Tag Archives: suspense

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

Producer(s): Priscilla Parish, Eric Coulter, BBC

Created and written by: Jed Mercurio

Director(s): Thomas Vincent, John Strickland

Starring: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Gina McKee, Sophie Rundle, Paul Ready, Vincent Franklin, Stuart Bowman, Nina Toussaint-White,  Stephanie Hyam

Composer(s): Ruth Barrett, Ruskin Williamson

Cinematography:   John Lee

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Jed Mercurio has written and show-run some seriously good television over the years. I remember watching the acerbic medical comedy-drama Cardiac Arrest in the 1990s and enjoying greatly the honest, bleak and black humour of the show. So much so it made hospital soap Casualty look like a kids’ birthday party. Being from a medical background Mercurio would later revisit the NHS for the critically acclaimed programme Bodies (2004 – 2006); a show that contained graphic depictions of surgical operations amidst the cut-throat administrative and medical drama. Subsequently he would have, arguably, his biggest hit with the show Line of Duty. Gaining massive viewing figures Line of Duty concerns a crack team of police officers who investigate corruption within the force.

Mercurio created a solid genre premise with each officer under examination being played by a formidable lead actor. These included: Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays and in Season 4, Thandie Newton. His strengths as a writer are to use realistic settings, scenarios and characters and twist them for every ounce of suspense possible. His work also contains brilliant narrative twists that often go against genre expectation. Indeed, he has no qualms casting a famous actor and killing them off when you least expect.

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With his latest show Bodyguard, Mercurio has again looked within the police force as a starting point. His main protagonist David Budd (Richard Madden) is part of the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch tasked with protecting the ambitious Home Secretary, Julia Montague; portrayed by the always brilliant Keeley Hawes. Over six episodes Budd has dangerous encounters with: his own force, MI5, Counter Terrorism Command, terrorist cells, organised crime and in-fighting Government officials too.  Safe to say Montague becomes a target and very soon Budd is fighting not just for her life but his own.

Opening with an incredibly tense scene involving an Islamic suicide bomber on a train, the show raises the pulse with incredible consistency. Another stunning set-piece involving a terrorist attack on a school plus a vicious sniper assault on the Home Secretary in a later episode demonstrates that Mercurio wants us in the heart of the action. In terms of the politics of the series they are incredibly murky and confusing, in a good way. What I mean is we live in a confusing world of fake news, terrorism, racism, suspicion, paranoia, violence and corruption. It’s difficult to know what to believe and who to trust. Mercurio doesn’t offer any easy answers and everyone is a suspect. Even Richard Madden’s Budd is a tortured soul showing skill at his job but a heart and mind riddled with post-traumatic stress. He deals with the separation from his wife by drinking and burying his angst in his dangerous work.

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Bodyguard had me hooked from the beginning and really turns the screw dramatically throughout. The ensemble cast are uniformly excellent but Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes are particularly memorable. One could argue the representation of the terrorists’ borders on the stereotypical, but it’s a tough call because Mercurio is effectively reflecting events which have occurred within the U.K. in recent years. Whether such violent situations should be turned into primetime entertainment is a question for a whole different essay, but the writer and creator has shown once again he can take serious issues and produce exhilarating genre television.

Mark: 9 out of 11

 

 

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CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #4 – ZODIAC (2007) “The Basement Scene”

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #4 – ZODIAC (2007) “The Basement Scene”

Directed by: David Fincher

Produced by: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer, Ceán Chaffin

Screenplay by: James Vanderbilt

Based on: Zodiac & Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards

 

Arguably, the finest thriller director around at the moment is David Fincher. His film Zodiac (2007) was a detailed analysis of the characters involved in the hunt for the eponymous serial killer. It’s a film full of brutal murders and obsessive characters, notably Jake Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist turned investigator, Robert Graysmith. His character almost goes insane discovering who the Zodiac killer; so much so he risks losing everything – including his mind!

Toward the end of the film, Graysmith interviews Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), a film projectionist, and the suspense is created literally out of nothing. The total absence of a known nemesis creates an unlikely amount of tension, especially allied with the way Fincher shoots in shadows and frames his characters. Graysmith is not seemingly in any danger but his paranoia, claustrophobia and growing sense of unease petrifies him until he is forced to flee. In fact, the thriller genre convention of revealing the murderer is, like in the real-life case of the Zodiac, rejected; thus catharsis is denied to the audience throughout this nail-biting paranoiac thriller classic.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s sweaty, panicked performance is perfect here as is his counterpart Charles Fleischer, who seems scary without even trying. Moreover, while it seems obvious to state that a director is the one controlling the various creative aspects of a film, David Fincher is one of those filmmakers whose form and style is often remarkable. This scene is testament to his skills as a cinematic craftsman par excellence.

For an excellent analysis of the “basement scene” check this link out too:

 

CLASSIC EXISTENTIAL FILM REVIEW – THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953)

CLASSIC EXISTENTIAL FILM REVIEW – THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953)

Winter is coming (Again)

A few weeks ago it was very cold and snowy in London and the UK in general. For the end of February and beginning of March the second coming of winter was most unexpected. My eighteen year old Ford Mondeo had been frozen to death with the battery at some kind of half-life and smoke pouring out of the bonnet; no doubt from the fusion of water and oil and air-conditioning liquid. I managed to park it up safely with no harm done and walked the half-an-hour to work. On route I saw a Supermarket delivery driver lugging shopping to someone’s doorstep in the bitter wind on the treacherous icy pavement. I suddenly thought: why do we do this? Why do we carry on? What is the point in it all?

I cannot complain; because things are actually good for me. I’m grateful because alas some people lose their lives in weather like this and have it much worse in regard to such conditions. How they cope I have no idea. I mean, we carry on don’t we? I thought about my current situation: the trivial issue of my car dying; having to walk in the snow; and the Supermarket worker delivering shopping in the freezing cold. I came to the conclusion it all pales into insignificance considering some of the major issues in the world. But we all carry on. We desire to continue living. The eternal existential question remains: why?!

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The Wages of Fear

George Arneud’s Le salaire de la peur translated as The Wages of Fear has been made three times into a film; notably by the great directors Henry-George Clouzot and William Friedkin. The desire to survive and fight and live and abide life is an incredibly powerful thing. It’s instinct in all of us; well, until life, poor decisions, bad luck, other humans’ behaviour or extraneous circumstances beat you into submission. Some people take their lives while others fight to the last breath. This, for me is the intrinsic nature of the film. Why carry on living even when it seems pointless to continue?

The Wages of Fear (1953) is a film I first saw on May 8th 1994 as a twenty-three year old; introduced by screenwriting guru Robert McKee on his brilliant movie season called Filmworks. It concerns a motley crew of European misfits trapped in an unnamed South American shanty town. They are invited to escape their plight by driving trucks of nitro-glycerine over deadly terrain to put out a massive oilfield fire. With McKee’s foreboding gravel voice introducing the film and the spellbinding premise in mind I was immediately compelled to watch.

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I had, since the age of sixteen, worked at the Department of Social Security and as a civil servant I had often felt trapped in my job with no end in sight. Of course, I was over-dramatizing my situation somewhat as the next year I just left for University. However, that feeling of being existentially walled in has meant I’m drawn to such stories in film, literature, music and art etc. The Wages of Fear is all about desperate characters who are forced to risk their life to escape their current plight. Clouzot is careful to establish the terrain, motivation and context of the setting and characters. Thus, by the time the action starts and our anti-heroes – Yves Montand (cool and handsome Mario), Peter Van Eyck (laconic Bimba), Folco Lulli (energetic Luigi) and Charles Vanel (back-stabbing Jo) – are on their treacherous suicide mission we have some semblance of connection with them.

The suspense on the road is incredible. With tight, rocky trails ahead the trucks can only travel at a certain low speed or one bump could blow the vehicles to kingdom come. You have to wonder about the human spirit here and how desperate these characters must be to risk their lives. Clouzot directs the set-pieces with a razor-like precision as each of the trucks must face: oil-filled craters, rickety bridges, boulders and precipices; all while holding their shredded nerves together. Allied to the thriller aspect there is a strong socio-economic context which illustrates the dangerous capitalist ventures of the American oil company draining the 3rd world country of a valuable resource, while scorching the earth and exploiting the indigenous population.

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On release The Wages of Fear won the Palm D’Or at Cannes and the Golden Bear at Berlin. It also holds 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and is regularly voted one of the best films ever made. The book / film has been adapted / remade twice as Violent Road (1958) and by the aforementioned William Friedkin. His film Sorceror (1977) is an over-looked classic as it transplants the action to a jungle in South America. Sorceror was a box office flop. It failed to find an audience during the summer of 1977 which was dominated by a certain George Lucas space adventure called Star Wars (1977). I finally watched it recently on Film Four and it’s a hard-bitten, cynical and explosive experience which despite the loathsome characters, led by Roy Scheider’s career criminal, still manages to thrill and chill in equal measures.

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The ending to The Wages of Fear is one of the most startling denouements to a film I’ve ever seen. It confirms the futility of existence and reflects deep down what we all feel about life and spend our days trying to block out. It’s that nagging feeling which never lets us off the hook, which haunts our sleep and whispers to us in the dark: what’s the point? Why carry on? What’s the point? Why bother? But of course you must carry on because life is a gift and life is good; especially when you can watch classic films like The Wages of Fear. Because while they hold a mirror up to the dark nature of existence, the sheer intensity of watching such films, paradoxically make life well worth living.

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

SCREENWASH CINEMA SPECIAL – JULY 2017

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

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

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

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

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

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

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

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

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

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

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

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

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE BEGUILED (2017)

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

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

(Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

MOVIE PREVIEW: THE BEGUILED (2017)

MOVIE PREVIEW: THE BEGUILED (2017)

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TITLE:  THE BEGUILED 

DIRECTOR/WRITER:  Sofia Coppola adapted from Thomas Cullinan’s novel.

CAST: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, Addison Riecke

RELEASE DATE (UK): 14 JULY 2017

GENRE: Thriller, Suspense

PITCH:  The Beguiled is an atmospheric thriller from acclaimed writer/director Sofia Coppola. The story unfolds during the Civil War, at a Southern girls’ boarding school. Its sheltered young women take in an injured enemy soldier. As they provide refuge and tend to his wounds, the house is taken over with sexual tension and dangerous rivalries, and taboos are broken in an unexpected turn of events.

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FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD!

  1. It’s directed by Sofia Coppola who has — with her earlier films The Virgin Suicides (1999) and Lost in Translation (2003) marked herself as a very talented filmmaker, progressive on building character and atmosphere within her work.
  2. Award winning actors Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell lead the cast as do some very talented younger actresses such as Elle Fanning.
  3. It’s an intriguing remake/reimagining of Thomas Cullinan’s gothic novel originally made in 1971 by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood.
  4. The Civil War setting is interestingly explored as the film promises to be more than a war film but rather contain subtle battles of gender and sexual tension; relying on performance, atmosphere and characterization.
  5. Cinematographer Phillipe Le Sourd produced some amazing work on The Grandmaster (2013) for Wong Kar Wei and his lighting talent should add to the compelling nature of the story.

 

 

MAGNIFICENT 007 – MY FAVOURITE BOND FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

MAGNIFICENT 007 – MY FAVOURITE BOND FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

SPECTRE (2015) is out in UK cinemas soon and I’m anything but original so I’ve listed my 7even favourite Bond films.  Selections are in alpha-male order!

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CASINO ROYALE (2006)

I can watch this film over and over again. Daniel Craig’s debut is a lean-mean fighting machine in a movie which begins with a quick stylish black and white opening and then moves onto his pursuit of cold-blooded banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Mikkelsen steals the acting plaudits from Craig as the reptilian poker player while Eva Green is a great foil too. In fact, Vesper Lynd is my favourite female Bond lead. Her character is no pushover and more than matches Bond verbally during their first meeting. Later in the story she saves his life and breaks his heart adding an emotional depth to their relationship. The gambling, double-crosses, parkouring, humour, hand-to-hand combat and explosive action all combine to make this a 007 classic.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

Dr No (1962) established all the classic Bond tropes including: memorable opening guitar riff; iconic gun barrel scene; glamorous women and locations; spy plots; action and stunts; megalomaniac villains and henchmen and women. Indeed, From Russia With Love had TWO great baddies in Red Grant (Robert Shaw) and Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya).  Klebb was a nasty piece of work while peroxide-blonde Robert Shaw was a muscular adversary for Bond and their claustrophobic fight on the train was brutal and full of suspense. Sean Connery really nailed the role of Bond as he did in the debut film.  He sails through a complex plot dispatching enemy agents with unruffled hair, an insouciant glare and meaty hooks, as evil crime syndicate SPECTRE are foiled by Bond with formidable style and power.

GOLDENEYE (1995)

Pierce Brosnan is a very good Bond. He’s very much like IKEA; reliable, spacious, sort-of-attractive and open on Sundays. His debut effort is his best and has him going up against a dastardly double-agent and series of Russians hell-bent on starting World War III.  The spectacular bungee-stunt opening is awesome and Famke Janssen is brilliant as thigh-crushing nemesis Xenia Onatopp, while Alan Cumming provides some laughs as a cowardly computer nerd. Of course, however, it’s the action that rules including self-destructing trains, stealth helicopters and Bond smashing a tank through KGB military headquarters in St Petersburg.  What’s NOT to love about that?!

GOLDFINGER (1964)

Everything about Goldfinger is first rate. The cat-and-mouse plot twists between Bond and Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) who do battle over cards, golf and then during the devilish Fort Knox heist. It also features a cracking villain in Odd-Job who uses a murderous, metal hat to vanquish foes and a great Bond girl in the cheekily-named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Last but not least we have one of the most iconic deaths of any character with Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) being suffocated by pure gold for her treachery.

Moreover, while there was an element of gadgetry in prior Bond movies such as flick-knife shoes, in Goldfinger the ingeniously designed Aston Martin was a school-boy’s wet dream. The car was pimped up with: ejector seat; bladed wheels; revolving number plates and missiles and became an iconic toy to own.  Such awesome technology and the deathly gas and the lasers which almost kill Bond would become the kind of staple devices used throughout the franchise. Indeed, ‘Q’ played by Dennis Llewellyn would feature in nearly all the Bond films right through to the Brosnan era. Finally, this definitely has the GREATEST Bond theme song EVER!  Probably!

LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

It was a toss-up between this and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) for my favourite Moore instalment.  While his final films were a stain on the franchise where he was out-acted by his wig Moore provided a twinkle and humour to the role as well as those saintly looks.  In Live and Let Die he comes up against the ridiculously named Mr Big and the film invokes the Blaxploitation archetypes and clichés of the day. Interestingly, Clint Eastwood was approached as a possible Bond before Moore got the role and Eastwood’s persona would certainly have matched the Harlem and New Orleans settings.  I found Jane Seymour very intriguing as the “white witch” Solitaire and the voodoo and tarot themes lent themselves well to the drama.  Live and Let Die has a cracking theme tune from Wings and is a fast-paced delight; with a move away from spy-games to more of a 70s-cop-show-crime-thriller-with-jokes-vibe.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)

Dalton was an under-rated Bond; a tough, serious man more akin to the Fleming vision. He only did two films but this is still one of my favourite stories as it feels like a proper thriller rather than a series of set-pieces and chases which, by-the-way, I don’t mind too. A globe-trotting Bond, as usual, smashes round the world to places such as Bratislava, Vienna and Afghanistan tracking blonde cellists, assassins, Soviet defectors, KGB villains and the general air of cold war espionage stuff make this a formidable story. It also has a great pop theme song from A-Ha and the poster is a genuine classic.  Many of the recent Bond posters have been subdued and monochromatic but this one just bursts with fireworks and colour; much like the movie itself.

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

George Lazenby was the David Moyes of the Bond series inasmuch as he had an impossible job following an icon. He’s as wooden as a park bench but his physicality proves formidable in the hand-to-hand combat scenes and O.H.M.S.S is a cracking film with some great drama and a tragic romance. The opening sequence is full of smashing action and ended with a knowing one liner: “This never happened to the other guy!” Telly Savalas is a decent enough Blofeld but Peter Hunt and his directorial units steal the show with some wonderful chases especially in the snowy landscapes of Switzerland. It memorably has TWO theme tunes plus THAT ending where Bond suffers heartache; an especially brave scene to include in a populist franchise.