The Drift

 

Based on Tennessee Williams’ novella, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, The Drift tells the decadent tale of Karen Stone, an aging, recently widowed actress who moves to Rome looking for love. While in Rome Karen meets The Countessa, a glamorously degenerate Madam who hooks her up with a succession of gigolos, then, once she has fallen for one known as Paulo, threatens to blackmail her with photos of them together…

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The Double

DoubleIt’s easy to wonder if there’s a ‘better you’ out there. One who made different choices, one who was braver, one who works out and eats well, one who studies hard, one who takes that risk. It’s easy to wonder if your life would be better if you just were more outgoing, more confident, more forceful.

Now what if you met that ‘better’ you’.

And they wanted to destroy you.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is in a tough place in his life. Nobody at his soul-crushing job appreciates him, his elderly mother is dying in an uncaring rest home and Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the girl of his dreams, does not even know he exists. One night he witnesses a suicide and the clean-up crew that arrives explains they’re very common. They take one look at Simon and put him down as a future ‘maybe’.

Then a new worker starts at his bureaucratic place of employ. A bright young man introduced with fanfare ad excitement. A young man…who looks exactly like him.

Simon’s double is, naturally, named James Simon and while nobody else seems to notice the physical similarity, they certainly notice James. The boss loves him, the security guard is his immediate friend and his confidence and ease is everything Simon is not.

In return for covering for him at work, James takes Simon under his wing, offering to teach him confidence and how to win the heart of Hannah. But quickly it becomes apparent that actually what James wants…is everything Simon has.

The Double is the second feature film from director Richard Aoyade and, like his assured debut Submarine, shows him again making very shrewd decisions. He chooses once again an adaptation (this time, the Dostoevsky novella) and shows once more a superb visual eye. Where Submarine was all wide shots and symmetrical compositions of the Wes Anderson variety, The Double is all shadows and coloured lighting, with a period-less production design more than a little reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

The result is an underpopulated world that feels vague and dreamlike. It could be anywhere. It could be anytime. It creates an atmosphere where nothing can be trusted – are we seeing Simon’s perception of events? Or are we seeing things that are in Simon’s head?

This dis-associative approach allows the focus to shift from the mechanical to the philosophical. As Simon’s plight worsens – his job, his dream girl, even his apartment all being taken away from him – we cannot help but to project. What would you do in such a situation? Would you give up? Would you fight back? How can you fight back when your opponent is everything you are…but better?

Eisenberg plays to type as the stammering, awkward Simon, but shows a reptilian swagger as James. He is careful to not overdo it, though, and the effect is of two markedly separate individuals without ever having to revert to physical quirks for differentiation.

Wasikowska does well with what is a fairly limited, reactionary role and continues to prove herself as one of the most interesting young actresses around today. Her choice of projects remains impeccable and her name is quickly becoming an indicator of a film worth watching.

Darkly comic and wonderfully realised, The Double is a gem of a film. Evocative and yet leaving enough ambiguity for the audience to draw its own conclusions on standing up for yourself, what aspects of your personality are truly important, and thoughts of the road not taken.

Extras:

The extras on the Blu-Ray include a behind the scenes featurette which includes comments from the producers, Aoyade, co-writer Avi Korine (Harmony Korine’s brother, trivia fans!) and various cast members. It also gives a bit of a window into the complexities of motion control camerawork to include two Jesse Eisenbergs in so many frames.

There are also some fairly superfluous deleted scenes and also the full scenes of the TV show that is shown on background TV sets a lot – a micro-budget sci-fi action piece starring Paddy Considine.

Available on DVD and BLU-RAY from Madman Entertainment.

Picket Fences [Season One]

PicketFences

Picket Fences is a TV drama set in the small fictional town of Rome, Wisconsin, centered around Sheriff Jimmy Brock, his wife and town doctor Jill, and their three children. When family emergencies such as bed wetting, bullying and teen sex aren’t playing out there’s a bunch of bizarre crimes of some sort. From serial bathers, midgets riding on elephants to serial killers called “The Green Bay Chopper” and “Cupid”. Another element of the show is the ethical/political/philosophical quandaries presented in the courtroom. It’s unique how it blends police drama, medical drama and legal drama into one show.

Let’s get the Twin Peaks comparisons out of the way. It’s clearly inspired by Twin Peaks. It references the show many times and even to an extent Northern Exposure as well (Cicely Alaska/Rome Wisconsin), also the philosophical debates remind one of Chris in the Morning‘s spiels). Like Twin Peaks the first episode is centered around a murder. While Northern Exposures first few episodes are filled with TP references and similarities it carved out its own identity and maybe it’s because I have only watched one season but Picket Fences never really has a strong and unique identity. It kinda feels like a mishmash of Step-By-Step, some cop/legal drama and Twin Peaks.

Although known for “quirkiness”, it’s not in the same way as Twin Peaks, it’s more of a wholesome quirkiness. Sure strange events happen, but it all comes off so light-heartedly. Twin Peaks is wholesome too, but it is extremely dark, and even though Picket Fences tackles issues such as incest, child sexuality, serial killers etc,  it’s just so damn quaint.

But the main weakness of the show is that there’s not many interesting characters, just interesting stories. This might be due to its episodic nature but none of the characters grew on me. By far my favourite would be the cavalier lawyer Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel) who is hilarious and takes on the role of lawyer for local criminals and those on trial. He remarks of a statutory rape case: “I’m very good with penile cases. My brother-in-law is a moyle. He makes circumcisions. He has malpractice insurance. He has a two inch deductible.” Kathy Baker was brilliant in her role but her character was a little too moralistic. A credit to the show is that virtually every character is flawed and they explore those flaws so just when you think “ughh who is that tender and wonderful in real life” things get a little bit real again.

The show deals with a lot of polemical issues HIV, incest, polygamy, abortion, fetal transplants, teenage sex and other such taboo issues that would rarely be touched on in TV today. The show has children discussing and addressing sexuality and saying things that today would have raised alarms, makes me sad that we live in such a frightened climate. This is one of the stronger elements of the show as the topical events it portray affect everyone from those in uniform to their families and the greater community. The show also forces the viewer to consider their values and subject matter they may not be so familiar with which is a pretty clever thing for a mainstream show to get away with.

The show is worth watching but it’s not a show that I can be fanatical about. I watch Twin Peaks at least 3-4 times a year, I own the Twin Peaks board game which no one will play with me because it goes on forever. And I LOVE making cherry pie. Perhaps I came into the show looking for the wrong things, above all it’s a good study of family life in a small town, people navigating life with all its ups and downs.

If Twin Peaks wasn’t your type of show then you’ll probably love this show and if you were a fan of it back in the day you’ll be wanting to make sure you pick up a copy . Awesome to see some older shows not being forgotten about. I will be checking out the rest of the seasons as they get released as I have read a lot of online comments that the show comes into its own during the second season. Worth checking out if you’ve never seen it before.

Extras:

A 14 minute featurette called  ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’ with interviews David E. Kelley, Kathy Baker, Tom Skerrit, Holy Marie Combs, Lauren Holly, Fyvush Finkel, etc, interspersed with clips from the show.

Picket Fences Season One is a 22 episode six-disc box-set with a run-time for 1055 minutes. Recommended.

Picket Fences [Season One] is available on DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Blue Ruin

Blue-Ruin

A mysterious homeless man learns that a convicted double-murderer is being released from prison. Wordlessly, but with determination, he begins a plot to assassinate the murderer. Little does he know that his decision will start a chain of vengeance that will spiral rapidly out of his control.

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Short Term 12

Short-Term-12

Grace (Brie Larson) is in charge of Short Term 12, a temporary facility for disadvantaged youths. Along with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr) and her staff, she helps children of broken homes or children of no homes at all as they try to adjust to the world. The foster-care facility, though, battles with young people who may be too badly affected by neglect or tragedy to come to terms with their pasts.

When a teenage girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) is assigned to the facility, Grace finds echoes of her own life and, at last, is forced to deal with the baggage of her own life.

Short Term 12 is a film with almost an embarrassment of strengths. Chief among these is an extraordinary cast of young actors, all who deliver killer, naturalistic performances. Keith Stanfield, as Marcus, a young man about to turn 18 and be released into the world as an adult, gives a subtle portrayal of tension and apprehension while Dever balances a tricky role as the belligerent teenager that could easily have eroded audience sympathy but instead carries it off with aplomb.

The real standout is Larson. The film rests squarely on her shoulders and this is a real star-making turn. Resisting the urge to grandstand, she keeps Grace as a calm, almost background presence in the first half of the film. As deeper character layers are revealed, Larson keeps the whole piece grounded and wonderfully affecting.

Surely much of the credit must go to director Destin Daniel Cretton, building on his own 2008 short film, also titled Short Term 12. That piece had Stanfield playing the Marcus role again and proved Cretton was adept at marshalling a youthful band of actors, but the across-the-board excellence must be at least partly attributed to him.

Working against the cast is the story. It is a very familiar set-up and the ‘surprises’ of the movie will be seen coming a mile off by any seasoned audience member. The character revelations are hoary and borderline manipulative and even the faux-documentary camerawork, with its endless shakiness only adds a sense of artifice rather than the realism is clearly aims for.

It is testament to the easy dialogue and the superb core performances that these issues do not derail Short Term 12. The plight of Grace, Mason and their charges remains an affecting one and an uplifting one. The interactions between the characters are convincing and delicate, with a gentle line in humour that really serves to increase the emotional punch of the key moments.

A beautiful film where the wonderful performances and easy dialogue far outweigh the more formulaic aspects of the script, Short Term 12 is a softly-spoken promise of a film. Affecting and lyrical.

Extras

The extras include around 20 minutes of deleted scenes, but also some nice behind-the-scenes clips. These show the real sense of camaraderie around the cast, crew and even post-production and music contributors.

There is little in the way of insightful information here, but watching the easy style of Cretton or the crew singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Larson mid-shoot is immediately endearing. A gentle and completely appropriate accompaniment to the film.

Short Term 12 is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Deadly Outlaw Rekka

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These days Takashi Miike really needs no introduction, he’s one of the leading forces in modern Japanese cinema and his prolific body of violent and eccentric work has won over many a fan of cult, extreme and foreign cinema. Deadly Outlaw: Rekka is a Yakuza tale which is a subject Miike is perhaps one of the foremost masters of as it’s what a large amount of his flicks are centred around. I was pretty excited to check this one out when I read the soundtrack was from none other than Flower Travelin’ BandDeadly Outlaw: Rekka looked like a collision of some of the killer elements of Japanese pop culture I’ve really grown fond of over the last fear years.

Deadly Outlaw: Rekka revolves itself around Kunisada’s (Riki Takeuchi) quest for revenge against a rival crime family who murdered his boss. Kunisada butts heads with his superiors who wish to maintain a truce which he sees as cowardly and weak. He of course sets out against their wishes and finds himself targeted by both sides.

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Paradise Alley

Paradise-AlleySylvester Stallone’s directorial debut is a hit and miss affair that almost buries itself with self indulgence. Paradise Alley was green lit after the success of Rocky and emulates the same formula but this time using wrestling. Paradise Alley is somewhat muddled being a sentimental underdog story and then switching at points to a comedy. A strong cast (including Tom Waits and Joe Spinell) playing likable characters manages to save this flick and make it an entertaining watch.

The plot centres around the Caboni brothers Cosmo (Stallone), Lenny (Armand Assante) and Victor (Lee Canalito) who live in Hell’s Kitchen, New York and long to escape its poverty ridden clutches. Cosmo is a con-artist constantly pulling scams in order to make a quick buck. He becomes involved with the local kingpin Stich Mohan (Kevin Conway) sees professional wrestling as an opportunity to make himself rich. He convinces his simple, kindhearted giant of a brother Victor to step into the ring in order to get some easy money. Lenny is against the idea because he sees it as one of Cosmos scams and is worried Victor will get hurt as a result. After Victor beats the local champion Lenny has a change of heart and becomes Victor’s manager giving him the name “Kid Salami”.

Cosmo and Lenny have a falling out over rivalry for Annie (Ann Archer), Lenny’s ex-girlfriend who Cosmo started dating after Lenny broke up with her. Victor broke up with Annie because he didn’t want her to feel sorry for him being a cripple. With his new found confidence of making decent money from Victor wrestling Lenny starts his relationship with Annie again leaving Cosmo out in the cold. Lenny’s character changes to a more selfish tone as he drives Victor into more and more fights to make money despite the toll it is taking on him physically. Cosmo goes out drinking with Big Glory, (Frank McRea) the wrestler Victor defeated in his first fight, one Christmas Eve and in a very poignant and sad scene discuss Big Glory’s life as a wrestler and how it’s ultimately destroyed him as a person physically and mentally. This was my favourite scene in the film because it brought the elements of comedy and sentimentality together in a more focused way than the rest of the film. A truly great scene rivaling the similar moments in Rocky. Frank McRea would later go onto to star alongside Stallone in John Flynn’s 1989 prison flick Lock-Up. After these events unfold Cosmo realizes the path he and Lenny have chosen for Victor will eventually lead him down the same path as Big Glory. Cosmo and Lenny set aside their differences and decide to put an end to Victor’s wrestling career after one more big fight with Stich’s head henchman Franky The Thumper (70s wrestling legend Terry Funk).

Stallone’s performance could’ve done with more subtlety that would’ve eventuated from not directing his own performance. His performance is a bit self indulgent (along with singing the films opening song) and could’ve done with more restraint. At times his character is too overblown taking away from the other actors’ performances.

More than just a flick for the Stallone completists, Paradise Alley is an enjoyable watch despite its imperfections. A flick with a lot of warmth, sentimentality, heart and a strong likable cast. Do yourself a favour and check it out instead of watching Rocky for the hundredth time.

Available on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment.

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America

Severed_WaysGuy poops (graphically) in bush, kills some chickens, burns a church and headbangs in the forest… ZOMG that is so Black Metal. Severed Ways is shit. It’s horrible, tacky, trashy, a cash-in and devoid of a sense of authentic history or culture.

Two Vikings who were part of a larger group have been left behind in North America. Here you have what could have been an interesting premise: how do these guys survive? If the makers of the film had bothered to research and tried to put some culture into their movie instead of attempting to make a “cult Black Metal” film, it could have been an interesting film, but it’s not. Essentially what you have is these two dicks walking around, shitting, killing animals, burning churches and fucking with Christians.

It’s far too great of a compliment to call this film a documentary styled journey. It’s low-budget, Z-grade handy-cam trash. It utilizes a “Black Metal” soundtrack to pimp itself, and if you’re expecting to hear a “True Norwegian Black Metal” soundtrack well bad luck, it’s 95% ambient.

If you’re planning on checking this out because it has been touted as a “Black Metal” film with a “Black Metal” soundtrack, then you’re going to love this. If you want to check this out because you realize it’s a cash-in modern day exploitation crap-fest then you won’t be disappointed because it is sheer garbage. I love “its so bad it’s good” movies but this is “so bad it’s… just shit”. I really want to smash the DVD and douse it in petrol and burn it.

I don’t hate it only because it has been touted as a BM film and fails to be, everything about it is just terrible. From the bad camera angles, migraine-inducing hand-held work, terrible casting of pimply/skinny dorks as Vikings, the shitty $2 shop looking costumes, the film is just a joke. Not to mention the dorky blonde/Michael Pitt looking guy moshing (axe in hand) in the middle of the forest, I mean what the hell? Did Leif Erikkson mosh in the woods?. This is worse than art school crap, it’s worse than what a stoner could come up with it’s retarded. They also throw fire at some dogs and really  burn one, the butchered chicken killings, although pathetic, I can see why it was used but throwing fire at dogs is cruel.

There is no tension, no atmosphere, no character development and no rich tapestries in the settings or costumes. Valhalla Rising – although many felt let down by the lack of fighting- was so rich in its sets, costumes and atmosphere that the film was an authentic experience. Severed Ways is just second-rate fan-boy drama, I don’t see how on earth it got such a mainstream release, it seems like something a shitty indie label would put out. Give this one a miss and go purchase Valhalla Rising if you want a Viking movie and if you’re wanting a Black Metal movie go and buy The Misanthrope. Believe me, you‘ll thank me. You’re welcome.

Severed Ways is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Mark of the Devil

Mark-DevilORDER DVD

Filmed in Austria and starring a young Udo Kier and an old Herbert Lom as the apprentice and master witch hunters, Christian and Lord Cumberland respectively, this trashy knock off of Witch Finder General kicks off with a wagonful of nuns being raped and slaughtered so you just know it’s going to be a classy historical epic from here on in. Continue reading