THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) – FILM REVIEW

THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) F

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

“Hence, once again, pastiche: in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles… means that one of its essential messages is… the failure of the new, the imprisonment in the past.” Frederic Jameson – POSTMODERNISM & CONSUMER SOCIETY (1983)

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I loved this film for so many reasons.  It’s a nostalgic rush and push of music, action, fantastical creatures, space operatics, zinging one-liners, knowing humour, spectacular effects and in Chris Pratt — a new cinema star (lord) for the millennium is born.  Let’s be honest there isn’t an original bone in its body but the fleshy pastiche and meaty cultural references Guardians of the Galaxy wears proudly on its sleeves take the audience on one hell of a journey.

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Marxist and cultural theorist Frederic Jameson spoke of the rise of the “Nostalgia” film and postmodernist movies such as Star Wars (1977) and American Graffiti (1973) in his seminal essay aforementioned above.  The Nostalgia film harks back and references the past drawing influences not from reality but rather cultural artefacts such as films, comics, radio, TV and music etc.  Guardians of the Galaxy involves an orphaned hero — with mysterious father — who must do battle against an evil empire, save a “damsel” in distress, all the while accompanied by a motley crue of intergalactic misfits.  Sound at all familiar?  Yes, finally the kids of today have their Star Wars. They have a new hope, kind of; a pastiche of a pastiche of a pastiche based solely on the cultural fossils of yesteryear.

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Watching this film on IMAX 3D at Wimbledon Odeon Screen 4 (my favourite cinema screen by the way) made me feel nostalgic in so many ways. It felt more like the comic books I read as a child than any film I’ve seen recently. Further, I felt a surge of history as the film opened taking me back to 1977 when my Dad took me to see Star Wars (1977).  I recall the massive queues waiting to go see Lucas’ classic and the giddiness and excitement I felt as a youth rushed through me; even more so when the film started and my consciousness was treated to one impressive set-piece after another.  I felt young again and all because of a movie!

In a major ironic twist I too felt nostalgic for my University days and my discovery of postmodern theorists such as Jameson, Baudrillard and Foucault while studying. While it served no purpose in the real world my academic life was a great time for me.  The knowledge of postmodernism I gained enhanced further this funky fusion of comic-book anti-heroes blowing stuff up to a 70s soundtrack. Indeed, I was at peace with the world.  A bomb could have hit the cinema and I would not have cared.  It was cinematic heroin. I was happy.

Guardians is the 10th Marvel Universe movie to be produced and is based on a lesser known product from the uber-comic overlords’ oeuvre. Young Peter Quill is not having the best day. At the beginning he suffers the loss of his mother. As he runs away from the hospital he is then kidnapped by a gigantic spaceship which airlifts him to a life with the Ravagers; a group of space cowboys and outlaws – led by Michael Rooker’s Yondu.  Flash forward some many years to a galaxy far, far far away and an older Quill (effortlessly charismatic Chris Pratt) is on the hunt for a mysterious orb in order to make a few intergalactic dollars.  Quill proves himself a decent dancer and well as fighter as he uses hi-tech weapons to outfox his foes.

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The opening action sequence is a sheer joy and essentially riffs on the opening of Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) while using Blue Swede’s funky classic Hooked on a Feeling  also used in Reservoir Dogs (1992). Let’s be honest it is all very silly but I am not watching this as a fortysomething man but rather a young boy living in the warmth of the past bathing in the nostalgia of recalling Star Wars, Raiders, Reservoir Dogs and MIXTAPES!!   I used to do mixtapes and it was such fun before the devilish digital age took over.  Anyway, the orb Quill has stolen turns out to be one of those END OF THE WORLD plot McGuffin thingy’s and a whole host of benign and nefarious characters are after it notably evil Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), Kree mentalist Ronan (Lee Pace) and the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) etc.

So, Quill consequently finds himself pursued and caught and thrown in prison by the Nova Corps (basically humans with funny hair.) He then unwittingly becomes part of a bunch of misfits including: Rocket (Bradley Cooper) – a feisty raccoon and weapons expert; Groot (Vin Diesel) – a tree-like humanoid; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) – Thanos’s adopted assassin daughter; and finally Drax (Dave Bautista) – a giant blue alien muscle guy. Together these unusual suspects form an uneasy but at times hilarious alliance as they fight and argue and bicker and eventually accept each other and combine to overcome the villains before them.

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If The Avengers (2012) was a remake of The Magnificent Seven (1964) then this is a remake of the Dirty Dozen (1967) (minus seven). Moreover, the film follows the successful Marvel template of superheroes (or in this case anti-heroes) saving a very Earth-like world from destruction from said poisoned destructive orb (see Tesseract).  But what makes this Space-Western such fun is the oddball off-centre characters which director James Gunn and his fellow writers clearly gave a lot of time developing. While special effects reign over the production the likes of Quill, Rocket and Groot are given a humanity and humour which adds heart to story.  Indeed the script is full of empathetic backstories and themes including: fatherless, motherless and adopted children, genocide, slaves, nature v. technology, medical experimentation, grief, tyranny of dictatorship; all of which add some depth to the otherwise fluffy frivolity of the script.

Gunn was an interesting choice of director as he had written some mildly successful screenplays and directed two low-budget movies: the hilarious horror Slither (2006) and anti-super-hero oddity Super (2010).  But he marshals the army of cast and crew with a great sense of timing and while Guardians is generic in structure, the delight is in the incredible visuals and action, character detail and witty dialogue splashed throughout. The tone almost tipped over into farce in a dance off scene near the end and Del Toro is disappointing underused as The Collector. Plus Zoe Saldana’s character Gamora is gutsy and kick-ass until she turns to type and is saved by Quill. Although I forgave this stereotype because the scene was so memorably rendered and realised in a kind of space version of Jean Vigo’s poetic classic L’Atalante (1934).

The film finishes with a lovely post-credit kick in the nuts with an appearance of another comic-book-anti-hero. Marvel once again has delivered the goods and their standard template will continue to be a success if they choose off-centre directors such as Gunn, Whedon and the Russo Brothers. These are young (ish) guns like Lucas and Spielberg who while they wear their cultural influences proudly on their sleeves, jackets and underwear they paradoxically retain some originality amidst the pastiche and intertextuality. Thus, Frederic Jameson’s theories seem even more valid today. He himself argued that postmodernist culture was linked to the rise of late capitalism from the 1960s onwards and as the Marvel money-making monopoly marches on who can disagree with him.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) – FILM REVIEW

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APESFILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**SPOILERS AHOY**

Film great. Humans crap.

In my last review I compared going to the cinema like going to a restaurant.  For this review I am going to use another tenuous analogy and say going to the cinema is my equivalent of going to Church.  The director/writer/filmmakers are in my eyes GOD!  The actors are the Priests spreading the word while the popcorn is the body of Christ with Tango or Coca-Cola as the blood. Not that I drink fizzy drinks or sugary  any more as I am currently winning an ongoing dispute between my will power and several unhealthy food addictions.

Anyway, what I’m saying is the Cinema is my holy sanctuary — it means THAT much to me. So if you want to use your phone (texting or going online) or talk about something on your phone such as the latest photo of your own arsehole then I will strike down upon thee with furious vengeance! Well I will ask you to shut up or get out!

In the war between humans’ and apes I was already on the Apes’ side following the excellent blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes  (2011) and even more so after witnessing its’ superlative sequel. Indeed, with the insane ongoing wars, environmental issues, pollution, fracking, plane crashes, arms dealing, dodgy press, corrupt governments, genocide and other disasters such as selfish phone wankers talking at the cinema perhaps it’s time for a change on Earth; a clean slate maybe?  Maybe the apes and other animals deserve a chance of owning this planet and giving peace a chance; something humanity seems incapable of sustaining.

If you didn’t know the Planet of the Apes franchise originated from Pierre Boulle’s wonderfully conceived 1963 novel La Planete des singes  and spawned a plethora of films, merchandise, TV shows, comics, novelisations, comic books, posters and even an animated series.  In the late 60s and 70s they didn’t just milk the cash cow they drained the blood and sold off its’ organs and body parts to an ever hungry audience thirsty for another instalment.

Irrespective of the sloping quality of the various guises it took the intelligence raised in the original source and gave us some serious action and brain-food encompassing themes and historical events such as: Darwinism; dystopic and apocalyptic future visions; civil and social unrest; slavery; man’s inhumanity to animals; medical experimentation; the Vietnam and Cold war; civilisation versus savagery; anthropology; The Frankenstein myth; space and time travel; and many other socio-political and science fictional motifs.  It’s a conceptual and cultural phenomenon. And Dawn of the Planet is a wonderful addition to the series.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins a few years AFTER Caesar led the apes’ escape from captivity depicted so entertainingly in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He, his wife and children are now living in reasonable harmony in a huge commune of orang-u-tan, gorillas and chimpanzees.  As suggested at the end of the first movie humans have succumbed to a virus which has wiped them off the planet leaving only those with vascular immunity still alive.  These are lead by family man Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus; a man — who like many others — has lost his family to the virus and subsequent societal breakdown. The dramatic meat of the story begins to cook when the apes are disturbed by a party of humans looking for a new energy source via a Dam in the forest.

The film is a real slow-burner as it establishes the rivalry between the apes and humans as they initially form an uneasy truce before outright war eventually begins.  Indeed the first hour or so is very much given to establishing character dynamics with Caesar’s (phenomenal Andy Serkis) leadership of the apes questioned by the scarred Koba (brilliant Toby Kebbell).  This too is reflected in the more peaceful Malcolm seeking to avoid war and co-exist with the apes as opposed to Dreyfus who sees them as nothing more than savage beasts.  Thus the four main protagonists are very rounded and keenly drawn although one criticism of the film is the lack of a powerful female character and one may say, Oldman aside, the humans are a little bland overall. An accusation I cannot say about the apes who are rendered incredibly by the massive special effect team at WETA.

By allowing the slow build up characters, spiked by some in-fighting in each of the camps, the tension rises and anticipation of the battle rises to fever pitch.  It is Koba who precipitates the war as he is driven by his anger at being experimented on by humans’ years before.  While Caesar leads with majesty and quiet authority, Koba is driven by revenge, pain and hate and this passion drives him to attack the humans with full ape force.  What follows is one of the most memorable set-pieces I have seen at the cinema this year with apes smashing down the human compound with violent abandon.  The image of a dual-gunned Koba rampaging on horseback as fire burns behind him is a cinematic moment which will stay in my memory for sometime.

Matt Reeves is an excellent genre filmmaker and he maintains the great standard set by Rupert Wyatt from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves, the writers, cast and his battalion of special effects people have produced an intelligent blockbuster which keeps the drama burning throughout culminating in a stupendous battle sequence at the end.  The film is a portent telling us once again that humans will reap suffering if they continue to tamper with nature in the name of progress.  It also reflects the importance of family, acceptance and tolerance of others in order find peace; war and in particular gorilla warfare (sorry) is not the way forward.  There’s one soppy and jarring bit of script coincidence where Caesar goes back to the house he grew up in but that was not enough to ruin another excellent film inspired by Boulle’s literary classic. Those still haunted by Tim Burton’s atrocious 2001 effort will be very grateful for this entry in the franchise. Altogether now: Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!

THE GREENE AND LAIGHT SHOW – CAMDEN FRINGE 2014

THE GREENE AND LAIGHT SHOW – CAMDEN FRINGE

3RD, 4TH, 5TH AUGUST 2014, THE CAMDEN HEAD – 9.30PM

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A quick plug for the comedy show I’m doing on the Camden Fringe at the Camden Head, 100 Camden High Street, NW1 0LU on 3rd, 4th, 5th August – starts at 9.30pm.

I’m never that comfortable with self promotion but here you go.

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BUY TICKETS HERE: 

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PRESS RELEASE

Londoner PAUL LAIGHT is a semi-pro comedian, film blogger, screenwriter and filmmaker.  Paul’s a but miserable but tries so hard to be positive and it’s this dynamic which propels his comedy.  He did his first comedy gig in January 2008 and performed at many gigs both as comic and compere. His set is gag-heavy with jokes based on personal experiences including: family, marriage and work. He’s both bitter and sweet as he examines his life. Despite his complaints he prefers to hang onto the positives and see the funny side of life.

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“Affable host!” http://www.chortle.co.uk
“Splendid!” http://www.londonisfunny.com
“Responsible, funny and not a wanker.” Pear Shaped Comedy Club

 ADAM GREENE  is an up-and-coming comedian from South London. With a mix of observation and surrealism, Adam has earned plaudits from audiences, critics and fellow comics who describe him as “endearingly funny,” “surprisingly alright,” and “definitely OK”.

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As a former frontman in a Punk band in the mid-noughties Adam developed a stage presence and confidence that made the transition into stand up smooth, winning competitions as early as his fourth gig. Preparing to make his Edinburgh debut in 2014 as part of the show Dancing with the Inflatable Colonel there is a bright future ahead for this comic.

“Next big thing – don’t quote me on that!” – Robin Banks, Promoter

PROMOTIONAL VIDEO

Hope you can make it along to THE GREENE & LAIGHT SHOW – be seeing you.

THREE DAYS TO KILL (2014) – FILM REVIEW

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THREE DAYS TO KILL (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**CONTAINS SPOILERS – ALTHOUGH NOT MUCH TO SPOIL AS THE FILMMAKERS HAVE DONE THAT ALREADY**

For me going to the cinema is very much like going to a restaurant: the trailers are the starter; the movie is the main course; the director is the chef and the popcorn and sweets are dessert. To continue the analogy I would describe 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014) as a complete dog’s dinner. Given I have witnessed by chance a dog eat its own vomit and horse excrement – different dog on different occasions – this is probably the nicest thing I can say about the film.

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3 DAYS TO KILL is another of those EuropaCorp B-movie action genre thrillers from the Luc Besson stable which have proved very popular to audiences seeking heady thrills, explosions, testosteronic fist-fights, car chases, post-ironic-tight-clothed femme fatales, dastardly bad guys plus the added whiff of xenophobia  thrown in.  Some of which, such as The Transporter (2002), Taken (2008) and District 13 (2004) are actually very entertaining. Yet, Eurocorp have also produced some excellent genre movies giving inexperienced directors a foot up in the industry e.g. Tell No One (2006). But like many studios for every hit there is big fat turkey.

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Talking of turkeys this movie is one severely undercooked bird.  The ‘chef’ McG, who killed the Terminator franchise reboot and ruined the well-cast Spy v Spy romantic action thriller This Means War (2013), has to be one of the most consistently poor directors around.  Because he takes two very familiar plots —

1)  Dying Secret Service Agent/hired killer (Kevin Costner) is given a chance to live longer by super-sexy but plastic Amber Heard if he does one last job in Paris.

2) Dying Secret Service Agent/hired killer (Costner) tries to redeem his past failings as a father by rebuilding his relationship with his ex-wife (Connie Neilsen) and teenage daughter (Hailee Stansfield) who lives – guess where?!?!  Paris is where!!

— And fails at every stage to bring them to the boil satisfactorily. The tone of the piece was all over the shop. One minute I think I was meant to be laughing and the next minute I think I was meant to be adrenalized and the next minute I was meant to be sad.  But I felt nothing. Added to the plot elements mentioned was a sub-plot involving an African family squatting in Costner’s apartment. But this only slowed down the story even more and was an extraneous redemptive device Costner’s character didn’t need.

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Now I love a good spy movie. I also enjoy familial dramas. But it takes a skilled writer and director to make this work together. In fact 3 Days to Kill is one of those films where you genuinely wonder whether the filmmakers knew what they were doing.  Frankensteinian in concept with bits and pieces nicked from different genres and films, yet like Frankenstein it’s disfigured, falling apart at the seams and essentially a dead film walking.

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There are positives about the film and one of them is that the film ends. Having said that the opening set-piece is pretty good and Costner is dependable in the kind of role Liam Neeson has made his own in recent years. There’s an amusing scene with a stereotypical Italian Accountant in a rare moment when the family and spy plots actually worked well together. Plus there are a couple of well-choreographed car chases too.

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However, in between the action we suffer long dull scenes between Costner’s father and his daughter played by Hailee Stansfield. To be honest I doubt a Bergman or Kubrik in their prime could save this rotting fetid stew of a script which the writer’s cooked up in less than the 3 day’s it takes to kill McG’s career. Here’s hoping anyway.

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER! THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL!

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER!   A RIK MAYALL TRIBUTE BY PAUL LAIGHT

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER!   THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL & MR JOLLY

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS YOU BASTARDS**

The passing of comedian and actor Rik Mayall was a ruddy shame.  Of course I didn’t know the guy but from a cultural point-of-view here was a comedian, actor, raconteur, writer and clown who I grew up watching on the tellybox and escaped into fits of laughter just at his merest look, gesture, rant, pratfall and frying pan in the face.  So when I heard of his death I was disappointed because he was dead. And would never be alive to perform again. That always positive energy was gone.

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I myself have attempted stand-up on a lower-runged level of the comedy circuit and while you can obtain laughs through trial, error, gigging, experience, writing actual jokes blah, blah, blah etc. but what you can’t be taught is actually being funny.  You’ve either got it or you haven’t. And Rik Mayall didn’t just have funny bones; he had funny eyes, ears, hair, nails, feet, hands, heart, spleen, blood etc. You get the picture:  HE was fucking funny!

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Kevin Turvey, Lord Flashheart, Richard Richard, his many Comic Strip performances, Alan B’stard, Drop Dead Fred, The Dangerous Brothers etc. were some of the many varied comedic performances Rik Mayall delivered. He could do clown, mania, slapstick, psycho, pathetic, sleazy, satirical, violence, arrogance, low status, high status, eloquence, sarcasm, smarm and many more.  Like  an overgrown demented child he could run amok, shout then whisper, go dark and then lighten up in a moment.  And it was just so bloody natural.

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Arguably his crowning performance was as Rick in The Young Ones, a surreal, punkish yet somehow still traditional situation comedy centred around four lazy students who essentially fail to get on whatsoever but still form a dysfunctional “family” unit.  Rik was the spoilt mummy’s boy with inklings of anarchic desire yet with a penchant for Cliff Richard records.   He was a spotty, poetry spouting virgin prone to bouts of rage and snivelling sycophancy and sneakiness with an anger toward authority and revolutionary ideals but neither the backbone, physical power or bottle to actually do anything that may bring a government down.  He was basically a cowardly, hysterical child who happened to be hilarious at the same time.

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The Young Ones was a defining comedy for me when I was growing up.  I’d never seen anything like it.  And ever since I have sought out such programmes containing profanity, imagination, stupidity, slapstick, satire, surrealism and above all else human beings trying and failing to get on with each other. I have subsequently found this in shows such as South Park, Red Dwarf, Blackadder, The Day Today, Alan Partridge, The Office, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to name but a few. However, for the remainder of this piece I want to pay tribute to — if you put a gun to my head — my favouritest thing that Rik was in ever! One of the funniest 50 minutes of comedy ever committed. The Comic Strip film:  MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR! 

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The Comic Strip Presents: erupted from the sordid strip joint stages of Soho or more specifically the original Comedy Store.   Alumni included: Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle with frequent appearances by Keith Allen, Robbie Coltrane and many more comics who would become household names over the years.  Anarchic, punkesque and anti-establishment in approach they were a hurricane of creativity challenging the comedic hegemony and what was considered to be the apolitical, sexist, politically incorrect and old-fashioned performers of the day.

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From the stage they marched into our living rooms on the newly founded Channel 4 in 1982 (way back when C4 produced challenging programming) and over the years produced some wonderful and wacky short films, features and shows which satirised everything and anything from: literature, film, television, politics, music, war, fashion, sport, law etc. The Comic Strip Presents: were a staple for alternative souls and any new episodes were greeted with joy in the mind of South London latchkey-TV-addicted kids like myself.

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The Comic Strip collective produced too many hilarious shows to mention but my favouritest ever is Mr Jolly Lives Next Door!  Written by Mayall and Edmondson they presented two drunken, idiotic morons derived from their Dangerous Brothers’ stage personas.  Together they are DREAMYTIME ESCORTS: alcoholic, depraved, sleazy con-artists with little or no redeeming qualities whatsoever; other than arguably perhaps they cause themselves more damage than others.  Mr Jolly is a masterclass of violent slapstick, stupidity, sight gags, demented cameos and also some very well written jokes too.

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It begins with our unnamed “heroes” helping the police with their enquiries relating to Fatty: a now dead client.  Dreamytime Escorts then get confused with their mysterious-assassin-lunatic neighbour Mr Jolly (the hilarious Peter Cook) and somehow are involved in a plot to “take out” Nicholas Parsons; as arranged by demented gangland boss Mr Lovebucket (Peter Richardson).  And the whole thing is directed by Stephen Frears – yes THAT Stephen Frears. The same one who directed The Grifters (1990), The Queen (2006) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) etc.

So with a deranged story — which I think may have influenced another moronic classic Dumb and Dumber (1994) — on the go the audience is driven along on a wave of anarchic fun and alcohol fuelled insanity with Rick and Ade having much fun while they’re at it.  The scenes where they torture the Japanese client and get so drunk they end up in the toilet screaming at each other — having “borrowed” Mr Lovebucket’s £3000 to kill Parsons — are a senseless joy.  The drunken nonsense is ramped up even more when they take Quiz Show host and TV celebrity Nicholas Parsons to the Dorchester on a night out; Parsons believing they are competition winners when in fact the “Escorts” have accidentally run the real winners off the road and killed them in a fiery blaze.

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To a teenager the sheer pace of the lunacy was a thing of beauty and even now when I watch Mr Jolly the chaotic nature of the scenes at the Dorchester at Parson’s house are packed full of physical performances, celebrity in-jokes, stupid sight gags such as the tattoo which Ade thinks has been put on backwards when he looks at it in the mirror.  I marvel at the comic timing, sheer energy and controlled mayhem on show.  The next day they suffer the grandest of hangovers and when Mr Lovebucket calls in his debt the two drunks must actually kill Parsons.  What follows is live action cartoon violence of a side-splitting variety with Rik getting a hammer over his head and Ade holding on while two grenades explode.

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Cue a finale which involves a crazy car chase, Rick shitting himself, Dreamytime Escorts van ending up in a skip, Mr Jolly murdering Parsons to the tune of What’s New Pussycat, exploding tonic water and Peter Richardson’s Lovebucket uttering the immortal words: “WHAT IS GOING ON!?” before the whole premises blows up. What you have are Stooges like physical humour combined with Loony Tunes style cartoon violence. There is little satire and no subtlety but it is uproariously funny.  We end with Ade and Rick walking down Camden Lock canal before Mayall pushes his partner-in-grime in the water for no reason.  And that is what is so great about Mr Jolly: it has no underlying meanings or any depth. It’s stupid and violent and loud and ruddy funny.  Rick Mayall was all of these too and much much more and I thank him and Ade for giving us this crazy masterpiece.

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) FILM REVIEW

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EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) – FILM REVIEW

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

The pitch:  Groundhog Day with guns!    The review:  it’s bloody brilliant.

While it may have lifted it’s premise from Harold Ramis’ classic Sisyphian comedy, Edge of Tomorrow, is a sterling example of high-concept futuristic action which twists and turns and repeats and explodes in a breathlessly paced Alien v Human death-match.  Also, Doug Liman is a fine genre director and handles the action, twisting plot and characterisation with an assured vision and touch. While perennial scene-stealer Emily Blunt shifts gear again from supporting-kooky-girlfriend-roles-to-hard-assed-action-hero with lusty aplomb; more than proving herself next to action veteran Tom Cruise.

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Based on a Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, this is black-belt genre filmmaking and I more than got my money’s worth with Tom Cruise — after the kind-of-okay-but-ultimately-confusing-Oblivion (2013) — on excellent form. In fact, he plays against type at the start of the film as non-combative and cowardly PR expert William Cage who is thrown into battle against the monstrous Mimics from outer space.
He is killed very quickly during first combat and then finds himself back where he started living the same day over and over again.

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The story evolves as Blunt’ Rita Vrataski and Cage join forces to destroy the Aliens.  Usually Cruise movies have Tom as a hard bastard from the start brilliant at everything including fighting, jumping, killing, driving etc. The joy with this film is watching Cruise begin as an army novice and gain these skills throughout the film.  Blunt in fact is in the Cruise role here being the kind of confident all-out action hero who we have come to expect Hollywood’s Dorian Gray to play in his sleep. But Blunt excels in a physically crunching Alien-killing role emanating a toughness allied with insouciant sexuality and sarcasm.  Her partnership with Cruise is also a treat as the two physically and verbally spar and flirt with an always inventive and witty screenplay.

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Every person involved in the creation of Edge of Tomorrow from the original writer, the scriptwriters, costume designers, special effects team, cast, composer, post-production team and so on and so forth deserve the plaudits for creating a blockbuster that has heart, humour and a brain.  Okay, Groundhog Day did it first but if you’re going to rip off a classic then do it with class and Edge of Tomorrow certainly does that.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) – FILM REVIEW

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

Well, this was fun.  Having enjoyed the X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) movie immensely I was looking forward to this one despite Bryan Singer’s mildly wonky recent directorial releases VALKYRIE (2008) and the okay Jack and the Beanstalk CGI-fest JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013).  Of course, Singer’s technical ability is second-to-none and his skill in creating a memorable action set-piece has never been in question but I found his recent films uninvolving and strangely undramatic; especially Valkyrie. But perhaps that was because we knew the mission to kill Hitler was doomed thus suspense was lacking in that particular narrative.

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Anyway, no such concerns here with this sparkling time-travel, past-and-present fusion of historical and future events story.  I was genuinely gripped from the brilliant opening scene which establishes a set of all-conquering villainous machines called The Sentinels which — in the future — have taken over the earth and are wiping out both mutants and humans alike.  Cue Wolverine being sent back in time by Magneto and Professor X to convince the two respective younger versions of them to change the events which caused the Sentinels to rise to power.

If it seems a bit Terminatoresque it’s because it is completely the same story with some Back to the Future nods thrown in too.  But Simon Kinberg’s screenplay (from Matthew Vaughan/Jane Goldman’s story in turn inspired by 1981 Uncanny X-Men comic book narrative by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) wears it’s influences proudly and gets us into the story so quickly that the time travel element becomes more structural rather than thematic.  For me, Hollywood blockbusters are like rollercoasters and I’m looking for a thrill ride. From the get-go this ride was awesome and just did not stop!

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One may even describe the structure as like Citizen Kane meets Magnificent Seven as our conduit Wolverine must assemble his team that include the now desperate junkie figure of Xavier (James McAvoy) and his faithful pet/assistant Beast/Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult).  Xavier has essentially given up and Wolverine must persuade him to join the cause thus giving Jackman a chance to show his “sensitive” and persuasive side before unleashing those bulging muscles on his foes once again. I wanted a bit more time with X the Junkie because McAvoy is a likeable and commanding actor as shown by his recent stirring performance as good, bad, mad and ugly cop Bruce Robertson in disturbing black comedy Filth (2013). But to no avail as we then rapidly move onto the getting Magneto (the always brilliant Michael Fassbender) into the plot.

This is where the film goes all Mission Impossible as Magneto is being held a mile underground at the Pentagon penitentiary. Enter my favourite character of the whole film Quicksilver (Eric Peters) as his speedy skills are used brilliantly in the quest to set Magneto free.  The rescue scene gives rise to probably the best set-piece I’ve seen in the cinema all year and like the Captain America fight scene in the lift it is full of surprises and humour.  The use of slow motion, special effects, sight jokes, music by Jim Croce etc. had my heart in my mouth and adrenalin rushing through my body – although that could have been the vat of coffee I drank that day.  Nonetheless this sequence typifies why I go to the cinema and that is for maximum big screen impact in moments like this.  Shame on you if you watched this on illegal download via your laptop.  Dear filmmakers – thank you! Please take a bow!!

With the team assembled they must then take down the ever gorgeous Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who is waging a one-mutant campaign against unscrupulous arms dealer, mutant-hater, and wonderfully named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).  As typified by Mystique’s arc the whole film gives some great little moments of depth and motivation to the characters  without losing pace in the plot and action overall. In fact, it’s  perfect storm of a movie with plot, action, effects and so many fine actors at the height of their star working perfectly with established cast members of the older X-Men films such as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.

This is grandstand genre filmmaking at its’ finest taking all the best elements from the previous films and throwing them into a potent and heady cinematic mix.  I love time-travel narratives as well as the melding of actual historical events and figures such as the appearance of President Nixon and references to the Kennedy assassination.  The final set-piece at the White House brings all the plots and subplots together in an outstanding action-packed denouement. For sheer entertainment value and for all X-Men and comic-book fans this is definitely recommended. So watch this on a big screen as that’s what it deserves. I recommend the Vue Cinema Westfield Screen 6 or Wimbledon Odeon Screen 4.

This is an 8/10 movie but 9/10 on the big screen!!

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GODZILLA (2014) – FILM REVIEW

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GODZILLA (2014)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

This massive budget reboot of Tohu’s iconic monster GODZILLA is not a terrible movie. It is a technical triumph in fact and has some memorable moments; however, for a MONSTER movie and cinematic experience it was a bitter, bitter disappointment. Plus, at times – dare I say it – it was pretty boring.

If I pay ten quid to see a film called GODZILLA I expect and demand ultimate carnage with the lives of thousands destroyed – eaten and crushed and fire-balled to death –  while cities and oceans are awash with blood, rubble and the tears of survivors.  Because Godzilla is a metaphor for nuclear attacks don’t you know so surely this should be your first priority:  show annihilation and destruction of cities and humans?  That’s what I want for my money!

Gareth Edwards and his massive team of filmmakers offer some destruction over its 120 minutes but ultimately Godzilla fails as a monster movie; it fails as a disaster film and fails most importantly as a piece of drama driven by believable and empathetic characters.  It’s not a great surprise to be honest as the sophomore director got the gig on the back of his independent film MONSTERS (2010)  which was filmed on Prosumer cameras with special effects and editing also done very cheaply. Much kudos goes to Edwards’ for creating Monsters on such a low budget and he is certainly a filmmaker who deserved a big break.

Monsters, like Godzilla was slow-moving, solemn and very serious in tone and in both films their monsters are hidden from view only appearing in full way too late in the narrative for my liking. I enjoyed Monsters because it gave us the brilliant actor Scoot McNairy who has gone onto to feature in some fine films notably Argo (2012) and Killing Them Softly (2012).  But it was essentially a love-story-come-travelogue with the creatures having little direct impact or threat on the characters.

Sadly, this also happens somewhat in Godzilla. It begins promisingly enough in 1999 with a nuclear explosion caused by the hatching of an egg which releases an unknown creature into the sea. So far, so intrigued.  Flash forward 15 years and Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is devastated by the loss of his wife (Juliette Binoche) during said nuclear disaster and obsessively attempts to find out what happened that fateful day.  Throw Brody’s son portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson – quite handily a bomb disposal expert – into the mix and you get a promising character axis on the go.  Simultaneously, scientists Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe enter the fray to investigate but they are dull cardboard cut-outs there to serve us mundane expositional ramblings with no character momentum whatsoever. But Cranston’s character disappears from the narrative quite quickly and moreover, having to wait an hour before the first main bit of monster action really tested my patience.

I realise Edwards chose to go down the less-is-more route of Jaws (1975) but the reason the shark could not be seen in that was because the mechanical beast was beset with troubles and didn’t work so Spielberg and his team had to think creatively around this issue. Consequently, they created so many great set-pieces – something severely lacking in Godzilla. For example the scene with the two fishermen trying to catch the shark with a lump of meat is an especially brilliant sequence where the camera and music act as the shark. It’s a quality and economical piece of filmmaking with a fantastic punchline at the end to lift the mood.

When they do appear the Monsters are amazing to look at but there was not enough in the screenplay for me to actually give a damn by that time. The ensemble cast are pretty much wasted in my view and the less said about the screenplay the better. I feel it would have been better to have done a Towering Inferno (1974) or Poseidon Adventure (1972) style disaster movie with an ensemble star cast battling against the impact of Godzilla on their lives. In fact, Godzilla, however impressive he may look is pretty benign as a threat to humans; a decision which dumbfounded me. Overall, I felt the film needed a bigger name director like Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson or a James Cameron figure to give us that WOW factor. The screenplay also had a humour bypass too and I failed to get value for my entrance fee. Sad to say this film was a gigantic disappointment.

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 (2014) – FILM REVIEW

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 - FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 (2014)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

I’m a bit behind with my film reviews presently because I was busy preparing and performing in my comedy show ROCK N DROLL at the Brighton Fringe Festival.  Thus, because I was wowing an army of fans over three nights (77 people total approx.) on the South Coast I am now playing a bit of catch-up on the reviews.  Overall, Brighton Fringe Festival was fantastic and I am grateful to Laughing Horse Comedy, The Hobgoblin and the 77 people (and the dog at Sunday’s show) for the helping make it a success.  From small victories BIG battles are won.

Talking of big battles there aren’t quite enough of them for my liking in THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2.    There is a tremendous opening sequence with Peter Parker/Spiderman fighting what I thought would be one of the main villains — Paul Giamatti’s criminally underused Aleksei Sytsevich — while desperately attempting to get to his graduation ceremony.  If it all feels a little familiar the ghost of Sam Raimi’s Millenium Spiderman series hangs heavy like the Reaper’s scythe over this and Marc Webb’s previous Spiderman film.  The imaginary blade waits there in my mind comparing and contrasting ready to swing the final blow where I just say, “Nah!  Sam Raimi’s films were much better! Thumb down! Off with its’ head.”

I must say though that this is high quality filmmaking of the blockbuster kind and it’s very hard not to like it. Perhaps, I’m asking too much but despite all the stellar work from the whole cast and technical crew I just didn’t connect with this one totally. I mean, I like Andrew Garfield as an actor but feel he’s better as a dramatic actor than cheeky superhero. My choice would’ve been Joseph Gordon Levitt but perhaps he’s too old now.  Anyway, Emma Stone is stunning and so good in this while Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti and Jamie Foxx are all excellent but spread far too thin across the narrative.  DeHaan and Foxx especially deserved much better for their respective energies and ability. Foxx is an Oscar winner goddamit!!  And if you want to see what DeHaan can do then please watch Chronicle (2012) an amazingly good anti-superhero film and the best found-footage film I’ve ever seen.

There’s a lot of story in this sequel dubbed The Rise of Electro.  In fact it has more lines than Tony Montana’s big mahogany desk at the end of Scarface. We have Peter Parker’s on-off romance (yawn!) with gorgeous Gwen Stacy; the mysterious disappearance of his parents (again); his reconnection with school friend Harry Osborn; attempting to keep his Spiderman identity secret from Aunt May (again); and the main foe — lowly Max Dillon — Electro causing New York an energy bill that would make Bill Gates weep.   Alas, the romantic stuff takes a huge chunk out of the other more interesting stories and the action I craved.

I cannot fault the screenwriting team for their effort by trying to entertain the audience but at times I felt overwhelmed as each storyline was elbowed out of the way by the next one; with the narrative jigsaw not quite joining together satisfactorily as a whole. I really wanted to get involved in Max Dillon’s story as a lowly downtrodden OsCorp operative but his origins story isn’t given much time.  As a villain there isn’t much focus other than he idolises Spiderman.  I mean what happened to the vengeful employee as motivation?  I really wanted this humble man to cause even more havoc than he does but he’s imprisoned for some time after his capture.

Another storyline which is dealt with too briskly is Harry Osborn’s relationship with his father Norman (Chris Cooper) which feels like it has fallen straight out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s superlative Magnolia (1998).  Nonetheless, I thought oh, this is interesting, how will this pan out?  He’s dead.  Okay?  Did Harry kill him in anger?  No. Norman Osborn just died.  Oh.  We’re now back to Parker and Stacy’s on-off relationship.  I DON’T CARE!  It’s been half-an-hour since some stuff was blown up. Get back to that please?!?!?!?!

Marc Webb is a fine and dandy director as he proved with the brilliant bittersweet anti-rom-com 500 Day’s of Summer but personally I don’t feel he was the right choice for the Spiderman reboots.  His Spiderman films feel too mature and not fun enough. They feel like have TOO much humanity and feelings. His camera is not kinetic enough and the beautiful wide vistas painted on screen don’t get us into the action quickly enough for me.  I mean to get this kind of gig after a successful debut film is pretty amazing but he’s certainly a filmmaker to watch and perhaps his risk-taking and stylistic hands are somewhat tied by a big studio picture such as this. Arguably, perhaps he’s TOO GOOD an artist for this kind of movie.  Just a thought.

I feel like I am being very critical of what is a very decent piece of entertainment but it’s only because I was disappointed that I pretty much had to sit through what was another Spiderman “origins” film.  Because let’s face it the The Amazing Spiderman (2012) wasn’t great. But The Amazing Spiderman 2 has some incredible action notably the Times Square battle between Electro and Spiderman and an absolute spell-binding ending which pulled the dramatic rug from out under my feet.  Moreover, in establishing Dane DeHaan’s devilish Green Goblin the third film promises to be pretty sweet.  I just hope they put the family and romance stuff a bit more to the fringes and concentrate on all-out action.  He is the AMAZING Spiderman after all!!  I’m greedy I want to be more AMAZED for my money!  If I want more young-adult romance from ridiculously attractive people I’ll watch Gossip Girl  or god forbid Hollyoaks! Then again the dramatic unexpected ending does redeem much of this and for the wonderful cast, cracking musical score (Hans Zimmer et al take a bow) and a couple of (not enough though) superb set-pieces the entry fee was worth my hard-earned cash.

BRICK MANSIONS (2014) – FILM REVIEW

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Now, I probably should explain that my rule for this blog is to review EVERY film I see at the CINEMA!   So, why did I go to see this ridiculous excuse for a film at the picture house? Well, mainly because I am an addict and I was getting cold turkey because I hadn’t been to the cinema in a while (10 days) and needed a fix.  But rather than getting the good gear I ended up with a pale shadow of a hit from D-movie BRICK MANSIONS.

It’s my own fault I was tired and chose something that wouldn’t test my intelligence too much. And while it’s a well-edited, pacy film with some okay plot twists throughout there is no way I could recommend this to anyone with one-tenth of a brain and still retain the incredible respect my fans have for me.

It’s a remake of an earlier Luc Besson written/produced movie called District 13 (2004); the kind of unpretentious, slickly crafted and brainless film  Besson’s production arm has been churning out with regular abandon for years.  Arguably the best of these are The Transporter and Taken series which rely on the ample talents of Jason Statham and Liam Neeson to propel the action and narratives.  Paul Walker, alas, is no Statham as he doesn’t have the former diver’s brutish personality or scrapping skills and neither does he have Neeson’s actorial stature, style or  power for smashing up generic bad guys.

Ultimately Paul Walker is such a generic an actor the best way to describe him would be like that of a poor man’s Paul Walker. My favourite film of his was a fun Tarantino knock-off called Running Scared (2006). I urge you to see Running Scared as it is a brilliant twisty-turny, explosive GTA-esque little thriller also starring under-rated Vera Farmiga.  Of course, Walker’s star shines well in the American  movie version of Top Gear; the cash-making-franchise-behemoth-Fast-and-Furious series.

Having said that Walker is/was very likeable, good looking and while lacking in personality his bright blue-eyes carry Brick Mansions along at but overall fail to mask the execrable direction, embarrassing dialogue over-dubs and dreadful acting of his co-stars, notably the RZA who is so wooden his next role should be <insert wooden furniture based pun/analogy here>.  The film does have a plot which is pretty much lifted from Escape From New York (1981).   But it’s nowhere nearly as good as the Carpenter classic although it does feature some fine parkouring skills from master of the physical art David Belle;here playing a nippy career criminal at odds with the RZA’s ridiculous mob boss. These various characters fight, jump over, run, get handcuffed and strap bombs to each other in the deprived, urine-soaked hell-hole called Brick Mansions; a segregated part of Detroit which homes just criminals and lower-runged members of American society.   There’s a piss-poor attempt at social commentary and critique of corrupt officials and politicians but basically it’s laughable.

Walker plays another in a long line of maverick cops but what lets this film down is he has no code or specific set of skills (like Statham/Neeson) or even characterisation and it’s left to the parkour-man Belle to give the action some oomph. I mean it’s entertaining enough, has some crunching violence and fun fight scenes but I was laughing unintentionally at times especially when the RZA was trying to play the tough guy.   The film’s biggest crime is it has no suspense or defined look and the whole thing had all the visual flair of a daytime soap opera.  It would have benefited (like Escape From New York) from some stylish noir night scenes but alas there are little or none

As epitaphs go to the sadly departed Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, is a desperately poor excuse for a movie. Thankfully the James Wan-helmed Fast and Furious 7 will somehow repair Walker’s mixed-bag of a CV.  Which probably tells you how bad Brick Mansions is.

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!