2018 Blog Posts
'Best Laid Plans' Storyline 2018
| This is a storyline most popular
with filmmakers in a crime context, as ‘the 'perfect crime goes wrong’, reflecting
the censor-friendly moral theme that Crime Does Not Pay – no matter how well-planned the
Most of the upcoming works are, for whatever reason, either fact-based or remakes of earlier works. (Last year’s Whisky Galore written by Peter McDougall was both.)
Remakes include a Superfly redo (“cocaine dealer tries to secure one more deal before getting out of the business”), adapted by Alex Tse from the 1972 original blaxploitation crime drama; an updated US-set remake scripted by Gillian Flynn and director Steve McQueen of Lynda La Plante’s 1983 tv thriller Widows (“four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms”); and The Red Circle, a remake scripted by Steven Knight [Peaky Blinders] of Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic 1970 heist drama Le Cercle Rouge.
Among original scripts are Bad Samaritan writtten by Brandon Boyce, which has one of those plots where lowlife protagonists get more than they bargained for when they stumble upon a prize – here, “A pair of burglars stumble upon a woman being held captive in a home they intended to rob.” There is also the Maghreb-set French heist comedy writtten by Karim Boukercha, Noé Debré, and director Romain Gavras (son of Costa-Gavras): Le Monde Est À Toi /The World Is Yours. (This is a title ref Scarface fans will recognize, but it may be ironic - set in a modern coastal resort, the plot seems to concern a small-time dealer whose “life falls apart when he learns his mother has spent all his savings.”)
Fact-based works include Stockholm, from a New Yorker article titled “The Bank Drama” by Daniel Lang, about the 1973 Swedish bank robbery hostage drama which gave ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ – the psychological bond between hostage and captor - its name.
Not all best-laid plans are criminal ones - sometimes the police's plans can go horribly wrong as well. 54 Hours, originally titled Gladbeck, written by Holger Karsten Schmidt and director Kilian Riedhof, is a two-part dramatization revisiting (20 years on) what has been called German media history's "darkest hour". (This distinguishes it from the 1972 Munich Olympics hostage disaster, which was an official rather than media cockup.) In this case, police allowed the media to get between them and a hostage situation where bank robbers held bus passengers hostage. It ended with two hostages dead, the robbers surviving, the media being given stricter rules, and several officials resigning. (See banner image at top for screenshots of press crowd and final motorway shootout.) Broadcast on German tv in March 2018, it was shown on BBC in October, but it is not yet out on DVD in subtitled form, only on a German DVD.
Fact-based too are Vault, written by director Tom DeNucci and B. Dolan (“a group of small-time Rhode Island criminals who in 1975 attempt to pull off the biggest heist in American history, stealing more than $30 million from the mafia”), plus a rare-book heist drama, American Animals, from writer-director Bart Layton, a “genre-bending movie based on the true story of four teenagers in Lexington, Kentucky who tried to strike it rich by pulling off a $10M heist centered on a library.”
Fact-based also is the comedy King Of Thieves, written by Joe Penhall from a Mark Seal magazine article, about 'the largest burglary in English legal history', the 2015 Hatton Garden heist. While not exactly a remake, this is scarcely the first screen dramatisation, cf Wikipedia:
Another remake of
sorts is is a five or six episode BBC version of The Beast Must Die. Not to
be confused with the 1974 werewolf film, this is the first authentic adaptation of a 1938 mystery
classic by Nicholas Blake [= poet Cecil Day-Lewis].
|Jon and Josh Silberman [Living Biblically etc] have been hired to write Coyote Vs. Acme, a feature spinoff of the WB cartoon series created by animation director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese in 1948. The Acme Corporation is or course the inaptly-named Wile E. Coyote's mail-order supplier of devices bought to catch the Road Runner; these inevitably never work as planned, and often simply backfire on the hapless canine, sending him into a rock wall or over a canyon edge. The variations on this Sisyphus-like setup always seemed to be endless, and evidently there are more variations-on-a-theme still to come. Meep, meep!|
|One work which appears to be neither
fact-based nor a remake is The Good Girl, a tv drama serial being adapted by writer-director
Oren Moverman from Mary Kubica’s 2014 debut novel, which has a kidnapping-gone-wrong plot
setup as the basis of a nothing-is-quite-what-it-appears drama.
('Alternating timelines and the shifting points of view of Mia’s mother, her kidnapper, and the detective tasked with finding her, constantly circle the question of what really happened to Mia and how, even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.')
'Big Night' Storyline 2018
This is not a storyline that gets much attention, perhaps due to the inbuilt restraints of its time-frame, with the focus on a single evening or overnight stretch, but the dramatic unities of time and often of place can enhance a rite-of-passage story. Perhaps the most used plot setup is a party where fateful events unfold, as in last year’s British satiric drama from Sally Potter, simply titled The Party (a political pun). Below are 10 upcoming releases or productions, including two projects involving Orson Welles, one actually made by him but unreleased for four decades.
Bad Times At The El Royale: Written by its director Drew Goddard, this 1960s-set mystery drama has “Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption - before everything goes to hell.”
Berlin, I Love You: This 4th entry in the 'Cities of Love' anthology feature franchise [2006-], following Paris Je T’aime, New York I Love You, and Rio, Eu Te Amo, will have 10 vignettes set in the German capital, written by 8 different scenarists for 11 different directors. It qualifies in part as most sequences will likely be evening or night-time encounters.
Here And Now has an early-evening setting, covered in real time. Originally titled Blue Night, and not to be confused with the just-cancelled Alan Ball HBO tv series Here And Now, has been described as an homage to the famous 1962 Agnès Varda film Cléo de 5 à 7 / Cléo From 5 to 7, a real-time drama about a woman waiting the result of a fateful medical test. Written by Laura Eason [House Of Cards], in this US-set update “A singer in New York gets a grim diagnosis that puts her life and dreams into perspective.”
One Night Love (Plan Couer): This 8-part Paris-set romantic comedy as a French-language original for Netflix may fit the bill here. Based on a feature script by British tv writer Chris Lang [Unforgotten] with director Noemie Saglio, this has ‘a female bachelor who does not understand why she can’t find love. Her three friends, determined to help, hire an escort, whom she promptly falls in love with’.
The Other Side Of The Wind, described as a mockumentary satirising the Hollywood studio system and the new wave of art-house European filmmakers, is Orson Welles’s final work, made in the early 70s but long delayed by rights disputes which prevented a final assembly. It’s set one night when a crisis-hit filmmaker’s relaunch party goes slowly wrong.
The Prom Goer's Interstellar Excursion, adapted by Chris McCoy from his 2015 YA SF novel, has a high schooler’s prom date ruined when she is abducted by aliens.
Ready Or Not, written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy, “tells the story of a young woman, who on the night of her wedding, is invited to her new in-laws time-honored tradition which turns into a lethal game of survival.”
Satanic Panic, written by Grady Hendrix, is described as “an After Hours-esque horror comedy with a dash of gore”, where “a pizza delivery girl at the end of her financial rope who has to fight for her life — and her tips — when her last order of the night turns out to be high society Satanists in need of a virgin sacrifice.”
Uptown Saturday Night, a remake of the 1974 Bill Cosby-Sidney Poitier comedy, is being developed from a script by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris.
We Interrupt This Program, from a Sean Sorensen script, dramatises the behind-the-scenes conflicts during Orson Welles’s 1938 War Of The Worlds radio mockumentary-style hoax.
'Citizens Into Soldiers' Storyline 2018
Above and below: The fact-based drama, 12 Strong, adapted by Ted Tally and Peter Craig from Doug Stanton's non-fiction book Horse Soldiers, about the first military unit sent into Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11, premieres in the US this month.
|68 Whiskey, the working title of a commissioned Paramount/ Imagine TV pilot written by Roberto Benabib [The Brink] based on a hit Israeli TV series, Charlie Golf One. It ‘follows a multicultural mix of men and women deployed as Army medics to a forward operating base in Afghanistan nicknamed “The Orphanage.” Together, they endure a dangerous and Kafkaesque world that leads to self-destructive appetites, outrageous behavior, intense camaraderie and occasionally, a profound sense of purpose.’||Currently in development, A Brotherhood ‘tells the story of William, a struggling U.S. veteran of the Iraq War, who is forced to return to the Middle East after ISIS kidnaps his estranged brother.’ Writer-director Bandar Albuliwi was inspired by a 2015 article about ‘a 28-year old former American soldier who travelled from a small town in Wisconsin to war-torn Syria in order to join the People’s Protection Unit (Kurdish YPG).‘|
|A TV limited-series adaptation, written by Luke Davies and David Michôd based on Joseph Helller’s classic antiwar novel Catch-22 [filmed 1970], is being directed by George Clooney, who also costars.||Three lost episodes BBC’s hit sitcom about the Home Guard, Dad's Army, are to be reshot for digital channel Gold. The video tapes of the episodes Under Fire, A Stripe For Frazer, and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Walker were recycled, but now will be remade with new casts performing the original Jimmy Perry / David Croft scripts.|
adapted by Josh Singer [Spotlight] from James R. Hansen's biography of Neil Armstrong
fits the profile though its setting is Cold rather than hot war. It follows Armstrong's career
over eight years, up to, and just beyond, the lunar landing, and is released in October.
|Greyhound, scripted by its star Tom Hanks, now in post-production, is based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester, about a passed-over USN officer who is thrust into the forefront of WW2 when he is given command of the destroyer Greyhound, leader of ‘an escort force protecting an Atlantic convoy in the Battle of the Atlantic’, suffering ‘fatigue, depression, and self-doubt as his self-perceived inferiority and inexperience to the other captains under his command troubles him’.||Mayday 109, from a script by Samuel Franco and Evan Kilgore, dramatises the story of JFK’s WW2 shipwreck experience when his PT boat was rammed by a Japanese warship and the crew had to survive on a tropical island. (This was previously dramatised in the 1963 film PT 109.)||US firefighters have been
put in the same heroic class as soldiers since 9/11, and Only The Brave, written
by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, fits this storyline. It dramatises the 2013 Granite Mountain
disaster, when a team of elite firefighters went into the midst of an out-of-control wildfire in
Arizona and were overrun.
|In development is a US tv series adaptation by Eric Tuchman (The Handmaid’s Tale) of Bruce Henderson’s book Sons And Soldiers, subtitled The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler. (Says it all.)||WWII drama Waiting For Anya, adapted by director Ben Cookson and Toby Torlesse from the Michael Morpurgo novel, has a young shepherd in effect join the French Resistance by helping a widow smuggle Jewish children across the border from southern France into Spain.|
(Unknown Soldier) dramatises the fortunes of a Finnish infantry unit in the followup to
Finland’s 1939 Winter War against the invading Soviets. Adapted by Jari Olavi Rantala and
director Aku Louhimies from Väinö Linna's best-selling 1954 novel, this must be the 3rd
or 4th film adaptation, but this time also draws on the novel's unedited manuscript version, Sotaromaani.
As well as the 3-hr Finnish cinema version (its biggest hit) and a shorter international release,
a 5-ep miniseries version is being released by YLE (Finnish Broadcasting) for Xmas 2018.
'Civic Disaster' Storyline 2018
|Above: 22 July, one of two rival productions on the Utoya massacre - see below under Utoya.||In Altitude, written by its director Marc Fienberg, to start filming in South Africa in January, “a man who has planned the perfect romantic proposal to his girlfriend in front of their friends and family aboard a hot air balloon. An abrupt accident leaves only the couple and [her] estranged ex-boyfriend on board as the balloon rises at out-of-control speeds, forcing the trio to try anything to stay alive.”|
|The feature biopic The Challenger, written by Jayson Rothwell, will tell the story of the ill-fated NASA astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle tragedy.||Written by Craig Mazin, the five-part HBO miniseries Chernobyl being filmed in Lithuania will cover another 1986 real-life disaster, the Ukrainian nuclear power plant meltdown which contaminated areas of Europe with radiation.|
Kursk, adapted by Robert Rodat [Saving Private Ryan] from Robert Moore’s book A Time To Die, is a $40 million English-language French-Belgian drama about the 2000 Kursk submarine disaster, where 23 Russian sailors who survived the initial explosion slowly suffocated due to official inaction and obstruction.
Another fact-based drama, Only The Brave, written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, about the 2013 Granite Mountain disaster, when a team of elite fire-fighters went into the midst of an out-of-control wildfire in Arizona and were overrun, fits this storyline as well.
|Written by Chris Sparling, the disaster thriller Greenland is ‘the story of a family’s fight for survival in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster.’||The four-part Channel 4 / Hulu series commissioned The Light (w/t) written by Jack Thorne, dramatises what sounds like an Aberfan-type disaster in a small Welsh town, where many children die.|
|The JFK assassination in 1963 was probably the defining trauma in civic affairs in the modern era. The Ben Jacoby-scripted drama Newsflash focuses on how CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite became the 'voice of America' in the aftermath of the assassination when the nation was in shock.||The U.S. intelligence failures which
led to the CIA and FBI not coordinating to prevent 9/11, despite the many clues it was about to
happen, are the subject of Hulu's 10-ep drama The Looming Tower, written by Dan
Futterman, Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright based on Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction novel.
There are two rival dramatisations of the 2011 massacre of Norwegian youth by Anders Breivik, though the focus is different in each. Scripted by director Paul Greengrass and Åsne Seierstad from her 2015 book One Of Us, 22 July deals mainly with Breivik's trial, and is being shown on Netflix in October. The Norwegian film Utoya - July 22, written by Siv Rajendram Eliassen and Anna Bache-Wiig from director Erik Poppe’s story, dramatises the event in real time from the viewpoint of a fictional teen, and is being released in cinemas.
|World Press Freedom Day|
Unesco’s World Press Freedom
Day, every 3 May, is an apt time to consider some of the films which have celebrated this key
component of democracy. To cite the Washington Post's current slogan, “Democracy dies in
Darkness”. The newspaper, now owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is under attack by the
US President, as it has been before - see All The President's Men and the recent The
Post. And in other countries, investigative journalism can get you killed - a growing trend,
it seems. This year's theme is 'Keeping Power In Check: Media, Justice And The Rule of Law'.
(In other words, why the press is not, to use Trump's slogan, an "enemy of the people".
Cf a recent Trump tweet: "I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest
much of the Media is. Truth doesn’t matter to them, they only have their hatred & agenda.
This includes fake books, which come out about me all the time, always anonymous sources, and
are pure fiction. Enemy of the People!")
| 1. All The President's
Men (1976), scripted by William Goldman based on the 1974 non-fiction book by Carl Bernstein
and Bob Woodward
2. The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961), written by Wolf Mankowitz and director Val Guest
3. Deadline – U.S.A. (1952), written by director Richard Brooks
4. Defence Of The Realm (1985), written by Martin Stellman
5. On Expenses (BBC 2010), written by Tony Saint
6. Reds (1981), written by Trevor Griffiths and producer/director/ star Warren Beatty
7. Spotlight (2015), written by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy
8. State Of Play (BBC 2003), written by Paul Abbott [2009 US feature remake scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan and Billy Ray]
9. The Year Of Living Dangerously (1982), scripted by David Williamson and director Peter Weir from Christopher Koch's 1978 novel
10. Zodiac (2007), scripted by James Vanderbilt based on 2 non-fiction books by Robert Graysmith
|National Alien Day, April 26|
never heard of it either till yesterday. It’s inherently odd – could there may be
more to it than meets the eye?
Alien visitors, Klaatu and Gort - the reasonable, friendly face and behind, the not-so-friendly one who is the real master.
-Still from The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), scripted by Edmund H. North from the 1940 Harry Bates story “Farewell To The Master”
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (UK 1968), written by Arthur C Clarke [also 1984 sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact based on Clarke's 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two]
2. Alien (1979), written by Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett [sequels, prequels and spinoffs ongoing]
3. Arrival (2016), scripted by Eric Heisserer based on the Ted Chiang short story "Story Of Your Life"
4. Avatar (2009), written by its director James Cameron [sequels ongoing]
5. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), written by its director Steven Spielberg
6. District 9 (2009), written by its director Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
7. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), written by Melissa Mathison
8. Fantastic Planet / La Planète Sauvage (Fr/Cz 1973), scripted by Roland Topor and director René Laloux from Stefan Wul’s 1957 novel ‘Oms en série’
9. Galaxy Quest (1999), written by David Howard & Robert Gordon
10. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (UK 1981), tv serial written by Douglas Adams from his radio serial [2005 feature film also]
11. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956), scripted by Daniel Mainwaring from 1955 Jack Finney novel The Body Snatchers [1978 version scripted by W.D. Richter]
12. Paul (2011), written by co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
13. Predator (1987), written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas
14. Quatermass And The Pit (UK 1958), tv serial written by Nigel Kneale [1967 Hammer colour feature version aka Five Million Years To Earth also scripted by Kneale]
15. Solaris (USSR 1972), scripted by F. Gorenshteyn and director A. Tarkovskiy from 1961 Stanislav Lem novel [2002 US version scripted by director Steven Soderbergh]
16. The Andromeda Strain (1971), scripted by Nelson Gidding from the Michael Crichton novel [2008 tv miniseries version also]
17. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), scripted by Edmund H. North from 1940 Harry Bates story “Farewell To The Master” [2008 version scripted by David Scarpa]
18. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), scripted by Paul Mayersberg from the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis
19. The Thing From Another World (1951), scripted by Charles Lederer from 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. story "Who Goes There?" [1982 version scripted by Bill Lancaster]
20. The War Of The Worlds (1953), scripted by Barré Lyndon from 1898 H.G. Wells novel [also 2005 Spielberg version etc]
2001: The aliens themselves are never seen; the surviving astronaut becomes a guinea pig in an alien science lab, to be reborn and returned to Earth as the next step in human evolution.
|Royal Air Force Centenary – The RAF On Film|
| The 100th anniversary
of the founding of the RAF this year has prompted me to put together a blog item in similar format
to earlier ones this year, with a list of 10 film-tv titles to mark the occasion by. (The RAF was
formed on April 1, 1918; there are various commemorative events scheduled between mid-April and
July 10, when there will be a Westminster Abbey service and televised parade followed by a flypast
over Buckingham Palace of up to 100 aircraft representing RAF history.) To tie in with the centenary,
a number of film titles like The Dam Busters and Angels One Five have been issued on DVD or Blu-ray
in digitally restored form, as part of StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics collection. Included
below is our own short-list of 10 films. Initially I thought to trace the RAF’s development
through the decades, with one film per decade, but this proved unrealistic.
Nearly all the major
films made are set in WW2. If you stretch the coverage to include films about the RAF’s
main predecessor the Royal Flying Corps, you can add a couple of films set late in WWI, but there
are almost no notable titles set after that. While the US made aviation films set in the 50s,
60s, 70s, etc, Britain made only one of note.
Thus the list may seem nostalgic for the days when ‘the Few’ saved the country from
invasion, but there is a sad background to the lack of films set post-WW2.
1. Aces High (1976), scripted by Howard Barker, from RC Sherriff’s
play Journey’s End, and memoir 'Sagittarius Rising' by Sqdn Ldr Cecil Arthur Lewis
|Canadian Film Day Picks|
|National Canadian Film
Day has been held every April for the past 5 years. This year it’s on the 18th, when there
are showings of selected films all across Canada. The NCFD website has a list of 150 Canadian films
to choose from, also available as a downloadable PDF. Their website refers to the ‘sesquicentennial
edition of National Canadian Film Day’, meaning 150th anniversary. This would likely refer
to a special 150th anniversary, in 2017, of Canadian Confederation in 1867. Obviously there were
no films back then; Canadian cinema itself only emerged post-WW2. Before that, films set in Canada
were US or British productions. (For anyone interested in the backstory here, so to speak, there
is a retrospective documentary about this online – the 1978 Has Anybody Here Seen Canada?,
plus a book, Hollywood’s Canada by Pierre Berton.) Evidently the ‘sesquicentennial’
idea is to have films dramatising the entire period since Confederation in 1867. Even if such a
range of films can be found, that’s a tall order which would require a whole feature page
to itself, and I think in the meantime we’ll just stick to an introductory-style list of
I’ve selected films that are made by Canadians rather than by visiting US filmmakers. This approach is akin to the difference between being a tourist and a resident, and there are no films in the list below with fur trappers, moose, Mounties, bush pilots, canoeing, bears etc. (The ‘bear’ in the source story for the 10th entry is a metaphor for dementia.) The closest to an exception is The Grey Fox, which is a fact-based realist work set in the 1900s, about a figure holding out against the modern age that came with the railroad. Otherwise, the films are all set in town or city surroundings. I had to cross off a few initial choices, such as Outrageous! (1977) and Why Rock The Boat? (1974) - both considered at the time as somewhat subversive - since home video copies seem impossible to obtain internationally. This unfortunately includes a few francophone entries (Canada is officially bilingual) such as Les Ordres (1974) and Le Déclin De L'empire Américain (1986), the closest to a bilingual film on the list being The Pyx, set in Montreal.
Contrary to popular image, Canadian films are not all wholesome family films like Anne Of Green Gables, or adventure stories involving outdoor pursuits. Right is a still from Paperback Hero [listed below], with Keir Dullea and Elizabeth Ashley indulging in some indoor water sports.
To keep it manageable, the list doesn’t include shorts, for which the National Film Board of Canada has probably won more awards than any other outfit, or tv series, only features. Films are listed in chronological rather than alphabetical order to give a better idea of the development of Canadian cinema. You may notice that neither women nor black etc filmmakers appear on the list until the 2nd-last entry, and even this is for some a controversial [as very sexually explicit] work. As Canadian films tend to be unknown abroad (one reason for doing this list), I’ve included a Wiki link for each title. As to what popular storylines the 10 represent, the list is designed as usual to cover a range of these, from the ‘coming of age’ and ‘dangerous liaison’ storylines, through the ‘midwinter crisis’ and ‘faustian pact’, to ‘apocalypse-survival’ and ‘life-ending reconciliation’ stories.
Winter Kept Us Warm (1965), written by director David Secter
Goin' Down The Road (1970), written by William Fruet and director Don Shebib
Paperback Hero (1973), written by Barry Pearson and Les Rose
The Pyx (1973), written by Robert Schlitt based on John Buell's 1959 novel
[Note that because the original title - referring to a a small round container used in Catholic ritual - was regarded as too obscure, US distributors released the film under the exploitation-style title The Hooker Cult Murders. In French, the film is known as La Lunule, meaning a crescent-shaped amulet etc.]
The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz (1974), written by Lionel Chetwynd
from the 1959 novel by Mordechai Richler
The Grey Fox (1982), written by John Hunter based on biographical sources
Strange Brew (1983), written by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas with Steve De Jarnatt, based on their SCTV series characters
Last Night (1998), written by director Don McKellar
Lie With Me (2005), written by Tamara Faith Berger, director Clément Virgo and Carrie Paupst Shaughnessy based on Berger’s 2001 novel
Away From Her (2006), written by director Sarah Polley from Alice Munro's 2001 short story The Bear Who Came Over The Mountain
|The Evolving 'Brexit' Storyline|
evolving real-world political ‘storyline’ is being dramatised in various ways.
The Easter weekend papers have been full of speculation about ‘Brexit’ as the UK will be ending EU membership in a year, at the end of March 2019. Normally, we wouldn’t cover a political topic per se, but attempts to transform a real-world political ‘storyline’ into drama put it into our purview here. So: What’s the story? As they say in films, “It’s complicated.” [read on] (For overseas readers, there is a backgrounder section alongside the main text on our feature page.)
|St Patrick’s Day Film Picks|
As it’s St Patrick’s Day today [Mr 17th], I thought I’d do a similar viewing list of 10 suggested films for those observing the occasion at home. Note that this is just a personal choice of titles, films about Irish society that have meant something to me. As to their storylines, as with our Scots Burns Night and Australia Day lists [see earlier posts], there’s a range of them. The only recurring storyline seems again to be the ‘country retreat challenge’, where the protagonists’ lifestyle, livelihood or life is under threat. This could apply to at least 3 of the 10 below, though I leave it up to the viewer to determine which ones.
Man Of Aran (1934) staged documentary, written by director Robert Flaherty
2. Odd Man Out (1947) scripted by R. C. Sherriff from 1945 F. L. Green novel
3. The Quiet Man (1952) scripted by Frank S. Nugent from 1933 Maurice Walsh short story
4. Young Cassidy (1965) scripted by John Whiting, from 1956 autobiography Mirror In My House by Seán O'Casey
5. Ryan's Daughter (1970) written by Robert Bolt
6. The Dead (1987) scripted by Tony Huston from c1911 James Joyce story
7. The Commitments (1991) scripted by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Roddy Doyle from Doyle's 1987 novel
8. The Guard (2011) written by director John Michael McDonagh
9. Calvary (2014) written by director John Michael McDonagh
10. Brooklyn (2015) scripted by Nick Hornby, from Colm Tóibín's novel
British filmmakers also played a role, as here with Carol Reed, Jack Cardiff, Alan Parker. In recent years, finance has become more international. The most recent film illustrated here, Brooklyn (2015) [mouse over image at right] is listed as a coproduction between the UK, Canada, Ireland, Belgium and the USA.
|Australia Day Film Picks|
to the previous blog post, I've been reminded that the same weekend as Burns Suppers are held worldwide
is also Australia Day. So I thought I'd do a list of film candidates to match the Scots one. I
haven't tried to include vintage films like The Overlanders, made by Ealing Studios in
1946 before the Australian film industry emerged in its own right. (The last two titles below were
made by British or Canadian directors, but were said to have directly inspired the first films
of the 'Australian film renaissance' which began in the mid-70s.) While the Scots films on the
preceding list mainly follow the one storyline (the 'country retreat challenge'), the Aussie titles
below do not. There are a couple of 'country retreat challenge' stories, but overall the list is
more diverse, from 'war is hell' and 'war-torn romance' to 'away-break crisis', the 'monstrous
awakening' and 'modern misfit' through 'castaway', 'outpost command crisis', 'apocalypse-survival'
and 'future dystopia' storylines. But I'll let you work out which is which. Hopefully, there's
something here for everyone.
Babe (1995) written by director Chris Noonan and producer George Miller, from Dick King-Smith's 1983 novel The Sheep-Pig
Breaker Morant (1980) written by Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens and director Bruce Beresford, from the play by Kenneth G. Ross and Kit Denton's book "The Breaker"
Crocodile Dundee (1986) written by Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie and John Cornell from Paul Hogan's story
The Dish (2000) written by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and director Rob Sitch
Mad Max series [Mad Max (1979); Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981); Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985); Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)] written by director George Miller at al
Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) scripted by Cliff Green based on the novel by Joan Lindsay
They're A Weird Mob (1966) scripted by director Michael Powell and 'Richard Imrie' [=Emeric Pressburger] based on the novel by 'Nino Culotta' [=John O'Grady]
A Town Like Alice (1981) scripted by Tom Hegarty and Rosemary Anne Sisson from the novel by Nevil Shute
Wake In Fright aka Outback (1971) scripted by Evan Jones from the novel by Kenneth Cook
Walkabout (1971) scripted by Edward Bond loosely based on James Vance Marshall's children's novel
|The Burns Night Film|
January 25th, I commemorate Burns Night (the birthday of Scotland’s national poet) by having
a meal of [veggie] haggis etc and watching a suitable film set in Scotland. It’s well-known
that there are more people of Scots background living abroad than in Scotland itself, and Burns
Night is hence commemorated across the world. Often, Burns Suppers are celebrated by an expensive
haggis-and-whisky supper mounted by local Burns societies and accompanied by readings from Burns’s
verse, attended by local dignitaries. Unfortunately, women are still often excluded from joining
Burns societies, and unless you have an invite to one of these expensive, exclusive Burns Supper
evenings, the occasion must be celebrated privately. For anyone in this situation, celebrating
it at home – alone or with a companion – the supper menu is standard (haggis, neeps,
tatties, whisky), but there is no standard choice of after-dinner film. There are no films about
Robert Burns himself (a planned biopic with Gerard Butler was never made), but there are other
films which commemorate ‘Scottishness’ in different ways.
[Below: Stills from  I Know Where I'm Going! and  Whisky Galore!, and from  Gregory’s Girl and  Hamish Macbeth]
The Season To Be Binge Watching
-Boxset Binge 2017: 007 And The 'Secret Agent Champion' Storyline
The Xmas break has become the time for binge watching. On-demand ‘catchup’ viewing
spikes in December, and BBCiPlayer for the first time is offering entire series of shows for
this purpose. Sales of boxsets also spike. This has had an impact on the writing and production
of tv series as well – recently Mark Lawson did a 3-part
R4 docu series on this phenomenon, and how it is altering perception of story arcs.
Left: stills from  Thunderball: the 00 agents are told about SPECTRE's nuclear blackmail plot; and  Goldfinger: the millionaire supervillain outlines his plan to raid America's bullion supply at Fort Knox.
The series' repeated story setup belongs to the older, romantic school of the ‘secret agent champion’ storyline. (There’s also a realist school, as in the works of LeCarre.) It predates Fleming, with Clubland heroes and evil-genius villains like Fu Manchu going back to pre-WWI. The Bond films are simply the most expensive instances, productions able to mount elaborate chase scenes and other action setpieces in exotic locations, with spectacular interior sets for the villain’s lair etc.
Right: From Russia With Love:  the chess tournament which sets up the idea the enemy conspiracy is planned as a series of chess gambits, and  the moment Bond has the plan revealed to him.
Since ‘Bondmania’ hit circa 1963-4, there have been many rival instances, often presented as spoofs.
|This was the case with the first non-Eon production. The 1967 Casino Royale was a zany, cheerful farce, which seemed to intercut several different films, where the Bond identity was spread across different agents as a cover name. (It's recently come to light that this idea derived from the work of veteran Hollywood scriptwriter Ben Hecht. He was originally hired to do a straight CR adaptation, but the filmmakers just stitched together ideas from his various drafts, and the whole thing was then played for laughs as another 'Sixties spy spoof'.)|
|Connery quit the role after You Only Live Twice, declining to make On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Ironically, this was a more serious film, closer to the novel, but proved another one-off in the sense the replacement actor, George Lazenby, promptly burnt out and walked away. Connery agreed to return in 1972 for another lame, jokey walk-through in Diamonds Are Forever, in exchange for a 7-figure payment to his favourite charity. The Roger Moore run starting in 1973 tried to have its cake and eat it by having Bond save the world while acting the playboy and making offhand jokes – which trivialised the threat and left the fight scenes unconvincing. (He barely gets his suit wrinkled or hair mussed, never mind a bloody nose.)|
|The films were still using the novel
titles but had different plots which emphasised chase scenes involving every type of vehicle. (Each
is written by a regular stable of writers.) After the first few Roger Moore entries, I couldn’t
face any more as they began to blur together. I jumped ahead to the 1983 Never Say Never
Again, made after Connery’s producer partner finally cleared the rights after a
lengthy lawsuit. (The novel Thunderball had been in fact a novelisation of a story created
by Fleming with 2 other uncredited writers.) Connery had played a number of ageing-but-still-game
heroes after his 007 stint, in films like The Wind And The Lion, and this was an opportunity
for a mordant, reflective re-visiting of the Bond persona in middle age. Or rather it would have
been such an opportunity if the makers hadn’t opted to go for a conventional remake, aside
from a few jokey remarks. Without any character development, it was little different in approach
from Connery’s previous return as Bond in 1972, a mix of the usual chase/action sequences
and lame jokes. (Rowan Atkinson plays Bond’s blithering-idiot local contact, Nigel Small-Fawcett.)
The NSNA title, supplanting the working title Warhead, was suggested by Connery’s wife, based on her husband’s saying ‘never again’ to Bond in the 70s, but there isn’t even the usual belted-out dynamic title song to go with it and drive the idea along, just some warbley Michel Legrand pop music. There's no prologue action scene either (it was reportedly filmed then cut, and not restored with other deleted scenes for the DVD - which suggests it was really dire). It ends with Connery winking at the camera - perhaps the whole film was meant as a joke?
|The two Timothy Daltons that followed were more serious, the first, The Living Daylights, being quite promising. But the second (the first not to use a Fleming title or story premise), produced as Licence Revoked, had its title changed when US audiences saw this as a reference to driving licenses. Licence To Kill however was exactly what Bond officially lacks in the story, and in the confusion it turns into a revenge quest as pointlessly nasty as it was unconvincing. (It coincided with a WGA strike, so the usual last-minute fixup of the rough spots - violent changes in tone - did not happen). Dalton left, and the series came to a stop for 7 years. (Licence To Kill was the worst-performing film in the entire series, eclipsing the ageing Roger Moore’s final outing, A View To A Kill.)|
The Pierce Brosnans which relaunched the series in 1995 with Goldeneye were a mixed bag. Again, the desire to play action scenes as jokey (cf John Cleese as Q) indicates an inability on the part of the writers to take their own plots seriously. The last, Die Another Day in 2002, was regarded as least credible for its invisible car – though I’d personally nominate as the nadir of credibility the computer-generated scene of Bond surfing off an icewall using a piece of fuselage.)
In From Russia With Love,
when Bond has the SPECTRE plot (to create a sex scandal for the Sunday papers) explained to him,
he comments “Must be a pretty sick collection of minds to think up a plot like that.”
It’s a line that brought down the house when I saw it at a uni film society, as it seems
to apply to the overall story rather than just SPECTRE’s conspiracy.
|After the breakout
success of The Bourne Identity, the producers had decided to reboot the franchise with
a dark psychological approach, so 007 has to battle some psychological bugbear from his past as
well as the villains. Craig is a serious actor as well as having the muscular physicality to carry
off the action side (he’s really the British Steve McQueen), and Casino Royale was
promising, suggesting a more adult, realist approach.
Unfortunately the followup was prepared during a Writers’ Guild strike and instead of Quantum Of Solace focusing on the human side of a lonely profession (the Fleming short story is a Somerset Maugham homage), the word Quantum gets turned into a secret organisation which is ‘everywhere’ but nobody official has ever heard of it. (I suppose this is because the scriptwriters just invented it to turn the title into a pun – a nonsensical one.) It’s nonstop action from the ‘cold open’ car chase (where you can’t even tell who’s chasing whom) and Bond’s human side is relegated to one token ‘solace’ scene.
Otherwise it’s a straight revenge quest, with Bond after those who led Vesper astray, and a token conspiracy-plot about the Quantum organisation out to control the world’s water. (I had my hopes up from the title that this would be a more adult approach and saw it in our local arts-centre cinema, but after 2 hrs of deafening action scenes and non-sequitur plotting, wound up referring to it as Quantum Of Bollocks.)
The 3rd instalment, Skyfall, has Bond disappear off the radar a la Bourne, officially dead. It then has a bizarre last act with a betrayed ex-agent villain infiltrating MI6 and causing mayhem, such as causing an underground train to crash through a wall to kill Bond (all modern supervillains can hack into and control even the most secure govt networks). Dressed as police, he and his men even invade a Parliamentary hearing in order to kill M as she is being told she’s obsolete while she reads a Tennyson poem to the scrutiny committee! M and Bond flee up to northern Scotland to his isolated childhood home, Skyfall, in the Aston Martin from the 1960s films, to await the villain and his private army and fight them off with just the help of his old gamekeeper, played by Albert Finney. (You’d think they could have asked the police to help as the villain would be wanted for killing a dozen policemen, if nothing else.)
|The 4th instalment,
Spectre, is nonsensical from the start: the late M leaves a posthumous video message
in Bond’s email to kill some gangster, with no explanation. Bond goes ‘rogue’
to do so, and won’t even tell his new boss, and so is grounded. We never find out what she
knew about the man’s organisation, which proves to be SPECTRE, which at that stage nobody
seems to know officially anything about.
During production, studio memos re the script’s deficiencies were leaked online, evidently by hackers working for Kim Jong-un (you couldn’t make this up). A Sony producer described the script as ‘rough, rough, rough … Bond is simply fighting henchmen in many overblown and familiar sequences – helicopter, elevator shaft, netting.’ Another studio executive wrote: ‘Also, there needs to be some kind of a twist rather than a series of watery chases with guns. This is Blofeld after all. What does he have up his sleeve?’ The email leaks drew attention to the classic problem with the studio system – filming begins before the script is ready.
To squeeze in the new past-coming-back-to-haunt-you angle, the script postulated that the organisation’s longtime head, Blofeld, was really Bond’s foster brother all along. What a coincidence! (The scriptwriters also do not explain Bond’s killing Blofeld in earlier films, never mind his not recognising Blofeld as his foster brother.) Blofeld has been seeking revenge for being displaced by this childhood ‘cuckoo in the nest', and forming SPECTRE allowed him to kill off Bond's girlfriends. He is now in league with the new combined secret services head ‘C’ who is taking over the whole intelligence apparatus.
In almost every script, Bond is either having his license revoked over some indiscreet killing, or MI6 / the 00 Section is being closed down – you know, because computers, they've made special-forces type ops and agents obsolete. (Try telling that to the Americans.)
Here, the finale features the unlikely idea that instead of just selling it off, MI6’s Thames-side HQ is set for midnight demolition. This is despite the fact it’s a prominent landmark (which is very much still there on public view despite the finale) - so that MI5/MI6 can move into a fancy glass tower opposite which has been built in almost no time as it is privately financed - by SPECTRE. Bond and the new M, the geeky new Q, and the new Moneypenny all now go ‘rogue’ as they are all being sacked. Luckily, the villainous new ‘C’ loses his balance and falls out a window. With minutes to spare before demolition, Bond saves the girl, who has been abducted by Blofeld and trussed up atop MI6 HQ, and from a speedboat pursues and with his pistol shoots down the villain’s helicopter so it crashes on Westminster Bridge. (I saw it at the cinema, but watched it again over Xmas on tv as I couldn't be sure I'd followed the story - I'm still not clear on certain points, like where 007 gets that plane in the Alps.)
At that stage, Daniel Craig publicly announced he'd rather slit his wrists than do another Bond film. “Who do you think should be the next 007 then?” a friend asked me. “Nobody,” I said, “they should just stop making them unless they can come up with a coherent script.”
Update: Since then, Craig has been persuaded to return for Bond#25. Details are unclear at this stage. The trailer on YouTube titled Risico is a fan-made fake. ('Risico' is a Fleming short story whose plot was used in the 1983 For Your Eyes Only, the least jokey of the Roger Moore entries.) Another rumoured title is Shatterhand, a Blofeld cover alias in You Only Live Twice, which fits the current run of titles beginning with S, though it’s been used elsewhere, so there may be legal problems. The leaked news item that the plot will be taken from a 2001 ‘continuation’ novel, Never Dream Of Dying by Raymond Benson, seems unlikely. The other rumoured plot is that 007 retires and gets married, but then his bride is killed by Spectre, and he goes rogue in retaliation. (Sound familiar at all?)
In conclusion, I think seeing a series in this way isn’t necessarily just a new form of addiction,
as the press characterise it. (Binge-watching /-viewing derives from binge eating or binge drinking.)
It can make you more critical – you can see more clearly the sameness of the plots and the
improbabilities when the writers desperately try to vary the formula.
It's not just the Bond series, which I used here as an example. A friend lent me a DVD set of the cult US series The Walking Dead so I could 'catch up' on it: I managed to get through several episodes before I felt my intelligence had been insulted enough, and gave up on it. Ditto with the BBC's new apocalyptic police thriller series Hard Sun which just began this week on BBC1. The entire first season of is already available on iPlayer pre-broadcast, so 'catchup' is not the right term here. I'm afraid I lost confidence in it after the first hour, and wonder if the BBC are also hedging their bets, reckoning that audiences will quickly lose interest in its baffling obscurities. It's open to run for 5 years, if enough viewers want to stick with it until world's end in some sort of unexplained solar radiation surge 5 years away. The plot mcguffin is a flash drive with a video presentation showing the doomsday facts and figures; MI5 is willing to kill police officers and kidnap their families to keep this secret; if the producers want to cut the series short, they can just have a character upload the video to YouTube and it won't be a secret anymore, hey presto.
On the other hand, binge viewing can lead to appreciation of a series that evolves intelligently. For my boxset this year, I asked Santa for the 6th and final series of the Elmore Leonard series Justified (2010-16), and having watched all 5 preceding seasons without its ever becoming predictable, am looking forward to watching all 13 hours of this during the January viewing drought.
Storylines In Review 2018