All good things come to an end.
Smurf gets a diagnosis. J is struggling with Angela back again.
The annual Purge is about to commence. Are you prepared?
Only Larry Cohen could give us a crime film mixed with a creature feature that sees a giant dragon-like creature terrorising The Chrysler Building.
An unexpected horror treat, this is one interesting little slasher that zigs then zags, and proves Bill Engvall's a scary bastard.
The second RAMPAGE film isn't near what the first was, nor does it do anything different whatsoever.
Jennifer Lynch walks a different path than her director father, although it's one that is similarly weird. Morbid fascination is clearly a Lynch family trait.
Based on a real life family of robbers in Australia, this film dives deep into crime and the paranoia associated with a family where even the bonds of blood can't guarantee safety.
This film never gets the credit it deserves. But it's one of the best post-2000 crime-thrillers out there, directed/written by the one and only James Gray.
Animal Factory. 2000. Directed by Steve Buscemi. Screenplay by Edward Bunker & John Steppling; based on the novel by Bunker.
Starring Edward Furlong, Willem Dafoe, Danny Trejo, Mark Boone Junior, Seymour Cassel, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold, John Heard, Chris Bauer, Rockets Redglare, Jake La Botz, Mark Engelhardt, Edward Bunker, Victor Pagan, Ernest Harden Jr., Afemo Omilami, Michael Buscemi, J.C. Quinn, & Steven Randazzo. Animal Productions LLC/Arts Production Corporation/Franchise Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
This is my favourite of Steve Buscemi’s work as director. His others, specifically Trees Lounge, are good. Animal Factory is great; an almost perfect work of prison cinema. Perhaps it’s because of the intense, raw subject matter. Edward Bunker wrote the screenplay based on his own novel, also based on his own life in the prison system. Most people know Bunker from his work on Straight Time, as well as his acting gig in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Before his acting and screenwriting career, Bunker dealt in everything from drugs, bank robbery, and extortion to various armed robberies over years. His insight into the world of prison life is what informs all of the emotional connection and intensity of Animal Factory. After Bunker started earning money from the movies he realised that his criminal life had been precipitated by bad circumstances, by the failure to make honest money, and other such things, so he was able to leave a life of crime behind.
In that same vein of circumstances we find ourselves in San Quentin, as Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) is sentenced for a minor bit of drug possession and intent to sell. After arriving at the big house he eventually meets an older, more experienced and hardened convict, Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), who takes the boy under his wing. They develop a genuine friendship. Yet Decker is forced to fight against the waves of injustice, the threats to his physical safety and to his manhood, all the while questioning if anybody is really his friend after all. Most interesting is the way Bunker’s screenplay allows Buscemi to look at a genuine snapshot of what it’s like to actually live behind bars. So many prison movies and television shows augment the reality, which is enjoyable. What we really want to see is something that dissects the prison system, a film and a story that gets under the skin of those who often look at American jails as “just fine” or whatever other nonsense they sell themselves to sleep at night. Animal Factory is a searing hot prison movie, one of my favourite in the genre. The performances and the story are what makes this so worth it. Right until the end you’ll find the characters are what root you most in the heaviness of the life these men lead.
The title of the film plays directly into its thematic intentions. Ron Decker goes into prison a young, inexperienced man that got a bit too deep in the world of dealing marijuana. A guy who was likely never violent in his life. However, behind bars the other world into which he falls head first necessitates a violent attitude. Almost becoming victim of a brutal rape (several times), getting slashed with a razor, all these sorts of events start to wear down the morality of the young boy that first went through the prison gates. Bunker’s novel and subsequent screenplay examine how people become a product of the system, how young men wind up in a place where the waste of society gets tossed and is allowed to infect them. Yes, people deserve to pay for their crimes. But a guy like Decker, in for dealing weed, or someone who stole a car or robbed a liquor store without hurting anybody, does not belong in a place where lifers can (and will) abuse, rape, and possibly kill them. It isn’t right. In turn, those same semi-innocent young people that come in contact with a life of crime then go on to transform into animals in their own right. By the time Ron will make his way out of prison he’ll be stained, the imprint of criminality branded upon his brain and soul and on his every thought, every action, every move from there on in. These are the sad, hard realities of prison: not everyone in there actually deserves to be, nor do they need to be subjected to the harshness of serving time alongside men doing a life sentence, never to see the light of day again. Those dangerous men influence so much and so many others outside of themselves – often, their victims end up victimising others, and the criminal cycle goes on rambling.
How can anybody fault this movie for its acting? So many excellently on the nose performances. Let’s start with the ever wonderful Mickey Rourke, a man who no matter how bad will always charm me. Luckily, he puts in plenty of solid work here, as he does in many other roles. As Jan the Actress, a gentle transvestite soul locked in the clink, Rourke does a great job in the short time the character appears onscreen. A memorable performance out of a group of them. Seymour Cassel, a veritable classic of independent American cinema, is a proper lieutenant-type, one who is strict but has a slightly relaxed relationship with a guy like Earl Copen. Another guy who makes his character memorable enough within a short period of time. Then there’s the awesome supporting roles out of guys like Mark Boone Junior and Danny Trejo, the latter of whom serves as co-producer and has actual experience in the American prison system (in some of the hardest prisons like San Quentin). MBJ is always a nice addition, a fun character actor whose presence is welcomed amongst the already interesting cast of characters. Trejo helps give the film an authenticity, as he’s got the walk, the look, the insight to make his character Vito so real in a casual way.
Furlong does well as Ron. It’s mostly Dafoe who proves his worth as the foundation of the film. His performance contains some of the hallmarks of the typical prison veteran. Many times he’s completely unexpected, an absolute enigma. But it’s in that we discover Earl is just like Ron, probably why he took on the kid so quickly, so easily; and particularly once we realise he’s not playing Ron and doesn’t plan on raping him or anything of the sort. Earl Copen is a man that ended up in the system, became a product of it, then perpetuated his stamped role in society to the bitter end. Dafoe is an interesting actor I’ve always loved. Here, he proves himself every bit deserving of consideration for one of the greats in his generation.
I love this film. Back in 2001 I was almost at the end of high school – I remember picking Animal Factory off a shelf in my local Allan’s Video rental store. The first watch I was sold. Awhile later I found the VHS being sold off; evidently not a popular item there. So I snatched that bad boy up. This is one of the VHS tapes I nearly wore into dust, as I’d watched it too many times to count. Because as far as prison films go, this is one of the grand daddies of them all. Dafoe and Furlong, as well as a cast of other fine actors, make the characters believable, instead of a bunch of literal animals like we so often see in other similar stories. These are genuine human beings with aspirations and dreams, even if they’re skewed or altered by the perversity of the American penal system warping the concept of any American Dream they might see as possible. Nevertheless, Buscemi and Bunker together show off a side of prison life we’re not always privy to in fiction. By doing so, certain issues about the justice system, the various injustices which it inflicts on those who enter it, come to light and are magnified for us to watch – in entertainment, in horror, in a shock that actually isn’t all so shocking because of how desensitised society is nowadays (the fact it isn’t might also be shocking in its own right). You can’t ask more of a film concerning prison than for it to delve into the social implications of the system itself. Far as I’m concerned, Animal Factory is a perfect indictment of how we treat the lives of men deemed guilty and shipped to prison where they’re packed in like sardines and forgotten about until their next court date.
Carnage Park. 2016. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Ashley Bell, Pat Healy, James Landry Hébert, Michael Villar, Bob Bancroft, Larry Fessenden, Andy Greene, Alan Ruck, Graham Skipper, & Darby Stanchfield. Diablo Entertainment.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Ever since seeing Ritual, I’ve been hooked on Mickey Keating. His directing and writing are a sight for sore eyes in the world of indie cinema. These days there are lots of talented people coming out of the independent scene. But Keating has an old school sensibility, a practical effects-driven manner of taking on horror specifically. The way he directs has a wonderfully rock n’ roll-style feel. The atmosphere of his movies is always wildly palpable, no matter what the ultimate main genre. Most recently Keating wowed me with Darling; a trip down the rabbit hole of guilt, murder, shame, and more.
Carnage Park does not come with anything overly original. It’s the way in which Keating gives the material over to us that’s exciting. Best of all, like Darling and its Roman Polanski vibes, this movie – via Keating admittedly – is fashioned after the Sam Peckinpah, machismo-filled 1970s films about dangerous men running wild on the fringe with guns and knives and big steel balls. At the same time, the movie switches genres, transforming from action-thriller into something more horror oriented as the various characters collide out in the eponymous park.
The opening sequence, while deranged in its own right even in comparison to what comes later, is a lot of fun. It has an energy that kicks the story off right. We get a taste of Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy) right off the bat, then it switches into us spending time with Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert), his soon to be dispatched buddy Lenny, and the kidnapped Vivian (Ashley Bell) in the trunk of Joe’s car. Keating keeps the pacing solid, moving fast. Everything gets really interesting then once the different characters come together, and the movie shifts gears.
Isolation is the key here. Under the cinematography of Mac Fisken the desert looks like a gaping, open wound, a vast and dry sore in the earth. Watching Vivian try to make her way through the large lot of privately owned land is akin to somebody wandering a giant hedge maze, but instead of any hedges it’s all sand, shrubs, rundown billboards, so on. The isolated hills in between which Vivian finds herself lost are so huge and far reaching that it’s impressive the way Fisken and Keating create a claustrophobic sense of that isolation. Like The Thing or any similarly remote set script, Carnage Park takes us out into the open while simultaneously bringing us deeper into our own minds, into the head of Vivian who’s faced with outrunning a maniac in the vast desert.
What I love is that this story Keating draws out, the characters and their respective plots, is all a disturbing little slice of Americana from the late ’70s. The unstable Army veteran at the centre of it all, Wyatt, has so clearly been affected negatively by the war. Meanwhile, his brother is the local sheriff, whose ideas about his brother seem pretty clear despite what he tells himself, and especially despite anything he admits to knowing. Within these two characters there’s wrapped a whole bunch of socioeconomic significance, as we consider everything from the dishonesty of those charged with serving and protecting, to the right of land owners in America (in certain states) to shoot anyone that comes onto their property, to the concept of all those men coming back from Vietnam, devastated emotionally and mentally, not receiving any proper care other than some cash and a pat on the back. Instead of a simple setup of a madman with no backstory there’s the fact Wyatt has been psychologically traumatised in the war, which sort of ups the ante on the usual scenario. Watching the various, hideous bits of American life unfold out across the sprawling hills on Wyatt’s property is a tense nightmare that’s hard to predict re: where it may head next.
The performances really help sell the whole thing. Bell does a nice enough job with her character, especially considering all the back and forth moments we see, going from being Scorpion Joe’s hostage to being at the fingertips of a demented ex-soldier, to the shocking scene where she stabs the wrong person than who she intended. She does well showing us the breakdown this woman experiences while going through the most trying day of her life. But best of all, Pat Healy – the god damn man, as far as indie movies are concerned. He’s been in lots of stuff, though never better than when working on something daring, something small, things like Cheap Thrills and The Innkeepers, among more. As Wyatt, we see him become a truly scary individual. At first you almost don’t know if he’s going to be some kind of anti-hero, the sort we’d expect out of a neo-noir-Western hybrid like this becomes now and then. Then when it’s becoming clear that Wyatt is the big evil in the situation there’s a feeling you start to get each time his eerie, smiling face comes into the frame that tells you: this guy is bad, bad, bad news. This is a great role, one that might end up as a load of generic garbage were it left to a less talented actor. Rather, Healy gives us lots to enjoy, as he touches all corners of the spectrum, creeping about, charming a little, and above all else terrifying his victims.
I do prefer other Keating films about this one. However, Carnage Park is a good time; through and through. The performances are one thing. The adrenaline pumping pace is what kept me glued. I can sit through all sorts of films, but a great effort usually has me consistently stuck to each scene, wondering where exactly things are about to move. Not once did I know for sure where the plot might go, or which characters would go on to survive. The ending didn’t totally eclipse me in any way. Still, it is a fantastic finish to a nicely executed bit of indie cinema. Whereas other filmmakers could have gone in vastly different directions throughout, Keating sticks to his old school style, his simple though beautiful way of directing. This way nothing strays too deep into familiar territory so as to bore the viewer. Ultimately, the cat-and-mouse thriller that frames the entire film is jammed full with suspense and the tension you’ll feel is like a chokehold. Keating takes you into the darkness fully, never once really letting you go. Take the ride, even more so if you dig his other directorial efforts. This one is yet another top notch instance of his talents.
Green Room. 2016. Directed & Written by Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, David W. Thompson, Mark Webber, Macon Blair, Eric Edelstein, Michael Draper, Andy Copeland, Brent Werzner, Lj Klink, Kasey Brown, Taylor Tunes, & Imogen Poots.
Film Science/Broad Green Pictures.
Rated 14A. 95 minutes.
Jeremy Saulnier blew the majority of us away wildly with his downhome revenge flick Blue Ruin, a story that takes revenge out of the hands of men with particular sets of skills and an almost invincible superheroness before placing it in the hands of regular people, those who aren’t skilled or experienced with weapons, murder, or anything of the like. The whole thing was an exercise in spectacular acting, directing, and writing, all combining to make Saulnier’s talent undeniable.
Going with another contained, small plot, Saulnier now gives us Green Room – the story of a punk band named The Ain’t Rights, consisting of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Reece (Joe Cole), Sam (Alia Shawkat), and Tiger (Callum Turner), who end up trapped in a backwoods music venue after one of them witnesses a horrific killing and at the mercy of a gang of neo-Nazis led by the quietly explosive Darcy (Patrick Stewart). Similar to his previous directorial effort, Saulnier shows us a slice of real life. For all its wild elements, Green Room feels honest. It gives us the world of a punk band and juxtaposes their freedom/fun loving lifestyle with that of some real, serious, scary dudes whose lifestyle is anything but loving, in any way.
But perhaps my favourite element? While the friends in the band, as well as club regular Amber (Imogen Poots), all band together in unity, the supposedly strong group of white nationalists does the opposite and starts crumbling within. Amongst all the suspense and tension, in between the bloody bits of horror and the deepening criminal aspects of the screenplay, there’s a great comment on the nature of these neo-Nazi groups, how they’re only bound together by a collective feeling of being lost and that there’s nothing really keeping them glued. And that their ideology, for some, is a thin veil. Once the blood starts flowing, for some of these guys, the less committed to their ’cause’, all bets are off.
Something I love is that Saulnier is able to capture the life of the band so well. From the gig posters to the slumming on the road to the sticky situations they find themselves in. Even the little jokes amongst the band and their respective personalities all make these characters feel genuine. I’ve played in bands since I was about 13 years old. Never went on a tour, though we did travel a few times throughout the years with a couple of the different ones I was in, both singing and playing guitar, sometimes only one or the other. And the feel of this band is super honest. They remind me of myself, of people I knew while playing, of promoters and fellow musicians and the people out of the community. So when they first step into the world of the neo-Nazi group and their club it’s more than just culture shock, you feel a palpable air of danger. You feel afraid for these people. More than that they have the balls to play a song by the Dead Kennedys with a chorus that goes something like this: “Nazi punks, nazi punks, nazi punks fuck off!” So further than feeling any fear, you also get the idea that these are immature young people colliding with a world of which they have no real clue. Much like many of us would say these white nationalist types are a bunch of idiots, likely inbred and whatever else, this band doesn’t respect the fact these are serious, dangerous people. The writing of the characters and the setup of the burgeoning intensity of what they’re about to experience is what makes the film so strong immediately. Within twenty minutes you’re not simply interested in the characters, their band, as well as the creepy neo-Nazis circling around them, you also land right in the boiling pot and sitting in the hot seat with our reluctant protagonists.
A little bit I loved – when the band and Amber decide to try fighting their way out, before they do everyone recounts their truthful Desert Island Band: Reece says Prince, Sam says Simon & Garfunkel, Tiger sticks with The Misfits (good lad), Pat still can’t answer, and Amber joins in with Madonna and Slayer. Awesome moment that was so well placed, so well written. An amazing, brief scene.
All the way through I enjoyed the cinematography, courtesy of Sean Porter. In the early scenes there are some moments of beautiful Malick-like nature shots, particularly when the band is pushing their van out of the field into which it ploughed the night before. But all the interior stuff is great, too. When we move into the various locations the band moves through on their journey there’s a dark and edgy quality that makes you feel as if you’re gradually being sucked into oblivion. Inside the white nationalist punk club there’s a fog-like, hazy atmosphere that you can almost smell and touch. It makes you feel as if you’ve walked right into hell. For instance, as The Ain’t Rights play away, rocking out, there’s a horde of white supremacists moshing, their symbols and insignia waving around like banners in the crowd, and it’s a simultaneously gorgeous and eerie sight to those few moments.
And then there’s the violence. Oh boy. I’ve seen some nasty, gory shit in my time; 4,200 films deep, about 1/3 of those horror. But Green Room‘s brand of violent, criminal horror is exciting because there are two elements at play: the band (though punks they represent pacifists who are only inclined to defend themselves against violence) v. the white supremacists (these guys use violence for fun and to subdue those they feel are threats or obviously are different than them). So what I find great is that the band, these mostly peaceful people who just want to rage onstage with their music, is put in a position where they’re forced to go a violent route in order to save themselves, and literally to save their lives. Instead of some kind of revenge-style thriller where we see a bunch of people do violence against neo-Nazis, Saulnier allows us to indulge in the revenge movie tropes without having this sort of preachy element where he’s saying “Look how these white people are better than the hateful ones” and effectively allows us to indulge in that scenario without pandering too much to the saviour in us moviegoers. Furthermore, it’s funny I’ve seen a review state that while the movie has good backwoods horror elements that are actually well executed, there’s a lack of human element within the screenplay. I found exactly the opposite. Quickly, we almost feel like the 5th member of The Ain’t Rights, and once that first act of violence (we actually only see the aftermath of that one) comes down there’s a terrible sense of watching people we care for already in a terrifying situation.
Some bloody highlights: Pat gets his arm torn apart while trying to hold the door closed in the greem room, looking like an actual wound from an ER photo; the arm break on Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) looks so nastily real before Amber opens him up like a deer, also awfully realistic. Later when the band starts escaping and they’re each subjected to different methods of violence, there are a number of gritty scenes that come down and shock you; not because of the blood or gore, but rather these moments are cloaked in darkness, the ugliness concealed just beneath. In their distinct ways every scene containing bloody action comes off with an awe all its own.
My favourite? When Daniel (Mark Webber) is behind the bar, that entire sequence is absolute insanity – that’s all I’ll say, for those who’ve not yet seen the film.
Green Room is a fantastic dose of crime-thriller mixed with backwoods horror, on top of that using minimal locations – mainly the punk club – to bring maximum suspense and tension to the forefront. There’s a great screenplay, first and foremost, which Saulnier crafts wonderfully. Though the band is the focus of everything, the disintegration of the white supremacists is key to the plot. Because, as I said in the intro, The Ain’t Rights and Amber, and Daniel later, come together as one, a unified whole; without any extremist ideology backing them, but only the desire to survive against extremists. On the opposite side are the white nationalists, led by Darcy, who are dishonest with one another, hiding secrets and true intention, and eventually they come to a point where their own ranks disintegrate because of their lack of unity. So, yes, this is an enjoyable piece of nasty horror that plays well in the world of genre film, but it also has things to say, it isn’t all about extreme violence and the ugly world of neo-Nazis.
Under everything, Green Room is a taut and exciting thriller that feels different than most of the other similar films out there. Saulnier proves once again he’s able to take something familiar, turn it into his own vision, and keep us interested in the underbelly of American culture – that one where bloodshed, violence, murder plays out in forgotten places, where human life is disposable, where the will to survive is only trumped by the gruesome passion to kill. Moreover, Saulnier exposes the brotherhood of white supremacy, not by making fun or mocking. He opens up the idea of white nationalism and its idea of brotherhood and unity by showing how easily it falls apart under pressure; where you’re only as good as your last murder, otherwise you’re only taking up space. Up against a group of punk rockers inexperienced in the ways of violence, these neo-Nazis discover music keeps people together far better than any right-wing (or ultra-left) ideology ever could. At the same time, those same rockers ultimately must become just like those violent extremists in order to make it out alive.