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SCREENWASH – JUNE FILM & TV REVIEWS 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JUNE 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:

**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**

 

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV

The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)

The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors.   (Mark: 9 out of 11)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX

I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display.  Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA

Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV

If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.  I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)

GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV

The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX

Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off.  Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)


IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV

Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA

Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown (1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV

Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time.  I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)

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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)

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #1 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #1 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

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

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

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet.  The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber.  It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)

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

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

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

 

INCEPTION (2010)

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

 

LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)

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

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

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

 

MAGNOLIA (1999)

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

MEANTIME (1984)

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

 

THE OUTSIDERS (1983)

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

PULP FICTION (1994)

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

SHORT CUTS (1993)

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

 

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)

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

 

JE T’AIME CINEMA by PAUL LAIGHT

JE T’AIME CINEMA by PAUL LAIGHT

I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat.  I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television.  I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as:  Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.

old-skool-3d-cinema-audience

The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.

Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as:  Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.

mi5

While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut.  Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.

Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV.  Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.

jaws

Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set.  Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation.  Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me.   Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.

While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen.  But is it better than the cinema?  Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS!  Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.

2001

The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.”  Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).
And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot.  Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema.  It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!

bluesbros

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEWS FOR APRIL 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEWS BY PAUL LAIGHT – APRIL 2015

Bit late with the old film reviews for April because I have actually been writing my own short film screenplays in the last few weeks.

I set myself a target of writing TWELVE original first draft short films in 2015 (one a month basically). I have completed TWO thus far.  I’m confident I will hit the target.

Still managing to watch a high-rate of movies via Cinema, Netflix, Amazon, Blu-Ray etc. so here are my reviews for April 2015. A pretty golden month for diverse and quality motion pictures; plus some right pony too.

**Now featuring a new marking system — in tribute to This is Spinal Tap — which goes up to ELEVEN**

**BEWARE OF MASSIVE SPOILERS**

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014) – SKY MOVIES

Comedy Western written, directed and starring Seth Mcfarlane started well with a plethora of great gags but once the story gets into gear Seth Mcfarlane the writer fails the director big time. Plus, Seth Mcfarlane the actor just fails. He is NOT a leading man and some quick-fire laughs at the start give way to a one-joke film which lasts 45 minutes too long. The film makes Carry on Cowboy (1965) seem like Shakespeare and while watching I was thinking of a million ways to kill myself. (Mark – 3/11)

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) – CINEMA

After remaking The Seven Samurai (1954) with Avengers Assemble (2012) Joss Whedon was back at the helm of the good ship Marvel remaking Frankenstein  and delivering a bloody good sequel in the process. Indeed, despite sounding like a powerful washing powder Age of Ultron was way better than I expected. I love Marvel movies but was anticipating the moment when the formula just dies and thought this may be it. It wasn’t.

Amidst the green screen superhero carnage there is actually a story which involves the Avengers team battling Tony Stark’s sentient creation called Ultron which he knocked up by mistake thinking it would be good for mankind. The idiot!   Throw into the mix Hydra-children Quiksilver and Scarlet Witch who want revenge on Stark plus spandex buddies Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk and the rest of the team and you get a pretty impressive slap-bang-train-crashing-robot-killing-country-unearthing-war-machining-mind-bending-vision-melding-hulk-smashing popcorn muncher.

Highlights for me were:  the action of course; James Spader’s evil Ultron; Captain America as usual; Mark Ruffalo/Bruce Banner doing existential pain-like-a-modern day Lawrence “Wolfman” Talbot; some great Whedon one-liners; blink-and-miss cameo from Andy Serkis; plus Scar-Jo’s Nikitaesque backstory raised the blood pressure a tad. While Age of Ultron is thematically weak and the narrative feels transitory on occasions there is SO much happening it doesn’t matter. Overall, it’s a fun-packed-fizzing-firework of a film which stopped me thinking about death for two hours; so that was good. (Mark: 8/11)

 

BOYHOOD (2014) – BLU RAY

The most expensive home movie of all time is an American modern-day masterpiece in slice-of-life storytelling. Not a lot occurs but it does so with so much heart as we follow Mason Evans (aged 6) and his family life from 2002 to the present day.  Much has been made of the fact Richard Linklater shot the film over a decade using both Ellar Coltrane and his daughter Lorelei throughout the film and this organic approach to filmmaking is to be applauded.  More importantly I just fell in love with these ordinary characters as we experience vignettes from their lives over a number of years.  Brilliant character actors Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke shine too as their respective parents juggle the slings and arrows that life throws at them all.  While the pace is glacial and the structure elliptical Boyhood is a fine document to family life that touched my heart and mind throughout. (Mark: 9/11)

FAST AND FURIOUS 7 (2015) – CINEMA

Another snap, crack and popping addition to a film franchise which has gathered popularity at a breakneck speed over the last decade or more.  Fast 7 picks up after Fast 6 directly with meaty brute Jason Statham coming for Toretto and the team for pretty much marmalizing his brother (Luke Evans) to death in the previous chapter.  Having gone head-on with Duwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and incapacitated him Statham then goes after the gang, who meanwhile, are charged with the task of tracking down some generic macguffin called the “God’s Eye”. I didn’t really care about the plot as it’s mainly an excuse to join the dots between some stunning right-royal-rumbling car chases, shoot-outs, motor-parachuting and the vehicular carnage we’ve all come to expect from this series.

Better than Fast 6 (though not the superlative Fast 5) the film is deftly helmed by expert genre filmmaker James Wan and the action is beefed up by character actors like Kurt Russell and Djimon Hounsou. Statham steals the show as the rogue mercenary and Vin Diesel does his usual John-Wayne-act: mean-and-moody with a heart of gold.  The Rock is criminally underused (no doubt because he was shooting Hercules at the same time) but he does impress during the heart-pounding final set-piece.  I drank a big coffee before I watched this and as my mind was blazing on caffeine so was the screen. Great escapist cinema which pays a fine, if soppy, tribute to the deceased Paul Walker in the final reel.  (Mark: 9/11)

FORCE MAJEURE (2014) – CINEMA

This is one of those excellent foreign films which I hated.  I can see why critics and audiences may enjoy the character-driven drama of a family split apart by the father’s less-than-heroic actions during that of an avalanche but overall the film left me cold as an Eskimo’s nostril.  Technically, it is beautifully shot, performed, directed and there is some merit in the idea of a family holiday gone wrong, however, I just found the characters too irritating and in the end I was bored. I like many, many films with complex and dislikeable characters but not this one.  Personally despising ski holidays probably didn’t help either and I wish the characters had been killed in the avalanche to save on all the middle-class matrimonial moaning and Scandinavian soul-searching that ensued.  Great film, in some eyes no doubt, but not my cup of frozen piss. (Mark: 5/11)

HORNS (2013) – BLU RAY

Daniel Radcliffe stars as a young man who wakes up one day with the horn; no sorry that’s HORNS!  Plus a dead girlfriend and HE’S the prime suspect in her murder.   That is SOME hangover!  Basically, the small town where he lives thinks he’s the Devil incarnate so this collective emotion manifests itself physically and spiritually as the former Harry Potter starts being able to control and bring the most dark and fantastical behaviour out of the townsfolk.  I think these comedic scenes are the best bits of the film as he learns to control this ability and use it to his own means.  It’s a decent enough horror-drama-romance-comedy-detective-noir story which has some fine moments but at times the genre-melding jars the tone. Structurally it’s a bit all over the shop too flitting from long ago to now to not so long ago in a Noiresque fashion.  Overall,  a pretty fun film to watch on the smaller screen but a bit of pruning for pace would have been handy. (Mark: 6/11)

INBETWEENERS 1 & 2 (2011/2014) – 4OD/SKY MOVIES

I used to think The Inbetweeners was a rude, smutty, uncultured, lowest-common-denominator comedy of the basest level and after watching the three seasons of the TV show on catch-up plus two films back-to-back I still think that. However, I have to admit: it is fucking hilarious!  It concerns the tribulations of Will (the nerd), Simon (the neurotic), Jay (the liar) and Neil (the idiot) and their main trials are losing their virginities, trying to buy alcohol, avoiding bullies and trying not make fools of themselves. Laughs come thick and fast from them failing to achieve any of these things; often in the most humiliating of ways!

The movies cranked up the puerile gags in Greece and Australia respectively and I laughed my arse off at the many disgusting events in both films.  Having said that this isn’t just filth for filth’s sake as the character interaction and quick-witted scripts by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris have some heart notably when Jay pursues the girl he loves all the way to the Aussie outback.  Ultimately, though this search ends with Simon drinking Neil’s piss.  Recommended for those who enjoy romantic/sexual failures, toilet humour, broad stereotypes and a streak of unsophisticated adolescent rites-of-passage stuff thrown in. (Mark: 7/11)

JOHN WICK (2014) – CINEMA

If Keanu Reeves had been born in the silent movie era I think he would’ve been an even bigger hit because as long as he doesn’t have much dialogue he is a genuine bona fide movie star.  As John Wick he absolutely blows the back doors off as a “retired” assassin who rampages after the gangsters who killed his dog.

The script doesn’t insult us with any semblance of a plot and THAT’S a plus. It’s pure kinesis with Reeves racing from bullet-infested set-piece to set-piece carving up the criminal Underworld like a modern-day (M)Orpheus (see what I did there?)   Of course, the stakes are ramped up throughout as Wick must face all manner of super-assassins once there’s a contract out on him.  This is a dark-lean-comic-book-Hong-Kong-shoot-em-up-style movie shot on speed and edited on meth and a hugely satisfying cinema experience .(Mark: 8/11)


NEED FOR SPEED (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

I loved Aaron Paul as the desperate meth “protégée” of Walter White in Breaking Bad. His enunciation of “bitch this” and “bitch that” was often the highlight of the show as he was pulled this way and that by WW’s descent into power-crazed drug-dealing hell. I think we appreciated Jesse Pinkman was so out of his depth in that world and Aaron Paul brought a humour and humanity to the role despite being the wrong side of the law.

However, in the videogame adaptation Need For Speed he fails as a cool-as-ice-hard-assed-driver-extraordinaire in a role Steve McQueen would have sped through in his heyday. Plus, and I’m sorry to say, but Aaron is TOO short to impose himself on this Fast and Furious meets Vanishing Point mash-up. The supporting cast are very attractive although Brit actress Imogen Poots is irritating as fuck in the female sidekick role and the film is WAY too long.  Overall, great cars, amazing driving, sweet stunts:  shame about everything else! (Mark: 3/11)

OCULUS (2013) – BLU RAY

Karen Gillan from Doctor Who basically goes a bit mental in this effective low-budget horror film in which she battles a — wait for it — ghost-mirror that holds the secret to the parents’ death. Fun is to be had from the monstrous spirits and jumps as she ropes in her recently-released-from-the-nuthouse brother who just wants to move on.  Not for everyone I guess but I enjoyed it as it made the most of the one main location  plus it’s nicely directed and edited by newish filmmaker Mike Flanagan clearly working on a shoestring. (Mark: 6/11)

SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2009) – DVD – REPEAT WATCH

I’ve seen this Argentinian classic romance-noir-detective-political thriller many times now and it is one of the best genre films ever made. It has everything you could hope for in a story which concerns itself with a Government Prosecutor Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) and his decades-long search for the brutal murderer of a young woman.  Stunning characterisation supports a maze-like plot with many twists and turns throughout in a wonderful screenplay.

The most compelling vein throbbing element within the story is the “will-they-won’t-they” romance between Esposito and the classically beautiful Soledad Villamil playing the Judge who has captured his heart.  The film also finds time to make political comments on the “Dirty War” which occurred in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s and has one of the most memorable long-takes in cinema history.  A breathtaking masterpiece of the thriller genre. (Mark: 11/11)

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS – (2014) – SKY MOVIES

A one-joke mockumentary which tries to do for vampires what Spinal Tap did for Heavy Metal. Maybe I should have had a few drinks but I found it quite boring like an overlong sketch which while brilliantly conceived sagged in the middle.   It follows four batty (sorry) housemates Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr as they go about their nocturnal activities in Wellington, New Zealand.  I was especially impressed with the contrast between the old-Nosferatu-style vampyr Petyr struggling with the new world plus Jemaine Clements is always a funny presence in any film.

The film has garnered great reviews from critics and is destined for cult movie status and the first half of the film had me chuckling heartily.  But I felt it ran out of narrative steam in the second half as the gag rate dipped. Also, the dark, handheld and grainy style too felt one-note and despite some witty one-liners in the script the loose improvisatory form felt aimless.  Bloody brilliant concept that may have suited a half-hour sitcom length but not a feature film. (Mark: 6/11)

WILD TALES (2015) – CINEMA

Last but definitely NOT least is my film of the month (excluding Secret in Their Eyes)!  Wild Tales is another soon-to-be-considered Argentinian film classic as it delivers a dark sarcasm and hilarity via six separate stories concerning themes of: revenge, political corruption, class division and bloody violence!

I loved the ye olde portmanteau films usually produced by the likes of Hammer in the past and this is a very modern take on the like as the screenwriter and director Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories.  It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding.  Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of.

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEW ROUND UP FOR MARCH 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH:  MARCH 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

**MASSIVE SPOILERS**

I was pretty ill with flu for half-of-March and then lost both my voice and get-up-and-go too, thus, only went to the cinema once during the month.

However, while recovering in my sick hole I caught up with quite a few films via streaming and on Blu-Ray/DVD.  So, here’s a round-up review of movies I watched during the month of March.

 

CITY ON FIRE (1987) – DVD

Ringo Lam’s hard-boiled crime thriller was a massive influence on Tarantino’s low-budget classic Reservoir Dogs (1992).  It’s shot in a raw Lumet/Friedkin style with the streets of Hong Kong filled with blood, bullets and breakneck speed car chases. Great thriller which made a star of a young Chow-Yun Fat.

 

FURY (2014) – BLU-RAY

This film rocked!  It was rip-roaring action with the blood, the guts and the gory!  Brad Pitt plays the Tank Commander with his loyal crew including Shia Labeouf, John Bernthal and new recruit Logan Lerman.  It’s close to the end but there are pockets of German resistance while their Tank grinds its way toward Berlin. The theme of “war is hell” isn’t exactly new but it is tremendously illustrated during the brutal battles.   I enjoyed the claustrophobic nature of the tank, earth-shaking manouevres and testosteronic highs plus there is some subtle characterisation and a moving mid-point scene where we see the softer side of Pitt’s war beast. Overall it’s an exciting melee of explosions and death and pays fine tribute to the noble savagery of the men who laid down their lives to win the war.

GET HARD (2015) – CINEMA

Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart’s silly comedy uses broad stereotypes to land its very puerile humour. It’s politically incorrect and sends up all manner of: black, white, Hispanic, gay, female, religious, upper, lower and middle classes and cultures.  The double team of Ferrell and Hart works well as they play a soon-to-be imprisoned banker and his prison “trainer” readying him for a stretch in jail.  The humour is unsophisticated but it made me laugh throughout in a series of silly scenes and set-pieces, plus there’s mild satirical content amidst the smut. Highlight is Will Ferrell as an urban gangster; should’ve been much more of that!

HERCULES (2014) – NETFLIX

This not-as-bad-as-you-think swords and sandals epic has some pretty awesome fight scenes but it’s mainly for die-hard fans of the Duwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Plus, there’s a very decent set of character actors earning some dough including:  John Hurt, Peter Mullan, Rufus Sewell and Ian “Lovejoy” McShane.  There’s some stuff about the “making of legends” in the script as the story eschews fantastical monsters in favour of muscular 300esque fight scenes. More blood would’ve made it even better though.

 

JERSEY BOYS – (2014) – BLU-RAY

This biopic of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is another decent poke at what has come to be known as the “jukebox” musical subgenre.  Based on the effervescent stage play it’s a decent, yet undemanding–felt-like-a-TV-movie-Sunday-matinee-nostalgia-watch.  Of course, the songs are grand but the direction was a tad functional and the groups’ difficulties with the mob, financial issues and family losses are touched upon yet not dramatically satisfying. I liked the direct address narration but it’s only during the end credits where the film cuts loose with an imagination and pizazz that much of the film lacks.

LA CABINA (1972) – YOUTUBE

This is one of the best short films I have ever seen.  It is Spanish and is very simple in concept and delivery but very powerful in symbolism and potential meaning. Basically, a Spanish man becomes trapped in a red Telephone Box and cannot escape.  After a slapstick beginning which results in a huge crowd witnessing his plight, the film takes a grim twist in tone and becomes very dark by the chilling denouement. What does is all mean?  Well, like great art it is open to interpretation as it contains surreal, existential and political themes. In my opinion it means all and everything and the horror will remain with anyone who sees it.

 

LUCY (2014) – BLU-RAY

Director Luc Besson is quoted as saying:  “…I intended the first part of Lucy to be like Léon, the second part to be like Inception and the third part to be like 2001: A Space Odyssey.”   I would say he succeeded with the first part but completely failed with the 2nd and 3rd parts. It’s a shame the kick-ass action was wrapped in a load of sci-fi babble because I really enjoyed many of the bone-crunching fight scenes. Scarlett Johansson was awesome as usual despite the story making NO SENSE at all logically and it didn’t even work as conceptual sci- fi for me. 

PERFUME: STORY OF A MURDERER (2006) – DVD

I read the wonderful novel and saw this at the cinema years ago so this was the first time I had seen it since. Ben Whishaw plays a strange man, abandoned as a baby in the stinking slums of Paris, who grows up to be one of the great perfume-makers but is also a murderer.  In pursuit of the perfect scent Jean-Baptiste Grenouille can only find what he wants during the killing of beautiful young girls. It’s an odd story but has a wonderful poetry and rhythm to it as we at first empathise but then exhale at the horror of Grenouille’s actions. John Hurts narrates a peculiar but haunting story which also features fine turns from Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman.

 

TRANSCENDENCE (2014) – BLU-RAY

This film about Artificial Intelligence promised so much and had a terrific cast including: Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp and the always grand Rachel Hall.  For an hour it really seemed like a great bit of science fiction as scientist Will Caster dies but is brought back to life by means of computerisation of his mind and soul.  With his brainbox uploaded to the web like a crazy sentient FrankensteinMonster.com he begins what appears to be a nefarious plan to take over the world.  However, the narrative quickly falls apart and I felt like I was trying to put together a jigsaw with many pieces missing and bits that just don’t fit.  It looks and sounds amazing but I was so bemused by the end I just did not care!

TRIANGLE (2009) – BLU-RAY

This is an absolute cracker of a Sisyphean-time-loop-paradox-movie.  Melissa George portrays a single mother hoping to escape it all with a yacht trip with her wealthier friends.  However, things don’t quite go according to plan following a massive storm knocks the group way off course.  I’m not going to give anything away but this film gripped me throughout with a complex criss-cross narrative which confounds and delights in equal turns. While its clever-clever plot tightens the film also creeps you out with a series of violent events and startling images.  Melissa George carries this film like Atlas did the world, and I really hope writer/director Christopher Smith gets more work as he and his star deserve much bigger films based on this existentially loopy horror film.

WALKING DEAD – SEASON 5 (EPISODES 9 – 16)

The Walking Dead Season 5 finale was less crash, bang, gore than the previous seasons’ end but there were some wonderful episodes filled with great suspense and tension.  The group led by Rick Grimes eventually come to a place called Alexandria which kind of has a hippie commune feel to it.  There paranoia sets in as the post-trauma of previous losses haunts Rick, Carol, Abraham and Sasha.  We lose a couple of stalwart characters on the way but the series introduces new people at Alexandria and that’s where suspicions and doubt begins.  It’s a softer, moral and more emotional denouement although there is some fantastic zombie executions too! I particularly enjoyed the doubt the writers created as to whether Rick and Carol were going totally over to the dark side. Great drama!

WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014) – BLU RAY

This covers much of the same ground as The Equalizer (2014) starring Denzel Washington, with a lone wolf operative fighting his demons overcoming big city villains in a most violent way.  Once again Liam Neeson flexes his recent-tough-guy-status muscles wiping out bad guys with a gruff voice, mean stare, tough attitude, big fists and guns; but mainly guns.  Working outside the law he hunts down the perpetrators of a series of shocking murders before their next victim comes to a similarly grisly end.  Denzel’s film just shades it for brutal violence and style and has a better baddie but Walk Among The Tombstones is a decent stab at an evening’s bit of DVD entertainment.

 

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT (2012) – SKY MOVIES

This low-budget horror film set in Britain is actually well-made and surprisingly quite scary, as a Yorkshire family are terrorised by a nasty spectre from t’other side.  Based on the “Maynard Haunting” from the 1970s it’s well acted and directed by Pat Holden.  I enjoyed the sly build up of terror as the nefarious poltergeist targets the youngest member of the family, Sally.  It’s got some decent scares and a nifty little twist at the end.

SCREENWASH_MARCH2015_3

THE PRESTIGE – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

 THE PRESTIGE (2006) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**YOU KNOW THE DRILL – SPOILERS!**

ThePrestige4

With Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) orbiting the cinemas this week I thought I’d look back at the film which he made in between breathing life into the Batman franchise.   No doubt Nolan is an important genre filmmaker and as his budgets have got more grandiose then so have his ideas.  I just love that he is interested in attempting to make intelligent blockbusters where ideas, character and theme lead the story rather than rely simply on action, explosions and special effects (no offence Michael Bay.)

Memento (2000) was a stunning and complex low-budget noir which dealt with obsession, murder and memory and Nolan continued these themes in superior cop thriller Insomnia (2002). Having delivered a cracking origins film in Batman Begins (2005) the director followed this up with a story about battling magicians based on Christopher Priest’s novel called The Prestige (2006).  For me it confirmed him as a force-to-be-reckoned with director. Following on the themes and tropes established in his prior films, The Prestige is centred around two obsessives brilliantly portrayed by the always excellent Christian Bale as Alfred Borden and the never-been-better (until Prisoners (2013), Hugh Jackman, playing his bitter rival, Robert Angier. thePrestige1The story starts at the end with Borden facing the hangman for Angier’s murder. After which the narrative flashes back to a time when the pair were freshman trick-smiths learning the ropes from mentor Cutter (always solid Michael Caine). When the cockney and cocky Bordens’ actions accidentally lead to the death of Angiers’ wife (Piper Perabo) – during a particularly complex and dangerous trick – the two go their separate ways. This sets in motion a story full of bitter twists of active and reactive vengeance. Each protagonist becomes so obsessed outdoing the other –  with the ultimate trick – they are prepared to sacrifice the ones they love in doing so.

The film is rich in plot, character and theme and investigates thoroughly the very human aspects of obsession and revenge. The double or doppleganger trope is also integral to the story as the writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls. The gritty, dirty period of Victorian London is wonderfully evoked and the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets is expertly represented. At it’s heart the story begins by showing us the cons of the magicians and the lengths they will go to amaze and astound an audience. By the end though the film becomes something much different with a chilling and fantastic turn which you think you see but ultimately don’t see coming.

Brilliantly directed by Christopher Nolan The Prestige is inventive, intelligent and ingenious. His cast does not let the magical screenplay down with the gorgeous Scarlett Johannson and – albeit briefly – pretty Piper Perabo bringing some glamour to the gritty proceedings. Rebecca Hall is also on commanding form bringing a subtle pain to the role of Borden’s wife.

Overall, it’s a challenging big-budget tale in which you never quite know what is real or what is a con. It keeps you guessing to the end, leaving you with a jaw-dropping final act as the story moves from sleight-of-hand tricks to science fact and finally science fiction. Ultimately, the film successfully combines fantastical, existential, and scientific elements. The film gives us a kind of magic but asks whether it’s worth the damage it causes to lives? THAT, for me, is The Prestige’s greatest trick.