Tag Archives: Thriller

CINEMA REVIEW: THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

MOVIE REVIEW: THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

TITLE: THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

DIRECTOR:  Park Chan-Wook

WRITERS: Park Chan-Wook, Chung Seo-kyung (from the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters)

CAST:  Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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You may be too young to know or too old to remember but Channel 4 in the 1980s used to have an eclectic choice of arty independent and World Cinema films.  Now you get a few on Film Four but Channel 4 was a main outlet for interesting cinema not shown on the BBC or ITV channels. Channel 4 also used to, for a short period between 1986 and 1987 have a ‘Red Triangle’ on certain films to advise of sexual scenes and material that may be considered controversial. Not surprisingly the films with a ‘Red Triangle’ guaranteed nudity and erotic scenes causing audience figures to actually rise. After some moaning from the likes of Mary Whitehouse – a right-wing puritanical harpy who was a self-appointed anti-everything woman – the ‘Red Triangle’ was vanquished by Channel 4, but not before gaining notoriety and publicity.

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As a teenager I used to look forward to the more risqué content on Channel 4 as the Internet was at the virgin stage and yet to be invented; so titillation was often confined to late night films on a Friday night. Flash forward thirty years and because I’m more mature and it’s very easy to access pornography online I’m not a big fan of overtly sexual material in mainstream or independent features. Not sure why but I prefer subtlety and suggestion over all-out copulation. In Park Chan-Wook’s majestic erotic con-artist thriller there are some wonderfully subtle erotic scenes which raise the blood pressure and enhance the characterisation. There is also some serious scissoring between the two female leads going on too which in my view pushes the boundaries between eroticism, controversy and exploitation. However, this is the line Chan-Wook has always skipped along in classic films such as: Old Boy (2003), Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002), and Thirst (2009).

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The Handmaiden is set in 1930’s Korea amidst the backdrop of the Japanese occupation and the cultural differences between the two nations are expertly drawn and examined in the story. Class differences are also highlighted in a rich text which finds Sook-hee seconded to look after the neurotic Lady Izumi Hideko, who is a ward and being groomed for marriage by her controlling Uncle Kouzuki. I will not give any further of the plot away but safe to say it is an incredibly complex narrative structured into three parts which overlap different perspectives within flashbacks and contrasting character voiceovers and angles.  Did I enjoy it? Absolutely, this is a beautifully shot period masterpiece which I took great pleasure in viewing. In my view the running time was arguably over-long and a couple of the more overt sex scenes could have been trimmed. Nonetheless, the film had me gripped throughout.

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Park Chan-Wook directed a gem of a noir thriller called Stoker (2013) for his first Hollywood film, but here is a bigger-budgeted and thematically richer cinema affair. It takes a complex con-artist-twisting-plot and imbues it with an erotically charged and explicit feminist love story which finds sharp-witted female characters overcoming the dominant and deviant patriarchal beast. Moreover, Chan Wook’s screenplay is a masterful adaptation of the original novel, the wonderfully titled Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. Like the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Christopher Nolan, Jacques Audiard, Michael Haneke to name a few, Chan-Wook’s work is always a must-see-at-the-cinema-event and you don’t need a ‘Red Triangle’ to ensure you watch it.

 (Mark: 9 out of 11)

CINEMA REVIEW: ELLE (2016)

CINEMA REVIEW: ELLE (2016)

TITLE: ELLE (2016)

DIRECTOR: PAUL VERHOEVEN 

WRITER: DAVID BIRKE based on the novel Oh by Phillipe Dijan

CAST: ISABEL HUPPERT, LAURENT LAFITTE, ANNE CONSIGNY, CHARLES BERLING, VIRGINIE EFIRA

ELLE

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Where do I begin with this film?  Is it a comedy? Is it a satire? Is it a drama? Is it a horror film?  Well, all of the above I would say and then some.  For starters Isabel Huppert SHOULD have won the Oscar for best actress over the candy floss performance of Emma Stone. That genuinely was a first world artistic travesty!  Huppert is absolutely sensational as the damaged anti-heroine who having been part of a horrific childhood event is then subjected to a vicious sexual attack in the very first scene. Thus, immediately the film brutalises the main character and makes the audience complicit with her subsequent actions which are complex to say the least. Because as a successful business-woman with a murky past she doesn’t go down the route of victim but rather something completely different.

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As it’s directed by the rambunctious cinema satirist Paul Verhoeven I expected a difficult yet entertaining ride, however, this film at times was painful to watch and not what I would call easy entertainment at all. In fact, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more controversy or outrage from the liberal left in the queasy representation of sexual violence. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot to like about the film, especially: the darkly humorous screenplay; the hilarious representations of bourgeois-middle-class-family life; and the unexpected twists in the plots take the breath away. Yet, both male and female humiliation is at the heart of the story and Huppert’s character is kind of unlikeable, making it is difficult to get behind many of her decisions.

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Overall, Elle has been laden with awards and received much critical acclaim and I can certainly confirm it is a brave and challenging character drama with very risky themes at its heart. My interpretation is that the writer and filmmakers have a nihilistic view of the French bourgeoisie and that humanity in general is full of damaged lunatics out for what they can get. Essentially too, Huppert’s character has been ruined by the actions of men and her motivations are borne out of trying to gain control of a horrific situation. Thus, I would recommend this film for those who prefer their cinema to challenge, shock and question the nature of sexual politics, rather than spoon feed us fluffy and patriarchal love stories. Because, mainly, this is not a love story but rather one of hate.

(Mark: 8 out of 11 for the film)
(Mark: 11 out of 11 for Isabelle Huppert)

MOVIE REVIEW: GET OUT (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: GET OUT (2017)

TITLE: GET OUT 

DIRECTOR/WRITER:  JORDAN PEELE 

CAST: DANIEL KALUUYA, ALLISON WILLIAMS, CATHERINE KEENER, LIL REL HOWERY

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Written and directed by the very talented Jordan Peele – known for his sketch comedy work on shows such as: Key and Peele and MADtv – Get Out is a humdinger of a horror-thriller-satire. It concerns Chris Washington and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage on a “meet-the-parents” getaway weekend. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behaviour as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses we get the terrifying truth about the situation.

The narrative is a tremendous mash-up of horror and social satire following in the footsteps of films such as: The Stepford Wives (1972), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and They Live (1988) which used horror stories as a means of social commentary. Moreover, Peele’s screenplay brilliantly sets up some humorous and awkward scenes between the overly politically-correct white characters before twisting into darker territory. However, there are many laughs to be had also especially from Chris’ best friend portrayed by Lil Rel Howery as a dogged and profane Trans-Airport security employee.

The cast, notably Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener and Allison Williams, are all excellent but most impressive was the writing. I watch so many TV and cinema presentations which over-write dialogue or include extraneous scenes, yet nothing in Peele’s script is wasted with an impressive set-up-punchline-call-back structure within a plethora of visual, verbal and performance set-pieces.

Recent films such as Twelve Years a Slave (2013) and Birth of the Nation (2016) took audiences to very serious places in regard to slavery, however, Peele’s contemporary vision of modern society and racial tensions brilliantly satirises middle-class America and entertainingly highlights the culture experiences with many genuine scares to boot.

(Mark: 9 out of 11).

 

SCREENWASH – AUGUST 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – AUGUST 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

A quick smash through the stuff I’ve been watching on TV, Netflix, Sky and at the cinema for the month of August. I shall be keeping it brief as going on holiday to Maine tomorrow. Also, there are not as many reviews as usual as having been filming my own short film this month; all the details can be found here: http://startrekshortfilm.com/. Moreover, I am in the midst of slogging through the Danish original version of The Killing (2007), which is excellent but also very long and time-consuming.  As usual, in tribute to Spinal Tap, marks are out of eleven.

BETTER CALL SAUL (2016) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

Are there any better character drama shows around than this one? The writing and acting in Season 2 was just brilliant. I also enjoyed the direction as the characters and situations are allowed to breathe and evolve as opposed to whizz-bang-smash-cut-resolution. Cast including: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks and the exceptional Michael McKean make it a joy to watch. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

BAD MOMS (2016) – CINEMA

By-the-numbers-chick-flick which is actually funnier than I thought it would be thanks to fine comedic turns from Kathryn Hahn and Christina Applegate. Bush-baby lookalike Mila Kunis is decent enough too as the mother-of-two who decides she just cannot stand anymore of her turbulent family life!  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

COMPUTER CHESS (2013) – DVD

This film directed by Andrew Bujalski was shot on analogue video cameras in black and white and has mainly non-professional actors playing IT freaks and geeks who enter a computer chess programming competition. It’s frankly a barmy-indie-geeky-mumble-core-curio that is kind of unwatchable but must be praised for sheer originality and experimental style. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

CRIMSON PEAK (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Guillermo Del Toro’s beautifully shot gothic horror/romance stars Mia Wasikowska who is swept off her feet by handsome Tom Hiddleston.  It’s your basic haunted house story with a Murder She Wrote murder mystery thrown in; the star of the show is the cinematography and costume/set design. Jessica Chastain provides eerie glamour as Hiddleston’s enigmatic sister but the whole thing could’ve been mined for many more scares. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2011) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

This is an absolutely sensational contemporary drama starring the incredibly good Damian Lewis and Claire Danes as soldier and CIA agent dealing with the aftermath of his return from imprisonment by al-Qaeda. Throughout the story fear and suspense are so powerful as the plot twists and the dramatic noose tightens the story constantly wrong foots you. Brilliantly written and acted this is politically astute and one very intelligent thriller. Highly recommended. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1979) – DVD

Classic gangster film starring the imperious Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand: an upwardly mobile cockney gangster who in seeking to legitimise his “corporation” finds himself having a VERY bad day. Amidst all the colourful language, violence and explosions we have an adroit examination of the politics of the day and a portent to fast-approaching “greed is good” mentality of the 1980s. Often copied but rarely bettered; it has some great British actors and spot-on working class dialogue throughout. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

OUTCAST (2016) – FOX

Intriguing horror fable from the creators of The Walking Dead combined family drama with a demonic possession storyline. Starring Patrick Fugit, Brett Spiner and Philip Glenister, it started really well with some great scares and interesting characters. However, my interest waned as the plodding pace and lack of narrative clarity made me NOT care. It’s well made and acted but I doubt I will go back to the second season. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

PATHS OF GLORY (1957) – BFI CINEMA

Quite rightly Paths of Glory has been proclaimed a masterpiece and one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. It’s filled with the now-iconic tracking shots of bloody battle, plus many tremendous performances. Overall, I have watched this classic many times and having seen it on the big screen recently I can testify that it has lost NONE of its grandstanding power. . (Mark: 11 out of 11) For my full review see here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/paths-of-glory-1957-classic-film-review-by-paul-laight/
 

RED SHIFT (1978) – DVD

Play for Today adaptation of Alan Garner’s pretentious novel which analyses various human relationship dynamics, cosmology and love in Roman, medieval and English Civil times. Artsy and impenetrable, it may be the work of genius yet I found it, on the whole, unwatchable to be honest. Sometimes I think people think things are clever because the writer has not defined meaning precisely thus leaving the themes open to interpretation. I just found it tedious. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

 

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT (2015) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

Kidnapped by a charismatic cult leader and tricked into living in an underground bunker for fifteen years, naïve but tough Kimmy Schmidt is released into a very different world.  Ellie Kempner is brilliant as the indefatigable Kimmy who moves to New York to start a new life and meets a whole host of rich and poor narcissists and eccentrics.  The jokes come thick and fast throughout but the premise wore thin as the episodes went on but overall a very funny comedy.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

UPSTREAM COLOR (2013) – DVD

Shane Carruth’s mind-bending and pretentious film is both ambitious and brave and incredible for the budget it was shot on! Artsy and impenetrable, it may be the work of genius yet I found it, on the whole, unwatchable to be honest. Sometimes I think people think things are clever because the writer has not defined meaning precisely thus leaving the themes open to interpretation. I just found it tedious. A wonderful premise and intriguing themes give way to a lack of care for the characters. Sorry. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

UNDER-RATED FILM CLASSICS #2 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

UNDER-RATED FILM CLASSICS #2 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

Six years ago I wrote some articles for a nifty little website called Obsessed with Film.  The site was independent and would have some geeky and interesting articles on film and television.  Years later the site became the click-bait-pop-ups-from-hell-advertising-led-but-still-not-too-bad:  www.whatculture.com

Anyway, one of the articles was about some “forgotten” films or, as I shall refer to them, under-rated film classics. Basically, I listed films which I felt were deserving of further praise. The list included: Bad Santa (2003), Dog Soldiers (2002), Chopper (2000), Midnight Run (1988) and Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) among others. My rules were simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love plus not be one of the following:

  • Must not have won an Oscar.
  • Must not have won a BAFTAS.
  • Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
  • Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
  • Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
  • Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.

So, with these criteria in mind I present a sequel to my previous article – some six years later – with another set of under-rated film classics. If you have any suggestions that fit the criteria please do let me know and I will include them on my next list.

 

3:10 TO YUMA (2007)

James Mangold’s directed Western is a rare beast: it’s a remake that’s as much a classic as the original.  Russell Crowe and Christian Bale perform brilliantly as the charismatic outlaw and proud farmer who clash on the way to the eponymous prison locomotive. Ben Foster, Logan Lerman and Peter Fonda provide excellent support too in a fantastic character-led drama full of action.

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ANOTHER YEAR (2010)

While Mike Leigh was NOMINATED for a best screenplay Oscar, this wonderful character piece is not always given the praise I think it deserves. Containing Leigh’s usual group of deftly observed human eccentrics, the story concentrates on a year in the life of middle-class couple – the Hepples. Superbly portrayed by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen this lovely couple are a familial magnet to various strays including the scatty and neurotic Mary (Lesley Manville) and depressed Ken (Peter Wright). It’s an affectionate and gentle dramedy with uniformly brilliant performances from Leigh’s wonderful cast.

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BIRTH (2004)

Jonathan Glazer’s sophomore movie is often over-looked due to the coruscating power of his debut Sexy Beast (2000) and his most recent cinematic classic Under the Skin (2013). In this haunting drama a potentially disturbed ten-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) informs Nicole Kidman’s New Yorker Anna he is the reincarnated soul of her deceased husband. This fantastic curveball sends Anna’s life into an emotional spin as past and present events collide in a beautifully moving drama.

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BRONSON (2008)

Let’s be honest there’s no way career criminal Michael Peterson deserves any real attention for his anti-social and violent behaviour, however, between them Tom Hardy and Nicolas Winding Refn have created an incredible character study of a genuine nutter. It’s brave, brutal, sick, theatrical, daring, Brechtian and an occasionally hilarious profile of one of Britain’s most notorious prisoners.

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BUFFALO 66 (1998)

Vincent Gallo is either a genuine nut-job or a misunderstood genius maverick. His directorial effort The Brown Bunny (2003) was panned and on the main his acting career has remained patchy at best. However, he did write, direct and star in Buffalo 66 which is an absolutely blinding dark comedy about an ex-con who “kidnaps” Christina Ricci and forces her to be his wife so he can aspire to some sense of familial normality. It’s quirky and laugh-out-loud funny with Gallo weirdness throughout.

DARK CITY (1998)

This imaginative sci-fi noir had the misfortune of being released around the same time as The Matrix (1999). Yet while the Wachowski’s mind-bending-effects-heavy-actioner caught the eyes of the public, Alex Proyas’ more cerebral vision of the future kind of fell through the cracks of time and space. Rufus Sewell portrays an amnesiac that has no idea where he is before finding himself at the mercy of a group of people called The Strangers.  It’s a brilliant melding of film noir and science fiction and remains a rarely seen gem from the 1990s.

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GALAXY QUEST (1999)

While I enjoy the new Star Trek reboots as blockbusting if ephemeral popcorn entertainment, the best recent Trek adaptation/homage is the wonderful science-fiction comedy: Galaxy Quest.  The inventive story delights with a cracking tale of former TV stars boldly propelled into space when proper aliens, Thermians – believing they are real space heroes – ask them to defeat their vicious nemesis. With a delightful ensemble cast including:  Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub and irrepressible Sam Rockwell, this is a wonderfully funny and clever film which shines an affectionate light on the Trek canon and geek fan base.

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LOCKE (2014)

So, the story is about a bloke on his phone driving up the motorway?  Not a pitch that would grab Hollywood in-a-hurry, but a story that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic despite the limited setting. Ivan Locke is portrayed as a confident and determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. Tom Hardy plays Locke with incredible restraint and brooding anxiety while Steven Knight’s script is crisply written and full of suspense.

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TREMORS (1990)

I love this film. It’s a real B-movie guilty pleasure with seismic underground monsters attacking a small back water town ironically named Perfection.  The action bolts along and it wears its Jaws-in-the-dirt influences hilariously. Most of all I love the characters, notably Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s handyman buddies trying desperately to escape their dead end jobs. It’s a fun script with loads of action and great one-liners with Bacon himself having loads of fun without hamming it up.

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TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

Films about filmmaking aren’t always the most interesting yet Ben Stiller’s riotous satire on Hollywood and its over-inflated egos is an absolute joy. Vulgar, over-the-top, stupid, childish and loud it  delivers some incredible belly laughs from:  the hilarious trailer parodies, to Robert Downey Juniors method acting madness and unrecognizable Tom Cruise as a ludicrously crass studio boss.  The daft plot about actors getting kidnapped by a ruthless Vietnamese drug gangs provides an excellent framework for all manner of stupidity, on-the-money punchlines and explosive action.

 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #9 – TIME TRAVEL FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #9 – TIME TRAVEL FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

My ongoing series writing about cinema stuff I love, has gone from eulogizing actors to directors and now to genres; oh, how progressive am I?  Seriously though, in this piece I choose FIVE time-travel films which are just brilliant examples of the (sub)genre.

I love time-travel films and the main reasons are:

  • They offer fantastic and paradoxical narratives and “what if” scenarios.
  • They really get your brain working overtime.
  • The concepts fit all manner of different genres from action to comedies and thrillers and even the Western.
  • The philosophical concepts at play often examine the nature of existence; especially where one tries to make sense of life or find meaning where there probably is none.

As evidence I present FIVE such time-travel films which meet all of the criteria and are representative of most genres. Please note I have concentrated solely on time-travel films released in the cinema so Doctor Who remains parked up for this particular piece.

**HERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS**

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

This is probably the most perfect Hollywood movie. It’s a high-concept-time-travelling-Oedipal-narrative-joy-fest which combines action, comedy, romance, sci-fi, and nostalgia genres while backed by a past and present pop music extravaganza!  A young teenage innocent called Marty McFly is thrown back to the 1950s. In the 50s he unwittingly begins to undo his own future by accidentally beginning a romance with his own mother. Allied to that he must help his father (Crispin Glover) overcome his social weakness plus battles with horrible bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Following the basic temporal rule that one’s actions in the past will affect your future the tremendous script is jam-packed with so many wonderful gags, twists and chases; while the race-against-time narrative is a thrill-a-second. The rich iconography – notably the mad scientist’s DeLorean “time machine” – plus cracking performances from Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, render this one of the most exhilarating time-travel films ever.

GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)

Bill Murray is obviously praised as a wonderfully funny man but he’s also a deviously good film actor. At times he doesn’t actually seem to be doing much but his mind is always working as he gives a sly look or a sarcastic smile or a silent sigh from his deadpan, hangdog face. In Groundhog Day he runs the gamut of ALL emotions from anger to desperation to insanity to bliss to apathy to suicide to pride and finally to LOVE!  This is a wonderful film with a tremendous “what if” premise which offers the idea we can only move on in life if we’re prepared not only to accept change but also throw off cynicism and find romance. The exceptional script mines the Sisyphean narrative for so many brilliant sequences as Murray relives the same day over and over again. At the beginning this temporal immortality offers an array of gifts to his jaded weatherman Phil Connors; however, by the end his life becomes a dreaded nightmare and repetitive hell. Ultimately, time-travel has never been so funny, tragic and romantic!

PREDESTINATION (2014)

I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well while providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. There’s been a lot of big budget dross at the cinema recently but for the running time this gem offers far more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too and this film presents one hell of a challenging narrative. Starring Ethan Hawke and with a breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook this film from German/Australian directors has intelligence, thrills, heart and several mighty plot twists which bear up under successive viewings.

THE TERMINATOR (1984)

This is one of my favourite films ever.  It propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron to mega-stardom in their respective fields and has often been parodied and imitated but rarely bettered. While story is simple: a killing machine has been sent back from the future to destroy Sarah Connor – the soon-to-be mother of uber-rebel leader John Connor; the journey is an absolute humdinger. Cameron’s lean, mean and muscular action screenplay combines brains, brawn, cracking one-liners and explosive set-pieces. Moreover, Linda Hamilton excels as the endangered young woman who turns from a flaky waitress to formidable matriarch over the course of the film. The sequel was brilliant too but the original will remain, despite being made for just $6.4 million dollars, the epitome of a tech-noir-futuristic-time-travel-action classic.

TIME CRIMES (2007)

This fascinating Spanish thriller has a narrative like a Russian doll as it is structured on an enigma within a conundrum within a paradox.  It concerns an ordinary Spanish bloke, who having seen some weird behaviour going on in the woods near his house, ends up looping and pursuing multiple versions of himself throughout one very bizarre day. Similar to Triangle (2009) – an underrated time-paradox gem directed by Brit filmmaker Christopher Smith – the enjoyment derives from immersing yourself in the weird and unexplained reasons why Hector (Karra Elejalde) has begun a psycho-sexual, violent loop of death involving a number of temporal leaps. This is all paradoxical plot and wicked thrills and while there is little in the way of characterisation the filmmaker Nacho Vigolondo has created the closest equivalent to a movie version of an Escher painting.

 

 

 

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)