Archive for 2007

Eastern Promises

Posted in Crime with tags on March 31, 2017 by Mark Walker

Director: David Cronenberg.
Screenplay: Steven Knight.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack, Jerzy Skolimowski, Donald Sumpter, Tamer Hassan, Josef Altin.

“Anger is dangerous. It makes people do stupid things.”

With A History of Violence in 2005, David Cronenberg seemed to take his career in a more mainstream direction. It wasn’t the horror or dark science fiction that many had come to know him by, but an arresting thriller that was actually based on a graphic novel. It was a big success and, two years later, led to Cronenberg sticking with his leading man Viggo Mortensen and attempting something similar with Eastern Promises. You could say that their second collaboration delivers something even more satisfying.  Continue reading

Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on October 12, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Sidney Lumet.
Screenplay: Kelly Masterson.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Bryan F. O’Byrne, Amy Ryan, Michael Shannon, Aleksa Palladino, Leonardo Cimino.

Sidney Lumet is a director that’s no stranger to crafting intense pieces of work. In fact, he’s a master at it. Just look at a few from his highly impressive filmography like “12 Angry Men“, “Fail-Safe“, “Network” or “Serpico“. He’s also no stranger to a heist movie, having made one of the sub-genre’s best in “Dog Day Afternoon“. In “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” – his last film before his death – Lumet returns to that sub-genre and, once again, delivers with aplomb.

Hank (Ethan Hawke) and Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are two brothers whose financial woes are having a direct effect on their lives. In order to solve their problems, Andy hatches a plan to rob a jewellery store. He calls it a “mom and pop” operation and it’s quite literally that: the store is owned by the brothers’ parents. If all goes down as it’s supposed to, then nobody will get hurt. Like so many crimes of this nature though, things can and do go wrong, dragging everyone down with a devastating turn of events.

Lumet builds his film slowly and assuredly, revealing the characters’ motivations bit by bit before peeling away the layers of their downfall. To do this, he cleverly plays with timeframes; changing back, forward and during the robbery itself. The focus is on the two brothers, as well as their emotionally stilted father (Albert Finney). Of course, this type of narrative device is nothing new. We have seen it used many times before but Lumet’s skill is in keeping it fresh and gripping. In support of his deft handling of the material, the actors deliver outstanding performances across the board; Tomei nails the ditzy wife routine; Hawke is marvellously high strung and weasel-like; Finney lends his usual reliability and there’s a small but welcome role for a threatening Michael Shannon. Unsurprisingly though, it’s Hoffman’s movie. He has a real presence here shifting from secretive to calculated then deadly with absolute ease. It may be unfair to single out one particular actor but this is another example of Hoffman’s incredible ability to completely inhabit a character. His downfall in particular, is of powerful and tragic Shakespearean proportions and he completely captures the intensity of a deeply immoral man.

Sidney Lumet was in his 80’s when he directed this, yet it shows a vibrancy that could easily be associated with a much younger director. With a canon of top-quality films behind him, this is as good and as riveting as anything he has done. Sadly it was his last but what a film to go out on.

Mark Walker


The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford * * * * 1/2

Posted in Biography, Drama, History, Western with tags on August 30, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Andrew Dominik.
Screenplay: Andrew Dominik.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard, Garret Dillahunt, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Parks, Ted Levine, Alison Elliott, James Carville, Tom Aldredge, Pat Healy, Nick Cave.
Narrator: Hugh Ross.

In 2000, director Andrew Dominik exploded onto the scene with low-budget but powerful biographical film “Chopper” about Australian criminal Mark Brandon Read. It not only heralded the arrival of actor Eric Bana but also a new an uncompromising director. For his second feature he tackled another biographical feature about one of the wild west’s most notorious gunslingers and this time, Dominik took his uncompromising nature even further.

Retelling of the last months in the life of the legendary outlaw Jesse James and how his reputation was faltering. His gang had disbanded – either dead or in prison and Jesse was beginning to suffer increasing paranoia. After carrying out a train robbery he heads for Kentucky, only to reappear in Missouri for a bank robbery. Two brothers; Charley (Sam Rockwell) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) are part of his new gang but Robert has a dangerous and obsessive idolisation of Jesse and one that would finally be the outlaws undoing.

Few film’s ever get away with having a title as long as this one and even fewer get away with the manner in which this film is made. That’s testament to the skill of Andrew Dominik and the backing of Brad Pitt who refused to yield to Hollywood studios when they wanted to tinker with Dominik’s vision. Right from the opening, brutal, train robbery, this film’s style is apparent. It’s sense of realism is what commands your attention; it goes on to depict stark expansive landscapes, explosive bullet wounds and guns that don’t shoot straight but the actual gunslinging is kept to a minimum, while it focuses on the characters themselves. The pace of the film is deliberate, adding to the ethereal feel throughout and one that reminded me of the approach that director Terrence Malick would use. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is also a thing of absolute beauty. The entirety of every single frame of this picture is stunningly captured with meticulous attention to detail and Dominik’s direction is near flawless. He lingers long on shots and subtle facial expressions and captures the uneasiness in the characters and their situations. By using this methodical style, he manages to get under the skin of his two leading characters and allows both Pitt and especially Affleck the room to deliver sensational performances. Pitt is entirely commanding and charismatic, adding just enough of a glimmer of danger without losing the audience’s sympathy and Affleck is on top, creepy and unsettling, form. The chemistry between the two hints at all sorts of possibilities – including homoerotic tension. These two share an uneasy relationship and between them, there are contemporary issues at play; the nature of celebrity and hero worship and the difference between ‘the man and the myth‘. Even over 100 years ago they had this but although Dominik delivers this insight, he never fully explores it, leaving it all just a bit too ambiguous. I’m not looking for a film to spell everything out for me. On the contrary but for a film that languishes on detail and mood, it could have taken a little time to further explore these themes and the characters’ motivations. There’s a sense of bewilderment as to why James would even tolerate having Ford around when he, seemingly, knew that something wasn’t quite right about him. He was aware that sooner or later he would meet his impending fate but it’s unclear why he’d open himself up to it. Another area that lacks any attention, is the females in these men’s lives. They are fleetingly visited but are ultimately insignificant and the likes of Mary-Louise Parker and Zooey Deschannel are reduced to mere cameos. I can only assume that these issues could maybe make more sense in Dominik’s original 4 hour cut – that played at the Venice film festival before a widespread release reduced the film to it’s 2hour 40mins duration. That being said, this is still an aesthetically successful endeavour that, although not fully deserving of the masterpiece status that many consider it to be, it’s not far off it.

A contemplative and demanding film that requires the utmost patience. It’s highly ambitious, artistic and regularly poetic. Quite simply, it’s beautifully done and I found lots to admire but it meanders and like the title itself, it’s just a tad too long winded.

Mark Walker


Shotgun Stories * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on August 20, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Jeff Nichols.
Screenplay: Jeff Nichols.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, Barlow Jacobs, G. Alan Wilkins, Travis Smith, Michael Abbot Jr, Glenda Pannell, Natalie Canerday, Lynnsee Provence, David Rhodes.

In 2011, relatively unknown writer/director Jeff Nichols took a lot of people by surprise when he delivered one of the best films of the year in “Take Shelter“. However, four years prior to that he had already made his debut with Shotgun Stories which is a film that shares a similar downbeat tone. Despite being seen by very few, this impressive debut shows a strong ability from this new director.

In the back roads of South East Arkansas, three close brothers, Son (Michael Shannon), Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs) hear the news of their estranged fathers death. They attend the funeral if only to relate their vehement hatred of the man as he abandoned them in their youth and started a new family. As result of this, their fathers other sons (and half brothers to them) get involved in a feud that reaches dangerous and deadly proportions.

I always find it quite interesting watching the debut of a director you admire, especially when you’ve been introduced to them at a later date and find yourself looking back at their earlier material just to see where they honed their skills. In this case, it’s easy to where Jeff Nichols is coming from. Like “Take Shelter“, this film starts off at a deliberate pace. It’s in no hurry to tell it’s story and favours a slow approach to build up it’s characters and the mundane lifestyles they lead. It may be a little slow for some but the story here is all very deliberate and naturally handled. Nichols certainly has an eye for small town America and with help from cinematographer Adam Stone, he effectively captures the vast emptiness of the town which also reflects in the emptiness of the characters’ lives. Everything about this film is subtle and understated but all the more brooding and effective for it. Performance wise, there are some faults with the lesser known actors but as always, Shannon delivers a solid show and with scars on his back that resemble shotgun shells, it only serves to fuel the films enigmatic nature and understated detail. When the feud between the half brothers takes hold, the muted first half of the film turns to one of tension as it reaches tragic Shakespearean heights that’s handled very impressively and never succumbs to formula. By this, there lies the question on whether the denouement is as satisfactory as it could be but Nichols’ handling is undeniably good and it makes for an impressive debut from him. It’s not quite as good as “Take Shelter” but this is a director that has started strongly, backed it up with one of the best film’s of 2011 and I believe will continue to go from strength to strength – time will tell with his forthcoming film “Mud” released later in 2012.

In “Take Shelter“, Nichols dealt with events that had almost biblical proportions and when looking at this you can see that he shares a similar theme. This is a highly accomplished debut from one the most exciting new directors to reach our screens.

Mark Walker


No Country For Old Men * * * * *

Posted in Crime, thriller, Western with tags on May 17, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan & Joel Coen.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root, Rodger Boyce, Ana Reeder, Beth Grant, Gene Jones.

Ever since their dark debut “Blood Simple” in 1984, Joel & Ethan Coen have commanded an audience’s attention. They followed that up with the wacky and kinetic comedy “Raising Arizona” in 1987, proving early on, that they were comfortable in any genre. That hasn’t changed over the years but what it does do, is leave you with feelings of anticipation whenever they deliver another film. You just never know what light or dark delights they are going to deliver. This film is the darkest delight they have delivered so far.

While hunting in the Texas desert, a young mid-west cowboy (Josh Brolin) comes across a botched drug deal and decides to snatch a satchel of cash. Unknowingly, there are bigger things at work here and his foolish decision attracts the attention of a relentless hitman (Javier Bardem) who has been sent to recover the money. As bodies begin to pile in their wake, a local Sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) has the duty of hunting them down.

To foreshorten the opening lines of this film and give an insight from the disillusioned protagonist Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, we are told “… the crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”” Sheriff Bell is at a loss to explain human behaviour and the evil actions of people that he has pursued throughout his career in law enforcement. He is the weary heart and soul of this movie and a character that Tommy Lee Jones can do in his sleep. He serves as one part of three characters whose lives explosively intersect. The others include; Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) a foolish young man who doesn’t quite grasp the enormity of his actions, which in turn, attract the attention of very disturbed and dangerous killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) – who makes decisions on the flip of a coin and wields a hydrolic cattle gun as a weapon. Cleverly, the Coens have them sharing very little (if any) screen time and Jones’ Sherrif always two steps behind the aftermath of destructive events.
As always, the Coens are at the top of their game and have a good grasp on this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. They capture his recurrent themes; isolation, the passing of time and changing epoch’s. In “The Road” McCarthy explored a post-apocalyptic change. In this, it’s the end of the western way of life and despite life-experienced characters, a lack of understanding in the reasons for it’s happening. Throughout their films they have delivered consistent moments of suspense. Here though, the Coens outdo themselves with regular scenes of unbearable tension (done without the use of music). The actors are all up to the task and despite Lee Jones and the Oscar winning Bardem receiving most of the plaudits, Brolin also delivers an absolutely solid, low-key performance. No Coen brothers review would be complete without mentioning the sublime talents of their regular cinematographer Roger Deakins. Yet again, his stark and beautiful camerawork compliments the barren landscapes that these characters roam. As always, his and the Coens’ vision complete one another. One of the brothers’ finest films and thoroughly deserving of its best picture and director(s) Oscar awards.

If you’re aware of the Coen brothers’ canon (and most filmgoers are) then combine “Fargo” and “Blood Simple” and this is what you get… only better. A very gripping and powerful neo-western.

Mark Walker


Catfish * * * 1/2

Posted in Documentary with tags on April 17, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Rel Schulman, Henry Joost.
Featuring: Nev Schulman, Angela Wesselman, Melody C. Roscher, Rel Schulman.

The social networking zeitgeist is certainly upon us. It has shaped a generation in their reliance on smartphones and the internet and contributed to a new global means of communication. It has brought us closer but sometimes a bit too close. It has opened up new dangers and has shaped us into voyeurs. This documentary is proof enough in showing this. It also shows how easily people can be manipulated.

Filmmakers Rel Schulman and Henry Joost find themselves in the midst of a film project, tracing an online romance between Rel’s brother Nev and a female artist on Facebook. Everything doesn’t add up though as the women’s real identity becomes in question and her stories don’t seem to make sense. Is she really who she says she is?…

After a slow beginning, we are soon informed of where this documented drama is heading and the path it takes becomes dark and intriguing. Prime candidate for mockery, Nev Schulman, is a good sport. He very rarely shy’s away from what is ultimately a major piss take of his trust in people. But what it also does, is remind ourselves (or those who use social networking sites) that everything is not as it seems when interacting with faceless names. For those who haven’t seen it, I won’t give too much away, but it shows the frailties in Internet use, as well as, the frailties in ourselves. The revelation of the strange events is quite awakening but is everything we told even true in itself? Some people took this documentary quite literally. I, however, had to wonder whether it was a double cross. I believed it to a point but there were so many chance happenings that were caught conveniently on camera that it couldn’t all have been purely documented.

Questions remain as too how authentic the film actually is but as a social commentary it’s message still stands. Despite some inconstancies it remains cleverly constructed.

Mark Walker


Lars And The Real Girl * * * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Craig Gillespie.
Screenplay: Nancy Oliver.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Kelli Garner, Paul Schneider, Nancy Beatty, Doug Lennox.

When you see the poster for this film, with a moustachioed Ryan Gosling sitting on his sofa, grinning from ear to ear and accompanied by a sex doll, you be forgiven for entering into this and expecting some form of farcical sex-comedy. The poster however, is somewhat misleading. This is more of a drama (with a hint of quirkiness) and it’s a sensitive and heartfelt one at that.

Pathologically shy guy Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) introduces his new ‘girlfriend’ Bianca, a lifelike plastic doll, to his sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) and brother Gus (Paul Schneider). Somewhat concerned, they decide to call in sympathetic psychologist Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) who advises that everyone play along with treating Bianca as a real person to try and get to the bottom of Lars’ obvious mental condition.

Lars is a tragic character that Gosling imbues with a real fragile innocence. It’s another marvellous and enigmatic performance from him. He keeps the audience at just the right distance. Never letting you in, but still maintaining a likeability. Lars is a character that could so easily be laughed at and ridiculed but it’s testament to writer Nancy Oliver, director Craig Gillespie, the supporting cast of Mortimer, Schnieder and Clarkson, and particularly Gosling’s lead in bringing the character – and his social trauma – so vividly to life. Instead of being a farcical film of cheap jokes, it becomes a touching exploration of mental health that’s quite unlike anything you’ll have seen before.

It’s deliberately paced and some may even find it lethargic but I found it to be a highly original and deeply sensitive drama anchored by a marvellous central performance.

Mark Walker