Tag Archives: Film

Game of Thrones recap: season 8, episode 5 – this is too frustrating

The most violent – and most frustrating – episode ever. Why are the creators destroying the world they once carefully depicted?

A triumph of spectacle over depth ... Game of Thrones. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO/game of thrones
A triumph of spectacle over depth … Game of Thrones. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO/game of thrones

Spoiler alert: this recap is published after Game of Thrones airs on HBO in the US on Sunday night and on Foxtel in Australia on Monday. Do not read unless you have watched episode five of season eight, which airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 2am and 9pm, and is repeated in Australia on Showcase on Monday at 7.30pm AEST.

‘They say every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath’

I don’t think I have ever been more frustrated by an episode of Game of Thrones.

There was so much that could have worked here, so many emotional pay-offs and beautifully shot scenes – and it was all let down by how little work was put into earning those moments.

In part I’d argue that this is not entirely the fault of this series. Indeed, I have enjoyed many of the individual episodes while hoping that they would somehow coalesce into a coherent whole. Instead, the seeds of destruction were sown in series seven, a meandering mess in which too much time was spent circling various plot points. This in turn created a pacing issue that has ensured that now, with the end in sight, everything feels breathless and rushed.

That was certainly the case with The Bells, which was largely (though not entirely) a triumph of spectacle over depth. Dany embraced her dark side, took note of the Targaryen motto ‘Fire and blood’ and razed King’s Landing to the ground even as the bells for surrender rang out. As a series of images it was undeniably powerful, without ever ringing entirely true.

There are many things about Dany’s transformation into the Queen of Ashes that I can buy: that she’s lost and out of her depth in Westeros, that she’s grieving and desperate and alone without the counsel of those she trusted most, that the razing of one city could be seen as a small price to pay to end the tyranny she so abhors.

The problem is that the writing has given us none of this. Instead, a series of men (Tyrion, Varys, even Jon) have pontificated about whether or not Dany is as mad as her father while the Dragon Queen herself remains silent. It’s as though coming to Westeros has stripped Dany of both agency and character development, just at the time she (and we) needed it most.

Would it have killed the writers, David Benioff and DB Weiss, to give us one scene where the girl raised on the stories of her noble older brother and mad father, who saw in the shape of her younger brother Viserys how ambition could curdle and who has faced down slave owners and raised dragons from a funeral pyre, actually considered what her raw grief and desire for destruction might give birth to?Advertisement

I don’t object to the idea that Dany – who has always had something of a messianic streak – could be more tyrant than saviour. But if that is your endpoint you have to sell it more than one small scene in which the future destroyer of a city offers her loyal general the one thing the love of his life owned, only for him to throw it in the fire.

‘Look at me … do you want to be like me?’

From mother of dragons to mad queen in one scene … Dany in Game of Thrones. Photo: HBO/Helen Sloan

Game of Thrones has always prided itself on the brutal reality of its war scenes and, whatever the issues with this episode – and increasingly it felt as though Benioff and Weiss were doing little more than gleefully destroying the world they once carefully depicted – there’s no denying it worked as a visceral display.

From the early incineration of Varys to the final haunting shot of a dust-covered and bleeding Arya riding out through the charred remnants of what was once the finest city in Westeros, this episode was steeped in blood, guts and gore and determined to remind us that all the ice zombies in the world are nothing next to man’s inhumanity to man.

Yet while that was a powerful point (I particularly loved that the Golden Company turned out to be an irrelevance) there were still problems. A long time ago, Jorah told Dany that the Unsullied were incapable of behaving like the brutal men she so despised. Yet Grey Worm broke the fragile truce between the city watch, murdering a man who had surrendered, and by the end Jon’s Northern army, the Dothraki and the Unsullied were all complicit in the murder and rape that accompanied the sacking of King’s Landing.

Again, it is possible that this is part of a wider point the show’s creators are trying to make – how there is no such thing as a noble cause, how war brutalises all and how a ‘liberating’ army might commit the very atrocities it claims to hate. The trouble is it doesn’t feel as though the recent writing has earned so devastating a moment.

‘Nothing else matters, only us’

Reunited with her love as the Red Keep fell around them … Cersei and Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

Just when I was about to despair entirely, we were treated to a scene of true power as Jaime and Cersei reconciled even as the Red Keep fell around them.

Again, the writing that got them to this point hasn’t been without issue – the decision to have Jaime and Brienne sleep together last week smacks of the worst kind of fan service, in addition to suggesting that Benioff and Weiss have no concept of the notion that men and women might be friends – but the final scene between the Lannister twins was a small masterpiece, tightly scripted and beautifully acted.

And while I might not agree with the idea that Jaime would throw his hard-earned redemption away for a woman who ordered his death, his statement that “nothing else matters, only us” rang bitterly true as did Cersei’s desperate plea to her brother to save both her and their unborn child.

It also reiterated one of the major themes of this final series: the importance of families, those you make yourself and those you are born with.

Thus Jon’s greatest strength has come from the Stark pack, even if he is seemingly doomed to become the last Targaryen, while Tyrion’s greatest weakness is the love he still bears for his – a love that means he can never walk away no matter how much he should.

Meanwhile, Arya was saved by the father/daughter bond she forged with The Hound, a bond that meant not only could he offer her a way out but that, crucially, she would listen, while Dany was undone by the destruction of her own makeshift family, the deaths of Jorah and Missandei leaving her finally, fatally unmoored.

Additional notes

Not even his gleefully delivered final line could redeem him … Euron Greyjoy. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

I never tire of watching Jon Snow’s patented ‘War is hell and why am I caught up in it?’ face of great astonishment.

• Those who have yearned for Cleganebowl got their wish. I’m not one of them, but I did like Sandor’s ‘just die’ line as well as his sardonic aside about “That’s you, that’s what you’ve always been.”

• Interesting choice to double down on the ‘incest equals true love’ subplot. Not only were Jaime and Cersei positioned as the show’s great romance but it was also suggested that if only Jon had overcome his Northern queasiness and ignored the whole ‘she’s my aunt’ thing then Dany wouldn’t have had to immolate an entire city. Women eh? One minute you’re denying them a kiss, the next they’re instigating the end of the world.

• Nice to have confirmation that some of the Dothraki survived their Charge of the Light Brigade moment.

• In case anyone doubted it, The Bells gave us the proof: even one dragon is too much of an advantage if you’re prepared to wield it without remorse.

• I hope the military tacticians were pleased that the whole ‘Scorpions can’t turn around’ issue was addressed. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that makes last week’s ambush anything more than another piece of plot manipulation.

• I would quite like it if next week’s episode simply consisted of the Iron Bank of Braavos turning up to collect their debt. There must be a killing to be made in fire insurance claims.

• If anything sums up the later seasons of Game of Thrones it’s the failure to develop Euron properly. Not even his gleefully delivered final line could redeem him.

• I loved Arya’s failure to save the little girl – it was a small moment but a clever one.

• Unless they pull something very special out of the bag next week, the failure to show the scene between Arya, Sansa, Jon and Bran when they discussed Jon’s true parentage feels a huge misstep.

• We said goodbye to many old friends this week, from Qyburn and Sandor to (almost certainly) Jaime and Cersei. However it’s Varys the Spider I’ll miss most of all. Sadly underused in these last seasons, Conleth Hill’s delivery meant that even his briefest scenes were a delight.

Violence count

Those who have yearned for it got their wish … Cleganebowl. Photograph: Courtesy of HBO

Arguably the most violent episode of Game of Thrones yet saw the execution of Varys, the burning of an entire city to the ground including the brutal deaths of several thousand innocent citizens, the destruction of the Iron Fleet, the Golden Company and what remained of Cersei’s army, Qyburn’s casual dispatch by the Mountain who subsequently plunged to his doom with Sandor, the gory death of Euron and the probable ends of Jaime and Cersei, reunited once more at the end of the world.

Random Brit of the week

You might think that the penultimate episode of a long-running series wouldn’t be the time to introduce new characters but hello to Laura Elphinstone aka Line of Duty’s corner-cutting DI Brandyce, who popped up to give a human face to the devastation around.

So what do you think? Did you buy Dany’s transformation from breaker of chains to mad queen? How many times can Jon refuse the Iron Throne before they crown him anyway? And with one episode left, how do you think it will end? As always, all speculation and no spoilers welcome below …

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Avengers Endgame: my heart was broken by the fat shaming of Thor

Using a fat person as a punchline is cheap and lazy. So why was everyone in the cinema audience laughing except me?

WARNING: contains spoilers!


At 30 years of age I really should be used seeing how fat bodies are depicted in the media. I should be used to fat bodies being the easy go-to for depicting sad, angry characters. I should be used to the introduction of a fat body to provide some comedic relief. But here I am, the morning after seeing Avengers: Endgame, and I am still shocked, angry and hurt. I am an avid Marvel nerd and while the movie itself was brilliant in many ways, I had seriously conflicted emotions about the physical appearance of Thor.

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When we see Thor at the beginning of the film he is his svelte Asgardian god self on the outside but is clearly battling some pretty heavy stuff on the inside. This is a man who has been to war. He is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his brother, to comprehend his inability to defeat Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and is losing the battle to conquer his demons. Thor has seen war, death and destruction and as a result he has PTSD. I applaud Marvel for highlighting mental illness, particularly as it relates to veterans, but it could have been treated more sensitively.

My issue lies not with Thor’s alcohol consumption or his turning to food for comfort – both are common coping mechanisms; my issue lies with his physical appearance. I thought we were finally past the days of the fat suit. I had hoped that we were past the point in history where we are allowed to poke fun at fat people. I was wrong. Because here we are in Avengers: Endgame and Thor is 30kg heavier and it seems as though everyone in the audience is laughing except me.

While you might laugh, others are sitting around you feeling like they’ve been punched in the gut

I wouldn’t be upset if he had put on weight as a result of his trauma and this was taken more seriously. Fluctuations in weight are normal, particularly when you aren’t taking care of yourself. My problem with Thor’s appearance is that he was clearly a strategic joke placed by Marvel to provide some comedic relief from the overall seriousness of the film.

Thor’s first appearance as a fat person sees him walking into the room shirtless with an extreme focus on his belly and everyone laughs. Look! Thor is fat! Fat, but still jolly, because how could a fat person not be jolly? Sitting in that movie theatre, watching the fatphobic jokes roll through at the expense of a veteran with mental health issues and listening to the subsequent laughter broke my heart.

The jokes made at the expense of the fat person were lazy stereotypes and cheap laughs that really weren’t necessary and while you might sit there and think they’re funny punchlines, others are sitting around you feeling like they’ve been punched in the gut.

The one redeeming quality is that there is no workout montage that shows Thor getting his life back together. The audience goes on a journey with Thor as he battles his inner demons and comes through the other side and I greatly appreciate the fact that this does not include him losing his weight, shaving off his beard and cutting his hair. Thor sits in his misery, grows, works through the darkest depths of his mind and comes out the other end a changed man. He is not the Prince of Asgard that we were originally introduced to, which is only right. One cannot stare death in the face, lose everyone that you love and suddenly bounce back to being the sprightly Adonis that you once were. For this I am grateful.

While I have many issues with the way Thor’s struggles were depicted, he was struggling nonetheless and this needs to be acknowledged. Avengers: Endgame highlights the emotional toll and psychological effects of war, which can be seen in all of the characters not only the one in the fat suit. So while I fully support people going to see Avengers: Endgame, I feel it’s necessary to make a trigger warning: strong themes of fat shaming and PTSD as it relates to war. So make sure to check in with each other and remember to be kind to yourself.


Lacey-Jade Christie is a freelance writer and host of the Australian body positivity podcast The Fat Collective

‘I’m a white, straight, middle-class male – I take things for granted’ – Will Poulter

The actor’s latest role is in The Little Stranger, a film that twitches with tension about class – which resonates with his own upbringing.

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No one needs to teach Will Poulter anything about checking his privilege. The career choices of this 25-year-old show an actor drawn to films with a social conscience. In scarcely more than a decade, he has left behind CGI blockbusters (one Narnia and two Maze Runners) and broad comedy (We’re the Millers, in which he snogged Jennifer Aniston and Emma Roberts, and briefly sported a swollen prosthetic testicle). Instead, he has moved on to more serious, searching projects: the below-the-breadline chamber-piece Glassland, Kathryn Bigelow’s race riots drama Detroit and now The Little Stranger, a ghost story that twitches with class tension.

In person, too, Poulter is constantly checking, unpicking, interrogating and rechecking himself. Five times during the course of our two conversations – first in a Dublin hotel bar a few hours before the premiere of The Little Stranger, then the following day on the phone – he describes himself with an air of contrition as a “white, straight, middle-class male”, careful to the point of fastidiousness that nothing should be omitted or misunderstood.

So cards on the table: he was a pupil at the Harrodian School in west London (current fees: upwards of £6,000 per term), whose alumni also include Robert Pattinson, Jack Whitehall, Tom Sturridge and George Mackay. “What my privilege has meant is that I haven’t experienced the same levels of exclusion and inaccessibility that might come with being working class,” says Poulter, who is tall and trim, with a serious expression, narrowed eyes and a courteous, meet-the-parents air.

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‘He’s almost jumped forward in time to become an old man’ … Poulter as Roderick in The Little Stranger. Photo: Nicola Dove/Pathe

“I’ve certainly felt guilty about that. But guilt for those less privileged and those who experience the prejudice from which I’m protected isn’t enough. Acknowledgement is the first step in hopefully using your privilege to realise a more equitable society. I’m trying to find ways to deconstruct that hierarchy as opposed to just enjoying the privilege and acknowledging the guilt.”

Such as? “I’m keen to develop as an activist and involve myself in charities and organisations. And with my acting, it’s important that the projects I do have a sociopolitical impact. I try to be conscious about the message. As a white, straight, middle-class male, I’m aware of things I take for granted.”

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Blockbuster … Poulter in The Maze Runner. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

I wonder how it felt to hear Daniel Mays observe, in 2016, that the industry was “awash” with privately educated actors, or to read the Sutton report’s findings that the same group takes a disproportionately high share of awards (42% of British Bafta winners and 67% of British Oscar winners). Is it like being under attack? “No, no. Not at all. I’ve undoubtedly benefited from my middle-class environment. I hold my hands up to that. And I know that unless we try to make pathways into the industry more open and accessible, then we can’t expect it to reflect society.”

This is all pertinent to The Little Stranger, in which a doctor (played by Domhnall Gleeson) in late-1940s Warwickshire is summoned to the country pile he has coveted since childhood. There he finds Roderick, played by Poulter, who suffered severe burns to his face and leg during the war and has grown old prematurely.

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Broad comedy … Poulter with, from left, Emma Roberts, Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis in We’re the Millers. Photo: Allstar/Warner Bros

“He’s this boy whose youth has been cut short by his injuries so that he’s almost jumped forward in time to become an old man. He’s confined to the house, he’s hitting the bottle, living with all these regrets. There’s this emotional decay, which is a strange reflection of what’s happening to the house. He feels intrinsically tied to the state of the home and he is trying, like a lot of the landed gentry, to take pride in its status, just as he does in his own. But there are these parallels of degradation.”

Poulter’s distinctive facial features serve the part well. Though he is clearly young, there’s an agelessness to him, an ability to seem both juvenile and jaded. Partly it’s those windscreen-wiper eyebrows, which sit at a permanent 30-degree angle and are capable of lending devious or calculating inflections to his soft face. In Detroit, where he played the ringleader of a group of racist cops torturing and murdering African Americans with impunity, it was disturbing to see so much savagery emanating from someone barely out of the playpen. His was a performance in the tradition of cinema’s great baby-faced monsters: Richard Attenborough in Brighton Rock, David Bennent in The Tin Drum, Cagney in everything.

Small wonder he was first choice to play Pennywise the Clown in It before that project lost its original director, Cary Fukunaga. Or that in his mid-teens, he was the standout star of the Edinburgh fringe hit School of Comedy, later adapted into an E4 series, in which child performers delivered blatantly adult material dressed as grownups. It was a kind of Bugsy Malone of sketch shows. Poulter’s most memorable character was a cocky white van man hollering incomprehensible remarks at passing women.

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‘It was mad, man’ … Poulter, left, with Bill Milner in Son of Rambow. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

By that point he had already made his film debut at the age of 13 – as a soft-centred hard-nut in Son of Rambow, the coming-of-age comedy about a pair of schoolboys who make their own camcorder version of First Blood. “That was mad, man,” he says. “I don’t know if I would be so in love with what I do if I hadn’t had such an amazing first experience.”

He was already passionate about acting, which provided an alternative to the sort of academic demands made difficult by his dyslexia and dyspraxia, as well as a reprieve from some unkindness among his peers. “I had experiences of bullying. I used drama as an antidote to some of the less enjoyable aspects of social life at school.”

Garth Jennings, the writer and director of Son of Rambow, remembers Poulter as a precocious talent. “I never did more than a couple of takes for anything,” he says. “It wasn’t just that Will got it – he also understood what the rhythm of the line was, and that it would be funnier if you paused first. His instincts were ridiculously good. I spent most of my days shaking my head in disbelief, just going, ‘Yep. That was it, sunshine. That was it.’”

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‘The hardest thing I’ll ever do’ … The Revenant. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Poulter’s career since then has not been without its taxing moments. Was it true, as rumour has it, that eight months playing a trapper on The Revenantnearly broke him? He gives a rueful laugh. “Um. I’m always hesitant to complain too much as an actor, but I’ll say it was physically and emotionally probably the hardest thing I’ll ever do. I just can’t imagine a tougher shoot. The conditions were so inhospitable. We were up the side of a mountain in temperatures I didn’t know existed. I find acting enough of a challenge at room temperature.”

Jennings met up with Poulter when the actor was on a break from that movie. “Will was staying in the accent so he didn’t lose it when he went back. He was really locked in. Watching him in the film, you think, ‘Oh yeah, there you go – DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will.’ He just fits right in.”

Lenny Abrahamson, the director of The Little Stranger, thinks Poulter has even bigger things ahead. “He’s viewed in the industry as this incredibly exciting talent,” he says. “You look at him and think, ‘Is there a Bond in Will at some point? Maybe in 10 years?’ I could see that. I could imagine him being a very dark Bond indeed.”

 The Little Stranger is out now.


Cover photo: Privileged background … Will Poulter. Photograph: Michael Buckner/Deadline/Rex/Shutterstock

Idris Elba: what about a black James Bond?

A black Bond? It’s an apparently unproblematic and straightforward question, right? Well, not quite. When suggested quite quizzically by a colleague, it sparked a series of reactionary positions in the staff room, especially from the 007 traditionalists.

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In fact, whispers that the very suave – and yet indisputably black – actor Idris Elba could potentially play Bond have ignited social commentaries about race, filmic representation and literary integrity around the world.

The issue was shaken and stirred (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) by a recent report in the Daily Star, in which director Antoine Fuqua recalled a discussion with Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, who allegedly said “it is time” for a black actor to star as 007 and that she is confident “it will happen eventually”.

Interestingly, this little nugget sat at the top of a story about Fuqua launching his latest business venture – an app that allows people to listen to movies online with surround sound. But reporters know how to sell stories to their editors and so the headline, main picture and the first half dozen paragraphs were devoted to Elba’s Bond prospects.

Despite the fact that Fuqua’s management subsequently insisted that the conversation was “made-up stuff”, the question of Elba as the new Bond dominated the comments below the story, which included one reader asking: “What would be the outcry if Martin Luther King was played by a white bloke?” What indeed?

Elba’s no mug. He knows how to fan the flames of speculation. And I’m unashamedly going to fall into his trap. So is it time for a black James Bond? What the heck – why not?

Tall, dark and handsome

Is it beyond fictionalisation – or the limitations of our individual and cultural imagination – to comprehend a reality in which there’s a devilishly handsome and sophisticated black Englishman with an MI6-approved licence to kill. It gives new – or should I say restores (in my humble opinion) the original – meaning to “tall, dark and handsome”, right? Everything that Bond is supposed to be.

Wouldn’t it be more surprising, and perhaps unsettling, if such an imagining, even in fiction, couldn’t withstand the assumed fragility of our liberal mindedness? Especially when we are supposed to live in a post-racial society where – ironically – inequalities, discrimination and oppression are nonexistent. If they are nonexistent in the material world, it seems they are alive and well in the figments of our imagination.

Cast your mind back to the media’s preoccupation with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s “racially progressive” interracial union, or France’s international posturing as a bastion of ethno-racial equality, with its “colourblind” government prohibition on referencing the race and ethnicity of its citizens. Is that enough to convince you that we live in a multicoloured land of bliss where all is possible?

Rallying against this romanticism are traditionalists – or Bond literalists – who, in all their intransigent preoccupation with conserving the historically white purity and scriptural heritage of the Bond franchise, are irked at a blackened prospect. They offer a plethora of counter arguments, not least that in 1953 Casino Royale, the first in Ian Fleming’s 12-book Bond series, the secret agent is described as a white Englishman of part Scottish and Swiss heritage who was educated at Fettes College.

To which I submit: we aren’t in the 1950s. The films are no longer time-warped in black-and-white – they have changed and adapted to reflect the cultural zeitgeist of cinematic and contemporary public consciousness.

It’s interesting to note that these purists are not all white – disproportionally so, yes – but not all. Some non-white Bond enthusiastshave also put in their own two cents’ worth, asking producers to “stick to the script” and insisting that being white is integral to Bond’s character. But can we racialise character?

Others, meanwhile, have called for their own black, Walther PPK-wielding agent, in the manner of 007, to not only tell their own new or complimentary stories but also avoid falling prey to potential accusations of tokenism in film.

Colourblind casting

Meanwhile, JK Rowling decried critics of the casting of black actress Noma Dumezweni as the fictional Harry Potter character Hermione Granger, as “a bunch of racists” and that “white skin was never specified”, challenging normative assumptions that fictional characters are white, by default.

Supporters of Bond’s racial metamorphosis urge for better ethnic minority filmic representation in the spy genre and stress that fiction is not exempt from transformation even in the context of race. It’s a sentiment I share.

Colourblind casting? Orson Welles as Othello.United Artists via Wikimedia Commons

I realise that my openmindedness unlatches a Pandora’s Box of “Whatabout-me-isms”. What about a polyamorous, gender-nonconforming, effeminate, anti-misogynist Gujarati Indian as Othello? Or, can I, as a Liverpudlian-accented, shaven-headed, transgendered lesbian, play Sherlock Holmes? Then again, what about a white Shaft? But wait wouldn’t that be “Whitesploitation”? Let’s not go there.

Would Elba make a fine Bond? Absolutely. Having seen 007 in all his white iterations, I’m all for a representational shift towards a salt-and-peppered Afro-textured, mahoganied urbanite. Too far fetched? Surely not.

 

Cover photo: Said to playing a mentor to Arthur, someone not unlike Merlin the magician. Photo: moviehole.net

Harry Potter: Happy 20th anniversary, little wizard

A publishing saga, captured in Potter ephemera — letters, sketches, mementos and more — that has been transfigured into treasure.

Before there was a movie franchise, and a collection of theme parks, and a Broadway play (two actually); before you could spot wand-wielding children sporting long black robes and know just what they were up to; there was Joanne Rowling’s manuscript, famously rumored to have been partly written on disposable napkins, about an orphaned boy who did not know he was a wizard.

It was rejected by several British publishers, and then accepted by one, Bloomsbury, which published it as “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” with Rowling’s name defeminized into “J.K.” A year later — on Sept. 1, 1998 — it arrived in American bookstores as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” with a new cover designed by Mary GrandPré. There was another publisher, Scholastic, tasked with introducing the book and the wizarding world to American children, and soon enough, across the country there were young readers, and more than a few older ones, clamoring for more.

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A letter from Rowling’s American editor that was in galleys sent to media and booksellers.

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Mary GrandPré’s original hand lettering for the cover of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

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A sketch for an illustration in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by Mary GrandPré. Photo: TBD

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A limited edition “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” paperback, with an original Mary GrandPré cover. Photo: The New York Times


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James Bond films – all 007’s best and worst movies ranked!

With the news of Danny Boyle’s departure as director of the next 007 instalment, we rank the big-screen outings of Britain’s finest, from 1962’s Dr No to 2015’s Spectre.

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26. Casino Royale (1967)

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even a cameo from Orson Welles couldn’t lend lustre to this pointless and unfunny spoof, a dire tongue-in-cheeker that slipped past the franchise control of the producers, Eon. David Niven saunters unsexily as the retired “Sir James Bond” in this chaotic film.

25. Die Another Day (2002)

Oh lawdy. The Bond franchise was looking lost in the grim and joyless new “war on terror”-era, and this movie featured the worst gadget in the history of 007: an invisible car. What on earth is the point of that? You can almost see the P45 being pressed into Brosnan’s hand.

24. The Living Daylights (1987)

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Timothy Dalton and Maryam D’Abo in The Living Daylights. Photograph: Allstar/United Artists

This was the turn of straight actor and RSC stalwart Timothy Dalton. He was supposedly there to give Bond a hard and gritty new seriousness, but always just looked a bit humourless. This was during the Aids era of sexual restraint, too, so Bond only cops off a couple of times.

23. Licence to Kill (1989)

Bond goes rogue, and Dalton stays dull. This one is notable for the young Benicio del Toro as a humble henchman. After this, legal copyright rows caused a six-year production hiatus during which Dalton quit.

22. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

You can hear a whistling and a crackling in the air as Roger Moore begins to tune out. The stunts hold up, but Moore is on the exit ramp and his flaccid relationship with 24-year-old Carole Bouquet is a deathly embarrassment.

21. Never Say Never Again (1983)

The title is what Connery’s agent should have shouted at him when he was offered the comeback: (“Never”! Say “Never”! Again!) Connery lumbers back for the remake of Thunderball that no one wanted or needed. He was never a six-pack guy at the best of times, but he’s out of condition here. One to forget.

20. Quantum of Solace (2008)

Much mocked at the time, this film wasn’t as bad as that – despite the silliest title in the series’ history. Craig is always watchable and Mathieu Amalric is a very eccentric oddball villain.

19. The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Not bad, but some of the fizz has gone. In this film, the distinction between villain and henchman seems to collapse with three bad guys: Robert Carlyle, Robbie Coltrane and, erm, Goldie, who was very big in those days.

18. GoldenEye (1995)

Was it a Bondaissance? A Brosnanaissance? Whatever. Stylish yet assertive smoothie Pierce Brosnan had already made an impression in the TV caper Remington Steele. He took to Bond like a duck to water: virile, cool, nice suits. Judi Dench made her debut as M. Bond was back!

17. A View to a Kill (1985)

Quite unexpectedly, Moore pulled it back a bit for his last hurrah. (It was also, sadly, the last hurrah for Lois Maxwell’s Miss Moneypenny.) Christopher Walken was always destined to play a Bond villain and it came to pass in this film, as the evil electronics mogul Max Zorin. A good note for Moore to bow out on.

16. Moonraker (1979)

A whopping, megabudget Bond in its day, clearly influenced by the Star Wars-led sci-fi revival. It is all about the theft of a space shuttle, but this excursion into space can’t conceal the fact that Moore is looking a bit jaded.

15. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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George Lazenby and Diana Rigg. Photo: Danjaq/Eon/UA/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

George Lazenby’s sole appearance wasn’t a bad Bond. Had he done more, Lazenby might have become a favourite. Diana Rigg played the woman who shows 007 is no commitmentphobe. They marry, before gunfire poignantly restores Bond’s eternal singledom.

14. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Uh-oh. Connery was tempted back to the role with a big pay packet, now looking craggier and toupeed. Ernst Blofeld, boringly played by Charles Gray, wants to use diamonds to focus his space laser. Bond girl Tiffany Case was played by Jill St John, whose real-life boyfriend, Henry Kissinger, would have been better as the villain.

13. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

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Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies. Photo: ITV

It took a spanking from Titanic at the box office, but this is a good, underrated Bond: one of the very few films (or plays or books) to satirise Rupert Murdoch and his Chinese expansionist plans – a rather taboo subject in 90s media. Jonathan Pryce has great fun with the role of the villainous mogul.

12. Octopussy (1983)

Outrageously daft, but silly and fun. Roger Moore wears a gorilla costume.

11. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

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Roger Moore and Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me. Photo: Moviestore Collection/Rex

This has a well-loved Bond song, Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better. It also introduced us to the exotic henchman Jaws. The action opens with that staggering skiing-off-a-cliff stunt, just after Moore is seen supposedly skiing in front of an obvious back projection.

10. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Despite iffy reviews at the time, this has one of the very best villains, wonderfully played by Christopher Lee: Scaramanga, he of the creepy third nipple. It is a preposterous 70s fuel-crisis drama about a solar energy device. There’s some funky martial arts, too.

9. Skyfall (2012)

An excellent, intelligent Bond which shrewdly expanded the role of Judi Dench’s M, developed her relationship with 007 and created a plausible, sympathetic backstory for him. Javier Bardem got his teeth into the villain role.

8. Live and Let Die (1973)

And so began the reign of Roger Moore, tacitly conceding the campness that many saw as unavoidable for Bond. Moore was witty, sprightly and a mature 46 when he took over (Connery had started at 32.) This movie has a great song from Paul McCartney and Wings.

7. Thunderball (1965)

The evil organisation Spectre had its first appearance in Fleming’s Thunderball novel, but we were used to it by now, this being the fourth outing for 007 on the big screen. Good stuff here, but the franchise faltered a bit, with long underwater sequences.

6. Spectre (2015)

Boom! Craig and director Sam Mendes bring off an absolutely storming 007 extravaganza, kicking off with a head-banging action sequence in Mexico City. Léa Seydoux has a Veronica Lake-type sultriness and Ben Whishaw almost steals the show as the geeky Q.

5. Casino Royale (2006)

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Daniel Craig in a promo image for Casino Royale. Photo: Allstar/Sony

Daniel Craig had to face a lot of internet bickering when he was cast, but he blew everyone away with a performance that was just right: cool, cruel, ruthless, yet sardonic. It was great at the time and looks even better now. One of the best Bonds.

4. Dr No (1962)

Sean Connery’s first outing in the Bond role. It gave us the gun-barrel titles and the Monty Norman theme. There was Ursula Andress in the bikini and the exotic Johnny Foreigner villain with an outrageous island lair.

3. From Russia With Love (1963)

Weirdly ungadgety and downbeat. Connery searches his hotel room for bugs for what seems like 10 minutes, with the theme music playing deafeningly. There’s a great train fight with Robert Shaw’s Red Grant.

2. Goldfinger (1964)

“You eckshpect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to DIE!” This introduced us to Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 and the weird spectacle of Shirley Eaton suffocating in gold. It established the convention whereby the villain leaves 007 time to escape some elaborate automated death.

1. You Only Live Twice (1967)

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Connery and Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice. Photograph: MGM/Everett/Rex Features

This great action movie put Connery’s Bond right back on top and introduced us to the Nehru-suit-wearing, cat-stroking master criminal Spectre chief, Blofeld, played by Donald Pleasence. Connery announced his intention to quit after this. Perhaps he knew it could never be this good again?


Cover photo: Daniel Craig as Bond, with his Aston Martin DB5, in Skyfall. Photo: Allstar/United Artists

Danny Boyle exits Bond 25 over ‘creative differences’

The Oscar-winning director will no longer take helm of the follow-up to Spectre, set to be Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond.

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Danny Boyle has walked away from directing the 25th James Bond film.

The Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire had been officially attached to the as-yet-untitled adventure but in a tweet from the franchise’s official account, he has now departed over “creative differences”.

“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,” it read.

It had been confirmed in May, after months of rumors, that Boyle would both write and direct the follow-up to 2015’s Spectre, the second Bond film from Sam Mendes. “We’ve got an idea,” he said at the time. “John Hodge, the screenwriter, and I have got this idea, and John is writing it at the moment. And it all depends on how it turns out. It would be foolish of me to give any of it away.”

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Danny Boyle in 2017. Photograph: Epsilon/Getty Images

A script for Bond 25 had originally been completed by franchise veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade but it was reportedly put aside after Boyle and his Trainspotting co-writer came onboard. In July, a leaked call sheetsuggested that the story would include a “charismatic, powerful, innovative, cosmopolitan, bright, cold and vindictive” Russian villain. It’s unclear what script will now be used.

While Spectre received mixed reviews, it was a global hit, making $880m worldwide, although it fell short of Skyfall’s franchise-best $1.1bn haul. The next chapter, set to be released in 2019, was also due to be Daniel Craig’s last outing as the secret agent. “I just want to go out on a high note, and I can’t wait,” Craig said to Stephen Colbert in 2017.

Craig had previously said he would “slash his wrists” rather than play the role again but has since explained himself. “Look, there’s no point in making excuses about it, but it was two days after I’d finished shooting the last movie,” he said. “I went straight into an interview and someone said would you do another one and I went ‘No!’”

Boyle had previously worked with Craig in the opening to the 2012 Olympics, including 007 in a brief cameo alongside the Queen.

Recent weeks have seen increased buzz around Idris Elba, long touted as a contender for Bond’s next iteration, after rumors that longtime Bond producer Barbara Broccoli wanted to bring some diversity to the role.

“I keep saying if it were to happen it would be the will of a nation because there haven’t been any talks between me and the studio about any of that,” Elba said in 2016. “Running around in cars and ladies and martinis, who wants to do that? Sounds terrible.”

Boyle’s most recent credit was Trust, a miniseries based around the infamous Getty kidnapping, following on from his long-awaited sequel to Trainspotting. He also recently wrapped a new musical comedy written by Richard Curtis set in a world where only one person can remember music by the Beatles.


Cover photo: Daniel Craig in Spectre. Photo: Allstar/United Artists

Movie review: The Nun – queen of the New Wave returns

Jacques Rivette’s deeply strange 1966 story – soon out on DVD and Blu-Ray – is part erotic memoir, part melodrama.

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No freedom anywhere … The Nun by Jacques Rivette.

Jacques Rivette’s 1966 reinterpretation of Denis Diderot’s 18th-century novel La Religieuse, starring the queen of the New Wave herself, Anna Karina, appeared in the Classics strand of last year’s Cannes film festival and now it gets a brief cinema outing in the UK, prior to its DVD and Blu-Ray rerelease. The ordeal of a pure young woman, as Rivette conceives it, has an eerie theatricality and mystery, as it dramatises the nature of freedom. It is part melodrama, part erotic memoir. The Nun was controversial in its day, and Lars von Trier may have studied the bat squeak of black comedy in it for his own provocations, such as Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark.

Karina plays Suzanne Simonin, a young woman who is committed by her family, against her will, into a convent – the reason being that her father is not the man married to her mother. The shame of illegitimacy that she represents means her mother cannot bear to look at her. Suzanne endures this injustice in a state of shock, and her residual faith that God will deliver her from this imprisonment is futile: it is precisely the business of faith that is keeping her locked up and dependent on men outside the convent. Her destiny rests with the caprices or well-meant concern of presiding bishops and a lawyer looking after her interests.

The Mother Superior Madame de Moni (Micheline Presle) is at least kindly, but she dies and is replaced by the cruel Sister Sainte-Christine (Francine Bergé). Suzanne is then transferred to another convent, as she might be to another prison. It is a more liberal establishment, where she instantly becomes the pet of the Mother, Madame de Chelles (Liselotte Pulver), to the petulant jealousy of all the other nuns with whose girlish affections De Chelles had previously been trifling. De Chelles’s sexual infatuation with her tests Suzanne’s faith as never before, and then a very enigmatic coda about her eventual escape appears to show there is no freedom for her anywhere.

The vast majority of the movie is shot indoors, in gloomy cloistered walkways, cells, chapels. (Where, in one rather beguiling scene, a cat strays across the floor while a service is in progress.) The rare exterior locations give this film a look of something pastoral. Perhaps it hasn’t aged quite as well as the rest of Rivette’s work, but it is still a deeply, almost unreadably strange story.

Short films with big pictures: the collection

Two online archives of shorts, from biopics to animation, showcase the genre’s potential to innovate and subvert.

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The ‘dark, deadpan’ Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, streaming now on Channel 4’s Random Acts.

Random Acts, Channel 4’s innovative short film programme, is a tricky animal to classify. It’s ostensibly a television series, collating handfuls of disparate short films into weekly half-hour episodes, but cinematic in spirit and scope. However, it’s online, where the films are archived following their TV premiere, that the youth-targeted project has really prospered. Not many people may be watching at midnight when the episodes first hit the airwaves, but the bite-size individual films (none longer than four minutes) are perfectly suited to streaming via social media. That they mostly hinge on stylistic novelty – the emphasis is on creative experimentation rather than standard scripted drama – helps the word of mouth along.

This year’s series started last Tuesday, kicking off on a particularly eye-popping note with German animator Brenda Lien’s Call of Cuteness, a witty, gruesomely imagined subversion of internet cat-video culture that may give the feline-inclined among us nightmares for a week.

Random is the operative word: that the series is geared mostly toward new talent lends it a spirit of suck-it-and-see browsing, though you’ll find the likes of a David Shrigley animation or a David Oyelowo Shakespearean reading nestled amid the unknown quantities. My favourite find so far: British animation duo Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling’s four-part cult item Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, a dark, deadpan, grimly philosophical sendup of children’s educational programming.

Short film tends to get short shrift in this column, so the return of Random Acts reminded me of another online goldmine I’ve been meaning to spotlight. The US-based Short of the Week is perhaps the biggest, brightest, most easily accessible shorts-oriented website around, living up to its straightforward name with a fresh weekly selection of films in a range of genres, adding to a free-to-view back catalogue of well over a thousand selections.

Slickly designed, it’s a less radical, more all-encompassing showcase for the form, with separate channels for drama, comedy, documentary, animation and sci-fi, with films accompanied by short, thoughtful critical essays. A nifty index allows you to look up films by thematic keyword, festival programming or country of origin (Botswana, for example, has one film compared with 981 from the US).

Selections range from high-profile Oscar winners such as Andrea Arnold’s mini-classic Wasp and François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and Ludovic Houplain’s ingenious, corporation-baiting animation Logorama, to more buried treasure. I was transfixed by a chance discovery in American animator Andy Kennedy’s three-minute Slow Wave, which examines sleeping patterns and disturbances in eerie, abstract, entirely gorgeous fashion.

A section of “classics” (mostly at the modern end of the spectrum) lives up to its title, offering Todd Haynes’s essential, still startling Barbie-doll biopic Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, or Chris Marker’s endlessly referenced, imitated and analysed New Wave time-bender La Jetée.

Among the latest additions, meanwhile, any cinemagoers who recently caught and admired A Ciambra, Jonas Carpignano’s earthy, Roma-focused update of Italian neorealism, may be interested to check out the vivid, keen-eyed 2014 short from which the full film grew. (If anything, the short may be slightly superior.) It’s an example of how canny curation can make shorts and features – too often divided into separate houses – feed fluidly into each other.

New to streaming & DVD this week

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Meinhard Neumann in Western. Photo: Allstar

Western
(Drakes Avenue, 12) Placing deservedly high on many mid-year best lists, German film-maker Valeska Grisebach’s superb study of migrant worker tensions in rural Bulgaria brings something of a John Ford sensibility to modern European politics.

Berlin Alexanderplatz
(Second Sight, 15) A good week for German film: this gargantuan, limited-edition box set of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s extraordinary 16-hour Döblin adaptation will be a major object of cinephile salivation.

Mary Magdalene
(Universal, 12) Lion director Garth Davies suffers a second-film slump – albeit in very tasteful fashion – with this beautifully mounted, emotionally flat and only notionally feminist revision of the Passion.

Peter Rabbit
(Sony, PG) Remember Miss Potter, that suffocatingly twee biopic starring Renée Zellweger as Peter Rabbit’s creator? It is no longer the worst thing Hollywood has done to Beatrix Potter.

Erase and Forget
(Mubi, 18) Streaming exclusively on Mubi, Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s strong, insightful documentary profile of Vietnam killing machine Bo Gritz works unexpectedly as a pointed critique of Trump-era politics.


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