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


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


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.


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