Tagged Los Angeles

Altman’s The Long Goodbye is Perfect Post-Modern Film Noir

The Long Goodbye. 1973. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Leigh Brackett; based on the novel by Raymond Chandler.
Starring Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Jack Knight, David Carradine (uncredited), Rutanya Alda, Jack Riley, & Arnold Schwarzenegger (uncredited). E-K-Corporation/Lion’s Gate Films.
Rated R. 112 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
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Robert Altman is forever one of the greatest filmmakers. His innovation in capturing dialogue, his ability to encompass an ensemble cast so easily and effortlessly into solid storytelling, so many things make him a legend. He was simply the best. His movies often end up exploring very human stories, no matter their grandiosity or in some cases weirdness. Always, his focus remained on the human drama of life.
The Long Goodbye is a different case, only slightly. Taking on a Leigh Brackett screenplay, adapted from Raymond Chandler’s novel, Altman defies what the genre commands, what the viewer expects. He brings his ironclad style to the front, as well as a natural-feeling, slick performance out of Elliott Gould. The Chandler elements are there, but Brackett’s writing takes the famous Chandler character Phillip Marlowe out of the 1950s, placing him smack dab in the middle of 1970s Los Angeles, though still a man ahead of his time. All these things in their right place make for entertaining viewing. Not only is the film a joy to watch, allowing us the privilege of lapping up great directing from Altman, the story and the characters are vibrant. Like you literally walked into the middle of this film noir, the camera becoming a character in its own right. If you dig Chandler, you’ll certainly find Brackett and her script an interesting journey.
Dive on into a world of cold hearts, warm guns, flaming passion, and smart mouths.
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What do I need a cat for? I got a girl.” This line from a young grocery clerk to Marlowe almost epitomizes the difference between him and all the other men in the story. He’s the only gentle, kind soul, lost adrift in a sea of heartless people without any degree of loyalty. Elliott Gould is perfect. Absolutely perfect. He embodies the laid back, nonchalant nature of what Phillip Marlowe is all about. He’s absolutely paying attention to detail, his whole life is a god damn detail. At the same time there’s a quite an aloof sense about him. Not in that he’s oblivious. Rather, he’s comfortable in his own skin, even if he’s uncomfortable in a situation. Gould can give us the sly Private Eye in Marlowe, while also calling into question the morality at play in a complex performance.
The small details about Marlowe’s character is what makes the movie interesting to watch. Like how he tricks his cat into believing he’s gotten the appropriate brand of cat food that it enjoys, and still the cat won’t eat. “Its okay with me,” says Marlowe. This is an oft-repeated line throughout the film’s runtime, as the plot gets increasingly more bizarre and intense for him, Marlowe almost seems to get more relaxed, more mellow with each passing scene. Because he’s gradually accepting the world is a bit crazy. This all comes to head in the end after Marlowe commits an act that is not a part of the original novel. Brackett changed the ending, Altman said he refused to the movie if they changed her finale. So in a way, this repeated line is how the main character somehow comes to an understanding about the world, insisting it’s okay with him. In the end, nothing is okay, and we find the biggest juxtaposition in where he’s ended up – he wasn’t one of the crazies, he was a sensible and moral man caught amidst so much turmoil, only to land himself right there next to all the madness. An aspect of Marlowe is that he’s not really meant as part of this world (in Brackett’s screenplay), just so happens he’s a Private Eye, so the more he gets caught up in the whirlwind of criminality, the further he must dive into the murky morality of navigating that whole landscape, the less Marlowe is able to hold onto his own morality. This is the ultimate dilemma in which the character finds himself. His actions in the end are against morality, and also driven by morals. Quite a sticky little spot to be in.
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What I love most about the writing is that Chandler was ahead of his time with Marlowe, as a character. So in the original 1950s setting, there’s this sense of Marlowe being a post-modern-type character. Even when the cops show up for their first chat with him early on, he quips: “Oh, is there where Im supposed to sayWhat is all this about?’ and he says, uh, ‘Shut up I ask the questions‘?” The way in which Leigh Brackett writes is he partly keeps the spirit of the novel, the hardboiled fiction of which Chandler was just about king, then at once he gives his own post-modern twist on the genre. So that direct line from Marlowe is the character’s own hint at the subversion of genre.
Brackett was an incredibly screenwriter, as well as a writer in general. She worked on The Big Sleep (another Chandler-Marlowe caper), Rio Bravo, and perhaps most famously The Empire Strikes Back. Often hailed as hugely influential for being a woman writing science fiction in the late 40s and into the 50s onward, which most certainly she was, though I can’t help feel she was also equally adept at writing film noir and crime stories. This is my favourite screenplay of hers, personally. Of course there are a huge liberties taken all over the place. However, why would you expect any different from here? Part of her power was subverting the general expectations. And do you really think Altman was going to direct some straight take on Chandler’s biggest, perhaps most convoluted novel? Not likely.
This brings me to the director himself. He’s one of my top five favourites. Although his genius is well known inside and outside of the movie industry, by those with whom he worked and also those of us that watch his films, there’s still an underrated quality to him. I don’t often enough hear Altman mentioned in the same breath as directors you always hear people talking about. The Long Goodbye is an atypical story for him to tell, but he does so with his typical Altman grace. He films Gould’s Marlowe lazily walking around his apartment, to the apartment next door, to the grocery store and down its aisles, and every bit of his movement, his speech, the way the character almost drags himself through life is captured like any other character out of the director’s filmography. That is to say, he’s captured naturally; a human being in his own element. Brackett brings the idiosyncrasies of Marlowe (via Chandler’s writing) out and adds some of her own invention to give him a decidedly ’70s feel, which work so well with Altman’s directorial choices. The naturalism of his way of filming, the sound design right down to the dialogue (particularly how Gould is recorded; makes you feel close to the character), these elements lend themselves to making a unique slice of film noir cinema.
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This is one ramblin’, gamblin’, 5-star classic. A personal favourite of mine from the ’70s. Altman has a large part to do with it, then you can’t forget Gould for a second. Their talents are enormous in this film noir – or maybe it’s a neo-noir? Either way, fantastic all around. We also can’t forget Sterling Hayden. Ever since I first saw Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove I’ve been captivated by his talent, so as one of a younger generation does I went back in cinema time to revisit some of his other movies, then worked forward – getting to this one. His character is also great, the writer Roger Wade. Hayden channels equal parts Ernest Hemingway and his own creation into one fun persona. He adds an extra element to the whole spectacle. If anything, you’ll love The Long Goodbye for its characters, some slightly typical, though most against the grain. Throw Altman’s interesting techniques and intriguing style of directing, and this is a piece of crime cinema that’s easily up there with some of the best.

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Menace II Society and Visions of a 1990s Clinton Nightmare

Menace II Society. 1993. Directed by The Hughes Brothers. Screenplay by Tyger Williams.
Starring Tyrin Turner, Larenz Tate, June Kyoto Lu, Toshi Toda, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Johnson, Glenn Plummer, Reginald Ballard, Khandi Alexander, Jada Pinkett Smith, Saafir, MC Eiht, Pooh Man, Vonte Sweet, Cynthia Calhoun, Clifton Powell, Ryan Williams, Too $hort, Dwayne Barnes, & Bill Duke. Warner Bros.
Rated R. 97 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER
I’ve always found the situation for black people in America fascinating, in a tragic way because of how they’ve been treated from day one. What so many don’t realize, or care to consider, is the fact so much of what happened in the past is what informed and created the conditions of modern day ghettos, underprivileged neighbourhoods, high crime rates, and more. Similar to how the terrible treatment of Natives in Canada has also done the same thing for their culture and their people for generations.
So for a white guy from the far East Coast of Canada who does actually want to empathize, a film like Menace II Society is not simply a bit of crime-thriller entertainment from the hoods of South Central Los Angeles, it is a true learning experience. The way through to truth is often paved through great literature. I believe wholeheartedly the same is true for film. And that being the case, this Hughes Brothers movie brings us into the world of young gang bangers, the unhinged types. The sort of young men that see death on daily basis, so their own has become less and less threatening with each body dropped. With a solid screenplay from Tyger Williams, impressively gritty cinematography that takes under the surface of the gang world, the Hughes Brothers make what could easily be a gratuitously shocking, empty crime-thriller with a few shootouts. It is something much, much more than any of that.
Something I do know positively? The characters out of Menace II Society are the types that’d make someone like Hilary Clinton terrified. At least the Hilary in ’96, anyways.
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To me one of the largest parts of the message Albert and Allen Hughes convey, alongside Tyger Williams and his honest screenplay, is the fact that areas like those in South Central – the same ones people like O-Dog (Tate) stalk with their predatory, gang banging mentality – they are endemic to anywhere the socioeconomic game is stacked against a certain group. Particularly, in places like Compton, Inglewood, the black community has been dealt a ton of shit hands over the course of their history in America. We know this no better than now in a day and age where, stunningly, racism still exists, thriving in larger than you’d like to believe pockets. Some places it swells ready to burst into extreme unrest, probably violence. Menace II Society captures a microcosm of what America is still going through, 23 years later as of this writing.
Furthermore, the Hughes Brothers and Williams make a point about the recurring, systemic cycle of violence that begins to perpetuate itself within these gangland territories. We start in the beginning with Caine (Turner) and follow him through a life plagued by crime. But what people – mainly, let’s face it, us white people – forget is that like any learned behaviour, the attitude of a criminal is fostered, nurtured. Children are not born bad. Like Caine, whose entire outlook on life is informed by the violence of his father Tat Lawson (Samuel L. Jackson); Caine even remarks through voice-over that “that was the first time Id ever seen my father kill anybody, but it wasnt the last. I got used to it, though.” So just how any other male child would learn how to be a ‘man’ from his father, Caine can only work off the presumptive, reactionary violence Tat showed him. And like his father, his career ends up being selling drugs in the streets.
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In addition, the end of the film involving Caine and Ronnie’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) little boy directly speaks to the cycle of violence and murder of the inner city. Her boy and Caine as a boy are paralleled well in this screenplay. Before that we’re treated to an almost exact replica of the young Caine’s earlier scene on the steps with friends of his father, as Ronnie’s boy does the same with a grown Caine and his crew. So we can almost see right into the future – a sequel with the kid all grown up, Ronnie older now and world weary as her son bangs himself to death in the streets of the hood. That’s the saddest, most tragic part is how we effectively watch as the cycle revs itself up for another spin.
Finally, the Hughes’ and Williams make their biggest point, spoken clearly by Caine at the end, in the fact that usually when young men gang banging figure out the error of their ways, and that getting out would’ve been the best chance of living a full life, it is far too late. The end of Caine’s story is the end of far too many black men in cities and neighbourhoods like those in the film.
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Caine: “All I had to do was catch some fool slippin‘. Jack his ass.”
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Above all else the raw style of the Hughes Brothers directorial choices. Added to that is the excellently captured cinematography courtesy of Lisa Rinzler. Side note, I’d not realized after all these years of watching Menace that it was filmed by a woman; awesome discovery. Her style as cinematographer is great to look at, from the wide exterior shots of the various neighbourhoods in South Central L.A. to the closed in, shadowy interiors of the housing projects, the cars readying to kick a drive-by into gear, the neon lit businesses in the dark of night on the dangerous streets. Aside from the unapologetic style of the screenplay, Rinzler’s lens allows us a genuine peek inside the world of these gang bangers. The look of the film is realistic, as is the overall atmosphere. Even in more stylized scenes, there’s never any surreal portions, dream sequences, none of that. The screenplay keeps this story one hundred percent rooted in the grim reality of these gangsters, as Rinzler helps with her well photographed work to captivate us visually.
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This is one of those 5-star cinematic experiences that not only brings you into a world possibly foreign to you, it further acts as a learning experience through fiction. Some of the best pieces of art, whether film or otherwise, examine issues that are near to our hearts. For many in America, in 1993 upon this film’s release and still to this day, the events and characters of the film are, unfortunately, not too far from what they know in their own lives. And though it offers no answers, no ready-made solutions, nothing concrete, Menace II Society absolutely does offer a tough dose of medicine for those not in the know. Like I said at the start, for a white guy from a relatively decent little town in Canada this movie provides a perspective I’ve never had the chance to see or know up close. I’m certainly glad the Hughes Brothers made this film because it was and still is a valuable film experience that relates directly to an understanding of certain parts of our world.

Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1, Episode 5: “Cobalt”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 5
: “Cobalt”
Directed by Kari Skogland (Fifty Dead Men WalkingThe Stone AngelVikings)
Written by David Wiener

* For a review of the next episode, “The Good Man” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Not Fade Away” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.38.38 PMThis episode begins with Doug Thompson (John Stewart) in a National Guard holding cell of sorts. Maybe even worse than dealing with the so-called patriotic troops, he’s stuck in there with Strand (Colman Domingo), whose mouth never seems to start running. Though, Strand absolutely appears to have his head on at least most of the way straight. Oh, and Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) is huddled in the corner, surely awaiting more of the junkie withdrawals.
Strand proves useful later in the episode – apparently he deals with the guards, trading for things. He gives up what look like some diamond cufflinks or something, all in order to keep them from taking Nick away to the basement; they see his fever is up. But Strand knows Nick is coming down, only detoxing, and this guy might prove to be a strong ally for the young man. Or will he? Could Strand simply be doing a kindness, or is it a way to make sure he’s got his own ally, under his thumb, once things get crazier? We’ll find out soon enough, I’m sure.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.39.41 PMBack in the old neighbourhood, Ofelia Salazar (Mercedes Mason) appears as if she’s riling everyone up. Her mother, Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) is off with the National Guard somewhere, with doctors, but she has no idea what’s going on. Luckily as the troops move in on Ofelia, Andrew Adams (Shawn Hatosy) her boyfriend steps in to sort things out.
At the Clark house, Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) are having a ton of trouble. Chris Manawa (Lorenzo James Henrie) isn’t exactly happy with his dad, making things even worse; he’s concerned about his mother, Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez).
Chris meets up with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and they dress up in one of the deserted houses, trashing the place. Some real chaos; is this what their generation will become now?
Meanwhile, Liza is off helping Dr. Exner (Sandrine Holt) whose sympathy for the situations of others doesn’t really run very deep. Liza wants to know how Griselda and Nick are, she wants to call her son Chris, but Exner whisks her around to help all the patients.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.40.18 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.40.23 PMMadison goes looking for Alicia, finding the note she’d left for Russell. She ends up finding Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) and his daughter Ofelia: they’ve taken Adams hostage, tied him up, duct taped his mouth. The father-daughter duo have decided to use Adams as leverage, as a trade, to try and get back their loved ones; Griselda, Nick. But Daniel wants to know all the information the National Guards know, so therefore he plans to extract any and all information from Adams.
I love how the character of Daniel has seen this sort of military response before. He’s aware of what the government and the military can do. So this is a bit of an interesting angle, which fuels the paranoia he continues to display.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.39.52 PMLieutenant Moyers (Jamie McShane) has a little chat with Travis Manawa. He’s worried about what’s going on, obviously, after seeing the snuff job at the end of “Not Fade Away“. Eventually, after a bit of back and forth, Travis ends up getting to go downtown, to visit the doctor and find out what’s been going on. However, things seem dark, or at least to spell trouble because the soldiers are worn out, yet Lt. Moyers pushes them further and further. You can almost feel something about to happen.
On their trip, Moyers makes a stop and sets up a tactical sniper rifle. He wants Travis to take the shot on a woman down the street in what looks like a coffee shop; she is not human, it seems, rather a walking dead. After a bit of yelling, and taunting from Moyers, finally Travis picks up the rifle and sights the woman – her name tag spelling out KIMBERLY – and tries to muster up whatever’s needed to put her out. He can’t do it, though, and Moyers cockily steps in. I guess his point was that Travis willingly lives under the National Guard’s protection yet wants to criticize how they do things, while unable to pull the trigger himself when/if needed. I understand, but still – dick move. I do not like Moyers at all while I do absolutely love McShane; he does good work in almost every show you’ll see him in.
Afterwards, the National Guardsmen all pile out of their vehicle towards a building, as Travis waits in the truck, instructed not to move; no matter what happens. Then all the screams and shots and screeches ring out of the vehicle’s radio. Intense scene, very well shot. Plus, Cliff Curtis is a solid character actor who I always enjoy seeing onscreen. He gives Travis life here, and the intensity on his face in this scene shows he is solid. Real effective stuff.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.40.54 PMDown where Daniel has the soldier Adams held up, it seems things are getting very, very bad for the military man. Daniel gets serious; there will be no talking here. He continually asks Adams – “What is Cobalt?” – and also cuts the poor man’s inner arm, slowly lopping off pieces of skin and going deeper into the wound. It’s a real torturous moment, as we witness pure torture; hard to watch, even for the hardened horror vets such as myself, seeing his gaping wounds and the blood even for a brief few seconds is a gut punch. Great horror moment.
Even better is when Daniel goes back upstairs, Ofelia having seen his handiwork, and Madison encounters him in the kitchen. An amazingly tense scene between the two, which ends as Madison proves she’s one tough woman; I think both she and Daniel realize how terrible things are beginning to get, how fast the world is spiralling out of control and into oblivion. All she has to say to Daniel is: “Did he tell us what we need to know?
In the end, Adams gives up the goods. He tells everyone Cobalt is the code which commences evacuation of the Los Angeles area. This also includes procedures for the “humane termination of….“, you guessed it. At 9AM the next morning, things are supposed to get pretty damn rough.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.41.24 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.41.45 PMNick Clark and Strand have a conversation after the former finishes a fresh vomit. Turns out, Strand needs a man with Nick’s sort of talents – whatever that means exactly I’m not so sure; I guess being a junkie automatically lends itself to being sneaky – when he decides to get going. He has a key, and no doubt will have escape on his mind.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.43.23 PMThe National Guard is starting to pull out of the whole area – from the hospital they have setup, from the neighbourhood, from Los Angeles entirely. Things are starting to get scarier now, more and more ominous, each scene more foreboding than the last.
Poor Griselda Salazar is starting to die, she had complications after the foot she injured was removed. As Liza and Dr. Exner tend to her, she passes on. Exner breaks out the hydraulic cattle gun and advises Liza, though the time varies from person to person, everyone turns into a zombie, the living dead. Liza does what’s needed and an understanding sets in.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.43.43 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.43.48 PMA chilling end to this penultimate Season 1 episode, with Daniel walking up to the doors of what looks like a big stadium almost, or a similar style complex – the doors are all bared with boards through the handles, chains and locks across their fronts. And inside the sound of hungry, angry, raving zombies. Really great finish.
No doubt the next and final episode, “The Good Man”, will show us some wild stuff! I know Kirkman and Co. will want to go out with a bang, which will set up a great second season. Though others are not so keen, I’ve been a big fan of this series since the opening episode. People expected tons of zombies, but this is a lead-up, building towards where we’ve already gotten to in The Walking Dead. For what this series is meant to be doing, it is incredible.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.44.12 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.44.23 PMLast episode is directed by Stefan Schwartz whose directing credits include episodes of LutherSpooksHouseThe Walking DeadDexterLow Winter SunThe AmericansThe Bridge, and more. Stay tuned, Walking Deadites! Close out the season with me next week.

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

Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1, Episode 3: “The Dog”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 3
: “The Dog”
Directed by Adam Davidson (Hell on WheelsThe FollowingLow Winter Sun)
Written by Jack LoGiudice (Sons of AnarchyThe Walking Dead)

* For a review of the next episode, “Not Fade Away” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode “So Close, Yet So Far” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.05.51 PMAt the beginning of the latest episode, “The Dog”, we see the big family still divided across the city.
While Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), his ex-wife Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and the Salazars – Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), Daniel (Rubén Blades), and Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) – are all holed up in the little barber shop owned by Daniel, a riot is going down fiercely in the streets. After a few minutes they’re forced out of the shop and into the street, as a fire next door begins to make the wall literally bubble.
Not just riots are happening; the apocalypse is nigh!
Chris witnesses a person zombified, biting into the neck of another person; in fact, they’re police officers, most likely SWAT Team members. The whole city of Los Angeles, at least that area anyways, looks to be in total panic mode, full-on mayhem.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.06.34 PMMeanwhile, back at home, safe and sound, Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) is taking care of her junkie son Nick (Frank Dillane). The two of them, plus Madison’s daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), play a board game.
Great juxtaposition of the two family units, each in their own space – one fighting to survive in the streets, the other in a nice, quaint little living room playing a board game. I also feel like there’s a larger statement in this segment. For instance, the Clarks are all white, and then there’s Travis, his ex-wife, and the Salazars who are all of different ethnicities. While the white people are all cozy in their houses, it’s everyone else left in the streets – at the mercy of police and zombies. I don’t know, perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, or a pile of lint, but I honestly think there’s a bit of George A. Romero political zombietary dropped in amongst it all. That’s the great part about art in any form: we’re all able to draw out what we want from the themes and events within it. I’m probably way off base from the writing, it’s still fun to theorize.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.09.23 PMAn amazing sequence is in this first 10-12 minutes. When Travis leads his group out of the downtown area riots in the truck. The way it’s filmed is heavy, man. The score, the shots themselves, they all amount to a feeling of great unease. Travis and his son Chris look out the window of their truck, as the Salazars and Liza sit in the pan: chaos is erupting, the hospital is overrun with police and at least ONE zombie – no doubt lots more – and an excellent slow motion shot sees an officer running with an automatic rifle in hand. There’s just a real sense of gravitas to everything happening. Even Travis knows it’s more than simply riots; we, the audience, know far more. So in both ways this scene cuts deep, in an immediate sense because we’re watching society begin to breakdown as the zombie outbreak begins so quickly.
Furthermore, once they get out of the populated area up on this hill, Travis and Chris watch through the truck’s windows and we can see in the reflection of the glass city lights are beginning to shut down, one section at a time, Los Angeles descending into a soon to be perpetual darkness.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.10.46 PMOnce Travis and his group arrive back to find Madison and the kids, there’s trouble.
A zombified neighbour wanders into the Clark house, killing and eating the family dog. Out looking for a shotgun at another neighbour’s house, Madison isn’t able to warn Travis before he heads inside. ZOMBIE ATTACK! Finally we’re seeing another zombie on human sequence. This time it’s more intense than Madison’s encounter with her co-worker.
Daniel Salazar intervenes on Travis’ behalf by shotgunning the zombie neighbour in the face. SUCH GNARLY EFFECTS! The first shotgun blast is savage. Then Daniel takes another pop shot and the head goes BAM; nevermore. Really wild makeup effects which I loved.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.26 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.43 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.49 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.56 PMThere’s some family drama happening with everyone now housed temporarily under the Clark roof. First it starts with Chris trying to help Alicia, but getting a hard elbow in the nose. This puts Chris and his father in a room together for a few moments, as they talk a little about the infection; mostly, Travis tries to reassure his son that everything will be all right. Moreover, Travis has obviously got things a bit rough with two wives in one place, which – regardless of the circumstances it being the end of the world outside and all – cannot be easy, it’s obviously a wound still partly open for some of them.
The Salazars are also at odds. Daniel doesn’t want to be in someone else’s debt at a time such as it is in Los Angeles. But clearly it’s also not a time to be alone, cast away from society or people of any kind. Everybody needs somebody (some time). The Salazar women feel a little differently, however, I get the impression Daniel is only looking out for his loved ones; he strikes me as a very family centric man and he’s not about to make anything worse than it is for his own family by siding with the wrong people. I’m sure as time goes by, he and Travis might find a bit of common ground, a mutual understanding on which they might stand together. Eventually.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.14.07 PMDaniel and Travis still have a way to go. The old guy is only trying to keep everyone safe, but Travis has a problem with Daniel showing Chris how to use a shotgun. Mainly, I think ol’ Mr. Salazar is a realist. He knows something is wrong, he’s seen some things in his life, and the guy just wants to be prepared; he wants, needs, everyone else to do the same. It’s telling when he sees Travis and Madison at the fence – Travis talks Madison out of killing her zombie neighbour-friend Susan Tran (Cici Lau), Daniel only says to himself “Weak” as they walk away. So it’s obvious he has got the realism hat on while others are having a harder time adjusting.
Even further than that, the Salazars opt not to go with the Clark-Manawa-Ortiz brigade, as Daniel tells his daughter “good people are the first to die“.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.13.11 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.13.57 PMThe most intense sequence of “The Dog”, though, has got to be when Patrick Tran (Jim Lau) comes home to his wife Susan. Just as he’s about to grab her in a hug, as she shuffles zombi-ly towards her husband, some National Guardsmen blow a little hole right through dead Susan’s head. I thought for sure there’d be a big zombie chase sequence or simply a blood and gore fest maybe, with a couple deaths. Instead, “The Dog” sets up the next episode with the National Guard moving in on the whole neighbourhood and, at least for the time being, the Clarks, Salazars, and the Manawa-Ortiz clan are safe. Or are they? Who knows exactly what will happen.
As Travis says “It’s gonna get better now” and the episode fades out with a slightly optimistic yet haunting score overtop, it’s hard to tell exactly how things will go immediately. Of course, we know how they’ll start to go on down the line.
But just before the cut to black happens, Daniel says to his wife, while watching the National Guard move through a house next door: “It’s already too late
Very foreboding finish!
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.14.30 PMCan’t wait for the next episode, “Not Fade Away”. People keep saying the shows is boring, but it isn’t to me. Others expected full-on mayhem and madness. It’s not that type of series! Not yet anyways. The world of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, and yes Dave Erickson, has sprung to life in a new, unexpected way in this series which leads us into where original show The Walking Dead has already taken us. So for those who don’t enjoy, here’s a tip: stop watching. The series will do just fine without you.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.14.58 PMFor the rest, stay tuned! I’ll be back again next week with another review. Hope to see more and more craziness, now with the National Guard in the mix and the government bearing down on Los Angeles I know there’s going to be something intense and exciting happening in “Not Fade Away”. That episode, by the way, is directed by Kari Skogland whose television work includes Vikings, a 6th season episode of The Walking Dead, the fifth episode of Kurt Sutter’s new series The Bastard Executioner, The KillingThe BorgiasBoardwalk Empire; Skogland’s film credits include the excellent Fifty Dead Men Walking and an adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, among others. Looking forward to her at the helm of this next episode, should be fun.

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!

Straight Outta Compton is N.W.A History-Lite

Straight Outta Compton. 2015. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Screenplay by Andrea Berloff & Jonathan Herman; story by Andrew Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, & Alan Wenkus.
Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Carra Patterson, Alexandrea Shipp, Paul Giamatti, Elena Goode, Keith Powers, Sheldon A. Smith, and Keith Stanfield. New Line Cinema.
Rated 18A. 147 minutes.
Biography/Drama/Music

★★1/2
Straight-Outta-Compton-final-posterTo start, I have to tell people – this is a long one. More than normal. That’s because I credit N.W.A – the most infamous rap group of all time, Niggaz Wit Attitudes – with having enough power, despite their own personal flaws, to open a white boy from Newfoundland, Canada’s eyes to the black experience of young men and women in inner city neighbourhoods, such as the titular Compton. So just stick with me: this review is a beast, but I have things to say, that need to be said concerning Straight Outta Compton.
There’s something truly unique about N.W.A and all the social aspects which surrounded the group’s beginnings, fame, and downfall. Now, while I don’t particularly condone everything these guys did – particularly I’m reminded of the all too absent Dee Barnes assault and other Dre assaults on women from the film – I do recognize how important this one group was in terms of rap and hip hop, as well as where the whole game ended up going after their arrival.
It’s funny how these guys from Compton, so immersed in the black experience, can speak to people of all colours, ages, creeds. Their revolution was one which spoke to many, but certainly most to the young black youth of America. Even white kids like me who grew up in the 1990s were interested in what these guys were doing. It’s because N.W.A, for all their faults, stood against the establishment, they were in the thick of the gang wars in Los Angeles, raging through Compton just about every day, and they spoke to their audience through anger, unrest, and they didn’t take any mess. They took plenty of constructive criticism, even more hatred and spewing of vitriol from people who saw them as a plague in music and society. For all the trashing, there were plenty of people in the streets and the audiences behind N.W.A and all for which they stood.
While I have plenty of love for the musical talents of N.W.A, I don’t necessarily feel like everything they were about made it onto the screen. I do admire a bit of F. Gary Gray’s work as a director, however, I don’t think this is one of the best in the end. Sure, it’s a decent combover on the history of N.W.A, as well as its individual members, but ultimately I don’t see enough of their rawness and the reality of all their faults AND successes in this story that’s being told. I do like Straight Outta Compton, but I can’t say it’s an incredible biopic. The actors do a FABULOUS job with their performances, both physically embodying their real life characters and even the voices, it’s simply not enough to carry this into the realm of a classic biopic. The work was put in, the movie looks good, sounds good, feels good, but the truth was left out at many important intervals in this story and that cannot let Straight Outta Compton stand completely upright on its own.
LxDRTBeginning in 1987, Straight Outta Compton attempts to tell the tale of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Mc Ren, and DJ Yella (Arabian Prince seems to be left out completely unless I missed something) on their road towards becoming N.W.A – Niggaz Wit Attitudes – one of the biggest powerhouses in 20th century music, and one of the reasons rap/hip hop ended up becoming such a mainstay in society.
With their meagre beginnings, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) is talked into investing some of his drug money into music by his DJ friend Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and aspiring rapper Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). From there, things take off: first Eazy gets on the mic and then the magic starts happening.
Once Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) becomes a part of the mix, the tensions rise, as he sets Eazy aside from the others slightly. As Dre and Eazy seem to be fine with most everything (MC Ren and Yella aren’t discussed too much in detail really), Ice Cube has problems with the way his finances are being treated, seeing as how he wrote many of the big hits for N.W.A starting out.
Straight Outta Compton documents the quick rise and the equally as quick fall from grace of N.W.A and the lives of each of its members.

An amazing scene comes around 40 minutes in, when N.W.A performs their first big show with producer Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) in attendance. He brings in a guy from a label who offers the guys a contract with them. The funniest of this is when they ask who he has on the label, to which he replies “The California Raisins“. There’s something so ironic and strange about this moment that I can’t help mention it. I think it goes to speak to how N.W.A was being sought after to be the next big thing; this label, only dealing with the Raisins so far, chomps at the bit to get them signed. I’m not sure if it was meant this way, however, I definitely feel like this was included for a reason. Maybe it’s the actual conversation, who knows, but I feel it speaks to part of the commercial craving a lot of producers were feeling as soon as they saw N.W.A, and similar groups/acts/et cetera. That’s an aspect to the story we can never forget – much as these were talented men trying hard to do their thing, they were also young and dumb and very naive, and part of that led to their exploitation on certain levels. To my mind, this California Raisins scene is part of that in a subtle sense.
straight-outta-comptonInarguably, a significant portion of Straight Outta Compton has to do with the police treatment of young black men in and around neighbourhoods like Compton. After Jerry Heller takes on N.W.A as a group and they’re recording, a scene comes which shows how prejudiced the Los Angeles police were especially in the late ’80s and early ’90s towards black people. As the group hangs outside the recording studio eating burgers and drinking their sodas, two cop cars pull up and start to harass them all. Even a black police officer is the first out, yet still they’re there to sweat these guys; a very telling moment.
What I find best about this scene is how Heller witnesses everything going down. He storms out and reprimands the officers, stating that they can’t simply harass people because they’re black. While we know this goes on, I think having Heller so worked up about the treatment N.W.A receives at the curb while merely standing around innocently and eating lunch speaks VOLUMES. He’s probably discovering, for the first time, this type of situation happens and the police – who are meant to protect and serve – are some of the most racist, prejudiced people on the streets. There are plenty of scenes in the film about this prejudice, I found this one to be one of the most important, as we see the white guy realize how devastating the lives of black people can be when confronted with these young black men being treated like garbage.
Later, we’re treated to a scene where N.W.A, along with Heller, watch a news report on the police brutality Rodney King suffered in 1991. This is an important moment because we can see how emotionally affected each member is, while the only white guy present, Heller, simply thinks they need to keep working; it’s not that he’s rude about it, he simply does not understand or feel the news in the same way as the group.

Even though I don’t feel as if the full truth about N.W.A comes out in Straight Outta Compton, there are absolutely a few scenes where we get a broader view of these guys than simply “Oh they’re revolutionary black musicians”. They certainly were, but they were and are still people; these are human beings.
One in particular I found brutally honest was in the hotel, as Dre opens his room’s door to a man looking for his girlfriend; a woman who is clearly in the room. From a door out of the room a little ways down, Eazy and the boys come out holding guns, chasing the guys off. So a lot of people might watch this and immaturely think “Those guys are badass”, this is not something cool. At all. I mean, sure that girl was cheating on her man, but then Dre and Eazy act like it’s stupid that this guy might come and threaten them? C’mon. This just goes to show how rough and hypocritical these guys could be at any given time. While they often fought the good fight, there were plenty of times they did some nasty downright horrible shit, whether together or individually. This hotel scene is one such instance.
Mlj93There’s also part of me believes, were Eazy-E still alive, this would’ve been a completely different film. First of all, we’re not given as much of Eazy as you might believe while watching. Even with the opening sequence centred around Eric “Eazy-E” Wright in his element, dealing drugs and surviving on the streets, there’s surprisingly little in regards to the actual character, the real life person he was and became. There’s such a glossed over history of N.W.A in Straight Outta Compton that it doesn’t really surprise me Gray’s film ignores largely much of Eazy and his own personal history.
It’s not only Eazy. Seems to me the script Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman came up with wanted to focus on the ideas producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre felt the spotlight should be on. I get it – Dre and Cube both don’t want their misogyny on the big screen. So first off, there’s the fact they’ve omitted Dee Barnes (and others) significantly. Instead, we get the idea Dre has always only ever been a respectful man towards women – concerned with caring for his family and helping his mother. Maybe that’s partly true, but doesn’t change the fact he’s had a history of violence towards women.
On the other hand, we get little bits of Cube being violent to quell any worries there might be a bias. So we watch him smash up an office building when he’s not getting the money he is owed – y’know, instead of legal recourse. This doesn’t do anything but discredit Cube and the methods these guys used in order to solve their problems. I get it, I know a lot of guys like them who grew up rough and had trouble with the police sometimes for NO reason. That doesn’t change the fact some of the things Cube and the rest of N.W.A do are downright immature, childish, and violent. Still, while we get these little scenes there’s a lot we’re not shown, and for good reason.
People can come to terms with a bit of violent nature when it comes to Cube getting what he’s owed, they’d probably be WAY LESS willing to put aside Dre and his disrespect for women – certainly more so now than back in the ’80s or ’90s, post-Chris Brown and an overall societal awakening to the rampant abuse women face.

We get good looks at Suge Knight, but again, he’s another character who we don’t get to see the full truth about. Yes, there’s plenty of evidence here suggesting Knight’s rough, more violent approach to business with Death Row Records. What we don’t get is a broad spectrum to show how dangerous the man is, merely there are typical scenes we’d expect – there’s no range in Suge, at all. Not saying he’s a complicated man; here, though, he is downright one-dimensional. He’s like the big villain, the bad guy. And he is villainous in real life. To me, the problem is this feels like the CliffNotes version of the Suge Knight subplot in the overall greater story of N.W.A. There’s no real introduction to Suge as much as the other major players in the story; he simply shows up in the life of Dre and becomes a presence.
Meanwhile, the other big baddie is Jerry Heller. He gets more play and we see more about him as a person, as a character, instead of merely being a negative entity in the world of N.W.A in the sense Suge is displayed. He’s not particularly likeable all the time, though, he’s afforded more characterization as that villainous entity than Suge Knight, which I think is unfair; Suge doesn’t deserve much, however, they might as well give him more time seeing as how he played such a destructive force in Dre’s career and the final dismantling of N.W.A.
straight-outta-compton-movie-3Above all, the film opts to go more for all the interpersonal drama between Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, as well as Eazy-E and the others, instead of taking more time to focus on the individual lives of each member. We get small slivers, it seems like most of that is relegated to the respective N.W.A members with their wives – we don’t ever see much of the stepping out, the cheating, we don’t watch Eazy-E do much sleeping around (other than one brief reference as he tells Jerry he’s about to go have a bunch of sex).
So while there are great moments in this script – think the whole angle of including the Watts Riots after Rodney King’s assaulters, the police, were not indicted for their crimes – I can’t say that Straight Outta Compton is solid. Not in any way. There’s never enough focus on the right aspects, there isn’t enough of the REALNESS, the RAW GRITTY story behind N.W.A.
Instead we’re treated to a bunch of half-assed looks at some of the people surrounding Dre, Cube, and the rest. For instance, Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) shows up in a couple scenes; mostly it’s an excuse to have someone imitate Snoop, well enough, but there’s nothing interesting here except hearing them come up “Gin and Juice”. Then Marcc Rose shows up playing Tupac Shakur, if only for a scene; plus they’ve got someone else voicing him. I mean, why even bother? It serves no purpose in the end here to include Snoop and Tupac, or anyone else, that’s not an integral part to the story. They’re simply little add-ons not given enough time to do anything but show up. I thought this was beyond lazy.

One thing I did not like is how the director felt the need to spoon feed us with the names of each character. Do you really think N.W.A fans can’t figure out which one is Eazy, Ren, Dre, Cube, Yella? I mean, sure, it gives the film a little style having their names pop up next to them, but to me it’s annoying. F. Gary Gray, did you have to put Dre’s name up while we’re watching him with the headphones on, listening to a beautiful song, almost conducting with his fingers as he listens? You think we couldn’t have figured that out on our own? Not to mention the fact each of the N.W.A cast members looks like who they’re playing. There’s no need at all to tell us “THIS IS DRE THIS IS EAZY” and so on. Overkill in my mind. Too heavy handed a technique for me, especially in a biopic; dumb move. It’s fine to put the dates up, things like that, I just can’t see any reason to label each character when it’s SO CLEAR who they are at all times.
maxresdefaultIn the end, I can only give this movie a 2.5 star rating. There’s no way I can go higher. Simply put, the fact Ice Cube and Dr. Dre produced this film, and from what I gather worked on it closely from many angles, really damaged the end product. Part of that ended up in a lot of things being omitted: no mention of Dee Barnes or Dre’s other violent encounters with women, Eazy-E’s battle with AIDS is reduced to an endnote in the final 20 minutes (most of which is precipitated by lots of coughing instead of a real focus on how promiscuous Wright was through his career), Suge Knight is a one-dimensional villain, and overall none of the individual stories surrounding N.W.A are treated with care or shown in great detail.
While I love N.W.A, their music and parts of their legacy, I feel they’re most definitely a conflicted group in terms of how fans and others look at them. F. Gary Gray had an unreal opportunity with Straight Outta Compton, but it’s mostly all squandered in lieu of trying to draw out the emotions of fans by focusing on the drama of the beef between Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and so on. Even further, MC Ren and DJ Yella (as well as Arabian Prince who was a part of the group for a short time) are almost non-existent, other than a few choice scenes where they’re heard speaking. So it’s a shame all around. There’s not enough to justify this as some great biopic.
In reality, Straight Outta Compton does not live up to the hype, in any way, shape, or form. I’d go so far as to say I’ll probably never watch this again. Not worth the price of admission whatsoever, certainly not for a true fan. I’m actually sad and letdown by this film’s failure to live up to what I’d expected. Silly me, though. As soon as I learned Dre and Cube produced this, I knew there would be trouble. When the story is told by those who lived it, especially if there are tough and at times disturbing nuances, we’re not always granted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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.

American Horror Story – Murder House, Episode 1: Pilot

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot
Directed by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Running With ScissorsThe Normal Heart)
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy

* For a review of the next episode, “Home Invasion” – click herescreen-shot-2016-11-11-at-9-22-59-pmYou’ve got to admire a series that opens things up in the way Ryan Murphy introduces us to his world with this pilot episode. Not only is it creepy, Murphy lays out the familiar pattern we see running through the entire series: flashbacks which speak to the present day events. Plenty of shows and films use flashbacks, but the way American Horror Story overall as a series uses them is such an intriguing technique, which the writers and directors pull of elegantly, as well as quite horrifically. What I love so much about this aspect is the fact that Murphy has only directed 3 episodes of the series – including the first episode of the newest season, Hotel. So, although he is a creator of the show along with Brad Falchuck, it’s still amazing to see how much influence he has had over the entirety of the series. It’s a continual thing we see in each season, how the flashbacks all come to bear on current day events we’re seeing.
With the opening of Murphy’s pilot we get to see a young Adelaide Langdon watching a creepy, and no doubt haunted, house all by herself; we’ll get to know Addie plenty as the season wears on. Up come a couple redheaded little shits, twins, who are mean to Addie and head inside to cause havoc.screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-9-25-18-pmImmediately, there’s this eerie sense about the house. Of course, once inside the redhead twins find much more than they bargained for upon entering. There’s this absolutely horrific, brief image of a figure in the dark – awful hands and terrible looking teeth, gnarled, vicious coming at them. I thought that was an excellent start to the horror.
Then there’s an amazing tonal shift. We meet up with Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) who has recently miscarried, as is expected the experience was horrible. After a doctor’s appointment, Vivien heads home to her beautiful home. But in the kitchen she thinks there’s a noise from upstairs. Calling 911 and taking a knife from a block in the kitchen, she heads upstairs only to find her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) obviously in bed with another woman. Though, we never see her. Outside the room, pleading for forgiveness, Ben gets cut on the arm by the knife Vivien is holding. More words from little Addie echo out of the past, words she’d spoken earlier to the twins: “You’re gonna regret it.”
Love the opening theme; quite creepy. Also, as we go on through these reviews just know I’m all the way caught up – I watch the episodes as they come on, it’s only now I’ve started to review them. So, what I really dig is how Murphy has another opening done for each one to go with the theme of every season. Anthologies, when done effectively, are so much fun in so many ways! American Horror Story is at the top of the anthology heap, as far as I’m concerned.
Lots of fun characters introduced here in the Pilot. Soon, we see the family move into a new home – the creepy house from the episode’s opening scene. Vivien and Ben, along with their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga), move on in and then we get to meet more of the cast.
The always amazing Jessica Lange plays Constance Langdon – a Southern belle living in Los Angeles. Not only that, she is the mother of Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who just so happens to barge on into the kitchen and frighten an unsuspecting Vivian with more prophetic creepiness: “You’re going to die in here.” From these two, expect tons of craziness throughout Season 1.
Evan Peters is Tate, a troubled kid sent by his mother to see the new therapist in the city, Ben Harmon. They talk about death, dreams and visions of death and blood and murder. Sick things Tate has inside him. Meanwhile, Tate sees pictures of himself with blood running down his face – other shots show him walking down the hallway, just as the dream he has described, with a macabrely painted face, skull art, and a black trench coat. Very cool and disturbing stuff already! Tate, from the get-go, was always one of my favourites in Season 1.
I love the imagery right off the bat, all the visions going on every which way. Also, the scene where Ben all of a sudden goes downstairs, lighting the fire, only to have Vivien interrupt him wondering what he’s up to. It’s such a weird, dreamy scene, and even Ben doesn’t realize if he’s awake or dreaming. This begins more weirdness to follow.
Furthermore, there’s the fact Moira O’Hara (Frances Conroy) shows up – she was the maid of the house. It seems she pretty much comes along with the house. But there’s something else about Moira, she’s a shapeshifter.. of sorts. While Vivien Harmon sees an older Frances Conroy, Ben Harmon sees Moira as Alexandra Breckenridge – a young, taut, sexified girl in a French maid’s outfit, legs up to her throat in fishnets. So I love the duality here and the dynamic this introduces into the Harmons’ lives.
It’s as if the house is pushing them all, further and further. With every single turn.


Certainly, the tension between husband-wife duo Vivien and Ben Harmon sets up so much of what we’ll see going on throughout Season 1. What I enjoy about this whole angle is that, similar to a movie like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, not only is the family inside the house contending with the house’s evil, they’re battling their own demons.
While I love Dylan McDermott, his character Ben is the type you hate to love. He’s obviously flawed, as he cheated on his wife in her weakest moment. Then he tries to blame her saying that it was him in his weakest moment, that “you got a dog” when she ought to have been cuddling up with him at night.
So the intensity of their family situation, the anger Vivien has towards Ben and the perceived hostility he has in his head towards his own wife, it all adds to the already supernatural forces so obviously at work in the house.
The creepiest, of course, is when Vivien has sex with who she believes to be Ben, dressed up in the latex-looking suit they’d found hanging earlier in the attic; a weird S&M, tight black getup. All the while, thought she sees visions of Ben, her husband is downstairs holding his hand over the oven’s burner. Immediately we know that American Horror Story means to get up to some awfully strange, intense business.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-9-33-52-pmAs well, we get views of the evil looking person/thing from earlier in the episode’s opening sequence. Tate has Violet bring a girl over – the one who slighted her hardcore during her first day of school – and in the basement he intends to scare her. However, Violent sees it all, too. Something horrible, ugly, fierce. It’s balding, stringy hair, and the teeth in its mouth look yellow, jagged. I LOVE THIS! So terrifying.
Denis O’Hare plays Larry Harvey, a man who has obviously been in a terrible fire – half of his face is burned, better yet it’s melted. He warns Ben about the house, after lurking around, skulking at the edges of Harmon’s peripheral vision. Larry claims he killed his family and burned down the house, all due to the house, the voices of the house inside his head – he said he was like “an obedient child.”
We’ll watch how his character plays further into the plot of Season 1 as it moves along. Nice introduction to this character.
Two fantastic actresses – Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy – have the chance to go head to head. However, it’s brief. Yet within those few moments they share a great scene, as Constance (Lange) tells Moira (Conroy): “Dont make me kill you again.” This is another relationship we’ll see more of once the episodes roll on. Intriguing to say the least.
One other thing I love in this first episode is the use of the music from James Wan’s Insidious. A neat little touch. This technique is employed time and time again in Season 1, which I find is a nice nod to the genre fans out there. It says that Murphy not only understands the horror genre, he is also a fan.


Great episode. We’ve seen so much setup in less than an hour, it’s almost overwhelming. But not quite!
Stay tuned for the next episode, “Home Invasion”.

True Detective – Season 2, Episode 1: The Western Book of the Dead

HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 1:
“The Western Book of the Dead”
Directed by Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the next episode, “Night Finds You” – click here
Picture 2To start, this is NOT a repeat of True Detective True Detective Season 1 – the show is trying to do a new story, new characters, the whole shebang. Of course the whole thing is still very existential, regardless if Rust Cohle is not spouting out Nietzsche rehashes and what not [which I loved but come on – they weren’t anything groundbreakingly new outside of philosophical circles]. I mean, Colin Farrell’s low-down-and-dirty Ray Velcoro already gave the beauty line “We get the world we deserve” in the second episode of this season, so there is definitely still an existential element kicking around inside of Nic Pizzolatto’s second season. However, this time around there’s much of a demon-within type of vibe going. Whereas the police detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were truly trying to serve justice for the sake of the victims, all those poor young girls taken and killed by vicious, hateful men, the second season of True Detective seems to be focusing on how some of those same police get lost along the way, how they bend the law to work for them, and even though they’re ultimately trying to do good, they end up doing a lot of bad along the way.
Picture 1Starting off, we get to see Ray Velcoro [Farrell]. His tale is a rough one – his wife was raped, they never found the attacker, and neither she nor her now ex-husband Ray know if their boy is his or not. Certainly Ray does the true blood thing to do: he raises the kid as his own. He doesn’t want to know anything about DNA, he just wants his son to be his son. Problem is ole Ray has vices – the drink and the drugs – and his temper is fierce. Like anyone, Ray wanted revenge for what happened to his wife, and as an officer of the law, he naturally felt stuck when even the law let him down. In comes Frank Semyon [Vaughn] who facilitates the revenge Velcoro needs by tracking down the man responsible, which coincides with Ray’s wife and her statement. This puts Ray deep in with Semyon, who uses him as a man on the inside, and as Ray climbs the ranks to detective, of course Frank reaps the benefits.
I think Ray is going to be one of the most interesting of the bunch in this season. There’s a scene involving Ray and a kid who bullies his son at school, plus the boy’s father, which really takes you from “Okay, Ray is a normal guy in a bad situation” to “Wow, Ray is a bad dude”. Even while you side with him, he takes things much too far. Not hard to see the booze and the cocaine, and the more booze, doesn’t help his natural temperament. At the end of the tunnel, for Ray I see a bit of redemption. Now, whether or not Ray will have to die for this, it is way too soon to tell [even in light of Episode Two’s events]. We will see.
Picture 3Next is Rachel McAdams as Detective Ani [Antigone] Bezzerides who has more than her fair share of issues, as well. First, her estranged father Eliot [David Morse] is a New Age guru-type who runs a sort of 1960s style institute or commune, and clearly is a narcissist. Then her sister, Athena, is a webcam girl doing porn who is off her medication and living free. Not to mention the fact their father named both her and her sister Antigone and Athena. So, Ani drinks, gambles, and raids houses to find out where her sister is when she feels like it. Also, her boyfriend is not exactly the sexually adventurous type when Ani clearly surprises him with something in the bedroom he couldn’t handle straight away. She is a dominant woman; she carries knives all over her, making clear in the next episode this is because she has no illusions about certain female-male situations where she will be physically smaller than a larger man in which the knives will come more than in handy. There is no doubt the years living in the cult with daddy brought on issues, most likely from some kind of abuse, but we can never be sure. Perhaps she’s just a smart, cautious woman who has seen too much. Either way, I’m excited this season has a lead female character and one who is also in the police. Offers a great new perspective for the show.
Picture 9Officer Paul Woodrugh [Taylor Kitsch] is another interesting character. Clearly Paul is a troubled man. He worked for Black Mountain Security in Iraq, obviously mimicking a similarly named military contractor, and has issues from what he calls “the desert”. It isn’t hard to see Woodrugh has issues with his sexuality; he sneaks a blue pill while claiming to be showering and taking far longer than necessary before trying to have sex with his girlfriend, then when she is going down on him Paul looks off into space as if troubled, maybe trying to concentrate so that he’s able to get an erection. This becomes even more clear in the second episode with a comment he makes to another detective. Furthermore, Paul obviously has deeper issues – he speeds out on the highway on his motorcycle, flicking off the headlight and rushing through the darkness, almost daring death to come and get him. I can’t wait to see more of him. Kitsch is a talent, and I don’t care what anyone says. Given the right material with this character I can see Kitsch doing excellent work this season.
Picture 4Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon spit out the worst line by far of the entire show since the first series began, along the lines of “don’t do anything out of hunger – not even eating”. Now I’ll give it to you – some of Rust Cohle’s lines, which personally I loved, were equally batty, but Matthew McConaughey was able to let them roll off his tongue and out of his mouth like they were natural to that character. Vaughn is good, I dig him, even as Semyon. I just didn’t dig that line. I can buy Vaughn as that character, totally, because he isn’t an outright psychotic gangster type like something out of Goodfellas with Henry Hill’s outbursts or the violence of Joe Pesci – I buy Vaughn as a collected, calm business sort of crook, and sure, he’s a big guy, I bet he can lay hands. Mainly, I think his attitude suits the part. However, that line in his mouth sounded like garbage. Moving past that point, Vaughn was great, and he does the dark/brooding thing well. Given more time the character of Frank will grow on people, I believe.
Picture 5Mainly people need to lay off this season, and forget about the first, in the sense that this is an anthologized show. There is no continuity other than it involves police work; that’s it. Once again, there are existential themes at play here, heavily. We just need to keep in mind – existential doesn’t mean that people have to constantly spout philosophical musings. That was a character Pizzolatto used, and it worked. This season is different. Existentialism has to do with human beings, the experience of existence and reality, and the touch of humans on existence. So we’re going to see how human beings deal with their terrible inner demons, and this season we’re going to see more about the abuse of power from the perspective of those abusing it mainly instead of solely from the perspective of those outside and looking in. The police here are good police, but they toe a dangerous lines, more so than anything Rust Cohle did in Season One. I can’t wait for the next episode.

Wes Craven & Ronald Reagan: Socioeconomic Horror in The People Under the Stairs

The People Under the Stairs. 1991. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J Langer, and Ving Rhames. Universal Pictures. Rated R. 102 minutes.
Comedy/Horror/Mystery.

★★★★ (Film)
★1/2 (Blu ray release)

I really have a thing for Wes Craven. Do you think he knows?
He’s written and directed some incredibly disturbing, unsettling, and wild horror films. Let’s count the great ones, shall we? The Last House on the LeftThe Hills Have EyesSwamp ThingA Nightmare on Elm StreetThe Hills Have Eyes Part II (maybe I’ll draw some ire by planting that one in here, but I love it, and think it’s unfairly maligned by a lot of critics and horror fans), The Serpent and the Rainbow (directing credit only), Wes Craven’s New NightmareScream (directing again only).
This is not to mention the bunch of other fun horror films he’s had a had in producing, such as FeastWishmaster, and the fantastic remake of his own The Hills Have Eyes. I mean, for A Nightmare on Elm Street alone Craven gets a spot on the top horror masters of all time. Brilliance. But there are a few of his films (such as the aforementioned sequel to his The Hills Have Eyes) which don’t get the credit they deserve.

Cue: The People Under the Stairs.

peopleunderthestairsAt first the film could appear to be a crime thriller about some robbers, but (aside from having Craven’s name on it) you can quickly tell it isn’t going to be the same old story. The film starts off with “Fool” Williams living in a ghetto in L.A. His family is soon to be evicted. Luckily, or realistically unfortunately, for Fool, he knows Leroy who is a lifetime criminal. They quickly decide to rob The Robesons, who lovingly call themselves Mommy & Daddy (played fabulously by former onscreen husband & wife in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Wendy Robie and Everett McGill), who live in a big, old house with only their daughter Alice. Once they get inside the house, hoping to find all the supposed riches the Robesons have hidden away, they discover, to their horrible surprise, it isn’t any treasure Mommy & Daddy have been hiding; the secrets in the house are far worse.

I really love the trailers for The People Under the Stairs because it has such a creepy, dreadful feeling. It starts with the ominous “in every neighbourhoodthere is a house that even the adults talk about“, or something similar. Just superbly disturbing. Once you get into the film, past the bits of ham, there are some wild bits that really creeped me out. In particular, Everett McGill puts on a suit at one point that turned me away, by pure fright, from leather – long before I ever enjoyed the devilishly fun first season of American Horror Story, and the Rubber Man.
gimpsuitOne thing I love is how hard Craven attacks the Reagan era. Particularly, you can see how he is really skewed in the Mommy and Daddy naming of the two crazy people who own the house. It’s known that Ronald often called his wife Nancy Reagan “Mommy”. While Nancy called the Commander-in-chief “Ronnie”, you can still see, along with the rest of the film skewing his era of presidency, how the names Mommy and Daddy were certainly meant to really poke at the political & social commentary of The People Under the Stairs. Even at one point when Fool is looking around the house, he comes across a television set, which is clearly blaring graphic news reports of armed forces conflict (most likely they’re videos from the Gulf War which ended the same year this film was released). I mean, Daddy even stalks Fool and Leroy around the house, eventually shooting Lero, using a high-powered pistol with a red dot sight on it. The artillery Daddy is packing in that house is beyond simple home protection. I think there’s a little message about guns, or at least the military, under Reagan floating around here.

It all lines up, with the plot itself of course, to be very clear Craven doesn’t only intend this as a sometimes campy other times disturbing little horror flick. There’s more than meets the eye.
xDP7rThe acting here is generally pretty good. Rhames is decent in his small part. Really it’s McGill and Robie who shine here. They’re perfect for the role. Of course, they were also perfect on Twin Peaks, so I didn’t doubt they’d do a great job here. Everyone else fills out the cast just fine for the most part.

The People Under the Stairs is mainly all about the plot and story. I liked where it all went. It was disturbing and creepy. Plus, there are some fun and camp-ish moments that really fit well with the overall film. I really do think this movie works as a social metaphor. I’ve seen a few good theories. One in particular talked about how there was, especially around that time in the late 80’s and going into the 90’s, a big divide between those being oppressed and those who were aware of the oppression. Maybe even not so much the times, it’s something that always happens. Generally, until a situation completely boils over (such as it would in 1991 after the Gulf War ended and then Rodney was beaten a month later, one of the many, continuing brutalities committed by police against black men), there are pockets of society unaware of how serious a particular group is being oppressed, and often times eradicated. Here, we see a couple black people break into a home only to discover there are white people literally trapped in the walls. The divide between these two groups being held down are Mommy and Daddy, perfectly representative of Ronald Reagan and his administration in the White House.
I don’t know – maybe it’s nonsense. But I happen to agree with the person who was giving out the theory. Others seem to agree. I don’t mean it’s a perfectly and amazingly profound film, it’s still a weird and wild horror, but there is definitely something else behind it. Craven intended The People Under the Stairs to speak both to horror fans, as well as those looking for a bit of social commentary in their movie-going experience.
thepeopleunderthestairsparents-600x325As a film, I’d absolutely have no problem saying this is worth 4 out of 5 stars. I think Craven has taken a few missteps in his career, but this is not one of them. Some don’t particularly put this at the top of his filmography. Me, however, I believe it’s one of the better written horrors Craven has done simply because there is bit more meat to it; it isn’t all blood and guts and scares. There is a little dark comedy, some hammy acting, and disturbing moments, all wrapped into one package. I dig it.

The Blu ray is not great. Aside from the picture, there is nothing worth talking about. Literally nothing. You can put on subtitles, pause the film, or look through its chapters. Other than that? Don’t count on wiling away the hours on special features. There are none at all. Too bad. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, a featurette or two. Nothing here.
It’s still worth it to own this fun horror on Blu ray. The picture quality is fabulous. Makes a great 1990’s horror classic look pristine. If you haven’t yet experienced The People Under the Stairs do yourself a favour and watch it soon. Especially if you’re a fan of Craven; this one deserves more attention and less ridicule. I think it’s a solid horror, a little different from most. There are even some pretty gory bits just before the hour mark hits. This definitely stands out among a lot of shitty 1990’s horror.