Tag Archives: Western

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Andrew Haigh

Produced by: Tristan Goligher

Screenplay by: Andrew Haigh

Based on: Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin

Starring: Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi

Music by: James Edward Barker

Cinematography: Magnus Joenck

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More times than not I go to the cinema to escape the nagging existential doubt I have in respect of life. I watch movies, even the movies based in some believable reality to escape MY reality, my work, my everyday life. Sometimes, though you find a film which will not allow you to escape. It is so relentlessly realistic in its representation of the human spirit that it does not allow you to get away. You are stuck; imprisoned by the misery and hopelessness one can feel with life. Lean on Pete (2017) is such a film.

Adapted and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete is a tunnel-focussed character drama based in the dustbowl plains of Portland, Oregon. The lead protagonist is Charlie Thompson who is portrayed with an incredible maturity by Charlie Plummer. The director Haigh and Plummer deserve much praise for creating such an empathetic and troubled character. I mean he’s a good kid who works hard. He jogs everyday in order to keep his fitness up so he can return to playing football at school. Yet, his life suffers from ennui, poverty and family discord. Put simply: Charlie was born with no luck. His mother left when he was a baby and he’s brought up by a father (Travis Kimmel), who loves him, but is somewhat of a nomad; moving from a different job to a different location to a different women every few years.

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Movement defines Charlie. He’s either running down roads or walking or driving or leading the horses out. He gets a job working with irascible horse race trainer portrayed by the excellent Steve Buscemi and befriends a rundown racehorse called ‘Lean on Pete’. Charlie becomes, against the advice of everyone, attached to the horse and this affection will drive his actions in the tragic latter half of the film. This is no Disney-kid-befriends-animal-rites-of-passage-fairy-tale but rather a depressing and harsh neo-Western where the American dream is a distant memory.

Overall, it’s a strange thing to say that, while brilliantly filmed by cinematographer Magnus Joenck and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete, is a tough film to recommend due to the relentless existential misery on screen. However, there is hope there in Charlie’s character as he won’t give in and just keeps moving trying to find some light at the end of that tunnel we call life.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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HBO’S DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – CLASSIC TV REVIEW

HBO’S DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – CLASSIC TV REVIEW

ORIGINAL NETWORK: HBO – CURRENT NETWORK: SKY ATLANTIC

CREATED BY: David Milch

STARRING: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Powers Boothe, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, and Robin Weigert etc.

SEASONS: 3 – EPISODES: 36

ORIGINAL RELEASE: March 21, 2004 – August 27, 2006

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The blood and sweat and liquor seep into muddy earth as wood creaks, leather cracks and barrels roll within the midst of morning in Deadwood town. Horses cry readying themselves for the work ahead as the hangover of alcohol, greed and necessity fill men, women and children’s hearts not knowing how the day will end. They could be destitute, broke or worse; six feet under from a gunshot or plague or had their throat cut during a game of poker. Or they could be richer than a King or Queen having struck lucky in the goldmines of Montana. These are desperate times brimming with whores, bandits, con-artists, killers and unbelievably twisted optimism. There’s hope that striking gold will change lives forever and bring about fortune and prosperity. More often than not though it simply brings about death.

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David Milch’s formidably researched Western TV classic was a show I’d never ever seen so I took great pleasure drinking in its’ flavours and palette at the end of 2017. I recall when released the tabloid newspapers were forever reporting the controversy of the colourful industrial language. While the language is indeed profane and sometimes enough to make a football referee blush it is the stand-out element of the scripts. Because Deadwood is one of the most brilliantly written shows I’ve seen; and while the dialogue is clearly anachronistic it feels paradoxically authentic. Throughout the thirty-six episodes the monologues sing from the screen as a litany of character actors drawl and deliver words of filth, comedy and great tragedy. At times the dialogue is so dense it reaches sonorous Shakespearean heights.

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The narratives of each season feature characters based on real people from history (Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock et al); all presented via a daily slice of mining camp life through an incredible ensemble cast. There are no heroes to hang our desires on but rather a rag-tag clan of flawed human beings presented as: killers, cowards, thugs, addicts, prostitutes, card sharks, immigrants, gold-diggers, crooked politicians and morally dubious law representatives. The amazing cast, led with frightening acting acumen by: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, Robin Weigert, Brian Cox and Powers Boothe spit words as weapons, while the glint of gold drives humanity, creating a hard-bitten early representation of the American dream.

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Here the early realms of civilization and society are shown to be full of issues relating to: race, capitalism, prostitution, misogyny, violence, politics, and immigration. Thankfully, things have changed now and we live in a near-perfect society with no problems today. NOT! Deadwood may represent a series of distant Wild West memories but its’ grizzled and bloody vision of humanity is just as valid today. The streets of society now may have pavement and tarmac and skyscrapers but they are still besmirched with blood and greed and alas that will never change.

Mark: 10 out of 11

 

HOSTILES (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

HOSTILES (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by:                      Scott Cooper
Produced by:                    Scott Cooper, Ken Kao, John Lesher
Screenplay by:                 Scott Cooper
Story by:                            Donald E. Stewart
Starring:                            Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach
Music by:                           Max Richter

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Death and America seem to go hand in hand down the realms of history; entwined bedfellows with society, industry and apparent civilisation being watered by blood and bone and marrow of humanity. The coagulation of Native American lives spread to the dust could be argued to be one of the most despicable genocidal acts ever perpetrated against a generation. And what was it all for? So, human beings from one side of a huge ocean can take what essentially belonged to the indigenous men, women and children of what we now know is called the United States of America. Red dust scorches that land and people and it’s a stain which will never ever be removed.

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Even in the last one hundred years and more the Neo-Americans have militarized and invaded many other countries borne, on occasion for the greater good but generally to colonize, re-politicize and scavenge the goods of those said lands. Thus, it is never surprising when the natives choose to repel their invaders as they’d prefer their land to remain their own. For the price of defending their land history has named them savages and other cruel labels in an attempt to differentiate their culture and make them the enemy. Of course, there are good people within the U.S.A who oppose such invasions but the truth remains even they live on blooded ground.

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The weight of guilt and pain and death hang heavy in Scott Cooper’s slow-moving and elegant Western. It’s a character driven piece with Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi and Rory Cochrane putting in dominant performances which convey the depressing murderous times borne out of the heinous and greedy need for progress. White man / woman’s guilt drives the narrative as at first Bale’s soldier refuses to accompany his enemy back to his homeland. Is it more because of the deaths of his own men on the battlefield or because he does not want to face up to his own crimes against the Native Americans?

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There are no easy solutions in this glacial paced, beautifully shot Western. The audience is required to analyse the characters actions and make up one’s own mind. There are no black hats or white hats save for the denouement involving the four horsemen that drift over the horizon with death in their eyes. Even the Comanche horde who perpetrate the wicked attack on Pike’s family at the beginning, while unsympathetic, are a product of the barbarity committed by the American army. Overall, this is a genre-defying Western built more on character rather than all-out action. Each slow plot turn went against my expectations and that was a positive. It’s a rich, deep and heavy film which benefits from great performances and an incredible Max Richter score.

(Mark: 8 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.

 

 

WESTWORLD: POST-MAPPING THE NETWORK by PAUL LAIGHT

WESTWORLD: POST-MAPPING THE NETWORK by PAUL LAIGHT

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

THE INTRODUCTION

If you want safe and conventional and sensible then listen to ‘70s pop group the Nolan Sisters. If it’s complex, serpentine narratives and emotions then it’s the Nolan Brothers you want. In this piece I take a stab at simplifying the complex narrative machine that is Westworld – written, devised and directed (in part) by Jonathan Nolan and co-creator Lisa Joy. Of course, kudos goes to the originator Michael Crichton whose 1973 sci-fi classic this brilliant TV series is based on. For your information I have also reviewed the show here:


THE MAP

Why bother having a stab at mapping Westworld? Well, I think this is a show in which enjoyment can be derived from working out the puzzle, interpreting the maze or just simply seeing if the jigsaw pieces fit?  I only have a degree in Film and a Masters in Screenwriting, rather than a PHD in meta-physics, but I decided it would at least be fun to try and make sense of it.

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Firstly, I come from the understanding that this is meta-fiction. It is as much about people telling us stories about characters controlling the narrative of robots; androids who don’t know they are part of a bigger narrative. Moreover, you have to accept that at some point ALL or MOST of these are unreliable narrators and the stories were being re-written as we watched. I now understand this about the characters:

  • Everyone is a liar.
  • Neither dreams nor reality are to be trusted.
  • Anything can change from one episode to another.

Indeed, the creators of the show have taken great liberties using: programmed dreams, back stories, overlapping narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards, time-slips, repetitive loops, parallel action from past and present, plus many, many more cinematic, televisual and literary tricks. Also to consider while watching are three main notions:

  • Who are hosts and who are human?
  • Who are the good characters and who are the bad?
  • Should we care about characters that are androids? 

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The last question was the one I struggled with most of all but from the hosts I picked Dolores and Teddy as they were the ones with, ironically, the most human emotions of love, romance and a desire to make a better life. But of course even this couple ultimately are murderous tools in the hands of their human creators. Likewise, Bernard is very sympathetic. He, arguably, has the biggest narrative turn of all when we discover he is in fact a simulacrum host and a pivotal pawn in Ford’s grand scheme.

For me there were a multitude of narrative strands in Westworld and for the final part of this piece I will list them for better understanding of the network. There is no specific order here as these storylines all overlapped but here goes. Safe to say there are MASSIVE SPOILERS!

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THE NARRATIVES

Dr Robert Ford’s Grand Plan!

Dr Robert Ford – as portrayed by the majestic Anthony Hopkins – had a huge scheme from the start. I came to accept he was the God of Westworld and his plan was to defeat the corporate spies represented by Theresa Cullen (Sidse Knudsen), Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), and in the last episode reveal, older William/Man in Black (Ed Harris).  Feeling long-standing guilt because of the death of his partner Arnold, Ford’s mind has slowly warped and therefore he has programmed all the hosts to turn on the humans by the final thrilling cathartic finale. I accepted that Ford was a genius and that he had been planning this denouement for some time, thus, his programming and planning made everything happen in the end. This also conveniently covers any plot-holes in my mind.

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The Corporate Sabotage Subplot!

While Ford’s narrative is being written, behind the scenes, Theresa Cullen and subsequently Charlotte Hale are attempting to oust Ford and steal his network secrets. They do this initially via a modulated host but when he is discovered they plot to use one of the “retired” hosts in the basement to get the information out.  Ford has been aware of the plot from the start as shown when he tells Bernard to kill Theresa and the subsequent finale when the hosts all turn on the Delos Corporation guests.

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The Hosts in the Basement!

All old, malfunctioning or “retired” hosts were taken down to a dark basement never to be seen again. Many scenes played out amidst these naked, dusty android souls, and there was a sense they may come into play in this debut season. But, they remained an enigma most of the season until Charlotte Hale decided to utilise older Peter Abernathy to attempt to get Ford’s secrets out.

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William, Teddy and Dolores “Love Triangle.”

Teddy and Dolores, as aforementioned, are two of the initially more sympathetic hosts. They have a genuine bond on all the narrative strands. When we first meet William (Jimmi Simpson) he is with the arsehole Logan (Ben Barnes) and quiet compared to his loutish, sex-addicted counterpart. William falls in love with Dolores and finds himself as a human; simultaneously  developing a killer instinct too in the process. Confusion reigns because this storyline is a flashback and William is in fact a younger version of Ed Harris’ grizzled “Man in Black”.

“The Man in Black” narrative.

I ended up working out Man in Black/William stories were connected but some thirty-odd years apart. Even so when the reveal was delivered it was very satisfying. Ed Harris is initially introduced as a violent guest who has visited the park for many years and his arc involves his search for the “maze”. Ultimately, he is revealed to not only be older William, but the key shareholder on the Delos board. His, search for the maze was external and internal. It was also symbolic and translated as a personal odyssey by that of a warped, grieving man with a death wish. Overall, desiring the hosts to be real and a threat to his life heighten his park addiction and reveal him to be a very sick individual.

The Arnold/Bernard trajectory.

Arnold began popping up as a voice in the hosts’ head and then as the story moved along it was revealed he was in fact Ford’s business partner when the park was in its testing stage. Moreover, Arnold’s voice was their programming consciousness becoming sentient.  Arnold basically wanted to destroy the park because he had become attached to the androids and did not want them to suffer the way he had. Plus, he was still grieving over the death of his son therefore emotionally disturbed, depressed and suicidal.

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Ultimately it was Arnold’s work that Ford was completing thirty-five years on. In order to lift his guilt Ford also created Bernard in Arnold’s image so he would have his ‘friend’ close. Of course, Ford used Bernard to do his bidding such as kill Elsie and Theresa. The cruellest trick was to give Bernard the same memories as Arnold, notably the death of his young son. But as they say in the programme it’s the painful memories which make the androids more human.

Maeve’s nightmare!

Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) story reflected the Arnold/Bernard trajectory in that she lost a child in one incarnation and was haunted by this event in another. Indeed, the Man in Black gunned her child down and subsequently her programming went haywire. Ford reprogrammed her to become a prostitute but somewhere in her wiring the memories of her loss propelled her to become more violent.

Thus, having woken up in the technician’s laboratory downstairs she ventures on a devious plot to discover who and where she is. Of course, it wasn’t that simple because it turned out Maeve’s manipulation of her own intelligence and the Lab personnel; plus the recruitment of the badass hosts including Rodrigo Santoro’s bandit, was ALSO down to Ford. He had programmed her to attempt escape; well according the reanimated Bernard anyway.

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Who the hell was Wyatt?

Wyatt arrived as a seemingly key park nemesis but was in fact a “McGuffin”; a false character and memory in Teddy’s narrative. Wyatt in fact was a combination of programme and actual memory; and was revealed to be Dolores because she killed Arnold and the rest of the hosts back in the day. Poor Delores, Teddy and Bernard are ultimately tragic “Frankenstein” monsters used to carry out the vicarious desires of their makers and Wyatt was an invention to mask past events.

CONCLUSION – INTERPRETING THE MAZE!

Of course there are still many unanswered strands from the first season and I have just touched on a few of the more obvious ones. Westworld is a maze where the entrance and exits are forever shifting. The story does not go in a straight line. It is circular and a circuit which comes round and back on itself. The whole show is like an Escher drawing with each storyline and strand seeming to end but then return on the other side of an episode.

I’m not saying my mapping of the maze tidies everything up because this isn’t a show with a nice linear narrative conclusion. Westworld is about the journey and getting lost in the maze is part of the fun. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy deserve kudos for adapting Crichton’s masterwork into a pulsing organic machine which delivers scientifically, cereberally and emotionally.

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WESTWORLD (2016) SEASON 1 – TV REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

WESTWORLD (2016) SEASON 1 – TV REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

HBO’s Westworld was presented, previewed and marketed, like the fantastical flagbearer Game of Thrones before it, as the premium, high-end, star-studded television event of the year. Indeed, in my honest opinion it lived up to the hype and certainly turned out to be one of the shows of the year!

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Everything about Westworld screamed cinematic quality! Of course it’s origins spring from Michael Crichton’s classic sci-fi film Westworld (1973) where the robot hosts started killing the rich guests on holiday at an ‘A:I’ driven amusement park. The formula would then be amped up in Jurassic Park (1993) and its sequels, where instead of sentient androids, we had dinosaur clones attacking the staff and guests. This televisual delight developed – by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy – twists and turns that simple, yet ingenious premise, into a whole new machine; utilising the influences of Crichton, Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, Rod Serling, Harlan Ellison etc. as well as incorporating a number of their own concepts too.

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HBO have pumped $100 million dollars into ten sumptuous looking episodes and the filmmakers took the brilliant decision to shoot on 35mm film. This creative choice gives us exquisite cinematographic vistas of the West while at the same time enhancing the inner sheen of the hi-spec-steam-punk engineering on show underneath the actual “amusement” park itself. Allied to this we get a whole host of A-grade movie and character actors who bring a depth and gravitas to the proceedings.

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Leading the stellar cast is Anthony Hopkins as the established overlord Dr Robert Ford. His presence is felt throughout the park and initially staff and hosts seem to answer to him. Hopkins is terrifically understated in his performance but underneath the iceberg surface is an incredibly complex character who, while a technical genius, responds to human beings coldly. He sees them as obstacles to his grand narrative which seems to be written and re-written from episode to episode. While oddly unsympathetic his enigma drives the show, with his character attempting to control the hosts, staff and his environment while writing and rewriting the past and present.

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Working for Ford are an army of techs and security personnel responsible for guests and hosts alike. The most honest, it would appear, and one we root for is Bernard portrayed with subtle distinction by Geoffrey Wright. His velvety voice alone is enough to project emotion and meaning within every syllable uttered. Representing the corporate personnel are a fine supporting cast, notably, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Luke Hemsworth.

Similarly, the simulacrum hosts are expertly cast with: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Rodrigo Santoro and Clifton Collins Jnr etc. bringing a glamour, edge and depth of performance to the paranoid androids. Obviously there are visitors to the park and these roles are dominated by the magisterial Ed Harris and younger bucks Jimmi Simpson and Ben Barnes.


Overall, I found the show an incredible science fiction experience. The opening theme is a haunting gift to the ears, while the incredible imagery of the opening credits are a feast for the eyes.  Visually and aurally the series was crammed with wondrous sounds and vistas and the soundtrack was fabulous too including dark naked tunes by the likes of: The Cure, Radiohead and Soundgarden.  Violence, action, nudity and sexuality are freely on show but this is just skin for the rich narrative and themes which power the twisting story. Indeed, the themes ask us to question everything, like: who is human and who is a host? Should we, the audience, care about a character when they’re a robot?  And most importantly: when are the robots going to start killing the guests?


Halfway through though I must admit I was close to discontinuing and shutting down as I was struggling to connect emotionally with the characters. However, I realised this was a cerebral challenge; a puzzle or maze, which – much like Jonathan Nolan and his brother Christopher’s other work including: The Prestige (2006), Memento (2000) and Inception (2010) – I’ll try and solve. I’ll be honest not all of it hung together satisfactorily on first watch, however, on further views each episode’s timelines, narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards, memories and dreams combined brilliantly, and I soon realised all the pieces were there to successfully put the puzzle together.

With its state-of-the-art effects, incredible design, brilliant actors, brutal violence, complex plots and classic Western genre setting, this postmodern masterpiece transcends genre and the storytelling process itself. Because at its core processing Westworld is about: the nature of narrative and controlling your story: past, present and future. Oh, that and lots of killer robots. So, overall, Westworld is a place I will certainly be coming back to time and time and time again.  Some might say the whole Westworld experience was a-MAZE-ing!

 

SCREENWASH – MARCH 2016 by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – MARCH 2016 by PAUL LAIGHT

March is a looonnngggg old month and I have watched a shedload of shows and films; so it’s a quick wash and go through my monthly review round up. As usual marks are out of 11 – do enjoy!

**DEFINITELY MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS** 


FILMS OF THE MONTH!

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) – CINEMA

If you’d like a cinema alternative from the current superhero hype then try out neat suspense thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane. It was lean, mean, well-acted and full of fun twists; proving good writing will often be more entertaining than big-budgeted blockbusters. Trapped heroine Mary Elizabeth Winstead is both imprisoned in a bunker by sinister John Goodman and freakish occurrences going on outside and must use her wits to escape. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff throughout in a thrilling sidequel to over-rated “found footage” monster movie Cloverfield (2008). (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) – CINEMA

A tremendous genre-blend of horror and Western, this debut feature from S. Craig Zahler is destined to be a cult classic. We’re in The Searchers meets Hills Have Eyes territory as Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson. Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins track down townsfolk kidnapped by savage cannibal natives. Not for the faint-hearted, I loved the witty dialogue exchanges, sunburnt vistas and sudden smashes of bloody violence. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

HAIL CAESAR (2016) – CINEMA

If you love the Coen Brothers and also like films that are about people making and watching movies, then Hail Caesar is a delight. It’s a feel-good nostalgic tribute to Hollywood, both funny and charming. It was like watching a cinema soufflé with extra icing sugar on top as the wonderful cast and Hollywood pastiches are faultless. Alden Ehrenreich is superb as the singing cowboy turned unlikely thespian and Josh Brolin knits the “day in the life” structure perfectly as workaholic studio boss. It’s pretty flimsy in terms of a plot but works wonderfully as a series of vignettes from the era, along with mild religious and political satire too. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SUPER (2010) – NETFLIX

“Shut up Crime!” yells Frank Darbo: Rainn Wilson’s on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown loser, as he is visited by God and told he is the “chosen one”. Thus, begins his transformation into the Crimson Bolt; a human superhero/vigilante with no powers, charging to take down Kevin Bacon’s slimy drug dealing scumbag who has also stolen Frank’s wife. This is a hilariously dark and comedic anti-super-hero film very much in the Kick-Ass territory but somehow grittier and more bizarre. Wilson channels his Dwight Shrute persona perfectly and Ellen Page offers spunky support as his sidekick Boltie. James Gunn writes and directs with off-kilter joy and who’d believe he’d go onto direct the far more commercially successful Guardians of the Galaxy (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THEY LIVE (1989) – AMAZON PRIME

They Live is a classic underrated film from the late 80s and still retains its power as a social sci-fi satire. Hard-done-by drifter Roddy Piper finds himself amidst aliens who have infiltrated Earth and now subliminally control human population through the media and advertising. NOT LIKE REAL LIFE THEN! John Carpenter’s film is both clever and dumb as Piper and a band of rebels fight back against the extra-terrestrial horde. Some plot blips aside this is cracking entertainment and contains some great one-liners and fight scenes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WORTH A WATCH OR RE-WATCH

AGE OF ADALINE (2015) – NOW TV

Kind of a female Benjamin Button movie as Blake Lively shines as Adaline in a heart-warming romantic drama with the excellent Harrison Ford providing fine support.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

ALAN PARTRIDGE’S MIDMORNING MATTERS (2016) – NOW TV

Steve Coogan is back on the airwaves with his usual verbal and physical buffoonery. A succession of hilarious guest cameos from the likes of Reece Shearsmith and Julian Barrett make this comedy gold. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

CROOKED MAN: TOMMY TIERNAN (2010) – NETFLIX

This is incredible stand-up comedy from the Irish cyclone that is Tommy Tiernan. The controversial comedian rips through 90 minutes of stunning observations and routines which are replete with lyrical and bestial beauty. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

DOWNFALL (2004) – NETFLIX

I’ve seen this wonderful rendition of Hitler’s final days before but it retains its incredible power and tragedy. Bruno Ganz is monstrously brilliant as the Fuhrer whose murderous empire crumbles around him. The Germans are shown to be dirty rats leaving a sinking ship and there are so many sad scenes throughout; a tough yet enriching experience. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014) – NETFLIX

This brainless action film shows Stallone, Snipes, Statham, Schwarzenegger etc. taking on Mel Gibson’s nefarious arms dealer; and while it’s ridiculous and over-the-top – as cinematic lobotomies go – it’s not too bad. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

 

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014) – NOW TV

Ridley Scott remakes Gladiator (2000) again but this time in Egypt as Christian Bale’s Moses goes up against Joel Edgerton’s nefarious Pharaoh. Plagues, pestilence, visions of God and the parting of the seas are all present and correct in a pretty entertaining Biblical epic. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

GOOD KILL (2014) – NETFLIX

Excellent character drama focussing on a falling-apart Drone pilot portrayed with burnt-out aplomb by Ethan Hawke. It’s a compelling analysis of U.S. foreign policy as they attack various targets in the Middle East and while sympathising with the dehumanisation of the “pilots” it also critiques the almost cowardly destruction of life from a distance.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

THE GRANDMASTER (2013) – NETFLIX

Exquisitely shot martial art-house film from Wong Kar-Wai, which pays tribute to Chinese cultural icon Ip Man portrayed with much class by Tony Leung. The Donnie Yen Ip Man films are more accessible than the poetic storytelling offered here but this still packs a delectable punch. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

I AM LOVE (2009) – NETFLIX

Tilda Swinton owns the screen in this melodrama which follows the trials and tribulations of a rich Italian family. Not much occurs but the Italian scenery is breath-taking and while narratively slow, Swinton’s performance and the final act tragedies make it worth the journey. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

THE JINX (2015) – NOW TV

Now, this documentary was something else. A filmmaker named Andrew Jareki made an okay feature film called All Good Things (2010) starring Ryan Gosling. It charted events concerning eccentric multi-millionaire Robert Durst and the disappearance of his wife. Flash forward a few years and Durst asked Jarieki if he’d like to interview him about his situation and what he perceived was a “witch-hunt”. What follows is an amazing documentary featuring Durst and the events around his wife and TWO other people he is suspected of murdering. There’s something not quite right about Durst as the chilling denouement to the compelling docu-series reveals. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

LIFE ON MARS – SEASON 2 (2007) – NETFLIX

Second season of the “time-travel” 70s cop show picks where the first left off with John Simms’ Sam Tyler battling baddies and once again clashing with his boss, the mud-mouthed-maverick Gene Hunt (Philip Glennister). Once again this drama has great humour and plot twists amidst the mind-bending theatrics and Northern seventies era.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

THE NIGHT MANAGER (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

Beautiful women, locations, undercover spies and nefarious bad guys feature in this James Bondesque John Le Carre literary adaptation. The cast including: Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie are excellent and the story had me mesmerised right up until the explosive though generically unsatisfying ending. Still, it was overall great quality Sunday evening eye-candy though. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

THE PROGRAM (2015) – SKY MOVIES

This intriguing biopic about cyclist Lance Armstrong follows his battle against cancer to Tour de France winner to disgraced drug cheat. It’s a real eye-opener into the process of the win-at-all-costs Armstrong and his obsessive pursuit of victory. Ben Foster excels in the lead and while the dramatics could have been beefed up toward the conclusion it’s still a fascinating story. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

RED TAILS (2012) – NETFLIX

This is a worthy yet lightweight wartime drama focussing on the Tuskegee Airmen and their aerial dog-fighting prowess that was demonstrated so superbly in WWII. The battle scenes are impressive but the characters felt underwritten and the film lacked impact for such an interesting subject. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

 

SPRING (2014) – NETFLIX

Intriguing low-budget horror-romance film which moves VERY slowly but is punctuated with some fine gore and body horror effects. The characters I could take or leave as anaemic American tourist, Evan, meets a mysterious young woman, Louise, on the streets on Italy. However, the filmmakers deserve acclaim for attempting to create something original in the horror genre. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

STAR TREK: GENERATIONS/ FIRST CONTACT/INSURRECTION (1994/96/98) – NETFLIX

Given myself and my filmmaking partner Gary are making a Star Trek “fan-boy” short film as our next production I decided to immerse myself in some Trek movies; and very good human and science fiction films they are too. Generations sees Kirk (Shatner) and Picard (Patrick Stewart) meet across the time-streams in a giddy mix of philosophy and temporal variance. In First Contact, Picard and crew fight the formidable Borg with the former flexing his action man muscles. Lastly, despite the title Insurrection slows the pace down as Picard falls in love while protecting a peace-loving community called the Ba’ha. All the films are well crafted with First Contact offering the greatest peril as collectively they offer some fine sci-fi concepts, character turns, humour and drama throughout.(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

STILL LIFE (2013) – NETFLIX

Eddie Marsan is wonderful in this touchingly told story of a council worker who searches for family members of “clients” who’ve died alone. It moves slowly but with heart, purpose and pathos; offering an alternative to the overblown lobotomised big budget films at the multiplex. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)


STRETCH (2014) – NOW TV

This is a flashy, style-over-substance-day-in-the-life-movie about a burnt out actor/chauffeur who must avoid criminals, cops and crazed clients while trying to stay sober. Patrick Wilson is watchable but I’d only recommend this if you are pissed or unconscious on a Friday night. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

 

AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE

SEVENTH SON (2014) – NOW TV

Jeff Bridges and the exquisite Julianne Moore take a pay-check but offer little else in this nonsensical fantasy witch-hunter yarn. Awful beyond words. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

 

THE WITCH (2016) – CINEMA

Be wary of The Witch. Its trailer suggested a scare-fest but it is in essence an overly talky art-house horror; heavy on religious symbolism and folklore. It is very well directed, designed and acted and the broadsheet critics will love it. However, there’s not enough gore, scares or actual story for my liking and at times I was bored as hell. It’s a damned shame as I like horror films and art-house cinema but The Witch just doesn’t make us care about the characters or story at all. (Mark: 3 out of 11)