By Kristin Battestella
I heard the Goodfellas comparison when I first discovered the 2000 British crime thriller Essex Boys. I didn’t think it possible. Nothing compares to Goodfellas, not even The Godfather III. With a fine cast, brutal violence, and a twisted story based on factual events, Essex Boys is indeed the height of English gangster flicks.
When Jason Locke (Sean Bean) is released from his five year prison term, he quickly returns to his criminal ways. Unfortunately, his drug dealing crew has moved up the crime and social ladders without him. His abused wife Lisa (Alex Kingston) in tow, Locke assembles a new dealing crew and product by threatening former prison compatriot John Dyke (Tom Wilkinson). Locke’s driver Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) ends up cleaning one mess after another, and soon neither he nor Jason can escape the vile twists and turns of crime in
Based on real life criminal events, Essex Boys serves up a complex story of drug dealing love, loyalty, and betrayal. Some of it is very English, and very
Now, as much as women go gaga over rough and tumble Sean Bean (Goldeneye, The Fellowship of the Ring), his performance as Jason Locke is not for everyone. He has the range and talent for a wide variety of roles, but we must admit that Bean does villains best. After spending years on television as Napoleonic hero Sharpe, Bean went to extremes here to revitalize his vile film persona. His acid loving, drug using, rapacious-wife beating-crook is so lush and detailed and spot on that it can really put off even the most Bean inclined viewer. Locke drinks and goes crazy, but has a mastery of weapons, women, and brutality. It’s a strong, heavy role that’s sick and sexy in its own way. Thoughts that Bean must have gone to a very dark acting place to achieve this grit are never far behind in Essex Boys. Most actors could not- or would not- say or do some of the things portrayed here. Even my Dad (who won’t watch Sharpe because he can’t picture Bean as a good guy) agrees that this is one of Bean’s hardest hitting performances among his plethora of villains.
Alex Kingston is not a traditional beauty to me, and that serves her well here. There aren’t many strong roles for older women in the
I’ve seen Tom Wilkinson in a variety of roles, from The Full Monty to The Patriot. He continually surprises me with his talent and mix of humor and drama. Wilkinson has plenty of films to his credit, but I wish he did more stateside. It’s great to see him and Sean Bean onscreen together, even if it’s a violent, uneasy alliance between the two. There is a bit of dark humor in Essex Boys, but its so sardonic and even disturbing that it would actually not be funny if it weren’t for Wilkinson’s charm.
Amid all this crime and betrayal, Charlie Creed-Miles’ (The Power and the Passion of Charles II) Billy is the perfect everyman. He’s just trying to make some money and keep his girl, but he quickly sinks into an inescapable life once he meets Jason Locke. The audience can relate to Billy, yet we can see how he changes through the course of the film. He’s a little stupid or at least naïve to start, but by the end of the film, Billy knows all the criminal ins and outs. Holly Davidson (Causality-but more famously known as Sadie Frost’s sister) also does well in a relatively small but critical role as the object of Jason Locke’s bizarre affections. The cast is quite well rounded; and although we’re lead to believe Sean Bean is the star, nothing in Essex Boys is truly what it seems.
While Essex Boys has fine action sequences, shoot outs, and chases to supplement its intricate plot and storyline, the look of the film, is, well, less than stellar. Terry Winsor keeps his film dark, with a mostly dull palette but for some very bad clothes and set dressings. In some ways, the
Essex Boys is certainly not for everyone. Tweens under fifteen should stay far away, and folks who don’t like British accents will most likely hate such thick dialects and regional speech. I must stress, however, that one should not let the ‘Englishness’ of Essex Boys deter one from this great movie. My bare bones DVD doesn’t have much, but it does have subtitles! Fans looking for grit and action and sex will find it all in
Dark Shadows Revival Not That Bad.
By Kristin Battestella
I grew up watching reruns of the classic goth soap opera Dark Shadows. Oft syndicated and poorly imitated, in 1991 Dan Curtis re-launched his beloved spooky series in the aptly named, but unfortunately short lived Dark Shadows: The Revival.
Victoria Winters (Joanna Going) arrives in the sleepy
Focusing on one spooky storyline at a time, The Revival begins where the original series first took its gothic turn: the tragic story of brooding vampire Barnabas Collins. What takes hundreds of episodes and months of viewing from the original series is tidied up here in thirteen shows. Each episode builds naturally to the finale, which unfortunately ends rather abruptly due to the revived series’ cancellation. From Willy’s freeing Barnabas of his coffin to
My mother disowned this series because of her love for original Barnabas actor Jonathan Frid, but I think the cast of The Revival is A okay. Jean Simmons (Elmer Gantry, The Big Country) gives a classic element as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. She has the spirit of original series star Joan Bennett, but we don’t see enough of her. Barbara Blackburn (Ryan’s Hope) is just the right touch of hoochie as Carolyn Stoddard; she seems to enjoy the vampire make outs at least. It’s unusual to see Ely Pouget’s (ER) psychic Maggie Evans having an affair with Roy Thinnes’(Falcon Crest) jerky Roger Collins, and both characters are somewhat wasted by the briefness of the series. We’ve got that young and sexy, sure, but The Revival is a little older and more old fashioned then say the more recent Buffy or Underworld. The supporting Dr. Woodward/Joshua Collins (Stefan Gierasch), Mrs. Johnson/Abigail Collins (Julianna McCarthy), and Sheriff Patterson/Andre Du Pres (Michael Cavanaugh) give The Revival that good old spooky movie feeling. Their turns in the past-along with Roy Thinnes’ divinely creepy Reverend Trask- add talent and appeal for mature fans.
I must confess I’m not sure what to make of Barbara Steele (War and Remembrance, The Winds of War) as Julia Hoffman. Her voice looks dubbed, and her harsh style seems to try too hard. At the same time, however, this fits her scientific nature and strong support in curing Barnabas. But oh my those huge glasses have to go! Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire, First Knight, Star Trek) may also be a toe over dramatic as Barnabas, but its as if we are supposed to enjoy his torment and acts for the rest of the Collins family. Joanna Going (Inventing The Abbotts) has that old fashioned look and beauty, and her romantic air is the perfect compliment to Cross’ brooding Barnabas.
Michael T. Weiss, later of Pretender fame, is unfortunately very clunky as Joe Haskell and Peter Bradford. Guest star Adrian Paul, later of Highlander: The Series, is far more worthy as Jeremiah Collins. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock From The Sun, Stop-Loss) is a real brat as David Collins, but Veronica Lauren (Days of Our Lives) is cute as the ghostly Sara Collins. The cast shifts to their past selves just as the original series did and we conclude The Revival largely in the past. Lysette Anthony (Dracula: Dead and Loving It, The Bill) is vile and sexy as Angelique, but she comes into the series rather late. Again a character who could have been something greater had the series continued.
Original series creator Dan Curtis wears many hats for this production. In addition to producing, the late Curtis wrote and directed the two hour pilot and the following three episodes. The sweeping zooms and overhead camera angles are a bit much, as are the way too close close ups. Establishing shots of people just walking around take too long, and the
While the opening credits remain true to the original series with its shots of
The Dark Shadows: The Revival DVD set contains all thirteen hours over three discs. The menus aren’t anything fancy, but they are easy to navigate. Not all the episodes have a voiceover introduction from Victoria Winters, so I don’t know if this is part of each particular episode or a technical mistake. Allegedly there are also cropping errors and missing scenes from the original airings and VHS releases. There are no subtitles or features, but I’m just pleased this series has even seen the DVD light of day. After waiting for the price to come down, I found a used set for a very affordable price. Though not as complex or lengthy as the original series, Dark Shadows: The Revival has better production values. For younger folks who can’t appreciate the cheese of the original, The Revival is a fine substitution. For gothic aficionados who don’t have the time for the original or horror fans uninitiated with the classic series, The Revival is a great place to begin. For vampire fans who like a little sex appeal and brooding mixed with a good bit of darkness and fear, you can enjoy Dark Shadows: The Revival without having to skip around some of the weaker storylines from the original series. (The Dream Curse, The Leviathans, and that stupid shadow that chased Christopher Pennock!)
Dark Shadows: The Revival is short, affordable, and risk free for any fan of the original series to chance. Horror fans young and old will enjoy its timeless tale.