Weekly Ramble No. 20

Siggy went on holiday with her sister for a week so I had the house to myself. I also had a book to try and finish, Assassins Creed Syndicate to play and a long list of films on my Sky+ box recorded off Film 4. Some films had been there since before Christmas. So I had to assign my time carefully and rationed myself to one film per day.

I got a shed load of rewriting and editing done on my new book, but I’m not quite ready to talk about it too much quite yet. Suffice to say that in between the films and jumping off tall building and stabbing people in the neck with an assassin’s gauntlet blade, I was very happy with my progress. While I was writing I pretty much exclusively listened to Goldfrapp on Spotify – I find it very conducive to writing.

The first film of the seven days was Kill List directed by Ben Wheatley and starring Neil Maskell (Utopia) in full weird psycho mode and Michael Smiley (Spaced) as his ex-army buddy. They are hired assassins and accept a job involving killing off a few people who are connected in some way which isn’t overly clear.

It’s a very peculiar film and perhaps all of the events actually happened in Maskell’s character’s head as mental breakdown after killing his wife and child. I’m not sure. Towards the end of the film it’s a bit like a mash up of Eyes Wide Shut without the sex and The Wicker Man, and I’m pretty sure there’s a witch involved along the way. There’s also some pretty gruesome violence and lots of blood. This was also a feature of my second choice, also directed by Ben Wheatley –

Sightseers was a lot more accessible than his previous film and featured a pretty linear narrative with no question marks over what was real and what was fantasy. This is the dark comedy tale of Tina and Chris a couple of odd-bods who go on caravanning holiday in Yorkshire, and leave a trail of killings in their wake. Writer and actor Alice Lowe (Hot Fuzz) is excellent as the seemingly naive and socially retarded (yet qualified dog behavioural psychologist) Tina and Steve Oram (World’s End) equally good as the slightly more unhinged Chris.

The deaths are unnecessary and gruesome and mostly fuelled by Chris’s irrational desire to be respected. Eventually it becomes clear that Chris is in a lot of ways acting like a dog fighting for dominance and indeed in one scene Tina does try some doggy commands such as ‘sit’ out on him. It is a twisted love story and has a good twisted ending atop a viaduct after all the mayhem.

Both films were certainly better than Hi-Rise also directed by Wheatley, which I thought was rather pish and said as much here.

The Master was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and while both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman were excellent as an alcoholic naval war veteran and the self-deluded leader of a cult, I didn’t enjoy the film particularly much. The pacing was terrible and ultimate outcome for the two main characters rather unsatisfying. The characters were great but there was not much of a story and for me there has to be both, especially when the film is over two hours long. Given how good There Will Be Blood, Magnolia and Boogie Nights were, I was disappointed.

I moved from the potentially sublime to the ridiculous on day four with The Guest. This was an action-thriller starring hunk-a-hunk Dan Stevens (Downtown Abbey) as a US Army veteran, David, returned from Afghanistan and staying with the family of a dead comrade. The son in the family, who is being bullied at school, was one of the kids from The OA (which Siggy and I are still slowly watching).

The soundtrack was a lot more interesting than the film and I did find a playlist of the tracks on Spotify afterwards, which was nice. The film descended into a bit of a farce with the same kind of vibe as a late Eighties slasher film and sort of like The Bourne Legacy in a way. David is a very apologetic psycho killer and is surrounded by a lot of hammy actors like Lance Reddick (The Wire) all over-acting. It did contain the funniest ‘death’ of the bad guy I’ve seen for a long time and a ridiculous Leon style gas mask related ending. I’m sad to say that I found it more entertaining than The Master for all the wrong reasons.

The Anomaly seemed to have a similar sized budget to The Guest helped by some reasonable computer graphics in places. Director, co-writer and lead actor Noel Clarke (Mickey, Roses’s boyfriend in Dr Who and director/writer of Brotherhood and Kidhood) is very good in this rather messy science fiction tale of a ex-soldier Ryan who has about 9 minutes in a series of realities before he flips to the next. It’s a bit like Quantum Leap for millennials mixed with Source Code.

The ending wasn’t as amazing as it could’ve been and the film kind of loses momentum as most of the potential ways the story could go are rejected for a get-the-girl-kill-the-baddies-save-the-entire-planet type storyline. Still it kept me watching and wondering and I was happy to see Noel Clarke in the lead role in a sci-fi film. It also tweaked the blogger inside me, which I’ll explain in a bit, after the last two films.

Out of the Furnace starring Christian ‘you and me are done!’ Bale and Casey ‘not Ben’ Affleck as the skint Baze brothers and Woody Harrelson as a nasty redneck illegal fight promoter, was probably the best film of the seven I watched. Bale’s character works in a steel factory goes drunk driving, kills someone, ends up in prison, comes out and tries to look after his brother who is an army veteran who earns money doing illegal fights.

Ridley Scott and Leonardo de Caprio had something to do with the film, but it is directed rather well by Scott ‘Shagedelic baby, yeah!’ Cooper. My only gripe was another flat ending. But the film is gritty, well-acted by everyone involved and well-paced. It actually felt a lot like a Tony Scott film, God rest his soul and I was half expecting Denzel Washington to turn up any minute and sort everyone out.

Middle Men was a little like War Dogs in that it was billed as a comedy-drama. Luke ‘not Owen’ Wilson stars alongside the excellent Giovanni ‘Pheobe’s brother’ Ribisi and some other guy who could’ve just as easily been a cardboard cut out in comparison.

It’s about the guys who figure out how to bill for stuff on the internet – most specifically, initially, porn. As you can imagine there’s a fair amount of tits and ass at the front of the film before it gets down to some proper storytelling. Like War Dogs it’s not as funny as it might have been if it hadn’t have been based on a true story and the makers had to spend time explaining the plot complexities with a voice-over from Wilson.

Wilson’s character isn’t somebody I had a whole lot of sympathy for and so I didn’t really get into the story all that much. That said, Ribisi, when he appeared was great.

So, let me come back to the comment I made earlier about ‘the blogger inside me’. I realise that I chose to record these films and so there’s somewhat of a bias involved but I found it interesting that there were similarities in most of the films I was watching with what I was writing/rewriting during the week – i.e. my new book.

First of all it’s about a war veteran and most of the films feature a veteran. Secondly in my mind he was very much like Noel Clarke, but with more scars and a busted nose from his time in Afghanistan. His girlfriend is very similar looking to Dana played by Alexis Knapp in The Anomaly. There’s also a science fiction element to my book (surprise surprise). There is also a psychopath in my story and at least one vicious killing. Also my veteran stays with the family of one of his dead comrades (who is called David). Cue The X-Files theme music…

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