The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017)


We at the Watchers were very saddened to hear of the death of Sir Roger Moore, who sadly passed away today at the age of 89 after a short battle with cancer. 

Born in Stockwell, London in 1927, Moore studied for two terms at RADA before leaving to seek paid employment as an actor. After a period of national service, he returned to acting. After a series of uncredited film roles and TV movies- as well as a stint as a model, advertising everything from knitwear to toothpaste, he started taking on film roles in the 1950s, starring with Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), with Eleanor Parker and Glenn Ford in Interrupted Melody (1955), and opposite Lana Turner in Diane (1956). 


From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Moore took on acclaimed television roles in Ivanhoe (as the titular character), The Alaskans, and Maverick, before landing the first of his iconic roles: Simon Templar in The Saint. He played the suave adventurer for six series throughout the rest of the 1960s and became one of the faces of the Swinging Sixties. After finishing The Saint, Moore appeared in two very different films; a lightweight spy caper called Crossplot and a psychological thriller called The Man Who Haunted Himself. In 1971, Moore took on another TV role, playing  Lord Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders! opposite Tony Curtis. Whilst the series only ran for two series, perhaps Moore's most iconic role of all was about to come his way. 


It was in August 1972 that Moore was announced as Sean Connery's replacement as James Bond, making his debut the following year in Live And Let Die.At the age of 45, he is- to date- the oldest actor to have played Bond. He's also- to date- the longest-running Bond, appearing in seven official EON Bond films. To say he was a very different Bond to Sean Connery would be an understatement; whilst Moore's Bond would never shy away from a fight, he never really convinced as a cold-blooded assassin. His Bond was more of the debonair playboy type, ready with a quip or a sardonic raised eyebrow. That said, he puts in a fine dramatic performance in For Your Eyes Only and the only real stinker of his tenureis the frankly unwatchable Octopussy. His final performance as Bond came in the 1985 film A View To A Kill, with Moore announcing his retirement as Bond in December that year.

Moore's filmography during his tenure as Bond touches on action (The Wild Geese), thriller (Gold, North Sea Hijack), war movie (The Sea Wolves) and comedy (The Cannonball Run and Curse Of The Pink Panther). He even played Sherlock Holmes in a TV Movie. 

After retiring as Bond, Moore didn't make a film for five years and then worked intermittently through the 1990s, providing the voice of the car radio announcer in the 1997 film adaptation of The Saint then appearing as the Chief in Spice World (for which he received a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actor). In 2002, surprising many people, he appeared as a randy gay man in the comedy Boat Trip- despite the film being a critical failure, Moore's performance was highlighted as one of the better things in the film!

Away from acting, Moore was heavily involved in charity work, becoming a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991 and subsequently was knighted in 2003 for his charity work. 

Roger Moore was a true icon of British cinema and he will be much missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.

The Watchers
(Matt, Rhys & Tez)

Friday, 5 May 2017

Review: Beauty And The Beast (UK Cert PG)


Disney's 1991 animated version of the classic French fairytale Beauty And The Beast is widely considered to be one of the best of Disney's output, as well as being the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It won two Oscars- both for its sublime music- and was turned into a hit stage musical. Unsurprisingly, it's now had a live action remake.

Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes), it's a very faithful adaptation of the animated film with a couple of added character bits and a few new songs. It follows the same story as the animated film: Belle is a beautiful but educated and headstrong young woman which puts her at odds with the people in her small provincial town. When her father is imprisoned by a ferocious beast in an enchanted castle in the woods close to the town, Belle offers herself in her father's place and becomes the Beast's prisoner. Gradually though, the relationship between Belle and the Beast begins to soften and perhaps there's something there that wasn't there before...

Disney's Beauty And The Beast is one of my favourite films of all time. So it was with a little trepidation that I went into the cinema. Were they about to butcher one of my most beloved films?

No. No, they weren't. 

Simply put, the live action version is an absolute gem. Visually, the entire film is absolutely stunning. Jacqueline Durran's costumes are just sumptuous; everything from Belle's iconic yellow ball-gown down to Gaston's blood-red jacket looks perfect. Everything from the production design to the set decoration, the art design and the visual effects come together to create an absolute feast for the eyes.

The songs from the original animated film are included (written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman) with new ones written by Menken and Sir Tim Rice. It's just a shame that they couldn't use songs from the stage musical, although the songs that have been added are good and entirely in keeping with the original. Menken also composes the score, by turns melancholic, jovial, and spine-tingling. All of the singing is good; some singing is better than others, but nobody is in a Pierce-Brosnan-in-Mamma-Mia or Russell-Crowe-in-Les-Miserables situation.

Performances across the board are superb. Whilst I was a little dubious before about Emma Watson's casting, she's entirely brilliant as Belle. She plays Belle's vulnerability as well as she plays her bravery. It's a very assured performance. Dan Stevens is similarly strong as the Beast; surly and angry yet softening as he gets to know her. It's also nice that they've chosen to make him more educated; he gets a nice moment when he gives Belle the library. One of the added character bits is to see both Belle and the Beast's early life (both losing their mothers at a young age) which shows they have more in common than they first thought. This, on the whole, works.

Luke Evans is suave and charming as Gaston, although this version has his move to out-and-out villain a lot earlier. Josh Gad is great as the faithful LeFou, clearly infatuated with his friend (more on that later). Kevin Kline puts in a wonderfully nuanced and quite moving performance as Belle's father Maurice, more overprotective but still very caring. There's also an important, yet silent, role for Hattie Morahan who plays the Enchantress who casts the spell over the Beast in the first place.

Moving over to the inhabitants of the castle, no complaints: Ewan McGregor is similarly suave as the debonair Lumiere, Ian McKellen is wonderful as cantankerous Cogsworth whilst Emma Thompson adds warmth and homeliness as Mrs Potts. Doctor Who actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw is good as the flirtatious feather-duster Plumette and young actor Nathan Mack is great as Chip, whilst Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci are a wonderful pairing as Madame Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza (who are turned into the wardrobe and a harpsichord respectively).

I've got to address the elephant in the room. Ever since it was announced that there was going to be an 'exclusively gay moment' in the film, conservatives, evangelists and homophobes the world over have poured bile and vitriol across the airwaves and the internet denouncing this move. I don't know what they're expecting them to show in a PG-rated movie but I think it says much more about their mindset than anything else.
Making LeFou gay is not the greatest leap forward; it's clear in the animated version that he's very devoted to Gaston. So what is this moment? What could possibly be worth such a negative backlash? Well... in the ball at the end, LeFou dances with another man. That's it. That's what the furore is all about. It's as bad as all those idiots foaming at the mouth about Sulu being gay in Star Trek Beyond when, in a real blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, all you see is him putting his hand on the small of another man's back.

So you have the first canonically gay character in a Disney film here; you also have not only the first, but second, live-action interracial kiss in a Disney movie when Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci lock lips at the end, as do Ewan McGregor and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Thankfully there haven't been protests about that.

I truly loved this film. It's quite a different beast to the animated feature but to compare the two is a bit like comparing apples and oranges (as live-action and animation are two wildly different mediums). It's a funny, lively, touching film, beautiful to look at, lovely to listen to, and a pure joy from start to finish.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Tez

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Review: Ghost In The Shell (UK Cert 12A)


Directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White And The Huntsman), Ghost In The Shell is a live-action version of the seminal 1995 anime based on the manga by Masamune Shirow.

In the near future, cyberisation is now widespread. Criminals are becoming more sophisticated and, as such, a new way must be found to deal with the threat. So Section 9 was set up- a small group of police with various levels of cyberisation to help combat crime. The Major (Scarlett Johansson) is one of the operatives on the team. She has a full cyborg body and a human brain, and is the first of her kind. But whilst working a case, the Major becomes more and more aware that things might not be quite as she imagined...

Despite the furore over her casting and the subsequent accusations of white-washing, Scarlett Johansson was inspired casting as the Major. Johansson imbues the Major with some personality and doesn't just play her as a cipher. Because the script is so focused on the Major and her origins (something which is only mentioned very briefly in the anime), it needed someone with acting chops in the main role- and Johansson has that in spades. There's also a reason given in the story why a Japanese or Asian actress wasn't cast in the role, but to discuss that will take us into spoiler territory.

Generally speaking, the rest of the cast are strong. Pilou Asbaek provides strong support as the Major's partner Batou; 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano is particularly good as Section 9's boss Aramaki- who has an expanded role in this film compared to the anime- and who only speaks Japanese (although the other characters all answer him in English), There are several other characters in Section 9 but none of them have any discernible personality and there are a few too many.

Michael Pitt gives a chilling yet oddly sympathetic turn as Kuze, the nominal villain but (unsurprisingly) there's more to it than that. Doctor Who alumni Peter Ferdinando and Anamarina Marinca are strong as shady businessman Cutter and cyberised Dr Dahlin respectively. Finally, Juliette Binoche lends an air of gravitas to her role of Dr. Ouelet, the Major's de facto 'mother' who is hiding more than a few secrets of her own. I was quite surprised to see Binoche's name come up in the credits, and I did find myself thinking 'what's she doing in a film like this?'

There are a lot- and I mean, a lot- of nods to the original anime and its expanded universe that will give Ghost In The Shell fans a thrill (although some moments do tip over into quite blatant fanservice at times). Jess Hall's cinematography and the visual effects team's work are both superb, The fight choreography is also really strong throughout, especially the fight in the nightclub when the Major and Batou go in search of the mysterious hacker.but it's a shame that the final fight- between the Major and a spider-tank- is obscured by shoddy lighting.

Another problem is that the screenplay- by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger- completely eschews the subtlety and nuance of the anime, instead relying on clunky and obvious comparisons (even at one point spelling out what the title of the film means). Give your audience a bit of credit, for the love of God! We don't need everything spelled out for us!

All said, it's visually stunning with good performances and decent action. As a cyberpunk thriller, it's a decent enough film. But as an adaptation of Ghost In The Shell, it's lacking that spark that made the original so good.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tez

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Jonathan Demme (1944-2017)


We at the Watchers were saddened to hear of the death of Jonathan Demme. The Oscar-winning director passed away today at the age of 73 due to complications from oesophagal cancer.

Born in 1944 in Baldwin, Long Island, Demme started his film career working for Roger Corman, writing and producing Angels Hard As They Come and The Hot Box. He made his feature directorial debut in 1974 with Caged Heat, a women-in-prison movie, and followed it up with Crazy Mama, a comedy road movie staring Cloris Leachman and Ann Sothern. His final film for Corman's New World Pictures studio was Fighting Mad (1976), a drama about an Arkansas farmer (Peter Fonda) who wages a one-man war against corrupt land developers. 


Jason Robards and Paul Le Mat in Melvin And Howard
His next features- comedy Handle With Care (1977) and neo-noir Last Embrace (1979)- were relatively ignored but Demme began to make his name with the 1980 comedy-drama Melvin And Howard, the outrageous story of Utah service station owner Melvin Dummar who was listed as the beneficiary for a multi-million-dollar will allegedly written by the eccentric, reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes. Starring Paul Le Mat as Melvin and Jason Robards as Hughes, the fim was nominated for three Oscars, winning two (for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Mary Steenburgen).

Demme's success with Melvin And Howard led to him being signed to direct Swing Shift. A romantic drama set during World War II, it stars Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Whilst it was intended to be a prestige picture for Warner Brothers, as well as a major commercial movie for Demme, it didn't end up as either; Demme clashed with Hawn (who was also producing) about the tone of the film- he wanted it serious, she saw it as a more lighthearted comedy- and he eventually renounced the finished product. Allegedly, a bootleg VHS of Demme's director's cut of the film exists which is radically different to the theatrical release. Despite the troubled production, the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (for Christine Lahti's performance as Hazel).

After Swing Shift, Demme moved on to other projects- creating the concert movie Stop Making Sense for the band Talking Heads, filming Spalding Gray's monologue Swimming To Cambodia and directing a documentary about Haiti's democratic rebuilding after dictatorship. In 1989, he directed crime comedy Married To The Mob starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine and Dean Stockwell (who got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod for his performance as a mafia boss infatuated with Pfeiffer's character). 

Demme's career by this point was already incredibly eclectic and, in 1991, he added another genre to his filmography- thriller- when he directed The Silence Of The Lambs. The film adaptation of Thomas Harris' 1988 thriller, The Silence Of The Lambs is widely considered as one of the best book-to-screen adaptations. It is also a masterclass in tension, character and pace. Demme's direction is superb and he gets superlative performances from his entire cast with Anthony Hopkins' chilling yet urbane turn as Hannibal Lecter cementing him in cinematic history. Released on Valentine's Day 1991, the movie grossed over $270 million dollars at the box office and is one of only three films to win the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. The Silence Of The Lambs was Demme's first and only nomination for Best Director. 


Demme with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins at the 1992 Oscars
From serial killer thriller to courtroom drama as Demme's next film was Philadelphia (1993), with Tom Hanks as the HIV-positive lawyer suing his employers for wrongful dismissal.  Hanks went on to win the Best Actor Oscar for his thoughful and heartfelt performance. In 1998, Demme directed the film adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel Beloved with Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and Thandie Newton in the cast and, in 2002, he directed The Truth About Charlie (a loose remake of the 1963 Cary Grant movie Charade). 


 

Demme then directed the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate with Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep. As remakes go, it's pretty good- updating the Cold War paranoia of the 1960s to a post-9/11 world. After this, he worked on documentaries about singer Neil Young and former US President Jimmy Carter before returning to feature films in 2008 with the low-budget drama Rachel Getting Married, a story of addiction and deep family secrets. Anne Hathaway received her first Oscar nod for her lead role as Kym.

Demme continued to make documentaries- including two more about Neil Young, one about musician Kenny Chesney and one about Carolyn Parker (the last woman to leave her neighbourhood when Hurrican Katrina struck New Orleans). He also directed for TV, shooting episodes of A Gifted Man, Enlightened and two episodes of the US version of The Killing. He also directed A Master Builder and the 2015 Meryl Streep movie Ricki And The Flash. His last completed film before his passing was a musical documentary about Justin Timberlake.  

Aside from feature and documentary work, Demme also directed music videos, including 'I Got You Babe' by UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, 'Streets of Philadelphia' and 'Murder Incorporated' by Bruce Springsteen,  'The Perfect Kiss' by New Order and 'Gidget Goes To Hell' by Suburban Lawns. 

Few directors can lay claim to such a varied and eclectic filmography but, as Edgar Wright said him his tribute, 'he could do anything'. Demme could never be pigeonholed as a drama director, a thriller director. He was successful at all genres, always able to get strong performances from his cast and working well with his cinematographers to get a strong visual style. Tributes have been paid by many actors, writers and directors with Kevin Smith praising Demme's 'honest cinematic storytelling' and Jim Jarmusch calling him an 'inspiring filmmaker... and truly wonderful and generous person'.

He is survived by his wife and three children. Our thoughts are with them at this very sad time.

The Watchers
(Rhys, Matt & Tez)



Thursday, 13 April 2017

Countdown: 10 Actors Who Have Played Multiple Comic Book Characters On Screen


It was announced yesterday that Josh Brolin has been cast as Cable in the upcoming Deadpool 2 movie. Comic book movie fans will know that Brolin also plays Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Before he played Captain America, Chris Evans also appeared as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in two Fantastic Four movies. Brolin's Deadpool co-star Ryan Reynolds was also Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern movie, while Halle Berry has played both hero and villain as Storm and Catwoman respectively.

So here are ten more actors who have played different comic book characters on screen.

1. Ben Affleck


Before he was the Dark Knight, Affleck was Daredevil in the 2003 big screen version.


2. Angela Bassett


Appearing in Green Lantern as Amanda Waller, Bassett is taking the role of Queen Mother Ramonda in the upcoming Black Panther film.


3. Willem Dafoe


Dafoe played Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films; he will be playing Atlantean advisor Nuidis Vulko in Justice League and Aquaman


4. Laurence Fishburne


Known for playing Perry White in the DC Extended Universe films, Fishburne provides the voice of the titular character in  Fantastic Four: Rise Of The SIlver Surfer.


5. Tommy Lee Jones


From villain to hero: Jones played Harvey Dent/Two-Face in Joel Schumacher's camptastic Batman Forever, before taking the role of Colonel Chester Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger


6. Michael B. Jordan


Jordan is one of the few bearable things in Josh Trank's disastrous Fantastic Four reboot; he will appear in Black Panther as the wonderfully named Erik Killmonger.


7. Michael Keaton


From hero to villain: Keaton played the lead role in Tim Burton's two Batman movies, and will play Adrian Toomes/The Vulture in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming


8. Nicole Kidman


Kidman appeared with Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever as Dr. Chase Meridian; she will also play Queen Atlanna in the upcoming Aquaman film.


9. J.K. Simmons


Oscar-winner Simmons will be swapping The Daily Bugle for the Gotham City Police Department, going from playing J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films to Commissioner Gordon in Justice League.


10. Terence Stamp


Stamp played General Zod in Superman and Superman II (and also went on to be the voice of Jor-El in Smallville). He also played Elektra's mentor Stick in the 2005 Daredevil spin-off.


Bonus: Sylvester Stallone


Stallone played Judge Dredd in the 1995 film version of the 2000AD comic; he has a small role in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (but the character has not yet been revealed)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Ghost In The Shell (1995)


Ahead of the release of the live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson (which opens in the UK at the end of the month), I thought I should watch the original anime that the film is based on. Luckily, it is one of my partner's favourite films so we had a copy to hand.

It's 2029. Cyberisation is now widespread. Criminals are becoming more sophisticated and, as such, a new way must be found to deal with the threat. So Section 9 was set up- a small group of police (with various levels of cyberisation) to help combat crime. Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the operatives on the team. The Major and the rest of Section 9 come up against a new threat: a powerful hacker known as the Puppet Master, who can literally hack people...

Directed by Mamoru Oshii and written by Kazunori Ito (based on the manga by Masamune Shirow), Ghost In The Shell is widely considered to be one of the seminal works in anime history and, along with Akira (1988) and the films of Studio Ghibli, is responsible for bringing anime into the mainstream in the West.

It packs so much into its relatively slight running time of 83 minutes. It's a political conspiracy thriller. It's high concept science-fiction. It asks deep philosophical questions about what it means to be human and what indeed makes us human.

The Major is a full cyborg- her body is completely synthetic- but is possessed of memory, personality and character. She questions whether, because of her full cybernetic body, she still has any humanity and even questions whether her memories are real or artificial to make her feel more 'human'. When she finally meets the Puppet Master, these existential questions get thrown into full relief. It's an absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking part of the film.

The style of the film comes from a process called 'digitally generated animation', a combination of traditional cell animation, computer graphics, and audio which is entered as digital data. Amazingly, the animation still holds up 22 years later; indeed, we watched a section of Oshii's 2008 updated version (Ghost In The Shell 2.0) which featured updated 3D animation, that- by today's standards- looked incredibly dated. Hisao Shirai's cinematography is superb and the music, by Kenji Kawai, is just sublime.

It's definitely worth watching, although it's a film that requires and rewards your full attention.

Tez


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (UK Cert U)


There's always a danger when a popular character in an animated movie gets their own spin-off. What can be amusing in small doses may not be so much when extended to a full film. The joke can sometime wear a little thin. Films like The Penguins Of Madagascar and Minions showcase this to greater or lesser degrees. Arguably, Batman was one of the best things about The Lego Movie. So how does he fare having his own movie?

Actually, really well. I loved every minute of The Lego Batman Movie.

From the opening voiceover to the end credits roll, the film is stuffed to the ginnels with humour, charm and energy. The film mercilessly sends up previous incarnations of move Batman (from the 1960s Adam West movie right up to 2016's Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice) but it's done so well and without malice, it's utterly enjoyable.

Will Arnett's voice performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne is just superb. He channels everything you associate with the Dark Knight; the brooding and alone-ness, keeping people at arm's length. The rest of the voice cast are similarly superb, with Michael Cera (an actor I've never been particularly fussed on) giving a lovely turn as Robin/Dick Grayson, the young orphan inadvertently adopted by Bruce at a charity gala who becomes Batman's right-hand man. Rosario Dawson is strong and no-nonsense as new commissioner Barbara Gordon who seeks to clean up Gotham without resorting to brooding vigilantes.

Frankly, if Jeremy Irons wasn't doing such a bang-up job of playing Alfred onscreen, I'd say get Ralph Fiennes in. Based on this performance, he'd be fantastic in the role. Zach Galifianakis (another actor I'm not massively fussed on) is great as The Joker. There's a clever subversion of romantic comedy tropes with the relationship between Batman and The Joker (with Joker particularly crushed that Batman doesn't consider him his 'greatest enemy'). There's also appearances from the vast majority of Batman's classic Rogues' Gallery which will please fans of The Dark Knight.

Just as with The Lego Movie, this film contains appearances from a lot of other franchises and series (including, but not limited to, Harry Potter, The Lord Of The Rings and Doctor Who, which I particularly enjoyed). I would imagine because Lego has the rights to a lot of things because of the Dimensions license, the screenwriters pretty much decided to throw everything and the kitchen sink in. But it works.

I'm not going to overanalyse it. I came out of the cinema absolutely buoyant after seeing The Lego Batman Movie. It made me laugh. A lot. I enjoyed all the references and the Easter Eggs. Definitely one for the DVD shelf.   

Rating: 5 out of 5

Tez

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Review: Arrival (UK Cert 12A)


Twelve spacecraft appear across the globe, speaking an unintelligible language. In the US, the army draft linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to help interpret and communicate with the alien visitors and- on her insistence- take her to Montana so she can communicate with them directly. Alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise begins to speak to the aliens to discover the purpose behind their arrival.

Directed with flair by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Incendies), with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer (adapted from a Ted Chiang short story entitled 'Story Of Your Life'), Arrival is a thoughtful, mature slice of sci-fi.

Let's address this right now. Amy Adams' performance was utterly superb and I can see exactly why there were cries of 'snub' when the Oscar nominations were announced. She can most certainly count herself unlucky to have missed out for one of the strongest performances she's ever given. She carries the emotional weight of the film- she is the heart and soul of it- and is just heartbreaking in certain scenes. Louise is fragile, but not weak; compassionate, but not a bleeding-heart; assured, but not arrogant. Another brilliant performance from one of the best actresses of her generation. 

Renner is also strong as the geeky, easy-going Ian. There's a really strong chemistry between Renner and Adams which helps to sell the interactions between Ian and Louise which is always good. Whilst the story is very much focused on Louise as the main character, Renner shines when he's on screen. There's strong support by Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, who helps recruit Louise in the first place; what could have been a fairly generic, by-the-numbers Army role is lifted by Whitaker's warm and sympathetic performance. There are also nice turns by Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma as an unsympathetic FBI agent and a bellicose Chinese general respectively. 

Technically, the film is very accomplished. The visual effects, from the design of the spacecraft to the design of the aliens and their linguistic symbols, are all superb. The score, by Johann Johannsson, is also sublime. 

The reveal of what the aliens' purpose is will probably make or break the film for you. I personally liked it, and found it interesting, but I can understand why some people might not agree with it. I found it raised some interesting psychological and philosophical questions which have stayed with me long after the film. 

If you like your sci-fi a little more cerebral, a little deeper than standard, then definitely give this a go. Also, don't be put off by the awards hype- it is truly deserving of the accolades it has received.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Tez

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Monday, 27 February 2017

Bill Paxton (1955-2017)



We at The Watchers were very saddened to hear about the unexpected death of Bill Paxton, who passed away on February 25th 2017 following complications for surgery.

In addition to his acting work, Paxton was also a producer, director and writer. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Bill moved to Los Angeles when he was eighteen and found work as a set dresser for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. After some minor roles in films such as Stripes and Taking Tiger Mountain, he made a memorable appearance as the punk leader who harasses Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984)- and pays for it. In 1985, Paxton appeared in the John Hughes classic Weird Science as Wyatt's boorish bullying older brother Chet. 


In 1986, he appeared in another classic sci-fi franchise as Private Hudson in Aliens. Famous for his cry of 'Game over, man! Game over!' (which Paxton claimed he improvised, along with a lot of his dialogue), Hudson is dispatched by one of the aliens towards the end of the film. Four years later, he would complete the death-by-iconic-sci-fi-villain trifecta by appearing in Predator 2 and also being killed off.

His role as vampire Severen in Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) is one of his most highly-regarded roles as is one of his first leading roles- that of Dale Dixon in the 1992 One False Move. He would go on to play Wyatt Earp's brother Morgan in Tombstone, Simon in True Lies, Fred Haise in Apollo 13 and Bill Harding in Twister. He also played treasure hunter Brock Lovett in Titanic, providing the framing narrative for the film. 


He is quite brilliant as Hank in A Simple Plan, opposite Bridget Fonda and Billy Bob Thornton. He would go on to appear opposite a fifteen-foot mountain gorilla and Charlize Theron in the 1998 Disney film Mighty Joe Young then in the dubiously historically accurate Second World War submarine drama U-571 before making his directorial debut in 2001 with the thriller Frailty (in which he also starred). 

He also appeared in several family friendly films, such as Spy Kids 2: Island Of Lost Dreams, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and as Jeff Tracy in the 2004 live-action version of Thunderbirds. Later film roles include Haywire, 2 Guns, Edge Of Tomorrow and Nightcrawler. 


In 2006, Paxton took on his first major television role, playing polygamist patriarch Bill Henrickson, living with his three wives, in the HBO show Big Love. The show ran for five seasons and Paxton would be nominated for three Golden Globes for his role. He would also go on to have roles in the first season of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and was appearing in the TV version of Training Day at the time of his death. 

Director James Cameron was a close friend of Paxton's, directing him several times (in The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies and Titanic), and has paid tribute to Paxton saying:

'He was a good man, a great actor, and a creative dynamo. I hope that amid the gaudy din of Oscar night, people will take a moment to remember this wonderful man, not just for all the hours of joy he brought to us with his vivid screen presence, but for the great human that he was. The world is a lesser place for his passing, and I will profoundly miss him.' 

(Indeed, when introducing the In Memoriam section at the Oscars, a visibly upset Jennifer Aniston paid tribute to Paxton before the official montage began)

Paxton was a versatile, dedicated and talented character actor and he will be missed. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.

Rhys, Matt & Tez
The Watchers

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: The 89th Annual Academy Awards


Well, that was quite something. 

There's several things for which this Oscars ceremony will be remembered for, but giving the biggest award of the night to the wrong film will be right up there for years to come. Due to some form of cock-up, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly named La La Land as the Best Picture winner, only to then find out that Moonlight had won it instead! Cue a lot of embarrassment and a very gracious deferral from the producers of La La Land. 



This was the first time in a few years that I was actually able to watch the broadcast live (via Sky Cinema). I thought Jimmy Kimmel was an affable host. Despite his very self-effacing demeanour, the vast majority of his jokes hit (and he was able to admit the ones that didn't). His opening monologue was political without being tubthumping, and I did particularly enjoy his banter with Meryl Streep and the comment that, given the Trump administration, at least the Oscars don't look so racist now. I quite liked the mean tweets section and the stunt with the tour bus mostly worked, if it did drag on a little. 

As you can imagine, several of the speeches were political in nature, some more subtle than others. The most pointed came when the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year was announced. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (who directed The Salesman) was initially unable to attend the event due to the imposed travel ban. When the ban was lifted, he chose to boycott the event and instead sent Iranian engineer Anousheh Ansari to represent him. When The Salesman won, Ansari read a politically charged statement on Farhadi's behalf. 

Other noteworthy happenings from the ceremony: sound mixer Kevin O'Connell won his first Oscar (for Hacksaw Ridge) on his twenty-first nomination; Best Documentary Feature winner O.J.: Made In America is now officially the longest film to win an Oscar (coming in at an impressive 7hrs 47mins); Damien Chazelle is now the youngest Best Director winner at the tender age of 32. 

I wasn't surprised by 'City Of Stars' winning Best Original Song, although I think of the two songs nominated from La La Land I actually prefer 'Audition'. The musical numbers were scattered nicely through the evening, with Justin Timberlake kicking the evening off with a performance of 'Can't Stop The Feeling' then a wonderfully assured performance of 'How Far I'll Go' from Moana, sung by 16-year old Auli'i Cravalho. There was also a very moving In Memoriam section, beautifully accompanied by Sara Bareilles singing 'Both Sides Now' by Joni Mitchell. 

I was also really pleased by the Best Costume Design win for Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, although it still feels very wrong that you can now call Suicide Squad an Oscar-winning film (picking up Best Make-Up and Hairstyling)



As for my predictions... well, 5 out of 6 is alright (especially given the Best Picture farrago). As I said in my predictions, if any film was going to usurp La La Land from Best Picture, it would be Moonlight. All other predictions were correct and I thought Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis and Emma Stone all gave very lovely acceptance speeches. 




Despite the mistake at the end, La La Land was still the runaway winner of the night with six Oscars to its name. Moonlight had three, with Manchester By The Sea and Hacksaw Ridge both winning two. Despite multiple nominations, there was nothing for Lion, Hell Or High Water, Hidden Figures or Jackie

----------
Below is the full list of winners at the 89th Annual Academy Awards:

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Moonlight

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester By The Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Zootopia

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: The Salesman

Best Cinematography: La La Land

Best Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Production Design: La La Land

Best Costume Design: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Suicide Squad

Best Original Score: La La Land

Best Original Song: 'City Of Stars' (La La Land)

Best Sound Mixing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Editing: Arrival

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Best Documentary (Feature): O.J.: Made In America

Best Documentary (Short Subject): The White Helmets

Best Animated Short Film: Piper

Best Live Action Short Film: Sing


Congratulations to all winners!

So that's it. Awards season is over for another year (and what a way to end it too!). As William Makepeace Thackeray says at the very end of Vanity Fair: 'Come children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.'

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to bed. It's been something of a long night.

Tez

Awards Season 2017: Tez's Official Oscar Predictions 2017


Tonight, the great and good of Hollywood will convene to celebrate the best of film-making in 2016 at the 89th Annual Academy Awards, which will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel for the first time.

It has become a tradition for me to predict the nominations and the winners in the main six categories (the four acting categories, Best Director and Best Picture).  I've done this since 2003 with varying degrees of success. 

So, without further ado, here are my predictions for who will win.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Whilst an argument could be made that the role of Rose is more of lead actress one, it still doesn't take away from the intensity and passion of Davis' performance. She's won the Critics' Choice, Golden Globes, BAFTA and SAG awards, so I'm as confident as I can be that she'll be up on the stage tonight collecting a well-deserved Oscar. 

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

A finely-observed supporting turn by Ali, who plays local drug dealer and father figure to young Chiron. Again, he's been a stand out winner for most awards so I fully expect to see him named tonight. 

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

With wins at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTA, it puts Stone ahead of the pack. Her performance as Mia is arguably the stronger of the two leads (sorry, Ryan). That said, I am less confident about my pick for this one, as it there's always the possibility that another actress (likely Natalie Portman or Isabelle Huppert) could win. 

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Affleck has been the runaway winner for his taut, muscular turn as Lee Chandler in Kenneth Lonergan's quiet study of grief. Much like Viola Davis, I don't see any other name being called out in this category tonight. 

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Best Picture: La La Land

OK, here's the thing. I am as certain as I can get that Chazelle will win Best Director, and it will be deserved, because La La Land is a technically very accomplished film, from the amazing opening song-and-dance number on the LA freeway to the quiet and melancholic ending. La La Land has also been the stand-out winner of Best Picture awards (plus it won the PGA). Films about films, acting and the like do well at the Academy and its heady air of escapism is exactly what's needed at the moment. But that said, if there's any film that could rain on La La Land's parade, it's most likely to be Moonlight. Whilst I fully expect La La Land to take the main prize tonight, I wouldn't be surprised if Moonlight pulls off a surprise win at the end of the evening. 

Last year, I got 5 out of 6, with my Best Supporting Actor prediction going to Sylvester Stallone rather than eventual winner Mark Rylance. I feel pretty confident about 4 of my 6; Best Actress has a question mark on it and I'm wavering over Best Picture. But it's time to pin my colours to the mast as it were.

There'll be a full blog tomorrow discussing my thoughts on the ceremony and a list of all the winners.

Good luck to all nominees and may the odds be ever in your favour.

Tez

Awards Season 2017: Independent Spirit Awards and Razzies Winners


 This is the first of two posts today about awards season, as it all comes to the grand finale tonight with the 89th Annual Academy Awards. They can be viewed on a dedicated Sky Movies channel in the UK and on ABC in the US.

I'll post my predictions for who will win at the Oscars tonight in a little bit, but first there's the small matter of a couple of other awards to deal with first.

INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS


Yesterday- Saturday 25th February- saw the handing out of the Independent Spirit Awards, in a ceremony hosted by Nick Kroll (Loving, Sing, Vacation) and John Mulaney (Mayne Street, Saturday Night Live). These honour films made (partly or wholly) outside the major film studio system. Some of the winners are below.

Best Feature: Moonlight

Best Female Lead: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Best Male Lead: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Best Supporting Female: Molly Shannon (Other People)

Best Supporting Male: Ben Foster (Hell Or High Water)

Best Director: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Screenplay: Moonlight

Best First Screenplay: The Witch

Best Cinematography: Moonlight

Best First Feature: The Witch

Best International Film: Toni Erdmann

Best Documentary: O.J.: Made In America

John Cassavetes Award: Spa Night

The John Cassavetes Award is given to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000. The full list of winners can be found here.

Moonlight was the big winner of the evening, with six awards (including the prestigious Robert Altman Award) Can it pull off what many would see as an upset by taking home the main prize at tonight's Oscars? That could indeed be a possibility. Casey Affleck adds another trophy to his haul (and almost certainly will add another one tonight), whilst wins for Toni Erdmann and O.J.: Made In America won't do their chances of Oscar glory any harm either. 

RAZZIES


The 37th Annual Golden Raspberry Awards were also handed out yesterday (in their now-traditional Oscars Eve ceremony).

Here's the full 'winners' list:

Worst Picture: Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party 

Worst Director: Dinesh D'Souza & Bruce Schooley (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Actor: Dinesh D'Souza [as Himself] (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Actress: Becky Turner [as Hillary Clinton]  (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Supporting Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Worst Supporting Actress: Kristen Wiig (Zoolander No. 2

Worst Remake, Sequel Or Rip-Off: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Worst Screen Combo: Ben Affleck & Henry Cavill (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

Worst Screenplay: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Razzie Redeemer: Mel Gibson

Whilst I'm not surprised by the kicking that Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice got, at least it can count itself lucky in some respects. Hillary's America 'won' all bar one of its nominations and the co-director/writer/lead actor Dinesh D'Souza has responded to the wins (much in the same way he did to the nominations). This is the first time in the history of the Razzies that a documentary has won Best Picture.

The Razzie Redeemer wasn't voted on by the users of Rotten Tomatoes this year (they instead voted for Worst Screen Combo) but Gibson's work on Hacksaw Ridge does warrant praise. 

This just leaves the Oscars tonight. As promised, my predictions for the big winners will be coming soon.


Tez