evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Film

NUMERO UNO

Often you’ll hear writers admit that they are bad at maths. Occasionally, it’s trumpeted as a badge of honour, as if, by being lousy with numbers, one is de facto a whiz with words. Well, I’m genuinely embarrassed to confess that I’m rubbish at sums, always have been and always will be, without making great claims of literary prowess. The very mention of the word ‘percentage’ has me breaking out in a sweat. I hyperventilate at ‘algebraic equation’. Don’t get me started on mathematics’ close cousin, quantum physics because it elicits nausea, spots before the eyes and, finally, fade out. I put it down to consistently receiving a verbal thrashing from my father who, and without trying to go all Jeremy Kyle on the subject, found maths a doddle and couldn’t understand why his daughter was such a dimwit. My lifelong aversion to numerals explains why I’ve given Oscar winning ‘The Theory of Everything,’ based on the life of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, a wide berth.

Until last week.

And what a fool I’d been.

If only I’d had Jane Wilde (played by Felicity Jones) as my teacher. In a memorable scene, involving potatoes and peas, she explains an aspect of quantum physics in a way that even I got it. But what blew me away, and explains why Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar was so richly deserved, is the way in which Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking, physically transforms from a healthy twenty-one year-old to a man in thrall to Motor Neurone Disease that robbed him of pretty much everything bar his ability to procreate and think.

In our image-conscious society, where so many of us worship the body beautiful, the film and Hawking throw up fundamental questions about attitudes to disability, the emphasis on what we look like versus who we are, and what we rate as important in a human being. I love films that make me think. And the Brits are very good at it.

And does a man who is physically bent out of shape by a disease cease to be sexy? Not a bit of it. The women in his life adore him because Hawking’s mind, along with his mischievous sense of humour, provides the big turn-on. It’s no accident that the most observant contemporary female writers allude to ‘bad sex’ as much as ‘good sex’ in the lives of their main protagonists because they recognise that a tight arse, rack of abs and pecs to die for, or the most beautiful features are not essential to attract members of the opposite sex.  I expect a smart bod will tell me that there’s a mathematical equation for falling in love too.

BLOODY NORA!

One of my most prized literary possessions is a dictionary of slang. Last week, I tried to find out the origin of ‘Bloody Nora’ and came up empty. Help was at hand through a familiar on-line source, and I quickly discovered that it started out as a Cockney phrase ‘flamin-orror’ that morphed into ‘Flamin’ Nora’ and, finally, the more colourful version, ‘Bloody Norah.’ What the hell does this have to do with anything, you might ask?

Well, it was the phrase that popped out of my mouth unbidden when watching the sequel to the Malaysian sub-titled film ‘The Raid.’ As it turned out ‘flamin’ was rather apposite for one particularly gruesome scene. And, my goodness, I wouldn’t advise you to watch it if you’ve just had your dinner. Talk about paint the town red.

The story, such as it was, involves Rama, a cop going undercover to gain access to a deadly criminal outfit in order to produce names and evidence. Actually, I forgot all this because the violence that quickly erupted superseded the narrative. Now don’t get me wrong, never has 143 minutes flown so quickly. I was utterly mesmerised by the fabulously choreographed fight scenes – why bother with a gun when you have a deft pair of feet and hands? However these were not the only weapons on show. There was a young guy with a ball and what looked like a rounders bat that most have weighed a ton, (all the better to smash someone’s face in) and a woman who was pretty nifty with a pair of claw hammers. (I had a vision of a backroom team sitting in a small office pitching ideas for the most innovative way to bump someone off.) As you might imagine, there was a point where I grabbed a breath and gave thanks for having a relatively sound mind. With so much blood gushing from every orifice on-screen, what might those visual images do to someone of a more vulnerable and impressionable disposition? Not that I’m advocating censorship. It did make me wonder, however, whether graphic violence packs more punch when the story isn’t in one’s native tongue.   Is there an added scary dimension because it seems slightly unfamiliar? I’m not sure…

I’m guessing ‘The Raid 2’ might be considered tame fare for fans of the horror genre, but, bloody Nora, I think this is pretty much as far as I want to go.

PLAYING CATCH-UP

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Cillian Murphy, especially in his role as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders, which explains why my thoughtful other half bought me a couple of earlier films in which Murphy had taken a lead role. We watched one of them last week, ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’.
Directed by Ken Loach, and set in Ireland in 1920, the film depicts the struggle of two brothers against the ‘Black and Tans’, a violent military unit sent by the British government to crush Ireland’s bid for independence. By God, crush they did.
I’m so accustomed to seeing Brits portrayed as ‘good guys’ and Irish with Republican or Loyalist views as terrorists that the story grabbed my attention from the first frame. The story rings with the grim truth that violence begets violence. How else could a decent man, Damien, (Cillian Murphy) a doctor, abandon a promising career, and ultimately the love of his life, for the cause in which he believes and that would inevitably put him on a collision course with his brother, Teddy?
An intriguing aspect of the film is that Teddy (Padraic Delaney) starts out as the radical, who subverts his peaceful and law-abiding brother, only to fall in with a diplomatic solution offered by the British later. By this time, Damien has already seen and done too much. There is a pivotal point in the film when he is forced to shoot a young informer. It’s a gut-wrenching moment that pretty much destroys him.
If I had one criticism, a bit of judicious cutting and the inclusion of more scenes on camera to convey the disintegrating relationship between the two brothers and the tumble into sectarianism would have strengthened the storyline. I longed to see more clearly Teddy’s gradual change from radical to peacemaker and Damien’s ‘my way, or the high way’. This thought provoking, compelling and memorable film could have been a truly great one. Nevertheless it’s one to treasure, catch it if you can.

HOW WRONG COULD I BE?!

Last week I flagged up ‘Hostages’, ‘Bnei Aruba’, an Israeli version of the US drama already aired by CBS. Writing about the series in glowing terms, I stated in print that I’d spotted a flicker of romance between Dr Yael Danon, (the surgeon held hostage) and her abductor, Adam Rubin. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I was wrong about a lot of things other than the fine performances. When the concluding episode took place after a triple bill on Saturday night, I pretty much felt as though I’d misunderstood the entire series. I love to be surprised and have the rug pulled on me. I marvel when, looking back to earlier scenes in a drama, I see precisely the path of certain events (set-ups) only for the ‘pay-offs’ to be delivered later, along the lines of: ‘So that’s why x and y happened.’ Did I get a sense of this in the finale? Nope. Maybe too much was crammed in to the last episode. Maybe I was tired. I have no idea, but the end result was less than satisfying. If you have to scratch your head to try and work out what exactly took place and why, there’s a problem. Finales should be thrilling and clear.

There was no such doubt in my mind when watching an entirely different animal on Sunday: ‘Fury’, starring Brad Pitt. Set in 1945, in the last days of the war, the film focused on US tank regiments in Nazi Germany.   Badly outnumbered, and with the formidable firepower of German ‘Tiger’ tanks ranged against them, Brad Pitt, who plays a battle-hardened tank commander, takes his crew to the very limit. This is no Hollywood sanitised version of war. Bloody, brutal, visceral in the horrors it depicts, the film nevertheless challenges the viewer not to look away.   Pitt gives a great performance, but for me the real star of the movie was Logan Lerman, who plays Norman, the hastily drafted in tank driver who in a previous life was a humble clerk. Norman, a decent, innocent young man, is forced to grow up and face the reality of war and loss extremely quickly. I first saw him in Noah in which he plays the ill-fated son, never destined to have a wife. He corners the market in vulnerability and he brought that same vulnerability to the part he plays in ‘Fury’. At only twenty-three years of age, I’d wager that he’s a great star in the making. I hope I’m not wrong about that! On which subject, great news to hear that Jack Huston has landed the main part in the remake of ‘The Crow’.   I loved his portrayal of disfigured Richard Harrow in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ and genuinely thought him destined for great things. Strange to say, a publisher who passed on my novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ said that ‘disfigurement wasn’t sexy,’ the remark aimed at my character, clinical psychologist, Kim Slade. Sexy or not, ‘Beautiful Losers’ will be published next year by US publisher, Midnight Ink.

IT’S A WRAP!

In the last couple of weeks the fifth season of French cop drama, ‘Spiral’ (Engrenages) and the second series of ‘Broadchurch concluded. ‘Wolf Hall’ came to a bloodily predictable end, and we (not the royal, you understand, but me and my other half) also chomped through the entire fourth season of ‘Game of Thrones’ in a few days.   Although wildly different in genre, there were common denominators, namely the high level of storytelling coupled with superb acting. I’m not sure it’s ever quite struck me as strongly before, but I’ve never been so aware of how one expression in a character’s eyes can convey so much. In this regard, the final shot in ‘Wolf Hall’ feels as if it’s branded on my brain. In the wake of Anne Boleyn’s beheading, Henry, played by Damien Lewis, looks like the proverbial cat that got the cream as he clasps Thomas Cromwell, played by magnificent Mark Rylance, to his chest. Cromwell’s expression conveys something else entirely: horror at what he was a party to, namely the stitch-up and death of a foolish and unlucky woman, and a deadly premonition that the same fate could well await him. It’s a thrilling moment and, to misuse a parliamentary term, the ‘eyes’/’ayes’ certainly have it.

In a similar vein, Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage, gives a blistering performance, (among many blistering performances) particularly in the closing episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’. It’s almost impossible to be moved by the expression on his face as he realises that both his father and the woman he loves has betrayed him. In those sad, doleful eyes, you can read an entire life story of hurt and humiliation. As ever, the script based on George Martin’s novels, ramps up the body count and delivers surprises and twists right to the very end. ‘Thrilling’ is a word often bandied about, but the entire fourth season, a rollercoaster of intrigue, tension, suspense, and exceptionally fine cinematography, genuinely knocked my socks off. Brilliant stuff that has spring-boarded a number of careers, and no wonder actors are queuing up to secure a part.

My big problem is what the heck to watch next…

On a separate note, if you haven’t yet had a chance to catch the CLIC ‘Get in Character’ auction, check it out: www.clicsargent.org.uk/getincharacter

There’s still time to put in a bid for this very worthwhile cause. The closing date is Sunday March 8th at 8.00 pm.

RIDICULOUS!

It’s been a tricky few days. I rarely get ‘black dog’ in January, but February, what with the inert weather and all those smiley faces from disciplined folk who, after a month of sobriety, are joyously back off the wagon, I don’t know, a pall of gloom usually settles over my person.  An all action movie is no cure for the blues, but occasionally it offers light escapism so, with this in mind, I picked up the latest offering starring none other than Liam Neeson and, new darling of the US film industry, Dan Stevens. Blurb on the jacket stated: ‘The thrills never let up…’ and ‘A blockbuster with brains.’ I was encouraged, if not positively enticed. I wasn’t even too put off by the warning of sexualised violence, after all the Beeb often warns  ‘There will be scenes of a sexual nature’ in whatever drama they are promoting.   What could possibly go wrong, I thought? A lot, as it happened. I can only conclude that the first film buff was asleep or got his movies mixed, the second skipped three little letters: OUT, in other words ‘without brains.’ So what little gem bored me to tears for 109 minutes? ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones.’

Films based on books, in this case Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, can go either way. It’s often said that bad books make great films and vice-versa. There are so many exceptions to this rule, I’m not sure it holds true. I can only hope that Block’s novel is better than the movie.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Neeson delivered, as he always does, and Stevens was tremendous, but the script was execrable. It went something like this: the girlfriends/wives of drug lords are abducted, their boyfriends/husbands asked to cough up large sums of cash in exchange for the safe return of their loved ones. It’s a blind because, even before the money has been dropped, the unfortunate women are sexually violated, tortured, with bits lopped off while they are alive, chopped into little pieces and handed back. In steps retired cop and P.I. Liam Neeson to sort out the bad guys. There was a glimmer of hope in this film when it was suggested at one point that the guys doing the killing and torturing were disgruntled cops eager for payback against drug dealers. Nothing so vaguely sophisticated, however. They were just a couple of maniacs.

As you might imagine, the overall tone was unrelentingly grim. Long before the abduction of a young girl, and daughter of a Russian drug lord, I’d mentally checked out. How anyone could suggest that the story was gripping hasn’t seen any good films lately. It was slow to the point of extinction, and the violence was as gratuitous and vile as it was meaningless. And I’m no apologist for violence in films but, as in fiction, violence, and especially sexual violence, needs to be handled with care. If you don’t pay attention, if you don’t use your brains, it can blow up in the scriptwriter’s face.   This had a damn great grenade attached. The film wasn’t even redeemed by the cheesy sub-plot in which a homeless fourteen year-old briefly teams up with Neeson.

I’m rarely this critical. I kept hoping for a twist. It didn’t happen and I have absolutely no idea what the point of the film was.   Nihilism, perhaps?   Either way, it was ridiculous.

ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL

I’ve yet to see Denzel Washington in a rubbish film. Even if it’s a ‘shoot ‘em up’ caper, his performance will always deliver. The title alone: ‘The Equaliser’ gives a pretty good indication of what’s on offer. So with this in mind, we settled down to catch it at the weekend.
The basic story concerns Bob McCall a guy who knows how to handle himself (and some). Turning his back on his past, he’s dedicated himself to a quiet life working in a mega hardware store. When trouble crosses his path his old instincts come into play and, one by one, he sets about taking out and eliminating the bad guys.
So far, so predictable but, in Washington’s hands, he brings something fresh to the table. In the opening sequence, not a word is spoken. The audience is given a sneak preview into what it’s like to be McCall in his own habitat. Without giving too much away, he is revealed as a very precise man, to the point of OCD. It provides the perfect set-up to his working ‘methods’ when taking on nasty Russians. Measured, considered and calm, he always gives his adversary an opt-out (which they always decline) before acting with thrilling ruthlessness. I say ‘thrilling’ because as violent as he is, the bad guys are as vicious as they come, which brings me to the all round ‘baddie’ in the form of actor Marton Csokas. Urbane and seductive one moment, brutal and positively psychotic the next, he’s mesmerising on-screen and a worthy antagonist. The artwork tattooed on his body alone is a sight to behold.
As in all stories in this genre, the denouement stacks the odds impossibly in the Russians’ favour, but of course they fail to factor in how handy McCall is with a power drill and nail gun. Never again will I step into B&Q and prowl the aisles in quite the same way!

FROM DOWNTON TO DIEHARD

As soon as I caught a trailer for ‘The Guest’ and witnessed Dan Stevens’ remarkable transformation from foppish pretty boy Matthew Crawley in ‘Downton Abbey’ to lean, mean charismatic former soldier, David, I knew I had to watch the film.

Last Saturday, I did just that. The story starts with the Peterson family who are grieving over the loss of their soldier son. A scene later, David arrives, claiming to have been with the Peterson’s son when he died. If that doesn’t tug at the heartstrings, David tops off his sudden unannounced arrival by delivering personal messages of love from the son to the family. Vulnerable mom invites David in and he soon makes himself at home. He proves to be a godsend, sorting out the Peterson’s young, nerdy son’s bullies in a thrilling act of retribution, and offering a sympathetic ear to Dad who is having a hard time at work. Only the Peterson’s daughter, Anna, sniffs trouble and, naturally, she’s not believed. However it’s largely down to her that David’s cover is blown and his true intentions revealed.

Right up to the three-quarter mark, the plot really works. You’re never quite sure about Stevens although my foe detector was alerted on a couple of occasions, (largely because of Stevens’ steely-eyed gaze.) Notwithstanding this, Stevens’ performance is electric and a mile away from ‘Downton’. He looks deeply at home with either a gun or a snooker cue in his hand (all the better to smash you over the head with). But what the heck happens in the rushed last part of the movie? It’s almost as though someone else wrote the script or was given a deadline to wrap it up as quickly as possible. The result is guns blazing, bodies dropping, one violent act topped by another in a meaningless frenzy. Even if I bought into it, the behaviour of the two survivors is jaw-droppingly unrealistic. After the mayhem, a paramedic asks young son, Luke, how he is. ‘Fine,’ he replies. Really? From what planet does he come?

As for the twist at the very end, words fail me. Watch it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean…