Tagged Danny Trejo

Animal Factory Reveals the Machinery Within the Beast of a Flawed Prison System

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.
Crime/Drama

★★★★1/2
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Breaking Bad – Season 2, Episode 7: “Negro y Azul”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 7: “Negro y Azul”
Directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá
Written by John Shiban

* For a review of the previous episode, “Peekaboo” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Better Call Saul” – click here
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We start with a nice narco-corrido about Heisenberg, a.k.a Walter White (Bryan Cranston). These types of ballads are a part of a Mexican subculture that rocks out over songs about the cartel, murders, and so on. Fitting to include this in an opener to an episode for this second season, as we move further into the Mexican cartel territory. What the song makes clear is the blue stuff has gone south and they are loving it. So naturally the cartel is going to seek out this Heisenberg. Because not only are people loving the drugs, the cartel’s not happy about this mysterious man cornering the market.
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Walt’s busy trying to get through to a student. More and more, the life he lives as a high school chemistry teacher gets to him. Also, we can see the conniving ways of Mr. White work just as well sometimes in school as they do in the drug business. Furthermore, we see he’s got a cellphone stashed up in the ceiling. Y’know, for important calls. He rings up partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), from whom he’s yet to hear after the whole Spooge situation. Of course Walt takes back what he told Jesse to do, but too little too late, as we know already.
He heads over to Jesse’s place, lying to Jane (Krysten Ritter) about being his father to try getting inside. Hilarious in its own right – Mr. Jackson, father of Jesse. Soon, the door opens and they have a chat. Walt has no idea what’s gone on over at the Splooge family home. Jesse lets his older partner know all about it. But Walt, as always, spins this whole yarn into making Jesse more confident, saying it’ll play as good street cred for people to think he’s crushed Spooge’s head in savagely.
In lieu of Jesse laying low, Heisenberg himself heads out to meet Badger (Matt Jones), Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), and Combo (Rodney Rush) at the National Atomic Museum – ironically enough, a recording talking about Werner Heisenberg plays; the man that inspired Walt’s name choice.


Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is trying hard to fit in with the task force. He isn’t exactly slipping in without notice. He just doesn’t get this world, not yet anyway. He’s saddled alongside Agent Vanco (J.D. Garfield). But very much out of his league not knowing how to speak Spanish, which is a big time downside when you’re trying to fight Juarez cartels.
At the Atomic Museum, the boys meet Heisenberg, and seem rightly in awe. They’ve also heard about what Jesse did, or what people think he did at Spooge’s place. The streets are abuzz with the fear of Pinkman and his apparent violence. And Walter lets the lie ride, opting to make Jesse’s reputation on the streets grow. For the time being, at least.
Meanwhile, Skyler (Anna Gunn) is out to see an old boss and almost flame of hers, Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins). She used to work for his company in the payroll department, accounting an such. Now she’s looking for work, unknowing of her husband paying medical bills with his plethora of meth money. It’s unbelievably clear Ted has a thing for her, always has, as he all but planks her down in an office right there and then.
Laid out like a oil tycoon plotting land, Walt shows Jesse a map of different territories. He’s ready to up their distributing game. He also doesn’t understand it isn’t simply “initiative“, but that they can’t just stroll into other peoples territory and take things over. Walt’s convinced Jesse has a new reputation that will keep other crews at bay. Yeah, right. Things aren’t that easy. But what’s more, the bullshit of Walt, how he spins things worse than the media, is on display here while he tries to tell Jesse how he has a unique opportunity to use this as intimidation: “You are a blowfish.” Is it illusion, really? Or is it delusion on Walt’s part? Inclined to believe the latter.


Jesse: “Yeah, blowfishinthis up.”


Federal informant Tortuga (Danny Trejo) is holed up in a hotel room, being waited on hand and foot by the task force. And Hank does not like that mess. They all but kiss this guy’s ass to get cartel information. All the while he’s ordering stuff out of SkyMall magazines. Overall, Hank hasn’t figured out how to navigate the murky waters of Cartel Land. He presses Tortuga to get talking instead of placating his “Lets Make A Deal” game. Love seeing Dean Norris up against Danny Trejo here, both of whom are awesome. Even more than that Hank is soon about to find out just how dangerous the world of Juarez and the cartels can get.
At home, Marie (Betsy Brandt) is convinced the whole thing is a desk job. She doesn’t realize he’ll be out in the field dealing with actual gangsters. Walt then finds out Skyler’s headed back over to Beneke with the accounting department. More than the money, it seems she wants control, something of her own, particularly since Walt has been less than honest with her about certain things. Even though they’re mended this is going to provide her with something she’s missing.
Very slowly, Jane gets to know Jesse, after he finds her drawing on the porch outside their attached houses. He reveals his once artistic side that slipped away from him along the way. He changes the subject quickly, though, not wanting to talk about himself. We also discover Jane isn’t huge on commitment, mentioning not wanting a tattoo because of it. Also, a guy on a bike drives by and calls Jesse by his real last name, which reveals more about him to Jane. She’s more intrigued than angry.
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Out amongst the desert, Hank and the other agents on the task force wait for the big meet Tortuga let them in on. Simultaneously, the others make fun of Hank in Spanish, lying to him and saying they’re glad to have him around. From nowhere, he’s the one to spy something moving in the distance. His binoculars pick up a gruesome image. When they head down it appears Tortuga’s head is mounted to the back of a tortoise. Worse? On the shell is painted: HOLA DEA. This is a huge shock to Hank, who runs off sick, further being made fun of for his apparent weakness. Still, moving away from the tortoise also puts him away from the blast – when an agent tries picking up the head, the tortoise explodes and sends this into utter chaos.It is one nasty fucking scene. Finally, Agent Schrader bloodily understands the lessons of Juarez and its danger.
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Jesse is riling up his troops to take over the city: “Were gonna be kings,” he tells them laying out the plan. He also tells them the structure will be “layered like nachos“, so that he reaches them in their language. Back to Walter goes Jesse with news that things are going ahead. But never ever is Walt satisfied. He starts applying “simple economics” to a business that is far from simple.
In the end of this episode, Jesse and Jane come together. Is this the start of something beautiful, or tragic? For those of us that have watched through, several times, already – we know.
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Again, loved this episode. Each one is incredible.
Next up is “Better Call Saul”, an introduction to one of the more fun characters in Breaking Bad‘s little world.