It’s no surprise there are an abundance of films about the actual process of filmmaking. Firstly, if you follow the idea of “writing what you know” literally, a filmmaker, screenwriter or director will certainly have first hand experience of this. Secondly, and most importantly, is that the film industry is full of rich possibilities in terms of drama, action, tragedy, romance and comedy. Lastly, cinema down the years is replete with imaginative, tough, evil, spoilt, egotistical, eccentric and frankly insane individuals working in the film industry.
Therefore, over the course of cinematic history there have been many great films about the movie-making business. I personally love the sub-genre and probably could’ve have chosen a top twenty. Indeed, the following could also have been picked too:8 1/2 (1963),Dolemite is My Name (2019), Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), Barton Fink (1991), State and Main (2000), Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019), Hugo (2011), Living In Oblivion (1995) etc. However, as is the case with this feature, I’ve selected just six of the best.
BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)
“Wait a minute. You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future? That the future is tape, videotape, and not film? That it’s amateurs and not professionals? I’m a filmmaker, which is why I will never make a movie on tape.” Jack Horner
THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)
“Not closed set. Open set. Life is not closed set! I want everyone to see!”Tommy Wiseau
ED WOOD (1994)
“Really? Worst film you ever saw. Well, my next one will be better. Hello. Hello.”Ed Wood
THE PLAYER (1992)
“I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”Griffin Mill
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
“Why bother to shoot this film? Why not release the old one under a new title? You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” Cosmo Brown
TROPIC THUNDER (2008)
“First, take a big step back… and literally, FUCK YOUR OWN FACE! I don’t know what kind of pan-pacific bullshit power play you’re trying to pull here, but Asia Jack is my territory. So whatever you’re thinking, you’d better think again!”Les Grossman
Written by: Russell T Davies – Based on A Very English Scandal by John Preston
Starring: Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Monica Dolan, Alex Jennings, Blake Harrison, Eve Myles, Patricia Hodge etc.
Composer(s): Murray Gold
Production Company: BBC
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’ve never been a fan of politicians. They are a necessary evil. Perhaps I shouldn’t blight a whole raft of people who may, in their hearts, believe they are trying to do well for their country. But, I just cannot help feeling there is something not quite right with someone who wants to be in control or lead or rule. I’m of the view that power does corrupt the individual and even though they may begin with great altruistic tendencies they will, ultimately, be poisoned by the job. Or worse than that they have sociopathic tendencies and the prestige of being voted in will feed their greed and lust for control. How does one explain the amount of wars and conflicts there are? Humanity is greatly flawed and the leaders of the so-called free world are more flawed than most.
But, what alternative is there to the capitalist system we have? Running a country and leading millions of various people must be tough; and difficult decisions must be made everyday. Many have tried the commune lifestyle and socialism has also led, in the Soviet Union and China for example, and, to dictatorial regimes replete with fear, repression and murder. Not that the West hasn’t had its fair share of Dictators and sociopathic leaders. General Franco in Spain is one such fascistic leader and our own Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, hiding within the illusion of democracy, crushed Union leaders, working class lives and whole industrial communities. As such, crooked and nefarious politicians are often a staple of film and television shows. A case in point is the BBC’s recent adaptation of John Preston’s book, A Very English Scandal.
This strange true life tale focussed on the Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe and his relationship with a troubled young man called Norman Scott. What first starts off as an illicit but touching love story soon becomes a desperate, twisted and darkly amusing black comedy of insane proportions. First off, Thorpe and Scott are portrayed with absolute brilliance by Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. Both sterling film actors they bring gravitas, sparkling chemistry and humour to their respective roles; while Alex Jennings, Adrian Scarborough, Eve Myles and Patricia Hodge also excel in supporting roles. Furthermore, acclaimed director Stephen Frears ties the strands of Russell T. Davies brilliant script, expertly switching between comedy and heightened drama, without losing tonal control.
Set against the backdrop of English Parliament and the United Kingdom’s homophobic laws which outlawed gay sex, Jeremy Thorpe, is presented as an honourable man at first. He champions workers’ rights and lambasts the policy of Apartheid in the House of Commons. He has to hide his homosexuality though due to the oppressive legal system and the fact that, as a politician in the public eye, this would seriously harm his ambition to become Prime Minister. When he meets Ben Whishaw’s highly strung stable lad he immediately falls for him and they begin a secret affair. The relationship goes wrong and Thorpe moves on to become the leader of his political party, but an ever increasingly unstable Scott, just won’t go away. That’s when things begin to go awry for Thorpe. Scott won’t take a pay-off and Thorpe won’t give him the National Insurance Card, Scott hilariously demands.
So, like Henry II demanding, “Someone rid me of this meddlesome priest”, he allegedly, as per the script, takes a more sinister route. I won’t spoil it but the events which are presented are both funny and shocking and have to be witnessed to be believed. The privileged Jeremy Thorpe, garners some empathy due to having to hide his sexuality, however, his subsequent decisions to shut Scott down, as presented in this fascinating tale, are shown to be the actions of a spoilt, desperate and sad man wielding power over someone less fortunate. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely but as shown in A Very English Scandal it also leads to incredible poor decisions by individuals from the ruling classes. Indeed, the main reason I dislike and distrust politicians in general is they can and should afford to be better behaved and more compassionate than those they lead.
Executive producer(s): Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles, Erin O’Malley, Alec Berg etc.
Production company(s): HBO Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Starring: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove etc.
There’s absolutely no reason why a situation comedy about an aging, wealthy, neurotic and narcissistic Hollywood writer should be one of the most consistently funny comedy shows of the last twenty years. There’s no real substance or depth in Curb Your Enthusiasm; in fact not much really happens of great value as it occurs in a “Larry David / Hollywood” bubble. Moreover, in anti-hero Larry David you more often than not find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, due to the writing, cast and situations the humour is always pretty, pretty good!
After a six-year hiatus Larry David is back and nothing really has changed. The formula remains the same inasmuch as he gets himself in ridiculous situations upsetting everyone around him, resulting in the most farcical of comedic pay-offs. However, while many of the narrative reveals can be seen a long way off it doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. Special highlights during Season 9 are JB Smoove’s scene-stealing turns as Larry’s “house-guest” Leon Black; who over the course of the last few seasons has inveigled his way into Larry’s life. The two have become an unlikely double act as uncool Jewish bald guy buddies up with his cooler, streetwise and “player” pal. With Leon and Larry you get a relationship which both reflects and satirizes racial stereotypes to funny effect.
While most of the Season 9 episodes work as stand-alone stories the integral over-riding arc involves Larry David writing a new Broadway show. Inspired by events which occurred to novelist Salman Rushdie, Larry has written a musical called, incredibly, Fatwa! At first everyone loves the idea and rushes to invest. However, when Larry mocks the Ayatollah on the Jimmy Kimmel show he himself is, you’ve guessed it, hit with a Fatwa!! The running gags throughout created by this comedic narrative are very broad, un-PC, stereotypically offensive; but also bloody hilarious. I wondered why there wasn’t more controversy; however, Larry David himself is the butt of many of these jokes as he fails to lift the Fatwa.
The season is crammed with celebrity appearances and particular standouts are: Salman Rushdie, Elizabeth Banks, F. Murray Abraham; and Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda. The latter hilariously clashes with Larry during the production of the Fatwa: The Musical. There are also some great gags relating to everyday observations including: Uber ratings; pickle jars; tipping; disturbances in kitchens; Asperger’s; plus many more. The episode, Running with the Bulls, with Bryan Cranston portraying Larry’s harangued therapist, was probably my favourite. It was also great to see The Mighty Boosh comedy nut-case Rich Fulcher make an appearance as an evasive Restaurant Manager. Overall, the season was pretty scatter-gun in it’s target humour but it certainly hit the mark throughout. I’m just amazed, in these liberal-PC-social-media-offence-driven times there wasn’t more controversy. Having said that Larry David probably wouldn’t care as in his own words, “I have reservations about everything I do.”
Producer(s): Barney Reisz, Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones
Distributors: Endemol UK – Netflix
Season 4: 6 Episodes
Writer(s): Charlie Brooker plus William Bridges (USS Callister)
Directors: Toby Haynes, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade, Colm McCarthy
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, Billy Magnussen, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Andrea Riseborough, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Andrew Gower, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Maxine Peake, Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright etc.
Technology: the final frontier; allowing humans to boldly go where no human has gone before. Indeed, one of the most incredible elements of our world is the technological breakthroughs we have made over the past century or so. We have: electricity, nuclear power, robots, driverless vehicles, television screens, computers, mobile phones, satellites, GPS tracking, drones, 3D printing, smart home air-conditioning, Hadron Colliders, huge space-ships which travel beyond the stars, WI-FI, the world-wide-web connecting everyone with anyone, holograms, the social media phenomenon, virtual reality head-sets, software algorithms, x-rays, gamma knifes, DNA, cloning, MRI scans, Hyperloop tube trains, Sat-Nav, Google, immersive video-games; plus many more medical, military and industrial inventions which make our lives so easy today.
But with such wonderful and fantastic discoveries there is always a dark side. While we may create a medical breakthrough which cures on the one hand we’ll ultimately invent some new weapon or means with which to kill ourselves. So while technology is mainstay of our existence it also can feed our obsessions and thus become an extension of our poor choices, violence and insanity. The scariest thing is we think technology is absolutely necessary and we cannot live without it. I mean, all we really need to survive is water, air, food, shelter and perhaps, as The Beatles sang, love. For all its’ positives, technology is an addiction and can be used to do wrong and cause harm.
Charlie Brooker’s sublime anthology series Black Mirror is now in its 4th Season (2nd on Netflix). It taps into the fear factor technology brings and presents nightmare scenarios that more often than not possess a prescient twist. Who can forget the very first episode of BM which had Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister having to fuck a pig as a means to pay a hostage ransom? The subsequent tabloid news that our then former Prime Minister David Cameron had, allegedly, stuck his member in a pig’s mouth suddenly made BM incredibly prophetic. This season is another televisual triumph with an incredible array of acting, directing and production talent with each episode offering the feel and scope of a cinema release. I’ll be honest being a massive Charlie Brooker fan I would probably enjoy a video of him dancing in a tutu whilst juggling tomatoes; however, I can confirm these six episodes were beyond brilliant too.
Within the fabric of each episode Brooker holds a mirror up to the future and invariably it will come back black. However, the touching love story of San Junipero (from Season 3) offered some light in the BM universe and similarly Hang the DJ (officially 3rd in the Season 4 list) contained a wonderful love story at its’ heart with Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole giving humorous and touching performances. It also contains a Truman Show (1998) style ending and a twist that I thought was absolutely fantastic. Indeed, what appears to reflect the dystopic controlling techno-world of romance apps becomes something entirely real and beautiful by the end.
While Hang the DJ offers hope, the remainder of the episodes are bittersweet, brutal and unforgiving in their rendering. Actually, I suppose the Star Trek pastiche USS Callister has a kind of optimistic ending and is bloody funny in its affectionate satire of Trek archetypes and monsters. However, Jesse Plemons downtrodden Silicon Valley programmer holds a dark secret during his immersive Virtual Reality gaming experiences. Full of Star Trek references and themes, the clever script merges ideas relating to gaming and DNA technology with fantastic sci-fi meta-textual moments.
Arkangel also has an element of brain implanted software which enables a neurotic mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) to track and view her daughter’s every move on a computer screen. Despite the revolutionary software used this story is based wholly in familial reality as the relationship between mother and daughter becomes strained as she enters her rebellious teenage years. The danger of “helicopter” or overbearing parenting becomes too apparent in satisfying soap operatic story.
Brooker relates many of his scripts in genre territory so the more outlandish or fantastic ideas are grounded with an identifiable cultural identity. The horrific murder plot of Crocodile unfolds in true Hitchockian fashion as an insurance adjuster tracks down the details relating to a vehicle accident but tragically stumbles on something altogether more deadly. The ending of this story is particularly far-fetched, as Andrea Riseborough’s architect gets deeper and deeper in the mire, however, Brooker must be praised for taking risks with his twists.
Rather simpler is the pursuit thriller Metalhead, presented in crisp black and white, as a woman (the brilliant Maxine Peake) attempts to survive in a dangerous land full of robotic guard-dogs. It’s mainly a tense one-hander and the future never looked so drained of hope and colour. The final episode Black Museum was even more grisly as Douglas Hodge shows Letitia Wright’s tourist around his grim parade of exhibits. Brooker’s writing is as strong as ever and the horrors of the entwining anthology stories are shocking and powerful. It’s a dark, dark episode which contains the fantastic idea of uploading one’s digital soul into a loved one’s to share their consciousness. This plays out with both horror and humour in a compelling end to the season.
Being a total Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror fan; a big lover anthology stories; plus a fanatic of horror and tales with a twist it’s obvious to say I loved this seasons offerings. They are clever, dark, funny, sickening, silly, romantic, scary, twisted stories full of satire and warnings about the dangers of technological progress. Ultimately, though it is not science or computers or mechanics which are the danger; but rather humans use and abuse of said technology. Because, for all our ingenuity and invention we more often than not use machines negatively and Black Mirror reflects that (im)perfectly.
There were some fantastic films this year and here are my favourite TWELVE. These are the ones I enjoyed the most from a cinematic, entertainment and emotional perspective. They are not necessarily the critics’ favourites, so for example, Moonlight (2017) is not on the list because I thought it was brilliantly directed but arguably over-rated as a story. Similarly, La La Land (2017), was an incredibly imaginative film from a stylistic and musical point-of-view but lacked emotional impact. But hey, as The Dude once said, “That’s just my opinion, man!”
Please note that they include films I have seen at the CINEMA in 2017, including the London Film Festival. Obviously there are some omissions but that’s either because I did not see them yet – Call Me By Your Name (2017), Mudbound (2017), God’s Own Country(2017) – or did not enjoy them as much as others. Please let me know if I have made glaring omissions in case I missed them at the cinema and should stream them. Indeed, last year the brilliant Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) was one I missed at the cinema, so I was grateful to catch up with that on Netflix.
For your information my favourite films I saw at the cinema in 2016 were:
FAVOURITE TWELVE FILMS SEEN AT THE CINEMA IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)
CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016)
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
MEN AND CHICKEN (2015)
THE NICE GUYS (2016)
THE REVENANT (2015), ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016), ROOM (2015)
FAVOURITE TWELVE FILMS SEEN AT THE CINEMA IN 2017 (in alphabetical order)
A GHOST STORY (2017)
“. . .this film transcends cinema conventions and delivers one of the most poignant and melancholic experiences of the year.”
BABY DRIVER (2017)
“. . . Wright brings such a balletic rhythm, musical verve and kinetic drive to the movie it becomes simply irrepressible.”
BLADERUNNER 2049 (2017)
“. . . It’s like Denis Villeneuve managed to combine, with the writers and designers, an indie-Hollywood-art film installation.”
BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017)
“. . . Brawl in Cell Block 99 rips into the dark underbelly of the criminal landscape leaving us in no doubt to the destructive nature of the American dream.”
“. . .In a summer which will bring us blockbusters galore they will have to go some way to match Vigalondo’s Colossal for originality, humour, heart and Seoul (sorry!)”
THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)
“. . . Franco’s Wiseau is his greatest performance to date. The fact he directed the film too is also remarkable as he got the pitch of parody and drama just perfectly.”
“. . .the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration, demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker.”
“. . . Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades.”
INGRID GOES WEST (2017)
“. . . Overall, this was just #brilliant #dark #funny #sad! Aubrey Plaza is the shining light of this very satisfying black comedy.”
“While moving at a meditative pace Silence possesses some wonderful cinematography, brilliant direction, sterling performances and a brooding score.”
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)
“. . . this is an excellent cinematic experience funny, shocking and moving; only possible because of the expert script from a great writer.”
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)
“. . . one of the best cinematic experiences in 2017 as story, style, technology and emotion all work together to bring a fitting end to one of the best film trilogies of recent years.”
Other films I enjoyed that were very close to the list:
DETROIT (2017), GET OUT (2017), THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016), HACKSAW RIDGE (2017), THE HANDMAIDEN (2016), THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017), THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017), OKJA (2017), SPLIT (2017), THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), WIND RIVER (2017)!
Anyway, I really enjoyed last year’s cinema offerings and here’s to a happy and positive 2018!
GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 7 REVIEW & RANDOM THOUGHTS
**ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS**
I’ll be honest: in my younger days of arrogance or confidence or know-it-all-prideful-youth – whatever you want to call it – I used to be an ultra-critical, negative and a bit of a spoilt moaner. But, as my time ticks away ever so slowly and I crawl closer to death, I believe I have grown more mature and reasonable. I remain analytical and active in my viewing and while I am someone who mildly obsesses about certain movies, TV shows, sports and other cultural stuff, I still recoil with embarrassment at the negative hysteria you get online and in social media in regard to life, politics, celebrities, pop videos and more specifically TV programmes or films.
Of late the fury of the Internet “haters” or “trolls” was aimed with fundamental ire at the all-female-led-cast Ghostbusters movie. Who really cared?!? It was an okay film; not great. My main problem was that it was not particularly well written or directed despite the excellent efforts of the cast. In another sexist tirade the online public hacks also attacked the casting of excellent actress Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor Who. I mean the Doctor is a shape-shifting alien who changes bodies and heaven forbid that, after thirteen men (including John Hurt’s War Doctor) in the role, a woman suddenly be cast!
Why are people so over-the-top with their reactions I ask myself? Maybe they are channelling their life disappointments or existential anger by way of dissociative behaviour. Criticizing these casting decisions could be a way of distancing themselves from the pain of life. Or perhaps the more socially-charged analysts could argue that filmmakers and TV showrunners are cowering to the liberal left and changing such roles to be more PC! Or maybe they are simply just nuts!?
I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion and the Internet, for better or worse, has given power to those opinions. I just don’t understand why people get so angry though! I mean some of the criticisms aimed at the latest season of Game of Thrones were admittedly erudite and thoughtful; however, much of the wrath toward the writers ranged from the silly to the furious to nit-picking pedantry of the highest order. It’s as if the online villagers of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter had been sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches before the show had even aired.
My view of Game of Thrones is simple. The first six seasons gave me some of the greatest televisual enjoyment I have ever experienced. In terms of character, plotting, dialogue, action, reversals, twists, shocks, romance, performance, political intrigue, editing, direction and jaw-dropping-heart-pounding-tension it is ONE OF THE GREATEST TV SHOWS EVER!
Thus, Season 7 had a lot to live up to and in some ways it has been a victim of its own success. When you raise the bar that high it is of no surprise if such heights dip on occasions. Having said that I thought Season 7 was fantastic TV; and I’m not the only one. It was seven episodes of brilliant entertainment with too many wonderful moments to mention. But the online village hordes were quick to complain with vehement cries of “Burn the Writers!” Moans included:
The writing’s not as good as the earlier Seasons!
George R. R. Martin’s careful characterisation and plots have gone!
The pace is TOO quick compared to the prior Seasons!
Too many character reunions!
The map has been compressed and characters seem to teleport!
Too many plot-holes and character inconsistencies.
The White Walkers / Night King enemy are too one-dimensional.
It’s just not as good as the books!
It’s become too predictable!
Show-runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are the Anti-Christ!
While I agree in regard to the geographical shifts of characters and speeding up of the plot points is different to the previous Seasons, I don’t believe the entertainment value has been lost; in fact it has been heightened. I also don’t agree that the writing is bad. The show, having built up much good faith in the earlier more politically charged Seasons has now shifted to a faster more cinematic pace rather than the steady literary tread of George R. R. Martin’s work. Of course, the book is ALWAYS better than the film or show as a rule but it’s a different medium altogether. We’re reaching the end of the show and the characters’ arcs are peaking toward denouement so the increased pace is understandable. In regard to predictability, well, there’s only one way the whole show was going and the battle between Ice and Fire has been on the cards since the first episode! WINTER IS HERE!! I realise many are disappointed in this shift having committed many hours to watching the show; but I honestly think the show remains as powerful as ever.
EVERYONE is now a screenwriter and while it is much fun to decide how you want the characters you love to behave, just because they do something slightly different to what you, or George R.R. Martin would do, it doesn’t mean it is bad writing or illogical. On the contrary Season 7 contained some exciting writing and an incredible amount of memorable moments. These included: Daenerys’ dragons wreaking havoc; the magnificent masculine mission beyond the Wall; Oleanna and Jamie’s words; Cersei’s continued despotic mania; a summit meeting between many of our major characters; the Hound; Jorah’s redemption; Arya’s special set of skills;the Night King and his horde; Jamie’s doubts; Brienne’s loyalty; the weirdo Bran; and all manner of incredible battle scenes on sea, air, ice and land.
These sequences plus many more and the great direction, acting, design and character twists throughout meant that I was transfixed from start to finish. I do agree that at times it felt rushed in places and ten episodes would have fleshed out some of the more temporal issues. But hey, it was still amazing from my perspective.
Game of Thrones, ultimately is a TV programmes with dragons and zombies and in between human beings attempting to out-plot and out-kill each other. I agree there was a more Shakespearean feel to the earlier episodes and we have experienced a shift from a literary style to the cinematic. However, I couldn’t care less and would advise the armchair screenwriters, clickbait critics and online trolls to cease bitching and stop watching the show if you don’t enjoy it any more. Because unlike this highly entertaining show YOU ARE GETTING VERY BORING!