CALVARY (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

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CALVARY (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**Contains clips and spoilers**
There are many, many different kinds of films and filmmakers who come from innumerable backgrounds, places and cultures. They have also had a variety of paths to making films such as: film school, television, scriptwriting, novels, plays, stand-up or sketch comedy, being rich or even working in a video-shop. Certain filmmakers have a distinctive visual and thematic style and if using the historical parlance one may call them auteurs. Such a list may include: Hitchcock, Scorcese, Godard, Coppola, DePalma, Spielberg, Kurosawa, Hawks, Lee, Campion, Cronenberg, Kubrik, Coen Brothers, Lean, Lynch, Almodovar, Allen, McQueen, Ramsay, Polanski, Ray, Chaplin, Wilder, and Michael Bay. That last one is a joke by the way.

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These greats would make some of the greatest films of our times – some formalistic and artistic masterpieces others emotional and heartrending character pieces and others comedic. They’ve also made great films which maybe I didn’t enjoy first time round or didn’t understand but later come to love or appreciate. Of course, you’re asking yourself: what has this got to do with John Michael McDonagh’s dramatic film CALVARY (2014) – I’m not sure to be honest. What I would say is that this film has received much critical acclaim according to the posters I saw and I’m sure reviews will be very good, but, on first watch I didn’t enjoy it that much. It’s billed as dark comedic drama but I didn’t find it funny enough or dramatic enough and while it was a great opening the plot wasn’t enough to sustain a feature film.

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Calvary – named after a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls where Jesus was crucified – opens brilliantly when Father James Lavelle (acting behemoth Brendan Gleeson’s) is taking confession. He is then threatened by an unknown parishioner and informed he is going to be murdered in just over a week’s time. This sets in motion a potentially interesting “whodunnit” plot with which to structure the story and introduce an ever-increasing set of quirky and troubled rural characters. Gleeson’s Priest is not externally bothered by the threat and even admits to his superior he may know who it is. Thus, any suspense is rendered redundant throughout really.


Over the next week with Judgment Day approaching Father Lavelle comes into contact with a brilliant ensemble cast including: Dylan Moran (Black Books), Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones), M. Emmet Walsh (Bladerunner, Blood Simple), Chris O’Dowd (IT Crowd, Crimson and the Petal, Bridesmaids), Domnhall Gleeson (Harry Potter, Judge Dredd), Isaach De Bankole (Casino Royale) and the always memorable Pat Shortt (Garage) etc. Each character could potentially be a suspect but there’s no real narrative urgency as, while very well performed, the ‘suspects’ don’t really do very much dramatically. Don’t get me wrong there are some wonderful one-liners in the script and Aiden Gillen’s cynical Doctor impressed me. But even his character was aware of his own redundancy in the piece during a verbally erudite and metatextual joust with Father Lavelle. Throw into the mix Kelly Reilly – as Lavelle’s suicidal daughter – and you get another character on the edge of a nervous breakdown that you don’t really care about.


I really enjoyed John Michael McDonagh’s first film THE GUARD (2011), also starring Gleeson with Don Cheadle and another motley crew of quirky characters. But that had more heart and humour than Calvary which almost collapses under the weight of its’ own pretensions. Perhaps, because I’m not Catholic or Irish I did not get many of the cultural and religious references. However, I certainly got the themes of guilt, death, revenge, existential detachment and I also understood the severity of the historical crimes perpetrated by Catholic Priests against children and Irish citizens. Indeed, the film quite rightly deals with this sensitively giving a voice to the victims of these heinous crimes.  Even the ending — which is superbly staged — left me slightly confused and desiring more of a surprise or narrative reversal.

Ultimately, this was a superbly written and acted piece rather than a fully-fledged satisfactory storytelling experience. The quality of the writer’s ideas, dialogue and themes outweighed the humour, drama and suspense. Good use is made of a terrific cast and beautiful Irish coastal landscapes but overall I felt detached from the characters due to the over-authorial nature of the film. I felt like I was watching a film rather than a proper story and could hear the writer speaking rather than the characters. But, I have been wrong about other great films and filmmakers in the past and have come to appreciate them more on second or third viewings. Calvary could just be one of those films.

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TEN THINGS I QUITE LIKED ABOUT YOU – SWANSEA, WALES

TEN THINGS I DIDN'T MIND ABOUT YOU - SWANSEA

In 2005 me and my ex-partner separated and I moved back to live in London.  She continued to live in Ascot, Berkshire with my son, Rhys.  However, three-and-a-half years ago she decided — for some random reason unknown to me — to move my son and herself to Swansea in Wales.  This created much tension and resentment on my part which festered and cause some disagreement and from time-to-time verbal jousts. However, after over 3 years of travelling up and down the M4 to see my son she finally — with my help — moved back to Ascot.

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My son is a funny and intelligent boy of 13 and as we moved all their stuff we had a quite deep existential conversation about his Swansea adventure. Demonstrating an Albert Camusesque approach to the last few years the boy stated that the whole “move to Swansea had been a bit pointless?”  I considered this for a moment and weighed up whether it had been worth:

1)   Hours driving up and down the M4 motorway getting stuck in all manor of traffic jams.

2)  Almost dying when skidding from one lane to the next in the torrential rain.

3)  Witnessing accidents and aftermath of accidents on the M4 as well as a whole host of road-killed dead animals.

4) Having to pay the extortionate and forever rising cost of crossing the Severn Bridge to get into Wales.

5) Paying the pricks in Government a fortune in tax on petrol! And a bit on petrol too.

6) Paying to stay in many, many, Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts.

Internally, the Hulk-like rage was building up inside me as I prepared to let go a volley of anger in having to experience all this but then I decided it had been worth it.  He’s my son and he is worth every penny and I would have gone EVERY weekend if money had allowed. In fact, if I thought they would not come back I would have moved there to be with him.  Probably.

So I told my son that it WAS worth it because it had been a positive experience and there are worse places in the world than Swansea. For anyone interested in going there here are some of the sites and delights I experienced which made it all worthwhile.

1.  THE GOWER PENINSULA

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If you love beaches (not the film) and walks and nature then this is the place for you.  As Keats may say: “a thing of beauty is a joy forever!”

2. DINOSAUR PARK and SHOWCAVES

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This place was fantastic with beautiful scenery and wonderful majestic caves which made one feel very humble. The dinosaurs ain’t bad either.

http://www.showcaves.co.uk/

 

3. FOOD

Definitely check out these places if you want okay food. The Uplands Diner – Home of the Megabeast – is a great café!

http://www.uplandsdiner.co.uk/

UPLANDS_DINER

Cosmo is very reasonably priced all-you-can-scoff buffet place.

http://www.cosmo-restaurants.co.uk/

The Madras Takeaway in Sketty was VERY good Indian food –

http://madras-indian-takeaway.co.uk/

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Plus there’s loads of pubs and clubs in the town which I’m sure are good for getting wasted and picking up cheap men or women. I just didn’t go out at the weekends as I was too knackered from the drive! NOT THAT I’M BITTER OR ANYTHING!

4. ACCOMMODATION

I stayed in loads and loads of hotels and B & B’s while I visiting Swansea but the best one was definitely in Uplands and that was The Alexander.  The people who run it are so polite and friendly without being intrusive.  I enjoyed my stay there each time and the breakfast was great plus it was cheap but not nasty.

http://www.alexander-hotel.co.uk/

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5 – OAKWOOD THEME PARK 

Technically not in Swansea but in Tenby this is Wales equivalent to Alton Towers. It’s no patch on the Midlands Monster Park and a bit rough around the edges. However, it has some great rides especially the SPEED rollercoaster. Very frightening!

http://www.oakwoodthemepark.co.uk/

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6. HORSE-RIDING – PARC-LE-BREOS- ON THE GOWER

This was a fantastic day out and pretty reasonably priced as well. If you like horse-riding and like beaches then why not go horse-riding on the beach. The views were outstanding.

http://www.parc-le-breos.co.uk/horse-riding-in-gower-south-wales/

 

SWANSEA_HORSE

 

7. BATTLEFIELD LIVE – LASER-COMBAT

The boy didn’t like horse-riding that much as it was “boring” but he loved this action-game-similar-to-paintball-but-much-much better as you get 10 lives per game and don’t get covered in paint.

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Unfortunately this young lady isn’t there but it’s still great fun running around pretending you’re Rambo and shooting people with toy laser guns!

 

8. FOLLY FARM

This is the cutest place in the whole of Swansea with a whole Noah’s Ark of domestic, farm and exotic animals. It also has playgrounds and fun for all the family; even a cynical, grumpy bugger like me.

http://www.folly-farm.co.uk/

SWANSEA_FOLLYFARM

9.  SKIDZ GO-KARTING

Me and Rhys had a great time doing this and on a Sunday morning we’d have the track to ourselves. I was brilliant at the karting and the kid regularly ate the dust; and I beat him in the race too.

http://www.skidzkarting.co.uk/

 SWANSEA_GOKART

 
10. SINGLETON PARK, CLYNE GARDENS  & OTHER PARKS

I do a lot of running and walking and Singleton Park and other parks in Swansea are absolutely beautiful in the Spring and Summer. Swansea overall is a very natural and wonderfully fresh place. Especially when compared to the gut-wrenching-lung-busting-pollution of London.

SWANSEA_SINGLETON

 

CONCLUSION

 That’s the end of the list.  The boy hates sport so I didn’t get to go to the Liberty Stadium to watch rugby or football. We went to the cinema a lot too.  But basically these are all places I have visited and things I would not have done if my son hadn’t moved to Swansea so overall I would say it wasn’t pointless at all.  Just a lot of hard work driving back and forth. But he’s family so you have to do the right thing by your family.

Having said all that the greatest thing I ever saw on my trips to Wales was this:

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Welcome to England!  Because as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home, Toto. There’s no place like home.” Welcome back son!

 

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**Contains clips and spoilers**

Literary and filmic characters are aspirational figures; icons to live one’s life vicariously through in order to escape the often mundane drudge of everyday existence. Essentially, I mostly go to the cinema to witness characters doing incredible things which I either cannot do or will never get the opportunity to do.  Some characters I aspire to be more like than others. I’m not a fan of Wolverine or neither am I mad about Superman but can understand why people are.  I like Batman and I loved the Avengers film and perhaps surprisingly my favourite character — along with the Hulk and Iron Man — is good old Captain America AKA – Steve Rogers.  The reason I like him is thus:

1) He doesn’t like bullies.

2) His character never knew when he was beaten.

3) He’s very by the book and organised and likes order. I imagine he would be very good at managing an office.

4) Having said that he will break the rules if the need arises and question authority if the authority needs to be questioned.

5) His shield is made from Vibranium – a seemingly made-up element which sounds really really cool.

6) He’s an anachronism and character tension comes from not fitting into the present.  As I get older I feel the same.

7) Anyone who beats the crap out of movie Nazis is fine by me!

8) Chris Evans is a decent actor as he demonstrated in films like:
Puncture, The Iceman and Captain America: The First Avenger.

9) Captain America’s origins are of working class stock. A little guy come good. He’s not a god or scientist or billionaire or spy. He’s a believable figure to aspire to.

10) He’s living proof drug experimentation can work.

So, divorcing my mind from the overly jingoistic American theme of the costume and political associations with US foreign policy I really looked forward to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I loved Iron Man, The Avengers, and Thor and compared to some opinions I read I thought the first Captain America worked well as an origins film. Iron Man 2 and Thor 2 were lacking a bit while Iron Man 3 had some great moments and a witty script. Moreover, Avengers Assemble was an amazing bit of entertainment and Joss Whedon did a great job bringing the team together. Likewise, Captain America: TWS delivers in a way The Avengers did. Although it’s a darker, grounded and more complex film as the screenplay transplants the story of conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) into the Marvel Universe. Also, the CGI is played in a somewhat lower key as the action sequences have a raw, immediate feel to them with proper stunts and hand-to-hand combat rather than feeling green-screened to hell. It felt like the production team had been watching Michael Mann’s Heat and the Bourne trilogy for homework.  And boy did that work!

After a prologue where we meet Steve Roger’s soon-to-be-ally Falcon (Anthony Mackie) the Captain is thrown into a mission to rescue a hijacked SHIELD ship in foreign waters. So far-so-Bond but what happens after gets pretty complicated as we’re thrown into a plot involving dirty cops and agents as SHIELD’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked in one of many great set-piece action chases within the movie. The filmmakers don’t rest there though as Captain America himself becomes under suspicion and goes on the run from SHIELD with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) helping him on the road. They got the script pretty decent too when compared to the awful Man of Steel.  Definitely worth the price of a cinema ticket and then some.

The classic Hollywood movie model is to standardize and differentiate production and Marvel comic-book films follow the same formula. We know what we’re going to get as standards: one-liners, action, chases, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, big noises and crashes interspersed with some quieter moments where exposition and some character is revealed before the next big on-screen bang. Having said that Captain America: Winter Soldier differentiates itself in terms of characterisation, action and plot twists and it is also pretty strong thematically.  It links well the past and present; soldiers attempting to come to terms with post-war issues; Roger’s regret over historical events and a touching Benjamin Buttonesque scene with a character from the first movie. Moreover, there’s also some neat socio-political commentary in their too with references to shadowy NSA operations and Government kill lists.  Of course none of this gets in the way of the rip-roaring action.

The action is unrelenting and explosive as he is aided by the gorgeous but deadly Black Widow and war veteran the Falcon.  You can see the twists coming (even from the trailer to be honest) and you can’t escape some silly dialogue.  Robert Redford adds some class and I really look forward to more in the franchise. You’re going to get a few workmanlike efforts like Iron Man 2 and Thor 2 but this was a blinder. Chris Evans carries the role off perfectly too offering enough grit, humour, muscle and film-star good looks to carry the film brilliantly. And after her amazing performance in weird but wonderful Under The Skin it was good to see Scarlett Johansson kicking butt again. The chemistry between Evans and Johansson adds a fun dimension to the action too.

This isn’t just a great comic-book film it is also a very, very well-crafted big-budget slice of cinema.  Directed with verve by the creative duo of the Russo Brothers and the massive production team, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America finds himself post-Avengers pitted against an impressive foe in the Winter Soldier and a legion of other enemies – some very close to home. Of course it wouldn’t be a Marvel film if they didn’t make you wait until the end to see what’s coming next and all I can say is if quality shown in Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Assemble are anything to go by then Age of Ultron promises to something very special entertainment wise indeed.

 

FIX FILMS: AN INTRODUCTION TO GENIUS

FIX FILMS: AN INTRODUCTION TO GENIUS

Hell Is...POSTER SMALL

Click link to check out their work:  http://www.fixfilms.com

Aside from being a humble clock-puncher by day and semi-amateur comedian and film blogger by night, since 2005, I have been involved in the making of a series of amazing short films that should by rights have seen me rise to top of the Hollywood food chain. But since I left my job at Blockbuster at the end of the 1990s I have found employment in the movie industry hard to come by. Still, I hang onto the hope that success eluded many geniuses in their lifetime notably Van Gogh, John Kennedy Toole, Vermeer, Kafka, Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville. To ensure my legacy is assured I am revisiting all the short films I have been involved in order to bring them to the attention to a whole new audience of unfortunates who may have missed them first time round.  In order of production:

GETTING BACK MR HUNT (2005)

Revenge is a dish best served hot!

This is Fix Films Ltd first short film and was entered in some Channel Four competition but got nowhere.  It’s a simple story of one man’s revenge on the boss who done him wrong; a situation I imagine a lot of wageslaves wish they could enact. It’s really about the naivete of ambition versus the real world of office drudge.


A FAR CRY (2006)

War is a far cry from home!

This is Fix Films biggest budget movie to date and their 2nd short film.  It’s a heart wrenching WWII drama featuring a soldiers’ attempt to escape from behind enemy lines with an orphaned baby. It’s an ambitious short done on a low budget with a stunning ending. It  was screened at some pretty big festivals; well, Sutton film festival.


THE TWO MINUTE SILENCE (2007)

Penny for Your Thoughts

This is Fix Films 3rd short film and was successfully received at several short film festivals throughout the country. It’s an incredible ensemble comedy centring on the thoughts and desires of a set of office workers during a two minute silence.  While they should be respecting the silence and the lives lost the characters find their minds wandering to more selfish contemplation. Essentially, it points out the inherent self-centredness of human beings in an amusing and compelling way.


ELEPHANT TRUNK (2008)

The night before the morning after. . .

This is Fix Film’s 5th short film written by Paul Laight and directed by Gary O’Brien.  Produced by Robert Ward and Paul Laight. It stars Tom Frederic, Lucia Giannechini and Chris Crocker. Matt suffers the hangover of a lifetime following a night of drunken celebration. Only a chance meeting with the beautiful SOPHIE offers a ray of light, on an otherwise dark, dark night. A hilarious contemporary black comedy – this is probably our most entertaining film with laughs and humorous twists similar to After Hours (1986) in structure and style.


JACK & DANNY (2008)

Two Cops: One Dilemma

Comedy featuring two cops on a stakeout. Young DANNY’S head is all over the shop about his upcoming marriage. Reluctantly, he seeks advice from his partner, the older world-weary, JACK. Jack and Danny was inspired by an email which did the rounds at the office I was working at and concerned the story of a man’s possible infidelity.  We shot it in one day and what it lacks in budget it makes up in great writing, characterisation and performances with fine chemistry between the two leads.

 

THE CHESS GAME (2012)

Not all of us are destined to be Kings.

Lonely Russian, Viktor Korovin, wiles away his retirement playing chess and drinking at his local village pub. When a stranger offers to play chess for money it sets in motion a game of cat and mouse; forcing Viktor’s bloody past to confront a deadly future.

Fix Films 6th short film is an ambitious thriller focussing on themes of guilt, revenge and war.  It starts simply with the offer of a ‘friendly’ chess match culminating in a deadly endgame.  It’s the first Fix Films short to be shot on HD and like many of mine and Gary’s films it is brilliantly cast with Bill Thomas excelling in the role of Viktor. Phil Delancy, Tyrone Atkins, Andy Davies, Gary Colman, Bobby Freeman also provide sterling support in another low budget gem.

 

HELL IS… (2014)

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

Influenced by Kubrik and Polanski it concerns a career criminal who while on the run must contend with the “neighbours from hell!”   Holed up in a ‘safe-house’ a career criminal’s sanity is questioned and tested by the behaviour of the couple upstairs. Unable to act he begins to unravel mentally culminating in violence. It’s really about urban existence and proximity to other humans who have no awareness of how their actions may impact on others.

This is arguably Paul and Gary’s most mature work cinematically speaking. Critics are already describing Fix Films’ latest short epic as “Kubrikesque” and “an incredible vision of hell!”  Well, they would if they’d seen it.

 

Fix Films are the dynamic duo of Paul Laight and Gary O’Brien. They don’t do cat videos – they do brilliant stories with proper characters.  It’s not about the quantity but quality.  Check it out http://www.fixfilms.com.

They are currently working on new short film and feature projects plus a comedy sketch show.