SCREENWASH – JANUARY 2016 BY PAUL LAIGHT
Last year was a very good year for filmmaking but 2016 is shaping up even better already. You know the scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) where Bruce Willis’ character is moving from one weapon to a bigger/better one before he tortures Zed in the basement? That’s what cinema going is like for me in January. I’ve seen so many brilliant films in succession either as good as or better than the last. Moreover, the Oscar fodder is launched on the silver screen thus; I saw NOT one, but FOUR films which are already likely to be on my Best of 2016 list.
I’ve slightly tweaked my FILM/TV review format so instead of covering, in detail, EVERYTHING I saw, I’ve made it a bit punchier and reviewed in depth the best of the best. As usual – marks out of eleven!
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
CINEMA FILMS OF THE MONTH – ROOM (2015) + THE REVENANT (2015)
ROOM (2015) – (MARK: 10.5 out of 11)
Room is an amazing film. Probably the best and most moving I will see ALL year. It concerns Joy (the incredible Brie Larson) and her young son Jack (stunning Jacob Tremblay) who have been abducted and trapped in a shed by a nefarious kidnapper referred only as “Old Nick”.
The film is presented from the innocent boy’s perspective and the pathos and empathy I felt throughout was both touching and heart breaking. What the writer’s premise does and filmmakers do is make you care about the characters immediately making every scene so suspenseful and soulful. If you are captured by stories about proper characters trying to survive dire events then it’s a must see.
The budget was low at $6 million yet director Lenny Abrahamson, his brilliant cast and writer Emma Donoghue have created a masterpiece in emotional storytelling. Ultimately, it’s a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child and child for their mother. This is a truly stunning film which will linger in the memory for some time to come.
THE REVENANT (2015) – (MARK: 10 out of 11)
While Room is intimate and claustrophobic, The Revenant was the polar opposite. It’s a massive, heart pounding survival epic that must be seen on the biggest cinema screen you can find. Don’t stream it illegally online you cheap bastards; leave the house and GO TO THE CINEMA!
It concerns a Trappers’ expedition circa 1823 which is assaulted most violently by the indigenous Arikara Native Americans from the get go. The brutal attack set-piece kicks off the film in startling fashion with fire, blood and bone spilling and crunching and blasting death upon our characters. Our hero – Oscar-winner-elect – Leonardo DiCaprio is a tracker, Hugh Glass, whose expertise is required to get the survivors across the cold and brutal landscape in one piece. But he is attacked by a bear in one of the most incredible feats of filmmaking I have seen in a long time. It just has to be seen to be believed as Glass is ripped to shreds by the bear leaving him at death’s step knocking on the door.
DiCaprio is then left with his Native American son and the greasy John Fitzgerald portrayed with dirty aplomb by brilliant Tom Hardy, as the rest head back to “civilization.” After which it’s safe to say that things don’t go too well for Glass as the money-grubbing Fitzgerald double-crosses him and leaves him for dead precipitating a series of deadly encounters that left me gasping for air and shaken to the heart of my dramatic core.
This is just superb, grueling, bloody and beautiful filmmaking! Inarritu adds some exquisite artistic touches and the cinematography and vistas are a thing of beauty. The filmmaking team spent nine months shooting the film and they have given birth to an epic masterpiece which, while a simple revenge story at heart, beats a powerful drum to the testament of the human spirit and against-the-odds survival. If you’re not watching this on a massive cinema screen then you haven’t seen it at all!
OTHER CINEMA FILMS
THE BIG SHORT (2015) – (MARK: 9 out of 11)
This is a very entertaining film satire about the global economic crash and the 2008 housing meltdown. It simplified everything in a very amusing fashion and felt like an extended American Office, both in style and humour. Steve Carell and Christian Bale are on particularly good form as are the rest of a very attractive case. Bankers, Brokers, Regulators and the Government are presented as crooked, greedy, moronic or all of the above! I’m still shocked this actually happened as I have always held humanity in such high regard. NOT!
CREED (2015) – (MARK: 8 out of 11)
For a genre/franchise/boxing film CREED is a fantastic watch; full of emotional ups and downs. Stallone is terrific as ageing Rocky Balboa and this movie harked back to the raw quality of the first Rocky (1976). Ryan Coogler proved with Fruitvale Station (2013) he can direct real heartfelt drama and illustrates it once again here. The boxing scenes are impressive and Michael B. Jordan proves he is a very natural performer as the film delivers some proper knockout entertainment.
DANISH GIRL (2015) – (MARK: 7.5 out of 11)
Eddie Redmayne truly delivers in this story about Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and their attempts to reassign gender. Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener is equally brilliant as Einar’s wife, who at first sees her husband’s flirtations with female impersonation as a game but realises it is much more than that. Overall, this is stunningly attractive filmmaking set in 1920s Copenhagen which could arguably have had a touch more dramatic bite. Yet, Tom Hooper is a formidable director of beautifully humane dramas and this is a touching testament to a person trapped and prepared to risk it all to escape.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) – (MARK: 9.5 out of 11)
Any other month this would have been my film of the month. I love Westerns. I love Tarantino films (mostly). I love brilliant dialogue. I love lots of blood and violence. Here QT remakes Reservoir Dogs (1992) via Agatha Christie, setting it in the snowy West of America circa 1870s. It concerns eight hard-bitten souls consisting of criminals, bounty hunters and soldiers and the mayhem that ensues as they cross paths.
Set pretty much in one location there is tension and bullets galore by the end. However, the main strength lies in the ensemble cast firing verbal stingers at each other as trust breaks down and the characters turn against each other as the plot thickens. Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson are real standouts and Jennifer Jason Leigh holds her own amidst the sweat and testosterone.
Though not as epic in stature as Django Unchained (2012), and in need of a wee trim, this is a fine movie which will improve on subsequent views. Tarantino is a proper auteur and can always be relied on to deliver an impressive work of entertainment. Mustn’t forget Ennio Morricone’s awesome score either, which haunts the scenes like the Reaper on collection day.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015) – (MARK: 7.5 out of 11)
Ever dependable Ron Howard has crafted an excellent adventure and survival story. A well evoked period drama Chris “Thor” Hemsworth takes to the high seas on the hunt for whales, only to come up against the white “monster” which would inspire Herman Melville’s literary classic Moby Dick. Men against nature and the elements always play well on the big screen and overall, it’s very solid entertainment. While the bookended script is old-fashioned by design it has subtext too, indicating the importance oil has always played within our society.
SPOTLIGHT (2015) – (MARK: 9 out of 11)
This is yet another Oscar-runner with an incredible true story at its heart. The film “spotlights” the Boston Globe’s investigation into endemic paedophilia and subsequent cover up by the Catholic Church. It’s a riveting story with a fantastic ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton on very fine form.
Screenwriters Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer have crafted a sterling script that gets into the minutiae of a press investigation and also reveals the corruption and hypocrisy in organised religion, public relations and the legal system. Just when you think people couldn’t get any lower stories like this highlight the darkness at the heart of humanity. Thankfully, the press gang at the Boston Globe has proved more than just celebrity-baiters and given the victims of horrific abuse both a voice and justice.
TV, DVD, BLU RAY, NETFLIX and other STREAMERS
ADAM AND PAUL (2004) – YOUTUBE – (MARK: 9 out of 11)
Irish black comedy about two junkies trying to get a hit; manages to be both hilarious and sad simultaneously. Great feature debut from Lenny Abrahamson.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN (2013) – NETFLIX – (MARK: 8 out of 11)
More bonkers horror as witchcraft, murder and voodoo mix to grisly and hilarious effect.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (2015) – BBC1 – (MARK: 8 out of 11)
Stylish drama with a stellar cast committing murder most foul in fine Agatha Christie adaptation.
BLUE RUIN (2014) – NETFLIX – (MARK: 6 out of 11)
Impressive low budget neo-noir let down by the bad plotting and unsympathetic lead protagonist.
THE FALLING (2014) – AMAZON PRIME – (Mark: 6 out of 11)
Artful period drama about fainting young girls starts well but runs out of story by the end.
THE HUNTER (2011) – AMAZON PRIME – (Mark: 7 out of 11)
Intriguing Aussie drama as Willem Dafoe’s hired gun tracks down the last Tasmanian tiger.
ROME – SEASON 1 – (2005) – NETFLIX – (MARK – 8 out of 11)
Brilliant Caesarean drama with devilish plotting and bloodier battles plus a cracking cast.
SHERLOCK: THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE (2015) – BBC1 – (Mark: 8 out of 11)
Oh-so-clever-meta-drama featured Holmes & Watson on the trail of a ghostly murderess in a wedding dress. Stylish with little substance but entertaining nonetheless.
SLOW WEST (2014) – NOW TV – (Mark: 7 out of 11)
Idiosyncratic Western that is too pretentious in places, but saved by ever-excellent Michael Fassbender and a fine shoot-out at the end.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) – NOW TV – (Mark: 7 out of 11)
Eddie Redmayne bagged the Oscar for his portrait of Stephen Hawking in this beautifully acted, lovely looking, yet, dramatically tepid romance-biopic.
WHAT RICHARD DID (2012) – DVD – (Mark: 8 out of 11)
Slow moving but impactful drama from Lenny Abrahamson, as a rich teenager’s actions causes massive reverberations amidst an Irish family and the wider community.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS!
THE VISIT (2015) – SKY STORE – (MARK: 2 out of 11)
Some said this was a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan – IT WASN’T! Dreadful supposed horror film with one of the most annoying child actors I’ve had the displeasure to witness.