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SCREENWASH – JUNE FILM & TV REVIEWS 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JUNE 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:

**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**

 

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV

The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)

The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors.   (Mark: 9 out of 11)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX

I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display.  Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA

Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV

If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.  I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)

GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV

The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX

Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off.  Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)


IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV

Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA

Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown (1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV

Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time.  I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)

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SCREENWASH – FEBRUARY 2016 by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – FEBRUARY 2016 by PAUL LAIGHT

“After the Lord Mayor’s show comes the shit-cart”, is a phrase I heard a lot in my childhood and following the golden month of January, where I watched a plethora of incredible films, February has dropped off slightly in terms of quality. Indeed, I have watched some right rubbish but there have been some diamonds in the rough. So, as per last month I’ve reviewed in depth my favourite films, mentioned some other stuff worth watching and derided the rest I didn’t think much of. As usual all films and shows marked out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

FILMS OF THE MONTH!

BARRY LYNDON (1975) – CINEMA

Due to his incredible filmic CV, this stunning Oscar-winning period film from Stanley Kubrik is often overlooked as a classic. However, it is a terrific romp through the life and times of our anti-hero portrayed by the bland yet watchable movie star Ryan O’Neal. Adapted from Thackeray’s 19th century novel it concerns Redmond Barry and his rather haphazard misadventures as he leaves his Irish village and falls both fair and foul to fate’s twisted plan.

Every single frame of this film is a joy to behold and the cinematography deservedly won an Oscar. Thematically the film is very strong too as Kubrik uses Barry as a cipher to highlight the horrors of war and to also critique the ostentatious behaviour of the upper classes. Structurally and tonally spilt in two the film begins as a set of humorous sketches before giving way to a darker and tragic feel in the second half. The film is a thing of beauty to watch as Kubrik once again raises filmmaking to the echelons of high art. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

DEADPOOL (2016) – CINEMA

DEADPOOL’s a funny, sexy, irreverent, violent, meta-textual Marvel adaptation which differentiates from the standard comic-book movies in many ways while reinforcing the usual hero-saves-damsel-in-distress-Phantom-of-the-Opera-origins-story. A witty script and Ryan Reynolds stand out amidst the carnage and finally we have a Marvel film with a bit of blood and guts. Reminded me slightly of a funnier DARK MAN; a film which remains one of my favourite anti/super-hero films.

I’d say the box office success is deserved while the hype is probably a bit over-the-top as the politically incorrect film does go out of its way to keep you on Wade Wilson’s side and not make him totally unlikeable. Moreover, the script, while traditional in structure and Reynolds delivery are just sparkling as we get gag after gag after gag at the expense of everyone and everything, most notably the Marvel universe itself. Like Netflix’s Daredevil it breathes new life into the saturated superhero market.(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

FARGO (1996) – NETFLIX

The Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind. Seen this film so many times and it improves like a fine wine; a true classic.(Mark: 11 out of 11)

MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – NETFLIX

I watched Netflix’s Making a Murderer and throughout I was hoping it was a brilliantly written courtroom drama series directed in the documentary style. But IT’S actually REAL LIFE EVENTS! It’s a ten-part documentary which concerns a number of high-profile court cases which took place in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. The filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos deserve incredible praise for their painstaking work in bringing the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey to the screen because based on their film an incredible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

It is as thrilling and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock created as the trials and tribulations of these men and their families are thrust before us. The behaviour of law enforcement is called into question time and time again and the documentary stands as both an indictment on the United States legal system as well as being a gripping thriller. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but WATCH THIS SHOW for an incredibly designed “TRUE” story. It has to be seen to be believed, and whether the defendants are guilty or not, this saga re-writes the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt!”(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

PREDESTINATION (2014) – NOW TV

One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:

“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”

However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

WORTH A WATCH!

BANANAS (1971) – NETFLIX

Early Woody Allen film which pokes fun at his nebbish persona, failure with women, Marxist revolutions and United States foreign policy, all in a brisk eight-four minute machine-gun-sketch style. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Moody amnesiac chamber thriller with Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Colin Firth delivering an initially intriguing suspense-filled piece but lacks a killer punch ultimately. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

CHEF (2014) – NETFLIX

This is a proper feel-good film about a shit-hot chef who attempts to reignite a once-hot career gone cold. Jon Favreau writes and directs and casts his mates like Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jnr and others in a fun, tasty, attractive, mouth-watering treat. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

DAWG FIGHT (2015) (NETFLIX)

Set in Perrine, Florida, this is a bloody slice-of-life documentary about backyard, bare-knuckle fighting between underclass males looking to get into the UFC big leagues. Featuring some brutal fights it’s a sad indictment of humanity and not for the faint-hearted. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

DEFIANCE (2008) – NETFLIX

Excellent wartime drama inspired by the true story of the Belarussian Jewish brothers called the Bieskis, who fought back against the Nazis while saving thousands of lives too. Gripping and suspenseful it’s anchored by the excellent Daniel Craig and well-orchestrated battle scenes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

LIFE ON MARS – SEASON 1 (2006) – NETFLIX

I missed this cracking time-warped TV show the first time round as Sam Tyler (John Simm) is thrown back to the 1970s and faced with a battle to get back to “reality”. Temporal, cultural and socio-political clashes are abound between Tyler and his new boss Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) as Sam solves cases in the past while trying to stay alive in the present. Cracking cop show! (Mark: 9 out of 11)

MUNICH (2005) – NETFLIX

I appreciated this superlative Spielberg revenge thriller more the second time round as it really questions the nature of vengeance and the damaging impact on all those involved. The story focusses on Mossad’s hit squad and its mission to wipe out Palestinian “generals” responsible for planning the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972. Eric Bana, Ciaran Hinds and Daniel Craig are impressive in their respective roles and arguably this is Spielberg’s most complex and ambiguous directorial effort. It’s a must-see political thriller with many heart-pounding urban battle scenes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ROME – SEASON 2 (2007) – NETFLIX

After the bloody denouement of Season 1, Rome provided once again some gripping and devious drama following the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s backstabbing murder. Fantastic cast including Kevin McKidd, Polly Walker and James Purefoy tear up the scenery in a most entertaining history lesson. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

 

TRUMBO (2015) – CINEMA

Bryan Cranston is brilliant as black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who having served time for being a Communist found himself unable to work in Hollywood during the 50s and 60s. Ingeniously he worked under the radar gaining notoriety and secret acclaim and this film, while dramatically undercooked in places, stands as a fine tribute to a superb writer. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!

EXIST (2014) – NOW TV

Dreadful “found footage” film about some American morons being tracked and killed by a sasquatch. The monsters are pretty decent when you finally see them but the script and direction are awful. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

 

THE LAST FLIGHT (2009) – NETFLIX

This jumbled period drama set in between the 1st and 2nd World Wars finds Marion Cotillard’s pilot searching the desert for her lost love.  Insipid and lacking focus, I was bored throughout in a film which pretty much crashes on take-off. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

 

LAST KNIGHTS (2015) – NOW TV

Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman cannot save this below average medieval jaunt which has some okay violence and dramatic moments but is far too serious and dull. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)

 

LONG WAY DOWN (2014) – NETFLIX

So-so soapy suicide comedy-drama that is ultimately undemanding and under-nourished, but saved by an attractive cast including: Aaron Paul, Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette. (Mark: 4 out of 11)

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Ben Stiller stars in this insult to the original literary classic which reduces the fantasy elements to a mid-life-crisis-romance story involving the pursuit of a photograph and the meaning of life. It looks wonderful but is hollow and makes noises like a broken drum. (Mark: 4 out of 11)

 

REGRESSION (2015) – SKY MOVIES

Incredible to think Alejandro Amenabar directed this terrible horror/thriller which criminally wastes the talents of Ethan Hawke and David Thewlis in horribly under-baked occult story. (Mark: 3 out of 11)

 

WOMAN IN BLACK 2 (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

I thought the original was a nifty little horror film made with imagination, scares and respect for the horror genre. This WWII set film was a complete waste of time with weak story and scares. Avoid! (Mark: 3 out of 11)

100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

We all love an epic at the cinema; a film which takes it’s time to build up character, plot and suspense. However, to write a great film under 100 or so minutes requires incredible discipline. You need tough, lean writing and a methodical film editor. You need real focus on the plot and an eye to remove the extraneous and zip the story along. You need a brevity and wit in the writing to quickly establish the characters and gain audience empathy. Most of all you need a solid structure, with pace but without losing any depth.

In this little piece, I have a look at some brilliant FEATURE films that represent marvellous examples of fantastic writing all under the magic one hundred minute mark! I imagine most of us have seen these films but if you haven’t then please do so!

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet.  The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative cast including Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam etc.  It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, guilt and reasonable doubt; all cooked to perfection within a hundred magnificent minutes.

12angry

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

John Carpenter is a master at producing lean, mean fighting machine movies. This crime film is an unofficial remake of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and represents your genuine-classic-low-budget-one location-siege movie with a ragtag bunch of cops and cons fighting off hordes of street scum hell bent on revenge following the death of a gang leader. The film is a gritty joy full of hard-boiled characters and dialogue with a simple yet pulsating soundtrack written by Carpenter himself.

assault poster

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)

Basically take your pick from a slew of Woody Allen films which always tell a great story around the 90 minute mark. Yet, I chose Broadway Danny Rose as it is a comedy gem hidden amidst the treasure trove of a filmic oeuvre. It concerns a hapless agent with the worst roster of acts in New York and his hilarious run-in with the mob. Beautifully constructed with some cracking characters and one-liners, this is always worth another watch if you have 85 minutes to spare.

FARGO (1996)

“He was kinda funny-looking!” THAT line basically sums up the Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller. It’s a hilarious one-liner that becomes even funnier when delivered in the Minnesotan accent and in fact is a very important part of the plot. This film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind.

THE KILLING (1956)

Not the recent Scandinavian TV show but the early Stanley Kubrik crime classic constructed in a newsreel style with an authoritative god-like third person narration. It stars Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jnr and Timothy Carey as assorted array of lowdown criminals all combining to pull off a daring racecourse heist. The brilliance is in the metronomic telling of the tale as Kubrik builds suspense and tension throughout with a filmic confidence which would very much become part of his later, and much longer, epics.

MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981)

Slight cheat because the titular character was already established during George Miller’s original hard-core low-budget classic. Yet, this is a powerful and brutal apocalyptic Western with cars instead of horses and punk-bandits instead of indigenous Native Americans providing the foes. It smashes along at a wicked pace as hard-bitten and life-grilled Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) fights hell-for-leather to survive in the Aussie wasteland while hunting for gas and food.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

George A. Romero’s low-fi classic is the Godfather of all modern zombie movies. It’s another siege film as a group of various characters become holed up in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse attempting to avoid the living dead’s bloodthirsty clutches. Made literally on a shoestring from money raised independently (no Kickstarter back in those days), it would become one of the most successful horror films ever outside the Hollywood system. It’s grainy, creepy and gory and offers a subversive critique of the politics of the era.

PREDESTINATION (2014)

One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:

“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”

However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.

 

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Oh for the days when Tarantino didn’t have a lot of money and wrote cracking muscular scripts which defy genre conventions and rip along at breakneck speed. His recent epic films are just as entertaining as this heist-gone-wrong thriller but longer and arguably in need of a trim or two. I’ve seen this film many times and it still retains its vice-like power, as the masculine egos clash and kill each other right up to the bloody end.

 

TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

This is a both a literary and cinematic classic. It’s a snap-shot rollercoaster smash-cut of junkie vignettes which delivers on all sensory and emotional levels; with a cracking soundtrack to boot! From the twisted mind of Irvine Welsh, writer John Hodge and director Danny Boyle takes the seemingly unfilmable book and craft a fizzing, twisted vision of heroin addicts, which stylises the lifestyle with dark humour and a sense of loss at the devastating impact of addiction. Choose life: choose Trainspotting!


 

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.

UP (2009)

Take your pick from any number of Pixar classics notably the Toy Story trilogy, however, I have chosen this gem because it is just so damned imaginative and original. I mean, how’d you get a winning narrative out of an odd couple bromance between a grieving old geezer and an overweight Boy Scout. But this film does so in a great story about overcoming grief, companionship and finding comfort in helping others. Most of all it’s funny, touching and heart-toasting and does it all in fewer than 100 marvellous minutes.

SCREENWASH: JULY 2015 by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH: JULY 2015 by PAUL LAIGHT

Pretty busy this month with my film viewings so here’s every film I watched in the month of July 2015 with marks up to 11!

**MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD**

ANNABELLE (2014) – NOW TV

Prequel to the chilling James Wan horror The Conjuring (2013) which explains the backstory to creepy doll Annabelle and how it came to be such a malevolent force.  While not reaching the heart-in-mouth scares of Insidious (2010) there is much to raise the pulse here. I found the references to the Manson death-cults and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) influences to be interesting and there are some very jumpy moments.  The ending lets it down but worth a look while the star is the gnarled doll which never fails to chill one’s core. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

ANT-MAN (2015) – CINEMA

This was a blast!  The awesome Paul Rudd plays “good” criminal Scott Lang — a Robin Hood-style thief — who while down on his luck tries one last job so he can gain parental access to his daughter. Little does he know is he’s breaking into top scientist Hank Pym’s (excellent Michael Douglas) place and thus a chain of events occur making Lang a perfect candidate for Ant-Man.  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 a complex but well orchestrated final act heist. A fun supporting cast including: Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannevale, Michael Pena and scenery-chewing baddie Corey Stoll add class to proceedings and overall I had a great time watching this. It proved that not ALL superhero films have to be HUGE as sometimes small, rather than big, is beautiful. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

CLOWN (2014) – NOW TV

A father finds himself possessed by a monster having, inexplicably, tried an old clown suit on for his son’s birthday. It’s a low budget horror film from Canada and has decent moments of gore especially toward the end but clunky plotting really lets it down.  It gets on my nerves when screenwriters put massive bits of exposition in the MIDDLE of a film to try and get the audience up to speed with the narrative. Show don’t tell please!  The scene in the plastic-ball pit full of kids was good so worth a look at that. But coulrophobics beware as it gets nasty and definitely not one for the kids! (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) – NOW TV

This is pitched like a horror version of the 300 (2006) but lacks the brutal style of that muscular classic.  Basically, Vlad must protect his Transylvanian family from marauding Turks so does a deal with a demonic vampire (Charles Dance) to become a super-being. However, it comes with a Faustian price.  Some good action but the gore was too sanitized by the CGI for my liking but brooding Luke Evans — as the eponymous anti-hero — is great in this blood-thirsty prequelization of Bram Stoker’s literary classic.  (Mark: 6 out of 11)

FLAME & CITRON (2008) – NETFLIX

This is a thrilling Danish WW2 story charting the exploits of Danish Resistance fighters/assassins codenamed Flame and Citron.  Mads Mikkelsen portrays Jorgen, the latter of the partnership as he and compatriot Bendt laid waste to Nazis and their Danish collaborators amidst the German occupation.  Mikkelsen is very good at playing smooth characters but here he’s nervy, dirty, sweaty and living-on-the-edge. He brings his classic mournful look to a character fighting inner demons, traitors and Nazis; all the while trying to cling to the family he loves. War brought the worst and best out of people; sometimes at exactly the same time as this film ably illustrates. A fine war story expertly told. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011) – AMAZON PRIME

This was my favourite film I saw in July by a long, long way.  It is a coruscating and murderous satire with a savage script that lays into the United States of the media nation; notably reality TV and talent shows. It has a majestically deadpan and downtrodden performance from Joel Murray as Frank, a lowly office worker, who after having a REALLY bad day decides to go on a kill crazy rampage to rid the world of people who sicken him.  Think Falling Down (1993) but WITH hilarious jokes!  Along the way Frank obtains a teenage sidekick called Roxy and she joins him in the mayhem as they wipe out everyone from hate-filled preachers to obnoxious political commentators. It makes simple but valid critiques about modern culture and allows one to indulge and enjoy the height of revenge fantasies while filtering influences such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), It Happened One Night (1934) and other gun crazy road movies. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (2013) – NOW TV

This damned awful horror spoof couldn’t even be saved by a cast that includes Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn. It went for an Evil Dead style vibe as a bunch of live-action-role-playing game nerds accidentally conjure up a demon which wreaks havoc on their game-playing.  Ryan Kwanten plays a handsome mechanic who is taken along for the ride and potentially could have been another Ash in the making. But alas the script and style are abysmal and overall this is a charmless film. I will always try and give low budget horror films a break critically speaking but, this is neither funny or horrific enough to make it worth recommending. (Mark: 4.5 out of 11)

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014) – NOW TV

The great filmmaker Woody Allen is quietly turning out one film a year and this one is a pleasant sojourn through 1920s France and the relationship between misanthropic magician Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) and young psychic Sophie Baker (Emma Stone).  Basically, the older Crawford sets out to debunk pretty Sophie’s skills as a medium and it doesn’t take a seer to work out what happens.  It’s a sunny film full of eccentrics and has some interesting discourse on the nature of death and the “other” side.  While it lacks some of the classic Woody one-liners there’s gentle character humour to be found and Firth is always great, so it’s a film difficult not to enjoy.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

PURGE 2: ANARCHY (2014) – NOW TV

Sequel to The Purge (2013) takes the original’s claustrophobic home-invasion style and widens the action to the violent streets of the U.S.A. Again, criminals and ordinary citizens are given the chance, for ONE NIGHT ONLY, to commit any misdemeanour (rape, robbery, murder etc.) they so desire WITHOUT fear of arrest.  I absolutely love this idea and the first film was pretty decent but this one takes a funky concept and delivers a film which lacks wit, thrills and more importantly horror.  It’s not bad and the social satire works but it lacks a star to carry it and the characters are too paper-thin and badly written to care about. Some fun to be had with the urban warfare and the revenge on the filthy rich socialites that occurs but with a more imaginative director like say, James Wan, this could have been great. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

TED 2 (2015) – CINEMA

Sequel, believe it or not, to Ted (2012) – the one from the creator of Family Guy Seth Mcfarlane about the dope-smoking-sex-crazed-alcoholic-filth-mongering-talking-Teddy-bear.  I enjoyed the original but this one was even funnier as Ted (McFarlane) and his thunder-buddy John (Mark Wahlberg) fight the US courts to prove that Ted actually exists as a “person” in the eyes of the law.  The plot isn’t important really and merely acts as mannequin to hang a litany of sexual, druggy, politically-incorrect, sexist, offensive, toilet-humourist gags on.  Wahlberg is a blast, even when he’s drowning in semen, during one particular gross but hilarious scene. If that’s the level of your humour then you’ll love this! (Mark: 7 out of 11)

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014) – NOW TV

The latest TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE FILM was not half as bad as I thought it would be. But then again I could only sit through half of it as it was THAT bad. Here are some comments from my Facebook status: which say it all!

“I’ve never seen anything so lacking in charm.”

Starts off ok, but then becomes a mess.”

“I tapped out after 10 minutes of nothing but clunky exposition and the entire film treating it’s own premise like it’s a joke.”

(Mark: 4 out of 11 – mainly for the well-choreographed fight scenes)

TERMINATOR GENISYS – CINEMA

The iPhone spell checker changes Arnie to “sarnie” which is apt because the new Terminator film is a complete shit sandwich! It’s even worse than I thought it could be. It doesn’t make any sense as a story at all. Only Jason Clarke and Arnie himself save it with decent turns. The convoluted plot was an insult to the memory of the first two films and really this should be called Terminator: Genocide as it must have killed the franchise once and for all. How Jai Courtney gets work I do not know and the title SUCKS!  I just hope Schwarzenegger dies soon and can never say “I’ll be back!” ever again. (Mark: 4.5 out of 11)

TWO LOVERS (2008) – BLU RAY

A really intriguing, human and romantic drama which had some mature performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow, plus magnetic direction by James Gray.  It’s a slow-paced character piece with suicidal thirty-something Leonard trying to find some small happiness following the break-up of a recent engagement.  The joy comes from Phoenix’ darkly humorous and awkward acting performance and it’s the kind of film which at times is sometimes TOO painful to watch as Leonard finds he must choose between two women: the attractive, yet safe, Sandra played by Vinessa Shaw and the sexy, flaky human car-crash that is Michelle (Paltrow). I very much enjoyed this film as it acts as an anathema to the obvious slick-sugar-schtick that Hollywood usually pumps out. (Mark: 7 out of 11)  

 

SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES – #1 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES – #1 –  BY PAUL LAIGHT

Cinema, historically, is seen as a visual medium telling its’ stories via wonderful imagery and sequences spliced together to traverse the collective vision of an omnipotent director.  And there have been some incredible filmmakers who have created fantastic visual landscapes to be marvelled at such as: Stanley Kubrik, David Lean, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Andrei Tarkovsky and er. . . Michael Bay.  Yet, as much as I love the films of such ‘epic’ filmmakers you just can’t beat a brilliantly written piece of dialogue created by a screenwriter and delivered by an actor committed to the character and performance.

Bad dialogue will be on-the-nose, telling us the story specifically and reveal half-baked emotions from paper-thin characters; while great dialogue will tell us about character, theme, and subtext as well as make the audience laugh, cry and most importantly feel emotion.  I love dialogue which is both funny and dramatic and reveals the nature and dynamics of characters’ relationships; especially scenes where characters verbally abuse each other or have gone into meltdown mode.

So, here’s a random list of some of my favourite dialogue scenes and why I like them so much. But, of course, the dialogue would probably be nothing without some fine performances too.  I’m certain there’s many, many more scenes or monologues I’ve left out but as Osgood says to Jerry in SOME LIKE IT HOT – in one of the greatest final lines of any movie – “Nobody’s Perfect!”

(SPOILER ALERT and assumptions you have seen these films. If not, why not!?)

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

 “Nobody’s Perfect!”

Voted one of, if not the best comedy ever by the American Film Institute this scene is a gimme. It is genuinely the funniest ending to a great comedy.  The dialogue is both hilarious and nails the characters’ personas right to the end. Cool heartthrob Joe (Tony Curtis) gets the ultimate blonde bombshell, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) while hapless loser Jerry’s (Jack Lemmon) plan to marry for a big settlement backfires splendidly.  Lemmon was one of the greatest screen actors ever as he was able to do comedy, pathos and drama with wonderful timing and he shows that in this highly witty scene.

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

 “Why Am I Mr Pink?”

I love Tarantino’s dialogue. For me he’s the closest you’ll get to a 20th Century Shakespeare.  All his films – apart from Death Proof (2007) which I hate – have wonderful characters, casting and set-pieces. Most of his scripts tend to be a tad overlong  e.g. Kill Bill (2004) could and should have been one film. Therefore, because of its’ economy, muscular writing and fast pacing, Reservoir Dogs (1992), remains a major favourite of his ouevre.  I love the temporally jigsawed order, testosteronic cast and above all else, the hard-boiled dialogue. It’s lean, bruised and biting; spat out by unreconstructed men who are destined to die a violent, painful death.

The Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) ‘I don’t tip’ scene deserves to be on this list but the one where they all get their names from big Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) is a  diamond in a cluster of sparkling rough.  Industrial language crackles from the screen and the hilarious argument that ensues further sums up Mr Pink’s petty-minded character. Interestingly, this scene was not in the original screenplay and was added to the film during shooting.


MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

“If you can’t trust a fix. What can you trust?”

The opening scene of Miller’s Crossing – like the whole movie – perfectly encapsulates the 1920s/1930s language of America as represented by, not actuality, but the works of noir novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The Coens’ postmodern vision creates a world of violence, dames, sluggers, double-crosses and prohibition-led organized crime. The scene begins with a speech by Italian gang-leader Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who espouses his “ethical” modus operandi on fight-fixing to soon-to-be-rival Leo (Albert Finney). While the dialogue crackles and pops; the scene also foregrounds all the key characters on screen at the time and those to appear later in the movie – notably John Turturro’s slimy bookie Bernie Birnbaum. You could probably do a Top 100 of great dialogue scenes from Coen Brothers’ movies and this is certainly up there with the best of them.

Johnny Caspar:  I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell. Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics. It’s gettin’ so a businessman can’t expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return, you gotta go bettin’ on chance – and then you’re back with anarchy, right back in the jungle.

MISERY (1990)

“He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!!”

Kathy Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her barnstorming performance as Annie Wilkes. Stephen King’s Wilkes’ is a charismatic lunatic who takes the ‘I’m your number one fan’ maxim to the extreme. This scene reveals more, in some ways, than the memorably gruesome ‘hobbling’ scene. It shows Wilkes’ skewed understanding of narrative by revealing her disgust at ‘cheating’ cliffhangers of Saturday morning serials.  While her language is funny, the delivery and anger in Bates’ performance is very unnerving as demonstrated by Caan’s stunned reaction when he realises he is in the company of a very disturbed individual.  Lastly, I actually agree with her!  They always cheated in those TV shows!

 

WITHNAIL & I (1986)

“What’s your name – Mcfuck?!”

Definitely in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, WITHNAIL & I simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners and speeches.  I recall being incredibly drunk following a birthday party and watching this scene over and over again and almost choking on my own laughter.  It’s still quite early in the film but the relationship between permanently inebriated cowardly ‘thespian’ Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the eponymous ‘I’ (Paul McGann) is perfectly crystallized in their exchanges with the dangerously lubricated Irish barfly.

Withnail not only reveals his ineptitude in facing physical confrontation but is more than happy to stitch his companion up in a scene which is later mirrored during their run-in with a randy bull. Moreover, the scene slyly sets up the character of Monty (Richard Griffiths) and the disastrous trip to the country, demonstrating great writing in burying such exposition within the comical encounter.  Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I again unfortunately. But his screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time.

 

ANNIE HALL (1977)

“I have to go Duane – I’m due back on Planet Earth.”

Arguably the most brilliant and prolific screenwriter/directors ever, Woody Allen’s movies – especially his ‘early, funny films’ – are jammed with gags, slapstick and cracking one-liners.  Allen’s cinematic art would mature and his hilarious romantic comedy Annie Hall forms a creative bridge between the joke-driven all-out comedies and the more dramatic works featured in Allen’s oeuvre. Annie Hall is obviously still of full of punchline-led scenes as it tells a classic boy-meets-girl-boy-breaks-up-with-girl-boy-analyses-where-it-all-went-wrong tale, only Allen could pull off.

I could’ve picked any number of great scenes from Annie Hall but one I always remember features the majestically intense – even as a youngster – Christopher Walken. It’s his only scene but he still stands out as Annie’s brother, Duane: a psychotic loner with suicidal tendencies.  His short but very dramatic monologue is perfectly delivered as Duane confesses a desire to kill himself in an automobile accident. Comedy arrives by virtue of Allen’s squirming reactions in the car with Duane and the final pay-off is an absolute treat.

 

BRIDESMAIDS (2011)

“I feel bad for your face!”

I love this scene because it really sums up Kristen Wiig’s unhappy-go-lucky-loser-status in the film.  Wiig’s Annie suffers a severe case of arrested development throughout and in the squabble with the young girl she should really be mature and know better. Annie’s in negative equity romantically and forever in the shadow of other more successful women and just as things cannot get any worse she enters into a ping-pong argument with this brattish teenager that escalates WAY out of control. It culminates in a wonderfully rude topper of a punchline that left me laughing my head off.  There’s also an element of wish fulfilment in there too as I would love to have let rip in a similar fashion during my time in customer service.

 

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – (1992)

“Fuck you! That’s my name!”

In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin plays the character Blake, almost earning the silver-tongued raconteur an Oscar for the role. He’s in ONE scene. ONE scene, yet because of David Mamet’s mercurial speech he steals the whole film.   This is no mean feat given the cast contains an annual Oscar Best Actor nominee list: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce.  Blake’s speech is a rallying call for the sales team to raise their game, full of acronymic inspiration and cursing and flat-track bullying. It quickly turns to a litany of threats, abuse and monetary grandstanding as the sales guys just don’t respond to Blake’s aggressive personality.  I fucking hate sales jobs and they suck because of guys like Blake who do not care about the customer – just the dough!  Although having said that if I’d heard Mamet’s speech delivered by Baldwin I’d be ready to sell snow to the Eskimos.  He’s that good!

STAND UPS THAT DELIVERED ON THE SILVER SCREEN – by Paul Laight

STAND UPS THAT DELIVERED ON THE SILVER SCREEN – by Paul Laight

Getting on stage and making a room full of strangers laugh spontaneously through a joke, impression, improvisation, song etc. is arguably one of the mightiest challenges facing a performer. But for many successful stand-up comedians the thrill of reducing a room to shakes of laughter is not enough; hence why so many have attempted to transfer their undoubted comic and acting artistry to the silver screen.  Plus there’s more dough involved in making movies. As a massive fan of both cinema and stand-up comedy I thought it interesting to look at some of the best dramatic performances committed to celluloid by stand-up comics.

Eddie Murphy – 48 Hours (1982)

Before Eddie Murphy single-handedly set about making his very own list of the worst movies ever made he took his raw, rap, crack and pop stand-up persona and committed to screen great performances in Trading Places (1983) Beverley Hills Cop (1984) and Walter Hill’s rock hard-boiled 48 Hours (1982). Buddied-up with Nick Nolte’s life-frazzled cop, Murphy was perfectly cast as cool convict Reggie Hammond. Murphy is tough, uncompromising and funny: spitting out classic dialogue such as “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows” – with a verve that is sorely missing from virtually all his film output of the last 15 years.


Woody Allen – Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)

Arguably, Allen’s recent movies have not been up to the quality of his earlier “funnier” films but I like them nonetheless as he has consistently produced work rich with great lines, ideas and characters.  In the 1980’s Allen’s films matured and more often than not centred around familial, human and sexual relationships. As well as writing and directing Allen also acted in most of his films using his Jewish, neurotic, angsty persona to comic and dramatic effect. In Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) he delivers another fine performance drawing out pathos, empathy and pain as a documentary filmmaker who is trying to make sense of life and why we are on this planet.  The film is multi-stranded with a wonderful ensemble cast including Alan Alda and Martin Landau on particularly great form.

Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple (1985)

Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe where her work and would then be cast in Spielberg’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple (1985). While Goldberg would earn an Oscar for her over-the-top turn in potter’s-wheel-ten-hankie-weepie Ghost (1990), but it is her first ever screen appearance which will stay in the memory. Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered and beaten by life but whom amidst the misery and abuse retains a strength and desire to not let life destroy her. Goldberg brings a tremendous innocence, fortitude and compassion to the part; and considering it is her first ever movie role it is an amazing achievement.

 

Will Ferrell – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Ferrell cut his comedy fangs in The Groundlings, an LA improv group, and would later take his comic creations onto Saturday Night Live. Hilarious turns as hick racing driver Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights (2006) and more famously as Ron Burgundy – the king of unreconstructed male chauvinist stupidity – in Anchorman (2004) would cement Ferrell’s success as a movie actor. Famous for stupid haircuts, overcharged yelling and screen-mugging Ferrell toned it down as tax inspector Harold Crick in Marc Forster’s moving dramedy, Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell’s Crick is a lonely individual, a man of routine and commonplace whose life is turned topside down when he hears his every move being narrated by Emma Thompson’s meta-omnipotent author. As he struggles to find ‘the voice’ Crick begins to question his whole existence and this gives Ferrell the opportunity to live a character with depth and emotion hitherto unseen in his previous screen caricatures.

Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)

While Chris Rock arguably takes the stand-up comic kudos between these two graduates of influential American sketch show, In Living Color, Foxx’s film career has flourished with a series of fantastic movie performances. But it was playing Ray Charles in Ray (2004) that Foxx left Rock’s movie career, in comparison, eating the proverbial dust sandwich. Of course it won him the Oscar but it was more than just an impression of Charles as Foxx gave this musical genius a flawed humanity and pain that moved both the audience and the Academy.  Foxx threw himself into the role with abandon musically and dramatically, showing Charles’ darker addictive side as well as his magnetism, humour and incredible drive. Unsurprisingly, the same year, Foxx was also nominated for his sterling work in Mann’s urban noir Collateral losing out in that category to the king-of-expositional-voiceover Morgan Freeman.

Robin Williams – One Hour Photo (2002)

A running trope in this list finds many of the acts turning their manic comedic persona on its’ head and internalizing the mania or psychosis with understated performances. Indeed, I have read articles which link certain mental states with the comedic mind and in Robin Williams you could not get a more manic, fevered, out-of-this-world performer. After a slow start cinematic success would arrive eventually and I could have chosen Good Will Hunting (1997) or Good Morning Vietnam (1987) or Dead Poet’s Society (1989)as these were great roles for Williams. But in 2002 he took a couple of darker turns in Nolan’s pre-Batman thriller Insomnia and a lower-budget thriller called One Hour Photo. The latter found Williams playing a solitary Photo Technician who takes an unhealthy interest in one particular family.  Yet Williams’ character is no ordinary psycho but rather a pained individual longing to be part of a family unit. The actor terrifies the audience with his obsessive nature but at the end the performance humanizes the character rather than making him a one-dimensional lunatic he could so easily of been.


Jim Carrey – Man On The Moon (1998)

Carrey is an absolute force of nature as a stage and sketch performer and brought that dynamic physicality, silly voices and zany gurning to great effect in films such as: Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994).  As he gained further success he would stretch his acting muscles with more dramatic and riskier roles.  He was ideally cast as Intergender Wrestling Champion of the world Andy Kaufmann and (best known for his role in U.S. sitcom Taxi) and also doubled-up by playing Kaufmann’s alter-ego Tony Clifton (with Paul Giamatti.)  Kaufmann was arguably the very first anti-comedian; gaining laughs or at the very least trying to get laughs from being deliberately unfunny and antagonistic. Carrey takes on all the incarnations with much skill and humour and rather than be just a very good impression he zones his usual mania, creating a complex character whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The film was criticized by some for taking liberties with Kaufmann’s life and it was a relative failure at the box office, but Carrey deservedly won many awards and nominations for his diverse performance.

 

Billy Connolly – The Debt Collector (1997) 

Connolly’s performance in Mrs Brown would be the most obvious choice for Scotland’s imperious stand-up comedy legend, however, I’m not a fan of films about the Royal Family and the brutal Debt Collector is more to my taste. The Big Yin is compelling in this grim, gritty thriller inspired by career criminal turned artist/novelist, Jimmy Boyle.  Connolly’s working class and artistic background also resonates in the Nicky Dryden character trying to go straight; only to be pursued relentlessly by Ken Stott’s obsessive cop. Connolly’s raconteurial, larger-than-life stand-up style is in complete contrast to the serious character of Dryden who having escaped the mean streets of snooker halls of Glasgow is now a feted figure on the art scene.  Stott’s vindictive cop cannot abide Dryden’s success and sets about bringing Dryden down. The scenes between Connolly and Stott are the stand-out in this dark, violent tale which is unflinching in tone and certainly darker than anything Connolly has been in before or since.

Richard Pryor – Blue Collar (1980)

Paul Schrader wrote existential urban Western Taxi Driver (1976) but also directed some compelling dramas.  Blue Collar is probably his best film and it is my favourite Richard Pryor performance.  Pryor had reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian shifting his persona from likeable TV friendly gag-man to a snarling, coked-up, angry social satirist. He would roughen out the edges of this act to become the slick, effervescent and honest performer who turned the dramas and stories of his life into comedy gold. Pryor would be a natural comic force on silver screen and formed a fine double act with Gene Wilder. However, Blue Collar is the best film I saw him in as it combines the humour, drama and social commentary that Pryor himself included in his act.  Set in Detroit it highlights the hypocritical machinations of Union practices at a car plant. Pryor provided some humour but his character shows an anger and energy throughout which may or may not have been fuelled by his Olympic coke-taking. Egos clashed among cast (including Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel) and crew and it shows on screen in a fiery examination of the working class man and his lot.


 

Jerry Lewis – The King Of Comedy (1983)

To be able to steal the acting honours from Robert DeNiro at the height of his golden acting period takes some beating. But that is what old-school-crazed-slapstick-movie-mad-man Jerry Lewis did in Scorcese’s dramedy about obsessives.  DeNiro is funny, embarrassing and tragic as the bottom-runged comedian but Lewis’ performance as hangdog, lonely and jaded chat-show host Jerry Langford stole the show. Langford, a successful TV presenter, remains at the height of his career but lives a seemingly lonely life with just his work for company.  On the surface a decent guy but underneath he’s a jaded workaholic. DeNiro’s Pupkin enthusiastic, aspirational, hero-worshipping comic stalks him and becomes Langford’s own worst nightmare.  There are so many painful scenes of toe-curling embarrassment in this movie notably when deluded Pupkin invites himself to Langford’s country retreat. When Langford is left at the mercy of Sandra Bernhard’s unhinged harpy Lewis’ performance is one of raging deadpan as he simmers with rage until he bursts like a pustule on escape and leaps down the road with tape around his ankles like bicycle clips. A truly under-rated gem of a performance and film.

 

Eric Bana – Chopper (2000)

Australian actor Bana started off in stand-up and TV sketch shows and was a novice dramatically speaking when cast as violent-criminal-turned-best-selling-novelist Marc Brandon Read. Given his comedic background Bana’s rendition is very funny but ultimately there is a dark drama and bloody violence too in the representations of this powerhouse of the Melbourne underworld.  His creation is a paranoid, angsty, neurotic monster capable of terrific rage one moment then over-powering guilt the next.  It’s a rounded version of a split-personality both interested in robbing drug dealers but also with his own myth, persona and media representation. There’s some terrific dialogue and Aussie banter between Chopper and the various low-lifes he encounters; and some visceral violence, notably when Chopper gets his ears cut off to navigate a route out of jail.  The film holds a mirror up to a twisted society which creates celebrities out of killers and those who act outside of the law and it is to Bana’s credit that he makes this monster funny and likeable despite his actions deserving the contrary.

 

Mo’Nique – Precious (2009)

I wasn’t aware of Mo’Nique’s background as a stand-up comedian when I first saw this heartwrenching drama, but after witnessing her incredible performance I did some research and found she worked her way up from the open-mic circuit of Baltimore to the lofty heights of Best Supporting Actress.  Her character Mary Lee Johnson is an emotionally-damaged-dysfunctional-car-crash-human-bully who puts her daughter Precious (equally brilliant Gabourey Sidibe) through all manner of abuse and neglect.  As horror after horror befalls the story’s heroine her mother sits on the sofa barking, castigating, demanding; making her life a living hell.  It’s a monstrous creation but one which is not without compassion as shown in one of the final scenes in the film where Mary Lee Johnson, in tears, asks, “Who was gonna love me?” And the strength of the performance is that we almost feel bad for this woman. Almost.

 

Steve Martin – The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

Steve Martin’s film career is quite similar to Eddie Murphy’s inasmuch as his early films matched the brilliance and energy of his stand-up career only to find him moving later to more sub-par-Hollywood-generic-remakes like Bilko. But you can’t blame a performer wanting to make a living and Martin is one of the great Renaissance Men. He also wrote of one of the greatest books I’ve read about comedy:  Born Standing Up. As an actor he’s always really funny playing downtrodden man-children or idiots happy to send himself up gaining laughs from crazed anger while remaining totally unthreatening; e.g. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). In David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner he played against type with a sinister turn in this cold, twisting thriller.  Martin underplays throughout with intelligence and handles Mamet’s crisp dialogue with aplomb. It’s a fine film and performance utilising his linguistic skills expertly and I have no Clouseau why he didn’t go darker more often.