a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Drugs’

“Blood on the Docks” Excellent French TV noir crime thriller

French television viewers are really lucky judging by the excellent TV crime series I’ve been catching up with on MHz DVDs. First there was the excellent in every way “Maigret” series based on the Georges Simenon books and starring the late Bruno Cremer and set in Paris of the ’50s, and now comes “Blood on the Docks” another greatly entertaining, entirely contempo cop series based on British author Graham Hurley’s popular crime novels.

Hurley sets his Joe Faraday books in the port city of Portsmouth, but here for French TV’s “Blood on the Docs” they’ve been successfully transported to the sea-side city of Le Havre. Gritty, crime-ridden with nary a classic piece of French architecture in sight, Le Havre fascinates as a setting, because we haven’t seen it before. “Umbellas of Cherbourgh” this is not. It’s tough, anti-romantic, and hard-scrabble in the extreme. I kept thinking how this city must’ve been bombed to the ground in World War II and it’s STILL rebuilding its’ way back.

Huge cranes, ugly, massive tankers,and pile upon pile of those gigantic, metal, box-like containers that are used to transport just about everything these days, are not pretty to look at, but are the perfect backdrop of this gritty crime series.

Seagulls are heard crying from the first shots, and their unpleasant, shrill, yet somehow captivating calls are heard more often than music on the soundtrack.

Hurley’s Joe Faraday becomes Richard Faraday, here played by the dapper Jean-Marc Barr, who is completely bald, and HE’s supposed to be the sexy, handsome one, and he is and is seen sometimes completely, routinely nude, from the rear. His partner is the grizzled, funky, ex-hippie Paul Winckler played by Bruno Solo.(Winter in the English books). Together they form a very watchable crime-solving duo.

Faraday seems cold and very anal at first, but is made relatable in the touching scenes with his deaf-mute teenage son Lulu (Jean-Marc Hallegot) who wants to be a filmmaker! That’s a very French situation,IMHO, and of course, they are both single with not a woman in sight.
Leaving the door open for Faraday to have a series of different mistresses as the series wears on and there many casual bedroom scenes in varying degrees hot-ness.

The plots are intricate and violent, and often open each episode with a shocker. “Angels Crossing” or “Les Anges Brises” begins with a 15-year-old girl who has fallen to her death from a sixth-floor luxury condo. In “Blood and Honey” a decapitated young man’s body is found awash on a beach, and in “One Under” a screaming naked young man is spread-eagled on a commuter train track, and no, the train doesn’t stop.

You see “Blood on the Docks” grabs you instantly and doesn’t let you go! Each episode is 90 minutes or more and plays like a French film noir, rather than a TV cop procedural which is what this is.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that “Blood on the Docks” is extemely multi-cultural with Mata Gabin playing the stern unsmiling Madame Dardenne, Faraday and Winckler’s boss, who is Black. And she is a One-Woman War on Drugs and takes her business of cleaning up the narcotic-filled streets of Le Havre very, VERY seriously.

Relationships get complicated as it is revealed that Winkler’s childhood friend is today’s drug king-pin Bassa Swaty, who is sometimes his friend and sometimes his foe. The smooth smiling Emmanuel Salinger, plays both sides of the law’s fence with oily skill.

And a marvelously impish little black actor Samen Telesphore Tennou plays a homeless street urchin named “Doodie” who steals “Angels Passing” right out from everyone as easily as his character steals food from the supermarkets and drains gasoline from parked cars.

Edwin Baily has directed all four episodes I saw in Volume I with great cinematic indie-film flair. I can’t wait to see Volume II!

Oscars for “Wolf of Wall Street”? Dicey

Having just sat through the WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too long “Wolf of Wall Street”I really wonder about its’ Oscar chances. It’s a three-hour movie that is self-indulgent and repetitive to the max. It’s budget is upwards of $100 million and it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Martin Scorsese, but I wonder…

Simply on paper alone it looks REALLY appealing to the mostly male, mostly older Academy demographic. There’s a great deal of the Voting Membership that will relish this over-the-top Old Man’s Fantasy of a young man’s wild, drug-fueled life.  So yes, on all those counts it does get in. There’s more tits and ass(including Leo’s) to float it to a nomination from that sector alone. Or maybe not.

EVERYBODY in every branch of  the Academy gets to vote or rather at this stage NOMINATE 10 films for Best Picture, so I think on that alone in a field of ten, and taking into account the “Meat Eaters” Anne Thompson is always referring to from the many tech branches, it will get in.

But only actors can nominate actors. And only five of them. Are you following me on this distinction?

And when you turn to the Actor’s Branch, who is the largest and most critical, some would say snobbish section of the Academy, I dunno. They consider themselves, and perhaps rightly so, as the guardians of the High Art (in the case of “Wolf” that is literally) in the Temple of Acting.

These are the people who will nominate Leo or Jonah Hill…Or not…

And I can tell you right now, the women in the Actor’s Branch are going to be highly offended by the extreme sexism of this Wall St. romp.

And they don’t like Leo, who is still only 39, that much any way. They’ve not given him  an Oscar ~ YET, though he has received three nominations.

He’s giving it all he’s got, and there are some brilliantly funny set pieces, like the soon-to-be infamous “Quaalude” or “Lemon” scene, where Leo takes soooo many “Old” pills of this type, he and Jonah Hill don’t have a reaction til 45 minutes later. Trust me, it’s hilarious, and Leo exhibits a highly developed skill for physical comedy that he has never shown before….but then there’s a climatic scene that is border-line pornographic…well, I don’t see that wowing the sometimes staid Actor’s Branch.

Jonah Hill executes all that he is given to do expertly, but as of yet, he has been shown NO critical love in the crucial precursor awards, and they’ve been MANY of them at this point. He’s playing a truly repulsive character, repulsively.

Leo has turned up on some nomination lists. Like the Golden Globes ~ Best Actor Comedy, most notably, and he could win there.

Although Bruce Dern is in that category, too, for “Nebraska.” Uh-oh.

Leo really HAS to win there, but the Best Actor race has been so tightly locked up with THE FIVE = Dern, Redford, Hanks, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Matthew McConaughey(who is also in “Wolf” for one terrific scene ONLY). This race has been tied up and locked down for so long, I don’t really know if he’s going to break into it.

So we could see “Wolf of Wall Street” winding up with a Best Picture nomination in a field of ten. But not much else. Certainly not costumes, since in so much of the film, much of the cast, especially the women, aren’t wearing ANYTHING! I’ve never seen $100 million studio release that has had so much blatant onscreen nudity and sex.

“Wolf of Wall Street” is infuriating in that it’s this colossal missed opportunity. With all the talent involved, it operates between scenes of great social satire, alternated with scenes of repetitive boredom. And it’s all on Leo. It’s his movie. He’s in nearly every scene. And when he’s good he’s very, very good, and when he’s  bad, he’s just SHOUTING,And  it’s boring.

And there’s at least FIVE looonnnng monologue scenes of Leo at the mike exhorting his troops, of office workers. to sell MORE, MORE, MORE! Ugh, I wanted to yank the mike out of his hand.

And awards-wise its’ timing, so late in the season, and opening right after “American Hustle” which deals with the same subject on a much smaller canvas and with only two hours running time. With an astounding comic turn from Jennifer Lawrence, it’s a comedy about greed and con artists that is actually quite funny, in the part of the movie that Lawrence is in.

I kept thinking “Has Martin Scorcese lost his mind?” He’s never made such a lewd, nude, orgy-filled film, which of course is probably an accurate representation of the abuses of power on Wall St. which is the point of the film. But there’s too much enjoyment in the excesses and the crime and punishment of said misdoings seems not much at all. Although no one is killed, he is getting away with murder. With gleeful merriment trumping the “It’s illegal” side of the story.

And I can’t believe I’m typing these words, because I wasn’t that wowed by “American Hustle” to say the least, but “Hustle” just did this story, and better, and funnier.

Jean DuJardin pops up as a very funny Swiss bank exec. And is really marvelously comic and venal. And McConaughey’s one scene is also very  funny but pointed and BRIEF.

Martin Scorcese is known for serious films about violence and crime.This film too is about crime and the examination of a criminal mind. There’s no blood this time, just lots and lots of nudity and sex.

Didn’t anybody ever tell these people that brevity is the soul of wit? You can’t have a THREE HOUR COMEDY.

Paramount rushed Scorcese and his legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker to finish this picture in time for this year’s Oscar Race. It WAS four hours. FOUR HOURS! And now it’s only three. And it’s run right smack dab into the awards karma of “American Hustle.” And it doesn’t gain by comparison.

“Breaking Bad” I Love It! Watched EVERY SINGLE episode!

Everybody kept telling me for years to watch “Breaking Bad,” which starts its’ final eight episode run tonight at 9pm on AMC, but I never did. I kept thinking “Drugs? A middle-aged professor-type? Bryan Cranston? Who? Meth? What?”

Then Bryan Cranston kept winning Emmy after Emmy for Best Actor…

Then the Film Society of Lincoln Center announced that it was honoring “Breaking Bad” “TV’s Best Series” by having an unprecedented marathon run of EVERY SINGLE episode for FREE at its’ Elinor Bunim theater at Lincoln Center, and well, I thought if THEY are doing this….there must be something to it.

So I started watching it all about a month ago and just couldn’t stop! Color me surprised! It was as addictive as the Crystal Meth the series revolves around. Not that I’ve ever taken any or know anyone who has, but you certainly get totally immersed in the Crystal Methamphetamine culture of Albuquerque, New Mexico and pretty soon, almost immediately in fact, I was hooked. 

And yes, Bryan Cranston deserved all those Emmys and so does Aaron Paul, his former chemistry student/protégé/partner as Jesse Pinkham, a name that will in television history.

The Paul/Cranston duo, their whole father/son, December/May relationship is what really holds the series together, I feel. Its’ elucidation and intensely involving evolution over five series and hundreds of episodes breaks new ground constantly in this unbelievably well-done-in-every-way television series, and makes the case for “TV being the new Movie.” Very much like the Ripley novels of the late Patricia Highsmith, “Breaking Bad” takes you from identifying wholly with the milquetoast, underpaid Chemistry teacher Walter White and takes him and us in to the dark underground world of drug dealing and meth making that is very much like Alice going down the rabbit hole, as Walter White follows Jesse Pinkman into a bizarre, meth-fueled world that gets more and more frightening as the series progresses.

Being so late to the party in this case, I would hate to spoil any other late-comers delight by giving away plot points, but just let me continue the praise that has been heaped on Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and the show’s creator Vince Gilligan.

This is very much like a low-budget indie thriller that you never want to end, it’s so riveting, and guess what? It doesn’t end! Not for five TV seasons, with yet more to come! Bryan Cranston proves himself a great American actor here. The former forgettable father of “Malcolm in the Middle” totally blows your mind in episode after episode. His range is staggering. The award-winning “Breaking Bad” writers throw everything but the kitchen sink at Cranston, and he meets their daunting challenges at every turn. An unsung and overlooked character actor well into his middle years has found the role of his career beyond a doubt and risen to the ranks of American’s finest and television’s greatest.

Ditto Aaron Paul’s Pinkham. Pathetic, needy, irritating, whiney, never-wracking, infuriating and utterly adorable, Aaron Paul also proves Himself as one of America’s finest YOUNG actors. And he’s won a couple of Emmys, too. And is prized to win, along with Cranston, Gilligan and the writers, more accolades in the every near future.

The starting premise of “Breaking Bad” is so brilliant, a middle-aged, hen-pecked high school chemistry teacher finds his inner Don Corleone, or as Gilligan likes to say “Scarface”, with a wife who doesn’t understand him, and a son with cerebral palsy, and a brother-in-law in the DEA, who gets obsessed with catching this ever-elusive “Heisenberg”.

Dean Norris is the new King of Cops as the ever-vigilant brother-in-law from hell. It’s taken him five television seasons to eventually come to the startling conclusion that the “W.W.” he has been seeking is living right in his own backyard. He’s on the commode poring over evidence when it FINALLY hits him, which is where we have left them all.

The women in “Breaking Bad” are nowhere near as strongly drawn as the male characters. I hate to knock them now, without seeing how this all plays out, but Anna Gunn(no, that’s her REAL name) as Schuyler White and Betsy Brandt as her sister and the wife of the DEA Agent Norris, are thumpingly ordinary and suburban, but I guess they are supposed to be.

And Ms. Gunn has the daunting task of having nearly all her scenes with the uber-brilliant Brian Cranston, as her husband, and she just can’t hold a candle to him.
As her marriage unravels and ravels again, it’s the “marriage” of Walter White & Jesse Pinkman(Emmy winners Cranston & Paul) that compels us. It’s gone through every single permutation a partnership can go through, every thing except exploring that homo-erotic undertones that it just reeks of. THAT hasn’t been gone in to yet. But there’s still eight more episodes coming our way. We can only hope…

I just wish I had AMC on my channel system. But dear readers be careful about what you read about “Breaking Bad” re: the eight new episodes, there are bound to be spoilers everywhere online once it starts unveiling its’ tightly guarded secrets which start unspooling tonight at nine.

Kathleen Turner “High” closes low ~ on Easter Sunday!

Well, blink and you’ve missed her. Kathleen Turner was starring on Bway for a bunch o’ days, but she won’t be after tomorrow late afternoon. Her intermittently interesting starrer “High” is leaving on a season low. Closing on Sunday. Easter no less.

Kathleen Turner, once a great screen beauty, is now, in her later years beginning to resemble Winston Churchill. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, per se. Her force, her magnetic star power is in full blaze in “High” but the rather weak and extremely clichéd play she’s in “High” is the Bway season’s biggest low. And no match for a blazing, charismatic talent like Turner’s. She literally blows it to pieces.

Usually, a play this mediocre does not make it to Broadway these days. Shows used to open and close in one night. Not so anymore when there are millions of dollars at stake . Shows get workshopped to death in places far from the glare of the Great White Way’s white-hot spotlight.Preparation and caution is all.

But how this low “High” ever made it to the Rialto is a mystery. It simply may have been the star’s wanting to do it. And that’s not really enough.

It’s a BIG part for a BIG GAL,a swearing, formerly alcoholic nun. And these days Miss Turner is nothing if not BIG. She hasn’t passed over into the plus sizes, but she’s getting there. And now she’s sporting a neck the size of Texas.

There’s virtually no sets, and not much in the way of costumes. And there’s one extended nude scene for its’ homo druggie, which actually is the play’s best scene. And Bway newcomer Evan Jonigkeit is more than up to the task. He and Ms. Turner have a nude wrestling scene. He’s nude. She isn’t. And she gets him to the floor, from which he and the play barely get up in the second act.

Jonigkeit does manage to REALLY score in the climatic gutter death scene between him and Turner in Act Two. But by then it’s the play’s death rattle you’re hearing. And it’s too little, too late.

All the characters are more or less repulsive and non-relatable. And Bull Dog Turner’s George C. Scott-like attack-style of acting was much better suited onstage as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” which she successfully essayed several seasons back. Here she just sort of endlessly stands there with her basso profundo voice bellowing in the Booth Theater like she was Enrico Caruso with a sore throat.

Supposedly an expose of corruption in the Catholic Church (and guess what overly used plot device vice that means?) playwright Matthew Lombardo really offers nothing new at all on the subject. “Doubt” starring Cherry Jones in the role of Sister Aloyisius that won her a Tony for Best Actress in a play. And won Best Play, too. And a brace of other Tony and awards galore.”Doubt” has covered all this very same ground and did it a lot faster, and better. Memorably so.

Ms. Turner’s Martha lost the Tony to Ms. Jones’ indelible nun that year and here as Sister Jamison Connelly she’s gonna lose, too. Though stranger things have happened on Broadway. Valerie Harper in Mr. Lombardo’s other Bway bomb, er, offering “Looped” (which I actually kind of enjoyed) got Valerie Harper a Tony nod for her boozy bravura Tallulah Bankhead. Turner could pull off that hat trick, too. The critics were kind.

Me? Ms. Turner reminded of Greater Tuna. The fish, not the show.

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