Monday Movies ~ 21/12/2020

There’s been a fair amount of hype, and a lot of good reviews for our Monday movie slot this week, which is the 2020 Netflix movie, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. (For any reader living under a rock, Black Bottom is a song & dance, and not Ma Rainey’s own derrière ~ no nudity here folks).

The movie is based on the 1982 play of the same name, by August Wilson, which in turn is based upon the real blues singer Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey (1882-1939). The play is part of a series of 10 plays by Wilson known as The Pittsburg Cycle chronicling 20th-century African-American experience. The producer of the movie, Denzil Washington had made a deal with HBO to produce all ten plays, and he started with Fences, in which he starred with Viola Davis in 2013, but since then the deal has been re-arranged with Netflix, so here we are with the first of the subsequent 9.

This movie, directed by George C Wolfe also stars Viola Davis in the titular rôle, but co-starring Chadwick Boseman as the trumpeter in the band. As I’m sure most readers will know, Boseman died earlier this year from colon cancer at the ridiculous age of 42, during the post production stage of this movie, and this, his last rôle has been lauded as his best.

The movie is set in a Chicago recording studio in 1927, Ma’s band turn up to rehearsal, Cutler (Colman Domingo) is the leader and trombonist, Toledo (Glynn Turman) the philosophising piano player, Slow Drag (Michael Potts) the double bass player, and Boseman as the talented but tormented Levee Green. During the rehearsal room scenes, tensions rise between the band and Green and we find out about his horrific back story. When Ma arrives (crashing her car driven by her young nephew in the process) we meet a formidable woman, who won’t do things the way her manager Irvin (Jeremy Shamos) and the studio owner Mel Sturdyvant (Johnny Coyne) want her to do, and is also at loggerheads with Levee Green over his wanting to update the songs she sings to a more modern beat. It doesn’t help matters that Levee has the hots for Ma’s girlfriend Dussie Mae – and she for him. It also naffs everyone off when Ma wants her nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown) to do the introduction to the Black Bottlom song, as he stutters, and ruins several takes before getting it right.

The movie is all about the characters, and mainly of Rainey and Green. Davis is superb as Rainey, she’s feisty and domineering yet the hard life and hard won fame put the steel in her backbone to overcome any vulnerability, and it’s all there to see in Davis’ eyes. Boseman is on fire, quick~smart, edgy, passionate yet with an underlying torment that finally breaks through in the last 1/3 of the movie.

Davis and Boseman give power house performances, ably accompanied by the supporting cast, but you can’t take your eyes of either of them when they’re doing their thing. The movie though isn’t really like watching a movie, it is more like a stage play itself, not really flowing organically but in acts, 1, 2 and 3. The long impassioned speeches that would be right in a play somehow don’t sit so well in a movie, the set pieces apparent and clunky. The third act delivers a tragedy that felt contrived in spite of the acting ability but the end scene (which wasn’t in the play itself) punches home how black artists were exploited by white gatekeepers, the underlying thread which runs throughout the length of this story.

Fraggle Rating: Super acting, could have done better with the adaptation.

Monday Movies ~ 14/12/2020

My regular reader will know that since watching a great TV series on Netflix, not actually about the civil war, but that included Ulysses S Grant as a character, my chap Phil has gone down the rabbit hole of finding out properly about the civil war. Starting with a great 3 part documentary series on Sky about the general (called succinctly, Grant) which he said was top notch, we then got a list of films and documentaries from Pete over at Beetleypete blog and started with Ken Burns excellent documentary ‘The Civil War’ whilst we waited for blurays to arrive. In the meantime we found a couple on Netflix/Prime, and the first one was Ride With The Devil which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago HERE and now the others have arrived so we’re up and running.

Free State of Jones

This 2016 movie stars Matthew McConaughey as Newt Wright, a Confederate soldier who desserts after surviving the Battle of Corinth in 1862, when he finds out men who own 20 slaves or more are exempt from duties and can go home. It was directed and written by Gary Ross who spent a good few years researching the war, and directed the first Hunger Games to help finance it. Newt Wright becomes leader of a company of deserters and runaway slaves in Jones County, Mississippi, and the movie tells not only how that comes about, but also covers part of what’s known as the Restoration, post-war, and the prosecution of Newt’s great grandson in 1948 when it was a criminal offence to look white but have black heritage, and marry a white person.

Not an easy watch by any stretch (which it shouldn’t be) as it portrays the abject conditions and cruelty that slaves and even freed slaves were subjected to, the carnage of warfare, and the inhumanity of segregation and slavery. It didn’t do well at the box office, released on the same day as the intellectually superior Independence Day-Resurgance, and The Shallows, another weighty movie starring A Bikini with Blake Lively in it. It also got accused of being a ‘white-saviour’ movie, but in this case I think that’s unfair, but I’m probably not the best judge of that being a white person. In anycase, no-one is really saved, so there is that!

Ross directs his movie with love, the attention to detail is astounding. McConaughey does a masterful job as Newt, and excellent acting from Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Rachel, Newts second wife and an ex slave whomst she imbues with stoic dignity and grace, and Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington, a runaway slave who becomes a political activist after the war, a solid, emotional performance. It opened our eyes to a part of the war (so far) not covered in the Ken Burns documentary, to show that not all Southern folks were against the union, and not all agreed with segregation or slavery.

Extra eye-opening reading well worth doing if you are interested in the Civil War

Fraggle Rating:- top notch.

Monday Movies ~7th December 2020

Still waiting for Phil’s Civil War movies to turn up, he didn’t realise he’d ordered them from America 🙄 so in the meantime back to WW2 and the Saints & Soldiers series. Having done the last one first, (review HERE) we did the first one. Again directed by Ryan Little, and brought in for under $1 million, this movie won multiple Best Picture awards from over 15 different film festivals. Little had done his research on the Battle of the Bulge, and chose a particular incident, the Malmedy Massacre, on which to pin the plot.

The Malmedy Massacre really happened, and the movie starts there, as German soldiers open fire onto American POW’s they’ve lined up in a field. They shoot most of them, chase and shoot the ones that run, and check the bodies, shooting any who remain alive, in the head. In real life 43 survivors made it back to American lines, but the movie follows 4 of the escapees, and they have a fictional adventure involving meeting up with a British Airman who has important papers to get to an American command post.

The soldiers consist of Corporal “Deacon” Greer (Corbin Allred) a Mormon sharp shooter suffering from PTSD after he accidentally killed Belgian civilians whilst getting to a German sniper shooting at him from the top of a church, Staff Sergeant Gunderson (Peter Asle Holden) Deacon’s superior and good pal, Medic Steven Gould (Alexander Niver), a bit of a curmudgeon, Shirl Kendrick (Larry Bagby) a member of Gould’s division, and Flight Sergeant Oberon Windley (Kirby Heyborne).

No spoilers as to the plot other than to say they have an eventful and sometimes traumatic 20 mile journey fighting German troops, a winter storm and personal conflict in their attempt to get the Brit to an American command post.

Little both directed it and was behind the camera, and shot the whole thing in Utah in 2003 in 30 days. He positioned his camera angles to avoid the Wasatch Mountains being in any shots, and it worked, the snow and trees gave a reasonable impression of the Ardennes forest. Although they shot it in January, there still wasn’t enough snow and so used potato flakes instead for some scenes. Because of the low budget the cast had to do all their own stunts, and Little recruited a group of WW2 re-enactors, who all traipsed up to Utah with their authentic gear and vehicles at their own expense to play Soldiers in the snow. They did an excellent job and I bet they had a blast.

The acting was Ok mostly, it felt like they got better as the movie went on. The script had subtle religious overtones (Little is a Mormon) and his depiction of how a Brit would speak was a bit off. They couldn’t afford a dialogue coach for Kirby Heyborne, an American actor, so he did his best by watching British movies, and he didn’t do too bad a job considering. They also made him grow a moustache and dyed his hair as he’d been in several Latter Day Saints movies and didn’t want him recognised. They also had the character smoke cigarettes, which Heyborne doesn’t so he had herbal ones and practiced dragging on them for 2 weeks prior to filming, poor sod.

It is amazing how good the movie looked for such a small budget, and it was good to see ‘the making of’ feature on the DVD after. It was obvious how committed these actors, director and producers were, and how they wanted to get everything right and tell a great story. I think they succeeded really well.

Fraggle Rating: A WW2 gem for $780,000.

Our second movie is also a kind of war movie. War Machine (2017) was written and directed by David Michôd and based on the book The Operator by Michael Hastings. It’s a fictional account of the U.S Army General Stanley McChrystal, and covers his time in Afghanistan.

McChrystal is fictionalised and becomes General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) who is sent out to Afghanistan to assess how the government can win the war out there. He can do what he wants but isn’t allowed to ask for any more troops. McMahon and his right hand man Gen. Pulver (Anthony Michael Hall) (loosely based on Lt.Gen Michael Flynn) decide they can win the war themselves and consequently ask to be sent 30,000 more troops in order to stabilise the country. McMahon sends in his assessment but is told that it’s not a good idea to have more troops sent over at the time as a general election is being called in Afghanistan, and he will have to wait a month. When the month is up he’s then told there will be a run-off election die to fraudulent voting, and McMahon loses patience and leaks the assessment to the Washington Post. He also does an interview with the 60 Minutes TV show and reveals that since he was put in charge of Afghanistan he has only had one meeting with President Obama. Matt Little (Topher Grace), a former lobbyist turned McMahon’s civilian media adviser, brings his friend Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy) into the fold who stays with the General’s entourage for a month in order to do a feature on the General. A cynical journalist for the Rolling Stone magazine, Cullen is based on Michael Hastings, and is also the sardonic narrator throughout the movie.

Well this was a strange one, Netflix call it a comedy, wiki calls it a war movie, you could say it’s a character study, and also a satire, at times it’s one of those, at times it’s all of them and at times none of them. Ben Kingsley plays President Hamis Karzai and I’d label that a caricature, and to a certain degree so is Pitt’s performance. He plays the general as an old war dog, ready to fight, wanting to finish the job and is gruff and emotionless. The suits around him are telling him he’s not there to win the war, but to clear up the mess and get the hell out of dodge, but he won’t listen, thinks he knows better. The men around him are no better, sychophantic yet showing the ‘Glenimal’ genuine affection. The scenes between Pitt and the suits – Lieutenant General Pat McKinnon, United States Ambassador to Afghanistan (Alan Ruck) based on Lt.Gen Karl Eickenberry), Dick Waddle, (Nicholas Jones) loosely based on Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, show the frustration of the General and the political idiocy of the situation.

Eventually McMahon gets his troops, 30,000 from Obama and he has go to Paris to court the coalition allies for the remaining 10,000. Tilda Swinton turns up as a German politician who respectfully rips him a new one over his hubris. Eventually the General gets his troops, and the movie does then venture into ‘war movie’ territory, no satire or comedic turns here, now we get to see the futility and human cost of this war.

Cullen goes off to write his article for the Rolling Stone, and basically ends the General’s career in doing so. His real alter ego Michael Hastings did the same for McChrystal, and then wrote his book.

A mixed bag then, not a very cohesive movie, but some solid, if strange, performances, pieces that work, and some that don’t. When Hastings wrote his article, it was in the hope that the fall of McChrystal would convince Obama and his politicians to stop invading other countries, and end the war in Afghanistan. Instead they got rid of McChrystal and sent out Petraeus, in the movie General Bob White, in what must be the shortest bit part ever for Russel Crowe, striding manfully through the airport, as did Pitt at the very beginning.

Fraggle Rating: Inconsistent but strangely compelling.

Monday Movies ~ 30/11/2020

Our first movie this week, is a biopic from 2018 that turned up on Netflix, A Private War, directed by Matthew Heineman, and staring Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander and Stanley Tucci.

Marie Colvin was an American journalist who worked at The Sunday Times newspaper, where she travelled to dangerous countries, reporting on civil wars. This is recent history, as Colvin was killed in an artillery strike on Homs in Syria. I know that’s a spoiler but it only happeneed in 2012 so surely most people know about that, and her interview on TV with CNN’s Anderson Cooper a few hours beforehand.

The movie tells part of her extraordinary time as a war correspondant, showing her homelife, her fear, her bravery, her compassion, as well as the PTSD that resulted, but didn’t stop her from doing her job. It covers how she lost her eye in Sri Lanka’s civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2001 and wore an eyepatch ever after, and her interview with Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, and her final work in Syria.

This is Heineman’s first feature movie but he is well respected for his documentary work, which stood him in good stead for this kind of movie. The film was well structured, and the camera work very well done. The opening and closing shots of battle torn Homs are amazing as the camera rises out of the rubble of the city, rising slowly upwards encompassing more and more of the devastation Assad’s forces have wrought. Rosamund Pike, the quintessential English Rose who has a cut glass accent, throws herself into this rôle, acquiring the whisky laden, cigarette stained New York drawl you can hear in interviews with the real Marie, and nails the essence of this lady, a brilliant, committed performance. Along the way she joins up with a photographer, Paul Conroy played by Jamie Dornan, who does much better with a Liverpool accent than he ever did with his attempts to be Irish ~ his native tongue!) They work together really well, and you can feel the bond that must occur in this type of situation. Conroy survives the blast that kills Marie but was seriously injured, he’s back working as a photographer again now. Tom Hollander plays Sean Ryan, who was the foreign editor at The Sunday Times and Colvin’s boss. Hollander shows us the kindness and patience he had when dealing with Colvin, not surprised he’s now working for Save the Children. The only niggle I have is that the script is a bit clunky in places, but it really doesn’t detract from the story

Her friends have noted the irony of Marie being a feature as she was intent on reporting the story, not being the story, and there are books and articles and a documentary about her so I don’t suppose she’d be best pleased.

Fraggle rating: mostly excellent.

Our second movie begins Phil’s foray into the American civil war, and his first choice is Ride With The Devil, which he actually had on DVD and forgot about. Released in 1999 it is directed by Ang Lee and stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffery Wright and Jewel.

The movie follows Jake Roedel (Maguire) a German immigrant and Jack Bull Chiles (Ulrich), his rich friend who join the First Missouri Irregulars, a guerilla militia known as Bushwhackers, after Chiles Dad is murdered by Kansas pro-union Jayhawkers. The group they join includes George Clyde (Simon Baker) Daniel Holt (Jeffery Wright) a slave who grew up with Clyde and has been freed by him, Pitt Mackeson (Jonathon Rhys Myers) who looks like he wouldn’t be out of place in a girly rock band but has a predeliction for visciousness and murder and who steadily grows jealous of Roedell, and is led by Black John Ambroze (Jim Caviezel).

A lot goes on in this movie and Lee gives you troughs and peaks all the way through. Quiet times like in winter when the Bushwackers live in a dug-out on a sympathetic farmer’s land, and where Chiles falls in love with the widowed daughter Sue Lee Shelley (Jewel) and gets her pregnant, before succumbing to a gunshot wound after a skirmish with Union patrols. Then horrific scenes as when the Bushwhackers conglomerate under the leadership of William Quantrill (John Ales) and attack Lawrence in Kansas, wiping out a small force of Union soldiers on the outskirts before piling in to the town and killing anyone they deem to be favouring the Union. Holt and Roedell don’t take part in the killing of civilians, but get wounded anyway as they are escaping the troops that come to rescue the town, because Mackeson shoots Roedel in the leg, and Holt gets shot in the ribs.

Lee treats his characters sympathetically, and Roedel in particular suffers from the death of Clyde, but finds a new tolerance with his friendship with Holt. He and Sue Lee form a bond while he’s recovering at the farm, and eventually they marry. He comes to realise that what he’s fighting for has already gone, and decides to up sticks and move to California wiithhis new family. Lee doesn’t neglect the women’s roles in the movie, and is also adept at showing the bonds the men form from living as they do.

This is not so much a historical movie as a delving into the hearts and minds of the people who couldn’t understand why the Union wanted to interfere in their way of life. Slavery is addressed through the character of Holt, who in spite of being a ‘free’ man, is still beholden to Clyde and considered as ‘Clyde’s nigger’ by the others in the group. After Clyde dies during the Kansas attacks he becomes more his own person, and eventually strikes out on his own to track down his Mother who was sold in Texas. Lee is masterful at showing the dichotomies that arise in Civil War, for example when Roedel engineers the release of a captive Union man Alf Bowden (Mark Ruffalo) who he knows from living near him before the war, and we later find out Alf rides straight to Roedel’s home and kills his father. Lee also covers the anti-German sentiment of Southerners at that time, with Roedel sometimes being subjected to that prejudice, but at that time most of the German immigrants in Missouri are sympathetic to the Union, which we discover through Roedel senior.

The cinematography deserves a mention, long-time collaborator Frederick Elmes gets right in amongst the action and steers us through the Missouri landscape throughout the seasons. The costumes designed by Marit Allen and the firearms look authentic, and a goodly amount of horse riding stuntmen were employed to good effect.

I wasn’t expecting Toby Maguire to be so good, in spite of him being my favourite iteration of Spiderman, he brings a pathos and growing maturity to his character and holds the movie together, but I can’t find fault with any of the other actors either. Even Rhys Myers, who can be a bit flaky and OTT, transcends his girly looks and is a man you want to punch the lights out of. Jewel plays her steely backed Southern Belle well though it’s not a huge part.

I was expecting something along the lines of the big Union v Confederates battles such as Gettysburg, but Lee gives us a less black and white picture, in an area where things are less clearly defined. I hadn’t known about Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers until I watched this, so clearly I too will be learning Civil War history along with Phil 🙂

Fraggle Rating: Top Notch.

The Wednesday Western -18/11/2020

We start out looking down our body at our boot encased feet. We are in an army medical tent, and two surgeons in bloodied white coveralls are looking at our leg. One pulls off our right boot and flings it into a pile of discarded footwear. He says your foot at least isn’t infected, the other tells him it still needs to be amputated. They decide to go for a coffee break first. You look at a tray of scary looking surgical instruments and make a decision. You manage to retrieve your boot and pull it on whilst clamping down on a piece of wood so they don’t hear you scream as you do it.

And so begins the epic tale of Lieutenant John Dunbar, who gets on his horse and rides the length of the front between the Union and the Confedarate stand off, hoping to get shot rather than lose his leg but instead inspiring the Union troops to a victory and becoming the hero of the day.

Kevin Costner made his directoral debut Dances With Wolves in 1990 and it can still stir the heart with it’s visual and emotional scale. Of course Phil has the 4hr long extended special edition and we watched it over 2 nights.

Does anyone, I wonder, not know the story of how Dunbar takes over an unmanned fort at the very edge of the American Frontier, befriends Two Socks, a wolf, and eventually, after initial hostility, becomes friends with the local tribe of Sioux. He falls in love with Stands with a Fist, a white woman who has lived with them since childhood, adopted by Kicking Bird the tribe’s medicine man, with whom he develops a deep rapport. If you do know the story you’ll remember how he participates in the hunt of migrating buffalo, and helps protect the village from a Pawnee attack. How he learns the Sioux Lacota language with the aid of Stands With A Fist, and becomes friends with a young boy, Smiles A Lot. SWAF’s first husband was killed prior to Dunbar showing up, and her husband’s best friend Wind In His Hair is hostile initially and wants nothing to do with Dunbar, but even he is won over by Dunbar as time goes on. The Sioux have watched him playing chase with Two Socks and given him the name Dances With Wolves, and so he becomes part of the tribe and is allowed to marry SWAF.

And you might remember the awfulness of what happens to Dunbar when he returns to his fort to retrieve his journal before moving on with his tribe to their winter grounds. How the Union soldiers who have turned up at the Fort kill his horse, bullet by bullet, how they tie him up and treat him cruelly, as a deserter, gone native, and take pot shots at Two Socks until he too is killed. You might weep a bit at those scenes. And then, how happy you are when the Sioux come to free him and the Union soldiers get their just desserts. You are on a roller coaster now though because Dunbar knows the Army will send more soldiers to find him, and want revenge on the Sioux for the killing of the men and he must leave with SWAF to go their own way, so as to protect the tribe. Oh and everyone in the tribe is so sad, exchanging presents with Dunbar they can hardly speak, but their eyes do and it is too hard not to feel their pain. And you might just feel more tears erupt as Wind In His Hair sits on his horse on the cliffs above the pass that Dunbar and his wife travel on their journey away, and keeps shouting for Dunbar to remember that he is his friend, will always be his friend.

 An epilogue states that 13 years later, the last remnants of the free Sioux were subjugated to the American government, ending the conquest of the Western Frontier states and the livelihoods of the tribes on the plains.

Costner put his heart and soul into this movie which took him 10 years to get into production and won him 7 academy awards, the first Western film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture since 1931’s Cimmaron, and his movie registered for preservation in the  United States National Film Registry. He was probably more proud to be made an honorary member of the Sioux Nation for the film’s popularity and lasting impact on the image of Native Americans. He garnered an excellent cast, Mary McDonnell luminous as Stands with A Fist, Graham Green a First Nations Canadian actor as Kicking Bird embuing his character with nobility and humanity. Rodney A Grant, a native American actor who grew up in the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska and whose grandparents raised him after his parents abandoned him at 6 months old. He played the aptly named character Wind In His Hair, as he had the most glorious head of long shiny black hair, and brought both ferocity and humility to his part. Floyd Red Crow Westerman a Dakota Sioux musician, actor and political activist brought gravitas to the part of Chief Ten Bears whilst Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse gave a sweet performance as Smiles A lot, a young lad on the cusp of becoming a man.

The cinematography by Dean Semlar, is breathtaking, South Dakota a land of endless plains and huge skies perfect for the story. Basil Poledouros was originally commissioned to write the soundtrack but left to do some other movie and John Barry was brought in to replace him. He delivers a sweeping, romantic score, sometimes uplifting, sometimes haunting, and everything between, echoing the wide spaces of the landscape, and the emotional clout of the story. In the process earned himself the 1991 Academy Award for best original score in a movie.

There are detractors, accusations of it being a ‘white saviour’ movie, criticisms of the lacota language used wrongly in places, or mispronunciations, the real history of the Forts, Sioux and Pawnee’s subverted for the movie, but you won’t find any moaning about it here. It’s a fictional movie and doesn’t pretend, or even need to pretend to be anything else. Costner shows us how things could have been, should have been, and that maybe integration would have been better than invasion and subjugation, but no-one ever learns that lesson, do they?

Fraggle Rating: Beyond Bloody Brilliant.

Monday Movies ~ 02/10/2020

Phil’s choice this week was Official Secrets (2019). Directed by Gavin Hood, and is a docudrama regarding the whistleblower Katherine Gun, portrayed here by Kiera Knightly. The basic plot – can it be called a ‘plot’ when it’s actually the truth of something? Not sure, anyway I digress. Shaddap Fraggle and tell’em what it’s about. Also I’m doing spoilers here as it’s actually yer real life shit.

Gun worked at GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in Cheltenham, where she translated Mandarin Chinese into English. However, in January 2003 she and her collegues received a top-secret email from Frank Koza, the chief of staff at the “regional targets” division in the NSA of America. The email requested GB’s help in secretly bugging the United Nations offices of six nations, Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan. These nations were ‘swing nations’ i.e they could affect the vote to determine whether the UN approved the invasion of Iraq. This plan may well have contravened Articles 22 and 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which regulates global diplomacy. Gun secretly printed out the email, and took it to her friend Yvonne, who was involved in an anti-war group, to have it investigated further. Then she more or less forgets about it.

The movie then shows what happens as the email is passed to a reporter for the Observer Newspaper, Martin Bright, played by Matt Smith, and the investigations he and colleagues have to do to firstly substantiate the email, and then track down Frank Koza for confirmation. Rhys Ifans plays Ed Vulliami who is on the American desk of the Observer, and Conleth Hill portrays the Observer’s executive editor Robart Alton.

In March 2003 the email is published in the Observer, and investigations into who leaked the memo begin at GCHQ. Katherine confesses to leaking the memo hoping to prevent the US and UK invasion of Iraq, and she is imprisoned overnight but released on remand. The Govt decide to charge her with violating the Official Secrets act, but Katherine enlists the aid of Liberty lawyers Ben Emmerson and Shami Chakrabati, (Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma) who come up with a defence strategy that Katharine was acting out of loyalty to her country by seeking to prevent the UK from being led into an unlawful war in Iraq. On the day of the trial the case is dropped by the Crown Prosecuter on the grounds that prosecuting Katharine would have shown that the Tony Blair govt led the UK into war on false pretenses.

I have to admit that Ms. Knightly isn’t one of my favourite actors, but she raised her game for this one and was completely believable. This is recent-ish history and is a straightforward telling of real life events. The perfidious goings on of the Bush and Blair governments regarding the WOMD lies and obfuscations are thrown into stark relief. The director doesn’t add any frills, and uses real TV footage of Blair et al telling their lies on the news programmes when they are interviewed.

Fraggle Rating: Compelling viewing and brought to life by a committed cast.

On to my Saturday night movie. Well. I don’t know where to start with this one. At the beginning I guess. Polar (2019) billed as a neo noir action thriller, and I guess that suits. Directed by Jonas Åkerlund, it is based on a 2012 webcomic of the same name, which I’d never heard of. Still I hadn’t heard of the movie either, but I watched the trailer on Netflix and was in like Flynn. I’m a sucker for a retired hit-man who has to do one last hit movies.The retired hit-man this time round is the renowned Mads Mikkelson, which was a surprise, but my-oh-my he pulls it off.

Basic plot, though not doing spoilers this time, you need to go in without preconceptions really. Mikkelson plays Duncan Vizla, who is 2 weeks away from retirement from Damocles, an organisation of assassins whomst he works for. All their hit-men are retired at the age of 50 and then get a pension, which is worth $8 million to Vizla. The boss of Damocles Mr.Blut (Matt Lucas) uses his younger employees to kill the would be retiree’s in the company so he can keep the pension money.

The movie revolves around that premise. Blimey what a ride this was. It was such a mix of genres, with the Damocles lot looking and acting like you’d expect webcomic characters to be, but the Mikkelson story line is like a ‘proper’ thriller. The first half of the movie is more set-up story than action, then the second half flings itself at you and let me tell you, Mr.Mikkelson can out-Keanu, out-Liam and out-Denzil them all. The action is crazy but fun if you can cope with a fair amount of blood and viscera. The sex scene in it is quite gasp inducing too, he’s a bit of a lad is Mads. The only niggle for us was Matt Lucas. A British comedian ( though I have never found him funny) and comedy actor in awful TV programmes over here, including being a presenter of the godawful Great British Bake-Off, why anyone thought he’d be good in a movie is beyond me. 🙄 He didn’t seem to fit the part of an Assassin Company boss, but I suppose they couldn’t really use Ian McShane who would have been my choice. Vanessa Hudgens plays Camille, a neighbour Vizla befriends and helps out, and Katheryn Winnick plays Vivian, Blut’s right hand woman- (there’s a point, they should have cut Lucas’s part out and let her do the boss role) and she vamps it up beautifully. She looks remarkably like Scarlett Johanson (check out the side by sides on google 🙂 ) and we thought that the case until I looked up the cast!

Fraggle Rating: Bloody Fantastic.

Monday Movies ~ 26/10/2020

Phil was scouting through Amazon Prime’s war movie selection and came across Saints & Soldiers ~ Battle of the Tanks (2014). Saints and Soldiers is a movie franchise, and there are three movies, starting with Saints and Soldiers (2004) S&S~Airborne Creed (2012) and S&S~Battle of the Tanks, also known as S&S~The Void. All were written and directed by Ryan Little and made on a tight budget.

(For anyone reading who is not aware of my bloke’s hobby of building scale model German Armour, please take note that he is an excellent modeller with fastidious attention to historical detail).

So the movie was chosen and the plot is as follows:-

It’s the last days of WW2 and we are in Northern Europe in the Hartz Mountains, nicknamed ‘The Void’ by the American troops stationed there. One of the crews of the M18 Hellcat tank destroyers “The Avenging Angel” fire on a German POW camp and liberate the allied inmates within, including Lieutenant Goss (Ben Urie). The next day the ex POW’s are to be transported to the rear in 2 trucks driven by African American soldiers, Sergeant Jesse Owens (K.Danor Gerald) and Private Perry (Alex Boye). It turns out Owens and Perry spent 2 years in Hellcats during the war, but some General (can’t remember his name) had pulled their unit off tanks and put them to work doing normal transport work. Some of the white soldiers treat them with disdain for being Black, especially Corporal Carey Simms (Adam Gregory) and the relationship between Simms and Gerald forms the moral centre of the story.

It becomes apparent that there is still a pocket of German resistance in the area, and that a General is on the way to visit so Captain Briton McConkie (Jeff Birk ) orders two Hellcat crews lead by Sergeant John Atwood (Timothy S. Shoemaker) in the Avenging Angel and Max Whitaker (Joel Bishop) in a second Hellcat to clear the way so the ex POW’s can be moved safely, and the General is not inconvenienced. Off they all go and along the way have to stop as there’s a dead USA soldier in the road, except it’s not, it’s a fake and a dug-in hidden German Panzer III blasts Perry’s truck killing everyone in it. The Panzer then turns on the 2nd truck and Owens and Goss are the only ones to escape. The Hellcats have to then do battle with 3 Panzers, and Owens has to work with Simms in the Angel when one of their crew is killed.

So that’s the gist of it and I’ll leave it there for spoilers sakes.

For Phil, the Panzers were the main event, and we had to stop and pause for a while several times whilst he stood with his nose a foot away from the screen checking out all the details of the tanks, and he thought they were most excellent mock-ups with all the correct details, except for the tank tracks which he thought they’d got wrong. Actually both the Hellcats and the Panzer used were the real thing, beautifully preserved, but obviously some tinkering on the wheels and tracks had happened as Phil is never wrong on these things, Panzers are his lifelong passion!

The movie is not Saving Private Ryan or anything like the big budget WW2 movies you may know and love. It has a small budget with unknown actors, but Little has become very adept at telling a convincing story in these Saints and Soldiers movies. Some of the actors were more capable than others, especially K.Danor Gerald who has a world weary likeability, and he would be the last cast member to eat lunch during filming, to better understand racism for his role of an African-American soldier, though I think just being a Black man in America would have given him enough understanding of that. His character and that of Lieutenant Goss have backstories either in the script or in flashbacks which gives some nice depth to the movie and makes it more than just a tank battle. The uniforms and other vehicles were spot on, and Little makes good use of re-enactors as extras. Although set in Europe the movie was filmed in Alpine, Utah which was a surprise, great mountain scenes!

We enjoyed it and I’d happily watch more Saints and Soldiers movies, (which I may have to as Phil’s got the others on DVD 🤣). If Little can do such as this on such a tight budget, it would be great to see what he could do with a big budget Hollywood job!

Fraggle Rating: A must for WW2 buffs.

The Saturday movie had me going through Amazon Prime for a certain movie but I came across this one on the way and chose it for the cast!

Cut Bank (2014) is a thriller in a similar vein to Fargo (I think as I haven’t seen that- too much Francis McDormand!). It’s directed by Matt Shakman who did indeed direct Fargo. Starring Liam Hemsworth, John Malkovich, Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Dern,Teresa Palmer and Michael Stuhlbarg. I really don’t want to say much about it as if you haven’t seen it you should, and it’s best not to know. It’s labelled a ‘thriller’ but I’m not sure I’d call it that. Dwayne & Cassandra (Hemsworth and Palmer) are a young couple making plans to leave Cut Bank, and Dwayne puts a plan in motion to get them some money. Malkovich plays Sherriff Vogel, and he’s just great in this, quite understated for him and it works for the character who chucks up if he sees a dead person. Thornton Plays Cassandra’s Dad and Dwayne’s boss, Stan Steeley, a hard nosed taciturn man who doesn’t care much for Dwayne. Bruce Dern is Georgie Wits, the Postman, who is in on Dwayne’s plan. Then we have Stuhlberg playing a reclusive taxidermist with milk-bottle-bottom specs and a stammer.

Robert Patino, who wrote the script had travelled through Cut Bank, Montana as a kid, and it stayed with him as he grew up and became a script writer, so he put his heart and soul into it and really wanted it to be filmed in Cut Bank. However, they learned that they could get a film grant in Alberta in which their budget of $2.5 million would be matched through the Edmonton Film Commission, so filmed in Innisfree instead. Still, the $5 million meant they could do the script justice and hire quality actors.

And it was quality acting, Hemsworth of course doesn’t have the experience and deft touch that his veteran co-stars brought to this, but he’ll get there doing this kind of film, and he did what was necessary for the character. Nice to see that he isn’t going down the same path as his action hero brother. Palmer was a delight, her character being effervescent and sweet without being annoying, and her audition for ‘Miss Cut Bank’ at a beauty pageant was a thing of beauty 🤣. Malkovich, Dern and Thornton are the stars here though, great to see these guys working together, a trio of cool dudes, and Stuhlberg is superb.

Fraggle Rating :- Nearly Bloody Brilliant.

Wednesday Western~ 21/10/2020

Phil’s Thursday night movie was loaned to him by a work colleague who thought he might like it. Hell and High Water (2016). Billed as a neo-western heist movie (doncha just love sub-categories) and directed by David MacKenzie it stars Chris Pine, Benn Foster, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham.

It’s not such an old movie so I’ll try and avoid too many spoilers. The plot regards 2 brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard. Their mother recently died and the bank is going to foreclose on the ranch she owned in a weeks time. Toby (Pine) is divorced, and Tanner (Foster) is an ex-con with a wild streak, and the pair make plans to do small bank robberies across the week, in order to pay off the debt, and keep the Ranch in the family, and are quite successful in spite of Tanner being a bit of a loose cannon, much to Toby’s annoyance.

Two Texas rangers Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Birmingham) are on the case to catch them. Marcus is very near retirement age and after investigating the robberies already committed, soon works out where and when the brothers will be next, and he and Parker go off to await the next robbery.

That’s it for spoilers. The movie was written by Taylor Sheridan an actor/writer/director and Hell and High Water is the second of his trilogy of “the modern-day American Frontier” with Sicario being his first, and Wind River being the last. He also wrote the follow up to Sicario but not as part of this trilogy. Hell and High Water was nominated for lots of awards at the OScars, Globes, BAFTA etc and had good reviews from critics.

Well deserved I think. The beauty of this movie is in how the relationships between the two brothers, and between the two rangers are portrayed. We can’t fault the acting here, Bridges at his best, a grumpy sardonic old guy who continuously teases his partner with non- PC Indian insults but is smart as a whip. Gil Birmingham gives as good as he gets. Pine and Foster have got brothers just right, sometimes at odds, and exasperated with each other, but with blood thicker than water. A joy to watch these four guys take a brilliant script and bring it to life. It’s not a comedy but we did laugh a lot during it.

The cinematography by Giles Nuttgens was stunning, using East New Mexico as a stand in for Texas, and having the wide open plains and forgotten backwater towns and people as the subtle backdrop to this story. Little touches like in a Gas station scene there’s a cowboy on a horse, young idiots playing crap music in a limegreen musclecar, and the brothers in a crappy saloon car. Modern-day American Frontier indeed.

Critics were impressed :- Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times sums it up very well. “In ways large and small, Hell or High Water is a movie so beautiful and harsh and elegiac and knowing, the moment it was over was the moment I wanted to see it again”.

Fraggle Rating : Bloody Brilliant.

Monday Movies ~19/10/2020

When my son Ben was little, we saw a movie called Big Trouble in Little China, (1986) and had our own copy of it which Ben would watch happily any amount of times. We knew the script by heart I’m sure. I have such fond memories of that time that I bought the 2 disc special DVD which came out in 2001, but until Saturday night hadn’t watched it. When Michel and Cain discussed it’s merits on the Raistlin blog I thought I’d do a rewatch for my fun Saturday night movie.

The film is directed by John Carpenter and stars Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, a truck driver who gets involved in helping his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) rescue his fiancée from a Chinese street gang ~ The Lords of Death who intend to sell her as a sex slave. The fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) has green eyes, and ends up being kidnapped by The Three Storms, on behalf of their boss Lo Pan (James Hong) who needs the blood of a green eyed girl to make him corporeal and break an ancient curse. It should be pointed out that The Three Storms are magical beings, all of whomst are sporting gigantic straw hats, 🤷‍♀️. Carter Wong as Thunder, an elemental master who can expand his body, Peter Kwong as Rain, an elemental master and expert martial artist with a sword James Pax as Lightning, an elemental master who can shoot out bolts of lightning.

Well, I’ll leave the plot there, because it’s all just bonkers. Kim Cattrall plays a lawyer, Gracie who also has green eyes and gets captured by Lo Pan whilst she’s helping rescue the other one. Victor Wong plays Egg Shen, a sorcerer and old enemy of Lo Pan who also drives a tour bus, and helps in the final rescue.

There are special FX which are hokey to say the least, and wierd monsters which are even more hokey. The martial arts are well done, and there’s a lot of ‘flying through the air’ fighting towards the end. All the actors are hamming it up as bigly as they can, Russell does really well at playing Jack as a hero that is arrogant, but in way over his head. Cattrall is particularly awful though she said she enjoyed playing a feisty, smart woman that didn’t have to scream her way through a movie. Dennis Dun is an amazing martial artist, who saves the day and is the real hero of the film.

Poor Phil, never have I had to say ‘sorry about this’ so often during a movie. I should have left it as it was, a memory of a fun movie shared with my kid. We both couldn’t help thinking ‘what was Carpenter thinking???’ It’s got a cult following now and I don’t begrudge that. The 2nd disc of the DVD has everything a cultist needs, deleted scenes, extended ending, articles from American Cinematography and Cinefax, and interviews with Russell and Carpenter, where he possibly tells you what he was thinking.

A few critics liked it, with most of those assuming Carpenter is affectionately distilling and subverting King Fu B movies, but a lot didn’t rate it very highly and with it being released in the midst of all the hype about James Cameron’s Aliens, which landed in cinemas 2 weeks later, it didn’t do well at the box office either. The double whammy of critical and commercial failure prompted Carpenter to become an independant movie maker, “The experience [of Big Trouble] was the reason I stopped making movies for the Hollywood studios. I won’t work for them again. I think Big Trouble is a wonderful film, and I’m very proud of it. But the reception it received, and the reasons for that reception, were too much for me to deal with. I’m too old for that sort of bullshit”.

In fairness the film reversed typical roles, and was the first-ever presentation of a US wuxia (a genre of Chinese fiction or cinema featuring itinerant warriors of ancient China, often depicted as capable of superhuman feats of martial arts) with a huge Asian cast and a big Hollywood budget. Dennis Dun who really was the leading man in this had hoped that his career would take off after ~ “Maybe I’ll keep getting more interesting roles that are beyond the stereotypes of Asians. But it didn’t happen.” No, things just reverted to how they’d been before.

Fraggle Rating: Wierd and Wild and Happily Bonkers.

Monday Movies ~ 12/Oct/2020

Only one this week as we still haven’t got through all of the 4 HR LONG!! epic grim war movie Phil decided to do on Thursday night, so a review of that at some point will turn up. Edit- it’s in the post now 🙂

My Saturday night movie however was actually a little bit grim, but not epic by any stretch. Midnight Special (2016) is a science fiction movie written and directed by Jeff Nichols with a stellar cast. Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton and Sam Shepard.

The plot (spoiler free ~ more or less 🙂 ) is regarding the kidnapping of an 8 year old boy, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) by his Dad- Roy Tomlin (Shannon) who have both been living as residents of one of those cult type thingy’s Americans like to have (Waco, Jonestown etc). The cult is called The Ranch and is headed by Pastor Calvin Meyer (Shepard) who ‘adopted’ Alton. The Pastor sends two of his followers to retrieve the lad. The FBI are also on the case and arrive at The Ranch as somehow the Pastor’s sermons have included secret information only the Govt would know. The Ranch has also upped it’s purchasing of weaponry over the past 6 months and the FBI want to know why. Paul Sevier (Driver) of the N.S.A turns up and starts to put the pieces together of what’s going on.

Roy is travelling with an old friend Lucas (Edgerton) and they are on the way with Alton to his mother Sally (Dunst).

That’ll do for spoilers. Well, this was a strange one. Firstly the acting was really good, especially Dunst and Shannon. Driver was a bit lacklustre I have to say. The cinematography and music were well done, and it moved along at a good pace. There are some special FX which are nicely done too, though nothing we haven’t seen before really. It wasn’t until after the movie ended when Phil said, well that was good, but what was the point? And he had me there. Then we kept finding questions about the plot that we didn’t get answers to in the movie, and wondered if we’d missed something, but I don’t think we did. So it was good for acting and visuals, but left a fair bit to be desired regarding a satisfactory outcome.

Fraggle Rating : Not bad.

Well we got through the 4 hr movie last night, which for some weird reason was not a 4 hour movie at all, but the same 2 hr movie twice over, the difference being the first version was in black and white, and the second version in colour.

The Captain or Der Hauptman (2017) is a historical drama set 2 weeks prior to the end of WW2. It’s directed by Robert Schwentkr and tells the story of Willi Herold, a teenage German paratrooper running away from the military police who are after him for desertion. Except this is not just a ‘story’, as Herold was a real person and the things he did really happened. Herold (Max Hubacher) escapes the military police, and comes across an abandoned German car, in which he finds a suitcase and uniform of a German Captain which he puts on and then impersonates. He comes across various deserter/stragglers who he takes command of, and then travels through Germany pretending to be on a secret mission from Hitler, to assess the morale of troops behind the front line. He names his men Kampfgruppe Herold and writes on their papers that they are seconded to him. The two main characters in this band are Freytag (Milan Peschel), an aging rifleman who is a kind, nice guy and becomes Herold’s driver, and  Kipinski (Frederick Lau), a sadistic drunk. They get to a camp full of German deserters waiting for execution, where Herold and his gang take over, executing prisoners (with Kipinski being the main executioner) and where bit by bit Herold loses any humanity he once had and becomes increasingly tyranical.

When the camp is (spectacularly) blown up by British bombers, Herold and his surviving group move into a village, where they loot from the population and set up a command post in an hotel after executing the mayor for treason as he has put up a ‘Welcome’ flag in the anticipation of the allies arriving. After a night of debauchery during which Herold executes Kipinski. The German military police turn up and arrest them all.

We then move to Herold’s trial, where he asserts that all he did was for the defense of the German people and to encourage them to not give up but to keep fighting. The guys judging him decide to send him to the front as a punishment, but Herold jumps out of a window and escapes. We then see him walking through a forest full of skeletons, and we are informed that Herold and his men were actually sentenced to death after the war. The real Herold, also  known as “the Executioner of Emsland,” was executed at 14 November 1946 in Wolfenbuttal prison.

Of course it’s impossible to ‘enjoy’ such a movie as this, but Wow, it was so well done. The cinematography was amazing, Florian Ballhouse the chief cinematographer. The acting equally so, especially Hubacher, who develops his character with such a gentle panache. The director builds his movie with subtle bricks, although the murders of the prisoners are shown, the graphic nature of them are not in-your-face blood and gore, a lot is left to the imagination. The uniforms and vehicles and weapons are all authentic (according to Phil 🙂 ) and the bombing of the camp though brief is stunning and realistic.

We compared some of the most impressive B&W scenes to the same scenes in colour, and we both agreed the B&W versions had much more depth and impact so if watching this I strongly recommend the B&W version. Anyone with an interest in WW2 history and films about it, should see this movie.

Fraggle Rating : Bloody Brilliant.

Both movies we found on Amazon Prime.

Monday Movies ~ 5/10/2020

Phil was on a late shift for the Thursday retro movie, so left to my own devices I went looking on Disney+ which I got given for 6 months when I upgraded my phone. Nothing much on there I have to admit, but I came across a little movie called Timmy Failure ~ Mistakes Were Made (2020) and decided to give it a go.

Timmy (Winslow Fegley) is an 11 year old kid living in Portland, Oregon with his single mother Patty, (Ophelia Lovibond) and runs his own detective agency in the back room of their house. After his father walked out on them, Timmy gained an imaginary friend Total, who happens to be a polar bear. The Detective agency is then known as Total Failure Inc. He has a best friend, Rollo (Kei ) a classmate who has a crush on him  Molly Moskins, (Chloe Coleman) and his mother starts dating a meter maid (in the UK known as a parking attendant) Crispin Flavius (Karl Bornheimer). I had a blast watching this, Winslow Fegley carried the movie and was quite adorable. The CGI polar bear is really well done, and the movie is directed with great sympathy for the imagination of childhood. I’m not going to do spoilers at all but will leave the trailer here, it gives the general gist. If you have Disney+ it’s possibly the best thing on it 🙂

Fraggle Rating. Bloody Brilliant.

Our Saturday night movie this week is from Netflix. Close (2019) is an action thriller, written and directed by Vicky Jewson, and starring Noomi Rapace as Sam Carlson, a bodyguard, or ‘close protection officer’ if you like. We start the movie in South Sudan, where Sam is guarding a couple of members of the press. They get ambushed and Sam saves them. This is nothing to do with the rest of the movie but sets the scene and tone for what comes next.

Sam is hired to bodyguard a young heiress, Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nélisse) a troubled girl, who has just inherited her father’s mining business, much to the dismay of her stepmother Rima Hassine (Indira Varma) as she has been running the business, whereas Zoe has just been dicking about. You’ve probably guessed by now that we’re in a kidnap scenario, and you’re right. So nothing really new in terms of plot, there are plenty of similar themed movies in the world. What is different about this one is that it is mainly female lead. From the director to the main actors, the sisters are doing it for themselves, and making a pretty good fist of it. Don’t expect glamour à la Charlize Atomic Bombshell, Noomi makes Sam a gritty heroine, cold, unemotional, and exceedingly good in the kick-ass department. Although Nélisse is given the poor little rich girl rôle, she is smart, speaks arabic, and has to grow up fast in the predicament she finds herself in. That will do for spoilers, though I must mention one scene where Sam has to fight a would-be-kidnapper and does it with her hands tied behind her back, this is not choreographed chicanery à la John Wick, but hard, scary fight-for-your-life stuff and Ms.Rapace has amazing physicality to do this kind of stuff. Filmed in London, Marrakesh and Casablanca with Malte Rosenfeld in charge of cinematography, the scenery is authentic and beautiful in places.

Thoroughly enjoyed this, the plot is a bit hokey now and then, and a bit clichéd at times, but Jewson keeps everything moving at a decent pace and doesn’t over-egg the pudding with the fight scenes. The movie is 1 hr and 34 minutes long, or short by todays standards, and Rapace elevates the trope by giving us a believable action heroine that’s worth spending that hour and a half in her company.

Fraggle Rating: Well good!

Monday Movies ~ 28/09/2020

Phil’s choice for the Thursday retro movie this week is Soldier (1998), a sci-fi action movie, directed by Paul Anderson and written by David Webb Peoples. David Webb Peoples? that’s a weird name but he’s a good writer having also done the mighty Blade Runner, and our recently reviewed Unforgiven. It stars Kurt Russell as Sergeant Todd, who has been trained since birth to be a super-soldier, highly disciplined and dedicated to the military. He and the rest of his squad were picked as babies in 1996 and trained rigorously to be impassive, unemotional, fearless and ruthless killers, at the beck and call of the Army.

It is now 2036 and the squad are now 40 years old, with Todd being the best soldier of the 1996 intake, and a battle hardened veteran. Then along comes Colonel Mekum (Jason Issacs) with a new squad of soldiers, this time genetically modified to be better than the old ones, and with a higher level of aggression. Captain Church (Gary Busey) wants to test the new ones against the old ones, and of course the new ones out perform the old. One of the new ones, Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee) easily defeats 2 of the older soldiers while high up on a climbing chain rope thingy but Sgt Todd manages to gouge out one of his eyes before Caine knocks him off to join the other dead oldies on the floor. Of course he’s not really dead as he landed on one of his men so was just unconscious for a bit. Mekum orders the 3 to be sent on a waste-transport ship to Arcadia 234, a wasteland of a planet where interplanetary junk is dumped, and Mekum also declares the old squad obsolete, and reassigns them to menial tasks.

On Arcadia Todd finds a group of people who had crash landed there on the way to another planet, and as they were all believed to be dead, there’s been no rescue mission to save them, so they’ve made a colony out of dumped garbage and lived there for 3 years. Todd is taken in by Mace (Sean Pertwee) and his wife Sandra (a luminous Connie Nielson) who have a mute son Nathan ( played by twins Jared & Taylor Thorne) who Todd bonds with. Todd has problems adapting to civvy life, and has feelings he doesn’t understand for Sandra, and unfortunately a few incidents i.e Todd is surprised and tries to kill the surpriser, or acts inappropriately to the colony, result in them asking him to leave.

In the meantime, Mekum has decided that Arcadia will be an excellent training ground for his new super-soldiers, and being as it’s supposedly uninhabited, anyone they do come across can be seen as hostiles and eliminated.

That’s it for spoilers, I’ve set the scene and you can guess the rest, or watch the movie. We really enjoyed this one much more than expected for an older sci-fi movie. Kurt Russell was amazing, and you can see what a challenge this part was for an actor. He was in 85% of the scenes, but only spoke 104 words throughout the whole movie, but the emotional turmoil, the aggression, the sadness all came through in his eyes, he knocked this one out of the park. The scenery was so well done, lots of junk and dystopian scenery and the cinematographer David Tattersall must have had a blast. The critics were so-so about it back then, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly :- “any cliché you can dream up for a futuristic action movie, any familiar big-budget epic you can think to rip off, Soldier has gotten there first.” Lisa Alspector of the Chicago Reader :- called Russell’s performance ‘persuasive‘ and said “this appealing formulaic action adventure displays a lot of conviction in its not-too-flashy action scenes and a little levity in the gradual socialization of Russell’s character.” Am agreeing with that Lisa!

Trivia Factoid:- David Peoples, as mentioned, wrote the script for Blade Runner, and Soldier is supposed to be a spin off sidequel as it’s in the same fictional universe. Russell’s character is shown to have fought in the battles of the Shoulder of Orion and Tannhäuser Gate, which Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) refers to in his dying speech to Decker. There is also a Spinner (flying cars used in Blade Runner) amongst the detritus on the planet, and several references to elements found in Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, which Blade Runner is based on.

Fraggle Rating :- Better than expected, with Kurt Russell Bloody Brilliant.

My choice for Saturday night was the latest Netflix offering, Enola Holmes (2020). Based on the first of a series of books by Nancy Springer, it focuses on the teenage sister of Sherlock Holmes, who is already a famous detective.

Directed by Harry Bradbeer and produced by Millie Bobby Brown who also stars as Enola. Set in Victorian England, Enola has grown up with only her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) for companionship. Eudoria teaches her daughter, chess, ju-jitsu, chemistry and has her read every book in the library of their home, Ferndell Hall, and to play word games with cyphers. On Enola’s 16th birthday, she wakes up to find her mother has disappeared, leaving her only a cryptic message in a birthday gift. Her brothers Sherlock, (Henry Caville) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) – who owns the hall and is Enola’s legal guardian turn up, and whilst Sherlock is sympathetic to Enola, Mycroft insists she should be sent off to boarding school. That’s the ending of spoilers (just about) but the movie involves Enola escaping to London to search for her mother, along the way meeting another escapee, the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who joins her in travelling to London.

This was such a fun movie and Millie Bobby Brown aced the part of Enola. England looked beautiful and some of our stately homes were used to great effect, Ferndell Hall’s exterior was Benthall Hall in Shropshire where the gardeners allowed the garden to get really overgrown and let the production team drape overgrown vines all over it, the interior was filmed in a medieval manor house, West Horsley Place in Surry where Michael Carlin the production designer said they were given free rein in the house, spending weeks bringing the Holmes matriarch’s world to life. Hatfield House was used for Lord Tewkesbury’s ancestral home Basilweather House, where we meet The Dowager, Tewkesbury’s Brexiteer grandmother played wonderfully by Frances De La Tour.

Greenwich Naval College is used for Enola’s introduction to London where the production crew built shop facades on a huge set in Greenwich to achieve the vibe of a bustling city. Standing in for the gritty East End, is a series of outbuildings in Luton Hoo, and the scene of an excellent fight between Enola and Linthorn (Burn Gorman) a bowler hatted henchman trying to kill the Viscount, but I won’t say who he belongs to as it would be a spoiler.

The movie is set amidst the womens suffrage movement of 1884. The fight for women’s right to vote causes division in the country as those who are rooted in tradition clash with new thinkers, and this is pertinant to the plot.

Another one to really enjoy, the photography and cinematography a complete joy to behold. The costume department did themselves proud too. Fans of Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abbey, The Crown etc will love it! The music score didn’t get in the way of the story and everyone acted well and looked like they were having a blast.

The critics mostly loved it, John Defore of The Hollywood Reporter :- “It successfully imagines a place for its heroine in Holmes’ world, then convinces young viewers that Enola needn’t be constrained by that world’s borders.” and Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post :- “Enola Holmes offers brisk and exuberant escape from the heaviness of modern times, with its leading actress lending her own appealing touches to the journey. When the game is afoot, she’s more than capable, not just of keeping up, but winning the day.” Though Mick LaSalle of San Francisco Chronicle wrote “A bright young actress, a movie-star actor and a potentially interesting concept gets smothered in 128 minutes of colorful, empty nonsense.” Phil and I thoroughly enjoyed this particular piece of empty nonsense and will look forward to the sequel(s) of which there’s bound to be, as there are 6 books written!

Trivia factoid. :- The Conan Doyle Estate filed a lawsuit against Netflix over the film, claiming it violates copyright by depicting Sherlock Holmes as having emotions, an aspect of the character which they argue does not fall under the public domain as he was only described as having emotions in stories published between 1923 to 1927, and the copyright for the stories published in that period still belong to the estate. 🙄 🙄 🙄. get a grip people of the CDE!!

Fraggle Rating :- Great fun, Millie Bobby Brown is Bloody Brilliant.