Tag Archives: Fargo

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017)

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017) – SEASON 1

DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon

WRITER(S):  Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale  – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz

CAST:  Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin

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**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.

Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.

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It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.

The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.

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The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.

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This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

 

 

TOP TWELVE BESTEST FILMS AND TV SHOWS OF 2016

TOP TWELVE BESTEST FILMS AND TV SHOWS OF 2016 – SCREENWASH SPECIAL BY PAUL LAIGHT

Well, here’s wishing you a prosperous New Year going forward!  I’ve read somewhere that apparently 2016 wasn’t a vintage year for movies but I went to the cinema a lot and saw a whole host of cracking entertainment.  Likewise, television budgets and production values continue to soar and there were some incredible shows produced too.

So, here are my TOP TWELVE films I saw at the cinema AND TOP TWELVE television shows watched/streamed.  Some of the films and TV programmes may have bled from 2015 into 2016 release-wise; moreover, I have also included a couple of yet-to-be-released films I saw at the London Film Festival.

Remember dudes these are not necessarily the best films or shows but the ones I enjoyed the most. So, overall, it’s just my opinion, man.

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

ARRIVAL (2016)

“. . .an intelligent and emotional science-fiction drama with a beautifully constructed narrative.”

BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)

“A tremendous genre-blend of horror and Western, this debut feature from S. Craig Zahler is destined to be a cult classic.”

CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016)

“. . . again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily one of the blockbusters of the year.”

DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

“. . .wonderful fun with hallucinogenic visuals, eye-popping fight scenes plus mystical marvels!”

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)

“. . . QT remakes Reservoir Dogs (1992) via Agatha Christie, setting it in the snowy West of America circa 1870s.”

MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA (2016)

“. . . heart-racking drama which stretches the emotions while also providing flickers of light amidst the pain.”

MEN AND CHICKEN (2015)

“. . . lurches from hilarious physical violence to examinations of religion and science in a film I can only describe as being like the Three Stooges meet The Island of Dr Moreau.”

THE NICE GUYS (2016)

“. . . pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace with a script filled with so many hilarious punchlines and sight gags.”

RAW (2016)

“. . . great horror film which has one of the most disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time.”

THE REVENANT (2015)

“. . . just superb, grueling, bloody, epic and beautiful filmmaking!”

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

“. . . a rip roaring mission-in-space-war movie set just before the original Star Wars movie!”

ROOM (2015)

“. . . a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child.”

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TOP TWELVE TV SHOWS SEEN IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)

BETTER CALL SAUL (2016) – SEASON 2

“Are there any better character drama shows around than this show? The writing and acting in Season 2 was just brilliant.”

BILLIONS (2016) – SEASON 1

“. . . great acting, script and cat-and-mouse twists galore in a meaty twelve episodes.”

DAREDEVIL (2016) – SEASON 2

“This has it all including: amazing fight scenes, bloody violence, rip-roaring action and hellish derring-do!”

FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2

“. . . drama, humour and suspense are incredible as is the cast.”

GAME OF THRONES (2016) – SEASON 6

“. . . these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.”

GOMORRAH (2016) – SEASON 2

“. . . 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.”

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2016) – SEASON 11

“. . . gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity.”

MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – SEASON 1

“. . . It is as thrilling and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock created as the trials of these men and their families are thrust before us.”

PENNY DREADFUL (2016) – SEASON 3

“. . .a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was gone.”

SOUTH PARK (2016) – SEASON 20

“. . . yet another fantastically gross, satirical and ballsy animated series from Parker and Stone.”

STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE (2016) – SEASON 4

“. . . Lee is a human anti-depressant lifting my spirits while at the same time making me think about the very nature of the subjects he tackles.”

WESTWORLD (2016) – SEASON 1

“Brilliant and exquisite Sci-fi-western-mash-up from Michael Crichton, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.”

 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #10 – CARTER BURWELL by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #10 – CARTER BURWELL by PAUL LAIGHT

To continue the My Cinematic Romance series of filmmakers, genres, actors who I absolutely love, I give you my praise to composer Carter Burwell.  His soundtracks are usually SO good I can watch a film that I don’t even like if it has Burwell’s music. He has a knack of not only capturing the emotion of the characters and story but also being intelligent; using the genre and style of the film to infuse the soundtrack.

Burwell has provided the score to many films including: Conspiracy Theory (1997), Hamlet (2000), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), The Blind Side (2009), Rob Roy (1995), The Chamber (1996), Being John Malkovich (1999) Gods and Monsters (1998), This Boy’s Life (1993), Wayne’s World 2 (1993), Airheads (1994), Before Night Falls (2000), A Knight’s Tale (2001), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), The Alamo (2004), Legend (2015), The Kids Are Alright (2010), Mr Holmes (2015), Hail Caesar (2016), No Country For Old Men (2007) etc.

I don’t know much about music, other than playing the guitar to a very average level; however, I know what I like. And I love Carter Burwell. Moreover, having worked consistently in all kinds of genres from big Hollywood productions to auteurs’ and arty films, Burwell is held in the highest regard within the industry. Esteemed filmmakers like: Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufmann, Todd Haynes, David O. Russell and the Coen Brothers have all employed his fine musical abilities. Thus, here are seven breathtaking compositions which really stand out. Indeed, his work with the Coen Brothers is legendary so I have limited those choices to just two films; just to make the piece more of a challenge.

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CAROL (2015) – TODD HAYNES

Burwell finally won a well-deserved Oscar for this beautifully constructed score.  It captures perfectly the emotion and period and the light and dark of this “forbidden” fifties romance story.

FARGO (1996) – THE COENS

As the music rises to crescendo the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The mood and atmosphere are literally chilling. When I see this I think of snow, cold, blood and murder.

THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER (1999)

While this army-police procedural drama is not a classic the music is haunting and beautiful adding a fragile counterpoint to the violent nature of the content.

IN BRUGES (2006)

Burwell does death exceedingly well. This score is less orchestral with a pared down piano and cello to the fore, prior to launching into an alt-rock guitar sound. The notes skip and rip about giving us a dark insight and backing to the off-centre characters and setting.

MILLERS CROSSING (1990)

This lyrical Irish-tinged score is another beautiful score. While the Coens’ superb gangster drama had its fair share of blood, the music pushes against the grain somewhat providing light and uplift amidst the plotting, double-crosses and chaos.


THE FINEST HOURS (2016)

This Disney disaster movie set in the 1950s is a very watchable human drama sensitively directed by Craig Gillespie. It flopped at the box office, yet as soon as I heard the score I knew it was Burwell. This is epic music of the highest order for a film which deserved a bigger audience.

TWILIGHT (2008)

I haven’t seen any of these films although I know the Twilight saga is a cultural phenomenon. Yet, I found this piece called Bella’s Lullaby on YouTube and it is just exquisite; it even makes me want to watch the films!

SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2016 – PART ONE – TV SHOW REVIEWS

SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2016 – TV SHOW REVIEWS

I love watching TV shows and films. Mainly to fill a void in my soul, or put it another way, stop me drinking myself to death. Oh, also because I just enjoy escaping reality by watching stuff on a screen.

I have split my September Screenwash reviews into television and movies, because I watched so much damned stuff last month. Here are the TV shows I watched with marks out of eleven.

**THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

 

ASH V. THE EVIL DEAD (2015) – SEASON 1 – STARZ/VIRGIN  

This 30-years-later-sequel to the original Sam Raimi Evil Dead trilogy featuring Bruce Campbell is a gory, cheesy and bloody delight. It brings back one of the most iconic-blue-shirted-wise-cracking-big-chinned-chain-sawing-action-horror-dudes ever in Ash Williams.

Having accidentally conjured up the Deadites from the Necronomicon – Book of the Dead, Ash heads cross country battling demons and ghouls with his trusty chainsaw and boomstick. He finds new friends and enemies along the way and Campbell is on wonderful form as the sexist, ageing demon-killer.

Plot wise the story is flimsy and generic, yet the bloody and bone-crunching gore is brilliant and Bruce Campbell is hilarious as usual. Ignore the evil and abominable reimagining from 2013 and get on board this silly and superb horror nostalgia trip with Ash Williams and co.  (Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

BLACK MIRROR – WHITE CHRISTMAS (2014) – NETFLIX

Charlie Brooker is pretty much a genius in my eyes and as well as being a bastard-funny TV critic, he is also a formidable storyteller. The Black Mirror stories echo the short-sharp-shocking plots of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected; yet with a very contemporary and technological twist. Season 3 Black Mirror is imminent on Netflix yet this Chrimbo special provided some darkly imaginative tales for the season.

Brooker presents a triptych of stories including: a Dating Coach (John Hamm) guiding – via contact-lens-style-Go-Pro – a naïve lad on a sexual conquest; a spoilt and demanding rich bitch (Oona Chaplin) who buys the ability to digitally clone herself so she can be her own personal ‘slave’; and a story of a doomed relationship between Rafe Spall and Janet Montgomery where an app allows a human to physically BLOCK them in reality. Safe to say all the narratives criss-cross to fiendish effect as cyber-technology is presented as initially a positive thing but ultimately something horrific which undermines humanity and hinders emotions and physical contact. Brooker is of the view that the future isn’t orange but very black indeed.  (Mark: 9 out of 11)

FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

Was Season 2 Fargo any good? It sure was – darn tooting!  For me this was almost perfect television viewing. It had a great story, memorable characters, and brilliant dialogue and is filtered, like the first season, through the twisted eccentricities, imagery, sounds, music and narrative style of the Coen brothers.  Having said that, the writer and showrunner Noah Hawley has taken the Coen’s football and sprinted away with it and almost transcended the primary source material.

Season 2’s plots – and there’s some serpentine shit going down – are set in Fargo and surrounding counties, mid 1979.  We focus on country gangsters the Gerhardts and the attempted takeover by some Kansas City “business” people who think they can run the hicks out of town. In amongst the bloody hits, kidnapping and badassery we have Patrick Wilson and Ted Danson as the good cops who, having seen the horrors of war overseas, just want an easy life. Thrown into the mix by the dark lords of fate are self-improver Kirsten Dunst (amazing)  and simple butcher Jess Plemons who get out of their depth very quickly.

Overall, the drama, humour and suspense are incredible as is the cast, notably: eloquent hitman Bokeem Woodbine and brutal rural gangsters Jean Smart and Jeffrey Donovan. Philosophically and thematically the writing is very strong too with an existential bent which makes the whole show gold-plated genre TV of the highest quality.   (Mark: 10 out of 11)

 

THE KILLING (2007) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

I recall when this first hit the TV screens the Guardianistas shitting bricks over how good this Danish cop-procedural-politico drama was. The moody atmosphere, murky lighting and winter jumpers were all the rage with the lentil-eaters; as were the performances of Sofie Grabol, Soren Malling and the formidable Lars Mikkelsen. In the cold light of day and almost ten years later there is still much to like about this Scandi-genre-cop-thriller. Over twenty gruelling episodes we find ourselves amidst the investigation of the vicious murder of a young woman called Nanna Larsen. Simultaneously a mayoral election is taking place in Copenhagen and the two events become fatefully entwined.

Ultimately, it is pretty generic stuff with the device of “red herring” suspects and characters revealing information later than they could of being over-used. Also, it could’ve have been wrapped up WAY before the twenty episode run, yet, it was gripping throughout with some terrific suspense. I especially liked Grabol’s intuitive cop who could see past the surface and into the psychology of a situation or person. Her obsessional cop was flawed but brilliant at her job even though her family life was threatening to implode. Also, exceptional is Lars Mikkelsen as mayor candidate Troels Hartmann, a man trying to do the right thing, yet with ghosts of the past haunting him. The best scenes were with the Larsen family whose lives were about-faced by the death of their daughter. Their grief brought a real depth to proceedings with many heart-breaking and emotive moments surrounding their ordeal. Perhaps over-hyped on first release, this remains a tremendous cop drama with loads of twists to keep you hooked.   (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2014) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

What started, in Season 1, as an ensemble prison drama with the focus mainly on spoilt-brattish-over-grown-Prom-Queen, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), has developed quite brilliantly, by Season 2, into a sexy-black-comedy-drama of the highest quality. Piper is of course still there driving me mad with her bouts of narcissistic wants but this time she’s toughened up and is now bouncing off the inmates, walls and screws with a bit more spunk and verve.  However, the power of this narrative is now driven by the ensemble characters – both inmates and guards – who all get a chance to shine in a collection of stories, flashbacks and vignettes which the writers weld together expertly over thirteen brilliant episodes.

Season 2 develops further the histories of, among others, love-struck Morello, cancer-sufferer Rosa, Taystee, Black Cindy, Poussey and Sister Ingalls; as well revealing more about crooked Assistant Warden Figeroa, prison Counsellor Sam Healy and ambitious head screw Joe Caputo. Also, entering the prison was a cracking antagonist Vee Parker brilliant portrayed by Lorraine Toussaint and her battle to control rackets in jail saw her on a collision course with ‘Red’ Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew). Overall, there was SO much going on in the show yet it didn’t feel cluttered. The characters  were drawn so well, relying on archetypes and human definition rather than soapy stereotypes. I was just going to give it one more season but the drama, dialogue, performance, humour and pathos delivered here made me want to go in for Season 3 and beyond.  (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

 

 

SCREENWASH – FEBRUARY 2016 by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – FEBRUARY 2016 by PAUL LAIGHT

“After the Lord Mayor’s show comes the shit-cart”, is a phrase I heard a lot in my childhood and following the golden month of January, where I watched a plethora of incredible films, February has dropped off slightly in terms of quality. Indeed, I have watched some right rubbish but there have been some diamonds in the rough. So, as per last month I’ve reviewed in depth my favourite films, mentioned some other stuff worth watching and derided the rest I didn’t think much of. As usual all films and shows marked out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

FILMS OF THE MONTH!

BARRY LYNDON (1975) – CINEMA

Due to his incredible filmic CV, this stunning Oscar-winning period film from Stanley Kubrik is often overlooked as a classic. However, it is a terrific romp through the life and times of our anti-hero portrayed by the bland yet watchable movie star Ryan O’Neal. Adapted from Thackeray’s 19th century novel it concerns Redmond Barry and his rather haphazard misadventures as he leaves his Irish village and falls both fair and foul to fate’s twisted plan.

Every single frame of this film is a joy to behold and the cinematography deservedly won an Oscar. Thematically the film is very strong too as Kubrik uses Barry as a cipher to highlight the horrors of war and to also critique the ostentatious behaviour of the upper classes. Structurally and tonally spilt in two the film begins as a set of humorous sketches before giving way to a darker and tragic feel in the second half. The film is a thing of beauty to watch as Kubrik once again raises filmmaking to the echelons of high art. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

DEADPOOL (2016) – CINEMA

DEADPOOL’s a funny, sexy, irreverent, violent, meta-textual Marvel adaptation which differentiates from the standard comic-book movies in many ways while reinforcing the usual hero-saves-damsel-in-distress-Phantom-of-the-Opera-origins-story. A witty script and Ryan Reynolds stand out amidst the carnage and finally we have a Marvel film with a bit of blood and guts. Reminded me slightly of a funnier DARK MAN; a film which remains one of my favourite anti/super-hero films.

I’d say the box office success is deserved while the hype is probably a bit over-the-top as the politically incorrect film does go out of its way to keep you on Wade Wilson’s side and not make him totally unlikeable. Moreover, the script, while traditional in structure and Reynolds delivery are just sparkling as we get gag after gag after gag at the expense of everyone and everything, most notably the Marvel universe itself. Like Netflix’s Daredevil it breathes new life into the saturated superhero market.(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

FARGO (1996) – NETFLIX

The Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind. Seen this film so many times and it improves like a fine wine; a true classic.(Mark: 11 out of 11)

MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – NETFLIX

I watched Netflix’s Making a Murderer and throughout I was hoping it was a brilliantly written courtroom drama series directed in the documentary style. But IT’S actually REAL LIFE EVENTS! It’s a ten-part documentary which concerns a number of high-profile court cases which took place in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. The filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos deserve incredible praise for their painstaking work in bringing the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey to the screen because based on their film an incredible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

It is as thrilling and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock created as the trials and tribulations of these men and their families are thrust before us. The behaviour of law enforcement is called into question time and time again and the documentary stands as both an indictment on the United States legal system as well as being a gripping thriller. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but WATCH THIS SHOW for an incredibly designed “TRUE” story. It has to be seen to be believed, and whether the defendants are guilty or not, this saga re-writes the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt!”(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

PREDESTINATION (2014) – NOW TV

One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:

“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”

However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

WORTH A WATCH!

BANANAS (1971) – NETFLIX

Early Woody Allen film which pokes fun at his nebbish persona, failure with women, Marxist revolutions and United States foreign policy, all in a brisk eight-four minute machine-gun-sketch style. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Moody amnesiac chamber thriller with Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Colin Firth delivering an initially intriguing suspense-filled piece but lacks a killer punch ultimately. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

CHEF (2014) – NETFLIX

This is a proper feel-good film about a shit-hot chef who attempts to reignite a once-hot career gone cold. Jon Favreau writes and directs and casts his mates like Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jnr and others in a fun, tasty, attractive, mouth-watering treat. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

DAWG FIGHT (2015) (NETFLIX)

Set in Perrine, Florida, this is a bloody slice-of-life documentary about backyard, bare-knuckle fighting between underclass males looking to get into the UFC big leagues. Featuring some brutal fights it’s a sad indictment of humanity and not for the faint-hearted. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

DEFIANCE (2008) – NETFLIX

Excellent wartime drama inspired by the true story of the Belarussian Jewish brothers called the Bieskis, who fought back against the Nazis while saving thousands of lives too. Gripping and suspenseful it’s anchored by the excellent Daniel Craig and well-orchestrated battle scenes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

LIFE ON MARS – SEASON 1 (2006) – NETFLIX

I missed this cracking time-warped TV show the first time round as Sam Tyler (John Simm) is thrown back to the 1970s and faced with a battle to get back to “reality”. Temporal, cultural and socio-political clashes are abound between Tyler and his new boss Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) as Sam solves cases in the past while trying to stay alive in the present. Cracking cop show! (Mark: 9 out of 11)

MUNICH (2005) – NETFLIX

I appreciated this superlative Spielberg revenge thriller more the second time round as it really questions the nature of vengeance and the damaging impact on all those involved. The story focusses on Mossad’s hit squad and its mission to wipe out Palestinian “generals” responsible for planning the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972. Eric Bana, Ciaran Hinds and Daniel Craig are impressive in their respective roles and arguably this is Spielberg’s most complex and ambiguous directorial effort. It’s a must-see political thriller with many heart-pounding urban battle scenes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ROME – SEASON 2 (2007) – NETFLIX

After the bloody denouement of Season 1, Rome provided once again some gripping and devious drama following the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s backstabbing murder. Fantastic cast including Kevin McKidd, Polly Walker and James Purefoy tear up the scenery in a most entertaining history lesson. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

 

TRUMBO (2015) – CINEMA

Bryan Cranston is brilliant as black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who having served time for being a Communist found himself unable to work in Hollywood during the 50s and 60s. Ingeniously he worked under the radar gaining notoriety and secret acclaim and this film, while dramatically undercooked in places, stands as a fine tribute to a superb writer. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!

EXIST (2014) – NOW TV

Dreadful “found footage” film about some American morons being tracked and killed by a sasquatch. The monsters are pretty decent when you finally see them but the script and direction are awful. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

 

THE LAST FLIGHT (2009) – NETFLIX

This jumbled period drama set in between the 1st and 2nd World Wars finds Marion Cotillard’s pilot searching the desert for her lost love.  Insipid and lacking focus, I was bored throughout in a film which pretty much crashes on take-off. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

 

LAST KNIGHTS (2015) – NOW TV

Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman cannot save this below average medieval jaunt which has some okay violence and dramatic moments but is far too serious and dull. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)

 

LONG WAY DOWN (2014) – NETFLIX

So-so soapy suicide comedy-drama that is ultimately undemanding and under-nourished, but saved by an attractive cast including: Aaron Paul, Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette. (Mark: 4 out of 11)

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Ben Stiller stars in this insult to the original literary classic which reduces the fantasy elements to a mid-life-crisis-romance story involving the pursuit of a photograph and the meaning of life. It looks wonderful but is hollow and makes noises like a broken drum. (Mark: 4 out of 11)

 

REGRESSION (2015) – SKY MOVIES

Incredible to think Alejandro Amenabar directed this terrible horror/thriller which criminally wastes the talents of Ethan Hawke and David Thewlis in horribly under-baked occult story. (Mark: 3 out of 11)

 

WOMAN IN BLACK 2 (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

I thought the original was a nifty little horror film made with imagination, scares and respect for the horror genre. This WWII set film was a complete waste of time with weak story and scares. Avoid! (Mark: 3 out of 11)

100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

We all love an epic at the cinema; a film which takes it’s time to build up character, plot and suspense. However, to write a great film under 100 or so minutes requires incredible discipline. You need tough, lean writing and a methodical film editor. You need real focus on the plot and an eye to remove the extraneous and zip the story along. You need a brevity and wit in the writing to quickly establish the characters and gain audience empathy. Most of all you need a solid structure, with pace but without losing any depth.

In this little piece, I have a look at some brilliant FEATURE films that represent marvellous examples of fantastic writing all under the magic one hundred minute mark! I imagine most of us have seen these films but if you haven’t then please do so!

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet.  The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative cast including Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam etc.  It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, guilt and reasonable doubt; all cooked to perfection within a hundred magnificent minutes.

12angry

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

John Carpenter is a master at producing lean, mean fighting machine movies. This crime film is an unofficial remake of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and represents your genuine-classic-low-budget-one location-siege movie with a ragtag bunch of cops and cons fighting off hordes of street scum hell bent on revenge following the death of a gang leader. The film is a gritty joy full of hard-boiled characters and dialogue with a simple yet pulsating soundtrack written by Carpenter himself.

assault poster

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)

Basically take your pick from a slew of Woody Allen films which always tell a great story around the 90 minute mark. Yet, I chose Broadway Danny Rose as it is a comedy gem hidden amidst the treasure trove of a filmic oeuvre. It concerns a hapless agent with the worst roster of acts in New York and his hilarious run-in with the mob. Beautifully constructed with some cracking characters and one-liners, this is always worth another watch if you have 85 minutes to spare.

FARGO (1996)

“He was kinda funny-looking!” THAT line basically sums up the Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller. It’s a hilarious one-liner that becomes even funnier when delivered in the Minnesotan accent and in fact is a very important part of the plot. This film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind.

THE KILLING (1956)

Not the recent Scandinavian TV show but the early Stanley Kubrik crime classic constructed in a newsreel style with an authoritative god-like third person narration. It stars Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jnr and Timothy Carey as assorted array of lowdown criminals all combining to pull off a daring racecourse heist. The brilliance is in the metronomic telling of the tale as Kubrik builds suspense and tension throughout with a filmic confidence which would very much become part of his later, and much longer, epics.

MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981)

Slight cheat because the titular character was already established during George Miller’s original hard-core low-budget classic. Yet, this is a powerful and brutal apocalyptic Western with cars instead of horses and punk-bandits instead of indigenous Native Americans providing the foes. It smashes along at a wicked pace as hard-bitten and life-grilled Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) fights hell-for-leather to survive in the Aussie wasteland while hunting for gas and food.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

George A. Romero’s low-fi classic is the Godfather of all modern zombie movies. It’s another siege film as a group of various characters become holed up in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse attempting to avoid the living dead’s bloodthirsty clutches. Made literally on a shoestring from money raised independently (no Kickstarter back in those days), it would become one of the most successful horror films ever outside the Hollywood system. It’s grainy, creepy and gory and offers a subversive critique of the politics of the era.

PREDESTINATION (2014)

One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:

“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”

However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.

 

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Oh for the days when Tarantino didn’t have a lot of money and wrote cracking muscular scripts which defy genre conventions and rip along at breakneck speed. His recent epic films are just as entertaining as this heist-gone-wrong thriller but longer and arguably in need of a trim or two. I’ve seen this film many times and it still retains its vice-like power, as the masculine egos clash and kill each other right up to the bloody end.

 

TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

This is a both a literary and cinematic classic. It’s a snap-shot rollercoaster smash-cut of junkie vignettes which delivers on all sensory and emotional levels; with a cracking soundtrack to boot! From the twisted mind of Irvine Welsh, writer John Hodge and director Danny Boyle takes the seemingly unfilmable book and craft a fizzing, twisted vision of heroin addicts, which stylises the lifestyle with dark humour and a sense of loss at the devastating impact of addiction. Choose life: choose Trainspotting!


 

TREMORS (1990)

I love this film. It’s a real B-movie guilty pleasure with seismic underground monsters attacking a small back water town ironically named Perfection.  The action bolts along and it wears its Jaws-in-the-dirt influences hilariously. Most of all I love the characters, notably Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s handyman buddies trying desperately to escape their dead end jobs. It’s a fun script with loads of action and great one-liners with Bacon himself having loads of fun without hamming it up.

UP (2009)

Take your pick from any number of Pixar classics notably the Toy Story trilogy, however, I have chosen this gem because it is just so damned imaginative and original. I mean, how’d you get a winning narrative out of an odd couple bromance between a grieving old geezer and an overweight Boy Scout. But this film does so in a great story about overcoming grief, companionship and finding comfort in helping others. Most of all it’s funny, touching and heart-toasting and does it all in fewer than 100 marvellous minutes.

SCREENWASH – OCTOBER 2015 – FILM AND TV REVIEW ROUND-UP BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – OCTOBER 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

A bumper month of viewing this month incorporating some fine films I saw at the London Film Festival plus some bloody good televisual catch-ups as well. As usual my marks are – in tribute to Spinal Tap – out of eleven!

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***

AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) – BLU RAY

Modern warfare biopic directed by Clint Eastwood about Chris Kyle; an American sniper who had the most recorded kills in U.S. military history. It was a box office smash and Bradley Cooper is excellent as are the kinetic direction of the war scenes.  Politically I felt uneasy rooting for a hired killer and I also felt more could have been done to show the downside of coming home from war. Ultimately though this is solid masculine filmmaking for all you John Wayne fans out there. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015) – NETFLIX/CINEMA/LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

This is a stunning drama which leaves you battered and burnt emotionally.  It’s about a civil war in Africa and the child soldiers whom are ripped from their families and made to fight for despotic mad men. Don’t watch if you are easily upset because Cary Fukanaga’s film is a terrifying journey into the heart of darkness. A career-best performance from Idris Elba and phenomenal acting debut from Abraham Attah, as Agu, make this a stunning film. I saw it at the London Film Festival but it is freely available to watch on Netflix. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1959) – BLU RAY

This heart-breaking film — with brilliant performances from Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon — shows the power alcohol has as it systematically shakes you like a rabid dog until one’s soul is hollowed out. The story shows a couple succumbing to the demon drink after which their relationship is torn apart. It’s also demonstrates the power of AA in aiding treatment for recovery. Incredible performances, script and score make it an American classic.  (Mark: 9 out of 11)

DHEEPAN (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)

Superb filmmaker Jacques Audiard strikes cinema gold again with this brilliant character study about immigrants in France, attempting to forge a life in the crime-ridden estates of Paris. What starts as a humane tale of survival crosses over into explosive thriller territory by the end. There is so much empathy to be felt for Dheepan and his fake “wife’s” struggle that while their journey is small-scale it feels epic from an emotional standpoint. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014) – NOW TV

Saw some negative reviews for this silly comedy sequel but I found it just as dumb, moronic and hilarious as the original. It’s a twenty-years-later-retread of the same jokes from the first as we find Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels older but just as fun and funnerer.(Mark: 7 out of 11)

EVOLUTION (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)

Some wonderful and evocative imagery and cinematography relating to birth and death could not save this French- arthouse-film-poem from being a pretentious and repetitive bore. (Mark: 4 out of 11)

FARGO (2014) – NETFLIX

I just caught up with first season TV show of FARGO and really enjoyed it. If you’re a Coen Brothers’ fan you’ll love it because it’s like a “greatest hits” package full of their characters, plots, themes, dumb criminals, nice cops and references to their whole back catalogue.  I loved Billy Bob Thornton’s evil emulation of Anton Chigurh and good to see Martin Freeman play a “not-so” good guy. Even Glen Howerton pops up filtering Pitt’s dumb fitness trainer from Burn After Reading. I think Allison Tolman steals the show with a fine, nuanced performance though. It’s dark, bloody, suspenseful and kinda funny looking!  (Mark: 9 out of 11)

GET ON UP (2014) – NOW TV

The time-hopping structure didn’t necessarily help this biopic of James ‘Godfather of Soul’ Brown but the funky music, editing and performance of Chadwick Boseman as Brown are a joy. Growing up a pauper the resilient and determined Brown became a musical great and must be recognised as a genius. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE GUNMAN (2014) – BLU RAY

Sean Penn does a Liam Neeson and wraps his acting chops round some fisticuffs and firepower as he missions round the world dealing with post-traumatic migraines and capitalist pig war-mongerers. It’s a decent DVD rental watch and has some fun shootouts and action. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

HONEYMOON (2013) – NOW TV

This is an indifferent no-budget horror movie with decent cast, including Rose Leslie, about newlyweds having a nightmare honeymoon. Starts well and has some suspenseful moments but lacks a decent pay-off. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2015) – NOW TV

Very entertaining comedy sequel in which the cast including: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz and Kevin Spacey have a lot of fun fighting each other in a worker versus bosses plot. The highlight once again is Jennifer Aniston’s filthy-sex-addicted dentist who steals the show with her depraved and hilarious ways. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE JUDGE (2014) – NOW TV

Kind of made-for-TV-pilot-script is elevated in quality by the castings of Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio and Robert Downey Jnr as a family torn apart by a murder trial.  Downey Jnr and Duvall are excellent as the warring Judge/Father and Lawyer/Son who must join forces and attempt to repair their differences while Duvall faces a murder charge. Slightly longer than needed this is  decent legal drama with fine performances.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

MACBETH (2015) – CINEMA

The “Scottish Play” gets a gothic and atmospheric treatment from Justin Kurtzel with the majestic Michael Fassbender as the doomed laird. Macbeth and his Lady – ethereal Marion Cotillard – plot and cook up a whole heap of revenge, regret and retribution on the misty Highlands. It’s heavy on mood and pain and panoramic landscapes as the tears of war and greed for power resonate heavily within the wonderful Shakespearean story and dialogue. Powerful stuff. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE MARTIAN (2015) – CINEMA

Ridley Scott is back on form with this terrific science fiction epic starring Matt Damon as Robinson Crusoe on Mars. A fantastic ensemble cast including Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Benedict Wong and Kate Mara all combine to try and get Mark Watney back to Earth.  Reminiscent of Castaway (2000) we find time running out for the lone Botanist forced to grow food out of human manure. Damon is a charming lead and we root for his hero in a dramatic and humorous space opera. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

MISS MEADOWS (2014) – NOW TV

This is an odd but not-too-bad indie film starring Katie Holmes as a Miss-Prim-and-Proper-vigilante who murders scumbags with a butter-wouldn’t-melt attitude. More of a sketch or short film idea rather than a feature it’s still darkly diverting if you like your comedy deadly. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

OBSERVANCE (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)

Creepy voyeuristic and Kafkaesque horror-thriller doesn’t make much sense but has enough creepy moments to keep you interested. Probably would have made a better short film but kudos to the Aussie filmmakers for getting this no-budget movie together. (Mark: 6 out of 11)


RIPPER STREET – SEASONS 2 & 3 – AMAZON PRIME

Just caught up to date with Season 2 and 3’s BBC/Amazon Prime’s TV show RIPPER STREET. This is a great ‘historical’ period detective show. The usual genre stuff of solving crimes is accompanied by some lovely faux-Victorian dialogue, colourful costumes, great characters and evil plotting. Downtown Abbey can go f*ck itself. This is my kind of period drama; bloody and brilliant! (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SICURIO (2015) – CINEMA

After the brilliance of Denis Villeneuve’s directorial releases Prisoners (2013) and Enemy (2013) my expectations were really high for this DEA/Cartel crime-based thriller starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin.  While it’s high on suspense, great cast and atmosphere it fails to catch fire dramatically, leaving one thirsty for more heart-in-your-mouth moments such as the brilliant opening sequence.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

SUFFRAGETTE – CINEMA (LFF GALA)

This is a cracking drama which has fine direction by Sarah Gavron with a simple, yet effective screenplay by Abi Morgan.  Carey Mulligan is the brave workhouse heroine who decides to make a stand against the inequality around her; for that she is arrested and beaten and castigated by the men and establishment. Her story is heart-breaking and touching and stands a fine testament to the brave women who fought for the right to vote. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SURVEILLANCE (2013) – NOW TV

Jennifer “Daughter of David” Lynch delivers a nasty and weird little psycho-horror which stars Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman as FBI Agents tracking down nefarious killers on the road. Suspenseful and dark I thought it was pretty good with some decent kills and suspense. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

UNBROKEN (2014) – NOW TV

With Suffragette, Get on Up, American Sniper and The Walk it was a month for biopics and Unbroken follows this trend. It charts the brave exploits of Olympian and war-hero Louis Zamperini played with formidable zeal by Jack O’Connell. It’s an absorbing tale of survival that’s solidly directed by Angelina Jolie. It’s a simple old fashioned story told with broad strokes that, while short on characterisation, would make a good rental on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE WALK (2015) – CINEMA

If you’ve seen the Man on Wire documentary about the mad French bloke walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 1970s then you pretty much know the story here. However, Joseph Gordon Levitt is charming as the Parisian lunatic and film genius Robert Zemeckis carves out a bravura range of set-pieces based around a final act heist. Overall this is an entertaining, if slight, biopic of a dare-devil mad-man which is not recommended for those with vertigo.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)