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Tilda Swinton

THE BEACH: Apocalypse Now 2 – Beach Vacation (2000 in Film #6)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, I’m looking at Danny Boyle’s millennial curiosity, The Beach

You almost can’t reconcile twenty-something Leonardo DiCaprio with his forty-something incarnation. He moved across the 2000’s from the teen heartthrob who raced pulses for Baz Luhrmann in Romeo + Juliet and melted a generation of hearts for James Cameron in Titanic all the way into a skilled, chameleonic leading man and character actor all in one by the time of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

When you look back at The Beach, it feels like the first stirrings of DiCaprio’s edgy, youthful brio shedding its skin. Danny Boyle’s picture is DiCaprio embracing his sex symbol icon while simultaneously rejecting it.

Some commented at the time that Titanic, released three years earlier in 1997, likely helped The Beach at the box office, yet I’m cheating this week as it wasn’t the biggest financial success in the US on its opening weekend. That honour goes to Disney’s The Tigger Movie, rather ignominiously for Boyle the auteur. Yet the film picked up traction for a decent take, no doubt pulling in Leo’s fans who would have been totally unprepared for the Heart of Darkness-tale the actor undertakes in The Beach, which perhaps deserved to be called Apocalypse Now 2: Beach Vacation.

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Avengers: Endgame (2019)

“Part of the journey is the end” says Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark at a key point in Avengers: Endgame, a phrase which could neatly punctuate Marvel Studios’ remarkable conclusion to the first era of their Cinematic Universe.

Endgame is a staggering achievement. It is, without question, *the* biggest superhero movie ever made. It makes last years Infinity War look, at times, like an indie movie. Okay, that’s a bit of an over-exaggeration, but there is one sequence in particular toward the climax of Endgame which is just, quite frankly, jaw-dropping in its ambition and scale. It was one of several moments over the next few minutes which had the audience in my screening cheering, whooping and gasping in joy, surprise and the impact of what Endgame provides, and provides in absolute spades: payoff. Payoff to ten years of narrative and character investment from an audience which has grown, some who have grown *up*, with the Avengers.

It therefore comes as a surprise to report that Endgame, on first blush, is not as solid or accomplished a piece of cinema as Infinity War, or Avengers Assemble, or Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok and certainly the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It easily dwarfs every  single MCU movie to date in scope, without a shadow of a doubt, but by its very nature there are structural issues, and problems with certain beats of characterisation, which are going to become more of a sticking point for critical fans once the euphoria and magic of Marvel’s fan service begins to wear off. This is a euphoria I share, by the way, right now, to the point I am itching to see Endgame again very soon.

Endgame is a film which, certain problems aside, will absolutely make you feel a whole range of emotions by the end. If you’re invested, this is a powerful experience.

Okja (2017)

Okja managed to court more controversy than it probably deserves when it premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival on the big screen, thanks to the fact it was bankrolled by Netflix for a streaming release rather than a theatrical one. Cannes-goers, as elitist as usual, wanted their pound of reactionary flesh but the simple truth is that Okja isn’t a film worth anyone getting their knickers in a twist over.

From the mind of Bong Joon-Ho, a South Korean filmmaker known primarily for films that haven’t experienced major UK cinematic releases such as Snowpiercer, The Host and Mother, Okja is a curiosity which attempts to fuse the emotional bond between children and animals normally reserved for Pixar in their animation, with a level of Korean fast-paced farce, jet black humour and more than a little anti-corporate, anti-GM foods sermonising. As you might expect, its an unusual blend which, in the end, struggles to gel together and deliver a cohesive whole.

Okja nonetheless has a great deal to like. Tilda Swinton, a co-producer on the film, kicks things off in barnstorming fashion as Lucy Mirando, the new head of the Mirando Corporation, which a glitzy and shiny corporate presentation which presents the central concept. Attempting to tackle the issue of a world steadily running out of food thanks to global warming and Western consumption largely, Mirando scientists develop a series of ‘super-pigs’ which will be reared by pastoral farmers across the world for 10 years before the best is presented, very publicly, for the slaughter. The rationale is simple: feed millions, give people good tasting pork, and make a ton of money.