Produced by: Cathy Konrad, Ezra Swerdlow, Cary Woods
Written by: James Mangold
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra, Noah Emmerich, Edie Falco, Deborah Harry etc.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
James Mangold is rarely mentioned as one of the best filmmakers around. Probably because he is not a flashy director or a household name. Yet, he has consistently delivered a series of extremely entertaining and inventive genre films over the past few decades. These include: Identity (2003), Girl, Interrupted (1999), Walk the Line (2005), 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and more recently, Logan (2017). His films always feature solid characterisation, compelling conflict and well-structured plots. Above all else, Mangold always attracts A-list actors to his film projects. None more so than in the urban neo-Western, Copland (1997).
Copland (1997) is a thriller which still resonates today with themes that focus on corrupt cops conspiring to control crime from the town of Garrison, New Jersey. Drug deals, racial profiling, murder, larceny and perverting the course of justice are all in a day’s work for the crew led by Harvey Keitel’s alpha cop, Ray Donlan. The Sherriff of Garrison is half-deaf and lumpy, Freddie Heflin (Sylvester Stallone). He is so in awe of Ray and his crew that he is prepared to turn a blind eye to their crimes. However, after a series of brutal incidents which bring heat and Internal Affairs onto Freddie’s patch, he must decide whether to take a stand against the bullies.
Copland (1997) is both a fine character study of a downtrodden man finally standing up against those keeping him down, and a searing damnation of the dishonest nature of American police enforcement. Moreover, Mangold has assembled a hell of a cast. Stallone has never been better in his role of Freddie Heflin. He is a sympathetic character, but frustrating as one wills him to fight back. Robert DeNiro attempts to help him as the Internal Affairs officer, Moe Tilden. While slightly over-the-top here, DeNiro’s scenes with Stallone really sizzle. DeNiro spikes with energy as Stallone offers silent awkwardness.
Ray Liotta almost steals the show as the coked-up-copper-on-the-edge, Figgis. While Robert Patrick, unrecognisable from his performance as the T-1000, shines too as nasty piece of work, Jack Rucker. Add Keitel, Michael Rapaport, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo and Cathy Moriarty into the mix and you have one cracking ensemble. Interestingly, Stallone said the film hurt his career. However, he received much critical praise and I wish he’d pursued more character-heavy roles like this rather than films like the forgettable Expendables trilogy.
ALL 4 TV REVIEWS – A VERY BRITISH COUP (1988) & SECRET STATE (2012)
With a General Election coming up I thought I’d look at a couple of political TV dramas, both of which can be seen on Channel Four’s streaming service All 4. Interestingly enough, they are also both based on Chris Mullin’s book, A Very British Coup (1982).
I don’t propose to be an expert on these things, but I hate politics. It’s a necessary evil as someone has to run society, I guess. What with another General Election on December 12th, 2019, it’s not difficult to feel saturated with all things political and with the cluster-fuck of BREXIT!
In the U.K. we have several political parties, but the two main ones are Labour and the Conservatives. They fight and bitch with each other and switch places every four years or so and end up undoing the work the previous party had done. I realise it is a bloody tough thing to run a country, but just wonder whether this the best system we have?
I mean why can’t we join together and work as a collective rather than in constant conflict. Can we not put aside our differences to work toward a common goal? The current system pits us AGAINST each other – left versus right and up versus down and black versus white and green versus blue! Divide and rule seems to be the favoured system to maintain the status quo! Could this change or am I just dreaming!?
A VERY BRITISH COUP (1988) – CHANNEL FOUR
Directed by: Mick Jackson
Adapted by Alan Plater – based on the novel by Chris Mullin
Cast: Ray McAnally, Keith Allen, Alan MacNaughton etc.
Mullins novel imagines a staunch working class and socialist MP, Harry Perkins, rising to the position of Prime Minister and immediately trying to change the political landscape of the ruling upper classes. His biggest desire is to nationalise industry and proceed with nuclear disarmament. This creates, a perceived a security threat, and Perkins finds himself targeted by the Secret Service, including MI5, MI6 and the C.I.A. Moreover, the scandal-lusting media also attempts to bring him down.
Shot on nostalgia-brimmed 16mm film, this is a high quality political drama. Ray McAnally is absolutely brilliant as the strong-willed man of principal attempting to make the system more honest and open. There are echoes of the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn in his socialist policies, so one can see how Perkins would be a threat. With the financial, media, and government factions all fighting each other, it’s a fascinating exploration of political machinations. Sadly, I don’t think much has changed in Westminster or the world either.
Mark: 9 out of 11
SECRET STATE (2012) – CHANNEL 4
Directed by: Ed Fraiman
Adapted by: Robert Jones – based on the novel by Chris Mullin
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Charles Dance, Ruth Negga, Douglas Hodge etc.
If I hadn’t looked it up online, I would never have known this was another adaptation of Chris Mullin’s book. This modern update leaves behind the classic left-wing and right-wing politics of the original adaptation and moves into the more murky world of corporate, industrial and military political intrigue. Gabriel Byrne is uniformly excellent as Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins, suddenly thrust into the PM’s place following a tragic series of events. With a devastating chemical disaster ongoing, potential war with Iran, the Secret Service and political rivals plotting against him, Dawkins is threatened from all sides.
What unfolds is a meaty conspiracy drama which, while lacking the political depth of the original TV programme, more than makes up with quality cast and suspense. While lacking a truly compelling ending, the drama benefits from some excellent performances, notably Douglas Hodge as the washed up, alcoholic ex-spy. It was interesting too that the writers deemed it unnecessary to define what political party Dawkins was from, such was the more ambiguous nature of the political landscape in the pre-Corbyn and post-Blair era.
Executive Producers: Craig Mazin, Carolyn Strauss, Jane Featherstone
Producer: Sanne Wohlenberg
Directed by: Johann Renck
Starring: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Ritter, Jessie Buckley, Emily Watson, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, Sam Troughton, Robert Emms, David Dencik, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan etc.
Composer: Hildure Guonadottir
Cinematography: Jakob Ihre
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
The horror. The human error. The inhumane error. The terror. Meltdown during a safety test. Flaws in the system as ghosts envelop the machine. Science in a brave new world invents progress with which we venture into, only to find we are murdering ourselves.
The terrifying events which took place are chartered with grey, brutalist accuracy. Regular Soviet families live in proximity to a ticking time bomb; believing they are protected by the State. The State trusts the science. The science trusts men to follow nuclear procedures to the letter. But what of pride? What of targets? What price the desire to obsess and force a flawed system?
On that fateful day on 26th April 1986, the nuclear time-bomb exploded. Initially, it was believed it could be contained. The Soviet machine could handle the fallout. Heat. Water. Steam. Graphite. Fire. All conspire to create one of the biggest disasters ever perpetrated against nature.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is well documented but for years the alleged truth was covered up. Death toll rose but official statistics stayed low. Naked miners, radiation sickness, blood, pus and falling hair. Style and look was natural and under-stated. Verisimilitude only heightening the horror.
Johann Renck directs with steely commitment from an incredible Craig Mazin screenplay. Jared Harris, Stellen Stensgaard, Jessie Buckley and Emily Watson lead a stirling cast of formidable character actors. The attention to detail in the HBO production is second-to-none. Thankfully the vicarious fear is palpable and I am able to view such events in the comfort of my own home.
We did this to ourselves but it could have been worse. When will humanity learn that we will bring about our own judgement on Earth. The Scientists led by Valery Legazov and composite character, Ulana Khomyuk, fought at length to contain and prevent this ever happening again. Who really believes it won’t? There are approximately four hundred and fifty nuclear power plants in the world. The threat hangs over humanity like a cancer.
I was at school in April 1986. Just sixteen years old. I saw events on the news. Historical dramas such as Chernobyl make real the fear that was there at the time. The site is still poisoned. The exclusion zone remains two-thousand and six-hundred square metres; uninhabitable for twenty thousand year, according to an online source. This event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.
1986. Former Soviet Union. Ukraine. Pripyat. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Disaster. Recovery. Suppression. Lies. Liquidation. Death. Suicide. Exclusion.
March is a looonnngggg old month and I have watched a shedload of shows and films; so it’s a quick wash and go through my monthly review round up. As usual marks are out of 11 – do enjoy!
**DEFINITELY MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
FILMS OF THE MONTH!
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) – CINEMA
If you’d like a cinema alternative from the current superhero hype then try out neat suspense thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane. It was lean, mean, well-acted and full of fun twists; proving good writing will often be more entertaining than big-budgeted blockbusters. Trapped heroine Mary Elizabeth Winstead is both imprisoned in a bunker by sinister John Goodman and freakish occurrences going on outside and must use her wits to escape. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff throughout in a thrilling sidequel to over-rated “found footage” monster movie Cloverfield (2008). (Mark: 8 out of 11)
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) – CINEMA
A tremendous genre-blend of horror and Western, this debut feature from S. Craig Zahler is destined to be a cult classic. We’re in The Searchers meets Hills Have Eyes territory as Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson. Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins track down townsfolk kidnapped by savage cannibal natives. Not for the faint-hearted, I loved the witty dialogue exchanges, sunburnt vistas and sudden smashes of bloody violence. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
HAIL CAESAR (2016) – CINEMA
If you love the Coen Brothers and also like films that are about people making and watching movies, then Hail Caesar is a delight. It’s a feel-good nostalgic tribute to Hollywood, both funny and charming. It was like watching a cinema soufflé with extra icing sugar on top as the wonderful cast and Hollywood pastiches are faultless. Alden Ehrenreich is superb as the singing cowboy turned unlikely thespian and Josh Brolin knits the “day in the life” structure perfectly as workaholic studio boss. It’s pretty flimsy in terms of a plot but works wonderfully as a series of vignettes from the era, along with mild religious and political satire too. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SUPER (2010) – NETFLIX
“Shut up Crime!” yells Frank Darbo: Rainn Wilson’s on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown loser, as he is visited by God and told he is the “chosen one”. Thus, begins his transformation into the Crimson Bolt; a human superhero/vigilante with no powers, charging to take down Kevin Bacon’s slimy drug dealing scumbag who has also stolen Frank’s wife. This is a hilariously dark and comedic anti-super-hero film very much in the Kick-Ass territory but somehow grittier and more bizarre. Wilson channels his Dwight Shrute persona perfectly and Ellen Page offers spunky support as his sidekick Boltie. James Gunn writes and directs with off-kilter joy and who’d believe he’d go onto direct the far more commercially successful Guardians of the Galaxy (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THEY LIVE (1989) – AMAZON PRIME
They Live is a classic underrated film from the late 80s and still retains its power as a social sci-fi satire. Hard-done-by drifter Roddy Piper finds himself amidst aliens who have infiltrated Earth and now subliminally control human population through the media and advertising. NOT LIKE REAL LIFE THEN! John Carpenter’s film is both clever and dumb as Piper and a band of rebels fight back against the extra-terrestrial horde. Some plot blips aside this is cracking entertainment and contains some great one-liners and fight scenes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
WORTH A WATCH OR RE-WATCH
AGE OF ADALINE (2015) – NOW TV
Kind of a female Benjamin Button movie as Blake Lively shines as Adaline in a heart-warming romantic drama with the excellent Harrison Ford providing fine support. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
ALAN PARTRIDGE’S MIDMORNING MATTERS (2016) – NOW TV
Steve Coogan is back on the airwaves with his usual verbal and physical buffoonery. A succession of hilarious guest cameos from the likes of Reece Shearsmith and Julian Barrett make this comedy gold. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
CROOKED MAN: TOMMY TIERNAN (2010) – NETFLIX
This is incredible stand-up comedy from the Irish cyclone that is Tommy Tiernan. The controversial comedian rips through 90 minutes of stunning observations and routines which are replete with lyrical and bestial beauty. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DOWNFALL (2004) – NETFLIX
I’ve seen this wonderful rendition of Hitler’s final days before but it retains its incredible power and tragedy. Bruno Ganz is monstrously brilliant as the Fuhrer whose murderous empire crumbles around him. The Germans are shown to be dirty rats leaving a sinking ship and there are so many sad scenes throughout; a tough yet enriching experience. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014) – NETFLIX
This brainless action film shows Stallone, Snipes, Statham, Schwarzenegger etc. taking on Mel Gibson’s nefarious arms dealer; and while it’s ridiculous and over-the-top – as cinematic lobotomies go – it’s not too bad. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014) – NOW TV
Ridley Scott remakes Gladiator (2000) again but this time in Egypt as Christian Bale’s Moses goes up against Joel Edgerton’s nefarious Pharaoh. Plagues, pestilence, visions of God and the parting of the seas are all present and correct in a pretty entertaining Biblical epic. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
GOOD KILL (2014) – NETFLIX
Excellent character drama focussing on a falling-apart Drone pilot portrayed with burnt-out aplomb by Ethan Hawke. It’s a compelling analysis of U.S. foreign policy as they attack various targets in the Middle East and while sympathising with the dehumanisation of the “pilots” it also critiques the almost cowardly destruction of life from a distance. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
THE GRANDMASTER (2013) – NETFLIX
Exquisitely shot martial art-house film from Wong Kar-Wai, which pays tribute to Chinese cultural icon Ip Man portrayed with much class by Tony Leung. The Donnie Yen Ip Man films are more accessible than the poetic storytelling offered here but this still packs a delectable punch. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
I AM LOVE (2009) – NETFLIX
Tilda Swinton owns the screen in this melodrama which follows the trials and tribulations of a rich Italian family. Not much occurs but the Italian scenery is breath-taking and while narratively slow, Swinton’s performance and the final act tragedies make it worth the journey. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE JINX (2015) – NOW TV
Now, this documentary was something else. A filmmaker named Andrew Jareki made an okay feature film called All Good Things (2010) starring Ryan Gosling. It charted events concerning eccentric multi-millionaire Robert Durst and the disappearance of his wife. Flash forward a few years and Durst asked Jarieki if he’d like to interview him about his situation and what he perceived was a “witch-hunt”. What follows is an amazing documentary featuring Durst and the events around his wife and TWO other people he is suspected of murdering. There’s something not quite right about Durst as the chilling denouement to the compelling docu-series reveals. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
LIFE ON MARS – SEASON 2 (2007) – NETFLIX
Second season of the “time-travel” 70s cop show picks where the first left off with John Simms’ Sam Tyler battling baddies and once again clashing with his boss, the mud-mouthed-maverick Gene Hunt (Philip Glennister). Once again this drama has great humour and plot twists amidst the mind-bending theatrics and Northern seventies era.(Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE NIGHT MANAGER (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
Beautiful women, locations, undercover spies and nefarious bad guys feature in this James Bondesque John Le Carre literary adaptation. The cast including: Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie are excellent and the story had me mesmerised right up until the explosive though generically unsatisfying ending. Still, it was overall great quality Sunday evening eye-candy though.(Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE PROGRAM (2015) – SKY MOVIES
This intriguing biopic about cyclist Lance Armstrong follows his battle against cancer to Tour de France winner to disgraced drug cheat. It’s a real eye-opener into the process of the win-at-all-costs Armstrong and his obsessive pursuit of victory. Ben Foster excels in the lead and while the dramatics could have been beefed up toward the conclusion it’s still a fascinating story. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
RED TAILS (2012) – NETFLIX
This is a worthy yet lightweight wartime drama focussing on the Tuskegee Airmen and their aerial dog-fighting prowess that was demonstrated so superbly in WWII. The battle scenes are impressive but the characters felt underwritten and the film lacked impact for such an interesting subject. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
SPRING (2014) – NETFLIX
Intriguing low-budget horror-romance film which moves VERY slowly but is punctuated with some fine gore and body horror effects. The characters I could take or leave as anaemic American tourist, Evan, meets a mysterious young woman, Louise, on the streets on Italy. However, the filmmakers deserve acclaim for attempting to create something original in the horror genre. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
STAR TREK: GENERATIONS/ FIRST CONTACT/INSURRECTION (1994/96/98) – NETFLIX
Given myself and my filmmaking partner Gary are making a Star Trek “fan-boy” short film as our next production I decided to immerse myself in some Trek movies; and very good human and science fiction films they are too. Generations sees Kirk (Shatner) and Picard (Patrick Stewart) meet across the time-streams in a giddy mix of philosophy and temporal variance. In First Contact, Picard and crew fight the formidable Borg with the former flexing his action man muscles. Lastly, despite the title Insurrection slows the pace down as Picard falls in love while protecting a peace-loving community called the Ba’ha. All the films are well crafted with First Contact offering the greatest peril as collectively they offer some fine sci-fi concepts, character turns, humour and drama throughout.(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
STILL LIFE (2013) – NETFLIX
Eddie Marsan is wonderful in this touchingly told story of a council worker who searches for family members of “clients” who’ve died alone. It moves slowly but with heart, purpose and pathos; offering an alternative to the overblown lobotomised big budget films at the multiplex. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
STRETCH (2014) – NOW TV
This is a flashy, style-over-substance-day-in-the-life-movie about a burnt out actor/chauffeur who must avoid criminals, cops and crazed clients while trying to stay sober. Patrick Wilson is watchable but I’d only recommend this if you are pissed or unconscious on a Friday night. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE
SEVENTH SON (2014) – NOW TV
Jeff Bridges and the exquisite Julianne Moore take a pay-check but offer little else in this nonsensical fantasy witch-hunter yarn. Awful beyond words. (Mark: 2 out of 11)
THE WITCH (2016) – CINEMA
Be wary of The Witch. Its trailer suggested a scare-fest but it is in essence an overly talky art-house horror; heavy on religious symbolism and folklore. It is very well directed, designed and acted and the broadsheet critics will love it. However, there’s not enough gore, scares or actual story for my liking and at times I was bored as hell. It’s a damned shame as I like horror films and art-house cinema but The Witch just doesn’t make us care about the characters or story at all. (Mark: 3 out of 11)