Tag Archives: Christmas

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS**

los-alamos-poster-tall-1536x864

After the biggest budgeted fan film of all time was released last year with The Force Awakens (2015), I approached Rogue One (2016) with a sense of scepticism. After all, JJ Abrams directed Star Wars movie was essentially a block-to-block remake of A New Hope (1977) but this time substituting Luke Skywalker for a young woman, Rey, (Daisy Ridley) and Darth Vader for a younger more angst-ridden version in Adam Driver. Abrams spectacular epic delighted fans on emotional and aesthetic levels despite the sandcastle plotting, gaping story holes and illogical incompetence of the First Order. For example, why build a ‘Death Planet’ with the SAME weaknesses as the Empire’s Death Star?  It did not make sense to me.

Nonetheless, JJ Abrams safety guaranteed reboot broke not only the internet but also box office records worldwide. It’s a safe and impressive spectacle with bland leads and a nostalgic mix of familiar and new characters. The action was breathless and pristine but the weaknesses in the story ruined the enjoyment of The Force Awakens for me. While it made sense to focus the narrative on the children of the original trilogy, and it was great to see Harrison Ford reprising Han Solo, I wasn’t as impressed by Abrams blockbuster as many were. Of course, compared to George Lucas’-rise-and-fall-of-Annakin-Skywalker-prequel-trilogy it was pure cinema gold.

Talking of prequels Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is just that – Star Wars: Episode 3.5 as it were.  The action takes place after Revenge of the Sith (2005) but just before A New Hope.  We open with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic pursuing Mads Mikkelsen’s ‘farmer’, Galen Erso, on the planet Lah’mu. Krennic is an Imperial executive working on the Death Star and he requires Erso’s expertise to complete the work so kidnaps him, leaving behind his young daughter Jyn Erso, alone and abandoned.

rogue-one-jyn-ersa-geared-up.jpg

As per many other stories in the Star Wars galaxy themes relating to war, family, loss, orphans and hope propels the characters in Rogue One. None more so than Felicity Jones’ grown up Jyn Erso, who inhabits her character with a credible depth and pain throughout. She has clearly had to fend for herself and has become world-weary for one so young, yet she is also tough and very handy in a fight. Against her will she is thrust into the rebellion fight and embarks on a last-ditch mission to locate the plans of the Death Star. Here the story harks back marvellously to the derring-do of WW2 movies such as The Guns of Navarone (1961), Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). That was when I knew this was my kind of movie.

Accompanying Jyn are a ragtag bunch of characters who could arguably been given more backstory but are cast very well. My personal favourite was Donny Yen as Chirrut Imwe as the blind, elegant and formidable ‘monk’ and Diego Luna’s battle-drained rebellion officer who refuses to go down without a fight. With the plot thrusting along at some pace we still have time for reflection by the characters, especially from Luna and Jones. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Ben Mendelsohn gives an intriguing performance as a middle manager unable to grasp the power he so craves.  Darth Vader’s scenes too were fantastically handled in my view and while initially jarring the CGI appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin/Peter Cushing was a curious treat.

ben_mendohlsen

Whereas JJ Abrams skilfully emulated the emotions of the original Star Wars films, Gareth Edwards (and apparently re-shoot director Tony Gilroy) really imbue a sense of menace and doom to the Rogue One mission.  The stakes are incredibly high, and while we know the outcome, most of the characters are given enough purpose to make you care for them. From the stark landscape of the opening scenes to the stunningly bleak midpoint set-piece on the base facility of planet Eadu, pathos, shadow and death inhabit the film’s core. Indeed, it reflects the darker side of the franchise like The Empire Strikes Back (1980) so succinctly.

Of course, the story is all building to an incredible final act where Jyn and her crew seek those darned plans which are inconveniently kept in an impossible-to-breach fortress protected by battalions of Imperial Stormtroopers, droids and weaponry. As our heroes battle for their lives and the future of the rebellion, we cut breathlessly between the space dogfights we have come to love and the explosive conflict on the planet surface. Do they complete their mission? Well, you know the end; however, amidst the fast-paced action and special effects there is time for a sense of loss and a series of spectacular and heroic deaths.

donnie_yen_rogue-one-donnie-yen-20161217.jpg

Where, in my opinion, A Force Awakens was Disney playing it safe, this film takes a few more chances within the corporate conservatism of the movie market. While it has a darkness in its’ heart Rogue One still meets the classic Hollywood “standardization and differentiation” model which has served big business since the dawn of time. Overall this isn’t just a great Star Wars film but a brilliant movie too. It’s very much in the vein of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), as it transcends the franchise while delivering a pulsating, heroic and emotional experience. While the canonized Skywalker arcs continue to concentrate on expanding the Jedi family tree, the stand-alone anthology series, of which Rogue One is the first, offer an opportunity to perhaps go darker and experiment with form, character and themes.

 

 

Advertisements

SCREENWASH – AUGUST 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – AUGUST 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

A quick smash through the stuff I’ve been watching on TV, Netflix, Sky and at the cinema for the month of August. I shall be keeping it brief as going on holiday to Maine tomorrow. Also, there are not as many reviews as usual as having been filming my own short film this month; all the details can be found here: http://startrekshortfilm.com/. Moreover, I am in the midst of slogging through the Danish original version of The Killing (2007), which is excellent but also very long and time-consuming.  As usual, in tribute to Spinal Tap, marks are out of eleven.

BETTER CALL SAUL (2016) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

Are there any better character drama shows around than this one? The writing and acting in Season 2 was just brilliant. I also enjoyed the direction as the characters and situations are allowed to breathe and evolve as opposed to whizz-bang-smash-cut-resolution. Cast including: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks and the exceptional Michael McKean make it a joy to watch. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

BAD MOMS (2016) – CINEMA

By-the-numbers-chick-flick which is actually funnier than I thought it would be thanks to fine comedic turns from Kathryn Hahn and Christina Applegate. Bush-baby lookalike Mila Kunis is decent enough too as the mother-of-two who decides she just cannot stand anymore of her turbulent family life!  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

COMPUTER CHESS (2013) – DVD

This film directed by Andrew Bujalski was shot on analogue video cameras in black and white and has mainly non-professional actors playing IT freaks and geeks who enter a computer chess programming competition. It’s frankly a barmy-indie-geeky-mumble-core-curio that is kind of unwatchable but must be praised for sheer originality and experimental style. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

CRIMSON PEAK (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Guillermo Del Toro’s beautifully shot gothic horror/romance stars Mia Wasikowska who is swept off her feet by handsome Tom Hiddleston.  It’s your basic haunted house story with a Murder She Wrote murder mystery thrown in; the star of the show is the cinematography and costume/set design. Jessica Chastain provides eerie glamour as Hiddleston’s enigmatic sister but the whole thing could’ve been mined for many more scares. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2011) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

This is an absolutely sensational contemporary drama starring the incredibly good Damian Lewis and Claire Danes as soldier and CIA agent dealing with the aftermath of his return from imprisonment by al-Qaeda. Throughout the story fear and suspense are so powerful as the plot twists and the dramatic noose tightens the story constantly wrong foots you. Brilliantly written and acted this is politically astute and one very intelligent thriller. Highly recommended. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1979) – DVD

Classic gangster film starring the imperious Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand: an upwardly mobile cockney gangster who in seeking to legitimise his “corporation” finds himself having a VERY bad day. Amidst all the colourful language, violence and explosions we have an adroit examination of the politics of the day and a portent to fast-approaching “greed is good” mentality of the 1980s. Often copied but rarely bettered; it has some great British actors and spot-on working class dialogue throughout. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

OUTCAST (2016) – FOX

Intriguing horror fable from the creators of The Walking Dead combined family drama with a demonic possession storyline. Starring Patrick Fugit, Brett Spiner and Philip Glenister, it started really well with some great scares and interesting characters. However, my interest waned as the plodding pace and lack of narrative clarity made me NOT care. It’s well made and acted but I doubt I will go back to the second season. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

PATHS OF GLORY (1957) – BFI CINEMA

Quite rightly Paths of Glory has been proclaimed a masterpiece and one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. It’s filled with the now-iconic tracking shots of bloody battle, plus many tremendous performances. Overall, I have watched this classic many times and having seen it on the big screen recently I can testify that it has lost NONE of its grandstanding power. . (Mark: 11 out of 11) For my full review see here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/paths-of-glory-1957-classic-film-review-by-paul-laight/
 

RED SHIFT (1978) – DVD

Play for Today adaptation of Alan Garner’s pretentious novel which analyses various human relationship dynamics, cosmology and love in Roman, medieval and English Civil times. Artsy and impenetrable, it may be the work of genius yet I found it, on the whole, unwatchable to be honest. Sometimes I think people think things are clever because the writer has not defined meaning precisely thus leaving the themes open to interpretation. I just found it tedious. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

 

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT (2015) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

Kidnapped by a charismatic cult leader and tricked into living in an underground bunker for fifteen years, naïve but tough Kimmy Schmidt is released into a very different world.  Ellie Kempner is brilliant as the indefatigable Kimmy who moves to New York to start a new life and meets a whole host of rich and poor narcissists and eccentrics.  The jokes come thick and fast throughout but the premise wore thin as the episodes went on but overall a very funny comedy.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

UPSTREAM COLOR (2013) – DVD

Shane Carruth’s mind-bending and pretentious film is both ambitious and brave and incredible for the budget it was shot on! Artsy and impenetrable, it may be the work of genius yet I found it, on the whole, unwatchable to be honest. Sometimes I think people think things are clever because the writer has not defined meaning precisely thus leaving the themes open to interpretation. I just found it tedious. A wonderful premise and intriguing themes give way to a lack of care for the characters. Sorry. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

SCREENWASH: JULY 2016 REVIEWS by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JULY 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

My general viewing in July was an eclectic mix of splendid art cinema and excellent genre television shows.  So, here’s what I watched with marks out of eleven and MASSIVE SPOILERS:

 

ANT-MAN (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Saw this in the cinema last year and it was one of the most entertaining films of 2015!  It’s simplistic narrative-wise but what it does have is a fizzing script full of zingers and comedic moments as well as some great action set-pieces built around the well-orchestrated final act heist. It is just terrific seeing charismatic Paul Rudd in big-budget film plus fun supporting cast including: Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena and scenery-chewing baddie Corey Stoll all add class to proceedings. This is great fun and proves that not ALL superhero films have to be HUGE as sometimes small is beautiful. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

DAREDEVIL (2016) – Season 2 – NETFLIX

I absolutely loved this noir superhero show. Season 1 was brilliant and, despite the faceless one-dimensional Ninja villains, this was as good, if not even better! We follow on from Daredevil’s capture of the “Kingpin” Wilson Fisk as he finds new friends and foes in Frank Castle, “The Chaste”, Elektra and “The Hand”. This has it all including: amazing fight scenes, bloody violence, rip-roaring action and hellish derring-do. I think John Bernthal’s “Punisher” takes the plaudits with a fine origins story and great Lee-Marvin-Charles-Bronson-tough-guy-bone-crunching-performance. Once again Charlie Cox as Matt Murdoch is brilliant combining subtlety and physical prowess during his turn as blind lawyer AND the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORELL (2015) – DVD

This seven-part fantasy-period drama had everything: wonderful effects, dark villains, magical narratives and sterling performances from Bertie Carvel, Alice Englert, Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren.  However, at times I was perplexed and a bit bored because unfortunately, despite the stunning imagery, design and imagination on show the narrative stumbled from beginning to end failing to create empathy for the main characters and entertain me with cogent plot strands. Susanna Clarke’s original novel is apparently a literary classic thus perhaps it may have benefited from a connecting voiceover. Yet, it remains a prestige BBC product which  many will love; it just did not connect with me on an emotional level. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

MEN AND CHICKEN (2015) – CINEMA

This is one of the most hilarious, unsettling and philosophical comedies you will see in a long time. Similar in tone as last year’s terrific arthouse hit The Lobster (2015), Anders Thomas Jensen has written a cross-pollenated comedy-slapstick-art-horror film that centres on two adopted brothers and their search for their biological father. Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik portray the siblings who find quite disturbing answers on the Island of Ork where all manner of genetic experimentation has been carried out by their father. This is a weird yet compelling story which lurches from hilarious physical violence to examinations of religion and science that I can only describe as being like the Three Stooges meet The Island of Dr Moreau.  One of the most original, odd and strangely moving films you will see all year.(Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE NEON DEMON (2016) – CINEMA

Being an admirer of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy, Bleeder and Bronson films I am well aware his films do divide opinion. Drive (2011) with Ryan Gosling was a brilliant noir romance yet his last film Only God Forgives (2013) (with Gosling again) was nihilistic, brutal and virtually unwatchable. However, I think his latest The Neon Demon works really well as a surreal horror film that savagely satirizes the fashion industry. The film moves at a glacial pace with an anti-narrative style and strange acting more down to the director’s strategy than poor performance. Nevertheless, it is a magnetic watch with a succession of beautifully designed shots which are way more imaginative than the usual multiplex popcorn fodder. The sumptuous photography, score and grand gore throughout make it a welcome return to form for the always intriguing formal cinematic anarchist Winding Refn. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013 –      ) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Waspy-blonde-rich-spoilt-bitch-Private-Benjamin-type gets banged up the slammer for a historical crime and we’re meant to feel empathy for her?  That’s what the premise of this excellent drama asks the audience to do AND actually succeeds in doing through compelling writing and a marvellous ensemble cast. Taylor Schilling portrays the brattish Piper Chapman brilliantly and there’s fine “inside” support from Kate Mulgrew, Uzo Udoba, Taryn Manning and Danielle Brooks to name a few. The structure follows newbie Chapman as she fails to cope with prison life; plus variant flashbacks filling in details of her and inmates’ prior life events. It’s a gripping and funny show with lots of character twists and turns; and somehow it remains fresh despite the potential cliché pitfalls within the subgenre.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SPECTRE (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Overall, I was disappointed with this Bond outing from last year. I mean there was a lot to like, notably: Daniel Craig’s performance; the stunning cinematography; the brilliant opening ‘Day-of-the-Dead’ and fight-on-train set-pieces; plus the criminally underused Christophe Waltz. However, the story, from a usually reliable John Logan and his screenwriting cohorts was non-existent; relying mainly on callbacks from the previous Craig outings and Bond films of yesteryear. The action was decent but the anorexic plot and weak romance left much to be desired. For a proper moan see my review from last year below. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/spect-acular-times-spectre-2015-a-film-review-by-paul-laight/



STAR TREK: BEYOND (2016) – CINEMA

I was bored by this. Even as a summer blockbuster the film fell short; and finally Star Trek has been turned into a soulless-plotless-video-game with set-pieces “stolen” from other better popcorn films such as Jurassic World (2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). The cast are decent but the formidable abilities of Idris Elba were masked under deep make-up for most of the film. Even if it was to be a latter second act reveal Elba’s presence was given away in the trailer so why not build his character up from the beginning. Plus, the “rogue” agent storyline was done much better in Into Darkness, which I enjoyed as a spectacle. Let’s hope the forthcoming Netflix series has more character and depth than Beyond. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002) – SKY CINEMA

The final of the Next Generation movies which ended the franchise prior to JJ Abrams’ hit-and-miss reboot, is a pretty decent science-fiction actioner with enough brains to keep you interested. A very young Tom Hardy plays the Reman rebel out to destroy Starfleet and Jean Luc Picard specifically.  The themes of cloning, doppelgangers and telepathy serve the action very well and the set-pieces are decent enough. However, as Picard and Data get much of screen time the rest of the crew seem to side-lined throughout. This is not as good as the other Next Gen films but it is still more involving and cerebral than the soporific Star Trek: Beyond.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

STRANGER THINGS (2016) – NETFLIX

Oh, Netflix – I love you!  Not only do you present affordable boxsets, docs, TV and film product, but you also produce some damn fine original programming. Netflix’s latest sci-fi drama is an excellent nostalgia-fest which evokes the 1980s perfectly in design, sound and look. Indeed, it wears it’s Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences not so much on its sleeve but as a whole outfit. Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centres on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven who’s on the run from a secretive and nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track their missing friend in a drama which has some wonderful stand-out and monstrous moments throughout. Arguably, the eight episodes were padded out in places and it could have been culled for pace but overall it was an excellent watch with a terrific score and soundtrack to boot. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

TALE OF TALES (2015) – CINEMA

Having directed the brutal and gritty kitchen-sink gangster film Gomorrah (2008), filmmaker Matteo Garrone, completely changed style with this ultra-imaginative set of grim fairytales based on the ye olde short stories of Giannbatista Basile.  Like a medieval Pulp Fiction the film weaves tall tales called: The Queen, The Flea and the Two Old Women in a superb fashion as flashes of horror, fantasy, amorality and comedy clash with bizarre beasts and bloody death. The cast including: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, and Shirley Henderson all get on board amidst the insane plot occurrences and overall I found it a fine anathema to the bland kids offering Hollywood churns out. While the original stories were taken from an anthology called Lo cunto de li cunti (Entertainment for Little Ones), this is definitely for adults and not the little monsters at home. (Mark: 8 out of 11)


WAKOLDA (2013) – DVD

I was gripped by this slow-moving drama set in 1960s Argentina. It follows a hotel-running family and their encounter with a mysterious Doctor.  Writer/director Lucia Pacenzo carves out a compelling story which finds the Doctor inveigling himself into the family’s world and carrying out seemingly innocent medical procedures which ultimately have a horrific impact. The film is a real eye-opener into the terrors of the time with many South American countries harbouring fleeing Nazi criminals and Àlex Brendemühl’s performance as the charismatic Doctor expertly glues this fascinating story together.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

Z-NATION (2014) – NETFLIX

Fox’s The Walking Dead has quite rightly taken a lot of plaudits for its incredibly well-written, humanist take on the zombie-horror drama. It offers rich character development, political analogy and of course some fine gore.  Z-Nation on the other hand offers something far more fun and humour and downright silliness with zombie dogs, babies, rednecks and bears on the menu. Basically, a ragtag group attempt to transport a zombie-experiment-survivor to a medical facility while assisted by DJ Qualls isolated NSA computer geek.  The group fight off an endless supply of zombies, cannibals and religious cults in a tremendous show that counts as a fantastically gory and comedic guilty pleasure. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

 

 

SCREENWASH – JUNE FILM & TV REVIEWS 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JUNE 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:

**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**

 

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV

The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)

The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors.   (Mark: 9 out of 11)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX

I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display.  Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA

Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV

If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.  I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)

GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV

The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX

Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off.  Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)


IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV

Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA

Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown (1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV

Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time.  I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – MAY 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – MAY 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

May was a decent month of viewing with some things old, some things new and nothing blue watched at all. So, here are my TV, film and comedy reviews for the month of May – with marks out of 11 as usual.

 

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON ONE – NOW TV

Very much a “first world” problem drama starring the excellent Dominic West, Maura Tierney and the effervescent Ruth Wilson, it shows the events an extramarital affair causes to two different families. The acting and writing are just superb as West and Wilson’s sexually charged attraction spills into duplicity, body heat and suspense. The storytelling is excellent too as each episode shows multiple events from different perspectives and the characters are both irritating and intriguing with their wonky moral compasses and poor life choices. The Affair is highly compelling and keeps you gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003 – 2004) – NETFLIX

How the hell did I miss this cracking comedy first time round beats me?!  The hilarious show centres on the disastrous Bluth family who are all narcissistic egoists all trying to manipulate each other in some financial or emotional way. Even the sanest of the lot Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is a flawed “hero”, although he is positively angelic compared to the other members of his family including failed magician Gob (Will Arnett), pill-popping matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter), deluded Lindsay (Portia De Rossi) and imprisoned father portrayed with sociopathic insouciance by Jeffrey Tambor. The brilliant ensemble cast (including among others: David Cross, Michael Cera, Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Tony Hale etc.) hit the rapid-fire gags and deranged scenarios out of the ballpark; as the show perfectly encapsulates the very epitome of a dysfunctional family.  (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) – BLU RAY

Andrew Dominik’s moody Western is one of the BEST films I have seen in the last 10 years.  It was a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; wonderful cast; beautiful vistas; elegant pace; resonating themes regarding notoriety; and so on and so forth.  Sam Rockwell excels in a supporting role as Charley Ford who gets caught between the eerie homo-erotic hero-worship-then-rivalry of his brother Robert (stunning Casey Affleck) and eponymous Jesse James (never better Brad Pitt).  The film moves at a glacial pace, building character and suspense, while in between, the sporadic bursts of violence startle and raise the pulse in an altogether memorable cinematic experience. (Mark: 10 out of 11)


CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016) – CINEMA

Historical reviews on this very blog have been favourable about Captain America and his exploits; in fact he is probably my favourite Marvel Avenger I’d say.  His last outing Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) was one of my films of the year, so I had high hopes for Civil War. The final film in the trilogy delivers a cracking rollercoaster ride filled with tremendous action, set-pieces and plot twists. As usual the army of Marvel effects technicians deliver an array of computer-generated mastery with a cacophony of colour, explosions, chases, fighting and bone-crunching sound effects.

The strong narrative involves a number of strands which link the prior two films as Steve Rogers protects his brainwashed buddy Bucky Barnes from the US government and allied Avengers attempting to bring him to justice for his crimes. Moreover, Iron Man, Black Widow, Vision and others face off against Captain America and his team in order to make the Avengers more accountable for their actions. This culminates in THE BEST ACTION SEQUENCE of the year as the Avengers have a battle royale on an airstrip in Germany. Overall, it’s a brilliant film which has welcome cameos from Ant-Man and another new Spiderman; while also introducing the all-action nobility of the Black Panther.  Again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily the blockbuster of the year. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

GOTHAM (2015) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

TV boxset watching is often like a cultural version of Stockholm syndrome. Some programmes grab you immediately while others you have to watch enough of before you give in to their demands. With that in mind, it took about 11 episodes before started enjoying Gotham. It began poorly with terrible dialogue and hammy acting and the Batman canon timeline, tone and characters are all over the shop. However, by the end it had won me over as a trashy guilty pleasure mixing horror, comic-book, crime, Western and fantasy genres. Highlights are the succession of violent cartoon villains and young versions of villains-to-come while Ben Mckenzie (Gordon), Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin), Sean Pertwee (Alfred) and Corey Michael Smith (Edward Nygma) steal the show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GREEN ROOM (2015) – CINEMA

This was an excellent sophomore feature film from writer/director Jeremy “Blue Ruin” Saulnier, as we find a punk band pitted against neo-Nazis in the back beyond of Portland, USA. It borrows heavily from George Romero and John Carpenter but the filmmakers and cast create a really nasty horror-show as the death of a rock fan spirals totally out of control. A fine cast including:  Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Anton Yelchin, Amanda Poot, and an against-the-grain-playing-nasty Patrick Stewart. Despite the stupidity of the band and Nazis I was gripped throughout and there is some terrific gore and box-cutting violence and recommended for those who like their thrills rare and bloody. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 11 – NETFLIX

Oh the man-children, Dennis, Charlie, Mac and Frank – and not forgetting bird-girl Dee – are back for another season of anarchic derring-do at Paddy’s Pub and beyond. As a massive fan of this very naughty show I was very much looking forward to the mayhem of Season 11; and they did not let us down. In this season we had episodes: parodying 80s ski films; Charlie capturing a Leprechaun; the gang getting trapped on a Christian cruise; Charlie and Mac move to the suburbs; Dee gets involved in porn; a whole episode, rather scarily, shot from Frank’s point-of-view; and all manner of other bizarre incidents and behavior. The gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LINE OF DUTY (2013 – 2014) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – NETFLIX

Very solid cop drama written and produced by Jed Mercurio, this story of cops investigating cops has an excellent British cast across two seasons including: Lennie James, Craig Parkinson, Neil Morrissey, Adrian Dunbar plus leads Martin Crompston and Vicky McClure.  It’s tightly plotted with some brilliant twists and great suspense as you never quite know who’s on whose side. Special mention for Keeley Hawes who is a revelation as the cop being chased in the second season; as her acting is so brilliant, you never know if she’s good, bad, manipulative, a victim or just plain evil.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)


LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – PRINCE CHARLES 007 RETROSPECTIVE

The Living Daylights, for me, is a very fine Bond film and Dalton is an incredibly under-rated 007. He only did two films but brought a pathos, depth and unpredictability to the role that Moore severely lacked. Bond is a stone-cold-killer-burnt-out-anti-authoritarian-adrenaline-junkie who has seen death a thousand times over; and Dalton plays him as such. Connery, Craig and at times Brosnan got this over in their performances but none as much as Dalton. The film works brilliantly on the big screen too and stands the test of time as both a sterling Bond film and cracking espionage action thriller. For my full classic review clink on this link(Mark: 9 out of 11)

NOSFERATU (1979) – SKY MOVIES

Werner Herzog’s atmospheric and moody adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula works brilliantly as both a horror film and homage to Murnau’s silent classic of the same name. Bruno Ganz excels as the unlucky Harker, sent to Transylvania to complete a property deal for his firm. Moreover, Klaus Kinski is chilling as the vampiric Count hell-bent on sucking the blood out of anyone who gets close. This has some exquisite cinematography plus an ethereal and dream-like style which makes this a memorable horror classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

OF MICE AND MEN (1992) – DVD

Steinbeck’s classic novel about two itinerant drifters is one of the best stories I have ever read.  This film version directed and starring Gary Sinise, with John Malkovich as the tragic Lennie Small, is a touching rendition of the depression-set story. It’s such a brilliant book that any screen version will pale in comparison but Sinise and Malkovich excel in their respective roles and it’s great to see Steinbeck’s rich, authentic and grim tale of existence brought to life and death. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SON OF SAUL (2016) – SKY MOVIES

This is a heavy-as-hell-Hungarian-holocaust drama deserved won Best Film in a Foreign Language at the Oscars. The story focusses on the intense Saul (Geza Rohrig) and his search for a Rabbi to give his son the Kaddish to allow him a correct Jewish burial. It is a harrowing experience, presented in a 4:3 screen ratio and pretty much all over-the-shoulder of the protagonist. These stylistic choices narrow the focus on Saul’s tireless journey through the camps in vain pursuit of said Rabbi. Amidst his search death, fire and flesh bleed through the landscape and the whole experience is gruelling, overwhelming and upsetting. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (2016) – SKY MOVIES

This film from insane Japanese director Takeshi Miike is just mental. I enjoy Asian cinema films and Miike’s previous movies such as Audition and Ichi the Killer were excellent just-the-right-side-of-bizarre spectacles, yet this is an unwatchable mix of martial arts, horror, and gangster and monster movies. Recommended only for the brave, foolhardy or clinically insane. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)

 

THE WATER DIVINER (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

A muddled mix of war, family, romance and period drama genres from debutant director and star Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner, boasts some wonderful scenery and highly moving scenes, notably in the WW1 Gallipoli flashbacks. However, Crowe the director is let down by a hamstrung script plus the miscasting of Olga Kurylenko who just seemed too glamorous to fall for Crowe’s recently widowed character searching for the bodies of his three dead sons. While it fails as a movie epic there’s enough to recommend it as a matinee rental on a wet Sunday afternoon while nursing an uber-hangover. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

WILD (2014) – NOW TV

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is excellent in this road-movie-true-story-drama as she trudges the Pacific Crest Trail in order to exorcise the demons of her past and somehow redeem her soul. It’s very well directed and structured by director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby and works really well as a pathos-driven character study; as well as stunningly shot travelogue with wonderful vistas. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: A STAR TREK KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN BY PAUL LAIGHT

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: A STAR TREK KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN BY PAUL LAIGHT

START KICKING

The traditional capitalist Hollywood machine model that has dominated the moviemaking industry remains in place like a fiscal contagion. Indeed, the money-people, financiers, studio bosses and banks that control the higher end of the cinema market are mostly beyond the reach of the struggling low-budget filmmaker. Some indie filmmakers battle the snakes and move up the ladder but more often than not they fall to their death into a pit of deathly vipers.

In the past there was purity to raising funds for the independent filmmaker. David Lynch made garden sheds when making Eraserhead (1977). Rebel filmmaker Roberto Rodriguez, allegedly, sold his body to science to raise the money for El Mariachi (1992) and the Coen Brothers shot a no-budget trailer for Blood Simple (1984) before approaching the Hadassah, the Zionist women’s charity, for production monies. Meanwhile, Terence Malick’s classic Badlands (1973) was funded by his own money and by doctors and dentists he had pitched the film idea to.

Oh, how times have changed; sort of!  Aside from using bank loans, inheritances, student loans, government grants and maxing out credit cards there is an alternative to raising project budgets. Because now artists, filmmakers, writers, dancers, jugglers, mimes, comedians and authors in general can now reach out to the internet with their “begging” bowl via the plethora of online sites such as: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Crowdfunding and many more.

As an independent filmmaker with eight films produced I personally like the romantic idea of working and saving and, on occasions, asking friends for loans to make my films. However, my attitude has shifted – because I’m broke – therefore me and my filmmaking partner Gary O’Brien have begun a Kickstarter campaign for our latest production called: Chance Encounter: A Star Trek Short Film. Click for the LINK:

 

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: THE STAR TREK STORY!

This is a universal love story set in outer space within the Star Trek television series world circa Next Generation era. It concerns two characters that randomly meet and have a big impact on each other’s lives. While I love sci-fi stuff with aliens and ray-guns this is a gentler story which favours character interaction and themes of loss, love and fate over special effects and monsters. We are not asking for massive donations and believe this to be a fantastic film to invest in.

Please watch our video and invest in our film; any amount will help us achieve our goal. Failing that I may be forced to sell a kidney or lung in order to hit the target.

IMPORTANT: “Star Trek” and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. The videos, the promotion thereof, and/or any other materials created by us are not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film, intended for recreational use. No copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

In no case is the use of said copyrighted material, with or without identifying symbols, intended as a claim of ownership or infringement of those copyrights/trademarks by the maker of these videos or their content providers.

HIGH RISE & LOW ART: FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

HIGH RISE & LOW ART: FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

I watched a cinematic adaptation of High Rise (2015) last night at the BFI and director Ben Wheatley proved that JG Ballard’s unfilmable critique of the class system should probably have remained just that: unfilmed. Not that there isn’t much to take from this thought-provoking anarchy which is both a visual and aural feast; it’s just one could never recommend it to the popcorn-munching multiplex mob expecting empathetic characters, coherent narrative spine and thematic simplicity. Still, if you enjoy chaos on the cinema screen there is much to recommend from within this splintered and jarring yarn.

As I sat amidst the Guardianista intelligentsia for the film’s Q & A – which included director/editor Ben Wheatley and actors Luke Evans and Reece Shearsmith – there were many long-winded “love the sound of their own voice” studenty statements masquerading as questions. Why can’t people just ask a direct question? I had a few in mind such as:

  • What attracted you to the project?
  • Were you bothered about making the narrative coherent?
  • What response were you hoping to gain from an audience?
  • How did you find working with such a great cast?
  • Did you consider a voiceover to hold the film together – a la Clockwork Orange?
  • Do you care that the audience had no one to root for?

Many of these were answered by a bored looking director in between the lines of his responses, but having had my senses battered by the movie for two hours I realised I did not care to be honest! This is the kind of film you pretend to like when you’re nineteen and want to appear edgy, intellectual and separated from the hoi-polloi. Moreover, you’re likely to be immersed in the cinephiliac influences of Godard, Bunuel, Bergman, Eisenstein and Kubrik; all of which have clearly informed the filmmakers here. Indeed, in making a film about the class war Wheatley has produced an arch classist product which will further drive a dividing wedge between the upper, middle and working classes.

high-rise-poster-banner

The story is allegorical and essentially finds various classes of people – high, middle and working classes inhabiting a tower block in what appears to be set in – because of the mutton chops, fringes and flares – the 1970s. The higher class are rich and obnoxious and piss off the lower floors to such a degree that it leads to chaotic sex orgies, cannibalism and torture. Now, I haven’t read Ballard’s High Rise but you feel it is essential to have done so in order to follow the carvery style portions fed to us by the filmmakers as meat and veg and blood and death are thrown on the plate with lashings of violent gravy combining and congealing to make an unsatisfactory whole. Because for me the ultra-violent reactions of the characters seemed over-the-top given what had gone before.  Okay, the lower floors had power problems and their kids were banned from the swimming pool but if I’m going to kill someone or eat a dog I want a bit more provocation.

Personally I felt Wheatley was not really in control of the source material, however, I think that’s the point. It’s a surrealist, chaotic non-narrative nightmare which leaps from one violent and sexual scene to another rendering the senses numb and number as we move toward the anarchy reigning supreme. I saw that Wheatley and his writing partner edited the film themselves and I can only think there was some subconscious desire to freewheel the narrative with a Godardian sensibility, which while admirable, means the film exists in a symbolic vacuum and appears to have had whole chunks edited out either as a creative choice or a desire to limit the chaos to a more manageable two hours. Moreover, aside from a speech by Thatcher at the end, the political context of the 1970s and 1980s is stymied; something I think would’ve made the themes more understandable to a philistine such as myself.

1high-rise-hiddleston-moss

While the film stumbles from a narrative and thematic perspective, the visuals and music are terrific. Wheatley has created a kaleidoscopic feast of colour, sound and images which is why the trailer looked so breath-taking.  The cast too are fantastic and the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Keeley Hawes, Jeremy Iron, Elisabeth Moss, Peter Ferdinando, and James Purefoy give the director tremendous energy; plus there are memorable performances from comedic actors Reece Shearsmith and Dan Renton Skinner. High Rise also contains another incredible score from Clint Mansell which, along with the handsome Hiddleston, glue the mania together somehow.

Even though I’ve had issues with some of Ben Wheatley’s past narratives he is a fine director. His debut feature Down Terrace (2009) is a low-budget treasure and Kill List (2011) was a grim horror until the unsatisfactorily symbolic ending. His next film Sightseers (2012) was a brilliant dark comedy and A Field in England (2013) was frankly an artsy, hallucinatory mess.  Overall, though I loved the fact that this unassuming working class guy from Billericay has managed to hoodwink the middle-class filmmaking community (including the BFI and Film Four) into giving him money to waste it on this brave cinematic folly.  While many may see High Rise as a brutally funny and dark dystopian satire I prefer my stories to have a bit more heart, empathy and make a bit more sense to be honest. Nonetheless, Wheatley remains an important British filmmaker whose work certainly has a lot of class.

High Rise (2015) opens on Friday 18th March 2016.

high-rise-movie-poster-03