Who doesn’t like a great movie death? Well, people who abhor violence and gore on the screen. But I am not one of those people. Thus, if done right in terms of combining emotional context and cinematic imagination, there’s nothing I like more than revelling or lamenting a character’s end in fine bloody fashion. Lastly, I hear you ask why no Zahler, Scorsese, Cronenberg, Miike, Peckinpah, Jackson, Fulci, Roth, Romero, Argento etc. on this list? So much death and only six make it, so please suggest any of the thousands I have missed off in the comments.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
ALIEN (1979) – “Do these eggs taste off?”
I think it may have been something Kane (John Hurt) ate or maybe something that ate him? Anyway, one of the most spectacularly surprising scenes ever still holds amazing power to this very day.
THE FURY (1978) – Separated at death!
This under-rated tele-kinetic thriller is a spiritual sequel to Carrie (1976). Adding a spy conspiracy plot to Amy Irving’s rites of passage character arc, it has a whip-cracking-pace and classic DePalma set-pieces. None more so than the explosive end of the baddie-in-black.
PSYCHO (1960) – Take a bath next time!
What more can be written about one of the most shockingly original scenes in cinema history? Not only did Hitchcock break all narrative rules killing off the main protagonist halfway through, he did it with one of the most ingenious uses of montage, music and murder ever.
PULP FICTION (1994) – The original “face-off!”
Marvin never saw it coming. But let’s face it – none of us did!
ROBOCOP (1987) – Toxic Wasted!
Whoever designed this action scene, no doubt Paul Verhoeven had much to say, delivered one of the most excessive demises in 1980’s cinema. The vehicle crash, the toxic waste, the melting bad guy, the steam coming off his body and the final disintegration are just cinematic perfection.
WILD AT HEART (1990) – Bobby Peru loses his mind!
David Lynch’s vibrant adaptation of Barry Gifford’s romantic thriller contains many colourful characters. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru is a particularly nasty piece of work and he gets his comeuppance in an incredibly visceral and disturbing way!
Produced by: Jason Blum, Alix Madigan, Christopher Tricarico
Written by: Veena Sud
Based on: We Monsters by Marcus Seibert and Sebastian Ko
Cast: Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard, Joey King, Cas Anvar, Devery Jacobs, etc.
Music by: Tamar-kali
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
It’s a difficult job writing a screenplay. There are a myriad of choices to be made and you can make good ones and also terrible ones. That’s why many film scripts go through many drafts and, in certain cases, many different writers. As a screenwriter myself I am always fascinated by the decisions that are made at script stage. More specifically, I often struggle with the choice of making characters empathetic or taking a risk and possibly making them unlikeable. I mean, why should the audience get involved in the story if the characters are loathsome or at the very least, there is little empathy for their situation? Sometimes the central premise is strong enough that the characters do not necessarily have to be likeable, as long as the conflict they face is compelling enough. But what if the characters make really bad decisions or the writer makes bad decisions for them? How long before the audience give up on the characters because they are just so stupid?
Centred on the Logan Family consisting of teenager Kayla (Joey King), her mother Rebecca (Mireille Enos) and estranged father, Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), The Lie (2018), poses the highly dramatic question: how far are you willing to go to protect your child? The film opens with Jay driving Kayla to a ballet retreat in the wintry Canadian woods. They pick up her friend Brittany (Devery Jacob), but during the trip a tragedy occurs and Kayla, after an argument, pushes Brittany off a bridge. Jay and Rebecca then decide, against all moral and legal judgement, to attempt to cover up Kayla’s crime. Clearly this decision is wrong, and their crimes are exacerbated by the fact that Kayla is either emotionally unhinged or socioopathic. Indeed, Joey King’s performance, while admirable, veers inconsistently from scene to scene. But I guess that’s the nature of her character. However, because of this and Kayla’s parents terrible life choices, I ultimately found the Logan’s very difficult to empathise with.
Based on a German film called We Monsters (2015), this Blumhouse production for Amazon takes a brilliant idea and kind of throws it away with a weak set-up and increasingly dumb decisions by the main characters. But, as I say, it’s a great premise that Hitchcock in his heyday would’ve had a ball with, such are the intriguing twists and turns present. But Hitchcock would have made you feel connected to the Logan family and given them even more powerful reasons to cover up the crime. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really enjoyed this B-movie thriller. I was able to shout at the television throughout with a high moral superiority over the characters. When the final act twist comes, and it’s a good one, I was genuinely laughing at the stupidity and tragedy of their actions. We are all prisoners of our own life choices and this entertaining but daft thriller certainly proves that.
Produced by: Kwak Sin-ae, moon Yang-kwon, Bong Yok-cho, Jang Young-hwan
Screenplay by: Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyeon-jun, Lee Jung-eun
Cinematography by: Hong Kyung-pyo
******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ********
I actually saw this incredible work of cinema storytelling on Saturday just passed, so am writing this review AFTER the film rather incredibly won several Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. I say “rather incredibly”, not because the film wasn’t a worthy winner of the Best Film award, but because high quality films not in the English language usually have to be satisfied with the Best International Film Award, as it is known now. Parasite (2019) in fact, deservedly won that award too. Anyway, irrespective of the awards it has earned, the film has also been universally praised. Not surprisingly, because it is not just a Korean arthouse film, but rather an ingenious genre classic. It blends dark comedy, horror, drama and thriller tropes to create a funny, suspenseful and consistently surprising experience.
The story premise itself is relatively simple and it begins not too differently from a Japanese film I watched recently called, Shoplifters (2018). A lower class family, in this case Korean, live in cramped conditions and struggle to survive on a daily basis. Their apartment is below level and the Kim’s including father, Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jeong and son Kim Ki-woo are all out of work. While they struggle on they stick together as a family, battling drunks who piss against their window, steal local wi-fi and also carry out menial part-time jobs like making up pizza boxes. Fortunately, a friend of Ki-woo recommends him for a teaching position within a very wealthy household belonging to the Park family. Then the narrative really gathers pace as the Kim family surreptitiously begin to infest and inveigle their way into the Park’s privileged lives.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Kim family are the antagonists in the narrative, however, they are very empathetic characters. Their dubious actions lead the story into very dark and funny territory, as they manipulate Mr and Mrs Park, plus their young son and teenage daughter. While not condoning their actions one can identify with their class struggle because they are desperate to improve their situation and prosperity. The issue is though they get a bit greedy and the superb screenplay throws a massive twisting curve-ball at them as the Kim’s plans unravel and events go completely off the rails.
Filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho, like he did with the brilliant films, Snowpiercer (2013) and The Host (2006) is clearly using the social status of his characters to satirise and critique capitalist society. It’s literally an ‘Upstairs versus Downstairs’ narrative in terms of both locations and themes. Beautifully filmed, in a property that was actually built for the film, the cinematography makes clever use of glass and windows to mirror characters and reflect identity. Moreover, it has more than a voyeuristic air to it with characters hiding around doorways and stairwells, as well as following, spying and watching each other secretly. It’s a film which Hitchcock would have been proud to have directed too, with many suspenseful and gripping set-pieces throughout.
Ultimately, the first three-quarters of the Parasite (2019) are a cinematic masterpiece, so brilliantly plotted and planned out. When the Kim’s plans are then upended, the film gives way to an unhinged ending as events descend into bloody chaos. However, Bong Joon-ho is so in control of the material he tells us, via Ki-taek, that this careful planning is about to give way to something more messy. Furthermore, the final act while moving and tenderly rendered, I felt, was replete with somewhat poetic narrative holes. But, this is not a criticism as even in the final scenes Joon-ho is inventive while surprising the audience. Although, overall, the biggest shock would come when Parasite (2019) won the best film at the Oscars. I’m still reeling the Academy made such a risky choice!
While I haven’t seen it yet, I was slightly intrigued by the release of Will Smith’s action film, Gemini Man (2019).Any film which examines the nature of the double or doppelganger always interests me. As you may be aware the word doppelganger is of German origin. It means “double walker” or “double goer” and I just love it. I love the way it sounds and the mysterious connotations it conjures up. It kind of sounds evil as well; like nothing good can come of it.
There have been many films, books and television programmes featuring doubles. They can occur for various reasons such as: twins, clones, shape-shifters, split personalities, mental breakdown and ghostly or other fantastical elements. We must not forget time-travel or inter-connected timeline plots either. Different versions of the same character existing simultaneously in alternate or exact timelines are very prevalent in fiction also.
In this occasional ‘Six of the Best’ series, I would like to consider six “double” or doppelganger films which are definitely worth watching. To make it interesting I would like to consider the more symbolic, fantastical and unexplained kind of films out there. I cannot avoid the twin or clone plots in certain examples, but the temporal double stories have, sort of, been explored here in an article about time travel films.
***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***
THE ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)
Having done some online research of films featuring doubles, Sam Raimi’s riotous Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992), is cruelly missed from many of those lists. In this gory and over-the-top medieval horror romp, Ash (Bruce Campbell), finds himself in battle against hordes of Deadites. This is all because he gets a spell wrong and splits in two. He then comes face-to-face with his vicious double, Evil Ash. I hate it when that happens – don’t you! While not the deepest of the films listed here, it’s worth watching because you get TWO Bruce Campbell’s for the price of one!
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991)
The antithesis of the genre joy that is Army of Darkness, can be found in this profound study of identity, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. It concerns two identical women, Weronika and Veronique (both Irene Jacob), who live in Warsaw and Paris, respectively. Aside from one fleeting moment they never meet, but somehow, telepathically, artistically and emotionally, they are connected to each other. A beautiful, yet obtuse narrative, allied with Kieslowski’s poetic style make this a difficult film to understand. However, it contains fine symbolic power and is open to a myriad of interpretations.
Denis Villeneuve’s directs this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s book called The Double or The Duplicated Man. In it Jake Gyllenhaal plays both a college professor, Adam Bell and his exact lookalike, actor, Anthony Claire. Their two lives become entwined and that’s not the weirdest thing about the film. Part Kafkaesque nightmare and part Freudian examination of the subconscious, this film quietly unhinges the viewer with a slow pace and collection of striking visual motifs. Gyllenhaal is as mesmerizing as ever in this existentially challenging urban horror tale.
THE PRESTIGE (2006)
The doppelganger trope is integral to the story here and uses both twins and clones in its compelling thematic and visual system. Yet, these are not revealed until the very end, as the screenwriters Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls within the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets. At the heart of the story we witness the tricks of warring magicians, portrayed by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, and the lengths they will go to amaze an audience. By the end, the film becomes a chilling and fantastic warning about the dangers of obsession and rivalry.
The incredibly talented Jordan Peele delivered one of my favourite films of the year. It did not contain just one (or is it two) doppelganger(s), but a whole family of them. Working in the horror genre is an ideal setting for the “double” thematic, as the fantasy elements coalesce perfectly with the psychological ones. Symbolically the film is very strong. It can be interpreted on many levels, including as a critique of the United States (U.S. = US – get it?); and a powerful exploration of split identities. Indeed, in Us (2019), the lead protagonists battle external and inner demons, both political and personal, which can plague all of us during our lives.
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic psychological thriller is very complex and actually reflects the directors’ obsession with the moulding of an individual to look a certain way. On the surface, the story of a burnt out cop, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) attempting to overcome his fear of heights, while tracking a friend’s wife, is initially quite simple. But in Hitchcock’s and his writer’s hands it become a tour-de-force of mistaken, double and theft of identity. A tragic figure, Scottie Ferguson is exploited and left bereft of love and comfort as he attempts, like Hitchcock himself, to find that perfect, yet elusive, blonde.
Most of us like to be scared and thrilled and made tense, especially if it is in the darkened recesses of the cinema. Because as the adrenaline and stress levels rise we know, at the back of our minds, we’re safe. Nothing can actually harm us because it’s happening on a screen. Yet witnessing characters in danger of harm or death can be an exhilarating and cathartic experience for many. Indeed, as the above quote from Freud suggests watching films of the horror or thriller genres is subconsciously akin to a near-death experience. Facing the reaper from a position of relative safety is part of the thrill of going to the movies.
The thriller genre is one of my favourite types of film and in this piece I would like to draw on elements of psychology, genre and culture theories to examine classic, postmodern and neo-thriller tropes. I also want to investigate some recent cinema offerings which defy certain genre conventions and have what could be described as a subtle less-is-more approach to building suspense and thrilling the audience. For this I will examine three scenes from the work of David Fincher, Denis Villeneuve and Joel and Ethan Coen where, while adhering to thriller genre conventions, they also softly kill us in an arguably more unconventional fashion.
But what draws us toward the darkness of the thriller and, psychologically speaking, why do we enjoy them so much? According to research conducted by Dr Deirdre Johnston in 1995, viewing motivations for watching the horror or thriller genres include: sensation seeking and overcoming fear, whether you’re identifying with the killer or the victim. Moreover, Peter G. Stromberg argues in his piece The Mysteries of Suspense that uncertainty and surprise are powerful tools in the thriller genre. As humans we are uncertain of our mortality and thrillers tap into that innate fear. Also that as social mammals we have the power to experience and feel the fear as characters on a cinema screen do. Lastly, Sheila Kohler opines that a fascination with violence draws us to the thriller genre. While most of us are scared of hurt and pain, by placing violence within the structure and order of a story we both enjoy the sensation of danger while controlling said violence.
These are just a few of the psychological reasons why we are drawn to the thriller genre. Formally and stylistically the thriller also offers a myriad of entertaining devices including: McGuffins (or red-herring), twists, cliff-hangers, flashbacks, flash-forwards, voice-overs etc. Moreover, it also features characteristics like: unreliable narrators, innocents-as-victims, mistaken identity, monstrous villains, revenge, kidnappings, and ticking-time bomb countdowns to name a few. According to James Patterson one of the thrillers enduring characteristic is openness to expansion into subgenres such as: spy, historical, police, medical, religious, tech, and military settings. Essentially, the structural flexibility of the threat of death is far-reaching and the ability to create suspense is very progressive within the thriller genre hence why it has proved popular to audiences and filmmakers alike.
One of the greatest proponents of the thriller was of course Alfred Hitchcock. Often cited as the “Master of Suspense”, Hitchcock is quoted as saying, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” He certainly made us suffer beautifully in all manner of classic films such as: The 39 Steps (1935), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960) and countless others. Aside from Hitchcock’s dazzling skill with form and style his narratives always contained powerful villains or external forces of authority which symbolised death. Thus, while coming close to death throughout Hitchcock’s protagonists more often than not survive while the villain or force perished. Thus, a Hitchcock thriller offers catharsis, which is a Greek term Aristotle used to describe the purging of negative emotions.
Without a shadow of a doubt Hitchcock had an incredible influence of filmmakers throughout film history. Indeed, the term Hitchockian thriller has entered the vocabulary of cinema. His films have influenced great filmmakers like: Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorcese, and arguably most of all thriller expert Brian DePalma. He, in my opinion is a postmodern filmmaker as he uses devices like homage and pastiche within his filmic style, echoing many of Hitchcock’s films in: Obsession (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Body Double (1984). Within DePalma’s ouevre there are also impressive set-pieces lifted from other films such as the Battleship Potemkin (1925)/Odessa Steps homage in The Untouchables (1987). Likewise in the spy thriller Mission Impossible (1996), DePalma’s iconic Langley heist set-piece was done with no dialogue in a major nod to classic French crime thriller Rififi (1955).
What DePalma has in common with Hitchcock too is the use of humour in his films to provide catharsis or pay off suspenseful moments. I liken this to releasing a valve and letting the audience off the hook somewhat. This is seen none more so than in the wildly over-the-top film Body Double (1984), which is a pastiche of both Rear Window and Vertigo (1958). In a particularly suspenseful scene our protagonist is about to be skewered by a pneumatic drill and just on moment of impact the plug from the wall is pulled, thus releasing the threat of death and finding some sick humour in an especially tense moment. Of late, however, I have noticed a movement away from such humour or release-the-valve safety. Where both Hitchcock and DePalma employed the convention of catharsis and overcoming death, recent cinema releases have taken a slightly different approach.
While Hitchcock and DePalma often favoured the highly stylized approach to building suspense it’s interesting to compare their work to some recent films which I feel take a more subtle, yet just as effective, approach. The Coen Brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2007) is such a film. The story is a dark crime narrative involving a tense pursuit across country involving heinous hitman, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). The filmmakers establish Chigurh as a force of nature and create suspense through uncertainty, as he kills both law enforcement officers and the people who hired him.
The most tension-inducing scene is Chigurh favouring a coin toss to decide if someone lives or dies. He uses this method both in a scene with a store clerk and at the end with Kelly McDonald’s character Carla Jean. While, the innocents-as-victim is an often used convention in thrillers, the nature of fate or luck within the scene creates unbearable suspense as Chigurh’s crimes become not motivated by a sense of professionalism, but rather scarily, the flick of a coin. There’s some relief when luck seems to shine on the store clerk but no such fortune for the unfortunate Carla Jean. Even then there is ambiguity as we, like her husband, do not see her die; however it is implicit within the editing and performance that sadly she does.
Arguably, the finest thriller director around at the moment is David Fincher and his film Zodiac (2007) was a detailed analysis of the characters involved in the hunt for the eponymous serial killer. It’s a film full of brutal murders and obsessive characters, notably Jake Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist turned investigator, Robert Graysmith. His character becomes obsessive about discovering who the Zodiac killer is and even loses his family and job in the process. Toward the end of the film, Graysmith interviews Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), a film projectionist, and the suspense is created literally out of nothing. The total absence of a known nemesis creates an unlikely amount of tension, especially allied with the way Fincher shoots in shadows and frames his characters. Graysmith is not seemingly in any danger but his paranoia, claustrophobia and growing sense of unease petrifies him until he is forced to flee. In fact, the thriller genre convention of revealing the murderer is, like in the real-life case of the Zodiac, rejected; thus catharsis is denied to the audience throughout this nail-biting paranoiac thriller classic.
Similarly, in the recent crime thriller Sicario (2015), aside from a the conventional exploding bomb opening, the director Denis Villeneuve uses more subtle techniques to get under the skin of the audience. Often thrillers will have a brutal showdown between our hero and the villain resulting in the nemeses’ death, but at the end of Sicario it is a far more quiet and unnerving scene. Here Emily Blunt’s moralistic Kate Macer realises she has been used to collude the black-ops Cartel murders by CIA-sanctioned assassin Alejandro Gillick (Benecio Del Toro). While Gillick has a gun to Macer’s head the threat is palpable but what makes the filmmaking so striking is it has the confidence to eschew the standard car chase or big fight finale for something so tense and disquieting. The tragedy of humanity here is the realisation for Macer that she will not make a difference in the CIA and the law cannot protect her. Gillick represents as he puts it, “the land of wolves”; thus once again, similar to No Country For Old Men, we as the audience, are given no escape or purging from death as Gillick walks away to continue his morally ambiguous endeavours.
What all these scenes and films provide are a denial of releasing the valve and consequently allaying our fear of death. Moreover, in contravention of the classical thriller model the villains and monsters in these scenes actually get away so while the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian DePalma allow catharsis by generally defeating the bad guy, neo-Hollywood filmmakers like those mentioned above, kill us softly with a creeping nihilism and feeling of dread which remains even after you’ve exited the cinema.
June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:
SCREENWASH FILM AND TV REVIEWS – JUNE 2016
**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV
The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)
The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX
I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display. Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA
Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV
If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight. I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)
GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV
The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX
Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off. Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV
Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA
Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown(1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV
Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time. I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)
“YOU’RE HAVING A BATH” – SOME GREAT MOVIE BATHROOM SCENES
I’m unsure why but I thought it may be fun to look at some classic movie bathroom scenes. Perhaps to take my mind off the horrible conflict in Syria which has escalated now? Perhaps just to remind us how great some of the films on this list are? Anyway, the bathroom is a place where we spend the beginning/middle/end of our day cleansing ourselves or relaxing or having some ME time. It also happens to be a good place hide, fight, murder and haunt people in culminating in some classic scenes of horror, comedy and drama.
(NOTE TO PEDANTS: most of these scenes are exclusive to the actual bathroom but there could be slight toilet crossover!)
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
LES DIABOLIQUES (1955) – HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT
DO NOT WATCH THIS CLIP IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM!! IT GIVES AWAY THE WHOLE END!!
A massive influence on Psycho (1960) this story of murder and betrayal at a boarding school in France is a brilliant and devious thriller. It also has one of the scariest ending of all time!
PSYCHO (1960) – ALFRED HITCHOCK
THAT shower scene! Need I say more!
THE SHINING (1980) – STANLEY KUBRIK
“Here’s Johnny!” Bathrooms and toilets represent danger throughout when Jack encounters a naked nefarious women and the creepy butler earlier in the story. But, after a slow-burning descent into madness Jack Torrance finally cracks with Nicholson on fine maniacal form in this iconic scene from the Kubrik classic!
SCARFACE (1983) – BRIAN DEPALMA
Tony Montana’s rise from “political refugee” to peaky cocaine King is not without its violent troughs. One such scene occurs when he witnesses a colleague ripped apart by a chainsaw. I feel sorry for the cleaner of the apartment block after this wicked sequence.
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) – WES CRAVEN
You’ve had a hard week and you need to soak your bones and a dead serial killer invades your bath-time dreams. You don’t need that do you! Great nod to Jaws (1975) too in this horrific scene.
FULL METAL JACKET (1987) – STANLEY KUBRIK
The disintegration of Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) at the hands of Sgt. Hartman is a grim series featuring physical and mental torture. The episodes are painful and microcosmic in relation to what military life can do to a human being. This tragic latrine scene is memorable and unexpectedly brutal as it culminates in bloody death.
FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) – ADRIAN LYNE
The film that gave us the phrase “bunny boiler” is a taut, scary thriller of the sex, lies and obsession variety. The fantastic scare-ending though is the one that really sticks in the memory as Glenn Close goes mental following harsh rejection by Michael Douglas’ have-your-cake-and-eat-it-cheat.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) – ETHAN AND JOEL COEN
The Coen Brothers classic stoner detective film has many, many classic scenes but I defy any writer to come up with a comedic concept funnier than a character being threatened in a bath by nihilists with a ferret! Pure comedy gold!
WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000) – ROBERT ZEMECKIS
Zemeckis made this film in between shooting of Castaway (2000) while Tom Hanks lost loads of weight and it’s a really decent suspense thriller. Getting drugged by your husband and unable to move is not the kind of date night you imagine will happen. Indeed, never has the creeping fill of a bath been so terrifying!
TRAINING DAY (2001) – ANTOINE FUQUA
At first watch I thought this scene was a bit of a narrative cheat. However, with a shotgun at Ethan Hawke’s head the suspense is palpable and how he escapes is fitting. Because, this clever and ruthless urban Western is about karma and retribution; with Hoyt’s earlier noble actions saving him from certain death.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) – ZACH SNYDER
Before he set about ruining the Superman franchise Zach Snyder made some decent facsimiles of other artists work such as 300 (2006) and this souped-up George Romero remake. The early scenes are the most dramatic because the bloodthirsty zombies are out the traps like Usain Bolt, as Sarah Polley finds when she’s trapped in her bathroom.
CASINO ROYALE (2006) – MARTIN CAMPBELL
This sequence rebooted Bond for the Millennium perfectly as he takes down a hardy spy in the bathroom while confirming his “00” status in the process. It’s a brutal, clinical and a perfect prologue for a great Bond film. The scene is touchingly counterpointed when Bond calms Vesper Lynd down in the shower in an altogether less violent scene later on.
SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2015 – FILM AND TV REVIEW ROUND-UP
Bit late with this one but I have been doing some work for charity; although I prefer not to talk about it. Anyway, I saw shedloads of big and small screen product in September! So, here’s a quick review of some of things I witnessed with marks out of 11.
**HELL YEAH – THERE’S SPOILERS!**
’71 (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
Chase-thriller ’71 centres itself on a British soldier portrayed by Jack O’Connell who on the run in enemy territory finds himself pursued by nefarious parties from both Irish and British sides. It’s a kinetic and suspenseful film, directed with verve and urgency and contains some heart-stopping moments, as well as a fine cast including Sean Harris and Richard Dormer. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BADLAND: A ROAD TO FURY (2014) – BLU-RAY
Called Young Ones in the States this is a real genre oddity as it combines Western and Science-Fiction tropes within a dystopic narrative set in a god-forsaken hellish dustbowl. Michael Shannon is the father and farmer who tries his best to keep his family together in an unforgiving future. This is a very strange film which probably deserves another viewing to make real sense of what’s occurring; good cast though. (6 out of 11)
BLEEDER (1999) – DVD
No one does brutal studies of lowlife like Nicolas Winding Refn. His early Danish films, Bleeder included, are grim character pieces that burst into nihilistic violence. This features four friends who watch films together but whose lives are coming apart at the seams. It’s bloody, depressing but somehow remains compelling and watchable; much like a car crash on the M4. (7 out of 11)
EVEREST (2015) – CINEMA
This is suspenseful mountain disaster film which shows both the folly and bravery of men and women at high altitude. Some of the moments will leave you biting your nails and gasping for breath as the mountaineering team scale the Himalayas. The most impressive aspect is the cast including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more. (7 out of 11)
THE DROP (2014) – NOW TV
Tom Hardy offers another brilliant piece of character work as a Boston barman who works in a mob-owned pub. He finds himself threatened by local scumbag Matthias Schoenaerts over the disputed ownership of a dog. The puppy is very well cast but Hardy and James Gandolfini own the show with a sterling study of masculinity and controlled rage. (8 out of 11)
THE GAMBLER (2014) – BLU RAY
Great dialogue, direction and cast couldn’t stop me from hating the nihilistic lead character played by a miscast and too-nice Mark Wahlberg. He was such a miserable-death-wish cunt that I wanted the gangsters who were chasing him to kill him and save me from having to watch anymore of his irredeemable and depressing loser. (4 out of 11)
GOING CLEAR (2014) – NOW TV
This is an astounding documentary revealing the history, psychology and inner-workings of the Scientology “religion”. It’s an amazing expose with interviews from former members of the cult who having disconnected, found themselves stalked and discredited by the extremely paranoid Scientologists. It is compelling viewing for anyone interested in religion or alleged cults and the financial dealings of the group makes them akin to organised crime syndicate, such is their wealth and violent ways of dealing with “members”. (9 out of 11)
GOMORRAH (2014) – NOW TV
Gomorrah is one of the best TV dramas I’ve seen all year. It is a brutal and violent Italian gangster drama set in Naples and like modern day Roman times but with more plots, blood and murder. It follows the Savastano family and the enemies they face both on the right and wrong side of the law. No one is safe as the series reaches a deathly climax. Gripping stuff and highly recommended! (10 out of 11)
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) – AMAZON PRIME
If I had the choice of removing my genitals with a cheese grater or watching this film again I would choose the grater as this was just laughable. Neither scary or suspenseful it has loud shouting actors who should be shot with high-powered rifles rather than a camera. Basically only for people who like terrible found footage horror films or the mentally ill. (1 out of 11)
LEGEND (2015) – CINEMA
Tom Hardy is phenomenal as the Kray twins. Set in 60s London’s underworld this begins like a smack-bang gangster film before delving deeper into the psychology of mental illness of Ronnie Kray’s wife and his crazed brother, Ronnie. Tonally it gets caught between cartoon humour, glamourizing violence and serious crime drama but recommended for the lead performance. Indeed, Tom Hardy, as in Bronson (2008), humanizes monstrous criminals who probably don’t deserve it. (7.5 out of 11)
THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMEN – BLU RAY
A diabolically pretentious and awful Euro-drama which didn’t know if it was a comedy or gangster or rites of passage or study of grief type movie! Ultimately it tried them all and failed in every aspect! Avoid! (2 out of 11)
PADDINGTON (2014) – BLU RAY
I loved Paddington as a kid and the dulcet tones of Michael Hordern narrated the 2-D animated tales with warmth and charm. The funky film version is an even bigger delight with Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville collaborating beautifully with Paul King’s terrific script and lovely direction. The animation is a joy and the gag-rate incredibly high in a wonderful feel-good family film. (8 out of 11)
RIFIFI (1955) – NETFLIX (RE-WATCH)
This is a classic French crime drama from which involves the robbery of a jewellery store by a gang of ex-cons. It’s memorable for the long-near-silent robbery sequence in the middle act which is full of suspense and hold-your-breath moments. I loved that they humanized the criminals and the characters at the start and the robbery scene is often imitated but never bettered. (8 out of 11)
RUBBER (2011) – AMAZON PRIME
Bizarre horror-comedy which cannot under any circumstances be recommended unless you like fourth-wall-breaking-art-films-about-murderous-tyres-who-explode-birds-and-humans-with-telekinetic-powers. Actually, it’s also a satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think!(8 out of 11)
RUN ALL NIGHT (2015) – DVD
Liam Neeson is a drunken, washed-up mob enforcer who faces a race against time to save his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) and his young family. It’s pretty generic fayre in which a grizzled Neeson can do in his sleep but it has some crunching action, car-chases and shoot-outs which fizz along impressively at a breakneck pace.(7 out of 11)
SALVATION (2014) – SKY MOVIES
Mads Mikkelsen could not save The Necessary Death of Charlie Countrymen but his quiet power is very much to the fore in this colourful revenge Western. He portrays a Danish former soldier whose wife and son are butchered by Jeffery Dean Morgan’s dastardly men, precipitating a path of bloody retribution. (7 out of 11)
THE WOLFPACK (2014) – CINEMA
A very interesting documentary about a huge family of boys and one girl who were kept as virtual prisoners in their own New York high-rise apartment by an alcoholic, bullying and eccentric father. The boys retained their sanity just about as they sought movies as a means to connect with society. The parodies they act out such as Pulp Fiction and Dark Knight were hilarious. But there is much pathos as both the children and Mother are tragic figures too having been “lost” and imprisoned by, quite frankly, a pathetic excuse for a father. (7.5 out of 11)
WHITECHAPEL (2009 – 2012 – Seasons 1-3) – NETFLIX
Started watching this during the quiet times at work and got pretty gripped by the East End murder cases investigated by Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis and Steve Pemberton. It’s a well-made addition to the over-loaded detective genre which by Season 3 had some excellent suspense and drama. I was especially drawn in by Davis and Penry-Jones water-oil relationship and the latter’s OCD. (7 out of 11)
WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD (2015) – AMAZON PRIME
This is a really fun zombie-road-movie-gore-fest which is clearly inspired by Mad Max, Evil Dead, Braindead and George Romero’s oeuvre. Some lovely blood-gushing gore and imaginative machinery on show makes this low budget horror-comedy well worth a rental. (7 out of 11)
On top of the Netflix and documentary purge I watched quite a few films this month. Thus, here for your consideration, are some little reviews with marks out of eleven!
A MOST WANTED MAN (2014) – NETFLIX
One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films and a pretty decent espionage thriller set in Germany. Despite an excellent cast and decent atmosphere I didn’t care much for the characters and it fizzled out for me by the end. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (2014) – BLU RAY
This is a very moving, filmic scrapbook documentary about an absolute musical legend who alas suffered both from mental and physical pain hence why he took his own life. Not sure if it was deliberate but toward the end his Mother and Wife were lit in a very similar way and resembled each other. While it was kind of objective allowing the sounds, videos, photos, recordings, interviews, cuttings and text to tell the story there a subconscious attempt by the director to link these two individuals. I loved the animated stuff which visualized the monologues Cobain recorded during his short life. I highly recommended this to fans of the troubled rock-poet and of course his amazing music. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
CREEP (2014) – NETFLIX
Not the British horror film directed by Christopher Smith ten or so years ago but a found footage film about a videographer who answers an advert to film a diary of weirdo played by the disarmingly dangerous Mark Duplass. I hated this at the start but it grew on me and the subtle horror was very well done and the ending is great. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
ENEMY (2014) – SKY
Doppelganger thriller Enemy is an enigmatic and weird treat full of fantastical images and brooding fear; featuring the ever brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal playing dual roles. His struggling actor and anxious teacher meet by chance and what follows is a mysterious game of cat and mouse. Both startling and unsettling from formidable genre director Denis Villeneuve. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (2014) – NETFLIX
This is one of the worst-middle-class-first-world-problems-monstrosities-of-a-film I have ever seen. I like Simon Pegg but I switched this film off forty-five minutes in. Hector isn’t happy? No one’s happy, Hector! Happiness is an illusion, Hector! Do you have your health, Hector? Your girlfriend is Rosamund Pike, Hector? You have a home and food on the table, Hector? Count your blessings, Hector and piss off!! (Mark: 0 out of 11)
HYENA (2014) – NETFLIX
This is a sturdy and compelling British crime drama with a fantastic lead performance from Peter Ferdinando as a bent copper trying, yet failing, to stay ahead of the dangerous games he’s playing. It’s a brutal and nasty film; very reminiscent in style of Nicolas Winding Refn or Alan Clarke and is mostly gripping but slightly overlong. If you like your drama meaty, earthy and realistic then this is a movie for you. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (2009)
This was a sumptuous and stylish film with one of my favourite actors Mads Mikkelsen portraying composer Igor Stravinsky. I have to admit that I found it pretty boring though in terms of the drama and while it looked great I just did not care about the lives of rich and spoilt artists in 1920s France. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)
THE MAN FROM UNCLE (2015) – CINEMA
Amidst the spy genre pastiche, muscular bromance and triple crosses there’s some cinematic gold enjoyment to be had in watching The Man From Uncle. Guy Ritchie is a very reliable genre director and during some of the set-pieces I actually sensed there’s a proper auteur trying to get out. While I liked Skyfall (2012) and look forward to Spectre (2015) this was reminiscent of the old Bond films from the 1960s as it makes espionage sexy again. Overall, this is an ultra-stylish spy eye candy with a cracking soundtrack. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1920) – BFI CINEMA
Classic formalist documentary from Dziga Vertov is both an extravagant experiment in montage-making plus an intriguing look back at Soviet life post-Revolution. Dismissed as folly at the time of release it is now considered a masterwork, not only as a documentary, but as a film itself. It is humbling and intriguing viewing and makes you realise that the Soviet life is no different to ours as we witness births, marriages, deaths, work, rest and play. It’s a genuine historical and filmic masterpiece. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
MAZE RUNNER (2014) – SKY
This is a surprisingly entertaining addition to the recent raft of teenage-action-hero-in-dystopic-future-world-peril-films. I enjoyed the existential mystery set up in the premise as our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is thrown into a Lord of The Flies land inhabited only by young men, trapped by a massive maze. Plot-wise and action it’s very strong, however, the theme of humanity-accepting-one’s-fate-versus-escaping-while-testing-authority gave the story a richness making it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015) – CINEMA
M: I5 was a blast! Tom Cruise and the IMF team up to their usual breathtaking pyrotechnics! Good to see Sean Harris get a prominent role as he’s a formidable character actor. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – from M:I3 – is easily the best baddie though. I just wish the trailers wouldn’t show virtually ALL the stunts especially HOW Tom did the “hang to the plane” thing. I don’t watch these films for the story – it’s the action. Please leave some for the film next time trailer people! Rebecca Ferguson kicks serious ass and the scene at the Opera is pure Bond and pure cinema of the highest quality. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
NO ONE LIVES (2014) – SKY
A stylish, yet empty exploitation serial-killer flick which would go straight to video if Blockbusters had any stores left. Luke Evans is a handsome actor looking for a decent role since finishing Fast and Furious 6 and The Hobbit trilogy but this isn’t it. The film itself is saved by some extravagant violence and bloodletting but as a story it’s hollow like (Mark: 3 out of 11)
SOUTHPAW (2015) – CINEMA
If you like films about boxing then you’ll love Southpaw: a brutal and quality action-melodrama with another fine performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. The story is very simplistic and structured around a riches-to-rags-to-redemption narrative but I found the soap operatics and bombastic direction a real adrenaline-pumped belt to the senses. Gyllenhaal is ripped, torn and lean like a prime piece of beef as life deals him body blow after blow. Can his on-the-ropes boxer bounce and make a come-back? While somewhat predictable I found Antoine Fuqua’s punchy movie a real knockout! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) – CINEMA
This is a tremendous biopic of seminal hip-hop legends NWA, who came to the fore of world music in the late 1980s. Performances and direction are excellent as Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Wren – AKA NWA – exploded onto the scene like a bomb and delivered anger, power and beats that propelled them straight out of Compton and into the charts! They are a perfect example of sociological, political and cultural forces converging to create a superlative brand and the film perfectly captures the age, the music, the look and the camaraderie of being the group. The film illuminates the spirit of the hip-hop scene and the problems the group had with the law while dramatically portraying the bitter in-fighting over royalties which split the band apart. Goes without saying the soundtrack is brilliant too! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014) – NETFLIX
This starred two of my favourite comedic actors in Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and is a broad parody of romantic comedies with a very high joke-rate. He stars as a corporate confectionary executive and tries to take over her small independent sweet-hearted business and at first they hate each other but then… Yes, they have sex! Pitched somewhere between Naked Gun and Anchorman this is very, very silly but also an absolutely hilarious comedy. Short, sweet, ridiculous and as infectious as diabetes. Is diabetes infectious – oh, who cares! Just watch the movie! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
Watched quite a lot of TV stuff in June including a binge on Hannibal Seasons 1 & 2 plus I have started watching the old school Star Trek series with Shatner and crew so not that many films watched in June. Anyway, here’s my humble little reviews with marks out of ELEVEN! Peace!
**YES – THERE’S SPOILERS!**
THE BABADOOK (2014) – BLU-RAY
Eerie low-budget Aussie chiller which involves a blow-the-spectrum kid and his mother who mentally unravels following the death of her husband. Together they become isolated as outsiders and are left to the mercy of The Babadook; a dark creature from a weird indestructible book. It’s filmed with consummate skill and has a creeping style which gets under the skin. For an hour I was gripped but in the end felt it was somewhat one-paced and lacking a satisfactory gore-frenzied ending I like from my horror. However, the dark symbolism in the piece was highly compelling and the director is one to watch. (7 out of 11)
THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005) – BLU RAY
This one’s a rewatch and on second viewing it remains a complex and humanely ambiguous French drama from one of my favourite directors Jacques Audiard. It’s a loose remake of James Toback’s Fingers (1978) and concerns Thomas (Romain Duris) as an unsympathetic slum landlord who tries to use a mild talent for the piano to try and escape his nefarious job. However, he is delusional and ultimately finds little peace from this pursuit as he is constantly dragged back to violence. It’s an involving character study of a man with family and anger issues and is typical Audiard; holding a mirror up to complex humans and their relationships.(8 out of 11)
CHEAP THRILLS (2013) – NOW TV
This cracking micro-budgeted horror-thriller may be shot on a shoe-string but it’s sharp and nasty as piano wire. The basic premise is a drunken game of “Would You” which escalates way out of hand as two friends meets a decadent drunken couple including Anchorman’s Champ Kind – David Koechner. Mild dares such as: fighting a club bouncer and crapping in the neighbour’s house are just for starters as this darkly comedic gore-fest illustrates the lengths some people will go to for fun or money. This film killed: in a good way and the final image is still burned on my retina. (9 out of 11)
COLD IN JULY (2014) – NOW TV
I love my Southern neo-noir movies. John Dahl and the Coen Brothers made some cracking films a few years ago like Blood Simple (1984) and The Last Seduction (1994) and Cold in July is in that territory as it tells a dark, twisted story as slippery as an eel smeared in grease. Michael C. Hall of Dexter infamy plays an ordinary Joe whose house is invaded by a burglar and having killed said intruder he is then hunted down by the dead man’s career criminal father. This is just the taster as tables are turned and chairs are burnt in a first act full of suspense. The story then diverts into murkier waters as Don Johnson pops up as a charismatic Farmer/Private Investigator!! Jim Mickle is an unsung director of very good lower budget films like vampire-western Stakeland (2010) but this was an even better thriller with a keen sense of mood, doom and unsettling fear. (8 out of 11)
THE CONNECTION (2014) – CINEMA
This solid French police drama starring the handsome Jean Dujardin takes a looks at the team who brought down the biggest heroin dealers in 70s France. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it brilliantly filmed with a brutal, masculine cast crossing and double-crossing each other all for a bit of money and power. I have to admit I was VERY tired watching this so dozed off at one point as the cinema was bloody hot! However, my cinema fail aside it’s certainly one to catch online or DVD rental. Performances from Dujardin as heroic prosecutor Pierre Michel and Gilles Lellouche as his gangster counterpart are worth the admission alone. (7 out of 11).
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) – NOW TV
I positively reviewed this one last year and on second watch it holds up well but certainly loses power on the smaller screen. Still a very entertaining superhero-time-travel film with the X-Men battling the past to resolve future extinction. Still loving the Quicksilver v Fort Knox slow-mo fight scene. Gets me every time. Good solid home-screen entertainment. (7.5 out of 11)
I also reviewed this one last year and it actually works so much better as a put-your-feet-up-in-front-of-the-telly-after-work-actioner. Here the always-reliable movie star Denzel’s portrays a seemingly meek Homebase worker when in fact he is a deadly former CIA shadow able to take bad guys down in a heartbeat. Like a modern-day Robin Hood he kills the bad and rewards the good all in a calm, professional and explosive fashion. Great, if brutal, fun. (7.5 out of 11)
I rewatched the petrifying original before watching the prequel Chapter 3 at the cinema and while not as good as the first the latter had some cracking scares which had my heart in my mouth throughout. I love a decent horror and also enjoy the more fantastical elements present in the Insidious franchise. I know it’s about Astral Travelling and some such nonsense but Leigh Whannell and James Wan crafted a terrifying original complete with horrific demons and ghosts from the other side. The plots basically involve a family being terrorized by ghosties and troubled medium Elise Ranier and her team go into ‘The Further’ to slam the door shut!
Wan is a wonderful genre director who during Insidious uses a box of cinematic tricks to convey terror including: light and shadows; kinetic camera movement; smash cuts; sudden music cues including screeching violins; characters appearing out of nowhere; ghosts hiding in the corners; and many more. It’s not always subtle but damn it works well to get the heart pumping. Writer Whannell directs Insidious: Chapter 3 and makes a good fist of it as old favourites come back from the beyond along with some newer nasties to give you nightmares. (7.5 out of 11)
JURASSIC WORLD (2015) – CINEMA
Jurassic World is loads of fun. The formula that Michael Crichton began in Westworld and continued with the original Jurassic Park is ratcheted up to eleven! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching Dinosaurs wreak havoc on the screen; and the Dinosaurs in this are impressive with the vicious Indominus Rex stealing the thunder. Chris Pratt coasts through all muscles and winks; while Bryce Dallas Howard’s character arc is defined by the reduction of clothing throughout. The joy of cinema is to divert the brain from the real world outside by creating an exciting one on screen. Jurassic World succeeds — despite the paper-thin characters — with impressive chases, scares and one-liners . (7.5 out of 11)
KAJAKI (2014) – BLU RAY
I’m anti-war. But I enjoy war films. For me “blood will have blood” and historically one can blame Kings, Governments and greedy humans for wars. When watching a war film I will look at the humanity on show; the story that is told rather than solely the politics.
Kajaki is a brilliant lower-budget British war film set in the Helmond Province, Afghanistan in 2006 and focuses on the true events which befell a group of soldiers trapped in a historical Russian minefield. The screenplay is impressive as it establishes the characters and longueurs of war before exploding into furious action when the men become locked in a small patch of hellish land. It’s both illuminating and suspenseful as soldiers become prisoners to the past conflict of a land persistently ravaged by conflict.
Indeed, Afghanistan has been invaded more times than a Wild West Saloon whore and STILL there’s no resolution to the fight. Amidst the bloody suspense of Kajaki, however, the bravery, humour and camaraderie on display is something to be in awe of. (9 out of 11)
TWO FACES OF JANUARY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
With Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and rising star Oscar Isaac in the cast I had very high hopes for this Hitchcockian thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s book. But it kind of petered out as a story really after a very gripping start. Still, the cast are good and the sunny setting of 1960s Greece and Turkey is beautiful to look but the main issue was I never felt any empathy for the unlikeable characters and rarely felt like there was much at stake. A mirage of a film: promises much but then you realise there is nothing there. (5 out of 11)