Tagged Junkie

Aquarius – Season 2, Episode 6: “Revolution 9”

NBC’s Aquarius
Season 2, Episode 6: “Revolution 9”
Directed by Jonas Pate
Written by Rafael Yglesias

* For a review of the previous episode, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me & My Monkey” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Piggies” – click here
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At 10050 Cielo Drive on August 9th of 1969, a maid makes her way up to the house. First, she finds the wires on the gate speaker cut. On the door is scrawled PIG in red. Further inside waits unimaginable horror.
We jump back 16 months previous. The same maid finds herself the subject of nasty racism at the hands of none other than Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony). No surprise there. Meanwhile, Charlie’s not happy with much that’s going on at the home of Dennis Wilson (Andy Favreau). He orders his girls around, mostly pimping them out.
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In other news, Detectives Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) and Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) are finding out what they can about the missing girl they’ve found, now dead and rotted away in a makeshift grave. At the same time, Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne) is getting information on Bobby Kennedy, likely up to no good behind the scenes. He’s glued to the television and obviously worried about the threat of this Kennedy for his man Richard Nixon. Ah, political intrigue! I’ve always dug this Karn plot. Not only is O’Byrne a great actor, the character itself is well written and full of good threads to follow.
Back with Hodiak and Shafe, they’re trying to interrogate Ben Healy (Morgan McClellan) a bit. What we see here, above all else, is the fact Shafe is already starting to become that guy he never wanted to become, the one his wife Kristin (Milauna Jackson) fears he’ll be with that detective shield on.


Producer Terry Melcher (Chase Coleman) is getting pulled further into the world of Manson, as the latter works his devious ways to get what he wants, and to con others into thinking they’re getting what they desire. Greasy, slick bastard.
In jail, Healy’s talking a bit. But there’s more going on with Shafe than his job. He’s still sweating, his whole demeanour is shaky. He is not himself. And we’ve already seen the foreshadowing of his nasty addiction. We’re going to have to watch his downward spiral, which sort of pains me. I like this guy. I’d like to see him kick the demons, though clearly there’s only more trouble in his future. Even worse, if Hodiak figures everything out he won’t be happy.
Speaking of Sam, he’s over chatting with some union cats. They’re big fans of Kennedy, by the way. Well one of Hodiak’s buddies is being blackmailed by a prostitute. He worries, obviously, for his children, his wife, the integrity of the union and all kinds of things. Reluctantly, Sam agrees to do the job. Only thing is I’m not sure his morality is so free as it was before. He doesn’t look too pleased with having to track down a woman and… do who knows what to keep her silent.
Shafe is still grilling Healy trying to get more out of him. He’s following more rules of the non-official police handbook from Dt. Hodiak, too. Maybe, just maybe, it works.

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Manson gets a little of what he wants from Melcher with the promise of more. But you can be sure that either he’ll sabotage things unwillingly himself, or it won’t pan out how he envisions it.
Back to the politics, Grace Karn (Michaela McManus) is starting to dip her feet in. She’s asked to introduce Mrs. Nixon before a luncheon for the National Federation of Republican Women due to her husband Ken “working” for Nixon. When she’s courted afterwards to possibly take a more active role, Grace is presented with either lying or telling the truth about where her daughter Emma (Emma Dumont) is currently. She’s over being slapped around by Charlie Manson, told what to do, where to go, all that sort of thing; even her name Grace is no more, she’s Cherry.
Finally, Hodiak looks like he’s cluing in to what is going on with Shafe when the younger of the two mumbles: “This aint the flu.” In the meantime, Sam keeps at Healy, and starts trying to work more out of the guy. Nothing comes, except his lawyer. Now there’s more complaints headed Hodiak’s way, but he’s still convinced there is some guilt kicking around. And instead of going home, Shafe simply goes for another shot of horse, getting high as a kite in a dirty little room by himself.

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Ken meets an Agent Bill Copley (Joe Williamson) at a hotel bar. Lots of undercover talk about Nixon, Hoover, dirt of Bobby Kennedy, and all that. Very clandestine, Deep Throat-type stuff. But there’s more than that at hand. Is there some type of relationship between these two? Ken says he looks “fit” and laments not getting a call after Copley came to town. Yowzahs. No wonder he thought Kennedy was a handsome fella.
At home, Brian and Kristin are at odds. She continually finds the change in him disruptive, disappointing above anything. Hodiak calls to let Shafe know the story on Healy. Mostly, we see how Brian is alienating his wife, he’s beginning to slip up slightly in his job. Everything is crumbling. He’s the only one that doesn’t seem to notice. Because not long after Kristin discovers her husband’s secret junkie kit.
Out on his moonlighting gig, Hodiak brings an old buddy a lunch, Detective Blumenthal (Matthew Arkin). He gets a bit of low down on the prostitutes which he seeks out: they’ve got the same pimp, a guy named Martin O’Reilly (Ryan Caldwell). During the whole debacle Sam meets Bobby Kennedy (Scott Bailey), who asks about race relations involving the African-American community: “Its my job to keep the bad away from the good. Thats all I can do,” Hodiak tells him.
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Eventually Hodiak tracks down O’Reilly. For his part the pimp denies any blackmail. Because why would he ruin a good client? Either way, Hodiak cracks his nose open on the steering wheel: “Youre still a pimp,” he says before getting out and letting a couple other detectives take the guy in – or are they someone else? So Hodiak goes back to his buddy, asking for more info. He ends up sitting for a hot beverage with the wife. She seems to let on that there’s more to her husband than appears at first, and she is the one that’s putting the screws to her husband. Good woman. Fuck that cheating slime.
Awhile later Sam discovers O’Reilly is now a missing person. Uh oh. Hodiak doesn’t like that his old buddy he tried helping basically used him to find the pimp, then did something… intense. Being an army pal from long ago doesn’t ensure Hodiak’s undying loyalty.
At the Wilson mansion, Charlie plays a new song for the Beach Boy. Over this we watch a montage of various scenes, including Brian and his destroyed living room along with Kristin’s disapproving look, Grace quietly worrying for her daughter, and Hodiak receives another envelope with RFK’S #1 DETECTIVE written across it, a new picture inside. And after Charlie finishes playing there’s a look behind Dennis’ eyes that speaks wonders. He finds it amazing, which pleases Manson plenty.
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Hodiak winds up doing his part to help get Bobby Kennedy out of the hotel where he made an appearance. Out through the doors they go and you know what’s coming, don’t you?
A man walks from out of the crowd, pulls a gun, then….
Cut to August 9th of ’69 again. The maid comes barrelling out of the house on Cielo Drive, trying to scream “murder” but barely with a voice.
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What a CRAZY, amazing episode! I love this show. I don’t care what the ratings say, or what other internet sites are saying: it’s awesome. While it takes liberties with Manson and other events, there’s a really fun, exciting, and fresh feel to Aquarius coupled with great performances from the cast. Excited for the next episode titled “Piggies” and I can’t wait to see what comes from the fallout of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, particularly see as how Hodiak was right there at the scene. Stay tuned, fellow fans.

American Horror Story – Hotel, Episode 3: “Mommy”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 5, Episode 3:
 “Mommy”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by James Wong

* For a review of the previous episode, “Chutes and Ladders” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Devil’s Night” – click here
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-12-25-28-amBack for another night checking in at the Hotel Cortez.
Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock), former badboy model cum vampire, heads back to try and find Mr. James March (Evan Peters). He said he didn’t understand March, but now he does and is a self proclaimed “fan.” Tristan has obviously studied up on ole James, even going so far as to list off his birth date. Though, he chalks it up to Google (“That sounds obscene,” says March).
There’s comedy, dark, here in spades. At the same time most of it is creepy throughout this scene. Loved the Black Closet. Impressively morbid fun.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-12-25-49-amWill Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) is bringing his high profile Vogue friend Claudia Bankson (Naomi Campbell) around the hotel for a tour. Naturally, they run into Tristan. Is this going to spell trouble for them, made even worse by the fact Tristan is falling into line as being an apprentice to James March? Absolutely, at least for Drake. March proclaims he can’t be allowed to “touch a single room“, so to preserve the legacy Tristan offers to take care of him saying “Dont worry, I got this.” Such a nonchalant attitude towards murder. A dark soul, that one.
Dr. Alex Lowe (Chloë Sevigny) continues to deal with the anti-vaxxer parents. One child has come down with the measles, all due to the pseudoscientific approach to parenting and medicine so many seem to be adopting in the 21st century, more and more. This is, again, a reason why I love American Horror Story in general. Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk & Co. always manage to work in present day issues of relevance with each season. It’s part of why I keep coming back, aside from the horror and the psychosexual thriller aspects.
Furthermore concerning Dr. Lowe, she recounts the tragedy of her son, from the way he affected her life coming into it to how devastating it was to see him go out of it. This is an incredible sequence, very intense and dramatic. I love Chloë Sevigny, even if she says some wild shit as a famous personality (I won’t go into that here; she’s said a few dumb things during her time in the spotlight). She is a great actress who is not at all afraid to take risks. Coupled with her, literally in terms of character, is Wes Bentley as Detective John Lowe. He is great, too. Always been a fan of him since American Beauty, and he keeps doing great work in each of these episodes. He and Sevigny have excellent chemistry, working well as a troubled married couple.
Oh, Claudia Bankson. I feel bad for her. She’s obviously a high class type woman. Now here she is staying at the Cortez, a hotel which may as well be a tourist stop on the Dante vacation guide. When she lays down to go to bed, poor Gabriel (Max Greenfield) emerges screaming from the mattress after having been sewn in last episode by Sally (Sarah Paulson). Even worse? He stabs Claudia to death in a mad rage. Wow. I expected her to go, just didn’t see her getting slashed so quickly into the episode. Fair enough, though. A vicious and welcomed surprise.
In another part of the city, Dt. Lowe and his partner Dt. Hahn (Richard T. Jones) investigate more work by the serial killer they’re hunting. Once Lowe arrives back at the Cortez, though, out comes Gabriel painted in blood, panting, falling into the unsuspecting detective’s arms. Another whoa moment and I dig it. Later at the hospital things get crazy – Lowe’s given little morsels of information before Gabriel dies on a gurney suggesting Sally did something to him, as well as the fact there was a murder.


But I’m genuinely worried for Will Drake. The newly vampirised Duffy is lurking around, tempting weak-willed Will with a bit of skin and seduction. Out of nowhere, The Countess (Lady Gaga) emerges to cut off Tristan’s fun.
Another interesting dynamic so far in Season 5 is the one between Hypodermic Sally and Detective John Lowe. There are several things at play in their tenuous relationship at the Cortez. First, we have Lowe as cop versus Sally the criminal. Secondly there’s Lowe as a man who is trying hard to abstain from alcohol, while Sally is – clearly – an relentless junkie. And finally we don’t know how deep Sally’s influence goes, how embedded in the hotel she truly is in terms of what her ultimate power holds.
The other team I’m loving is Iris (Kathy Bates) and Donovan (Matt Bomer), the troubled mother-son relationship. Iris is stuck at the hotel by necessity, not in terms of the supernatural like it seems Sally is trapped. She wants to be close to Donovan. On the other side of things, Donovan himself would rather be far away from her. Within all the supernatural/ghostly this is some of the solid real life drama happening among a cast of pretty kooky (though awesome) characters.

Fine, you make a list of all the ways I failed you. And you know what I say to your list? Shit on it. ‘Cause my list beats yours. Item 1: I gave you life. Item 2: I saved your life.”
I wanted to die!

More good music in this episode with “Rich Kids Blues” from Lykke Li playing over a scene where Donovan feeds on whoever he can along the streets, wandering where he pleases. Except he stumbles across someone he never expected, a woman named Ramona Royale (Angela Bassett) who immediately tasers him before he can do anything with the knife he wields.
Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) is always a treat to see. We’re going to find out more about her soon, I guarantee. She serves up some soda pop for Dt. Lowe, whose troubles are beginning to get worse. Meeting with Alex, she brings him divorce papers, which seem a huge surprise to him; he is devastated, actually. This is more of the solid acting from Bentley especially. He does a fantastic job with the emotional aspects of his characters, I’ve found that even in the worst of the films he’s been in over the course of his career; here, with Dt. Lowe, we’re able to see a lot of his range come out because of the insane situation he’s found himself in at the Cortez. Their situation gets murkier with each step throughout “Mommy.”
Alex wanders down one of the hallways to find a bloody Claudia Bankson standing there, mocking. Creepy enough for you? She then sees Holden down another corridor. Just what she needs after all the horrible tension and resentment happening between her and husband John.
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-12-33-53-amUp in the penthouse, The Countess meets with Drake – “What if I told you Will Drake had to die?” she asks him. Figuratively? Literally? Either way some saucy stuff is happening in a dangerous triangle between Tristan, The Countess and Drake.
Apparently The Countess has moved on, once more. Obviously to Drake now because of his money. It’s amazing how they work Bernie Madoff into the script as the reason The Countess has depleted funds in the old life savings account. Turns out Bernie did her in, similar to Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick and many other less famous victims. So that’s a fun little modern addition. Turns out she’s now planning on marrying Will – which has begun with her trying to switch him from the gay team (seriously?) – before killing him. No wonder she stopped Tristan earlier. She needs that cash before they can feast on his delicious blood.
Possibly the most strange and shocking moment in “Mommy” comes when Sally is readying herself to shoot Iris up with heroin. Apparently Iris has decided there are no reasons left to live. Following the huge altercation earlier with her son, Iris obviously doesn’t see any point in going on (Iris: “I just dont get the joke anymore I am the joke?”). Will Sally help Iris, or is she going to do something terrible with her like she did with Gabriel, and who knows how many countless others before him?
Once the weary Donovan wakes up, he finds Ramona Royale in his face. He’s strapped to a chair by the neck. She is pumping his blood, trying to clean him out for some purpose. Then we have an amazingly executed sequence where Angela Bassett playsa very Pam Grier type character; I could not get enough of this, at all! She’s on a set very similar to something like Coffy and playing a definite homage, at certain points, to Grier. I have no doubt about that.


CAN YOU SAY HOLY FUCK? A lesbian love scene between Bassett and Gaga? I mean, that’s just unreal. But the whole sequence here is what’s worth it – they’re together, as lovers and partners, throughout decades, falling apart eventually because of The Countess’ never ending need for variety. Then it moves into Ramona and her new lover, which becomes something DEVASTATING. I won’t spoil this any further. Totally need to see it yourself.
What I’m very intrigued about now is how the relationship between Donovan and Ramona will work going forward. There’ll definitely be a lot of fun happening from here on in. Even though it seems things end between them here, I can almost certainly say we’ll find them together again soon enough.
The episode’s finish is a real gut punch, as Donovan finally comes to find love for his mother once she has died in Sally’s room. He cuts his wrist and pours blood into her mouth. Now she won’t be able to die, well at least not easily anyways according to the rules set out last episode by The Countess. An interesting last minute development in “Mommy”, which made it more enjoyable than I found most of the episode. A good one, just not as good as either of the first two.
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-12-36-00-amCan’t wait for the next episode titled “Devil’s Night” directed by the man himself Ryan Murphy. Stay tuned and I’ll be back for another review next week, my fellow horror fans!

Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1, Episode 4: “Not Fade Away”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 4: “Not Fade Away”
Directed by Kari Skogland
Written by Meaghan Oppenheimer

* For a review of the next episode, “Cobalt” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Dog” – click here
IMG_1992This episode starts with Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” playing over a montage of what’s now the new normal in Los Angeles neighbourhoods.
Travis (Cliff Curtis) jogs through the fenced in area of the their neighbourhood. His son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) sits on top of the roof and talks to his camera, in the distance noticing a flash; is it a signal, gunfire, or something else? Either way, Chris says: “Hello
IMG_1993For the time being, Travis and his son, Madison (Kim Dickens), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and the still detoxing Nick (Frank Dillane) are all trying to get along with normal life; quote unquote normal, anyways. At the same time, Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is off helping others.
Either way the friction is real, it is constant. Even Alicia acknowledges there’s nothing normal anymore.
Back on top of the house, Chris discovers the signal flashing back to him as he tries to signal it. He tries to show his father, though, Travis has no part of it. Clearly it is someone and Travis knows this, worrying too much. Will he got out on his own? Is he going to do something dumb? We’ll see.
Madison and son, Nick, are also dealing with a slight bit of friction. Although it seems Nick is trying to kick the junk a bit more proactively, his mother’s only concerned for him and questions whether or not “forgetting” to take his medication is the best thing or not. Regardless, Nick acts as if he’s willing to get clean and swims around in a dirty pool while acting fairly non-chalant about it all.
IMG_1995The National Guard has moved in. They’re not only occupying the neighbourhood in order to keep things under control, they impose lots of rules – obviously – but as Travis sees quickly, these troops mean business; strict fucking business.
Travis is called on to deal with the Thompson family, who are apparently holed up in their house and will not comply with the National Guard. Lieutenant Moyers (Jamie McShane) makes it clear, Travis either helps get him to go along, or the Guard is going to take him down.
Unfortunately, Doug Thompson (John Stewart) is having a bit of a hard time telling his children what’s been happening. Yet luckily Travis is able to get Doug calmed down, thinking level-headed. A testament to the level-headedness of Travis, but there are things even this quality won’t help him with in the days, weeks, months… years… to come. Depending on how long he makes it.
IMG_2008Nick proves fairly fast his lying self is prevalent. Seeing Liza leave a sick neighbour’s house, he sneaks himself into the room and hooks himself up to an old, obviously near death patient’s IV all to get his fix. Despicable, sad, all at once.
He and his mother have a confrontation later where she basically beats him up, briefly, telling him “You have no idea“. While it’s sad to see a mom have to essentially kick the shit out of her junkie son, it’s something certain junkies ACTUALLY need (coming from someone who is nearly 7 years clean from drugs & 6 years sober from alcohol).
What’s worse is the fact Madison is trying hard to be positive, trying to hard to be there and be strong, all for her family. All the while, Nick is shitting all over the trust she gave him earlier.
The thing I love is the writing here concerning the family. There’s a parallel between the sons, each giving the two parents grief. Nick is bad enough, but then there’s Chris who – maybe rightfully – won’t let go of the fact he saw a flash out in the distance, out where, supposedly, there aren’t any people.
Clearly, though, Nick is worse.
That night, Madison flashes a light on her own at the top of their roof. Finally, after a few flashes, one comes back and she gets confirmation Chris actually saw someone out there. Who is it? The suspense is already killing me, honestly. Loving it.
IMG_1996Everything gets more and more tense once Doug Thompson disappears in his car. Obviously Travis didn’t do such a great job talking Doug down earlier. He tries to talk with Lt. Moyers, but this guy is a REAL douche. No doubt on that one.
It feels a bit sketchy once Moyers gets sort of standoff-ish after Travis mentions his son saw a light in the DZ (for those who don’t happen to know: DZ, or DMZ, means demilitarized zone). The lieutenant passes it off, forgetting it right away, but it’s the way he’s body language speaks: you know the guy is lying, he knows something, he knows what the military knows and you can bet it’s nasty.
IMG_1997One of my favourite scenes so far in this first season of Fear the Walking Dead happens when Madison, albeit irresponsibly (and I thought Chris would be the dummy to attempt this), heads out through the National Guard implemented fence, cutting a hole through a tiny section and making her way into the DZ.
At first there’s this intense bit where we watch as Madison walks through these desolate bits of neighbourhood, everything destroyed or abandoned. Then come the dead bodies, a stench washing over her. And BAM – out comes a military vehicle, troops in tow. This was an incredibly tense sequence. These moments amped up higher than they would have even with the excellent cinematography and overall production design, all due to an amazing score from Paul Haslinger.
IMG_1999 IMG_2002 IMG_2003 IMG_2005 IMG_2006Dr. Bethany Exner (Sandrine Holt) is now roaming the neighbourhood. In private, she outs Liza to her face as not being a real nurse, and they sort of… strike a deal. Now, she’s heading through the neighbourhood, checking everyone out.
Griselda Salazar (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) is being eyed to have sugery under Dr. Exner. It’s hard to tell whether or not Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) is willing to let that happen.
But he tells Madison a story, as they’re together after her adventure outside the fence, about how the government came and took some people from where he lived; they did not come back, only ended up dead. His whole point is that if he goes, and does not come back, she needs to be there for Ofelia Salazar (Mercedes Mason). I thought this was a really great scene, Rubén Blades is an awesome actor whose credibility adds something to this cast of characters of which I’m a big fan.
IMG_2009When the shady Dr. Exner and the National Guard come to take Griselda, things get extremely tension-filled and a bit scary.
First, they refuse to take Daniel with his wife, as the only other name on the list is Nicholas Clark. Second, in the struggle to get Nick after Alicia tells him to run, the National Guardsmen draw their guns on everyone, from Daniel to Chris. It provokes everyone. Everything goes mad in those few moments and the troops take Nick, Griselda, and even – though willing – Liza.
What’s even wilder is that in the final few moments of the episode, Travis goes up to the roof in grief as everyone else left does their own thing, each reeling. Up on top of the house, Travis not only sees confirmation of a flashing light out in the DZ, he witnesses big bangs, flashes of light, and realizes someone has been killed. No doubt after Lt. Moyers caught wind of it from him, another party of troops went out to sweep the area, finding them in the night naturally and snuffing out the problem. Incredibly intense and disturbing as hell.
One thing’s for sure – Madison and Travis are headed for rough territory, as Liza is the cause of all this nonsense at the close of the episode. Maybe not fair, however, the only reason she was there was due to the fact Travis wanted her to be; being the mother of his boy and all. Still, there’s going to be some trouble in the house amongst everything else going on outside in the devastation that is Los Angeles.
IMG_2010 IMG_2011Looking forward big time to the penultimate episode of the first season, “Cobalt”, which is again directed by Kari Skogland. I like how the number of directors has been cut down in this first season, it gives directors the chance to sort of bridge episodes together instead of simply doing six one-off directed episodes by six different directors. Gives the season continuity in that sense, to me anyways. I think Robert Kirkman and Co. have a good thing on their hands with this series, even though the naysayers will, no doubt, continually naysay. Digging it over this way!
Stay tuned for more reviews, my friends! #FearTWD

Saw: Raw Modern Indie Horror

Saw. 2004. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell, from a story by Whannell & James Wan.
Starring Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Mike Butters, Paul Gutrecht, Michael Emerson, Benito Martinez, Monica Potter, and Shawnee Smith. Twisted Pictures. Rated R. 103 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
Saw_posterThere are plenty of people who say Saw is so-called “torture porn”. I can most certainly see how, as the series progresses, someone might find the movies a bit heavy on torture, fetishized torture almost. But here? There’s definitely a good heaping portion of horror, no doubt. What we get most of all here, as opposed to the other films afterward (a couple of which I do actually enjoy though), is mystery.
Granted there are certainly problems. I can’t say this is a perfect horror movie. However, I think that what Saw lacks slightly in logic at times, it more than makes up for with the atmosphere and tone James Wan creates in the film’s 103 minutes.
We also can’t ignore how Wan’s film, working off a grimly fun and intense script from Leigh Whannell, spawned an entire flock of copycat movies attempting to capture a glimmer of the success of Saw by focusing heavily on torture horror aspects to drive their stories. Not many, if any, were able to come close to what Wan and Whannell accomplished here, and it’s because – as I mentioned already – the horror is peppered in nicely amongst a primarily dark mystery story. There’s more than enough to satisfy many of the gory horror hounds out there, but Saw pays its dues as a great horror mystery that changed the game in 2004 by not being everything typical we expect from most horror movies. While it’s not perfect, I do think the first film in this series is worth its weight in BLOOD.

Saw begins as two men, Adam Faulkner-Stanheight (screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), wake up trapped in a small, dark, dirty room together. Each man is held by a thick metal chain to a large pipe in opposite corners of the room. When they get the lights on, a fairly fresh dead body is laying in the middle of the room, gun in hand, brain blows out on the floor. Over the course of their time together in the room, Adam and Dr. Gordon begin to discover a serial killer named Jigsaw wants to… play some games with them. Gordon is a doctor who was recently brought in for questioning, Jigsaw having planted an item of his for the police to find; Adam is a photographer, his own past revealed throughout the film, whom Jigsaw captured. Each of the men have their own demons to face, as the mysterious man named Jigsaw is less a killer and more a judge who places the job of executioner in the individual’s hands: his traps put the victim’s life at their fingertips, begging the question of how far will a person go to live?
Would you walk through Hell to come back to the light?
saw1There are numerous creepy things about this movie, so I’ll start first with the tone. One thing I’ve always enjoyed, which I found set this apart from so many other horrors of the early 2000s, is the atmosphere of Wan’s film. To start, there’s an excellent colour palette to the entire movie. For instance, I love the scenes when we’re seeing the flashbacks to Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the junkie, when she finds herself locked into the bear trap puzzle by Jigsaw; everything has a green hue, this wonderful tint and it puts you in that grimy headspace exactly where Amanda found herself. Works perfectly at some many different points. Even just the interrogation room itself where Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) is talking with Amanda, while Dr. Gordon (Elwes) watches on the other side of the glass, it has this blue filter that makes everything feel very stern, tense.
Then we have the majority of the film where Dr. Gordon and Adam find themselves stuck in that dirty room. That has a more clear look, however, the set itself (not sure if this was an actual location or a set; forgive my ignorance) has this palpably filthy feeling to it, so this plays the part of the filter, through a totally real aesthetic.
I find each of the different segments in Saw have their own aesthetic, even the flashbacks Dr. Gordon has to his family life; the house itself gives things a very dark, vibrant look. Wan could’ve easily gave each and every scene a similar look, instead they all find their own which adds something to the perspectives of the different characters and their respective situations. Even the camerawork itself is different, with Gordon’s scenes being much more steady while Adam had a more handheld, chaotic style feel. Something I love about this movie, which I think not enough people recognize. Much of what I find Wan did with this film did not carry over to many of the others, in the sense they went more for shock and awe while Wan builds up a macabre atmosphere and dark tone which gets under your skin with every passing scene.
Saw1_01Saw2MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD: for anyone who hasn’t actually seen the movie, you may want to not read this next bit.
The character of Zep Hindle, played by Michael Emerson (most know him as Ben Linus from Lost), works so perfectly as a red herring. Not that he’s a particularly innocent man, however, he has obviously been manipulated by Jigsaw. In that sense, he’s the killer’s own red herring, put in place with his own hand.
An intensely creepy scene happens as Zep takes Dr. Gordon’s wife Alison (Monica Potter) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) hostage. The tension is thick while Zep puts a gun to Alison’s head, then puts a stethoscope against the daughter’s chest to listen to her heartbeat get faster and faster, thumping hard; I thought this was so disturbing in a way, there’s a sick pleasure Zep gets out of the act. Also, out of so many horror movies I’ve seen that’s a moment I can’t remember seeing too often – maybe it happened in Dr. Giggles or something equally horrible, but I think this little scary moment is a unique bit, albeit brief.
No more spoilers should come after this one.
LawrencePromisesAdamAnother awesome part about Saw is the fact this doesn’t rely on a ton of CGI effects in order to make the scares work. We get the scares, the strange creepiness of it all, then there are great practical special makeup effects that drive home all those feelings. My problem with so many modern horror films, even many which tried to capitalize off the success of Saw, is how the build-up to the scares, the blood, the gore, always gets spoiled by CGI; and the bad stuff, at that. With this film, Wan delivers on all the tension and suspenseful moments by giving the audience worthy practical effects on which they can gorge.
Added to the nice effects work, Charlie Clouser (who I know most from his work with my favourite musician Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails) gives everything an even creepier feeling with an at times brutal and other times unsettling score. His work is great and I’m surprised he doesn’t do more horror than he’s already done. Even on the lacklustre sequel The Collection he does some fascinating work with its music. Mostly, I love the unbelievably weird and scary intro music he did for American Horror Story. Here, there are times where the score just pounds relentlessly (think the scene where the detectives meet Jigsaw face-to-mask for the first time), others Clouser gives us that iconic Saw music with the little electronic riff which sort of floats around and haunts you after awhile, and there’s an overall great sound design too filling in the gaps between his individual pieces. Most certainly a huge aspect to the atmosphere in this film is his composing. Can’t get enough of the work he does here.
Saw (2004) Screenshot 3I think the performances are decent enough to hold all the tension, the suspense, and the horror together as a cohesive and effective unit: I’m always game for Cary Elwes, in anything, even when he’s not totally spot on there’s something interesting about his acting; moreover, surprisingly Leigh Whannell was good as you don’t often expect a screenwriter to also act well.
Above all, the atmosphere Wan is able to bring out, the bloody effects, and the mystery of the script carry this into the realm of a modern classic. There’s no doubt the rest of the Saw series strays into a ton of needless nastiness, regardless if I do like one or two of the half dozen sequels, but Wan uses atmosphere, ton, and the excellent screenplay Whannell wrote in order to make this a PURE horror film.
I can honestly say that, for me, this is a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There is enough solid creepiness that the screenplay feels well written, as well as the fact James Wan’s directing takes this to a higher level. As a team, Wan and Whannell have proved since this film, time and time again, they work wonderfully together and have the same horror movie sensibilities. Their projects usually try to challenge what’s happening in horror at that moment in time, Saw merely being their first big success (I’m a huge fan of the Insidious series), and I think that while many try to pass this off as “torture porn”, it is far more than that every step of the way.

Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1, Episode 2: “So Close, Yet So Far”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode
2: “So Close, Yet So Far”
Directed by Adam Davidson (Hell on WheelsThe FollowingLow Winter Sun)
Written by Marco Ramirez (Sons of AnarchyOrange is the New BlackDa Vinci’s DemonsDaredevil)

* For a review of the next episode, “The Dog” – click here
* For a review of the Pilot episode – click here
IMG_1827This second episode begins directly after the Pilot. Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her boyfriend Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), along with her son Nick (Frank Dillane), are speeding away in the truck after seeing the beginning of an epidemic; what we know is the zombie apocalypse.
Worst part is, Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey) went to check on her boyfriend Matt (Maestro Harrell) who stood her up previously. He’s sick, running a massive fever, so something is certainly not right.
When Travis checks on him, Matt seems to have a bite in his shoulder. Though when they saw Calvin (Keith Powers) turn into a zombie in the finale of the Pilot he’d been shot, there’s still something suspicious about it. Alicia doesn’t want to leave Matt, but he begs her to leave because he loves her.
IMG_1828I knew it would happen – in this episode, we’re beginning to see everything go to hell, as well as the fact Nick is going to go through severe withdrawals. No more heroin. He’s on the couch sweating, rolling around, he’s hot then freezing cold. Worst time ever for it to happen, however, he’s lucky enough to have a tough mother like Madison by his side.
IMG_1831Here we’re also seeing lots of him and his sister Alicia together. She is clearly resentful of her junkie brother, whose addiction has obviously affected the whole family and her in particular. I can see how him being an addict, as well as having a completely understanding mother such as Madison, would take most of the attention up. Not saying Alicia is selfish, not whatsoever, but she’s felt the effects of the strained family dynamic due to Nick’s seemingly constant battle with addiction. There’ll be more of this to come up, as the zombie apocalypse takes hold more and more. I’m interested to see how the whole mixed family situations between Madison and Travis will work as things get tense with the zombies rising up.
IMG_1830At the same time, Travis’ own son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) is out in the middle of the streets where things seem to be already rapidly breaking down into chaos; police officers are in the streets, paramedics everywhere. Someone was taken down by police in a ton of bullets. True to the modern day we live in, people were of course down there protesting about what happened. Chris moves in with his video camera and a bit of trouble starts, as the crowd supports him and the police officer at the crime scene tells him to shut off the camera.
Travis heads out to find him. Bad idea? Sure, but you don’t realistically think a man would leave his son out there in the midst of everything, who knows where, if he knew some epidemic was on the verge of happening, do you? Not at all. So off Travis goes.
Madison heads out on an expedition of her own to the school to try and find some drugs in order to keep Nick from going cold turkey. There, in an otherwise deserted building, she meets Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos) who is looking for the items Madison confiscated in the last episode. He’s stocking up on food and other things, understanding what’s coming, while Madison is a little more apprehensive to give in and accept an apocalypse is about to rain down on them.
IMG_1832We get the first real personal zombie attack in this episode, in the sense that Madison watches her colleague at the school Art Costa (Scott Lawrence) attack her and Tobias. They both end up keeping him off and Madison has to bash ole Artie’s brains in to keep him from coming. Vicious and we’re also seeing how this is truly the beginning: can’t easily bash a person’s head open when they’ve only recently turned into a zombie. That’s part of why I’m interested in Fear the Walking Dead, we’re getting to see all these situations from the beginning; things we already know like how easy or not it is to kill zombies change. Fun!

One thing I’m sure many noticed but I need to mention before moving on.
Travis notices a police officer at a gas station stocking up on cases of water, loading them into the back of his cruiser. This is a highly intense moment because, as I see it, Travis realizes there’s something officially wrong. Not only that, it seems perhaps the police (and no doubt other higher-ups on the social chain) are being made aware of how serious the situation actually is, as most of the people on the streets of Los Angeles and in their homes have no idea exactly what is commencing. I think the look in Travis’ eyes says it all: pure fear. He understands there’s a terrible epidemic about to rock their city, possibly more than just L.A, and constantly throughout the episode we can see this over and over, that look on his face as he watches things fall apart around him.
IMG_1829That’s the scariest part of the zombie apocalypse scenario for me, that the government and law enforcement would take care of themselves first, then whoever else they could spare the room for afterwards. Even further, I’m terrified they would specifically quarantine and blast zones out to rid it of the infection, or that they’d systematically murder citizens in order to wipe it out hopefully. Part of that is what drives the tension in this scene.

Travis meets up with his ex-wife Liza Ortis (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who is less than thrilled to see him. But he warns her of what may be on the rise. When they go to the protest where their son Chris is filming, Liza sees the man who was shot by the police, then witnesses men in Hazmat suits exiting a vehicle; promptly this makes her revise any ideas about going against her husband. From there, anarchy starts to break out like wildfire amongst the crowds, as another zombie shows up behind the police and a SWAT Team marches in on the people. Travis and his family manage to hole up in a barber shop with Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), his wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola), and their daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason). This is a bit of a tenuous situation, though, the Salazars seem to be good people.
Outside of the barber shop fires and riots have erupted in full force already. As Tobias says to Madison at one point, when the end of civilization comes it comes quick. That’s exactly what’s begun to happen in “So Close, Yet So Far”.
IMG_1833 IMG_1834The finale of the episode starts showing us how the virus is spreading. Already, out in the Clark neighbourhood, zombies are wandering and beginning to attack. As one of the neighbours is attacked by another neighbour, Alicia tries to go intervene but her mother stops her. It seems Madison is starting to heed the warnings of young Tobias, who as kids are these days is prepared for a possible apocalypse, or at least wants to be prepared and is willing to accept things might be collapsing.
What’s most telling here is the way Madison shuts the door and she sort of leans back against it, a close-up lingering on her face as she doesn’t want to have to stop her daughter from helping another person – however, this is the new world they’ll be living in. She accepts it partly and by closing the door she’s ushering in a new law of acceptance in her own home, in her mind and heart, that civilization is collapsing and doing so like they’re skiing down a collective slope into oblivion, picking up speed.
IMG_1835 IMG_1836 IMG_1837I’m happy with how the show is starting. Naturally we’re not directly in the midst of everything, it’s the actual start. So things in this episode have actually begun to devolve. Anticipating the third to have a bit of intense violence and zombie madness. There’s a slow burn aspect to these first two episodes that I’m enjoying. Surely there are people who’ve had their share of problems. Me, I don’t see anything to complain about.
Another part of what I like is that it’s not completely copying The Walking Dead. Even the aesthetic is proving different. One thing I noticed watching “So Close, Yet So Far” is the music. LOVING the score! It has a similar edge at times, yet totally different. An interesting electronic vibe going on throughout this episode. Paul Haslinger has been doing the music for this season of Fear the Walking Dead, he’s also scoring the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire. Other films he’s done I’m not overly keen on, so I’m glad to be hearing some work of his that’s pretty awesome so far. Great score helps a horror film/show in an enormous way.
IMG_1838 IMG_1839Dig this episode a good deal. Looking forward to the next one titled “The Dog” which is again directed by Adam Davidson. I’m enjoying that he’s directed the initial three episodes of this show because it offers a bit of continuity. Would’ve obviously been better to have one person direct the whole six episode season, however, it’s still awesome to have him start the season off with three solid episodes. Sets things up nicely moving along.
Stay tuned for next week, Deadites!

Fear The Walking Dead: Series Premiere – Review

AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Adam Davidson (The FollowingHell On Wheels)
Written by Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson; based on the graphic novel series by Charlie Adlard/Robert Kirkman/Tony Moore

* For a review of the next episode, “So Close, Yet So Far” – click here
IMG_1738The opening scene of Fear The Walking Dead is a doozy to me. A nice open throat, a man stumbling around in a worn down church, zombie woman eating a face with a knife sticking from her belly. I found the atmosphere of the scene combined with a tense chase pretty awesome, plus the guy playing Nick (Frank Dillane) ejecting himself from the church and into the street where he’s hit by a car looks genuinely frightened.
So this initial moment makes things exciting. Nothing like starting things off on a wild and creepy moment to get viewers interested. Furthermore, I found for at least a few minutes I wasn’t totally positive if Nick was a junkie, or if he was in the first throes of becoming a part of the walking dead horde. Very cool how they played with that whole angle.
IMG_1739There’s a bunch of family drama at the start of this pilot. A lot of people online seem to be lamenting this, wanting more of the zombies. But what you’re not getting, if in that camp of viewers, is that this is NOT The Walking Dead. We’re beginning at the very start, not in media res of the apocalypse like Rick Grimes in the initial episode of the original series.
So if you’re not interested in that – fine. Just don’t say it’s a bad show; first of all it is the pilot, second you can’t judge it badly because you don’t like drama and want zombies. The zombies, at least in the pilot, are not the first and foremost element of what is happening. We’re watching the world as it is about to plunge into the darkness we’ve come to know on The Walking Dead.
IMG_1740There’s a big mix of families happening. We’ve got Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) whose son happens to be Nick, from the start, so that’s enough trouble for her as it is. But then she’s involved with Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) whose ex is Lisa Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Then amongst them of course is Nick, as well as Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey), plus Travis’ son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie). At first I found it a little confusing, mostly because it was introduced quick and brief upfront. After a little time, though, I settled in and it was interesting to me. The family represents that sort of mixed racial family that I’m sure is fairly prevalent nowadays in a place like Los Angeles; where this spin-off is set. Some I’m sure will cry that Robert Kirkman, the creators, the writers are all trying to be a little “PC” by making it such a family, but I think it’s more realism than pandering.
IMG_1741What I enjoy in this pilot episode is how Travis (Curtis) tries to listen to Nick (Dillane). Unfortunately for him, the things Nick is saying are far too real. When Travis goes to the church Nick crawled out of – a place where it’s essentially “junkie communion” as he puts it himself – there’s little to verify his story, however, the mood and tone are ominous. He doesn’t necessarily think the zombie apocalypse is upon the all, but Travis does tell Madison (Dickens) he thinks something terrible happened there. Mostly, it all speaks to him wanting to help himself as a father, a stepfather, and just feeling the need to given Nick a hand.
IMG_1742 IMG_1743Looks like there are complains about how Fear The Walking Dead has such a junkie-centric thing happening in its first episode. Although, if you look at it wouldn’t a junkie den like that church be a place an epidemic could start? Who knows, really. To me, it’s a place nobody cares about; they are the throwaways of society. So if a guy like Nick shambled out of a place like that, no doubt people would toss off anything he says. Especially if he’s saying someone ate another person. Nowadays it would spread around social media, everyone would claim BATH SALTS, then move on to the next thing. By the time anyone turned around, the apocalypse would be in full-swing and the cities would begin to fall all around us as we’d be in no position to head anything off. So, to me, I found this beginning fitting because it feels genuine, from the relationships to the entire situation of Los Angeles.

I love the scene with Travis as he’s teaching the class about Jack London and his story “To Build A Fire”. Highly ironic when one of his students says he doesn’t care about learning how to build a fire; when asked why not, he replies “I got a stove”. The irony, of course, lies in the fact we already know what’s coming. We’ve seen The Walking Dead, we’ve seen all the zombie horror movies, we can understand that eventually all of these people we’re seeing right now will NEED those skills. If not, their furthering survival is at risk of a quick extinction. So maybe some might say this scene is heavy handed. To me, it follows a great tradition of horror films – from classics like John Carpenter’s Halloween to newer films following it such as It Follows – in which there are these wonderful scenes that speak to thematic/plot elements we’ll see as the story progresses.
IMG_1744There’s solid atmosphere throughout this whole pilot, honestly. From the grim opening with Nick in the church, spilling into the street, to scenes in the hospital – an old man in the bed next to Nick goes into cardiac arrest or something similar; moments later an eerie older woman smiles at Nick, staring. Small bits like this, as well as the look and feel of the scenes themselves, really make for quite a bit of tension.
Moreover, Nick takes off from the hospital, so in terms of plot things get suspenseful. We’re already aware the zombies are out there; the apocalypse has begun officially, whether the characters realize this or not. While Nick saw it, he is a junkie and does not know for sure if he saw a zombie, or if it was the drugs, or if it was drugged madness on the part of the other junkies in that church. So he’s out on the streets, he picks up a burner cellphone, and there’s this wretchedly ominous feeling to the scenes. We’re left wondering exactly how this sad junkie will make out once things start to get insane out in the streets of L.A.

Another thing I love is that the setting is Los Angeles. So while we as the audience hear helicopters and sirens going around, thinking this is the beginning – knowing it – these sounds are commonplace to the characters, as L.A is one hell of a busy city at all times. Never stops, even the helicopters flying over different neighbourhoods. Those characters would not automatically assume that the apocalypse had begun simply because of sirens and helicopters and police cars and ambulances going mad.
Then after a scene with Madison and Travis, once they’ve sped off from the highway, the next day at the school everyone watches a clip from the nightly news, where they’d been near the highway; EMTs are attacked by people on stretchers. Most assume it was drugs, maybe shock as Travis points… but us? Well we know the difference already, even before the characters themselves come to understand what is happening.
Enjoy the inclusion of cellphones, with a bunch of the high school characters watching online videos of the events from the previous night. It seems like a joke to some, yet school is let out early. There’s a sense of chaos brewing. Everything from the music, to the evacuation of buildings, the sound design with more choppers flying about and voices in the air. It’s a great build up towards the episode’s finale.
IMG_1745A scene between Calvin (Keith Powers), who is obviously a friend and dealer both, and Nick is incredibly well done. There’s a genuine terror in Nick; he’s not simply addicted to drugs, he has seen something terrifying and it’s rocking him. Not just that, Calvin is clearly paranoid because Nick’s mom came to him, he’s afraid that Nick has been saying things that ought not to be heard. Very foreboding feeling to the car ride Calvin takes Nick on, as we’re pretty much expecting him to blast the poor junkie away, which we fast discover to be the truth.
Though, it isn’t a drug dealer and a gun Nick needs to be most concerned about. When his mother and Travis show up to get him – after he’s killed Calvin in self-defense – Nick takes them down to where it happened. However the body is not there.
Do you see? DO YOU SEE?
Nick is looking crazier and crazier. Still, we know something is going to happen, something is already going bad.
THEN THE SCORE KICKS IN! That music we know well from The Walking Dead – deep bass, distorted, heavy. In the dark red tunnel, Calvin reappears and he is zombified. Thus begins the zombie apocalypse, which ushers in Fear The Walking Dead.
IMG_1746 IMG_1747 IMG_1749 IMG_1750This episode, while slow to some, is a solid opener to the series. Others wanted a ton of zombie action right away. I stress again: this is not the show you’re looking for! We are getting a slight prequel, once that begins right on the cusp of the apocalypse we’ve already been smack dab in the middle of during The Walking Dead. So it’s only natural to see a lead up to the actual zombie epidemic breaking out.
I guarantee the second episode will pick up in pace and intensity, as well as there’ll be more gore and zombies for everyone. I’m a fan of all that stuff, too! For those who’ve not read this blog, most of what goes on here involves horror one way or another. So I am a massive horror fan, love the gore and the blood where I can get it. At the same time, I do love the drama involved in a good horror series or film. It’s what makes the horror more real, more visceral.
For me, this pilot was great. An incredible mix of family drama, tension, and bits of horror. Really felt like the world going on as normal, right before the zombies descend on Los Angeles. Even more, not a moment did I find myself checking the time; in fact, I had to stop and see how much time was left simply because I hoped it would be at least 15-20 minutes more, as I’d been enjoying the episode that much. Looking forward to a second episode – it’s titled “So Close, Yet So Far” and is directed by Adam Davidson (Hell on WheelsThe Following). One thing I’m sure of – poor ole Nick is going to have some rough withdrawals as the zombie epidemic commences. It’s gonna prove pretty interesting, if anything.

Stay tuned! I’ll be keeping up with each episode of AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead. I’m also soon starting to review The Walking Dead from its first season onward, and I’ll do each episode of the new season once that comes on, too.

Refn Looks Back on the Criminal Life in PUSHER III: I’M THE ANGEL OF DEATH

The second sequel to Refn's groundbreaking PUSHER is a bleak look at the end of the road for one Copenhagen druglord, as he juggles recovery, family, and business on a very special day for his daughter.

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Pusher: A Gritty Copenhagen Tale of Crime

Refn's debut, PUSHER, is a brutal, bleak piece of cinema.

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