Fast cars and robots

warning-foul-language

So I’ve heard that the new Transformers movie is terrible. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise. I really enjoyed Michael Bay’s first Transformers when it rebooted the franchise a decade ago but to be honest I didn’t bother with the last one and I’m in no rush to see Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), which is unbelievably the fifth instalment.

See the only thing the series has ever had going for it is the special effects. The way that the robots change into their disguises was pretty clever and in the days of 3D, IMAX and mega budget blockbusters, shape-shifting giant robots are literally a no-brainer. But once you’ve seen the trick a few times the magic starts wearing off. Then you’re literally left with the dumbest shit you’ve ever heard in your life.

Let’s not forget that the original animated series was conceived to sell toys. So the fact that these alien robots from a planet called Cybertron would each change into one object, an object from Earth, usually a vehicle but only ever the same one, is pretty easy to explain (in marketing terms) even if embarrassingly childlike in logic. The film series then really embodies that spirit by selling… well everything. At least one film has been heavily criticised for product placement.

But surely the most obvious product placement for Transformers is cars. What I didn’t realise until I looked it up is that Bumblebee was changed from a Volkswagen Beetle to a Chevrolet Camaro for this franchise. But as car product placement goes the Transformers films are no James Bond. Maybe that’s cos they aren’t really car films but isn’t that what they are missing. I mean giant fighting robots should really be a boys film (sorry, I know that’s sexist but you know what I mean) but these films really feel too, well… wholesome.

Take the Fast and Furious franchise. The films have exactly the same certificate but the appeal to the mostly male audience is much greater. I know a lot of women who are big fans too but lets face it these are boys films. It’s clear from the fact that Michelle Rodriguez threatened to leave the series over the way female characters are represented in the franchise as was reported earlier.

I don’t wish to excuse casual sexism on the big screen but The Fate of the Furious or Fast and Furious 8 (2017) has a clear target market where The Last Knight tries to offer something for the whole family and fails spectacularly (or so I’m told). They are never going to fix the plot issue, the premise will always be ridiculous, so Michael Bay should just give the boys (little ones and big ones) what they want; girls, explosions, fast cars and robots.

Advertisements

20 observations about Harry Potter

careful-may-contain-spoliers edited

So Harry Potter is 20 years old. It’s all over the news so why not mention it here? Of course it’s been 20 years since the first book was published, the first film not coming along until 2001 after four books had already been published, but that hasn’t stopped most of the talk today centring on the films or discussing both literature and film interchangeably as tends to happen with the Potterverse. So here are 20 observations (and I’m already seriously doubting my commitment to this number) about the Harry Potter films and the first being exactly that.

  1. The books and films are inseparable. You can’t really evaluate the success of the films or criticise them without referencing the phenomenon that was the appeal of the books and their unanticipated rapid rise in popularity. But nor could you describe to future generations how these books endured and practically defined a decade, without touching on the films that made the franchise so successful.
  2. But the films will outlive the books. We were all led to believe that Harry Potter would end after 7 books but mega-franchises are hard to kill and movies are where the big bucks lie so even though we’ve had a few spin-off books and a play, it’s films that will keep the HP universe alive. Not only will there be four more in the fantastic beasts series but I’ve heard there will be a Voldemort origins story released online as a non-profit film. Sure there’s been plenty of fan-lit online for ages but a fan-film will be far more anticpated and more likely to be accepted as canon.
  3. The actors haven’t been cursed like we thought. The child-acting in HP wasn’t exactly the strongest anyway but who would have put money on any of them making any successful films after the series, in terms of both financial success and credibility. But Radcliffe has made a few interesting choices and risky moves. Despite always being referred to as Harry, he doesn’t embody Potter in his recent roles. Emma Watson meanwhile has almost shaken off her most famous role completely. This isn’t exactly scientific but from the first 12 Beauty and the Beast reviews I found only 2 mentioned Harry Potter. Rupert Grint on the other hand doesn’t seem to have drunk his Felix Felicis.
  4. It’s all very British, sort of. Rowling insisted on an all British and Irish cast and only the best of what the UK had to offer could sell this film around the world so as a result the series is a chest bursting with our “national treasure”. The former Prime Minister David Cameron used the films as an example of what British cinema should be going forward. He meant more like Hollywood and less “Billy Elliot”.
  5. J. K. Rowling becomes the most powerful woman in cinema. She refuses to relinquish any control over her inventions, insists that her works are adapted in her way and is now writing and producing directly for cinema. But is there such a thing as too much control. Whilst I understand concern that films can dominate books, she could have kept her writing separate and allowed the film adaptations to be just that, adaptations. Films should be inspired by their source material not confined by it. I would find a different view, a different take, a different imagining to be interesting rather than frustrating.
  6. The books overrule. Because there is so much parity between the books and films and because the books are more fleshed out, whenever there are disagreements or confusion concerning the plot or background of the films, people will always turn to the books or perhaps the Pottermore website. This is also true of Star Wars where the films can never stand apart, never be canon by themselves.
  7. The HP films are lacking imagination. Let me be clear, J. K. Rowling has an amazing imagination and the world she created in those books is “spellbounding” but her restrictions stifled creativity in the films. They weren’t able to add anything not present in the books and the magic you see is essentially exactly as you’d expect. Special effects are amazing but if you spend a lot of money making things look real but not original, there’s no real artistic merit.
  8. But Fantastic Beasts actually looks fantastic. And it’s not just the standard SFX. The film has excellent cinematography. It uses effects in a far more clever way, which hopefully we can look forward to more of in the sequel. Films are a visual art form and shouldn’t be relying on plot.
  9. Magic in this universe is pretty dumb. This problem starts with the books but escalates when transferred to cinema. It simply doesn’t make sense that there are incantations (magic words) that do different things but only when said by magical people. It’s not clear what makes Hermione gifted or what allows some spells to be done without saying any words. And then it’s made all the worse in films by reducing all the duelling spells to flashing lights. If I can make another comparison to Star Wars, magic is a bit like the force in that it only works when it suits the plot and rules can be forgotten if inconvenient.
  10. But not as dumb as Quidditch. It’s just a dumb game. That’s not the films’ fault but I’m only halfway through and need some padding.
  11. Slagging off HP will probably get me a lot of hate. As with any book/film series that has a lot of fans, particularly when those fans are young, passionate and impressionable, Harry Potter has a lot of die-hard fans who are willing to go overboard all over the internet. But films that generate enthusiasm and heated debate are not necessarily a bad thing.
  12. These children stories explore some interesting themes. Just to list these themes with no real conviction or detail; self-determination, friendship, responsibility, racism, oppression, morality, forgiveness, mortality and grief, politics, education and terrorism to name but a few.
  13. To have obsessive fans you need things to obsess over. The key to making a cult success is the little details. The more a film series has to discover, the more it has to share, the more a fan can boast about their knowledge, the deeper the level of cult enthusiasm. Harry Potter has so many minute details and hidden facts, which is expanded by the fact that there are films and books, that there is a whole wealth of knowledge for obsessed fans to discover, not to mention the fan theories.
  14. You can’t please everybody. Despite the arguments I’ve made above I accept there is plenty for fans to moan about when it comes to what made and what didn’t make the final cut of each film. Despite Rowling’s power there were some pretty audacious omissions from the films but fans of the books should appreciate that films don’t work like novels. They should also realise that films don’t override stories or detract from what they’ve already read and that even if the film plots are more incomprehensible it ultimately doesn’t matter, it’s just fiction.
  15. I made it through all eight films but I’m not sure why. Essentially each film was a filmed book for those too lazy to read but missing some crucial plot details and glossing over some of those themes mentioned earlier. Not one film added anything new. So by the time I was watching the Deathly Hallows films I was really just getting through to the end even though I’d read the last book and didn’t expect any fundamental changes for the film adaptation.
  16. The wizarding world is seriously messed up. Again this says more about the books as the films didn’t really change anything but wizards don’t seem to fret about putting their children in danger whether it’s playing dangerous sports or life-threatening competitions. Despite having magic to make their lives easier they also have servants and seemingly create life such as in paintings to serve their needs.
  17. A generation of adults playing dress up and pretend magic. I grew up with these books and films but I’ve never felt the urge to don a cape and stick a broom between my legs. Nonetheless, the films have produced a culture that could never have come from the books alone. It’s very easy for children and yes fully grown adults to copy the images from the films, place themselves into houses and practice with actual wands.
  18. It’s actually hilarious how some Christians have reacted. Maybe there would be less criticism if Rowling hadn’t used the word witch to describe a female wizard, after all the two terms have different origins and entirely different connotations. But it’s funny anyway cos the bible is essentially full of people doing magic and Christianity seems to have influenced the author in her work.
  19. The body count is probably too high. I’ve never understand why Rowling killed off so many popular characters. Maybe she wanted to teach children about death. Maybe cos it’s a “cough” realistic representation of war. Or maybe she grew to hate her characters, even toying with the idea of killing Harry or Ron. But what is clear is the films struggle to keep up with her happy go lucky kill-spree. There simply isn’t enough time to build up a connection with all the characters the film ultimately wants you to mourn for. So if you hadn’t read the books your emotional experience when watching those later films would presumably be completely different.
  20. But you can’t argue the films haven’t been incredibly popular. The eight Harry Potter films account for the second highest grossing film franchise of all time. They probably never intended to make award-winning high quality cinema but they’ve produced well-made family films that sell at the box office and beyond. Whilst the initial key to success was the books the films have taken a life of their own. Fantastic Beasts has sold tickets without relying on a large readership from a previous novel, instead pitching itself to the substantial audience of the film series.

Phew… that wasn’t easy. If you disagree with my observations and want to tear me down after I spent so long coming up with these points, feel free to rant in the comments section.

Terror: Clowns vs Children

When you think of the creepiest horror films of all time you probably don’t think ghosts, vampires or witches. Well, maybe you do. But you probably don’t think sweet little children or silly harmless clowns. Or maybe you do. Sometimes the least scary things make the most disturbing nightmares. In horror film, it is not the story or the idea that makes the film scary but the execution of an idea. I am convinced that anything can be scary  if you know how horror works.

Evil children are the stuff of adult nightmares. Whole villages of creepy children make horrifying films but one brilliant child-acting performance can make a film unforgettably chilling. Maybe this is what makes a film particularly disturbing; we know that the child of the film is a real child-actor who is capable of this terrifying performance, and we are not used to children demonstrating such dark behaviour, even if it is pretend.

Terrifying children as antagonists go back decades in cinema. The telepathic children of Village of the damned (1960) may have had evil powers but what made them particularly scary was their unchildlike behaviour. You can depict a sweet innocent child as the spawn of the devil, an alien/monster in disguise or possessed by a demon, you can give them mind-reading powers, unnatural strength or invulnerability, but what makes them creepy is the sense of uncanniness.

Like a creepy china doll, which offers no threat but is unexplainably disturbing, a child-villain is simultaneously familiar and seemingly unthreatening whilst also slightly eerie and unnatural. When a child acts like an adult or threatening or demonic it’s uncanny because the two concepts clash and it’s disturbing because it occupies a space between irrational fear and fear of the irrational.

Frightening clowns make a strange but popular choice for villains. Although an irrational fear of clowns is common among children, you would think that clowns who have a job of making people laugh, would make very poor villains. You don’t usually associate funny entertainment and gags with fear. Even if you find clowns daft, silly or pointless, you don’t find them scary. Again, this may have something to with the uncanny nature of scary clowns. Or it might be the make-up and strange behaviour of clowns that play to our fear of the odd and irrational.

Children Clowns
Every parent knows the stress of bedtime that leaves them sleep deprived

 

Horror at bedtime But creepy clowns are the stuff of nightmares. The enemy of good sleep

 

 Is there anything more scary than a child left loose with lipstick and eyeshadow? Every dad for himself

 

Make-up Sure they apply it a bit thick but compared with the cougars out on the town on a Saturday night, clown makeup is quite subtle
Once they start talking kids are comedy gold. But don’t put them on Youtube. They won’t thank you when their older. 2-1

 

Funny or die Clowns on the other hand are rarely funny.
Village of the damned and the Omen spring to mind. But the best example is undoubtedly the twin girls in The Shining. Chilling

 

Scary films I don’t need to say it but I just have. Undoubtedly the most famous horror clown but how about killer klowns from outer space?

 

Run for your life. Or get showered in snot. Sniff

 

Red noses Squeaky round noses are a bit unsettling but raising money for charity is good.

 

Whether you want them to or not, kids eventually grow up and become normal adults…

 

 Growing up Unless they become clowns. Or just Dads really. Some can’t stop clowning around.

 

Children outdo clowns 4-2 

The clown zombie has become a cliche of sorts, an effective but unoriginal Halloween costume. Is there anything left for the horror clown but parody? Creepy children will always be scary as long as there are great child actors.

Monsters: Kong vs Godzilla

The most famous ape in the world has returned to the big screen just 12 years after the last cgi effort. But Kong: Skull island is no sequel to the 2005 film featuring Jack Black but takes place in the same universe as Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. The two monsters will square up against each other once again in 2020 after first sharing a feature film in 1962. But as both cinema giants have endured through multiple reboots and adaptations, there’s more than one way to sort a king from a god.

King Kong Godzilla
Megaprimatus Kong. Supposedly the last of his kind, he dies at the end of most versions but still returns for a sequel.

 

Species Species unknown but some sort of dinosaur like reptile. Komodo dragons can reproduce without males so Godzilla could start a species by itself. First of your kind just pips last

 

Possibly a prehistoric species surviving along with dinosaurs on a small island. Scientific accuracy was never an issue.

 

Origin Something to do with a nuclear blast. Not exactly science, but a strong warning about something

 

The ability to constantly change size depending on whether fighting a dinosaur or holding an actress. Pretty useful for continuity editors.

 

Surprising
powers
Atomic breath not being enough, this monster has been given laser eyes, magnetism, super-speed and even flight by various imaginings. Someone should have told them less is more.

 

Pretty blonde actresses.  Or is that just male audiences

 

Loves Tons of fish. And general destruction.

 

Fire, chains and aeroplanes. We can all relate to at least one of these. Kong fights back 3-2

 

Hates Buildings. The creature very rarely eats humans but has an unrivalled hatred for our architecture.

 

A god on Skull Island, a star in New York and a hero on the screen. Everyone loves apes, even giant ones. Kong is king 

 

Worshipers Hated more often than loved in the movies but the monster has a fair few fans in the real world.

 

King Kong wins this battle 4-2

Both monsters suffer from a few too many remakes, too much reliance on CGI and not enough creativity. Hopes for the MonsterVerse franchise start low.

Popular films that hate women

read-at-your-own-perilwarning-sarcasmwarning-foul-language

Since it’s International Women’s Day I thought I’d take a look at feminism in film but don’t worry this isn’t a rant so I’ll keep this post light; no politics, no points, no agenda. Well maybe a little gender.

The Bechdel test (named after cartoonist Alison Bechdel) has become famous among feminists for drawing attention to the shocking fact that despite women making up half the population, about half of all films fail the rule first proposed in a 1985 comic strip. To pass the test, a film must feature two female characters having a conversation about something other than a man.

Gravity: This film was a huge success in 2013 but Sandra Bullock was the only actress to feature in the film (not including a minor voice only role) and furthermore they gave her character a man’s name, Ryan. It was almost as if the producers didn’t believe you could have a female astronaut. We need to encourage young girls to get into science but this film with its fake physics and poor female astronaut who nearly gets herself killed isn’t going to accomplish anything.

Bullock may be playing an American hero but she still needs a man to save her, even if that man is dead. Hollywood reckons George Clooney dead could outsmart a living Sandra Bullock. Maybe they saw her in Miss Congeniality? Now that’s a film about female empowerment.

Star Wars: It’s been said before that the greatest trilogy of all time is an absolute sausage fest. There are only three named female characters with speaking roles. No wonder Luke fancied sharing a kiss with sister. After his aunt she’s the only human woman he’s ever seen. With this immense shortage of women, is it any wonder that Anakin becomes obsessed with Padme? Although he could have always replaced her with Keira Knightley.

Disney are trying real hard to correct the error with two beautiful powerful leading women in the newest additions. However, the force awakens is essentially about trying to find a man and give him back his glowing penis sword. Not cool Disney, not cool.

Harry Potter: Call yourself a feminist Emma Watson? Then how come you were in such an anti-women series of films? Despite being written by “the most powerful woman in the UK” the books are clearly sexist. All magical women are dubbed witches while men get to be called wizards.

And despite having many female teachers and pupils at least one of the films fails the Bechdel test. In Deathly Hallows part 2, the closest two women get to having a conversation with each other is when Mrs Weasley calls Bellatrix Lestrange a bitch and then proceeds to murder said bitch. What a mother…


Toy Story: Sexism starts from a very young age. Shame on you Pixar with your reaffirming gender stereotypes. The first film only has one female toy and it’s a doll. Admittedly that doll belongs to a boy but you’re not going to pass the Bechdel test with so few female characters. Two other dolls appear with no heads.. no heads.. trying to tell us something Pixar?


The second one also fails the test despite having three new female characters but I’ll hold it there cos this is starting to get a tad political. Maybe feminists actually have a point?

Curses: Vampires vs Werewolves

spoiler-free

Long before Edward vs Jacob the two biggest beasts in horror were fighting it out to be number one monster. The myths themselves have evolved over millennia but it is their depiction in popular culture that has really developed their characters. Of course, even in cinema their characteristics are constantly evolving, each representation inspired by the last, each film picking on the parts of the myth that suits their story and ignoring the elements that don’t fit.

Vampires in recent years have moved on from pure evil. They’ve stepped out of the shadow of the villain to become the hero in their own stories. But more importantly they’ve modernised. Most vampire films these days are set in the present or the future and like every other pensioner they are keeping up with all the latest science and technology. The days (or nights) of old castles and coffins are long gone and the age of entrepreneurial mega-rich vampires is here. Vampires have literally stepped into the light, and that is insane because vamps should not survive in daylight. And most definitely not sparkle.

Werewolves haven’t had it so easy. More often than not they are the sideshow in a vampire film or even the villain to the vampire hero. True werewolf films have been relatively thin on the ground and those that do exist haven’t been particularly original. The depiction of this famous curse has very few hard rules and a few fresh ideas could make a recognisable werewolf story into one hell of a film. One thing is a must though; you are not born a werewolf. Jacob from Twilight, as much as it suited me to use him for the opening line of this blog post, is not a werewolf. He is a shapeshifter, born that way rather than cursed, and not at the mercy of the full moon.

Vampire Werewolf
It starts with a bite. But why do some victims rise from the dead and others just die. There’s no definitive answer.

 

Passing it
on
A bite again, or sometimes a scratch. If you manage to survive an attack, your cursed. For simplicity, this one goes team wolf

 

Sunlight, garlic, holy water, wooden crosses, mirrors, silver, churches, rosaries, not being invited.

 

Allergies Silver bullets. In short supply I imagine…

 

A bit pasty, but if you like the older lover. A bit naughty, lots of experience, powerful and often kinky. If you still need convincing… two words… Kate Beckinsale

 

Sexy time If you had to choose between necrophilia and zoophilia. If you had to…

 

Bats are pretty amazing. They can fly, in the dark, without bumping into anything.

 

Animal
extinct
But wolves are majestic. Who doesn’t have a soft spot for these undomesticated pooches? 3-1 to Werewolves

 

The name Dracula and vampire are pretty much synonymous. Yes, not all Dracula adaptions have been a success. But the most famous monster in the world without doubt

 

The no 1. Name me one famous werewolf, a proper one, go on. Just one.. No. Thought not.

 

So you have to stay out of the sun and drink a little blood. It’s no worse than a badly bullied ginger kid. You get to live forever and have superpowers.

 

Worse curse Getting really irritable once a month, losing control of your senses, enduring a painful process. Thank god, this doesn’t happen for real. Howwwwl…

 

Werewolves beat Vampires 4-2 

It’s time we got over vampires and made a good werewolf flick.

7 ways cinema uses the asylum

warning spoilers warning-sarcasm

Thankfully, understanding of mental illness and support for those affected is getting better all the time even if some misconceptions still persist in public consciousness. The portrayal of mental illness on screen and the representation of treatment has one enormous problem, for years and years cinema has used them both as powerful tropes for various purposes and the way in which they are used varies very little. With the release of ‘A Cure for Wellness’ the latest film to be set in an institution, I’m revealing seven ways cinema sends viewers to the asylum.

1. The fear of the mad. The majority of films that feature psychiatric institutions are horror films, quite often slashers and violent thrillers. If you need an easy backstory for a dangerous villain, have them escape from the local looney bin. Obviously, in real life not all mentally ill people are dangerous and there is a scale of mental health issues, but films for the most part make baddies out of the mentally unbalanced, and dangerous criminals that you can really fear out of the clinically insane.

Our instincts are to fear people who behave oddly and cinema doesn’t help attitudes to the mentally unwell. It exploits those fears and all the associations. The hospital setting is unsettling because it reminds us of being ill, the graveyard because it speaks of mortality and the afterlife. The asylum is a powerful horror setting because it reflects insanity and the strange unknown. Shutter Island (2010) is most unnerving when the clues are only starting to emerge and the strange mysteries of Ashecliffe Hospital are confusing and alienating the film audience. When details are slowly revealed the film switches from psychological horror to detective story and loses some impact.

2. The fear of being mad. Whether it’s a psychiatric hospital or a sanitarium, characters that go in always face the risk that they may never come out again. It’s enough to put someone off visiting a care home for the elderly. I mean sure you’re young and you’ve got all your marbles but you get one grey hair and lose your name badge and before you know it you’re an inmate. Films like One flew over the cuckoo’s nest (1975) describe how instead of treating illness, these institutions can drive a person to madness. Whether they contribute to a negative view of mental health treatment is an issue but they hit a mark with audiences as they speak to our fear of only being one step away from our own insanity.

3. The comeuppance.  Sometimes when you can’t kill your villain it’s more appropriate or ‘funnier’ to make them lose their minds. When capital punishment is too serious and final why not resort to a debilitating illness to finish your nasty character off. Even if we don’t see them carted off to the funny farm, we get to view the total mental breakdown of many unscrupulous characters, from Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo screaming uncontrollably as the police arrest him, to Cruella De Vil driven (more) insane by the puppies that outsmart her.  It’s hard to feel any pity for characters that get what’s coming to them. Of course some characters like Mr Glass in Unbreakable (2000) are revealed to be insane from the beginning in which case their incarceration in a psychiatric institute as opposed to a regular prison is testament to how ‘evil’ they were. Still, locking them up for life is more satisfying than letting them escape via some quick death.

4. The unbelievable story. If you ever see an alien or a monster or if you ever find out the world is going to end, do yourself a favour and keep quiet about it. You can’t do anything about it from inside a psychiatric facility as many film heroes discover to their cost. You’d think they would realise how mad they sound and quickly get cured. At least when the ghostbusters get themselves committed in Ghostbusters II (1989) Peter (Bill Murray) realises the correct thing to say; “I think these people are completely nuts”.

In real life it would be surprisingly difficult to get yourself committed to a hospital for witnessing a bizarre event. There are people walking around freely claiming to have been abducted by aliens. If you are sane enough to act normal you’re probably free. How then Sarah Connor begins Terminator 2 locked up isn’t clear. I know that she tried to blow up a factory but if she was able to get an insanity plea why doesn’t she realise she can fake her sanity unless of course the events of the first film have really pushed her over the edge.

5. The Victorian madhouse. Without giving a history lesson on the brutality once faced by the mentally ill, (I’m too lazy to do the research) we are all aware thanks to film and television that for a long time science didn’t get it right when it came to the diagnosis of mental health conditions. Arguably the more scientific and enlightened we became, the more horrific it got for sufferers, with Georgian and Victorian Britain providing the classic Hollywood asylum horror story.

But given that we have come a long way with understanding mental illness in the last 100 years, is there any reason to keep on showing the same asylums of the past without exploring anything new. Stonehearst asylum (2014) at first seemed to be just another criticism of Victorian attitudes, taking the source material from Poe and expanding it to cover the misunderstanding of female hysteria and shell shock. The twist right at the end, which follows the vein of Shutter Island, also featuring Ben Kingsley, is completely ridiculous, but it serves to blur the boundaries of the sane and insane and demonstrate the difficulty in distinguishing the mentally ill. In my opinion however, being ‘madly in love’ and an unhappy childhood in an orphanage should have been enough to justify the protagonists behaviour.

6. The home of evil. Any prison is full of particularly nasty people but evil is typically reserved for the asylum. Or it is according to DC comics and the films inspired by them. Arkham asylum (for the criminally insane), where all Batman’s villains are incarcerated at the end of each film, really needs to sort out its security issue, as it constantly provides evil nemeses for Batman films.

You could be forgiven for thinking that cold calculated murder is worse when its sane but even beyond superhero films, the insane criminals represent true evil far more than your average serial killer. Hannibal Lecter has been voted the greatest villain of all time mostly due to Anthony Hopkins’ eerily terrifying portrayal but partly because he radiates terror in spite of and some might say because of his incarceration; the prison bars, the straight-jacket and the mask.

7. The character study. A character with no demons is pretty boring stuff. A character with multiple personalities is gold dust to an actor. Whether your Natalie Portman or James McAvoy, nothing is more challenging and ‘ahem’ awarding than playing multiple parts within one role. Mental illness produces complex characters so it’s a shame that most representation of the mentally ill is simplified and extreme.

There are few roles which normalise mental illness or where actors can play an understated version of a psychiatric patient. In Silver lining playbook (2012), Bradley Cooper does an excellent job of portraying a man recently released from hospital but as with most Oscar nominated films, the plot often feels contrived; a fictionalised romantic view of mental illness instead of normalising and humanising its characters. In my view one of the best portrayals of the modern mental institution is Girl, Interrupted (1999) featuring probably the best performance of Angelina Jolie’s career, although it too suffers from Hollywood trying to sensationalise true events.

These are the seven uses of what I loosely refer to as the asylum in cinema, although of course films can fit into more than one category. By asylum I mean any one of many institutions on the scale between hospital and prison but the associations with madness and mental health are pretty consistent whatever the name of the mental prison.