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100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1

We all love an epic at the cinema; a film which takes it’s time to build up character, plot and suspense. However, to write a great film under 100 or so minutes requires incredible discipline. You need tough, lean writing and a methodical film editor. You need real focus on the plot and an eye to remove the extraneous and zip the story along. You need a brevity and wit in the writing to quickly establish the characters and gain audience empathy. Most of all you need a solid structure, with pace but without losing any depth.

In this little piece, I have a look at some brilliant FEATURE films that represent marvellous examples of fantastic writing all under the magic one hundred minute mark! I imagine most of us have seen these films but if you haven’t then please do so!

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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 cast including Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam etc.  It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, guilt and reasonable doubt; all cooked to perfection within a hundred magnificent minutes.

12angry

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

John Carpenter is a master at producing lean, mean fighting machine movies. This crime film is an unofficial remake of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and represents your genuine-classic-low-budget-one location-siege movie with a ragtag bunch of cops and cons fighting off hordes of street scum hell bent on revenge following the death of a gang leader. The film is a gritty joy full of hard-boiled characters and dialogue with a simple yet pulsating soundtrack written by Carpenter himself.

assault poster

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)

Basically take your pick from a slew of Woody Allen films which always tell a great story around the 90 minute mark. Yet, I chose Broadway Danny Rose as it is a comedy gem hidden amidst the treasure trove of a filmic oeuvre. It concerns a hapless agent with the worst roster of acts in New York and his hilarious run-in with the mob. Beautifully constructed with some cracking characters and one-liners, this is always worth another watch if you have 85 minutes to spare.


FARGO (1996)

“He was kinda funny-looking!” THAT line basically sums up the Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller. It’s a hilarious one-liner that becomes even funnier when delivered in the Minnesotan accent and in fact is a very important part of the plot. This film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind.


THE KILLING (1956)

Not the recent Scandinavian TV show but the early Stanley Kubrik crime classic constructed in a newsreel style with an authoritative god-like third person narration. It stars Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jnr and Timothy Carey as assorted array of lowdown criminals all combining to pull off a daring racecourse heist. The brilliance is in the metronomic telling of the tale as Kubrik builds suspense and tension throughout with a filmic confidence which would very much become part of his later, and much longer, epics.


MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981)

Slight cheat because the titular character was already established during George Miller’s original hard-core low-budget classic. Yet, this is a powerful and brutal apocalyptic Western with cars instead of horses and punk-bandits instead of indigenous Native Americans providing the foes. It smashes along at a wicked pace as hard-bitten and life-grilled Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) fights hell-for-leather to survive in the Aussie wasteland while hunting for gas and food.


NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

George A. Romero’s low-fi classic is the Godfather of all modern zombie movies. It’s another siege film as a group of various characters become holed up in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse attempting to avoid the living dead’s bloodthirsty clutches. Made literally on a shoestring from money raised independently (no Kickstarter back in those days), it would become one of the most successful horror films ever outside the Hollywood system. It’s grainy, creepy and gory and offers a subversive critique of the politics of the era.


PREDESTINATION (2014)

One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:

“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”

However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.


RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Oh for the days when Tarantino didn’t have a lot of money and wrote cracking muscular scripts which defy genre conventions and rip along at breakneck speed. His recent epic films are just as entertaining as this heist-gone-wrong thriller but longer and arguably in need of a trim or two. I’ve seen this film many times and it still retains its vice-like power, as the masculine egos clash and kill each other right up to the bloody end.


TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

This is a both a literary and cinematic classic. It’s a snap-shot rollercoaster smash-cut of junkie vignettes which delivers on all sensory and emotional levels; with a cracking soundtrack to boot! From the twisted mind of Irvine Welsh, writer John Hodge and director Danny Boyle takes the seemingly unfilmable book and craft a fizzing, twisted vision of heroin addicts, which stylises the lifestyle with dark humour and a sense of loss at the devastating impact of addiction. Choose life: choose Trainspotting!



TREMORS (1990)

I love this film. It’s a real B-movie guilty pleasure with seismic underground monsters attacking a small back water town ironically named Perfection.  The action bolts along and it wears its Jaws-in-the-dirt influences hilariously. Most of all I love the characters, notably Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s handyman buddies trying desperately to escape their dead end jobs. It’s a fun script with loads of action and great one-liners with Bacon himself having loads of fun without hamming it up.


UP (2009)

Take your pick from any number of Pixar classics notably the Toy Story trilogy, however, I have chosen this gem because it is just so damned imaginative and original. I mean, how’d you get a winning narrative out of an odd couple bromance between a grieving old geezer and an overweight Boy Scout. But this film does so in a great story about overcoming grief, companionship and finding comfort in helping others. Most of all it’s funny, touching and heart-toasting and does it all in fewer than 100 marvellous minutes.


SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2015 – FILM AND TV REVIEW ROUND-UP

SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2015 –  REVIEW ROUND-UP

A quieter month compared to October but I still watched some decent television and filmic entertainment in the month of November.  For your information the current seasons of Doctor Who and South Park are providing cracking entertainment so do check them out too. I will offer a full season review to each show when they have finished.  As usual my marks are – in tribute to Spinal Tap – out of eleven!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


ASSASSIN (2014) – NOW TV

This is a pretty standard crime thriller with Danny Dyer as a contract killer who goes up against a gangsters Martin and Gary Kemp. I quite like Dyer’s cocky style but he plays deep and brooding here which doesn’t suit him. So while he carries the plot pretty well — and there’s some great shots of London — I wanted a bit more wide-boy attitude and humour throughout. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

BETTER CALL SAUL (2015) – NETFLIX

I finally caught up with Breaking Bad spin-off and really enjoyed it. I don’t usually like prequels as the drama is generally undercut by knowledge of what has gone before but Jimmy McGill’s story (and Mike’s) was funny, dramatic and actually quite touching. It’s a really compelling plot that takes some unexpected twists throughout and contains some damn fine acting. More episodes please as the writing and Bob Odenkirk are just great; highly recommended. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

BIG EYES (2014) – NOW TV

Tim Burton’s film is a biopic of artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and con-artist husband Walter Keane who infamously fought a court case over ownership of her paintings in the 1960s. It’s wonderfully acted by the two leads and once again Waltz is on fine mischievous form as the brilliant salesmen who duped his wife and a nation. Burton harnesses his usual excessive style for once and this benefits the drama. Overall, it’s a fine character study of an oppressed artist finally finding her voice in an aggressive and masculine world. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

BLACK MASS (2015) – CINEMA

With this performance you realise Johnny Depp has been wasting his acting talent poncing about as a pirate in the Caribbean for far too long. He portrays master criminal Whitey Bulger during 70s and 80s Boston as his gang snake their way up the crime ladder to gangster notoriety. This is a really good film: gritty, bloody, compelling, oozing darkness where humanity is concerned. Depp is almost unrecognizable as the brutal Bulger while Joel Edgerton is excellent as the compromised FBI Agent. Slow, brooding pace sparked by firework violence, plus a supporting cast including Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch make this a superior genre film. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

DOCTOR WHO: SEEDS OF DOOM (1976) – DVD

The mercurial Tom Baker and steady Sarah-Jane find themselves in the Antarctic investigating two mysterious alien pods. Lo and behold the pods explode and cause a massive plant monster to sprout and take over the grounds of a stately home owned by millionaire megalomaniac Harrison Chase. I loved this fun, sci-fi romp which was clearly influenced by The Thing from another World (1951) and The Quatermass Experiment (1953). Baker, as always, is wonderfully wry and booming as the Doctor and even Boycie (John Challis) pops up in a supporting role. Great stuff!
(Mark: 8 out of 11)

EX-MACHINA (2014) – NOW TV

A sci-fi A.I. chamber piece set, pretty much, in one location with an excellent cast including Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and the magnetic Alicia Vikander. It’s a glacial-paced thriller which has some fantastic ideas from writer/director Alex Garland, although it’s essentially a hipster love triangle story with robots.  I enjoyed it but the slow pace worked against the suspense and the twist-that’s-not-a-twist is unexpectedly expected. Black Mirror has kind of done this story better, but it’s a decent science fiction experience nonetheless. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

GYPSY (2015) – SAVOY THEATRE

I’m cheating here a little as Screenwash becomes STAGEWASH!!  But I really wanted to sneak in a little review of a BIG production and performance. In this classic Broadway musical Imelda Staunton as Mama Rose gave one of the greatest performances I have ever seen on a theatre or comedy stage. It’s a depression set story of rags to riches featuring the ever-so-pushy mother whose daughter eventually hits the big time as burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Staunton owned the theatre as her and the cast ripped through some classic songs including: Everything’s Coming up Roses and You Gotta Get a Gimmick. During the heart-storming finale Staunton wrings every note of emotion from the song: Rose’s Turn.  I don’t know much about musicals but I know when something’s great; and this was it!  (Mark: 10 out of 11)

HUNGER GAMES – MOCKINGJAY PART 2 (2015) – CINEMA

I was disappointed with the final Hunger Games stories (Part 1 and 2) which reduced a fine arc of human revolution to soppy, plodding closure; as well recuperating the positive leading protagonist to a clichéd and reductive vision of femininity. The excellent Jennifer Lawrence finally brings Katniss Everdene’s story home in a finale which had some horrible monsters in the middle but gets bogged down with love-triangle nonsense and laboured manipulative-media-evil-government-geo-politics. The movies’ pace really let it down and splitting the film in two just took liberties. More action and less talking would’ve served a better end to Katniss’ heroic journey. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

LET US PREY (2015) – NOW TV

A nifty little horror film with Liam Cunningham playing a devilish character called SIX who wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting Scottish police station. Faust meets Assault on Precinct 13 in a bloody tale of vengeful murder and gut-wrenching death. All the characters have their demons in a bloody and fiery hellish movie which has some great gore and evil premise at its heart. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE LOBSTER (2015) – CINEMA

If you like dark comedies about strange love, fascism and violence then you must see The Lobster. It’s weird, wonderful and very funny as Colin Farrell plays a single man – in the not-too-distant-future – who has a limited time to find a mate or he’ll be turned into an animal of his choice. Obviously, he chooses the eponymous crustacean and what ensues is a peculiarly dark and hilarious satire of human relationships and dating mores which is barbed by moments of extreme violence and strange tenderness. The Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthino, made the equally peculiar Dogtooth (2009) –about a family shut-out from society – and he has crafted one of my favourite films of the year. It is destined to be a cult classic which will reward those after something completely different from the usual homogenous Hollywood shite which peddles love and romance as an illusory saviour to our existentially pointless lives. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) – BLU RAY

I have to say on I thought this film may suffer on re-watch but it actually got better because it is a lustful, muscular and jaw-dropping spectacular which while having NO actual plot revels in the orgiastic nature of car-bombing action and deathly stunts.  Tom Hardy takes on the iconic Max Rockatansky role in this mega-budget-future-shooting-guitar-flame-throwing-blood-draining-crash-smash-and-burn epic.  Enter Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa who is on a mission of her own to protect those she cares for from nefarious Immortan Joe; the Citadel Overlord!

This is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore in a barren yet beautiful desert setting.  Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema. One may argue that it is style-over-substance but the style IS the substance. The concepts on show such as the flame-throwing guitar; moving blood-banks; mud-people on stilts; assorted pimped-up cars and souped-up weapons are what impress. As such George Miller proves himself a visionary filmmaker who owns the post-apocalypse on screen making it a terrifying and stunning experience. Action film of the year bar none! (Mark: 10/11)

SAN ANDREAS (2015) – DVD

Duwayne “The Rock” Johnson drives, pilots, flies and hovercrafts his family to safety from a gigantic Earthquake and Tsunami which decimates most of California. He gives an impressive action performance and in combination with some jaw-dropping effects makes this a decent, over-the-top and undemanding disaster movie. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

SPECTRE (2015) – CINEMA

Expectations were very high and alas not met because overall, the first hour-and-a-half of Spectre writes a spectacular cheque the final act cannot quite cash.  The big-bad-wolf reveal is not as surprising as I would have hoped and the Orwellian supporting story didn’t feel that deadly to me. . . It’s fine entertainment but overlong and tries to be too tricksy, wasting the talents and Christophe Waltz and Monica Belluci in the process. However, Daniel Craig is excellent and the set-pieces are a real joy. (Mark: 007.5 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – MAY 2015

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – MAY 2015

I didn’t watch that many movies in May as I have been theming my viewing to British TV productions, so it was quality rather than quantity this month and with a big Antipodean feel.

As usual Marks out of Eleven follow the little review.

***MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD***

BLACK SEA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE

Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Scoot McNairy, Michael Smiley and a motley crew of Russians go down into the deep, dark recesses of the black ocean in search of Nazi gold.  This effective B-movie is essentially The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) set underwater. The cast are excellent plus there are some thrilling and suspenseful scenes as greed and nationalist rivalry poisons the water amidst a series of disasters which strike the crew. This is perfect viewing for a damp Tuesday evening while eating pizza and drinking a beer.  (Mark:  7/11)

CLOUDS OF SIL MARIA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE

This is the kind of intellectual-artsy-actor-fest that middle-class viewers and critics wank themselves lyrical about in the broadsheet press and online.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the triptych of performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moritz and the filmmaker Olivier Assayas tackles some interesting themes about identity, modern culture, death, aging, and the nature of performance. However, it’s pretty one-paced and has a head-scratching Bunuelian turn at the end of the second act which made no sense; I imagine that was the point.  I didn’t even care enough to be perplexed as it just washed over me on the main with neither enough drama or comedy to get my teeth into. Some beautiful vistas and scenery though.  (Mark:  6.5/11)

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015) – CINEMA

Apart from the moron-head who decided to eat crisps really loudly in the seat near me during the opening 10 minutes, I really enjoyed this wonderfully shot romantic drama from impressive filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg.  Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel it stars Carey Mulligan as the fiercely independent Bathsheba who goes against the social tide of the time and attempts to run a successful farm despite the backward sexual politics.

This is a romantic period drama that even blokes can enjoy as the subject matter eschews the fluffery of Jane Austen for the harsher side of rural life.  It’s Thomas Hardy-light with a brisk 120 minutes run through the narrative as Bathsheba is courted by three men of varying social standing and characterisation.  Performances are top notch, notably from Michael Sheen as the pained William Boldwood and ever-sparkling Carey  Mulligan. Matthias Schoenaerts, a striking Belgian actor, is also outstanding as the sturdy Gabriel Oak.   (Mark:  8/11)

GALLIPOLI (1981) – BFI – CINEMA

I grew up watching this film; usually on a Sunday evening on BBC2 and when I saw it was screening at the BFI I jumped at the chance to watch it. It is a heart-wrenching World War One story concerning the Western Australian men who left their families to fight against the Turkish army during the brutal conflict.  It follows two lads portrayed by Mark Lee and cusp-of-stardom Mel Gibson who at first are rival sprinters and then brothers-in-arms as they venture overseas to fight.

The screenplay is sinewy and powerful yet with much humour,  as it builds their friendship from the outback to the trenches culminating in a truly tragic final reel. Peter Weir announced further his credentials as a filmmaker of high quality and the cinematography by Russell Boyd is a wonder.  I also loved the use of music here which employs both modern synthesized pieces from Jean-Michel Jarre and marries it to more classical compositions by Strauss and Giazotto/Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor.  This is up there with my favourite Anti-War films of all time; majestic cinema at its peak. (Mark:  11/11)

MAD MAX (1979)/MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981) – NOW TV

I watched these kinda back-to-back with my teenage son and despite their age and low budgets both films stand up to further viewings.   In fact, George Miller’s seminal violent-explosive-car-chase-revenge-punk-urban-westerns are best watched as a double bill.

In the first film Max is a hardened road cop who wants out so he can be with his young family.  The roads have become a deadly place full of psychotic punks and sociopathic maniacs who rail against society without cause or reason.  When Max is left a shell-of-a-man he goes after the gangs which done him wrong with rage-in-his-eyes and hell in his soul.  This is an awesome film with more imagination, energy and pace than most bigger-budget blockbusters.

With Max’s character established so well the second film Miller throws an Apocalyptic curveball into the mix as we find future Max — a lone road warrior (aside from his Dog) — fighting even crazier road punks over ever-decreasing amounts of petrol.  Mel Gibson really shines as the amoral leather-bound-petrol-head who gets dragged into the outback carmegeddon between a group of settlers and baddies led by the helmeted Lord Humungus.  This film rocks big-time and is one of the greatest action-come-road movies ever and one which confirmed Gibson as a major movie star of the 80s! (Double-bill Mark:  10/11)

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) – CINEMA

Tom Hardy takes on the iconic Max Rockatansky role in this revved-up-mega-budget-future-shooting-guitar-flame-throwing-blood-draining-crash-smash-and-burn epic.  Haunted by past failure Max drives round the wasteland trying to survive. Suddenly he’s whisked away to be a mobile blood-bank at The Citadel and used to keep the cancerous War Boys alive with his pure blood. Enter Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa who is on a mission of her own to protect those she cares for from nefarious Immortan Joe; the Citadel Overlord!

There isn’t really any plot to speak of on the Fury Road but what you get is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore and some incredible stunts in a barren yet beautiful desert setting.  Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema. One may argue that it is style-over-substance but the style IS the substance. The concepts on show such as the flame-throwing guitar; moving blood-banks; mud-people on stilts; assorted pimped-up cars and souped-up weapons are what impresses. As such George Miller proves himself a visionary filmmaker who owns the post-apocalypse on screen making it a terrifying and stunning experience.
(Mark: 9.5/11)

MR TURNER (2014) – BLU RAY

I love Mike Leigh films.  Most of them anyway.  His unique slice-of-life style is quietly confident and steady and even if not much is happening one is often awestruck by colour, mood, composition, character and performance in his work.  Indeed, Timothy Spall is on terrifically grouchy form as celebrated painter J. M. W. Turner and the supporting cast is equally brilliant.

I was mesmerized by the film’s composition and the glacial pace worked in the films’ favour as Leigh paints (sorry) an honest picture of Turner’s later years, artistic process and his relationships.  I was surprised that the old dog was quite a philanderer but then again I didn’t know much about Turner if I’m honest.  This is like walking round a beautiful-looking moving gallery and just breathing in the genius of Turner, Spall and Leigh.  (Mark:  8/11)

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – BLU RAY

For my full review see here: https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/?s=nightcrawler

But to recap: this is a sensational pitch black character piece that allies a powerful script with violent social satire; all glued together by an Oscar-worthy lead performance from the ever-excellent actor Jake Gyllenthaal.   Indeed, he should have got AT LEAST a nomination for his performance as news-media-ladder-crawler sociopathic Lou Bloom.  On re-watch this film is just as powerful and I was in awe of the incredible script, great acting, cutting direction and black humour throughout.  Highly recommended.  (Mark:  10/11)

OUIJA (2014) – BLU RAY

This film is a terrible movie; probably the worst I’ve seen all year.  It follows a vague Final Destination structure as a series of college kids are wiped out by a demonic force that has “escaped” a Ouija Board. There are no redeeming qualities whatsoever and the most interesting fact I can tell you is that the original Ouija Board was in fact a game.  No, I didn’t know that either. Yeah, and the rights to the board game were owned by Parker Brothers and now Hasbro.  It was only in 1930s/40s onwards America that it was used by occultists and spiritualists. Who knows: perhaps people will one day be contacting the ‘other side’ using Transformers? You never know on this crazy planet!  (Mark 1/11)