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DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Firstly, the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during World War II was simply put one of the most incredible acts of survival and escape achieved. From the historical articles and documentaries I have read and seen the Allies were on the ropes and pinned back by the German army causing 400,000 beaten, starving and bedraggled human beings to be trapped on the beach waiting desperately for rescue.  It’s no spoiler to state that many brave people enabled that rescue creating that well-known phrase “Dunkirk spirit” to enter our vocabulary.

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Put yourself in that position for even just a minute and the fear drains one cold and feeling so lucky that I will never have to feel that threatened. These are people, young soldiers fighting against a fascistic foe who are backed into a corner and whose lives are about to be extinguished. So, think about that when you wake up in the morning because Christopher Nolan’s epic film, as do many other films, books and television shows about the war, give your life meaning about how lucky we are to not have to live through that. Count your blessings you’re not in a war and the life we live has relative freedom.

These and many more emotions flashed through my being while experiencing the incredible epic that master director Nolan and team have delivered via Dunkirk. Throwing us immediately into the action we are shown the hell of war from three perspectives: land, sea and air. Nolan works from a simpler focus and premise compared to his other works and this makes it all the more powerful an experience. Where films such as Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Memento (2000) had complex, shifting narratives relying on heavy exposition, grand concepts and plot twists, Dunkirk deals with one simple sterling idea: survival!

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I found the whole experience immersive and pulsating from a cinematic perspective. Christopher Nolan, and his production team, have in the: editing, cinematography, composition, colour, acting, framing, sound, score and movement created pure and poetic cinema. From the safety of my comfy seat I felt real danger, peril and claustrophobia. The narratives’ drive comes from fragmented moments of fear and blasts of explosive danger. The impressionistic style was full of scenes containing quiet doom as well as noisy, confusing and fiery terror. Even the smallest situation such as the locking of a cabin door takes on great significance, sending a chill down the spine. As the enemy closes in from above and below and water fills the screen and lungs of our heroes, then death moves in for the kill.

Nolan eschews the solid build-up of traditional characterisation to create emotion through the visual form with a chopping style which serves to heighten the panic. There are so many haunting images as men and boys are stuck behind doors and ships and in boats and underwater and in the air and on moles and piers, compressed, suffocating and unable to breath as bullets, torpedoes and bombs pepper their souls. The coruscating soundscape, montage and hypnotic score from Hans Zimmer only add to the dread within the non-stop action. The dialogue is spare and at times muffled as character development is also sacrificed due to the compressed timeline. Yet, for me, empathy was garnered through verisimilitude, form and style rather than a conventional storytelling and a simplistic three-act transformational arc.

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The characters are archetypes but serve the story very well. Kenneth Branagh’s noble sea Commander brings gravitas while Mark Rylance brings a naturalistic humility to the stalwart and duty bound Mr Dawson. Aneurin Barnard’s silent soldier allows his haunting eyes to dominate, while the pathos emitting from Barry Keoghan’s young George is incredibly powerful. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, while inexperienced actors, represent the palpable fear any young man would exhibit when faced with certain death. Tom Hardy adds star quality in his role of RAF pilot, Farrier, and the image at the end of his plane burning in the sunset is indelibly etched in my mind.

But, overall the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker but a cinematic artist echoing the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick within this war and disaster film masterpiece. Dunkirk was a savage defeat for the Allies but it rallied the nation against the enemy and Nolan has produced a film that stands as a worthy tribute to those who lost their lives and those brave people who survived.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

 

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)

 

 

 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #11 – TOM HARDY

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #11 – TOM HARDY

In my latest episode of actor, cinema artist or filmmaker profiles I have picked some favourite roles of Tom Hardy.  This very talented British actor has made a name for himself with a series of intense, moody, muscular and at times psychotic performances. But he has depth too, and demonstrated on occasions, humour, vulnerability and sensitivity beneath the fierce masculine force he brings to the screen. Currently he can be seen lurking in the shadows of the BBC1 drama Taboo (2017), but here are eight other roles which showcase this actor’s depth of talent.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

BRONSON (2008)

Arguably, this is Hardy’s proper breakthrough role as he covered himself in shit and acting glory in Nicolas Winding Refn’s unflinching representation of Britain’s most notorious prisoner. Hardy’s in pretty much every scene pulsing with rage and violence; fighting dogs, gypsies and the system like a bald, working class Bane.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

Talk of the devil and he shall appear! Hardy brought his bulking mass and searing eyes to Gotham to wreak havoc on its citizens as arch villain Bane.  The film has some narratives issues but I thought Nolan and cast presented some great set-pieces and action in a pulsating end to the trilogy. With the mask and chilling voice plus hulking physical presence Hardy made a memorable foe for Batman and co.

THE DROP (2014)

Hardy offers another brilliant piece of character work as Bob Saginowski, a Boston barman, who works in a mob-owned pub. He finds himself threatened by local scumbag Matthias Schoenaerts over the disputed ownership of a dog. It’s a subtle performance in which he swallows and bottles his rage with a quiet, yet menacing confidence.

INCEPTION (2010)

Christopher Nolan’s exquisite, mind-bending heist thriller has an fantastic ensemble cast with Hardy popping up as the forger Eames. Unburdened by masks or grunts or over-aggression, Eames is an urbane and sophisticated character who remains calm under fire; while in perfect ‘Received Pronunciation’ delivers some witty one-liners. Here Hardy demonstrates what an ideal James Bond he would make.

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 film that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic. Hardy’s Locke is portrayed as a determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. It is a performance of restraint and brooding anxiety making the one location-movie compelling throughout.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

George Miller’s bruising, muscular and jaw-dropping spectacular is an orgy of car-bombing action and deathly stunts with little dialogue. So, who better to take on a virtually mute yet physical role than Tom Hardy in this smash-and-burn epic.  Max Rockantansky remains one of the iconic existential anti-heroes, with Hardy taking over the baton from Mel Gibson superbly.

THE REVENANT (2015)

Hardy was rightly Oscar nominated for his portrayal of greasy mercenary John Fitzgerald.  While Hardy’s mumbling Fitzgerald certainly has my empathy early doors his decision to leave Glass for dead after killing his son is the act of a scumbag. Once again, Hardy commits to the role of the murderous trapper with dirty aplomb as he more than matches DiCaprio’s compelling performance.

STUART: A LIFE BACKWARDS (2007)

This is an excellent BBC film starring Tom Hardy as Stuart Shorter, a homeless alcoholic and petty criminal who was also a social justice activist. Shorter meets Benedict Cumberbatch’s writer and the two form an unlikely friendship. Hardy’s performance is full of heart-breaking pathos and physical distress because Stuart suffered from muscular dystrophy. Abused as a child and lost as an adult, Stuart’s is a tragic life and one where Hardy further demonstrates his excellent acting range.

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #1 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #1 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

Movie stars are usually the Kings and Queens of a film! They propel the narrative and guarantee bums on seats when a film opens. They also create expectation and word of mouth buzz thus studios have invested heavily over the decades in icons such as:  Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, James Cagney, Mel Gibson to name but a few.

I love movie star driven cinema, however, I’m also a big fan of the ensemble casts seen in genre films such as: comic book epics, crime thrillers, war films and Westerns.  What an ensemble cast offers is a diverse set of characters and actors bouncing off one another to powerful effect. Most recently the mountain disaster film Everest (2015) had fine actors including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more.   Thus, just for the hell of it I’ve picked out some of my favourite films which contained not just one big star but lots of fine actors who all combined to make a fantastic movie experience.

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 Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber.  It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)

Joss Whedon’s Marvel behemoth broke all kinds of box office records across the world! It’s a humdinger of a movie with a cracking cast that included: Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and many more!  In fact, I’m surprised the set didn’t collapse under the weight of all the egos in front of camera.

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

It’s cameo cast central in Wes Anderson’s fast-paced eccentric comedy with Ralph Fiennes leading the line-up with a terrific central performance. Also, tagging along for the quirky and colourful ride are such acting luminaries as: F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Blink and you’ll probably miss some of them!

 

INCEPTION (2010)

Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller features a dream cast. Or does it!  Yes – it does!  It’s a Hollywood pot-pourri of movie stars such as Leonard DiCaprio, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, star-in-the-making Tom Hardy, veteran character actors like Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and feisty starlet Ellen Page.

 

LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)

While the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey have gone up and down in various measures recently this brilliant crime film found them on the rise up the Hollywood ladder. Here they play a trio of very different detectives investigating movie lookalikes, murder and police corruption in Los Angeles. Throw in the likes of Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Danny Devito and you have a cast to literally die for.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

The cast of this classic Seven Samurai remake is remarkable as in, aside from Yul Brynner, they were all pretty much unknown at time of filming. So, kudos to the casting team who recruited such a charismatic troupe including: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn; who would all become stars in their own right.

 

MAGNOLIA (1999)

Take your pick from Paul Thomas Anderson’s films which ALWAYS have excellent casts. I am in no doubt actors are drawn to the narcissistic and existential angst which inhabits the characters’. Boogie Nights (1997) is one of my favourite films but Magnolia with – Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards – just wins out for best cast for me.

MEANTIME (1984)

Not a large ensemble cast but a brilliant one nonetheless.  In Mike Leigh’s quintessentially British council estate film we get three young British stars in Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels plus Alfred Molina and Pam Ferris too.  Each character drowns in depression, awash in concrete, unemployment and the stench of piss-stinking lifts and cigarette-stained wallpaper. This is a sad, funny, low-budget 1980s kitchen-sink classic.

 

THE OUTSIDERS (1983)

Similar to The Magnificent Seven this is a “before they were famous deal” with an incredible cast who would come to known in the 1980s as The Brat Pack. C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and Diane Lane all starred in this tragic rites of passage story about teenage gangs and friendship. All the actors when on to have decent careers; but what ever happened to that Tom Cruise guy though?!?

PULP FICTION (1994)

Tarantino, of course, is not only about the cracking dialogue and violence and homages to other movie styles and genre but he also knows how to cast a movie.  He rarely has a big film star at the helm of his films but rather relies on a mixture of known stars in supporting roles, character actors, plus fading or B-movie journeymen. Often, actors are cast on ability and suitability rather than saleability such as Pam Grier and Christophe Waltz. His keen casting eye gave us a wonderful Samuel L. Jackson – up until then limited to mainly supporting roles – and also relaunched John Travolta’s flagging career in the imperious ensemble crime film Pulp Fiction.

SHORT CUTS (1993)

Robert Altman is the “King” of the ensemble drama as demonstrated with Nashville (1975), Mash (1970 and The Player (1993). His films often poked into the American underbelly psychoanalysing the mores of the various classes.  His work would have a massive influence on Paul Thomas Anderson and actors clearly considered it a badge of honour to act for him. Short Cuts was adapted from  Raymond Carver’s work and the cast included: Julianne Moore, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey, Jr., Madeleine Stowe, Chris Penn, Jack Lemmon, Frances McDormand, Andie MacDowell, Lily Tomlin and many more.

 

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)

This spy thriller contains a “Who’s-Who” of British acting talent. We have Commissioner Gordon, Bane, Sherlock Holmes, King George VI, Doctor Who, Truman Capote and even Trigger from Only Fools and Horses acting in between the shadows of murky British Intelligence espionage.  It’s a tricky watch as the director goes for atmosphere over exposition but the sheer style and quality of the performances ensure espionage has never been so intriguing.

 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO by PAUL LAIGHT

In this occasional series I regale my favourite actors and select some of their memorable performances.  Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor who has just got better and better in each role he’s been in.  I admire his craft because he has seamlessly moved away from star-crossed heartthrob roles such as Titanic (1997) shifting to meaty, dramatic roles the likes of which I will list here.  DiCaprio has good looks, charisma and a sparkling smile yet doesn’t avoid the darkness and can easily play the good guys, bad guys and – where humanity is concerned –  the ugly guys too.  Here are five great roles he’s played and I could quite easily have chosen five others such is the quality of his acting CV.

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

 

BLOOD DIAMOND (2006)

Aside from this one and Titanic (1997) DiCaprio doesn’t do enough action type movies with big explosions and mayhem.  Perhaps he doesn’t like running around and prefers the meatier roles?  Then again, his character Danny Archer had an impressive character arc amidst the fireworks within this Edward Zwick directed anti-war film.  Initially, he is a selfish mercenary only out for the money until he comes into contact with Djimon Hounsou and his desperate search for his son.  Together they hunt for a priceless diamond in war-torn Sierra Leone and in the process Archer/DiCaprio learns some humanity along the way.  It takes a broad approach politically but, amidst the well-stage battle sequences it successfully highlights the horrific attitude of Western capitalism to Africa: a place to be plundered for wealth and damned the consequences. Yet, for me, this works best as a classic war film with DiCaprio’s anti-heroic soldier ultimately finding redemption by the end.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

DiCaprio’s turn as ‘The Kid’ in Sam Raimi’s Leone Western homage The Quick and The Dead (1995) almost made this list as he was just so young and cheeky and his death scene was very touching; but I’ve gone with his badass rendition of nefarious plantation owner Calvin Candie instead.  It’s an over-the-top and theatrical ripper of a performance as he takes great glee playing the baddest, racist, capitalist pig around.  Indeed, Tarantino cast him perfectly as he used DiCaprio’s charisma to counteract the murderous psychosis of the devilish Candie. In the hands of another actor the whole film could have been just damned nasty but with his Southern accent, golden glint in his eye and finger-twiddling moustache-come-beard he almost steals the show.  The mercurial Christophe Waltz won the best supporting Oscar for his role and deservedly so, however, DiCaprio must have been close to breaking his Academy cherry here with this grandstanding and dastardly turn.

THE AVIATOR (2004)

I hated this film the first time I saw but soon realised I was an idiot; on 2nd and 3rd viewing the pure genius of the Scorcese and DiCaprio combination shone through every time. With a brilliant John Logan screenplay it depicts the early years of Howard Hughes’ flamboyance, follies and failures.  DiCaprio has often portrayed characters on the edge of a nervous breakdown or full-blown mentalists like Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island (2010) and here he captures Hughes at the height of his film and aviation glories only to find his obsessive-compulsive disorder swallowing him up and dragging him into the pits of hell.  This step-by-step disintegration is portrayed with such intelligence and impact I felt this was the role DiCaprio should have won Best Oscar for.  It’s a brash and loud performance with Hughes’ big personality to the fore, however, underneath the mental issues which would make him a recluse in later years are beginning to show through and the actor draws out these subtleties in a devastating and very sad way.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)

This was a just a humdinger of a film which had everything:  humour, romance, drama, crime, cat-and-mouse chases, pathos, brilliant cast, sex and at its heart DiCaprio playing a teenage con-boy to perfection!   Once again he is perfectly cast as the little-boy-lost who is devastated by his parents’s break-up and goes on the lam perfecting his counterfeiting skills on the way.  Frank Abagnale Jnr is arguably the role which finds DiCaprio grow on-screen from a lad to a man. In it he imbues the arrogance of youth yet also reveals the pain and drive of a child attempting to come to terms with his feelings.  His instinct is to run as fast as he can and his crimes such as: impersonating a pilot; faking cheques; practising law and medicine are presented as a means of escaping his internal turmoil.  Steven Spielberg illustrates this incredible story with style and pace and DiCaprio is just a treat as he lies and cheats and cons his way into and out of the most entertaining of scrapes with Tom Hanks’ dogged agent never far behind him.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)

DiCaprio doesn’t DO superheroes. He does anti-superheroes; and none more so than in this memoir by disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort –  a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-par-excellence. The Wolf of Wall Street  follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas (1990) as DiCaprio’s Belfort schemes and sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street. This is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. This is DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese’s film and as they demonstrated in The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island etc. they are a formidable team.  What DiCaprio does incredibly well is making this Wall Street monster likeable, funny, believable and human. Indeed, I felt DiCaprio deserved an Oscar but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it?  But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!