From February 2016

The Walking Dead – Season 6, Episode 11: “Knots Untie”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 6, Episode 11: “Knots Untie”
Directed by Michael E. Satrazemis
Written by Matthew Negrete & Channing Powell

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Next World” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Not Tomorrow Yet” – click here


Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) give us a bit of enjoyable banter to start this new episode. Their relationship is a whole lot of fun, two very different yet like-minded individuals. A new watch post is starting, with Eugene (Josh McDermitt) taking Sasha’s place alongside Abraham. He doesn’t appear to want that at all. Then we cut to him waking up next to Rosita (Christian Serratos). Everything with the zombies going on, and then they’re all still dealing with real life issues from before: love, relationships, jealousy, falling out of love. The zombie apocalypse makes life shit, but even worse is the fact that humans are the worst part about it all, deep down.
In the garden, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) do some gardening. They’re hoping crops will grow. Meanwhile, there’s a panic on the street.
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Cut to Jesus (Tom Payne) sitting on the steps outside Rick and Michonne’s (Andrew Lincoln/Danai Gurira) room. Then Carl (Chandler Riggs) pulls a gun on him. The kid also learns about his “mom and dad” hooking up. Uh oh. Well, everyone shows up now, Rick shirtless, Michonne, Daryl (Norman Reedus) and the rest arrive.
We find out now that Jesus is from a settlement. They grow crops, and they’re a lot like Rick’s group. Turns out they trade… with other people.
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Jesus: “Your worlds about to get a whole lot bigger
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Preparing to head out and see what Jesus has to offer, Rick tells Carl about him and Michonne, that he would have said something regardless, only it literally “just happened” that night. But Carl’s fine, like any understanding young fella.
On the ride out, Abraham asks Glenn, roundabout, whether or not him and Maggie were intending to make babies. Glenn tells him: “Were trying to build something.” Along the road, the crew find an overturned car, zombified corpses already hanging out the side, screaming. Rick immediately holds Jesus at gunpoint. Nobody is playing around at this point, not in any given situation. They’re always on guard. Although, Jesus looks worried for his people; Maggie stays behind holding a gun on him, hands tied behind his back, as the others investigate further inside a nearby building.
Inside, Rick, Abraham, Glenn, Daryl and Michonne find several people who they help out and into the R.V. The people have medication which they’re bringing back. One of them happens to be a doctor. This group also has their sad stories. Soon enough, though, Jesus brings them to their community: Hilltop. The perimeter is lined by large wooden posts, almost like an old pre-18th century settlement. Very cool.
Except at the gates, those guarding it get antsy about Rick’s group having weapons. Jesus calms the situation. Even convinces Rick to trust them, allowing them to keep their weapons rather than giving them over. Inside, it’s very much like a 1700s settlement, with a few modern touches. Supplies from a power company made things a little easier. Barrington House sits in the middle of it all, a historic house preserved, which they built Hilltop around. They’ve also got trailers on the land. We meet Gregory (Xander Berkeley), the boss of the whole operation. He tells them to wash up, then they’ll meet. On the way to get clean, Rick tells Maggie to go first then talk with Gregory – when she asks why, he advises: “I shouldnt.”


When Maggie does meet with Gregory, he talks about the museum, the historic site of the house. She grills him about how they’ve managed to survive. Jesus told Gregory about the group’s situation. Gregory comes on a little too strong, treating her like she’s got nothing to offer. Unfortunately, it seems like Gregory doesn’t want what they’re offering – mostly ammunition.
Jesus hopes to help the group. He wants “a few days“, which they agree to.
Then there’s problems with Negan. Gregory’s people come back, without a couple friends. Then one of them stabs Gregory. Hell breaks loose. Daryl breaks an arm. Abraham is almost choked to death. Rick has a knife to is throat, but manages to stab the guy holding it through his neck. More guns are drawn on Rick. Yet Jesus diffuses the situation.
Later Rick asks more about Negan – head of “The Saviors” and a nasty dude. Appears there’s no messing with Negan, a man who beat a 16-year-old kid to death in front of Jesus and their group, to make them “understand” immediately. Hilltop is forced to give half of their supplies (et cetera) over to Negan. Daryl is more than willing to go find and kill Negan, after meeting some of those bikers on the road. If done, Jesus agrees they’ll strike an agreement with their group.
In his bed, Gregory calls for Maggie. She tries to convince him they’re fit to do the job on Negan. He isn’t so hot on making a deal with them. But Maggie stress they’re “willing to work for it” and Gregory finally decides to go for it. She wants half, though, which Gregory wasn’t prepared to hear. She’s got him figured out.


Gregory: “You want anything else? Kidney, maybe?”
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Rick and the others seem to be taking this lightly. They feel invincible, almost. They’re willing to go up against a man about whom they’ve got no idea. Anyone who’s read the comics is aware. For those uninitiated, Negan is a terrifying individual. Michonne knows “its gonna be a fight” – Rick assuages her doubts: “Well win,” he tells her.
At the same time, Maggie and Glenn have Dr. Carson (R. Keith Harris) do an ultrasound. They see their baby for the first time. A rare gift in the post-zombie world. Everyone gets a glimpse as it’s passed around the R.V. There’s a certain light in Abraham’s eyes, looking to Glenn in understanding now.
Everyone drives off into the sunset. But rest assured, their world will not be sunny much longer. The approach of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan is coming. And there will be blood, no doubt. Plenty.
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Next episode up, getting closer and closer to the end of the 6th season, is titled “Not Tomorrow Yet” and I cannot wait.

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Afflicted: Found Footage Captures a Dangerous Disease

Afflicted. 2013. Directed/Written by Derek Lee & Clif Prowse.
Starring Derek Lee, Clif Prowse, Michael Gill, Baya Rehaz, Benjamin Zeitoun, Zach Gray, Jason Lee, Edo Van Breeman, Gary Redekop, Lily Py Lee, & Ellen Ferguson. Automatki Entertainment/IM Global/Téléfilm Canada.
Rated 14A. 85 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
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When I start reviews of films which use the found footage format, often I try to defend the sub-genre. Because while some don’t care for it there are certainly enough people out there, such as myself, who can still enjoy these movies. Particularly those that use the technique well. Afflicted doesn’t revolutionize the sub-genre, nor does it give us a plot and story that turn things on its head. What we do get is an interesting, well-filmed found footage horror that is full of mystery and has plenty of thrills. With two actual lifelong friends writing and directing, as well as starring in the picture, a dark and twisty path takes us along for the ride. Even with its flaws Derek Lee and Clif Prowse make Afflicted into an exciting little flick with solid pacing and tons of energy. This is a movie with the ability to impress via makeup effects, the lead performances, and its story also reels you in with a charmingly emotional beginning that slowly descends into the stuff of nightmarish terror.
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Derek Lee (playing a version of himself) is diagnosed with a brain illness that can and will either paralyze him, or possibly kill him. So Derek and his closest friend Clif Prowse (also playing a version of himself) set out to travel the world. They plan on documenting every last second of their trip for a video blog, “Ends of the Earth”, and Clif takes all his video equipment, from body-mounted cameras to small Go Pro-styled units.
When they start to hop from one place to the next, Clif is determined to hook Derek up with a lady. But Derek beats his friend to the punch and runs into a beautiful woman at a club; they dance, they go home together. When Clif goes back to the room he finds Derek knocked out, bleeding from his head profusely, as well as a cut on his shoulder. Derek refuses to go to the hospital, even after vomiting everywhere and then later punching a hole right through concrete. As things get progressively more strange, Clif tries to convince Derek he needs to seek medical help.
Something takes over Derek’s senses. He starts to become something else. At first it seems beneficial in most ways, as Derek can run over 60km/hr and can jump over a story high. But the virus infecting him proves to be far from beneficial – Derek can’t eat anything without throwing it up, his body starts deteriorating, and his powers start to become more powerful than he thought possible.
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The makeup effects are incredible. One of the first truly impressive moments is when Derek tries to take out a contact and pulls off part of his eye; such a simple effect, but how they shoot it works so well. All the effects get better as the film progresses, even the simple little things are done right, which adds a good dose of reality to things alongside the use of found footage. There’s a head that gets blown out the back with a gun at one point, and it is unreal how awesome it looks (plus you’ll be blown away similarly by the twist of it); such nasty effects work, dig it.
Also, not sure if it’s done digitally, but regardless – the Sun Test that Derek does on his hand is so gnarly, in the best sense. Added to that sequence is good sound design. As Derek runs through the streets, his skin sizzles and you can hear it underneath the plethora of other sounds, and is it ever well done. The body-mounted camera works like a first-person shooter video game here, which I enjoy. Though it’s shaky cam for a couple minutes, the found footage takes on a more action oriented perspective than simply people running through the dark, in the woods, screaming. So points for that whole segment, it is super neat.
All stunts involved are excellent, so perfectly executed. The car-punch scene was great, as are the scenes were Derek tries jumping up some buildings. Other than Chronicle, most found footage films don’t go for such big scenes. There are others that have tried, but none other than that film which succeeded like this one. Again, the body cam chase scenes do it for me. They made it look like a whole lot of fun, in the most dangerous way. Plus, the plot gets more frantic and wild, so the frenetic bits there play into that whole element.
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The performances of both Derek Lee and Clif Prowse were good. It helps they are actually close friends and have made short films together, because their natural relationship comes across, sort of anchoring us to the characters almost immediately. Working from there, the screenplay is pretty solid. A few points could’ve been tightened, though, on the whole it is mostly intriguing. The movie’s exciting and certainly deserves 4 stars. With found footage it can be a really mixed bag more often than not. It’s still a sub-genre in which I’m very interested. It does have a lot to offer when used appropriately, which Lee and Prowse do here. Everything works towards a proper mix of horror, mystery, and thriller. We’re lucky to get a different type of vampire flick in the midst of so many sub-par films trying to do different things with the vampire lore. The last 20 minutes or so give the real goodies.

American Crime Story – Season 1, Episode 4: “100% Not Guilty”

FX’s American Crime Story
Season 1, Episode 4: “100% Not Guilty”
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Written by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Dream Team” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Race Card” – click here
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This episode starts with “Everybody Dance Now” playing, as O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr) lives a vastly different life than his present situation, partying, dancing, sniffing coke, his good friend Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) at his side.
But then we cut to the Juice flipping his meal tray over in jail, lamenting what once was, but clearly is no longer.
In the trenches, Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) gets F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane), Alan Dershowitz (Evan Handler), Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), and the whole team together. Although, he prefaces this by asking: “Who thinks O.J. did it?” Nobody is keen to say they do, so at least they’re on the same team. Johnnie brings his brand of law to the table, suggesting black males are on their side, but black women – they don’t like “their men marrying white women.” Either way, they want to get charging; head on.
Now we’re in court, as Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) brings up hair testing, to which Cochran slightly objects, challenging the prosecution on all fronts, at all times. Cochran manages to muddy things up by creating sub-hearings, this one on the subject of collecting O.J’s hair samples and how many will be given.
In his cell, Simpson receives Johnnie by himself. The Juice is obviously breaking down in prison. Johnnie reminds O.J. – “Remember who you are. These walls around you dont change that.” Cochran tells a story about his own career, how he hoped to “change things from the inside” and such. It’s definitely inspiring. Vance does an impressive job playing the larger-than-life character of Cochran. So here Johnnie gives up a story about how Juice was giving him strength, seeing him play football and playing hard. This gives O.J. at least a little bit of inner strength himself, the fires of which Johnnie stokes: “This, O.J. Simpson, is the run of your life.”


Now we’re introduced to the judge of the upcoming case: Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi). His wife, Mrs. Ito (Carolyn Crotty) is a police officer. When signing a form, she hovers over the name of Fuhrman for a moment, unsure, unsteady. Ito and his wife have what seems to be a solid relationship, cheering one another on respectively. Here is another name, Judge Lance Ito, propelled to relative fame by this huge case.
In the courtroom, Ito arrives with everyone risen – Clark and her team on one side, The Dream Team on the other. The episode’s title comes directly from O.J. declaring his plea as “absolutely 100% not guilty.” However, at a restaurant on their own, Shapiro tells Bailey they need to keep Cochran under a watchful eye, as well as the fact he believes the case to be “unwinnable” and hopes to garner a deal because of Johnnie’s presence. A bit of friction here, though, as Bailey isn’t impressed with being pro bono.
In other news, Faye Resnick (Connie Britton) is trying to get a book deal in the works due to her relationship with Nicole Brown. She speaks highly of her deceased friend, but it’s obvious everyone is trying to get their 15 minutes out of the entire situation. She further goes on about Nicole’s breast implants, as well as other things which really don’t flatter Mrs. Brown-Simpson.


Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) is doing work alongside Detectives Van Atter (Michael McGrady) and Lange (Chris Bauer). In the meantime, Marcia meets with Kim (Jessica Blair Herman) and Fred Goldman (Joseph Siravo), the latter of which is especially upset about the treatment of Ronald Goldman, his own son – he’s simply been “a footnote” in the trial, a joke, as if he were asking to be killed. But Ronald was an honourable man according to Fred. The poor Goldmans are torn to pieces, obviously, which is not easy for Marcia to witness either. She tries to assure them: “We are gonna get him.” To which Fred replies: “You better.”
Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) wants to take out the death penalty. Except Marcia does not want that, she would rather take Simpson right to the end. O.J. simply is too famous, too loved: “We cant even execute Charlie Manson,” says Bill Hodgman (Christian Clemenson). When they start to check out focus groups, which prove to show us the racial divide, as well as the fact people think Marcia “seems like a bitch.” Lots of sexism towards Clark as the only female lawyer involved with the trial. She discusses this and other things with Darden later over drinks in the office. Christopher reminds Marcia that Johnnie is a showboater, but the real damn deal, so they should never underestimate his power.
On the other end, Kardashian is having trouble fitting in with his defense team. He doesn’t like that people see Nicole as a golddigger. His care for both parties in the relationship may prove to keep him down amongst The Dream Team.


Bailey and Cochran also have their own chat over drinks. Lee is not keen on settling, saying they ought not “settle like a pussy.” There are so many sides being played on The Dream Team right now, as everyone is angling in a different direction. Only now Bailey and Cochran may have aligned.
The lawyers all talk about how the trial is a spectacle, like a basketball game. Judge Ito kicks things off for the jury selection, which go regularly with questions about police, particularly the LAPD, whether or not prospective jurors have had encounters with police, good or bad, et cetera. The Dream Team feels things are headed towards a prejudice against black people. Furthermore, The Dream Team is starting to become divided slightly. Shapiro wants to do a press conference, which doesn’t sit well with the others, particularly Johnnie. But what Bob wants, Bob gets. The tension is mounting inside the defense already. Then Cochran has his own impromptu press conference while getting his shoes shined, because he is the real star of O.J’s legal team. The papers get printed with Johnnie on the front, no picture of Shapiro.
Gil now wants some flavour on their prosecution team; they need someone black, without him coming out and saying it. Marcia suggests Darden, stalling Gil in his tracks. That might be a good way to shake up Johnnie, as well as the others on the defense. But for now, Judge Ito has concerns – Faye Resnick’s book is out and may possibly damage the trial entirely. The teams set out to read the book, finding out what can affect their respective strategies. Simpson is not happy about the contents. All the while, Faye goes on Larry King Live, probably coked out, and pumps the television set full of bullshit.


Ito resumes jury selection. Although, Shapiro wants things suspended due to trial by media. Then there’s Bob talking for his whole team, no other opinions. But Johnnie jumps in to use his gift of gab, whereas Bob floundered in his own ego. The big conversation in Ito’s office concerns “playing the race card” and Johnnie states: “So be it.” The hateful relationship between Shapiro and Cochran has truly begun now.
Back to Larry King Live, Bailey is giving his own interview. He pretends to be on Shapiro’s side then gives up a load of soundbytes perfect for the media to use, taking Bob down in front of everyone. A clever, dastardly move.
The jury selection continues on with The Dream Team gladly accepting the jurors being presented. Over at the jail, Simpson receives good news from Kardashian and Cochran, as Shapiro shows up late; he has “possible options” to cut a deal. Nobody else is impressed at all. Clearly, Bob believes O.J. did it. This creates an incredibly awkward, viciously tense atmosphere. Bob gets completely passed over, as Kardashian starts to talk through the conversation they were having earlier. Now, Johnnie and the others are hoping to oust Shapiro for his foolish arrogance and egotism. At home, Bob’s wife wants him to quit, she doesn’t like what the case is doing to her life. And Bob makes it clear he wants to “put a lid on Johnnie Cochran” because he’s got issues with race himself.


Marcia offers the third chair position to Darden. He gladly, silently accepts.
Poor Juice is confused with everything going on, as Johnnie is in another league than him, or anyone else. Kardashian advises his good buddy that Johnnie ought to be lead on the case, but O.J. doesn’t enjoy conflict. Robert pushes hard to have the change made because it is going to affect Simpson’s life gravely.
At Shapiro’s office, Bob finds all the Simpson files gone. It is already quite clear, along with a New York Daily News front page, Shapiro is off The Dream Team. When Bob storms in on the meeting of the new reformed team, O.J. is on the phone with them and lets Shapiro know what the deal is: Johnnie’s on lead. In his own way, of course. Things start to move ahead with Bob merely riding in the sidecar.
In the courtroom it’s full steam ahead, as Johnnie takes the reins. But he is very surprised to see Darden sitting with Clark, also ready for war. The staredown begins and now the next episode will be spectacular after the trial falls into place.


Stay with me for the next episode, “The Race Card”, fellow fans.

Vinyl – Season 1, Episode 2: “Yesterday Once More”

HBO’s Vinyl
Season 1, Episode 2: “Yesterday Once More”
Directed by Allen Coulter
Written by Terence Winter

* For a review of the pilot – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Whispered Secrets” – click here
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Open on Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) watching a martial arts flick with Bruce Lee on the big screen, attempting the moves himself, all the while snorting coke. Problem is he’s not alone and “disturbing the other patrons” causing troubles.
Cut to Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano), Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) and Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne) trying to stall the Germans, as Richie is quite late. Zak reels off a story, everyone laughing and trying to play things up.
At the Finestra house, the television is left smashed with the Bo Diddley guitar still in it. Devon (Olivia Wilde) gets a call from Zak, letting him know about the Richie bender. She’s absolutely not impressed with her husband, though, she puts on a good face for the children. At the office, Zak slips some pills in order to cope with the stress; he does not look happy, either. And finally, up shows Richie looking like death walking – he’s still bleeding, covered in dust from the collapse at the New York Dolls show. Seems like Richie has a God complex now, or something similar. He feels almost invincible, between the cocaine and surviving the building falling down on top of him. He says they aren’t selling the company, then a wild scene breaks out as the boys try to calm their friend down. My favourite bit so far? The cuts to Jerry Lee Lewis (Lance Lapinsky) playing “Breathless” in a silhouetted, smokey frame.


Bottom line – Richie’s renewed his love of rock n’ roll. Then he pulls out some Bruce Lee shit on his buddies, except for Skip who dives over the couch to avoid an ass-kicking. “Is this how you do business in America?” asks one of the Germans. “Take a hike you Nazi prick,” Richie replies. Stumbling away with Zak and Scott bleeding, Skip tells them: “Its like the lottery in fuckinreverse.” Over in his own office, Richie talks with Julie Silver (Max Casella), who wants to know what’s happening. Everyone seems to know what sort of guy Richie is, obviously he’s had problems in the past of which everybody at the office is aware. But Julie’s got no problem doing a bit of coke with the boss.
Now we switch over to Devon, who daydreams of a time before. Lou Reed (Connor Hanwick) plays with The Velvet Underground, as Andy Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell) and others sit around watching them. Richie is there looking quite different, as is Devon; before they were together. Devon takes pictures and Richie casually asks about her a little, they lock eyes and a connection is clearly imminent. In a bathroom, they meet and form an instant, steamy bond. Outside, Lou and the band rock on to “Run, Run, Run”. Coming back to reality, Devon drives on listening to a song on the radio, seeing Karen Carpenter in the car next to her – until she realizes her children aren’t in the car with them. She forgot the kids, but turns back quickly.
Meanwhile, Richie is busy shaping his staff up for the new regime. “Take that fuckinJefferson Airplane poster with you,” he screams at an employee, firing him and tossing his ass out the door. Richie wants kick ass, balls to the wall music, he wants everybody to start looking for the best stuff with the right kick. A hilarious scene, though, sort of disturbing because we know Richie’s off the wagon hardcore. Afterwards, Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) heads in to talk with her boss. She wants to know if he thought The Nasty Bits were any good, which he says they were, but they need an “MC5” sort of thing to give them better edge. Richie gives Jamie a chance to show what she’s worth by setting up a showcase for the band, plus she also hauls some coke out of her bra just as he asks for another vial; the look on his eyes spell THANK YOU. “If you ever rat me out again to Richie, Ill kick you in the fucking cunt,” Jamie quietly tells the receptionist on her way out.


Devon is reliving part of her old life, too. She takes pictures of the television with the Bo Diddley axe in it, artistically framed and such. Then receives a call from the police informing her of Richie’s car being near the building collapse, which obviously worries her as she hasn’t seen her husband yet. Even though he’s just at the office, coked up.
Zak is getting his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah ready. Only now the money is racking up and the deal isn’t going through. On top of all that, his nose is smashed to bits. Things are getting heavy for Zak now, but he takes it half decently. For now.
Another scene cut in here of a musician playing – this time, Bobby Bland (Jo’ell Jackson) sings “I’ll Take Care of You”, crooning away. Cut to Devon finding Bobby in the shower, upset at him yet glad he’s alive. For his part, he loves her. Maybe he’s fucked up, he definitely is. But he loves her, and she loves him, too. Only he can’t let her know what the real pressure happening is about; he claims it’s work, his birthday. It’s the murder, though. Clearly.
And right after they start to talk, a detective shows up: homicide division. It isn’t about Buck. It’s about Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor), his association with the mob, and a recent murder tying them all together. One the cop leaves, Richie breaks down: “Im a bad person,” he cries to his wife, weeping in her lap.
Flashback to hanging with Andy and all those folk. Richie has a slightly different look, now he and Devon are together. They’re all taking drugs, relaxing at what is likely The Factory. Andy’s a little jealous of Richie, being Devon’s boyfriend and all. When Andy comes over he is coy, faux-friendly, but somehow slightly sweet. Richie talks Devon into going on camera for Andy, which only requires her to sit there and look nice. The whole time she and Richie look at one another across the room.


Julie’s busy with Jamie, listening to The Nasty Bits. He is not impressed; not with the singer Kip (James Jagger) or his voice, not with the music, none of it. Julie does his best to explain how they can “suck less” and lays out the way they’ll impress Richie, as well as possibly get signed. This includes learning a Kinks tune to play for the boss, to which The Nasty Bits agree after a bit of whinging.
Having a worse is Zak, whose life becomes more and more a pain with each minute. His money problems are spiraling now that their huge deal for the label isn’t going through. I can feel something building, but what? Where will Zak turn? His wife certainly isn’t making it any better, having become accustomed to their obviously fairly lavish lifestyle. He gets out of bed and heads to the garage. In his car, he seems to contemplate taking a handful of pills then decides against it. Instead, he beats the hell out of the back-end with a wrench.
Flashback to the old days of Richie and Devon, as their present isn’t so wonderful. They’re hanging with The Factory crowd a little more, everyone drinking, making out, so on. Things were once incredible.
Back to ’73, as Devon wakes up to find Richie gone, their bed empty. Out on the street, Richie looks all business. He’s in the black neighbourhood where we saw him get a gun pulled on him during the pilot, where we saw his brief reunion with Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh). Richie carries a huge envelope inside, right to the door of Lester who reluctantly lets his old friend inside: “We gotta talk,” says Richie.


This was an excellent follow-up to the first two-hour extravaganza from Martin Scorsese. Looking forward to the next episode, “Whispered Secrets” – stay tuned with me!

Civic Duty: Paranoid Delusion in Post 9/11 America

Civic Duty. 2006. Directed by Jeff Renfroe. Screenplay by Andrew Lanter.
Starring Peter Krause, Kari Matchett, Ian Tracey, & Richard Schiff. Christal Films/Sepia Films/Landslide Pictures/Movie Central.
Rated 14A. 95 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER Jeff Renfroe’s first debut feature One Point O is a thriller built on mystery and paranoia, so it’s no surprise Civic Duty is similarly styled. Although, this film digs into the paranoia of the right-wing after the events of September 11th. Of course this goes to an extreme, but that’s the point. Renfroe does a solid job directing this through its mentally twisty-turny corridors. The cinematography from Dylan Macleod captures a psychological perspective and plants us firmly in the middle of the main character’s head. With good directorial choices, as well as solid editing from Renfroe himself, plus the camerawork, as well as an amazing score that spells CLASSIC, Civic Duty pulls us into the post-9/11 hysteria that felt ready to pop in America.
Watch it nowadays and it takes on new life again, as the Syrian refugees come into America and Canada. Here in the North, even people I never thought of as racist/xenophobic are terrified of increasing immigration in light of ISIS. Considering the phobias and irrational fear after large events in the name of terrorism, Renfroe’s movie is interesting and it provokes some genuine thought. Not to mention the last few minutes, which have divided people (though if you’re paying attention it comes as obvious). Either way, this is a crackerjack little film with a heavy theme with an impressive performance out of Peter Krause.
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Terry Allen (Peter Krause) is an accountant. Or, he was. Recently he got laid off, which he has to tell his wife Marla (Kari Matchett) at home. She’s supportive at first, and knows that he’ll get back on his feet. But during the day at home, Terry is bombarded by news, media constantly flying at him with George W. Bush decrying terrorists all around America, supposedly lying in wait for their chance to strike. Then a young man named Gabe Hassan (Khaled Abol Naga) moves in downstairs in the building where Terry and Marla live. Terry starts to believe Gabe is actually a terrorist, hiding among the normal residents of the complex. Slowly, Terry starts to dive further and further into paranoia, beginning to see things he suspects are suspicious. He even follows Gabe now and then.
When Terry finally calls the FBI and meets Agent Tom Hilary (Richard Schiff), things get serious. And once both Agent Hilary and Marla express their belief that Terry is only paranoid, he decides to take things into his own hands.
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The focus on the money in Terry’s hands early in the film, as he gets his change back after buying postage at the post office, is a strong little point. Because this sort of throws us into his perspective, seeing things from his point-of-view. You can feel the stress and the pressure on him with this close, tight frame on the American dollars exchanged.
Also interesting is an early conversation between Terry and his wife. He refers to a man as “Middle Eastern“, and you can obviously tell she has a slight problem with the way Terry says it. While yes, it isn’t racist, the fact is clear: Terry sees people in terms of race. He could’ve used other words to describe the man, but chose those first.
Civic Duty is a paranoid thriller, often reminiscent of a Hitchcock film, both in the way it is shot, as well as how the score plays. When people call this a post-9/11 Rear Window, there’s a very good reason for such a comparison. So many scenes are even better for how the music ratchets up the suspense and the tension, as we ride alongside Terry and his paranoia. The editing helps, too. Almost every second scene has FOX News or a similar station playing reports on Muslims, terrorism, immigration, and of course – George W. Bush spouting off the written lines of rhetoric he was given. These elements combine to make the whole film uneasy, which is great because we’re, at times, not sure where the conclusion is headed. Going in, we almost assume the outcome will be that Terry is overreacting; a massive overreaction. But there are points the plot sucks us into his head, then the editing style, the score, the way things are framed and given to us, everything points to: how can you really know? So without a doubt the entire aesthetic of Civic Duty is a major part of its success.
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Above all else, the film gains strength in its discussion of tough issues. Particularly, once Gabe and Terry engage in a truly strenuous conversation that these things come out to the fullest. Gabe starts bringing up all the conflicts in which America has been embroiled, mostly by their own choosing and intervention (wanted or unwanted), from Vietnam to Cuba, to all sorts of others. Most importantly, once we discover the truth of what’s been happening (re: Terry) it makes an excellent statement about paranoid racism and right-wing extremism. I specifically began to think of articles and other literature written about how times of economic downturn can make the right-wing extremists get even worse, pushing people to become more racist, more opposed to immigration, and so on. While I don’t think the very end is the best ending, something had to happen. Not that the conclusion is unwarranted, it’s merely a bit of a stretch; nothing major, just a little too convenient in some sense. The result of what happens to Terry could still have gone the same way without needing him to commit a particular act. Either way, this ruins nothing, and the message of the film comes across as strong as it can. And best of all? The last scene really hammers things home, while also making us wonder what will come of Terry, down the road.
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Civic Duty‘s a definite 4-star film. While I could’ve used a bit more in certain senses – the pace lag at a few points, the screenplay could’ve drawn things out a slight bit more and added another 10-15 minutes to make that happen – overall, this is an excellent thriller built on fear, paranoia, and also on lies, deception. Part of this movie speaks to the fact many out there expounding upon their racist views often have something in their lives making them feel negatively about themselves yet turning it outward into the world. With a bit of twisting and turning, Jeff Renfroe does good work making us wonder and also making us think. If you need a nice, quick thrill, this is certainly one movie you ought to check out.

Better Call Saul – Season 2, Episode 2: “Cobbler”

AMC’s Better Call Saul
Season 2, Episode 2: “Cobbler”
Directed by Terry McDonough
Written by Gennifer Hutchison

* For a review of the previous episode, Season 2 premiere “Switch” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Amarillo” – click here
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After the excellent start to Season 2, Better Call Saul continues on, as we open on Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) playing the piano to his metronome. He plays beautifully, too. He stops once then goes again until messing up, getting angrier with himself this time. Soon, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) arrives bearing newspapers, groceries and the like; an unexpected visitor. Chuck mentions he wants to go into the office for “an hour or two” soon, which surprises Hamlin. Then Howard also mentions Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) is working for Davis & Main, the firm of Clifford Main (Ed Begley Jr). Neither of them particularly respect Jimmy all that much from what I can tell. Is Howard using this as a way to push Chuck? Or do they merely share a caution re: Jimmy? Hard to know for sure. However, Chuck’s eyes tell the entire story afterwards when he sits back down to play his piano some more. He becomes lost, transfixed by the metronome. Interesting to see where Chuck goes from this point on.
Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is busy getting things ready in a board room, making sure Jimmy is sitting next to her when the meeting happens. The sit close together while Clifford goes over some documents. Underneath the table, Kim plays a little footsie. Cut to the both of them having a cigarette in the parking garage, chatting. There’s an obvious feeling between them, whether or not Kim wants to push forward. But we can see, no matter how she plays it cool when they’re together, Kim is into Jimmy, big time. She even gives him a hilarious little coffee cup with “Worlds 2nd Best Lawyer” printed on it. They share a kiss before he leaves, though, she looks over her shoulder. Such a conflicted woman.
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Over at the salon, Jimmy shows off his new decked out car, which takes him away from the old office and into his new life. He looks through all the bells and whistles before trying to fit his new coffee mug in the holder. Except it’s too big: “Must be metric,” he says to himself. So ironic that such an expensive, beautiful piece of machinery can’t even fit his cheap little cup. This show cracks me up because, just like Breaking Bad, there come these hilarious little moments that would never be that funny anywhere else, yet here they are making me crack up.
Meanwhile, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) sees the ghastly yellow Hummer belonging to Daniel Wormald (Mark Proksch) pull up. He’s not pleased at all. Daniel is there to talk with the police, which does nothing further to please Mike. They have a chat in the Hummer. Mike advises him it isn’t the greatest idea for a criminal to willing talk with cops, but Daniel brings up an interesting point: because he falls outside the law sometimes when selling his pharmaceuticals, does that put him outside the help of the police? I don’t know; sort of interesting. Mike tries his best to talk Daniel out of talking with the police, though Wormald is pissy and only wants his baseball cards back. Turns out, some of the cards stolen belonged to his father, so y’know – sentimental value and all. Mike reluctantly tells his dumb friend: “Ill find your cards.”
Head down, pen to paper, Jimmy is working hard for the new firm. After hearing a bit of beautiful guitar music through the office he finds his way into Clifford’s office, the man obviously has a talent on the six-string. Jimmy chats briefly with his new boss and brings up some interesting points he might have stumbled across already looking through the papers on their case. A good start for the scrappy dog McGill.
Mike is busy tracking down the baseball cards. He goes into an auto shop and pretends to be looking for seats to be upholstered. This is the workplace of Nacho Varga (Michael Mando). They end up outside, alone and able to talk. Nacho’s definitely not happy to see the old guy, not that it bothers Mike; he lays things out for Nacho, how it needs to work. But the younger of the two gets his back up, thinking Mike is threatening him, his family. Mike makes clear there’s a profit to be made if they do things his way.
Chuck’s almost ready to leave his house, to head into work. His foil-lined jacket on, chin up. Did Howard’s plan work? What’s the long-term game?
Cue Daniel handing his ghastly yellow and flame-painted Hummer’s keys over to Nacho. In return, the baseball cards go in Mike’s trunk, back to Wormald. Of course the nerd in Daniel has to go through the cards, tracking down particular items to make sure they’re in tact. “Looks like everyones here,” says Daniel with a big, goofy smile.
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Nacho (to Daniel): “Now, our business is concluded.”
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In the midst of Jimmy telling everyone what’s happening on his end of the case, Chuck shows up at the board room. Preceding this Howard asks everyone to turn off electronics, give over their cell phones, et cetera. A worried, downtrodden look appears on Jimmy’s face as he watches this begin to happen. Howard comes off as smug, letting Jimmy continue, as if expecting a big fuck up. Only with Kim giving him strength via a thigh squeeze under the table he has the confidence to speak with pride. After the meeting finishes, Jimmy and Chuck have an awkward conversation. “Why are you here?” asks Jimmy; “To bear witness,” Chuck replies cryptically.
Then Mike calls Jimmy, asking if he’s still “morally flexible” because Daniel is going to need representation. The younger McGill heads to the station to try and help the situation. For his part, Daniel bumbles and rambles through the interview. The detectives obviously know he’s guilty, or at the least that he knows something more than is being said out loud. But save-the-day-Jimmy swoops in with a hilarious “art patron” story, claiming Daniel made some “personal videos” which were later stolen by that patron; “lovers quarrel” as Jimmy puts it. A genius way to get Daniel out from under the police: “Squat cobbler,” says Jimmy – “Full moon pie. Boston Cream Splat. Simple Simon the Assman.” I almost cried listening to Odenkirk describe the supposed videos. Spot on comedic writing, which serves the purpose of making us laugh, as well as being weird enough to help get Daniel free from any suspicion. Even better? Daniel’s actually going to have to make a video.
Directly following this scene, Jimmy heads to see Kim – with a stack of pies they dig into together. Apparently the pies are leftovers, “untouched by human buttocks.” Kim’s not impressed, though. Jimmy has now faked evidence to get a client off. She doesn’t understand why he’s risked so much for “a friend.”
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Kim: “I cannot hear about this sort of thing, ever again, okay? I mean it, Jimmy.”
Jimmy: “You wont
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This episode started a lot of things moving for the second season, in particular more of the relationship between Jimmy and Kim, as well as that of Jimmy and his brother Chuck, plus there’s the deviousness of Howard, and also the Mike situation re: Daniel. Many, many threads. Looking forward to where things progress after “Cobbler”, in the next episode titled “Amarillo” which will no doubt make things even more exciting.

Condemned is a Gross Out and Nothing More

Condemned. 2015. Directed & Written by Eli Morgan Gesner.
Starring Johnny Messner, Michel Gill, Jon Abrahams, Ronen Rubinstein, Lydia Hearst, Dylan Penn, Michael Drayer, Jordan Gelber, Genevieve Hudson-Price, Anthony Chisholm, Kea Ho, Michael DeMello, Perry Yung, & Tuffy Questell. Caliber Media Company.
Not Rated. 83 minutes.
Horror

★★1/2
POSTERDirector-writer Eli Morgan Gesner is obviously a lover of New York City, setting Condemned in the Big Apple, as well as previously directing the documentary Concrete Jungle and serving as a consultant on 12 episodes of How to Make It in America. So I’m not sure if he’s trying to make a statement at all with this one, or if it’s simply easiest to set his grossout, low budget horror in a city he knows best. Either way, I can’t say this is spectacular. Its cheap style shows in many places, as do its influences. What Condemned lacks in style and overall execution it makes up for in a few good laughs, plus a heft dose of weirdness.
There are gore horrors, then there are grossout horror films. This falls into the latter category. There are certain parts of the grossness which really work well for its horror, then other scenes are simply too nasty for no good reason and it turns even me off. Don’t get me wrong – I love a nice gory horror flick. However, there’s a limit to how badly things are done that I will reach. This movie surpasses my limit, simply because it doesn’t do enough with all its other elements to justify such nastiness. For instance, movies like Dead Alive and Cabin Fever are blood-filled, gory movies I enjoy; the first because Peter Jackson brings an incredible pace to the film and pumps gallons upon gallons of blood onto the viewer, the second due to Eli Roth’s campy sense of humour and ability to turn our stomachs with body horror imagery. But Gesner’s film never amounts to anything near either of those, ultimately falling short in pacing. Although, a couple of the characters and the actors by whom they are played lend enough interest that I sat through this and chuckled a few times. I also chose, after the first little while, not to get a snack.
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After Maya (Dylan Penn) gets fed up with her parents and their constant fights, she moves in with her boyfriend Dante (Ronen Rubinstein). Only thing is Dante lives in a building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where everyone is squatting. The place is ‘run’ by an older man named Shynola (Anthony Chisholm) and is filled with the strangest kinds of people. Included among the residents are junkies Vince (Jon Abrahams) and Tess (Lydia Hearst), a massive drugged up Jew called Big Foot (Jordan Gelber), Cookie (Perry Yung), Gault (Johnny Messner) and his human toilet Murphy (Michael DeMello), among others.
But soon they’ll all be living in worse squalor than ever. A virus spreads throughout the apartment building, made up of all the disgusting waste and garbage from the rotten mess of all its tenants, and one after another people are infected. They become angry, dangerous killers, which eventually turns the building into stories of madness.
As the city outside lives on, the people inside are dying to get out.


Certainly, if anything, you can enjoy some hideous practical effects. Many of the warts and boils on the people as they become infected are spot on gross. Probably most of the budget went towards making the near neon vomit, the puss-filled sacks, and so on. There is a decent look and feel to the movie, it attains a gritty, grim atmosphere with a dark visual style. But mostly, Gesner aims to disgust. Alongside those brutal effects, from hanging eyeballs to torn up guts to leaking yellow-cream pus, the sound effects themselves are enough to make you sick. Part of all that makes the grossness effective. In other movies that just go for gore, gore and more gore, often times it’s all visual; just throw a load of blood in the frame. At least Condemned opts to work with the sound design by using it appropriately in tandem with the bloody mess created onscreen.
Some of my favourite gore: 1) Tess takes a knife in the forehead/eye which is awesome enough, but then she goes on a manic rant about New York; 2) a hand gets ripped off and it looks good, even better Dante apologies frantically for having torn it away from the owner’s body; 3) someone’s stomach is disemboweled, then the guts get pulled on like a rope; and 4) a perfectly executed chopped off head reminiscent of some of the best in horror. Also, the makeup itself is best on Gault on Murphy, the gay muscle couple, once they start to find themselves infected; almost reminded me of a Rammstein video, in a great way.
I’m not a fan of horror-comedies per say. Though, I am indeed a fan of horror films which go for darkly comedic stories, dialogue, et cetera. There are a couple scenes where I actually laughed out. Most of the movie is straight up grim and savagely gross, but some moments are really funny. Such as the aforementioned Tess rant re: New York, the “NAZIS!” scream from Big Foot, even the two musclebound gay guys are funny (until they’re ultra frightening). This screenplay is nowhere near amazing. It is competent enough to provide some black comedy. Unfortunately, Gesner never provides us with enough to justify the plot, he only gives us what’s needed; nothing more. A grossout gore flick doesn’t really need to have a ton going on, but there’s simply no way to put this above any other films of its kind, there’s just nothing elevating it beyond mediocrity.


There are definitely a couple decent performances. Overall, the cast isn’t great; some of the characters were highly underused, some were made out to be more important than others then found death quickly. If I gave this any higher than a 2&1/2-star rating it would bother me. There’s nothing here, even the makeup effects, which takes it above and beyond that level. Whereas there are a few effects here worth seeing (see: head chop), the majority of Condemned is easily forgotten. If anything, see this to be a completist if you’re like me. Another gory, nasty little flick to tick off the list of films floating around out there. Other than that, throw on something else with more to offer.