Produced by: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner, Damien Chazelle
Screenplay by: Josh Singer
Based on First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott
Music by: Justin Hurwitz
Cinematography: Linus Sandgren
Edited by: Tom Cross
I’m probably not the best person to review this film. I do not like flying. I am not a fan of the concept of space travel. I’m firmly in the camp that we should sort our problems out on Earth first. Plus, the geo-political reasons of the era for going into space, such as the Cold War including the “space-race” with the Russians, seem such an alien concept to an idealist as me. Rather naively I just wonder why they couldn’t have just got on with each other.
Having said I am very much aware that in terms of scientific breakthroughs and sheer feat of human achievement, NASA, its staff and the astronauts involved, deserve unlimited praise for their work. Aside from the financial cost and loss of lives, getting into outer space remains an amazing feat of science and technology. But, what of Damian Chazelle and Ryan Gosling’s rendition of Neil Armstrong – is it all that? I will consider the film with a view to its Oscar potential while reviewing the movie as entertainment too.
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
BEST FILM CHANCES – 7/10
As a work of technical excellence First Man is a wonderfully striking film. The visuals and scientific renditions relating to space travel are incredible. The human story works mainly as a biopic from Armstrong’s perspective as he, and his team, prepare to go into space. Moreover, it also works well as a study of grief and obsession. Armstrong is shown, via Ryan Gosling’s minimalist presentation, as an intelligent and steely individual who buries his life in his work to overcome a deep family loss. Given we already know how the story ends then it is to the film’s testament that the drama is maintained throughout. The dangerous nature of space travel and lives lost while shooting for the moon are powerfully highlighted. Yet, when we reach the lunar destination suspense had peaked before that point. Thus, the story relies on the stunning visuals more than drama to carry it to towards the final credits.
BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES – 8/10
Chazelle, as he showed with Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016), is a young film director of some force and intelligence. Having directed Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons with an aggressive jazz-style, he would imbue La La Land with an optimistic, colourful and uplifting energy. First Man is completely different though. It is methodical, slow-burn and restrained in performance and shows Chazelle’s expert range. Here is a filmmaker who designs his films dependent on the subject matter. First Man is a confident cinematic work and Chazelle creates his own vision while also echoing the likes of Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick.
BEST ACTOR – 8/10
I’m a big fan of Ryan Gosling. He has been in a number great films of recent years such as: Bladerunner 2049 (2018), The Nice Guys (2016), Drive (2011), Half Nelson (2006), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Blue Valentine (2010) and more. He is a crafty performer as he doesn’t seem to be doing much. His acting style is like an iceberg; little on the surface but extreme depth below. This makes him perfect for a role such as Neil Armstrong and Gosling’s rendition is pure cinema. His face rarely moves but in his eyes and stillness a real gravitas is brought to the screen. I would expect he will go close to winning the Oscar if only for his accumulation of impressive acting work.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 8/10
Claire Foy delivers a sterling performance as Janet Armstrong. She is shown to be a caring mother but also a fiery protector of her husband. Foy’s acting actually transcends a mildly underwritten role as her intensity deserved more scenes than she is given. Nonetheless, it confirms Foy as an actor of some power and magnetism.
BEST SCORE CHANCES – 9/10
The best scores, in my view, not only stand alone as fine works of music but also blend with the visuals to excellent effect. Justin Hurwitz’s score for First Man is a wonderful achievement and surpasses his work on La La Land in my view. While the moon landing is an incredible visual feat and silence is used to great effect, Hurwitz’ score never fails to shine throughout.
BEST TECHNICAL AWARDS – 9.5 out of 10
In terms of technical achievement in emulating the era in space and on Earth, First Man, is unforgettable. I’d fully expect it to win some or all technical awards for editing, sound, visual effects, design, etc. – it truly is a technical marvel!
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.
In this stinking cesspool of a world run by greedy corporations, bringers-of-war and crazed megalomaniacs it’s important one finds some solace with which to hide from the slings and arrows of this venal society. Indeed, one has to keep an eye out from the barricades and parapets, holding out a shield to deflect, and mirror to reflect, the emotional barbs of every day existence. One such means of deflection is to laugh at the world and its leaders, gods, physicians, media outlets and political snake-oil salesmen, who twist and dance and continually sell us bullshit on a daily basis.
Television is a valuable tool with which to cocoon one’s heart and mind against the stream of negativity and injustice brought down up on us within the oppressive capitalist system. It gives us a chance to laugh and cry at the world through comedy and drama. One such longstanding shield against the tide of money and war is the always-relevant South Park. For twenty-one seasons it has now poked, prodded, electrified, boiled and defecated on the sacred cows of civilisation such as: religious figures, moronic yet dangerous politicians, gluttonous fats cats, media whores and narcissistic plastic celebrities.
After the incredible satirical and narrative success of Season 19 (review here), where showrunner Trey Parker committed to a superlative serialization structure the bar was raised very high. Thus, Season 20 (review here), suffered in comparison as it over-egged the pudding somewhat with a convoluted multi-stranded plot dominated by internet cyber-trolling. Nonetheless, South Park, even firing at three-quarter’ capacity is funnier, on-point, and more scathing than any show out there.
As South Park is a phenomenal staple of my televisual calendar I was very happy when: Cartman, Stan, Randy, Cartman’s mum, Wendy, Butters, PC Principal, Kyle, President Garrison et al were back in Season 21 with satire of the highest order! Moreover, gone was the complex interlinking plots and in this run we experienced some wonderful stand-alone episodes which ran a zeitgeist hyper-link to many of the cultural, political and social events of 2017.
The one thematic web which was woven through the ten shows was Cartman’s dysfunctional and destructive relationship with his girlfriend Heidi. This narrative found Heidi actually becoming a female Cartman much to the other kids’ horror. Here, the writing mined some familiar, almost soap-operatic, but mature story lines to much satisfaction overall; especially in episode 7, Doubling Down, and episode 8, Moss Piglets.
Season 21 was, in keeping with the previous 20 seasons, crammed to the brim with references to media and socio-political culture, while also being fucking hilarious. The opening episode White People Renovating Houses poked humour at the latest Alexa culture and the hailstorm of “flipping” property shows. While Randy, the hare-brained addict, became obsessed with genetically re-correcting his heritage in the hilarious 3rd episode: Holiday Special.
Of course the kids took centre stage in many of the shows, notably Franchise Prequel, where their superhero alter egos – scurrilously led by Cartman’s ‘Coon’ – attempt to get their own Netflix and movie franchise off the ground to rival Marvel and DC. Mark Zuckerberg makes an appearance as a goofy, geeky Scott Pilgrim-type-video-game-end-boss too. Here the seeming bottomless pit of money that is called Netflix is also amusingly slated; mainly due to apparently green-lighting any project irrespective of its’ quality.
Trey Parker and his team took many swipes at the egregious political and, arguably hysterical social media “movements”. In episode 6, Sons of Witches the Harvey Weinstein “situation” was skewed, with all parties involved: men, women and social media keyboard warriors critiqued with much humour. Of course, based on the evidence presented in the media, Weinstein is a stain on humanity, a sexual animal exploiting his powerful position and money-balls! But Sons of Witches was keen to point out that while many men are dicks, they are not ALL bad witches so perhaps some calm and perspective is also required.
While the final two episodes Super Hard PCness and Splatty Tomato ended with President Garrison gone into hiding due to the bombing of Canada, the episodes also had some fine gags on recent horror adaptations It (2017) and Stranger Things (2017). But my favourite episodes of the series were Put It Down, which put the boot into that moron in the White House and his inexplicably dumb twitter feed that spews out an inordinate amount of bile and idiocy. Finally, episode 5, Hummels & Heroin, brilliantly satirised prison movies by transplanting the genre tropes to an old people’s home; advocating ire for pharmaceutical companies pushing drugs on old people and damning poor medical practices.
What makes South Park great and still valid is it does not takes sides. The liberal left and fascistic right are all shown to be, in certain circumstances, controlling and hysterical. Trey Parker and his team do not respect authority or celebrity or media fads or political correctness or social bandwagons; so long may their intelligent, crass, scurrilous, scatological, offensive, all-singing, all dancing satire continue! With Trump in the White House some may say satire is dead but we need the South Park team alive to protect us from this slew of never-ending societal insanity and above all else: MAKE US LAUGH!
Here I’m just saying that this is for fun and not a cry for help, as my life is pretty good I have a job, a roof-over-my-head, good family and I have my health. Compared to those in war-torn countries and those hit by horrific tsunamis and hurricanes I CANNOT COMPLAIN!! Still, there’s no harm in having a little bit of a moan now and then. So, here are ten things that really get on my nerves most days whilst living and breathing on Earth.
#1 – ONLINE HATERS OR TROLLS!
Why are people so over-the-top with their reactions online I ask myself? Maybe they are channelling their life disappointments or existential anger by way of dissociative behaviour. Criticizing things is one thing but venturing into petty online spite could be a way of distancing themselves from the pain of life or just a means to attack others in an offensive way. Moreover, sport, politics, novels, schools, pop videos and even cakes give rise to the most ridiculous hate-filled crap online. Even worse is that many people are cowards and use anonymity too. Why can’t we all just get along?
#2 – GU: GLASS POTS
This is a bit of a niche pet-hate! But I once shared a flat with a very decent person but they kept, every day, purchasing GU Pot desserts. They would eat them, clean the glass pots and place them in the cupboard. Soon we were infested with GU Pots! I thought maybe he was to recycle them at the glass bank but he left the tenancy and I was the one who had to get rid of these damned pesky pots. I’d given up smoking so couldn’t even use them as an ashtray!
#3 – PEOPLE WHO DON’T INDICATE WHEN DRIVING
Come on drivers please let me know which way you’re going?!? It’s the lever on the steering wheel; just flick it and THEN I KNOW!! Also, if you’re changing lanes don’t just lurch left or right without warning you bastards!! Please use the indicator!! I’m a bit anal when it comes to this but just have a bit of decency please? Oh, and while you’re at it stop driving so close to my back bumper! THAT’S HOW CRASHES OCCUR YOU MUPPETS!
#4 – ADULTS ON SCOOTERS
What is it with this most recent of irritating phenomena!? If it isn’t bad enough pedestrians having to battle regular traffic and hate-filled cyclists failing to stop at red lights while riding on pavements; we now have morons over the age of 18 riding kid’s scooters too. It may get you from A to Z in an environmentally safe fashion but you are dangerous and look like a dick! Just stop it please!
#5 – PEOPLE WHO SAY, “YOU KNOW WHAT I’M LIKE!
I do this all the time and it is bloody annoying. For example, I am very pedantic and annoy people with this – especially my wife. But when I do it I often utter the above words: “Well, you know what I’m like – it’s what I’m like!” No, it doesn’t work as a catchall defence mechanism so must be rejected. You wouldn’t get jury’s in court finding you innocent of murder because it’s “what I’m like!” Just don’t do it to start off with!
#6 – PROFESSIONAL CRITICS
Everyone’s a critic! Everyone has an opinion or a view and the Internet has caused a mass proliferation and gaping spew of words and views and brain-thoughts in extremis. I am just part of that continued global globule of opinionated ephemera which litters the clouds or servers or wherever the hell it is online. However, I do it for fun and to stop me thinking about death. If you earn a living as a critic then you are Satan! Would I do it for a living, well, yes I would but I’d rather create than dictate. I’d rather be the failed artist trying than the trying failed artist.
#7 – WHITE MIDDLE-CLASS KIDS WHO TRY AND RAP!!
Again, it’s a freedom of choice to dress to behave the way you choose, however, the absorption of urban culture by middle-class white kids to me is very grating. I’m not saying don’t appreciate the music, style and fashion styles but dreadlocks, urban-speak and bad rapping should not be tolerated. Most annoying is appropriating other people’s look or behaviour when much has been borne out from a certain social standing. But most of all it’s the terrible rapping. Look at this c**t from M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit (2015)!
#8 – OVER-INFLATED PRICES PAID FOR ART!
Picture the scene: a starving child in Africa passively stares at a camera while a fly irritates their big sad eyes, and they do not know when their next meal is coming from. Meanwhile, in a New York auction house a painting by Cezanne or Gauguin or Picasso is selling for over $200 million dollars! What the f**k is wrong with the world?! I’m not saying these paintings aren’t great art it’s just that there is NO WAY that amount of money should be paid for a painting when there is starvation, disease, and poverty in the world. It’s just an indictment of the sickness of humanity that we place such value on what effectively amounts to canvas and paint placed in a particular manner by some dead guy. It’s utter madness!!
#9 – PEOPLE WHO DON’T LET YOU GET OFF THE TRAIN FIRST!
Honestly, it’s bad enough being crammed like sardines in a space not fit for cattle going to market. However, when you try and get off a stacked tube and the passengers on the platform block your way then you can seriously lose your cool. There should be a bigger space and line to allow more room to get off. I mean: what’s the hurry though? We’re just too much in a hurry I guess to have some empathy and feelings for others’. Damned shame!
#10 – TALKING AT THE MOVIES!
I mean why are you talking during a movie? There’s a FILM on!! People who chat during the film SHOULD BE banned forever! In fact a law should be introduced that there’s NO talking from the trailers onwards. If you do you are forcibly removed from the screening room. I go to the cinema to escape reality; YOU or YOUR MATE’S voice-words are reality so SHUT THE HELL UP! If you want to have a conversation piss-off to a pub or a shop or a busy road and PLAY IN THE TRAFFIC. Anywhere but the cinema!
I thought I would make an effort to watch more documentaries over the last few months. Personally, I love nothing more than to immerse myself in fictional worlds created by writers, show-runners and filmmakers etc. but sometimes it’s important to face the “truth”.
Having said that are documentaries actually reflecting reality or the truth? Because the documentary genre over the years has become ultra-sophisticated and many “true” stories are not just simply filmed documents or events or interviews. Now, documentaries are often carefully constructed narratives with as much if not more drama and turns in their tales than fictional works.
I wasn’t the only one who was gripped by Netflix’s Making a Murderer (2015) or HBO’s exceptional The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. Moreover, I’ve always been an avid viewer of the work of dogged filmmaker Nick Broomfield, the disarming talent of Louie Theroux, and at his best the polemical Michael Moore. However, you always have to be aware that what one is watching has been manipulated and finessed to tell a story or a certain agenda; thus truth is not always absolute and should always be questioned.
Nonetheless, the documentary film or programme remains an important tool to confront existential, sociological, historical and political events and issues. It also tends to be a lower budgeted medium – compared to fictional works – with which to illuminate and entertain an audience. So, here are some documentaries I have been watching of late.
Crime documentaries are big business and along with historical Nazi dramas fill up the TV screens and online. Netflix has some well-presented and often controversial documentaries, one such is AMANDA KNOX (2016), which interviewed many of those involved in the despicable murder case of Meredith Kercher a few years back. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself.
With the Nazis in mind, the BBC documentary AUSCHWITZ: THE NAZIS AND THE FINAL SOLUTION (2005) is a horrific examination of wartime atrocities which probes the means with which the Nazis tried to wipe out all the Jews. This is a challenging yet incredible mix of interviews, dramatic re-enactment and detailed research on the evil death camp Auschwitz. While not an easy watch it is a brilliantly devised series which illustrates the blackest stain of one of humanity’s darkest periods in history.
From World War II to a very contemporary conflict Netflix presents THE WHITE HELMETS (2016), which over a hard-hitting forty minutes profiles the heroism of the eponymous rescue workers striving to save civilians from conflicted Aleppo and Syria on the whole. The short film won an Oscar but having done some research online the other side of the argument suggests this is a propaganda piece and does not represent the real work of this group. All I can say is someone somewhere is blowing the hell out of Syria and it is a bloody tragedy because people are dying! Indeed, whichever side the White Helmets are on the filmmakers show the insane destruction of war and suffering occurring for reasons that are beyond my understanding.
For something far more heart-warming I recommend the majestic film THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (2016). It documents the story of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl from Mongolia, as she attempts to become the first female eagle hunter in her country. Beautiful vistas and soaring eagles amidst the snow are to the fore in a very sweet tale of a young lady facing up against years of cultural chauvinism and prejudice, for something she loves doing.
More harrowing though is the well-constructed Killer Whale documentary BLACKFISH (2013) which highlights the cruelty to these beautiful creatures in captivity and the alleged corporate greed of SeaWorld following the deaths of trainers at the park. It also illustrates, in my opinion, the idiotic folly of human beings who think it is wise to get in the water with gigantic aquatic hunters. We are imprisoning animals for our own apparent entertainment and killing ourselves because of it. Idiots!
More human lunacy can be found in the harrowing film VIRUNGA (2014) set in the Congo where director Orlando von Einsiedel stabs at the heart of darkness and finds Soco International and civil war damaging the natural beauty of Virunga National Park. It’s another sad indictment on humanity as the people who live there and the animals, notably the Gorillas, find their habitat is surely being destroyed in the name of greed and insane mercenary bloodlust.
Taking the nature documentary in the direction of horror is Morgan Spurlock’s brutal film RATS (2016). This sickeningly impressive doc takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the globe with gruesome scenes of rat-catching, scientific experimentation, baiting and butchering of rats. Most disgustingly the eating of rodents in Vietnam is considered a delicacy. Gross!
Arguably the most powerful of the documentaries I watched was Ava DuVernay’s polemical and politically charged 13th (2016), a film which slams years of Government policies in regard to incarceration. Indeed, the evidence presented shows systematic lobbying from big business to turn the prison system into a means of enslaving the less socially advantaged. The mass rise of inmates in jail from the 1970s to now bares out this fact and the harsh stories within the documentary too are shocking. 13th is a savage indictment against the United States Government treatment, over the years, of black and Hispanic communities, and while it’s very one-sided, the points it is well researched and makes are incredibly powerful.
An altogether less incendiary and academic approach comes via Noam Chomsky’s interviews represented in REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM (2015) where the ultra-intellectual argues lucidly that a half-century of policies have been designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority. It’s thought-provoking and makes you wonder if this real life “They Live” style of social domination by the rich is truly real or just a dreamt up socio-liberal political conspiracy. To me, and I am not particularly bright when it comes to such matters, believe it is capitalist Darwinism at its worst and the wealthy and powerful are simply protecting what they have to the detriment or the less socially advantageous. Bastards!
I have to say that I admire the bravery of many documentary filmmakers, especially the ones who get right into the nitty gritty of the action. One such filmmaker Matthew Heinemann and his film CARTEL LAND (2015) has a lot of bottle going to Mexico and the US border to film events relating to the drug trade, criminality and nefarious Cartel factions and Government groups. Heinemann and his crew deserve praise for bringing these incredible events concerning an ongoing bloody civil war which seems to have no end in sight.
America is a continual goldmine for fascinating documentaries and Louis Theroux has proved time and time again he is a dab hand at gently poking a stick into some of the darker areas of humanity. Two such BBC documentaries he made are LA STORIES (2014) and THE CITY ADDICTED TO CRYSTAL METH (2009) where Theroux’s unassuming style examines the lives of people and animals affected by drugs, paedophilia, death and social decay. I like Louis Theroux as he isn’t afraid to ask important questions and his work gets into your psyche, without ever smashing you over the head with a definite agenda or tunnel-vision polemics.
The comedian Russell Brand presented a more vigorous approach when challenging the UK government’s ‘war on drugs’ policy by finding out how other countries are tackling their problems of drug abuse. RUSSELL BRAND – END THE DRUGS WAR (2014) was an passionate crusade by Brand to treat drug addiction as a disease and not a crime and he made some excellent points in carrying his case to legal and Government figures.
For some lighter viewing I also watched an informative documentary about filmmaker, actor and theatre genius called: MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING WORK OF ORSON WELLES (2014), which entertainingly ran through the career highs and lows of Orson Welles. Meanwhile, I AM YOUR FATHER (2015) was a likeable tribute to the man who WAS Darth Vader in the original Star Wars franchise – David Prowse. However, the film was ruined by the Spanish director crow-barring himself into the film and also trying to create some drama out of Prowse being gazumped by George Lucas for the shooting of Vader’s death scene. Prowse had a great career and I found the attempts at controversy were unnecessary and the film should’ve concentrated on the man in the suit himself.
Last but not least if you love filmmaking docs you must watchLOST SOUL: RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014). This documentary charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer and hedonistic extras to the mix and you get a box office turkey burning in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.
SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2016 – DVD & ON DEMAND REVIEW ROUND-UP
In addition to my cinema reviews I also watched an eclectic mix of TV shows, big movies and art and indie flicks this month. As usual I have packaged them into bitesize chunks for your perusal. As usual marks are out of eleven.
AMANDA KNOX (2016) – NETFLIX
The despicable murder of Meredith Kercher caused a media and legal storm in Italy over ten years ago now. Amanda Knox and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito were charged and convicted before appealing against the crimes. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
CIRCLE (2015) – NETFLIX
Well-written-one-location-low-budget film finds many strangers in room fighting for their lives. Social, religious, gender and ethnic demographics become key to the choice of “who dies next”; in a nifty, intelligent thriller which critiques humanity in an entertaining fashion. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – NETFLIX
Tarantino’s classic revisionist slave western gets better on every watch; and I would have to say that it is arguably, amidst the stylistic flourishes, his most satisfying narrative as a whole. The bone-crunching violence and bloody shootouts are a joy, yet Tarantino also draws emotional power from the love story between Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington’s enslaved couple. Meanwhile, Christophe Waltz and Leonard DiCaprio ride off into the sunset with the acting honours. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) – TCM
I loved this Bruce Lee Kung-fu classic when I was growing up. Now, it just seems like a slightly tired James Bond rip-off in terms of plot, however, Bruce Lee was a martial arts master and movie star; so it is his charisma and fighting skills which really shine through now. (Mark: 8 out of 11 – for Lee!)
GOOSEBUMPS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
This is a pretty decent meta-fictional comedy-action film with Jack Black hamming it up as a mysterious writer whose creations wreak havoc on a small town. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GOTO – ISLAND OF LOVE (1969) – DVD
This is a very surreal drama from critically acclaimed Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. In the past I would have loved insane stuff like this but I couldn’t get my head around the weird inhabitants of a prison colony acting out warped love rituals while trapped on an island. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
THE GUEST (2014) – FILM FOUR
The Guest (2014) is a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot. Dan Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making and a good shout for the next James Bond. I’ve seen this a few times now and it is a genuine under-rated classic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) – ITV2
Soppy time-travel love story which kind of does and doesn’t make sense stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It’s a likable film with fun concept and pleasant moments. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
MATCH POINT (2005) – NETFLIX
Woody Allen’s excellent London-set thriller builds slowly and pays off wonderfully by the end. The characters are well drawn as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers young existential tennis pro darkens his soul through poor life decisions. Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johannsson, Brian Cox and Matthew Goode complete an attractive cast in the excellent Dostoyevsky-laced crime drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PEOPLE JUST DO NOTHING – SEASON 1 (2014) – NETFLIX
This is a funny Gervais-influenced-Office-style-mockumentary-comedy which follows the shenanigans of a West London pirate radio station. Satirizing youth culture and we get a peek into the lives of the likes of MC Grindah and feckless mates. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SAW (2004) – SKY CINEMA
While it started a tortuous never-ending-cash-cow-franchise, never forget the original Saw is a genuine horror classic from James Wan and Leigh Whannell. You get two guys, one cell and a hell-of-a-dangerous serial killer on the loose that leads to some great twists and bloody murder. The ending alone is still a gob-smacking treat as you put together Jigsaw’s fiendish plan. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR – SKY CINEMA
Roberto Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s sequel to the mind-blowing violent-noir-comic-book-digital-backlot-splatterfest Sin City (2005) was eagerly anticipated by me. This had the same hard-boiled dialogue, bone-crunching violence and some fantastic imagery, but aside from Eva Green’s terrific femme fatale it lacked the impact of the first film and fell a bit flat. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASON 3 (2010) – NETFLIX
The third revving-crunching-porno-shooting-explosive season had Jax and the other gang members battling the Mayans, the FBI and going on “holiday” to Ireland to take on the “Real” Irish Republican Army. It’s a real soapy mix of violence, bullets and familial-led drama with enough plot turns and jaw-dropping set-pieces to keep you entertained throughout the fast-paced episodes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE FINEST HOURS (2016) – SKY CINEMA
This Disney disaster movie set in the 1950s is a very watchable human drama sensitively directed by Craig Gillespie. It flopped at the box office, yet Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are on very good form in the leads and there are some great set-pieces too on the sea. The real star is Carter Burwell’s epic music but in my opinion the film deserved a bigger audience. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
TO THE WONDER (2012) – DVD
This is a beautifully shot yet overlong and pretentious love story with banal Olga Kurylenko and a depressive Ben Affleck sleep-walking through his role. Terence Malick is a fine auteur but despite the wondrous scenery and vaguely interesting structure this bored me overall. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2016 – PART TWO – FILM REVIEWS
Following my Part-One-TV-reviews for September – here’s Part Two with the movie reviews. I had a week off work so I managed to watch loads. Here’s a run through with the usual marks out of eleven. Enjoy.
FILMS OF THE MONTH
A SINGLE MAN (2009) – NETFLIX
Tom Ford’s brilliant character drama starring the exceptional Colin Firth in the lead is an amazingly assured directorial debut. Firth portrays, George Falconer, grieving Professor in 1960s America and we follow him over one day as he meets various characters and muses over past events. It is a beautiful study of grief; exquisitely acted by the ensemble cast and incredibly moving too. (9 out of 11)
FOLLOWING (1998) – NETFLIX
Christopher Nolan’s debut no-budget feature shot at weekends with friends on 16mm black-and-white is a brilliant noir story. Making progressive use of natural light and locations it’s a stylish affair with a twisty plot concerning a loner who pursues a thief only to have the tables turned on him unexpectedly. (8 out of 11)
JUNO (2007) – SKY CINEMA
Ellen Page’s sparky teenage outsider gets pregnant by mistake and faces a critical life dilemma. Diablo Cody’s witty script is the star with all manner of cracking one-liners peppered throughout. Page, Michael Cera, JK Simmons, Allison Janney and Jason Bateman are hilarious too in a very funny offbeat comedy. (8.5 out of 11)
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) – CINEMA
A group of heroes’ band together to protect a community against evil foes: how many times can they tell THAT story? Well, you’ve got: The Seven Samurai (1954), The Magnificent Seven (1960), Battle Beyond The Stars (1980), A Bugs Life (1998), Avengers Assemble (2012) and now The Magnificent Seven again. The latter movie from Antoine Fuqua stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio plus another fun turn from Chris Pratt. Having established the cowboys and villains it sets about delivering a cracking piece of entertainment. The last hour stands out as a scintillating series of set-pieces, shootouts and explosions and I just had loads of fun with it despite the generic narrative.(9 out of 11)
SPY (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Funny person Melissa McCarthy was hilarious in Bridesmaids (2011) and subsequently has been in some hit-and-miss comedies including: Tammy (2014) and Identity Thief (2013). However, in Spy she perfectly captures her downtrodden-underdog-meets-loud-sweary-women-persona in a slick, knowing and very funny espionage parody. The whole cast including: gut-cracking Jason Statham, Peter Serafanowicz, Jude Law and McCarthy herself excel in a joke-a-second-action-fest which had me in stitches. (8 out of 11)
STEVE JOBS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Writer Aaron Sorkin is obviously a genius because once again he takes a potentially dry subject matter – as he did with The Social Network (2010) – and creates a fascinating character study of a complex man. Jobs is an irascible marketing “god” surrounded by mere mortals struggling to meet his product launch demands. With Michael Fassbender brilliant as the Apple head honcho, Sorkin proves it is THE character and not the tech which sells drama. As usual Danny Boyle directs with aplomb too in a brilliantly structured and written story. (9 out of 11)
UNDER THE SHADOW (2016) – CINEMA
Set in Tehran during 1980s at the height of Iran-Iraq conflict, a mother and young daughter are haunted by a Djinn spirit as war spirals violently outside. Overall it is an excellent Iranian low-budget horror film – while similar in theme and story to Dark Water (2002) and The Babadook (2014) – that delivers some fine supernatural scares and socio-political subtext within the suspenseful action. (8 out of 11)
BEST OF THE REST
11 MINUTES (2015) – NETFLIX
Intriguing ensemble drama which begins slowly and full of mystery as various character lives come to entwine in a very watchable Polish thriller with a twist. (7 out of 11)
ABC’s OF DEATH (2012) – NETFLIX
This is a gruesome, horrific, nasty, heartless and sickening anthology of horror stories. Many of the twenty-six short films are excellent but others are so poor they are virtually unwatchable. Lots of gore, humour and sicko stuff for horror fans to get their jaws into though! (Mark: 6 out of 11)
BAD NEIGHBOURS 2 (2016) – BA INFLIGHT
Sequel to the hilarious sleeper hit comedy starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne. This time the married thirtysomethings battle a sorority house instead in a hit-and-miss film that recycles its’ best gags from the first film. (6 out of 11)
BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) – BA INFLIGHT
The visuals and action are brilliant as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor face-off in a chaotic superhero trifle. Zach Snyder’s vision is impressive but his storytelling is way off as dream sequences, narrative strands and subplots all collide in an unsatisfactory whole. Looks good – shame about the lack of a coherent story! (6 out of 11)
FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975) – SKY CINEMA
A decent Marseilles-set sequel to the stunning French Connection (1971) as “fish-out-of-water” cop Popeye Doyle hunts down heroin trafficker Fernando Rey. This is gritty, grainy and dark as Gene Hackman tears up the screen with a brutish and brilliant performance. (7 out of 11 for the film/10 out of 11 – for Gene!)
I SAW THE LIGHT (2015) – BA INFLIGHT
So-so biopic of the legendary country singer Hank Williams features a fine performance from Tom Hiddleston and some classic country music; but in terms of structure and scope is an above-average TV movie at best. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
PARADOX (2016) – NETFLIX
Not-too-bad-time-travel-thriller inspired by And Then There Were None with a TV-movie cast but plenty of twists to keep the interest. (6 out of 11)
PRIMER (2004) – NETFLIX
Shane Carruth’s mind-swirling no-budget time-travel tale has two friends who invent a time machine and then. . . I’m not sure what happened after that as the narrative was too confusing for me. Either a work of genius or pretentious mess; one has to admire his intellectual vision even if it lacks real drama or emotion. (7 out of 11)
A fun, tricksy and paradoxical time-travel film which centres around the intriguing premise of a camera which can take a photo of events 24 hours into the future. The Shallow Grave (1994) plot finds around three friends who try to exploit the camera to their own gain only for it to bite them on the arse! (7.5 out of 11)
TRAINWRECK (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Amy Schumer’s starring debut directed by Judd Apatow is funny in places with a fizzy lead performance from the comedian. She portrays a thirtysomething who sleeps around and gets drunk while avoiding commitment; until her free spirit, is recuperated by Bill Hader’s likeable surgeon. Decent cameos and some great one-liners make it watchable but ultimately it’s a conventional rom-com which runs out of steam before the cringe-inducing ending. (7 out of 11)
TRIPLE 9 (2015) – BA INFLIGHT
John Hillcoat’s contemporary cop thriller has a cracking ensemble cast, testosterone dripping from the screen and powerful action throughout. Covering similar ground to Ben Affleck’s The Town (2010) – but without the romance – it pits dirty cops against kind-of-good-cops and throws Kate Winslet’s bouffant-haired-gangster into the mix. Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson and Winslet make this genre movie very watchable and worth a butchers. (7.5 out of 11)
I love watching TV shows and films. Mainly to fill a void in my soul, or put it another way, stop me drinking myself to death. Oh, also because I just enjoy escaping reality by watching stuff on a screen.
I have split my September Screenwash reviews into television and movies, because I watched so much damned stuff last month. Here are the TV shows I watched with marks out of eleven.
**THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD**
ASH V. THE EVIL DEAD (2015) – SEASON 1 – STARZ/VIRGIN
This 30-years-later-sequel to the original Sam Raimi Evil Dead trilogy featuring Bruce Campbell is a gory, cheesy and bloody delight. It brings back one of the most iconic-blue-shirted-wise-cracking-big-chinned-chain-sawing-action-horror-dudes ever in Ash Williams.
Having accidentally conjured up the Deadites from the Necronomicon – Book of the Dead, Ash heads cross country battling demons and ghouls with his trusty chainsaw and boomstick. He finds new friends and enemies along the way and Campbell is on wonderful form as the sexist, ageing demon-killer.
Plot wise the story is flimsy and generic, yet the bloody and bone-crunching gore is brilliant and Bruce Campbell is hilarious as usual. Ignore the evil and abominable reimagining from 2013 and get on board this silly and superb horror nostalgia trip with Ash Williams and co. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BLACK MIRROR – WHITE CHRISTMAS (2014) – NETFLIX
Charlie Brooker is pretty much a genius in my eyes and as well as being a bastard-funny TV critic, he is also a formidable storyteller. The Black Mirror stories echo the short-sharp-shocking plots of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected; yet with a very contemporary and technological twist. Season 3 Black Mirror is imminent on Netflix yet this Chrimbo special provided some darkly imaginative tales for the season.
Brooker presents a triptych of stories including: a Dating Coach (John Hamm) guiding – via contact-lens-style-Go-Pro – a naïve lad on a sexual conquest; a spoilt and demanding rich bitch (Oona Chaplin) who buys the ability to digitally clone herself so she can be her own personal ‘slave’; and a story of a doomed relationship between Rafe Spall and Janet Montgomery where an app allows a human to physically BLOCK them in reality. Safe to say all the narratives criss-cross to fiendish effect as cyber-technology is presented as initially a positive thing but ultimately something horrific which undermines humanity and hinders emotions and physical contact. Brooker is of the view that the future isn’t orange but very black indeed. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
Was Season 2 Fargo any good? It sure was – darn tooting! For me this was almost perfect television viewing. It had a great story, memorable characters, and brilliant dialogue and is filtered, like the first season, through the twisted eccentricities, imagery, sounds, music and narrative style of the Coen brothers. Having said that, the writer and showrunner Noah Hawley has taken the Coen’s football and sprinted away with it and almost transcended the primary source material.
Season 2’s plots – and there’s some serpentine shit going down – are set in Fargo and surrounding counties, mid 1979. We focus on country gangsters the Gerhardts and the attempted takeover by some Kansas City “business” people who think they can run the hicks out of town. In amongst the bloody hits, kidnapping and badassery we have Patrick Wilson and Ted Danson as the good cops who, having seen the horrors of war overseas, just want an easy life. Thrown into the mix by the dark lords of fate are self-improver Kirsten Dunst (amazing) and simple butcher Jess Plemons who get out of their depth very quickly.
Overall, the drama, humour and suspense are incredible as is the cast, notably: eloquent hitman Bokeem Woodbine and brutal rural gangsters Jean Smart and Jeffrey Donovan. Philosophically and thematically the writing is very strong too with an existential bent which makes the whole show gold-plated genre TV of the highest quality. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
THE KILLING (2007) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX
I recall when this first hit the TV screens the Guardianistas shitting bricks over how good this Danish cop-procedural-politico drama was. The moody atmosphere, murky lighting and winter jumpers were all the rage with the lentil-eaters; as were the performances of Sofie Grabol, Soren Malling and the formidable Lars Mikkelsen. In the cold light of day and almost ten years later there is still much to like about this Scandi-genre-cop-thriller. Over twenty gruelling episodes we find ourselves amidst the investigation of the vicious murder of a young woman called Nanna Larsen. Simultaneously a mayoral election is taking place in Copenhagen and the two events become fatefully entwined.
Ultimately, it is pretty generic stuff with the device of “red herring” suspects and characters revealing information later than they could of being over-used. Also, it could’ve have been wrapped up WAY before the twenty episode run, yet, it was gripping throughout with some terrific suspense. I especially liked Grabol’s intuitive cop who could see past the surface and into the psychology of a situation or person. Her obsessional cop was flawed but brilliant at her job even though her family life was threatening to implode. Also, exceptional is Lars Mikkelsen as mayor candidate Troels Hartmann, a man trying to do the right thing, yet with ghosts of the past haunting him. The best scenes were with the Larsen family whose lives were about-faced by the death of their daughter. Their grief brought a real depth to proceedings with many heart-breaking and emotive moments surrounding their ordeal. Perhaps over-hyped on first release, this remains a tremendous cop drama with loads of twists to keep you hooked. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2014) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
What started, in Season 1, as an ensemble prison drama with the focus mainly on spoilt-brattish-over-grown-Prom-Queen, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), has developed quite brilliantly, by Season 2, into a sexy-black-comedy-drama of the highest quality. Piper is of course still there driving me mad with her bouts of narcissistic wants but this time she’s toughened up and is now bouncing off the inmates, walls and screws with a bit more spunk and verve. However, the power of this narrative is now driven by the ensemble characters – both inmates and guards – who all get a chance to shine in a collection of stories, flashbacks and vignettes which the writers weld together expertly over thirteen brilliant episodes.
Season 2 develops further the histories of, among others, love-struck Morello, cancer-sufferer Rosa, Taystee, Black Cindy, Poussey and Sister Ingalls; as well revealing more about crooked Assistant Warden Figeroa, prison Counsellor Sam Healy and ambitious head screw Joe Caputo. Also, entering the prison was a cracking antagonist Vee Parker brilliant portrayed by Lorraine Toussaint and her battle to control rackets in jail saw her on a collision course with ‘Red’ Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew). Overall, there was SO much going on in the show yet it didn’t feel cluttered. The characters were drawn so well, relying on archetypes and human definition rather than soapy stereotypes. I was just going to give it one more season but the drama, dialogue, performance, humour and pathos delivered here made me want to go in for Season 3 and beyond. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
Getting on stage and making a room full of strangers laugh spontaneously through a joke, impression, improvisation, song etc. is arguably one of the mightiest challenges facing a performer. But for many successful stand-up comedians the thrill of reducing a room to shakes of laughter is not enough; hence why so many have attempted to transfer their undoubted comic and acting artistry to the silver screen. Plus there’s more dough involved in making movies. As a massive fan of both cinema and stand-up comedy I thought it interesting to look at some of the best dramatic performances committed to celluloid by stand-up comics.
Eddie Murphy – 48 Hours (1982)
Before Eddie Murphy single-handedly set about making his very own list of the worst movies ever made he took his raw, rap, crack and pop stand-up persona and committed to screen great performances in Trading Places (1983) Beverley Hills Cop (1984) and Walter Hill’s rock hard-boiled 48Hours (1982). Buddied-up with Nick Nolte’s life-frazzled cop, Murphy was perfectly cast as cool convict Reggie Hammond. Murphy is tough, uncompromising and funny: spitting out classic dialogue such as “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows” – with a verve that is sorely missing from virtually all his film output of the last 15 years.
Woody Allen – Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)
Arguably, Allen’s recent movies have not been up to the quality of his earlier “funnier” films but I like them nonetheless as he has consistently produced work rich with great lines, ideas and characters. In the 1980’s Allen’s films matured and more often than not centred around familial, human and sexual relationships. As well as writing and directing Allen also acted in most of his films using his Jewish, neurotic, angsty persona to comic and dramatic effect. In Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) he delivers another fine performance drawing out pathos, empathy and pain as a documentary filmmaker who is trying to make sense of life and why we are on this planet. The film is multi-stranded with a wonderful ensemble cast including Alan Alda and Martin Landau on particularly great form.
Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple (1985)
Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe where her work and would then be cast in Spielberg’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple (1985). While Goldberg would earn an Oscar for her over-the-top turn in potter’s-wheel-ten-hankie-weepie Ghost (1990), but it is her first ever screen appearance which will stay in the memory. Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered and beaten by life but whom amidst the misery and abuse retains a strength and desire to not let life destroy her. Goldberg brings a tremendous innocence, fortitude and compassion to the part; and considering it is her first ever movie role it is an amazing achievement.
Will Ferrell – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Ferrell cut his comedy fangs in The Groundlings, an LA improv group, and would later take his comic creations onto Saturday Night Live. Hilarious turns as hick racing driver Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights (2006) and more famously as Ron Burgundy – the king of unreconstructed male chauvinist stupidity – in Anchorman (2004) would cement Ferrell’s success as a movie actor. Famous for stupid haircuts, overcharged yelling and screen-mugging Ferrell toned it down as tax inspector Harold Crick in Marc Forster’s moving dramedy, Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell’s Crick is a lonely individual, a man of routine and commonplace whose life is turned topside down when he hears his every move being narrated by Emma Thompson’s meta-omnipotent author. As he struggles to find ‘the voice’ Crick begins to question his whole existence and this gives Ferrell the opportunity to live a character with depth and emotion hitherto unseen in his previous screen caricatures.
Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)
While Chris Rock arguably takes the stand-up comic kudos between these two graduates of influential American sketch show, In Living Color, Foxx’s film career has flourished with a series of fantastic movie performances. But it was playing Ray Charles in Ray (2004) that Foxx left Rock’s movie career, in comparison, eating the proverbial dust sandwich. Of course it won him the Oscar but it was more than just an impression of Charles as Foxx gave this musical genius a flawed humanity and pain that moved both the audience and the Academy. Foxx threw himself into the role with abandon musically and dramatically, showing Charles’ darker addictive side as well as his magnetism, humour and incredible drive. Unsurprisingly, the same year, Foxx was also nominated for his sterling work in Mann’s urban noir Collateral losing out in that category to the king-of-expositional-voiceover Morgan Freeman.
Robin Williams – One Hour Photo (2002)
A running trope in this list finds many of the acts turning their manic comedic persona on its’ head and internalizing the mania or psychosis with understated performances. Indeed, I have read articles which link certain mental states with the comedic mind and in Robin Williams you could not get a more manic, fevered, out-of-this-world performer. After a slow start cinematic success would arrive eventually and I could have chosen Good Will Hunting (1997) or Good Morning Vietnam (1987) or Dead Poet’s Society (1989)as these were great roles for Williams. But in 2002 he took a couple of darker turns in Nolan’s pre-Batman thriller Insomnia and a lower-budget thriller called One Hour Photo. The latter found Williams playing a solitary Photo Technician who takes an unhealthy interest in one particular family. Yet Williams’ character is no ordinary psycho but rather a pained individual longing to be part of a family unit. The actor terrifies the audience with his obsessive nature but at the end the performance humanizes the character rather than making him a one-dimensional lunatic he could so easily of been.
Jim Carrey – Man On The Moon (1998)
Carrey is an absolute force of nature as a stage and sketch performer and brought that dynamic physicality, silly voices and zany gurning to great effect in films such as: Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). As he gained further success he would stretch his acting muscles with more dramatic and riskier roles. He was ideally cast as Intergender Wrestling Champion of the world Andy Kaufmann and (best known for his role in U.S. sitcom Taxi) and also doubled-up by playing Kaufmann’s alter-ego Tony Clifton (with Paul Giamatti.) Kaufmann was arguably the very first anti-comedian; gaining laughs or at the very least trying to get laughs from being deliberately unfunny and antagonistic. Carrey takes on all the incarnations with much skill and humour and rather than be just a very good impression he zones his usual mania, creating a complex character whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The film was criticized by some for taking liberties with Kaufmann’s life and it was a relative failure at the box office, but Carrey deservedly won many awards and nominations for his diverse performance.
Billy Connolly – The Debt Collector (1997)
Connolly’s performance in Mrs Brown would be the most obvious choice for Scotland’s imperious stand-up comedy legend, however, I’m not a fan of films about the Royal Family and the brutal Debt Collector is more to my taste. The Big Yin is compelling in this grim, gritty thriller inspired by career criminal turned artist/novelist, Jimmy Boyle. Connolly’s working class and artistic background also resonates in the Nicky Dryden character trying to go straight; only to be pursued relentlessly by Ken Stott’s obsessive cop. Connolly’s raconteurial, larger-than-life stand-up style is in complete contrast to the serious character of Dryden who having escaped the mean streets of snooker halls of Glasgow is now a feted figure on the art scene. Stott’s vindictive cop cannot abide Dryden’s success and sets about bringing Dryden down. The scenes between Connolly and Stott are the stand-out in this dark, violent tale which is unflinching in tone and certainly darker than anything Connolly has been in before or since.
Richard Pryor – Blue Collar (1980)
Paul Schrader wrote existential urban Western Taxi Driver (1976) but also directed some compelling dramas. Blue Collar is probably his best film and it is my favourite Richard Pryor performance. Pryor had reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian shifting his persona from likeable TV friendly gag-man to a snarling, coked-up, angry social satirist. He would roughen out the edges of this act to become the slick, effervescent and honest performer who turned the dramas and stories of his life into comedy gold. Pryor would be a natural comic force on silver screen and formed a fine double act with Gene Wilder. However, Blue Collar is the best film I saw him in as it combines the humour, drama and social commentary that Pryor himself included in his act. Set in Detroit it highlights the hypocritical machinations of Union practices at a car plant. Pryor provided some humour but his character shows an anger and energy throughout which may or may not have been fuelled by his Olympic coke-taking. Egos clashed among cast (including Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel) and crew and it shows on screen in a fiery examination of the working class man and his lot.
Jerry Lewis – The King Of Comedy (1983)
To be able to steal the acting honours from Robert DeNiro at the height of his golden acting period takes some beating. But that is what old-school-crazed-slapstick-movie-mad-man Jerry Lewis did in Scorcese’s dramedy about obsessives. DeNiro is funny, embarrassing and tragic as the bottom-runged comedian but Lewis’ performance as hangdog, lonely and jaded chat-show host Jerry Langford stole the show. Langford, a successful TV presenter, remains at the height of his career but lives a seemingly lonely life with just his work for company. On the surface a decent guy but underneath he’s a jaded workaholic. DeNiro’s Pupkin enthusiastic, aspirational, hero-worshipping comic stalks him and becomes Langford’s own worst nightmare. There are so many painful scenes of toe-curling embarrassment in this movie notably when deluded Pupkin invites himself to Langford’s country retreat. When Langford is left at the mercy of Sandra Bernhard’s unhinged harpy Lewis’ performance is one of raging deadpan as he simmers with rage until he bursts like a pustule on escape and leaps down the road with tape around his ankles like bicycle clips. A truly under-rated gem of a performance and film.
Eric Bana – Chopper (2000)
Australian actor Bana started off in stand-up and TV sketch shows and was a novice dramatically speaking when cast as violent-criminal-turned-best-selling-novelist Marc Brandon Read. Given his comedic background Bana’s rendition is very funny but ultimately there is a dark drama and bloody violence too in the representations of this powerhouse of the Melbourne underworld. His creation is a paranoid, angsty, neurotic monster capable of terrific rage one moment then over-powering guilt the next. It’s a rounded version of a split-personality both interested in robbing drug dealers but also with his own myth, persona and media representation. There’s some terrific dialogue and Aussie banter between Chopper and the various low-lifes he encounters; and some visceral violence, notably when Chopper gets his ears cut off to navigate a route out of jail. The film holds a mirror up to a twisted society which creates celebrities out of killers and those who act outside of the law and it is to Bana’s credit that he makes this monster funny and likeable despite his actions deserving the contrary.
Mo’Nique – Precious (2009)
I wasn’t aware of Mo’Nique’s background as a stand-up comedian when I first saw this heartwrenching drama, but after witnessing her incredible performance I did some research and found she worked her way up from the open-mic circuit of Baltimore to the lofty heights of Best Supporting Actress. Her character Mary Lee Johnson is an emotionally-damaged-dysfunctional-car-crash-human-bully who puts her daughter Precious (equally brilliant Gabourey Sidibe) through all manner of abuse and neglect. As horror after horror befalls the story’s heroine her mother sits on the sofa barking, castigating, demanding; making her life a living hell. It’s a monstrous creation but one which is not without compassion as shown in one of the final scenes in the film where Mary Lee Johnson, in tears, asks, “Who was gonna love me?” And the strength of the performance is that we almost feel bad for this woman. Almost.
Steve Martin – The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Steve Martin’s film career is quite similar to Eddie Murphy’s inasmuch as his early films matched the brilliance and energy of his stand-up career only to find him moving later to more sub-par-Hollywood-generic-remakes like Bilko. But you can’t blame a performer wanting to make a living and Martin is one of the great Renaissance Men. He also wrote of one of the greatest books I’ve read about comedy: Born Standing Up. As an actor he’s always really funny playing downtrodden man-children or idiots happy to send himself up gaining laughs from crazed anger while remaining totally unthreatening; e.g. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). In David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner he played against type with a sinister turn in this cold, twisting thriller. Martin underplays throughout with intelligence and handles Mamet’s crisp dialogue with aplomb. It’s a fine film and performance utilising his linguistic skills expertly and I have no Clouseau why he didn’t go darker more often.