Tag Archives: Movies

Edgar Wright’s irrepressible ‘BABY DRIVER’ (2017): MOVIE REVIEW

BABY DRIVER (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

DIRECTOR:            Edgar Wright 

WRITER:                Edgar Wright

CAST:                    Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzales, John Hamm, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, John Bernthal.

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

If there is a better and more precisely directed genre film in the last few years than Baby Driver (2017) then I have not seen it. Edgar Wright should take several bows for turning a familiar B-movie-heist-plot with nods to The Getaway (1972), Drive (2011), The Driver (1978), True Romance (1994) and many, many more into an exhilarating, high-octane, funny and dizzying heist thriller.

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The story concerns Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is in deep trouble with crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and being the superlative driver that he is works off his debt by assisting with meticulously planned bank jobs. Baby is out of place amidst the rogue gallery of career criminals which feature great character actors such as: John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzales and the bruising masculinity of John Bernthal. Baby is a laconic and sensitive soul who lives in his own world, cares for his elderly foster father, has a dry sense of humour; and just loves listening to music!

Not only is Baby Driver a passionate paean to the heist movie but it also serves as a personal playlist for all of Edgar Wright’s musical delights. We get some incredible rock tracks supporting the action notably those by: The Damned, John Spencer Blues Explosion, T-Rex, Queen and many more. In fact, way back in 2003, Wright produced a prototype of Baby Driver for a promo video for the band Mint Royale featuring the comedians and actors: Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt, Nick Frost and Noel Fielding. You can watch it here:

Ansel Elgort was brilliant in the lead and his performance was so fresh and naïve and likeable that you could not help but root for his character despite Baby’s criminal activity. His driving is awesome though and the stunts and manoeuvres that Wright has designed had my heart in my mouth throughout. At times the camera moves and quick cutting become so breath-taking the dips in action are a welcome relief. Conversely, the character work from Lily James as Baby’s romantic interest Debora is very cute; while Hamm, and Foxx especially, bring an impressive unhinged alpha-male brutality to proceedings.

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In the non-robbery-less-musical-quieter family, heist-planning and romantic moments Edgar Wright’s script is so full of punchlines, witty retorts and character detail that you cannot fail to enjoy them too. As such I had a lot of fun with this film and Wright proves once again that while thinking and planning  every shot and cut and move and punchline he is able to energise the most simplest of B-movie crime narratives. One could argue that the characterisations of supporting characters, such as Gonzales and Spacey could have been filled in a tad but the fuel-injected pace covers such cracks brilliantly.

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My only real criticism is minor. It is that there’s mild repetition in the car action and there’s an antagonist switch and slight plot-hole during the finale which jarred momentarily. However, Edgar Wright certainly deserves a very big gig soon because he directs the hell out of the movie.  His arsenal of: long takes, quick cuts, swooping camera moves, canted frames, Steadicam, camera holds, frame switches, pans, scans, tilts, low-angles, metronomic editing, point-of-view and god’s eye view shots are all a joy to behold.

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Overall, it’s a story we’ve seen done many times before but as with Spaced (1999), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and World’s End (2013), Wright brings such a balletic rhythm, musical verve and kinetic drive to the movie it becomes simply irrepressible. I hope he gets a James Bond film or something similar to showcase his enormous filmmaking skills because while I really enjoyed Ant-Man (2015) you have to wonder how good his version of that material would have been.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

(In mild defence of:) THE MUMMY (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE MUMMY (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

Is The Mummy (2017) an original movie?  No! Is Tom Cruise’s latest attempt at a movie franchise a good film? Not particularly!  But is it an entertaining-take-your-brain-out-popcorn movie?  Yes!  Now, of course, film reviews are all about opinions and The Mummy is an average film at best, but compared to some of the blockbusters of recent years such as Batman v. Superman (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016), it at least makes sense and has a decent through-line narrative.

The Mummy

I mean, I watch a lot of films, some great, some okay and some not-so-great and every now and then a film receives a critical pasting it deserves. But sometimes films get a kicking they don’t deserve. I think that bloggers and critics, professional or hobbyists, love the sound of their own voice, keyboard-tapping and ego passing judgement. Indeed, I am no different. To give the thumbs up or thumbs down can be empowering; it’s a lot of fun. Yet, at times one can get so caught up in their higher ideals of film critique and actually apply intelligent analysis to the wrong films. Either that or they just thought the film was crap! But in The Mummy’s case I don’t think it is.

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The film kicks off at a fantastic pace and aside from a mid-act breather for some exposition from Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll, keeps up the fast action relentlessly. Because, essentially this is all plot, action, jokes and monsters and is NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY! The story is pretty simple and mirrors the Brendan Fraser movies from the late 90s/early 2000s; and any number of Mummy monster films where a hidden tomb is opened up and releases unimaginable horror upon the world. The old Universal Boris Karloff classic from 1932 was a moodier, low-budget and atmospheric affair while this is an altogether whizz-bang-rollercoaster-ride-affair.

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The main protagonist is Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton. He is basically an Indiana Jones meets Ethan Hunt type soldier, who along with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) is looting Iraq for Saddam’s hidden treasures. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and he and his partner, along with Annabelle Wallis’ fill-in-the-history-dots-archaeologist, unearth a monstrous and murderous Egyptian princess called Ahmanet (striking Sofia Boutella). In recent films such as Kingsman: Secret Service (2014) and Star Trek: Beyond (2016), Boutella has proved herself a physically commanding performer and once again she stands out here.

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I don’t know but maybe I was in a good mood but I really enjoyed the bone-snapping ghouls; heart-stopping plane crash; Ahmanet’s sensual yet suspenseful pursuit; car chases through the murky woods; underwater zombies; duality of man versus monster theme; plus a great little homage to An American Werewolf in London (1981). I would say though that Tom Cruise probably unhinged the story slightly with his “superstar” persona and a less well-known actor may have added a bit more suspense. However, his characters’ arc was actually quite interesting as a cursed thief questioning his morals and actions. Plus, the final pay off, suggesting further adventures, was actually quite satisfying too.

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In fact, while it’s very generic with haphazard plotting it is no worse than blockbusters like A Force Awakens (2015) or Fast and Furious 7 (2015) or Mission Impossible 6 (2016); which I enjoyed but are all very surface and style-driven, while remaining entertaining action films. Overall, The Mummy was totally unoriginal and I would’ve preferred even more horror and gore! But if, like me, you sometimes don’t want to think too much it works as a silly bit of monster entertainment with some brilliant action stunts thrown in. An alternative title perhaps could have been The Mummy: Romancing the Bones – and ultimately it is nowhere near as bad as many critics have stated; in my humble keyboard-tapping opinion that is.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW – RAW (2016)

MOVIE REVIEW – RAW  (2016) 

 TITLE:  RAW  (2016)

DIRECTOR/SCREENPLAY: Julia Ducorneau

CAST:  Garance Marillier, Laurent Lucas, Rabah Naït Oufella, Ella Rumpf

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Often you watch films and think it’s not a great movie but such is the intriguing premise or themes, it could make a fascinating essay. With Raw, however, it’s both a bloody good coming-of-age-gory-horror-story and has a number of thematically powerful messages that makes you think too. Indeed, in this film meat is definitely murder.

It begins with innocent-goody-two-shoes-veggie-star-student entering her first week at Veterinary college. With it being the first week she is subject to the more experienced student practical jokes and initiation ceremonies; all amidst hedonistic sex and drug parties reminiscent of something from the fall of the Roman Empire.

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Not surprisingly this is a very sexual, animalistic and instinctive film dealing as it does with beasts both human, canine and equine. The lead actress Marillier is a prominent force throughout as her journey follows a carnal, chemical and gory path. Ducorneau, the director, gets a great performance from this young talent as her character transforms from angel to devil without the loss of audience empathy.

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This is both an entertaining contemporary horror film and a very intelligent one. It works on so many different levels with themes covered including: veganism, peer pressure, initiation, fitting in, animal cruelty, sexuality. lesbianism, homosexuality, animalism, sisterhood, hedonism, nature versus nurture, cannibalism, family etc.  It crosses genres effortlessly and has one of the greatest and disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time.   (Mark: 9 out of 11)      

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.

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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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SCREENWASH FILM REVIEWS: JOHN WICK 2 (2017) & HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)

SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS: JOHN WICK 2 (2017) & HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)

** CONTAINS SPOILERS **

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)

I’ve got to admit that I thought the last Bond film Spectre (2015) was extremely underwhelming for a committed fan to the franchise. It was overlong, disconnected and while the stunts were orchestrated brilliantly at times; overall, it lacked energy and a proper wow factor. Thus, when Keanu Reeves came along in the first chapter of John Wick I was fantastically surprised by the action, energy and fireworks on show. It was simple, effective, brutal action filmmaking of the highest order and more importantly got the box office buzz it deserved for sheer entertainment alone. A grieving man sets about killing the gangsters who killed his dog! I mean what more do you need from a popcorn movie?  But despite the lack of plot depth the film had a terrific style, thudding soundtrack and some fantastically over-the-top kills.

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John Wick 2 decides nothing is broken thus there is little to fix in the format. It is structured like a classic Bond movie complete with Q-style weapons shopping scene, as Wick this time must overcome all manner of bad guys fixing to square up a historical marker owed to an Italian crime lord. Brilliant set-piece after set-piece ensues as a battered Wick brings the noise again but this time to the streets of Rome and New York. It’s an undemanding story and probably overlong but the Assassin’s underworld is developed further with wit, colour and humour, and there are some fantastic cartoon violence on screen involving guns and pencils. Also, the final set-piece in the art installation is worth the admission alone and stylistically blew the latest Bond out of the water.

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Keanu Reeves knows his limitations as an actor and revels in the physical demands, dextrous gunplay and dialogue-sparse role as he faces off against all manner of dark-suited foes. There’s also world weary pathos to his character as someone unable to escape his past crimes and history as a hired gun, thus the only way out is to kill absolutely everyone. Ultimately, John Wick 2 is like a comic-book Shakespeare – if you replaced ALL the words with bullets! I look forward to the Chapter 3 with great anticipation. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)

Like the story of Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge (2016) the narrative of Hidden Figures (2016), was all the more enjoyable because I knew absolutely nothing about the specific history, characters and outcome. Indeed, the human interest aspects of both stories were so rich and heartfelt it was impossible not to leave the cinema without a warm glow inside. Of course, Doss’ WW2 exploits were heroic and in more bloody surroundings while saving comrades lives during the battle of Okinawa. Yet, the endeavours of the three ladies who take focus in Hidden Figures – Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – is also incredibly brave as during the Space Race with the Russians they broke down social barriers to help their country despite being segregated by the despicable laws in place during 1960s U.S.A.

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Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are three exceptionally intelligent individuals who battle against the tide of white dominance and raise their game to contribute their expertise and intelligence to the project. The film has some great scenes notably when Katherine wipes the floor with the other Space Task staff over complex equations; Al Harrison (ever-reliable Kevin Costner) smashing down the segregated Blacks only toilet; and the sparky Mary challenging the law over whether she can attend business school. In fact, throughout there are many “fist-pump” moments for the characters.  I mean, my mathematics skills are not great so I am always in awe when people are able to work out these bemusing and massive equations.

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I am of the position that no person should be discriminated against whatever their background, culture, age, social status, religion, gender or sexual persuasion. Our worth as a human should be judged on our actions, what we do and how we treat others. So, this film encapsulates my philosophy totally. Indeed, what the writers, director Theodore Melfi and the amazing cast show in this story is that whatever the obstacles are we will succeed if we ignore any perceived differences and work together. Personally, I am not a fan of the whole space programme and arguably the politics of the day could perhaps have been featured slightly more, so, the film lacks the socio-political punch of say Selma (2015) or Malcolm X (1992). Yet, overall, this is an unashamed uplifting movie which invests so much empathy and compassion in our hidden heroines that no one can deny them their rightful place in history. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

 

 

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.