Tag Archives: Cinema

NOSTOCK FESTIVAL REVIEW

NOZSTOCK FESTIVAL REVIEW

I was going to include my Nozstock experience in my latest collective cultural review, however, I had such a great weekend that it earned kudos enough for a sole entry into the Captain’s blog.   So, myself, Melissa (the girlfriend) and Rhys (my son and heir) drove up to the Midlands on the Thursday and camped out under the stars amidst wonderful countryside, a sea of tents and a bonanza of musical, artistic and comedic entertainment. Alas, it pissed down with rain on the Friday but Saturday’s glorious sunshine dried out the mud precipitated by nature’s will the day before.  We left the Festival on Sunday but saw so much in our two full days there it’s worth sharing some images and positive words.

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ABOUT

Nostock is, what I would class, one of the smaller festivals I checked out when booking – maximum 5000 punters – but it was big in ideas and heart.  The comparative smaller size works in its’ favour as it felt local, family oriented and friendly. And definitely NOT part of the big corporate machine where bands perform as part of contracts to shift units. There were local bands for local people as well as bigger name acts such as De La Soul and old-school Motown act Martha and the Vandellas. This was essentially small but a perfectly formed set-up.

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THEME

Nozstock takes place on a working farm in Bromyard, Worcestershire but this year they went for a science-fiction theme with which to decorate the various stages and tents and being a sci-fi fan it was quite amusing to see pictures of futuristic robots against a backdrop of verdant pastures.  I mean, it’s not everyday you see a wicker Dalek. But somehow it worked as the design was done lovingly and with much humour. It all added a certain post-ironic charm to the whole affair as these photos show.

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THE ENTERTAINMENT

This had everything you’d want from a festival including: theatre, rock music, dance, rave, cabaret, cinema, food, arts and crafts and you know what apart from a few names on bill (excluding comedians) I knew hardly ANY the artists or performers – and that was fine!  I was more than happy to be surprised in a good or bad way and find fresh artists and musicians to entertain me.

There was a great mix of international, local and new singer-songwriters and bands and a couple really stood out:  Leeds-based Jenova Collective lit up the Friday gloom with their jolly Electro Swing and Raptor rocked the bandstand with an old-school-retro-rock-and-roll!  Beardyman was on WAY too late on the Saturday night but the four tracks I saw of him were fantastic.  Big plus were hip-hop legends De La Soul who stepped into fill the headliner’s Wu Tang Clan’s shoes after their Euro-Tour was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Great to hear the tunes from Three-Feet and Rising played live and loud!

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We tasted some of the cabaret and cinema stuff including a musical mime adaptation of Holst’s The Planets at the very punny Bantam of the Opera tent.  Furthermore, the comedy I watched on the Saturday was top quality with the gags of Mark Simmons, madness of Phil Kay and everyday yet sharp observations of Seann Walsh being highlights.  There was just a cornucopia of other delights like rap and reggae at the Raveyard; pilled-up rave-hippies at the Tree of Frogs and some really harsh beats in the Bullpen which were like a musical Magnum 45 and took my head clean off.

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It was just a great selection of joy and artistry on show. I just felt free from responsibility and even if I didn’t like something there just round the corner was an alternative stage to savour. So many artists and performers to choose from that the organisers deserve great credit for a fantastically curated festival.

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OVERALL 

I had an exciting weekend overall. Despite the rain the energy and fun of the proceedings never dulled and big praise to all concerned.  I must add that the food choices were pretty decent too and we had a lovely cooked English breakfast from the Oatcake stall. Plus there was enough bars serving tasty beer and cider to keep everyone happy!  Incredibly the Portaloos were very clean throughout with none of the horror stories I’ve been experienced at Glasto!

I’ve always loved the Festival experience. You just get a real sense of freedom camping  while at the same time experiencing a cultural oasis of entertainment.  Nozstock is nowhere near as big as say, Glastonbury, BUT who knows one day it may be.  I hope it doesn’t though as it is perfect as it is: a real local, eccentric and energetic bag of fun! Highly recommended!

Here’s their website – do check it out: http://www.nozstock.com/

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TO BOLDLY BLOG WHERE NO BLOG HAS GONE BEFORE: A CULTURAL REVIEW

TO BOLDLY BLOG WHERE NO BLOG HAS GONE BEFORE:  A CULTURAL REVIEW

Culturally speaking the title is a lie; I haven’t actually been that bold with my choices this month.  I’ve re-seen a comedy favourite; ventured to a well-known London market; re-watched episodes of a classic TV show and read about a comedic hero from the past. However, sometimes it’s good to review things both nostalgically and with a more mature set of eyes as it often gives a fresh perspective.   In any case the prime directive of this blog is to mainly seek out new stuff and I have done that as well with the playing of a new Zombie videogame and experiencing music I hadn’t heard before. Read on and prosper!

BILL HICKS:  LOVE ALL THE PEOPLE (BOOK)

Bill Hicks is a genuine comedy legend.  I grew up watching his growling, sarcastic, intelligent and damned hilarious comedy routines on Channel Four and subsequently VHS/DVD.  His comedy had this rare ability to take serious subjects and gain great laughs from both ridicule and merely stating honest common-sense truths. Moreover, he delivered his world-view like a raging preacher who, in despair at the world, is willing and begging us to see humanity as he does.  People may say its edgy but it’s done out of a desire for peace and love and Hicks is just incredulous at the insanity of what the more negative aspects of the human race have done to the world and each other.

The book essentially covers his routines, poems, lyrics and interviews in chronological order. Reading his words in print still carries much of the power and many of the ideas as hearing Hicks spit them out live.  In fact, reading in between and outside of the lines I sensed a real pain in a man who was tired of preaching to the morons who just dismissed his grander concepts of peace and equality in the hope of hearing dick jokes.  Hicks did great dick jokes too though as well as the biting political and sociological satire. A black-belt comedian who was not afraid to hit his targets head-on he would cause much controversy when alive and of course it is one of the great cultural tragedies he died so young. This book is NO substitute yet it is far better to have an echo of Bill Hicks’ reverbing in the world than nothing at all.

CAMDEN MARKET, LONDON

I like Camden Market. For me it’s as London as red buses, pie-and-mash and Buckingham Palace. While it’s very much a tourist trap with overpriced grub and general tat it’s a fun trap which has many varied colours, pubs, scents, music, tattoos, clothes, hair-dos, people, weirdos, food and cultures on show that lure you in and distract you before hitting you hard in the wallet. Of course, one can eschew the spending and just take in the sights and that’s pretty much what I achieved when I re-visited the place with my son and had a good look about.  Because as another archetypal Londoner Micky Flanagan says:  “I like a look about!”  And if you like a look about then why not try Camden Market one weekend.

DYING LIGHT – VIDEOGAME – XBOX ONE

First person World War Z type actioner set in a fictional Middle-Eastern city is absolutely brilliant fun. Bit of a slow-burner this game but I have become utterly immersed in the story and missions of this kill-crazy-parkouring-bombing-booby-trapping-zombie-slice-and-dice-fest!   What impressed me most is the expansive nature of the storylines and the intricate tasks at hand plus imaginative ways with which to wipe out the constant stream of zombies. While the human villains are a bit cartoony the actual plot is better than most Hollywood movies and I would recommend this game for anyone who loves fighting monsters and mercenaries equally.

FELIX FOX: A MODERN FOP (ONLINE SCRIBE)

A quick shout out for mate of mine’s blog  http://modernfop.com/   It’s a fine and dandy online novel set on the mean, boozy, cocaine-fuelled, contemporary streets of London and features the anti-heroic antics of fashion assassin and retail worker Felix Fox. Posts go up on a regular basis and they are extremely funny with some dark sarcasm thrown in for good measure. Our pretentious “hero” attempts to further his career and escape the hoi-polloi-working-class roots he was born into while damning the variety of fashion victims he encounters.  If you like the writings of JG Ballard, Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh then there will be something here for you. Do check him out before he’s gets that book deal he surely deserves and you have to pay for the reading pleasure.

NICK MULVEY, SOMERSET HOUSE, LONDON

I was thinking the other day that what my life lacked was access to more young, multi-talented-middle-class-solo-male-singer-songwriters-pouring-out-their souls-on-stage-to-a-mediocrity-seeking public-who-desire-to-be-anaesthetised-and-have-their-thoughts-numbed-by-banality-and-unthreatening-wonder.  And then, just then, my lovely girlfriend said she had tickets to the very fine musician Nick Mulvey.  It was a soppy gig at Somerset House with Mulvey’s twee tones drifting out over the London skyline putting me in a trance like musical methadone.  He has a mercurial voice and is a brilliant guitarist and while I prefer my musical tea a lot stronger it was a blissful night set in architecturally gorgeous surroundings.

PAUL FOOT, SECRET COMEDY SHOW, LONDON

Thought I’d give the wonderfully silly Paul Foot another mention as he is consistently funny in every show I see him in. So do check him out if you like your comedy unpredictable yet structured; silly yet intelligent and seemingly off-the-cuff yet imaginatively written. The latest little secret show I saw him at was a kind of run through some older and newer material and on a scorching hot evening Mr Foot once again delivered a delightfully absurd cacophony of comedy musings, epithets and physical skips down laughter lane.

STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (BLU-RAY)

Having rewatched the whole of the new Doctor Who and delved into the Time Lord’s back catalogue of great episodes via the Horror Channel I gained a thirst for classic televisual Sci-Fi, thus, decided to boldly go back to the original series of Star Trek!  Aah, watching the space adventures of Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Bones, Chekhov, Sulu, Scotty etc. brought back interstellar memories from my youth and as entertainment now the show definitely stands the test of time (and space!)

It is a terrific show. This, in no small part, is down to a solid premise and rules of the world, wonderful writing and committed performances by an awesome cast notably the Enterprise’s yin and yang: James Tiberius Kirk and Mister Spock played perfectly by Shatner and Nimoy. The storylines and characterisation are always intriguing and on reflection the show was pioneering in regard representations of gender, race and sexuality.

Episodes are deftly written with high concept sci-fi ideas, imaginative alien races and a zeitgeisty approach to the themes of the day which still maintain their power now. I’m halfway through the first season (of three) which has too many fine episodes to mention, including: The Enemy Within (Kirk splits into two different personalities); Mudd’s Women (a critique of quick fix drug therapy and plastic surgery); Miri (a strange world which holds host to children who never grow old); The Menagerie (thrilling episode which foreshadows ideas featured later in The Matrix) and The Conscience of the King (a Shakespearean influenced drama dealing with the pursuit of an intergalactic war criminal.)

Given the show has given birth to all manner of prequels and sequels, and continues to be a multi-billion dollar franchise today, demonstrates the genius and long-standing quality of Gene Roddenberry’s Wagon Train To The Stars or as it came to be known: Star Trek. 

“YOU’RE FIRED!” – SOME GREAT TV/CINEMA SACKINGS

“YOU’RE FIRED!”  – SOME GREAT TV/CINEMA SACKINGS

“I was looking for a job and then I found a job. Heaven knows I’m miserable now!” Stephen Patrick Morrissey

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Cinema and television is often about reflection. What happens on screen reflects the dreams or loves or nightmares or hates of the audience.  There is no greater scene in a movie I love more than a good sacking or resignation scene. Indeed, I’ve had many jobs I’ve hated. I’ve had many jobs which hated me. Plus, in my “career” as a wageslave I’ve been constructively dismissed, made redundant and resigned from various places of employment.

So, when I see it occur on screen I thrill at the idea of a character NOT being in work; of leaving employment; of being free and damning the consequences. Of course, this is all wish fulfilment and projection as I am a responsible person and continue to punch the clock. Nontheless, if you have a desire for a certain level of existence and especially if you have children you need to pay your way.  But a sucker can dream and have the mirage of hope play out on a big screen. For your consideration I have pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, de-briefed, and ordered some cracking sacking or resignations scenes from television and film.

For your consideration I have pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, de-briefed, and ordered some cracking sacking or resignations scenes from television and film.

AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)

This brilliant ensemble drama confirmed Kevin Spacey as an actor of some force and the scene where he turns the tables on his boss in just magnificent. I also love it when he’s interviews for the job at the fast food place because he wants a job with as little responsibility as possible.  A mid-life crisis has never been so much fun!

BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF (1982)

A tragic and darkly comic “poster-man” for Thatcher’s Britain, Yosser Hughes became synonymous with the catchphrase “Gissa job!” A pale, ghost of a man who would essentially get hired and fired on the spot due to his uncontrollable anger and violence. The whole series is classic British TV at its best and in Yosser’s Story I’m both laughing and crying inside at the same time.

BRIDESMAIDS (2011)

I’ve used this scene before on a previous blog item about great dialogue scenes and happy to use it here again. Kristen Wiig and the teenage nemesis exchange verbal blows ending in a cracking payoff right at the end. The scene has wonderful performances and cracking comic timing as they take the comedy staple of battling one-up-woman-ship right up to eleven.

“DO I NOT LIKE THAT!” ITV DOCUMENTARY (1994)

One of the greatest sporting documentaries ever!  The tragi-comedy of Graham Taylor’s ill-fated attempt to get England to the 1994 World Cup is a brutally honest and painful to watch.  Taylor is a fine football man but this whole documentary is one big sacking waiting to happen. David Brent doesn’t manage football teams; but if he did.

FIGHT CLUB (1999)

One of my favourite films of all time this is a wonderful, wonderful scene which captures the mood and violence of the thematics in a heartbeat.  Smashing yourself up AND blaming your boss is just a magnificent way to leave a job. Awesome!

THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994)

While not one of the Coen Bros more celebrated films The Hudsucker Proxy has many wonderful visual tricks up its sleeve. The opening set-piece where the Chairman of the Board “resigns” is a wonderfully constructed sequence edited and shot with their usual flair, humour and precision.

KILL BILL: VOL. TWO (2004)

I really felt sorry for Michael Madsen’s Bud in this scene.  Here’s a guy who is a part of infamous assassin team called The Viper Squad, in a deadbeat backwater town bouncing to make ends meet with a coked-up-douche-bag-boss to boot. For being late he is catigated in the most humiliating way and yet doesn’t react.  Perhaps he’s above it all but I really wanted Bud to thump his scumbag boss but he just takes it and walks out.

NEED FOR SPEED (2014)

Great driving and car stunts do not save this video-game adaptation from being an also-ran as a narrative. However it does have a very memorable resignation scene which transplants some much needed humour in the over-serious petrol-headed plot.  Here mechanic Fin quits his job in hilarious fashion.

NETWORK (1976)

“I’m mad as hell!”  Stunning Paddy Chayefsky script holds a burning mirror up to the news media governed by a desire for ratings in Network. The film reflects flaming ire and wide-eyed fury via Peter Finch’s Howard Beale who not only is under threat of the sack but actually promises to “resign” permanently on live television.  It’s a stunning film which in many ways is just, if not more, relevant today.

THE OFFICE (2001-2003)

Even though he probably deserved his sacking/redundancy for his somewhat eccentric management style I still felt sorry for David Brent. His self-delusion knows no bounds as he offers his resignation believing him to be irreplaceable only to find it accepted by the management.  It’s made all the more amusing because he’s adorned in ridiculous fancy dress for Comic Relief. Priceless.

THE PRISONER (1967 -1968)

This TV show from the 1960s is an enigmatic masterpiece. Set in the mysterious Village we follow one-can-only-presume-a-former-spy called Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan) as he attempts to escape from his nefarious captors. Kafkaesque to the extreme it begins with one of the great resignation/credit sequences ever.

“BE SEEING YOU…”

THE LAIGHTOLOGUES: A CULTURAL REVIEW

THE LAIGHTOLOGUES: A CULTURAL REVIEW

The last month or so I have been out and about doing bits and pieces from a cultural perspective and jolly good fun was had by all. Here are some of the highlights.

DEMONOLOGUES – COURTYARD THEATRE

Having tasted the greasepaint of such theatrical productions, Oppenheimer and View From The Bridge earlier this year I took in a lower-budget- off-off-Fringe production written and directed by Wendy Metcalf. It was performed by a talented cast of the Boxroom Theatre Company including such thespians as: Rosie Angeni, Tyrone Atkins, Asif Channa, Enid Gayle, Kim White, Mike Stewart and Rob Widdicombe.

Structured within seven magnificent monologues the piece was delivered with palpable conviction by each performer as they embodied the various characters with impressive commitment.  One hears of horror stories of indulgent plays which go on for what seems like days but this theatre production rattled by with energy, humour and pathos in equal measure. I would have loved each monologue to somehow be linked in a narrative sense; however, thematically it was very powerful as a series of outsiders contend with matters relating to:  death, obsession, performance, existential crisis, age, abuse, homelessness and rather peculiarly boxes.  Overall, the writer conjures up some memorable dialogue and characters as the piece delivers moments of humanity which stay with you long after the stage lights have dimmed.


ROTTEN: NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS (1994) – JOHN LYDON (with KEITH & KENT ZIMMERMAN)

John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten WAS and still IS one of my heroes.  The working class lad from the deepest darkest London would emerge from the crumbling council houses of Finsbury Park and wreak havoc on the “Establishment” and sacred cows of Western Capitalism; firing a rocket into the cultural vacuum of the late 70s music industry.  This book charts — in his own and other individuals’ words — Lydon’s progress from sick young child to enfant terrible as he became the face and guts of the movement that would become known as PUNK!  No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs is structured in linear fashion via a set of interview transcripts as Lydon and the likes of Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Branson and many more give their perspectives of the lies and times of the era.

Lydon doesn’t mince his words in attacking those — notably The Sex Pistols manager Malcolm Mclaren — who he feels done him wrong and that anger propels the book. What struck me was the fragmented set of events and shattered points-of-view which spat and crackled at the time; making one realise that punk rock was not a movement of harmony. Instead it was a splintered faction of ideas, styles, influences that exploded from the depressing financial and social climate of the United Kingdom.  There was no fixed plan or collective movement or love or heroes but a detonation of unrest and youth in revolt and above all else a spark; and the chief spark being Lydon. You may not agree or even like the warts-and-all personality he presents in the book but one must respect Lydon for his vicious honesty. He’s forever the angry iconoclast and one of the great heroes/anti-heroes of British culture; at times infuriating but above-all-else bloody entertaining.

PEAR-SHAPED COMEDY SHOW – FITZROY TAVERN

This comedy night mixing pros, semi-pros, newcomers and general nutters has been going for donkey’s years and proclaims itself to be the “London’s 2nd worst comedy club”!  Despite this P-S has always been one of my favourite and dreaded places to perform comedy.  I have been funny there and also died a few comedy deaths as well but that was part of the fun too.  Run by the legendary comedy duo Brian & Krystal, Antony Miller and a whole host of comedians down the years it came to an end at its current home: The Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street. I went along to say goodbye and thank the club for supporting my comedy ramblings over the years. Safe to say it was all done it the best possible taste and it was a brilliant send-off.  There have been some desperately empty times in that room but this was not one of them as hosts, performers and audience (yes – it had an audience!) all joined together for a fantastic last hurrah. Well, until it starts up again in another room (here’s hoping!)

POLESDEN LACEY, SURREY – NATIONAL TRUST

This gem of a place has all the desires of a lovely afternoon out:  beautiful grounds; pretty gardens; impressive stately home; and over-priced gift and coffee shop.  It’s also got some leg-stretching walks where you can almost taste the serenity. What’s great too is it’s not that far from London either. So you can drive a reasonable distance from the fuel-spluttering-gaseous-urban-corporate-city-poisoned-capital and find yourself in a place of relaxation and historical value. My teenage son said it was “gay” so clearly not a place aimed at kids of his age but younger children, adults, ramblers and history buffs will find something pleasant in this beautiful space lovingly maintained by the National Trust.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – ROYAL HOSPITAL CHELSEA

I knew very little about Rufus Wainwright when my American girlfriend suggested we go to his live concert. I had heard of his musician-father Loudon Wainwright III and became aware that he was a young musical protégée and in a way a member of American musical royalty, so to speak.  Thus, having brushed up with a “Best-of” album bought on ITunes we headed to the impressively staged outdoor venue set-up at the home of the Chelsea Pensioners: Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Despite the heavens opening and rain bleeding onto a sea of plastic-covered bodies Mr Wainwright delivered a sterling set of beautifully constructed songs from his current and back catalogue. He’s a nervy, neurotic character with a wicked laugh, eager to please and a divine twang in his voice which would suggest he could probably be a great musical comedian too. While containing humour, lyrically, his songs bare his soul while wrapped in a mournful voice which quivers with emotional depth. Safe to say his piano sings a haunting melody although Mr Wainwright certainly picks up the pace with his faithful guitar in hand.

It was a fantastic and memorable performance in the London rain which had scattered by the time he sang the trusty classic Hallelujah.  I have since found out Mr Wainwright’s life had it’s fair share of troublesome situations including drug addiction  and while I didn’t not know this at the time, the way this soulful troubadour sang his heart out you knew. You just knew.

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 #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO

In this occasional series I regale my favourite actors and select some of their memorable performances.  Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor who has just got better and better in each role he’s been in.  I admire his craft because he has seamlessly moved away from star-crossed heartthrob roles such as Titanic (1997) shifting to meaty, dramatic roles the likes of which I will list here.  DiCaprio has good looks, charisma and a sparkling smile yet doesn’t avoid the darkness and can easily play the good guys, bad guys and – where humanity is concerned –  the ugly guys too.  Here are five great roles he’s played and I could quite easily have chosen five others such is the quality of his acting CV.

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

BLOOD DIAMOND (2006)

Aside from this one and Titanic (1997) DiCaprio doesn’t do enough action type movies with big explosions and mayhem.  Perhaps he doesn’t like running around and prefers the meatier roles?  Then again, his character Danny Archer had an impressive character arc amidst the fireworks within this Edward Zwick directed anti-war film.  Initially, he is a selfish mercenary only out for the money until he comes into contact with Djimon Hounsou and his desperate search for his son.  Together they hunt for a priceless diamond in war-torn Sierra Leone and in the process Archer/DiCaprio learns some humanity along the way.  It takes a broad approach politically but, amidst the well-stage battle sequences it successfully highlights the horrific attitude of Western capitalism to Africa: a place to be plundered for wealth and damned the consequences. Yet, for me, this works best as a classic war film with DiCaprio’s anti-heroic soldier ultimately finding redemption by the end.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

DiCaprio’s turn as ‘The Kid’ in Sam Raimi’s Leone Western homage The Quick and The Dead (1995) almost made this list as he was just so young and cheeky and his death scene was very touching; but I’ve gone with his badass rendition of nefarious plantation owner Calvin Candie instead.  It’s an over-the-top and theatrical ripper of a performance as he takes great glee playing the baddest, racist, capitalist pig around.  Indeed, Tarantino cast him perfectly as he used DiCaprio’s charisma to counteract the murderous psychosis of the devilish Candie. In the hands of another actor the whole film could have been just damned nasty but with his Southern accent, golden glint in his eye and finger-twiddling moustache-come-beard he almost steals the show.  The mercurial Christophe Waltz won the best supporting Oscar for his role and deservedly so, however, DiCaprio must have been close to breaking his Academy cherry here with this grandstanding and dastardly turn.

THE AVIATOR (2004)

I hated this film the first time I saw but soon realised I was an idiot; on 2nd and 3rd viewing the pure genius of the Scorcese and DiCaprio combination shone through every time. With a brilliant John Logan screenplay it depicts the early years of Howard Hughes’ flamboyance, follies and failures.  DiCaprio has often portrayed characters on the edge of a nervous breakdown or full-blown mentalists like Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island (2010) and here he captures Hughes at the height of his film and aviation glories only to find his obsessive-compulsive disorder swallowing him up and dragging him into the pits of hell.  This step-by-step disintegration is portrayed with such intelligence and impact I felt this was the role DiCaprio should have won Best Oscar for.  It’s a brash and loud performance with Hughes’ big personality to the fore, however, underneath the mental issues which would make him a recluse in later years are beginning to show through and the actor draws out these subtleties in a devastating and very sad way.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)

This was a just a humdinger of a film which had everything:  humour, romance, drama, crime, cat-and-mouse chases, pathos, brilliant cast, sex and at its heart DiCaprio playing a teenage con-boy to perfection!   Once again he is perfectly cast as the little-boy-lost who is devastated by his parents’s break-up and goes on the lam perfecting his counterfeiting skills on the way.  Frank Abagnale Jnr is arguably the role which finds DiCaprio grow on-screen from a lad to a man. In it he imbues the arrogance of youth yet also reveals the pain and drive of a child attempting to come to terms with his feelings.  His instinct is to run as fast as he can and his crimes such as: impersonating a pilot; faking cheques; practising law and medicine are presented as a means of escaping his internal turmoil.  Steven Spielberg illustrates this incredible story with style and pace and DiCaprio is just a treat as he lies and cheats and cons his way into and out of the most entertaining of scrapes with Tom Hanks’ dogged agent never far behind him.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)

DiCaprio doesn’t DO superheroes. He does anti-superheroes; and none more so than in this memoir by disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort –  a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-par-excellence. The Wolf of Wall Street  follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas (1990) as DiCaprio’s Belfort schemes and sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street. This is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. This is DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese’s film and as they demonstrated in The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island etc. they are a formidable team.  What DiCaprio does incredibly well is making this Wall Street monster likeable, funny, believable and human. Indeed, I felt DiCaprio deserved an Oscar but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it?  But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEWS FOR APRIL 2015

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEWS – APRIL 2015

Bit late with the old film reviews for April because I have actually been writing my own short film screenplays in the last few weeks.

I set myself a target of writing TWELVE original first draft short films in 2015 (one a month basically). I have completed TWO thus far.  I’m confident I will hit the target.

Still managing to watch a high-rate of movies via Cinema, Netflix, Amazon, Blu-Ray etc. so here are my reviews for April 2015. A pretty golden month for diverse and quality motion pictures; plus some right pony too.

**Now featuring a new marking system — in tribute to This is Spinal Tap — which goes up to ELEVEN**

**BEWARE OF MASSIVE SPOILERS**

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014) – SKY MOVIES

Comedy Western written, directed and starring Seth Mcfarlane started well with a plethora of great gags but once the story gets into gear Seth Mcfarlane the writer fails the director big time. Plus, Seth Mcfarlane the actor just fails. He is NOT a leading man and some quick-fire laughs at the start give way to a one-joke film which lasts 45 minutes too long. The film makes Carry on Cowboy (1965) seem like Shakespeare and while watching I was thinking of a million ways to kill myself. (Mark – 3/11)

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) – CINEMA

After remaking The Seven Samurai (1954) with Avengers Assemble (2012) Joss Whedon was back at the helm of the good ship Marvel remaking Frankenstein  and delivering a bloody good sequel in the process. Indeed, despite sounding like a powerful washing powder Age of Ultron was way better than I expected. I love Marvel movies but was anticipating the moment when the formula just dies and thought this may be it. It wasn’t.

Amidst the green screen superhero carnage there is actually a story which involves the Avengers team battling Tony Stark’s sentient creation called Ultron which he knocked up by mistake thinking it would be good for mankind. The idiot!   Throw into the mix Hydra-children Quiksilver and Scarlet Witch who want revenge on Stark plus spandex buddies Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk and the rest of the team and you get a pretty impressive slap-bang-train-crashing-robot-killing-country-unearthing-war-machining-mind-bending-vision-melding-hulk-smashing popcorn muncher.

Highlights for me were:  the action of course; James Spader’s evil Ultron; Captain America as usual; Mark Ruffalo/Bruce Banner doing existential pain-like-a-modern day Lawrence “Wolfman” Talbot; some great Whedon one-liners; blink-and-miss cameo from Andy Serkis; plus Scar-Jo’s Nikitaesque backstory raised the blood pressure a tad. While Age of Ultron is thematically weak and the narrative feels transitory on occasions there is SO much happening it doesn’t matter. Overall, it’s a fun-packed-fizzing-firework of a film which stopped me thinking about death for two hours; so that was good. (Mark: 8/11)

BOYHOOD (2014) – BLU RAY

The most expensive home movie of all time is an American modern-day masterpiece in slice-of-life storytelling. Not a lot occurs but it does so with so much heart as we follow Mason Evans (aged 6) and his family life from 2002 to the present day.  Much has been made of the fact Richard Linklater shot the film over a decade using both Ellar Coltrane and his daughter Lorelei throughout the film and this organic approach to filmmaking is to be applauded.  More importantly I just fell in love with these ordinary characters as we experience vignettes from their lives over a number of years.  Brilliant character actors Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke shine too as their respective parents juggle the slings and arrows that life throws at them all.  While the pace is glacial and the structure elliptical Boyhood is a fine document to family life that touched my heart and mind throughout. (Mark: 9/11)

FAST AND FURIOUS 7 (2015) – CINEMA

Another snap, crack and popping addition to a film franchise which has gathered popularity at a breakneck speed over the last decade or more.  Fast 7 picks up after Fast 6 directly with meaty brute Jason Statham coming for Toretto and the team for pretty much marmalizing his brother (Luke Evans) to death in the previous chapter.  Having gone head-on with Duwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and incapacitated him Statham then goes after the gang, who meanwhile, are charged with the task of tracking down some generic macguffin called the “God’s Eye”. I didn’t really care about the plot as it’s mainly an excuse to join the dots between some stunning right-royal-rumbling car chases, shoot-outs, motor-parachuting and the vehicular carnage we’ve all come to expect from this series.

Better than Fast 6 (though not the superlative Fast 5) the film is deftly helmed by expert genre filmmaker James Wan and the action is beefed up by character actors like Kurt Russell and Djimon Hounsou. Statham steals the show as the rogue mercenary and Vin Diesel does his usual John-Wayne-act: mean-and-moody with a heart of gold.  The Rock is criminally underused (no doubt because he was shooting Hercules at the same time) but he does impress during the heart-pounding final set-piece.  I drank a big coffee before I watched this and as my mind was blazing on caffeine so was the screen. Great escapist cinema which pays a fine, if soppy, tribute to the deceased Paul Walker in the final reel.  (Mark: 9/11)

FORCE MAJEURE (2014) – CINEMA

This is one of those excellent foreign films which I hated.  I can see why critics and audiences may enjoy the character-driven drama of a family split apart by the father’s less-than-heroic actions during that of an avalanche but overall the film left me cold as an Eskimo’s nostril.  Technically, it is beautifully shot, performed, directed and there is some merit in the idea of a family holiday gone wrong, however, I just found the characters too irritating and in the end I was bored. I like many, many films with complex and dislikeable characters but not this one.  Personally despising ski holidays probably didn’t help either and I wish the characters had been killed in the avalanche to save on all the middle-class matrimonial moaning and Scandinavian soul-searching that ensued.  Great film, in some eyes no doubt, but not my cup of frozen piss. (Mark: 5/11)

HORNS (2013) – BLU RAY

Daniel Radcliffe stars as a young man who wakes up one day with the horn; no sorry that’s HORNS!  Plus a dead girlfriend and HE’S the prime suspect in her murder.   That is SOME hangover!  Basically, the small town where he lives thinks he’s the Devil incarnate so this collective emotion manifests itself physically and spiritually as the former Harry Potter starts being able to control and bring the most dark and fantastical behaviour out of the townsfolk.  I think these comedic scenes are the best bits of the film as he learns to control this ability and use it to his own means.  It’s a decent enough horror-drama-romance-comedy-detective-noir story which has some fine moments but at times the genre-melding jars the tone. Structurally it’s a bit all over the shop too flitting from long ago to now to not so long ago in a Noiresque fashion.  Overall,  a pretty fun film to watch on the smaller screen but a bit of pruning for pace would have been handy. (Mark: 6/11)

INBETWEENERS 1 & 2 (2011/2014) – 4OD/SKY MOVIES

I used to think The Inbetweeners was a rude, smutty, uncultured, lowest-common-denominator comedy of the basest level and after watching the three seasons of the TV show on catch-up plus two films back-to-back I still think that. However, I have to admit: it is fucking hilarious!  It concerns the tribulations of Will (the nerd), Simon (the neurotic), Jay (the liar) and Neil (the idiot) and their main trials are losing their virginities, trying to buy alcohol, avoiding bullies and trying not make fools of themselves. Laughs come thick and fast from them failing to achieve any of these things; often in the most humiliating of ways!

The movies cranked up the puerile gags in Greece and Australia respectively and I laughed my arse off at the many disgusting events in both films.  Having said that this isn’t just filth for filth’s sake as the character interaction and quick-witted scripts by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris have some heart notably when Jay pursues the girl he loves all the way to the Aussie outback.  Ultimately, though this search ends with Simon drinking Neil’s piss.  Recommended for those who enjoy romantic/sexual failures, toilet humour, broad stereotypes and a streak of unsophisticated adolescent rites-of-passage stuff thrown in. (Mark: 7/11)

JOHN WICK (2014) – CINEMA

If Keanu Reeves had been born in the silent movie era I think he would’ve been an even bigger hit because as long as he doesn’t have much dialogue he is a genuine bona fide movie star.  As John Wick he absolutely blows the back doors off as a “retired” assassin who rampages after the gangsters who killed his dog.

The script doesn’t insult us with any semblance of a plot and THAT’S a plus. It’s pure kinesis with Reeves racing from bullet-infested set-piece to set-piece carving up the criminal Underworld like a modern-day (M)Orpheus (see what I did there?)   Of course, the stakes are ramped up throughout as Wick must face all manner of super-assassins once there’s a contract out on him.  This is a dark-lean-comic-book-Hong-Kong-shoot-em-up-style movie shot on speed and edited on meth and a hugely satisfying cinema experience .(Mark: 8/11)


NEED FOR SPEED (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

I loved Aaron Paul as the desperate meth “protégée” of Walter White in Breaking Bad. His enunciation of “bitch this” and “bitch that” was often the highlight of the show as he was pulled this way and that by WW’s descent into power-crazed drug-dealing hell. I think we appreciated Jesse Pinkman was so out of his depth in that world and Aaron Paul brought a humour and humanity to the role despite being the wrong side of the law.

However, in the videogame adaptation Need For Speed he fails as a cool-as-ice-hard-assed-driver-extraordinaire in a role Steve McQueen would have sped through in his heyday. Plus, and I’m sorry to say, but Aaron is TOO short to impose himself on this Fast and Furious meets Vanishing Point mash-up. The supporting cast are very attractive although Brit actress Imogen Poots is irritating as fuck in the female sidekick role and the film is WAY too long.  Overall, great cars, amazing driving, sweet stunts:  shame about everything else! (Mark: 3/11)

OCULUS (2013) – BLU RAY

Karen Gillan from Doctor Who basically goes a bit mental in this effective low-budget horror film in which she battles a — wait for it — ghost-mirror that holds the secret to the parents’ death. Fun is to be had from the monstrous spirits and jumps as she ropes in her recently-released-from-the-nuthouse brother who just wants to move on.  Not for everyone I guess but I enjoyed it as it made the most of the one main location  plus it’s nicely directed and edited by newish filmmaker Mike Flanagan clearly working on a shoestring. (Mark: 6/11)

SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2009) – DVD – REPEAT WATCH

I’ve seen this Argentinian classic romance-noir-detective-political thriller many times now and it is one of the best genre films ever made. It has everything you could hope for in a story which concerns itself with a Government Prosecutor Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) and his decades-long search for the brutal murderer of a young woman.  Stunning characterisation supports a maze-like plot with many twists and turns throughout in a wonderful screenplay.

The most compelling vein throbbing element within the story is the “will-they-won’t-they” romance between Esposito and the classically beautiful Soledad Villamil playing the Judge who has captured his heart.  The film also finds time to make political comments on the “Dirty War” which occurred in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s and has one of the most memorable long-takes in cinema history.  A breathtaking masterpiece of the thriller genre. (Mark: 11/11)

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS – (2014) – SKY MOVIES

A one-joke mockumentary which tries to do for vampires what Spinal Tap did for Heavy Metal. Maybe I should have had a few drinks but I found it quite boring like an overlong sketch which while brilliantly conceived sagged in the middle.   It follows four batty (sorry) housemates Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr as they go about their nocturnal activities in Wellington, New Zealand.  I was especially impressed with the contrast between the old-Nosferatu-style vampyr Petyr struggling with the new world plus Jemaine Clements is always a funny presence in any film.

The film has garnered great reviews from critics and is destined for cult movie status and the first half of the film had me chuckling heartily.  But I felt it ran out of narrative steam in the second half as the gag rate dipped. Also, the dark, handheld and grainy style too felt one-note and despite some witty one-liners in the script the loose improvisatory form felt aimless.  Bloody brilliant concept that may have suited a half-hour sitcom length but not a feature film. (Mark: 6/11)

WILD TALES (2015) – CINEMA

Last but definitely NOT least is my film of the month (excluding Secret in Their Eyes)!  Wild Tales is another soon-to-be-considered Argentinian film classic as it delivers a dark sarcasm and hilarity via six separate stories concerning themes of: revenge, political corruption, class division and bloody violence!

I loved the ye olde portmanteau films usually produced by the likes of Hammer in the past and this is a very modern take on the like as the screenwriter and director Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories.  It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding.  Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of. (Mark: 9.5/11)