BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE WHOLE TRUTH

 

The Whole Truth is a courtroom drama and thriller that spends its entire runtime getting to the truth of a matter. The film is one that – for the most part – keeps the audience guessing in much the same way as Doubt did. This ultimately makes for a story that is not a bad one to watch, even if there are areas needing improvement and the ending is a tad predictable.

Keanu Reeves stars as a hard-drinking, defence lawyer named Richard Ramsey. He also narrates the story but his delivery is so detached and flat and the content adds so little to the film that for the most part it seems like these are obtrusive elements are like a fly that you’d love to swat away. Reeves’ performance is also rather uneven and unconvincing as he attempts to play a guy trying to defend an open-and-shut case on behalf of a family friend.

A wealthy personal injury lawyer named Boone Lassiter (Jim Belushi in a rare dramatic role) is found dead. He was stabbed and has a knife protruding from his chest. His son Mike (a poker-faced, Gabriel Basso) kneels above his estranged, old man’s body and mutters, “Should have done this a long time ago.” The police take this as a confession and it is Ramsey’s job to try to defend the boy and possibly get him acquitted of murder.

The main problem is that Mike won’t talk, not even to his lawyer. So Ramsey adopts a strategy of making it look like the prosecution is winning the case until some extra, crucial pieces of information are revealed. But are some of these red herrings that have been planted or are they the actual truth?

Boone is painted as a philanderer and a tyrant who assaulted his wife (a troubled, Renée Zellweger). The information is revealed via a series of flashbacks with director, Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) attempting to keep the audience on their toes until the very end.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion) also appears in this film. She plays Janelle and is brought in as a young, eager-to-prove herself co-counsel to assist Ramsey. Mbatha-Raw’s role is a largely thankless one. Janelle attempts to suss out the truth and discovers that there could be more to this story than meets the eye. The only thing that seems certain here is that there are many shades of grey and at least a few people are telling secrets and lies.

The Whole Truth is a drab-looking film. It’s shot mostly in-doors in the grey courtroom and is rather dull in depicting the events leading up to it so it’s really an unnecessary one to view on Blu-ray. It also tries to weave together a bunch of different subplots while forcing the audience to question just who Boone’s killer was and what was their motive. For a straight-to-video film it certainly has its movements but you also get the sense that with a few adjustments it could have been so much better.

Originally published on 8 March 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/whole-truth-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: MARTIN SIXSMITH – AYESHA’S GIFT

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Ayesha’s Gift is a book that could also be called “Ayesha’s Curse” because it is brimming with sorrow. It’s the fictionalised account of the real-life events that saw Philomena author and former BBC foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith assist in investigating the death of a British-Pakistani man. The book is ultimately a rather multi-faceted detective tale where a murder is solved, cultures collide and a kind of quiet respect, empathy and trust is forged between two unlikely main characters.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/224417

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BOOK REVIEW: THOMAS MULLEN – DARKTOWN

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Darktown is like a rose in the field of police procedurals. It deals with some thorny issues with respect to a vanguard group of African-American cops working in Atlanta in 1948. It’s a period in history where people were still reeling from the Second World War and it was before civil rights existed. This novel is ultimately a complex tale of morality that simultaneously feels like a TV series (especially one dealing with a murder investigation) and a classic story like To Kill A Mockingbird.

Lucius Boggs is the son of a preacher and one of the eight African-American men working in a special police force in Atlanta. He has a partner named Tommy Smith and together they walk and police their own unique beat. They have no squad cars, they do not work out of official police headquarters and they patrol their own native neighbourhood (it’s a different part of town to the one that is inhabited by the affluent white Americans.)

One night Boggs and Smith witness a drunken white man drive into a lamppost and assault his female passenger. These policemen call for help from some white cops. One of the men that turn up proves to be a corrupt and violent racist. The latter lets the perpetrator off the hook without even a slap on the wrist. Boggs and Smith become concerned and angry when they discover what happened that night and when they learn that the drunken criminal was the last person to see a murdered black woman alive.

Thomas Mullen constructs a rich and vivid tale about the ensuing murder investigation. It’s a tangled web where some crooked white cops despise and question the authority of their African-American counterparts. It’s also the scene of racial prejudices, a place where segregation is the norm and where it’s not uncommon for the characters to see race-related hate crimes. Some of these scenes make this book an uncomfortable one to read. But Darktown is also an important story and Mullen should be applauded for tacking this subject matter and for providing such a detailed backdrop for his characters. It’s obvious that this book has been meticulously researched.

Darktown is a gritty and raw murder thriller. It’s a page turner that will engage you and leave you guessing what’s around the next corner. This book is due to be adapted into a TV series starring Jamie Foxx and it should make for powerful viewing. Darktown describes a sad but true chapter in American history and Mullen has tackled some rather complex subject matter with great finesse. This novel is a well-written one that proves there is no black or white with respect to justice, just various shades of grey.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Bookstr giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.bookstr.com/book/darktown/9905939/

FILM REVIEW: JOE CINQUE’S CONSOLATION

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Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a film that throws up a lot of questions. How much responsibility should society accept in a murder trial? Is a murder a preventable death? To what extent can we describe an inexplicable crime? This Australian film is based on some true events and is adapted from Helen Garner’s award-winning true crime book of the same name. The film is ultimately a fleeting, intense and enigmatic look at a senseless death.

The film marks the feature debut of Sotiris Dounoukos and is adapted for the screen by Matt Rubinstein. Dounoukos was a student at the Australian National University at the time the event took place and the key players were friends with his friends. While it could be argued that Dounoukos is close to the source material, he did embark on some additional research and interviews with a number of the people involved (with the exception of the accused killers.)

The film opens with the panicked emergency call by Anu Singh (Maggie Naouri) as she attempts to get an ambulance for her dying boyfriend, Joe Cinque (Jerome Meyer.) This act proves to be too little too late. Cinque had been drugged with Rohypnol and administered a lethal dose of heroin by Singh.

This story is not a courtroom drama. Instead it attempts to dramatise and piece together the events that led up to Cinque’s death. It begins in 1994 by showing the relationship that unfolds between the promising law student (Singh) and a handsome and caring engineering student named Joe Cinque. The film quickly fast forwards to 1997 where everything seems to unravel.

In time Singh becomes mentally unhinged and a drug addict. She is preoccupied with the notion that she is fat and suffering from various illnesses. She self-medicates herself by taking Ipecac, a drug she claims Cinque introduced to her as a means of weight control. Eventually the deranged Singh decides she will attempt suicide (with help from her friend, Madhavi Rao (Sacha Joseph)) but she is also torn because she doesn’t want to lose her beau. So both young women hold a series of dinner parties where Singh tells her friends about her bizarre plans to die but they fail to raise any red flags about these crazy ideas.

Maggie Naouri does an excellent job of portraying Singh. The film is an intense, emotional rollercoaster where it feels like Cinque’s parents are relegated to the backseat while the audience is given the role of judge, jury and executioner. The film is a disconcerting and frustrating one to watch at times, especially when some aspects (like Anu and Madhavi’s true motivations) seem mysterious, illogical and incomprehensible.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a film that throws up lots of questions about an abhorrent, Australian crime. The morals seem to be as complicated as the different relationships that are portrayed here. The film is an intense and poetic look at the horrific crime and while it remains true to the source material, it could have benefited from being turned into a detailed miniseries. In doing so, it could have painted a more complete picture of things. That in itself would have been a bigger consolation for the victim, the poor Joe.

Originally published on 11 October 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-joe-cinques-consolation-australia-2016-is-an-intense-and-poetic-look-at-a-horrific-crime/

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FILM REVIEW: AMANDA KNOX (NETFLIX)

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The trailers for the documentary Amanda Knox (which debuts on Netflix in late September) questions whether the eponymous star did or didn’t commit the murder of British exchange student, Meredith Kercher. The crime that occurred in Perugia Italy in 2007 had an investigation that had more holes than a pile of Swiss cheese. This documentary film focuses on a number of the key players associated with the case and ultimately throws up some very serious questions with respect to the investigation.

The film is directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn and is written by Matthew Hamachek and McGinn. The film took over five years to assemble and is like those similar series, Making A Murdererand The Jinx in that it looks to satisfy the public’s urge for true crime stories. The key difference here is that Amanda Knox’s one goes for a lean 90 minutes but it is apparent that this could have benefited by being covered in more depth.

The filmmakers offer some very frank interviews with Amanda Knox and her boyish co-defendant ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, an aspiring Sherlock Holmes-like Italian prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini and the front-page seeking English journalist, Nick Pisa. These interviews – especially with the two former individuals – are quite sobering and are a stark contrast to the footage of the media circus that ensued during the trial. The coverage was a maelstrom where Knox was tyrannised by her own nickname, “Foxy Knoxy” and dubbed a “Femme fatale” and a sexual deviant because of how she responded to the allegations. One can’t help but think of Knox being treated like Lindy Chamberlain because both women did not respond as society believed they should have after both tragedies.

Amanda Knox goes through the different trial and acquittals that took place. It also culminates with the final exoneration of Knox and Sollecito in 2015. The Kercher family are represented very briefly here in newsreel footage. A glaring omission is the lack of interviews with the other neighbours living at Via della Pergola 7 at the time.

The documentary describes the swift investigation by the police where law enforcement officials faced increased pressure from the media who were hell-bent on quick answers. The film also looks at the evidence found at the murder site including the alleged murder weapon and other information that come to light during the course of the investigation. Perhaps the most chilling scenes in the film is where Knox looks boldly at the audience and says, “Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing or I’m you.”

In Amanda Knox the eponymous character can be quite cold and aloof in her responses but the film shows that that alone does not make her a murderer. The series serves to shine a light on this notorious case and it will have us questioning what really happened that night. It will also have us thinking about how the investigation was bungled, especially when you consider that a lot of circumstantial evidence was used to initially sway the results. TheAmanda Knox documentary is ultimately a well-made, fascinating and short film about the infamous murder case and a reminder of what can happen when you are alone in a foreign land and subjected to a trial by media.

Originally published on 30 September 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-netflixs-amanda-knox-usa-2016-shines-a-light-on-trial-by-media/

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DVD REVIEW: KILL YOUR FRIENDS

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Kill Your Friends is a film that could be renamed, “How To Lose Friends & Alienate People.” It is a black comedy that is based on John Niven’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. It’s also a film that’s a bit 24 Hour Party People with a twist of some Trainspotting and also boasts the same bloated excess as Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

The story centres around a seemingly charming man named Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies.)) Stelfox is a ruthless and ambitious A & R (Artist & Repertoire) representative for a record label called Unigram. Hoult is a great actor but Stelfox is not an immediately likeable character. He’s actually more of a sharp-tongued anti-hero who frequently breaks down the fourth wall to explain himself and make joking asides to the audience. Some of these gags hit the mark while others about rape, the holocaust, paedophilia and aids are in poor taste.

Stelfox is rather Machiavellian in his approach to the world, especially work. When the label promises a promotion to his colleague, Roger Waters (James Corden,) Stelfox gets high and resorts to murder. When another guy is head-hunted, Stelfox frames him. Stelfox will stop at nothing- blackmail, murder and all manner of lies to get exactly what he wants. He doesn’t really love music, he’s only in it for the money.

The film is hedonistic and it enjoys lavishing itself in extremes and excesses. It also has a rather uneven tone, which some people may find jarring. One of the major positives of this film is its soundtrack. The story is set in 1997 at the height of the Britpop craze and the soundtrack boasts no less than: Radiohead, Blur, The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Echo & The Bunnymen. The songs are used to great effect, one highlight is watching Stelfox as he takes in Radiohead’s “Karma Police.”

This movie is cheeky and clever but it also could have been a much better one. Some of the characters could have benefited from some extra character development and the shifts in tone could have been ironed out so it was a little less extreme. Kill Your Friends is not a film that will change you life but it doesn’t aim to be. Instead it tries (sometimes too hard) to immerse the audience in the deep and dark world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but sometimes it feels like it isn’t playing the right tune.

Originally published on 2 September 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/kill-friends-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: GARY KEMBLE – BAD BLOOD

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Bad Blood is a dark and tense novel by Australia author, Gary Kemble. This super-charged thriller is the second to star investigative journalist, Harry Hendrick (who many readers would have been introduced to in Kemble’s debut novel, Skin Deep.) Bad Blood is ultimately a disturbing and challenging mix of crime and speculative fiction.

Harry Hendrick is a self-destructive character who is sniffing out his next big story. He begins probing an alleged paedophile ring and he looks into the affairs of a union official to uncover any signs of corruption. Kemble is also asked to investigate a number of bizarre suicides by the police. They are considered strange because the bodies all have identical scars and there are also similar suicide notes at the death scenes that feature some rather strange symbols.

The investigation leads Hendrick to a professional dominatrix by the name of Mistress Hel. But is there more to this seductress than meets the eye? What transpires is a graphic and intense story that has as many layers as an onion. Bad Blood will keep you guessing until the end. Ultimately this is one gothic thriller with some disturbing elements and some scenes that will chill you to the bone.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/bad-blood/10056171/

DVD REVIEW: SOAKED IN BLEACH

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The world has been soaked – no saturated – with films and books about Kurt Cobain. This year alone has seen the release of Montage of Heck, an excellent documentary that celebrates his life, which had the full support of Cobain’s family and former Nirvana bandmates. Soaked In Bleach is a very different film. It’s one that shares a few things in common with the desperate, Kurt & Courtney as it attempts to make a case that Cobain did not commit suicide but was murdered and it does this with varying results.

Soaked In Bleach was produced, written and directed by relative first-timer, Benjamin Statler. It uses archived sound recordings by private investigator, Tom Grant to present reasons why some people believe Cobain was murdered rather than the official version, that Cobain was a depressed junkie that killed himself. One thing this film does do successfully is ask a lot of questions, it’s just a pity that the answers are not forthcoming.

Tom Grant was hired by Courtney Love in 1994 after she claimed she was unable to find her husband. The two met quite a few times but Grant became highly suspicious of Love and decided to tape the remaining interviews. The audio from these discussions are combined with re-enactments, which form the basis of this movie. The big problem is that the re-enactments (with Tyler Bryan, Sarah Scott and Daniel Roebuck playing Cobain, Love and a young Grant) are all quite shoddy and poorly acted and detract away from the real soundbites.

The filmmaker also makes a big mistake when it comes to the talking head interviews. The subjects include: Grant, investigative journalist Max Wallace (who has written books on this subject), former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper, coroner Cyril Wecht and other forensic personnel and law enforcement officials. The individuals do ask some reasonable questions but it is hard to take them seriously when they are shot in a dark room that resembles the greenhouse where Cobain’s body was found and when additional effects like pretending it is night time and raining in said room are also used. This is ultimately all too overbearing and exaggerated for its own good, especially when it’s trying to make sober arguments and not appear like mere conspiracy theory trash.

Soaked In Bleach is an explosive docudrama that offers up some rare and unseen footage as well as a poor grunge-like soundtrack and lots of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence. It’s best if viewers sit back and make up their own minds (because a lot of people do feel strongly about the subject, one way or another). This film does present a lot of inconsistencies and issues with the police investigation but it is also a large leap to go from this to suspecting Love of murder just because she was inconsistent, manipulative, high or drug-addled. At the end of the day I can’t help but think of Cobain’s own words in his journal as being the most appropriate way of viewing this film, “If you read, you’ll judge”. Too right.

Originally published on 12 October 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/soaked-bleach-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: THE JINX: THE LIFE & DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST

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The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is the television equivalent of peeling an onion. This true crime mini-series is a well-structured and well-edited look at the eccentric New York real-estate heir, Robert Durst. The recipient of the 2015 Emmy award for the most outstanding documentary or nonfiction series is a worthy winner, as the program is an engrossing and compelling look at the three murder cases linked to Durst.

This six part series is directed by Andrew Jarecki who also acts as the producer along with Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. Messer Jarecki is also the same man who directed the feature film, All Good Things in 2010. The latter film starred Ryan Gosling and was a fictionalised look at the events that are also tackled by this mini-series, namely the disappearance of Robert Durst’s wife, Kathie in 1982. The feature film impressed Robert Durst so much that he got in touch with the filmmaker and offered to be interviewed as well as unprecedented access to his personal archive.

The series is excellent and gives a lot of information about Kathie’s disappearance and the highly suspicious circumstances that surrounded the event. It also looks at two other crimes that Durst has been linked to- the execution-style death of his long-time friend, Susan Berman in 2000 (her father had been a member of the mafia) and his neighbour Morris Black. Durst admitted to killing Black in “self-defence” and was acquitted of this charge even though Black had been found dismembered in Galveston Texas.

The series does take liberty with the timings of certain events and it goes for the entertainment value rather than presenting something that is purely factual. The Jinx is a dark and entertaining drama program that threads together interviews with the creepy, frank and troubled Durst as well as family and friends of the missing and deceased. There are also interviews with attorneys and police officers who were involved in the cases. Rather than be a dry or clinical retelling of what was believed to have occurred, the filmmakers use archive photographs and footage as well as recreations/re-enactments and site visits to the crime scenes plus some strategically-timed reveals and cliff hangers.

The Jinx is a well-shot and edited piece of documentary filmmaking. It’s a contradictory piece that straddles the lines between investigative journalism and entertaining tension and suspense. This ultimately makes for some engrossing melodrama that is best enjoyed by viewers that know nothing or as little about the case as possible. This then allows the story to be revealed before their very eyes, complete with all of its gobsmacking revelations and smoking gun evidence. The result is an extraordinary true crime tale that towers above the rest.

Originally published on 10 October 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/jinx-life-deaths-robert-durst-dvd-review/

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