Beasts of No Nation (Cary Fukunaga, 2015)

What's it about? In an un-named African country torn apart by civil war, young orphan Agu (Abraham Attah) is recruited as a child soldier under the command of a vicious warlord (Idris Elba).

Is it any good? I'm guessing anyone intending to 'Netflix and chill' whilst watching this might be in for a bit of a shock. In telling Agu's story, it's a pretty grim depiction of how the emotions and morals of young children can be manipulated with terrible consequences. Anyone with even the slightest awareness of child soldier armies in war-torn parts of Africa will know to expect some hard-to-watch sequences as Agu and his comrades become increasingly desensitized to the atrocities they see and, distressingly, contribute to. Fukunaga (who helmed S1 of TV's True Detective) directs his own script here in efficient, rather than inspired, fashion, but he does have two excellent performances from Attah and Elba to anchor the film. It may not tell us anything particularly new about the horrors of war and there's no real surprises in how it plays out, but it's still a worthwhile and sobering watch. Just don't expect to get laid when it's on.

Anything else I should know? The Netflix reference above is because this represents the first film project to be distributed by Netflix, who purchased the worldwide distribution rights. The success of the film through streaming service (as compared to a poor showing at the box-office) has provided good validation for the media company's strategy for releasing other high-profile films projects the same way. As such, the film is now being viewed as a possible game-changer for the industry, with the ability to reach more viewers and also afford 'smaller' films a more viable distribution platform. Better start saving for that subscription fee - looks like these Netflix guys are going to have something more than Breaking Bad to watch over the next while

What does the Fonz think? Let's Netflix and Kill.

Watch it on Netflix

Robert De Niro 80s Triple Bill Rewatch

I've seen all three films below before, but the mists of time have shrouded my memories to the extent that I really have no good memory of them at all. That is both a bit worrying and a bit gratifying, because it means I get to re-watch them as if for the first time, thereby taking my mind off any worries about dementia creeping in. By coincidence, they all star one Robert De Niro, who could do no wrong in the 80s, so it's a chance to remind ourselves of when he was actually worth watching in a film.

The Mission (Roland Joffe, 1986) should really be better than it is. It's a good story based on true events in 18th century South America, where a Jesuit mission for Amazonian natives comes under threat from Portuguese and Spanish invaders. It promises much, with death, sacrifice, faith and religious conflict in abundance. It has an epic jungle setting, gorgeously captured by the Oscar-winning cinematography. It has Robert De Niro twirling a sword, Jeremy Irons climbing a waterfall and Liam Neeson shooting arrows from a canoe. Best of all, it has Ennio Morricone's hauntingly beautiful score to accompany the visuals. And yet, it's all rather staid, badly paced and struggles to engage the mind or heart, despite all the above. That's really rather unforgiveable. No wonder it was remade by James Cameron as Avatar.

De Niro facial hair rating : Good range exhibited, from tidy to unkempt and back. Distinction.

Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987) has stood the test of time much better. Set in the 1950s, shabby PI Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is employed by a mysterious client (Robert De Niro) to track down missing singer Johnny Favourite, but there's more to the case than first meets the eye. It's a very enjoyable and interesting spin on the PI genre, which stands up pretty well to repeat viewing even when you know the revelations to come. Parker's atmospheric direction proves fitting as the story starts to shift from mystery-thriller to something more supernatural (although the less said about the silly eyes at the end, the better). De Niro is only on supporting duties here, though. Mostly, it 's a chance to see just why Mickey Rourke was a big deal back in the day. A shambling contrast of good looks and slobby appearance, this represented the peak of his 80s career, before things went to shit for the next 20 years. One can only assume he sold his sold to the devil in return for stardom and looks, only for the devil to collect on that debt soon after he made this.

De Niro facial hair rating : Immaculately groomed and fittingly sinister full beard. Commendation.

Martin Scorsese was quite ill during the production of The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982) and that does seem to have impacted on the film, which is a slightly uneven, somewhat rushed affair. Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) is an aspiring stand-up comic obsessed with securing a spot on a TV show hosted by national talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Constantly rebuffed, the somewhat unstable Pupkin takes some drastic actions, which skate along the edge of funny and disturbing. Many regard this as one of Scorsese's most underrated films, but I wouldn't place it with his top work, and I'm not too keen on the performances either, particularly the rather forced scenes between Lewis and Sandra Bernhard. Nevertheless, as the world continues to drown in a sea of execrable reality TV, it remains an interesting, prescient movie about (wannabe) fame and the commentary on the ugly side of celebrity is more relevant than ever. Also, am I the only one to think Rupert's comedy routine wasn't half-bad - certainly funnier than anything James Corden has done and he's never off the friggin' TV!

De Niro facial hair rating : No beard, but aptly enough for Rupert, a sad little moustache. Fail.

So, turns out De Niro was pretty good back in the old days. Hurray! And I did remember some bits and pieces, once the old brain cells got jogged. So my memory must be all right! Hurray! Now, gotta rush on I'm afraid, I have to go and write up a triple bill of Robert De Niro 80s movies for my blog.

STU Triple Bill

We're on the home stretch of the 2015 Alphabet Film Project, which aims to reduce the number of films recorded off the tellybox by watching them in alphabetical order. Today's post brought to you by the number 3 and the letters S-T-U.

Previously on the Alphabet Film Project....

Atlantic City
Blood of Fu Manchu
Curse of Frankenstein

Esio Trot

Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Hiroshima Mon Amour

Julius Caeser
Late Chrysanthemums


Perks of Being a Wallflower
Quatermass and the Pit
Roman Holiday

For viewers of a certain vintage it is the haughty, lean figure of Basil Rathbone that is the quintessential Sherlock Holmes, rather than those young whippersnappers Cumberbatch and Downey Jr. Rathbone brings an air of authority and puts those impressive aquiline features to good use in Sherlock Holmes and The Scarlet Claw (Roy William Neill, 1944) which is commonly regarded as one of the best of his 14 outings as the famous detective. At a snappy 74 mins, it's a tidy, atmospheric whodunnit with Holmes investigating a series of gruesome murders in a Canadian village which has apparently been beseiged by fog machines. The real mystery, however, is why he would hang out with Nigel Bruce's tiresome Dr Watson, who is little more than bumbling 'comic' relief here. Look! He fell in a boggy hole! Again! Wanker.

Next up is Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, 1983), or as it's also known, 'the film that Robert Duvall won an Oscar for to reward his great work in the 70s'. Actually, that's a bit unfair - he is really good in a low-key drama about a reformed alcoholic C&W singer trying to put a life back together, and he does all his own singing throughout. That said, it's rather slow and uneventful, but its heart is in the right place and because I'm quite partial to the odd bit of Country and Wobbly, I'll forgive it. In fact I think I'll write a song about all the good times I had watching it, just as soon as I sober up enough to get my truck to start to go to bury my dog.

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014) turned up on several 'Best of Year' lists in 2014, suggesting it was something a bit special. Tellingly, however, it also turned up on several 'WTF' lists, suggesting 'special' might in fact mean 'shite'. The truth, as I suspected, lies somewhere in between. An alien descends to Earth disguised in human form (Scarlett Johansson) and proceeds to learn about humans, primarily by cruising the streets of Glasgow in a van picking up men. Unusually, several of these scenes were filmed candid camera style, with an incognito Johansson improvising in her encounters with non-actors, who were subsequently made aware of the filming and who then agreed to appear in the film. There's a weird vibe to these scenes as a result, which only gets weirder as the men are lured to their apparent death in some sort of inky black pool in a couple of undeniably visually arresting sequences. As the alien becomes increasingly affected (or infected?) by its contact with humans, the film clearly borrows from Nic Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth in both its themes and ambiguous presentation. Similarly, the unsettling soundtrack by Mica Levi provides a disorientating soundscape reminiscent of David Lynch's work. You might be mesmerised, you might be mystified, you might be amused, or, like me, experience all those emotions, and more, at the same time. I wouldn't consider it a masterpiece as some have done, but it is certainly a distinctive piece of work. And if it all sounds a bit heavy, you might be interested to know Johannson is happy to get her kit off since it's a serious art-film. Oh, so now you want to see it? Perverts. Think of it as The Woman Who Fell to Glasgae.

Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015)

What's it about? James Bond (Daniel Craig) has gone rogue (again), this time in a globe-trotting investigation which matches him against shadowy organisation SPECTRE and new(?) bad guy Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

Is it any good? A bit of a disappointment actually. It's not bad, but it's a rather shapeless, muddled entity, with plenty of spooks, and some demons, but little spirit - a pale shadow of the much superior Skyfall. It's a pity, because at its heart is a neat enough attempt to bind the DNA of the four Craig Bond movies into one inter-related family, one which is even proud of the hopelessly retarded Quantum of Solace when it could have just kept it hidden in the attic. Sadly, it takes so long to introduce both Waltz and love interest Léa Seydoux that this central theme is lost in a baggy story, when leaner writing could have used both characters to develop some genuine threat and emotion. Waltz in particular has good reason to feel short-changed, given little opportunity by the writers to develop his baddie into doing anything more memorable than wearing shoes with no socks.

There are some highlights, however. The opening sequence, which features a bravura tracking shot set against the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City, is really terrific. Ben Whishaw pretty much steals the show as Q whenever he turns up and Wrestlemania star Dave Bautista impresses as silent-but-deadly adversary Mr Hinx. And there's always that Pavlovian thrill any time the dah-da-da-dah! theme kicks in. So it's perfectly watchable, but in comparison to Skyfall, this sprawls in too many directions, lacks any backbone, moves slower and is a bit pea-brained. That must be what the octopus is about.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Ecstatic reviews from the first few screenings have tempered quickly into a more measured reception, as the hype dies down a bit and people start to realise that there's maybe a good reason Craig was so grumpy in those press interviews. Although Mendes and the writers must shoulder some of the blame, I think it's fair to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Sam Smith who squawks his way through the ghastly theme song. Things went downhill after that.

What does the Fonz think? Should also have been called Heptopussy

Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015)

What's it about? Idealistic FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) volunteers to join a special task force to tackle drugs-related activity along the US-Mexico border. Only problem is that neither the swaggering seen-it-all-before group leader Matt (Josh Brolin) or the mysterious 'advisor' Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) seem inclined to tell her what exactly they are doing.

Is it any good? First and foremost, Sicario works terrifically well as a thriller, with several superbly staged set-pieces which will have you gripping the arm-rests as events unfold, all accompanied by a thumpingly sinister score to help ratchet up the tension. It may not tell us anything new about the dangerous War on Drugs across the US-Mexican border - we've seen all that murky, corrupt stuff in everything from Traffic to Breaking Bad - but it sure as hell make sure it re-tells it with considerable verve. As a story it's less successful, with some clunky, slightly implausible developments and thin characterisation. Nevertheless, Blunt does her best in the rather thankless expository role and the reptilian-cool del Toro is never less than absolutely awesome, even when he's sticking his finger in another man's ear. But the real star her is 12-time Oscar nominee (and 12-time Oscar loser), cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose photography makes even the horrible scenes look beautiful. As it switches from aerial shots to panoramic vistas to hand-held POV to claustrophobic night vision to thermal imaging and back, it's never less than outstanding to look at. Get a flavour of it with the trailer below. Surely, this will be his year to win the little gold guy?

Anything else I should know? Yes, I have now officially marked Ciudad Juárez off my list of Places to Visit. think I'll get my drugs somewhere else.

What does the Fonz think? The Hitman & Her.