Produced by: Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski
Screenplay by: Jack Fincher
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Charles Dance, etc.
Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
“A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.” – Orson Welles
I was never a fan of train sets as a child or adult. Nor those racing car circuit kits like Scalextric. They were not for me and I always got the feeling that the person playing with them was having much more fun than any spectator in the room. I had that similar feeling of exclusion and while watching David Fincher’s latest film, MANK (2020). Fincher of course is one of the leading film directors of a generation, combining exquisite technical brilliance with a formidable eye for genre storytelling. Indeed, films he directed such as: SEVEN (1995), FIGHT CLUB (1999), ZODIAC (2007) and the arguably under-rated, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008), are all masterclasses in filmmaking technique and genre narratives. Fincher has also made other excellent films too and also helped create the superlative crime series on Netflix, MINDHUNTER.
Thus, with such a directorial power at the helm it is mildly surprising that Fincher has chosen, as his latest film opus, to favour the trials and tribulations of a famous Hollywood screenwriter in Herman J. Mankiewicz. Yet, this is somewhat of a personal project for Fincher as his father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay prior to his passing in 2003. Mankiewicz or ‘Mank’, as he was commonly known, is portrayed by the never-less-than-brilliant, Gary Oldman. His Mank is a wise-cracking, gambling and barely functioning alcoholic, who so happens to be one of the best screenwriters and script doctors in 1940’s Hollywood. Laid up following a car crash, Mank is consigned to a bed for the majority of the present tense of the film. There he is bullied to write CITIZEN KANE (1941), by theatrical wunderkind, Orson Welles, while also ordered to remain sober.
If you have never seen, CITIZEN KANE (1941), or know little of the Hollywood period of the time, then you are most likely to be lost with MANK (2020). CITIZEN KANE (1941) is rightly considered one of finest films of all time and there have been a number of films made about its creation. Here though the story concentrates on the plight of the writer and how Mank came to be influenced by his relationships with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Some of the best scenes of the film are Mank’s visits to Hearst Castle and the opulent dinner parties which take place. Mank himself is seen as a witty addendum to proceedings, but always the sneered upon drunken outsider, good for a biting quip and an inebriated jest. Allied to this there are an abundance of characters from the studio system featured, notably Louis B. Mayer, Irvin Thalberg and David O. Selznick. The scene where an drunken Mank bitterly lets rip his ire at Hearst and his cronies is a memorable work of acting from Oldman and contains some fantastic dialogue too.
Overall, the drama rarely gets as good as this and I hardly ever cared about many of the characters, including Mankiewicz himself. The script felt broken-backed, switching from the belligerent and bed-ridden Mank to the flashbacks portraying his Hollywood experiences. I must say though, that the use of screenwriting headers to delineate the place and year of a scene is inspired. The political subplot also, while important to Mankiewicz’s motivation behind his writing choices, did not quite work for me either. Finally, as we would come to expect from a visual genius such as David Fincher, the film’s style is artistry of the highest order. The black-and-white cinematography and stunning production design of MANK (2020) is absolutely incredible to behold. As such, one won’t witness a more beautiful looking train set on a TV or cinema screen all year.
THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2019!
Bit late with this one, but following on from my twelve favourite films of 2019, here are the twelve favourite television shows I watched. I must admit I am still way behind on many AMAZON shows and don’t have APPLE TV+ or DISNEY +, so there’s probably loads of good TV stuff I have missed. For comparison I include last year’s favourites here:
FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2018
Atlanta (2018) – Season 2 – Fox
Billions (2018) – Season 4 – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
Black Mirror (2017) – Season 4 – Netflix
Bodyguard (2018) – BBC
The Deuce (2018) – Season 2 – HBO – Sky Atlantic
The Handmaid’s Tale (2018) – Season 2 – Hulu / Channel 4
Inside No. 9 (2018) – Season 4 – BBC
Killing Eve (2018) – Season 1 – BBC
Patrick Melrose (2018) – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
Vanity Fair (2018) – ITV
A Very English Scandal (2018) – BBC
FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2019
Now, this was TOUGH! Television productions just got better and better! I cannot believe I had to leave the following off the list. Yet, here are the honourable mentions: Afterlife (Season 1), Billions (Season 4), Black Mirror (Season 5), Euphoria (2019), Ghosts (2019), The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 3), Line of Duty (Season 5), The Loudest Voice (2019), My Brilliant Friend (2018), Ozark (Season 2), Stranger Things (Season 3); and the baffling genius of Watchmen (2019). But I decided to limit myself to twelve favourite shows and here they are:
CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… an incredible TV drama. This tragic event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.”
DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
“… confused in a good way and totally immersed in the Tenebrae. You will be lost — searching for the light — yet you will be astounded too .”
ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (2018) – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC
“… These are not likeable characters, but the Showtime production delivers as compelling a character drama as you’re likely to see all year.”
FLEABAG (2019) – SEASON 2 – BBC
“… Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedic and dramatic gold from them. Deserves all the praise and awards going.”
FOSSE / VERDON (2019) – FX / BBC
“… If you’re interested in the life and work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. Rockwell and Williams are incredible.”
GAME OF THRONES (2019) – SEASON 8 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… despite the incredibly disappointing final episode, it was all about the journey rather the final destination. Winter has come and winter has gone and it’s one I will never forget!”
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2019) – SEASON 13 – FX / NETFLIX
“… The season takes joy in referencing the #MeToo and Time’s Up and Inception. The latter becoming a hilarious meta-textual delight. By the thirteenth episode,I had thoroughly enjoyed the scatter-gun chaos!”
MINDHUNTER (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
“… with gripping narratives, great direction, memorable performances and the production team’s accurate eye for period detail in mind, I just did not want the latest season ofto end.”
SUCCESSION (2019) – SEASON 2 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… Ultimately, this is Shakespearean television of the highest quality. Succession (2019), is what we would get if Billy Wilder did TV.”
UNBELIEVABLE (2019) – NETFLIX
“… thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways police departments handle such situations.”
THE VIRTUES (2019) – CHANNEL 4
“… a more individual focused, personal and painful character study. Stephen Graham is absolutely amazing as the character of Joseph.”
WHEN THEY SEE US (2019) – NETFLIX
“… Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience.”
Directors: David Fincher, Andrew Dominik, Carl Franklin
Created by: Joe Penhall – based on Inside the FBI’s Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
Writers: Doug Jung, Joshua Donen, Courtenay Miles, Phillip Howze, Jason Johnson, Colin J. Louro, Pamela Cederquist, Liz Hannah, Alex Metcalf, Shaun Grant etc.
Producers: Jim Davidson, Mark Winemaker, Liz Hanna
Cast: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Cotter Smith, Anna Torv, Stacey Roca, Joe Tuttle, Albert Jones, etc.
Original Network: Netflix
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
Serial killers and the subsequent crime investigations are big business. Book, films, musicals, songs, podcasts, television documentaries and fiction shows litter our screens and airwaves. Murder, for all the savagery and horror it brings, is something we as a species are inextricably drawn to explore. I can only speak for myself to say that I am consistently horrified by the evil crimes people commit. Such violence is sickening, yet, in an attempt to understand it I watch and listen to many crime shows and programmes.
Both dark and stylish, Mindhunter, is one of the classiest and well-crafted of the serial killer genre dramas released in recent years. This David Fincher-led production, created by writer Joe Penhall, takes elements from Zodiac(2007), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and standard FBI procedural dramas to brilliantly highlight the embryonic stages of the ‘Behavioural Science Unit’ or BSU serial-killing profiling team.
Season 1 began in 1979 and found the team of Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Dr Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), forming an uneasy alliance at the BSU. They initially began interviewing murderers behind bars to attempt to understand their motives and modus operandi in order to assist with new investigations. The highlight of the season was the appearance of notorious serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton). Britton’s rendition is incredibly chilling and his intense connection with Ford rattled the FBI agent’s cage so much he unravelled psychologically.
Season 2 is even better than the first because it wastes no time in getting to some major crime investigations. Season 1 got slightly bogged down in Ford’s personal relationships, and while Season 2 find Tench’s and Carr’s home lives providing intriguing subplots, this latest set of nine episodes are more committed to interviewing and catching killers. Kemper returns briefly, but the team also have some intense interviews with ‘Son of Sam’ – David Berkowitz (Oliver Cooper) and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman). The latter, in Episode 5, is a short but striking scene and complete television gold.
The majority of Season 2 is taken up with a major murder case in Atlanta during 1981. A series of teenage black youths, mainly boys, have been going missing and Ford and Tench are sent out to help the Atlanta police department. It’s a hotbed of socio-political and racial tensions. Plus, the parents of the missing kids feel the police are not doing enough to catch the killer. There is also a belief the murders could be the work of the Ku Klux Klan. Tench and Ford have other ideas and meet resistance to their new theories. Much drama and suspense is gained from testing their methods within this charged atmosphere. Jonathan Groff as Holden Ford is especially adept at rubbing people up the wrong way with his off-centre, almost alien, persona. Holt McCallany is also very impressive in his role as his more popular partner, Tench.
David Fincher is one of those filmmakers whose form and style is often unsettling and remarkable. He, along with fellow directors, Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin, shoot in the shadows, both stylistically and psychologically. Greens, dark yellows and browns stain the screen and create a haunting stylistic palette. Furthermore, with gripping narratives, great direction, memorable performances and the production team’s accurate eye for period detail in mind, I just did not want the latest season of Mindhunterto end. Lastly, while murder has become a lucrative fixture on our TV screens, I have to admit that series like this render it powerfully addictive; something that captures you and refuses to let you go.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #4 – ZODIAC (2007) “The Basement Scene”
Directed by: David Fincher
Produced by: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer, Ceán Chaffin
Screenplay by: James Vanderbilt
Based on: Zodiac & Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards
Arguably, the finest thriller director around at the moment is David Fincher. His film Zodiac (2007) was a detailed analysis of the characters involved in the hunt for the eponymous serial killer. It’s a film full of brutal murders and obsessive characters, notably Jake Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist turned investigator, Robert Graysmith. His character almost goes insane discovering who the Zodiac killer; so much so he risks losing everything – including his mind!
Toward the end of the film, Graysmith interviews Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), a film projectionist, and the suspense is created literally out of nothing. The total absence of a known nemesis creates an unlikely amount of tension, especially allied with the way Fincher shoots in shadows and frames his characters. Graysmith is not seemingly in any danger but his paranoia, claustrophobia and growing sense of unease petrifies him until he is forced to flee. In fact, the thriller genre convention of revealing the murderer is, like in the real-life case of the Zodiac, rejected; thus catharsis is denied to the audience throughout this nail-biting paranoiac thriller classic.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s sweaty, panicked performance is perfect here as is his counterpart Charles Fleischer, who seems scary without even trying. Moreover, while it seems obvious to state that a director is the one controlling the various creative aspects of a film, David Fincher is one of those filmmakers whose form and style is often remarkable. This scene is testament to his skills as a cinematic craftsman par excellence.
For an excellent analysis of the “basement scene” check this link out too:
Most of us like to be scared and thrilled and made tense, especially if it is in the darkened recesses of the cinema. Because as the adrenaline and stress levels rise we know, at the back of our minds, we’re safe. Nothing can actually harm us because it’s happening on a screen. Yet witnessing characters in danger of harm or death can be an exhilarating and cathartic experience for many. Indeed, as the above quote from Freud suggests watching films of the horror or thriller genres is subconsciously akin to a near-death experience. Facing the reaper from a position of relative safety is part of the thrill of going to the movies.
The thriller genre is one of my favourite types of film and in this piece I would like to draw on elements of psychology, genre and culture theories to examine classic, postmodern and neo-thriller tropes. I also want to investigate some recent cinema offerings which defy certain genre conventions and have what could be described as a subtle less-is-more approach to building suspense and thrilling the audience. For this I will examine three scenes from the work of David Fincher, Denis Villeneuve and Joel and Ethan Coen where, while adhering to thriller genre conventions, they also softly kill us in an arguably more unconventional fashion.
But what draws us toward the darkness of the thriller and, psychologically speaking, why do we enjoy them so much? According to research conducted by Dr Deirdre Johnston in 1995, viewing motivations for watching the horror or thriller genres include: sensation seeking and overcoming fear, whether you’re identifying with the killer or the victim. Moreover, Peter G. Stromberg argues in his piece The Mysteries of Suspense that uncertainty and surprise are powerful tools in the thriller genre. As humans we are uncertain of our mortality and thrillers tap into that innate fear. Also that as social mammals we have the power to experience and feel the fear as characters on a cinema screen do. Lastly, Sheila Kohler opines that a fascination with violence draws us to the thriller genre. While most of us are scared of hurt and pain, by placing violence within the structure and order of a story we both enjoy the sensation of danger while controlling said violence.
These are just a few of the psychological reasons why we are drawn to the thriller genre. Formally and stylistically the thriller also offers a myriad of entertaining devices including: McGuffins (or red-herring), twists, cliff-hangers, flashbacks, flash-forwards, voice-overs etc. Moreover, it also features characteristics like: unreliable narrators, innocents-as-victims, mistaken identity, monstrous villains, revenge, kidnappings, and ticking-time bomb countdowns to name a few. According to James Patterson one of the thrillers enduring characteristic is openness to expansion into subgenres such as: spy, historical, police, medical, religious, tech, and military settings. Essentially, the structural flexibility of the threat of death is far-reaching and the ability to create suspense is very progressive within the thriller genre hence why it has proved popular to audiences and filmmakers alike.
One of the greatest proponents of the thriller was of course Alfred Hitchcock. Often cited as the “Master of Suspense”, Hitchcock is quoted as saying, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” He certainly made us suffer beautifully in all manner of classic films such as: The 39 Steps (1935), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960) and countless others. Aside from Hitchcock’s dazzling skill with form and style his narratives always contained powerful villains or external forces of authority which symbolised death. Thus, while coming close to death throughout Hitchcock’s protagonists more often than not survive while the villain or force perished. Thus, a Hitchcock thriller offers catharsis, which is a Greek term Aristotle used to describe the purging of negative emotions.
Without a shadow of a doubt Hitchcock had an incredible influence of filmmakers throughout film history. Indeed, the term Hitchockian thriller has entered the vocabulary of cinema. His films have influenced great filmmakers like: Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorcese, and arguably most of all thriller expert Brian DePalma. He, in my opinion is a postmodern filmmaker as he uses devices like homage and pastiche within his filmic style, echoing many of Hitchcock’s films in: Obsession (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Body Double (1984). Within DePalma’s ouevre there are also impressive set-pieces lifted from other films such as the Battleship Potemkin (1925)/Odessa Steps homage in The Untouchables (1987). Likewise in the spy thriller Mission Impossible (1996), DePalma’s iconic Langley heist set-piece was done with no dialogue in a major nod to classic French crime thriller Rififi (1955).
What DePalma has in common with Hitchcock too is the use of humour in his films to provide catharsis or pay off suspenseful moments. I liken this to releasing a valve and letting the audience off the hook somewhat. This is seen none more so than in the wildly over-the-top film Body Double (1984), which is a pastiche of both Rear Window and Vertigo (1958). In a particularly suspenseful scene our protagonist is about to be skewered by a pneumatic drill and just on moment of impact the plug from the wall is pulled, thus releasing the threat of death and finding some sick humour in an especially tense moment. Of late, however, I have noticed a movement away from such humour or release-the-valve safety. Where both Hitchcock and DePalma employed the convention of catharsis and overcoming death, recent cinema releases have taken a slightly different approach.
While Hitchcock and DePalma often favoured the highly stylized approach to building suspense it’s interesting to compare their work to some recent films which I feel take a more subtle, yet just as effective, approach. The Coen Brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2007) is such a film. The story is a dark crime narrative involving a tense pursuit across country involving heinous hitman, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). The filmmakers establish Chigurh as a force of nature and create suspense through uncertainty, as he kills both law enforcement officers and the people who hired him.
The most tension-inducing scene is Chigurh favouring a coin toss to decide if someone lives or dies. He uses this method both in a scene with a store clerk and at the end with Kelly McDonald’s character Carla Jean. While, the innocents-as-victim is an often used convention in thrillers, the nature of fate or luck within the scene creates unbearable suspense as Chigurh’s crimes become not motivated by a sense of professionalism, but rather scarily, the flick of a coin. There’s some relief when luck seems to shine on the store clerk but no such fortune for the unfortunate Carla Jean. Even then there is ambiguity as we, like her husband, do not see her die; however it is implicit within the editing and performance that sadly she does.
Arguably, the finest thriller director around at the moment is David Fincher and his film Zodiac (2007) was a detailed analysis of the characters involved in the hunt for the eponymous serial killer. It’s a film full of brutal murders and obsessive characters, notably Jake Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist turned investigator, Robert Graysmith. His character becomes obsessive about discovering who the Zodiac killer is and even loses his family and job in the process. Toward the end of the film, Graysmith interviews Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), a film projectionist, and the suspense is created literally out of nothing. The total absence of a known nemesis creates an unlikely amount of tension, especially allied with the way Fincher shoots in shadows and frames his characters. Graysmith is not seemingly in any danger but his paranoia, claustrophobia and growing sense of unease petrifies him until he is forced to flee. In fact, the thriller genre convention of revealing the murderer is, like in the real-life case of the Zodiac, rejected; thus catharsis is denied to the audience throughout this nail-biting paranoiac thriller classic.
Similarly, in the recent crime thriller Sicario (2015), aside from a the conventional exploding bomb opening, the director Denis Villeneuve uses more subtle techniques to get under the skin of the audience. Often thrillers will have a brutal showdown between our hero and the villain resulting in the nemeses’ death, but at the end of Sicario it is a far more quiet and unnerving scene. Here Emily Blunt’s moralistic Kate Macer realises she has been used to collude the black-ops Cartel murders by CIA-sanctioned assassin Alejandro Gillick (Benecio Del Toro). While Gillick has a gun to Macer’s head the threat is palpable but what makes the filmmaking so striking is it has the confidence to eschew the standard car chase or big fight finale for something so tense and disquieting. The tragedy of humanity here is the realisation for Macer that she will not make a difference in the CIA and the law cannot protect her. Gillick represents as he puts it, “the land of wolves”; thus once again, similar to No Country For Old Men, we as the audience, are given no escape or purging from death as Gillick walks away to continue his morally ambiguous endeavours.
What all these scenes and films provide are a denial of releasing the valve and consequently allaying our fear of death. Moreover, in contravention of the classical thriller model the villains and monsters in these scenes actually get away so while the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian DePalma allow catharsis by generally defeating the bad guy, neo-Hollywood filmmakers like those mentioned above, kill us softly with a creeping nihilism and feeling of dread which remains even after you’ve exited the cinema.
June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:
SCREENWASH FILM AND TV REVIEWS – JUNE 2016
**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV
The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)
The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX
I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display. Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA
Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV
If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight. I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)
GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV
The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX
Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off. Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV
Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA
Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown(1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV
Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time. I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)
May was a decent month of viewing with some things old, some things new and nothing blue watched at all. So, here are my TV, film and comedy reviews for the month of May – with marks out of 11 as usual.
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON ONE – NOW TV
Very much a “first world” problem drama starring the excellent Dominic West, Maura Tierney and the effervescent Ruth Wilson, it shows the events an extramarital affair causes to two different families. The acting and writing are just superb as West and Wilson’s sexually charged attraction spills into duplicity, body heat and suspense. The storytelling is excellent too as each episode shows multiple events from different perspectives and the characters are both irritating and intriguing with their wonky moral compasses and poor life choices. The Affair is highly compelling and keeps you gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003 – 2004) – NETFLIX
How the hell did I miss this cracking comedy first time round beats me?! The hilarious show centres on the disastrous Bluth family who are all narcissistic egoists all trying to manipulate each other in some financial or emotional way. Even the sanest of the lot Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is a flawed “hero”, although he is positively angelic compared to the other members of his family including failed magician Gob (Will Arnett), pill-popping matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter), deluded Lindsay (Portia De Rossi) and imprisoned father portrayed with sociopathic insouciance by Jeffrey Tambor. The brilliant ensemble cast (including among others: David Cross, Michael Cera, Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Tony Hale etc.) hit the rapid-fire gags and deranged scenarios out of the ballpark; as the show perfectly encapsulates the very epitome of a dysfunctional family. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) – BLU RAY
Andrew Dominik’s moody Western is one of the BEST films I have seen in the last 10 years. It was a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; wonderful cast; beautiful vistas; elegant pace; resonating themes regarding notoriety; and so on and so forth. Sam Rockwell excels in a supporting role as Charley Ford who gets caught between the eerie homo-erotic hero-worship-then-rivalry of his brother Robert (stunning Casey Affleck) and eponymous Jesse James (never better Brad Pitt). The film moves at a glacial pace, building character and suspense, while in between, the sporadic bursts of violence startle and raise the pulse in an altogether memorable cinematic experience. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016) – CINEMA
Historical reviews on this very blog have been favourable about Captain America and his exploits; in fact he is probably my favourite Marvel Avenger I’d say. His last outing Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) was one of my films of the year, so I had high hopes for Civil War. The final film in the trilogy delivers a cracking rollercoaster ride filled with tremendous action, set-pieces and plot twists. As usual the army of Marvel effects technicians deliver an array of computer-generated mastery with a cacophony of colour, explosions, chases, fighting and bone-crunching sound effects.
The strong narrative involves a number of strands which link the prior two films as Steve Rogers protects his brainwashed buddy Bucky Barnes from the US government and allied Avengers attempting to bring him to justice for his crimes. Moreover, Iron Man, Black Widow, Vision and others face off against Captain America and his team in order to make the Avengers more accountable for their actions. This culminates in THE BEST ACTION SEQUENCE of the year as the Avengers have a battle royale on an airstrip in Germany. Overall, it’s a brilliant film which has welcome cameos from Ant-Man and another new Spiderman; while also introducing the all-action nobility of the Black Panther. Again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily the blockbuster of the year. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
GOTHAM (2015) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX
TV boxset watching is often like a cultural version of Stockholm syndrome. Some programmes grab you immediately while others you have to watch enough of before you give in to their demands. With that in mind, it took about 11 episodes before started enjoying Gotham. It began poorly with terrible dialogue and hammy acting and the Batman canon timeline, tone and characters are all over the shop. However, by the end it had won me over as a trashy guilty pleasure mixing horror, comic-book, crime, Western and fantasy genres. Highlights are the succession of violent cartoon villains and young versions of villains-to-come while Ben Mckenzie (Gordon), Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin), Sean Pertwee (Alfred) and Corey Michael Smith (Edward Nygma) steal the show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GREEN ROOM (2015) – CINEMA
This was an excellent sophomore feature film from writer/director Jeremy “Blue Ruin” Saulnier, as we find a punk band pitted against neo-Nazis in the back beyond of Portland, USA. It borrows heavily from George Romero and John Carpenter but the filmmakers and cast create a really nasty horror-show as the death of a rock fan spirals totally out of control. A fine cast including: Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Anton Yelchin, Amanda Poot, and an against-the-grain-playing-nasty Patrick Stewart. Despite the stupidity of the band and Nazis I was gripped throughout and there is some terrific gore and box-cutting violence and recommended for those who like their thrills rare and bloody. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 11 – NETFLIX
Oh the man-children, Dennis, Charlie, Mac and Frank – and not forgetting bird-girl Dee – are back for another season of anarchic derring-do at Paddy’s Pub and beyond. As a massive fan of this very naughty show I was very much looking forward to the mayhem of Season 11; and they did not let us down. In this season we had episodes: parodying 80s ski films; Charlie capturing a Leprechaun; the gang getting trapped on a Christian cruise; Charlie and Mac move to the suburbs; Dee gets involved in porn; a whole episode, rather scarily, shot from Frank’s point-of-view; and all manner of other bizarre incidents and behavior. The gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
LINE OF DUTY (2013 – 2014) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – NETFLIX
Very solid cop drama written and produced by Jed Mercurio, this story of cops investigating cops has an excellent British cast across two seasons including: Lennie James, Craig Parkinson, Neil Morrissey, Adrian Dunbar plus leads Martin Crompston and Vicky McClure. It’s tightly plotted with some brilliant twists and great suspense as you never quite know who’s on whose side. Special mention for Keeley Hawes who is a revelation as the cop being chased in the second season; as her acting is so brilliant, you never know if she’s good, bad, manipulative, a victim or just plain evil. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – PRINCE CHARLES 007 RETROSPECTIVE
The Living Daylights, for me, is a very fine Bond film and Dalton is an incredibly under-rated 007. He only did two films but brought a pathos, depth and unpredictability to the role that Moore severely lacked. Bond is a stone-cold-killer-burnt-out-anti-authoritarian-adrenaline-junkie who has seen death a thousand times over; and Dalton plays him as such. Connery, Craig and at times Brosnan got this over in their performances but none as much as Dalton. The film works brilliantly on the big screen too and stands the test of time as both a sterling Bond film and cracking espionage action thriller.For my full classic review clink on this link: (Mark: 9 out of 11)
NOSFERATU (1979) – SKY MOVIES
Werner Herzog’s atmospheric and moody adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula works brilliantly as both a horror film and homage to Murnau’s silent classic of the same name. Bruno Ganz excels as the unlucky Harker, sent to Transylvania to complete a property deal for his firm. Moreover, Klaus Kinski is chilling as the vampiric Count hell-bent on sucking the blood out of anyone who gets close. This has some exquisite cinematography plus an ethereal and dream-like style which makes this a memorable horror classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
OF MICE AND MEN (1992) – DVD
Steinbeck’s classic novel about two itinerant drifters is one of the best stories I have ever read. This film version directed and starring Gary Sinise, with John Malkovich as the tragic Lennie Small, is a touching rendition of the depression-set story. It’s such a brilliant book that any screen version will pale in comparison but Sinise and Malkovich excel in their respective roles and it’s great to see Steinbeck’s rich, authentic and grim tale of existence brought to life and death. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SON OF SAUL (2016) – SKY MOVIES
This is a heavy-as-hell-Hungarian-holocaust drama deserved won Best Film in a Foreign Language at the Oscars. The story focusses on the intense Saul (Geza Rohrig) and his search for a Rabbi to give his son the Kaddish to allow him a correct Jewish burial. It is a harrowing experience, presented in a 4:3 screen ratio and pretty much all over-the-shoulder of the protagonist. These stylistic choices narrow the focus on Saul’s tireless journey through the camps in vain pursuit of said Rabbi. Amidst his search death, fire and flesh bleed through the landscape and the whole experience is gruelling, overwhelming and upsetting. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (2016) – SKY MOVIES
This film from insane Japanese director Takeshi Miike is just mental. I enjoy Asian cinema films and Miike’s previous movies such as Audition and Ichi the Killer were excellent just-the-right-side-of-bizarre spectacles, yet this is an unwatchable mix of martial arts, horror, and gangster and monster movies. Recommended only for the brave, foolhardy or clinically insane. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)
THE WATER DIVINER (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
A muddled mix of war, family, romance and period drama genres from debutant director and star Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner, boasts some wonderful scenery and highly moving scenes, notably in the WW1 Gallipoli flashbacks. However, Crowe the director is let down by a hamstrung script plus the miscasting of Olga Kurylenko who just seemed too glamorous to fall for Crowe’s recently widowed character searching for the bodies of his three dead sons. While it fails as a movie epic there’s enough to recommend it as a matinee rental on a wet Sunday afternoon while nursing an uber-hangover. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
WILD (2014) – NOW TV
Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is excellent in this road-movie-true-story-drama as she trudges the Pacific Crest Trail in order to exorcise the demons of her past and somehow redeem her soul. It’s very well directed and structured by director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby and works really well as a pathos-driven character study; as well as stunningly shot travelogue with wonderful vistas. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2015 – FILM AND TV REVIEW ROUND-UP
Bit late with this one but I have been doing some work for charity; although I prefer not to talk about it. Anyway, I saw shedloads of big and small screen product in September! So, here’s a quick review of some of things I witnessed with marks out of 11.
**HELL YEAH – THERE’S SPOILERS!**
’71 (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
Chase-thriller ’71 centres itself on a British soldier portrayed by Jack O’Connell who on the run in enemy territory finds himself pursued by nefarious parties from both Irish and British sides. It’s a kinetic and suspenseful film, directed with verve and urgency and contains some heart-stopping moments, as well as a fine cast including Sean Harris and Richard Dormer. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BADLAND: A ROAD TO FURY (2014) – BLU-RAY
Called Young Ones in the States this is a real genre oddity as it combines Western and Science-Fiction tropes within a dystopic narrative set in a god-forsaken hellish dustbowl. Michael Shannon is the father and farmer who tries his best to keep his family together in an unforgiving future. This is a very strange film which probably deserves another viewing to make real sense of what’s occurring; good cast though. (6 out of 11)
BLEEDER (1999) – DVD
No one does brutal studies of lowlife like Nicolas Winding Refn. His early Danish films, Bleeder included, are grim character pieces that burst into nihilistic violence. This features four friends who watch films together but whose lives are coming apart at the seams. It’s bloody, depressing but somehow remains compelling and watchable; much like a car crash on the M4. (7 out of 11)
EVEREST (2015) – CINEMA
This is suspenseful mountain disaster film which shows both the folly and bravery of men and women at high altitude. Some of the moments will leave you biting your nails and gasping for breath as the mountaineering team scale the Himalayas. The most impressive aspect is the cast including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more. (7 out of 11)
THE DROP (2014) – NOW TV
Tom Hardy offers another brilliant piece of character work as a Boston barman who works in a mob-owned pub. He finds himself threatened by local scumbag Matthias Schoenaerts over the disputed ownership of a dog. The puppy is very well cast but Hardy and James Gandolfini own the show with a sterling study of masculinity and controlled rage. (8 out of 11)
THE GAMBLER (2014) – BLU RAY
Great dialogue, direction and cast couldn’t stop me from hating the nihilistic lead character played by a miscast and too-nice Mark Wahlberg. He was such a miserable-death-wish cunt that I wanted the gangsters who were chasing him to kill him and save me from having to watch anymore of his irredeemable and depressing loser. (4 out of 11)
GOING CLEAR (2014) – NOW TV
This is an astounding documentary revealing the history, psychology and inner-workings of the Scientology “religion”. It’s an amazing expose with interviews from former members of the cult who having disconnected, found themselves stalked and discredited by the extremely paranoid Scientologists. It is compelling viewing for anyone interested in religion or alleged cults and the financial dealings of the group makes them akin to organised crime syndicate, such is their wealth and violent ways of dealing with “members”. (9 out of 11)
GOMORRAH (2014) – NOW TV
Gomorrah is one of the best TV dramas I’ve seen all year. It is a brutal and violent Italian gangster drama set in Naples and like modern day Roman times but with more plots, blood and murder. It follows the Savastano family and the enemies they face both on the right and wrong side of the law. No one is safe as the series reaches a deathly climax. Gripping stuff and highly recommended! (10 out of 11)
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) – AMAZON PRIME
If I had the choice of removing my genitals with a cheese grater or watching this film again I would choose the grater as this was just laughable. Neither scary or suspenseful it has loud shouting actors who should be shot with high-powered rifles rather than a camera. Basically only for people who like terrible found footage horror films or the mentally ill. (1 out of 11)
LEGEND (2015) – CINEMA
Tom Hardy is phenomenal as the Kray twins. Set in 60s London’s underworld this begins like a smack-bang gangster film before delving deeper into the psychology of mental illness of Ronnie Kray’s wife and his crazed brother, Ronnie. Tonally it gets caught between cartoon humour, glamourizing violence and serious crime drama but recommended for the lead performance. Indeed, Tom Hardy, as in Bronson (2008), humanizes monstrous criminals who probably don’t deserve it. (7.5 out of 11)
THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMEN – BLU RAY
A diabolically pretentious and awful Euro-drama which didn’t know if it was a comedy or gangster or rites of passage or study of grief type movie! Ultimately it tried them all and failed in every aspect! Avoid! (2 out of 11)
PADDINGTON (2014) – BLU RAY
I loved Paddington as a kid and the dulcet tones of Michael Hordern narrated the 2-D animated tales with warmth and charm. The funky film version is an even bigger delight with Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville collaborating beautifully with Paul King’s terrific script and lovely direction. The animation is a joy and the gag-rate incredibly high in a wonderful feel-good family film. (8 out of 11)
RIFIFI (1955) – NETFLIX (RE-WATCH)
This is a classic French crime drama from which involves the robbery of a jewellery store by a gang of ex-cons. It’s memorable for the long-near-silent robbery sequence in the middle act which is full of suspense and hold-your-breath moments. I loved that they humanized the criminals and the characters at the start and the robbery scene is often imitated but never bettered. (8 out of 11)
RUBBER (2011) – AMAZON PRIME
Bizarre horror-comedy which cannot under any circumstances be recommended unless you like fourth-wall-breaking-art-films-about-murderous-tyres-who-explode-birds-and-humans-with-telekinetic-powers. Actually, it’s also a satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think!(8 out of 11)
RUN ALL NIGHT (2015) – DVD
Liam Neeson is a drunken, washed-up mob enforcer who faces a race against time to save his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) and his young family. It’s pretty generic fayre in which a grizzled Neeson can do in his sleep but it has some crunching action, car-chases and shoot-outs which fizz along impressively at a breakneck pace.(7 out of 11)
SALVATION (2014) – SKY MOVIES
Mads Mikkelsen could not save The Necessary Death of Charlie Countrymen but his quiet power is very much to the fore in this colourful revenge Western. He portrays a Danish former soldier whose wife and son are butchered by Jeffery Dean Morgan’s dastardly men, precipitating a path of bloody retribution. (7 out of 11)
THE WOLFPACK (2014) – CINEMA
A very interesting documentary about a huge family of boys and one girl who were kept as virtual prisoners in their own New York high-rise apartment by an alcoholic, bullying and eccentric father. The boys retained their sanity just about as they sought movies as a means to connect with society. The parodies they act out such as Pulp Fiction and Dark Knight were hilarious. But there is much pathos as both the children and Mother are tragic figures too having been “lost” and imprisoned by, quite frankly, a pathetic excuse for a father. (7.5 out of 11)
WHITECHAPEL (2009 – 2012 – Seasons 1-3) – NETFLIX
Started watching this during the quiet times at work and got pretty gripped by the East End murder cases investigated by Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis and Steve Pemberton. It’s a well-made addition to the over-loaded detective genre which by Season 3 had some excellent suspense and drama. I was especially drawn in by Davis and Penry-Jones water-oil relationship and the latter’s OCD. (7 out of 11)
WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD (2015) – AMAZON PRIME
This is a really fun zombie-road-movie-gore-fest which is clearly inspired by Mad Max, Evil Dead, Braindead and George Romero’s oeuvre. Some lovely blood-gushing gore and imaginative machinery on show makes this low budget horror-comedy well worth a rental. (7 out of 11)
Movie stars are usually the Kings and Queens of a film! They propel the narrative and guarantee bums on seats when a film opens. They also create expectation and word of mouth buzz thus studios have invested heavily over the decades in icons such as: Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, James Cagney, Mel Gibson to name but a few.
I love movie star driven cinema, however, I’m also a big fan of the ensemble casts seen in genre films such as: comic book epics, crime thrillers, war films and Westerns. What an ensemble cast offers is a diverse set of characters and actors bouncing off one another to powerful effect. Most recently the mountain disaster film Everest (2015) had fine actors including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more. Thus, just for the hell of it I’ve picked out some of my favourite films which contained not just one big star but lots of fine actors who all combined to make a fantastic movie experience.
12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet. The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber. It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)
Joss Whedon’s Marvel behemoth broke all kinds of box office records across the world! It’s a humdinger of a movie with a cracking cast that included: Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and many more! In fact, I’m surprised the set didn’t collapse under the weight of all the egos in front of camera.
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
It’s cameo cast central in Wes Anderson’s fast-paced eccentric comedy with Ralph Fiennes leading the line-up with a terrific central performance. Also, tagging along for the quirky and colourful ride are such acting luminaries as: F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Blink and you’ll probably miss some of them!
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller features a dream cast. Or does it! Yes – it does! It’s a Hollywood pot-pourri of movie stars such as Leonard DiCaprio, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, star-in-the-making Tom Hardy, veteran character actors like Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and feisty starlet Ellen Page.
LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)
While the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey have gone up and down in various measures recently this brilliant crime film found them on the rise up the Hollywood ladder. Here they play a trio of very different detectives investigating movie lookalikes, murder and police corruption in Los Angeles. Throw in the likes of Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Danny Devito and you have a cast to literally die for.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)
The cast of this classic Seven Samurai remake is remarkable as in, aside from Yul Brynner, they were all pretty much unknown at time of filming. So, kudos to the casting team who recruited such a charismatic troupe including: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn; who would all become stars in their own right.
Not a large ensemble cast but a brilliant one nonetheless. In Mike Leigh’s quintessentially British council estate film we get three young British stars in Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels plus Alfred Molina and Pam Ferris too. Each character drowns in depression, awash in concrete, unemployment and the stench of piss-stinking lifts and cigarette-stained wallpaper. This is a sad, funny, low-budget 1980s kitchen-sink classic.
Tarantino, of course, is not only about the cracking dialogue and violence and homages to other movie styles and genre but he also knows how to cast a movie. He rarely has a big film star at the helm of his films but rather relies on a mixture of known stars in supporting roles, character actors, plus fading or B-movie journeymen. Often, actors are cast on ability and suitability rather than saleability such as Pam Grier and Christophe Waltz. His keen casting eye gave us a wonderful Samuel L. Jackson – up until then limited to mainly supporting roles – and also relaunched John Travolta’s flagging career in the imperious ensemble crime film Pulp Fiction.
This spy thriller contains a “Who’s-Who” of British acting talent. We have Commissioner Gordon, Bane, Sherlock Holmes, King George VI, Doctor Who, Truman Capote and even Trigger from Only Fools and Horses acting in between the shadows of murky British Intelligence espionage. It’s a tricky watch as the director goes for atmosphere over exposition but the sheer style and quality of the performances ensure espionage has never been so intriguing.
On top of the Netflix and documentary purge I watched quite a few films this month. Thus, here for your consideration, are some little reviews with marks out of eleven!
A MOST WANTED MAN (2014) – NETFLIX
One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films and a pretty decent espionage thriller set in Germany. Despite an excellent cast and decent atmosphere I didn’t care much for the characters and it fizzled out for me by the end. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (2014) – BLU RAY
This is a very moving, filmic scrapbook documentary about an absolute musical legend who alas suffered both from mental and physical pain hence why he took his own life. Not sure if it was deliberate but toward the end his Mother and Wife were lit in a very similar way and resembled each other. While it was kind of objective allowing the sounds, videos, photos, recordings, interviews, cuttings and text to tell the story there a subconscious attempt by the director to link these two individuals. I loved the animated stuff which visualized the monologues Cobain recorded during his short life. I highly recommended this to fans of the troubled rock-poet and of course his amazing music. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
CREEP (2014) – NETFLIX
Not the British horror film directed by Christopher Smith ten or so years ago but a found footage film about a videographer who answers an advert to film a diary of weirdo played by the disarmingly dangerous Mark Duplass. I hated this at the start but it grew on me and the subtle horror was very well done and the ending is great. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
ENEMY (2014) – SKY
Doppelganger thriller Enemy is an enigmatic and weird treat full of fantastical images and brooding fear; featuring the ever brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal playing dual roles. His struggling actor and anxious teacher meet by chance and what follows is a mysterious game of cat and mouse. Both startling and unsettling from formidable genre director Denis Villeneuve. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (2014) – NETFLIX
This is one of the worst-middle-class-first-world-problems-monstrosities-of-a-film I have ever seen. I like Simon Pegg but I switched this film off forty-five minutes in. Hector isn’t happy? No one’s happy, Hector! Happiness is an illusion, Hector! Do you have your health, Hector? Your girlfriend is Rosamund Pike, Hector? You have a home and food on the table, Hector? Count your blessings, Hector and piss off!! (Mark: 0 out of 11)
HYENA (2014) – NETFLIX
This is a sturdy and compelling British crime drama with a fantastic lead performance from Peter Ferdinando as a bent copper trying, yet failing, to stay ahead of the dangerous games he’s playing. It’s a brutal and nasty film; very reminiscent in style of Nicolas Winding Refn or Alan Clarke and is mostly gripping but slightly overlong. If you like your drama meaty, earthy and realistic then this is a movie for you. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (2009)
This was a sumptuous and stylish film with one of my favourite actors Mads Mikkelsen portraying composer Igor Stravinsky. I have to admit that I found it pretty boring though in terms of the drama and while it looked great I just did not care about the lives of rich and spoilt artists in 1920s France. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)
THE MAN FROM UNCLE (2015) – CINEMA
Amidst the spy genre pastiche, muscular bromance and triple crosses there’s some cinematic gold enjoyment to be had in watching The Man From Uncle. Guy Ritchie is a very reliable genre director and during some of the set-pieces I actually sensed there’s a proper auteur trying to get out. While I liked Skyfall (2012) and look forward to Spectre (2015) this was reminiscent of the old Bond films from the 1960s as it makes espionage sexy again. Overall, this is an ultra-stylish spy eye candy with a cracking soundtrack. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1920) – BFI CINEMA
Classic formalist documentary from Dziga Vertov is both an extravagant experiment in montage-making plus an intriguing look back at Soviet life post-Revolution. Dismissed as folly at the time of release it is now considered a masterwork, not only as a documentary, but as a film itself. It is humbling and intriguing viewing and makes you realise that the Soviet life is no different to ours as we witness births, marriages, deaths, work, rest and play. It’s a genuine historical and filmic masterpiece. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
MAZE RUNNER (2014) – SKY
This is a surprisingly entertaining addition to the recent raft of teenage-action-hero-in-dystopic-future-world-peril-films. I enjoyed the existential mystery set up in the premise as our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is thrown into a Lord of The Flies land inhabited only by young men, trapped by a massive maze. Plot-wise and action it’s very strong, however, the theme of humanity-accepting-one’s-fate-versus-escaping-while-testing-authority gave the story a richness making it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015) – CINEMA
M: I5 was a blast! Tom Cruise and the IMF team up to their usual breathtaking pyrotechnics! Good to see Sean Harris get a prominent role as he’s a formidable character actor. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – from M:I3 – is easily the best baddie though. I just wish the trailers wouldn’t show virtually ALL the stunts especially HOW Tom did the “hang to the plane” thing. I don’t watch these films for the story – it’s the action. Please leave some for the film next time trailer people! Rebecca Ferguson kicks serious ass and the scene at the Opera is pure Bond and pure cinema of the highest quality. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
NO ONE LIVES (2014) – SKY
A stylish, yet empty exploitation serial-killer flick which would go straight to video if Blockbusters had any stores left. Luke Evans is a handsome actor looking for a decent role since finishing Fast and Furious 6 and The Hobbit trilogy but this isn’t it. The film itself is saved by some extravagant violence and bloodletting but as a story it’s hollow like (Mark: 3 out of 11)
SOUTHPAW (2015) – CINEMA
If you like films about boxing then you’ll love Southpaw: a brutal and quality action-melodrama with another fine performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. The story is very simplistic and structured around a riches-to-rags-to-redemption narrative but I found the soap operatics and bombastic direction a real adrenaline-pumped belt to the senses. Gyllenhaal is ripped, torn and lean like a prime piece of beef as life deals him body blow after blow. Can his on-the-ropes boxer bounce and make a come-back? While somewhat predictable I found Antoine Fuqua’s punchy movie a real knockout! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) – CINEMA
This is a tremendous biopic of seminal hip-hop legends NWA, who came to the fore of world music in the late 1980s. Performances and direction are excellent as Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Wren – AKA NWA – exploded onto the scene like a bomb and delivered anger, power and beats that propelled them straight out of Compton and into the charts! They are a perfect example of sociological, political and cultural forces converging to create a superlative brand and the film perfectly captures the age, the music, the look and the camaraderie of being the group. The film illuminates the spirit of the hip-hop scene and the problems the group had with the law while dramatically portraying the bitter in-fighting over royalties which split the band apart. Goes without saying the soundtrack is brilliant too! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014) – NETFLIX
This starred two of my favourite comedic actors in Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and is a broad parody of romantic comedies with a very high joke-rate. He stars as a corporate confectionary executive and tries to take over her small independent sweet-hearted business and at first they hate each other but then… Yes, they have sex! Pitched somewhere between Naked Gun and Anchorman this is very, very silly but also an absolutely hilarious comedy. Short, sweet, ridiculous and as infectious as diabetes. Is diabetes infectious – oh, who cares! Just watch the movie! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)