SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2015 – REVIEW ROUND-UP BY PAUL LAIGHT
A quieter month compared to October but I still watched some decent television and filmic entertainment in the month of November. For your information the current seasons of Doctor Who and South Park are providing cracking entertainment so do check them out too. I will offer a full season review to each show when they have finished. As usual my marks are – in tribute to Spinal Tap – out of eleven!
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
ASSASSIN (2014) – NOW TV
This is a pretty standard crime thriller with Danny Dyer as a contract killer who goes up against a gangsters Martin and Gary Kemp. I quite like Dyer’s cocky style but he plays deep and brooding here which doesn’t suit him. So while he carries the plot pretty well — and there’s some great shots of London — I wanted a bit more wide-boy attitude and humour throughout. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)
BETTER CALL SAUL (2015) – NETFLIX
I finally caught up with Breaking Bad spin-off and really enjoyed it. I don’t usually like prequels as the drama is generally undercut by knowledge of what has gone before but Jimmy McGill’s story (and Mike’s) was funny, dramatic and actually quite touching. It’s a really compelling plot that takes some unexpected twists throughout and contains some damn fine acting. More episodes please as the writing and Bob Odenkirk are just great; highly recommended. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BIG EYES (2014) – NOW TV
Tim Burton’s film is a biopic of artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and con-artist husband Walter Keane who infamously fought a court case over ownership of her paintings in the 1960s. It’s wonderfully acted by the two leads and once again Waltz is on fine mischievous form as the brilliant salesmen who duped his wife and a nation. Burton harnesses his usual excessive style for once and this benefits the drama. Overall, it’s a fine character study of an oppressed artist finally finding her voice in an aggressive and masculine world. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BLACK MASS (2015) – CINEMA
With this performance you realise Johnny Depp has been wasting his acting talent poncing about as a pirate in the Caribbean for far too long. He portrays master criminal Whitey Bulger during 70s and 80s Boston as his gang snake their way up the crime ladder to gangster notoriety. This is a really good film: gritty, bloody, compelling, oozing darkness where humanity is concerned. Depp is almost unrecognizable as the brutal Bulger while Joel Edgerton is excellent as the compromised FBI Agent. Slow, brooding pace sparked by firework violence, plus a supporting cast including Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch make this a superior genre film. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
DOCTOR WHO: SEEDS OF DOOM (1976) – DVD
The mercurial Tom Baker and steady Sarah-Jane find themselves in the Antarctic investigating two mysterious alien pods. Lo and behold the pods explode and cause a massive plant monster to sprout and take over the grounds of a stately home owned by millionaire megalomaniac Harrison Chase. I loved this fun, sci-fi romp which was clearly influenced by The Thing from another World (1951) and The Quatermass Experiment (1953). Baker, as always, is wonderfully wry and booming as the Doctor and even Boycie (John Challis) pops up in a supporting role. Great stuff!
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
EX-MACHINA (2014) – NOW TV
A sci-fi A.I. chamber piece set, pretty much, in one location with an excellent cast including Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and the magnetic Alicia Vikander. It’s a glacial-paced thriller which has some fantastic ideas from writer/director Alex Garland, although it’s essentially a hipster love triangle story with robots. I enjoyed it but the slow pace worked against the suspense and the twist-that’s-not-a-twist is unexpectedly expected. Black Mirror has kind of done this story better, but it’s a decent science fiction experience nonetheless. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
GYPSY (2015) – SAVOY THEATRE
I’m cheating here a little as Screenwash becomes STAGEWASH!! But I really wanted to sneak in a little review of a BIG production and performance. In this classic Broadway musical Imelda Staunton as Mama Rose gave one of the greatest performances I have ever seen on a theatre or comedy stage. It’s a depression set story of rags to riches featuring the ever-so-pushy mother whose daughter eventually hits the big time as burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Staunton owned the theatre as her and the cast ripped through some classic songs including: Everything’s Coming up Roses and You Gotta Get a Gimmick. During the heart-storming finale Staunton wrings every note of emotion from the song: Rose’s Turn. I don’t know much about musicals but I know when something’s great; and this was it! (Mark: 10 out of 11)
HUNGER GAMES – MOCKINGJAY PART 2 (2015) – CINEMA
I was disappointed with the final Hunger Games stories (Part 1 and 2) which reduced a fine arc of human revolution to soppy, plodding closure; as well recuperating the positive leading protagonist to a clichéd and reductive vision of femininity. The excellent Jennifer Lawrence finally brings Katniss Everdene’s story home in a finale which had some horrible monsters in the middle but gets bogged down with love-triangle nonsense and laboured manipulative-media-evil-government-geo-politics. The movies’ pace really let it down and splitting the film in two just took liberties. More action and less talking would’ve served a better end to Katniss’ heroic journey. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
LET US PREY (2015) – NOW TV
A nifty little horror film with Liam Cunningham playing a devilish character called SIX who wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting Scottish police station. Faust meets Assault on Precinct 13 in a bloody tale of vengeful murder and gut-wrenching death. All the characters have their demons in a bloody and fiery hellish movie which has some great gore and evil premise at its heart. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE LOBSTER (2015) – CINEMA
If you like dark comedies about strange love, fascism and violence then you must see The Lobster. It’s weird, wonderful and very funny as Colin Farrell plays a single man – in the not-too-distant-future – who has a limited time to find a mate or he’ll be turned into an animal of his choice. Obviously, he chooses the eponymous crustacean and what ensues is a peculiarly dark and hilarious satire of human relationships and dating mores which is barbed by moments of extreme violence and strange tenderness. The Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthino, made the equally peculiar Dogtooth (2009) –about a family shut-out from society – and he has crafted one of my favourite films of the year. It is destined to be a cult classic which will reward those after something completely different from the usual homogenous Hollywood shite which peddles love and romance as an illusory saviour to our existentially pointless lives.
(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) – BLU RAY
I have to say on I thought this film may suffer on re-watch but it actually got better because it is a lustful, muscular and jaw-dropping spectacular which while having NO actual plot revels in the orgiastic nature of car-bombing action and deathly stunts. Tom Hardy takes on the iconic Max Rockatansky role in this mega-budget-future-shooting-guitar-flame-throwing-blood-draining-crash-smash-and-burn epic. Enter Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa who is on a mission of her own to protect those she cares for from nefarious Immortan Joe; the Citadel Overlord!
This is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore in a barren yet beautiful desert setting. Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema. One may argue that it is style-over-substance but the style IS the substance. The concepts on show such as the flame-throwing guitar; moving blood-banks; mud-people on stilts; assorted pimped-up cars and souped-up weapons are what impress. As such George Miller proves himself a visionary filmmaker who owns the post-apocalypse on screen making it a terrifying and stunning experience. Action film of the year bar none! (Mark: 10/11)
SAN ANDREAS (2015) – DVD
Duwayne “The Rock” Johnson drives, pilots, flies and hovercrafts his family to safety from a gigantic Earthquake and Tsunami which decimates most of California. He gives an impressive action performance and in combination with some jaw-dropping effects makes this a decent, over-the-top and undemanding disaster movie. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
SPECTRE (2015) – CINEMA
Expectations were very high and alas not met because overall, the first hour-and-a-half of Spectre writes a spectacular cheque the final act cannot quite cash. The big-bad-wolf reveal is not as surprising as I would have hoped and the Orwellian supporting story didn’t feel that deadly to me. . . It’s fine entertainment but overlong and tries to be too tricksy, wasting the talents and Christophe Waltz and Monica Belluci in the process. However, Daniel Craig is excellent and the set-pieces are a real joy. (Mark: 007.5 out of 11)
For my extended review please see here: