Last Days of American Crime (2020) A Review

Based on the Graphic Novel of the same name, this is a dark and gritty crime story with an interesting twist.  But is it enough to make it stand out form the pack?

Certificate: 18

Director: Olivier Megaton

Screenwriter: Karl Gajdusek (screenplay by), Karl Gajdusek (story by)

Starring: Michael Pitt, Sharlto Copley, Edgar Ramírez

Genre: Action, Crime

Runtime: 148 Minutes

Rating: 2 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

In the not-too-distant future, as a final response to growing domestic terrorism and a shocking crime rate, the U.S. government plans to broadcast a signal making it impossible for anyone to knowingly commit unlawful acts.  In the last days before they activate the signal, a group of criminals come up with a wild plan to commit the last crime in American History.

I don’t know why ‘gritty’ crime dramas feel the need to solidify their grittiness by the use of copious violence and a ridiculous amount of bad language. Do people really talk like that?  Not to mention that the script is just one eye-rolling cliché after another, especially from poor Anna Brewster.  She really does have some doozies to get through.  Not to mention that while her character could have been really interesting and complex, she is still just another smart but underappreciated gangster doll who relies far too heavily on her body to get what she wants.  And this is just one of the exhausted clichés this film relies on.

Brick, our main character, while pulling off the brooding anti-hero pretty well, has absolutely no story at all.  We never get to know anything about him, what his background it, what his motivations are, outside of the murder of his brother of course.  It is him that is meant to be the focus of the story, but we learn so little about his that is hard to care one way or another about the things that he does.

The premise thought was really, really good.  The idea of the last mad score before all crime is put to a stop, performed by a group of desperate criminals.  The world is intriguing,  the sci fi element made it a little different from other organised crime type stories.  But the main problem with it was it’s runtime.  It runs long.  Way, way too long.  There are too many overly drawn out action sequences, too much monologing, and the end takes a really long time to actually end.  It could have been forty five minutes shorter and I don’t think the plot would have lost anything.

There is a crazy amount of very questionable accents going on in this film too, and not all of them are pulled off successfully.  Anna Brewster does a convincing American accent, but most of the others are questionable at best. 

I lost interest in this one pretty fast, a tighter plot and a vastly better script could have improved his no end, but in my opinion, skip it.  If you do want to see it for yourself, ‘The Last Days of American Crime’ is available to stream now on Netflix.

Snowpiercer ep 1-3: An Average Beginning

I was a massive fan of the movie, so I was equal parts excited and apprehensive when I heard they were making a TV show based on the same idea. So far…I would say it’s watchable, but nothing special.

Certificate: 15

Created By: Graeme Manson, Josh Friedman

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Mickey Sumner

Genre: Drama, Sci Fi

Runtime: 1 Season, 10 Eps, 1 hr Each

Rating: 3 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

My main issue with this series so far I think is that they have turned it into a murder mystery story. In a time where crime dramas are a dime a dozen, especially on Netflix, this is going to have to do something more than have an interesting setting to make it stand out from the very over crowded arena. And up till now, while it has an interesting story and some interesting characters, and I still love the world of the perpetually moving train, the actual murder mystery story they are dishing out is still pretty average.

Sure there is the additional elements of cannibalism and the despicable class structure, a murder mystery story always follows the sae set of rules and events always happen in a certain order. So they are going to have to pull something incredible out the bag, make the most of the interesting setting they have for their story, to avoid this just disappearing into the crowd.

Jennifer Connelly does a great job as Melanie, being both perfectly aloof and endlessly classy. And Daveed Diggs as Andre is exactly her opposite and I guess that’s the point. Just like Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans in the original film, there couldn’t be two main characters whose personalities were more different. And I look forward to seeing them interact more as the show progresses, see them make each other question what they think they know about life on board the train.

There are plenty of little nods back to the original film. I will admit to having a sense of nausea when seeing the protein blocks that the Tailies have to eat, will they follow suit and have Andre discover what it is they have been eating for years? The freezing of the arms as punishment another nod back to the film. I can’t wait to see how much more of the original material they bring forward, and on the same vein, I am loving watching all the new facets they are bringing to the world that we only got a glimpse of in the original film.

Episode one did a great job of setting everything up, and getting people acquainted with the world, especially if you haven’t seen this film, and didn’t already have knowledge of the back story. For me this is still the strongest of the three episodes, as it was most content rich. Episode 2 and 3 mostly focus on Andre trying to solve the murder, while throwing in the vast amounts of issues that are starting to go wrong on the train. These 2 episodes feel a lot more like a standard crime drama, so do not at all stand out in the same way as the first. I hope to see a little more of train life in the upcoming episodes, as this is more interesting to me then the mystery element.

Three episodes seems a little early to make a definitive decision on whether or not a series will be good, we aren’t even halfway through the season yet. But right now, I can only say that it is average and I am hoping to see it improve.

Classics: Brief Encounter (1945) A Review

Another vintage classic that I have managed to avoid.  We all know the story of this one, and I am just hoping that it lives up to all the good things I have heard about it.

Certificate: U

Director: David Lean

Screenwriter: David Lean

Starring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway

Genre: Drama, Romance

Runtime: 86 Minutes

Rating: 3 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

At a café on a railway station, housewife Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) meets Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). Although they are both already married, they gradually fall in love with each other. They continue to meet every Thursday in the small café, although they know that their love is impossible. – From IMDB

Oh for the time when everyone in British cinema sounded like they were talking with a golf ball in their throats.  And all the minor characters sounded like they talked with a cockney accent, regardless of where the film is actually set.  I hope people don’t really think that is what all British people sound like, I can assure you I don’t sound like that.  And it is made worse by the fact that a lot of the film is narrated by Celia Johnson, so we are treated to that upper British class accent for a lot of the time.  I didn’t really enjoy that the film is narrated as it plays out.  It could have done just as well without it.

I didn’t really expect the story to play out the way it did.  I always assumed that ‘Brief Encounter’  really did focus on ONE individual meeting between two people.  For the length of time this, and I laughably use the word ‘affair’, goes on, you can’t really call it brief.  But I suppose the forties were a very different world then what we have now.  So what they are doing in the film would probably have been considered fairly scandalous at the time, but to us now, it is entirely innocent and not something worth making an entire film about.

I enjoy the banter going on in the Train Station tea room more than any of the encounters between our supposed ‘lovers’.  I can’t see or feel the chemistry that is meant to be so strong between them and they probably spend more time apart then they do on screen together.

I often find old classic films highly enjoyable, they are classics for a reason of course, but this one for me was a bit of a flop.  Not much really happens and I wasn’t invested in the story at all.  I suppose you can’t win them all can you.

Archive: The Princess Diaries (2001)

Nothing makes you feel old then the back of a DVD case calling Anne Hathaway a ‘newcomer’.  By now she is a household name.  But I am taking a girly trip down memory lane and having a grand old time!

Certificate: U

Director: Garry Marshall

Screenwriter: Meg Cabot (novel), Gina Wendkos (screenplay)  

Starring: Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, Hector Elizondo

Genre: Comedy, Family

Runtime: 101 Minutes

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is the average teenager – sweet, a little geeky, and pretty much invisible to everyone with the exception of her mother, best friend Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) and Lilly’s older brother Michael (Robert Schwartzman). Making it through high school without throwing up is a challenge in itself for Mia, so it doesn’t come as welcome news when her estranged grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Dame Julie Andrews), shows up out of the blue and calmly informs her that she is in fact the heir to the throne of a European country called Genovia. Suddenly Mia’s life is thrown into complete overload.

Oh my heart is feeling so much better after this.  It is just the perfect film to watch when you are feeling a bit down or just need a little cheering up.  It is nothing but pure, unadulterated teenage fluff and I loved every single second of it. 

This was one of, if not the first of Anne Hathaway’s big breaks and to so many in the world she will always by synonymous with Princess Mia. She gives a great gawky performance at the beginning of the film, and we watch aghast as she slowly transforms into the much more refined princess.  I for one enjoy watching her be the gawky teenager at the beginning, but lets face it, every girl secretly wishes that someone would come along and tell her she is a princess, so I can totally relate to her decision to up sticks and move to a palace.

What can be said about the national treasure that is Julie Andrews that has not already been said a thousand times.  I wish she was my grandmother.  She never fails to give a great performance, and while acting in a silly teenage drama may seem a little beneath her normal standards, she fits the role perfectly and it is hard to think who else could embody the spirit of royaly better then the Great Julie Andrews.

Let’s be real, if you have seen one cheesy teenage drama you have seen them all.  There are all the classic tropes here that you would expect and the usual cast of high school characters.  Nothing really happens that is overly unexpected and you can foresee literally every plot twist and major plot point that is going to happen a mile away.  Does this make it repetitive and a product of a formula used a hundred times? Yes.  Will this stop you enjoying the film from start to finish? No not really.

I admit there is a very specific target audience for this sort of thing, and a very specific group of people that will find this movie silly and trite.  But when times are this dark, I will take my rays of sunshine wherever I can get them.

The Princess Diaries is available to stream now on Disney+

Archive: Live and Let Die (1973) A Review

One of my personal favourites, and the best of the Roger Moore Bond films, this film has some of the best imagery and costume design of any of the Bond films.  A strong recommend.

Certificate: PG

Director: Guy Hamilton

Screenwriter: Tom Mankiewicz

Starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour

Genre: Action, Thriller

Runtime: 121 Minutes

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

James Bond is back, and thankfully, without an aging Sean Connery to be seen.  In the first of Roger Moore’s exploits as 007, Several British agents have been murdered and James Bond is sent to New Orleans, to investigate these mysterious deaths. Mr. Big comes to his knowledge, who is self-producing heroin. Along his journeys he meets Tee Hee who has a claw for a hand, Baron Samedi the voodoo master and Solitaire a tarot card reader. Bond must travel to New Orleans, and deep into the Bayou. – IMDB

It may not be the most technically advanced of the Bond films, but it does have some of the most famous scenes and characters of the whole franchise.  From the speedboat chase through the Louisiana bayou, to the voodoo ceremonies in the Caribbean and the unforgettable character of Solitaire, all of these things have made this one of the most unforgettable films in the Bond Franchise.

Roger Moore brings a very seventies kind of suave to the character of James Bond and while he comes across just a little bit too cheesy for my tastes, meaning he will never rank as my favourite incarnation of the character, he does have some of the better storylines.  Jane Seymour gets the “privilege” of being the main romantic interest in this story, and unlike a lot of the women before her, she has a genuinely interesting character and a well rounded back story.  Her change of heart half way through the film after spending what must have been quite the night with our hero, is of course a little problematic by todays standards, but goes along with the James Bond ethos perfectly.

The beautiful voodoo and occult imagery in this film make it one of the most stunning to watch.  Along with the amazing costumes in this film mean that this film is a genuine feast for the eyes all round.

Unlike a lot of storylines that will come up in future films, and ones that have been done previously, this is one of the more believable ones, if you take out the voodoo of course.  There’s no world domination story, no space exploration or dreams of a world under the sea (the most ridiculous to me to be sure.) just a good old fashioned drug war.  Some of the later plots in Moore’s films do get a little ridiculous.

On the off chance that you are a Bond fan and haven’t gotten round to seeing the entire back catalogue yet, this is definitely one of the highlights, and with the newest Bond film being released in November, now is a great time to schedule a rewatch.

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (2020) A Review

And now for something a little different.  Taking a break from our usual fare today we are looking at a true crime Documentary that will chill you to your soul.

Certificate: 15

Director: Lisa Bryant

Genre: True Crime, Documentary

Runtime: 4 Episodes

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

Leading up to his 2019 arrest, mysterious tycoon Jeffrey Epstein was accused of abusing women and underage girls for decades, assembling a network of enablers to help carry out and cover up his crimes. Epstein came from humble beginnings yet managed to lie and manipulate his way to the top of the financial world. He eventually gained tremendous wealth and power while running an international sex trafficking ring. The serial sex abuser made a secret plea deal with the government in 2008 avoiding a potential life sentence and continued to abuse women.

My soul is a little broken after watching this.  After everything that we see in the media these days, it still shocks me to see and hear about things that genuinely shock me.  And the Story of Jeffrey Epstein, and those associated with him was enough to seriously put a chill through me on this very balmy May morning.

The story is predominantly told through the testimonies of the survivors of the abuse,  And listening to their stories of the terrible things that this man got away with for so long, it is absolutely horrific.  There is a lot of discussions about child abuse, sexual assault and paedophilia, so if you are sensitive to those subjects this is definitely not going to be an easy watch for you.  All the women should be extremely proud of how brave they were here, none of them chose to be anonymous, all are happy to show their faces and talk openly, if emotionally about their experiences.  This makes the viewing experience even more visceral, as they hold absolutely nothing back.

When you get to the final two episodes, and you see how badly the Criminal Justice System dealt with Epstein, it makes you feel genuinely angry.  You trust the people in charge of your country, whether that be the US or your home country, to protect you from people like Jeffery Epstein.  And documentaries like this uncover just how easy it is for that trust to be breached. 

This is one of those documentaries that, just when you think it can’t get any worse, it gets worse.  It isn’t approached in a informal or conversational way.  It doesn’t hide away from hard topics and it throws facts at you left and right despite how uncomfortable it may be for you to hear them.  And those are the kind of crime documentaries I like, I don’t like to see things dumbed down, if you are going to tell me a horrific story, don’t leave anything out. 

I highly recommend this documentary to anyone who is a fan of crime dramas but beware if you have some sensitivities. 

Surviving Confession (2019) a Review

A great independent film, a screener of this film was supplied to me in exchange for an honest review. A great character study with a hard story buried under a light humour.

Certificate: 16+

Director: Matthew Tibbenham

Screenwriter: Nathan Shane Miller

Starring: Jessica Lynn Parsons, Sarah Schreiber, Clayton Nemrow

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Runtime: 90 Minutes

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

A young priest is setting up to spend his evening taking the confessions of his parishioners.  In fourth wall breaking moments, he addresses the audience directly, telling us about his crisis of faith, about how he is tired of the same people coming back week after week having committed the same sins over and over.  He feels like he isn’t helping anyone and that no one really wants his help.  Then a young, combative girl walks into his confessional and his evening takes a very interesting and self-reflective direction.

Father Morris is played by Clayton Nemrow and thank the lord (no pun intended) he gives a magnificent performance.  The film is very much a character study, focussing on him and in a lesser degree Amber, the young girl who comes to confession.  Without the great performances by both of these actors, and great performances we surely do get, this film would have fallen entirely flat.  There is no real plot to mention and the entirety of the film takes place in a 10ftx10ft room, so these actors didn’t have a lot to work with to bring the script alive.   Luckily, the polarizing differences in their characters personalities and the witty dialogue between the two mean that the film never feels boring.

What little actual story the film has revolves around Father Morris’ infatuation with one of his parishioners Mary, whose husband is cheating on her.  A fact Father Morris only knows because her husband’s mistress confesses to him every week.  It is through this infatuation, a misunderstood confession from Mary and some goading from Amber that leads Morris to decide to throw in the towel and quit the priesthood.  He says and does some pretty dramatic things towards the end of this film, but it is strangely another conversation with Amber, who had such a strong role to pay in making his question his faith in the first place, that although left a little ambiguously, seems to imply that he has made his peace with his faith.

The film is told in more or less real time, so all the events of this film take place in a roughly two hour timeline.  All this drama in such a short space of time can make the film feel a little soap opera-y. But the light hearted comedy that runs throughout the entire film, plus a few very serious, heavily emotional moments stop it from veering straight over into melodrama.

It’s not a laugh out loud comedy but the humour is there and it does make you smile and chuckle throughout.  The film isn’t plot heavy, but it does tell an interesting and important story.  This will definitely not be for everyone.  But for lovers of more character focussed stories, it could be a great hit.

‘Surviving Confession’ has just hit Amazon Prime and is free to view for members and is available to buy from other outlets below:

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