My 75 favourite films of the 2010s

To commemorate the end of the decade 2010-2019 (any word yet on what we’re calling it?!), here is a list of my favourite movies from the last 10 years.

It’s a very personal selection, based on gut instinct and emotional reactions. There are undoubtedly plenty of fine films that haven’t made the cut, but these are the 75 that have given me – subjectively speaking – the most amount of pleasure and have impressed me the most. (Why 75? That’s just how many I jotted down on a shortlist.)

I’ve listed them alphabetically, but I’ve also picked out a top 10. Have I missed off your favourite?

TOP 10 CHOICE: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011, Steven Spielberg)

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

The finest animated film there’s ever been. A complete artificial world is created in CGI, and repeated viewings are a treat because you continually spot new things in the background of each shot. But, crucially, there’s real heart behind this movie too. You soon forget about the technology and instead get swept up in the story and charmed by the sheer talent behind it. The plot is simple but smart, with clearly defined characters. There’s wit, whimsy, danger, plenty of visual gags and madcap action – in other words, it’s very Steven Spielberg.

TOP 10 CHOICE: The Aeronauts (2019, Tom Harper)

the-aeronauts

A late entry, as I only saw this film a few weeks ago – but it was a magical experience. Watching it on my own on a cold Tuesday evening in an Everyman cinema in Crystal Palace, I was so enraptured that I felt like a child. The screen seemed enormous, I had a perfect view – level, central, not too close, not too far away – and I was totally caught up in the spectacle and the drama and the joy of a great movie. It’s a fictionalised account of a real-life scientific balloon accent in the 1860s, so this a story about reaching for the heavens in more ways than one. It’s stirring and sentimental and touching and full of wonder, while there’s a very good cast, tremendous incidental music, and a beautiful combination of cinematography and visual effects.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013, Declan Lowney)

Attack the Block (2011, Joe Cornish)

Avengers: Endgame (2019, Anthony & Joe Russo)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony & Joe Russo)

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018, Drew Goddard)

Baby Driver (2017, Edgar Wright)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Blade Runner 2049 (2017, Denis Villeneuve)

BR2049

Producing a sequel to a classic 35 years after the fact was something of a risk. Ridley Scott, the director of the first Blade Runner, had himself recently made two follow-ups to his other sci-fi masterpiece, Alien (1979), and both fell a very long way short of that movie’s seductive terror. Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 is *at least* the equal of the 1982 antecedent. Made with an understanding of the original’s power but also with a distinct voice by director Denis Villeneuve, it’s a big film, a difficult film at times, but an engrossing and hugely rewarding experience.

Bone Tomahawk (2015, S Craig Zahler)

Bridge of Spies (2015, Steven Spielberg)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Drew Goddard)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony & Joe Russo)

captainamerica_wintersoldier16_1020.0

The decade’s finest superhero movie – and this has been a decade with a lot of superhero movies. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo make sure each element of the film is as sharp as it can be: it’s often funny, it’s often exciting, the story has a bit of substance, tension is built effectively, the incidental music is terrific, and the action scenes are sensational. There’s intrigue, espionage and mistrust. There’s wit, pathos and drama. There’s action, fun and Christopher Nolan-style theatricality.

Creed (2015, Ryan Coogler)

Crimson Peak (2015, Guillermo del Toro)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, Matt Reeves)

Deadpool (2016, Tim Miller)

Deadpool 2 (2018, David Leitch)

The Death of Stalin (2018, Armando Iannucci)

Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino)

Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn)

Dunkirk (2017, Christopher Nolan)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Easy A (2010, Will Gluck)

911160 - EASY A

A loving homage to the kind of teen comedies made by John Hughes in the 1980s, this drily funny and very smart film stars a terrific Emma Stone as a schoolgirl who becomes notorious after a rumour circulates about her sexual appetite. Made with both a real affection for those great old 80s movies and a modern freshness, Easy A also has two of the greatest ‘movie parents’ you could ever hope for: Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci’s open-minded and carefree Rosemary and Dill. (No, honestly, those are their names.)

Evil Dead (2013, Fede Álvarez)

Ex Machina (2015, Alex Garland)

Fast & Furious 5 (2011, Justin Jin)

The Final Girls (2015, Todd Strauss-Schulson)

Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuarón)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)

Halloween (2018. David Gordon Green)

Happy Death Day (2017, Christopher Landon)

The Hateful Eight (2015, Quentin Tarantino)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013, Peter Jackson)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson)

The Hunger Games (2012, Gary Ross)

Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan)

Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan)

Iron Man 3 (2013, Shane Black)

Joker (2019, Todd Philips)

La La Land (2016, Damien Chazelle)

The Lego Movie (2014, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

Logan (2017, James Mangold)

The Lone Ranger (2013, Gore Verbinski)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)

The Martian (2015, Ridley Scott)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011, Brad Bird)

Mr Holmes (2015, Bill Condon)

The Nice Guys (2016, Shane Black)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019, Quentin Tarantino)

The Post (2017, Steven Spielberg)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Robin Hood (2010, Ridley Scott)

robin_hood_image_02

Arguably (and I’m going to argue it) the most underrated film of the last 10 years, this kind of passed by without many people getting all that excited. The most newsworthy aspect of its release was lead actor Russell Crowe throwing a tantrum in a publicity interview because it was suggested that his ‘Nottinghamshire’ accent was perhaps not 100-per-cent authentic. (In truth, it’s not even *one*-per-cent authentic.) But that’s just a blemish. Essentially Robin Hood: The Origin Story, this movie ticks the usual boxes – the Crusades, King John, Marian, the sidekicks – but also weaves Robin’s story into a tapestry that involves palace intrigue, civil rights and a coming war. Beautiful to look at, well cast, exciting, funny, and with a fascinating backstory informing everything, this deserves to be much more liked.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Gareth Edwards)

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010, Edgar Wright)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Guy Ritchie)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)

Skyfall is biggest earning film in UK

The best James Bond film of the decade (regrettably there have only been two) is tremendous entertainment, full of vim and zip and energy. It’s also an engaging character story that weaves Bond’s past with that of his boss, M. “Where are we going?” asks M at one point. “Back in time,” replies Bond… After the clean slate of Casino Royale and the po-faced Quantum of Solace, this movie gives us a new Moneypenny, a new Q, the return of an Aston Martin DB5, and even a belting title song sung by a large-lunged diva. It’s stylish and confident and slick and a lot of fun.

TOP 10 CHOICE: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Ron Howard)

Solo

This was a huge ask. Huge. To take such a famous and beloved character as Han Solo and *recast* him could have gone catastrophically wrong. Thankfully, both lead actor Alden Ehrenreich and the film as a whole are wonderfully vibrant and entertaining. Being a prequel, simply filling out the spaces between established facts could of course become boring very quickly. Solo, however, has more than enough panache and humour to sidestep the issue. It’s full of vivid characters, exiting sequences, romance and adventure.

Spectre (2015, Sam Mendes)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, Jon Watts)

Stan & Ollie (2019, Jon S Baird)

Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, JJ Abrams)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, JJ Abrams)

ForceAwakens

This movie looks like Star Wars, it sounds like Star Wars, and it feels like Star Wars. The new generation of characters – courageous Rey, headstrong Finn, dashing Poe, adorable BB-8, villainous Kylo – are charismatic, fun, interesting and worthy successors to Luke, Leia, Han and co. Speaking of those icons, they’re not just meaningless cameos. They’re integral to the story, and are found in instantly interesting situations. The Force Awakens might be a love letter to the first three movies, but it’s still a compelling drama. On a technical level, the film is even more impressive. For a start, it’s just so wonderfully *there*. It feels physical, palpable, with heft and weight and a sense of reality. After the cartoony artifice of the prequels, this makes a geek’s heart sing. It’s my favourite film of the whole decade.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, JJ Abrams)

Super 8 (2011, JJ Abrams)

T2 Trainspotting (2017, Danny Boyle)

The Theory of Everything (2014, James Marsh)

True Grit (2010, Joel and Ethan Coen)

21 Jump Street (2012, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

Unstoppable (2010, Tony Scott)

TOP 10 CHOICE: The World’s End (2013, Edgar Wright)

The World's End

This top-10 choice can be seen as standing in for all of director Edgar Wright’s classy and endlessly enjoyable work this decade; I could easily have chosen Scott Pilgrim or Baby Driver. The World’s End has the usual Wrightian tropes – great cast, huge smarts, laugh-out-loud comedy, a thrilling awareness of popular culture, first-rank cinematography and editing – but it edges the others because of two factors. It’s the finale of a thematic trilogy begun in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and continued in 2007’s Hot Fuzz, and it caps off the series so superbly. Also, its exploration of nostalgia, for better and worse, really socks home.

X-Men: First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn)

In summary…

It turns out that 2015 is my favourite year of the decade with 12 films on this list. 2011 and 2017 have nine entries each; 2013 is on eight; 2012 and 2014 are on seven; 2010, 2018 and 2019 on six; and poor 2016 is the weakest showing with just five.

Two directors share the accolade of most films: JJ Abrams and Christopher Nolan, each with four. Anthony & Joe Russo, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright have three each; while the following directors appear on the list twice: Shane Black, Drew Goddard, Justin Lin, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott and Sam Mendes.

In terms of multiple films from the same series, we have seven Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The next best-represented franchise is Star Wars with five; then there are four X-Men films and two each from Star Trek, James Bond and the Hobbit series.

Terminator Salvation (2009, McG)

Salvation

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

During a war with sentient machines, John Connor is given a mission to storm the opposition’s headquarters. Meanwhile, a mysterious man can’t remember anything since his own death 15 years earlier…

Main characters:

* Top billed is Christian Bale, playing the third on-screen John Connor we’ve had in this series. (The fourth if you count a cameo of an older version in 2029. The fifth if you count a TV series. More on that later…) After the teen of T2 and the twenty-something of T3, John is now a man of 33 (ie, the age that another idealistic JC was when he was crucified) and is fighting for the human resistance forces in the post-apocalyptic war we’ve been told about since the original movie. It’s a tough, harsh, cold world as the few remaining humans attempt to combat all-powerful metallic overlords. John has yet to reach his destiny position as the movement’s leader, however; here, in 2018, he has superiors whose orders he doesn’t always agree with. When he meets a cyborg with no love for the enemy, Skynet, John is not enamoured but reluctantly joins forces with him to mount a rescue of some humans prisoners. (That’s right, even after his experiences the previous two films, this John Connor finds it hard to believe that a cyborg might be a good guy.) Bale gives a typically po-faced, deadly serious performance, often doing little more than barking his dialogue into a handheld radio. The actor also famously lost his shit on set after the director of photography distracted him during a take. (To be fair to Bale, he later apologised profusely.)

* When we first meet Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), it’s in a prologue set before Judgment Day. He’s on death row after a criminal incident that killed his own brother and some police officers. Soon before his execution he’s persuaded to donate his body to Cyberdyne – the tech company featured in the earlier films. Then, much later, an understandably discombobulated Marcus awakens in a nightmarish future: 15 years have passed, there’s been an apocalypse, the machines have taken over, he’s not aged a day, and he’s very clearly not dead any more. WTF? He soon encounters murderous robots, but is saved by a man called Kyle Reese who says he’s a member of the human resistance… Then, after a big action sequence that should have killed Marcus, we learn that he is actually a cyborg. (He’s more shocked by this spectacularly obvious ‘plot twist’ than we are.) Turns out, he was built by Skynet to be an agent who could unknowingly infiltrate the resistance and get close to its figurehead, John Connor. Having met John, what does the cyborg Marcus do? Does he assassinate him? Take him prisoner? No, he’s so outraged by what’s been done to him that he agrees to help John defeat Skynet… Did the IT boffins not see that one coming?! Worthington is nominally this film’s lead actor, and in fact there are rumours that initially Marcus was the POV character throughout. (Then Christian Bale was hired, necessitating a swelling of John Connor’s role. Before that, Connor had been a cameo.) But the actor plays the part too tough-guy for us to care much about him.

* Kyle Reese is, of course, younger than when we knew him in the original Terminator movie. He hasn’t yet travelled back to 1984, he hasn’t heard of Sarah Connor, and he hasn’t even met John Connor. Young and impulsive – and just a bit cynical – he constitutes the LA branch of the resistance. He gets to wheel out one of the franchise’s key lines of dialogue – ‘Come with me if you want to live…’ – but is later captured by the machine forces, which provides John (who knows Kyle will one day go back in time and be his father) with the motivation to rescue Skynet’s human hostages. Kyle is played by Anton Yelchin, who fails to remind us of Michael Biehn’s original in any way beyond having the same name.

* Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood) is a resistance pilot who crashes near Marcus after a big action sequence, so he helps her disentangle from her parachute cables. As he has knowledge about Skynet’s forces, she takes him to see her boss John Connor… Blair is certainly a sexy character, and it’s not a bad performance, but she’s a perfunctory role. She’s just there to move Marcus from plot point to plot point.

Other characters:
* Dr Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) is the woman who comes to Marcus’s prison cell in 2003 and gets him to sign away his body to Cyberdyne. He twigs that she’s a cancer suffering whose time is running out. Later, in 2018, Skynet’s AI mainframe uses her likeness when talking to Marcus.
* General Hugh Ashdown, played by the dependably gruff Michael Ironside, is a resistance bigwig who clashes with the impetuous John.
* John’s wife and confidant, Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard), is no longer the vet we met in Terminator 3. Now she’s shifted to human medicine, all the better for fixing up war casualties. She’s also pregnant. Despite a new actress, she’s still a fairly boring character who only really exists on the periphery of the plot.
* Barnes, played by rapper Common, is one of John’s lieutenants.
* Sarah Connor’s voice is heard when John plays some of the cassettes of advice she made for him in the 1980s. Linda Hamilton returned to rerecord the lines so that new inelegant information could be crowbarred in. (‘This is tape number 28. It’s Sarah Connor to my son, John’).
* Star (Jadagrace Berry) is a mute child who hangs out with Kyle. She seems to have psychic powers of some kind – or maybe just an uncanny sixth sense.

Where: The prologue takes place in Longview State Correctional Facility. When we cut to the future the events range across California – taking in both LA and San Fransisco. John also has a diversion out to sea, because the resistance’s headquarters are housed on board a submarine (cute idea). When on land, Terminator Salvation’s vision of a nuclear-winter West Coast amounts to either dusty, arid scrub and deserted highways, or bland, bombed-out ruins of cities. Other than the obvious broad strokes, the locations and production design do little to texture the story.

When: The opening scene is set in 2003 – so before the events depicted in Terminator 3. The bulk of the movie is then in 2018, which is some years after Judgment Day in this new Terminator timeline. At one point, Marcus says he was born on 22 August 1975, making him 28 in the prison scene.

I’ll be back: Partly because he was then the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was not directly involved in this fourth Terminator movie. So here his famous catchphrase is instead said by John Connor before he leaves for a mission. Schwarzenegger does, however, still have a hefty presence in the film. Making use of CG technology that was then quite new and is now becoming a cliche, we see a T-800 burst out of a metallic booth and attack John. It looks exactly (well, nearly exactly) like a 1984 Arnie and the incidental music clangs heavy with the famous old Terminator cue. It’s a remarkably impressive visual effect, and the scene does actually make plot sense too as John has stumbled across the T-800 development lab.

Spin-off: In the year before Terminator Salvation’s release, a TV off-shoot called The Sarah Connor Chronicles had begun airing. Starring Lena Headey as Sarah and Thomas Dekker as John, it was a sequel to the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (in other words, it ignored Terminator 3 and created *yet another* alternate timeline). The story saw Sarah, John and a reprogrammed Terminator protector (Summer Glau) evading Skynet agents sent from the future while attempting to avert the coming apocalypse. After a fun-enough start, the series soon lost its lustre and was axed after 31 episodes across two seasons.

Review: It seems that eras tend to get the Terminator film they deserve. In 1984, cinema was in the wake of visionary and impactful science-fiction movies like Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner; it was also the golden age of slashers such as Halloween and Friday the 13th. So therefore James Cameron’s original Terminator blended the two genres, creating something as smart as it was stylish; as downbeat as it was intense; as much a horror film as it is a sci-fi. Seven years later and the world had moved on. Hollywood budgets had grown, as had the digital technology available to filmmakers, so Terminator 2: Judgment Day added huge spectacle, revolutionary CGI and 1990s confidence to the mix. By the time the series reached Salvation, cinema had evolved again. The noughties saw a rush of sequels and reboots that took their subject matters more seriously than previous incarnations – see for example 2005’s Batman Begins (with Christian Bale), 2006’s Casino Royale and 2009’s Star Trek (with Anton Yelchin). Terminator Salvation nominally does the same trick as those films, but what it lacks in comparison is dynamism. The best of that era’s series relaunches tell their stories with pace and style and just the right amount of character complexity. They’re also often *fun*, even while being much less frivolous than, say, Batman Forever or Moonraker. But Salvation is a dour, drab and depressingly straight-ahead film. It has a grimy and colourless visual palette, which is at least in keeping with the shallow characters, broad-stroke emotions and functional plotting. There’s no *heart* to any of it. This is also very much a sci-fi war film, overloaded with bombastic action (admittedly including some fun long takes) and Terminator tech that feels like it’s been cut-and-paste from another noughties reboot: 2007’s Transformers movie.

Five two-day-old coyotes out of 10

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003, Jonathan Mostow)

Terminator3

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A few years after his encounter with a cyborg assassin from the future, John Connor faces another deadly threat…

Main characters:

 * Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career had been tailing off alarmingly in the lead-up to this third Terminator movie. Bored perhaps of the diminishing returns of his late-90s action duds, he returned to his most notable role 19 years since his debut in the series… When this film’s T-800 arrives in the present day – we all know the time-traveller-from-the-future score by now, right? – he has the same mission as his predecessor in Terminator 2: to protect John Connor from an assassination attempt. He hunts for John and finds him just in time to save the now 20-something from another Terminator, a stern, expressionless, female-looking cyborg called a T-X. After a few major action sequences, he gets John and his friend Kate to safety, then the plot kicks into another gear at the hour mark when the T-800 reveals that Kate’s dad holds the key to Skynet taking over the world… which is about to enter a nuclear winter later that day. The cyborg wants to take John and Kate to Mexico, to avoid the fallout from the first bombs, but John argues that they need to stop the self-aware computer system Skynet from starting its attack… In his third go at this character type, Schwarzenegger – now in his mid-50s – still has the expressionless face and drone voice. But the steel and intensity from the first film have gone. So too has the character development from the second. 

* In the first of many lazily sexist aspects of the character, when the T-X (played by Kristanna Loken) time-travels into the present day she lands in the shop window of an upmarket clothes store. Ha, ha – women really like clothes, right? As with the previous Terminators earlier in the series, she’s naked when he arrives – so quickly steals a passing woman’s tight-fitting leather suit. Then, when the cops pull her over for speeding, the T-X takes inspiration from a nearby Victoria’s Secret billboard and artificially enlarges her breasts. She’s also later jokingly called the Terminatrix. (It’s all a far cry from Arnie’s intimidating ‘Your clothes: given them to me’ in the 1984 movie.) The T-X’s mission differs from Arnie in film one and the T-1000 in film two. As she doesn’t know where John Connor is in this time period, she wants to murder the young people who will grow up to be his associates and allies; they’re all now innocent kids going about their lives. A cross between the metallic, battering-ram rigidity of a T-800 and the fluid, restorative nature of the T-1000, the T-X has some nifty qualities. She can analysis blood by licking it – another idea you can imagine the writers jumping to because they knew the character would be played by an attractive woman – and can remotely control other machines (such as cars). She lacks the impact of her forebears. She also doesn’t have the James Cameron-style sci-fi plausibility of the earlier bad guys, coming off more like a comic-book villain.

* John Connor is lost when we first meet him, in more ways than one. Judgment Day never happened, thanks to his and his mother’s efforts in Terminator 2, but now the grown-up John lives off the grid, drifting from job to job and having nightmares. (He’s also all alone in the world: mum Sarah died of leukaemia not long after averting the end of the world.) When he breaks into a veterinarians’ to steal some painkillers for a leg injury, the wiry and jumpy John encounters an old school friend who works there – Kate Brewster, with whom he once shared a childhood kiss. Then two Terminators show up – one out to kill him, one out to protect him. Kate is also a target because, we learn, she will one day marry John and be his closest advisor in the future war with the machines. (Yes, that’s right: it turns out that the events of the previous film have only *delayed* Judgment Day, not written it off entirely. The enigmatic empty-road metaphor that ended T2 is well and truly pissed on.) When John and Kate team up with their protector from the future, the T-800, John has to be a bit of a moron for script-exposition reasons and keep forgetting that this cyborg is not the same one he met when he was 10. But when he realises there’s a chance to stop Judgment Day (again), John smartens up and shows some of the leadership qualities we’ve always been told he has. He orders the T-800 to help him and Kate reach the Skynet central computer so they can destroy it before it launches its attack on humanity… T2’s Edward Furlong was originally signed up to reprise the role, but was going through some much-publicised drug problems, so a change was decided upon. Drafted in to replace him was Nick Stahl (who’s actually two years younger than Furlong). He gives a decent enough performance, but because the character is damaged and lonely and bitter, he can’t bring in any of the cheek and swagger that Furlong had established.

* Kate is a young woman who thinks she has a nice-enough life: a fiancé, a job, a good relationship with her loving dad. But all that comes crashing down quickly. When she’s called to the vets’ surgery where she works at 4am to deal with an anxious cat-lady, she finds John – who she recognises from her school days – hiding in the back room. He tries to take her hostage, but she disarms him with ease and locks him up while she calls the cops. However, then the T-X shows up intent on killing them both… Kate is another character initially cast with someone else, but Sophia Bush was released after a month of filming because it was deemed she looked too young. Claire Danes replaced her and gives a fairly vanilla performance.

Other characters:
* Kate’s boyfriend, Scott Mason (Mark Farniglietti), seems a pretty boring bloke so it’s not a huge tug on our emotions when he’s brutally killed and then impersonated by the T-X.
* Kate’s dad, Lieutenant General Robert Brewster (David Andrews), is a military bigwig at a US military base inside a mountain. He’s the programme director of Cyber Research Systems, an autonomous weapons division… In other words, Skynet – the operating system that will eventually become sentient and declare war on humanity. At the start of the story, he’s dealing with a computer virus and is urged by a colleague to use a revolutionary new AI to clear out the problem. However, Lieutenant General Brewster wants to keep ‘humans in the loop.’ When various civilian and military computer systems begin crashing, he has no option to activate Skynet… which immediately locks itself off and takes over.
* A secondary character from the first two Terminator movies, Dr Silberman (Earl Boen), gets a superfluous, silly and irritating cameo during a sequence at the tomb that supposedly houses Sarah Connor’s remains. (The T-800 reveals that she was actually cremated; the tomb is a secret weapons store.)
* In a scene cut from the finished film, Arnold Schwarzenegger played another character. Sergeant Candy is the US serviceman who’s been chosen to be the model for a new line of human-looking super soldier. In other words, the T-800s Arnie has been playing since 1984. Candy’s accent is Southern American, but it’s said they can replace that with something more neutral. Probably best this piece of continuity-woven nonsense was dropped.

Where: John moves around early in the film, appearing in various unspecified areas of America. The T-X arrives in Beverly Hills; the T-800 in the desert outside LA. After locating John and Kate, the T-800 drives them south back into the desert – intent on heading into Mexico. Then stop off at a cemetery before heading to a military research base two hours’ drive away and then ultimately the Crystal Peak instillation in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

When: Okay, things are getting complicated now. In voiceover, John tells us that the events of Terminator 2 happened over 10 years ago. That means this film’s story is playing out two or three years into the future (its cinema release was in 2003). However, John also claims that he was 13 when he encountered the T-1000. Given that it’s been established that John was born in 1985 and Judgment Day was due in 1997, the stated age of 13 seems to be a continuity error based on the age of actor Edward Furlong, who was 13 when he played John in the second film. We’re also now in a new timeline where that Judgment Day didn’t happen, of course, which causes all kinds of logical complexities that we’d be better off ignoring. The present scenes in Terminator 3 begin during night – it’s late enough that a shopping district is deserted, but a nightclub is still open – and continues through the next day, which is the delayed Judgment Day. It’s due to kick off at 6.18pm.

I’ll be back: Given that the threat in this film looks like a woman, Arnie gives his catchphrase a twist: referring to the T-X, he says, ‘She’ll be back.’ Later, she completes the gag when she says, ‘I’m back,’ after emerging from the wreck of a crashed helicopter. Arnie also says later ‘I’m back,’ when the T-800 comes out of a reprogrammed befuddlement. Since the previous Terminator movie, Schwarzenegger had continued to treat audiences to his favourite phrase, almost like a singer wheeling out an old hit. In 1993’s Last Action Hero,­ a clever spoof of the type of movies that had made Arnie’s name,­ his character, Jack Slade, tells a young friend, ‘I’ll be back… Ha, you didn’t know I was going to say that, did you?’ The lad, Danny, who is aware of his Schwarzenegger’s fictional persona, is unimpressed: ‘That’s what you always say… Everybody waits for you to say it. It’s like your calling card.’ The phrase is quoted a couple of other times elsewhere in the film too, then appeared in 1994 comedy Junior (‘It’s nice to be back’) and the terrible sci-fi flick The 6th Day in 2000 (‘I might be back,’ Arnie says to a sales assistant. ‘Oh, you’ll be back,’ comes the knowing reply).

Review: There’s a definite drop-off of quality from the first two Terminator movies, almost inevitably because writer/director James Cameron was not involved. (He’d sold his interest in the franchise to other producers.) For one thing, there’s little intrigue in the storytelling. It’s assumed that we’ve all seen the earlier films and no attempt is made to disguise what’s going on, so everything feels very ‘surface’. Elements of goofy humour – Arnie deadpan as he puts on disco sunglasses is the worst offender – have crept in, and there’s a sense that the filmmakers have thrown in sequences and moments on the basis of ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if?’ rather than character-based scripting. Did we really need a tiresome cameo from Sarah Connor’s psychiatric doctor? Did Sarah’s will stipulate that her stash of guns should be buried in a tomb for any reason other than a director’s wish for a cool shot as Arnold Schwarzenegger carries a casket on his shoulder while firing at police officers? However, there are also undoubted plusses. Terminator 3 is a competently shot movie and is pacey enough to keep the interest. Some of the action is world-class, especially the truly great chase sequence that sees the T-X hounding our heroes in a crane-truck, which is bombastic and enormously loud and destructive yet also staged and shot clearly and precisely for maximum impact. In its second half, the film also pulls of a bravado rug-pull. During their attempt to stop Skynet, John and Kate are told that the central operating system is contained in a bunker inside a mountain in Nevada. They race there with the help of the T-800, all the while chased by the T-X. But it was a con. The mountain base doesn’t contain the means to defeat Skynet. It’s a fallout shelter designed for VIPs. John and Kate realise there was never any way to stop Judgment Day. It was about surviving it so they could run the human resistance.

Seven hands (talk to them) out of 10

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

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NOTE: This is a review of the original cut of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as released in 1991. A blog on the extended Special Edition will follow at a later date.

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A few years after his mother was targeted by a robotic killer from the future, the young John Connor must go on the run – but like his mother before him he has a protector…

Main characters:

* The cyborg known as a T-800 may be played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (now an enormous star who commanded a fee of $15 million). But this is not the same character we saw in The Terminator. It’s a different iteration of the same factory-produced model. When he arrives in the present in a flash of kinetic electricity, having time-travelled from the year 2029, it’s a scene that reminds us of the T-800’s entrance into the original Terminator film. He then coldly attacks a heavy-set biker in order to acquire ‘his clothes, his boots and his motorcycle’, so we’re primed to assume that this T-800 is bad news like his earlier counterpart. He searches for the child John Connor – the son of the first film’s Sarah, who we know will grow up to be an inspirational leader in the future war with the machines – and randomly spots him after driving around LA for a while. But then the cyborg *saves* John from another Terminator who’s trying to kill him, and we instantly understand the film’s cheeky conceit (admittedly, a plot twist that almost every audience member will have known before going in, thanks to trailers and word of mouth). Schwarzenegger’s T-800 has been reprogrammed and has actually been sent back in time to *protect* John from an assassination attempt. For the remainder of the story, he carries out his mission with unshakable commitment… As with the first film, this role is the finest of Schwarzenegger’s career. It’s true that part of the reason is that the T-800 doesn’t require much emotional acting or many nuanced line-deliveries, things Arnie has traditionally struggled with, but this is not totally a back-handed compliment. The actor’s undoubted presence – not just his size, but his posture and movement and gaze – are simpatico with the character. It’s difficult to imagine anyone playing the part more effectively.

* When the new Terminator – known as a T-1000 – arrives in the present, early scenes make us think of the Kyle Reese character from the original movie (further setting up the twist to come). But we also recognise that something is ‘off’. This guy kills a cop and steals his identity – all the better for tracking down John Connor, detective-like. When he finally does encounter John at a shopping mall, he’s about to strike when the T-800 intervenes and shoots him several times… but each bullet hit is harmlessly soaked up into the T-1000’s chrome-coloured liquid innards. We discover that this Terminator is composed entirely of a durable, pliable and intelligent fluid metal and can metamorphise into any solid object of comparable size – including people. (Writer/director James Cameron came up with a term to explain the character’s base material: ‘mimetic poly alloy’.) Played with granite conviction and actually quite a bit of charm by the hawkeyed Robert Patrick, and sometimes realised by cutting-edge CGI, the T-1000 is an amazing creation. Sequels can’t just trot out the same idea again, and making this film’s threat so different and fresh adds a huge amount of danger and tension to the story. For most of its running time, our heroes have no idea in the slightest how they’re going to stop him.

* John Connor, who we saw being conceived during the first movie, is now a rebellious 10-year-old who talks back to his foster parents and steals cash from ATMs. Estranged from his mother, he’s clearly a troubled lad who likes to ride his bike around the city to the sound of Guns N’Roses. The then-unknown Edward Furlong is really good in the part, largely because he brings no cuteness to it at all. This is a cynical, wise-beyond-his-years character who swears and knows how to use weapons, and Furlong’s sassy attitude works really well. He also has genuine chemistry with Arnold Schwarzenegger once the T-800 has convinced John to trust him…. and especially after John realises that his future self has reprogrammed the cyborg to accept any command John gives him. He even tries to humanise the T-800 by teaching him slang and sarcasm (‘Hasta la vista, baby!’), which works as both light relief and character development. But John also decides on a risky mission: once he knows about the T-1000 he insists that they go and rescue his mother, Sarah, who has been committed to a psychiatric hospital. Once they successfully get her free and evade another murderous attempt from the T-1000, John is disappointed that his mum seems more concerned in his physical state than in an emotional reunion. The latter takes more time, but comes both gradually and believably. (At the beginning of the film, we see a 44-year-old John Connor during a flash-forward to the future war. He’s played by Michael Edwards, a former boyfriend of Priscilla Presley.)

* It’s clear straightaway that Sarah Connor has undergone a *massive* change since the first film. Not only is she institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital, but as her opening close-up emphasises she’s now muscular, intense and serious. The former happy-go-lucky waitress been diagnosed with acute schizo-affective disorder – delusions, depression, violent outbursts – which we realise has been brought on by the fact she knows the world is due to end in 1997. So we’re presented with a beloved character who is now radically different and yet who we still recognise as the same person underneath. It’s great writing from James Cameron, but it’s also undeniably great acting from Linda Hamilton: this is a blistering performance of primal power, full of aggression and complexity. When refused permission to see her son, Sarah begins a daring escape of the prison-like hospital… and due to Hollywood storytelling, her attempt comes on the very night that John and two Terminators are converging on the building looking for her. The moment when she first sees the T-800 – which of course instantly terrorises her, due to her experiences in film one – is shot with nightmare-evoking slo-mo and is hugely effective. (‘Come with me if you want to live,’ he says, significantly quoting Kyle from the first film.) But after her initial shock, she learns that this T-800 is on her and John’s side. Very slowly, she even begins to trust and genuinely befriend him. The last third of the movie is then kicked off when Sarah learns from her new ally how Judgment Day will come about. A scientist called Miles Dyson will develop a revolutionary new micro-processor that will eventually lead to sentient machines who want to do away with humanity. So without telling John or the T-800 she suits up with some weapons, and heads off to kill him…

Other characters:
* John’s foster parents are a working-class couple called Janelle (James Cameron regular Jenette Goldstein) and Todd Voight (Xander Berkeley). She seems to be trying to do a decent job, but Todd is a pessimistic layabout. When the T-1000 needs to find John, he kills Janelle and impersonates her while he waits for the boy to call home. When John does so, Todd’s bitching gets so irritating that the T-1000 simply kills him too.
* John’s best pal is the ginger-mulletted Tim (Danny Cooksey). A savvy little kid, he lies that he doesn’t know John when a cop (ie, the T-1000 in disguise) asks after him.
* Dr Silberman (Earl Boen) returns from the first film; Sarah has become something of a career case for him, though he still assumes that all her talk of robots and time-travel and the end of the world is delusional nonsense.
* Miles Dyson (Joe Morton, terrific) is the director of special projects at the Cyberdyne Systems Corporation. The company has in its possession a microchip and a mechanical arm recovered from the first film’s T-800 and Dyson is leading the research into this radical technology. (The implication, which was explicit in a scene cut out of 1984’s The Terminator, is that the factory where Sarah killed the cyborg in that movie was Cyberdyne property. Hashtag bootstrap paradox.) He’s not a selfish, careless mad scientist but rather a decent family man. After Sarah’s conscience prevents her from murdering him, he’s aghast to be told what his work will lead to, so offers to help destroy all the evidence.

Where: We’re mostly in Los Angeles again. John’s foster parents’ house and the shopping mall where he encounters both Terminators are in the San Fernando Valley neighbourhood of Reseda. Later, after her break-out from the hospital, Sarah, John and the T-800 flee the city. ‘Just head south,’ says Sarah, and they drive into the desert. They eventually hook up with a Mexican family who Sarah and John know of old.

When: The ‘present’ story begins at night, carries on through the following two days and ends before dawn on the third – so takes place over not much more than 48 hours. The first movie had internal evidence that its main storyline took place in either 1983 or 1984, and the latter year is confirmed here in both a voiceover from Sarah and when we see John Connor’s date of birth on a monitor screen (28 February 1985, which means he was conceived the previous May). But John in this film is clearly not six years old so we’re obviously not in 1991, the year of Terminator 2’s release. John is now 10 (which is just about plausible: actor Edward Furlong was 13 during filming) and the story is set in 1995. There’s a continuity error, however, when the T-800 tells Sarah what is due to happen in the coming few years. Our terminus ad quem – or to put it in a less pretentious way, the date before which this story must be set – is 29 August 1997, which Sarah says is when the upcoming apocalypse will occur. Despite that being only two years away, the T-800 explains that Cyberdyne will start to supply the military with computer systems in three years’ time. (In real life, incidentally, 29 August 1997 was the day Netflix launched as a DVD-rental service. So when your on-demand service tries taking over the world, you can’t claim the clues weren’t there.) We also see 2029 in a brief flash-forward to the war.

I’ll be back: Since the first Terminator movie, Arnie had playfully quoted his catchphrase in some unrelated films. Along with his bulk and his accent it was a key part of his Hollywood persona. The first instance came in 1985’s endlessly enjoyable action film Commando (‘I’ll be back, Bennett!’), then over the next few years it was alluded to in violent cop movie Raw Deal (‘I’ll be right back’), media satire The Running Man (‘Killian, I’ll be back!’), likeable comedy Twins (‘If you’re lying to me, I’ll be back!’), entertaining sci-fi thriller Total Recall (‘I’ll be back!’) and so-so comedy film Kindergarten Cop (‘I’m back!’). So when reprising his most famous role, it was obvious that he would also reprise his most famous line. But where would James Cameron fit it in? We actually have to wait quite a way into the film, over 90 minutes. While trying to escape the Cyberdyne offices, Sarah, John and the T-800 are trapped in a lift. Cops have arrived and flooded the lobby with teargas, meaning no escape. But then we realise that the T-800 doesn’t need to breathe. ‘Stay here,’ says Arnie with a slight smirk. ‘I’ll be back.’ He then leaves the lift, deals with the cops, and returns for his human colleagues in a van.

Review: James Cameron had form for this kind of thing. Not long after making the original Terminator film, he had been hired to write and direct a sequel to another recent sci-fi classic. Aliens, his 1986 follow-up to Ridley Scott’s stratospherically wonderful Alien (1979), was at least the equal of its predecessor – some would say it surpassed it – and Cameron achieved this by doing something very clever indeed. In essence he repeated the first film’s premise (a monstrous threat terrorising humans), but now played it out in a different format (a war movie rather than a horror). The resulting film is absolutely related to its forebear spiritually and thematically, but it also has its own unique attitude and style. So, when it came time to create a sequel to The Terminator, Cameron used the same trick. Intense, pacey and thrilling, T2 is unquestionably in the same vein as the first film. It has the same slick, precise storytelling, the same apocalyptic concerns, the same attention to character. But it’s also bolder, deeper, larger in scale, and quite obviously made on a bigger budget. Cameron had actually started his career in frugal filmmaking, cutting his teeth on Heath Robinson-like Roger Corman productions, but here he is spending $100 million (a record movie budget in 1991, some of which was paid for by sprinkling the Pepsi logo throughout many scenes!). All this means that, instead of the first Terminator’s thrilling rawness and punky edges, we now get an unparalleled Hollywood sheen. This is a supremely confident film, made by a skilled crew going all-out to do their best work. The revolutionary computer-generated special effects, for example – which build on similar images on Cameron’s previous film The Abyss – threw us back into our seats in 1991 and are still enormously impressive today. Crucially they’re deployed sparingly, surgically, and are always focused on telling the story. It’s not just the CGI used for the fluid movements of the T-1000; there are also numerous in-camera techniques such as prosthetics, puppets, models and rear-projection screens. Just generally, the movie is a visual marvel: the action is tough and huge and powerful and visceral, everything is photographed beautifully (check out the blues hues for the night scenes) and the editing is unimprovable. But all of that only goes so far, of course. A great film needs great characters and a great story – and T2 exceeds in these areas too. In another echo of Aliens, this script neatly builds a family unit for us to follow and root for: instead of Ripley, Hicks and Newt as the parents and child, we have Sarah, the T-800 and John. Watching their triangular bond develop as the film progresses is a genuine joy, and more importantly the process increases how much we care about them. If all that wasn’t enough, the whole enterprise is also founded on one of the best reversals of expectation in genre-cinema history. Arnold Schwarzenegger – an embodiment of terror and savagery and brutality in the first film – is now playing a protective good guy. What a brilliant coup.

Ten thumbs-up out of 10

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The Terminator (1984, James Cameron)

TheTerminator

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A cyborg is sent back in time to 1984, intent on killing a woman called Sarah Connor. Her only hope is a man from the future with a secret…

Main characters:

* The star of the show is Linda Hamilton. She’d just made the horror film Children of the Corn, but The Terminator took her to a whole new level: one of a science-fiction icon. As the story begins her character, Sarah Connor, is an everyday young woman living an unambitious but happy-enough life in Los Angeles. A bright, likeable person who works as a waitress at a diner called Big Jeff’s, Sarah shares an apartment with her gregarious friend Ginger and – how’s this for an oddball detail? – a pet iguana. But her life is turned upside down when she realises that someone is murdering local women who share her name. The killer, a slow-moving but extremely powerful assassin displaying no emotion, then catches up with her and is about to pull the trigger… when another man saves her life and they go on the run together. The nervous and intense Kyle Reese tells her that he’s been sent back in time. His mission is to save her from a part-organic android called a Terminator, which wants to kill her before she can conceive her son – a son who will grow up to be an important military leader in a future war against self-aware machines. As you’ll appreciate, this is a lot of information for Sarah to take in. But when she later sees the relentlessly savage Terminator in action, she’s convinced by the outlandish story. She also starts to bond with kindly Kyle and they eventually sleep together… Sarah Connor is so much more than a stereotypical girl-in-danger. As the story develops we see her grow and learn. Bit by bit, she becomes more assertive and more confident, eventually taking the lead in her and Kyle’s attempt to evade the Terminator (‘On your feet, soldier! On your feet!’), yet we always recognise her as a human being with fears and doubts. Hamilton gives an absolutely terrific performance, selling every phase of her character’s journey, every shade of her personality. (The actress later married The Terminator’s writer/director, James Cameron.)

* Kyle Reese is a sombre and serious man in his 20s; his lack of humour is understandable given that he grew up in a 21st century ravaged by a guerrilla warfare with sentient machines. His mission is to protect Sarah from the Terminator, and he knew before he time-travelled that it was a one-way journey into the past. Suffering from nightmares and post-traumatic flinches, as well as physical scars from his war experiences, he seems singularly devoted to Sarah – and it’s only gradually that we realise why. In the future, Kyle was a colleague and friend of Sarah’s grown-up son, John. Through him he learnt about and fell in love with Sarah. By that time she had proved herself as a fearless leader in her own right as well as being the mother of humanity’s saviour, the Mary to John’s Jesus. Where Sarah is in this future – whether she’s died, for example, or is a 70-year-old elder stateswoman – is never explained, but Kyle hadn’t met her before he travelled to the 1980s. So rather than personal experience, his devotion developed through John’s stories and a single Polaroid of a young Sarah looking wistful. ‘I came through time for you, Sarah,’ he tells her as they grow close while on the run from the Terminator. They soon have sex in a motel room – it was the first sex scene your current blogger ever saw, aged about seven or eight – and the implication is clear: they’ve just conceived John…  Playing Kyle is Michael Biehn, one of those actors whose career contains two or three very high points but a surprising amount of trash too. He gives classy, interesting and very effective performances in three successful films written and directed by James Cameron – The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss.

* For the role of the T-800, the robotic killing machine from the future, Cameron wanted to cast someone who could blend into a crowd. He initially plumped for Lance Henriksen (who was later given a different role in the film) while ex-NFL player and future jailbird OJ Simpson was also considered. But when Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned for the part, it made business sense to cast the Austrian. He’d just had a big hit with Conan the Barbarian and his star was on the rise… It did mean a rethink of the character, however: the Terminator would now be significantly more ostentatious and noticeable. His first scene sees him arriving in the 1980s, totally naked and looking carved and chiselled like a statue of a Greek god. He’s also often filmed from below and framed like he’s a giant, adding to the sense that this machine is an unstoppable force. (In reality, Arnie’s height has long been a bone of contention. He claims to be 6’2”, but some have said he’s actually under six feet and wears lifts in his shoes.) Even if the original idea of an assassin looking like an everyman makes more sense, in this film you can still see a pop-culture icon being created before your eyes: the looming walk, the steely gaze, the dispassionate intent, the monotone voice, the Teutonic accent, the dry humour (‘Fuck you, asshole’), the brutal violence. Famously, the character only has 16 lines of dialogue in the whole movie. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has 100 times as many – 1,569 of them – in *his* eponymous story. But which one looks better punching a car window in, eh?

Other characters:
* There’s the aforementioned Ginger (Bess Motta) and her sex-mad boyfriend, Matt (Ross Rossovich), who are both victims of the Terminator when he comes looking for Sarah.
* Early in the film, the T-800 encounters a street gang and kills two members before stealing the clothes of a third. One of them is played by the great, sadly late Bill Paxton who pops in his small role (‘I think this guy’s a couple of cans short of a six-pack’) and soon had an impressive CV that included James Cameron’s Aliens and Titanic among much else.
* The sequences involving the police focus on the fatherly and deadpan Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield) and his gleefully cynical sidekick, Sergeant Hal Vukovich (Lance Henriksen). When they arrest Kyle, he keeps blabbing about being from the future, so Traxler and Vukovich call in a criminal psychologist called Dr Silberman (Earl Boen) who doesn’t have much sympathy for Kyle’s fantastical story.
* Although not a hugely important character, I mention Sarah’s co-worker Nancy (Shawn Schepps) because she has one of my favourite lines of dialogue in cinema history. Early in the story, during a busy shift at the diner, Sarah is dealing with customers who are complaining about her getting their orders wrong. Then a cheeky kid deliberately plops a dollop of ice cream into her pocket. Sarah sighs with quiet frustration. Nancy breezes over and says: ‘Look at it this way: in a hundred years, who’s gonna care?’ I say that mantra to myself after every one of life’s frustrations.

Where: Most of the film is set in and around Los Angeles. In a coda scene, Sarah is seemingly in Mexico. The Terminator’s LA is a grimy, crime-y city. We see suburbia briefly but there’s little glamour or glitz or showbiz here; instead it’s a place of rundown streets, gangs, hobos, cynical cops, punky nightclubs, flophouses and construction sites. It’s also often dark and threatening: around 90 per cent of this movie is set at night. One location with a surprising legacy is a nightclub called Tech Noir (entry fee: $4.50). Spooked by news stories of other Sarah Connors being murdered, and sensing that a strange man is following her (it turns out to be Kyle), our Sarah ducks inside a club to use its phone. This is where the Terminator first catches up with her, and where Kyle first intercedes (‘Come with me if you want to live,’ he says, coining a franchise catchphrase). So Tech Noir is very important to the story. It also had an effect outside the fiction. The Terminator is part of a sub-genre of movies that blend science-fiction ideas with film-noir stylistics – Blade Runner is its key text – and the nightclub gave the concept a name.

When: The bulk of the story takes place over about 54 hours. According to a line of dialogue, we start in the early hours of Thursday 12 May and events progress until daylight on Saturday morning. It’s usually assumed that the film is set in 1984, the year it was released, but 12 May 1984 was a Saturday. The date works if it’s 1983. (Having said all that, at one point we catch sight of Sarah’s timecard when she clocks in at work – and that’s for a pay period that will end on 19 May 1984. Time-travel stories, eh?) Kyle also experiences a series of flashbacks to his earlier life in the year 2029, and there’s a coda scene set several months after the defeat of the Terminator.

I’ll be back: After about 57 minutes of the film, Sarah and Kyle are at a police station. The latter is under arrest, while the former is being cared for by officers who think she was Kyle’s hostage. In a neat piece of writing, Lt Traxler tells Sarah not to fret: ‘We got 30 cops in this building,’ he says, implying she’s completely safe. The Terminator then storms the station and dispassionately kills every single police officer in his attempt to find her… The moment when he gains entry is where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most infamous catchphrase was born. Walking into the quiet reception area, the T-800 asks to see Sarah Connor. A bored and distracted desk clerk tells him to return in the morning. The Terminator surveys the wooden-and-glass barrier that protects the station’s innards, then leans in and says, ‘I’ll be back.’ A few moments later he does so: in a high-speed car, that crashes through and destroys the station’s lobby… It wasn’t written as an arch piece of ‘movie dialogue’ – James Cameron was going for underplayed irony that would only ping on repeat viewings – but the phrase ‘I’ll be back’ quickly took on a life of its own. It’s been reprised in all the Terminator sequels, as well as several other Schwarzenegger movies.

Review: The idea for The Terminator came to James Cameron in a fever dream while he lay ill in an Italian hotel bedroom (‘It was this chrome skeleton emerging phoenix-like out of the fire’) and that nightmarish quality purveys throughout the movie. There’s a bleak, edgy, violent tone, almost like a Halloween-style slasher film. The incidental music is percussive and unsettling – all harsh clangs, eerie drones and mournful electro washes – rather than a Hollywood score of reassuring lushness. And Cameron’s masterful control of pace and point of view creates tension right from the word go: we feel like we’re experiencing events along with Sarah and Kyle, rather than being objective viewers. The story is simple. It’s a chase movie with the good guys evading the bad. But for various reasons, we’re gripped and intrigued throughout. One is that the sharp script centres on extreme situations, and has no interest in anything that doesn’t help tell the story. Another is that the characters feel like they have lives that exist beyond the barriers of the fiction (Sarah has easy-going, natural friendships; Traxler is clearly a cop who deals with difficult cases on a daily basis; what we see of Kyle’s war service seems like the traumatic tip of an horrific iceberg). There’s also the thematic unity of the movie, which expertly supports a central idea – a machine attempting to kill a human being – with numerous examples of technology being unhelpful. A construction site reminds Kyle of the mechanical war engines of his youth. Ginger doesn’t hear her boyfriend being killed because her Walkman headphones are too loud. The Terminator locates Sarah by listening to an answerphone message. Dr Silberman’s misses seeing the Terminator because his beeper distracts him. But these conceptual jokes never get in the way or draw attention to themselves; they’re part of a fully realised vision, which is exciting, suspenseful and packs a hell of a lot into a lean, trim running time of 103 minutes. The high-octane final 15 minutes are then breathlessly brilliant and focused, almost like a modern action thriller has time-travelled back 35 years to terrorise 1980s cinema. And just when you think it’s peaked with an enormous explosion, we get a then-innovative false ending: the Terminator emerges phoenix-like out of the fire, kicking the movie into an ever higher gear. A masterpiece.

Ten nice nights for a walk out of 10

An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis)

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Spoiler warning: This article reveals plot details.

Moviedrome was a wonderful way of screening films on television. Broadcast between 1988 and 2000, it was a BBC2 showcase for horror, action, art-house and science-fiction flicks, which were introduced on-screen by the film director Alex Cox and later by the critic Mark Cousins. In truth, the movies would have been screened anyway but the smart and insightful intros made them feel as if they were part of a carefully curated season. It was marvellous television and now much-missed.

If you were watching at 10.30pm on Sunday 22 July 1990, you will have seen Alex Cox – filmed on a bleak hillside and pretending to be spooked by an out-of-shot werewolf – presage that night’s offerings by saying, ‘The film is a weird mixture of naïve comedy and apocalyptic violence with an abrupt ending…’ This was my first viewing of the 1981 comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London, which had been written and directed by John Landis. I was 11 years old and fell in love. To this day it remains my favourite horror film.

Moviedrome

The movie was shot in early 1981, Landis reportedly wanting Britain’s drab weather to provide a gloomy backdrop for his story. The crew did some filming in the Black Mountains in Wales (standing in for Yorkshire), but the majority of the production was based in and around London. So I thought it would be fun to spend a few weeks exploring the movie’s use of the city. Perhaps I could visit some of the filming locations as I try to discuss why I love this movie so much?

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I begin my odyssey, however, by immediately breaking my own rule and leaving London. I’m on a train that will take me a mile or so outside the M25 motorway, a notional defining barrier of Greater London. But I know the journey will be worth it because I’m going to fulfil a long-standing ambition. I’m going to have a pint of beer in the Slaughtered Lamb…

As the movie begins, David Kessler and Jack Goodman climb down from the back of a sheep lorry. They’re young American men on a backpacking holiday in Yorkshire and a local farmer has given them a lift. It’s a terrifically witty introduction and Landis has confirmed that the visual gag – the characters being treated like livestock ready for the abattoir – was deliberate. Tramping across the countryside, the boys then end up in a village pub called the Slaughtered Lamb, where they get a decidedly frosty reception from the suspicious locals. Brian Glover’s chess player unsettles the newcomers with ghoulish jokes; David Schofield’s darts player threatens them for putting him off his game; Rik Mayall just smirks impishly. The scene is a horror standard: outsiders treated with distrust in a pub. The same kind of thing can be seen in movies such as Dracula (1931) and The Wicker Man (1973). But by combining a genuine air of menace with just the right amount of self-aware humour, American Werewolf’s is the best example.

In reality, the Slaughtered Lamb was a Hollywood-style composite. Despite being set in Yorkshire, the exterior was a redressed cottage in Wales. For the interior scene, meanwhile, the crew found a real pub in the brilliantly named Surrey hamlet of Martyr’s Green. That’s where I’m going now. Getting off the train at the rural station of Effingham Junction, I walk north for about two miles down a meandering and often pavement-less road. On either side of me is woodland, from where I can hear the pop-pop-pop of paint-ball guns. Occasional cars zoom past. A few cyclists are out on morning rides. Then, after 25 minutes in increasingly warm sun, I reach my target: a country pub called The Black Swan. It’s an old building with a modern extension added in 2006. A small beer garden is out front, a car park round the back. The locals affectionately call this place the Mucky Duck.

BlackSwanExterior

It’s 11am as I arrive, the specified opening time on the pub’s website, but a guy tidying up outside tells me they won’t be ready for ‘about half an hour’. He’s friendly about it, rather than the cool reception David and Jack received at the Slaughtered Lamb, so I hide my disappointment and have a wander around the local area to kill time. The Black Swan is opposite a turn-off for the historic village of Ockham, where the 13th-century philosopher William of Ockham was born (he devised the keep-it-simple principle of Occam’s Razor). I walk over there and enjoy the tranquillity of the Surrey countryside.

When I return to the pub at 11.30, a couple are already at an outside table with drinks, so I go inside. What a moment for an American Werewolf fan. Here I am, in the Slaughtered Lamb. The interior of the pub has changed an awful lot since 1981. It’s now less working-class and dingy, more upmarket and airy. All of the film’s set dressing is long gone, of course – that pentangle on the wall wasn’t genuine – but the space has also been opened up and the layout I recognise from the movie is now just part of a larger bar. But I can still see the framework of the Slaughtered Lamb. The way I came in is through the same door David and Jack used; the bar is in the same place; over there is the corner where the chess game was going on. And after I’ve bought a very nice pint of IPA and taken a few photographs I sit at a table just to the right of the door – in other words, on the very spot where David and Jack plonk themselves down during their visit.

BlackSwanInterior

SlaughteredLamb

For a very long time, I assumed that the interior of the Slaughtered Lamb had been a film set constructed at somewhere like Twickenham Studios. It’s wonderful to be in the ‘real’ place, even with all the cosmetic changes. Sadly I can see no acknowledgment of the pub’s popular-culture heritage on display; no signs or framed photographs from the filming. But then something rather wonderful happens. The bar staff have put on a playlist of inoffensive music, as bar staffs tend to do when they want to generate some atmosphere, and before long I’m listening to a track that was used in An American Werewolf in London. It appears to just be a coincidence, but it provides me with a neat way of talking about the film’s music…

An American Werewolf in London does have a score, and it was composed by an all-time great: Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, Ghostbusters). But what’s more memorable to most viewers are the pre-existing songs that Landis used to complement his scenes. There’s also a cute running joke going on. To reflect the werewolf motif, the director chose tracks with the word moon in the title: three different recordings of the ballad Blue Moon, the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit Bad Moon Rising, and Van Morrison’s light-as-air jazz-pop classic Moondance.

Moondance

It’s the latter I can now hear as I drink my beer in the Black Swan. A poetic yearning for a bit of alfresco sex, it was recorded in New York City in August 1969. At the very same time, in Yugoslavia, John Landis was working as an assistant director on the satirical war film Kelly’s Heroes. During his nine months on the movie, he encountered some local gypsies who believed in the undead and the incident inspired him to write a script about a werewolf. But it was then put in a drawer (metaphorically at least) while Landis made inroads in the film industry. At the age of 21 he directed a cheap horror spoof called Schlock (1973), then followed it with three hit comedies: The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980).

Now a rising star of the Hollywood directing fraternity – someone who delivered popular and profitable films, someone who was friends with Steven Spielberg – Landis dusted off his old werewolf script and began pre-production. He hired his friend the special-effects genius Rick Baker to design the make-up then began scouting locations in England. For the story’s lead character of David, Landis cast 29-year-old David Naughton, who was then best known in the US for a series of Dr Pepper commercials. In the role of David’s pal Jack, the director plumped for Griffin Dunne, who was 25 and later married Bond girl Carey Lowell. David and Jack are superbly cast. They absolutely feel like believable pals with an easy-going yet deep friendship.

DavidandJack

As I leave the Black Swan pub, I have a much more pleasant time than Naughton and Dunne’s characters do in the movie. I simply walk back to the train station. After leaving the Slaughtered Lamb, David and Jack have a terrifying encounter on the Yorkshire moorlands. Lost at night, under the light of a full moon, the pair are menaced by some kind of wild beast – David is badly injured, while Jack is mauled to death. It’s a brilliantly shot sequence, director of photography Robert Paynter creating a lot of menace from smoke and artificial moonlight.

Three weeks later David wakes up in a London hospital and is soon spooked by a ghostly visitation. His now-undead friend Jack appears by his hospital bed to urge David to kill himself, otherwise he will inevitably transform into a werewolf… The scene is a marvel. Jack’s matter-of-fact appearance in the room is all the more effective because Landis simply cuts to him via a conventional edit, rather than using any supernatural effect or melodramatic music. Griffin Dunne also looks so brilliantly ghoulish, thanks to some world-class monster make-up featuring deep scars and bloody rips in his neck. He’s one of cinema’s greatest zombie-like characters.

DavidandJack2

The hospital featured in these scenes is fictional, but for the filming the crew used the interior of the abandoned Princess Beatrice Hospital in west London. It had been founded in 1887 and initially called Jubilee Hospital to mark Queen Victoria’s half-century on the throne. Various name changes and redevelopments followed – it was only known as the Princess Beatrice from 1931 – until it was considered obsolete and closed down in March 1978.

When I visit the surviving building on the corner of Finborough Road and Old Brompton Road, having walked there from Earl’s Court tube station, I do so knowing that I won’t be able to go inside and see where David recuperated. It’s long since been converted in hostel accommodation.

PrincessBeatriceHospital

But I’m in the area anyway, as it’s on the way to another key filming location from An American Werewolf in London. When David is discharged from hospital, he accepts an invitation to stay with the nurse who’s been looking after him, Alex Price, and she takes him to her modest flat in a converted townhouse. Much to David’s understandable delight, the pair soon become lovers in a shower-and-sex montage scored by Van Morrison’s Moondance. Alex is played by Jenny Agutter, then 28 years old and the most famous member of the cast after big films such as The Railway Children, Logan’s Run and The Eagle Has Landed. The actress brings an awful lot to the movie, combining star power with believability, an English-rose quality with a fierce sex appeal.

AlexAmericanWerewolf

In the film, Alex’s workplace is a tube ride away from where she lives. In reality, the filming locations are only about 150 metres apart. I turn off Finborough Road and zigzag onto a parallel residential street. Very soon I’m walking into a familiar view and I find myself standing on the spot where John Landis’s camera filmed Alex and David arriving at her home.

RedcliffeSquare1

RedcliffeSquare

I’m on Redcliffe Square, which was laid down in the 1860s by the surveyors George and Henry Godwin. Across the road I can see St Luke’s, a squat and rather beautiful Anglican church built in 1872-73 and also designed by the Godwin brothers, while to my right is number 64, the address used as the location of Alex’s flat. What’s most striking is how little it’s all changed. Visiting the Black Swan pub had required a bit of mental squinting to see how it had been transformed into the Slaughtered Lamb. No such process is necessary here: other than the trees being fuller of leaves and the cars being modern – and the obvious absence of Jenny Agutter and David Naughton – I could be in the movie. The architecture of the building is exactly the same. Even the railings and the familiar black front door are still here.

RedcliffeSquare2

RedcliffeSquare2

In the film, it’s in this ground-floor flat where the full horror of David’s predicament becomes clear. Alone as the full moon begins to rise, David suddenly shouts out in pain… His werewolf’s curse has struck, and as he screams in agony (‘Jesus Christ!’ he cries. ‘I’m burning up!’) his body contorts and twists, changing him from a man into a hairy, snarling beast… The scene is rightly famed as a wonder of special effects. This is where Rick Baker and his team show off their astonishing skills with prosthetics and make-up. His transformation complete, David leaves the flat. He’s on the hunt…

DavidWerewolf

David may have metamorphosed into a rabid lycanthrope, but the only notable change to the Redcliffe Square location I can see today is a sign on the front door saying ‘ADDRESSED MAIL ONLY. NO FREE PAPERS, NO JUNK MAIL’ (Perhaps they should add ‘No werewolves’. Or ‘No American Werewolf fans researching blogs’.) I hang around for a few minutes and take my photos, hoping no one asks what I’m up to. No one does. I then chance my arm and walk up number 64’s steps, recreating David and Alex’s approach. It’s always a thrill to be in a location that was used in a cherished film or TV show. The best movies are ‘transportative’; they invite you into a heightened, escapist world that might be superficially similar to reality but somehow seems magical or unreachable.

This happens in An American Werewolf in London. It’s set in an everyday 1980s London – one of packed tube carriages and newspaper vendors and trashy adverts on TV – but even before the supernatural plot comes into focus the film feels ‘other’ and ‘special’. All good films do, if they have smart direction, classy camerawork and a skilful cast (things that distinguish American Werewolf hugely). So there’s a kind of spiritual connection that happens when you visit a filming location. The place is both eerily strange and reassuringly familiar at the same time.

I feel this vivid sensation again a few days later when I head up to leafy Hampstead in north London to see the site of werewolf David’s first kill. Known as Middle Heath Road until the 1860s, East Heath Road snakes around the north of the locale, dividing the streets and houses from the vast open parkland of Hampstead Heath. To get there I take a pleasant, undulating walk from the tube station. I pass through a quiet, well-off residential area and see a house where, according to a blue plaque on its wall, the painter John Constable once lived. Then after a few minutes I hit the T-junction with East Heath Road and see a view familiar from the movie.

ThePryors

ThePryors

It’s actually quite a short sequence that was shot here in 1981. A young, posh couple (played by Geoffrey Burridge and Brenda Cavendish) get out of a taxi. They’ve come to attend a dinner party with friends, and jovially walk down the side of a building towards Hampstead Heath. They’re sneaking round the back so they can playfully scare their hosts, but they’re about to encounter David in the form of a ravening werewolf… The block of flats featured in the film and which I can now see is called The Pryors. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century to the design of the architect Paul Waterhouse and was only allowed on the Heath side of the road because it was replacing an existing property. Former residents include the novelist Ernest Raymond and the acting couple Jean Forbes-Robertson and André van Gyseghem.

As with Redcliffe Square, what’s immediately apparent is how little has changed – but then again, why would it be different? This is a fine piece of architecture in a well-to-do area of London. I’m oddly amused to see that the post box visible in the movie is still here (or at least there’s now a modern one in the same position), while a pedestrian crossing has been added since 1981. As well as the building’s frontage, I take a look down its left-hand side, where a hedge separates the block from the wilds of Hampstead Heath. This is where the posh couple walked arm in arm to their doom…

ThePryors2

ThePryors2

With dusk falling fast, the trees and hedges feel full of menace. The light from the streetlamps doesn’t reach very far into the Heath and total darkness is only a few steps away. Not wanting to risk an encounter with a werewolf or any other potential danger, I keep close to the road. Occasional cars come past, a couple of joggers too. But mostly it’s quiet. After taking my photographs, I then retrace my steps back towards the tube station. Hungry, I look for somewhere to eat. In a delightful alleyway called Flask Walk, I find an equally pleasing pub called The Flask and dive inside for a beer and a burger.

Talking of pubs, the Slaughtered Lamb makes a reappearance in the film long after David and Jack’s visit. David’s doctor, Dr Hirsch, has had his interest piqued by David’s stories of a werewolf attacking him so he travels to the Yorkshire village of East Proctor to investigate. Hirsch is brilliantly played by the fuss-free actor John Woodvine, a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who brings both gravitas and a light touch to the part. He’s just one of many wonderful supporting actors in this film. Elsewhere, there’s the deadpan Lila Kaye as the Slaughtered Lamb’s landlady; Landis’s old pal Frank Oz cameoing as a man from the US embassy; and Paul Kember as a charmingly buffoonish British policeman.

However, back in London, the werewolf David is tearing through the city… After his attack on the posh couple, he stalks some tramps near Tower Bridge then terrorises a lone commuter in an atypically quiet Tottenham Court Road tube station. (The commuter is played by Michael Carter, later Jabba the Hutt’s aide Bib Fortuna in Return of the Jedi.) The following morning, a now-human-again David awakens – naked and understandably discombobulated – in the wolf pen at London Zoo, then later freaks out while in Trafalgar Square with Alex.

As you can see, this section of American Werewolf ticks off many hugely famous picture-postcard landmarks. Interestingly, though, in earlier drafts of the script some of them aren’t specified. Tottenham Court Road is just ‘a subway station’, while others were changed during the filming process. A scene of David using a public phone box, for example, was written as Leicester Square but then moved to Piccadilly Circus. As that location features so heavily in the movie’s final third, I feel I must take a pilgrimage…

PiccadillyCircus1

Piccadilly Circus, one of central London’s most recognisable areas, is busy as I arrive on a rainy October evening. Because I’ve lived in London since 2002, I’ve been here many times before, so it’s not a surprise that it’s full of tourists and traffic. It always is. (It’s not for nothing that ‘It’s like Piccadilly Circus’ is a British cliché used to denote a busy place.) But tonight my plan is to attempt to see the area through fresh eyes. Can I place it within the context of An American Werewolf in London? Can I ignore the smartphone-obsessed crowds and the horn-honking cars, and see if I can visualise where the film crew worked and how John Landis staged his remarkable and chaotic sequence here?

In truth, the Circus – the word has its roots in the Greek for circle or ring – is simply a crossroads. But it’s taken on a cultural significance over the years, not least because of two major features: the massive advertising hoardings first installed in the 1890s, which tonight glitter and flash and pulse with digital persistence, and the central fountain often called Eros but which actually includes a statue of the Greek god Anteros. When the nearby Regent Street was laid down by the architect John Nash in 1819, its meeting point with the venerable thoroughfare Piccadilly was shaped into what we now recognise as Piccadilly Circus. Shaftesbury Avenue, built in 1886, also connects to the junction and it’s on that road – famed throughout the world as the spine of London’s theatre district – where I first turn my attention.

In the movie, David is on Piccadilly Circus when he spots his undead friend, Jack, standing outside the ticket office of a cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue. He races across the street and follows Jack inside, only pausing to buy a £2.80 ticket to the porno See You Next Wednesday. (Landis buffs will know that the title See You Next Wednesday is an in-joke; a motif the director adds to most of his movies.) I don’t race across the street now, however, because that would mean risking my life with the traffic. I also don’t go inside the cinema, because sadly it’s no longer there.

ErosCinema

The Art Deco-styled cinema the Eros News Theatre first opened its doors at 7 Shaftesbury Avenue, along the northern edge of Piccadilly Circus, on 20 August 1934. It was a real success for several years, but by the time John Landis and his crew came here it had developed a reputation for being a rent boys’ hangout and for showing soft-core pornography. It had also been renamed the Eros Cinema. The cinema later closed down in February 1985; the final screening was of the Bo Derek flop Bolero. After a period as a jewellers’, the space was then converted into a branch of clothing store Gap in June 1997. The shop is still there now and is open as I walk over. I wonder how many people inside tonight realise that the entrance they used was, in a 1981 horror film, the ticket office of a porno cinema.

GapPiccadillyCircus

It’s inside the Eros Cinema where David Kessler is forced to face his zombiefied victims – the posh couple, the tramps, the commuter from Tottenham Court Road. He then metamorphoses again into his werewolf form. Bursting out of the cinema, past the assembled crowds and the police called by the cinema’s ticket attendant, he rampages across Piccadilly Circus. It’s the movie’s huge action set-piece. Cars crash, buses skid, pedestrians are run over, policemen’s throats are ripped out. In the kind of director’s cameo that Alfred Hitchcock would have balked at, John Landis – who’d worked as a Spaghetti Western stuntman earlier in his career – is flung through a shop window.

LandisPiccadillyCircus

When planning all this stuff, Landis had sweet-talked the Metropolitan Police into letting him take over Piccadilly Circus for two nights. No movie had been allowed to shoot there in 15 years because of the disruption caused to central London traffic, but Landis got the permission after screening his recent comedy film The Blues Brothers to 300 police officers. It went down a storm, apparently. Thankfully, there’s none of that chaos here tonight. I look around, mentally replaying the American Werewolf scene over what I can see. I’m far from the only person taking photos as Piccadilly Circus is something of a tourist mecca. The nearby Criterion Theatre is preparing for a performance of The Comedy About a Bank Robbery. A street artist is painted silver and impressing the crowds by standing very still. A busker starts to plink away on his electronic keyboard and is soon belting out Bohemian Rhapsody. Before leaving I also look for the red phone box where, earlier in the film, David makes a call home to America. It’s not here any more.

That’s mercifully not true of everything in this city. In certain areas it’s all but impossible to avoid London’s rich and cherished heritage, and I’m reminded of this as I make my way to the site of Amercan Werewolf’s final sequence: the rabbit-warren of streets to the south of the Thames between London Bridge and Westminster. Leaving London Bridge underground station, for example, I walk past the vibrant Borough Market, which dates back around a thousand years. I admire the gorgeously Gothic architecture of Southwark Cathedral, a building begun in 1220. I see tourists flocking around a sprightly modern replica of Sir Francis Drake’s 16th-century galleon ship the Golden Hind. And I stumble across the sole surviving fragment of the 12th-century Winchester Palace. All of this in just a five-minute stroll.

ClinkStreet

I then arrive at my final destination – and David Kessler’s too. Clink Street, which these days is a very smart, pedestrianised alleyway, has changed greatly from when John Landis and his crew came to this area to film their final scene. An upmarket eatery sits opposite a shop selling Union Jack-branded tourist tat, while many of the buildings have changed beyond recognition in the last 38 years. The street’s name comes from the nearby Clink Prison, a notorious institution that opened (and then presumably swiftly locked) its doors in the 12th century and served as a penal institution until it burned down in 1780. (It’s now a museum.)

ClinkStreet2

As I wander around, it’s early evening – earlier in the day and significantly lighter than when the werewolf David was chased here by the police after his Piccadilly Circus rampage. The street is busy with tourists, commuters, people on nights out, and at least one fool taking photographs for a blog. I assume I’m the only person here who realises that he’s walking on hallowed ground. No one else seems to be aware that this is where David was cornered by the cops. Where Dr Hirsch and Alex looked on in horror. Where Alex broke through the barriers to comfort the werewolf. And where a police gunshot rang out fatally…

Finale

The legacy of An American Werewolf in London and its director have, sadly, been quite haphazard. John Landis made at least one more classic – the riotously enjoyable comedy Trading Places in 1983 – but his output has had its share of duds too. At least neither he nor anyone else from my favourite horror film had anything to do with a truly ghastly sequel called An American Werewolf in Paris. In the same year as that turkey (1997) there was also a better-received BBC radio adaptation of the 1981 film that reunited some of the cast, while a remake of the original movie is currently in development and is set to be directed by John Landis’s son Max.

But whatever has happened since 1981, and whatever may happen in the future, we’ll always have An American Werewolf in London.

Ten bathroom mirrors out of 10

Notes and acknowledgments

As well as providing lots of encouragement, my friend Lizzie Hopley helped enormously by giving this blog a read before I published it and pointing out some errors. (Any that remain are entirely my fault.) Andy at the Gap UK press office gave me the information about their Piccadilly Circus branch.

My trips to the filming locations were carried out in a slightly different order from how I’ve presented them above. I visited Clink Street on Tuesday 20 August 2019; the Black Swan pub on Saturday 24 August; the old Princess Beatrice Hospital and Redcliffe Square on Monday 2 September; East Heath Road on Monday 16 September; and Piccadilly Circus on Monday 14 October. Photos © Ian Farrington 2019

There is some dubiety about exactly where the final scene of An American Werewolf in London was filmed. Some online sources claim it was a short distance from Clink Street, in the nearby Winchester Walk, but the Bankside area has been so massively redeveloped over the last four decades that it’s difficult to be sure. The scenes of police converging in the area were certainly shot on Clink Street, so I chose to focus on that location.

Incidentally, Clink Street can also be seen in the 1940s film Oliver Twist, a 1977 Doctor Who serial set in Victorian times, and the 2001 movie Bridget Jones’s Diary. The Black Swan pub also features in Deadly Slumber, an episode of ITV crime drama Inspector Morse originally broadcast on 6 January 1993.

I used a wide variety of sources, both print and online, for the factual information in this article. There’s little point listing them all, but these websites and books were especially helpful:

You can watch Alex Cox’s Moviedrome introduction to American Werewolf in London here, while this website helped with Moviedrome generally.

These sites were good starting points when it came to identifying American Werewolf filming locations:

https://www.timeout.com/london/blog/15-places-that-appear-in-an-american-werewolf-in-london-061617

https://www.reelstreets.com/films/american-werewolf-in-london-an/

Information about Princess Beatrice Hospital was gleaned from this National Archives site.

Background details about East Heath Road were found in Streets of Hampstead by Christopher Wade (Camden History Society, third edition, 2000), a locally published guide to the area. This private residents’ website was also useful.

Some details about the Eros Cinema were found on this site about cinemas around the world.

Avengers: Endgame (2019, Anthony and Joe Russo)

AvengersEndgame

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Reeling from the devastation caused by Thanos, the remaining Avengers and their allies attempt a risky strategy to put things right…

In early October 2019, a few months after the release of the Marvel superhero film Avengers: Endgame, the revered film director Martin Scorsese caused a minor kerfuffle. Asked if he’d seen any Marvel movies, he said, ‘I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.’

An array of fans cried foul on Twitter, ridiculing Marty as an out-of-touch old man or a snob or a fool or all three. (Samuel L Jackson, who’d had a small role in Scorsese’s Goodfellas before appearing in many Marvel films, gave a more measured response: ‘That’s like saying Bugs Bunny ain’t funny. Films are films. Everybody doesn’t like his stuff either.’) Scorsese is entitled his opinion. He’s earned that much after a career that has included genuine all-time-great works of the art form such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, even if there’s a certain irony in him evoking the purity of cinema while preparing to release a film, 2019’s The Irishman, that has been funded by Netflix and will be available for people to watch on their phones astonishingly soon after its theatrical run.

Also, as clumsily articulated as his point was, modern, flashy, big-budget, effects-heavy superhero films are undeniably different beasts from, say, Lawrence of Arabia or Casablanca or American Beauty. Films such as Avengers: Endgame and its stablemates have a different focus, a different intent. Scorsese’s theme-park analogy actually holds up when you consider that every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie is awash with boldly designed visuals intended to excite and thrill, as well as camera movements and rapid editing designed to pull you along and sweep you around.

The problem comes when you assume that that’s *all* they are. To use Martin Scorsese’s logic against him, should we conclude that Mean Streets is not cinema but closer to a videogame because it contains lots of violence? Of course not. The film uses violence to tell its story, and its story is about human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.

It’s true that the Marvel series is open to any number of criticisms on a filmmaking level. The movies can be cinematographically bland, flatly staged, horrendously over-edited and lit like a game show; the scripts can feel hammered out by a committee and have a sense of explain-everything-for-the-people-in-the-cheap-seats; occasionally the stories can be undermined by boring action sequences and badly thought-out villains. However, saying they’re ‘not cinema’ is patently ridiculous. And while no one is going to claim that modern superhero films are as sophisticated as Shakespeare, so is implying that there’s no drama involved amongst the razzmatazz. Soon after that Scorsese quote went viral, the writer C Robert Cargill tweeted to say that when he was working on Doctor Strange, the 14th MCU film, ‘the vast majority of Marvel’s notes were about deepening character, strengthening the story, and asking us if we could “make it weirder”. Anyone who thinks Marvel is only trying to make theme park rides is being unjust and cynical.’

That approach is easy to believe when you watch Avengers: Endgame, which is nevertheless the most bombastically epic movie in a serious not short of bombast or epic qualities. The film, all three hours of it, is packed pull of *stuff* and characters and spectacle and action and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of talent and effort, but its story is still founded on character choices and character reactions. It starts, in fact, feeling less like an event movie and more like an indie drama: an understated cold open shot with a handheld camera shows us Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton in idyllic domesticity with his family. But then the mood darkens, as his wife and children fade out of existence thanks to the villainous actions of Josh Brolin’s Thanos as seen in previous MCU mega-hit Avengers: Infinity War.

Endgame is very much a follow-on from that earlier film. In fact, when originally announced in 2014 its title was Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2. However, the script moves events on by five years into a grim, sombre, post-Thanos world where the remaining members of society are trying to deal with their grief and their survivor guilt. Even the mighty Avengers and their associates have been hit hard by Thanos’s finger-clicking carnage. Well, ish… Fifty per cent of all life in the universe may be now gone, but for storytelling reasons the big headline characters who started this series of films – Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Bruce Banner aka Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton aka Hawkeye – have all survived the cull.

Character stories dominate. Thor has descended into a overweight drunkard. The traumatised Clint has become a cyberpunk vigilante. Tony Stark has retreated into rural obscurity. Natasha is trying to coordinate the remaining Avengers but is emotionally raw. Bruce Banner has actually flourished, finally finding peace with the two halves of his personality. It’s a bravely downbeat way to start such a film, but a smart one. Martin Scorsese may disagree, but the MCU has always put emotion at the heart of their stories. For all the razzle-dazzle, each film has been about characters wanting things and overcoming hurdles. It’s fundamentally why the series has been so enjoyable. (And why it stands up so well when compared to the rival DC franchise.)

However, the dark mood doesn’t last. Slowly, bit by bit, the film raises its levels of humour and momentum as the characters realise they have a way of righting the wrongs caused by the now-dead Thanos. The surprise reappearance of Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who avoided the cull because he was infinitesimally small in the quantum realm at the time, gives the gang the impetus to attempt a plan based on time-travel. The plan dominates the middle third of the movie, and is generally a hoot.

The goal is to obtain a full set of the Infinity Stones – singularly bland plot devices that have recurred throughout this series since 2011’s Thor movie – by removing them from the timeline before Thanos did his damage. We get the usual meta gags about how time-travel doesn’t really make sense (Back to the Future is cited), then we’re thrown into a gleefully self-indulgent tour around the MCU’s own heritage. Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Scott Lang travel to the New York City of Avengers Assemble; Bruce Banner drops in on Tilda Swinton’s character from Doctor Strange; Thor and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) head to the planet Asgard at the time of Thor: The Dark World; Nebula (Karen Gillen) and Rhodes (Don Cheadle) visit the planet Morag at the time of Guardians of the Galaxy; and later Tony and Steve must also travel to a secret research base in the 1970s where they encounter a succession of younger versions of important MCU characters (Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym, Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and John Slattery’s Howard Stark). The sequences are riotously enjoyable, blending action-driven plotting and emotion with humour and postmodern winking-to-the-audience. Several times, new footage is stitched into old scenes, a la Back to the Future Part II, allowing both fresh perspectives and a hell of a lot of fun.

The final third of the movie is then more conventional, essentially boiling down into yet another MCU battle scene where thousands of characters are filmed (or created digitally) in isolation and then matted together in post-production. But you forgive it with Avengers: Endgame because the stakes have been laid out so cleverly. And for all its CGI noise and bluster, this climactic action sequence still contains plenty of character moments, comedy and stirring emotions. (Having said that, how you respond to an archly designed moment that features all the major female characters – Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Shuri (Letitia Wright), Hope van Dyne aka Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula – teaming up for *one shot* will depend on your levels of cynicism. Is it a daring, pointed, woke breakthrough? Or a rather silly bit of tokenism? You decide!)

Endgame is well named. The MCU series has continued, with movies and TV spin-offs announced for several years to come. But this film has the real feel of a season finale, an end point, a conclusion. The two biggest, most well-known and most popular characters are written out, while it features the final cameo from Marvel godfather the late Stan Lee. It’s the end of an era. Given how effective the emotional series of wrap-up scenes are, it’s also undeniably the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.

Nine men shouting, ‘Make love, not war!’ out of 10

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Doctor Who (1963-2017)

Over the last four years I’ve been on a marathon quest. In 2015 I decided to watch every episode of Doctor Who, a show I’m very fond of, and tweet some short reviews. I began with the serials broadcast in the 20th century and – rather than start with the William Hartnell-starring first episode from 1963 – watched those in a randomly chosen order. Just to keep it fun. I saw 158 stories and it took nearly two years.

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I then moved on to the seasons that have followed the show’s relaunch in 2005, and I saw and commented on these 144 episodes in broadcast order – one episode per tweet this time, even when they part of larger stories. This phase took 25 months. I brought it to an end after Peter Capaldi’s final appearance in Twice Upon a Time (2017) because I don’t want to rewatch and review stories starring the current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, until there’s been a greater distance of time and perspective.

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In the end, therefore, this process has meant 302 tweets – some serious, some silly, all just what I thought at the time. You can view the full archive here, as well as a statistical leader board of appearances I kept as I went along: it lists every character who’s in more than one Doctor Who story, ranked by the number of individual episodes in which they appear. (Well, it entertained me to update it after each tweet.)

Captain Marvel (2019, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A female soldier from a far-off world crash-lands on Earth in the 1990s and soon begins to piece together her mysterious past…

‘So Captain Marvel zaps him right between the eyes,’ John Lennon once sang. That was in 1968, more than half a century ago. But the Beatle could have been psychically predicting the impact of this 2019 superhero film, because the character of Captain Marvel is slick, fun and focused. She aims, shoots and hits her target. (Yeah, yeah, when Lennon made that throwaway reference in the lyrics to his song The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, he actually meant a different comic-book character altogether. *That* Captain Marvel now goes by the name Shazam and, coincidentally, also had a solo superhero movie in 2019.)

But the fact that, for some of us, the film’s title brings to mind a track from the Beatles’ White Album is more than just vague thought association. Captain Marvel is dominated by a theme of nostalgia, of longing for a bygone time, of revelling in reminiscing. It even begins with a unique production-company logo that pays tribute to the Marvel universe’s founding father, the late Stan Lee. Whether you were alive to experience the Beatles first hand or have come to them after the fact, they cast an enormous shadow over pop culture. For most of us, they are one of the pillars of what we think of as ‘the 1960s’; for many, they’ve played a huge role in our lives. But they spilt up 50 years ago. We all have to *remember* them in order to enjoy their music.

Captain Marvel’s lead character, however, can’t indulge this kind of nostalgia because she can’t remember her past. In Hala, the capital of the Kree civilisation – which is another of those skyscraper-heavy alien cities realised via CGI that we always get in these types of films – a young woman called Vers (Brie Larson) is being trained by a mentor-type called Yon-Rogg (Jude ‘Does anyone not guess that he’ll turn out to be a bad guy?’ Law). She’s spunky, sassy and headstrong, has superpowers, and works as part of a gang of military commandos. She’s also sexy, but not in the usual superhero-film way. This character’s allure comes from self-assuredness and arch lines of dialogue delivered in heroic close-ups. She may wear a figure-hugging uniform, but she feels quite different – more confident, more independent, less fanboy-baiting – from Wonder Woman’s cosplay costume or Harley Quinn’s Lolita act. This film doesn’t succumb to ‘male gaze’ objectifying.

Early on, Vers has a one-on-one chat with a mystical deity, the Supreme Intelligence, which seems to run the Kree civilisation. Everyone sees this spirit as someone unique, and Vers’s vision is of a middle-aged American woman played by Annette Bening. Sadly, it’s a fairly clunky opening act, inelegantly full of setup rather than storytelling. In fact, it’s not so much storytelling as ‘storytold’: we have to take in a lot of information, which isn’t always elucidated very clearly.

The upshot is that Vers is struggling to remember her past. When some bad guys later rifle through the deep folds of her consciousness (it’s that type of film), she sees glimpsed flashbacks to what we recognise as a Top Gun-style life on Earth (‘Higher, faster, further, baby!’ being the Marvel equivalent of ‘I feel the need: the need for speed!’). The villains are looking inside her mind because they’re hunting for a faster-than-light engine, which Vers was somehow involved with. But inconveniently for both her and them, she has amnesia.

Thankfully, after 22 minutes, Vers is flung across space and crash lands onto Earth – specifically into a LA branch of Blockbusters in 1995. Our theme of nostalgia really kicks into gear now, whether you’re old enough to remember the 1990s or not. If you are, there’s a whole level of pleasure-through-recognition to be had: we see a poster for True Lies, a VHS copy of The Right Stuff, a GameBoy, cyber-cafes. We hear tracks by Smashing Pumpkins and Elastica. We smirk at the now-dated technology and cars and fashions. It’s all joyful nostalgia, well deployed to get both laughs and to set the scene. (The later use of the No Doubt track I’m Just a Girl in a fight scene, however, may be a contender for the most literal-minded use of a song in any movie ever.)

The film is also wallowing in its own history. The character of Nick Fury – who arrives on the scene after Vers’s crash-landing into the video store – has been an MCU stalwart since the first entry in the series in 2008. Now we have the joy of seeing him at an earlier stage of his life – before the Avengers, before his ‘death’, before he was the leader of SHIELD. The role is still played by Samuel L Jackson, but he’s been de-aged digitally. The special-effects work is utterly magnificent. Seriously, it is a seamless piece of artifice. Fury looks to be about 40 and you very quickly forget that he’s being played by a 69-year-old. All this wizardry also means that we get an additional level of Proustian recollection: Sam Jackson was already a huge Hollywood star in the mid-90s, and another chance to see the actor who played Jules from Pulp Fiction or Zeus from Die Hard with a Vengeance running around on the cinema screen is a real thrill.

Soon, Fury and Vers are thrown together by the plot and they make such an entertaining buddy-cop team-up that you’re left wondering whether we needed all that boring setup on Halo. The actors’ chemistry and comic timing are wonderful and the film comes alive any time they’re in the same scene. How much more elegant and more instantly fun would it have been to *start* with Vers’s arrival on Earth, and for us to learn about her as she and Fury discover things together?

But, a bit regrettably, there’s a plot to service. At least we have Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, a leader of the antagonistic Skrull race who’s seemingly the bad guy of the story but who actually turns out to have a more noble intent. The actor is developing a nice career of playing entertaining foes in genre films (cf Rogue One, Ready Player One), and is great value here. But as the film develops, there are two strands going on at the same time: a story in the present with Talos and his plans, and a story in the past. It’s the story in the past that’s the more resonant.

Via an impressive variety of means – snatched memories, secret military files, exposition from other characters, photos, audio recordings – Vers pieces together her backstory. She was, as we suspected, originally from Earth and was a hotshot test pilot called Carol Danvers. (When taken away from Earth by the selfish Ron-Yogg, his only clue to her identity was a damaged military identity badge showing just the final four letters of her name.) This mixture of tools to tell the story keeps things fresh and interesting, and we feel like we’re discovering information along with our central character. The quest to find out what’s going on – who exactly Vers is, who Annette Bening’s Supreme Intelligence was based on – leads Vers and Fury to a old fighter-pilot colleague of Carol’s called Maria (Lashana Lynch) and her young daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar). The latter can remember Carol from six years previously, despite only being about eight years old – another instance of this film playing with how memories work.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now reached 21. Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the megalithic series that shows no signs of slowing down now it can buy alcohol in America and adopt children in the UK. Whether this entry becomes as memorable as some of the big-hitters that have come before is debatable. But it’s enjoyable, entertaining and well made. It’s also very funny. A scene where characters need to wait several, silent seconds for an audio file to load on Maria’s 1990s PC is a mini-masterpiece of humour and deserves to be remembered for a long time.

Eight Stan Lees on a bus reading the script for Mallrats in preparation for his real-life cameo in that 1996 comedy movie out of 10

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008, Nicholas Stoller)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: LA and Hawaii in the modern day.

Faithful to the novel? Not at all – this isn’t an adaptation or even a horror film. Instead, it’s a romcom whose inclusion in this blogging project is solely down to a throwaway gag that sees the lead character writing a Dracula musical. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was released during a noughties vogue for movies produced by Judd Apatow which centred on immature characters struggling with the trials of everyday life. Toying with gross-out humour and using the improvisational skills of their casts, the phase had kicked into gear with the out-and-out comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), then included the watchable The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), the decent Knocked Up (2007), the sublime Superbad (2007), the funny Bridesmaids (2010) and several others before its popularity petered out. Forgetting Sarah Marshall tells the story of Peter Bretter (played by Jason Segel, who also wrote the script). He writes the incidental music for an ersatz-CSI TV drama, but is thrown into despair when he’s dumped by his actress girlfriend, Sarah (Kristen Bell). We follow him as he plummets into depression then decides to go on holiday to Hawaii, where – wouldn’t you know it? – he ends up in the same luxury hotel as Sarah and her new beau, the English rock singer Aldous Snow (Russell Brand).

Best performance: It’s a cast with a lot of US TV comedy connections: Segal from How I Met Your Mother, Bell from The Good Place, Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live as Peter’s brother, Jack McBrayer from 50 Rock as a newly-wed at the hotel… Even Paul Rudd – once best known as Mike from Friends – has a small role as a surfing instructor. When Peter arrives at the Turtle Bay resort, he meets receptionist Rachel Jansen. She’s a stunningly gorgeous young woman who takes a shine to him, despite his self-pitying neuroses. Rachel is played by Mila Kunis (the voice of Meg in Family Guy, to keep the TV comedy theme going), who’s able to fulfil the function of the male lead’s object of desire and yet also feel like a self-assured character in her own right.

Best bit: When Peter attempts to hit on Rachel, he boasts that he’s writing a rock opera but is then immediately sheepish when she asks what it’s about. ‘Dracula,’ he says without conviction. ‘And eternal love. That’s the theme, but I think the two kind of go hand in hand.’ He also says that his dream is to stage it with puppets. (Jason Segel is an admitted Muppets fan. Roping in puppet experts from The Jim Henson Company to help with this film led to him co-writing and starring in a reboot of the Muppets movie series in 2011.) Later in the evening, Rachel forces Peter to sing a number from his musical on stage in a crowded bar. He’s nervous, saying that out of context the song might not work, then launches into a plaintive piano ballad which he sings in an affected Broadway manner. Sample lyric: ‘And if I see Van Helsing, I swear to the Lord I will slay him/Take it from me, but I swear I won’t let it be so/Blood will run down his face when he is decapitated/His head on my mantle is how I will let this world know.’ As their relationship develops, eventually becoming sexual, Rachel urges him to finish writing the opera. Back home in LA, he does just that – and the film’s climax is built around a well-received performance of Taste for Love: A Dracula Puppet Musical at a small theatre. Peter and the other puppeteers are visible on stage, a la Avenue Q; the characters are clearly modelled on the Jim Henson idiom. It’s silly but sweet.

Review: There aren’t that many laugh-out-loud moments here, and the story never takes you by surprise, but this is an amiable-enough romantic comedy with a good cast. The Dracula musical – based on a real incident in Segel’s past – adds an oddball tone to all the conventional storytelling. It works well, especially when we see the triumphant performance. (Incidentally, Jonah Hill as a hotel worker who idolises Aldous was such a success in his scenes with Russell Brand that the actors later teamed up for spin-off: the more overtly funny film Get Him to the Greek, in which Brand reprised Aldous Snow and Hill played a new character.)

Seven little holidays with Hitler out of 10