The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Countdown: 10 Actors Who Have Played Multiple Comic Book Characters On Screen

It was announced yesterday that Josh Brolin has been cast as Cable in the upcoming Deadpool 2 movie. Comic book movie fans will know that Brolin also plays Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Before he played Captain America, Chris Evans also appeared as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in two Fantastic Four movies. Brolin's Deadpool co-star Ryan Reynolds was also Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern movie, while Halle Berry has played both hero and villain as Storm and Catwoman respectively.

So here are ten more actors who have played different comic book characters on screen.

1. Ben Affleck

Before he was the Dark Knight, Affleck was Daredevil in the 2003 big screen version.

2. Angela Bassett

Appearing in Green Lantern as Amanda Waller, Bassett is taking the role of Queen Mother Ramonda in the upcoming Black Panther film.

3. Willem Dafoe

Dafoe played Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films; he will be playing Atlantean advisor Nuidis Vulko in Justice League and Aquaman

4. Laurence Fishburne

Known for playing Perry White in the DC Extended Universe films, Fishburne provides the voice of the titular character in  Fantastic Four: Rise Of The SIlver Surfer.

5. Tommy Lee Jones

From villain to hero: Jones played Harvey Dent/Two-Face in Joel Schumacher's camptastic Batman Forever, before taking the role of Colonel Chester Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger

6. Michael B. Jordan

Jordan is one of the few bearable things in Josh Trank's disastrous Fantastic Four reboot; he will appear in Black Panther as the wonderfully named Erik Killmonger.

7. Michael Keaton

From hero to villain: Keaton played the lead role in Tim Burton's two Batman movies, and will play Adrian Toomes/The Vulture in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming

8. Nicole Kidman

Kidman appeared with Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever as Dr. Chase Meridian; she will also play Queen Atlanna in the upcoming Aquaman film.

9. J.K. Simmons

Oscar-winner Simmons will be swapping The Daily Bugle for the Gotham City Police Department, going from playing J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films to Commissioner Gordon in Justice League.

10. Terence Stamp

Stamp played General Zod in Superman and Superman II (and also went on to be the voice of Jor-El in Smallville). He also played Elektra's mentor Stick in the 2005 Daredevil spin-off.

Bonus: Sylvester Stallone

Stallone played Judge Dredd in the 1995 film version of the 2000AD comic; he has a small role in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (but the character has not yet been revealed)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Ahead of the release of the live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson (which opens in the UK at the end of the month), I thought I should watch the original anime that the film is based on. Luckily, it is one of my partner's favourite films so we had a copy to hand.

It's 2029. Cyberisation is now widespread. Criminals are becoming more sophisticated and, as such, a new way must be found to deal with the threat. So Section 9 was set up- a small group of police (with various levels of cyberisation) to help combat crime. Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the operatives on the team. The Major and the rest of Section 9 come up against a new threat: a powerful hacker known as the Puppet Master, who can literally hack people...

Directed by Mamoru Oshii and written by Kazunori Ito (based on the manga by Masamune Shirow), Ghost In The Shell is widely considered to be one of the seminal works in anime history and, along with Akira (1988) and the films of Studio Ghibli, is responsible for bringing anime into the mainstream in the West.

It packs so much into its relatively slight running time of 83 minutes. It's a political conspiracy thriller. It's high concept science-fiction. It asks deep philosophical questions about what it means to be human and what indeed makes us human.

The Major is a full cyborg- her body is completely synthetic- but is possessed of memory, personality and character. She questions whether, because of her full cybernetic body, she still has any humanity and even questions whether her memories are real or artificial to make her feel more 'human'. When she finally meets the Puppet Master, these existential questions get thrown into full relief. It's an absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking part of the film.

The style of the film comes from a process called 'digitally generated animation', a combination of traditional cell animation, computer graphics, and audio which is entered as digital data. Amazingly, the animation still holds up 22 years later; indeed, we watched a section of Oshii's 2008 updated version (Ghost In The Shell 2.0) which featured updated 3D animation, that- by today's standards- looked incredibly dated. Hisao Shirai's cinematography is superb and the music, by Kenji Kawai, is just sublime.

It's definitely worth watching, although it's a film that requires and rewards your full attention.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (UK Cert U)

There's always a danger when a popular character in an animated movie gets their own spin-off. What can be amusing in small doses may not be so much when extended to a full film. The joke can sometime wear a little thin. Films like The Penguins Of Madagascar and Minions showcase this to greater or lesser degrees. Arguably, Batman was one of the best things about The Lego Movie. So how does he fare having his own movie?

Actually, really well. I loved every minute of The Lego Batman Movie.

From the opening voiceover to the end credits roll, the film is stuffed to the ginnels with humour, charm and energy. The film mercilessly sends up previous incarnations of move Batman (from the 1960s Adam West movie right up to 2016's Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice) but it's done so well and without malice, it's utterly enjoyable.

Will Arnett's voice performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne is just superb. He channels everything you associate with the Dark Knight; the brooding and alone-ness, keeping people at arm's length. The rest of the voice cast are similarly superb, with Michael Cera (an actor I've never been particularly fussed on) giving a lovely turn as Robin/Dick Grayson, the young orphan inadvertently adopted by Bruce at a charity gala who becomes Batman's right-hand man. Rosario Dawson is strong and no-nonsense as new commissioner Barbara Gordon who seeks to clean up Gotham without resorting to brooding vigilantes.

Frankly, if Jeremy Irons wasn't doing such a bang-up job of playing Alfred onscreen, I'd say get Ralph Fiennes in. Based on this performance, he'd be fantastic in the role. Zach Galifianakis (another actor I'm not massively fussed on) is great as The Joker. There's a clever subversion of romantic comedy tropes with the relationship between Batman and The Joker (with Joker particularly crushed that Batman doesn't consider him his 'greatest enemy'). There's also appearances from the vast majority of Batman's classic Rogues' Gallery which will please fans of The Dark Knight.

Just as with The Lego Movie, this film contains appearances from a lot of other franchises and series (including, but not limited to, Harry Potter, The Lord Of The Rings and Doctor Who, which I particularly enjoyed). I would imagine because Lego has the rights to a lot of things because of the Dimensions license, the screenwriters pretty much decided to throw everything and the kitchen sink in. But it works.

I'm not going to overanalyse it. I came out of the cinema absolutely buoyant after seeing The Lego Batman Movie. It made me laugh. A lot. I enjoyed all the references and the Easter Eggs. Definitely one for the DVD shelf.   

Rating: 5 out of 5


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Review: Arrival (UK Cert 12A)

Twelve spacecraft appear across the globe, speaking an unintelligible language. In the US, the army draft linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to help interpret and communicate with the alien visitors and- on her insistence- take her to Montana so she can communicate with them directly. Alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise begins to speak to the aliens to discover the purpose behind their arrival.

Directed with flair by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Incendies), with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer (adapted from a Ted Chiang short story entitled 'Story Of Your Life'), Arrival is a thoughtful, mature slice of sci-fi.

Let's address this right now. Amy Adams' performance was utterly superb and I can see exactly why there were cries of 'snub' when the Oscar nominations were announced. She can most certainly count herself unlucky to have missed out for one of the strongest performances she's ever given. She carries the emotional weight of the film- she is the heart and soul of it- and is just heartbreaking in certain scenes. Louise is fragile, but not weak; compassionate, but not a bleeding-heart; assured, but not arrogant. Another brilliant performance from one of the best actresses of her generation. 

Renner is also strong as the geeky, easy-going Ian. There's a really strong chemistry between Renner and Adams which helps to sell the interactions between Ian and Louise which is always good. Whilst the story is very much focused on Louise as the main character, Renner shines when he's on screen. There's strong support by Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, who helps recruit Louise in the first place; what could have been a fairly generic, by-the-numbers Army role is lifted by Whitaker's warm and sympathetic performance. There are also nice turns by Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma as an unsympathetic FBI agent and a bellicose Chinese general respectively. 

Technically, the film is very accomplished. The visual effects, from the design of the spacecraft to the design of the aliens and their linguistic symbols, are all superb. The score, by Johann Johannsson, is also sublime. 

The reveal of what the aliens' purpose is will probably make or break the film for you. I personally liked it, and found it interesting, but I can understand why some people might not agree with it. I found it raised some interesting psychological and philosophical questions which have stayed with me long after the film. 

If you like your sci-fi a little more cerebral, a little deeper than standard, then definitely give this a go. Also, don't be put off by the awards hype- it is truly deserving of the accolades it has received.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Monday, 27 February 2017

Bill Paxton (1955-2017)

We at The Watchers were very saddened to hear about the unexpected death of Bill Paxton, who passed away on February 25th 2017 following complications for surgery.

In addition to his acting work, Paxton was also a producer, director and writer. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Bill moved to Los Angeles when he was eighteen and found work as a set dresser for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. After some minor roles in films such as Stripes and Taking Tiger Mountain, he made a memorable appearance as the punk leader who harasses Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984)- and pays for it. In 1985, Paxton appeared in the John Hughes classic Weird Science as Wyatt's boorish bullying older brother Chet. 

In 1986, he appeared in another classic sci-fi franchise as Private Hudson in Aliens. Famous for his cry of 'Game over, man! Game over!' (which Paxton claimed he improvised, along with a lot of his dialogue), Hudson is dispatched by one of the aliens towards the end of the film. Four years later, he would complete the death-by-iconic-sci-fi-villain trifecta by appearing in Predator 2 and also being killed off.

His role as vampire Severen in Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) is one of his most highly-regarded roles as is one of his first leading roles- that of Dale Dixon in the 1992 One False Move. He would go on to play Wyatt Earp's brother Morgan in Tombstone, Simon in True Lies, Fred Haise in Apollo 13 and Bill Harding in Twister. He also played treasure hunter Brock Lovett in Titanic, providing the framing narrative for the film. 

He is quite brilliant as Hank in A Simple Plan, opposite Bridget Fonda and Billy Bob Thornton. He would go on to appear opposite a fifteen-foot mountain gorilla and Charlize Theron in the 1998 Disney film Mighty Joe Young then in the dubiously historically accurate Second World War submarine drama U-571 before making his directorial debut in 2001 with the thriller Frailty (in which he also starred). 

He also appeared in several family friendly films, such as Spy Kids 2: Island Of Lost Dreams, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and as Jeff Tracy in the 2004 live-action version of Thunderbirds. Later film roles include Haywire, 2 Guns, Edge Of Tomorrow and Nightcrawler. 

In 2006, Paxton took on his first major television role, playing polygamist patriarch Bill Henrickson, living with his three wives, in the HBO show Big Love. The show ran for five seasons and Paxton would be nominated for three Golden Globes for his role. He would also go on to have roles in the first season of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and was appearing in the TV version of Training Day at the time of his death. 

Director James Cameron was a close friend of Paxton's, directing him several times (in The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies and Titanic), and has paid tribute to Paxton saying:

'He was a good man, a great actor, and a creative dynamo. I hope that amid the gaudy din of Oscar night, people will take a moment to remember this wonderful man, not just for all the hours of joy he brought to us with his vivid screen presence, but for the great human that he was. The world is a lesser place for his passing, and I will profoundly miss him.' 

(Indeed, when introducing the In Memoriam section at the Oscars, a visibly upset Jennifer Aniston paid tribute to Paxton before the official montage began)

Paxton was a versatile, dedicated and talented character actor and he will be missed. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.

Rhys, Matt & Tez
The Watchers

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: The 89th Annual Academy Awards

Well, that was quite something. 

There's several things for which this Oscars ceremony will be remembered for, but giving the biggest award of the night to the wrong film will be right up there for years to come. Due to some form of cock-up, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly named La La Land as the Best Picture winner, only to then find out that Moonlight had won it instead! Cue a lot of embarrassment and a very gracious deferral from the producers of La La Land. 

This was the first time in a few years that I was actually able to watch the broadcast live (via Sky Cinema). I thought Jimmy Kimmel was an affable host. Despite his very self-effacing demeanour, the vast majority of his jokes hit (and he was able to admit the ones that didn't). His opening monologue was political without being tubthumping, and I did particularly enjoy his banter with Meryl Streep and the comment that, given the Trump administration, at least the Oscars don't look so racist now. I quite liked the mean tweets section and the stunt with the tour bus mostly worked, if it did drag on a little. 

As you can imagine, several of the speeches were political in nature, some more subtle than others. The most pointed came when the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year was announced. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (who directed The Salesman) was initially unable to attend the event due to the imposed travel ban. When the ban was lifted, he chose to boycott the event and instead sent Iranian engineer Anousheh Ansari to represent him. When The Salesman won, Ansari read a politically charged statement on Farhadi's behalf. 

Other noteworthy happenings from the ceremony: sound mixer Kevin O'Connell won his first Oscar (for Hacksaw Ridge) on his twenty-first nomination; Best Documentary Feature winner O.J.: Made In America is now officially the longest film to win an Oscar (coming in at an impressive 7hrs 47mins); Damien Chazelle is now the youngest Best Director winner at the tender age of 32. 

I wasn't surprised by 'City Of Stars' winning Best Original Song, although I think of the two songs nominated from La La Land I actually prefer 'Audition'. The musical numbers were scattered nicely through the evening, with Justin Timberlake kicking the evening off with a performance of 'Can't Stop The Feeling' then a wonderfully assured performance of 'How Far I'll Go' from Moana, sung by 16-year old Auli'i Cravalho. There was also a very moving In Memoriam section, beautifully accompanied by Sara Bareilles singing 'Both Sides Now' by Joni Mitchell. 

I was also really pleased by the Best Costume Design win for Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, although it still feels very wrong that you can now call Suicide Squad an Oscar-winning film (picking up Best Make-Up and Hairstyling)

As for my predictions... well, 5 out of 6 is alright (especially given the Best Picture farrago). As I said in my predictions, if any film was going to usurp La La Land from Best Picture, it would be Moonlight. All other predictions were correct and I thought Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis and Emma Stone all gave very lovely acceptance speeches. 

Despite the mistake at the end, La La Land was still the runaway winner of the night with six Oscars to its name. Moonlight had three, with Manchester By The Sea and Hacksaw Ridge both winning two. Despite multiple nominations, there was nothing for Lion, Hell Or High Water, Hidden Figures or Jackie

Below is the full list of winners at the 89th Annual Academy Awards:

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Moonlight

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester By The Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Zootopia

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: The Salesman

Best Cinematography: La La Land

Best Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Production Design: La La Land

Best Costume Design: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Suicide Squad

Best Original Score: La La Land

Best Original Song: 'City Of Stars' (La La Land)

Best Sound Mixing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Editing: Arrival

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Best Documentary (Feature): O.J.: Made In America

Best Documentary (Short Subject): The White Helmets

Best Animated Short Film: Piper

Best Live Action Short Film: Sing

Congratulations to all winners!

So that's it. Awards season is over for another year (and what a way to end it too!). As William Makepeace Thackeray says at the very end of Vanity Fair: 'Come children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.'

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to bed. It's been something of a long night.


Awards Season 2017: Tez's Official Oscar Predictions 2017

Tonight, the great and good of Hollywood will convene to celebrate the best of film-making in 2016 at the 89th Annual Academy Awards, which will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel for the first time.

It has become a tradition for me to predict the nominations and the winners in the main six categories (the four acting categories, Best Director and Best Picture).  I've done this since 2003 with varying degrees of success. 

So, without further ado, here are my predictions for who will win.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Whilst an argument could be made that the role of Rose is more of lead actress one, it still doesn't take away from the intensity and passion of Davis' performance. She's won the Critics' Choice, Golden Globes, BAFTA and SAG awards, so I'm as confident as I can be that she'll be up on the stage tonight collecting a well-deserved Oscar. 

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

A finely-observed supporting turn by Ali, who plays local drug dealer and father figure to young Chiron. Again, he's been a stand out winner for most awards so I fully expect to see him named tonight. 

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

With wins at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTA, it puts Stone ahead of the pack. Her performance as Mia is arguably the stronger of the two leads (sorry, Ryan). That said, I am less confident about my pick for this one, as it there's always the possibility that another actress (likely Natalie Portman or Isabelle Huppert) could win. 

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Affleck has been the runaway winner for his taut, muscular turn as Lee Chandler in Kenneth Lonergan's quiet study of grief. Much like Viola Davis, I don't see any other name being called out in this category tonight. 

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Best Picture: La La Land

OK, here's the thing. I am as certain as I can get that Chazelle will win Best Director, and it will be deserved, because La La Land is a technically very accomplished film, from the amazing opening song-and-dance number on the LA freeway to the quiet and melancholic ending. La La Land has also been the stand-out winner of Best Picture awards (plus it won the PGA). Films about films, acting and the like do well at the Academy and its heady air of escapism is exactly what's needed at the moment. But that said, if there's any film that could rain on La La Land's parade, it's most likely to be Moonlight. Whilst I fully expect La La Land to take the main prize tonight, I wouldn't be surprised if Moonlight pulls off a surprise win at the end of the evening. 

Last year, I got 5 out of 6, with my Best Supporting Actor prediction going to Sylvester Stallone rather than eventual winner Mark Rylance. I feel pretty confident about 4 of my 6; Best Actress has a question mark on it and I'm wavering over Best Picture. But it's time to pin my colours to the mast as it were.

There'll be a full blog tomorrow discussing my thoughts on the ceremony and a list of all the winners.

Good luck to all nominees and may the odds be ever in your favour.


Awards Season 2017: Independent Spirit Awards and Razzies Winners

 This is the first of two posts today about awards season, as it all comes to the grand finale tonight with the 89th Annual Academy Awards. They can be viewed on a dedicated Sky Movies channel in the UK and on ABC in the US.

I'll post my predictions for who will win at the Oscars tonight in a little bit, but first there's the small matter of a couple of other awards to deal with first.


Yesterday- Saturday 25th February- saw the handing out of the Independent Spirit Awards, in a ceremony hosted by Nick Kroll (Loving, Sing, Vacation) and John Mulaney (Mayne Street, Saturday Night Live). These honour films made (partly or wholly) outside the major film studio system. Some of the winners are below.

Best Feature: Moonlight

Best Female Lead: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Best Male Lead: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Best Supporting Female: Molly Shannon (Other People)

Best Supporting Male: Ben Foster (Hell Or High Water)

Best Director: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Screenplay: Moonlight

Best First Screenplay: The Witch

Best Cinematography: Moonlight

Best First Feature: The Witch

Best International Film: Toni Erdmann

Best Documentary: O.J.: Made In America

John Cassavetes Award: Spa Night

The John Cassavetes Award is given to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000. The full list of winners can be found here.

Moonlight was the big winner of the evening, with six awards (including the prestigious Robert Altman Award) Can it pull off what many would see as an upset by taking home the main prize at tonight's Oscars? That could indeed be a possibility. Casey Affleck adds another trophy to his haul (and almost certainly will add another one tonight), whilst wins for Toni Erdmann and O.J.: Made In America won't do their chances of Oscar glory any harm either. 


The 37th Annual Golden Raspberry Awards were also handed out yesterday (in their now-traditional Oscars Eve ceremony).

Here's the full 'winners' list:

Worst Picture: Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party 

Worst Director: Dinesh D'Souza & Bruce Schooley (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Actor: Dinesh D'Souza [as Himself] (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Actress: Becky Turner [as Hillary Clinton]  (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Supporting Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Worst Supporting Actress: Kristen Wiig (Zoolander No. 2

Worst Remake, Sequel Or Rip-Off: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Worst Screen Combo: Ben Affleck & Henry Cavill (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

Worst Screenplay: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Razzie Redeemer: Mel Gibson

Whilst I'm not surprised by the kicking that Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice got, at least it can count itself lucky in some respects. Hillary's America 'won' all bar one of its nominations and the co-director/writer/lead actor Dinesh D'Souza has responded to the wins (much in the same way he did to the nominations). This is the first time in the history of the Razzies that a documentary has won Best Picture.

The Razzie Redeemer wasn't voted on by the users of Rotten Tomatoes this year (they instead voted for Worst Screen Combo) but Gibson's work on Hacksaw Ridge does warrant praise. 

This just leaves the Oscars tonight. As promised, my predictions for the big winners will be coming soon.


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: Hell Or High Water (UK Cert 15)

A surprise inclusion for the Best Picture Oscar, Hell Or High Water is a crime thriller-cum-Western, written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and directed by David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Hallam Foe, Starred Up)

Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard are robbing banks. But not just any banks; they're only targeting branches of Texas Midland Bank. And they're not taking anything from the customers or the tellers; they're taking money from the banks themselves. After two robberies- where very little money has actually been stolen- Ranger Marcus Hamilton and his deputy Alberto Parker are handed the case. But why these branches? Why so little money? Where will they hit next? And can Hamilton and Parker stop them before they do?

Hell Or High Water is a bit of an odd fish, to be fair. It's part Western, part heist movie, part thriller, part social commentary, part action. Yet from this Frankenstein's Monster patchwork comes a thoughtful, well-made film that neatly balances the different genres into a mostly cohesive whole. The social commentary is nicely underplayed (no tubthumping here) whilst the Western setting is used to good effect. 

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play the Howard brothers, with Pine as the sensible, stoic Toby and Foster as the wilder, unpredictable Tanner. The camaraderie between the two is nice to see, and really helps to sell the family relationship. While Foster gets the more showy role (and excels at it), Pine gives a nuanced and restrained performance which is all the more powerful in relief to Foster's exuberance. Jeff Bridges is superb in his supporting role as the grizzled and curmudgeonly Hamilton, also forming a nice partnership with Gil Birmingham (who plays Parker). Hamilton is a grumpy old man, but still has an incisive and analytical mind- indeed, at one point, he works out the brothers' next move before they decide themselves. 

The film has been very well cast, even down to minor roles such as an old man in one of the first banks the brothers rob (Buck Taylor) and a hard-ass waitress at a T-Bone steak restaurant (Margaret Bowman). These minor characters not only add some levity to proceedings but really help to give the flavour of the Texan towns they're set in. 

The cinematography by Giles Nuttgens is particularly good, making the most of the impressive landscapes of New Mexico (doubling for Texas). The film also has a superb soundtrack- including original music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis- but also using existing songs by Waylon Jennings, Scott H. Biram, Gillian Welch and Chris Stapleton to provide an evocative soundscape that really enhances the film.

I originally wanted to see the film when it was released in cinemas back in September but didn't get the chance. I picked it up on DVD and I'm glad I did. A solid, decent film.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Review: Moonlight (UK Cert 15)

A touching, tender, coming-of-age story, Moonlight tells the story of a young black man growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood in Miami.

A timid, meek boy, neglected by his drug addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris), Chiron (Alex Hibbert) finds an unlikely mentor and father figure in local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). Later, as a teenager, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) comes to terms with his sexuality after an emotionally charged encounter with his friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Ten years later, a now adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (Andre Holland) meet again as adults to discuss the past.

It's based on an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue (which is also a line in the film). McCraney receives a story credit whilst director Barry Jenkins is also credited as screenwriter. The film is structured much like a three-act play with each section focusing on a different part of Chiron's life. 

The three actors playing Chiron- Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes- all have different challenges but all three are superb. Hibbert's innocence and quietness (he hardly speaks in the first ten minutes of the film) is a lovely complement to Sanders' sensitivity and Rhodes' laconic toughness. As the teenage Chiron, Sanders probably has the most meaty part of the film (the scenes of bullying are tough to watch and the encounter between Chiron and Kevin on the beach is breathtakingly erotic without being explicit) but there's a raw honesty in all three actors which really helps the audience get behind the character.  

Ali and Harris have been the actors most recognised for their roles, and with good reason. Ali gives a real warmth to his performance as Juan. Eschewing traditional drug-dealer stereotypes, his almost paternal care for the young Chiron is touching (none more so in the scene where he teaches Chiron to swim). He's also refreshingly progressive- explaining to Chiron that a homophobic slur is 'used to make gay people feel bad', rather than reinforcing it. But at the end of the day, he is no saint and is complicit in Paula's drug use. The film does lose a certain amount of warmth after Juan's departure (he only appears in the first section). However, Janelle Monae proves that her strong supporting turn in Hidden Figures isn't a one-off as she gives a warm and nurturing performance as Juan's girlfriend Teresa (who provides security for Chiron as a child and teenager).

Harris' performance will stay with you long after the film has ended. Paula is selfish, emotionally abusive, neglectful; by rights, you should hate her. But rather than hatred, I felt a strange kind of sympathy for- or maybe empathy with- her (especially in the last third of the film, when the now adult Chiron visits her in a rehabilitation centre). She is the only actress who appears in all three sections of the film and she gives an authentic and emotionally honest performance.

Technically, it's pretty good (although some of the camera-work is a little jolty). It doesn't overdo any of the visual metaphors which is good and the film stays mostly to the right side of pretentious. The score by Nicholas Britell is also worth a mention as it's sublime.

Whilst I don't agree with the ghettoisation of film (labelling it 'a black film' or 'a gay film'; film's film and that's that as far as I'm concerned), Moonlight neatly defies easy categorisation and provides an honest and powerful experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Review: Fences (UK Cert 12A)

Originally written by August Wilson in 1983, Fences won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tonys (including Best Play) for its initial production. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis appeared in the 2010 Broadway revival of the play, both winning Tonys for their performances. The two actors are reunited for this film version, with Washington pulling double duty as director too.

Troy Maxson (Washington) is a former baseball star in Pittsburgh. Whilst an exceptional player in the Negro League, Troy never made it to the Major Leagues (which he ascribes to racism). Now hauling trash for a living, he struggles to provide for his family. Rose (Davis) has asked Troy to put a fence up in the garden and Troy has co-opted youngest son Cory (Jovan Adepo) to help. Cory has the opportunity for a college football scholarship, which puts him on a collision course with his father.

Washington is exceptional in the lead role of Troy. Full of bluster, regret, indignation, the role of Troy is a real challenge and Washington handles it with aplomb. Wilson's dialogue is dense. Really baroque, without being flowery (I can imagine massive blocks of text on a page). Washington handles these with ease. You might not always like Troy as a character- his treatment of Cory has as much to do with jealousy than wanting to protect his child- but it's a truly brilliant performance. 

Frankly, if Viola Davis doesn't win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Rose, then it'll be the biggest Oscar robbery since Brokeback Mountain not winning Best Picture (no, I'm still not over it). She is simply superb in every scene. A woman who is fiercely protective of her kin but no pushover, she is the force that binds the family together as it threatens to tear apart. It's a really meaty role which Davis- exceptional actress that she is- plays to the hilt. When Rose finally gets to call Troy out, Davis channels a fury and a rage that is quite literally breathtaking. The tsunami of emotion erupts and it is just superb.

When you have two towering performances in the leads, everyone else needs to up their game. And they do. Adepo is wonderful as Cory, wanting to step out from under his father's shadow and forge his own way in the world. There's a lovely turn by Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy's friend, co-worker and confidante Jim Bono and by Russell Hornsby as Lyons, Troy's son from a previous relationship. A musician, Lyons- like Cory- wants his father to be proud of him.

Finally, Mykelti Williamson is heartbreaking as Troy's brother Gabe. An ex-soldier, brain-damaged during World War II and now constantly under the threat of being institutionalised for causing public disturbances, Gabe's compensation money provides the roof over Troy's head. Child-like, innocent and unworldly, Gabe is now a soldier for St Peter (Judgement Day is a constant theme). There's also a touching turn by Saniyya Sidney towards the end of the film but to discuss her role would be a massive spoiler.

Wilson completed the screenplay before his death in 2005 and it is (I imagine) a very faithful adaptation of the stage play. But that is the main failing of the film: it feels like watching a live broadcast of a performance rather than a film. Confining the majority of the action to the backyard and the kitchen robs the film of scope, and also the opportunity to see other characters rather than just hear about them. We could have seen Bono's wife Lucille, or sat in on Troy's meeting with the commissioner, maybe seen Miss Pearl and Gabe in her house. It would have made the film more alive in a way.

Sometimes I will recommend a film because of its performances, not necessarily because of the film itself. If you want to see an absolute masterclass of acting, see Fences. There's not a bad performance in the bunch. In fact, this is one of the strongest ensemble casts I've seen in film for a good long while.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Monday, 20 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: Writers' Guild Awards Winners

Just a quick update today as The Writers' Guild Awards were handed out yesterday (Sunday 19th February).

The film winners were:

Original Screenplay: Moonlight

Adapted Screenplay: Arrival

Documentary Screenplay: Command And Control

The Oscars have put Moonlight in the Adapted Screenplay category (as it's based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who gets a story credit with Jenkins credited for the screenplay). Under the WGA rules, because McCraney's play was unproduced, Jenkins is credited as sole screenwriter. 

Either way, the two WGA winners will go head to head in the Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars with 20th Century Women, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, The Lobster and Hell Or High Water in contention for Original Screenplay.

For anyone interested, Command And Control is a documentary about the near launch of a nuclear missile from Arkansas in the 1980s. So now you know. 

And now the end is near... Awards Season comes to a head this coming weekend with the Razzies and the Independent Spirit Awards being handed out on Saturday (25th February) with the 89th Academy Awards rounding things off on Sunday (26th February). 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: BAFTA Film Awards Winners

Tonight (Sunday 12th February), at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the 70th British Academy Film Awards were given out in a star-studded ceremony hosted once again by the utterly luminous Stephen Fry. Viola Davis, Amy Adams, Naomie Harris, Eddie Redmayne, Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Ken Loach, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Emma Stone were among some of the stars in attendance to celebrate the best in film.

Here's a full list of BAFTA winners:

Best Film: La La Land

Outstanding British Film: I, Daniel Blake

Leading Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Leading Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Supporting Actor: Dev Patel (Lion)

Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Original Screenplay: Manchester By The Sea

Adapted Screenplay: Lion

Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer: Babak Arivari (writer/director), Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh (producers of Under The Shadow)

Animated Film: Kubo And The Two Strings

Documentary: 13th

Film Not In The English Language: Son Of Saul

Cinematography: La La Land

Costume Design: Jackie

Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Make Up And Hair: Florence Foster Jenkins

Original Music: La La Land

Production Design: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Sound: Arrival

Special Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Short Animation: A Love Story

Short Film: Home

Rising Star: Tom Holland

Outstanding British Contribution To Cinema: Curzon Cinemas

BAFTA Fellowship: Mel Brooks

The first award of the evening was Outstanding British Film which, unsurprisingly and deservedly, went to I, Daniel Blake. Ken Loach's acceptance speech set the tenor for the rest of the evening- many of the acceptance speeches were political in nature, either pointing out the common humanity within creative arts or criticising policies made both here and overseas. 

I was a little surprised by Emma Stone and Dev Patel winning but it's nice to see something a bit different to the usual. Hence, it was quite lovely to see Kubo And The Two Strings win Animated Film over the juggernaut that has been Zootopia

La La Land was the big winner of the evening with five BAFTAs, Lion and Manchester By The Sea each had two. Despite nine nominations, Nocturnal Animals walked away empty-handed, as did Moonlight

So next in awards season will be the Writers' Guild Awards which will be handed out next Sunday (19th February), just one week before the Oscars. There'll be a small post about it on Monday 20th, ahead of what's going to be a busy week.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Countdown: 10 Oscar-Nominated Actors Who Have Appeared In Doctor Who

Few television shows are as iconic or as culturally dominant as Doctor Who. Even if you're not a fan, you know about the TARDIS, the Daleks, K9. Its influence is felt all over the world and- much like the Harry Potter franchise- it's seen as a bit of a mark of street cred to appear in it. This goes for actors just starting in their careers as well as established stars.

So, here are ten Oscar-nominated actors that have appeared in Doctor Who. They are listed in the order in which they appeared on the show.

1. Pauline Collins

Pauline Collins is not only one of a small group of Oscar nominees who have appeared in Doctor Who, but she's also one of a small group of actors who have appeared in both the classic and revived series too. She played Samantha Briggs in the Patrick Troughton story The Faceless Ones and then appeared as Queen Victoria opposite David Tennant in Tooth And Claw. She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Shirley Valentine.

2. Richard Todd

Todd's Oscar nomination came in 1950 for his lead role in The Hasty Heart. It would be more than 30 years later before he would appear in Doctor Who, appearing as Sanders in the rather trippy and philosophical Peter Davison story Kinda.

3. Eric Roberts

Few roles in Doctor Who are as iconic as the Doctor's nemesis, The Master. Roberts (nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Runaway Train) took the role in the 1996 TV Movie opposite Paul McGann. He doesn't quite fit the role but seems to be having an absolute ball, especially with lines as camp as 'I always dress for the occasion'.

4. Andrew Garfield

One of this year's Best Actor nominees for his stunning turn in Hacksaw Ridge, Garfield appeared as Frank in the 2007 two-part story Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution Of The Daleks.

5. Carey Mulligan

The 2007 episode Blink (which introduces the Weeping Angels) is widely thought of as one of the best episodes of the revived series. That's in no short measure to the brilliant performance by Carey Mulligan as substitute companion Sally Sparrow. Mulligan would go on to be nominated for Best Actress for her role in An Education.

6. Felicity Jones

Eight years before her Best Actress nomination for playing Jane Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, Felicity appeared as socialite-with-a-secret Robina Redmond in the very fun Agatha Christie inspired episode The Unicorn And The Wasp.

7. Sophie Okonedo

Sophie Okonedo was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda. She played kick-ass future monarch Liz Ten in The Beast Below (Matt Smith's second story as the Doctor). Whilst it's not very good, Okonedo is excellent. She reprises her role in a later episode, The Pandorica Opens.

8. Imelda Staunton

Imelda Staunton was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Vera Drake in 2005 (the same year as Sophie Okonedo). In 2011, she appeared as the Voice of the Interface in the Matt Smith story The Girl Who Waited. Her soothing tones help companion Amy Pond survive alone on an alien planet.

9. Ian McKellen

Acting legend Sir Ian McKellen has been nominated for two Oscars: Best Actor for playing film director James Whale in Gods And Monsters and Best Supporting Actor for playing Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. In 2012, he provided the Voice of the Great Intelligence in the Christmas special The Snowmen.

10. John Hurt

The late, great John Hurt was nominated for two Oscars- for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Midnight Express and Best Actor for The Elephant Man. In 2013, he appeared as The War Doctor, a previously hidden incarnation of the Time Lord, for the 50th anniversary story The Day Of The Doctor and went on to reprise his role for audio dramas for Big Finish.

BONUS: Peter Capaldi

The incumbent Time Lord- who will sadly be leaving the series at the end of this year- is not only an Oscar nominee but an Oscar winner! In 1995, Peter won the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar for writing and directing Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life. Here he is, with his award: