SCREENWASH REVIEWS: FEBRUARY 2015

SCREENWASH REVIEWS: FEBRUARY 2015

Ola!   Hope you’re well. Here’s another wash-up of movies I saw in the month of February at the cinema, on Blu-Ray or streamed via Netflix et al.  In alpha order.

***THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD***

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014) – SKY MOVIES

This sequel/sidequel is an adequate facsimile of the muscular and far superior original adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. It’s a teenage boy’s wet dream with bloody ultra-violence and often-topless Eva Green’s war-whore Artemesia taking centre stage amidst the carnage. Once again the Greeks and Persians go to battle but this time at sea as greased-up, muscle-ripped men-in-pants knock the crap out of each other. Eva Green aside this film lacks the star quality of the first one as well as a consistent narrative as it takes an age to establish its cardboard characters prior to the well-orchestrated battles.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) – AMAZON PRIME

I’ve said this before but Lucio Fulci’s films are horror classics and should be given more respect in my view. They have creepy music, horrific images and tense atmosphere that are the stuff of nightmares. If surrealist genius Luis Bunuel had directed horror films they would have resembled Fulci’s oeuvre. With a dreamlike narrative City of The Living Dead unleashes hell when a priest commits suicide in Dunwich causing a series of memorable horror moments including characters: being buried alive; throwing intestines up through the mouth; bloody-eyed zombies wreaking havoc; brains impaled on a lathe and many more horrible deaths.

CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009) – NETFLIX

This stupid but highly entertaining movie-come-live-action-videogame once again has Jason Statham getting up to all kinds of shenanigans to keep his ticker (in this case an electric heart contraption) going or he dies. Cue the killing and torture of gangsters aplenty in a high-octane offensive speedy comedy-actioner.


DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014) – BLU RAY

Eric ‘Chopper’ Bana finds another functional film on his CV as director Scott Derrickson fails to reach the horror heights of his previous film Sinister (2012) in this cop-meets-exorcist thriller. Some decent scares along the way and Sean Harris is excellent as the man-possessed, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

IT FOLLOWS (2014) – CINEMA

IT FOLLOWS is a very good film with great music and well-constructed composition of shots plus a really good central premise. So, basically a curse is passed sexually between suburban teens and if you have it an entity hunts you down to a grisly death. I very much enjoyed it and felt very tense throughout. The problem is there’s so many bad films around when a good one comes along the critics go crazy for it. In short: a fine teen frightener compared to much of the crap around but it was too subtle especially at the end when I wanted a bloodier finale. However, the Director is definitely one worth following.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) – CINEMA

Having seen four kind of serious Oscar-worthy films in January I watched the spy-action-comedy-Bond-parody KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) finding it bally brilliant fun. While I like some of the more serious comic book adaptations this is a blast from beginning to end with jokes and violence aplenty. Pitch perfect pace and delivery by cast and crew as the script hybridizes kitchen sink, action and spy genres. I was especially pleased they didn’t squeeze out the bloody action and make it a 12A as the Marvel, DC and Peter Jackson films have done in the last few years. THAT scene in the “Church” is a case in point and is certainly one you won’t forget in a hurry. To quote the parlance of our age: “The film is well sick, bruv!”

 

JOE (2013) – NETFLIX

Nicolas Cage is outstanding and on very restrained form as the working class lead of this depressing character study. It shares similar traits with MUD (2012) where McConaughey’s criminal bonds with local kids but this is a whole different beast as it features: alcoholism, dysfunctional families, inner rage and general abuse against humans. Overall, existential despair prevails in a genuinely gruelling experience that very much haunts the viewer.

ONLY TWO LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013) – BLU RAY

Jim Jarmusch’s elegant vampire film is so slow-moving I ended up finishing it the day before I started watching it. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are the best thing about this character study about the inertia of immortality. I enjoyed many of the rock and music references and the subtext of virulent human blood killing off the undead but it was too ponderous overall to recommend to anyone. For hard-core Jarmusch fans only.

OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013) – NETFLIX

A terrific cast including: Bale, Harrelson, Saldana, Defoe and the always impressive Casey Affleck feature in this steely drama. It centres on two brothers (Bale and Affleck) just trying to get by in a run-of-the-steel-mill Pennsylvanian town. Tension comes from Affleck’s gambling losses which culminate in his taking up bare-knuckle fist fighting to pay off debts. Woody Harrelson chews up the scenery as the dominant nemesis and while some of the narrative turns don’t quite fit it’s pretty gritty and Bale is on good form as the brother trying but failing to maintain a normal existence.

PREDESTINATION (2014) – CINEMA

I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too.

Thus, if you like any of the following: TimeCrimes (2007), Looper (2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Time After Time (1979), Back to the Future (1985), The Terminator (1984), Doctor Who etcetera… then do watch this one. It’s a fine low-budget time-travel film starring Ethan Hawke and breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook.


ROCK ‘N’ ROLLA (2008) – SKY MOVIES

Guy Ritchie’s big budget upgrade of Snatch (2000) is a shiny and stylish gangster folly full of British talent including: Tom Wilkinson, Toby Kebbell, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler and Idris Elba; with Thandie Newton keeping the testosterone levels down in a decent knockabout bit of fun.

SELMA (2014) – CINEMA

This is political storytelling of the highest order with David Oyelowo brilliantly portraying one of the greatest humans that ever lived: Martin Luther King. Tom Wilkinson is also superb as political rival Lyndon B. Johnson as the two lock horns over King’s pursuit of the equal rights vote for African-Americans. This is a moving story of injustice and violence at the heart of America’s recent past as King and his brothers and sisters fight the good fight for one of the most basic of democratic rights. Lives were lost and blood was shed but above it all Martin Luther King is shown to be a majestic force in the righteous fight which culminates in a ground-breaking march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, 1965. I was very ill watching this but it is fantastic filmmaking with sterling performances and an in depth examination of a vital part of American history.

THE VILLAGE (2004) – SKY MOVIES

M. Night Shymalan’s recent films have been panned and bombed at the box office and very much lost the plot. Some might say that that the rot set in with The Village but I really like this movie. I like the design, colour, pace, acting, direction, horror, romance and central premise. Arguably it hangs by a thread in regards to plausibility but on a re-watch it was genuinely tense and had so much atmosphere I was captivated by the whole narrative. Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard shine as two lovers trapped in the village by the threat of strange beasts and the elders who know an incredible secret.

My Top Three Bestest Films that I enjoyed for February were (in alpha order):

  1. KINGSMAN
  2. PREDESTINATION
  3. SELMA

RINGERS AND SINGERS: A CULTURAL REVIEW

RINGERS AND SINGERS: A CULTURAL REVIEW

February 2015 has been a wonderfully diverse month culturally for me.  I have tasted the peak of perceived high culture with a visit to the Festival Hall and have also plumbed the depths of low culture with a visit to a Wrestling event and even lower with Quint Fontana’s guttural and scurrilous Pop Pals!

I jest of course as all events were culturally rewarding and provided an interesting juxtaposition for my latest blog piece which combines little reviews of some stuff I’ve been gone and done recently.  I have also watched loads of films as well but will deal with those in my February edition of Screenwash.

BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING STORY – ALDWYCH THEATRE

I’m not a massive fan of musicals per se but as a Valentine gift for my girlfriend (yes – I have a girlfriend now and she’s real) I bought her tickets for this show. Oh, and I went along too. It’s the story of Carole King and her rise from 16 year-old novice songwriter to the heights of fame as a solo artist. Singularly, and with her husband Jerry Goffin, she wrote a litany of hit records including: Up on The Roof, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion, Natural Women, I Feel The Earth Move, Pleasant Valley Sunday, You’ve Got a Friend and many, many more.

King is clearly a genius and her album Tapestry would become one of the biggest albums of all time. The musical is a joy and while I wanted a bit more about the relationship breakdown and Goffin’s depression it’s all about the songs really. In Beautiful you get hit after hit after hit brilliantly performed by the young, talented and energetic cast.

BRITISH EMPIRE WRESTLING – TOOTING TRAM AND SOCIAL

This was the first time I’d seen a Wrestling show and it was really entertaining.  I was really impressed by the mixture of physicality alongside loads of variety with male and female comedy characters, villainous wrestlers and proper athletes battering each other round the ring in a series of tremendous bouts.  There was an element of theatricality and pantomime but also genuine pain as there were no holds barred in many contests. It’s pretty cheap too so do check out their events. Next one is at the end of March.

POP PALS WITH QUINT FONTANA – STAR OF KINGS, KING’S X

Lounge loser extraordinaire Quint Fontana hosts a karaoke event with a difference as “stars” from the pop world (or are they comedians in disguise) perform before a joyous (i.e. drunk) audience in a King’s X basement.  It’s brilliant fun and Quint is a despicably funny host as he sups on his Tyskie beer, goads the audience and banters with the pop guests which included Ronan Keating, Jason Donovan and Christine Aguilera. To be honest it’s worth going just to see Quint have his nightly nervous breakdown!  Awesome!

RACHMANINOFF: INSIDE OUT –  FESTIVAL HALL

This was almost cultural overload as I tasted my first quaver of a classical musical concert at the Festival Hall.  Performing with grandstanding gusto the London Philharmonic soared with a virtuoso performance of Rachmaninoff’s greatest hits and music which I came to recognise from David Lean and Noel Coward’s story of understated love – Brief Encounter (1946).

With no actual frame of comparative experience I can only say that it was hugely enjoyable evening and one which was not only aurally pleasing but visually interesting too as the orchestra and conductor brought home the stunning compositions with incredible timing. At times I wondered about the musicians and characters performing (could make an interesting comedy or drama)  and felt giddy at the wonder of the music. Although that could have been the heavy cold I had at the time.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR UPDATE

During February Spurs had some vital fixtures and after a stunning last-gasp win against North London rivals Arsenal we unravelled slightly where results were concerned. Harry Kane’s brilliant header proved to be our last winner in February as Spurs went out of the Europa League on aggregate to an efficient Fiorentina team in Florence.  We started well but could not break them down.

In between we scraped a 2-2 draw with West Ham after fighting back from 2-0 down. Biggest blow was losing 2-0 to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup at Wembley. Mourinho set his team up solid from the start and while competed until the final whistle, our usual match winners Kane and Eriksen could not get us over the line.  After the highs of crushing Arsenal the bitter lows of defeat hit hard. We have 12 games in March to get into the top four or it’ll be more trips to Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Madagascar in the dreaded Europa League.

US OFFICE – NETFLIX BINGE-ATHLON

I have had to move twice recently due to reasons beyond my control so no longer have Sky Television beaming it’s entertainment juice into my living room and brain. Thus, I have gone back to my favourite online channel www.netflix.com and FINALLY began catching up with the The Office (US version)!  And oh my god it is genuinely one of the funniest and style-diverse situation comedies I’ve seen.

It uses character, songs, slapstick, embarrassment, gags, pranks, horror and pathos to propel it’s narratives as the employees of Dunder Mifflin get themselves into all manners of scrapes and cringeworthy situations.  Some great cameos too (I’m up to Season 6 now) as Amy Ryan, Idris Elba, Kathy Bates and even Christian Slater have popped up in episodes.  Anchored brilliantly by an ensemble cast notably Steve Carell as Michael Scott and my favourite, Rain Wilson as Dwight Schrute, this is comedy performance and writing of the highest order. Just TOO funny.

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE – GETTING BACK MR HUNT (2005)

GETTING BACK MR HUNT (2005) – RETROSPECTIVE

Incredibly it’s been TEN years since myself and my creative ally Gary O’Brien began working on short films together!  And despite no actual financial success, some short film festival screenings and vague industry interest in our work (I made that last bit up) we are STILL going!  Now we are planning our TENTH short film this year! Why I hear you ask:  because we love films AND the creative process and that is success enough for us.  I think.  That or we are a little bit mental! Or delusional.  Both probably!

Anyway, to celebrate  a DECADE of short filmmaking I’m taking a trip down memory lane to examine the films we have made and maybe just maybe add a few more views to their YouTube status.  Or gain a new fan.  Hope springs eternal.

GETTING BACK MR HUNT (2005)

This low budget short was a great experience for myself and Gary. We’d met at the Running Horse pub one drunken evening in Bracknell a few months earlier in 2005 and immediately bonded over our love of movies and movie-making. Gary was a veteran director of his own videos shot and edited — from his early teens — on VHS recorders or in-camera; and I a budding writer full of hopes and dreams having just finished a MA in Screenwriting at Royal Holloway University.  A decade on those dreams are now shattered and strewn to the winds of time and history as a legacy of bitter experiences lay in our wake. There were some really bad times as well.

Check out Gary’s old videos here:

https://www.youtube.com/user/TAGfilmsarchive/videos

This one is a beauty:

So these two great minds conjoined to form the creative team known as Fix Films and inspired by our friend Douglas Hurley and his brother Stuart we decided to make a short film to enter into the BBC New Filmmaker’s Competition of 2005.  The film failed completely to gain any recognition but it gave us a great insight into the filmmaking process.

I’d written the screenplay a year or so before and it, like many films, was based on wish fulfilment:  the desire to wreak revenge on all the bad bosses I had had. Plus, in the subtext was my own vain disgruntlement at desiring a creative career but ultimately ending up with a prosaic office job which made little use of my brain or perceived skills and in the process reduced my existence to that of a clock-punching drone.  Not much has changed there.

gettingbackmrhunt

It’s very therapeutic to channel one’s experiences and emotions through a cinematic conduit but the actual filmmaking itself is often one of compromises due to budgetary constraints or unforeseen mishaps or actors pulling out at the last minute.   The latter happened to us on the day before the two-day shoot was to begin so I had to re-cast the role of our bad-guy Nigel Hunt.  It was a blessing in disguise because after hunting (sorry) high and low on t’internet I found the wonderful actor Philip Delancy Shooting People and the rest they say is history.  Because Phil subsequently worked on two more of our productions. Do check out Philip’s CV at http://www.philipdelancy.com/ – he’s a fine actor and great bloke too.

Myself, Gary, Doug, Stuart and cast and crew worked TWO long days one balmy weekend at FIVE different locations all those year’s ago and successfully produced a pretty witty little short film.  It has some fine moments and arguably some elements don’t hold up. Personally I wanted to redo the voiceover but in the end we left it.  But Gary did a great job filming, editing and composing the music for the film. Indeed,  for a £150 budget we very much did the script justice and breathed life into a universal desire. I mean, who hasn’t ever had a boss they couldn’t stand or wanted to rain down furious vengeance against?  If you haven’t then you’re probably THE boss!  And we’re coming for YOU!  Up the workers!  Vive l revolution!

Enjoy the film!

SCREENWASH by PAUL LAIGHT – JANUARY 2015 FILM WASH-UP

SCREENWASH REVIEWS – JANUARY 2015

Rather than fanatically and brilliantly reviewing EVERY film I have seen at the cinema this year, I am providing bite-sized reviews of movies I’ve experienced on various mediums:  Cinema, TV, Blu Ray and Netflix et al.  Here’s the FIRST WATCH films I saw  in January 2015!

1_VIOLENTYEAR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014) – DIRECTOR: J. C. CHANDOR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a slow, moody and shadowy thriller screaming gimme-Oscar-nods-material. It is really very good in ALL departments but dramatically I wanted more. Critic friendly but ultimately lacking a decent ending, thrills and character development.  Oscar Isaac is impressive in the Michael Corleone style role and Jessica Chastain is terrific if criminally underused. Surprisingly, given the title there isn’t much violence either.

BIRDMAN (2014) – DIRECTOR: ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU

BIRDMAN is an intellectual and artsy dark comedy about loads of stuff involving: celebrity, identity, artistic credibility, insanity, family, f*cked up egos, vanity as well as analysing the creative process. It is NOT a superhero film but a satire on that kind of thing. I liked the stylistic device of making it look like it was shot in one take; Edward Norton taking the piss out of ‘the method’ and Michael Keaton playing himself kind of. Smart, funny and a bit up its own arse – great stuff!

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) – DIRECTOR: MARC VALLEE

Missed this great drama first time around with Matthew McConaughey as the Rodeo Electrician struck down with AIDS. Great story brought to you by a committed cast who deservedly won Oscars for their sterling performances. What I loved most in the adept screenplay was the fact Ron Woodroof essentially found a niche market within the capitalist paradigm and challenged the status quo of the corrupt government and pharmaceutical cartels. At the same time his character transformed into a globe-trotting upwardly mobile corporate executive – with AIDS!

FOXCATCHER (2014) – DIRECTOR: BENNETT MILLER

A powerful and haunting tragedy with incredibly subtle direction, this complex psychological thriller which shines a light on billionaire John DuPont and his fascination with fraternal Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz. Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are great but the film belongs to Channing Tatum; a raging bull of an ordinary Joe desperately trying to find an identity amidst the two surrogate fathers he finds himself trapped between.

THE GUEST (2014) – DIRECTOR: ADAM WINGARD

Awesome B-movie action-comedy starring Dan Stevens as a Gulf War veteran hiding a secret past.  Director Adam Wingard lays on the 80s parodic charm without veering into ultra-corn while the film contains a cool star-turn from Downton Abbey’s buffed and shiny Dan Stevens.

LAWN DOGS (1997) – DIRECTOR: JOHN DUIGAN

Morally ambiguous character piece which finds Sam Rockwell’s underdog gardener befriending a precocious schoolgirl portrayed by Mischa Barton. Apparently it’s inspired by the folktale of Baba Yaga but I felt we were in David Lynch territory with the offbeat characters, sexual subtext, sudden violence and dreamlike denouement.  Rockwell as usual is fantastic as an ordinary Joe caught in the crossfire of the mores of a rich and spoilt American community.

MALCOLM X (1992) – DIRECTOR: SPIKE LEE

Excellent true drama concerning the controversial Malcolm X played with formidable presence by the ever-excellent Denzil Washington. Spike Lee treats this political iconoclast with the respect he deserves as the one-time hoodlum is propelled to spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. It’s a modern epic and Lee imbues the film with some impressive stylistic flourishes, excellent drama and inspirational speeches.

SABOTAGE (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAVID AYER

Average actioner with Arnie’s FB-CIA-GENERIC-SWAT team colleagues dropping quicker than the Austrian Oak’s box-office takings as they get wiped out one-by-one by a rat in their dirty pack.  Agatha Christie on steroids with some chunky action and decent violence yet let down by paper-thin characters and weak plotting.

SACRAMENT (2014) – DIRECTOR: SHAWN EWERT

Ultra-low budget horror comedy that I watched at the Horror-on-the-Sea Festival had terrible acting, but loads of gore and violence and cannibalistic religious nuts in the Deep South (where else) of the United States.  Some fine lo-budget blood-letting and gallows humour made it great fun and highly entertaining.

STARRED-UP (2013) – DIRECTOR: DAVID MACKENZIE

Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn are on cracking form as father and son banged up together in this brutal slice of prison life.  O’Connell is out of control and starred-up (promoted) to the big boy’s institution as scene after scene illustrates his anger at the world; only beginning to see another way through Rupert Friend’s calming voluntary social worker.

WHIPLASH (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAMIAN CHEZELLE

I concur with all of the praise the film WHIPLASH has been getting. It’s a triumph in all departments from director, cast and crew. Echoes of Officer and a Gentlemen (1992) and Full Metal Jacket (1987)with the fearsome Drill Sergeant battering the young grunts for starters. But then it takes off into an incredible final act as Teller’s recruit and Simmons brutal teacher face-off to an amazing musical crescendo.  Miles Teller is great but if J.K. Simmons doesn’t win every Best Supporting Actor award this year I’ll eat my high-hat…. b’dum-dum-chh!!

In between doing a back-to-back binge on the U.S. OFFICE (up to Season 4 so far) with Carell and the gang, I also rewatched the bastardized adaptation of LORD OF THE FLIES (1990) and Brian DePalma’s lurid Hitchcockian-slasher-giallo-homage DRESSED TO KILL (1980) with Michael Caine in a very against-type role.

SALUTATIONS TO HORROR-ON-THE-SEA FILM FESTIVAL!

Greetings,

A big thanks and plug to the organisers of HORROR-ON-THE-SEA for the wonderful organisation of their festival.   I went on January 23rd 2015 as they screened my short film HELL IS… (2014) – see film here:

HORROR-ON-THE-SEA is a brilliant festival based in Southend-on-Sea in Essex and it screens some of the most gruesome and scariest independently produced horror films around.

With the Hollywood machine controlling the market with their product it’s refreshing to find a festival which caters for the Horror connoisseur. It’s a festival that gives a platform to the ghoulish freaks who love their films bloody, gory and crazy; movies made by Horror auteurs from as little as $50 or pounds and who pay their cast and crew in goodwill, sandwiches and coffee. I love those guys!

All hail to the organisers of Horror-on-the-Sea.  Do check it out next year. Here’s their Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/horroronsea?fref=ts

Without these kind of festivals many many filmmakers, such as myself, would not get their work shown. I salute you!

HorrorLogo

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #3: SAM ROCKWELL

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #3: SAM ROCKWELL

There are some actors who just walk between the raindrops when they’re on-screen; inasmuch as everything they do seems so effortless. The magnificent Sam Rockwell is one of those actors. He’s not a big star but he certainly shines like one in most of his roles. While the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Meryl Streep and Christian Bale are tremendous actors, the audience can clearly SEE the work they are committing to; yet Rockwell just glides through a performance charming you and pulling you in with his guile and a golden smile.  He’s just good in everything. Here are five performances I particularly enjoyed. (Note: glaring omission from the list LAWN DOGS (1997) which I ashamedly have not seen. I apologise to my fan.)

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

GALAXY QUEST (1999)

THIS is the film where Rockwell first hit my consciousness and it is a wonderful sci-fi comedy which gently mocks but also affectionately homages Star Trek and its legion of fans. It has a terrific ensemble cast including Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen and Tony Shalboub.  Plus, the effervescent Rockwell stealing scene after scene as the kind of sidekick/bit-part show cast member who usually gets killed first.  The film is a bona fide cult classic and I urge you to see it if you haven’t.

JOSHUA (2007)

I picked this because it’s a VERY effective psychological horror film which kind of fell through the cracks on release and is worth catching online or DVD.  It’s an extremely well written, directed and performed “demon child” film but done with nuance rather than the overblown histrionics of the devilish OMENesque movies.  Rockwell plays a loving father and husband and it’s one his more complex roles showing pain and confusion rather than the easy charm one has come to expect from him.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Talking of which Rockwell ratchets the charm right up to ELEVEN in this wonderful-rites-of-passage-summer-of-love-coming-of-age-dramedy.  He plays an overgrown man-child who refuses to grow up and accept responsibility – preferring to play the fool at a Water Park!  There he takes the awkward teenager Duncan (Liam James) under his wing and trains him to party, have fun and gain confidence with girls.  Rockwell’s just so goddamned likeable and acts as a positive ‘father’ figure to Duncan in contrast to Steve Carell’s negative philanderer Trent.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007)

Andrew ‘Chopper’ Dominik’s moody Western is one of the BEST films I have seen from the last 10 years.  It was pretty much a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; elegant pace; resonating themes and subtext regarding fame and celebrity; wonderful cast; beautiful vistas and so on and so forth.  Rockwell excels in a supporting role as Charley Ford who gets caught between the eerie homo-erotic hero-worship-then-rivalry of his brother Robert (stunning Casey Affleck) and eponymous Jesse James (never better Brad Pitt).  The film moves at a glacial pace, building character and suspense, while in between the sporadic bursts of violence startle and raise the pulse in an altogether memorable cinematic experience.

 

MOON (2009)

In MOON not only do we get one Sam Rockwell but we get hundreds for the price of an admission fee.  He is outstanding as the isolated astronaut (AND doppelganger) mining the moon for helium-3, who having met another version of himself is thrown into an existential crisis.   What it lacks in budget it makes up for with the use of ‘authentic’ old-fashioned models. Moreover, the story engages intellectually, then dramatically before eventually tugging at the heartstrings; all the while introducing fascinating sci-fi concepts.  Director Duncan Jones shows Christopher ‘Interstellar’ Nolan how to make a humanist sci-fi masterpiece for a fraction of the cost and in Rockwell he has a tremendous co-pilot. A film to watch over and over and arguably Rockwell’s finest performance as an actor.

CHANGING LANES – (AKA ‘ARTISTS’ WHO SUCCESSFULLY SHIFTED CAREER PATHS)

CHANGING LANES – by PAUL LAIGHT

The excellent intellectual comedy BIRDMAN (2014) is about — among many themes — a movie star attempting to gain artistic credibility and shift his career from the commercial side to the more critically acclaimed. Using this as inspiration I decided to take a look at some musicians, actors and a filmmaker who in some way have began at one end of the creative spectrum and successfully careered to another. At the same time as changing creative lanes they surprised the audience, improved their critical kudos or at the very least shifted  perception of their oeuvre. Please do suggest others if I have missed them; which I imagine I have. They’re in no particular order either.

PETER JACKSON – FILMMAKER

Peter Jackson is one of my cinematic heroes. The reason being is he began his career from scratch in New Zealand making the no budget horror film Bad Taste (1987) before subsequently going on to make some of the biggest grossing blockbusters ever committed to celluloid.  My favourite film of his remains the hilarious gorefest Braindead (1992) and therefore his career shift to the haunting Heavenly Creatures (1994) was an incredible leap.  Personally, I liked his bloody horror films better but of course his Tolkien trilogies contain some amazing filmmaking too.

DAN STEVENS – ACTOR

I don’t watch Downton Abbey so had never heard of the handsome actor Dan Stevens.   The first I met him was watching the low budget actioner The Guest (2014) and he is absolutely brilliant. It’s a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot.  Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making.

BEN KINGSLEY – ACTOR

Kingsley stunned me when he appeared in Jonathan Glazer’s excellent debut feature Sexy Beast (2000) as the foul-mouthed cockernee monster Don Logan; sent to wreak havoc on Ray Winstone’s feng shui and chi.   It was an incredible performance which completely shifted perception away from the archetype RSC trained actor of stage and screen.  His portrayal of Gandhi put Kingsley very much on the cultural map whereas the visceral brutality of Logan pissed all over it!

LUCILLE BALL – ACTOR

Lucille Ball was a pioneering actress, comedienne and film studio executive. She was the star of many sitcoms notably I Love Lucy. Early doors though she performed in many small movie roles in the 1930s and 1940s, being dubbed the “Queen of the B-movies”.  In 1951, Ball helped create the television series I Love Lucy with husband Desi Arnaz and during a prolific career Ball was nominated for Emmy thirteen times and won four of the beauties.

CLINT MANSELL – MUSICIAN

Clint was the frontman for Black Country-bassed-hip-hop-funny-as-fuck-politically-incorrect-grebo-groovesters Pop Will Eat Itself!  Along with The Wonderstuff they were one of my favourite bands from the late 80s/90s.  Songs like:  Beaver Patrol, Grebo Guru, Can U Dig It, Wise Up Sucker etc.   smacked the arse of the charts with a flurry of non-sensical lyrics and pilfered samples. Years later Mansell rose from the spunky ashes of PWEI to become a respected film composer. His most memorable score is for the grim, yet awesome Aronofsky helmed Requiem For A Dream (1996) and since then he has consistently written for the same director. His classical piece Lux Æterna has become a ubiquitous soundtrack for many a film trailer!

JEROME FLYNN – ACTOR

To be honest Jerome Flynn has always been a decent TV character actor ever since he starred in Soldier Soldier in the 1990s.   But we also have him to thank for giving producer Simon Cowell some of his early hit records when, along with Robson Greene, he butchered a series of singalonga ‘classics’ including Unchained Melody.   He’s forgiven though for his musical crimes as his cultural slate has been wiped clean via his tough and gritty appearances in the phenomenal  Game Of Thrones plus the excellent Ripper Street. 

MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY – ACTOR

McConaughey has always had star appeal ever since his appearance in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and always stood out as an actor to watch. His career choices, however, in romantic comedies such as: The Wedding Planner (2001), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Failure to Launch (2006), Fool’s Gold (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) made him a shedload of dough but had many thinking he’d thrown away his ability on fluff. But then the “McConaissance” occurred and since 2010 he has eschewed the mortgage-paying unchallenging work and starred in some intense, transformative and often brutal roles including: Killer Joe (2011), The Paperboy (2012), Mud (2012), Magic Mike (2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), and stunning HBO series True Detective (2014).

CHARLIZE THERON – ACTOR

When Theron appeared in some decent but unspectacular early roles you would not have been wrong to suspect she was just another model-turned-actress wannabe who had got her break due to her cracking good looks.  However, THAT is definitely NOT the case as her acting prowess was proven in the Oscar-winning role of female serial-killer Aileen Wuornos. Tragic film Monster (2003) flipped career perception on it’s head as she imbued Wuornos with an anger, pain and humanity which never fails to rabbit-punch the emotions.   It was an incredible lane change in Theron’s career and proved she was no blonde bimbo. She was also fantastic as a twisted neurotic suffering from a severe case of arrested development in  Young Adult (2011).

BEN AFFLECK – ACTOR/DIRECTOR

Is Ben Affleck a good actor?  I had this discussion with a friend and we decided he was a solid if unspectacular presence who can be impressive at times with his professionalism in Good Will Hunting (1997),  Changing Lanes (2002), Hollywoodland (2006) and Gone Girl (2014).  However, let’s be straight he has also appeared in some right old garbage such as Daredevil (2003) and the critically panned Gigli (2003). But Affleck’s cultural redemption has occurred as a director in which he has hit three cinema home runs with the excellent Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town (2010) and the political thriller Argo (2012).   These are three proper movies with the assured directorial touch of the great genre filmmakers such as John Ford or Huston.  In some ways his career mirrors that of Clint Eastwood’s; as in he’s appeared in some great films, some rubbish films and is now becoming a formidable director to boot!

WHOOPI GOLDBERG – COMEDIAN/ACTOR

Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe and would then be cast in Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985). Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered by life but whom amidst the abuse retains a strength to not let life destroy her. All the more amazing given it was Goldberg’s first dramatic film role.  Goldberg would go on to prove both her dramatic and comedic mettle in a number of roles eventually winning an Oscar in the supernatural-thriller-romance-weepie Ghost (1990).

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ANDREA BOCELLI – SINGER

I don’t know much about Opera or classical music to be honest but I do know what I like when I hear it.  Thus, Andrea Bocelli’s pop-opera classic Con te partirò is an obvious favourite ever since I heard it in The Sopranos.  Andrea Bocelli himself had always immersed himself in singing since a boy but had to work his way up from the bottom, sort of.  He was a qualified lawyer and playing piano in the bars when ‘discovered’ by goalkeeper-turned-singer Luciano Pavarotti. The rest they say is history!  Time to say goodbye reader; au revoir!

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!