From December 2014

Cold in July: Joe R. Lansdale’s Neo-Noir Scorches Onscreen

Cold in July. 2014. Dir. Jim Mickle. Written by Nick Damici, based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale.
Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw, Wyatt Russell, and Nick Damici.
IFC Films.
Rated R. 109 minutes.
Crime/Thriller

★★★★★
cold-in-july-poster
Fatherhood and morality are the central themes in Jim Mickle’s fantastic adaptation of the Joe R. Lansdale novel Cold in July. While the plot is centered around two fathers, both in different circumstances, morality is what eventually drives them: one worries about his own morality, the other is faced with the unquestionable lack of morals in his son. Though, the two fathers face different questions of morality, their path ends up as an identical course leading them into the dark heart of man and outside the confines of the law.

If someone broke into your home, threatening not only your own life but the lives of your family, and you shot them dead, would you be content walking away no questions asked? In the aftermath of a break-in where Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) was put in just such a situation, he begins to suspect the local law lead by Ray Price (Nick Damici) are misleading him as to the identity of the man he killed. After a dangerous encounter with Russel (Sam Shepard), the dead man’s ex-con father, Richard ends up saving the man’s life from the same cops lying to them both. Determined to figure out the truth of who Richard killed and the real whereabouts of Russel’s son, both men set out on a dangerous path crossing between law enforcement and the Dixie Mafia.
cold_in_julyThe scene most perfectly done is where Jim Bob (Don Johnson) and Richard watch a videotape revealing the whereabouts of Russel’s son. It shows him involved in some very despicable, rotten behaviour. Real immoral activity. First of all, there is a real savage moment, which Mickle really does well. Despite there being an opportunity for a bit of really graphic violence, the director strays from actually showing the moment of impact; we feel it much more, I think. Instead of actually seeing the violent shot, it cuts away right before the brutality. Furthermore, while Jim Bob and Richard are watching the video, Russel is upstairs trying to muster the mental energy to actually call his son. Earlier, Jim Bob had told him to stop being such a “cranky old bastard” and just call his son, but Russel refused at the time. So while we’re expecting him to end up calling his son, and where a lesser film might just have an emotional sort of scene to further the fatherhood theme, Cold in July pulls those heartstrings a little – yet Russel does not call him. We see the moments with the videotape, simultaneously Russel is about to possibly call, and just as we imagine he will, he hangs up the phone.
I was anticipating him giving in, not realizing what was being seen on the video downstairs. However, he sees it afterwards, and I was really glad he hadn’t called, or worse actually gotten in contact with his son. I’m not sure why I’m glad, but for me it was a subversion of my expectations. Plus, there is just nice suspense in the tension built up through this scene, from the juxtaposition of the video being watched & Russel next to the phone, to the videotape itself and how unsettlingly it was paced. Great, great moment in this film.
Cold_in_July_JPEGI know a lot of people mention the film’s score, and rightfully so because there is a very retro 80’s feel about the music. It really is excellent. Not only does it serve as a throwback-style score, the ambient nature of some pieces really lend themselves to the overall atmosphere and mood of the film. There are certain movies that try to force the whole electronic score. In the end this never works. On the other hand, Cold in July already plays like something I can imagine coming out of the 1980’s. With the electronic score, this mood really comes across. Without straining too hard in the costume/set/et cetera departments, the electronic score really helps this feel like a period piece. While there’s no outright stating this film takes place in any specific decade, the novel itself was written in 1989, and I think the movie (I’ve never personally read this novel) really puts across a feel of being from that time. The score is one way to push this forward without really focusing on coming across as an actual period piece. This sort of alleviates any pressure to fully conform to the decade, but the music helps to easily plant the story in the 80’s. It doesn’t hurt Hall has an awesomely awful hairdo from that era.
cold-in-july-3Usually a film, if it’s a good one, will have at least one real good performance. I can’t really think of a movie I loved where there’s not one performance I enjoyed. That’s sort of a nonsense thing to even expect. That being said, Cold in July sports three really big and spectacular roles played amazingly by Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, and Sam Shepard.
Cold-In-July-3cropIn particular, Hall does a fantastic job here. Especially considering his recent and arguably most recognized performance as Dexter (although I always remember him best as the meek David Fisher from HBO’s Six Feet Under). A lot of people would like to typecast Hall into leading roles where he’s this very controlled, dominant type who is full of confidence. In my mind, Hall can play anything, however, he does good work with very mild-mannered individuals, such as Richard Dane here. Also, where Dexter was a certain kind of rumination on morality, albeit from a much different angle, Cold in July shows us a more realistic version of morality in that Dane is a father, a framer by trade; a regular man. Hall plays his vulnerability clearly, openly. The turning point comes in the final 15-minutes of the film when Richard is in the midst of a gunfight. Now, we see the real transformation from where he began, as a man incapable of steadily firing a gun – when he kills the intruder, he looks at the gun surprised, and even more so once discovering he shot the guy right through his eye socket. In this finale, Richard is a confident man, having discovered his own morality through disposing of, what most of would see as, human waste. Hall played this so well – there’s a look he gives, almost as if right to the camera but not, as he walks away from a freshly killed man. Perfect.

It’s hard not to mention Shepard and Johnson, as well. Shepard was phenomenal. As usual, though. I really love him, both as an actor and writer. What a great talent. There is a fantastic moment in the finale where there’s this ironic and bittersweet moment (SPOILER AHEAD) – Russel shoots his own son to prevent him from killing Richard. The irony comes from how the film started with Russel stalking Richard because he believed him to have killed his son. The bittersweet kicks in when Russel tells Freddy that he is his father. Freddy asks if he really is, and Russel replies “Far as I know” before pulling the trigger right in front of his son’s two eyes. Really great acting.
Johnson was a supporting role, though with a decent bit of screentime compared with Hall and Shepard. Regardless, he is worth every penny. There’s something about the character of Jim Bob I really loved. I think it’s because he could have been a very stereotypical Dixie-type, and he was in certain subtle senses. But the fact Johnson plays him without a hillbilly yeehaw in his voice and step, the fact he doesn’t ham it up in this way, really does the character, and the film overall, a lot of justice. Johnson is just straight up cool as Jim Bob. I don’t think there’s anyone else I’d rather see playing this role. Not to mention he is a regular bad ass when the action-packed finale of the film comes barreling at you.
cold-in-july-2This is one of my favourite crime-thrillers in recent memory. It’s also a really great neo-noir. One of the better examples for a long while. The great performances by all three of the top billed stars really helps, however, Cold in July contains more than just that, including a very moody electronic score, a tight script, and the fact Joe Lansdale’s novel served as a basis for the screenplay helps an enormous amount. He is a great storyteller. Nick Damici, who adapted the novel into a screenplay, is a screenwriter to watch; I’ve enjoyed his previous work. He and Mickle do well together. There’s also some fun, gnarly violence in the finale of Cold in July to really tickle the hounds out there. Even a few interesting, subtle moments, such as those including revisiting the initial murder; shots of Richard and his family on the couch right where the dead man was killed and the blood sprayed on the wall, and quiet little bits like those (such as the very final shot) juxtaposed with the other highly violent scenes.
Check this out as soon as possible. I can’t wait to get my hands on a Blu ray release.

David Fincher’s Panic Room – A Retrospective Review

Panic Room. 2002. Dir. David Fincher. Screenplay by David Koepp.
Starring Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, and Patrick Bauchau. Columbia Pictures.
Rated 14A. 112 minutes.
Thriller

★★★★

hjkugMBhYjV8ZXgvSnGXI3q7wt7I don’t really have to convince too many people of David Fincher’s abilities as a consistently admirable filmmaker. All his films are really wonderful pieces of work. Even the lesser loved Alien 3, which I personally love. Actually, I’d have to say my favourite Fincher film so far, even though Se7en and more recently Gone Girl are high up on the list, is The Game starring Michael Douglas; it’s such an amazingly tense and weird thrill ride full of paranoia and an expert performance by Douglas. No matter which film of his I watch, I always find myself in awe of at least one, or plenty more often than not, shots he chooses to use. There’s a unique quality to his filmmaking. He finds the darkness in nearly everything. Even in films outside of what I would consider his ‘norm’, like The Social Network and Gone Girl, Fincher taps into the dark nature of humanity. The way he shoots things has this very crisp and beautiful look while still having this gritty tone.
panic_roomThat’s also one reason his collaborations with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross has worked so well. Being a fan of Reznor particularly, the dark vibe of his music, and the ambience Ross is so good with, really adds an extra quality to the films Fincher directs. I’m really glad they’ve done several movies together so far, even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I wasn’t huge on, preferring the original over Fincher’s film – regardless, I still enjoyed it, as well as the score. These three artists definitely have some sort of common bond because their combined work is some of best collaborative work overall in film and music over the last decade or more. Maybe the greatest, I’d almost argue. Even if The Social Network wasn’t actually one of my favourite Fincher films, the score Reznor and Ross composed was one of the very top scores in any modern film from recent memory.
All that being said, The Game and Panic Room were directed by Fincher when he did a few films with scores done by legendary Canadian composer and longtime David Cronenberg collaborator, Howard Shore. I decided to take a look back at Panic Room because I think, while it’s not Fincher’s best work, it is still a really great movie with a dark script and a few great performances. In particular, this is a great instance of a modern thriller focusing on two females in a frightening situation which doesn’t feel the need to follow many modern cliches. While so many modern thrillers often feel the need to throw sexual assault into situations, somehow believing this to be an appropriate way of making things more terrifying, more tense, Panic Room opts to give us a familiar situation and turn it into something new.
panic-room-2002-14-gWhile the film follows what most would recognize as a formulaic-type of thriller, there’s more to this than meets the eye. Just coming out of a divorce, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) moves into a massive brownstone in New York City with her 11-year old diabetic daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). In their new home is a panic room – protected with concrete and steel, an outside phone line, as well as an incredibly state of the art security system, including many surveillance cameras. Little does Meg know, the previous owner was a reclusive millionaire who stashed $3-million in bearer bonds (short explanation: whoever holds the actual physical papers owns the money – unregistered cash in bonds essentially) within the floor safe of the panic room. The first night in their new place becomes absolute terror when three men, Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker), and a masked gunman named Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), break in to try and locate the bonds. Meg and Sarah manage to get themselves inside the panic room, but the three men are unwilling to just walk away without the money. Inside the room, without the outside phone line connected yet, the night moves on slowly. The men try their best to get inside the room, while Meg tries to figure a way out of what has now become their possible tomb, as well as a way to make sure Sarah doesn’t go into diabetic shock without her insulin.
968full-panic-room-screenshotThis was a really tight screenplay. It’s not just dark and it doesn’t only contain a bit of a diversion from a lot of typical thrillers, there are also a few excellent bits of humour present. That’s something else I would mention about Fincher. Even in the darker bits of some of his films there are always these genuinely funny, often laugh-out-loud moments where you can’t help but smile. For instance, when the men first break into Meg’s home, she and her daughter get inside the panic room. Sarah tells her mom to use the P.A system, which she does. After Meg gives them a bit of a nervous speech, Sarah tells her to say “fuck” – Foster hilariously mumbles a loud “fuck” into the speaker. This was funny enough, but then Stewart gives her this classic look and corrects her that it should’ve been “get the fuck out of my house”, which Foster then repeats through the P.A. I thought this was a really funny moment. Especially early on. Just after we’ve started sweating, worrying Meg and Sarah might not be able to make it into the protected room, there’s this really great exchange between the two of them.
2002_panic_room_006Although I’ve never really been big on Kristen Stewart, this may honestly be one of her best films. She was really natural here. Not to mention the fact she and Jodie Foster worked very well as a mother and daughter team. Their dialogue felt unforced. While the story itself didn’t exactly afford much outward affection between Meg and Sarah, the characters’ actions throughout the film really show how strong the mother-daughter relationship is between them. Although there’s still a tension in Sarah pertaining to the obviously rough divorce between her parents, you can tell she and Meg have a close relationship with one another. Foster does an excellent job as the protective mother here. There are too many thrillers with women relying on men to ultimately save them from the situations in which they find themselves. She gets the chance to be a kick ass heroine in the thriller genre through Panic Room.

Yoakam is worth mentioning. He always plays a really fun bad guy. I loved him in Sling Blade, and here he is really vile, as well. It just adds something extra to have a guy like him in here. He is funny at times while also being fairly creepy and terrifying at others. I like his chemistry with both Leto and Whitaker. It helps these guys flow naturally. Each of them has their own different personality, they aren’t just three buddies, which also really helps things along. Yoakam adds the perfect unbalanced edge to what could have been a by-the-numbers robbery. Instead, he adds a bit of chaos and savagery. Great role; Yoakam nailed this performance.
PanicRoomDVD5This brings me to a big point. This film sets up as one of those typical thrillers, putting women in a situation where we almost expect the intervention of some knight in shining armour, but subverts those ideas by forcing the lead female character into a situation where she has no choice except fight her way out to protect herself and her daughter. In essence, you could say it’s still treating women in the same way as most other films of this nature. However, I disagree. The plot is basically a way of forcing the character into becoming independent through a typical thriller formula. It’s also representative of Meg reasserting her independence as a single woman. At first she is this very hurt and bitter woman, most likely rightfully so, buying a big house to financially punish her ex-husband. After the events of the film, though, Meg becomes more sure of herself. In the beginning it seems as if she is being portrayed to be dependent on her husband. In the end, Meg and Sarah both show how strong they are after having survived the ordeal, as the final scene shows them both looking for a new place to live; unafraid, not needing to be protected by any men in their lives, and also Meg no longer feels the need to punish her husband. She has escaped the house and the prison of her old marriage.

While Meg is saved in the climax by a man, that doesn’t disprove what I’m trying to say here – it only goes to show there is morality still inherent in people. I don’t want to spoil too much for those who haven’t seen it, but this act by a male character doesn’t change the female independence present in Panic Room. I believe this is just another subversion of the thriller genre where things could have gone a typical route, and instead chose otherwise.
2002_panic_room_0031This is not a perfect film by any means. There are a few little moments I’m not quite sure of in terms of believability. Regardless, a film doesn’t have to be perfect for me to love it, or for me to feel like there is some deeper level within the film itself. There are some really interesting characters in this movie. Particularly I really enjoyed Foster, Whitaker, and Yoakam – each of these were really wonderful characters for a modern thriller. Also, Fincher always seem to have a love for Hitchcock. Between The Game and this film, the paranoia Hitchcock so loved to display in his own works come across through Fincher. Definitely a similar vibe, and even a few shots to suggest a large influence (note: opening credits feel a little similar to North by Northwest and the scene with the pipe + the neighbour is very reminiscent of Rear Window; I’ll note I didn’t immediately notice this – a cinephile friend pointed it out). Overall, this is most definitely a 4 out of 5 star film. Probably one of the most underrated films under Fincher’s belt. If you love him, it’s a great piece of his filmography, especially if you’re looking for an entertaining, gritty paranoid thriller. You can do far worse. Definitely needs to be revisited by more fans of Fincher, as well as those who like to see Hitchcock’s influence find its way into modern movies.

Madison County is Weak & Trite Backwoods Horror

Madison County. 2011. Directed & Written by Eric England.
Starring Colley Bailey, Matt Mercer, Ace Marrero, Joanna Sotomura, Natalie Scheetz, Nick Principe, Dayton Knoll, Adrienne Harrell, and Katie Stegeman. Image Entertainment.
Rated R. 81 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★1/2mcpbOne of the young characters asks the question “where did he get the ideas if they weren’t true?” at an early point of the film while inquiring about a local legend the locals say is only just that – nothing more.  This really represents the sort of tired dialogue and story inherent in Madison County. Granted, the character speaking the line isn’t exactly the brightest seeming sort of guy, I still find it a really rough portion of dialogue. At least Eric England had the sense enough to let the old woman who’s asked the question explain it to the young man. Still, it is a bad piece of dialogue.

Other than this film, I’m actually a fan of England after seeing his most recent effort, Contracted, and I really would like to see his portion of Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear. He definitely has his own unique vision, I just don’t think that vision is most fully realized in the mediocre effort of Madison County.
MadisonCounty_4This movie tells the story of a young group who head into the backwoods of Madison County. They’re looking for an author of a book which details the real life account of horrible murders that took place there years before. Unfortunately, Madison County is much, much more horrifying than any book could ever make it seem. Once they’re in the small town, things escalate from one thing to the next, and as the day wears in it’s more than obvious they’ve stumbled across more than the author of some book. And they will be lucky to ever make it out of Madison County alive.

The plot description I’ve given could really sound like that of any other basic slasher movie taking place in the backwoods country of any state on the map. It’s real formulaic setup. I can’t really say much for how it developed, either. There isn’t much going on in Madison County to make me feel like England put a new spin on slasher material. When I said the dialogue is lazy, as well as the story, I don’t mean everything is totally a waste – there are moments of good dialogue, and also a few scary bits now and then. However, it’s the laziness which really overtakes the entire film. For instance, on their way into Madison County, the group encounters the archetypal “messenger” character many horror films include – the old man, often, who gives directions that lead a group into horror territory. On the contrary, here the group opt to not take the road mentioned, as it will most likely get them lost. This subverts our usual expectations for horror movies with this sort of setup.
37273398.pngThe first time we see the man wearing his pig mask, I thought that was done pretty well. I was sort of expecting something would eventually happen, but regardless I found the shot itself where he is introduced pretty chilling. We see a nice wide shot of the victim standing on top of a tiny waterfall, getting ready to hopefully jump in the water with two naked young women, and then – BAM – pig mask killer. There’s nothing revolutionary going on here. It’s just a really effective opening to the killing, which begins in full throttle after this scene. Also, the inclusion of the two girls is key – after the victim is stabbed and dumped in the water, the girls casually get out, as if their job was done – and it was, certainly. We get a lot of information here because if there were any hesitations as to whether or not the town itself were all in on the killer’s secret, those are completely dispelled after this death scene. Honestly, this is probably my favourite scene in the film. Effective and creepy.
madison-county-movieMy problems with this film are the problems I have with many horrors, and slashers in particular. I try not to judge a lot of characters in these movies in regards to real life – you can’t judge how you would react when confronted with a pig mask killer, or Leatherface, or any of these horror movie killers. That being said, if I’d seen my close friend with a baseball bat jammed into his mouth, blood spurting, a man in a pig mask standing over them, I would run until my breath ran out. Instead, the girl here runs until she finds one of her friends. Then the action slows down – she is crying, she can’t complete a sentence.  Sorry, but this is just awful. I mean, anyone would probably just run, even after meeting up with the friend. Yet we’re treated to another real mess of a horror because of ridiculously stupid decisions coming out of very tired writing. If that’s not enough, England has the pig mask killer creep up on the two friends moments later, right behind them on a dirt road nonetheless – but of course neither of them hear him. Somehow he manages to be quiet enough to wait for a really good swing, and still he misses. It’s just situations like this which do nothing for the slasher sub-genre. It makes the characters look stupid. Most of all, though, it makes the writer look sloppy. Basically, after the creepy introduction to the pig masked man, it loses the appeal and reverts back into the same old garbage. The whole section where he is chasing the two girls really grated on my nerves – so many bad choices, not only by the girls but also by the killer. Another example is when one of the girls decides to lure the killer away. I still don’t understand, at all, why the killer didn’t just take a nice swing at the one girl’s neck, kill her, and then chase down the other one. This movie makes no one out to be smart – neither the killer nor his victims. Too many missteps on every side.
matt-in-madison-countyFor a slasher, there are a few nasty bits. On the whole, however, I wasn’t overly impressed with any of the horror gags. I like the first knifing, but that was mainly due to the introduction of the killer, and how nice the shot itself looked; pretty aesthetically pleasing overall. Aside from that, the blood wasn’t anything spectacular. Most slashers try to go for an interesting kill or two. Madison County sticks mostly with a lot of axe-work and things of that nature. Not that I don’t like to see a good axe murder on film – don’t get me wrong, I do. I just think a slasher really needs to try and do something different to set it apart from the usual, typical pack. Even if it’s a few neat little bits of blood and guts, or a couple visually cool kills – there needs to be a defining element if the filmmakers want it to go above the hordes of low budget slasher horror movies out there stinking the place to high heavens. I feel like England could have done something much better. His latest film, Contracted, was really great on all fronts – innovative, gross, creepy. This is his second feature, so I don’t expect him to have been a master, but I do wish there was something more to this than the regular fare so often pumped out.
71728366.pngI give this a 1.5 out of 5 stars. There were a couple moments I enjoyed, mainly due to the level of violence, which helped it as a slasher. Unfortunately there were not enough of these to make this anything memorable. I can guarantee I will not be watching this again. I’d seen it once before, and watched it today for review purposes. After this, I won’t revisit Madison County. It’s a by-the-numbers slasher, set in the backwoods, and there’s really nothing special here to take away. If you want something at least more creepy, maybe check out Just Before Dawn or even Deliverance, because this just does not deliver as a backwoods horror. I hope to see more from England, and maybe wouldn’t mind seeing him take on a slasher movie again. If he does, there will hopefully be better characters, dialogue, and all around a more complex, original story than this altogether unremarkable slasher outing.

True Detective Season 1 Blu ray Review

True Detective. 2014.  8 episodes directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga; written & created by Nic Pizzolatto.  Starring Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, and Tory Kittles.  HBO Home Entertainment.  Rated 18A.  458 minutes.  Bonus Material Not Rated.  Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Season 1)
★★★★1/2 (Blu ray)

true-detective-posterThe story of True Detective looks, on the surface, as similar to other television shows about police officers, serial killer cases, troubled partners with their own separate and troubled lives; you know the type. There are a lot of things, though, to separate this one from many of the others.

Nic Pizzolatto’s show begins its first season in the year 2012 – Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), former partners, are being interviewed about an old case involving a young girl named Dora Lange who was found dead in 1995, bound with a set of antlers placed on her head. Two detectives seem to be looking back into Lange’s death in relation to a new murder, which could be connected. The storyline spreads from ’95 to 2012, as well as hovering around 2002 when things went sour between Hart and Cohle. While the two men battle their own private lives and mistakes, they’re confronted with a possible conspiracy stretching across the state of Louisiana. Everyone believes the Lange murder to be some type of “occult murder“, but Cohle particularly deeply suspects a vast cover-up involving everyone from church officials to governors to the police force itself. Hart reluctantly follows Cohle until it becomes painfully clear he is most likely right.
Church4.998153ba2083cf214ffe0b0ce75d4e721-1024x576While the description I’ve given of the plot might even sound like a riff on Serpico or Prince of the City, it really is a fresh detective show. While many have accused Pizzolatto of stealing material from Thomas Ligotti (I won’t go into it here – look it up), I don’t necessarily agree. There is a lot of really good material. It isn’t all about McConaughey’s performance (which is amazing), nor Harrelson’s either (also amazing). It’s not even about Cohle and his whimsical conversation with the present day detectives sussing out from him what they can, or his great banter with Hart in their driving scenes, particularly the very first episode of the show. There’s simply a really great mystery to this show. Even when Pizzolatto really gives us a few great clues, ones not too hard to follow through, there’s still a lot of excellent tension. For instance, even in the final episode when we clearly know who the killer is there still exists a really tense and dreadful atmosphere. Right until the finale of the episode, it’s hard to predict what might happen in the end. At least in my mind. I thought to myself, several times, in that last episode I knew where things were headed – and constantly, Fukunaga and Pizzolatto really played with my expectations. That atmosphere carried through the entire first season of True Detective.
True-detective-1x02-7-660x371Another excellent thing about this first season is the presence of all the red herring material Pizzolatto doles out in many episodes. I’ve seen a lot of really thoughtful interpretations, pre-season finale, of who the killer might turn out to be, who is involved in the massive conspiracy. I’ve also come across a fair share of really mental interpretations too far out into the psychosphere (dig it) for me to give any modicum of credence. But that’s what makes some shows really engaging and interesting. When fans of the show, even certain people who rag on the show with what they deem to be formulaic interpretations, can’t stop discussing possible theories it really goes to illustrate how well the show has reached an audience. I’m not saying it isn’t divisive – it certainly has been. I just think Pizzolatto really did some great, twisty writing.
77b7a1297702fc3c5315bc8f0cd27376There was a point in time I really believed Marty’s father-in-law had some sort of involvement in the grand conspiracy, and maybe there is a chance that’s still the case (I don’t believe so – doesn’t make it so), but this is the great part – Pizzolatto leaves little trails of bread crumbs that don’t go anywhere, that play part in the coincidence of the real world, the unforeseeable events in life, and lead us off on paths of pure imagination. I mean, there are several little red herrings such as Audrey’s situation. For instance, Cohle calls his daughters down to dinner and as they leave their room he notices Audrey has placed 5 male dolls around a single female doll in a very inappropriate and suggestive manner. There’s also a small drawing in Hart’s house representing the spiral image drawn on Dora Lange’s back in the first episode; one of his daughters drew it. These little clues are really red herrings. Pizzolatto does not want the answers to come easily here, as he shouldn’t, and these extra bits really help to send a lot of people off on imaginary tangents, thinking of who the Yellow King really could be, et cetera.  Genius writing.

There are a few similarities between True Detective and the British trilogy Red Riding. Both take on stories about corruption and murder in rural areas; the original murders sparking both plots are similar, as the Red Riding story starts with a girl found dead, wings put on her back (as opposed to the antlers on the head here). One scene in the first Red Riding film with Andrew Garfield playing a reporter named Eddie Dunford is reminiscent of a scene in True Detective where Cohle visits a woman in a mental institution and drives her into hysterics; one difference mainly has to do with the difference in their occupations, as Dunford’s visit is followed by a severe beating at the hands of the police for bothering the woman, while Cohle is disciplined by his superiors. Finally, each of these shows has a young male prostitute who provides links to the murdered girl, albeit in different ways. Not to mention, in Red Riding the prostitute plays a much bigger part. Whereas Cohle only meets the young male prostitute present in True Detective during a single scene, which is basically thrown in as an extra link to something fishy going on in the main case. There are no doubt some similarities between Red Riding and True Detective, but mostly I would say they are coincidental. Certainly, most of these similarities are either connected to the similar themes (corruption in police force & authority figures), and the majority, if not all, are only really connected to the first Red Riding film; the other two in the trilogy really don’t connect up much, aside from the aforementioned police corruption angle. I think maybe Pizzolatto might have been influenced more by the novel Red Riding is based on instead of the films, and either way the influence is no more than a bit of the surface. Each of these works are quite different and aim to accomplish much different things.
0dc4717d0993ceb137a808855fdf745cThere are a few specific points I’d really like to address in regards to some of the deeper meaning behind True Detective overall.

First, I want to mention the reoccurring number five. I believe the first time this really comes into play is when Hart and Cohle interview Dora Lange’s mother, Mrs. Kelly (played by the fabulous Tess Harper) – while Cohle looks around and Hart asks the lady questions, he notices a picture of a young girl (most likely Dora) surrounded by five men on horses, each of them dressed in what we later learn are costumes for what’s called Courir de Mardi Gras. In the second episode, as I mentioned earlier, Hart finds his daughter Audrey’s dolls placed in a very promiscuous situation: five male dolls surround one female doll, one of the men is hauling down his pants to have sex with the girl.
abf745923f5bc60ce83a1ce9bcd11abaFurthermore, in the present day scenes during the latter half of the season, Cohle drinks beer while being investigated and cuts them up: he places them in a circle of five, indicating the undiscovered members of the grand conspiracy (harkens back to those five horsemen in the picture at Mrs. Kelly’s home).
Most people might look at this as another instance of red herrings, or some such idea. However, in literature specifically, the persistence of numbers, especially in earlier literature such as from the Middle Ages, usually has a kind of significance. I happen to believe the number five here happens to refer to the pentagram, or a pentangle as it’s referred to in an index of the Middled English Anthology edited by Ann S. Haskell.
dolls-660x438This ties into the plot of True Detective directly, as we clearly see in a scene with villain Reggie Ledoux – when Hart and Cohle arrest him, his back is visible and has a massive tattoo of a pentagram, more specifically the Sigil of Baphomet. These instances of the number five all tie in to the evil angle – the five horsemen are dressed just like those men in the video Cohle finds and shows to Hart in Episode 7, the beer can figures point to the five horsemen, as do the dolls in Audrey’s room. They might not be the only repetitions of the number five. They’re just the ones I’ve noticed. I think these little details are the sorts of moments which really elevate True Detective above a lot of the detective procedurals on television, and on film for that matter. Provides more to dive into aside from the main case the show focuses on with the story, and offers endless hours of re-watchable scenes.
p6k4k1-660x370One of the biggest things, for me personally, I ended up realizing was how Cohle sort of ended up predicting the future when he talks about being able to “smell the psychosphere“, and that it tastes like “aluminum and ash“. Maybe others noticed this quickly, but I think it’s something a lot of viewers never once thought about for a second. In the present day while Rust is being interviewed by the two new detectives looking through the old Dora Lange case, he is continuously smoking (ash) and drinking out of (aluminum) beer cans. He’s literally unable to escape the psychosphere he first found himself in. This was one thing I really enjoyed. Coupled with the end of the episode where Hart and Cohle meet up once again in 2012, Cohle’s broken taillight (not fixed since their decade old fight from 2002), this really goes to show how all of this case, everything in it, the fact it has not truly been solved and it was his case, really stuck to Cohle. There is nothing to do except solve the case because if not there is truly no escaping it. Having this “aluminum and ash” come back as a part of the story, in a very slight sense, was a really clever way of tying things from the past back into the present, showing how the entire atmosphere of the case would never really wash of Cohle. Another instance of the great writing inside True Detective.
378d71d234884a15171ed60aa326844eUndoubtedly, one of the greatest parts about the entire first season is the excellent character development.

There’s Hart, who is basically a by-product of the misogyny inherent in the place he lives. While he is not one of those elite predators who uses his authority to help cover-up the murder and abuse of young women, Hart is nonetheless affected by the overall state of misogyny and the atmosphere of where he lives. This can be seen through his treatment of women throughout the season – his daughter, his wife, his mistress. There’s even the thread where he reconnects with a young hooker from earlier in the season; Hart interviewed her in connection to Dora Lange in ’95, and later he begins to sleep with the girl when she’s older. This really goes to show, when he’s trying to reconnect with his wife, how much his heart is truly in a normal relationship. In ’95, Hart gives the girl some money and tells her to “do something else” – Cohle then ribs him by asking if it was a down payment. Of course, later we find out it really was an early payment for services to be rendered. Maybe Hart didn’t know it then, but his ideas of women would never change. Though she was older, the fact Hart could engage in a sexual relationship with the girl after seeing where she came from, the life she grew up in, and our look at his hypocrisy after having taken offense with the older lady who’d been pimping her out in ’95, it’s obvious this man is only good as a detective – he is a true detective, and nothing else. He can’t be a good father or husband, truly. Only good at enforcing the law.

Cohle is not perfect, however, he’s much more about control, as opposed to Hart who represents a real loss of control. McConaughey did a great job of playing Cohle, with all the philosophical thoughts and out-there theories. I don’t know if anyone else could have done such a great job with the material given. Cohle has a lot of different things going on. I really like how his story came to a close by the end of the season, and part of the pessimistic attitude he’d been displaying for most of the episodes tied off, or at least loosened a little. While coming face to face with death, he finally discovers there may possibly be something beyond the brink, or maybe not – regardless, he finds out the thought of something more than life, pas death, isn’t as terrifying and ignorant as he once thought it to be. On the one hand, I also think Cohle provides a really great opposite for Hart in the sense he is a man who lost his wife and child (the former because of the latter’s death) – Hart has those things but does not appreciate them, and yet he really wants to have those things in his life. On the other hand, Cohle lost it all, and whether or not he would have it again if that chance was available, he seems to really not have wanted it to be with – maybe this is due to the death of his child, maybe he has been this way all his life. I just think having Cohle be the way he was, Pizzolatto provided a really great antithesis to Hart; having them as partners really juxtaposed their separate world views and created more tension between them than what naturally existed in their dialogue. Not to mention, having Harrelson and McConaughey, two real life friends, play these characters worked better than could have ever been expected.
10-true-detective-1-1940x1091I have to mention the 6-minute tracking shot in Episode 4 “Who Goes There”. This is a monumental scene in television. Probably the best scene of any television show I’ve seen in the last 5 years or more. Honestly. Even shows I love like The Sopranos and The Wires also from HBO never had such incredible camerawork as this; while there were a lot of great scenes in both those shows, nothing like this. Just the sheer size of this tracking shot is really amazing. I can’t get enough of it. Right from the moment Cohel grabs hold of a hostage, the camera never breaks, following him through this whole scene. Fukunaga mentions on the Blu ray release how there was a need to give this scene some sort of tension – we know Cohle makes it out all right because we’ve already seen the 2012 narrative partially, so we’re aware he has survived – so the tracking shot itself serves as a way to really keep us in suspense, as we literally ride along with Cohle. I thought it was the most thrilling scene of the entire season. Tied only with the big finale with Hart and Cohle facing the murderer in his self-made world of Carcosa. If nothing else, you’ve got to give it to True Detective for really knocking this particular episode out of the park.

The Blu ray release from HBO is absolutely on point. While I expected maybe just a smidgen more, there are still some great features. To start, the picture and sound on this release are beyond perfect. While I watched True Detective several times over already, the Blu ray actually ended up revealing more to me than I’d ever noticed. Just little small bits. Everything is so clear and gorgeous here from the music, the sound design, to the spectacular sweeping shots of landscape and rugged terrain of Louisiana. Then there is the audio commentary, including bits from Pizzolatto, which really help the shed light on the overall production. One featurette on the release called “Inside the Episode” gives us bits from each episode with thoughts from both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto, covering everything from story, to writing, to directing, editing; all of it. There are really valuable pieces of insight from the writer and director. Definitely worth watching at least once. Also, there’s a Making Of featurette; this encompasses everything including some interviews with the actors, et cetera. Finally, there are some deleted scenes, as well as exclusive interviews with Harrelson and McConaughey concerning the filming of the series’ first season. All in all, a bunch of great stuff making this Blu ray a must-purchase for any real fans of the show. As in most cases, the picture and sound alone are worth it. I can’t get enough. I’ve watched the episodes through a couple times now since getting the Blu rays. Wonderful release.
true21Anyone who has seen True Detective knows it is either loved or hated – I don’t think there is much middle ground. My opinion is that this must be one of the best shows ever on television. Lots of people reference shows like Twin Peaks, and others, but I really think aside from influence and maybe a bit of homage, this series stands on its own. No matter if the second season turns out to be a bust, this first season is a classic bit of television. All of it was shot on film, giving things a really beautiful look, and the fact both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto were on board for the entire season really helped with its overall vision. I know there are those who don’t exactly dig the show, but I really find True Detective to be in a league of its own. I hope the show continues to prosper, I’m really looking forward to what Pizzolatto has in-store for the second season. Pick up this Blu ray if you loved this as much as I did, and you will not be disappointed in the slightest.

Drowning in Love, Alcohol, & Serial Killing: A Horrible Way to Die

A Horrible Way to Die. 2011. Dir. Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett.
Starring A.J Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, Brandon Carroll, and Lane Hughes. Anchor Bay Entertainment. Rated R. 87 minutes. Horror

★★★★1/2 (Movie)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

HorribleDVD

I’ve been a longtime fan of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. Though, I did experience Barrett’s writing in the eerie Civil War-era horror film Dead Birds before I experienced his recent partnership as a writer-director team with Wingard. They are a really great pair. I think Wingard doesn’t just work well with Barrett in the sense they’re probably good friends, he seems to get what the writer is saying, or at least they appear to have the same sensibilities. This translates really well onto film. I don’t think they’ve exactly reinvented horror, but I do think they continually succeed in breathing new life into tired genre filmmaking.

Always hesitant to say it myself, Wingard belongs to the small group of horror filmmakers people like to dub with the yawn-worthy label “mumblegore” – an offshoot of “mumblecore, what I see as a silly labeling of films concerned with more natural approaches to dialogue, story, or any aspects really, as opposed to a lot of the fake, plastic genre filmmaking pumped out of Hollywood. “Mumblegore” then are simply horror films that look to achieve these sorts of aesthetics. A Horrible Way to Die is a new look at the serial killer horror movie, which is presented to us through Wingard’s unique eye from a script by Barrett. The whole thing might seem, to some, as an aimless sort of method towards telling a story and visually showing us the film. On the other hand, I think Barrett and Wingard present a truly humanistic version of what could be a simple story about the psychology behind that of a serial killer balancing his home life and his criminal life on a razor’s edge. It also doesn’t hurt there’s a nice little twist in the finale.
great-genre-filmsA Horrible Way to Die tells the story of Garrick Turrell (Bowen), a convicted serial killer operating in the southern United States. He escapes custody while being transported from his prison facility. He starts to kill his way back towards home. There, his former girlfriend Sarah (Seimetz) is drying out. Sarah spends her nights now trying to kick the alcoholism she adamantly believes caused her to overlook Garrick’s true personality. Through Alcoholics Anonymous, Sarah ends up meeting a guy named Kevin (Swanberg) with whom she begins to get close after slowly letting down her guard. All the while, Garrick continues a path of destruction trying to reach Sarah once more.
hjwvkI think one of the reasons this movie came across so well for me is due to the amazing cast. First of all I’ll mention Joe Swanberg because his role is the smallest in comparison to the two leads. His character starts out feeling sort of awkward, but not because Swanberg’s acting is bad; he conveys Kevin as a bit of an odd guy, obviously struggling with his own alcohol problems. Eventually, however, you start to sense something about him is not exactly quite right. You just can’t put your finger on it. I think Swanberg did a lot of subtle acting with this character and it really worked well for the plot. I think not enough focus is given to how well he plays off Amy Seimetz here. Partly because she is really great.

Seimetz does a great job playing a very conflicted women in A Horrible Way to Die. I think a lot of people, who just want to complain, might try and say Barrett writes her poorly as a strong female role. I disagree. Women don’t have to be perfect. Just as they don’t have to look pathetic and near complete helplessness like Stanley Kubrick’s portrayal of Wendy Torrance in The Shining. Sarah is a complex woman with difficult problems on her plate. If there hadn’t been such a great performance by Seimetz perhaps this character may have come off like a real pushover. Instead, I get the impression she’s someone who doesn’t want to give up. One scene shows her having a bit of a relapse and then proceeding to pour all the rest of her liquor down the toilet; you can tell, while she fell off the wagon briefly, a realization set her back in place. Unfortunately for Sarah, there are other, higher powers at work threatening to undo everything. It’s a really great role and I think nobody else but Seimetz could do it. She fits in very well with the style of Wingard.
a-horrible-way-to-die-aj-bowenThe ultimate best part about A Horrible Way to Die is absolutely A.J Bowen. I’ve been a fan of his for awhile now ever since I first saw a movie called The Signal; he was fantastic in it, and ever since I’ve paid attention to anything with him in the cast. Here, his portrayal of Garrick Turrell really does something for me. He’s a lot more dapper and charming than Michael Rooker’s titular character from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Still, there is something about him in this film which reminds me of Rooker. Underneath Bowen’s boyish good looks and disarming voice lurks the presence of evil – Turrell can barely go fifty feet without seeing another person he wants to kill. It’s like this part of him is engrained into his DNA, hardwired to his brain. He can’t forego the urges.
I think casting Bowen really helped this character. Very well-written, but Bowen brings the Ted Bundy-ish charm to Garrick Turrell. I can see how this guy would get away with things so long if he were being careful, just as Bundy himself was doing until he went even more insane than he initially was and got himself caught – the charming nature really takes people off their guards and leaves them vulnerable to Turrell’s sick whims.

I really loved the opening scene of the movie when Garrick is sitting in his car; he snaps awake, as if out of a nice nap, gets out and opens a trunk to  reveal a woman bound and gagged. He apologizes and tells the lady he must have dozed off. It’s the way he says it which really sets the tone for things to come. There are a few interactions Turrell has with people that speak to his chilling character, such as in a flashback scene to a night when he gets home to Sarah late, and naturally she has questions; coupled with what we know about him already and what we’ll learn more of soon after, the ease with which lies come out of his mouth to explain his otherwise unexplainable whereabouts is astonishing.
Again to reference real life, I imagine this might be how many serial killers have sounded to their significant others. Specifically I think of a man like Dennis Rader, a.k.a B.T.K (Bind Torture Kill), who went home to his wife and children every night while also going out to do heinous things, maybe after they all went to bed or maybe he made up a story like Turrell to explain his absence later. I imagine Rader probably sweet talked just like this. It’s very chilling. Bowen is amazing in this movie, and in general. His casting is genius here.
AtSw8As a film, I absolutely give this 4&1/2 stars. There’s nothing wrong with A Horrible Way to Die. Admittedly, some may not necessarily enjoy all the cinematography Wingard chooses to use. I think while the story tries to distance itself from the typical outings we usually get in regards to serial killers, as there are tons, the handheld camerawork Wingard does in this movie really sets it apart from what we’re used to – apart from a few unique slashers, Se7en, as well as more recent works like the Red Riding trilogy and HBO’s True Detective, there aren’t too many really fresh takes on serial killers floating around. A lot of the same old meal. I have to at least admire, above all else, the effort on the parts of both Barrett and Wingard to try and subvert expectations a little while still somewhat working with a formula familiar to audiences.
Most recently, they’ve moved into action-thriller territory with a fabulous film, The Guest, attempting to do the same thing with a different genre. I will always keep my eye on either of them, whether as a team or not. Great director and great writer.

The Blu ray release from Anchor Bay Entertainment I have also comes with three other films: WWE Films’ No One Lives, Hatchet, and The Alphabet Killer. While it does have a bit of extra content, it’s less than you might expect from a single release of the title. That being said, I really, really enjoyed the commentary with Barrett and Wingard. Lots of valuable insight not only into the film, but also into their thought process, both personally and artistically. They’re genuine guys from what I can tell, so it’s always nice to hear an audio commentary where the people talking are concerned first and foremost with discussing the film, and not themselves. Also, there’s a nice little featurette, “Behind the Scenes of A Horrible Way to Die” where you get to see a lot of fun little bits from the production of the film. I admire Wingard a lot as a director because he really loves to be hands on, and you get to see a lot of small bits where he’s basically doing the job of director, as well as director of photography (for those who don’t know – this would be the individual in charge of the camera/lighting crews).  While it is a small movie, it’s still great to see how much of Wingard’s vision is really coming across in the finished film.
ahwtddeath082410This is absolutely a fresh film on an old subject. If you’re a fan of Wingard’s earlier work, or even his latest, you should definitely see this – likewise with Barrett [Dead Birds is the first of his movies I saw & I really love it – own it on DVD – so if you’ve seen his other stuff please check that out also]. There are lots of visually interesting scenes in this movie. Some might not enjoy the frenetic look of the camerawork. I think it really fits the tone and subject of A Horrible Way to Die, and brings a unique perspective to the serial killer sub-genre. Not to mention the score of this film is totally ominous; this is one of those dark, brooding scores where the music really crawls under your skin, rattles your bones and teeth, and generally unsettles you. Everything works together here to provide horror with, at the very least, something different. A Horrible Way to Die is a great and non-typical experience amongst so many other movies trying to do the same thing while failing to actually do so. There’s an atmosphere and mood about this one that will haunt you for days. It haunted me. Still does.

For my review of You’re Next, the home invasion horror-thriller by Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett, click here.

The Interview Suffers from Hype-itis

The Interview. 2014. Dir. Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen. Screenplay by Dan Sterling; story by Rogen, Goldberg & Sterling.
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, and Diana Bang.
Columbia Pictures.
Rated 14A. 112 minutes.
Action/Comedy

★★1/2
the-interview-poster1 This film will no doubt divide people. There are a lot of people who want you to believe watching The Interview is some sort of patriotic act. Fact is, if Sony hadn’t initially backed down because of the threats over its release this would have just gone into theatre. Sure – the threat is what started it, but essentially Sony prevented everyone from seeing it by negotiating with terrorists. All that being said, you should see this just for the fact we should never let anyone tell us what to see, whether it’s a person, a government, our government, a foreign one, or anybody. Never. Now that Sony has decided to put it out, you can through Google, Xbox, and other outlets – plus, it’s a cheaper alternative than actually seeing it in theatre.

People need not be looking at this as some sort of way to take part in activism. It’s not. If the movie were a bit more satirical than outright foolish maybe I’d see it in more of a political light. This movie is in no way actually political. I’m sorry if you see it that way and disagree – I respect those opinions.
Personally, I just can’t enjoy this in any other way than a bit of stupid fun, as opposed to something like Bulworth, which on the surface feels silly at times but really has a true message behind things. The Interview has points it seem to want to make, claims about the way North Korea treats their people, et cetera. Unfortunately, there are less hits than the multiplicity of misses, and there’s mostly just a lot of jokes falling flat. While I love both James Franco and Seth Rogen, they’ve done much better before with This is the End and Pineapple Express.
1ac9e07d1c4826beee272a27e88c8dcb_imresizedEveryone knows the plot of the film because unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or living in North Korea (and not working for the Supreme Leader), you no doubt heard something about The Interview. Two trashy journalists, host Dave Skylark (Franco) and producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen), similar to the type of guys and gals who populate TMZ’s “newsroom” (pains me to even call it that), end up scoring an interview with Kim Jong-un, who is apparently a big fan of their tabloid show “Skylark Tonight”. The CIA gets wind of their interview and taps them both to assassinate Kim. Of course things go wrong in, supposedly, hilarious fashion, as neither Rapaport nor Skylard are equipped, mentally or physically, to handle such responsibility.
the_interview_2014_photo_wallpaper-800x533One of the first parts I really didn’t enjoy was when Skylark feeds Aaron ecstasy. Now, it’s not because I’m afraid of drugs; on film, they can be especially hilarious when portrayed correctly. My problem with this quick little segment is that it feels like Goldberg and Rogen just said “hmmm we need a segue from one scene to another – let’s recycle”. It reminds me so much of This is the End when Jay Baruchel accidentally drinks a can full of ecstasy; it then kicks into a little montage of them all high as hell getting crazy. I enjoyed it the first time. This one just felt out of place. While I did laugh because I always find it funny in a movie or television show (never in real life – and that’s for fucking real – never do this to anyone) when someone ingests drugs unknowingly, it really is completely recycled from their previous collaboration.

This scene also just didn’t fit at all. They could’ve introduced Lizzy Caplan’s character in any other way. For some reason, they decided this little drug-fueled sequence leading to Franco & Rogen waking up in the same place was the best. Maybe it was to make room for the raunchy, but really hilarious, “dick stink” joke Franco plays out. We laughed pretty hard at this one, I have to admit. Overall, I just don’t think it played well. I know the point was to have the two main characters somewhere alone together, so as to allow for the secret CIA meet with Caplan, however, I have to imagine there was a better way to write this scene than the scene that exists.
screen_shot_2014-11-25_at_4.58.14_amMy problem with The Interview doesn’t lie with all the crude humour or any sort of perceived offensiveness. Not at all.  It’s not particularly a great comedy. In the slightest.
I do find Seth Rogen funny. I’ve honestly considered myself a fan of his ever since Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. I like more of his recent work, too.  For me, though, this is just not a good example of his best work. While Rogen is absolutely one of the funnier parts of The Interview, that isn’t to say it’s one of his funnier movies.
One example of a real good scene for Rogen is when he and Diana Bang share a “love scene” (you’ll understand the reason behind my use of quotation marks once you’ve actually seen the movie). It’s not just funny because of the physical comedy involved – Bang and Rogen are both really hilarious here. Genuine laughter. There’s also another very quick, crude little moment with the two of them I did not expect. The girlfriend and I laughed, as well as being generally surprised, when this happened. It’s quick, but an effective little gag.

I also like James Franco quite a bit. Maybe even more than I like Rogen. No matter how people view Franco I’ll always enjoy his performances because I usually find him pretty engaging, as well as a fairly interesting actor. On the other hand, there are a few of his movies where I don’t really enjoy him. Throughout The Interview I swayed back and forth between finding a few of his scenes funny, to being perpetually annoyed with his character; and that’s not in a sense that he was trying to be annoying. Certain jokes Franco tries to pull off here really aren’t funny. They verge on being worthy of a cringe or two. While I found some bits really funny (example: the bit with Eminem at the beginning was funny), others that were maybe not meant to be as funny (example: Skylark finds some fake fruit setup in a grocery store), certain scenes intended to play for outright laughs went over like a wet fart in church (example: “hate us ’cause they ain’t us” both in the earlier scene with Rogen & later in the scene with Randall Park were excruciatingly bad). There was just such a mix with Franco’s performance as Skylark. I don’t know if it’s how Franco played the character or how his character was written, but I just couldn’t get into him consistently enough to enjoy.

Some say Randall Park is absolutely hilarious in this, as if his performance was a revelation. He was competent enough, and yes, I absolutely did laugh at a handful of moments with him. Regardless, it wasn’t anything great. He looks a fair bit like Kim, though not at all identical, but the role itself (not Park – he did a decent job) isn’t exactly written well. I mean, the stuff with Katy Perry was funny during the tank scene. I laughed hard. Then, once they brought it back from the dead and beat it to death, I just got sick of the whole thing. The role of Kim could have been satirized much better. I don’t understand how anybody can’t see that – world leaders have been skewed with more clever wit in a movie like Dr. Strangelove, where even the Russian president’s role was hilarious while his dialogue is never actually heard, only second-hand through Peter Sellers as fictional United States President Merkin Muffley. That is not Park’s fault whatsoever. The writing for Jong-un’s character in the film was sloppy. They had a chance here to really knock it out of the park with a biting characterization. Instead they went solely for the slapstick comedy. While I do enjoy certain slapstick-style comedies, this just didn’t connect because it was really lazy, opting for silly jokes such as Kim Jong-il telling his son margaritas are “gay”.  On the surface they’re good for a chuckle, but little else.
theinterview01Honourable mention for Franco must go to – the end of the scene where Skylark busts into Aaron’s office to let him know about Kim Jong-un being a fan of the show. Another guy from the show busts in and claims there’s a possible video of Matthew McConaughey having sex with a goat, to which Skylark replies: “Get the goat!  Get the goat! (turns to Aaron) I got some questions for that goat.” Honestly, just the way Franco does the turn, looks at Rogen and delivers the line, absolutely slays me. There are some really great little throwaway lines in here like this. That’s perhaps the problem. There doesn’t feel, to me, like there is much of a constant throughout The Interview, but rather a ton of tiny jokes thrown together in a script. Worse still, many of the jokes, even some of the actual funny stuff, often rely solely on the bromance between Franco and Rogen. I do enjoy their hilarious friendship, I just don’t want to watch a movie where they’re not playing themselves and yet still playing themselves somehow.

While a lot of people have high praise for The Interview that is just one bandwagon I cannot jump on, even if I wanted to hitch a ride. While I found it funny enough to make it through the near two-hour running time, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again. I really wanted to watch it, and pay for it, because I do believe in freedom of speech. Although I don’t necessarily think this is the greatest representation for this particular right, people really should go see it just to make your own personal statement; you should never let anybody, as I mentioned earlier, determine what you can or cannot see in terms of art (I mean real art – pederasts unfortunately use this rhetoric to try and justify their sick visions of “art”).
sethrogenjamesfrancopuppy1201 On the other hand, don’t expect The Interview to really break down any sort of barriers or any new ground in comedy. This really is meant to just be a fun comedy. Due to all the controversy and the hackers, North Korean or otherwise, people want to give this movie more meaning than I believe it ever intended to convey. I expected more in that sense, however, in the end I’m just ultimately disappointed by the comedy itself. I’ve enjoyed lots of what some critics would like to call “low brow comedy” (for instance I love Dumb & Dumber and even lesser loved raunchy comedies like Kingpin), I don’t have anything against crude humour, dick jokes, anything like that – I’m 30 and I don’t think I’ll ever stop laughing at fart jokes. But even in the dirtiest jokes there’s still a way to tell them to ensure they actually make people laugh.
Basically, I just don’t think the performances, all together, add up to enough. Rogen is the only one I really found funny from start to finish. Some may even disagree with me on this point, too. Caplan and Bang weren’t in there enough to really be hilarious, and they were great female roles, which is sad; I particularly enjoy Caplan and wish her character was better. There are a lot of individual jokes I enjoyed (the honey pot/honey dick lines wore away my nerves after the numerous repetitions), but I can’t say this is anything more than a mediocre comedy at best. See it – only to say you didn’t like cyber terrorism ruin our collective right to see the movies we want. Otherwise, don’t expect much more than a few laughs and a lot of Franco hamming it up beyond belief.

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Bela Kiss: Prologue – Because Literary Terms Be Damned

Bela Kiss: Prologue. 2013. Directed & Written by Lucien Förstner.
Starring Kristina Klebe, Rudolf Martin, Fabian Stumm, Ben Bela Böhm, Janina Elkin, Angus McGruther, Julia Horvath, and Jörg Koslowsky. 4Digital Media.
Rated R. 106 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

1/2★

bela-kiss-prologue-401380lThere are movies which sometimes fool me, for one reason or another, into thinking they’ll turn out to be something much more than they really are – Bela Kiss: Prologue is one such film. Not that I expected greatness whatsoever, but the beginning wasn’t bad. The inclusion of serial killer Bela Kiss intrigued me. Also, the first fifteen minutes or so were decent enough I started believing this might not be too bad. To my chagrin, I slowly came to realize this movie was headed downhill.

The plot of the film is sort of foolish from the start. We get bits and pieces of the Bela Kiss story (I won’t go into this much – you can check it out online & get a much better description of his crimes than I will give you) & then nearly a century later you’ve got a bunch of robbers headed to a remote forest hotel. When they arrive it’s assumed the place will be their safe haven from any law enforcement or authorities, but their safety vanishes once people start to die.
I suppose the whole idea is that Bela Kiss may still be roaming around. There are all sorts of newspaper clippings, yadda yadda, laying around about Kiss; the bodies in the gasoline drums, pictures, et cetera. I mean, it’s just nonsense. Basically there’s no real explanation other than “blood gives you eternal life”, but somehow Bela Kiss hasn’t died – he’s almost 140 and still killing people. Or at least he’s having people killed so he can use their blood. I don’t even really know. It’s an awful, awful screenplay.

They sort of take Kiss’ story and mix in the, short, belief that he was some sort of vampire (due to puncture marks around the neck & the bodies being drained of blood). Instead of coming out with something interesting, it just seems really boring. Bela Kiss as a serial killer alone is terrifying enough. They could’ve given us a version of his story instead of making it into a very confused update, or whatever it happens to be.
This brings me to another point – the title. Basically states it’s the prologue of a story. Whose story? Certainly not Bela’s story because if it were a prologue to that then we’d most likely have a look at his childhood. Or do the filmmakers understand the meaning of ‘prologue’? Not to be rude. I just really don’t get why the word is in the title. I could maybe get with it if they called it Bela Kiss: Epilogue because this is most certainly the end/continuation of Kiss’ story. I try to never really get hung up on a film’s title, especially horror, but this is just laziness. It’s like they were trying to figure out some cool title, they really wanted to the serial killer’s name in there, and all they could think of was the word prologue. I can’t get over it. Sloppy. Unless someone can give me an explanation for it that makes any sense. Otherwise this is one of the rare cases where a movie’s title really pisses me off for having no significance whatsoever.
bela-kiss-prologue_filmstill_web_010Most of this was a real heaping pile of nonsense, however, there were a couple scenes I really liked for the camerawork. Two of these particular moments both involve bodies being dragged. One is early on when the group of robbers end up blowing away a man in the forest on their way to the hotel; the gore is pretty good here, and also the camera view as the body is dragged away looks neat. Same sort of camerawork happens again later once one of the poor victims in the hotel is being hauled away for who knows what sort of torture – the disorienting feeling the camera angle puts us in really works. Not that there is a whole lot of incredible visual flair throughout the entire film. Though, there are a few instances I really enjoyed like these two moments.
bela-kiss-prologue_filmstill_web_001Some of the slasher-type bits of Bela Kiss: Prologue worked well enough. There are one or two scenes which really put this in the slasher genre. Although it is a bad movie and I wouldn’t compare it to any good slashers already out there. Regardless, we get a few nasty throat slashings, stabbings, and other violence. Enough to satisfy the blood quota. That being said, there’s nothing at all new.The villain runs around with a knife senselessly, casually slitting open jugular veins and thrusting blade after blade into victim after victim.
bela-kiss-prologue_filmstill_web_011The finale of the film is fairly blood drenched and gory at parts. Yet I’ve seen much crazier violence. They try to go for this big finish, but it really left me cold. Part of the reason why is because I cared about one of these people. They were awful, petty so-called robbers, who all look like they were cast from out of magazine ads; the characters were weak and ridiculously stereotypical of the worst slasher movies. Then there’s the terrible attempt to throw in a final scene where “The Master” shows up, with his hokey blood red pupils, chomping on a cigar, and telling the woman who runs the hotel their plan has only just begun; he cackles, I cringe. Like a rotten cherry thrown on top of a curdled ice cream sundae. Even worse, the last scene is just atrocious! The dialogue was breathtakingly bad, and the whole way things caped off was just really horribly done. Sloppy from start to finish.
bela-kiss-prologue_filmstill_web_014I can’t give this movie 0 stars because there were honestly a couple moments I enjoyed, which I discussed earlier. Plus they had enough blood in a couple scenes that I was able to at least enjoy the deaths of the useless characters in the movie. I’ll only give this a .5 out of 5 stars. Most of this is really cringeworthy. I find Bela Kiss interesting because I’m interested in the psychology of serial killers; I’ve read books from people like Elliott Leyton to Christopher Berry Dee, the subject is just fascinating. However, the filmmakers really took a creepy story that could’ve provided the basis for a pretty neat period piece (I know this isn’t exactly a massive budget film – I’m just saying this idea is better served in other ways than a mixed-up modern slasher), and turned it into something forgettable. It certainly did not do the film any favours the acting was subpar. I couldn’t wait for this whole ordeal to be over.
If you have any interest in Bela Kiss, go watch some documentaries on A&E or somewhere else. This has nothing to do with Kiss other than they hijack his story to come up with a load of nonsense. Avoid this. If you’re looking for serial killer stories being adapted into fictional horror, stick with Ed Gein’s tale told through movies like Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, or even the classic Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Because Bela Kiss: Prologue is not worth the hour and forty-six minutes you’ll waste trying to struggle through the running time without fast forwarding past huge chunks.

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