True Detective: season 2 review

Whilst it’s incredibly easy to jump on the critical bandwagon and denounce the second season of True Detective as a confusing and unengaging flop, I feel that’s slightly unfair. It’s also unfair to constantly compare it to the first season. A season which, let’s face it, had little expectation, other than the fact it had a couple of A-listers in the lead roles. Yet delivered and then some.

For the sake of fairness, the first season had a couple of obvious but vital things going for it too. It was a simpler story, albeit leaping around time periods. It also had a secret weapon: Matthew McConaughey, a man at the top of his game. But, first and foremost, we identified with the two lead characters and the interaction they had together.

Fast forward to season two and the cast has changed and grown, the story has become more complex and layered, and the location has shifted from the simmering deep south to the urban sprawl of LA.

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So, it’s literally almost an entirely different show.

That said, some things remain. Such as the slow burn tone (expertly continued with a woozy, languorous and devilishly seductive soundtrack) and the tortured characters (instead of two leads we now have four – more bang for your buck). Although what this does mean is that we as an audience need to reinvest ourselves in an entirely new set of troubled souls.

So in step Colin Farrell (a washed up old copper desperate to connect with his kid), Rachel McAdams (a prickly detective unable to meaningfully connect with anyone at work or at home) and Taylor Kitsch (a young traffic cop grappling with – and hiding from – his sexuality), who are thrown together to initially solve a murder which spirals out into a much bigger web of corruption and deceit, partially involving Vince Vaughn’s aspirational gangster.

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With the series finale (after eight episodes) I was left feeling rather relieved it was all over as it had sort of collapsed under the own weight of its expectation. And, despite the cast all giving a decent account of themselves (particularly Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell), there was nothing they could do to elevate the confused and convoluted script.

Will there be a season 3?

Smart money would say no, although HBO are open to it. The first season was critically acclaimed and the second the polar opposite; maybe the result of just trying to be too ambitious for its own good and different for the sake of it? If that’s the case then the show’s creator Nic Pizzolatto should be applauded for his bravery. After finding a winning formula in season one he then oddly, largely, abandoned it. Or perhaps tried to evolve it, it’s hard to say.

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On the plus side there were definitely things to love about the second season. For example we had proper, cinematic, edge-of-your-seat scenes throughout, in particular a street gun battle in broad daylight that felt akin to the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.

Then there were quieter, more introspective moments that were incredibly tender and showed a deftness of touch. In particular a series of intensely vulnerable moments between Farrell and McAdams’ characters as they opened up to one another, which were understated and deeply moving.

In some ways I’d be interested to see what they do with a third season, should they choose to make one. Different location again? Different characters? Would any return or cross paths?

These days, TV audiences are a little spoilt for choice with the quality out there, despite the fact that the ‘golden age of TV’ is reportedly over. And anything that plays by its own rules is bound to divide people. But there is definitely a place for this sort of show, so maybe let’s not give it a kicking just yet eh?

[Related articles]
Guardian article: In praise of… True Detective

Has Colin Farrell lost his way?

london-boulevard-movie-1I watched London Boulevard on TV at the weekend. The best way I can describe it is… You know those times when you’re feeling lonely and your phone buzzes? ‘Ah ha!’ you think, ‘I’ve got a text. Someone loves me’. Your chubby little fingers scramble to bring your device to life; only to discover it’s some automated message about which you couldn’t care less. You’re left feeling deflated, dejected, and slightly used. So there it is. London Boulevard.

On paper it had promise. A good cast: Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone, David Thewlis, Anna Friel and Colin Farrell. Celebrated screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) was directing although, based on results, perhaps he should stick to writing. To be fair the film is passable, albeit unmemorable. Whilst it’s hardly The Departed (I mean, what is? Before you say it I’m aware of Infernal Affairs) it is still a decent effort for a debut director.

However, Monahan is not on trial here. Back to Farrell.

Since he burst onto the scene with Tigerland (2000) I’d argue he’s done precious little to justify his continued career – bar a few exceptions. Phone Booth (2002) really made me sit up and take notice. phone-booth-2002-01This guy has talent. And then, having shown what he can do, he ducked his head below the parapet for about six years, before catching everyone off guard with a brilliant turn in the darkly comic In Bruges (2008).

There it is! I hadn’t seen Farrell’s comedy chops since Ordinary Decent Criminal (2000). And that was way back in the day, practically Ballykissangel (1998) era where it all began. Now I’m not saying comedy should be his de facto genre of choice. But it would be good to see more of it. That said, Farrell does like to dabble in a variety of genres. Perhaps that’s his problem. What’s his strength? What does he stand for? Now I know actors don’t like to be pigeonholed but… If you were given the task of explaining the type of actor Colin Farrell is, what would you say?

Is he intense? Is he funny? Would you say he’s an A-list pretender punching above his weight? Or is he a true talent? For example, since the action heydays of the ’80s, Hollywood has always been searching round for the next leading action manFilm Title: In Bruges. They’ve toyed with Farrell a few times: Daredevil (2003), S.W.A.T. (2003), Miami Vice (2006), Total Recall (2012). But I just don’t buy it. Again, he’s passable. Solid. Gets the job done. But it’s just not enough. Not nearly enough.

With some actors you can tell, you can sense it. He’s got talent I know it. Detractors would say it’s hidden talent, lurking beneath the surface at best. That still counts. I just don’t know what he needs to bring it out. Not that it’s my job to bring it out, but we all need hope.

As Christopher Walken says in Seven Psychopaths (another passable Farrell film), ‘Dream sequences are for fags, but we all gotta dream, don’t we?’

Seven Psychopaths – one psycho too many?

seven-psychopaths streetFours years has passed since Writer/Director Martin McDonagh gave us the critically-acclaimed In Bruges – a film where two hitmen lie low in Belgium after a job goes awry.

The pairing of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as gangsters with mismatched feelings at being stuck in aforesaid town provide some brilliantly scripted, darkly comic scenes. With Seven Psychopaths I expected more of the same. Whilst McDonagh does indeed show much magic, he doesn’t quite hit the heights of his feature-length debut. I’ll explain why, but first, the plot.

Out in sunny LA, Irish screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is trying to finish a script entitled Seven Psychopaths. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) offers to help, telling him tales of real psychopaths, including dog-napper Hans (Christopher Walken) and gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Things escalate when Billy kidnaps Charlie’s dog for Hans to hold it for ransom.

christopher-walken-seven-psychopathsWhat worked?
McDonagh has an exceptional ear for dialogue – one of the hardest things to achieve as a writer – and uses it in highly inventive and quotable ways. Indeed, he’s been compared to Tarantino in that sense. Plus his efforts here in terms of dialogue are easily as good as In Bruges. Rockwell and Walken in particular, get some juicy lines to sink their teeth into ‘Dream sequences are for fags’ and ‘Gandhi was wrong. Just noone had the balls to say it’.

In terms of great performances Christopher Walken is the most enigmatic and menacing I’ve seen him in ages – perhaps his best since Catch Me If You Can ten years ago – that casual, nonchalant, off-beat delivery of lines, often followed with a psychotic, wolfish grin. Equally scary and funny. Rockwell takes centre-stage as the most wildly unhinged of the group, putting in a commendable performance, but still eclipsed by Walken at his finest.

seven_psychopaths_charlieHarrelson, too, is on top form, veering between menacing gangster and blubbing wreck whenever his dog is concerned. This leaves Farrell to play the straight role, admirably acting with those expansive eyebrows of his – Ronnie Corbett style.

What didn’t?
Whilst Farrell does a fine job, it seems McDonagh has missed the chance to have him flex his comic muscles, as he did so effectively for In Bruges. I assume Sam Rockwell as the obvious funnyman is an easier sell for US audiences, maybe that’s my cynical take.

In some ways, whilst the script is smart and well written, it can come across as too clever for its own good. Almost revelling in self-parody and never missing the chance to have a dig at Hollywood. Whilst this is no bad thing, it can rather quickly get tiresome.

For example, both the film and Marty’s script have little room for female characters, indeed the actresses we do see are highly talented (Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe) but have next to nothing to do. Something mirrored in Marty’s script, seven-psychopaths-rockwell21which Hans remarks on when suggesting improvements. I’m not sure every time McDonagh becomes aware of a script issue he should resolve it by pointing it out – this might work once but it’s not an eternal ‘get out of jail free’ clause.

I like it. It’s got layers
Those points aside, overall it’s an entertaining, highly quotable, tremendously silly action film that revels in its own shortcomings, as well as being a great vehicle for Walken, Rockwell and Harrelson to flex their psychotic comedy chops. Another to add to your Friday night popcorn list!

Best twenty films of 2012

It’s been an epic year for films across a variety of genres. This list reflects my taste in films so I hope you enjoy. Sorry Twilight, you didn’t make the cut!

  • Skyfall
    skyfall-craigStrangely there are people who don’t like this film and say it’s not classic Bond. I think it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond since Connery. To celebrate 50 years of Bond, the dream team of Mendes, Craig, Bardem and Dench pulled out the stops to make this film truly special.
  • Argo
    Can’t believe people still give Affleck a hard time for his early career. How many decent films does he need to direct before people will admit he’s a real talent? First Gone Baby Gone and The Town and now this. A proper, intelligent thriller.
  • Moonrise Kingdom
    This film is a great companion piece for The Life Aquatic, my favourite from Wes Anderson. As always, a great cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton. Although focus is on the two, young actors who confidently carry the story. A sweet and quirky tale.
  • Looper
    Rian Johnson and Gordon-Levitt are fast becoming a match made in heaven. First Brick and now this time-travelling sci-fi tale of assassins. This film had an interesting mix of futuristic and retro, plus it marked Gordon-Levitt out as a leading man in the making.
  • Silver Linings Playbook
    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKForget Hunger Games, this ranks as my favourite Jennifer Lawrence film, just edging Winter’s Bone. She has great chemistry with Bradley Cooper, both of them playing flawed characters in this acerbic, edgy and alternative type of rom-com. Highly recommended.
  • Chronicle
    Earlier this year this film was released and flew somewhat under the radar. Shown in found footage style, the best way to describe the first half is Jackass with telekinetic powers. It then goes darker as it builds to an epic finale. Thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.
  • Dark Knight Rises
    The final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing bat franchise. Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Gordon-Levitt as Boy Wonder in the making. This was an emotional, visceral ending to the best set of Batman films of all time.
  • Avengers Assemble
    Despite my last comment regarding Batman, Marvel Studios has firmly staked its claim as the lighter, more upbeat side of the superhero world. Joss Whedon pulling off an incredible trick to balance a film with a host of big characters, letting them all shine equally.
  • Ted
    ted
    Macfarlane knows his comedy. This film was his vision and really paid off. From script and direction through to mo-cap acting, he was the driving force. Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg added their dramatic and comedy talent to make this one of the funniest films of the year.
  • Life of Pi  
    Ang Lee’s tale of a young boy shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker is a visual masterpiece. Taken from a Booker prize-winner novel, it makes you question the nature of belief and how you perceive the world. An uplifting and life-affirming tale.
  • The Raid: Redemption
    Combine the talents of a Welsh Director and up-and-coming action star in Iko Uwais and you get an unexpected, kick-ass treat. Introducing us to pencak silat, an Indonesian form of dance and self defence, it’s breathtaking to watch when used to beat up bad guys.
  • The Hobbit
    Peter Jackson has worked wonders yet again. The dwarves are great and Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo. His ‘riddles in the dark’ scene with Gollum is brilliantly scripted. If you’re even a fleeting fantasy fan you won’t want to miss this exhilarating tale.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
    beasts
    Critically well received, this fantasy film has drawn comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth and is well worth seeing. It tells the tale of six-year-old girl Hushpuppy who, when looking after her ill and hot-tempered father, must learn the ways of courage and love.
  • Rust and Bone
    It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Marion Cotillard – there’s a permanent picture of her on my blog. Here she beautifully plays a killer whale trainer who forms an unlikely romance with a bouncer. Jacques Audiard directs this passionate and moving love story.
  • The Master
    Possibly a career-best film from Paul Thomas Anderson and performance from Joaquin Phoenix? Ultimately, this film is about the fascinating interplay between war veteran Freddie (Phoenix) and movement leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Seven Psychopaths
    seven-psychopaths_07
    From the Director of darkly comic film In Bruges, this tale of kidnapped dogs and gangsters is hilariously scripted and brilliantly acted. With a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson.
  • End of Watch
    Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena put in the hours with cops on the beat in South Central LA to form a real bond prior to filming. The results paid off, as this thriller cop movie has real believability and chemistry between the two leads.
  • Magic Mike
    Ladies of Tampa‘, croons Matthew McConaughey, before he smashes his guitar and strips in front of a horde of screaming ladies. This film, though, belongs to Channing Tatum. Before acting he was a stripper – this film gives an intriguing glimpse of life back stage in that world.
  • The Grey
    It’s Liam Neeson, he’s cold, he’s angry, wolves are trying to kill him. In a minute he’s going to get really mad – what’s not to like? This bleak adventure sees a bunch of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash – in the middle of a wolf kill zone.
  • 21 Jump Street
    21 jump street
    Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill team up in this cop buddy comedy remake. Tatum is – surprisingly – very funny, with great comic timing. Jokes are often set up and don’t pan out how you might expect, which is a good thing. Also, Johnny Depp has an outstanding cameo.