From Karel Roden

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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Frankenstein’s Army is Campy and Creepy Nazi Horror Fun

Frankenstein’s Army. 2013. Directed by Richard Raaphorst. Screenplay by Miguel Tejada-Flores & Chris W. Mitchell from a story by Tejada-Flores & Raaphorst.
Starring Robert Gwilym, Hon Ping Tang, Alexander Mercury, Luke Newberry, Joshua Sasse, Mark Stevenson, Andrei Zayats, Karel Roden, Klaus Lucas, Cristina Cataline, Jan de Lukowicz, & Zdenek Barinka. MDI Media Group/Dark Sky Films/Pellicola/XYZ Films/Sirena Film/Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic/The Czech Film Industry Support Programme.
Rated R. 84 minutes.
Action/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★POSTER There are no end to people sick of the found footage sub-genre, no matter how it’s used or in what genre it gets repurposed. I’m not one of them, though. For me, if a film can find a way to use found footage that’s at least a little fresh, unique in some way, then I’m really able to get into it. Frankenstein’s Army chooses to not only mash-up the horror and war genres, it further throws in some Mary Shelley DNA with a found footage setup. Honestly, even if it’s not your cup of tea in the end, this is at the very least an idea worth giving a chance.
The film has a lot of creepy things going for it, as well as the fact so much of everything is done practically, using long takes that lend themselves to the found footage format. Director Richard Raaphorst tells an interesting story with an incredibly terrifying plot that never quits. While not everything works all of the time, Frankenstein’s Army is fairly well acted, and the monsters – oh, the monsters! Above all, the horrifying creatures are exactly one of the major reasons why this is effective. Plus, the feeling of a movie trying hard to do some unique monster work, especially through practical effects, is something we’re not often seeing these days. With a few things that could’ve been improved most of the movie is entertaining, as well as dark and definitely disturbing.
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On orders from Josef Stalin himself, near the end of World War II a group of Russian soldiers are sent on a mission for the Fatherland. Stalin specifically requests they film everything, so that it might make Russia proud. The troop end up hearing of a number of other soldiers in need of help. When the come across the caretaker of a church, the Russians are led into a terrifying house of horrors; a place where strange creatures lurk in every corner. But what starts as merely an isolated incidents devolves into the soldiers pushing through a massive German factory filled with awful monsters, pieced together from living flesh and metal, pieces of machinery, even propellers. When they discover the caretaker is really Dr. Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden), descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, the group of soldiers descend into what may as well be Hell.
As the nastiness piles up, none of them are sure they’ll survive until the war is over – in fact, it’s just begun.
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After 4,200+ films and counting, a good chunk of those horror, I tend to believe not a whole lot truly scares me. Although, every so often there are things that creep me out, give me a few chills. I must say, there are a couple moments here where I found a creep or two. One scene is after Dmitri (Alexander Mercury) gets tossed down a chute by his fellow soldier, then a creature comes in and grabs a dead body nearby – right after, as Dmitri turns the camera I found that, plus several moments afterwards fairly unsettling. It didn’t shock me to the core, but the way it’s filmed is unsettling. Then once Dmitri goes further and ends up in an office, finding a teddy bear with a woman’s head sewn onto it, the whole thing goes from unsettling to disturbing (check the credits; you’ll find out who that woman-teddy bear is). I love this whole section because then we start getting into the Frankenstein aspect.
And that’s another big reason why I enjoyed the screenplay. Because Frankenstein adaptations are a dime a dozen, or movies and stories that draw from Mary Shelley, such as ‘modern retellings’ and so on. Yet Frankenstein’s Army takes the legacy of the infamous doctor and extends it so that World War II, the Nazis and all they were up to, gets included. That opens up a whole new aspect to the story because the Nazis were into a lot of things experimentation-wise, from medical experiments to hopeful tries towards making ‘supermen’. The original Dr. Frankenstein may as well have gone on to be a Nazi doctor because his work was out of control as it was, attempting to essentially play God, which his supposed descendant here takes to an entirely new level of disturbed.


Many found footage films suffer from a dearth of proper acting. Here, though, we get a main cast who do a fairly good job carrying the material. In addition, Dr. Viktor Frankenstein is played by the ever fabulous Karel Roden, whose talent gives the film an extra quality in the final 20 minutes. His exuberance is terrific, as Viktor starts out subtle then moves quickly into mania, with each minute getting wilder and wilder. Watching him walk around the factory explaining his process, talking of his family history and more, it is quite a treat. In the most morbid way possible. If it weren’t for the actor playing Dmitri and Roden as Frankenstein this wouldn’t have such an interesting finale. But really, the entire cast does a decent job, aside from the old German man that ends up with the soldiers for a short time, along with a boy (the kid wasn’t so bad). It’s not award-winning acting, however, it does the job. Again, the final half hour is a ton of fun, especially the last 19 minutes or so. Dmitri has to endure watching plenty of terror, a few patches of blood and guts, too. It is a grueling end, but packs a gruesome punch.


I’ve got to give Frankenstein’s Army a 4-star rating. Yes, things could’ve been improved at certain points, perhaps some of the bits with the soldiers would do well with a tightening of the screenplay. But it is still one hell of an entertaining horror, bits and pieces of action thrown in and a heavy splash of science fiction. The genre mash-up, all captured in the found footage sub-genre, is spectacular and whereas some films try to do that then end up with too much this movie keeps its eye on the prize. Because really what it aims to be is a monster flick, a creature feature of sorts. Only the jumping-off point is WWII, Nazis, with that extra spice of Frankenstein stirred in. You can do much worse than this if looking for a weird horror to enjoy, or a found footage film. It at least employs the sub-genre in a different way than most of the ‘lost in the woods yelling’ or ‘trapped in a mental hospital yelling’ found footage efforts out there already. Give it a chance.