HBO has another unbelievable strong drama on their hands in Craig Zobel’s Mare Of Easttown, a season of television so good, so emotionally winding and narratively compelling on all fronts that I’m still processing it weeks later and just haven’t felt qualified or equipped to write a review on. It’s one of those shows that I’ll gladly take another season of but if not that’s cool too because the story here is so wonderfully encapsulated into one single season that it feels appropriately bookended and self contained in one sensational eight episode run. Kate Winslet has to be one of the greatest of her generation as an artist and she simply outdoes herself here in a stunning turn as Mare, a long suffering police detective in a troubled working class borough of Pennsylvania who has just about enough distressing things in both her personal and professional life as one human being can take. She’s trying to solve the murder of a local girl who turns up dead in a river one morning and also can’t let go of the cold case where another girl went missing a year ago.. are they connected? Meanwhile she’s trying to cope with trauma she hasn’t even properly processed yet in her family, manage a stormy relationship with her mother (Jean Smart, superb as ever), raise her wonderful teenage daughter (Angourie Rice, brilliant) right as the three of them struggle to look after her grandson. I won’t go too much into the interpersonal relationships because they’re so intricate, unorthodox and painfully realistic you just have to explore them for yourselves and despite being intimidatingly complicated as a narrative web, the show somehow manages to juggle them all concisely so that you have a clear, mosaic like sprawl of who relates to who and very well developed characters who are acted flawlessly all across the board by a beautiful cast in a sort of ‘rust belt gothic true Detective deep drama’ recipe. The story is damn near perfect, juggling the procedural and personal aspects intuitively and seamlessly for an experience that feels raw, down to earth and relatable. I will warn you that this one one bleak, depressing and emotionally pulverizing experience, one that isn’t afraid to fully show, in complicated and upsetting minutia, how human beings suffer, hurt each other, make horrible mistakes, are dealt unfair and rough hands in life and how they attempt, bit by bit, to work through their pain, struggle forward and move on through the difficult times towards something hopefully better. It’s dark, it’s relentless, it’s an emotional gauntlet to walk through but it’s not without it’s catharsis, lessons learned and just enough light at the end of the tunnel. Pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned.
Given Alan Moore’s corrosive reaction to any adaptation of his work so far I admire the big brass balls of anyone who attempts to go near it these, much less craft a new story based on his existing volumes. So that said, HBO and Damon Lindelof should be given the slow clap for attempting such a thing and not only that but making something just as sprawling, provocative and prescient as the source material. I have a deep love for Moore’s original graphic novel, I’m a huge fan of Zachary Snyder’s epic big screen version and I can now happily say that I am also over the moon about and mostly appreciate what they’ve done here.
I can’t say much about the story without spoiling both this and the book for anyone who isn’t up to date but anyways: The year is 2019, over two decades since ex superhero Ozymandias changed the course of history with a certain gooey incident in NYC (this follows the book, whereas Snyder did his own thing in the third act, which was also welcome). The setting is rural Oklahoma where masked police officers team up with costumed antiheroes to tackle a white supremacist hate group who have hijacked deceased Rorschach’s extremist views for their own nasty agenda, complete with wearing his mask. If you remember Rorschach you’ll recall that although his intentions steered towards the righteous now and again, for the most part he was a hateful, maladjusted prick and I wouldn’t put it past that elusive diary of his to spark this kind of cancer across the land years later. Anywho, police officer Angela Abar (Regina King) moonlights as a badass called Sister Night and along with her captain (Don Johnson), human lie detector Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson, finally gifted a role that exercises his talents beyond ‘dim-bulb hayseed’) and more, try to get to the bottom of what’s up. This proves tricky especially when former Silk Spectre Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) blows into town hunting vigilantes and a shadowy conspiracy begins to emerge involving everyone’s past. Lindelof & Co. carefully pick their cast and as such we get amazing work from the likes of Hong Chau, Tom Mison, Sarah Vickers, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Louis Gossett Jr, Glenn Fleshler and scene stealing Jeremy Irons as a haggard, very eccentric older Ozymandias.
I really can’t comment much more on story without ruining the surprises here, of which there are many. This is a byzantine tale, one that at first seems to have little to do with the original story until slowly, carefully and cleverly the layers peel back and the “Aha!” moments begin to roll in. My favourite performance of the whole piece is Jean Smart as the brittle, jaded and supremely badass Laurie, I noted with interest that she took her father Edward ‘The Comedian’ Blake’s last name despite everything that happened to her and her mom, and its these little touches that augment what we remember and add such rich depth to the mythology. Where is Dr. Manhattan in of this? There are blue phone-booths all over the world that one can go into and supposedly get a direct one way line to Mars where he just might be listening. Thousands of tiny, bizarre squid aliens periodically rain from the sky serving as reminder of the great unknown that made itself known in NYC. Watching this I felt immersed, I believed that this is the way the world could very well have ended up after what happened all those years ago. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross outdo themselves with a menacing, sonic original score that surges the action along and spins up the same kind of paranoia one feels reading the source material. Aside from a few issues with character development and the deliberate one note portrayal of some of the antagonists, this is worthy of the Watchmen name and then some.
Lol anyone remember Nickelodeon’s Snow Day? It’s one of those early 2000’s kids comedies that now exists in a time bubble all its own. They’ve neither aged well nor poorly, they just simply… are (kind of like Max Keeble’s Big Move). I remember watching this on YTV on a legit actual Vancouver snow day when I was a kid and nothing beat the sheer delirious elation that there’s no school and you can run outside for all kinds of wintry hijinks and destruction.
This one is adrift with subplots and iconic adult celebrities in cameos, and unfortunately mostly revolves around one idiot lovesick teen (Mark Webber) trying to woo the most popular girl in the neighborhood (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who is newly single. It’s a lame, tired and kinda misinformed motif but thanks to the sheer pandemonium revolving around it, the film is still pretty fun. Chevy Chase has a bit as his dad, the local tv weatherman forced to endure intense degradation by wearing a different winter themed costume for every broadcast, but it’s no less humiliating than the actor’s entire career overall, to be honest. There’s a running gag involving the school principal (Damien Young) who just wants to get home but keeps getting peppered by snowballs from an armada of unseen kids who ambush him at every turn. Other welcome appearances come from Pam Grier, Jean Smart, John Schneider and, uh.. Iggy Pop as a weirdo radio DJ.
Probably the most memorable element of the film is perennial Hollywood simpleton and lowbrow comedic jackass Chris Elliott as Snowplow Man, the only one with the unholy power to clear the roads and get school back in session. This makes him target zero for the neighbourhood kids and their furious battle against him is where the film really cuts loose and he gets to chew more scenery than he did as that handicapped Amish dude who kept saying “pee pee vagina” in Scary Movie 4 (I still laugh like an immature kid at that to this day). He laugh like a maniac and calls his plow truck ‘Darling Clementine’, it’s an inspired piece of WTF arch-villain-ry. It’s all in good fun, but the romantic central thing is just so dumb. Sissy Spacek’s daughter plays the guy’s best friend who is clearly head over heels for him while he ogles the classic popular chick and it’s painful to watch. Nevertheless, I hold a nostalgia for this and I wish they’d release it streaming somewhere to put on when we get legit snow days like today.
In the realm of Cuba Gooding Jr straight to DVD stuff, Brian Smrz’s Hero Wanted is probably my favourite. Many of them are absolute paycheque collecting trash, some are half assed efforts but a couple are scrappy, unique little gems worth seeking out. Gooding explores the dark side of human nature here as Liam Case, a simple inner city garbageman who uses the underworld ties of his colleague Swain (Norman Reedus) to stage a bank robbery for… unorthodox purposes, to say the least. Only problem is that the gang they hire is led by unstable maniac Skinner McGraw (Kim Coates) and his cop hating second in command Derek (Tommy Flanagan). The robbery ends up in disastrous bloodshed thanks to Liam’s plans and he then launches a personal crusade of vigilante justice against Skinner’s gang. All this commotion also attracts the attention of a tough homicide detective (Ray Liotta) who comes gunning for him as well. That’s only the main story arc, there’s all kinds of swervy subplots including a young girl (Sammi Hanratty) who Liam saved from a burning car years ago, the mother (Jean Smart) of one of the bank tellers injured in the botched robbery and the great Ben Cross as Liam’s ex special forces adoptive father.
It’s a lot to take in and it doesn’t all work together in the pot it’s thrown into, but it’s never not interesting, has a gritty 70’s crime aesthetic to it, plus both the writing and performances are organic and inspired. Gooding is terrific, his character essentially a perpetual fuckup whose schemes have lead him down a dark path, one he’s fighting brutally to find his way off of. Liotta brings heart and humour, not just another thankless cop role but someone who seems like an individual. Reedus gives my favourite performance as a dude who walks the line between good and bad finely, and pays dearly for it in an intense, poetic cap to his arc. Coates and Flanagan chew the scenery like there’s no fucking tomorrow, relishing the villain roles and creating two reprehensible street scumbags for the ages. The film skips all over the place and jumps around in time on a whim, so characters who died a few scenes ago are back again, a plot thread resolves itself before its even begun and it takes some getting used to. It’s a low budget effort at heart, but a huge and very creative one at that. A lot of the dialogue seems improvised and very candid, my two favourite exchanges being: Liotta and enters a crime scene, sees his partner visibly shook up and dryly intones: “What’s the matter? You look like Oedipus after they told him he just fucked his mother.” Elsewhere, Gooding and Reedus have a beer on their lunch break and shoot the shit: “You know America was founded on labour?” Reedus absentmindedly observes. “My uncle used to work in that factory over there,” replies Cuba, “Now that niggas on crack.” It’s that kind of deliberately offbeat energy that makes this one for the books and not just another B grade write off. Fun stuff.
What do corrupt Texas border guards, missing cash, a Kennedy assassination conspiracy, buried bones and a long derelict crashed Jeep in the desert have in common? Check out Flashpoint to find out, a dusty, forgotten old 80’s thriller with a dope cast, diabolical story and one kicker of a score by Tangerine Dream that only makes the vast desert of the Southwest seem more eerie, and the dirty deeds done under its sun seem dirtier. Treat Williams is the cocky young hotshot patrolman, Kris Kristofferson his salty superior, and after the discovery of the Jeep and it’s dangerous cargo, they’re embroiled in a scary attempted coverup that includes murder, lies and a careful political smokescreen. It doesn’t help that a greedy fellow colleague (Miguel Ferrer) sets his sights on the cash too, heralding the arrival of Kurtwood Smith’s Carson, a pragmatically evil Fed with big plans for anyone who knows about the discovery. Throw Kevin Conway, Jean Smart, Guy Boyd, Tess Harper, plus Rip Torn as a local sheriff and you’ve got a diamond of a cast. Kristofferson is great as the wily veteran who knows a cautionary tale in the making when he sees it, but Smith steals the show and is downright scary as the worst type of guy to be in that position of power, who isn’t even above arguing the twisted morality of his job. This film is as lost to the sands of time as that Jeep sitting out there in the middle of nowhere, but like the Jeep its waiting to be rediscovered. A powerful morality play, a taut thriller with a killer good script and one certified forgotten gem.