Tag Archives: Matthew McConaughey

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #1

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #1

Movie stars are usually the Kings and Queens of a film! They propel the narrative and guarantee bums on seats when a film opens. They also create expectation and word of mouth buzz thus studios have invested heavily over the decades in icons such as:  Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, James Cagney, Mel Gibson to name but a few.

I love movie star driven cinema, however, I’m also a big fan of the ensemble casts seen in genre films such as: comic book epics, crime thrillers, war films and Westerns.  What an ensemble cast offers is a diverse set of characters and actors bouncing off one another to powerful effect. Most recently the mountain disaster film Everest (2015) had fine actors including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more.   Thus, just for the hell of it I’ve picked out some of my favourite films which contained not just one big star but lots of fine actors who all combined to make a fantastic movie experience.

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet.  The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber.  It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)

Joss Whedon’s Marvel behemoth broke all kinds of box office records across the world! It’s a humdinger of a movie with a cracking cast that included: Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and many more!  In fact, I’m surprised the set didn’t collapse under the weight of all the egos in front of camera.

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

It’s cameo cast central in Wes Anderson’s fast-paced eccentric comedy with Ralph Fiennes leading the line-up with a terrific central performance. Also, tagging along for the quirky and colourful ride are such acting luminaries as: F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Blink and you’ll probably miss some of them!

INCEPTION (2010)

Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller features a dream cast. Or does it!  Yes – it does!  It’s a Hollywood pot-pourri of movie stars such as Leonard DiCaprio, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, star-in-the-making Tom Hardy, veteran character actors like Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and feisty starlet Ellen Page.

LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)

While the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey have gone up and down in various measures recently this brilliant crime film found them on the rise up the Hollywood ladder. Here they play a trio of very different detectives investigating movie lookalikes, murder and police corruption in Los Angeles. Throw in the likes of Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Danny Devito and you have a cast to literally die for.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

The cast of this classic Seven Samurai remake is remarkable as in, aside from Yul Brynner, they were all pretty much unknown at time of filming. So, kudos to the casting team who recruited such a charismatic troupe including: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn; who would all become stars in their own right.

MAGNOLIA (1999)

Take your pick from Paul Thomas Anderson’s films which ALWAYS have excellent casts. I am in no doubt actors are drawn to the narcissistic and existential angst which inhabits the characters’. Boogie Nights (1997) is one of my favourite films but Magnolia with – Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards – just wins out for best cast for me.

MEANTIME (1984)

Not a large ensemble cast but a brilliant one nonetheless.  In Mike Leigh’s quintessentially British council estate film we get three young British stars in Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels plus Alfred Molina and Pam Ferris too.  Each character drowns in depression, awash in concrete, unemployment and the stench of piss-stinking lifts and cigarette-stained wallpaper. This is a sad, funny, low-budget 1980s kitchen-sink classic.

THE OUTSIDERS (1983)

Similar to The Magnificent Seven this is a “before they were famous deal” with an incredible cast who would come to known in the 1980s as The Brat Pack. C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and Diane Lane all starred in this tragic rites of passage story about teenage gangs and friendship. All the actors when on to have decent careers; but what ever happened to that Tom Cruise guy though?!?

PULP FICTION (1994)

Tarantino, of course, is not only about the cracking dialogue and violence and homages to other movie styles and genre but he also knows how to cast a movie.  He rarely has a big film star at the helm of his films but rather relies on a mixture of known stars in supporting roles, character actors, plus fading or B-movie journeymen. Often, actors are cast on ability and suitability rather than saleability such as Pam Grier and Christophe Waltz. His keen casting eye gave us a wonderful Samuel L. Jackson – up until then limited to mainly supporting roles – and also relaunched John Travolta’s flagging career in the imperious ensemble crime film Pulp Fiction.

SHORT CUTS (1993)

Robert Altman is the “King” of the ensemble drama as demonstrated with Nashville (1975), Mash (1970 and The Player (1993). His films often poked into the American underbelly psychoanalysing the mores of the various classes.  His work would have a massive influence on Paul Thomas Anderson and actors clearly considered it a badge of honour to act for him. Short Cuts was adapted from  Raymond Carver’s work and the cast included: Julianne Moore, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey, Jr., Madeleine Stowe, Chris Penn, Jack Lemmon, Frances McDormand, Andie MacDowell, Lily Tomlin and many more.

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)

This spy thriller contains a “Who’s-Who” of British acting talent. We have Commissioner Gordon, Bane, Sherlock Holmes, King George VI, Doctor Who, Truman Capote and even Trigger from Only Fools and Horses acting in between the shadows of murky British Intelligence espionage.  It’s a tricky watch as the director goes for atmosphere over exposition but the sheer style and quality of the performances ensure espionage has never been so intriguing.

SCREENWASH REVIEWS– AUGUST 2015 (PART TWO)

SCREENWASH REVIEWS – AUGUST 2015 (PART TWO)

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.

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

SCREENWASH by PAUL LAIGHT – JANUARY 2015 FILM WASH-UP

SCREENWASH REVIEWS – JANUARY 2015

Rather than fanatically and brilliantly reviewing EVERY film I have seen at the cinema this year, I am providing bite-sized reviews of movies I’ve experienced on various mediums:  Cinema, TV, Blu Ray and Netflix et al.  Here’s the FIRST WATCH films I saw  in January 2015!

1_VIOLENTYEAR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014) – DIRECTOR: J. C. CHANDOR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a slow, moody and shadowy thriller screaming gimme-Oscar-nods-material. It is really very good in ALL departments but dramatically I wanted more. Critic friendly but ultimately lacking a decent ending, thrills and character development.  Oscar Isaac is impressive in the Michael Corleone style role and Jessica Chastain is terrific if criminally underused. Surprisingly, given the title there isn’t much violence either.

BIRDMAN (2014) – DIRECTOR: ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU

BIRDMAN is an intellectual and artsy dark comedy about loads of stuff involving: celebrity, identity, artistic credibility, insanity, family, f*cked up egos, vanity as well as analysing the creative process. It is NOT a superhero film but a satire on that kind of thing. I liked the stylistic device of making it look like it was shot in one take; Edward Norton taking the piss out of ‘the method’ and Michael Keaton playing himself kind of. Smart, funny and a bit up its own arse – great stuff!

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) – DIRECTOR: MARC VALLEE

Missed this great drama first time around with Matthew McConaughey as the Rodeo Electrician struck down with AIDS. Great story brought to you by a committed cast who deservedly won Oscars for their sterling performances. What I loved most in the adept screenplay was the fact Ron Woodroof essentially found a niche market within the capitalist paradigm and challenged the status quo of the corrupt government and pharmaceutical cartels. At the same time his character transformed into a globe-trotting upwardly mobile corporate executive – with AIDS!

FOXCATCHER (2014) – DIRECTOR: BENNETT MILLER

A powerful and haunting tragedy with incredibly subtle direction, this complex psychological thriller which shines a light on billionaire John DuPont and his fascination with fraternal Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz. Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are great but the film belongs to Channing Tatum; a raging bull of an ordinary Joe desperately trying to find an identity amidst the two surrogate fathers he finds himself trapped between.

THE GUEST (2014) – DIRECTOR: ADAM WINGARD

Awesome B-movie action-comedy starring Dan Stevens as a Gulf War veteran hiding a secret past.  Director Adam Wingard lays on the 80s parodic charm without veering into ultra-corn while the film contains a cool star-turn from Downton Abbey’s buffed and shiny Dan Stevens.

LAWN DOGS (1997) – DIRECTOR: JOHN DUIGAN

Morally ambiguous character piece which finds Sam Rockwell’s underdog gardener befriending a precocious schoolgirl portrayed by Mischa Barton. Apparently it’s inspired by the folktale of Baba Yaga but I felt we were in David Lynch territory with the offbeat characters, sexual subtext, sudden violence and dreamlike denouement.  Rockwell as usual is fantastic as an ordinary Joe caught in the crossfire of the mores of a rich and spoilt American community.

MALCOLM X (1992) – DIRECTOR: SPIKE LEE

Excellent true drama concerning the controversial Malcolm X played with formidable presence by the ever-excellent Denzil Washington. Spike Lee treats this political iconoclast with the respect he deserves as the one-time hoodlum is propelled to spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. It’s a modern epic and Lee imbues the film with some impressive stylistic flourishes, excellent drama and inspirational speeches.

SABOTAGE (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAVID AYER

Average actioner with Arnie’s FB-CIA-GENERIC-SWAT team colleagues dropping quicker than the Austrian Oak’s box-office takings as they get wiped out one-by-one by a rat in their dirty pack.  Agatha Christie on steroids with some chunky action and decent violence yet let down by paper-thin characters and weak plotting.

SACRAMENT (2014) – DIRECTOR: SHAWN EWERT

Ultra-low budget horror comedy that I watched at the Horror-on-the-Sea Festival had terrible acting, but loads of gore and violence and cannibalistic religious nuts in the Deep South (where else) of the United States.  Some fine lo-budget blood-letting and gallows humour made it great fun and highly entertaining.

STARRED-UP (2013) – DIRECTOR: DAVID MACKENZIE

Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn are on cracking form as father and son banged up together in this brutal slice of prison life.  O’Connell is out of control and starred-up (promoted) to the big boy’s institution as scene after scene illustrates his anger at the world; only beginning to see another way through Rupert Friend’s calming voluntary social worker.

WHIPLASH (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAMIAN CHEZELLE

I concur with all of the praise the film WHIPLASH has been getting. It’s a triumph in all departments from director, cast and crew. Echoes of Officer and a Gentlemen (1992) and Full Metal Jacket (1987)with the fearsome Drill Sergeant battering the young grunts for starters. But then it takes off into an incredible final act as Teller’s recruit and Simmons brutal teacher face-off to an amazing musical crescendo.  Miles Teller is great but if J.K. Simmons doesn’t win every Best Supporting Actor award this year I’ll eat my high-hat…. b’dum-dum-chh!!

In between doing a back-to-back binge on the U.S. OFFICE (up to Season 4 so far) with Carell and the gang, I also rewatched the bastardized adaptation of LORD OF THE FLIES (1990) and Brian DePalma’s lurid Hitchcockian-slasher-giallo-homage DRESSED TO KILL (1980) with Michael Caine in a very against-type role.

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #3: SAM ROCKWELL

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #3: SAM ROCKWELL

There are some actors who just walk between the raindrops when they’re on-screen; inasmuch as everything they do seems so effortless. The magnificent Sam Rockwell is one of those actors. He’s not a big star but he certainly shines like one in most of his roles. While the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Meryl Streep and Christian Bale are tremendous actors, the audience can clearly SEE the work they are committing to; yet Rockwell just glides through a performance charming you and pulling you in with his guile and a golden smile.  He’s just good in everything. Here are five performances I particularly enjoyed. (Note: glaring omission from the list LAWN DOGS (1997) which I ashamedly have not seen. I apologise to my fan.)

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

GALAXY QUEST (1999)

THIS is the film where Rockwell first hit my consciousness and it is a wonderful sci-fi comedy which gently mocks but also affectionately homages Star Trek and its legion of fans. It has a terrific ensemble cast including Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen and Tony Shalboub.  Plus, the effervescent Rockwell stealing scene after scene as the kind of sidekick/bit-part show cast member who usually gets killed first.  The film is a bona fide cult classic and I urge you to see it if you haven’t.

JOSHUA (2007)

I picked this because it’s a VERY effective psychological horror film which kind of fell through the cracks on release and is worth catching online or DVD.  It’s an extremely well written, directed and performed “demon child” film but done with nuance rather than the overblown histrionics of the devilish OMENesque movies.  Rockwell plays a loving father and husband and it’s one his more complex roles showing pain and confusion rather than the easy charm one has come to expect from him.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Talking of which Rockwell ratchets the charm right up to ELEVEN in this wonderful-rites-of-passage-summer-of-love-coming-of-age-dramedy.  He plays an overgrown man-child who refuses to grow up and accept responsibility – preferring to play the fool at a Water Park!  There he takes the awkward teenager Duncan (Liam James) under his wing and trains him to party, have fun and gain confidence with girls.  Rockwell’s just so goddamned likeable and acts as a positive ‘father’ figure to Duncan in contrast to Steve Carell’s negative philanderer Trent.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007)

Andrew ‘Chopper’ Dominik’s moody Western is one of the BEST films I have seen from the last 10 years.  It was pretty much a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; elegant pace; resonating themes and subtext regarding fame and celebrity; wonderful cast; beautiful vistas and so on and so forth.  Rockwell excels in a supporting role as Charley Ford who gets caught between the eerie homo-erotic hero-worship-then-rivalry of his brother Robert (stunning Casey Affleck) and eponymous Jesse James (never better Brad Pitt).  The film moves at a glacial pace, building character and suspense, while in between the sporadic bursts of violence startle and raise the pulse in an altogether memorable cinematic experience.

 

MOON (2009)

In MOON not only do we get one Sam Rockwell but we get hundreds for the price of an admission fee.  He is outstanding as the isolated astronaut (AND doppelganger) mining the moon for helium-3, who having met another version of himself is thrown into an existential crisis.   What it lacks in budget it makes up for with the use of ‘authentic’ old-fashioned models. Moreover, the story engages intellectually, then dramatically before eventually tugging at the heartstrings; all the while introducing fascinating sci-fi concepts.  Director Duncan Jones shows Christopher ‘Interstellar’ Nolan how to make a humanist sci-fi masterpiece for a fraction of the cost and in Rockwell he has a tremendous co-pilot. A film to watch over and over and arguably Rockwell’s finest performance as an actor.

CHANGING LANES – (AKA ‘ARTISTS’ WHO SUCCESSFULLY SHIFTED CAREER PATHS)

CHANGING LANES – by PAUL LAIGHT

The excellent intellectual comedy BIRDMAN (2014) is about — among many themes — a movie star attempting to gain artistic credibility and shift his career from the commercial side to the more critically acclaimed. Using this as inspiration I decided to take a look at some musicians, actors and a filmmaker who in some way have began at one end of the creative spectrum and successfully careered to another. At the same time as changing creative lanes they surprised the audience, improved their critical kudos or at the very least shifted  perception of their oeuvre. Please do suggest others if I have missed them; which I imagine I have. They’re in no particular order either.

PETER JACKSON – FILMMAKER

Peter Jackson is one of my cinematic heroes. The reason being is he began his career from scratch in New Zealand making the no budget horror film Bad Taste (1987) before subsequently going on to make some of the biggest grossing blockbusters ever committed to celluloid.  My favourite film of his remains the hilarious gorefest Braindead (1992) and therefore his career shift to the haunting Heavenly Creatures (1994) was an incredible leap.  Personally, I liked his bloody horror films better but of course his Tolkien trilogies contain some amazing filmmaking too.

DAN STEVENS – ACTOR

I don’t watch Downton Abbey so had never heard of the handsome actor Dan Stevens.   The first I met him was watching the low budget actioner The Guest (2014) and he is absolutely brilliant. It’s a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot.  Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making.

BEN KINGSLEY – ACTOR

Kingsley stunned me when he appeared in Jonathan Glazer’s excellent debut feature Sexy Beast (2000) as the foul-mouthed cockernee monster Don Logan; sent to wreak havoc on Ray Winstone’s feng shui and chi.   It was an incredible performance which completely shifted perception away from the archetype RSC trained actor of stage and screen.  His portrayal of Gandhi put Kingsley very much on the cultural map whereas the visceral brutality of Logan pissed all over it!

LUCILLE BALL – ACTOR

Lucille Ball was a pioneering actress, comedienne and film studio executive. She was the star of many sitcoms notably I Love Lucy. Early doors though she performed in many small movie roles in the 1930s and 1940s, being dubbed the “Queen of the B-movies”.  In 1951, Ball helped create the television series I Love Lucy with husband Desi Arnaz and during a prolific career Ball was nominated for Emmy thirteen times and won four of the beauties.

CLINT MANSELL – MUSICIAN

Clint was the frontman for Black Country-bassed-hip-hop-funny-as-fuck-politically-incorrect-grebo-groovesters Pop Will Eat Itself!  Along with The Wonderstuff they were one of my favourite bands from the late 80s/90s.  Songs like:  Beaver Patrol, Grebo Guru, Can U Dig It, Wise Up Sucker etc.   smacked the arse of the charts with a flurry of non-sensical lyrics and pilfered samples. Years later Mansell rose from the spunky ashes of PWEI to become a respected film composer. His most memorable score is for the grim, yet awesome Aronofsky helmed Requiem For A Dream (1996) and since then he has consistently written for the same director. His classical piece Lux Æterna has become a ubiquitous soundtrack for many a film trailer!

JEROME FLYNN – ACTOR

To be honest Jerome Flynn has always been a decent TV character actor ever since he starred in Soldier Soldier in the 1990s.   But we also have him to thank for giving producer Simon Cowell some of his early hit records when, along with Robson Greene, he butchered a series of singalonga ‘classics’ including Unchained Melody.   He’s forgiven though for his musical crimes as his cultural slate has been wiped clean via his tough and gritty appearances in the phenomenal  Game Of Thrones plus the excellent Ripper Street. 

MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY – ACTOR

McConaughey has always had star appeal ever since his appearance in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and always stood out as an actor to watch. His career choices, however, in romantic comedies such as: The Wedding Planner (2001), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Failure to Launch (2006), Fool’s Gold (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) made him a shedload of dough but had many thinking he’d thrown away his ability on fluff. But then the “McConaissance” occurred and since 2010 he has eschewed the mortgage-paying unchallenging work and starred in some intense, transformative and often brutal roles including: Killer Joe (2011), The Paperboy (2012), Mud (2012), Magic Mike (2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), and stunning HBO series True Detective (2014).

CHARLIZE THERON – ACTOR

When Theron appeared in some decent but unspectacular early roles you would not have been wrong to suspect she was just another model-turned-actress wannabe who had got her break due to her cracking good looks.  However, THAT is definitely NOT the case as her acting prowess was proven in the Oscar-winning role of female serial-killer Aileen Wuornos. Tragic film Monster (2003) flipped career perception on it’s head as she imbued Wuornos with an anger, pain and humanity which never fails to rabbit-punch the emotions.   It was an incredible lane change in Theron’s career and proved she was no blonde bimbo. She was also fantastic as a twisted neurotic suffering from a severe case of arrested development in  Young Adult (2011).

BEN AFFLECK – ACTOR/DIRECTOR

Is Ben Affleck a good actor?  I had this discussion with a friend and we decided he was a solid if unspectacular presence who can be impressive at times with his professionalism in Good Will Hunting (1997),  Changing Lanes (2002), Hollywoodland (2006) and Gone Girl (2014).  However, let’s be straight he has also appeared in some right old garbage such as Daredevil (2003) and the critically panned Gigli (2003). But Affleck’s cultural redemption has occurred as a director in which he has hit three cinema home runs with the excellent Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town (2010) and the political thriller Argo (2012).   These are three proper movies with the assured directorial touch of the great genre filmmakers such as John Ford or Huston.  In some ways his career mirrors that of Clint Eastwood’s; as in he’s appeared in some great films, some rubbish films and is now becoming a formidable director to boot!

WHOOPI GOLDBERG – COMEDIAN/ACTOR

Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe and would then be cast in Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985). Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered by life but whom amidst the abuse retains a strength to not let life destroy her. All the more amazing given it was Goldberg’s first dramatic film role.  Goldberg would go on to prove both her dramatic and comedic mettle in a number of roles eventually winning an Oscar in the supernatural-thriller-romance-weepie Ghost (1990).

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ANDREA BOCELLI – SINGER

I don’t know much about Opera or classical music to be honest but I do know what I like when I hear it.  Thus, Andrea Bocelli’s pop-opera classic Con te partirò is an obvious favourite ever since I heard it in The Sopranos.  Andrea Bocelli himself had always immersed himself in singing since a boy but had to work his way up from the bottom, sort of.  He was a qualified lawyer and playing piano in the bars when ‘discovered’ by goalkeeper-turned-singer Luciano Pavarotti. The rest they say is history!  Time to say goodbye reader; au revoir!

FIFTEEN MEMORABLE MOVIE MOMENTS FROM 2014

FIFTEEN MEMORABLE MOVIE MOMENTS FROM 2014

In no particular order here are FIFTEEN moments, actors, scenes, characters, set-pieces, dialogue etc. which stuck in my noggin during the year of 2014.

SET-PIECE OF 2014 – QUIKSILVER SCENE IN FORT KNOX DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

VISION – JONATHAN GLAZER – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)

Glazer showed that with a low budget, vision and  powerful concept you could genuinely move, surprise, creep and capture the imagination of an audience.  Sparse and enigmatic this film was my best of the year while scene on the beach was one of the most harrowing I ever seen. I hope this filmmaker doesn’t leave such a gap following the under-rated Birth (2004) ten years prior.


VILLAIN – MARTON CSOKAS – THE EQUALIZER (2014)

This okay-Denzil Washington-violent-80s-remake was lifted above the parapet by a stunning turn by Marton Csokas as the main evil Russian stereotype.  I had a lot of fun with his actoring as he  scoffed not just the furniture but the upholstery as well.

KICKING ASS – EMILY BLUNT – EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)

Doug Liman’s very entertaining sci-fi movie turned the gender tables with Blunt playing the action hero. Of course, the universe could not sustain such a polarity and in the final act Cruise’s initial anti-heroism was blown away. But it was good while it lasted!

FUNNIEST USE OF AIR BAGS – BAD NEIGHBOURS (2014)


BEST FIGHT SCENE IN A LIFT – CAPTAIN AMERICA: TWS (2014)


WORST BEST MAN’S SPEECH EVER – TRUE DETECTIVE (2014)

Take it away Nic Pizzolatto and McConaughey in the best monologue of the year.

 HAIR – AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

A funny and suspenseful character-led con story found Bale, Lawrence, Cooper and Adams chewing up the scenery. However, their scenes were quite often stolen by their hairstyles and toupees.

STYLE – INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)

Not much happened in this story of a failed folk musician grieving for a lost friend. But the whole design, look, colour, cinematography, music, period setting and cast made it an utter joy from start to end.

AWE-INSPIRING VISUALS – INTERSTELLAR (2014)

I have only seen this film once but had very big problems with the script but there is no taking away the incredible visuals on show. It was the storytelling and what the humans were saying I took issue with.

DEPICTION OF ADDICTION – THORIN OAKENSHIELD
THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE 5 ARMIES (2014)

Peter Jackson dug into his box of magic tricks to pull off ANOTHER Tolkien-inspired series of battles. But it was Thorin’s battle with his addiction to gold which I connected with most.

BEST WAR – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Arguably one of the most enduring images of the year was Koba riding into battle with fire burning behind him capturing the passion and anger of the character and intensity of battle raging at the time.

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 ONE TAKE – TRUE DETECTIVE (2014)

MOST COMPELLING CHARACTER
LOU BLOOM/JAKE GYLLENTHAL – NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

DRUGS – WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)