Category Archives: Film Review

TRUE DETECTIVE 2.6 CHURCH IN RUINS – A Review by Frank Mengarelli


“Sometimes a thing happens, splits your life.  There’s a before and after.  I got like five of them at this point.  And this is your first.  But if you use it right, the bad thing, you use it right and it makes you better.  Stronger.  Gives you something most people don’t have.  As bad as this is, as wrong as it is. This hurt, it can make you a better man.  That’s what pain does.  It shows you what’s on the inside.  And what’s inside of you is pure gold.  Pure solid gold, that’s what you got.” – Frank Semyon


Four major events transpired in yet another taut and meticulous episode.  Only two more episodes to go, unfortunately.  The first major event was the sit down between Velcoro and Semyon, and it went in a direction that I didn’t quite see it going.  Turns out, Ray and Frank are friends.  There is trust and appreciation between the two of them, yet Frank feels remorse for what he has done to Ray.  He turned his life upside down by giving, unknowing to him, false information about the man who attacked Ray’s (ex)wife.  At this stage in the show, Ray is the only person that Frank can fully trust within his real world and his shadow world.

Frank visits his former employee’s wife and son, while Frank genuinely conveys his sympathies to Stan’s wife, where the heart of the show truly lies is Frank’s exchange with Stan’s son.  Frank, who can relate to Stan’s son, really has no idea how to talk to him, how to comfort him.  The dialogue is incredibly impactful.  Anyone who watches the show has had a moment that “splits your life.  There’s a before and after,” Frank continues, “if you use it right, the bad thing, you use it right and it makes you better.  Stronger.”


Ray’s self loathing cocaine, alcohol and American Spirits binge was frightening.  He took himself to the absolute limit in one of the biggest self-destructive scenes that I have seen.  He breaks down, mumbles to a picture of his son, he touches the scar on his upper lip, now visible without his mustache covering it.  The scar on his upper lip was not there in the flashback sequence in the first episode.  I can only imagine he got that when he killed the wrong man who he thought was the rapist, or his then wife physically struck him after he told her about what he had done.  The scene ends with Ray’s farewell to his son, to his ex-wife, and to his life.  First we were teased with Ray being shot with riot shells and in this episode with him nearly having a heart attack at the height of his binge.  Ray knows that his toxicity has ruined everyone pure around him and he has clearly made his decision about his fate, and he is going to go out on his own terms.


Then there was the EYES WIDE SHUT sex party.  Women are everywhere, old men watching, and cauldrons of Viagra within arms reach.  The Mayor’s son was there, Blake the creepy redheaded guy that works for Frank and undoubtedly is behind the false information relayed to Ray, the State’s Attorney who is running for Mayor and many other power holders from the show.  Then we get the flashback to Ani’s childhood, she’s on her father’s hippie commune, where she was raped when she was very, very young.  The hand of the child in the flashback was strikingly young, and gave you all the information about Ani’s life, and who she is and why she became who she is.

This show takes place in the over dramatized noir world, where people don’t speak the way these characters do, people don’t look like the people from the show.  There has been so much unnecessary aggression towards this season and frankly the constant torpedoing of this season is ridiculous.  Nic Pizzolatto is such a great writer in the way that he can dissolve this dangerous world to applicable dialogue that challenges the viewer, challenging them to reflect on themselves to see whether or not they really are solid gold.




Hannah Fidell’s piercing and provocative teacher-student, psychological-sexual thriller A Teacher is a forceful and stylish writing and directing debut. Taking an observational, sometimes clinical approach to an illicit (by the standards of modern society…) affair between a late 30’s high school English teacher and her 17 year old male student, Fidell has managed to craft a uniquely suspenseful tale of obsession and lust, while never forgetting to showcase the mental ramifications that a mismatched pair like this would eventually face. This is a slow-burn, 75 minute showcase for lead actress Lindsay Burge, who appears in nearly every scene, giving nothing less than an intensely powerful performance as the older woman who knows better but simply can’t help herself. When the film opens, the lovebirds are already in full swing, and I loved how Fidell just dropped the audience into the middle of the situation without a ton of easy to identify context. We’re off to the races from scene one, as the film spotlights any number of steamy and erotic sexual trysts between Burge and Will Brittain, the well-cast younger man who has the challenging role of a high school senior caught between his hormonal desires and his apathy. Things become very heated towards the final act, with a whammy of a final shot that refuses to soften any of the previously displayed hard edges; this is a work made by a filmmaker who wants her characters to feel something, be it pain, joy, anguish, or surprise. The visuals have a lightly heightened quality to them as cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo aims to put you in the headspace of Burge, who etches such a believable portrait of woman spiraling out of control that you can’t help but empathize with her, even if there’s some part of you that feels that what she’s doing is wrong. Raising interesting questions of morals and responsibility while never overly judging the characters, Fidell has whipped up a strong and serious work that seems to have flown over the heads of most critics and under the radars of most viewers. This is a good one.




Curtis Hanson’s 1997 neo-noir L.A. Confidential is a brilliant film. It pays respect to an entire genre while simultaneously doing its own thing as a piece of art and entertainment. This striking piece of work would start that glorious run for Hanson in the late 90’s/early aughts (Wonder Boys, 8 Mile, and In Her Shoes would follow), but this is clearly his finest effort as a filmmaker, and it’s a movie that just gets better and better every time you take in a viewing. Who would have thought that two young and relatively unknown Australian imports – Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe – would make such PERFECT 1950’s Los Angeles cops? The way they played off each other in this film was riveting, with Kevin Spacey as the ultimate comic foil to Pearce’s intensity and Crowe’s ferocity. Kim Basinger, in an Oscar-winning performance, is the heart and soul of the dense, incident-packed narrative (Hanson and Brian Helgeland won Oscar’s for adapting the seminal novel by James Ellroy), and the chemistry she shares with both Pearce and Crowe is electric. Dante Spinotti’s lush and muscular 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography is propulsive, slick, and gritty when necessary, and the way he captured the final shoot-out at the motel by moonlight is nothing short of sensational. Jerry Goldsmith got invited back to the play in the crime noir genre, crafting a thundering and magnificent musical score (his notes here sit right next to his legendary work on 1974’s Chinatown), and the insane supporting cast includes seemingly every actor of the moment back in the day: James Cromwell, Ron Rifkin, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Paul Guilfoyle, John Mahon, Simon Baker, and Darrell Sandeen. I can remember seeing this film on the first weekend that it opened in wide release (these were the high school days!) and I immediately knew that I’d seen something special. Naturally, budding movie lunatic that I was, I’d go back the following weekend for more. And over the years, I can probably think of few films I’ve revisited more than this one. It’s fabulously entertaining, exceedingly stylish, every plot thread fits oh-so-snug, and the film’s numerous and often times bloody action sequences have a distinct visceral integrity without ever becoming gratuitous or unnecessary. It’s a shame that Hanson has been quiet over the last few years as I truly miss his classy and skillful cinematic touch.




Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is macho, brutal poetry, a film that wears its bruised, wounded heart on its heavy-flannel sleeve. This is a force of nature cinema experience that leaves me crushed every time I experience it. Quiet, oppressively cold, and deeply introspective, this is an intense, Jack London-esque tale of machismo in the face of all-but-certain-death. Had this movie been released at the end of 2011 the Oscar nominations would have been different, as Liam Neeson’s towering performance would surely have been recognized with a nomination. Jumping into this project almost immediately after the death of his wife, he couldn’t have known how real life would have informed his aching, forceful work in The Grey. When the final 10 minutes of this film arrives, there’s a major twist, and it makes the entire film even that much more moving and powerful. I’m aware of the fact that many meat-head audience members were near riotous over the fact that The Grey wasn’t some sort of WWF-style smack-down between the guy from Taken and a pack of rabid wolves. With certain movies, the job of Hollywood marketing teams seem to be to hoodwink potential ticket buyers into thinking they’re lining up to see one type of movie, and this is what happened when people saw the ads for The Grey – they saw guys running away from wolves and Neeson throwing up his dukes so they expected a near constant wolf-brawl. Yes, some of this stuff does happen, just not in the way you’d think it would happen. Carnahan wasn’t going for the cheap and easy with this unflinchingly emotional piece of work. And when things do get rough, they’re believably rough, with chilling consequences. And besides, the wolves in this movie are as much metaphorical creations as they are living manifestations of animals; to literalize every single thing we see in a feature film is to do a disservice to the artists who are asking more of us as viewers. Carnahan is a 70’s influenced filmmaker, and in this film, he was deeply interested in character as much as bloody action. His eclectic output over the years has been interesting to observe and as a filmmaker he’s hard to pin down; my guess is that he likes it like that. I’ve long felt that he’s a filmmaker constantly at odds with the money-guys, as he’s always seems interested in digging beneath the surface of things, no matter the genre or aesthetic style. He’s due to have that film that truly blows him up and I can’t wait for that day. With The Grey, I was not prepared for how still and patient the filmmaking would be one minute, and then how visceral and violent it would get the next. It’s a gut-punch type movie, a piece of work that will likely haunt anyone who encounters it. Featuring one of the most harrowing depictions of a plane crash ever captured on film and ending on a note of tremendous ambiguity and narrative power, The Grey isn’t a film for the weak stomached or weak willed.




It’s positively insane to think about the fact that legendary actor Harry Dean Stanton has never been nominated for an Oscar over the course of his 250 screen performances. It’s essentially Crimes Against Cinema, and when you look at his IMDB page, one is left gob-smacked by the names he’s worked with: Ridley Scott, Lewis Milestone, John Carpenter, Stuart Rosenberg, Harold Becker, Joss Whedon, Monte Hellman, David Lynch, Bill L. Norton, Lou Adler & Tommy Chong, Sam Peckinpah, John Milius, Arthur Penn, Ulu Grosbard, Alex Cox, Wim Wenders, Nick Cassavettes, Sean Penn, Terry Gilliam, Martin McDonagh, and Gore Verbinski. And that’s just the tip of the ice-berg! He’s been one of the most important, valuable, and versatile character actors that the acting profession has ever had, and I can think of no better salute to him as an artist than Sophie Huber’s graceful and heartfelt documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction. This is a wonderful film about a passionate artist, and it goes to some surprisingly dark and soulful areas of Stanton’s life, while also celebrating his utterly extraordinary filmography. Seamus McGarvey’s stylish, silky smooth, black and white cinematography is perfectly mixed with bold color snippets and a variety of clips from Stanton’s eclectic performances, and it’s during the sequences with David Lynch and Kris Kristofferson and Sam Shepard where the film really hits some terrific notes of friendship and professional camaraderie. Huber’s direction is sensitive to her subject yet probing in all of the appropriate ways, and when you get to hear Stanton sing some renditions of classic American folk songs, you sense his disappointment that he never took his music career to the next level (he openly laments this fact), while still getting the sense that he’s a man with lots of life to live despite his youth obviously in the rear view mirror. His amusing anecdotes are great fun to listen too, as he’s always giving of the sense that he’s young at heart. And that’s the message that Huber sends with this poignant, thoroughly engaging documentary about one of cinema’s most prized possessions. This unique item was filmed at Stanton’s home and at his favorite Los Angeles watering hole, and one is left with the utmost respect for this living legend.




I have long been enamored with the work of Oscar nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, as for the last 25 years, he’s been putting his stylish, distinctive mark on motion pictures with some of the best filmmakers that the industry has to offer. He can seemingly do it all: small family drama (The War Zone), massive Hollywood blockbusters (The Avengers, Godzilla, 50 Shades of Grey), challenging art films (We Need to Talk About Kevin), true life drama (World Trade Center), moving documentaries (Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, Los Angeles: Skid Row is My Home), character based comedy (High Fidelity), and most notably, four incredibly impressive outings behind the camera with filmmaker Joe Wright, who ranks as one of the most exciting and visually dynamic young directors currently working. Their collaborations – Atonement, The Soloist, Anna Karenina, and Pan (judging the latter solely on its glorious trailer) – have all been fanciful and exquisite, showing a clear mastery of movement, form, and camera placement, while always forging ahead with bold aesthetic choices that push the form in unique visual ways. And if one simply takes a look at his long and varied resume, it’s abundantly clear that his talents have been put to great, eclectic use on a variety of interesting and challenging pieces of work.


The work that McGarvey pulled off during Anna Karenina is nothing short of breathtaking, constantly asking the question “How’d they do that!?” while each ravishing scene unfolds, and through his sensual, highly attuned sense of light and texture, he gave the emotionally chilly narrative of Anna Karenina hot-blooded visual juice that kicked up the entire production – it’s a criminally underrated film featuring stellar work from Keira Knightley. In The Avengers, he was responsible for shooting one of the most anticipated summer movies in decades, and I can’t help but feel that the iconic “hero shot” of all the superheroes on the street of NYC in that circle is one of the best ripped-from-the-pages-of-a-comic-book images I’ve ever seen. And then there’s that insane bit of madness at the airport in Godzilla, where the audience is treated to a humongous wide shot of exploding airplanes and helicopters from within the interior of the terminal, as Godzilla and the U.S. Military stage an attack on a fantastical beast – when Godzilla’s massive foot comes crashing down into frame during this sequence, McGarvey was able to maximize the audience’s sense of how large the radioactive beast might actually be in real life, bringing true size and dimension to an image that features a CGI creation, something that in other, lesser refined works might have come across as rubbery or wonky within the realm of the real world. No matter the genre, the size of budget, or the narrative intent, McGarvey’s images have that long lasting, timeless appeal, where you just know that someone truly exceptional was calling the shots.



Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Chinatown is one of those movies that one should really view at least once a year, if only to be reminded of how perfect a film can be when all of the elements are in such perfect cinematic harmony. Robert Towne’s truly serpentine screenplay is incredibly layered yet never opaque, and even when the characters frequently explain the plot it never feels forced or manufactured to help the audience; it feels organic to the situation at all times. Jack Nicholson’s smirking, sly performance gets tons of mileage from that famous nose bandage, and Faye Dunaway’s porcelain doll features were perfectly captured by John A. Alonzo’s amazing camerawork. Seriously – this movie looks INCREDIBLE, with one bravura shot and sequence after another. Studying this movie solely on a formal and compositional level would truly be an experience. The final sequence is still crushing in all the proper ways, with John Huston doing some nasty and creepy character work all throughout. And I love how the cynicism of Towne’s script still feels vital to this day. Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score punctuates the drama at all times, and the way that Polanski effortlessly brought all of the elements together is truly a master class of direction. The film looks pristine on Blu-ray.