Tag Archives: JJ Abrams

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Michelle Rejwan

Screenplay/Story by: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow – based on characters created by George Lucas

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant etc.

Music by: John Williams

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**



The J. J. Abrams directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) reboot broke not only the internet, but also box office records worldwide. It was a safe, entertaining and impressive spectacle which combined a mix of older characters we knew and loved, plus some bright young new things too. The action was breathtaking and brilliantly done, however, the story was a retread of A New Hope (1977) (with a female Luke), plus a series of glaring plot holes. Still, loads of action and great bad guys made this a fun blockbuster. 

Director Rian Johnson’s, sequel Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) was, of course, another massive hit across the galaxy too. However, having watched it again recently, I felt it was racked with inconsistencies in tone and suffered weak storytelling. Indeed, the whole trilogy ground to a virtual standstill with Rey’s central story standing still and Poe and Finn’s mission proving to be a redundant decoy and wild goose chase rolled into one. Furthermore, I was shocked that a meta-filmmaker like Rian Johnson was given the Star Wars gig. To me, his filmmaking choices are too genre subversive and so it proved. Because, while The Last Jedi (2019) had some memorable moments, (mostly Adam Driver) and Luke’s emotionally charged arc, yet overall it failed as a Star Wars story.


Thus, it was not surprising when genre specialist, J. J. Abrams, was brought back to save the trilogy with The Rise of Skywalker (2019). In returning to the safe, fast-paced, spectacular blockbuster style of The Force Awakens (2015), we may have lost idiosyncratic moments of character and humour, but at least this story has plot cohesion, punchy pay-offs and emotional impact. What The Rise of Skywalker (2019) also has is incredible visual set-pieces throughout. The J. J. Abrams led production army of special effects wizards have given us some memorable light-sabre and space battles. One in particular on the moon of Endor, that finds Kylo-Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) facing off, took my breath away.

Another major strength of this final episode is that Rey’s narrative arc is finally given the development it should have got in The Last Jedi (2017). Daisy Ridley’s performance too in this film is excellent. While she was a bit lightweight in the first two films, I felt she really came into her own here. This is helped by the revelation as to who her real parents were. Having said that, Abrams and his co-writers desperately scrabble around in the first hour of the film trying to set this up. At times the pace was too hectic. However, once it settled and all the flashbacks and back stories were in place, Rey’s character faces a very ominous choice. Conversely, her deadly psychic link with Kylo Ren continues to be a fascinating duel of mind, spirit and body. These developments are assisted by another compelling performance by Adam Driver. Kylo Ren’s internal struggle comes to the fore too, with a number of heart-pounding pay-offs at the end.



I’m also pleased to say that Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca, and Finn (John Boyega) are given a real meaty mission to get their teeth into. One that in fact links to the main story and themes of the whole film too. The standard plot McGuffin here is a Sith “wayfinder”, which the rebel team and Rey set out to recover. Let’s be honest, it’s no more than a “Treasure Hunt” plot structure, however, at least it allows for the more emotionally charged aspects of the story to develop and leads us perfectly to the incredible battle sequences in the final act. Moreover, plot predictability aside, there are other weaknesses in the film. I didn’t mind the CGI-driven rendition of Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), however, by the ninth episode in the franchise I felt maybe they’d waited too late to introduce new aspects of the Jedi mind-trickery. But, hey it worked well in the story and was so cool that you just accept ‘the force’ as is.

Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is a return to genre form following the idiosyncratic subversion of The Last Jedi (2017). In fact, it was so entertaining it is the most enjoyable one (excluding the prequels) of the new trilogy. Despite a rapid start to the narrative, which tries to recoup the ground lost by the prior film, once it finds a rhythm there are some amazing action set-pieces, impressively cinematic visuals and thrilling emotional moments. While it may adhere to cookie-cutter, franchise genre expectations, overall, The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is delivered with incredible force and made for perfect holiday blockbuster entertainment.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #2 – REVIEW – OVERLORD (2018)

OVERLORD (2018)

Directed by: Julius Avery

Produced by: J.J. Abrams, Lindsay Weber

Screenplay by: Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith

Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Pilou Asbæk, Bokeem Woodbine etc.

Cinematography: Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Inglourious Basterds anyone? More like inglorious mutants!

I love a good B-movie horror film and I love a good B-movie war film! So, I’m still confused as to why I missed this one at the cinema first time round. It was released in November 2018 in the UK, so perhaps I was still in London Film Festival mode? Perhaps it fell through the cracks after a busy October cinema-going? Perhaps the marketing wasn’t strong enough over here? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps?

Anyway, I caught up with it on Sky Cinema via the television box and I immediately regretted not seeing it on the big screen. The film is set in June 1944 during the Allied invasion of Normandy. The operation was called Overlord and part of the WWII D-Day push to defeat the dastardly Nazis. It opens superbly, in mid-flight, as a fighter bomber carries American soldiers about to parachute into enemy territory. Safe to say aeroplane food, crying children and lack of leg room are the least of their worries.

The explosive, noisy and destructive opening sequence sets an incredible pace. Also, the body count starts to stack up too as we land in occupied France. Not so much a dirty dozen as a filthy four remain after the landing carnage. The ragtag quartet consisting of nervous rookie, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), tough-guy Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), mouthy Private Tibbet (John Magaro), and war photographer Private Chase (Iain De Caestecker), are joined by French civilian fighter, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) in battling the Nazi hordes. Their mission is to take out a Nazi radio tower, but we get a whole lot more than the usual WWII battle sequences. Something horrific is lurking in the church where the radio tower is.

While the film essentially deals in genre archetypes the narrative pace, action and suspense really get the heart racing. Moreover, the cast commit to the action and bloodshed with impressive abandon. What I liked was, with relatively unknown actors cast, it meant there was suspense in who would or wouldn’t survive. So, in a film full of surprises this added another layer of tension you wouldn’t get in a star-driven film. Nonetheless, the real asset of the film is the monstrous soldiers born out of the sinister minds of the Nazi Doctors. These are some real nasty pieces of work! Indeed, director Julius Avery revels in representing the bloody carnage these experimental creatures bring. You can’t beat a good old Nazi monster baddie! Well, you can! In all sorts of fleshy, fiery and visceral ways!

I recognised Wyatt Russell from other films and TV shows, and he was great. Russell exuded all the tough qualities his father Kurt has shown down the years, but he gave Corporal Ford a steely edge all of his own. Jovan Adepo and John Magaro impressed as chalk and cheese soldiers, initially clashing but subsequent gaining respect for each other. Adepo’s Private Boyce grows from frightened rabbit to resilient hero over the course of the film. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones scenery-chewer, Pilou Asbæk, begins with quite a subtle portrayal of SS Captain Wafner. Yet, by the end he is on gloriously over-the-top form as the most mutated of all the Nazis.

Ultimately, this is a mid-budget B-movie genre gem. It has lashings of action, blood and gore. It also combined war and horror genres really impressively. I would have liked even more gore and a bit more backstory regarding the Nazi experiments, but that would have probably ruined the surprises. Also, it’s definitely not one of the most original films you will see as there are major echoes of many soldiers-on-a-mission war films, the video-game Wolfenstein and also From Dusk Til Dawn (1995) too. But, with Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier and Jovan Adepo impressing in the cast and Avery directing the hell out of the explosive action and bloody fighting, I had a great time watching Overlord (2018). It’s just a damn shame I missed it on the big screen when first released.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW

**THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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After the biggest budgeted fan film of all time was released last year with The Force Awakens (2015), I approached Rogue One (2016) with a sense of scepticism. After all, JJ Abrams directed Star Wars movie was essentially a block-to-block remake of A New Hope (1977) but this time substituting Luke Skywalker for a young woman, Rey, (Daisy Ridley) and Darth Vader for a younger more angst-ridden version in Adam Driver. Abrams spectacular epic delighted fans on emotional and aesthetic levels despite the sandcastle plotting, gaping story holes and illogical incompetence of the First Order. For example, why build a ‘Death Planet’ with the SAME weaknesses as the Empire’s Death Star?  It did not make sense to me.

Nonetheless, JJ Abrams safety guaranteed reboot broke not only the internet but also box office records worldwide. It’s a safe and impressive spectacle with bland leads and a nostalgic mix of familiar and new characters. The action was breathless and pristine but the weaknesses in the story ruined the enjoyment of The Force Awakens for me. While it made sense to focus the narrative on the children of the original trilogy, and it was great to see Harrison Ford reprising Han Solo, I wasn’t as impressed by Abrams blockbuster as many were. Of course, compared to George Lucas’-rise-and-fall-of-Annakin-Skywalker-prequel-trilogy it was pure cinema gold.

Talking of prequels Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is just that – Star Wars: Episode 3.5 as it were.  The action takes place after Revenge of the Sith (2005) but just before A New Hope.  We open with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic pursuing Mads Mikkelsen’s ‘farmer’, Galen Erso, on the planet Lah’mu. Krennic is an Imperial executive working on the Death Star and he requires Erso’s expertise to complete the work so kidnaps him, leaving behind his young daughter Jyn Erso, alone and abandoned.

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As per many other stories in the Star Wars galaxy themes relating to war, family, loss, orphans and hope propels the characters in Rogue One. None more so than Felicity Jones’ grown up Jyn Erso, who inhabits her character with a credible depth and pain throughout. She has clearly had to fend for herself and has become world-weary for one so young, yet she is also tough and very handy in a fight. Against her will she is thrust into the rebellion fight and embarks on a last-ditch mission to locate the plans of the Death Star. Here the story harks back marvellously to the derring-do of WW2 movies such as The Guns of Navarone (1961), Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). That was when I knew this was my kind of movie.

Accompanying Jyn are a ragtag bunch of characters who could arguably been given more backstory but are cast very well. My personal favourite was Donny Yen as Chirrut Imwe as the blind, elegant and formidable ‘monk’ and Diego Luna’s battle-drained rebellion officer who refuses to go down without a fight. With the plot thrusting along at some pace we still have time for reflection by the characters, especially from Luna and Jones. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Ben Mendelsohn gives an intriguing performance as a middle manager unable to grasp the power he so craves.  Darth Vader’s scenes too were fantastically handled in my view and while initially jarring the CGI appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin/Peter Cushing was a curious treat.

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Whereas JJ Abrams skilfully emulated the emotions of the original Star Wars films, Gareth Edwards (and apparently re-shoot director Tony Gilroy) really imbue a sense of menace and doom to the Rogue One mission.  The stakes are incredibly high, and while we know the outcome, most of the characters are given enough purpose to make you care for them. From the stark landscape of the opening scenes to the stunningly bleak midpoint set-piece on the base facility of planet Eadu, pathos, shadow and death inhabit the film’s core. Indeed, it reflects the darker side of the franchise like The Empire Strikes Back (1980) so succinctly.

Of course, the story is all building to an incredible final act where Jyn and her crew seek those darned plans which are inconveniently kept in an impossible-to-breach fortress protected by battalions of Imperial Stormtroopers, droids and weaponry. As our heroes battle for their lives and the future of the rebellion, we cut breathlessly between the space dogfights we have come to love and the explosive conflict on the planet surface. Do they complete their mission? Well, you know the end; however, amidst the fast-paced action and special effects there is time for a sense of loss and a series of spectacular and heroic deaths.

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Where, in my opinion, A Force Awakens was Disney playing it safe, this film takes a few more chances within the corporate conservatism of the movie market. While it has a darkness in its’ heart Rogue One still meets the classic Hollywood “standardization and differentiation” model which has served big business since the dawn of time. Overall this isn’t just a great Star Wars film but a brilliant movie too. It’s very much in the vein of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), as it transcends the franchise while delivering a pulsating, heroic and emotional experience. While the canonized Skywalker arcs continue to concentrate on expanding the Jedi family tree, the stand-alone anthology series, of which Rogue One is the first, offer an opportunity to perhaps go darker and experiment with form, character and themes.

SCREENWASH REVIEWS: JULY 2016

SCREENWASH REVIEWS: JULY 2016

My general viewing in July was an eclectic mix of splendid art cinema and excellent genre television shows.  So, here’s what I watched with marks out of eleven and MASSIVE SPOILERS:

ANT-MAN (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Saw this in the cinema last year and it was one of the most entertaining films of 2015!  It’s simplistic narrative-wise but what it does have is a fizzing script full of zingers and comedic moments as well as some great action set-pieces built around the well-orchestrated final act heist. It is just terrific seeing charismatic Paul Rudd in big-budget film plus fun supporting cast including: Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena and scenery-chewing baddie Corey Stoll all add class to proceedings. This is great fun and proves that not ALL superhero films have to be HUGE as sometimes small is beautiful. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

DAREDEVIL (2016) – Season 2 – NETFLIX

I absolutely loved this noir superhero show. Season 1 was brilliant and, despite the faceless one-dimensional Ninja villains, this was as good, if not even better! We follow on from Daredevil’s capture of the “Kingpin” Wilson Fisk as he finds new friends and foes in Frank Castle, “The Chaste”, Elektra and “The Hand”. This has it all including: amazing fight scenes, bloody violence, rip-roaring action and hellish derring-do. I think John Bernthal’s “Punisher” takes the plaudits with a fine origins story and great Lee-Marvin-Charles-Bronson-tough-guy-bone-crunching-performance. Once again Charlie Cox as Matt Murdoch is brilliant combining subtlety and physical prowess during his turn as blind lawyer AND the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORELL (2015) – DVD

This seven-part fantasy-period drama had everything: wonderful effects, dark villains, magical narratives and sterling performances from Bertie Carvel, Alice Englert, Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren.  However, at times I was perplexed and a bit bored because unfortunately, despite the stunning imagery, design and imagination on show the narrative stumbled from beginning to end failing to create empathy for the main characters and entertain me with cogent plot strands. Susanna Clarke’s original novel is apparently a literary classic thus perhaps it may have benefited from a connecting voiceover. Yet, it remains a prestige BBC product which  many will love; it just did not connect with me on an emotional level. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

MEN AND CHICKEN (2015) – CINEMA

This is one of the most hilarious, unsettling and philosophical comedies you will see in a long time. Similar in tone as last year’s terrific arthouse hit The Lobster (2015), Anders Thomas Jensen has written a cross-pollenated comedy-slapstick-art-horror film that centres on two adopted brothers and their search for their biological father. Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik portray the siblings who find quite disturbing answers on the Island of Ork where all manner of genetic experimentation has been carried out by their father. This is a weird yet compelling story which lurches from hilarious physical violence to examinations of religion and science that I can only describe as being like the Three Stooges meet The Island of Dr Moreau.  One of the most original, odd and strangely moving films you will see all year.(Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE NEON DEMON (2016) – CINEMA

Being an admirer of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy, Bleeder and Bronson films I am well aware his films do divide opinion. Drive (2011) with Ryan Gosling was a brilliant noir romance yet his last film Only God Forgives (2013) (with Gosling again) was nihilistic, brutal and virtually unwatchable. However, I think his latest The Neon Demon works really well as a surreal horror film that savagely satirizes the fashion industry. The film moves at a glacial pace with an anti-narrative style and strange acting more down to the director’s strategy than poor performance. Nevertheless, it is a magnetic watch with a succession of beautifully designed shots which are way more imaginative than the usual multiplex popcorn fodder. The sumptuous photography, score and grand gore throughout make it a welcome return to form for the always intriguing formal cinematic anarchist Winding Refn. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013 –      ) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Waspy-blonde-rich-spoilt-bitch-Private-Benjamin-type gets banged up the slammer for a historical crime and we’re meant to feel empathy for her?  That’s what the premise of this excellent drama asks the audience to do AND actually succeeds in doing through compelling writing and a marvellous ensemble cast. Taylor Schilling portrays the brattish Piper Chapman brilliantly and there’s fine “inside” support from Kate Mulgrew, Uzo Udoba, Taryn Manning and Danielle Brooks to name a few. The structure follows newbie Chapman as she fails to cope with prison life; plus variant flashbacks filling in details of her and inmates’ prior life events. It’s a gripping and funny show with lots of character twists and turns; and somehow it remains fresh despite the potential cliché pitfalls within the subgenre.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SPECTRE (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Overall, I was disappointed with this Bond outing from last year. I mean there was a lot to like, notably: Daniel Craig’s performance; the stunning cinematography; the brilliant opening ‘Day-of-the-Dead’ and fight-on-train set-pieces; plus the criminally underused Christophe Waltz. However, the story, from a usually reliable John Logan and his screenwriting cohorts was non-existent; relying mainly on callbacks from the previous Craig outings and Bond films of yesteryear. The action was decent but the anorexic plot and weak romance left much to be desired. For a proper moan see my review from last year below. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

STAR TREK: BEYOND (2016) – CINEMA

I was bored by this. Even as a summer blockbuster the film fell short; and finally Star Trek has been turned into a soulless-plotless-video-game with set-pieces “stolen” from other better popcorn films such as Jurassic World (2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). The cast are decent but the formidable abilities of Idris Elba were masked under deep make-up for most of the film. Even if it was to be a latter second act reveal Elba’s presence was given away in the trailer so why not build his character up from the beginning. Plus, the “rogue” agent storyline was done much better in Into Darkness, which I enjoyed as a spectacle. Let’s hope the forthcoming Netflix series has more character and depth than Beyond. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002) – SKY CINEMA

The final of the Next Generation movies which ended the franchise prior to JJ Abrams’ hit-and-miss reboot, is a pretty decent science-fiction actioner with enough brains to keep you interested. A very young Tom Hardy plays the Reman rebel out to destroy Starfleet and Jean Luc Picard specifically.  The themes of cloning, doppelgangers and telepathy serve the action very well and the set-pieces are decent enough. However, as Picard and Data get much of screen time the rest of the crew seem to side-lined throughout. This is not as good as the other Next Gen films but it is still more involving and cerebral than the soporific Star Trek: Beyond.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

STRANGER THINGS (2016) – NETFLIX

Oh, Netflix – I love you!  Not only do you present affordable boxsets, docs, TV and film product, but you also produce some damn fine original programming. Netflix’s latest sci-fi drama is an excellent nostalgia-fest which evokes the 1980s perfectly in design, sound and look. Indeed, it wears it’s Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences not so much on its sleeve but as a whole outfit. Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centres on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven who’s on the run from a secretive and nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track their missing friend in a drama which has some wonderful stand-out and monstrous moments throughout. Arguably, the eight episodes were padded out in places and it could have been culled for pace but overall it was an excellent watch with a terrific score and soundtrack to boot. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

TALE OF TALES (2015) – CINEMA

Having directed the brutal and gritty kitchen-sink gangster film Gomorrah (2008), filmmaker Matteo Garrone, completely changed style with this ultra-imaginative set of grim fairytales based on the ye olde short stories of Giannbatista Basile.  Like a medieval Pulp Fiction the film weaves tall tales called: The Queen, The Flea and the Two Old Women in a superb fashion as flashes of horror, fantasy, amorality and comedy clash with bizarre beasts and bloody death. The cast including: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, and Shirley Henderson all get on board amidst the insane plot occurrences and overall I found it a fine anathema to the bland kids offering Hollywood churns out. While the original stories were taken from an anthology called Lo cunto de li cunti (Entertainment for Little Ones), this is definitely for adults and not the little monsters at home. (Mark: 8 out of 11)


WAKOLDA (2013) – DVD

I was gripped by this slow-moving drama set in 1960s Argentina. It follows a hotel-running family and their encounter with a mysterious Doctor.  Writer/director Lucia Pacenzo carves out a compelling story which finds the Doctor inveigling himself into the family’s world and carrying out seemingly innocent medical procedures which ultimately have a horrific impact. The film is a real eye-opener into the terrors of the time with many South American countries harbouring fleeing Nazi criminals and Àlex Brendemühl’s performance as the charismatic Doctor expertly glues this fascinating story together.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

Z-NATION (2014) – NETFLIX

Fox’s The Walking Dead has quite rightly taken a lot of plaudits for its incredibly well-written, humanist take on the zombie-horror drama. It offers rich character development, political analogy and of course some fine gore.  Z-Nation on the other hand offers something far more fun and humour and downright silliness with zombie dogs, babies, rednecks and bears on the menu. Basically, a ragtag group attempt to transport a zombie-experiment-survivor to a medical facility while assisted by DJ Qualls isolated NSA computer geek.  The group fight off an endless supply of zombies, cannibals and religious cults in a tremendous show that counts as a fantastically gory and comedic guilty pleasure. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SCREENWASH REVIEWS– MARCH 2016

SCREENWASH – MARCH 2016

March is a looonnngggg old month and I have watched a shedload of shows and films; so it’s a quick wash and go through my monthly review round up. As usual marks are out of 11 – do enjoy!

**DEFINITELY MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS** 


FILMS OF THE MONTH!

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) – CINEMA

If you’d like a cinema alternative from the current superhero hype then try out neat suspense thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane. It was lean, mean, well-acted and full of fun twists; proving good writing will often be more entertaining than big-budgeted blockbusters. Trapped heroine Mary Elizabeth Winstead is both imprisoned in a bunker by sinister John Goodman and freakish occurrences going on outside and must use her wits to escape. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff throughout in a thrilling sidequel to over-rated “found footage” monster movie Cloverfield (2008). (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) – CINEMA

A tremendous genre-blend of horror and Western, this debut feature from S. Craig Zahler is destined to be a cult classic. We’re in The Searchers meets Hills Have Eyes territory as Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson. Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins track down townsfolk kidnapped by savage cannibal natives. Not for the faint-hearted, I loved the witty dialogue exchanges, sunburnt vistas and sudden smashes of bloody violence. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

HAIL CAESAR (2016) – CINEMA

If you love the Coen Brothers and also like films that are about people making and watching movies, then Hail Caesar is a delight. It’s a feel-good nostalgic tribute to Hollywood, both funny and charming. It was like watching a cinema soufflé with extra icing sugar on top as the wonderful cast and Hollywood pastiches are faultless. Alden Ehrenreich is superb as the singing cowboy turned unlikely thespian and Josh Brolin knits the “day in the life” structure perfectly as workaholic studio boss. It’s pretty flimsy in terms of a plot but works wonderfully as a series of vignettes from the era, along with mild religious and political satire too. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SUPER (2010) – NETFLIX

“Shut up Crime!” yells Frank Darbo: Rainn Wilson’s on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown loser, as he is visited by God and told he is the “chosen one”. Thus, begins his transformation into the Crimson Bolt; a human superhero/vigilante with no powers, charging to take down Kevin Bacon’s slimy drug dealing scumbag who has also stolen Frank’s wife. This is a hilariously dark and comedic anti-super-hero film very much in the Kick-Ass territory but somehow grittier and more bizarre. Wilson channels his Dwight Shrute persona perfectly and Ellen Page offers spunky support as his sidekick Boltie. James Gunn writes and directs with off-kilter joy and who’d believe he’d go onto direct the far more commercially successful Guardians of the Galaxy (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THEY LIVE (1989) – AMAZON PRIME

They Live is a classic underrated film from the late 80s and still retains its power as a social sci-fi satire. Hard-done-by drifter Roddy Piper finds himself amidst aliens who have infiltrated Earth and now subliminally control human population through the media and advertising. NOT LIKE REAL LIFE THEN! John Carpenter’s film is both clever and dumb as Piper and a band of rebels fight back against the extra-terrestrial horde. Some plot blips aside this is cracking entertainment and contains some great one-liners and fight scenes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WORTH A WATCH OR RE-WATCH

AGE OF ADALINE (2015) – NOW TV

Kind of a female Benjamin Button movie as Blake Lively shines as Adaline in a heart-warming romantic drama with the excellent Harrison Ford providing fine support.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)

ALAN PARTRIDGE’S MIDMORNING MATTERS (2016) – NOW TV

Steve Coogan is back on the airwaves with his usual verbal and physical buffoonery. A succession of hilarious guest cameos from the likes of Reece Shearsmith and Julian Barrett make this comedy gold. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

CROOKED MAN: TOMMY TIERNAN (2010) – NETFLIX

This is incredible stand-up comedy from the Irish cyclone that is Tommy Tiernan. The controversial comedian rips through 90 minutes of stunning observations and routines which are replete with lyrical and bestial beauty. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

DOWNFALL (2004) – NETFLIX

I’ve seen this wonderful rendition of Hitler’s final days before but it retains its incredible power and tragedy. Bruno Ganz is monstrously brilliant as the Fuhrer whose murderous empire crumbles around him. The Germans are shown to be dirty rats leaving a sinking ship and there are so many sad scenes throughout; a tough yet enriching experience. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014) – NETFLIX

This brainless action film shows Stallone, Snipes, Statham, Schwarzenegger etc. taking on Mel Gibson’s nefarious arms dealer; and while it’s ridiculous and over-the-top – as cinematic lobotomies go – it’s not too bad. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014) – NOW TV

Ridley Scott remakes Gladiator (2000) again but this time in Egypt as Christian Bale’s Moses goes up against Joel Edgerton’s nefarious Pharaoh. Plagues, pestilence, visions of God and the parting of the seas are all present and correct in a pretty entertaining Biblical epic. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

GOOD KILL (2014) – NETFLIX

Excellent character drama focussing on a falling-apart Drone pilot portrayed with burnt-out aplomb by Ethan Hawke. It’s a compelling analysis of U.S. foreign policy as they attack various targets in the Middle East and while sympathising with the dehumanisation of the “pilots” it also critiques the almost cowardly destruction of life from a distance.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE GRANDMASTER (2013) – NETFLIX

Exquisitely shot martial art-house film from Wong Kar-Wai, which pays tribute to Chinese cultural icon Ip Man portrayed with much class by Tony Leung. The Donnie Yen Ip Man films are more accessible than the poetic storytelling offered here but this still packs a delectable punch. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

I AM LOVE (2009) – NETFLIX

Tilda Swinton owns the screen in this melodrama which follows the trials and tribulations of a rich Italian family. Not much occurs but the Italian scenery is breath-taking and while narratively slow, Swinton’s performance and the final act tragedies make it worth the journey. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE JINX (2015) – NOW TV

Now, this documentary was something else. A filmmaker named Andrew Jareki made an okay feature film called All Good Things (2010) starring Ryan Gosling. It charted events concerning eccentric multi-millionaire Robert Durst and the disappearance of his wife. Flash forward a few years and Durst asked Jarieki if he’d like to interview him about his situation and what he perceived was a “witch-hunt”. What follows is an amazing documentary featuring Durst and the events around his wife and TWO other people he is suspected of murdering. There’s something not quite right about Durst as the chilling denouement to the compelling docu-series reveals. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

LIFE ON MARS – SEASON 2 (2007) – NETFLIX

Second season of the “time-travel” 70s cop show picks where the first left off with John Simms’ Sam Tyler battling baddies and once again clashing with his boss, the mud-mouthed-maverick Gene Hunt (Philip Glennister). Once again this drama has great humour and plot twists amidst the mind-bending theatrics and Northern seventies era.(Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE NIGHT MANAGER (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

Beautiful women, locations, undercover spies and nefarious bad guys feature in this James Bondesque John Le Carre literary adaptation. The cast including: Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie are excellent and the story had me mesmerised right up until the explosive though generically unsatisfying ending. Still, it was overall great quality Sunday evening eye-candy though.(Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE PROGRAM (2015) – SKY MOVIES

This intriguing biopic about cyclist Lance Armstrong follows his battle against cancer to Tour de France winner to disgraced drug cheat. It’s a real eye-opener into the process of the win-at-all-costs Armstrong and his obsessive pursuit of victory. Ben Foster excels in the lead and while the dramatics could have been beefed up toward the conclusion it’s still a fascinating story. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

RED TAILS (2012) – NETFLIX

This is a worthy yet lightweight wartime drama focussing on the Tuskegee Airmen and their aerial dog-fighting prowess that was demonstrated so superbly in WWII. The battle scenes are impressive but the characters felt underwritten and the film lacked impact for such an interesting subject. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

SPRING (2014) – NETFLIX

Intriguing low-budget horror-romance film which moves VERY slowly but is punctuated with some fine gore and body horror effects. The characters I could take or leave as anaemic American tourist, Evan, meets a mysterious young woman, Louise, on the streets on Italy. However, the filmmakers deserve acclaim for attempting to create something original in the horror genre. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

STAR TREK: GENERATIONS/ FIRST CONTACT/INSURRECTION (1994/96/98) – NETFLIX

Given myself and my filmmaking partner Gary are making a Star Trek “fan-boy” short film as our next production I decided to immerse myself in some Trek movies; and very good human and science fiction films they are too. Generations sees Kirk (Shatner) and Picard (Patrick Stewart) meet across the time-streams in a giddy mix of philosophy and temporal variance. In First Contact, Picard and crew fight the formidable Borg with the former flexing his action man muscles. Lastly, despite the title Insurrection slows the pace down as Picard falls in love while protecting a peace-loving community called the Ba’ha. All the films are well crafted with First Contact offering the greatest peril as collectively they offer some fine sci-fi concepts, character turns, humour and drama throughout.(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

STILL LIFE (2013) – NETFLIX

Eddie Marsan is wonderful in this touchingly told story of a council worker who searches for family members of “clients” who’ve died alone. It moves slowly but with heart, purpose and pathos; offering an alternative to the overblown lobotomised big budget films at the multiplex. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)


STRETCH (2014) – NOW TV

This is a flashy, style-over-substance-day-in-the-life-movie about a burnt out actor/chauffeur who must avoid criminals, cops and crazed clients while trying to stay sober. Patrick Wilson is watchable but I’d only recommend this if you are pissed or unconscious on a Friday night. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE

SEVENTH SON (2014) – NOW TV

Jeff Bridges and the exquisite Julianne Moore take a pay-check but offer little else in this nonsensical fantasy witch-hunter yarn. Awful beyond words. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

THE WITCH (2016) – CINEMA

Be wary of The Witch. Its trailer suggested a scare-fest but it is in essence an overly talky art-house horror; heavy on religious symbolism and folklore. It is very well directed, designed and acted and the broadsheet critics will love it. However, there’s not enough gore, scares or actual story for my liking and at times I was bored as hell. It’s a damned shame as I like horror films and art-house cinema but The Witch just doesn’t make us care about the characters or story at all. (Mark: 3 out of 11)