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BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

Producer(s): Priscilla Parish, Eric Coulter, BBC

Created and written by: Jed Mercurio

Director(s): Thomas Vincent, John Strickland

Starring: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Gina McKee, Sophie Rundle, Paul Ready, Vincent Franklin, Stuart Bowman, Nina Toussaint-White,  Stephanie Hyam

Composer(s): Ruth Barrett, Ruskin Williamson

Cinematography:   John Lee

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Jed Mercurio has written and show-run some seriously good television over the years. I remember watching the acerbic medical comedy-drama Cardiac Arrest in the 1990s and enjoying greatly the honest, bleak and black humour of the show. So much so it made hospital soap Casualty look like a kids’ birthday party. Being from a medical background Mercurio would later revisit the NHS for the critically acclaimed programme Bodies (2004 – 2006); a show that contained graphic depictions of surgical operations amidst the cut-throat administrative and medical drama. Subsequently he would have, arguably, his biggest hit with the show Line of Duty. Gaining massive viewing figures Line of Duty concerns a crack team of police officers who investigate corruption within the force.

Mercurio created a solid genre premise with each officer under examination being played by a formidable lead actor. These included: Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays and in Season 4, Thandie Newton. His strengths as a writer are to use realistic settings, scenarios and characters and twist them for every ounce of suspense possible. His work also contains brilliant narrative twists that often go against genre expectation. Indeed, he has no qualms casting a famous actor and killing them off when you least expect.

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With his latest show Bodyguard, Mercurio has again looked within the police force as a starting point. His main protagonist David Budd (Richard Madden) is part of the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch tasked with protecting the ambitious Home Secretary, Julia Montague; portrayed by the always brilliant Keeley Hawes. Over six episodes Budd has dangerous encounters with: his own force, MI5, Counter Terrorism Command, terrorist cells, organised crime and in-fighting Government officials too.  Safe to say Montague becomes a target and very soon Budd is fighting not just for her life but his own.

Opening with an incredibly tense scene involving an Islamic suicide bomber on a train, the show raises the pulse with incredible consistency. Another stunning set-piece involving a terrorist attack on a school plus a vicious sniper assault on the Home Secretary in a later episode demonstrates that Mercurio wants us in the heart of the action. In terms of the politics of the series they are incredibly murky and confusing, in a good way. What I mean is we live in a confusing world of fake news, terrorism, racism, suspicion, paranoia, violence and corruption. It’s difficult to know what to believe and who to trust. Mercurio doesn’t offer any easy answers and everyone is a suspect. Even Richard Madden’s Budd is a tortured soul showing skill at his job but a heart and mind riddled with post-traumatic stress. He deals with the separation from his wife by drinking and burying his angst in his dangerous work.

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Bodyguard had me hooked from the beginning and really turns the screw dramatically throughout. The ensemble cast are uniformly excellent but Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes are particularly memorable. One could argue the representation of the terrorists’ borders on the stereotypical, but it’s a tough call because Mercurio is effectively reflecting events which have occurred within the U.K. in recent years. Whether such violent situations should be turned into primetime entertainment is a question for a whole different essay, but the writer and creator has shown once again he can take serious issues and produce exhilarating genre television.

Mark: 9 out of 11

 

 

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A STAR IS BORN (2018): OSCAR BINGO #1 & CINEMA REVIEW

A STAR IS BORN (2018): OSCAR BINGO AND FILM REVIEW

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Produced by: Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Lynette Howell Taylor

Screenplay by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Based on: A Star Is Born by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

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When a star is born others will die. Some will fade. Some will collapse. Some will burn bright like the sun before vanishing. That is the cycle of life and the narrative of this standard film classic. Yet, if you’re going to cover an old traditional then you’ve got to be confident you’re going to do it justice. It could be considered an easy track to lay down by replicating a story done three times before, however, if you get it wrong and play a bum note then you’ve ruined the song. Safe to say that writer, director and star Bradley Cooper has thrown his heart and soul into this story and with on-screen partner Lady Gaga, and an incredible production team, they’ve collectively knocked it out of the park. For this review I’d like to play a bit of Oscar bingo and consider the merits of the film along with the players award chances.

BEST FILM CHANCES: 8 out of 10

This is a film about dreams: living, broken and dying dreams. It’s a beautifully timeless tale of two people who fall in love but their trajectories veer in opposite directions. Bradley Cooper is Jackson Maine: a successful rock star still selling out stadiums and seemingly with everything positive on the outside. Inside though he’s crumbling; he suffers from tinnitus, alcoholism and the inner demons of a broken family past that drugs, booze, music and his long-suffering brother, portrayed by the excellent Sam Elliott, cannot block out. When a chance meeting with a bar singer occurs, sparks fly with Ally, as she suddenly brings a burst of light and hope into his life. While she is insecure off-stage she nails it on-stage; not surprising as she is portrayed by pop mega-star Lady Gaga. The two fall in love but the path of romance, while powerful on and off stage for a while, ultimately struggles with both his addiction and Ally’s subsequent pop success. Given the familiarity of the story the ‘Best Film’ chances could be slightly hampered in regard to originality. But overall it has the feel of both an epic and powerful love story combined with some tragically intimate moments that will make it one of the front runners when the nominations come out.

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BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES: 7 out of 10

While this is his is directorial debut, Bradley Cooper has infused the story with an energy, immediacy and intimacy akin to that of a veteran filmmaker. The on-stage scenes put you at the heart of the gigs, while his sterling performance and that of Lady Gaga’s absolutely soar. There is a core reliability of emotion in so many memorable scenes, from the humour of Ally’s father and his chauffeur circle of friends, to the happy times of Ally and Jackson in love, and the more tempestuous boozy periods. Cooper’s helming is consistent and it is clearly a labour of love as he successfully melds romance, tragedy and backstage musical in an impressively directed story.

BEST ACTRESS CHANCES: 9 out of 10

Lady Gaga is a ridiculous name but it’s hard to forget. While not a massive fan of her pop persona she has released a plethora of songs catchier that the bubonic plague. I had only seen her acting before in a couple of things, notably American Horror Story: Hotel, but due to the hysterical style of that gruesome anthology it’s difficult to tell if she had much range. However, as the working class Ally, she infuses the character with a bright-eyed innocence and fiery passion that wins you over immediately. Her and Cooper’s chemistry is tremendous and very believable and those eyes; they just made me melt at times. Oh, and of course THAT voice. What a voice and what amazing interpretations of so many great songs. Lady Gaga will go very close to the Best Actress Oscar in my mind.

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BEST ACTOR CHANCES: 7 out of 10

Cooper directs himself very well and his quietly impactful performance both on and off stage really got me in the heart. The pathos and emotion he conveys in charting the collapse of a man crumbling from the inside out is very powerful. Cooper reminded me of a younger Jeff Bridges and indeed, Sam Elliott with his performance encapsulating a talented and pained artist who is never happier than when on stage. Off stage the demons are still there haunting him emotionally and physically. Being harsh, one could say the familiarity of the character – a grizzled alcoholic musician battling addiction – could go against his Oscar chances, but Cooper’s performance remains one of nuance and empathy.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: 8 out of 10

There are a couple of serious contenders here with Andrew Dice Clay giving a sly comedic turn as Ally’s protective father. Moreover, there’s the battle-born gravitas of Sam Elliott as Jackson’s long suffering road manager and brother. The scene where he puts his drunken brother to bed in order to stops him choking on his own vomit, protecting yet also reviled by this broken man, impacts greatly. Elliott just nails his role and the film could have benefitted even more from his presence throughout. Nonetheless, he steals those scenes he does inhabit and will certainly get nominated.

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BEST SONG CHANCES: 10 out of 10

Shallow will win the Best Oscar no doubt. When introduced acapella by Lady Gaga you only get a suggestion of its’ power. However, when she launches into it on stage it is an absolutely memorable and stand-out musical moment. The music throughout is linked powerfully to the emotion of the characters from Jason Isbell’s composition Maybe It’s Time to the final heartfelt song, I’ll Never Love Again, sang beautifully by Lady Gaga. Even the sly satirical digs at the soulless pop that Ally sings are done with skill. The juxtaposition of their plasticity versus the realness of the rock music delivered by Ally and Jackson creates another layer of musical depth in a consistently brilliant soundtrack.

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OVERALL

A Star Is Born (2018) is a great cinematic experience with every person involved in the production at the top of their game. The story is familiar but the performances, characterisation, direction and the songs all combine to create a very emotional and human journey. I’m not the greatest fan of musicals but this one had me hooked from start to finish and is a fine example of classic Hollywood genre storytelling at its best.

Mark: 9 out of 11

 

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

Created by: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writer(s): Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese, Martin Behnke, Ronny Schalk, Marc O. Seng

Starring: Oliver Masucci, Karoline Eichhorn, Jördis Triebel, Louis Hofmann, Maja Schöne, Stephan Kampwirth, Shani Atias, Daan Lennard Liebrenz, Mikkel Nielsen, Andreas Pietschmann, Deborah Kaufmann etc.

Cinematography    Nikolaus Summerer

Original network:    Netflix

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**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

Where do you start with this clever German science-fiction-family-drama-murder-mystery-serial-killer-historical-thriller-drama?  Because over ten fascinating episodes it is challenging, baffling and mind-blowing in equal measures. Does this mean it’s any good? Well, on the main, it is well worth a watch, especially if you like labyrinthine narratives concerning time-travel paradoxes, death, human corruption and familial conflict.

Set in the fictional German town of Winden, Dark begins in 2019 before later on moving around in time covering at least another two separate timelines. I will admit I do not want to give spoilers away on this but if you like on-screen jigsaws which span different years and various versions of characters as children, adults and the elderly then this is for you. Indeed, over the ten episodes the creatives behind the show take you on a gruesome, stylish and splintered journey into the characters’ past, present and future.

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Dark is grim, weird with loads of death. It opens with the suicide of a man and a teenager from the local school has also gone missing. Further disappearances occur which baffle the police while at the same time dead birds drop out of the sky. Yet, this is to all intents and purposes a normal town with regular families, school, police and oh, a Nuclear power station. So, if you’ve seen the recent Netflix show Stranger Things you’ll recognise we’re in similar Stephen King type horror territory. Having said that, Dark doesn’t actually worry about you liking these intense characters the way King and Stranger Things does. Although you do root for some of them they are a humourless bunch. But, who can blame them given what’s about to happen to their town and it’s the weirdness and mystery that keeps you watching.

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Centred around four families within Winden called: Nielsen, Kahnwald, Doppler and Tiedemann, who all have secrets to hide. As these secrets are revealed the intriguing writing gives us more and more mysteries and at times I felt lost. However, with a multitude of strands pulled together during the last couple of episodes I was fully on board this incredibly rich genre mix of horror, drama and science-fiction. The style is also very alluring with darkness, light, rain, stark landscapes and photography creating a thrilling mood, along with the haunting score. Finally, there were still loads of questions which remained at the end but I’ll certainly be back for Season 2 in the future.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 REVIEW: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 REVIEW: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
Producer: Nikki Wilson
Executive producer(s): BBC Productions, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle
Composer:   Segun Akinola

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As a massive Doctor Who fan I was very much looking forward to the latest incarnation of one of the galaxies’ longest running television shows ever. With a new Sunday screening slot it was great to see the show back with a new Doctor, new showrunner, new sonic screwdriver, new companions, new theme tune, new Doctor Who costume and new, soon to be seen, inside-of-the-TARDIS. Yet, while there were lots of new stuff flying about on screen there was pretty much no major changes in the narrative formula. Basically, an alien from outer space, along with various sidekicks, battle to save the Earth or whatever planet they are on, while using: skill, luck, gadgets, guile, time-travel paradoxes, intelligence, stupidity, righteousness, technology, diversity, bravery, action, morality and good old fashioned running and jumping about.

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The first episode in this series called The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a fine, if safe, introduction to the new Doctor. It had a lot ground to cover introducing all the various elements I mention above and on the whole Chris Chibnall delivered a fun, linear script with some great lines of dialogue, decent jokes and an emotional pull not always present in Steven Moffat’s often very complex temporally challenging narratives. The “Predator” style alien invasion was something we’d seen before in Doctor Who and many science-fiction shows, films and books but the actual alien monster itself was quite scary. Moreover, some good comic mileage was mined from name “Tim Shaw” alone.

Jodie Whittaker, an instinctive and ultra-talented actor, was effervescent in the lead role and her earthy Yorkshire accent is certainly a change from the gravelly Scottish brogue of Peter Capaldi. The Internet broke when Whittaker was cast as the first female Doctor with protestations on the gender switch. All I can say is: get a life! The Doctor is both an alien shape shifter with two hearts who has lived for many millenniums and let’s face it, fictitious!  Who cares what gender they are because the most important thing is the quality of production, storylines and performances?  Based on this episode and the future clips I think this season will be very fine entertainment. I think that once Whittaker settles in to the role and is given some meaty and passionate storylines we will see her Doctor soar. Due to the characters’ regeneration and the wicked pace of the episode, Whittaker’s emotional range was not really tested, but I’m sure it will be.

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Perhaps the most surprising thing for a show with so much change was how familiar it all felt. But the one thing I did enjoy was the feeling we’ll be spending time with an interesting and diverse set of characters within a pseudo-family unit. You have the Doctor, obviously, representing both mother and father, Bradley Walsh’s character representing the Grandfather and Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill representing older children. It remains to be seen whether the latter will have a will-they-won’t they-romantic relationship, which would require a re-write on this observation. Nonetheless this new-styled A-Team-in-Space will be a force to be reckoned with I’d say. Perhaps more time could have been allowed for the characters to question the fantastical events but the episode went for fast, fast and faster so hopefully later episodes will give us a chance to breath a tad more.

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Ultimately though, Doctor Who is thematically a show about hope, family, caring, inclusion and doing the right thing in space and time. It’s also meant to be a lot of fun. Chris Chibnall, as showrunner, hasn’t aside from casting a female Doctor, attempted to reinvent the wheel but instead concentrated on the strengths of the show.  He has demonstrated by the diverse castings, the opening Northern setting, and introduction of a dyspraxic character that inclusion will thrive, as usual, in the Doctor Who ‘Universe’. So, if this series delivers some fine emotional scripts with scary monsters, space-ships, aliens and some good old time-travel bits then BBC1 on Sunday evenings will certainly be worth watching. Unless you record the show and watch it in the future!  In which case the future is in safe hands too.

Mark: 8 out of 11

IN DEFENCE OF #2: VENOM (2018): MOVIE REVIEW

IN DEFENCE OF #2: VENOM (2018): MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Produced by:  Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, Amy Pascal, Marvel Entertainment

Written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott

Music by: Ludwig Goransson

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

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As with the failed franchise blockbuster The Mummy (2017) I have once again been to the cinema and watched, not a great film or work of art, but rather a decent bit of popcorn entertainment that has seemingly been critically mauled, not necessarily unfairly, but out of context from the kind of film it is. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of Venom (2018) which doesn’t work and the film has a couple of serious plot holes, however, if you watch it as the darkly, comedic action film it is intended to be then it has a lot to offer.

I mean, superhero films, over the years, have got – Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Marvel’s generally witty one-liner littered scripts aside – very serious at times. Most recently, Black Panther (2018) was rooted in familial revenge and of course, Marvel’s Infinity War (2018), ended with an apocalyptic disaster for the Avengers and Earth. While there are serious themes in Venom, the director Ruben Fleischer has gone for more crazed humour rather than serious analysis of the psyche. As such for all its faults Venom actually felt more like an actual comic book or cartoon on screen. So, I get that people may not like the movie for being a bit lacking I think they need to lighten up. Thus, in my second instalment of my occasional series In Defence of:,  I’d like to say why I actually found it very watchable genre entertainment.

Standing alone, at the time of the action, from the Marvel ‘Universe’ and the recent Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) movie, Venom features the stupendously committed performance of Tom Hardy as crime reporter Eddie Brock. Eddie’s latest case is to delve deeper into uncovering the interplanetary research of Elon Musk-type uber-scientist and corporate mogul, Carlton Drake.  Of course, he goes too deep trying to uncover the deadly experimentation and finds himself infected with a space being that Drake has brought back. Drake, compared to the delirious character rendered by Hardy, is a bit flat and another long line of corporate bad guys which Marvel employs and he deserved some better dialogue to justify his megalomaniacal plans. But Riz Ahmed is a great actor and does his best with an under-written role.

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What works more though is the connection between Brock and his extra-terrestrial host. Perhaps, given this is a Jekyll and Hyde story it should have been a lot more intense. The psychological horror of being absorbed by another being is something David Cronenberg, would have knocked out of the park. Yet here it’s turned into something of a comedy double act; albeit with Venom biting the heads off bad guys in between the insane banter. Tom Hardy’s rat-a-tat spats with his ‘other-half’ are very funny and reminded of another recent film called Upgrade (2018), which combined even more bloody violence within a hosted protagonist narrative.

With the cool persona of Michelle Williams, an actor of high artistry, clearly enjoying playing for laughs within the straight romantic lead, there is at least some level-headedness to counter Hardy’s facials ticks and roars. Moreover, despite glaring holes in the narrative including: the very generic alien invasion plot; clichéd corporate mercenaries providing body fodder and a severe lack of legal consequences to Brock’s ‘Venomous’ attacks, the smart comedy, pacey action, the monster-effects of Venom itself and fighting scenes, keep entertainment stakes high.

Ultimately, while much more could have been done to explore the dark side of their symbiotic relationship it was unlikely with this director. Indeed, as Fleischer showed with Zombieland (2009) and direction of suburban zombie show Santa Clarita Diet (2017), he favours mixing dark matter with black humour. Lastly, with Tom Hardy as a more than willing ally Fleischer and his army of writers have delivered an admittedly flawed comic-book narrative that remains full of parasitic punch and energy.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11 

 

 

SCREENWASH GENRE FILM ROUND-UP including reviews of: The Nun (2018), The Predator (2018) and A Simple Favour (2018)

SCREENWASH GENRE FILM ROUND-UP – OCTOBER 2018

It goes without saying that I watch a lot of films and have over the last few years reviewed quite a few too. The last three I saw at the cinema were a bit hit and miss yet overall serviceable examples of, despite their flaws, the Hollywood genre film. The genre film is the staple of the Hollywood production model and the word genre can be used to describe and organize films according to: type, style, form, characteristics and marketing possibilities. Moreover, certain movie stars and actors would become synonymous with movie types such as: John Wayne and the Western; Humphrey Bogart and the crime or noir drama; Arnold Schwarzenegger and the action film; plus directors such as Martin Scorsese making a cinematic mark with the gangster film. In the 1950s genre film theory was debated by academics such as Andre Bazin. From then on many a film degree essay was delivered and arguments ensued between auteur and genre theories. More importantly the Hollywood movie-making monster which rose from the 1920s onwards used genre conventions and tropes, along with the star system, to promote a formula of mass production within their cinematic releases.

Such genre production is still very much in place today. But, as audiences get seemingly both attention-deficient and more cinema-knowing the melding of genres is very much a postmodern trend for the now. While a perennial spy classic like James Bond still holds onto the genre conventions like: gadgets, action and over-the-top villains, films such as American Werewolf in London (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Shaun of the Dead (2004) successfully combined horror and comedy. Furthermore, of late Marvel instilled many of their superhero films with properties from the heist, thriller, comedy and horror genres in order differentiate and market their stories. Indeed, filmmaking has become so sophisticated some filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers cross a multitude of genres within their works. As so happens I watched three proper genre films at the cinema recently so would like to review them from both a critical and genre perspective. As usual I will give them marks out of eleven.

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THE NUN (2018)

As marketing departments attempt to find new ways to promote their products we have now entered the arena of the film “Universe”. This finds events, characters, places and in this case, demons, all linked within the same historical timeline and world. The Nun is part of The Conjuring “Universe”. The demonic monster Valak first appeared in the James Wan sequel The Conjuring 2 (2016); thus, within the horror genre The Nun is both a prequel and origins film. Set in 1950s Romania is concerns a haunted Catholic nunnery which is under threat from an unholy evil. Taissa Farmiga’s novice Nun and Demian Bechir’s grizzled Father Burke are dispatched to have a look about and of course are thrown into a face-off with something from the pits of hell.

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The main genre requirement of a horror film is to create fear and excitement in the audience and while The Conjuring films, directed by the brilliant James Wan did just that, this film is, aside from a couple of moments, not scary enough. It has lots of shadows, darkness, blood, screams and a gruesome supernatural monster but, despite Farmiga’s committed performance, makes little narrative sense and suffers from poor characterisation. Having said that, while watching The Nun, I at times felt it was on the cusp of being a surrealist horror classic with much hallucinatory trickery of a “what’s real and what isn’t real” variety. However, by the end I decided that while the director is clearly a talented filmmaker the screenplay did not really serve the horror genre or story well as it was illogical at best and had no defining “rules of the world” substance. Ultimately, though the main draw for studios is that horror films are one of the cheapest genre films to make yet reap rewards from the cinema-paying public. Indeed, The Nun has so far grossed $330 million dollars from a $20 million outlay. Now, that is scary!!

(Mark: 5 out of 11)

 

THE PREDATOR (2018)

Talking of genre-crossing directors, the writer and director of The Predator (2018), Shane Black has had an interesting career trajectory. He was a supporting actor in the original classic Predator (1987) and would subsequently become a more successful screenwriter and wrote scripts for: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Last Action Hero (1993) and most memorably Lethal Weapon (1987).  Such movies put Black firmly in the Hollywood blockbuster territory so it was no surprise when Marvel employed him to write and direct Iron Man 3 (2013). Arguably his best films though were the buddy-buddy comedy-thrillers Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and The Nice Guys (2016) which benefited from great chemistry from their male leads. Coming full circle then to write and direct The Predator (2018), Black has delivered the best elements of his genre work but also the worst. He’s often a writer of excess, with a succession of ideas, gags, set-ups and punchlines which, if allied to a decent story, create a barrage of fine entertainment.

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From a genre perspective The Predator is a mash-up of: science fiction, action, war, spy, and TV-movie-of-the-week tropes.  It moves at such an alarming pace you barely have a chance to breathe. In a nutshell Boyd Holbrook’s crack soldier must save his son and the world from both nefarious Government agents and not just one Predator, but another incredibly kick-ass uber-Predator. Chuck in a dirty-half-dozen motley crew of “insane” soldiers, plus an autistic kid (Jacob Tremblay) who may or may not have the power to defeat the Predators, and you get an explosive film which, while moving rapidly, does not make much logical sense in places. For example, characters, vehicles and animals pop up in the narrative out of nowhere then disappear, which created a hell of a lot of confusion for me. Still, Black is a great writer of concepts and punchy dialogue so you’re never far away from something cool-looking, something blowing up or a funny gag or three. It’s just a shame the story was so confusing and plot delivered in such an illogical fashion.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018)

Once again here is a filmmaker who, while predominantly working from a genre perspective has taken their comedic skills and light touch and infused it within other genres. Indeed, the very talented Paul Feig has marshalled some extremely funny films and TV shows in recent times including: The Office (U.S.), Arrested Development (2004), Nurse Jackie (2009), Bridesmaids (2011) and Spy (2015). His Ghostbusters (2016) update starring Melissa McCarthy was arguably not very successful from both a genre or reboot perspective, however, his latest film A Simple Favour (2018) is much, much better. It stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, as polar-opposite mums, whose paths criss-cross one fateful day when the latter asks the other to look after her son. Blake Lively absolutely nails her role as the stylish, beautiful and brutally honest PR executive. Her spiteful Emily Nelson is a career best performance and when her character vanishes, the effervescent Kendrick’s go-getting, busy-body-single-mom, Stephanie Smothers, decides to hunt for her “friend”.

What follows is more comedic but still suspenseful as the plot twists from one exciting turn to another. As the unlikely detective Kendrick hilariously enlists the help of her “Mums-Net” video-log subscribers in trying to track down Emily. As the story moves forward Emily’s husband (Henry Golding) and Stephanie herself become suspects until the final revelations dig up something totally unexpected. A Simple Favour is the most successful of the genre films I watched. Feig is able to blend the comedy, noir and thriller very well and while I would have preferred the tone to be darker, I accept that Feig is what I call a “day” director; in that all his scenes seem to happen during the day. Thus, in the hands of say, David Fincher, the original novel this is based on would have been a totally different beast. Having said that we may not have got Blake Lively’s stunning comedic turn as the bitchy femme fatale and that is worth the admission fee alone.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

SIX OF THE BEST #13 – FILMS SET IN A DAY

A DAY IN THE LIFE – SIX OF THE BEST #13 – FILMS SET IN A DAY

With a cursory Google search there’s a few of these articles around concerning films set in one day or a twenty-four hour period. But it’s something I wanted to explore from a narrative perspective in order to understand how it can help a screenwriter with their story. Indeed, as a writer a twenty-four hour period could be a seen as a limitation for one’s story but it can also create a hell of a lot of suspense, drama and comedy.

Of course, in some cases it can also increase the need for an audience to suspend disbelief with many events occurring in such a short space of time. For example, in the classic TV show 24, we kind of know that it’s totally unlikely that our hero Jack Bauer is going to suffer THAT many bad days but we still root for him to save the his family, the dog, his neighbours, and the world. Yet, the distillation of narrative incidents also raises the dramatic stakes, providing much fun and tension for the audience.

As well as creating entertainment the structural benefits of setting a film in one day can provide a “ticking clock” or race against time scenario. Moreover, fixing a time scale or limit conjures up a dramatic sense of containment for the characters. They are trapped within this day and must survive it and whatever fate throws at them. As time moves on during the day suspense is funnelled to a striking denouement as sun-up moves toward sunset. It’s a grudging acceptance of life’s incessant clock of fate as our existence flickers along to the inevitable end.

There are many films which have been set during a one day period and a lot of them are bona fide classics.  Here is SIX of what I consider the best or at least my favourites from a story perspective. I have not included one of the greatest comedies of all time Groundhog Day (1993) because, while that is set in the same day, it actually repeats its day in a Sisyphean and fantastical never-ending situation. Thus, the films here are all set in a fixed period so no temporal loops or time travel movies are included.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

Spike Lee’s incendiary look at the day in the life of a Brooklyn neighbourhood finds a variety of characters coping with both rising temperatures and simmering racial tension. Lee’s brilliant script is fully of boldly written and brightly sketched characters presented via a succession of hilarious and dramatic vignettes. The formal excellence on show too from Lee is to be applauded as he uses devices from: music video and cinema to tell his rich stories. The day does not end well as the neighbourhood erupts into tragic violence with Lee proving himself adept at balancing humour, politics and tragedy in equal measure.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)

Sidney Lumet really was a terrific director. Moving from stage and television to film and his first cinema production was rather incredibly 12 Angry Men (1957). This film was ostensibly set in one location over one intensely dramatic period and he would revisit the day-structure for the equally intense bank-robbery-gone-wrong film Dog Day Afternoon in 1975. Lumet directs Al Pacino and John Cazale as ill-fated and inexperienced criminals who rob a New York bank and get deep in over their heads. Once again the set-in-a-day structure creates a bottle-neck effect, squeezing the drama to a suspenseful denouement. As these empathetic and hapless criminals find themselves surrounded by law enforcement Al Pacino’s performance as Sonny dominates, becoming more and more animated and emotional. Incredibly, this original heist movie was based on a bizarre, true story and was another compelling addition to Lumet’s fine directorial C.V.

FALLING DOWN (1993)

Michael Douglas is, in my opinion, a very well rated movie star but also a very under-rated actor. He proved it again in Marvel’s Ant-Man films that he is an altogether reliable on-screen presence, while his staggering performance as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra (2013), garnered deserved praise. Similarly he is in career-best territory as “D-FENS” – named so after his number plate – whom begins his day in a sweltering, polluted traffic jam, before deciding enough is enough. What follows is a violent and explosive rampage both bleak and darkly comic that highlights the anger an individual can feel at being discarded by society. While “D-FENS” actions are appalling it’s clear he has had a mental breakdown and gone over the edge, in this damning and compelling indictment of capitalist society.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

John Hughes was arguably the definitive creator of what came to represent iconic 1980s Hollywood teen and comedy cinema. It may have pretty conservative dealing with, on the main, middle-class American characters and their lot; however, he always had affection for the geek, outsider and under-dog.  Yet, it is important to note that Ferris Bueller is not a geek or an underdog but rather a narcissistic, lying, brash, confident and handsome youth trying to rail against the school system. But in the hands of Matthew Broderick’s standout performance he is also very cool. Because as well as skipping school he is a risk-taker and cheeky and amazingly talks directly to the audience too. During his day off school he crams all manner of crazy things into the day while trying to outwit the school Principal because as he (Hughes) says: “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!”

HIGH NOON (1952)

Not only is this classic Western set in one day but it’s pretty much shot in real time. It makes the most of the ticking-time-clock scenario, anchored by Gary Cooper’s noble sheriff and fine direction from Fred Zinnemann. The story is very simple. Marshal Will Kane (Cooper) is about to leave town with his wife, Amy (an early role for Grace Kelly), finds out a vicious gang of outlaws are coming to town out for revenge. Kane’s choice is to flee or stay and fight. Guess which one he chooses?  Ready to face the outlaws on his own he tries to enlist the help of the townsfolk of Hadleyville, but he is admonished at every request. The suspense and drama are palpable as the clock slides toward noon and the gunfight. The film received many awards and nominations and is a truly humane examination of duty and courage under fire. It could also be seen as an allegory for the McCarthy and Communist “witch-hunts” occurring in Hollywood at the time. However, one could easily see it as a conservative validation of law and order too and the individual fighting for justice against a common enemy.

TRAINING DAY (2001)

David Ayer’s career as a filmmaker has taken a few critical body-blows lately on big budget Hollywood productions; notably his over-blown mess of a franchise trifle that was Suicide Squad (2016); and the odd mix of fantasy and cop thriller that was Bright (2017). While Suicide Squad really did not make any sense it made loads of dough and Bright was actually pretty decent entertainment. Indeed, it actually had a similar structure to Ayer’s brilliant cop drama Training Day. Ethan Hawke is the in-awe trainee to Denzel Washington’s fierce narcotics officer, who has taken his younger charge along to see if he has what it takes to join his team. What I love about this superior genre film is, aside from the brilliant plot and characterisation, is the day unfolds so dramatically with their two respective characters beginning as master and student only to find the respect between the two eroding and a violent power game ensuing.