SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEWS BY PAUL LAIGHT – APRIL 2015
Bit late with the old film reviews for April because I have actually been writing my own short film screenplays in the last few weeks.
I set myself a target of writing TWELVE original first draft short films in 2015 (one a month basically). I have completed TWO thus far. I’m confident I will hit the target.
Still managing to watch a high-rate of movies via Cinema, Netflix, Amazon, Blu-Ray etc. so here are my reviews for April 2015. A pretty golden month for diverse and quality motion pictures; plus some right pony too.
**Now featuring a new marking system — in tribute to This is Spinal Tap — which goes up to ELEVEN**
**BEWARE OF MASSIVE SPOILERS**
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014) – SKY MOVIES
Comedy Western written, directed and starring Seth Mcfarlane started well with a plethora of great gags but once the story gets into gear Seth Mcfarlane the writer fails the director big time. Plus, Seth Mcfarlane the actor just fails. He is NOT a leading man and some quick-fire laughs at the start give way to a one-joke film which lasts 45 minutes too long. The film makes Carry on Cowboy (1965) seem like Shakespeare and while watching I was thinking of a million ways to kill myself. (Mark – 3/11)
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) – CINEMA
After remaking The Seven Samurai (1954) with Avengers Assemble (2012) Joss Whedon was back at the helm of the good ship Marvel remaking Frankenstein and delivering a bloody good sequel in the process. Indeed, despite sounding like a powerful washing powder Age of Ultron was way better than I expected. I love Marvel movies but was anticipating the moment when the formula just dies and thought this may be it. It wasn’t.
Amidst the green screen superhero carnage there is actually a story which involves the Avengers team battling Tony Stark’s sentient creation called Ultron which he knocked up by mistake thinking it would be good for mankind. The idiot! Throw into the mix Hydra-children Quiksilver and Scarlet Witch who want revenge on Stark plus spandex buddies Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk and the rest of the team and you get a pretty impressive slap-bang-train-crashing-robot-killing-country-unearthing-war-machining-mind-bending-vision-melding-hulk-smashing popcorn muncher.
Highlights for me were: the action of course; James Spader’s evil Ultron; Captain America as usual; Mark Ruffalo/Bruce Banner doing existential pain-like-a-modern day Lawrence “Wolfman” Talbot; some great Whedon one-liners; blink-and-miss cameo from Andy Serkis; plus Scar-Jo’s Nikitaesque backstory raised the blood pressure a tad. While Age of Ultron is thematically weak and the narrative feels transitory on occasions there is SO much happening it doesn’t matter. Overall, it’s a fun-packed-fizzing-firework of a film which stopped me thinking about death for two hours; so that was good. (Mark: 8/11)
BOYHOOD (2014) – BLU RAY
The most expensive home movie of all time is an American modern-day masterpiece in slice-of-life storytelling. Not a lot occurs but it does so with so much heart as we follow Mason Evans (aged 6) and his family life from 2002 to the present day. Much has been made of the fact Richard Linklater shot the film over a decade using both Ellar Coltrane and his daughter Lorelei throughout the film and this organic approach to filmmaking is to be applauded. More importantly I just fell in love with these ordinary characters as we experience vignettes from their lives over a number of years. Brilliant character actors Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke shine too as their respective parents juggle the slings and arrows that life throws at them all. While the pace is glacial and the structure elliptical Boyhood is a fine document to family life that touched my heart and mind throughout. (Mark: 9/11)
FAST AND FURIOUS 7 (2015) – CINEMA
Another snap, crack and popping addition to a film franchise which has gathered popularity at a breakneck speed over the last decade or more. Fast 7 picks up after Fast 6 directly with meaty brute Jason Statham coming for Toretto and the team for pretty much marmalizing his brother (Luke Evans) to death in the previous chapter. Having gone head-on with Duwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and incapacitated him Statham then goes after the gang, who meanwhile, are charged with the task of tracking down some generic macguffin called the “God’s Eye”. I didn’t really care about the plot as it’s mainly an excuse to join the dots between some stunning right-royal-rumbling car chases, shoot-outs, motor-parachuting and the vehicular carnage we’ve all come to expect from this series.
Better than Fast 6 (though not the superlative Fast 5) the film is deftly helmed by expert genre filmmaker James Wan and the action is beefed up by character actors like Kurt Russell and Djimon Hounsou. Statham steals the show as the rogue mercenary and Vin Diesel does his usual John-Wayne-act: mean-and-moody with a heart of gold. The Rock is criminally underused (no doubt because he was shooting Hercules at the same time) but he does impress during the heart-pounding final set-piece. I drank a big coffee before I watched this and as my mind was blazing on caffeine so was the screen. Great escapist cinema which pays a fine, if soppy, tribute to the deceased Paul Walker in the final reel. (Mark: 9/11)
FORCE MAJEURE (2014) – CINEMA
This is one of those excellent foreign films which I hated. I can see why critics and audiences may enjoy the character-driven drama of a family split apart by the father’s less-than-heroic actions during that of an avalanche but overall the film left me cold as an Eskimo’s nostril. Technically, it is beautifully shot, performed, directed and there is some merit in the idea of a family holiday gone wrong, however, I just found the characters too irritating and in the end I was bored. I like many, many films with complex and dislikeable characters but not this one. Personally despising ski holidays probably didn’t help either and I wish the characters had been killed in the avalanche to save on all the middle-class matrimonial moaning and Scandinavian soul-searching that ensued. Great film, in some eyes no doubt, but not my cup of frozen piss. (Mark: 5/11)
HORNS (2013) – BLU RAY
Daniel Radcliffe stars as a young man who wakes up one day with the horn; no sorry that’s HORNS! Plus a dead girlfriend and HE’S the prime suspect in her murder. That is SOME hangover! Basically, the small town where he lives thinks he’s the Devil incarnate so this collective emotion manifests itself physically and spiritually as the former Harry Potter starts being able to control and bring the most dark and fantastical behaviour out of the townsfolk. I think these comedic scenes are the best bits of the film as he learns to control this ability and use it to his own means. It’s a decent enough horror-drama-romance-comedy-detective-noir story which has some fine moments but at times the genre-melding jars the tone. Structurally it’s a bit all over the shop too flitting from long ago to now to not so long ago in a Noiresque fashion. Overall, a pretty fun film to watch on the smaller screen but a bit of pruning for pace would have been handy. (Mark: 6/11)
INBETWEENERS 1 & 2 (2011/2014) – 4OD/SKY MOVIES
I used to think The Inbetweeners was a rude, smutty, uncultured, lowest-common-denominator comedy of the basest level and after watching the three seasons of the TV show on catch-up plus two films back-to-back I still think that. However, I have to admit: it is fucking hilarious! It concerns the tribulations of Will (the nerd), Simon (the neurotic), Jay (the liar) and Neil (the idiot) and their main trials are losing their virginities, trying to buy alcohol, avoiding bullies and trying not make fools of themselves. Laughs come thick and fast from them failing to achieve any of these things; often in the most humiliating of ways!
The movies cranked up the puerile gags in Greece and Australia respectively and I laughed my arse off at the many disgusting events in both films. Having said that this isn’t just filth for filth’s sake as the character interaction and quick-witted scripts by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris have some heart notably when Jay pursues the girl he loves all the way to the Aussie outback. Ultimately, though this search ends with Simon drinking Neil’s piss. Recommended for those who enjoy romantic/sexual failures, toilet humour, broad stereotypes and a streak of unsophisticated adolescent rites-of-passage stuff thrown in. (Mark: 7/11)
JOHN WICK (2014) – CINEMA
If Keanu Reeves had been born in the silent movie era I think he would’ve been an even bigger hit because as long as he doesn’t have much dialogue he is a genuine bona fide movie star. As John Wick he absolutely blows the back doors off as a “retired” assassin who rampages after the gangsters who killed his dog.
The script doesn’t insult us with any semblance of a plot and THAT’S a plus. It’s pure kinesis with Reeves racing from bullet-infested set-piece to set-piece carving up the criminal Underworld like a modern-day (M)Orpheus (see what I did there?) Of course, the stakes are ramped up throughout as Wick must face all manner of super-assassins once there’s a contract out on him. This is a dark-lean-comic-book-Hong-Kong-shoot-em-up-style movie shot on speed and edited on meth and a hugely satisfying cinema experience .(Mark: 8/11)
NEED FOR SPEED (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
I loved Aaron Paul as the desperate meth “protégée” of Walter White in Breaking Bad. His enunciation of “bitch this” and “bitch that” was often the highlight of the show as he was pulled this way and that by WW’s descent into power-crazed drug-dealing hell. I think we appreciated Jesse Pinkman was so out of his depth in that world and Aaron Paul brought a humour and humanity to the role despite being the wrong side of the law.
However, in the videogame adaptation Need For Speed he fails as a cool-as-ice-hard-assed-driver-extraordinaire in a role Steve McQueen would have sped through in his heyday. Plus, and I’m sorry to say, but Aaron is TOO short to impose himself on this Fast and Furious meets Vanishing Point mash-up. The supporting cast are very attractive although Brit actress Imogen Poots is irritating as fuck in the female sidekick role and the film is WAY too long. Overall, great cars, amazing driving, sweet stunts: shame about everything else! (Mark: 3/11)
OCULUS (2013) – BLU RAY
Karen Gillan from Doctor Who basically goes a bit mental in this effective low-budget horror film in which she battles a — wait for it — ghost-mirror that holds the secret to the parents’ death. Fun is to be had from the monstrous spirits and jumps as she ropes in her recently-released-from-the-nuthouse brother who just wants to move on. Not for everyone I guess but I enjoyed it as it made the most of the one main location plus it’s nicely directed and edited by newish filmmaker Mike Flanagan clearly working on a shoestring. (Mark: 6/11)
SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2009) – DVD – REPEAT WATCH
I’ve seen this Argentinian classic romance-noir-detective-political thriller many times now and it is one of the best genre films ever made. It has everything you could hope for in a story which concerns itself with a Government Prosecutor Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) and his decades-long search for the brutal murderer of a young woman. Stunning characterisation supports a maze-like plot with many twists and turns throughout in a wonderful screenplay.
The most compelling vein throbbing element within the story is the “will-they-won’t-they” romance between Esposito and the classically beautiful Soledad Villamil playing the Judge who has captured his heart. The film also finds time to make political comments on the “Dirty War” which occurred in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s and has one of the most memorable long-takes in cinema history. A breathtaking masterpiece of the thriller genre. (Mark: 11/11)
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS – (2014) – SKY MOVIES
A one-joke mockumentary which tries to do for vampires what Spinal Tap did for Heavy Metal. Maybe I should have had a few drinks but I found it quite boring like an overlong sketch which while brilliantly conceived sagged in the middle. It follows four batty (sorry) housemates Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr as they go about their nocturnal activities in Wellington, New Zealand. I was especially impressed with the contrast between the old-Nosferatu-style vampyr Petyr struggling with the new world plus Jemaine Clements is always a funny presence in any film.
The film has garnered great reviews from critics and is destined for cult movie status and the first half of the film had me chuckling heartily. But I felt it ran out of narrative steam in the second half as the gag rate dipped. Also, the dark, handheld and grainy style too felt one-note and despite some witty one-liners in the script the loose improvisatory form felt aimless. Bloody brilliant concept that may have suited a half-hour sitcom length but not a feature film. (Mark: 6/11)
WILD TALES (2015) – CINEMA
Last but definitely NOT least is my film of the month (excluding Secret in Their Eyes)! Wild Tales is another soon-to-be-considered Argentinian film classic as it delivers a dark sarcasm and hilarity via six separate stories concerning themes of: revenge, political corruption, class division and bloody violence!
I loved the ye olde portmanteau films usually produced by the likes of Hammer in the past and this is a very modern take on the like as the screenwriter and director Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories. It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding. Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of.