Tag Archives: life

CLASSIC COMEDY REVIEW: TWELVETY MEMORABLE SKETCHES FROM THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN

CLASSIC COMEDY REVIEW: TWELVETY MEMORABLE SKETCHES FROM THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN

Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson are utter geniuses! Having won the top comedy award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1994 they successfully took their surreal and grotesque character comedy from the radio to the TV. Thus, in 1999 they brought an array of wonderfully drawn comedic characters, both funny and horrific in equal measures, to the small screen.

The show ran for three brilliant seasons and here are some the best moments I could find on YouTube. If you’ve never seen the show then you should as it retains its ability to shock, horrify and more than anything else make you piss yourself laughing.

Please note: these are the best sketches I could find online and there many more throughout the show, so do catch up with it on Netflix if you’ve never seen it. Once you start watching the inhabitants of Royston Vasey – YOU’LL NEVER LEAVE!

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“YOU’RE MY WIFE NOW, DAVE!”

The circus comes to town with strange occurences!

JED HUNTER’S COMMERCIAL AUDITION

An audition doesn’t quite go according to plan!

ATTACHMENTS DATING AGENCY

A dating agency with a less than tactful interviewer.

GO JOHNNY GO GO GO

The weirdest card games known to humanity.

LES MCQUEEN

“It’s a shit business!” Poor Les just can’t get a break!

IRIS AND MRS LEVINSON DO “BATTLE”

The duelling cleaner and “boss” continue their bickering!

“I WON THE MUMS”

Jeff gives the worst “best-man” speech ever!

KES PARODY

Mr Chinnery releases a Kestrel into the wild!

“THEY’VE GOT PENS!”

Pauline meets a vicious nemesis!

“WE’LL HAVE NO TROUBLE HERE!”

Tubbs “cracks” under questioning!

HELL IS. . .!

Bernadette’s damning sermon!

“SEEN! SEEN! SEEN!”

Morons at the local video store!

“WAS IT SOMETHING I SAID?”

A very awkward confrontation!

 

 

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #5 – POLITICS

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #5 – POLITICS

With a General Election coming up I thought I’d diversify my post and continue my Ten Things I Hate About You series which to date includes reasons why I hate: Zach Snyder, the Cinema, Found Footage films and Movie Hair!? So I thought why not write a slightly more serious one about politics.

I don’t propose to be an expert on these things so most of these thoughts are emotional and scattered blasts at the system. It’s just a rant more than anything so please don’t take it too seriously. What with another General Election coming up I feel saturated with all things political and the massive changes to come with the cluster-fuck of BREXIT!  So this is just me letting off steam.

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  1. Politics divides!

In the U.K. we have two main political parties – Labour and the Conservatives – who fight and bitch each other and switch places every four years or so and end up undoing the work the previous party had done. I realise it is a bloody tough thing to run a country but just wonder whether this the best system we have?

I mean why can’t we join together and work as a collective rather than in constant conflict. Can we not put aside our differences to work toward a common goal? The current system pits us AGAINST each other – left versus right and up versus down and black versus white and green versus blue! Divide and rule seems to be the favoured system to maintain the status quo! Could this change or am I just dreaming!?

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  1. Politicians are liars!

This isn’t a simple criticism – this is almost a necessity for survival. Imagine if you had to run the country you have to lie because if you told the truth then you’d probably create wholesale panic across the country. Politics seems to thrive on fear but not hysteria thus lies and manipulations are fed via the politicians and the media to arguably control the populace. What does drive me nuts though is the hypocrisy that ordinary people must live their lives to a certain standard while those in power lie and cheat and get away with it.

I mean, how many crimes and lies have been committed by politicians and either covered up or, aside from the odd scapegoat, avoided legal incarceration. How many campaign lies have been told in order to gain power? Perhaps they aren’t lies in the first place but naïve beliefs they can change things for the better? Maybe politicians are just all honest and never fiddle their taxes or expenses? Oh, hang on a fleet of pigs just flew by my desk as I type this?

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  1. Politics as a necessary evil!

The biggest anxiety I have quite often is that we may have to accept that this is the best system we have!  I mean my life is very good. I have food, a roof over my head and my family are doing okay so I have little to complain about. However, political decisions the world over are doing severe damage to the environment, the poor and the society as a whole. However, there are many good things certain governments achieve such as in the UK. Over time we have achieved a general standard of living which, for the majority is good. Plus, while crime and corruption occur regularly we’re not in the Wild West or back in the Dark Ages. So, the scariest thing could be that politics and democracy do work to some extent. Even with the food banks, austerity, overseas conflicts and Brexit on the horizon maybe this is as good as it gets! Gulp!

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  1. Politics is Big Business!

The system we have seems to favour big business over the working person.  But it’s always been like that I guess. This thing called capitalism is a survival-of-the-fittest-driven-by-greed ideology. Politics is fed by the banks and corporations and vice versa the banks and corporations feed the politicians at one massive trough! Moreover, politics itself is a big industry. Labour and Conservative Parties employ many people and elections create many employment opportunities. But they also receive hefty donations from corporations and Trade Unions. So, is it really an impartial and democratic system? Besides, even the most basic history books will show our society is grounded within a feudal system where peasants tend the land and keep of the Lords and Ladies in the high castles. Thus, politics essentially is global gangsterism and run by the big bosses.

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  1. Power corrupts absolutely!

Well, where do you start!?  Okay, so mostly I think there are many politicians who try to do good but many do not go into it to represent the people. They go into it to represent their own best interests. Because, I believe, the edict that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely to be true!  Hitler is probably the most horrific example of this. So, while I am far from being a fan of politicians I also feel that the system itself is flawed. Of course the democratic system we have has been in place for centuries and even when you change it as the Russians did circa 1919 the idealism and hope the change ultimately gave way to Stalin’s dictatorial regime. So, perhaps it is humanity which is flawed and not simply politics; power is an addiction and as such must be handled very carefully.

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  1. Politicians are Evil!

Whether they set out to be or became that way the likes of: Thatcher, Hitler, Stalin, Bush, Blair, Franco, Mao Zedong, Mugabe, Saddam Hussain, Mussolini, Gaddafi etc. have in their own way made decisions that have caused the death of many, many lives and communities over the years. How they have been able to live with themselves is beyond me as I feel bad if I accidentally step on a bug. My theory is that some politicians and leaders must have the psychopathic tendencies of serial killers, because how they sleep at night is beyond me.

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  1. Politics = War!

How many wars does politics cause?  Well, along with religion, loads of them!  Be it fighting the rise of fascism; attempting to defeat communism; conflict over territory and resources; and the current war against terror are just a fraction of the kind of conflicts we have had in the last century or so. The worst excuse we’ve had lately is when the powers-that-be argue that the war is necessary for humanitarian reasons. We’re constantly fed a diet of misinformation by the puppet-masters and even rallying against it gets ignored; as seen when Blair’s Labour government disregarded over one million protestors to take us into another war in Iraq. What a liberty! Oh, no – it wasn’t liberty but more death and destruction!

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  1. Media saturation!

Oh my God what with Brexit and now the General Election hovering like a giant eagle about to lay a big brown rotten egg over the nation I’ve kind of already had my fill of politicians asking for my vote. Elections are just a big pantomime of lies and big clowns telling us how they’re going to make things better when really we know running a country is all about damage limitation.  I guess we have to have the illusion of democracy as the alternative is anarchy and a possible ‘Mad Max’ future where everyone is fighting over oil and gasoline. Hold on that’s just like now!! Aaarrggghhh!! I just want the election to be over!

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  1. Personality Politics

What really annoys me is when Politicians get defeated at elections or retire and then go on to become celebrities or reality TV stars!!  Because a plethora of insipid excuses for human beings have used their once political power to carve out careers on the television e.g. Ed Balls, Anne Widdicombe, Michael Portillo to name a few have now humanized themselves as reality stars or travelogue celebrities and it sickens me.  It actually worked the other way round with Donald Trump, the billionaire reality TV show businessman has, god help us, somehow become United States President. Stop the world I want to get off!

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  1. Douche and Turd Politics!

South Park has it right all along – all we have when we vote is a choice between a Douche and Turd – so why vote?  Because I am stupid and human I am still optimistic on occasions and maybe I can actually make a difference?! So I will vote as people lost their lives for the vote and democratic change! But who will it be this year: the Giant Douche or the Turd Sandwich? What a choice?!  I guess overall we’re lucky we still have a choice.

 

 

 

CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)

CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)

DIRECTOR:  William Oldroyd

WRITER:      Alice Birch, adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov

CAST:           Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Paul Hilton

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Are there great films announced as classics or loved by critics which you do not like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I guess the biggest ones for me are probably Mulholland Drive (2001) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I love the work of Spielberg and Lynch mostly but just do not enjoy these critically acclaimed films at all.

Similarly, a brilliantly made low-budget-period-horror from last year called The Witch (2016) got huge plaudits and the filmmaker Robert Eggers deserved much praise for his atmospheric direction. However, I found it a tremendous bore. As for the box office smash Blair Witch Project (1999); don’t get me started on that over-rated genius-marketing-over-quality-cinema-trash.

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Anyway, how is this ranting connected to my viewing of the grim and pretentious Lady Macbeth (2016)? Well, it’s a film that critics are no doubt going to enjoy for its subversive genre skewering of the traditional period drama. Moreover, the direction by William Oldroyd is stark and impressive, while the fearless Florence Pugh in the lead is clearly going to be an actress to watch in the future. However, it is an intellectual film with little humanity and is ultimately nihilistic in terms of entertainment.

The story is set in 1865 rural England up North against the backdrop of patriarchal dominance where women must and shall know their place. Pugh’s character Katherine is essentially sold into a loveless marriage and rather than play the dutiful wife she rebels viciously. Firstly, she drinks the Master’s house dry of the booze and then enters into an extremely erotic affair with one of the servants, portrayed with muscular naivety by Cosmo Jarvis.

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From then on the cycle of events descend to hellish depths. Murder and revenge are clearly hinted at in the film’s Shakespearean title as Katherine gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money in terms of evil plotting and fiendish acts.  Indeed, this expertly made film is a pure exercise in passionate hysteria featuring a spoilt and lustful lead character. While I love challenging cinema — especially by the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Michael Haneke and Lynn Ramsay — there remains an emotional vacuum in this narrative because I found it hard to care about anyone.

The most sympathetic character in my view was the brutalized maid Anna and perhaps the story would’ve been more interesting for me if told from her perspective? So while the film was beautifully shot and framed, I was quite often stumped by the characters’ motivations; especially by Katharine’s decisions at the end. I mean is she the kind of heroine feminism longs for? I doubt that because ultimately she is an evil human being and not a standard bearer for woman kind. Or is she?

Lady Macbeth undoubtedly makes valuable points in regard to the racist and sexist oppression of the time but it is very difficult to have empathy for a lead character who has had a severe personality by-pass.  A far better representation of female empowerment against dominant patriarchy is Park Chan-Wook’s brilliant film The Handmaiden (2016). So, while this film is likely to be on a lot of critics’ “Best films of 2017” lists, I found it overall a pretentious bore.

(Mark: 5.5 out of 11 for the film)
(Mark: 9 out of 11 for Florence Pugh)

 

 

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)

TITLE:             BRIEF ENCOUNTER 

DIRECTOR:    DAVID LEAN 

WRITERS:      NOEL COWARD, RONALD NEAME, ANTHONY HAVELOCK-ALLEN

MAIN CAST:   CELIA JOHNSON, TREVOR HOWARD, STANLEY HOLLOWAY

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While I’m not a classic romantic I must admit you can’t beat a really good love story when it’s done well. The ones I enjoy the most are usually the tragic failed or unrequited romance stories which tug, unravel and then break the heart-strings. While I have a soft spot for a jolly rock ‘n’ roller such as Grease (1978), the romance films that stay with me are the likes of: Casablanca (1942), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Dr Zhivago (1965), End of the Affair (1999), Last of the Mohicans (1992) and the sterling understatement of Remains of the Day (1993).  Of course, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is another brilliant example of a heart-breaking doomed love affair.

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I recently went to see Brief Encounter (1945) – on Valentines’ Day in fact – with my wife at the Festival Hall. It was screened in front of a live orchestra, the London Philharmonic no less, and introduced by the daughter of actress Celia Johnson. I’m not a fan of live orchestral presentations as I’m a bit basic and practical. I always think you could be at home listening to a recording via download or CD; yes I am a philistine and have no soul!  However, the live accompaniment to the screening of Brief Encounter was phenomenal; enhancing the filmic experience with beautiful renditions of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

Based on Noel Coward’s one act play called Still Life, Brief Encounter really stands the test of time as a poignant narrative of romantic loss. It concerns a seemingly contented housewife, Laura Jesson, and her chance encounter with a respectable Doctor Alec Harvey. Their classic meeting on the platform where he removes grit from her eye sets in motion a touching will-they-won’t-they tryst which pulls you in throughout. The structure is sophisticated and layered with flashbacks as Laura, sitting in her comfy armchair, reminisces of her times with Alec, while her husband sits there unawares doing a crossword.

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Much praise has obviously been made of David Lean’s exquisite framing and direction and the searing power of the Rachmaninoff’s music but for me the script from Coward and Celia Johnson’s sorrowful performance were also things of beauty. Her clipped and dulcet tones resonated as she delivered vignettes of secret meetings, stolen memories and pulsing regret. After all this is 1938 and middle-class women were meant to be the bedrock of the household and affairs were a massive faux pas. Plus, she loves her husband and her children; the secrets and lies were just beastly products of a wicked passion and must be repressed. Their respective sense of duty, guilt and the unfair timing of their meeting just won’t allow a happy-ever-after story. Despite it being seventy years old the film is so sad and I still felt the characters’ heartache radiate through the screen.

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Much of the action takes place on shadowy platforms, moving trains and in the café room at the railway station. The rush of smoke, whistles and trains create a sense of urgency and panic to the love affair. The couple are always in a rush to be with and away from each other so as not create suspicion at home. Conversely Alec and Laura are like trains themselves passing each other in the night in transit but unable to couple up for the remaining life journey. It’s not all doom and gloom though as Coward’s script is full of wit, humour and suspense too. The secondary characters and extremely well drawn and while bordering on the stereotypical the characterisations reflect the various British types and the class system prevalent at the time.

Overall, Brief Encounter remains a classic romance and one of the best British films ever made. It tells us love has no logic or idea of timing as two innocent characters are made to be liars because of the power of their emotions. Only the goodness of their hearts, a sense of duty and what is right means they will ultimately return to their marriage partners. But the gaping vacuum created by love is something they will just have to contend with. Brief Encounter is a timeless classic and deserves to be seen on the big screen; especially when backed by the exquisite musicianship of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

 

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT LIFE – PART #2

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT LIFE – PART #2  

The world is full of confusion, heartache and misery but also joy, wonder and invention. I think it is important to remind ourselves of the things we love so as not to get too down. Existentially, life is tricky and I personally always question the reasons I am here and wonder what the point in everything is?  But sometimes it pays not to think too much. Just take some time for reflection and enjoy the moment.

With this in mind, in 2016, I took a break from my usual reviews and took a serious and irreverent look at ten things about life I love. Indeed, the link to my prior list can be found here and looking back it’s an indulgent but pleasing list, so I decided to do it again.

 

AFTERNOON NAPS

Perhaps an afternoon nap is historically the preference of a retired person but I love them. Whether it’s a quick half-hour on a day off or a couple of hours sleeping off a hangover they can really re-charge the batteries. My current favourite is to have a nap with Sky Sports Soccer Saturday on in the background and drift in and out of consciousness with Jeff Stelling rattling off scores and stats with joyous abandon on the TV.

 

NOTHING

When I say nothing I don’t mean a complete void or emptiness like say the famous existential philosophers would have us believe life is. No, I mean I love it when I have nothing to do. I am free to choose what I want to do with my time. I have completed all family, work and household commitments and have freedom in the relative sense of the word. My brain is full of nothing and life is just allowing me to simply be.

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RUNNING

I love to run. I’m not an Olympic athlete, far from it in fact. But when I am jogging around the London streets or on Wimbledon, Clapham or Wandsworth Commons respectively I feel very relaxed. I also listen to music or the radio and just shut the world out. Despite the physical strain I definitely feel a natural chemical high and the satisfaction of combining mental and bodily exertion really frees the mind. A few years ago I even managed to run up to ten miles in one go but now I stick to 3-5 mile distances as it keeps me pretty fit and creates a clear mental state.

Jogging

SITTING IN A CAR EATING CRISPS

I love eating crisps. I know they are unhealthy for me but there’s something amazing about processed thinly cut potatoes fried in oil and covered in salt and flavourings. And for some reason my favourite place to eat them is sitting in my car while it’s not moving. If I’m not in a rush I will open the packet and eat the crisps while listening to the radio. I especially like the false “bonus” ones which collect on the front of your sweatshirt or hoodie after you’ve scoffed the packet.

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STAND-UP COMEDY

For the last eight years I have been writing and performing, to various levels, stand-up comedy. When I started I was really, really terrible at it. Today I’ve reached a level of steady mediocrity but remain confident in handling any kind of crowd from small open mic nights to professional venues. It is a fantastic craft to attempt to master and you’re always one gig away from success or disaster. As a massive fan of stand-up in general — comedians such as Stewart Lee, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Steven Wright, Bill Hicks, Paul Foot and many more I consider to be proper artists — I am happy I had a good go and even got paid a few times in my “career”. I’ve met some fantastic characters and great friends performing and while I will never reach the top billing it’s something I will not regret doing. I have performed on some wonderful nights and had some horrifically bad gigs too but paradoxically those gigs are the ones you remember the best. I have also been up and down the country performing too so comedy has given me some fine geographical endeavours too. Of course, the characters, nutter and eccentrics you meet are the ones that stand out more than anything else. I will never be successful in a financial sense and be enabled to give up the day job but I have so many good, bad and ugly memories it’s made the journey totally worthwhile.

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TOO MUCH BUTTER

Too much butter on toast, bread, crumpets and anything really is heaven to me; especially if it is Lurpak. Lurpak butter is the tastiest butter ever and I could eat it all day. Obviously if I did that I probably wouldn’t last too many days as I would have so much fat in my arteries my heart would explode. Nonetheless, the creamy taste of butter melting over hot toast is a small but delightful taste sensation.

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TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FOOTBALL CLUB

I have written a number of times about my support for THFC or Spurs as they are colloquially known. Indeed here are some of my fondest memories. I’ve had many ups and downs with the team having supported them since I was around ten years old and over the last few years I have been attending more and more games. Loving Spurs is a true passion and they have been at times very, very good and at others not so. But the highs and lows of supporting a football team are part of the fun and victory and defeat should be dealt with accordingly. It’s an irrational passion because if the team wins or loses it actually makes no material difference to my life, however, I love belonging to the club and I guess it’s a tribal and prideful thing. Thankfully, Spurs are pretty decent at the moment and while our European record is poor recently, on the domestic front we have an exciting young team and brilliant manager. Come on you SPURS!

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WIMBLEDON COMMON

While I live near Clapham Common, which is fantastic, Wimbledon Common holds a special place in my mind.  It’s more natural than many of the other green spaces in London and just huge as it expands from Wimbledon to Putney, along the A3 and almost to Kingston. It is an incredible area of natural beauty which is inhabited my people of all ages and their dogs too. I have run and walked many a mile on Wimbledon Common and best of all – IT IS FREE!  The car park has loads of spaces and there is nowhere better in the summer to go if you just want to get away from the hubbub of the city and not actually go too far. The Windmill Café serves ice cream, coffees and cakes so provides a fine place for a pit-stop too if you need a break.

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WATERLOO BRIDGE AT NIGHT

Many people consider the mountains of Switzerland or the falls of Niagara or the plains of the Serengeti as beautiful vistas to enjoy. I myself am a city person and thus very much love the look of the Thames at night. The buildings, bridges, office blocks, the London Eye and the lights shimmering off the dark water create a wonderful view from Waterloo Bridge. I’ve walked over it many times and it never gets boring.

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WRITING

Obvious to say it but I love writing stuff; whether it’s film scripts, stories, jokes, reviews, blogs, songs and just general ephemera. I love the process of telling a story or working out what makes a story work or not work. I think creating something is a fine challenge and immersing oneself in a fictional world is a brilliant diversion to everyday life. More than anything the sense of accomplishment in completing or continuing a specific writing project is highly pleasing. Finishing a feature film screenplay is probably the hardest and most thrilling accomplishment. To be honest I’m not even bothered if people even read my stuff but it’s great to get positive feedback on the short films I have made and the jokes I have told. You can find much of my work here on this blog and my film website:  Thanks for reading.

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DOCUMENTARY FILM REVIEWS including: 13TH, RATS, THE WHITE HELMETS, BLACKFISH and more. . .

SCREENWASH – DOCUMENTARY REVIEW SPECIAL

I thought I would make an effort to watch more documentaries over the last few months. Personally, I love nothing more than to immerse myself in fictional worlds created by writers, show-runners and filmmakers etc. but sometimes it’s important to face the “truth”.

Having said that are documentaries actually reflecting reality or the truth?  Because the documentary genre over the years has become ultra-sophisticated and many “true” stories are not just simply filmed documents or events or interviews. Now, documentaries are often carefully constructed narratives with as much if not more drama and turns in their tales than fictional works.

I wasn’t the only one who was gripped by Netflix’s Making a Murderer (2015) or HBO’s exceptional The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. Moreover, I’ve always been an avid viewer of the work of dogged filmmaker Nick Broomfield, the disarming talent of Louie Theroux, and at his best the polemical Michael Moore. However, you always have to be aware that what one is watching has been manipulated and finessed to tell a story or a certain agenda; thus truth is not always absolute and should always be questioned.

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Nonetheless, the documentary film or programme remains an important tool to confront existential, sociological, historical and political events and issues. It also tends to be a lower budgeted medium – compared to fictional works – with which to illuminate and entertain an audience. So, here are some documentaries I have been watching of late.

CRIME

Crime documentaries are big business and along with historical Nazi dramas fill up the TV screens and online. Netflix has some well-presented and often controversial documentaries, one such is AMANDA KNOX (2016), which interviewed many of those involved in the despicable murder case of Meredith Kercher a few years back. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself.

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WAR

With the Nazis in mind, the BBC documentary AUSCHWITZ: THE NAZIS AND THE FINAL SOLUTION (2005) is a horrific examination of wartime atrocities which probes the means with which the Nazis tried to wipe out all the Jews. This is a challenging yet incredible mix of interviews, dramatic re-enactment and detailed research on the evil death camp Auschwitz. While not an easy watch it is a brilliantly devised series which illustrates the blackest stain of one of humanity’s darkest periods in history.

From World War II to a very contemporary conflict Netflix presents THE WHITE HELMETS (2016), which over a hard-hitting forty minutes profiles the heroism of the eponymous rescue workers striving to save civilians from conflicted Aleppo and Syria on the whole. The short film won an Oscar but having done some research online the other side of the argument suggests this is a propaganda piece and does not represent the real work of this group. All I can say is someone somewhere is blowing the hell out of Syria and it is a bloody tragedy because people are dying! Indeed, whichever side the White Helmets are on the filmmakers show the insane destruction of war and suffering occurring for reasons that are beyond my understanding.

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NATURE

For something far more heart-warming I recommend the majestic film THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (2016). It documents the story of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl from Mongolia, as she attempts to become the first female eagle hunter in her country. Beautiful vistas and soaring eagles amidst the snow are to the fore in a very sweet tale of a young lady facing up against years of cultural chauvinism and prejudice, for something she loves doing.

More harrowing though is the well-constructed Killer Whale documentary BLACKFISH (2013) which highlights the cruelty to these beautiful creatures in captivity and the alleged corporate greed of SeaWorld following the deaths of trainers at the park. It also illustrates, in my opinion, the idiotic folly of human beings who think it is wise to get in the water with gigantic aquatic hunters. We are imprisoning animals for our own apparent entertainment and killing ourselves because of it. Idiots!

More human lunacy can be found in the harrowing film VIRUNGA (2014) set in the Congo where director Orlando von Einsiedel stabs at the heart of darkness and finds Soco International and civil war damaging the natural beauty of Virunga National Park. It’s another sad indictment on humanity as the people who live there and the animals, notably the Gorillas, find their habitat is surely being destroyed in the name of greed and insane mercenary bloodlust.

Taking the nature documentary in the direction of horror is Morgan Spurlock’s brutal film RATS (2016). This sickeningly impressive doc takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the globe with gruesome scenes of rat-catching, scientific experimentation, baiting and butchering of rats. Most disgustingly the eating of rodents in Vietnam is considered a delicacy. Gross!

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SOCIO-POLITICAL

Arguably the most powerful of the documentaries I watched was Ava DuVernay’s polemical and politically charged 13th (2016), a film which slams years of Government policies in regard to incarceration. Indeed, the evidence presented shows systematic lobbying from big business to turn the prison system into a means of enslaving the less socially advantaged. The mass rise of inmates in jail from the 1970s to now bares out this fact and the harsh stories within the documentary too are shocking. 13th is a savage indictment against the United States Government treatment, over the years, of black and Hispanic communities, and while it’s very one-sided, the points it is well researched and makes are incredibly powerful.

An altogether less incendiary and academic approach comes via Noam Chomsky’s interviews represented in REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM (2015) where the ultra-intellectual argues lucidly that a half-century of policies have been designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority. It’s thought-provoking and makes you wonder if this real life “They Live” style of social domination by the rich is truly real or just a dreamt up socio-liberal political conspiracy. To me, and I am not particularly bright when it comes to such matters, believe it is capitalist Darwinism at its worst and the wealthy and powerful are simply protecting what they have to the detriment or the less socially advantageous. Bastards!

I have to say that I admire the bravery of many documentary filmmakers, especially the ones who get right into the nitty gritty of the action. One such filmmaker Matthew Heinemann and his film CARTEL LAND (2015) has a lot of bottle going to Mexico and the US border to film events relating to the drug trade, criminality and nefarious Cartel factions and Government groups. Heinemann and his crew deserve praise for bringing these incredible events concerning an ongoing bloody civil war which seems to have no end in sight.

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LIFE

America is a continual goldmine for fascinating documentaries and Louis Theroux has proved time and time again he is a dab hand at gently poking a stick into some of the darker areas of humanity. Two such BBC documentaries he made are LA STORIES (2014) and THE CITY ADDICTED TO CRYSTAL METH (2009) where Theroux’s unassuming style examines the lives of people and animals affected by drugs, paedophilia, death and social decay. I like Louis Theroux as he isn’t afraid to ask important questions and his work gets into your psyche, without ever smashing you over the head with a definite agenda or tunnel-vision polemics.

The comedian Russell Brand presented a more vigorous approach when challenging the UK government’s ‘war on drugs’ policy by finding out how other countries are tackling their problems of drug abuse. RUSSELL BRAND – END THE DRUGS WAR (2014) was an passionate crusade by Brand to treat drug addiction as a disease and not a crime and he made some excellent points in carrying his case to legal and Government figures.

CINEMA

For some lighter viewing I also watched an informative documentary about filmmaker, actor and theatre genius called: MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING WORK OF ORSON WELLES (2014), which entertainingly ran through the career highs and lows of Orson Welles. Meanwhile, I AM YOUR FATHER (2015) was a likeable tribute to the man who WAS Darth Vader in the original Star Wars franchise – David Prowse. However, the film was ruined by the Spanish director crow-barring himself into the film and also trying to create some drama out of Prowse being gazumped by George Lucas for the shooting of Vader’s death scene. Prowse had a great career and I found the attempts at controversy were unnecessary and the film should’ve concentrated on the man in the suit himself.

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Last but not least if you love filmmaking docs you must watch LOST SOUL: RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014). This documentary charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer and hedonistic extras to the mix and you get a box office turkey burning in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.

 

 

 

SCREENWASH ROUND-UP! REVIEWS OF: FENCES, MOONLIGHT & SPLIT

SCREENWASH CINEMA ROUND-UP! REVIEWS OF: FENCES, MOONLIGHT & SPLIT

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

FENCES (2016)

Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility and pathos by Viola Davis. Great support comes also from Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally impaired brother, Gabriel.

Troy’s character is very charismatic and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bitter and a drinker and, while he has had a hard life, he bullies everyone around him. His sons and more importantly his wife Rose put up with it but eventually he grinds everyone down, pushing them away with his boorish “I-know-best” arrogance and aggression. With her quiet power Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech toward the end of the film is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades and emotional neglect.

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I’ve seen some criticisms of the film stating it is too “stagey”. Well, as it is based on a play that is understandable, yet, August Wilson’s words are a thing of beauty and therefore deserve focus. I think, while directing, Denzel Washington could quite easily have opened up the settings and had conversations on the street, but the decision was made to “fence” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall the performances alone make the film feel cinematic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

MOONLIGHT (2016)

Barry Jenkins low-budget contemporary drama is another brilliantly acted character memoir; although when compared to Fences it benefits from a more complex structure and cinematic style.  Split into a trio of linear timelines from the same characters’ lives we get three different actors representing the life and changes which occur in Chiron’s existence; with chapters named, Little, Chiron and Black.

Each section draws us into the characters’ world as Chiron searches for meaning, identity and direction as to who he really is as a person. With his father absent Little Chiron (Alex Hibbert) cannot find satisfaction via his mother, an angry and lost woman portrayed brilliantly by Naomi Harris. Small for his age he is also at the mercy of school bullies and while a random meeting with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides Little with a mentor to connect with it doesn’t sustain. Ali as Juan, like most of the performances, delivers a subtle realisation of a character trapped by his life choices and perhaps sees some redemption in ‘Little’. Alas, due to his lifestyle and ‘job’ he is clearly not the role model ‘Little’ needs.

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In the second and third sections Chiron’s relationship with his best friend Kevin comes to the fore both in terms of some powerful drama and intimate sexual connections. Barry Jenkins framing, colour design, use of music and editing choices all commit to create a poetic and fragmented style, further drawing me into Chiron/Black’s story. Chiron’s continual search for identity and meaning in the world reflects the most essential of human needs: the search for identity and love. Overall, this is a film of harsh and beautiful moments and each segment was layered with so many emotions and so skilfully told that I wanted to see more of the characters. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SPLIT (2016)

Split (2016) is an altogether different film about the search for identity. In fact the lead character portrayed devilishly well by James McAvoy has TWENTY-THREE different people battling around his mind and something is about to give. Let me say that a film like Split won’t be challenging the Oscars because in essence it is a terrifying B-movie thriller, however, McAvoy gives a performance of such quality it reminded me of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in his cannibal pomp. McAvoy’s twisted ability to switch between the many personalities was a real guilty pleasure as he earned his acting fee over and over and over again.

The story concerns three girls, Casey, Marcia and Claire (including an excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped and imprisoned by the various personalities in Kevin Crumb’s head. Some – including OCD driven Dennis – are more dominant than others and attempt to wrestle total control, which is where McAvoy’s sly switches are a real joy to watch. As a cat-and-mouse plot bleeds out we also get some intriguing back-story flashbacks into Casey traumatic past. These events really add colour to the main narrative and ramp up the tension and suspense. The scenes between Kevin, his personalities and sympathetic Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) also add some dark humour to the story. By the end though all humour is gone and we get a stunning and believable supernatural turn as Kevin’s mind unleashes an altogether different personality.

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Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan’s dalliance with big-budget-franchise-Hollywood-pictures – including: After Earth (2013) and The Last Airbender (2010) – did not do his career any favours. But with Split he is back on terrific form as he takes a simple abduction plot and renders it full of horror, twists and fantastical ideas. While I did not enjoy his previous film The Visit (2015) – mainly due to the stupid kid rapping throughout a decent horror story – this one is highly recommended for psycho horror fans and for McAvoy’s performance alone. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)