Movie stars are usually the Kings and Queens of a film! They propel the narrative and guarantee bums on seats when a film opens. They also create expectation and word of mouth buzz thus studios have invested heavily over the decades in icons such as:  Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, James Cagney, Mel Gibson to name but a few.

I love movie star driven cinema, however, I’m also a big fan of the ensemble casts seen in genre films such as: comic book epics, crime thrillers, war films and Westerns.  What an ensemble cast offers is a diverse set of characters and actors bouncing off one another to powerful effect. Most recently the mountain disaster film Everest (2015) had fine actors including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more.   Thus, just for the hell of it I’ve picked out some of my favourite films which contained not just one big star but lots of fine actors who all combined to make a fantastic movie experience.

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet.  The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber.  It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.


Joss Whedon’s Marvel behemoth broke all kinds of box office records across the world! It’s a humdinger of a movie with a cracking cast that included: Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and many more!  In fact, I’m surprised the set didn’t collapse under the weight of all the egos in front of camera.


It’s cameo cast central in Wes Anderson’s fast-paced eccentric comedy with Ralph Fiennes leading the line-up with a terrific central performance. Also, tagging along for the quirky and colourful ride are such acting luminaries as: F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Blink and you’ll probably miss some of them!


Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller features a dream cast. Or does it!  Yes – it does!  It’s a Hollywood pot-pourri of movie stars such as Leonard DiCaprio, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, star-in-the-making Tom Hardy, veteran character actors like Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and feisty starlet Ellen Page.


While the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey have gone up and down in various measures recently this brilliant crime film found them on the rise up the Hollywood ladder. Here they play a trio of very different detectives investigating movie lookalikes, murder and police corruption in Los Angeles. Throw in the likes of Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Danny Devito and you have a cast to literally die for.


The cast of this classic Seven Samurai remake is remarkable as in, aside from Yul Brynner, they were all pretty much unknown at time of filming. So, kudos to the casting team who recruited such a charismatic troupe including: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn; who would all become stars in their own right.


Take your pick from Paul Thomas Anderson’s films which ALWAYS have excellent casts. I am in no doubt actors are drawn to the narcissistic and existential angst which inhabits the characters’. Boogie Nights (1997) is one of my favourite films but Magnolia with – Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards – just wins out for best cast for me.


Not a large ensemble cast but a brilliant one nonetheless.  In Mike Leigh’s quintessentially British council estate film we get three young British stars in Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels plus Alfred Molina and Pam Ferris too.  Each character drowns in depression, awash in concrete, unemployment and the stench of piss-stinking lifts and cigarette-stained wallpaper. This is a sad, funny, low-budget 1980s kitchen-sink classic.


Similar to The Magnificent Seven this is a “before they were famous deal” with an incredible cast who would come to known in the 1980s as The Brat Pack. C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and Diane Lane all starred in this tragic rites of passage story about teenage gangs and friendship. All the actors when on to have decent careers; but what ever happened to that Tom Cruise guy though?!?


Tarantino, of course, is not only about the cracking dialogue and violence and homages to other movie styles and genre but he also knows how to cast a movie.  He rarely has a big film star at the helm of his films but rather relies on a mixture of known stars in supporting roles, character actors, plus fading or B-movie journeymen. Often, actors are cast on ability and suitability rather than saleability such as Pam Grier and Christophe Waltz. His keen casting eye gave us a wonderful Samuel L. Jackson – up until then limited to mainly supporting roles – and also relaunched John Travolta’s flagging career in the imperious ensemble crime film Pulp Fiction.


Robert Altman is the “King” of the ensemble drama as demonstrated with Nashville (1975), Mash (1970 and The Player (1993). His films often poked into the American underbelly psychoanalysing the mores of the various classes.  His work would have a massive influence on Paul Thomas Anderson and actors clearly considered it a badge of honour to act for him. Short Cuts was adapted from  Raymond Carver’s work and the cast included: Julianne Moore, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey, Jr., Madeleine Stowe, Chris Penn, Jack Lemmon, Frances McDormand, Andie MacDowell, Lily Tomlin and many more.



This spy thriller contains a “Who’s-Who” of British acting talent. We have Commissioner Gordon, Bane, Sherlock Holmes, King George VI, Doctor Who, Truman Capote and even Trigger from Only Fools and Horses acting in between the shadows of murky British Intelligence espionage.  It’s a tricky watch as the director goes for atmosphere over exposition but the sheer style and quality of the performances ensure espionage has never been so intriguing.




With SEASON NINE upon us and in appreciation of Doctor Who, from circa 2005, I look back in admiration at the last 10 years of the Doctor in his new inceptions.  I’ve picked some of my favourite episodes incorporating TWO episodes from each of the eight prior seasons!  So here goes: GERONIMO!



EPISODE 1.6 – DALEK – Writer: Robert Shearman

This episode found the Doctor and Rose going underground in Utah, 2012. There, a megalomaniac collector, Van Statten, has all manner of alien artefacts including a Dalek that is being experimented on.  This was a very gripping episode and one where Eccleston’s dramatic muscles were really flexed. I loved the fact the Dalek was defeated having been ‘infected’ with humanity. It also had a great bit of dialogue when the Doctor is told: “You would have made a good Dalek!”

EPISODE 1.9 – THE DOCTOR DANCES – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode concluded what began with The Empty Child.  I loved the wartime setting and the gas-masked creatures really sent chills down the spine. The subtext of war children hung heavy over the episode and in their own way both Rose and the Doctor are orphans.  In this thrilling episode the emotional barriers come down between Rose and the Doctor as they dance together amidst the horrors of World War II.

EPISODE 2.4 – THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE – Writer – Steven Moffat

What if the Doctor fell in love?  This incredible episode asks that question and others with a mind-bending yet romantic intertwining of the Timelord and Madame De Pompadour.  3000 years in the future Rose, Mickey and the Doctor finding a floating space vessel with temporal windows to the past. Yes there’s a horse on a spaceship in this one too plus: humour, romance, action and under-the-bed-frights. The pace zings along and the chemistry between Sophia Myles and David Tennant is electric.

EPISODE 2.13 – DOOMSDAY – Writer: Russell T. Davies

And so it came to pass Rose and the Doctor part in the most spectacular of ways, amidst a war on Earth between Cybermen and Daleks. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was a brilliant companion both sparky and brave and loyal until the end sacrificing herself to save the Doctor.  It’s full of action and emotion as the Doctor and Rose bid a sad goodbye. Russell T. Davies’ strength as a writer was making the science fiction seem very real and imbue the fantastical with real emotional kick.

EPISODE 3.8 – HUMAN NATURE – Writer: Paul Cornell

In this stunning episode we get Tennant’s Doctor BUT he isn’t the Doctor; he’s actually a teacher called John Smith hiding from aliens.  It’s a wonderful concept and brims with dramatic irony as Mr Smith has weird Deja vu of a life he believes he has lived only in his dreams.  Martha (Freema Agyeman) excels here and the story – set in 1913 on the eve of war – doesn’t shy away from critiquing the racial and class politics of the day.  There’s a lovely Remains of the Day subplot as the Mr Smith/Doctor falls for Jessica Hynes’ matron just as the Family of Blood come to call.

EPISODE 3.10 – BLINK – Writer Steven Moffat

What makes a classic Doctor Who episode?  Is it the story and the action and the science fiction and the laughs?  Yes, of course! But what REALLY makes is a great monster: a seemingly undefeatable foe that tests the Doctor and his companion to the limit of their powers. Blink introduced the terrifying Weeping Angels so don’t BLINK or they’re on you like the taxman and they’ll drain your life just as quick. The episode is Doctor-light with Carey Mulligan playing haunted Sally Sparrow, and while the writing and structure are tricky, Moffat really pulls all the strings together on this one.

EPISODE 4.7 – THE UNICORN AND THE WASP – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

There are probably way better episodes but I chose this light and fluffy one because I’m a sucker for Agatha Christie murder mysteries.  It skilfully throws Christie’s actual 3-day disappearance in with a monstrous wasp, a cunning jewel thief and a wicked murder plot. The Doctor and Donna play detective in a ripping yarn which features an early appearance from Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.

EPISODE 4.10 – THE FOREST OF THE DEAD – Writer: Steven Moffatt

This two-parter began with the episode equally brilliant Silence in the Library which set up a thrilling plot and enigmatic ‘companion’ that is River Song (Alex Kingston). It also established the nasty microscopic dust-mite Vashta Nerada i.e. “the shadows that melt the flesh”.  Moffat once again conjures up a mind-bending plot which jumps from a 51st Century and a strange dream world which Donna gets sucked into.  It was this surreal Bunuelian nightmare place which stayed with me as Donna gets married, has children and then loses them all in a matter of moments.

EPISODE 4.15 – THE PLANET OF THE DEAD – Writers: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts

Okay, so I’ve had to cheat here.  I’ve added another episode because Season 4 was extended by a series of specials. The Planet of the Dead as it was another fun episode full of verve, pace and great images including a bus stranded in the space desert. I love episodes when they’re in the far flung netherworlds of space and this was a lovely light bit of sci-fi fluffery before the imperious pathos of Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer:  Richard Curtis

The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Steven Moffat.  However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story.  Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically.  The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement.

EPISODE 5.11 – THE LODGER – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

Season 5 was brimming with imagination and great science fiction involving the “cracks in the Universe” which worked paradoxically but still created SO many questions. Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker while utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.


EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer:  Neil Gaiman

This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY with paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faced an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Standing alone from the big story arc was the episode The Doctor’s Wife. It was an immediate hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS.  The whole show is about the lovely relationship between Idris (TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around.  Jones is amazing as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous computer ‘House’.

EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer:  Tom McCrae

In The Girl Who Waited Amy Pond becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself.  So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterized as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self.  It’s a heart-wrenching episode which Karen Gillen owns; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited. 

EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat

Season 7 opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks!  Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.

EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat

Angels Take Manhattan was so heart-wrenching as Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show against old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story.  It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again.  Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this:  the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL!  Incredible!  Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.

EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson

Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara:  “Am I a good man?”  Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror.  However, I loved the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express as it crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time.  The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim.  It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber.

EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode is pitch black darkness personified as the Doctor and Clara end up in the Nethersphere, where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up throughout the season. Death casts a looming shadow and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one harrowing scene.  By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect.  A superb episode with no kids in to ruin it and thankfully the Hollyoaks style romance is replaced by a morbid bleakness.


I’ll round up this run through with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie.  It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!


I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show.  It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team.  If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!” But, “new” DOCTOR WHO has on the whole has been brilliant too.  I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.



Directors and actors often hog the limelight and get the kudos for the movies they made but how about giving the screenwriter some credit too. Don’t forget some poor writer slaved over these words and probably didn’t get the praise they deserved. Thus, here are some more funny, dramatic and sad dialogues scenes I have picked out for mine and your amusement. Hail the writer!



This is the greatest Christmas film ever and one of the best comedies EVER! So much quotable dialogue and this scene is up there with the best of them! I love the dark humour here which basically finds low-level scumbag Billy Bob Thornton believing he’s “turned a corner” spiritually AFTER beating some kids up. Priceless!


This is a brilliant monologue that cuts to the bone when it comes to the objectification of women in the Media and the false promises that are created for the male gaze. Rosie O’Donnell is pitch perfect delivering some cracking one-liners and a damning indictment of media representations and moronic men. Great dialogue from writer Scott Rosenberg!


The Dude is the worst detective in the world and this makes him the funniest too. In his pursuit of Bunny Lebowski he ends up at the pornographer Jackie Trehorn’s abode. Drugged and dumped on the Law Enforcement Officers this scene is just too hilarious for words.


Sometimes the best dialogue scenes are the subtle ones which the writer has included and you think: “Mmmm… what was that all about?” In this superlative crime-noir-thriller THIS is one of those quiet incendiary scenes which explodes with a gripping payoff later in the movie.


You go into work and you feel disillusioned with your lot. You ask yourself: “why are we here?” “What’s it all about?” “Why do bad things happen all the time?” “This WORLD sucks!!”  And you get angry? You get mad as hell and the biggest problem there’s no solution! You just don’t know what to do! This cracking speech from Paddy Chayefsky sums that all up as Peter Finch scores an Oscar for a man-on-the-edge-who-just-cannot-take-anymore!!


This is a raw, gritty and heartfelt scene where Val rejects Ray and his violent ways via some incredible acting from Kathy Burke and Ray Winstone. I connected with this scene as Val’s humanity is wrought bare by the abuse she has suffered over the years and she just cannot take anymore!  Gary Oldman wrote directed ONE film and THIS was it. Amazing!


Need I say more?! Just a heart-wrenching monologue from writer Budd Schulberg perfectly delivered by Brando with Rod Steiger providing great opposition in this legendary scene. This is a film about brotherhood and corruption and Terry and Charley’s relationship is a powerful microcosm of such themes. Unforgettable!


James Cameron’s incredible sci-fi-time-thriller-killer remains one of my favourite films ever! Aside from a star-making turn from Arnie, awesome action and mind-bending plot it manages to collapse a lot of complex exposition in a very economic fashion. It does so brilliantly when Kyle Reese gives the lowdown during a frenetic high-speed car chase. Indeed, his summary of the Terminator’s deadly intentions is just punchy as hell; raising the stakes for Sarah Connor right up to 11!


Dialogue establishes character and the dynamism between characters that will occur throughout the film. In this scene from the fantastic crime thriller Training Day, Hawke’s Hoyt is very nervy as he meets his boss, the arrogant Alonzo Harris, for the first time. The dialogue just zings from Washington’s mouth as he pulls Hoyt one way and then the other in a great scene which foreshadows the brilliant drama yet to come.


This is just A-grade dirty street talk that’s just vile and offensive but delivered with perfection by two great actors in Hopper and Walken. The gangsters are trying to track down their drugs that Clarence has and his father knows where he may be. Not only does Hopper’s character know where his son is he KNOWS he will die anyway whether he gives his son up, so he delivers one of the most disgusting insults he can think of. This is a brutal yet compelling scene from Tarantino that crackles with hard-boiled testosterone, gristle and sickening masculine evil.



With SPECTRE (2015) looming on the horizon I’ve picked out some memorable Bond bits which make this one of, if not the best, genre franchises ever. I knocked this up during my lunchtime so it’s by no means definitive but there’s a mix of deadly, funny and sad moments. If you have your own please do nominate.



As the classic music kicks in and the Agent points his gun and fires, literally “killing” the audience, you’re immediately hooked!


With the suave delivery of one simple line Connery’s Bond eases into cinematic folklore. Much imitated but never bettered.


Henchmen/women have played a massive part in the series and peroxide-blonde Robert Shaw was a worthy adversary for Bond. This is a great fight: dirty, realistic, confined, brutal and full of suspense.


The GREATEST Bond theme song EVER! Probably!


Love the cat-and-mouse plot of Goldfinger as Bond hunts the megalomaniac while getting into a number of scrapes and close calls; the laser set-piece being one of the most memorable.


George Lazenby was the David Moyes of Bonds inasmuch as he had an impossible job following an icon. But O.H.M.S.S is a really good spy/action film with all the elements of a great Bond movie. Lazenby is wooden as hell but the brave ending is a dramatic humdinger! Bond cries! Bond cries!


Wow! Just wow! Watching this as a kid you think Bond is done for during this pursuit – but NO! Have some of that baddies – this car can swim!


I’m not a big Roger Moore fan as his legacy was besmirched by some dodgy later films plus they became TOO jokey for my liking. However, in his films he had some great gadgets, humour and henchmen to face. None more so that “Jaws” – the metallic-teethed giant who proved impossible to kill. I loved the moment when the writers gave “Jaws” a romance. It’s very silly but just hilarious.


After the comic-book-sci-fi-over-the-top-ness of Moonraker the franchise was brought back to Earth with a grittier and more realistic treatment in For Your Eyes Only. Despite the 80s hair and dodgy score the Yellow Citroen car chase is executed with much wit and suspense by the impressive stunt-team.


Dalton was a great Bond and this is one of my favourite stories as it feels like a proper thriller rather than a series of set-pieces and chases held together by a flimsy plot. Blonde cellists/assassins, Soviet defections, KGB villains, triple agents and the general air of espionage and boys’ own spy stuff make this one of the best plots in the series in my humble opinion.


Bond was back with a bang AND a new face. Pierce Brosnan was a very charismatic Bond and this is his best film. The makers needed to make their mark and did so with an incredible bungee-jumping stunt, followed by explosive shoot-out with the bad-guys! Damned perfection!! Sorry.


Q and Bond’s scenes were always a treat like a Headmaster showing a schoolboy the ropes. Bond’s insouciance was always a treat and the zinger in this is terrific.


So Bond was back with a real proper actor in Daniel Craig and while he lacked the suave look and cheeky humour of Brosnan he made up for it with steely toughness and physical force. This was ably demonstrated in a brilliant opening scene which popularized the “Parkour” phenomenon of the time.


Vesper Lynd is my favourite female Bond lead. Played brilliantly by the enigmatic Eva Green her character is no pushover and more than matches Bond verbally during their first meeting. Later in the story she steals and breaks his heart adding an emotional depth to their relationship not often witnessed in other Bond adventures.


Stylistically speaking Quantum of Solace is a cracking film filled with tremendous set-pieces. While it lacks a decent story/villain it works pretty well as a kind of sequel to Casino Royale. The Opera scene is stunningly shot and edited; the form bleeding into the action to create pure cinema at its finest.


Javier Bardem really brought a wonderful performance to the Bond table in Skyfall. Initially he plays and flirts with Bond revealing a technological brilliance and homo-erotic slant; THEN he switches to full on monster mode displaying horror at M’s lack of “maternal” instinct when he was captured in the field.



On top of the Netflix and documentary purge I watched quite a few films this month. Thus, here for your consideration, are some little reviews with marks out of eleven!



One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films and a pretty decent espionage thriller set in Germany. Despite an excellent cast and decent atmosphere I didn’t care much for the characters and it fizzled out for me by the end. (Mark: 6 out of 11)


This is a very moving, filmic scrapbook documentary about an absolute musical legend who alas suffered both from mental and physical pain hence why he took his own life. Not sure if it was deliberate but toward the end his Mother and Wife were lit in a very similar way and resembled each other. While it was kind of objective allowing the sounds, videos, photos, recordings, interviews, cuttings and text to tell the story there a subconscious attempt by the director to link these two individuals. I loved the animated stuff which visualized the monologues Cobain recorded during his short life. I highly recommended this to fans of the troubled rock-poet and of course his amazing music. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)


Not the British horror film directed by Christopher Smith ten or so years ago but a found footage film about a videographer who answers an advert to film a diary of weirdo played by the disarmingly dangerous Mark Duplass. I hated this at the start but it grew on me and the subtle horror was very well done and the ending is great. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

ENEMY (2014) – SKY

Doppelganger thriller Enemy is an enigmatic and weird treat full of fantastical images and brooding fear; featuring the ever brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal playing dual roles. His struggling actor and anxious teacher meet by chance and what follows is a mysterious game of cat and mouse. Both startling and unsettling from formidable genre director Denis Villeneuve. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)


This is one of the worst-middle-class-first-world-problems-monstrosities-of-a-film I have ever seen.  I like Simon Pegg but I switched this film off forty-five minutes in. Hector isn’t happy?  No one’s happy, Hector!  Happiness is an illusion, Hector! Do you have your health, Hector? Your girlfriend is Rosamund Pike, Hector?  You have a home and food on the table, Hector? Count your blessings, Hector and piss off!! (Mark: 0 out of 11)


This is a sturdy and compelling British crime drama with a fantastic lead performance from Peter Ferdinando as a bent copper trying, yet failing, to stay ahead of the dangerous games he’s playing. It’s a brutal and nasty film; very reminiscent in style of Nicolas Winding Refn or Alan Clarke and is mostly gripping but slightly overlong. If you like your drama meaty, earthy and realistic then this is a movie for you. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


This was a sumptuous and stylish film with one of my favourite actors Mads Mikkelsen portraying composer Igor Stravinsky.  I have to admit that I found it pretty boring though in terms of the drama and while it looked great I just did not care about the lives of rich and spoilt artists in 1920s France. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)


Amidst the spy genre pastiche, muscular bromance and triple crosses there’s some cinematic gold enjoyment to be had in watching The Man From Uncle. Guy Ritchie is a very reliable genre director and during some of the set-pieces I actually sensed there’s a proper auteur trying to get out.  While I liked Skyfall (2012) and look forward to Spectre (2015) this was reminiscent of the old Bond films from the 1960s as it makes espionage sexy again. Overall, this is an ultra-stylish spy eye candy with a cracking soundtrack. (Mark: 8 out of 11)


Classic formalist documentary from Dziga Vertov is both an extravagant experiment in montage-making plus an intriguing look back at Soviet life post-Revolution. Dismissed as folly at the time of release it is now considered a masterwork, not only as a documentary, but as a film itself. It is humbling and intriguing viewing and makes you realise that the Soviet life is no different to ours as we witness births, marriages, deaths, work, rest and play. It’s a genuine historical and filmic masterpiece. (Mark: 10 out of 11)


This is a surprisingly entertaining addition to the recent raft of teenage-action-hero-in-dystopic-future-world-peril-films.  I enjoyed the existential mystery set up in the premise as our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is thrown into a Lord of The Flies land inhabited only by young men, trapped by a massive maze.  Plot-wise and action it’s very strong, however, the theme of humanity-accepting-one’s-fate-versus-escaping-while-testing-authority gave the story a richness making it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)


M: I5 was a blast! Tom Cruise and the IMF team up to their usual breathtaking pyrotechnics! Good to see Sean Harris get a prominent role as he’s a formidable character actor. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – from M:I3 – is easily the best baddie though.  I just wish the trailers wouldn’t show virtually ALL the stunts especially HOW Tom did the “hang to the plane” thing. I don’t watch these films for the story – it’s the action. Please leave some for the film next time trailer people!  Rebecca Ferguson kicks serious ass and the scene at the Opera is pure Bond and pure cinema of the highest quality.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)


A stylish, yet empty exploitation serial-killer flick which would go straight to video if Blockbusters had any stores left.  Luke Evans is a handsome actor looking for a decent role since finishing Fast and Furious 6 and The Hobbit trilogy but this isn’t it. The film itself is saved by some extravagant violence and bloodletting but as a story it’s hollow like (Mark: 3 out of 11)


If you like films about boxing then you’ll love Southpaw: a brutal and quality action-melodrama with another fine performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.  The story is very simplistic and structured around a riches-to-rags-to-redemption narrative but I found the soap operatics and bombastic direction a real adrenaline-pumped belt to the senses. Gyllenhaal is ripped, torn and lean like a prime piece of beef as life deals him body blow after blow. Can his on-the-ropes boxer bounce and make a come-back? While somewhat predictable I found Antoine Fuqua’s punchy movie a real knockout! (Mark: 8 out of 11)


This is a tremendous biopic of seminal hip-hop legends NWA, who came to the fore of world music in the late 1980s. Performances and direction are excellent as Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Wren – AKA NWA – exploded onto the scene like a bomb and delivered anger, power and beats that propelled them straight out of Compton and into the charts!  They are a perfect example of sociological, political and cultural forces converging to create a superlative brand and the film perfectly captures the age, the music, the look and the camaraderie of being the group. The film illuminates the spirit of the hip-hop scene and the problems the group had with the law while dramatically portraying the bitter in-fighting over royalties which split the band apart. Goes without saying the soundtrack is brilliant too! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)


This starred two of my favourite comedic actors in Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and is a broad parody of romantic comedies with a very high joke-rate. He stars as a corporate confectionary executive and tries to take over her small independent sweet-hearted business and at first they hate each other but then… Yes, they have sex! Pitched somewhere between Naked Gun and Anchorman this is very, very silly but also an absolutely hilarious comedy. Short, sweet, ridiculous and as infectious as diabetes.  Is diabetes infectious – oh, who cares! Just watch the movie! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)



In the month of August I themed my viewing down a couple of varied avenues. Firstly, watch a few more documentaries or non-fiction programmes. Secondly, get even MORE value out of my NETFLIX subscription!

There are some great shows on Netflix and if I had to recommend ONE then it would be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is arguably one of the greatest comedies I have ever seen. Netflix UK is also full to the brim of docs, stand-up, films and drama series to watch. Here are some of the shows I caught up with during August.




Featuring a diverse set of archetypes within a US Community College this is good quality character comedy. Great cast, witty scripts and lots of self-reflexive parodies for film and TV fans to take in. Clearly influenced by The Office I’m pleased it doesn’t have the direct address mockumentary style and while only nine episodes in but I’m really enjoying this sharp comedy.



This is an absolutely brilliant TV show! It’s actually better than many of the Marvel films that have been knocking about recently; certainly some of the superhero sequels. It concerns Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as blind lawyer by day and blind “super-hero” by night fighting to clean up Hell’s Kitchen in New York. It’s early in his crime-fighting career and is a brilliant origins story well written and developed.

It has a gritty noir feeling and style and is terrifically shot in the shadows, bouncing off the feel Nolan’s Dark Knight series established. The action, fighting and most importantly character development of both Murdoch and Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk (played deliciously by Vincent D’Onofrio) is exceptional as we receive a slow bleed and blending of their stories until they meet near the end. You get the standard stereotypes often found in Superhero and Gangster films such as: the perky, plucky female assistant; cheeky, funny sidekick; Chinese, Japanese and Russian mobsters; uncompromising investigative journalist and more but it does it with such style that it transcends its generic components to become compelling viewing. Highly recommended!


The first two seasons of the US drama adapted from classic 80s TV programme were sensational as they used the backdrop of American political chicanery and conspiratorial ambition to propel Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) from Chief Whip to the Presidency itself. Ably abetted by Lady “Robin Wright” Macbeth his plotting of revenge and avaricious pursuit of power was fantastic to watch.

The 3rd season has not reached the dizzy heights of the earlier seasons in my view. That could be because I have been watching it on the “drip” week by week or there is more emphasis on political shenanigans and conflict arising from Underwood’s attempts to get America Works off the ground, plus his ongoing feud with Vladimir Putin. Not the real Putin obviously but the show’s thinly veiled version of him. Still, while I enjoyed the more noir and thriller aspects of the first two seasons this remains high quality drama with great direction, style and fine performances.


I missed this gritty and violent period drama first time round on BBC but was grateful to catch up with it on Netflix. It’s a terrific post 1st World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Charlie Creed Miles and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang who fight and scrap and slice their way from the dirty streets in an attempt to become legitimate bookmakers. Steven Knight, who wrote Eastern Promises (2007) and directed the superb Locke (2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies, the IRA, Communists and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare.



While the theories on the deaths of Biggie and Tupac presented within this documentary may no longer hold up it’s still a fascinating film from unassuming master of the passive aggressive: Nick Broomfield. His persistence in tracking down and interviewing various elements potentially involved in the murder of these hip-hop legends really drew me in. Plus, the final interview with shadowy rap boss/gangster Suge Knight was both chilling and illuminating.


You need a strong stomach to watch this documentary film. During 2004 the filmmaking team shot the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and captured many suicide attempts; some where people succeeded in killing themselves and the occasional one who was saved. It’s a dark and upsetting look at depression and those who it affects plus reveals some of the reasons why people choose the Bridge as their intended final departure point. It’s an elegant film: poignant but a tough watch.

CROPSEY (2009)

What begins as a dig around the history of “the bogeyman” and other mythical baddies soon becomes a feature on Staten Island and the children that went missing from there in the 1970s and ‘80s. The film looks mainly at the prime suspect Andre Rand and whether he was guilty or not of murdering the kids and the media’s response to his case. It’s a bit slow overall without much in the way of revelation. Plus, there’s some dark matter which felt under-examined such as the abuse at the mental institution for kids where Rand worked. Overall though a slow yet thoughtful watch.

DARK DAYS (2000)

Marc Singer’s fascinating documentary from the late 1990s was an incredible look at the people who lived under the subway system of New York City and how they survived. Shot in grainy black and white it captures the hopelessness yet camaraderie amongst the homeless souls. It also demonstrates their desire to survive and build a home despite the grim conditions. The film would become a useful tool to put before City Hall in order to re-house the unfortunates, addicts and lost down there in the recesses of the underground.


Is a human being born evil or turned deadly by life events? The perennial nature versus nurture debate is looked at scientifically and psychologically in this pretty unsensational analysis of rampage killers. Of course there is no hard answers as there are a myriad of varying reasons why people go on killing sprees. While the psychology is murky as depression and bullying can play a part in equal measures, the main reason these individuals murder is because they have guns. Take away the access to weapons and you may at least prevent some of the senseless murders which occur Stateside.



This was probably the best documentary I saw; mainly because I love films about filmmaking and I also love films about filmmaking which go spectacularly wrong. It charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer, hedonistic extras and tropical storms to the mix and you get a box office turkey blowing up in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.

TABLOID (2010)

Top documentary filmmaker Errol Morris points his camera at Southern Belle and crackpot Joyce McKinney and her various run-ins with the press over the years. Aside from cloning her dog in Korea in the noughties, McKinney was infamous for the “Manacled Mormon” story which delighted the lurid British red-tops in the ‘70s. McKinney is a lively interviewee as she recounts the tale of how she “rescued” the love of her life from the Mormon cult and attempted to turn him back in love with her through sexual programming. Yeah, chaining a bloke to a bed and screwing him will make him turn his back on God. Well, so SHE thought. McKinney did all that she did for love and cannot be faulted for that but came off as a delusional woman who just has to be heard to be believed.


Dry run through of the Video Games industry from its humble beginnings to the multi-billionaire cultural behemoth it’s become today. I love video-games but this was pretty boring and although there was certainly some nostalgia to be had from looking back to my youth I wanted more controversy and dirt rather than the bland run-through of the history and uninteresting “talking heads” we got here.


Some great comedians from the now and yesteryear discuss the nature of Jewish comedy and whether it is an actual “thing” and whether it still exists today. I enjoyed watching the old clips of greats such as Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield and many of the contributors are funny too. However, the filmmaker himself seemed to be working through some angst and guilt which at times detracted from the loose but amusing documentary nonetheless.



I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat.  I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television.  I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as:  Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.


The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.

Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as:  Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.


While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut.  Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.

Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV.  Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.


Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set.  Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation.  Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me.   Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.

While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen.  But is it better than the cinema?  Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS!  Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.


The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.”  Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).
And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot.  Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema.  It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!


Writer. Filmmaker. Semi-Pro Comedian. Wageslave


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