UNDER THE SKIN (2013) – FILM REVIEW – PAUL LAIGHT

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)  – FILM REVIEW – PAUL LAIGHT

**Contains plot + interpretative spoilers**

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)  - FILM REVIEW - PAUL LAIGHT

UNIQUE filmmaking comes along every so often into the Multiplexes. This is cinematic Art of the highest quality, a sheer visual treat and an unnerving and very memorable experience.

NAKED and nameless at the start Scarlett’s character is a literal void or blank; her birth begins with an eye filling the screen backed by ambient, eerie and almost silent noise.  We then find her — against a stark white background — removing the clothes of a seemingly dead woman as she appears to steal her identity.

DEATH hangs over the film she is dropped at a grim rotting house located somewhere in Scotland and provided with a white van with which to seduce and kill unsuspecting men.   Her only contact here is a male “handler” or “pimp” on a motorcycle who cleans and collects her victims after she has led them to their demise.

EROTICISM initially drives the film as an often naked Scarlett becomes the focus of our gaze.  But her murderous actions render all sexual feelings redundant as we become accomplices to her crimes.

RELATIONSHIPS between Scarlett and the men is at the heart of the narrative. She connects with them coldly relying on her looks to hook them in then ends their lives and seemingly passes them onto her handler.

TORMENTED by her actions Scarlett becomes trapped by her mission. The story hinges on how the character becomes affected by her actions.  She slowly connects with her prey and ultimately becomes the hunted having gone absent without leave.

HORROR arrives not from shock tactics but the slow build-up of tension as events occur at a glacial pace. The scene on the beach is one of the most horrific I have seen at the cinema in recent years. Hack cuts and slashing music so prevalent in modern horror is eschewed in favour of strangeness, visual imagination and intense performances.

EERIE and unnerving the score is atmospheric while the dialogue is stripped naked and bare. Nothing is forced. The film is both highly stylised but seems natural simultaneously. You only have to look at Glazer’s work on music videos and adverts to know nothing is by accident.

SCARLETT Johansson is incredible under fantastic direction from Jonathan Glazer. My understanding is many of the scenes were improvised with untrained actors supporting her. She uses her sexuality to great impact but also shows an intensity perhaps not seen in her other performances.

KILLING and murder is shown in an incredibly imaginative way; shot in a dark room where she strips and leads the men to a weird liquid where they drown.  This is very surreal and symbolic. What this symbolises is down to the audience to decide. Like the rest of the film the makers deny us easy explanations refusing to spoon-feed meaning and reason into our Hollywood factory-fattened guts.

INTROSPECTIVE and moody the film really moved me. Scarlett’s character is a tragic figure who gains our eventual sympathy from being used, sexualised and pursued by men. She doesn’t want to be a murderer and desires herself humanity and attempts escape but finds she is unable to get away from an oppressive, pervasive patriarchy. This is reflected by a stunning ending that will haunt me for some time.

NOT quite a non-narrative film this is a surreal treat which while linear owes much to the work of David Lynch and Luis Bunuel. Based on Michael Faber’s novel I understand the lead character is an alien killing men for their flesh but this is totally left out of the movie version.

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I am happy that a British independent film got a proper release. I would hazard a guess Jonathan Glazer’s poetic, visceral and disturbing mood poem has found distribution amongst the popcorn strewn, coke-guzzling reaches of the Odeons and Vues due to the impressive presence of bona fide movie star and sex symbol Scarlett Johansson.

Overall, I wasn’t sure about Under The Skin (2013) after I had seen it. But like all great art it stayed with me and I could not get it out of my mind. And I still can’t. It’s not a super-hero film. It’s not a date movie. It’s not a 3-D CGI sick-fest. It’s pure, pulsing, hypnotic cinema of the highest quality that – IN MY OPINION – is about the exploitation of foreign sex workers brought to this country without hope, humanity or identity.

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TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #1 – ZACK SNYDER’S MAN OF STEEL

“I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams’ of this world.”  ZACK SNYDER


TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #1 –
MAN OF STEEL (2013)

This new strand for my blog is a chance for me to vent spleen and displace and transfer dissatisfaction with my own life onto a movie or moviemaker who has pissed me off.  Welcome ultra-all-technique-no-substance-human-photocopier-film-hack Zack Snyder!

Now, I’m just a lowly Office drone working in South London but when Snyder attacked my cinematic mate Terry Gilliam I felt the need to step in and have a go back.   Gilliam’s recent output has been sparse but overall he’s also been involved in some of the most intelligent, original and imaginative films of my lifetime:  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Jabberwocky (1977), Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995),  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).

Snyder on the other hand has directed three enjoyable facsimile-films (Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2007), Watchmen (2009) all derived from other more talented artists ideas. But after that he has directed some right turkeys notably Sucker Punch (2011) which I can safely say is one of the worst films I have ever seen.  It’s so bad it’s not even so bad it’s good.  AND HE STILL GOT THE MAN OF STEEL GIG!!  Here’s 10 reasons why I hate Man of Steel.  There could’ve been more.


#1 – MAKING GOOD ACTORS LOOK BAD

Firstly, Henry Cavill was a great choice as Superman and the supporting cast comprising of Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane etc. were well chosen but the performances aside from Cavill just seemed off to me in both timing and tone.  Shannon especially just came across as totally misdirected. Watch him in Revolutionary Road (2008)  and Boardwalk Empire to see how good he can be.




#2 – POOR CONSTRUCTION

The ghost of Batman Begins (2005) hangs heavy over the David S. Goyer’s screenplay structure. But where the back-and-forth cutting between past and present seemed to work with Nolan’s film I don’t think it worked at all well in MoS.    It’s an amazing looking jigsaw but with the pieces put in the wrong order.  To me the most interesting part of the film from a character point-of-view was the early stuff with young Kal-El growing up and these scenes were brilliant but thrown away so Snyder could crow bar in more explosions and soulless CGI set-pieces.

#3 – LOIS LANE

Lois is a strong character in the original comics and previous Superman films. But she was so poorly introduced that the she never ever recovered in MoS. Not so much a character but more a pawn in the plot, dramatic damsel-in-distress (why did Zod take her on the ship), or vessel to reveal background information about Kal-El; present in scenes physically but without emotional resonance.  A waste of one of my favourite actresses Amy Adams.


#4 – BAS-EL EXPOSITION AND OTHER AWFUL DIALOGUE

This film has some of the worst dialogue I have heard in a movie ever!  You might say that Snyder didn’t write it but as he’s helming the ship he has final say.  And in this instance the filmic boat sank.  Characters speak in either unrealistic “movie-speak” notably Costner’s surrogate father and I don’t mind that because I know this is a comic-book world and can handle statements like:

“He sent you here for a reason, Clark. And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” 

But what I cannot stand is characters telling us out aloud their jobs or back-stories or events already seen.  Crowe’s character pops up throughout to reveal history and updates the audience on important plot points even though we have already seen his planet explode at the start.  Further, we’re told Lois Lane has won the Pulitzer Prize IN THE DIALOGUE!  Show us a plaque or her getting an award!  WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SHOW NOT TELL!!  SHOW NOT TELL!!

#5 – OVERALL STYLE & PACE

Snyder has the timing of a teenage pregnancy.  I tried to watch MoS on Blu-Ray again recently but had to turn it off before the end as it is unwatchable.  Snyder went TOO Avatar from the start in my view – Crowe riding some stupid flying beast.  He also copied many of the mistakes he made with Sucker Punch such as over-blown action set-piece on top of over-the-top CGI firework fest without characters we care one bit about.   Any elements of subtlety and nuance are raped by computer images smashing and crashing through in a destructive fit-inducing-ADHD-driven nightmare.

#6 – WHY SO SERIOUS?

Aside from a couple of moments such as the bar-room truck driver’s ride being dismantled there is very little humour in MoS.   It tries so hard to emulate the tone of the Dark Knight but fails miserably and the decision to try and make Kal-El some kind of Christ-like figure was woeful. This is a comic book movie and should be fun!   Marvel’s movies are full of humour. I understand that it doesn’t have to be zingers and punchlines throughout but there’s more humour at a funeral than in MoS.

#7NOT SO MUCH PLOT HOLES AS PLOT CAVES!

My theory on the disappearance of the Malaysian plane is that it flew into and vanished into the abyss of Man of Steel’s screenplay which has more black holes than the whole of space.  It’s a joke really as we get the scenes where Zod’s army of rebels suddenly turn up to wreak havoc on Earth with some ridiculous unbelievable flashback telling us how they got there. Plus, how does Clark get on the Arctic expedition having only just worked at a bar?  Plus, how convenient that two soldiers would talk about a top secret find within ear-shot of our hero. Plus, would Kal-el really let his father die?  Plus, given our media-driven society could Kal-El/Superman really have lasted that long without coming under some kind of scrutiny or investigation beforehand.  Need I go on?


#8 – TOO MUCH STORY

Man of Steel is like a series of long, long, long sentences without proper punctuation. It basically crammed the stories of Christopher Reeve’s Superman 1 and 2 into Man of Steel and the whole film suffers in my view.   As aforementioned the boy’s childhood is skimmed over with a few really good scenes stuck into flashbacks and Lois Lane’s and Kal-El’s relationship is rushed in favour of launching us into an over-extended final act of ridiculous action.  By the end of the film I was exhausted.   I like big block-busting-roller-coasting-comic book films when they are done right. Iron Man (2008) and Avengers Assemble (2012) showed what a blast comic book films could be but they had humour, wit, pacing, action, charismatic actors all well directed and many more assets that Snyder’s piss-poor effort lacked.

#9 – UNBELIEVABLE UNBELIEVABILITY

Aside from the scenes when he was a kid I just didn’t believe any of it.   Emotionless, insipid and draining it felt like one long extended video-game with someone else holding the controls.  And while it looked great the action had no tension or suspense either. The phrase “less is more” is definitely NOT applicable here.  Plus, the overly science-fiction feeling of the film did not work for me.  In J. Michael Straczynski’s screenwriting book he talked about writing fantasy and sci-fi and said that as a writer you must strive to make believable unbelievability.  Whedon got this right with Avengers Assemble (2012) as did Lucas with Star Wars (1977) as did Terry Gilliam is the majority of his work.  In some ways I think the computer-generated movie era has lost that magic I witnessed when growing up.  Perhaps I’m to blame having seen too many movies. Who knows?  I just didn’t believe Man of Steel.

#10 – WE COULD HAVE GOT ARONOFSKY!

Here’s how:

“Over at Warner Bros., studio chief Jeff Robinov‘s fierce loyalty to director Zack Snyder is being tested June 14 with the $225 million Man of Steel. The relationship dates to the 2007 hit 300, even though Snyder’s three subsequent Warners films – Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Sucker Punch – disappointed. However, while giving him Man of Steel (over the other finalist, Darren Aronofsky), Robinov took out insurance with producer Christopher Nolan, the studio’s most important filmmaker (Batman, Inception). “Chris had the confidence in Zack, and based on the movie I’ve seen, Chris was spot-on,” says Warners president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman.”

So we could have got Darren Aronofsky for Man of Steel but instead got Zack Snyder.  Who is going to save us from the Snyder’s of the world?!?    Lord help us!

NON-STOP – Film Review by Paul Laight

NON-STOP - Film Review by Paul Laight

NON-STOP – Film Review by Paul Laight

**CONTAINS CLIPS & SPOILERS**

Having recently been intellectually challenged by heavyweight cinematic offerings such as 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Lego Movie (2014) I decided to go see Liam Neeson’s latest actioner for a change of pace and mood.  Indeed, Non-Stop (2014) wears its’ B-movie credentials proudly and passes as very serviceable entertainment if you don’t want to have to think too hard for 106 minutes.

The story is an intriguing one.  Bill Marks (Neeson) – identikit tragi-alcoholic-cop with bereaved past – is a US Air Marshal responsible for flight security.  However, this journey is going to be a very bumpy ride as one mysterious passenger has it in for Bill.  The baddie is going to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes if their demands aren’t met.  This plays out with a great deal of suspense and Neeson fighting against the clock to save lives as death comes-a-knocking.  The claustrophobic nature of the setting really cranks up the tension and there’s a neat little twist as Marks’ himself becomes the main suspect.

The film opens slowly establishing all the players and as it progresses it reminded me of an Agatha Christie mystery with Neeson playing rugged, brutish and ever-more frantic detective.  It’s great fun as the criminal gives Marks the runaround as they kill off passengers in some imaginative ways. Everyone becomes a suspect and the plot deftly keep you guessing with misdirection as your suspicions move from one character to another. It reminded me of another decent B-movie I saw last year Red Riding Hood (2011).    In all honesty the film falls apart slightly at the end with a mildly ridiculous reveal that’s masked during the rip-roaring final set-piece. But overall I enjoyed this unpretentious movie helmed by the very competent genre director Jaume Collet-Serra.

The main asset of Non-Stop is an excellent cast notably one of my favourite actresses – the stunning Julianne Moore.   Moore, Corey Stoll, Linus Roache, Scoot McNairy add some quality in support to the main man: Liam Neeson.   The tough Irishman rises above some  silly dialogue and clichéd characters as he once again proves himself an excellent action hero. Who would have thought the star of historical epics such as Michael Collins (1996), Schindler’s List (1993) would’ve carved out a latter-day career as an ass-kicking tough guy.  But he’s always mixed it up throughout his career appearing in big budget blockbusters and lower budget movies.

Interestingly, Neeson is reportedly have turned down the role of James Bond in the 1990s. Which is a shame because as he demonstrated in massive sleeper hit Taken (2008), really good Euro-thriller Unknown (2011) and Non-Stop (2013) he is a magnetic presence on screen, someone who you root for and also very decent in a punch-up.  While socio-politicists may argue Taken was xenophobic and tapped into a subconscious fear of foreigners – who really cares!  Sometimes you just want to watch a film where a bloke built like a brick shithouse beats the crap out of a load of bad guys! And Neeson does this with aplomb in Non-Stop, but this time it’s wrapped in a murder mystery whodunnit set in the mile-high club.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS – Film Review by Paul Laight

**CONTAINS CLIPS & SPOILERS**

It’s always a good reason to carry on living when you know Joel and Ethan Coen are bringing out a new film. Their sophisticated melding of genre and art movies are always beautifully shot and carefully constructed  with terrific scripts and casts.  They also have an inimitable quirkiness, memorable characters and a fantastic use of music. Even their remakes are generally better than most filmmakers’ “original” offerings.  What I’m saying is that I really wanted to enjoy Inside Llewyn Davis  and do you know what: Inside Llewyn Davis rocked. Well, it melodically swayed to its’ own harmonious beat.

The Coen Bros.  last film was the impressive big budget remake of John Wayne horse-opera True Grit (2010) while Inside Llewyn Davis is a lower-budget affair with more akin to their dark character comedies Barton Fink (1991) and A Serious Man (2009). It centres on eponymous anti-heroic folk-musician Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) as he struggles with both his personal and professional life on a day-to-day basis in 1960s New York.  He’s not a likeable character but is a wonderful musician with an earthy if not wholly commercial talent.  Here the film works as companion piece to Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown (1999) which was also about a talented but far more scummy jazz musician.

The Coen Bros. often place their characters in interesting settings e.g.  the snowy landscapes of Fargo (1996);  or give them jobs not usually seen in movies such as the Barber in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) and Gym Instructors in Burn After Reading (2008); or hobbies like the bowling dudes in The Big Lebowski (1998).  Moreover, they are also very fond of period pieces and have featured the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s etc. within their oeuvre; in fact the only era they may not have covered is the future. Inside Llewyn Davis is a nostalgia-filled journey back in time to the 60s folk and smoke-filled, bohemian, beatnik back bars of Greenwich Village, New York. I don’t know much about this period of Americana but it is a time that is beautifully evoked and stunningly designed; browns and beiges dominating a cool yet also warm wintry palette. It is a expertly crafted simulacrum that never slips into parody either as shown in the songs used which are faithful renditions of traditional and original numbers.

Episodic in structure the film drifts like couch-surfing Llewyn Davis introducing us to a whole new set of Coenesque eccentrics. Our ‘hero’ is an archetypal rolling stone gathering no moss but rather a whole host of issues. These problems range from a missing neighbour’s cat, pregnant “girlfriend”, homelessness, family dysfunction, indifferent agent, lack of money and career prospects.  Described as an anti-Midas by Carey Mulligan’s very angry Jean, Llewyn’s life has stalled and while he plays and sings beautifully he is more menstrual than minstrel. He’s a rather pathetic character drifting through life having seemingly fallen out of love with music despite still pursuing a career as a solo artist.   Throughout, actor Oscar Isaac delivers a phenomenal performance full of anger, pain and heart all with an underlying glint of sly humour.

As someone who has been in a band when I was young and someone who continues to try a forge some semblance of a path as a filmmaker and comedian I recognised much of the jaded feelings the character experienced and empathised with the continual rejections he faced. But I also felt distanced as in my opinion one should relax a bit and enjoy the journey. Llewyn Davis has a gift — more talented than I could ever hope — but is a character that is depressed by his current existence and nothing seems to be able to shake him out of the funk. There is an air of self-destructiveness, anger and bitterness too which affects his relationships with the decent group of people around who try to help him. The Coen Bros. have in the past been accused of making films that lack heart. I never agreed with that but could see why people may see their work as more style than substance. This film strums away such accusations with a truly mesmerising character study full of heart and soul and regret and fear, humour and emotion.

On the surface the film could be described as a “musician trying to make it” film but underneath it’s about loss and grief in my view; loss of a career following the death of his double-act partner, loss of direction, loss of love for music.   Part mood-poem, part-road-movie, part-musical, part-comedy it has a brilliant cast and some wonderful acting and musical performances.  I’m not a fan of folk music per se, and have little knowledge of the era but that didn’t matter as this is a gem of a film; a cyclical-structured study of loss about an unlovable loser and struggling artist with a bit of Greek tragedy thrown in. If you love the Coen Bros. you’ll certainly love Llewyn Davis.

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS + CLIPS**

The artist/director Steve McQueen is a very important filmmaker and his films to date include the searing character study of Bobby Sands in Hunger (2008) and the pulverising sex-addict study of Shame (2011).  His latest epic is another intense offering based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.  Indeed, in just 3 feature films McQueen has proven himself a genuine cinematic artist and a beacon of real quality and must-see drama.

Whereas Sands in Hunger was driven by political motives and Sullivan in Shame unable to control his animal instincts then Northup’s character is a family man, a proud and free individual living with his wife and child in Washington.  It is there that the story cross-cuts with later events and Solomon’s unjust capture into slavery. He is a dedicated family man and his character is epitomised at the beginning when he turns down the sexual advances of a female captive; my understanding being he could not compromise his fidelity despite being imprisoned in this Louisiana hell.

From the start you’re really rooting for Northup as he is shown to be intelligent, musical and scholarly gentlemen both proud and faithful.  His kidnapping is a press-ganging of the most heinous kind as he led away from Washington with the promise of lucrative work then tricked when seemingly at his most content. The subsequent journey through the plantations of New Orleans is a most despicable crime against humanity and McQueen shows this is many scenes of physical, verbal and mental abuse perpetrated against Northup and other characters.  Here pain and suffering has never looked so beautiful with stunning cinematography by Sean Bobbitt. It’s a story of sunshine and pain with McQueen utilizing Northup’s life microcosmically in regard to the slave movement as a whole.

The cast are incredible from Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the leading role of Northup to evil slave-zealot Michael Fassbender, benign yet complicit Benedict Cumberbatch and many more including Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, standing out in supporting roles. It has received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for McQueen, and Best Actor for Ejiofor, and Best Supporting Actor for Fassbender, and Best Supporting Actress for Nyong’o and I would be shocked if it doesn’t win something.

McQueen treats the subject matter with the reverence and power it deserves and literally paints a brutal, inhumane and devastating set of images with which to tell the story. He often favours long takes notably the scene where Solomon hangs clinging by his toenails to life. This is a stand-out iconic scene and it is too much to bear because we have so much invested in Solomon’s character by this stage and really want his suffering to end.  But that’s where Fassbender’s Epps enters the play and the intensity is ratcheted up and then some.

For well over an hour 12 Years a Slave is majestic filmmaking of the highest quality. Northup’s characterisation is incredible, however, this is to the detriment of the other characters who dip in and out of the narrative notably Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ford, who to me was the most interesting of the white slavers as he appeared to be a compassionate man trapped within a vicious societal circle of hate.  Fassbender’s maniacal Epps I feel deserved a better introduction because even though the actor is once again breath-taking I felt the performance MORE than the actual character.  The two wives of the slavers were one-dimensional and interchangeably evil, plus, I was disappointed Paul Dano’s character left the narrative too early.  The major casting disappointment is the glory-hunting role Brad Pitt gave himself as the kind Canadian carpenter who assists Northup in his quest to escape.  Pitt is a great movie star and I love his work but he’s too big in my opinion to appear so late in such a story as this.  I was deeply involved only to suddenly be reminded I was watching a Hollywood movie.

Steve McQueen is a master craftsmen and has made a near-flawless work of cinema even though I must admit the ending left me very frustrated.  There is power and emotion for all to see but I wanted more satisfaction for Northup’s character and some kind of retribution to be dealt to his captors. McQueen had cooked up such an intense soup of pain and suffering I wanted more of a release. Indeed, it seemed quite a passive denouement to me especially when compared to a film such as Glory (1989) and the Roman Slave action epic Spartacus (1960). However, this is a more personal epic and the filmmakers have clearly stayed true to the honour of the original book so my personal desire for cinematic revenge on the slavers will just have to be met by Tarantino’s dancing-horse-bad-ass-Blaxploitation-Western Django Unchained (2012) I suppose.

THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) – Movie Review by Paul Laight

THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) – Movie Review by Paul Laight

**PLEASE NOTE THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS – NOT THAT IT MATTERS AS THE PLOT IS LIFTED WHOLESALE FROM THE MATRIX ANYWAY**

Have you ever been urinated on from a great height with lemonade while simultaneously being crapped on by a chocolate log?  No, nor have I. But in my mind that’s what watching the sweet sickly Diabetes: The Motion Picture AKA The Lego Movie (2014) felt like to me. Not for a while have I failed to enjoy a film so much yet admired the technical expertise and all-round skills of the makers involved.

Is it the film’s fault or mine?  I am a jaded cynic but usually I can put that aside when reviewing family movies like this and analyse the story objectively but I can’t do it this time for some reason.  I just couldn’t shrug off the feeling I was watching one long one-hundred-minute advert for Lego Co. Corp. PLC. I had the choice to either give in to the Matrix or resist it.  I resisted and wish I hadn’t because after I felt like I’d been on a rollercoaster having just drank eighteen Oreo milkshakes. Thus, as an objective reviewer I have failed.  I remember when product placement was subtle. Not anymore. This and the recent Google film The Internship (2013) have moved the goalposts; so much so there no one knows where the goal is anymore or the pitch.

The story involves Emmet Brickowski, an ordinary construction worker, who falls into a hole and finds the mystical Piece of Resistance. Various factions then pursue Emmet including the Master Builders led by Wizard Vitruvius (good) and — winging-it Will Ferrell — Lord Business (bad).  The Piece of Resistance acts as the archetypal Macguffin as we are led through a cavalcade of Lego Worlds and Lego characters lifted wholesale from popular culture including: Batman, Gandalf, Wonder Woman etc.  Emmet is given a reasonable character arc as he moves from someone who always follows instructions to someone who can use his imagination and become the ‘Chosen One’ blah, blah, blah!  Throw in a romantic subplot and you basically have The Matrix (1999) but in Lego form.

The film opens really well with a satirical dig at a homogenised society not too dissimilar to ours while the colourful sets, fast-paced action and imaginative set-pieces really drive the movie forward. But unlike the genius of Pixar I did not care for one moment who did what and what was going on.  In fact, there was TOO MUCH going on and it was happening too fast to take on board.  The most interesting character for me was Liam Neeson’s Bad Cop as he had some element of duality plus there’s some fine gags in there especially at the expense of Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight.  But by the end I felt ill as it lays on a glaucomic message within its mildly intelligent but very obvious final act reveal.

The Lego Movie (2014) is basically Ketamine-for-Kids storytelling; capitalism at its most insidious.  Vacuum-packed product placement wrapped beautifully in state-of-the-art animation and an overly-knowing and satirical script. The filmmakers deserve much credit for their genius in making a presentable bit of entertainment out of a soulless toy brick.  These extended moving billboards are the movies of the future, made by uber-smart college geniuses with no life experience; incubated in a shiny, postmodern void with no heart, soul, nor humanity.

I remember Lego being the best creative brick type toy you could play with when growing up. Then as I got older and had a kid myself I recall screaming in agony as I trod on it barefoot, quickly followed by a performance of a hate-filled Native American swear-dance. Only then for my son to get bored with Lego when he discovered Xbox and it was consigned to the attic to  gather dust. Now Lego is back puking all over the cinema with colours and sounds and a horrifically and deliberately repetitive song. No!  Everything is not awesome.  And I know the film is striving for satire on our conformist and capitalist times but it does it while conforming to the most horrific section of capitalism: namely advertising.   The Lego Movie (2014) is Nazi-efficient filmmaking of the highest quality.  The kids will love it.  But you have a choice: to take the red or blue pill. I took the red pill. I wish I had just given in but there’s still resistance in my jaded mind. Damn you brain – damn you to hell!

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE – #1 RYAN GOSLING by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE – #1 RYAN GOSLING  

**THIS CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS, CLIPS and REFERENCE TO ADULT LOVE DOLLS**

To compliment my post last week which featured films with dark or extreme love, today I am hailing the romantic impact of movie heartthrob Ryan Gosling.

#1  – DRIVE (2011)

This is a very romantic film with great chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan. It is also uber-cool with Gosling doing his post-modern Steve McQueen thing really well while Mulligan does sweetness personified.  It’s very pure cinema with minimal dialogue and just a longing, passionate look here or there to drive the love story.  Winding Refn is known for his brutal and violent films and this one erupts at the end but The Driver’s motivation is not revenge but rather protection of loved ones; namely Mulligan’s single mum and son.  Is there anything more romantic on screen than killing to protect the one’s you love?

#2 – LARS & THE REAL GIRL (2007)

This is such an original, quirky and goddamn touching movie.  Gosling’s character – sporting a Pupkin style moustache – has had some kind of personality breakdown and in an attempt to comfort himself he purchases a ‘human’ doll online. So far so weird.  He then treats her as he would a real girlfriend.  What is amazing is that the townsfolk where he lives also join in the “make-believe” and slowly but surely Bianca (playing herself) becomes part of the community.  The writer/filmmakers could have gone down a road of smut and low-brow humour but instead deliver a really humble and slyly humorous portrayal of grief, mental breakdown and loneliness. Gosling is understated brilliance throughout but it’s the Doll which steals the acting honours.


#3 – BLUE VALENTINE (2010)

This is one of the most realistic portrayals of a relationship ever committed to the screen.  It features the beginning, middle and end of Gosling and Michelle Williams’ love for each other; although not necessarily in that order.  The chemistry between the two is electric and it is so painful to see a couple break apart as they do by the end, having witnessed such a beautiful coming together previously.  What I loved about the film was the humanity of the relationship showing both men and women as both negatives and positives in the story.  Both romantic and heart-breaking in equal measure this is definitely not a film to watch on your own on Valentine’s Day having just broken up with someone.


#4 – CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011)

I really enjoyed this ensemble comedy from the writers of Bad Santa. A  sexy looking cast full of fine young and mature Hollywood talent was very much a surprising like for me.  There was pleasant chemistry between Carell’s downtrodden husband and his wife played by the ever-lovely Julianne Moore and fine cameos from Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei.   Gosling nicely satirises his Hollywood heartthrob good looks playing a gigolo who is able to conquer women with the merest flutter of his get-your-kit-off eyes. The scenes where he trains Carell’s romantic loser up as a womaniser are funny and a nice reversal of the usual Hollywood cliches which show an older man training up a young rookie.  Emma Stone is pretty hot too and can act as she showed in the films Easy A (2009), Zombieland (2010)  and The Help (2011). Her scenes with Gosling are very funny and I liked her feisty character as she actually steals his heart by initially refusing to give in to his ample charms.  


#5 – THE NOTEBOOK (2004)

I am a massive cynic and it takes a lot to melt my iceberg heart but this film attacks you with not one, but TWO heartfelt, tear-jerking stories interweaved simultaneously.   Based on super-schmaltzy literary work of Nicholas Sparks I’d kind of avoided watching it but am glad I succumbed as it is a lovely film. It’s the kind of movie you enjoy watching with the heating cranked up while the rain smashes down outside.  In the present an elderly couple attempt to reconnect despite her Alzheimer’s, while in the past a young chap from the wrong sides of the tracks tries to woo a Southern Belle despite her families protestations.  It’s a sensory overload of sloppy sentimentality and black-belt romance clichés but the film fully embraces these conventions, telling us in the process that love for another human is the main reason for living.  The cast are breath-taking including Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner and Gena Rowlands and they really raise the material above the standard Mills and Boon plot. It’s easy to dismiss Nicholas Sparks’ writing but it is phenomenally successful so you have to admire his and the filmmakers’ ability to make such cheesy romance so highly entertaining.  This film embodies the definition of a guilty pleasure in my (note)book.

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!