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BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

“Through me you go into a city of weeping; through me you go into eternal pain; through me you go amongst the lost people.”
Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The concept of Katabasis is a descent of some kind, such as moving downhill, or a military retreat, or in this context, a violent journey into the underworld. The term has multiple related meanings in poetry, psychology and Greek Mythology. Heroes such as: Orpheus, Odysseus and Lazarus went down into the depths of Hades to locate lost loved ones, collect information and battle their demons. Conversely, writer-director S. Craig Waller has produced something akin to Sam Peckinpah reinventing the story of Orpheus. But instead of employing beautiful music to crush the enemy, Waller’s anti-hero Bradley Thomas, uses his fists, head, body, bats, bars, guns, and hulking power to defeat his foes.

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The story opens with a stunning shot from behind of Vince Vaughn’s bald, bulking head emblazoned with a startling crucifix tattoo. As a means of establishing character and showing us the world we’re in it is emphatic, visceral and deviously economic. You know immediately not to mess with Bradley Thomas as he is a coiled spring of masculine power, yet he also has a strong moral compass. Finding himself out-of-work and in difficult financial times, Thomas takes up drug courier work to support his pregnant wife portrayed by Jennifer Carpenter. All is going smoothly until a deal with a Mexican drug cartel goes awry and, from when Thomas enters prison, all manner of sickening and brutal hell breaks loose.

The film is shot on a low budget but the style is impressive. The cinematographer, Benji Bakshi, along with the director Waller, are brave in their choices; utilising natural light, drained colours, shadows and darkness. Often Thomas’ is lit by a slit or shaft or box of light as his character finds himself trapped in corridors and cells as well as his own life choices. Much will also be made of the ultra-violence which includes some impressive bone-crunching Foley sound work. But, the hyper-real violence, while reminiscent of the cartoon horror gore of early Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, is paradoxically not exploitative. This is because it is contextualised within the brutal crime setting and driven by Thomas’ powerful desire to save the people he loves.

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The screenplay, also written by Waller, is full of witty one-liners and deadpan repartee between hard-bitten, desperate criminals and jailers who look as though they have been transported right out of hard-pipe thrillers such as: John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Don Siegel’s crime gem Charley Varrick (1973).  While over two hours long the plot moves pretty quickly, yet Waller takes his time deliberately building character, suspense and tension before busting out into spectacular violence. Having previously directed the stunning B-movie Western Bone Tomahawk (2015), S. Craig Waller is certainly making a name for himself as an independent film director of some note.

Waller finds a compelling cinematic partner-in-crime in Vince Vaughn too. Vaughn, who burst on the scene with a hilarious performance in brilliant indie-hit Swingers (1996), could be argued to have not lived up to his full acting potential. While he has performed in some excellent movies his CV is also peppered with unfunny comedies, soporific romances and bland family films. Don’t get me wrong, we have to pay the mortgage but there’s always been a nagging sense Vaughn was not utilising his meaty acting ability. Having said that in Hacksaw Ridge (2016) and now Brawl in Cell Block 99, he proves himself to be a character actor of some force. Indeed, his natural comedic timing, muscular frame and searing intensity are all utilised here to mesmeric impact in a career-best performance.

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Katabasis, as aforementioned, is about descent; but the archetypal hero will usually return triumphant in victory. Brawl in Cell Block 99 offers an alternative vision of moral redemption though within Bradley Thomas’ avenging-angel-versus-the-devil narrative. As such, Brawl in Cell Block 99 joins a list of recent lower-budgeted-independent-minded movies such as: Cold in July (2014), Green Room (2015), Out of the Furnace (2013) and Hell or High Water (2016), which rip into the dark underbelly of United States’ industrial and criminal landscape leaving us in no doubt to the destructive nature of the American dream.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

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SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS – SEPTEMBER 2017 – including: IT, WIND RIVER and KINGSMAN 2

SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS – SEPTEMBER 2017 – including: IT, WIND RIVER and KINGSMAN 2

**MINIMAL SPOILERS**

I’m a tad tardy on my cinema reviews for last month mainly because I have been writing a couple of short script projects to be filmed. One is a sharp little horror story called Flatmates and I’m looking to shoot in November. The casting has been going well, after which I will rehearse and film on HD video. The other is a follow-up to our Star Trek fan film Chance Encounter (2017) released earlier this year online, which has now has over 40,000 views on YouTube!!  Not quite Gangnam Style or dancing cats on a piano but pretty good nonetheless to have one’s work viewed that much.

Anyway, enough of the filmmaking hobby momentarily to switch back to the film reviewing pastime. Below are reviews of three excellent genre films, plus a little reprise of my opinions on Aronofsky’s two hours of hell that was Mother (2017). As usual they are marked out of eleven in tribute to This is Spinal Tap!

IT (2017)

Stephen King is clearly a genius. To be able to maintain creativity and longevity as a writer, plus give birth, as it were, to any number of iconic narratives, characters and events is a testament to his massive energy and talent. When I was young one of the scariest things I ever saw on TV was the horror serial Salem’s Lot (1979), which was about vampires taking over a small town. His book Carrie (1976) was also adapted into one of the best horror films of the seventies too. Moreover, the ‘80s TV and cinema screens were peppered with King’s work notably: The Shining (1980), Stand by Me (1986) and the under-rated Pet Semetary (1989).  In 1990, Tommy Lee Wallace directed a mini-series of IT, with the terrifying Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. IT proved to be an excellent horror story until the – faithfully sticking to the novel of course – ridiculously silly ending.

Stephen King's It Trailer screen grab

Flash forward twenty-seven years and Pennywise is back to haunt the dreams, drains and sewer pipes of Derry, Maine, using manipulation and fear to lure teenagers to their death. Developed by, among others Cary Fukunaga, the film was eventually directed by Andy Muschietti and has deservedly become a big box office hit. I say deservedly because, while it is not a particularly amazing cinema offering, it is a highly entertaining genre horror film. As an experienced Stephen King cinema and TV viewer all the staples are there such as: geeky-small-town-outsider-kids; abusive tough-guy-bully types; negligent parents or appropriate adult; monstrous beings hidden in the shadows; plus coming-of-age teenage friendship and love.

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The clown in this case is portrayed with fiendish joy by Bill Skarsgard and there are some fantastic stand-out scares. My only criticism is, and this is my fault being over-familiar with King’s work, is that with the recent Super 8 (2011) and over-hyped Stranger Things (2016), I felt as if I had seen it all this before. I also felt they crammed too much into the two hours and some of the character emotion was lost at times. However, the cast of kids are excellent in their respective roles, the horror set-pieces are brilliantly staged and King’s iconic bad guy Pennywise makes it well worth the cinema admission fee alone.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017)

The first Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) film was one of my favourite genre films of the past couple of years. It showed a clean pair of spy heels to the, occasionally brilliant but overlong Bond disappointment Spectre (2015); while at the same time confirming Taron Egerton as an actor with great star potential. Having done the business at the box office then Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughan have once again written and directed an explosive, funny, pacey and adrenaline-filled spy spoof sequel.

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In this story, Eggsy / Galahad is back with Merlin (Mark Strong), battling with the United States counterparts The Statesmen, against Julianne Moore’s perky, yet deranged, Americana obsessed drug baroness. The Statesmen are represented by such heavyweight acting talent in Jeff Bridges and a cracking turn from Pedro Pascal as the hilariously named Jack Daniels. Channing Tatum pops up too but he is lightweight compared to the effervescent Pascal. Poppy’s fiendish plot is actually quite a decent motivation for the story and the subplot involving a Lazarus-type-return from a major character from the first film is well developed.

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To be honest the story is just the bare bones to hang a series of fantastic set-pieces, car chases, shoot-outs and fights, as Eggsy and his kick-ass team once again attempt to thwart the end-of-civilisation as we know it. My main criticism is the film is probably too long with an unnecessary gratuitous sex-driven sequence set in the Glastonbury Festival. It also lacks that sense of characterisation from the first film which had the working class underdog Eggsy battling the upper-class sneers of the over-privileged. Nonetheless, Matthew Vaughan is a great gag-heavy-action-director and the plot has some decent twists and turns throughout making it well worth a watch.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

MOTHER (2017)

While Darren Aronofsky is a cinematic artist of the highest level, I connected badly with this two-hours-of-hell-excuse-for-entertainment. My full review can be found here but, in a nutshell, this is what I thought of it:

“It was an awful, pretentious heap of a film which exists as an entertainment void both nihilistic and dull. Because this film abuses the privilege and patience of the audience delivering a technically brilliant but overall clichéd, first-world-problems-poet-with-writer’s-block-world-murdering-art-fan-hating two hours I will never get back.”

Mark: 3 out of 11 (for the film)
Mark: 9.5 out of 11 (for Darren Aronofsky)

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WIND RIVER (2017)

Taylor Sheridan has carved himself a fine reputation for writing very solid character driven genre films such as Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016). Wind River (2017) is his first writer-director effort and it is a fascinating study of: grief, murder, racial tension and dark humanity. Sheridan is adept at choosing specific areas of America with which to place his stories. Sicario reflected on the war on drugs, located betwixt the violent border of Mexico and the U.S.A. Hell and High Water illustrated the financial ruin of the sub-prime mortgage crash and its effect on West Texas. In his latest screenplay Sheridan focusses on the Indian Reservation territories of Wyoming and the people who inhabit the stark wintry landscapes.

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The quietly impressive Jeremy Renner, as Cory Lambert, takes most of the acting plaudits as the respected, expert tracker and estranged family man. He is an individual who, while in perpetual control on the external Reservations and snowy terrain, finds himself crumbling internally due a horrific event from his past. Renner is ably supported by his Avengers co-star, Elizabeth Olsen, who imbues the rookie FBI agent with a steely determination, despite her lack of experience and confidence. The portrayal of the Native Americans I feel was sensitively presented as their lives are further marginalized by corporate America as its venal greed destroys the environment and humanity within the area. While this is a beautifully looking film there is a dark murderous heart within the stunning vistas and natural beauty.

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Sheridan again confirms he is adept at combining social commentary with an impressive crime plot.  Moreover, throughout the film he also bleeds in a compelling study of grief as well as a subtle critique of patriarchal capitalism and its’ destruction of the Native American’s land and people. Yet, the message could arguably have gone further in its criticism; however, as he proved with his prior screenplays Sheridan prefers subtext and a rising tension rather than polemics. Quietly, Sheridan is building an impressive filmic body of work and Wind River manages to be a thrilling police procedural drama, empathetic character study and socio-political examination of American corruption; all amidst the cold, harsh and white-washed landscapes of Wyoming.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

 

MOTHER (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

MOTHER (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

TITLE: MOTHER

DIRECTOR/WRITER: DARREN ARONOFSKY

CAST: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JAVIER BARDEM, ED   HARRIS, MICHELLE PFEIFFER

**GENERALLY SPOILER FREE**

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Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple in not so much a narrative but a descent into what-the-fuck?  They portray conduits of hellish pursuit dictated by a filmmaker on the edge of a nervous breakdown, vengefully striking out at his ego, superego and the world around him.  I mean, you know when someone tells you their dreams in nightmarish details and it’s more interesting to them than you: well, this is two hours of that.

While this is technically a bravura tour-de-force in design, composition, cinematic experimentation and delivery I was utterly bored by, what is essentially, an indulgent, pretentious and nihilistic void of a film.  Darren Aronofsky’s prior work such as Requiem for a Dream (2000), Pi (1998), The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010) combined cinematic style and protagonist emotion superbly. Mother, in its critiques of Hollywood, fame and some kind of biblical allegory stuff wildly missed the mark for me. I wasn’t even shocked by the horrific denouement as it all happened in a surreal vacuum where I could not care less about any person or anything.

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Christopher Nolan used cinematic form to powerful effect in Dunkirk (2017) and moved me immensely but Mother just bludgeoned me into dull submission. I wonder if Aronofsky’s experience on Noah (2014) had somehow warped his mind and the film is a creative and therapeutic cry for help, while at the same time damning the executives who possibly killed his film baby. He certainly throws a lot of toys from his pram in this violent, bloody, fiery, misogynistic and misanthropic misfire!

Lawrence was incredible as the battered lead while Bardem just felt confused and off-the-pace-at-times to me. While it is the work of a filmmaker I would certainly call an artist and generally I love the surrealist films of Luis Bunuel and David Lynch, the nightmarish logic narrative did not work for me as the cyclical parlour trick in closing the story is mere sleight-of-hand to fool the audience into thinking the film is deeper than it is.

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Ultimately, Darren Aronofsky, based on his prior films, is a risk-taking, boundary-pushing genius and some will adore this brave and courageous misadventure. However, for me it was an awful, pretentious heap of a film which exists as an entertainment void both nihilistic and dull. I mean I’m just a lowly office drone but I paid my money and earned my opinion. Because this film abuses the privilege and patience of the audience delivering a technically brilliant but overall clichéd, first-world-problems-poet-with-writer’s-block-world-murdering-art-fan-hating two hours I will never get back.

SCREENWASH – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP including BLACK MIRROR, BROADCHURCH, LUKE CAGE etc.

SCREENWASH – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP including BLACK MIRROR, BROADCHURCH, LUKE CAGE etc.

While going to the cinema is one of my favourite things to do the quality of television dramas has risen in quality to almost cinematic levels at times. Plus, there’s nothing quite like a box-set binge too for one’s enjoyment.  Here are a few TV dramas I’ve caught up with over the last few months with marks out of 11.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL (2015) – NETFLIX

Minus Jessica Lange alas, this one had Lady Gaga to fill the void as the writers introduced a whole new set of monsters, murderers, rapists, ghouls, vampires, junkies and deviants. Set in a H.H. Holmes-style horror hotel, one can always rely on American Horror Story for over-the-top blood-letting, devilish characters trying to out-do each and pitch black humour throughout. While sickening to watch at times it never takes itself too seriously and is recommended to proper horror fans. On the whole its narrative takes second place to the demonic style; pop video vignettes and decadent shenanigans featuring historical serial killers and fantastical blood-sucking beasts.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BLACK MIRROR (2016) SEASON 3 – NETFLIX

This is a must-see TV programme for anyone who likes brilliant drama which has intelligent writing and a scorpion twist in the tale of every story. Six stand-alone episodes all provide an insight into the dark recesses of technology and how it can impact humanity.  Social media, videogames, virtual reality, internet bullying, techno cryogenics, military mind experiments and cyber-terrorism are all filtered through Charlie Brooker’s devious imagination. A great ensemble cast of actors are seen within the anthology series including: Bryce Dallas Howard, Mackenzie Davis, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Kelly, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jerome Flynn and many more make this one of the best TV programmes of last or any year. If I had to choose the stand out episodes were San Junipero and Shut Up and Dance. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

BROADCHURCH – SEASONS 1 & 2 – ITV ENCORE

The 3rd season of this police procedural drama is on ITV now so I thought I’d do a quick catch up of the first two seasons. It begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his police career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LUKE CAGE (2016)SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

Luke Cage’s reluctant superhero had previously popped up in the Marvel series Jessica Jones and the action follows up from there. He’s a humble man trying to keep a low profile but given he is virtually indestructible it’s not long before trouble finds him in the guise of Harlem gangsters Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Diamond Back (Erik LaRay Harvey) and Alfre Woodard’s crooked politician Mariah Dillard. Luke Cage is decent show with a lot of style, soul and terrific musical performances. The script draws attention to many important historical black figures from history, while the direction harks back to 70s’ Blaxploitation films. Mike Colter in the lead lacks a certain charisma but has power and likeability. Overall the story felt padded out over 13 episodes by some unnecessarily long dialogue scenes and while the fights scenes were strong they lacked the wow factor of say the brilliant Daredevil show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASONS 4 & 5 – NETFLIX

While it’s pretty binary in its tough guys and dolls representations I’m still digging my catch-ups on this neo-Western-hard-assed biker drama.  The main reasons to watch the show are the performances of Charlie Hunnam as the ever-conflicted Jax and Maggie Siff as his “old lady” Tara. Katey Sagal and Ron Perlman are also excellent as the matriarch, Gemma and grizzled patriarch, Clay.  The twisting serpentine plots of Seasons 4 and 5 find, aside from other gangs and the law, new rivals in the way such as: the Mexican Cartel, businessman Damon Pope and SAMCRO themselves splinter into civil war after Clay’s skulduggery upsets the groups’ dynamic. The seasons are full of the usual grim violence, motorcycle pursuits, gunfire, black humour and lashings of naked flesh. It’s soapy at times but full of great dramatic twists making it very watchable television.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

QUARRY (2016) SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC

Pitched somewhere between Fargo and the Rockford Files this violent 1970s set thriller was a brutal watch at times. The story finds a recently returned Vietnam veteran, Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) carrying out hits for a murky businessmen called The Broker (Peter Mullan) in order to clear a debt. As a troubled character, suffering from post-traumatic stress, Conway is a fascinating anti-hero and the thrills come from the hellish danger he finds himself in from episode to episode. Essentially, his whole world turns to shit and the only way out of it is to become a reluctant killer. Like Luke Cage music is featured very prominently, notably dirty blues, jazz, rock and soul; while the style is muddy water noir throughout. Marshall-Green is a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey but is a fine lead and he, Mullan and gay hitman Damon Herriman make this bloody show most watchable. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

TABOO – SEASON 1 – BBC

Tom Hardy produced and starred in this flagship BBC period drama which ran over eight dark-hearted episodes recently. I have to say that it was sumptuous and stylish affair which oozed quality and class throughout. Hardy himself, looking very Bill Sykes in his long black coat and battered top hat, portrayed James Delaney, a man on a mission to get back his fathers’ estate and battle the East India Company for crimes against his body and soul. Hardy’s naked muscular body is something you see a lot of amidst the faux mysticism, American spies, gluttonous Royalty, gap-toothed prostitutes, tattooed ragamuffins and Oona Chaplin as Hardy’s cuckolded sister hiding a terrible secret. The supporting cast are absolutely brilliant especially: Tom Hollander, Michael Kelly, Jesse Buckley, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Graham and Edward Hogg. Overall, it was more style than substance and the revenge plot was dragged out and did not make much sense really. Still, the smoke-and-shadows style plus the brooding Hardy made it worth a watch. The score by Max Richter though was probably the best thing in the whole show; both majestic and black in equal measures. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

MOVIE PREVIEW: FREE FIRE (2016)

2016 MOVIE PREVIEW – FREE FIRE (2016)

TITLE:  FREE FIRE (2016)

DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley

SCREENPLAY: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

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

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

UK RELEASE DATE: 31st March 2017

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FIVE REASONS THIS IS GREAT!

1. Ben Wheatley and his writing/editing partner Amy Jump make independent low-medium budgeted films, seemingly on their own terms, get cracking actors involved and receive decent critical praise too. The recent critically acclaimed High Rise (2015) was an intriguing filmic cult hit while his grim crime-horror Kill List (2011), violently focused on two hit-men’s descent into hell. Wheatley’s work on comedy-serial-killer film Sightseers (2012), Dr Who, and Ideal confirmed him as a very talented filmmaker.

2. During a London Film Festival Q & A Wheatley basically said, “I wanted to make a film with guns where people get hurt.” And he has certainly succeeded there, because Free Fire is an all-out-ballsy-gritty-shoot-em-up. 

3. The cast are all brilliant, but I personally loved Armie Hammer’s suave Jewish hit-man and Sharlto Copley’s obnoxious Afrikaner; plus Sam Riley is also a standout as the junkie prick whose behaviour ultimately screws the deal.

4. The script is terrific with sparkling one-liners throughout as the cast spit out insults and zingers with glee. Do you remember when you play gunfights with your mates in the playground?  Well, this is the film equivalent of that – except with more blood and violence and death. 

5. Stylistically the film is a joy employing a wonderful 1970s setting with actors dressed up in flares, beards, sideburns, dagger-collars, long hair and Cuban heels, all while delivering a fast-paced-high-octane-gun-fest. The soundtrack is a hoot too with a particularly fun use of a middle-of-the-road classic.

 

 

SCREENWASH ROUND-UP! REVIEWS OF: FENCES, MOONLIGHT & SPLIT

SCREENWASH CINEMA ROUND-UP! REVIEWS OF: FENCES, MOONLIGHT & SPLIT

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

FENCES (2016)

Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility and pathos by Viola Davis. Great support comes also from Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally impaired brother, Gabriel.

Troy’s character is very charismatic and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bitter and a drinker and, while he has had a hard life, he bullies everyone around him. His sons and more importantly his wife Rose put up with it but eventually he grinds everyone down, pushing them away with his boorish “I-know-best” arrogance and aggression. With her quiet power Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech toward the end of the film is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades and emotional neglect.

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I’ve seen some criticisms of the film stating it is too “stagey”. Well, as it is based on a play that is understandable, yet, August Wilson’s words are a thing of beauty and therefore deserve focus. I think, while directing, Denzel Washington could quite easily have opened up the settings and had conversations on the street, but the decision was made to “fence” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall the performances alone make the film feel cinematic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

MOONLIGHT (2016)

Barry Jenkins low-budget contemporary drama is another brilliantly acted character memoir; although when compared to Fences it benefits from a more complex structure and cinematic style.  Split into a trio of linear timelines from the same characters’ lives we get three different actors representing the life and changes which occur in Chiron’s existence; with chapters named, Little, Chiron and Black.

Each section draws us into the characters’ world as Chiron searches for meaning, identity and direction as to who he really is as a person. With his father absent Little Chiron (Alex Hibbert) cannot find satisfaction via his mother, an angry and lost woman portrayed brilliantly by Naomi Harris. Small for his age he is also at the mercy of school bullies and while a random meeting with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides Little with a mentor to connect with it doesn’t sustain. Ali as Juan, like most of the performances, delivers a subtle realisation of a character trapped by his life choices and perhaps sees some redemption in ‘Little’. Alas, due to his lifestyle and ‘job’ he is clearly not the role model ‘Little’ needs.

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In the second and third sections Chiron’s relationship with his best friend Kevin comes to the fore both in terms of some powerful drama and intimate sexual connections. Barry Jenkins framing, colour design, use of music and editing choices all commit to create a poetic and fragmented style, further drawing me into Chiron/Black’s story. Chiron’s continual search for identity and meaning in the world reflects the most essential of human needs: the search for identity and love. Overall, this is a film of harsh and beautiful moments and each segment was layered with so many emotions and so skilfully told that I wanted to see more of the characters. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SPLIT (2016)

Split (2016) is an altogether different film about the search for identity. In fact the lead character portrayed devilishly well by James McAvoy has TWENTY-THREE different people battling around his mind and something is about to give. Let me say that a film like Split won’t be challenging the Oscars because in essence it is a terrifying B-movie thriller, however, McAvoy gives a performance of such quality it reminded me of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in his cannibal pomp. McAvoy’s twisted ability to switch between the many personalities was a real guilty pleasure as he earned his acting fee over and over and over again.

The story concerns three girls, Casey, Marcia and Claire (including an excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped and imprisoned by the various personalities in Kevin Crumb’s head. Some – including OCD driven Dennis – are more dominant than others and attempt to wrestle total control, which is where McAvoy’s sly switches are a real joy to watch. As a cat-and-mouse plot bleeds out we also get some intriguing back-story flashbacks into Casey traumatic past. These events really add colour to the main narrative and ramp up the tension and suspense. The scenes between Kevin, his personalities and sympathetic Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) also add some dark humour to the story. By the end though all humour is gone and we get a stunning and believable supernatural turn as Kevin’s mind unleashes an altogether different personality.

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Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan’s dalliance with big-budget-franchise-Hollywood-pictures – including: After Earth (2013) and The Last Airbender (2010) – did not do his career any favours. But with Split he is back on terrific form as he takes a simple abduction plot and renders it full of horror, twists and fantastical ideas. While I did not enjoy his previous film The Visit (2015) – mainly due to the stupid kid rapping throughout a decent horror story – this one is highly recommended for psycho horror fans and for McAvoy’s performance alone. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WHAT IS LOVE? VALENTINES’ MOVIE REVIEW SPECIAL

WHAT IS LOVE?

–        Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust? 

–        Is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time? 

–        Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation? 

–        Is it an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively?

–        Is it a form of madness which ensures we make crazy and stupid life decisions?

–        Is it a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence?

–        Or is it a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors?

Put simply it is: ALL OF THE ABOVE at some point in all our lives; although perhaps not the stalking!?!?

What I definitely know is that love is a big part of everybody’s lives whether it’s the positive or negative type? Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV show and adverts!  So for my latest article I will review some of the films and programmes I have watched recently which had love or some version of it echoing through its’ narrative heart.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

45 YEARS (2015) – NETFLIX

Charlotte Rampling just owns this wonderful bitter sweet drama as a woman “celebrating” forty-five years of marriage to curmudgeon Tom Courtenay. The story moves slowly but confidently as Rampling’s Kate Mercer is shook up by revelations from her husband’s past. Andrew Haigh directs with a haunting charm as love is rendered in wintry hues, while marriage is illustrated as a culmination of what-ifs-buts-and-what-could-have-beens.  (Mark: 9 out of 11)  

45years

BLACK MIRROR (S3) – SAN JUNIPERO – NETFLIX

Charlie Brooker’s savage satire series cuts off your eyelids and forces one’s eyes to the see the nefarious side of technology. However, the episode San Junipero is an altogether more touching and heart-rending beast. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis as a couple of young girls who fall in love in the 80s drenched coastal town of San Junipero it builds slowly to a majestic reveal in the final act and the themes of love, euthanasia and life after death inform the romance with tearful power. (Mark: 9 out of 11) 

BLUE JAY (2016) – NETFLIX

Mark Duplass is an interesting actor-writer-director-improviser who produces small, naturalistic and improvisatory films that are often quietly impressive. Blue Jay is a sporadically brilliant two-hander starring Duplass and the effervescent Sarah Paulson as a former couple who reconnect after years apart and spend a day together revelling in the past, present and future love. Paulson is stunning and Duplass is just Duplass as we spend time with very human characters just trying to get by in love and life. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

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BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (2013) – FILM FOUR

You know the story: girl-meets-girl-falls-in-love-has-lengthy-lesbian-sex-sessions-moves-in-with-girl-then-cheats-on-girl-but-not-before-there-are-more-lengthy-scissor-sister-sessions. Well, something like that.  Jokes aside, this is a very honest and believable slice-of-life drama with incredible performances from Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos as the two lovers. The film was laden with awards at time of release and benefits from Abdellatif Kechiche’s frank and intriguing direction. Personally speaking I felt the soul-searching drama and love story were very powerful but the sex scenes were over-long and pornographic and lent nothing to the story overall. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

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BROOKLYN (2015) NETFLIX

This soapy-honey-sweet 1950s set love story contains a tremendous central performance from Saoirse Ronan, as an innocent Irish girl who goes to New York in search of a job and finds love with an Italian plumber. The film delivers a pot pourri of bright colours, national and migrant archetypes and resolves much of the drama very easily; in fact, the film was so nice I expected the cast to break out into song by the end. John Crowley directs the undemanding story deftly and while, I imagine, the plight of an immigrant in those days was much harder than demonstrated this is fine Sunday matinee fare and difficult to dislike. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11) 

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JACKIE (2016) – CINEMA

Does this fit into the love story genre?  I think as a story about a woman who lost the husband she loved, his head blown completely off by a sniper’s bullet, it qualifies as a film about the departure of love.  It’s a powerful portrait of Jackie Kennedy with Natalie Portman impressing as the wife of the President left devastated by his sudden murder. Portman as Jackie carries the weight of loss and sorrow on her petite shoulders, drawing on all her strength to carry on living for the sake of a nation and more importantly her children. Her life has been condemned as a void and Portman’s haunting visage betrays an unforgettable lament throughout. Pablo Larrain directs using documentary and dramatic stylings to powerful effect and the score by Mica Levi is to die for. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

LA LA LAND (2016) – CINEMA

As it sweeps the boards at the awards ceremonies La La Land can certainly be praised as a funny, energetic, imaginative spectacle with fantastic direction by Damian Chazelle. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are also on great form, delivering  some wonderful songs throughout. As a love story it works but only on the surface as the boy-meets-girl-struggling-artists’ narrative lacks depth overall. Still, it’s a great musical in the classical Hollywood model – just not a Best Film Oscar winner. (Mark: 9 out of 11)   

My original review can be found here:

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THE LOBSTER (2015) – NETFLIX

In an oppressive near-futuristic society individuals must yield to socio-political mores and be married with children or you get turned into an animal of your choice!  Well, this certainly isn’t the pitch of a love story that Hollywood would make in a hurry. However, the misadventures of Colin Farrell’s hopeless love-life are explored to dark and comical effect in Yorgos Lanthimos’ startling comedy-drama. This is one of the best films I have seen a long time which is equally bizarre yet believable in its absurd honesty. We run around attempting to find love or force romance when we should just let nature take its course. Farrell has never been better and his weird romance with Rachel Weisz is so damned original in thought and delivery it left my heart stained with pathos and delirium. (Mark: 10 out of 11) 

 

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) DVD

My wife “made” me watch this one at Christmas and as soon as it finished I was diagnosed with diabetes!  It is such a sickly, sweet and sappy rom-dram-com that, while I think Richard Curtis deserves praise for some excellent writing, it is just too clichéd for me. I love ensemble portmanteau films and many of the overlapping stories here would make excellent short films; moreover, the cast including: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth and many more are very watchable. But the whole love pudding is over-sweetened, over-egged and over-cooked for my taste. (Mark: 6 out of 11) 

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PASSENGERS (2016) – CINEMA

You and your other passengers are in stasis on a many centuries long journey to another galaxy and you’re woken up early.  You are alone. In space. Until you die. If you could wake up the other passengers, but would you?  Given the fellow passenger is Jennifer Lawrence you have a bloody tough choice. And what if she finds out too: you’re a murderer in effect. That’s the moral dilemma which faces Chris Pratts’ character in this frothy space-rom-drama. I enjoyed the stylish science-fiction genre flick as it looks fantastic in design and cast. It doesn’t have much depth but I found it to be lots of fun especially as Pratt is charming and funny as ever and Lawrence is easy on the eye too. (Mark: 7 out of 11)