Tag Archives: Thriller

US (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

US (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Jordan Peele

Produced by: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele

Written by: Jordan Peele

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex etc.

Music: Michael Abels

Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Orson Welles is reportedly quoted as saying, “A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.” Thus, Jordan Peele proves this point with an unstoppable cinematic train ride in Us (2019); that while threatening to career off the rails on occasions, proves to be a thrilling work of horror-meets-social-satire entertainment.

The film centres on an everyday normal family of four — the Wilsons: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children — as they visit their summer home by the beach. Haunted by a scary incident in a hall of mirrors when a child, Adelaide is afraid to return to the beach where it occurred, until her husband’s goofy enthusiasm wins her over.

Events begin to turn and twist askew when their son, Jason, seems to go missing for a while. Even though he returns, paranoia and fear sneaks into Adelaide’s psyche. Things become even stranger when a mysterious family of four appear in the Wilsons’ drive in the dead of night. This is when the true face of horror surfaces and a pulsating home invasion and prolonged chase sequence ensues.

Peele has clearly seen a lot of horror films. As such the early scenes build tension perfectly with: stormy weather; a strange drifter with biblical sign haunting the boardwalk; creepy hall of mirrors; the choral soundtrack reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby (1968); the son, Jason wearing a Jaws (1975) movie t-shirt; the flock of seagulls on the beach echoing Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963); and so it goes.

Such horror tropes build a huge wall of tension so effectively it’s almost a relief when released during the big doppelganger reveal. Subsequently, the blood-letting ensues in some meaty fights and exchanges involving weapons, such as: baseball bats, metal pokers, ornaments and golf clubs. The doppelgangers themselves are clearly a reflection of the self; twisted visions of humanity turning against the characters, as they literally become their own worst enemies.

The cast are expertly marshalled by Peele, as he gets doubly great performances from all the actors. The logistics of shooting doubles must have been tough, especially so many at a time. The featured cast are very good, notably Winston Duke as Gabe Wilson. He offers some light, comedic and physical humour amidst the gore. Meanwhile, Lupita Nyong’o steals the show in the dominant twin roles of Adelaide and the nefarious Red.

It’s Adelaide’s personal journey of double/split identity which provides the spine of the film. As she fights to save her family she must also literally battle the demon inside and outside herself. This thematic is the most powerful of the film for me, as Nyong’o’s acting is full of emotional resonance.

Perhaps, not as successful, when compared to Get Out, is the attempt to marry the personal conflict to the socio-political landscape. While Peele’s first film was an overt satire of slavery and white America oppression and exploitation, Us’ targets are intellectually more ambiguous and open to interpretation. I mean take your pick from: class, capitalism, consumerism, race, de-politicization, narcissism, over-population, split personalities, government conspiracies; and over-arching fear of ‘the other’.

These and many more themes are on Peele’s radar, as is his overall critique of the United States (U.S. = US – geddit!). That they don’t quite gel coherently is not a criticism but a positive indictment of his ambition. Conversely, while I felt the underlying power of Peele’s call-to-arms and desire for human unity in Us, one could argue the fire, smoke and mirrors of these ideas subtract from the power of the families’ personal struggle. Moreover, what is the solution to the government copying us or burying our doubles underground? Is it to kill the others and hold hands in unity? Who knows? What I can say is such naive idealism in horror has never been so entertaining.

After the success of the slavery-soul-swapping and genre bending thriller, Get Out, Jordan Peele has tasked himself with trying to top that fine movie. Well, if Get Out was the starter, Us is the main meal. In fact, one could argue the film is so full of ideas that it threatens to fail due to sensory overload. However, Peele is such a multi-talented storyteller he skilfully delivers, wholly thanks to great writing, masterful film production, an exceptional soundtrack and an incredible cast.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

GLASS (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

GLASS (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Produced by: M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum, Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan

Written by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Samuel L. Jackson

Music by: West Dylan Thordson

**CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM SHYAMALAN’S PRIOR FILMS**

M. Night Shyamalan is arguably one of the most critically divisive directors working today. Not because his films are particularly controversial, but mainly because he is a risk-taker that tests the boundaries of genre expectations. He has so many different ideas and concepts that quite often his movies have back-fired spectacularly, however, when he gets it right his genre films are highly entertaining and compelling. Films such as: The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), and The Village (2004), were for me, brilliant genre films full of invention, suspense and wicked twists. Many people felt The Village stretched the limits of suspending disbelief, but it was a masterpiece compared to his filmic failures like: The Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010).

I missed seeing the apparent disaster that was After Earth (2013), yet it was opined that Shyamalan returned to some essence of form with the horror film The Visit (2015). However, I still felt there were some dodgy creative decisions in that, such as the story-filler-white-middle-class-rapping kid in amidst a creepy thriller. Yet, with Split (2016), Shyamalan was back to his best, weaving an exploitational B-movie kidnap-plot with a searing psycho-performance from James McAvoy. The ending, which found Anya Taylor-Joy’s ultra resilient Casey fighting back against McAvoy’s twenty-plus split-personality maniac, then brilliantly linked the film to Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000). Therefore Glass (2019), becomes the third part of an unlikely trilogy; three films where Shyamalan strives to create his own universe and mythology within a more realistic superhero and super-villain world.

Glass starts three weeks after the end of Split  and opens with a terrific and bruising encounter between McEvoy’s dominant “Beast” personality and David Dunn’s (Bruce Willis) vigilante, daubed “The Overseer” by the media. Captured by authorities, the two are locked up and analyzed by Sarah Paulson’s seemingly sympathetic psychiatrist, Dr Ellie Staple. Enter Samuel L. Jackon’s Elijah Price, who is ALSO being held at the same mental health facility. I mean what could go wrong? Does the catatonic Price have villainous plans for The Horde and The Overseer? What do you think?

What I love about Shyamalan’s screenwriting, and this is something which he could equally be criticized for, is you can hear the cogs of contrivance creaking with every plot turn. Yet his ideas really capture your imagination and you genuinely want to know what happens next. Personally, as a fan of say Agatha Christie, I love theatrical exposition and clear “rules-of-the-world” mechanics. Shyamalan gets his three big-hitters in the same place and cinematic fireworks, however unlikely and full of plot-holes it may be, ensue. Woven within the fights, monologues and narrative misdirections are very clever meta-textual references to comic-book structures. This adds a welcome context to the denouement, which contains at least two incredible revealing twists.

Ultimately, I feel, unlike certain critics, that Glass is a fun and entertaining end to the trilogy. Yes, it tests the believability grid but Shyamalan must be applauded for striving, once again, toward some form of originality within his chosen genre.  It arguably goes down a deep rabbit hole at the end which is hard to get out of; but the impressive cast keep you in the light for the most part. James McAvoy is simply, once again, outstanding. Why hasn’t he been nominated for an Oscar? Who knows! Jackson and Willis are always solid performers, although I felt that Dunn’s character was slightly thrown away at the end. Anya Taylor-Joy also stood out and she is going to be a big star if she carries on delivering wide-eyed and steely performances such as these. Thus, Shyamalan gives us another big hit and something very different from the Marvel and DC superhero universes; something altogether more human.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

TOLERANCE (2019) – short film trailer release

TOLERANCE (2019)

Last year I produced and directed by second solo short film called Tolerance. It was shot over two days and post-production was completed in November. I have subsequently commissioned artwork and have now produced the trailer below.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Tolerance is a story of obsession, revenge and murder. It concerns a dinner “date” which takes a wicked turn. Inspired by narratives by Hitchcock, Tales of the Unexpected and Inside No. 9, it suspensefully examines both personal and societal issues when a relationship breaks down. On the surface it can be essentially enjoyed as a suspenseful thriller, but within the subtext I attempt to examine the harm people can cause each other with their relationship choices.

TRAILER

CAST & CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Laight
Starring: Georgia Kerr and Patrick Tolan
Sound: Marina Fusella
Camera: Edward Lomas
Lighting: Kato Murphy
Make-up: Camille Nava
Music: James Wedlock
Editor: Jodie Williams
Set Designer: Melissa Zajk

Website: www.fixfilms.co.uk

A Fix Films Production © 2019

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

Producer(s): Priscilla Parish, Eric Coulter, BBC

Created and written by: Jed Mercurio

Director(s): Thomas Vincent, John Strickland

Starring: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Gina McKee, Sophie Rundle, Paul Ready, Vincent Franklin, Stuart Bowman, Nina Toussaint-White,  Stephanie Hyam

Composer(s): Ruth Barrett, Ruskin Williamson

Cinematography:   John Lee

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Jed Mercurio has written and show-run some seriously good television over the years. I remember watching the acerbic medical comedy-drama Cardiac Arrest in the 1990s and enjoying greatly the honest, bleak and black humour of the show. So much so it made hospital soap Casualty look like a kids’ birthday party. Being from a medical background Mercurio would later revisit the NHS for the critically acclaimed programme Bodies (2004 – 2006); a show that contained graphic depictions of surgical operations amidst the cut-throat administrative and medical drama. Subsequently he would have, arguably, his biggest hit with the show Line of Duty. Gaining massive viewing figures Line of Duty concerns a crack team of police officers who investigate corruption within the force.

Mercurio created a solid genre premise with each officer under examination being played by a formidable lead actor. These included: Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays and in Season 4, Thandie Newton. His strengths as a writer are to use realistic settings, scenarios and characters and twist them for every ounce of suspense possible. His work also contains brilliant narrative twists that often go against genre expectation. Indeed, he has no qualms casting a famous actor and killing them off when you least expect.

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With his latest show Bodyguard, Mercurio has again looked within the police force as a starting point. His main protagonist David Budd (Richard Madden) is part of the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch tasked with protecting the ambitious Home Secretary, Julia Montague; portrayed by the always brilliant Keeley Hawes. Over six episodes Budd has dangerous encounters with: his own force, MI5, Counter Terrorism Command, terrorist cells, organised crime and in-fighting Government officials too.  Safe to say Montague becomes a target and very soon Budd is fighting not just for her life but his own.

Opening with an incredibly tense scene involving an Islamic suicide bomber on a train, the show raises the pulse with incredible consistency. Another stunning set-piece involving a terrorist attack on a school plus a vicious sniper assault on the Home Secretary in a later episode demonstrates that Mercurio wants us in the heart of the action. In terms of the politics of the series they are incredibly murky and confusing, in a good way. What I mean is we live in a confusing world of fake news, terrorism, racism, suspicion, paranoia, violence and corruption. It’s difficult to know what to believe and who to trust. Mercurio doesn’t offer any easy answers and everyone is a suspect. Even Richard Madden’s Budd is a tortured soul showing skill at his job but a heart and mind riddled with post-traumatic stress. He deals with the separation from his wife by drinking and burying his angst in his dangerous work.

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Bodyguard had me hooked from the beginning and really turns the screw dramatically throughout. The ensemble cast are uniformly excellent but Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes are particularly memorable. One could argue the representation of the terrorists’ borders on the stereotypical, but it’s a tough call because Mercurio is effectively reflecting events which have occurred within the U.K. in recent years. Whether such violent situations should be turned into primetime entertainment is a question for a whole different essay, but the writer and creator has shown once again he can take serious issues and produce exhilarating genre television.

Mark: 9 out of 11

AMERICAN ANIMALS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW – moronic middle-class criminals waste everyone’s time!

AMERICAN ANIMALS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed/Written by: Bart Layton

Produced by: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Mary Jane Skalski

Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen, Eric Borsuk and Betty Jean Gooch (all appear as themselves.)

Music by: Anne Nikitin

Cinematography: Ole Bratt Birkeland

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Ever watch a film which is brilliantly written, performed and directed but the characters are so annoying it actually makes you dislike the movie?  I’ll explain. To me to steal from people is a big negative. To use violence exacerbates the negativity too. Some crimes are committed out of economic and social necessity but these are still inexcusable to me. To be from a privileged background and still commit robbery makes you some kind of arsehole!  In fact, the characters on show here are four of the biggest morons I have experienced in a cinema for some time.

Personally I do not usually enjoy the so-called “true crime” genre in televisual or film documentary form. Paradoxically, I love crime films, thrillers and heist movies but as works of fiction. True crime documentaries or docu-dramas make my blood run cold as I hate the idea of these people getting air time; even if they are caught and made to pay for their deeds. The main “true crime” stuff I will watch are usually the miscarriage of justice shows, for example, Netflix’s Making a Murderer (2015) was particularly riveting but even then the horror of how the justice system and law enforcement behaved was beyond ridiculous.

American Animals.  Photo: Courtesy the Orchard

Set on the campus of Transylvania University in 2003, the story involves four college students who, aside from being bored and narcissistic, do not seemingly have much to complain about. They are: Evan Peters as Warren Lipka, Barry Keoghan as Spencer Reinhard, Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk. Collectively they plan a heist to steal – not money or jewels or gold – rare books from the college library. Wow, what tough guys they were!! Interspersed between the planning of the heist is dramatically ironic commentary from the real-life characters as they give their version of events. This device, overall, creates an interesting narrative dynamism where regret for their crimes is to the fore. The real Rheinhard, a talented artist, and fantasist Lipka are arguably the most interesting as the latter appears to be a very unreliable narrator.

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So, while American Animals (2018) is a brilliantly constructed story with a very interesting mix of the actual people involved in the crime and fictional re-enactments, the sheer dumbness and moronic nature of said criminals really pissed me off! I guess I should disengage critically from the content enough and look at the cinematic work on show. Because, based on his work here Bart Layton is clearly a very talented filmmaker. Moreover, Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan absolutely nail their respective roles and mark themselves down as actors very much to look out for in the future. Ultimately, while the film works well as a morality tale, it completely fails as drama as I did not give a crap about the selfish protagonists and I could not wait to get away from their pathetic company.

Mark: 6 out of 11

TOLERANCE (2018) – a short film production.

TOLERANCE (2018) – A SHORT FILM BY PAUL LAIGHT

My third directorial short film effort went into production this year and the weekend shoot took place in the last week of July 2018. Thus, a small crew and two cast members put all of our preparations and rehearsals into action, in order to produce a compelling work of fiction. I am now at the editing/score stage but in the meantime here are some cast and crew details, on-set photos and story pitch.

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THE STORY

Sadie Cort is out for revenge.  Her ex-boyfriend Stephen is coming to dinner and she has prepared a beautifully set candlelit table. The wine is uncorked and chilled before Sadie pours poison into it. As it drifts slowly to the bottom of the bottle, the doorbell chimes. Stephen is here but will he drink the wine? And why does Sadie want him dead?  All will be revealed in the short horror and darkly comedic film Tolerance (2018), inspired by Roald Dahl, Inside No. 9 and Tales of the Unexpected.

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CAST AND CREW

Written, produced, catered and directed by: Paul Laight

Starring: Georgia Kerr and Patrick Tolan

Camera: Edward Lomas

Sound: Marina Fusella

Lighting: Kato Murphy

Make-Up: Camille Nava

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© A FIX FILMS PRODUCTION (2018)

SKY CINEMA SPECIAL including film reviews of: ATOMIC BLONDE (2017), FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017), MAUDIE (2017), SHOT CALLER and more.

SKY CINEMA SPECIAL REVIEWS

There are so many films released at the cinema each year that it’s impossible to catch them all. Unfortunately, for me, and billions across the world that damned thing called employment gets in the way. Nonetheless, there are many other avenues to catch up with movies and SKY CINEMA is one such route. So, here are some reviews of films I have caught up with recently on SKY, with the usual marks out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

AFTER THE STORM (2016)

This Japanese family drama is slow moving but quietly unfolds in a compelling fashion. Former prize-winning novelist, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), is a gambling addict “researching” his next book and making ends meet with private detective work. He tries to become a better son and father but his hereditary flaws and addiction haunt him. That’s about it for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s character drama which features some excellent dialogue and a wonderful acting performance from Ryota’s mother, portrayed by Kirin Kiki. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)

Charlize Theron portrays a sullen yet kick-ass spy in this style-over-substance-action-thriller. Directed by David Leitch, who also helmed John Wick 2 (2016), rather amusingly doesn’t even have the depth of Keanu Reeves’ B-movie-assassin-classics. Adapted from the comic book novel The Coldest City (2012) and set in late 1980s Berlin, it uses the unstable politics of the time loosely as a means to hang a slender narrative on. This essentially is all rocking soundtrack, kinetic action, and sexy fighting with NO story. Theron and co-star James McAvoy do their best with the spy McGuffins but it’s main redeeming feature is a barnstorming “one-take” fight scene in the middle of the film. Now THAT rocks!  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017)

Charlize Theron pops up again in eighth film of the franchise, this time as cyber-baddie hell-bent on doing something bad for some heinous reason. Anyway, her fiendish plot is just an excuse to blow up cars, planes, jails, roads, buildings, and submarines in the usual explosive fashion. Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the rest of the team (minus Paul Walker R.I.P) are all back trying to stop her. There’s something both obscene and incredibly satisfying witnessing stunts and action this over-the-top!  I mean the carnage present in the final-submarine-versus-vehicle-set-piece is absolutely breath-taking and its worth watching the film for that alone.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

MAUDIE (2016)

Since her striking performance in Mike Leigh’s excellent character piece Happy Go Lucky (2008), Sally Hawkins has been carving out quite the number of brilliant acting roles. Perhaps overshadowed by the success of the big budget monster/love story The Shape of Water (2017), the low-budget Maudie features another stunning Hawkins turn. She is quietly powerful in the role of Nova Scotia painter Maud Dowling. Maud came to mild prominence for her painting in the late 1960s and became somewhat of a cult treasure. Hawkins and Ethan Hawke steal the acting honours as the unlikely husband and wife, as Aisling Walsh directs a fine tribute to a small woman with a massive artistic talent. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

SHOT CALLER (2017)

This is a hard-boiled and brutal crime thriller which moves very slowly but with highly confident direction. Ric Roman Waugh has marshalled a very decent B-movie with Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldaj excelling in the muscular lead role. He portrays a banker sent down for manslaughter who suddenly finds himself at the mercy of white supremacist gangs. Rather than lay down and get screwed he jumps straight in and sets in motion a gruesome set of events. Jon Bernthal pops up as a hard-piped criminal while Lake Bell is excellent as the anti-hero’s long-suffering wife. You need some patience but ultimately the ending pays off in an enjoyable, if incredibly contrived, finale. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

ROUGH NIGHT (2017)

This ridiculous over-the-top mixture of sex, crime and comedy rips off Very Bad Things (1998) and The Hangover (2009), with a smattering of Weekend at Bernie’s (1989). Having said that I really enjoyed it despite the incredibly broad comedy and implausible nature of the plot which takes five buddies on a Bachelorette party and throws a dead hooker into the mix. Zoe Kravitz, Scarlet Johannsson, Kate McKinnon, Illana Glazer and Jillian Bell, while slumming it in this often-filthy material, commit to their roles with ludicrous abandon. While very derivative I couldn’t help but laugh on several occasions, most notably at Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as the lascivious “sex-people” neighbours.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)