Based on: Maniac by Espen PA Lervaag, Håakon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard, Ole Marius Araldsen
Developed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga & Patrick Somerville for Netflix
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
What’s your view on striving for originality in storytelling and entertainment? It could be argued that there is no such thing and creators are simply moving creative chess pieces around the same board; or playing the same musical notes but in a different order. One perspective is that you prefer a writer or director to be bold and aim for originality; with the potential risk they alienate the audience. Some creators actually don’t care about the audience but many others do, preferring to connect emotionally within the casing of genre conventions. Personally, I prefer to be moved emotionally firstly and if the filmmaker or writer has presented their story in an impressive style then this serves to enhance the enjoyment of the narrative.
Cary Joji Fukunaga is a genre filmmaker who has established himself capable of developing impressive genre works such as: Jane Eyre (2011), True Detective (2014), and the brilliant film Beasts of No Nation (2015). Recently, he has also been involved in bringing It (2017) and The Alienist (2018) to the screen; although he did not serve as final director on such products. His latest directorial offering is an adaptation of a Norwegian comedy drama called Maniac. Over ten hit-and-miss episodes we follow the misadventures of a depressive and unstable Owen (Jonah Hill), and grieving pill-addict Annie (Emma Stone), as they enter a medical trial run by the secretive Neberdine Pharmaceutical organisation.
The trial itself involves taking a series of pills and the participants’ cerebral responses being recorded on a sentient artificially intelligent computer called GRTA. Here, Owen and Annie’s lives and minds become internally entwined as the story enables us to visualise their mental anxieties and re-enact their fears during the trial. Owen’s angst is caused by a family issue involving his brother, while Annie still blames herself for a family tragedy. The bizarre surrealist events are very effectively established, however, over the dizzying spectrum of several genre-crossing episodes we essentially get told the same two stories within the: crime, romance, gangster, fantasy and spy genres.
The performances are interesting. Fukunaga has created a world that exists somewhere in between the real and surreal and the future, past and current times. Because of this there’s a sense he has freed the actors from naturalism and at times created a stylistic distanciation. Conversely, Emma Stone was brilliant as always and she is skilled enough to make the strangeness resonate emotionally. However, I felt Jonah Hill, while giving a fine and committed performance, was miscast. Interestingly, Justin Theroux features in a curious turn as a Doctor on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Theroux is a fascinating actor who I think is sabotaging his career and could be the next George Clooney but continues to choose weirdo roles which serve his career no benefit. But hey what do I know!? Maybe he’s having a lot of fun.
Ultimately, the postmodern stylings cloaked a pretty conventional love story and once again, with a Netflix show, I felt that ten episodes were stretching the narrative a tad. Fukunaga’s combination of different genres and eccentric characters plus a smattering a bloody violence and techno-humour is always interesting. Moreover, much fun is to be had from the references to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Lord of the Rings and many more films. Nowhere near as brilliant as True Detective or Beasts of No Nation, Cary Fukunaga still impresses as a director even if Maniac is arguably style over content. Nonetheless, Fukunaga should still be commended for striving for a semblance of originality and ambition, rather than just go for an big payday on a franchise studio genre film.
Firstly, the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during World War II was simply put one of the most incredible acts of survival and escape achieved. From the historical articles and documentaries I have read and seen the Allies were on the ropes and pinned back by the German army causing 400,000 beaten, starving and bedraggled human beings to be trapped on the beach waiting desperately for rescue. It’s no spoiler to state that many brave people enabled that rescue creating that well-known phrase “Dunkirk spirit” to enter our vocabulary.
Put yourself in that position for even just a minute and the fear drains one cold and feeling so lucky that I will never have to feel that threatened. These are people, young soldiers fighting against a fascistic foe who are backed into a corner and whose lives are about to be extinguished. So, think about that when you wake up in the morning because Christopher Nolan’s epic film, as do many other films, books and television shows about the war, give your life meaning about how lucky we are to not have to live through that. Count your blessings you’re not in a war and the life we live has relative freedom.
These and many more emotions flashed through my being while experiencing the incredible epic that master director Nolan and team have delivered via Dunkirk. Throwing us immediately into the action we are shown the hell of war from three perspectives: land, sea and air. Nolan works from a simpler focus and premise compared to his other works and this makes it all the more powerful an experience. Where films such as Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Memento (2000) had complex, shifting narratives relying on heavy exposition, grand concepts and plot twists, Dunkirk deals with one simple sterling idea: survival!
I found the whole experience immersive and pulsating from a cinematic perspective. Christopher Nolan, and his production team, have in the: editing, cinematography, composition, colour, acting, framing, sound, score and movement created pure and poetic cinema. From the safety of my comfy seat I felt real danger, peril and claustrophobia. The narratives’ drive comes from fragmented moments of fear and blasts of explosive danger. The impressionistic style was full of scenes containing quiet doom as well as noisy, confusing and fiery terror. Even the smallest situation such as the locking of a cabin door takes on great significance, sending a chill down the spine. As the enemy closes in from above and below and water fills the screen and lungs of our heroes, then death moves in for the kill.
Nolan eschews the solid build-up of traditional characterisation to create emotion through the visual form with a chopping style which serves to heighten the panic. There are so many haunting images as men and boys are stuck behind doors and ships and in boats and underwater and in the air and on moles and piers, compressed, suffocating and unable to breath as bullets, torpedoes and bombs pepper their souls. The coruscating soundscape, montage and hypnotic score from Hans Zimmer only add to the dread within the non-stop action. The dialogue is spare and at times muffled as character development is also sacrificed due to the compressed timeline. Yet, for me, empathy was garnered through verisimilitude, form and style rather than a conventional storytelling and a simplistic three-act transformational arc.
The characters are archetypes but serve the story very well. Kenneth Branagh’s noble sea Commander brings gravitas while Mark Rylance brings a naturalistic humility to the stalwart and duty bound Mr Dawson. Aneurin Barnard’s silent soldier allows his haunting eyes to dominate, while the pathos emitting from Barry Keoghan’s young George is incredibly powerful. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, while inexperienced actors, represent the palpable fear any young man would exhibit when faced with certain death. Tom Hardy adds star quality in his role of RAF pilot, Farrier, and the image at the end of his plane burning in the sunset is indelibly etched in my mind.
But, overall the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker but a cinematic artist echoing the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick within this war and disaster film masterpiece. Dunkirk was a savage defeat for the Allies but it rallied the nation against the enemy and Nolan has produced a film that stands as a worthy tribute to those who lost their lives and those brave people who survived.
DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon
WRITER(S): Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz
CAST: Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin
**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.
Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.
It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.
The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.
The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.
This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.
June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:
SCREENWASH FILM AND TV REVIEWS – JUNE 2016
**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV
The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)
The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX
I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display. Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA
Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV
If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight. I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)
GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV
The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX
Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off. Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV
Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA
Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown(1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV
Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time. I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)
I watched a cinematic adaptation of High Rise (2015) last night at the BFI and director Ben Wheatley proved that JG Ballard’s unfilmable critique of the class system should probably have remained just that: unfilmed. Not that there isn’t much to take from this thought-provoking anarchy which is both a visual and aural feast; it’s just one could never recommend it to the popcorn-munching multiplex mob expecting empathetic characters, coherent narrative spine and thematic simplicity. Still, if you enjoy chaos on the cinema screen there is much to recommend from within this splintered and jarring yarn.
As I sat amidst the Guardianista intelligentsia for the film’s Q & A – which included director/editor Ben Wheatley and actors Luke Evans and Reece Shearsmith – there were many long-winded “love the sound of their own voice” studenty statements masquerading as questions. Why can’t people just ask a direct question? I had a few in mind such as:
What attracted you to the project?
Were you bothered about making the narrative coherent?
What response were you hoping to gain from an audience?
How did you find working with such a great cast?
Did you consider a voiceover to hold the film together – a la Clockwork Orange?
Do you care that the audience had no one to root for?
Many of these were answered by a bored looking director in between the lines of his responses, but having had my senses battered by the movie for two hours I realised I did not care to be honest! This is the kind of film you pretend to like when you’re nineteen and want to appear edgy, intellectual and separated from the hoi-polloi. Moreover, you’re likely to be immersed in the cinephiliac influences of Godard, Bunuel, Bergman, Eisenstein and Kubrik; all of which have clearly informed the filmmakers here. Indeed, in making a film about the class war Wheatley has produced an arch classist product which will further drive a dividing wedge between the upper, middle and working classes.
The story is allegorical and essentially finds various classes of people – high, middle and working classes inhabiting a tower block in what appears to be set in – because of the mutton chops, fringes and flares – the 1970s. The higher class are rich and obnoxious and piss off the lower floors to such a degree that it leads to chaotic sex orgies, cannibalism and torture. Now, I haven’t read Ballard’s High Rise but you feel it is essential to have done so in order to follow the carvery style portions fed to us by the filmmakers as meat and veg and blood and death are thrown on the plate with lashings of violent gravy combining and congealing to make an unsatisfactory whole. Because for me the ultra-violent reactions of the characters seemed over-the-top given what had gone before. Okay, the lower floors had power problems and their kids were banned from the swimming pool but if I’m going to kill someone or eat a dog I want a bit more provocation.
Personally I felt Wheatley was not really in control of the source material, however, I think that’s the point. It’s a surrealist, chaotic non-narrative nightmare which leaps from one violent and sexual scene to another rendering the senses numb and number as we move toward the anarchy reigning supreme. I saw that Wheatley and his writing partner edited the film themselves and I can only think there was some subconscious desire to freewheel the narrative with a Godardian sensibility, which while admirable, means the film exists in a symbolic vacuum and appears to have had whole chunks edited out either as a creative choice or a desire to limit the chaos to a more manageable two hours. Moreover, aside from a speech by Thatcher at the end, the political context of the 1970s and 1980s is stymied; something I think would’ve made the themes more understandable to a philistine such as myself.
While the film stumbles from a narrative and thematic perspective, the visuals and music are terrific. Wheatley has created a kaleidoscopic feast of colour, sound and images which is why the trailer looked so breath-taking. The cast too are fantastic and the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Keeley Hawes, Jeremy Iron, Elisabeth Moss, Peter Ferdinando, and James Purefoy give the director tremendous energy; plus there are memorable performances from comedic actors Reece Shearsmith and Dan Renton Skinner. High Rise also contains another incredible score from Clint Mansell which, along with the handsome Hiddleston, glue the mania together somehow.
Even though I’ve had issues with some of Ben Wheatley’s past narratives he is a fine director. His debut feature Down Terrace (2009) is a low-budget treasure and Kill List (2011) was a grim horror until the unsatisfactorily symbolic ending. His next film Sightseers (2012) was a brilliant dark comedy and A Field in England (2013) was frankly an artsy, hallucinatory mess. Overall, though I loved the fact that this unassuming working class guy from Billericay has managed to hoodwink the middle-class filmmaking community (including the BFI and Film Four) into giving him money to waste it on this brave cinematic folly. While many may see High Rise as a brutally funny and dark dystopian satire I prefer my stories to have a bit more heart, empathy and make a bit more sense to be honest. Nonetheless, Wheatley remains an important British filmmaker whose work certainly has a lot of class.
“After the Lord Mayor’s show comes the shit-cart”, is a phrase I heard a lot in my childhood and following the golden month of January, where I watched a plethora of incredible films, February has dropped off slightly in terms of quality. Indeed, I have watched some right rubbish but there have been some diamonds in the rough. So, as per last month I’ve reviewed in depth my favourite films, mentioned some other stuff worth watching and derided the rest I didn’t think much of. As usual all films and shows marked out of eleven.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
FILMS OF THE MONTH!
BARRY LYNDON (1975) – CINEMA
Due to his incredible filmic CV, this stunning Oscar-winning period film from Stanley Kubrik is often overlooked as a classic. However, it is a terrific romp through the life and times of our anti-hero portrayed by the bland yet watchable movie star Ryan O’Neal. Adapted from Thackeray’s 19th century novel it concerns Redmond Barry and his rather haphazard misadventures as he leaves his Irish village and falls both fair and foul to fate’s twisted plan.
Every single frame of this film is a joy to behold and the cinematography deservedly won an Oscar. Thematically the film is very strong too as Kubrik uses Barry as a cipher to highlight the horrors of war and to also critique the ostentatious behaviour of the upper classes. Structurally and tonally spilt in two the film begins as a set of humorous sketches before giving way to a darker and tragic feel in the second half. The film is a thing of beauty to watch as Kubrik once again raises filmmaking to the echelons of high art. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
DEADPOOL (2016) – CINEMA
DEADPOOL’s a funny, sexy, irreverent, violent, meta-textual Marvel adaptation which differentiates from the standard comic-book movies in many ways while reinforcing the usual hero-saves-damsel-in-distress-Phantom-of-the-Opera-origins-story. A witty script and Ryan Reynolds stand out amidst the carnage and finally we have a Marvel film with a bit of blood and guts. Reminded me slightly of a funnier DARK MAN; a film which remains one of my favourite anti/super-hero films.
I’d say the box office success is deserved while the hype is probably a bit over-the-top as the politically incorrect film does go out of its way to keep you on Wade Wilson’s side and not make him totally unlikeable. Moreover, the script, while traditional in structure and Reynolds delivery are just sparkling as we get gag after gag after gag at the expense of everyone and everything, most notably the Marvel universe itself. Like Netflix’s Daredevil it breathes new life into the saturated superhero market.(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
FARGO (1996) – NETFLIX
The Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind. Seen this film so many times and it improves like a fine wine; a true classic.(Mark: 11 out of 11)
MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – NETFLIX
I watched Netflix’s Making a Murderer and throughout I was hoping it was a brilliantly written courtroom drama series directed in the documentary style. But IT’S actually REAL LIFE EVENTS! It’s a ten-part documentary which concerns a number of high-profile court cases which took place in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. The filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos deserve incredible praise for their painstaking work in bringing the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey to the screen because based on their film an incredible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
It is as thrilling and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock created as the trials and tribulations of these men and their families are thrust before us. The behaviour of law enforcement is called into question time and time again and the documentary stands as both an indictment on the United States legal system as well as being a gripping thriller. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but WATCH THIS SHOW for an incredibly designed “TRUE” story. It has to be seen to be believed, and whether the defendants are guilty or not, this saga re-writes the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt!”(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
PREDESTINATION (2014) – NOW TV
One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:
“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”
However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
WORTH A WATCH!
BANANAS (1971) – NETFLIX
Early Woody Allen film which pokes fun at his nebbish persona, failure with women, Marxist revolutions and United States foreign policy, all in a brisk eight-four minute machine-gun-sketch style. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
Moody amnesiac chamber thriller with Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Colin Firth delivering an initially intriguing suspense-filled piece but lacks a killer punch ultimately. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
CHEF (2014) – NETFLIX
This is a proper feel-good film about a shit-hot chef who attempts to reignite a once-hot career gone cold. Jon Favreau writes and directs and casts his mates like Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jnr and others in a fun, tasty, attractive, mouth-watering treat. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
DAWG FIGHT (2015) (NETFLIX)
Set in Perrine, Florida, this is a bloody slice-of-life documentary about backyard, bare-knuckle fighting between underclass males looking to get into the UFC big leagues. Featuring some brutal fights it’s a sad indictment of humanity and not for the faint-hearted. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
DEFIANCE (2008) – NETFLIX
Excellent wartime drama inspired by the true story of the Belarussian Jewish brothers called the Bieskis, who fought back against the Nazis while saving thousands of lives too. Gripping and suspenseful it’s anchored by the excellent Daniel Craig and well-orchestrated battle scenes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
LIFE ON MARS – SEASON 1 (2006) – NETFLIX
I missed this cracking time-warped TV show the first time round as Sam Tyler (John Simm) is thrown back to the 1970s and faced with a battle to get back to “reality”. Temporal, cultural and socio-political clashes are abound between Tyler and his new boss Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) as Sam solves cases in the past while trying to stay alive in the present. Cracking cop show! (Mark: 9 out of 11)
MUNICH (2005) – NETFLIX
I appreciated this superlative Spielberg revenge thriller more the second time round as it really questions the nature of vengeance and the damaging impact on all those involved. The story focusses on Mossad’s hit squad and its mission to wipe out Palestinian “generals” responsible for planning the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972. Eric Bana, Ciaran Hinds and Daniel Craig are impressive in their respective roles and arguably this is Spielberg’s most complex and ambiguous directorial effort. It’s a must-see political thriller with many heart-pounding urban battle scenes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
ROME – SEASON 2 (2007) – NETFLIX
After the bloody denouement of Season 1, Rome provided once again some gripping and devious drama following the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s backstabbing murder. Fantastic cast including Kevin McKidd, Polly Walker and James Purefoy tear up the scenery in a most entertaining history lesson. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
TRUMBO (2015) – CINEMA
Bryan Cranston is brilliant as black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who having served time for being a Communist found himself unable to work in Hollywood during the 50s and 60s. Ingeniously he worked under the radar gaining notoriety and secret acclaim and this film, while dramatically undercooked in places, stands as a fine tribute to a superb writer. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!
EXIST (2014) – NOW TV
Dreadful “found footage” film about some American morons being tracked and killed by a sasquatch. The monsters are pretty decent when you finally see them but the script and direction are awful. (Mark: 2 out of 11)
THE LAST FLIGHT (2009) – NETFLIX
This jumbled period drama set in between the 1st and 2nd World Wars finds Marion Cotillard’s pilot searching the desert for her lost love. Insipid and lacking focus, I was bored throughout in a film which pretty much crashes on take-off. (Mark: 2 out of 11)
LAST KNIGHTS (2015) – NOW TV
Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman cannot save this below average medieval jaunt which has some okay violence and dramatic moments but is far too serious and dull. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)
LONG WAY DOWN (2014) – NETFLIX
So-so soapy suicide comedy-drama that is ultimately undemanding and under-nourished, but saved by an attractive cast including: Aaron Paul, Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette. (Mark: 4 out of 11)
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
Ben Stiller stars in this insult to the original literary classic which reduces the fantasy elements to a mid-life-crisis-romance story involving the pursuit of a photograph and the meaning of life. It looks wonderful but is hollow and makes noises like a broken drum. (Mark: 4 out of 11)
REGRESSION (2015) – SKY MOVIES
Incredible to think Alejandro Amenabar directed this terrible horror/thriller which criminally wastes the talents of Ethan Hawke and David Thewlis in horribly under-baked occult story. (Mark: 3 out of 11)
WOMAN IN BLACK 2 (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
I thought the original was a nifty little horror film made with imagination, scares and respect for the horror genre. This WWII set film was a complete waste of time with weak story and scares. Avoid! (Mark: 3 out of 11)
100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1
We all love an epic at the cinema; a film which takes it’s time to build up character, plot and suspense. However, to write a great film under 100 or so minutes requires incredible discipline. You need tough, lean writing and a methodical film editor. You need real focus on the plot and an eye to remove the extraneous and zip the story along. You need a brevity and wit in the writing to quickly establish the characters and gain audience empathy. Most of all you need a solid structure, with pace but without losing any depth.
In this little piece, I have a look at some brilliant FEATURE films that represent marvellous examples of fantastic writing all under the magic one hundred minute mark! I imagine most of us have seen these films but if you haven’t then please do so!
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 cast including Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam etc. It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, guilt and reasonable doubt; all cooked to perfection within a hundred magnificent minutes.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
John Carpenter is a master at producing lean, mean fighting machine movies. This crime film is an unofficial remake of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and represents your genuine-classic-low-budget-one location-siege movie with a ragtag bunch of cops and cons fighting off hordes of street scum hell bent on revenge following the death of a gang leader. The film is a gritty joy full of hard-boiled characters and dialogue with a simple yet pulsating soundtrack written by Carpenter himself.
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)
Basically take your pick from a slew of Woody Allen films which always tell a great story around the 90 minute mark. Yet, I chose Broadway Danny Rose as it is a comedy gem hidden amidst the treasure trove of a filmic oeuvre. It concerns a hapless agent with the worst roster of acts in New York and his hilarious run-in with the mob. Beautifully constructed with some cracking characters and one-liners, this is always worth another watch if you have 85 minutes to spare.
“He was kinda funny-looking!” THAT line basically sums up the Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller. It’s a hilarious one-liner that becomes even funnier when delivered in the Minnesotan accent and in fact is a very important part of the plot. This film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind.
THE KILLING (1956)
Not the recent Scandinavian TV show but the early Stanley Kubrik crime classic constructed in a newsreel style with an authoritative god-like third person narration. It stars Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jnr and Timothy Carey as assorted array of lowdown criminals all combining to pull off a daring racecourse heist. The brilliance is in the metronomic telling of the tale as Kubrik builds suspense and tension throughout with a filmic confidence which would very much become part of his later, and much longer, epics.
MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
Slight cheat because the titular character was already established during George Miller’s original hard-core low-budget classic. Yet, this is a powerful and brutal apocalyptic Western with cars instead of horses and punk-bandits instead of indigenous Native Americans providing the foes. It smashes along at a wicked pace as hard-bitten and life-grilled Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) fights hell-for-leather to survive in the Aussie wasteland while hunting for gas and food.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
George A. Romero’s low-fi classic is the Godfather of all modern zombie movies. It’s another siege film as a group of various characters become holed up in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse attempting to avoid the living dead’s bloodthirsty clutches. Made literally on a shoestring from money raised independently (no Kickstarter back in those days), it would become one of the most successful horror films ever outside the Hollywood system. It’s grainy, creepy and gory and offers a subversive critique of the politics of the era.
One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:
“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”
However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
Oh for the days when Tarantino didn’t have a lot of money and wrote cracking muscular scripts which defy genre conventions and rip along at breakneck speed. His recent epic films are just as entertaining as this heist-gone-wrong thriller but longer and arguably in need of a trim or two. I’ve seen this film many times and it still retains its vice-like power, as the masculine egos clash and kill each other right up to the bloody end.
This is a both a literary and cinematic classic. It’s a snap-shot rollercoaster smash-cut of junkie vignettes which delivers on all sensory and emotional levels; with a cracking soundtrack to boot! From the twisted mind of Irvine Welsh, writer John Hodge and director Danny Boyle takes the seemingly unfilmable book and craft a fizzing, twisted vision of heroin addicts, which stylises the lifestyle with dark humour and a sense of loss at the devastating impact of addiction. Choose life: choose Trainspotting!
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.
Take your pick from any number of Pixar classics notably the Toy Story trilogy, however, I have chosen this gem because it is just so damned imaginative and original. I mean, how’d you get a winning narrative out of an odd couple bromance between a grieving old geezer and an overweight Boy Scout. But this film does so in a great story about overcoming grief, companionship and finding comfort in helping others. Most of all it’s funny, touching and heart-toasting and does it all in fewer than 100 marvellous minutes.
I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat. I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television. I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.
The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.
Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The TenCommandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as: Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.
While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut. Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.
Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV. Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.
Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set. Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation. Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me. Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.
While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen. But is it better than the cinema? Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS! Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.
The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.” Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).
And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot. Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema. It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!
Cinema, historically, is seen as a visual medium telling its’ stories via wonderful imagery and sequences spliced together to traverse the collective vision of an omnipotent director. And there have been some incredible filmmakers who have created fantastic visual landscapes to be marvelled at such as: Stanley Kubrik, David Lean, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Andrei Tarkovsky and er. . . Michael Bay. Yet, as much as I love the films of such ‘epic’ filmmakers you just can’t beat a brilliantly written piece of dialogue created by a screenwriter and delivered by an actor committed to the character and performance.
Bad dialogue will be on-the-nose, telling us the story specifically and reveal half-baked emotions from paper-thin characters; while great dialogue will tell us about character, theme, and subtext as well as make the audience laugh, cry and most importantly feel emotion. I love dialogue which is both funny and dramatic and reveals the nature and dynamics of characters’ relationships; especially scenes where characters verbally abuse each other or have gone into meltdown mode.
So, here’s a random list of some of my favourite dialogue scenes and why I like them so much. But, of course, the dialogue would probably be nothing without some fine performances too. I’m certain there’s many, many more scenes or monologues I’ve left out but as Osgood says to Jerry in SOME LIKE IT HOT – in one of the greatest final lines of any movie – “Nobody’s Perfect!”
(SPOILER ALERT and assumptions you have seen these films. If not, why not!?)
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
Voted one of, if not the best comedy ever by the American Film Institute this scene is a gimme. It is genuinely the funniest ending to a great comedy. The dialogue is both hilarious and nails the characters’ personas right to the end. Cool heartthrob Joe (Tony Curtis) gets the ultimate blonde bombshell, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) while hapless loser Jerry’s (Jack Lemmon) plan to marry for a big settlement backfires splendidly. Lemmon was one of the greatest screen actors ever as he was able to do comedy, pathos and drama with wonderful timing and he shows that in this highly witty scene.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
“Why Am I Mr Pink?”
I love Tarantino’s dialogue. For me he’s the closest you’ll get to a 20th Century Shakespeare. All his films – apart from Death Proof (2007) which I hate – have wonderful characters, casting and set-pieces. Most of his scripts tend to be a tad overlong e.g. Kill Bill (2004) could and should have been one film. Therefore, because of its’ economy, muscular writing and fast pacing, Reservoir Dogs (1992), remains a major favourite of his ouevre. I love the temporally jigsawed order, testosteronic cast and above all else, the hard-boiled dialogue. It’s lean, bruised and biting; spat out by unreconstructed men who are destined to die a violent, painful death.
The Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) ‘I don’t tip’ scene deserves to be on this list but the one where they all get their names from big Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) is a diamond in a cluster of sparkling rough. Industrial language crackles from the screen and the hilarious argument that ensues further sums up Mr Pink’s petty-minded character. Interestingly, this scene was not in the original screenplay and was added to the film during shooting.
MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)
“If you can’t trust a fix. What can you trust?”
The opening scene of Miller’s Crossing – like the whole movie – perfectly encapsulates the 1920s/1930s language of America as represented by, not actuality, but the works of noir novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The Coens’ postmodern vision creates a world of violence, dames, sluggers, double-crosses and prohibition-led organized crime. The scene begins with a speech by Italian gang-leader Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who espouses his “ethical” modus operandi on fight-fixing to soon-to-be-rival Leo (Albert Finney). While the dialogue crackles and pops; the scene also foregrounds all the key characters on screen at the time and those to appear later in the movie – notably John Turturro’s slimy bookie Bernie Birnbaum. You could probably do a Top 100 of great dialogue scenes from Coen Brothers’ movies and this is certainly up there with the best of them.
Johnny Caspar: I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell. Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics. It’s gettin’ so a businessman can’t expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return, you gotta go bettin’ on chance – and then you’re back with anarchy, right back in the jungle.
“He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!!”
Kathy Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her barnstorming performance as Annie Wilkes. Stephen King’s Wilkes’ is a charismatic lunatic who takes the ‘I’m your number one fan’ maxim to the extreme. This scene reveals more, in some ways, than the memorably gruesome ‘hobbling’ scene. It shows Wilkes’ skewed understanding of narrative by revealing her disgust at ‘cheating’ cliffhangers of Saturday morning serials. While her language is funny, the delivery and anger in Bates’ performance is very unnerving as demonstrated by Caan’s stunned reaction when he realises he is in the company of a very disturbed individual. Lastly, I actually agree with her! They always cheated in those TV shows!
WITHNAIL & I (1986)
“What’s your name – Mcfuck?!”
Definitely in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, WITHNAIL & I simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners and speeches. I recall being incredibly drunk following a birthday party and watching this scene over and over again and almost choking on my own laughter. It’s still quite early in the film but the relationship between permanently inebriated cowardly ‘thespian’ Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the eponymous ‘I’ (Paul McGann) is perfectly crystallized in their exchanges with the dangerously lubricated Irish barfly.
Withnail not only reveals his ineptitude in facing physical confrontation but is more than happy to stitch his companion up in a scene which is later mirrored during their run-in with a randy bull. Moreover, the scene slyly sets up the character of Monty (Richard Griffiths) and the disastrous trip to the country, demonstrating great writing in burying such exposition within the comical encounter. Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I again unfortunately. But his screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time.
ANNIE HALL (1977)
“I have to go Duane – I’m due back on Planet Earth.”
Arguably the most brilliant and prolific screenwriter/directors ever, Woody Allen’s movies – especially his ‘early, funny films’ – are jammed with gags, slapstick and cracking one-liners. Allen’s cinematic art would mature and his hilarious romantic comedy Annie Hall forms a creative bridge between the joke-driven all-out comedies and the more dramatic works featured in Allen’s oeuvre. Annie Hall is obviously still of full of punchline-led scenes as it tells a classic boy-meets-girl-boy-breaks-up-with-girl-boy-analyses-where-it-all-went-wrong tale, only Allen could pull off.
I could’ve picked any number of great scenes from Annie Hall but one I always remember features the majestically intense – even as a youngster – Christopher Walken. It’s his only scene but he still stands out as Annie’s brother, Duane: a psychotic loner with suicidal tendencies. His short but very dramatic monologue is perfectly delivered as Duane confesses a desire to kill himself in an automobile accident. Comedy arrives by virtue of Allen’s squirming reactions in the car with Duane and the final pay-off is an absolute treat.
“I feel bad for your face!”
I love this scene because it really sums up Kristen Wiig’s unhappy-go-lucky-loser-status in the film. Wiig’s Annie suffers a severe case of arrested development throughout and in the squabble with the young girl she should really be mature and know better. Annie’s in negative equity romantically and forever in the shadow of other more successful women and just as things cannot get any worse she enters into a ping-pong argument with this brattish teenager that escalates WAY out of control. It culminates in a wonderfully rude topper of a punchline that left me laughing my head off. There’s also an element of wish fulfilment in there too as I would love to have let rip in a similar fashion during my time in customer service.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – (1992)
“Fuck you! That’s my name!”
In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin plays the character Blake, almost earning the silver-tongued raconteur an Oscar for the role. He’s in ONE scene. ONE scene, yet because of David Mamet’s mercurial speech he steals the whole film. This is no mean feat given the cast contains an annual Oscar Best Actor nominee list: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce. Blake’s speech is a rallying call for the sales team to raise their game, full of acronymic inspiration and cursing and flat-track bullying. It quickly turns to a litany of threats, abuse and monetary grandstanding as the sales guys just don’t respond to Blake’s aggressive personality. I fucking hate sales jobs and they suck because of guys like Blake who do not care about the customer – just the dough! Although having said that if I’d heard Mamet’s speech delivered by Baldwin I’d be ready to sell snow to the Eskimos. He’s that good!
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” – Old Chinese Proverb**
Thus, having seen Stanley Kubrik’s poetic space opera at the cinema last week I thought it unnecessary to write what can be said better with images. It is a work of absolute art which gets better on every viewing.
An influence on pretty much EVERY science-fiction film since its inception this film MUST be seen at the cinema. It’s on at the BFI at the moment so go before their brilliant sci-fi season closes.
What does it all mean? Something about life, death, future, past, present, humanity, aliens, peace, violence, Artificial Intelligence, technology, religion, heaven, hell and pretty much everything else. It’s up to the viewer to decide.
**Although there is some doubt on the Internet as to whether it was Russian author Turgenev who invented this phrase or whether it was an early 20th copywriter Fred Barnard trying to sell cars who coined this phrase. But who cares – just look at some pictures and be in awe to the genius of Stanley Kubrik and his filmmaking team.