Happy finds a new friend; or so he thinks. Nick tries pulling the wool over Mr. Blue's eyes.
The Godfather: Part II. 1974. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay by Coppola & Mario Puzo.
Starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Richard Bright, Gastone Moschin, Tom Rosqui, Bruno Kirby, Frank Sivero, Francesca De Sapio, Morgana King, Marianna Hill, Dominic Chianese, Joe Spinell, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Danny Aiello, & Harry Dean Stanton. Coppola Company/Paramount Pictures.
Rated 14A. 202 minutes.
The first Godfather film was being received so positively even before it hit theatre that the studio greenlit a sequel quickly. This surely gave Francis Ford Coppola not only the money and freedom to keep doing what he saw fit with the story, but it likely also instilled him with some degree of confidence. Rightfully so. As I’ve said in my other review, the first movie is an American classic, a masterpiece of crime cinema and a giant of artistic, studio filmmaking crossed into one package. This sequel only builds upon all that momentum and all that dark beauty. The screenplay that Coppola and Mario Puzo manage to twist around through two separate time periods – the life of a younger adult Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) after he left Sicily as a boy and came to America, one of the huddled masses that entered through Ellis Island; then there’s the personal and professional troubles of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) having now taken his place as Boss of the Corleone crime family. Again, it’s a powerhouse of cinematic technique and writing. On top there’s the delicious cherry of a crackerjack performance out of Pacino and De Niro, all in the same damn film. How can it get any better?
The answer is, it can’t. Not really. Because there are only so many Godfather: Part IIs that are going to happen. There are other perfect movies out there (I consider this perfect, by the way). This one takes the cake. I have other favourites, but this is a genuine work of art that will last in the collective consciousness of film lovers worldwide, until there’s no such thing as consciousness any longer. Coppola redefined the classic film he’d put out a couple years earlier by making it even better through the sequel. I can’t think of many movies that are so well written and executed on all ends. So many beautiful shots, perfect scenes, the capable eye and blocking of Coppola… it’s hard to figure out what’s most enjoyable.
One thing’s for sure: this is the greatest sequel of all time, one of the greatest films period.
Let’s talk of oranges again, shall we?
When Michael meets with Johnny Ola (the fantastic Dominic Chianese), the latter actually brings an orange. From Miami, Ola says. An ominous gift in the world of Coppola’s notorious crime family and their shady business. This should be our first inkling that something’s wrong with Ola, or that something is eventually going to go wrong involving him. Later, this is all confirmed when the plot plays out down in Havana. Ola also wears plenty orange, if that’s not enough to convince you of a foreboding death.
Another instance of the infamous orange omens comes in the younger days of Vito. When he drops the talk of making Fanucci an offer, one he can’t refuse, there’s a stand with oranges on it behind him. After Vito gives Fanucci money, the greasy extortionist grabs himself an orange before getting popped with a couple bullets; perhaps the strongest one of the entire series.
Apart from oranges there are so many iconic scenes and shots that it’s hard to talk about even half of them. Certain moments stand out, though. Near the end when Michael tells Fredo – “You broke my heart” – and gives him the kiss of death, I love how it’s all set against this New Year’s Eve party, such a happy, joyous celebration, and then in the midst is this really deadly confrontation between brothers. Subtle, quiet, yet deadly. Consequently the shot later when Fredo is taken out for a boat ride is a serene and beautiful moment, if not a dark one. Most of the amazing parts during The Godfather: Part II are not the action, the guns, they are the more subdued and gentle shots. That being said, one of my absolute favourites is the sequence where Vito takes care of Fanucci; everything from how it looks and sounds and feels, to the manner in which Vito carries out the deed, wrapping his gun, unscrewing the light bulb, and the gruesome shooting of Fanucci. There’s something for everyone, in the sense there’s drama, great looking cinematography, violence. All turned into a masterpiece by the hand of Coppola.
Once again there’s an immersion in the Italian-American Mafia lifestyle. We have this ridiculously massive celebration for Michael’s little boy and his First Holy Communion. Yet it’s tradition. The Italians are proud of their heritage. Sure, it’s funded by mob money, but they’re celebrating religion, faith, all that. And I think the greatest part about those opening scenes with Michael, the big party, is how they’re all juxtaposed with meeting Senator Pat Geary (G.D. Spradlin) and his disrespect for the Corleone family, as well as Italian-Americans as a whole. Seeing such a beautiful, if not outrageous, celebration of culture and heritage followed by a dose of white American bigotry, it’s almost shocking at first. However, for all the mafioso stuff, the Corleones and many of their associates are atypical gangsters. Particularly compared to lots (/most) of the gangsters that came before these two movies. This is why getting a look at Vito in his early years, to the early days of his own family burgeoning in New York City right near the tail-end of WWI in 1917, is a super important aspect to the screenplay. This movie wouldn’t be near as powerful were it a simple sequel. Instead, Coppola mixes a prequel element into his story, which allows us to see the simple family man Vito was at the start. Before any of the gangster lifestyle and the illegal business.
Effectively, Coppola and Puzo give us a window into why these men do what they do. In the first film it was more a broad look at these people as more than mafia stereotypes. Here, we explore exactly how these men start out on the path with the Black Hand. Vito’s tale is a microcosm of the Italian-American Mafia experience. In that Vito only became what he was due to the fact he and many others around the neighbourhood were being extorted by Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin in a properly despicable performance you can’t forget). And in the Italian-American community at the time, there wasn’t much reliance on the police, so where could a person turn in a city where they were all but forgotten? Vito simply stepped up and took a position that afforded him respect, power, and above all a means to provide for his family AND his community. You will likely never agree with the mafia life, nor do I. Although it’s easy to understand, especially in the early 20th century when so many Italian-Americans were being mistreated, forgotten, left out (purposely along with other cultures), and all around discriminated against.Vito is so wonderfully written. De Niro is a large part of why the character works on screen. But it’s undeniable the writing makes him a human being, alive off the page. One worth of empathy and the sympathy of others. Just the power of that scene where he’s being let go, reluctantly, at his job is enough to create the depth of his character. Most importantly, we see how Vito became a loved leader. Never mind fear. Vito has the power of faith in him as a leader, something others see and of which they take notice. His kind heart is evident from the start; his boss tries to give him some food as a token of appreciation after having to let him go, Vito won’t even take it. He has a sense of pride along with the warmth, a willingness to never let anybody have to take care of him. His principled way of living is clear so fast. This is a brilliant component to the performance of De Niro, he at once gives his own performance while calling us back (or forward depending on how you see it) to Marlon Brando and his older Vito Corleone. Certain aspects of Vito’s personality ring loudly through De Niro, ones that we can likewise pick out from the first film and Brando’s performance. Not only the voice. There’s the way Vito works from his heart and from his mind and always on principle, which De Niro shows us at the root, from where it originated.
On the opposite side there’s Michael. He is a completely different type of man, and therein lies the ultimate distinction between Vito and his son – Michael can never be Vito. He never had to haul himself up with absolutely nothing. The generation of men that came over to Ellis Island from the old country in Sicily were faced with building their entire life up. Vito chose the life of the gangster because, in the end, it was really one of the only things available to him. Otherwise, he might have been in service to some greasy, corrupt guy like Fanucci. Instead he decided to turn himself into a man completely on the other end of the spectrum, a tough and powerful and dangerous man, though one with a code of honour and a sense of respect for others around him (so long as the respect is returned). Michael simply falls into the troubled game of the American Mafia, murdering his way to the top, then he questions why danger has come to his door, constantly, threatening both him and his family. Someone like Vito didn’t deserve any of what came to him. He only did it for his family. Michael does all this for his family, but unlike his father none of it is by necessity. It isn’t until The Godfather: Part III does Michael realize the error of his ways and tries to repent. On the one hand, Vito never had to repent because he never did anything that you can truly call underhanded. Illegal business doesn’t mean immoral. On the other, his son Michael has done immoral, terrible things. Just consider what he does to Fredo (John Cazale). Despite all the dumb Corleone brother does and lets happen to the family because of his careless actions, he’s still Michael’s brother. And for him to do that to Fredo speaks to his character. You’d never see Vito do that. He’d maybe send him away, somewhere far nobody would ever find him, something other than death. Michael proves the difference between himself and his father with deafening finality via this act.
I could say plenty more about this classic. This is one perfect piece of cinema. It’s fine if you don’t agree. On a technical level, I don’t see how you can’t call this a work of art, of mammoth proportions. If ever epic were a label suited for a film, The Godfather: Part II deserves it, every step of the way. Pacino and De Niro go back, forth with their acting talent, as the screenplay moves us from focus on a young Vito Corleone working his way into the business because of necessity, to his son Michael Corleone at that age later having essentially fallen into the grasp of the crime family business and becoming a totally different, more brutal person than Vito ever was, even at his worst. I’m always amazed at the power of this movie each time I see it. Never changes. Coppola is a master. He could make 100 shit films, and I’d still call him that for this film alone, let alone the trilogy as a whole. He deserves the label for making a work of art out of the crime genre, allowing a different perspective on Italian-American mobsters other than what the mainstream media offered up to that point. Not meant to change any perceptions, this sequel expands upon a look at the Corleone family, specifically Michael, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. 1998. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh, Nicholas Rowe, Vinnie Jones, Lenny McLean, Peter McNicholl, P.H. Moriarty, Frank Harper, Ronnie Fox, Stephen Marcus, Vas Blackwood, Alan Ford, & Sting. Summit Entertainment/The Steve Tisch Company/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 107 minutes.
There’s always an obvious Tarantino comparison that comes along each time Guy Ritchie’s earliest movies are brought up, even some of the others, too. Well I’ve talked about that before in my retrospective on Snatch. Perhaps most out of anywhere, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels rings close to the spirit of Tarantino. However, there’s a vast difference in American and British humour. That’s first off. Full stop, though, Ritchie is a different writer. They each have their own quirkiness, no doubt. British jokes are decidedly British, and to me Ritchie is funnier. Tarantino is a little deeper in some of the dialogue underneath his funny writing. Ritchie is downright a crack up, alongside all the crime that’s also as enjoyable. He’s more hilarious than his supposed American counterpart. They have the same capacity for violence. Once more I posit this – Ritchie is far more Martin Scorsese influenced than anyone else. He’s a combination of those two big influences while continuing true to his own roots. He tells stories that are undeniably British in an American film influenced fashion. Because of that storytelling, because of the British humour with which I identify most (on account of being Canadian, I imagine), much as I love Tarantino I almost prefer Ritchie’s first two feature films over the former and his first couple. Not knocking him, I’m a massive fan of Quentin in all areas. Overall I’m a bigger fan of his than I am of Ritchie, if I had to pick. However, it’s hard for me to not love both Snatch. and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels most. That’s all personal.
For me, this movie is another case for how far quirky writing can go without stepping over the line and becoming silly. Ritchie’s characters here are rich in a short span of time. Then we get quite a bit of crime to add the flair, comedy in a whopping dose. Along with everything else, Ritchie’s got wonderful directorial sensibilities. His choices are fun, fresh, they move things along with nice pacing. Overall, this is a solid modern masterpiece of British cinema. Don’t accept any opinion less.
One of the biggest ways to tell the difference between Ritchie and Tarantino is evident when Bacon (Jason Statham) and the boys go to the Samoan Pub. Almost as if spitting right at the Kahuna Burger and its quirkiness, Ritchie’s characters are normal, simple types of blokes. They just want a pint. Not some Samoan or Hawaiian hipster-type bullshit. There’s an awesome quality to Tarantino and his writing, which I do enjoy myself. There’s an equally awesome quality to the fact Ritchie sort of says “Sure there’s influence but I can also point out some needless quirk.” The characters in Tarantino movies are sometimes a bit too much written with the end of being singular by way of idiosyncrasy in mind. Now, that’s not to say characters should be alike, not at all. They need to be different, obviously. Yet at a certain point you’re just filling up too much space without really doing anything.
Using a setting in the middle to lower class underbelly of Britain, these simple guys with big ideas, it’s not even a direct way of trying to be different. That’s just how I see it. But what Ritchie does in actuality is present a life of crime that we don’t see in certain other comedy-crime combinations. Yes, we often see things go wrong in the underground world of professional crime: hitmen, gangsters, high class criminals, so on. Such is the case in a few Tarantino flicks. What Ritchie does in his first two features is present a world of men on the fringe, near the criminal world while not completely a part of it. It’s clueless guys that are incredibly small-time criminals, doing the measliest, most petty-type jobs in order to get themselves through the week. Then through a multi-linear plot these dopey, though kind-hearted fellas come face to face with big time crime, big time criminals, and tougher choices than they’ve ever had to make. Somehow the stakes are higher than films where the people are all professionals and murder’s nearly routine, able to be cleaned up on a whim. In opposition, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels gets messy.
Vinnie Jones is a talented man. Not only does he have the enormous, intimidating physicality required of a tough guy actor (and a footballer as once he was), he’s spectacular as Big Chris. Supposedly, this character is based on Dave Courtney – a guy who claims to have been involved with all sorts of mad gangster shit. Either way, Jones uses his own natural bad ass-ness. Then there’s also the fact he was released from jail the first day he was in for filming, after getting locked up for beating on his neighbour. Amazing! Regardless of any true life experience he’s capable, which he proves more than once throughout the length of his filmography as an actor. Big Chris is funny, frightening. He’s a dad; a good one, a bad one. It’s a complex and overall laugh-inducing character from start to finish. Well written. Most of all, well performed. Each time I see this Jones gets me in stitches, being hard and at the same time disciplining his son, making sure others don’t swear around him. What a god damn laugh.
On top of his talent there are a bunch of others. Even Sting turns out a nice little performance. The Hardest Man in Britain, Mr. Lenny McLean, plays Barry the Baptist right before he passed away, and put in one hell of a performance; both makes you laugh and tremble in equal measure, similar to Jones. Jason Statham proves here he’s great when working with Ritchie’s writing, revving up his talent for the follow-up, Snatch., where he again proves the same thing. In truth, the entire ensemble cast carries the weight, even the more minor players. Each role is handled well enough to keep things funny, fast, and at just about every last turn unexpected.
Ritchie started out his feature film career with a bang. The comparisons to other artists are inevitable. Though, as I said a bunch of times already and before this review, Scorsese is the director I see as Ritchie’s largest influence. Either way, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a solid slice of crime comedy in its own skin. There’s plenty to enjoy, from Vinnie Jones to Statham in fine form, down to Ritchie as a director and his high energy, frenetic, music-filled banquet of style. As you watch these hapless criminals navigate a world completely foreign to the small time one in which they usually roll, the plots all come together to make for a thrilling, at times hilarious finale. I’m always inclined to love this most out of all the similarly-styled crime movies in the 1990s. No matter what. The style and its flair, the dialogue, the characters each given their own time to shine. Every last inch is a damn fine good time.
Someone's arrived in Banshee looking for Carrie
Hyena. 2014. Directed & Written by Gerard Johnson.
Starring Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, Elisa Lasowski, MyAnna Buring, Richard Dormer, Gordon Brown, Tony Pitts, Orli Shuka, Gjevat Kelmendi, Thomas Craig, Lorenzo Camporese, Shaban Arifi, Alfred Doda, and Mem Ferda.
Film4/Number 9 Films.
Unrated. 112 minutes.
With the endorsement of Nicolas Winding Refn right on the film’s poster, there is no doubt in my mind anyone who has seen the Pusher trilogy will definitely find a likeness here in Hyena. I don’t find any crossover in terms of ripping it off, though, but merely the situations and feel of the plot definitely have that sort of vibe, a very realistic and low budget rawness that Refn also had in his crime films.
The last film Gerard Johnson wrote and directed, also starring Peter Ferdinando, was an amazing dive into the black mind of a quiet serial killer living in a tiny council flat, Tony (you can find my review here). I absolutely loved that one and I’m inclined to enjoy this even more. While the Refn vibe is absolutely present, I feel between Ferdinando’s acting and the directing/writing on the part of Johnson this movie takes on a life of its own without having to rely on predecessors with similar style.
Hyena is a savagely intense, visceral crime thriller in regards to its plot and story. At the same time, Johnson instils his film with an incredible amount of visual flair. Not only is there a gritty, raw style, Johnson opts for a lot of great imagery often involving colour and shadow. Most of all, the character Ferdinando plays and the story surrounding him is enough to hold you for a little under two hours. Not once was I bored, between the screenplay’s action, its turns, and the high tension involved as the stakes for the main character seem to never stop skyrocketing, right up until the bitter end.
Michael (Peter Ferdinando) is a detective in London, his crew includes Martin (Neil Maskell) and Keith (Tony Pitts) among others. On his own, Michael takes care of the Turkish criminals as much as he can, getting a piece of the action. When several Albanians murder one of his Turks in horrific fashion while Michael watches on in hiding, things begin to change. At first it’s merely the disappearing presence of the Turkish criminals he’d been dealing with all along. Soon, Michael himself becomes the target of another law enforcement officer with whom he has history, Nick Taylor (Richard Dormer).
Forced into dealing with the same Albanians which he was forced to watch murder his Turkish friend, Michael enters into a scarily tenuous relationship with these newly moved in gangsters. What follows is part crisis of conscience, part survival of the fittest, as Michael must figure out how to live off the scraps of all the carcasses beginning to pile up and topple into the streets.
Something I thought that’s more evident here, both explicitly and implicitly, is how the brutality amongst the gangsters in the world of Hyena feels even more vicious than anything in Refn’s Pusher films (not knocking them because they’re some of my favourite crime films ever). For instance, the Albanian gangsters are pretty damn awful with their level of savagery. One early scene just after the first half hour sees a woman at their hands get cut them her wound is salted (I think it’s salt; could also be detergent of some kind) – it’s like another day at the office for them, each stone faced and uncaring, almost enjoying watching the woman’s pain. Not everything is perfectly explicit, as I said; some of the violence comes offscreen. Like when Michael’s Turkish gangster friend gets chopped by the Albanians. Though, we do see the aftermath, the actual violence itself is offscreen, which is something I’ve always found effective: show us the consequences, let us deal with those, but refrain from showing the acts of violence themselves. There’s a particular sort of gravitas that comes out of that technique I find works well for certain films. In Hyena, writer-director Johnson serves his film and story greatly by not having all the violence and murder displayed openly. Instead he sort of edges along the cliff – giving us pieces now and then, to satisfy the bloodlust, then merely teasing us, wetting our beaks slightly in order to ramp up the tension. It’s the same way Johnson went about his previous serial killer flick Tony, which didn’t have as much blood and violence in it as you’d expect for a story like that; he reveals only what is necessary to keep the tension and the suspense flowing at high volume.
As for the previous Johnson film, musician Matt Johnson composed the perfectly fitting score for Hyena. Some of the pieces he put into the score are beyond foreboding and full of darkness. As I always say, a movie that has music which compliments its visual style can really create an intense atmosphere and tone. One aspect of this movie I love is the ever pervading atmosphere that keeps us uneasy, unsettled, as if anything might happen at any time – particularly anything bad. The score has plenty of interesting sections. Some are full of this pulsing electronic rhythm, many others have this mysterious thriller styled music with beautiful foreign instrumentation and percussion which really puts you in the middle of these Albanian run neighbourhoods, the Turkish spots, et cetera. You almost get, in the music alone, a look into the multicultural side of London; albeit the gritty, criminal side, but still it’s fascinating stuff. I think my favourite bits, though, are the electronic pieces in the score because there’s a wildly scary quality just through these sounds which helps Johnson easily put together shots to hold us in that place of stasis he needs. Then when Johnson uses the visuals again to bring us out of that lull and SLAM US with something intense and visceral, the music also pumps up the emotion and the film charges at us in these moments. Another great instance of a film where audio and visual elements work together creating a wonderful atmosphere, as well as this combination helps set and hold a tone the director aims to attain.
My favourite instance of this involves a MASSIVE SPOILER – when Michael (Ferdinando) takes David Knight (Stephen Graham) to meet the Albanians, and as David is violently murdered Johnson slows everything down – time nearly stands still, the scene happens in slow motion while the score is just mesmerizing. You won’t believe it until you see it. Afterwards, the music still pumping, Michael runs and runs down the streets of London, fast as he can. It’s an incredible sequence which starts a minute or so before the one hour fifteen minute mark.
Peter Ferdinando does a great job with his character Michael. Further than that, I think the character itself was written well by Gerard Johnson. There’s parts of Michael with which I found myself empathizing – he’s sort of trying to stay relevant while also hoping to keep alive and out of jail. Other times, I wondered how the hell he managed to get himself down into the dirty quicksand so abruptly. Michael also seems to me like someone who can be slightly naive at times, even for such an obviously seasoned detective, no stranger to dealing with violent, insane criminals; he willingly walks himself into too much at various times throughout Hyena. However, despite the character’s flaws Ferdinando plays him spot on. I love the last ten minutes of the film because you can almost chew on the tension watching Michael, it’s all in his face and his eyes, everything about him speaks to how strained and stressed this man is, which makes you feel as if you’re sitting right alongside him. Ferdinando does great things as an actor with plenty of range in him, from this to Tony alone he has proved to be fantastic.
This is a 5 star crime thriller film to me. Not much out there in the past couple years as good and slick as this, nor as interesting in terms of visuals and the score. Tons of great things happening underneath the surface. Some critics and filmgoers online would have you believe the ending is not satisfying. Me, I’m the type of person who also loved The Sopranos and how it ended. There’s something about the last few moments, watching Michael, the music washing in over us again heavier, heavier, then when things come to a head and the credits cut in I feel more satisfied than anything. Sure, there are no concrete answers, but think about it: can you imagine ANY situation in which Michael would’ve been all right afterwards? There’s no possible scenario that would’ve worked out appropriately for him in the end, so Gerard Johnson gave us a poignant, quiet end with no resolutions only an anticipation of the WORST TO COME. I love the way the credits come in afterwards, the title card nice and stylized in blue ink, and there’s an amazing song playing in the background.
See this and enjoy it or not – one of the greatest crime thriller films of the last 5 years easily. I can only hope others might find the same fascinating elements in Hyena that I have. So far, I’ve seen this about a handful of times now and I highly suggest heading over to iTunes at some point soon for a copy. I’m definitely going to watch it again soon.. again.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 3: “Maybe Tomorrow”
Directed by Janus Metz Pedersen (Armadillo)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the next episode, “Down Will Come” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Night Finds You” – click here
As many of us predicted, this week found Detective Ray Velcoro [resilient Irish bastard Colin Farrell] alive and well after seemingly meeting the heavy end of two shotgun blasts – one at midrange, the other close range in the gut and chest. I thought he was wearing a vest, but to my surprise he was not; the rounds were riot shells, the non-lethal sort police use. Velcoro smiles slightly out of the side of his face as he relates that last part to his new partner Detective Ani Bezzerides [Rachel McAdams].
The opening of the episode was perfect. A lot of people are saying today that it was campy. Yeah, right. It’s a dreamy sequence, which happens between the time Ray is shot in the last episode and when he wakes up in this one. This scene shows how Twin Peaks is absolutely a running influence on both Nic Pizzolatto since the first season and the directors of the show in this new season.
Things are slowly heating up for Ray. He meets with Frank Semyon [Vince Vaughn] to discuss the recent events. Ray drinks a glass of water instead of the usual booze and cocaine cocktail. When Frank asks about the water, Ray replies: “Booze tends to take the edge off, I wanna stay angry.” There’s a shift happening in Ray Velcoro, as if he is now truly realizing the forces with which he is dealing, even after all the terrible things I’m sure he has seen, and done. The change is evident as Frank gets ready to head out and the bartender asks what happened to Ray. “Somebody murdered him,” Frank tells her as he pays up and leaves.
Velcoro is experiencing further aggravation in his family life, as his ex-wife offers him money to essentially walk away and not contest the custody of their boy. This, of course, as we’ve already seen is certainly not an option Ray even cares to think about.
I’m really interested in Ray generally, especially when it comes to his whole personal situation, because it’s absolutely wild, and it is such a tough situation all over that I can’t imagine where things will lead by the end of the season.
Meanwhile, poor Frank is having troubles with his wife Jordan [Kelly Reilly]. She tries her best to help him get a bit of semen into a plastic cup, but ole Frank just can’t get the job done. The tension of Frank’s business life is clearly working its way into him, every way possible. Later in the episode, one of Frank’s cronies is found dead, his eyes wrecked like the dead catalyst of the season Ben Caspere. This seems to really set Frank off. One thing is for sure – he is getting deeper and deeper into the criminal mud than ever, no telling whether he’ll sink or crawl out on top. I just see the fire simmering low under the surface of Frank and his poised exterior, like he is trying hard to wear a certain mask even if it doesn’t fit quite right.
I’m not sure if there’s anything really interesting going on with Vaughn’s character, though, I am still interested. Mainly it’s the way Vaught plays Frank Semyon with a quiet sort of demeanour that intrigues me, and I’m anticipating down the road we’ll end up seeing some intense moments that will pay off; I see something explosive in Frank, waiting, brewing to a head. Or who knows – maybe Semyon will be disappointing in the end as a character, someone cliched and stereotypical of the businessman-turned-gangster we’ve seen so many times around before.
We do get a glimpse into Frank’s physical aggression, as he faces off fist-to-fist with Danny Santos, a gold toothed gangster associate. Frank not only beats the hell out of Danny, and fairly quick, he then proceeds to pull out the gold fronts in Danny’s mouth. Vicious. Yet I feel there is only more to come on that front.
“Maybe Tomorrow” brought a new bit of mix with the characters, as Detective Ani Bezzerides and Officer Paul Woodrugh [Taylor Kitsch] went out on the job together, questioning people in connection to their case, which in turn really gets under the Mayor of Vinci’s skin. I liked their exchanges, especially in the car early on. Ani starts to ask Paul about the case which took him off the bike – the young lady and her ‘offer’ from the First Episode – which sets Paul off a little. She goes on to assure him it was only brought up because Ani wondered if it would affect him doing street reconnaissance. I liked this moment particularly because it paints Ani again in a light that doesn’t always go for female characters; from the beginning, she is a take charge woman but does not suffer from being portrayed as uptight or hung up in any way. Whereas other shows might have Ani chastise Paul or make a snide comment now that they are saddled up together, Nic Pizzolatto opts to have her either be slightly understanding or not really caring at all and only worried about the job in front of her. I don’t think Pizzolatto is pushing towards having McAdams play a female character such as Bezzerides simply to pander to those who say there were no good, strong female characters/roles in the first season – I think he is genuinely writing a solid character. Ani could’ve worked as a male character, easily, however, it adds a better dimension having her as a female police detective here. I think it really flows well with the other personalities of the characters involved in the investigation.
Also, I think the small portions of the relationship between Ani and Steve is good stuff. She is a tough woman, not without flaws, and putting Steve in the position of being the inferior is interesting. The first season we got enough of the women flinging themselves after the men, desperately looking for love; this time around Pizzolatto opts to show the other side of the coin where the men get their feelings hurt and they lash out. And that’s part of why I’m enjoying the second season – it has those existential elements, slightly less than in the first, but it stands on its own, and offers a different perspective than we got in the first. I didn’t want a repeat, I wanted something different, and Pizzolatto has enacted enough change so far that I’m pleased. Ani is one of the best parts of those changes, I think adding a female detective, or any female lead character such as her, is really a benefit to the whole season.
There’s a great scene with Officer Woodrugh and a soldier friend of from their “time in the desert”. It offered enough insight into Paul as a character to confirm everything that has been setup in the first two episodes. Clearly we already knew Woodrugh was wrestling with his sexuality at some point, and still is, and this became even more clear with the scene involving his friend – a friend who is more than that, someone who still thinks about “those three days”. They have a small altercation and Paul leaves.
What piqued my interest even more was the end of the scene where Detective Teague Dixon [W. Earl Brown] – the other cop on the case who already seemed to catch a vibe off Woodrugh in the Second Episode – can be seen watching Woodrugh walk away from the confrontation with his friend. I’m waiting to see where this development goes. Either Dixon might be interested in Paul, long shot, or he may be interested in the blackmail opportunities that could arise should he discover anything concrete about his fellow lawman. We shall see.
Plus, a great little bump in a club between Frank Semyon and Officer Woodrugh, who is there trying to collect information, which doesn’t really foreshadow anything, I just like that the cops and the criminals are sort of navigating a world where they literally bump shoulders. You can never really tell where the edges of the law begin, where they end, like a big cesspool where everything touches and everybody wades in up to their waists. Very cool moment.
Basically, for those who have been complaining the second season is slow, that it doesn’t really have much story, “Maybe Tomorrow” truly delivers. We get some more secrets, little chunks of backstory and character/plot development falling out here and there. It was really a piñata-like episode, packing a good punch for the naysayers. Sure, I’ve no doubt they are still out there and will continue to be. I just think season two is giving the goods. It is a different beast than the first. We really seeing the beasts inside everyone, not only the criminals, but all the people in the city of Vinci from the cops to the criminals, the men, the women, and it’s like humanity spilling its guts. The first season of True Detective was all about the dirty side of humanity, however, the main characters of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were good guys ultimately, even with all the skeletons in their personal closets; they were on the right side of the law, even when they were on the wrong side of it trying to find justice near the end of the season. This new season is all about what happens when the detectives on the case aren’t exactly good, honourable people, or at least it’s about the bad, sometimes terrible, choices good people make when the chips are down.
There are no bells and whistles on this season, so far, like there were in the first. I think that helps. Rust Cohle was awesome – so damn cool – but we have great characters developing here, especially in the three lead cops Bezzerrides, Woodrugh, and Velcoro. The end of this episode was not near as crazy as “Night Finds You“, but the whole thing was stellar, and I’m looking forward to more progression in the next, along with plenty other secrets and who knows what else. I feel certain things were settled in this episode – Frank and his need to release some form of aggression whether through fists or sex – and some things have only started – the budding situation between Paul and Teague – and the titular line of the episode near the end when Frank says, “Maybe tomorrow”, to his wife only hints at something big for the next one titled “Down Will Come”.
See you next Sunday!
HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 2: “Night Finds You”
Directed by Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
I thought the opening of “Night Finds You” was a really great little piece. Not because of what Frank and Jordan Semyon [Vince Vaughn & Kelly Reilly] are talking about particularly, but because of the image above. First, Frank sees the water stains in the roof, and he wonders where they came from as it hadn’t rained that much recently. Then, as the second scene crossfades with the one before the images mix and the water stains become the eyes of Ben Caspere, City Manager, who was found dead at the finale of the first episode.
Now what I enjoy is how the water stains come to represent a couple things. The obvious one is how Frank sees them, and yet they’re big blotches, brown and almost rotten, so they must’ve been there awhile. Only now is Frank noticing them. The stains represent the things which are right in front of us, the things growing and festering right under our noses but in a blind spot, somewhere it’s almost too obvious so it gets passed over. This can mean a lot of things. Then the stains also come to mean something else.
The other idea of the water stains and what they represent is how everything eventually bleeds through, like the water through to the inside of the house. For instance, the cops of True Detective, their “other lives” outside the badge blur into the badge, and then the job itself bleeds out into the other parts of their lives as well. Velcoro, obviously, has every part of his life both touched by the law and tainted by the law’s inability to always and effectively dole out justice. Woodrugh represents how the lives people live before the badge come to affect the way they do their jobs because they still have to go on and live a life outside the badge; he also symbolizes the people who cannot come to terms with who they are because they believe they must be a certain type of person to do a certain job, to lead a certain life, et cetera. I think the idea of those stains is what reflects throughout the course of the episode, and likely what might be the rest of the season. Frank has a great quote in the early part of the episode at the beginning when he mentions how everything seems like paper mache, and this is because the paper is wet, things bleed through; everything is mixed, there are no dichotomous distinctions only grey areas, like life is one giant cesspool.
See? Pizzolatto’s philosophical pessimism and ruminations on life are still all there, you just have to dig a little deeper than Rust Cohle’s eloquently lobbed softballs from the first season.
BAM! This season is definitely moving at least a little away, initially anyways, from the violence against females which heavily characterized the first season. Not to say it was an epidemic of scenes including women being beaten or anything – I know the difference – but last season certainly had enough of it packed in there with the storyline and plots surrounding to last a lifetime. Such is life, things can be grim! Regardless, I think that whether or not Pizzolatto is intentionally moving away towards something else or if it’s natural doesn’t matter. The story is great so far, and I think people are worried there are too many characters. I’m not. There’s enough plot to keep us going – with Ben Caspere dead, above with his genitals removed, there are wheels in motion, and Episode Two “Night Finds You” shows us the consequences of what happens to people who get in the way of the big, heavy, moneymaking wheels.
IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN THIS EPISODE – WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? WHY ARE YOU READING THIS? TURN BACK NOW OR FOREVER BE SPOILED.
Really, I shouldn’t bother warning anybody dumb enough to come looking at reviews of an episode they’ve not yet seen. Alas I follow suit to be polite.
Anyways, Ray Velcoro [Colin Farrell] is the man who meets the heaviest of consequences in this second episode. Life for Ray is deteriorating fast as it is because his ex-wife wants to take his son away, after getting wind of the savage beating some unknown man, clearly Ray, laid on a bully’s father [for those who don’t remember Ray beat the dad and told the kid if he ever bullied/hurt anyone ever again Ray was going to come back and buttfuck his father with the mother’s headless corpse on the front lawn in Episode One]. He makes the mistake of telling his buddy/master Frank [Vince Vaughn] there isn’t much reason for him to keep going along with everything that’s going on, et cetera. However, I don’t think the fate Ray meets at the end of the episode is something Frank had anything do with, and here’s why…
In Episode One, there’s a shot of Ben Caspere’s corpse riding in back of a car, and upfront alongside the driver sits a big crow/raven type of mask.
Now, Frank seems to not know anything about what’s happened to Caspere, so when the crow/raven mask shows up again in the episode’s finale it’s hard to believe Frank has anything to do with what’s being done. Then again, we can never count on truly knowing what’s going on in True Detective, and certainly not when we’re only two episodes into the whole mess.
Image above and all, Ray Velcoro is not out for the count just yet.
Not even with this last shot either. Everyone can stop discussing. All you need to do is check it out – Farrell is listed as appearing in all the episodes of this season, so that’s enough right off the bat. Then, there’s the fact that he’s being shot at mid-to-low range here. I would imagine Farrell is wearing a vest. He survives, no doubt. Plus, there are images released, pieces in the trailers/teasers that show him in other scenes not yet aired. At the very least he’s in flashbacks. People need to calm down. Yet, this is what Pizzolatto knows, HBO too, and they play the game quite well.
This event will mostly just serve as paranoia and motivation for Velcoro. He’s probably going to immediately assume that Frank Semyon has done him in, but then again, Ray also realizes the men he works for in the Vinci P.D are not the most honest and uncrooked men there are in existence. So, the rabbit hole begins for ole Ray.
Other than Ray, this episode showed us that Detective Bezzerides knows who she is working with. At one point she flat out asks Velcoro himself to tell her exactly how “compromised” he has become. The distrust in the picture above when she is with the other detectives and officer on the case is evident.
Furthermore, we get a little more evidence as I referenced in my last post [re: Officer Paul Woodrugh] that Paul is definitely having issues with his sexuality. Not only do we see him apparently checking out a corner where what looks like gay prostitutes are getting rides/dropped off with a bit of desire in his eyes, mixed with hatred, mostly for himself, but then he further tells another detective that a “fag” was checking him out and that he almost knocked the guy out – to which the other male detective responds “and why would you do that?” – so it’s more than clear Paul is having a lot of rough times dealing with the sexuality inside him that wants to be free. This should be interesting to see play out. I also want more of his Black Mountain Security past to come out because there’s no doubt neat places to explore in that part of his psyche, mixed with all the homosexual angst he feels so far.
With many believing death looms over Detective Ray Velcoro, I safely tell you – Ray lives. Don’t worry. Either way, this was an excellent second episode, and I think definitely built with strength on the first. Things are beginning to unfold now, and the further we go, the better this ride will get. The events of the second episode are really going to propel the third somewhere else. There are many places to go from here – what will Ray do if/when he survives this attack by the masked birdman? what will Frank do when he finds out about Ray/if Ray comes after him for the attack? is Paul going to continue wrestling with his sexuality, or will it give way to some kind of acting out in lieu of gratification? can we expect Ani to start unravelling some of the dark secrets behind Ben Caspere’s murder and maybe even the men she’s working with? So, so many avenues to go down. Let’s wait and see what happens, I know I’m beyond pumped to watch more True Detective. I’ll see you all next week.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 1: “The Western Book of the Dead”
Directed by Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the next episode, “Night Finds You” – click here
To start, this is NOT a repeat of True Detective True Detective Season 1 – the show is trying to do a new story, new characters, the whole shebang. Of course the whole thing is still very existential, regardless if Rust Cohle is not spouting out Nietzsche rehashes and what not [which I loved but come on – they weren’t anything groundbreakingly new outside of philosophical circles]. I mean, Colin Farrell’s low-down-and-dirty Ray Velcoro already gave the beauty line “We get the world we deserve” in the second episode of this season, so there is definitely still an existential element kicking around inside of Nic Pizzolatto’s second season. However, this time around there’s much of a demon-within type of vibe going. Whereas the police detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were truly trying to serve justice for the sake of the victims, all those poor young girls taken and killed by vicious, hateful men, the second season of True Detective seems to be focusing on how some of those same police get lost along the way, how they bend the law to work for them, and even though they’re ultimately trying to do good, they end up doing a lot of bad along the way.
Starting off, we get to see Ray Velcoro [Farrell]. His tale is a rough one – his wife was raped, they never found the attacker, and neither she nor her now ex-husband Ray know if their boy is his or not. Certainly Ray does the true blood thing to do: he raises the kid as his own. He doesn’t want to know anything about DNA, he just wants his son to be his son. Problem is ole Ray has vices – the drink and the drugs – and his temper is fierce. Like anyone, Ray wanted revenge for what happened to his wife, and as an officer of the law, he naturally felt stuck when even the law let him down. In comes Frank Semyon [Vaughn] who facilitates the revenge Velcoro needs by tracking down the man responsible, which coincides with Ray’s wife and her statement. This puts Ray deep in with Semyon, who uses him as a man on the inside, and as Ray climbs the ranks to detective, of course Frank reaps the benefits.
I think Ray is going to be one of the most interesting of the bunch in this season. There’s a scene involving Ray and a kid who bullies his son at school, plus the boy’s father, which really takes you from “Okay, Ray is a normal guy in a bad situation” to “Wow, Ray is a bad dude”. Even while you side with him, he takes things much too far. Not hard to see the booze and the cocaine, and the more booze, doesn’t help his natural temperament. At the end of the tunnel, for Ray I see a bit of redemption. Now, whether or not Ray will have to die for this, it is way too soon to tell [even in light of Episode Two’s events]. We will see.
Next is Rachel McAdams as Detective Ani [Antigone] Bezzerides who has more than her fair share of issues, as well. First, her estranged father Eliot [David Morse] is a New Age guru-type who runs a sort of 1960s style institute or commune, and clearly is a narcissist. Then her sister, Athena, is a webcam girl doing porn who is off her medication and living free. Not to mention the fact their father named both her and her sister Antigone and Athena. So, Ani drinks, gambles, and raids houses to find out where her sister is when she feels like it. Also, her boyfriend is not exactly the sexually adventurous type when Ani clearly surprises him with something in the bedroom he couldn’t handle straight away. She is a dominant woman; she carries knives all over her, making clear in the next episode this is because she has no illusions about certain female-male situations where she will be physically smaller than a larger man in which the knives will come more than in handy. There is no doubt the years living in the cult with daddy brought on issues, most likely from some kind of abuse, but we can never be sure. Perhaps she’s just a smart, cautious woman who has seen too much. Either way, I’m excited this season has a lead female character and one who is also in the police. Offers a great new perspective for the show.
Officer Paul Woodrugh [Taylor Kitsch] is another interesting character. Clearly Paul is a troubled man. He worked for Black Mountain Security in Iraq, obviously mimicking a similarly named military contractor, and has issues from what he calls “the desert”. It isn’t hard to see Woodrugh has issues with his sexuality; he sneaks a blue pill while claiming to be showering and taking far longer than necessary before trying to have sex with his girlfriend, then when she is going down on him Paul looks off into space as if troubled, maybe trying to concentrate so that he’s able to get an erection. This becomes even more clear in the second episode with a comment he makes to another detective. Furthermore, Paul obviously has deeper issues – he speeds out on the highway on his motorcycle, flicking off the headlight and rushing through the darkness, almost daring death to come and get him. I can’t wait to see more of him. Kitsch is a talent, and I don’t care what anyone says. Given the right material with this character I can see Kitsch doing excellent work this season.
Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon spit out the worst line by far of the entire show since the first series began, along the lines of “don’t do anything out of hunger – not even eating”. Now I’ll give it to you – some of Rust Cohle’s lines, which personally I loved, were equally batty, but Matthew McConaughey was able to let them roll off his tongue and out of his mouth like they were natural to that character. Vaughn is good, I dig him, even as Semyon. I just didn’t dig that line. I can buy Vaughn as that character, totally, because he isn’t an outright psychotic gangster type like something out of Goodfellas with Henry Hill’s outbursts or the violence of Joe Pesci – I buy Vaughn as a collected, calm business sort of crook, and sure, he’s a big guy, I bet he can lay hands. Mainly, I think his attitude suits the part. However, that line in his mouth sounded like garbage. Moving past that point, Vaughn was great, and he does the dark/brooding thing well. Given more time the character of Frank will grow on people, I believe.
Mainly people need to lay off this season, and forget about the first, in the sense that this is an anthologized show. There is no continuity other than it involves police work; that’s it. Once again, there are existential themes at play here, heavily. We just need to keep in mind – existential doesn’t mean that people have to constantly spout philosophical musings. That was a character Pizzolatto used, and it worked. This season is different. Existentialism has to do with human beings, the experience of existence and reality, and the touch of humans on existence. So we’re going to see how human beings deal with their terrible inner demons, and this season we’re going to see more about the abuse of power from the perspective of those abusing it mainly instead of solely from the perspective of those outside and looking in. The police here are good police, but they toe a dangerous lines, more so than anything Rust Cohle did in Season One. I can’t wait for the next episode.