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SCREENWASH – SUMMER 2017 – TV DRAMA REVIEWS including: THE NIGHT OF, HANDMAID’S TALE, FARGO (S3) etc.

SCREENWASH – SUMMER 2017 – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP

I’ve been watching some excellent dramas over the last few months so here’s a few bitesize reviews with the usual marks out of eleven!

 

BROADCHURCH (2017) – SEASON 3 – ITV

Chris Chibnall’s compelling investigative-crime-coastal-set drama continues as Police Officers Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (Olivia Coleman) get to grips with a horrific sexual attack. The chemistry between the two leads is, as usual, the glue that holds the show together as does the suspenseful narrative. It’s a very well-crafted human drama too with many well-rounded characters driving the story. The excellent supporting cast including: Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan, Lenny Henry, Julie Hesmondhalgh etc. make this another very watchable drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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FARGO (2017) – SEASON 3 – MGM / FX

Noah Hawley continues to emulate the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre with pitch perfect expertise. This story of stoic cops, dumb criminals, ultra-violence and random acts of fate amidst the snowy landscapes of Minnesota is highly recommended. Ewan McGregor brilliantly plays TWO warring brothers whose feud escalates out of control while corporate crime also gets a poke as McGregor’s Emmet Stussy car-lot business gets swooped on by shysters. Slyly satirising the police procedural drama with off-centre plot twists and dark humour, David Thewlis’s scumbag businessman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead crafty femme fatale steal the show in ten brilliant-could’ve-watched-it-all-day-violent-but-hilarious episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

GENIUS (2017) – SEASON 1 – NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

This beautifully shot and well-written educational drama is based on Walter Isaacson’s book Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007). It examines Einstein’s early life as a struggling clerk and events which saw him become one of the most famous scientists. Johnny Flynn portrays young Einstein with a fine energy while Geoffrey Rush excels as the mad-haired genius we have come to recognise. I’m definitely not a science buff, however there was much to be engrossed by in Einstein’s story, not least his dysfunctional family and marital issues. Both informative and enlightening in regard to science and history it’s fascinating throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
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THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – SEASON 1 – HULU / C4

Based on Margaret Attwood’s novel, it is set in a dystopian (is there any other kind) near future where the United States has now become split following a societal breakdown and coup. Having moved to more religious-based dictatorial rule, women on the main are now barren and unable to have children; there are however a select few who can still get pregnant. Rather than herald these individuals they are herded up and given to the ruling elite as brood slaves. Elisabeth Moss is mesmerizing as the lead “Handmaid” Offred/June who must survive oppression following her husband and daughter’s apparent death. This hard-hitting drama is definitely one of the best I have seen during 2017. It moves slowly and is very bleak but, like Children of Men (2006), it contains suggestions of hope, light, rebellion and solidarity in a grim, patriarchal world which crushes life and colour. Impressively directed, acted and shot it had me transfixed and disturbed and I very much look forward to a 2nd season. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 4 – SHOWTIME / C4

Claire Danes deserves so much praise for her role as Carrie Mathison. She owns the screen with her single-handed determination to fight against both bi-polar and “enemies” of the USA. Set in Kabul this season eschews the more romantic intensity of the previous seasons for some thrilling spy twists. Rupert Friend excels too as the burnt out CIA Operative as the story moves more toward 24esque territory. It’s sad that the political landscape gives rise to shows such as this but it remains compelling if slightly generic viewing compared to the other seasons. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

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IRON FIST (2017) – SEASON 1 – MARVEL / NETFLIX

Danny Rand (Finn Jones) – previously believed dead – comes back to claim his family business and takes on both corporate and mystical villains in this contemporary superhero drama. Jones is okay and David Wenham is excellent as one of the bad guys but I really struggled with this. I enjoyed Daredevil and Jessica Jones and thought Luke Cage, while a bit slow, had some excellent moments. Iron Fist, however, had a thin repetitive narrative and the fight scenes, characters and dialogue lacked the fizz of Marvel’s best TV work. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

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THE NIGHT OF… (2016) – HBO/SKY

A shy young student Naz portrayed by Riz Ahmed makes several poor life decisions and finds himself in jail for the murder of a young woman. Ambulance-chasing-psoriasis-suffering lawyer John Stone (John Turturro) takes his case as all the evidence points to his guilt.  Created by Richard Price and Steve Zaillian and starring Riz Ahmed, John Turturro, Michael Kenneth Williams and Bill Camp this exquisite noir-crime drama carries the confidence and style of the very best cinematic offerings.  Moreover, the rich characterisation and performances raise it well above the usual police/lawyer procedural dramas on television. Award winning drama of the highest quality with a superlative cast. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

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SCREENWASH CINEMA SPECIAL – JULY 2017 – Reviews include: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, SPIDERMAN, THE BEGUILED etc.

SCREENWASH CINEMA SPECIAL – JULY 2017

It’s been a busy July for decent cinema releases and my Odeon Limitless card has been earning its dough somewhat!  So I decided to compress the reviews into one manageable article and here they are in order of film preference with the usual marks out of 11!

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

The final part in the prequel trilogy to the movie classic Planet of the Apes (1968) is an apocalyptic epic which had me gripped from start to finish. The story continues a few years after Koba’s rebellion caused further catastrophic events between humans and apes. We find Caesar and his guerrilla army attempting to protect their families from Woody Harrelson’s obsessive Kurtz-like figure The Colonel. When The Colonel causes irreparable damage to Caesar’s clan he sets out on an epic journey to free the apes from their fascistic human captors.

Aside from some convenient plotting for pace, director Matt Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback have constructed a superb and compelling story which echoes the epic glory of cinema classics such as: The Searchers (1956), Dr Zhivago (1965), The Great Escape (1963), Spartacus (1960), Apocalypse Now (1979); and even the Biblical story of Moses. Andy Serkis is incredible once again as the noble Caesar and his determined, proud and intelligent character is someone we really root for. Special mention to Steve Zahn too who plays the likeable fool, Bad Ape, adding welcome comic relief to the heavy drama and pulsating action.

The cinematography from Michael Seresin’s lense is exquisite as snowy, beach and woodland landscapes provide a beautiful counterpoint to the chaos of war. Moreover, the action set-pieces are breath-taking with expertly staged composition and crisp editing while the motion-capture effects brilliantly support the story. In between the emotional moments hit home too as Matt Reeves and his team have fashioned a big film with an even bigger heart. Overall, this is one of the best cinematic experiences I have had all year as story, style, technology and emotion all work together to bring a fitting end to one of the best film trilogies committed to celluloid.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Oh no!! Not another Spiderman film!!  But don’t panic as this one is presented from within the Marvel Universe!  Following quickly after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Tom Holland’s eager arachnid-kid literally bounces off the walls waiting for an assignment from his mentor Tony Stark (Downey Jnr in a cameo-plus-style appearance). However, he’s palmed off with overgrown babysitter Happy (Jon Favreau) and here’s when Peter Parker gets in a pickle by ignoring the adults and going out to play on his own.

With some tremendous set-pieces on the Staten Island Ferry and at the Washington Monument the action really fizzes along and raises the pulse throughout. Having said that the final explosive action set at night was poorly lit in my view rendering the action almost incomprehensible. In between, the high school scenes are very funny, notably Jacob Balaton’s Spidey sidekick, and Peter’s impatient and chaotic teen characterisation was very well drawn. Yet, it is Michael Keaton as the scavenging Vulture who absolutely steals the show. His performance as gritty, working-class and angry antagonist, Adrian Toomes adds shades of dramatic grey to an otherwise shiny and colourful narrative.

While not quite shaking the feeling of creative ennui and Spidey overkill, Homecoming still manages to hit many of the heights reached by Marvel’s sparkling stable of comic-book stars. Newish filmmaker Jon Watt, who directed the brilliant, low-budget film Cop Car (2015), handles it all with some verve and humour while delivering a humdinger of an end of second act dramatic twist. Having seen him recently in Wolf Hall (2015) and The Lost City of Z (2016), Tom Holland confirms himself a bona fide star, and is fantastic as everyone’s favourite neighbourhood spider.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

This haunting post-viral apocalyptic nightmare of a film drips with dread, suspense and bloody heartache throughout. It concerns Joel Edgerton’s everyman who, along with his wife and son, are attempting to survive in their battered and isolated woodland home. Paranoia is a key fuel for the characters’ lives as they follow strict rules of wearing gloves, washing hands, burning bodies and not leaving the house at night. When their space is invaded by Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife and child, the families all form an uneasy pact; yet it is not too long before peace gives way to disharmony and recrimination.

Trey Edward Schults directs the hell out of this low-budget gem with the skill of a way more experienced filmmaker. He creates an eerie, dark and hallucinatory vision which, while lacking in expositional clarity, more than makes up for in atmospheric visuals and human drama. The film glides along at a creepy pace and builds to what feels should be a cathartic and dramatic peak. However, the ending left me slightly disappointed as it was too poetic. I was okay with the mysterious narrative elements such as not knowing the cause of the virus, but I felt that a more traditional horror conclusion would have made it a much better film. Still, Schults is a director to watch out for but being a horror whore myself I wanted a bit more blood and guts at journey’s end.  

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE BEGUILED (2017)

Colin Farrell portrays a Union Army deserter who hides out in an all-women boarding school featuring an excellent cast including: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Oona Laurence, and Angourie Rice. It’s based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan and previously adapted into a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood. Sofia Coppola’s subtle direction is impressive and this gothic drama has amazing cinematography, costume design and decent performances. However, I felt, by the end, the film was completely lacking in drama, eroticism and suspense.

The build-up over the first hour was fantastic but alas there were no major pay-offs to events relating to repressed sexuality and male-female divide. Moreover, thematically I found Coppola had nothing to say on the Civil War, sexual temptation or the damaging impact of patriarchy in a matriarchal world. She also fails to develop Farrell’s character as Faustian sexual threat and aside from some incredibly beautiful lighting and composition from Phillipe Le Sourd the story just peters out unsatisfactorily in my view.

(Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

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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MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins 

WRITERS: Created by: William Moulton Marston,
Screenplay: Allan Heinberg
Story: Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs, Zach Snyder

CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen

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**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The need for super women and men to rise and protect us against the foes of everyday existence has never been more requisite. Governments, politicians, military commanders, corporate greed, religious leaders and humanity’s capacity for evil and destructive behaviour means people are under threat from violence and death on a daily basis. It’s the world we live in and one we have always lived in. Life is a gift which we continue to throw away because of a difference in beliefs, thoughts, race, gender and language. It is insane but I doubt it will ever stop. So, one must except it and be grateful for all the good people and for every day one is alive. But how do you escape from this terror that lurks in the world and the fear that comes with it? Well, we have the fantasies on film and TV screens and in comic books that convince us we can be saved; that the bad people in league with the devil can be put to the sword of justice. This month we have the Amazonian powerhouse that is Wonder Woman!!

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The DC comic-book-cinema-world has taken a critical pasting and much of this can be put at the door of the attention-deficit-director Zach Snyder and of course the studios themselves who have, in my humble opinion, ignored the basics of storytelling and genre in a bombastic attempt to out-do Marvel’s slick and productive Universe. Indeed, there were great films somewhere in the over-stuffed crusts of Man of Steel (2013), Suicide Squad (2016) and the incomprehensible Batman v. Superman (2016); brilliant characters, actors, special effects, action, set-pieces, music in all of them. However, they were ultimately let down by the structure and storytelling. Not so with Wonder Woman, which goes back to basics and takes its time to establish our heroine’s origins and, unlike the other DC films, builds character and empathy prior to launching into a feast of amped-up-to-eleven fight sequences and wondrous leaps of derring-do.

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At the centre of all the action is the athletic Gal Gadot as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, who as a girl, desires to join her Aunt Antiope (scene-stealing Robin Wright) as a great warrior, but is forbidden by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen.) The first act is full of powerful mythology, imagery and characters and to be honest I could have watched a film about their lives on the beautiful secret island. Yet when their peace is unsettled by the appearance of Chris Pine’s American spy and the German Navy pursuing him we get an almighty beach battle between the modern-day Teutonic troops and the Amazonian warriors. This sets the tone of the mythological past juxtaposing with the modern era (albeit circa 1914-1918) and this theme remains one of the strengths of the film.

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With the introduction of the charismatic and handsome Steve Trevor (Pine), Diana is galvanized to fight for the Allies in World War One, and thus truly begins the heroine’s journey. The pace and turns in the narrative are handled extremely well by director Patty Jenkins. She gives as much importance to the scenes between Diana and Steve, notably the witty exchanges on the boat and during Diana’s first encounter with the big city. This ensures we are committed to their relationship and the romance had echoes of Indiana Jones and Marian Ravenwood’s from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Conversely, everyone’s favourite baddies, the Germans, provide a solid nemesis which to root against as Danny Huston’s General and his more interesting assistant, Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya), develop a heinous gas with which to defeat the Allies.

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I think I liked the film so much mainly because it was simple in structure, well directed, and yet retained much of the magical fantasy and mythology of the comic books. Moreover, it contained some kick-ass slow-motion action sequences and the sight of a warrior Princess using a mighty sword and golden rope while taking out Germans and huge tanks was nothing less than breath-taking. The cast, especially Gadot and Pine commit wonderfully to their characters and the story. Minor criticisms are the slightly over-long running time and the cardboard cut-out nature of the secondary German characters. Nonetheless, as superhero films go Wonder Woman is right up there with some of Marvel’s best movies.

Essentially a traditional origins story, Wonder Woman may follow the well-worn formula of establishing our heroine, her strengths and her commitment to peace through powerful means, but it does it with verve, heart and compassion. I cared about these characters and while it may be a simple notion that love can conquer all, it is a universal emotion that I can definitely get behind. Because there is a lot of hatred on Earth and it needs all the heroes and heroines it can find; even if they are merely fantasy.

(Mark: 9 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)

 

 

 

SCREENWASH – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP including BLACK MIRROR, BROADCHURCH, LUKE CAGE etc.

SCREENWASH – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP including BLACK MIRROR, BROADCHURCH, LUKE CAGE etc.

While going to the cinema is one of my favourite things to do the quality of television dramas has risen in quality to almost cinematic levels at times. Plus, there’s nothing quite like a box-set binge too for one’s enjoyment.  Here are a few TV dramas I’ve caught up with over the last few months with marks out of 11.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL (2015) – NETFLIX

Minus Jessica Lange alas, this one had Lady Gaga to fill the void as the writers introduced a whole new set of monsters, murderers, rapists, ghouls, vampires, junkies and deviants. Set in a H.H. Holmes-style horror hotel, one can always rely on American Horror Story for over-the-top blood-letting, devilish characters trying to out-do each and pitch black humour throughout. While sickening to watch at times it never takes itself too seriously and is recommended to proper horror fans. On the whole its narrative takes second place to the demonic style; pop video vignettes and decadent shenanigans featuring historical serial killers and fantastical blood-sucking beasts.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BLACK MIRROR (2016) SEASON 3 – NETFLIX

This is a must-see TV programme for anyone who likes brilliant drama which has intelligent writing and a scorpion twist in the tale of every story. Six stand-alone episodes all provide an insight into the dark recesses of technology and how it can impact humanity.  Social media, videogames, virtual reality, internet bullying, techno cryogenics, military mind experiments and cyber-terrorism are all filtered through Charlie Brooker’s devious imagination. A great ensemble cast of actors are seen within the anthology series including: Bryce Dallas Howard, Mackenzie Davis, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Kelly, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jerome Flynn and many more make this one of the best TV programmes of last or any year. If I had to choose the stand out episodes were San Junipero and Shut Up and Dance. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

BROADCHURCH – SEASONS 1 & 2 – ITV ENCORE

The 3rd season of this police procedural drama is on ITV now so I thought I’d do a quick catch up of the first two seasons. It begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his police career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LUKE CAGE (2016)SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

Luke Cage’s reluctant superhero had previously popped up in the Marvel series Jessica Jones and the action follows up from there. He’s a humble man trying to keep a low profile but given he is virtually indestructible it’s not long before trouble finds him in the guise of Harlem gangsters Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Diamond Back (Erik LaRay Harvey) and Alfre Woodard’s crooked politician Mariah Dillard. Luke Cage is decent show with a lot of style, soul and terrific musical performances. The script draws attention to many important historical black figures from history, while the direction harks back to 70s’ Blaxploitation films. Mike Colter in the lead lacks a certain charisma but has power and likeability. Overall the story felt padded out over 13 episodes by some unnecessarily long dialogue scenes and while the fights scenes were strong they lacked the wow factor of say the brilliant Daredevil show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASONS 4 & 5 – NETFLIX

While it’s pretty binary in its tough guys and dolls representations I’m still digging my catch-ups on this neo-Western-hard-assed biker drama.  The main reasons to watch the show are the performances of Charlie Hunnam as the ever-conflicted Jax and Maggie Siff as his “old lady” Tara. Katey Sagal and Ron Perlman are also excellent as the matriarch, Gemma and grizzled patriarch, Clay.  The twisting serpentine plots of Seasons 4 and 5 find, aside from other gangs and the law, new rivals in the way such as: the Mexican Cartel, businessman Damon Pope and SAMCRO themselves splinter into civil war after Clay’s skulduggery upsets the groups’ dynamic. The seasons are full of the usual grim violence, motorcycle pursuits, gunfire, black humour and lashings of naked flesh. It’s soapy at times but full of great dramatic twists making it very watchable television.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

QUARRY (2016) SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC

Pitched somewhere between Fargo and the Rockford Files this violent 1970s set thriller was a brutal watch at times. The story finds a recently returned Vietnam veteran, Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) carrying out hits for a murky businessmen called The Broker (Peter Mullan) in order to clear a debt. As a troubled character, suffering from post-traumatic stress, Conway is a fascinating anti-hero and the thrills come from the hellish danger he finds himself in from episode to episode. Essentially, his whole world turns to shit and the only way out of it is to become a reluctant killer. Like Luke Cage music is featured very prominently, notably dirty blues, jazz, rock and soul; while the style is muddy water noir throughout. Marshall-Green is a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey but is a fine lead and he, Mullan and gay hitman Damon Herriman make this bloody show most watchable. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

TABOO – SEASON 1 – BBC

Tom Hardy produced and starred in this flagship BBC period drama which ran over eight dark-hearted episodes recently. I have to say that it was sumptuous and stylish affair which oozed quality and class throughout. Hardy himself, looking very Bill Sykes in his long black coat and battered top hat, portrayed James Delaney, a man on a mission to get back his fathers’ estate and battle the East India Company for crimes against his body and soul. Hardy’s naked muscular body is something you see a lot of amidst the faux mysticism, American spies, gluttonous Royalty, gap-toothed prostitutes, tattooed ragamuffins and Oona Chaplin as Hardy’s cuckolded sister hiding a terrible secret. The supporting cast are absolutely brilliant especially: Tom Hollander, Michael Kelly, Jesse Buckley, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Graham and Edward Hogg. Overall, it was more style than substance and the revenge plot was dragged out and did not make much sense really. Still, the smoke-and-shadows style plus the brooding Hardy made it worth a watch. The score by Max Richter though was probably the best thing in the whole show; both majestic and black in equal measures. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

MOVIE PREVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – VOL. 2

MOVIE PREVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – VOL. 2

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In a new strand I have decided to have a look at some future film releases and reasons why they may be worth catching at the cinema.

TITLE: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – VOL. 2

DIRECTOR/WRITER:  JAMES GUNN 

RELEASE DATE (UK): 28-04-2017

GENRE: Comic-book; action; comedy; mixtape!

PITCH: Marvel’s rag-tag mixtape of human, aliens, raccoon and plant combine once again to shake up the Universe in a sequel to the brilliant original.  This time the fabulous five battle the usual motley bunch of villainous space monsters while tracking down Peter Quill’s father.
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FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GREAT!

1. The first Guardians was brilliant as it contained a wonderful mix of action, humour, space fights, explosions, alien villains, guns, and zinging one-liners. So, this one has to be amazing too right.

2. It’s a Marvel comic-book film!  Up until now their cash-cow franchises have established a formula, yet they somehow always manage to invest something fresh into their films.

3. The usual suspects are back! There’s Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and humbly monickered Star-Lord; Zoe Saldana as smart but dangerous Gamora; Dave Bautista provides muscle as Drax; Bradley Cooper is the tech-wizard and grumpy Rocket the Raccoon; plus Groot is back but this time smaller and cuter.

4. The music in the first film rocked!  And the soundtrack in this one will no doubt infect us with more nostalgia-driven hits from the past.

5. Writer/director of the first film James Gunn is on board again!  Having made low-budget gems such as Super (2010) and Slither (2006) he brought an indie perspective and quirky humanity to the big-budget fireworks and CGI fest!

 

Check the trailer out here: