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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Golden Stans 2017

The drift of one year into the next means it’s time to reflect on the films that grabbed my attention in 2017. I saw 115 films last year, 35 of which were classics or repeat screenings, leaving 80 to compete in the Golden Stans.

As is tradition, I shall start with the Cone of Shame: I was tempted to offer up the Warner Bros studio exec who approved Blade Runner 2049’s run time (two hours and 43 minutes FFS!), or Zack Snyder & co for the limp Justice League (in extreme contrast to the success of Wonder Woman), but I’ve opted to direct my ire at Alexander Payne. I really enjoyed Election, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska but Downsizing was very disappointing indeed, a promising premise and cast utterly wasted. The essential plot device (shrinking people down to only a few centimetres high) could have made a thought-provoking slice of sc-fi in Alex Garland’s hands, but Payne and his regular co-writer graft on a Capra-esque journey of self-discovery and a rom-com, neither of which convince. And the characterisation of Hong Chau’s cleaner and inspiration for the hero’s journey is, as some of my friends would say, a bit ‘racist’.

That’s the negativity done with: on with the positives. The shortlist for Best Score features three outstanding pieces of work: Ola Flottum’s themes emphasised the weirdness and unknown at the heart of Thelma; Erik Friedlander took a leaf out of the original Planet of the Apes for his rhythmic soundscapes in Thoroughbreds; and Carter Bulwell helped leave me in a blubbery mess by the end Wonderstruck. However, the Golden Stan goes to Rupert Gregson-Williams for his stirring themes in Wonder Woman, in particular during the set piece in No Man’s Land.

Staying with sound, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! was notable for spatial deployment of sound effects, and thus Paula Fairfield & co secure a special nod.

Aronosky’s biblical parable also features on the shortlist for Best Editing:
  • Andrew Weisblum for mother!
  • Tania Galis for Erase and Forget
Weisblum’s work on mother!, like much of the film, was a technical tour de force, bombarding the viewer’s senses. Galis, however, secures the Golden Stan because she fundamentally shaped the narrative that makes the documentary about Bo Gritz, the Vietnam vet who served as the inspiration for John Rambo, so compelling and astonishing. Her eye for judicious cross-cutting (from talking head interviews, to archive news footage, to movie footage, and back again) is something else.

The shortlist for the Golden Stan for Best Cinematography reflects some diverse approaches:
  • Benji Bakshi for Brawl In Cell Block 99
  • Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049
  • Matthew Libatique for mother!
  • Giles Nuttgens for Grain
  • Aleksei Rodionov for The Party
  • Lyle Vincent for Thoroughbreds
  • Ari Wegner for Lady Macbeth
There’s no doubting Deakins’ brilliance in Blade Runner (arguably the only unqualified success in the movie) – he was surely always the only contender for the task?! Bakshi gave Cell Block 99 its own feel, the bright, bleached look in the opening act in severe contrast to the dimly-lit violence that follows. Libatique, like everyone involved in mother!, had a challenge on his hands but consummately met and surpassed it. Nuttgens amd Rodionov both showcased crisp black and white photography, while Vincent and Wegner highlighted intriguing angles in their compositions, adding to the feel of the films.
It’s almost too obvious to give the award to Deakins, so the Golden Stan goes to Aleksei Rodionov for The Party, each frame a beautifully conceived work of art in itself.

Here’s the shortlist for Best Adapted Screenplay:
  • Park Chan-wook and Chung Seo-kyung for The Handmaiden
  • Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green for Logan
  • Paul King and Simon Farnaby for Paddington 2
Taking Sara Waters novel, Fingersmith (adapted for TV by the Beeb in 2005) and firmly planting it in another culture while staying true to the spirit of the original yet still reflecting the director’s key peccadilloes was a remarkable feat for Chan-wook and Seo-kyung.
Paul King and Simon Farnaby almost pulled off the impossible, delivering a sequel almost equal to the first Paddington.
However, Frank, Mangold and Green take the award for distilling the essence of Mark Millar’s celebrated Old Man Logan comic, crafting on huge chunks of Unforgiven and creating a treatise on the effects of violence that pulls no punches, offering no easy answers and an utterly unheroic super hero.

The Best Original Screenplay shortlist features four distinct voices – all of them writer/directors:
  • Julia Ducournau for Raw
  • Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird
  • Jordan Peele for Get Out
  • Taylor Sheridan for Wind River
I really enjoy Sheridan’s neo-westerns and his latest featured another strong sense of locale, once again beyond the reach of the law.
Peele’s Get Out script was a rare example of medium and message combining perfectly.
Gerwig’s not-so-autobiographical script gave plenty of space for its key characters to breathe, gently subverting coming-of-age tropes as it went.
But the Golden Stan goes to Julia Ducournau for Raw: similar to Peele, she doesn’t allow her use of symbolism and desire to get a message across to cheapen the utterly believable characters.

On to the acting categories, and first up, it’s Best Supporting Actor:
  • Maged El Kedwany for Sheikh Jackson
  • Cillian Murphy for The Party
  • Dev Patel for Lion
  • Simon Russell Beale for The Death of Stalin
  • Adam Sandler for The Meyerowitz Stories
  • Timothy Spall for The Party
Adam Sandler, if not a revelation in Meyerowitz, is nevertheless outstanding, delivering the best performance of his career.
Spall and Murphy expectedly make the most of their small roles in The Party, while Russell Beale spits out every line to comedic perfection in Stalin.
Dev Patel really proved himself in Lion (I think the physical bulking up for the role genuinely improved his screen presence), but the Golden Stan goes to Maged El Kedwany for his conflicted father, a character and performance that suggests there could be light at the end of the tunnel for Egypt.

Here’s the shortlist for Best Supporting Actress:
  • Patricia Clarkson for The Party
  • Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird
  • Julianne Moore for Wonderstruck
  • Kristin Scott-Thomas for The Party
  • Sarah Silverman for Battle of the Sexes
Clarkson as the cynic with the acerbic one-liners and Scott-Thomas as the shadow minister on the edge were predictably excellent in The Party.
Sarah Silverman dealt her one-liners with panache and not a little venom in Battle, while Moore was heart-breaking in the heart-breaking Wonderstruck.
However, the Golden Stan goes to Laurie Metcalf for her loving but vexed mum in Lady Bird.

The shortlist for Best Actor is short, highlighting a dearth of great roles and performances in 2017:
  • Timothee Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name
  • Steve Carrell for Battle of the Sexes
  • Ahmad El-Fishawy for Sheikh Jackson
  • Hugh Jackman for Logan
  • Rolf Lassgard for A Man Called Ove
  • James McAvoy for Split
  • Charlie Plummer for Lean On Pete
  • Vince Vaughn for Brawl In Cell Block 99
Chalamet was stunning in Your Name; Carrell was born to play Bobby Riggs; El-Fishawy undoubtedly did his bit to fashion such an intriguing and realistic Michael Jackson fan torn between his muse and his faith; and Jackman put himself and his best-known screen alter-ego to the sword.
Vaughn and McAvoy both enjoyed a mini-renaissance (for the record, I always thought Vaughn was good but just hadn’t found enough of the right roles): they’re astonishingly effective in their respective roles.
Rolf Lassgard, as the titular Ove, had much to sink his teeth into and did so without falling into an obviously comedic-tragic performance.
But the Golden Stan goes to teenager Charlie Plummer: he is the entire focus of Lean On Pete, and while surrounded by some of the best character actors Hollywood has to offer, his performance has to carry the film – and carry it he does, with assured aplomb. One to watch in the future.

Given the year Hollywood has had, it’s pleasing to report that there were so many great performances by actresses (noticeably more so than for the men), such that my shortlist for Best Actress is not very short:
  • Emily Beecham for Daphne
  • Carla Gugino for Gerald’s Game
  • Sandra Huller for Toni Erdmann
  • Jennifer Lawrence for mother!
  • Garance Marillier for Raw
  • Aubrey Plaza for Ingrid Goes West
  • Florence Pugh for Lady Macbeth
  • Samantha Robinson for The Love Witch
  • Saoirse Ronan for On Chesil Beach, and Lady Bird
  • Anya Taylor-Joy for Split, and Thoroughbreds
It’s a shame that Emily Beecham’s performance appeared after Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag: her Daphne felt like a less comedic Fleabag, but her performance was fine on its own terms.
Other British actresses also had a field day: Florence Pugh was an utterly compelling screen presence in Lady Macbeth; Saoirse Ronan walked fine lines of comedy, drama and tragedy in her two coming-of-age roles; and Anya Taylor-Joy showcased resilience in Split and was delightfully disaffected in Thoroughbreds.
Aubrey Plaza gave a nuanced and clearly deeply thought-out performance as the titular Ingrid.
Samantha Robinson’s deliberately blank and affected performance helped hold Love Witch together.
Carla Gugino pulled out all the stops as the [spoilers – redacted] tied to the bed for the vast majority of the Gerald’s Game. Similarly, J-Law had to go for it in Aronofsky’s mother!
Sandra Huller was brilliant in Toni Erdmann as the daughter with significant daddy issues, and in any other year, she would probably win the award, however the Golden Stan for Best Actress goes to Garance Marillier. She was completely convincing as the first-time cannibal at the heart of Raw: I can’t think of a more fully realised character in 2017 than hers.

This is the shortlist for Best Director:
  • Darren Aronofsky for mother!
  • Julia Ducournau for Raw
  • Andrew Haig for Lean On Pete
  • Todd Haynes for Wonderstruck
  • James Mangold for Logan
  • Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk
  • Edgar Wright for Baby Driver
  • S Craig Zahler for Brawl In Cell Block 99
Aronofsky is not everybody’s cup of tea, but there’s no doubting his technical prowess: mother! is a technical tour de force (just would have helped if someone else had written the script!).
Impassioned grasps of technique were also showcased by Wright and Nolan – it will be interesting to see if any of the old guard learn lessons from these two or try to ape them.
Mangold and Zahler crafted meaningful art out of their pulpy scenarios, and drew career-best performances from their respective leads.
Lean On Pete was unmistakeably an Andrew Haigh film, with the director successfully relocating his sensibilities to backwater America.
Todd Haynes’ touch was delicate but firm on Wonderstruck, teasing the narrative and emotional twists and turns to a controlled crescendo.
But the Golden Stan for Best Director goes to Julia Ducournau: Raw is perfectly crafted, every frame and performance a delight.

Now it’s time for the final award, the big one, the Golden Stan for Best Film. There are some noticeable omissions (Toni Erdmann was too long and too slow; I only saw Blade Runner 2049 once and need to see it again to come to a reasoned opinion, but again too long and too slow). Here, in the order I saw them, are the films that affected me most in 2017:
  • The Love Witch: a delicious concoction that should have made Samantha Robinson the next big thing.
  • Logan: one of the most interesting (and certainly the bleakest) comic book movies since the genre became a thing with the X-Men in 2000; more than $600m worldwide box office proved Mangold and Jackman right – there is a market for R-rated comic book movies.
  •  Get Out: electric audience reaction made this a film that absolutely had to be seen in a cinema. 
  • Raw: a detailed examination of one of the last great taboos; sometimes hard to watch, but I couldn’t look away. Shades of Cronenberg and Fincher here.
  •  The Handmaiden: a deliciously decadent concoction; perversely, the standard cut is better than the Director’s Cut.
  • Clash: gripping Egyptian action drama set inside a police van during a citywide riot.
  • Split: M Night Shyamalan crafted a strange beast, almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the tension; can’t wait for January 2019 when he unleashes Glass.
  • Wonder Woman: Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot & co delivered the second-best super hero movie of the year, but it was the mostimportant super hero movie of the year; featured the most stirring moment of the year in the No Man’s Land sequence.
  • A Man Called Ove: this could have been ‘just’ an extended episode of One Foot In The Grave, but the love and tragedy at its heart lift it beyond that; I was in bits at the end. It managed to deliver a gag that made me cry both because it was both funny and sad.
  • Baby Driver: Edgar Wright’s response to Mad Max: Fury Road? This arthouse action movie delivered in spades, especially the music video-style intro.
  • Dunkirk: masterpiece of pure cinema from a modern master. A film made for IMAX, delivering total immersion for the audience. Particular mention should go to Zimmer for that score and the inclusion of Nimrod.
  • Wind River: compelling neo-Western with one of the tensest scenes of the year. I can’t wait to see what Taylor Sheridan directs next.
  • Wonderstruck: ridiculously moving children’s fairy tale for adults; deserves to each a wide audience.
  • Lean On Pete: not at the same level as 45 Years, but this modern horse opera/road movie crossover was deeply affecting; what a performance from Charlie Plummer.
  • Erase And Forget: this headlong dive into the life and times of Bo Gritz, the Vietnam vet who served as the inspiration for John Rambo, is timely and never less than astonishing, touching on many hot topics (gun control, the lingering damage of Vietnam on the US psyche, the space where myth becomes fact and vice versa).
  • Small Town Crime: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; this neo-Western features a great turn by John Hawkes as a wasted cop who loses his badge; notable support from Robert Forster.
  • Brawl In Cell Block 99: when you absolutely, positively need to crush someone’s head, best call Vince Vaughn. Unrelenting brutality, Shakespearean tragedy. Hard to watch, but I want to watch it again and again.
  •  Lady Bird: greater than the sum of its parts and substantially better than the trailer makes it look. An absolute delight.
  • 78/52: cracking documentary about the shower scene in Psycho; a must-see for any film fan.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi: it had its issues, but brave of Disney and Lucas Film to allow Rian Johnson to use a franchise film to explore the importance of failure and to debate the power and dangers of myth, both textually and subtextually.
There has to be a Best Film, and that Golden Stan goes to Raw, just edging Dunkirk. Both films highlighted directors with an exceptionally keen eye for detail in every element of the production, but Julia Ducournau’s Raw was even more riveting than Dunkirk. The sheer precision in every scene, every line, every composition, every location and lighting choice is awe-inspiring; Ducournau’s own script allows the key characters plenty of room to develop and breathe, generating audience empathy with these taboo-breakers – I was utterly immersed in their lives. We may have a long wait for another from Ducournau (Raw appears to have been something of a passion project), but I hope it will be worth the wait.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

2017 box office review

2017 was another banner year for Disney with six of the 20 most successful films of the year, including five of the top 10!

The live-action remake of Beauty & The Beast was the worldwide number 1, hauling in more than $1.2bn. It took £72.4m in the UK, holding the weekly number one spot for three weekends. As 2017 closed out, its top position in the UK came under threat from The Last Jedi. Belle and her beastly partner finished second in the US chart and finished fourth on the international chart. The only territory that the film didn’t perform to an exceptionally high level was China, where it pulled in just less than $86m.

The Fate of the Furious drove off with the worldwide number two and international number one position at $1.2bn and $1bn respectively: that’s right, Fate’s performance was very heavily skewed to the international and Chinese markets – its $225m US take is not to be sniffed at, but its biggest single market was China with nearly $400m. So, the eighth instalment in the franchise was slightly bigger than the previous series high in China, but in the US fell behind the seventh and sixth films.

The ninth and 10th films are already on the slate for 2020 and 2021 in case you’re suffering withdrawal symptoms…

The eighth part of the Star Wars saga gatecrashed the charts in the final fortnight of the year. While not the once-in-a-generation phenomenon that Force Awakens was, Last Jedi easily dominated screens and the box office, just nabbing third place worldwide on new year’s eve as it crossed the $1bn mark. It topped the US chart with $517.4m, was eighth internationally on $523m (noticeably driven by the traditional international markets like the UK, Germany and France), and just fell short of catching Belle in the UK with £68.3m. It will be released in China in early 2018.

The world’s fourth most successful film performed in much the same way as Fate: Despicable Me 3’s total of $1bn included a 28% fall from the previous film in the US to $264.6m as the international haul increased 28% to nearly $800m. It ranked fourth in the UK and 13th in China.

Less than $100m separated the next six films on the chart. The Marvel-produced but Sony-owned-and-distributed Spider-Man ended the year as the most successful comic book adaptation with $880m worldwide: it crossed the $300m barrier in the US, the £30m barrier in the UK and the $500m barrier internationally.

Next up is Wolf Warrior 2, a Chinese megahit that took more than $800m in China alone.

Marvel Studios’ Guardians 2 and Thor 3 were neck-and-neck. Overall Thor was more successful internationally, but Guardians trumped the Thunder God in both the US and the UK.

While only the fourth most financially successful comic book movie, Wonder Woman was undoubtedly the best to watch and the most culturally significant. It rode a wave of female empowerment in the US, pocketing more than $400m; however, it couldn’t hope to perform as well internationally – the character isn’t that well known – but it still pulled in another $409m. Diana didn’t seem to catch fire with UK audiences in the same way as in the US: I can’t put my finger on the reason why. Nevertheless, a total of £22m in the UK isn’t to be sniffed at.

The fifth Pirates movie, like its predecessor, relied heavily on the international market, which contributed more than 75% of its worldwide take.

Alongside Wonder Woman, the other shock performer was It: nearly $700m worldwide (without securing a release in China) off a budget of just $35m meant somebody took home a huge xmas bonus. It grossed more than Thor 3 in the US and the UK (nobody would have offered you odds on that at the start of the year)!

The comic book disappointment of the year is next: Justice League earned less than Wonder Woman, its gross at the $650m mark as 2017 finished. The League failed to make the UK top 20, and struggled to match Logan in the US (which was R-rated!). Again, nobody would have given you odds on that a year ago! Next for DC is Aquaman in time for Xmas 2018.

Among the remainder of the worldwide top 25, the other performances worthy of mention are: Dunkirk, with $525m, nearly one sixth of which came from the UK (where it spent four weeks at number one in the height of the summer); Pixar’s Coco ended the year with more than $500m in the bank and has yet to open in many traditional box office strongholds; and La La Land, singing and dancing to more than $400m (including £30m from the UK).

Aside from the Last Jedi, other films were just beginning to make their presence felt as the year ended: Jumanji made the top 25 in both the UK and the US after less than a fortnight on release; and Paddington 2 picked up where its predecessor left off and was closing in on the £40m mark as 2018 started.

It should be noted that the top four international performers in 2017 beat 2016’s champ, Captain America: Civil War.

In many traditional key markets, the question now is whether franchise fatigue has set in.
50 Shades Darker whipped up one third less of a frenzy than the first entry in the series (yet still pulled in more than £23m in the UK).

War for the Planet of the Apes performed only marginally better than the first instalment of the new trilogy from 2011 ($490m against $492m) and fell substantially short of the peak reached by the second film in 2014 ($710.6m).

Pirates 5 was the lowest entry in the franchise in the US and the UK. Indeed, across eight of the largest territories (Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the UK), Pirates 5’s total was just $225m against Pirates 4’s $423m…

Transformers: Last Knight’s worldwide haul was 45% lower than its $1bn predecessor. Its top nine traditional markets generated just $125m compared with $292m from its predecessor.
In both cases, China saved the day, generating $172m and nearly $229m respectively.

China was the single largest territory for the likes of Kong: Skull Island (nearly 30% of its worldwide total), XXX3 (47%) and Resident Evil: Final Chapter (51%).

But in some cases, even China couldn’t save the day. Yes, it’s time to talk about those embarrassing flops. Probably the worst case was Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: with a budget of $175m, it pulled in less than $150m worldwide. Following on the back of the Man from UNCLE, Ritchie needs a proper hit – and he’s guaranteed it, as he’s in the hot seat for the live action remake of Aladdin, due for release in 2019.

Luc Besson went from feast to famine, from Lucy’s $463m off a budget of $40m in 2014 to the disaster that was Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets: with a budget of $177m, it took just $225m.

The Tom Cruise-fronted Mummy was meant to launch Universal’s Dark Universe, and while $409m would seem OK for an entirely new and original franchise launch, for an age-old property that cost £125m and was fronted by Tom Cruise, it’s simply not enough. The film’s largest single territory was China with $91.7m. Like Transformers 5, The Mummy couldn’t clear the £10m barrier in the UK.
Ghost In The Shell cost $110m and generated just less than $170m, while the Dark Tower pulled in nearly $112m off a positively modest $60m budget.

Blade Runner 2049 cost $150m and fell just short of $260m, and thus a little too closely mirrored the financial performance of its illustrious origin.

On a more positive note, the most successful truly original films (ie not based on an existing story or characters, fictional or not) were La La Land, Sing (a holdover from 2016 into 2017), Split ($278.3m) and Get Out ($254.3m, most of that from the US it should be noted). Indeed, the top three horror films of the year (It, Split and Get Out) cost a total of $48.5m and generated a total box office of more than $1.2bn!

Worldwide Top 25 in 2017
Beauty & The Beast $1,263.5m
The Fate of the Furious $1,235.8m
Star Wars: The Last Jedi $1,040.2m
Despicable Me 3 $1,033.5m
Spider-Man: Homecoming $880.2m
Wolf Warrior 2 $870.3m
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 $863.6m
Thor: Ragnarok $848.5m
Wonder Woman $821.8m
Pirates 5 $794.8m
It $698.1m
Justice League $650.5m
Logan $616.8m
Transformers: Last Knight $605.4m
Kong: Skull Island $566.7m
Coco $547.4m
Dunkirk $525m
The Boss Baby $498.9m         
War for the Planet of the Apes $490.7m
The Mummy $409.1m
La La Land $404.2m         
Kingsman 2 $395.5m
Cars 3 $383.5m
Sing $381.5m
50 Shades Darker $381m

UK Top 25 in 2017
Beauty & The Beast £72.4m
Star Wars: The Last Jedi £68.3m
Dunkirk £56.7m
Despicable Me 3 £47.7m
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 £41m
Paddington 2 £37.6m
It £32.3m
Thor: Ragnarok £30.9m
Spider-Man: Homecoming £30.5m
La La Land £30.4m
Fast & Furious 8 £29.6m
Sing £29.2m
Boss Baby £29.1m
The Lego Batman Movie £27.4m
Kingsman 2 £24.9m
Logan £23.9m
Murder On The Orient Express £23.9m
Fifty Shades Darker £23.1m
Wonder Woman £22.2m
War for the Planet of the Apes £20.8m
Pirates 5 £19.5m
Blade Runner 2049 £19m
Jumanji £17.8m
Justice League £17.4m
T2 Trainspotting £17m

International Top 25 in 2017
The Fate of the Furious $1,010m
Wolf Warrior 2 $867.6m
Despicable Me 3 $768.9m
Beauty & The Beast $759.5m
Pirates 5 $622.2m
Spider-Man: Homecoming $546m
Thor: Ragnarok $537.3m
Star Wars: The Last Jedi $523m
Transformers: The Last Knight $475.3m
Guardians of the Galaxy $473.8m
Justice League $425m
Wonder Woman $409.2m
Kong: Skull Island $398.6m
Logan $390.5m
It $370.6m
Coco $367.6m
Your Name $350.3m
War for the Planet of the Apes $343.8m
Dunkirk $337m
Never Say Die $333.9m
The Mummy $329m
The Boss Baby $323.9m
XXX 3 $301.2m
Kingsman 2 $295.3m
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter $285.4m

US Top 25 in 2017
Star Wars: The Last Jedi $517.2m
Beauty & The Beast $504m
Wonder Woman $412.6m
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 $389.8m
Spider-Man: Homecoming $334.2m
It $327.5m
Thor: Ragnarok $311.2m
Despicable Me 3 $264.6m
Logan $226.3m
The Fate of the Furious $225.8m
Justice League $225.5m
Dunkirk $188m
Coco $179.8m
The Lego Batman Movie $175.8m
Get Out $175.5m
The Boss Baby $175m
Pirates 5 $172.6m
Jumanji $169m
Kong: Skull Island $168.1m
Hidden Figures $167.4m
Cars 3 $152.9m
War for the Planet of the Apes $146.9m
Split $138.1m
Transformers: The Last Knight $130.2m
Rogue One $123.9m

China Top 25 in 2017
Wolf Warrior 2 $854.2m
The Fate of the Furious $392.8m
Never Say Die $333.9m                                             
Kung Fu Yoga $254.5m
Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back $239.6m
Transformers: The Last Knight $228.8m
Dangal $193.1m
Pirates 5 $172.3m
Kong: Skull Island $168.2m
Coco $167.1m
XXX 3 $164.1m
Resident Evil: Final Chapter $159.5m
Despicable Me 3 $158.2m
Duckweed $152.4m
Youth $125.8m
Kingsman 2 $116.7m
Spider-Man: Homecoming $116.3m
War for the Planet of the Apes $112.4m
Thor: Ragnarok $112.2m
Buddies In India $109.8m
Logan $106m
Justice League $104.9m
Wukong $103.5m
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 $100.7m
The Mummy $91.7m

Box office data sourced from, and the BFI

Sunday, 24 December 2017

2018: forthcoming films

What filmic delights does 2018 offer? Read on to find out!

Jan 1
Aaron Sorkin directs Jessica Chastain in this passed-over awards season contender (left).

Jan 5
The Ridley Scott take on the Getty kidnap in the 70s; Spacey was Getty, but got replaced just six weeks before release by Christopher Plummer. Awards season contender.

Apparently astonishing performance by Christian Bale in this violent Western.

Jan 12
Gary Oldman is Winston Churchill as, if the scuttlebutt is to be believed, you've never seen him before. Oscar ahoy for Oldman?

Big awards season contender from Martin McDonagh. 

Jan 19
The new Spielberg with Hanks and Streep as the head honchos of the Washington Post as it reports Vietnam.

The new Pixar, set against the Mexican day of the dead. Reviews from mixed to stunning.

Very poor from Alexander Payne, I'm sad to say.

Jan 26
The new Aardman Animation opus.

Carrell, Cranston and Fishburne in the pseudo sequel to The Last Detail; directed by Linklater.

Feb 2
Hard-to-give-a-damn latest from PT Anderson; DDL in the lead, natch.

Sam Claflin leads the line in this WWI trench adaptation.

Feb 9
Colin Firth as a yachtsman who spins outrageous lies about what befell him in a major race.

Feb 12
Black Panther
Ryan Coogler directs the year's first Marvel movie (right) as we see Wakanda for the first time.

Feb 14
Guillermo del Toro's awards season favourite. Oscar ahoy for Sally Hawkins. You'll believe a mute woman and a half-fish/half-man can fall in love. Bring the hankies.

Feb 23
The new Alex Garland with Natalie Portman in the lead.

Deft, charming, crowd-pleasing coming of age drama from Greta Gerwig. Saoirse Ronan in awards-worthy form.

Margot Robbie is Tonya Harding. Oscar nom expected.

British drama set on a farm as the daughter returns home after her father's death. Premiered at LFF 2017.

Mar 2
The new Jennifer Lawrence action flick that looks a little too much like a Black Widow movie! The trailer had me at 'hello'.

Mar 9
Delicious, off-kilter teen thriller with Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy on great form as murderous friends.

Mar 16
I note the release of this purely for the record. Alicia Vikander is Lara Croft. Will anybody care?

Mar 23
The sequel nobody wanted or needed to del Toro's giant robots v monsters flop from a few years ago.

Mar 30
Not sure who this is meant for. There's quite a lot of Matrix here. Riding the wave of 80s nostalgia post-Stranger Things.

The new animated Wes Anderson, involving, you guessed, dogs.

Apr 11
The next X-Men-related movie (left) that seems to be set up more like a horror movie than a metaphor for otherness v the norms  of society.

Apr 13
British horror with Martin Freeman in the lead.

Apr 20
The new Jason Reitman with Charlize Theron in the lead.

Apr 27
And so it begins: the beginning of the end of the first phases of the Marvel movies as Thanos arrives. Cap's back with 'that' beard, and the Avengers will ultimately join forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy. One or two characters will surely die...

British indie erotic thriller that won plaudits upon its LFF 2017 premiere.

May 4
Emily Blunt in a horror story directed by her husband.

May 25
Can it deliver like Rogue One?

Jun 1
Can lightning strike twice for Ryan Reynolds' sweary mutant? Josh Brolin arrives as Cable.

Jun 8
I'm guessing some dinosaurs will attack people...

Jun 22
Bullock, Blanchett, Hathaway, HBC, and Paulson in the all-female heist movie (right).

Jun 29
A prequel to Sicario, focusing on Benecio del Toro and Josh Brolin.

Jul 13
Finally! Will this be the best super hero movie of 2018?

Jul 27
Chris McQuarrie and Tom Cruise seek to outdo Bond again; Rebecca Ferguson returns.

Aug 2
Shane Black remakes the Arnie classic.

Aug 3
The sequel to Ant-Man in which Evangeline Lilly dons the Wasp outfit. Michelle Pfeiffer cast as the original and missing in action Wasp.

Sep 14
Saoirse Ronan is Mary Stuart! Margot Robbie is Queen Elizabeth I!

Sep 28
The new Joe Cornish!

Oct 5
Tom Hardy is Venom in this Spider-Man spin-off. 

Oct 19
The Andy Serkis live-action version, faithful to the original text - so not very Disney then!

Oct 31
The third X-Men-related movie of the year sees Sophie Turner's Jean Grey go full Phoenix (left). Directed long-time X-Men movie producer and writer Simon Kinberg; might it actually be good?

Nov 2
Following Whiplash and La La Land, Damian Chappelle directs Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong.

Dec 14
Animated Spidey, focusing on an alternative universe, introducing Miles Morales as the Ultimate Spider-Man.

Dec 21
The only DC movie of 2018, following more than a year after the mess that was Justice League... Saw and Conjuring director James Wan might bring something new to the super hero genre?

Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins...

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Wondering about Wonder Woman

Gender box office records broken, glass ceiling smashed, thousands of words written about the film’s wider impact: nothing’s impossible for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman or so it appears. There may be spoilers ahead!

Before I give my witness statement, I need to set myself in context: yes, I’m a comic geek, but I’m not hugely into DC, outside of Bats and Supes; I don’t think I’ve ever read an issue of Wonder Woman, but I am a reader and watcher of Jessica Jones, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Agent Carter, and Mockingbird from the Marvel comics, movies and TV series, and also a reader of more female-focussed works such as Bitch Planet, Saga, Black Magick and Velvet.

Like many, I wasn’t happy with Bats v Supes and was seriously underwhelmed by Suicide Squad. The only chink of light in BvS was Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the first trailer, but as WW’s opening date drew closer, I became more hopeful.

And for the most part that hope was well founded. Aside from the bookends, the film is self-contained with no references to the established DC movie universe. Indeed, the film is probably even better if you haven’t seen BvS.

The film is comfortable in its own skin, even if the plot feels like a patchwork of Superman The Movie, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor (the London backstreet bullet-catch sequence is a replay of Lois and Clark being mugged behind the Daily Planet sequence in Superman, for example). The film has an honest emotional core to it, not unlike Lord of the Rings, that lends the film gravitas and lifts it above its source material. It’s perfectly pitched, and the tonal shifts are well executed: the comedy to drama to tragedy absolutely works.

Indeed, it’s certainly the most romantic superhero movie since Thor and Spider-Man II. And that’s in part due to the natural chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine as Captain Steve Trevor. There’s a whiff of James T Kirk in Trevor, but Pine takes his position in the drama and rolls with it: he’s world-weary, heroic, but flummoxed, embarrassed and by the end utterly smitten with Diana (just like every guy in the room, then!). It has already been noted by other observers, notably in Meg Downey's excellent analysis for, that he declares his love for her and that she does not reciprocate.

I like that the film allows Trevor to maintain the gentlemanly code of conduct that’s correct for the period, which then paves the way for a delicate moment of power play: post-dance, Trevor escorts Diana to her room and moves to exit and close the door, not assuming he has the right to stay; with a subtle bow and turn of the head, Diana’s stare pierces him and invites him to stay. Like Michael Biehn’s Corporal Hicks in Aliens with Ripley, Trevor respects Diana from the off and swiftly accepts her power and her right to be the dominant force.

It would be fair to say that the challenge her empowerment provides to the film’s patriarchy emboldens the majority of men to be better, to think with their brains and hearts rather than with their cocks and anger – for the most part, Diana doesn’t emasculate the men around her.

With her part in ensuring the end of WWI a secret, there’s no chance for her efforts to galvanise the gender war. (Note: the script never refers to ‘goddesses’, just ‘gods’.) Indeed, the film rather raises the question of what Diana did for the 100 years or so between the Great War and BvS? Perhaps Justice League may offer us a clue when it opens in November.

While the film is effectively a star-making vehicle for Gal Gadot (it’ll be intriguing to see how her career develops: what roles will she be offered?), I’m not convinced she completely believed in some of her character’s ‘hero’ moments or maybe those set pieces were early in the shoot and she wasn’t fully confident in herself and the material.

That said, Diana’s almost graceful journey from ingénue to hero to wrathful and judging god to benevolent idol demands much and Gadot rises to the challenge. The film’s set piece in No Man’s Land, in which Diana draws the attention and the heavy fire of the German frontline, brings a lump to the throat, aided by Rupert Gregson-Williams’ stirring score.

The film’s and Diana’s gaze falls witheringly on man’s inhumanity to his fellow man and woman, specifically through war. The film is stridently anti-war and much is made of Diana’s compassion; there’s even time for a needs of the few versus the needs of the many debate before the No Man’s Land sequence.

There’s some giddy, Liberal wish-fulfilment in the finale that is counterpointed by our foreknowledge of the events to come in the ensuing 100 years and thus hints at the moral complexities and failings of mankind Diana will have to learn: she ends Ares but not jealousy, hatred and war.

The film has issues, of course. The finale launches the film backwards into a pitch-black Zack Snyder-style CGI-fest with maximum destruction for our viewing pleasure… This is a shame given how progressive the film is up to that point.

And briefly touching on technical points, the fight styles and effects in the DC movies so far are not a patch on Marvel’s work. Similarly, Marvel’s choice of cinematographers is a notch (or more) above DC’s. Those trends continue with Wonder Woman.

There’s an element of tokenism to Trevor’s Scooby Gang: are they there simply to highlight to Diana man’s inhumanity to man and woman alike? Upon reflection and further viewings, Ewen Bremner’s PTSD-sufferer probably gets the best of the bad hands dealt here.

The bad guys are just too typically lazily drawn and there’s no getting away from the fact that great performers like Danny Huston and Elena Anaya are wasted here. Similarly, there’s little for Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright to do as Diana’s mother and aunt respectively.

And as intelligent as some of the material and the approach to it is, WW does not confront and debate the gender war with the same depth and analysis as Marvel’s/Netflix’s Jessica Jones (perhaps because, in pure narrative terms, Diana is at war with war whereas JJ is at war with the patriarchy).

Those caveats aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It sets a high bar for the Captain Marvel movie (and the Black Widow solo outing should it ever emerge) and should comfortably pull in more than $600m worldwide – frankly it should do $700m-plus but that hinges on how good its domestic legs are and how the rest of the world takes to a character it barely knows.

Wonder Woman is a standard around which those who rightly demand Hollywood should produce more diverse output from more diverse creatives must rally (and in significant number). Nevertheless, the film represents victory in just one battle of a much longer and larger campaign.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Logan: finally The Wolverine

I’ve waited until my second viewing of Logan before sharing my thoughts. Indeed, it’s taken a second viewing to ‘process’ the film. Be warned: there be spoilers here.

Let’s start with that trailer: its tone hints at what’s to come in the film, but it in no way prepares the viewer for its bleak, solemn and brutal approach. The trailer, backed of course with Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt, suggests heroic redemption, Gladiator-style.

And while DoP John Mathieson, who shot Gladiator, brings an epic visual scope to Logan, there is little else about this film that matches Gladiator’s arc.

Logan is clearly closest in spirit to Clint’s Unforgiven, but even that had humour and crowd-pleasing moments. It shares the Oscar-winning Western’s set-up and themes, but in the hands of director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman, Logan mines those with greater and discomforting intensity.

Logan is not a super hero movie – yes, there are super-powered characters, fights and some effects – rather this is a story of two old men, both of whom have had enough of life, facing up to the choices they have made and the choices that have been forced upon them. Live by the claw, die by the claw.

Key to the film’s success is this set-up: while both Logan and Xavier are powerful mutants, their abilities are curbed by old age. The idea of Xavier suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder and having to take medication that dulls his brain further is upsetting.

Logan appears to begrudge his role of Xavier’s provider and carer; indeed there’s an edge of care home abuse in his treatment of the Professor. Once we work out what happened to all the mutants, we realise that, in his grief, Logan is imprisoning and punishing Xavier.

Logan, clearly being poisoned by the adamantium grafted to his skeleton, finds his only escape from the pain and the tedium of caring for Xavier in beer and bourbon. With his healing power failing him, more recent scars stand proud upon his body – no chance of leaving behind a beautiful corpse – and he walks with a pronounced limp.

He even seems to be suffering from erectile dysfunction of his claws: they don’t pop as quickly and as far as they used to.

Nevertheless, when he does pop those claws, boy does he… The first fight against some would-be car-jackers is shocking. Logan wearily asks them to back away, but then the shots start and before you know it, Logan’s limo has got marks on it – and that drives this tired, old white man over the edge. The ensuing fight sees him kill most of the hoodlums with crunching, graphic claw attacks – more often than not he goes for the kill-strike immediately (up through the chin, from the base of the back of the skull, etc), not because they’re the most expedient, but because he gets the most satisfaction that way, it’s the only way to sate the anger and blood lust.

As the story progresses, Logan gets ever more violent and ever-more dehumanized by his own actions. His violence stands on the same ground as sex in Cronenberg movies: it’s a headlong dive into self-loathing, and, like a junkie, he just can’t give up.

By the time we reach the final battle, Logan is running on little more than pure, animalistic rage: at this point he is The Wolverine. And this is uncomfortable to watch, as Jackman utters guttural animal noises – he’s no longer human.

There’s so much violence and it’s so graphic that the viewer is left bloodied and broken like Logan’s enemies, unwillingly complicit in the dearth (and indeed death) of humanity in a beloved screen hero.
Wolverine, hero no more: that could have been the film’s alternative title. There’s nothing heroic here, what redemption there is for Logan is depressingly fleeting.

Compare the fall of Maximus in Gladiator with the falls of either Xavier or Logan: Russell Crowe’s Caesar-killer is accorded a hero’s death, full of pomp and ceremony, while the dispatch of and burial of Xavier is exceptionally tough on the character, his legacy and the audience.

Logan can only articulate his sense of loss through rage and violence, unable even to summon any appropriate eulogy. His reaction in the immediate aftermath is momentarily amusing for UK audiences as it recalls Basil Fawlty attacking his car; however, the humour rapidly dissipates as he continues to attack the car before collapsing to the ground – it’s agonising to watch.

When he falls at the hands of his clone (echoing Superman III’s ego and id battle), Logan is at least accorded that fleeting redemption, a second of happiness in a lifetime of abuse, misery and shattered dreams.

The film completes its echoes of Unforgiven by affording Logan a fiery and naïve protégé, X23/Laura (Dafne Keen gives as strong and committed a performance as Jackman here).

It’s worth noting how Logan toys with Unforgiven’s meta aspect – the ‘man of letters and such’, mythologising the Wild West with the tales of the ‘Duck of Death’ who bears witness to William Munny’s own myth. When Logan finds the X-Men comics in X23’s possession, the myths of which she clings to, he flicks through the pages and decries the stories: ‘maybe a quarter of it happened and not like this; you don’t just pull on some spandex and save the day’.

Some writers have suggested that the primary colour visions in the comic panels rekindle the long-dead hero in Logan, but I’m not sure I agree. He’s not one to believe his own press.

However, it is worth noting that in the glimpses of the comics we get, the character who calls for Logan’s help is his original X-daughter, Rogue. Given that the comic revelation comes just after Logan has discovered the truth about X23’s ancestry, this is the turning point in his attitude towards her: if not her hero, he must become her father.

But the sins of the father have been passed on undiluted to this child: seeing her tear men apart makes for even more uncomfortable viewing than Wolverine’s berserker rage, her feral quality a result of years of abuse and captivity.

Logan’s final fatherly advice hints at despair and a mission impossible: “Don’t become what they made you.”

Using Shane’s departing speech as a eulogy, X23/Laura then completes Logan’s burial, fittingly and tellingly flipping the angle of the makeshift cross on Logan’s grave so that it forms an ‘x’. Weapon X is dead, long live Weapon X.