I started this blog in October 2013 with a review of a low budget sci-fi film called Arrival of Wang (2013). 500 posts later and I am still going. I, like many, don’t make any money out of writing this blog, but I really enjoy it. I have also made connections with other bloggers and film fans all over the world and I find that brilliant too.
I thought it may be interesting to look at the TOP TEN most viewed reviews or articles I have written. So, excluding views for the Home page/Archives clicks, here are the top ten articles with links in the heading.
HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin is one of the greatest television narratives ever. Full of action, intrigue, treachery, quests, sex and murder, it also had some great dialogue. Here I listed six great speeches from the show.
I still cannot believe that Rik Mayall is dead. He was such a hero of mine growing up and genuinely one of the funniest people that ever existed. R.I.P Rik Mayall! This article is a tribute to both his genius and my love of one of his hilarious TV comedies: Mr Jolly Lives Next Door.
Another classic film scene from another classic film gets into the top ten! I should probably write more of these!! Sergio Leone’s gangster epic is rarely screened on television but it is as amazing as it is long.
Ken Loach is one of my favourite filmmakers in terms of both quality and consistency of cinematic output. His incredibly raw depiction of Northern life in Kes (1969) gave us many memorable scenes, including this one about the injustices of the education system.
Aside from reviews of past and present films and TV shows, I occasionally do more focused articles. This one picked some great films that tell their story in one hundred minutes or less. Maybe I should do one about classic films over one hundred and eighty minutes too?
Perhaps it’s because “sex” is included in the tags of this review of Park Chan-Wook’s erotically charged crime noir, or because it is brilliantly written, who knows! Anyway, it’s the highest seen new release review so it must be of some interest to some people.
THE END OF THE WORLD
Well, that’s the top ten most viewed articles out of the five hundred I have posted. For the record, the LEAST viewed article with only SEVEN VIEWS is this one: APOCALYPSE WHEN? VISIONS OF FUTURE EARTH! It goes to show that no one is interested in reading about filmic visions of the end of the world. C’est la vie!
I watched a load of films in October due to the London Film Festival mainly. I also wrote a lot of reviews too and realise that, with not enough hours in the day, or desire to read the ramblings of a narcissistic cineaste most people may not have had the time to read them all.
So, I have consolidated all my October reviews into one post and made it a quick and easy reference point for films currently out or coming out in the future. Here are quotes from the reviews with the usual marks out of eleven!
A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018)
“Director Feig is able to blend the comedy, noir and thriller very well. While I would have preferred the tone to be darker we may not have got Blake Lively’s stunning comedic turn as the bitchy femme fatale, and that is worth the admission fee alone.”
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
A STAR IS BORN (2018)
A Star Is Born (2018) is a great cinematic experience. The story is familiar but the performances, direction and the songs all combine to create a very emotional journey; making a fine example of classic Hollywood storytelling at its best.
(Mark: 9 out of 11)
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
“Overall, Drew Goddard deserves praise for delivering a very sharp script. . . mainly style over substance, ultimately this is a satisfying B-movie-pulp-fiction-violent-extravaganza with twists that provide an entertaining blast in the noir night sky.”
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)
“… feels like Coens-lite, without the existential depth of No Country for Old Men (2007). However, the Coen’s films improve with each viewing as you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance occurring between the lines.”
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
“. . . is very brave filmmaking with fascinating themes relating to: ritual and child abuse; nature versus nurture; good versus evil; and how those humanity believes to be outsiders should not be treated as monsters but respect and love.”
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
“Overall, this film made me feel really sad. This is a haunting character study of the outsider; a man who is literally like a dog. He is faithful, loyal and eager to please but ultimately let down by the human cruelty of those who exploit him.”
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE FAVOURITE (2018)
“Lanthimos’ direction of his three stellar leading actors is superb; with Olivia Colman delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. Weisz and Stone are also quite brilliant in a devilishly quirky Machiavellian and lustful tale.”
(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
FIRST MAN (2018)
“. . . is methodical, slow-burn and restrained in performance and shows Chazelle’s expert range. It is a wonderfully striking film. The visuals and scientific renditions relating to space travel are incredible and contains a moving human story at the heart.”
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE NUN (2018)
“. . . has lots of shadows, darkness, blood, screams and a gruesome supernatural monster but, despite Farmiga’s committed performance, makes little narrative sense and suffers from poor characterisation.”
(Mark: 5 out of 11)
“Peterloo 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. . .”
(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
THE PREDATOR (2018)
“. . . is a mash-up of: science fiction, action, war, spy, and TV-movie-of-the-week tropes. It moves at such an alarming pace you get an explosive film which, while moving rapidly, does not make much logical sense.”
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
“What works is the connection between Brock and his extra-terrestrial host. . . it’s turned into something of a comedy double act; albeit with Venom biting the heads off baddies. Tom Hardy’s rat-a-tat spats with his parasite make it worth a watch!”
It goes without saying that I watch a lot of films and have over the last few years reviewed quite a few too. The last three I saw at the cinema were a bit hit and miss yet overall serviceable examples of, despite their flaws, the Hollywood genre film. The genre film is the staple of the Hollywood production model and the word genre can be used to describe and organize films according to: type, style, form, characteristics and marketing possibilities. Moreover, certain movie stars and actors would become synonymous with movie types such as: John Wayne and the Western; Humphrey Bogart and the crime or noir drama; Arnold Schwarzenegger and the action film; plus directors such as Martin Scorsese making a cinematic mark with the gangster film. In the 1950s genre film theory was debated by academics such as Andre Bazin. From then on many a film degree essay was delivered and arguments ensued between auteur and genre theories. More importantly the Hollywood movie-making monster which rose from the 1920s onwards used genre conventions and tropes, along with the star system, to promote a formula of mass production within their cinematic releases.
Such genre production is still very much in place today. But, as audiences get seemingly both attention-deficient and more cinema-knowing the melding of genres is very much a postmodern trend for the now. While a perennial spy classic like James Bond still holds onto the genre conventions like: gadgets, action and over-the-top villains, films such as American Werewolf in London (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Shaun of the Dead (2004) successfully combined horror and comedy. Furthermore, of late Marvel instilled many of their superhero films with properties from the heist, thriller, comedy and horror genres in order differentiate and market their stories. Indeed, filmmaking has become so sophisticated some filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers cross a multitude of genres within their works. As so happens I watched three proper genre films at the cinema recently so would like to review them from both a critical and genre perspective. As usual I will give them marks out of eleven.
THE NUN (2018)
As marketing departments attempt to find new ways to promote their products we have now entered the arena of the film “Universe”. This finds events, characters, places and in this case, demons, all linked within the same historical timeline and world. The Nun is part of The Conjuring “Universe”. The demonic monster Valak first appeared in the James Wan sequel The Conjuring 2 (2016); thus, within the horror genre The Nun is both a prequel and origins film. Set in 1950s Romania is concerns a haunted Catholic nunnery which is under threat from an unholy evil. Taissa Farmiga’s novice Nun and Demian Bechir’s grizzled Father Burke are dispatched to have a look about and of course are thrown into a face-off with something from the pits of hell.
The main genre requirement of a horror film is to create fear and excitement in the audience and while The Conjuring films, directed by the brilliant James Wan did just that, this film is, aside from a couple of moments, not scary enough. It has lots of shadows, darkness, blood, screams and a gruesome supernatural monster but, despite Farmiga’s committed performance, makes little narrative sense and suffers from poor characterisation. Having said that, while watching The Nun, I at times felt it was on the cusp of being a surrealist horror classic with much hallucinatory trickery of a “what’s real and what isn’t real” variety. However, by the end I decided that while the director is clearly a talented filmmaker the screenplay did not really serve the horror genre or story well as it was illogical at best and had no defining “rules of the world” substance. Ultimately, though the main draw for studios is that horror films are one of the cheapest genre films to make yet reap rewards from the cinema-paying public. Indeed, The Nun has so far grossed $330 million dollars from a $20 million outlay. Now, that is scary!!
(Mark: 5 out of 11)
THE PREDATOR (2018)
Talking of genre-crossing directors, the writer and director of The Predator (2018), Shane Black has had an interesting career trajectory. He was a supporting actor in the original classic Predator (1987) and would subsequently become a more successful screenwriter and wrote scripts for: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Last Action Hero (1993) and most memorably Lethal Weapon (1987). Such movies put Black firmly in the Hollywood blockbuster territory so it was no surprise when Marvel employed him to write and direct Iron Man 3 (2013). Arguably his best films though were the buddy-buddy comedy-thrillers Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and The Nice Guys (2016) which benefited from great chemistry from their male leads. Coming full circle then to write and direct The Predator (2018), Black has delivered the best elements of his genre work but also the worst. He’s often a writer of excess, with a succession of ideas, gags, set-ups and punchlines which, if allied to a decent story, create a barrage of fine entertainment.
From a genre perspective The Predator is a mash-up of: science fiction, action, war, spy, and TV-movie-of-the-week tropes. It moves at such an alarming pace you barely have a chance to breathe. In a nutshell Boyd Holbrook’s crack soldier must save his son and the world from both nefarious Government agents and not just one Predator, but another incredibly kick-ass uber-Predator. Chuck in a dirty-half-dozen motley crew of “insane” soldiers, plus an autistic kid (Jacob Tremblay) who may or may not have the power to defeat the Predators, and you get an explosive film which, while moving rapidly, does not make much logical sense in places. For example, characters, vehicles and animals pop up in the narrative out of nowhere then disappear, which created a hell of a lot of confusion for me. Still, Black is a great writer of concepts and punchy dialogue so you’re never far away from something cool-looking, something blowing up or a funny gag or three. It’s just a shame the story was so confusing and plot delivered in such an illogical fashion.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018)
Once again here is a filmmaker who, while predominantly working from a genre perspective has taken their comedic skills and light touch and infused it within other genres. Indeed, the very talented Paul Feig has marshalled some extremely funny films and TV shows in recent times including: The Office (U.S.), Arrested Development (2004), Nurse Jackie (2009), Bridesmaids (2011) and Spy (2015). His Ghostbusters (2016) update starring Melissa McCarthy was arguably not very successful from both a genre or reboot perspective, however, his latest film A Simple Favour (2018) is much, much better. It stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, as polar-opposite mums, whose paths criss-cross one fateful day when the latter asks the other to look after her son. Blake Lively absolutely nails her role as the stylish, beautiful and brutally honest PR executive. Her spiteful Emily Nelson is a career best performance and when her character vanishes, the effervescent Kendrick’s go-getting, busy-body-single-mom, Stephanie Smothers, decides to hunt for her “friend”.
What follows is more comedic but still suspenseful as the plot twists from one exciting turn to another. As the unlikely detective Kendrick hilariously enlists the help of her “Mums-Net” video-log subscribers in trying to track down Emily. As the story moves forward Emily’s husband (Henry Golding) and Stephanie herself become suspects until the final revelations dig up something totally unexpected. A Simple Favour is the most successful of the genre films I watched. Feig is able to blend the comedy, noir and thriller very well and while I would have preferred the tone to be darker, I accept that Feig is what I call a “day” director; in that all his scenes seem to happen during the day. Thus, in the hands of say, David Fincher, the original novel this is based on would have been a totally different beast. Having said that we may not have got Blake Lively’s stunning comedic turn as the bitchy femme fatale and that is worth the admission fee alone.
I watch a lot of stuff. It keeps me out of the pub and my liver safe from further harm. In between a July dominated by the World Cup in Russia, over the last few months I’ve been mainly re-watching Star Trek (OST) and catching up with the first two seasons of Mad Men in my downtime. But, in the last month, I decided to have a break from those fine shows and catch up with some movies via Netflix and Sky. I also include some quick reviews of a few films I saw at the cinema too. All reviews are, as usual marked out of eleven.
ALONE IN BERLIN (2016) – NETFLIX
Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson give subtle and compelling performances in this excellent WW2 drama. They portray a German couple who have lost their son in the fighting and retaliate by waging a ‘quiet’ war distributing anti-Hitler leaflets.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
ANON (2018) – SKY CINEMA
Clive Owen stands out in this under-cooked sci-fi drama inspired by Philip K. Dick and Black Mirror. He’s a future cop where crime is contained by point-of-view surveillance techniques. The idea is stronger than execution as it falls apart in the final act. (
Mark: 6 out of 11)
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Luca Guadagnino’s direction is exquisite, while Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet are exceptional in their portrayal of romance in 1980s Italy. A fantastic soundtrack and beautiful scenery cannot save the characters who I found narcissistic and tedious.
(Mark: 6 out of 11)
CARGO (2018) – NETFLIX
Martin Freeman leads the cast in this Australian horror film which finds his kind father at the mercy of outback zombies. It’s a slow moving film which offers characterization over gore, effective moments of tension and the always dependable Freeman.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
DEEP WATER HORIZON (2016) – NETFLIX
This is an intelligent disaster movie about one of the biggest oil spills ever. BP’s drilling practices are criticized as the slow-build direction gives way to explosive action at the end. Overall, the excellent cast and script make this a very compelling drama.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GIFTED (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Chris Evans takes a break from both battling Hydra with an altogether more everyday fight. He plays guardian and uncle to a gifted child (brilliant Mackenna Grace) who finds himself in a bitter custody battle for the child, in a very touching human drama.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
GODS OF EGYPT (2017) – NETFLIX
This is a really bad attempt at creating a Star Wars like franchise in mythical Egypt. Gerard Butler shouts throughout as though he’d swallowed the Brian Blessed guide to acting! Terrible waste of $150 million and my precious time.
(Mark: 4 out of 11)
HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Groundhog Day (1993) meets slasher film as College super-brat portrayed by Jessica Rothe finds herself dying again and again in various horrific ways. Turning detective she must solve her own murder in this derivative but well executed horror movie.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017) – NETFLIX
Ryan Reynolds’ cynical performance and Samuel L. Jackson’s sparky turn make this assassin-action-film very watchable. Reynolds has to get Jackson to The Hague to testify against a nasty dictator; cue bullets, car chases and one-liners galore!
In Fallen Kingdom Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, once again pits their wits against mighty prehistoric creatures. J. A. Bayona brings a gothic style to the final act but ultimately, despite the incredible effects on show, the narrative feels tired.
(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE
The intense Ben Foster and brilliant newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie act their hearts out in this subtle family road movie. Opting out of society they play father and daughter attempting to stay ahead of the authorities in a very touching and heartfelt drama.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2017) – NETFLIX
Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are acting stand-outs in this watchable murder mystery set in Victorian London. The cinematography is impressively moody, however, the narrative runs out of steam by the time the twist kicks in.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
OCEANS 8 (2018) – ODEON CINEMA
An excellent ensemble cast including: Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter etc. cannot save this by-the-numbers heist film. It looks gorgeous but was low on jeopardy and ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters.
(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014) – NETFLIX
Alice Vikander is outstanding in this heart-breaking story of the impact of World War One on Vera Brittain and those she loves. Based on a seminal work of literature, it features themes relating to: war, death, pacifism, violence and the struggle of women combatting everyday prejudice. It’s very touching story, stellar cast and deeply empathetic characters which make it a highly recommended period drama.
(Mark: 9 out of 11)
WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY (2018) – NETFLIX
Always interesting Noomi Rapace stars as septuplets in hiding during a dystopic future that allows one child per family. The intriguing premise starts well but gives way to O.T.T violence which detracts a tad from an otherwise entertaining sci-fi film.
Technically speaking all films made can be labelled World Cinema because all films made were made on this Earth or World. As yet we know of no movies from other planets, so World Cinema has come to refer to films made in a foreign language or language other than English. I mean what do people from other countries call films made in English? And does it matter. All this fluffing is really a means to introduce a selection of films from various countries other than the United Kingdom (another debatable term these days), that I have watched at the cinema, on DVD or streamed off the box. As usual I accompany my reviews with marks out of eleven.
**A SUGGESTION OF SPOILERS**
THE INNOCENTS (2016) – FRANCE / POLAND
Brace yourself for a truly heart-breaking and tragic WW2 narrative. This film inspired by true events finds a young French doctor assisting a nunnery and the various occupants who became victim to vicious rapist Soviet soldiers. This is a grim story that is shot and directed with great pathos and compassion. It brought a heavy heart and a tear to the eye as the heroic women battle against the dogs of war, while bringing new life into this retched world.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
ISLE OF DOGS (2018) – JAPAN / USA
Put aside ridiculous millennial online accusations of cultural appropriation and submerge yourself within Wes Anderson’s rich narrative and stop-motion tapestry. I’m not always a fan of his story subjects but he is a master of style and form. Isle of Dogs is no different and was a wonderful cinematic experience. Set, obviously, in Japan we concentrate on, hence the title, a bunch of stray dogs dumped on a wasteland left to die. This is much darker than prior Anderson films but full of the imagination, wit, colour and brilliant technique, containing funny gags and twisting drama throughout.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
JULIETA (2016) – SPAIN
I only really got into Pedro Almodovar’s cinema in the last few years and Julieta, while not as complex in terms of structure as other films, is just as emotionally effective.It concerns our eponymous protagonist who on chancing an encounter with her estranged daughter’s former school mate finds her past colliding disastrously with her future. Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte portray the older and younger versions of Julieta as she reflects on the events which tore her life apart. Containing some beautiful filmmaking and one incredible cut halfway through, this is mournful, meditative and mature storytelling of the highest order.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
L’AVVENTURA (1960) – ITALY
Michelangelo Antonioni is rightly lauded as one of the great Italian auteurs. He has directed some incredible films including: Blow Up (1966), The Passenger (1975) and the film L’Notte (1961). I watched L’Avventura on a Sunday morning and perhaps I wasn’t in the mood but it did not connect with me. I found it slow and pretentious and while the mystery of a missing socialite had some element of suspense the rich, narcissistic characters bored me. The acting from Monica Vitti was especially impactful and the scenery was beautiful, however, Antonioni’s existential narrative was a let-down. It was especially surprising to find that historically the film had been voted one of the best films ever made.
Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) – HONG KONG
I recorded this one on Film Four on a whim having been drawn in by the fact it was directed by the Shaw Brothers Studio. Their films were of course a massive influence on Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003/4) duo of kung-Fu revenge films. The One-Armed Swordsman I found to be slightly cheesy due to the dubbing but overall an excellent wuxia epic with loads of great sword fights and a very effective narrative. Ultimately this is Great Expectations with weapons as a young servant child is adopted by a rich family only to grow up disrespected by his adopted siblings. Gang warfare rages in the rural territories and the young man grows up to be a fighter of some repute; even with only one arm. Both a tremendous action film and effective socialist critique of the ruling classes I found this an entertaining, funny and emotional wuxia classic.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE SQUARE (2017) – SWEDEN / FRANCE / GERMANY
The 2017 Cannes Palm D’Or winner is half brilliantly funny arthouse satire and half sub-Haneke allegorical mid-life crisis thriller. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund this is bravura cinema of the highest order as we find Claes Bang’s museum curator bumbling through various work, romance and private disasters. Throughout there are some wonderful digs at the nature of modern art and how essentially people will believe any old crap to be art if it is put in a gallery. There are a number of hilarious satirical set-pieces including the “Tourette’s” scene and the “performance ape-ist” scene. While a tad overlong and bogged down slightly in the lead protagonist’s personal life this is a wonderfully, funny film with some great commentary on modern art, mocking of the bourgeoisie and a warning re: the rise of social media.
(Mark: 9 out of 11)
SHIN GODZILLA (2016) – JAPAN
Having seen Hollywood appropriate their Gojira creation for two films in 1998 and 2014, the Japanese released their own resurgent version in 2016. Part-disaster-part-monster-part-social-commentary this creature feature is actually pretty good. It is driven structurally at first by a flurry of government meetings where hundreds of officials spend their time in meetings rather than actually solve anything. Clearly, this is a critique of Japanese government bureaucracy and the movie works well on that level. The characters who later come to the fore are left behind somewhat and the romantic subplot is poorly done. Yet, when the Godzilla monster brings Tokyo to the edge of destruction the effects, while a bit wonky in places, are a riotous mix of laser CGI and man-in-suit-green-screen shots.
Over the past few months I’ve focussed my extra-curricular viewing on BBC produced dramas via the BBC channels and catch-up on Netflix. The British Broadcasting Corporation, being the public-service-tax-payer-funded-beast that it is has a commitment to produce quality programming for national viewing and also overseas sales too. I then got to thinking; why not check out where some of my £12.12 per month money goes. So, here are some bitesize reviews of recent BBC dramas with marks out of the usual eleven.
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
THE CHILD IN TIME (2017)
Based on Ian McEwan’s prize-winning novel this was an interesting drama which worked in many respects but did not quite connect in others. Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly McDonald are parents whose child goes missing while out shopping. The drama and grief of this was very well evoked but the supporting story of a publisher’s regression and mental collapse did not quite thematically meld for me. No doubt McEwan’s original source is a master work and I enjoyed many of the emotional moments provided by the excellent acting. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
DOCTOR FOSTER – SEASON 1 (2015) + SEASON 2 (2017)
Suranne Jones is absolutely stunning in this domestic drama written by Mike Bartlett. She acts her heart and soul out as the eponymous GP, who in the face of her husband’s suspected infidelity, attempts to find both the truth and maintain her family unit and sanity. It’s a brilliantly written TV series which creates great drama from the “whodunnit” aspect of the potential spousal treachery. Plus, in addition to the Hitchcockian elements Dr Foster herself is very unpredictable in her actions; making for some nail-biting scenes. Bertie Carvel also excels as the charismatic husband and the second season, while not reaching the emotional heights of the first, and feeling more contrived, had some decent dramatic twists too.
(Season 1 – Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
(Season 2 – Mark: 8 out of 11)
LONDON SPY (2015)
The always-impactful actor Ben Whishaw is superbly supported by thespian giants Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling in this obtuse spy thriller. Playing a troubled warehouse worker called Danny, Whishaw falls for the enigmatic genius, Alex (Edward Holcroft); and is thrown into a murky and murderous world of spymasters and upper-class family feuds. Beautifully acted and designed the story moved too slowly for me. Over five episodes the slow-bleed plot of character despair, double-crosses and cover-ups did not sustain the suspense and tension throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL (2012)
Suranne Jones (again!) leads the acting line in an earlier post-Coronation Street role. She portrays a mother who, along with her family, seeks the solace of the countryside after their young child has gone missing. However, the house they reside in is haunted by ghosts from the past and as the family attempt to overcome their grief, evil spirits threaten their present. The contemporary narrative works well with the wartime scenes in a decent haunted house scenario that was adapted from the book by horror legend James Herbert; also featuring an early role for Maisie Williams. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SMALL ISLAND (2009)
Notable for its excellent ensemble cast and featuring before-they-were-famous roles for: Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, Naomi Harris, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ashley Walters, this excellent drama focussed on the war and post-war lives of several disparate characters whose lives become intertwined by fate. Based on Andrea Levy’s novel it is especially rich in regard to the diasporic characterizations and experiences of Jamaican immigrants in war-torn England. The writing is solid and there’s some fine acting and emotional moments to keep one enthralled and I enjoyed how the stories dovetailed dramatically at the end. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
TOP OF THE LAKE (2013)
Hey, what if Jane Campion wrote and directed a cop drama? Well, the answer is Top of the Lake! This is a slow-burn, who-why-how-dunnit with a superb cast, beautiful New Zealand vistas and eccentric, dark characters. Some may find it too slow and artsy, while certain decisions by the characters and plot turns were intriguingly weird. However, Elizabeth Moss excels as the burnt-out cop (is there any other kind?) searching for a missing pregnant teenager, while Peter Mullan is suitably vicious as the rural patriarch; and Holly Hunter is fantastic too as the leader of a women’s commune. Overall, Campion’s barbed world-view satirizes humanity and cop show clichés in a compelling crime drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
TOP OF THE LAKE 2: CHINA GIRL (2017)
Screened earlier this year on the BBC, the follow-up finds Elizabeth Moss, now back in Sydney, tracking down the killer of an Asian prostitute while battling illegal adoption rings and all manner of sexist-pig-men. Like the original it pulls you in with its richly drawn characters and brilliant cast all committing to the lurid and quirky plotlines. Moss is always reliable and does the brooding, melancholic and troubled cop perfectly, while Nicole Kidman is brilliant as the middle-class academic out of her depth with the emotions of her adopted daughter. The sinister beta-male-nemesis Puss portrayed by David Dencik was a great rendition of spurious masculinity while it was great to see Gwendoline Christie out of her Game of Thrones armour, as a naïve rookie cop assisting Moss’ detective. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
TRUST ME (2017)
Jodie “New Doctor Who” Whittaker leads the cast as a downtrodden nurse and single-mum struggling with an NHS cover-up over poor service delivery. Faced with the sack she decides to engage in a cover-up herself by taking on the identity of a Doctor; and then the real drama kicks in. Whittaker is very empathetic and natural, while the suspense was very thrilling at times as her character gets deeper and deeper into the mire. Overall, it was a very tense and fun medical drama which made some very good social points in regards to a Doctors’ life and the NHS in general. Ultimately, it made me appreciate what the NHS does for us but also want to avoid getting ill in the future too!
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
WAR AND PEACE (2016)
Well, the BBC certainly pushed the budget boat out on this one with a who’s who of new and experienced acting talent including: Jim Broadbent, Paul Dano, Lily James, Tuppence Middleton, Aneurin Barnard, Adrian Edmondson, Jessie Buckley, Tom Burke, Rebecca Front, Greta Scacchi, Brian Cox, Stephen Rea, Gillian Anderson and many more. Adapting Tolstoy’s gigantic and classic doorstop novel must have been some feat and it is indeed and sumptuous and incredible production. As a drama it drew me in with its’ stories of over-privileged Russian lives set during the Napoleonic wars as they live, love, cheat, duel, war and die. Yet, while I did not feel too much empathy for the characters, the acting, design and directing is a joy to behold and I garnered a certain hypnotic pleasure bathing in the high quality of the whole shebang. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SCREENWASH CINEMA ROUND-UP – AUGUST 2017 – REVIEWS
A Ghost Story (2017) – review here – was the most impactful and original film I saw in August from a cinematic perspective, however, the other films I saw were very well rendered too. All three were “based on a true story” and had many elements that made them highly watchable. So, here’s my cinema round-up of reviews for August.
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
AMERICAN MADE (2017) – DIRECTOR: DOUG LIMAN
Tom Cruise leaves the formulaic action blockbusters aside for a while to portray a well-defined anti-hero called Barry Seal. Seal, according to this insane narrative, was a former TWA pilot who, bored with his steady job, grabs the opportunity to fly reconnaissance operations over South America for the C.I.A. That’s when the irreverent fun really gets into gear and before you can say “triple-agent-drug-running-for-the-Colombian-Cartel” you have a very watchable fast-paced, political and at times, farcical thriller.
Doug Liman is an excellent genre director and here pitches the film somewhere between a Martin Scorsese gangster biopic and screwball comedy. I would have preferred a bit more dramatic meat to be honest as seen in the Bryan Cranston Cartel-cop-thriller The Infiltrator (2016), or the subtle terror of Sicario (2015). However, Tom Cruise once again proves he can act and this entertaining movie does make some relevant political barbs against the allegedly corrupt Reagan and Bush administrations during their futile wars against drugs and communism.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE BIG SICK (2017) – DIRECTOR: MICHAEL SHOWALTER
Uber-driving-stand-up-comedian Kumail Nanjiani portrays himself in movie form for the duration of this likable character and culture driven romantic comedy. Eager to forge his own path where love is concern Kumail battles the constant “threat” of his overbearing mother’s attempts to pair him up with an acceptable Pakistani bride. Having met Zoe Kazan’s sparkling Emily he falls for her despite their initial reticence in committing fully to each other.
Of course the path of love is never straight, in fact it’s downright wonky as Emily succumbs to a rare illness and is hospitalized. Kumail, estranged from his own and rejected by Emily’s family, finds his world falling apart as his work and comedy suffers. Overall, this is a very enjoyable and gentle comedy and Kumail and Emily are characters you really root for. The supporting cast including the brilliant Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham and Holly Hunter are very funny indeed. I enjoyed the sub-plots involving the Chicago comedy scene and my only criticism would be that like other Judd Apatow-produced films it was probably ten minutes too long. Having said that it’s a finely observed, well-acted and richly funny character film.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
DETROIT (2017) – DIRECTOR: KATHRYN BIGELOW
This is a very complex film and probably requires a second view to really get to the heart of the whole situation. Set in 1967, amidst the desperate and violent racial tensions of the age (has there actually been anything else in the United States?) Detroit focuses on a single night and horrific incident involving monstrous cops and their behaviour toward the guests in the Algiers Hotel. Kathryn Bigelow again proves herself an expert director of spine-tingling tension and heart-racing drama as a violent assault is carried out on mostly innocent characters.
Detroit is microcosmic of the issues of race throughout American history and is an impossible pill to swallow as represented by these events. It’s not meant to be easy but a layered, narrative which reflects the different perspectives of those involved without actually getting to the actual truth. John Boyega, Will Poulter and Algee Smith’s performances are the stand-out as a nightmarish event in American history unfolds in almost real time. The only light comes by way of the Motown and Gospel music featured which shines brief hope and light on otherwise grim proceedings. The final act and court case compound the injustice of the crimes committed and only in song and prayer can Smith’s character escape the horrific tragedy of these grim events.
Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility and pathos by Viola Davis. Great support comes also from Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally impaired brother, Gabriel.
Troy’s character is very charismatic and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bitter and a drinker and, while he has had a hard life, he bullies everyone around him. His sons and more importantly his wife Rose put up with it but eventually he grinds everyone down, pushing them away with his boorish “I-know-best” arrogance and aggression. With her quiet power Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech toward the end of the film is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades and emotional neglect.
I’ve seen some criticisms of the film stating it is too “stagey”. Well, as it is based on a play that is understandable, yet, August Wilson’s words are a thing of beauty and therefore deserve focus. I think, while directing, Denzel Washington could quite easily have opened up the settings and had conversations on the street, but the decision was made to “fence” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall the performances alone make the film feel cinematic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Barry Jenkins low-budget contemporary drama is another brilliantly acted character memoir; although when compared to Fences it benefits from a more complex structure and cinematic style. Split into a trio of linear timelines from the same characters’ lives we get three different actors representing the life and changes which occur in Chiron’s existence; with chapters named, Little, Chiron and Black.
Each section draws us into the characters’ world as Chiron searches for meaning, identity and direction as to who he really is as a person. With his father absent Little Chiron (Alex Hibbert) cannot find satisfaction via his mother, an angry and lost woman portrayed brilliantly by Naomi Harris. Small for his age he is also at the mercy of school bullies and while a random meeting with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides Little with a mentor to connect with it doesn’t sustain. Ali as Juan, like most of the performances, delivers a subtle realisation of a character trapped by his life choices and perhaps sees some redemption in ‘Little’. Alas, due to his lifestyle and ‘job’ he is clearly not the role model ‘Little’ needs.
In the second and third sections Chiron’s relationship with his best friend Kevin comes to the fore both in terms of some powerful drama and intimate sexual connections. Barry Jenkins framing, colour design, use of music and editing choices all commit to create a poetic and fragmented style, further drawing me into Chiron/Black’s story. Chiron’s continual search for identity and meaning in the world reflects the most essential of human needs: the search for identity and love. Overall, this is a film of harsh and beautiful moments and each segment was layered with so many emotions and so skilfully told that I wanted to see more of the characters. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Split (2016) is an altogether different film about the search for identity. In fact the lead character portrayed devilishly well by James McAvoy has TWENTY-THREE different people battling around his mind and something is about to give. Let me say that a film like Split won’t be challenging the Oscars because in essence it is a terrifying B-movie thriller, however, McAvoy gives a performance of such quality it reminded me of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in his cannibal pomp. McAvoy’s twisted ability to switch between the many personalities was a real guilty pleasure as he earned his acting fee over and over and over again.
The story concerns three girls, Casey, Marcia and Claire (including an excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped and imprisoned by the various personalities in Kevin Crumb’s head. Some – including OCD driven Dennis – are more dominant than others and attempt to wrestle total control, which is where McAvoy’s sly switches are a real joy to watch. As a cat-and-mouse plot bleeds out we also get some intriguing back-story flashbacks into Casey traumatic past. These events really add colour to the main narrative and ramp up the tension and suspense. The scenes between Kevin, his personalities and sympathetic Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) also add some dark humour to the story. By the end though all humour is gone and we get a stunning and believable supernatural turn as Kevin’s mind unleashes an altogether different personality.
Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan’s dalliance with big-budget-franchise-Hollywood-pictures – including: After Earth (2013) and The Last Airbender (2010) – did not do his career any favours. But with Split he is back on terrific form as he takes a simple abduction plot and renders it full of horror, twists and fantastical ideas. While I did not enjoy his previous film The Visit (2015) – mainly due to the stupid kid rapping throughout a decent horror story – this one is highly recommended for psycho horror fans and for McAvoy’s performance alone. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
TOP TWELVE BESTEST FILMS AND TV SHOWS OF 2016 – SCREENWASH SPECIAL BY PAUL LAIGHT
Well, here’s wishing you a prosperous New Year going forward! I’ve read somewhere that apparently 2016 wasn’t a vintage year for movies but I went to the cinema a lot and saw a whole host of cracking entertainment. Likewise, television budgets and production values continue to soar and there were some incredible shows produced too.
So, here are my TOP TWELVE films I saw at the cinema AND TOP TWELVE television shows watched/streamed. Some of the films and TV programmes may have bled from 2015 into 2016 release-wise; moreover, I have also included a couple of yet-to-be-released films I saw at the London Film Festival.
Remember dudes these are not necessarily the best films or shows but the ones I enjoyed the most. So, overall, it’s just my opinion, man.
TOP TWELVE FILMS SEEN AT THE CINEMA IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)
“. . .an intelligent and emotional science-fiction drama with a beautifully constructed narrative.”
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)
“A tremendous genre-blend of horror and Western, this debut feature from S. Craig Zahler is destined to be a cult classic.”
CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016)
“. . . again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily one of the blockbusters of the year.”
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
“. . .wonderful fun with hallucinogenic visuals, eye-popping fight scenes plus mystical marvels!”
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
“. . . QT remakes Reservoir Dogs (1992) via Agatha Christie, setting it in the snowy West of America circa 1870s.”
“. . . heart-racking drama which stretches the emotions while also providing flickers of light amidst the pain.”
MEN AND CHICKEN (2015)
“. . . lurches from hilarious physical violence to examinations of religion and science in a film I can only describe as being like the Three Stooges meet The Island of Dr Moreau.”
THE NICE GUYS (2016)
“. . . pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace with a script filled with so many hilarious punchlines and sight gags.”
“. . . great horror film which has one of the most disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time.”
THE REVENANT (2015)
“. . . just superb, grueling, bloody, epic and beautiful filmmaking!”
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
“. . . a rip roaring mission-in-space-war movie set just before the original Star Wars movie!”
“. . . a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child.”
TOP TWELVE TV SHOWS SEEN IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)
BETTER CALL SAUL (2016) – SEASON 2
“Are there any better character drama shows around than this show? The writing and acting in Season 2 was just brilliant.”
BILLIONS (2016) – SEASON 1
“. . . great acting, script and cat-and-mouse twists galore in a meaty twelve episodes.”
DAREDEVIL (2016) – SEASON 2
“This has it all including: amazing fight scenes, bloody violence, rip-roaring action and hellish derring-do!”
FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2
“. . . drama, humour and suspense are incredible as is the cast.”
GAME OF THRONES (2016) – SEASON 6
“. . . these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.”
GOMORRAH (2016) – SEASON 2
“. . . further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire.”
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2016) – SEASON 11
“. . . gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity.”
MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – SEASON 1
“. . . It is as thrilling and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock created as the trials of these men and their families are thrust before us.”
PENNY DREADFUL (2016) – SEASON 3
“. . .a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was gone.”
SOUTH PARK (2016) – SEASON 20
“. . . yet another fantastically gross, satirical and ballsy animated series from Parker and Stone.”
STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE (2016) – SEASON 4
“. . . Lee is a human anti-depressant lifting my spirits while at the same time making me think about the very nature of the subjects he tackles.”
WESTWORLD (2016) – SEASON 1
“Brilliant and exquisite Sci-fi-western-mash-up from Michael Crichton, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.”
SCREENWASH – DECEMBER 2016 – FILM & TV REVIEW ROUND-UP
Merry Christmas to anyone reading this and a Happy New Year! So, as we wind down our employment and head home for the holiday season I offer my final cinema and TV screen round-up of the year.
From next year the Screenwash monthly round-up will mainly consist of the best stuff I saw each month rather than EVERYTHING! My blog will also feature the usual classic film features and reviews as usual. I’m off to the pub soon so a very quick run-through with marks, as usual, out of eleven!
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
A PERFECT DAY (2015) – NETFLIX
Well-meaning and intriguing comedy-drama set circa ‘90s Balkan conflict stars Benicio Del Toro as an Aid worker facing anything but a perfect day. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BILLIONS (2016) – SKY ATLANTIC
Tremendous drama starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, as a billionaire stockbroker and New York Attorney General respectively, who lock horns over insider trading. This has the lot: great acting, script and cat-and-mouse twists galore in a meaty twelve episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
BLUE VELVET (1986) – BFI CINEMA
“Why are there people like Frank?” asks Kyle Maclachlan’s Jeffery Beaumont in David Lynch’s dark journey into the underbelly of small town America. Hopper’s tour-de-force performance is chilling and funny in this eccentric, violent and memorable thriller. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
CASE 39 (2009) – NETFLIX
An alright chiller starring Renee Zellweger as a social worker investigating the abuse of a young girl. Of course, not all is what it seems. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING (2016) – NETFLIX
Paul Rudd is excellent as a depressed man seeking escape from life by helping muscular-dystrophy effected youth, Craig Roberts, in a touching and funny road movie. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
FUNNY GIRL (1968) – NETFLIX
The classic Broadway musical which I saw recently in London with Sheridan Smith (I wasn’t with her – she was in it) is a breezy blast through the songs and career of Fanny Brice. The kind-of-rags-to-riches-narrative is simple but the delivery is brilliant, with Barbara Streisand bursting with life, humour and song in an energetic Oscar-winning performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
JOY (2016) – SKY CINEMA
Hit-and-miss drama stars the amazing Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano; who battles family strife and corporate sexism to rise to the dizzy heights of TV shopping celebrity. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
IP MAN 3 (2015) – NETFLIX
Donnie Yen, again, excels in the further adventures of martial arts legend Ip Man. This time its 1959 and he’s up against Mike Tyson as a gangland boss and other rivals to his Wing Chun crown. Worth watching for the majestic fight scenes and the always awesome Donnie Yen (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
LES DOULOS (1963) – BFI CINEMA
Classic French Noir from Jean-Pierre Melville stars Jean Belmondo is a shadowy joy which thrills with its twisting plot following a robbery-gone-wrong. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MASCOTS (2015) – NETFLIX
Christopher Guest’s comedy mockumentary about sports mascots has some big and silly belly laughs and even sillier costumes too. It’s very daft with some fun routines throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MATCHSTICK MEN (2003) – SKY CINEMA
Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell are brilliant in Ridley Scott’s smaller-in-scale-than-usual-con-artist film which contains a series of thrilling twists and Cage’s excellent OCD-afflicted performance. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
PUSH (2009) – NETFLIX
Captain America/Chris Evans stars in this not-bad action-thriller about telekinetics being hunted down by a nefarious agency somewhere in Hong Kong. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) – MOVIE MIX
Sensational period drama set just before WW2 features incredible acting from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. They star as the Butler and Housekeeper who develop feelings for each other but professional commitments keep them at arms-length in a wonderfully touching human story. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) – CINEMA
Disney’s Star Wars roadshow-behemoth moves onto the first of it’s’ anthology series with a rip roaring war movie set just before A New Hope (1977) – (Mark: 9 out of 11). My full review is here.
SATURDAY NIGHT & SUNDAY MORNING (1960) – DVD
Albert Finney is excellent in this ground-breaking-for-its-day-working-class-social-realist drama. He’s a hard-working-boozing-chauvinist who rebels against the bosses and law in a gritty, and at times humorous, slice of British life. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Pointless and so-so remake of the classic Argentinian Oscar-winner which takes a great story and good cast and reduces it to a functional detective story. (Mark: 6 out of 11).
SELF/LESS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Badly-reviewed-but-not-too-bad takes a great premise of Ben Kingsley having his consciousness transferred into Ryan Reynolds’ soldier and turns it into a decent action-chase thriller. (Mark: 7 out of 11).
THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE (2016) – NETFLIX
Decent based-on-a-true-story set in the Congo during a battle in the Katanga district circa 1961. Charismatic Jamie Dornan leads UN troops battling French mercenaries in some brutal and explosive battle scenes which echo the backs-to-the-wall heroics of Rourke’s Drift. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) – FILM FOUR
Steven Spielberg’s debut cinema release is a lively road-pursuit-comedy-drama with a sparky lead performance from a very young Goldie Hawn. The characters strife didn’t grab me but the action barrels along sweetly with some funny scenes and beautiful cinematography. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SULLY (2016) – CINEMA
Tom Hanks excels as the experienced and noble pilot Chesley Sullenburger who somehow landed a plane on the Hudson after birds had ripped out its engines. Clint Eastwood directs with his usual steady hand as the film shows life experience is often more valuable than a computer simulation. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988) – NETFLIX
Errol Morris’ seminal documentary about a miscarriage of justice pretty much re-invented the crime documentary with its’ chilling re-enactments and interviews with the personae involved. The film would eventually prove the innocence of wrongly-accused drifter Randall Adams in the crime of a murdered police officer in 1976. Formidable, gripping and humane drama. (Mark: 9 out of 11).
THE THREE AMIGOS (1986) – SKY CINEMA
Chevy Chase, Martin Short and comedy genius Steve Martin star in this silly spoof of Westerns and silent-comedies as they are mistaken for hardened protectors of the weak. (Mark: 7 out of 11).
WESTWORLD (2016) – HBO – SKY ATLANTIC
Brilliant and exquisite Sci-fi-western-mash-up from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy with an all-star cast is reviewed – (Mark: 9 out of 11) – in full here:
WHITE FANG (1991) – SKY CINEMA
Ethan Hawke is a young explorer looking to make a go of his dead father’s gold mine in the end of the 19th century Yukon. Lots of snow and action aplenty as Hawke’s boy becomes a man and befriends a young wolf in the process in fine family entertainment. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
WOLF HALL (2015) – NETFLIX
Mark Rylance owns this dark drama as Thomas Cromwell; a key figure in the court of Henry the VIII – here portrayed by the brilliant Damian Lewis. Based on Hilary Mantel’s astonishing novels it charts the political and religious back-stabbing of the day in a naturally shot and wonderfully acted period drama. Rylance’s performance is subtle and steely as the man from lower stock who rose to pull the strings in the King’s court. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11).