From July 2016

Outcast – Season 1, Episode 8: “What Lurks Within”

Cinemax’s Outcast
Season 1, Episode 8: “What Lurks Within”
Directed by Scott Winant
Written by Tony Basgallop

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Damage Done” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Close to Home” – click here
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Working at an arcade counter, Sidney (Brent Spiner) has to deal with snotty little kids. “Rules are rules,” he advises. Funny, coming from the devil. Or whatever he is under that human suit. At home, he listens to jazz and lives a decidedly bachelor life. Well, that is until you see what he’s got hiding in a padded room: one of the snotty boys from the arcade. Terrifying.
This opener gives us a glimpse into the horror of Sidney. And though we’re not given much to go on there is an absolutely unsettling aspect to what we’ve seen just now.
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Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey) goes to arrest Sidney for assault on Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister). Watching from his place, Kyle (Patrick Fugit) is troubled. He’s not only contending with the demons floating around Rome, he also has his daughter Amber now that estrange wife Allison (Kate Lyn Sheil) has taken off. Too much to handle.
Then there’s Megan Holter (Wrenn Schmidt) and her husband Mark (David Denman). Their marriage is not doing well. Although for his part Mark believes that Donnie is “a piece of shit rapist” and got what was coming to him. Can’t say I totally disagree. But Mark IS supposed to be a man of the law.
Anderson turns up at Kyle’s house. Happy to see things are moving along for Kyle and Allison; he doesn’t know the whole story. The bigger problem is that Anderson is looking loony to everyone around him. He knows what Sidney is, that there’s an evil force within him, and now he’s worried for his friend the Chief, who may be playing right into the hands of evil. The Rev goes down to the station. He and Giles talk about what’s best to do next. They’re certainly not on the same page. Giles doesn’t want to play too far into Anderson’s delusions, he worries for the Rev, his mental state.
Over at the hospital, Kyle brings his daughter to see his mother. Morbid, though sweet. Just to see them together as a family unit, albeit still a broken one, is nice. Kyle does the right thing and tells Amber about what happened with him and his mother all those years ago. Exactly like Amber’s own mom did to her, as well. A lot to take in for such a young lady. She’s afraid that Allison might end up in a hospital bed, like grandma. All Kyle can do is keep on keepin’ on. When Kyle notices fresh flowers already in his mother’s room, he learns about a man visiting her with candy and flowers awhile ago. A man in a hat. You know who.
We’re still seeing a bit of Patricia (Melinda McGraw) and her son Aaron. He’s intent on hating his mother, calling her awful names. Later, he goes to a trailer to do his own investigating. Don’t forget, he’s seen some things; nasty things.
Kyle goes to see his sister Megan. She’s clearly surprised about the situation with Allison and Amber, but agrees to look after her niece. Off Kyle goes to try taking care of the other parts of his life calling. And probably a good thing. Because as righteous a duty as Anderson tries to uphold, casting out demons and such, he isn’t exactly helping himself. Out on the town, he picks up Kat Ogden (Debra Christofferson). She reluctantly gets in, thinking it’s just a ride. You can be sure there’s something more.


Kyle wants to talk with Sidney in his cell. They get to have a little one-on-one time, hash things out. “How do you know my mother?” is the first question Kyle asks the man. Turns out Sidney only knows her by reputation. “Turns out she put up one hell of a fight,” Sidney tells him. When things get a bit touchy, Kyle lays hands on Sidney, whose skin starts to sizzle, straining under the power of the Outcast. There’s a bit of explanation concerning why Kyle seems to be a magnet for all these possessions around him. Essentially, he’s a light in the dark for all the demons, like moths, fluttering towards his flame. So is Sidney all demon, or is he a human host that accepted its possession?
We flash back quickly to Sidney, preparing knives, and the lock on his door. Where he’s got a boy hidden away. He starts to cough wildly, falling over. The eyes open wide like we’ve seen before. After getting up he seems different, changed. He goes to the locked door, he can’t remember any combination. Very, very curious. Maybe the demon is making him do horrific things and the other side of him can’t even remember. Quite a predicament.


Anderson brings Kat to the Barnes place, as next door in the other trailer Patricia’s son watches. This looks terrible after Kat tries to get away, clearly the demon inside her doesn’t want any part of going into the Outcast’s house. Don’t blame her/it. At the same time, Lenny Ogden (Pete Burris) looks for his wife and wonders where she might have ended up. Yikes. Over in the Barnes residence, the Rev preaches a bit at Kat, the parasite inside her. It comes out to play a little. “The End of Days means that the real deal is returning, right?” the demonic presence taunts. “Unless you dont believe its true,” she prods him not long later.
At the station, Patricia’s son lies about seeing Rev. Anderson carve the pentagram into his own chest. He’s trying to get Sidney out. Then he lets slip that the Rev is over at Kyle’s place, “probably raping” poor Mrs. Ogden. Jesus. There is going to be some trouble now. Especially with Lenny pissed off, too. He’d rather take care of his wife’s… issues, without any outside interference. He levels with Giles, so that’s something. Yet he thinks their new life is “exciting” and has become warped by the demonic possession himself. An odd, tragic situation.
After Kyle arrives home he isn’t happy to see what’s going on. He knows that Kat, the human, is still there beneath everything. He’s starting to understand more about these demons. Or, he is falling prey to Sidney’s game. I can’t be sure. Not yet. I’ve never read the comics, so it’s all new to me. I like figuring it out in a slow burning mystery. The writing here is great for that. And so Kyle gets Kat away from the Rev, until Anderson throws a swing at him. Then it’s an all out shit kicker between the two former exorcist buddies. Giles breaks it up when he gets there, but the relationship they once had is totally damaged now. “Fuck thy neighbour,” Anderson yells at them all once Giles explains the strange marriage the Ogdens hope to continue having.
Mark and Megan aren’t exactly climbing any mountains. But he’s decided Donnie isn’t worth their marriage. He sold his truck and downgraded to something much less. He admits his mistakes. Mark will always fight for his wife. He made a bad, bad move with Donnie. At least he’s trying to make amends with Megan for how he’s handled everything. Mark of a true man.
With Sidney strolling out of jail, Giles lets him know there’s no length too far for his friends. A slight warning. At the church and his residence, Anderson finds the Mayor (Toby Huss) and a couple colleagues. Seems that they’re going to want him to leave. He’s terminated, immediately. Plus he has no home anymore. Unfortunately, they’ve got no idea about the evil lurking around Rome.
Over with Megan we find Kyle explaining himself, his supposed beating of his wife, and what exactly happened back then. “I was trying to protect them,” he tells his sister. He talks about how Allison was attacking their daughter. He hit her to stop what was happening. Only he’s worried now about where his estranged wife has gone. So many issues to unravel.


Sidney discovers Patricia’s boy at the trailer waiting for his return. He wants to help, foolish as that may appear. He’s revealed himself to this walking evil. From what we’ve seen, Sidney and young boys don’t exactly mix well: “Go home, while youre still safe,” he ominously confides in the boy. But Aaron wants something done about the Reverend. This interests Sidney.
The Holters and part of the Barnes family eat together. They even hold hands and say Grace together. At Patricia’s place, Anderson falls into her arms. The Ogdens happily live together normally as husband and demon. Aaron is safe, for now, with Sidney. But how long is that going to last?
We flash back to Sidney and his hidden boy in the room for another quick moment. Enough to see him let the boy loose telling him to “run” – obviously showing that, somewhere, deep down, a human still resides in that demonic shell.
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What an episode! I always say that because the series only seems to get better with every chapter. Honestly. This one was great, though. However you want to cut it. Great episode that lets us in on more of the backstories of characters, adds further plot development, and we also start to see more about the overall mythos of Outcast. Can’t wait for “Close to Home” next week.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION: Darabont’s King Adaptation is a Slice of Perfection

Still, and always will be, one of the greatest movies ever filmed, from a wonderful, lesser-read story by the master Stephen King.

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Ridley Scott’s Alien: Gorgeously Horrific Isolation

Alien. 1979. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon; story by O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett.
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo, & Helen Horton. Brandywine Productions/Twentieth Century-Fox Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
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I’m not even a huge science fiction fan. Of course I love any good movie, no matter the genre. But even as a nerd, someone who grew up loving Star Trek: The Next Generation and plenty of other science fiction, it isn’t my first choice. Yet you can’t keep a great film down. No matter if it’s your preferred genre or not. Now, when you start to mix genres together, that’s my favourite. So at a crossroads between horror and sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Alien converges on my tastes to make for an altogether frightening experience. The undeniable legacy of the film is plastered over many genre films that have come out since. Likely that’ll be the case for a long, long time. Scott’s genius as a director is matched in the writing of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, collaborating here on the story with Ronald Shusett. Working on the isolation of space, in ’79 still a relatively new frontier with untold terrors lurking in its dark and uncharted territories, Alien coils you into madness through its horrifying scenario playing out on a previously quiet ship called the Nostromo amongst a bunch of shipmates trying to get home to Earth.
The atmosphere here is tantamount to actually being out there in the depths of outer space, stuck on a ship somewhere where nobody can hear you scream. Scott makes you feel the despair, the fear, the isolation and its effects. Each set piece is better than the last, every corner and hallway exudes the sense of a real environment. The writing of O’Bannon is one thing. The imagination of Scott is entirely another beast, one that isn’t finished working as of this writing. But the clever effectiveness of one of his most satisfying works never fails to hook me. Watching it right now, nearly 3 AM here in Newfoundland, I’m watching Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett walk through the corridors alone, calling out for Jones the cat. And when he finds that facehugger skin, the chills still run up my spine.
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First and foremost, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is obviously the star of the show. What I dig, though, is how O’Bannon sets the entire crew up as characters. Once we get to the excitement and all the wonderful thrills(/chills), Ripley is our woman. She carries us through the action, the horror, as our tour guide almost. Regardless of her status as protagonist, O’Bannon gives us the time to get to know the others around her, so as not to stick us totally in one perspective. It’s a testament to good writing when a screenplay is able to setup a cast of characters behind the one real main character, to make them interesting, to have us spend time with them and let each one build instead of ending up as simply expendable victims for the alien to kill. Mostly, O’Bannon writes the characters so that they’re natural. In any genre, any writer will have a better chance at making their script more powerful if the characters feel like they’re organic. With a crew like those on the Nostromo, the chemistry has to be tight, like the sort of chat and relationships you’d generally see from any group that spend so much time together. Add to that a bunch of good actors who give it their all and you’ve got one enjoyable feast of emotions that run the gamut from strength to paranoia to bald fear and everything in between.
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That first reveal of the Xenomorph is forever etched in my mind. Having the cat there makes it unique. Those shots of Jones hissing, then the eyes watching poor Brett get nibbled up, they’re really something spectacular. Not sure why it’s so interesting. Perhaps to see a cat, a fine predator in its own right, witness such an apex predator at work is the reason this scene works to such a degree. Either way, when the Xenomorph, so quiet, drops down behind Brett, there’s a HOLY SHIT moment, and you immediately understand how threatening this creature is truly. Forget the size, the look, the nasty jaws and acid blood, just the sheer physical prowess of the Xenomorph to curl down from above, slow, silent: that is horrifying. Later, the scene with Dallas (Skerritt) and the Xenomorph is the stuff of which nightmares are made. Then things only get more frightening, the tension mounts until you feel your spine sucking up against the inside of your stomach. There’s a lot of downright exciting moments, too, but it’s the frights that keep me enthralled with Scott’s work in this movie every damn time.
My favourite sequence? When Ash (Holm) goes haywire. The first time I’d seen the film I never once expected it to happen. Now, I’m still impressed. The eerie way Holm plays the scene, the unsettling close-ups shot tight on Ash’s face as he starts leaking a bit of liquid, starting to go crazy. Then when Parker (Kotto) discovers the secret Ash is hiding, the nastiness of the simple effects make it all the more wild.
The sets are elaborate and Scott is able to take us away to another place. You become completely absorbed in the future world. Right down to how they’re shot and the way we initially follow a tracking shot through portions of the Nostromo before coming upon the crew in their stasis. A fine opener to the film, but a visual aesthetic Scott keeps up throughout the film’s entirety. The coldness of the camera, the silence, I find it works well with the advanced looking technology of the ship itself. At certain times you’re sure to be reminded of Stanley Kubrick. Others, you’re most definitely in a Scott landscape. What I like most are the exteriors, as opposed to the clean looking interiors. Outside we get this idea that yet it’s the future, but it is a dirty, rough and tumble one.
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There’s no denying Alien is a whopping 5 stars. A fantastic ride into the heart of science fiction-horror. Scott blew everybody away, and still does with this piece of work. When people try to tell you horror or sci-fi can’t be art, you show them this film. Tell them they’re wrong. The imaginative direction on Scott’s part, the writing of O’Bannon. The strong central performance of Sigourney Weaver as the beloved Ripley, the beyond excellent support of a cast with the likes of John Hurt and Ian Holm. There is much to love. I can never get enough. I personally love the first three films of the series, and Prometheus.
But this one started it all. The dangerous aliens of the outer reaches have never been so vicious, so adverse to humanity as they are in this Scott masterpiece. Feast on it. Learn from it. This film won’t ever get old, except in the way that it gets better with age in all its horrific, science fiction goodness.

TAXI DRIVER Rides Through the Moral Soup of Murder

This Martin Scorsese classic is the barometer for movies dealing with PTSD - not an overt military movie, but one that examines the effects of war and isolation and the lack of help for those who come home.

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The Perfect Husband is Scary and Scary Isn’t Always Good

The Perfect Husband. 2014 (released 2016 in Canada & America). Directed by Lucas Pavetto. Screenplay by Pavetto & Massimo Vavassoria.
Starring Gabriella Wright, Bret Roberts, Carl Wharton, Tania Bambaci, Daniel Vivan, & Philippe Reinhardt. Artsploitation Films/DEA Film/Cobra Film/Nedioga Film.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★
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So first of all, I want to thank the fine folks over at Artsploitation Films who sent me a physical Blu ray of The Perfect Husband, which was super nice.
I find it a little difficult when given copies of films to determine how to go about reviewing them. Part of me will always be honest, no matter what. However, when you get to know people from production companies, people in any given position, you sometimes might feel like being brutally honest isn’t the best route to go. Middle of the road, plain honesty is best for me personally. I can say I do like a film, or don’t like a film, while also seeing the other side of things. While I’ve even said certain movies are worthy of 5 stars, they can still have little faults, small flaws, without ruining that perfect movie experience for me. Because you’re no good as a critic, in any capacity, if you start curtailing your reviews (and opinions) simply due to a beneficial relationship. Nor are you any good if you can’t admit there are other subjective opinions; same goes for the artists, the production companies, right down to the directors and actors. As a published author, I’ve had to accept that not all people will like the stories I tell. Yet I want to know their opinions, positive or otherwise. There’s just a way to go about giving those opinions. And there’s the rub.
Even while I don’t think The Perfect Husband is anything amazing, I can see its decent qualities, the things director Lucas Pavetto did well in terms of directorial choices, as well as all the wonderful elements like the look and feel of certain scenes, and so on. I certainly don’t think it’s all bad. There’s a nice feeling of mystery before anything happens that sort of threw me off while first watching. I could tell and feel where things were headed, the trailer isn’t exactly hiding much. But still, the writing at least keeps bits of backstory and plot slightly at bay, instead of charging forward through a ton of expository dialogue. Underneath its blemishes, the movie has things to say. I’m not exactly sure some of what it said upfront is particularly how they should’ve made their statement, nor is the ending my cup of tea. Regardless, there are a few mad moments to indulge. When I thought I knew where it was all going there came a surprise or two. Not every one was so great. Just don’t be one of those people who writes a movie off after only watching part of it. Watch it all, you might just get a surprise, too. Or maybe, like me those surprises won’t exactly thrill you.
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I can’t say that I’m thrilled by the acting. Not the entirety, but a good portion is trying. As in you’ll find yourself a bit tested by the actors abilities. The atmosphere of the film itself does more for the story than the actors are able to accomplish on their own. One plus is that both Gabriella Wright and Bret Roberts – as Viola and Nicola respectively – after a quite rocky start, come into their own. It’s not great, they could still have given much more to their characters and the emotions necessary to take us inside their headspace. I still think Roberts was the weakest of the two, by far. Although Wright is pretty decent by the time the plot gets moving a bit more and she finds her character in a terrifying predicament. Luckily, they’re both photogenic, and amongst all the wilderness backgrounds of Catania (which is in Sicily, Italy and has been the backdrop for other big work like The Godfather Part II & III, Antonioni’s L’Avventura among others) they make so many of the scenes look impeccable.
The writing saves a lot of the story for me, early on, because the screenplay doesn’t automatically dive in. We’re allowed to get to know the people themselves, the characters, before totally becoming involved in what their situation is, beneath the obvious tension and pain they’re going through at the start. Not every last scene or turn the script takes is on point. By the finale we’re given a lot of poor writing, a twist passed off as ingenious while it’s actually just boring and, really, a cop out.
Worst of all, there’s a portion of brutality that I felt would’ve been better left out and not brought into the mix. Reason being – without spoiling anything – there’s a needless plunge into exploitation during a later scene, one that feels terribly misogynistic in a film that wasn’t exactly trying to be that way. This story easily have succeeded by going for a straightforward horror-thriller, but instead devolves into a mess of cruelty. And because of the willingness to go this route there’s a rift in the writing that rushes things, never healing itself. The film then takes a fairly predictable path to its finish. I felt there was a lot of potential here, almost for a strange modern take on Red Riding Hood. The best parts of the story are betrayed by the bad moves made with that one disgusting scene of viciousness, totally unneeded and unnecessary to the plot.
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A scene where Viola imagines herself in the forest, a bloody baby at her feet, is probably one of the more intense, eerie moments out of the whole thing. There’s a weird imagery contrast of this woman, a white dress flowing around her and a bit of blood here or there, and a bloody baby on the forest floor. This image is striking. It only lasts a couple moments then we’re hauled right back to Viola and Nicola. Apart from that, the biggest and best instances of blood/gore are very few. At the end of the nasty scene I can’t stand, we’re privy to an okay effect including an arm chopped off. So that’s something.
Overall, I can give this a 2 out of 5 stars. I did enjoy portions of the film. After the opening scenes, I found the initial 20 minutes or half an hour worth the time. While the acting didn’t exactly pull me in, the cinematography of Davide Manca and the score (from Giuseppe Caozzolo & Massimo Filippini) were engrossing. Something that continued pretty much all the way through. The sound design, even. Dug all that. All the same, I can’t particularly say that the rest of the production holds up to its enjoyable aesthetic qualities. I hope to see more efforts from director Lucas Pavetto, though. He has the ability to do some good things.

American Gothic – Episode 6: “The Chess Players”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 6: “The Chess Players”
Directed by Ed Ornelas
Written by Allen MacDonald

* For a review of Episode 5, “The Artist in His Museum” – click here
* For a review of Episode 7, “The Gross Clinic” – click here
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Who is The Silver Bells Killer?
Tess (Megan Ketch) and Brady (Elliot Knight) are finally on the same page. Meanwhile, Alison (Juliet Rylance) is onstage with Mayor Bill Conley (Enrico Colantoni) at the Boston Mayoral Debate. Gun control is a big issue, as usual. At home, Cam (Justin Chatwin) watches his sister with his creepy son Jack (Gabriel Hawthorne).
Then everything blows wide open when a reporter asks Alison about the Silver Bells murders, the police now officially linking the DNA to a member of the Hawthornes. Yikes. Not good press.
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Back at the mansion everybody’s wondering what to do next. Mother Madeline (Virginia Madsen) is not pleased to discover Tess and Brady went ahead to have the DNA tested. I guess at least Cam is cleared. Only now someone within the ranks is most certainly the serial killer. “Which one of us is it?” Alison asks them all.
At the same time, Garrett (Antony Starr) isn’t present. He’s off in the woods somewhere with Christina Morales (Catalina Sandino Moreno). He has… something to show her. No cellphones allowed, either. Isn’t this getting unsettling? Personally, I feel like Garrett is too easy an answer.
Madeline believes the police “manipulate evidence all the time to fit whatever narrative they please” and she’s adamant. She believes the belt being found made them look bad, so now they’re being framed. My opinion? Madeline is directly involved in the Silver Bells murders. Before much more family time the police arrive. With a warrant: DNA swabs, any evidence they can find, et cetera.
There’s a part of Garrett that does seem genuinely infatuated with Christina. Is that all there is to it? Or, perhaps, is there guilt due to him having witnessed a clue to, or the actual act of, Christina’s father being murdered? Very hard to tell right now. Part of why I dig the series as much as I do. Not perfectly written, but there’s a good deal of interesting mystery, intrigue, and suspense.
At the Hawthorne house, Alison lays out her idea that Garrett was the killer. Then Cam reveals seeing a body dragged down the stairs when he was a teenager; he believes it was their father, Mitchell (Jamey Sheridan). Nobody’s sure, really. Everybody has their own opinion, though Cam definitely saw somebody with that body. Madeline puts her foot down after their talk. She doesn’t want to hear anymore nonsense.
I keep wondering about Jack, too. He’s definitely got the strangeness in him. “This house is full of predatory birds,” he tells his bewildered father. What I wonder most is if Jack will continue on the family tradition of murder later on down the road.


In other news, Alison’s husband Tom (Dylan Bruce) has nearly had enough of his wife and Naomi (Maureen Sebastian). Particularly now that it’s encroaching on their love life.
Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) shows up at the Hawthornes. She tries to convince Cam that his family is a toxic relationship. Never mind their junkie relationship. The Hawthorne family is harbouring murderous, evil secrets.
There is a huge soft spot in Tess’ heart for her older brother Garrett. He took her playing, swinging, all sorts of things. Out of nowhere, she and Cam notices a strange fixture in Garrett’s room: a bell on the wall. It gives them pause for a second before they crack up laughing on the floor; the tragedies of their family are simply too much to get through without having a laugh. Although it’s short lived.
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Sophie: “Your family thinks Im the poison in your life, but its them.”


Loving daughter Alison has a look at her father’s old copy of Wuthering Heights. In a hiding spot carved into the middle, she finds pictures, cash, and a document we don’t see, though her eyes say it all. Certainly isn’t something pleasant.
Alison’s point of view has changed. The document in question is a Boston Police Department report stating their father Mitchell as a violent offender, having beaten an undisclosed victim unconscious; the only info for the victim states it was a male in his 40s or 50s. Could it have been Gunther? Or somebody else that Mitch took his rage out on? Now the view of ole Pop Hawthorne is turning, as even Alison wonders if maybe he was a killer after all.
Naturally they bring it to their mother. They want an explanation. She reveals an affair, back around the times of the SBK murders. When Mitch found out, he found them together and beat the guy nearly to death. Madeline uses this to explain Cam’s memories of a body being pulled down the stairs; real, or just a cover? The lies and the deception is so thick you can never fully figure it out. Not quite yet. For their part, the children aren’t exactly sold either. The paranoia is running wild, as Cam starts accusing Alison now. Nobody’s safe from speculation and suspicion.
In the woods, Garrett gets a little closer with Christina. He tells her about wanting to leave after the funeral, but she was the reason he stayed. A little bit of his past slips out. Before any further romance happens, a few guys show up, slightly menacing. Except Garrett drives them out with a knife in hand. This doesn’t really make Christina feel comfortable. At all. Are his true colours coming out, or does his past hold some sort of trauma to make him so aggressively defensive? Can’t wait to discover more about him.
Tom only figures out more about his wife and Naomi. So much so he sets up a clandestine meeting with Naomi believing she’s going to meet Alison. Ohhh shit. When Naomi arrives, Tom tries to crush her hopes of a real love with Alison. I can see something bad going down on this end, too.
After Tess finds some pills prescribed by Christina, she brings them to Brady. And he recognises her last name as being related to an SBK victim. Lots of trouble gearing up here. That’s not even considering all the tension between Sophie and Madeline. Could get nasty all around. Unless Cam and Sophie take off to start a new life together like they’re beginning to plan.
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Brady wants to make sure Christina is okay, and alive. They don’t realise she’s out camping with Garrett. Brady is just grasping at any straws possible because he knows someone in the Hawthorne family is obviously a serial killer. Just can’t be sure if the oldest Hawthorne boy is the right suspect. It doesn’t look good that he left the day the DNA evidence broke in the news. Then Brady pulls a bait-and-switch on his wife, taking off without her to track down her brother. Everything’s about to get serious.
On the news, Garrett is a prime suspect. He’s considered armed, dangerous, and apparently has a hostage. Nothing is helped when Christina gets a voicemail from Brady saying Garrett is a suspect in the SBK case. She demands keys to the truck, she believes he’s brought her camping to killer her, as once he killed her father.
Everybody is going crazy. They all believe Garrett is the killer, no question.
After Brady pulls Garrett’s truck over on the side of the road, he finds Christina covered in blood having accidentally stabbed Garrett when they were arguing. “Its not my blood,” she mumbles getting out. Cut to the Hawthorne family discovering the blood on the belt from the SBK murder matches Mitchell, the deceased patriarch. No way? Madeline does not believe it. However, Brady got DNA off the high school football jersey of Mitch. This is crazy, I didn’t actually expect it to go down that way. Surely there’s more.
And in the forest, Garrett, innocent, bleeds out from the knife in his gut.
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This episode was titled after a painting by American artist Thomas Eakins from 1876. The next is titled “The Gross Clinic” and is so named for another painting by Eakins done a year before The Chess Players, so that’s pretty intriguing. Can’t wait to see the next one. Exciting, especially after the developments we’ve seen in this hour.

Dead of Summer – Season 1, Episode 5: “How to Stay Alive in the Woods”

Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 5: “How to Stay Alive in the Woods”
Directed by Norman Buckley
Written by Erin Maher & Kay Reindl

* For a review of the previous episode, “Modern Love” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Dharma Bums” – click here
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We open on a young Joel (grown up version played by Eli Goree) and his older brother. Of course Joel has the camera out, but his brother’s more concerned with looking fresh for the ladies, as one would. They’re quite different, though the older one looks out for his brother. Through their window a strange noise comes. Does he know more about Camp Stillwater than he lets on?
Well, out at camp in ’89, Joel and the others are together. Everybody’s wondering where he go to with camp supervisor Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell). For his part, Alex (Ronen Rubinstein) thinks they hooked up. Once they start talking about hookups, everyone realises nobody wants to talk any further.
So the counsellors are all out with the kids, hiking in the woods and getting ready to do some camping. Just so happens there’s a “blood moon” coming out tonight, too. Cricket (Amber Coney) leads the little campers, as Jessie (Paulina Singer), Amy (Elizabeth Lail), Drew (Zelda Williams), Blair (Mark Indelicato) and the rest follow along. Despite any of their faults the group seem pretty damn good with the kids. When little Francie (Lia Frankland) has her asthma act up, Jessie and Joel help her calm down.
Out of nowhere, The Tall Man (Tony Todd) appears. Amy’s face runs with blood, an open wound in her head. Joel tries to catch it on camera then realises there’s nothing there. Amy’s fine, no Tall Man. Ahhhh, damn.
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Another flashback to Joel’s younger days, watching everybody get ready for prom. Only his older brother Michael isn’t ready yet, still upstairs. When Joel goes to find him he discovers his brother dead in the bathroom; a suicide. An awful, terrifying moment in this boy’s life. Further than that it is probably the most hardcore scene so far on Dead of Summer. Surely this event left a mark on young Joel, forever scarring him.
In ’89, Joel is helping “pitch Debs tent” and the others are out doing their thing, hanging with the kids, so on. Meanwhile, Jessie is still bitching at Amy for supposedly digging Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza). Amy doesn’t remember kissing him, though Jessie seems to believe she saw it. A vision, or reality? This isn’t the only confusion going around. We come to wonder: is Joel imagining more than we’ve seen? Has he hallucinated having sex with Deb? When he semi brings it up, she doesn’t act like she remembers. So many strange things happening.
When flashing back to his own prom, Joel starts seeing The Tall Man, just like his brother did. I only hope the end to his story does not finish like that of Michael.


While out in the woods, Cricket saves Alex from stepping into a bear trap. She also has paranoid thoughts about everything going on at camp. She knows there are odd, possibly evil things going on around there. One thing I love is that she has a shirt that says DREAMER on it; coincidence, as she’s had creepy dreams about the camp. More worried about Joel, though. He sees The Tall Man frequently. And then the apparition tells him ominously: “Kill Amy tonight, or someone else will die.”
Blair feels bad for what happened in the previous episode between him and Drew. Although there’s no resolution quite yet. Then there’s the fact Joel is hearing The Tall Man constantly over his shoulder, commanding him to kill Amy. How long until it all breaks, or Joel breaks? Zipping back to Joel’s prom, we see that he essentially inherited the same madness which plagued his brother, leading him to suicide. Such a tragic plot. I never expected Joel’s backstory to turn out this way. Especially seeing as how he’s hallucinating much more than The Tall Man. He’s making up whole events in his mind, only serving to drive him farther into the darkness of his mind. When he checks the tapes he made, nothing he remembers is how it once seemed. Catching Deb in the window with her shirt off now shows her reacting like most would, shutting the blinds, and Joel has to question everything he’s seen up to now.
While everyone else is having fun, roasting marshmallows and relaxing around the fire, Joel keeps hearing The Tall Man in his head. Requiring a sacrifice. Strangely enough, as we flash back to Joel’s prom, we see a large blood moon-like prop behind the DJ playing the music. Just like the blood moon out during their night at camp.


Deputy Sykes ends up at the eerie old cabin, the one where we’d first seen The Tall Man in the premiere. Jessie winds up there, as well. He explains the story of the man, Holyoke, and how he was a spiritualist leader of some sort; a cult. Garett believes there are Holyoke followers still lurking around Stillwater. Oh, how right he is. In the cabin Jessie comes across a door in the floor containing an old doll, a cuff link belonging to Garrett’s own father, as well as a recording of Holyoke.
As Joel heads to try and help the little asthmatic girl, Sykes and Jessie listen to Holyoke’s recording; he urges his followers to take the “potion” and to relieve themselves of the world. Ah, good ole suicide cult. Plays more into Michael, what he did. But will it play into Joel’s next chapter? Back at prom, he beat a guy to a pulp thinking it was Holyoke when it was just another student. In the woods at camp, he finds himself alone in the woods with Amy despite trying to keep away. She sees the fabric of his reality slipping, as Holyoke, unseen, commands for Joel to kill her. Before the poor guy puts a knife to his wrists she helps stop his delusions.
Joel lets Drew, Amy, and Blair into his life. He tells them about his brother’s suicide, the apparitions, and admits to having the same “sickness” now. His worry is that he’ll turn out just like Michael: “I need help,” he asks, as they all support him. Everything starts coming together when Jessie comes back with a picture of Holyoke. There’s still scepticism on some parts. But Amy definitely knows there’s a dark presence there. When the little Russian boy tells the counsellors he’s also seen Holyoke, everybody finds their summer getting a lot scarier.


Amy: “This place, it feeds on our weaknesses.”
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In the woods Alex waits for Cricket. Problem is, she gets thrown onto a bear trap in the dark by one of the masked cultists. Dead and gone. I loved her. So sad. And she was only heading out for a bit of young love.
What a good episode! Loved this one. Tragic, creepy. Even some veritable nastiness at the beginning. Can’t wait for the next episode – “The Dharma Bums” – another chapter moving us closer

Animal Kingdom – Season 1, Episode 8: “Man In”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 8: “Man In”
Directed by Larry Teng
Written by Megan Martin

* For a review of the previous episode, “Goddamn Animals” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Judas Kiss” – click here
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Craig and Deran Cody (Ben Robson & Jake Weary) are doing a little job at the local arcade. You can be damn sure Mama Smurf (Ellen Barkin) knows nothing of this one. Or does she? Doesn’t seem to me she’d want them doing such petty shit.
At the same time, Baz (Scott Speedman) and Paul Belmont (C. Thomas Howell) are laying out the plans for their military base job coming up. Although Smurf and Pope (Shawn Hatosy) aren’t as keen on things as Baz. But we’ve seen Belmont get pulled right into the criminal world of the Cody Gang; hook, line, sinker.
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Josh (Finn Cole) talks with Alexa Anderson (Ellen Wroe), letting her know exactly how wrong what she did to him is, how bad things could get for him if he becomes any further involved. Alexa has this rosy-coloured glasses view on the world, somehow, even after being a junkie herself. She thinks there’s a way to get J out of there, to take down his family without hurting him. However, he lets her know plain and simple: “You have no idea what theyd do to me.”
There’s more convincing needed to get Paul to crossover the last threshold, and Baz greases the wheels, best he can. In other news, Nicky (Molly Gordon) shows up, so Craig distracts her. Only I worry to what ends that may lead.
In regards to Paul, he and the Codys aren’t exactly all on the same page. You can see the scepticism in Pope’s eyes, though that isn’t exactly new. After Belmont leaves, J gets questioned by his family. About whether he has criminal charges. He has none and they’re ready to get him more involved. Or at least that’s how it looks.
Detective Sandra Yates (Nicki Micheaux) is pushing up further on the Codys, now talking to Baz’s girlfriend Catherine (Daniella Alonso). Yates tells her that Smurf killed her parents. Seriously? That’s the fire Yates was telling Alexa about previously. The one Pope set. Oh, god damn. So now Catherine’s being offered Wit-Pro, all the usual things. Yet there’s no way to pull her away from Baz. Not so far, anyway.
Down on the beach, Craig and Nicky sit smoking a joint, which soon devolves into doing cocaine. That’s great. Who knows what happened there, as we only see Craig go back home alone later. There’s a possibility maybe Uncle Craig has a crush now.
Meanwhile, Uncle Pope takes J out near Camp Pendleton, the military base. He rides in on bike, backpack over his shoulders. They scan his ID, his bag. All clean. Then inside he heads.
Again we see Baz back at his old man’s trailer. He keeps cash there. Out of nowhere his father Ray (Dennis Cockrum) shows up. Last time Baz was there he’d been locked up for a drunk and disorderly. Says he’s trying to stay off the booze. Although none of that impresses Baz after a lifetime of shit.

 


J is one hell of a sneaky bastard. He gets to Building 13, past a bunch of aircrafts. Climbs a couple ladders, hiding from a helicopter lifting off. Bad ass. He gets to a vent then tosses some paper with a lit cigarette attached inside before running off frantically. Yikes.
Out in a scrapyard, Baz and Pope are meeting Vin (Michael Bowen) to pay him off with $10L. Pope wants the guy out of his life. Except it doesn’t feel like Vin’s ready to “move on” like Baz suggests. More of Pope’s prison life slips out, as the old pal and protector mentions a guard who liked to “play a little game” with the Cody brother. That sounds terrifying, and ugly.
On the base J gets cornered by two MPs. They let the kid go without any trouble. Dumb asses. There’s a possibility they might’ve headed off something big if only there was a bit of action on their part. If only.
There’s always friction in the Cody Gang. We see the need for Pope to always try and be the man, the top dog and most useful member of their clan. To the point of alienating his own kin. Still, he is crazy, so you can’t really get in his way too much. Afterwards when Josh finally gets home he discovers the job is done, everything worked out. His family waits with open arms, shots, congratulations. He gets a cut for doing his part. That’s what being part of this family means.
Pope knows there’s something bothering his mother. It isn’t simply their upcoming job. Little Andrew knows his mother better than she knows herself. Their relationship has been more than close for far too long.
Catherine is also trying to hide all those emotions re: her parents, their death. What may have truly happened. When she talks to Baz about it he’s only demeaning to them. Could there be truth to what Yates said? Was he complicit in any of it? That night when they burned, he called her to sneak out. You just know there’s a deeper, darker deception hiding in Baz.

 

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When Baz and Pope sit alone together, ironing bills, they get talking about “Hilty” – the guard Vin referenced earlier. Seems Pope beat up a guard, so they all kicked the shit out of him. Hilty used a bit of Abu Ghraib to make things worse, chaining him naked in solitary, blasting music. Definitely ugly stuff. The conversation soon switches to whether Paul is trustworthy. And Baz is sure. Well, that’s what he says.
Next day the Codys are gearing up. J isn’t exactly feeling great. He is not only further into the family business, he’s in worse danger concerning the law due to the direct involvement in crimes. Moreover, he straight up asks Baz: “Are you my dad?” There’s not much love coming from Barry. Mostly a bit of asshole talk, as we’re seeing more of lately. Not to mention he’s alienating someone that could bring everything down on their heads pretty damn easily.
Deran worries about the family mental state. “Theres just something in the air,” he tells Craig. The risks involved with the Camp Pendleton job are the main worry, and what the family mental state will do to it, in turn what it can also do to their freedom. One bit of good news? Catherine isn’t planning on snitching. For the time being.
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Daddy issues of his own, Baz goes to see the old man again. He sits a bottle of whiskey in front of him. He talks about all the things he hates, his father trying to make amends in the tiniest ways, admitting to his issues. But it all prompts Baz to attack him, forcing the liquor down his throat in an act of rage. Yikes.
The other Codys are fitting out a vehicle to get the job set. Everything’s looking in the right place. Even Pope thinks so, too. That’s a nice sign.
J tries to tell Nicky she and her father need to stay away from the Cody Gang. She lashes out, though, saying she did coke with Craig before fucking him. Whoa, if that’s true then things are already bad enough.
Lieutenant Commander Paul Belmont oversees a shipment of money being locked up at the base. He eyes it with more caution this time. Outside in his car, he calls Baz to let him know the game is on. When he heads off then Catherine starts packing. Has she made a decision?
The Codys are all getting smooches from Smurf, each dressed in military green and tan camo. Off they head to start the infiltration.
After the boys are gone Smurf finds Vin sniffing around their gate. At least she has a shotgun. Well, he doesn’t like being paid off. He felt he was “family” because of what he did for Pope in jail. Mama ain’t got time for his shit, though. Vin pushes his luck pretty far until the trigger nearly gets pulled. I only wonder if he’s going to cause the Codys more trouble with what he knows about them from his prison time with Pope. Wait and see.
And Josh? He’s all but ready to break down, rushing into the arms of Ms. Anderson once more. Dangerous.

 


Josh: “Everything good, they destroy.”
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Another solid episode. We’re closer to the end of the season now, only the penultimate episode and finale left. Episode 9 is titled “Judas Kiss” and that name makes me think there’s about to be lots of trouble rearing its head. Legal trouble, specifically. Who will be the Judas?

The Childhood of a Leader is One Darkly Vivid View of the Birth of Dictatorship at the Family Level

The Childhood of a Leader. 2016. Directed by Brady Corbet. Screenplay by Corbet & Mona Fastvold.
Starring Tom Sweet, Robert Pattinson, Liam Cunningham, Stacy Martin, Bérénice Bejo, Caroline Boulton, Sophie Lane Curtis, Rebecca Dayan, Luca Bercovici, Yolande Moreau, Scott Alexander Young, Michael Epp, Jeremy Wheeler, & Roderick Hill. FilmTeam/Bow and Arrow Entertainment/Bron Capital Partners.
Not Rated. 115 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
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For a long while now I’ve tracked the career of Brady Corbet. It was perhaps Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin where I first truly noticed Corbet and his talent for quality acting; one of those quiet, subdued sort of actors more interested in the internal workings of a character than any melodrama. He’s worked on countless films as a mere supporting actor, though his talent is absolutely worthy of being the lead. When Simon Killer came around I was extremely happy to see him holding that film up by its bootstraps.
I expected much of his sensibilities to crossover into his directorial career eventually. The Childhood of a Leader is one of the more ambitious debuts of any filmmaker in years. Not simply due to the scope of the story, but in the sense that this is a dark, at times morbid rumination on the nature of power, and how the quest towards it can often turn a person into a monster. On top of that it’s a period piece set around the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles around the end of World War I. So in no way is Corbet making anything easily digestible for the viewer. At the same time, this isn’t a pretentious, contrived bit of cinema either. Corbet shows us what’s underneath the actor’s skin. It is the blood and bones of an artist. The story of the film surrounds the Treaty of Versailles and other pieces of history, everything from Bolshevism to the lack of comprehension of what communism and socialism were in reality. However, the tale of the little dictator-to-be is first and foremost a story of family, of upbringing, of the way in which a boy is shaped by not just historical events during his formative years, but also by the day to day life he leads under the influence of domineering parents.
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The score is absolutely fantastic, from the mind of Scott Walker (Pola X). Nothing emotes better for the suspense of a film like this better than a properly intense score. With the various pieces, each section of the film goes by with maximum tension. Even right off the top we’re drawn in quick by a frantic arrangement of strings that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a Bernard Herrmann score. In the darker, quiet scenes everything is so mysterious, eerie. You really feel like this is a horror, despite any of its subject matter or themes. Corbet uses his directorial choices and the music to conjure up a genuine feeling of dread. In the last moments there’s this insane piece of music that spins you around with the camera, as if you’re directly in the midst of this history, in the centre of the crowd being thrashed about. So many of these scenes work well and they’re given such weight because of the combination of excellent imagery with the pounding brass, wailing strings, and so on.
Corbet absolutely has an eye for directing. His aide comes in the form of cinematographer Lol Crawley (45 Years, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom). Using what looks mostly to be natural lighting, Crawley evokes the time period in such vivid beauty. The dark corners of the low lit hallways, bedrooms, offices makes for a nice parallel to the darkness of the character development, as well as the story overall being embedded in the despair coming out of the First World War. Corbet’s directing makes the work of Crawley stand out, and vice versa. I hope to see both of these artists make more stuff that’s challenging, as this film is certainly. The techniques and eye of Crawley are wonderful to watch. Corbet allows us lots of enjoyment by weaving all those images into an altogether delightfully horrific piece of art.
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Prescott: “I dont believe in praying anymore

Best of all is the dissection of dictatorship, in a very vague sense. Not that it doesn’t accomplish anything directly. Rather that the vague qualities of the screenplay, its character development tracking the rise of Prescott’s (Tom Sweet) ego into something of megalomaniac proportions as time passes, doesn’t try to lay a ton of exposition on us. This is probably a sticking point for some viewers. They’ll want specifics. They want to see little Hittler, little Benito, someone like those figures. Yet that isn’t what Corbet and Mona Fastvold are trying to do in this film. Yes, at the end there’s a very definitive idea of who they wanted to use as a figurehead for the type of politics Prescott was picking up along the way to his transformation from young sociopath to tyranny; note the hair, the facial hair, the flags and symbols, these all clearly indicate the person in question (click here if you want to spoil yourself). But then you realise that even though that dictator is clearly who Corbet is aiming at, the timelines and the age of Prescott (and obviously his name) do not line up. So again, even with this seemingly definitive answer at the finish, the film is not pointing to a single man.
The basis of this story comes from one of the only short stories philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre ever wrote, right down to the exact same title. Bits and pieces come from that story, though many aspects of Prescott’s life are cobbled together from the childhoods of various mad leaders throughout history. What we’re mainly seeing is the birth of a hideous ego, the development of a scary narcissist whose track in life has all but been predetermined due to his proximity to politics for the better part of his life. While some deride the plot as not having much happen other than act as a view into the tortured childhood of a spoiled child, everything going on around Prescott is building him up into a lad poised for truly bad things. Coupled with the fact he’s a budding sociopath, a young child much too aware of his own blasphemy, the ugliness of his personality shows you a means to his tyrannical end. The most important moment comes when Prescott’s father (Liam Cunningham) finally shows his hypocrisy, being an ambassador working on a peace treaty in public while privately thrashing his own child. Prescott then learns that you can be whatever, whomever you want behind closed doors, as long as the appearances tell a different story; thus is the start of his eventual cult of personality, the case for most of the worst dictators ever to live. There are several poignant, formative moments serving to lead Prescott towards his fate. I think this event with his father makes for the one that has the most impact on Prescott, particularly in regards to his understanding of the boundaries between political and personal life.
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Ada: “Its going to take time. But youll arrive at where youre headed.”
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Although there are a few flaws – no first time feature is perfect, even the greatest – The Childhood of a Leader is one of the best debut features from a director that I’ve seen in a long time, if not ever. The plot slowly unfolds beneath the story of the end of World War I, the period afterwards, all shaped through the lens of a supposedly peaceful time. Or at least a time where there was hope for peace. Meanwhile, underneath all that bubbled the rise of a dictator, of a true monster, as is the case in many places. Young Prescott represents the situation many of these horrifying leaders went through coming of age in a time where young people weren’t exactly free to play; they were burdened by coming to terms with both their changing childhood and lives, as well as the upheaval of everything around them politically and socially. Corbet manages to cover a lot of ground in just under two hours. Not only that he instils the picture with the sensibilities of a classic director. I can only hope he makes more of this innovative, ambitious cinema as a director and writer. He challenges the audience with this audacious first feature film. In a time where a lot of people are caught up in remakes, big film franchises, artists like Corbet are much welcomed in my world. I love a bit of fun, but film, words, images, these can help us dig into and understand subjects that elude us. Maybe there are no answers, though I can’t help feeling this sort of psychological approach to the typical films about war (and the human figures which get caught up in it) is something that can foster better discussion than other work that’s getting vomited out into the Hollywood system.

Maryland: A Post-Modern Analysis of PTSD

Maryland (also billed as Disorder). 2016. Directed by Alice Winocour. Screenplay by Winocour & Jean-Stéphane Bron.
Starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy, ZaĂŻd Errougui-Demonsant, Percy Kemp, Victor Pontecorvo, Franck Torrecillas, Chems Eddine, Philippe Haddad, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, Rachid Hafassa, David Colombo, & Rabia Elatache. Dharamsala/Darius Films/Mars Films.
Rated PG. 98 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTER
There have been plenty cracks, as of late, at tackling PTSD through cinema. Some good, some not so good. It’s all in the way you go about it. You can show many sides. Each person suffering with the disorder can experience it much differently, depending on the event which triggered the symptoms. Along comes Alice Winocour, writing alongside Jean-StĂ©phane Bron, giving us Maryland; a film that so deftly handles PTSD with suspense, tension, and a few good thrills.
All the elements are in place here to have made a proper thriller, filled by interesting interpersonal drama and a couple heady doses of action. First, there’s Matthias Schoenaerts, whose talents at doing more with his face, expressions, body language than many actors can manage to do with their entire repertoire. Second, Diane Kruger gives her character more weight than simply being a poorly written female character tossed in to give the plot a feminine angle. And finally you can’t deny Winocour’s talent as a director. Personally, I’ve not yet seen anything else she’s done so far. Shame, really. Because clearly she knows how to make magic on the screen. Not only is there a great look, Winocour combines the visual aesthetic with one impeccable aural feast, from sound design to the soundtrack itself by Gesaffelstein. Honestly it’s one of the better movies of its kind in the last few years. Like I said, the PTSD film has really become more of a thing again since the Invasion of Iraq, and everything soldiers have been mixed up in since. But Maryland offers up a look into that type of mind, one fractured deeply by the horror of war (and perhaps later the necessity for a life filled with violence). We don’t get all the typical moments you’d expect. Rather, Winocour shows us the genre we’re convinced is in front of our eyes, then makes it into something else more interesting.
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One of the immediate elements of the scripts is the paranoia. A technique Winocour uses that we’re given often in a film that leans towards a psychological story is that for the better part of the whole runtime we’re right alongside, behind, near Vincent (Schoenaerts). Sometimes we follow behind him. Others we’re at mid-range, as he talks to others, interacts with Jessie (Kruger) and the various people at the Maryland estate. Further than any of that, Winocour uses the cinematography of Georges Lechaptois to draw us into the sometimes hallucinatory headspace of Vincent. We’re not always sure exactly when reality ends and the PTSD working overtime within Vincent’s poor head begins. In fact, the very final shot has such impact due to the fact we’re consistently drawn into a place where the reality we witness is undermined by Vincent and his penchant for hallucinating. While the major events of the plot are clearly real, that final shot begs to question exactly how unstable is Vincent, as well as whether he’ll ever be able to fully heal again. Or maybe it’s real. You can never be sure. Although my two cents? I think the final moment is a hallucination. Essentially, he retreats into that world inside his mind when he’s all alone. Aside from seeking out violence, or violent situations, because of his time in the war – who knows what happened to him over there – Vincent likely works in security still due to the fact he needs to be near people, he has to have noise to occupy his brain. You’ll notice that while Vincent does have a couple moments of intense stress, most of the party is a distraction to him. It’s only once he gets to a quieter, less populated area of the party does his paranoia get into overdrive. Interesting little distinction.
The music from Gesaffelstein pushes certain scenes to the limit of psychological suspense. A tension ratchets at times until you think either you or Vincent are about to burst. People will pass off the music as “derivative of ’80s synth-pop” (something I actually read online if you can believe that) when it’s just electronic excellence. Plus, as I said, the music then works in conjunction with the cinematography and Winocour’s directorial choices to make the mental state of Vincent a thoroughly visceral experience. That sequence at the beach? The heavy electronic notes ramble until Vincent’s able to calm himself. And that whole minute or so is an exercise in how to draw out a tense scene. This of course leads up to another wild moment, which confirms for sure if Vincent is seeing things or if it’s all real. Nevertheless, on numerous occasions the visual and aural elements of the film combine to make the action and the drama exciting in equal measures.
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Schoenaerts is beyond a good actor. He has all the wonderful energy of a De Niro or a Pacino, a Hackman, a Hoffman (Dustin or Phillip Seymour), a Vincent Cassel or a Jean-Paul Belmondo, anybody you can think of really. He’s got the physicality to play any number of tough guy characters, already proving that in spades through his performance in my favourite film, Bullhead. However, he gets to show even more of his acting chops here (even though I still prefer that one). The way he paves a path into the world of Vincent, that inner paranoid inside the hulking exterior, is fascinating. His vulnerability is always present. He’s this big time security guard, and at the same time he has this gaping wound in his soul that comes out from time to time, piercing the outer shell of his military swagger, that built up, constructed masculinity. Again, as in the aforementioned performance, he taps into that side of masculinity, what it means to be a soldier in modern times/what it means to be a man, as well. It lifts the film up with how deep the performance goes, right to the last drop.
Likewise, Kruger does a pretty solid job, too. She plays a woman wrapped up in something that she doesn’t exactly understand. At first, she’s hesitant to treat Vincent with much more than awkward, casual conversation. Then, as events evolve and change her perception, she’s forced to rely on a man she does not know. Moreover, she has no idea of his real personality, the PTSD he deals with on a regular basis. So to watch her performance along with what we know, it makes for good excitement. Jessie isn’t a character just left helpless, she’s a mother also ready to shield her child from any danger. Added to the fact Kruger doesn’t play her as helpless, nor is she a waif-like woman. The bravery in her comes out after she plunges into a dangerous world with a man charged to protect her against whatever comes next, as she never gives up or hesitates to do what’s necessary.
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I can’t say it enough: Maryland is a god damn amazing movie. I’ve not stopped raving about it since getting the chance to watch it recently. There’s a soft spot in my heart for filmmakers who take a chance on subverting genre expectations. While many think this is a typical story from seeing the trailer, once you get into the mix and let Alice Winocour take you for a pulsing, frantic ride right next to Vincent, the irreparably damaged soldier, you’ll find out this film is something more than its foundation suggests. Schoenaerts and Kruger sell the characters, giving us more to latch onto than any number of recent movies trying to ride off the success of stuff like Taken. This film shows us the tough guy protecting the woman we’ve seen all too often in a different light. The well written screenplay takes on PTSD, using sight and sound to push the envelope. All the while serving up some piping hot action and thrills in the midst of its engaging drama.
And if you don’t find yourself impressed by the surprise of Maryland, you may have an empty chest. Not an empty head; this isn’t a cerebral drama in that there’s anything utterly life altering being presented. But the excitement is such that by that last shot, if you’re like me, you’ll want to watch the whole thing over again to pay closer attention.

The Night Of – Season 1, Episode 3: “A Dark Crate”

HBO’s The Night Of
Season 1, Episode 3: “A Dark Crate”
Directed by Steven Zaillian
Written by Richard Price

* For a review of the previous episode, “Subtle Beast” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Art of War” – click here
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Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed) is heading into Rikers Island. You can tell from the look on his face there’s a terror lurking in him. He doesn’t outright express it, but even the woman admitting him can see it.
Meanwhile, Detective Box (Bill Camp) is talking with the two officers – Maldonado (Joshua Bitton) and Wiggins (Afton Williamson) – who picked Naz up. They’re starting to get to the heart of the case. Box reminds them the most important thing is making sure the court and the jury, the judge, they see that Naz could possibly have committed that horrendous murder. Not to get caught up in things like who threw up at the scene of the crime, as Maldonado seems so concerned.
What I love most about John Stone (John Turturro) is that he’s a completely laid back person, even in his lawyer-ing. He takes a talk with anybody he can, whether that’s in a bathroom or someplace else. He soon makes his way over to the Khan place, to level with Salim and Safar Khan (Peyman Moaadi/Poorna Jagannathan) about what “can be done” and what can’t exactly be done, the prices. All that type of stuff. Problem is the Khans don’t believe, at all, that their son could’ve committed murder. At the same time, ole Jack doesn’t worry about that end. He’s only worried about doing his thing. However, the Khans cannot afford $60-70K for a lawyer. Part of me thinks that Stone is a little bit of a hustler.
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In Rikers, there’s a criminal named Freddy (Michael K. Williams), a former boxer. He’s afforded certain privileges. He has a television, a decent one for the jailhouse, a bunch of cellphones at his disposal, posters on the wall, pictures. Also, he gets a bit of sex, too. He passes Naz and a strange glance happens between the two. Meanwhile, young Naz is seeing first hand a life he’d never thought would be in front of him. Quite a culture shock. A social devastation. The danger posed to those innocent people, and non-violent offenders, when exposed to a jail with men who are serving life (and some without any chance of parole) is absolutely horrific. The fact that we as a society allow those situations where young men are preyed upon, a few of them like Naz even completely innocent, is disgusting. Although the cracks in the justice system are inherently deep and wide.
Johnny Stone goes over to see Helen (Jeannie Berlin) at the District Attorney’s office. Just before she was ragging on him for being a nightcrawler at the precinct, trawling for cases, and here she is congratulating him, saying she was SO glad to hear he’s taking the Khan case. The dual faces of friends and colleagues in the justice system are just as nasty as any of its faults. Stone tries getting to work, even if Helen is a hard-nosed legal opponent.
In other news, Salim is finding himself troubled over his missing cab, as he tries to figure out how he’ll pay for his son’s defence. At the very same time there’s someone watching, snapping photos.
Naz gets a bit of helpful advice from a man in the bunk next to him. He starts understanding exactly what sort of environment in which he finds himself. A scary one.
The Khans go to see their boy. Their experience is similar, in that they’ve come to know this world completely other to them. They’re not used to such a place, and yet everyone else around them seems in a complete flow, as if second nature. For Safar in particular, the process is upsetting, degrading even. When they see Naz he tells them the truth about his night with Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black D’Elia), how he found her dead, bloody. “I didnt kill her,” he tries to assure them: “Im so sorry I did this to you.”
That’s my evidence, right there – he’s more concerned for what it has done to them than what is happening to him.


In jail, men hear about Naz’s supposed crimes. At that very same time, Alison Crowe (Glenne Headly) notices the mention of his religion as Muslim. And Jack Stone gets his mouth running on camera while Alison tracks down the address of the “Khan kid killer” family.
That night some prisoners come to see Naz. They ask about whether he raped that woman, to which he obviously replies no. A guard shows up and scares them off. Right as Naz receives a pair of sneakers from Freddy. Y’know, for “traction.” Something he’ll need in the showers, in the halls. Anywhere somebody might come for him. The tension and suspense during the brief scene where Naz showers is unbelievable. I thought, knowing HBO, it might come to a different conclusion. Still, my whole body was tightened the entire time.
And Salim, he’s getting more difficulty over the cab. They may never get it back, as it’s now evidence in a crime. Well, supposedly. By bringing charges against Naz they can likely get restitution, or the car back. Something possibly. Salim would never do that. Different story for his partners in the cab company. Funniest part? The cop they talk to about it hands over Stone’s card.
Speaking of Stone, he’s lubing his feet and ankles up with Crisco, sealing them in Saran wrap to help them heal. The irony in his situation, like that of a tragic literary figure, is that by being the type of lawyer he is, scrambling for any case that means a bit of cash, Stone is not only never reaching his capabilities (face it, he can be a good lawyer), he’s further not helping his own health; all those long hours, not willing to take time and let his feet heal, he’s completely disregarding himself to make a living. Typical of many lawyers, even the most honest kind. Many of whom are struggling in ways quite similar to Jacky Boy. Later, he goes to the crime scene with an officer escort. He comes across the cat, even feeds it. This sort of gets to him a little in some way. Very interesting little moment to include.
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Alison hopes to steal the case from Stone. Not that she is totally out of line, as there’s a certain aspect to John which seeks out the easy, sure-shot cases where he can plead out, never see much court time, if any at all, and get his fee. With Crowe in the mix, she seems ready to fight. She’s even brought along a woman named Chandra (Amara Karan) whose similar background to the Khans helps ease things along. But is Alison in it solely for justice? Seems so. Just not totally sure yet.
Back with Stone, he goes to meetings for others with awful skin problems. A bunch of men with the same types of incurable rashes, et cetera. There is a real sad side to John. I love to learn more about him each episode, just as much as Naz, too.
When Stone goes to see Naz he isn’t aware of what’s been going on. Naz fills him in about Crowe, to his dismay.
What sort of fire will all this light under Stone, if any? He at least goes to see Alison, only to receive news from Chandra that her boss is gone. What Stone does now is try to show Chandra how she was a “prop” to be used, all to steal his client from under him. Sort of true, though, right?
Back in jail, Naz is summoned by Freddy to his cell. Ominous. A guard named Tino (Lord Jamar) leads the young Muslim in, as Freddy lies smoking in bed. Now, we uncover why exactly Freddy’s so interested in him. He warns about the Nation of Islam, how they’re jealous of true born Muslims like Naz. “Youre a celebrity in here,” he tells the kid. And not in a good way. He tells Naz about the OTHER judicial system, the sort carried out behind bars, by the prisoners themselves. Judge, jury, execution. Things for Mr. Khan aren’t looking so hot.
Except now he’s got an ally in Freddy. Or, does he? Time will tell. “Its up to you,” says Freddy.
We see that Stone takes the cat from Andrea’s place over to a shelter. Part of his character comes out, as he’s reluctant to leave the cat. He’d take it if he weren’t allergic. While the shelter attendant takes the feline to its 10 day home, possibly its tomb, Jack watches as the dogs all start to bark. A great editing moment has us cut to Naz in the jailhouse, the cat amongst the hounds. Other inmates light his bed on fire, threatening his life. Freddy watches on. Will Naz take his help? If so, what’s the price?
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This fucking show, man. This show is unreal! What a great series. HBO and BBC have done some nice stuff together. The next episode is titled “The Art of War” and I’m wondering if we’ll see something more vicious while Naz tries to survive behind the bars of Rikers Island.