From Johnny Messner

Running Scared Runs (Too) Wild on Crime

Running Scared. 2006. Directed & Written by Wayne Kramer.
Starring Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Karel Roden, Johnny Messner, Ivana Milicevic, Alex Neuberger, Michael Cudlitz, Bruce Altman, Elizabeth Mitchell, Arthur J. Nascarella, John Noble, Idalis DeLeon, & David Warshofsky. New Line Cinema/Media 8 Entertainment/True Grit Productions.
Rated 18A. 122 minutes.
Action/Crime/Drama

★★★
POSTER
I’m not a Paul Walker fan, there are only a couple movies I enjoy with him in it. This being one. He was never a bad actor, just never picked the greatest projects. Running Scared gives him a significantly meaty role into which he could chew. On top of that the entire story and its plots are super fun. This is part personal drama, part chase film, part mob movie, and more. You’ve got action, crime, lots of drama. If anything there’s almost too much involved throughout the screenplay. This is actually a great little flick, one destined for more cult status as the years wear on. Part of its flaws lie in the wild nature of the writing, the over-the-top elements get a bit tiresome. Part of its excitement also lie in the very same thing. So this movie remains a good example of when weird gets a little out of hand. Despite the nonsense, Running Scared gets exciting, thrilling, even slightly disturbing. There’s no getting past the flaws, sadly. What might have ended up a solid action-crime flick gets too convoluted for its own good, never able to grab that foothold necessary to climb past its bored trappings. While I can throw this on for fun I’m not able, or willing, to say this is anything more than a guilty pleasure. A cotton candy action movie. Lots of crime to boot. A ton of characters with quirks doesn’t make up for lack of character development and a story that’s always rushing, trying to do good on everything it’s missing. I want to love it, I do. Walker does well with his role, as do Vera Farmiga, young Cameron Bright, among others such as the always charming Chazz Palminteri. The action is a thrill, the story’s got provocative ins and outs. There’s no coming together of all the good aspects. By the finale you’re only wondering where all the potential went.
Pic1
My favourite touches…
Anzor (Karel Roden) represents the failure of the American Dream. When he talks about seeing John Wayne in The Cowboys originally it was on 8mm and they cut out the hero’s death, as it was for children. Upon coming to America, he sees the real version where Wayne’s character dies, shot, walking away. This is the perfect exemplification of that realization by an immigrant coming to the U.S., that all that idea of the American Dream is merely smoke and mirrors, it’s a fake, a movie, a plot like any other in a made up movie. It all speaks to his own situation, a Russian coming to the States, ending up as a criminal on the streets involved with guns, drugs, and everything else in that realm.
The whole structure of the story is excellent, even if the film as a whole doesn’t pay off on all the cheques it cashes via several different plot threads. For instance, the multi-layered plot involving Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) working for the mob and having to hide the gun, the gun gets taken by Oleg (Cameron Bright) and gets used on Anzor triggering his paranoia, in turn triggering a sketchy situation for Joey with his mob pal Tommy (Johnny Messner) and his father, Boss Frankie Perello (Arthur J. Nascarella), all of that sending poor Oleg out on the run where he goes from one dangerous situation to the next, travelling between scary locations, each worse than the last. So within all that there are these nice mini-chases between set piece after set piece. Cool enough. Joey gets thrown around the city and this makes for an interesting journey through the streets of, funny enough, Prague, though the setting is more somewhere like New York or New Jersey. With nothing ultimately interesting enough to carry things completely through, we’re left with just a bunch of connected scenes that feel as if they could’ve made up two movies. There aren’t enough pieces to make a whole puzzle, only little bits that connect, but only in the sense they’ve got all the same characters involved. This is a typical mob movie that tries to be more, ending in a mashed up slop by the finish of its overly long runtime.
Pic3
My biggest issue with the film is there’s no real character development in any of the characters. Sure, we do get revelations concerning our lead. Other than that it’s barely non-existent. The characters themselves are incredibly interesting. However, there’s never any time to flesh them out. We’re far too busy riding along and zipping through various landscapes, locations, different oddball settings. There’s a little bit of style, as far as the look of the film is concerned. This is neither unique enough, nor flashy enough to keep our minds distracted from the bunched up plots and the various characters tossed into the middle of them. In fact, the greatest development out of any character is saved for a feeble plot twist last in the game. Something that could’ve been used to much better effect were it given up early on. That way, more development would have come from that one point. Instead, it’s a forgettable end to a middle of the road story.
Pic4
The one thing that saves this aside from those few interesting portions I mentioned is the cinematography from Jim Whitaker, whose work includes Thank You for Smoking and director Wayne Kramer’s The Cooler, as well as other titles. Whitaker makes the look of the film sort of glossy. All the same things are kept ugly, gritty, matching the dirty cop/criminal plot playing out. In that visual aesthetic, Running Scared is able to stay captivating most of the time, even if it’s lacking in fairly significant areas such as the development of characters. You can find plenty to enjoy with the weird characters, just don’t expect that to go anywhere further. The plot is decent, though again, it never gets anywhere because saving such a juicy reveal for its finale takes away potential power. Still, throw this on if you’re looking to pass the time with a few thrills, a chill tossed in for good measure. The action and the weirdness won’t make this a classic, shooting the whole movie in its foot because of excess. You’ll be able to find something to dig, not every fun movie has to be a masterpiece after all.

Condemned is a Gross Out and Nothing More

Condemned. 2015. Directed & Written by Eli Morgan Gesner.
Starring Johnny Messner, Michel Gill, Jon Abrahams, Ronen Rubinstein, Lydia Hearst, Dylan Penn, Michael Drayer, Jordan Gelber, Genevieve Hudson-Price, Anthony Chisholm, Kea Ho, Michael DeMello, Perry Yung, & Tuffy Questell. Caliber Media Company.
Not Rated. 83 minutes.
Horror

★★1/2
POSTERDirector-writer Eli Morgan Gesner is obviously a lover of New York City, setting Condemned in the Big Apple, as well as previously directing the documentary Concrete Jungle and serving as a consultant on 12 episodes of How to Make It in America. So I’m not sure if he’s trying to make a statement at all with this one, or if it’s simply easiest to set his grossout, low budget horror in a city he knows best. Either way, I can’t say this is spectacular. Its cheap style shows in many places, as do its influences. What Condemned lacks in style and overall execution it makes up for in a few good laughs, plus a heft dose of weirdness.
There are gore horrors, then there are grossout horror films. This falls into the latter category. There are certain parts of the grossness which really work well for its horror, then other scenes are simply too nasty for no good reason and it turns even me off. Don’t get me wrong – I love a nice gory horror flick. However, there’s a limit to how badly things are done that I will reach. This movie surpasses my limit, simply because it doesn’t do enough with all its other elements to justify such nastiness. For instance, movies like Dead Alive and Cabin Fever are blood-filled, gory movies I enjoy; the first because Peter Jackson brings an incredible pace to the film and pumps gallons upon gallons of blood onto the viewer, the second due to Eli Roth’s campy sense of humour and ability to turn our stomachs with body horror imagery. But Gesner’s film never amounts to anything near either of those, ultimately falling short in pacing. Although, a couple of the characters and the actors by whom they are played lend enough interest that I sat through this and chuckled a few times. I also chose, after the first little while, not to get a snack.
Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 12.12.36 AMScreen Shot 2016-02-23 at 12.57.06 AM
After Maya (Dylan Penn) gets fed up with her parents and their constant fights, she moves in with her boyfriend Dante (Ronen Rubinstein). Only thing is Dante lives in a building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where everyone is squatting. The place is ‘run’ by an older man named Shynola (Anthony Chisholm) and is filled with the strangest kinds of people. Included among the residents are junkies Vince (Jon Abrahams) and Tess (Lydia Hearst), a massive drugged up Jew called Big Foot (Jordan Gelber), Cookie (Perry Yung), Gault (Johnny Messner) and his human toilet Murphy (Michael DeMello), among others.
But soon they’ll all be living in worse squalor than ever. A virus spreads throughout the apartment building, made up of all the disgusting waste and garbage from the rotten mess of all its tenants, and one after another people are infected. They become angry, dangerous killers, which eventually turns the building into stories of madness.
As the city outside lives on, the people inside are dying to get out.


Certainly, if anything, you can enjoy some hideous practical effects. Many of the warts and boils on the people as they become infected are spot on gross. Probably most of the budget went towards making the near neon vomit, the puss-filled sacks, and so on. There is a decent look and feel to the movie, it attains a gritty, grim atmosphere with a dark visual style. But mostly, Gesner aims to disgust. Alongside those brutal effects, from hanging eyeballs to torn up guts to leaking yellow-cream pus, the sound effects themselves are enough to make you sick. Part of all that makes the grossness effective. In other movies that just go for gore, gore and more gore, often times it’s all visual; just throw a load of blood in the frame. At least Condemned opts to work with the sound design by using it appropriately in tandem with the bloody mess created onscreen.
Some of my favourite gore: 1) Tess takes a knife in the forehead/eye which is awesome enough, but then she goes on a manic rant about New York; 2) a hand gets ripped off and it looks good, even better Dante apologies frantically for having torn it away from the owner’s body; 3) someone’s stomach is disemboweled, then the guts get pulled on like a rope; and 4) a perfectly executed chopped off head reminiscent of some of the best in horror. Also, the makeup itself is best on Gault on Murphy, the gay muscle couple, once they start to find themselves infected; almost reminded me of a Rammstein video, in a great way.
I’m not a fan of horror-comedies per say. Though, I am indeed a fan of horror films which go for darkly comedic stories, dialogue, et cetera. There are a couple scenes where I actually laughed out. Most of the movie is straight up grim and savagely gross, but some moments are really funny. Such as the aforementioned Tess rant re: New York, the “NAZIS!” scream from Big Foot, even the two musclebound gay guys are funny (until they’re ultra frightening). This screenplay is nowhere near amazing. It is competent enough to provide some black comedy. Unfortunately, Gesner never provides us with enough to justify the plot, he only gives us what’s needed; nothing more. A grossout gore flick doesn’t really need to have a ton going on, but there’s simply no way to put this above any other films of its kind, there’s just nothing elevating it beyond mediocrity.


There are definitely a couple decent performances. Overall, the cast isn’t great; some of the characters were highly underused, some were made out to be more important than others then found death quickly. If I gave this any higher than a 2&1/2-star rating it would bother me. There’s nothing here, even the makeup effects, which takes it above and beyond that level. Whereas there are a few effects here worth seeing (see: head chop), the majority of Condemned is easily forgotten. If anything, see this to be a completist if you’re like me. Another gory, nasty little flick to tick off the list of films floating around out there. Other than that, throw on something else with more to offer.