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Non-Review Review: The Drop

It is suggested that hell is other people. Perhaps not so much. Perhaps hell is the absence of other people. Towards the end of The Drop, a character ruminates on the idea of eternal damnation – suggesting that hell is nothing but eternal emptiness, a cosmic echo chamber where the damned are left with nothing but their own sense of isolation. Maybe that is what damnation is, nothing but an individual’s own loathing and self-doubt reflected back them, amplified through the darkness.

The Drop is a tense and claustrophobic thriller. The bulk of the action unfolds around the small world as Bob knows it. Bob is a simple man. He works at a small dive, “Cousin Marv’s Place.” When asked tough questions, he simply answers, “I just tend bar.” As Bob explains, the dive bar occasionally serves as a “drop” for all the money laundered through local crime. Bob doesn’t know where it comes from or where it goes. He is only aware of it when it comes into his care and when it leaves.

It's a dog's life...

It’s a dog’s life…

The Drop is a story about isolation and loneliness. Characters reflect on their place in the world, trying to make sense of what unfolds around them. Most are unknowable to each other, mysteries and enigmas. Asked a personal question, Bob replies, “That’s my business.” When his friend Nadia asks why Bob never inquired about her own very obvious scars, Bob simply answers, “I figure that’s your business.” The world as Bob knows it is a small place. Maybe it’s constantly getting smaller.

Adapted by Dennis Lehane from his own short story Animal Rescue, The Drop wallows in its own sense of lost direction and impending doom. Michaël R. Roskam’s direction never rushes the story or the actors, allowing the film time to take in the emptiness and hollowness in this small world that briefly intersects with something much bigger and more unpleasant. Perhaps a little too stately and relaxed in places, The Drop is nevertheless an atmospheric delight.

Just Cous...

Just Cous…

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Non-Review Review: Enough Said

Enough Said is a charming little romantic comedy starring Julia Louise-Dreyfuss as Eva. Eva is a divorced parent who finds herself in the relationship with another charming divorcée, navigating the difficulties of dating-after-marriage and trying to come to terms with her daughter’s impending departure to attend college. Through what another character describes as “an unbelievable coincidence”, our protagonist finds herself in a delightfully awkward romantic situation, trapped between two people very close to her.

Enough Said owes a debt to the classic romantic farce – the comedy of errors and manners – but the humour here is a lot more focused and character-driven. Once the plot becomes clear, it seems like Enough Said might devolve into a slapstick comedy about timing and awkward double entendres, but it’s to the credit of writer and director Nicole Holofcener that the film instead remains tightly focused on Eva and the people around her.

Stepping up...

Stepping up…

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The Sopranos: Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrist’s Office…

Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office gets the second season of The Sopranos off to a strong start. We’re immediately informed that time has elapsed and that everything has sorted itself out. We get a montage to assure us that it’s business as usual, and the early part of the episode features Tony tying off the last possible lose end in the feud between himself and Junior. However, there’s also a sense that things are changing, both in the lives of our characters and also in the way the show is structured.

The first season of the show is a damn fine piece of television, but it’s also somewhat misleading. It’s a beautifully structured thirteen-episode mob epic which manages to satisfactorily tie up all its loose ends by the time the credits role on I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano. It’s understandable that so many people were frustrated by the show’s non-resolution after the first season wrapped up so elegantly.

With the success of that first season, there’s a sense of earned confidence to Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office, as if Chase feels like he has a bit more freedom to work with in telling his great American novel.

Something's not quite right here...

Something’s not quite right here…

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The Sopranos: I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (Review)

From pretty much the opening scene, I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano begins wrapping up loose ends with a ruthless efficiency. Jimmy, the rat identified in Nobody Knows Anything, is murdered less than five minutes into the episode. All the various plot threads seeded throughout the show’s first year come to a head. The feud between Junior and Tony is resolved. The FBI swoop in. Tony and Melfi talk it out and figure out exactly what their relationship is. Even Artie’s restaurant becomes a focal point, providing a direct link back to the very first episode.

For all the talk of randomness and inconsistency in The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, everything here seems to come a full circle. It’s absolutely stunningly executed, and one of the best things that can be said about I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (and one of the best things that could be said about any piece of television drama ever) is the fact that it feels so much deeper and richer than its runtime. We know that it’s an hour-long, but it really feels so much meatier and more substantial than that.

It’s a beautiful culmination to a year’s worth of television.

Lights out...

Lights out…

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The Sopranos: Isabella (Review)

With Isabella, the first season of The Sopranos comes to a head. It’s all been building and building since the pilot, and the penultimate episode is the point where things really start to pay off. It’s amazing how structured the first season of The Sopranos is, dedicated to build-up and pay-off. Despite the show is about the randomness of life and how stuff just sort of happens, there’s a very clear internal structure and logic to the first season.

Those frustrated by the ending (or arguable non-ending) of Made in America may have missed the point of the larger show, but it’s not an unreasonable expectation when the first season was so careful about paying off all of its plot points and thread. Isabella is the point where things go wrong for Tony in a big way. It’s the episode where Junior and Livia’s scheming puts a bullet in him (and – in one of the show’s countless references to The Godfather – through his orange juice).

At the same time, it remains a story driven by Tony, focused on his character and his own psychology.

Let sleeping mobsters lie...

Let sleeping mobsters lie…

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The Sopranos – Nobody Knows Anything (Review)

Nobody Knows Anything represents the beginning of the end of the first season of The Sopranos. It is, despite my reservations about Boca and even A Hit is a Hit, a remarkably strong season of television. Part of the thrill of Nobody Knows Anything – particularly after two relatively stand-alone episodes – is watching the series gracefully and fluidly start knocking down the dominoes it has been lining up since the start of the season.

It’s text-book set-up and pay-off, executed with considerable skill. Rewatching the first season of The Sopranos, it’s easy to understand why so many viewers were frustrated by the non-resolution of Made in America. The Sopranos has constantly riffed on The Godfather, right down to Paulie’s car horn here, and it feels like the show is making a conscious effort to emulate the efficiency with which Coppola structured that gangster classic’s final act.

Diving on in there...

Diving on in there…

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The Sopranos: A Hit is a Hit (Review)

A Hit is a Hit works a lot better than Boca, despite the fact that it’s structurally quite similar. It introduces a bunch of new characters and concepts to the series which don’t really extend beyond the episode in question. Massive G never appears again, and the pending lawsuit he threatens is never discussed in any later episode. It’s a light stand-alone tale coming towards the end of a season which has dedicated so much time and effort to building a full-formed world.

However, A Hit is a Hit doesn’t feel completely disposable. Part of that is down to the wonderful B-plot in which Tony finds himself struggling for acceptance among more the more reputable members of his neighbourhood, but it’s also down to the fact that the main plot feels like develops the themes of The Sopranos a lot better than Boca did, and that Christopher’s character arc feels like a logical progression rather than simply “an issue of the week.”

Ain't that a shot in the head?

Ain’t that a shot in the head?

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