Can You Ever Forgive Me

“Can You Ever Forgive Me” stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a barely functioning alcoholic whose life starts to go out of control when she loses her job.

Israel is a far from sympathetic character, she’s rude to her colleagues which is why she lost her job, rude to her literary agent which is why she can’t get any work, and was horrible to her ex-partner which is why she is alone and friendless.

Running off the back of a couple of marginally well-received biographies (“I was on the New York Times best seller list, surely that has to count for something?” she moans at her agent) Israel is sure that her new idea of an autobiography on vaudeville actress Fanny Brice is the solution to all her woes. The problem is, this is the early 1990s and no one in interested in biographies, let alone Fanny Brice.

Undaunted, Israel starts her research and it’s while looking through books in a library she comes across some personal letters from Brice herself tucked into the back of one of the books. Israel decides to keep the letters – presumably because she thinks they will add value to her book if she has some personal correspondence that no-one else has – and this sets her on a slippery path to becoming one of the most prolific letter forgers of the 20th Century – with some of her forgeries still in circulation as the real thing even today.

With this being a Melissa McCarthy film, you might think that this is a light-hearted caper movie along the lines of Identity Thief – it’s not. It’s a hard-hitting, no-holds barred look at a very unlikeable character who is horrible to those around her and whose only true friend – her cat Jersey – doesn’t really like her either.

Even by the end of the film, you really don’t feel sorry for Israel’s character – I personally thought that she should have got a harsher sentence considering the lack of remorse she showed over her crimes – she was proud of the fact she was so good at her forging “job” but being banned from almost every library in the US meant she couldn’t carry on her trade as either master forger or serious biographer.

The film is, obviously, centred around Israel but there is quite a strong supporting cast. The excellent Jane Curtin stars as Israel’s put-upon agent; Dolly Wells as Anna, a bookstore owner who starts off as one of Israel’s marks but a friendship starts to bloom in a “will they, won’t they” sort of way which is quite sweet; and Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock (with a Big Cock – his catchphrase, I don’t know from personal experience) a fellow drunkard who Israel is able to tolerate presumably because it’s a novelty to find someone more miserable and untruthful than herself.

Richard E. Grant’s portrayal of Hock has garnered him several award nominations (Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild no less) and while it was a good performance (I did shed a tear in the last scene he shared with McCartney’s Israel), I was left thinking it was merely a very toned-down version of Withnail (of Withnail & I). There’s the excessive drinking, lewdness and drug taking – in fact the only difference is that you can understand what he’s saying in this film where as he’s a bit too off his face and ranty in Withnail & I.

That being said, while it’s not a new performance from Grant, it is a good one and the on-screen chemistry between Hock and Israel is excellent. Apparently, the role of Israel was originally to be played by Julianne Moore and I’m glad she dropped out. While not an exact look-a-like, McCarthy encompasses the essence of the character – essentially a nasty drunk woman – and I think Moore would have been far too glamorous for the role.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily an Oscar winning performance, it was nice to see McCarthy in a serious role where she’s actually showing her acting ability rather than just being a shouty angry woman. That being said, I’m afraid that I will forever hold McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live’s Sean Spicer in my heart as her best role – it’s a shame he left the White House as quickly as he did – imagine the fun Melissa could have had with him!

Watch this film if you’re looking for some semi-factual cinema and are feeling a bit tetchy (bring a hanky for use towards the end of the film though).

This film has interested me in the subject matter that much I have ordered Lee Israel’s autobiography from Amazon – if you feel like doing the same then you can choose one of the options below. It won’t cost you any extra but I’ll get a small affiliate commission.

Making A Murderer – Season 2

So, I just binge-watched all 10 episodes of “Making A Murderer” Season Two so you can figure out if you want to watch it or not.

If you haven’t heard of the Netflix documentary “Making A Murderer” or Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey then I assume that you have had no internet connection since 2015.

Seriously. The details of this case have been all over social and mainstream media since Laura Riccardi and Moira Demos brought it to public attention 3 years ago. So, just in case you have been living under an internet rock, here’s the basic premise:

In 1985 23 year old Steven Avery was convicted of a brutal sexual assault and attempted murder. Avery claimed he didn’t do it but was convicted anyway despite there being no physical evidence to tie him to the crime. After serving 18 years of a 32 year sentence Avery was acquitted after DNA evidence proved that he didn’t do it.

So far so normal, right? Well, things start to go a bit wrong for Avery when he decides to sue the police department and local county for wrongful arrest and imprisonment to the tune of $36 million dollars. Yup, you read that right, $36 Million.

Two years after Avery’s release (in 2007), the police are at his door yet again, this time arresting him for the murder of local photographer Teresa Halbach. During his incarceration Avery is forced to settle his $36 million lawsuit for just $400,000 so he could afford to appoint a legal team to defend him against the murder charge – what an amazing coincidence! A lawsuit that would pretty much bankrupt the county has magically gone away!

There’s no real evidence against Avery until Halbach’s car is miraculously found abandoned in Avery’s Junk Car lot, Halbach’s car key turns up in Avery’s bedroom and human bones are found in a fire pit outside his house.

What seals Avery’s fate is the confession of his 16 year old nephew that describes the murder and what the pair did to the unfortunate Halbach

The original “Making A Murderer” Trailer is below:

So, you might think that this is all well and good but there are a few problems:

  • Police searched Avery’s house several times and only found the car key after two weeks and the key was found by the local police department who were told to stay away from the case because of Avery’s lawsuit
  • There’s no other evidence that Halbach was in Avery’s house
  • The fire pit isn’t thought to be the murder site but when checking out the garage where the murder allegedly took place there’s no true DNA evidence
  • Blood evidence on Halbach’s car makes no sense
  • And – probably most importantly – Dassey’s “confession” was made on his own with no appropriate adult present and this is a kid with an IQ of under 100 and a diagnosed learning difficulty.

Still, this circumstantial evidence is enough for a jury and Dassey was jailed for life with the possibility of parole in 2048, and Avery was sentenced to life without parole.

The first series of Making A Murderer documents the trial, the problems in the prosecution case and the issues that the defence case has getting evidence and witnesses heard. I have to admit the first series isn’t balanced, it leans very heavily in Avery and Dassey’s favour but after you’ve watched the entire series you can’t help feeling that they were both stitched up to stop the lawsuit and conveniently solve a murder.

Now that you’re all caught up, here’s my take on series 2 which was made available on Netflix on the 16th of October – and yes, I did binge-watch all 10 episodes.

Season 2

This second series is still one sided as it just covers Avery and Dassey’s defence teams and their efforts to get their clients freed however unlike the first series is comes across and more balanced in the way that the evidence is being presented.

This is largely down to Dassey’s lawyer Laura Nirider and Avery’s Lawyer Kathleen Zellner who are very passionate about the case but also extremely good in explaining the ins and outs of a complicated legal system to the layperson.

In Dassey’s case, the series revolves around the fact that his confession was coerced and as a vulnerable young person wasn’t handled correctly. We follow his multiple appeal process in what – to me – seems ridiculous in that he wins at least 3 times and has his conviction overturned and yet still won’t be released by his State.

Avery’s case is more complex and more interesting: Zellner finds that there were a lot of flaws in the original defence case which could lead to a re-trial. She tests all of the evidence that the police have found (including chucking a dummy in the back of a car, flinging blood around, stealing a sink and shooting at shit) to attempt to replicate what they police say happened and even subjected Avery to a brain scan lie detector – in fact one of the first things she says to him is that he’d better be not guilty because if she takes his case she’ll prove what really happened, even if it does show he did it.

The series is quite heavy going in times, there’s a lot of explanation of American law and precedents but this is outweighed by seeing how the defence go about putting their case together – what they look for and what they need to prove and disprove.

One shining light in the program are Steven’s parents, Allan and Delores, who are in their late seventies/early eighties and are clearly devoted to each other even if neither can hear a word the other is saying. Their main concern is that they won’t be around when their son and great-nephew are finally released and no amount of money would ever be able to replace the time they have lost with their son. You really do feel for them and the terrible situation they are being put through, they just want their son back and I do hope this can happen soon for them.

In the first part, Avery is engaged to Sandy after she started writing to him in prison. 10 years later poor Sandy has had enough and calls the engagement off citing “religious differences”. She’s still very good friends with him and is instrumental in getting Kathleen Zellner to take his case.

Anyway, on to the spoiler!

Spoiler

Through writing to Avery Lynn Hartman comes into the picture and the pair are soon engaged via letter before they have even met. Colour me cynical but what would  quite a  pretty blonde woman want with a convicted murderer? I mean a convicted murderer with a massive online following and award winning Netflix show about him? Oh, going on Dr Phil and a $5000 appearance fee? You don’t say! So she broke it off with him (by letter obviously) and is still getting TV spots, and presumably getting paid for them too

The minute she appeared on camera I thought she was a wrong ‘un – let me know what you thought of her in the comments or via the WKRN Facebook Page

After the first series of “Making A Murderer” I felt pretty sure that Avery was innocent and 100% sure that Dassey was coerced into making an unfair and false confession.

After watching this series?

JUST FREE BRENDAN NOW DAMN IT! How many appeals do you have to win to get freed from jail in America?

As for Avery?

All the evidence is circumstantial, there are so many new avenues to look at that the prosecution or defence never covered at the very least he deserves a retrial.

The only shame is that former  prosecutor Ken Krantz won’t be brought down a peg or two – I mean, Krantz has apparently been successfully treated for Narcissistic personality disorder and then decides to hold a press conference during one of Dassey’s appeals – this is in Chicago. At the courthouse where the appeal is being held. A 3 hour drive away from Mantiowoc so it’s not like “Oh, I was just in the neighbourhood”. Oh and he handily happen to have a book coming out at the time.

Would I recommend this series? 100% yes if you have seen the first series. If you haven’t then watch series 1 first – you need to in order to get all of the background then watch the second straight away.

I would have rated this 10 out of 10 but I knocked one point off as it’s a bit heavy going in places and they don’t make a mockery of Ken Krantz.

What are you waiting for? Stop reading this and go watch it!

King Of Thieves

King Of Thieves is the telling of the true-life Hatton Garden Robbery which took place in April 2015 where a group of “over the hill” thieves made off with up to £200 million in cash, diamonds and other jewels in a clever raid on a vault in London’s Hatton Garden Jewellery district.

There’s an all-star cast in this film – Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Paul Whitehouse, Ray Winstone, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtney star as the “old time” criminals who are joined by young “Basil” (Charlie Cox) who enables them to get into the vault and disable the security.

The first two thirds of the film centres around putting the gang together and the heist itself, with the final third showing the aftermath of the robbery, the squabbling that ensues and the police investigation.

I was a bit surprised to see King Of Thieves come out, after all the well received

Hatton Garden Job

starring the ever-grumpy Larry Lamb was only released a year before in 2017 and covered the robbery in detail.

If you’ve seen The Hatton Garden Job then The King Of Thieves isn’t going to shed any new light on the subject, although I did find the way that the police pieced together the investigation interesting (note to self: when casing a joint don’t do it in your own vehicle – especially if it’s a flashy Mercedes!).

My main issue was that there were 3 women in the film but two of them (playing police officers) never even spoke a line and the wonderful Francesca Annis was only there as a way to keep Michael Caine’s character on the straight-and-narrow. The Hatton Garden Job had Joely Richardson tearing up the scenery as the evil Mafia connection and I think King Of Thieves could have done with a stronger female performance from one of the Police Officers.

If you’ve seen The Hatton Garden Job then I’d give King Of Thieves a miss, but if you haven’t then it’s worth a look if you have a spare hour and a half on a Sunday afternoon.