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Carnage Park: A Scary Slice of 1970s Americana

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.
Action/Crime/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

The Seven Five is a Microcosm of America’s Police Problem

The Seven Five. 2014. Directed by Tiller Russell.
Starring (as themselves) Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Chickie, Dori Eurell.

★★★★★
Precinct-Seven-Five-UK-Quad-Poster To start this review, I wanted to give a bit of personal insight into my view on police.
Firstly, I have two family members, close cousins, who are both officers here in St. John’s, Newfoundland – for those who don’t know, Newfoundland is a province on the far east coast of Canada. One of them is a new officer, the other now involved with Major Crimes from homicide to whatever else. So, I can’t say that all officers are bad. Anyone smart should know they are not.
However, second of all, I’ve had a couple experiences with police officers, as a younger man in my teen years, which now as a 30-year old I see in a different light. There is a high room for error in law enforcement, simply due to the fact that as an officer of the law you are dealing in the lives of human beings. What you do, or don’t do, can either negatively or positively affect the life of someone you take into custody/members of a perpetrator or victim’s family/et cetera. There are huge repercussions when it comes to an officer not doing their job correctly, and as we see so much today in the news coming out of America there are deadly effects when police override the law and surpass it because of their lust for power. An enormous responsibility rides on the shoulders of the police – many willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from the actual dangerous elements of society, then in opposition too many seem to also have no problem putting innocent/unarmed(etc) citizens in the way of harm or outright have no problem doing those same citizens harm themselves. When the responsibility is shirked, it is not the same as even an insurance agent messing up some forms and leaving a customer without proper coverage; incompetent and downright criminal police work comes with a hefty, fatal price in many situations.
QrLKvelTFB The Seven Five, directed by Tiller Russell, is the epic tale of police corruption in the seventy-fifth precinct out of New York when Michael Dowd was in uniform there. An insanely criminal lawman, Dowd seemed to infect everyone around him, including the rookies and other naive cops coming into the job. It was as if, for a time, Dowd became the centre of corruption in the entirety of the NYPD.
Through a number of talking head interviews, including Dowd himself, Russell brings us through a bunch of stories that emphasize how deep and devious the corruption went.
What began as a bit of cash, then on to thousands upon thousands of dollars, soon became a devil’s deal with drugs, guns, and murder to boot. Dowd, as we see through the documentary’s runtime, evolves from a smalltime crooked cop on the beat to, essentially, a drug dealer as vicious as any other man selling drugs on the street. From a hindsight perspective, Tiller Russell takes us through the names, the faces, the situations which brought Michael Dowd down the dark roads he took and where everyone has ended up today.

Basically, Michael Dowd is the literal representation of the criminal cop. I mean, he is the epitome of the description, he makes the whole documentary feel like a Martin Scorsese film. Sometimes he says things that are darkly priceless, maybe similar to something Ray Liotta or Joe Pesci might spit out. At times, he actually strikes me more like Lester Diamond from Casino simply because he’s a god damn nutter. It’s sick, but the way in which he basically corralled an entire dirty ring of cops is villainously smart.
But naturally things didn’t last forever for Mike. If they did, he certainly wouldn’t have been on camera telling us his darkest confessions of the nasty business he got into while supposedly policing the streets.
10425671.0One of my favourite pieces to The Seven Five is the stuff with Adam Diaz.
What can we say about Mr. Diaz? He loves Bryan Adams and sold tons of drugs. Best of all, he sold them out of a grocery store. His operation was supremely slick. With some tips from ole Officer Dowd, the store could have everything looking proper, no drugs on the premises, and nothing could be said – like Diaz himself relates, even if someone snitched and said they were there buying drugs the week before, what did it matter? Who cares where they were or went or who they saw, what they bought? Didn’t matter a pinch. Because as Diaz says, there were no drugs – “I sell groceries!
In the year 1987, one kilo of cocaine was equal to about $34,000. Diaz, 20 years old, was selling 300 kilos a week, bringing in hundreds of millions a year.
The reason Michael Dowd and Adam Diaz became as close as they were was due to when Dowd gave Diaz a tip which saved the dealer half a million dollars. A raid was on the way, which Dowd headed off with the tip, and this proved to Diaz this was his man.

So we can see how it wasn’t simply a bunch of crooked cops, Dowd was involved with true criminal organizations, such as the Diaz Organization which had its own ties to further criminal entities. It’s amazing to watch how the corruption basically leaks out, like an oil spill milking thick out of a barrel and spreading over the entire city of New York. Sad that while so many people needed help, some criminals could’ve been taken off the streets, Dowd and Ken Eurell, his unfortunate partner that was near hypnotized by Dowd, and the other corrupt officers were just feeding their egos, their bank accounts, and sure, their families.
But it’s funny, nowadays in America, and back then certainly, we’re less willing to indict cops as a society overall than we are to shit all over people in unions. And basically, these officers, headed by the insanity of Michael Dowd, went into a union-like situation – the big argument for corruption is “They don’t pay me enough for the danger of the job I’m doing” – and instead of striking, instead of fighting for higher wages and trying to negotiate, they went above and beyond any normal reactions straight into using the leverage and power of their positions to commit criminal acts; acts they were arresting others for committing, all at the very same time.
Precinct-Seven-Five-2Michael Dowd: “It wasn’t like you were hurtin’ people. You were hurtin’ fucking scumbag drug dealers.
WP-AS2957_MW-2With every day that passes by in America, there seems to be another incident where unarmed people – most if not all are black – get murdered by the police. Straight up. So many news stories breaking, each week, where another black man or black woman is taken down, either by police in the field or in custody. It’s disturbing. Feels like nothing has really changed, as we watch Dowd during his interviews and the tapes of his testimonies – sure, this is not about racism, but it’s above all about the corruption of power. The same thing happens today. We see at various points throughout this documentary how a lot of the negative behaviour some police officers come to display is bred into them through senior ranking officers, detectives, et cetera, the rookies are working under. Much like hate and racism/sexism is learned behaviour often stemming from the family one grows up in, or the parent figures one is raised by, the same goes for this corrupt behaviour in police officers; much of that comes out of learned and encouraged behaviour.
08SEVENFIVE2-articleLargeI don’t want to say too much else about the documentary, much of it is information you need to hear firsthand.
For me, The Seven Five is a 5 out of 5 star documentary film. It outlines the corruption of the time in the NYPD so perfectly, examining one of the most corrupt police officers to have ever lived. Michael Dowd is a truly disturbing, bad dude when it comes down to it. The quote above shows that, infinitely. People like to think there’s a need for that blanket statement – that all drug dealers are human garbage, every one of them. Unfortunately, you just can’t say that. Especially if you’re an officer of the law, not simply because you should be objective at times as to avoid collaring the wrong suspects and leading yourself into trouble, but most of all it can lead to the detrimental thinking in police officers such as Dowd: it leads to the illusion of power. It leads people like this man to believing that they are truly above someone else on the evolutionary scale, as if they’re the perfect example of Charles Dawin and the idea of Survival of the Fittest – the dealers, the crackheads, all of them are weak and therefore ought to be weeded out. In a microcosm, this is the thinking which leads people to believe the ideologies of leaders like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and so on.

You should see this documentary. One of the better recent crime docs to come out. Especially if you’re interested in police corruption, civil rights, and other similar subjects. I highly recommend this. Not only interesting, The Seven Five is a smooth and flowing documentary that keeps the audience engaged, provides a ton of information, and even gives us a few truly dark and disturbing moments when it comes to the crime underworld and corrupt cops.
Check it out, let me know what you think in the comment section below!

Chasing the White Rabbit of Anger

White Rabbit. 2013. Dir. Tim McCann. Written by Anthony Di Pietro.
Starring Nick Krause, Sam Trammell, Britt Robertson, and Ryan Lee. Breaking Glass Pictures.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Drama

★★★★

White Rabbit is the story of Harlon (Krause) – a normal, awkward young man who is trying, like a flower stuck in a walk of pavement, to grow up through being constantly bullied at school and even at home by his forceful father and family. The beginning of the film show us his encounter with the titular rabbit, which is a moment that also closes out the film. This is something which reoccurs throughout; Harlon sees the white rabbit, over and over again.
imageHis life really gets complicated once he meets a girl, much unlike the other people he knows at school, named Julie (Robertson). She is sort of like Harlon; jaded, broken, and though she tries to look tough underneath it all, very sad. They bond. His only other friend is another bullied young boy named Steve (Lee), who aside from being deemed an outcast looks pretty small and young for his age. Unfortunately Steve has a lot of problems, though Harlon tries to help as best he can.

Eventually, Julie goes away. Harlon is left by himself mostly, as Steve has his own problems and his own family with which to deal. Then suddenly Julie reappears, but now she is a whole new person; she had problems, went away, and come home new. Harlon can’t deal with this, especially after he sees Julie is with his high school nemesis, the one who bullied him most growing up. From here, things spiral out of control, as Harlon finally starts to fight back against his bullies, and darker, more rage-filled fantasies start to rise up in him.
344a25e40348e8880a7ee7a861523022A lot of other reviews I came across seemed to file White Rabbit away with a lot of lesser, similar films. Yes, the scenario here seems fairly close to other dramas. Yes, the way it plays out could remind you of other films. However, this finishes in a very unpredictable manner. I honestly didn’t expect the finale of White Rabbit. Though I had some idea where this might be headed, the finale of the film really did catch me off guard. Because you resign yourself to a particular ending and then just before the credits roll it does a switch on you, finishing instead with an ambiguous note. Well, not so much ambiguous, as we can guess what Harlon will do, or rather what we hope he will do, but still the director opts not to show us any decision; only the option for decision. Of course, you’ll understand more once you see it. I’m being deliberately vague, so as not to ruin anything. Just know that you don’t necessarily have all the answers. Wait until the very last moment.

The acting here was spot on. Nick Krause did a fine job as Harlon. We basically watch him transform from a little boy, pushed around and abused by everyone near him, to a teenager, to a young man, and still abused just as much as when we first saw him. The real transformation comes after he’s all but lost every last thing in his life worth being sane for, and snaps while on the verge of becoming something far worse than anyone could ever imagine. Some say his acting here was wooden; I disagree. He played things subtly. He acted quite well, making Harlon out to be a little boy still trapped in the body of a young and burgeoning man. Because of the people around him, he was never able to really become a man, stunted by constantly being told (by bullies and his own despicable father) he’s a pussy or a faggot, or some other just as hurtful and terrible insult. I’ve personally never seen Krause in anything else. After this, I’ll be sure to at least check out another film he’s been in, or will be in.
Britt Robertson is pretty energetic and pulls off the character of Julie well; she reminded me a lot of a few girls I knew in high school, really fit the part.
VSZQfW.pngParticularly, though, I enjoyed Sam Trammell as Harlon’s father, Darrell. He was easy to hate because Trammell did a bang-up job. I really didn’t like him as a person, but as a character loved him. There was always a feeling just below his surface suggesting so much more about him than we actually get to see. I got the feeling Darrell was the typical sort of man who never became much, whether because of extenuating circumstances or his own doing who knows, but that’s the way he portrayed the character. Maybe Darrell was one of those hometown all-stars who played hockey or football growing up, everyone knew him, yadda yadda, and then never amounted to anything out in the real world. Regardless of what his actual story is, Trammell was great, and I really enjoyed watching his scenes with Krause; their troubled father and son dynamic truly worked.
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For a small, relatively unknown film, White Rabbit really delivers. Although there are a few points which could have been edited out to save the film’s pacing, overall it is really wonderful. There are a ton of similar films, as I mentioned before, which might seem just as good. But if you stick with White Rabbit through until the end you’ll really get a treat.

I don’t often try to jump ahead of the plot in a film because for one it ruins things for me if I start guessing, and two I’d rather try to stay in the moment when I can, but I figured this one out early on. Not that it ruined things for me – on the other hand, I then sat back and enjoyed the performances, as well as some of the scenery which was beautiful at times. But I thought I knew how this would go. I didn’t. Not many films truly surprise me in that sense, so for that White Rabbit really should be highly recommended. It plays on our fears, relating the story of Harlon to other similar stories, but without the end provided here. This will suck you in. It’s not a controversial film. Essentially, I believe this is a hopeful film. The end provides a glimmer of it. Though it doesn’t actually go ahead and serve up hope by the slice or anything, the very final moment gives us a tiny glimmer we can hold onto and walk away with. That’s the final message of everything. It shows as a bright spot in the darkness. Sort of how Harlon dies one spot of his hair a pink-ish colour; one bright patch in a sea of black. I loved it. Anthony Di Pietro hasn’t written anything else I know of, though after this I really hope to see more, as the story of White Rabbit is impressive.
lF1TIO.png This has been shown at a few festivals, et cetera, since its release in 2013, but recently Breaking Glass Pictures apparently picked up the distribution end, so hopefully this will soon make a wider debut for people to enjoy it as much as I did when I was lucky enough to catch this.

Stretch Tries But Stretches Too Thin

Stretch. 2014.  Dir. Joe Carnahan. Screenplay by Carnahan from a story by himself, Jerry Corley & Rob Rose.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Chris Pine, Brooklyn Decker, Ed Helms, Jessica Alba, and James Badge Dale. Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Action/Comedy/Thriller

★★★

When Stretch opens up, you see Patrick Wilson, playing the titular character Stretch (get it? – he drives a limo), come flying out of a car window. He does a bit of a flip and comes skidding down the pavement. When he rolls upright Stretch is still smoking a cigarette. He gets up, has a puff, and walks away. Right off the bat, Joe Carnahan is letting you know this is another adrenaline fest already with a similar feel to his 2006 bad ass action flick Smokin’ Aces. That’s nothing bad because I personally loved that film.

And things only get wilder from that opening moment on.

stretch-posterStretch isn’t having a particularly great day. After he catches us up on life as he knows it, a bad year or two really, we see him try to carry on and get through the day.
See, Stretch gambles. He owes about $6,000 to some fairly tough looking dudes. And he owes it by midnight. Luckily, a friend at the limo agency where he drives for a living, Charlie (Alba), agrees to send big business his way to help him seal off the debt. A big fish lands in his lap: Roger Karos (played hilariously and wildly by Chris Pine). This is where things really get interesting.

Stretch feels similar to Smokin’ Aces mainly in how it has a lot of interesting characters. Not only that, the characters are outrageous. For instance, the first time we meet Karos he lands on top of Stretch’s car. Then he slides down onto the hood. For those who’d like to be prepared, you get a nice view of Pine’s scrotum. I laughed so damn hard. Karos continues to entertain – over and over.
Then, of course, there’s Ed Helms who plays Karl (with a K), another limo driver. He literally haunts Stretch, after previously having taken his own life. He shows up at just the right time, every time. My favourite is at one point when Stretch’s limo gets commandeered for a quick little joyride; Karl shows up just to have a nice hearty laugh at his still-living buddy. Dig it.
stretchThere is a lot to enjoy about Stretch as a film. The action, no surprise as this is a Carnahan joint, is really exciting. A lot of it feels really spontaneous, which I love. And the same thing goes for the comedy. There were times I wasn’t expecting it, then all of a sudden a string of great joke comes out of the woodwork, and I’m killing myself laughing. Even just some great little throwaway lines end up coming off as real comedy gold. Wilson alone has about a baker’s dozen worth of one-off lines that really did me in. Absolutely hilarious writing, and great delivery on the part of several of the actors.

Another little bit about Carnahan’s style in this film I really enjoyed were the onscreen visuals he added in like the timer on the watch, the massive Arab’s (if he isn’t Arab I apologize – I’m only guessing) speech while he screams at Stretch, the text conversation between Stretch and the woman he met trying out online dating. These tiny pieces just add a lot of flavour to Stretch, making it something really fun.
75All in all, I have to say Stretch is a fantastic and thrilling ride of a film. It isn’t often an action comedy-style film really gets me. I’m more a horror-thriller type, though I enjoy all style and genres. But it’s not regularly I see something in the same category as Stretch that really prompts me to get excited, laugh out loud, and enjoy myself thoroughly.
That being said, the ending stinks in this one. I was actually crossing my fingers, praying out loud, that the end wouldn’t finish on the note I’d been predicting. Then the last few minutes played out, it was exactly what I’d predicted, and it automatically took things down a notch. Really, really did not like that ending. Totally shifts gears and breaks the tone of the film. Things go from crazy to feeling like a sappy romantic comedy in the final moments.

For that reason, I’m only giving this 3 out of 5 stars. I really wanted to give it about 4, maybe even 4.5, but the ending plants it firmly at 3. If Carnahan opted for another way to finish it off, I would’ve really been happy. However, this end took the wind out of a truly solid action thriller with tons of comedy and a really unique, adrenaline-filled tone. Regardless, I say check it out! The ending doesn’t totally ruin the film or anything, I’m just not a fan. The rest of the film? Absolutely worth seeing.
Patrick-Wilson-in-STRETCH-e1412723988173Stretch is now available on VOD, as well as through iTunes & Amazon, and now on Blu ray/DVD. Get a copy and have some fun.