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HBO TV REVIEW – THE OUTSIDER (2020) – Stephen King's novel is given an impressive HBO going over!

HBO TV REVIEW – THE OUTSIDER (2020)

Developed by Richard Price – based on Stephen King’s novel

Writers: Dennis Lehane, Jessie Nickson-Lopez, Richard Price

Directors: Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Igor Martinovic, Karyn Kusama, Daina Reid, J.D. Dillard, Charlotte Brandstrom

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Cynthia Erivo, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Bobb, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham, Paddy Considine, Marc Menchaca, Max Beesley, Derek Cecil, Yul Vazquez etc.

Original Network: HBO

No. of Episodes: 10

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


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When I first saw this advertised, I thought finally, someone has adapted Albert Camus’ classic existential novel, The Outsider. When I saw it was from HBO, I was even more stoked. However, I then realised it was actually a story developed from a recent novel by uber-writer, Stephen King. Nonetheless, my enthusiasm was not curbed or curtailed. Because lord does King certainly know his way around a crime and horror tale. Moreover, with character actors such as Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Paddy Considine, Mare Winningham and Jason Bateman in the cast, plus star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo also in the mix, I knew this had to be good. Thus, it proved.

It goes without saying that being a HBO production this is a high quality rendition of Stephen King’s novel. The director of the first two episodes, Jason Bateman, brings the dark finish, tone and experience garnered from his superlative work on Netflix’s brilliant series, Ozark. Bateman is also cast as the main murder suspect, Terry Maitland, and he so metronomically good in the role. In a gripping opening episode Maitland is arrested for the murder of a local boy, Frank Peterson. The investigation is lead by Cherokee City detective, Ralph Anderson; an emotionally hollowed cop superbly portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn. Maitland protests his innocence, and when his ebullient attorney — the ever-impressive Bill Camp — shows he has a cast iron alibi, the narrative takes a decidedly strange turn.


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Firstly, as I have alluded to, this must be one of the best casts assembled in a television show since, well, the last HBO series produced. Further, grandmaster screenwriter, Richard Price — who also co-adapted the superb The Night Of (2016) for HBO — has spring boarded King’s original brilliantly. Price and his co-writers fully flesh out a series of fascinating characters and a community ripped apart by a black monster lurking in the shadows. Indeed, grief and heartache stain the eye of this drama as death hangs heavy over the humans of this closeknit town.

The Outsider (2020) is so confident, we are not even introduced to another of the major assets of the series in Cynthia Erivo’s investigator, Holly Gibney, until the third episode. While the ‘Outsider’ of the title could be referring to the killer, Gibney’s character is very much an idiosyncratic loner too. Whether she is on the spectrum, it is not revealed. However, irrespective of her lack of social skills, she has an incredible memory, powerful determination and prodigious logic. Erivo, as Gibney, gives a masterclass of a performance radiating empathy, heart and fierce intelligence throughout.

Finally, some may feel the HBO series moves too slowly in the middle episodes, following the thrilling opening ones. However, I was engrossed in the methodical unravelling of the exposition to the audience. As Gibney discovers the true horror of the mystery then so do we. Stephen King has always been a genius at creating eerie suspense and this story is no different. I was pleased that this vision avoided the more hysterical supernatural elements which have blighted lesser King adaptations. Yet, while it is subtle in delivery, the show isn’t without a number of explosive moments, especially during a bullet-fest of a shootout in the final episode. Overall though it’s the creeping dread I felt while watching The Outsider (2020), that I’ll remember most. It’s the stuff of nightmares you see; and at times I was seeing more than double.

Mark: 9 out of 11


DARK WATERS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

DARK WATERS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Todd Haynes

Produced by: Mark Ruffalo, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler

Screenplay: Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan

Based on “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman, William Jackson Harper, Mare Winningham etc.

Cinematography: Edward Lachman

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Every now and then one watches a film you kind of wish you hadn’t. Not because it is bad, quite the contrary with director’s Todd Haynes’ legal drama, Dark Waters (2019). No, you wish you hadn’t watched it because it unveils a tragic series of events relating to environmental, corporate, chemical, legal and human corruption. I prefer to possess hope that human beings can be trusted to do the right thing. However, based on this story that is definitely not the case. Moreover, given the information revealed about huge corporation, DuPont, and their environmental procedures, it’s a damning indictment against corporate greed and community murder.

A two-hour film is certainly not long enough to do justice to a story which has taken decades to unfold and cost the lives of many people and animals, while irreparably damaging the environment in the process. However, it effectively bullet points the crimes of the DuPont conglomeration in a riveting fashion. At the heart of it is corporate lawyer, Robert Bilott, here portrayed by the always excellent, Mark Ruffalo. Beginning circa 1998, Bilott, is approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) whose livestock have died or been culled due to tumours and other cancerous illnesses. Bilott who is usually employed to act as a lawyer FOR the big companies, investigates further. Subsequently he uncovers something rotten in the state of West Virginia.



Mark Ruffalo as Bilott inhabits an intelligent, caring and dogged man, driven by his desire to see justice for Wilbur Tennant and the people of Parkersburg. It’s often remarked Ruffalo would make a great Columbo; and like that famous fictional TV detective, Bilott never ever gives up. This is even in the face of years and years of environmental tests, litigation, DuPont’s dirty legal tactics and hundreds of court appearances. Anne Hathaway as his wife Sarah Bilott is also good, although her role is slightly underwritten. Bill Camp impresses though in his turn as the exasperated farmer whose life and livestock has been destroyed by synthetic chemical waste dumped into adjacent land.

Like A Class Action (1991), A Civil Action (1998) and Erin Brockovich (2000), this film rarely transcends the genre conventions of the legal drama. There are moments where it leans toward the conspiracy thriller elements of say, The Insider (1999). Bilott’s family life almost crumbles and he becomes paranoid that their lives are in danger from chemicals and DuPont. Overall though, the film’s strength is in the conveyance of the legal proceedings and agony of a community impacted by corporate negligence. Moreover, I was seriously in awe at the diligence Bilott showed in wading through the reams of legal paperwork.

Ultimately, this is a consistently solid narrative with Bilott’s resolute determination providing a sturdy spine throughout. It was slightly surprising to see the film was directed by American arthouse auteur, Todd Haynes. Nonetheless, it is not about making poetic cinema, but rather presenting a powerful environmental message that highlights the murderous avarice of DuPont. Haynes and his cinematographer inject some creative technique in the lighting style. Murky, shadowed and opaque, the cinematography match the dark recesses of the system Bilott fights against. Lastly, Ruffalo, as he did in Foxcatcher (2014) wrestles with the DuPont family, only this time with a wholly different conclusion.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


JOKER (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

JOKER (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Produced by: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

Based on : DC Comics’ Joker created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Bill Camp, Zazie Beetz, Francis Conroy, Glen Fleshler, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron etc.

Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



“Is it just me – or is it getting crazier out there?”

There’s no let up for poor coulrophobes. You wait so long for an evil clown and two come along in quick succession! First Pennywise hits the big screen twice. Now, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix deliver an incendiary cinematic masterpiece, based on DC’s uber-villain, Joker.

With Marvel’s cinematic universe heroically saving the world and making Disney a lot of money in the process, everything was looking a bit bright in the comic book film world. Not anymore, because Joker (2019) brings darkness, chaos, delusions and insanity to the screen. This film doesn’t reflect a safe world full of heroes, but instead illustrates one without them or a shred of hope.



The year is 1981. The place is Gotham. The symbol of this urban disintegration will be downtrodden clown, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Crime and garbage ravage the city and social services budgets are being cut. Arthur struggles with his mental health, his clown work and his unwell mother (Francis Conroy). He attempts to find solace in stand-up comedy, but his psychological problems stretch to uncontrollable laughing fits, making people laugh AT him, as opposed to WITH him. He seeks potential romance with a neighbour, Sophie (Zasie Beetz), but his world begins to collapse when he loses his job and his medication is cut off. Attacked by kids on the street and bankers on the tube, Arthur is forced to fight back. But, violence begets violence, as a new, more dominant persona comes to the fore.

Joker (2019) is a bravura and risk-taking character study charting the downward spiral of both a city on the edge; and an individual losing touch with the real world. Rather than being cared for by the system, Arthur is thrown to the gutter, only to rise up with fire, violence, colour, costume and maniacal chuckling. From the mean streets of Gotham comes not calm, but social unrest and protests; not a hero but a painted villain, dancing and plotting bloody murder.



I have read that there have been complaints that the film trivialises mental health. Well, having experienced a close family member suffer mental breakdown and have a friend commit suicide due to extreme anxiety, I actually think Joker (2019) presents madness in a very truthful way. Mental health is scary, unpredictable, difficult to treat and prone to startling bursts of uncontrollable energy. It’s hard to comprehend what happens in people’s brains to make them act a certain way and this film captures that. The reason the film is scary is because mental health is scary. If it is not treated, then people can harm themselves and others. Therein lies the truth and tragedy of mental illness.

Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely incredible as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Hysterical laughter echoes and haunts the screen. Every cigarette he smokes drags nicotine anxiety into his ravaged lungs. As violent outbursts jolt and as his skinny body dances, I felt a gamut of emotions including: fear, humour, shock and sadness. Fleck’s transformation into Joker is a slow-burn trajectory and masterful acting performance. He tries to avoid violence and confrontation, but it’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He tries to make people laugh, but sadly only ends up hurting them. Joker is an outsider desperate to step inside and be part of society, but, even down to his unknown parentage, he is rejected at every turn.


As well as Phoenix, Todd Phillips deserves much kudos for creating an incredibly dark, but impressive cinematic experience. He is ably assisted by the startling cinematography of Lawrence Sher, who captures that gritty, paranoiac and urban look perfectly. Much praise also to Hildur Guðnadóttir, who, for me, has orchestrated the musical score of the year. Lastly, the genius of marrying cinematic classics like Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), with a DC comic-book super-villain is an absolute masterstroke. Indeed, Joker (2019), is one of the most memorable and compelling films of 2019. Why so serious? Watch it and discover for yourself.

Mark: 10 out of 11