GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #6 – AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)
Directed by: John Wells
Screenplay by: Tracy Letts
Based on: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
Produced by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham, etc.
Cinematography: Adriano Goldman
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Unsurprisingly, the play, August: Osage County, from the typewriter of Tracey Letts – the formidable playwright behind Killer Joe and Bug – about a family suffering loss of a “loved” one was not going to be a feelgood and uplifting affair. Instead, over the period of a month we are introduced to a whole host of characters with a variety of anger, addiction and attitude issues. Brought together by apparent grief, when patriarch, Beverley Weston (Sam Shepard) drowns, the extended Weston family fight and vent spleen at each over current and past dramas, with many a secret soon to be revealed.
Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008, Letts play was subsequently adapted into the dark, feel-bad and tragi-comedy film in 2013. Directed by John Wells, August: Osage County (2013), brought together an unbelievable ensemble cast of actors who did spectacular work with Letts acerbic and razor-sharp dialogue. Given that many of the personalities in the narrative are dominant matriarchal characters, the casting of Meryl Streep and Margo Martindale in the roles of Violet Weston and Mattie Fae respectively, is certain to create sparks on the screen. So, it proves.
Streep has delivered so many memorable characterisations over the years, but as Violet Weston I’m not sure she’s been so bilious and cancerous, both literally and symbolically. Her daughters, portrayed by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson, all have their own issues to deal with, but with such a vicious mother it’s a surprise they aren’t in a psychiatric ward. As harsh truths and bitter revelations unfold over the dinner and kitchen table conversations, Letts shows the complex nature of family existence; how it traps us with people we have nothing in common with. Women are seemingly in charge of the Weston family as the men, represented by Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shephard and Chris Cooper, appear more passive and bullied.
Altogether, August: Osage County (2013), is a difficult to watch as there’s not a lot of love shown in the Weston household. Nonetheless, as an acting and writing tour-de-force there are few films that can best it. I guess we all have family problems and many ups and downs to deal with in life. What we can learn from this play and film is that this is definitely NOT the way to behave to people you’re meant to love and care for.
Cast: Charlie Creed-Miles, Will Poulter, Liz White, Sammy Williams, Charlotte Spencer, Leo Gregory, Neil Maskell, Iwan Rheon, Olivia Williams, Andy Serkis etc.
Music by: Christian Henson
Cinematography: George Richmond
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
With so much British filmmaking talent behind and in front of the camera being absorbed by the big film and television studios in America, and the lack of cash within the British film industry too, it’s rare that a British film gets made and then distributed properly. Even if a film such as the earthy London-set crime drama, Wild Bill (2011), does find its way to British cinemas it can be cruelly enveloped by the Hollywood film behemoth, swallowed up at the multiplexes and seen by very few popcorn guzzlers. Which is a damn shame as Wild Bill (2011) is a tidy, low-budget, and extremely under-rated classic in my book. Made for just £700,000 and directed by the now in-demand actor-turned-filmmaker, Dexter Fletcher, the film marries family conflict, humour, violence, South London gangsters all in a moving tale of redemption.
For the record, for me, an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
Unfortunately, Wild Bill (2011), does not meet any of these criteria. In fact, not many people have even heard of the film, let alone seen it. But it’s on Netflix so do try and catch it. Read on for some reasons why.
The main character nicknamed, portrayed by the excellent character actor, Charlie Creed-Miles, is the titular “Wild Bill”. He has just been released from prison having been a dealer and fighter and general menace to society. There is immediately tension because you wonder if the man will return to his bad old ways. Surprised to find his wife has buggered off to Spain, Bill is hardly given a warm welcome by his older son, Dean, as Will Poulter give another very mature performance. Indeed, Dean hates Bill, and while he is only fifteen, he has been the breadwinner looking after his young brother, Jimmy (Sammy Williams). Forced to stay together by Social Services, much of the film finds the father and son resisting, then attempting to find some common ground. The attempts at family harmony are not aided by the career thugs, including Leo Gregory and Neil Maskell’s characters, attempting to get Bill back on their crack dealing crew. It’s during such struggles that Bill strives to be positive and not return to his violent ways. However, there is only so far a man can be pushed.
Wild Bill (2011) is beautifully filmed with some fantastic London vistas as well as some gritty, urban locations to savour. Sure, the film also has a familiar set of character archetypes and narrative tropes. These include the ex-con trying to go straight, the tart with a heart, the local drug dealers terrorizing the estate, a teenage mum, estate kids getting pulled into crime, the white dealer who thinks he’s black; and the “Mr Big” crime boss played with threatening glee by Andy Serkis. Yet, the characters never become stereotypes as the writing and narrative avoid most of the cliches usually present in plain bad cockney gangster films. Ultimately, the writers, director and actors really make us care about Bill and his boys. I mean, after many false starts he really tries to make a go of it as a father. Bill may not have always made the best decisions in life, but he has guts and heart; very much like Wild Bill (2011) as a whole.
Produced by: Kevin Turen, Ashley Levinson, Sam Levinson, Zendaya, John David Washington
Written by: Sam Levinson
Cast: Zendaya, John David Washington
Music by: Labrinth
Cinematography: Marcell Rév
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
The Oscar nominations came out this week and due to the ongoing pandemic situation and consequent lockdowns, there are a number of films on the esteemed list which have yet to reach these shores, either at the cinema or via streaming platforms. Having said that, and I am aware space for nominees are limited and it has been a pretty strange year for cinema, but I was extremely surprised that Delroy Lindo did not receive an acting nomination in lead or supporting category. Similarly, I was also bewildered that Sam Levinson’s striking romantic drama, Malcolm and Marie (2021), had not received nominations in either screenplay or acting categories. Further, I was utterly shocked that critic’s reviews for the intense two-hander had been pretty mixed. Hey, it’s just opinions but I was really gripped by this highly theatrical and gorgeously cinematic two-hour argument in black-and-white. Personally, I think most of the deriders are wrong. But that’s just my view.
Maybe the film wasn’t liked because John David Washington’s, Malcolm, an up-and-coming filmmaker celebrating a successful premiere that evening, launches into a wonderfully eloquent rant about a review which he feels pigeonholes and patronises his film in purely political terms. I mean it’s actually a positive review, but who doesn’t enjoy ire toward professional critics. I mean, 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. But Levinson’s script and Washington’s grandstanding acting spits that if you earn a living as a critic then you are essentially Satan! Perhaps some reviewers took umbrage with this? I loved the whole scene’s energy and Malcolm’s savage attack had me applauding throughout.
But Malcolm and Marie (2021) is more than Levinson getting back at those individuals who gave him bad reviews. It’s a sharp, funny, sexy and poignant exploration of a relationship close to breaking point. Malcolm and Marie may be different fighting weights, but they both punch hard and often. He is on a high after his film premiere success, but Marie is upset because he did not thank her during his speech. From there the conflict rises from light sparring to harsh emotional knockout blows. Both Malcolm and Marie tear at each other’s skin and flesh and figurative organs in an attempt to resolve the ever-increasing divide between them. Malcolm and Marie (2021), may not be for everyone, but any person who has been in a heated war of words with a partner or spouse, will identify with the inescapable tension on display. Levinson’s expert screenplay rides a rollercoaster journey of emotions as one moment you side with Marie and the next you’re with Malcolm. Yet, before you know it, you’re disliking both these complex, narcissistic, egotistical and infuriating humans.
Both Zendaya and John David Washington deserve so much praise for their performances in, Malcolm and Marie (2021). Washington has already demonstrated his massive talent inBlacKkKlansman (2018), while Zendaya excelled in recent HBO drama, Euphoria (2019). Levinson too directs with a deft skill. I was especially impressed by the way he balances the comedy and drama of these flailing humans, poking and picking at the scabs of each other’s past behaviour. Indeed, as well as containing some brilliant dialogue, the erudite script really sang to me. At times the coruscating repartee reminded me of Edward Albee’s acclaimed play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Nonetheless, for a dialogue and performance driven film, the precise framing and sumptuous black-and-white photography by Marcell Rév render the visuals wholly cinematic.
Sure, by the end of Malcolm and Marie (2021) is anything really resolved? And who is ultimately interested in this couple’s first world problems? Well, I’ve witnessed my parents fighting and also experienced such exhausting relationship arguments before. So, I must say that overall, I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing Malcolm and Marie’s nocturnal battle. Especially because I watched it all from the safety, warmth and comfort of my own home.
Produced by: John Heyman, Denis Johnson, Norman Priggen
Screenplay by: Harold Pinter
Based on: The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley
Cast: Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Margaret Leighton, Edward Fox, Dominic Guard, Michael Redgrave, etc.
Music by: Michel Legrand
The Go-Between (1971) is one of those expert works of understated cinema which I was sure I had seen before. Yet, I would come to discover I had never seen it when I caught it on the rather marvellous digital channel, Talking Pictures. But then I love that when you find a period classic and watch it for the first time. It’s like unearthing gold in your living room. Because the film is a heartfelt rites-of-passage drama which subtly pulls at the loose end of the knitted cardigan that is the British class system. Nevertheless, while the romance, lies and regret unfold under the surface, The Go-Between (1971) certainly retains much dramatic power.
Adapted by acclaimed playwright, Harold Pinter, from the esteemed novel by L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1971) stars Julie Christie and Alan Bates as secret lovers separated by the chasm of class and tradition. Bates’ Ted Burgess is a charismatic and muscular farmer with a reputation as a ladies man. Christie is the beautiful and slyly rebellious daughter of the Lord of the Manor, Marian, promised in marriage to Edward Fox’s Viscount Hugh Trimingham. With peering eyes and suspicion coming from Marian’s mother, the lustful affair requires stealth, thus they enlist the help of Dominic Guard’s intelligent but less-privileged, Leo Colston. He is there as guest of Marian’s young brother as both attend the same boarding school; Leo there on a scholarship. The narrative develops very much through Leo’s sweet innocent eyes. The outsider’s point-of-view is expertly presented as it is both objective and allows the audience to make up their own mind about the characters.
Leo is pure of heart and believes he is helping by running notes back and forth between Burgess and Marian. He also makes friends with the cuckolded Viscount, as Fox gives a fine performance of a man who may or may not know whether his potential wife is being unfaithful. I think that is one of the strengths of the book and film, in that it explores the theme of duty versus passion. Burgess and Marian represent freedom, lust and nature, which are opposite to the “doing your duty” arrangements of the upper classes. Of course, dramatically speaking something has to give where the love affair is concerned. Sadly, tragedy intervenes, resulting in the loss of Leo’s innocence, and adding a layer of guilt which gravely haunts him in his later years.
Everything about The Go-Between (1971) reeks of quality. From the production design, locations, costumes, score by Michel Legrand and Gerry Fisher’s exquisite cinematography. Unsurprisingly, Harold Pinter would receive an Academy Award for his confident adaptation. Further, Joseph Losey is not a filmmaker whose work I am not particularly well acquainted with, but the performances from Fox, Bates, Christie and young Dominic Guard are assured testament to his stellar ability to convey meaning and emotion between the lines. Indeed, while some films smash you over the head with emotional melodrama, something I love too, The Go-Between (1971) instead slowly squeezes at your heart and mind. Lastly, this is not simply a damning indictment of the class system, but a lament for loss of innocence, illustrating how monolithic tradition dictates love, fate and tragedy are inextricably entwined.
Writers: Steve McQueen, Courtia Newland, Alastair Siddons
Composer: Mica Levi
Cinematographers: Shabier Kirchner
Original Network: BBC and available on Amazon Prime.
*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***
Small Axe could also be described in the vein of ‘Small Acts’. Dramatized and rich slices-of-life that reflect significant historical figures and events from black culture in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. MANGROVE (2020) was the first in a set of five films devised, written and directed by Steve McQueen. It premiered at the London Film Festival in 2020, before being released on the BBC television network. I reviewed the film MANGROVE (2020)here. Such was its power, the searing drama would make my list of favourite films of 2020.
Ultra-talented McQueen was not satisfied with one amazing work. He, his incredible cast and production team also delivered four more high quality dramas called LOVERS ROCK (2020), RED WHITE & BLUE (2020), ALEX WHEATLE (2020) and EDUCATION (2020). I had the privilege of viewing these films via the BBC over the New Year period and provide short reviews here.
LOVERS ROCK (2020)
Main Cast: Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Shaniqua Okwok, Ellis George, etc.
As well as alluding to the main love story within the narrative, Lovers Rock also makes specific reference to a style of reggae music with a romantic sound and content. Set over one night during a London-based birthday party, the film opens with the setting up of a sound system, making of food and preparation of the large house. While mostly an ensemble piece, the story narrows its focus on prospective lovers, Franklyn and Martha, who fall for each other amidst the thumping bass and hearty vocals of the music. Surely, Lovers Rock is a testament to the power of harmony and community and love. There are brief moments of drama to spike the party mood, but ultimately this is about the joy of being alive and drunk on song and romance. Lastly, it’s arguably as close to feelgood as McQueen’s intense filmmaking style gets in this amazing anthology.
Mark: 9.5 out of 11
RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2020)
Main Cast:John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Neil Maskell, Joy Richardson, etc.
As well as evoking the socio-political landscape of the era so well, the costumes, hair, make-up and location work feel so authentic in all of the Small Axe films. Such authenticity serves the stories well, as does the virtually perfect casting too. Fresh from his energetic portrayals of Finn in the Star Wars trilogy, John Boyega’s performance as Leroy Logan in Red, White and Blue (2020), brings his character into conflict with a whole different kind of dark side. Logan was one of the first prominent black police officers in the Metropolitan police. He subsequently founded the Black Police Association and attempt to reform the police from within. No two ways around it, based on the early part of his police career, Logan is represented as a trailblazing hero. He is intelligent and tough and ready to face up to the barbaric language and violence from both white police officers and members of the black community who saw him as a traitor. Boyega is spellbinding as Logan, navigating his way up the ranks facing rancour and rejection from within the police and his own father too, who was understandably unhappy at Leroy’s controversial choice of career.
Mark: 9.5 out of 11
ALEX WHEATLE (2020)
Main Cast:Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Johann Myers, Johnathan Jules, etc.
What Steve McQueen deserves praise for with Small Axe, among many other things, is bringing to the fore individuals one may not have heard of, or reminding us of important events from within recent British history. In Alex Wheatle (2020), McQueen weaves the early years of now famous author, Alex Wheatle, with circumstances relating to the Brixton riots and the New Cross fire tragedy of 1981. The latter took the lives of fourteen young black people and fuelled much anger at the time in regard to racist attacks on the black community. Alex himself was brought up in care and grows up an angry young man. He finds solace in music and expressing lyrics in a political and combative style. We first meet him in a prison cell sharing with Rastafarian, Simeon (Robbie Gee). The fractious scenes between the two, with both Gee and Sheyi Cole giving fine performances, are full of anger and humour. Far from being a comedy, there remains both witty banter and pathos fizzing around this profile of Wheatle’s formative years. This fine profile finds a young rebel discovering his voice and identity amidst the urban decay, racism and police brutality of the mean streets of London.
Mark: 10 out of 11
Main Cast: Kenyah Shandy, Sharlene White, Josette Simon, Tamara Lawrence, Daniel Francis, etc.
Having addressed social and cultural issues relating to civil liberties, law, music, work and identity, Steve McQueen focussed specifically on educational themes within the black community in the aptly named, Education (2020). The highest praise I can give Education (2020) and all the films in the Small Axe anthology is that I felt genuine emotion for all of the characters and the situations they were in. They may not have been perfect and had their flaws, but ultimately all five of these narratives made me feel and care about the characters. Because they were up against an unfair system which demanded to be challenged and changed to stop the systematic prejudice of the time. Education (2020) feels extremely personal to Steve McQueen as one senses the lead character, twelve-year-old Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy) experiences much of the grief he may have when younger. Considered disruptive at the local Comprehensive, Kingsley is dumped into a “Special School” where he becomes lost and ill-educated. One absurd scene simply shows a teacher playing House of the Rising Sun as part of a lesson. Kingsley’s formidable mother, with help from political forces within the black community, strive to right these educational wrongs in a powerful and moving final chapter to the Small Axe anthology.
So, I don’t get paid for doing this. I do it because I enjoy watching films and television and writing about them. It helps me to review stuff critically from both a creative perspective and absorb knowledge for when I make my own low budget films. Also, it’s something to do isn’t it; a hobby and means to immerse oneself in something that interests me. Lastly, one also learns much from the hours of viewing, especially if the narratives are grounded in reality, representations of history and social issues.
CHANNEL 4 has always been at the forefront of producing intelligent drama television built to inform, entertain and provoke thought. Their streaming platform called ALL 4 is a great place to catch up with Channel 4’s product and I have already reviewed many of their shows here on this site. Having said that, I thought I should put an even bigger effort to catch up with some of their dramas. After all, ALL 4 is — aside from watching a few adverts — is absolutely FREE! I’m glad I did because they have quality production values and are very powerful, skilfully tackling social themes and historical events. So, here are some quick reviews of Channel 4 television dramas both recent and not so recent with the usual marks out of eleven.
THE ACCIDENT (2019) – Mark: 9 out of 11
What I found from my All 4 residency was that many of the shows were written by Jack Thorne. He is a clever writer with a keen eye and ear for drama relating to everyday people’s lives. The Accident (2019) is set in Wales and concerns a small community whose lives are ripped apart by an explosion at a construction site. Many children are killed, but given they were trespassing the blame initially falls on both them and building company. The ensemble cast lead by Sarah Lancashire and Joanna Scanlan are uniformly excellent, as the impactful drama echoes actual events such as Aberfan and Grenfell Tower disasters.
CHIMERICA (2019) – Mark: 8 out of 11
Based on Lucy Kirkwood’s play of the same name and set during the 2016 American Presidency election, this political drama sees Alessandro Nivola’s once-lauded photographer attempt to locate the “Tank Man” from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Part-redemption and part-historical expose, the writing is excellent as Cherry Jones and F. Murray Abraham easily steal the acting plaudits. I was more interested in the plight of Zhang Lin’s (Terry Chen) China-set parallel storyline than the photographer’s, but, overall, I was drawn into detective plot and human conflict throughout.
THE DEVIL’S WHORE (2008) – Mark: 9 out of 11
The wonderfully titled The Devil’s Whore (2008), features a fine cast of actors including: John Simm, Peter Capaldi, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Fassbender and Dominic West. The drama focusses on the historical era of Oliver Cromwell and Charles I, filtered through the eyes of Riseborough’s strong, yet scandalised heroine, Angelica Fanshawe. Peter Flannery’s excellent script is full of violence, political and religious intrigue and works well as both a work of entertainment and chronicle of key characters from the bloody English Civil War!
I AM. . . (2019) – Mark: 9.5 out of 11
Dominic Savage is a skilful and experienced filmmaker, who recently made the semi-improvised feature, The Escape (2017). It focussed on unhappy mother portrayed by Gemma Arterton, and while an interesting character study, it ultimately felt a little flat dramatically. Using the same improvisatory and documentary style with the anthology triptych, I Am. . . (2019), Savage casts Vicky McClure, Samantha Morton and Gemma Chan in three separate stories of women in various states of domestic plight. All of the narratives are brilliantly acted and directed, focussing on coercive relationships, gaslighting debt escalation and painful maternal inertia respectively, all delivered with tremendous emotional power.
FALLING APART (2002) – Mark: 8.5 out of 11
Mark Strong and Hermione Norris excel is this shocking drama about domestic violence. Seemingly the perfect couple, Pete and Clare fall in love and marry, only for Pete’s aggressive tendencies to come to the fore soon after the honeymoon period. Clare forgives Pete and blames work and herself and then finally thinks he may have a problem. An honest and bleak look at love gone wrong, there are many scenes that make one flinch and feel bad for those women trapped in similar situations.
KIRI (2018) – Mark: 9.5 out of 11
Sarah Lancashire is exceptional as the social worker hung out to dry when a fostered child, Kiri, is killed after a family visit to her paternal grandparents. Jack Thorne writes a subtle and compelling script which explores issues relating to: adoption, social care, race, class, and child murder. As well as Lancashire, Lucian Msamati, Paapa Essiedu, Wunmu Mosaku, Lia Williams and Sue Johnston give exceptional performances. Finally, what begins as a murder mystery drama unfolds into something far more complex, with an ending that leaves you stunned with its brave, narrative risk-taking.
NATIONAL TREASURE (2016) – Mark: 9 out of 11
Not to be confused with the Nicolas Cage film series, this searing drama, written by Jack Thorne again, springboards off the recent #MeToo and Operation Yewtree news events. Robbie Coltrane takes the lead as Paul Finchley, a once successful comedian of the 1980s and 1990s, now hosting a television quiz show, while his wife is portrayed by the exceptional Julie Walters. Finchley’s life and career is turned upside down when he is accused of rape and sexual assault, something he vehemently denies. The drama unfolds in an engrossing fashion as we flash back and forth between Finchley’s present day and past history. Again, a potentially sensationalist subject matter is dealt with mesmeric power, as it all culminates in a tense and emotional court case.
ON THE EDGE (2018) – Mark: 8 out of 11
Excellent set of short anthology dramas which focus on various issues affecting mostly younger people in Britain today. Issues explored include: knife crime, body shaming, race, neurodiversity, date rape, depression and social work. All are extremely well acted and directed, giving excellent examples of diverse drama Channel 4 excels at.
MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #21 – SEAN CONNERY (R.I.P 1930 – 2020)
“There’s one major difference between James Bond and me. He is able to sort out problems!” — Sean Connery
Sadly, the great Scottish actor, Sir Sean Connery passed away at the age of ninety on the 31st October 2020. Born in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh in 1930, Connery walked a fascinating and winding road to the path of famous film actor.
With working class and traveller roots, Connery was a milkman, artist’s model, bodybuilder, Naval seaman and talented footballer, who would earn acting experience in many stage roles from the early 1950’s onwards. In 1957, Connery began to get supporting roles in film and television. But, that same year, he landed his first leading role in BBC Television’s production of Requiem for a Heavyweight. He would also be cast in a prominent role in Cy Endfield’s brutal thriller, Hell Drivers (1957).
According to an apocryphal story, it was Connery’s co-star, Patrick McGoohan, who recommended him to producers for the starring role of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The Prisoner star and creator, McGoohan, had been offered the role of Bond and turned it down. Connery would eventually accept, and the rest is history.
One could debate the differences and variant aspects of the movie star, the film actor and the character actor endlessly, but the fact is, Sean Connery was ALL three. A versatile actor who could do tough guy, romantic lead, comedic foil, serious drama and action hero roles with equal brilliance, switching between such traits effortlessly. Moreover, he also inhabited each role with a magnetic charisma that one could not keep your eyes off. And there’s THAT voice and delivery! The voice of gravitas and steely sophistication that made you want to listen, whatever Connery may be saying. In short: he was greatest film actors and stars of a generation.
In keeping with the My Cinematic Romance series, I have picked FIVE of my favourite Sean Connery roles. They may not be his best, but they are films I love. In order to challenge myself I have picked just ONE film from the James Bond series. If you prefer other Connery roles then please feel free to comment. R.I.P – Sean Connery.
HELL DRIVERS (1957)
Hell Drivers (1957) is a film that certainly deserves revisiting. Not simply because it is an excellent action drama, but because it contains an incredible cast, with most of the players going on to have major parts in some iconic screen roles. Connery was an unknown when appearing in the ensemble as Johnny Kates, but he more than holds his own as a tough guy working in the cutthroat and granite-tough haulage industry.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
Having read Ian Fleming’s classic spy novel Casino Royale in the last few years, I have to say that the early adaptations of the Bond series were a tremendous representation of his vision of Cold War espionage. If Dr No (1962) was the starter and Goldfinger (1964) the dessert, for me, From Russia With Love (1963) was the main course of the first three films in the franchise. Facing S.P.E.C.T.R.E, who are hell bent of destroying Bond, Connery gives such a confident performance amidst thrilling plot and action. His scenes with Robert Shaw as Grant are pure machismo and menace, culminating in an exciting fight on the Orient Express.
I should really pick Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965) for my next choice. That film is a brutal character study set in a military prison during WW2, where Connery gives one of his finest performances. Instead, I have chosen a 1980’s action film about immortals slicing each other to death, to a rock soundtrack by Queen. Nothing in this film should work, from the pop video effects, the crazy mullets and mix of modern and historical settings. But somehow it does. Connery was beginning to settle into the mentor role now and he brings, like Clancy Brown, absolute class to the film. Here, as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (an Egyptian with a Scottish accent), he guides Christopher Lambert through a heady mix of sci-fi nonsense, swashbuckling swordplay and brilliant action.
THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)
Another mentor role, this time portraying Irish beat cop Jimmy Malone, who joins Eliot Ness’s (Kevin Costner) crusade to bring down Al Capone (Robert DeNiro). Even with DeNiro, Costner and a breakthrough role for Andy Garcia in the cast, Connery absolutely owns this film from start to finish. Brian DePalma helms the spectacular set-pieces with aplomb, but Connery delivers David Mamet’s hard-boiled dialogue with confident intensity. Connery’s Jimmy Malone is a superb character performance, delivered with honesty, toughness and poignancy, as Malone finally gets the chance to be a proper copper. Quite rightly, Connery would win best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. Along with his Academy Award, Connery also won two BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globes, and a Henrietta Award during his illustrious career.
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)
How do you keep fresh and revitalise a film sequel? Well, by adding ingredients the filmmakers hope will differentiate and familiarise the franchise at the same time. The way George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did this withIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) was to open with a thrilling origin story of Indy (River Phoenix) as a teenage adventurer fighting baddies in the West. Moreover, they also introduced surprisingly halfway through, the original Doctor Henry Jones Snr. The film was already knockout brilliant and got even better when Sean Connery first appears as Indiana’s (Harrison Ford) father. While it could have been cheesy with our hero’s Dad on the adventure, it is anything but. There are character reveals galore throughout as we get both a great buddy-buddy double act, and a vulnerable Indy, unsure and lacking confidence in the presence of his formidable father.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #10 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1991 – 1992) – SEASON 5
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 5 writers (selected): Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor, Lee Sheldon, Melinda Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Ronald D. Moore, David Bischoff, Joe Menosky, Drew Deighan, Brannon Braga, J. Larry Carroll, Hilary J. Bader, Harold Apter, Stuart Charno, Sara Charno, Maurice Hurley, Susan Sackett, Sara Charno, Stuart Charno, Randee Russell, Peter Allan Fields, Rene Echevarria etc.
Season 5 directors (selected): Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Corey Allen, Robert Weimer, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Cliff Bole, Paul Lynch, Chip Chalmers, Timothy Bond, David Carson, Gabrielle Beaumont, Patrick Stewart, David Livingston, Marvin V. Rush, Chip Chalmers, Peter Lauritson, Robert Lederman, Paul Lynch, etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Michelle Forbes, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao, plus guests: Matt Frewer, Ashley Judd, Kelsey Grammer and Famke Janssen etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
I have just finished boldly watching Season 5 of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and it was an extremely excellent raft of science fiction television episodes. I have to say though that TWENTY-SIX episodes was a hell of a lot of TV to produce. I know they had big budgets and an army of staff working on the show, but to produce such high quality viewing, albeit within the established formula, is overall incredibly impressive.
Season 5 was up there in consistency of quality writing, acting and directing with the superlative Seasons 3 and 4. Once again the creatives and storyline team explored issues of the day (i.e. 1990s) and married them to the STAR TREK values and philosophies. Of course, we get the usual alien enemies, such as the Romulans and Ferengi, paying a visit to the Enterprise. Yet, we also found new foes, obstacles and allies encountering the Enterprise. Lastly, the formidable Michelle Forbes as the Bajoran, Ensign Roe, was a welcome addition to the crew.
Sadly, Gene Roddenberry passed away during this particular season’s making. This would cause create sadness in the STAR TREK universe, but the production was, by now in very safe hands, as they paid fine tribute to their creator during Season 5. Here are SIX of the best episodes well worth visiting or revisiting. Live long and prosper.
REDEMPTION – PART II – EPISODE 1
The concluding part to the prior season’s cliffhanger found Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) continuing to fight for honour alongside his brother, Kurn (Tony Todd), against the Duras hordes. There are many moments of high tension throughout the episode with Dorn impressing again as the divided, but ultimately united and redeemed Klingon. Overall, the episode is full of memorable plot turns and fantastic Romulan and Klingon villains, notably Lursa and B’Etor.
UNIFICATION – PARTS I & II – EPISODES 7 & 8
Chosen more for nostalgia as opposed to stellar storytelling, UNIFICATION is a two-parter which sees the return of a famous Trek character, namely Spock (Leonard Nimoy). We also get Mark Lenard’s final appearance as Spock’s father, Sarek, as he and Picard (Patrick Stewart) share a thoroughly moving final scene together. The story finds Spock attempting to repair years of conflict between Vulcans and Romulans, however, Starfleet believe he has defected. Thus, Picard and crew attempt another search for Spock. The narrative pace is steady, nonetheless it is great to see Nimoy don the ears and ultra-logic for a further outing as Spock.
CONUNDRUM – EPISODE 14
While STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION had more than its fair share of emotionally powerful episodes, sometimes a fast-paced and twisting plot with a bit of space espionage was more than welcomed. In CONUNDRUM, the Enterprise crew have their memory wiped by an unknown force dedicated to destroying an alien race. The audience finds suspense and dramatic irony in knowing the crew’s minds have been tampered with as they race against time to prevent war. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Ensign Ro’s (Michelle Forbes) simmering sexual tension adds romance and humour to a packed storyline.
CAUSE AND EFFECT – EPISODE 18
Easily one of my favourite TNG episodes of this and many a season. This is because it features a fantastic temporal-causality loop plot and extremely high stakes where the Enterprise is concerned. Here the crew are trapped in a perpetual time cycle where the end of it results in the destruction of the Enterprise. Essentially GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) in space (even though this episode came before that classic film), it truly fizzes along with a brilliant script and powerful drama. Kelsey Grammer also guests, adding to the overall quality on display.
I, BORG – EPISODE 23
Could an evil machine ever be humanized? That is just one of the fascinating questions posed in this thoughtful and provocative episode? While they owe much to the Cybermen, the Borg remain a powerful weapon in the STAR TREK storytelling arsenal. The only problem is they are virtually invincible, so tough to write stories for. Rather cleverly in I, BORG, the episodes isolates a single unit and Picard, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and La Forge (LeVar Burton) especially, confront their hatred and desire for revenge. As the Borg unit, or Hugh (an excellent Jonathan Del Arco) as he becomes known, spends time on the Enterprise he positively changes. This provides much to consider for the crew with their emotions shifting toward Hugh/the Borg.
THE INNER LIGHT – EPISODE 25
Not only is this one of the best episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, but it is also one of the best episodes of STAR TREK ever. The story is precipitated by an unknown probe which scans the Enterprise and directs an energy beam at Picard, who wakes up to find himself on Kataan, a non-Federation planet. Here Picard attempts to escape his existence as Kamin, but over time he grows into this strange new life. What begins as a simple body swap plot, unfurls into something all the more emotionally grander. We know Patrick Stewart is a fine actor, but he imbues Picard/Kamin with a gravitas of enormous propensity. I also loved how Picard, the Captain, is humbled by a more domestic life full with life and love. Lastly, Jay Chattaway’s score is absolutely beautiful.
CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: BLIND CHANCE/PRZYPADEK (1987)
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Produced by: Jacek Szelígowski
Written by: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Cast: Bogusław Linda, Tadeusz Łomnicki, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Boguslawa Pawelec, Marzena Trybała, Monika Gozdzik, etc.
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cinematography: Krzysztof Pakulski
Edited by: Elżbieta Kurkowska
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
The English translation, according to Google, of the original title of Kieslowski’s classic film, PRZYPADEK, is CASE. Clearly this was considered too simpler a name to give to such a complex film, thus it become known as the more evocative, BLIND CHANCE (1987), when distributed to Western audiences. The titleCASEis quite appropriate as the lead character is a case subject in a trio of varying narratives. The brilliant screenplay splits the lead protagonist’s fate into three potentialities and shows how random chance can shape people’s lives. If you think this idea sounds familiar then the films SLIDING DOORS (1998) and RUN LOLA, RUN! (1998), used the same concept in the romance and crime genres, respectively.
Set against the background of Communist Poland, the narratives follow Witek, a medical student at a crossroads in his life. His father dies and he questions whether he wants to be a Doctor. He takes a break from studies and gets a train to Warsaw to explore future possibilities. Kieślowski dramatizes Witek’s journey as a series of three strands, where fate can be decided by chance as well as choice. The splitting point of the story is Witek rushing to catch his train. In the different scenarios he is shown to board the train and not get on the locomotive. Structurally the film is fascinating as the three different episodes explore Witek’s life from a political, spiritual and personal perspective. Popular Polish actor, Bogusław Linda, brings great empathy and humanity to the characterisation of Witek. Each of the strands finds him in difficult situations politically, romantically and philosophically. However, he is a very sympathetic character, who I very much wanted to succeed, because he always tries to make honest and righteous choices.
If you find yourself absorbed by compelling human dramas that make you think, then you will definitely enjoy, BLIND CHANCE (1987). Kieslowski is a truly masterful filmmaker who creates complex ideas and emotions, but delivers them in a digestible fashion. Kieslowski is not overly intellectual or pretentious, even when positing deep existential questions. Are we tied to fate or do we have some element of control over our lives? Does pure chance rule our world and should we fight against our fate? As such, the film is both fascinating analysis and absorbing drama, because Witek is such a believable character. He desires a career, friends, love and belonging. Moreover, Kieslowski uses Witek as a case study to critique both politics and religion, at the same time opining the importance of loyalty, love and family.
Revered Polish filmmaker, Kieślowski, wrote and directed BLIND CHANCE (1987) in 1981, but due to heavy censorship it was not released for a number of years. Even on initial release many scenes which were cut as they were considered to have critiqued the Polish government. The version I watched on Arrow Video thankfully was restored expertly with just one scene missing. The crisp restoration also highlighted Krzysztof Pakulski’s exquisite cinematography. Indeed, while the use of natural lighting techniques is quite commonplace today, the mood and atmosphere of the composition really compliments the seriousness of Witek’s various journeys. Overall, while there are no easy answers to the questions raised, Kieslowski’s remarkable ending to the film will leave you in no doubt as to his feelings toward life’s rich but fatalistic tapestry.
Written by: Sally Rooney, Alice Birch, Mark O’Rowe
Based on: Normal People by Sally Rooney
Executive producer(s): Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Emma Norton, Anna Ferguson, Sally Rooney, Lenny Abrahamson
Producer: Catherine Magee
Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Paul Mescal, Sarah Greene, Aislin McGuckin, India Mullen, Fionn O’Shea, Eanna Hardwicke, Leah McNamara, Frank Blake, Niamh Lynch, Kwaku Fortune, Desmond Eastwood, etc.
Cinematography: Suzie Lavelle, Kate McCullough
Original Network: BBC Studios, Hulu
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
“The course of true love never did run smooth. . .” – William Shakespeare
Love is a multi-faceted concept open to a myriad of philosophical, medical, emotional and intellectual interpretations. Conversely, an eternal question in our society still remains: what is love? Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust? Or is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time? Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation? Perhaps it’s an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively? For some it could be a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence or maybe it’s a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors? Is it all of the above?
Studies by Helen Fisher of Rutgers University propose that we fall in love in three stages involving a different set of chemicals. They are: lust, attraction and attachment. Indeed, the events occurring in our mind when we fall in love are akin to mental illness. Chemicals such as: testosterone, oestrogen, dopamine, serotonin all conflict and combine to change our emotions when we’re attracted to someone. Further studies show that when choosing a partner we are at the mercy of our subconscious and inner sexual desires as proffered in psychoanalytical studies.
Love, lust and sexual desire are a big part of everybody’s lives whether they are positive or negative; indeed, the continuance of the species is very much reliant on them. Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV shows, comedies and adverts! The latest excellent love story I watched was the BBC/Hulu production calledNormal People (2020). Over twelve episodes we were introduced and lured into the sweet and dark hearts of two Irish teenagers called Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones). They meet, fall in lust, have loads of sex, fall in love, generally fall out with each, fight further, go to University, go abroad, grow up, fall down and then fall back in love with each with other, and so on.
Based on Sally Rooney’s extremely successful novel of the same name, the story events begin at a Sligo Secondary school. Connell is quietly spoken and from a single parent upbringing. But he is very popular with his peers, close to the top of his class and exhibits much sporting prowess. Marianne’s family is wealthier than Connell’s. In fact, the latter’s mum, Lorraine (Sarah Greene) cleans house for Marianne’s mother. The Sheridan household is not a happy one though due to a tragedy which occurred to the father. This causes Marianne to be very angry, self-loathing and outspoken. Because of this she is somewhat of an outsider at home and school. For some unknown reason Marianne’s brother and mother are very cold toward her. Yet, despite the turmoil and class difference, Connell and Marianne share a mutual attraction, which soon becomes a sexual relationship.
As aforementioned, the path of love is not smooth as the first obstacle to the relationship comes from Connell’s paralysing fear of what his school friends think. He is a complex soul and does not have the bravery to share his true feelings to the world. Marianne becomes a secret, and this angers her, causing a major rift between the two young lovers. I won’t give any further plot details away, but it is safe to say that this is not your average romantic comedy or drama. The story beats of the romance genre are present, yet delivered in a sombre, delicate and under-the-surface style. This is not surprising given the first six episodes are subtly directed by Lenny Abrahamson, a filmmaker who has a number of wonderful character-driven films to his credit.
With confident direction, acting and a serene soundtrack, Normal People (2020) is a consistently absorbing and emotional rollercoaster. What I would say it though it often feels as if you’re watching events unfold in extreme slow motion. This isn’t a criticism though, because in the stillness of the performances, the dwelling of the camera on the character’s faces and length of shots, we’re allowed the time to breathe in the joy and pain of this complicated romance. The two lead actors Phil Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones are both incredibly well cast. They have exquisite chemistry together in both their passionate sex scenes and when they just simply exist and talk and look and love and hurt together. One may gripe that the drama could have been achieved with a tad more pace and just a few less episodes. However, if you are looking for a truthful representation of young love, with all its angst, kinks, self-loathing, insecurities and exasperating undulations, then Normal People (2020) is definitely a worthwhile experience.