Tag Archives: Murder

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #15 – JACQUES AUDIARD – WITH: THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #15 – JACQUES AUDIARD

Experienced French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, makes what I call proper films. I mean, have you watched the cinema of yesteryear, notably the 1970s, with stories about characters that are deeply flawed and even possibly unlikeable. Well, Audiard still makes those kind of films. He takes risks representing human beings on the edge of society and perhaps struggling with life; people who often make left-field decisions to improve or escape their existential plight.

For my latest piece in the My Cinematic Romance series, I will look at some key Audiard films well worth watching. I will also incorporate a mini-review of his most recent release, tragi-comedy Western, The Sisters Brothers. If you haven’t seen much of Audiard’s work and are drawn to intense human character studies with absorbing narratives, then I highly recommend it.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Starring a quartet of fantastic scene-stealing actors in: Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, this Western bends the genres between drama, comedy and tragedy. Based on Patrick DeWitt’s critically acclaimed novel, the film is set in the 1850s during the Californian Gold Rush. It centres on the titular brethren, easier-going, Eli (Reilly), and drunken Charlie (Phoenix); hired bounty hunters who kill mainly for an enigmatic individual called the Commodore.

The film unfolds in what I would call a curious romp fashion; and it is certainly guaranteed to attain future cult status. Moreover, it also echoes the tone and eccentricity of recent Westerns like: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) and Slow West (2015). While Reilly and Phoenix’ characters form a humorous double-act in terms of verbal exchanges, their actions betray the fact they are cynical, hard-bitten and murderous. A product of their amoral milieu they remain the antithesis of the stylish and charming outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Their latest quarry and target for the Commodore is Ahmed’s idealistic chemist, Herbert Warm. Assisting them is Gyllenhaal’s likeable tracker, John Morris. The brothers’ haphazard pursuit of Warm is a fun and bloody journey replete with: chaotic shootouts, barnstorming brawls, hilarious bickering and right-turn narrative twists. Overall, it’s probably too idiosyncratic to impact the box office, yet, Audiard directs with his usual love for morally ambiguous characters. Lastly, the natural lighting and colour scheme is beautifully shot throughout; while Alexandre Desplat’s score resonates impeccably. Thus, these elements plus Phoenix and Reilly’s tremenodous on-screen sparring make this a very enjoyable picaresque Western tale.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

OTHER RECOMMENDED AUDIARD FILMS

READ MY LIPS (2001)

This Audiard thriller centres on Emmanuelle Devos’ office worker, Carla, and has echoes of Hitchcock and Coppola’s paranoiac classic The Conversation (1974). Hiding her deafness from colleagues, Carla enters into a robbery plot with Vincent Cassel’s ex-con and a fascinating serpentine double-crossing narrative ensues.

A PROPHET (2009)

This is one of the best prison films I have ever seen. It is a perfect example of the emotional power of linear filmmaking. As we follow Tahar Rahim’s lowly prisoner rise through the prison ranks using: violence, luck, cunning and smarts, we feel every emotion and tension he does during an incredibly compelling journey.

RUST AND BONE (2012)

Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts fizz with passion, star quality and brute sexuality in this “opposites-attract” romance drama. Cotillard is a Marine Park employee who falls for Schoenaerts low level criminal but obviously the path of love is a jagged one. Full of beautiful imagery and brutal violence, it’s a memorable character drama full of bitterness, redemption and pain.

DHEEPAN (2015)

Dheepan starts as a humane story of survival and the immigrant experience, before crossing over into explosive thriller territory by the end. Further, Audiard casts his leads with unknown actors and wrings every ounce of feeling from the sympathetic characters. As the Sri Lankan Tamil, Dheepan, and his “wife”, struggle with life on a Paris council estate, what may seem small in scale is in fact emotionally very epic.

SIX OF THE BEST #15 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES (1979 – 1988)

SIX OF THE BEST #15 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES

Created by:     Roald Dahl

No. of series: 9 – No. of episodes: 112

Producer(s)    Anglia Television / ITV

Original release: 24 March 1979 – 13 May 1988

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

With its eerie opening theme tune and iconic dancing silhouette title sequence, Tales of the Unexpected, holds much nostalgia for me. In fact, it was one of my favourite shows I watched as a kid. Every Sunday evening I couldn’t wait for these short, sharp and sometimes shocking tales of: murder, revenge, adultery, gambling, addiction, blackmail, liars, con-artists; and generally twisted visions of humanity. Of course, the amusing consideration remains that the twist in the tales were generally always expected, making them paradoxically, not unexpected at all. However, trying to guess the twist was also part of the fun in watching.

The series was inspired by similar anthology narrative shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Way Out; with initial stories adapted from the work of genius writer, Roald Dahl. The early seasons were also introduced by Dahl and while produced mainly in the UK, latter seasons had U.S. produced episodes too.

Other writers’ work would be adapted and the series became a staple haven for many famous actors too. These included: Susan George, Sian Philips, Jose Ferrer, Joseph Cotten, Peter Cushing, Janet Leigh, John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Joan Collins, Denholm Elliott, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Anna Neagle, Joan Greenwood, Harry H. Corbett, Timothy West and many more.

Over most of 2018, I re-watched pretty much every episode on SKY ARTS and so for this article I would like to choose six of my favourite ones. I’d say the latter seasons were probably not as strong as the earlier classics. Yet, I still loved most of them; even some of the more comedic and goofy ones. Finally, picking a favourite six was an impossible job, and I have limited the Dahl classics to just one. Here they are!

LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER (1979) – SEASON 1

A murdered husband, baffled police, distraught wife and a leg of lamb are the ingredients of one of the finest short stories I have ever experienced. Originally adapted for Hitchcock Presents, Susan George is excellent as the pregnant wife cooking up a special meal and murderous alibi twist.

THE FLYPAPER (1980) – SEASON 3

I was always told as a kid don’t talk to strangers for fear of abduction or harm and this episode deals with that theme expertly. The chilling tale from the pen of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one), finds an young girl drawn into danger from a seemingly unlikely source. The slow build-up of suspense, creepy performances and frightening end make it genuinely unforgettable piece of television drama.

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1981) – SEASON 4

Michael Kitchen is brilliant in this sharp, twisted drama as put-upon clerk, Arthur. His lowly beta male seeks the love of the boss’ daughter but is too broke to get her attention. Enter society-playboy Charlie Prince and Arthur finds confidence from his tutelage and connections. As the plot turns one way then another morality and fate catch out Arthur’s lofty aspirations and his dreams soon turn to dust.

HIJACK (1981) – SEASON 4

This brilliant story deals with a genre staple of an airline hijack. Very economical and full of suspense, it’s mostly shot in the interior of the cockpit as Simon Cadell’s Captain and crew are subject to a fear-inducing robbery. Cleverly plotted, this one even had me fooled with an audacious twist which really flies high at the end.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO LATELY (1982) – SEASON 5

I loved this episode because of the performance from Benjamin Whitrow. He is a bitter, unlikable, alchol-driven, misanthropic actor who verbally abuses his wife. When he bumps into an old acting friend the two share past memories and it’s soon revealed both are unhappy with their lives. Whitrow imbues, in a short time, a life of disappointment and human weakness, and his startling comeuppance is certainly deserving by the end.

SCRIMSHAW (1985) – SEASON 8

The U.S. produced episodes did not stand the test of the time very well, mainly due to the aged and fading 16mm film. Anyway, many of them could be classed as average but there was the odd gem. Scrimshaw was one such diamond in the rough, containing a haunting performance from Joan Hackett as an alcoholic barfly. One day she thinks her luck has changed when meeting an old wealthy artist friend, but that is far from the case.

Hackett’s performance stayed with me, especially the incredible shot at the end. When I researched Hackett’s name online wondering what she was up to now, I discovered she died in 1983 from cancer, aged only forty-nine. Released in 1985, Scrimshaw finds the audience literally watching a ghost, something I found completely unexpected.

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW

Executive Producer: Ryan Murphy

Writer: Tom Robb Smith

Based on: Vulgar Favours: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth

Original Network: FX / FOX

Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Darren Criss, Ricky Martin, Penelope Cruz, Finn Wittrock

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I watch a lot of telly but don’t always review stuff because I don’t have time. The Assassination of Gianni Versace was one of those shows which I enjoyed when on the BBC but did not feel like reviewing. But then it kind of stuck with me; it nagged at my psyche as a chilling, violent and intense work of television drama. Hence I thought it was worth recommending it for those who are interested in excellent crime stories.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is the second season of the FX true crime anthology series American Crime Story. It explores, over nine compelling episodes, the murder of designer Gianni Versace by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Those coming to the show looking for an in depth story about Gianni Versace – as a man or designer – may be slightly disappointed.  Save for three or four episodes the lion’s share of the drama is about his killer, Cunanan.  What we do see of Versace and his sister Donatella, as expertly portrayed by Edgar Ramirez and Penelope Cruz, is a man who grew up from humble beginnings to become one of the finest fashion designers of all time. Personally, fashion does not interest me so I was pleased that world did not dominate the focus of the story.

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The main focus, however, was the spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Writer Tom Robb Smith, adapting from Maureen Orth’s book takes many risks, notably telling Cunanan’s story in reverse chronological order. I’m not always a fan of non-linear storytelling for the sake of it, however, beginning with Versace’s murder and then flashing backwards revealing, episode by episode, the sad demise of each of his victims made for absorbing viewing. Darren Criss as Cunanan is absolutely brilliant. His performance of the fantasist murderer is equally scary, embarrassing and darkly funny at times.

Evoking the characterisation of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Criss nails the confidence and desperation of a very conflicted person. His Cunanan is not just a straightforward psycho but a rather complex loner with delusions of grandeur. The reveal in the later episodes that go some way to explain Cunanan’s psychosis are especially chilling. The show is also very honest about Cunanan’s sexuality. Via Cunanan’s, and other characters’ experience, the representation of gay men in America is illustrated in a fascinating way. Finn Wittrock, Mike Farrell, and Cody Fern, who portray three of Cunanan’s victims, are very empathetic as they battle the prejudices and expectations of gay men in society. It is a tragedy their lives, and others including Versace, were so violently ended at Cunanan’s hands.

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Overall, I was extremely absorbed by The Assassination of Gianni Versace. While not as grandstanding as The People Versus O.J. Simpson (2016), this character drama both shocked and stunned in equal measure; thanks to an excellent script and Criss’ haunting acting performance. Also, kudos goes to show-runner Ryan Murphy. This uber-producer is best known for creating/co-creating/producing a number of successful television series, including the FX medical drama Nip/Tuck (2003–10), the Fox musical comedy-drama Glee (2009–15), the FX anthology series American Horror Story (2011–present); Feud (2017–present); and with this latest season of American Crime Story (2016–present) he has overseen another memorable televisual experience.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

Gary Oldman shines in DARKEST HOUR (2017) – Cinema Review

DARKEST HOUR (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Joe Wright

Produced by: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Douglas

Written by: Anthony McCarten

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn

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What makes human beings want to go to war?  What is it that determines thoughts and actions which will lead to the death of another human being? Is it: a genetic trait; a tribal desire; a psychological defect; financial gain; jealousy; boredom; passion; political chicanery; religion; greed; anger; revenge; or quite simply madness. Taking a life is something I have never understood. I mean, unless you are forced to defend yourself against a foe hell-bent on your destruction why would you wish to harm anyone else?

So, Adolf Hitler has a lot to answer for because, even accepting the political and social reasons for the rise of the Nazi party and his desire to repair national pride after the first World War, what the hell gives a nation the right to invade and conquer other countries. If you choose to go down that road you are signing the death certificate of a generation men and women and children. It’s not just Germany either. The British Empire, Roman Empire, Vikings, Mongols, United States of America, France and many more have waged war against humanity down the years. Will it ever stop? Sadly, I doubt it.

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In times of war what is needed is obviously bravery, steel, fight, intelligence and more than a little luck. You need hearty human beings to stand and be counted and to die on the battlefields and in the air and in the sea. You also need leaders; figureheads who can rally the troops and galvanise that last ounce of fight in order to repel the enemy. During World War II, with the country on its knees and backs to the walls we had many leaders, but Winston Churchill, above all else, became synonymous with victory.

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As portrayed in Joe Wright’s beautifully shot microcosmic epic, Darkest Hour, Churchill is presented as a flawed-pink-pyjama’d-cigar-chuffing-blustering-iconoclastic-functioning-alcholic prone to fits of rage, melancholy and depression. He also happens to be devilishly intelligent, full of energy, with a wicked tongue and talent for brilliant oration. Much of the plaudits must go to Gary Oldman, and his make-up team, for creating such a wonderfully human portrait. Indeed, Oldman owns the screen with his damned-near perfect impression.

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Anthony McCarten’s fine script centres on a finite number of days during World War II when Churchill became Prime Minister. Aside from one emotionally effective yet historically grating symbolic scene on the London underground, is it well written with fantastic one-liners and Churchill’s greatest verbal ‘hits’. Joe Wright is a talented director (the mis-guided Pan (2015) aside) and he evocatively conveys the shadow of looming defeat. Wright traps Churchill and ensemble in cars, lifts and in underground chambers. Shafts of light also pin the characters to the corners of the screen; pushing them toward the darkness. But through the spirit of Churchill’s never-say-die attitude we fought back against the Nazis and eventually stole victory from the jaws of defeat. War is hell. War is madness. But sometimes it is unfortunately a necessity to prevent the bullies from winning.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

HOSTILES (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

HOSTILES (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by:                      Scott Cooper

Produced by:                    Scott Cooper, Ken Kao, John Lesher

Screenplay by:                 Scott Cooper

Story by:                            Donald E. Stewart

Starring:                            Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach

Music by:                           Max Richter

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Death and America seem to go hand in hand down the realms of history; entwined bedfellows with society, industry and apparent civilisation being watered by blood and bone and marrow of humanity. The coagulation of Native American lives spread to the dust could be argued to be one of the most despicable genocidal acts ever perpetrated against a generation. And what was it all for? So, human beings from one side of a huge ocean can take what essentially belonged to the indigenous men, women and children of what we now know is called the United States of America. Red dust scorches that land and people and it’s a stain which will never ever be removed.

Even in the last one hundred years and more the Neo-Americans have militarized and invaded many other countries borne, on occasion for the greater good but generally to colonize, re-politicize and scavenge the goods of those said lands. Thus, it is never surprising when the natives choose to repel their invaders as they’d prefer their land to remain their own. For the price of defending their land history has named them savages and other cruel labels in an attempt to differentiate their culture and make them the enemy. Of course, there are good people within the U.S.A who oppose such invasions but the truth remains even they live on blooded ground.

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The weight of guilt and pain and death hang heavy in Scott Cooper’s slow-moving and elegant Western. It’s a character driven piece with Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi and Rory Cochrane putting in dominant performances which convey the depressing murderous times borne out of the heinous and greedy need for progress. White man / woman’s guilt drives the narrative as at first Bale’s soldier refuses to accompany his enemy back to his homeland. Is it more because of the deaths of his own men on the battlefield or because he does not want to face up to his own crimes against the Native Americans?

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There are no easy solutions in this glacial paced, beautifully shot Western. The audience is required to analyse the characters actions and make up one’s own mind. There are no black hats or white hats save for the denouement involving the four horsemen that drift over the horizon with death in their eyes. Even the Comanche horde who perpetrate the wicked attack on Pike’s family at the beginning, while unsympathetic, are a product of the barbarity committed by the American army. Overall, this is a genre-defying Western built more on character rather than all-out action. Each slow plot turn went against my expectations and that was a positive. It’s a rich, deep and heavy film which benefits from great performances and an incredible Max Richter score.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW 2017

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)

“There’s no question that a great script is absolutely essential, maybe the essential thing for a movie to succeed.”Sydney Pollack

Directors are often held up by critics and audience alike as the God’s of film; controlling and pointing and designing and envisioning and corralling their mass creative power to thrust upon the cinema screen. Of course, with many directors or auteurs, the lofty praise is deserved but hey, did they create that vision or story or character arc in a vacuum? No, they had blueprint on a page first. They had a screenplay written by themselves or a determined writer or writing team sitting in a windowless office smoking a thousand cigarettes while slaving to get words on a page in some semblance of a coherent filmic fashion. It seems obvious to say but a great screenplay is the (skeleton) key for any great film; it’s the bones with which to hang the meat and muscle and later the clothes of any movie.  Without powerful bones a film will not stand strong. It will fall.

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Screenwriter (and director) Martin McDonagh has, in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri constructed one of, if not the most, formidable screenplays of the year.  As a playwright he won many awards for his works and his film, In Bruges (2008), was a deceptively simple story of two hitmen on the run which, with rich thematic power, became a darkly hilarious existential comedy-drama. His follow-up Seven Psychopaths (2012) was a heady mix of criminals versus writers in a meta-fictional Hollywood-based narrative; which while brilliantly written and performed arguably lacked the punch of In Bruges. Now, with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh has delivered his best film to date; a highly emotional human drama which contains some of incredible characterization, dialogue and zinging one-liners which bounce off the page and crackle on the screen.

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Eschewing a more traditional structure the script’s inciting event – the murder of a young girl called Angela Hayes (Kathryn Newton) – has already occurred and therefore we are thrust immediately into the grief of main protagonist Mildred Hayes, portrayed with an iron veneer by the remarkable Frances McDormand. Her study of a grieving Mother, who is no longer prepared to sit by and wait for her daughter’s killers to be found, is awe-inspiring. Firing a rocket into the patriarchal-dominated police department ran by Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) she sets in motion a series of unforgettably tragic, violent and blackly comedic scenes.  In using the three billboards to question Willoughby’s investigation she utilises physical media as a larger form of the ‘Scarlet Letter’; an old fashioned “name and shame” device. Because Mildred, is refreshingly traditional and old-fashioned and in rural, small-town America the Internet just won’t hack it for her. She is about direct, in-your-face and ballsy action.

As a study of grief this is similar in feel to the majestic Manchester-by-the-Sea (2016) and no doubt, like Kenneth Lonergan, McDonagh will be picking up many awards for his nuanced screenplay. He imbues each of the characters with a flawed, yet rounded humanity. He takes risks by making his main protagonist, despite her loss, kind of unlikeable. Yet we are always with Mildred because she is righteous and swimming against the tide of authority and masculine dominance. Plus, she surprises us with her actions and language and violence. Below the tough exterior though there is also a vulnerability which makes us love her too and empathise fully with her loss.

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McDonagh and his filmmaking team have also put together a phenomenal ensemble cast including: Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, and Abbie Cornish etc. Sam Rockwell is especially memorable as the immature, inept and thuggish mother’s boy, Jason Dixon. His scenes with both Frances McDormand and his on-screen Mother, played with deadpan gusto by Sandy Martin, crack with complex emotion and humour. Collectively they portray imperfect characters whose lives have not just been dealt a bum hand but their situation is exacerbated by poor decisions based on emotion and frustration with life and the world. Ultimately, this is an excellent cinematic experience funny, shocking and moving; only possible because of the expert script from a great writer.

(Mark: 10 out of 11 – and the script goes up to 11!)

SIX OF THE BEST #3 – MOVIE NUTTERS

SIX OF THE BEST #3 – MOVIE NUTTERS

In the third episode of this occasional strand I have decided to have a look at some good old cinema nut-jobs. This was precipitated by a recent watch of David Lynch’s classic Blue Velvet (1986) which features an incredible performance from Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth.  He is, of course included here, along with five other movie loons.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

FRANK BOOTH – BLUE VELVET (1986) – DENNIS HOPPER

“Why are there people like Frank?” asks Kyle Maclachlan’s Jeffery Beaumont midway through David Lynch’s dark journey into the underbelly of small town America. Why indeed? We do not know why Frank is the way he is: he just is!  The drugs, shouting, swearing, sado-masochistic and psycho-sexual violence stem from the dark recesses of Lynch’s imagination; while Hopper’s tour-de-force performance is chilling, scary and at times, inappropriately laugh-out-loud funny.

ANTON CHIGURH – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) – JAVIER BARDEM

You’d have to be a person of the highest confidence or crazy insane to sport the haircut Chigurh/Bardem does in this wonderful Coen Brothers’ adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy’s neo-Western novel. Chigurh is not just a stone-cold killer but also one with a strange amoral compass and set of rules. Also, his reliance on chance and the flip of a coin as to whether someone lives or dies is even more scarier than the deadly bolt-gun he uses to dispatch his victims.

JACK TORRANCE – THE SHINING (1980) – JACK NICHOLSON

The slow demise of the isolated writer driven to kill by the demons of the past are brilliantly captured in Stanley Kubrick’s stylish and memorable Stephen King adaptation. Nicholson cornered the market on explosive larger-than-life masculine roles but here he was far more unhinged. His performance as Jack Torrance is both scary and funny, as writer’s block, the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel plus his own depression weld to send him over the edge and into lunacy and murder.

ASAMI YAMAZAKI – AUDITION – (1999) – EIHI SHIINA

To describe Asami as a nutter is a bit harsh on nutters really. Because, cutting your victims limbs, digits and tongues off, before placing them in a hessian sack is pretty extreme. A calm psychopath, Asami literally chills to the bone; however, her victims are carefully chosen men who she enacts tortuous revenge on for historical sexual abuse. This is a scary horror film that is both stomach-churning and thematically strong, delivering a damning indictment on the casting couch culture.

MAX CADY – CAPE FEAR (1991) – ROBERT DE NIRO

Robert Mitchum’s performance in the original Cape Fear (1962) deserves a mention, as does his powerhouse and menacing turn as Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter (1955); who almost made the list too. Nonetheless, DeNiro’s Cady is a marvellous cinematic creation rooted in pure bible-belt-Southern-preacher-avenging-devil-hatred. All muscles, tattoos and a sense of violent vengeance he pursues Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) and his family with an insane zeal; terrorizing them with unforgettable physical, sexual and murderous threat.

ANNIE WILKES – MISERY (1990) – KATHY BATES

Here is another Stephen King loon for your consideration. Kathy Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her barnstorming performance as Annie Wilkes. She is a charismatic lunatic who takes the ‘I’m your number one fan’ maxim to the extreme; with a mania stemming from a skewed understanding of the world which is not helped by her seeming isolation. When James Caan’s author kills off her favourite literary character hell hath no fury like a mad-woman scorned! Carlsberg don’t do torture: but if they did!