Category Archives: Cinema

STAND UPS THAT DELIVERED ON THE SILVER SCREEN

STAND UPS THAT DELIVERED ON THE SILVER SCREEN

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.

CALVARY (2014) – FILM REVIEW

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CALVARY (2014) – FILM REVIEW

**Contains clips and spoilers**

There are many, many different kinds of films and filmmakers who come from innumerable backgrounds, places and cultures. They have also had a variety of paths to making films such as: film school, television, scriptwriting, novels, plays, stand-up or sketch comedy, being rich or even working in a video-shop. Certain filmmakers have a distinctive visual and thematic style and if using the historical parlance one may call them auteurs. Such a list may include: Hitchcock, Scorcese, Godard, Coppola, DePalma, Spielberg, Kurosawa, Hawks, Lee, Campion, Cronenberg, Kubrik, Coen Brothers, Lean, Lynch, Almodovar, Allen, McQueen, Ramsay, Polanski, Ray, Chaplin, Wilder, and Michael Bay. That last one is a joke by the way.

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These greats would make some of the greatest films of our times – some formalistic and artistic masterpieces others emotional and heartrending character pieces and others comedic. They’ve also made great films which maybe I didn’t enjoy first time round or didn’t understand but later come to love or appreciate. Of course, you’re asking yourself: what has this got to do with John Michael McDonagh’s dramatic film CALVARY (2014) – I’m not sure to be honest. What I would say is that this film has received much critical acclaim according to the posters I saw and I’m sure reviews will be very good, but, on first watch I didn’t enjoy it that much. It’s billed as dark comedic drama but I didn’t find it funny enough or dramatic enough and while it was a great opening the plot wasn’t enough to sustain a feature film.

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Calvary – named after a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls where Jesus was crucified – opens brilliantly when Father James Lavelle (acting behemoth Brendan Gleeson’s) is taking confession. He is then threatened by an unknown parishioner and informed he is going to be murdered in just over a week’s time. This sets in motion a potentially interesting “whodunnit” plot with which to structure the story and introduce an ever-increasing set of quirky and troubled rural characters. Gleeson’s Priest is not externally bothered by the threat and even admits to his superior he may know who it is. Thus, any suspense is rendered redundant throughout really.


Over the next week with Judgment Day approaching Father Lavelle comes into contact with a brilliant ensemble cast including: Dylan Moran (Black Books), Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones), M. Emmet Walsh (Bladerunner, Blood Simple), Chris O’Dowd (IT Crowd, Crimson and the Petal, Bridesmaids), Domnhall Gleeson (Harry Potter, Judge Dredd), Isaach De Bankole (Casino Royale) and the always memorable Pat Shortt (Garage) etc. Each character could potentially be a suspect but there’s no real narrative urgency as, while very well performed, the ‘suspects’ don’t really do very much dramatically. Don’t get me wrong there are some wonderful one-liners in the script and Aiden Gillen’s cynical Doctor impressed me. But even his character was aware of his own redundancy in the piece during a verbally erudite and metatextual joust with Father Lavelle. Throw into the mix Kelly Reilly – as Lavelle’s suicidal daughter – and you get another character on the edge of a nervous breakdown that you don’t really care about.

I really enjoyed John Michael McDonagh’s first film THE GUARD (2011), also starring Gleeson with Don Cheadle and another motley crew of quirky characters. But that had more heart and humour than Calvary which almost collapses under the weight of its’ own pretensions. Perhaps, because I’m not Catholic or Irish I did not get many of the cultural and religious references. However, I certainly got the themes of guilt, death, revenge, existential detachment and I also understood the severity of the historical crimes perpetrated by Catholic Priests against children and Irish citizens. Indeed, the film quite rightly deals with this sensitively giving a voice to the victims of these heinous crimes.  Even the ending — which is superbly staged — left me slightly confused and desiring more of a surprise or narrative reversal.

Ultimately, this was a superbly written and acted piece rather than a fully-fledged satisfactory storytelling experience. The quality of the writer’s ideas, dialogue and themes outweighed the humour, drama and suspense. Good use is made of a terrific cast and beautiful Irish coastal landscapes but overall I felt detached from the characters due to the over-authorial nature of the film. I felt like I was watching a film rather than a proper story and could hear the writer speaking rather than the characters. But, I have been wrong about other great films and filmmakers in the past and have come to appreciate them more on second or third viewings. Calvary could just be one of those films.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – FILM REVIEW

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – FILM REVIEW

**Contains clips and spoilers**

Literary and filmic characters are aspirational figures; icons to live one’s life vicariously through in order to escape the often mundane drudge of everyday existence. Essentially, I mostly go to the cinema to witness characters doing incredible things which I either cannot do or will never get the opportunity to do.  Some characters I aspire to be more like than others. I’m not a fan of Wolverine or neither am I mad about Superman but can understand why people are.  I like Batman and I loved the Avengers film and perhaps surprisingly my favourite character — along with the Hulk and Iron Man — is good old Captain America AKA – Steve Rogers.  The reason I like him is thus:

1) He doesn’t like bullies.

2) His character never knew when he was beaten.

3) He’s very by the book and organised and likes order. I imagine he would be very good at managing an office.

4) Having said that he will break the rules if the need arises and question authority if the authority needs to be questioned.

5) His shield is made from Vibranium – a seemingly made-up element which sounds really really cool.

6) He’s an anachronism and character tension comes from not fitting into the present.  As I get older I feel the same.

7) Anyone who beats the crap out of movie Nazis is fine by me!

8) Chris Evans is a decent actor as he demonstrated in films like:
Puncture, The Iceman and Captain America: The First Avenger.

9) Captain America’s origins are of working class stock. A little guy come good. He’s not a god or scientist or billionaire or spy. He’s a believable figure to aspire to.

10) He’s living proof drug experimentation can work.

So, divorcing my mind from the overly jingoistic American theme of the costume and political associations with US foreign policy I really looked forward to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I loved Iron Man, The Avengers, and Thor and compared to some opinions I read I thought the first Captain America worked well as an origins film. Iron Man 2 and Thor 2 were lacking a bit while Iron Man 3 had some great moments and a witty script. Moreover, Avengers Assemble was an amazing bit of entertainment and Joss Whedon did a great job bringing the team together. Likewise, Captain America: TWS delivers in a way The Avengers did. Although it’s a darker, grounded and more complex film as the screenplay transplants the story of conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) into the Marvel Universe. Also, the CGI is played in a somewhat lower key as the action sequences have a raw, immediate feel to them with proper stunts and hand-to-hand combat rather than feeling green-screened to hell. It felt like the production team had been watching Michael Mann’s Heat and the Bourne trilogy for homework.  And boy did that work!

After a prologue where we meet Steve Roger’s soon-to-be-ally Falcon (Anthony Mackie) the Captain is thrown into a mission to rescue a hijacked SHIELD ship in foreign waters. So far-so-Bond but what happens after gets pretty complicated as we’re thrown into a plot involving dirty cops and agents as SHIELD’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked in one of many great set-piece action chases within the movie. The filmmakers don’t rest there though as Captain America himself becomes under suspicion and goes on the run from SHIELD with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) helping him on the road. They got the script pretty decent too when compared to the awful Man of Steel.  Definitely worth the price of a cinema ticket and then some.

The classic Hollywood movie model is to standardize and differentiate production and Marvel comic-book films follow the same formula. We know what we’re going to get as standards: one-liners, action, chases, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, big noises and crashes interspersed with some quieter moments where exposition and some character is revealed before the next big on-screen bang. Having said that Captain America: Winter Soldier differentiates itself in terms of characterisation, action and plot twists and it is also pretty strong thematically.  It links well the past and present; soldiers attempting to come to terms with post-war issues; Roger’s regret over historical events and a touching Benjamin Buttonesque scene with a character from the first movie. Moreover, there’s also some neat socio-political commentary in their too with references to shadowy NSA operations and Government kill lists.  Of course none of this gets in the way of the rip-roaring action.

The action is unrelenting and explosive as he is aided by the gorgeous but deadly Black Widow and war veteran the Falcon.  You can see the twists coming (even from the trailer to be honest) and you can’t escape some silly dialogue.  Robert Redford adds some class and I really look forward to more in the franchise. You’re going to get a few workmanlike efforts like Iron Man 2 and Thor 2 but this was a blinder. Chris Evans carries the role off perfectly too offering enough grit, humour, muscle and film-star good looks to carry the film brilliantly. And after her amazing performance in weird but wonderful Under The Skin it was good to see Scarlett Johansson kicking butt again. The chemistry between Evans and Johansson adds a fun dimension to the action too.

This isn’t just a great comic-book film it is also a very, very well-crafted big-budget slice of cinema.  Directed with verve by the creative duo of the Russo Brothers and the massive production team, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America finds himself post-Avengers pitted against an impressive foe in the Winter Soldier and a legion of other enemies – some very close to home. Of course it wouldn’t be a Marvel film if they didn’t make you wait until the end to see what’s coming next and all I can say is if quality shown in Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Assemble are anything to go by then Age of Ultron promises to something very special entertainment wise indeed.

UNDER THE SKIN (2013) – FILM REVIEW

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)  – FILM REVIEW

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)  - FILM REVIEW - PAUL LAIGHT

**Contains plot + interpretative spoilers**

UNIQUE filmmaking comes along every so often into the Multiplexes. This is cinematic Art of the highest quality, a sheer visual treat and an unnerving and very memorable experience.

NAKED and nameless at the start Scarlett’s character is a literal void or blank; her birth begins with an eye filling the screen backed by ambient, eerie and almost silent noise.  We then find her — against a stark white background — removing the clothes of a seemingly dead woman as she appears to steal her identity.

DEATH hangs over the film she is dropped at a grim rotting house located somewhere in Scotland and provided with a white van with which to seduce and kill unsuspecting men.   Her only contact here is a male “handler” or “pimp” on a motorcycle who cleans and collects her victims after she has led them to their demise.

EROTICISM initially drives the film as an often naked Scarlett becomes the focus of our gaze.  But her murderous actions render all sexual feelings redundant as we become accomplices to her crimes.

RELATIONSHIPS between Scarlett and the men is at the heart of the narrative. She connects with them coldly relying on her looks to hook them in then ends their lives and seemingly passes them onto her handler.

TORMENTED by her actions Scarlett becomes trapped by her mission. The story hinges on how the character becomes affected by her actions.  She slowly connects with her prey and ultimately becomes the hunted having gone absent without leave.

HORROR arrives not from shock tactics but the slow build-up of tension as events occur at a glacial pace. The scene on the beach is one of the most horrific I have seen at the cinema in recent years. Hack cuts and slashing music so prevalent in modern horror is eschewed in favour of strangeness, visual imagination and intense performances.

EERIE and unnerving the score is atmospheric while the dialogue is stripped naked and bare. Nothing is forced. The film is both highly stylised but seems natural simultaneously. You only have to look at Glazer’s work on music videos and adverts to know nothing is by accident.

SCARLETT Johansson is incredible under fantastic direction from Jonathan Glazer. My understanding is many of the scenes were improvised with untrained actors supporting her. She uses her sexuality to great impact but also shows an intensity perhaps not seen in her other performances.

KILLING and murder is shown in an incredibly imaginative way; shot in a dark room where she strips and leads the men to a weird liquid where they drown.  This is very surreal and symbolic. What this symbolises is down to the audience to decide. Like the rest of the film the makers deny us easy explanations refusing to spoon-feed meaning and reason into our Hollywood factory-fattened guts.

INTROSPECTIVE and moody the film really moved me. Scarlett’s character is a tragic figure who gains our eventual sympathy from being used, sexualised and pursued by men. She doesn’t want to be a murderer and desires herself humanity and attempts escape but finds she is unable to get away from an oppressive, pervasive patriarchy. This is reflected by a stunning ending that will haunt me for some time.

NOT quite a non-narrative film this is a surreal treat which while linear owes much to the work of David Lynch and Luis Bunuel. Based on Michael Faber’s novel I understand the lead character is an alien killing men for their flesh but this is totally left out of the movie version.

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I am happy that a British independent film got a proper release. I would hazard a guess Jonathan Glazer’s poetic, visceral and disturbing mood poem has found distribution amongst the popcorn strewn, coke-guzzling reaches of the Odeons and Vues due to the impressive presence of bona fide movie star and sex symbol Scarlett Johansson.

Overall, I wasn’t sure about Under The Skin (2013) after I had seen it. But like all great art it stayed with me and I could not get it out of my mind. And I still can’t. It’s not a super-hero film. It’s not a date movie. It’s not a 3-D CGI sick-fest. It’s pure, pulsing, hypnotic cinema of the highest quality that – IN MY OPINION – is about the exploitation of foreign sex workers brought to this country without hope, humanity or identity.

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TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #1 – ZACK SNYDER’S MAN OF STEEL

“I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams’ of this world.”  ZACK SNYDER


TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #1 –
MAN OF STEEL (2013)

This new strand for my blog is a chance for me to vent spleen and displace and transfer dissatisfaction with my own life onto a movie or moviemaker who has pissed me off.  Welcome ultra-all-technique-no-substance-human-photocopier-film-hack Zack Snyder!

Now, I’m just a lowly Office drone working in South London but when Snyder attacked my cinematic mate Terry Gilliam I felt the need to step in and have a go back.   Gilliam’s recent output has been sparse but overall he’s also been involved in some of the most intelligent, original and imaginative films of my lifetime:  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Jabberwocky (1977), Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995),  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).

Snyder on the other hand has directed three enjoyable facsimile-films (Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2007), Watchmen (2009) all derived from other more talented artists ideas. But after that he has directed some right turkeys notably Sucker Punch (2011) which I can safely say is one of the worst films I have ever seen.  It’s so bad it’s not even so bad it’s good.  AND HE STILL GOT THE MAN OF STEEL GIG!!  Here’s 10 reasons why I hate Man of Steel.  There could’ve been more.


#1 – MAKING GOOD ACTORS LOOK BAD

Firstly, Henry Cavill was a great choice as Superman and the supporting cast comprising of Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane etc. were well chosen but the performances aside from Cavill just seemed off to me in both timing and tone.  Shannon especially just came across as totally misdirected. Watch him in Revolutionary Road (2008)  and Boardwalk Empire to see how good he can be.


#2 – POOR CONSTRUCTION

The ghost of Batman Begins (2005) hangs heavy over the David S. Goyer’s screenplay structure. But where the back-and-forth cutting between past and present seemed to work with Nolan’s film I don’t think it worked at all well in MoS.    It’s an amazing looking jigsaw but with the pieces put in the wrong order.  To me the most interesting part of the film from a character point-of-view was the early stuff with young Kal-El growing up and these scenes were brilliant but thrown away so Snyder could crow bar in more explosions and soulless CGI set-pieces.

#3 – LOIS LANE

Lois is a strong character in the original comics and previous Superman films. But she was so poorly introduced that the she never ever recovered in MoS. Not so much a character but more a pawn in the plot, dramatic damsel-in-distress (why did Zod take her on the ship), or vessel to reveal background information about Kal-El; present in scenes physically but without emotional resonance.  A waste of one of my favourite actresses Amy Adams.


#4 – BAS-EL EXPOSITION AND OTHER AWFUL DIALOGUE

This film has some of the worst dialogue I have heard in a movie ever!  You might say that Snyder didn’t write it but as he’s helming the ship he has final say.  And in this instance the filmic boat sank.  Characters speak in either unrealistic “movie-speak” notably Costner’s surrogate father and I don’t mind that because I know this is a comic-book world and can handle statements like:

“He sent you here for a reason, Clark. And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” 

But what I cannot stand is characters telling us out aloud their jobs or back-stories or events already seen.  Crowe’s character pops up throughout to reveal history and updates the audience on important plot points even though we have already seen his planet explode at the start.  Further, we’re told Lois Lane has won the Pulitzer Prize IN THE DIALOGUE!  Show us a plaque or her getting an award!  WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SHOW NOT TELL!!  SHOW NOT TELL!!

#5 – OVERALL STYLE & PACE

Snyder has the timing of a teenage pregnancy.  I tried to watch MoS on Blu-Ray again recently but had to turn it off before the end as it is unwatchable.  Snyder went TOO Avatar from the start in my view – Crowe riding some stupid flying beast.  He also copied many of the mistakes he made with Sucker Punch such as over-blown action set-piece on top of over-the-top CGI firework fest without characters we care one bit about.   Any elements of subtlety and nuance are raped by computer images smashing and crashing through in a destructive fit-inducing-ADHD-driven nightmare.

#6 – WHY SO SERIOUS?

Aside from a couple of moments such as the bar-room truck driver’s ride being dismantled there is very little humour in MoS.   It tries so hard to emulate the tone of the Dark Knight but fails miserably and the decision to try and make Kal-El some kind of Christ-like figure was woeful. This is a comic book movie and should be fun!   Marvel’s movies are full of humour. I understand that it doesn’t have to be zingers and punchlines throughout but there’s more humour at a funeral than in MoS.

#7NOT SO MUCH PLOT HOLES AS PLOT CAVES!

My theory on the disappearance of the Malaysian plane is that it flew into and vanished into the abyss of Man of Steel’s screenplay which has more black holes than the whole of space.  It’s a joke really as we get the scenes where Zod’s army of rebels suddenly turn up to wreak havoc on Earth with some ridiculous unbelievable flashback telling us how they got there. Plus, how does Clark get on the Arctic expedition having only just worked at a bar?  Plus, how convenient that two soldiers would talk about a top secret find within ear-shot of our hero. Plus, would Kal-el really let his father die?  Plus, given our media-driven society could Kal-El/Superman really have lasted that long without coming under some kind of scrutiny or investigation beforehand.  Need I go on?


#8 – TOO MUCH STORY

Man of Steel is like a series of long, long, long sentences without proper punctuation. It basically crammed the stories of Christopher Reeve’s Superman 1 and 2 into Man of Steel and the whole film suffers in my view.   As aforementioned the boy’s childhood is skimmed over with a few really good scenes stuck into flashbacks and Lois Lane’s and Kal-El’s relationship is rushed in favour of launching us into an over-extended final act of ridiculous action.  By the end of the film I was exhausted.   I like big block-busting-roller-coasting-comic book films when they are done right. Iron Man (2008) and Avengers Assemble (2012) showed what a blast comic book films could be but they had humour, wit, pacing, action, charismatic actors all well directed and many more assets that Snyder’s piss-poor effort lacked.

#9 – UNBELIEVABLE UNBELIEVABILITY

Aside from the scenes when he was a kid I just didn’t believe any of it.   Emotionless, insipid and draining it felt like one long extended video-game with someone else holding the controls.  And while it looked great the action had no tension or suspense either. The phrase “less is more” is definitely NOT applicable here.  Plus, the overly science-fiction feeling of the film did not work for me.  In J. Michael Straczynski’s screenwriting book he talked about writing fantasy and sci-fi and said that as a writer you must strive to make believable unbelievability.  Whedon got this right with Avengers Assemble (2012) as did Lucas with Star Wars (1977) as did Terry Gilliam is the majority of his work.  In some ways I think the computer-generated movie era has lost that magic I witnessed when growing up.  Perhaps I’m to blame having seen too many movies. Who knows?  I just didn’t believe Man of Steel.

#10 – WE COULD HAVE GOT ARONOFSKY!

Here’s how:

“Over at Warner Bros., studio chief Jeff Robinov‘s fierce loyalty to director Zack Snyder is being tested June 14 with the $225 million Man of Steel. The relationship dates to the 2007 hit 300, even though Snyder’s three subsequent Warners films – Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Sucker Punch – disappointed. However, while giving him Man of Steel (over the other finalist, Darren Aronofsky), Robinov took out insurance with producer Christopher Nolan, the studio’s most important filmmaker (Batman, Inception). “Chris had the confidence in Zack, and based on the movie I’ve seen, Chris was spot-on,” says Warners president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman.”

So we could have got Darren Aronofsky for Man of Steel but instead got Zack Snyder.  Who is going to save us from the Snyder’s of the world?!?    Lord help us!

NON-STOP – Film Review

NON-STOP – Film Review

Having recently been intellectually challenged by heavyweight cinematic offerings such as 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Lego Movie (2014), I decided to go see Liam Neeson’s latest actioner for a change of pace and mood.  Indeed, Non-Stop (2014) wears its’ B-movie credentials proudly and passes as very serviceable entertainment if you don’t want to have to think too hard for 106 minutes.

**CONTAINS CLIPS & SPOILERS**

The story is an intriguing one.  Bill Marks (Neeson) – identikit tragi-alcoholic-cop with bereaved past – is a US Air Marshal responsible for flight security.  However, this journey is going to be a very bumpy ride as one mysterious passenger has it in for Bill.  The baddie is going to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes if their demands aren’t met.  This plays out with a great deal of suspense and Neeson fighting against the clock to save lives as death comes-a-knocking.  The claustrophobic nature of the setting really cranks up the tension and there’s a neat little twist as Marks’ himself becomes the main suspect.

The film opens slowly establishing all the players and as it progresses it reminded me of an Agatha Christie mystery with Neeson playing rugged, brutish and ever-more frantic detective.  It’s great fun as the criminal gives Marks the runaround as they kill off passengers in some imaginative ways. Everyone becomes a suspect and the plot deftly keep you guessing with misdirection as your suspicions move from one character to another. It reminded me of another decent B-movie I saw last year Red Riding Hood (2011).    In all honesty the film falls apart slightly at the end with a mildly ridiculous reveal that’s masked during the rip-roaring final set-piece. But overall I enjoyed this unpretentious movie helmed by the very competent genre director Jaume Collet-Serra.

The main asset of Non-Stop is an excellent cast notably one of my favourite actresses – the stunning Julianne Moore.   Moore, Corey Stoll, Linus Roache, Scoot McNairy add some quality in support to the main man: Liam Neeson.   The tough Irishman rises above some  silly dialogue and clichéd characters as he once again proves himself an excellent action hero. Who would have thought the star of historical epics such as Michael Collins (1996), Schindler’s List (1993) would’ve carved out a latter-day career as an ass-kicking tough guy.  But he’s always mixed it up throughout his career appearing in big budget blockbusters and lower budget movies.

Interestingly, Neeson is reportedly have turned down the role of James Bond in the 1990s. Which is a shame because as he demonstrated in massive sleeper hit Taken (2008), really good Euro-thriller Unknown (2011) and Non-Stop (2013) he is a magnetic presence on screen, someone who you root for and also very decent in a punch-up.  While socio-politicists may argue Taken was xenophobic and tapped into a subconscious fear of foreigners – who really cares!  Sometimes you just want to watch a film where a bloke built like a brick shithouse beats the crap out of a load of bad guys! And Neeson does this with aplomb in Non-Stop, but this time it’s wrapped in a murder mystery whodunnit set in the mile-high club.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013) – Film Review

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS – Film Review

**CONTAINS CLIPS & SPOILERS**

It’s always a good reason to carry on living when you know Joel and Ethan Coen are bringing out a new film. Their sophisticated melding of genre and art movies are always beautifully shot and carefully constructed  with terrific scripts and casts.  They also have an inimitable quirkiness, memorable characters and a fantastic use of music. Even their remakes are generally better than most filmmakers’ “original” offerings.  What I’m saying is that I really wanted to enjoy Inside Llewyn Davis  and do you know what: Inside Llewyn Davis rocked. Well, it melodically swayed to its’ own harmonious beat.

The Coen Bros.  last film was the impressive big budget remake of John Wayne horse-opera True Grit (2010) while Inside Llewyn Davis is a lower-budget affair with more akin to their dark character comedies Barton Fink (1991) and A Serious Man (2009). It centres on eponymous anti-heroic folk-musician Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) as he struggles with both his personal and professional life on a day-to-day basis in 1960s New York.  He’s not a likeable character but is a wonderful musician with an earthy if not wholly commercial talent.  Here the film works as companion piece to Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown (1999) which was also about a talented but far more scummy jazz musician.

The Coen Bros. often place their characters in interesting settings e.g.  the snowy landscapes of Fargo (1996);  or give them jobs not usually seen in movies such as the Barber in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) and Gym Instructors in Burn After Reading (2008); or hobbies like the bowling dudes in The Big Lebowski (1998).  Moreover, they are also very fond of period pieces and have featured the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s etc. within their oeuvre; in fact the only era they may not have covered is the future. Inside Llewyn Davis is a nostalgia-filled journey back in time to the 60s folk and smoke-filled, bohemian, beatnik back bars of Greenwich Village, New York. I don’t know much about this period of Americana but it is a time that is beautifully evoked and stunningly designed; browns and beiges dominating a cool yet also warm wintry palette. It is a expertly crafted simulacrum that never slips into parody either as shown in the songs used which are faithful renditions of traditional and original numbers.

Episodic in structure the film drifts like couch-surfing Llewyn Davis introducing us to a whole new set of Coenesque eccentrics. Our ‘hero’ is an archetypal rolling stone gathering no moss but rather a whole host of issues. These problems range from a missing neighbour’s cat, pregnant “girlfriend”, homelessness, family dysfunction, indifferent agent, lack of money and career prospects.  Described as an anti-Midas by Carey Mulligan’s very angry Jean, Llewyn’s life has stalled and while he plays and sings beautifully he is more menstrual than minstrel. He’s a rather pathetic character drifting through life having seemingly fallen out of love with music despite still pursuing a career as a solo artist.   Throughout, actor Oscar Isaac delivers a phenomenal performance full of anger, pain and heart all with an underlying glint of sly humour.

As someone who has been in a band when I was young and someone who continues to try a forge some semblance of a path as a filmmaker and comedian I recognised much of the jaded feelings the character experienced and empathised with the continual rejections he faced. But I also felt distanced as in my opinion one should relax a bit and enjoy the journey. Llewyn Davis has a gift — more talented than I could ever hope — but is a character that is depressed by his current existence and nothing seems to be able to shake him out of the funk. There is an air of self-destructiveness, anger and bitterness too which affects his relationships with the decent group of people around who try to help him. The Coen Bros. have in the past been accused of making films that lack heart. I never agreed with that but could see why people may see their work as more style than substance. This film strums away such accusations with a truly mesmerising character study full of heart and soul and regret and fear, humour and emotion.

On the surface the film could be described as a “musician trying to make it” film but underneath it’s about loss and grief in my view; loss of a career following the death of his double-act partner, loss of direction, loss of love for music.   Part mood-poem, part-road-movie, part-musical, part-comedy it has a brilliant cast and some wonderful acting and musical performances.  I’m not a fan of folk music per se, and have little knowledge of the era but that didn’t matter as this is a gem of a film; a cyclical-structured study of loss about an unlovable loser and struggling artist with a bit of Greek tragedy thrown in. If you love the Coen Bros. you’ll certainly love Llewyn Davis.