Tag Archives: Murder

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

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If you can get past the improbability that transgendered Hilary Swank could go on months without anyone suspecting ‘he’ was a ‘she,’ this is an effective and powerful movie. Brandon Teena, the protagonist of this movie. does have a boyish charm regardless of his biological gender, and he struts into town and befriends some shady types after having a few run in with the law in different locations. The thing is, Brandon’s not a bad kid, just a little misguided, and after he begins a romantic affair with shady type #1’s love interest., there are a series of confrontations that finally, and perhaps inevitably, lead to tragedy.

Lana (Chloe Sevigny) is the love interest. John Lotter (i.e. Shady Type #1, played by Peter Skarsgaard) is her possessive admirer. John is tailed by Shady Type #2 Tom (Brendon Sexton III,) a troubled young man who is a bit of an idiot (not developmentally disabled, you see, just not all there upstairs.) John is the ringleader, and Brandon falls for the social experience that comes with hanging with them a bit too easily.

On the way to sympathizing with Brandon, I had a little trouble getting past the fact that he tricked girls into having sex with him (ditzy girls who couldn’t tell the difference between a girl with a strap-on and a man with a penis, but still.) I’m certainly not implying Brandon deserved the things that happened to him at the films conclusion, far from it, But it was still an unfair thing to do to your sex partners. You will also facepalm at Brandon’s Naivete and the things he does to gain acceptance.

Everything changes with Lana. Lana falls so madly head-over-heels in love with Brandon that she doesn’t care what gender Brandon is. It”s actually kind of romantic, actually. I didn’t like Lana at first because I thought she was an ineffectual sloppy drunk hick, but she ended up being my favorite character. She’s a romantic soul stuck in a shitty Nebraska town, and all the men around her are vile pigs. In hindsight, why wouldn’t she fall for the handsome Brandon?

I heard the director of this, Kimberly Pierce, discuss the MPAA’s attempt to slap it with an NC-17 rating in the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated.” According to Pierce, their biggest qualm was not the violent and degrading events at the end of the film, but the ‘long orgasm’ scene where Brandon goes down on Lana. “Who was ever hurt by an orgasm that was too long?” demands Pierce. People sure have funny priorities, especially when they involve homosexuality and sex.

“Boys Don’t Cry” is sad but not needlessly so. Based upon the real-life 1993 rape/murder of Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, a transgendered youth who identified as male but had female reproductive organs, the film benefits from a great performance from Hilary Swank. I weirdly have never noticed Swank before, but she now takes on a role too raw and subversive for many female actors.

Instead of being tawdry and sensationalistic, “Boys Don’t Cry tells a horrible story poignantly, but celebrates Brandon Teena’s life and spirit as well as grieve his loss. Kimberly Pierce movingly and  depicts the transgendered experience, and we should be grateful for her candor. A worthwhile story. profoundly told.

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Broadchurch (2013)

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In a sleepy close-knit coastal town, 11-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) is found murdered, his body dumped on the beach. At first, it seems like the crime nobody could have committed- the people of Broadchurch are like friends and family to each other, and even the black sheep seem more or less harmless. But as surly outsider DI Alec Hardy (a worn-down, sunken-cheeked post-“Who” David Tennant) and D.S. Ellie Miller (the wonderful Olivia Colman,) who has ties to the victim investigate, they find that everyone in this town’s got secrets. And some of them are worth killing for.

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There are only eight episodes here, so you don’t have as much of a commitment as a viewer than a lot of TV shows. All the actors in this series are wonderful, and the show keeps you  on the edge of your seat. It’s nice to see that David Tennant is expanding his horizons beyond being the ‘cute funny foreign guy with the crazy hair.’ He’s genuinely good here as a disgraced detective with an serious heart condition that’s interfering with his work. What’s not nice is the fact that he will be duplicating the role in the pointless American remake “Gracepoint.” But I’ll explain my feelings about the superfluous “Broadchurch” carbon copy later.

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I’ve thought Olivia Colman was a tremendous talent since I saw her play the abused Christian charity shop worker in Paddy Considine’s wrenching “Tyrannosaur.” She does the great work we expect of her after her powerful portrayal of that character. Lots of the supporting players do great jobs too. I always thought of David Bradley as ‘that nasty greasy old dude’ as a faithful watcher of the Harry Potter movies. Here he shows range and depth playing a lonely man who may or may not be a sex offender.

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The side plot portraying the grief of Danny’s family- his mother, Beth (Jodie Whittaker,) his father, Mark (Andrew Buchan,) and his big sister Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont)- was heartbreaking. I had previously seen Jodie Whittaker in “Attack the Block,” which was a lot of fun, and she does a good job as a mother whose grief swallows up her life. And it was a laugh seeing Arthur Darvill (“Doctor Who”) as a vicar. I was glad they portrayed Rev. Paul Coates (Darvill) fairly instead of making him the babbling mindless hypocrite they usually portray religious authorities as. And I’m so glad they didn’t go the pedophile route with his character.

The mystery is really hard to figure out (at least for me, someone who doesn’t read or watch mysteries, but that might not be saying much.) At the end I had it narrowed down to a few characters, and one of the characters I picked turned out to be the killer, but I was still surprised. The scenery is beautiful, and the show shows that even in a idyllic town, there are still some people who are missing a few nuts and bolts. A murder can happen anywhere, but in my opinion, you shouldn’t surrender to fear and you should still let your kids live the freest life you can allow.

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This is a highly entertaining show, but it lacks the extra ‘umph’ to make me give it a higher rating than 4/5. My dad won’t watch it because he likes ‘fun’ shows and he thinks it will be depressing, but it is no more depressing than a murder mystery concerning a child has to be. And as far as sensitive viewers go there’s barely any violence whatsoever. I’m mad that the American remade it with the same damn actor (!) and as far as I can tell from the trailer, the show is exactly the same. Why the heck can’t Americans watch the original program instead of some cheap rip-off? But I digress. “Broadchurch” is a worthy watch carried on the shoulders of Colman and Tennant.

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Mum & Dad (2008)

The movie world is made up of four different kinds of families: the normal families (much less common than the latter varieties, and debatable, as no family is totally normal), offbeat families, and crazy families, for starters. Then there’s the titular Mum & Dadclan, which brings us to the scariest and most dangerous variety, umpteen steps past crazy, and reveling in their own perversion.

It’s hard to even call them family, as such. Only one child, the severely brain-damaged Angela (Miciah Dring), is their own. The others are kidnapped additions brainwashed into adhering to the family’s rules. These are vindictive Birdie (Ainsley Howard) and her silent “brother,” Elby (Toby Alexander). It kind of reminds me of the 1970 horror film Girly, in which “new friends” are brought forcibly into a family of depraved Brits, If Girly were applied with the visceral brutality of a blunt hammer.

The newest addition is quiet Polish immigrant Lena (Olga Fedori), who meets the loquacious Birdie at the airport where they both clean. Lena isn’t stupid; she’s just awfully polite — too polite to follow her instincts. When Birdie and Elby “accidentally”  make Lena miss her bus, she goes home with them, against her own better judgment.

Enter “Mum and Dad” (Dido Miles and Perry Benson). Mum is a manipulative, slick sexual deviant. Dad is also a deviant, who hits Lena over the head and rapes raw meat in front of his family (the camera then closes in on the cum in the meat *gags*). It’s the kind of family relatively normal people stay away from, and Lena is not only determined to survive, but to escape.

To remain free of all pretenses, I will just call a spade a spade — this is a torture flick, competently executed, but mostly devoid of any higher purpose, deeper meaning, or pathos. It does sport, however, an intense and cleverly executed ending and decent acting (best from Dido Miles, who plays a soft-spoken psychopath so well). As a note to people who, like myself, can stomach graphic violence but have trouble with sexual assault, there are no rape scenes in this film, although sexual perversion is prevalent.

Lena is a likable heroine, and although she certainly doesn’t bring about fascination, the viewer will want to see her through. The film is primarily set in the home of the killers, with shots of airplanes soaring overhead, conveying a feeling of distance and one’s desperate need of rescue going unnoticed. Now that I have called a spade a spade, I recommend Mum & Dad to extreme horror buffs and those with (very) strong stomachs.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

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“Winter’s Bone” is the rare book that, while effective, does not exceed the merit of the movie. The eponymous film, directed by Debra Granik, is a nearly perfect work of art, and I was wary going into the book because I did not expect the it to exceed the film. While I was partially right (Woodrell’s original is more emotionally remote and the film is a masterpiece in it’s own right) the novel is worthwhile and lyrically written, while not being inaccessible.

17-year-old Ree Dolly (rendered less admirable and rougher-hewn in the book) lives in the Ozarks, surrounded by a cloistered community of violent and thuggish crystal meth cooks. Nearly everybody is related to everyone else somehow, and the mountain people defend their own kind against the cops- unless one of their own crosses the line. That’s what Ree’s dad Jessup did, and he’s missing. Worse yet, Jessup put bail bond on the house before he disappeared, and Ree has to prove that he’s dead before she loses the family home.

Ree almost single-handedly takes care of her mother, who has long ago turned insane, and her little brothers Sonny and Harold. She’s trying her best to cope with difficult circumstances. Ree’s rough, but sometimes roughness comes with persistence, and this girl’s nothing if not persistent. She tries to get the true circumstances of Jessup’s death from the locals, but they don’t like questions much. Soon she finds herself fighting for her life, desperately sinking into a situation that is fast getting out of hand.

Ree is  helped hesitantly by her enemy/lifeline Uncle Teardrop (played in the movie by the brilliant John Hawkes,) a crank cook whose criminal  activities she wants no part in. Although this is not mentioned in the movie, I got a strong feeling from the book that Ree was gay. On one level, the fact that Ree rejects the thought of pairing up with a man may stem from her fierce independence and the fact that the majority of the local men are leering, toothless pieces of white trash. But considering her activities shared with her friend Gail in her childhood and in the present (swimming together in the buff, kissing,) I got a slightly different vibe from the story.

The writing presented here is quite beautiful. You would think for a book set in such a bleak place, the writing would be similar to the setting- harsh and ugly. But it’s lovely. Sure, “Winter’s Bone” doesn’t for a minute romanticize the hardness and coldness of the Ozarks community Ree is forced to grow up and survive in. But it finds the prettiness in something nasty and tough.

“Winter’s Bone” transports the suburban, middle-class reader into a setting unlike most of us will ever experience. It may not be pretty, but it’s rough and real and thrillingly brutal. Instead of mocking its characters, it’s presents them as matter-of-fact and as direct as a slap to the face. I have to say, I could not stop picturing Jennifer Lawrence as Ree, although the novel stated the book Ree was a brunette instead of a blonde. I guess Jennifer Lawrence is so good at what she does that any other face feels like an impostor.

My mom LOVED this book and read it twice in a row; my reaction was a little more ‘meh,’ although I did think it was very good and solid. I like how in both the book and movie you felt hope for Ree and the kids. For all it’s bleakness, for all it’s toughness, you don’t see dead ends. You see opportunities. And you hope (and believe) that Ree will snatch those opportunities, which, after all, do not come easy in a place like this.

God Bless America (2011)

Despite a fairly small viewership, Bobcat Godtwait’s pitch-black comedy “God Bless America” has proved to be somewhat controversial since it’s release, which was no doubt what Goldtwait intended. Rumors abound about it’s ‘glorification of violence,’ ‘tasteless content,’ and so-called ‘Liberal agenda.’ So here I am to weigh in my two cents.

First of all, the allegation that the film is political propaganda is pure bollocks. Despite the mockery of extreme right-wingers and ‘Obama-as-Hitler’ ridiculousness, “God Bless America” proves to be, like it’s protagonist Frank, largely politically neutral.

By the beginning of the film, Frank (Joel Murray) is enraged and psychotically angry. Drinking and fantasizing about killing the inconsiderately loud next-door couple and their baby does little to quench his increasing blood lust.

To most people, Frank seems like a quiet, mild-mannered middle-aged man. But in his head Frank lives a much more violently intriguing life, as most of us do. Divorced, father to a bratty little child who cannot be bothered to spend time with him, Frank is fed up with what he perceived as the downfall of American society.

But it is not until he is diagnosed a inoperable brain tumor and loses his job that he finally snaps, cashing in his military service and targeting the b**chy star of a reality TV show, Chloe (Maddie Hasson) of “Chloe’s Sweet Sixteen.”

Joel Murray is outstanding as Frank, but Tara Lynn Barr is less impressive as Roxy, the sixteen-year-old girl who accompanies Frank on his killing spree. Roxy has feelings for Frank that are not reciprocated, and the platonic relationship between the two is one of the main points of the film. That and a whole lot of anger.

“God Bless America” has lots of satisfyingly bloodthirsty violence, a great soundtrack, and equally bloodthirsty satire as Frank and Roxy dissect modern American society. The fact that we sympathize and are to some extent compliant in the killings does not keep me from loving this movie, and is instead and interesting manipulation of audience loyalties.

Joel Murray proves he is every bit as good if not better than his brother Bill, and his rage and disgust is palpable. Roxy is a slightly annoying and overly sadistic sidekick, but some of her lines are funny and her presence is crucial to the plot.

So is Frank right? Have we become an ugly and cruel society? I would argue that the ugliness is intrinsic to human nature period, American or not. I think other countries have slightly higher standards when it comes to film and television programming, but I also think that the need to shock and degrade is in our genetic material, whether we live in the US or France or Timbuktu.

Nevertheless, I recommend this movie to people who enjoy the darker side of humanity presented in film. My dad argues that to like a movie like this, you must HAVE a dark side, which doesn’t say much to the fans of this movie. But one could also argue that some extent, your reaction to this kind of comedy shows what kind of person you are. For better for worse, I am a fan. That is all.

Them (Ils) (2006)

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Horror filmmaking, a visualization of things no one wants to happen to them, can be morbidly fascinating, or even lyrical. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, particularly, told its story brilliantly and in some ways transcended the vampire genre. Them, a slight trip into depravity  advertised as “the movie that terrified the French,” is not. It is tripe. The film doesn’t stand as much as a worthy story with characters as a gaudy set-designed ego trip, with meticulously designed dark corners, piercing screams, and convenient pitfalls.

When the heroine, schoolteacher Clementine, chose a place in the attic of her sprawling isolated home to escape from the home invaders of the film, of course it is an otherwise empty section with cellophane hanging in clumps from the ceiling, each one vaguely looking like a cloaked face. Of course Clementine and her boyfriend Lucas live in an isolated manor. And finally ,of course the isolation is broken by a “annoying” dog, who barks to warn them too late.

I was warned. When a teenage girl feuding with her mother gets run off the road by a unknown being, I heard her, just as it began to rain, segueing from a irate calls to screams, more and more desperate “Maman! Maman! Maman!!!” The car? It doesn’t start. The rain obscures anyone from view, as does the trunk her mother ignorantly poked around in. The cell phone shakes in her hand, and she can barely release a squeak, much less a “help.”

After the inevitable death, the film focuses on Lucas, a writer who does his best work playing arcade games, and Clementine, a frustrated primary school teacher. For a period of about fifteen minutes, the two exchange a stream of smooth and natural dialogue, in such a way I mistakenly started hoping that I would care what happened to them. After that, the script runs out of such dialogue, and settles on standard horror talk. I started laughing out loud at the banality of it, a bad sign with a film that wants to be taken this seriously.

“______!” (insert name, repeat 20-30 times.)
“I’ll go check.”
“What was that sound?”
“Don’t leave!”

The acting in the film is decent, the performers pounding on the one note the director brings to the table, mostly comprised of frightened shrieks and tear stained faces. The plot is a series of grotesque occurrences, putting the characters through horror and trauma. It’s plotlessness is “compensated” for with a couple of jumps (it barely succeeds). The slashers are barely frightening and completely nonsensical.

Simply put, it is a series of close escapes and killings, too premeditated and shallow to provoke much reaction.  I learned something, though. Nothing about safety, nothing about human nature. I learned that a film’s cool cover art, cinematic pedigree (foreign), and being spoken in a pretty language (French), does not make it very much superior to American money mongerers. Nor does it classify it as high film-making. That is all.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)

Bloody and brilliant, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. The 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is both a crying shame and a sacrilege, because this is Shane Meadows’ masterpiece — a film that transcends the revenge genre, delivering a heart-pounding, intense story that lets events unfold in a way that is anything but simple.

Richard (Paddy Considine) returns home from military service with no intention of living a nice quiet life and settling down. The target of his rage: a low-rent drug gang that did some terrible things to his borderline simple brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) some time before.

After Richard threatens a drug dealer and later gives him an unsettlingly twitchy apology, the gang of thugs suspect that ol’ Anthony’s brother might be a few screws short of a tool box, but don’t know how to react. Sonny (Gary Stretch), the most sadistic and smartest (and in a group like this, that’s not saying much), takes charge as best as he is able, but they are no match for Richard’s cool-headed brutality and military training.

This is when things get decidedly more ambiguous. What exactly happened to Anthony? What parts of Richard’s viewpoint are unreliable? When he faces the thug who has broken off from the gang and raised a family, Richard grows less and less sure of himself, leading to a shocking conclusion that rivals the majority of thrillers in its freshness and great writing.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Paddy Considine’s performance here is one of the best acting jobs I’ve seen. He makes Richard thoroughly believable and doesn’t stoop to any tough-guy cliches. What Richard lacks in size, he makes up for in calm, calculated violence. His performance is powerful and a testament to lesser-known actors who seem to slip through the cracks all too often.

Toby Kebbell, who gets overlooked all too often is also very good as Anthony, a simple-minded fellow whose naivete proves to be dangerous as he navigates a rough area without his older brother, who he looks up to, to protect him. He is very believable playing a mentally retarded character, and doesn’t overplay his hand or make his character a ham-fisted caricature.

The other actors never match up to Considine’s ferocious portrayal of a vengeful loner, but they do fine on their own. There’s a scene between the reformed drug dealer and his wife that is very powerful and moving, and the thugs do good job as their drug-hazed obliviousness turns to fear.

There is also some humor (mostly derived from the stupidity of the antagonists) and some tender moments between Richard and his brother. “Dead Man’s Shoes” proves there is still some smarts left in the thriller genre, and boy do I love it for that. It benefits from a smart script and a blistering performance from Paddy Considine. Watch it, and you will not be wasting your time. I didn’t waste mine.

The Living & the Dead (2006)

Not your first pick for Mother’s Day, The Living and the Dead is morbid and horrifying, and I mean that, strangely, as a compliment. It is a family drama, a psychological thriller, a tragedy, an art film, all these things at once, and and despite it’s flaws, it doesn’t overextend.

The film opens with Lord Donald Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd-Pack), a worn-down, silent shell of an old man, pushing an empty wheelchair through a quiet room. The image delivers the same feeling as a dark grey painting, lonely and despondent. He watches, lip quivering, as an ambulance pulls into his massive estate. Cut back an undetermined amount of time. Donald stands straighter. He maintains a kind of pride that must come with being one of the British elite, but he is grieving. He has a lot to grieve about.

His wife, Lady Nancy Brocklebank, is terribly sick and probably won’t be with him much longer. The bills are piling up, and they will soon lose their mansion. His son James (Leo Bill, in an over-the-top performance that works), dashes around the house with little clear purpose.

James is in his mid-to-late twenties. He is stuck in a kind of permanent childhood, the kind of childhood that is made up of nightmares, not whimsy. Although Simon Rumley, the director, describes him as “mentally challenged,” I suspect paranoid schizophrenia.

James is by far my favorite character in the film. He is a complicated movie creation, and his emotional limitations do not hold back his complexity or ambiguity as a person. Donald treats James with the casual cruelty that is most likely inflicted on the mentally ill more often than we think, condescending to him, forbidding him to use the phone or answer the door. James is desperate to prove to his father that he is an independent adult and plans to do so by taking care of his mother.

His father understandably rejects the idea. In an matter of days, James will have locked the door, shut out the nurse, skipped his pills, and may have destroyed the lives of those closest to him. Soon, as his lucidity deteriorates, the viewer begins to wonder if the past events were only in James’ head. This is a film for a patient audience — it’s a while before anything happens and the reality of the events is questionable.

The atmosphere is palpable, and the characters are well developed. There are many plot holes and unanswered questions throughout the film, as the story itself seems on the edge of reality, with its Gothic features and abstract images.

People have had different opinions on whether James is “good” or “bad.” He is a disturbing character, to be sure. He is not a sex maniac, mad slasher, or stony-faced killer, but an exceptionally childlike and deeply disturbed man. This movie might make you feel differently about a crime, in the paper, in which mental illness was a factor. Despite naysayers, The Living and the Dead is an emotional bombshell and thought-provoking film.