Tag Archives: murder

Wallandar (2008)

Things are tough in Sweden….

wallanderThe DVD Wallander features Kenneth Branagh as the middle-aged beleaguered detective Kurt Wallander. This release is a 2-DVD set–with two films on the first disc and a third film–One Step Behind on the second disc. The first DVD features episodes Sidetracked and Firewall and these tales are based on the novels by Swedish author Henning Mankell. This DVD had been in my netflix queue along with the long wait notice since its release in June 2009, and when it finally arrived, I was very interested to see it. So Netflix finally sent disc one, and I watched it. I should mention that I’d read my first Henning Mankell crime novel earlier this year–didn’t love it, but then the first novel in the series is often the weakest, but since Branagh is such a good actor, I really wanted to see this DVD.

Any detective series (novel or film) has the delicate task of producing interesting crime stories that feature a regular character we care about. So there’s a balancing act between the crime at hand and the details of the detective’s life and character. I should add here that it’s not necessary to like the character in order to find him or her interesting. In fact, the more flaws the better (take Detective Inspector Rebus from the novels of Ian Rankin, for example). These series characters become acquaintances in a way–we want to see what they are up to in the next episode, and the theory is, of course, that if we are so interested in the character, we will come back to read the next book, or in this case, watch the next DVD.

So will I return to Wallander?

Doubtful….

The first episode, Sidetracked, begins with a startling, attention-grabbing act of self-destruction which leaves detective Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) feeling both responsible and helpless at the same time. But the attention grabbing beginning dwindles down into a sordid tale of corrupt kinky powerful men and a slew of horrific, ritualized murders. Yawn. It’s been done 100s of times before.

In the second episode, Firewall, Wallander investigates the seemingly senseless brutal stabbing of a taxi driver by a disaffected teen, and soon bodies  are popping up everywhere and he’s involved in a fanciful tale of cybernet terrorism.

The second episode showed a lot more energy as the story tweaks details of Wallandar’s pathetic personal life. The poor sod is separated from a wife he thinks he still loves, his bitchy, bratty daughter demands attention, and his father–already irritable and difficult to please–is sliding into Alzheimers.

At first, Wallander comes off as depressed, depressive and exhausted. He doesn’t even have the energy to shave apparently, and after seeing him wake up in chair, I was beginning to wonder about showers. The one relationship in his life is with his daughter, and it consists of her hounding him about various issues and in Firewall she pesters him to start dating. Wallander’s personal life doesn’t sucks as much as it’s non-existent. Branagh as Wallander seems to find even the smallest tasks associated with living to be too much to bear. And all things considered, I found him a bit depressing to be around….

The film may please fans of Branagh and the cinematography is gorgeous, but for me, and I may be in the minority here, I’m not exactly eager to see what happens to Wallandar in succeeding episodes.

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Noise (2007)

 “If you were a fuckknuckle all your life, that would be hell.”

“Not catching too many crims, are you?”

Noise is this month’s selection from the Film Movement DVD-of-the-month club. As I noted in an earlier post, foreign or independent films never arrive at my local cinema, and since I really enjoy the titles selected by Film Movement, I decided to sign on with their DVD club. Monthly membership works out to be less than the cost of two cinema tickets.

noiseNoise from Australian writer/director Matthew Saville is nothing short of brilliant. That said, I will add that after watching this stunning film, I toodled across the Internet to see what reviewers were saying. I was surprised to read some lukewarm reviews of this wonderful film, but after chewing this over, I’ve decided that it’s due in part to the film’s theme, which is likely to attract a wide audience–some of whom may expect something a bit less elusive.

On one level, Noise follows the investigations of two crimes that occur around Christmas time in a working class suburb of Melbourne. Lavinia Smart (Maia Thomas) a young woman whose headphones blunt her sensory perceptions, enters a late night train only to discover a scene of carnage. The grisly bloody discovery of seven victims inside the train is followed the next day by the discovery of the body of a missing woman. While the community reels from these two tragedies, residents of Sunshine begin to wonder if the crimes are connected.

Meanwhile police Constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) is experiencing persistent ringing in his ears. His unsympathetic grumpy supervisor assigns McGahan the nightshift in a community police caravan parked near where the missing woman was last seen. McGahan is the first person to admit he isn’t much of a police officer. This is a career he’s drifted into, and perhaps that explains why he doesn’t fit the mold. Stuck with a humorless coworker and an unsympathetic boss who thinks McGahan is a slacker, this lackluster less-than-gung ho policeman sits out his shifts in the caravan. He’s supposed to mesh with the community, gather tips, and talk to possible witnesses, so he hands out flyers and condoms and interacts with various locals, “Lucky” Phil (Simon Laherty), the grief stricken fiancé of the murder victim, and an aggressive weirdo.

While the film ostensibly revolves around the solution to the murders, Noise is not a police procedural. Instead it’s a character study, and while the film seems to begin with the dilemma of Lavinia Smart, the plot very soon shifts to its protagonist McGahan. Terrified that he may have cancer, and waiting anxiously for a Dr’s report, McGahan hides his fears under a veneer of detachment, but he also fights feelings of alienation and self-pity. His hearing problem is literally and figuratively isolating McGahan from his girlfriend, but forced to sit out his shifts in the community caravan, various characters pierce through McGahan’s isolation.

Ultimately the film makes some strong yet elusively subtle comments about Australian society. This is a society in which seven people are randomly and rapidly slaughtered and a young woman simply disappears. Noise may connect us to other human beings–but it’s just that–noise–a substitute for human interaction and emotion. The film presents a world of isolation: a world in which the stronger pick on the weak, and the psychotic slaughter at will. McGahan’s physical problem may isolate him from his girlfriend, but it’s the emotional isolation in society that is far more dangerous.

The film emphasizes sound elements–and sometimes the lack of them–throughout the story. There are some terrific scenes in the film: at one point, for example, McGahan driven almost mad by the ringing in his ears turns on every machine in the house in order to generate enough sound to drown out the constant buzzing.

Those of us who prefer neat, clear and definitive endings may feel a certain amount of frustration at the film’s ambiguous conclusion. Personally, I loved the conclusion and I think the film addressed the meaning of the ending through textual references that occurred earlier in the plot.

If you enjoyed Lantana or Jindabyne, then there’s an excellent chance you’ll enjoy Noise. It’s truly a superb film. Anyway, for more info on FILM MOVEMENT go to www.filmmovement.com

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Dr Petiot (1990)

“It’s the age of villains.”

Dr Petiot (Michel Serrault) is a respected French physician living in Paris during the German occupation of WWII. His waiting rooms are packed with patients, but by night he runs a lucrative sideline by claiming to assist wealthy Jews who wish to be smuggled out of France to South America. The Jews who trust Petiot never leave France, and instead they meet their grisly deaths at his hands. In many ways, it’s a perfect set-up. His victims are supposed to enter an underground network Petiot has devised, and even the families of the victims aren’t in a position to contact the authorities with their suspicions.

Petiot is a bizarre character. He treats many of his poor French patients with no thought of payment, and yet at the same time he murders Jews for their money. His anti-Semitism is clear, and he needs no more justification than that. Primarily, however, Petiot is an opportunist. He deals with the French Gestapo, isn’t perturbed by the German Gestapo either, and he also traffics in Morphine. Petiot doesn’t seem to be bothered by the hardships others complain about. During an electricity blackout, for example, he says, “What I like about this war is being plunged into black night.” He seems to be quite comfortable in the dark shadows and tunnels of Paris. At night, he rides around on a bicycle with his cloak billowing out behind him, and there are visual elements of the vampire, Nosferatu here. Some of the anarchic street scenes are remarkable, and the social chaos underscores Petiot’s ability to conduct his murderous activities. The film emphasizes Petiot’s ghoulish side, and the demented, gleeful ceremonial manner in which he conducts each murder. The film is not graphic however, but the story is unavoidably nasty.

Michel Serrault as Petiot is incredible, and his portrayal of this strange character makes the film. Petiot is manic, demented, and explodes into rage at any small frustration. Petiot is also a chameleon with the brains to cover his tracks, and only a veteran actor like Serrault could carry off this complex role with such skill. He’s both amazing and horrifying to watch. For some reason “Dr Petiot”–a French language film with subtitles–seems fated to fade away, so if you’re a fan of French cinema, seek out a copy of this little-known masterpiece while you can. The final scene will haunt you for a long time to come. Directed by Christian de Chalonge.

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House by the River (1950)

 “Sometimes cheap perfume can be very exciting.”

House By the River is a lesser-known title from master director Fritz Lang. It’s touted as film noir, and that will probably help sell copies, but it’s more accurate to describe this wonderful film as a Gothic psychological drama.

The story is set in the late 1800s and concerns unsuccessful writer Stephen Byrne (Louis Hayward) who’s married to Marjorie (Jane Wyatt). After the return of yet another rejected manuscript, Stephen attacks and murders his attractive blonde maid, Emily (Dorothy Patrick). As he struggles to dispose of the body, his brother John (Lee Bowman) arrives. John, a lonely taciturn bachelor, loves and admires Marjorie, and Stephen exploits this knowledge to coerce John into helping him cover up his crime. Stephen cunningly realizes that John is extremely vulnerable, and instead of being indebted to John, Stephen gradually reverses the power relationship.

The plot maximizes the psychological elements at play while examining the aftereffects of the maid’s disappearance. In a small town, the maid’s attractiveness combined with her social standing and mysterious disappearance result in a web of gossip. The main characters all fit their roles well, but Louis Hayward steals the film. Stephen is very social and popular, and he can charm a room full of fawning women. But there’s an insane, crafty side to his character. Stephen’s expressions alter in the twinkling of an eye from benign conviviality to reflect his evil, dastardly plans.

House By the River is proof yet again of Fritz Lang’s talent as a director. One magnificent scene shows water draining from the bath, and somehow this simple event assumes fantastic, ominous proportions. Lang also includes some masterful scenes of Stephen alone on the river. The river that flows outside of Stephen’s home seems to possess a willful life of its own, and Stephen goes to battle with the river for its stubborn refusal to surrender to his plans–Marvelous stuff and Fritz Lang fans won’t be disappointed.

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Cover-Up (1949)

“The murderer should get a prize.”

In the film Cover-Up insurance investigator Sam Donovan (Dennis O’Keefe) travels to the small town of Junction City to wrap up the details on a suicide case. The dead man, Roger Phillips, had a $20,000 policy that included a double indemnity clause if the insured man was murdered. As Donovan gets off the train, he befriends local girl Anita Weatherby (Barbara Britton), who’s returning home from the city to spend Xmas with her family. While he’d like to get to know her better, Donovan expects to wrap the case up and leave town within the day. Donovan, however, meets a wall of silence and resistance that begins with the sheriff, Larry Best (William Bendix). It seems that Phillips was widely disliked, and the town’s residents are relieved he’s dead.

With the murder weapon missing, and no powder burns on the dead man’s fingers, it doesn’t take Donovan long to conclude that Phillips was murdered. The town’s inhabitants resist the idea that there’s a murderer amongst them, and the beneficiary of the life insurance–Phillips’s niece–practically begs Donovan to rule the death a suicide–even though she stands to double her money if her uncle was murdered. Donovan remains in town to continue his investigation and rapidly becomes involved with Anita Weatherby.

Cover-Up, directed by Albert E. Green is a decent little film, and its portrayal of the close-knit small town community is well done. The main problem with the film is that Phillips–although he’s already dead by the time the film begins–is a major character. The plot revolves around his death, a motive for murder, and also why the entire town would collaborate in hushing the crime up. When a main character never appears or has a delayed appearance on screen, yet his or her personality is crucial to the credibility of the plot, then the absent character’s personality must be made clear through reminiscences (take the superb film noir title Laura for instance). In Cover-Up everyone says that Phillips was a horrible person, but there is really no concrete evidence–except for one quarrel with a niece. This lack of evidence of Phillips’s cruelty weakens the plot. Fans of 40s films should enjoy this title, however, and the dynamic between Donovan and the sheriff Larry Best is interesting.

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Soundless (2004)

“He tailors his method to his victims.”

The German film Soundless (Lautlos) begins with a high-tech surveillance team spying on a man who’s drinking a glass of wine outside of his apartment while a blonde woman sleeps soundly in bed just a few feet away. For all their high tech equipment–including sophisticated bugging devices–the surveillance team misses the sneaky hooded assassin who shoots the man they’re supposed to be watching. After killing his victim, the assassin robs the apartment, and ogles the sleeping blonde–a one-night stand named Nina (Nadja Uhl).

The hired assassin is Viktor (Joachim Krol)–a man who is–as the title suggests–a “soundless” professional. And from this point, an investigation begins with determined policeman Lang (Christian Berkel) doggedly pursuing any clues the assassin left behind. Viktor is portrayed as the ultimate professional, and he’s supposed to retire after his next job. While Lang hunts for the identity of the assassin, a relationship springs up between Viktor and Nina, and there’s obviously a lot more to Nina than meets the eye. Written and directed by Mennan Yapo, Soundless is a highly stylized, glossy thriller that unfortunately falls down when it comes to plot. Viktor is portrayed as this assassin who possesses almost superhuman qualities–so he is able to off people with cold mechanical precision, and yet the film immediately makes Viktor commit a very stupid error when he strikes up a relationship with the tasty blonde.

Detective Lang is supposed to be Victor’s juggernaut, and he’s also portrayed with superhuman qualities–which result in a sort of ESP connection with his quarry. The plot’s holes, fancifulness and hopeless improbabilities tested my patience, and ultimately Soundless reminded me of a German version of a Matt Damon thriller. Now if you’re a fan of Matt Damon thrillers (The Bourne Identity), then you may enjoy Soundless–even if you don’t normally like German films, but I was hoping for something along the lines of Run Lola Run or The Warrior and The Princess, and this film did not reach that level. In German with English subtitles.

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