs providing a great deal of the comic relief. There is always a risk that the script can get lost with so many special effects but there is no danger of that and there are real moments of intensity and poignancy throughout.

Best Adapted Screenplay

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Frank was based on a book called ‘Oh Blimey’ by author Jon Ronson. Ronson had once been in a band alongside the eponymous Frank (Sidebottom, who was the alter ego persona of Chris Sievey). This is an adaptation of what he encountered during his time with the band and although the majority of it was fictionalised for the book there is a certain reality that remains. Written by Ronson and Peter Straughan the script has some great set pieces, very well written characters and a real journey for the lead played by Domhall Gleeson. The way in which Frank (played by Michael Fassbender) is presented is intriguing and his story slowly comes out in a very moving way. Frank also conveys the quirky narrative in a way that the audience can still become involved and is a great deal of fun.

Best Ensemble

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You just have to look at the poster for The Grand Budapest Hotel and you are wondering how all of these actors can fit into one movie. A collection of Wes Anderson favourites old and new collaborate to make a superbly acted film. The names just roll off the tongue: Fiennes, Brody, Goldblum, Murray, Dafoe, Wilson, Law, Schwartzman, Ronan, Norton, Swinton, Wilkinson etc. Combined with a magnificent breakthrough performance from Tony Revolori as Zero this is truly the cast of the year.

Best Superhero Movie

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This was one of the trickiest categories this year because there have been so many stand out Superhero movies throughout the year. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an amazing, darker look at the next phase of Marvel whereas Bryan Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise with Days of Future Past yielded successful results, both critically and at the box office. However, for its humour, innovation and great script this year the award goes to The Guardians of the Galaxy. A mix of wonderful casting and razor sharp dialogue has catapulted one of the more obscure Marvel entities into the public mainstream and shows you don’t need a the most well-known superheroes to hold a film.

So there are the Luke’s Film Blog awards for the last year. Who knows what will be here next year, maybe Jurassic World, The Avengers:Age of Ultron or Star Wars: The Force Awakens perhaps. It may even be some movies I haven’t heard of yet and will surprise us all. Nobody knows but I can’t wait to watch these films and ultimately find out.

Feel like reminiscing? Here are some links to older Luke’s Film Blog awards:

Luke’s Film Blog Awards 2014

Luke’s Film Blog Awards 2013

Luke’s Film Blog Awards 2012