Starred Up

starred-up_1109This week I got gifted to a free preview screening of this new prison drama starring Jack O’Connell. Eric (O’Connell) is a young offender with a real violence issue who is transferred for the first time to adult prison. He is prematurely transferred as the term ‘starred up’ means he has caused too much trouble for the juvenile prison to contain him. Things don’t go well to begin with at the new prison and then he runs into his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who is himself very quick to anger and has caused Eric some real emotional trauma in the past by being absent (presumably behind bars). An anger management counsellor, Oliver (Rupert Friend), tries to take Eric under his wing and begins to make real progress but Neville doesn’t like to think that someone is doing a better job with his son than he is and what follows is a gripping, gritty and important prison drama for our times.

In all the reviews I’ve read for the film so far the acting has been the main source of praise, and it’s hard to argue with that. O’Connell’s troubled youngster is so believable its hard to separate the actor from the character. A perfect example of the kind of kid that society has given up on. Mendelsohn is also brilliant, his Neville is short on brains and an obvious pointer to why Eric is the way he is, he’s made into a fully fleshed human being by Mendelsohn and is exactly the kind of character you imagine would exist in jail. The writing deserves commendation as well creating a simple plot that remains gripping throughout and really manages to gain an emotional attachment with the audience, it is only let down by an abrupt ending that seems a bit out of place and far-fetched, it’s as though they previously thought the ending didn’t have enough punch and ended up rushing an over dramatic set piece finish. That said it’s not enough to make you view the film as a lesser piece of work, this is one of the most complete British drama’s you will find at the cinema this year.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Starred Up would be a cheaply written, youth oriented prison drama for the Kidulthood generation but in reality this is a gripping, realistic portrayal that brings forward some important issues about our society. One of the very few great British dramas around, go and see it!

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True Detective – Season 1

HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary FukunagaHBO’s latest offering brough us Matthew Mconaughey and Woody Harrelson as two homicide detectives involved in a dark case. With the initial murder taking place back in 1995 the show flits between then and now. Mconaughey’s Rust Cohle and Harrelson’s Marty Hart are first time partners on the original case but in the modern day Rust has gone off the rails and is a chain-smoking alcoholic, and the pair haven spoken for years. Being interviewed separately about the case they believed to have been solved seventeen years ago but another body has been found. All eight episodes of the season are written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga giving the series an overall style and feel that many shows can’t manage as a collaborative medium.

It’s true that there are a lot of detective shows out there, in all different shapes and forms television has always been obsessed with murder investigations and dirty cops. So the question is why should True Detective be the one you watch? Well, where to begin. The most staggering thing about this series is the quality of the writing. It’s a very dialogue heavy show, which may not suit everyone, but this provides an excellent basis for character development and it doesn’t take long before you see these two A-List movie stars as their characters. Pizzolatto’s scripts are deliciously dark with very little in the way of happiness but he has a real knack for creating flawed protagonists that are still likeable if, at times, questionably immoral. As the tension of the investigation builds so does the action, which is handled ridiculously well by Fukunaga, you may have seen around that episode four (perhaps the greatest hour hour of television you will see for a long, long time) features a six-minute unbroken tracking shot during an undercover mission where, to put it bluntly, shit hits the fan making the show every bit as exciting and cool as any blockbuster movie you’ll go and see. And of course, none of this greatness could have been achieved without a cast to match and Mconaughey and Harrelson deliver some of the best performances of both their careers. Mcounaghey, of late, has become the most exciting actor around and his turn here is probably equal to that of his Oscar winning portrayal in Dallas Buyers Club. Harrelson is just as good, neither of the two ever steal the attention and instead manage to create this very real volatile relationship with each other.

Television is improving at such an astonishing rate that we will soon never be without top quality shows like this. True Detective shows us just how far TV drama has come in recent years and brings with it some of the best stuff you will see on your screens this year. let’s hope they don’t ruin it with a lacklustre second season because this is damn near perfection.

 

House of Cards – Season Two

Kevin-Spacey-in-House-of-Cards-Season-2-Chapter-26Since season one of the show I have watched the first two series of the original British version. What’s quite impressive is that the first three-part British miniseries covers the same more ground than the entire first 13-episode American season. By the end of this second season we have still only reached the point in the plot that the original British version reached in three episodes. That said it would be a bit too easy to judge this American incarnation on the fact that it’s spread the plot across so much more material, and it would be very unfair. So we rejoin Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) after seeing just how ruthless the pair of them can be at the end of the first season.

Episode one doesn’t hang about in hitting that ruthlessness home with a very sudden and unexpected death of a major player in proceedings. From here on in Frank and Claire become more and more cold and calculated as they plot Franks rise to the Presidency not caring about any casualties on the way. In the first season one of the issues was that the power-hungry couple were unrivalled in their ability and only a very small handful of characters had them properly sussed. In this season that issue is addressed and it makes for much more entertaining viewing seeing the Underwoods struggling to keep people on their side, and for the first time see their positions actually threatened. However, when the episodes start to come to an end it seemed as though none of this threat had any point to it and we come out of season two still believing that Frank and Claire are completely untouchable. On top of this we have a number of new storylines in this season which when we get to the end seem to have very little bearing on what actually matters. For example we have our computer hacker, Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) who has quite a few scenes and whenever he’s around I just simply didn’t care. We also had Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan) an ex-call girl linked with Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) who until the very end of the season seems to have very little bearing on the main plot, that said she does do something very interesting when the season draws to a close. It may well be that these stories will eventually have bearing on proceedings but in season two particularly in the middle section that they just detract from what the shows actually about. I can’t even begin to try and understand why they felt the need to include a scene involving Franks, Claire and a certain assistant in some sharing a very strange experience which again seemed to have no point other than to provide the show with a sex appeal that it didn’t have before, but did it need it?

For me season two is another very enjoyable collection of TV but it felt like it spent too much simply treading water, though I said it would be unfair to judge it against the concise nature of the British nature I really think this could have done with being significantly shorter. That said this is still a show worth watching and I look forward to it’s third season.

 

CAGE RAGE: Zandalee

Zan1Zandalee looked very much like a promising venture for Cage. Featuring one of the most insane Cage meltdowns and casting the man himself as a manic artist who acts on impulse and is, supposedly, really sexy. What ensued however was one of the worst things I have ever witnessed in my life.

The plot, if you can call it that, follows Zandalee (Erika Anderson) who is having marriage problems with her poet husband, Thierry (Judge Reinhold). Being such an emotional sol Thierry has deemed himself unfit to have sex with Zandalee anymore, this is explained through his ridiculously non-sensical and just plain boring dialogue. It actually beggars belief just how absolutely awful his dialogue is, its as if with every line he’s attempting to speak poetry but none of it sounds good nor has any meaning. After watching this film for ten minutes you learn that it’s actually impossible to pay any attention to any of the dialogue because its such utter drivel. So, anyway, Zandalee and Thierry are having their problems and then Cage turns up and Zandalee falls for him eventually leading to a sexual fling. After a couple encounters between the pair Thierry catches on to what’s going on between them and starts to go about dealing with the issue in a really bizarre way. There are ridiculous scenes in which he talks in his strange anti-poetry and explains that he should be angry with someone for sleeping with his wife but is actually grateful that he’s satisfying her in a way that he can’t. When things draw to a climax the three of them go on a trip away with a speed boat and things kick off in what is possibly the lamest resolution ever written. After this Cage has his meltdown, in which he covers himself in black paint.

As great as the meltdown is this makes up for five minutes of an hour and forty of completely awful shit. This may well be the worst film I’ve ever seen, perhaps, even worse than Stolen and not even a Cage meltdown can save this, its a wonder anyone involved in this movie went on to have a career in the business.

CAGE RAGE RATING – 4/5 (begrudgingly)

Only Lovers Left Alive

only-lovers-left-alive03So the Oscar season may have drawn to a close but that’s not to say there’s not a load more quality films to get excited about in the coming weeks. This week saw the release of Jim Jarmusch’s vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive. Starring Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton the indie auteur takes us on a dark yet warm trip with this rather unconventional couple. In his distinctive unusual style the film is not especially plot-driven but is an artistic depiction of these two incredibly interesting characters and array of their acquaintances.

The casting here is superb and can’t be faulted. Hiddlestone’s Adam is a reclusive, suicidal music lover, with a particular taste for funeral music. He is taken care of by Ian, (Anton Yelchin) a human, or zombie as the vampires name them, who delivers Adam anything he needs mainly guitars and in exchange Ian spreads his music into the club scene, albeit without naming Adam at any point with unmarked plain records. Swinton’s Eve is a very different personality to Adam, she is excited and amazed by any knowledge she can gain and has some friends in the outside world, including a fellow vampire Marlowe (John Hurt). Swinton looks absolutely incredible throughout, he back-combed silver-white hair coupled with her otherworldly features, especially her big, dark eyes, have never looked better. Jarmusch manages to create an authentic look for all the characters as a matter of fact and that authenticity is really at heart of why I liked this film so much. Another great character Ava (Mia Wasikowska) is also brilliantly written, turning up un-announced she really provides with an idea of just how different these vampire can be. Music is pumping through this films veins, at times there are long sections of just music without dialogue and these work particularly well to create the Jarmusch’s desired mood throughout.

If there was a problem it would be a lack of tension or excitement, perhaps, it could have done with a more plot-driven script. However, overall this perfectly crafted mood piece is enough to carry you through to the end and leave the cinema having witnessed two characters who define cool and redefine why vampires are such an interesting idea. very much the anti-Twilight the vampire genre deserved.

Her

her-fp-0864_wide-1921514ec201ced0a9f0385827ba5e1b7bf29287-s6-c30Another week sees another Best Picture nomination with Her. The movie I’d been looking forward to perhaps the most of them all directed by Spike Jonze whose flawless track record makes him one of my personal favourites. While his last movie, Where The Wild Things Are divided many opinions I thought it was beautiful film with a tone and mood that is completely unique to Jonze’s style. Her stars Joaquin Phoenix in a slightly futuristic version of our world where the technology has advanced to the point of almost artificial intelligence. Theodore (Phoenix) buys a new operating system OS-1, which simulates a personality and becomes a new love interest for the emotionally awkward Theo.

As with Where The Wild Things Are Jonze manages to create a mood throughout Her, with it’s drained yet bright colour pallet and unique vision of future fashion the film is just visually stunning. The look provides the perfect setting for a touching, emotional story that raises a number of serious questions about where society is headed. Her is beautifully written, Theodore works for a company in the movie called ‘BeautifullyHandwrittenLetters.com’ and with that comes a number of really sensitively letters he’s written for other people but they provide the perfect way in to this complex character and all through the film is used to give us sympathy for him rather than laugh at his plight. The love between Theodore and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is so well written as well, Jonze manages to capture a real essence of what it is to be in love and at the same time cleverly works in the issues that arise with falling for a machine. When the relationship inevitably hits some problems Her finds a real warm heart and whereas it could have left you feeling depressed it leaves you feeling warm yet still wandering about where the world might be headed.

Her is one of the most beautiful films you will see this year and a worthy nominee for best picture. Jonze further makes his name as a unique auteur with a talent for screenwriting that hasn’t been showcased before. Performance-wise Phoenix is just perfect and Her won’t leave your head for days after viewing.