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CONTRASTING DREAMS: REVIEWING THE WORK OF AUTHOR – PHILIP K. DICK

CONTRASTING DREAMS ON PAGE AND SCREEN: REVIEWING THE WORK OF PHILIP K. DICK 

“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, what is real? I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

― Philip K. Dick

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INTRODUCTION

For a writer who wrote extensively about artificial intelligence and technology, Philip K. Dick himself was in fact a certifiable writing machine, publishing over 44 novels, a further 120-odd short stories, plus a whole vision of manuscripts, essays and other literary paraphernalia. His death at the relatively young age of 53 took an incredible genius away from us; however, you’re never too far away from his work either on TV, computer or at the cinema.

The latest cinema release inspired by Dick’s vision was the beautifully directed space epic Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Here Denis Villeneuve picked up the baton from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); an adaptation of K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). But of course his stories have also given us film adaptations including: Minority Report (2002), Total Recall (1990 & 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Next (2007), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006) etc. Moreover, Amazon has recently adapted his classic 1962 alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle (2015) to positive acclaim.

With Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror jumping ship to Netflix, Channel Four UK (Sony / Amazon in the U.S.A) and various other production companies) must have felt there was a “futuristic anthology show” hole in their schedule. Thus, they obtained the rights to Philip K. Dick’s back catalogue and produced a show called Electric Dreams – shown in two halves in 2017 and 2018. The production values were very high and some extremely talented actors, producers, writers and directors were brought in to bring ten Dickian short stories to the TV screen. Such creative luminaries included: Janelle Monae, Dee Rees, Ronald Moore, Juno Temple, Bryan Cranston, David Farr, Matthew Graham, Timothy Spall, Jack Thorne, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Travis Beacham, Richard Madden, Vera Farmiga and many more.

I have immersed myself in the novels, cinema and TV work inspired by Philip K. Dick recently. I was fascinated by the themes and narratives represented and comparisons between the literary and screen works.  How did they compare to Dick’s original vision and how do they differ?

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NIGHTMARE THEMES IN ELECTRIC DREAMS

Of late I have read his novels Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), Ubik (1969) and the collection of short stories – collated in conjunction with the Channel 4 series – Electric Dreams. Moreover, I have seen most of his works adapted for cinema. His narratives are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal in reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place where you are unsure as to what is occurring is in the real world or some imagined or manufactured nightmare. Technology, disease and war are more than often a threat.  The biggest threat though is humanity and its seeming endless proclivity for inventing weapons, machines and viruses with which to kill. Paranoia and doubt infect Dick’s work making you feel as trapped as his characters. Further, mutated strands of humanity are a staple trope where telepaths and empaths inhabit his oeuvre; along with classic science fiction aliens and monsters from outer space too.

The narratives, while possessing an otherworldly and futuristic feel, paradoxically feel realistic because his characters are everyday people. They are rarely action heroes or soldiers or scientists but rather administrators or office staff, factory or transport workers. They are family people trying to make their way through life and the horrors the world throws at them. Given Dick was writing during the 1950s onwards it’s not surprising that the threat of nuclear war hung heavy within his words. Furthermore, the rapid technological breakthroughs which, while offering hope for humanity, brought with it a movement to the loss of free will and a possible future governed by machines. Big corporations, banks, governments and computers all erode and destroy the very fabric of being in Dick’s world rendering human identity and existence obsolete. His universe is brimming with people under threat, humans desiring to escape and a questioning of what it means to be human.

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CONTEXTUALISING THE NIGHTMARES

**CONTAINS FILM AND LITERARY SPOILERS**

Adapting Dick’s work can be complex because what works on the page as a concept can be difficult to transfer to a visual medium. Conversely, his work is often altered beyond recognition with fragments of the initial idea remaining while others stay true to the original. The original and subsequent sequel of Bladerunner (1982) are very faithful to the structure and futuristic vision of Dick’s original novel; retaining the ‘hunting of replicants’ plot and the existential question of whether an android can be considered human. In Electric Dreams the adaptation of the short story Human Is. . . . poses a similar question. In this story a wife faces the choice as to whether her husband, whose body has been invaded by an alien, is in fact more human because he is an improvement and displaying idealised human traits such as kindness and love. The flipside of this occurs in the film adaptation of Imposter (2002), and the short story adaptation The Father Thing, where nefarious aliens hell-bent on invasion take over the humans in order to divide and conquer. Human Is…  both the short story and television adaptation are particularly convincing as many people have all been trapped in dying relationships where we wish we could change our partner.  Dick’s story takes this idea and makes it real and emotionally very powerful.

Certain filmmakers, when adapting Dick’s work, will mould their style to his vision. For example, in the Steven Spielberg directed thriller Minority Report (2002), Dick’s pre-crime conspiracy model was presented as an action pursuit film with Tom Cruise going on the run for a crime he may or may not have committed.  Spielberg retains the initial idea and concepts relating to pre-cognitive telepathy and empathic mutation but renders it a more fast-paced and spectacular cinematic experience. Similarly, telepathy and mutants feature heavily in Matthew Graham’s pretty faithful adaptation of The Hoodmaker. Like Minority Report telepaths are exploited by the government and law to do their bidding, only for the system to be corrupted and used for death by those in power.

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Dick’s story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, has been adapted on two occasions as Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Paul Verhoeven’s earlier version about warring government agents and colonies on Mars is an absolute blast. Dick’s concepts relating to alternative realities and implanted memories are fused with an explosive Arnold Schwarzenegger action film. Yet, what is retained amidst the shoot-outs and spectacular set-pieces is the main protagonists’ life dissatisfaction and desire to escape their everyday existence for something more exciting. This is a common theme in Dick’s work and can also be found in the Electric Dreams’ stories Impossible Planet and The Commuter. In the latter a Station clerk finds a hitherto lost “town” which offers a means of escape from his seemingly humdrum life but it comes at a cost. While Total Recall raises the pace and stakes within an interplanetary setting, The Commuter is more ordinary and emotional in its cerebral representation.

Political, social and technological corruption is present in many of Dick’s other works too. In Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darkly (2006), an undercover cop battles to conceal his identity while struggling with drug addiction. While in Electric Dreams, Dee Rees’ rendition of Dick’s short story The Hanging Man, takes an allegorical story about social unrest and fascistic hangings, turning it into a thought-provoking, paranoiac nightmare scenario. Rees calls her story Kill All Others, where we find Mel Rodriguez’s factory worker driven by fake news and political manipulation during an election. This eerily reflects much of the social and media saturation seen during Donald Trump’s U.S. election win. Likewise the adaptation of Foster, Your Dead became the very impactful Safe and Sound; and examined the deadly possibilities of technology firms manipulating youth within the context of the war on terror.

Arguably not as successful, however, was the Tony Grisoni adaptation called Crazy Diamond. This episode completely altered Dick’s story Sales Pitch, which told of a relentless Sales-Bot who won’t take no for an answer. In fact I had no idea what Crazy Diamond was trying to say and perhaps the writer should have stuck to Dick’s intriguing techo-nightmare premise.  Indeed, threat of technology and the inevitable doom progress represents is also presented in the excellent episode called Autofac. Dick wrote this story in 1955 and set it after an apocalyptic world war has devastated Earth’s civilizations. All that remains is a network of hardened robot “Autofacs” supplying goods to the human survivors. However, these drones and bots are in fact hindering survival and the idea is incredibly prescient. Indeed with the rise of Amazon and Google and Apple industries our society is becoming more dependent on such technology to the extent we could be classed as helpless without it.    

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams

CONCLUSION

Lastly, what Electric Dreams demonstrates, along with the many film adaptations of his work, is that Dick’s concepts are just as relevant, if not more so than at the time of writing. Moreover, what this thematic and genre contextualisation of Dick’s work illustrates is that universal themes such as: the desire to escape; what it means to be human; media manipulation; fear of technology and war; oppressive government regimes; and all round insidious paranoia about a very dark future are inescapable and will always be part of society and the human condition.

*Article originally appeared on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com*

 

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SCREENWASH – WORLD CINEMA SPECIAL including reviews of: THE SQUARE (2017), ISLE OF DOGS (2018), JULIETA (2016) etc.

SCREENWASH – WORLD CINEMA REVIEW SPECIAL!

Technically speaking all films made can be labelled World Cinema because all films made were made on this Earth or World. As yet we know of no movies from other planets, so World Cinema has come to refer to films made in a foreign language or language other than English. I mean what do people from other countries call films made in English?  And does it matter. All this fluffing is really a means to introduce a selection of films from various countries other than the United Kingdom (another debatable term these days), that I have watched at the cinema, on DVD or streamed off the box. As usual I accompany my reviews with marks out of eleven.

**A SUGGESTION OF SPOILERS**

 

THE INNOCENTS (2016) – FRANCE / POLAND

Brace yourself for a truly heart-breaking and tragic WW2 narrative. This film inspired by true events finds a young French doctor assisting a nunnery and the various occupants who became victim to vicious rapist Soviet soldiers. This is a grim story that is shot and directed with great pathos and compassion. It brought a heavy heart and a tear to the eye as the heroic women battle against the dogs of war, while bringing new life into this retched world.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ISLE OF DOGS (2018) – JAPAN / USA

Put aside ridiculous millennial online accusations of cultural appropriation and submerge yourself within Wes Anderson’s rich narrative and stop-motion tapestry. I’m not always a fan of his story subjects but he is a master of style and form. Isle of Dogs is no different and was a wonderful cinematic experience. Set, obviously, in Japan we concentrate on, hence the title, a bunch of stray dogs dumped on a wasteland left to die. This is much darker than prior Anderson films but full of the imagination, wit, colour and brilliant technique, containing funny gags and twisting drama throughout.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

JULIETA (2016) – SPAIN

I only really got into Pedro Almodovar’s cinema in the last few years and Julieta, while not as complex in terms of structure as other films, is just as emotionally effective.  It concerns our eponymous protagonist who on chancing an encounter with her estranged daughter’s former school mate finds her past colliding disastrously with her future. Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte portray the older and younger versions of Julieta as she reflects on the events which tore her life apart. Containing some beautiful filmmaking and one incredible cut halfway through, this is mournful, meditative and mature storytelling of the highest order.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)


L’AVVENTURA
(1960) – ITALY

Michelangelo Antonioni is rightly lauded as one of the great Italian auteurs. He has directed some incredible films including: Blow Up (1966), The Passenger (1975) and the film L’Notte (1961). I watched L’Avventura on a Sunday morning and perhaps I wasn’t in the mood but it did not connect with me. I found it slow and pretentious and while the mystery of a missing socialite had some element of suspense the rich, narcissistic characters bored me. The acting from Monica Vitti was especially impactful and the scenery was beautiful, however, Antonioni’s existential narrative was a let-down. It was especially surprising to find that historically the film had been voted one of the best films ever made.

Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) – HONG KONG

I recorded this one on Film Four on a whim having been drawn in by the fact it was directed by the Shaw Brothers Studio. Their films were of course a massive influence on Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003/4) duo of kung-Fu revenge films. The One-Armed Swordsman I found to be slightly cheesy due to the dubbing but overall an excellent wuxia epic with loads of great sword fights and a very effective narrative. Ultimately this is Great Expectations with weapons as a young servant child is adopted by a rich family only to grow up disrespected by his adopted siblings. Gang warfare rages in the rural territories and the young man grows up to be a fighter of some repute; even with only one arm. Both a tremendous action film and effective socialist critique of the ruling classes I found this an entertaining, funny and emotional wuxia classic.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)


THE SQUARE
(2017) – SWEDEN / FRANCE / GERMANY

The 2017 Cannes Palm D’Or winner is half brilliantly funny arthouse satire and half sub-Haneke allegorical mid-life crisis thriller. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund this is bravura cinema of the highest order as we find Claes Bang’s museum curator bumbling through various work, romance and private disasters.  Throughout there are some wonderful digs at the nature of modern art and how essentially people will believe any old crap to be art if it is put in a gallery. There are a number of hilarious satirical set-pieces including the “Tourette’s” scene and the “performance ape-ist” scene. While a tad overlong and bogged down slightly in the lead protagonist’s personal life this is a wonderfully, funny film with some great commentary on modern art, mocking of the bourgeoisie and a warning re: the rise of social media.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)


SHIN GODZILLA
(2016) – JAPAN

Having seen Hollywood appropriate their Gojira creation for two films in 1998 and 2014, the Japanese released their own resurgent version in 2016. Part-disaster-part-monster-part-social-commentary this creature feature is actually pretty good. It is driven structurally at first by a flurry of government meetings where hundreds of officials spend their time in meetings rather than actually solve anything. Clearly, this is a critique of Japanese government bureaucracy and the movie works well on that level. The characters who later come to the fore are left behind somewhat and the romantic subplot is poorly done.  Yet, when the Godzilla monster brings Tokyo to the edge of destruction the effects, while a bit wonky in places, are a riotous mix of laser CGI and man-in-suit-green-screen shots.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

SCREENWASH HORROR REVIEWS: A QUIET PLACE (2018) & UNSANE (2018)

SCREENWASH HORROR REVIEWS: UNSANE (2018) & A QUIET PLACE (2018)

Many of us like to be scared and thrilled and made tense, especially if it is in the darkened recesses of the cinema. Because as the adrenaline and stress levels rise we know, at the back of our minds, we’re safe. Nothing can actually harm us because it’s happening on a screen. Yet witnessing characters in danger of harm or death can be an exhilarating and cathartic experience for many. Indeed, watching films of the horror or thriller genres is subconsciously akin to a near-death experience; as facing the reaper from a position of relative safety is part of the excitement of going to the movies.

I do love a good horror or thriller – I really do! So was really pleased when two decent ones came out at the cinema last week. Thus, here are two reviews for the price of one of Unsane (2018) and A Quiet Place (2018); both with the usual mark out of eleven.

A QUIET PLACE (2018)

Directed By: John Krasinski

Produced by: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller

Screenplay by: Bryan Woods/Scott Beck & John Krasinski

Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

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Without hardly any fanfare or major marketing campaign this superior monster film has crept up and, in a similar fashion to Get Out (2017), really got audiences flexing their “word-of-mouth” muscles. In fact, while it doesn’t have the socio-political dimension of Jordan Peele’s Oscar winner, I actually think it’s an even better horror film. Throughout A Quiet Place my heart was literally living in my mouth as my fingers and knuckles clenched and whitened during the whole tense escapade.

The story is quickly and economically established via a brilliant opening scene full of dread and silence. Emily Blunt and John Krasinski’s “every-couple” and their three children are surviving in a post-invasion period where monstrous creatures have wreaked havoc on Earth. Using sound to hunt humans must remain absolutely silent or: NO MORE HUMANS!!  This simple but ingenious premise drives the story and action as the lean and powerful script delivers some incredible moments of horror and suspense. The real-life husband and wife acting team bring a believable humanity to the characters and Blunt especially is phenomenal in her reaction and character work.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

 

UNSANE (2018)

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Produced by: Joseph Malloch

Written by: Jonathan Bernstein/James Greer

Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple

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Unlike A Quiet Place this Steven Soderbergh directed thriller focusses on a different kind of monster; that which lives silently in the recesses of the mind. Claire Foy portrays, the unlikely named Sawyer Valentini, a financial analyst who after visiting a psychotherapist finds herself plunged into a horrific ordeal on a psychiatric ward which threatens her sanity.

This is a gripping story which, despite a few plot-holes, raises the tension and drama by making us unsure as to whether Foy’s character is a reliable or unreliable narrator. Soderbergh, who apparently shot much of the film on an IPhone 7, is an expert filmmaker as we feel trapped and claustrophobic during the lead protagonist’s hellish nightmare.

Like his previous film, the brilliant Side Effects (2013), the film also has important points to make about the Healthcare system in the United States, and overall I was drawn in by Foy’s excellent performance. I also liked the fact that she was kind of unlikeable too as the uncertainly whether to believe her paranoiac delusions propelled this fascinating low-budget-B-movie narrative.

Mark: 8 out of 11

 

THE NETFLIX PARADOX: RANDOM THOUGHTS, including reviews of: ANNIHILATION (2018), MUTE (2018), OZARK (2017) and more.

THE NETFLIX PARADOX: RANDOM THOUGHTS ON A MODEL including quick reviews of: ANNIHILATION (2018), BRIGHT (2018), MUTE (2018), OZARK (2017), and others etc.

I first subscribed to Netflix around four years ago when my Sky TV dish was out of action. Being a film and TV addict, Netflix was a godsend and easily fixed my desire for continuous viewing. It was cheap and had loads of older and not so older content including: drama box-sets, comedy, new film releases and classic cinema. Then, a couple of years ago Netflix decided to begin producing its own original content and many of the shows released have been excellent.

There’s SO many great shows to mention but programmes such as: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Black Mirror, Mindhunter, Breaking Bad, Making a Murderer, Better Call Saul, American Horror Story, Doctor Who, Stranger Things, Fargo, American Crime Story; plus the back catalogue of: stand-up comedy specials, documentaries, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and US cable shows I’ve re-watched all make Netflix a brilliant virtual online video shop. In fact, given the amount of output I have NOT seen one might say there are TOO MANY shows with not enough time to consume them all.

Of late they have released a number of, what one would class as, proper cinema films such as: Okja (2017), Beasts of No Nation (2015), Cloverfield Paradox (2018) and many more. But rather than being given the chance to watch them on the big screen they have gone direct to the streaming platform. I think this is a shame as experiencing a film in the cinema can enhance the enjoyment. It cannot save a poor story yet it would be great to have the choice to see these films on the silver screen. I wonder how sustainable it is though. Surely a big budget film makes its profits from cinema-goers as well as subsequent DVD and BLU-RAY sales. How do, aside from subscriptions, Netflix make their money back on big budget products? And should I care?  I probably shouldn’t worry at all. I’m just an ordinary Joe who at the moment is binge watching Mad Men and Star Trek (original series onwards) and only have to pay a tenner a month for the privilege.

Ultimately, the Netflix streaming model grows bigger and bigger and their model may prove revolutionary and make going to cinema a thing of the past. I doubt that but you never know. They once said sound wouldn’t take off and look what happened there. Anyway, enough of the random debate, during the last few months I’ve continued watching some of Netflix’ biggest releases and here’s a few quick reviews of said product with the usual marks out of eleven.

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ANNIHILATION (2018)

Alex Garland is a brilliant writer and his debut film Ex Machina (2014) was a stunning sci-fi character drama. His second film is an adaptation of a book by Jeff VanderMeer. In it a group of scientists venture into an apparent alien invasion in order to investigate a weird landscape called “The Shimmer”. Slow and meditative with flurries of monstrous action, Annihilation, was brilliantly made but Garland’s steady pace does the story no favours and I failed to connect with the characters or narrative. Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh stand out amidst an excellent cast but while beautiful to look at the film left me cold. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

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BETTER CALL SAUL (2017) – SEASON 3

We are now onto Season 3 of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s legal prequel to Breaking Bad and once again it proves itself a brilliantly written character drama. Still working under his original name, Jimmy McGill continues subtle battle with his big-shot lawyer brother Chuck, portrayed superbly by Michael McKean. With Jonathan Banks and Rhea Seehorn again provide fantastic acting support, this is always an absorbing watch as Bob Odenkirk again steals the show as the cheeky ducker-and-diver-lawyer. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

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BRIGHT (2017)

David Ayer follows up the almighty mess that was Suicide Squad (2017) with a kind of remake of his early millennial classic Training Day (2001). But rather than Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke doing battle with gangs and crooked cops we get Will Smith and Joel Edgerton doing battle with orcs, dwarves, elves and crooked cops. It’s a bloody weird mix of magical fantasy and buddy cop drama but I was pretty entertained by it all and Smith and Edgerton were worth watching despite the meshing of two unlikely genres. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

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MUTE (2018)

Duncan Jones’ directorial follow up to the disappointing Warcraft (2017) is another massive fail all round. Everything about it fails to entertain despite a cast including the brilliant Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux. Alexander Skarsgaard portrays an Amish mute hunting down his missing girlfriend in a futuristic Berlin setting. Aside from the pristine Bladerunner style visuals there is no real reason for the futuristic setting and the noir story just does not add up to anything in terms of drama, proving ultimately to be both illogical and in poor taste.   (Mark: 4 out of 11)

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OZARK (2017) – SEASON 1

This is a fantastic crime drama featuring an enthralling narrative and brilliant acting from both Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. Bateman plays an accountant who has to go on the run with his family to Ozark, Missouri while working for a murderous Mexican drug cartel. I won’t give anything else but this is up there with Breaking Bad at times with its violence, twisting plots and dark humour. Bateman, who directs many episodes too, is like a metronome of perfect delivery as his Marty Byrde flies by the seat of his pants staying one step ahead of: the local gangsters, religious nuts, the FBI and the aforesaid Cartel. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

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THE PUNISHER (2017 – SEASON 1

Marvel’s latest TV offering in conjunction with Netflix suffers similarly to other shows in that it struggles to stretch the story over 13 episodes. Having said that, any show starring John Bernthal, literally bursts off the TV screen with machismo, crunching physicality and some sensitivity too. Set after the events of Daredevil (S2), Frank is off the grid trying to overcome the grief of losing his family but it’s not long before he’s battling military bad guys looking to finish him off. The script has some depth too as in delves into the horror of post-war stress disorder and those soldiers disregarded by society. Yet it’s Bernthal’s brutal performance that holds the interest through this very watchable series.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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THE SINNER (2017) – SEASON 1

Starring Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman this expertly crafted six-part crime drama begins with a cracking opening episode that pulls you right into its grasp. Biel portrays Cora Tannetti, a mother and wife, who suddenly finds herself in the midst of a criminal investigation that threatens to tear her life apart. Pullman, the sympathetic police detective with dark secrets of his own, investigates the crimes and attempts to uncover the truth. This is a twisted tale full of sexual tension, religious fervour and sudden violence; and aside from one gaping plot hole it had me gripped throughout. Biel and Pullman are especially committed to their roles as the script, based on Petra Hammesfahr’s novel, goes to some very dark places.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #4 – ZODIAC (2007) “The Basement Scene”

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #4 – ZODIAC (2007) “The Basement Scene”

Directed by: David Fincher

Produced by: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer, Ceán Chaffin

Screenplay by: James Vanderbilt

Based on: Zodiac & Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards

 

Arguably, the finest thriller director around at the moment is David Fincher. His film Zodiac (2007) was a detailed analysis of the characters involved in the hunt for the eponymous serial killer. It’s a film full of brutal murders and obsessive characters, notably Jake Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist turned investigator, Robert Graysmith. His character almost goes insane discovering who the Zodiac killer; so much so he risks losing everything – including his mind!

Toward the end of the film, Graysmith interviews Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), a film projectionist, and the suspense is created literally out of nothing. The total absence of a known nemesis creates an unlikely amount of tension, especially allied with the way Fincher shoots in shadows and frames his characters. Graysmith is not seemingly in any danger but his paranoia, claustrophobia and growing sense of unease petrifies him until he is forced to flee. In fact, the thriller genre convention of revealing the murderer is, like in the real-life case of the Zodiac, rejected; thus catharsis is denied to the audience throughout this nail-biting paranoiac thriller classic.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s sweaty, panicked performance is perfect here as is his counterpart Charles Fleischer, who seems scary without even trying. Moreover, while it seems obvious to state that a director is the one controlling the various creative aspects of a film, David Fincher is one of those filmmakers whose form and style is often remarkable. This scene is testament to his skills as a cinematic craftsman par excellence.

For an excellent analysis of the “basement scene” check this link out too:

 

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP including: CHRISTINE (2016), I, TONYA (2017), LADYBIRD (2017) etc.

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP – MARCH 2018

Rather coincidentally I have watched a number of films recently with female lead protagonists and hopefully this harks a more progressive move toward equality in leading roles. As a humanist myself I applaud any movement which proclaims and pursues empowerment and equality to every human being. For far too long people have been oppressed, including women, and we must rid the world of prejudice and negativity based on gender, race, sexuality, health, shoe size, hair colour and looks in general.

Thus, in mild tribute to yesterday’s International Women’s Day I am reviewing some very different films where female characters are to the fore. In these reviews I will consider the characters and their strengths and place in their given setting and world; as well as my own subjective appreciation of the films. As usual the marks are out of eleven.

 

 

AMERICAN HONEY (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Andrea Arnold is an incredibly talented filmmaker and her films Red Road (2006) and Fishtank (2009) were bleak, honest and brilliant representations of working class British life. In American Honey she tackles the on-the-road-under-belly-working-class representations of American life with mixed results. Sasha Lane portrays Star, a young, transient and energetic character attempting to find hope, love and money on the oily, grimy roads of the USA. She joins a rag-tag troupe of magazine sellers led by Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, who drink, smoke pot and fuck while crossing various States! Star’s character is naïve and feisty, and as she falls for LeBeouf’s charismatic Jake, she finds her life choices coming into question. Overall, this is a beautifully shot and directed film and Arnold gets some very interesting performances from an amateur supporting cast, but the film is TOO LONG and many of the characters are just too unlikeable and stoned to care about. With editing Star’s journey could have been even more fascinating but despite some enthralling scenes I struggled to connect. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

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CHRISTINE (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Christine Chubbuck was a Sarasota TV news journalist who became infamous for an incredibly sad act she carried out live on TV. I won’t reveal what is was for fear of spoilers BUT safe to say it was not pretty. Rebecca Hall portrays this complex character with an artistic and haunted beauty; with Christine’s character totally infected by stark depression. She just does not fit in as she seeks artistic more human stories at work and clashes with her ratings-seeking boss, portrayed sympathetically by Tracy Letts. Michael C. Hall as the handsome news ‘anchor’ also tries to connect with Christine but her mood swings, paranoia and punishing work schedule pushes her away from those around her. Family, friends, and colleagues all rally round but ultimately Christine’s depression defeats her. Rebecca Hall is brilliant as Christine and this is a very absorbing, character study which sticks in the heart and mind. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) – SKY CINEMA

The ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson once again takes on an impressive kick-ass futuristic female role which finds her “ghost” inserted in to a computer-powered “shell”. Despite incredible visuals and fight scenes and Scarlett again proving a dominant screen presence the film is a let-down from a narrative and script perspective. There is a decent story in there as Johansson’s Major uncovers a nefarious murder plot being carried by evil corporations (is there any other kind?); but while looking pretty and carrying some impressive special effects this is an underwhelming adaptation of the original Japanese anime cult classic. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

 

I, TONYA (2017) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE CINEMA

Tonya Harding was an incredibly talented and driven ice skater who went on to represent the USA at the Worlds and Olympics.  She was also the first American female skater to perform two triple axel jumps in the same set. However, she also surrounded herself with and married fucking idiot men who ruined, along with her poor decisions, her career. As portrayed by Margot Robbie, Tonya is a potty-mouthed, bitter, energetic, unlikeable person yet effervescent and funny. Off the ice she continually chooses to go back to her abusive husband Jeff Gilhooly (impressive Sebastian Stan); while on the ice she skates with passion, determination, and brilliance. Steven Rogers script and Craig Gillespie’s direction present the story in mockumentary form with some comedy sketch-style cutaways which on occasion take away from the emotional core. Alison Janney is formidable as Harding’s hard-faced, pushy mother. However, it is her aggression and abuse which, while creating an incredible sportsperson in Tonya, also crushes all the love from the mother-daughter relationship. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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LADY BIRD (2017) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE CINEMA

Greta Gerwig’s very personal rites of passage character study is a breezy, touching, emotional and funny hop through the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, as she navigates from High School to College. Lady Bird is a complex representation of young womanhood as her character is irrational, bitchy, kind, irritating, neurotic and somehow kind of loveable. Saoirse Ronan, Tracy Letts, and Laurie Metcalfe excel in a great ensemble cast and Gerwig’s script begins like a train with a flurry of very quick and funny scenes involving Lady Bird, her family, school friends and objects of desire. Later, notably with Lady Bird’s strained relationship with her mother, the film tugs at the heart strings to enthralling effect. Lady Bird has received a lot of critical acclaim and deserves much praise as Gerwig shows she is going to be a directorial talent to watch out for.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016) – NETFLIX

Another ambiguous, cerebral arthouse film from filmmaker Olivier Assayas containing both thriller and ghostly elements. The haunted Kristen Stewart plays a grief-stricken individual who is both a psychic and personal shopper. Stewart’s character Maureen is a lost soul working a job she hates searching for closure.  While attempting to connect psychically with her deceased brother she is also stalked by an unknown person or “force”. As a character study the film works very well but I would have preferred the ghostly element of the story to play out emotionally as the other story did not successfully merge for me. I guess it’s open to interpretation but it felt like the filmmaker was telling two stories which did not hold together successfully. Stewart though imbues Margaret with a cold, distanced but powerful empathy and her fear and paranoia drives the story, notably in a couple of very creepy scenes. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

SCREENWASH – ONE-LINER FILM REVIEWS #2 – February 2018!

SCREENWASH – ONE-LINER FILM REVIEWS #2

Aside from my longer, pretentious and pontificating reviews I also like to chuck in a few quick-fire posts for films I’ve watched on cable, satellite TV, catch-up, DVD and cinema over the past few months. Think of them as movie reviews for the attention deficient or for the lazy bastards like me, who from time to time, skim-read before catching the mark at the bottom. As usual I accompany the reviews with marks out of eleven.

 

BLOOD TIES (2013) – FILM FOUR

Very solid 1970s set crime drama boasts an excellent cast including: Clive Owen, Billy Crudup and Marion Cotillard. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018) – NETFLIX

Brilliant ensemble cast propel this sub-Star-Trek-story that’s been crow-barred into the Cloverfield franchise. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

 

THE COMMUNE (2016) – SKY TV CINEMA

Thomas Vinterberg directs this appealing slice of ‘70s Swedish life as a group of adults attempt to find “perfect” living within a commune situation. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

THE CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016) – SKY TV CINEMA

Overblown, overdone and overlong gothic horror finds Dane DeHaan struggling against evil doctors and an even more unbalanced screenplay. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD (2017) – NETFLIX

Ricky Gervais is on funny form as the deluded David Brent, as the Office ‘star’ goes on the road trying to gain fame as a pop star. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) – SKY TV CINEMA

Richard Linklater’s brilliantly orchestrated end-of-school-year-stoner-comedy features an incredible cast of soon-to-be-famous actors!  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

DRIFTER (AKA DETOUR) (2016) –  SKY TV CINEMA

Horrifically poor and uneven Mad-Max-Texas-Chainsaw rip off which while very stylish is completely unwatchable with unlikeable characters. (Mark: 3 out of 11)

 

FRANTZ (2016) – SKY TV CINEMA

This touching WW2 set love story, shot on crisp black and white and deftly directed by Francois Ozon, breaks and mends one’s heart in equal measures. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

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IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (2016) – SKY TV CINEMA

Ethan Hawke excels in an offbeat, violent revenge Western which fails dramatically because of the irritating villain and over-familiar plot. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017) – SKY TV CINEMA

Guy Ritchie’s take on the Camelot legend suffers a total personality breakdown; neither committing fully to Charlie Hunnam’s geezer-King-Arthur (good) or the swords and sorcery subplots (bad!). (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

LOVING (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are never less than brilliant in their performances as a mixed race couple battling the racist law which strives to keep them apart. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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LOVELESS (2017) – PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL – CINEMA

Raising bleakness to the level of poetry, this tragic Russian ‘missing child’ thriller is expertly constructed, but features two of the most selfish characters I’ve ever experienced in a movie. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE (1985) – BFI BLU RAY

Classic 1980s British drama written by Hanif Kureishi features Daniel Day Lewis in an early role finds cultures, sexuality and politics clashing in dirty old South London. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

THE POST (2017) – WIMBLEDON ODEON – CINEMA

Steven Spielberg’s worthy freedom-of-speech drama is wonderfully shot and acted but felt too subtle and dramatically under-cooked for such an important moment in American history. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

SULLIVANS’ TRAVELS (1941) – SKY TV CINEMA

Preston Sturges brilliant comedy combines slapstick, romance and social satire as Joel McCrea’s pampered film director attempts to find the “meaning of life” in depression-hit America. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

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WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971) – FILM FOUR

Cult existential Aussie psychological thriller finds Gary Bond’s English teacher attempting to escape his pitiful lot but falling further and further into a nightmarish outback abyss.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

 

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!