IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: A RETROSPECTIVE by PAUL LAIGHT

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: A RETROSPECTIVE by PAUL LAIGHT

Hey-Oooo! Bitches!  With Season 10 of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia now catapulted from FFX onto Netflix I thought I’d look back at the previous nine seasons and pick out my favourite episodes of the series.  Thus, I have picked out ONE from each season PLUS a “Wildcard” too.

How would I describe the show to someone who has never seen it before:  imagine Friends but the polar opposite.  It has the most unlikeable, unattractive, insane, narcissistic characters who do all manner of god-awful things to themselves, each other and total strangers. If you haven’t ever seen this show then you should . It is frantic, sick, irreverent, disgusting, manic, hyper-real, cartoon-like, politically-incorrect, satirical and incredibly hilarious. Indeed, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is arguably the closest you would get to a live-action version of South Park.

Set in the dismal Paddy’s pub in Philadelphia it initially concerned four (in Season 1) then five (when Danny DeVito joined) individuals who are each in their own way complete fuck-ups and whose main existence generally aims to scheme and out-do the others for personal gain or egotistic one-up-man-woman-ship.

THE CHARACTERS

its-always-sunny-season-8-season-9
RONALD “MAC” MCDONALD (ROB MCELHENNEY)

Mac is a delusional tough guy, bouncer and devout Catholic who thinks he’s hard but ultimately is a moral and physical coward. Occasionally he’ll come up with some words of wisdom but on the whole he is a brainless yo-yo obsessed with remaking Lethal Weapon.


DENNIS REYNOLDS (GLENN HOWERTON)

Dennis is the group’s amoral Ted Bundy figure: a vain, arrogant, would-be-handsome-if-he-wasn’t-so-psychotic-lady-killer. While not actually a murderer he is a low-life scumbag and arguably is the stupidest of the group because he thinks HE is the most intelligent.

CHARLIE KELLY (CHARLIE DAY)

Charlie is an idiot savant with the onus on the idiot part of that; notably in his stalking of “The Waitress”.  He is the most innocent and does all the dirty “Charlie Work” in the bar like unblocking toilets and killing rats. He is also the most unpredictable sniffing glue and dressing up as alter-ego Green Man!


DEANDRA “SWEET DEE” REYNOLDS (KAITLIN OLSON)

Dee is a failed actress and stand-up comedian and often ridiculed by the others for “big-bird” looks, lack of talent and her boyfriend choices.  Thus, she will often over-compensate and compete with the guys, especially her twin-brother Dennis, in an attempt to prove herself.  Her plans mostly end in humiliating failure and loss of dignity.


FRANK REYNOLDS (DANNY DEVITO)

Frank is Dennis and Dee’s father – or is he? – and joined the group in the 2nd series when he bought into Paddy’s Bar because the gang were broke AGAIN!   Frank’s great at making money  but eschews the corporate world  to live like a feral tramp at Charlie’s place revelling in the insanity of his new-found freedom

 itsalwayssunny

THE EPISODES

**SOME SWEET SPOILERS BITCHES!!**

 

SERIES ONE – CHARLIE WANTS AN ABORTION

This was hilarious for a number of reasons as several storylines converge revealing the desperate lengths the gang will go to achieve their low-level goals. Charlie uses his “long-lost son” as a emotional bargaining chip to get closer to his obsessive love-target:  The Waitress. Meanwhile, Mac and Dennis use Pro-life/Anti-abortion rallies to try and score with women. Safe to say all of their plans blow-up in their respective faces.

 

SERIES TWO – MAC BANGS DENNIS’ MUM

In this wonderfully plotted episode the Gang basically does a low-rent version of La Ronde.  Precipitated by Mac sleeping with Dennis’ mum (Anne Archer) a series of sexual revenge schemes backfire with sick hilarity.  For once Charlie ALMOST gets the upper hand until the horrific pay-off; while the highlight is — much to his amazement — Dennis being turned down by Mac AND Charlie’s mum when he attempts to have revenge sex with them.

 

SERIES THREE – SWEET DEE’S DATING A RETARDED PERSON

This is awesome because we get a peak at Charlie’s  crazy musical ‘talent’.  Plus, Dennis sends Dee into a spin by casting aspersions on her new rapper boyfriend — a dopey version of Eminem — by saying he is mentally backward.  The episode stands out for the awesome song Dayman — based on a dream — which Charlie wrote while sniffing spray paint. Later, Charlie and Dennis getting heckled off stage when performing it live is a particular highlight. Personally, I think the song rocks!

SERIES FOUR – WHO POOPED THE BED

The gang does Agatha Christie-meets-Sex-in-The-City style in this well structured yet disgusting episode. Indeed, Dee tries to become more classy with her girlfriends and the others attempt to discover who pooped Frank and Charlie’s bed.  The two stories intertwine as Dee’s theatrical friend Artemis eventually ditches Dee finding the “poodunnit” more interesting.  Highlights include: The Waitress falling off the wagon and laying violently into Dee plus Artemis’ final Poirot-esque summation in determining the suspect. An episode that’s full of crap — but in a fun way!

 

SERIES FIVE – THE DENNIS SYSTEM

Dennis just goes full “Ted Bundy” in this one with a breakdown of the system he uses to score with women.  It is a disgusting litany of dehumanizing manoeuvres which sums up Dennis’ scummy character and satirises brilliantly the sexist masculine “pick-up” industry.  Moreover, it is just hilarious as the gang both ignore AND follow his “expert” advice with a succession of dreadful dating endeavours.  As a fan of Acronyms I also admire the malice aforethought and linguistic logic of the system too.

SERIES SIX – THE GANG BUYS A BOAT

Often the episodes will find the gang will do something mildly normal — like buy a boat —  but their various actions will splinter into events which completely undermine the plan. Indeed, in this episode Dennis suffers his usual delusion of grandeur, with Mac in tow, believing owning a boat will help him achieve greater social status. Meanwhile, Charlie, Frank and Dee attempt to clean the boat but ultimately work against each other culminating an explosive end result.

gangboat

SERIES SEVEN – FRANK REYNOLDS LITTLE BEAUTIES

Frank’s energy for money-making schemes knows no bounds but it backfires when he decides to put on a beauty pageant for kids without realising the pitfalls surrounding such events.  Thus, Frank spends the whole episode keen to point out he’s NOT a paedophile and with face-paint troughed on by a funeral make-up artist he resembles the living dead.  At the same time Dee and the others attempt to live vicariously through the kids to make up for their own personal show business failures.

IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: Danny Devito in IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA airing Thursday, September 29 at 10pm e/p. . CR: Patrick McElhenney / FX

SERIES EIGHT – THE GANG GETS ANALYZED

Even though the Gang generally screw each over with their many schemes much joy can be found with their altercations with a variety of third parties notably:  Lawyers, Government officials, Doctors, Police, Health and Safety Officers and the general public.  In this one they visit a Dee’s Therapist  and end up being individually assessed as the group has broken down over who should be doing the washing-up.  Charlie and Frank’s analyses are off-the-chart funny but I loved that Dennis, believing himself to be an equal with the Therapist, is proved to be just as nuts as everyone else.

sunny805-1001

SERIES NINE – THE GANG BROKE DEE

Dee’s failure as a performer due to suffering stage-fright is a delight because having done a bit of comedy myself it’s great seeing someone else crash and burn at that artistic endeavour.  In this episode she gives up completely on life and her act. Then, incredibly she has a major breakthrough as a comedian and the episode delights in sending up the nature of stand-up and how you climb the ladder. The final twist in the tale is also a joy and sums up the lack of compassion the group have toward Dee.

gangbrokedee

WILDCARD – SERIES FOUR – E13 – THE NIGHTMAN COMETH

In tribute to the “Wildcard” Charlie I’ve picked this episode as a little addition because it is packed with ridiculous music and humour.  The gang put on a rock opera/musical for no reason at a proper theatre to boot!  To say it is bizaare is an understatement and the joy in seeing them perform a series of weird songs in amongst the insane story is a treat.  Charlie parodying the stressed director/artist is hilarious as he takes it all far too seriously. Let’s just say Stephen Sondheim need never lose sleep.  Unless he’s dead:  is Sondheim dead?

THE PRODIGY IN PICTURES: ALEXANDRA PALACE 16TH MAY 2015

THE PRODIGY IN PICTURES: ALEXANDRA PALACE 16/05/2015

I often use this blog to bang on about films, cultural things and stuff. So, in this piece I’m just going to let the pictures tell the story.

Safe to say the The Prodigy absolutely rocked and raved Alexandra Palace last Saturday and here’s the evidence.

Myself and my son Rhys had a cracking time seeing the big beat chart-stoppers who are clearly in a class of their own!

Rhys_Dad_preProdigyRhys_Tube WoodGreenAlexandra_Sign  Paul_Laight_Prodigy

Prodigy_Gig0 Prodigy_gig1

Prodigy_gig2 Prodigy_gig4

Prodigy_gig5 Rhys_Paul_postProdigy

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO by PAUL LAIGHT

In this occasional series I regale my favourite actors and select some of their memorable performances.  Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor who has just got better and better in each role he’s been in.  I admire his craft because he has seamlessly moved away from star-crossed heartthrob roles such as Titanic (1997) shifting to meaty, dramatic roles the likes of which I will list here.  DiCaprio has good looks, charisma and a sparkling smile yet doesn’t avoid the darkness and can easily play the good guys, bad guys and – where humanity is concerned –  the ugly guys too.  Here are five great roles he’s played and I could quite easily have chosen five others such is the quality of his acting CV.

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

 

BLOOD DIAMOND (2006)

Aside from this one and Titanic (1997) DiCaprio doesn’t do enough action type movies with big explosions and mayhem.  Perhaps he doesn’t like running around and prefers the meatier roles?  Then again, his character Danny Archer had an impressive character arc amidst the fireworks within this Edward Zwick directed anti-war film.  Initially, he is a selfish mercenary only out for the money until he comes into contact with Djimon Hounsou and his desperate search for his son.  Together they hunt for a priceless diamond in war-torn Sierra Leone and in the process Archer/DiCaprio learns some humanity along the way.  It takes a broad approach politically but, amidst the well-stage battle sequences it successfully highlights the horrific attitude of Western capitalism to Africa: a place to be plundered for wealth and damned the consequences. Yet, for me, this works best as a classic war film with DiCaprio’s anti-heroic soldier ultimately finding redemption by the end.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

DiCaprio’s turn as ‘The Kid’ in Sam Raimi’s Leone Western homage The Quick and The Dead (1995) almost made this list as he was just so young and cheeky and his death scene was very touching; but I’ve gone with his badass rendition of nefarious plantation owner Calvin Candie instead.  It’s an over-the-top and theatrical ripper of a performance as he takes great glee playing the baddest, racist, capitalist pig around.  Indeed, Tarantino cast him perfectly as he used DiCaprio’s charisma to counteract the murderous psychosis of the devilish Candie. In the hands of another actor the whole film could have been just damned nasty but with his Southern accent, golden glint in his eye and finger-twiddling moustache-come-beard he almost steals the show.  The mercurial Christophe Waltz won the best supporting Oscar for his role and deservedly so, however, DiCaprio must have been close to breaking his Academy cherry here with this grandstanding and dastardly turn.

THE AVIATOR (2004)

I hated this film the first time I saw but soon realised I was an idiot; on 2nd and 3rd viewing the pure genius of the Scorcese and DiCaprio combination shone through every time. With a brilliant John Logan screenplay it depicts the early years of Howard Hughes’ flamboyance, follies and failures.  DiCaprio has often portrayed characters on the edge of a nervous breakdown or full-blown mentalists like Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island (2010) and here he captures Hughes at the height of his film and aviation glories only to find his obsessive-compulsive disorder swallowing him up and dragging him into the pits of hell.  This step-by-step disintegration is portrayed with such intelligence and impact I felt this was the role DiCaprio should have won Best Oscar for.  It’s a brash and loud performance with Hughes’ big personality to the fore, however, underneath the mental issues which would make him a recluse in later years are beginning to show through and the actor draws out these subtleties in a devastating and very sad way.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)

This was a just a humdinger of a film which had everything:  humour, romance, drama, crime, cat-and-mouse chases, pathos, brilliant cast, sex and at its heart DiCaprio playing a teenage con-boy to perfection!   Once again he is perfectly cast as the little-boy-lost who is devastated by his parents’s break-up and goes on the lam perfecting his counterfeiting skills on the way.  Frank Abagnale Jnr is arguably the role which finds DiCaprio grow on-screen from a lad to a man. In it he imbues the arrogance of youth yet also reveals the pain and drive of a child attempting to come to terms with his feelings.  His instinct is to run as fast as he can and his crimes such as: impersonating a pilot; faking cheques; practising law and medicine are presented as a means of escaping his internal turmoil.  Steven Spielberg illustrates this incredible story with style and pace and DiCaprio is just a treat as he lies and cheats and cons his way into and out of the most entertaining of scrapes with Tom Hanks’ dogged agent never far behind him.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)

DiCaprio doesn’t DO superheroes. He does anti-superheroes; and none more so than in this memoir by disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort –  a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-par-excellence. The Wolf of Wall Street  follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas (1990) as DiCaprio’s Belfort schemes and sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street. This is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. This is DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese’s film and as they demonstrated in The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island etc. they are a formidable team.  What DiCaprio does incredibly well is making this Wall Street monster likeable, funny, believable and human. Indeed, I felt DiCaprio deserved an Oscar but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it?  But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!

SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES – #1 BY PAUL LAIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

 “Nobody’s Perfect!”

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

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

 “Why Am I Mr Pink?”

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

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


MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

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

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

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

MISERY (1990)

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

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

 

WITHNAIL & I (1986)

“What’s your name – Mcfuck?!”

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

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

 

ANNIE HALL (1977)

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

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

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

 

BRIDESMAIDS (2011)

“I feel bad for your face!”

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

 

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – (1992)

“Fuck you! That’s my name!”

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

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEWS FOR APRIL 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEWS BY PAUL LAIGHT – APRIL 2015

Bit late with the old film reviews for April because I have actually been writing my own short film screenplays in the last few weeks.

I set myself a target of writing TWELVE original first draft short films in 2015 (one a month basically). I have completed TWO thus far.  I’m confident I will hit the target.

Still managing to watch a high-rate of movies via Cinema, Netflix, Amazon, Blu-Ray etc. so here are my reviews for April 2015. A pretty golden month for diverse and quality motion pictures; plus some right pony too.

**Now featuring a new marking system — in tribute to This is Spinal Tap — which goes up to ELEVEN**

**BEWARE OF MASSIVE SPOILERS**

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014) – SKY MOVIES

Comedy Western written, directed and starring Seth Mcfarlane started well with a plethora of great gags but once the story gets into gear Seth Mcfarlane the writer fails the director big time. Plus, Seth Mcfarlane the actor just fails. He is NOT a leading man and some quick-fire laughs at the start give way to a one-joke film which lasts 45 minutes too long. The film makes Carry on Cowboy (1965) seem like Shakespeare and while watching I was thinking of a million ways to kill myself. (Mark – 3/11)

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) – CINEMA

After remaking The Seven Samurai (1954) with Avengers Assemble (2012) Joss Whedon was back at the helm of the good ship Marvel remaking Frankenstein  and delivering a bloody good sequel in the process. Indeed, despite sounding like a powerful washing powder Age of Ultron was way better than I expected. I love Marvel movies but was anticipating the moment when the formula just dies and thought this may be it. It wasn’t.

Amidst the green screen superhero carnage there is actually a story which involves the Avengers team battling Tony Stark’s sentient creation called Ultron which he knocked up by mistake thinking it would be good for mankind. The idiot!   Throw into the mix Hydra-children Quiksilver and Scarlet Witch who want revenge on Stark plus spandex buddies Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk and the rest of the team and you get a pretty impressive slap-bang-train-crashing-robot-killing-country-unearthing-war-machining-mind-bending-vision-melding-hulk-smashing popcorn muncher.

Highlights for me were:  the action of course; James Spader’s evil Ultron; Captain America as usual; Mark Ruffalo/Bruce Banner doing existential pain-like-a-modern day Lawrence “Wolfman” Talbot; some great Whedon one-liners; blink-and-miss cameo from Andy Serkis; plus Scar-Jo’s Nikitaesque backstory raised the blood pressure a tad. While Age of Ultron is thematically weak and the narrative feels transitory on occasions there is SO much happening it doesn’t matter. Overall, it’s a fun-packed-fizzing-firework of a film which stopped me thinking about death for two hours; so that was good. (Mark: 8/11)

 

BOYHOOD (2014) – BLU RAY

The most expensive home movie of all time is an American modern-day masterpiece in slice-of-life storytelling. Not a lot occurs but it does so with so much heart as we follow Mason Evans (aged 6) and his family life from 2002 to the present day.  Much has been made of the fact Richard Linklater shot the film over a decade using both Ellar Coltrane and his daughter Lorelei throughout the film and this organic approach to filmmaking is to be applauded.  More importantly I just fell in love with these ordinary characters as we experience vignettes from their lives over a number of years.  Brilliant character actors Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke shine too as their respective parents juggle the slings and arrows that life throws at them all.  While the pace is glacial and the structure elliptical Boyhood is a fine document to family life that touched my heart and mind throughout. (Mark: 9/11)

FAST AND FURIOUS 7 (2015) – CINEMA

Another snap, crack and popping addition to a film franchise which has gathered popularity at a breakneck speed over the last decade or more.  Fast 7 picks up after Fast 6 directly with meaty brute Jason Statham coming for Toretto and the team for pretty much marmalizing his brother (Luke Evans) to death in the previous chapter.  Having gone head-on with Duwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and incapacitated him Statham then goes after the gang, who meanwhile, are charged with the task of tracking down some generic macguffin called the “God’s Eye”. I didn’t really care about the plot as it’s mainly an excuse to join the dots between some stunning right-royal-rumbling car chases, shoot-outs, motor-parachuting and the vehicular carnage we’ve all come to expect from this series.

Better than Fast 6 (though not the superlative Fast 5) the film is deftly helmed by expert genre filmmaker James Wan and the action is beefed up by character actors like Kurt Russell and Djimon Hounsou. Statham steals the show as the rogue mercenary and Vin Diesel does his usual John-Wayne-act: mean-and-moody with a heart of gold.  The Rock is criminally underused (no doubt because he was shooting Hercules at the same time) but he does impress during the heart-pounding final set-piece.  I drank a big coffee before I watched this and as my mind was blazing on caffeine so was the screen. Great escapist cinema which pays a fine, if soppy, tribute to the deceased Paul Walker in the final reel.  (Mark: 9/11)

FORCE MAJEURE (2014) – CINEMA

This is one of those excellent foreign films which I hated.  I can see why critics and audiences may enjoy the character-driven drama of a family split apart by the father’s less-than-heroic actions during that of an avalanche but overall the film left me cold as an Eskimo’s nostril.  Technically, it is beautifully shot, performed, directed and there is some merit in the idea of a family holiday gone wrong, however, I just found the characters too irritating and in the end I was bored. I like many, many films with complex and dislikeable characters but not this one.  Personally despising ski holidays probably didn’t help either and I wish the characters had been killed in the avalanche to save on all the middle-class matrimonial moaning and Scandinavian soul-searching that ensued.  Great film, in some eyes no doubt, but not my cup of frozen piss. (Mark: 5/11)

HORNS (2013) – BLU RAY

Daniel Radcliffe stars as a young man who wakes up one day with the horn; no sorry that’s HORNS!  Plus a dead girlfriend and HE’S the prime suspect in her murder.   That is SOME hangover!  Basically, the small town where he lives thinks he’s the Devil incarnate so this collective emotion manifests itself physically and spiritually as the former Harry Potter starts being able to control and bring the most dark and fantastical behaviour out of the townsfolk.  I think these comedic scenes are the best bits of the film as he learns to control this ability and use it to his own means.  It’s a decent enough horror-drama-romance-comedy-detective-noir story which has some fine moments but at times the genre-melding jars the tone. Structurally it’s a bit all over the shop too flitting from long ago to now to not so long ago in a Noiresque fashion.  Overall,  a pretty fun film to watch on the smaller screen but a bit of pruning for pace would have been handy. (Mark: 6/11)

INBETWEENERS 1 & 2 (2011/2014) – 4OD/SKY MOVIES

I used to think The Inbetweeners was a rude, smutty, uncultured, lowest-common-denominator comedy of the basest level and after watching the three seasons of the TV show on catch-up plus two films back-to-back I still think that. However, I have to admit: it is fucking hilarious!  It concerns the tribulations of Will (the nerd), Simon (the neurotic), Jay (the liar) and Neil (the idiot) and their main trials are losing their virginities, trying to buy alcohol, avoiding bullies and trying not make fools of themselves. Laughs come thick and fast from them failing to achieve any of these things; often in the most humiliating of ways!

The movies cranked up the puerile gags in Greece and Australia respectively and I laughed my arse off at the many disgusting events in both films.  Having said that this isn’t just filth for filth’s sake as the character interaction and quick-witted scripts by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris have some heart notably when Jay pursues the girl he loves all the way to the Aussie outback.  Ultimately, though this search ends with Simon drinking Neil’s piss.  Recommended for those who enjoy romantic/sexual failures, toilet humour, broad stereotypes and a streak of unsophisticated adolescent rites-of-passage stuff thrown in. (Mark: 7/11)

JOHN WICK (2014) – CINEMA

If Keanu Reeves had been born in the silent movie era I think he would’ve been an even bigger hit because as long as he doesn’t have much dialogue he is a genuine bona fide movie star.  As John Wick he absolutely blows the back doors off as a “retired” assassin who rampages after the gangsters who killed his dog.

The script doesn’t insult us with any semblance of a plot and THAT’S a plus. It’s pure kinesis with Reeves racing from bullet-infested set-piece to set-piece carving up the criminal Underworld like a modern-day (M)Orpheus (see what I did there?)   Of course, the stakes are ramped up throughout as Wick must face all manner of super-assassins once there’s a contract out on him.  This is a dark-lean-comic-book-Hong-Kong-shoot-em-up-style movie shot on speed and edited on meth and a hugely satisfying cinema experience .(Mark: 8/11)


NEED FOR SPEED (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

I loved Aaron Paul as the desperate meth “protégée” of Walter White in Breaking Bad. His enunciation of “bitch this” and “bitch that” was often the highlight of the show as he was pulled this way and that by WW’s descent into power-crazed drug-dealing hell. I think we appreciated Jesse Pinkman was so out of his depth in that world and Aaron Paul brought a humour and humanity to the role despite being the wrong side of the law.

However, in the videogame adaptation Need For Speed he fails as a cool-as-ice-hard-assed-driver-extraordinaire in a role Steve McQueen would have sped through in his heyday. Plus, and I’m sorry to say, but Aaron is TOO short to impose himself on this Fast and Furious meets Vanishing Point mash-up. The supporting cast are very attractive although Brit actress Imogen Poots is irritating as fuck in the female sidekick role and the film is WAY too long.  Overall, great cars, amazing driving, sweet stunts:  shame about everything else! (Mark: 3/11)

OCULUS (2013) – BLU RAY

Karen Gillan from Doctor Who basically goes a bit mental in this effective low-budget horror film in which she battles a — wait for it — ghost-mirror that holds the secret to the parents’ death. Fun is to be had from the monstrous spirits and jumps as she ropes in her recently-released-from-the-nuthouse brother who just wants to move on.  Not for everyone I guess but I enjoyed it as it made the most of the one main location  plus it’s nicely directed and edited by newish filmmaker Mike Flanagan clearly working on a shoestring. (Mark: 6/11)

SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2009) – DVD – REPEAT WATCH

I’ve seen this Argentinian classic romance-noir-detective-political thriller many times now and it is one of the best genre films ever made. It has everything you could hope for in a story which concerns itself with a Government Prosecutor Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) and his decades-long search for the brutal murderer of a young woman.  Stunning characterisation supports a maze-like plot with many twists and turns throughout in a wonderful screenplay.

The most compelling vein throbbing element within the story is the “will-they-won’t-they” romance between Esposito and the classically beautiful Soledad Villamil playing the Judge who has captured his heart.  The film also finds time to make political comments on the “Dirty War” which occurred in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s and has one of the most memorable long-takes in cinema history.  A breathtaking masterpiece of the thriller genre. (Mark: 11/11)

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS – (2014) – SKY MOVIES

A one-joke mockumentary which tries to do for vampires what Spinal Tap did for Heavy Metal. Maybe I should have had a few drinks but I found it quite boring like an overlong sketch which while brilliantly conceived sagged in the middle.   It follows four batty (sorry) housemates Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr as they go about their nocturnal activities in Wellington, New Zealand.  I was especially impressed with the contrast between the old-Nosferatu-style vampyr Petyr struggling with the new world plus Jemaine Clements is always a funny presence in any film.

The film has garnered great reviews from critics and is destined for cult movie status and the first half of the film had me chuckling heartily.  But I felt it ran out of narrative steam in the second half as the gag rate dipped. Also, the dark, handheld and grainy style too felt one-note and despite some witty one-liners in the script the loose improvisatory form felt aimless.  Bloody brilliant concept that may have suited a half-hour sitcom length but not a feature film. (Mark: 6/11)

WILD TALES (2015) – CINEMA

Last but definitely NOT least is my film of the month (excluding Secret in Their Eyes)!  Wild Tales is another soon-to-be-considered Argentinian film classic as it delivers a dark sarcasm and hilarity via six separate stories concerning themes of: revenge, political corruption, class division and bloody violence!

I loved the ye olde portmanteau films usually produced by the likes of Hammer in the past and this is a very modern take on the like as the screenwriter and director Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories.  It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding.  Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of.

SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL: CULTURAL UPDATE BY PAUL LAIGHT

SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL –  BY PAUL LAIGHT

I’ve been very busy culturally speaking this year and here’s a rundown of the various things that I have experienced in the last month or so.

BOROUGH MARKET – LONDON SE1

If you’re ever starving and skint (on a weekend) and near Borough Market then go there!  You can live like a King or Queen (of Lichtenstein – don’t get carried away!) on all the samples they give away from: cheese to meat to oils to bread to, curries to burgers to scotch eggs to cakes and so much more.  If you have money and DON’T want to live like a tramp then fill your boots; just don’t wear them after. Shut-up – it’s  a metaphor.   What I’m saying is the food is AMAZING – it’s an epicurean delight!
boroughmarket

CONFLICT, TIME, PHOTOGRAPHY – TATE MODERN

This fascinating photographic exhibition showed past and present images of war ordering them as per their chronological occurrence.  It was an intriguing idea and many of the works were very moving indeed bringing home the horror of the multitude of conflicts humans have perpetrated on themselves.

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/conflict-time-photography

dresden-after-allied-raids-germany shell-shocked-marine

DEAD RISING 3 – XBOX ONE

From proper war to zombie warfare on the Xbox One, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing this videogame in my down-time.   It’s a stylish no-nonsense kill-fest with a reasonably coherent narrative unlike the mental horror game Evil Within.  Set during 2021 you are mechanic Nick Ramos, an unlikely hero, and you must get out of the quarantine zone (established in Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2) while battling hordes of the undead and the military and SAVE your disparate rag-tag bunch of fellow survivors. It’s bloody brilliant and as you’re a mechanic you get some amazing hybrid weapons and vehicles to massacre zombies with!

Dead_Rising_3_Cover_Art

LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA – FESTIVAL HALL

Myself and my girlfriend once again went to a follow-up concert entitled: Rachmaninoff: Inside Out featuring the compositions of the great Russian genius. I have to admit that having been to a couple of recitals this is just not my bag. I appreciate the wonderful talent on show and the incredible ability of the orchestra but I find the experience TOO passive and without narrative.  I love classical music in films, radio, via the IPOD and even in adverts but not in the live environment. Weird!

THE OFFICE – AN AMERICAN WORKPLACE – FINAL SEASONS

After my comedy binges of South Park and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia in the last couple of years I set about watching all 200+ episodes of this amazing ensemble comedy giant starring Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson my favourite character Dwight K. Schrute. Of course, it used the British comedy classic as a springboard but for pretty much most of the episodes it was just gloriously funny. I think it peaked around Season 7 and lost something when Michael Scott left but the final seasons still had some wonderful times and gags and events. It was all wrapped up with many happy endings by the finale and will stand as one of the consistently great comedies of our time, in my opinion.

SPANDAU BALLET,  BRIGHTON CENTRE

To cut a long story short I went to see Spandau Ballet in concert in Brighton. No, I haven’t lost my mind because I went as a new romantic gesture for my girlfriend. I basically took one for the team guys! But you know what they were absolutely fantastic and a testament to the professionalism and talent of Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Tony Hadley, John Keeble, Steve Norman et al that they delivered a powerful show full of hits from their illustrious past. I personally prefer their early Depeche Mode synthy stuff over their slushy ballads but overall it was a highly entertaining concert.

STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE SEASON 3 (DVD)

Preaching to the converted here but if you like Stewart Lee’s comedy then I’m sure you’ve seen this DVD of his 3rd season for the BBC. Comedy Vehicle 3  mixes incredible stand-up rants, opinions and intellectual ideas and routines with fine sketches/short films; all interspersed with Lee verbally sparring with another comedy legend Chris Morris.  32-Carat Comedy Gold!

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE – WYNDHAM THEATRE

**SOME SPOILERS**

Oh this was just terrifically meaty drama.  I haven’t been to the theatre much in recent years but I was right in the heartland of culture here with a sinewy, socio-familial-gut-wrenching story driven by jealousy, self-destruction, masculinity-in-crisis, lust etc.

The setting is New York, 1955, and Arthur Miller’s emotionally complex script shadows Eddie Carbone, a longshoremen at the docks, as he comes to terms with the chaos of family life, hiding immigrant ‘cousins’ from overseas, and the fact his adopted ‘daughter’ is fast growing into a woman.  As Carbone attempt to control those around him his family are pushed further and further away until one act of treachery leaves him stranded socially and politically.  Mark Strong is incredible as the docker Carbone as he sees all he loves slip from his grasp and he is ably supported by Nicola Walker who plays his wife.

The sparse set made me feel like I’d walked into an intimate, yet  souped-up rehearsal and the ending was something to behold as the family literally go to hell in the final moments.  The play, not surprisingly,  has just won Olivier Awards for acting and direction by Ivo Van Hove.

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEW ROUND UP FOR MARCH 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH:  MARCH 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

**MASSIVE SPOILERS**

I was pretty ill with flu for half-of-March and then lost both my voice and get-up-and-go too, thus, only went to the cinema once during the month.

However, while recovering in my sick hole I caught up with quite a few films via streaming and on Blu-Ray/DVD.  So, here’s a round-up review of movies I watched during the month of March.

 

CITY ON FIRE (1987) – DVD

Ringo Lam’s hard-boiled crime thriller was a massive influence on Tarantino’s low-budget classic Reservoir Dogs (1992).  It’s shot in a raw Lumet/Friedkin style with the streets of Hong Kong filled with blood, bullets and breakneck speed car chases. Great thriller which made a star of a young Chow-Yun Fat.

 

FURY (2014) – BLU-RAY

This film rocked!  It was rip-roaring action with the blood, the guts and the gory!  Brad Pitt plays the Tank Commander with his loyal crew including Shia Labeouf, John Bernthal and new recruit Logan Lerman.  It’s close to the end but there are pockets of German resistance while their Tank grinds its way toward Berlin. The theme of “war is hell” isn’t exactly new but it is tremendously illustrated during the brutal battles.   I enjoyed the claustrophobic nature of the tank, earth-shaking manouevres and testosteronic highs plus there is some subtle characterisation and a moving mid-point scene where we see the softer side of Pitt’s war beast. Overall it’s an exciting melee of explosions and death and pays fine tribute to the noble savagery of the men who laid down their lives to win the war.

GET HARD (2015) – CINEMA

Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart’s silly comedy uses broad stereotypes to land its very puerile humour. It’s politically incorrect and sends up all manner of: black, white, Hispanic, gay, female, religious, upper, lower and middle classes and cultures.  The double team of Ferrell and Hart works well as they play a soon-to-be imprisoned banker and his prison “trainer” readying him for a stretch in jail.  The humour is unsophisticated but it made me laugh throughout in a series of silly scenes and set-pieces, plus there’s mild satirical content amidst the smut. Highlight is Will Ferrell as an urban gangster; should’ve been much more of that!

HERCULES (2014) – NETFLIX

This not-as-bad-as-you-think swords and sandals epic has some pretty awesome fight scenes but it’s mainly for die-hard fans of the Duwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Plus, there’s a very decent set of character actors earning some dough including:  John Hurt, Peter Mullan, Rufus Sewell and Ian “Lovejoy” McShane.  There’s some stuff about the “making of legends” in the script as the story eschews fantastical monsters in favour of muscular 300esque fight scenes. More blood would’ve made it even better though.

 

JERSEY BOYS – (2014) – BLU-RAY

This biopic of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is another decent poke at what has come to be known as the “jukebox” musical subgenre.  Based on the effervescent stage play it’s a decent, yet undemanding–felt-like-a-TV-movie-Sunday-matinee-nostalgia-watch.  Of course, the songs are grand but the direction was a tad functional and the groups’ difficulties with the mob, financial issues and family losses are touched upon yet not dramatically satisfying. I liked the direct address narration but it’s only during the end credits where the film cuts loose with an imagination and pizazz that much of the film lacks.

LA CABINA (1972) – YOUTUBE

This is one of the best short films I have ever seen.  It is Spanish and is very simple in concept and delivery but very powerful in symbolism and potential meaning. Basically, a Spanish man becomes trapped in a red Telephone Box and cannot escape.  After a slapstick beginning which results in a huge crowd witnessing his plight, the film takes a grim twist in tone and becomes very dark by the chilling denouement. What does is all mean?  Well, like great art it is open to interpretation as it contains surreal, existential and political themes. In my opinion it means all and everything and the horror will remain with anyone who sees it.

 

LUCY (2014) – BLU-RAY

Director Luc Besson is quoted as saying:  “…I intended the first part of Lucy to be like Léon, the second part to be like Inception and the third part to be like 2001: A Space Odyssey.”   I would say he succeeded with the first part but completely failed with the 2nd and 3rd parts. It’s a shame the kick-ass action was wrapped in a load of sci-fi babble because I really enjoyed many of the bone-crunching fight scenes. Scarlett Johansson was awesome as usual despite the story making NO SENSE at all logically and it didn’t even work as conceptual sci- fi for me. 

PERFUME: STORY OF A MURDERER (2006) – DVD

I read the wonderful novel and saw this at the cinema years ago so this was the first time I had seen it since. Ben Whishaw plays a strange man, abandoned as a baby in the stinking slums of Paris, who grows up to be one of the great perfume-makers but is also a murderer.  In pursuit of the perfect scent Jean-Baptiste Grenouille can only find what he wants during the killing of beautiful young girls. It’s an odd story but has a wonderful poetry and rhythm to it as we at first empathise but then exhale at the horror of Grenouille’s actions. John Hurts narrates a peculiar but haunting story which also features fine turns from Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman.

 

TRANSCENDENCE (2014) – BLU-RAY

This film about Artificial Intelligence promised so much and had a terrific cast including: Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp and the always grand Rachel Hall.  For an hour it really seemed like a great bit of science fiction as scientist Will Caster dies but is brought back to life by means of computerisation of his mind and soul.  With his brainbox uploaded to the web like a crazy sentient FrankensteinMonster.com he begins what appears to be a nefarious plan to take over the world.  However, the narrative quickly falls apart and I felt like I was trying to put together a jigsaw with many pieces missing and bits that just don’t fit.  It looks and sounds amazing but I was so bemused by the end I just did not care!

TRIANGLE (2009) – BLU-RAY

This is an absolute cracker of a Sisyphean-time-loop-paradox-movie.  Melissa George portrays a single mother hoping to escape it all with a yacht trip with her wealthier friends.  However, things don’t quite go according to plan following a massive storm knocks the group way off course.  I’m not going to give anything away but this film gripped me throughout with a complex criss-cross narrative which confounds and delights in equal turns. While its clever-clever plot tightens the film also creeps you out with a series of violent events and startling images.  Melissa George carries this film like Atlas did the world, and I really hope writer/director Christopher Smith gets more work as he and his star deserve much bigger films based on this existentially loopy horror film.

WALKING DEAD – SEASON 5 (EPISODES 9 – 16)

The Walking Dead Season 5 finale was less crash, bang, gore than the previous seasons’ end but there were some wonderful episodes filled with great suspense and tension.  The group led by Rick Grimes eventually come to a place called Alexandria which kind of has a hippie commune feel to it.  There paranoia sets in as the post-trauma of previous losses haunts Rick, Carol, Abraham and Sasha.  We lose a couple of stalwart characters on the way but the series introduces new people at Alexandria and that’s where suspicions and doubt begins.  It’s a softer, moral and more emotional denouement although there is some fantastic zombie executions too! I particularly enjoyed the doubt the writers created as to whether Rick and Carol were going totally over to the dark side. Great drama!

WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014) – BLU RAY

This covers much of the same ground as The Equalizer (2014) starring Denzel Washington, with a lone wolf operative fighting his demons overcoming big city villains in a most violent way.  Once again Liam Neeson flexes his recent-tough-guy-status muscles wiping out bad guys with a gruff voice, mean stare, tough attitude, big fists and guns; but mainly guns.  Working outside the law he hunts down the perpetrators of a series of shocking murders before their next victim comes to a similarly grisly end.  Denzel’s film just shades it for brutal violence and style and has a better baddie but Walk Among The Tombstones is a decent stab at an evening’s bit of DVD entertainment.

 

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT (2012) – SKY MOVIES

This low-budget horror film set in Britain is actually well-made and surprisingly quite scary, as a Yorkshire family are terrorised by a nasty spectre from t’other side.  Based on the “Maynard Haunting” from the 1970s it’s well acted and directed by Pat Holden.  I enjoyed the sly build up of terror as the nefarious poltergeist targets the youngest member of the family, Sally.  It’s got some decent scares and a nifty little twist at the end.

SCREENWASH_MARCH2015_3

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!