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SCREENWASH – JUNE FILM & TV REVIEWS 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JUNE 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:

**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**

 

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV

The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)

The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors.   (Mark: 9 out of 11)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX

I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display.  Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA

Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV

If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.  I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)

GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV

The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX

Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off.  Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)


IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV

Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA

Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown (1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV

Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time.  I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – AUGUST 2015 (PART TWO) by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – AUGUST 2015 (PART TWO) by PAUL LAIGHT

On top of the Netflix and documentary purge I watched quite a few films this month. Thus, here for your consideration, are some little reviews with marks out of eleven!

***MAJOR SPOILERS**

A MOST WANTED MAN (2014) – NETFLIX

One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films and a pretty decent espionage thriller set in Germany. Despite an excellent cast and decent atmosphere I didn’t care much for the characters and it fizzled out for me by the end. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (2014) – BLU RAY

This is a very moving, filmic scrapbook documentary about an absolute musical legend who alas suffered both from mental and physical pain hence why he took his own life. Not sure if it was deliberate but toward the end his Mother and Wife were lit in a very similar way and resembled each other. While it was kind of objective allowing the sounds, videos, photos, recordings, interviews, cuttings and text to tell the story there a subconscious attempt by the director to link these two individuals. I loved the animated stuff which visualized the monologues Cobain recorded during his short life. I highly recommended this to fans of the troubled rock-poet and of course his amazing music. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

CREEP (2014) – NETFLIX

Not the British horror film directed by Christopher Smith ten or so years ago but a found footage film about a videographer who answers an advert to film a diary of weirdo played by the disarmingly dangerous Mark Duplass. I hated this at the start but it grew on me and the subtle horror was very well done and the ending is great. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

ENEMY (2014) – SKY

Doppelganger thriller Enemy is an enigmatic and weird treat full of fantastical images and brooding fear; featuring the ever brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal playing dual roles. His struggling actor and anxious teacher meet by chance and what follows is a mysterious game of cat and mouse. Both startling and unsettling from formidable genre director Denis Villeneuve. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (2014) – NETFLIX

This is one of the worst-middle-class-first-world-problems-monstrosities-of-a-film I have ever seen.  I like Simon Pegg but I switched this film off forty-five minutes in. Hector isn’t happy?  No one’s happy, Hector!  Happiness is an illusion, Hector! Do you have your health, Hector? Your girlfriend is Rosamund Pike, Hector?  You have a home and food on the table, Hector? Count your blessings, Hector and piss off!! (Mark: 0 out of 11)

HYENA (2014) – NETFLIX

This is a sturdy and compelling British crime drama with a fantastic lead performance from Peter Ferdinando as a bent copper trying, yet failing, to stay ahead of the dangerous games he’s playing. It’s a brutal and nasty film; very reminiscent in style of Nicolas Winding Refn or Alan Clarke and is mostly gripping but slightly overlong. If you like your drama meaty, earthy and realistic then this is a movie for you. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (2009)

This was a sumptuous and stylish film with one of my favourite actors Mads Mikkelsen portraying composer Igor Stravinsky.  I have to admit that I found it pretty boring though in terms of the drama and while it looked great I just did not care about the lives of rich and spoilt artists in 1920s France. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

THE MAN FROM UNCLE (2015) – CINEMA

Amidst the spy genre pastiche, muscular bromance and triple crosses there’s some cinematic gold enjoyment to be had in watching The Man From Uncle. Guy Ritchie is a very reliable genre director and during some of the set-pieces I actually sensed there’s a proper auteur trying to get out.  While I liked Skyfall (2012) and look forward to Spectre (2015) this was reminiscent of the old Bond films from the 1960s as it makes espionage sexy again. Overall, this is an ultra-stylish spy eye candy with a cracking soundtrack. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1920) – BFI CINEMA

Classic formalist documentary from Dziga Vertov is both an extravagant experiment in montage-making plus an intriguing look back at Soviet life post-Revolution. Dismissed as folly at the time of release it is now considered a masterwork, not only as a documentary, but as a film itself. It is humbling and intriguing viewing and makes you realise that the Soviet life is no different to ours as we witness births, marriages, deaths, work, rest and play. It’s a genuine historical and filmic masterpiece. (Mark: 10 out of 11)


MAZE RUNNER (2014) – SKY

This is a surprisingly entertaining addition to the recent raft of teenage-action-hero-in-dystopic-future-world-peril-films.  I enjoyed the existential mystery set up in the premise as our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is thrown into a Lord of The Flies land inhabited only by young men, trapped by a massive maze.  Plot-wise and action it’s very strong, however, the theme of humanity-accepting-one’s-fate-versus-escaping-while-testing-authority gave the story a richness making it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015) – CINEMA

M: I5 was a blast! Tom Cruise and the IMF team up to their usual breathtaking pyrotechnics! Good to see Sean Harris get a prominent role as he’s a formidable character actor. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – from M:I3 – is easily the best baddie though.  I just wish the trailers wouldn’t show virtually ALL the stunts especially HOW Tom did the “hang to the plane” thing. I don’t watch these films for the story – it’s the action. Please leave some for the film next time trailer people!  Rebecca Ferguson kicks serious ass and the scene at the Opera is pure Bond and pure cinema of the highest quality.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)

NO ONE LIVES (2014) – SKY

A stylish, yet empty exploitation serial-killer flick which would go straight to video if Blockbusters had any stores left.  Luke Evans is a handsome actor looking for a decent role since finishing Fast and Furious 6 and The Hobbit trilogy but this isn’t it. The film itself is saved by some extravagant violence and bloodletting but as a story it’s hollow like (Mark: 3 out of 11)

SOUTHPAW (2015) – CINEMA

If you like films about boxing then you’ll love Southpaw: a brutal and quality action-melodrama with another fine performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.  The story is very simplistic and structured around a riches-to-rags-to-redemption narrative but I found the soap operatics and bombastic direction a real adrenaline-pumped belt to the senses. Gyllenhaal is ripped, torn and lean like a prime piece of beef as life deals him body blow after blow. Can his on-the-ropes boxer bounce and make a come-back? While somewhat predictable I found Antoine Fuqua’s punchy movie a real knockout! (Mark: 8 out of 11)

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) – CINEMA

This is a tremendous biopic of seminal hip-hop legends NWA, who came to the fore of world music in the late 1980s. Performances and direction are excellent as Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Wren – AKA NWA – exploded onto the scene like a bomb and delivered anger, power and beats that propelled them straight out of Compton and into the charts!  They are a perfect example of sociological, political and cultural forces converging to create a superlative brand and the film perfectly captures the age, the music, the look and the camaraderie of being the group. The film illuminates the spirit of the hip-hop scene and the problems the group had with the law while dramatically portraying the bitter in-fighting over royalties which split the band apart. Goes without saying the soundtrack is brilliant too! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014) – NETFLIX

This starred two of my favourite comedic actors in Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and is a broad parody of romantic comedies with a very high joke-rate. He stars as a corporate confectionary executive and tries to take over her small independent sweet-hearted business and at first they hate each other but then… Yes, they have sex! Pitched somewhere between Naked Gun and Anchorman this is very, very silly but also an absolutely hilarious comedy. Short, sweet, ridiculous and as infectious as diabetes.  Is diabetes infectious – oh, who cares! Just watch the movie! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

JE T’AIME CINEMA by PAUL LAIGHT

JE T’AIME CINEMA by PAUL LAIGHT

I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat.  I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television.  I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as:  Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.

old-skool-3d-cinema-audience

The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.

Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as:  Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.

mi5

While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut.  Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.

Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV.  Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.

jaws

Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set.  Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation.  Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me.   Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.

While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen.  But is it better than the cinema?  Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS!  Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.

2001

The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.”  Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).
And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot.  Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema.  It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!

bluesbros

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**IF YOU CAN WORK OUT THE PLOT – THERE ARE SPOILERS**

So, Paul – what’s Interstellar (2014) all about?

Well, the film is a science-fiction epic about the end of the world. Some astronauts are sent on a deadly mission – led by Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Coop’ – farmer – to try and find habitable existences in outer-space.  To do so they must travel into the unknown across the heart of darkness; through worm-holes; through black-holes; crossing temporal and spatial dimensions to find a solution to save the human race.

Meanwhile, the emotional meat of the story is supplied by McConaughey/Cooper’s relationship with his daughter portrayed by Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain.  He had a son as well but apparently he didn’t matter as much and was ultimately used as weak final act plot point.

Sounds complicated?

Yes. It is. And also very very long. So load up on popcorn.

Interstellar_poster3

What did you like?

This is a visually stunning experience with some incredible set-pieces on Earth, in Space and on other planets.  But from a visual and conceptual genius such as Christopher Nolan I expected as much.  The “wave” sequence on ‘Miller’s Planet’ is an oxygen-stealing delight and I was gasping at the awe of it all.

Moreover, space has never looked so beautiful and dangerous and Nolan — clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrik’s  seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — delivered a truly spectacular experience when Cooper’s craft hurtles through the black hole Gargantua at the end of the lengthy middle act.

The film also has some wonderful science-fictional ideas relating to time and space and being a big Doctor Who fan I almost got my head around them; sort of.  Such concepts will of course solidify on further viewings once the blood in my buttocks begins to re-circulate. Did I say it was a very long film?

Yes. Yes you did. So, Paul, what didn’t you like about the film?

Well, I think there is an Alfred Hitchcock quote – which I’m paraphrasing now – where the Master said “if the audience is thinking too much they’re not feeling.” Something like that.

Oh, that’s clever. Using another director’s words to critique another.

Yeah – it is. And my main problem with the film was that I was so busy trying to get my head around the plethora of concepts in the screenplay that I didn’t feel ANYTHING for the characters.  I would have been happy with the film on a visual and poetic level if ALL the dialogue had been removed and emotion allowed to arrive between the spaces. But by over-reaching it dragged the whole film itself into a black hole of incomprehension.

To me the best science fiction marries concept with emotion.  Some of the acting was fantastic notably from McConaughey but – like the superior Inception (2010) – many of the characters are reduced to mere expositional tools – Anne Hathaway’s Brand being an example of this.  Inception worked better because it was grounded in the heist movie genre where Interstellar is all over the shop from: disaster-movie-to-space-opera-to-thriller-to-art-cinema-genres.

There were numerous plot-holes throughout beginning with the awful first act which set up the characters badly and then ran with poor characterisation throughout the film. Many of the cast, notably Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, were given a bit to do but far too late in the narrative.  And the speed with which concepts are thrown at us in the last 40 minutes are just damn confusing.

Interstellar_poster2

What did you think of the film overall?

Watching Christopher Nolan’s over-expensive and humourless folly was like eating your favourite cake for 3 hours on a rollercoaster. I loved it – then I hated it – then I loved it – then I hated it – then I felt horrifically sick and wanted to get off. By the end – like life itself – I wondered whether it was all worth it.

It felt like a big-budget apology to his family for perhaps being an absent father. Perhaps it’s a film to watch with the sound off and classical music on; although I did enjoy Hans Zimmer’s score .  Yet, the over-loaded plot-lines and weak-movie dialogue ruined the stunning visuals and action set-pieces for me.  Indeed, I watched Nightcrawler (2014) on the same night and that took a simple premise with one major character and rinsed that idea for all the suspense and drama it could.

Nolan has made some great films with clever ideas such as:  Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006) and aforementioned Inception (2010) which retain their emotional impact while delivering some mind-bending concepts. Moreover, he breathed life into the Batman franchise with his brilliant take on the Caped Crusader. However, Interstellar is a fail for me. It’s a magnificent looking jigsaw but if the maker doesn’t give you all the pieces, or the bits you do have don’t seem to fit properly; all you’re left doing is banging the table in frustration.

Interstellar_poster1

Who do you think you are slagging off one of the great filmmaker’s of our time?

I am no one. I work in a Scrap Metal Yard. But I paid my £11 entry fee and thus feel like I am entitled to an opinion. My feeling after watching Interstellar – and following his involvement in the dire Man of Steel (2013) – is that Nolan the  director should sack Nolan the screenwriter.  Perhaps he’s spread himself too thin producing and directing several big budget films in a short period of time?  Nonetheless there is no doubt Nolan is a genius filmmaker creating marvellous blockbusters-with-brains. But, as a storyteller he is losing the plots somewhat and in danger of disappearing up his own black hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #1 – ZACK SNYDER’S MAN OF STEEL

“I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams’ of this world.”  ZACK SNYDER


TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #1 –
MAN OF STEEL (2013)

This new strand for my blog is a chance for me to vent spleen and displace and transfer dissatisfaction with my own life onto a movie or moviemaker who has pissed me off.  Welcome ultra-all-technique-no-substance-human-photocopier-film-hack Zack Snyder!

Now, I’m just a lowly Office drone working in South London but when Snyder attacked my cinematic mate Terry Gilliam I felt the need to step in and have a go back.   Gilliam’s recent output has been sparse but overall he’s also been involved in some of the most intelligent, original and imaginative films of my lifetime:  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Jabberwocky (1977), Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995),  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).

Snyder on the other hand has directed three enjoyable facsimile-films (Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2007), Watchmen (2009) all derived from other more talented artists ideas. But after that he has directed some right turkeys notably Sucker Punch (2011) which I can safely say is one of the worst films I have ever seen.  It’s so bad it’s not even so bad it’s good.  AND HE STILL GOT THE MAN OF STEEL GIG!!  Here’s 10 reasons why I hate Man of Steel.  There could’ve been more.


#1 – MAKING GOOD ACTORS LOOK BAD

Firstly, Henry Cavill was a great choice as Superman and the supporting cast comprising of Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane etc. were well chosen but the performances aside from Cavill just seemed off to me in both timing and tone.  Shannon especially just came across as totally misdirected. Watch him in Revolutionary Road (2008)  and Boardwalk Empire to see how good he can be.




#2 – POOR CONSTRUCTION

The ghost of Batman Begins (2005) hangs heavy over the David S. Goyer’s screenplay structure. But where the back-and-forth cutting between past and present seemed to work with Nolan’s film I don’t think it worked at all well in MoS.    It’s an amazing looking jigsaw but with the pieces put in the wrong order.  To me the most interesting part of the film from a character point-of-view was the early stuff with young Kal-El growing up and these scenes were brilliant but thrown away so Snyder could crow bar in more explosions and soulless CGI set-pieces.

#3 – LOIS LANE

Lois is a strong character in the original comics and previous Superman films. But she was so poorly introduced that the she never ever recovered in MoS. Not so much a character but more a pawn in the plot, dramatic damsel-in-distress (why did Zod take her on the ship), or vessel to reveal background information about Kal-El; present in scenes physically but without emotional resonance.  A waste of one of my favourite actresses Amy Adams.


#4 – BAS-EL EXPOSITION AND OTHER AWFUL DIALOGUE

This film has some of the worst dialogue I have heard in a movie ever!  You might say that Snyder didn’t write it but as he’s helming the ship he has final say.  And in this instance the filmic boat sank.  Characters speak in either unrealistic “movie-speak” notably Costner’s surrogate father and I don’t mind that because I know this is a comic-book world and can handle statements like:

“He sent you here for a reason, Clark. And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” 

But what I cannot stand is characters telling us out aloud their jobs or back-stories or events already seen.  Crowe’s character pops up throughout to reveal history and updates the audience on important plot points even though we have already seen his planet explode at the start.  Further, we’re told Lois Lane has won the Pulitzer Prize IN THE DIALOGUE!  Show us a plaque or her getting an award!  WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SHOW NOT TELL!!  SHOW NOT TELL!!

#5 – OVERALL STYLE & PACE

Snyder has the timing of a teenage pregnancy.  I tried to watch MoS on Blu-Ray again recently but had to turn it off before the end as it is unwatchable.  Snyder went TOO Avatar from the start in my view – Crowe riding some stupid flying beast.  He also copied many of the mistakes he made with Sucker Punch such as over-blown action set-piece on top of over-the-top CGI firework fest without characters we care one bit about.   Any elements of subtlety and nuance are raped by computer images smashing and crashing through in a destructive fit-inducing-ADHD-driven nightmare.

#6 – WHY SO SERIOUS?

Aside from a couple of moments such as the bar-room truck driver’s ride being dismantled there is very little humour in MoS.   It tries so hard to emulate the tone of the Dark Knight but fails miserably and the decision to try and make Kal-El some kind of Christ-like figure was woeful. This is a comic book movie and should be fun!   Marvel’s movies are full of humour. I understand that it doesn’t have to be zingers and punchlines throughout but there’s more humour at a funeral than in MoS.

#7NOT SO MUCH PLOT HOLES AS PLOT CAVES!

My theory on the disappearance of the Malaysian plane is that it flew into and vanished into the abyss of Man of Steel’s screenplay which has more black holes than the whole of space.  It’s a joke really as we get the scenes where Zod’s army of rebels suddenly turn up to wreak havoc on Earth with some ridiculous unbelievable flashback telling us how they got there. Plus, how does Clark get on the Arctic expedition having only just worked at a bar?  Plus, how convenient that two soldiers would talk about a top secret find within ear-shot of our hero. Plus, would Kal-el really let his father die?  Plus, given our media-driven society could Kal-El/Superman really have lasted that long without coming under some kind of scrutiny or investigation beforehand.  Need I go on?


#8 – TOO MUCH STORY

Man of Steel is like a series of long, long, long sentences without proper punctuation. It basically crammed the stories of Christopher Reeve’s Superman 1 and 2 into Man of Steel and the whole film suffers in my view.   As aforementioned the boy’s childhood is skimmed over with a few really good scenes stuck into flashbacks and Lois Lane’s and Kal-El’s relationship is rushed in favour of launching us into an over-extended final act of ridiculous action.  By the end of the film I was exhausted.   I like big block-busting-roller-coasting-comic book films when they are done right. Iron Man (2008) and Avengers Assemble (2012) showed what a blast comic book films could be but they had humour, wit, pacing, action, charismatic actors all well directed and many more assets that Snyder’s piss-poor effort lacked.

#9 – UNBELIEVABLE UNBELIEVABILITY

Aside from the scenes when he was a kid I just didn’t believe any of it.   Emotionless, insipid and draining it felt like one long extended video-game with someone else holding the controls.  And while it looked great the action had no tension or suspense either. The phrase “less is more” is definitely NOT applicable here.  Plus, the overly science-fiction feeling of the film did not work for me.  In J. Michael Straczynski’s screenwriting book he talked about writing fantasy and sci-fi and said that as a writer you must strive to make believable unbelievability.  Whedon got this right with Avengers Assemble (2012) as did Lucas with Star Wars (1977) as did Terry Gilliam is the majority of his work.  In some ways I think the computer-generated movie era has lost that magic I witnessed when growing up.  Perhaps I’m to blame having seen too many movies. Who knows?  I just didn’t believe Man of Steel.

#10 – WE COULD HAVE GOT ARONOFSKY!

Here’s how:

“Over at Warner Bros., studio chief Jeff Robinov‘s fierce loyalty to director Zack Snyder is being tested June 14 with the $225 million Man of Steel. The relationship dates to the 2007 hit 300, even though Snyder’s three subsequent Warners films – Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Sucker Punch – disappointed. However, while giving him Man of Steel (over the other finalist, Darren Aronofsky), Robinov took out insurance with producer Christopher Nolan, the studio’s most important filmmaker (Batman, Inception). “Chris had the confidence in Zack, and based on the movie I’ve seen, Chris was spot-on,” says Warners president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman.”

So we could have got Darren Aronofsky for Man of Steel but instead got Zack Snyder.  Who is going to save us from the Snyder’s of the world?!?    Lord help us!

FAVOURITE MOVIE MOMENTS OF 2013!

FAVOURITE MOVIE MOMENTS OF 2013!

To accompany the list of my most entertaining films I saw last year I’ve also compiled a few nominations for best this and that!

**** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS  ****


BEST PHOTOGRAPHY
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)
What it lacks in plot it makes up with one incredibly designed scene after another.  And the violence is something else!


MOST HEART-WRENCHING SCENE – FLIGHT (2012)
The film opens with a tremendously staged plane crash. However, the scene where Denzil battles a miniature bottle of booze has almost more riding on it dramatically.  Tension, suspense and the agony of human frailty are all in this scene.  The moment we’ve all been through where we are battling our demons and trying to do the right thing is centre to the scene. Will Denzil pick up the bottle?  Will the angels or demons win out?


BEST CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE – GRAVITY (2013)
All I can say is wow!  This film was just wow! Some have criticized a lack of plot and characterisation but this is a movie which just takes your breath away. As I said, wow!


MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENE – RUST &
BONE (2012)
Marion Cotillard’s Killer Whale trainer reconnects with nature in this serene moment from a compelling drama. It’s a beautiful moment for the audience visually and also the character.


BEST ENDING/BEST CAST – CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)
Whether the film is truth or fiction Tom Hanks’ acting throughout is superb. He’s none better than in the final scene when he reaches the medical bay. The way he releases the tension it so memorable. His co-star Barkhad Abdi has to get an Oscar nod too for Best Supporting Actor.


BEST MOVIE PLOT + TWIST – SIDE EFFECTS (2013)
This film genuinely pulls the rug from underneath your feet!  Fantastic storytelling!  It starts seemingly as a critique of the pharmaceutical industry but then becomes a nasty, lurid Hitchcockian thriller with great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara.


BEST BRITISH FILM – BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
Both a tribute to Italian Horror and the Foley Artist this is a disturbing arthouse horror which generates its’ scares through the sound. You think you’ve seen something scary but haven’t. Incredibly constructed and recommended for cinephiles all over.


BEST GAG – ANCHORMAN 2

I couldn’t find a clip but Brian Fantana’s  gag was the funniest joke I heard at the cinema all year. The News Team’s attempt at 24 hour News has seemingly failed and in the scene Brian is asked what he will do next.  He replies:

“I’m going to cruise round with my friends O.J. Simpson, Robert Burke and Phil Spector.  We call ourselves the LadyKillers!”


BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACK – WORLD’S END
(2013)
Pegg and Wright’s highly entertaining apocalyptic comedy is touching, action-packed and amusing. It gets a bit silly by the end but there’s a great energy and some funny dialogue and physical humour throughout. The soundtrack is a cracker featuring the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Sisters Of Mercy and the Soup Dragons to name just a few. It’s like the perfect Indie Disco in the cinema!


BIGGEST MOVIE LET-DOWN – MAN OF STEEL (2013)
A great cast and stupendous effects could not save the broken-backed Superman story crash and burn. Henry Cavill was a terrific Kal-El but the filmmakers ruined the whole piece by cramming too much into a few hours of screen time and not allowing the cast, characters or story to breathe.   It was sensory overload and bogged down with too much exposition.  The Batman v. Superman film under Zack Snyder’s direction could possibly signal the end of the comic book boom of recent time.  The bubble is going to burst at some point I tells ya!


FILM MOST F*CKED BY THE CRITICS  – LONE RANGER (2013)
This mega-budget update of the old radio/TV show from yesteryear was nowhere near as bad as the critics made out. It followed the ‘PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN’ template but perhaps the problem was Johnny Depp playing deadpan rather than drunken Pirate.  The critics didn’t go for it and nor did the audience as it kind of bombed as well.  However, Gore Verbinski directed with verve and energy and the final set-piece on the train is one of the best action sequences of the year.


BEST SCREEN CHEMISTRY – SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)

I was tempted to say BREAKING BAD but Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were electric in David O. Russell’s bipolar romantic drama/comedy.  The whole cast were great in fact including Robert DeNiro as the bookie father and Chris Tucker as a friend of Cooper’s character. But Cooper and Lawrence made the film their own with their portrayals of damaged but very human couple finding each other in a crazy world.


BEST MOVIE WITHOUT A SCRIPT – WORLD WAR Z – (2013)
Brad Pitt’s travelogue around the World avoiding a zombie plague was actually really entertaining in places with some great set-pieces but it had a lousy script with essentially no story or plot.  They genuinely feel like they’re making it up as they’re going along. Having said all that I really enjoyed it at the cinema even though Pitt was miscast and this really needed a decent action-hero like Schwarzenegger in his prime to really boost the movie.

BEST FEMALE ARCHER – THE HOBBIT 2 (2013)
I love an action women especially one with a bow and arrow and this award came down to a toss-up between Jennifer Lawrence in HUNGER GAMES 2 and Evangeline Lilly.  In the end I came down on the side of Tauriel the Elf in Peter Jackson’s behemoth production of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG.  Jumping, spinning and diving about firing and killing Orcs for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  What a woman!


BEST DOUBLE ACT – RUSH (2013)
RUSH was indeed a big rush cinematically but the casting of Daniel Bruehl as cool Nikki Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as fiery James Hunt motored this movie along off the track too. The characterizations dealt solely in binary but provided much entertainment along the way. Of course Ron Howard and his creative team served up some wicked action as well.


BAD-ASSEST REVENGE – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Tarantino’s fantasy Western saw Jamie’s Foxx’s eponymous hero rise from that of a chained-in-pain slave to a kill-crazy-bounty-hunting-dancing-horse-riding-bad-ass-mutha-fuKKKa!   Everything about this film was a hoot and so entertaining!  It also has arguably the funniest scene I saw all year too with the racists on horseback including Jonah Hill arguing about the quality of their hoods.


BEST VILLAIN – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Calvin Candie was a horrific character and played with genuine charm by the masterful Leonardo DiCaprio. HE should have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in my view as Christophe Waltz already had one!  Candie’s character was not only a vain, insane, murdering slave trader but there was a sense of an incestuous relationship with his sister. He got his just desserts in the end but alas DiCaprio didn’t from the Academy.


BEST FRANCHISE SEQUEL – IRON MAN 3 (2013)
2013 was big on Franchise equals, sequels and prequels including FAST & FURIOUS 6, THOR 2, HUNGER GAMES 2, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and THE HOBBIT 2.  They were all really really entertaining but my favourite was the ever dependable Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark.  It had some cracking one-liners and decent villains plus a lovely little twist which had all the fanboys up in arms because of Director Shane Black’s irreverent treatment of the Mandarin character.