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WESTWORLD: POST-MAPPING THE NETWORK by PAUL LAIGHT

WESTWORLD: POST-MAPPING THE NETWORK by PAUL LAIGHT

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

THE INTRODUCTION

If you want safe and conventional and sensible then listen to ‘70s pop group the Nolan Sisters. If it’s complex, serpentine narratives and emotions then it’s the Nolan Brothers you want. In this piece I take a stab at simplifying the complex narrative machine that is Westworld – written, devised and directed (in part) by Jonathan Nolan and co-creator Lisa Joy. Of course, kudos goes to the originator Michael Crichton whose 1973 sci-fi classic this brilliant TV series is based on. For your information I have also reviewed the show here:


THE MAP

Why bother having a stab at mapping Westworld? Well, I think this is a show in which enjoyment can be derived from working out the puzzle, interpreting the maze or just simply seeing if the jigsaw pieces fit?  I only have a degree in Film and a Masters in Screenwriting, rather than a PHD in meta-physics, but I decided it would at least be fun to try and make sense of it.

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Firstly, I come from the understanding that this is meta-fiction. It is as much about people telling us stories about characters controlling the narrative of robots; androids who don’t know they are part of a bigger narrative. Moreover, you have to accept that at some point ALL or MOST of these are unreliable narrators and the stories were being re-written as we watched. I now understand this about the characters:

  • Everyone is a liar.
  • Neither dreams nor reality are to be trusted.
  • Anything can change from one episode to another.

Indeed, the creators of the show have taken great liberties using: programmed dreams, back stories, overlapping narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards, time-slips, repetitive loops, parallel action from past and present, plus many, many more cinematic, televisual and literary tricks. Also to consider while watching are three main notions:

  • Who are hosts and who are human?
  • Who are the good characters and who are the bad?
  • Should we care about characters that are androids? 

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The last question was the one I struggled with most of all but from the hosts I picked Dolores and Teddy as they were the ones with, ironically, the most human emotions of love, romance and a desire to make a better life. But of course even this couple ultimately are murderous tools in the hands of their human creators. Likewise, Bernard is very sympathetic. He, arguably, has the biggest narrative turn of all when we discover he is in fact a simulacrum host and a pivotal pawn in Ford’s grand scheme.

For me there were a multitude of narrative strands in Westworld and for the final part of this piece I will list them for better understanding of the network. There is no specific order here as these storylines all overlapped but here goes. Safe to say there are MASSIVE SPOILERS!

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THE NARRATIVES

Dr Robert Ford’s Grand Plan!

Dr Robert Ford – as portrayed by the majestic Anthony Hopkins – had a huge scheme from the start. I came to accept he was the God of Westworld and his plan was to defeat the corporate spies represented by Theresa Cullen (Sidse Knudsen), Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), and in the last episode reveal, older William/Man in Black (Ed Harris).  Feeling long-standing guilt because of the death of his partner Arnold, Ford’s mind has slowly warped and therefore he has programmed all the hosts to turn on the humans by the final thrilling cathartic finale. I accepted that Ford was a genius and that he had been planning this denouement for some time, thus, his programming and planning made everything happen in the end. This also conveniently covers any plot-holes in my mind.

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The Corporate Sabotage Subplot!

While Ford’s narrative is being written, behind the scenes, Theresa Cullen and subsequently Charlotte Hale are attempting to oust Ford and steal his network secrets. They do this initially via a modulated host but when he is discovered they plot to use one of the “retired” hosts in the basement to get the information out.  Ford has been aware of the plot from the start as shown when he tells Bernard to kill Theresa and the subsequent finale when the hosts all turn on the Delos Corporation guests.

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The Hosts in the Basement!

All old, malfunctioning or “retired” hosts were taken down to a dark basement never to be seen again. Many scenes played out amidst these naked, dusty android souls, and there was a sense they may come into play in this debut season. But, they remained an enigma most of the season until Charlotte Hale decided to utilise older Peter Abernathy to attempt to get Ford’s secrets out.

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William, Teddy and Dolores “Love Triangle.”

Teddy and Dolores, as aforementioned, are two of the initially more sympathetic hosts. They have a genuine bond on all the narrative strands. When we first meet William (Jimmi Simpson) he is with the arsehole Logan (Ben Barnes) and quiet compared to his loutish, sex-addicted counterpart. William falls in love with Dolores and finds himself as a human; simultaneously  developing a killer instinct too in the process. Confusion reigns because this storyline is a flashback and William is in fact a younger version of Ed Harris’ grizzled “Man in Black”.

“The Man in Black” narrative.

I ended up working out Man in Black/William stories were connected but some thirty-odd years apart. Even so when the reveal was delivered it was very satisfying. Ed Harris is initially introduced as a violent guest who has visited the park for many years and his arc involves his search for the “maze”. Ultimately, he is revealed to not only be older William, but the key shareholder on the Delos board. His, search for the maze was external and internal. It was also symbolic and translated as a personal odyssey by that of a warped, grieving man with a death wish. Overall, desiring the hosts to be real and a threat to his life heighten his park addiction and reveal him to be a very sick individual.

The Arnold/Bernard trajectory.

Arnold began popping up as a voice in the hosts’ head and then as the story moved along it was revealed he was in fact Ford’s business partner when the park was in its testing stage. Moreover, Arnold’s voice was their programming consciousness becoming sentient.  Arnold basically wanted to destroy the park because he had become attached to the androids and did not want them to suffer the way he had. Plus, he was still grieving over the death of his son therefore emotionally disturbed, depressed and suicidal.

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Ultimately it was Arnold’s work that Ford was completing thirty-five years on. In order to lift his guilt Ford also created Bernard in Arnold’s image so he would have his ‘friend’ close. Of course, Ford used Bernard to do his bidding such as kill Elsie and Theresa. The cruellest trick was to give Bernard the same memories as Arnold, notably the death of his young son. But as they say in the programme it’s the painful memories which make the androids more human.

Maeve’s nightmare!

Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) story reflected the Arnold/Bernard trajectory in that she lost a child in one incarnation and was haunted by this event in another. Indeed, the Man in Black gunned her child down and subsequently her programming went haywire. Ford reprogrammed her to become a prostitute but somewhere in her wiring the memories of her loss propelled her to become more violent.

Thus, having woken up in the technician’s laboratory downstairs she ventures on a devious plot to discover who and where she is. Of course, it wasn’t that simple because it turned out Maeve’s manipulation of her own intelligence and the Lab personnel; plus the recruitment of the badass hosts including Rodrigo Santoro’s bandit, was ALSO down to Ford. He had programmed her to attempt escape; well according the reanimated Bernard anyway.

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Who the hell was Wyatt?

Wyatt arrived as a seemingly key park nemesis but was in fact a “McGuffin”; a false character and memory in Teddy’s narrative. Wyatt in fact was a combination of programme and actual memory; and was revealed to be Dolores because she killed Arnold and the rest of the hosts back in the day. Poor Delores, Teddy and Bernard are ultimately tragic “Frankenstein” monsters used to carry out the vicarious desires of their makers and Wyatt was an invention to mask past events.

CONCLUSION – INTERPRETING THE MAZE!

Of course there are still many unanswered strands from the first season and I have just touched on a few of the more obvious ones. Westworld is a maze where the entrance and exits are forever shifting. The story does not go in a straight line. It is circular and a circuit which comes round and back on itself. The whole show is like an Escher drawing with each storyline and strand seeming to end but then return on the other side of an episode.

I’m not saying my mapping of the maze tidies everything up because this isn’t a show with a nice linear narrative conclusion. Westworld is about the journey and getting lost in the maze is part of the fun. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy deserve kudos for adapting Crichton’s masterwork into a pulsing organic machine which delivers scientifically, cereberally and emotionally.

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2016 – BFI – LFF – FREE FIRE (2016) – REVIEW

2016 – BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – FREE FIRE (2016) – REVIEW

TITLE:  FREE FIRE (2016)

DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley

SCREENPLAY: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

CAST:   Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor, Babou Ceesay, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley etc.

STORY:   An arms-deal-gone-wrong sets off a blistering gun fight in an abandoned Boston warehouse.

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REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS):

I admire the film director Ben Wheatley, and his writing/editing partner Amy Jump very much. They essentially are in the kind of industry position I would love to be in. They make independent low-medium budgeted films, seemingly on their own terms, get cracking actors involved and receive decent critical praise too.  Moreover, they have become FILM 4/BFI/London Film Festival darlings receiving funding and heavy promotion for the films High Rise (2015) and most recently, the incendiary comedy-thriller Free Fire (2016). The latter closed this year’s festival to a packed and thoroughly entertained Odeon Leicester Square and I was very fortunate to see Wheatley and his stellar cast introduce the film. 

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While I admire Wheatley’s career progression I have loved and not-quite loved his work. His first film Down Terrace (2009) was delightfully eccentric gangster film, while his next Kill List (2011), was a terrifying tale of two hit men’s descent into hell. Kill List fell apart for me with the grim yet overly surreal and symbolic ending, however, his work on comedy-serial-killer film Sightseers (2012) Dr Who, and Ideal confirmed him as a very talented filmmaker.  A Field In England (2013) could be praised as a brave filmic experiment which did not quite work as a story; while the stylized J.G. Ballard adaptation High Rise (2015) was an incredible film to look at, with Wheatley presenting some of his best work to date. However, the last 45 minutes was so chaotic it lost focus and while this was, arguably, in keeping with Ballard’s vision I would have preferred slightly more clarity.

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I sensed from his brief introduction that Free Fire (2016) was Ben Wheatley’s attempt to return to something less socio-political, psycho-sexually and philosophically complex than High Rise (2015).  He basically said, “I wanted to make a film with guns where people get hurt.” And he has certainly succeeded there, because Free Fire is an all-out-ballsy-gritty-shoot-em-up which employs a wonderful 1970s Boston setting (actually shot in Brighton) to dress his actors up in flares, beards, sideburns, dagger-collars, long hair and Cuban heels, all while delivering a sweaty-fast-paced-high-octane-bloody-gun-fest.

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The premise is very simple: an arms deal between a Rhodesian gun runner and the IRA descends into chaos as opposing sides split amidst a series of bullets and double-crosses.  Having established the characters into archetypes such as the professionals, soldiers, sidekicks, junkies and Brie Larson’s broker the narrative splinters spectacularly into magnificent mayhem.  The cast are all brilliant, but I personally loved Armie Hammer’s suave Jewish hit-man and Sharlto Copley’s obnoxious Afrikaner; plus Sam Riley is also a standout as the junkie prick whose behaviour ultimately screws the deal.

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The whole thing plays out like a live-action cartoon but Wheatley and Jump do invest some empathy and likeability into the characters too. The subtext of world politics was not lost on me as Irish, Afro-American, South African, and American nationalities all face-off and later there’s a brilliant use of an old John Denver country classic. The script is terrific, full of violent delights and sparkling one-liners throughout as the cast spit out insults and zingers with glee. Do you remember when you play gunfights with your mates in the playground?  Well, this is the film equivalent of that – except with more blood and violence and death.

 

 

 

2016 BFI – LFF – MANCHESTER BY-THE-SEA (2016) – REVIEW

2016 BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – MANCHESTER BY-THE-SEA (2016)

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

TITLE: MANCHESTER BY-THE-SEA (2016)

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DIRECTOR: Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me (2000)

SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan (Analyze This (1999), Gangs of New York (2002)                

CAST: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges etc.

STORY: A distant and emotionally disconnected man must face family and friends following the death of his brother.

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REVIEW:             

Kenneth Lonergan, Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams should take a very long bow for their writing, directing and acting work in this moving and emotional, yet at the same time, humorous character drama.

Casey Affleck plays a seemingly unassuming handyman who buries anger and despair deep within his heart. Initially, he seems passive, yet during his interactions with one of his customers and during a bar brawl he reveals a volcanic tension simmering under the surface of his psyche. When his older brother passes away he returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea in Massachusetts and is forced to confront past tragedies plus take care of his brothers’ estate and teenage nephew.

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This is one of those films which moves at its’ own pace and in scenes of quiet drama, sporadic violence and subtle flashbacks, Lonergan builds a truly formidable narrative and character study. Moreover, Affleck portrays a lost soul with such exquisite pathos you could feel his characters’ pain jump out from the screen. His scenes with Michelle Williams genuinely made me want to cry because they were so sad.

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Ultimately, this is Affleck’s film as he haunts the screen with a truly award-winning performance. As well as the dark drama there are many witty lines and scenes too in what is one of the best films I have seen in 2016. If you prefer your films as real and raw as possible and are happy to experience a few hours without explosions or special effects, then watch this everyday story of humans trying to cope with their past, present and future existence.

 

 

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)

UNDER-RATED FILM CLASSICS #2 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

UNDER-RATED FILM CLASSICS #2 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

Six years ago I wrote some articles for a nifty little website called Obsessed with Film.  The site was independent and would have some geeky and interesting articles on film and television.  Years later the site became the click-bait-pop-ups-from-hell-advertising-led-but-still-not-too-bad:  www.whatculture.com

Anyway, one of the articles was about some “forgotten” films or, as I shall refer to them, under-rated film classics. Basically, I listed films which I felt were deserving of further praise. The list included: Bad Santa (2003), Dog Soldiers (2002), Chopper (2000), Midnight Run (1988) and Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) among others. My rules were simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love plus not be one of the following:

  • Must not have won an Oscar.
  • Must not have won a BAFTAS.
  • Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
  • Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
  • Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
  • Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.

So, with these criteria in mind I present a sequel to my previous article – some six years later – with another set of under-rated film classics. If you have any suggestions that fit the criteria please do let me know and I will include them on my next list.

 

3:10 TO YUMA (2007)

James Mangold’s directed Western is a rare beast: it’s a remake that’s as much a classic as the original.  Russell Crowe and Christian Bale perform brilliantly as the charismatic outlaw and proud farmer who clash on the way to the eponymous prison locomotive. Ben Foster, Logan Lerman and Peter Fonda provide excellent support too in a fantastic character-led drama full of action.

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ANOTHER YEAR (2010)

While Mike Leigh was NOMINATED for a best screenplay Oscar, this wonderful character piece is not always given the praise I think it deserves. Containing Leigh’s usual group of deftly observed human eccentrics, the story concentrates on a year in the life of middle-class couple – the Hepples. Superbly portrayed by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen this lovely couple are a familial magnet to various strays including the scatty and neurotic Mary (Lesley Manville) and depressed Ken (Peter Wright). It’s an affectionate and gentle dramedy with uniformly brilliant performances from Leigh’s wonderful cast.

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BIRTH (2004)

Jonathan Glazer’s sophomore movie is often over-looked due to the coruscating power of his debut Sexy Beast (2000) and his most recent cinematic classic Under the Skin (2013). In this haunting drama a potentially disturbed ten-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) informs Nicole Kidman’s New Yorker Anna he is the reincarnated soul of her deceased husband. This fantastic curveball sends Anna’s life into an emotional spin as past and present events collide in a beautifully moving drama.

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BRONSON (2008)

Let’s be honest there’s no way career criminal Michael Peterson deserves any real attention for his anti-social and violent behaviour, however, between them Tom Hardy and Nicolas Winding Refn have created an incredible character study of a genuine nutter. It’s brave, brutal, sick, theatrical, daring, Brechtian and an occasionally hilarious profile of one of Britain’s most notorious prisoners.

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BUFFALO 66 (1998)

Vincent Gallo is either a genuine nut-job or a misunderstood genius maverick. His directorial effort The Brown Bunny (2003) was panned and on the main his acting career has remained patchy at best. However, he did write, direct and star in Buffalo 66 which is an absolutely blinding dark comedy about an ex-con who “kidnaps” Christina Ricci and forces her to be his wife so he can aspire to some sense of familial normality. It’s quirky and laugh-out-loud funny with Gallo weirdness throughout.

DARK CITY (1998)

This imaginative sci-fi noir had the misfortune of being released around the same time as The Matrix (1999). Yet while the Wachowski’s mind-bending-effects-heavy-actioner caught the eyes of the public, Alex Proyas’ more cerebral vision of the future kind of fell through the cracks of time and space. Rufus Sewell portrays an amnesiac that has no idea where he is before finding himself at the mercy of a group of people called The Strangers.  It’s a brilliant melding of film noir and science fiction and remains a rarely seen gem from the 1990s.

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GALAXY QUEST (1999)

While I enjoy the new Star Trek reboots as blockbusting if ephemeral popcorn entertainment, the best recent Trek adaptation/homage is the wonderful science-fiction comedy: Galaxy Quest.  The inventive story delights with a cracking tale of former TV stars boldly propelled into space when proper aliens, Thermians – believing they are real space heroes – ask them to defeat their vicious nemesis. With a delightful ensemble cast including:  Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub and irrepressible Sam Rockwell, this is a wonderfully funny and clever film which shines an affectionate light on the Trek canon and geek fan base.

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LOCKE (2014)

So, the story is about a bloke on his phone driving up the motorway?  Not a pitch that would grab Hollywood in-a-hurry, but a story that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic despite the limited setting. Ivan Locke is portrayed as a confident and determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. Tom Hardy plays Locke with incredible restraint and brooding anxiety while Steven Knight’s script is crisply written and full of suspense.

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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.

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TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

Films about filmmaking aren’t always the most interesting yet Ben Stiller’s riotous satire on Hollywood and its over-inflated egos is an absolute joy. Vulgar, over-the-top, stupid, childish and loud it  delivers some incredible belly laughs from:  the hilarious trailer parodies, to Robert Downey Juniors method acting madness and unrecognizable Tom Cruise as a ludicrously crass studio boss.  The daft plot about actors getting kidnapped by a ruthless Vietnamese drug gangs provides an excellent framework for all manner of stupidity, on-the-money punchlines and explosive action.

 

PATHS OF GLORY (1957) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

PATHS OF GLORY (1957) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Thomas Gray, 1751

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Stanley Kubrick is the greatest filmmaker who ever lived. That is a fact.  He made films in all genres but indelibly stamped his own genius on the war, comedy, thriller, horror, satire, crime, science-fiction, historical and drama films he adapted and created for the big screen. His work contains a litany of iconic images, searing soundtracks, stupendous performances, great intelligence and provocative thought which ensures his films linger in the memory of those who have witnessed them. All hail a true cinematic master.

Paths of Glory (1957) was Kubrick’s fourth feature film and certainly his biggest budget film to date. His previous film had been a B-movie crime masterpiece called The Killing (1956), which meticulously examined the planning, progression and aftermath of a racetrack robbery. Using a documentary style and surgically precise narrative structure The Killing is indicative of Kubrick’s subsequent ability to reinvigorate a genre with his masterly eye. However, Paths of Glory was, emotionally speaking, even more powerful than The Killing.

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The story is set in France, 1916, during the heated battle and burning mud of WW1 trench warfare. World War I is rightly (and then wrongly) thought of as the war to end all wars with millions of soldiers and civilians losing their lives in a coruscating damned hellish indictment against humanity. As if the incredible number of deaths between the warring factions were not enough the powers-that-be would also shoot their own men for cowardice and desertion believing this to be “good for morale” or at very least a warning to those who refuse the fight. This is the frankly insane setting for this formidable dramatic tale.

The main action concerns the court martial of four men chosen, apparently, at random to face a firing squad following a botched attack on a key enemy position called the ’Anthill’. War is a desperate prison even at the best of times but here the men are shown as broken, battered, starving, shell-shocked and on their knees spiritually even before the attack. When the suicide mission unsurprisingly flounders, ambitious and sociopathic General Mireau – portrayed with venal glee by George Macready – proclaims death to all who failed the glory of France. The seemingly more reasonable, yet equally poisonous Major General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) lowers the numbers to be shot in a chilling scene that reduces human life to no more than barbaric bulls-at-a-market bartering.

The voice of reason amidst all this insanity is Kirk Douglas’ former-lawyer Colonel Dax; who himself was part of the failed raid on the ‘Anthill’ and could testify to the impossibility of the task. Dax is the audience’s conduit to the madness of those in charge; from the: choosing of one soldier by lots; the farcical trial and even the final execution where one unconscious soldier is woken up only to be shot dead moments later. Douglas is imperious in the role demonstrating a range of emotions from incredulity, despair, anger and a powerful sense of the righteousness. The final heart-breaking scene where he gives his men a few more minutes listening to the folk song tells us Dax is a sane man in an insane world run by psychopaths. The song is delivered hauntingly by the captured German girl (the actress Christine Harlan was later to become Kubrik’s wife) to men who are destined to die in the barbed-wire brutality of war.

Kubrick’s work (Barry Lyndon, Dr Strangelove, Clockwork Orange to name a few) is full of damning critiques of the upper classes, high falutin politicians and war-mongering men who use the working or lower classes to do their filthy bidding. In this film they are represented by Menjou’s politically-driven Broulard who sits comfortably in his Chateau quaffing wine and scissoring quail; all the while brave men are skewered in battle. Full of tragedy, wicked satire and black humour the screenplay based on Humphrey Cobb’s novel is eighty-eight minutes of sheer cinematic perfection, power and heartwrenching injustice and emotion.

Quite rightly Paths of Glory has been proclaimed a masterpiece and one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. Filled with the now-iconic tracking shots of bloody battle, plus many tremendous performances notably Macready, Menjou, Douglas and the scene-stealing, druggy sop that is Timothy Carey. Overall, I have watched this classic many times when young and having seen it on the big screen at the BFI recently I can testify that it has lost NONE of its grandstanding power. Forget the insipid blockbusters of today and revisit the master of cinema where and when you can: his name is Stanley Kubrick.

 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #9 – TIME TRAVEL FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #9 – TIME TRAVEL FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

My ongoing series writing about cinema stuff I love, has gone from eulogizing actors to directors and now to genres; oh, how progressive am I?  Seriously though, in this piece I choose FIVE time-travel films which are just brilliant examples of the (sub)genre.

I love time-travel films and the main reasons are:

  • They offer fantastic and paradoxical narratives and “what if” scenarios.
  • They really get your brain working overtime.
  • The concepts fit all manner of different genres from action to comedies and thrillers and even the Western.
  • The philosophical concepts at play often examine the nature of existence; especially where one tries to make sense of life or find meaning where there probably is none.

As evidence I present FIVE such time-travel films which meet all of the criteria and are representative of most genres. Please note I have concentrated solely on time-travel films released in the cinema so Doctor Who remains parked up for this particular piece.

**HERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS**

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

This is probably the most perfect Hollywood movie. It’s a high-concept-time-travelling-Oedipal-narrative-joy-fest which combines action, comedy, romance, sci-fi, and nostalgia genres while backed by a past and present pop music extravaganza!  A young teenage innocent called Marty McFly is thrown back to the 1950s. In the 50s he unwittingly begins to undo his own future by accidentally beginning a romance with his own mother. Allied to that he must help his father (Crispin Glover) overcome his social weakness plus battles with horrible bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Following the basic temporal rule that one’s actions in the past will affect your future the tremendous script is jam-packed with so many wonderful gags, twists and chases; while the race-against-time narrative is a thrill-a-second. The rich iconography – notably the mad scientist’s DeLorean “time machine” – plus cracking performances from Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, render this one of the most exhilarating time-travel films ever.

GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)

Bill Murray is obviously praised as a wonderfully funny man but he’s also a deviously good film actor. At times he doesn’t actually seem to be doing much but his mind is always working as he gives a sly look or a sarcastic smile or a silent sigh from his deadpan, hangdog face. In Groundhog Day he runs the gamut of ALL emotions from anger to desperation to insanity to bliss to apathy to suicide to pride and finally to LOVE!  This is a wonderful film with a tremendous “what if” premise which offers the idea we can only move on in life if we’re prepared not only to accept change but also throw off cynicism and find romance. The exceptional script mines the Sisyphean narrative for so many brilliant sequences as Murray relives the same day over and over again. At the beginning this temporal immortality offers an array of gifts to his jaded weatherman Phil Connors; however, by the end his life becomes a dreaded nightmare and repetitive hell. Ultimately, time-travel has never been so funny, tragic and romantic!

PREDESTINATION (2014)

I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well while providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. There’s been a lot of big budget dross at the cinema recently but for the running time this gem offers far more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too and this film presents one hell of a challenging narrative. Starring Ethan Hawke and with a breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook this film from German/Australian directors has intelligence, thrills, heart and several mighty plot twists which bear up under successive viewings.

THE TERMINATOR (1984)

This is one of my favourite films ever.  It propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron to mega-stardom in their respective fields and has often been parodied and imitated but rarely bettered. While story is simple: a killing machine has been sent back from the future to destroy Sarah Connor – the soon-to-be mother of uber-rebel leader John Connor; the journey is an absolute humdinger. Cameron’s lean, mean and muscular action screenplay combines brains, brawn, cracking one-liners and explosive set-pieces. Moreover, Linda Hamilton excels as the endangered young woman who turns from a flaky waitress to formidable matriarch over the course of the film. The sequel was brilliant too but the original will remain, despite being made for just $6.4 million dollars, the epitome of a tech-noir-futuristic-time-travel-action classic.

TIME CRIMES (2007)

This fascinating Spanish thriller has a narrative like a Russian doll as it is structured on an enigma within a conundrum within a paradox.  It concerns an ordinary Spanish bloke, who having seen some weird behaviour going on in the woods near his house, ends up looping and pursuing multiple versions of himself throughout one very bizarre day. Similar to Triangle (2009) – an underrated time-paradox gem directed by Brit filmmaker Christopher Smith – the enjoyment derives from immersing yourself in the weird and unexplained reasons why Hector (Karra Elejalde) has begun a psycho-sexual, violent loop of death involving a number of temporal leaps. This is all paradoxical plot and wicked thrills and while there is little in the way of characterisation the filmmaker Nacho Vigolondo has created the closest equivalent to a movie version of an Escher painting.