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SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – MAY 2015

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – MAY 2015

I didn’t watch that many movies in May as I have been theming my viewing to British TV productions, so it was quality rather than quantity this month and with a big Antipodean feel.

As usual Marks out of Eleven follow the little review.

***MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD***

BLACK SEA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE

Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Scoot McNairy, Michael Smiley and a motley crew of Russians go down into the deep, dark recesses of the black ocean in search of Nazi gold.  This effective B-movie is essentially The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) set underwater. The cast are excellent plus there are some thrilling and suspenseful scenes as greed and nationalist rivalry poisons the water amidst a series of disasters which strike the crew. This is perfect viewing for a damp Tuesday evening while eating pizza and drinking a beer.  (Mark:  7/11)

CLOUDS OF SIL MARIA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE

This is the kind of intellectual-artsy-actor-fest that middle-class viewers and critics wank themselves lyrical about in the broadsheet press and online.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the triptych of performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moritz and the filmmaker Olivier Assayas tackles some interesting themes about identity, modern culture, death, aging, and the nature of performance. However, it’s pretty one-paced and has a head-scratching Bunuelian turn at the end of the second act which made no sense; I imagine that was the point.  I didn’t even care enough to be perplexed as it just washed over me on the main with neither enough drama or comedy to get my teeth into. Some beautiful vistas and scenery though.  (Mark:  6.5/11)

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015) – CINEMA

Apart from the moron-head who decided to eat crisps really loudly in the seat near me during the opening 10 minutes, I really enjoyed this wonderfully shot romantic drama from impressive filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg.  Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel it stars Carey Mulligan as the fiercely independent Bathsheba who goes against the social tide of the time and attempts to run a successful farm despite the backward sexual politics.

This is a romantic period drama that even blokes can enjoy as the subject matter eschews the fluffery of Jane Austen for the harsher side of rural life.  It’s Thomas Hardy-light with a brisk 120 minutes run through the narrative as Bathsheba is courted by three men of varying social standing and characterisation.  Performances are top notch, notably from Michael Sheen as the pained William Boldwood and ever-sparkling Carey  Mulligan. Matthias Schoenaerts, a striking Belgian actor, is also outstanding as the sturdy Gabriel Oak.   (Mark:  8/11)

GALLIPOLI (1981) – BFI – CINEMA

I grew up watching this film; usually on a Sunday evening on BBC2 and when I saw it was screening at the BFI I jumped at the chance to watch it. It is a heart-wrenching World War One story concerning the Western Australian men who left their families to fight against the Turkish army during the brutal conflict.  It follows two lads portrayed by Mark Lee and cusp-of-stardom Mel Gibson who at first are rival sprinters and then brothers-in-arms as they venture overseas to fight.

The screenplay is sinewy and powerful yet with much humour,  as it builds their friendship from the outback to the trenches culminating in a truly tragic final reel. Peter Weir announced further his credentials as a filmmaker of high quality and the cinematography by Russell Boyd is a wonder.  I also loved the use of music here which employs both modern synthesized pieces from Jean-Michel Jarre and marries it to more classical compositions by Strauss and Giazotto/Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor.  This is up there with my favourite Anti-War films of all time; majestic cinema at its peak. (Mark:  11/11)

MAD MAX (1979)/MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981) – NOW TV

I watched these kinda back-to-back with my teenage son and despite their age and low budgets both films stand up to further viewings.   In fact, George Miller’s seminal violent-explosive-car-chase-revenge-punk-urban-westerns are best watched as a double bill.

In the first film Max is a hardened road cop who wants out so he can be with his young family.  The roads have become a deadly place full of psychotic punks and sociopathic maniacs who rail against society without cause or reason.  When Max is left a shell-of-a-man he goes after the gangs which done him wrong with rage-in-his-eyes and hell in his soul.  This is an awesome film with more imagination, energy and pace than most bigger-budget blockbusters.

With Max’s character established so well the second film Miller throws an Apocalyptic curveball into the mix as we find future Max — a lone road warrior (aside from his Dog) — fighting even crazier road punks over ever-decreasing amounts of petrol.  Mel Gibson really shines as the amoral leather-bound-petrol-head who gets dragged into the outback carmegeddon between a group of settlers and baddies led by the helmeted Lord Humungus.  This film rocks big-time and is one of the greatest action-come-road movies ever and one which confirmed Gibson as a major movie star of the 80s! (Double-bill Mark:  10/11)

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) – CINEMA

Tom Hardy takes on the iconic Max Rockatansky role in this revved-up-mega-budget-future-shooting-guitar-flame-throwing-blood-draining-crash-smash-and-burn epic.  Haunted by past failure Max drives round the wasteland trying to survive. Suddenly he’s whisked away to be a mobile blood-bank at The Citadel and used to keep the cancerous War Boys alive with his pure blood. Enter Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa who is on a mission of her own to protect those she cares for from nefarious Immortan Joe; the Citadel Overlord!

There isn’t really any plot to speak of on the Fury Road but what you get is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore and some incredible stunts in a barren yet beautiful desert setting.  Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema. One may argue that it is style-over-substance but the style IS the substance. The concepts on show such as the flame-throwing guitar; moving blood-banks; mud-people on stilts; assorted pimped-up cars and souped-up weapons are what impresses. As such George Miller proves himself a visionary filmmaker who owns the post-apocalypse on screen making it a terrifying and stunning experience.
(Mark: 9.5/11)

MR TURNER (2014) – BLU RAY

I love Mike Leigh films.  Most of them anyway.  His unique slice-of-life style is quietly confident and steady and even if not much is happening one is often awestruck by colour, mood, composition, character and performance in his work.  Indeed, Timothy Spall is on terrifically grouchy form as celebrated painter J. M. W. Turner and the supporting cast is equally brilliant.

I was mesmerized by the film’s composition and the glacial pace worked in the films’ favour as Leigh paints (sorry) an honest picture of Turner’s later years, artistic process and his relationships.  I was surprised that the old dog was quite a philanderer but then again I didn’t know much about Turner if I’m honest.  This is like walking round a beautiful-looking moving gallery and just breathing in the genius of Turner, Spall and Leigh.  (Mark:  8/11)

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – BLU RAY

For my full review see here: https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/?s=nightcrawler

But to recap: this is a sensational pitch black character piece that allies a powerful script with violent social satire; all glued together by an Oscar-worthy lead performance from the ever-excellent actor Jake Gyllenthaal.   Indeed, he should have got AT LEAST a nomination for his performance as news-media-ladder-crawler sociopathic Lou Bloom.  On re-watch this film is just as powerful and I was in awe of the incredible script, great acting, cutting direction and black humour throughout.  Highly recommended.  (Mark:  10/11)

OUIJA (2014) – BLU RAY

This film is a terrible movie; probably the worst I’ve seen all year.  It follows a vague Final Destination structure as a series of college kids are wiped out by a demonic force that has “escaped” a Ouija Board. There are no redeeming qualities whatsoever and the most interesting fact I can tell you is that the original Ouija Board was in fact a game.  No, I didn’t know that either. Yeah, and the rights to the board game were owned by Parker Brothers and now Hasbro.  It was only in 1930s/40s onwards America that it was used by occultists and spiritualists. Who knows: perhaps people will one day be contacting the ‘other side’ using Transformers? You never know on this crazy planet!  (Mark 1/11)

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE – #1 RYAN GOSLING by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE – #1 RYAN GOSLING 

**THIS CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS, CLIPS and REFERENCE TO ADULT LOVE DOLLS**

To compliment my post last week which featured films with dark or extreme love, today I am hailing the romantic impact of movie heartthrob Ryan Gosling.

#1  – DRIVE (2011)

This is a very romantic film with great chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan. It is also uber-cool with Gosling doing his post-modern Steve McQueen thing really well while Mulligan does sweetness personified.  It’s very pure cinema with minimal dialogue and just a longing, passionate look here or there to drive the love story.  Winding Refn is known for his brutal and violent films and this one erupts at the end but The Driver’s motivation is not revenge but rather protection of loved ones; namely Mulligan’s single mum and son.  Is there anything more romantic on screen than killing to protect the one’s you love?

#2 – LARS & THE REAL GIRL (2007)

This is such an original, quirky and goddamn touching movie.  Gosling’s character – sporting a Pupkin style moustache – has had some kind of personality breakdown and in an attempt to comfort himself he purchases a ‘human’ doll online. So far so weird.  He then treats her as he would a real girlfriend.  What is amazing is that the townsfolk where he lives also join in the “make-believe” and slowly but surely Bianca (playing herself) becomes part of the community.  The writer/filmmakers could have gone down a road of smut and low-brow humour but instead deliver a really humble and slyly humorous portrayal of grief, mental breakdown and loneliness. Gosling is understated brilliance throughout but it’s the Doll which steals the acting honours.


#3 – BLUE VALENTINE (2010)

This is one of the most realistic portrayals of a relationship ever committed to the screen.  It features the beginning, middle and end of Gosling and Michelle Williams’ love for each other; although not necessarily in that order.  The chemistry between the two is electric and it is so painful to see a couple break apart as they do by the end, having witnessed such a beautiful coming together previously.  What I loved about the film was the humanity of the relationship showing both men and women as both negatives and positives in the story.  Both romantic and heart-breaking in equal measure this is definitely not a film to watch on your own on Valentine’s Day having just broken up with someone.


#4 – CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011)

I really enjoyed this ensemble comedy from the writers of Bad Santa. A  sexy looking cast full of fine young and mature Hollywood talent was very much a surprising like for me.  There was pleasant chemistry between Carell’s downtrodden husband and his wife played by the ever-lovely Julianne Moore and fine cameos from Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei.   Gosling nicely satirises his Hollywood heartthrob good looks playing a gigolo who is able to conquer women with the merest flutter of his get-your-kit-off eyes. The scenes where he trains Carell’s romantic loser up as a womaniser are funny and a nice reversal of the usual Hollywood cliches which show an older man training up a young rookie.  Emma Stone is pretty hot too and can act as she showed in the films Easy A (2009), Zombieland (2010)  and The Help (2011). Her scenes with Gosling are very funny and I liked her feisty character as she actually steals his heart by initially refusing to give in to his ample charms.  


#5 – THE NOTEBOOK (2004)

I am a massive cynic and it takes a lot to melt my iceberg heart but this film attacks you with not one, but TWO heartfelt, tear-jerking stories interweaved simultaneously.   Based on super-schmaltzy literary work of Nicholas Sparks I’d kind of avoided watching it but am glad I succumbed as it is a lovely film. It’s the kind of movie you enjoy watching with the heating cranked up while the rain smashes down outside.  In the present an elderly couple attempt to reconnect despite her Alzheimer’s, while in the past a young chap from the wrong sides of the tracks tries to woo a Southern Belle despite her families protestations.  It’s a sensory overload of sloppy sentimentality and black-belt romance clichés but the film fully embraces these conventions, telling us in the process that love for another human is the main reason for living.  The cast are breath-taking including Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner and Gena Rowlands and they really raise the material above the standard Mills and Boon plot. It’s easy to dismiss Nicholas Sparks’ writing but it is phenomenally successful so you have to admire his and the filmmakers’ ability to make such cheesy romance so highly entertaining.  This film embodies the definition of a guilty pleasure in my (note)book.