Fragile Creatures: The Beauty And Pain of The Rider

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Chloé Zhao’s contemporary western drama, The Rider, starts out with a young man in pain, recovering, as we later see, from injuries sustained during a rodeo.

The following ninety minutes or so explore that pain further: not just the physical injuries, but the mental scars inflicted on someone whose dreams are taken from them and crushed, when he finds his body will no longer allow him to do the thing he loves most.

Shot with a cast of non-professionals (Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, and Cat Clifford) who play versions of themselves in an almost documentary style, and with a magnificent eye for beauty (several shots made me literally gasp), Zhao’s film is intimate, harrowing and painful, but also majestic, and sweeping.

Zhao keeps the camera tight on Jandreau for much of the film, and the young, non-actor gives an astonishing performance, with a minimal amount of dialogue we share his joy and pain, as the recovery he appears to make is short-lived. This world of horse trainers and rodeo riders is fragile and fraught with physical peril, but Jandreau’s character, Brady, desperately wants to stay in the saddle.

The film feels like a mixture between a later period Springsteen song and an early period Terrence Malick film (before he became TERRENCE MALICK and disappeared off into the edit suite to cut yet another interminable version of Tree of Life). Malick could benefit from watching The Rider, for while this film could stand to lose a few minutes, even with the extra fat Zhao never loses sight of the cinematic story she’s trying to tell.

So much of The Rider is ambiguous: should we admire Brady as he puts himself through another agonising experience just to keep riding? Should we sympathise when he takes on a stultifying job to make ends meet, or pity him for giving up what he loves? Zhao smartly doesn’t provide pat answers, but allows the complexities of Brady’s path to carry us through.

The Rider is a quiet, purposeful and powerful movie, shot with a true cinematic poetry, whether out on the plains or in a run-down trailer. With her second movie, Zhao has established herself as an exciting voice in cinema.

Captain Marvel Trailer Takes Flight

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Regular readers of this site will know Captain Marvel is high up on our movie-excitement radar, and the long-awaited trailer has arrived:

I’ve gotta say I gave a little geek squeal of excitement at that final shot of our hero in action.

Carol Danvers was created in the comic books (by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan) in 1968 and went on to star in his first solo series (as Ms. Marvel) in 1977. Since then, she has gone on to become a central part of the Marvel Universe, and one of its more powerful and interesting characters, with a fervent following (known as the Carol Corps). Anticipation is running high for Marvel’s first (overdue) female-fronted franchise. 

Captain Marvel is an intriguing turn for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, set in the 1990s (oh look, it’s a Blockbuster video store) and acting as a prequel to everything we’ve seen so far.

As you can see above and here in our earlier photo preview, the film stars Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Algenis Perez Soto, Rune Temte, Mckenna Grace, Clark Gregg, and Jude Law, and follows Carol Danvers (Larson) as she becomes Captain Marvel after the Earth is caught in the center of an intergalactic conflict between two alien worlds.

As an extra treat for comics fans, the story also features the first onscreen appearance for the villainous, shape-shifting alien race, the Skrulls.

Captain Marvel is written (with Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Liz Flahive, and Carly Mensch) and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and the film arrives on March 8, 2019

Captain Marvel Is Here

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Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly, the first official images of Captain Marvel have landed.

Brie Larson will star in Marvel’s first female-fronted franchise movie, Captain Marvel, as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (that’s a whole lotta Marvels, even before we discuss Jude Law).

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Set in the 1990s, making this a full-on prequel to everything we’ve seen before, the story will feature Larson going head to head with some fan favourite intergalatic bad guys from the comic books, the shape-shifting Skrulls. And here they are…

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The film also sees the return (or is it a preturn? Since this is technically speaking, his first appearance) of Lee Pace as Ronan The Accuser, last seen in a dance-off against the gang in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 1.

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Jude Law also features as Mar-Vell (in the comics, the first Captain Marvel, before Larson’s Carol Danvers inherits the title):

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Plus of course, the movie sees Samuel L Jackson as a pre-eyepatch wearing, two-eyed Nick Fury (last seen in the future, at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, dying along with half the universe just after sending out a call for help from Captain Marvel – oh, come on, that can’t be a spoiler by now).

Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)

Captain Marvel  is written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck,  with Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Liz Flahive, and Carly Mensch also chipping in to the screenplay, and the film takes flight on March 8, 2019. Skrulls permitting.

Who Stars In Star Wars

24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 21 Jan 2018
Photo credit: Billy Farrell/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock

Variety have just revealed an intriguing exclusive: Eleventh Doctor (and star of The Crown) Matt Smith has been signed for a role in the fortchcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.

There’s literally no other news at this point, beyond pointless speculation as to who (sorry) Smith will play. I’m sure a hundred thousand fan-boys are hoping for him to be Rey’s father, while the likelihood is that he’ll be an Imperial nasty of some kind (they do have a long history of being British, after all).

Smith will join returning regulars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver, alongside newbies Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant, Dominic Monaghan, and Naomi Ackie. Billy Dee Williams will reprise his iconic role as space gambler, Lando Calrissian, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels will reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, and the late Carrie Fisher will be featured as Leia Organa, using previously unseen footage shot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The currently subtitle-less Star Wars: Episode IX opens on December 19, 2019.

Hereditary: New, Old-Fashioned Scares

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I’ve seen many reviews stating that Hereditary is a “new kind of horror”, and similar nonsense. In fact, there’s very little new about Ari Aster’s film, but that doesn’t mean that what he does with it won’t creep the living daylights out of you.

Rather, what Aster and co. do is not wholly rely on what have become the standard, tired tricks of a great deal of modern horror: the jump scare of something appearing in frame, or a door slamming, the sudden burst of sound and music. Instead, we are treated to long moments of dread and unease, surrounded by a film which takes its time exploring the emotions of its central characters and wrapping it all in the universal pain of grief – in particular, how we often don’t deal with it. Only once we’re pulled in by all this does Hereditary blow up with reanimated corpses and family members crawling across the ceiling.

And then, of course, it gives us that much talked about ending, which will really test whether or not the film has you in its hooks.

Hereditary begins quietly, pulling a little Stanley Kubrick Overlook maze trick from The Shining with a model house, but doesn’t do so frivolously: it’s a great unsettling moment, revealing one of the movie’s first pieces of disturbing symbolism, teasing us that there’s something not quite right about this family home. More of the film’s themes are immediately set out as we follow the family preparing for a funeral, for the mother of Toni Collette’s Annie.

Soon enough, both Annie and her two children, Peter and Charlie, are sensing things around the house and at school, and we see the family, rounded off by Gabriel Byrnes’ father, Steve, resolutely not coming to grips with not only this death but also events that have occurred in their lives previously.

Tension builds, and Aster, along with editors Jennifer Lame and Lucian Johnston and committed performances by the cast, allow their film all the time it needs to do so, as we are gradually introduced to wilder events beyond the confines of the house and the family, before one of the truly great shock moments of cinema leads us into a more heightened third act, letting the story fully off the leash in the last fifteen minutes or so. One or two of the final scares and revelations almost threaten to derail the careful build, but by the time they come we’ve been engulfed enough by the family’s deterioration not to stop us from enjoying their obvious pleasures.

It’s difficult to discuss the final five minutes without veering into spoiler territory, but suffice to say the various breadcrumbs laid throughout the previous two hours are brought together in a truly off-kilter way, with an ending which reminded me both of Rosemary’s Baby and of Robert Egger’s modern classic, The Witch, being both truly horrific (as you understand the fates of two of the central characters) and utterly bizarre.

Hereditary allows a few howlers through which occasionally threaten its entry to the hallowed halls of classics such as the aforementioned Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Haunting: clunky lines of dialogue here and there (“Dad, it’s the cemetery,” “About what?”), the discovery of a book (“Guide to Spiritualism”) which might as well be labelled “plot device”, and some irritatingly, The Deadly Bees level superimposed flies (yes, I’m being nit-picky, but these elements stand out like sore thumbs in an otherwise classy affair like this).

But despite these caveats, Hereditary works like a dark charm because it picks at a sore scab and works at it: grief is something most of us struggle with, and while we may not conjure up dead loved ones in an effort to deal with that grief – or at least, I presume we don’t – we are given time to empathise with the very real and raw emotions experienced by the film’s family, and the unravelling of that family as a result of their inability to deal with their pain. And that’s true horror, after all, even with the addition of a meddling witch’s coven.

To return to my original point, Hereditary might not actually offer us something new, but it does what it does to a mostly masterful level, where the simple sound of a vocal clicking is made scary, and follows the lead of John Carpenter’s Halloween by using the frame to create unease.

And if you’re unfortunate enough to have dealt with death and the ensuing emotions we’re left with, it will resonate long after a dozen pump-up-the-volume, jump scare Paranormal Nun horror movies have faded into one another.

So, Uh… About That Bond 25 Delay…

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Okay, at the risk of this site becoming the Official James Bond Herald & Tribune, hold on to your razor-trimmed throwing hats because so much has happened on Bond 25 since I last wrote about it some fifteen hours or so ago, it’ll make your head spin. And before you get your hopes up: no, Danny Boyle is still gone.

So that last report from THR suggesting that the next Bond film would miss its November 8, 2019 release spot? Well that might not be so on the mark, according to Deadline, who reported that the film would still be released on time, as long as a suitable director can be found in the next (checks Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M watch) sixty days. That seems like a pretty tight schedule for a new director to come in and hit the ground running, but the report went even further, suggesting that several names were in the frame to take on that challenge:

“I’ve heard an approach was made to Jean-Marc Vallee, who followed Dallas Buyers Club with the limited series Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects. I’ve heard his participation is unlikely due to scheduling. The other two helmers who were on a short list are Hell Or High Water‘s David Mackenzie and Yann Demange, the ’71 director who helmed White Boy Rick. If any of those filmmakers accepted, chances are Bond 25 would keep its date, I’m told.”

So, now we have the suggestion that Bond 25 will arrive in 2019, plus we have a bunch of intriguing names (who weren’t really on anyone’s radar for this gig just twenty-four hours ago). That should be enough Bond news for today, right?

Uh… what’s your hurry? Because now ten minutes or so have passed and Deadline have updated that director’s wish list with yet another name: Shaun of the Dead helmer, Edgar Wright, fresh from a Sony hit with Baby Driver (which I thought was slick but hollow, but then I’m not Barbara Broccoli, Michael G Wilson or Daniel Craig, obviously).

I’m not sure I can see Wright sticking around for this (in the same way I didn’t think Boyle would) but the production of this movie has turned into such a merry-go-round I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced Donald Trump had been approached to play the lead villain (typecasting, I know, I know…). Anyway, got all that? Swell.

Also, while this may be an interesting list of names, I’d like to see the Bond director’s Boy’s Club demolished: Kathryn Bigelow has been waiting in the wings long enough, Michelle MacLaren, Karyn Kasuma and Corinna McFarlane would all be great choices to shake up the franchise (although that might be a step too far for EON given the current turmoil).

It’s taken me twenty minutes or so to put this post together, so it’s possible everything I’ve just written is out of date. I’ll be sure to bring you more news on the soap opera that is Bond 25 as soon as it hits. Check back with me in an hour or so, huh…?

Bond To Miss 2019?

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News just in via The Hollywood Reporter that the mightily-troubled new Bond film will not hit its original 2019 release date. Specifically:

“With the abrupt exit of director Danny Boyle, the next installment in the James Bond film franchise — the untitled Bond 25 — will miss its Nov. 8, 2019 release date in North American theaters, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.”

This isn’t too surprsing, if true, given the sudden departure of director Danny Boyle from the franchise (as revealed here). Rumours are circulating that neither the producers nor star, Craig, were too thrilled about Boyle’s developing modern Cold War thriller, and a particular bone of contention seems to have been the casting of Tomasz Kot in a leading role. This will almost certainly mean that John Hodge’s script will be jettisoned and it seems unlikely that EON Productions would return to the already-completed script by regular Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, which was dumped when Boyle came on board.

Going back to square one to find a new director and script also puts some doubt on the return of an already reluctant Daniel Craig, so this could also mean that Craig will finish his run with the less-than-perfect SPECTRE. And that’s something none of us want to see, right?

Whatever furious scrabbling is going down in the Bond offices right now (I’m picturing something akin to the From Russia With Love train fight), at least we know they won’t be rush-releasing a script into production – an act that’s never worked out too well for Bond films in the past. The down side is that it could cost us a suitable send-off for Craig.

James Bond Will Return… but when, and played by whom?

Boyle Bounces Bond

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To the surprise of literally no one, Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig today announced that due to creative differences Danny Boyle has decided to no longer direct Bond 25.

Announced via Twitter, this news, while sad, is probably the least surprising announcement to come down the wire on the latest Bond film, apparently Craig’s final outing.

As exciting as the announcent of Boyle coming onboard was (along with writer John Hodge – whose status on the project is unknown but doubtful, given his close links to the director), there was much suspicion that the idiosyncratic director would fit well within the finely honed Eon machinery.

Now we’re left with a great deal of creative speculation on just what a Boyle Bond would have been like. I, for one, am not surprised but very disappointed at the thought of what might have been, something special for Craig’s swan song.

The Ravishing Teaser for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma

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A huge tip of the hat to the fine folk at Birth.Movies.Death for alerting me to one of the most beautiful looking teasers for a film I’ve seen in, well, forever. Feast your eyes on Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma

I’m a big fan of the Mexican director’s work, not only has he made one of the stone-cold classics of science-fiction cinema (or indeed, of just cinema) with Children of Men, but he also made one of the only Harry Potter films I can actually recall anything about (and I’ve seen them all, at least I think I have), with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He’s also made excellent movies such as Y Tu Mama Tambien and Gravity (which won him Academy Awards for both Best Director and Best Picture).

Co-edited, co-photographed, written, co-produced, and directed by Cuarón, Roma is an autobiographically inspired film that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s. And if this powerful and sumptuous trailer is anything to go by, it will be best experienced in a cinema.

Ironic then, that most viewers will probably see it on Netflix as part of an impressive slate of movies the streaming channel has lined up by filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Paul Greengrass and Gareth Evans, along with the insanely tantalising promise of Orson Welles’ legendary The Other Side of the Wind finally being completed. Of course, for viewers without easy access to cinemas that screen more than studio blockbusters, this kind of line up is a godsend.

Here’s the official synopsis for Roma:

“A vivid portrayal of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst political turmoil, Romafollows a young domestic worker Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) from Mixteco heritage descent and her co-worker Adela (Nancy García), also Mixteca, who work for a small family in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma.  Mother of four, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), copes with the extended absence of her husband, Cleo faces her own devastating news that threatens to distract her from caring for Sofia’s children, whom she loves as her own. While trying to construct a new sense of love and solidarity in a context of a social hierarchy where class and race are perversely intertwined, Cleo and Sofia quietly wrestle with changes infiltrating the family home in a country facing confrontation between a government-backed militia and student demonstrators.”

Roma has its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 30, and I hope to bring you more news soon.