A haunting and unusually devastating psychological drama from David Cronenberg, Dead Ringers show him at some of his most talented and most restrained. Even without the overt gore of his other movies, Cronenberg fashions Dead Ringers into something that really gets under your skin.
Beverly and Elliot Mantle are identical twins and gynecologists, who are well-respected in their field and have been known for their bright ideas from a very young age. While the brothers are identical in terms of their physical appearance, they are very different when it comes to their personalities. Elliot is the suave, well-spoken one, while Beverly is quiet and awkward. The brothers are unusually close and even live in the same apartment as well as operating the same business in Toronto, Canada. The two brothers have a certain arrangement that they have done for years. With Elliot being the cad of the two, he seduces many women and when he grows bored with them, secretly passes them on to the shy Beverly. Due to them both being identical in looks, the women remain unaware of any such change. Yet this very perverse practice is shaken with the arrival of actress Claire Niveau as a patient. She comes to their clinic due to her infertility, which is diagnosed as a trifurcated cervix, which makes it very unlikely that she could bear children. Elliot soon seduces Claire, who is an unusually passionate but troubled and at times masochistic woman and then passes her on to the quiet Beverly. But as they flip with their identities and toy with her affections, Claire begins to notice differences and calls them out. The inconsiderate Elliot is not really bothered that Claire severs ties, but for the sensitive Beverly, it truly devastates him as he has fallen in love with her and for once in his life wanted something that he didn’t share with his twin. Eventually, Beverly manages to talk to Claire and she continues her relationship with just him. Yet with this new love comes Claire introducing Beverly to prescription drugs of which he soon becomes addicted to. And after Claire temporarily leaves to work on a film, Beverly begins to crumble and become more delusional. Elliot panics about this and decides he must take drastic and horrifying action as their symbiotic closeness is torn apart from beneath them and shattered forever.
David Cronenberg creates an arresting film on a psychological level that delves into certain themes and brings horrifying parts of them out in a slightly more clinical way than usual. He wisely doesn’t judge the character’s actions and portrays them as all flawed people, rather than the good twin and the bad twin. His unnerving directorial stamp is definitely over Dead Ringers, no doubt about that. But there is a level of restraint to the film that lets haunting atmosphere and consequences spring from the examination of the unusual relationship shared by Beverly and Elliot. There are about two sequences that will make viewers feel a bit queasy, in particular the creepy dream scene of the brother conjoined by a disgusting growth. But scenes like this one are integral to the story that Dead Ringers tells and thankfully they don’t detract from the psychological nature of the movie at all. It is the relationship and the breaking apart of it between the twins that holds the most disturbing factor in the narrative. Both of them have distinct personalities, but by being physically identical, they are in essence robbed of one form of individuality. They are extremely codependent on the other and dark actions and shifts in events that happen to one of them, has a bearing on the other in strange fashion as they both fall apart. A deep sense of tragedy lingers over Dead Ringers and the deliberate pacing helps this take shape, as both Elliot and Beverly confront their dependence on the other and how they are in a sense one soul in two bodies and personalities. A melancholy score from Howard Shore underlines the theme of inevitable tragedy and melding of personas for the two twins with a haunting sadness that is difficult to escape.
Further adding to the success of the unusual film is the stellar work from the cast, in particular a marvellous Jeremy Irons. Essaying the two twins must have been a challenge to do, but Irons plays the role without a hint of nervousness. He delineates the two distinct personalities with deep effect and conviction; from Elliot’s flagrant seductive outlook that turns to horror to the shy and passive movements of Beverly, the more sensitive and sympathetic sibling. He turns in two excellent performances, that through subtle gestures, let us see the differences between the two but also how similar and bound to each other they are. It truly is masterful work from Jeremy Irons that showcases him at his very best. As the wedge that comes between the brothers, Geneviève Bujold is also excellent, conveying intelligence but an inability to realize what she has set in motion by entering the Mantle’s lives and introducing Beverly to drugs.
Disquieting, riveting and bolstered by the bravura work of Jeremy Irons and Geneviève Bujold, Dead Ringers will leave you floored and chilled with its examination of identity, dependency and sibling relationships.
I decided to continue with these kinds of posts, though it has been a while since I last did one. In these posts, I’m highlighting television that I’ve highly enjoyed and the reasons why. It is the turn of the acclaimed Mad Men this time; a sophisticated and darkly funny look at the high life of advertisers in the 60’s and the personal dilemmas in a changing world. I began Mad Men when it started airing, but due to busy things at the time, I put it off. Now I decided to get back into the show and boy am I glad I did. I’m currently at the end of Season 2 and hooked once more, I can’t wait to see what else transpires.
Here are the three main things that stand out about Mad Men to me
Number One- The authenticity:
Mad Men, especially in terms of visual style and set design is a sight to behold. Everything is so meticulous and captures the 60’s in glamorous but also ironic verve. Authenticity also extends to the themes and social issues the show deals with, such as sexism, racism and infidelity, amid the backdrop of an eventful decade. It’s like every cog in a well made clock has been fashioned perfectly when watching as everything runs so well and it is admirable the way the show doesn’t have to explain everything to people, it gets you to take note of what was going on even if you are unfamiliar with the time period.
Number Two- Character Development:
Mad Men is a real ensemble piece, with the main character being that of the suave ad man Don Draper. He seems to lead the charmed life, but various things under the surface are not at rest. While he is very much the main character, the other people who populate Mad Men’s are just as interesting and in the tradition of great ensembles, everyone is given something to do. What really makes Mad Men work is how well the characters, like Don’s beautiful but deeply unhappy wife Betty and his secretary Peggy, who goes from naive new girl to assertive woman, are drawn. Every character is flawed in some way and rather than rush through their stories, we observe the little nuances of their tales that keep us wanting to know more and more about them. It’s the sign of a great show when you can see the characters changing as it goes on.
Number Three- The acting:
Mad Men is the kind of show that could have fell apart with the wrong actors in the parts. Thankfully, every role is cast with precision and eye for talent. And what talent there is to view. The acting throughout is consistently on point and really bury themselves in the characters. It helps that the scripts are razor sharp too and can go between satire and drama. But what makes Mad Men really have sparkle, is the excellent work of the ensemble cast who play their parts to perfection.
I advise anyone out there who hasn’t seen the show to give it a whirl, you won’t regret it.
A warm comedy-drama that is loosely based on a true story, Greenfingers has enough humour and pathos in it to make it enjoyable. It may not quite reach the heights of films where the characters are not expected to be good at something but are, but Greenfingers is pleasant viewing tempered with some touching moments.
Colin Briggs is a taciturn convict whose serving out the final years of his sentence for a crime he doesn’t speak of. He is then transferred, although he isn’t too keen on this, to a minimum security prison known as Edgehill, where inmates are given a bit more freedom than the average prison and they work to help when they finish their sentences. Colin is the kind of person who can described as antisocial as he keeps himself to himself and doesn’t really form any emotional ties, instead preferring to be quiet and contained. His barriers are worn down by the old, frail lifer Fergus Wilks, who is amiable and charismatic despite failing health. At Christmas, kindly Fergus who often speaks of redemption, who is a fan of gardening, gives the quiet Colin a bag of flower seeds. Reluctantly, Colin plants them not expecting much to happen. In fact, by the time spring rolls around, the seeds grow into beautiful violas that even Colin is surprised about. The firm but warm Governor Hodge takes a look and seeing the talent, asks Colin and Fergus to make a garden; one to boost some morale and two because he wants to promote a good image of the prison and how people can change. Colin is initially unsure of this but is soon discovering his skills in the area and becoming more of a complete person who is a lot more open. Helping them in this venture and also discovering themselves are the large muscle man Raw, who is generally quite soft-spoken despite his massive physical strength, Western Indian father Jimmy, who wants to show his kid that he can be a good person and naughty lad Tony, who is always chasing a female member of staff. The resulting garden is a marvel and it eventually catches the eye of celebrated garden diva Georgina Woodhouse, who brings them on board to help her in her flower circle. She then has the idea to sponsor the group to compete in the Hampton Court Flower Show, after developing a kind relationship with them, despite her reservations at first regarding them. Although Governor Hodge is thrilled by this as he has a fondness for the boys and the boys now finding more purpose in their lives, many others see it as impossible for them to compete due to their less than savory reputations and past misdeeds. It is now down to Colin and his men to prove them all wrong. Can these men, who nothing much is though of actually compete with the posh totty?
Joel Hershman amiably directs this film with a brisk pace that also pauses for moments of drama to weave in. Thankfully, the humour of this unlikely group of guys becoming great gardeners is warm and witty. There are occasions when the treacle is laid on a bit too thick for my liking, but thankfully Greenfingers regains composure and makes a lot of moments surprising touching as well as outrageously funny, due to some salty language and fish-out-of-water mishaps that the group encounter. Despite it being a comedy, with drama in the mix, Greenfingers at its core is a film about second chances and redemption. This is embodied by the role of Governor Hodge, who believes in giving people the benefit of the doubt and helping them, rather than judging them for what they may have done in the past. And as you watch the team go about their work after seeing the passion in it, you can’t help but raise a smile and feel a sense of inspiration running through it. And while the symbolism of flowers blooming and tending to them is an obvious metaphor for rebirth, the film avoids being pat about it and instead brings a sort of crowd-pleasing love to it. While a lot of the story works, the subplot of Colin falling for Georgina’s daughter feels a bit rushed, but with that being the only real part of the film that doesn’t flow, Greenfingers emerges as a winner. A bouncy soundtrack and underlying score of touching emotion provide both a gleeful exuberance and underpinned current of depth to Greenfingers.
Above all, it is the cast of Greenfingers that make it brim with wit and heartwarming charm. As the leading man of the bunch, Clive Owen displays the quiet and taciturn personality of Colin, who at the beginning has basically given up on life. Owen marvellously conveys Colin’s second chance and how he discovers how to open up once more, through a smile here and a laugh there. Helen Mirren is having a ball here, embodying the vivacious Georgina with colour and vitality, plus a refreshingly biting and haughty wit. Mirren is an actress who never lets me down and here is no different. The character of Fergus, who is the first to notice Colin’s horticultural skills, is played with eccentric charm and just visible sadness by David Kelly. It is through him that many of the touching moments from Greenfingers emerge and his acting alongside Clive Owen is superb. Warren Clark exudes a kind-hearted but necessary authority to the role of the warden, who is thrilled by the progress the men are making and is a real help to them all. As the rest of the unlikely gardeners, Adam Fogerty, Danny Dyer and Paterson Joseph all make impacts as the muscled but soft Raw, cheeky chappy Tony and determined Jimmy respectively. The only person in the cast who doesn’t make that much of an impression is Natasha Little. Actually none of this is down to her, as she is sweet enough, but her character is just written to thin to make a mark.
So while it is a bit predictable at times and occasionally lays on the sentimentality, Greenfingers can be forgiven for these things due to the game cast, humour and sense of inspiration it shows.
A sterling and very unsettling adaptation of the Stephen King novel, Misery, as directed by the versatile Rob Reiner, gains great suspense and uneasiness from confident direction, a sinister score and an Oscar-winning performance from Kathy Bates.
Paul Sheldon is a successful author, most famous for his romance novels containing the character of Misery Chastain. Yet after writing so many books about the character, Paul has grown restless and wants to try other things in the more serious genres. He has just finished writing the manuscript for a new novel of a different vein while in the retreat of a Colorado lodge and plans to journey back to his New York home. As he drives though a fierce blizzard halts these plans and he crashes his car violently off the road knocking him unconscious. Trapped in his car as the blizzard rages on, Paul is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse who takes him to her house and tends to his injuries. When he wakes up, the seemingly friendly Annie makes him as comfortable as possible, while telling him that she is his number one fan. Annie is a homely and lonely woman who is slightly odd but spears to be relatively harmless in Paul’s eyes and he’s extremely grateful to her for saving his life. Annie promises that once the phone lines are back up,and working and the road is safe, she’ll take him to a hospital. Yet things turn very creepy very fast once Annie reads Paul’s latest Misery novel and finds out her favourite character has been killed off. Flying off the handle she shows her true frightening colours. She then reveals that she never called the hospital, so no one knows where Paul is and many presume him to be dead. Still bedridden and now completely terrified, he is for forced to comply with her demands of writing a new novel bringing the character of Misery back to life. Frightened for his life, he begins writing, all the while planning some form of escape from the disturbed Annie, who never wants to let Paul go and is so intensely obsessed by him and his work, that she will resort to the most brutal tactics to make sure he completes the novel she is forcing him to write. Meanwhile, the local Sherrif Buster, an old, seasoned pro begins searching for the missing Paul, convinced that he isn’t dead as everyone else seems to believe. Before, writing was just a way of making a living for Paul, but now in the desperate situation of prisoner under the obsessed and deranged eye of Annie, he is writing to save his very life.
The ever versatile Rob Reiner shoes flair for the psychological thriller genre buy focusing on events with the confined setting of Annie’s house, that becomes claustrophobic once her mania comes out. Reiner taps into the fear of entrapment and fanatical devotion that both palpably leap from the screen and increase the terror. Tension and chills are provided through zooming close-ups, particularly of a fearful Paul and a crazed Annie. These are used most effectively in the iconic scene of Annie hobbling Paul after finding out he has tried to escape, just thinking about that scene gives me chills. Just as entertaining as watching the terrified Paul attempting to escape is the battle of wills between him and Annie. He tries to reason with her, but is ultimately forced to give in to her demands for fear of his life. Annie basically becomes the role of a disapproving and demanding(plus very menacing) editor of Paul’s work, adding to a gleefully dark undercurrent of Misery. There are some impressive jolts of black humour and irony thrown into the mix that give Misery yet more of a twisted scope to work within and coil around with mounting intensity. While the film is filled with shots of snowy hills and landscapes almost from the off, the suspense-building score from Marc Shaiman lets the audience now that we are not in for a cosy ride with strings and brass mixing to chilling effect as Paul becomes at the mercy of the unhinged and devoted Annie.
James Caan, who from the roles I’ve seen him in often plays the hell raiser of the menacing type, flips it here successfully portraying the imprisoned Paul. He convincingly conveys the feelings of entrapment and terror that soon arise when Annie’s niceness vanishes. The main draw of the film is the super impressive and award-winning performance from Kathy Bates as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes. Essaying the mood swings of the character, from calm and homely nurse to enraged torturer who will stop at nothing to keep Paul with her, Bates registers on every level so well it is frightening to behold. There is simply no other actress who could have played the part of Annie with the creepy intensity of Kathy Bates and the Oscar she won for the role was well-merited indeed. Richard Farnsworth breathes intelligence and humour into the part of the searching sheriff who won’t give up and his performance is complimented by that of Frances Sternhagen as his sarcastic but helpful wife. Lauren Bacall appears in a small but memorable role as the concerned publisher of Paul’s work.
A chilling psychological thriller of shocks and squirms, Misery will have you most uncomfortable by the end due to the creepy factor that is built throughout it and the excellent work of the cast, in particular an unforgettable Kathy Bates as the devoted but extremely dangerous number one fan.
A stylish but most unusual crime thriller, Leon burns into the memory with explosive set pieces and an attention to the characters that is sometimes rare in the genre. Featuring some off the wall visual tricks and violence a plenty, it’s a thriller that does things a little differently but with panache.
Leon is a solitary hit man living in Little Italy who is emotionally shut off and very efficient at his job of killing others. When he isn’t dispatching of people for mafioso and good friend Tony, he is quite different from the average hit man. This is evidenced in his love of old movies, consumption of milk and dedicated to tending to his plant. In essence, Leon is only in the job to make ends meet. His distance from everyone else is what makes him so good at the job as he never really forms emotional attachments to anyone. That is until he encounters Mathilda; a twelve-year-old girl who comes from a dysfunctional and abusive family and lives down the hall from him. Mathilda’s father, who regularly gives her a black eye, has been stashing cocaine in his apartment for corrupt DEA agents, headed by the crazed and depraved Norman Stansfield. When Stansfield finds out that her father has been cutting the cocaine to keep for himself, Stansfield sends his men around and they kill Mathilda’s father, mother, step-sister and four-year-old brother. Mathilda managed to avoid the carnage as she was out shopping. Seeing what has happened, the scared Mathilda knocks on Leon’s door begging for a safe haven. He has doubts at first, but something within him lets the terrified young girl in. Mathilda is a troubled girl who has had to grow up fast in an unjust world of violence, yet underneath she is still a frightened and innocent little girl. Leon is skeptical about sheltering Mathilda as he is shut off emotionally and doesn’t quite know how to express his feelings. When Mathilda discovers Leon’s job, she asks him to train her in the art of killing, secretly hoping to gain retribution for the killing of her younger brother, who was the only person in her family that she felt close to. Although he is extremely reluctant about this because he knows the dangers, at her behest he trains her and she becomes a quick learner of the art. Slowly, Leon and Mathilda form an unlikely bond with each other as he grows into the role of her protector and opens up emotionally while she emerges as his protégée. Yet Stansfield has realized that he didn’t kill the whole family and sets out to find Mathilda, who herself is learning how to kill and plans to get revenge on him for the slaying of her brother. Leon finds that his job is becoming in danger like never before as Stansfield closes in and Mathilda wants vengeance.
Luc Besson, through striking visual style and interesting writing, creates a thriller that takes many different steps that one would thing. He craftily mixes personal drama and sharp bits of humour into Leon, with the main focus of the film being the relationship between the principal characters and not just the action and violence. This really struck me as something very unique in this kind of film as some thrillers and crimes movies can overlook their characters for flashy tricks. And while Leon does have rapid editing and a bright cinematography to highlight the dingy setting of the flick, complete with bloody violence to cap that off, it never loses us for a second and the scenes between Leon and Mathilda take on a more personal level. Some may find the relationship between Leon and Mathilda as uncomfortable due to overtones of Mathilda’s attraction towards Leon, but I saw it as she does love him, but as she is only a child it is an a way that is out of care and respect as she has never had a father figure like him before. An echoing score of pulsing beats gives electric immediacy to Leon, as well as taking the time to slow down and bring a poignant sense of emotion as Leon opens up as a human being in the presence of young Mathilda.
In the title role of the lonely hit man, Jean Reno is very well cast. His melancholy face is used to great effect as we watch how closed off he has been to anyone and how when he does let someone in, things start to get personal and very dangerous. Reno is the only actor I can think of playing the part, no other actor could have done the part of the hit man with a buried heart so well. Yet the biggest impression made in Leon is Natalie Portman in what was her debut role. Considering she was only twelve-years-old at the time of filming and it was her first movie, Natalie Portman showed how even at her young age she could be remarkably assured as she plays Mathilda with confidence and seeming ease. Some of the things the script calls for are daring for such a young actress to play as the character has had to toughen herself against an abusive home and the horrors of the world, but with an emotional core and sassy demeanor tempered with a troubled nature, Natalie Portman delivers a truly knockout performance. This is the kind of performance that stands as one of the best debuts in celluloid history for its striking maturity and memorability. As the gloriously corrupt and completely whacked out Stansfield, Gary Oldman is frightening and over the top in the extreme, but it fits the unpredictable character so well and makes him a dark villain. Danny Aiello succeeds in making his character of mafioso Tony who has loyalty to Leon, very good and a a good supporting character.
An audacious movie combining style, substance and occasional wit, Leon sets itself apart from many crime thrillers with its detail to characters and fresh approaches to things that make it quite unexpected.
Lady in a Cage
Walter E. Grauman
Stark and highly suspenseful, Lady in a Cage is a surprisingly lurid and at times brutal thriller from the 60’s. Parts of it reek of being dated and melodramatic, but I was still surprised by how effective and shocking this movie was at keeping me on edge like all good thrillers.
Mrs. Hilyard, a wealthy widow is recuperating after breaking her hip. To get around her house better, she has had an elevator installed to help her get between the two main floors. With her son away, who she often mollycoddles a lot, Mrs. Hilyard attempts to find something to take her mind off being alone. But when she uses the elevator, which at times resembles a cage, a power failure causes it to stop midway and she is left trapped. She tries to call for help but no one seems to come. That is until the homeless alcoholic stumbles into her home and instead of helping her because of his addiction, steals some of her belongings. He proceeds to visit his only real friend, the weary prostitute Sade. Both are desperate for money so they return to the house to see what else they can hawk for cash. The duo gains the attention of a violent troika of teenage hoodlums; savagely brutal leader Randall, lecherous Essie and violence loving Elaine. The teenagers cotton on to the idea of money and riches and follow George and Sade to the house. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hilyard is slowly beginning to crumble in fear and things get a whole lot worse when Randall and his posse arrive and indulge in games of violence and torment with her, and Sade. Can this civilised and well-bred woman manage to survive the ensuing brutality around her and free herself from the eponymous cage?
Walter E. Grauman coats Lady in a Cage in a bleak and unforgiving light, that makes the events that transpire even more horrifying. Themes of indifference and cruelty are explored with a lot of dramatic impact generated. The fact that when Mrs rings for help no one seems to notice taps into society’s culture of being to busy to notice important things and it is presented against the backdrop of savagery that soon invades her house. The stark and at times harsh black and white cinematography is used to terrifying effect as it brings more darkness to the film, despite the events all taking place over a sunny day. Now it must be stated that Lady in a Cage despite holding up well in various areas, does have parts that have dated badly. The main instance is the inner monologue of Mrs Hilyard, which seems like a good idea but eventually becomes more than a little repetitive. In other instances some of the film gets a bit histrionic, but thankfully due to some of the content that is still shocking today it succeeds above these two flawed elements. A shifting score of tempo and volume ushers in uneasy feelings for the characters and audience.
Olivia de Havilland is excellently cast as the trapped woman of the title. Through her performance, we as the audience share her suffering and turmoil as her civilised world is torn apart and she must fight to survive the carnage. Sympathetic, desperate( as evidenced by the fact that Mrs Hilyard makes her own conversation to alleviate her panic) and traumatised, yet still holding on, de Havilland is oh so marvellous in the part and she displays such tangible emotions that we can’t help but want her to live through the terrifying plight she endures. In his first really substantial film role, James Caan is disgustingly evil as the leader of the gang who delight in terror. He really strikes fear into the heart of this film and many of the shocking events unfold as a result of his character’s cruelty. Jeff Corey and Ann Sothern manage to make their characters, who are in essence thieves sympathetic, because they may break into the house but their violence and means are nothing as vicious as the trio of demented teenagers. And speaking of the horrid teenage hoodlums, Jennifer Billingsley and Rafael Campos as the loyal followers in the gang are equally as creepy and filled with disturbed menace.
A thriller film that isn’t afraid to be shocking and disquieting, Lady in a Cage showcases talented acting and dark subject matter in a highly compelling and difficult way. Archaic as some of it is, one can’t deny the power of the film and what it taps into. Who knew a movie from such a long time ago could still retain a brutal impact?