From Ron Perlman

The Last Winter: Larry Fessenden’s Fossil Fuel Horrorshow

The Last Winter. 2006. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay by Fessenden & Robert Leaver.
Starring Ron Perlman, Connie Britton, James Le Gros, Jamie Harrold, Zach Gilford, Kevin Corrigan, Jamie Harrold, Pato Hoffmann, Joanne Shenandoah, Larry Fessenden, and Oscar Miller. Antidote Films/Glass Eye Pix/Zik Zak Kvikmyndir. Rated 18A. 101 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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It’s no secret I’m a huge Larry Fessenden fan. His collection of films recently hit Blu ray, so I luckily snatched up a copy from eBay at a solid price. The entire 4-disc collection includes his films No TellingHabitWendigo, and of course The Last Winter. Included are a ton of extra bits like music videos and short films Fessenden pulls out of virtual obscurity, as well as the man himself talking us into the pictures, plus the short pieces too. The commentary is great all around, everything about this collection is magic.
The Last Winter is a rare bird. While I’m not huge on certain special effects in this movie, I can’t fault it much more outside those elements. In a day and age where too many people deny climate change, not to mention its impact(s), Fessenden takes the horror genre and weaves a contemporary issue through its cliches and tropes in a unique way. The story, above all else, is what matters. Add to that some solid performances, excellent tension developed by Fessenden’s directorial style, and this is a supremely creepy effort among a ton of post-2000 horror movies which aren’t worth their weight.

American oil company KIC Corporation is drilling in the arctic, constructing an ice road into the Northern Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to find more locations in which they’ll explore for more deposits. At a station ran by corporate shill Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), a team of environmentalists work side by side with people from KIC. James Hoffman (James Le Gros) and his assistant Elliot Jenkins (Jamie Harrold) are the most recent scientists evaluating the project. When Pollack bumps heads with Hoffman, the latter is taken away from the project permanently; no doubt due to Ed’s pull at KIC. At the same time, young crew member Maxwell McKinder (Zach Gilford) goes missing for a while. Upon his return, he seems distant, disturbed. One night, he wanders out into the wilderness, naked and mentally unstable. The rest of the crew find him dead, eyes only empty sockets. And then, they realize the environment may be starting to take back what they’ve drilled so relentlessly out of its bones.
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Hoffman: “Why do we despise the world that gave us life? Why wouldn’t the world survive us, like any organism survives a virus. The world that we grew up in is changed forever. There is no way home. Is there something beyond science that is happening out here? What if the very thing we were here to pull out of the ground were to rise willinglyconfront us. What would that look like? What if this is the last winter, before the collapse? And hope dies.”

The cinematography is spectacular. So many of the exterior shots in particular, they’re marvelous to look at – from the wide shots of the Arctic Circle, to the helicopter and sweeping crane shots of the camp. Every last sequence in the entire film looks gorgeous, even the dark, shadowy moments. Again, as I said earlier, there are a few shots involving special effects I don’t think come off so great. At the same time, the camerawork itself is all around fascinating. Fessenden has a great eye for unique looking shots, things which catch the eye: crane and helicopter shots, tight and wide angles, the whole spectrum alike. Here, he’s aided by cinematographer G. Magni Ágústsson.
Together with a distinctive look and feel, The Last Winter‘s atmosphere comes across so feverishly in part due to the inclusion of an eerie score by Jeff Grace (Cold in JulyThe House of the Devil, The Roost). Not only is there a quality score, the tone consistently set between that and the visuals, there’s incredible sound design courtesy of Abigail Savage (who many will know well from her turn as Gina Murphy on Orange is the New Black). Everything is creeping, in terms of sound: the wind in the background, the stamp of ghostly hooves across the frozen arctic plains, and later the crashing plane, all the fire which follows and so on. I’m always keeping my ear out for good sound design, as well as score. But there’s something about the background sounds and noise of a film which really elevates a film properly if accomplished well. The sound design can truly make a movie less interesting if the sounds incorporated are annoying or aggravating, instead of compelling and rich, as they certainly are in this film.
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While I could rave on about Ron Perlman, even James Le Gros or Connie Britton, most of what interests me about The Last Winter is the plot and the story. Fessenden creates an ecological horror film out of the fear of global warming/climate change. The character of Pollack (Perlman) represents those stubborn sort who think the tipping point has passed, even if they’re willing to admit the world climate is changing for the worse. His hardheaded nature is the type which got us to this point. But yet in this film, we literally see the evidence climbing up and out of the ground. The living embodiment of nature fighting back against us. I know a lot of viewers may find Fessenden’s themes here heavy handed and obvious. However, I find the presentation makes things so interesting, it’s hard to deny the thematic power at play. Fessenden uses many typical horror genre tropes to explore the sociopolitical issues inherent in the dynamic between those who quest for oil versus those who keep telling us to be wary of our reliance on fossil fuels without worrying (or caring) about the consequences.
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The Last Winter, despite some of its less than stellar computer generated imagery, is a 4 out of 5 star film. For me, it is. Others may be turned away from its environmental message, buried beneath its thrills and its horrific moments. Some might not like other aspects, who knows. But I cannot tear myself away from the grim tone, the compelling cinematography, sound design and writing. Even more than that, the writing helps bring out some timely messages about us, our world, and the future that could come to be eventually. I don’t think it’ll look exactly like this portrait of madness Fessenden illustrates. All the same, I’m inclined to feel we’ve absolutely treated this planet like shit. Some day we might pay for all our transgressions against this world we claim to love.

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Not Everyone’s Cut Out for POKER NIGHT

Poker Night. 2014. Dir. Greg Francis. Screenplay by Dough Buchanan & Francis.
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Eklund. XLrator Media.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★

Poker Night-thumb-630xauto-51561I’d anticipated this movie just because of the trailer. Now, sometimes this can come back to bite me in the ass. I’ve been known to be duped by an interesting trailer, or even a bit of great artwork from posters, covers, et cetera. However, Poker Night really surprised. It’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast while also containing a pretty good central performance by young Beau Mirchoff, who I’ve never really seen in anything particularly great. Not to mention, the story of the film is really fun, and the way director Greg Francis chooses to show it play out, how the plot unfolds sneakily at times in front of our eyes, really helps this become more than just a VOD film. This really deserves respect. It’s a pretty good crime-thriller with awesome bits of action, a drop or two of pitch black comedy, and a nasty villain.
PokerNightFeatPoker Night takes the form of a titular card game – a group of veteran detectives get together to play poker, as they have for a decade, and use this as an opportunity to not just bond with rookie detectives, but to also instill them with lessons in the form of them all telling a story from their career’s past. The young rookie, Jeter (Mirchoff), is not just the new guy – he was involved with Amy, the young daughter of one of the veteran detectives (played by the always excellent Titus Welliver) who has recently gone missing. Despite this, they get together for their card game, and the older guys on the force try to help Jeter become one of the elite. After the card game, though, Jeter ends up taking a call. This turns out to be a trap sprung by the man who has taken Amy. Soon enough, Jeter wakes into a world where he needs to use all the advice given to him and the stories told by the veteran detectives at poker night to make it through this situation. From here, the twists and turns come flying.
PokerNight-2134_rev-thumb-630xauto-51576I think this could have easily been a by-the-numbers thriller. Instead, this has a bit of everything. I realized this would be a pretty damn good movie once the villain was introduced. He has this great introduction when he explains himself to Jeter – the director throws in this really great dark comedic bit where the villain talks about his former life, and all the while in a flashback he’s dressed in suit and tie, still with his creepy mask on. I thought it was so funny, and also really disturbing; when he lays out his ‘2 rules’, I actually dropped my jaw a little because it was so forthright and brutally honest. Very dark subject matter at this point. Really dig it. There are times when films go for the dark, creepy vibe and instead it comes off more in a cheesy, typical way rather than being fresh. The fact Francis steers the villain into real vile territory works well because, coupled with his later violence particularly towards Jeter, he seems like an actual maniac. Even with an obviously fabricated mask, it’s still scary. He does seem funny at times, but intentionally. He doesn’t come away as a cartoonish type villain, like some of those included in franchises such as James Bond. There are a few moments with the villain that were admittedly a bit of a stretch imagination-wise. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this character.

POKERNIGHTEXCCLIPFEATThe most interesting part about Poker Night is how the stories become the framework of the entire film. For instance, while Jeter listens to each detective tell his own story/lesson, he himself actually goes through the memory; in this sense, he’s literally putting himself in their shoes cinematically. It’s a really effective technique. Not only do we watch Jeter experience these stories firsthand, as I mentioned before he has to put these experiences to use in order to escape the villain and hopefully save Amy. It could have turned out real cheesy had the director sort of carbon copied the stories into exact situations from which Jeter had to escape. On the other hand, he sticks with the moral behind each lesson from the detectives – example: never give up even when things are stacked against you, or when you’re on your own do whatever you can to get yourself out of a bad situation, and other such bits of advice. This prevents the movie from feeling too hokey. While Jeter uses all the advice, the situations he encounters where the advice needs to be used aren’t too on-the-nose. Not for me, at least. All of this really makes Poker Night unique.

Some may say the flashbacks within flashbacks, techniques like this, cause disorientation or confusion. My opinion is that if you can’t follow this movie, I don’t know what sort of plot you’re looking for to stay entertaining. This is not hard to follow. It’s a unique film, but it’s not confusing in any sense. Pay attention from the get-go and you will have no problems whatsoever following the plot. The flashback sequences and the bits involving Jeter walking through the detectives stories are refreshing. They keep things exciting and a lot of fun at times, especially depending on which detective is telling the story (Eldard & Welliver’s in particular are both cool but also pretty funny).
PokerNight-1563-thumb-630x423-51571I found the cast great. While not all of them had their rightful chance to do a whole lot, they were all pretty wonderful together. The chemistry between them all during the card game scenes is just fantastic. If any of you have ever sat around a card table, you know much of the banter, policemen or not, goes on just like this between a bunch of men. The way they ribbed one another and joked, it was all so natural that I couldn’t help but get attached to the characters. Mirchoff and Perlman had some pretty good chemist as well during other scenes. I just love Ron Perlman, anyways, so to see him play a tough, no nonsense type of cop is really great; he gives bits of his dramatic chops up, and also plenty of his comedic talent. Altogether, the cast really makes things work.  If there were a bunch of people who had no chemistry this whole thing would’ve come off very flat. Instead, it’s raw, fun, and exciting in equal doses. Plenty of great laughs.

Overall, this is a really good movie. Absolutely worthy of a 4 out of 5 star rating. There was a lot of darkness in this thriller. While we get some great comedy and drama mixed into the pot, the dark angles of the film really help this standout. At times, there’s a Tarantino-esque influence happening, and I can also feel a bit of Joe Carnahan’s influence in there at times, honestly. One of the best things about Poker Night is the villain. I really loved his flashbacks in particular, as they never once gave up his identity by keeping his weird mask on during those scenes, even when it’s downright awkward and hilarious. I sort of knew who would be the villain just because of the cast, and the guy who plays him is really great at darker roles, but regardless I thought it wasn’t so much about his identity anyways – it’s not like there’s a twist involving him (or maybe there is? Muhuhaha). The villain really made this something special. Lots of good dark comedy, but mainly a great deal of sadistic violence and mayhem. You should absolutely check this movie out! Great and dark crime thriller. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a perfect film, but in a sea of really average films, especially crime thrillers if we’re being honest, Poker Night stands above it with some exciting characters, good dialogue, and a wholly interesting premise.

13 Sins: Economy & Morality

13 Sins. 2014. Dir. Daniel Stamm. Screenplay by David Birke & Stamm; based on the original source material 13: Game of Death by Chookiat Sakveerakul & Eakasit Thairatana.
Starring Mark Webber, Devon Graye, Tom Bower, Rutina Wesley, Ron Perlman, and Pruitt Taylor Vince. Entertainment One.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★

The beginning of 13 Sins signifies an entertaining, at times shocking, and wild rollercoaster is about to kick in gear. I love when, right from the get go, a film tells you it’s both appropriate to laugh your guts out, and also be creeped out or horrified – whatever the moment calls for.

We open with an older man who is being introduced at some sort of reception. He proceeds to tell some filthy jokes, and then cuts a woman’s finger off in front of the entire crowd. Everyone panics. People flee to the doors, screaming and trampling like cattle. As he reaches into his pocket while a police officer holds him at gunpoint, he’s shot. However, what he reached for was a cellphone. It promptly goes off with a ringtone of Julius Fučík’s “Thunder and Blazes – Entry of the Gladiators”.640px-13_Sins_poster
Cut to Elliot (Webber) whose life is in shambles. He is about to get married, he already takes care of his disabled brother Michael (Graye), and his elderly, hateful father (Bower) is on the verge of needing to move in with him. Not to mention he is suddenly fired from his job for “lacking balls”, essentially. Then, out of the cold blue, Elliot receives a phone call; his phone goes off with Fučík’s orchestral arrangement, which confuses him. This sets off a contest, starting with the harmless killing and eating of a fly for thousands of dollars, leading him into the dark heart of man. The tasks, 13 to be exact, of the contest go from making a child cry, to dragging a dead corpse into a diner for a cup of coffee, and worse.
Love the plot. Although this is based on 13 Beloved, I like this one better. The horror in this one gets pretty wild. I’ve seen a lot of gore and the like, but there’s something about the thrills in this movie that really work well. Elliot is basically a man in the worst position of life; he faces a grim future of looking after a father he doesn’t exactly get along with, as well as watching his younger disabled brother get sent back to a snake-pit institution where he’ll likely never get any real help or understanding. There’s something about Elliot, as a character, which speaks to a lot of people. Especially today – the economy isn’t exactly perfect. There’s something about Elliot and his desperate need for money, the need making him do all sorts of crazy things, that makes the things he does even more horrifying. Really great adaptation from the original film.

Webber does a pretty good job with the character of Elliot. He doesn’t immediately just jump into everything; there’s a hesitation to him that feels natural. Though he does dive in after awhile. Around 45 minutes into the film comes a moment where there’s really no turning back whatsoever for Elliot. He is hesitant, however, it doesn’t take a lot at this point. He’s got everything bearing down on him. A meeting with some people from earlier in his life, high school, basically tips him over the edge – that last push. From there, he’s more into the game, and willing to really let go of himself. Webber gave a good performance here, I can’t deny that.
Ron Perlman isn’t in there a whole lot, but fills out that role nicely. As does Tom Bower, who plays the crust old dad to Elliot; I always love this guy, honestly. Devon Graye, as a supporting character, was really awesome. He didn’t make the character of Michael seem ridiculous, as some actors tend to do with portrayals of disabled people; he kept it realistic, and there were times I just really loved his dialogue (especially when he was talking about “making eyes” at some girl from the same institution – great lines and well-delivered!). Everyone in smaller roles, even Pruitt Taylor Vince with his very brief parts, did excellently in rounding out the cast.
13-sinsWhat really drives this are the tasks themselves, though. There is a disturbing quality to it all because, as I said, Elliot is sort of hesitant in the beginning, but soon he just immerses himself in this bad ass side of his personality discovered through the sick gameshow. At first it’s sort of just fun and weird. Eventually, it gets a lot darker, and a lot more intensely personal for Elliot. I mean, as time goes by you sort of expect things to get crazier, yes, but it continually surprised me from moment to moment. I don’t often find myself surprised. Particularly when it comes to horror – there are lots of good films, certainly, just not a lot of surprising ones, I find. This was one of those genuinely surprising films at times. Not always, but when it mattered.
Another aspect of the tasks is the social commentary: the people playing this game do increasingly terrible things all for the sake of money. As the tasks get wilder, more dangerous and sadistic, you think of all the things people in our real world do for money.  This remake really works because it comes at a relevant time when people in North America still struggle with the shit economy we’ve had on our hands for the past 8 or 9 years (not saying it’s anywhere near being the worst situation – clearly there are worse – but this film is definitely specific to North America & arguably mostly America specifically).
Anyways, it’s a really good bit of commentary for a horror-thriller. Also, once you understand the game has been happening for years and years, it goes wider than a specific point in time – it speaks to those who are economically and financially challenged, for whatever reason, who are often pushed into a position where they’ll do anything at all just to get out of the hole in which they’ve found themselves. This movie definitely has some good stuff to say, aside from being a twisted little horror.

The whole backstory of the game itself was pretty interesting. Pruitt Taylor Vince’s character gives us a bit of exposition on the whole process of the game, how far it reaches, how long it’s been going on, and so on. This, I really enjoyed. You could almost have a bunch of these films if they really wanted; you could move backward in time, back to when the game first originated, et cetera. I found that part really awesome, and unsettling. Very cool addition.
13 sins kritika1This film, for me, was a definite 4 out of 5 stars. There were pieces I think they could have edited differently, or altogether cut out, which would have fixed the pacing. There are times it teeters too closely to comedy when it should stain within the horror vein; it could still be horror-comedy, but sometimes there is just a bit too much levity than expected. This doesn’t ruin the film. It’s a really great little horror-thriller, which certainly does the job. The finale impressed me hugely. I did expect there would be some sort of twist – I did not, however, expect the twist we were given. Maybe some suspected it – I’m always suspicious of people who say they always guess endings and such – but me, I was taken aback. It didn’t throw me on the floor or anything, but I was shocked for a minute. Real good suspense near the end. Thoroughly enjoyed how the film closed out.
I’d highly suggest this film for anyone looking to watch a nice little horror-thriller. There are some really great moments of horror, lots of tension and suspense, and a couple nice performances. Specifically, Webber does a really nice job with his character.
You won’t be disappointed if you give it a chance. A lot of fun with a few gasps and shocks thrown in for good form.