Trailer: The Limehouse Golem


“Even madness has its own logic.” I love a good period-procedural, and this London set 19th century serial killer mystery is verdantly populated with character, costume and blood.

Bill Nighy plays the investigator, Eddie Marsan one of the suspects, and Daniel Hays the beat-walking cop (for invisible character actor context, many saw him murdered by Diego Luna in the early minutes of Rogue One, but I like his contributions to the Red Riding Trilogy, Mr. Nobody and several recent Mike Leigh pictures among other things). Olivia Cooke is the central witness and narrator of the picture, which aims to combine a lot of elements into a satisfying old-school kind of whole.

Spanish director Juan Carlos Medina could not quite pull juggling so many balls in his debut feature, Painless, a horror-investation about children in a mental asylum and the consequences of this institution across the years. By all accounts at last Septembers edition TIFF, The Limehouse Golem does not suffer from such muddled narrative confusion.

Set on the unforgiving, squalid streets of Victorian London in 1880, our tale begins in the baroque, grandiose music hall where the capital’s most renowned performer Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) takes to the stage. The whimsical thespian performs a monologue, informing his dedicated audience of the ghastly fate of a young woman who had once adorned this very stage, his dear friend Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke); for the beguiling songstress is facing up to her forthcoming death by hanging, having been accused of murdering her husband John Cree (Sam Reid). Lizzie’s death seems inevitable, until Detective Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is assigned to the case of the Limehouse Golem – a nefarious, calculating serial killer, murdering innocent, unconnected victims, leaving behind barely identifiable corpses – and his distinctive signature in blood. All is not what it seems and everyone is a suspect and everyone has a secret.

The Limehouse Golem opens this September.

Review: Byzantium

Two sisters try to lay low in Dublin while being pursued by long-coated inspectors. Having committed a rather kinetic and conspicuous murder in the opening sequence of the film, the Webb sisters are actually a pair of highland blood suckers, a 200 year old mother and daughter pair of vampires. Possibly the last of their kind, moving from town to town and still working out some serious parent-child issues (not the least of which is their approach to handling their prey) Gemma Arterton literally vamps it up, putting on a prostitute pose to seduce lowlives and cops, while her daughter, plays more school girl, a more subtle and melancholic performance by Saoirse Ronan. The opposite disposition of these ladies (and the secrets they keep) are the engine for a plot that takes its sweet time to get going, but eventually, perhaps too late, pulls the narrative strings together.

Neil Jordan is no stranger to either fairy tales or gothic drama having started his career with Red Ridinghood horror picture, In The Company of Wolves, peaked commercially with the romantic vampire studio picture, Interview With The Vampire, and recently brushed up with Irish folklore in Ondine. Even the directors indie dramas, The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy flirt with gothic and melodramatic stylings. If you want to do a more stately and classical take on the modern vampire (read: no sparkling emo treacle) it would appear that Jordan is your man. Which makes it a bit baffling how Byzantium never really soars, even as it pulls all of its narrative strings together in a somewhat satisfying conclusion. The film tries to establish the contrast between its bodice-ripper (Gemma Arterton’s cleavage upstages her somewhat histrionic performance) segments and stylized urban melancholy. Neither Anne Rice nor Mike Leigh, the film offers some compelling images in an attempt to marry the two, but it is an uncomfortable union.

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Review: Hobo With A Shotgun

[Reposted to line up with Canadian Theatrical Release of the film (American VOD is April 1st, Theatrical May 6th) – also, check out my Twitch coverage of the film with Interviews with star Rutger Hauer, as well as director Jason Eisener and Producer Rob Cotterill.]

Welcome to Scumtown. The graffiti runs riotous along the buildings and storefronts, and the crime even moreso. Living up to its title, it features Rutger Hauer riding the rails into town as the eponymous Hobo looking for stray cigarettes and some spare change to buy a lawnmower to make his way as a landscaping entrepreneur. The irony being that there is no grass to be seen in town. After witnessing a wanton act of violence, more a brutally bloody carnival side-show, by the local crimeboss his two identically dressed sons, he instead invests nickels and dimes on a pump-action Remington. The hobo goes to war against drug-dealers, pedophiles, dirty cops and a full assortment of colourful psychotics in the name of making Abby, a young hooker with the heart of gold, undergo a career change from prostitute to school teacher. Dartmouth, Nova Scotia was never particularly high on any tourists list of destinations, Jason Eisener’s nightmare vision of the city as an endless concrete gutter teeming with violent freaks and shuffling terrorized victims is unlikely to drum up future visitors. The brightest flowers the film can ever summon up (as a symbol of hope?) are a few rotting dandilions. Yellow weeds are as bright as it gets in this town.

Hobo with a Shotgun feels like a lost and ultraviolent product of the Canadian Tax Shelter films , the cycle of delightfully demented horror films from the 1970s and 1980s that resulted from an excess of government cash put in to stimulate a flailing Canadian movie industry. In fact, the film is indeed set somewhere in the early 1980s judging by the look of the currency being occasionally tossed around as well as a boxy gull wing car and a few choice boom boxes. While the film may have started its life as faux trailer entry in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, its graduation to a full-length feature easily eclipses Rodriguez’s own trailer-turned-movie, Machete. It draws its DNA not from the naughty drive-in and inner-city trash-palace fair of the 60s and 70s, but the ultraviolence of George Miller’s Mad Max films as well as the splatstick of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead cycle, although if your ears are peeled at the beginning of the film you might just hear echoes of the Cannibal Holocaust theme.

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New “Red Riding” Trailer [Disappointed]

As I mentioned in the comments section when the first trailer for this film was released a couple of months ago, the visuals are very handsome. I still basically agree with those sentiments, but this trailer is so full of terrible it kind of overshadows any of those interesting ideas. Even the potential for an interesting twist isn’t really enough for me to shrug off the fact that basically this looks like Twilight all over again with the way the brooding Pattinson look-a-likes wander the village (“If you love her… you’ll let her go” **eyes roll**). For some that sounds like an amazing concept. For me, it sounds like a way to completely destroy what would otherwise be an interesting and update take on the classic fairy tale. And what is with that music(?)… ugh!

With Amanda Seyfried in the lead, the film also stars Gary Oldman, Lukas Haas, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, and Julie Christie. You can see them all on March 11th.


Review: Public Enemies


“I‘m John Dillinger.” Johnny Depp matter-of-factly presents himself to would-be girlfriend Billie Frechette early on in Michael Mann’s new up close biography on the infamous American gangster. Later, he elaborates, “I rob banks. I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars. And you.” And there is Public Enemies in a nutshell from a narrative stand point. In fact with its alien cinematography, township-sized supporting cast and restless continuity, this may be one of the great modern audience-unfriendly movies to come along in some time. But, therein lies its strength. Movie audiences are all too familiar with the bio-pic, the historical epic, or the period-piece. Along comes Michael Mann, a pros pro, to goose audiences with a new rebellious aesthetic, and a new way of conveying a story that may take some time getting used to. But likely in 15 (or 5) years from now, it will be looked upon as a pioneering motion picture in both tone and texture.

Lets start at the beginning. There is no beginning. Unlike the glut of superhero pictures and musical biographies out there, there is no ‘young kid has traumatic experience that shapes his life into what he is’ There is no probing into what or who or how John Dillinger became a world-class bank-robber and robin-hood figure, knocking over banks in one minute forty five seconds. Flat. No, Dillinger just is. He clearly is not much deeper than his own live-in-the-moment impulses. This very fact does not make the move lack humanity or act as a shallow look on a mythic American celebrity, but rather makes this story so contemporary. We want things and we want it now. We are enticed with expensive yet disposable toys and trinkets and privilege, even if the economy (albeit nowhere near as bad as the 1930s of Dillinger’s day) is bad. We have credit; Dillinger had a Tommy Guns and network of accomplices (including Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd ) and a skill-set for planning that went way above the capacity of the law in his day. Chicago in the summer. Florida and Cuba in the winter. Expensive sunglasses and the ability to work where-ever he wanted to. Those who say Public Enemies has no point of modern resonance, or connection to humanity in all the fractured narrative, hand-held cinematography and sea of gangsters and G-men, may want to look again. Much like the crazy impulsive, yet disciplined life he lived, the film is wild, uncertain and rigorous in form. The characters are made strangely mythic in Mann’s attempt to de-mythologize them. John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis (a happily restrained Christian Bale) are not showy guys, they do what they do and let their actions and decisions speak to a wider audience. You don’t have to dig too far into these portrayals of professionals doing what they do professionally to understand that this is Michael Mann’s sandbox and he makes a mighty fine castle in the center here.

To (clumsily) stretch out a cumbersome metaphor, the princess in the castle, Dillinger’s object of affection Billie Frechette is a kept woman, pampered and imprisoned by her lover’s lifestyle. Marion Cotillard darn well steals every scene she is in. The rest of the picture may be pushing into uncharted visual and narrative territory but the love story at the center of Public Enemies is as old-school Hollywood in tone as I have seen in some time. There is restless energy, and scrappy vulnerability all conveyed in Cotillard’s glances and body language. She may not be the strongest of characters in the script (everyone is a pale second to Dillinger in that regard), but much like Marisa Tomei in her last few films, she pulls out a knock-out performance by pure act of will. And makes it seem like an effortless thing to do. There seems to be a wise acknowledgment by the director in this by giving her performance the focus of the final scene in the film. Likewise, a scene involving interrogation by the G-men thugs goes further to underline Cotillard’s unvarnished star power. The scene is violent, ugly and truly encaptivating. (As a bonus, it has the side effect of giving added dimension to Agent Melvin Purvis who is seen as rather stuffy, yet comes out as the consummate professional.)

As a history lesson, I do not think the film can be taken in on a single sitting (giving the picture an unusual connection to another recently great biopic, Steven Soderberg’s more analytical Che or Andrew Dominik’s lush The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). It is likely that a boatload of minutae in the book the screenplay was based on (Bryan Burrough’s “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34”) is merely skimmed over in the film. But the fairly lengthy runtime of 2 hours 23 minutes, I believe, was indeed necessary for tone. The lifestyle and pressures that wash effortlessly off of Dillinger’s conscience as well as the multitude of people he came in contact over his capers require such length. The film deserves its long talking hide-outs to accompany the rat-a-tat-tat bank robberies and muzzle-flash gunfight getaways. The film perfectly conveys the feeling and rush (and the joys taken from this), but it also also about the somewhat shallow emptiness that inevitably tags along. Many bodies are left in the wake of Dillinger. And many a ‘square’ government career is made though politicking on his infamy. I would have liked to see more of J. Edgar Hoover here. Was that Billy Crud-up? You could have fooled me as he is about as far from “A Golden God” or “Blue Superbeing” as possible. Hoover is a man who knows his own media power and that a ‘beaucratic dictatorship’ was the wave of the future. So, in light of J. Edgar’s posturing in political circles, it falls to Melvin Purvis and his imported Arizona professionals to do the real work. Stephen Lang plays Charles Winstead who gets a few knock-out lines on the simplest of common sense. Would Dillinger see a Shirley Temple film or the Clark Gable tough guy flick? Similar to an anonymous sharp shooters’ dramatic line of dialogue in Miami Vice about what is going to happen she shoots her target (the other half of the conversation) in the head, or Mark Ruffalo’s competent if behind-the-curve cop in Collateral, or the Alabama lawyer in The Insider (see here), Michael Mann is not afraid of giving a big “Star”-line or scene to a supporting character. Less bombast for the hero, more veracity for the film. That is the sort of smart filmmaking that is woven throughout Public Enemies as much as it is throughout Mann’s other films. The directors penchant for complex action set-pieces is also on display in fine form. Several jail-breaks, bank robberies and the like are executed with flair and a real sense of geography. The signature set-piece being a nocturnal assault by the law on the forest cabin housing John Dillinger, Baby-face Nelson and others. Done in practically zero-light, outdoors on location with only the muzzle-flashes to illuminate things, it is a doozy that is both heightened with HD grain and shaky camerawork and also startlingly immediate.

There is an undercurrent of sexy-cool in the picture even as it resists the notion of iconography. Dillinger is portrayed as a man with no long term plans, living life high on the hog, devil-be-damned. In other words a film made in and for contemporary times. In this age of the meaningless and glossy blockbuster, the uncomfortable cinematography and its ‘audience unfriendly’ structure is a major strength in Public Enemies. It provides a way of refracting crime/celebrity/road-trip/romance from Bonnie & Clyde to Badlands to Natural Born Killers) in an exciting and unique way.

Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria Trailer

The Young Victoria Movie StillJust last week, after a three hour “The Tudors” marathon, I started to wonder what the heck was going on with The Young Victoria. I’ve been excited about the project since the announcement that Jean-Marc Vallée’s follow-up film would be a period piece starring Emily Blunt, Paul Bettany and Rupert Friend, along with a supporting cast which includes Miranda Richardson and Jim Broadbent. The film is a dramatization of the first few years of Queen Victoria’s rule, she who holds the title of longest reigning monarch in UK history.

Having seen a few stills from the film, I had no doubt that this was going to look amazing and with this cast, I was hoping for a good drama too. The trailer, which appeared sometime over the weekend, solidifies my initial thoughts though it is fairly run-of-the-mill selling the romance above all else. It suggests that the film will spend the majority of it’s time on the relationship between Victoria and Prince Albert and less on the politics of the reign. I’m all for a good romance; I only hope it’s better than The Other Boleyn Girl.

Currently The Young Victoria doesn’t have a North American release date but it opens in the UK on March 6th.

Trailer is tucked under the seat!

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