Two men sit across from each other at a table in the visiting room of a prison. One man wears glasses, a blue sweater, and jeans; the other is in an orange prison jumpsuit.
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

True Story, or: Like Mike

Biopic/based on a true story month continues, along with the unofficial theme of dirtbag men doing dirtbag things.  Bonus(?):  one of the stars of this film is a dirtbag both onscreen and IRL.

The Film:

True Story

The Premise:

Disgraced journalist Mike Finkel explores an unusual murder case involving a man who claims to be Mike Finkel.

The Ramble:

Mike Finkel, renowned New York Times journalist, is eager to see his latest piece published.  The story highlights the abuse of modern-day slaves in regions of Africa.  When Mike merges the stories of 5 different young men into a fictional amalgamation, it turns out his eagerness is misplaced.  Caught out for his fabrications, Finkel is fired and unlikely to find work as a journalist ever again.

Man in a gray hoodie is in profile while talking on a cell phone. Behind him, a wood-paneled wall holds 7 framed New York Times magazine covers.

Returning in defeat to Montana and his archivist(!) wife Jill, Mike seemingly resigns himself to a quiet life in the remote but beautiful mountains.  There, he learns of a rather bizarre story he’s unknowingly connected to.

A woman with shoulder-length brown hair sits on a living room couch with a brown glazed mug. She is wearing a baggy cream-colored wool sweater.

A man named Christian Longo has been arrested in Mexico for the murder of his wife and young children by drowning.  The twist?  He has been claiming to be Mike Finkel of the New York Times.

Intrigued, Mike begins corresponding with Christian, ultimately traveling to Oregon to meet the identity thief.  Christian has long admired Mike’s work and feels he knows the journalist through his writing.  Though he protests his innocence, Christian is seriously contemplating a guilty plea as he believes no one cares enough to uncover the real truth.  Challenge accepted.  Mike decides to investigate Christian’s case for himself and cover the story as his big comeback.

As he works on the story, Mike becomes increasingly convinced that Christian is innocent and the two develop an understanding.  Christian refuses to tell the full truth as he claims to be protecting someone.  However, Christian is also weird AF and makes super creepy phone calls to Jill.

A man with brown hair and a goatee sits in a gray suit, testifying in a courtroom. A man with gray hair and glasses wearing judge robes is frowning in the background.

When the trial begins, Christian reveals financial troubles that caused problems in his marriage, and ultimately pleads guilty to 2 of the 4 murder charges.  What does the guilty plea mean?

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

To recap:  slightly scummy dude wants to believe much scummier dude is telling the truth despite statistics and evidence suggesting the contrary.

This story doesn’t come across as particularly remarkable even with the unique relationship between its subjects.  I will give credit to this for avoiding a sensational retelling, but everything comes across like a TV movie with the pretty ordinary plot and lack of interesting roles here.  For fuck’s sake, give Felicity Jones something to do!

I don’t get how the Mike Finkel in this story is a journalist; all he does here is make up stories and naively believe a murderer who enjoys his writing.  Like I get that the criminal justice system is fucked and frequently wrong, but a horrifyingly high number of women are murdered by their partners.  All you have to do is look up the stats, dude.

However, the main problem for me is the lack of depth to Mike and Christian’s relationship.  The film attempts to convey a connection between the two, but it doesn’t seem to be especially interesting.  Though the two aren’t really friends, the film does intentionally tell us they are still in touch yet doesn’t do enough to convey why.  And after the creepy phone calls to Jill, Mike just looks more like a scumbag for maintaining their weird relationship.

Maybe the book is better?

Would my blog wife write the book on this one or sentence it to life without parole?  Read her review here to find out!

Advertisements
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shimmer Lake, or: Murder Most(ly) Foul

Watching films with a focus on mental health is a great idea, they said.  Movies about serious emotional issues will in no way be too real or fill you with existential dread, they said.

Predictably, they were wrong.  And by “they” I mean “we.”

This month returns us to an old favorite, Blog Free or Die Hard, which promises hours of mindless entertainment.  Or at least no more films about mental health care facilities in the UK (for now).

The Film:

Shimmer Lake

The Premise:

What is the truth behind a small-town bank robbery that has left a trail of bodies in its wake?  The answer may (or may not) surprise you.

The Ramble:

As viewers, we see the story of a small-town bank robbery gone wrong as it unfolds in reverse.  Sheriff Zeke’s concern at this point is finding his brother Andy, one of three suspects, before someone else does.  Zeke seems to be the only competent, upright citizen in the entire town–a rather thankless job.  As it turns out, Andy is hiding out in his own basement with the duffel bag full of cash he conspired to steal.  Great plan…?

a man speaks in a payphone booth that is located in front of a poorly maintained building
Because where else would you have a payphone if not by an abandoned, decrepit building?

In the robbery’s aftermath, Zeke is shot, 2 people are dead, 2 suspects are on the run, and many people seem to know more than they’re revealing.  Since the money in the vault was federally insured, FBI agents are involved with the investigation, though they create more problems than they solve.

Now on the run are Ed, the ringleader in all of this, and his wife Steph, who rendezvous with Andy to divvy up the cash and get out of town.  That is, until the passenger in Steph’s car shoots Andy and drives away.

As the story unfolds, we see how the conspirators used blackmail and violence to complete their plan (despite their overall incompetence).  It’s also clear Steph plays a much greater role than she initially appears to, lying to the police about threats from Ed and plans to flee to Mexico.  Or is she…?  Her relationship with Ed is tense, and she blames him for the death of their young son in an accident.  Whose side is Steph really on?

two police officers stare dramatically at two FBI agents
The Staring off Dramatically into the Distance Club met every Thursday…

Additionally, the judge is involved with the robbery as he’s being blackmailed over his much younger male lover just as he’s about to announce his campaign for Senate.  Things don’t end well for quite a few characters who end up being loose ends in this plan…is the judge one of them?

Like any good noir story, the mystery becomes even hazier as we learn that literally everyone in this town is despicable.

a man wearing camouflage walks away from a parked car with an Ohio license plate
Coincidentally, this seems to be set in Ohio (based on that license plate)…?

Which all leads us to…what really happened the night of the robbery.  It’s probably not what you think.  Or maybe it is; I’m not a mind reader.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Look, the biggest problem here is that I don’t know if this film is supposed to be funny or not.  There was one moment I recall that made me laugh–in fact, it was almost vaudeville sort of moment when Andy asks Chris to check the radio after the robbery has occurred and Chris turns on the radio to a rather upbeat jazzy tune.  There is unexpected humor throughout the film, but it doesn’t always feel at home.

The more I think about it, I wonder if this was a tactic to catch the viewer off-guard–would you really expect Rainn Wilson and Rob Corddry to work on a dark, gritty project with a dramatic twist?  However, this never completely commits to being funny nor to being a clever film noir; it exists mostly in limbo.

I hoped for more of an IDFAHITWA vibe, so perhaps this was destined to fall short in my eyes.  There’s no Melanie Lynskey (or Elijah Wood), and no one even remotely worth liking or rooting for.  Almost everyone in this film turns out to be utterly incompetent or a complete sociopath.  The female characters are also pretty sloppily written, and even the signature femme fatale manages to fall flat completely.

Main conclusions:

  1. The more I hear the name Zeke, the more I like it.  Potential name for my next cat.
  2. Netflix really, really needs to add more film noir to its streaming collection.  While this wasn’t terrible, I also wanted it to be so much better.

Did my blog wife come back for this one or take the money and run?  Find out by reading her review here!

cover art for the book Brighton Rock
Book Reviews, books

Book Review: Brighton Rock

I almost bought a copy of this novel in Brighton, which would have been perfect, but I hated the cover.  Apparently it’s a thing to have cartoony characters on the cover of this novel, which makes no sense because, in true Graham Greene fashion, the closest it comes to humor is bitterness.

There are some spoilers in this review…but this novel is nearly 80 years old and has been made into 2 different movies.  At a certain point you might want to just accept you’re never going to read it.

Brighton Rock

Graham Greene

Total pages:  247

Important note:  this is connected to another Graham Greene novel, A Gun for Sale.  However, I maintain it’s really not necessary to read the other one before this.  But who knows, I could be missing information that would bring new meaning to my reading of Brighton Rock.

Other note:  Brighton rock does not refer to a geological formation (as I believed for a really long time), but a candy stick you can buy in every.  Single.  Shop in Brighton.  The stick reads “Brighton rock” on both ends and all the way through.

a piece of Brighton Rock, a striped stick of candy wrapped in a label that reads "Brighton rock"

Our story follows the leader of a 1930s Brighton gang in the aftermath of a murder.  Pinkie Brown is a cold, ruthless 18-year-old psychopath whose grey eyes give “an effect of heartlessness like an old man’s in which human feeling has died.”  (God damn, Graham Greene.)  Following the murder of his gang leader, Pinkie is in charge of those loyal enough to remain, and his first order of business is vengeance.

Pinkie’s target is Fred Hale, a man who betrayed the gang leader in some way, presumably (I can’t claim I understand how gangs work at all).  Just before Fred’s murder (spoiler, but I don’t think Fred even makes it to page 30), he encounters the easy-going Ida, whose bosom is described in virtually every chapter.  When Fred disappears, Ida is extremely suspicious and refuses to rest until she discovers the truth about what’s happened.

As Ida pursues Pinkie, Pinkie pursues Rose, a teenager who unknowingly holds a key piece of evidence that could implicate Pinkie in murder.  Even though the idea of romance is utterly repellent to Pinkie and he sees the traditional path of marriage and children as a slow death, he convinces Rose he loves her in order to dissuade her from talking to anyone about what she knows.  Is he willing to sacrifice his “bitter virginity” (whatever the fuck that means), his freedom, and even his eternal soul in order to keep Rose quiet?

Like basically every other Graham Greene novel ever written, this one is highly critical of the Catholic Church.  Pinkie and Rose are both Catholic, in contrast with Ida, who isn’t religious but spiritual and has a few weird superstitions about ghosts and Ouija boards.  As a child, Pinkie wanted to be a priest, and Greene draws parallels between his contempt for the rest of humanity, indifference to suffering, and disdain of sex and romantic love with the Catholic Church.  Greene also prods quite a bit at the two Catholic characters’ willingness to sin despite the promise of eternal damnation, going so far as to say “a Catholic is more capable of evil than anyone” (246).  (Ha ha, since this isn’t an English paper, I can end this paragraph with a quote and refuse to offer any explanation whatsoever!)

For some reason I didn’t get into his the first time around I tried it, but I LOVED it this time.  It’s outrageously cynical, and the only novel I can think of in which a candy tourists buy in Brighton is used as a metaphor for the inescapability of human nature.

Fair warning that you’ll have to deal with a reasonable amount of dated ‘30s slang that feels made up, esp. re:  women.  (Both “buer” and “polony” get thrown around A LOT and I still don’t fully understand what either means.  I just kept thinking of Polonius from Hamlet and also Thelonious Monk every time someone used the word “polony.”)

The end also gets a bit melodramatic, and it’s hard not to imagine physically throwing Rose.  She’s an idiot.  Most frustrating is that Ida, the only likeable character, gets quite a lot of focus at the beginning of the novel, but then Pinkie receives more and more attention.  I was so excited when I thought (however briefly) this was actually a female-centric Greene novel.

My favorite quote is also a good test of whether you might enjoy this one or find it too dark and cynical:  “That was what happened to a man in the end: the stuffy room, the wakeful children, the Saturday night movements from the other bed. Was there no escape––anywhere––for anyone? It was worth murdering a world” (92).  Chills, you guys.

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The Spectator’s review on the back of the book says of Greene, “Entertaining he may always be; comforting, never,” which I think is the most accurate description of his novels I’ve ever read.  (And at the same time seems a bit like backhanded praise and also possibly written by Yoda?)  I can’t think of another writer quite like Greene; perhaps Cormac McCarthy in terms of bleakness?  John Le Carré in terms of suspense and a darker take on spying (as in The Quiet American)?  William Golding for shared views on human nature?  He’s not quite like any other writer I can think of, which is why I love him so much.

Btw, there’s apparently a 1947 film version that scandalized the nation for being too violent, which I cannot WAIT to see.