CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #7 – ‘FLAMENCO DANCE’ SCENE – HAPPY GO LUCKY (2008)
Directed and written by: Mike Leigh
Produced by: Simon Channing Williams
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Karina Fernandez etc.
Music: Gary Yershon
Cinematography: Dick Pope
While I’m a massive fan of Mike Leigh’s body of work, I disliked Happy Go Lucky (2008) when I first saw it. I think I must have been in a bad mood or just did not get it. Maybe, on first watch, I felt it was an inconsequential film when compared to his others?
However, having re-watched it a couple of times in the last year I must admit I have completely changed my mind about it. Indeed, Sally Hawkins’ characterisation and acting as Poppy Cross is a joy.
In the ‘Flamenco Dance’ scene we find Poppy joining a dance class for what she hopes is a bit of fun and exercise. The teacher, passionately portrayed by Karina Fernandez, is Poppy’s opposite in terms of intensity and seriousness. This is all meant to be a bit of a laugh as Hawkins’ wonderful facial expressions suggest.
Yet, while the scene begins humorously it ends rather embarrassingly as the Flamenco teacher has a hell of an emotional meltdown in front of the class. I love this scene because of Hawkins’ sly performance juxtaposing with Fernandez’ heartfelt breakdown; all of which captures wildly different emotions in a short period of time.
Starring: David Bamber, Alastair Mackenzie, James Dangerfield, Eileen Davies, Liam Gerrard, Bronwyn James, Philip Jackson, Rory Kinnear, Nico Mirallegro, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, Tim McInnerny plus many more.
Music by: Gary Yershon
Cinematography: Dick Pope
Production company: Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Thin Man Films
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
Peterloo (2018) is a film of voices, of speech, of reform and of freedom. It is Mike Leigh’s thirteenth feature film production and clearly a labour of love for him, his production team and the army of actors who put their hearts and souls into this powerful work of cinema. Four years in the making, this historical document, as well as paying tribute to those who campaigned for the vote in the 1800s, is also a passionate love letter to Northern England and the proud working classes of the era.
The film begins in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo and then brings us into the factories and streets of Manchester and surrounding Northern areas. As with many Mike Leigh films you can feel the palpable authenticity in the settings, accents and places the characters live. Leigh also cuts to local magistrates who hold up the draconian laws designed to keep the poor in their place; handing out savage justice such as the death penalty to one man for stealing a coat. We also visit London and experience those ruling classes who inhabit the Houses of Parliament and Royal palaces, lording over the oppressed workers.
The character strokes are broad at first before Leigh further develops their personalities. The dialogue is delivered formally initially as the characters educate the audience regarding various laws affecting them. This seems jarring but also serves the documentary and historical nature of the piece. As the narrative strands build steadily to the fateful march the editing throughout cross-cuts between the ruling, working and legal classes representing their differing perspectives. The march was intended to be a peaceful demonstration; a plea for Parliamentary reform and the desire to be heard. Surely, that’s the right of everyone in a civilised society? Well, not in 1819.
With the film driven by a whole host of wonderfully written speeches, it could be argued, Peterloo, lacks the warmth and humour of Leigh’s other more personal films. However, there are some formidable performances amidst the huge cast. Maxine Peake is earthy and convincing in her representation of a mother struggling to make ends meet. Rory Kinnear brings an intelligence and pride to the confident character of Henry Hunt; a wealthy landowner committed to reform and repeal of the onerous ‘Corn Laws’. As is the case with Leigh’s other films the acting is uniformly impressive because you know months of planning and rehearsal would have been committed to the production.
The film is also shot beautifully by cinematographer Dick Pope. There is a strong leaning toward a naturalistic lighting palette. Interiors are often bathed in sunlight shining through windows onto the shadowed faces of the characters. His camera is placed ideally to capture the rural and industrial locations of the era. There’s also some wonderful framing within arches and factories. Lastly, Leigh’s meticulous approach to authenticity reveals the machinery from the time, such as the looms and printing presses. Similarly, you can almost feel the reality of the epoch through the excellent costume design.
The final act brings us to the fateful day itself. Mike Leigh handles the massive crowd scenes expertly and shows the injustice and barbarism brought about by the cavalry and law enforcements attacking up to 80,000 people who are protesting for change. Having spent a few hours establishing the characters and their relevant causes the emotional impact of the attacks by the ruling classes is palpable. This is ultimately very powerful cinema which resonated with me because it reminded of the historical events down the ages where people have been murdered or injured while trying to make their voices heard.
Peterloo may not be for everyone as it is a long epic with a plethora of dialogue heavy scenes. Yet, I was enthralled as the language and passion of such discourse is very eloquent and heartfelt. The sheer scale of the filmmaking itself is also impressive even if the narrative lacks a specific personal focus throughout. Mike Leigh’s approach is very clear as it represents the working class as victims to an oppressive regime which has no regard for human suffering. Indeed, it should be every person’s basic right to have a voice and given past and current social and political events Peterloo contains a message that remains very valid today.
Mark: 9.5 out of 11
PETERLOO (2018) will be released in the UK on 2nd November 2018
There is no way a mere simple page of words from my keyboard can do justice to the decades of incredible theatrical, televisual and cinematic work of the genius that is Mike Leigh. He has, since the 1960s, worked tirelessly creating: drama, comedy, pathos, empathy, love, hatred, politics, harmony, conflict, nihilism and hope through an orchestra of characters and creative endeavour.
For me Mike Leigh is a true artist. He has not only been involved in innumerable film, TV shows and plays since the 1960s but also created his own production modus operandi in the process. He is rightly well regarded for working intimately with his actors organically creating character and stories from the kernel of an emotion or idea. His works are legion and often feature representations the working or under-classes. There are no superheroes or special effects but rather raw emotion and feelings within his body of work.
The My Cinematic Romance series has always sought to praise filmmakers and actors I really love and Mike Leigh is no different. I would have to say though that to pick FIVE of my favourite works is an impossible task as there is so much choice. Nonetheless, these are five of my favourite Mike Leigh works but do check out any of his films as they have much to say about humanity and life and are also very entertaining in their own inimitable style.
ABIGAIL’S PARTY (1977) – BBC TV PLAY
Opening as a stage play in 1977, the seminal tragic-comedy Abigail’s Party sold out for months at the Hampstead Theatre when first released. A filmed TV version was released later to much acclaim that year and starred: Alison Steadman, Janine Duvitski, John Salthouse, Thelma Whiteley and Tim Stern. It’s a comedy of crumbling relationships featuring the passive aggressive clashes between the aspirational classes. The performances, notably from Steadman as the brash and formidable Beverley, are astute, over-the-top but somehow hilariously nuanced too. Moreover, the barbed dialogue and bitchy asides are perfectly delivered during a dinner party that, once seen, will have you laughing throughout. But, like much of Leigh’s work, by the end you somehow feel sad too.
MEANTIME (1983) – CINEMA
The epitome of classic working-class-kitchen-sink-council-estate tragic-comedy, Meantime, features a “Who’s-Who” of now famous actors including: Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Phil Daniels, Alfred Molina; plus an early appearance from Leigh favourite Peter Wight. Set amidst the bleak concrete landscape of East London the episodic story focusses on the Pollock family, notably the unemployed brothers portrayed by Daniels and Roth. The former is an answer-for-everything-clever-dick while Roth’s Colin is the more subdued, shy and possibly autistic one, very much in his brother’s shadow. Furthermore, a very young-looking Oldman pops up as a bored, thuggish, glue-sniffing and racist skinhead who bullies those around him, especially Colin. Overall, Meantime evokes memories of my own childhood growing up on a rough Battersea council estate and captures the ennui and inertia of unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain. While it may sound depressing there’s also some classic dialogue and a number of hilarious exchanges between the family and characters which certainly silvers the dark, grey clouds on the horizon.
NAKED (1993) – CINEMA
We need to talk about, Johnny! Arguably, of all the characters and creations from Mike Leigh, Johnny Fletcher is the darkest manifestation and representation of his worldview. Unlike the permanently positive Poppy from Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky (2008), Johnny is a dress-in-black, biting and bilious shadow who drifts like smoke from North to South with no aim other than to attack those around him. Sardonic and severe in his outlook, Johnny’s misanthropy knows no bounds as he angrily castigates his ex-girlfriend’s lack of ambition, portrayed by Lesley Sharp, before beginning a doomed sexual liaison with her flatmate, the self-hating Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). It is not an easy film to watch due to the flagrant and offensive misogyny exhibited by the male characters and the seeming lack of hope throughout. Yet, it remains a compelling portrait of pre-millennial nihilism with some epic monologues delivered by the rasping and mercurial voice of David Thewlis’ in a never-to-be-bettered acting performance.
SECRETS AND LIES (1996) – CINEMA
After the nihilistic dissonance of Naked (1993) Leigh’s next film would return to familial roots and gentler, if still emotionally resonating, domestic drama. The story centres on Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s optometrist attempting to locate the birth mother who gave her up for adoption. In an extremely tender and serene performance, Baptiste as Hortense Cumberbatch finds her search turn up unexpected results. Brenda Blethyn, in the more melodramatic role of Cynthia Purley, runs the gamut of emotions; while the imperious Timothy Spall steals the floor with his noble rendition of Cynthia’s brother, Maurice. Spall’s Maurice is an ordinary, yet noble man, trying to hold the disparate family strands together. I especially loved the opening vignettes of Maurice’s photographic customers which established themes of surface appearances contrasted to hidden family secrets. This overall is what I class as a small epic containing so many brilliant character details, funny looks, and very touching moments where the emotion, quite often, is in the silence. Secret and Lies (1996) was, to date, Mike Leigh’s most accessible and emotionally satisfying film and would deservedly garner acting and directing awards and nominations from the Academy, BAFTA and Cannes.
VERA DRAKE (2004) – CINEMA
Having presented the lively Topsy Turvy (1999) world of Gilbert and Sullivan a few years before, Leigh created another period piece with Vera Drake. Set in 1950s London it centres on Imelda Staunton’s kind housewife who harbours a secret life. Amidst her family and work existence Vera assists young woman who accidentally get in the “family way”. I don’t want to say too much but this is a gut-wrenching and tragic story which highlights the issues of the day with a stunning emotional power. Imelda Staunton is one of the best actors I have ever witnessed on stage and screen and she brings to Vera’s character sympathy, pride and passionate inner strength. The supporting cast of Philip Davis, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays, and Sally Hawkins are superb; and a special mention to cinematographer Dick Pope, who has lit most of Leigh’s films. Pope creates, within a palette of greys, greens and browns a salient mood which enhances the performances and Leigh’s masterful direction.
Mike Leigh’s new film PETERLOO (2018) will be released this year in cinemas.
Six years ago I wrote some articles for a nifty little website called Obsessed with Film. The site was independent and would have some geeky and interesting articles on film and television. Years later the site became the click-bait-pop-ups-from-hell-advertising-led-but-still-not-too-bad: www.whatculture.com
Anyway, one of the articles was about some “forgotten” films or, as I shall refer to them, under-rated film classics. Basically, I listed films which I felt were deserving of further praise. The list included: Bad Santa (2003), Dog Soldiers (2002), Chopper (2000), Midnight Run (1988) and Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) among others. My rules were simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love plus not be one of the following:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
So, with these criteria in mind I present a sequel to my previous article – some six years later – with another set of under-rated film classics. If you have any suggestions that fit the criteria please do let me know and I will include them on my next list.
3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
James Mangold’s directed Western is a rare beast: it’s a remake that’s as much a classic as the original. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale perform brilliantly as the charismatic outlaw and proud farmer who clash on the way to the eponymous prison locomotive. Ben Foster, Logan Lerman and Peter Fonda provide excellent support too in a fantastic character-led drama full of action.
ANOTHER YEAR (2010)
While Mike Leigh was NOMINATED for a best screenplay Oscar, this wonderful character piece is not always given the praise I think it deserves. Containing Leigh’s usual group of deftly observed human eccentrics, the story concentrates on a year in the life of middle-class couple – the Hepples. Superbly portrayed by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen this lovely couple are a familial magnet to various strays including the scatty and neurotic Mary (Lesley Manville) and depressed Ken (Peter Wright). It’s an affectionate and gentle dramedy with uniformly brilliant performances from Leigh’s wonderful cast.
Jonathan Glazer’s sophomore movie is often over-looked due to the coruscating power of his debut Sexy Beast (2000) and his most recent cinematic classic Under the Skin (2013). In this haunting drama a potentially disturbed ten-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) informs Nicole Kidman’s New Yorker Anna he is the reincarnated soul of her deceased husband. This fantastic curveball sends Anna’s life into an emotional spin as past and present events collide in a beautifully moving drama.
Let’s be honest there’s no way career criminal Michael Peterson deserves any real attention for his anti-social and violent behaviour, however, between them Tom Hardy and Nicolas Winding Refn have created an incredible character study of a genuine nutter. It’s brave, brutal, sick, theatrical, daring, Brechtian and an occasionally hilarious profile of one of Britain’s most notorious prisoners.
BUFFALO 66 (1998)
Vincent Gallo is either a genuine nut-job or a misunderstood genius maverick. His directorial effort The Brown Bunny (2003) was panned and on the main his acting career has remained patchy at best. However, he did write, direct and star in Buffalo 66 which is an absolutely blinding dark comedy about an ex-con who “kidnaps” Christina Ricci and forces her to be his wife so he can aspire to some sense of familial normality. It’s quirky and laugh-out-loud funny with Gallo weirdness throughout.
DARK CITY (1998)
This imaginative sci-fi noir had the misfortune of being released around the same time as The Matrix (1999). Yet while the Wachowski’s mind-bending-effects-heavy-actioner caught the eyes of the public, Alex Proyas’ more cerebral vision of the future kind of fell through the cracks of time and space. Rufus Sewell portrays an amnesiac that has no idea where he is before finding himself at the mercy of a group of people called The Strangers. It’s a brilliant melding of film noir and science fiction and remains a rarely seen gem from the 1990s.
GALAXY QUEST (1999)
While I enjoy the new Star Trek reboots as blockbusting if ephemeral popcorn entertainment, the best recent Trek adaptation/homage is the wonderful science-fiction comedy: Galaxy Quest. The inventive story delights with a cracking tale of former TV stars boldly propelled into space when proper aliens, Thermians – believing they are real space heroes – ask them to defeat their vicious nemesis. With a delightful ensemble cast including: Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub and irrepressible Sam Rockwell, this is a wonderfully funny and clever film which shines an affectionate light on the Trek canon and geek fan base.
So, the story is about a bloke on his phone driving up the motorway? Not a pitch that would grab Hollywood in-a-hurry, but a story that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic despite the limited setting. Ivan Locke is portrayed as a confident and determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. Tom Hardy plays Locke with incredible restraint and brooding anxiety while Steven Knight’s script is crisply written and full of suspense.
I love this film. It’s a real B-movie guilty pleasure with seismic underground monsters attacking a small back water town ironically named Perfection. The action bolts along and it wears its Jaws-in-the-dirt influences hilariously. Most of all I love the characters, notably Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s handyman buddies trying desperately to escape their dead end jobs. It’s a fun script with loads of action and great one-liners with Bacon himself having loads of fun without hamming it up.
TROPIC THUNDER (2008)
Films about filmmaking aren’t always the most interesting yet Ben Stiller’s riotous satire on Hollywood and its over-inflated egos is an absolute joy. Vulgar, over-the-top, stupid, childish and loud it delivers some incredible belly laughs from: the hilarious trailer parodies, to Robert Downey Juniors method acting madness and unrecognizable Tom Cruise as a ludicrously crass studio boss. The daft plot about actors getting kidnapped by a ruthless Vietnamese drug gangs provides an excellent framework for all manner of stupidity, on-the-money punchlines and explosive action.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t watch that many movies in May as I have been theming my viewing to British TV productions, so it was quality rather than quantity this month and with a big Antipodean feel.
As usual Marks out of Eleven follow the little review.
***MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD***
BLACK SEA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE
Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Scoot McNairy, Michael Smiley and a motley crew of Russians go down into the deep, dark recesses of the black ocean in search of Nazi gold. This effective B-movie is essentially The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) set underwater. The cast are excellent plus there are some thrilling and suspenseful scenes as greed and nationalist rivalry poisons the water amidst a series of disasters which strike the crew. This is perfect viewing for a damp Tuesday evening while eating pizza and drinking a beer. (Mark: 7/11)
CLOUDS OF SIL MARIA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE
This is the kind of intellectual-artsy-actor-fest that middle-class viewers and critics wank themselves lyrical about in the broadsheet press and online. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the triptych of performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moritz and the filmmaker Olivier Assayas tackles some interesting themes about identity, modern culture, death, aging, and the nature of performance. However, it’s pretty one-paced and has a head-scratching Bunuelian turn at the end of the second act which made no sense; I imagine that was the point. I didn’t even care enough to be perplexed as it just washed over me on the main with neither enough drama or comedy to get my teeth into. Some beautiful vistas and scenery though. (Mark: 6.5/11)
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015) – CINEMA
Apart from the moron-head who decided to eat crisps really loudly in the seat near me during the opening 10 minutes, I really enjoyed this wonderfully shot romantic drama from impressive filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg. Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel it stars Carey Mulligan as the fiercely independent Bathsheba who goes against the social tide of the time and attempts to run a successful farm despite the backward sexual politics.
This is a romantic period drama that even blokes can enjoy as the subject matter eschews the fluffery of Jane Austen for the harsher side of rural life. It’s Thomas Hardy-light with a brisk 120 minutes run through the narrative as Bathsheba is courted by three men of varying social standing and characterisation. Performances are top notch, notably from Michael Sheen as the pained William Boldwood and ever-sparkling Carey Mulligan. Matthias Schoenaerts, a striking Belgian actor, is also outstanding as the sturdy Gabriel Oak. (Mark: 8/11)
GALLIPOLI (1981) – BFI – CINEMA
I grew up watching this film; usually on a Sunday evening on BBC2 and when I saw it was screening at the BFI I jumped at the chance to watch it. It is a heart-wrenching World War One story concerning the Western Australian men who left their families to fight against the Turkish army during the brutal conflict. It follows two lads portrayed by Mark Lee and cusp-of-stardom Mel Gibson who at first are rival sprinters and then brothers-in-arms as they venture overseas to fight.
The screenplay is sinewy and powerful yet with much humour, as it builds their friendship from the outback to the trenches culminating in a truly tragic final reel. Peter Weir announced further his credentials as a filmmaker of high quality and the cinematography by Russell Boyd is a wonder. I also loved the use of music here which employs both modern synthesized pieces from Jean-Michel Jarre and marries it to more classical compositions by Strauss and Giazotto/Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. This is up there with my favourite Anti-War films of all time; majestic cinema at its peak. (Mark: 11/11)
MAD MAX (1979)/MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981) – NOW TV
I watched these kinda back-to-back with my teenage son and despite their age and low budgets both films stand up to further viewings. In fact, George Miller’s seminal violent-explosive-car-chase-revenge-punk-urban-westerns are best watched as a double bill.
In the first film Max is a hardened road cop who wants out so he can be with his young family. The roads have become a deadly place full of psychotic punks and sociopathic maniacs who rail against society without cause or reason. When Max is left a shell-of-a-man he goes after the gangs which done him wrong with rage-in-his-eyes and hell in his soul. This is an awesome film with more imagination, energy and pace than most bigger-budget blockbusters.
With Max’s character established so well the second film Miller throws an Apocalyptic curveball into the mix as we find future Max — a lone road warrior (aside from his Dog) — fighting even crazier road punks over ever-decreasing amounts of petrol. Mel Gibson really shines as the amoral leather-bound-petrol-head who gets dragged into the outback carmegeddon between a group of settlers and baddies led by the helmeted Lord Humungus. This film rocks big-time and is one of the greatest action-come-road movies ever and one which confirmed Gibson as a major movie star of the 80s! (Double-bill Mark: 10/11)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) – CINEMA
Tom Hardy takes on the iconic Max Rockatansky role in this revved-up-mega-budget-future-shooting-guitar-flame-throwing-blood-draining-crash-smash-and-burn epic. Haunted by past failure Max drives round the wasteland trying to survive. Suddenly he’s whisked away to be a mobile blood-bank at The Citadel and used to keep the cancerous War Boys alive with his pure blood. Enter Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa who is on a mission of her own to protect those she cares for from nefarious Immortan Joe; the Citadel Overlord!
There isn’t really any plot to speak of on the Fury Road but what you get is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore and some incredible stunts in a barren yet beautiful desert setting. Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema. One may argue that it is style-over-substance but the style IS the substance. The concepts on show such as the flame-throwing guitar; moving blood-banks; mud-people on stilts; assorted pimped-up cars and souped-up weapons are what impresses. As such George Miller proves himself a visionary filmmaker who owns the post-apocalypse on screen making it a terrifying and stunning experience. (Mark: 9.5/11)
MR TURNER (2014) – BLU RAY
I love Mike Leigh films. Most of them anyway. His unique slice-of-life style is quietly confident and steady and even if not much is happening one is often awestruck by colour, mood, composition, character and performance in his work. Indeed, Timothy Spall is on terrifically grouchy form as celebrated painter J. M. W. Turner and the supporting cast is equally brilliant.
I was mesmerized by the film’s composition and the glacial pace worked in the films’ favour as Leigh paints (sorry) an honest picture of Turner’s later years, artistic process and his relationships. I was surprised that the old dog was quite a philanderer but then again I didn’t know much about Turner if I’m honest. This is like walking round a beautiful-looking moving gallery and just breathing in the genius of Turner, Spall and Leigh. (Mark: 8/11)
But to recap: this is a sensational pitch black character piece that allies a powerful script with violent social satire; all glued together by an Oscar-worthy lead performance from the ever-excellent actor Jake Gyllenthaal. Indeed, he should have got AT LEAST a nomination for his performance as news-media-ladder-crawler sociopathic Lou Bloom. On re-watch this film is just as powerful and I was in awe of the incredible script, great acting, cutting direction and black humour throughout. Highly recommended. (Mark: 10/11)
OUIJA (2014) – BLU RAY
This film is a terrible movie; probably the worst I’ve seen all year. It follows a vague Final Destination structure as a series of college kids are wiped out by a demonic force that has “escaped” a Ouija Board. There are no redeeming qualities whatsoever and the most interesting fact I can tell you is that the original Ouija Board was in fact a game. No, I didn’t know that either. Yeah, and the rights to the board game were owned by Parker Brothers and now Hasbro. It was only in 1930s/40s onwards America that it was used by occultists and spiritualists. Who knows: perhaps people will one day be contacting the ‘other side’ using Transformers? You never know on this crazy planet! (Mark 1/11)