Scandal

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A dramatisation of the Profumo Scandal of the early 60’s, Scandal is a stylish and well acted evocation of the time and excellently focuses on the nature of guilt and a powder keg situation and who suffers and rises as a result of it.

In 1959, society osteopath and charming man Stephen Ward( John Hurt) meets the beautiful young showgirl by the name of Christine Keeler(Joanne Whalley-Kilmer). Immediately entranced, he asks her to live with him and she accepts. Their relationship is mainly platonic as he schools her in the art of moving in higher circles to which he aspires. After a makeover, Christine is ready for the future as Ward introduces her to wealthy gentlemen who she can spend the night with. Joining her is the saucy and fun loving fellow showgirl Mandy Rice-Davies(Bridget Fonda), who goes along with the fun of the time and enjoys the attention. At first, the girls are in it for the fun and Stephen is their sponsor as they share the beds of powerful men and he hears details. Keeler in particular is between the sheets with most notably Minister of War, John Profumo( Ian McKellen) and alleged spy Eugene Ivanov( Jeroen Krabbé) . An inevitable fallout begins when Christine feels used by the whole situation and you can see that Ward is realising he is out of his depth. Scandal engulfs everyone when an angry and dejected Christine sells the story to the papers, setting off a tragic set of events that brings down the Conservative Government and embarrasses the Establishment in the early 1960’s.

Michael Caton-Jones has the right feel for the time where you can sense that times were for the changing and the Sexual Revolution was about to explode. We also get insights into the people behind the headlines and a bit of insight into this revealing affair that captured everyone. Parts of the film drag on occasion and can get a bit dull, but the dark second half more than makes up for any langurs. I would have liked to have seen some characters a little more such as Profumo and , but when they were on screen they were good to view. A tiny bit of expansion is what I wanted just a bit more of, though I understand that the story was mainly focused on Ward. Although it deals with affairs and sexual encounters, Scandal isn’t overtly sleazy. Yes there is nudity and some unusual activity going on, but it doesn’t feel cheap and exploitative because of this immensely watchable true story that was quite the event in its day and shook things up on a massive scale. Plus, I think it skewers the whole myth of those higher up in society being above others in terms of decency, when in fact they are just as bad as anyone else. And who can forget the allure of Christine and Mandy getting ready for a night out; eyeliner going on and stockings being applied, to the sound of ‘Apache’? On a visual level, the glamour and chance of new promise that started with the 60’s is rendered beautifully.

The ever excellent John Hurt turns in one of his most underrated performances as the eventual scapegoat in the spiralling situation. While Ward was no angel, he was used as whipping boy and discarded by the friends in high society who themselves were far from lily white. John Hurt masterfully plays to the flaws of this charming man, but finds sympathy to his eventual fate that befell Ward, who paid for his attempts to move in the right circles. It’s a hard act to pull off, but Hurt does it with considerable skill in finding the lonely heart of a man undone by his actions and given the lions share of blame. Joanne Whalley-Kilmer project a feeling of naive innocence to start and then progress to unearth a sexy and alluring confidence. Whalley-Kilmer is a sensual presence on screen with her dark hair and doe eyes shining. Her biggest triumph is the mystery she encapsulates when playing Keeler; sometimes you are unsure of what she is thinking or likely to do. Through subtle flashes, we view a young woman at the centre of controversy and reacting in all sorts of ways to it.

A wonderfully and impeccably cast Bridget Fonda is a high point; clearly savouring her role as the sexy Mandy with whom Christine finds herself friends with. She’s got the confidence, razor sharp wit and slinky glamour that is superbly put to great use. It’s her who gets the humour and good lines in Scandal and makes the most of them. Although I would have liked to have seen more of him, Ian McKellen is reliably good as Profumo, showing a man paying for his desires and jeopardising everything he’s worked for in return for the company of a beautiful young woman. The same can be said of Jeroen Krabbé, though it’s Mckellen who emerges as the most interesting of the two. A sexy supporting part is afforded to Britt Ekland, who is a stunning beauty and makes the most of her short time on screen.

A well directed and well cast look at The Profumo Affair, Scandal is intriguing and inviting in its exploration of culpability and Parliamentary ruin.

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Hereditary

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A visceral, emotionally haunting and horrifying psychological horror from the debuting Ari Aster, Hereditary plunges you into grief, family secrets and the terror of what we might inherit from our relatives.

Annie Graham(Toni Collette), a miniatures artist, is mourning the death of her secretive mother. She is joined in this by her therapist husband Stephen( Gabriel Byrne)and their two children; bored and dejected 16-year-old son Peter( Alex Wolff) and unusual tomboy daughter Charlie( Milly Shapiro) . The thing is Annie was estranged from her mother and various things in her past impacted their tenuous relationship. while young Charlie, who was her Grandma’s favourite, begins acting even more strangely than usual. Soon enough, a strange force begins plaguing the family. Though she secretly visits grief counselling for guidance, Annie believes she sees her mother again, Charlie also sees visions of this along with unusual phenomena. Peter buried his feelings in smoking pit and trying to get girls but tragedy brings him back around. Stephen is the main point of attempted calm in a powder keg situation that slowly starts to unravel. It all pertains to the deceased Grandmother, but how does it? As grief and tragedy plunge the family further into turmoil, Annie starts to lose her grip on her sanity and events descend into a waking horror for the Graham’s. Matters aren’t helped by the arrival of Joan(Ann Dowd), a mysterious woman who ingratiates herself into Annie’s life with shocking results.

Ari Aster marks himself out as a director with a future. He’s clearly a guy who loves his  spine-chilling, psychological horror and Hereditary is a testament to that. He’s got a fantastic handle over pacing; slowly dropping crumbs of information and things you think are just accidental, but are intentional. It’s a slow burn that’s punctuated by moments of shock horror and extreme situations, while still examining the ups and downs of grief in a bubbling way. Then when we get to the heart of things, all hell breaks loose and Aster unleashes chilling moment after moment. Be warned, the last half an hour is some intense stuff that will make even the most seasoned horror viewer sit up and be freaked out.

You’ll be left with images of great horror and of an unsettling nature once you finish Hereditary. And with good reason as they are plentiful and a credit to the visual team and the exploration by Aster. From slowly zooming camerawork to a mastery over sound( the sound of a tongue clicking will haunt your dreams as will Colette’s roars of grief and an intense dinner scene) , it’s a movie for definite horror fans. The claustrophobic atmosphere, heightened by the abundance of scenes within the family’s large house, helps us ruminate in how grief can isolate is and how familial ties are not always . This film isn’t full of cheap scares as it has more on its mind. Take for instance when Annie believes she sees the ghost of her mother. Most horror films would feature a sudden reveal, not here. Instead, Aster uses a wide shot and gets the audience to really pay attention as to see whether it was real or not, as if daring us not to trust our eyes. I admired Hereditary for the fact it didn’t have to resort to throwaway scares. Hereditary is certainly not for everyone, but for those with a penchant for dramatic scares and unusual imagery, this should be a treat. A rumbling score is the cherry on top of the cake as murmurs, low electronic humming and unusual instances of cacophony blend hauntingly.

One of the finest things in Hereditary is the committed performance from Toni Collette, who turns in some of her finest work. She’s put through the wringer of emotions and just displays them all so convincingly and vividly. From grieving daughter to mentally unstable and all that’s in between, Collette doesn’t miss a beat and often conveys varying feelings within seconds of each other. One can’t stress enough the sheer full throttle force with which she acts here. It has to be seen to be believed and experienced. Gabriel Byrne provides solid support in a role that could have been boring, but rises above such worries. He’s the non believer trying to keep his family together but failing as times passes. Alex Wolff gets the alienated and confused state of mind for his character just right, going between moments of escaping pain to enduring intense suffering that makes no sense to him. Rounding out the family is young Milly Shapiro, who sends shivers down the spine as the daughter seemingly most affected by her grandmother’s death. You never quite know what to make of this little girl but she is damn important to the story. In a small but pivotal role, the ever reliable Ann Dowd exudes an uneasy sense of niceness that is tempered with something that tells you that you can’t trust her as far as you can throw her.

Super unsettling, packed with ideas and thematic value, plus boasting impressive acting and an atmosphere of never ending dread, Hereditary is definitely for those who appreciate a slow burn and a searing drama within a horror movie.

American Horror Story: Hotel

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With Freakshow emerging as my least favourite season of American Horror Story, my expectations were high for Season 5. Thankfully, though not without some flaws, Hotel is a resounding success of horror, style and game acting. Be warned, spoilers may follow in this return to form for the show.

John Lowe( Wes Bentley) is a Los Angeles detective on the edge; he’s estranged from his doctor wife Alex(Chloë Sevigny) and on the hunt for a brutal serial killer who murders victims in accordance to The Ten Commandments. Plus he is haunted by the disappearance of his young son Holden years prior. He feels responsible for the disappearance and this is what he has to live with every day. One day he is given a tip off that his answers can be found in the Hotel Cortez. A glamorous yet run down establishment with a history of horror, it soon pulls John into its depravity and history of death. The owner of hotel is the fabulously dressed and very mysterious Countess( Lady Gaga). She is a vampire like creature infected with a virus that leaves the sufferer craving blood. Her companion of late is the handsome Donovan(Matt Bomer), who she goes hunting with. She was the one who took Holden as well as other children who she turns into creatures like her in order to create something of a makeshift family. She is a fearsome creature, but is secretly hiding her true self and tragic past. The Countess finds her head turned by volatile male model Tristan( Finn Wittrock) , which enrages Donovan. Also in her sights are the soon to be owner Will Drake( Cheyenne Jackson), a fashion designer who doesn’t realise he’s part of a scheme to get his money. There’s the ghost of James Patrick March( Evan Peters), the founder of the hotel in the 20’s, who turned the place into a murder palace and was helped by the ever loyal, cleaning fanatic Miss Evers( Mare Winningham) . On front desk there is Donovan’s surly mother Iris(Kathy Bates) who longs for a relationship with her son and Liz Taylor( Denis O’Hare), a transgender bartender who seems to see everything and everyone. Also traipsing about the Hotel is the ghost of one Sally McKenna(Sarah Paulson), a trashy junkie in a constant state of sadness and mania, who was pushed out of a high window by Iris for getting Donovan hooked on drugs in 1994. Arriving later on the scene is Ramona Royale( Angela Bassett) a former lover of The Countess with a big axe to grind. Everything comes to a head once John takes up residence and gets a lot more than he ever bargained for.

I think straight from the opening, Hotel stands higher than its season just passed. For starters, I found the characters had more flavour and personality than in the last season. Plus, you could connect with many of them too, primarily Liz Taylor and Iris who both convince as outsiders wanting something more in life. And though the story had many different angles and sub plots, it largely worked and it was fun seeing how various threads connected. Sure, some parts don’t amount to much, but I found it a lot more compelling than which seemed to run out of steam rather quickly. The themes of loss and rebirth form the main crux of Hotel and it was excellent how we watched the characters change and influence one another. Hotel ranks at least in my book as the bloodiest season thus far. As it has done in the past, the blood is shocking and grisly, but definitely used to fashion a twisted delight that scares and compels at the same time. Scenes that stand out for their brutality are The Countess and Donovan slaughtering a couple during sex, a junkie being mercilessly abused by a faceless demon, a corpse rising from a rotting mattress and most shocking, a band of infected children making a meal out of one of their teachers.American Horror Story references some of the best content in the horror genre with style and panache. The crimes of the killer are a stylish homage to Seven, while the hotel of the title takes its cues from The Shining. And I’m a big fan of the flashbacks to March’s mayhem and murderous ways as the show employs a grainy black and white to emulate the time and bring out events in horrifying detail.

As it has done in the past, American Horror Story always succeeds when taking influence from real life events. Here, the hotel is similar to that of the one the depraved murderer H.H. Holmes and the poor fate of the child of chambermaid Miss Evers blends with that of the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. And the best of all the real world allusions is an episode entitled ‘Devil’s Night’. In it, March hosts a feast for the ghosts of dead serial killers, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, Aileen Wuornos and John Wayne Gacy. An already starting to lose it John finds himself thrown into this horror show and under the influence of absinthe, watches as these killers enjoy their depravity and find merriment in their sickening handiwork. Watch out for memorable work from John Carroll Lynch and Lily Rabe. For some reason, its something that works in the scheme of the show. Visuals are a strong component in the show and Hotel is no exception right from the opening frames. It’s an extravaganza for the eyes and senses that’s for sure and certain. Particularly good is the fish eye lens employed at times that suits the unstable nature of the establishment and turns things into something unusual. I’m not the biggest fan of the overlapping of seasons as American Horror Story was originally billed as an anthology. Though saying that while some of the bringing back of other characters fails, I found the callbacks to Murder House were particularly effective and the return of the medium( also played by Sarah Paulson) in the finale was a very well handled part and one I really liked seeing. And I can’t not praise the production department who pull out all the stops when it comes to design. The Cortez becomes a dark hotbed of violence and style, clashing with each other with reckless abandon. A well chosen soundtrack and electric, humming score add further to the delirious ride through death, horror and story.

The cast surrender to the madness and horror with fantastic results.Leading the cast is the new addition of pop superstar Lady Gaga, who shows that acting is yet another skill in her arsenal. She plays the Countess as a seemingly aloof being who dresses and lives to kill, but is looking for something more. Her performance is very multifaceted and extremely impressive at showcasing various sides to the character, in particular deep tragedy coupled with ruthless sex appeal. Then we have Wes Bentley, who is suitably intense as the emotionally scarred detective finding himself falling into madness. He just burns across the screen with a vulnerability, quivering seriousness and frightening devotion. Matt Bomer, with his strong appeal and good looks, is ideal as the latest lover in the life of the Countess. He enjoys the position but it has grown a tad stale for him and his resentment starts to form. Plus, when he’s with Lady Gaga, they make a sizzling duo. As the new paramour of The Countess, Finn Wittrock is all scowls and attitude, with a few other layers underneath. Chloë Sevigny, who I’ve always admired as an actress, turns in emotional weight and desperation as a grieving mother who goes to extremes for her son. I liked her arc in this series as she begins as a broken woman and slowly gets in touch with another unexpected part of herself.

The best performances comes courtesy of Denis O’Hare, Kathy Bates , Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson. It’s good to see a transgender character portrayed on television with respect and honesty and Denis O’Hare acts his socks off. From the great one liners through the backstory of the transformation into the person she is today, it’s all played beautifully and sympathetically by the always watchable Denis O’Hare. Thankfully in recent times, many forms of media have followed suit by showcasing characters that are transgender and actually treating them with understanding and decency. Long may that continue. Ably complimenting him is the excellent Kathy Bates, who puts in another fantastic performance . Going from dark humour to crushing sadness and then a rebirth, Bates captures the attention with her convincing acting and A Game. The always impressive Evan Peters, playing probably his most extreme character thus far, is electrifying. Mixing a Clark Gable accent with a sadistic hunger for murder, he crafts March as a supreme being of evil that is strangely charming. Peters turns in one of his finest performances in the run of the show. Rounding out the standout quartet is the wonderful Sarah Paulson. Always seen here with a mournful look( complete with smudged eye liner and the appearance of never ending tears) that also shares itself with a sly underbelly, her portrayal of the messed up Sally is riveting. You really don’t know what you’re going to get with her character and Paulson rocks it. I adore Angela Bassett and how she embraces the outrageousness of the material. She just embodies the sassy, fierce and out there nature of American Horror Story. And even if her character’s arc doesn’t feel well utilised enough, Bassett makes it sensationally watchable all the same. Providing the unusual but also tragic is Mare Winningham as the chamber maid with a love of cleaning. At first glance she’s strange and you don’t know what to make, but Winningham discovers pathos and depth in this woman who could have just been one dimensional. The main cast member who isn’t really given a chance to make an impression is Cheyenne Jackson. I’ve seen him in other things and think he’s a good actor, but he just doesn’t really get a look in here.

Hotel finds American Horror Story back in fine fettle, owing to well written characters, a theatrical staging and plenty of chills.

Reviews to Come

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Here are reviews that will be with you all shortly:

  • American Horror Story: Hotel
  • Hereditary
  • Somewhere in Time
  • Thirteen
  • Love Me or Leave Me
  • The Wild Geese
  • When a Stranger Calls
  • Jurassic Park
  • Dance With a Stranger
  • Scandal
  • Tamara Drewe
  • Gemma Bovery
  • Lights Out
  • Fences
  • Paris Can Wait
  • Romancing the Stone
  • The House of Mirth
  • Lake Placid
  • The Heiress
  • Night Crossing
  • The Cutting Edge
  • Carry On Cleo

And before I forget, I will be attempting to catch up with all my followers and their work.

Nothing Like a Dame

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This review that follows will be a first for me on this site. It will be the first review of a documentary and what a great one to start with. It’s Nothing Like a Dame, which has us in the company of the great women of stage and screen.

In the English countryside, we meet with icons Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins. All of them Dames and acting greats. They are conversing and reminiscing at the country house of Plowright, that she owned with her late husband Laurence Olivier. And boy is it entertaining to see them all together and in fine form. With careers spanning decades, there is no shortage of conversation here. It’s such a simple idea of watching these four wonderful ladies reflecting on life and their careers, which are extremely eventful.

Director Roger Michell keeps things low key and lets the ladies do their thing. This in turn brings out wonderfully natural results as Michell doesn’t feel the need to be flashy to be seen as good. He knows that the strength of these four dames is all he needs for this compelling documentary. I seriously want to see this quartet in another movie together. It would be a complete riot and so enjoyable. You can feel their friendship and years of experience are strong and full of energy and wisdom. They are by turns funny, irreverent, classy and humorous, with plenty of time for deep reflection on life and family. Hearing them speak about family has a certain poignancy to it. You can see the humanity of their situations and even though they are famous, they are still very much down to Earth in the grand scope of things. They’ve all seen a lot and experienced a lot too and it definitly shows their resilience. And Maggie Smith is on point with her acerbic wit, that is matched by Judi Dench( just check out her reaction to a medical worker treating her like just another old biddy). The other ladies round out this luminous quartet with grace, honesty and good humour. No one is more important than the other, it’s a celebration of them all. Whether together or apart, I could watch these ladies do anything. The quartet is marvellous; serenely bouncing off one another with memories and wisecracks. You just have to bathe in their anecdotes that run the gamut from happy to sad. Many areas are bound to bring some feelings of tears, mainly the fact that Plowright’s vision is failing and she occasionally looses track of conversation. But she still remains as strong as an ox and dispenses kindly wisdom to all. As all the ladies say, age is just a number.

I wholeheartedly recommend this documentary to anyone who enjoys watching actors reflect and fans of these amazing women.

The Girl with All the Gifts

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A horror drama with ethical and provocative questions at its core, The Girl with All the Gifts finds new life in the zombie horror genre with fine acting, scares and a surprising intelligence.

Some time in the future, most of mankind has been overrun by a virulent fungal disease that turns the sufferer into a flesh craving zombie. These people are known as “hungries” by others. In a secret underground army base, a second generation of these creatures in the form of young children are taught. Unlike their savage relatives, these kids can think and learn, but also have a craving for flesh. Humans have a certain blocker gel that masks the smell of human flesh, but that is still no long term guarantee. The story mainly focuses on one such child known as Melanie( Sennia Nanua), who is immensely gifted, polite and eager to learn. The growling Sergeant Parks( Paddy Considine) keeps things running in a brusque way, while head scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell( Glenn Close)experiments on the zombie children in a search for a cure to the disease. Although most see the children as just mere monsters, teacher Helen Justineau( Gemma Arterton) treats them with respect and compassion which puts her in opposition with both. Just as Dr. Caldwell is making some breakthrough, the facility is attacked by hungries. In the confusion, Melanie, Justineau, Caldwell and Parks survive and head for what they hope will be safety. But as tensions mount and Melanie is fought over, it becomes clear that there is no easy answer to what’s going on. But is Melanie the salvation of destruction of mankind in the grand scheme of things? And just how long is she to be trusted as the world around her crumbles and slips into a worse state than it already is?

Colm McCarthy is a director who clearly wants to bring that something different to the zombie horror sub genre. And that he does with this film that is both eerily tense and reflective on thematic material. I like how things start out mysterious and gradually we begin to understand the horrifying vision of the future. And once it hits the half an hour mark, intensity reigns and the pace quickens considerably backing up the horror credentials. One can make successful parallels with 28 Days Later and with good reason, for both are exemplary entries into zombie horror with more on its mind than just action and blood. Not that there isn’t action or blood as is envisioned in kinetic style and blood soaked horror, like the standout sequence of the hungries attaching the facility with a ferocity akin to a war movie. These events sit nicely along with the deeper thematic value of the piece. Considering The Girl with All the Gifts wasn’t made with the biggest budget, it never shows as it’s a gorgeously and hauntingly visual film. This extends particularly to its version of London, one in which overgrown plant life has taken over like a vicious jungle of vines that will prove fatal to those who can’t survive. And lets just say there is plenty of meat to chew over( pardon the pun.) The battle between good and evil is blurred considerably and admirably. No one is clear cut bad or good, least of all the eponymous Girl who is a mixture of both. The Girl with All the Gifts asks us to feel sympathy for her but like most of the characters, keep a certain sense of worry about her true nature and whether it’s just a matter of fate that she becomes rabid. In fact, there’s a certain tragedy attached to Melanie. You witness that she wishes to be like everyone else but is cursed from it, Some might say some of it is typical zombie fare and while there are going to be some cliched moments in here( no one said it was flawless), but what the film accomplishes is something with more heart and smarts than your average flick in this genre. A shimmering and reverberating score should rightfully be praised. It hums and throbs with an alarming intensity and haunting aura.

As the titular Girl, Sennia Nanua is a revelation in her first main role. For such a young actress acting alongside more seasoned co-stars, Nanua shows no sign of nerves and turns in a layered performance that is at once sympathetic and menacing. And what a cast it is. Gemma Arterton, of pleasing, warm face and expressive eyes, beautifully portrays the teacher who treats her charges as if they were just average children. In her eyes, although they are dangerous, they still matter and it is a fine.y judged, emotional performance from Gemma Arterton. Glenn Close( a superb actress of the highest order) is once more on amazing form as the ruthlessly determined scientist who seems heartless but possesses some care within her. Close doesn’t make her a villain and although she’s questionable as a character, it’s that flawed nature that Close gets across so well. Paddy Considine is on hand for sarcastic, aggressive lines and action as the skilled soldier navigating a crew of at odds survivors through a hellish London.

A chilling, thrilling but also deep examination of moral dilemmas set against a world gone mad, The Girl with All the Gifts discovers inventive and astute ways to blend post-apocalyptic horror and sensitive drama about ethical and ambiguous questions on humanity, science and the complex link between good and evil.

What’s To Come

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Over the last year, my work on here has been sporadic. That’s because my focus has been elsewhere with personal things and sometimes a feeling of lethargy. But now I’ve taken stock of things and am going to be properly back. I know I’ve said this before, but this time I mean it. I’m back and wanting to review and converse. I promise to catch up with everyone’s blogs too.