Tag Archives: Paul Laight

CINEMA FIX MARCH ROUND-UP – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (2018), ON THE BASIS OF SEX (2018) & CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME (2018)

CINEMA FIX REVIEWS – MARCH 2019 ROUND UP

Double busy recently with the cinema going, so here are a few reviews of the films I’ve watched this last month; all marked out of the usual eleven.

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (2018)

Maggie Gyllenhaal is brilliant once again as the titular lead protagonist who, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, discovers a young poetry prodigy and seeks to vicariously find meaning through the 5 year old boy. On the one hand an intelligent character drama, while on the other a tense, psychological arthouse thriller, The Kindergarten Teacher is a fascinating watch. Gyllenhaal radiates class in her performance, although her characters’ poor life choices toward the end made for some uncomfortable viewing. The narrative burns slowly but contains some great images and makes excellent observations about art, authorship and the sanctity of the teacher-pupil relationship. A remake of an Israeli film of the same name, Gyllenhaal is such an impressive actor, able to elicit empathy even when events turn dark at the denouement.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME (2018)

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are on excellent form in this “based on a true story” narrative concerning Lee Israel, a hard-up author and drunk, who forges a secondary career as a woman of letters. The only problem is they are not her letters. The smart script is full of fine dialogue exchanges, notably between Grant and McCarthy, however, the story left me cold as a whole. Indeed, I would say this is one of those over-rated independent features which gives time to an onerous human being who doesn’t deserve the time of day really. Despite the quality of the production I did not care for Israel, even from an anti-heroic perspective, and there just wasn’t enough drama for me throughout.

Mark: 7 out of 11

ON THE BASIS OF SEX (2018)

This is what I call a classic “Trailer Film.” Once you’ve seen the trailer – you’ve seen the film. The cast are uniformly decent in this biopic of the trailblazing lawyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg who fights, quite rightly, to break down the barriers between the sexes in society. Felicity Jones is impressive in the lead role and fine support comes from Armie Hammer and Justin Theroux. For all her incredible work I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserved a more interesting biopic because dramatically this is very much cinema-by-the-numbers. As a genre film it never really hits the heights of other more compelling courtroom dramas, with a soporific and tediously linear script, and a visual style more suited to an episode of Law and Order. Ultimately, it’s a credible tribute to a great legal mind who helped change society for the better, but dull as dishwater from a narrative and cinematic point-of-view.

Mark: 6 out of 11

THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

Created by: Michael Schur

Executive Producers: Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, Drew Goddard

Producers: David Hyman, Joe Mande, Megan Amram

Starring: Kristen Bell, Wiliam Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson

US Network: NBC / UK Platform: Netflix

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

Hell is other people.” Jean Paul Sartre

So I started watching The Good Place with expectations of it being another slickly written and performed, shiny, sparkly and goofy American sitcom. I figured I would check it out, give it a season, enjoy and then allow it to slide into viewing obscurity. However, little did I realise it was going to be one of the funniest, intelligent, imaginative, philosophical, slick, shiny, goofy and densely plotted television shows I had seen in years.

Created by uber-comedy-producer Michael Schur, The Good Place, has an immediately fascinating high-concept premise. Set in the ‘after-life’, it deals with the lives and deaths of four disparate characters, namely: Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto). They have all died and gone to a version of heaven, but there’s been a mistake. Eleanor is the snag. Due to a cosmic confusion she should not be there. Her behaviour ratings on Earth are so low she should have gone to ‘The Bad Place’ instead.

Frantically attempting to cover up this hellish mistake, the immoral, selfish and petualnt Eleanor enlists the indecisive but very moral Chidi to teach her how to be good. Thus, begins one of the major themes of the show: what does it mean to be a good person? As a moral philosophy professor when alive, Chidi, reluctantly agrees to train Eleanor. However, she is so inherently selfish it proves a tough task, and much humour comes from Chidi and Eleanor’s life perspectives clashing. Overseeing the “guests'” everyday lives are the architect/angel (arch-angel geddit!), Michael, played with the usual comic brilliance by Ted Danson; and super enthusiastic, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a personified, sentient, artificially-intelligent computer.

The Good Place starts strong with a brilliant premise and then cascades into a series of incredible events, flashbacks and character reveals, culminating in some hilarious and ingenious narrative twists. Michael Schur is a past master of ensemble comedy, having worked on the The Office (U.S.) and Parks and Recreation; and here his army of writers, actors, designers and effects team serve his fantastic vision superbly. Moreover, the cast zing out the screwball-comedy paced dialogue and gags with laser-sharp comedy timing, with Kristen Bell the pick of the lot. The flashback scenes which show Eleanor back on Earth illustrating why she should go to hell are particularly hilarious. Of course, she’s not precisely evil but very human; she’s just not very good at being human.

Thus, if you want a television show which is shiny on the outside but actually quite dark on the inside then this is for you. The Good Place makes you both laugh and think. It deals with death, religion, heaven, hell, human behaviour and also gives insight into basic philosophy. I mean, it’s educational too; you learn about Camus, Sartre, Kant, Mill and many more! Overall, all three seasons zip along full of zinging one-liners that had me breathless from start to finish and it has heart too. You get to love these characters, despite their faults, and the show certainly leaves you in a very good place.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

SIX OF THE BEST #14 – FILMS ON A TRAIN

SIX OF THE BEST #14 – FILMS ON A TRAIN

I love a good train film. They make perfect settings for suspense, thriller, horror, comedy and, in fact, any genre. This is because they contain movement, pace and a destination too. Above all else they trap the characters within a confined space, thus creating an abundance of opportunities for drama and action.

In this little article I pick out six of the best films I have seen that have been set mainly on a train. I omit films which, while they may have had a train or train station setting they also veered into other locations. Thus, for the purpose of this piece classics such as Strangers on a Train (1951), Brief Encounter (1945), Great Train Robbery (1903), and Source Code (2011) are cruelly omitted. Lastly, I’m sure there are loads I have missed off so please do suggest any.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976)

Germ warfare, a runaway train, European terrorists and and all-star cast feature in this pretty awful disaster movie which I absolutely loved watching as a kid. The cast get their payday and we get Martin Sheen, Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren, Richard Harris and OJ Simpson etc. all hamming it up to great effect.

THE LADY VANISHES (1938)

This is still one of my favourite Alfred Hitchcock films. Starring the radiant duo of Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, the sparks fly between the two amidst a fast-paced spy plot. Hitchcock takes his time establishing the characters at the start but really ratchets up the suspense when no one believes Lockwood’s assertion a woman has gone missing.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)

Agatha Christie was a genius and this story is one of her best. What we now consider to be a cliched genre, the “whodunnit”, was practically invented and reinvented by Christie and this one has a particularly brilliant plot and ending. Even though I know who committed the crime the starry cast in Sidney Lumet’s production are a joy to behold. Kenneth Branagh gave us a fine, if unnecessary, remake last year too.

SNOWPIERCER (2014)

Cruelly buried by the Weinstein studio, this under-rated graphic novel adaptation was absolutely brilliant. Set in an apocalyptic future, the train becomes an analogy for class struggle between the haves and have-nots. Bong Joon-ho directs Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton expertly, as the film marries social commentary and blistering action with aplomb.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (1974)

Another film I watched the hell out of as a teenager, this classic New York Metro set film is gritty, funny and as tense as waiting for test results. Walter Matthau provides the everyman charm as he attempts to negotiate with Robert Shaw’s menacing criminal. A big influence on Tarantino, this little classic remains one of the 1970s unheralded crime films.

TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

Zombies on a train – I’m in! What an amazing movie, as this kinetic mix of horror, family drama and action grabs you by the throat from the start and never lets go! While taking a lead from World War Z (2013), notably the ferocious plane set-piece, it surpasses that zombie film with an incredible pace, violence and unrelenting tension.

کفرناحوم‎ / CAPERNAUM / CHAOS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW – One of the most heart-breaking films you will ever see!

کفرناحوم‎ / CAPERNAUM / CHAOS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Nadine Labaki

Produced by: Michel Merkt, Khaled Mouzanar

Screenplay by: Madine Labaki, Jihad Hojaily, Michelle Keserwany

Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Bankole, Kawthar Al Haddad, Fadi Kamel Youssef, Nour El Husseini etc.

Cinematography: Christopher Aoun

Editing: Konstantin Bock

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The recent Oscars brought up more than its’ fair share of ceremonial, broadcast and social media celebration and moaning from the film creatives, public, critics and privileged millionaires alike. But hey everyone’s entitled to their opinion and has the freedom of speech to express said opinions about what should and shouldn’t win such frivolous industry trinkets. It’s a bit of fun and gets everyone talking about movies, society and life, which is always a good thing.

Yet, every now and then a film comes along which, while nominated for an award, does not win the prize it deserves. That film is the heart-ripping, social drama Capernaum (2018). This Lebanese film is one of the most emotonally impactful films I have ever seen and should not just have won ‘Best film in a Foreign Language’ at the Academy Awards, but should have won ‘Best Film’, in my humble view. While Roma (2018) was an expertly crafted love letter to Cuaron’s childhood and the women he grew up with, its’ characters are very passive and the slow moving style left me feeling tepid. Capernaum, on the other hand, is anything but tepid, as its’ hero is a dynamic firebrand who you cannot help but root for.

Set in contemporary Lebanon, the story is structured around a court-case where lead protagonist, Zain, a twelve or thirteen year old boy, is seeking to divorce his parents. Extensive flashbacks then reveal why Zain feels this strongly about his life and the hell he has to endure to survive and protect those he loves. Zain’s existence, like many street kids, refugees and families in Beirut, struggle daily under threat of death, disease and exploitation. When his younger sister is sold by his parents to their landlord to prevent eviction, Zain goes crazy. Following a violent row he is thrown onto the streets and is left to fend in the dirt and shadows. He find kindred friendship with Rahil, an undocumented Ethiopian woman, and Zain helps mind her young son, Yonas. Here the narrative screw is really turned as their lives spin further out of control.

With incredible scenes of documentary realism the director Nadine Labaki has delivered such a powerful in your face and frantic style. The streets of Beirut become a legal, social and religious prison for the characters, as forgers, paedophiles and traffickers threaten to rob the souls and bodies of Zain and his like. Moreover, the narrative makes incredible points regarding existence, posing whether people should be brought into the world to such suffering. Indeed, not all characters are as tough as Zain, who’s caring, resourceful, cheeky, tough, entrepreneurial and a born fighter.

I cannot speak highly enough of this film. If I ever feel down about my over-privileged life, then I just need to think of these characters and I will be humbled. For sure it is over-the-top in its’ melodramatic depiction and there are some unlikely narrative elements toward the end, but I did not care about those. It moved me immensely and the director and filmmaking team deserve so much credit turning twelve hours of shooting footage into such a coherently moving portrayal of existence. They even find time for some humour amidst the tragedy. Further, the actor who gave us Zain is himself a refugee and had never acted before, so to capture such energy on screen is amazing. Lastly, next time I selfishly think “my life sucks”, I will picture Zain pulling Yonas around the dusty streets of Beirut in an aluminium pot and be completely humbled.

Mark: 10 out of 11

ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (2018) – SHOWTIME REVIEW – Cinematic TV drama of the highest quality!

ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (2018) – SHOWTIME TV REVIEW

Created by: Brett Johnson, Michael Tolkin

Directed by: Ben Stiller

Writers: Brett Johnson, Jerry Stahl, Michael Tolkin

Starring: Patrica Arquette, Benicio del Toro, Paul Dano, Bonnie Hunt, Eric Lange, David Morse etc.

Episodes: 8

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Patricia Arquette as Tilly in Escape at Dannemora (Episode 1)

“Based on a true story” is a sentence we often find before many television dramas and feature films. It goes without saying that some are truer to their source events than others. The recent Oscar winner Green Book (2018), is a case in point, with the family of Dr Shirley quite rightly up in arms about the incorrect representations of family history on screen. Having said that, and despite the rather simplistic political rendition of race relations in said film, if I enjoy something I’m not bothered too much about historical accuracy. What one is after is a flavour and authenticity of truth. I accept that the truth should not get in the way of good drama and lets be honest Hollywood has never been frightened of downright fabrication to tell its tall tales. Obviously, one refutes ridiculous or incredible lies but ultimately, if you don’t like the bending of reality then stop watching films and television.

Based on the “true story” of a prison escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility, New York, during 2015, this superior genre serial is gritty and authentic and feels so real in the direction and performances it hurts. Whether it’s the truth is another story, yet what the writers and director Ben Stiller have delivered are eight episodes of cinematic television of the highest order. It begins and moves at a very slow pace establishing the aftermath of the main events, before flashing back and setting the scenes month-by-month of the personalities and their respective actions.

The first character we meet is Patricia Arquette’s brassy machine room supervisor, Tilly Mitchell. She’s bold and ballsy and dominates her relationship with husband, Lyle. Lyle himself, is portrayed effectively by Eric Lange as a tragic and loyal simpleton. Both of them are bad hair, big teeth and strangled accents, trapped by their class, work and lack of finance. While Lyle simply accepts his lot, Tilly is drawn to the prisoners she is meant to be supervising and ventures into illegal and inappropriate behaviour with the inmates. Arquette absolutely nails the humanity of a character who, in her fifties stuck in a dead-end job, desperately seeks attention and excitement. This makes her a hard target in such a masculine and testosteronic environment. However, she is more than happy to encourage and collude with said prisoners.

Prison dramas have always presented a fascinating way of analysing human nature and behaviour. The individuals are trapped in enclosed spaces and given many inmates’ proclivity to violence, they soon become a powder keg of fizzing egos and surging tension. Casting superb actors such as Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano in the leads was a masterstroke. Both are expert at playing complex human beings and one of the challenges for a writer can be to get empathy for characters that are imprisoned for violent crimes. Yet, the actors, writers and director all manage to balance the tension between representing antagonistic characters in a sympathetic light. Indeed, even though we know Del Toro’s Richard Matt and Dano’s David Sweat are dangerous criminals, the story really drags us into their painstakingly patient escape work. Each episode builds obstacles they must overcome, almost until the suspense becomes unbearable. Lastly, while Dano’s tunnel-vision determination moves them toward the light, Del Toro’s manipulative hard man controls both Tilly and David Morse’s prison guard, Gene Palmer.

Overall, this is a superior prison genre serial; virtually cinematic in its casting, direction, locations, setting and performance. It takes a familiar narrative of a prison escape but transcends the genre with Arquette’s, Del Toro’s and Dano’s incredibly human and believable performances. These are not likable characters and they are not even anti-heroes to root for. Undoubtedly, though the Showtime production delivers as compelling a character drama as you’re likely to see all year. Director Ben Stiller deserves credit too for delivering a consistently balanced body of work here. Known more for his comedic film output there’s a maturity to Escape at Dannemara which offers authenticity in character and setting. If Stiller and his writers have bent the truth in any way then it does not offend my sensibilities; in fact I openly welcome it when the outcome is as absorbing as this.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #6 – ‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME’ – CABARET (1972)

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #6 – ‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME’ – CABARET (1972)

Directed by: Bob Fosse

Produced by: Cy Feuer

Screenplay by Jay Allen – Based on Cabaret by Joe Masteroff

Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson

Songs: John Kander & Fred Ebb (Lyrics) – Score: Ralph Burns

Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth

**CONTAINS PLOT AND THEME SPOILERS**

Cabaret (1972) was that strange thing: a dark, satirical, sexual, explicit and cynical musical. I only actually watched it for the first time last year and thought it was a true classic; and I don’t usually enjoy musicals as a rule. Not only is the direction, writing, choreography and performance brilliant but from a thematic perspective it was took risks in regard to gender and sexual representations. Moreover, the historical themes are very compelling too. The film would garner many Oscars and was a critical and commercial smash, sending Liza Minnelli to super-stardom at the same time.

Set in Berlin, the narrative concerns a variety of characters that appear at, or attend the infamous Kit Kat Club. Episodic in structure the main stories focus on the loves and losses of the likes of singer Sally Bowles (Minnelli), writer, Brian Roberts (Michael York) and German playoy, Baron Max Von Heune (Helmut Griem). Interspersed within the drama are the songs from the stage of the Kit Kat Club, introduced by the seedy Master of Ceremonies, portrayed by Joel Grey. Furthermore, the film charts the movement from the bohemian freedom of the Weimar Republic to the threat of the looming National Socialist Party as it insidiously bleeds into the German political landscape.

This change is seen to chilling effect in the only song featured outside the club, namely, ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’. In this classic scene we begin innocently enough with the angelic singing of a teenage boy. As he continues to sing we cut to the crowd listening intently. Then the camera pans down and it’s revealed the boy is a member of the Hitler Youth. Suddenly, the portentous horror of the situation is all too apparent and the song becomes an unsettling reminder of grim future events. As members of the crowd join in fervently with the song, we know, we just know it’s the end of innocence for the German people and the world.

BOY ERASED (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

BOY ERASED (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Joel Edgerton

Screenplay by: Joel Edgerton – Based on: Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrad Conley

Produced by: Joel Edgerton, Steve Golin, Kerry Kochansky Roberts

Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn, Xavier Dolan, Cherry Jones, Flea etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

It never fails to sadden me the horror that other human beings inflict on each other out of ignorance, intolerance and misguided indoctrination. Boy Erased (2018), is a film that highlights such negative practices committed by parents on their actual children because they are perceived to be abnormal in their eyes and the rules of their faith. I’m not religious but respect those who have different beliefs to me, unless of course those beliefs are used to castigate and punish other human beings. Surely, the basic tenet of any religion, including Christianity, should be kindness, understanding and forgiveness. When such integral ideals are broken then such doctrine should be shunned and held up for criticism.

Boy Erased is based on Garrad Conley’s memoir of how his religious parents send him for gay conversion therapy, and the film is structured around the sad events which occurred to Garrad. Conley’s persona and emotional strife is evoked brilliantly in the character of Jared Eamons. Portrayed with sensitivity by the talented Lucas Hedges, the humanity and empathy he delivers is highly impactful. Jared is an innocent who is undeservedly thrust into an unnatural and bullying environment, forcing him to change his sexual identity through shame and persecution.

The main thrust of the film finds Jared at the assessment centre and this brings about some harrowing scenes where young men and women are effectivelly imprisoned and vilified in the name of God. While certain scenes are emotionally charged and disturbing the film could have gone even further, however, director Joel Edgerton wisely opts for more subtlety rather than “fire and brimstone” tabloid filmmaking. Indeed, Edgerton and his cinematographer opt for a drained colour scheme and natural lighting style to evoke realism within the action.

Edgerton not only directs and writes with purpose, but also casts himself as the main antagonist and lead “therapist”, Victor Sykes. Sykes is seen as dominating but ultimately weak-willed, deflective and controlling. As Jared’s parents, Nicole Kidman gives a solid performance in the role of his conflicted Mother, while Russell Crowe imbues his preacher with both religious fervour and a sense of torn loyalty. Jared’s parents, in the end, are not bad people. They have just been faced with a difficult situation and are advised badly by their faith and Church.

Ultimately, this is a quietly compelling character drama which highlights very important issues in regard to faith, sexuality and family. I’m not sure why it wasn’t acknowledged more by the Academy Awards, notably in Lucas Hedges fine performace. Nonetheless, it is an important story which is constructed with care. Rather than demonize families and religion, it seeks to highlight and campaign for education, tolerance and love. These things, for me, are what true faith should be about.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11