Category Archives: Reviews

MOLLYS’ GAME (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

MOLLYS’ GAME (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

Produced by: Mark Gordon, Amy Pascal, Matt Jackson

Screenplay by: Aaron Sorkin

Based on: Molly’s Game  by Molly Bloom

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Bill Camp

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As a species we like to have fun. It makes us feel good to manufacture a chemical reaction in our minds and body to create a high and distance ourselves from our own mortality. One such means of fun is gambling. It is fun right: placing bets on the outcome of a game be it chance or skill?  I mean it must be fun because so many humans do it, right? Nothing bad comes of fun surely!  Nothing bad comes of gambling? Wrong! Of course it does.

Gambling is one of the stupidest things a human being can do. You are willingly handing your money to a bookie or competitor or casino in a game of chance in the hope of winning money. Your hard earned cash is at the mercy of: the turn of a card; the roll of a dice; the kick of a ball; the speed of a horse; and the spin of a wheel. To me THAT is crazy. I know because I used to gamble on the horses and loved it but not when I lost. That high soon dissipated and fun twisted and dug and before you know it you’re in a low-hole and light is getting further and further away the deeper you go.

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There are many players out there who will say poker is not a game of chance. It is a keen game of skill relying on intelligence, guts and psychological warfare. I would go along with that but it is, unless fixed, always reliant on major elements of fate. There are a plethora of multi-millionaires out there who have got rich playing poker no doubt. Yet, I bet there are some sob stories too of players who have lost everything at the table.

Such characters litter Aaron Sorkin’s excellent biopic of poker “madam” Molly Bloom.  You’ve got the bankers, hedge-funders, cowboys, sporting legends, A-list actors and gangsters; all co-mingling around a green baize table facing off over the turn of a card. For me it’s an ostentatious representation of hedonistic narcissism. I mean: that money could be used for good but instead is being used for pointless card games which only serve to boost egos and satisfy bottomless, black-hole addictions. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the film is not entertaining because it is.

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Sorkin asks us to, at times, empathise for a criminal in Molly Bloom, however, she must be admired for her ballsy attitude, intelligence and organisational skills. Much of the kudos for the film goes to Sorkin’s fantastic script and the sterling performance from Jessica Chastain; who possesses a magnetic on-screen aura reminiscent of the Hollywood stars of yesteryear. Couple of reservations in that with a story about a powerful woman it was disappointing that Costner’s father and Idris Elba’s lawyer got the best speeches at the end of the film. Moreover, at no point did I REALLY care about anyone, aside from Molly when she gets in too deep. But that’s the point: the professional poker world is a shark pool full of predators and Bloom’s story is a complex one, raised above that of your standard crime drama by a zinging screenplay and Jessica Chastain’s nuanced acting.

Mark: 8 out of 11

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“OH, JEEZ!” SOUTH PARK: SEASON 21 (2017) – TV REVIEW

SOUTH PARK: SEASON 21 (2017) – TV REVIEW

Directed by:                             Trey Parker
Produced by:                           South Park Studios
Written by:                               Trey Parker
No. of episodes:                     10
Release Date:                          September 13 – December 6, 2017
UK Release:                              Comedy Central

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

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In this stinking cesspool of a world run by greedy corporations, bringers-of-war and crazed megalomaniacs it’s important one finds some solace with which to hide from the slings and arrows of this venal society. Indeed, one has to keep an eye out from the barricades and parapets, holding out a shield to deflect, and mirror to reflect, the emotional barbs of every day existence. One such means of deflection is to laugh at the world and its leaders, gods, physicians, media outlets and political snake-oil salesmen, who twist and dance and continually sell us bullshit on a daily basis.

Television is a valuable tool with which to cocoon one’s heart and mind against the stream of negativity and injustice brought down up on us within the oppressive capitalist system. It gives us a chance to laugh and cry at the world through comedy and drama. One such longstanding shield against the tide of money and war is the always-relevant South Park. For twenty-one seasons it has now poked, prodded, electrified, boiled and defecated on the sacred cows of civilisation such as: religious figures, moronic yet dangerous politicians, gluttonous fats cats, media whores and narcissistic plastic celebrities.

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After the incredible satirical and narrative success of Season 19 (review here), where showrunner Trey Parker committed to a superlative serialization structure the bar was raised very high. Thus, Season 20 (review here), suffered in comparison as it over-egged the pudding somewhat with a convoluted multi-stranded plot dominated by internet cyber-trolling. Nonetheless, South Park, even firing at three-quarter’ capacity is funnier, on-point, and more scathing than any show out there.

As South Park is a phenomenal staple of my televisual calendar I was very happy when: Cartman, Stan, Randy, Cartman’s mum, Wendy, Butters, PC Principal, Kyle, President Garrison et al were back in Season 21 with satire of the highest order! Moreover, gone was the complex interlinking plots and in this run we experienced some wonderful stand-alone episodes which ran a zeitgeist hyper-link to many of the cultural, political and social events of 2017.

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The one thematic web which was woven through the ten shows was Cartman’s dysfunctional and destructive relationship with his girlfriend Heidi. This narrative found Heidi actually becoming a female Cartman much to the other kids’ horror. Here, the writing mined some familiar, almost soap-operatic, but mature story lines to much satisfaction overall; especially in episode 7, Doubling Down, and episode 8, Moss Piglets.

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Season 21 was, in keeping with the previous 20 seasons, crammed to the brim with references to media and socio-political culture, while also being fucking hilarious. The opening episode White People Renovating Houses poked humour at the latest Alexa culture and the hailstorm of “flipping” property shows. While Randy, the hare-brained addict, became obsessed with genetically re-correcting his heritage in the hilarious 3rd episode: Holiday Special.  

Of course the kids took centre stage in many of the shows, notably Franchise Prequel, where their superhero alter egos – scurrilously led by Cartman’s ‘Coon’ – attempt to get their own Netflix and movie franchise off the ground to rival Marvel and DC. Mark Zuckerberg makes an appearance as a goofy, geeky Scott Pilgrim-type-video-game-end-boss too. Here the seeming bottomless pit of money that is called Netflix is also amusingly slated; mainly due to apparently green-lighting any project irrespective of its’ quality.

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Trey Parker and his team took many swipes at the egregious political and, arguably hysterical social media “movements”. In episode 6, Sons of Witches the Harvey Weinstein “situation” was skewed, with all parties involved: men, women and social media keyboard warriors critiqued with much humour. Of course, based on the evidence presented in the media, Weinstein is a stain on humanity, a sexual animal exploiting his powerful position and money-balls! But Sons of Witches was keen to point out that while many men are dicks, they are not ALL bad witches so perhaps some calm and perspective is also required.

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While the final two episodes Super Hard PCness and Splatty Tomato ended with President Garrison gone into hiding due to the bombing of Canada, the episodes also had some fine gags on recent horror adaptations It (2017) and Stranger Things (2017). But my favourite episodes of the series were Put It Down, which put the boot into that moron in the White House and his inexplicably dumb twitter feed that spews out an inordinate amount of bile and idiocy. Finally, episode 5, Hummels & Heroin, brilliantly satirised prison movies by transplanting the genre tropes to an old people’s home; advocating ire for pharmaceutical companies pushing drugs on old people and damning poor medical practices.

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What makes South Park great and still valid is it does not takes sides. The liberal left and fascistic right are all shown to be, in certain circumstances, controlling and hysterical. Trey Parker and his team do not respect authority or celebrity or media fads or political correctness or social bandwagons; so long may their intelligent, crass, scurrilous, scatological, offensive, all-singing, all dancing satire continue! With Trump  in the White House some may say satire is dead but we need the South Park team alive to protect us from this slew of never-ending societal insanity and above all else: MAKE US LAUGH!

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

 

 

 

 

HOSTILES (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

HOSTILES (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by:                      Scott Cooper
Produced by:                    Scott Cooper, Ken Kao, John Lesher
Screenplay by:                 Scott Cooper
Story by:                            Donald E. Stewart
Starring:                            Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach
Music by:                           Max Richter

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Death and America seem to go hand in hand down the realms of history; entwined bedfellows with society, industry and apparent civilisation being watered by blood and bone and marrow of humanity. The coagulation of Native American lives spread to the dust could be argued to be one of the most despicable genocidal acts ever perpetrated against a generation. And what was it all for? So, human beings from one side of a huge ocean can take what essentially belonged to the indigenous men, women and children of what we now know is called the United States of America. Red dust scorches that land and people and it’s a stain which will never ever be removed.

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Even in the last one hundred years and more the Neo-Americans have militarized and invaded many other countries borne, on occasion for the greater good but generally to colonize, re-politicize and scavenge the goods of those said lands. Thus, it is never surprising when the natives choose to repel their invaders as they’d prefer their land to remain their own. For the price of defending their land history has named them savages and other cruel labels in an attempt to differentiate their culture and make them the enemy. Of course, there are good people within the U.S.A who oppose such invasions but the truth remains even they live on blooded ground.

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The weight of guilt and pain and death hang heavy in Scott Cooper’s slow-moving and elegant Western. It’s a character driven piece with Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi and Rory Cochrane putting in dominant performances which convey the depressing murderous times borne out of the heinous and greedy need for progress. White man / woman’s guilt drives the narrative as at first Bale’s soldier refuses to accompany his enemy back to his homeland. Is it more because of the deaths of his own men on the battlefield or because he does not want to face up to his own crimes against the Native Americans?

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There are no easy solutions in this glacial paced, beautifully shot Western. The audience is required to analyse the characters actions and make up one’s own mind. There are no black hats or white hats save for the denouement involving the four horsemen that drift over the horizon with death in their eyes. Even the Comanche horde who perpetrate the wicked attack on Pike’s family at the beginning, while unsympathetic, are a product of the barbarity committed by the American army. Overall, this is a genre-defying Western built more on character rather than all-out action. Each slow plot turn went against my expectations and that was a positive. It’s a rich, deep and heavy film which benefits from great performances and an incredible Max Richter score.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

2017 – MY FAVOURITE TWELVE FILMS OF THE YEAR!

2017 – MY FAVOURITE TWELVE FILMS OF THE YEAR!

There were some fantastic films this year and here are my favourite TWELVE. These are the ones I enjoyed the most from a cinematic, entertainment and emotional perspective. They are not necessarily the critics’ favourites, so for example, Moonlight (2017) is not on the list because I thought it was brilliantly directed but arguably over-rated as a story. Similarly, La La Land (2017), was an incredibly imaginative film from a stylistic and musical point-of-view but lacked emotional impact. But hey, as The Dude once said, “That’s just my opinion, man!”

Please note that they include films I have seen at the CINEMA in 2017, including the London Film Festival. Obviously there are some omissions but that’s either because I did not see them yet – Call Me By Your Name (2017), Mudbound (2017), God’s Own Country (2017) – or did not enjoy them as much as others. Please let me know if I have made glaring omissions in case I missed them at the cinema and should stream them. Indeed, last year the brilliant Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) was one I missed at the cinema, so I was grateful to catch up with that on Netflix.

For your information my favourite films I saw at the cinema in 2016 were:

FAVOURITE TWELVE FILMS SEEN AT THE CINEMA IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)

ARRIVAL (2016)
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)
CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016)
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA (2016)
MEN AND CHICKEN (2015)
THE NICE GUYS (2016)
RAW (2016)
THE REVENANT (2015), ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016), ROOM (2015)

 

FAVOURITE TWELVE FILMS SEEN AT THE CINEMA IN 2017 (in alphabetical order)

A GHOST STORY (2017)

“. . .this film transcends cinema conventions and delivers one of the most poignant and melancholic experiences of the year.”

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BABY DRIVER (2017)

“. . . Wright brings such a balletic rhythm, musical verve and kinetic drive to the movie it becomes simply irrepressible.”

 

BLADERUNNER 2049 (2017)

“. . . It’s like Denis Villeneuve managed to combine, with the writers and designers, an indie-Hollywood-art film installation.”

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017)

“. . . Brawl in Cell Block 99 rips into the dark underbelly of the criminal landscape leaving us in no doubt to the destructive nature of the American dream.”

COLOSSAL (2016)

“. . .In a summer which will bring us blockbusters galore they will have to go some way to match Vigalondo’s Colossal for originality, humour, heart and Seoul (sorry!)”

THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)

“. . . Franco’s Wiseau is his greatest performance to date. The fact he directed the film too is also remarkable as he got the pitch of parody and drama just perfectly.”

DUNKIRK (2017)

“. . .the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration, demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker.” 

FENCES (2016)

“. . . Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades.”

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INGRID GOES WEST (2017)

“. . . Overall, this was just #brilliant #dark #funny #sad!  Aubrey Plaza is the shining light of this very satisfying black comedy.”

SILENCE (2016)

“While moving at a meditative pace Silence possesses some wonderful cinematography, brilliant direction, sterling performances and a brooding score.”

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)

“. . . this is an excellent cinematic experience funny, shocking and moving; only possible because of the expert script from a great writer.”

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

“. . . one of the best cinematic experiences in 2017 as story, style, technology and emotion all work together to bring a fitting end to one of the best film trilogies of recent years.”

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Other films I enjoyed that were very close to the list:

DETROIT (2017), GET OUT (2017), THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016), HACKSAW RIDGE (2017), THE HANDMAIDEN (2016), THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017), THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017), OKJA (2017), SPLIT (2017), THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), WIND RIVER (2017)!

Anyway, I really enjoyed last year’s cinema offerings and here’s to a happy and positive 2018!

 

 

THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

“Just because you want it doesn’t mean it can happen.”

DIRECTOR(S): James Franco / Tommy Wiseau 

WRITERS: Screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (Based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell

CAST: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Jackie Weaver, Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress etc.

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

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I’d never seen the cult “bad” movie, The Room (2003). I’d seen clips on YouTube of actor, producer and director, Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus drama, and not only found it excruciatingly painful to watch but, like a car crash I couldn’t take my eyes of it, transfixed at the creative carnage on show. From the initial limited release in 2003, The Room has subsequently become celebrated as a paean to bad filmmaking as armies of hipsters and millennials laugh and quote-along to agonising performances and dialogue on the silver screen. Even during the showing of The Disaster Artist (2017) I was at, a couple of audience members quoted along to some of fantastically simulated scenes from The Room.

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Films within films and the movie-making process have provided, down the years, a rich vein of comedic and dramatic output from: Singing in the Rain (1952), Living in Oblivion (1995), The Player (1992), State and Main (2000); plus, the film The Disaster Artist most reminds me of, Tim Burton’s glorious tribute to the hopeless, yet determined, director called Ed Wood (1994).  Structured around two struggling actors in Tommy Wiseau and Gregg Sestero this hilariously skewed yet somehow likeable buddy movie is propelled by the Franco brothers’ brilliant performances as European eccentric Wiseau and the younger, naïve, and ever-smiling Sestero.

Wiseau’s character is an actors’ gift as he exists in some delusional yet over-confident Neverland. We do not know Wiseau’s age, background and how he managed to become so wealthy, yet Sestero is drawn to his outrageously up-to-eleven acting performance during a class, and the two soon become inseparable. Moving to Hollywood they valiantly try to make it as actors and the film lurches from one desperately funny scene to another. Despite their apparent lack of ability they won’t be deterred and decide if Hollywood won’t come to them then they will come to Hollywood. They will make their own movie!

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Here The Disaster Artist really becomes a wonderful comedy of filmmaking flaws as we get scene after scene where all manner of rookie errors are committed by Wiseau. James Franco really excels as Wiseau; as the production is clearly beyond him his deluded power and determination will not yield, despite run-ins with the script supervisor (Seth Rogen) and various cast members who have no idea what the hell The Room is about. Here the story becomes compelling as Wiseau’s mania and lack of discipline flies in the face of established filmmaking conventions. During the making of the The Room, Wiseau is genuinely funny, monstrous, and yet somehow sympathetic. He is a true outsider’s outsider; he is a bona fide Hollywood version of Frankenstein’s monster.

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James Franco has an odd career trajectory and has kind of stamped himself as a scattergun jack-of-all-trades, giving impressive performances in such films as: Spiderman (2002), 127 Hours (2010) and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011); but also starring in some haphazard comedies of which the hilarious This is the End (2013) was the best. Amidst his prodigious work ethic he has also produced some turkeys (i.e. Your Highness (2011); as well as pretentious adaptations of literary classics by William Faulkner. If pushed I would say that his faithful recreation of the cult of Wiseau is his greatest performance to date. The fact he directed the film too is also remarkable as he got the pitch of parody and drama just perfectly.

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Meta-textually, comedically and entertainment-wise this film is a highly satisfying cinematic experience. As the credits roll the sequence which compares scenes from The Room and Franco’s faithful simulacrum is a joy to behold. I can certainly recommend The Disaster Artist to anyone who enjoys seeing massive fails in the creative process of filmmaking. Having said that though this is a film which also pays tribute to the deluded fools trying to make it in Hollywood. I mean, however impossible it may seem Wiseau and Sestero, refuse to buckle in light of insurmountable odds. Their reward is one of the worst films ever made in The Room; but paradoxically it is a success as it has given so much joy to people at the same time. It’s this joie de vivre that the Franco’s bring forth and the underlying message is that without friendship, dreams and hopes you are nothing in Hollywood or life.

Mark: 9 out of 11

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

DIRECTOR:            Matt Spicer 

WRITERS:              Matt Spicer, David Branson-Smith

CAST:                    Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Billy Magnussen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Pom Klementieff,

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**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

Grief is something which we will, or have already experienced, and given the dramatic possibilities, death and overcoming the death of a loved one propels many narratives in the cinema, literature and music etc. Ingrid Knows Best is one such narrative and while much is made of the plague that is social media and Instagram culture, this is ultimately a story of how our anti-hero deals with the loss of her mother and, in some ways, her own identity. In short: she doesn’t handle it very well, but rather disassociates her grief and fixates on so-called on-line celebrities in order to distract herself and escape the pain.

Aubrey Plaza is brilliant as Ingrid and she is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. I loved her in Office-influenced sitcom, Parks and Recreation and the brilliant lo-fi-sci-fi-rom-com Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). However, in this film and the mind-bending science fiction series Legion (2017), she completely owns the show. Plaza has a rare skill for vulnerable insanity where she does crazy stuff but at the same time you really empathise with her character.

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In the opening scene she commits an act of pretty despicable revenge but once you see her living arrangements and family situation you really gain understanding of her character.  Even when Ingrid heads west and begins stalking her next obsession, Plaza’s doe-eyed-butter-wouldn’t-melt façade and crumbling inner humanity ensure you never lose empathy for her. The writing is excellent as the script creates humour, drama and skilful satire of the facile, narcissistic and selfie-obsessed culture we live in today. Elizabeth Olsen too is impressive as the “Instagram Queen” and object of Ingrid’s obsession.

Overall, this was just #brilliant #dark #funny #sad!  I was really satisfied with this film and while the slightly off-kilter crime-plot-turn near the end slightly unhinged the character study, the touching and thematically perfect ending was a brilliant pay-off for Ingrid’s character. Plaza though is the shining light of the film as she imbues Ingrid with not only the pathos of a zeitgeist Travis Bickle, but also a comedic mania which really brings the satire home.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

SCREENWASH ONE-LINER FILM REVIEWS

SCREENWASH ONE-LINER FILM REVIEWS

Sometimes it’s not necessary to go on and on about a film so here’s a rapid-fire round-up of films I’ve seen over the last couple of months. It’s like speed-dating for films but without the crushing romantic disappointment of mass rejection in one evening. As usual I accompany the reviews with marks out of eleven.

**SPOILER-FREE”

1922 (2017) – NETFLIX

Thomas Jane excels as a scheming farmer haunted by death, greed and rats!    (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE ACCOUNTANT (2016) – SKY CINEMA

An OCD-assassin portrayed by Ben Affleck wreaks havoc in a very tidy fashion.    (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ANDY AND JIM (2017) – NETFLIX

Schizoid-meta-textual-yet-intriguing Jim Carrey / Andy Kaufmann documentary. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

ANTHROPOID (2016) – NETFLIX

Gripping WWII story concerning Czech resistance fighters assassinating Nazis.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ASSASSINS’ CREED – SKY CINEMA

Stunning production values and cast are let down by a bemusing plot and script.   (Mark: 6 out of 11)

THE BAR (2017) – NETFLIX

Spanish comedy-thriller has selfish occupants trapped in a bar all turn on each other!    (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

BLEED FOR THIS (2016) – NETFLIX

Miles Teller excels as boxer Vinny Pazienza battling for survival in and out of the ring.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

DEATHNOTE (2017) – NETFLIX

Hamstrung horror film throws away a brilliant concept via hopeless script and acting.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

FREE STATE OF JONES (2016) – AMAZON

Watchable American Civil War historical drama with McConaughey on good form.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GOLD (2016) – AMAZON

McConaughey again shines as a modern day gold prospector in compelling drama.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

LIVE BY NIGHT (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Affleck as gangster anti-hero in stylish but empty “Roaring Twenties” adaptation.   (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE MEYOROWITZ STORIES (2017) – NETFLIX

Narcissistic family members talk at each other about life in pretentious drama.    (Mark: 7 out of 11)

SNOWDEN (2016) – NETFLIX

Oliver Stone brings the famous whistle-blower’s story to life in a well-shot drama.   (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

TRUE STORY (2015) – NETFLIX

Franco and Hill sleepwalk through a compelling real-life murder case narrative.   (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

THE WAILING (2016) – NETFLIX

Incredibly rendered yet abstract Korean horror centring on Shamans and viral death.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

WAR MACHINE (2017) – NETFLIX

Tonally haphazard mix of war satire, biopic and drama with Brad Pitt hamming it up.   (Mark: 6 out of 11)