Tag Archives: Crime

LFF – ROUND-UP REVIEWS INCLUDING: CALM WITH HORSES (2019), COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019) & WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2019)

LFF 2019 – ROUND-UP REVIEWS

One of the great things about film festivals is you can find loads of lower budget and independently made cinematic gems, amidst the big studio projects. Thus, I like to try and see as many smaller scale films if I can, rather than just watch the ones that are likely to go on general release anyway.

Due to my daily work commitments I didn’t get to see as many films as I would like, but here are three I have seen this week. Each is very different, but they all demonstrate, despite featuring some well- known actors, an independently-minded cinematic spirit.

***** SPOILER FREE *****


CALM WITH HORSES (2019)

First time director Nick Rowland has an assured debut with this contemporary rural gangster film set in Southern Ireland. Caught between the right and wrong side of the law, Arm, portrayed with brutal tenderness by Cosmo Jarvis, finds his loyalties torn between his family and venal crime bosses. The ever-impressive Barry Keoghan features as his drug dealer friend, who doesn’t necessarily have his best interests at heart.

It’s a harsh tragedy with an element of hope represented by Niamh Algar’s struggling single mum, hoping to escape for a better life. Ultimately, the story beats inhabit familiar territory, with elements of Mean Streets (1973), Of Mice and Men (1937), Bullhead (2011) and Miller’s Crossing (1990), echoing amidst the slashes of violence, colourful language and tough Irish characters.

Mark: 8 out of 11



COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

Filmmaker Richard Stanley had not directed a film for over twenty years, so when I saw he had filmed a HP Lovecraft short story – I WAS IN! Stanley was famous for being sacked from the ill-fated Island of Dr Moreau (1996). Indeed, the 2014 documentary, Lost Soul (2014), is still one of best docs I have seen about filmmaking. Mainly because everything went wrong, but also because Richard Stanley is such as interesting person too. Thankfully, this latest low-budget horror film was completed without too much trouble.

Given it is an adaptation of Lovecraft, Color Out of Space (2019) is unsurprisingly a cosmically bonkers horror film, which descends into all manner of insane occurrences. It centres on the Gardner family, portrayed by Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson, who along with their teenage kids, must confront the terrors that befall them when a meteorite hits their isolated farm. Building slowly, all hell breaks loose in the final act, as Cage lets rip with another crazed performance. Trippy and stylish with some fantastic gore, it lacks depth, but has cult film written all over it!

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2019)

Set in a desolate border town, the film opens with the kindly Magistrate (Mark Rylance) meeting Johnny Depp’s venal Colonel Joll for the first time. Joll is convinced those “Barbarians”, who live in the desert and mountain areas are going to threaten the fabric of the mighty Empire’s society. So, Joll begins a campaign of torture and oppression against them. The Magistrate and Joll constantly clash as the former seeks understanding and empathy over brute force.

This cerebral and allegorical drama is based on a famous literary classic, written by J. M. Coetzee. Brought to the screen by the ultra-talented Columbian filmmaker, Ciro Guerra, it’s quite slow, but I found it absorbing nevertheless. Mark Rylance is absolutely spellbinding. No one can do contemplative acting quite like him. His character was so noble and just, I really felt for him and the oppressed indigenous peoples’ cause. Arguably, the film could have been more dramatic in places, however, it still presents a damning indictment of colonialism and heavy-handed military rule.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM SCENES #9 – RIFIFI (1955) – THE SILENT ROBBERY

CLASSIC FILM SCENES #9 – RIFIFI (1955) – THE SILENT HEIST

Directed by: Jules Dassin

Produced by: Henri Berard, Pierre Cabaud, Rene Bezard

Written by: August Le Breton, Jules Dassin, Rene Bezard

Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Hossein, Magali Noel, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Marcel Lupovici, Robert Manuel etc.

Cinematography: Philippe Agostini

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



I was reminded of this classic low budget crime film recently while watching the brilliant 1980s set spy drama, The Americans. In it, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) is once again undercover manipulating a source, who happens to be a film geek. There she “bumps” into said source while watching Rififi (1955).

If you haven’t seen Rififi (1955), it’s a genuinely brilliant example of the heist movie. Directed by Jules Dassin, the standout sequence in the silent heist in the middle of the film. Lasting around 30 minutes there is NO dialogue and NO music. It is pure cinema of the highest quality and absolutely absorbing. We may not vindicate the actions of these criminals, but we are dragged into the cleverness of their crime.



Shot for what was a pretty low budget of $200,000, it features a cast of mostly unknowns or actors whose career, like the characters they play, was in decline. However, due to the sublime direction, tricky plot and stylish photography, Rififi, is a great example of ideas and ingenuity outweighing budgetary constraints.

Rififi was a critical and commercial success in France and other countries. However, it was banned too in some countries because the governments were afraid the robbery would be copied by actual criminals. Moreover, the film and the silent heist legacy live on. Brian DePalma’s film Mission Impossible (1996) clearly riffed on the set-piece with the elaborate Langley heist sequence. Interestingly, Keri Russell herself would appear in Mission Impossible III (2006); as an American agent this time.


ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW – A $90 MILLION “ARTHOUSE” & FETISHISTIC CLASSIC!

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW

Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Produced by: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Al Pacino, Mike Moh, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damien Lewis, Kurt Russell and many, many more.

Cinematography: Robert Richardson

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

From watching the trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), I remember thinking: this looks so cool and I’m glad they haven’t given away much of the story here. Because, I hate those darned trailers which give away the story!

So, you watch Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film and then you realise, after the excessive running time, THERE ISN’T REALLY ANY STORY as such! Okay, DiCaprio’s character suffers an existential career crisis but that’s kind of it. Instead, you get mostly a nigh-on three-hour historical and cultural nostalgia trip down memory lane filtered through the artistic and fetishistic vision of one of cinemas great filmmaking iconoclasts.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), is essentially an arthouse character study where you get to hang out with two-and-a-half lead protagonists, plus a whole army of fictional and ‘real’ life supporting characters from the 1969 Hollywood era. Our two main “heroes” are neurotic, alcoholic B-movie actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and tough, handsome and laconic, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The two characters contrast and complement each other perfectly. Moreover, the star quality, chemistry and fine performances of the lead actors bind the movie together amazingly.

Brad Pitt is especially brilliant. His character is not, until the violent ending, given much to do story wise; however, he does it with such charm. He imbues a character who has accepted his place in the world with such easy-going humour and control, it is an absolute joy to watch. It’s an iceberg performance which seems shallow on the surface, but has hidden and unsaid depth. I really wanted to know more about his character, especially what appeared to be a very colourful backstory.

DiCaprio, on the other hand, has the showier performance. Edgy, hungover and insecure due to his characters’ fading Hollywood career, DiCaprio gives another fantastic movie performance. He commits to the Dalton character and features in some wonderful sketches which pay homage and parody B-movies, TV variety shows and old TV Westerns. What I loved was his ability to demonstrate different levels of acting skills. DiCaprio can fuck up Dalton’s acting on set one moment, but then deliver acting on a Shakespearean level the next.

Margot Robbie, who we know is a brilliant actor in her own right, alas, is not afforded the same level of care in regard to the characterisation of Sharon Tate. More of an ornamental character in the film, she looks great going to the cinema, packing a suitcase, driving and generally just being effervescent. Yet, it’s truly is one of the film’s major flaws that it doesn’t make more of Robbie’s acting talent. Even the fantastic ending, which Tarantino, takes incredible liberties with in regard to actual events, finds Tate’s character development unfortunately left bereft of emotion.

Similarly, the Hollywood cameos echoing throughout the films are pure style over substance. For example Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and Bruce Lee feature but these are mostly inconsequential encounters. The Bruce Lee representation and scene is actually really funny as Cliff Booth and the martial arts star face off in a hilarious flashback. Typically, Tarantino has caused controversy with his Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) rendition. Personally, I respect that people may be offended, however, it’s more comedic and iconoclastic rather than overt racism. After all, this is a fairy-tale vision of Hollywood and not a documentary. Plus, Tarantino knows he’s going to piss people off so it’s obvious he’s playing with people here.

While Bruce Lee’s persona is playfully satirized or racist depending on your point-of-view, Tarantino’s representation of the Manson family is more damning. It’s clear he absolutely hates hippies, especially acid-looped killer hippies. Dalton and Booth represent the old-school, honest Hollywood working class, so are the antithesis of the drop-out youths. The culture clashes between this era and the new flower-power cults is something Tarantino explores. Charles Manson, who barely features, is a ghost-like figure though. Instead, it is the character of Tex (Austin Butler) and the females of the commune who are most prominent.

Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is especially hypnotic in her role. Exuding both sexuality and acid-drenched nihilism, Pussycat is a siren hitcher, luring drivers to symbolically crash against the cliffs. For me, Tarantino should have made way more of the old and new California culture clash themes, as they resonated powerfully when on screen. Plus, the scenes on the commune were actually quite creepy, so more should have been made of this threat from a dramatic perspective. Lastly, the irreverent and violent final act carnage exploits the clashing of these two different cultures, but more could have done throughout to enhance this dynamic.

Overall, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) is a near three-hour arthouse classic. If you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, ensemble casts, films within films, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt in a 1969 setting, then you will love this beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted film about Hollywood. Otherwise, you will probably find it a boring, indulgent and style-over-substance folly. Either way you have to admire Tarantino’s exquisitely controlled writing and direction. He certainly does!!

Safe to say though Tarantino will not care either way, because most of his filmic output has made a lot of money at the box office. This has now allowed him the luxury, like that of true cinema artists such as Kubrick, Altman and Antonioni, to make whatever films a studio is prepared to give him the money for. He’s basically making films for himself and doesn’t care if the audience likes it or not.

I personally found myself magnetically drawn to Tarantino’s vision and from a purely filmmaking and artistic perspective I was totally immersed throughout. Having said that, if the incessant driving and shots of dirty feet were cut and Dalton and Booth had been given a proper plot, rather than the thin stranded narrative within the impressive gallery of cameos and set-pieces, I would definitely expect to be writing about one of the best films ever made.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

HBO TV REVIEW – BIG LITTLE LIES (2019) – SEASON 2

HBO TV REVIEW – BIG LITTLE LIES (2019) – SEASON 2

Created by: David E. Kelley and Liane Moriaty

Producers: Barbara Hall, David Auge

Executive Producers: David E. Kelley, Jean-Marc Vallee, Reese Wetherspoon, Bruna Papandrea, Nicole Kidman, Liane Moriarty etc.

Based on: Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

Teleplays written by: David E. Kelley

Directed by Andrea Arnold

Main Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, James Tupper, Jeffrey Nordling, Kathryn Newton etc.

Cinematography: Yves Belanger, Jim Frohna

Original Network: HBO

**CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE**

I hate Social Media and Twitter especially, sometimes. I also hate myself for getting dragged into the bullshit it sometimes brings. I’m referring specifically to the distorted prejudice the mind can take on when reading a few negative posts about a programme, film or personality. Such reports can obviously be accurate. However, they can mislead and stain your expectations of a show or film or actor or artist. In this case the second season production of HBO’s, Big Little Lies, came under fire from a few people on my Twitter feed. They said it was an awful and an ultimately disappointing series. Were they right? I mean, how bad could it be?

Then there was the Indiewire article which highlighted an issue during production. They asserted in a well written piece of click-bait that director Andrea Arnold was unceremoniously disregarded in the editing process and first season director, Jean-Marc Vallee, brought in to oversee re-shoots and final cut. If you believe the Indiewire article, this was the act of a heinous media corporation cutting down a beloved artist and robbing her of her vision. Arnold’s auteur status remains untainted for me. She is a fine director who carried out her contract and did not have final cut anyway. This belonged to HBO and they had say on who they hired during the production.

Thus, in a short period of time, a couple of tweets and one article had seriously affected my expectations of the second season of Big Little Lies. I was expecting a mess of a show. One which did not make sense and was robbed of all artistic and dramatic impetus by the HBO hierarchy. However, I can safely say I was wrong and, while not as good as the brilliant first season, it was still a really intriguing eight episodes worth of entertainment.

After the exceptional first season which found a stellar cast including: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgård and Shailene Woodley on top acting form, the second season follows on with the aftermath of prior events. The first season expertly inter-weaved stories concerning an unknown “murder” victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and abusive relationships, expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. With the “murder” victim revealed in the final episode, we now get an exploration of suspicion, guilt, conspiracy and a test of loyalty and friendship.

Without wishing to give too much away the newest and strongest addition to the series is Meryl Streep. She plays the mother ***SPOILER ALERT*** of the dead guy from the first season, Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård). His death occurred when he was pushed “accidentally” down some stairs at a party. But, the friend’s, including his wife, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), collude to say he fell instead. With the police still suspicious the main investigator is actually Streep as the dogged Mary Louise. She is passive-aggressive and subtle in her enquiries as to how her son died. It’s a delight watching her deviously pull apart each of the lead suspects. It is also an absolute masterclass in acting as Streep’s crafty characterisation makes this series a must-watch. Her scenes with Nicole Kidman’s crumbling personality are especially compelling.

Allied to the investigation into Perry’s death, the show gives some interesting narrative strands to Laura Dern’s energetic power-mum, Renata. Her world is about to disintegrate around her in the face of her husband’s financial wrong-doings. Equally powerful is Bonnie’s (Zoe Kravitz) attempt to heal the rift between herself and her mother. Bonnie suffers the most guilt as ***SPOILER ALERT*** she was the one who pushed Perry down the stairs. As she battles with the emotional repercussions of her actions, she experiences a painful re-emergence of historical parental abuse. Perhaps, not as intriguing are Madeline (Reese Wetherspoon) and Jane’s (Shailene Woodley) narrative strands. Nonetheless, they do support the series’ themes of family, trust and love that add depth and subtext.

To finish, I learnt once again that social media and Twitter surfing can have a negative impact on one’s critical expectation of a programme or film. You have to basically make your own mind up and not be swayed by the pitchforks and torch-bearers baying for blood online. Big Little Lies (2019), Season 2, therefore, while not reaching the dramatic heights of the first season is an excellent follow-up. It explores the privileged lives of the rich Monterey set instilling a sense of humanity and frailty to their lives. The more improvisational direction of Andrea Arnold works well with the fragmented impressionism of the editing style to bring this out. Mainly though, it’s the impressive cast and script which glued me to the screen while experiencing this very watchable drama.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

OZARK (2018) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

OZARK (2018) – SEASON 2 REVIEW

Created by: Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams

Producers: Jason Bateman, Chris Mundy, Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams

Director(s): Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Phil Abraham, Alik Sakharov, Ben Semanoff, Amanda Marsalis

Writers: Chris Mundy, David Manson, Alyson Feites, Ryan Farley, Paul Kolsby, Ning Zhou, Martin Zimmerman

Cast: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Jordana Spiro, Lisa Emery, Jason Butler Harmer, Harris Yulin, Peter Mullan etc.

Original Network: Netflix

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The Byrde family are back for a second season trying to keep their heads above bitter Ozark lake water once again. If you haven’t seen the show Jason Bateman plays an accountant who has to go on the run with his family to Ozark, Missouri while working for a murderous Mexican drug cartel. Accompanying him is his wife, Wendy, portrayed by Laura Linney and their two teenage children, Jonah and Charlotte.

Without wishing to give away too many spoilers I can reveal the first season found the Byrde’s lives under threat from the Mexican Cartel and the FBI, while at the same time they made new local enemies in the Langmores and the Snells. The structure of the season one and two is to essentially place the American “nuclear family” at the heart of a crime noir thriller and watch them use their intelligence and wits to save their skins. What is even more apparent though in Season 2 is that, like with Breaking Bad, the ingenuity of the writing means we are rooting for the bad guys. I mean, the Byrdes are money-laundering criminals, but somehow the performances and screenwriting makes us root for them, mostly.

Having created some geographical and financial stability in the Ozarks by funnelling drug monies through various local business ventures, Marty and Wendy spend all of this season planning to get a casino up and running on the lake. Of course, this is met with resistance from many parties, notably the local crime family, the Snells; the FBI led by twisted obsessive, Roy Petty; Ruth Langmore’s jailbird father, Cade; and most significantly the State Senate which must pass the bill for a new casino. The latter is where Wendy’s character proves her worth as she has experience manipulating the political process following years working as campaign manager in Washington.

In the past I have criticised some Netflix shows for having too many episodes and being full of filler. Well, it’s safe to say there is little in the way of filler in these ten episodes. The suspense, pace and narrative zip along, fully committed to the substantial plots and compelling subplots. Of course, it feels very familiar, yet the “innocent family under threat” trope so often used by Hitchcock and other thriller filmmakers is cork-screwed here. Both Marty and Wendy fight back against their nemeses with cunning and threat. Wendy’s character arc is particularly enthralling, because as Marty begins to waver and his Borg-like cloak of non-emotion slips, she revels in the power-games, even as the body count begins to mount up.

If you love crime thrillers as I do you will love Ozark. While the elements are quite generic the acting, writing and directing are right out of the top draw. I also love the cinematographic style too. Some may say they find it literally too dark. However, the lack of white balance adds to the murky nature of the events in play. The crisp darkness and shadow paradoxically illuminate the inner machinations of some very dark souls. I mean, while the Byrde family are criminals, they are actually sane when compared to the likes of psychotic Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and sewer rat, Cade Langmore (Trevor Long). Their characters are so unhinged I wouldn’t want to argue with them, even on the phone.

Ozark, also has at least three almost-perfect acting performances from Jason Bateman, Laura Linney and Julia Garner as the young Ruth Langmore. Garner for such a young actress steals every scene. I think she is destined for a great career. Garner gives her character a sparky, intelligent and tough-nut exterior, but vulnerable interior. Plus, a strong theme of the show is loyalty and survival of the family unit. As much as Ruth Langmore tries to stay loyal to her family, fate and her poor choices conspire against her. Oh, and I almost forgot the Season 2 acting cherry on the cake, with Janet McTeer’s crime lawyer kicking in our dramatic shins with wicked aplomb.

In short: Ozark is a treat for an audience hungry for plot driven crime dramas. It perpetually springs narrative traps as the themes throb darkly. The underlying theme seems to be you have to be bad to survive and anyone who isn’t ultimately pays the price. Because God and humanity have forsaken Ozark, Missouri, with only shadow in bloom. Blessed with incredible acting, fine writing and twists throughout, I for one cannot wait for Season 3 to be released next month on Netflix.

Mark: 9 out of 11

SIX OF THE BEST #18 – FILM ANTHOLOGIES

SIX OF THE BEST #18 – FILM ANTHOLOGIES

While we all love a good proper feature film containing one continuous narrative, the anthology or portmanteau film has thrown up some fine cinematic entertainment over the years. Generally, an anthology film can be described as a collection of works with a linked theme, genre, style and author etc.

Thus, in my occasional Six of the Best series I have decided to pick some favourite ones. To make it more interesting I have chosen them from different genres. Otherwise, I would have just chosen all horror films. So, here are six of the film anthology films worth watching.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018) – WESTERN

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a mischievous alchemy of stories. Here, the Coen Brothers reach into their cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of characters, songs, bloody death, jokes, pathos, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and action. Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth and this is no different. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring in many of these fine stories.

Image result for buster scruggs

DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) – HORROR

It seems sacrilege not to include the likes of George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) or one of Amicus’ unhinged collections such as Dr Terror’s House of Horror (1965). But, having watched this classic recently I can certainly say it has some brilliant and scary stories which stand the test of time. Full to the brim with the cream of British acting, writing and directing talent, the standout tale is Michael Redgrave’s troubled ventriloquist, although the whole film is a nightmarish treat for horror fans.

Image result for DEAD OF NIGHT

FANTASIA (1940) – ANIMATION

With the current trend for Disney to remake their back catalogue as “live” action films in mind, I very much doubt they will doing this with Fantasia. Conceived as a short to re-invigorate the slowing career of Mickey Mouse, the film is unlike any other Disney have made. It consists of experimental, non-narrative and hallucinogenic vignettes mainly set to wondrous classical music. A masterpiece of hand-drawn animation, style, colour and design, it’s certainly not just for kids. I recall many images giving me nightmares when saw it as a child and it remains a powerful cinematic work to this day.

Image result for fantasia

NIGHT ON EARTH (1991) – COMEDY

I was going to choose Woody Allen’s erotic sketch film, Everything You Wanted to Ask About Sex but were Afraid to Ask (1972), for the comedy section. However, I decided to select a more deadpan and character oriented film. What better then, than a Jim Jarmusch curiosity. I love the concept of the film as Jarmusch sets several themes and parameters in place. There are five slice-of-life vignettes set on the same night in the cities of Helsinki, New York, Rome, Paris and Los Angeles, all starring some of Jarmusch’s favourite actors. Relationships and quirky interactions between cab driver and passenger are explored in the filmmakers’ inimitable style.


PULP FICTION (1994) – CRIME

Quentin Tarantino’s second feature film remains a fresh masterpiece of colliding gangsters, uber-cool hitmen, fixers, boxers, sexual deviants, femme fatales, drug addicts and general criminal types. With an over-lapping timeline that kind of does a figure of eight, we get stories ranging from a couple robbing a diner; a boxer double-crossing a crime boss; and an employee almost killing his boss’s wife. Tarantino breathes life into the crime genre and the stock pulp characters with one of the greatest screenplays ever written; full of incredible dialogue, startling twists and a brilliant ensemble cast.


WILD TALES (2014) – DRAMA

Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories mostly based around the themes of obsession and revenge.  It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding.  Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of. 


BARRY (2018 – PRESENT) – S1 & S2- HBO TV REVIEW

BARRY (2018 – PRESENT) – S1 & S2- HBO TV REVIEW

Created by: Alec Berg, Bill Hader

Producer(s): Aida Rodgers, Emily Heller

Writer(s): Alec Berg, Bill Hader, Emily Heller, Liz Sarnoff, Sarah Solemani, Ben Smith etc.

Director(s): Alec Berg, Maggie Carey, Bill Hader, Hiro Murai, Liza Johnson, Minkie Spiro etc.

Cast: Sarah Goldberg, Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Glenn Fleshler, Anthony Carrigan, Henry Winkler etc.

Original Network: HBO

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Critically acclaimed and Emmy award-winning dark comedy satire, Barry (2018) stars Bill Hader. He plays the eponymous lead, a hitman, who travels to Los Angeles for “work” and then finds himself joining an acting class by mistake. The comedy and drama of his finely written and directed HBO show derives from the dialectic juxtaposition of crime and war film tropes mixed with narcissistic and delusional Hollywood creative types. But is it any good? Yes and no!

Technically this is first rate and challenging entertainment; obsidian black in its’ humour and at times very compelling as drama. Stylistic influences are clearly the likes of: the Coens, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman and Elmore Leonard’s novel/film/TV series Get Shorty. However, I don’t think I liked it as much as those or as much as the panel of Emmy Award judges.

Personally, I don’t like, irrespective of their quality, shows or films titled after a single-name character. It’s just a personal thing. More importantly the show tries so hard to be cool. It has a knowing “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-cultural-melange” vibe. Plus, tonally it is all over the shop. One scene will be a hilarious situation involving bad acting from the class; and the next Barry will be blowing someone away. How am I meant to feel about such a lunge from comedy to drama involving so many unlikeable characters?

As Barry Block/Berman, Bill Hader is absolutely brilliant. He wants out of the murder business and is haunted by events from the military. Because of this I have much sympathy for him. However, this empathy is tested by some of his more heinous actions. Hader nonetheless delivers an iceberg cool performance with a searing internal pain. In the second season especially, his post-traumatic stress is explored intensely; and when he explodes with anger it resonates powerfully. Conversely, I wanted more of this than the parodic Chechen and Bolivian gangsters, who just aren’t funny.

In support, Stephen Root is brilliant as Barry’s exploitative handler and so-called friend. Sarah Goldberg as the neurotic actress, Sally Reed is a revelation. This is especially the case in the second season when her character gets some interesting storylines and great monologues. Likewise, Henry Winkler steals many scenes as the acting coach, Gene Cousineau; forever name-dropping and shilling for a quick buck.

Overall, Barry can be recommended for the excellent cast and mostly complex characters. While I would have preferred the dumb comedy to be reduced, there are indeed some great episodes throughout the two seasons. So, if you are looking for an intense exploration of human existence you get an element of that within the mix of: humour, satire, violence, shoot-outs and plot twists. But maybe, like the lead character, Barry tries to do too much all at once; however, at least it tries.

Mark: 8 out of 11