Review- The Irishman (2019)

Review- The Irishman (2019)

‘I heard you paint houses’

Martin Scorsese’s latest film centres around Frank Sheeran who we first see in a care home for the elderly reminiscing about his life. He recalls his time in World War 2 and then after this lovingly remembers the scam he had when he is working as a meat truck delivery worker (he regularly siphons off some of the contents and sells it to local mafiosi) when he crosses paths with mobster Russell Bufalino who he is then reintroduced to some time later. This proves to be a turning point for his life. It’s through Bufalino that he is introduced to Jimmy Hoffa, teamster and celebrity. This marks another turning point for his life and the film’s narrative.

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CGI- the new Botox. The shocking WW2 flashback scene

I had to smile when I saw some of the major players from Scorsese’s canon of masterpieces reunited in this film. It was more than awesome to see De Niro with Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel again.

But there are also new actors who more than hold their own. Al Pacino is predictably brilliant and it’s great to see such a legendary actor under the direction of such a masterful director. Stephen Graham shows that he’s just as brilliant in a Hollywood film as he is within the quality TV productions that he’s starred in here in the UK.

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There has been much made of Anna Paquin only speaking six words in a three and a half hour film. When you see the film you’ll see why. Her looks and mannerisms throughout the film convey much more than lines and lines of dialogue as her role is akin to some kind of silent but all seeing sense of conscience or moral judge regarding her father’s dastardly deeds that she knows are happening even if he tries to disguise them to convey himself as a honest working man. Instead of basking in fake outrage (are we really getting to a point where numbers of words uttered by male and female characters will be tallied up and compared when it comes to movies?! Are we really getting that ridiculous?) how about thinking what an amazing actress she is that she can turn in such a genuinely awe-inspiring performance by just using her facial expressions alone and what is implied rather than said out loud. Y’know, by using her acting skills and stuff! There should be a mention here regarding how brilliant Lucy Gallina is as Peggy between the ages of 7 and 11.

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A woman of few words- because she doesn’t need many. Anna Paquin’s terrific performance

This movie is a sprawling epic that spans 1945 to 1990. The narrative shoots forward and backwards through time so effortlessly and effectively that it reminded me of Once Upon A Time In America (thankfully theres no panpipe music in this movie though). With this kind of timeframe being used it’s been widely reported that Scorsese used CGI to make the leading characters look younger in some scenes. Whilst this can be noticed in the first couple of scenes in which this device is used, it blends into the movie as a whole and is quickly forgotten about as the viewer gets used to it. It also becomes unnoticeable because the film is so captivating for the viewer.

There was a point early on in this film that felt very familiar. There is a bar setting with an old 60’s hit playing over the soundtrack whilst a plethora of mobster types are doing their thing. I thought to myself ‘Oh God, I hope this doesn’t turn into a GoodFellas clone.’ I remembered the good but not great Casino feeling like ‘GoodFellas Go To Vegas’. But The Irishman doesn’t play out like this. It’s a film that quickly veers into new territory plot wise whilst exploring themes such as age, reflection, mortality (on many levels) and how choosing to live such a thoroughly deplorable life whilst hiding under a veneer of respectability can impact the loved ones of the people who have chosen to take the dark path.

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I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen yet it was a very uncomfortable experience. The movie is 3 and a half hours long and whilst it’s an amazing ride it’s a painful experience in a cinema seat. My aching posterior was so bad through the second half of the running time that I felt that I was wriggling around more than an eel. But the length of the film was probably intentional for Scorsese as this was made for Netflix- home of the ‘binge watch’ to be watched in the comfort of your home on the comfort of your sofa.

One more touch that I loved about the movie were the captions that accompanied each new secondary character as it stated his name and how/when he died.

This movie might end up in the Guinness Book of Records also as I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘c*cksucker’ used so much in one movie before. This is a great accolade in my book.

The Irishman is a cracking movie. Fans of Scorsese will love this, as will fans of intelligent and innovative filmmaking. There will be several raised eyebrows as to the level of poignancy that the film holds. Which again makes me think of Once Upon A Time In America in that the audience is made to feel sympathy towards a character who the film has shown to have committed some heinous acts.

4/5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

Review- ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)

Review- ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)

When I first saw a still of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy I thought that whoever came up with that casting choice deserved an award. Not only do Ted and Zac look very similar but there was a sweet irony that the star of High School Musical had progressed to portraying one of America’s most notorious serial killers.

I first learnt of Bundy’s crimes after watching the brilliant 1986 TV movie The Deliberate Stranger which was released on two video tapes here in the UK soon after it aired in the US. This production showed that one thing is vital to any depiction of Bundy and his history- casting. Bundy was as all American as apple pie. He also goes against the stereotype of the type of person most think that a serial killer is. He was educated, handsome and extremely charismatic. Mark Harmon was cast as Bundy and this choice was brilliant. Harmon had been the star of many TV shows (most famously St Elsewhere)  and always as the dashing leading man. Harmon was using these very qualities to depict a man who used the same attributes for his own evil ends. It’s also worth noting that the man (Harmon not Bundy) who was voted The Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine in 1986 (the year that Deliberate Stranger was made and aired) should be portraying the serial killer who had multiple female fans who decided that his good looks and sex appeal outweighed his alleged crimes.

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Since this TV movie there have been other movies regarding Bundy but none have been especially noteworthy in terms of either casting or content (it’s a shame that the adaptation of Ann Rule’s amazing book ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ wasn’t either cast or made better. It’s still, in my opinion, the definitive book on Ted).

So when it was announced that Zac Efron was to star in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Wicked and Vile as Bundy I just wished that the whole film would live up to the genius casting decision. I resubscribed to Netflix in time for the premiere date of 3rd May only to learn that whilst it’s being shown on Netflix, that isn’t the case in the UK. The movie could either be seen on Sky Movies (no thanks, Rupert Murdoch) or at one of the few cinemas which were showing it.

This, however proved to be a blessing in disguise. The film looks gorgeous and deserves to be seen on the big screen. In fact, there is plenty to like about this movie.

I had never heard of the 1981 book The Phantom Prince by Elizabeth Kendall which was written by Bundy’s fiancee about their life together. This book is still out of print- a golden opportunity for a reprint to coincide with this movie missed. Although there is an online copy available to read (Google is your friend…)

The fact that this story is from the perspective of Bundy’s partner proves to be a major strength here. This isn’t a straightforward account of Bundy’s crimes resplendent with depictions of them but rather what happened as seen through someone else’s eyes. This is a novel take on one of America’s most infamous serial killers and because of this feels fresh and original. Bundy is depicted as charming, charismatic and utterly human. It also means that when Bundy’s partner (and the audience) hears the details of Bundy’s crimes they appear even more shocking and appalling.

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Careful with that knife, Ted

Zac Efron’s depiction of Ted is rightly garnering plaudits from critics. His performance is multi-facted, nuanced and utterly brilliant. He portrays Bundy as not only as the All-American success story but also as a human being wearing a mask or shell. Check out the scene in the courtroom as Bundy is rising to his feet to hear the first of many verdicts- the trumped up show of confidence is shown to be a facade by Efron as we see that this event is so traumatic that it has actually mined down into the darkest and genuine core of Bundy. The mask has slipped as Bundy is about to discover his fate. Also, check out the scene where Bundy has just had sex with his ‘girlfriend’ after Liz leaves him. Momentarily we see the revulsion on Ted’s face when he has just shot his load and realises with whom. We see more evidence that Bundy doesn’t love Carole at all and is just using her so she will extol his innocence to the outside world. His skills of manipulation and control have been brought to the fore and we get to see behind the huge smile and good looks. We also then see the shell come back into place as Bundy starts to recompose himself and falsely reiterate his ‘love’ for her. She’s important to him but not for the reasons she thinks.

But this isn’t just a one performance film. The rest of the cast are great with Metallica’s James Hetfield and The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons also shining. John Malkovich is as ever brilliant in his role as Judge Cowart presiding over the Florida trial. He makes parallels against the fact that himself and Bundy have a great deal in common with Ted being a law student whilst he was committing his heinous crimes. It is one of the most poignant scenes in the film in which the judge mentions that Bundy had decided to use his considerable judicial skills for evil rather than good and that if he had decided to go down a better path Cowart would have loved to have witnessed these skills used in his courtroom.

The film also brilliantly examines the celebrity status given to serial killers. Bundy’s trial is the first in which cameras are allowed in the courtroom and so the trial will be transmitted to millions of homes across America. Bundy knows this and fully exploits it whilst using his charm to bewitch and enchant his audience. He puts on a dazzling performance, makes sure that he peers directly into the camera at multiple occasions to establish a bond with his viewers and even on one occasion, proposes to Carole live on air. It’s showbiz, baby.

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The courtroom as TV studio

The film also examines the phenomena of hybristophilia- the term used to describe the sexual attraction to serial killers. Ted always has a strong female groupie contingent in the courtroom. This will be multiplied many times over with the cameras catching the carefully cultivated performance and sexual charisma Bundy is having broadcast across America and indeed the world.

Whilst the film isn’t a straightforward chronological timeline of Bundy and his crimes we do get to hear about his alleged crimes throughout the film, especially the Chi Omega sorority house that he invades before going on a one-man massacre of several of it’s occupants. But even with the details of these crimes being peppered throughout the movie, the ending in which Liz confronts Bundy is still a shock to behold. She has been given a photograph of one of Ted’s victims by a detective that has brought home the true evil of his crimes. We get to see the picture of a naked female corpse which has had it’s head removed. Bundy still protests his innocence as he has throughout the duration of the film up until this point. He even offers the flimsy explanation that wild animals could have inflicted that on the cadaver. Liz demands to know the truth. We then get to see Bundy take off his mask altogether. He argues that he couldn’t tell her the truth as the phone they are using to communicate with each other is probably tapped by the authorities. He then calmly puts down the receiver he is speaking into and writes the word ‘HACKSAW’ onto the plastic screen that separates them. It’s an immensely powerful scene as it shows that Bundy is ‘Bad’ and not ‘Mad’ and that he knew exactly what he was doing and that there are no multiple personalities at play here.

This scene is also one of the movie’s major aces up it’s sleeve. Up until that point we had never seen Bundy commit one of the crimes he has been accused of or even admit culpability for them. Here he has. The whole celebrity status awarded to serial killers and that grimy culture has now been placed under the spotlight. We have been watching High School Musical’s Zac Efron charm his way into our hearts throughout the film. And we have been duped. For all of his escape antics, winks to camera and good looks, he is a monster and knew exactly what he was doing. Just as Bundy charmed his way into Liz and Carole’s lives for his own ends, he has done to same to us. The film has also done this without glamorising Bundy and his deeds or trying to substantiate them. The audience was kept in the dark regarding his crimes just like Liz was, which is fitting as this story is told from her perspective and not Ted’s. We get to see the full impact of the full truth and how it must have felt for Liz.

It also brings up the question of if he truly loved her or if that was just a well manicured and cultivated lie. The film also begs the question that what we have seen during the movie might not be the whole truth. One early scene involves Bundy being next to Liz in bed under the covers using a torch. When she wakes up startled he gives the explanation of reading a law book ahead of an exam and not wanting to wake her up. We later see the same scene replayed but the audience is awarded the knowledge of what Ted was actually doing- looking at Liz’s dormant sleeping body under the sheets. Was he aroused by her unmoving form? Was he aroused by his victims in the same way? Was he planning to do away with Liz?

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The mask slips

The main question I had after seeing this film was whether Efron is eligible to be nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal with this film being a Netflix production. Now just imagine that- Ted Bundy winning an Academy Award.

4/5 out of 5 stars

Review- Hush (2016)

Review- Hush (2016)

I love it when I know nothing about a film but then discover it on Netflix.

Thats what happened here and I wasn’t disappointed. A deaf mute writer lives in her isolated home on the edge of a forest. And then a psycho nutjob comes her way.

Its suddenly a case of do or die with the writer fighting for her life whilst trying to outwit her tormentor and somehow survive.

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This film is ingenious with a truckload of twists and turns to keep you hooked. Add amazing acting, direction and gorgeous cinematography and you have a gem of a horror movie.

It also has the best use of a corkscrew since Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter and a reference to Extremities.

Watch it and renew your relationship with the edge of your seat. Stunning.

4 out of 5

Review- Danny Says (2015)

Review- Danny Says (2015)

A documentary about Danny Fields, the record industry A&R man/artist liaison/cultural barometer who was the friend of so many great bands and artists and more importantly, had a hand in making sure they could get record deals and record their music so that their genius could be shared with the world.

This documentary gets it just right- there are moments of animation to illustrate the narrative but these don’t overpower the film, there are many musicians and personalities who are either interviewed or spoken about but it doesn’t feel like some kind of bragging rollcall. There are also perceptive and very interesting insights into being gay in a small town and also when Danny had left home and was carving his adult life.

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As for the artists, all of the groups and singers who changed my life are here. From hanging out with The Velvet Underground to working and socialising with The Doors, The Ramones, Jonathan Richman, The Stooges, Nico, MC5…This is a life spent in the thick an alternative American musical history and you feel privileged to be a part of this. There are also hidden gems that are priceless- a taped phone call with Nico, a recording of the first time Lou Reed is played The Ramones and how elated he is by it.

I bought Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges at the age of 14 and it changed my life. And Danny Fields is partly responsible for this. This documentary helps to shed light on a hidden force who made this possible.

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4 out of 5

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- Battle Royale (2000)

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- Battle Royale (2000)

A class are transported to an island and its then disclosed that they have to kill each other with the last person left standing the winner.

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Brutal (as you’d expect) but also witty, humane and strangely poignant in places. This film is brilliantly acted, directed with style and is beautiful to look. Murder and deception has never looked so good. In fact the ‘killing for sport’ theme reminded me of one of my favourite films, Turkey Shoot.

And thats all I’m going to say. To say anything more would ruin the film completely. See it.

4 out of 5

Shudder TV launched in the UK

Shudder TV launched in the UK

Heard of Shudder? Its a bit like Netflix for lunatics with all of the content being horror. Not a rom-com in sight!

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Its now launched in the UK and the choice of films is immense! Exclusive content includes Mattie Do’s Dearest Sister, which recently screened at the BFI London Film Festival, and French mini-series Beyond The Walls, which screened at this year’s Horror Channel FrightFest. Other exclusive titles include Sadako Vs Kayako, Rob Zombie’s 31, supernatural drama We Go On, Nathan Ambrosioni’s Therapy and Alex De La Iglesia’s Witching And Bitching.

There are also old classics to choose from. Shudders press release says that ‘In addition, SHUDDER hosts an expertly curated library of hard to find titles and genre gems including Donald Cammell’s WHITE OF THE EYE and Jorg Buttgereit’s NEKROMANTIK which appear ONLY ON SHUDDER alongside stone cold classics from the HAMMER vaults and, for the first time on a streaming service and exclusive to SHUDDER, Clive Barker’s iconic HELLRAISER & HELLRAISER 2.’

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SHUDDER’s catalogue is available on Shudder’s website, mobile apps for iOS and Android users, Chromecast, the Roku platform and Apple TV. Theres a free one week-trial or £4.99 monthly/ £49.99 yearly membership, and more platforms being added in the months after launch.

Join up here- www.shudder.co.uk