CAT STICKS portrays the lives of junkies in Kolkata— some of whom wish to escape their addiction, some of whom are caught in a perpetual cycle.
AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 5: “Breakage”
Directed by Johan Renck
Written by Moira Walley-Beckett
* For a review of the previous episode, “Down” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Peekaboo” – click here
We start on a couple men obviously crossing from Mexico over the U.S. border. They swim to shore, their boots around their necks and other belongings in knapsacks. On their way along shore one of them stumbles over something in the mud: Hank’s (Dean Norris) souvenir of the grill from Tuco. Hmm, strange no?
Walter (Bryan Cranston) is in the throes of chemotherapy now. The show does a real fascinating job at times of getting psychological, as we’re almost put right in his head; everything goes by with a strange quickness, at the same time it’s dreamy and stagnant, and even when Walt is back in his doctor’s office, he still seems in another world. Like the drugs pumping in his veins, the episode takes us into how it might feel for someone to sit in that chair and let the chemo run through them. In other news, Skyler (Anna Gunn) isn’t with him, which speaks volumes considering it’s not simply a doctor’s appointment. He’s got fucking cancer. So now, if it wasn’t already clear, their marriage is deteriorating at an exponential rate lately. But also, Walt is feeling the financial strain even more now with the therapy. His bill is staggering, and we don’t even see it for ourselves. Just Cranston’s acting takes us there.
At home Skyler is just as stressed. On the phone she bitches someone out with a smile over hospital charges. It’s staggering to me as a Canadian to hear three days in the hospital cost Walt $13,000+ alone. That is mind boggling. Nevertheless, here he is, and you know what all this means, right? Meth will be cooked. A lot of it. All the while Walt is feeling the horrible effects of chemotherapy, spending lots of time praying to the porcelain god.
Over at his office, Hank is catching his boss up on things concerning Heisenberg, a supposedly secretive cook making the “big blue” in New Mexico. Yowzahs, that’s getting close to home.
Then ASAC George Merkert (Michael Shamus Wiles) reveals he’s being promoted to a big time task force taking the cartel on. While he acts excited outwardly, in private Hank finds himself breaking apart at the seams. In an elevator he almost has a full-blown panic attack. Of course he pulls himself together, but now we’re given a look behind the curtain of his tough guy exterior. There’s something happening underneath that thick skin. Be interesting to see how that plays into things further down the line.
Finally, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) makes good on his word as bond. He heads back to see Clovis, who isn’t happy to see him. Obviously. Jesse pays up, even for the damaged gate and the port-a-potty. Then they strike a deal for Jesse to park the Winnebago there, y’know, for a bit of cover. Even better, Jesse buys up an unsuspecting car to drive around, so that he doesn’t look suspicious; a little red beater. Plus, he’s found himself a possible place to live. He meets a woman named Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter) renting an apartment owned by her father that she manages. Through it all, he ends up convincing her to take cash instead of all the usual bureaucracy. This is the beginning of a troubled relationship between landlord and tenant.
At home Hank is bottling some home brewed beer. Marie (Betsy Brandt) isn’t exactly pleased to see him home after just receiving a big promotion the day before and all. She believes he’s playing “Oktoberfest in [his] mancave“, though he plays it off as taking a well deserved day off. However, we know the difference. That tough exterior is there, but slips more and more. The pressure literally gets to Hank after he busts open a bottle while trying to put the cap on, busting open his hand while he’s at it.
In the desert, Jesse drives the Winnebago to meet Walt. It’s cook time. Furthermore, Walt’s got big plans for their little enterprise. He wants to take the business out on their own: he’ll cook, Jesse distributes on the street. Pinkman isn’t at all interested in “exposing” himself to the risk involved after his run-in with the DEA. Nor is Walt eager to “jump into bed with another Tuco.” They’ve both got nothing to their name after all the madness they’ve landed themselves in. Jesse offers to create their own distribution network, using friends of his to help sell it on the streets, but Walt is afraid of branching out. He wants his cake and to eat it, too. He doesn’t like “unknown entities” becoming a part of their partnership. Only Jesse doesn’t like the “division of labour“, so things are about to go his way for once. He gives his older counterpart an ultimatum: “You need me more than I need you, Walt.”
The whole Scooby gang gets together at Jesse’s new spot – Combo (Rodney Rush), Badger (Matt Jones), and the one, the only Skinny Pete (Charles Baker). They’ve got business to discuss. Well they’re a bit sceptical of Jesse and his pricing. At least until they understand how good the product is, coupled with the streets coming up a bit dry as of late. The rules are strict for the “big opportunity” Jesse lays out for them, but either way the gang is in.
What’s most interesting here is seeing how Jesse gleans much of his personality from others. He recycles lines and words from Walt, we’ve seen that already. Now, he applies the “DBAA” rule from Jane (Don’t Be An Asshole) to his own buddies in their new distribution project. It’s funny, yet sad all the same. Jesse still hasn’t figured himself out after all these years.
The Whites and the Schraders are having dinner together. Skyler eventually can’t listen to her sister blab on any longer about nothing endlessly. She wants an apology for the whole tiara debacle. Still no movement on that front, and Skyler’s sick and tired of everyone around her lying. She knows Walt is up to something, now on top of it all her own sister can’t even give her a sincere apology to mend their relationship. But Marie isn’t all bad and she eventually shows her humanity instead of being a stone cold bitch.
Jesse and the crew are out slangin’. This sequence is so awesome, it is frenetic and full of energy with a slow change in style that gets darker and darker, slightly more sketchy just like the meth scene. They move the product quick to all the hungry customers on the street. Only some of them are shadier than you’re already expecting. Skinny Pete winds up selling to a meth head who tricks him into running from police, supposedly. He’s ran into a hallway where the meth head and her man rob him at knife point. This is actually a creepy scene. So creepy. The ever wonderful Dale Dickey plays the lady meth freak, and normally she can be scary as is, but they’ve truly made her look awful, scabs on her face. She also does this laugh that’s completely unnerving when Pete is at the end of a knife.
So now this causes issues with Jesse and Walt. The money bag is light. And the naivety of Walt is incredible. He basically goads his younger partner into doing something dumb. Saying that this whole situation makes Jesse look weak because “Jesse Pinkman – druglord – can be robbed with impunity.” Such an awful thing for Walt to do. He’s so removed from the violence that he is willing to say anything. Yet we know he’s also capable of violence when put into the corner, no other way out. It’s simply a malicious thing to treat Jesse how he does here.
Hank thinks he hears gunshots outside. He rushes downstairs with his own gun drawn. Except in his garage he finds it’s just some beer bottles popping. However, the look in Hank’s eyes is clear. There is something happening to him after shooting Tuco, it isn’t good for him. This throws his new promotion slightly into question.
Later in the night, Walt goes over to see Jesse at his new digs. He’s brought a request for his younger partner: “I want you to handle it,” Walt says after laying a gun on the counter. Wow. Walter White – piece of shit of the year. Because no longer is he simply doing this to make some cash, get out, provide for his family. Walt is loving being a meth cook and distributor. He is getting a sick thrill out of it.
At the end of the episode, we watch Hank toss Tuco’s memorialised grill into the river. Trying his best to get rid of the memories associated with the token.
Another great, well written episode that drives forward so much character and plot at once. Love Krysten Ritter, so glad she’s in this season. She brings lots to the cast, in terms of acting and just the fact her character opens up so much. Stay with me for a review of “Peekaboo” coming shortly.
Dealer. 2014. Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot. Screenplay by Samy Baaroun & Herbulot.
Starring Dan Bronchinson, Elsa Madeleine, Salem Kali, Bruno Henry, Hervé Babadi, Dimitri Storoge, Fatima Adoum, Didier Mérigou, Emmanuel Bonami and Franck Boss. Multipass Productions/Mad Films-Mi.
Unrated. 75 minutes.
Ever since Nicolas Winding Refn brought the Copenhagen drugworld out in all its gritty, raw glory with Pusher twenty years ago, many other filmmakers have tried their best to attain the same level of magic with their own tales of the mean streets in various countries. Most recently, I loved Gerard Johnson’s Hyena, which definitely pulled from Refn yet kept its own vibe in tact with lots of dubious police morality, a few nasty splashes of blood and plenty of the ole ultraviolence.
And now, we have Jean Luc Herbulot coming at us with the 2014 crime-thriller Dealer. There are absolutely bits and pieces of the film which exhibit influences of Refn. At the same time, there’s a little more action here, more dialogue, and certainly there’s the differing narration in this movie which sets it apart from any of its influences, Refn or otherwise. And while it isn’t a perfect crime-thriller there are a ton of impressive sequences, well-written scenes, as well as debilitating moments of violent action which propel us into the French underworld, filled with odd and quirky characters, drug dealing pieces of shit, murderers, and a whole lot more. Herbulot may not succeed on every note, hitting a few that call to mind too much other films. But outside of that, Dealer is a lot of fun – grim fun, at that. If what you’re looking for is another guided tour through the drug life of a middle man dealer in the gutters of Paris, or what could be any major city with a taste for illegal substances, then this is certainly a film you don’t want to pass up.
Always dreaming of going to Australia with his daughter, drug dealing Dan (Dan Bronchinson) is in a bad way. His life isn’t exactly stellar, trying to navigate a rocky relationship with separated wife Léna (Maïa Bonami), sleeping with a prostitute named Chris (Elsa Madeleine), all the while attempting to exit the cocaine business to make his dreams come true.
When Dan is offered a once in a lifetime opportunity he must remain a little longer as a cocaine dealer. Except in a twist of fate, the drugs he’s given – worth 70,000 francs – end up disappearing, which leads Dan and his tenuous associates on a fast thrill ride through the underbelly of Paris looking for the culprit. And worst of all, his family finds themselves in the cross-hairs of his disgusting business, and the conclusion will be tough; for every last person involved.
One sequence I loved is where Dan walks the streets, mourning the loss of his cocaine and stressing over where to get the money he owes for it. His red jacket is the only colour visible in the frame for a while, as he smokes and pushes through crowds of people. Best of all, he sees everything from cellphones to shoes to jackets, and more, with price tags next to them. Tallying up how much he’d have to steal and hawk in order to make up the 70,000 francs, which is the equivalent of nearly $100,000 in American and Canadian dollars. This whole sequence is great and gives us more than just the raw style director Herbulot goes for most of the film; not to say I don’t enjoy that, it’s just nice to see more than one technique displayed.
Above all, it’s the intense pacing of the film I enjoyed. Whereas many crime-thrillers, particularly those with twisty plots, sometimes find themselves with a slow pace due to heavy dialogue, too much exposition, or any number of issues, Dealer succeeds in keeping things fast paced, exciting, from the very beginning straight into the finale. That’s one thing that helps Herbulot distance his movie from Refn – not that he needs to, but you know what I mean. The fact Herbulot keeps the film speeding from scene to scene is impressive work, as we could easily find ourselves bogged down in so many details, too many characters, too much violence. However, this never ever happens. Not once was I looking at my watch, as has happened in the past with other similar films. In fact, the 75 minute runtime whittles away incredibly quick, and I was surprised during the final 15 minutes when I realized everything was almost finished. The lasting impact of the few final scenes is especially resonant. Again, it brings to mind quite a bit of the way Refn ended his first Pusher. Although, I found the writing here from both Herbulot and Samy Baaroun leaves Dealer in a much more intense, chaotic, and even scary place. Refn did a much better job on the whole, but Herbulot could certainly pick up and make his own Pusher sequel, that’s how well executed this film comes off.
With a few pieces I thought could’ve been fine tuned a little more, Dealer is still a 3.5 out of 5 star crime-thriller. Plenty of action, lots of the grime and grit we seem to expect these days from stories such as this, and on top of that the performances are full of energy, which matches the pace Herbulot and Baaroun set with their screenplay. You can certainly do a whole lot worse if you’re looking for a thrilling crime film to pass the time. Apparently the lead actor has experience in this sort of world, quoted as saying almost 70% of it is straight out of his own life. So that’s another wild aspect. Regardless, this holds excitement, brutality, and even the rare touching moment near the end. Dealer certainly keeps up the future of crime films, joining the ranks of Refn, Gerard Johnson and others who have depicted the criminal underbelly of the world in a highly stylized and intriguing fashion. I’ll be keeping Herbulot on my radar from now on. Hopefully he’ll follow up with something equally as impressive.
Hyena. 2014. Directed & Written by Gerard Johnson.
Starring Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, Elisa Lasowski, MyAnna Buring, Richard Dormer, Gordon Brown, Tony Pitts, Orli Shuka, Gjevat Kelmendi, Thomas Craig, Lorenzo Camporese, Shaban Arifi, Alfred Doda, and Mem Ferda.
Film4/Number 9 Films.
Unrated. 112 minutes.
With the endorsement of Nicolas Winding Refn right on the film’s poster, there is no doubt in my mind anyone who has seen the Pusher trilogy will definitely find a likeness here in Hyena. I don’t find any crossover in terms of ripping it off, though, but merely the situations and feel of the plot definitely have that sort of vibe, a very realistic and low budget rawness that Refn also had in his crime films.
The last film Gerard Johnson wrote and directed, also starring Peter Ferdinando, was an amazing dive into the black mind of a quiet serial killer living in a tiny council flat, Tony (you can find my review here). I absolutely loved that one and I’m inclined to enjoy this even more. While the Refn vibe is absolutely present, I feel between Ferdinando’s acting and the directing/writing on the part of Johnson this movie takes on a life of its own without having to rely on predecessors with similar style.
Hyena is a savagely intense, visceral crime thriller in regards to its plot and story. At the same time, Johnson instils his film with an incredible amount of visual flair. Not only is there a gritty, raw style, Johnson opts for a lot of great imagery often involving colour and shadow. Most of all, the character Ferdinando plays and the story surrounding him is enough to hold you for a little under two hours. Not once was I bored, between the screenplay’s action, its turns, and the high tension involved as the stakes for the main character seem to never stop skyrocketing, right up until the bitter end.
Michael (Peter Ferdinando) is a detective in London, his crew includes Martin (Neil Maskell) and Keith (Tony Pitts) among others. On his own, Michael takes care of the Turkish criminals as much as he can, getting a piece of the action. When several Albanians murder one of his Turks in horrific fashion while Michael watches on in hiding, things begin to change. At first it’s merely the disappearing presence of the Turkish criminals he’d been dealing with all along. Soon, Michael himself becomes the target of another law enforcement officer with whom he has history, Nick Taylor (Richard Dormer).
Forced into dealing with the same Albanians which he was forced to watch murder his Turkish friend, Michael enters into a scarily tenuous relationship with these newly moved in gangsters. What follows is part crisis of conscience, part survival of the fittest, as Michael must figure out how to live off the scraps of all the carcasses beginning to pile up and topple into the streets.
Something I thought that’s more evident here, both explicitly and implicitly, is how the brutality amongst the gangsters in the world of Hyena feels even more vicious than anything in Refn’s Pusher films (not knocking them because they’re some of my favourite crime films ever). For instance, the Albanian gangsters are pretty damn awful with their level of savagery. One early scene just after the first half hour sees a woman at their hands get cut them her wound is salted (I think it’s salt; could also be detergent of some kind) – it’s like another day at the office for them, each stone faced and uncaring, almost enjoying watching the woman’s pain. Not everything is perfectly explicit, as I said; some of the violence comes offscreen. Like when Michael’s Turkish gangster friend gets chopped by the Albanians. Though, we do see the aftermath, the actual violence itself is offscreen, which is something I’ve always found effective: show us the consequences, let us deal with those, but refrain from showing the acts of violence themselves. There’s a particular sort of gravitas that comes out of that technique I find works well for certain films. In Hyena, writer-director Johnson serves his film and story greatly by not having all the violence and murder displayed openly. Instead he sort of edges along the cliff – giving us pieces now and then, to satisfy the bloodlust, then merely teasing us, wetting our beaks slightly in order to ramp up the tension. It’s the same way Johnson went about his previous serial killer flick Tony, which didn’t have as much blood and violence in it as you’d expect for a story like that; he reveals only what is necessary to keep the tension and the suspense flowing at high volume.
As for the previous Johnson film, musician Matt Johnson composed the perfectly fitting score for Hyena. Some of the pieces he put into the score are beyond foreboding and full of darkness. As I always say, a movie that has music which compliments its visual style can really create an intense atmosphere and tone. One aspect of this movie I love is the ever pervading atmosphere that keeps us uneasy, unsettled, as if anything might happen at any time – particularly anything bad. The score has plenty of interesting sections. Some are full of this pulsing electronic rhythm, many others have this mysterious thriller styled music with beautiful foreign instrumentation and percussion which really puts you in the middle of these Albanian run neighbourhoods, the Turkish spots, et cetera. You almost get, in the music alone, a look into the multicultural side of London; albeit the gritty, criminal side, but still it’s fascinating stuff. I think my favourite bits, though, are the electronic pieces in the score because there’s a wildly scary quality just through these sounds which helps Johnson easily put together shots to hold us in that place of stasis he needs. Then when Johnson uses the visuals again to bring us out of that lull and SLAM US with something intense and visceral, the music also pumps up the emotion and the film charges at us in these moments. Another great instance of a film where audio and visual elements work together creating a wonderful atmosphere, as well as this combination helps set and hold a tone the director aims to attain.
My favourite instance of this involves a MASSIVE SPOILER – when Michael (Ferdinando) takes David Knight (Stephen Graham) to meet the Albanians, and as David is violently murdered Johnson slows everything down – time nearly stands still, the scene happens in slow motion while the score is just mesmerizing. You won’t believe it until you see it. Afterwards, the music still pumping, Michael runs and runs down the streets of London, fast as he can. It’s an incredible sequence which starts a minute or so before the one hour fifteen minute mark.
Peter Ferdinando does a great job with his character Michael. Further than that, I think the character itself was written well by Gerard Johnson. There’s parts of Michael with which I found myself empathizing – he’s sort of trying to stay relevant while also hoping to keep alive and out of jail. Other times, I wondered how the hell he managed to get himself down into the dirty quicksand so abruptly. Michael also seems to me like someone who can be slightly naive at times, even for such an obviously seasoned detective, no stranger to dealing with violent, insane criminals; he willingly walks himself into too much at various times throughout Hyena. However, despite the character’s flaws Ferdinando plays him spot on. I love the last ten minutes of the film because you can almost chew on the tension watching Michael, it’s all in his face and his eyes, everything about him speaks to how strained and stressed this man is, which makes you feel as if you’re sitting right alongside him. Ferdinando does great things as an actor with plenty of range in him, from this to Tony alone he has proved to be fantastic.
This is a 5 star crime thriller film to me. Not much out there in the past couple years as good and slick as this, nor as interesting in terms of visuals and the score. Tons of great things happening underneath the surface. Some critics and filmgoers online would have you believe the ending is not satisfying. Me, I’m the type of person who also loved The Sopranos and how it ended. There’s something about the last few moments, watching Michael, the music washing in over us again heavier, heavier, then when things come to a head and the credits cut in I feel more satisfied than anything. Sure, there are no concrete answers, but think about it: can you imagine ANY situation in which Michael would’ve been all right afterwards? There’s no possible scenario that would’ve worked out appropriately for him in the end, so Gerard Johnson gave us a poignant, quiet end with no resolutions only an anticipation of the WORST TO COME. I love the way the credits come in afterwards, the title card nice and stylized in blue ink, and there’s an amazing song playing in the background.
See this and enjoy it or not – one of the greatest crime thriller films of the last 5 years easily. I can only hope others might find the same fascinating elements in Hyena that I have. So far, I’ve seen this about a handful of times now and I highly suggest heading over to iTunes at some point soon for a copy. I’m definitely going to watch it again soon.. again.
Ever watch a documentary that pissed you off? Well, here's another one.
The second sequel to Refn's groundbreaking PUSHER is a bleak look at the end of the road for one Copenhagen druglord, as he juggles recovery, family, and business on a very special day for his daughter.
Refn's sequel to his 1st PUSHER film is another bleak trip to Copenhagen's underworld.