Tag Archives: Thriller

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

 p06jtkmd

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.

p06crnkk

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.

landscape-1535037919-16106444-low-res-bodyguard

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**

m-americananimals-2018

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.

screen-shot-2018-04-10-at-5-17-36-pm.png

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.

2018_Tolerance_Still_Table_2.JPG

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.

2018_Tolerance_Still_Set_2

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

2018_Tolerance_Still_Georgia_Poison.JPG

© 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)

 

BEAST (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

BEAST (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Michael Pearce

Produced by: Kristian Brodie, Lauren Dark, Ivana MacKinnon

Written by: Michael Pearce

Starring: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James

Cinematography: Benjamin Kracun

 A3_Jessie-Buckley-Moll-and-Johnny-Flynn-Pascal-in-Beast.-Photgrapher_Kerry-Brown_low-res-696x418

With Marvel’s juggernaut Infinity War (2018) smashing through the Cineplexes this week it takes a brave distributor to release a low budget British thriller at the same time. Nonetheless, Beast (2017) is here secreting paranoia, sexual tension and animal magnetism amidst the super-hero saturation. Beast is the debut directorial feature of Michael Pearce and he certainly demonstrates a lot of talent in the writing and filmmaking stakes. He also gives us arguably one, if not two, film acting breakthrough roles in the casting of the incredible Jessie Buckley and equally alluring Johnny Flynn.

Beast is a slow-burner of a film. It moves at its own pace and quite often this works to heighten the suspense and on other occasions it perhaps slows the story too much. The central character is Buckley’s Moll Huntington, a coach tour guide living on the island of Jersey.  Her middle-class life seems safe and comfortable but beneath the surface her controlling Mother (Geraldine James) and religious background make her feel trapped and isolated. Beneath Moll’s quiet surface is an anger and sexual energy waiting to break out. When she meets Johnny Flynn’s handsome “bit of rough” Pascal Renouf, Moll’s rebellious nature is released as she fights against her mother and her middle-class upbringing.

beast-2017-005-jessie-buckley-on-floor-under-michael-flynn

Simultaneously, Jersey is under threat from a serial killer who is brutally murdering teenage girls. Thus, the film presents two main plots: a coming-of-age romantic drama, plus a police thriller full of suspense. Writer-director Michael Pearce weaves these strands, on the main, very successfully as the police become more and more certain Pascal is the murderer. Moll’s love and loyalty to Pascal then becomes twisted and her turmoil drives the story into very dark places. I would say, however, the police investigation side was not as successful as Moll’s character study. In fact, there were a couple of plot-holes which let the story down, as did a tad long running time. Yet, these are minor gripes in a beautifully shot and rendered cinema release that makes the most of the Jersey shore, dirt and forestation.

Overall, Beast deserves a lot of praise for the intense acting of Buckley and Flynn. Their relationship crackles with sexuality on the screen and Buckley excels in many scenes when the rage inside her just explodes. Flynn, who was unrecognizable from his role as young Albert Einstein in the show Genius (2017), has an off-centre charm which captures the outsider perfectly. Geraldine James, as Moll’s mother is also on formidable form too. Yet, Jesse Buckley’s owns this film as the complex protagonist; while filmmaker Pearce must be commended for creating a slow-burning and intelligent psychological thriller which stays with you once the credits have rolled.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Lynne Ramsay

Produced by: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, James Wilson, Lynne Ramsay Writer: Lynne Ramsay (Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Judith Roberts

Music by: Jonny Greenwood

Editor: Joe Bini

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

You-Were-Never-Really-Here-1-e1516304691921

Lynne Ramsay’s latest film will not be for everyone; be warned it has some very disturbing sequences relating to abuse and violence. The pitch is simple and accessible: a hired gun hunts down a kidnapped girl.  But the delivery is twisted, violent, fragmented, mesmerising and thoroughly hellish. The story beats along the same drum as the action thriller Taken (2009), but unlike Liam Neeson, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe has a slightly different set of skills to work with. They are both ex-military but Joe’s past actions haunt him to the point of near-suicide and his preferred weapon is a trusty hammer from the local home improvement store.

It was fascinating seeing Lynne Ramsay taking on a narrative so full of such familiar genre tropes. This story covers aspects such as: kidnapped children; nefarious US government corruption; paedophile rings run by the rich; post-traumatic stress disorder; and the lone wolf ‘soldier’ seeking redemption. Indeed, the film crossed over into territory covered by the likes of: Man on Fire (2004), Hardcore (1979), and the aforementioned Taken trilogy. However, through Ramsay’s skewed and compelling direction I Was Never Really Here is an altogether different beast; spiritually evoking the seminal Schrader scribed story of Taxi Driver (1976). Similarly,  I Was Never Really There is an existential anti-thriller which asphyxiates the audience with: close-ups; canted frames; blurred and obscured shots; oblique angles; claustrophobic urban locations; jolting violence; blinding light; eerie shadows; and jumpy cutting which shreds the nerves throughout.

JOAQUIN

The fragmented narrative delivery adds further to the viewer’s creeping tension and developing sense of dread. The character of Joe is essentially in a psychological nightmare, haunted by several events from his past; during his childhood and while in the military and FBI service. Ramsay and her editor Joe Bini cut and chop us into the past before slamming us back to the present abruptly. The effect is to place us in Joe’s disturbed mind-set, creating a psychologically unhinged trip into the heart of darkness. It takes a special filmmaker to manufacture such feelings via the editing dialectic; and I hadn’t felt such nervousness in the cinema since experiencing Dunkirk (2017).

youwereneverreallyhere2

Ramsay is ably supported in her vision by an incredibly eerie soundtrack from the genius that is Jonny Greenwood. His score scratches under one’s skin like a junkie curse while somehow managing to cling to melody too. Of course, the film would not be so compelling if it was not for Joaquin Phoenix’ battered, bearded bear of a performance. He invokes the naked pain and desperation of the character in his huge frame and determined shark eyes. When faced with an enemy he is a brutal killer but altogether gentler and, dare I say it, fun, while looking after his beloved mother. Overall, this is a nihilistic, gory, scary, unsettling and stunning work of cinema; and while it treads a familiar narrative road it’s presented with such dark energy and meticulous care one cannot fail to be moved.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)  

CLASSIC EXISTENTIAL FILM REVIEW – THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953)

CLASSIC EXISTENTIAL FILM REVIEW – THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953)

Winter is coming (Again)

A few weeks ago it was very cold and snowy in London and the UK in general. For the end of February and beginning of March the second coming of winter was most unexpected. My eighteen year old Ford Mondeo had been frozen to death with the battery at some kind of half-life and smoke pouring out of the bonnet; no doubt from the fusion of water and oil and air-conditioning liquid. I managed to park it up safely with no harm done and walked the half-an-hour to work. On route I saw a Supermarket delivery driver lugging shopping to someone’s doorstep in the bitter wind on the treacherous icy pavement. I suddenly thought: why do we do this? Why do we carry on? What is the point in it all?

I cannot complain; because things are actually good for me. I’m grateful because alas some people lose their lives in weather like this and have it much worse in regard to such conditions. How they cope I have no idea. I mean, we carry on don’t we? I thought about my current situation: the trivial issue of my car dying; having to walk in the snow; and the Supermarket worker delivering shopping in the freezing cold. I came to the conclusion it all pales into insignificance considering some of the major issues in the world. But we all carry on. We desire to continue living. The eternal existential question remains: why?!

IMG_1946

The Wages of Fear

George Arneud’s Le salaire de la peur translated as The Wages of Fear has been made three times into a film; notably by the great directors Henry-George Clouzot and William Friedkin. The desire to survive and fight and live and abide life is an incredibly powerful thing. It’s instinct in all of us; well, until life, poor decisions, bad luck, other humans’ behaviour or extraneous circumstances beat you into submission. Some people take their lives while others fight to the last breath. This, for me is the intrinsic nature of the film. Why carry on living even when it seems pointless to continue?

The Wages of Fear (1953) is a film I first saw on May 8th 1994 as a twenty-three year old; introduced by screenwriting guru Robert McKee on his brilliant movie season called Filmworks. It concerns a motley crew of European misfits trapped in an unnamed South American shanty town. They are invited to escape their plight by driving trucks of nitro-glycerine over deadly terrain to put out a massive oilfield fire. With McKee’s foreboding gravel voice introducing the film and the spellbinding premise in mind I was immediately compelled to watch.

current_21_528_large

I had, since the age of sixteen, worked at the Department of Social Security and as a civil servant I had often felt trapped in my job with no end in sight. Of course, I was over-dramatizing my situation somewhat as the next year I just left for University. However, that feeling of being existentially walled in has meant I’m drawn to such stories in film, literature, music and art etc. The Wages of Fear is all about desperate characters who are forced to risk their life to escape their current plight. Clouzot is careful to establish the terrain, motivation and context of the setting and characters. Thus, by the time the action starts and our anti-heroes – Yves Montand (cool and handsome Mario), Peter Van Eyck (laconic Bimba), Folco Lulli (energetic Luigi) and Charles Vanel (back-stabbing Jo) – are on their treacherous suicide mission we have some semblance of connection with them.

The suspense on the road is incredible. With tight, rocky trails ahead the trucks can only travel at a certain low speed or one bump could blow the vehicles to kingdom come. You have to wonder about the human spirit here and how desperate these characters must be to risk their lives. Clouzot directs the set-pieces with a razor-like precision as each of the trucks must face: oil-filled craters, rickety bridges, boulders and precipices; all while holding their shredded nerves together. Allied to the thriller aspect there is a strong socio-economic context which illustrates the dangerous capitalist ventures of the American oil company draining the 3rd world country of a valuable resource, while scorching the earth and exploiting the indigenous population.

wages-of-fear

On release The Wages of Fear won the Palm D’Or at Cannes and the Golden Bear at Berlin. It also holds 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and is regularly voted one of the best films ever made. The book / film has been adapted / remade twice as Violent Road (1958) and by the aforementioned William Friedkin. His film Sorceror (1977) is an over-looked classic as it transplants the action to a jungle in South America. Sorceror was a box office flop. It failed to find an audience during the summer of 1977 which was dominated by a certain George Lucas space adventure called Star Wars (1977). I finally watched it recently on Film Four and it’s a hard-bitten, cynical and explosive experience which despite the loathsome characters, led by Roy Scheider’s career criminal, still manages to thrill and chill in equal measures.

wages11-e1323360224458

FIN

The ending to The Wages of Fear is one of the most startling denouements to a film I’ve ever seen. It confirms the futility of existence and reflects deep down what we all feel about life and spend our days trying to block out. It’s that nagging feeling which never lets us off the hook, which haunts our sleep and whispers to us in the dark: what’s the point? Why carry on? What’s the point? Why bother? But of course you must carry on because life is a gift and life is good; especially when you can watch classic films like The Wages of Fear. Because while they hold a mirror up to the dark nature of existence, the sheer intensity of watching such films, paradoxically make life well worth living.