Tag Archives: Hollywood

8 EPISODES WHY HBO’s ‘CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM’  IS “PRETTY GOOD!”

8 EPISODES WHY CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM  IS “PRETTY GOOD!”

There’s absolutely no reason why a situation comedy about an aging, wealthy, neurotic and narcissistic Hollywood writer should be one of the most consistently funny comedy shows of the last twenty years. There’s no real substance or depth in Curb Your Enthusiasm; in fact not much really happens of great value as it occurs very much in a bubble. Moreover, in anti-hero Larry David you more often than not find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, colleagues and strangers on a daily basis.

David, who plays an extreme version of himself (one hopes), revels in pedantry, un-PC behaviour, poor decisions, risky statements and strict adherence to the social etiquette and unwritten rules of life that make him a right royal pain in the backside. Yet, incredibly, because the writing, situations and storylines are so clever the whole show works a treat. To celebrate the recent release of the 9th season of HBO’s classic comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, I have chosen one episode from each season to praise. It’s a difficult choice to pick my favourites but I think you’d agree these episodes are pretty, pretty good!

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

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SEASON 1 – EPISODE 4 – THE BRACELET (2000)

I was going to choose Beloved Aunt because of the monumentally unfortunate typo which involved Larry upsetting Cheryl and his in-laws. In an obituary for a recent departure the words “Beloved Aunt” became “Beloved C*nt” and Larry gets the blame. However, The Bracelet is a classic for me as it involves Larry going head-to-head with comedian Richard Lewis for the said jewellery item. The slapstick and race-against-the-clock narrative are hilarious as is their meeting with an ungrateful blind person they help. The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions!

SEASON 2 – EPISODE 7 – THE DOLL (2002)

One of the delights of the show is when Larry, having made some terrible social faux pas is ripped apart by one of the supporting cast. Arguably, his most fierce nemesis is his agent’s wife Susie; portrayed with vicious, black-eyed venom by Susie Essman. The narrative thrust of Season 2 involved Larry trying to get another Network show commissioned, but when he erroneously trims the hair (god knows why) of a child’s doll he become embroiled in a head-swapping comedy of nightmarish errors. When Susie catches him and Jeff using her daughter’s doll’s head, all hell breaks loose and Larry gets a volley of joyously ripe abuse!

SEASON 3 – EPISODE 8 – KRAZEY-EYEZ KILLA (2002)

Larry’s experiences with members of the black community range from: embarrassing misunderstandings, accidental racism, satirizing lazy stereotypes and finally some very offensive situations. Some of it is hilariously funny while more often than not it can be very painful to watch. However, Larry David is a brave writer as he doesn’t shy away from subjects which could be deemed politically incorrect. More often than not though he himself is the butt of the joke!  Season 3 had a wonderful arc of Larry getting involved with a Restaurant and the final episode had some glorious profanity. However, his run in with Wanda Sykes’ cheating rapper boyfriend Krazey-Eyez and Larry telling Martin Scorsese he “does too many takes” on set is just comedy gold!

SEASON 4 – EPISODE 6 – THE CAR POOL LANE (2004)

Season 4 benefits from one of the strongest narrative arcs of the whole series. Larry has been chosen by Mel Brooks to star in the Broadway show The Producers and includes the brilliant Ben Stiller and David Schwimmer. The Car Pool Lane finds Larry attempting to get into an upper-class-W.A.S.P-y country club and cajole Marty Funkhouser into giving up his dead father’s seat at a Dodger’s game. The comedy sparks really fly when in an attempt to get to the game he hires a prostitute to allow him to use said car-pool lane and beat the traffic. The dovetailing call-backs of his Dad’s glaucoma, trying to get off Jury service, Funkhouser’s dead Dad and country club narrative strands makes this one of the funniest episodes ever and features an effervescent performance from Kym Whitley as Monena the hooker!

SEASON 5 – EPISODE 7 – THE SEDER (2005)

What I love about Larry David’s writing – or retro-scripting to coin a phrase – is he is unafraid to ask intriguing moral or immoral questions within the comedy subtext. In the episode The Seder, he poses the idea that a sex offender, while having served his sentence, could possibly actually be a “nice” guy. Thus, Larry literally befriends a bald, Jewish sex offender (a brilliant Rob Corddry) much to the horror of his family, neighbours and friends. As thanks for an awesome golfing tip he even goes so far as to invite him to a Passover meal where all kinds of social embarrassment ensues.

SEASON 6 – EP. 3 – THE IDA FUNKHOUSER ROADSIDE MEMORIAL (2007)

After the steady mixed-bag comedic narratives of Season 5 – Larry’s potential adoption and Richard Lewis’ dying kidney – Season 6 introduced a new set of hilarious characters and situations. When Larry’s wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) “adopts” a homeless family, whose lives were wrecked by a hurricane, the comedy bar is raised to a whole new level. The season has some classic episodes but my favourite is The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial. Despite Larry’s nebbish irritations quite often I am on his side when it comes to petty grievances. In this episode he deals with: unnecessary condolences and sample abusers, but stealing flowers off a roadside memorial is a totally out of order, So, Larry definitely deserves the stream of ire that comes his way when he commits this gob-smacking social “crime.”

SEASON 7 – EPISODE 7 – THE BLACK SWAN (2009)

Season 7 is most notable because Larry, having split up with Cheryl, is now dating Loretta Black (Vivica Fox). In order to get Cheryl back he orchestrates a Seinfeld reunion with all the gang (Jerry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards), as a means to offer Cheryl a part. Firstly, though he has to dump Loretta, who sadly is now suffering from cancer. I mean Curb Your Enthusiasm must be admired for the lengths it goes to get laughs and how he “dumps” Loretta is something else. One of the funniest episodes is the Black Swan which occurs on the golf course. Suspected (he did it!) of killing the course owner’s treasured swan, there’s a scene where Larry’s customary “staring” motif is used against HIM!!  The ending of this episode involving his Mother’s gravestone is also one of the great payoffs too!

SEASON 8 – EPISODE 3 – PALESTINIAN CHICKEN (2011)

I am not easily shocked by anything but I must say that this is one of the most controversial episodes of comedy I have seen.  I was sat agog through many of the scenes in this one. I mean I’m not an expert when it comes to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict but I am aware of the geographical and religious issues which have occurred throughout the years. What Larry David does with his comedy is to skewer the significance of the conflict and satirize it within a consumer food war. Having began eating the chicken at a Palestinian restaurant Larry becomes attracted and begins a sexual relationship with one of the Arab customers. She is a sexual dynamo to him and her dirty talk is pure filth and anti-Semitic! As Larry puts his penis first and at the end is caught between rampant sex and his loyalty to his “people”! Again, another classic ending to a brilliant episode.

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SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS – AUGUST 2017 – Including: DETROIT, THE BIG SICK and AMERICAN MADE!

SCREENWASH CINEMA ROUND-UP – AUGUST 2017 – REVIEWS

A Ghost Story (2017) – review here – was the most impactful and original film I saw in August from a cinematic perspective, however, the other films I saw were very well rendered too. All three were “based on a true story” and had many elements that made them highly watchable. So, here’s my cinema round-up of reviews for August.

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

 

AMERICAN MADE (2017) – DIRECTOR: DOUG LIMAN

Tom Cruise leaves the formulaic action blockbusters aside for a while to portray a well-defined anti-hero called Barry Seal.  Seal, according to this insane narrative, was a former TWA pilot who, bored with his steady job, grabs the opportunity to fly reconnaissance operations over South America for the C.I.A. That’s when the irreverent fun really gets into gear and before you can say “triple-agent-drug-running-for-the-Colombian-Cartel” you have a very watchable fast-paced, political and at times, farcical thriller.

Doug Liman is an excellent genre director and here pitches the film somewhere between a Martin Scorsese gangster biopic and screwball comedy. I would have preferred a bit more dramatic meat to be honest as seen in the Bryan Cranston Cartel-cop-thriller The Infiltrator (2016), or the subtle terror of Sicario (2015). However, Tom Cruise once again proves he can act and this entertaining movie does make some relevant political barbs against the allegedly corrupt Reagan and Bush administrations during their futile wars against drugs and communism.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE BIG SICK (2017) – DIRECTOR: MICHAEL SHOWALTER

Uber-driving-stand-up-comedian Kumail Nanjiani portrays himself in movie form for the duration of this likable character and culture driven romantic comedy. Eager to forge his own path where love is concern Kumail battles the constant “threat” of his overbearing mother’s attempts to pair him up with an acceptable Pakistani bride. Having met Zoe Kazan’s sparkling Emily he falls for her despite their initial reticence in committing fully to each other.

Of course the path of love is never straight, in fact it’s downright wonky as Emily succumbs to a rare illness and is hospitalized. Kumail, estranged from his own and rejected by Emily’s family, finds his world falling apart as his work and comedy suffers. Overall, this is a very enjoyable and gentle comedy and Kumail and Emily are characters you really root for. The supporting cast including the brilliant Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham and Holly Hunter are very funny indeed. I enjoyed the sub-plots involving the Chicago comedy scene and my only criticism would be that like other Judd Apatow-produced films it was probably ten minutes too long. Having said that it’s a finely observed, well-acted and richly funny character film.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

DETROIT (2017) – DIRECTOR: KATHRYN BIGELOW

This is a very complex film and probably requires a second view to really get to the heart of the whole situation. Set in 1967, amidst the desperate and violent racial tensions of the age (has there actually been anything else in the United States?) Detroit focuses on a single night and horrific incident involving monstrous cops and their behaviour toward the guests in the Algiers Hotel. Kathryn Bigelow again proves herself an expert director of spine-tingling tension and heart-racing drama as a violent assault is carried out on mostly innocent characters.

Detroit is microcosmic of the issues of race throughout American history and is an impossible pill to swallow as represented by these events. It’s not meant to be easy but a layered, narrative which reflects the different perspectives of those involved without actually getting to the actual truth. John Boyega, Will Poulter and Algee Smith’s performances are the stand-out as a nightmarish event in American history unfolds in almost real time. The only light comes by way of the Motown and Gospel music featured which shines brief hope and light on otherwise grim proceedings. The final act and court case compound the injustice of the crimes committed and only in song and prayer can Smith’s character escape the horrific tragedy of these grim events.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

 

 

KILLING ME SOFTLY: THE EVOLUTION OF THE HOLLYWOOD THRILLER!

KILLING ME SOFTLY: THE EVOLUTION OF THE HOLLYWOOD THRILLER!

“It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death. Whenever we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators.” Sigmund Freud

Here’s a re-blog of an article I wrote for www.sothetheorygoes.com – you can read here or below:

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Most 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, as the above quote from Freud suggests watching films of the horror or thriller genres is subconsciously akin to a near-death experience. Facing the reaper from a position of relative safety is part of the thrill of going to the movies.

The thriller genre is one of my favourite types of film and in this piece I would like to draw on elements of psychology, genre and culture theories to examine classic, postmodern and neo-thriller tropes. I also want to investigate some recent cinema offerings which defy certain genre conventions and have what could be described as a subtle less-is-more approach to building suspense and thrilling the audience. For this I will examine three scenes from the work of David Fincher, Denis Villeneuve and Joel and Ethan Coen where, while adhering to thriller genre conventions, they also softly kill us in an arguably more unconventional fashion.

But what draws us toward the darkness of the thriller and, psychologically speaking, why do we enjoy them so much? According to research conducted by Dr Deirdre Johnston in 1995, viewing motivations for watching the horror or thriller genres include: sensation seeking and overcoming fear, whether you’re identifying with the killer or the victim. Moreover, Peter G. Stromberg argues in his piece The Mysteries of Suspense that uncertainty and surprise are powerful tools in the thriller genre. As humans we are uncertain of our mortality and thrillers tap into that innate fear. Also that as social mammals we have the power to experience and feel the fear as characters on a cinema screen do. Lastly, Sheila Kohler opines that a fascination with violence draws us to the thriller genre. While most of us are scared of hurt and pain, by placing violence within the structure and order of a story we both enjoy the sensation of danger while controlling said violence.

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These are just a few of the psychological reasons why we are drawn to the thriller genre. Formally and stylistically the thriller also offers a myriad of entertaining devices including: McGuffins (or red-herring), twists, cliff-hangers, flashbacks, flash-forwards, voice-overs etc. Moreover, it also features characteristics like: unreliable narrators, innocents-as-victims, mistaken identity, monstrous villains, revenge, kidnappings, and ticking-time bomb countdowns to name a few. According to James Patterson one of the thrillers enduring characteristic is openness to expansion into subgenres such as: spy, historical, police, medical, religious, tech, and military settings. Essentially, the structural flexibility of the threat of death is far-reaching and the ability to create suspense is very progressive within the thriller genre hence why it has proved popular to audiences and filmmakers alike.

One of the greatest proponents of the thriller was of course Alfred Hitchcock. Often cited as the “Master of Suspense”, Hitchcock is quoted as saying, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” He certainly made us suffer beautifully in all manner of classic films such as: The 39 Steps (1935), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960) and countless others. Aside from Hitchcock’s dazzling skill with form and style his narratives always contained powerful villains or external forces of authority which symbolised death. Thus, while coming close to death throughout Hitchcock’s protagonists more often than not survive while the villain or force perished. Thus, a Hitchcock thriller offers catharsis, which is a Greek term Aristotle used to describe the purging of negative emotions.

Without a shadow of a doubt Hitchcock had an incredible influence of filmmakers throughout film history. Indeed, the term Hitchockian thriller has entered the vocabulary of cinema. His films have influenced great filmmakers like: Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorcese, and arguably most of all thriller expert Brian DePalma. He, in my opinion is a postmodern filmmaker as he uses devices like homage and pastiche within his filmic style, echoing many of Hitchcock’s films in: Obsession (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Body Double (1984). Within DePalma’s ouevre there are also impressive set-pieces lifted from other films such as the Battleship Potemkin (1925)/Odessa Steps homage in The Untouchables (1987). Likewise in the spy thriller Mission Impossible (1996), DePalma’s iconic Langley heist set-piece was done with no dialogue in a major nod to classic French crime thriller Rififi (1955).

What DePalma has in common with Hitchcock too is the use of humour in his films to provide catharsis or pay off suspenseful moments. I liken this to releasing a valve and letting the audience off the hook somewhat. This is seen none more so than in the wildly over-the-top film Body Double (1984), which is a pastiche of both Rear Window and Vertigo (1958). In a particularly suspenseful scene our protagonist is about to be skewered by a pneumatic drill and just on moment of impact the plug from the wall is pulled, thus releasing the threat of death and finding some sick humour in an especially tense moment. Of late, however, I have noticed a movement away from such humour or release-the-valve safety. Where both Hitchcock and DePalma employed the convention of catharsis and overcoming death, recent cinema releases have taken a slightly different approach.

Film Title: No Country for Old Men

While Hitchcock and DePalma often favoured the highly stylized approach to building suspense it’s interesting to compare their work to some recent films which I feel take a more subtle, yet just as effective, approach. The Coen Brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2007) is such a film. The story is a dark crime narrative involving a tense pursuit across country involving heinous hitman, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). The filmmakers establish Chigurh as a force of nature and create suspense through uncertainty, as he kills both law enforcement officers and the people who hired him.

The most tension-inducing scene is Chigurh favouring a coin toss to decide if someone lives or dies. He uses this method both in a scene with a store clerk and at the end with Kelly McDonald’s character Carla Jean.  While, the innocents-as-victim is an often used convention in thrillers, the nature of fate or luck within the scene creates unbearable suspense as Chigurh’s crimes become not motivated by a sense of professionalism, but rather scarily, the flick of a coin. There’s some relief when luck seems to shine on the store clerk but no such fortune for the unfortunate Carla Jean. Even then there is ambiguity as we, like her husband, do not see her die; however it is implicit within the editing and performance that sadly she does.

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Arguably, the finest thriller director around at the moment is David Fincher and 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 becomes obsessive about discovering who the Zodiac killer is and even loses his family and job in the process. 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.

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Similarly, in the recent crime thriller Sicario (2015), aside from a the conventional exploding bomb opening, the director Denis Villeneuve uses more subtle techniques to get under the skin of the audience.  Often thrillers will have a brutal showdown between our hero and the villain resulting in the nemeses’ death, but at the end of Sicario it is a far more quiet and unnerving scene. Here Emily Blunt’s moralistic Kate Macer realises she has been used to collude the black-ops Cartel murders by CIA-sanctioned assassin Alejandro Gillick (Benecio Del Toro). While Gillick has a gun to Macer’s head the threat is palpable but what makes the filmmaking so striking is it has the confidence to eschew the standard car chase or big fight finale for something so tense and disquieting. The tragedy of humanity here is the realisation for Macer that she will not make a difference in the CIA and the law cannot protect her. Gillick represents as he puts it, “the land of wolves”; thus once again, similar to No Country For Old Men, we as the audience, are given no escape or purging from death as Gillick walks away to continue his morally ambiguous endeavours.

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What all these scenes and films provide are a denial of releasing the valve and consequently allaying our fear of death.  Moreover, in contravention of the classical thriller model the villains and monsters in these scenes actually get away so while the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian DePalma allow catharsis by generally defeating the bad guy, neo-Hollywood filmmakers like those mentioned above, kill us softly with a creeping nihilism and feeling of dread which remains even after you’ve exited the cinema.

 

EXPLORING UNOFFICIAL REMAKES IN HOLLYWOOD!

EXPLORING UNOFFICIAL REMAKES IN HOLLYWOOD! 

Here’s a re-blog of an article I wrote for the excellent http://www.sothetheorygoes.com website. It’s arguably a better researched article than I usually turn out and the original can be found here.

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OVERCOMING THE MONSTER

As an avid cinemagoer and fan I watch a hell of a lot of movies. I am aware that Hollywood film releases rarely contain original screenplays due to the massive flux of literary, journalistic, radio, televisual and comic-book adaptations. Moreover, there are reboots, remakes and re-imaginings of older and, in the case of the recent Spiderman releases, not-so-older films too.  I have even noticed another trend where on top of the usual remakes there are a number of films which are unofficial remakes of other films. Does this mean originality is finally dead in Hollywood and is now cannibalizing itself to produce product. Or, has it always been that way?

I want to explore the nature of storytelling, mythmaking and modes of classic Hollywood film production to consider whether there is a trend toward unofficial remakes in the current filmmaking era. I will examine cultural theory and film history to decide whether filmmakers are knowingly copying other works but hiding their intentions; or subconsciously replicating past cinema works while emulating both the historical traditions of storytelling and the classical Hollywood mode of film production. I will look at some recent film releases to further reflect on such theories.

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THE QUEST

The blockbuster or big budget spectacular has been a major business tool of Hollywood production since movies. In his book Blockbuster, Tom Shone points to the 1970s as the beginning of the blockbuster summer movie era with films such as Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977), making huge money and beginning a business convention which continues today. However, there has always been huge behemoth product coming out of Hollywood with the likes of D.W Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone With The Wind (1939), Cleopatra (1963) being examples of big-budget spectacular produced down the years. As such the blockbuster is as much a genre in its own right as opined by Shone and also Peter Biskind in his book: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock ‘N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.   

The summer blockbuster film release is clearly a huge money-making enterprise on behalf of Hollywood studios. Indeed, according to a recent Indiewire article films such as The Force Awakens (2015), Avatar (2009), Avengers: Assemble (2012) have together made over $2.5 billion dollars in at the box office. With the Marvel and Star Wars universe or franchises ever increasing their reach across galaxies far, far away it is important to note that the new Hollywood is still following the classical Hollywood system in regard to mode of production.

In their book The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960, Staiger, Thompson and Bordwell, a Hollywood film derives its’ competitiveness from a standardized norm and differentiated delivery. Film genres take place between the dialectic of standardization and differentiation which allows films to be produced along a conveyor built quickly and more profitably while some innovation generates differentiated elements to enable successful marketing of the product. For example, Ford produced and continued to produce a lot of the same model motor vehicles but change the colours and extras to differentiate the product. Likewise, Hollywood produces a hell of a lot of action, superhero and blockbuster films but in using different actors, directors, composers and source materials they are able to blind the audience to the storytelling structures and plots being used.

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But is this a mode of production considered lazy, unoriginal, uninspired or even plagiaristic? Possibly, yet it seems to make sense that Hollywood studios, while risking a hell of a lot of money on their blockbusters, standardize their product and use what has worked before to protect their investment. While some of us would like to see David Lynch given $200 million to direct a Marvel Universe movie, his idiosyncratic vision of the world would be such a leap of differentiation it would possibly – like his adaptation of Dune (1984) – create a potential box office bomb. Even a brilliant director like Edgar Wright was considered not “house style” enough for the Marvel film Ant Man (2015) and left the production due to the oft-quoted “creative differences”.

Is it fair to accuse Hollywood studios of unoriginality or even plagiarism? Are writer and filmmakers merely following the rules of the world?  I mean according to Christopher Booker’s text The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are in essence only a limited number of narratives including the: ‘Overcoming the Monster’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘The Quest’, ‘Comedy, ‘Rebirth’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Voyage and Return’. Booker echoes too the studies of mythologist Joseph Campbell who argues that the ‘Hero’s Journey’ or monomyth is the common template of most stories. Christopher Vogler followed on from Campbell’s extensive work in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writer arguing that most popular stories can be narrowed down to a series of basic structures and archetypes.

Thus, we could argue that originality is in fact impossible and Hollywood blockbusters, as well as following the classical Hollywood model of standardization and differentiation; are simply passing on the traditional and mythical structures which hark back to the cave drawings of our ancestors, Greek myths and those wonderful stories in the Bible.  Let’s have a look at some examples of recent blockbuster films which echo the theories of mythic storytelling, concentrating specifically on those that could be considered unofficial remakes of previous films.

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VOYAGE AND RETURN

The biggest box office hit of recent years is the JJ Abrams directed The Force Awakens (2015). After Disney paid an absolute fortune to Lucasfilms for the rights to own the Star Wars franchise it’s safe to say that there was no way the studio would be taking any risks on their product. Thus, in my opinion, JJ Abrams and his writing team took a safety first approach to the storyline by unofficially remaking the original Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). They standardized their product by using most of the same characters, settings, design, costumes, music and themes. Moreover, on the whole it follows the same “Hero’s Journey” and “Overcoming the Monster” models within its structure as at its core a plucky young “orphan” must rise up and defeat the dark side of the Empire. Conversely, the original Star Wars could be argued to have heavily borrowed its structure and archetypes from Akiro Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958). However, George Lucas’ epic space opera was so original in presentation and design one cannot reconcile notions of plagiarism.

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A Force Awakens was only marginally differentiated with more diverse casting as the female leading character Rey (Daisy Ridley) took the Luke Skywalker role. The only main difference is her character was arguably more passive in the narrative compared with the dynamic enthusiasm of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker. In remaking A New Hope, complete with a total-replica-ending culminating in the rebels destroying the Death Star, the filmmakers tick all the fan boxes yet with just enough difference in the details so as not to be accused of self-plagiarism. For me, however, A Force Awakens  is not as credible a story as Rogue One (2016), which, while invoking World War II “suicide-mission” genre structures such as: The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Guns of Navarone (1966), had more original characters and differentiation and thus felt a fresher product.

Unofficial remakes or the echoing of known texts are rife in the blockbuster era. James Cameron’s environmentalist Sci-Fi fantasy Avatar (2009) has exactly the same “Voyage and Return” structure as Kevin Costner’s revisionist Western Dances with Wolves (1990). In both films our hero, a soldier, finds himself at first a prisoner and then falling in love with an indigenous tribe’s more natural lifestyle; ultimately defying the patriarchal and oppressive capitalist society from where he came. Both culminate in a thrilling battle at the end where our gone-native hero overcomes the monstrous enemy.  Avatar, of course, differentiates markedly in presentation to Costner’s epic due to the incredible special effects on show but the structure and storylines are exactly the same.

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Screenwriters have not just plundered cinema’s back catalogue for narratives. The original storyline of Marvel comic books The Hulk is an unofficial adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; with a scientist splitting his personality between man and monster following an experiment gone wrong. Marvel indeed are experts at absorbing literary texts into their works as Age of Ultron (2015) echoes the story of Frankenstein as Stark’s experiment wreaks monstrous havoc on the Avengers. Moreover one of the best Marvel films Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) uses the plot of spy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) as a springboard.

Of course, these are very loose interpretations, however, with Avengers: Assemble (2012) the filmmakers have, in my mind, essentially remade Kurosawa’s Seven Samourai (1954). Of course Seven Samourai has been remade many times as The Magnificent Seven in both 1960 and 2016, respectively. Indeed, in Avengers Assemble the plot of the villagers-in-peril being protected against a vicious foe by a rag-tag bag of gunslingers is mirrored by the Earth being guarded by the Avengers against Loki and the Chitauri. Even the beats of the story are similar with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) building his team in the way Chris (Yul Brynner) did in the Western version and Kambei (Takashi Shimura) did in the original. Overall, The Avengers is a terrific film, with a very solid narrative founded on the powerful structure of works released before it.

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REBIRTH

In summary, the unofficial remake is probably not a recent trend as I am sure further investigation will reveal more examples of this occurrence in Hollywood film production. The question remains though: is there evidence of plagiarism within the modern Hollywood blockbuster and cinema examples used? I would say there probably isn’t. Filmmakers today are generally following the age-old tradition of passing on stories and myths, combined with the conscious structural safety of following genre conventions and the standardization and differentiation models Classical Hollywood cinema established decades ago. Either that or they are following Quentin Tarantino’s lead when he says,

 “I steal from every single movie ever made. If people don’t like that, then tough tills, don’t go and see it, all right? I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”

 

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WAR AS HEAVEN AND HELL! HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) REVIEW

WAR AS HEAVEN AND HELL! HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) REVIEW

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

What is it with Andrew Garfield and his battles with the Japanese, armed only with his faith?  In a thematic replica of the compelling drama, Silence (2016), Garfield leads the cast of Hacksaw Ridge (2016) by portraying 7th Day Adventist, Desmond Doss, who while compelled to serve his country during World War II, declines, on principle to pick up a rifle and kill. He wants to save lives not end them. Now, I, as a screenwriter feel this is a fantastic base for drama and suspense; and so it turns out to be, in a rip-roaring, inspirational, bloody and heroic war film.

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Hacksaw Ridge is classic Hollywood filmmaking par excellence. Andrew Garfield’s Doss is a humble everyman we can all root for as he contends with a drunken father, and then with army training as colleagues and superiors fail to recognise his religious stance. In the final lengthy battle scenes he then faces the Japanese, along with his unit, as they clamber the eponymous Hacksaw Ridge in an attempt to gain control of Okinawa. This is where the action really takes off as the gruesome war scenes create an astounding flurry of bombs, shots, bullets-on-tin-and-bone and whooshing flame-throwers searing the skin of men. All produced by both sides apart from Doss who, incredibly without a rifle, saves many, many lives.

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Mel Gibson the storyteller doesn’t do grey areas in his narratives. Black is black; white is white; good is good and the Japanese are just plain bad. Indeed, this film reminded me of the good old-fashioned war epics of yesteryear such as Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York (1941) starring Gary Cooper. Moreover, the brilliant constructed action sequences echoed the kinetic majesty and orgiastic bloodbaths of Saving Private Ryan (1998); as well as the director’s own work in Braveheart (1995).

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Andrew Garfield inhabits the character of Doss perfectly exuding a homespun goodness and religious core which at no time feels sappy. He is ably supported by an excellent cast including: Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey and scene-stealer Vince Vaughan. While the characters are essentially binary archetypes, the film stands ultimately as a formidable war film with suspense elements. Because we care so much about Doss, the tension is incredible during many nerve-jangling moments; and especially when he’s in the rat-infested Japanese tunnels.

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Given Mel Gibson’s controversial history especially when it comes to alcohol-related domestic fights, rants and convictions, he is no doubt looked at suspiciously by the public and filmmaking community. Thus, it meant he would have to produce something special to redeem his reputation in Hollywood; so a Best Oscar Director nomination aids his comeback. Yet, while this film does not represent total redemption for Gibson personally, he once again proves his value as a worthy movie-maker. Overall, via Doss’ heroics, Gibson, his writers, cast and crew demonstrate that war is hell but with such acts of compassion for humanity, Doss showed, it can represent a fragment of heaven too.

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN: LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN:  LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

**SPOILER ALERT!**

In light of the FOURTEEN Oscar nominations from the Academy who am I to go against the tide of musical loveliness that is La La Land. Indeed, while I dislike all kinds of award ceremonies per se it does deserve most of the accolades coming its way. Because as the Trump puppet rears his huge, ugly head in the United States and Brexit looms large in the UK we all need something feel-good and nostalgic to lift us; especially amidst the bitter cold of winter.

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Damian Chazelle, who wrote and directed the exceptional drama Whiplash (2014), has sculpted a sunny post-modern musical which soars throughout paying tribute to both Los Angeles and Hollywood. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an uncompromising jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a sensitive, budding actress who meet in a contemporary yet somehow old-fashioned vision of LA; where magic and love are in the air and the potentialities of dreams are a palpable force.

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Stone and Gosling are a stunning couple and while Chazelle’s leads may not have the strongest voices they serve the songs exceptionally well with an ordinary wonder. The chemistry between the two sparkles as the story entwines their characters within a “follow your dream” narrative. Arguably there could’ve been slightly more differences between the two than the “I hate jazz” tension; but as in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Stone and Gosling sail through the film with confidence and profound likeability.

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Chazelle throws everything at the story employing jazz, 80s pop, old band numbers, R and B, and ballads. Moreover, all manner of parody, pastiche and cinematic devices are employed to echo the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear; the formidable work of Jacques Demy; plus the more modern pop promos of recent times. The opening Another Day of Sun traffic sequence is a real showstopper as Fame-like dancing and singing on motors in an LA highway jam brilliantly establishes the hyper-real and fantastical elements to come.

LaLaLand_clip_playsetlist.jpgIt seems obvious to say that the music in La La Land is to the fore, but Chazelle and the ultra-talented composer Justin Hurwitz commit a verve and soul to the songs and direction. Clearly the characters and lyrics reflect their own personal emotions, dreams and desire to escape everyday existence. While much of the film skims a stylish surface of colour and verve, numbers such as City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream really touch the heartstrings and draw out the internal emotions of the characters.

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It’s hard to criticize such a funny, feel-good movie and as a musical it is probably a masterpiece, however, while the love story served the musical structure really well, I felt that, compared to say Funny Girl (1968), Grease (1977) and Half-A-Sixpence (1967) it arguably lacked a bit of dramatic tension. Indeed, the break-up itself was under-baked and latterly covered by a have-your-cake-and-eat-it “what could have been” fantasy flashback. Yet, this is a minor critique of an incredibly well realised escapist joy.

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So, roll on the Oscars where the film will almost certainly win best film and direction, plus accolades, no doubt, for the musical and technical achievements. The wonderful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are certain to be in the fray too. However, while I have seen other more dramatically impactful films such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Silence (2016) (not even nominated!!), this remains one terrific musical that will lift the spirits even on the darkest day.

 

 

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)