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SCREENWASH by PAUL LAIGHT – JANUARY 2015 FILM WASH-UP

SCREENWASH REVIEWS – JANUARY 2015

Rather than fanatically and brilliantly reviewing EVERY film I have seen at the cinema this year, I am providing bite-sized reviews of movies I’ve experienced on various mediums:  Cinema, TV, Blu Ray and Netflix et al.  Here’s the FIRST WATCH films I saw  in January 2015!

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A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014) – DIRECTOR: J. C. CHANDOR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a slow, moody and shadowy thriller screaming gimme-Oscar-nods-material. It is really very good in ALL departments but dramatically I wanted more. Critic friendly but ultimately lacking a decent ending, thrills and character development.  Oscar Isaac is impressive in the Michael Corleone style role and Jessica Chastain is terrific if criminally underused. Surprisingly, given the title there isn’t much violence either.

BIRDMAN (2014) – DIRECTOR: ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU

BIRDMAN is an intellectual and artsy dark comedy about loads of stuff involving: celebrity, identity, artistic credibility, insanity, family, f*cked up egos, vanity as well as analysing the creative process. It is NOT a superhero film but a satire on that kind of thing. I liked the stylistic device of making it look like it was shot in one take; Edward Norton taking the piss out of ‘the method’ and Michael Keaton playing himself kind of. Smart, funny and a bit up its own arse – great stuff!

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) – DIRECTOR: MARC VALLEE

Missed this great drama first time around with Matthew McConaughey as the Rodeo Electrician struck down with AIDS. Great story brought to you by a committed cast who deservedly won Oscars for their sterling performances. What I loved most in the adept screenplay was the fact Ron Woodroof essentially found a niche market within the capitalist paradigm and challenged the status quo of the corrupt government and pharmaceutical cartels. At the same time his character transformed into a globe-trotting upwardly mobile corporate executive – with AIDS!

FOXCATCHER (2014) – DIRECTOR: BENNETT MILLER

A powerful and haunting tragedy with incredibly subtle direction, this complex psychological thriller which shines a light on billionaire John DuPont and his fascination with fraternal Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz. Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are great but the film belongs to Channing Tatum; a raging bull of an ordinary Joe desperately trying to find an identity amidst the two surrogate fathers he finds himself trapped between.

THE GUEST (2014) – DIRECTOR: ADAM WINGARD

Awesome B-movie action-comedy starring Dan Stevens as a Gulf War veteran hiding a secret past.  Director Adam Wingard lays on the 80s parodic charm without veering into ultra-corn while the film contains a cool star-turn from Downton Abbey’s buffed and shiny Dan Stevens.

LAWN DOGS (1997) – DIRECTOR: JOHN DUIGAN

Morally ambiguous character piece which finds Sam Rockwell’s underdog gardener befriending a precocious schoolgirl portrayed by Mischa Barton. Apparently it’s inspired by the folktale of Baba Yaga but I felt we were in David Lynch territory with the offbeat characters, sexual subtext, sudden violence and dreamlike denouement.  Rockwell as usual is fantastic as an ordinary Joe caught in the crossfire of the mores of a rich and spoilt American community.

MALCOLM X (1992) – DIRECTOR: SPIKE LEE

Excellent true drama concerning the controversial Malcolm X played with formidable presence by the ever-excellent Denzil Washington. Spike Lee treats this political iconoclast with the respect he deserves as the one-time hoodlum is propelled to spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. It’s a modern epic and Lee imbues the film with some impressive stylistic flourishes, excellent drama and inspirational speeches.

SABOTAGE (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAVID AYER

Average actioner with Arnie’s FB-CIA-GENERIC-SWAT team colleagues dropping quicker than the Austrian Oak’s box-office takings as they get wiped out one-by-one by a rat in their dirty pack.  Agatha Christie on steroids with some chunky action and decent violence yet let down by paper-thin characters and weak plotting.

SACRAMENT (2014) – DIRECTOR: SHAWN EWERT

Ultra-low budget horror comedy that I watched at the Horror-on-the-Sea Festival had terrible acting, but loads of gore and violence and cannibalistic religious nuts in the Deep South (where else) of the United States.  Some fine lo-budget blood-letting and gallows humour made it great fun and highly entertaining.

STARRED-UP (2013) – DIRECTOR: DAVID MACKENZIE

Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn are on cracking form as father and son banged up together in this brutal slice of prison life.  O’Connell is out of control and starred-up (promoted) to the big boy’s institution as scene after scene illustrates his anger at the world; only beginning to see another way through Rupert Friend’s calming voluntary social worker.

WHIPLASH (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAMIAN CHEZELLE

I concur with all of the praise the film WHIPLASH has been getting. It’s a triumph in all departments from director, cast and crew. Echoes of Officer and a Gentlemen (1992) and Full Metal Jacket (1987)with the fearsome Drill Sergeant battering the young grunts for starters. But then it takes off into an incredible final act as Teller’s recruit and Simmons brutal teacher face-off to an amazing musical crescendo.  Miles Teller is great but if J.K. Simmons doesn’t win every Best Supporting Actor award this year I’ll eat my high-hat…. b’dum-dum-chh!!

In between doing a back-to-back binge on the U.S. OFFICE (up to Season 4 so far) with Carell and the gang, I also rewatched the bastardized adaptation of LORD OF THE FLIES (1990) and Brian DePalma’s lurid Hitchcockian-slasher-giallo-homage DRESSED TO KILL (1980) with Michael Caine in a very against-type role.

CHANGING LANES – (AKA ‘ARTISTS’ WHO SUCCESSFULLY SHIFTED CAREER PATHS)

CHANGING LANES – by PAUL LAIGHT

The excellent intellectual comedy BIRDMAN (2014) is about — among many themes — a movie star attempting to gain artistic credibility and shift his career from the commercial side to the more critically acclaimed. Using this as inspiration I decided to take a look at some musicians, actors and a filmmaker who in some way have began at one end of the creative spectrum and successfully careered to another. At the same time as changing creative lanes they surprised the audience, improved their critical kudos or at the very least shifted  perception of their oeuvre. Please do suggest others if I have missed them; which I imagine I have. They’re in no particular order either.

PETER JACKSON – FILMMAKER

Peter Jackson is one of my cinematic heroes. The reason being is he began his career from scratch in New Zealand making the no budget horror film Bad Taste (1987) before subsequently going on to make some of the biggest grossing blockbusters ever committed to celluloid.  My favourite film of his remains the hilarious gorefest Braindead (1992) and therefore his career shift to the haunting Heavenly Creatures (1994) was an incredible leap.  Personally, I liked his bloody horror films better but of course his Tolkien trilogies contain some amazing filmmaking too.

DAN STEVENS – ACTOR

I don’t watch Downton Abbey so had never heard of the handsome actor Dan Stevens.   The first I met him was watching the low budget actioner The Guest (2014) and he is absolutely brilliant. It’s a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot.  Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making.

BEN KINGSLEY – ACTOR

Kingsley stunned me when he appeared in Jonathan Glazer’s excellent debut feature Sexy Beast (2000) as the foul-mouthed cockernee monster Don Logan; sent to wreak havoc on Ray Winstone’s feng shui and chi.   It was an incredible performance which completely shifted perception away from the archetype RSC trained actor of stage and screen.  His portrayal of Gandhi put Kingsley very much on the cultural map whereas the visceral brutality of Logan pissed all over it!

LUCILLE BALL – ACTOR

Lucille Ball was a pioneering actress, comedienne and film studio executive. She was the star of many sitcoms notably I Love Lucy. Early doors though she performed in many small movie roles in the 1930s and 1940s, being dubbed the “Queen of the B-movies”.  In 1951, Ball helped create the television series I Love Lucy with husband Desi Arnaz and during a prolific career Ball was nominated for Emmy thirteen times and won four of the beauties.

CLINT MANSELL – MUSICIAN

Clint was the frontman for Black Country-bassed-hip-hop-funny-as-fuck-politically-incorrect-grebo-groovesters Pop Will Eat Itself!  Along with The Wonderstuff they were one of my favourite bands from the late 80s/90s.  Songs like:  Beaver Patrol, Grebo Guru, Can U Dig It, Wise Up Sucker etc.   smacked the arse of the charts with a flurry of non-sensical lyrics and pilfered samples. Years later Mansell rose from the spunky ashes of PWEI to become a respected film composer. His most memorable score is for the grim, yet awesome Aronofsky helmed Requiem For A Dream (1996) and since then he has consistently written for the same director. His classical piece Lux Æterna has become a ubiquitous soundtrack for many a film trailer!

JEROME FLYNN – ACTOR

To be honest Jerome Flynn has always been a decent TV character actor ever since he starred in Soldier Soldier in the 1990s.   But we also have him to thank for giving producer Simon Cowell some of his early hit records when, along with Robson Greene, he butchered a series of singalonga ‘classics’ including Unchained Melody.   He’s forgiven though for his musical crimes as his cultural slate has been wiped clean via his tough and gritty appearances in the phenomenal  Game Of Thrones plus the excellent Ripper Street. 

MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY – ACTOR

McConaughey has always had star appeal ever since his appearance in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and always stood out as an actor to watch. His career choices, however, in romantic comedies such as: The Wedding Planner (2001), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Failure to Launch (2006), Fool’s Gold (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) made him a shedload of dough but had many thinking he’d thrown away his ability on fluff. But then the “McConaissance” occurred and since 2010 he has eschewed the mortgage-paying unchallenging work and starred in some intense, transformative and often brutal roles including: Killer Joe (2011), The Paperboy (2012), Mud (2012), Magic Mike (2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), and stunning HBO series True Detective (2014).

CHARLIZE THERON – ACTOR

When Theron appeared in some decent but unspectacular early roles you would not have been wrong to suspect she was just another model-turned-actress wannabe who had got her break due to her cracking good looks.  However, THAT is definitely NOT the case as her acting prowess was proven in the Oscar-winning role of female serial-killer Aileen Wuornos. Tragic film Monster (2003) flipped career perception on it’s head as she imbued Wuornos with an anger, pain and humanity which never fails to rabbit-punch the emotions.   It was an incredible lane change in Theron’s career and proved she was no blonde bimbo. She was also fantastic as a twisted neurotic suffering from a severe case of arrested development in  Young Adult (2011).

BEN AFFLECK – ACTOR/DIRECTOR

Is Ben Affleck a good actor?  I had this discussion with a friend and we decided he was a solid if unspectacular presence who can be impressive at times with his professionalism in Good Will Hunting (1997),  Changing Lanes (2002), Hollywoodland (2006) and Gone Girl (2014).  However, let’s be straight he has also appeared in some right old garbage such as Daredevil (2003) and the critically panned Gigli (2003). But Affleck’s cultural redemption has occurred as a director in which he has hit three cinema home runs with the excellent Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town (2010) and the political thriller Argo (2012).   These are three proper movies with the assured directorial touch of the great genre filmmakers such as John Ford or Huston.  In some ways his career mirrors that of Clint Eastwood’s; as in he’s appeared in some great films, some rubbish films and is now becoming a formidable director to boot!

WHOOPI GOLDBERG – COMEDIAN/ACTOR

Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe and would then be cast in Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985). Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered by life but whom amidst the abuse retains a strength to not let life destroy her. All the more amazing given it was Goldberg’s first dramatic film role.  Goldberg would go on to prove both her dramatic and comedic mettle in a number of roles eventually winning an Oscar in the supernatural-thriller-romance-weepie Ghost (1990).

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ANDREA BOCELLI – SINGER

I don’t know much about Opera or classical music to be honest but I do know what I like when I hear it.  Thus, Andrea Bocelli’s pop-opera classic Con te partirò is an obvious favourite ever since I heard it in The Sopranos.  Andrea Bocelli himself had always immersed himself in singing since a boy but had to work his way up from the bottom, sort of.  He was a qualified lawyer and playing piano in the bars when ‘discovered’ by goalkeeper-turned-singer Luciano Pavarotti. The rest they say is history!  Time to say goodbye reader; au revoir!