a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Thriller’

“Three Billboards…” Superlative, explosive, knockout, lots of Nominations, but Sam Rockwell may be its only winner.



“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” is one of the best films of this rich year. For once, the awards hype is justified. It’s a thrill ride through the unimaginable violence that plagues the small town of Ebbing, Missouri after a young girl is raped, as she is murdered, then set on fire. “Three Billboards…” is going to set the Awards season on fire, too. It will get many,many nominations.

Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are giving the performances of their careers, but I feel it’s Rockwell who’s going to carry home the gold. He’s been put in the category of Best Supporting Actor, though he’s arguably the co-lead. And he’s already been nominated for a Golden Globe and a SAG award. As has Frances, as has McDonagh.

I’ve been following Sam’s career since he was an Off Broadway actor, and he’s certainly a veteran now and has a role that is thrilling in its range and demands. As a small town cop, he has to be funny. He has to be a bit of a stooge and a stumblebum. And when the film turns dark, he has to go there, too,Oscar Winner Frances McDormand ( For “Fargo”) deserves the accolades that have been accruing to her powerful Mildred Hayes, the mother of the murdered girl. In a totally vanity-free performance, she dominates the screen so powerfully that you’ll never forget that clenched teeth, firmly set jaw, that uncompromised stare as she tries to find out who killed her teenaged daughter.

She astonishes in this film as a woman who can’t smile. She puts up these three billboards in a part of town where her daughter was killed accusing the police of doing nothing to find her the killer. And grief is making her look like a death’s head herself.Everyone in this town seems cut from the cloth of the Confederacy to put it mildly. And any of them could have done it. Especially a member of the Police Force.

Woody Harrelson is once again on hand to provide a firm grounding in ominous white cracker-dom at the outset. His battle with terminal cancer forms the second plot line that I won’t spoil here. But he’s great, too. Both he and his co-hort Rockwell, are both headed to the Oscars, and so is McDormand.But I wonder if the totally de-glammed McDormand is going to be any match for the younger and more comely superstars like Soirse Ronan. Sally Jenkins of “The Shape of Water” is more sympathetic and she’s mute. So Frances has some fierce competition in that category. She’s uncompromising. She’s great. But she has an Oscar already and Saoirse and Sally and even Michelle Williams or Annette Bening are all Oscar free…so far…Three Bill Boards 10

But ah! There is that Oscar golden moment for Frances when she encounters a free-ranging doe when she is tending a flowerbox she has placed near her dead daughter’s billboards. The look they share, eye to eye, female to female animal, is one of the few moments we see Mildred smile in this corrosive movie, you will NOT be able to stop thinking about.

Also the thrilling depths and layers that McDonagh has given Rockwell to play. He starts out as a crispy-crème, donut-chomping bigot. But he CHANGES. I can’t say how, but in the creation of Dixon, a co-lead to McDormand’s angry Mildred, he matches her beat for beat in VERY unexpected and powerful ways. He lives at home with his mother, who is always drunk. The Dear Readers of this blog can infer more…But what a complicated, stupendous role he’s written for Rockwell, who has never had a part this good since he debuted to much acclaim in “Box of Moonlight” in 1996. Unbelievably this prince of American actors has never even been nominated for an Oscar. Yet.

Even writer-director Martin McDonagh has an Oscar for a short he did. He’s certainly going to get a double nomination for both directing and original screenplay, and he’s going to up against Girl-Of-the-Hour Greta Gerwig in both categories for “Lady Bird.”

It’s going to be a very suspenseful Oscar night indeed. But I feel “Three Billboards” is such an IMPORTANT film, that they are going to give it Something Big, and that Something may very well be Sam Rockwell. as the irascible, temperamental, complicated drunk of a cop. That’s just him in the FIRST half of “Three Billboards…” The twists are UNBELIEVABLE, and it’s Sam’s character who gets to play all that juicy jazz as the plot and his character’s place in it unravel. He’s all but unbeatable. What a range McDonagh has allowed him to show!

The ubiquitous and wonderful Lucas Hedges, Oscar nominee of “Manchester by the Sea” is here, too, as McDormand’s bewildered, but compassionate son. In a moment of peak at the breakfast table, she lobs Fruit Loops at him.

He’s in “Lady Bird,” too as Saoirse Ronan’s high school boyfriend. And Peter Dinklage perks up the last third of the film as the town’s only human, a small person who is not small inside,   a midget, who befriends and helps McDormand in her fight against the lacksadaisical,  if  not downright indifferent, police “force.”

 

Their dinner date is a superb piece of comic timing. Yes,”Three Billboards” is darkly funny, too. This tragic tale of loss and corruption has an excellent sense of humor, too. In fact, it made me feel like I was watching a new Coen Brothers movie. The resemblance to their black humor and influence is definitely wonderfully there.

Irish playwright par excellence McDonagh, has fully made the unbelievable transition to American crime filmmaker. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” thrilled me to my core with its wit, drama and intense originality.

Louise Penny Has Done It Again!”A Great Reckoning” Is Great!

A Great REckoningI admit it! I’m an unabashed Louise Penny fan! And I’ve read every single one of her terrific mystery/crime novels about Quebec’s former Chief Inspector of the Surete, Armand Gamache, but with her newest one, “A Great Reckoning” she’s done it again! “A Great Reckoning” is great! The best so far. She’s really topped herself! I haven’t been able to do anything since I picked up this 12th book in her Gamache series.

I could not put it down!

And neither will you! It’s what a page-turner should be. Suspenseful, taut, fast-paced, totally absorbing and thrilling with a capital “T”.

I’ve read an early critic’s edition, as it were, so there are limits to what I can and can’t say. I can’t quote from it, but I can say there are beautiful descriptions of her beloved Quebec and the irresistible village of Three Pines. You really want to move there and retire, just like Gamache & his devoted, smart, beautiful wife Reine-Marie have. Except of course, it’s a fictional location where corpses and murders abound. And it’s in Quebec, where it’s almost always snowing.And her descriptions of the food Olivier & Gabri prepare in their adorable bistro ~ MOUTH~WATERING!

Also writing about a thriller like this is difficult, because you can’t reveal any of the mysteries, or you’ll spoil it. And suffice it to say that there’s a LOT to spoil. There are twists upon twists, and a really bang-up unguessable conclusion. And all your favorite characters, the colorful Quebecquois townspeople, are all back, Clara, Myrna, Ruth Zardo and her pet duck, Rosa. And the gay couple to end all gay couples, Olivier & Gabri, and their wonderful bistro/B&B, that you’ll wish you could dine at and stay at. But alas! They’re all fictional! But that’s the sign of great writing. It all comes alive for you, Penny tells her stories so well.

Taken altogether as one massive novel, it reminds me of “War and Peace”! That’s how the Gamache series  deepens and grows on you.Throughout the twelve preceeding novels(and you really should read all of them, in order, if you can), the characterizations just build and build and build til you feel you know Clara & Myrna & Ruth etc.,etc. It’s like visiting old friends, in their loveliest of homes. But you can read the Gamache series of mysteries and enjoy them as stand alones, too.

This mystery is set in the Montreal Police Academy, which has made Gamache its’ head and lured him out of retirement, and the scenes shift between the school and Three Pines, but I will say no more than that. No spoilers here! “A Great Reckoning” hits stores August 30. But you can pre-order, mais oui!

And as strong and suspenseful as “A Great Reckoning” is, it’s even MORE amazing how quickly after Penny’s last Gamache book ,N.Y. Times bestseller “The Nature of the Beast”, came out. Less than a year! How does she do it? But then that’s the timetable Agatha Christie kept to and Louise Penny is nothing if she’s not a modern, French-Canadian Agatha Christie. Miss Marple had St. Mary Mead and Gamache and co. have Three Pines. Murder mysteries set in small, cozy, seemingly idyllic villages.

And when you read her acknowledgements at the end, she heart-breakingly reveals that her much-loved husband Michael has gotten dementia. And they live together in a small village in Quebec’s townships. but it’s not Three Pines. So her writing this wonderful, complicated thriller so FAST and so WELL is even more amazing! That she wrote this great book in the middle of all this personal sorrow and tragedy is astonishing. All my best to Louise and to Michael, too.

#Louise Penny # Three Pines # Inspector Gamache # Murder Mystery#Agatha Christie #Canada # Montreal # Quebec

German”Crime Stories”(Verbrechen) Grisly but Good

VervbrechenCrime Stories 1“Verbrechen” is German for “Crime Stories”. Famous lawyer turned author Ferdinand von Shirach has penned the short stories of the real life crime cases he was prosecuted to great acclaim in Germany and now they exist as a hit TV series. And a six-episode DVD set of three discs by MHz.

You have to be in a really blood-thirsty mood to enjoy these six grisly, but good episodes, which vary wildly in quality.

Josef Bierbichler plays Friedrich Lionhardt with a stoicism that makes his French counterpart Inspector Maigret seem absolutely flamboyant in comparison. Bierbichler is a focused mountain of a man best known in the US for his role as the sadistic Steward in Michael Hanneke’s frightening thriller “The White Ribbon.” With a voice like thunder, when roused, his intelligent, omniscient eyes see through all comers.

I was really gripped by Episode 1, wherein a mild-mannered husband Friedrich (everybody seems to be named Friedrich in this series)Fahner finally turns on his vicious wife Ingrid played with memorable relish by Annette Paulman, and murders her with his gardening tools. Based on, as I noted, a true story, you totally root for Friedrich to get off.

This is a neat reversal of the battered wife story, and in this case,it’s the long-suffering husband who is constantly brow-beaten, insulted and humiliated by his overbearing, vulgar wife. They are first shown as a deliriously in love young couple. As newlyweds, there seems nary a cloud on the horizon, and Ingrid is charming and sexy as a young girl.

But over the years, she has turned into a harridan he hardly recognizes, and can barely stand. Now 60, Friedrich maintains he has married her. He’s her husband and feels he cannot violate his marriage vows to her. So he kills her. German logic.

And Friedrich Leonhardt( Von Shirach’s alter ego) enters the scene as Friedrich Fahner’s defense lawyer determined to get him off. For as he states over and over, “a lawyer does not always want to know what really happened.” It is his job to get his clients freed and he pursues this goal with a single-minded intensity that powers each 44 minutes episode. It’s not a whodunit at all, but the suspense is always “Will Leonhardt prevail and get his client off?” which is an interesting twist in this overworked genre. A character describes Leonhardt as “the brakes on the carts on justice.”

Leonhardt doesn’t feel he has to like or even understand his clients, which are as varied as Germany is today.

Ripped from the headlines, “Crime Stories” when it works is riveting. I also particularly liked Episode 3 where Phillip Von Nordicke, a young student played with a burning intensity by Vladimir Burlakov, kills, blinds, and dismembers sheep. Stabbing each “victim” 18 times in a signature way that the local Polizei immediately know it’s him. But can you imprison someone for simply killing sheep argues Leonhardt. Then a young girl goes missing and of course, the young Phillip is the lost likely suspect. So in jail he stays, until Leonhardt enters the scene.

Some episodes don’t work at all and are merely confusing like Episode 2 “Tanaka’s Bowl.” But when it works, it really really works and loving crime stories and murder mysteries and film noir as you know I do, these German ones are a dark treat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Walker Dead at 40 & Terrible Train Wreck in the Bronx

This is a morning full of death. I see on the Internet that the handsome actor Paul Walker is dead in Hollywood in a fiery crash, not unlike the one that killed James Dean. Walker was a very young-looking 40. And surprisingly had a teen-aged daughter.

And then I turn on the TV and get all the broadcast channels going on endlessly about a Metro North commuter  train derailment in the Spuyten Duvill section of the Bronx, the borough that I grew up in. Four people died and many more injured. I often have taken that train. Life is so fragile.

Death seems everywhere now that the holiday of Thanksgiving is over. New York is particularly a city that goes haywire on a long holiday weekend. Nothing gets done.

Like for instance Fedex was supposed to deliver a package to me, but it has not yet gotten there. And although they are open in some location sites 24 hours 7 days a week, nothing can get done till tomorrow Monday. No drop offs on Sundays, holidays especially. I found this out the hard way.

Show business and entertainment news, which I purport to cover, is a twenty-four/seven situation. It just never stops. Ask Jeffrey Wells at http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com He’s complaining that “Don’t I get a day off!?!” Because Paul Walker’s death happened right in the middle of his holiday weekend. You can check out Jeff’s blog, if you want more info on Paul Walker’s horrifying demise.

I never got to interview him in my LONG(three decades) career of interviewing celebrities. So I don’t have a personal memory or anecdote to share. Except that my perception of him was some one attractive and blond enough to work a lot in Hollywood. He was once on the cover of one of Vanity Fair’s Young Hollywood issues, back in the early ’00’s.

I knew he’d work at lot in action films, and he did.

Like for instance the “Fast and Furious” franchise which brought him major stardom, as it were. I never have seen any of the seven immensely successful movies. I don’t even drive, so films about cars usually don’t interest me.

I always see them as weapons of death. And the violent, sudden end of Paul Walker’s life bears that thought out.

I did for some reason unknown to myself now, and lost in memory, I DID see a very good mystery thriller with him in the lead in or around 2001 called “Joy Ride.” And I remember him vividly from that. I thought he was someone who was pretty, but probably couldn’t act, but in “Joy Ride” he showed me that there was much more to him than that. As he and Steve Zahn were a couple of college kids driving(again the car theme) and picking up a psycho killer named Rusty Nail by accident on the CB radio.

Walker pretended to be a sexy female stripper/prostitute named “Candy Cane” and Rusty Nail began stalking their car. Walker had to switch in and out of this hilarious female role vocally. And got in a great deal of trouble for doing so in “Joy Ride” which was anything but. This little known, little-remembered film was also as I looked it up co-written by a young J.J.Abrams! And directed with great suspense by the great John Dahl. It was probably because of Dahl’s directing it that I went. And I was really surprised and glad that I did.

It was truly harrowing, and Paul Walker was just terrific in it. He showed he had potential to grow beyond the teen stuff he was being given at that time. And he did. I always liked him better than his better known contemporary Matthew McConaghey, who I never cared for much, until I saw this year’s stupendous “Dallas Buyer’s Club” which I will be writing more fully about soon.

R.I.P. Paul Walker. You didn’t deserve this tragic, early death.

“Catch Me If You Can” A Waste of a Lot of Terrific Talent

“Catch Me If You Can” was a terrific Stephen Spielberg-directed, entertaining, sexy movie. It had speed, style, wry humor, Leonardo DiCaprio at his charming best, Tom Hanks as his frazzled, funny pursuer, Christopher Walken’s best before-0r-since performance as Di Caprio’s complex, concerned dad and French film legend Natalie Baye as Walken’s wayward wife and Di Caprio’s dazzlingly young French mother. RENT IT IMMEDIATELY.

Because if you drop a bundle of cash on Broadway’s over-priced tickets to the new musical version of “Catch Me if You Can”, you are going to feel gypped. Really, really gypped.

First let me say that I LOVED Aaron Tveit. He was memorable, haunting and engaging as the ghost of the manic-depressive Mom of the brilliant Alice Ripley in the far superior “Next to Normal.” He egregiously didn’t get a Tony Nomination, when everything else in the musical, including the rug, got nominated a few years back.

And I really did look forward to seeing him emerge as a musical comedy star, in a musical specifically written for him by the same team that successfully brought us the musical of “Hairspray” but alas ~ no. He has to carry this HUGE, WEIGHTED DOWN, dull, dull show almost entirely on his own.

His pursuer, Hanratty, played with great gusto, but disfiguring horn-rimmed glasses and a fat suit by the great Norbert Leo Butz, is a supporting player here. Whereas Tom Hanks in the movie, was the superbly slick Leonardo DiCaprio’s co-star. When he got frustrated chasing this ace con man around the world, Hanks was always funny in his frazzeledness. But Butz, in this awful outfit, seems simply sad and middle-aged. Not great qualities to buoy up a sinking Broadway musical. Ditto the defeated-edness of Tom Wopat as our hero’s father.

Chirstopher Walken was so complex and moving as the Dad in the movie, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. That 2002 performance has stayed in my mind and reminds me of just how terrific an actor Walken can be when he is not doing schtick.

But mostly I worried about the handsome, young Tveit. And how he seemed endlessly flat, but bright and spritely, as this lumpen musical wore on and on. Wearing out its’ questionable welcome hours before it was over.

One kept hoping it would pick up and become like “Hairspray” i.e. tuneful and funny. But it doesn’t. It certainly doesn’t. And the music is flat, too. What a shame.

Will the promising Tveit’s career overcome what surely is going to be seen as HIS great failure. But then, “Catch Me If You Can” may not be able to outrun its’ critics pans. Like this one. The sooner this show closes, the better for Aaron Tveit’s  budding career.

A New Play! “The Six Flights of Matilda Boosoms” coming up! Fast!

Dear Readers, dear cineastes and dear theatre-lovers, especially you New Yorkers, I’ve got a staged reading of my new play “The Six Flights of Matilda Boosoms: A VERY dark comedy thriller” coming up FAST! Next Tuesday night, March 15 at 7pm at the Ensemble Studio Theater.

It’s part of their Memberfest, and the great actress Judith Roberts(google her) is the Member whose festivities this is and who is playing the title role of Matilda Boosoms. A VERY presentable woman of an age certain, who lives in a six-flight walk-up in Greenwich Village. It’s set in 2004(though Matilda’s mind is in 1964!) and Matilda is finding it harder and harder to get up and down all those stairs. It’s beginning to take it’s toll on her physical and mental health. And in a post 9/11 world, she begins to think that her neighbors are out to kill her. Or is it vice versa?

No reservations necessary. 2nd floor theater. EST as it’s abbreviated is on W.59th street near 11th Ave, but the entrance is on W.52nd. More soon. Like the exact street address of the theater! Lolol…

Just finished”The Girl With the Snake Tattoo”

It looks like a lovely fall day outside in New York…Ah, Autumn in New York…Supposedly the best season…When I was living in London, I always used to fly back to New York in Sept./Oct, missing the heat and humidity of the summers and leaving before the blistering cold of the winters…

Just finished reading “The Girl With the Snake Tattoo”! Phew! My first complete Steig Larson novel experience, and yes, it’s a terrific read. “Unput-downable” as  a colleague  of the late Larson says in the upcoming FOURTH volume. And it certainly is…

So tragic that this brilliant writer is dead. He could’ve gone on and on giving us more Lisbeth Salander/Mikael Bloomkvist thrillers…but at least we have the three he lived to complete…

According to a mention in the upcoming FOURTH volume, which is a collection of articles about him and essays AND HIS EMAILS! That there was an uncompleted three-quarters of a FOURTH volume and an outline for a fifth in his computer…when he died of heart attack at 50. And the tragedy of his early death just overwhelms me…He never lived to see this all happen. So sad…And the emails between him and his editor Eva Gedin are frustratingly few and brief and end sooo abruptly…He sounded like he was working himself to death before these books came out…

Why is this all so gripping?

Well, Lisbeth Salander is just this GRRRRRRREAT literary creation and her outrageous, rage-filled character is dropped right into the middle of a VERY traditional formula= the crime or suspense novel.  Or for mystery fiction  She’s a great detective. Which is what this really is and why this really works so well. It’s a whodunnit in the great Agatha Christie style. Miss Marple is now a punk rock hacker.

the eccentric,brilliant bisexual biker/hacker, Lisbeth, with her nose and eyebrow piercings and her spiky hair, COULDN’T be more unique in this type of genre. Or any genre really. She just JUMPS off the page at you and GRABS your attention and holds it for the duration. Just as the equally brilliant and intense Swedish/Icelandic/Spanish actress Noomi Rapace does in the movies.

And she’s balanced by her Sherlock Holmes, the banal, middle-aged investigative reporter Mikael Bloomkvist, who is the stolid, plodding alter ego of the late Larson himself, I’m guessing.

 So the audience has HIM to identify with, if they can’t wrap their heads around the quirky, surly Lisbeth, whose personality is as spiky as her hair-do. She’s a punk Dr. Watson, who keeps stealing the stage from Mikael Bloomkvist, her unlikely partner-in-crime solving…

Having seen the THIRD movie FIRST(I do everything backwards) this is beginning to make much more sense.

There’s a vast cast of supporting players and that did confuse me for a bit in the “Hornet’s Nest” movie. I didn’t “get” Bloomkvist and his relationship with his ex-wife, his teen-aged daughter and also the married co-publisher of the magazine he writes for who is named Erika Berger, who he has this very Scandinavian on-again, off-again sexual relationship with.

In the movie, she’s played by the great Bergmann actress Lena Anders, and I thought it odd that she took such a supporting role, but now I see why. She’s a major character in “Snake Tattoo” and obviously  continues that way through all the films and all the books. So it’s the middle one that I still have to try to finish before I interview Noomi Rapace on Wed.

But I’m doing  my homework!

And being gripped by “Snake” which is in the end quite quite sick and shocking….I just COULDN’T STOP reading it!

Well, Steig Larson was re-inventing and expanding a very tried and true formula, the  detective murder mystery and putting a very mod, Swedish gloss on it. And Sweden itself is a delightful, major character here. In the third movie “Hornet’s Nest”, Stockholm looks like an amazingly new, refreshing romantic locale, and nothing at all the like Stockholm of Ingmar Bergmann’s movies. It’s like some place we’ve never seen before. It’s enchanting…and also frightening.

Mikael Bloomkvist, when we first met, in the first several chapters, is actually quite boring. I almost didn’t make it any further – then BLAM! Lisbeth Salander enters the scene and she just TAKES over the book, as she does the movie, in her intense, fascinating way.

So I look forward to reading Book 2 “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and to interviewing Noomi Rapace herself on Wed.! I’m having a Stieg Larson week, for sure! It’s like a trip to today’s Sweden, and I can’t wait to go back!

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: