Tag Archives: law

TWO CHARACTERS ON THE EDGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN – FILM REVIEW DOUBLE BILL – HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018)

HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018) FILM REVIEWS

Having seen both these fascinating character studies, Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) recently, I was compelled to write a double bill review because similarly they feature: lower budgeted production values, a singularly powerful lead acting performance, characters who have recently lost their mothers, very uncomfortable emotionally charged scenes; as well as both exploring themes relating to mental illness. Thus, I thought it interesting to review the films with these elements in mind.

In regard to mental health, it is quite rightly being addressed more and more in society in a respectful manner. The barriers and prejudices of the past are being eroded and people are talking about it more openly. I have first-hand family experience of someone who has suffered with mental illness. Plus, I have experienced the loss of a close friend to suicide due to debilitating anxiety and have other friends on anti-depressants. I have tried to be of assistance to those people, but it is incredibly difficult to help anyone. Likewise, medical professionals seek various ways of attempting to assist, treat and counsel individuals with mental health problems.

Ultimately, it so tough to deal with such illnesses as they are powerful and invisible. I have utmost empathy for anyone suffering from anxiety, depression and serious mental health problems. It’s such a shame that I feel kind of helpless when it comes to helping people I am close to. It is not always enough to listen and understand, thus professional medical help should be sought and sometimes even that is not enough. It is not surprising therefore that cinema is also exploring such stories and themes.

With Joker (2019), mental illness was examined in a comic book genre setting in a powerful way for me. Some critics felt it trivialised mental illness. I felt that it was, while stylised and theatrical, actually accurate in the disturbing disintegration of Arthur Fleck’s downward mental spiral. Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) are two very different films in terms of genre, but with similar thematic trajectories as Joker (2019). Indeed, while they are independently produced and smaller in scale, they feature two frightening renditions of characters on the verge of a mental breakdown.

***THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS***



HORSE GIRL (2020)

Directed by: Jeff Baena

Written by: Jeff Baena and Alison Brie

Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, John Ortiz etc.

Depicting mental illness accurately is a very tricky thing on film in my view. Obviously, we have over the years had all manner of psychotics and mad people chasing and killing others in horror films and thrillers. There have also been many films centred around characters in mental institutions. Some are respectful examinations, but many more could be seen as exploitation films. Horse Girl (2020) is not exploitational, but rather an oddity that falls somewhere between the gaps of arthouse drama and weird character study. Such films are difficult to assess as, however impressive the technical aspects of the production are, the strange events of the film could alienate an audience in terms of entertainment.

Despite Alison Brie’s exceptionally brave performance as Sarah, the narrative consistently disengages you emotionally, taking you to very dark and weird places. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the actor is holidaying in weirdness for the sake of it, or is genuinely drawn to characters who exist with mental issues. Given Brie is an intelligent and highly talented actor, plus she co-wrote the script, you cannot help but feel this is a very personal project. Her portrayal of a shy loner dealing with the suicide of her mother, sleepwalking, day delusions, fragmented time loss and nightmares makes Horse Girl (2020) a disorientating experience. However, in conveying the chaos and frightening nature of mental illness, the film is commendable but tough to recommend.

Mark: 7 out of 11



Thunder Road Jim Cummings

THUNDER ROAD (2018)

Written and directed by: Jim Cummings

Cast: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Macon Blair etc.

Talking of films that are difficult to recommend, Jim Cummings self-produced, written, directed and acted film Thunder Road (2018) is another. Rather than giving us, like Horse Girl (2020), an unreliable narrator and escalating series of surreal events seemingly separated from reality, Cummings film deliver very real feelings of embarrassment and anxiety to the audience. Advertised on certain film sites as a comedy-drama, neither the comedy nor drama are conventionally enacted. The film is based around a series of hysterical monologues and stream of consciousness dialogues from Cummings grieving and soon-to-be-divorced troubled cop, Jim Arnaud.

Arnaud’s mental issue is not psychosis, but rather a circumstantial and emotional nervous breakdown precipitated by grief and a personality disorder. The opening scene at a funeral for Arnaud’s mother, is a case in point. Based on his original short film of the same name, Cummings produces a tour-de-force acting exercise in both awkward comedy and distanciation. Subsequently, the film’s narrative events find Arnaud attempting to be a good father, friend and police officer, however, he is constantly on the edge of an angry outburst or outpouring of emotional honesty. His character makes us empathise as he is in grief, but at the same time he’s very difficult to like due to his extreme reactions. Ultimately, as a low budget feature for Jim Cummings acting abilities, Thunder Road (2018) is a compelling character study. However, it’s tough to watch and the slightly misogynistic ending left a sour taste in what was a fascinating emotional exploration of grief and mental instability.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS: UNBELIEVABLE (2019) & WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS

Netflix produce a lot of original content, with the quality of the films sometimes a bit questionable. However, their limited series are usually really good. This is especially proved by two recent drama releases, both based on true events and questionable law enforcement procedures. In terms of production values, drama and power, they are of the highest quality. So, here are my reviews of Unbelievable (2019) and When They See Us (2019).

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



UNBELIEVABLE (2019)

Created & written by: Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon etc.

Directors: Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Dinner, Susannah Grant etc.

Main Cast: Toni Collette, Merritt Weaver, Kaitlyn Dever, Eric Lange, Elizabeth Marvel, Danielle Macdonald, Dale Dickey etc.



Based on a Pulitzer prize winning news article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, this superb police procedural drama charts events which occurred in Washington and Colorado between 2008 and 2011. A brutal rapist is attacking women in their homes and leaving absolutely no trace of evidence. Police in Washington are so stumped they are not even sure one of their victims, Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), is telling the truth.

The series is carefully structured between Marie’s ordeals in 2008 and the subsequent 2011 police investigation led by Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Weaver). Marie is so appallingly treated by the Washington police that you cannot help but sympathise with her. Her character is one of neglect and tragedy.

The Colorado investigation occurring in 2011 is the total opposite of the Washington one. Rasmussen and Duvall may be different in personality, yet they are both determined and fierce in their pursuit of this heinous perpetrator. Collette and Weaver make a formidable team on screen and there is much sensitivity toward the victims of these crimes within an excellent script.

Ultimately, this is a thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It both highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways different police departments handle such situations. I myself was continually moved emotionally by the events and feel there is no place in this world for people who commit such wicked crimes.

Mark: 9 out of 11



WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

Directed by: Ava Duvernay

Written by: Ava Duvernay, Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, Michael Starrbury

Cast: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Jovan Adepo, Chris Chalk, Justin Cunningham, Freddy Miyares, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams



If Unbelievable (2019) illustrates both the positive and negative results of police investigations, When They See Us (2019), paints an even more incredulous series of events with regard to the law. The drama series concerns a vicious sexual attack in 1989 on Trisha Meili, a jogger in Central Park. The police acted swiftly to arrest the alleged perpetrators. Satisfied that the five black male suspects they had in custody committed the crimes, the police, urged on by New York prosecutor, Linda Fairstein use unscrupulous tactics to gain their “confessions.”

The way these characters — Kevin Richardson, Anton McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana — are treated by the New York Police Department is only the beginning of the cruel injustice they face. From the initial crime, to the arrests, to the court case and subsequent aftermath, the drama puts you at the heart of one of the biggest travesties ever committed. The series expertly shows how the legal system fails these individuals, their families and the victim too.

Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience. The performances from the younger and older actors is excellent, although special mention must go to Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise. In ‘Part Four’, which shows his incarceration, Jerome’s portrayal oozes tragedy and solitary pathos. Indeed, the acting is so good Jerome would deservedly win an Emmy award.

Ava DuVernay, having taken a break from hard-hitting drama by directing fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time (2018), has produced another powerful and socially relevant work. These events may have occurred in 1989, but their impact echoes across the decades. The treatment by the New York Police of these black youths is also a microcosm of how minorities are treated in general by the U.S. justice system. By highlighting the tragedy of this case, DuVernay and her production team have created a landmark work of TV drama. One which is both incredibly vital and emotionally unforgettable. Be warned: there will be tears.

Mark: 10 out of 11


NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER! THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL!

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER!   A RIK MAYALL TRIBUTE BY PAUL LAIGHT

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER!   THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL & MR JOLLY

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS YOU BASTARDS**

The passing of comedian and actor Rik Mayall was a ruddy shame.  Of course I didn’t know the guy but from a cultural point-of-view here was a comedian, actor, raconteur, writer and clown who I grew up watching on the tellybox and escaped into fits of laughter just at his merest look, gesture, rant, pratfall and frying pan in the face.  So when I heard of his death I was disappointed because he was dead. And would never be alive to perform again. That always positive energy was gone.

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I myself have attempted stand-up on a lower-runged level of the comedy circuit and while you can obtain laughs through trial, error, gigging, experience, writing actual jokes blah, blah, blah etc. but what you can’t be taught is actually being funny.  You’ve either got it or you haven’t. And Rik Mayall didn’t just have funny bones; he had funny eyes, ears, hair, nails, feet, hands, heart, spleen, blood etc. You get the picture:  HE was fucking funny!

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Kevin Turvey, Lord Flashheart, Richard Richard, his many Comic Strip performances, Alan B’stard, Drop Dead Fred, The Dangerous Brothers etc. were some of the many varied comedic performances Rik Mayall delivered. He could do clown, mania, slapstick, psycho, pathetic, sleazy, satirical, violence, arrogance, low status, high status, eloquence, sarcasm, smarm and many more.  Like  an overgrown demented child he could run amok, shout then whisper, go dark and then lighten up in a moment.  And it was just so bloody natural.

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Arguably his crowning performance was as Rick in The Young Ones, a surreal, punkish yet somehow still traditional situation comedy centred around four lazy students who essentially fail to get on whatsoever but still form a dysfunctional “family” unit.  Rik was the spoilt mummy’s boy with inklings of anarchic desire yet with a penchant for Cliff Richard records.   He was a spotty, poetry spouting virgin prone to bouts of rage and snivelling sycophancy and sneakiness with an anger toward authority and revolutionary ideals but neither the backbone, physical power or bottle to actually do anything that may bring a government down.  He was basically a cowardly, hysterical child who happened to be hilarious at the same time.

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The Young Ones was a defining comedy for me when I was growing up.  I’d never seen anything like it.  And ever since I have sought out such programmes containing profanity, imagination, stupidity, slapstick, satire, surrealism and above all else human beings trying and failing to get on with each other. I have subsequently found this in shows such as South Park, Red Dwarf, Blackadder, The Day Today, Alan Partridge, The Office, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to name but a few. However, for the remainder of this piece I want to pay tribute to — if you put a gun to my head — my favouritest thing that Rik was in ever! One of the funniest 50 minutes of comedy ever committed. The Comic Strip film:  MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR! 

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The Comic Strip Presents: erupted from the sordid strip joint stages of Soho or more specifically the original Comedy Store.   Alumni included: Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle with frequent appearances by Keith Allen, Robbie Coltrane and many more comics who would become household names over the years.  Anarchic, punkesque and anti-establishment in approach they were a hurricane of creativity challenging the comedic hegemony and what was considered to be the apolitical, sexist, politically incorrect and old-fashioned performers of the day.

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From the stage they marched into our living rooms on the newly founded Channel 4 in 1982 (way back when C4 produced challenging programming) and over the years produced some wonderful and wacky short films, features and shows which satirised everything and anything from: literature, film, television, politics, music, war, fashion, sport, law etc. The Comic Strip Presents: were a staple for alternative souls and any new episodes were greeted with joy in the mind of South London latchkey-TV-addicted kids like myself.

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The Comic Strip collective produced too many hilarious shows to mention but my favouritest ever is Mr Jolly Lives Next Door!  Written by Mayall and Edmondson they presented two drunken, idiotic morons derived from their Dangerous Brothers’ stage personas.  Together they are DREAMYTIME ESCORTS: alcoholic, depraved, sleazy con-artists with little or no redeeming qualities whatsoever; other than arguably perhaps they cause themselves more damage than others.  Mr Jolly is a masterclass of violent slapstick, stupidity, sight gags, demented cameos and also some very well written jokes too.

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It begins with our unnamed “heroes” helping the police with their enquiries relating to Fatty: a now dead client.  Dreamytime Escorts then get confused with their mysterious-assassin-lunatic neighbour Mr Jolly (the hilarious Peter Cook) and somehow are involved in a plot to “take out” Nicholas Parsons; as arranged by demented gangland boss Mr Lovebucket (Peter Richardson).  And the whole thing is directed by Stephen Frears – yes THAT Stephen Frears. The same one who directed The Grifters (1990), The Queen (2006) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) etc.

So with a deranged story — which I think may have influenced another moronic classic Dumb and Dumber (1994) — on the go the audience is driven along on a wave of anarchic fun and alcohol fuelled insanity with Rick and Ade having much fun while they’re at it.  The scenes where they torture the Japanese client and get so drunk they end up in the toilet screaming at each other — having “borrowed” Mr Lovebucket’s £3000 to kill Parsons — are a senseless joy.  The drunken nonsense is ramped up even more when they take Quiz Show host and TV celebrity Nicholas Parsons to the Dorchester on a night out; Parsons believing they are competition winners when in fact the “Escorts” have accidentally run the real winners off the road and killed them in a fiery blaze.

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To a teenager the sheer pace of the lunacy was a thing of beauty and even now when I watch Mr Jolly the chaotic nature of the scenes at the Dorchester at Parson’s house are packed full of physical performances, celebrity in-jokes, stupid sight gags such as the tattoo which Ade thinks has been put on backwards when he looks at it in the mirror.  I marvel at the comic timing, sheer energy and controlled mayhem on show.  The next day they suffer the grandest of hangovers and when Mr Lovebucket calls in his debt the two drunks must actually kill Parsons.  What follows is live action cartoon violence of a side-splitting variety with Rik getting a hammer over his head and Ade holding on while two grenades explode.

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Cue a finale which involves a crazy car chase, Rick shitting himself, Dreamytime Escorts van ending up in a skip, Mr Jolly murdering Parsons to the tune of What’s New Pussycat, exploding tonic water and Peter Richardson’s Lovebucket uttering the immortal words: “WHAT IS GOING ON!?” before the whole premises blows up. What you have are Stooges like physical humour combined with Loony Tunes style cartoon violence. There is little satire and no subtlety but it is uproariously funny.  We end with Ade and Rick walking down Camden Lock canal before Mayall pushes his partner-in-grime in the water for no reason.  And that is what is so great about Mr Jolly: it has no underlying meanings or any depth. It’s stupid and violent and loud and ruddy funny.  Rick Mayall was all of these too and much much more and I thank him and Ade for giving us this crazy masterpiece.