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, Paco 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, Paco 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.

Advertisements

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 Paco (Neil Sandilands). 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, Paco 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 poorer 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.
Pic2
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.
Pic1
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.
Pic2
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.
Pic3
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

★★★★★
Poster
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.
Pic3
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.
Pic1
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.
Pic2
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.
Pic2
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.
Pic1
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.
In Bruges
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.
Pic1
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.
Pic5
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.
Pic4
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.
Pic1
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.
Pic2
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.
Pic3Pic4
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.
Pic1
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.
Pic2
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.
Pic4
Charlie: “I will show you the life of the mind
Pic3
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.
Pic5
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.
Pic1
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.
Pic2Pic-3
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.
Pic4
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!”
Pic3
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.
Rogerrabbit-disneyscreencaps.com-10431
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.

Fear of the Outside World in Tremors

Tremors. 1990. Directed by Ron Underwood. Screenplay by Brent Maddock & S.S. Wilson.
Starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Robert Jayne, Charlotte Stewart, Tony Genaro, Ariana Richards, Richard Marcus, Victor Wong, Sunshine Parker, Michael Dan Wagner, Conrad Bachmann, Bibi Besch, John Goodwin, & John Pappas. Universal Pictures/No Frills Film Production.
Rated 14A. 96 minutes.
Comedy/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★1/2
POSTER I’ve got a fondness for the monster/creature feature sub-genre of horror and science fiction. There are so many classic, old school Hollywood flicks that have iconic monsters. Everything from James Whale’s Frankenstein to Karl Freund’s The Mummy. You can consider Stephen Spielberg’s birth-of-the-summer-blockbuster Jaws a creature feature. There are even lots of solid indie movies to have produced iconic, horrific creatures, such as the recent Mickey Keating alien film Pod, 90s fare like The Relic and Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic (though studio interference butchered the latter).
And for all its faults, 1990’s underground creature flick Tremors is an entertaining addition to the pack. With a memorable VHS cover I remember wanting to see this movie as a kid. I eventually caught it, still too young for horror, on television late at night. While there’s a great deal of humour and campy movie making, there’s still a super creepy aspect to this one. Despite some almost slapstick style acting and cheese Tremors still manages to attain a level of ’90s horror glory, as it ekes out a few laughs, also giving us a nice dose of creature action with a few fun special effects along the way. By no means is it classic, but it is an enjoyable bit of horror wrapped up a science fiction comedy.
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 5.26.31 PM
In the tiny town Perfection at the edge of the desert, two handymen, Earl Bass (Fred Ward) and Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon), are at their wits’ end. They’ve decided to up and get out of there, to try and make lives for themselves somewhere else. Except that when they’re headed out Earl and Valentine find a man named Edgar up stuck in a tower. In fact, Edgar’s dead. He stayed up there for days and dehydrated. Really?
Well turns out, a woman named Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter) is in town studying seismology. There have been some serious, strange readings in the ground around Perfection lately.
Big, hungry, and terrifying worms seem to be living underneath Perfection. And now they’re coming up to grab anything they can get their slimy mouths on.
But when the ground isn’t safe, where do you go?
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 5.45.17 PM
That’s the biggest appeal of Tremors in terms of its horror. We feel a fear of anything that can come from the air or underneath us, whether in water or under the ground. Because it’s something inescapable. It’s bad enough if you’re in water, as anything can get you, there’s really nowhere to hide you’d have to just keep on swimming. Until you make it to land. But it’s scarier on land. You either have to climb, die, or fight. So that’s what Earl, Valentine and the rest of the crew find themselves up against. And in a small desert town like Perfection there are even a more limited number of options of where to go than might normally be found. A lot of the tension the screenplay builds up is simply through that isolation. The few residents are forced to do anything they can possibly think of to try and fight these creatures.
If you really want to get deep, the tremors represent the influence and pressure of the outside world. Valentine and Earl are on their way out of Perfection, off to the big city. However, they don’t even make it past the town limits before something pulls them back in. The tremors are an outside influence trying to infiltrate the town. Earl and Valentine realize this, their small town way of life threatened, and they’re pulled back in to defend themselves. Underneath the horror and all the comedy, Tremors is about those who realize they’re more at home, safer with those they’ve known in their little tight knit groups than branching out into a bigger place where they don’t know anyone, where anybody, or anything, can be lurking right below the surface. Ultimately, it’s an agoraphobic film, and if you see it in that light then the film can really take on a different light, making the horror more fun.
On top of all that, the Graboid creatures were created by Amalgamated Dynamics (they’ve done a bunch of other stuff from the recent Harbinger Down which they did independently to other bigger films like Death Becomes Her and David Fincher’s Panic Room). Even if you simply take Tremors for what it is, at a base level, the horror and the effects are still a lot of fun. There are some genuinely nasty bits of effects, especially once some of the Graboids start to get shot/blown up.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Cheesy as the movie can get, both Bacon and Ward are endearing, as well as the fact they’ve got great chemistry together. It’s a perfect old guy-young guy buddy combination, to the point you can almost consider this a buddy comedy horror. Again, there’s some definite stinky cheese here. But it’s the way these two sell it, how they use their charm to make the screenplay work even at its most campy. Bacon, as always, is energetic. Ward, too. They play the small town attitude well and you can really buy that these two have been working together for a while in Perfection – part of me wonders how they ended up as partners, Val probably meeting Earl when he was just a teenager and the two became this almost pair of grifters, roaming around doing anything they could to make a buck, work for this person, that person. So for a movie that has ’90s cheese factor of significant proportions, the screenplay actually drums up a good bit of intrigue for all its simplicity. Carter does a fine job with her role as Rhonda, providing a semi love interest that doesn’t actually come out until right before the final credits (something I dig because love stories are tiring sometimes and clutter up certain plots). She gets the chance to be smart, bad ass, and aids in the overall protection of Perfection. In that way, she’s a productive outside influence as opposed to the monstrous Graboids. The rest of the cast is peppered with nice casting choices, such as Michael Gross and Reba McEntire as an awesomely nutty gun-loving couple that come in handy, even the classic Victor Wong is in there for good measure. For an ensemble cast, this film could’ve done much, much worse.
Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.57.11 AM
As I said, Tremors is by no means a classic. Or is it? No masterpiece, that’s for sure. But it is one of those ’90s movies I’ll never forget. I saw it constantly on the shelf at my local Allan’s Video, it finally came on television late at night. Then I probably saw it another dozen times over the next 26 years, including today while reviewing it. It’s got light hearted comedy, a couple solid little performances for the movie they’re in, as well as the fact those Graboids are creepy, nasty looking things. In a decade that fell off a little compared to the ’80s, re: horror movies, Tremors is a welcomed bit of fluff that hits the spot when you’re looking for a bit of lightweight cinema that crosses comedy, horror, and science fiction in the span of a quick 96 minutes.

Holidays – They’ll Never Be Safe Again

Holidays. 2016. Directed by Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Kölsch, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Gary Shore, Kevin Smith, Sarah Adina Smith, Scott Stewart, & Dennis Widmyer. Screenplay by Burns, Kölsch, McCarthy, Shore, Kevin Smith, Sarah Adina Smith, Stewart, Widmyer, & Matt Johnson.
Starring Kevin Smith, Lorenza Izzo, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Michael Gross, Andrew Bowen, Ruth Bradley, Michael Sun Lee, Ava Acres, Jocelin Donahue, Harley Morenstein, Kate Rachesky, Jennifer Lafleur, Mark Steger, Scott Stewart, Peter Campion, Matt Johnson, Sophie Traub, Megan Duffy, & Shawn Parsons. ArtCastle Productions/Distant Corners Entertainment Group/XYZ Films.
Unrated. 105 minutes.
Comedy/Horror

★★★★1/2
HOLIDAYS
Anthologies can often end up a mixed bag of tricks simply because of numbers. When you put a bunch of filmmakers, albeit doing their own respective short films, into one container, there isn’t always a good flow. For instance, I thought V/H/S was a lot of fun, whereas the second installment of the series felt more varied in its quality. Then there’s Southbound, which was nearly perfect. Similar to that is the (duh) holiday-themed Holidays. With a slew of directors and writers, as well as a cast that contains several well-known and relatively new faces, this anthology tackles Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s & Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and of course New Years Eve. Holidays does away with any notion of sentimentality or Hallmark movie moments. Gone are the strictly comedic adventures of the Griswold family. Nowhere will you find any cute renditions of holidays turned into romantic comedy fodder. This isn’t even a creepy Santa Claus horror flick. These directors and writers take us into the heart of any fear possibly associated with the holiday seasons, from getting that last gift on the shelf for your boy or girl, to unrequited high school love, to motherhood, and so much more.
Prepare to get dark.
Oh, and happy holidays.
Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 3.41.45 PM
The first segment of Holidays is disturbing, top to bottom. Yet at the same time there is a tender element, if only brief and fleeting. A forbidden love story, sort of. A coming of age tale. Truthfully, one of the girls in it really annoyed me; her bullying was spot on, just so damn irritating. But it works, her character is truly terrible. The style of this segment is so retro and also modern. Little dreamy bits make their way into the plot, as Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) falls deeper into her own imagination; I didn’t even have to know beforehand that Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer directed this segment (they did the fantastic Starry Eyes). Their style of directing is unique, as much as it is awesome. This Valentine’s Day short is gruesome, disturbing, uneasy. A nice way to kick the whole thing off. There’s not even much explicit nastiness, aside from the very end, and still it manages to get savage.
Next up is the St. Patrick’s Day short from Gary Shore, director of Dracula Untold. While that movie was mostly a big load of shite save a few moments, Shore does a fun job with this segment. The focus here is on a school teacher. She looks after the young children in her class, one of whom – a little ginger haired girl – is a bit creepy. Over a couple weeks things start to deteriorate for the teacher, as she has strange dreams, as well as deals with the ever weird behaviour of her little redheaded student. Although I could begin to understand where this was headed, Shore does a great job at making this a highly unnerving little short. The whole thing just made my skin crawl and really took me by surprise. Usually relegated to Leprechaun when St. Paddy’s creeps around each year, I only wish this were a longer bit of work. It’s darkly comic at times, creepy, even downright frightening, spectacularly weird. I hope Shore goes on to do some longer bits of horror, other than big Hollywood fluff like his first feature. His horror chops are strong and sharp here.
Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 3.46.02 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-15 at 3.54.44 PM
Nicholas McCarthy personally wowed me with both his first two feature films, The Pact and At the Devil’s Door – two great little indie horror flicks. His Easter segment is dark and mysterious. It takes a great dig into the foolish holiday, as the little girl questions her mother about what Easter is all about – why eggs and a bunny when it’s supposedly about Jesus? Well, her mother doesn’t know either. When the Easter Bunny arrives – and he does arrive – it is the most horrific depiction of the creature you could manage to conjure up. The fact McCarthy even thought to do what he’s done here is outrageously impressive to me. Honestly, quite possibly the single scariest creature out of any horror film I’ve ever seen with my two eyes. There are some good ones out there, some great ones. This Bunny is right at the top of the heap. Plus, McCarthy turns the concept of the Easter Bunny (and other such figures) into something out of a nightmare, especially with what happens after the little girl is the first child to ever see him. Uh oh.
Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.04.54 PM
An interesting Mother’s Day segment comes from Sarah Adina Smith, director of last year’s The Midnight Swim. A young lady is pregnant, having already terminated several pregnancies, and does not know where to turn next; every time she has sex, she gets pregnant. Every damn time. The latest doctor tips her off to some fertility ceremonies out in the desert, so off she goes with hopes of finding an answer somewhere. Everything devolves into utter madness after she takes drugs – a.k.a medicine – at the fertility spa, discovering that each pregnancy, each abortion only makes the life growing inside her stronger. But there’s more than just a bit of hippie bullshit going on at this spa. And before they all know it, the pregnancy’s become something altogether other from a child in her belly. The whole thing is eerie and suspenseful before coming to a wild end. I could have used a little more, honestly. Overall, though, Smith does a good job making her short memorably unsettling.
From mothers, we move to Father’s Day directed by Anthony Scott Burns (Darknet), whose best work I know of is on the fabulous indie The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh. Here, he crafts a spooky short which begins with a young woman named Carol (Jocelin Donahue; The House of the Devil) opening a gift, a tape recorded by her father. What follows is a chillingly tense journey towards a reunion. Along the way, the sound design, the score, the steady tracking shots, the beautiful wide angles, it all winds us up for a super haunting end. Kept me on edge and paid off without having to go too over the top.
Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.19.16 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.23.03 PM
Kevin Smith’s Halloween – Hollow Ian, as he puts it – takes us inside a little webcam porno operation, led by Epic Meal Time star Harley Morenstein, as well as Harley Quinn Smith. The whole thing is fairly dreadful, in the right way. Behind everything is a subtle, rattling score that begins as a low piano piece then grows into something more brutal, more sinister. We’re eventually given over to a thriller that gives three young cam girls their long due revenge over a tyrannical, misogynistic boss whose treatment is far less than equal or any bit good. Love how the revenge starts off sort of comical, then escalates into more brutal, nasty, low end stuff. Smith’s writing here is both funny at times, specifically Morenstein’s character at first in his predicament and the girls all around, as well as filled with depravity. I want Smith to give up everything else and continue making horror films because he has a unique, fun voice that brings something interesting to the table.
Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.40.40 PM
Director-writer Scott Stewart takes us next into his deep, dark vision of Christmas. It’s a very human drama at the start mixed in with horror, as Seth Green plays a desperate husband and father, willing to do something terribly unfortunate to make sure he gets the last of a special Christmas gift in stores for his son. What’s most interesting is how the gift itself plays into the father’s situation. This could’ve easily remained a dark psychological thriller, but opted rather to explore an almost science fiction type plot that made things exciting and turned into an altogether different piece of work halfway through. This one kept me guessing, it also had lots of dark comedy to make things ride along well.
Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.50.15 PM
Finally, New Years Eve rolls around, directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, who did the vicious little horror Some Kind of Hate. This vision of December 31st is psychotic, nasty. Lorenza Izzo and Andrew Bowen star as Jean and Reggie – two people who meet online for a first date out at a restaurant, only we know that Reggie has recently shot another woman in the head. Hmm. Well, this is one of those cases such as Alfred Hitchcock would’ve liked, or done similarly in his own films, because we’re given that bomb, shown upfront the danger, and now we’ve only got to wait until it explodes. So the suspense and tension coils around us seeing Reggie with Jean, even worse after she invites him back to her place, then everything gets vastly more creepy. Problem is Reggie’s underestimated the situation and never could’ve prepared himself for meeting a girl like Jean. LOVE LOVE LOVE the writing in this little short. So brutal and macabre and just so much damn fun! After things really break loose there are a few moments of blood and gore that pay things off magically, even with a New Years Eve countdown on the television behind the chaos. Also, can never get enough of Izzo, whose presence is always thrilling in some way.
Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 5.00.21 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-15 at 5.04.02 PM
Overall, a 4&1/2-star anthology. This one is up there for me with some of the V/H/S stuff, as well as the recent, amazing experience that was Southbound. The use of all the holidays in unique ways, the terrifying bits and pieces of each segment, the writing, the directing, the acting, the practical makeup effects in many of the segments, it is all so joyfully executed. You can tell when an anthology feels forced, as if none of the work belongs together in one frame. However, Holidays fits together in such an oddly appropriate way. The segments flow from one to the next keeping you off balance. Indulge yourselves. This is available now on VOD platforms, and soon will see a limited release. Watch this, support these filmmakers. Because the smaller indie productions are where all the good stuff is happening. If we keep supporting independent work, hopefully this will keep lots of smaller horror (and genre) pictures alive.

Chopper: A Storytelling Liar

Chopper. 2000. Directed & Written by Andrew Dominik; based on the books of Mark Brandon Read.
Starring Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, David Field, Dan Wyllie, Bill Young, Vince Colosimo, Kenny Graham, Kate Beahan, Serge Liistro, Pam Western, Gary Waddell, Brian Mannix, Skye Wansey, Annalise Emtsis, & Johnnie Targhan. Australian Film Finance Corporation/Mushroom Pictures/Pariah Entertainment Group.
Unrated. 94 minutes.
Biography/Comedy/Crime

★★★★1/2
POSTERMany true stories are often a rosy-eyed view of the life of their subjects. Too often they devolve into hero worship or over sentimentality. Really, what a good biography deserves is truth. Even if that truth has many sides.
Chopper is a film about infamous Australian criminal, prisoner, author, vigilante, Mark Brandon Read – a.k.a “Chopper” Read. The tagline NEVER LET THE TRUTH GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD YARN is one of his personal mantras. So, how can a story about a notorious liar find truth? In its depiction of the central character, whose mantra on truth is a huge focus. Using bits of truth and bits of who-knows-if-its-fiction from Chopper himself, director-writer Andrew Dominik explores an interesting chapter of Mark Read’s life, as Eric Bana crawls into the man’s skin, bringing to life his odd habits, his paranoid mind, and his utterly hypnotic foolishness. It’s hard not to like Chopper at times because he’s a vigilante, he likes to prey on criminals. But he is a paradox – a criminal, a murderer, a pathological liar.
Is Chopper Read a good or a bad man? Is he a product of a nasty environment? You be the judge.
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 5.56.52 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-11 at 3.46.40 PM
A product of the Australian penal system since the age of 16, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read (Eric Bana) does a bid in jail for having kidnapped a Supreme Court judge, in order to try getting his old friend Jimmy Loughnan (Simon Lyndon) out of Pentridge Prison. Inside, serving in the notoriously well-known H-Division, Chopper kills off a big time criminal in the hopes of climbing the ranks.  Instead of that happening, Chopper finds everyone turns on him. Even Jimmy tries stabbing him, unsuccessfully. With too many enemies after him Chopper has the tops of his ears cut off by another inmate, which gains him notoriety and also a transfer out of H-Division. In 1986, he’s released back unto the world.
Problem is life moves on. But ole Chop, he’s still living inside even on the outside. He’s paranoid, unable to figure out the line between enemy and friend. And soon, the delusional truths in Chop’s head start to work their way into the real world. Then the line between friend and enemy is no longer of importance because there’s no line anymore to separate dreams and reality.
But a few fibs never stopped Chop from telling a good tale, did it?
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 3.56.17 PM
First and foremost, Chopper is about appearances; both the film and the man. Everything about Chopper is legit, in terms of his tough guy appeal. At the same time he continually feels the need to pump himself up, one way or another. When he shoots a previous victim after getting out of jail, he brings the guy to hospital, yet then denies it to everyone else who asks. Really, Chop? Well, that’s because he has a specific idea of what and who Mark “Chopper” Read should be to the world. So what’s interesting is how director-writer Dominik decides to tackle the many stories, many of which are true, that Chopper has blown up into half-truths and half-fabrications. We go back through events at a couple points, seeing things as they really are, then through Chop’s eyes – often turned into a more elaborate, more exciting version of events. Because that’s another big aspect of the film, and of the man’s life: Chopper was always, above all else, a storyteller. And this is incredibly clear at the end. Without spoiling the plot and the finale, you can see how Chopper thrives off the social nature of his hardness, of his crazy reputation, because after he’s left all alone, nobody to talk/brag to, Chopper becomes a silent man, full of solitude, and there’s nobody there any longer to listen to his ramblings and his inflated ego.
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 5.31.39 PM
I often say that a certain performance is great because an actor was the only one capable of playing the role. When I say that here, in the case of Eric Bana as Mark Read it is the truest I’ve ever felt about that sentiment. No surprise even Read himself suggested Bana for the part. Because he fits the bill. It is a real transformation, especially for those who know Bana in recent years for his performances. He gained weight, rocked the fake tattoos and the goatee, beefs up his natural Australian accent into a more lower class sounding dialect. Then there’s simply the fact he strikes me as genuinely loony. Bana gets right into the skin of Chopper Read; the bravado, the paranoia, the odd sense of humour. You’ll find it hard pressed to even take your eyes off him for a second. The raw magnetism of his character leaks from every last scene. He’ll make you laugh, he’ll also make you uncomfortable, a bit frightened at times. And you will constantly be unsure of what’s to come next. Read’s volatile essence is in good hands with Bana, giving him a human side even under all the machismo and ego.
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 6.08.56 PM
Hands down one of my favourite biographies, ever. Nearly a perfect film, as it takes us inside such an enigmatic persona with both style and substance. Lead by an absolutely captivating performance from Eric Bana, giving us chuckles and chills, Chopper is at times horrific, others hilarious, and always it has the ability to hold your attention. Its little quirks are the best, from a scene depicting the subtle effects of speed to the moment where Chop casually hangs a bit of dong for a woman in the bar. See this if you haven’t yet, and make it a priority if you’re a big Bana fan because this is truly the performance which put him on, and will keep him on, the map. Plus, who doesn’t love a bit of true crime? As true as it can get when concerning Mr. Read.

Hap and Leonard – Season 1, Episode 6: “Eskimos”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 1, Episode 6: “Eskimos”
Directed by Jim Mickle
Written by Jim Mickle

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “War” – click here
* For a recap & review of the Season 2 premiere, “Mucho Mojo” – click here
Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.04.08 AM
The finale has arrived, and after Trudy (Christina Hendricks) abandoned Hap and Leonard (James Purefoy/Michael K. Williams), they were left with the vengeful Soldier (Jimmi Simpson) who still mourns his dead lover, Angel (Pollyanna McIntosh).
In the aftermath, Leonard’s place is covered in police tape, and Hap laments to the dog: “I miss him, too.”
Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.04.47 AM
We flash back to their precarious situation at the end of the previous episode. Outside, Jimmi is killing the dogs, taunting Hap and Leonard inside. The episode flashes to after it all again, as Hap starts to take down all the boards over the windows, trying to put everything back in its place. He’s sporting injuries from the shootout. Obviously, Hap is now safe from Soldier. But what exactly’s happened in the meantime?
At a literal and figurative crossroads, Trudy sits in the van. Over at the house Soldier keeps on taunting, especially about Trudy, mocking Hap for having trusted her too many times. The title of the episode, “Eskimos”, comes from a conversation about how Eskimos supposedly share women, so on. A nice anecdote. Then, from nowhere, Angel reappears. Not dead at all. In fact, she proceeds to kick the absolute shit out of Hap and Leonard. At least until the latter snaps her neck. Well now, Soldier’s really upset.


Hap: “Guns, huh? Who needs guns?” (Soldier shoots him in the arm)
Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.13.26 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.14.27 AM
Amazingly enough, Trudy does come back. She drives right through the side of Leonard’s house, crashing into Soldier, saving the two pals. At least for the moment.
In an impressive scene, Hap holds a gun on Soldier but refuses to pull the trigger. He is thoroughly a non-violent man, only when pushed to the brink. And still, Trudy pulls the trigger herself. So there’s a juxtaposition between the two lovers, as Hap is tough but doesn’t always take the hard road out, whereas Trudy usually takes the hard road everywhere.
In the bloody moments following the showdown, Trudy reveals to Hap she drowned the bird in the sink. It reminded her of their relationship, her failures. She says “I love you“, only both Hap and Leonard are passed out in the backseat. Ah, their love is always complicated by something new. Meanwhile, Trudy passes out behind the wheel and they casually roll into a ditch coming to a full stop.


In hospital, Hap wakes to a vision of Trudy, who bids goodbye. She walks down the hall with the old Hap, the long haired hippy Hap, the one with too much optimism, before having to go to jail and figure out the harshest bits of lie. A sign that the old Hap is definitely dead. And Trudy, too.
Cut back to that rainy night when little Hap and his father stopped in the rain to help the black man and his boy. Here, we see the unifying moment between young Hap and young Leonard. That night their fathers were both killed, after a car crashed into them on the wet road.
Back to their present day, Leonard wakes up to Hap sitting by him at the hospital. They’d been out several days. The two of them ruminate on their relationship, Leonard talks of the war. However, things feel fractured, and it’s possible this has forever altered their relationship. Also, Hap ends up being questioned by FBI and local law enforcement. They want to know about the job Howard and Trudy enlisted him for, as well as Leonard, and all about the car in the river, so forth. Turns out Angel and Soldier were on the radar awhile. But as for Hap Collins, he’s in the clear currently.


Hap sets out to find the hidden goods himself. Mostly, he finds old sentimentality, and a little bit of dog shit. Leading him to a ton of money jammed into the dog food. Stacks of bills inside; lots chewed, some no worse for the wear.
What I love about this series is the emotional aspect. Joe R. Lansdale writes great crime fiction, but writes even better characters within that framework. He gets into Southern Gothic at times, even a bit of a take on the hardboiled detective genre. Above all else, he is a crafty writer whose characters, particularly those of Hap and Leonard, leap off the page. Here, they are adapted incredibly well, and especially Hap is a touching, complex character. Purefoy gives a wonderful performance, nuanced, and brings out the best in Hap. So watching him cobble together all the cash, for Leonard, for the Children’s Trust Fund, it is a real class act type sequence. Because we really recognize the goodness in Hap here, despite him getting wrapped up in ridiculous schemes such as the one Howard and Trudy had going.
More than that, we see another scene of young Hap, who witnesses the police covering up the drunk driving deaths, blaming it on young Leonard’s father being a “coon” and all. So not only is there a bond between the two boys, there’s further evidence as to why Hap became the man he is now. A beautiful and sad scene all at once.


Three months down the road. Hap’s back to working in the rose field, drinking Silver Spurs by the handful at night, smoking his pipe. Then up turns Leonard, healthy, if not a little banged up. He’s got to attend the funeral of his uncle. Regardless of the rift between them, Leonard cares for the man, seemingly always did. And good ole Hap accompanies his friend to the burial. Whatever had come between them before, the wildness of the things in which they got involved, it’s now lightening, but that’s always been clear – these two are friends for life, and even if something gets in their way briefly it would have to be a life altering event for them to completely split apart.
Hap remarks how life is not like Leave It to Beaver, there isn’t always closure and things don’t always cauterize at the end of an episode, to provide relief, so it all can start fresh next time. Ironically, this is the case. For the moment, anyways. Because after Hap turns out the light stating “No more drama for a while,” below Uncle Chester’s house, buried under the floorboards, is the skeleton of a small child. What sort of misadventure will this bring in Season 2? This opens the setup for Lansdale’s novel Mucho Mojo from the Hap and Leonard series, a dark bit of subject matter, too.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.47.43 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.50.10 AM
Let’s root hard that SundanceTV does the right thing and gives this a renewal. Lansdale deserves it, as do Hap and Leonard because there’s so much more to explore with them – their relationship, their world and its landscape – and many stories to be told! A great, fun, and at times wild season.

He Never Died: Henry Rollins at His Immortal Best

He Never Died. 2015. Directed & Written by Jason Krawczyk.
Starring Henry Rollins, Booboo Stewart, Kate Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey, David Richmond-Peck, James Cade, Steven Ogg, Elias Edraki, & Walter Alza. Alternate Ending Studios.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Comedy/Drama/Horror

★★★★
POSTER
Immortality is an interesting concept. There have been so many books and films on the subject, many fictional characters we’ve come to know, love, hate. So when a fresh, unique take on a subject such as immortality comes around, it’s always at least a little fun.
He Never Died tackles the concept in a way you’ve likely not seen. Not to say the story or the writing reinvents the wheel. At the same time, there are so many different ideas explored through the lens of immortality in Jason Krawczyk’s film.

With plenty dark comedy, an odd family drama, plus a hefty dose of revisionist biblical history, He Never Died has a unique sense of horror that’s made even better with the inclusion of Henry Rollins in the lead role. You can find better written films, though, Krawczyk puts his heart into the darkness and the complications of this story, which ultimately make it exciting and filled with macabre oddities.
Pic2
The unique aspect of the story is its human element. We consider immortality and many realize it’s a dreadful prospect. Yet do we ever consider the actual logistics? Think of possibly fostering a family, then having to deal with losing them as you keep living, and they keep dying. Jack is a man whose enjoyment in immortality ran out a long, long time ago. He now has to contend not only with justifying his existence to a daughter. Furthermore, being an immortal cannibal is even worse than all that. You’ve got to get whatever’s necessary to stave off the appetite. So to watch Jack go through the human drama of life mixed with the intensity of being immortal is really something. Putting him with a daughter like that is clever, fun writing. Part of it is tragic, too. As Jack struggles with his own life, introducing a daughter into the whole shambling, messy affair that is his lie does nothing except exacerbate his already tough world. He keeps himself at arm’s length from everyone, family or otherwise. Because falling in love, caring, it only means pain down the road when he can’t die and those around him eventually will, no matter what happens. It isn’t just trying not to eat people that proves difficult. Just having an everyday life is bad enough when you’re immortal. Everything gets old after awhile. The routine and the tics of Jack’s life are continually intriguing, as they’re not the typical depictions of an immortal character in fiction.
Now I’m starting to question whether some of the people at Bingo in the local hall are immortal beings, passing the time away in the easiest places to not find an interest in people.
Apart from the emotional qualities of the story, there’s a nice dose of horror here. The first time we actually see Jack eating some human meat it’s a pretty gruesome affair. Definitely a nasty, violent scene. The action pieces are excellent, which showcase Jack’s fighting ability, as well as his resilience being incapable of, y’ know – dying. This renders him virtually indestructible.
Pic1
My only complaint is that, almost immediately, I knew that Jack’s character had to be some kind of angel, or a similar entity. Not only does the cover art reveal much of that, his heavy-handed scars are a tell-tale sign. This doesn’t ruin anything because there’s a constant mystery shrouding Jack overall, so it isn’t a negative. At the same time, perhaps more mystery would’ve done the plot better justice. As we watch the events unfold it’s interesting to try determining what or who Jack is truly. If his back wasn’t so vivid in a close-up early on, the idea that he’s some sort of angel (or whatever) might hold a hard punch. Instead it’s not so much a revelation, but a bit of fun. The writing is mostly good, definitely entertaining. Personally, I only wish there was more of thrill to this aspect, and that they left it a while later to reveal. Of course we don’t discover who he is until later, but that one early shot is a dead giveaway as to his origins. His need for blood is something that certainly held out awhile, something we don’t see and fully figure out until a nice way in. So there are parts of the story and plot that came together well. Other portions could’ve used more tightening. Despite the few narrative flaws, He Never Died has a quality screenplay from Krawczyk.
Pic4
Absolutely a 4-star affair. While there are certainly places in the script Krawczyk needed to tighten and get more subtle early on, he still does a fine job executing the subtleties he does include. With Rollins giving an awesome, moody, cold (in the right way) performance as the main character Jack, there’s a lot of weight held up. Anybody else might not have been capable of making him into the right sort of immortal entity required. But Rollins plays the man fed up with eternal life almost to perfection. Alongside that we’ve got some blood, a bit of action, all that dark comedy and the familial drama and the other interesting not usually covered aspects of immortality. So there is a lot to enjoy. Give this little flick a watch and find out what’s so intriguing about Jack and his inability to just lay down and die.

Deadpool is a Superhero Gone Superbad

Deadpool. 2016. Directed by Tim Miller. Screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Karan Soni, Ed Skrein, Michael Benyaer, Stefan Kapici, Brianna Hildebrand, Style Dayne, Kyle Cassie, Taylor Hickson, T.J. Miller, Morena Baccarin, & Gina Carano. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Marvel Entertainment/Kingberg Genre/Donners’ Company/TSG Entertainment.
Rated R. 108 minutes.
Action/Adventure/Comedy

★★★★1/2
teaser-one-sheet
The only thing I’ve ever enjoyed that I know director Tim Miller was involved in is the way underrated 1995 Hideaway. Surprisingly, Deadpool is Miller’s first feature film. Not saying they shouldn’t have done it, but it blows me away they gave him the reins to this adaptation. The bet pays off. While this isn’t nearly what I’d call a revelation, as some people out there would have it be seen.
That being said, Deadpool is absolutely a solid, fun bit of cinema. A superhero movie technically, in category, there’s a bit more to it. The humour is better, obviously more nasty and foulmouthed than others. The action is wild, and at times a bit gruesome in an awesome comic book way. There’s a more interesting structure of storytelling that puts it above the other comic adaptations in Hollywood. Using the Rated R stamp, Miller, with a playfully devious screenplay from writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, crafts one of the best superhero movies to date. I’m not a hardcore comic fan, not for a long time. But the Deadpool comics were some I read, as well as X-Men, Batman, and others. I feel like this adaptation was made not simply for nerds, but with the readers of the comics in mind – and taking into consideration they’re now adults. So away with the campy, light visions of superheroes and the villains they confront. This carves out its own niche.
Pic1
For those who don’t know, Deadpool was Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) once upon a time. He had a nice life brewing with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Then, he became riddled with cancer.
Conveniently enough, later he gets recruited to have some experiments done on him. The villainous Ajax – a.k.a Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein) – does it, destroys his face, makes him hideous.
Left on his own, Wade takes up the moniker Deadpool. He hunts down Ajax to try and take revenge for what’s happened to him. What ensues is darkly comedic, foolishness, nasty, and violent, as Deadpool slices, dices, joking his way from start to finish.
Pic5
I have to say, above all else Deadpool is subversive. From the very beginning, even the credits are lampooning the seriousness of comic book superhero movies already out there – “Written by the real heroes here” is an awesome touch. But immediately this obviously sets itself apart from the regular pack of Marvel films thus far. The metafiction elements of the Deadpool comics come out quickly. Some of them are misses. One of the early Wolverine/Hugh Jackman references made me laugh out loud. A few of the lines were just crude and not actually funny. A lot of them were pop culture references and gags that definitely worked, and they were in the spirit of today – instead of sticking with references from the period of the comics themselves. The best is that Deadpool skewers the Marvel movies themselves even, or just poking fun at little bits and pieces. My favourite of those is when Colossus says he’ll take Deadpool to see the Professor, to which Deadpool responds: “Which oneMcAvoy or Stewart? These timelines are so confusing.”
The pacing of the film is proper, as we’re almost introduced to the schizophrenia of Deadpool through how many jokes and foolishness are packed tight into the dialogue. I mean, Deadpool is a mile a minute, like the comics. And that’s due to the writing. How we’re introduced quickly to Wade as Deadpool then work back through his story, it’s more interesting than the way we’ve seen the stories of other superheroes in other films. Because the story of Wilson up until he becomes Deadpool is, if we’re being realistic, sort of cliche in terms of comic book characters – we recognize it especially because the whole thing rings bells re: Wolverine, just a different treatment (plus the comics had Wolverine’s blood used in the experiment on Wade, so, yeah). But that’s not a bad thing. Because it’s only that one component, then everything else becomes a subversive, edgy take on superheroes. As well as just downright balls-to-the-wall fun in a Rated R romp. Not that it makes any grand statements. Only that the writing is significantly different, and that’s refreshing. We even get Deadpool commenting on the genre within his dialogue, breaking the Fourth Wall as we go along. Then there are just completely hilarious, laugh out loud lines, such as when Deadpool calls Professor X a “Heavens Gate looking motherfucker” and many more.
Pic2
Wade: “Fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break. Thats likesixteen walls.”DEADPOOL
I firmly believe nobody else in Hollywood could’ve played Deadpool. The character is too goofy, too fun, all while being annoying and charming wrapped into one. Ryan Reynolds was almost born to play this one role. He has the physicality, obviously, needed to play a superhero character. And no matter how funny I find Hugh Jackman can be, and James McAvoy too in a sly sense, the material of Deadpool is what allows Reynolds to knock it out of the park. His portrayal and the adaptation of his character to film are equal parts what make this so worthwhile. There are a few misses along the way in the writing, ones even Reynolds can’t save. In the end, though, the energy of his performance is undeniably infectious.
Over everything else, the screenplay for this film is what makes it so spectacular. While keeping certain elements of the superhero movie genre, Deadpool totally subverts it at the same time, making fun while being a part of the gang. It’s the oddball out at the party, just like its titular character. And that’s what makes it wonderful. Because the filmmakers simply go for broke.