Screenplay by: Ian McEwan (Based on: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough
Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I watch a lot of films. I also write screenplays. Indeed, over the last twenty-five years I have studied and read many “how to” write screenplay courses, books, and articles. One of the major rules of screenwriting, as opposed to radio and television writing is to SHOW and not tell. Deliver your story via the images, performance and shot composition rather than obvious dialogue which spells everything out. As a writer of incredible talent Ian McEwan has, along with director Dominic Cooke and their editor, created an intriguing story of lost love and romance. It flashes forward and back between the past and present beautifully and certainly shows rather than tells the story in a less than obvious fashion. In fact, for me it was ultimately TOO subtle in delivery and the emotional ramifications of certain events are lost in the subtext.
The story begins in the 1960s as newlyweds, Florence and Edward, nervously entwine on their wedding day. As portrayed by the imperious Saoirse Ronan and compelling Billy Howle we are immediately empathetic of their situation and time. Because traditionally, unlike the more sexualised mores of today, religion and social convention would dictate that the couple were more likely to be virgins. Therefore the nervous glances and small-talk slowly build a sexual tension creating an incredibly awkward and embarrassing mid-point moment between the characters. McEwan’s script also flashes back to the past establishing how the characters met. Edward is a lower-middle class boy from a rural background while Florence’s family are more upper-middle class capitalists. As presented in other McEwan works class tensions also propel the drama as Florence’s family look down on Edward somewhat.
There is a lot of depth within the characterisations notably from Ann-Marie McDuff as Edward’s unfortunate mother. Although, at times I wasn’t sure how her mental condition was linked to the themes of the piece, the performance of the actor alone was fascinating throughout. Ultimately, it’s a film about love, loss and terrible secrets; notably how past events can haunt the present. However, in choosing to bury the big reveal within a blink-and-you-miss-it flashback, the poetic editing, in my opinion, took away from the dramatic power and potential catharsis in denouement. On occasions telling us as well as showing us can empower an audience to feel even more for the characters.
Dominic Cooke marshals the film with an assured hand as befits an experienced theatre director. Ronan and Howle give brilliant performances. In fact, I don’t think there is a better and more consistent young actor than Saoirse Ronan. In films such as: Atonement (2007), Hanna (2011), Brooklyn (2015), Lady Bird (2017) and now On Chesil Beach (2017), she has proved herself capable of capturing depth and emotional power with her performances. Ronan and her romantic counterpart, Howle, make the film worthy of your attention even if I was left mildly bewildered, valiantly trying to work out why their characters’ relationship was doomed to fail.
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur. Simon Emanuel
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Based on Characters: by George Lucas
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Anyone for another round of Star Wars bingo?
In a particularly biting satirical swipe at George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the South Park episodes Free Hat (Season 6) and the latter episode The China Probrem (Season 12), criticized the filmmakers for digitally altering their beloved Indiana Jones films on re-re-re-re-release. The China Probrem took the barbs even further (too far one could argue) by showing a lascivious Lucas/Spielberg raping Indiana Jones. I mean, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skulls (2008) wasn’t great but to suggest its sexual assault on one’s childhood memories and a beloved character did have me spewing out my metaphorical popcorn in shock.
Moreover, South Park further lambasted the avarice of corporate culture, specifically Disney, and their purchase of Lucasfilm in the excellent episode from Season 16 Obama Wins! All this proves is that controversial and offensive satire cannot and will not change the Panzer-like “progress” of the Mickey Mouse machine. They own many of the biggest film franchises and absolutely will not stop until they have our money. What can you do? Do you rebel against the Disney Death Star or do you join the dark side? After all, it could be fun.
Indeed, after all the apparent production shenanigans reported on the set of Solo (2018) – notably the “sacking” of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – I can advise that this latest Star Wars prequel is a lot of fun. That darned elephant in the room still haunts the film though and that is the nature of prequels. Whatever danger you put your protagonists in you know they are going to survive; thus, tension is very often lost within the action and drama. Having said that Star Wars fans will have a lot of joy ticking off HOW Han Solo’s early life began and how he originated into one of the best characters of the whole science-fantasy series.
Characterisation is in fact one of the strengths of the film in my view. Solo comes from sewers of a guttural world and chances and gambles his way through the story but with strong motivation. His devotion to Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a powerful spine with which to hang the excellent action set-pieces on. Their romance and the chemistry between Clarke and Ehrenreich is palpable throughout and drives the story into interesting areas. Alden Ehrenreich, I think, is a bona fide movie star. He shone in Hail Caesar (2016) and does so as Han Solo. Whatever the difficulties were on-set I think his likeability and acting style brings handsome energy and humour to the role. I especially loved the gambling-fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants nature of Solo’s character which owes much to Lucas’ original scripts.
Overall, Solo is a very entertaining join-the-dots prequel that ticks off all the by-the-numbers Star Wars scenes, tropes and characters including: the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca, the Empire, Lando, the Kessel Run, plus many more to keep the fans happy. Lastly, Solo works very well as both an origins story and a fantastic fusion of heist and Western films. The supporting cast all deliver in a positive way, notably the charismatic Donald Glover and always reliable Woody Harrelson. While you can often see an element of chaos in certain scenes I think the steady directing hand of Ron Howard has delivered a franchise film which will safely keep Disney’s gravy train on track. In fact, both prequels have been, in my humble opinion, better than The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017), because Solo (2018) and Rogue One (2016), actually have narratives which made some emotional sense.
THE HOLY CORE – A STAR TREK FAN FILM – PRODUCTION UPDATE
Just a quick update to say that another short screenplay I have co-written has just been funded and has entered the pre-production phase. It’s a follow up to our Star Trek fan film Chance Encounter called The Holy Core.
Alas, the Kickstarter campaign did not reach its target but out of the blue a private donor gifted the full budget to enable Gary and Fix Films to make the production a reality.
So, we are very grateful to the donor and to everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign and look forward to making The Holy Core.
It is an exciting script which we would describe as a thoughtful science fiction adventure story examining the values of faith and science set against a backdrop of religious fanaticism and romantic love.
CONTRASTING DREAMS ON PAGE AND SCREEN: REVIEWING THE WORK OF PHILIP K. DICK
“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, what is real? I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”
― Philip K. Dick
For a writer who wrote extensively about artificial intelligence and technology, Philip K. Dick himself was in fact a certifiable writing machine, publishing over 44 novels, a further 120-odd short stories, plus a whole vision of manuscripts, essays and other literary paraphernalia. His death at the relatively young age of 53 took an incredible genius away from us; however, you’re never too far away from his work either on TV, computer or at the cinema.
The latest cinema release inspired by Dick’s vision was the beautifully directed space epic Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Here Denis Villeneuve picked up the baton from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); an adaptation of K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). But of course his stories have also given us film adaptations including: Minority Report (2002), Total Recall (1990 & 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Next (2007), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006) etc. Moreover, Amazon has recently adapted his classic 1962 alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle (2015) to positive acclaim.
With Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror jumping ship to Netflix, Channel Four UK (Sony / Amazon in the U.S.A) and various other production companies) must have felt there was a “futuristic anthology show” hole in their schedule. Thus, they obtained the rights to Philip K. Dick’s back catalogue and produced a show called Electric Dreams – shown in two halves in 2017 and 2018. The production values were very high and some extremely talented actors, producers, writers and directors were brought in to bring ten Dickian short stories to the TV screen. Such creative luminaries included: Janelle Monae, Dee Rees, Ronald Moore, Juno Temple, Bryan Cranston, David Farr, Matthew Graham, Timothy Spall, Jack Thorne, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Travis Beacham, Richard Madden, Vera Farmiga and many more.
I have immersed myself in the novels, cinema and TV work inspired by Philip K. Dick recently. I was fascinated by the themes and narratives represented and comparisons between the literary and screen works. How did they compare to Dick’s original vision and how do they differ?
NIGHTMARE THEMES IN ELECTRIC DREAMS
Of late I have read his novels Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), Ubik (1969) and the collection of short stories – collated in conjunction with the Channel 4 series – Electric Dreams. Moreover, I have seen most of his works adapted for cinema. His narratives are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal in reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place where you are unsure as to what is occurring is in the real world or some imagined or manufactured nightmare. Technology, disease and war are more than often a threat. The biggest threat though is humanity and its seeming endless proclivity for inventing weapons, machines and viruses with which to kill. Paranoia and doubt infect Dick’s work making you feel as trapped as his characters. Further, mutated strands of humanity are a staple trope where telepaths and empaths inhabit his oeuvre; along with classic science fiction aliens and monsters from outer space too.
The narratives, while possessing an otherworldly and futuristic feel, paradoxically feel realistic because his characters are everyday people. They are rarely action heroes or soldiers or scientists but rather administrators or office staff, factory or transport workers. They are family people trying to make their way through life and the horrors the world throws at them. Given Dick was writing during the 1950s onwards it’s not surprising that the threat of nuclear war hung heavy within his words. Furthermore, the rapid technological breakthroughs which, while offering hope for humanity, brought with it a movement to the loss of free will and a possible future governed by machines. Big corporations, banks, governments and computers all erode and destroy the very fabric of being in Dick’s world rendering human identity and existence obsolete. His universe is brimming with people under threat, humans desiring to escape and a questioning of what it means to be human.
CONTEXTUALISING THE NIGHTMARES
**CONTAINS FILM AND LITERARY SPOILERS**
Adapting Dick’s work can be complex because what works on the page as a concept can be difficult to transfer to a visual medium. Conversely, his work is often altered beyond recognition with fragments of the initial idea remaining while others stay true to the original. The original and subsequent sequel of Bladerunner (1982) are very faithful to the structure and futuristic vision of Dick’s original novel; retaining the ‘hunting of replicants’ plot and the existential question of whether an android can be considered human. In Electric Dreams the adaptation of the short story Human Is. . . . poses a similar question. In this story a wife faces the choice as to whether her husband, whose body has been invaded by an alien, is in fact more human because he is an improvement and displaying idealised human traits such as kindness and love. The flipside of this occurs in the film adaptation of Imposter (2002), and the short story adaptation The Father Thing, where nefarious aliens hell-bent on invasion take over the humans in order to divide and conquer. Human Is… both the short story and television adaptation are particularly convincing as many people have all been trapped in dying relationships where we wish we could change our partner. Dick’s story takes this idea and makes it real and emotionally very powerful.
Certain filmmakers, when adapting Dick’s work, will mould their style to his vision. For example, in the Steven Spielberg directed thriller Minority Report (2002), Dick’s pre-crime conspiracy model was presented as an action pursuit film with Tom Cruise going on the run for a crime he may or may not have committed. Spielberg retains the initial idea and concepts relating to pre-cognitive telepathy and empathic mutation but renders it a more fast-paced and spectacular cinematic experience. Similarly, telepathy and mutants feature heavily in Matthew Graham’s pretty faithful adaptation of The Hoodmaker. Like Minority Report telepaths are exploited by the government and law to do their bidding, only for the system to be corrupted and used for death by those in power.
Dick’s story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, has been adapted on two occasions as Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Paul Verhoeven’s earlier version about warring government agents and colonies on Mars is an absolute blast. Dick’s concepts relating to alternative realities and implanted memories are fused with an explosive Arnold Schwarzenegger action film. Yet, what is retained amidst the shoot-outs and spectacular set-pieces is the main protagonists’ life dissatisfaction and desire to escape their everyday existence for something more exciting. This is a common theme in Dick’s work and can also be found in the Electric Dreams’ stories Impossible Planet and The Commuter. In the latter a Station clerk finds a hitherto lost “town” which offers a means of escape from his seemingly humdrum life but it comes at a cost. While Total Recall raises the pace and stakes within an interplanetary setting, The Commuter is more ordinary and emotional in its cerebral representation.
Political, social and technological corruption is present in many of Dick’s other works too. In Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darkly (2006), an undercover cop battles to conceal his identity while struggling with drug addiction. While in Electric Dreams, Dee Rees’ rendition of Dick’s short story The Hanging Man, takes an allegorical story about social unrest and fascistic hangings, turning it into a thought-provoking, paranoiac nightmare scenario. Rees calls her story Kill All Others, where we find Mel Rodriguez’s factory worker driven by fake news and political manipulation during an election. This eerily reflects much of the social and media saturation seen during Donald Trump’s U.S. election win. Likewise the adaptation of Foster, Your Dead became the very impactful Safe and Sound; and examined the deadly possibilities of technology firms manipulating youth within the context of the war on terror.
Arguably not as successful, however, was the Tony Grisoni adaptation called Crazy Diamond. This episode completely altered Dick’s story Sales Pitch, which told of a relentless Sales-Bot who won’t take no for an answer. In fact I had no idea what Crazy Diamond was trying to say and perhaps the writer should have stuck to Dick’s intriguing techo-nightmare premise. Indeed, threat of technology and the inevitable doom progress represents is also presented in the excellent episode called Autofac. Dick wrote this story in 1955 and set it after an apocalyptic world war has devastated Earth’s civilizations. All that remains is a network of hardened robot “Autofacs” supplying goods to the human survivors. However, these drones and bots are in fact hindering survival and the idea is incredibly prescient. Indeed with the rise of Amazon and Google and Apple industries our society is becoming more dependent on such technology to the extent we could be classed as helpless without it.
Lastly, what Electric Dreams demonstrates, along with the many film adaptations of his work, is that Dick’s concepts are just as relevant, if not more so than at the time of writing. Moreover, what this thematic and genre contextualisation of Dick’s work illustrates is that universal themes such as: the desire to escape; what it means to be human; media manipulation; fear of technology and war; oppressive government regimes; and all round insidious paranoia about a very dark future are inescapable and will always be part of society and the human condition.
I will never forgive the show Hamilton! For one it just wasn’t my thing. Clearly it was a brilliant mix of hip-hop history; with incredible choreography allied to a fascinating “founding fathers” narrative. But a freak diary clash caused me to have to miss Spurs last 16 second-leg tie against Juventus. My wife insisted I go to watch Hamilton as the show was booked months in advance. Anyway, I found out that Spurs lost at Wembley via the BBC Sports website and it was a crushing blow. Having to sit through two-and-a-half hours of musical theatre was bad enough, but Spurs going out of the Champions League, when in control of the tie, was a very bitter pill to swallow.
Indeed, I’m not afraid to say that this season I lost faith in football, not Spurs as I generally keep my expectations steady, but rather football as a passion. It’s rather pathetic and narcissistic I know but my obsession with Spurs and football got so ridiculous that I ended up smashing plates up in the kitchen when they lost to Manchester United in the 2018 FA Cup semi-final. I was very drunk on beer but that’s no excuse. I mean emotional outbursts in over-reaction to things one cannot control are, to quote a famous Vulcan, illogical.
Perhaps it was because a friend of mine had passed away recently and it came on top a bit, but losing that semi-final to Manchester United was devastating for all Spurs supporters. It was especially difficult to watch us take the lead through Dele Alli’s goal and then see us ground down mentally by Mourinho’s Red Devils. In my view it shouldn’t happen. Not the actual loss but getting upset at football. It’s just a hobby and I have no control over what eleven strangers do on a football pitch. Ultimately, supporting Tottenham Hotspur FC should be a pleasurable and fun thing to do and on the main the season was relatively positive. But how did we do?
SCORES ON THE DOORS
Premier League Finishing position: 3rd
Premier League Total points: 77
Premier League Goals Scored: 74
Champions League: Round Last 16
FA Cup: Semi-finals
Carabao Cup: Fourth round
Top scorer: HARRY KANE (30 goals)
Most Assists: DELE ALLI / CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN (10 assists)
Record Premier League Attendance: 81978 versus Manchester Utd – Wembley Stadium
Premier League Highest Placed London Team
Tottenham finished the 2017/18 Premier league season in third place, booking a spot in next year’s Champions League. They almost made the quarter-finals of the Champions League but the clinical Italian team Juventus unpicked their defensive locks at crucial times to steal the match away from them. With the incredible Manchester City smashing all ahead of them in the Premier League, I felt the FA Cup was our best chance of silverware, however, Ander Herrera’s winning goal and an lacklustre second half display did for us in that game against Manchester United.
Overall, I think 3rd was a creditable finishing place in the league. We could have nicked second but there was no stopping Pep Guardiola’s light-blue behemoth breaking the hearts of the other teams. Spurs did well, given they played all their home games at Wembley. But for some early stutters against Chelsea, Burnley, Swansea and West Bromwich Albion our form there was excellent. The highlights were of course defeating Manchester United and Liverpool as well as thumping victories against Southampton, Stoke and Everton. Our away form was pretty consistent too although, some unnecessary draws, plus defeats to Manchester City and Manchester United were disappointing due to the poor team shows. However, we FINALLY we beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ONE HUNDRED YEARS! Or so it felt (it was 28 years!)
I guess the major highlights of the season were our Champions’ League group stage victories over Borussia Dortmund and the mighty Real Madrid. I was at the Madrid game at Wembley and the atmosphere was beyond words. We managed to beat Ronaldo and Madrid’s Galacticos 3-1 at Wembley on an electric night. The sad thing is Real Madrid are now in the Champions League final and we again end the season with nothing but the glory of our memories.
Once again HARRY KANE had an incredible season. He scored 30 goals in the Premier League; only Mohammad Salah’s amazing skills and finishing stopped him winning the Golden Boot. CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN in midfield consistently proved himself a master of passing and delivery with some wonderful goals and assists. Indeed, his goal against Chelsea was a thunderbolt to behold. Dele Alli, received some ridiculous criticism during the season for not being as devastating as previous seasons. Yet, Alli scored some valuable goals as did our South Korea winger Heung Min Son, who constantly proved a valuable asset in attack.
In defence, Toby Alderweireld, so outstanding the previous two seasons, got injured in November so our record signing Davinson Sanchez, a young Columbian bought from Ajax, stepped up and showed maturity beyond his years. He, I think, will only get better. Along with Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen I would say that JAN VERTONGHEN was Spurs player of the year. He had an incredibly consistent season in the back four and hardly missed a game. He protected Hugo Lloris’ goal with a strength and intelligence which again made us a difficult team to beat.
Of all the wonderful goals that were scored this season, a special mention goes to VICTOR WANYAMA’S goal against Liverpool at Anfield. It was a powerful strike from over 30 yards out which burst the back of the net and got us back level in one of the most dramatic league games of the season.
I think, once again, MAURICIO POCHETTINO and his backroom staff have worked wonders with the squad. The team are always very fit and energetic although during some games we were very slow starters. Also, switching off against Juventus cost us badly. But, finishing 3rd and having decent cup runs was probably what we deserved. We just need to get that killer instinct to finish teams off. That mental “win-at-all-costs” attitude and steel is needed on top of the attractive football we have become known for.
Again we did not spend hundreds of millions on our squad and aside from Davinson Sanchez and Lucas Moura (in January); signings were relatively low-key compared to the teams from Manchester. I think given the tools such as a world class midfielder and another top striker to compliment Harry Kane, then Pochettino could deliver a title. But let’s be honest Manchester City will be difficult to catch and other teams such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United will also be in the mix.
Spurs will move into their brand spanking new stadium for the beginning of the 2018 / 2019 season back at WHITE HART LANE. It is a state-of-the-art facility with incredible technological features and extras. I really hope we will have a team to do the stadium justice. If we could just push the boat out and buy a couple of “world-class” players, if available, then I reckon we could challenge the very top. But, I for one will back the team yet should they lose and falter will never be smashing the kitchen up again. After all it is just a game; a beautiful silly game of football.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – “THE ELEVATOR SCENE”
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America: by Joe Simon , Jack Kirby
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
In my original review of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) – which can be found here – I described the film as: “. . . neat socio-political commentary – full of the rip-roaring action.” In fact I think it is still my favourite Marvel film of the lot due to the fantastic conspiracy driven plot allied with some incredible stunts and action. Moreover, Steve Rogers’ relationship with Bucky Barnes is also further developed and thoroughly tested in an emotionally effective fraternal friendship breakdown.
The film has many standout scenes but one is more memorable than others in my view. It’s the scene in the elevator where Rogers finds himself being turned on by those he believed he could trust at Shield. It doesn’t intrinsically, until the culmination of the set-piece, involve massive explosions and CGI-driven action. Indeed, the “elevator/lift scene” is a wonderfully executed fight scene which makes use of its limited space to place our protagonist in an almighty bind.
Rogers enters the lift and immediately begins to feel something could be afoot. As more and more – what we eventually learn to be – Hydra henchmen enter the lift the editing builds fantastic suspense. Various shots build anticipation: looks from Rogers; a bead of sweat running down a man-in-black’s back; plus hushed conversation from an “office worker” in the lift. Then just before the fight ensues Rogers utters a great one-liner to set it all up: “Before we get started – does anyone want to get out!”
It’s already a classic scene before the brutal hand-to-hand combat kicks off and encapsulates the mix of paranoia and adrenalized action present within the whole movie. Watch it here:
Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden
Music by: Hutch Demouilpied
Cinematography: Nanu Segal
I grew up watching visions of the English countryside as represented by television shows such as H.E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May and James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. With such rural narratives you were never far from a beautiful landscapes, wonderfully sunny skies and country folk working together, on the main, as a community. Hope Dickson Leach’s independent British drama is an altogether different beast. It’s a muddy, grieving, bloody and filth-ridden exploration of how tough family and farming existence is.
Featuring some fantastic performances from Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton the story is very simple. Clover (Kendrick) returns from Veterinary College following the sudden death of her brother. While her father is steadily drinking himself to death, she tries to make sense of her sibling’s apparent suicide. Her father, an army man and farmer is living in a caravan next to the battered family home. The farm business is sliding to bankruptcy and their home has been rotting since the Somerset floods a couple of years before. All round their property and livestock are threatened by damp, disease and death. In short: this is NOT The Darling Buds of May.
Ellie Kendrick, who I recognised from several TV shows including Game of Thrones, absolutely owns the character of Clover. She is seen as weak and unreliable by her father but is in fact an intelligent and resilient character who is prepared to work hard and dig deep for some respect. The plot itself reminded me a lot of the Michael Caine gangster classic Get Carter (1971); accept with a female lead and more cows. As Clover attempts to steady the fortune of the farm, caused in part to mis-management by her father and brother, she also turns detective, stealthily delving into circumstances relating to her brother’s death.
Overall, Hope Dickson Leach has made a really touching personal story of grief. This is a very emotional story about a family torn apart by death on personal and financial levels. I don’t know much about farming life, but while it may be idealized in certain books and films the reality is much tougher. Animals, while commodities are often culled because of disease and farmers are at the mercy of the weather. Moreover, it would appear to be much tougher for women too progress in a male-dominated world which favours sons over daughters. What the film ultimately shows too, in many brilliantly acted and directed scenes, is we must transcend our differences and work together as one – as family – in order to survive.
Starring: Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi
Music by: James Edward Barker
Cinematography: Magnus Joenck
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.
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.
Technically speaking all films made can be labelled World Cinema because all films made were made on this Earth or World. As yet we know of no movies from other planets, so World Cinema has come to refer to films made in a foreign language or language other than English. I mean what do people from other countries call films made in English? And does it matter. All this fluffing is really a means to introduce a selection of films from various countries other than the United Kingdom (another debatable term these days), that I have watched at the cinema, on DVD or streamed off the box. As usual I accompany my reviews with marks out of eleven.
**A SUGGESTION OF SPOILERS**
THE INNOCENTS (2016) – FRANCE / POLAND
Brace yourself for a truly heart-breaking and tragic WW2 narrative. This film inspired by true events finds a young French doctor assisting a nunnery and the various occupants who became victim to vicious rapist Soviet soldiers. This is a grim story that is shot and directed with great pathos and compassion. It brought a heavy heart and a tear to the eye as the heroic women battle against the dogs of war, while bringing new life into this retched world.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
ISLE OF DOGS (2018) – JAPAN / USA
Put aside ridiculous millennial online accusations of cultural appropriation and submerge yourself within Wes Anderson’s rich narrative and stop-motion tapestry. I’m not always a fan of his story subjects but he is a master of style and form. Isle of Dogs is no different and was a wonderful cinematic experience. Set, obviously, in Japan we concentrate on, hence the title, a bunch of stray dogs dumped on a wasteland left to die. This is much darker than prior Anderson films but full of the imagination, wit, colour and brilliant technique, containing funny gags and twisting drama throughout.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
JULIETA (2016) – SPAIN
I only really got into Pedro Almodovar’s cinema in the last few years and Julieta, while not as complex in terms of structure as other films, is just as emotionally effective.It concerns our eponymous protagonist who on chancing an encounter with her estranged daughter’s former school mate finds her past colliding disastrously with her future. Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte portray the older and younger versions of Julieta as she reflects on the events which tore her life apart. Containing some beautiful filmmaking and one incredible cut halfway through, this is mournful, meditative and mature storytelling of the highest order.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
L’AVVENTURA (1960) – ITALY
Michelangelo Antonioni is rightly lauded as one of the great Italian auteurs. He has directed some incredible films including: Blow Up (1966), The Passenger (1975) and the film L’Notte (1961). I watched L’Avventura on a Sunday morning and perhaps I wasn’t in the mood but it did not connect with me. I found it slow and pretentious and while the mystery of a missing socialite had some element of suspense the rich, narcissistic characters bored me. The acting from Monica Vitti was especially impactful and the scenery was beautiful, however, Antonioni’s existential narrative was a let-down. It was especially surprising to find that historically the film had been voted one of the best films ever made.
Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) – HONG KONG
I recorded this one on Film Four on a whim having been drawn in by the fact it was directed by the Shaw Brothers Studio. Their films were of course a massive influence on Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003/4) duo of kung-Fu revenge films. The One-Armed Swordsman I found to be slightly cheesy due to the dubbing but overall an excellent wuxia epic with loads of great sword fights and a very effective narrative. Ultimately this is Great Expectations with weapons as a young servant child is adopted by a rich family only to grow up disrespected by his adopted siblings. Gang warfare rages in the rural territories and the young man grows up to be a fighter of some repute; even with only one arm. Both a tremendous action film and effective socialist critique of the ruling classes I found this an entertaining, funny and emotional wuxia classic.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE SQUARE (2017) – SWEDEN / FRANCE / GERMANY
The 2017 Cannes Palm D’Or winner is half brilliantly funny arthouse satire and half sub-Haneke allegorical mid-life crisis thriller. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund this is bravura cinema of the highest order as we find Claes Bang’s museum curator bumbling through various work, romance and private disasters. Throughout there are some wonderful digs at the nature of modern art and how essentially people will believe any old crap to be art if it is put in a gallery. There are a number of hilarious satirical set-pieces including the “Tourette’s” scene and the “performance ape-ist” scene. While a tad overlong and bogged down slightly in the lead protagonist’s personal life this is a wonderfully, funny film with some great commentary on modern art, mocking of the bourgeoisie and a warning re: the rise of social media.
(Mark: 9 out of 11)
SHIN GODZILLA (2016) – JAPAN
Having seen Hollywood appropriate their Gojira creation for two films in 1998 and 2014, the Japanese released their own resurgent version in 2016. Part-disaster-part-monster-part-social-commentary this creature feature is actually pretty good. It is driven structurally at first by a flurry of government meetings where hundreds of officials spend their time in meetings rather than actually solve anything. Clearly, this is a critique of Japanese government bureaucracy and the movie works well on that level. The characters who later come to the fore are left behind somewhat and the romantic subplot is poorly done. Yet, when the Godzilla monster brings Tokyo to the edge of destruction the effects, while a bit wonky in places, are a riotous mix of laser CGI and man-in-suit-green-screen shots.
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana. Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt etc.
The reward for Marvel fans and cinemagoers committed to watching every single film – from Iron Man (2008) to Black Panther (2018) – is a gigantic, breath-taking, explosive, colourful, dark, epic, fantastical end-game blockbuster. Unless you have been stuck on a desert island or on a digital detox, Infinity War (2018) is the culmination of decades of comic-book and cinema storytelling coming to a head in one incredible feat of spectacle and super-hero conflict.
The film opens pretty much immediately after the end of Thor: Ragnarok (2017). The Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has hunted down Thor, Loki and the Hulk in order to obtain the Tesseract and the Infinity Stone within it. In fact, he is after all six Infinity Stones in order to gain twisted, yet in his mind, logical control over the Universe by killing half its inhabitants. Thanos’ characterization as a villain is given the most narrative power throughout and via him we get some nuance and subtext.
While brilliantly rendered, in look, by the army of special effects, and performance by Brolin, I kind of felt we were missing an element of mania and a committed statement of intent. I knew why Thanos was doing what he was doing but aside from an opening speech about destiny his mission lacked the political or social context compared to say that of Hydra from The Winter Soldier (2014) or Erik Killmonger from Black Panther (2018). Nonetheless, lack of political context is a mild gripe because spectacle in terms of power and storytelling is what Infinity War is all about.
Thanos’ quest for domination was still a pretty decent structure to hang the story beats on and the writers should be applauded for trying to create a rounded super-villain. Because, allied with the incredible set-pieces and locations across the various galaxies, a major strength of Infinity War’s screenplay was the pace, power and interplay between the multiverse of characters and plot strands which were fantastically juggled by the directorial and editorial teams. This was epic storytelling, not just in length, but in scope. As we cut between Dr Strange, Iron Man and Spiderman on their particularly deadly mission; we also cut between Thor, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vision, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, Captain America and their respective advnetures. There are so many different elements at play there is little breathing space, yet with a whip-smart script full of one-liners any plot deficiencies are masked expertly with perpetual motion and punchlines.
Visually, the film is also extremely strong with bright funky new suits for the Hulk, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Moreover, the locations in space and on Earth from the dark lands of Vormir to the verdant pastures of Wakanda are rendered beautifully on the screen. All manner of magical weapons, space-ships and military hardware explode and destroy and whizz-bang throughout. There is SO much crammed into the film that it’s a major coup that it worked so well. At one point I felt like I was watching three films in one echoing the great ensemble films I grew up with such as The Great Escape (1963). While the now obligatory end-game battle sequence echoed the likes of: Spartacus (1960), Braveheart (1995), The Return of the Jedi (1985) and more recently HBO’s epic Game of Thrones (2011 – )
In terms of performance it’s difficult to pick out any one stand-out as the ensemble cast were uniformly impressive. My particular favourites were Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, all giving memorable performances. Saldana’s Gamora arguably had the most powerful moments of stillness and pathos especially in her tragic backstory. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker nailed their comedic patter too; the former’s deadpan literalism raising many laughs throughout. I also thought the details in look and voice given to Thanos’ Black Order stood out; notably the wonderfully named Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael John Shaw).
In conclusion, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) overall was spectacular blockbuster filmmaking which entertained me thoroughly for over two-and-a-half-hours. It could be argued that the army of special effects technicians, plethora of Disney and Marvel executives, array of Hollywood acting and filmmaking talent and the obscene amount of money spent has churned out YET another soulless super-hero film but wow didn’t they do it in style!!