The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Comic Book Movie Round-Up: July 2018

It's been quite a while since we've done one of these and I figured- before this year's San Diego International Comic-Con (where there's usually a shedload of news)- I'd clear the decks and get caught up with a lot of comic book movie news from the last few months. 

Oh, by the way, there may be potential spoilers ahead. Don't say you weren't warned!


Whilst Marvel won't have a presence at this year's Comic-Con, there's still plenty of news to share about their upcoming slate.

Captain Marvel has finished shooting. Joining Brie Larson - who will play Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel- is Samuel L. Jackson will reprise his role as  Nick Fury for the ninth time on screen. Because it's set in the 1990s, he won't have the iconic eyepatch. Former MCU participants Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, and Clark Gregg will reprise their roles as Korath, Ronan the Accuser, and Agent Phil Coulson respectively. 

New cast members include Ben Mendelsohn, Gemma Chan, and Jude Law (who is playing Danvers' mentor Walter Lawson a.k.a. Mar-Vell), whilst multiple Oscar-nominated actress Annette Bening  has reportedly been cast in an unknown role. Captain Marvel is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and will be released in early 2019.

The title of Avengers 4 is still shrouded in mystery- or is it? Reports suggest that the full title may be Avengers: End Game. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch- who was worked on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War- updated his website to list Avengers 4 under that title before quickly changing it back. 

The sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming is going to be called Spider-Man: Far From Home (which was 'leaked' by Tom Holland and then confirmed by Kevin Feige). The film that will kick off Phase 4 of the MCU, it will see Peter Parker on a trip around the world, fighting bad guys. Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, and Michael Keaton will all reprise their roles from the original film, whilst Jake Gyllenhaal is down to play villain Mysterio. It has been confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch WON'T be appearing as Doctor Strange in this movie. 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 is about to enter pre-production. Once again written and directed by James Gunn (who has already delivered a draft script), it's due to start shooting early 2019- most likely for a 2020 release. Gunn has said that Vol. 3 ISN'T set before Infinity War, and that it will 'end this iteration' of the Guardians team. It'll also 'complete the story of the three films'.

There's a standalone Black Widow movie coming - and it's already got a director. Cate Shortland will be taking the reins, with Scarlett Johannson reprising her role as Natasha Romanoff. This will be the first solo female-directed MCU film. 

Kevin Feige has also teased a sequel to Doctor Strange, but no firm details given other than that. 


DC WILL be presenting at Comic-Con this year, so expect a lot of hype and some cool trailers and such from their upcoming roster. 

Expected in the UK on 14th December 2018, Aquaman is directed by James Wan. Jason Momoa will reprise his role from Justice League, facing off against Patrick Wilson as Aquaman's villainous half-brother Orm Marius (also known as Ocean Master). Other cast members include Amber Heard as Mera, Temuera Morrison as Thomas Curry, Randall Park as Dr. Stephen Shin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko, and Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna (Aquaman's mother). Several official pictures of various cast members have been released:

Directed by David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation, Lights Out). SHAZAM! will hit cinemas on April 5th 2019. Shazam is a bit of an odd choice, as it isn't particularly well known outside of comic-book circles. The basic premise is a young boy, Billy Batson, is granted superpowers by a mysterious wizard and- when he says the magic word 'Shazam!'- transforms into an adult with strength, speed and various other powers. Zachary Levi has been cast as the adult Billy, with Asher Angel playing him as a child. 

Djimon Hounsou will be 'crossing the floor' and going from the MCU to DCEU (actually, just like Zachary Levi) as he'll be playing The Wizard, the mysterious sorcerer who bestows super powers upon the young Billy. Dwayne Johnson has been cast as Shazam's nemesis Black Adam, but reportedly won't be in the film at all (but may appear in his own film, or possibly Suicide Squad 2). Other cast members include Dylan Grazer, and Mark Strong who will play the villain Dr. Sivana.

After Shazam, we get Wonder Woman 1984, in cinemas in November next year. Directed by Patty Jenkins, this will see Diana come to America to deal with a new threat. Gal Gadot will reprise her role as Diana/Wonder Woman, as will Chris Pine- although quite how that'll work given Steve Trevor died at the end of the first film is anyone's guess at the moment. In terms of villains, Kristen Wiig has been cast as Dr. Barbara Minerva (a.k.a. Cheetah). Pedro Pascal has been cast in an unknown role, and there are hopes to get original Wonder Woman Lynda Carter a role in the film (which would be frankly splendid)

Margot Robbie will reprise her role as Harley Quinn in Birds Of Prey, which she describes as an 'R-rated girl gang film'. Joining Harley in this iteration of the girl gang will be Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Huntress (Helena Bertinelli), Cassandra Cain, and Renee Montoya. The villain is supposedly a Batman comics villain who hasn't yet appeared on the big screen. No other casting has yet been announced. Birds Of Prey will be directed by Cathy Yan, and written by Christina Hodson. 

The Batman, the Matt Reeves-directed solo adventure, is still part of the DCEU plan (for now). However, it looks increasingly likely that Ben Affleck will not be playing the Caped Crusader in it. Whilst nothing official has been announced (which might change come this weekend), rumour has it that the film will focus on a younger Batman- and may contain The Penguin as the main villain. 

The Flash solo movie is still on the cards, with Spider-Man: Homecoming writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein directing. Ezra Miller is still on to play Barry Allen and the rumours have it that the film will heavily adapt the Flashpoint storyline- where Barry creates a terrible alternate world when he tries to save his mother. Kiersey Clemons will make her debut as Iris West, after being cut from Justice League. 


Warner Brothers and DC have confirmed that Joaquin Phoenix will play the Joker in an upcoming film directed by Todd Phillips. This will be a gritty 80s origin story, but is unconnected to the wider DCEU. 

Current DCEU Joker Jared Leto is, however, taking a role in an offshoot of the MCU. He's been cast as the lead in Morbius The Living Vampire, a spinoff from Spider-Man (so in the same vein as the upcoming Venom). Daniel Espinosa is slated to direct. 

Another spinoff from the Spider-Man universe will be Silver & Black, focusing on the characters of Black Cat (Felicia Hardy) and Silver Sable. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood is attached, although no casting or release date has yet been announced. 

X-Men spin-off Dark Phoenix has been pushed back to February 14th 2019, to allow for reshoots. Directed by Simon Kinberg, Dark Phoenix focuses on the young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). Several members of the casts of the X-Men prequel trilogy (First Class, Days Of Future Past, and Apocalypse) will reprise their roles, with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Alexandra Shipp, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters and Olivia Munn all coming back. 

They'll be joined by Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain in a mystery role- but she's definitely not the alien empress Lilandra. 

Originally due April 2018, Josh Boone's New Mutants has also been pushed back to August 2nd 2019 (a second push-back from February 2019), not only to allow for reshoots, but to include a new character. Taking a more horror-themed route, the film will focus on a new generation of X-Men, to be played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Henry Zaga, Charlie Heaton, and Maisie Williams. 

I did say there was a lot to catch up on... No doubt there'll be much more to talk about once the dust settles from Comic-Con!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Review: Deadpool 2 (UK Cert 15)

2016's Deadpool introduced a different way of doing comic book movies. It was bloody, violent, vulgar and a welcome antidote to the anodyne actioners flooding the box office- and whilst it certainly wasn't the first comic book film to do that (hello, The Crow and Blade), it felt like a shot in the arm. Two years later, Deadpool 2 offers the same raucous, anarchic fun. 

This time round, the Merc with the Mouth forms a team of mutants- known as X-Force- to help protect a young mutant boy from the killer clutches of time-travelling cyborg Cable. 

If you've seen the first film, then you'll know what to expect from the second. It's more of the same. More inventive cursing, more eye-watering violence, more digs at current superhero franchises (especially Wolverine). All present and correct. It felt familiar and welcoming, you know what you're going to get and- considering I went to see it after a crappy day to cheer myself up- it did what I needed it to do. Some people may be disappointed that it's all a bit samey, but for me that wasn't a bad thing. 

Ryan Reynolds brings the same charm and wit as he did in the first one (he's also credited as one of the writers on this). Other cast members returning from the first film fit right back into their roles. Stefan Kapicic is great as the voice of Colossus,  whilst Brianna Hildebrand is strong as the fantastically-named Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Leslie Uggams is a particular standout as Blind Al and Karan Soni and TJ Miller provide able support as cab driver Dopinder and Deadpool's associate Weasel respectively. Whilst Morena Baccarin has less to do this time round, her role is perhaps more important here. To say any more would be to cross into spoiler territory, so I'll leave it there.

As for the new cast members, Zazie Beetz threatens to steal the second half of the film as mutant Domino, whose superpower is luck. Despite claims that luck isn't cinematic, we get some pretty cool sequences where Domino's luck comes into play. Josh Brolin gives a serious and stoic performance as Cable, a lot darker than some of the turns around him, but that works. You'll also probably really like Rob Delaney's turn as Peter, who just saw the advert and ends up as part of X-Force. Julian Dennison is also strong as the abused young mutant Russell (aka Firefist) who ends up in Cable's sights and who Deadpool finds himself reluctantly protecting.  

Original director Tim Miller left the project early on and is replaced by David Leitch (who directed John Wick, and Atomic Blonde). There are some great action set-pieces. X-Force's 'auditions' and introduction are particularly good, as is the final showdown as Firefist returns to exact revenge on those who have wronged him. There's also a particularly good CGI fight between Colossus and another character whose appearance in the film is particularly welcome. Again, spoilers. 

Like the first film, there's an eclectic soundtrack, taking in everything from Celine Dion (with the incredibly Bond-esque opening song 'Ashes' which was accompanied by a very Bond-esque opening sequence) through to Enya and Cher, via Dolly Parton, DMX, and Skrillex. It's a soundtrack that sums up the film: frenetic, a bit all over the place, and full of hidden gems. 

Deadpool 2 might not win any awards for originality, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Thursday, 31 May 2018

Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (UK Cert 12A)

SPOILER WARNING! This review discusses and/or mentions a few important plot points. If you would prefer not to have these spoiled, please stop reading now and come back once you've seen the film.

And so we return to that galaxy far, far away for Solo: A Star Wars Story, an origin story for the titular roguish pilot. From his early days on the mean streets of the shipbuilding world of Corellia, to meeting up with his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca, we follow Han's life as we also find out exactly how he managed to do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs and how he got control of the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. 

I should preface this review by saying that I personally don't consider myself to be a massive Star Wars fan. Watcher Rhys is, and his articles on the original trilogy and the prequels make for interesting and informed reading. I've seen them, enjoyed (most of) them, but that's where it starts and ends. I wouldn't go to a midnight screening, for instance. So, there's probably a lot in this film that goes right over my head. The reappearance of a character from the Star Wars prequels, for instance, will have more importance to others. For me, I just went 'oh, that's cool'. That said, I enjoyed the film a lot more than I had any right to, and a lot more than I expected to. 

To say this film had something of a challenging and chequered production would be like saying it's a bit nippy in Antarctica. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs) were dismissed from the project after approximately six months into production due to 'creative differences' (ah, that old chestnut). With a vacancy in the director's chair, Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (Rush, A Beautiful Mind) took over to complete the film, although there are rumours of extensive re-shoots as well. So tonally, you could expect the film to be a bit of a mess. Stylistically different. Performances different. To be honest, with some films (I'm looking at you, Justice League) where two directorial styles clash, you can tell where the joins are. There's nothing that glaringly obvious in Solo, so if nothing else the editor can be commended for a bang-up job. 

There was concern in some quarters that the trailers and such didn't feature much of Han in them, and that was a sign that Alden Ehrenreich wasn't up to the task. Utter nonsense. Ehrenreich's performance is really good. Better than good, actually. He's not Harrison Ford (obviously) but it would be folly to try and emulate him. He brings his own energy and his own charm to the role. For me, he takes a while to really grow into the character, but even at the beginning when he's finding his feet, there's the occasional flash of the cocky swagger that Han needs. Following on from strong supporting roles in Blue Jasmine and Hail, Caesar!, Ehrenreich's star is definitely on the ascendant. 

There's a great turn by Woody Harrelson (following his dramatic and Oscar-nominated performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Tobias Beckett, a mercenary and thief who acts as Han's mentor. For a man whose credo is 'assume everyone will betray you', there's at least a kind of grudging respect between Han and Beckett. Thandie Newton (Crash, Westworld) is great as Val, Beckett's partner, although I was disappointed not to have seen more of her. Jon Favreau (Chef, Spider-Man: Homecoming) gives a nice voice performance as the third member of Beckett's crew, the multi-limbed Rio Durant.

Emilia Clarke (Game Of Thrones, Terminator Genisys) plays Han's childhood friend and love interest Qi'ra. She does well with what she's given, but there are a few missed opportunities to flesh out her character; she's allied to the nominal bad guy with some hints that she's done 'terrible things' but that's never really explored. The nominal bad guy is Paul Bettany (Avengers: Infinity War) who plays the villainous Dryden Vos, to whom Beckett, Han, and the others are in debt to after an initial heist goes wrong. He's supercilious, slimy, but a bit stereotypically evil. 

Donald Glover (Atlanta, Community) was inspired casting to play the young Lando Calrissian. He's got the charisma and the magnetism that Billy Dee Williams has, and he exudes confidence. After Solo, I'd love to see a young Lando spin-off: Glover has the chops to pull it off. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Goodbye Christopher Robin) gives a brilliant voice performance as L3-37, Lando's militant co-pilot robot, warm and amusing in equal measures.  

I have two main criticisms of the film: for certain sequences, the screen was really dark and it was difficult to tell what was going on. Couple that with a bit of nauseating shakycam and some bits were difficult to watch. The other was that the script- by Star Wars legend Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan- doesn't always take chances to expand on characters and occasionally comes out with dialogue that's a bit clunky, a bit obvious or on-the-nose. 

All said though, these minor gripes didn't overshadow the rest of the film. A thoroughly enjoyable space opera romp. 

Rating: 4 out of 5


Sunday, 27 May 2018

Murder By Death (1976)

An elegant pastiche of the country-house murder-mystery, Murder By Death is written by Neil Simon (The Sunshine Boys, California Suite, The Odd Couple) and directed by Robert Moore (The Cheap Detective, Chapter Two).

A group of the world's greatest detectives, each accompanied by an associate or relative, are invited to the home of the eccentric multi-millionaire Lionel Twain for dinner... and a murder. Twain proclaims himself the world's greatest detective and offers $1 million to anyone who can solve the crime that's about to happen. Sure enough, a body is soon discovered. But with a house full of tricks and traps and somebody behind the scenes pulling the strings, can the bickering detectives survive until morning, and work out- not so much whodunit- but what the hell is actually going on?

A star-studded cast bring this story to life. David Niven and Maggie Smith give an air of suave class as sophisticated crime-solving socialities Dick and Dora Charleston (a take on Dashiell Hammett's characters Nick and Nora Charles who appeared in The Thin Man stories and films). Smith is often seen as purely a dramatic actress- something she excels at- but, here, she channels a fine comedic streak as the debonair Mrs Charleston, showing some impeccable comic timing throughout. 

Another Hammett character is spoofed with Peter Falk's hardboiled Sam Diamond an obvious rip-off of Sam Spade, accompanied by his long-suffering secretary Tess Skeffington (played by Eileen Brennan who, nine years later, would return to a country-house murder-mystery spoof in the frankly wonderful Clue). Diamond is a gumshoe of the old school, and he parodies the sexist, racist, misogynist attitutes of the 1940s hardboiled noir tradition. Some of the lines are a bit close to the bone but Falk's performance softens any offence. 

Agatha Christie's two major sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple get parodied here with James Coco and Elsa Lanchester playing Belgian detective Milo Perrier and English spinster Jessica Marbles respectively. Coco's meticulously fussy portrayal of the perpetually hungry Perrier is nicely observed and his relationship with his chauffeur Marcel- played by James Cromwell in his film debut- provides a couple of great moments- the two of them bicker like an old married couple. Lanchester's turn as Miss Marbles is equally as good, making her a hale and hearty tweed-clad woman accompanied by her aged nurse Miss Withers (the final film role of Estelle Winwood) whom everyone initially mistakes for the fabled detective. 

The last of the detectives is Inspector Sidney Wang (based on Charlie Chan, created by Earl Derr Biggers). Now, here's where things get a bit tricky. Wang is played by Peter Sellers, heavily made-up to look more Oriental, and speaking in broken English and dispensing gnomic fortune-cookie-esque statements (without prepositions or articles). Thing is, Charlie Chan was also portrayed on screen by other Occidental actors (J. Carrol Naish, Sidney Toler, and Peter Ustinov among others) so it's perhaps less of an issue than it could be. But this is one performance that hasn't aged well, although we're not in Mickey-Rooney-in-Breakfast-At-Tiffany's level of offensive. 

Rounding off the cast are Alec Guinness as blind butler Jamesir Bensonmum, Nancy Walker as the deaf and dumb maid Yetta, and writer Truman Capote taking a rare acting role as the mysterious Lionel Twain. Guinness' understated performance as the blind butler is hilarious, and it's a pure joy to see an actor usually associated with serious drama cutting loose. Walker's performance is great- she gives a great physical performance in her few scenes, with no dialogue. Capote's performance as the eccentric Twain is probably the weakest link in the film but, given that he's surrounded by actors of the calibre of Guinness, Smith, and Niven, can be excused. That said, Capote was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance, in the Best Acting Debut In A Motion Picture- Male category (but he lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger). 

Simon's script is tight and has some amazing one-liners. The plot plays with the conventions of a murder mystery, including the outlandish motives people could have had to commit the murder, doors locked from the inside, hidden traps and so on. The solution to the murder makes absolutely no sense at all. None whatsoever. But that's the point. The denouement takes a metafictional jab at mystery writers who withhold important clues or information, or introduce characters at the last minute, or go for a twist in the tale just for the sake of it (at the expense of narrative cohesion or sense). Simon was nominated for a Writers' Guild Award for Best Comedy Written Directly For The Screen. 

Murder By Death is a perfect Sunday afternoon film. It's a wonderfully pleasant way to spend an hour and a half. Give it a try if you haven't before.


Sunday, 29 April 2018

Review: Avengers: Infinity War (UK Cert 12A)

SPOILER WARNING! This review discusses and/or mentions a few important plot points. If you would prefer not to have these spoiled, please stop reading now and come back once you've seen the film.

An epic cinematic event that's ten years in the making, Avengers: Infinity War pits the Earth's (and the galaxy's) greatest heroes against the Mad Titan Thanos who is in search of the six Infinity Gems which will give him power over all creation.  

Whilst #ThanosDemandsYourSilence (and for several very good reasons), there are some points about the film that can't really be discussed without spoilers. So, if you didn't notice the bold, italiced and underlined warning at the start of the article, here's your last chance to turn back. 


Still with us? OK. 

So directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War) ramp things up to eleven with the action sequences: the battles are epic, befitting a film of this magnitude. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Thor: The Dark World) deserve massive praise for delivering such a tightly-plotted, well-balanced script. Make no mistake, this film is packed. With over 30 main characters spanning the universe (literally and metaphorically), so much plate-spinning going on, it's a testament that no character feels short-changed or shoe-horned in. Every character on screen has a purpose: they're not just there for the 'hey guys, remember this one?' (which could easily have happened). There are a couple of notable omissions, but these are explained well. Each character also has their moment, which is also good. The humour of characters like Rocket, Thor, and Drax is there and is allowed to flow naturally, which is great. These moments of levity are needed as the drama- and there's a lot of it- unfolds. And not just drama- tragedy, too. 

In the first ten minutes of the film, two main characters are killed off, brutally, with no mercy. Thanos and the Black Order aren't messing around. There is a real sense of jeopardy in the film: no character is truly safe, and as things progress, the death toll starts to rise. And you care. You care about who lives and who dies. Marvel have taken the time to build these characters up, over multiple films spanning the last decade, so you have that emotional bond. There were more than a few gasps and sniffles as one particular character died. I even had a lump in my throat. 

If I were to discuss the performances, frankly, we'd be here until Avengers 4 came out. All performances across the board are great- some of the actors have been playing these roles for 10 years, so they know the characters inside out; others, such as Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland, have only played them for a short time, but they have struck upon the essence of their characters straight away-  but there is one performance that I do want to highlight in particular: Josh Brolin. 

Thanos is dangerously close to being the best villain MCU have put out. That's been a major criticism of the Marvel movies: the villains have sometimes just been caricatures or archetypes. The last few films have shown villains with nuance and with an understandable motive (Killmonger in Black Panther, for instance). Thanos continues that trend: his desire for balance- given what he saw on Titan- is understandable, although taken to extremis by the idea of being able to get rid of 50% of the population of the galaxy with a snap of his gauntleted fingers. He's not just mad; there's a recognisable (albeit twisted) logic to his plan. And whilst you don't sympathise or agree with him, you can at least see where he's coming from. This is paired by some absolutely sterling CG work (not just on Thanos but on all of the Black Order) and a dignified, stoic performance by Josh Brolin.  

Honestly, I could discuss and dissect the film for hours. This is a truly brilliant film. See it. See it again. See it on a big screen. It's just superb. 

Rating: 5 out of 5


Saturday, 21 April 2018

Mini-Countdown: 5 Favourite Disney Villain Songs

There's an old saying that 'the devil has the best tunes'. And whilst it's true that Disney has had more than its fair share of great songs, the bad guys definitely get some of the most memorable music in Disney history. So here's five of my favourites.

5. 'Trust In Me' (The Jungle Book)

The sinuous, hypnotic lullaby that the python Kaa uses to entrance his victims (including man-cub Mowgli) is calming and sinister at the same time. Also, there's a fantastic cover version of this song by Siouxsie And The Banshees 

4. 'The World's Greatest Criminal Mind' (Basil, The Great Mouse Detective)

Voiced with silky charm by the legend that is Vincent Price, Professor Ratigan is witty, urbane, and utterly convinced of his own superiority. There's a deliciously camp edge to Ratigan's paean to himself as he plots to take down Basil of Baker Street, and it's an absolute joy to watch and listen to. 

3. 'Be Prepared' (The Lion King)


In a similar vein to 'The World's Greatest Criminal Mind', Scar's mission statement of evil has a sly and knowing edge which Jeremy Irons plays to the hilt. It also provides a nicely cynical counterpoint against some of the cheesier songs in the soundtrack (I'm looking at you, 'I Just Can't Wait To Be King' and 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight?') 

2. 'Poor Unfortunate Souls' (The Little Mermaid)

When Ursula the Sea Witch proposes her nefarious trade to Ariel, the camp goes up to eleven as she sashays and flounces around her cave, enticing Ariel to take the devilish deal. It's unashamedly theatrical and simply divine.

1. 'Hellfire' (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame)


Quite possibly the messed-up song to feature in a Disney film, Frollo wrestles with his suppressed lust for Esmeralda, threatening to execute her unless she submits to him. It's incredibly dark and twisted and is, for me, the best Disney villain song around. Plus it gets bonus points for using the word 'licentious'. 

So which songs would make your Top 5? Would you place Dr. Facilier's creepy 'Friends On The Other Side' from The Princess And The Frog, or the fawning tribute that LeFou gives to 'Gaston' in Beauty And The Beast? Maybe Tamatoa's Bowie-inspired 'Shiny' from Moana is a great villain's song for you? Or, as it says in Tangled, does 'Mother Know Best'? 

Let us know in the comments!


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Milos Forman (1932-2018)

We at the Watchers were saddened to hear of the passing of film director Milos Forman, who passed away on 13th April 2018 at the age of 86.

He was born Jan Tomáš Forman in 1932 in Čáslav in what is now the Czech Republic. During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Forman's mother and the man he believed to be his father were arrested and sent to concentration camps where they both died. Forman was raised by his uncles and family friends, but as an adult found out that his biological father was a Jewish architect. Forman went on to study screenwriting at the prestigious Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague. 


Along with filmmakers such as Elmar Klos, Jiří Menzel, Jan Němec and Ján Kadá, Forman was a major figure in the artistic movement known as the Czech New Wave, which took place during the 1960s in Czechoslovakia to 'make the Czech people collectively aware that they were participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them all.' Two of Forman's Czech films- Loves Of A Blonde [Lásky jedné plavovlásky] (1965) and The Firemen's Ball [Hoří, má panenko] (1967)- were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. However, during the tumultuous events of 1968, Forman was in Paris, negotiating the production of his first American film. When his employer found out, Forman was promptly fired and he decided to move to America,  becoming a naturalised American citizen in 1977.

His first film in the US was Taking Off (1971), a comedy-drama about parents who discover their love of life again when their daughter runs away from home. Despite a critical panning and poor box-office receipts (Forman said he ended up owing Universal Pictures $500 because of it), Taking Off was nominated for six BAFTAs, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay (which Forman co-wrote). Forman was nominated for the Palme d'Or and the film won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Forman then contributed to the 1973 documentary Visions Of Eight, about the 1972 Munich Olympics. But the film that was about to send him into the stratosphere was just around the corner. 

That film was One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975), a film adaptation of Ken Kesey's 1962 cult novel about the battle of wills between a criminal and the steely head nurse who runs the mental institution in which he has been committed. Starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher as Randle McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, the film won six BAFTAs, six Golden Globes (winning every award it was nominated for), and five Oscars, becoming only the second film in Oscar history to win 'The Big Five' (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay). This was the first of Forman's three nominations for the Best Director Oscar. 

Forman's next two films were a film adaptation of the cult 1960s Broadway musical Hair (1979) and Ragtime (1981), an adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's epic novel about the life of an uipper-class white family in early 1900s New York. Ragtime was nominated for eight Oscars (including Best Supporting Actor for Howard E. Rollins Jr and Best Supporting Actress for Elizabeth McGovern), and was the last film for James Cagney, who came out of a twenty-year retirement to play Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo. Incidentally, Forman was not the original choice to direct Ragtime, however; he replaced Robert Altman in the role.  

In 1984, Forman directed Amadeus. Based on Peter Shaffer's play of the same name, about the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his contemporary Antonio Salieri, the film starred Tom Hulce as Mozart and F. Murray Abraham as Salieri. Filmed in Prague, Forman shot scenes in the Count Nostitz Theatre where Don Giovanni and La Clemeza di Tito had debuted in the 1700s. Nominated for eleven Oscars, the film won eight, including Best Picture, Best Director for Forman (his second nomination) and Best Actor for Abraham. Whilst Hulce was also nominated for Best Actor for his broad, larger-than-life performance as the title character, it is Abraham's brooding, jealous turn as Salieri that truly impresses. It won four Golden Globes, four BAFTAs, and Forman won his second Directors' Guild Award too. Forman would later go on to say he was surprised at the success of the film, finding the response of the audience to be 'overwhelming'. 

After Amadeus, Forman's next project was Valmont (1989), starring Colin Firth, Annette Bening, and Meg Tilly. Based on the 1782 French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Valmont invariably suffered by comparison to Dangerous Liaisons (1988), a film released less than a year earlier and also based on the same novel. He was first choice of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and producer Irving Winkler to direct Basic Instinct (1992), and he was interested in doing so, but the production company had instead made a deal with Paul Verhoeven to direct instead. Similarly, Michael Crichton picked Forman to direct Disclosure (1994) but he subsequently left the project due to 'creative differences' 

Forman went from French literature to American pornography with his next film, The People Vs Larry Flynt (1996). A biopic of the outspoken publisher of Hustler Magazine, the film starred Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton, and Courtney Love. Harrelson was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Flynt, while Forman received his third Best Director nomination (but lost to Anthony Minghella for The English Patient), He did, however, win the Golden Globe for Best Director. His next film was another biopic of an eccentric American cultural figure. Man On The Moon (1999) tells the story of the life and career of comedian Andy Kaufman, best known for his appearances on Taxi and Saturday Night Live. While the film wasn't a commercial success- and had a mixed critical reaction- Jim Carrey's  performance as Kaufman was highly praised and he won a Best Actor Golden Globe. Forman's final English-language film was Goya's Ghosts (2006), a biopic of Spanish painter Francisco Goya, starring Stellan Skarsgard as Goya, with Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem, Randy Quaid and Michael Lonsdale in supporting roles.

As well as his incredible body of film work, Forman is a renowned academic, and was the professor emeritus of Columbia University's film division (having also worked as its co-chair with his former teacher František Daniel), He also occasionally worked as an actor, appearing in Heartburn (1986), New Year's Day (1989) and as Father Havel in Keeping The Faith (2000). There is also a cinema in his hometown of Čáslav which is named after him. 

A double Best Director Oscar winner, a theatre director, screenwriter, actor, and academic, Milos Forman was a man of many talents and a towering figure in the landscape of cinema. He will be missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.