Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 6: “No Mo’ Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 6: “No Mo’ Mojo”
Directed by Tim Southam
Written by Nick Damici & Jim Mickle

* For a recap & review of the penultimate episode, “Pie a la Mojo” – click here
Pic 1The finale of Season 2 opens, years ago, as a boy – little BB with the red shoes – is chased into the old church, past that familiar gate. Someone grabs him and smashes a rock into his head. The man removes the gate, takes the kid, then at the lake tosses him in tied to the thing. Others watch on, then they leave, disappearing into the mist. Are they spirits? Watching on as history is repeated and repeated?
I have a feeling we’re soon going to learn more in this last episode.
Pic 1AHap and Leonard (James Purefoy & Michael K. Williams) reminisce on religion’s “strong medicine” v. its “strong poison” in relation to Rev. Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood), his insane murders. A devastating thing for their East Texas town to wallow in, as the church holds a ceremony for all the boys lost. Everybody’s there, from Sheriff Valentine Otis (Brian Dennehy) to Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack), Dt. Hanson (Cranston Johnson), and many more. The greasy, insincere Sheriff takes the pulpit, shelling out verbal sympathy for the families. Blah, blah, blah. And certainly our heroic pair get no thanks or recognition for their role in, essentially, solving the case on their own. Best of all, in this scene we get to watch Hap and Leonard do their BEST buddy comedy routine, with a lot of pitch perfect dialogue.
Hap: “I aint never been more proud to be an atheist than I am today
Leonard: “Amen to that
Stella and the other mothers who lost their boys do know the truth, that the eponymous duo are the ones who actually figured out what happened, giving them all closure.  Sadly, Hap still has one worry – that Hanson and Ms. Grange are getting together. Likewise, Leonard comes home to find Raoul, who’s tracked down Ivan’s (Olaniyan Thurmon) father; the kid is going home. And much as our man tries to pretend like he’s hard, Leonard is going to miss him; their bonding over Huck Finn and his adventures was sweet. Also, I’d love to see Raoul and Leonard get back together. They’re good.
AND POOR MEEMAW! I miss her. In her wake, Florida and others are left reeling with the news of the reverend, a man who pulled the wool over all their eyes. Left without Meemaw’s wisdom to get through it all.
Florida drops a bomb on Hap: “I always saw myself with a black man.” This is a gut punch. Whoa. Poor fella.
Hap’s got other things in mind, though. After seeing a curious number of angel figurines at Meemaw’s place while he and Florida pack everything up. Across the way, Leonard hears Chester speak to him from somewhere else, saying that the work isn’t done. Hap and Leonard now believe that BB was killed by someone other than the reverend. And I’m pretty sure we all know that someone was Sheriff Valentine Otis, who’s receiving a visit from Dt. Hanson about those red shoes and the very same line of questioning as our duo have on their minds.


Hap and Leonard get talking to Hanson’s partner Charlie Blank (Douglas M. Griffin). He’s reluctant to say much, after his trouble from shooting TJ. But they’re further on their journey now. Towards the truth. They’ve got their eye on the big bad sheriff. Only he’s got his eye on them, too. He’s much too craft. Then, at the diner, they notice the waitress Miriam has a chain: it reads BB.
The boys go see Miriam at home. They show her the BB chain, which shocks her. Such a sad thing to watch, especially when she’s been serving that old bastard every day at the diner. All that’s left is what Hap and Leonard will do, while they try to figure out how to handle Valentine, and when’s the best time for that. Not only is the history of BB with them, the history of the deaths of their fathers, covered up and forgotten is at their backs.
Leonard: “Things change, Hap. People dont.”
They lay what they know at Valentine’s feet. They want to know the truth, about everything. He acts nonchalant about the entire thing. A revelation comes: BB was Valentine’s son, he wears the same chain with the initials around his neck. The mystery thickens. “That boy was the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me,” he explains, and how he couldn’t claim the kid because of the “colour of his skin.” Then they reveal that Fitzgerald never killed BB, which disturbs him terribly.


And who killed him? Just as it’s revealed, we see Judge Beau Otis walk in. He’s visibly upset by the talk. We know now, it was the rightful son upset over the illegitimate child his father had with a black woman who killed the boy. WHOA! Holy fuck, did not see this coming. Great suspense and mystery in the writing led to this moment. The father knocks his son into an empty pool nearby, splitting his head open wide. A sort of strange, bittersweet moment as Hap and Leonard watch the man who killed their fathers die at the hands of his own.
In the meantime, Hap his dad’s old repair truck fixed up with the nice, fresh decal on the side for Bud Collins’ business. He and Leonard head out for a drive, where they bring the old gate back to the church and put it in place again. Full circle, as the two put it.
Leonard: “Yknow, in the end, its always me and you.”
Hap: “Just like the Lone Ranger and Tonto
Leonard: “Yeah, wellcmon Tonto.”
And as they leave the church, the spirits of those who died there, the boys, those taken by the KK, and sweet Meemaw, they appear again in their rightful places, able to move on from the darkness.

Pic 4CAn amazing Season 2! With a distressing, dark cap at the end where we see a tree with a noose in it, and in the yard a woman finishes putting KKK linens on the line. OH, baby. Give Joe Lansdale, Nick Damici, Jim Mickle & Co. the greenlight, SundanceTV! We need a Season 3. Pronto. With plenty of mojo.
Pic 4D

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Better Call Saul – Season 3, Episode 2: “Witness”

AMC’s Better Call Saul
Season 3, Episode 2: “Witness”
Directed by Vince Gilligan
Written by Thomas Schnauz

* For a recap & review of the Season 3 premiere, “Mabel” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Sunk Costs” – click here
Pic 1Chuck (Michael McKean) is locking up for the night, having a cup of tea before bed. Diligently making sure the doors are locked, peeking through the windows. He has someone watching out at night, sitting in the dark at all hours. He’s waiting for something to happen. Anything.
Pic 1AA couple guys are waiting with a tracker. From a distance Mike (Jonathan Banks) watches them with his own tracker. He’s getting closer to figuring out who has a beat on him, his comings and goings. Could this all be a test? Is someone recruiting him to test out his skills? Or just somebody keeping tabs on a crafty guy like himself? Hmm. Whatever it is, Mike’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
And then he follows a guy, in the night, into morning… all the way to, you guessed it: LOS POLLOS HERMANOS! God damn.
Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) is meeting with a woman named Francesca Liddy (Tina Parker) applying for a job in the office. She meets with Kim (Rhea Seehorn), too. They check out her resume, her experience, so on. They need somebody organised, to keep the place afloat. Kim isn’t sold, but Jimmy wants to hire her. Something like this is going to play directly into the plot, at some point in Season 3. When, exactly? Francesca will play a big role, in some way, shape, or form. Maybe she’ll wind up seeing Jimmy do something shitty, or she’ll flip on him for some reason, or who knows.
Mike calls Jimmy at the office: he wants him to go into Los Pollos Hermanos, to keep an eye on things, the guy with the bag whom Mike previously followed. Ah, the beginning of how Mike and Jimmy come into contact with Mr. Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Jimmy has breakfast starting out his spy duties. Soon the man with the bag arrives and our hapless lawyer tries to keep him in his sight.
FINALLY, our first look at Gus in a couple years! He sweeps up around where Jimmy sits, and the man with the bag, too (does he sweep something up from the guy? Is that their sneaky system?). Mike gets no information that helps from Jimmy, walking away empty handed. For the time being.


Mike keeps on Los Pollos Hermanos, determined that he’ll find out what’s been going on. It’s a tiring job, one he no doubt was prepared for all those years as a cop. Soon, a black SUV pulls into the restaurant rather suddenly, backing into the rear out of sight. Then it’s gone again in a rush. Who’s driving? Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), our old pal from Breaking Bad. Another lead to follow.
At the McGill/Wexler offices, Ernesto (Brandon K. Hampton) can’t go in, so he phones Kim. She goes out to meet him and he’s so obviously stressed, with the information he knows from hearing Chuck’s clandestine tape. He wants to tell Jimmy about it, but doesn’t want to get in trouble because of helping his friend. So, he opts for Kim, whose view of Jimmy has once again shifted.
Gimme a dollar,” she tells him – the same he did with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman when they had him in the desert, hood over his head. They’ve now got attorney-client privilege. He spills the beans, involving his emotions over Chuck, wanting to cut him some slack mentally. Only the tape exists now. Note: when Kim’s talking to him, and he’s peeling tape off the newly painted wall, at first (before he gets frustrated) he uses the technique his big brother Chuck taught him last episode; he can never escape him, even when Chuck is screwing him over, eternally.


Still following that tracker, Mike is out in the middle of nowhere. He’s lead to a gas cap in the road, a cellphone waiting on top. And surely when it rings, on the other end are instructions for where to go.
In other news, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) is sneaking around in the neighbourhood near Chuck’s place trying to remain unseen. They have a little secret meet. Howard’s getting impatient with all the nonsense, all the money spent on private investigators, et cetera. All in the name of trying to snag Jimmy for his crime. He wants to get on with “alternate strategies” and finish with Chuck’s paranoia.
No sooner do they finish their conversation does the younger brother show up, pissed off and ready to beat down the door. Which he does. He flies into a rage and calls out Chuck over his betrayal. He breaks open the desk to find the tape, then cracks it into pieces. Could likely mean only more trouble for Jimmy, as there are witnesses to his frustrated outburst.


Man, oh, man! What’s next for the Brothers McGill? Nothing good.
Coming up is “Sunk Costs” and I’m so intrigued to see more of Gus + Mike, as well as what Jimmy must deal with in the fallout of his actions here in this episode.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 5: “Pie a la Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 5: “Pie a la Mojo”
Directed by Tim Southam
Written by Joe R. Lansdale

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Bad Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the Season 2 finale, “No Mo’ Mojo” – click here
Pic 1Hap and Leonard (James Purefoy/Michael K. Williams) have found the carnival at the end of the Idaho-like bus route. They see the ghost of Chester, we see them as boys. And the old man tells them, once and for all: “Finish this.”
Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) is dealing with Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) and it isn’t all roses, either. At the same time, Hap and Leonard are staking out at Meemaw’s (Irma P. Hall) place where she looks after young Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), who’s not entirely loving being shut in. Lord knows I love me some Meemaw! Ms. Hall is a treasure, and you can see her having fun playing the role. In other news, TJ (Kelvin Brown) helps our boys sneak out of the house under Sneed’s (Evan Gamble) nose.
TJ: “Nobody expects the retard
And now, Hap and Leonard get themselves labourer jobs with the carnival to go undercover, to try rooting out the killer of those boys. Is it all so simple? Well they run into an old friend, the flexible and fun Judy Punch (Bonnie Morgan); she’s too “old for the pole” nowadays, so, carnival it is!
Pic 1AOur titular heroes are on the constant lookout for any clues as to who killed the boys. Everything is suspicious, from behaviour to tattoos to look; anything could mean danger. Leonard drops a nice Ray Bradbury reference calling a tattooed carny serving food The Illustrated Man. They ask Judy if there are any noticeable candidates, and she suggests a few possibles giving them something to chew on. She also gets her hands on employee files for Hap, as well as hopes he’ll put a couple hands on her, too. Instead, he clings to responsibility. To do right by the missing, murdered boys that have piled up over the years. Somehow, despite her wonderful abilities, he refuses. Now that’s some strength, especially for ole Hap.
Judy: “I may not be as limber as I used to be, but I can still do more with six inches than a monkey can with a hundred feet of grapevine.”
Then there’s Leonard, searching the trailer of the tattooed guy. Turns out he’s a big bear of a man in the bedroom, ready to play. And those tattoos, they’re for sobriety. Poor Leonard barely makes it out alive, away from the sexual tyrannosaurus.
Back at Meemaw’s, Ivan is bored out of his mind. Can’t stand reading. Though she tries to show him the joy of it, that it helps you live a life inside the pages without having to always go out, letting you get into the trouble with Huck Finn without having to get into the trouble yourself. But the kid isn’t down for that.
Pic 2Hanson and his partner follow Florida to a garage, where she finds her own way inside. Where Hap and Leonard have been putting up their investigation links, the pictures of the boys, everything they’ve discovered so far. Leading the detectives right to it all. And y’know what they think immediately. Moreover, Sneed tracks them to the carnival, so an APB is out, as Ivan happens to stroll in. Another boy in danger.
In Judy’s trailer Hap and Leonard look over the employees, but the latter’s not sure they can take on an investigation of this size, just the two of them. Police are likely better equipped, yes; do they care as much? Doubt that. Regardless, the cops are already there, searching them out. As is Florida, trying to find them first. She finds Hap, and Leonard tries to get the Reverend Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood) to get his group of kids out of there in case something bad goes down. After all, it’s the “third Saturday of every October” and tonight is that night.
This whole sequence is edited to perfection, taking us from Hap to Florida, to them together, to Leonard. Hap and Leonard writer Joe R. Lansdale’s (who wrote this episode) daughter is in this episode, too; we see her now and then. But this sequence is so well done, executed with expert directing and writing in combination.
Best part – Leonard saves Hap from arrest on the back of a horse! So Texas, so awesome.
Pic 3When they get out to the crypt, they find TJ there. With Ivan in the car. The big man says he’s “making angels” and that he put Ivan to sleep. Shit. A shotgun cocks in the background, then out comes the Reverend Fitzgerald. He and TJ were doing God’s work, supposedly. WHOA! I actually wondered if this was the case, the reverend that is – I didn’t see TJ coming – but dismissed it, and this surprised the hell out of me.
Rather than go down like that, Hap and Leonard get the jump on Fitzgerald. Then TJ joins in the fight. The boys break out into a brawl, as Leonard kicks the shit out of the (un)holy man with some of that military training. Before much else happens the cops arrive, to find the rev with a shotgun trained on the boys. Nothing more can be said before Fitzgerald turns the gun on himself and blows his face off. Poor TJ wanders out into things, as well. And Hanson’s partner fires on in him preemptively. Brutal stuff. At least Ivan’s not dead!
Now the corpses of those 13 boys in the crypt are uncovered, what Hap and Leonard had been finding out on their own is given credence instead of them getting blamed. Heroes who won’t get any credit, most likely.


Only thing is, someone has to tell Meemaw the truth. Hanson comes to do it, but Leonard offers. So it’ll be easier from someone she knows personally. Oh, just thinking of it breaks my heart. She takes it on herself, believing it her fault. She did all she could do for the boy, the rev turned him bad, manipulated him. “I thought if I just loved him hard enough…” she tries explaining to Leonard. Meemaw believes the devil followed her after that church was burned by the KKK all those years ago. Bless his heart, Leonard tries convincing her that’s not the case. And she does make a good point about the transformative power of love – Chester changed Leonard, Florida changed Hap.
Then we’re given another blow. Meemaw, as if done with life, gives up and dies right there in front of the pair. Like all of life’s unfairness toppling around us, in the background while they lament Judge Beaut Otis celebrates re-election. Nasty stuff.
Pic 5God damn you, Joe Lansdale! For making me cry tonight. Bastard (I actually love you, man). What an episode. Didn’t think the series could get any better, and then it tops my expectations. “No Mo’ Mojo” is next, the Season 2 finale. SundanceTV better give us another season or I’ll riot.

Better Call Saul – Season 3, Episode 1: “Mabel”

AMC’s Better Call Saul
Season 3, Episode 1: “Mabel”
Directed by Vince Gilligan
Written by Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould

* For a recap & review of the Season 2 finale, “Klick” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Witness” – click here
Pic 1We start Season 3 with another black-and-white flash forward into the future of Jimmy McGill a.k.a Saul Goodman a.k.a Gene the Cinnabon manager (Bob Odenkirk). Nancy Sinatra croons “Sugartown” as we watch his daily life at the Cinnabon in the mall. Far from where we saw him in Breaking Bad, juxtaposed beautifully with the place we follow along in the current timeline of Better Call Saul; one of the fascinating parts of the writing and the progression of characters is how Gilligan & Co. pull off making his journey into a, at times, non-linear adventure. In turn, this keeps things fresh even though we already know where Jimmy/Saul ends up down the road.
What I’m most interested in is where Gene goes from this point post-Breaking Bad, or if he continues on in his purgatorial existence, a fitting end for a greasy guy such as himself. Eating lunch alone on a bench he winds up seeing a sketchy young man who looks to be hiding, in trouble. Rather than let the kid go on, he rats him out to the cops. Then in a burst he tells the kid to say nothing, and advises him to get a lawyer. That old Saul came loose, even for a second. Gene’s not as measured as he once seemed. Later while glazing some buns he passes out. Yikes.
Pic 1ATo the current timeline. Jimmy and Chuck (Michael McKean) are back where we left them, when the younger brother confessed to his brother believing no one else would hear. Not knowing Chuck was hiding a tape recorder the entire time. All the while Jimmy thinks everything’s well, or at least stable. A situation he can manage. The brothers reminisce about being younger, triggered by The Adventures of Mabel which Jimmy finds in Chuck’s bookcase. For the first time, they actually seem like brothers. Not for long, though. The older of the two reminds with an ominous tone: “You will pay.”
Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is doing her best to keep her chin up, too. Despite the rollercoaster of a life she has sitting next to Jimmy. He’s not exactly a dream dude to be involved with in business, or in friendship, love, et cetera. Eventually I have to believe Kim won’t be able to reconcile her morality with being on his side. She already knows he’s not on the level, but just doesn’t realise how deep the well of deceit goes. But as always, the problem is that Jimmy’s such a likeable loser that it’s very tough not to root for him.
Jimmy: “For ten minutes today Chuck didnt hate me. I forgot what that felt like.”
Meanwhile, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) hears Chuck’s tape of Jimmy and the confession. Certainly the secret recording isn’t enough to hold up in court; Chuck knows. So why have the tape at all? Does it involve Kim?
Of most interest to me is Mr. Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). He was out in the desert, and found a note telling him to get away. A warning, but from whom exactly? Mike does the smart thing, speeding away from the scene then checking his car for any kind of devices; nothing. He heads to a scrapyard and has a closer look. And I mean a CLOSER FUCKING LOOK. Mike uses every last ounce of his training to look through the guts of his car, inspecting each inch with precision. Like he can smell it yet can’t seem to find the thing.
Finally, he discovers something hidden in the gas cap. THE GAS CAP! An ingenious, tedious place to hide a tracking device. That’s some next level deviousness. But now Mike has some idea, a starting point leading to whoever’s keeping an eye on him so close.


Jimmy receives a visit from Captain Bauer (Brendan Fehr), one of the military gentlemen whose eyes he pulled the wool over when needing to cut a commercial. Anyways, he’s not happy. Slick talkin’ Jimmy tries to sell him a load of horseshit, that doesn’t work. Either Jimmy takes the ad down or “therell be hell to pay.” He doesn’t dig that, so he threatens to take it to court and win. The captain advises him, in his own way of speaking, that eventually Jimmy’s going to get what he deserves. From the flash forwards and seeing Breaking Bad, we know this to be true.
With his newly acquired knowledge, Mike switches out his gas cap to head off after work. At an old warehouse he meets his friend the veterinarian (Joe DeRosa) to get himself some gear. Pricey, too: $1,000.
Back to Kim, over at Mesa Verde she’s doing great work. As always. Worse still she knows the treachery, the guilt eats her. How long before it eats her alive? Every time she hears about Chuck and his supposed mistake, it’s like a stab in the gut. Also, in the office – that rainbow… any imagery connections to that in Season 2? I’d like to revisit that.
Over at Chuck’s place, he has to get Ernesto to help him change batteries in the tape recorder. The thing is on when he changes them, he hears a bit of Jimmy confessing. This sends the old gentleman into a fit of anger, trying to make sure Ernesto won’t ever tell anybody about what he’s heard. “There could be terrible consequences,” Chuck convinces him with a torrent of quasi-threatening language.
Pic 3Mike, Mike, Mike; what will you think of next? He’s like the counter-intelligence king of the streets, using all that police knowledge from busting criminals, learning their ways, to fuel his own criminal enterprises. Except right now it’s like espionage, trying to discover who’s on the other end of the surveillance on him. He’s reversing the cat and mouse aspect of the dangerous game that’s being played, or at the least trying to do so. And he loves pistachios. Fucking loves them. I don’t blame him, either; they’re great.
After a long night of waiting, Mike sees a vehicle stop. Someone retrieves the GPS tracker from the gas cap then they’re off into the night fast as they came. So, Mike has a lead on where they’re headed.
Want to take a guess? Might have something to do with Los Pollos Hermanos, maybe?


Great start to the season! I don’t care if people say the show’s slow moving. It’s meant to; the storytelling and the character development and the plot moves are all spectacular. Great music and score, as well. Excited for “Witness” next week. Welcome back.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 4: “Bad Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 4: “Bad Mojo”
Directed by Abe Sylvia
Written by Abe Sylvia & Ione Lloyd

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Holy Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Pie a la Mojo” – click here
Pic 1A young Hap and Leonard are at the fair. Even back then Hap was in love with Florida, though worried he wasn’t good enough. And the pair loved one another, Hap and Leonard, even then. Unafraid to show their affection for each other. In the garage, present day, Hap (James Purefoy) wakes to find Sneed (Evan Gamble) and a few other cops there to arrest him. Now he’s in a cell across from Leonard (Michael K. Williams), in for the arson he committed. Hap’s in for kidnapping Judge Beau Otis, whom he recently discovered is epileptic; wonder if that’ll come into play again down the road, or if it had anything to do with his killing of their fathers. Hmm.
Pic 1ASheriff Valentine (Brian Dennehy) has a talk with Hap about whether he’s a “troublemaker.” He does not want any trouble with his brother; he is poised to be the new county judge. So it’s either leave things alone with Beau and go home, both he and Leonard, or else it’ll look grim. And no more digging around where neither of them belong. Some rough talk. In an interrogation, Leonard’s dealing with Dt. Hanson (Cranston Johnson) and his racist partner, neither of them being too friendly. As always, Mr. Pine won’t do the dance, not for a black cop or a white cop or anyone else that wants him to tell lies about himself.
Leonard: “And we aint no brothers. Slack or no slack.”
At least he’s out of jail, and Hap, too. Neither of them immediately see a way forward. It’s all over, so Hap heads out to work and Leonard goes to check on Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon). They did their best. That’s all they can do, right?
Florida (Tiffany Mack) has an awkward meeting with Hap at the diner after she didn’t show up for his and Leonard’s arrest. It wasn’t hooking up that made her stay away, it’s the fact they’re constantly in trouble and poking around in some dangerous business. What I love about this episode so far is that Hap seems to be having some strange daydreams, from hooking up with Florida to the Village People. Over with Meemaw (Irma P. Hall), Leonard and Ivan get closer. Then Leonard notices the picture of the church on her mantle, where the gate stood. A troubling thought. It was long ago, when Meemaw was a girl. She tried putting out the far the Klansmen set, burning her arms. Such a sad thing to see when she tells Leonard of what happened that day.


Dt. Hanson is looking at the child’s body in the morgue. His partner Charlie is worried that he’ll be caught “tampering” but it’s only the fact he knows there’s more afoot. Hanson pushes on, he’s starting to feel there is more than meets the eye. Suddenly, Sheriff Valentine arrives, as the detectives hide. The old man is there to visit the body. He has the shoes. Holy fuck. And with the detectives watching on unseen he puts the little red shoes right in the body bag, signing off forms for the medical examiner. Washing his hands of the situation, the body off for cremation. Or so he thinks. There is no way Hanson will let this sit on his conscience, at least not forever.
I love how, using the same line of dialogue, Hap and Leonard both figure out the gate is from a church. It’s just excellent writing, and they each deliver the line is such different yet similar ways that the respective scenes are perfect. Hap does a bit more investigating, trying to figure out if the church he’s located is the one where the gate stood years ago. During a charity boxing event at the church, he gets in on a boxing match and things get heated in front of Florida and the audience as Hap and the pastor throw fists. Ultimately the white boy goes down, not without a decent fight.
Meanwhile, Leonard’s tracking down information on the church. And he’s haunted by the ghost of his uncle Chester, as well as Illium Moon.


Leonard: “Goddamn peckerheads all think alike
Hap: “I thought it was great minds
Leonard: “In your case, peckerheads.”
The pair are getting closer and closer, finding their way to where Old Hope church used to stand. All that’s left are the bricks of the foundation, nothing much standing. Then they fall right through an old, broken floor. Through the basement they find coffins labelled with years. Inside, more children. Disturbing, to say the least. Now the boys have got themselves a handful; way more than that, two arm loads. They set themselves up an investigation, connecting dates, names of the missing boys. An elaborate puzzle they’ve got to put together, because it looks as if whoever’s been taking those boys and killing them isn’t done with whatever they’d planned.
Hanson and his partner are distraught over what they’ve seen. Although it’s the former who’s more interested in actually digging out the truth. Not just that they’re in the dark, struggling for clues. Hap and Leonard are further ahead in their investigation than the actual police force. A great testament to the lack of care put into missing black children; we think it’s bad today, it was even worse in the ’80s.


Hap and Leonard are trailed by the police on the latest leg of their adventure. They pop in to see Stella at the salon. She’s sly, as are the other ladies sitting around getting their hair done. Great moment as Stella tells the cops to find her missing son while they’re so concerned with tracking down the pair. Then the other mothers show up. Hap and Leonard are the only ones looking for the missing boys.
Love the sequence set to Johnny Cash’s “Wayfaring Stranger” as the pair ride a bus, all the young black boys and girls around them. What would otherwise be a beautiful sequence of all the smiling faces, the youthful innocence, is a tragic sight; seeing Hap especially look at them is like a gut punch, knowing any one of them could go missing and barely anyone would flinch as is the case with BB and the others. Haunting sequence, one of the best in the series as a whole.
Pic 4DArriving at a carnival, now knowing part of their map of the missing boys links to the busses and Idaho, Hap and Leonard have more to go on. BB’s little body has been cremated, but the shoes aren’t gone yet.
The next episode is “Pie a la Mojo” and it looks intense! Pumped to see what goes on next in this stellar adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s characters and novels.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 3: “Holy Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 3: “Holy Mojo”
Directed by Abe Sylvia
Written by John Wirth

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Ticking Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Bad Mojo” – click here
Pic 1Some little black boys and girls play near a graveyard, some hide and seek. Off in the distance are hooded Klansmen on their way towards the church. The children are rushed into a basement, as the white hoods march closer with gas and ropes fashioned into nooses. But one little girl doesn’t make it down, witnessing the burning of her church, the hanging of a groundskeeper. A brutal, vicious moment. She continues to count for hide and seek; better than watching.
Pic 1APresent day, we see Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael K. Williams) on their way up to Moon’s cabin, talking about Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack). When they arrive, they find a van in the river with Moon inside, dead. Now the pair worry for what happens to Leonard. Hap wants to move the body, though his trusty buddy tells him: “Thats bad mojo.” The chemistry between Purefoy and Williams is so charming and undeniable, they’re perfect as Joe R. Lansdale’s eponymous characters. Instead of reporting anything to the police the boys sink the van further in the river, to keep on with their own investigation. They also stumble upon the steel gate to which the child under Chester’s house was tied; where the hands remain.
Florida goes to talk with Judge Beau Otis (John McConnell) about recusing himself from the Pine case. She uses the information about Hap and Leonard’s fathers against him, though he acts high and mighty, refusing to bend. She pulls a nice little power move before leaving, eating one of his fries.
At home, Hap goes over clues in the case, putting together all the evidence he can gather. Looking over maps, newspaper articles. Meanwhile, Leonard looks after Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), cooking for him and trying to imbue the boy with a sense of personal responsibility. He then gets a visit from Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) with a warrant to search the place. Ivan takes off, tossing the secret box he holds onto Melton’s (Sedale Threatt Jr) roof. Hmm.


Florida wants the boys to talk to Moon, so Hap’s got to do some covering. Wonder if it’ll take long before the truth comes out. Time being, “dirty old man” Hap can’t keep his eyes off Ms. Grange. She has her hands full with the case, butting heads with Dt. Hanson over Officer Sneed (Evan Gamble) lurking around after assaulting Leonard. Worse than that Sneed spied Ivan tossing that box. Can’t imagine where that’ll lead; someplace nasty.
One good thing – Hap and Leonard find Ivan stowed away in the truck, and he says he knows where the gate came from, he can take them there. One bad thing? Hanson and Florida go to find Moon, and the detective comes across evidence suggesting he’s nowhere to be found. Uh oh.
That good thing, it ain’t so good when Hap and Leonard end up somewhere they shouldn’t be, and a group of neighbourhood women surround the boys. They want them to hand over Ivan. Afterwards, they go to see Stella (Shirlene King), the lady in charge. When they tell her about investigating the disappearance of all those boys, she’s got information that may help – the gate came from a church – and it’s possible her boy was one of the boys taken.
Leonard: “Aint no runninfrom your shadow
Judge Otis shows up at the gas station where Hap works. For a fill-up, and a talk about Leonard. A sassy talk, especially for a man who’s a judge and killed a couple people while driving drunk. For that, Hap cuts up some equipment under the guy’s hood and lets him go on.


Stopping at a store, Leonard comes back outside to find Ivan gone. And a cheap cigar left behind smoking. Sneed? I’d bet on it.
Broke down on the road, Judge Otis is met by Hap in the tow truck. He busts out one of the guy’s windows, then forces him into the woods. He tells the Judge a story about an old man and the dog he loved, a bad, sour dog. One day a kid was bitten by the dog, right in the chest, in the heart. Before Hap can bash the Judge’s head in, he nearly has a heart attack. He leaves the man in the woods to run off eventually.
At a diner, Sheriff Valentine Otis (Brian Dennehy), father of Beau, has a talk with Florida. About jobs, who’s doing them well, who isn’t, on top of what’s been going on in their little East Texas town. Looks like the Otis family are a gang of alcoholics, a running familial trait. Not only that, they love making threats. “Be careful,” Sheriff Valentine warns Florida before heading out.
And Leonard, he goes to see Sneed. Catches him in the bath. Just so happens Leonard brought a bit of salt, a radio; to get the conductivity going for when he tosses the thing in – except the unsuspecting officer doesn’t realise it’s a battery-powered radio. He also grabs a handful of Sneed’s balls, squeezing, looking for info about Ivan. Sneed gives up information about Melton, which is where he brought the boy. Leonard goes to Melton’s, finding Ivan shot up with drugs by the nasty dealer and his friends; he brings the kid to Meemaw (Irma P. Hall) then goes to clean up the neighbourhood.
Pic 4AFlorida goes to tell Hap he needs to lay off Judge Otis, or else Leonard’s ending up behind bars. She wants him to be honest, about everything. He reveals that Moon is dead, though she knew. And a bit of honesty goes a long way to getting the two together, which Hap was leaning for since he met Florida.
While they get down, Leonard gets busy. As in molotov cocktail busy, tossing some fire into Melton’s place and watching it burn. On the roof, the box burns, too; what was in it exactly? We’ll never know, likely. Something to incriminate Leonard, and luckily Ivan chose not to leave it at Chester’s for anyone to find.
What’s most interesting? Meemaw has a photo on her mantle. One of a church, and standing in front of it is the gate to which that child’s body was tied. This is the church we saw those Klansmen attack in the opening scene. BOOM!


What a stellar followup to the second episode. Just awesome adapted writing, the characters are so vivid and intriguing. Purefoy, Williams, Mack, everyone is doing a fine job with the performances. Can’t wait for “Bad Mojo” next week! What do you think the boys will get up to? And can Florida help Leonard avoid the slammer?

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 2: “Ticking Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 2: “Ticking Mojo”
Directed by Maurice Marable
Written by Abe Sylvia

* For a recap & review of the Season 2 premiere, “Mucho Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Holy Mojo” – click here
Pic 1Young Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon) wakes in the bed at Leonard’s (Michael K. Williams) place, a bit disoriented and rightfully scared. Then he runs into the old man from the van. He chases the boy, but Ivan gets the jump on him. The old man finds something hidden in a vent on the wall, like an old lunchbox.
Ivan escapes then waits in the weeds for a chance to run. Only he can’t once a bag is thrown over his head and he’s whisked off.
Pic 1ALeonard’s in jail, of course. Fingered in a lineup by Melton (Sedale Threatt Jr), who got pissed on last time by Mr. Pine. He meets with his attorney Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) and Hap (James Purefoy). Things don’t look great. They’re okay, for now. Except he’s got to ride out the weekend in jail. The police are also flooded with lots of black women, looking for their missing children, wanting to know more about the investigation. Heartbreaking and tragic.
Florida and Hap try to rally the mothers, all of them knowing the police aren’t doing anything for the missing kids. So it’s another case of Hap being placed in a position to help; both the community and his best friend Leonard. However, the mothers all reveal that Chester Pine came to them in a suspicious way, every last one remembering his name. Very troubling. We discover Chester put Florida through law school. Huh! Then again, as she notes: “Thats what they do.” As in those who prey on children.
One of the officers interviews Leonard, along with a sac of oranges, a hammer, some books. Old torture techniques. In the meantime, Hap tries to get in to see his buddy with some Nilla wafers. He’s too drunk. And Leonard takes a hard beating before Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) stops the psychopath cop.
Pic 2At a black church Hap shows up to sit with Florida, stopping the congregation in their tracks. She refuses, so Meemaw lets him have a seat in her pew. Hilarious to see him clap with no rhythm next to all those happy, celebrating black worshippers. Reverend Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood) preaches about the sheriff’s department not helping. And right then Sheriff Valentine (Brian Dennehy) strolls in to take the pulpit. He and Judge Beaut Otis stand up there together, Valentine talks about trying build bridges, blah, blah, blah. Nobody’s buying it; not the congregation, not Hap, either.
Meemaw (pointing to Hap): “You see that man standinthere? That is the only white man I like.”
Otis: “What about Jesus?”
Meemaw: “Jesus wasn’t white
In his cell, Leonard gets a visit from a creepy old man. Is he the man from the van? He does some voodoo stuff, sprinkling a line of salt in front of the cell. He hands over a book. One about cowboys, from Leonard’s childhood. Inside are hollowed out pages containing a chicken’s foot. Next day is court. No bail for Leonard and a trial in six weeks. Judge Otis is definitely one of the racists running things behind the scenes in East Texas.
The bombshell? Otis is the one who ran down Mr. Collins and Mr. Pine on that dark, rainy road. Holy fuck. Hap now has something he can hold over the judge’s head to get Leonard out on bail.


With Leonard out, Florida and Hap try to get him laying low. He isn’t happy. Worse still, he doesn’t like that they’re leaning towards Chester being involved in some shady shit. Either way the truth is coming out. Whether it’s a truth Leonard can handle dealing with is another story. But he packs up and gets ready. Meanwhile, Raoul is worried about Ivan. This leads Leonard to discovering his broken cowboy that’s been there since he was 9; the one Ivan smashed on the man’s head. This and the pennies on the windowsill, a chicken foot hanging from the ceiling, all leads them to a man named Elia Moon – the eerie old man, who also spends quite a deal of time near children.
Off go our two brave self-made detectives. They find a shack up in the woods, booby trapped, the entire place covered in dead animals and skins. They stumble onto the old man hiding in a closet. He’s been waiting. An odd duck, though seemingly harmless. He says Chester was actually trying to figure out the mystery of the missing boys before he died.
At the same time, it’s revealed Melton is the one holding Ivan. And he wants the boy to hide something at Chester’s house.


Over at home Leonard sees Ivan is back, acting like nothing’s wrong. Later, Raoul also reveals to Leonard he’s been seeing somebody. Upstairs, the kid a box Melton gave him: is there incriminating evidence inside? I’d bet on it.
Hap gives an alibi for Leonard in 1986. They were seeing a Howard Hawks double feature: The Big Sleep and Red River. Or y’know, that’s what he says. “Devotion” as Florida puts it.
Back at Elia’s place the old man is worried about “bad mojo” in the air, as all his hung up beer bottles start falling from their strings and smashing all over the ground. An omen? It sends Elia off in a rush. He sees a vision of a little black boy, covered in blood. Right before he drives into the river. Another blow to the case for Leonard.
Pic 5Just a perfect followup to the first episode in Season 2! SO MUCH MOJO.
Bring it on, baby. Give me more.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 1: “Mucho Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 1: “Mucho Mojo”
Directed by Maurice Marable
Written by Nick Damici & Jim Mickle

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “Eskimos” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Ticking Mojo” – click here
Pic 1AThere’s a dark secret buried, one that Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) will soon stumble upon. This season we open on someone disposing of a young person’s body, tying them, then dumping their corpse in a lake. Terrible things go on unseen. But it doesn’t take long for them to emerge for all to see.
Back again to the world of the ever fantastic Joe Lansdale!
Hap’s picked up the remains of Trudy; ash in a box. And while he loved her, that’s one less giant mess in his life. Everything for him is messy, from relationships to his piece of shit car door. He gets by for now working as a mechanic. In other news, Leonard’s at home getting a hard back massage from his boyfriend Raoul. He’s got problems with neighbours, too. Nothing that a cane can’t stop, or a bit of piss in the face. What I love about Leonard is he’s gay and black in the late ’80s, so there are bound to be more situations that arise from that, living in the South and all. A little later, he steps through a floorboard in his dead uncle’s old place: now he’s found the secrets long ago covered up, forgotten about.


Leonard: “The dead dont give a shit about what happen toemtheyre dead.”
The two friends go digging under Chester’s floorboards more, inspecting the skeleton they’ve found. It’s a child, a small one.  Same sneakers as the one dragged from the lake. Now Leonard wonders if his uncle knew, especially considering how long Chester lived there and how decomposed the body is currently. So, what next?
A kid runs off with Trudy’s ashes, sending Hap and Leonard on a chase. Then the box gets tossed into a garbage truck driving past. Instead of letting it get away, Leonard stops the truck to get Trudy back.
The boys alert the police to the body under Chester’s house, which marks the place as a crime scene. But you just know them two are gonna get up to something soon enough. The old lady across the street doesn’t believe Chester had anything to do with the body, though the police – Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) in particular – are investigating with suspicion. And someone in a van lurks around the neighbourhood. Very likely the one responsible for that body’s existence.
Leonard talks with Dt. Hanson at the precinct, as Hap talks with another detective. Some uncomfortable conversation comes up when Hanson says “you people” enjoy little kids; he means homosexuals. Nasty. Likewise, Hap faces scrutiny about his status as a conscientious objector during Vietnam, all the mess they got into with Trudy and the rest of her friends. After all that they discover there were no feet or hands or sneakers on the body. Was this the work of the man in the van? Hmm. Either way, a lawyer named Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) arrives to help the boys in their predicament.
Florida: “Dont underestimate mecause Im beautiful, Mr. Collins.”
Pic 2I love watching Hap watch Leonard and Florida pass the hot sauce between each other, putting a load on their food. Such a perfect look, as he tries to get himself a taste and they just keep on shaking the bottle.
After food they start picking through the mystery in their neighbourhood. Meemaw across the street offers what little help she can. Hap and Leonard keep an eye on Chester’s place from hers, and they also have a heart to heart about Trudy. In the morning they meet Reverend Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood), who does a bit of preaching, though neither Hap nor Leonard are too interested in religion. He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah, fittingly foolish with a proud gay man at the table.
When Leonard goes over to check on his house, he finds Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), the kid who stole the ashes. He’s nearly dead from an overdose. Unable to locate the kid’s parents, Raoul convinces Leonard to take care of the boy for now in their place, to which he very reluctantly agrees.
One of the detectives goes to meet Hap at the garage where he works. He wants to know more about the sneakers they saw on the body. On top of that he’s suspicious of Leonard being a “darkie” and all. And you know are man doesn’t approve of that shit, so he dismisses the detective rather fast.
Pic 4Trying to dump Trudy’s ashes off a bridge, Hap drops the box in the river. Like the man he is he goes in after it diligently. Then he scatters them onto the water around him, soaking in Trudy, and strangely happy.
At home, Leonard puts Ivan to bed. When he takes the boys shoes off he sees his name written on them, similar to the BB on the red sneakers. Suspicious? Or nothing at all? Either way, right now Leonard’s being taken in by police. Great, now Hap’s going to have to get his ass in gear while his friend is locked up behind bars.
And outside the house sits the man in the van, watching. Who is he?


What a spectacular start to Season 2! Love, love, love this series. Lansdale’s writing, his characters, the atmosphere, it is all palpable in the adaptation by Damici and Mickle.

Take a Baaad Trip, Man: 1986’s HOUSE Brings the Horror of Vietnam Back Home

House. 1986. Directed by Steve Miner. Screenplay by Ethan Wiley, from a story by Fred Dekker.
Starring William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz, Mary Stavin, Michael Ensign, Erik Silver, Mark Silver, & Susan French. New World Pictures/Sean S. Cunningham Films.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Comedy/Fantasy/Horror

★★★1/2
posterFor years I searched out a movie I knew I’d seen as a young boy, only to come up short. I looked through so many titles, watched so many trailers. To a point where the scenes I did remember felt akin to those of a dream just out of your reach; you know the images, you just can’t play them. Finally, it felt like I’d literally dreamed the whole movie up. Then I was flicking through George Wendt’s filmography and I came across the one I’d been looking for all these years: the Steve Miner-directed House.
In the early ’90s, I was about 6 or 7 at the time, this 1986 horror-comedy came on television, late in the night. I wasn’t supposed to be up, but my mom and I lived with my grandparents, and my grandfather would watch whatever with me then eventually fall asleep. So here I am, House is on and Rated R, in my glee. What I saw, at the time, horrified me. It’s meant to be a comedy with horror involved, yet I found nothing funny. All the strange moments and scenes piled together in my mind. Years passed with odd images of a bloated female zombie, bright nails; a man wrestling a zombie dressed like a soldier; fleeting bits of Vietnam; among so many other little things that kept with me.
Watching it now, House isn’t great. Nonetheless, a lot of fun. The goofiness is sort of endearing. Above anything, the horror is still there, plain as day. And though many people will watch, laughing from time to time, I’m into my thirties and Miner’s film still manages to make me feel uneasy.
pic1Something that makes the money more enjoyable as an adult, for me, is that Roger Cobb (William Katt) feels like an actual writer, a genuine person rather than a character. The way he tries to get writing, then goes off on tangent after tangent, is so true to life. As a writer, I know the feeling, and I know others who feel the exact same way. Writing an article or review is one thing. Writing fiction is an entirely other level of brainpower. So Cobb does his best to keep distracted, even if he wants to get the novel finished. That’s when something far more sinister than a break from work takes hold of him.
The entire Vietnam subplot of Roger’s past is actually disturbing. Juxtaposed with the comedy, there’s an attempt to lighten the tone. Still keeps things spooky. Some of what lingered with me over 20 years is this whole part of the character. He is torn by regret, guilt. Another aspect is that his guilt gets exacerbated by the fact he’s seeing monsters in his aunt’s big, old house. He sees one, shoots it, then realises it was actually his estranged wife. While his predicament gets played for ghastly laughs awhile, until the finale we’re left with horrible assumptions, believing him to have killed his wife accidentally, trying to cover it up, and thinking his brain has utterly melted. This makes much of the movie fearfully tense under all that yuck-yuck comedy, sort of like being in hose shoes, right there with him the whole time.
Something that horrified me as a boy, and does to this day, is the bloated female zombie, the corpse of Roger’s wife. The high pitched voice reminds me of Judge Doom when he devolves into his toon form. Disgustingly effective. The scene with this bloated corpse always made me feel strange and ran a chill up my spine. A little later there’s another unsettling image – the huge marlin mounted on the wall comes alive, moving creepily, the whole body writhing and the eyes moving. Not sure why, it’s hideous. Especially after Roger blows a hole in it and the big eye rolls around in its head. Yuck. When Roger has his first confrontation with the spider-like monster in the closet, that’s another moment which still kind of rocks me. Has a very John Carpenter’s The Thing feel to the creature design. That’s one of the scenes I remembered for years.
pic3SPOILER ALERT: Here, There Be Spoilers
It’s really the end I find worth your time. Maybe the rest will come off as too slapstick comedy for you to take any of it seriously. And, can’t forget, it’s meant to be comedy. I merely feel there’s more horror than people remember, or are willing to admit; genuine horror. Such as when Roger faces his final terror. A tentacle and an arm grasp him through the mirror – a great shot, well executed – and pulls him through, to the nightmarescape of his Vietnam memories. I love that moment because it follows through for all those cliched jump scare mirror moments across the genre, actually giving the mirror some horror qualities outside of scary reflections popping up behind characters.
The finale is an intense, emotional struggle for Cobb. He’s left to fight Big Ben (Richard Moll), only Ben is dead, zombified. Scariest aspect is that, essentially, Roger must let go of his past, or else ultimately sacrifice his own son. Naturally, he manages to overcome and literally fights his demons to the death; a.k.a he beats Big Ben’s ass, like a champ. Add to that the Big Ben zombie makeup effects are the best of the film. Actually a formidable, intimidating, menacing creature – a skull and bones soldier, back from ‘Nam AND the grave. Makes the end, even with its cheesy final couple moments after, worth all the nonsense earlier.
pic3I like Steve Miner. He’s made a lot of stuff I couldn’t care less about, truthfully, yet he also has a few films under his belt for which I eternally admire him. I mean, he made one of the later Halloween films that didn’t totally suck. There’s Friday the 13th Part II and III. Recently he did a great episode for the series Dead of Summer.
What I’ll always remember fondly is House. There’s more inside than people think. Definitely the comedy detracts from its better, serious elements. That doesn’t matter to me. What works, really works. Any time I can thrown this on, but it’s always best saved for October, closer to Halloween the better. You’ll dig this for a group of friends. Throw it on, have a laugh. Don’t sleep on Miner, though. Under those chuckles you’ll also discover a bit of weirdness, something nasty, maybe even a legitimate fright or two.

Rubbish Film of the Year: YOGA HOSERS

Yoga Hosers. 2016. Directed & Written by Kevin Smith.
Starring Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Adam Brody, Harley Morenstein, Ashley Greene, Jack Depp, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Justin Long, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne, Genesis Rodriguez, Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Conroy, Stan Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Haley Joel Osment, & Johnny Depp.
Abbolita Productions/Destro Films/Invincible Pictures.
Rated PG-13. 88 minutes.
Comedy/Fantasy/Horror/Thriller


posterI was one of the few who actually enjoyed Tusk, a ton. It was cheesy, but it was also fun, creepy, and totally wild. Before that, Kevin Smith brought me back into the fold of those that enjoy his films (he lost me for a few years) with Red State; I honestly fucking love that movie, endlessly. So when he announced Yoga Hosers, even the concept had me chuckling. Although I worried maybe the one note Canadian jokes from Tusk might not translate well into an entirely other whole movie.
And worried I was, rightfully.
Listen, when it comes to Smith, I do feel like he’s got a skill for quirky writing that doesn’t go overboard, keeping things silly enough while still staying hilarious. But sweet lord, does he ever shit all over the page on this one. I get that he feels like this was a labour of love, that it was sort of a film for him. Kudos. That doesn’t make the movie any good.
Yoga Hosers has fun bits, although rare. The lead performances from Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith are the best part, their energy and charisma are some of the only things that make this movie even bearable. Most of all I worry about the next part of Smith’s True North trilogy, Moose Jaws, simply because he’s applied for funding. I mean, maybe if he were trying to make something else it’d be different. Tusk was a movie I loved; it wasn’t actually a great movie. Quality seems to have diminished wildly in this second instalment. Makes me curious what will happen next in the hard to tolerate adventures of the two Colleens.
yogahosers2My biggest beef is the Canadian stuff. I thought the briefness of that material in Tusk was enough, even that pushed it. Coming from a brutally self-deprecating Canadian, a Newfoundlander at that, these jokes wear thin, mighty quick. I love when good jokes come across, and they do at times. I feel like Smith could’ve hit a lot better notes as a comedy writer. Maybe if he’s going solo on the next one, bring in a Canadian writer to give you a bit of help. I’ll admit, when Justin Long does the “Namaste, eh” line, I fucking cracked up. I don’t even like Long. Other than that, his character and accent are awful. Sounds like a cross of Irish and North Dakota. So many lines from him are awful, so many lines from EVERYONE, simply due to the fact no Canadian would ever say this shit. Ever. Ever. Ever. The constant repetition of “aboot” does not make me laugh, it only gets annoying. To the point I wished Smith would just give up.
I dig the style of the film overall – the special effects during each character introduction, sound effects galore, those funny and eerie flashbacks to the French-Canadian Nazi Party. All that is enjoyable enough. It’s unpretentious, silly, which is what Smith was going for obviously. The only truly enjoyable part of the whole movie is that you can see Smith had fun shooting. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about silliness! At all. Problem is that there’s not enough smarts or real, genuine laughs to make the whole debacle worth it.
yogahosersThe hockey stuff, the “aboot” over and over, how the accents don’t hold up across dialogue and certain characters, a couple terrible performances – including Ralph Garman, as well as the dialogue written for him that was excruciating – a whopping, terrible finale and final fight… this all adds up to a real turd.
What I loved, as I mentioned before, are the two performances from Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith. They’re charming and awesome as the two convenience store girls, for the most part; they can’t help what Papa Smith wrote, they do their best. At least their energy is infectious enough to keep the viewer’s attention.
Likewise, Johnny Depp’s return as Guy LaPointe is fucking riotous. His makeup, the entire attitude, that French-English accent, he’s drop dead funny. LaPointe’s one of my favourites of his characters. Sadly, one of the only very few aspects that are decent about Yoga Hosers. Definitely not enough to make the experience enjoyable.
yogahosers3This is what happens when you publish a poop
When people say they want to like a movie, and then don’t, I understand. This is one of those films for me. Yoga Hosers, I wanted to like. Desperately. I do like Smith, even if a few of his efforts are junk. Part of me was hoping he’d prove people wrong, make another weird yet actually enjoyable piece of work like Tusk (even if I’m in the minority here). Too bad.
Guy LaPointe and the two Colleens make for the sole moments worth your time. Not near enough to love. I don’t know. Maybe someone out there digs this kind of thing. In my mind, Smith wasted his time, as well as his fans. Not even some of the die hard Smith lovers are going to find this any good. Striking in too many directions, suffering from poor writing, Yoga Hosers falls flat even in one of those so-bad-it’s-good ways.
Please, Kevin: do something better with Moose Jaws. If not, don’t apply for funding. Especially if it’s Canadian. I know a bunch of filmmakers that could and would put the money to better use than “For my own enjoyment” projects like this is so clearly. And even then, no excuse for this kind of dreck.

Get Lost in THE INTERIOR; For Better or Worse

The Interior. 2015. Directed & Written by Trevor Juras.
Starring Patrick McFadden, Jake Beczala, Andrew Hayes, Delphine Roussel, Ryan Austin, Lucas Mailing, & Shaina Silver-Baird.
Low Sky Productions/Master Caution Pictures.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
Comedy/Drama/Horror/Mystery

★★
posterIndie film is great because that’s where a lot of interesting, cutting edge, gritty, sometimes outrageous and over-the-top ideas come out best. Because there’s often not as much riding on an independent picture as with something big out of Hollywood, small time filmmakers take risks trying to create something innovative and interesting with what they have at their disposal.
Director and writer Trevor Juras’ The Interior has all the right DNA necessary for an indie flick to be captivating. There’s picturesque scenery making the steady and measured cinematography look damn beautiful. The lead actor Patrick McFadden does his best with the material provided, which mostly involves emotion once his character winds up by himself in the middle of nowhere in miles of thick forest.
But along the way, Juras doesn’t capitalise on the solid elements of his screenplay, nor does he do anything much unique with the look of the film. With such natural beauty at hand there could’ve been better visuals put into play, other than the nice stuff we see as McFadden takes us through the wilderness. Instead there’s nothing you wouldn’t find in a found footage film these days. It’s a shame because there are glimpses of excitement. They’re buried under a pile of missed opportunity.
img_3987My friend said I should cut out gluten?!”

Ah, if only it were that easy. James (McFadden) is a disaffected young man. He’s repressed, like Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham, only younger and living in the 21st-century, fantasising in the company bathroom about telling his boss to fuck off, show up baked and bringing half-smoked joints to his doctor’s appointment. The classical music employed throughout the first few scenes involving James at the office, even though we do get slight bits of dialogue, makes this portion of the film feel like a silent comedy. We watch the hapless young professional navigating a near slapstick sequence with his jagoff boss who loves pastries and talking on the phone. What this early part of the screenplay does is setup James’ disillusionment with his yuppie lifestyle, or the one blooming as he listlessly wanders through the days.
This film is all about the personal journey into our own interior. As we’ve seen in trope form throughout many movies and television shows, the personal journey inward is symbolised in the physical journey outward. Initially, James rejects the typical office job wanting instead to do actual physical labour. He’s dying – begging – to be reconnected with himself and the world around him. So, he heads off without much thought into the British Columbia forest, which takes us deep into wonderful locations of Salt Spring Island on the far West Coast of Canada. Along with this is an exploration of self.
James encounters a huge problem due to the fact that if you’re alone in the woods, you’re still alone with yourself. And if it was yourself you couldn’t live with all along – not the city lifestyle and all those suffocating societal elements – then being out amongst the stark wilderness with only trees and your inner thoughts for company, paranoia can set in quick, fast. And in reality, paranoia is the least of the worries, as James so eagerly discovers.
img_3990img_3991Youth is a currency

Ultimately, I feel that Juras means to say, in the end, that you either figure out your place, or nature takes over. You live, you die. Therefore: figure yourself out; if not, nature doesn’t cease and your time will come. Whether you like it or not. Nature simply carries on, oblivious to our existence (the sentiment Juras seems to illustrate in his choice of final shots). Unfortunately for him, there’s nothing to fill the massive void which lingers throughout most of the film. I’m fine with little to no dialogue, meagre action. That doesn’t bother me; I’m an arthouse lover, too. That being said, Juras doesn’t fill the lack of action (in any shape or form) with tension or suspense. There’s barely any mystery. We gain a sense of James getting lost in the woods and further lost in his own head. Outside one or two moments in the dark, following his tiny flashlight beam, nothing amounts to tense in the least. Definitely nowhere near the level necessary for the journey to be compelling. At least there’s nice classical music to float us along, as we trail behind James traipsing through the lonely forest.
The best Juras does is examine the old adage – you can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy. Hoping to get back to nature, James cannot truly let go of his city-learned distrust, his feeling of primitive competition with the humans next to him within the concrete jungle of the big city. He sees and hears intruders – the man in the red jacket – but are these all figments of his imagination? There’s no evidence that any of it is real, as well as no full proof they’re only apparitions. When it all comes down, James is an example of the confusion in human beings once we move outside of our natural habitat, start living more disconnected from real life in the cities.
img_3992Juras had his heart in the right place. The Interior is only worth about 2 stars out of 5, and maybe that’s even pushing it. Still, I can’t help but feel there are enjoyable pieces to the screenplay. Perhaps Juras couldn’t execute them properly and grab hold of what exact themes he wanted to convey.
Don’t go into this one expecting horror. At best this is psychological horror, although there’s still not enough to really categorise it as such. It’s an in-depth character study – a flawed one – looking at how city v. rural works in the modern day. This film could’ve used more beef to the screenplay. I love sparse writing if it serves a point and works towards some purpose. Otherwise it’s just trim for the sake of being trim. Juras needed to flesh this out further, past 80 minutes, and add a few extra scenes to keep the pace enticing.
What you get is a mysterious little picture that doesn’t hit most of its marks. You won’t be enthralled from beginning to end. You may check your watch once or twice. The Interior tries and tries again, never quite getting past spinning its wheels. Here’s to hoping Juras gets better on the next project.

SUICIDE SQUAD: DC’s Hot Mess

Suicide Squad. 2016. Directed & Written by David Ayer.
Staring Viola Davis, Will Smith, Margot Robbie, David Harbour, Jared Leto, Jim Parrack, Common, Jai Courtney, Ezra Miller, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, & Ben Affleck. Atlas Entertainment/DC Comics/DC Entertainment.
Rated PG-13. 123 minutes.
Action/Adventure/Comedy/Sci-Fi

★★1/2
POSTER I’ve loved comics and superheroes since I was a boy. Batman was the character I enjoyed most because of his humanity; he’s just a guy, a rich one at that, whose sadness and despair created a crime fighter. As of late, I’m getting sick of the superhero movies. I still read the comics and graphic novels. One shelf in my home library is dedicated to a bunch of them, from Batman: The Long Halloween to a ton of Alan Moore to much more. I’ve still got love for the basic stories and the characters throughout these worlds.
That being said, I’m sick of these movies. I give them a fair shake then they only wind up proving me wrong. I went into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice really wanting to enjoy what was going on, then it bored me, perplexed me, and left me wondering how a movie with both their names in it could have such a minor, badly ended confrontation as the climax.
Same goes for Suicide Squad, too. When I walked into the theatre, I was hoping DC and David Ayer (of whom I’m a huge fan) were about to throw me for a loop. A few times, I did enjoy myself. But on the whole, this is one huge misstep of a movie. There’s a number of problems. The music is like suffering the tortures of the damned. Some of the performances are far weaker than they ought to be compared to others. And with all the major hype around Jared Leto playing the Joker, his ridiculous makeup and character design (those tattoos… are you kidding me?), there’s not near enough pay off to make him worth it, nor enough to make him as interesting as Leto and Ayer so desperately want him to seem. So, in the end, I can’t do anything but chalk this flick up to another mistake on DC’s part.
They had the chance to do something interesting, different. I’m not a fan of Guardians of the Galaxy, but that had its heart in the right place, as well as the fact its use of music had a purpose, a reason, whereas Ayer’s film is loaded down with songs trying to make up for the fact there’s little palpable suspense or tension without them. Suicide Squad wanted to replicate the success of a weird, unexpected crew of characters, this time opting for villains. It misses the mark by a wildly long shot.
Pic1 The first 20 minutes is one of the more insufferable sequences I’ve sat through in recent memory. Each villain is introduced using different music, as if each separate introduction is a music video unto its entirely. But it doesn’t stop there. When the Belle Reve men start shipping Harley Quinn and everyone else off, there’s only more and more of the musical offence. It’s tacky. Makes the whole thing feel silly, and not even in the appropriate comic sense. Just feels tacky and lazy. There’s a whole lot of this throughout the entire film. Once the Belle Reve criminals are brought out in front of the military at their location, it’s another god damn song. Never stops.
Honestly, I’m not able to remember a more poor use of music overall than Suicide Squad. That recent WB open letter from a supposed former employee isn’t hard to believe. I’m not exactly sure why DC decided to play it this way instead of stepping in, perhaps making suggestions on how to make it all feel less foolish. Because the music really takes away from the excitement. For me, anyway. I rolled my eyes every time “Spirit in the Sky” or an Eminem song started playing, at the most inappropriate of moments. One of the worst offences is when we see the supposed origins of Harley; all the emotional, visceral momentum of that scene is totally washed away by the terrible song accompanying those moments.
Leto is a good actor, I’m not denying that. His role in Requiem for a Dream is one that I’ll never, ever forget, both he and Jennifer Connelly. He turned in a fantastic, appropriately method performance alongside Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. But with the crown price of crime in Gotham, he’s fallen short. There are moments where he’s creepy, unsettling, most of what the Joker is supposed to be in his rawest form. However, there’s something tired and overworked about the performance. As the scenes wore on, I found myself almost embarrassed watching some of his scenes. He tries to give it a dose of heaviness, of comedy and creeps mixed together. But his effort falls by the wayside. Not only that, apparently there’s a ton of his stuff cut, so there may have been a better performance lying in those missing scenes somewhere. Maybe.
Pic2 They didn’t do the best they could with the Joker, nor with Harley Quinn. Although, I have to say that at least Margot Robbie captured some of Harley’s essence. There were lots of lacklustre lines out of her, which is too bad. The script needed better writing for Harley, as well as she and the Joker together. She did her best and gave a fairly manic performance to give the role something special. Along with her, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was fantastic. She is the perfect addition. She’s strong, no nonsense, she plays the character pretty damn spot on.
A big part of why I hated certain developments and character arcs is because the screenplay follows aspects of DC’s New 52, of which I’m not really a fan. Especially the whole Harley-Joker situation. I hate that. I dig her story in Mad Love written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, as it provides a normal (though crazy) explanation of how Harley ended up infatuated with Joker. A simple, twisted story of a doctor and her patient, getting much, much too close. With the New 52, you’ve got a Harley origin story where she’s dumped into a vat of acid by Joker, just like what happened to him so famously. To me, it does nothing except provide an elaborate set piece.
If we were to see them Arkham Asylum, that would’ve been a lot more fun, as we’d actually see the seduction, the craziness, the weird love between them. Instead, Ayer only provides us the tiresome backstory, which offers nothing more than spoon fed character development, or a lack of really. Harley and Joker could’ve been done much better. The actors are there, they try, but the writing is what ultimately hampers anything more interesting from coming forward.
Pic3 I’ll give it a 2 and a half star rating. That’s as much as I can offer Suicide Squad. The movie they gave us is not at all what they wanted us to believe it would be, or could be. Ayer is a fantastic director and a competent writer, usually. This is a rare misstep for him, filled with mistakes and missed opportunities. I wanted to like it, I did. I’m not a man child like so many critics out there on the internet. Never have I prejudged a bit of cinema without seeing it; sure I’ve speculated, but I always leave my opinion open until my eyes have personally seen a film. Suicide Squad has the star power, the artistry, the technical magic behind it. Somewhere along the way, flash and music and bad one-liners weren’t enough to lift this above mediocrity. DC is certainly in trouble. If they can’t start figuring out how to hit the sweet spot, Marvel will only continue to dominate them. And this is coming from a guy who’s neither a big fan of Marvel, nor excited about superhero movies in general. They’re played out. I only hope someone can come along and make something strange, like this should have been, into something accessible and thoroughly enjoyable.
For all the love Suicide Squad is getting from hardcore fanboys and fangirls, the honesty about the final product is not there. People blame critics for standing against this movie. A stupid thing to do. Many critics just realise this is not what it had potential to be. It’s been overhyped and sold beyond its means, from Leto’s “method” performance (AhembullshitAhem) and his idiotic gifts to his co-stars, to the apparent darkness and then pivot-step to more comedy the studio wanted. Right down to the script – tons of shit dialogue and poorly written exchanges between characters – this is a dud. There’s a few shining points, enough for it not to be an absolute bust. Yet those shiny little moments are far and far between.

The Hospital: A Dark Bureaucratic Comedy

The Hospital. 1971. Directed by Arthur Hiller. Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.
Starring George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, Barnard Hughes, Richard Dysart, Stephen Elliott, Donald Harron, Andrew Duncan, Nancy Marchand, Jordan Charney, Roberts Blossom, Frances Sternhagen, & Katherine Helmond. Simcha Productions.
Rated PG. 103 minutes.
Comedy/Drama/Mystery

★★★★1/2
POSTER
Arthur Hiller is probably most well known to people through his directorial work with the comic duo of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, on such films as See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Silver Streak. Of course he’s done much more, but many will know him from those. I’d seen a few of his movies before ever getting the chance to see The Hospital. Then there’s the great writer Paddy Chayefsky, whose Network I also saw before ever seeing his previous work on this film. And boy, was it ever a treat once I did get the chance.
The Hospital is a rare type. I’m not saying there aren’t any other movies like it. Not at all. What I mean is that it’s not exactly the kind of thing you’d see even today, let alone in the early 1970s. But such was the spirit of filmmaking then. The indie directors and writers were looking to change things, to show a different side to themselves, to America, to the world. Chayefsky’s story hones in on the touchy subject of suicide, at the same time he takes on the bureaucratic nature of hospitals and the stress of morality under the weight of that bureaucracy. There’s a whole ton of smart insight within the dark package presented. It’ll make you laugh. It will have you pondering the effectiveness of the American healthcare system, one that hasn’t changed (too) much since ’71. It will reassure you of the greatness who was George C. Scott. And Chayefsky has never been so funny or so on point. His brand of honesty has not been seen since in American screenwriters, though there have been plenty of great writers. Just the way his words cut to the core of the subject is truly art.
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I mean, I’m likely in the minority here but I believe Chayefsky is at his sharpest, darkest, wittiest here all in one fell swoop. The first moments let us know that while we’re dealing with life and death, literally as we’re situated in a hospital as the constant setting, this is a story rife with comedy. Dark, yes, but comedy nonetheless. Network is a god damn classic. One of the single most poignant entries in American cinematic history, as far as I’m concerned. However, The Hospital has a certain quality that struck me the very first time I had the pleasure of watching it. The open honesty of the suicidal thoughts Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) feels is at once a little shocking and all the same incredibly refreshing. The performance is one thing. Chayefsky’s writing another. He makes Bock into someone intense and brooding while simultaneously a fucking riot. Scott only furthers that to chuckle-worthy ends. There’s a truthfulness in how Chayefsky depicts suicide, the thoughts of suicide, and everything surrounding the concept. He finds the absurd. His screenplay for this film juxtaposes actual death and the idea of death in close quarters. There’s often the trope of someone close to death confronting it somehow, then discovering they truly want to live. Meanwhile, Dr. Bock is busy trying to figure out the best way to off himself, so as to cause the least amount of grief, and a possible serial killer, or terrible employee, is walking the halls underneath the nose of everyone present. A genius lot of writing that’s aided by the properly jaded Scott in one of his greatest roles, as well as a well-rounded cast that lifts Chayefsky’s words right off the page into hilarious life.
What I love about Bock so much is that he’s sick and tired of the actual discrepancies in the world. He hates his own son because of the boy’s insistence on being a hypocrite, whether he knows that himself is another thing. He hates the place where he works because the healthcare system is backwards as all hell; medical technology, even in ’71, was hurtling through innovation all the time and people, mainly the disenfranchised like the African-American community, the gay community (et cetera) were out in the streets dying. He hates life – not only does his impotence involve the penis, it involves his “purpose” and all he “ever truly loved” and that’s a desperate sadness. There’s a brutal honesty in the character that makes this movie so rare as a whole.
Scott makes you wonder how a man can become so many different characters so flawlessly over time and not lose his mind. He is one of the greatest; ever. Even just watching him sitting in a chair, acting drunk, his talent is immeasurable. One of those national treasures that America ought to relish like the flag. He was an actor’s actor, throwing himself to the role as an actor should. The desperation of Dr. Bock comes across vividly in the way Scott tumbles him further, further, until we’re not sure what kind of ending this man is going to find for himself. Chayefsky fleshes the character out well enough, then Scott takes him for a ride. In the quietest scenes, his face does more acting than half of the so-called superstars today combined. Once the scenes get intense he rages, as I’ve come to love from Scott, but also he rattles you. It isn’t just empty screams or over-the-top emoting. You really feel grabbed by his character. So convincing and genuine. One of my favourite roles of his, right up next to his character in Dr. Strangelove.

HOSPITAL, THE

Title: HOSPITAL, THE ¥ Pers: HUGHES, BARNARD / SCOTT, GEORGE C. ¥ Year: 1971 ¥ Dir: HILLER, ARTHUR ¥ Ref: HOS001AE ¥ Credit: [ SIMCHA PRODS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]


I’m actually not a huge one on comedy. Anybody that frequents this site will now that. That isn’t because I don’t like to laugh. Those who actually know me know that laughing is one of the things I love most. I laugh too much sometimes, like an idiot. The Hospital is just my brand of funny. Dark comedy, the stuff that hits too close to home, that makes you cringe while also making you question things: this is what I dig. I can get down with foolish comedies, too. Those are few and far between for me; best examples are Dumb and Dumber and Step Brothers, both of which endlessly kill me. But the darkness, it’s always what draws me. I love horror and disturbing thrillers, so maybe it’s only natural I’ve gravitated towards comedy that’s more unsettling. Still, Chayefsky’s writing isn’t only darkness. It is poignant work. It throws social themes into a story about a suicidal doctor in a hospital that may or may not be stalked by a serial killing maniac. There’s a wildly effective mix of things happening. You almost expect it to fall flat. Only this movie is nearly a perfect bout of comedy and drama.
The Hospital may not make all the big lists or get mentioned too often. Who cares? The damned thing is genius.

Borat: Exposing the Truth in American Culture

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. 2006. Directed by Larry Charles. Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, & Dan Mazer; uncredited writing by Seth Rogen & Patton Oswalt.
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, & Pamela Anderson. Four by Two/Everyman Pictures/Dune Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 84 minutes.
Comedy

★★★★★
POSTER
As far as comedians go, Sacha Baron Cohen is definitely one of the more divisive talents to grace the Hollywood big time. Some find him offensive, though they’re often people that mistake him for his character instead of comedian employing the use of satire. Some rightfully find him hilarious. I’m one of the latter audience members. Cohen got big with Ali G and his show, the two different incarnations, which of course featured the characters Borat and Bruno. This trifecta made for an extremely subversive slice of television. Ali G started right at the turn of 2000, then the show went again on air about 2003 when I graduated high school. The last couple years of school I’d gotten influenced by Cohen and his edgy humour; him, plus Knoxville and Co. with their often death defying (or intelligence defying) stunts. In part, I credit the ridiculousness of certain aspects in my humour to Cohen.
Borat is essentially the best of Da Ali G Show, only with the ante sufficiently upped. There are moments in the film that are almost too good to be true. Luckily, the genuine reactions and emotions of many people are forever trapped on celluloid. There are few comedians able to reach the awkward, tense heights of which Cohen is beyond capable.
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The incredible power of Borat as a character comes in the form of truth. For instance, so many people obviously don’t realise they’re talking to a comedian, and so they’re open, honest, unafraid of being mocked or made to look foolish. Like the guy at the rodeo who says America’s trying to hang the homosexuals, and so on. Part of this isn’t even comedy, it is genuinely tragic. A guy such as that cowboy-hatted asshole talks down to Borat, thinking he’s a guy from a country where he’ll never go, a country he’s never cared about and never will. So not only do we see the truth, we see the ugly truth at times. There are a lot of actually hilarious and harmless bits amongst the harsh doses of reality. But the best parts come from this rawness.
Above anything else Borat is able to expose the underbelly of America. The people who are casually racist, not so much the ones that are blatantly out there. He gets to the quiet types, the ones who are lured in by his whole shtick. Such as the dinner party when Luenell shows up to be his guest, and this is the last straw – a big, black lady dressed a little too sexy is too much for them, but the bag of shit Borat previously brought down didn’t put them over the edge. That little juxtaposition is poignant. People might think it’s just crass, dirty, “toilet” humour. It isn’t, it opens up the racism of these white people so wide that if you ignore that, you may be blind to racist behaviour. There are a bunch of instances where people are overtly racist because of how Borat, and the genius of Cohen in his skin, makes people act.
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A few of the amazing scenes that stand out are ones that constantly, consistently funny. There’s the one where Borat meets with the Veteran Feminists. On the surface people say it’s offensive. And what he says is, certainly. It’s just because of how he skewers the typical view many of us have re: certain Asian countries, et cetera. What’s even funnier is that racist and xenophobic people probably watch this and almost feel that it’s truthful in that sense; it’s not funny, I guess, rather it’s sad. Again, that’s the glory of the movie. Another scene I find downright perfect is the driving instruction followed by the search for a Pussy Magnet. I mean, it’s crack up funny. Further than that I can’t get enough of the driving instructor, how well he interacts with Cohen as Borat, and the almost duo-like presence they have together. Immediately as Borat double kisses his cheeks, the response he gives makes me keel over laughing. There are too many of these awesome moments to list.
Central to everything, which doesn’t necessarily need to be said but I’ll say it anyway, is Cohen’s performance. The control this man has is unbelievable. One of the best of any comedian, ever. You’ve got to give him that even if you’re not a fan. He goes full force into the role and plays it to maximum effect. The awkward moments, the at times angry and tense scenes. Every last bit features a stone-faced Cohen. There’s no imagining how he’s able to keep the laughter in, and I’m sure there were outtakes that completely messed up particular scenes. But you can see how the toughest moments are played to the furthest end. All the while, Cohen keeps the act on to make it riotously funny.
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I know why people aren’t fans of Cohen. Likewise, I understand why they don’t enjoy Borat, or any of the other characters he plays. Don’t agree. Although I do understand. Because that’s what comedy, and life, is all about. We can enjoy different things without that being a problem. Yet I do take issue with those who find the film offensive. I don’t think that Cohen is ultimately trying to make Kazakhstan or anyone there look foolish. His primary target is American culture, how they view themselves and in turn how they view those outside of their culture. There are scenes where Cohen gets the opposite reaction I’d expected. Others you feel the pit of your stomach flop because you knew people like that existed, though they aren’t always readily visible.
So thanks Sacha – this is a contemporary comedy classic that many of us will enjoy years down the road. Your wit and charm in such utterly ridiculous scenarios is something I’ll never be able to deny, even if I wanted to. And why the hell would I want to? Borat’s a character that has made me laugh for the past 16 years. I suspect it’ll go on a lot longer, too.

A Guy Ritchie Retrospective: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. 1998. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh, Nicholas Rowe, Vinnie Jones, Lenny McLean, Peter McNicholl, P.H. Moriarty, Frank Harper, Ronnie Fox, Stephen Marcus, Vas Blackwood, Alan Ford, & Sting. Summit Entertainment/The Steve Tisch Company/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 107 minutes.
Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
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There’s always an obvious Tarantino comparison that comes along each time Guy Ritchie’s earliest movies are brought up, even some of the others, too. Well I’ve talked about that before in my retrospective on Snatch. Perhaps most out of anywhere, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels rings close to the spirit of Tarantino. However, there’s a vast difference in American and British humour. That’s first off. Full stop, though, Ritchie is a different writer. They each have their own quirkiness, no doubt. British jokes are decidedly British, and to me Ritchie is funnier. Tarantino is a little deeper in some of the dialogue underneath his funny writing. Ritchie is downright a crack up, alongside all the crime that’s also as enjoyable. He’s more hilarious than his supposed American counterpart. They have the same capacity for violence. Once more I posit this – Ritchie is far more Martin Scorsese influenced than anyone else. He’s a combination of those two big influences while continuing true to his own roots. He tells stories that are undeniably British in an American film influenced fashion. Because of that storytelling, because of the British humour with which I identify most (on account of being Canadian, I imagine), much as I love Tarantino I almost prefer Ritchie’s first two feature films over the former and his first couple. Not knocking him, I’m a massive fan of Quentin in all areas. Overall I’m a bigger fan of his than I am of Ritchie, if I had to pick. However, it’s hard for me to not love both Snatch. and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels most. That’s all personal.
For me, this movie is another case for how far quirky writing can go without stepping over the line and becoming silly. Ritchie’s characters here are rich in a short span of time. Then we get quite a bit of crime to add the flair, comedy in a whopping dose. Along with everything else, Ritchie’s got wonderful directorial sensibilities. His choices are fun, fresh, they move things along with nice pacing. Overall, this is a solid modern masterpiece of British cinema. Don’t accept any opinion less.
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One of the biggest ways to tell the difference between Ritchie and Tarantino is evident when Bacon (Jason Statham) and the boys go to the Samoan Pub. Almost as if spitting right at the Kahuna Burger and its quirkiness, Ritchie’s characters are normal, simple types of blokes. They just want a pint. Not some Samoan or Hawaiian hipster-type bullshit. There’s an awesome quality to Tarantino and his writing, which I do enjoy myself. There’s an equally awesome quality to the fact Ritchie sort of says “Sure there’s influence but I can also point out some needless quirk.” The characters in Tarantino movies are sometimes a bit too much written with the end of being singular by way of idiosyncrasy in mind. Now, that’s not to say characters should be alike, not at all. They need to be different, obviously. Yet at a certain point you’re just filling up too much space without really doing anything.
Using a setting in the middle to lower class underbelly of Britain, these simple guys with big ideas, it’s not even a direct way of trying to be different. That’s just how I see it. But what Ritchie does in actuality is present a life of crime that we don’t see in certain other comedy-crime combinations. Yes, we often see things go wrong in the underground world of professional crime: hitmen, gangsters, high class criminals, so on. Such is the case in a few Tarantino flicks. What Ritchie does in his first two features is present a world of men on the fringe, near the criminal world while not completely a part of it. It’s clueless guys that are incredibly small-time criminals, doing the measliest, most petty-type jobs in order to get themselves through the week. Then through a multi-linear plot these dopey, though kind-hearted fellas come face to face with big time crime, big time criminals, and tougher choices than they’ve ever had to make. Somehow the stakes are higher than films where the people are all professionals and murder’s nearly routine, able to be cleaned up on a whim. In opposition, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels gets messy.
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Vinnie Jones is a talented man. Not only does he have the enormous, intimidating physicality required of a tough guy actor (and a footballer as once he was), he’s spectacular as Big Chris. Supposedly, this character is based on Dave Courtney – a guy who claims to have been involved with all sorts of mad gangster shit. Either way, Jones uses his own natural bad ass-ness. Then there’s also the fact he was released from jail the first day he was in for filming, after getting locked up for beating on his neighbour. Amazing! Regardless of any true life experience he’s capable, which he proves more than once throughout the length of his filmography as an actor. Big Chris is funny, frightening. He’s a dad; a good one, a bad one. It’s a complex and overall laugh-inducing character from start to finish. Well written. Most of all, well performed. Each time I see this Jones gets me in stitches, being hard and at the same time disciplining his son, making sure others don’t swear around him. What a god damn laugh.
On top of his talent there are a bunch of others. Even Sting turns out a nice little performance. The Hardest Man in Britain, Mr. Lenny McLean, plays Barry the Baptist right before he passed away, and put in one hell of a performance; both makes you laugh and tremble in equal measure, similar to Jones. Jason Statham proves here he’s great when working with Ritchie’s writing, revving up his talent for the follow-up, Snatch., where he again proves the same thing. In truth, the entire ensemble cast carries the weight, even the more minor players. Each role is handled well enough to keep things funny, fast, and at just about every last turn unexpected.
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Ritchie started out his feature film career with a bang. The comparisons to other artists are inevitable. Though, as I said a bunch of times already and before this review, Scorsese is the director I see as Ritchie’s largest influence. Either way, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a solid slice of crime comedy in its own skin. There’s plenty to enjoy, from Vinnie Jones to Statham in fine form, down to Ritchie as a director and his high energy, frenetic, music-filled banquet of style. As you watch these hapless criminals navigate a world completely foreign to the small time one in which they usually roll, the plots all come together to make for a thrilling, at times hilarious finale. I’m always inclined to love this most out of all the similarly-styled crime movies in the 1990s. No matter what. The style and its flair, the dialogue, the characters each given their own time to shine. Every last inch is a damn fine good time.

In Bruges: Comedy, Crime, Cheeky Cunts

In Bruges. 2008. Directed & Written by Martin McDonagh.
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier, Thekla Reuten, Eric Godon, &  Ciarán Hinds. Scion Films/Blueprint Pictures/Focus Features.
Rated 18A. 107 minutes.
Comedy/Crime/Drama

★★★★★

Martin McDonagh is a treasure. His writing in all forms is exceptional and he’s often very capable of subversive storytelling. As a writer myself and someone that tries his hand at writing for the stage, McDonagh’s The Pillowman completely shattered my preconceptions of what theatre is meant to be and how you can present difficult, wild topics to the audience without shattering them too much. Not just that play, his other works for the stage are great, too. Most of all he defies expectation.
In Bruges is a proper McDonagh mix of black humour, crime, a dash of love, and a nice heap of violence. The actual setting of Bruges, Belgium adds an interesting element. Amongst all the architecture out of the 15th century this story of conflicted criminals plays out, juxtaposing this beautiful, old city with the dirty, gritty crime happening below its surface. Anchoring the script are three performances that allow the wit in McDonagh’s characters and their dialogue to work magic. Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, and Ralph Fiennes are all equally important to the success of the film. They each give the comedy an edge and bring out every last stroke of genius in the writing.
There’s plenty to lap up in this dark comedy. It isn’t only funny, it has an impressive amount of emotional weight. In the skin of an everyday crime-thriller, McDonagh creates laughter while simultaneously pondering the existential crises involved in the world of cheeky hitmen with consciences. I haven’t enjoyed any other comedies this much since about 2000. Definitely stands as one of the best in the past couple decades, no question.
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The comedy is beyond riotous. Little moments such as when the fellas run into an overweight family and try to warn them about going up a tower with narrow halls; Harry’s telegram to the hotel for Ken with “fucking” on every line at least once; the conversation between Ken and Ray about a “lollipop man” and their various musings on morality; that perfectly awkward yet hilarious scene where Ray punches out a man and his girlfriend, not just funny on its own but taking us back to the earlier conversation with Ken about if you’d hit a man wielding a bottle at you. One favourite moment is after Harry calls Ken and asks about Ray, questioning if he’s only having a wee, or if it was a poo.
There are far too many single moments and scenes to call out individually, lest we spend this entire review recounting every last chuckle.
There’s a major darkness cast over the plot, as well. Ray kills a priest, but in the crossfire winds up taking the life of a young boy. This haunts him, obviously, as the film moves on and the two hitmen move to the next supposed job, and never are those thoughts far from his mind. Of course this is also what puts them in Bruges in the first place. The darkness continues after we figure out specifically why they’re in Bruges – we assume early on it’s a job, and it is, however, there are complexities to this sticky story.
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Part of the setting of Bruges is almost akin to Limbo, a Purgatorial stop before Ken and Ray face their final judgement. Perfect enough, Ray notices a painting called “The Final Judgment” by Hieronymus Bosch, which depicts a scene where people are laying dead all over the ground, as the saviour floats above in the sky ready to accept those who last through what I assume is The Rapture. Furthermore, other paintings concerning death and its approaching presence are in the gallery the men visit. This all comes after Ken is told by Harry that the job he’s on is Ray’s own murder, for botching the priest job. There’s a moment at the end calling back to these paintings, as Ray literally winds up in the middle of one life-sized replica of those paintings with their imagery of death.
The transition into an almost otherworldly space, this idea of Limbo, comes through the Bosch imagery once more. When the hitmen arrive in Bruges at first the place is bright and beautiful, the landscape is all light. Everything seems wonderful. As time passes, the visual aesthetic goes from light towards the dark. Then literally even the characters out of the Bosch painting turn up on the film set, wounds from images in the painting are similar to those Ray ends up with after getting shot. So even if this is a comedy there’s no less care for fine tuned filmmaking. This is an impressive feature debut from McDonagh. His experience in theatre lends itself to having a specific visual style. Not only does he know how to block scenes and dress a set to make things look interesting, film as a medium gives a director (particularly one whom might be considered an auteur) the aspect of post-production, of not being live, and so much more. McDonagh uses this every bit to his advantage.
Ultimately there’s an emotional component to the story, aside from all the darkly humorous bits and the dashes of violence and everything else. Once Ken gives Ray a chance to redeem himself there’s a glimmer of hope in all the shadiness. And as the plot wears on closer to the end there’s more significance placed on the relationships between characters. Harry even comes across as a real person after all his dour attitude and vitriolic dialogue, though that goes how it does and there’s no love lost. But just the brief moments where Harry and Ken discuss their past relationship are enough to flesh their characters out before the conclusion. Before that, we get a good look at how Ken and Ray have gotten close in their short time together, as the former essentially sacrifices himself in order to let his younger friend have a chance at redemption. This entire tangle of emotions sets up an excellent finale, equal parts tragic and wild.
One great moment I love so much (WARNING – SPOILER AHEAD) is when Ken uses the coins he’d tried to pay his into the tower with earlier to make sure nobody is standing below when he decides to jump. In an ironic, dark twist, if he were to have been let in minus ten cents then he’d not be able to warn people below the tower, and likely wouldn’t have ended up jumping at that moment. Small bits such as this are what makes McDonagh’s writing so intriguing.
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I’ve always admired Brendan Gleeson as an actor. He’s versatile and simply a powerful talent. The writing of Ken as a character is good enough, but his portrayal makes it much more than entertaining. He shows us how a seemingly friendly guy can be part of this ugly world, of murder for hire, so on. More than that, through his relationship with Ray, the character of Ken develops and he comes to this point of realization later, culminating in the showdown between him and Harry. The range of which Gleeson is capable helps make this guy real, as Ken becomes a character with whom we can empathize, despite the fact he’s a hitman. That likeable, jolly quality in Gleeson comes out to help us relate to the man. Yet he’s always capable of being intimidating, so the contradictions in his character are remarkable in his hands.
Colin Farrell is the one I enjoy most. There are likeable qualities to both these men. Although Ray comes with an even further, almost innocent sense about him. This is in total conflict with the fact he’s killed a boy, though unintentionally. Still, this tough reconciliation is the crux of how we view Ray, how we experience what he experiences and assess that within ourselves. Farrell is a fucking laugh. Everyone’s funny, but he makes this all the better for playing the character so well, completely embodying Ray.
Then you can’t not love Ralph Fiennes. He’s another actor of whom I’ve been a massive fan for years. Fiennes is beyond talented. His depiction of Harry is different from all the same old British gangsters you see in so many other movies because he’s another contradictory sort, being a gangster and also being a loving father and husband. Well, he also has a strict moral code. He wants Ray dead for his mistake of killing a child, likely due to his own kids. So is he really all that contradictory? Yes, a vicious businessman in the murder industry. Yet obviously he keeps children out of it, probably women – that’s only a guess. Still there is a moral code and he tries sticking to it. You’ll see how closely when you get to the finale.
With a cast like this and the subversive, witty, dark writing of McDonagh, In Bruges is easily in my top ten comedies of all-time. If not the top five. Everything about it is so perfect and well placed that it’s hard not to enjoy each second. Farrell and Gleeson have a chemistry that’s hard to find, so there’s a buddy comedy aspect. Though one that’s pretty strange and way more hilarious than the atypical relationship we’d see in (most) American (Hollywood) productions. There’s so much to love. The cinematography of Eigil Bryld that makes Bruges leap off the screen into your lap. McDonagh and all his talents. A lead cast with more humour chops than the casts of most popular comedies (coughThe Hangovercough). If you can’t love this, that’s fine. It’s black comedy, pitch dark, at its best. Not everyone can dig it. For those who can there aren’t many modern comedies willing to be so darkly funny. Tuck in, enjoy.

A Guy Ritchie Retrospective: Snatch

Snatch. 2000. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Rade Serbedzija, Alan Ford, Mike Reid, Robbie Gee, Lennie James, Ewen Bremner, Jason Flemyng, Ade, William Beck, & Andy Beckwith. Columbia Pictures Corporation/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 104 minutes.
Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
POSTER It’s been at least 9 years now since I’ve watched Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. A one of a kind film. Except not really. Only in the sense of being set apart from other movies, as Ritchie writes stories that all seem to revolve around the same seedy criminal underbelly of London and the surrounding areas. There are some who say Ritchie is too much like Quentin Tarantino. To them I say it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, they each tell tales set in the crime world, they each have a pulpy style, but they couldn’t be more different. Tarantino has this almost classic sensibility that translates into his own brand of filmmaking. Likewise, Ritchie has his own brand it’s just entirely another kind of exciting. And as much as I love Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, as well as his later work, Snatch. is always going to be the best example of his directing.
Weaving together a number of stands, Ritchie brings out an elaborate crime plot that encompasses a bunch of classic British humour, odd characters, and best of all everything seems to hinge on that nasty old bitch named Irony and a bastard named Fate. The pacing of the script keeps things interesting and the way Ritchie moves around with his style as director constantly holds the viewer’s attention.
Personally, I’m not a huge comedy fan. Not because I don’t like to laugh, in fact the opposite; I’m always laughing. There’s just never many films that speak to my fucked up, weird sense of humour. Somehow, Ritchie does. Perhaps it’s the relation Canadians have to British movies and television, and that’s why I enjoy this sort of comedy. Or maybe Ritchie and his wild writing appeals to me. In that sense, he and Tarantino are definitely similar. Either way, Snatch. is in a league all of its own.
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The dialogue throughout is downright amazing. Part of that is because I love the British accent and I feel like Ritchie uses this to his advantage. All around, though, it’s pitch perfect. It’s not even quirky, it feels so real. Love every last bit that comes out of Turkish (Jason Statham). Makes me sort of sad that Statham didn’t keep doing these types of movies, not that he has to do one thing forever – which he kind of does now anyway – I just love his comedic timing, as if Ritchie writes specifically for his talents. There are too many excellent scenes. Lots of actors with comedic timing for days, not just Statham. Brad Pitt does a fantastic bit of work as the gypsy bare knuckle boxer and there are times he has me in stitches, such as the quick “dags” exchange with Tommy (Stephen Graham). Together, Lennie James and Robbie Gee as Sol and Vinny respectively work wonders as a pair – their bits in the car with Tyrone (Ade) honestly fucking slay me. Finally, Alan Ford makes Brick Top into both a horrific British gangster, and also one of the most hilarious criminals with his tendency to talk down to everybody and those massive frames that make his eyes look like an angry fish. On paper, Snatch. is good enough. With this sort of cast the words are in more than capable hands.
The best of all? Vinnie Jones. His character here is even better than his previous one in Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. He nails it, right on the nose. He’s another one whose presence is imposing, in part due to his massive size. But also his acting is intense. Aside from that Jones injects a generous dose of laughter in amongst his scary delivery.
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If anything I’d compare Ritchie to Martin Scorsese. For many reasons. One is their use of music. Tarantino has his own thing, but Scorsese and Ritchie have a highly similar sense of how they use music. They use rock and popular music, though there’s less of an ironic or iconoclastic sense in the way Quentin often uses a soundtrack (think: Reservoir Dogs ear cutting scene to Stealers Wheel). Here, it’s like a part of the chaos, playing another role like how Scorsese often uses The Rolling Stones (among other bands and songs). For instance, there’s such a fitting, beautiful quality to the sequence when George gets knocked out by Mickey O’Neil (Pitt) and “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers plays. Then just the natural feel of some of the other songs works incredibly with so many of the various scenes.
Aside from Ritchie’s similarities to Scorsese in music, he also gets some influence for his frenetic sequences from the master. This is especially useful because of the large ensemble cast. With all the threads in the plot, Ritchie keeps things rolling with a steady pace. These chaotic moments help move the plot along and you never feel as if the movie drags. The big portions of what we need to know, as in the fine details, come in between the major sequences. After which we’re thrown into stylized segments where Ritchie uses more of the soundtrack to push the film’s energy. There’s one particular moment I love where we cut back and forth between Brick Top’s boys getting Tyrone and two wild dogs chasing a hare; the parallel is poignant, and the song on top makes it all feel lively. A major difference where Ritchie diverges from one of his obvious biggest influences is in the way he uses visual storytelling as opposed to narration. Of course Scorsese doesn’t always use a narrator. However, his popular crime stories which likely influenced Ritchie – GoodfellasCasino – relied quite a bit on a strong narrator. Instead of telling bits of the story through narration, Ritchie opts for a little bit. Then through other scenes he instead shows us what a narrator would only give you through exposition.
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The comedy and the crime comes in equal amounts throughout. Ritchie loves to show another side of crime that we don’t always see in stuff from someone like Scorsese. There are the good criminals who know what they’re doing. Then there’s the lot like these fellas. Most of whom can’t see far enough ahead of themselves to make sure they don’t fuck all their own plans up. Even Brick Top, in all his gangster wisdom, relies on a gypsy bare knuckle boxer to get the job done. Witnessing the constant, consistent ineptitude of many of these characters is spot on comedy.
Everything comes together on its own in the script. Yet the scene just before the final half hour begins shows us perfectly how fate brings everything to a central focus. As the three different cars drive, we see the one way it unfolds through all three perspectives, and it’s just so well written that I had to watch it again a couple times. May even be the best scene of the entire film, but that’s a hard choice to make.
In all, even after almost a decade of having not seen it, Snatch. is a modern masterpiece of crime cinema. Not only does it have the chops of an excellent crime film, the comedy makes every last inch worth it even more. The cast continually impresses from one scene to the next and Ritchie’s writing only gives them dialogue to chew on endlessly. His direction stylizes the film. Although it never glamorizes crime. The opposite, really. And with his stylish qualities Ritchie makes a riotous script leap off the page, grab you, keep you glued. By the finale, Snatch. further opts to get a little serious before cluing things up. So there’s an element of everything, from crime to drama to comedy to thriller. Point is, Ritchie is a versatile director even if he prefers telling stories about the British criminal underworld. Much as I enjoy the rest of his filmography recently, these are always the types of movies I love to see him making. This is a slice of film heaven I won’t ever forget, one that never ceases to make me laugh.

The Wonderful Foolishness and Biting Satire of Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. 1964. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick, Peter George, & Terry Southern.
Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, & Jack Creley. Columbia Pictures/Hawk Films.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Comedy/War

★★★★★
POSTER
Based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is easily what I consider as one of the funniest films of all time. I love me a good Farrelly Brothers flick, In Bruges is another one that kills me, Anders Thomas Jensen’s movie Adam’s Apples is a god damn riot. Then there’s stoner comedies like Cheech and Chong among others that give me a kick, some of the Broken Lizard movies are downright hilarious. Point is, I’m not snobbish about my comedy, nor do I think this film in particular is high brow. But I love comedy from any time, any era, any corner of the world.
Dr. Strangelove is so good because it came along at a particular time. In the midst of the Cold War, in a time where extreme ideology certainly reared its head in the U.S. and had people paranoid of communists infiltrating society, Kubrick – along with Peter George himself and brilliant writer Terry Southern – turned the book Red Alert from something sombre into an absolutely knock ’em down, drag ’em out riot. All the same, there’s nothing slapstick about this, and even in its ridiculousness there’s still always a contained feeling; that clinical process that Kubrick seems to inject into almost every one of his films. It’s capable of being incredibly funny while also taking on the concept of nuclear war, completely inept heads of government and more.
I still remember seeing this for the first time. Each viewing since then feels like the first all over again because every joke is still fresh, especially in this day and age where lunatics are all too near the big red button. I’m always laughing just as hard. And for that, I thank Kubrick. So much of his filmography is quite serious, which I love. However, it’s nice to see the funny side of that great director, in no less than one of the greatest comedies – if not THE GREATEST – in cinematic history.
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Sterling Hayden is pitch perfect as General Ripper. There’s no way anybody could’ve given Ripper such a funny turn. When he starts going on about his “essence” there’s no way I can keep a straight face. It is at once frightening and all the same makes you giggle. That’s the overall genius of the film. Certainly when it comes to Hayden’s character. He is just a great actor, whose performances in films like Kubrick’s The Killing and The Godfather are memorable. Although not near as memorable as General Jack D. Ripper. And what a hilariously dark name for his character.
This brings me to the fact of names. Look at a few of them: Buck Turgidson (sounds slightly like turd yet also literally spells out ‘turgid’), President Merkin Muffley (do I need to point out what a merkin is, or what that then means for his last name?), Colonel Bat Guano, Major King Kong (played amazingly by Slim Pickens). Many of the main characters are named with tongue planted firmly in cheek. However, the President himself is most interesting, as his name seems to play into part of the character’s purpose.
One major aspect of the satire in this story is how the President of the United States of America is made out to be the ultimate pawn. Merely a figurehead. The whole fact he’s been overridden when Ripper goes mad and starts the nuclear attack on Russia points to the fact he really has no ultimate power, when it comes down to the wire. The fact the POTUS is named Merkin Muffley suggests a couple things. Mainly, the idea of a merkin – a pubic wig – suggests he is a fake, or a literal wig that hides something, concealing. So Merkin himself, as a figurehead for the government, is just a peon. He’s made to look all powerful when really it’s everyone underneath him, mainly those in the War Room (and obviously General Ripper who overstepped his rank) holding all the real power.
Love when Kong reads out all sorts of materials in the plane, including condoms, nylon stockings, lipstick. Such a farce, yet unless you’re really paying attention you might just pass off this brief moment. That’s another brilliant aspect to the script. There are a number of points where the writing weaves a serious situation through excellent satirical dialogue that you could miss it if you’re not focused. Then in other scenes it’s almost dripping with satire to the point that if you miss it, you’re just not watching the film.
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The actors are all in fine form. You cannot ignore the pure genius of Peter Sellers, though. Three different parts. Each more hilarious than the last. It’s hard for me to even decide which one of them I love most. Mandrake is priceless in his juxtaposition with the perpetually crazy General Ripper ranting on about fluoridation and how Commies never drink water, only vodka, and all sorts of further madness. President Muffley’s conversation with the Russian Premier is one of the film’s highlights, as well as perhaps one of the most prevalent instances of the absurdist satire at play. But you’ve also got the eponymous Dr. Strangelove. He is appropriately the big finisher, giving us an awesomely performed finale to both finish off the film, and also the performance of Sellers. He is one of the greatest comedians to have ever graced the silver screen. Even if you recognize him slightly, each character has their own way of talking, on top of an accent, and they even move differently. All a testament to his impeccable acting talents.
In addition, the great George C. Scott brings General Buck Turgidson to life. Right from the get go he has me laughing. As the scenes wear on and the situations become dire, his comedic efforts and timing only serve the plot even better. One of my favourite moments from Scott is after Turgidson answers the phone and it’s his secretary, the one with whom he’s sleeping; he gives her this great little speech that makes me crack up. Everything about Scott’s performance is stellar, right down to the incessant gum chewing of General Buck.
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There are so many impressive elements to Dr. Strangelove, but above all else it is funny, it cuts deep while also making things laughable. The satire and its execution, from George C. Scott to Peter Sellers in his three roles, is first and foremost what makes things work. As usual, Kubrick makes good directorial choices. There is an ominous feeling even throughout all the comedy, and that clinical sense of direction further seen in his later work is very much at play. All in all, I’m comfortable calling this my personal favourite comedy of all-time. Enough moments make me tear up from laughter that I can easily say that. Never will I get bored of the political commentary and satire jammed into this movie. In my top three Kubrick, which is saying something. If it’s not your cup of tea, I understand. But damn, are you ever missing out if this doesn’t strike you as funny as it does me.

Barton Fink: Head in the Clouds, Feet in the Sand

Barton Fink. 1991. Directed by Joel Coen. Screenplay by Joel & Ethan Coen.
Starring John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Jon Polito, Tony Shalhoub, Steve Buscemi, Richard Portnow, & Christopher Murney. 20th Century Fox/Circle Films/Working Title Films.
Rated R. 116 minutes.
Comedy/Drama

★★★★★OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Coen Brothers are impressive for many reasons. Particularly for the fact they make these elaborate pictures, one might even call them extravagant, yet still they retain their uniquely creative independent spirit. Even in their more recent films in the past decade from No Country for Old Men to their latest Hail, Caesar! they somehow manage to keep their weird little hearts alive, no matter what the material. Then there’s the fact they’re usually tackling stories many others wouldn’t go near. Not for any controversy, nothing like that. Rather the Coens have a certain way of looking at the world, and so it’s only natural this bleeds into their work. I mean, who else would’ve done stories like The Big Lebowski or Fargo before these guys came along? Or told the stories of of movies such as Blood Simple.Raising ArizonaMiller’s Crossing?
That’s right. Nobody else.
So here we are at Barton Fink. An immediate aspect I love about this movie is the fact these writers (and good directors as this pair are they are most amazing in their abilities as writers) wrote a story about a writer. I’m always a sucker for literature or film about the art of writing, about the people that write the stories, so on. Ultimately, this movie concerns the life of a writer, and through a journey of magnificent hyperbole the eponymous Mr. Fink (John Turturro) we experience his combative writer’s block from one scene to the next, as Hollywood nearly eats him alive. Doesn’t hurt there are plenty of references to real life figures that serve as inspiration for Fink and others, including famous Southerner William Faulkner (my favourite author) and playwright Clifford Odets. Sure, this movie didn’t do well at the box office, but when has that ever mattered? Money isn’t quality. And perhaps part of that speaks to certain elements within the film itself. Nevertheless, this is an underrated film in general, as well as in the Coen Brothers’ overall filmography.
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Reality v. Fiction is a prominent part of the entire film. Mainly, the Coens place us in the headspace of Barton, in the realm of “the life of the mind” as Charlie (John Goodman) calls it. His major personal crisis has to do with that perceived need, or at least his want, to be in the realm of the common man. However, what Barton doesn’t face is the fact that, no matter how real your fiction gets it is always fiction. No matter how close to the common you get, soon as words hit the page and they’re only a representation of life then you’re always creating something, fictionalizing, you’re moving away from the truth. Just as Plato saw art as an imitation already twice removed, Barton will never be able to just get into that perspective of the common man. He is not a common man, definitely not after accepting a job in Hollywood writing motion pictures; it’s almost ironic then how he’s living in a shitty hotel, slumming it and trying to find that perspective when just working for a studio has already ensured he’s no longer common. Moving from Broadway to Hollywood is essentially going bigger, rather than smaller. So part of Barton’s entire journey is almost futile, or existentially frustrating, as it’s doomed from the start.
There are a few really great moments where satire is all but bursting right through the screen. One of my favourite scenes comes when Barton goes to see Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) at his sprawling mansion – Lou Breeze (Jon Polito) tries to pressure Barton into giving Mr. Lipnick information, lest he find himself out of work. Breeze tells Fink: “Right now the contents of your head are the property of Capitol Pictures.” That’s such a perfect line in regards to how writers are treated, like a mill pumping out tangible product into the boss’ hands. Afterwards, this prompts Lipnick to send Breeze packing, then he gets down on his knees and literally kisses Barton’s foot, as a gesture of gratitude and an apology. It’s hilarious, and also poignant. This one scene alone displays the fake reverence and at once the very real disrespect many writers encounter while trying to practise their craft. There are many great scenes in a similar vein, this is just my favourite one and probably the most on-the-nose.
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Along the way, reality and fiction clash. All of a sudden, there’s a surreal quality to the film and Fink himself feels plunged inside a dream. There are echoes of themes to do with fascism and World War II, becoming even more clear later when we meet two detectives (they respectively have Italian and German surnames) and Charlie says a strange line directly related to WWII. So the surreal elements almost challenge you to look at the film either as a story about a writer and writing on the surface, or as a story with symbolism and thematic material lurking around every corner. Personally, I don’t feel the Coens intended this as a totally symbolic, metaphorical piece of cinema. Most of all, the themes tackled here have much to do with the distinctions between writers in the realm of Broadway and literary fiction and those that write for the movies. And not in any way are they trying to be negative, as the Coens themselves are indeed screenwriters. What they do successfully is examine the often fine line we as society demarcate between high and low culture. So, if we want to apply the concepts of literature to Barton Fink, I would suggest this as a post-modern story. Many aspects which define post-modern literature are the inclusion of both high and low culture, the looming spectre of WWII and more specifically the Holocaust, a shifting perspective or concept of identity, and more. All of which you’ll find throughout this amazing, dark comedic drama.
If you want, you could look at the entire film as symbolic. Or at least the latter half. Are Charlie and Barton the same person? In his quest to find the common man, did Barton create an entirely other self, one whom he could live through vicariously in order to create a story worthy of 1940s Hollywood? Who knows. Is Barton literally chained to a bed in a burning motel? Is he figuratively chained, stuck inside the burning house of his dilemma as a writer waiting to either escape or perish? “Sometimes it gets so hot I wanna crawl right out of my skin,” Charlie tells Barton. Much of this imagery, and Barton’s relationship with Charlie, has to do with the shifting identity Fink fights against. He is not sure who he is any more – a Broadway playwright or a big time Hollywood film writer. His personality has fractured, we see this early on even before the fire, as the wallpaper’s already begun to peel and curl up. These elements only intensify towards the end.
When Charlie bends the bars of the bed to free barton, this is the best indication of their being two parts of one personality. One side of Barton’s mind has freed the other, allowing it to continue on as it instead walks off into the fire. Better yet, more evidence to suggest Charlie isn’t altogether real is the box: before walking away he tells Barton he lied, the box does not belong to him. Therefore, the box has no rightful owner, at least not of which we’re aware. We can only assume the box is representative of an unknown possibility, almost like Schrödinger’s cat, very literally, but for the audience: there is either confirmation of Charlie’s character as real in that a head is in the box (highly unlikely to me as it would probably stink terribly with Barton lugging it around in that L.A. heat), or there is nothing significant in it and the box is a red herring, a confirmation that ultimately Charlie is a figment of ours and Barton’s imagination.
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Charlie: “I will show you the life of the mind
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John Turturro is one of the most slept on actors in the history of cinema. I’ll always stand by that fact. He is a man of many faces, often remembered for his funnier roles. And while Barton Fink is a comedic character in his own right, the meat of this role has to do with Turturro’s ability to portray a man whose life is falling apart. The meaning of his life – writing – is suddenly pulled into question, so every last element of what he sees as reality starts to sort of come loose. The very fabric of his being separates and gradually we fall down the rabbit hole right next to him. It isn’t easy for an actor to make psychological breakdowns feel and look entertaining. Turturro digs deep and brings his experiences as an actor to the part, as all artists know what it’s like to feel disconnected, worn out, blocked up. In the end, Barton is a complex character and we’ve never completely able to know if he’s a man with his head permanently in the clouds. Perhaps as he sits on the beach, admiring a woman uncannily similar to the picture hanging in his hotel room with his feet in the sand, Barton has come to realize – at the very least – that it’s all about perspective.
On the opposite side is John Goodman, a wonderful actor, too. He plays Charlie Meadows to perfection, giving him lots of likeable qualities and also making us aware that there’s something quirk about the man; we don’t find out exactly how much so until the end, when you can definitely start substituting crazy for quirky. There’s a danger to the character from minute one, but Goodman helps to keep us guessing. Roger Ebert made  good points about the theme of fascism against the backdrop of WWII and the Nazis, and that Charlie represents how easy it is for the common man to fall into madness, or almost worse into extremism – in this light, Goodman gives Charlie even creepier qualities. There’s no immediate sense of any extremism, though further we move through the plot it becomes clear Charlie is not whom he pretends to be, and this brings to mind the old sheep in wolves clothing adage. No matter how you interpret the film or the character, Goodman does well with Charlie as the sort of parallel extreme to Barton as a much more cautious, quiet type.
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This may be my personal favourite film from the Coen Brothers. It’s always hard to choose when filmmakers have such rich, diverse movies amongst their catalogue. Even with their signature and unmistakable style, the Coens always manage to create something new and intriguing each time out of the gate. Barton Fink is an enigma. Just as the film itself defies genre categorization (film noir/comedy/drama/surrealism/et cetera), the story defies one concrete explanation. I didn’t even bother getting into certain portions of the varying themes, as I’ve already run a long review. But there are so many elements at play throughout the film that you can’t definitively point to one thing and say WE FOUND IT. There are many things to enjoy and so many things to mull over, to ponder long after the credits roll and the experience is over. Whether you see this as symbolic film is not the point. The point is it gets you thinking and offers not just one idea, it allows us as an audience plenty of room to flesh out our individual experiences with the film and makes sure Barton Fink doesn’t only captivate you while the movie plays. No matter how you feel about this movie you’re bound to find something worth debating. And above all else, this is one of art’s main objectives.

Violent Segregation and Cartoon Heart in Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit. 1988. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay by Jeffrey Price & Peter Seaman; based on the novel Who Censored Robert Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf.
Starring Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern, Richard LeParmentier, Lou Hirsch, Betsy Brantley, Joel Silver, Paul Springer, Richard Ridings, Edwin Craig, Lindsay Holiday, & Mike Edmonds. Silver Screen Partners III/Touchstone Pictures/Amblin Entertainment.
Rated PG. 104 minutes.
Animation/Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
POSTER These part couple decades I’ve been watching this film and not once did I ever hear this was based on a novel. Amazing! The original book by Gary K. Wolf is titled Who Censored Roger Rabbit? and follows in the film noir tradition of hard boiled detectives, femme fatales, and so on. Except for the fact it’s set in a world where human beings and cartoons coexist, or at least try to anyway. In the film, as opposed to comic cartoons, Private Eye Eddie Valiant navigates a world filled with animated film characters. We even get some familiar faces like Betty Boop, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, Yosemite Sam, and the one and only Donald Duck.
More than that, Who Framed Roger Rabbit gives us a dose of comedy, some mysterious crime, and plenty darkness for a PG-rated flick. At the helm is director Robert Zemeckis who’s no stranger to a fun romp. This is one of the most underrated pieces of cinema out there. Dressed up to appeal to families, as it boasts a cast filled with cartoons many kids will recognize, Zemeckis gave us a crime thriller wrapped up in mystery further wrapped in the sheep’s clothing of a cartoon mixed with live action gimmick. Bigger than the sum of its part. Better than a gimmick. Zemeckis and producers, including Stephen Spielberg among others, allow us a window into a little seen view of the cartoon and human universe where Toons and people alike are subject to the dangers of living in a hyperreal world. Don’t let the friendly exterior fool you, fellow fans of the weird and the frightening – there’s stuff for you, too! Plenty of it. In fact, the mix of tones in this movie is a major reason why it is an unheralded masterpiece.
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I’ve always loved the opening because we get that typical animated style, which is awesome, then we’re led into the real world right behind the camera. The animated feature we watch is excellent. What’s really fun is that the Toons aren’t drawn here. In this universe, they’re corporeal, they’re simply different. After we cross over from the animation into half animation, half live action, it is almost surreal for the first few moments. The animation director, Richard Williams, drew unconventionally for this project. Generally, there are rules animators follow when combining live action with animation; nothing written in stone, just a general way to do things. Instead, he broke some of those rules. He makes the Toons interact with the real people and real world frequently (stroke of genius handcuffing Eddie to Roger), as much as possible without feeling forced, as well as move the camera around a good deal because it makes things feel more 3-dimensional instead of looking like everything’s on a flat background. Finally, Williams uses light and shadow in a way not seen before. This is what truly gives it that hard boiled, film noir feel. The atmosphere is one of the more incredible elements of the picture.
And this flawless mix of live action people with cartoon animation helps us break into a larger theme in the film. You might not want to break down a movie like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But I do, so if you can’t dig it, then see ya.
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Really, though. This movie at its basic level is about difference, acceptance, and yes even straight up racism. For all its bright and vibrant glory, this Zemeckis feature is dark, macabre. It can be quite grim, at times. Judge Doom is even going so far as to execute Toons in such an awful way. His dip is comprised of turpentine, benzene and acetone; these are paint thinners actually used to remove animation from cels. It’s twisted and a nice little addition to the screenplay. Overall, we see the segregation of Toons from the real people. Doom represents a sort of uber-Republican, ultra-conservative viewpoint on city living. Like so many African American, Korean, Italian (and so on) citizens in big cities of America, the Toons find themselves at risk due to the white supremacy running these places. Doom is almost too obvious, as he’s bald, his skin is sickly white. Of course there’s more to him, but on a surface level he’s like a totalitarian dictator. And like many of them in history, he finds himself so disgusted with his own existence that he is self-hating, doing evil to those closest to him, trying to create a perfect world where the purity of real people is preserved. Such an eerie thing when you get down to it, as Doom’s revelation that he is in fact a Toon brings to mind someone like Daniel Burros, a Jewish man that went on to legitimately become a member of the American Nazi Party. I know, I know – awful heavy for a cartoon-live action hybrid. But the evidence is there if you’re looking. For me, it makes the whole thing better to have some depth.
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Roger: “Yeah, check the probate. Why, my Uncle Thumper had a problem with his probate. And he had to take these big pills, and drink lots of water!
Eddie: “Not prostate, you idiotprobate!”
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This is also the film that started my cinematic love affair with Bob Hoskins, rest his wonderful soul. He was a phenomenal actor, though I’m almost positive this is my favourite of his roles. Apparently an original choice, likely Stephen Spielberg, hoped for Bill Murray. I do love Murray. However, Hoskins brings this excellent presence to the role of Eddie Valiant. He is conflicted, he’s a hard man. He lost a brother at the hands of a mad Toon. All the while you feel this empathy for him, as well as a bit of anger at times, though eventually he comes to be the anti-hero, the underdog defying expectation. Murray could’ve surely played the part, probably well. Hoskins makes this into an utterly necessary performance as to why the story works. The chemistry between him and Roger Rabbit (voiced by the spectacular talent of Charles Fleischer) renders what could quickly fall into complete foolishness (the bad kind) into something far better, foolish in the right way, and emotional even to the point it tugs at the heartstrings.
And then there’s Christopher Lloyd, the enigmatic, wild, weird character actor known for his major role as Doc Brown in Back to the Future. For me, his role here as Judge Doom is the defining moment of his career because he is just unbelievably wacky and grim at once. Check his eyes when not wearing the shades – he doesn’t blink. He’s somewhere between goofy Republican and nationalist psychotic. This role almost went to Tim Curry, but apparently everybody in the room found him too terrifying, so Lloyd offers the creepiness while simultaneously keeping it funny, even if it’s darkly comic. Either way he rocks this performance. As a boy, I saw this around six years old; it came out when I was three. Lloyd always left an indelible mark on me and I’d actually credit him, as well as the movie overall, for being an early influence on my odd tastes.
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I love, love, love Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Every last frame and cel. There’s so much to enjoy, right down to the score. Robert Zemeckis does a fantastic job directing, which could not have been an easy feat. Not even close. Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer, and Christopher Lloyd each add essential elements to the final product. The film noir mystery of the screenplay is a ton of fun, and this 1988 film makes 1947 feel so palpable. You’d swear the film sets are right under your feet, as if you’re walking the lots of the studios, even the cartoon streets of Toon Town right alongside Valiant.
I’ll never forget this film’s influence on me. Forever this stays on my list of favourite movies.