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.

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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.

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE & Justice in the Real World

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Directed & Written by Macon Blair.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, & Robert Longstreet.
Film Science/XYZ Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
img_0007Ever since seeing him in the fantastic indie Murder Party, Macon Blair draws me to his work. Just a couple years ago Jeremy Saulnier went ahead and gave him the spotlight in the story of amateur but passionate revenge, Blue Ruin, and last year Blair also turned up as a neo-Nazi with a heart still beating somewhere deep down in the immensely impressive Green Room.
A year after, Blair comes to us via Netflix with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, starring Melanie Lynskey (who along with her role in “The Birthday Party” from anthology horror movie XX is experiencing a big surge in her great career) and Elijah Wood. Channelling energy no doubt gleaned from his time working in front of the camera for Saulnier, Blair writes and directs like he’s been doing it for ages. The pacing, the directing, his tense, darkly comic, and at many times his cathartic script all make for an inventive debut feature. Even better, the timing of this film is on the nose; when North America’s been gripped by a steady stream of hate billowing out of the aftermath from the 2016 U.S. elections. I don’t think Blair anticipated such relevance, and wanted to just make a solid crime-thriller. Despite authorial intent, his work feels perfectly at home in this world heading on from 2017, surely expressing the feelings of many Americans in the story’s reluctant yet driven to the brink protagonist.
img_0008Everyone is an asshole. And dildos.”
The opening moments are awesomely comic and dark, as well. From an old lady’s vulgar last words to an awkward parking lot encounter, a look of existential frustration on the face of our protagonist Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) as oblivious shoppers cut in front of her in the cashier line or don’t bother picking up items they knock off shelves, to dog shit left on her lawn and a random man in a bar ruining the latest book in a series she’s reading – Ruth’s introduction to the viewer is a concise explanation of the film’s title. Watching her life in these short, informative bursts during the opener is a proper visual thesis.
Blair’s story is at once familiar and totally unique in its own skin, as we see the age old tale of person pushed to the limits of what their humanity and pride can tolerate. Ruth refuses victimhood any longer. After suffering the myriad of small injustices offered by the world on a daily basis, she snaps when a truly shitty act of criminality forces her past the point of silence, towards reclaiming her life via vengeance. Only, as in real life, the film shows us how even well-intentioned revenge doesn’t always go as planned. Perhaps the greatest aspect of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is its dedication to reality, in that it refuses to deny the messiness of being human.
img_0009Ruth: “What are we doinghere, this world?”
Tony: “Trying to be good. Or be better.”
A large focus of the plot becomes the idea that, in today’s society (and for a long time), the focus lies more on what a victim must do to prevent being victimised, rather than preventing and punishing criminals properly. We see this particularly in the case of rape victims, which contemporary internet culture and social media has made even worse, as women who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped often hear what THEY should have done instead of society working on the men who commit such atrocities.
For instance, the police officer assigned to Ruth’s case all but refuses to take her seriously. All because she left her door open. This is just about the epitome of the idea that victims are treated like they’ve done something wrong. The cop keeps bringing up the fact she left the door open, so it negates her troubles; there are better things to do for cops than worrying about people who are asking for it. And that’s the bottom line, that the police, sometimes, would rather blame someone for what they did to supposedly bring on the crime than do work to find the criminals responsible. Because sure, she left the door open, that’s still not an invitation to be robbed – robbery is still illegal – exactly how a woman getting too drunk or wearing sexy clothes is NOT an invitation to assault or rape or anything else. Not sure if this is what Blair was getting at. Regardless, he gets to the heart of the issue with Ruth’s journey towards civilising her small pocket of the world. And further than that, how the police won’t help and make it harder for her to find justice, we see how many people in this crazy world are pushed to take matters into their own hands and find vigilante justice.
img_0010There’s so much, too much, to love. A scene involving an old man pawnbroker morphs from a hilariously sneaky scene into something more surreal, slightly horrifying, though entirely funny in a grim sense. Then there’s one bloody, climactic moment of pure violent madness before the last few scenes that works wonders. Continually, from plot events to bloody violence, the film sticks to the idea of real life. Events occur as in real life: spontaneous, weird, ugly, brutal. The plot heads in unexpected, dangerous directions, as Ruth winds up from where she’d ever anticipated at the beginning, reflected in the blood and cracked windpipes and stabbed stomachs Blair offers up on screen.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has everything I expected. One of the most fun, and equally wild, film experiences I’ve had over the past year, definitely a contender for the films I love most at the end of 2017. Lynskey is pitch perfect in the lead, both innocent and strong in her own right, flanked by Elijah Wood in a role he owns; the others in the cast fill it out with class.
Blair does more than I could’ve imagined. I knew his debut would go over well because he’s got an old school sensibility about him as an actor; this translates to his directing with force. Every move of the story feels expertly paced, each scene directed and shot with precision. A crime-thriller that resonates with the modern state of America. Plus, yet another huge reason why Netflix deserves credit for letting directors – from TV shows to fictional and documentary features – take the reins of their vision and steer it how they see fit.

DAHMER: The Eerie Psychological Biopic

Dahmer. 2002. Directed & Written by David Jacobson.
Starring Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Great, Matt Newton, Dion Basco, Kate Williamson, Sean Blakemore, Christina Payano, Tom’ya Bowden, & Mickey Swenson.
Blockbuster FIlms/DEJ Productions/Peninsula Films.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Biography/Crime/Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-7-50-50-pmI’ve long been interested in the criminal psychology of serial killers. In no way am I ‘fans’ of them, as certain sick puppies out there describe their interest. What’s so compelling is trying to figure out how the human mind could possibly warp so savagely, twisting into the wretched form we find in serial and spree killers, vicious murderers, criminal sociopaths, so on.
Jeffrey Dahmer is someone I studied in high school, as well as university. I wrote a long paper on him for a Law course, which brought me into the hideous world of his crimes. He is one of the most reprehensible of all American killers; that’s saying something, too. A lethal concoction of alienation, an inability to accept his own homosexuality as normal, and a deep, sick desire to find a willingly compliant sexual partner led Dahmer into the darkest path possible.
Director-writer David Jacobson’s Dahmer is far more powerful than most give it credit for, and if this was your first time seeing Jeremy Renner – as it was for me – the quiet intensity of his performance is a massive part of that power. The film takes us headlong into obsession, cannibalism, on a journey through Dahmer’s memories of a dangerously wasted existence.


Starting out we get a brief view of Jeffrey Dahmer (Renner) working at the Milwaukee Ambrosia Chocolate factory, where he was employed in January of ’85. It isn’t simply the job that makes this starting point interesting. A few minutes into the film Jeffrey sits in the break room. He has three chocolate men (Santa maybe) in front of him on the table, as he starts in on chowing down on a sandwich; saving the chocolate fellas for a succulent dessert. An uncomfortably scary moment. A bloody, chocolatey metaphor for his crimes, like we’re about to see a horrific Willy Wonka prequel. Perhaps the best way to start out the events of Dahmer’s life.
What’s scariest to me about the screenplay is how well it makes Jeffrey appear outwardly normal – quirky, odd, though normal. And the disarming looks of Renner, his charm, they him all the more worrying; his seemingly normal qualities to the outside world are what many peopled noted about him later in real life. Before the first 15 minutes are out, the viewer’s been immersed in the criminal life Dahmer crumbles into, already too familiar with his nasty routines. The first turning point is when Jeffrey eyes a department store mannequin, long before those who don’t know his real story discover his affinity for mannequins – and why – further leading into his ultimate fantasy of an unmoving, quiet sex partner, or a sex zombie, as Dahmer himself believed.
screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-7-53-58-pmI love that Bruce Davison plays Lionel, Jeffrey’s father. He and Renner have wonderful chemistry. Their scenes together ratchet up the suspense because there’s this wait, a hope that maybe Lionel will discover these atrocities. Yet, as we know by the real story, this will never come. For instance, the box scene where father and son, alongside grandma, argue over a little box the former kept as a boy – clearly, Jeffrey has something inside he doesn’t want his father, or anybody, to see. There’s so much tension here, a lot of emotional acting from both men. A real heavy dose of personal drama, likely akin to what Lionel truly experienced with his son. It’s the revelation of what’s actually in the box afterwards which truly shocks, disgusts, and the tip of that Dahmer iceberg suddenly grows into a mountain.
However, the gay bar scenes are the most unsettling. This is one of the really psychological scenes, as Jeffrey seemingly steps outside of himself. He sees the image of himself, a bit younger and nerdier, standing alone across the street. He then heads inside the gay bar. While this is an exploration of Jeffrey’s sexuality, worse than this it is his discovery of the perfect hunting grounds. Jacobson directs this to perfection, as the alienation of Dahmer becomes painfully clear. The social awkwardness of Jeffrey is evident, and then his menace reveals itself after he starts initiating non-consensual encounters with gay men he drugs. Moreover, Jeffrey longed for a willing sexual partner, one that goes beyond consent: he wanted a lifeless man, to use, to not be judged by, and to degrade at his own will. The sexual violence here is sickening, although there’s a slight bit of restraint. During this sequence, Andrea True Connection’s “More More More” playing over top, the editing and the lighting, everything is so eerie. We watch as Jeffrey finally transforms from that awkward, shy, closeted gay man into an unfeeling, drunk, hideous monster right before our eyes. Later, the monstrous qualities of Dahmer come through even better – the lighting in his apartment, his bedroom and bathroom specifically, are tinted red, like a men’s room in Hell’s basement. And while the movie wears on, the lighting gets darker, as we get a further grip on this man’s evil.


What I love most is the screenplay. Jacobson gives us a full look at Dahmer’s life in the way that we follow the killer through his mind. Flashing from past to present, back, forth, is not only a narrative choice. Jacobson gets the viewer into the headspace of Dahmer. The past events of his life obviously affected his psyche deeply, and so we slip in and out of memories – mostly bad to rotten – in order to make the film feel like an experience of Jeffrey’s life through his thought process. Notice the significance of the events which bring him back to specific stories. Through this, we see the uncomfortable pain that at least partly dragged Jeffrey into a life of depraved murder.
Dahmer is a hugely underrated bit of horror. The entire film as a whole is upsetting because you’re forced to both watch Dahmer commit horrible crimes and simultaneously peer through the window of a despicable man’s undoubted, deep sadness. You’re never asked to like him, but the narrative makes us have to watch his story from a certain standpoint. A great move from director-writer Jacobson.
There’s a lot to enjoy about such a macabre horror, from cinematography to the music (which really helps the atmosphere; the score and soundtrack alike work well in combination). It’s the imagery I find most striking. So I leave you with this: watching his first murder, Jeffrey becomes a tragic sort of figure (even if he was an inexcusable cyst on the human race), and skipping to the present timeline of the film after witnessing that event we then see him cut a dead man open, reach inside, all to literally try touching someone’s heart. Maybe not a pretty image. A deafening image in its own right.

EXHIBIT A Offers Emotionally Superior Found Footage in a Sea of Mediocrity

Exhibit A. 2007. Directed by Dom Rotheroe. Screenplay by Rotheroe & Darren Bender.
Starring Bradley Cole, Brittany Ashworth, Angela Forrest, Oliver Lee, Jason Allen, Charles Davies, Emily Button, & Belinda Lazenby.
Warp Films/Bigger Pictures/Screen East/UK Film Council.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★
posterThe found footage sub-genre is filled with movies which range from awful to great. I’d likely say found footage has a bigger ratio of bad to good than most other sub-genres out there. Depending on the premise, a movie using this style can really grab you. Too many try emulating the most popular offerings, such as Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project (as well as Paranormal Activity in the post-2000 landscape), rather than forge new ground on their own.
Exhibit A is a fascinatingly horrific look at the regular lives of a British family, whose patriarch is hiding a secret; one that proves to be devastating. Like a socioeconomic found footage movie. Instead of looking for ghosts in the woods or having a group of people filming while running away from an unknown force/serial killer/something else, this little flick, with chilling focus, peers into a normal world that may even hit uncomfortably close to home for some viewers.
Because of the plot’s humanity, director Dom Rotheroe (My Brother Tom) is able to tap into an element of us all, touching deeply on fears many feel – of rejection by our own family, of failing those we love; the fear a father may have of not being able to provide properly for his family, as well as what that does to his imagine in the eyes of his wife, his children, his friends. Within the normality of these peoples lives, Exhibit A manages to burrow under the viewer’s skin, scene by scene, until arriving at the shattering and shocking finale.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-43-42-pmOne of the major reasons I love this film is how it really plays up to the sub-genre of found footage. There’s lots of found footage teetering along the edge, playing with the conventions (or merely forgetting them a moment), which still ends up being excellent. What Rotheroe does is keep things consistent, as we view the entire film through the lens of the family’s daughter, Judith King (Brittany Ashworth). In fact, the immediate first scene shows us an official-looking stamp and print from the Yorkshire Police. This lays out the plot as actual evidence from a crime scene at the King family home. There are no opening credits. The title comes directly from the police report as Exhibit A, which is what you’d normally see when a tape is viewed in court. All of this helps work towards a genuine effort of found footage, pulling us into a natural atmosphere, as if it’s all real, actual people, instead of a contrived film’s story. From there, we witness all sorts of moments through Judith’s eyes, or that of the camera’s more specifically. This encompasses her own private moments, such as the burgeoning crisis of her sexual orientation, and then casts an eye on the private moments of Judith’s father Andy (Bradley Cole), as she tapes him secretly when he goes out to the shed by himself, when he’s confronted by an angry man from the office in which he works, and so on. Instead of wondering why the camera is always filming in this slice of found footage, there’s a perfect reason at all times, and as opposed to a lot of found footage already out there this is a welcomed addition to everything else enjoyable.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-44-20-pmThe biggest and most effective portion is how well both Cole and Ashworth play their characters. If it weren’t for the performances this could easily have become a dragging endurance test of boring scenes. The entire cast are fairly believable in their roles, but it’s these two who shine most. Ashworth is great because she has a difficult character to play, a young woman growing up in a family with hidden problems and at the same time trying to figure out herself sexually. The character Judith’s development is expertly presented through the images her camera captures – for instance, she stalks (too harsh a word but the only good description I can think of now) a girl next door by watching her through the video camera, and when confronted with her face to face Judith all but freezes completely. Later, the fact she is likely lesbian becomes a larger, more significant family event, although I’m not going to ruin that for you.
But this leads to Cole’s performance as the King family father, Andy. Truthfully, this may be at the top of the list of great performances in the sub-genre. All too often we’re treated to the same screaming, bickering, shaky cam (et cetera) and the performances are only mediocre (if we’re lucky). Cole transforms into a wildly charming yet secretive family man, his energy with his kids and his wife is evident from the get go. Gradually as the film progresses we start to see behind the mask, and Cole is the gatekeeper to let us in. He starts becoming more and more strange, both to the viewer and his family (especially daughter Judith). When the last 15-20 minutes come around, Andy King turns into a monster of epic proportions. It’s the way in which Cole as an actor draws us towards the semi-delusional state of living that Andy falls into throughout the course of the plot, making you feel for him even if he’s a liar and imagining how tough it must be for him to accept what’s happened in his life. The final moments are nerve wracking, in large part because of Cole’s emotional acting; you still feel for him, but the finale’s events erase any sympathy for his situation, as he brutally wipes out any chance of that.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-47-10-pmCole as Andy King is one of the best performances in any found footage film I’ve seen. His convincing portrayal of a man losing a grip on his family and his entire life, his career, is both sad and incredibly grim. One scene particularly, involving a party in his backyard, pushes you to the limit of being uncomfortable, as he dances around like an idiot, trying his hardest to be NORMAL and yet falling far outside of any pattern of normality. This is the turning point. After this, Exhibit A dives headlong into the morbid thrills of watching a family self-destruct at the hands of dear ole dad.
There are a number of intense scenes, ranging from well-meaning father behaviour to the desperate clinging of a man trying to make sure he never loses his family. So many scenes are perfectly played to make you feel the maximum amount of ruination. Ultimately, the position of trusted parent is at the middle of the violent cyclone and we’re privy to an examination of how Andy violated that position.
Exhibit A is a cracking film, one of the greater efforts in found footage since The Blair Witch Project. The acting, even how it’s shot (most camerawork was literally done by the cast), is near perfect. Ashworth and Cole as the daughter and father respectively are fascinating to watch; they lead us down the garden path into terror. The finale is completely unsettling because of how far we watch Cole’s character fall, comparing the end to the beginning is like watching two entirely different men. I suggest if you’re looking for a found footage movie to wow you, or at the very least step outside of the typical format and plot we see on the regular, this is one you have to check out. But I warn you: the end is disturbing, and those sensitive to family issues might actually find it tough to watch. Yet I urge you, watch. This is a gem if there ever were one.

Quarry – Season 1, Episode 5: “Coffee Blues”

Cinemax’s Quarry
Season 1, Episode 5: “Coffee Blues”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Jennifer Schuur

* For a review of the previous episode, “Seldom Realized” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “His Deeds Were Scattered” – click here
screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-2-07-16-amMac (Logan Marshall-Green) and Joni (Jodi Balfour) are back home after all the madness. They’re a little better for it, too. They’re strong again together. Such a traumatic experience may have, in a roundabout way, done them some good. Horrible to experience, but I’m glad they’re connecting once more after everything they’ve been through to now. Joni admits she wasn’t sure if he’d stick around. He assures his love for her. Aside from all that they have money troubles. She wants him to go to his father. At least that way there’s “one less person” on the list for The Broker (Peter Mullan).
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We see things aren’t going very well for Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her family. Her son and daughter have to eat their cereal with water instead of milk. If that weren’t bad enough, her boy Marcus (Joshua J. Williams) then goes to school and his bus is attacked by white supremacists. A bunch of ordinary white dudes. Scary bastards, frightening helpless kids and a terrified bus driver. One man, Eugene Linwood (Christopher James Baker), makes his way inside the vehicle. He knocks out the driver before spewing a bunch of n-word hate. When a kid speaks up Eugene hauls him outside and beats him with a crowbar in front of everybody. Even some of the men outside protest, those bunch of fucks.
Mac goes to see his father Lloyd (Skipp Sudduth) at one of his house viewings. “Hat in hand,” he asks his father for help. Four grand. Lloyd assumes it’s gambling, drugs, something shady. After a bit of arguing though, he agrees to try and do what he can to help.
Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) stops by Cliff’s place to try rustling up a bit more information with the sister, Sandy (Kaley Ronayne). He tries to figure out if there’s more of a connection between Cliff and Joni. Not much comes out, however, it’s clear he’s not stopping the investigation.
At home, Mac and Joni see a car outside sitting mysteriously quiet. It’s The Broker, certainly. He’s come round to see what Quarry’s been up to, and it looks like they’ve got places to go. Mysterious shit, and that worries Joni. Like it would anyone sensible.

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On the road again – Mac and The Broker are on the road again.
Yet ole Quarry’s got no clue where they’re going, other than by the moment directions from his boss. “Death is just a switch that gets turned off,” The Broker repeats the words of Mac, the night he murdered Cliff. He questions Mac, whether he believes that statement. Is there nothing? Or is there “something else“? Intense conversation for a dude who has people killed for cold, hard cash. When they get where they’re going, it’s a real backwater-type spot with drinks and music and cigars and FUN! So, are they hanging out? I’d bet it’s more than just that.
Joni goes to help Ruth, getting accosted by a few men on the way in; racial tension running high. She understands, only wanting to do what she can for Ruth. Poor Marcus is shaken, depressed. Again, understandable.
In a small backwater casino Mac gets the chance to play a bit of money, work off a bit of debt, and if not Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) takes the hit. Hilarious. They move from roulette to a poker table, where The Broker talks casual smack and plays hard. Everything gets a bit wild after he starts a fight over Mac’s service in Vietnam, prompting Quarry to smash a glass into a dude’s face. I feel like The Broker is a predator. And with Mac left needing somebody to command him, requiring orders after being brainwashed by the army, he’s overly susceptible to getting preyed upon.
At work, Ruth chats with Moses (Mustafa Shakir) about the racist attack on the bus. It’s clear that Moses is keeping an eye on her, trying to find things out. But he’s also a strong, proud, black man. He knows the horror of being black in America, which sort of brings him and Ruth together. Maybe a sympathy that leads to romance? A conflict for Moses and The Broker?

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Out in the dark, The Broker and Mac talk. Seems like Mac has the guy figured out, despite my own thoughts. He knows that it was all a way of bonding “over a common enemy.” I still think the slithering serpent in The Broker’s going to work its way into Mac’s brain. Just the calm before the storm. The wolf playing sheep.
Marcus is absolutely pissed with his mother. He’s pissed with the world. Then on the news we see that Eugene Linwood was arrested. Although “street violence” in the black community looks expected. Why wouldn’t it? Fucking racists beating kids in the street.
Mac and The Broker play some more cards. Except out of nowhere the old bastard disappears. So out wanders Mac, walking aimlessly. He finds his way to a big, old house, looking for a telephone. The place is all wrapped in plastic, nothing working. In another room, Mac hears Asian voices. The Broker is sitting with somebody, listening. An Asian mask appears in the door frame, frightening Mac. Flashbacks. He sees another couple masks, people standing in dark hallways. Quickly he rushes outdoors and away from the place. The Broker finds him when the sun comes up and the head off to get Mac back to his wife.

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The Broker starts asking about Joni, what she believes happened at the motel. Mac explains things, as well as he can to keep the man off their back. Even worse, The Broker puts butter in his coffee. Gross. He’s clearly got problems. A murderous, butter coffee drinking motherfucker.
At the backwater camp, Karl is lurking. The stuff Mac thought was bullshit, the story The Broker told him about the fat man that needed killing – all true. And you can bet that the reptilian side of him is also very real. He’s lying in the grass, hooking Mac, deeper and deeper.
When Mac gets home there’s $100 from Lloyd. Far shot from $4,000.
Joni’s glad to see her man back obviously. When he pours up a coffee, he drops a sliver of butter in: “Tryinsomethin‘,” he tells Joni. A lighthearted ending, but underneath there’s a sinister meaning. That butter in the coffee is just the beginning. Mac’s becoming a bit too accustomed to the world of The Broker. A bit too blind to its unhealthy aspects, just like that butter in the coffee (I don’t care who says it’s healthy that is bullshit). He’s falling into a bad, bad world.


I love this series. Absolutely brilliant! The writing is spectacular and I cannot get enough. Next episode is titled “His Deeds Were Scattered” and I cannot wait to see what’s coming.

Creature Feature-Crime Mix & Match: Larry Cohen’s Q THE WINGED SERPENT

Q The Winged Serpent. 1982. Directed & Written by Larry Cohen.
Starring Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree, James Dixon, Malachy McCourt, & Mary Louise Weller. Arkoff International/Larco Productions.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
Crime/Horror/Mystery

★★★★
posterThey don’t make directors like Larry Cohen anymore. From It’s AliveGold Told Me To, all the way to The Ambulance and his awesome “Pick Me Up” episode from Masters of Horror, his career’s been full of interesting surprises. His mark on the horror genre is indelible. People can remake his movies if they want. No matter how hard anybody tries, the Cohenesque qualities of his work won’t ever turn up like they do in the originals.
Q The Winged Serpent is a movie I’d heard about long, long ago. I was never too intent on seeing it, noticing the cover many times at the old video store in my neighbourhood and passing it off as something cheesy and foolish. There are absolutely a couple schlocky moments, most involving the creature itself. But what Cohen lacks in budget, he makes up for in writing, character, dialogue, and overall execution. Some of my favourite horror is the kind that dips in and out of other genres on its way. Cohen expertly writes such a plot in Q, using a pulpy noir-ish plotline to masquerade in front of the titular dragon-like monster, creating an impressive mix of crime and horror. All wrapped in a blanket of strange mystery.
pic3I have to say, this is one of my favourite of Cohen’s scripts. Generally he’s an interesting writer because of the different ways he opts to take his plots, as opposed to the typical Hollywood formula people love to complain about. Sometimes he had to suffer a smaller budget than he may have wanted, that’s why he’s always been a more independent spirit in horror filmmaking. But I’d rather take something that looks a little aged if we’re going to get an interesting story with rich characters, rather than amazing effects for a pile of shit warmed over. Cohen uses the characters so well in Q. First off, David Carradine and Richard Roundtree have great chemistry together as Shepard and Powell respectively. I always love Carradine. He gets to do good work, but it’s Michael Moriarty I’m especially focused on. As are most who see and enjoy the film. He’s natural, quirky, like he actually IS Jimmy Quinn. What I’d call a casual performance. Not in any bad way, he makes the acting look easy, the way it ought to look. Quinn’s not your average criminal: doesn’t like to go inside places for robbery jobs, plays piano and sings, never carries a gun. Moriarty makes this into a genuinely fun role, his charm always near. The plot’s a big part of this due to how Cohen puts Jimmy Quinn right in the centre of everything, halving the plot between a noir-type story of a lucky (yet strikingly unlucky) criminal who takes advantage of a wild situation, and the other half a monster movie.
pic1Shepard: “Sounded okay to me
Quinn: “Yeah, what the fuck do you know?”
Shepard: “Yeah, what do I know?”

Everything about Cohen’s writing is thrilling in Q. The way ole Quetzalcoatl emerges to the city, disproving those who believed it a myth, is awesome fun. In the beginning there’s a scene I love when the flying serpent snatches up a sunbathing, naked woman, and it rains blood down on the streets. Random pedestrians walking the streets get hit by errant drops of blood. Later, gory bits of limbs, feet bitten off, land amongst the busy hordes of Manhattan citizens, unsuspecting of a dragon above eating others; the panic slowly erupts after people notice a foot suddenly.
There’s something hilariously genius about Cohen placing the nest in the Chrysler Building. I don’t know why it’s funny, it just is, okay?
The screenplay makes the unrealistic real. During the serpent’s journey soaring above Manhattan, eating people, Moriarty, Carradine, Roundtree and the rest make the characters interesting enough that everything happening around them has an incidental quality of feeling real, too. Honestly, Cohen’s abilities as a writer are hugely undervalued. When you look at this screenplay there’s a well balanced mix of the crime, where his characters develop, and the horror, where that nasty monster Q gets to lunch on human sacrifices. Best of all? The parallels between Quinn’s human sacrifice in order to save himself and that of the Aztecs to please their god Quetzalcoatl. Never thought of it much before, but this latest time watching I couldn’t help thinking of how needless both are, yet there’s this weird dichotomy of modern and ancient instances of sacrifice. Another neat aspect to the writing.
pic1When you think about a few of the Q scenes, actually seeing the dragon being less than stellar during those moments, also remind yourself Cohen made this for barely over $1-million. More than that he came up with the script in less than a week, completing pre-production in that span of time; he’d been fired from another production and didn’t want to waste the hotel room he’d paid for already. That’s the ingenuity of a guy like Cohen. His filmmaking sensibilities were such that he took any opportunity possible to create one of his artistic visions. Not just that, I can guarantee part of what Cohen wanted to do was also recreate some of the movies he saw as a child, the movies which influenced him and his unique style.
Q The Winged Serpent is a fantastic independent film that exceeds expectations. In one smooth package Cohen fits a few excellent characters, including their exciting subplots, a throwback to creature features from the early days of cinema, and a dose of ancient terror with the blood to boot. I can never get enough of this one. Although it’s absolutely a nice treat for the Halloween season. Maybe a double feature – Q and Wolfen, two atypical monster movies with a brain. Regardless of how you watch it, just make sure you do. Cohen deserves more of our praise, as genre fans. He is a king.

1987’s THE STEPFATHER: Start Worrying More About Who Mom Dates

The Stepfather. 1987. Directed by Joseph Ruben. Screenplay by Donald E. Westlake.
Starring Jill Schoelen, Terry O’Quinn, Shelley Mack, Charles Lanyer, Stephen Shellen, Stephen E. Miller, Robyn Stevan, & Jeff Schultz.
Incorporated Television Company.
Rated. R. 89 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterDirector Joseph Ruben did the cult flick Dreamscape, going on later to direct Sleeping with the Enemy and an underrated creepy kid horror starring Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood, The Good Son. But in between he did his most chilling bit of work: 1987’s The Stepfather.
Many people now know Terry O’Quinn as the philosophically named Lost character John Locke; a role he owned. For me, the fascination with his work started at this film. His performance as bad stepdad Jerry Blake is like the ultimate epitome of your worst nightmare. He’s the worst possible dude your mom could bring home after she gets back on the dating scene. And with a few flaws, the movie gets its boost from O’Quinn going wide off the rails in the best kind of way.
The Stepfather does its brief flashes of horror right, always staying psychological and occasionally venturing into the visceral. Using O’Quinn and his manic abilities, along with Jill Schoelen (later starred in the surprisingly great 1993 sequel to When A Stranger Calls) whose performance as the stepdaughter is equally as powerful, Ruben crafts one of the scarier movies of the late ’80s. You’ll see this on a few lists here and there, although overall people don’t give it the credit deserved.
pic1-1Who am I here?”
We open on a sinister scene, immediately preying on the concept of the family unit. O’Quinn’s calm, blood-covered face quickly demolishes the sanctity of the family and the home, as we’re introduced to his suburban killer chameleon act. In between him washing up and leaving is a deliberate, measured shot of the family photos along the stairway wall. Right there amidst the chaos. On his way out, the carnage, blood, the terror are all shocking, including a dead little child right by the door – almost near enough to have gotten away. Truly one of the most unhinged openers to a horror I’ve ever seen.
Part of the great writing is that, with this vicious scene to start the film there’s an elimination of all clueless-ness: we know the killer, we’ve seen what he does and now we know where he’s headed. All this is telegraphed. So what I dig about the screenplay most is that the writing then has to create all the suspense and every bit of tension with Jerry Blake moving on to another family. That suspense comes from waiting it out – when will Jerry snap? Will he? You know he will, and that’s why it’s so delightfully awful.
And why’s the writing good? Donald E. Westlake, that’s why! He’s a classic writer that not enough people talk about. Having written iconic novels such as The Hunter which was adapted into the ’67 Point Blank with Lee Marvin, and The Jugger, a novel Jean-Luc Godard ripped off loosely (and shamelessly until sued) with Made in U.S.A. Westlake really attacks the American Dream of a happy little family by showing how the search for just that can drive some to terrible things, way past insanity. The original screenplay had flashbacks explaining the homicidal tendencies of Jerry, though I’m glad these were removed. Not enough room for that, and it spoils the intrigue of Jerry’s craziness. Without explanation he’s left as a monstrous psychopath, whose madness remains well concealed for so long until it can no longer keep hidden. Makes for a much scarier character.
Westlake loosely based Jerry Blake on real life multiple murderer John List – he killed his mother, along with his wife and three children, before disappearing. He was a fugitive nearly two decades, assuming a whole other identity and life, even remarrying. The writing brings this real life character into fiction, but does not make him cartoonish or inflate him too much. Between the writing and acting, Jerry is all too real.
pic2The whole film plays on a fear of not only someone replacing the father, it also takes everything up a notch by making the man replacing Stephanie’s (Schoelen) father an actual threat; a maniacal and relentless serial killer moving from one family to the next. A lot of young people hate their stepparents simply for the fact they’re not a real parent. But Westlake’s script makes Jerry the true terror of a teenager not wanting their mom to date again. Jerry represents the idea of starting over and beginning a new life after losing a family. Except Jerry brings on the necessity of having to start over by murdering those he pretends to love once the family disintegrates. It’s like a reversal of the evil stepmother trope too often employed in movies across all genres. Except Jerry is the evil stepfather, holding an entirely different motive than the archetypal bad stepmom – he is the man who wants a loving, perfect family so bad that he’ll kill for it. He shapeshifts from one family to another to accomplish this goal. As Jerry says himself: “The only reality is this moment.”
A perfect moment works for this concept: Jerry and the family put up a bird house, a picturesque little home like that of the American Dream. Up high on a pole, this is a symbol of Jerry’s inability to ever reach that perfect American Dream. It will always remain slightly out of his reach. The entire movie is one big allegory about suburban America, how it’s saccharine sweet and lovable on the outside, even with turmoil underneath boiling, and at the core many times it’s hideous and putrid.
There aren’t many instances of violence. However, the ones we get are downright brutal. For instance, Stephanie’s doctor is dispatched with absolute barbarity when Jerry beats him to death with a two-by-four piece of lumber; apparently audiences in ’87 felt this was almost too much, giving many nightmares. The psychological horror is never far from reach, like the scene where Stephanie witnesses Jerry, taking a break from their backyard BBQ, have a meltdown in private. This moment is just crazily unsettling, every time. The intense finale is suspenseful and excitingly paced, a nice horror-thriller finish. Some shots of Jerry stalking Stephanie through the halls of the house are reminiscent of Jack Torrance as he shambles slowly towards his son in that snowy hedge maze.
pic3The whole movie has great camerawork, from the opening scene giving us gradual peeks at the horror of Jerry’s M.O. to the finale with its fast and thrilling feel. One big complaint: the score. It is a terrible instance of ’80s music. Never fun, like other movies from the era with similar music. A couple brief moments work fine; those are few and far between.
Overall, this is a classic horror. The Stepfather touches a sensitive nerve, particularly in America where the focus on family in entertainment, whether in film or on television, has been strong since the invention of the moving picture. Jerry’s violation of the sacred familial unit, purposefully, is terrifying to anybody. Like putting the archetypal stepfather up there with the shark from Jaws, making him a symbol of dread which strikes at the heart of family values.
Don’t miss this one. Never underestimate Terry O’Quinn and his capability to creep people out. He is a great actor, his presence here lifts the material up. Regardless, it works and is a favourite of mine from the 1980s.

Quarry – Season 1, Episode 4: “Seldom Realized”

Cinemax’s Quarry
Season 1, Episode 4: “Seldom Realized
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy

* For a review of the previous episode, “A Mouthful of Splinters” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Coffee Blues” – click here
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On the dirty floor of a bathroom, Suggs (Kurt Yaeger) strips off his clothes, covered partly in leeches hanging off his wounds. He manages to cut them free with his buck knife before having a little laugh. Like you would.
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Poor Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) is worried about the whole situation, after Joni (Jodi Balfour) spent time under the thumb of Suggs, who’s loose out there. Mac tells Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) over the phone that things need to get sorted, so he can go home. I love this part because we see Mac hiding out in a little motel, one with a dirty, closed pool. Yet he has a swim anyway; it’s in his bones, swimming. I wonder if we’ll see more on that because it’s obviously a big part of his life.
For now he tries to keep under the radar. To keep his wife safe, no matter their differences. A knock soon comes at their motel door. Joni readies a gun, just in case. Looks like it’s only housekeeping. Who can blame her? She was abducted, terrible things nearly happened to her. Things aren’t easy between the married couple, though. She cheated on him a bunch as he served in Vietnam; he returned the favour after getting home and discovering this fact. Mac’s involved with the Broker (Peter Mullan), doing bad things that got his buddy Arthur shot, stuff that Joni has no idea about. So the secrets between these two are thick enough to choke a horse. Plus, who knows what else Suggs will get up to now.
Speaking of the one-legged bastard, he’s made himself at home – in Mac and Joni’s house. He takes a shower, looks around. This is going to get ugly. Interestingly, Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) and his partner Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) happen by the place. Tommy wants to talk with Joni, although after a couple knocks they get pulled away on a call. Fate almost pulled a good one.

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Life at the motel moves slowly. Mac talks about back in the day, Joni looks disillusioned with everything. They end up arguing a bit about starting a family. “Like you woulda made such a great fuckinmother, huh?” Mac spits at her before walking away. He winds up helping the motel owner, Harlowe (Bill Irwin), to try getting the pool back in working shape. At the same time a man in a nice car shows up, spooking Mac. Meanwhile, Suggs is posing as a Memphis detective looking for Joni at the newspaper where she works.
In the background at the motel, Olympic coverage plays. A swimmer named Spitz competes heartily. At the same time Mac hallucinates, seeing that Asian mask draped over the television; cutting to a vision of him in combat boots, falling in the water and reaching for the same Asian mask floating nearby. Then Joni gets back with beer, acting very unfair towards Mac by bringing up his military service. Seems that nowadays he has nobody on his side, not even her like it was first when he got home: “I needed you,” she tells him when he tells her that his men needed him (re: his 2nd tour of duty). There’s an in-depth look at how combat changes people. Particularly vicious combat, as it was during the war in Vietnam. He tries to explain it to her, about how swimming in a pool at home wasn’t comfortable for him while his “brothers” were over there, getting killed and brutalised. He also wanted to do something to make her proud.
Well, on her way for ice Joni bumps into the man in the nice car, the one who showed up the last time we saw the motel manager. He starts asking Joni questions, about where she and Mac are headed. Hmm. Back at the room – after getting a joint from a lady named Shaynie (Ariadne Joseph) – Joni gets high and relaxes a bit, remembering better days (“Mac nJoni nCheese“), before her husband cleans the wound on her back and patches it up again. They come together a bit, but Mac can’t face their harsher realities just yet. He heads to hang out with Harlowe again for a while.
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Suggs has a kid named Billy (Joshua Mikel) tracking down numbers for him; he’s trying to figure out where Joni called in sick from to keep tracking her. Tricky, tricky. And he’s cold blooded, too. Instead of paying his pal, he shoots him right between the eyes – there’s your service charge, ya bastard!
At the motel, Mac watches live on television as word from the Munich Olympics in ’72 comes on about the massacre perpetrated by Black September. Mac’s so desensitised he barely takes time to contemplate the implications of what’s happening. But he does have other things to worry about, such as: who’s driving that fancy car? He pokes around a bit before the guy notices. He asks Harlowe a bit about him, though nothing big comes of that. Then while the motel manager is running around doing a few things, unbeknown to him Suggs calls and finds out the location of Mac and Joni. They’re caught up arguing in the room. Gets fairly rough. “You have no fuckinidea about over there, you understand me? You have not a fucking clue,” Mac screams at her after she accuses him of banging Vietnamese prostitutes. Afterwards, she drops a bit of nastiness about him being “too busy killing women and children” to do anything else over there. His paranoia boils over when he runs to the fancy car man’s room and nearly tears the place apart, believing it’s somebody in cahoots with Suggs. What a doozy of a scene.
Finally ready to talk, Mac asks about Joni and Cliff. Simultaneously we see Suggs pulling up outside the motel. Just as Joni asks her husband about whether he killed Cliff, a knock at the door – it’s Suggs, who kills Harlowe before pistol whipping Mac brutally. An amazing, quick gunfight breaks out when Joni fires a bullet into Suggs’ face, skimming him. Then the woman Mac kept seeing around the motel steps in, putting another couple right in the bad dude to put him down; a headshot to be sure. Turns out the Broker’s had her sitting on the place. A great, unsuspecting choice. Love it. She tells the married couple to flee, and flee they do indeed.

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Back safely in their house Mac explains his relationship with the Broker, how Arthur got into business with him awfully fast. So, above all else, the truth comes out between he and Joni. I mean every last little morsel of honesty. He confesses to the murder of Cliff, her former lover. I wonder how this will ultimately affect their relationship going forward? Joni doesn’t appear overly surprised, though that doesn’t mean she’s happy, either. “How did this become our life?” she asks, exhausted by it all. Mac can only try and apologise, for everything. He’s a gentleman about it all. Offering to leave if she wants, explaining he’ll understand if she calls the police. But really, he wants them to move on. To live life and rekindle their love. Can they ever actually do that?
One thing’s for sure – for all that’s happened, Joni loves Mac. Let’s hope they can make it after all. Because you know there is a lot more struggle to come.
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Another spectacular episode. One of my favourites out of the quartet so far.
Next up is “Horla” and I’m excited to see more of the Broker, Buddy, Karl, and the crew.

Quarry – Season 1, Episode 3: “A Mouthful of Splinters”

Cinemax’s Quarry
Season 1, Episode 3: “A Mouthful of Splinters”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy

* For a review of the previous episode, “Figure Four” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Seldom Realized” – click here
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A man shows up at Joni’s (Jodi Balfour) door in the middle of the night, looking for Mac (Logan Marshall-Green). He says he served with him and Arthur over in the Vietnam War. He seems fairly genuine, at face value. But there’s something not quite right. He’s been following Mac, casing the place. Still, Joni doesn’t know that. And she lets him inside. It’s Suggs (Kurt Yaeger), the one from the night Arthur died.
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Off doing his thing since discovering his wife’s betrayal, Mac has no idea about what’s going on at home. He’s all twisted up. At least he’s not putting a gun to his lips, as too many Vietnam War veterans did after coming home, as many veterans still do today, sadly. For now he has a beer, a couple Little Debbies. Just to try and feel normal for a while. Arriving home he discovers the place deserted. On the bed are the tapes he and Joni sent one another.
But in the bathroom is scrawled a terrifying message: I HAVE YOUR WIFE. Mac gets a call from Suggs. He wants explanations. More than that he wants money; a cold $20k. “A nice figure,” as he puts it. Like poor Mac isn’t already on the hook for close to $30K with the Broker (Peter Mullan).
The wonderful Ann Dowd plays Naomi, mama to Buddy (Damon Herriman). A good woman, taking care of her boy’s stitches. She’s a plain speaking type of lady. I dig it. They’re hilarious together. “Oh honey, our people dont die of gunshot wounds. Our people die of alcoholism and heart disease,” Naomi explains to her son. Not only does she stitch him up, she fixes a nice meal to go with his painkillers. Bless her heart.
As if Dowd wasn’t enough, fucking Tom Noonan graces us with his presence, playing Oldcastle, a dude with one righteous beard going on. By the looks of it, he keeps book of some sort, as well as does a few other things like take calls for the Broker. In fact, he gets such a call from Mac. This connects the chain to Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) in a nice blues club, where the Broker’s hanging with some ladies and jamming to the music. But he’s got to step off, there’s a “man in need.”
So Mac is understandably frantic. He wants to find his wife, although the Broker isn’t exactly helpful making Mac essentially beg for it. That’s how he does it, he sucks people in.
Over at the police station, Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) meets Sandy Williams (Kaley Ronayne). Their deceased lover, Cliff Williams, brother to Sandy, was high when he’d been working on the car, Olsen’s partner Dt. Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) thinks they ought to leave the whole thing alone now. No big deal. Good for Mac. Not so good for actual justice, I guess. Olsen seems like a straight arrow, he doesn’t want to let it go so easily. He actually calls Mac asking if he can come in to talk about Arthur’s murder. This sets him off trying to wipe down the creepy message in his bathroom.

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Tucked away somewhere, Suggs has Joni tied against the wall to a bed frame. He rages a bit before apologising: “I get low blood sugar, I get irritable.” Moreover, he tells Joni about her husband cheating. On and on he goes, telling her more about his missing legs (diabetes) and the night Arthur got killed. As well as the fact Mac killed a man, stuffing a sock down his throat until he choked to death. “You dont know shit about shit,” Suggs taunts with menacing carelessness.
Recovering from his little ruckus, Buddy laughs it up and drinks with Mama Naomi, whose humour just does not stop. They have a great time together. You can tell there’s some deep sadness in Buddy, though. He doesn’t like the work he’s into, not sure if he can do it anymore. I wonder does Naomi know the extent of his work? “I just feel like the inside of me is worn away,” Buddy says.
Suggs calls Mac asking for the money, threatening sexual violence against Joni. They set a meet for 11 PM.
The Broker meets with Moses (Mustafa Shakir) on a rooftop in the city. They chat about Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird), whom Moses had been checking out recently. Trying to find out what Arthur did with his money. It’s clear Ruth doesn’t have it, by the looks of things. This leads to Moses needing to “keep an eye on” Mac in the foreseeable future. The Broker has a relationship previous to all this with Moses; sounds like there was trouble at one time, to some degree, and Moses fucked up. He’s working his way back into the man’s good graces.
Well, at least Mac gets $20K to retrieve his wife. Karl helps out with that, or helps by bringing the money. He doesn’t help with the way he talks and Mac isn’t pleased with his nonchalant bullshit. Regardless, the plan’s going ahead. All depends now on whether Suggs lives through the whole experience, or if Karl will end up killing him. No matter what he does now, Mac is linked to murder for a long while in an escalating number of ways.
Joni makes a go of it and tries getting the upper hand on Suggs. Resulting in a nasty little fight between the two. She manages to get into his boat, speeding away. God damn right, Joni!

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In an underground gay club Buddy mixes pills with booze, reaching behind the bar and generally acting like a mess. He thinks he spots a guy named Gary (Phillip Daniel) with whom he previously had some sort of relationship, that definitely ended badly: “Glitter dont lie, bitch,” Buddy spouts off before leaving in a pissy, drugged up mood.
Joni’s far from the little cabin on the water and looking for help, some shelter. She winds up breaking and entering, technically, ending up in a country store somewhere. Meanwhile, Mac waits with a gun, all the money counted – and Joni gets a call through to him. Off he goes to collect his wife and get her out of harm’s way.
Getting away, Mac tries to assure Joni he’s taking care of things. But she’s finding life a lot more difficult now, more than when he was away in Vietnam. Because there are so many new things going on, from betrayal to crime to so much more underneath it all. Still, Mac will do whatever it takes to protect his wife, despite her cheating and his own cheating. Except tell her the truth.
And maybe, just maybe, that is the best thing. For the time being.
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Continually, each episode, I love the series more. The actors, the cinematography, the gritty story and its themes. Lots to love!
Next up is “Seldom Realized” and I’m sure there’ll be a good doses of action, intrigue, humour to hook us in further.

Quarry – Season 1, Episode 2: “Figure Four”

Cinemax’s Quarry
Season 1, Episode 2: “Figure Four”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy

* For a review of the premiere, “You Don’t Miss Your Water” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “A Mouthful of Splinters” – click here
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Mac ‘Quarry’ Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) is probably feeling sort of lost. He’s sitting by the pool listening to tapes Joni (Jodi Balfour) sent him while he was serving in the Vietnam War. Back when they were in love, before he found out about her affair. Before he killed the man who was sleeping with her. This opening sequence is great, watching the paperboy, Joni in her room, Mac by the pool, as the tapes play over top. All the while her lover lies dead in his garage. That’s where paperboy comes in: he finds the man crushed under his previously jacked up car.
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The couple are barely hanging on. Not sure how long that’ll last, either. Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) is looking into the death of Arthur, the one-legged man. His partner Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) doesn’t seem as dead set on it all, but time will tell. Meanwhile, Mac meets the ever strange Buddy (Damon Herriman) and they head for a drink. Although it’s not a friendly one really. Mac’s tense about where the deal with the Broker (Peter Mullan) goes next. “Theres no good news in this world,” Buddy tells him. Either pay the money, or, well… we all know how these stories go, and Mac does, too. At the same time, Joni and her friend Andrea (Heighlen Boyd) discover the former’s lover dead, his house a crime scene.
Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her family try to get on after Arthur’s death. Things weren’t perfect before, so they definitely aren’t doing any better now. Mac shows up to pay a visit, though, and Ruth appreciates it. He isn’t there just to check up. He’s poking around trying to find out where Arthur hid the money from the Broker. He cares for his friend, Ruth, but right at the moment it’s only fear and self-preservation that drives him. When he leaves Ruth’s place somebody watches him not far away.
Mac looks more flustered by the minute. He heads over to his father’s place. He isn’t there, only his wife. The one who doesn’t want Mac around. He barges his way in there, drinking up liquor and acting fairly passive aggressive. After leaving abruptly he doesn’t look any better, though he at least makes it home to fall in bed. Except it’s the bed where his wife cheated on him. He drunkenly, sadly, hilariously tries to get the mattress out before giving up and punching the shit out of it.

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Detectives Ratliff and Olsen sit in a bar drinking. Turns out Olsen knew the deceased, Joni’s lover. He wants to keep the case, just finds it “weird” to have known the victim. Naturally. I can see that he’ll be a bigger part of the show moving forward, at least that’s what I imagine. Knowing the guy, plus being police, naturally he’s going to want to find out who murdered him.
At home, Joni finds the vinyl rocking, Mac on the floor, a torn up and bloody mattress in the hallway. He is absolutely wild. Scaring her slightly. I can see that. All the same I totally understand Mac. He went to serve his country, now he’s home and his wife cheated on him, his country doesn’t want to take care of him, the one guy who knew exactly what he’d gone through died on a dirty apartment floor. Life for Mac Conway is absolute fucking shit. But now, after seeing the crime scene briefly from outside, Joni worries what he’s capable of when pushed too far. Murder; that’s what.
Buddy meets with a connect named Joe Don (Owen Harn) to get some guns. He’s a haggler. Trying to knock things down a few notches. After awhile this doesn’t make Joe too happy. What we see here is the intimidation factor of Buddy. He’s not a big man. Commanding, though. And in a split second – “No cussin‘” – he stops Joe in his tracks. Then brokers a proper deal. We already know that Buddy’s likely gay, or at least a bit feminine. Joe almost offends him by offering up a gift: a gun with a nice pink handle. Buddy takes the piece and does not look pleased.
Working at the newspaper, Joni gets called in by Detectives Ratliff and Olsen because of her connection to the dead man under his car. Of course Quan Thang comes up briefly. Mostly, we can see that her affair is probably going to come out eventually. She knows it. The worry is barely containable, she starts having a panic attack at the thought of what could happen. And paranoia’s setting in, as well. She winds up stealing evidence, one of the tapes.

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Mac goes out for a night of Dixie Wrestling with the Broker. They chat. Well, the Broker does, and Mac resents their even being there together, not wanting to deal with what’s to come. What’s noticeable in this scene is the Southern racism – Confederate flag flying, a Mandingo wrestler in the ring being booed as he inches towards victory. The Broker has a line on what’s happening in the investigation, assuring Mac nothing’s coming of it just yet. Mac starts to think Joni’s in danger, but the mysterious Broker only wants him to do more work, and in turn to provide more money for him.
A man named Moses (Mustafa Shakir) dines where Ruth works, he befriends her while she takes his order. He keeps a watchful eye on her. There’s something more in it. He slips back into her house, knowing she’s at work. He looks through the place. But soon the family comes home and he has to make a quick getaway.
Out at the gun meet, Buddy brings Quarry to do his deal with Joe Don. All of a sudden things get sketchy. Guns are drawn on the boys. When shit gets real, Buddy proves he’s not some “cocky little faggot” like Joe taunts with vicious bigotry: he chops big Joe in the throat, starting a gunfight. You know with a guy like Quarry on his side things manage to come out well for them. After a bit of messing around, anyways. Great acting all around from Logan Marshall-Green and Damion Herriman, plus a spectacular showing of practical special effects that will really wow even a horror fan. Intense. The car chase is fun, too.

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Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) and the Broker catch up with the banged up pair. Yet through all the violence there’s just as much sense in what’s happening at home as what happened in Vietnam, for Quarry. Or, now he’s transitioned back to Mac after the dirty deeds are done. He already had to become someone else over there during the war. Now, that someone else is hard to define because he’s becoming a monster at home just like he was as a soldier.
The episode ends with Joni listening to a tape from Mac. Full circle to the episode opening in the opposite way. After she listens to a tape of her and her lover, that is. While she does that, Mac tries to find a bit of love elsewhere; a bit of physical love. They’re certainly drifting apart.
And the man following Mac, he heads up to the house, knocking on the door. Before Joni gets to answer, the credits roll.
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Until next time. Following episode is titled “A Mouthful of Splinters” and there’s no telling what kind of mess Mac and his criminal alter ego Quarry will get into next. No telling what’ll happen at all. So much exciting development here. So much pain and suffering, so much paranoia, all kinds of ways the plot(s) can go.

Aquarius – Season 2, Episode 13: “I Will”

NBC’s Aquarius
Season 2, Episode 13: “I Will”
Directed by Jonas Pate
Written by Mike Moore

* For a review of the penultimate Season 2 episode, “Mother Nature’s Son” – click here
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Season 2 finale, we’re here! I hope there’ll be more. Although because of NBC not treating the show with proper respect it deserves I’m not holding my breath on Season 3.
This possible series finale begins on August 7th of ’69 in the early morning hours. Former detective Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) is start off retirement by trying to track the killer of women who recently rang him up at home. Sam heard a fire engine going, so he tries to track down any calls in that area to narrow things down. Alongside is Officer Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) doing her best to help. He soon comes up with where he believes the perp to be, the neighbourhood he seems to remember from some time ago. He follows the man into a diner; his name is Gerald Dunn, they shake hands. Sam begins an uneasy conversation with Dunn. Neither willing to openly say anything about why they’re there. Except Hodiak makes clear he’s eager for retirement: “Kinda looking forward to doing whatever I want. To whoever I want. Ill see youround, Gerald.”
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Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne) has the money from his wife, and I assume Hal Banyin (Spencer Garrett), as well. He’s brought some for Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony). Brought a bit of lovin’, too. Yowzahs. Doesn’t help him or his daughter being involved with Mr. Manson. Especially after he starts hearing more about Charlie’s “Helter Skelter” prophecy.
Over at the precinct, Ed Cutler (Chance Kelly) isn’t happy about Charmain or Detective Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) doing their respective things. He’s funny, though, and that’s all right. Poor junkie Shafe is suffering through his addiction AND not having his wife Kristin (Milauna Jackson) around anymore.
For the time being, Sam enjoys a little respite from murders, dead women and such. He and Billie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) have a bit of breakfast. She isn’t too thrilled about his addiction to chasing down suspects. I guess she’s right about him, and at the same time he only wants to do good. Speaking of which, he’s got Dt. Shafe knocking on Mr. Dunn’s door, hauling him down to the station while Sam Goes for a look inside the house.
And what does he find? A secret, nasty little dark room. Photographs everywhere. At the station, Gerald prints #1 DETECTIVE and SAMSON BENEDICT HODIAK, over and over on a pad of paper. Oh, he is a creepy man.

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With everything going on, Grace Karn (Michaela McManus) is trying to keep her head straight. She finally reveals to her political lady friend the truth about her daughter Emma (Emma Dumont). Where’s Emma, exactly? Heading out on a “creepy crawly” and trying to calm her father down. He’s worried for his daughter. His sad, brainwashed, pregnant daughter. Charlie’s sending Tex (Cameron Deane Stewart) off on a mission. To do some terrifying things; painting the walls with blood, using knives. It’s August 8th, after all. Soon enough, Sharon Tate, among others, will be bleeding to death tragically. Because Charlie’s reading to “make history.”
Meanwhile, Shafe has to let Gerald go. He and Hodiak know this is the killer, but alas – the law. Charmain helps the fellas figure out an important piece to Gerald’s story; he was married to a pin-up girl who wound up dead, just like the women he murders and poses.
Out on their mission, Tex, Sadie (Ambyr Childers) and the others start Helter Skelter into motion, as Tex murders a man in his car up the driveway to their destination.
Hodiak finds pictures of him in the developed rolls of Gerald. He then rushes to a crime scene where Billie lies murdered viciously. Now, we see where this is all leading.
Charlie rambles on to Ken about his race war plan and hiding beneath the Grand Canyon, as his “children” head inside the Tate house. Tex continues his murderous rampage: “Im the devil, and Im here to do the devils business,” he eerily explains to one of his victims. Watching on, the pregnant Emma is horrified by what comes next. One by one, people are dispatched violently.

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At home, Gerald is gathering up some things. Problem is that Sam Hodiak has come to pay him a visit, gun in hand. Seems that Billie got a vicious beating, no typical M.O. from Dunn. And so Sam starts in on the guy: “Im gonna hurt you, Gerald. Im gonna hurt you until you tell me everything.” The whole thing comes down to Dunn being put in jail by Sam, not being there to protect his wife when she was killed. But Gerald taunts, wanting to get shot. Shafe turns up to convince Sam otherwise. We discover the dead woman was in fact Billie’s sister; still awful. At least she wasn’t also brutally killed.
The Tate house is being absolutely torn apart. Tex puts a knife in Emma’s hand and commands her to go finish off anybody that’s left. She only warns a man staying in the guest house not to come outside, or make a peep. The Manson Family starts to leave, as Emma witnesses the last of the killings take place, a horrified look in her eyes. Once it’s all over they write “something witchy” on the wall for their master. Simultaneously, Ken and Charlie have an intense confrontation leading to Karn’s death.
When everyone shows up again, Manson flips because none of his little plans turned out appropriately. No witchy words other than PIG, knives left behind. He throws a tantrum, deciding he and Emma are headed back to the Tate house.
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So does Sam kill Gerald?
Mans a sick animal,” Hodiak explains to Billie, as she pleads for him not to shoot Dunn. It takes every ounce of will power in him not to, but Sam doesn’t shoot after all. He relinquishes the gun and hugs Billie with all his strength.
Over at the crime scene, Charlie orders Emma to get things done. They fix the place up a bit to his liking, although it’s still an absolutely horrific thing to see. For a second time, Emma leaves the house, nearly 6 in the morning on August 9th. Tex clears Ken’s body out back at Spahn Ranch. Everything’s in (dis)order.
At the station, everybody hears about the murder concerning Sharon Tate and her friends. Big time news, as Cutler takes the call. He even opts to tell Hodiak “you just unquit.” Things are about to get serious for the whole of Los Angeles. The Hollywood Divison station is gone mad.
Over at the Tate house, Shafe is covered in blood and holding the medallion Emma left behind. You know, the one Sam gave to Emma awhile back. Ah, the deeper connection for Hidoak to this case has come out.
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What a fucking fantastic episode! Gruesome, intense, gritty. All sorts of aspects that makes this series excellent. Again, I can only hope they’ll renew the show. If not, we’re left with a lot of interesting things that could have and SHOULD HAVE been.
Please, NBC: do the right thing. At least give them a Season 3 to clue up on a proper note. I want to see Hodiak on the hot trail looking for the Manson Family, all the while junkie Shafe trying to piece together his life and do his job, PLUS WE NEED MORE CHARMAIN TULLY! Please and thank you.

Aquarius – Season 2, Episode 12: “Mother Nature’s Son”

NBC’s Aquarius
Season 2, Episode 12: “Mother Nature’s Son”
Directed by David Duchovny
Written by Sera Gamble

* For a review of the previous episode, “Can You Take Me Back?” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “I Will” – click here
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The penultimate Season 2 episode of Aquarius starts on August 9th of ’69. Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) holds his gun on the killer who’s been tormenting him these many, many months.
Cut to Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony) raving at Bobby Beausoleil (Mark L. Young) and Sadie (Ambyr Childers). He says the need to “get to the desert” where they’re headed, y’know to the City of Gold where he believes they’ll be spending time during the coming race war. Madness, Charlie. They’ve got their eyes on the guy who provided them with mescaline for weird Hal Banyin (Spencer Garrett), a fella named Gary Hinman (Jefferson White). Might be trouble.
Hodiak is in bed with Billie Gunderson (Olivia Taylor Dudley) enjoying his newfound retirement. At the station, Detective Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) is struggling to contain his heroin habit. He’s now a full blown junkie, all the way.
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Finally we see a little more about Walt Hodiak (Chris Sheffield). His father goes to see him and now Walt is deciding to recant, not wanting to rot away in jail for the rest of his life. Sad that he has to go against his own personal principles, though. Sometimes that’s what American justice is: a load of shit.
Unsuspecting Gary finds Bobby and Sadie show up to see him. And things get nasty real quick. The poor guy doesn’t have much more for them to take, so naturally Sadie and Bobby get pissed off. That won’t mean anything good, for anybody.
I keep anticipating how Shafe is going to end up where we’ve seen him in the flash-forwards to those fateful August nights. For now he’s out doing detective work, generally getting things done. A bit of a close call with bossman Ed Cutler (Chance Kelly) nearly outs his drug addiction. Later, at a god damn crime scene after collaring a murderer, Brian decides to shoot up out behind the house. Like a maniac. He’s fallen awfully far.
An explosion on a university campus has Officer Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) riled up. She thinks she can find proof for her superiors. Is it back into the field for Charmain? Hope so. She’s awesome.
Sadie rambles to Gary about “the end of the world” that Charlie speaks about. All the guy can do is give up a couple cars for them to take. Along for the ride, Mary (Abby Miller) doesn’t take part in any of it, though can’t stop anything either. If any of you know who Himan was in real life, or Beausoleil, you know what’s coming. On the phone, Charlie tells Bobby what to do, by appealing to his wounded past. That was the biggest problem Manson posed to those around him, he preyed on the weak. Just like the chicken hawks he rages against during his phone call with Bobby. Eerie conversation.
Then there’s Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne), whose conflict of being a hardline Republican on the Nixon team and being gay continually butt heads. He’s trying to crawl his way back from the scandal of being exposed. Who knows what he’ll do next.
OH, and surprise, surprise: Shafe lost his murderer. Nowhere to be found. Good job, junkie.
Charmain gets back to her old friend from undercover. Except she knows that Charmain is a cop. So the girl is given the deal: help, or go down with the idiot running things.

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Using an actual bit of history, Manson shows up at Hinman’s place. Brandishing a sword and claiming: “I need a thousand dollars.”
The best yet is that Shafe is almost ready to face the music when his murderer, Jeff, pops up in the seat behind him. Hilarious. Then he takes the detective on a nice chase. Imagine being high as fuck on heroin and having to run after a guy covered in blood? Crazy. Shafe shoots the guy in the ass to slow him down.
Charlie gives Gary a nice slice across the face when he doesn’t get what he wants. You can see lots of details about the actual event and case right here. And there’s plenty more to come.
Sam and Walt try to do a bit of bonding at home. Father Hodiak talks about once having to leave a man behind during his time at war: “Every morning I wake up and sometime between standing up and coffee I remember, oh, Im a coward.” Everything comes down hard on his son. Much as Sam tries, Walt believes he’s failed everybody; his fellow soldiers, his mother, his own cause. “You can hold a conviction and still make the decision to live,” Walt tells him.
With all sorts of leverage against people around him, Ken tries to work his way back up from nothing. His back is against the wall, so he tries to push back against both his own wife Grace (Michaela McManus) and Hal. He gets what he wants while blackmailing and fighting as dirty as it gets.

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Hodiak gets a call at his place from the killer who’s been leaving him pictures of women in terrible distress. He taunts Sam, challenging him to “use that celebrated brain” and come get him.
Things are getting darker for Hinman. He tries to get Mary to help him out, but it’s no use. Manson has them all wrapped around his finger, and he shows up once again. Sinister plans ahead. When Mary tries to let Gary go she’s caught in the act. Charlie makes her play some piano while Bobby stabs Hinman to death before smearing blood on the walls. “That is shot one of the revolution,” says Charlie.
A cop ends up finding Bobby Beausoleil in his car with blood on his arms after the young man falls asleep in his car at the roadside. Uh oh.

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Back to that opener, as we see Hodiak on August 9th of ’69, confronting the killer he’s been seeking out. Shafe comes down into the basement trying to stop him from pulling the trigger.
Will he?
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An absolutely fascinating penultimate episode for this season. Cannot wait to watch “I Will” and see what the finale will give us. I know NBC is going to dump this and they likely won’t get a Season 3, however, a guy can hope. I dig this series, for all its faults. Lots of fun. Fingers crossed on a renewal.

THE NEIGHBOR: A Horrifying Slice of Rural Terror

The Neighbor. 2016. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Alex Essoe, Bill Engvall, Luke Edwards, Jacqueline Fleming, & Ronnie Gene Blevins.
Fortress Features/Salt Company International/The See.
Not Rated. 87 minutes.
Crime/Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterI was a big fan of both The Collector and The Collection, even with their flaws. They weren’t great movies, though to me they were still fine fun. Marcus Dunstan is an interesting director, along with his writing partner Patrick Melton. They have a knack for a certain brand of horror. One that’s part home invasion, part serial killer. 
The Neighbor
again tackles a man with a secret, or should I say men with secrets. With their best writing yet, Dunstan and Melton come out with a sly, genius little crime-thriller that dives frequently into pure horror. From the opening old school-feeling credits to the last frame there’s a tension verging on relentlessness. Most of all, the writing is subversive at times from plot to character, and the casting is absolutely perfect. Josh Stewart returns with Dunstan in a solid performance, as John, an unlucky character similar (but different from) the one he played in The Collector. Alex Essoe, whose turn in Starry Eyes is unforgettable, is Rosie; the would-be damsel in distress emerging as a strong, unflappable female character in a hideous male world. Finally, and most surprising, Bill Engvall plays the titular neighbour and boy… is he something. Never could I expect what he brings to the table.
My elaborately stated point? The Neighbor is excellent, one of the better horror-thrillers in the last few years. It doesn’t have to be anything epic or overly contrived. The film’s modesty is one of its greatest qualities.
pic1The most enjoyable aspect of the writing is how Dunstan and Melton allow us time to stay with the characters – a lot of time – before the horror breaks out. Movies such as slashers, or any other sub-genre where characters get offed one after another, tend to quickly jam a bunch of character development into a short space of time. Often that leads to underdeveloped or poorly developed character(s). Dunstan and Melton give us about a third of the film to get a feel for the relationship between John (Stewart) and Rosie (Essoe). We only get a glimpse of Troy (Engvall) before he becomes a larger, more sinister part of the plot. While we get to know the couple at the centre of the story, the film plays as a crime-thriller for the first half hour. Afterwards, the horror shifts into gear and descends fast into terror, as the connection to these people is real. In stark opposition to so many modern horror movies with disposable characters, The Neighbor allows us a better connection, a genuine one, instead of something tenuous. You care about John and Rosie, you want them to get out from under the former’s uncle, a local criminal named Neil (played fabulously by Skip Sudduth). As if that’s their biggest worry. Troy presents them with far greater danger, so the concern for their safety and well-being gets wildly tense, dreadfully suspenseful. If the writing weren’t good enough, the actors all pull the weight, above and beyond. Stewart and Essoe do wonderful work. But Engvall is the main attraction. His unlikeliness for most of us will prove to be powerful. He threw me for a loop, even in the earliest scenes where his character hasn’t yet revealed itself to the fullest; he’s nonchalant, a down home-type. Later on this flips into underestimated madness of the best sort.
pic2Better than usual female character in the form of Essoe’s Rosie. Two strong performances out of the male leads, Stewart and Engvall. Overall interesting writing, which compels you to keep on watching with a curious eye. If that were all, the film would succeed.
Luckily, there’s more.
Charlie Clouser is back, having worked with Dunstan on The Collection providing killer sounds for the score. As usual, he composes beautifully in a dark manner. At times, his pieces are a steady, driving rhythm. During others, an eerily Southern sound early on, as guitars invade the score. After time continues wearing on and the tension gets brutal, Clouser’s music is deeper, more intense. Always working under your skin, beneath the visuals. Sometimes a score can really overpower the scene in which it plays, sometimes it’s the exact opposite and the music doesn’t seem to do anything for the scene. Here, neither of those is the case. Each composition is better than the last, and many scenes feel driven by its pulsing, heartbeat-like darkness. A great bit of music can lift everything up. Perhaps why Dunstan and Clouser work well together.
Paired with the music, the shadowy look of the cinematography, much like The Collector in particular, is perfect. Makes you feel boxed in like the characters, enclosed in a small space where anything is possible and every next turn might prove fatal. The sequence where John finds his way into Troy’s house, down to the cellar is a masterful, uneasy scene that takes us over the crime-thriller threshold and into the screenplay’s horror. Later on the “This is your proof of life” moment is eerie as hell. Also, the bits of old footage that are edited throughout the first part of the film almost transform into the tapes Troy and his boys are recording in the basement. This comes off as an especially unsettling technique, giving an omnipresent feel to those earlier bits of edited footage.
pic3I have to say, this is a nearly perfect horror to me. There’s a great mixing of genres, which comes out magically in the characters and helps the plot feel unexpected. You’re never quite sure exactly what will come next. The actors are all spot on, even Skip Sudduth in his small role; very intimidating, cruel, even for a man hooked to an oxygen tank. Essoe, Stewart, and Engvall are each cast to awesome effect. While the build up feels long, maybe slow during certain scenes, it’s all worth the wait. In the last 20 minutes, the action and intensity are frantic. This amps up in the final ten, as well.
Not everybody will love The Neighbor. I understand. That’s why art in general is so fun; we don’t all have to enjoy the same things. But to me it’s undeniably clear how well this screenplay is put together. On top of that the execution on every end is honed to a fine, sharp point. Dunstan and Melton are writers to watch. I hope they continue to work together, and to use their talents in making more worthwhile horror. In a day and age where people complain about the same old thing in the genre, The Neighbor is at least trying to be different by working harder than most other films to be more than the sum of its parts.

American Gothic – Episode 13: “Whistler’s Mother”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 13: “Whistler’s Mother”
Directed by Greg Beeman
Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff & Aaron Fullerton

* For a review of Episode 12, “Madame X” – click here
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The finale is here – “Whistler’s Mother” you may remember is the informal name given to Arrangements in Grey and Black, which is the first episode of this mini-series. Why that painting, you wonder? This last episode in particular and yet so much of these episode has consisted of a focus on who?
Mama Hawthorne.
Everybody’s out voting for Mayor of Boston. Madeline (Virginia Madsen) is worrying about the “crazed dollmaker” after her family. So she has private security watching the house, and her paranoia is high. Tess (Megan Ketch) and Cam (Justin Chatwin), along with Jack (Gabriel Bateman), are down at the Alison Hawthorne (Juliet Rylance) campaign HQ. Even Garrett (Antony Starr) turns up to support his sister.
But nobody’s seen Alison. Where could she be?
Over at the station, Detectives Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Brady Ross (Elliot Knight) lay the whole case with the new evidence out for everybody. Then Brady gets a call from his wife, worrying about her sister. Now, they’re worried the accomplice is very, very close to the campaign.
We all know from last episode it’s Naomi.
Or is it? That secret she had was all about union workers, supposedly. A background check proves Naomi has always been Naomi. A dead end. Ahhh, tricky. Only problem is the cops are still at square one. And who could be the accomplice?
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Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) ends up at the Hawthorne door. She wants a few pictures before heading off for good. At the campaign HQ, Jack is starting to feel the effects of not having his mother around; he reads too much. Simultaneously, Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno) has turned up to reconcile with Garrett. She’s planning to move to San Francisco and hopes he’ll go. Although he doesn’t want to leave his family, not after everything.
The detectives go to the grave of SBK’s wife, to see if maybe someone comes to visit. He has an epiphany about the cherry blossoms on Sophie’s neck. Just like the ones at the graveyard. And all alone in the mansion with Madeline, we find Stephanie revealing herself a bit more. Most of all after she plants a needle in her former mother-in-law’s neck. Jesus. I honestly never saw any of this coming.
Where do we go from here? Well, Madeline gets tied up for the time being. Sophie talks more about her life, her mother, her father and his ‘art’ of sorts. Seems SBK got his kill list, for him and his daughter, from the donors at the hospital. She tells us that the bells were there to symbolise the one thing that could save their victim stays “just out of reach.” When Cam turns up things get tricky. She reveals their love stayed her want for revenge, but of course things went sour.
Everyone’s closing in now. Will they make it to the mansion in time? Or will Sophie enact the last breaths of her plan for revenge? Looks like she managed to at least strangle Madeline.
Cam manages to get a gun and point it at Sophie. But Garrett doesn’t want him to kill anyone, not like he did, and to have to live with those memories the rest of his life. He prevents Cam from making a terrible decision. Yet Sophie makes off into the night once more.
In other news, Alison wins her bid for Mayor of Boston. What good is that when your family’s being hunted? Small victories, I suppose.
The Hawthorne family is devastated. For all her faults, it’s still not nice to have your mother murdered. And to have been infiltrated so deeply by SBK’s daughter, his accomplice. Just, staggering. Brady kicks himself for not seeing it sooner, though Cutter tries to assure him he couldn’t have known, and at least now they DO know. They came around to becoming better friends and partners throughout the entire ordeal.

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Skip to a year later. Everyone is doing well, Tess and Brady have their child, Cam and his lady friend are getting closer finally. The family is okay after all. Somehow. There’s still creepy Jack. Who knows how they’ll eventually end up. Naomi and Alison are together, happy. Then Garrett and Christina show up with their own little family.
With his little bear still holding his mom’s recorded voice, Jack stands alone listening to it, wondering when she’ll come back to take him. Because a normal life is not what he wants. He’s got that nasty gene somewhere deep down.
We discover more of the secrets hiding amongst the Hawthornes. Alison knew a long while ago that Sophie was the accomplice. She revealed it to her former sister-in-law. Hmm. She even kept one of those bells instead of tossing them all. Thing is, Alison made a deal: don’t kill anybody else, just mom. Holy. Shit. Kills her mother, essentially, and creepily she’s JUST LIKE HER MOTHER. What a twisting, turning, strange little end.
With these last words, Alison ends her interview and the mini-series: “You can be a victim of your circumstances, or you can summon the strength to push through; no matter what. Today our family is thriving. I think my mother would be proud.”

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The end personally surprised me, from the opening of this episode to the finish. Far as I know this is only meant to be a mini-series. I dig it that way. Leaves you not with questions, but with a deeper idea of the corrupted roots of the Hawthorne family. What was done cannot be undone. It begets more of its own violence, the secrets of their family. Lots of fun, weird stuff that happened, too. Throughout the whole series. I had a blast, honestly. Didn’t expect to get so into it. Yet here I am. Hope some of you reading have enjoyed as much as I have. A stellar finish, way better than anticipated!

American Gothic – Episode 12: “Madame X”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 12: “Madame X”
Directed by Edward Ornelas
Written by Allen MacDonald & Lauren Goodman

* For a review of Episode 11, “Freedom From Fear” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “Whistler’s Mother” – click here
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The penultimate episode upon us, its title comes from a John Singer Sargent painting formally known as Portrait of Madame X, but also just as Madame X; you can find it here.
So has the truth come out? Are Garrett (Antony Starr) and his mother Madeline (Virginia Madsen) telling the truth?
For now, they’re dealing with the diorama of their house including a figurine of each family member dead. Everybody’s back under one roof, as Brady (Elliot Knight) comes back with Garrett. Cam (Justin Chatwin) takes Jack (Gabriel Bateman) away, not wanting to be in a house supposedly targeted by the accomplice to the Silver Bells Killer. Most interesting is that Tess (Megan Ketch) appreciates what her older brother did for her. She tells Garrett: “You should run.” All but begging him. To start a new life, maybe get the chance to be a part of his son’s life with Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno), someday. But he doesn’t want to do that. He’s all about family. “No more running,” he tells Tessa.
One thing’s for sure, Garrett and Madeline have fallen out completely. No love there. As far as legality goes, they’re both given suspended sentences so long as they cooperate with the investigation.
Oh, Alison (Juliet Rylance). She can’t let go of Naomi, who’s back in Boston for a little while. Their relationship was clearly more deep than a fling. You can tell just by how they talk to one another. When there’s cable being run in the Hawthorne residence, Alison discovers a box of silver bells in a vent. The ones Madeline said were gone so long ago. Uh oh.
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The police are doing their jobs now, all over, from fingerprinting the little diorama mansion to a sketch artist. Detective Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Detective Ross aren’t exactly pleased with two completely different drawings from the mother-son descriptions. But then Garrett remembers a tattoo on the man’s chest; a Brigid’s cross. Not exactly a perfect clue. A clue nonetheless.
Young Jack (Gabriel Bateman) relaxes watching stuff about jellyfish while his mother Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) sneaks in, locking Cam in the bathroom. “You wanna go for a ride?” she asks her son. Shit. I do not like the sounds of this, I don’t know she’s capable of, really. By the time Cam breaks out of the bathroom, she’s gone with Jack in tow, and a knife in her husband’s tire.
Alison figures out that her mother is the likely culprit of Jennifer Windham’s death. Yikes! That woman is one bad bitch. Even admits to her daughter what she’d done. All for the family, right? Oh, my. “You can justify anything,” Alison nearly weeps. She further pieces together that her mother killed off her father in the hospital. So ole Madeline’s officially a serial killer, I guess. And incredibly delusional.

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Cam’s attempting to figure out where his wife has gone with their son, enlisting his sister Tess to help. They try tracking her down via credit card purchases, a bit of slick work from a couple rich kids. At the same time, Alison has the whole dilemma of wondering what to do about their mother. She’s too busy thinking about Naomi, though.
Over at her husband’s final resting place Madeline stows cash, a passport, all that good stuff. Just in case. Meanwhile, Garrett is at the station with Brady asking for a bit of help to track down Christina. We get a nice topical joke from Brady: “You need anything else? Maybe Hillarys emails, or Trumps tax returns?” At first I thought it was cheesy. Then I laughed a bunch. What we do find out: the accomplice must be female. The prints on the dollhouse diorama confirm it.
And so Alison tosses the silver bells box into the river. Letting the memories and souvenirs rest. Good idea? Certainly not the morally best idea. She lets her mother know, which obviously puts Madeline’s mind at ease. However, the ties are being cut. “As far as Im concerned you no longer exist,” Alison tells her before leaving. Ouch. Slash totally understandable.
Sophie took Jack to an aquarium. Nice gesture, if she didn’t technically kidnap him. When Tess and Cam show up, the husband and wife have a little confrontation. She talks about wanting “one last memory” and hopes her boy won’t forget his mother. I worry she might do something to herself. She isn’t a good mother, or person, but still…
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The detectives have Garrett trying to identify SBK, except nothing comes out. All of a sudden, Brady wonders if maybe the Brigid’s cross was meant for more than the symbol; maybe it was for a name. When they track down a name, Garrett finally recognises the man himself, the dreaded Silver Bells.
Turns out Naomi may be more important than anyone thought. She’s the daughter of the Silver Bells Killer, having reinvented herself to slip inside the inner circle of the Hawthorne family. A place where she could destroy them easily.

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WHOA! Nice little shock at the end.
The finale is titled “Whistler’s Mother” and I can’t wait to dig in.

Uwe Gets Confused & Preachy with Rampage: President Down

Rampage: President Down. 2016. Directed by Uwe Boll. Screenplay by Boll & Brendan Fletcher.
Starring Brendan Fletcher, Ryan McDonell, Steve Baran, Bruce Blain, Scott Patey, Michaela Mann, Anthony Rogers, Ralph Steiger, Victor Formosa, & Timo Weingaertner.
Momentum Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Not Rated. 99 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★1/2
POSTER
The Rampage trilogy has fallen far since the first film. Honestly, it had flaws but the original was exciting, violent, it pulled no punches in a depiction of a mind gone wild. There’s a central story of the failure of the American Dream which somehow gets lost. Not that the first sequel was anything better. Yet at least Capital Punishment still kept focused on Bill, his one man rampage, rather than getting into the search for him and any of the people involved. Above all, the story of Bill Williamson is one that should’ve been kept smaller, more contained, succinct.
Ignoring any of that, Brendan Fletcher and Uwe Boll have forged on, writing more of the story. Their biggest crime is stretching the character of Bill too far. He’s all of a sudden even more of an expert in military tactics, from sniper rifles to landmines, et cetera. The only thing Bill had going for him in the previous two movies is that he was willing, ready to take on anything, and got his hands on an excellent Kevlar suit, plus a bunch of assault rifles and similar weaponry. Out of the blue, Bill is a weapons expert. He’s made three sniper shots on the President, the Vice President, and Secretary of Defence; apparently from such a distance there could only be a handful of people on Earth to have made them. Really? It’s as if right from the start Fletcher and Boll’s script decides they don’t care about the character development to this point, and tossed credibility out the window. Sure, things got dicey before this sequel. You still figured there’s some kind of attention being paid to what makes sense in terms of the already established character. Aside from that, the original aim of Rampage and its central character has been utterly lost.
Boll keeps on breaking my heart. With a couple films he’d sucked me in. Between Capital Punishment and now President Down, he’s back to scraping the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps a good thing this is the last cinematic adventure from him we’ll see, unless he changes his mind about retirement down the line.
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Again, Boll shoots himself in the foot by retracing old steps. He makes the viewer feel stupid by going back over clips from the previous film, as he did IN the previous film with the first one. Just a connected train of bullshit. Maybe if Boll wanted to make things more interesting he’d have cut out those clips, then filled the holes with new, better dialogue. And if that wasn’t the biggest problem, the fact Boll wants to suspend our disbelief towards somehow accepting the fact Bill can expertly sniper with no military training, or any real prior history with actual guns before his titular rampage. This is what I just cannot accept, not in the slightest. The way we’re supposed to believe he’s killed the President, along with two others, is ludicrous. Just too far gone to keep things grounded, in any way. Of course the first sequel went beyond what the original film tried to do, fairly effectively. But this third entry into the trilogy is too much to bear. Fletcher and Boll have stumbled over their own writing. Just like the previous entry, this one does nothing to capitalise on the original film’s success. President Down rehashes, over and over, both through dialogue and also visually scenes which came before it. Some bits seem to be jammed into the story simply for effect, or to try and make Bill a more sympathetic, emotionally driven character. It’s more fun to have him as a psychopath, taking a message beyond its reasonable limits into murder and madness. Like, why the fuck does he have a son? What purpose does that aspect serve? This is not an empathetic character, in any sense, certainly not worthy of sympathy, either. And why is the woman he’s with, with whom he’s made a child, so intent on keeping him around in her life? It makes no sense to me, at all. As if it came from a totally different screenplay.
One part of the screenplay I enjoyed thoroughly is how it shows the reach of people like Williamson. There’s a person helping behind the scenes, and what that does is represent how even cops, businessmen, people we assume are behind America can actually become as disillusioned as a young man like the one with whom they’re dealing. The fact Bill has people out there, not just someone in a high up position who can help him but fans of all kinds amongst the citizens of his city (and beyond), is scary and sobering. Because you can bet if this did happen there’d be tons of clueless dummies out there online cheering for Bill, trying to help, offering what they can. Maybe in part due to the fact they wouldn’t realise the seriousness of what’s going on. But rest assured, there’d be very happy, willing participants on a war like the one Bill is waging against the U.S. Government.
The whole ISIS/refugee angle in the screenplay is sort of spot on. Today, the media latches onto anything ISIS says, when they claim certain terrorist acts and other events of violence were their work. Before any information is found, the media (+ dumb people online) say: “Well, they’ve claimed this and they’re the culprits.” So Boll and Fletcher do a solid bit of writing to add this into the plot. Partly it represents the real state of affairs. On the other hand, it plays into Bill’s rantings and ravings about the government. Once ISIS claims the President’s assassination in President Down, you may as well have President Trump sitting at the helm, closing down mosques and rounding Muslims up to be detained, deported, and who else knows what.
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There’s a lot of lame acting. Not Fletcher; once again, he’s one of the only reasons I made it through to the end. One of the worst culprits is Ryan McDonell, who plays an FBI agent named Vince Jones. He isn’t absolutely terrible, but some of the more important moments are flat because of his bad performance. None of the FBI agents are particularly good, they’ve got their own respective shortcomings. Steve Baran isn’t much better. When the big freak outs happen as the FBI realises Bill is likely steps ahead of them, both McDonell and Baran are equally incompetent. Some of the dialogue betrays them. Most of all they’re just not good in their roles, they can’t sell what’s needed and their parts bog everything down. Part of what made the first film good, as well as the only good little pieces of the sequel, was that Bill had centre stage to himself. There were other characters. They didn’t take up space, cutting the legs out from under the screenplay’s pacing, as the FBI agents do here. If it weren’t for Fletcher, I probably wouldn’t make it through the entire film.
Don’t waste your time. The 1&1/2 out of 5 star rating I’ve given this is mostly because there are a couple decent action sequences. And yes, Fletcher gives a steady performance, as he has in the other two movies. There are so many things wrong with this third film that the just over 1,000 words I’ve written don’t even begin to cover the gamut. I did enjoy a couple scenes. Outside of that, President Down betrays the original movie and does nothing to make Bill Williamson grow, or change. It just takes Bill into a new realm of violence, a new level, which is in itself ridiculous because of how they try doing it. Either way, if you’re a completionist and want to watch it, go ahead. I warn you, though, there’s not much to enjoy. You’ll definitely find a better way to spend 99 minutes.

Rampage: Capital Punishment is a Wasted, Unworthy Sequel

Rampage: Capital Punishment. 2014. Directed by Uwe Boll. Screenplay by Boll & Brendan Fletcher.
Starring Brendan Fletcher, Lochlyn Munro, Mike Dopud, Michaela Mann, Bruce Blain, John Sampson, Nathan Lehfeldt, Uwe Boll, & Matt Frewer.
Boll Kino Beteiligungs GmbH& Co. KG.
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★1/2
POSTER
I don’t like to rag on any filmmakers, no matter if their finished films are garbage. Because as a writer myself, as someone who has acted on stage a good deal throughout his life, I know exactly what it’s like to craft your art and then put it out for people to see. Not saying we need to pussyfoot around, holding in our true feelings. Not at all. I’d rather someone tell me what’s bad about my writing than for them to pretend it’s any good. Constructive criticism is better for that purpose, rather than completely tearing somebody down. Be critical, give your consensus about what you’ve seen (/heard/whatever) and try to help an artist grow. Don’t tear them down.
That’s something Uwe Boll has dealt with in droves throughout his 30+ films in a career spanning two and a half decades. Probably because, honestly, most of his films aren’t good. Yet I can admit when there are exceptions to the rule. For instance, the first Rampage movie was a lot of (dark) fun, and I think Boll both used his own rage at critics and the general changing attitudes about America to create a wild bit of action. I enjoyed Stoic, too. For all its terrifying morbid.
Boll does his first film a disservice with this sequel, Rampage: Capital Punishment. He had an interesting concept, a raw and genuine lead character. He used the action wisely, to pretty great effect. Some of the main character’s rants were a little over-the-top. They were enjoyable, though, and Boll hit a nerve with the character himself, the idea of a lost American Dream, how that idea then warps people into many twisted forms. But the sequel; my god, what a squandered opportunity. Boll doesn’t manage to capture much of what made the first film so unexpectedly enjoyable. It comes off as forced, even with a couple well designed and executed sequences. Most annoyingly, there are a bunch of clips from the original used, ad nauseum, and that’s something I really hate in sequels. Laziness, pure and simple. So what good will Uwe built up with the previous chapter, he all but totally undoes with Capital Punishment.
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The opening 20 minutes are a pain. With new footage of Bill Williamson (Fletcher) playing, we’re treated to a lot of confusingly edited flashbacks. It’s really a travesty of a sequence to start off the movie. Boll does himself no favours here, by getting slack with his writing and instead of things being exciting right off the bat they become sluggish. By the time Bill gets into rampage mode, it’s almost gotten boring. Certainly it’s predictable.
Certain parts of the rants from Bill get more tedious and trite in the sequel, as well. Boll made some nice, poignant (believe it or not) points in the first screenplay. Occasionally overboard, but mostly decent. With this one he can’t resist, going mad over the page. Whereas the original plan by Bill sort of involves an attack on the failed American Dream, the lies government have built upon over the years, so on. In the beginning of this film, he’s almost advocating full scale genocide to reduce global population. I mean, there’s a limit where you have to say, okay this is off the rails. And it is, Boll loses sight now and then of exactly what he was trying to say. A few lines, such as a Karl Marx name drop and a nice tirade against Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln, are actually awesome. Bill’s rants do sometimes touch on the appropriate nerve. More often than not they ramble on into irrelevance.
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One of the things which keeps the first movie so interesting, and one of this sequel’s only saving graces, is that Bill Williamson is played by Brendan Fletcher. The first time I noticed this guy was in a relatively obscure indie called Rollercoaster from 1999. He was fascinating, his character came off incredibly heartbreaking. From then on I knew to keep an eye on him. His acting sells Bill as a character, even when things get a bit contrived. He’s intense, he gives Bill a genuine feel at the most unhinged of times. There are a lot of actors who would’ve sent this movie spiralling downward quickly. At least with Fletcher playing the lead, Boll has someone capable of compelling the audience to stick with the story. If you get bored there’s still a nice performance out of this guy, whose talent is monstrous with the correct words in his mouth. Aside from Fletcher, there’s nobody else worth talking about. Lochlyn Munro plays his character well enough, although it’s nothing to write home about. Boll tries his hand at acting, once more, and well… y’know. Bless him for trying.
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There are fine references to such events as 9/11, Obama’s few blind spots (Guantanamo), a short slice of Marx. Bill Williamson has a good idea about the injustice happening in America, as well as plenty of rage towards the concept of that fabled, dying American Dream once. However, rage and emotional depth does not always make for a good screenplay. Boll’s extended an idea that, I personally find, worked well in the original Rampage. Going into a sequel, even a third film after this, is taking the idea and the character too far. I have no problem with the violence; in fact, a lot of that is why the first one was so refreshing. Boll certainly goes for the jugular with some of the violent acts Williamson rains down upon his city. As an overall piece of cinema, Rampage: Capital Punishment does not work in any other capacity than something mediocre to do for an hour and a half. It has a lot of flaws and does nothing to capitalise on the original’s success.
I’ll soon be watching the third of this trilogy, supposedly Boll’s last film. While I don’t expect much, I wonder if maybe he’s somehow able to capture part of the spirit from the first. If not, the concept is wasted, and that’s a shame. In this day and age, I guy like Bill Williamson is – for film – something spectacular. His misuse isn’t surprising from Boll, just disappointing.

SURVEILLANCE Twists Through Labyrinthine Crime-Horror

Surveillance. 2008. Directed by Jennifer Lynch. Screenplay by Lynch & Kent Harper.
Starring Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, French Stewart, Ryan Simpkins, Cheri Oteri, Charlie Newmark, Shannon Jardine, Pell James, Michael Ironside, Kent Harper, Gill Gayle, Mac Miller, Caroline Aaron, & Hugh Dillon. Lago Film/See Film/Film Star Pictures.
Rated R. 97 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Horror

★★★★1/2
POSTERJennifer Chambers Lynch has followed in the large footsteps of her father, not exactly on the same path but a similar one. Her 1993 debut Boxing Helena was not well received, nor did it really gain a cult following later on; I’m a fan, although I do understand why people don’t dig the film. It was tough to digest and her directing style hadn’t yet solidified, obviously just her first time out as director. I consider it a horrific metaphor for the male gaze and its will for control.
It was fifteen years later she gave us Surveillance. It begins as a simple cops-versus-serial killer-thriller involving a bunch of people who come together in a small town police station after tragedy strikes along the highway. Later, it becomes something far more sinister. Lynch doesn’t opt for the existential-type film her father David does so well. Here, the style is straight forward. The storytelling is the key here. Where other films with this mix of drama, crime, and horror might take a simple road, Lynch weaves through the cracks of the various characters lives, dissecting truth from lies and leading us to a savage conclusion.
Maybe it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I just can’t deny a well written and executed piece of cinema that has suspense, tension, plus an interesting twist right before the end. Lynch went on to do more interesting movies after this one, not making us wait another decade and a half again this time.Pic1 Part of why I love the movie is that the script doesn’t necessarily hide everything, the big twist. It does, and doesn’t all at once. Sure, you can go back and pick out all the moments where we could’ve previously unlocked the secrets. If you pay attention closely, the first time around it’s all there to chow on. Like when Pullman and Ormond’s characters are sitting in the car before going into the police station. There are some great bits in this short scene. From there it only gets better. As the plot gets closer to the finish you can, possibly, start to see where everything’s headed. If anybody says they “guessed it” at the star they’re liars. This plays as a nice dramatic horror with no frills for the longest time. Until Lynch and co-writer (as well as one of the film’s actors) Kent Harper flip every last thing we know on its head.
The characters make the story totally worth it, from Pullman and Ormond with their FBI agents, to Kent Harper as one angry (and fairly morally vacant) police officer, to the various people along that lonely stretch of road from Hugh Dillon to the always enjoyable Michael Ironside. The best part is how everybody who survived to tell their story at the precinct tells slight-to-fairly large lies about what they were doing before shit hit the fan. All except for the little girl, whose character is as interesting as any of the grownups.
Just the screenplay itself and how it’s laid out works for me. The story gets told in flashbacks mostly leading up to the reveal of truth in the finale. However, what I dig is that we get to see exactly who tells the truth, or how they tell it. Nobody is safe from scrutiny. Once the finale comes down and we understand everything with clearer eyes, we see how the truth’s been manipulated on all ends, with no exception. The story twists together with all the characters and their various truths like the braids in a knot tightening. Truly an excellently written screenplay with strong storytelling.
Pic2 The ensemble cast really does work wonders. I mean, even French Stewart is spot on as the other half of a nasty cop duo with Harper. Both of them make things interesting, especially in the big sequence after everybody’s stopped on the highway, as we see the story in flashback. Everyone is on par, too. Cheri Oteri and Hugh Dillon make an awesome couple, the kids hold up their end, as well. Particularly that little girl, Ryan Skimpkins – she makes that role stand out amongst all the adults, which gives the end even better impact with her doing such good work.
Of course, the main two that help Surveillance float along perfectly are Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond. They’re offbeat, strange. You immediately feel their chemistry together, as their FBI characters roll into the tiny town in order to figure out what’s been going on with two serial killers roaming from state to state, killing anybody in their path. Ormond gives Elizabeth a sense of having lost the chance at motherhood, or perhaps a woman who wants to have that but because of her lifestyle simply cannot. Regardless of which it is, Ormond makes the woman feel very real, so genuine. Alongside her there’s Pullman, whose weirdness permeates almost every single scene he’s in. The way he delivers lines, how he allows Sam to be a friendly type yet standoff-ish at the same time is near genius. Best of all, Pullman really comes out of his shell later on, as the plot necessitates a… different performance. All together, this cast is so strong that even if the writing wasn’t as good they’d be able to pull it off anyway.
Pic3 Personally, Surveillance is a 4 and 1/2 star affair, every time I watch it again. The first time I wasn’t so sure if I enjoyed it, or if it was only all right. Each viewing brings me closer to realising how god damn wonderful Jennifer Lynch’s movie is, and how the writing is just a slice of greatness. Quality writing doesn’t have to fool anybody. What Harper and Lynch do here is make a bunch of characters, developed in their own right, come together in a creeping, quiet story that sneaks up on you. By the time all the nasty action comes down on top of the viewer, Lynch has made sure we’re lulled into a sense of normalcy. When we’re fixed on determining the truth from lies everything happens fast. Then we’re caught up in the whirlwind.
Give this a chance. It’s an odd bit of horror piled high with dramatic tension. Some awesome performances hook us on the line and never let go. Let the film sink in. The style, the look, everything is tight, and makes for an unexpected treat. After you see this, and hopefully you enjoy it, check out Lynch’s next film Chained. Another macabre dose of cinema.

Aquarius – Season 2, Episode 11: “Can You Take Me Back?”

NBC’s Aquarius
Season 2, Episode 11: “Can You Take Me Back?”
Directed by Timothy A. Good
Written by David Reed

* For a review of the previous episode, “Blackbird” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Mother Nature’s Son” – click here
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On August 9th, 1969, Emma Karn (Emma Dumont), Tex Watson (Cameron Deane Stewart), and Sadie (Ambyr Childers) take charge of their victims. Mostly, Tex and Sadie do the dirty business. They blast one away while they setup the noose from a beam on the ceiling.
Cut to awhile before. Four months since the last episode. Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony) and Ken Karns (Brian F. O’Byrne) laze around at Spahn Ranch in a perpetual orgy of bodies. In other news, Detective Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) and his wife Kristin (Milauna Jackson) aren’t doing any better. She’s not coming back any time soon it looks like. At the same time he’s slipping back towards using drugs again.
And then there’s Dt. Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) – his car’s stolen, but the precinct holds bigger issues. The police commissioner recently resigned because of corruption and such under his watch, partly due to Hodiak and his slippery detective work, his… issues. Now, Sam is suspended for the foreseeable future. Hmm. That won’t sit right with him, you can be sure.
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Up at Spahn, Ken and Emma are entering a new era of their father-daughter relationship. He’s doing his thing, leaving behind all the time he wasted in his life. Doubtful he’ll be finding any comfort there. We start hearing more about Charlie’s madness. First there’s him digging holes to hide food and anything else they have on hand. Secondly, the plan for hiding in a “hole” out in the desert. What that refers to is the fact Manson actually believed the Family would hide under the Grand Canyon in the City of Gold. Bigger problems arise when the Manson baby gets taken by the police after a couple of the women encounter some officers. All because Ken’s card wouldn’t work at the store. So, naturally, Charlie blames him. Things are tense.
Hodiak kicks around the station and tries helping his fellow officers. Yeah, that’ll go well. He hops in on an interrogation; an Asian man was attacked, then killed a man in defence. He says it was prejudice, Sam feels differently. Of course he can’t do much more, being suspended and all.
As expected, Brian – with the help of his buddy from the clinic, Mike Vickery (Jason Ralph) – falls back into the arms of heroin. While up at Spahn, Charlie is putting the pressure on Ken to start pumping money into the Family. I can see a hard, brutal fallout coming a mile away. Just depends at what point that happens.
Grace Karns (Michaela McManus) doesn’t know where her husband is, so she’s trying to move on with parts of her life. She has options, although her father is footing the bill while she and her husband are separated. I feel bad for her, yet not totally for how she treated Emma.
At home, Shafe and Vickery trip hard. Possible the heroin was cut with something because Brian takes a hard trip down the rabbit hole, hallucinating wildly. No wonder he’s headed for a bit of self-destruction, as we’ve seen glimpses of where he ends up on the nights of the Manson Family murders.
Charlie and the Family are working towards their big plan. By the minute, Ken starts to see how his old buddy is dangerous, more criminal than he ever thought. Speaking of old buddies, Vickery starts overdosing at Shafe’s place. Being a cop, he doesn’t want to call an ambulance. Instead he tries to handle things himself. In the middle of it all, Roy Kovic (David Meunier) comes through the door with a sawed-off shotgun pointed at Brian. Ah, great!

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When Sam gets talking to the Japanese man whom he interrogated earlier. He talks about being at war, as the Japanese man tells him of being in an interment camp on U.S. soil. What we discover is that Hodiak found out that who this man killed used to be a guard in the same internment camp where he was locked away. Very curious.
Terry Melcher (Chase Coleman) has agreed to record Charlie, to get him off Wilson’s back. All is well, I guess. Ken sees more and more the strange brainwashing that happens with the Manson Family, as once Charlie leaves the table the women are allowed to eat. Tragic, all those young lives wrapped up in his mania.
The sexism Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) experiences is always present. She reels off a story about even her own father’s misogyny. One of the upper-ups gives her a shot to turn things around. Only if she helps him “fix” a problem of his own. Does that involve double-crossing her mentor?
Oh, things are getting worse for Shafe, and for everybody. Roy isn’t pleased with all the undercover bullshit. Will it wash out as a “drug deal gone wrong“? When Kristin comes in during the whole confrontation everything becomes scarier.
Now Charmain’s being summoned by Brian, as he and his wife sit at the end of Roy’s shotty. Kovic talks about some of the Manson ramblings, the “wheel of karma” that crushes those in its way.
That addiction of Hodiak’s, the need for mystery in his police life, it won’t stop. He figures out that the man the Japanese gentleman accidentally killed had a wife; she had an affair with the Japanese man in the camp where she taught. This produced a child, and then the man wanted revenge. Still, it’s “justifiable homicide” and lets the man go. You can tell he didn’t take any pleasure in killing the other guy, he didn’t even know he had a son. All that will weigh on him, forever.
Roy is bearing down on Charmain and the Shafes. Things are not looking good. Until the half-overdosed Vickery plants a heroin needle in Kobvic, starting a brutal fight between the biker and Charmain. All ending with a knife right in Roy’s heart. That just leaves them with a mess. At least nobody’s dead. The Shafes marriage? This did it no favours, either.

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After getting the Manson baby back to the Family, Ken wonders why anybody sticks around anymore. Everything at the ranch is getting dire. Emma then reveals to her father she’s with child. Not exactly a jump for joy bit of news, but news nonetheless. Charlie’s got the recording finished, and Ken did up a contract. To please the master. Melcher doesn’t want to sign anything. Then he goes on a tirade against Manson, insulting him terribly. Yet another incident to drive Charlie crazy. Also serves to drive Ken off from the ranch.
With everything happening, Charmain tears into Sam about the way he conducts himself. “I dont your permission to tell the truth,” she says. “Sometimes I wonder, did I create the monster, or did I just drag it back from the swamp?” Sam replies.
Hodiak hands in his resignation to Cutler then heads out. He says he’s done. Not sure how Charmain feels in the end, though she looks surprised. Everything is falling apart, for everybody, from Sam to the Shafes to Charlie and Ken.
Cut to August 9th of ’69 again. With a baby inside her, Emma watches as Sharon Tate, with child, is murdered savagely by the Manson Family. A too late and horrific awakening.
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What a wild episode. This show gets better with each passing chapter in Season 2. Up next is “Mother Nature’s Son” and it brings us to the penultimate finisher. I know NBC hasn’t really treated this series with the respect it deserves. It will likely never see Season 3. I do, however, feel it deserves one. After the decent Season 1, Aquarius stepped up its game hugely, in writing, directing, editing, all aspects. So I do hope NBC gives it a swan song third season to explore the last bits of the Manson days.