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SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2016 – DVD & ON DEMAND REVIEW ROUND-UP

SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2016 – DVD & ON DEMAND REVIEW ROUND-UP

In addition to my cinema reviews I also watched an eclectic mix of TV shows, big movies and art and indie flicks this month. As usual I have packaged them into bitesize chunks for your perusal. As usual marks are out of eleven.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

AMANDA KNOX (2016) – NETFLIX

The despicable murder of Meredith Kercher caused a media and legal storm in Italy over ten years ago now. Amanda Knox and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito were charged and convicted before appealing against the crimes. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

CIRCLE (2015) – NETFLIX

Well-written-one-location-low-budget film finds many strangers in room fighting for their lives.  Social, religious, gender and ethnic demographics become key to the choice of “who dies next”; in a nifty, intelligent thriller which critiques humanity in an entertaining fashion. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – NETFLIX

Tarantino’s classic revisionist slave western gets better on every watch; and I would have to say that it is arguably, amidst the stylistic flourishes, his most satisfying narrative as a whole. The bone-crunching violence and bloody shootouts are a joy, yet Tarantino also draws emotional power from the love story between Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington’s enslaved couple. Meanwhile, Christophe Waltz and Leonard DiCaprio ride off into the sunset with the acting honours. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) – TCM

I loved this Bruce Lee Kung-fu classic when I was growing up. Now, it just seems like a slightly tired James Bond rip-off in terms of plot, however, Bruce Lee was a martial arts master and movie star; so it is his charisma and fighting skills which really shine through now. (Mark: 8 out of 11 – for Lee!)

GOOSEBUMPS (2015) – SKY CINEMA

This is a pretty decent meta-fictional comedy-action film with Jack Black hamming it up as a mysterious writer whose creations wreak havoc on a small town. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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GOTO – ISLAND OF LOVE (1969) – DVD

This is a very surreal drama from critically acclaimed Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk.  In the past I would have loved insane stuff like this but I couldn’t get my head around the weird inhabitants of a prison colony acting out warped love rituals while trapped on an island. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

THE GUEST (2014) – FILM FOUR

The Guest (2014) is a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot.  Dan Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making and a good shout for the next James Bond. I’ve seen this a few times now and it is a genuine under-rated classic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) – ITV2

Soppy time-travel love story which kind of does and doesn’t make sense stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It’s a likable film with fun concept and pleasant moments.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

MATCH POINT (2005) – NETFLIX

Woody Allen’s excellent London-set thriller builds slowly and pays off wonderfully by the end. The characters are well drawn as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers young existential tennis pro darkens his soul through poor life decisions. Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johannsson, Brian Cox and Matthew Goode complete an attractive cast in the excellent Dostoyevsky-laced crime drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

PEOPLE JUST DO NOTHING – SEASON 1 (2014) – NETFLIX

This is a funny Gervais-influenced-Office-style-mockumentary-comedy which follows the shenanigans of a West London pirate radio station. Satirizing youth culture and we get a peek into the lives of the likes of MC Grindah and feckless mates.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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SAW (2004) – SKY CINEMA

While it started a tortuous never-ending-cash-cow-franchise, never forget the original Saw is a genuine horror classic from James Wan and Leigh Whannell. You get two guys, one cell and a hell-of-a-dangerous serial killer on the loose that leads to some great twists and bloody murder. The ending alone is still a gob-smacking treat as you put together Jigsaw’s fiendish plan. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR – SKY CINEMA

Roberto Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s sequel to the mind-blowing violent-noir-comic-book-digital-backlot-splatterfest Sin City (2005) was eagerly anticipated by me. This had the same hard-boiled dialogue, bone-crunching violence and some fantastic imagery, but aside from Eva Green’s terrific femme fatale it lacked the impact of the first film and fell a bit flat. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

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SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASON 3 (2010) – NETFLIX

The third revving-crunching-porno-shooting-explosive season had Jax and the other gang members battling the Mayans, the FBI and going on “holiday” to Ireland to take on the “Real” Irish Republican Army. It’s a real soapy mix of violence, bullets and familial-led drama with enough plot turns and jaw-dropping set-pieces to keep you entertained throughout the fast-paced episodes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

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THE FINEST HOURS (2016) – SKY CINEMA

This Disney disaster movie set in the 1950s is a very watchable human drama sensitively directed by Craig Gillespie. It flopped at the box office, yet Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are on very good form in the leads and there are some great set-pieces too on the sea. The real star is Carter Burwell’s epic music but in my opinion the film deserved a bigger audience. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

TO THE WONDER (2012) – DVD

This is a beautifully shot yet overlong and pretentious love story with banal Olga Kurylenko and a depressive Ben Affleck sleep-walking through his role. Terence Malick is a fine auteur but despite the wondrous scenery and vaguely interesting structure this bored me overall. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

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2016 – BFI – LFF – FREE FIRE (2016) – REVIEW

2016 – BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – FREE FIRE (2016) – REVIEW

TITLE:  FREE FIRE (2016)

DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley

SCREENPLAY: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

CAST:   Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor, Babou Ceesay, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley etc.

STORY:   An arms-deal-gone-wrong sets off a blistering gun fight in an abandoned Boston warehouse.

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REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS):

I admire the film director Ben Wheatley, and his writing/editing partner Amy Jump very much. They essentially are in the kind of industry position I would love to be in. They make independent low-medium budgeted films, seemingly on their own terms, get cracking actors involved and receive decent critical praise too.  Moreover, they have become FILM 4/BFI/London Film Festival darlings receiving funding and heavy promotion for the films High Rise (2015) and most recently, the incendiary comedy-thriller Free Fire (2016). The latter closed this year’s festival to a packed and thoroughly entertained Odeon Leicester Square and I was very fortunate to see Wheatley and his stellar cast introduce the film. 

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While I admire Wheatley’s career progression I have loved and not-quite loved his work. His first film Down Terrace (2009) was delightfully eccentric gangster film, while his next Kill List (2011), was a terrifying tale of two hit men’s descent into hell. Kill List fell apart for me with the grim yet overly surreal and symbolic ending, however, his work on comedy-serial-killer film Sightseers (2012) Dr Who, and Ideal confirmed him as a very talented filmmaker.  A Field In England (2013) could be praised as a brave filmic experiment which did not quite work as a story; while the stylized J.G. Ballard adaptation High Rise (2015) was an incredible film to look at, with Wheatley presenting some of his best work to date. However, the last 45 minutes was so chaotic it lost focus and while this was, arguably, in keeping with Ballard’s vision I would have preferred slightly more clarity.

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I sensed from his brief introduction that Free Fire (2016) was Ben Wheatley’s attempt to return to something less socio-political, psycho-sexually and philosophically complex than High Rise (2015).  He basically said, “I wanted to make a film with guns where people get hurt.” And he has certainly succeeded there, because Free Fire is an all-out-ballsy-gritty-shoot-em-up which employs a wonderful 1970s Boston setting (actually shot in Brighton) to dress his actors up in flares, beards, sideburns, dagger-collars, long hair and Cuban heels, all while delivering a sweaty-fast-paced-high-octane-bloody-gun-fest.

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The premise is very simple: an arms deal between a Rhodesian gun runner and the IRA descends into chaos as opposing sides split amidst a series of bullets and double-crosses.  Having established the characters into archetypes such as the professionals, soldiers, sidekicks, junkies and Brie Larson’s broker the narrative splinters spectacularly into magnificent mayhem.  The cast are all brilliant, but I personally loved Armie Hammer’s suave Jewish hit-man and Sharlto Copley’s obnoxious Afrikaner; plus Sam Riley is also a standout as the junkie prick whose behaviour ultimately screws the deal.

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The whole thing plays out like a live-action cartoon but Wheatley and Jump do invest some empathy and likeability into the characters too. The subtext of world politics was not lost on me as Irish, Afro-American, South African, and American nationalities all face-off and later there’s a brilliant use of an old John Denver country classic. The script is terrific, full of violent delights and sparkling one-liners throughout as the cast spit out insults and zingers with glee. Do you remember when you play gunfights with your mates in the playground?  Well, this is the film equivalent of that – except with more blood and violence and death.

 

 

 

2016 BFI – LFF – THE BIRTH OF A NATION  (2016) – REVIEW

2016 – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – THE BIRTH OF A NATION  (2016) – SPOILER FREE REVIEW

TITLE:  THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016)

DIRECTOR/PRODUCER/WRITER: Nate Parker

CAST:  Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Colman Domingo, Aja Noomi King

STORY:  At the turn of the 1800s a charismatic preacher must decide between a life of slavery or to stand up and fight against his brutal captors.

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REVIEW:

This drama, written, produced, directed and starring by Nate Parker has, since its release at the Sundance Festival, created a whole host of controversies. There is a historical rape prosecution of which Nate Parker was found innocent of in 1999; there are accusations of historical inaccuracies in the story; plus the passivity of female characters within the narrative has been criticized too.  Not surprising though because any film about slavery, rape, abuse and murder is bound to set the cultural world, internet, film industry, social media, historians etc. alight with debate.

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Personally, when I watch a film I prefer to judge it purely on whether it has entertained, informed, provoked thought and created emotion. The filmmakers’ personal history or whether a film meets certain quotas on political correctness or even whether the history has been altered to suit a narrative are important factors but not my main viewing considerations. Of course, if it is an exploitative piece of crap then I would call it; but mainly I ask myself: did the film entertain me and is it a good story done well?

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Well, inaccuracies and controversies aside I was thoroughly moved and taken with emotion by The Birth of a Nation. It is ambitious, independent filmmaking which takes a figure from history that stood up against oppressors and fought back against the injustices that befell him and his people. In little over two hours we get a microcosmic view of the character of Nat Turner and the horrific period he lived in and get a short, sharp and shocking drama. Turner is shown to be an intelligent, proud and spiritual force who inspires those around him to fight against the brutality all around.

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You cannot underestimate Parker’s vision and determination to bring Nat Turner’s ‘story’ to the screen. On such a relatively low budget (reported to be £10 million) it is an admirable and risky project to pursue and deliver. Not as startlingly stylistic as the big-budget-spaghetti-slave-Western Django Unchained (2012), The Birth of a Nation is a heart-breaking narrative which posits the power of the scriptures and damns the beast of humanity which allowed free people to be stolen from their country and made to serve others.

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Overall, the film works as a lower-budget epic in the vein of Braveheart (1995) and Spartacus (1960), while covering similar ground thematically as Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave (2013). It may not have the artistry of Steve McQueen’s directed epic, but it is still an important film about a fascinating historical figure. Whether it is accurate or not the film still made compelling viewing and Parker deserves all the praise he gets for such an assured debut.

SCREENWASH: JULY 2016 REVIEWS by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JULY 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

My general viewing in July was an eclectic mix of splendid art cinema and excellent genre television shows.  So, here’s what I watched with marks out of eleven and MASSIVE SPOILERS:

 

ANT-MAN (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Saw this in the cinema last year and it was one of the most entertaining films of 2015!  It’s simplistic narrative-wise but what it does have is a fizzing script full of zingers and comedic moments as well as some great action set-pieces built around the well-orchestrated final act heist. It is just terrific seeing charismatic Paul Rudd in big-budget film plus fun supporting cast including: Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena and scenery-chewing baddie Corey Stoll all add class to proceedings. This is great fun and proves that not ALL superhero films have to be HUGE as sometimes small is beautiful. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

DAREDEVIL (2016) – Season 2 – NETFLIX

I absolutely loved this noir superhero show. Season 1 was brilliant and, despite the faceless one-dimensional Ninja villains, this was as good, if not even better! We follow on from Daredevil’s capture of the “Kingpin” Wilson Fisk as he finds new friends and foes in Frank Castle, “The Chaste”, Elektra and “The Hand”. This has it all including: amazing fight scenes, bloody violence, rip-roaring action and hellish derring-do. I think John Bernthal’s “Punisher” takes the plaudits with a fine origins story and great Lee-Marvin-Charles-Bronson-tough-guy-bone-crunching-performance. Once again Charlie Cox as Matt Murdoch is brilliant combining subtlety and physical prowess during his turn as blind lawyer AND the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORELL (2015) – DVD

This seven-part fantasy-period drama had everything: wonderful effects, dark villains, magical narratives and sterling performances from Bertie Carvel, Alice Englert, Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren.  However, at times I was perplexed and a bit bored because unfortunately, despite the stunning imagery, design and imagination on show the narrative stumbled from beginning to end failing to create empathy for the main characters and entertain me with cogent plot strands. Susanna Clarke’s original novel is apparently a literary classic thus perhaps it may have benefited from a connecting voiceover. Yet, it remains a prestige BBC product which  many will love; it just did not connect with me on an emotional level. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

MEN AND CHICKEN (2015) – CINEMA

This is one of the most hilarious, unsettling and philosophical comedies you will see in a long time. Similar in tone as last year’s terrific arthouse hit The Lobster (2015), Anders Thomas Jensen has written a cross-pollenated comedy-slapstick-art-horror film that centres on two adopted brothers and their search for their biological father. Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik portray the siblings who find quite disturbing answers on the Island of Ork where all manner of genetic experimentation has been carried out by their father. This is a weird yet compelling story which lurches from hilarious physical violence to examinations of religion and science that I can only describe as being like the Three Stooges meet The Island of Dr Moreau.  One of the most original, odd and strangely moving films you will see all year.(Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE NEON DEMON (2016) – CINEMA

Being an admirer of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy, Bleeder and Bronson films I am well aware his films do divide opinion. Drive (2011) with Ryan Gosling was a brilliant noir romance yet his last film Only God Forgives (2013) (with Gosling again) was nihilistic, brutal and virtually unwatchable. However, I think his latest The Neon Demon works really well as a surreal horror film that savagely satirizes the fashion industry. The film moves at a glacial pace with an anti-narrative style and strange acting more down to the director’s strategy than poor performance. Nevertheless, it is a magnetic watch with a succession of beautifully designed shots which are way more imaginative than the usual multiplex popcorn fodder. The sumptuous photography, score and grand gore throughout make it a welcome return to form for the always intriguing formal cinematic anarchist Winding Refn. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013 –      ) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Waspy-blonde-rich-spoilt-bitch-Private-Benjamin-type gets banged up the slammer for a historical crime and we’re meant to feel empathy for her?  That’s what the premise of this excellent drama asks the audience to do AND actually succeeds in doing through compelling writing and a marvellous ensemble cast. Taylor Schilling portrays the brattish Piper Chapman brilliantly and there’s fine “inside” support from Kate Mulgrew, Uzo Udoba, Taryn Manning and Danielle Brooks to name a few. The structure follows newbie Chapman as she fails to cope with prison life; plus variant flashbacks filling in details of her and inmates’ prior life events. It’s a gripping and funny show with lots of character twists and turns; and somehow it remains fresh despite the potential cliché pitfalls within the subgenre.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SPECTRE (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Overall, I was disappointed with this Bond outing from last year. I mean there was a lot to like, notably: Daniel Craig’s performance; the stunning cinematography; the brilliant opening ‘Day-of-the-Dead’ and fight-on-train set-pieces; plus the criminally underused Christophe Waltz. However, the story, from a usually reliable John Logan and his screenwriting cohorts was non-existent; relying mainly on callbacks from the previous Craig outings and Bond films of yesteryear. The action was decent but the anorexic plot and weak romance left much to be desired. For a proper moan see my review from last year below. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/spect-acular-times-spectre-2015-a-film-review-by-paul-laight/



STAR TREK: BEYOND (2016) – CINEMA

I was bored by this. Even as a summer blockbuster the film fell short; and finally Star Trek has been turned into a soulless-plotless-video-game with set-pieces “stolen” from other better popcorn films such as Jurassic World (2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). The cast are decent but the formidable abilities of Idris Elba were masked under deep make-up for most of the film. Even if it was to be a latter second act reveal Elba’s presence was given away in the trailer so why not build his character up from the beginning. Plus, the “rogue” agent storyline was done much better in Into Darkness, which I enjoyed as a spectacle. Let’s hope the forthcoming Netflix series has more character and depth than Beyond. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002) – SKY CINEMA

The final of the Next Generation movies which ended the franchise prior to JJ Abrams’ hit-and-miss reboot, is a pretty decent science-fiction actioner with enough brains to keep you interested. A very young Tom Hardy plays the Reman rebel out to destroy Starfleet and Jean Luc Picard specifically.  The themes of cloning, doppelgangers and telepathy serve the action very well and the set-pieces are decent enough. However, as Picard and Data get much of screen time the rest of the crew seem to side-lined throughout. This is not as good as the other Next Gen films but it is still more involving and cerebral than the soporific Star Trek: Beyond.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

STRANGER THINGS (2016) – NETFLIX

Oh, Netflix – I love you!  Not only do you present affordable boxsets, docs, TV and film product, but you also produce some damn fine original programming. Netflix’s latest sci-fi drama is an excellent nostalgia-fest which evokes the 1980s perfectly in design, sound and look. Indeed, it wears it’s Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences not so much on its sleeve but as a whole outfit. Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centres on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven who’s on the run from a secretive and nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track their missing friend in a drama which has some wonderful stand-out and monstrous moments throughout. Arguably, the eight episodes were padded out in places and it could have been culled for pace but overall it was an excellent watch with a terrific score and soundtrack to boot. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

TALE OF TALES (2015) – CINEMA

Having directed the brutal and gritty kitchen-sink gangster film Gomorrah (2008), filmmaker Matteo Garrone, completely changed style with this ultra-imaginative set of grim fairytales based on the ye olde short stories of Giannbatista Basile.  Like a medieval Pulp Fiction the film weaves tall tales called: The Queen, The Flea and the Two Old Women in a superb fashion as flashes of horror, fantasy, amorality and comedy clash with bizarre beasts and bloody death. The cast including: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, and Shirley Henderson all get on board amidst the insane plot occurrences and overall I found it a fine anathema to the bland kids offering Hollywood churns out. While the original stories were taken from an anthology called Lo cunto de li cunti (Entertainment for Little Ones), this is definitely for adults and not the little monsters at home. (Mark: 8 out of 11)


WAKOLDA (2013) – DVD

I was gripped by this slow-moving drama set in 1960s Argentina. It follows a hotel-running family and their encounter with a mysterious Doctor.  Writer/director Lucia Pacenzo carves out a compelling story which finds the Doctor inveigling himself into the family’s world and carrying out seemingly innocent medical procedures which ultimately have a horrific impact. The film is a real eye-opener into the terrors of the time with many South American countries harbouring fleeing Nazi criminals and Àlex Brendemühl’s performance as the charismatic Doctor expertly glues this fascinating story together.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

Z-NATION (2014) – NETFLIX

Fox’s The Walking Dead has quite rightly taken a lot of plaudits for its incredibly well-written, humanist take on the zombie-horror drama. It offers rich character development, political analogy and of course some fine gore.  Z-Nation on the other hand offers something far more fun and humour and downright silliness with zombie dogs, babies, rednecks and bears on the menu. Basically, a ragtag group attempt to transport a zombie-experiment-survivor to a medical facility while assisted by DJ Qualls isolated NSA computer geek.  The group fight off an endless supply of zombies, cannibals and religious cults in a tremendous show that counts as a fantastically gory and comedic guilty pleasure. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

 

 

SCREENWASH – MAY 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – MAY 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

May was a decent month of viewing with some things old, some things new and nothing blue watched at all. So, here are my TV, film and comedy reviews for the month of May – with marks out of 11 as usual.

 

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON ONE – NOW TV

Very much a “first world” problem drama starring the excellent Dominic West, Maura Tierney and the effervescent Ruth Wilson, it shows the events an extramarital affair causes to two different families. The acting and writing are just superb as West and Wilson’s sexually charged attraction spills into duplicity, body heat and suspense. The storytelling is excellent too as each episode shows multiple events from different perspectives and the characters are both irritating and intriguing with their wonky moral compasses and poor life choices. The Affair is highly compelling and keeps you gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003 – 2004) – NETFLIX

How the hell did I miss this cracking comedy first time round beats me?!  The hilarious show centres on the disastrous Bluth family who are all narcissistic egoists all trying to manipulate each other in some financial or emotional way. Even the sanest of the lot Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is a flawed “hero”, although he is positively angelic compared to the other members of his family including failed magician Gob (Will Arnett), pill-popping matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter), deluded Lindsay (Portia De Rossi) and imprisoned father portrayed with sociopathic insouciance by Jeffrey Tambor. The brilliant ensemble cast (including among others: David Cross, Michael Cera, Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Tony Hale etc.) hit the rapid-fire gags and deranged scenarios out of the ballpark; as the show perfectly encapsulates the very epitome of a dysfunctional family.  (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) – BLU RAY

Andrew Dominik’s moody Western is one of the BEST films I have seen in the last 10 years.  It was a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; wonderful cast; beautiful vistas; elegant pace; resonating themes regarding notoriety; and so on and so forth.  Sam Rockwell excels in a supporting role as Charley Ford who gets caught between the eerie homo-erotic hero-worship-then-rivalry of his brother Robert (stunning Casey Affleck) and eponymous Jesse James (never better Brad Pitt).  The film moves at a glacial pace, building character and suspense, while in between, the sporadic bursts of violence startle and raise the pulse in an altogether memorable cinematic experience. (Mark: 10 out of 11)


CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016) – CINEMA

Historical reviews on this very blog have been favourable about Captain America and his exploits; in fact he is probably my favourite Marvel Avenger I’d say.  His last outing Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) was one of my films of the year, so I had high hopes for Civil War. The final film in the trilogy delivers a cracking rollercoaster ride filled with tremendous action, set-pieces and plot twists. As usual the army of Marvel effects technicians deliver an array of computer-generated mastery with a cacophony of colour, explosions, chases, fighting and bone-crunching sound effects.

The strong narrative involves a number of strands which link the prior two films as Steve Rogers protects his brainwashed buddy Bucky Barnes from the US government and allied Avengers attempting to bring him to justice for his crimes. Moreover, Iron Man, Black Widow, Vision and others face off against Captain America and his team in order to make the Avengers more accountable for their actions. This culminates in THE BEST ACTION SEQUENCE of the year as the Avengers have a battle royale on an airstrip in Germany. Overall, it’s a brilliant film which has welcome cameos from Ant-Man and another new Spiderman; while also introducing the all-action nobility of the Black Panther.  Again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily the blockbuster of the year. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

GOTHAM (2015) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

TV boxset watching is often like a cultural version of Stockholm syndrome. Some programmes grab you immediately while others you have to watch enough of before you give in to their demands. With that in mind, it took about 11 episodes before started enjoying Gotham. It began poorly with terrible dialogue and hammy acting and the Batman canon timeline, tone and characters are all over the shop. However, by the end it had won me over as a trashy guilty pleasure mixing horror, comic-book, crime, Western and fantasy genres. Highlights are the succession of violent cartoon villains and young versions of villains-to-come while Ben Mckenzie (Gordon), Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin), Sean Pertwee (Alfred) and Corey Michael Smith (Edward Nygma) steal the show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GREEN ROOM (2015) – CINEMA

This was an excellent sophomore feature film from writer/director Jeremy “Blue Ruin” Saulnier, as we find a punk band pitted against neo-Nazis in the back beyond of Portland, USA. It borrows heavily from George Romero and John Carpenter but the filmmakers and cast create a really nasty horror-show as the death of a rock fan spirals totally out of control. A fine cast including:  Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Anton Yelchin, Amanda Poot, and an against-the-grain-playing-nasty Patrick Stewart. Despite the stupidity of the band and Nazis I was gripped throughout and there is some terrific gore and box-cutting violence and recommended for those who like their thrills rare and bloody. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 11 – NETFLIX

Oh the man-children, Dennis, Charlie, Mac and Frank – and not forgetting bird-girl Dee – are back for another season of anarchic derring-do at Paddy’s Pub and beyond. As a massive fan of this very naughty show I was very much looking forward to the mayhem of Season 11; and they did not let us down. In this season we had episodes: parodying 80s ski films; Charlie capturing a Leprechaun; the gang getting trapped on a Christian cruise; Charlie and Mac move to the suburbs; Dee gets involved in porn; a whole episode, rather scarily, shot from Frank’s point-of-view; and all manner of other bizarre incidents and behavior. The gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LINE OF DUTY (2013 – 2014) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – NETFLIX

Very solid cop drama written and produced by Jed Mercurio, this story of cops investigating cops has an excellent British cast across two seasons including: Lennie James, Craig Parkinson, Neil Morrissey, Adrian Dunbar plus leads Martin Crompston and Vicky McClure.  It’s tightly plotted with some brilliant twists and great suspense as you never quite know who’s on whose side. Special mention for Keeley Hawes who is a revelation as the cop being chased in the second season; as her acting is so brilliant, you never know if she’s good, bad, manipulative, a victim or just plain evil.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)


LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – PRINCE CHARLES 007 RETROSPECTIVE

The Living Daylights, for me, is a very fine Bond film and Dalton is an incredibly under-rated 007. He only did two films but brought a pathos, depth and unpredictability to the role that Moore severely lacked. Bond is a stone-cold-killer-burnt-out-anti-authoritarian-adrenaline-junkie who has seen death a thousand times over; and Dalton plays him as such. Connery, Craig and at times Brosnan got this over in their performances but none as much as Dalton. The film works brilliantly on the big screen too and stands the test of time as both a sterling Bond film and cracking espionage action thriller. For my full classic review clink on this link(Mark: 9 out of 11)

NOSFERATU (1979) – SKY MOVIES

Werner Herzog’s atmospheric and moody adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula works brilliantly as both a horror film and homage to Murnau’s silent classic of the same name. Bruno Ganz excels as the unlucky Harker, sent to Transylvania to complete a property deal for his firm. Moreover, Klaus Kinski is chilling as the vampiric Count hell-bent on sucking the blood out of anyone who gets close. This has some exquisite cinematography plus an ethereal and dream-like style which makes this a memorable horror classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

OF MICE AND MEN (1992) – DVD

Steinbeck’s classic novel about two itinerant drifters is one of the best stories I have ever read.  This film version directed and starring Gary Sinise, with John Malkovich as the tragic Lennie Small, is a touching rendition of the depression-set story. It’s such a brilliant book that any screen version will pale in comparison but Sinise and Malkovich excel in their respective roles and it’s great to see Steinbeck’s rich, authentic and grim tale of existence brought to life and death. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SON OF SAUL (2016) – SKY MOVIES

This is a heavy-as-hell-Hungarian-holocaust drama deserved won Best Film in a Foreign Language at the Oscars. The story focusses on the intense Saul (Geza Rohrig) and his search for a Rabbi to give his son the Kaddish to allow him a correct Jewish burial. It is a harrowing experience, presented in a 4:3 screen ratio and pretty much all over-the-shoulder of the protagonist. These stylistic choices narrow the focus on Saul’s tireless journey through the camps in vain pursuit of said Rabbi. Amidst his search death, fire and flesh bleed through the landscape and the whole experience is gruelling, overwhelming and upsetting. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (2016) – SKY MOVIES

This film from insane Japanese director Takeshi Miike is just mental. I enjoy Asian cinema films and Miike’s previous movies such as Audition and Ichi the Killer were excellent just-the-right-side-of-bizarre spectacles, yet this is an unwatchable mix of martial arts, horror, and gangster and monster movies. Recommended only for the brave, foolhardy or clinically insane. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)

 

THE WATER DIVINER (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

A muddled mix of war, family, romance and period drama genres from debutant director and star Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner, boasts some wonderful scenery and highly moving scenes, notably in the WW1 Gallipoli flashbacks. However, Crowe the director is let down by a hamstrung script plus the miscasting of Olga Kurylenko who just seemed too glamorous to fall for Crowe’s recently widowed character searching for the bodies of his three dead sons. While it fails as a movie epic there’s enough to recommend it as a matinee rental on a wet Sunday afternoon while nursing an uber-hangover. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

WILD (2014) – NOW TV

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is excellent in this road-movie-true-story-drama as she trudges the Pacific Crest Trail in order to exorcise the demons of her past and somehow redeem her soul. It’s very well directed and structured by director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby and works really well as a pathos-driven character study; as well as stunningly shot travelogue with wonderful vistas. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: A STAR TREK KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN BY PAUL LAIGHT

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: A STAR TREK KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN BY PAUL LAIGHT

START KICKING

The traditional capitalist Hollywood machine model that has dominated the moviemaking industry remains in place like a fiscal contagion. Indeed, the money-people, financiers, studio bosses and banks that control the higher end of the cinema market are mostly beyond the reach of the struggling low-budget filmmaker. Some indie filmmakers battle the snakes and move up the ladder but more often than not they fall to their death into a pit of deathly vipers.

In the past there was purity to raising funds for the independent filmmaker. David Lynch made garden sheds when making Eraserhead (1977). Rebel filmmaker Roberto Rodriguez, allegedly, sold his body to science to raise the money for El Mariachi (1992) and the Coen Brothers shot a no-budget trailer for Blood Simple (1984) before approaching the Hadassah, the Zionist women’s charity, for production monies. Meanwhile, Terence Malick’s classic Badlands (1973) was funded by his own money and by doctors and dentists he had pitched the film idea to.

Oh, how times have changed; sort of!  Aside from using bank loans, inheritances, student loans, government grants and maxing out credit cards there is an alternative to raising project budgets. Because now artists, filmmakers, writers, dancers, jugglers, mimes, comedians and authors in general can now reach out to the internet with their “begging” bowl via the plethora of online sites such as: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Crowdfunding and many more.

As an independent filmmaker with eight films produced I personally like the romantic idea of working and saving and, on occasions, asking friends for loans to make my films. However, my attitude has shifted – because I’m broke – therefore me and my filmmaking partner Gary O’Brien have begun a Kickstarter campaign for our latest production called: Chance Encounter: A Star Trek Short Film. Click for the LINK:

 

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: THE STAR TREK STORY!

This is a universal love story set in outer space within the Star Trek television series world circa Next Generation era. It concerns two characters that randomly meet and have a big impact on each other’s lives. While I love sci-fi stuff with aliens and ray-guns this is a gentler story which favours character interaction and themes of loss, love and fate over special effects and monsters. We are not asking for massive donations and believe this to be a fantastic film to invest in.

Please watch our video and invest in our film; any amount will help us achieve our goal. Failing that I may be forced to sell a kidney or lung in order to hit the target.

IMPORTANT: “Star Trek” and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. The videos, the promotion thereof, and/or any other materials created by us are not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film, intended for recreational use. No copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

In no case is the use of said copyrighted material, with or without identifying symbols, intended as a claim of ownership or infringement of those copyrights/trademarks by the maker of these videos or their content providers.

SCREENWASH – JANUARY 2016 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JANUARY 2016 BY PAUL LAIGHT

Last year was a very good year for filmmaking but 2016 is shaping up even better already. You know the scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) where Bruce Willis’ character is moving from one weapon to a bigger/better one before he tortures Zed in the basement?  That’s what cinema going is like for me in January. I’ve seen so many brilliant films in succession either as good as or better than the last.  Moreover, the Oscar fodder is launched on the silver screen thus; I saw NOT one, but FOUR films which are already likely to be on my Best of 2016 list.

I’ve slightly tweaked my FILM/TV review format so instead of covering, in detail, EVERYTHING I saw, I’ve made it a bit punchier and reviewed in depth the best of the best. As usual – marks out of eleven!

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

CINEMA FILMS OF THE MONTH – ROOM (2015) + THE REVENANT (2015)


ROOM
(2015) – (MARK: 10.5 out of 11)

Room is an amazing film. Probably the best and most moving I will see ALL year. It concerns Joy (the incredible Brie Larson) and her young son Jack (stunning Jacob Tremblay) who have been abducted and trapped in a shed by a nefarious kidnapper referred only as “Old Nick”.

The film is presented from the innocent boy’s perspective and the pathos and empathy I felt throughout was both touching and heart breaking. What the writer’s premise does and filmmakers do is make you care about the characters immediately making every scene so suspenseful and soulful. If you are captured by stories about proper characters trying to survive dire events then it’s a must see.

The budget was low at $6 million yet director Lenny Abrahamson, his brilliant cast and writer Emma Donoghue have created a masterpiece in emotional storytelling.  Ultimately, it’s a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child and child for their mother. This is a truly stunning film which will linger in the memory for some time to come.

THE REVENANT (2015) – (MARK: 10 out of 11)

While Room is intimate and claustrophobic, The Revenant was the polar opposite. It’s a massive, heart pounding survival epic that must be seen on the biggest cinema screen you can find. Don’t stream it illegally online you cheap bastards; leave the house and GO TO THE CINEMA!

It concerns a Trappers’ expedition circa 1823 which is assaulted most violently by the indigenous Arikara Native Americans from the get go. The brutal attack set-piece kicks off the film in startling fashion with fire, blood and bone spilling and crunching and blasting death upon our characters. Our hero – Oscar-winner-elect – Leonardo DiCaprio is a tracker, Hugh Glass, whose expertise is required to get the survivors across the cold and brutal landscape in one piece.  But he is attacked by a bear in one of the most incredible feats of filmmaking I have seen in a long time. It just has to be seen to be believed as Glass is ripped to shreds by the bear leaving him at death’s step knocking on the door.

DiCaprio is then left with his Native American son and the greasy John Fitzgerald portrayed with dirty aplomb by brilliant Tom Hardy, as the rest head back to “civilization.” After which it’s safe to say that things don’t go too well for Glass as the money-grubbing Fitzgerald double-crosses him and leaves him for dead precipitating a series of deadly encounters that left me gasping for air and shaken to the heart of my dramatic core.

This is just superb, grueling, bloody and beautiful filmmaking! Inarritu adds some exquisite artistic touches and the cinematography and vistas are a thing of beauty. The filmmaking team spent nine months shooting the film and they have given birth to an epic masterpiece which, while a simple revenge story at heart, beats a powerful drum to the testament of the human spirit and against-the-odds survival. If you’re not watching this on a massive cinema screen then you haven’t seen it at all!

OTHER CINEMA FILMS

THE BIG SHORT (2015) – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

This is a very entertaining film satire about the global economic crash and the 2008 housing meltdown. It simplified everything in a very amusing fashion and felt like an extended American Office, both in style and humour. Steve Carell and Christian Bale are on particularly good form as are the rest of a very attractive case.  Bankers, Brokers, Regulators and the Government are presented as crooked, greedy, moronic or all of the above! I’m still shocked this actually happened as I have always held humanity in such high regard. NOT!

CREED (2015) – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

For a genre/franchise/boxing film CREED is a fantastic watch; full of emotional ups and downs. Stallone is terrific as ageing Rocky Balboa and this movie harked back to the raw quality of the first Rocky (1976). Ryan Coogler proved with Fruitvale Station (2013) he can direct real heartfelt drama and illustrates it once again here. The boxing scenes are impressive and Michael B. Jordan proves he is a very natural performer as the film delivers some proper knockout entertainment.

 

DANISH GIRL (2015) – (MARK: 7.5 out of 11)

Eddie Redmayne truly delivers in this story about Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and their attempts to reassign gender. Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener is equally brilliant as Einar’s wife, who at first sees her husband’s flirtations with female impersonation as a game but realises it is much more than that. Overall, this is stunningly attractive filmmaking set in 1920s Copenhagen which could arguably have had a touch more dramatic bite. Yet, Tom Hooper is a formidable director of beautifully humane dramas and this is a touching testament to a person trapped and prepared to risk it all to escape.

 
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) – (MARK: 9.5 out of 11)

Any other month this would have been my film of the month.  I love Westerns. I love Tarantino films (mostly). I love brilliant dialogue. I love lots of blood and violence.  Here QT remakes Reservoir Dogs (1992) via Agatha Christie, setting it in the snowy West of America circa 1870s.  It concerns eight hard-bitten souls consisting of criminals, bounty hunters and soldiers and the mayhem that ensues as they cross paths.

Set pretty much in one location there is tension and bullets galore by the end. However, the main strength lies in the ensemble cast firing verbal stingers at each other as trust breaks down and the characters turn against each other as the plot thickens. Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson are real standouts and Jennifer Jason Leigh holds her own amidst the sweat and testosterone.

Though not as epic in stature as Django Unchained (2012), and in need of a wee trim, this is a fine movie which will improve on subsequent views. Tarantino is a proper auteur and can always be relied on to deliver an impressive work of entertainment. Mustn’t forget Ennio Morricone’s awesome score either, which haunts the scenes like the Reaper on collection day.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015) – (MARK: 7.5 out of 11)

Ever dependable Ron Howard has crafted an excellent adventure and survival story. A well evoked period drama Chris “Thor” Hemsworth takes to the high seas on the hunt for whales, only to come up against the white “monster” which would inspire Herman Melville’s literary classic Moby Dick. Men against nature and the elements always play well on the big screen and overall, it’s very solid entertainment. While the bookended script is old-fashioned by design it has subtext too, indicating the importance oil has always played within our society.

SPOTLIGHT (2015) – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

This is yet another Oscar-runner with an incredible true story at its heart. The film “spotlights” the Boston Globe’s investigation into endemic paedophilia and subsequent cover up by the Catholic Church. It’s a riveting story with a fantastic ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton on very fine form.

Screenwriters Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer have crafted a sterling script that gets into the minutiae of a press investigation and also reveals the corruption and hypocrisy in organised religion, public relations and the legal system.  Just when you think people couldn’t get any lower stories like this highlight the darkness at the heart of humanity.  Thankfully, the press gang at the Boston Globe has proved more than just celebrity-baiters and given the victims of horrific abuse both a voice and justice.

 

TV, DVD, BLU RAY, NETFLIX and other STREAMERS

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ADAM AND PAUL (2004) – YOUTUBE – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

Irish black comedy about two junkies trying to get a hit; manages to be both hilarious and sad simultaneously. Great feature debut from Lenny Abrahamson.

 

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN (2013) NETFLIX – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

More bonkers horror as witchcraft, murder and voodoo mix to grisly and hilarious effect.


AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (2015) – BBC1 – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

Stylish drama with a stellar cast committing murder most foul in fine Agatha Christie adaptation.

 

BLUE RUIN (2014) – NETFLIX – (MARK: 6 out of 11)

Impressive low budget neo-noir let down by the bad plotting and unsympathetic lead protagonist. 

 

THE FALLING (2014) – AMAZON PRIME – (Mark: 6 out of 11)

Artful period drama about fainting young girls starts well but runs out of story by the end.

 

THE HUNTER (2011) – AMAZON PRIME – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Intriguing Aussie drama as Willem Dafoe’s hired gun tracks down the last Tasmanian tiger.

 

ROME – SEASON 1 – (2005) – NETFLIX – (MARK – 8 out of 11)

Brilliant Caesarean drama with devilish plotting and bloodier battles plus a cracking cast.


SHERLOCK: THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE (2015) – BBC1 – (Mark: 8 out of 11)

Oh-so-clever-meta-drama featured Holmes & Watson on the trail of a ghostly murderess in a wedding dress. Stylish with little substance but entertaining nonetheless.

 

SLOW WEST (2014) – NOW TV – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Idiosyncratic Western that is too pretentious in places, but saved by ever-excellent Michael Fassbender and a fine shoot-out at the end.

 

THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) – NOW TV – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Eddie Redmayne bagged the Oscar for his portrait of Stephen Hawking in this beautifully acted, lovely looking, yet, dramatically tepid romance-biopic.

 

WHAT RICHARD DID (2012) – DVD – (Mark: 8 out of 11)

Slow moving but impactful drama from Lenny Abrahamson, as a rich teenager’s actions causes massive reverberations amidst an Irish family and the wider community.

 

AVOID AT ALL COSTS!

THE VISIT (2015) – SKY STORE – (MARK: 2 out of 11)

Some said this was a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan – IT WASN’T! Dreadful supposed horror film with one of the most annoying child actors I’ve had the displeasure to witness.