Based on: Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
Produced by: J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro, Bradley Cooper
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, etc.
Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Guillermo Del Toro could probably have had his pick of film stories to choose from after the monumental box office and critical success of the majestic alternative love story, The Shape of Water (2017). But rather than build on the message of love and hope in that creature feature he has chosen to adapt the noir novel, Nightmare Alleyby William Lindsay Gresham. In the process Del Toro has also remade the classic 1947 film of the same name, starring Tyrone Power.
Essentially a $60 million dollar B-movie, the film is one of the most opulently dark and beautifully designed films I have witnessed in some time. Light, shadow, wood, gold, blood, fire, sweat, skin, snow, and night all collide and collude in a stunningly presented palette from Del Toro and lead production designer, Tamara Deverell. This film is a moving painting with inspiration from geniuses such as Picasso, Dali, Matisse and Edward Hopper. While the look of the Nightmare Alley (2021) and cast are a constant wonder, I had a nagging thought while watching the film which made me question who the audience was for this film. Also, there were many story elements which did not gel for me.
Nightmare Alley (2021) opens with fire and death. Drifter Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) then finds himself drawn to the carnival arena. It is full of shadowy characters, oddballs and tricksters, portrayed with dirty glamour by the likes of Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, David Strathairn, plus the more innocent, Rooney Mara. Stanton fits right in and is soon making a name for himself as a mentalist, fooling audiences with carefully rehearsed cues and memory tricks. The first half of the film is its narrative strength. Only after Stanton’s story leaves the carnival his journey twists into something more sinister, but less satisfying.
I enjoyed Del Toro’s stunning visual magic employed in Nightmare Alley (2021). However, while Bradley Cooper has terrific star quality I did not care for his anti-heroic Stanton Carlisle. Cate Blanchett is also alluring as the latter second act enchanter, but ultimately the film lacks real depth. Themes relating to masculinity in crisis, war, psychoanalysis, crime, grief, the afterlife and what it means to be a freak or outsider are there, but only skimmed. I mean the plot has some decent twists, but I did not entirely commit to the downward trajectory of Carlisle’s tale. Overall, as a morality tale Nightmare Alley (2021) is not as frighteningly tragic as it could have been. Carlisle gets what he deserves, and I felt little pity or horror for his end. Unlike another classic noir from some years back, Angel Heart (1987).
Produced by: Sara Murphy, Adam Somner, Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie etc.
Cinematography: Michael Bauman and Paul Thomas Anderson
Edited by Andy Jurgensen
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Any film from Paul Thomas Anderson will certainly receive high critical praise and Licorice Pizza (2021) is certainly no different. Not only do I think this is his most over-rated film. I don’t even think it is a good one. Not for any technical reasons. Because as usual Anderson’s filmic skills as a director, the scintillating cinematographic style, the evocative rendition of early 1970’s Californian suburbs, plus two star-making turns within a formidable cast, ensure Licorice Pizza (2021) is deservedly going to win many plaudits. But I just did not get the story about pretty much nothing and did not connect with the lead romance.
Set in 1973, Licorice Pizza (2021), is part slice-of-life period drama and part character comedy, with a spine consisting of an odd romance between entrepreneurial fifteen-year-old, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and twenty-five-year-old, Alana Kane (Alana Haim). While containing many brilliantly directed scenes, the film is a hot mess of indulgent rooting through Paul Thomas Anderson’s historical research and anecdotal events inspired by real-life film producer, Gary Goetzman.
Being asked to root for a relationship which is dubious on the surface and extremely complex to say the least is not beyond me. But Licorice Pizza (2021) doesn’t address the age difference, aside from a couple of moments in the script. I know Cooper Valentine is an old head on young shoulders, but why Alana doesn’t hang out with people her own age was weird for me. I’m not being politically correct or a prude, but is Anderson asking for us to root for what could end up being statutory rape. Am I over-thinking this? Well, all I can say is it impacted my emotions of a major aspect of the story.
Licorice Pizza‘s (2021) worst crime is it’s virtually plotless and I could not identify with the characters. I liked Gary to a certain extent as he ducks and dives to make a living, but what was at stake? Nothing really. Yeah, I get it is art but I found Anderson’s vision boring. Sure, the actors are great, especially the effervescent Alana Haim. Virtual cameos from Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits failed for me though, with Cooper’s coke-addled and womanising impression of Jon Peters about as funny as an enema. Of course, the cinematography, period design, soundtrack and costumes are exquisitely presented, but they exist in an emotional vacuum. Finally, Licorice Pizza (2021) made me want to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous 1970s masterpiece, Boogie Nights (1997). Now, that film deserved all the critical praise that came its way.
Produced by: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on : DC Comics’ Joker created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Bill Camp, Zazie Beetz, Francis Conroy, Glen Fleshler, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron etc.
Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir
Cinematography: Lawrence Sher
**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****
“Is it just me – or is it getting crazier out there?”
There’s no let up for poor coulrophobes. You wait so long for an evil clown and two come along in quick succession! First Pennywise hits the big screen twice. Now, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix deliver an incendiary cinematic masterpiece, based on DC’s uber-villain, Joker.
With Marvel’s cinematic universe heroically saving the world and making Disney a lot of money in the process, everything was looking a bit bright in the comic book film world. Not anymore, because Joker (2019) brings darkness, chaos, delusions and insanity to the screen. This film doesn’t reflect a safe world full of heroes, but instead illustrates one without them or a shred of hope.
The year is 1981. The place is Gotham. The symbol of this urban disintegration will be downtrodden clown, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Crime and garbage ravage the city and social services budgets are being cut. Arthur struggles with his mental health, his clown work and his unwell mother (Francis Conroy). He attempts to find solace in stand-up comedy, but his psychological problems stretch to uncontrollable laughing fits, making people laugh AT him, as opposed to WITH him. He seeks potential romance with a neighbour, Sophie (Zasie Beetz), but his world begins to collapse when he loses his job and his medication is cut off. Attacked by kids on the street and bankers on the tube, Arthur is forced to fight back. But, violence begets violence, as a new, more dominant persona comes to the fore.
Joker (2019) is a bravura and risk-taking character study charting the downward spiral of both a city on the edge; and an individual losing touch with the real world. Rather than being cared for by the system, Arthur is thrown to the gutter, only to rise up with fire, violence, colour, costume and maniacal chuckling. From the mean streets of Gotham comes not calm, but social unrest and protests; not a hero but a painted villain, dancing and plotting bloody murder.
I have read that there have been complaints that the film trivialises mental health. Well, having experienced a close family member suffer mental breakdown and have a friend commit suicide due to extreme anxiety, I actually think Joker (2019) presents madness in a very truthful way. Mental health is scary, unpredictable, difficult to treat and prone to startling bursts of uncontrollable energy. It’s hard to comprehend what happens in people’s brains to make them act a certain way and this film captures that. The reason the film is scary is because mental health is scary. If it is not treated, then people can harm themselves and others. Therein lies the truth and tragedy of mental illness.
Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely incredible as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Hysterical laughter echoes and haunts the screen. Every cigarette he smokes drags nicotine anxiety into his ravaged lungs. As violent outbursts jolt and as his skinny body dances, I felt a gamut of emotions including: fear, humour, shock and sadness. Fleck’s transformation into Joker is a slow-burn trajectory and masterful acting performance. He tries to avoid violence and confrontation, but it’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He tries to make people laugh, but sadly only ends up hurting them. Joker is an outsider desperate to step inside and be part of society, but, even down to his unknown parentage, he is rejected at every turn.
As well as Phoenix, Todd Phillips deserves much kudos for creating an incredibly dark, but impressive cinematic experience. He is ably assisted by the startling cinematography of Lawrence Sher, who captures that gritty, paranoiac and urban look perfectly. Much praise also to Hildur Guðnadóttir, who, for me, has orchestrated the musical score of the year. Lastly, the genius of marrying cinematic classics like Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), with a DC comic-book super-villain is an absolute masterstroke. Indeed,Joker (2019), is one of the most memorable and compelling films of 2019. Why so serious? Watch it and discover for yourself.
Screenplay: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Based on The Avengers by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin and many, many more.
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt
Production Company: Marvel Studios
**RELATIVELY SPOILER FREE REVIEW**
So, we are finally here; assembled and ready to experience the last battle in this particular phase of Marvel films. Twenty-two movies released over an eleven year period now culminate in the adroitly named: Avengers: Endgame. While they may have all the money in the multiverse backing their superhero endeavours, Marvel deserve much credit for releasing so many great films within the eleven year cycle. Yes, of course many have followed a tried and tested genre formula, however, their legion of production staff, producers, directors, writers and actors did whatever it took to entertain the public.
This final film was set up perfectly by what preceded. I mean, the dust had not even settled at the end of Infinity War, and I, along with many others, were agog at the crushing defeat suffered by our heroes and Earth, at the click of Thanos’ finger and thumb. Thanos had achieved the impossible and obtained the six soul stones and eradicated fifty per cent of the population. This tragic genocide included many of the Avengers we had grown to root for and Endgame begins where its predecessor finished. Here we find a depleted and dejected Avengers team on Earth and a barely surviving Tony Stark in space facing the abyss. Collectively they are hurting, grieving and feeling vengeful.
The sombre and angry tone to the opening of the film was something I was drawn to. Emotionally it made sense to, within the first hour, colour the film with a slower, mournful pace and darker mood. This is encapsulated in the character of Hawkeye, who is using his special set of skills for destructive and nihilistic purposes. Similarly, Thor is twisted into a self-pitying anti-god; and this plays out with both surprise and humour. Of course, the remaining Avengers are not going to lie down for three hours in a reflective study of sorrow. Because, they want their friends and the population of Earth back; and they will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal.
The middle part of the film is where the narrative really gathers pace. Once Stark, Bruce Banner and Scott Lang/Ant Man discover a means with which to somehow alter the tragic events, we are thrown into many imaginative and entertaining set-pieces. I was so pleased Paul Rudd was back as Ant-Man in a key role. He is such a likeable and funny actor who always brings sharp comedy timing and warmth to his roles. Further, like Lang, Karen Gillen as Nebula, while seemingly a secondary character, plays an important role in Endgame. In more ways than one Nebula becomes a vital cog in the intricate and multi-stranded plotting.
The various Avengers including the aforementioned and: Black Widow, Captain America, War Machine and Rocket etc. all splinter to different places in order to achieve their mission. Here the film really finds a perfect pace and stride, delivering a series of brilliant action scenes. Indeed, Endgame is full of brilliant cross-cutting call-backs to the previous Marvel films; presenting a multitude of ‘Easter Egg’ or inter-textual moments.
Safe to say the action unfurls rapidly but the writers also have the confidence to slow the pace and allow several key emotional moments for certain characters. But, mostly there is action and fighting and humour and just so many memorable moments of a light and dark tone. My personal favourite was during Captain America’s mission; this plot strand just sang and hit so many high notes.
I am striving hard to avoid spoilers here, so all I can add is that the Marvel production team deserve so much credit for bringing this multi-stranded story home in such a thrilling fashion. I just loved the direction they took it in regard to the temporal, spatial and universal narrative choices. They assembled, pushed and pulled the formula in certain ways which surprised and kept the characters vibrant and fresh. The tonal balance was positive and only ever slightly threatened to slip into parody; mostly with Chris Hemsworth’s depressed rendition of Thor. My only gripe was I felt Brie Larson’s effervescent Captain Marvel was sadly under-used.
Unsurprisingly, the final gigantic battle sequences were expected but still delivered on a massive scale. Thanos is, and was, a mighty enemy and the last war against him and his hordes were full of epic surprise, pulsating action and heartfelt emotion. Undeniably, it was a most spectacular and moving climax. Thus, overall, I am actually shocked at how much I enjoyed a bunch of superheroes made of computer pixels larking about on a big screen. Maybe, however, given the time, money and energy spent over the last eleven years by the filmmakers and audience alike, it was, like Thanos, inevitable!
A STAR IS BORN (2018): OSCAR BINGO AND FILM REVIEW
Directed by: Bradley Cooper
Produced by: Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Lynette Howell Taylor
Screenplay by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Based on: A Star Is Born by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
When a star is born others will die. Some will fade. Some will collapse. Some will burn bright like the sun before vanishing. That is the cycle of life and the narrative of this standard film classic. Yet, if you’re going to cover an old traditional then you’ve got to be confident you’re going to do it justice. It could be considered an easy track to lay down by replicating a story done three times before, however, if you get it wrong and play a bum note then you’ve ruined the song. Safe to say that writer, director and star Bradley Cooper has thrown his heart and soul into this story and with on-screen partner Lady Gaga, and an incredible production team, they’ve collectively knocked it out of the park. For this review I’d like to play a bit of Oscar bingo and consider the merits of the film along with the players award chances.
BEST FILM CHANCES: 8 out of 10
This is a film about dreams: living, broken and dying dreams. It’s a beautifully timeless tale of two people who fall in love but their trajectories veer in opposite directions. Bradley Cooper is Jackson Maine: a successful rock star still selling out stadiums and seemingly with everything positive on the outside. Inside though he’s crumbling; he suffers from tinnitus, alcoholism and the inner demons of a broken family past that drugs, booze, music and his long-suffering brother, portrayed by the excellent Sam Elliott, cannot block out. When a chance meeting with a bar singer occurs, sparks fly with Ally, as she suddenly brings a burst of light and hope into his life. While she is insecure off-stage she nails it on-stage; not surprising as she is portrayed by pop mega-star Lady Gaga. The two fall in love but the path of romance, while powerful on and off stage for a while, ultimately struggles with both his addiction and Ally’s subsequent pop success. Given the familiarity of the story the ‘Best Film’ chances could be slightly hampered in regard to originality. But overall it has the feel of both an epic and powerful love story combined with some tragically intimate moments that will make it one of the front runners when the nominations come out.
BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES: 7 out of 10
While this is his is directorial debut, Bradley Cooper has infused the story with an energy, immediacy and intimacy akin to that of a veteran filmmaker. The on-stage scenes put you at the heart of the gigs, while his sterling performance and that of Lady Gaga’s absolutely soar. There is a core reliability of emotion in so many memorable scenes, from the humour of Ally’s father and his chauffeur circle of friends, to the happy times of Ally and Jackson in love, and the more tempestuous boozy periods. Cooper’s helming is consistent and it is clearly a labour of love as he successfully melds romance, tragedy and backstage musical in an impressively directed story.
BEST ACTRESS CHANCES: 9 out of 10
Lady Gaga is a ridiculous name but it’s hard to forget. While not a massive fan of her pop persona she has released a plethora of songs catchier that the bubonic plague. I had only seen her acting before in a couple of things, notably American Horror Story: Hotel, but due to the hysterical style of that gruesome anthology it’s difficult to tell if she had much range. However, as the working class Ally, she infuses the character with a bright-eyed innocence and fiery passion that wins you over immediately. Her and Cooper’s chemistry is tremendous and very believable and those eyes; they just made me melt at times. Oh, and of course THAT voice. What a voice and what amazing interpretations of so many great songs. Lady Gaga will go very close to the Best Actress Oscar in my mind.
BEST ACTOR CHANCES: 7 out of 10
Cooper directs himself very well and his quietly impactful performance both on and off stage really got me in the heart. The pathos and emotion he conveys in charting the collapse of a man crumbling from the inside out is very powerful. Cooper reminded me of a younger Jeff Bridges and indeed, Sam Elliott with his performance encapsulating a talented and pained artist who is never happier than when on stage. Off stage the demons are still there haunting him emotionally and physically. Being harsh, one could say the familiarity of the character – a grizzled alcoholic musician battling addiction – could go against his Oscar chances, but Cooper’s performance remains one of nuance and empathy.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: 8 out of 10
There are a couple of serious contenders here with Andrew Dice Clay giving a sly comedic turn as Ally’s protective father. Moreover, there’s the battle-born gravitas of Sam Elliott as Jackson’s long suffering road manager and brother. The scene where he puts his drunken brother to bed in order to stops him choking on his own vomit, protecting yet also reviled by this broken man, impacts greatly. Elliott just nails his role and the film could have benefitted even more from his presence throughout. Nonetheless, he steals those scenes he does inhabit and will certainly get nominated.
BEST SONG CHANCES: 10 out of 10
Shallow will win the Best Oscar no doubt. When introduced acapella by Lady Gaga you only get a suggestion of its’ power. However, when she launches into it on stage it is an absolutely memorable and stand-out musical moment. The music throughout is linked powerfully to the emotion of the characters from Jason Isbell’s composition Maybe It’s Time to the final heartfelt song, I’ll Never Love Again, sang beautifully by Lady Gaga. Even the sly satirical digs at the soulless pop that Ally sings are done with skill. The juxtaposition of their plasticity versus the realness of the rock music delivered by Ally and Jackson creates another layer of musical depth in a consistently brilliant soundtrack.
A Star Is Born (2018) is a great cinematic experience with every person involved in the production at the top of their game. The story is familiar but the performances, characterisation, direction and the songs all combine to create a very emotional and human journey. I’m not the greatest fan of musicals but this one had me hooked from start to finish and is a fine example of classic Hollywood genre storytelling at its best.
A bumper month of viewing this month incorporating some fine films I saw at the London Film Festival plus some bloody good televisual catch-ups as well. As usual my marks are – in tribute to Spinal Tap – out of eleven!
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) – BLU RAY
Modern warfare biopic directed by Clint Eastwood about Chris Kyle; an American sniper who had the most recorded kills in U.S. military history. It was a box office smash and Bradley Cooper is excellent as are the kinetic direction of the war scenes. Politically I felt uneasy rooting for a hired killer and I also felt more could have been done to show the downside of coming home from war. Ultimately though this is solid masculine filmmaking for all you John Wayne fans out there. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015) – NETFLIX/CINEMA/LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
This is a stunning drama which leaves you battered and burnt emotionally. It’s about a civil war in Africa and the child soldiers whom are ripped from their families and made to fight for despotic mad men. Don’t watch if you are easily upset because Cary Fukanaga’s film is a terrifying journey into the heart of darkness. A career-best performance from Idris Elba and phenomenal acting debut from Abraham Attah, as Agu, make this a stunning film. I saw it at the London Film Festival but it is freely available to watch on Netflix. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1959) – BLU RAY
This heart-breaking film — with brilliant performances from Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon — shows the power alcohol has as it systematically shakes you like a rabid dog until one’s soul is hollowed out. The story shows a couple succumbing to the demon drink after which their relationship is torn apart. It’s also demonstrates the power of AA in aiding treatment for recovery. Incredible performances, script and score make it an American classic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DHEEPAN (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Superb filmmaker Jacques Audiard strikes cinema gold again with this brilliant character study about immigrants in France, attempting to forge a life in the crime-ridden estates of Paris. What starts as a humane tale of survival crosses over into explosive thriller territory by the end. There is so much empathy to be felt for Dheepan and his fake “wife’s” struggle that while their journey is small-scale it feels epic from an emotional standpoint. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014) – NOW TV
Saw some negative reviews for this silly comedy sequel but I found it just as dumb, moronic and hilarious as the original. It’s a twenty-years-later-retread of the same jokes from the first as we find Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels older but just as fun and funnerer.(Mark: 7 out of 11)
EVOLUTION (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Some wonderful and evocative imagery and cinematography relating to birth and death could not save this French- arthouse-film-poem from being a pretentious and repetitive bore. (Mark: 4 out of 11)
FARGO (2014) – NETFLIX
I just caught up with first season TV show of FARGO and really enjoyed it. If you’re a Coen Brothers’ fan you’ll love it because it’s like a “greatest hits” package full of their characters, plots, themes, dumb criminals, nice cops and references to their whole back catalogue. I loved Billy Bob Thornton’s evil emulation of Anton Chigurh and good to see Martin Freeman play a “not-so” good guy. Even Glen Howerton pops up filtering Pitt’s dumb fitness trainer from Burn After Reading. I think Allison Tolman steals the show with a fine, nuanced performance though. It’s dark, bloody, suspenseful and kinda funny looking! (Mark: 9 out of 11)
GET ON UP (2014) – NOW TV
The time-hopping structure didn’t necessarily help this biopic of James ‘Godfather of Soul’ Brown but the funky music, editing and performance of Chadwick Boseman as Brown are a joy. Growing up a pauper the resilient and determined Brown became a musical great and must be recognised as a genius. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE GUNMAN (2014) – BLU RAY
Sean Penn does a Liam Neeson and wraps his acting chops round some fisticuffs and firepower as he missions round the world dealing with post-traumatic migraines and capitalist pig war-mongerers. It’s a decent DVD rental watch and has some fun shootouts and action. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
HONEYMOON (2013) – NOW TV
This is an indifferent no-budget horror movie with decent cast, including Rose Leslie, about newlyweds having a nightmare honeymoon. Starts well and has some suspenseful moments but lacks a decent pay-off. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2015) – NOW TV
Very entertaining comedy sequel in which the cast including: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz and Kevin Spacey have a lot of fun fighting each other in a worker versus bosses plot. The highlight once again is Jennifer Aniston’s filthy-sex-addicted dentist who steals the show with her depraved and hilarious ways. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE JUDGE (2014) – NOW TV
Kind of made-for-TV-pilot-script is elevated in quality by the castings of Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio and Robert Downey Jnr as a family torn apart by a murder trial. Downey Jnr and Duvall are excellent as the warring Judge/Father and Lawyer/Son who must join forces and attempt to repair their differences while Duvall faces a murder charge. Slightly longer than needed this is decent legal drama with fine performances. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
MACBETH (2015) – CINEMA
The “Scottish Play” gets a gothic and atmospheric treatment from Justin Kurtzel with the majestic Michael Fassbender as the doomed laird. Macbeth and his Lady – ethereal Marion Cotillard – plot and cook up a whole heap of revenge, regret and retribution on the misty Highlands. It’s heavy on mood and pain and panoramic landscapes as the tears of war and greed for power resonate heavily within the wonderful Shakespearean story and dialogue. Powerful stuff. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE MARTIAN (2015) – CINEMA
Ridley Scott is back on form with this terrific science fiction epic starring Matt Damon as Robinson Crusoe on Mars. A fantastic ensemble cast including Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Benedict Wong and Kate Mara all combine to try and get Mark Watney back to Earth. Reminiscent of Castaway (2000) we find time running out for the lone Botanist forced to grow food out of human manure. Damon is a charming lead and we root for his hero in a dramatic and humorous space opera. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
MISS MEADOWS (2014) – NOW TV
This is an odd but not-too-bad indie film starring Katie Holmes as a Miss-Prim-and-Proper-vigilante who murders scumbags with a butter-wouldn’t-melt attitude. More of a sketch or short film idea rather than a feature it’s still darkly diverting if you like your comedy deadly. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
OBSERVANCE (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Creepy voyeuristic and Kafkaesque horror-thriller doesn’t make much sense but has enough creepy moments to keep you interested. Probably would have made a better short film but kudos to the Aussie filmmakers for getting this no-budget movie together. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
RIPPER STREET – SEASONS 2 & 3 – AMAZON PRIME
Just caught up to date with Season 2 and 3’s BBC/Amazon Prime’s TV show RIPPER STREET. This is a great ‘historical’ period detective show. The usual genre stuff of solving crimes is accompanied by some lovely faux-Victorian dialogue, colourful costumes, great characters and evil plotting. Downtown Abbey can go f*ck itself. This is my kind of period drama; bloody and brilliant! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SICURIO (2015) – CINEMA
After the brilliance of Denis Villeneuve’s directorial releases Prisoners (2013) and Enemy (2013) my expectations were really high for this DEA/Cartel crime-based thriller starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin. While it’s high on suspense, great cast and atmosphere it fails to catch fire dramatically, leaving one thirsty for more heart-in-your-mouth moments such as the brilliant opening sequence. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
SUFFRAGETTE – CINEMA (LFF GALA)
This is a cracking drama which has fine direction by Sarah Gavron with a simple, yet effective screenplay by Abi Morgan. Carey Mulligan is the brave workhouse heroine who decides to make a stand against the inequality around her; for that she is arrested and beaten and castigated by the men and establishment. Her story is heart-breaking and touching and stands a fine testament to the brave women who fought for the right to vote. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SURVEILLANCE (2013) – NOW TV
Jennifer “Daughter of David” Lynch delivers a nasty and weird little psycho-horror which stars Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman as FBI Agents tracking down nefarious killers on the road. Suspenseful and dark I thought it was pretty good with some decent kills and suspense. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
UNBROKEN (2014) – NOW TV
With Suffragette, Get on Up, American Sniper and The Walk it was a month for biopics and Unbroken follows this trend. It charts the brave exploits of Olympian and war-hero Louis Zamperini played with formidable zeal by Jack O’Connell. It’s an absorbing tale of survival that’s solidly directed by Angelina Jolie. It’s a simple old fashioned story told with broad strokes that, while short on characterisation, would make a good rental on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE WALK (2015) – CINEMA
If you’ve seen the Man on Wire documentary about the mad French bloke walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 1970s then you pretty much know the story here. However, Joseph Gordon Levitt is charming as the Parisian lunatic and film genius Robert Zemeckis carves out a bravura range of set-pieces based around a final act heist. Overall this is an entertaining, if slight, biopic of a dare-devil mad-man which is not recommended for those with vertigo. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
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)
SPECTRE (2015) is out in UK cinemas soon and I’m anything but original so I’ve listed my 7even favourite Bond films. Selections are in alpha-male order!
CASINO ROYALE (2006)
I can watch this film over and over again. Daniel Craig’s debut is a lean-mean fighting machine in a movie which begins with a quick stylish black and white opening and then moves onto his pursuit of cold-blooded banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Mikkelsen steals the acting plaudits from Craig as the reptilian poker player while Eva Green is a great foil too. In fact, Vesper Lynd is my favourite female Bond lead. Her character is no pushover and more than matches Bond verbally during their first meeting. Later in the story she saves his life and breaks his heart adding an emotional depth to their relationship. The gambling, double-crosses, parkouring, humour, hand-to-hand combat and explosive action all combine to make this a 007 classic.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
Dr No (1962) established all the classic Bond tropes including: memorable opening guitar riff; iconic gun barrel scene; glamorous women and locations; spy plots; action and stunts; megalomaniac villains and henchmen and women. Indeed, From Russia With Love had TWO great baddies in Red Grant (Robert Shaw) and Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya). Klebb was a nasty piece of work while peroxide-blonde Robert Shaw was a muscular adversary for Bond and their claustrophobic fight on the train was brutal and full of suspense. Sean Connery really nailed the role of Bond as he did in the debut film. He sails through a complex plot dispatching enemy agents with unruffled hair, an insouciant glare and meaty hooks, as evil crime syndicate SPECTRE are foiled by Bond with formidable style and power.
Pierce Brosnan is a very good Bond. He’s very much like IKEA; reliable, spacious, sort-of-attractive and open on Sundays. His debut effort is his best and has him going up against a dastardly double-agent and series of Russians hell-bent on starting World War III. The spectacular bungee-stunt opening is awesome and Famke Janssen is brilliant as thigh-crushing nemesis Xenia Onatopp, while Alan Cumming provides some laughs as a cowardly computer nerd. Of course, however, it’s the action that rules including self-destructing trains, stealth helicopters and Bond smashing a tank through KGB military headquarters in St Petersburg. What’s NOT to love about that?!
Everything about Goldfinger is first rate. The cat-and-mouse plot twists between Bond and Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) who do battle over cards, golf and then during the devilish Fort Knox heist. It also features a cracking villain in Odd-Job who uses a murderous, metal hat to vanquish foes and a great Bond girl in the cheekily-named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Last but not least we have one of the most iconic deaths of any character with Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) being suffocated by pure gold for her treachery.
Moreover, while there was an element of gadgetry in prior Bond movies such as flick-knife shoes, in Goldfinger the ingeniously designed Aston Martin was a school-boy’s wet dream. The car was pimped up with: ejector seat; bladed wheels; revolving number plates and missiles and became an iconic toy to own. Such awesome technology and the deathly gas and the lasers which almost kill Bond would become the kind of staple devices used throughout the franchise. Indeed, ‘Q’ played by Dennis Llewellyn would feature in nearly all the Bond films right through to the Brosnan era. Finally, this definitely has the GREATEST Bond theme song EVER! Probably!
LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)
It was a toss-up between this and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) for my favourite Moore instalment. While his final films were a stain on the franchise where he was out-acted by his wig Moore provided a twinkle and humour to the role as well as those saintly looks. In Live and Let Die he comes up against the ridiculously named Mr Big and the film invokes the Blaxploitation archetypes and clichés of the day. Interestingly, Clint Eastwood was approached as a possible Bond before Moore got the role and Eastwood’s persona would certainly have matched the Harlem and New Orleans settings. I found Jane Seymour very intriguing as the “white witch” Solitaire and the voodoo and tarot themes lent themselves well to the drama. Live and Let Die has a cracking theme tune from Wings and is a fast-paced delight; with a move away from spy-games to more of a 70s-cop-show-crime-thriller-with-jokes-vibe.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)
Dalton was an under-rated Bond; a tough, serious man more akin to the Fleming vision. He only did two films but this is still one of my favourite stories as it feels like a proper thriller rather than a series of set-pieces and chases which, by-the-way, I don’t mind too. A globe-trotting Bond, as usual, smashes round the world to places such as Bratislava, Vienna and Afghanistan tracking blonde cellists, assassins, Soviet defectors, KGB villains and the general air of cold war espionage stuff make this a formidable story. It also has a great pop theme song from A-Ha and the poster is a genuine classic. Many of the recent Bond posters have been subdued and monochromatic but this one just bursts with fireworks and colour; much like the movie itself.
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)
George Lazenby was the David Moyes of the Bond series inasmuch as he had an impossible job following an icon. He’s as wooden as a park bench but his physicality proves formidable in the hand-to-hand combat scenes and O.H.M.S.S is a cracking film with some great drama and a tragic romance. The opening sequence is full of smashing action and ended with a knowing one liner: “This never happened to the other guy!” Telly Savalas is a decent enough Blofeld but Peter Hunt and his directorial units steal the show with some wonderful chases especially in the snowy landscapes of Switzerland. It memorably has TWO theme tunes plus THAT ending where Bond suffers heartache; an especially brave scene to include in a populist franchise.
Movie stars are usually the Kings and Queens of a film! They propel the narrative and guarantee bums on seats when a film opens. They also create expectation and word of mouth buzz thus studios have invested heavily over the decades in icons such as: Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, James Cagney, Mel Gibson to name but a few.
I love movie star driven cinema, however, I’m also a big fan of the ensemble casts seen in genre films such as: comic book epics, crime thrillers, war films and Westerns. What an ensemble cast offers is a diverse set of characters and actors bouncing off one another to powerful effect. Most recently the mountain disaster film Everest (2015) had fine actors including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more. Thus, just for the hell of it I’ve picked out some of my favourite films which contained not just one big star but lots of fine actors who all combined to make a fantastic movie experience.
12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet. The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber. It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)
Joss Whedon’s Marvel behemoth broke all kinds of box office records across the world! It’s a humdinger of a movie with a cracking cast that included: Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and many more! In fact, I’m surprised the set didn’t collapse under the weight of all the egos in front of camera.
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
It’s cameo cast central in Wes Anderson’s fast-paced eccentric comedy with Ralph Fiennes leading the line-up with a terrific central performance. Also, tagging along for the quirky and colourful ride are such acting luminaries as: F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Blink and you’ll probably miss some of them!
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller features a dream cast. Or does it! Yes – it does! It’s a Hollywood pot-pourri of movie stars such as Leonard DiCaprio, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, star-in-the-making Tom Hardy, veteran character actors like Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and feisty starlet Ellen Page.
LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)
While the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey have gone up and down in various measures recently this brilliant crime film found them on the rise up the Hollywood ladder. Here they play a trio of very different detectives investigating movie lookalikes, murder and police corruption in Los Angeles. Throw in the likes of Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Danny Devito and you have a cast to literally die for.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)
The cast of this classic Seven Samurai remake is remarkable as in, aside from Yul Brynner, they were all pretty much unknown at time of filming. So, kudos to the casting team who recruited such a charismatic troupe including: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn; who would all become stars in their own right.
Not a large ensemble cast but a brilliant one nonetheless. In Mike Leigh’s quintessentially British council estate film we get three young British stars in Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels plus Alfred Molina and Pam Ferris too. Each character drowns in depression, awash in concrete, unemployment and the stench of piss-stinking lifts and cigarette-stained wallpaper. This is a sad, funny, low-budget 1980s kitchen-sink classic.
Tarantino, of course, is not only about the cracking dialogue and violence and homages to other movie styles and genre but he also knows how to cast a movie. He rarely has a big film star at the helm of his films but rather relies on a mixture of known stars in supporting roles, character actors, plus fading or B-movie journeymen. Often, actors are cast on ability and suitability rather than saleability such as Pam Grier and Christophe Waltz. His keen casting eye gave us a wonderful Samuel L. Jackson – up until then limited to mainly supporting roles – and also relaunched John Travolta’s flagging career in the imperious ensemble crime film Pulp Fiction.
This spy thriller contains a “Who’s-Who” of British acting talent. We have Commissioner Gordon, Bane, Sherlock Holmes, King George VI, Doctor Who, Truman Capote and even Trigger from Only Fools and Horses acting in between the shadows of murky British Intelligence espionage. It’s a tricky watch as the director goes for atmosphere over exposition but the sheer style and quality of the performances ensure espionage has never been so intriguing.
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)