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Ben Smith on "The Long Way Round to a Frances Marion Kickstarter"

Frances MarionI’m a huge Howard Hawks fan.

It’s my project to see every film he ever made - and without splurging box-set style, but instead to eke them out across the decades. I go for a new one every few years, as I'm in no rush to deny myself future pleasure. So it should come as no surprise that, a couple of years ago, I was filling in time by reading Todd McCarthy’s excellent biography of the man, Hollywood’s Grey Fox. From it, I learnt that Hawks had been part of Douglas Fairbanks' circle of energetic young men.

So then I searched out a Fairbanks biography, which was pretty remarkable, and then that led me to my first encounter with Frances Marion, named as one of his screenwriters and a close confidant of Mary Pickford.

Naturally, I then happened upon another book in a remainders shop, Joseph P Kennedy’s Hollywood Years, about JFK’s father - a banker, film producer, US ambassador and Nazi sympathiser. It contained an incredible story about Frances Marion and her husband’s ill-treatment at Kennedy’s hands. So I then picked up that author's other biography, this one about Frances Marion. Without Lying Down is so called because Marion spent her whole life looking for a man she “could look up to without lying down”.

I was completely sold on her. 

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Stark Reviews: West & Soda (1965)

West and Soda

Stark says: “If he’s dead, why is he still smoking?”

I first came across West & Soda a few months back, after taking a tumble into a dusty corner of the Internet. As soon as I saw the words “1960s Italian animated parody Western” I just knew I had to get me a copy of the DVD.

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"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" by Adam Roberts

rey hanging with bb8

The most interesting thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens has to do with the cultural moment into which it was received. I don’t mean that it has been greeted so rapturously by fans and cinema-goers, that it has already earned a shedload of money, that it is set fair to overtake Avatar as the highest grossing movie of all time—we could all see that coming a mile off. I mean the acute and often panicky paranoia about spoilers this release has occasioned. How angry people get! Spoiling Star Wars became suddenly one the worst things a person could do, just below genocide and just above admitting a fondness for Coldplay.

[Editor's note: ...which is probably the right time to say - "contains spoilers".]

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Stark Reviews: Grim Prairie Tales (1990)

  Grim_Prairie_Tal_538428f21548fStark says: I got a story that’ll stick to you like an eyeball to a cactus needle

So what if someone told you there was a film where Wormtongue and Thulsa Doom sat around a campfire, trying to scare the bejesus out of each other? Well, that’s basically what Grim Prairie Tales is, and I couldn’t pass it by either. Plus, I’m never one to resist a title that contains a pun, now, am I…

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Friday Five: 5 Distinct Dystopias

The-king-in-yellow-coverAleriel is out now - a resurrected Victorian space travel novel, complete with a new sequel from Molly Tanzer. (Molly's had a busy week!) Molly's sequel puts a new spin on the original novel. Lach-Szyrma's titular Venusian traveller was particularly impressed by the theocratic society he finds on Mars. Molly? Less so, and "Civilisation and Its Discontents" shows this presumed utopia from a different perspective. 

So, naturally, we asked Molly for a short list of some of her other favourite dystopias, so, without further ado...

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I mean, even considering that BioShock was too scary for me to play, and 1984 and Brave New World seemed too easy, these were some tough choices. In the end, I settled on this list, which I felt were (1) a nice mix of various media, and (2) also contain utopias disguised as dystopias, and vice versa. Enjoy!

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Stark Reviews: Westworld (1973)

Brynner-headline

Stark says: Boy have we got a vacation for you! Where nothing can possibly go worng!

Let’s see now, we’ve done cowboys and dinosaurs, cowboys and Joan Crawford, cowboys and foxes…. What’s missing? Oh yeah, COWBOYS vs ROBOTS, otherwise known as Westworld.

Now, because Hollywood can’t leave any damn thing alone ever,* Westworld is being currently being re-booted into a TV series, starring Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood. I’ll keep my pistol in my holster until I’ve actually seen it, but in the meantime, let’s cast a beady eye over the original.

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Stark Reviews: Robin Hood (1973)

Robin-hood-disneyscreencaps.com-413

Stark says: “Listen Friar, you’re mighty preachy, and you gonna preach your neck right into a hangman’s noose.”

Sounds like a Western, doesn’t it? What if I told you there was also a corrupt Sheriff, a ruthless Land Boss, a shooting contest, a root-tootin’ barn dance, a pair of outlaws and a stagecoach heist? No, it ain’t The Quick and the Dead. It’s Disney’s Robin Hood and for this month’s review I’m going to forgo my usual Good-Bad-and-Ugly rating and bust a gut trying to convince y’all that this film is actually a Western.

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The Hunger Games - Greatest Modern Movie Epic?

Lorde - "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Catching Fire)

Finally saw Mockingjay, Part 1 last weekend. All three movies seem to be a slightly different style, but they all revolve around a really interesting anti-authoritarian, anti-media theme. What's interesting isn't just how the theme is handled (intelligently and provocatively), but how it has evolved over the three films, without losing the basic action/adventure/coming-of-age premise that makes the whole thing so fun. It is also, in a way that many of its peers is not, strikingly contemporary.

It'll be interesting to see how it dates, but given the world doesn't seem to be de-paranoia-ing, de-militarising or de-media-saturating any time soon, I suspect this might be something made for the long haul.

Anyway, after a day or so of pondering, here's my challenge - is there a better modern movie epic?

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Weirdness Rodeo

Star Wars

Pornokitsch is a producer of cat-related tweets that occasionally reviews

Scott Meslow on how Star Wars is a merchandise franchise that occasionally makes films:

In what might well be the single largest financial blunder in Hollywood history, 20th Century Fox allowed George Lucas to retain all the licensing and merchandising rights to Star Wars in exchange for a $500,000 directorial fee. In 2014, the overall value of the Star Wars franchise was estimated at $37 billion, with Episodes VII, VIII, and IX on the way — along with a slew of spin-offs — it will soon be worth much more. One research firm estimates that sales of Star Wars merchandise could exceed $5 billion in 2016 alone. That's more than the combined global grosses of every single Star Wars movie that has ever hit theaters — including several rounds of re-releases.

I've written about transmedia storytelling in the past - predominantly in regards to the convergence of books and RPGs - but there's something wonderful about the way this forces us to shift our perceptions. We associate particular properties with a particular media channel, but that is very often a complicated blind. To some degree, this happens every time a film is made: as much as readers pretend to have a sort of droit du seigneur, more people see the movie (or TV show) than read the books. There are a few exceptions (I'd love to crunch the numbers for Harry Potter or Tolkien), but not many. (And others, say, James Bond, where the secondary media - film - has unabashedly become the primary media with the passage of time.)

Marvel is a film studio that makes comics. Hell, four million people (including me!) play the Marvel click-farming Avengers Alliance game on Facebook. Maybe Marvel is an app producer that occasionally captures cut scenes as comic books. He-Man, famously, is a toy company that makes cartoons. Batman is a logo that appears on t-shirts, backpacks, wallets, duvets, children's kitsch and... sometimes... a superhero. And, now, Star Wars is a line of merchandise - with high-profile, long form video content marketing. Makes the whole Extended Universe debate a bit moot, doesn't it? Is your lunchbox canon?!

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The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)

The-Hobbit-The-Battle-of-The-Five-Armies-5

I wrote about the first two Hobbit movies and their major problem (they’re not about Bilbo) last year.

Last night I rewatched The Battle of Five Armies for the first time since it came out in the cinemas. And it’s hard to muster the energy to talk about it. Everything I said before is true: Bilbo is lost as a character, there’s too much about Thorin’s backstory, and there’s too much meaningless tertiary stuff.

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