Executive producer(s): Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles, Erin O’Malley, Alec Berg etc.
Production company(s): HBO Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Starring: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove etc.
There’s absolutely no reason why a situation comedy about an aging, wealthy, neurotic and narcissistic Hollywood writer should be one of the most consistently funny comedy shows of the last twenty years. There’s no real substance or depth in Curb Your Enthusiasm; in fact not much really happens of great value as it occurs in a “Larry David / Hollywood” bubble. Moreover, in anti-hero Larry David you more often than not find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, due to the writing, cast and situations the humour is always pretty, pretty good!
After a six-year hiatus Larry David is back and nothing really has changed. The formula remains the same inasmuch as he gets himself in ridiculous situations upsetting everyone around him, resulting in the most farcical of comedic pay-offs. However, while many of the narrative reveals can be seen a long way off it doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. Special highlights during Season 9 are JB Smoove’s scene-stealing turns as Larry’s “house-guest” Leon Black; who over the course of the last few seasons has inveigled his way into Larry’s life. The two have become an unlikely double act as uncool Jewish bald guy buddies up with his cooler, streetwise and “player” pal. With Leon and Larry you get a relationship which both reflects and satirizes racial stereotypes to funny effect.
While most of the Season 9 episodes work as stand-alone stories the integral over-riding arc involves Larry David writing a new Broadway show. Inspired by events which occurred to novelist Salman Rushdie, Larry has written a musical called, incredibly, Fatwa! At first everyone loves the idea and rushes to invest. However, when Larry mocks the Ayatollah on the Jimmy Kimmel show he himself is, you’ve guessed it, hit with a Fatwa!! The running gags throughout created by this comedic narrative are very broad, un-PC, stereotypically offensive; but also bloody hilarious. I wondered why there wasn’t more controversy; however, Larry David himself is the butt of many of these jokes as he fails to lift the Fatwa.
The season is crammed with celebrity appearances and particular standouts are: Salman Rushdie, Elizabeth Banks, F. Murray Abraham; and Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda. The latter hilariously clashes with Larry during the production of the Fatwa: The Musical. There are also some great gags relating to everyday observations including: Uber ratings; pickle jars; tipping; disturbances in kitchens; Asperger’s; plus many more. The episode, Running with the Bulls, with Bryan Cranston portraying Larry’s harangued therapist, was probably my favourite. It was also great to see The Mighty Boosh comedy nut-case Rich Fulcher make an appearance as an evasive Restaurant Manager. Overall, the season was pretty scatter-gun in it’s target humour but it certainly hit the mark throughout. I’m just amazed, in these liberal-PC-social-media-offence-driven times there wasn’t more controversy. Having said that Larry David probably wouldn’t care as in his own words, “I have reservations about everything I do.”
8 EPISODES WHY CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM IS “PRETTY GOOD!”
There’s absolutely no reason why a situation comedy about an aging, wealthy, neurotic and narcissistic Hollywood writer should be one of the most consistently funny comedy shows of the last twenty years. There’s no real substance or depth in Curb Your Enthusiasm; in fact not much really happens of great value as it occurs very much in a bubble. Moreover, in anti-hero Larry David you more often than not find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, colleagues and strangers on a daily basis.
David, who plays an extreme version of himself (one hopes), revels in pedantry, un-PC behaviour, poor decisions, risky statements and strict adherence to the social etiquette and unwritten rules of life that make him a right royal pain in the backside. Yet, incredibly, because the writing, situations and storylines are so clever the whole show works a treat. To celebrate the recent release of the 9th season of HBO’s classic comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, I have chosen one episode from each season to praise. It’s a difficult choice to pick my favourites but I think you’d agree these episodes are pretty, pretty good!
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
SEASON 1 – EPISODE 4 – THE BRACELET (2000)
I was going to choose Beloved Aunt because of the monumentally unfortunate typo which involved Larry upsetting Cheryl and his in-laws. In an obituary for a recent departure the words “Beloved Aunt” became “Beloved C*nt” and Larry gets the blame. However, The Bracelet is a classic for me as it involves Larry going head-to-head with comedian Richard Lewis for the said jewellery item. The slapstick and race-against-the-clock narrative are hilarious as is their meeting with an ungrateful blind person they help. The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions!
SEASON 2 – EPISODE 7 – THE DOLL (2001)
One of the delights of the show is when Larry, having made some terrible social faux pas is ripped apart by one of the supporting cast. Arguably, his most fierce nemesis is his agent’s wife Susie; portrayed with vicious, black-eyed venom by Susie Essman. The narrative thrust of Season 2 involved Larry trying to get another Network show commissioned, but when he erroneously trims the hair (god knows why) of a child’s doll he become embroiled in a head-swapping comedy of nightmarish errors. When Susie catches him and Jeff using her daughter’s doll’s head, all hell breaks loose and Larry gets a volley of joyously ripe abuse!
SEASON 3 – EPISODE 8 – KRAZEY-EYEZ KILLA (2002)
Larry’s experiences with members of the black community range from: embarrassing misunderstandings, accidental racism, satirizing lazy stereotypes and finally some very offensive situations. Some of it is hilariously funny while more often than not it can be very painful to watch. However, Larry David is a brave writer as he doesn’t shy away from subjects which could be deemed politically incorrect. More often than not though he himself is the butt of the joke! Season 3 had a wonderful arc of Larry getting involved with a Restaurant and the final episode had some glorious profanity. However, his run in with Wanda Sykes’ cheating rapper boyfriend Krazey-Eyez and Larry telling Martin Scorsese he “does too many takes” on set is just comedy gold!
SEASON 4 – EPISODE 6 – THE CAR POOL LANE (2004)
Season 4 benefits from one of the strongest narrative arcs of the whole series. Larry has been chosen by Mel Brooks to star in the Broadway show The Producers and includes the brilliant Ben Stiller and David Schwimmer. The Car Pool Lane finds Larry attempting to get into an upper-class-W.A.S.P-y country club and cajole Marty Funkhouser into giving up his dead father’s seat at a Dodger’s game. The comedy sparks really fly when in an attempt to get to the game he hires a prostitute to allow him to use said car-pool lane and beat the traffic. The dovetailing call-backs of his Dad’s glaucoma, trying to get off Jury service, Funkhouser’s dead Dad and country club narrative strands makes this one of the funniest episodes ever and features an effervescent performance from Kym Whitley as Monena the hooker!
SEASON 5 – EPISODE 7 – THE SEDER (2005)
What I love about Larry David’s writing – or retro-scripting to coin a phrase – is he is unafraid to ask intriguing moral or immoral questions within the comedy subtext. In the episode The Seder, he poses the idea that a sex offender, while having served his sentence, could possibly actually be a “nice” guy. Thus, Larry literally befriends a bald, Jewish sex offender (a brilliant Rob Corddry) much to the horror of his family, neighbours and friends. As thanks for an awesome golfing tip he even goes so far as to invite him to a Passover meal where all kinds of social embarrassment ensues.
SEASON 6 – EP. 3 – THE IDA FUNKHOUSER ROADSIDE MEMORIAL (2007)
After the steady mixed-bag comedic narratives of Season 5 – Larry’s potential adoption and Richard Lewis’ dying kidney – Season 6 introduced a new set of hilarious characters and situations. When Larry’s wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) “adopts” a homeless family, whose lives were wrecked by a hurricane, the comedy bar is raised to a whole new level. The season has some classic episodes but my favourite is The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial. Despite Larry’s nebbish irritations quite often I am on his side when it comes to petty grievances. In this episode he deals with: unnecessary condolences and sample abusers, but stealing flowers off a roadside memorial is a totally out of order, So, Larry definitely deserves the stream of ire that comes his way when he commits this gob-smacking social “crime.”
SEASON 7 – EPISODE 7 – THE BLACK SWAN (2009)
Season 7 is most notable because Larry, having split up with Cheryl, is now dating Loretta Black (Vivica Fox). In order to get Cheryl back he orchestrates a Seinfeld reunion with all the gang (Jerry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards), as a means to offer Cheryl a part. Firstly, though he has to dump Loretta, who sadly is now suffering from cancer. I mean Curb Your Enthusiasm must be admired for the lengths it goes to get laughs and how he “dumps” Loretta is something else. One of the funniest episodes is the Black Swan which occurs on the golf course. Suspected (he did it!) of killing the course owner’s treasured swan, there’s a scene where Larry’s customary “staring” motif is used against HIM!! The ending of this episode involving his Mother’s gravestone is also one of the great payoffs too!
SEASON 8 – EPISODE 3 – PALESTINIAN CHICKEN (2011)
I am not easily shocked by anything but I must say that this is one of the most controversial episodes of comedy I have seen. I was sat agog through many of the scenes in this one. I mean I’m not an expert when it comes to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict but I am aware of the geographical and religious issues which have occurred throughout the years. What Larry David does with his comedy is to skewer the significance of the conflict and satirize it within a consumer food war. Having began eating the chicken at a Palestinian restaurant Larry becomes attracted and begins a sexual relationship with one of the Arab customers. She is a sexual dynamo to him and her dirty talk is pure filth and anti-Semitic! As Larry puts his penis first and at the end is caught between rampant sex and his loyalty to his “people”! Again, another classic ending to a brilliant episode.
Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility and pathos by Viola Davis. Great support comes also from Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally impaired brother, Gabriel.
Troy’s character is very charismatic and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bitter and a drinker and, while he has had a hard life, he bullies everyone around him. His sons and more importantly his wife Rose put up with it but eventually he grinds everyone down, pushing them away with his boorish “I-know-best” arrogance and aggression. With her quiet power Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech toward the end of the film is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades and emotional neglect.
I’ve seen some criticisms of the film stating it is too “stagey”. Well, as it is based on a play that is understandable, yet, August Wilson’s words are a thing of beauty and therefore deserve focus. I think, while directing, Denzel Washington could quite easily have opened up the settings and had conversations on the street, but the decision was made to “fence” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall the performances alone make the film feel cinematic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Barry Jenkins low-budget contemporary drama is another brilliantly acted character memoir; although when compared to Fences it benefits from a more complex structure and cinematic style. Split into a trio of linear timelines from the same characters’ lives we get three different actors representing the life and changes which occur in Chiron’s existence; with chapters named, Little, Chiron and Black.
Each section draws us into the characters’ world as Chiron searches for meaning, identity and direction as to who he really is as a person. With his father absent Little Chiron (Alex Hibbert) cannot find satisfaction via his mother, an angry and lost woman portrayed brilliantly by Naomi Harris. Small for his age he is also at the mercy of school bullies and while a random meeting with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides Little with a mentor to connect with it doesn’t sustain. Ali as Juan, like most of the performances, delivers a subtle realisation of a character trapped by his life choices and perhaps sees some redemption in ‘Little’. Alas, due to his lifestyle and ‘job’ he is clearly not the role model ‘Little’ needs.
In the second and third sections Chiron’s relationship with his best friend Kevin comes to the fore both in terms of some powerful drama and intimate sexual connections. Barry Jenkins framing, colour design, use of music and editing choices all commit to create a poetic and fragmented style, further drawing me into Chiron/Black’s story. Chiron’s continual search for identity and meaning in the world reflects the most essential of human needs: the search for identity and love. Overall, this is a film of harsh and beautiful moments and each segment was layered with so many emotions and so skilfully told that I wanted to see more of the characters. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Split (2016) is an altogether different film about the search for identity. In fact the lead character portrayed devilishly well by James McAvoy has TWENTY-THREE different people battling around his mind and something is about to give. Let me say that a film like Split won’t be challenging the Oscars because in essence it is a terrifying B-movie thriller, however, McAvoy gives a performance of such quality it reminded me of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in his cannibal pomp. McAvoy’s twisted ability to switch between the many personalities was a real guilty pleasure as he earned his acting fee over and over and over again.
The story concerns three girls, Casey, Marcia and Claire (including an excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped and imprisoned by the various personalities in Kevin Crumb’s head. Some – including OCD driven Dennis – are more dominant than others and attempt to wrestle total control, which is where McAvoy’s sly switches are a real joy to watch. As a cat-and-mouse plot bleeds out we also get some intriguing back-story flashbacks into Casey traumatic past. These events really add colour to the main narrative and ramp up the tension and suspense. The scenes between Kevin, his personalities and sympathetic Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) also add some dark humour to the story. By the end though all humour is gone and we get a stunning and believable supernatural turn as Kevin’s mind unleashes an altogether different personality.
Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan’s dalliance with big-budget-franchise-Hollywood-pictures – including: After Earth (2013) and The Last Airbender (2010) – did not do his career any favours. But with Split he is back on terrific form as he takes a simple abduction plot and renders it full of horror, twists and fantastical ideas. While I did not enjoy his previous film The Visit (2015) – mainly due to the stupid kid rapping throughout a decent horror story – this one is highly recommended for psycho horror fans and for McAvoy’s performance alone. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
SCREENWASH – DECEMBER 2016 – FILM & TV REVIEW ROUND-UP
Merry Christmas to anyone reading this and a Happy New Year! So, as we wind down our employment and head home for the holiday season I offer my final cinema and TV screen round-up of the year.
From next year the Screenwash monthly round-up will mainly consist of the best stuff I saw each month rather than EVERYTHING! My blog will also feature the usual classic film features and reviews as usual. I’m off to the pub soon so a very quick run-through with marks, as usual, out of eleven!
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
A PERFECT DAY (2015) – NETFLIX
Well-meaning and intriguing comedy-drama set circa ‘90s Balkan conflict stars Benicio Del Toro as an Aid worker facing anything but a perfect day. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BILLIONS (2016) – SKY ATLANTIC
Tremendous drama starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, as a billionaire stockbroker and New York Attorney General respectively, who lock horns over insider trading. This has the lot: great acting, script and cat-and-mouse twists galore in a meaty twelve episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
BLUE VELVET (1986) – BFI CINEMA
“Why are there people like Frank?” asks Kyle Maclachlan’s Jeffery Beaumont in David Lynch’s dark journey into the underbelly of small town America. Hopper’s tour-de-force performance is chilling and funny in this eccentric, violent and memorable thriller. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
CASE 39 (2009) – NETFLIX
An alright chiller starring Renee Zellweger as a social worker investigating the abuse of a young girl. Of course, not all is what it seems. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING (2016) – NETFLIX
Paul Rudd is excellent as a depressed man seeking escape from life by helping muscular-dystrophy effected youth, Craig Roberts, in a touching and funny road movie. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
FUNNY GIRL (1968) – NETFLIX
The classic Broadway musical which I saw recently in London with Sheridan Smith (I wasn’t with her – she was in it) is a breezy blast through the songs and career of Fanny Brice. The kind-of-rags-to-riches-narrative is simple but the delivery is brilliant, with Barbara Streisand bursting with life, humour and song in an energetic Oscar-winning performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
JOY (2016) – SKY CINEMA
Hit-and-miss drama stars the amazing Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano; who battles family strife and corporate sexism to rise to the dizzy heights of TV shopping celebrity. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
IP MAN 3 (2015) – NETFLIX
Donnie Yen, again, excels in the further adventures of martial arts legend Ip Man. This time its 1959 and he’s up against Mike Tyson as a gangland boss and other rivals to his Wing Chun crown. Worth watching for the majestic fight scenes and the always awesome Donnie Yen (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
LES DOULOS (1963) – BFI CINEMA
Classic French Noir from Jean-Pierre Melville stars Jean Belmondo is a shadowy joy which thrills with its twisting plot following a robbery-gone-wrong. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MASCOTS (2015) – NETFLIX
Christopher Guest’s comedy mockumentary about sports mascots has some big and silly belly laughs and even sillier costumes too. It’s very daft with some fun routines throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MATCHSTICK MEN (2003) – SKY CINEMA
Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell are brilliant in Ridley Scott’s smaller-in-scale-than-usual-con-artist film which contains a series of thrilling twists and Cage’s excellent OCD-afflicted performance. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
PUSH (2009) – NETFLIX
Captain America/Chris Evans stars in this not-bad action-thriller about telekinetics being hunted down by a nefarious agency somewhere in Hong Kong. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) – MOVIE MIX
Sensational period drama set just before WW2 features incredible acting from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. They star as the Butler and Housekeeper who develop feelings for each other but professional commitments keep them at arms-length in a wonderfully touching human story. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) – CINEMA
Disney’s Star Wars roadshow-behemoth moves onto the first of it’s’ anthology series with a rip roaring war movie set just before A New Hope (1977) – (Mark: 9 out of 11). My full review is here.
SATURDAY NIGHT & SUNDAY MORNING (1960) – DVD
Albert Finney is excellent in this ground-breaking-for-its-day-working-class-social-realist drama. He’s a hard-working-boozing-chauvinist who rebels against the bosses and law in a gritty, and at times humorous, slice of British life. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Pointless and so-so remake of the classic Argentinian Oscar-winner which takes a great story and good cast and reduces it to a functional detective story. (Mark: 6 out of 11).
SELF/LESS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Badly-reviewed-but-not-too-bad takes a great premise of Ben Kingsley having his consciousness transferred into Ryan Reynolds’ soldier and turns it into a decent action-chase thriller. (Mark: 7 out of 11).
THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE (2016) – NETFLIX
Decent based-on-a-true-story set in the Congo during a battle in the Katanga district circa 1961. Charismatic Jamie Dornan leads UN troops battling French mercenaries in some brutal and explosive battle scenes which echo the backs-to-the-wall heroics of Rourke’s Drift. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) – FILM FOUR
Steven Spielberg’s debut cinema release is a lively road-pursuit-comedy-drama with a sparky lead performance from a very young Goldie Hawn. The characters strife didn’t grab me but the action barrels along sweetly with some funny scenes and beautiful cinematography. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SULLY (2016) – CINEMA
Tom Hanks excels as the experienced and noble pilot Chesley Sullenburger who somehow landed a plane on the Hudson after birds had ripped out its engines. Clint Eastwood directs with his usual steady hand as the film shows life experience is often more valuable than a computer simulation. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988) – NETFLIX
Errol Morris’ seminal documentary about a miscarriage of justice pretty much re-invented the crime documentary with its’ chilling re-enactments and interviews with the personae involved. The film would eventually prove the innocence of wrongly-accused drifter Randall Adams in the crime of a murdered police officer in 1976. Formidable, gripping and humane drama. (Mark: 9 out of 11).
THE THREE AMIGOS (1986) – SKY CINEMA
Chevy Chase, Martin Short and comedy genius Steve Martin star in this silly spoof of Westerns and silent-comedies as they are mistaken for hardened protectors of the weak. (Mark: 7 out of 11).
WESTWORLD (2016) – HBO – SKY ATLANTIC
Brilliant and exquisite Sci-fi-western-mash-up from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy with an all-star cast is reviewed – (Mark: 9 out of 11) – in full here:
WHITE FANG (1991) – SKY CINEMA
Ethan Hawke is a young explorer looking to make a go of his dead father’s gold mine in the end of the 19th century Yukon. Lots of snow and action aplenty as Hawke’s boy becomes a man and befriends a young wolf in the process in fine family entertainment. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
WOLF HALL (2015) – NETFLIX
Mark Rylance owns this dark drama as Thomas Cromwell; a key figure in the court of Henry the VIII – here portrayed by the brilliant Damian Lewis. Based on Hilary Mantel’s astonishing novels it charts the political and religious back-stabbing of the day in a naturally shot and wonderfully acted period drama. Rylance’s performance is subtle and steely as the man from lower stock who rose to pull the strings in the King’s court. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11).
SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2016 – DVD & ON DEMAND REVIEW ROUND-UP
In addition to my cinema reviews I also watched an eclectic mix of TV shows, big movies and art and indie flicks this month. As usual I have packaged them into bitesize chunks for your perusal. As usual marks are out of eleven.
AMANDA KNOX (2016) – NETFLIX
The despicable murder of Meredith Kercher caused a media and legal storm in Italy over ten years ago now. Amanda Knox and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito were charged and convicted before appealing against the crimes. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
CIRCLE (2015) – NETFLIX
Well-written-one-location-low-budget film finds many strangers in room fighting for their lives. Social, religious, gender and ethnic demographics become key to the choice of “who dies next”; in a nifty, intelligent thriller which critiques humanity in an entertaining fashion. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – NETFLIX
Tarantino’s classic revisionist slave western gets better on every watch; and I would have to say that it is arguably, amidst the stylistic flourishes, his most satisfying narrative as a whole. The bone-crunching violence and bloody shootouts are a joy, yet Tarantino also draws emotional power from the love story between Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington’s enslaved couple. Meanwhile, Christophe Waltz and Leonard DiCaprio ride off into the sunset with the acting honours. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) – TCM
I loved this Bruce Lee Kung-fu classic when I was growing up. Now, it just seems like a slightly tired James Bond rip-off in terms of plot, however, Bruce Lee was a martial arts master and movie star; so it is his charisma and fighting skills which really shine through now. (Mark: 8 out of 11 – for Lee!)
GOOSEBUMPS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
This is a pretty decent meta-fictional comedy-action film with Jack Black hamming it up as a mysterious writer whose creations wreak havoc on a small town. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GOTO – ISLAND OF LOVE (1969) – DVD
This is a very surreal drama from critically acclaimed Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. In the past I would have loved insane stuff like this but I couldn’t get my head around the weird inhabitants of a prison colony acting out warped love rituals while trapped on an island. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
THE GUEST (2014) – FILM FOUR
The Guest (2014) is a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot. Dan Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making and a good shout for the next James Bond. I’ve seen this a few times now and it is a genuine under-rated classic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) – ITV2
Soppy time-travel love story which kind of does and doesn’t make sense stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It’s a likable film with fun concept and pleasant moments. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
MATCH POINT (2005) – NETFLIX
Woody Allen’s excellent London-set thriller builds slowly and pays off wonderfully by the end. The characters are well drawn as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers young existential tennis pro darkens his soul through poor life decisions. Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johannsson, Brian Cox and Matthew Goode complete an attractive cast in the excellent Dostoyevsky-laced crime drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PEOPLE JUST DO NOTHING – SEASON 1 (2014) – NETFLIX
This is a funny Gervais-influenced-Office-style-mockumentary-comedy which follows the shenanigans of a West London pirate radio station. Satirizing youth culture and we get a peek into the lives of the likes of MC Grindah and feckless mates. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SAW (2004) – SKY CINEMA
While it started a tortuous never-ending-cash-cow-franchise, never forget the original Saw is a genuine horror classic from James Wan and Leigh Whannell. You get two guys, one cell and a hell-of-a-dangerous serial killer on the loose that leads to some great twists and bloody murder. The ending alone is still a gob-smacking treat as you put together Jigsaw’s fiendish plan. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR – SKY CINEMA
Roberto Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s sequel to the mind-blowing violent-noir-comic-book-digital-backlot-splatterfest Sin City (2005) was eagerly anticipated by me. This had the same hard-boiled dialogue, bone-crunching violence and some fantastic imagery, but aside from Eva Green’s terrific femme fatale it lacked the impact of the first film and fell a bit flat. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASON 3 (2010) – NETFLIX
The third revving-crunching-porno-shooting-explosive season had Jax and the other gang members battling the Mayans, the FBI and going on “holiday” to Ireland to take on the “Real” Irish Republican Army. It’s a real soapy mix of violence, bullets and familial-led drama with enough plot turns and jaw-dropping set-pieces to keep you entertained throughout the fast-paced episodes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE FINEST HOURS (2016) – SKY CINEMA
This Disney disaster movie set in the 1950s is a very watchable human drama sensitively directed by Craig Gillespie. It flopped at the box office, yet Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are on very good form in the leads and there are some great set-pieces too on the sea. The real star is Carter Burwell’s epic music but in my opinion the film deserved a bigger audience. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
TO THE WONDER (2012) – DVD
This is a beautifully shot yet overlong and pretentious love story with banal Olga Kurylenko and a depressive Ben Affleck sleep-walking through his role. Terence Malick is a fine auteur but despite the wondrous scenery and vaguely interesting structure this bored me overall. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
CAST: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Steve Coogan, Jessica Barden, Russell Tovey.
STORY: Over-the-hill actor Richard Thorncroft reprises his 1980s TV role of Mindhorn in order to track down a vicious murderer on the Isle of Man.
This hilarious comedy from the mind-tanks of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby is an absolute joy, both paying homage and taking the piss out of 1980s cop shows, actors, television and the Isle of Man in general. It centres on washed-up actor Richard Thorncroft, who having been a big TV star in the 80s is now an overweight, balding mess living in a Walthamstow bedsit. Thorncroft’s star rose when he portrayed a Manx detective with a very special power: through a Soviet bionic eye he was able to literally SEE THE TRUTH of the criminals.
Flash forward twenty-odd years and Thorncroft is making ends meet with corporate video jobs and working on adverts for girdles and deep-vein thrombosis socks. That is until a vicious and murderous lunatic is on the rampage on the Isle of Man, and by some insane quirk, will only speak Mindhorn to himself. So, Thorncroft dons the “eye of truth” again and heads back to the Isle of Man before catching up with his ex-wife, former stuntman and far-more successful TV nemesis portrayed by Steve Coogan.
Overall, this is an uneven comedy in terms of story and plot and lacks the cinematic verve of the Cornetto trilogy created by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. However, Julian Barratt is a comedy genius and his performance alone makes it worth watching. Barratt filters his cowardly, proud and foolish ‘Howard Moon’ persona into the flailing thespian with much hilarity. Moreover, Simon Farnaby hams up his Danish stuntman role to perfection and Russell Tovey is hilarious as “The Kestrel” (don’t ask!) The sight gags, parodies and one-liners come thick and fast and this is recommended for everyone who loves offbeat comedy. Indeed, fans of The Mighty Boosh, Alan Partridge, Harry Enfield’s Norbert Smith and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place will love this comedic gem.
Following on from listing six of my favourite British sitcom episodes recently, I thought I’d have a bit of fun venting about some of the most irritating characters I have witnessed on film or TV screen. I mean did the writers intend for them to be annoying pricks or was it the actor or direction or performance or all of the above? Anyway, whatever the weather, its great fun kicking the boot into these annoying arseholes!
ALL THE KIDS (EXCEPT CHARLIE) – WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
I’ll ignore the Tim Burton version of this story and concentrate on the original adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic morality adventure. If you don’t know the story a reclusive sweet-maker lures kids to his factory on the promise of a “golden ticket” competition win. There’s Teutonic glutton Augustus Gloop; weirdo TV addict Mike Teevee; demanding, harpy-bitch Veruca Salt, upper-class, gum-maniac Violet Beauregarde and finally humble Charlie Bucket. Each kid, Charlie aside, is a spoilt bastard and each satisfactorily gets their just desserts, as Dahl’s fantasy punishes the rich and greedy ones to maximum audience delight.
FERGEE – JUDGE DREDD (1995)
I could basically include ANY character portrayed by Rob Schneider but I reserve special hatred for this monstrosity. I mean the film Judge Dredd was pretty bad, however, the action and design were bearable and Stallone – despite removing the protective mask – was kind of okay. YET the tone of the film was all over the shop! None more so than when acting cyst Rob Schneider pops up as an unofficial comedy sidekick for Dredd. Yeah – like that was a staple of the cynical, dystopian and violent world the 2000AD comic was known for right! No, I didn’t think so! Morons!
JAR JAR BINKS – STAR WARS: PHANTOM MENACE etc. (1999)
Jar Jar, let’s face it, is an obvious choice but he is a complete cunt! The worst crime is, as the comic relief, he is NOT funny!! Moreover, his accent is unintelligible and he suffers from looking completely stupid. The Phantom Menace (1999), while having some fantastic actors (Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor), great action and superior baddie in Darth Maul, was let down by plodding plot, soggy politics and dreadful dialogue. Yet, Jar Jar Binks was the rancid cherry on top of a rotten cake. Not only that his character was also portrayed in an abominably stereotypical fashion seeming to echo the racist early-Hollywood representations of black characters that were seen as un-heroic, dumb and figures of scorn or fun.
JOFFREY BARATHEON – GAME OF THRONES (2011 – 2014)
The prostitute-murdering-Sean-Bean-killing-bullying-maniac-twat was clearly intended to be the pantomime villain we loved to hate from the start. But, like Malfoy from Harry Potter his character and the slimy performance from Jack Gleeson, he, for me eventually became a character I just hated without any enjoyment. I mean, I know he was sadistic in his treatment of Sansa Stark and mocking of Tyrion but he was also a bottle-job when it came to battle, perfectly encapsulating the worst kind of royal family traits. Moreover, Gleeson’s soulless face, clipped speech and acting on its’ own made me want to drag him out of the television and strangle him. Of course, Joffrey would eventually get poisoned at his own wedding and much joy was had from his demise from pretty much everyone who has ever watched the show.
RUBY RHOD – THE 5th ELEMENT
Luc Besson’s imaginative and colourful sci-fi-action epic had much to enjoy, notably: the performances of Milla Jovovich’s innocent alien, Bruce Willis’ cynical taxi driver and Gary Oldman’s terrific pantomime space villain. The action comes thick and fast and the production is a joy to watch. However, just over halfway through Chris Tucker’s performance of media whore Ruby Rhod takes a massive shit on the film; one it almost never recovers from. I mean, he’s loud, high-pitched, ridiculously dressed and THINKS HE’S FUNNY! What was Besson thinking – who knows!? Even in an over-the-top-colour-clashed-sci-fi-action-romance-extravaganza Ruby Rhod was a stain and travesty of a character!
WHITNEY SOLLOWAY – THE AFFAIR (2014 – )
Clearly this spoilt upper-middle-class New York teenager was intended by the writers to be a right royal pain in the arse. She throws sweet-sixteen tantrums of the highest order throughout and her nasally high-pitched voice grated me so much that I actually stopped watching the show during the second season. While the actress Julia Goldani Telles performance is excellent, the character was just too manipulative and psychotic to ever get my sympathy. Even amidst a whole host of privileged, narcissistic first-worlders Whitney Solloway took the biscuit and in the end I hated her so much I wished she’d been killed to death!
“Hence, once again, pastiche: in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles… means that one of its essential messages is… the failure of the new, the imprisonment in the past.” Frederic Jameson – POSTMODERNISM & CONSUMER SOCIETY (1983)
I loved this film for so many reasons. It’s a nostalgic rush and push of music, action, fantastical creatures, space operatics, zinging one-liners, knowing humour, spectacular effects and in Chris Pratt — a new cinema star (lord) for the millennium is born. Let’s be honest there isn’t an original bone in its body but the fleshy pastiche and meaty cultural references Guardians of the Galaxy wears proudly on its sleeves take the audience on one hell of a journey.
Marxist and cultural theorist Frederic Jameson spoke of the rise of the “Nostalgia” film and postmodernist movies such as Star Wars (1977) and American Graffiti (1973) in his seminal essay aforementioned above. The Nostalgia film harks back and references the past drawing influences not from reality but rather cultural artefacts such as films, comics, radio, TV and music etc. Guardians of the Galaxy involves an orphaned hero — with mysterious father — who must do battle against an evil empire, save a “damsel” in distress, all the while accompanied by a motley crue of intergalactic misfits. Sound at all familiar? Yes, finally the kids of today have their Star Wars. They have a new hope, kind of; a pastiche of a pastiche of a pastiche based solely on the cultural fossils of yesteryear.
Watching this film on IMAX 3D at Wimbledon Odeon Screen 4 (my favourite cinema screen by the way) made me feel nostalgic in so many ways. It felt more like the comic books I read as a child than any film I’ve seen recently. Further, I felt a surge of history as the film opened taking me back to 1977 when my Dad took me to see Star Wars (1977). I recall the massive queues waiting to go see Lucas’ classic and the giddiness and excitement I felt as a youth rushed through me; even more so when the film started and my consciousness was treated to one impressive set-piece after another. I felt young again and all because of a movie!
In a major ironic twist I too felt nostalgic for my University days and my discovery of postmodern theorists such as Jameson, Baudrillard and Foucault while studying. While it served no purpose in the real world my academic life was a great time for me. The knowledge of postmodernism I gained enhanced further this funky fusion of comic-book anti-heroes blowing stuff up to a 70s soundtrack. Indeed, I was at peace with the world. A bomb could have hit the cinema and I would not have cared. It was cinematic heroin. I was happy.
Guardians is the 10th Marvel Universe movie to be produced and is based on a lesser known product from the uber-comic overlords’ oeuvre. Young Peter Quill is not having the best day. At the beginning he suffers the loss of his mother. As he runs away from the hospital he is then kidnapped by a gigantic spaceship which airlifts him to a life with the Ravagers; a group of space cowboys and outlaws – led by Michael Rooker’s Yondu. Flash forward some many years to a galaxy far, far far away and an older Quill (effortlessly charismatic Chris Pratt) is on the hunt for a mysterious orb in order to make a few intergalactic dollars. Quill proves himself a decent dancer and well as fighter as he uses hi-tech weapons to outfox his foes.
The opening action sequence is a sheer joy and essentially riffs on the opening of Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) while using Blue Swede’s funky classic Hooked on a Feeling also used in Reservoir Dogs (1992). Let’s be honest it is all very silly but I am not watching this as a fortysomething man but rather a young boy living in the warmth of the past bathing in the nostalgia of recalling Star Wars, Raiders, Reservoir Dogs and MIXTAPES!! I used to do mixtapes and it was such fun before the devilish digital age took over. Anyway, the orb Quill has stolen turns out to be one of those END OF THE WORLD plot McGuffin thingy’s and a whole host of benign and nefarious characters are after it notably evil Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), Kree mentalist Ronan (Lee Pace) and the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) etc.
So, Quill consequently finds himself pursued and caught and thrown in prison by the Nova Corps (basically humans with funny hair.) He then unwittingly becomes part of a bunch of misfits including: Rocket (Bradley Cooper) – a feisty raccoon and weapons expert; Groot (Vin Diesel) – a tree-like humanoid; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) – Thanos’s adopted assassin daughter; and finally Drax (Dave Bautista) – a giant blue alien muscle guy. Together these unusual suspects form an uneasy but at times hilarious alliance as they fight and argue and bicker and eventually accept each other and combine to overcome the villains before them.
If The Avengers (2012) was a remake of The Magnificent Seven (1964) then this is a remake of the Dirty Dozen (1967) (minus seven). Moreover, the film follows the successful Marvel template of superheroes (or in this case anti-heroes) saving a very Earth-like world from destruction from said poisoned destructive orb (see Tesseract). But what makes this Space-Western such fun is the oddball off-centre characters which director James Gunn and his fellow writers clearly gave a lot of time developing. While special effects reign over the production the likes of Quill, Rocket and Groot are given a humanity and humour which adds heart to story. Indeed the script is full of empathetic backstories and themes including: fatherless, motherless and adopted children, genocide, slaves, nature v. technology, medical experimentation, grief, tyranny of dictatorship; all of which add some depth to the otherwise fluffy frivolity of the script.
Gunn was an interesting choice of director as he had written some mildly successful screenplays and directed two low-budget movies: the hilarious horror Slither (2006) and anti-super-hero oddity Super (2010). But he marshals the army of cast and crew with a great sense of timing and while Guardians is generic in structure, the delight is in the incredible visuals and action, character detail and witty dialogue splashed throughout. The tone almost tipped over into farce in a dance off scene near the end and Del Toro is disappointing underused as The Collector. Plus Zoe Saldana’s character Gamora is gutsy and kick-ass until she turns to type and is saved by Quill. Although I forgave this stereotype because the scene was so memorably rendered and realised in a kind of space version of Jean Vigo’s poetic classic L’Atalante (1934).
The film finishes with a lovely post-credit kick in the nuts with an appearance of another comic-book-anti-hero. Marvel once again has delivered the goods and their standard template will continue to be a success if they choose off-centre directors such as Gunn, Whedon and the Russo Brothers. These are young (ish) guns like Lucas and Spielberg who while they wear their cultural influences proudly on their sleeves, jackets and underwear they paradoxically retain some originality amidst the pastiche and intertextuality. Thus, Frederic Jameson’s theories seem even more valid today. He himself argued that postmodernist culture was linked to the rise of late capitalism from the 1960s onwards and as the Marvel money-making monopoly marches on who can disagree with him.