THE HOBBIT: BATTLE FOR THE FIVE ARMIES (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

THE HOBBIT: BATTLE FOR THE FIVE ARMIES (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

Me and my son Rhys have a Christmas tradition (well of the last 3 years) which involves going to the cinema to watch an action-packed if overlong adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit. After all watching Elves, Men, Women, Wizard, Eagles, Dwarves etc., slaying Orcs are what Christmas is all about! And while I munch on my popcorn and slurp my diabetes inducing soda my son falls asleep. It’s a comforting bonding experience between father and son and I just don’t know what I’m going to do NEXT year! Oh wait, the new new new Star Wars: A Force Awakens (2015) comes out. Problem solved!

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Peter Jackson is one of my directorial heroes because made his own way up the cinematic ladder. On zero budgets he made cult classics such as: Bad Taste (1987), Meet the Feebles (1989) and one of the best films ever made Braindead (1992). He then made the exquisite Heavenly Creatures (1994) which also introduced us to the ample talents of one Kate Winslet. Following the under-rated ghoulish horror-action-comedy The Frighteners (1996) he immersed himself in the world of Tolkien and delivered a brilliant vision of the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy reaching a peak as a director of epic proportions. Of course he has now returned to the king of fantasy in the last few years with The Hobbit trilogy and I’ll be honest there was absolutely no need, in terms of story, to make THREE films out of the book. But hey, he’s done it and the final film is arguably the best of the lot.

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If Lord of The Ring’s was Tolkien’s allegory for World War II then The Hobbit is clearly his response to the first ‘Great’ war; and not a chocolate bar or game of football in sight. Because the rise of Sauron echoes the rise of Fascism and the battle at Lonely Mountain — following Smaug the Dragon’s desolation of Laketown — mirrors the ruling classes battle over land rights (amongst other complex issues) which led to the disgusting loss of life during World War I. Thus, with Thorin Oakenshield holding the mountain Dwarves, Elves, Men and Monsters congregate for one hell of a battle.

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While it took a while to get there with two half-decent films afore Peter Jackson’s Battle of the Five Armies is a tremendous, staunch and bruising finale to Tolkien’s amazing vision. There is not much plot but rather incredible action and great visual storytelling. The images created showing Thorin’s descent into gold madness as he battles his addiction and greed were most memorable for me; especially at this time of ultra-consumerism. Moreover, the final battle sequences involving Thorin, Legolas, Kili and Tauriel were incredibly exciting and I had my heart in my mouth at moments. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) once again plays his part attempting to make peace and stop the folly of war plus the romance between Kili the Dwarf and beautiful Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) added some unexpected pathos.

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Overall this is a film to watch on the biggest screen you can find. Take your brain out, sit back and watch as Peter Jackson commandeers his units and soldiers from one lusty death blow to another. There was absolutely NO need to make three films out of Tolkien’s adventure but in a way I’m glad he did because there’s nothing I like more that to watch a great piece of orchestrated action at the cinema. At the end I turned to my son and found him snoring in the seat next to me and thought yes: Christmas is here!

 

 

 

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968): STANLEY KUBRIK’S MASTERPIECE IN VISUALS

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY:  A VISUAL REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

A picture is worth a thousand words.” - Old Chinese Proverb**

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Thus, having seen Stanley Kubrik’s poetic space opera at the cinema last week I thought it unnecessary to write what can be said better with images.  It is a work of absolute art which gets better on every viewing.

An influence on pretty much EVERY science-fiction film since its inception this film MUST be seen at the cinema. It’s on at the BFI at the moment so go before their brilliant sci-fi season closes.

What does it all mean?  Something about life, death, future, past, present, humanity, aliens, peace, violence, Artificial Intelligence, technology, religion, heaven, hell and pretty much everything else.  It’s up to the viewer to decide.

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**Although there is some doubt on the Internet as to whether it was Russian author Turgenev who invented this phrase or whether it was an early 20th copywriter Fred Barnard trying to sell cars who coined this phrase.  But who cares – just look at some pictures and be in awe to the genius of Stanley Kubrik and his filmmaking team.

 

 

 

THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

 THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**MASSIVE SPOILERS IN HERE. SORRY**

Films based on “true” stories are interesting to review as they will inevitably distort situations in the name of drama. I personally do not mind if a film compresses times, characters and incidents as I am interested firstly in my emotional response to the story and characters more than historical authenticity.  If I want accuracy I’ll rely on Wikipedia.

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Yet, as films based on ‘real’ events go The Imitation Game (2014) is a creditable distillation of the WWII code-breaking heroics as well as being a high class theatrical tragedy in cinematic form.  Having said that while the film acts as an excellent tribute to the genius of Alan Turing (phenomenal Benedict Cumberbatch), the work of others in the field such as the Polish code-breakers, Tommy Flowers and many others must also be recognised. But perhaps that is for another film altogether.

I didn’t know much about main protagonist Alan Turing prior to seeing this movie but having done some basic research one soon realises what a great British hero he was in terms of cracking the Nazi Enigma codes. Moreover, his incredible mind also contributed in some way to the invention of what you are reading this very review on right now. No, not http://www.wordpress.com but the actual computer itself.

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The fact that one of humanity’s greatest minds was treated so badly because of his homosexuality is a genuine war crime.  It’s also a massive indictment AGAINST the Government and the Official Secrets Act that Turing is only just being truly recognised for his outstanding work in the last few years.  Indeed, one of the films main strengths — not forgetting Andrew Hodges’ book on which it is based —  in bringing Turing’s story to the screen is it acts as a thrilling monument to a man so cruelly destroyed by an intolerant 1950s society.

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The narrative switches between Turing’s life pre-war, post-war and in-between.  Graham Moore’s screenplay is deftly written and well-paced; both personable and witty. In terms of genre we are in biography and war film territories with a sprinkling of espionage and suspense thrown in.  The code-cracking team at Bletchley Park are a kind of super-intelligent version of Marvel’s Avengers and include a handsome cast supporting Cumberbatch including: Matthew Goode (the next James Bond I reckon), always reliable Mark Strong and a commendable turn from Keira Knightley.

Firstly the team clashes with the prickly and arrogant Turing. Then, of course, over time they come to respect him. Meanwhile, idiosyncratic Turing finds his main ally in Joan Clarke (Knightley) as their “romance” becomes the heartbeat of the piece amidst the manipulation of machines.  Both hearts and minds are drawn to each other and the two get engaged. But Turing’s sexuality proves an obstacle to the marriage and there’s a wonderful scene which reflects this; beautifully played by Cumberbatch and Knightley and echoes — albeit more seriously — the classic “No one’s perfect” end-scene from Some Like It Hot (1959).

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There is so much heartache in the character of Turing.  The flashbacks to Turing’s school years when he was bullied and suffered personal loss garners further pathos. Moreover, the “peas and carrots” scene alludes to the possibility of Turing having Asperger’s or similar high-functioning autism.  And in Benedict Cumberbatch we have an actor who imbues Turing with a grandiose pain which I found genuinely moving. Here’s is an actor — who while cornering the market on misfit geniuses — once again shows terrific range and surely he will be nominated come Awards ceremony time.

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This is a tremendous drama directed by Morten Tyldum which is arguably more televisual than filmic. Indeed, it reminded of those amazing BBC Play For Today productions I grew up watching when a young boy. It works mainly as a fine biopic of an incredible man so cruelly persecuted for just being born slightly different. Yet it is also has touching romance and high drama as shown when having  cracked the Enigma the team face the agony of having to hide the fact as a strategy to win the war. Ultimately, I left the cinema uplifted by the work these amazing code-breakers did and but also with anger in my heart; anger at the damned British Government for not rewarding Alan Turing for his miraculous contribution to the war effort. He deserved so much more.

 

MOCKINGJAY – THE HUNGER GAMES – PART 1 (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

MOCKINGJAY – THE HUNGER GAMES – PART 1 (2014)
FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

Dear Hunger Games Franchisers,

I really liked the first two films for the following reasons:

1)  Jennifer Lawrence – a wonderfully talented actress who proved her natural actoring ability in Winter’s Bone (2010),  was perfectly cast in the lead and has proven star quality.

2) Katniss Everdeen is a formidable character with great physical and emotional power as well as fight and determination. She is brave, loyal and it doesn’t hurt that she resembles a young goddess like Artemis (not the Kebab place on Garratt Lane.)

3) The films adhered to a convincing formula which built believable characters, trained them up and then pit them against each other in gladiatorial combat.

4) Powerful drama as children are exploited for the purposes of political purposes by an dictatorial capitalist machine.

5) Social commentary on the nature of “reality television” or physical sports such as boxing where humanity takes vicarious pleasure in watching individuals destroy themselves

6) The games’ themselves are exciting with theme of individual glory being pitted against the notion of teamwork acting as a microcosm for the District as a whole.

7) Capital City (i.e. Capitalism) being shown to be a nefarious force ruling over and exploiting the working classes for their own ends and thus the communistic ideals proffered appealed to my socialist  leanings.

8) The narcissistic and vain city dwellers shown to be preening peacocks only interested in themselves versus the noble working classes struggling against the richer scum.  The idea of revolution also appealed to my Bolshie side.

So, while Hunger Games – Mockinjay Part 1 is a very well constructed film you’ve ruined the franchise with a piss-taking split-into-two-parts-narrative which has completely lost all momentum to the story.  When you rest your head on your pillows stuffed with cash I hope — Hunger Games Franchisers — you sleep well because I feel like I’ve had to endure TWO HOURS at the cinema of fluffing. Because aside from a bit of action this film was very boring. It was ALL fluff and no money shots!

As your servant brushes your teeth with diamond encrusted toothbrush I note the excellent performances of Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP), Jeffrey Wright and I completely get the political and social satire of using Katniss and Peter (excellent Josh Hutcherson) as propaganda tools BUT you made that point over and over again. There was not enough drama for me. It was all fluff and set-up and I want more for my money.

The film speaks of socialist values and revolution all the while the capitalist machine rakes in the dough. But I felt cheated I tell you – cheated.  The character of Katniss was kept in a hospital bed or underground and generally a bystander in the action. I don’t usually complain that a blockbuster is too cerebral but the first two films were great and set-up certain expectations in my mind; so it’s probably MY fault.  Of course I’m not stupid I realise you’re keeping something back for the finale but it had better be good guys – it better be good!!

 

 

BOOK OF MORMON – MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

     BOOK OF MORMON – THEATRE REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**YO!  SPOILERS!”

“Hey – Paul!  Do you want to see Book of Mormon? It’s a musical!”

“Oh – I can’t stand musicals! Apart from Grease maybe. Or a Sondheim one I can’t remember the name of.”

“But it’s made by the guys who did South Park!”

“Really? I love South Park. How much are tickets?”

“HOW MUCH?!”

So on a cheaper Wednesday matinee showing myself and a friend ventured to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s wonderfully irreverent and offensive (depending on your point-of-view) musical The Book Of Mormon. And a great time was had by all. It was funny, energetic and warm and of course very rude but strangely uplifting and like all great art (high or low) it got me thinking about my own values and spirituality.

I have never been what you would call a religious person.  I am not a believer or associate myself with a particular faith.  In fact since I was young I always held a staunch antagonism toward doctrines which remove free-thinking in the individual from birth.  Furthermore much of the world’s conflicts over history have been caused in the name of religion; that and greed and money and power.

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Having said that over the years my approach to religion has matured and I have become less didactic in my thoughts. Because you know what: religion or faith can be a positive thing and give people a true set of values with which to live their life. It’s not God’s fault that human beings use his or her name to commit acts of war and spread intolerance.  In fact, in recent times the move toward Atheistic and Scientific Fundamentalism (led by the Grand Wizard Richard Hawkins) itself has also caused intolerance to rear its ugly head too.

I prefer to believe in nothing; not a void as such but no particular deity or belief system. They provide great comfort for many but it’s not something I feel I need.  I believe in freedom of choice and speech and the basic human principle of just be tolerant of, and good to others.  Because as the song says: “Religion don’t kill people – humans do!”    Of course I just made that lyric up for humorous effect and that is precisely what occurs in the wonderful, hilarious and uplifting theatrical musical Book of Mormon.

The backstory tells us of Joseph Smith who “found” the sacred eponymous text on the gold plates of Nephi. After which he gave birth to a new religion in 1830 which went viral, spreading quicker than a dancing cat video on YouTube.   Flash forward loads of years and the Church of Latter Day Saints is one of the World’s largest cults; sorry, organised religions. And this is the starting point for the story.

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Our two main protagonists are Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) — a handsome, young go-getter — and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) who is, of course, his nerdier, less confident and insecure counterpart.  Cunningham is also a compulsive liar which gives the story an essential characteristic and running theme. Together they are sent from the Missionary Training Centre in Utah to of all places, Uganda to spread the word of Mormon. But Uganda is a godless place full of famine, disease and war and hardship so religion is a hard thing to see to those with no hope.

Humour is mined from the clashes between the two wildly different cultures as the songs compare the upbeat door-knocking optimism of the Mormons with the downtrodden, hungry, maggot-balled, AIDS-ridden, clitoris-castrated Africans; who are war-lorded over by hilariously named General Butt-Fucking Naked. As with South Park the writers use all manner of stereotypes with which to cram as many offensive jokes in as possible.

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However, there is heart to the story too as it is revealed that Elder Cunningham has joined the Mormons to try and fit in and find his place in the world and most importantly: friends.  He is particularly taken with the preening narcissistic Elder Price despite the latter’s obvious discouragement and dislike of Cunningham. It’s no surprise then that while Price is clearly the more talented “salesperson” yet it is Cunningham who becomes a hit with the natives.  Having said that he does so having “made-up” loads of stories from the Book of Mormon incorporating tales from Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord Of The Rings.  From his distortions from the text plus bravery in standing up to the General Cunningham becomes a beacon of hope in the village.

Stories and faith are at the core of the satire here as Book of Mormon both lampoons and deep-down admires the Missionaries. While what Elder Cunningham says seems completely stupid and ridiculous it gives the villagers hope and faith for the future. Overall, the word of Joseph Smith is arguably “fictional” yet the message is a positive one with togetherness being the way forward.  The show asks us: if something gives hope in a hopeless world does it matter if it’s real or not?

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I have no frame of reference with regard to musicals. The only one I’ve seen outside the movies was Fame – The Musical starring ‘H’ from Steps.  But this was an absolute joy with an incredible cast and songs to boot.  My personal favourites were: Two By Two, Making Thing’s Up Again and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.   The shifting of sets, movement and pace were fast yet controlled and the show was clearly the result of a culmination of an incredible amount of creativity, rehearsal and hard work.  As a dynamite new season of South Park currently runs on Comedy Central – I can certainly say Matt Stone and Trey Parker have another work of genius to add to their incredibly offensive yet hilarious CV.  Thank God, Allah, Ganesh, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Nephi, Joseph Smith et al  for them I say!

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ROOM WITH A STEW (WORK IN PROGRESS) – COMEDY REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

ROOM WITH A STEW (WORK IN PROGRESS)

LEICESTER SQUARE THEATRE GIG – (11/11/14)

BY PAUL LAIGHT

**VERY FEW SPOILERS**

If someone put a gun to my head and asked me who my favourite living stand-up comedian was I would probably have to say Stewart Lee.   Obviously the likelihood of someone putting a gun to my head asking my favourite comedian is silly. They could point it at my knee and I would tell them. In fact they wouldn’t need a gun. Anyway, through sheer consistency of quality comedy product he’s created over the years, for me, he’s a national, regional and local treasure.

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 A week or so ago on the 11th November 2014 I went to one of his Room With A Stew (work in progress) shows as Lee road-tested material for his BBC TV show – Comedy Vehicle – Season 4. The audience also received — as he mentioned a number of times during the night — a free DVD copy of – Comedy Vehicle – Season 3. 

Having dabbled with stand-up comedy myself to various degrees of failure it was terrific to see a master trying to make material, not far out of the brain and on the page, work.  The first half-an-hour-or-so he delivered a funny routine about Islamaphobia before battling through a more personal piece about Urine.

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New comedy material is a tricky beast. The comedian becomes a kind of  blind tailor measuring and making a new suit not knowing whether the material is going to fit the customer or not. Thus, you trim and adjust and stitch and cut away until you find the bits which work and get rid of those that don’t. Sometimes the seams just split and the suit lies in tatters on the floor. What comedy has to do with clothes I have no idea:  I’m just saying it can be tough is all!

Stewart Lee appeals to my pedantic, grumpy and meta-intellectual side. He challenges me mentally and his thought-provoking material works on many levels. On this night I could sense Stewart Lee at odds ever-so-slightly with the material, the cogs of his mind willing it to work as he listened to the audience for their reaction. His trademark beration of us for not “getting it” was a feature throughout; in fact he used it to re-energise the room on occasion.  Overall, it was a great night and a pleasure to see him at work. Lee’s Comedy Vehicle has been a must-see on BBC2 for the past few years and will continue to do so based on tonight’s work-in-progress show.

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If you’re not a fan of Stewart Lee and you like comedy that’s slightly more thought-provoking than material about the difference between cats and dogs then check out his website which contains information about ALL his full length shows, TV appearances and stuff from his brilliant Comedy Vehicle Television show.

http://www.stewartlee.co.uk/merchandise.php

 

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**IF YOU CAN WORK OUT THE PLOT – THERE ARE SPOILERS**

So, Paul – what’s Interstellar (2014) all about?

Well, the film is a science-fiction epic about the end of the world. Some astronauts are sent on a deadly mission – led by Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Coop’ – farmer – to try and find habitable existences in outer-space.  To do so they must travel into the unknown across the heart of darkness; through worm-holes; through black-holes; crossing temporal and spatial dimensions to find a solution to save the human race.

Meanwhile, the emotional meat of the story is supplied by McConaughey/Cooper’s relationship with his daughter portrayed by Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain.  He had a son as well but apparently he didn’t matter as much and was ultimately used as weak final act plot point.

Sounds complicated?

Yes. It is. And also very very long. So load up on popcorn.

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What did you like?

This is a visually stunning experience with some incredible set-pieces on Earth, in Space and on other planets.  But from a visual and conceptual genius such as Christopher Nolan I expected as much.  The “wave” sequence on ‘Miller’s Planet’ is an oxygen-stealing delight and I was gasping at the awe of it all.

Moreover, space has never looked so beautiful and dangerous and Nolan — clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrik’s  seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — delivered a truly spectacular experience when Cooper’s craft hurtles through the black hole Gargantua at the end of the lengthy middle act.

The film also has some wonderful science-fictional ideas relating to time and space and being a big Doctor Who fan I almost got my head around them; sort of.  Such concepts will of course solidify on further viewings once the blood in my buttocks begins to re-circulate. Did I say it was a very long film?

Yes. Yes you did. So, Paul, what didn’t you like about the film?

Well, I think there is an Alfred Hitchcock quote – which I’m paraphrasing now – where the Master said “if the audience is thinking too much they’re not feeling.” Something like that.

Oh, that’s clever. Using another director’s words to critique another.

Yeah – it is. And my main problem with the film was that I was so busy trying to get my head around the plethora of concepts in the screenplay that I didn’t feel ANYTHING for the characters.  I would have been happy with the film on a visual and poetic level if ALL the dialogue had been removed and emotion allowed to arrive between the spaces. But by over-reaching it dragged the whole film itself into a black hole of incomprehension.

To me the best science fiction marries concept with emotion.  Some of the acting was fantastic notably from McConaughey but – like the superior Inception (2010) – many of the characters are reduced to mere expositional tools – Anne Hathaway’s Brand being an example of this.  Inception worked better because it was grounded in the heist movie genre where Interstellar is all over the shop from: disaster-movie-to-space-opera-to-thriller-to-art-cinema-genres.

There were numerous plot-holes throughout beginning with the awful first act which set up the characters badly and then ran with poor characterisation throughout the film. Many of the cast, notably Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, were given a bit to do but far too late in the narrative.  And the speed with which concepts are thrown at us in the last 40 minutes are just damn confusing.

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What did you think of the film overall?

Watching Christopher Nolan’s over-expensive and humourless folly was like eating your favourite cake for 3 hours on a rollercoaster. I loved it – then I hated it – then I loved it – then I hated it – then I felt horrifically sick and wanted to get off. By the end – like life itself – I wondered whether it was all worth it.

It felt like a big-budget apology to his family for perhaps being an absent father. Perhaps it’s a film to watch with the sound off and classical music on; although I did enjoy Hans Zimmer’s score .  Yet, the over-loaded plot-lines and weak-movie dialogue ruined the stunning visuals and action set-pieces for me.  Indeed, I watched Nightcrawler (2014) on the same night and that took a simple premise with one major character and rinsed that idea for all the suspense and drama it could.

Nolan has made some great films with clever ideas such as:  Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006) and aforementioned Inception (2010) which retain their emotional impact while delivering some mind-bending concepts. Moreover, he breathed life into the Batman franchise with his brilliant take on the Caped Crusader. However, Interstellar is a fail for me. It’s a magnificent looking jigsaw but if the maker doesn’t give you all the pieces, or the bits you do have don’t seem to fit properly; all you’re left doing is banging the table in frustration.

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Who do you think you are slagging off one of the great filmmaker’s of our time?

I am no one. I work in a Scrap Metal Yard. But I paid my £11 entry fee and thus feel like I am entitled to an opinion. My feeling after watching Interstellar – and following his involvement in the dire Man of Steel (2013) – is that Nolan the  director should sack Nolan the screenwriter.  Perhaps he’s spread himself too thin producing and directing several big budget films in a short period of time?  Nonetheless there is no doubt Nolan is a genius filmmaker creating marvellous blockbusters-with-brains. But, as a storyteller he is losing the plots somewhat and in danger of disappearing up his own black hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer. Filmmaker. Semi-Pro Comedian. Wageslave

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