Category Archives: Reviews

SCREENWASH REVIEWS– AUGUST 2015 (PART TWO)

SCREENWASH REVIEWS – AUGUST 2015 (PART TWO)

On top of the Netflix and documentary purge I watched quite a few films this month. Thus, here for your consideration, are some little reviews with marks out of eleven!

***MAJOR SPOILERS**

A MOST WANTED MAN (2014) – NETFLIX

One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films and a pretty decent espionage thriller set in Germany. Despite an excellent cast and decent atmosphere I didn’t care much for the characters and it fizzled out for me by the end. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (2014) – BLU RAY

This is a very moving, filmic scrapbook documentary about an absolute musical legend who alas suffered both from mental and physical pain hence why he took his own life. Not sure if it was deliberate but toward the end his Mother and Wife were lit in a very similar way and resembled each other. While it was kind of objective allowing the sounds, videos, photos, recordings, interviews, cuttings and text to tell the story there a subconscious attempt by the director to link these two individuals. I loved the animated stuff which visualized the monologues Cobain recorded during his short life. I highly recommended this to fans of the troubled rock-poet and of course his amazing music. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

CREEP (2014) – NETFLIX

Not the British horror film directed by Christopher Smith ten or so years ago but a found footage film about a videographer who answers an advert to film a diary of weirdo played by the disarmingly dangerous Mark Duplass. I hated this at the start but it grew on me and the subtle horror was very well done and the ending is great. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

ENEMY (2014) – SKY

Doppelganger thriller Enemy is an enigmatic and weird treat full of fantastical images and brooding fear; featuring the ever brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal playing dual roles. His struggling actor and anxious teacher meet by chance and what follows is a mysterious game of cat and mouse. Both startling and unsettling from formidable genre director Denis Villeneuve. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (2014) – NETFLIX

This is one of the worst-middle-class-first-world-problems-monstrosities-of-a-film I have ever seen.  I like Simon Pegg but I switched this film off forty-five minutes in. Hector isn’t happy?  No one’s happy, Hector!  Happiness is an illusion, Hector! Do you have your health, Hector? Your girlfriend is Rosamund Pike, Hector?  You have a home and food on the table, Hector? Count your blessings, Hector and piss off!! (Mark: 0 out of 11)

HYENA (2014) – NETFLIX

This is a sturdy and compelling British crime drama with a fantastic lead performance from Peter Ferdinando as a bent copper trying, yet failing, to stay ahead of the dangerous games he’s playing. It’s a brutal and nasty film; very reminiscent in style of Nicolas Winding Refn or Alan Clarke and is mostly gripping but slightly overlong. If you like your drama meaty, earthy and realistic then this is a movie for you. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (2009)

This was a sumptuous and stylish film with one of my favourite actors Mads Mikkelsen portraying composer Igor Stravinsky.  I have to admit that I found it pretty boring though in terms of the drama and while it looked great I just did not care about the lives of rich and spoilt artists in 1920s France. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

THE MAN FROM UNCLE (2015) – CINEMA

Amidst the spy genre pastiche, muscular bromance and triple crosses there’s some cinematic gold enjoyment to be had in watching The Man From Uncle. Guy Ritchie is a very reliable genre director and during some of the set-pieces I actually sensed there’s a proper auteur trying to get out.  While I liked Skyfall (2012) and look forward to Spectre (2015) this was reminiscent of the old Bond films from the 1960s as it makes espionage sexy again. Overall, this is an ultra-stylish spy eye candy with a cracking soundtrack. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1920) – BFI CINEMA

Classic formalist documentary from Dziga Vertov is both an extravagant experiment in montage-making plus an intriguing look back at Soviet life post-Revolution. Dismissed as folly at the time of release it is now considered a masterwork, not only as a documentary, but as a film itself. It is humbling and intriguing viewing and makes you realise that the Soviet life is no different to ours as we witness births, marriages, deaths, work, rest and play. It’s a genuine historical and filmic masterpiece. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

MAZE RUNNER (2014) – SKY

This is a surprisingly entertaining addition to the recent raft of teenage-action-hero-in-dystopic-future-world-peril-films.  I enjoyed the existential mystery set up in the premise as our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is thrown into a Lord of The Flies land inhabited only by young men, trapped by a massive maze.  Plot-wise and action it’s very strong, however, the theme of humanity-accepting-one’s-fate-versus-escaping-while-testing-authority gave the story a richness making it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015) – CINEMA

M: I5 was a blast! Tom Cruise and the IMF team up to their usual breathtaking pyrotechnics! Good to see Sean Harris get a prominent role as he’s a formidable character actor. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – from M:I3 – is easily the best baddie though.  I just wish the trailers wouldn’t show virtually ALL the stunts especially HOW Tom did the “hang to the plane” thing. I don’t watch these films for the story – it’s the action. Please leave some for the film next time trailer people!  Rebecca Ferguson kicks serious ass and the scene at the Opera is pure Bond and pure cinema of the highest quality.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)

NO ONE LIVES (2014) – SKY

A stylish, yet empty exploitation serial-killer flick which would go straight to video if Blockbusters had any stores left.  Luke Evans is a handsome actor looking for a decent role since finishing Fast and Furious 6 and The Hobbit trilogy but this isn’t it. The film itself is saved by some extravagant violence and bloodletting but as a story it’s hollow like (Mark: 3 out of 11)

SOUTHPAW (2015) – CINEMA

If you like films about boxing then you’ll love Southpaw: a brutal and quality action-melodrama with another fine performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.  The story is very simplistic and structured around a riches-to-rags-to-redemption narrative but I found the soap operatics and bombastic direction a real adrenaline-pumped belt to the senses. Gyllenhaal is ripped, torn and lean like a prime piece of beef as life deals him body blow after blow. Can his on-the-ropes boxer bounce and make a come-back? While somewhat predictable I found Antoine Fuqua’s punchy movie a real knockout! (Mark: 8 out of 11)

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) – CINEMA

This is a tremendous biopic of seminal hip-hop legends NWA, who came to the fore of world music in the late 1980s. Performances and direction are excellent as Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Wren – AKA NWA – exploded onto the scene like a bomb and delivered anger, power and beats that propelled them straight out of Compton and into the charts!  They are a perfect example of sociological, political and cultural forces converging to create a superlative brand and the film perfectly captures the age, the music, the look and the camaraderie of being the group. The film illuminates the spirit of the hip-hop scene and the problems the group had with the law while dramatically portraying the bitter in-fighting over royalties which split the band apart. Goes without saying the soundtrack is brilliant too! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014) – NETFLIX

This starred two of my favourite comedic actors in Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and is a broad parody of romantic comedies with a very high joke-rate. He stars as a corporate confectionary executive and tries to take over her small independent sweet-hearted business and at first they hate each other but then… Yes, they have sex! Pitched somewhere between Naked Gun and Anchorman this is very, very silly but also an absolutely hilarious comedy. Short, sweet, ridiculous and as infectious as diabetes.  Is diabetes infectious – oh, who cares! Just watch the movie! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – AUGUST 2015 – (PART ONE) – NETFLIX SPECIAL

SCREENWASH – AUGUST 2015 – NETFLIX SPECIAL

In the month of August I themed my viewing down a couple of varied avenues. Firstly, watch a few more documentaries or non-fiction programmes. Secondly, get even MORE value out of my NETFLIX subscription!

There are some great shows on Netflix and if I had to recommend ONE then it would be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is arguably one of the greatest comedies I have ever seen. Netflix UK is also full to the brim of docs, stand-up, films and drama series to watch. Here are some of the shows I caught up with during August.

***MAJOR SPOILERS***

COMEDY

COMMUNITY (2009 – ) – SEASON ONE

Featuring a diverse set of archetypes within a US Community College this is good quality character comedy. Great cast, witty scripts and lots of self-reflexive parodies for film and TV fans to take in. Clearly influenced by The Office I’m pleased it doesn’t have the direct address mockumentary style and while only nine episodes in but I’m really enjoying this sharp comedy.

DRAMA

DAREDEVIL (2015) – SEASON ONE

This is an absolutely brilliant TV show! It’s actually better than many of the Marvel films that have been knocking about recently; certainly some of the superhero sequels. It concerns Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as blind lawyer by day and blind “super-hero” by night fighting to clean up Hell’s Kitchen in New York. It’s early in his crime-fighting career and is a brilliant origins story well written and developed.

It has a gritty noir feeling and style and is terrifically shot in the shadows, bouncing off the feel Nolan’s Dark Knight series established. The action, fighting and most importantly character development of both Murdoch and Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk (played deliciously by Vincent D’Onofrio) is exceptional as we receive a slow bleed and blending of their stories until they meet near the end. You get the standard stereotypes often found in Superhero and Gangster films such as: the perky, plucky female assistant; cheeky, funny sidekick; Chinese, Japanese and Russian mobsters; uncompromising investigative journalist and more but it does it with such style that it transcends its generic components to become compelling viewing. Highly recommended!

HOUSE OF CARDS (2015) – SEASON THREE

The first two seasons of the US drama adapted from classic 80s TV programme were sensational as they used the backdrop of American political chicanery and conspiratorial ambition to propel Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) from Chief Whip to the Presidency itself. Ably abetted by Lady “Robin Wright” Macbeth his plotting of revenge and avaricious pursuit of power was fantastic to watch.

The 3rd season has not reached the dizzy heights of the earlier seasons in my view. That could be because I have been watching it on the “drip” week by week or there is more emphasis on political shenanigans and conflict arising from Underwood’s attempts to get America Works off the ground, plus his ongoing feud with Vladimir Putin. Not the real Putin obviously but the show’s thinly veiled version of him. Still, while I enjoyed the more noir and thriller aspects of the first two seasons this remains high quality drama with great direction, style and fine performances.

PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 – ) – SEASON ONE

I missed this gritty and violent period drama first time round on BBC but was grateful to catch up with it on Netflix. It’s a terrific post 1st World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Charlie Creed Miles and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang who fight and scrap and slice their way from the dirty streets in an attempt to become legitimate bookmakers. Steven Knight, who wrote Eastern Promises (2007) and directed the superb Locke (2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies, the IRA, Communists and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare.

DOCUMENTARIES

BIGGIE AND TUPAC (2002)

While the theories on the deaths of Biggie and Tupac presented within this documentary may no longer hold up it’s still a fascinating film from unassuming master of the passive aggressive: Nick Broomfield. His persistence in tracking down and interviewing various elements potentially involved in the murder of these hip-hop legends really drew me in. Plus, the final interview with shadowy rap boss/gangster Suge Knight was both chilling and illuminating.

THE BRIDGE (2006)

You need a strong stomach to watch this documentary film. During 2004 the filmmaking team shot the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and captured many suicide attempts; some where people succeeded in killing themselves and the occasional one who was saved. It’s a dark and upsetting look at depression and those who it affects plus reveals some of the reasons why people choose the Bridge as their intended final departure point. It’s an elegant film: poignant but a tough watch.

CROPSEY (2009)

What begins as a dig around the history of “the bogeyman” and other mythical baddies soon becomes a feature on Staten Island and the children that went missing from there in the 1970s and ‘80s. The film looks mainly at the prime suspect Andre Rand and whether he was guilty or not of murdering the kids and the media’s response to his case. It’s a bit slow overall without much in the way of revelation. Plus, there’s some dark matter which felt under-examined such as the abuse at the mental institution for kids where Rand worked. Overall though a slow yet thoughtful watch.

DARK DAYS (2000)

Marc Singer’s fascinating documentary from the late 1990s was an incredible look at the people who lived under the subway system of New York City and how they survived. Shot in grainy black and white it captures the hopelessness yet camaraderie amongst the homeless souls. It also demonstrates their desire to survive and build a home despite the grim conditions. The film would become a useful tool to put before City Hall in order to re-house the unfortunates, addicts and lost down there in the recesses of the underground.

MIND OF A RAMPAGE KILLER (2013)

Is a human being born evil or turned deadly by life events? The perennial nature versus nurture debate is looked at scientifically and psychologically in this pretty unsensational analysis of rampage killers. Of course there is no hard answers as there are a myriad of varying reasons why people go on killing sprees. While the psychology is murky as depression and bullying can play a part in equal measures, the main reason these individuals murder is because they have guns. Take away the access to weapons and you may at least prevent some of the senseless murders which occur Stateside.

LOST SOUL: DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014)

This was probably the best documentary I saw; mainly because I love films about filmmaking and I also love films about filmmaking which go spectacularly wrong. It charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer, hedonistic extras and tropical storms to the mix and you get a box office turkey blowing up in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.

TABLOID (2010)

Top documentary filmmaker Errol Morris points his camera at Southern Belle and crackpot Joyce McKinney and her various run-ins with the press over the years. Aside from cloning her dog in Korea in the noughties, McKinney was infamous for the “Manacled Mormon” story which delighted the lurid British red-tops in the ‘70s. McKinney is a lively interviewee as she recounts the tale of how she “rescued” the love of her life from the Mormon cult and attempted to turn him back in love with her through sexual programming. Yeah, chaining a bloke to a bed and screwing him will make him turn his back on God. Well, so SHE thought. McKinney did all that she did for love and cannot be faulted for that but came off as a delusional woman who just has to be heard to be believed.

VIDEOGAMES: THE MOVIE (2014)

Dry run through of the Video Games industry from its humble beginnings to the multi-billionaire cultural behemoth it’s become today. I love video-games but this was pretty boring and although there was certainly some nostalgia to be had from looking back to my youth I wanted more controversy and dirt rather than the bland run-through of the history and uninteresting “talking heads” we got here.

WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY (2013)

Some great comedians from the now and yesteryear discuss the nature of Jewish comedy and whether it is an actual “thing” and whether it still exists today. I enjoyed watching the old clips of greats such as Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield and many of the contributors are funny too. However, the filmmaker himself seemed to be working through some angst and guilt which at times detracted from the loose but amusing documentary nonetheless.

SCREENWASH FILM REVIEWS: JULY 2015

SCREENWASH FILM REVIEWS: JULY 2015

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)  

NOSTOCK FESTIVAL REVIEW

NOZSTOCK FESTIVAL REVIEW

I was going to include my Nozstock experience in my latest collective cultural review, however, I had such a great weekend that it earned kudos enough for a sole entry into the Captain’s blog.   So, myself, Melissa (the girlfriend) and Rhys (my son and heir) drove up to the Midlands on the Thursday and camped out under the stars amidst wonderful countryside, a sea of tents and a bonanza of musical, artistic and comedic entertainment. Alas, it pissed down with rain on the Friday but Saturday’s glorious sunshine dried out the mud precipitated by nature’s will the day before.  We left the Festival on Sunday but saw so much in our two full days there it’s worth sharing some images and positive words.

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ABOUT

Nostock is, what I would class, one of the smaller festivals I checked out when booking – maximum 5000 punters – but it was big in ideas and heart.  The comparative smaller size works in its’ favour as it felt local, family oriented and friendly. And definitely NOT part of the big corporate machine where bands perform as part of contracts to shift units. There were local bands for local people as well as bigger name acts such as De La Soul and old-school Motown act Martha and the Vandellas. This was essentially small but a perfectly formed set-up.

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THEME

Nozstock takes place on a working farm in Bromyard, Worcestershire but this year they went for a science-fiction theme with which to decorate the various stages and tents and being a sci-fi fan it was quite amusing to see pictures of futuristic robots against a backdrop of verdant pastures.  I mean, it’s not everyday you see a wicker Dalek. But somehow it worked as the design was done lovingly and with much humour. It all added a certain post-ironic charm to the whole affair as these photos show.

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THE ENTERTAINMENT

This had everything you’d want from a festival including: theatre, rock music, dance, rave, cabaret, cinema, food, arts and crafts and you know what apart from a few names on bill (excluding comedians) I knew hardly ANY the artists or performers – and that was fine!  I was more than happy to be surprised in a good or bad way and find fresh artists and musicians to entertain me.

There was a great mix of international, local and new singer-songwriters and bands and a couple really stood out:  Leeds-based Jenova Collective lit up the Friday gloom with their jolly Electro Swing and Raptor rocked the bandstand with an old-school-retro-rock-and-roll!  Beardyman was on WAY too late on the Saturday night but the four tracks I saw of him were fantastic.  Big plus were hip-hop legends De La Soul who stepped into fill the headliner’s Wu Tang Clan’s shoes after their Euro-Tour was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Great to hear the tunes from Three-Feet and Rising played live and loud!

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We tasted some of the cabaret and cinema stuff including a musical mime adaptation of Holst’s The Planets at the very punny Bantam of the Opera tent.  Furthermore, the comedy I watched on the Saturday was top quality with the gags of Mark Simmons, madness of Phil Kay and everyday yet sharp observations of Seann Walsh being highlights.  There was just a cornucopia of other delights like rap and reggae at the Raveyard; pilled-up rave-hippies at the Tree of Frogs and some really harsh beats in the Bullpen which were like a musical Magnum 45 and took my head clean off.

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It was just a great selection of joy and artistry on show. I just felt free from responsibility and even if I didn’t like something there just round the corner was an alternative stage to savour. So many artists and performers to choose from that the organisers deserve great credit for a fantastically curated festival.

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OVERALL 

I had an exciting weekend overall. Despite the rain the energy and fun of the proceedings never dulled and big praise to all concerned.  I must add that the food choices were pretty decent too and we had a lovely cooked English breakfast from the Oatcake stall. Plus there was enough bars serving tasty beer and cider to keep everyone happy!  Incredibly the Portaloos were very clean throughout with none of the horror stories I’ve been experienced at Glasto!

I’ve always loved the Festival experience. You just get a real sense of freedom camping  while at the same time experiencing a cultural oasis of entertainment.  Nozstock is nowhere near as big as say, Glastonbury, BUT who knows one day it may be.  I hope it doesn’t though as it is perfect as it is: a real local, eccentric and energetic bag of fun! Highly recommended!

Here’s their website – do check it out: http://www.nozstock.com/

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TO BOLDLY BLOG WHERE NO BLOG HAS GONE BEFORE: A CULTURAL REVIEW

TO BOLDLY BLOG WHERE NO BLOG HAS GONE BEFORE:  A CULTURAL REVIEW

Culturally speaking the title is a lie; I haven’t actually been that bold with my choices this month.  I’ve re-seen a comedy favourite; ventured to a well-known London market; re-watched episodes of a classic TV show and read about a comedic hero from the past. However, sometimes it’s good to review things both nostalgically and with a more mature set of eyes as it often gives a fresh perspective.   In any case the prime directive of this blog is to mainly seek out new stuff and I have done that as well with the playing of a new Zombie videogame and experiencing music I hadn’t heard before. Read on and prosper!

BILL HICKS:  LOVE ALL THE PEOPLE (BOOK)

Bill Hicks is a genuine comedy legend.  I grew up watching his growling, sarcastic, intelligent and damned hilarious comedy routines on Channel Four and subsequently VHS/DVD.  His comedy had this rare ability to take serious subjects and gain great laughs from both ridicule and merely stating honest common-sense truths. Moreover, he delivered his world-view like a raging preacher who, in despair at the world, is willing and begging us to see humanity as he does.  People may say its edgy but it’s done out of a desire for peace and love and Hicks is just incredulous at the insanity of what the more negative aspects of the human race have done to the world and each other.

The book essentially covers his routines, poems, lyrics and interviews in chronological order. Reading his words in print still carries much of the power and many of the ideas as hearing Hicks spit them out live.  In fact, reading in between and outside of the lines I sensed a real pain in a man who was tired of preaching to the morons who just dismissed his grander concepts of peace and equality in the hope of hearing dick jokes.  Hicks did great dick jokes too though as well as the biting political and sociological satire. A black-belt comedian who was not afraid to hit his targets head-on he would cause much controversy when alive and of course it is one of the great cultural tragedies he died so young. This book is NO substitute yet it is far better to have an echo of Bill Hicks’ reverbing in the world than nothing at all.

CAMDEN MARKET, LONDON

I like Camden Market. For me it’s as London as red buses, pie-and-mash and Buckingham Palace. While it’s very much a tourist trap with overpriced grub and general tat it’s a fun trap which has many varied colours, pubs, scents, music, tattoos, clothes, hair-dos, people, weirdos, food and cultures on show that lure you in and distract you before hitting you hard in the wallet. Of course, one can eschew the spending and just take in the sights and that’s pretty much what I achieved when I re-visited the place with my son and had a good look about.  Because as another archetypal Londoner Micky Flanagan says:  “I like a look about!”  And if you like a look about then why not try Camden Market one weekend.

DYING LIGHT – VIDEOGAME – XBOX ONE

First person World War Z type actioner set in a fictional Middle-Eastern city is absolutely brilliant fun. Bit of a slow-burner this game but I have become utterly immersed in the story and missions of this kill-crazy-parkouring-bombing-booby-trapping-zombie-slice-and-dice-fest!   What impressed me most is the expansive nature of the storylines and the intricate tasks at hand plus imaginative ways with which to wipe out the constant stream of zombies. While the human villains are a bit cartoony the actual plot is better than most Hollywood movies and I would recommend this game for anyone who loves fighting monsters and mercenaries equally.

FELIX FOX: A MODERN FOP (ONLINE SCRIBE)

A quick shout out for mate of mine’s blog  http://modernfop.com/   It’s a fine and dandy online novel set on the mean, boozy, cocaine-fuelled, contemporary streets of London and features the anti-heroic antics of fashion assassin and retail worker Felix Fox. Posts go up on a regular basis and they are extremely funny with some dark sarcasm thrown in for good measure. Our pretentious “hero” attempts to further his career and escape the hoi-polloi-working-class roots he was born into while damning the variety of fashion victims he encounters.  If you like the writings of JG Ballard, Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh then there will be something here for you. Do check him out before he’s gets that book deal he surely deserves and you have to pay for the reading pleasure.

NICK MULVEY, SOMERSET HOUSE, LONDON

I was thinking the other day that what my life lacked was access to more young, multi-talented-middle-class-solo-male-singer-songwriters-pouring-out-their souls-on-stage-to-a-mediocrity-seeking public-who-desire-to-be-anaesthetised-and-have-their-thoughts-numbed-by-banality-and-unthreatening-wonder.  And then, just then, my lovely girlfriend said she had tickets to the very fine musician Nick Mulvey.  It was a soppy gig at Somerset House with Mulvey’s twee tones drifting out over the London skyline putting me in a trance like musical methadone.  He has a mercurial voice and is a brilliant guitarist and while I prefer my musical tea a lot stronger it was a blissful night set in architecturally gorgeous surroundings.

PAUL FOOT, SECRET COMEDY SHOW, LONDON

Thought I’d give the wonderfully silly Paul Foot another mention as he is consistently funny in every show I see him in. So do check him out if you like your comedy unpredictable yet structured; silly yet intelligent and seemingly off-the-cuff yet imaginatively written. The latest little secret show I saw him at was a kind of run through some older and newer material and on a scorching hot evening Mr Foot once again delivered a delightfully absurd cacophony of comedy musings, epithets and physical skips down laughter lane.

STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (BLU-RAY)

Having rewatched the whole of the new Doctor Who and delved into the Time Lord’s back catalogue of great episodes via the Horror Channel I gained a thirst for classic televisual Sci-Fi, thus, decided to boldly go back to the original series of Star Trek!  Aah, watching the space adventures of Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Bones, Chekhov, Sulu, Scotty etc. brought back interstellar memories from my youth and as entertainment now the show definitely stands the test of time (and space!)

It is a terrific show. This, in no small part, is down to a solid premise and rules of the world, wonderful writing and committed performances by an awesome cast notably the Enterprise’s yin and yang: James Tiberius Kirk and Mister Spock played perfectly by Shatner and Nimoy. The storylines and characterisation are always intriguing and on reflection the show was pioneering in regard representations of gender, race and sexuality.

Episodes are deftly written with high concept sci-fi ideas, imaginative alien races and a zeitgeisty approach to the themes of the day which still maintain their power now. I’m halfway through the first season (of three) which has too many fine episodes to mention, including: The Enemy Within (Kirk splits into two different personalities); Mudd’s Women (a critique of quick fix drug therapy and plastic surgery); Miri (a strange world which holds host to children who never grow old); The Menagerie (thrilling episode which foreshadows ideas featured later in The Matrix) and The Conscience of the King (a Shakespearean influenced drama dealing with the pursuit of an intergalactic war criminal.)

Given the show has given birth to all manner of prequels and sequels, and continues to be a multi-billion dollar franchise today, demonstrates the genius and long-standing quality of Gene Roddenberry’s Wagon Train To The Stars or as it came to be known: Star Trek. 

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – JUNE 2015

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – JUNE 2015

Watched quite a lot of TV stuff in June including a binge on Hannibal Seasons 1 & 2 plus I have started watching the old school Star Trek series with Shatner and crew so not that many films watched in June. Anyway, here’s my humble little reviews with marks out of ELEVEN! Peace!

**YES – THERE’S SPOILERS!**

THE BABADOOK (2014) – BLU-RAY 

Eerie low-budget Aussie chiller which involves a blow-the-spectrum kid and his mother who mentally unravels following the death of her husband. Together they become isolated as outsiders and are left to the mercy of The Babadook; a dark creature from a weird indestructible book. It’s filmed with consummate skill and has a creeping style which gets under the skin. For an hour I was gripped but in the end felt it was somewhat one-paced and lacking a satisfactory gore-frenzied ending I like from my horror.  However, the dark symbolism in the piece was highly compelling and the director is one to watch.  (7 out of 11)

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005) – BLU RAY

This one’s a rewatch and on second viewing it remains a complex and humanely ambiguous French drama from one of my favourite directors Jacques Audiard. It’s a loose remake of James Toback’s Fingers (1978) and concerns Thomas (Romain Duris) as an unsympathetic slum landlord who tries to use a mild talent for the piano to try and escape his nefarious job. However, he is delusional and ultimately finds little peace from this pursuit as he is constantly dragged back to violence.  It’s an involving character study of a man with family and anger issues and is typical Audiard; holding a mirror up to complex humans and their relationships. (8 out of 11)

CHEAP THRILLS (2013) – NOW TV

This cracking micro-budgeted horror-thriller may be shot on a shoe-string but it’s sharp and nasty as piano wire.  The basic premise is a drunken game of “Would You” which escalates way out of hand as two friends meets a decadent drunken couple including Anchorman’s Champ Kind – David Koechner.  Mild dares such as: fighting a club bouncer and crapping in the neighbour’s house are just for starters as this darkly comedic gore-fest illustrates the lengths some people will go to for fun or money.  This film killed:  in a good way and the final image is still burned on my retina.
(9 out of 11)

COLD IN JULY (2014) – NOW TV

I love my Southern neo-noir movies. John Dahl and the Coen Brothers made some cracking films a few years ago like Blood Simple (1984) and The Last Seduction (1994) and Cold in July is in that territory as it tells a dark, twisted story as slippery as an eel smeared in grease.  Michael C. Hall of Dexter infamy plays an ordinary Joe whose house is invaded by a burglar and having killed said intruder he is then hunted down by the dead man’s career criminal father. This is just the taster as tables are turned and chairs are burnt in a first act full of suspense.  The story then diverts into murkier waters as Don Johnson pops up as a charismatic Farmer/Private Investigator!! Jim Mickle is an unsung director of very good lower budget films like vampire-western Stakeland (2010) but this was an even better thriller with a keen sense of mood, doom and unsettling fear.  (8 out of 11)

THE CONNECTION (2014) – CINEMA

This solid French police drama starring the handsome Jean Dujardin takes a looks at the team who brought down the biggest heroin dealers in 70s France.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it brilliantly filmed with a brutal, masculine cast crossing and double-crossing each other all for a bit of money and power.  I have to admit I was VERY tired watching this so dozed off at one point as the cinema was bloody hot!  However, my cinema fail aside it’s certainly one to catch online or DVD rental. Performances from Dujardin as heroic prosecutor Pierre Michel and Gilles Lellouche as his gangster counterpart are worth the admission alone.  (7 out of 11).

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) – NOW TV

I positively reviewed this one last year and on second watch it holds up well but certainly loses power on the smaller screen.  Still a very entertaining superhero-time-travel film with the X-Men battling the past to resolve future extinction. Still loving the Quicksilver v Fort Knox slow-mo fight scene. Gets me every time.  Good solid home-screen entertainment. (7.5 out of 11)

CLICK FOR ORIGINAL REVIEW

THE EQUALIZER (2014) – NOW TV

I also reviewed this one last year and it actually works so much better as a put-your-feet-up-in-front-of-the-telly-after-work-actioner.  Here the always-reliable movie star Denzel’s portrays a seemingly meek Homebase worker when in fact he is a deadly former CIA shadow able to take bad guys down  in a heartbeat.  Like a modern-day Robin Hood he kills the bad and rewards the good all in a calm, professional and explosive fashion.  Great, if brutal, fun. (7.5 out of 11)

CLICK FOR ORIGINAL REVIEW

INSIDIOUS (2010) – DVD/INSIDIOUS 3 (2015) – CINEMA

I rewatched the petrifying original before watching the prequel Chapter 3 at the cinema and while not as good as the first the latter had some cracking scares which had my heart in my mouth throughout. I love a decent horror and also enjoy the more fantastical elements present in the Insidious franchise. I know it’s about Astral Travelling and some such nonsense but Leigh Whannell and James Wan crafted a terrifying original complete with horrific demons and ghosts from the other side.  The plots basically involve a family being terrorized by ghosties and troubled medium Elise Ranier and her team go into ‘The Further’ to slam the door shut!

Wan is a wonderful genre director who during Insidious uses a box of cinematic tricks to convey terror including: light and shadows; kinetic camera movement; smash cuts; sudden music cues including screeching violins; characters appearing out of nowhere; ghosts hiding in the corners; and many more. It’s not always subtle but damn it works well to get the heart pumping. Writer Whannell directs Insidious: Chapter 3 and makes a good fist of it as old favourites come back from the beyond along with some newer nasties to give you nightmares.  (7.5 out of 11)

JURASSIC WORLD (2015) – CINEMA

Jurassic World is loads of fun. The formula that Michael Crichton began in Westworld and continued with the original Jurassic Park is ratcheted up to eleven! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching Dinosaurs wreak havoc on the screen; and the Dinosaurs in this are impressive with the vicious Indominus Rex stealing the thunder. Chris Pratt coasts through all muscles and winks; while Bryce Dallas Howard’s character arc is defined by the reduction of clothing throughout. The joy of cinema is to divert the brain from the real world outside by creating an exciting one on screen. Jurassic World succeeds — despite the paper-thin characters — with impressive chases, scares and one-liners . (7.5 out of 11)

KAJAKI (2014) – BLU RAY

I’m anti-war.  But I enjoy war films.  For me “blood will have blood” and historically one can blame Kings, Governments and greedy humans for wars.  When watching a war film I will look at the humanity on show; the story that is told rather than solely the politics.

Kajaki is a brilliant lower-budget British war film set in the Helmond Province, Afghanistan in 2006 and focuses on the true events which befell a group of soldiers trapped in a historical Russian minefield.   The screenplay is impressive as it establishes the characters and longueurs of war before exploding into furious action when the men become locked in a small patch of hellish land.  It’s both illuminating and suspenseful as soldiers become prisoners to the past conflict of a land persistently ravaged by conflict.

Indeed, Afghanistan has been invaded more times than a Wild West Saloon whore and STILL there’s no resolution to the fight.  Amidst the bloody suspense of Kajaki, however, the bravery, humour and camaraderie on display is something to be in awe of. (9 out of 11)

TWO FACES OF JANUARY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

With Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and rising star Oscar Isaac in the cast I had very high hopes for this Hitchcockian thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s book.  But it kind of petered out as a story really after a very gripping start.  Still, the cast are good and the sunny setting of 1960s Greece and Turkey is beautiful to look but the main issue was I never felt any empathy for the unlikeable characters and rarely felt like there was much at stake. A mirage of a film: promises much but then you realise there is nothing there. (5 out of 11)

 

THE LAIGHTOLOGUES: A CULTURAL REVIEW

THE LAIGHTOLOGUES: A CULTURAL REVIEW

The last month or so I have been out and about doing bits and pieces from a cultural perspective and jolly good fun was had by all. Here are some of the highlights.

DEMONOLOGUES – COURTYARD THEATRE

Having tasted the greasepaint of such theatrical productions, Oppenheimer and View From The Bridge earlier this year I took in a lower-budget- off-off-Fringe production written and directed by Wendy Metcalf. It was performed by a talented cast of the Boxroom Theatre Company including such thespians as: Rosie Angeni, Tyrone Atkins, Asif Channa, Enid Gayle, Kim White, Mike Stewart and Rob Widdicombe.

Structured within seven magnificent monologues the piece was delivered with palpable conviction by each performer as they embodied the various characters with impressive commitment.  One hears of horror stories of indulgent plays which go on for what seems like days but this theatre production rattled by with energy, humour and pathos in equal measure. I would have loved each monologue to somehow be linked in a narrative sense; however, thematically it was very powerful as a series of outsiders contend with matters relating to:  death, obsession, performance, existential crisis, age, abuse, homelessness and rather peculiarly boxes.  Overall, the writer conjures up some memorable dialogue and characters as the piece delivers moments of humanity which stay with you long after the stage lights have dimmed.


ROTTEN: NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS (1994) – JOHN LYDON (with KEITH & KENT ZIMMERMAN)

John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten WAS and still IS one of my heroes.  The working class lad from the deepest darkest London would emerge from the crumbling council houses of Finsbury Park and wreak havoc on the “Establishment” and sacred cows of Western Capitalism; firing a rocket into the cultural vacuum of the late 70s music industry.  This book charts — in his own and other individuals’ words — Lydon’s progress from sick young child to enfant terrible as he became the face and guts of the movement that would become known as PUNK!  No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs is structured in linear fashion via a set of interview transcripts as Lydon and the likes of Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Branson and many more give their perspectives of the lies and times of the era.

Lydon doesn’t mince his words in attacking those — notably The Sex Pistols manager Malcolm Mclaren — who he feels done him wrong and that anger propels the book. What struck me was the fragmented set of events and shattered points-of-view which spat and crackled at the time; making one realise that punk rock was not a movement of harmony. Instead it was a splintered faction of ideas, styles, influences that exploded from the depressing financial and social climate of the United Kingdom.  There was no fixed plan or collective movement or love or heroes but a detonation of unrest and youth in revolt and above all else a spark; and the chief spark being Lydon. You may not agree or even like the warts-and-all personality he presents in the book but one must respect Lydon for his vicious honesty. He’s forever the angry iconoclast and one of the great heroes/anti-heroes of British culture; at times infuriating but above-all-else bloody entertaining.

PEAR-SHAPED COMEDY SHOW – FITZROY TAVERN

This comedy night mixing pros, semi-pros, newcomers and general nutters has been going for donkey’s years and proclaims itself to be the “London’s 2nd worst comedy club”!  Despite this P-S has always been one of my favourite and dreaded places to perform comedy.  I have been funny there and also died a few comedy deaths as well but that was part of the fun too.  Run by the legendary comedy duo Brian & Krystal, Antony Miller and a whole host of comedians down the years it came to an end at its current home: The Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street. I went along to say goodbye and thank the club for supporting my comedy ramblings over the years. Safe to say it was all done it the best possible taste and it was a brilliant send-off.  There have been some desperately empty times in that room but this was not one of them as hosts, performers and audience (yes – it had an audience!) all joined together for a fantastic last hurrah. Well, until it starts up again in another room (here’s hoping!)

POLESDEN LACEY, SURREY – NATIONAL TRUST

This gem of a place has all the desires of a lovely afternoon out:  beautiful grounds; pretty gardens; impressive stately home; and over-priced gift and coffee shop.  It’s also got some leg-stretching walks where you can almost taste the serenity. What’s great too is it’s not that far from London either. So you can drive a reasonable distance from the fuel-spluttering-gaseous-urban-corporate-city-poisoned-capital and find yourself in a place of relaxation and historical value. My teenage son said it was “gay” so clearly not a place aimed at kids of his age but younger children, adults, ramblers and history buffs will find something pleasant in this beautiful space lovingly maintained by the National Trust.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – ROYAL HOSPITAL CHELSEA

I knew very little about Rufus Wainwright when my American girlfriend suggested we go to his live concert. I had heard of his musician-father Loudon Wainwright III and became aware that he was a young musical protégée and in a way a member of American musical royalty, so to speak.  Thus, having brushed up with a “Best-of” album bought on ITunes we headed to the impressively staged outdoor venue set-up at the home of the Chelsea Pensioners: Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Despite the heavens opening and rain bleeding onto a sea of plastic-covered bodies Mr Wainwright delivered a sterling set of beautifully constructed songs from his current and back catalogue. He’s a nervy, neurotic character with a wicked laugh, eager to please and a divine twang in his voice which would suggest he could probably be a great musical comedian too. While containing humour, lyrically, his songs bare his soul while wrapped in a mournful voice which quivers with emotional depth. Safe to say his piano sings a haunting melody although Mr Wainwright certainly picks up the pace with his faithful guitar in hand.

It was a fantastic and memorable performance in the London rain which had scattered by the time he sang the trusty classic Hallelujah.  I have since found out Mr Wainwright’s life had it’s fair share of troublesome situations including drug addiction  and while I didn’t not know this at the time, the way this soulful troubadour sang his heart out you knew. You just knew.