Edition #2 takes a look at more side-by-sides from in & outside of the horror genre, as well as movies from Scorsese, Aronofsky, & Carpenter.
A list of TV episodes to quench the deadly thirst of Halloween season— BEWARE!!!
Here are Father Gore's Top 205 Films of all time!
This sequel to William Friedkin's original horror classic is far from perfect. Yet I'll be damned if it isn't my guilty pleasure.
This Martin Scorsese classic is the barometer for movies dealing with PTSD - not an overt military movie, but one that examines the effects of war and isolation and the lack of help for those who come home.
Snatch. 2000. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Rade Serbedzija, Alan Ford, Mike Reid, Robbie Gee, Lennie James, Ewen Bremner, Jason Flemyng, Ade, William Beck, & Andy Beckwith. Columbia Pictures Corporation/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 104 minutes.
It’s been at least 9 years now since I’ve watched Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. A one of a kind film. Except not really. Only in the sense of being set apart from other movies, as Ritchie writes stories that all seem to revolve around the same seedy criminal underbelly of London and the surrounding areas. There are some who say Ritchie is too much like Quentin Tarantino. To them I say it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, they each tell tales set in the crime world, they each have a pulpy style, but they couldn’t be more different. Tarantino has this almost classic sensibility that translates into his own brand of filmmaking. Likewise, Ritchie has his own brand it’s just entirely another kind of exciting. And as much as I love Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, as well as his later work, Snatch. is always going to be the best example of his directing.
Weaving together a number of stands, Ritchie brings out an elaborate crime plot that encompasses a bunch of classic British humour, odd characters, and best of all everything seems to hinge on that nasty old bitch named Irony and a bastard named Fate. The pacing of the script keeps things interesting and the way Ritchie moves around with his style as director constantly holds the viewer’s attention.
Personally, I’m not a huge comedy fan. Not because I don’t like to laugh, in fact the opposite; I’m always laughing. There’s just never many films that speak to my fucked up, weird sense of humour. Somehow, Ritchie does. Perhaps it’s the relation Canadians have to British movies and television, and that’s why I enjoy this sort of comedy. Or maybe Ritchie and his wild writing appeals to me. In that sense, he and Tarantino are definitely similar. Either way, Snatch. is in a league all of its own.
The dialogue throughout is downright amazing. Part of that is because I love the British accent and I feel like Ritchie uses this to his advantage. All around, though, it’s pitch perfect. It’s not even quirky, it feels so real. Love every last bit that comes out of Turkish (Jason Statham). Makes me sort of sad that Statham didn’t keep doing these types of movies, not that he has to do one thing forever – which he kind of does now anyway – I just love his comedic timing, as if Ritchie writes specifically for his talents. There are too many excellent scenes. Lots of actors with comedic timing for days, not just Statham. Brad Pitt does a fantastic bit of work as the gypsy bare knuckle boxer and there are times he has me in stitches, such as the quick “dags” exchange with Tommy (Stephen Graham). Together, Lennie James and Robbie Gee as Sol and Vinny respectively work wonders as a pair – their bits in the car with Tyrone (Ade) honestly fucking slay me. Finally, Alan Ford makes Brick Top into both a horrific British gangster, and also one of the most hilarious criminals with his tendency to talk down to everybody and those massive frames that make his eyes look like an angry fish. On paper, Snatch. is good enough. With this sort of cast the words are in more than capable hands.
The best of all? Vinnie Jones. His character here is even better than his previous one in Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. He nails it, right on the nose. He’s another one whose presence is imposing, in part due to his massive size. But also his acting is intense. Aside from that Jones injects a generous dose of laughter in amongst his scary delivery.
If anything I’d compare Ritchie to Martin Scorsese. For many reasons. One is their use of music. Tarantino has his own thing, but Scorsese and Ritchie have a highly similar sense of how they use music. They use rock and popular music, though there’s less of an ironic or iconoclastic sense in the way Quentin often uses a soundtrack (think: Reservoir Dogs ear cutting scene to Stealers Wheel). Here, it’s like a part of the chaos, playing another role like how Scorsese often uses The Rolling Stones (among other bands and songs). For instance, there’s such a fitting, beautiful quality to the sequence when George gets knocked out by Mickey O’Neil (Pitt) and “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers plays. Then just the natural feel of some of the other songs works incredibly with so many of the various scenes.
Aside from Ritchie’s similarities to Scorsese in music, he also gets some influence for his frenetic sequences from the master. This is especially useful because of the large ensemble cast. With all the threads in the plot, Ritchie keeps things rolling with a steady pace. These chaotic moments help move the plot along and you never feel as if the movie drags. The big portions of what we need to know, as in the fine details, come in between the major sequences. After which we’re thrown into stylized segments where Ritchie uses more of the soundtrack to push the film’s energy. There’s one particular moment I love where we cut back and forth between Brick Top’s boys getting Tyrone and two wild dogs chasing a hare; the parallel is poignant, and the song on top makes it all feel lively. A major difference where Ritchie diverges from one of his obvious biggest influences is in the way he uses visual storytelling as opposed to narration. Of course Scorsese doesn’t always use a narrator. However, his popular crime stories which likely influenced Ritchie – Goodfellas, Casino – relied quite a bit on a strong narrator. Instead of telling bits of the story through narration, Ritchie opts for a little bit. Then through other scenes he instead shows us what a narrator would only give you through exposition.
The comedy and the crime comes in equal amounts throughout. Ritchie loves to show another side of crime that we don’t always see in stuff from someone like Scorsese. There are the good criminals who know what they’re doing. Then there’s the lot like these fellas. Most of whom can’t see far enough ahead of themselves to make sure they don’t fuck all their own plans up. Even Brick Top, in all his gangster wisdom, relies on a gypsy bare knuckle boxer to get the job done. Witnessing the constant, consistent ineptitude of many of these characters is spot on comedy.
Everything comes together on its own in the script. Yet the scene just before the final half hour begins shows us perfectly how fate brings everything to a central focus. As the three different cars drive, we see the one way it unfolds through all three perspectives, and it’s just so well written that I had to watch it again a couple times. May even be the best scene of the entire film, but that’s a hard choice to make.
In all, even after almost a decade of having not seen it, Snatch. is a modern masterpiece of crime cinema. Not only does it have the chops of an excellent crime film, the comedy makes every last inch worth it even more. The cast continually impresses from one scene to the next and Ritchie’s writing only gives them dialogue to chew on endlessly. His direction stylizes the film. Although it never glamorizes crime. The opposite, really. And with his stylish qualities Ritchie makes a riotous script leap off the page, grab you, keep you glued. By the finale, Snatch. further opts to get a little serious before cluing things up. So there’s an element of everything, from crime to drama to comedy to thriller. Point is, Ritchie is a versatile director even if he prefers telling stories about the British criminal underworld. Much as I enjoy the rest of his filmography recently, these are always the types of movies I love to see him making. This is a slice of film heaven I won’t ever forget, one that never ceases to make me laugh.
Scorsese & Lehane together as one? That's how you get a spooky, mind-bending thriller like SHUTTER ISLAND.
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by George Mastras
* For a review of the next episode, “Yesterday Once More” – click here
This Martin Scorsese-Mick Jagger produced HBO show starts out with a pilot directed by Scorsese himself. Everyone’s been anticipating this slice of nostalgia, along with all the grim, grit, the glitz and the glam side by side.
Vinyl begins in New York City, 1973. Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale) sits in his car, drinking from a bottle not far from a few homeless, some prostitutes, and other such people littering an alleyway. A man from the corner asks what Richie wants, to which he replies a “quarter“; of coke, that is. Turns out Richie doesn’t have a job anymore, so it appears. He wipes a bit of coke across his teeth, seemingly calming himself. He can’t find anything to do a line off, so he tears off his rear-view mirror, lines one off – a big one – and uses a cop’s business card to straighten it up, then snorts it quick. Afterwards, he even calls the cop from Homicide Division, but a bunch of young people running to a club disrupt him, even hurtling over the top of his car. He puts the phone’s receiver down to go check out where all the kids are rushing. Instead of standing in line, Richie barges through, but not before a bouncer who knows him says: “Clean your nose.”
Inside, overdose cases are carried away, blowjobs going down in the hall and even a big fat guy in underwear stands by the side. Further in Richie finds the music rocking, people of all kinds jamming to the music. Front and center is a band wailing hard – The New York Dolls playing “Personality Crisis” – the androgynous lead singer with lipstick belting out lyrics, a long-haired guitar player chopping riffs, all the while people jump and pulse to the songs. It’s as if Richie is hearing something else others aren’t, as if he can see something happening in front of his eyes; he spaces out, staring into the band and blown away. Meanwhile, the place is so loud and boisterous the lights above the stage are bouncing, everything is chaotic, and Bobby finds himself literally at the middle; a metaphor for being in the very middle of the scene.
Skip to Richie in a nice white-grey suit at the head of a table, gold lighter in hand. His narration tells us: “I earned the right to be hated.” They’re in Germany, earlier in 1973. It’s clear to us now Richie has a bit of an ego at this point. Plus, his raging drug problem, as evidenced from the start, is obviously a sticking point.
Now we’re introduced to the others. First, Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) who heads around with cash and cocaine to a radio station; he and the DJ take a rip off a spinning record, doing business. Second, there’s Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) who helps Richie offload records that don’t sell and get sent back. Usually those end up in the river, or somewhere else unlikely, which translates into profit for the label, American Century Records. At this point, though, their label is in lots of trouble. Time to cut and run.
The trio heads off after talking with the Germans looking to buy the label. We’re slowly leaning into the decadence of the 1970’s rock n’ roll music scene, as Richie and his crew board their own private jet, drinking, girls in tow. At this point in time they’re trying to sign Led Zeppelin to their label. And while Richie recognizes they’re in this whole mess because of the jet, the expenses, all that, Skip follows this with: “Let‘s do some coke.”
Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) wanders off a subway train. She sits at a bench, and next to her a shady guy lays down his bag; she does the same, taking his with her as she goes. Up to a beautiful, luxurious building goes Jamie with a cardboard tray full of fast-food and soda – this is American Century Records. The receptionist at the front desk deals with a guy from a band named Kip Stevens (James Jagger) – then Jamie takes over, as she apparently works in A&R.
In her desk drawer, Jamie piles a ton of drugs from uppers, downers, coke to marijuana, pre-rolled joints and all sorts of things. Then she listens to a tape from Kip, but Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) shows up for an ounce of weed. Amazing office to imagine, and I’m sure there were these situations in the 1970’s throughout many different label offices. Further than that we’re entrenched in the record business here, as Jamie and Clark discuss what happens if the shop gets sold off and try to figure out how they’re going to stay afloat. Zeppelin’s signed to the label, though, as Clark says: “Richie signed them.”
Another character is brought in now, Julie Silver (Max Casella). We witness him have a terrible phone call before tossing things around his office, tearing up his desk, all in front of the rest of the staff. Seems he’s feeling the hot water start to boil like everyone else.
Down at a club on 33rd and 7th, Richie has to deal with a bit of nastiness. Apparently there are bad things happening at the venue where Led Zeppelin is playing. Richie finds Robert Plant (Zebedee Row) and they discuss what the problem is, and it’s money, money, money. Although, Richie tries his best to cool things off. Then he finds out things are worse than ever, as Zeppelin clearly ain’t happy with ACR. Loving the inclusion of some famous names. I dig Row’s portrayal of Plant, even if it’s only a brief couple moments. Short yet awesome scene watching Zeppelin from Richie’s perspective, as Plant dances around the stage and wails his beautiful voice, Jimmy Page (Harrison Cofer) rips the guitar. Still, Richie almost cries knowing the band is lost to them pretty much.
Headed to Greenwich Village, a driver takes Richie past a black neighbourhood. There he sees people dancing in the streets, music playing. He wants to know what the music is, who’s in charge. A gun gets pointed in his face and a man looks as if he appears to know Richie. But off goes the car and Richie’s left wide-eyed. He heads home and listens to a recording session, as he kicks back. He’s listening to Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) – we flash to where Richie is working at a bar, as Lester plays the guitar to pieces, singing onstage with a tight blues band jamming out a great tune. The history between these two is laid out, so that after a little while we can understand why Lester wasn’t too eager to have Richie stop off at the club where he and his people were enjoying themselves. Obviously Richie screwed him over. We’ll figure out more as the episodes run on.
The cocaine, the extravagant living, the staying out all night – it takes a toll. Richie gets a call from his wife at home, Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde). He says when the deal finally goes through their relationship will get better, he’ll be home more and so on.
But right now he has more pressing issues at hand. Peter Grant (Ian Hart), of Led Zeppelin management, is flipping his lid at the ACR office. He isn’t happy about the Germand buying ACR, calling them “Nazi bastards” over and over. Naturally, we’re barely 40 years on from the Second World War in ’73, so some people, certainly the British, had issues with Germans even then. And Riche is pretty pissed, too. His team isn’t all pulling their weight, such as Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne) who nearly faces the full wrath of Richie. But it all comes out ACR was leverage for a better deal.
Into the pictures comes Frank ‘Buck’ Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay), a radio station owner. A situation with Donny “fucking” Osmond pops up, which ends as Frank threatening to boycott the ACR label entirely; zero play on any of their albums. So Richie decides he’s got to take the reins, setting shifty deeds and above board promotions into motion. Zak, Scott and Skip are left holding all the shit. Mostly.
No good news from the boardroom either. Clark, Julie and the rest are pounded into the dirt by Richie, who isn’t happy with their performance. Sadly, Richie is not a great dude. He is very flawed, and seems to take his issues out on others. While cooking the books he comes down on his employees who are trying their hardest. Then Jamie seizes her moment saying she has a band she’ll be checking out, lying that she “saw the singer on the subway and liked his look“; we know where she found them, though. Richie doesn’t give her much credit all the same, calling her a “sandwich girl” when the actual title she holds is Assistant in A&R. Oh, the times!
Lester Grimes is going through the motions in a flashback to earlier times. Nobody wants blues, apparently. Richie and his boss Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) suggest he record under another name – “Little” Jimmy Little – doing something other than blues. Later, he’ll be allowed to do the blues once those albums sell. What we’re seeing here is a more innocent, untouched Richie, whose time in the business has obviously altered who he is fundamentally. Also, it is the beginning of the end of the relationship between Lester.
Back to ’73. Jamie is down at a club listening to Kip and his band. They’re bombing, mostly due to people heckling, throwing bottles. Until Kip starts a fight and jumps into the crowd, throwing headbutts and punches galore. A riot nearly breaks out, as Kip and his guitar player crack unruly fans in the face with instruments. Later, Jamie beds Kip and tells him he needs to cultivate a “persona“, something akin to Iggy Pop or someone similar. Being hated by a crowd? Not the worst thing in the world. A visceral reaction is good in the rock world. Except Kip also has a heroin issue, so that might be the beginning of his end right there, too.
At a wild sex club of some sort, Richie meets with Buck who is a true piece of shit. The conversation is mostly Rogers talking and talking, yelling, cursing. I’ve got to say, Andrew Dice Clay does a solid job with the character; I didn’t know he had it in him. He does more than bring out the terrible side of Rogers, he actually makes a solid character out of it all. I never thought there’d be subtlety coming from Clay, yet there it is with him being both out of control and also contained at various times.
Flashback to the recording studio where Richie has Lester in the booth performing as “Little” Jimmy Little, doing a bunch of fluffy tunes that are clearly not his style. They’re using him to do a bunch of doo-wop sounding songs. Tragic to see an obviously talented man having to resort to doing what he doesn’t want to do. Not to mention there’ll be a fallout somewhere along the line between Lester and Richie. Seeing Richie paralleled from ’73 to his recent past is amazing, as we can tell he’s fallen a long way off. Also, maybe he’s getting what he deserves in the future. Karma is a real bitch.
In ’73, Richie’s being thrown a birthday party. He isn’t too keen on it, but he’s there for now. We do get a sense from Devon she was once a party girl, knowing Andy Warhol and that whole entourage. But she tells a friend: “My heart is full.” Riche also gets an amazing present from his friends – a guitar once owned by “The Originator himself“, a.k.a Bo Diddley (Kareem Bunton), who we see in a great sort of psychedelic scene playing away. Love the way this whole pilot episode is shot. It has typical Scorsese aspects, then a whole lot of throwback style filmmaking overall.
From his party, Richie is contacted by Joe Corso (Bo Dietl). He and Rogers are still up, two days straight, coked to the gills. Apparently Richie has to go and take care of things, right in the middle of a celebration.
Cut quick back to Lester – he is not happy getting no pay, as the records aren’t selling. Richie has a load of excuses, while Lester “just wants to sing” and he isn’t getting the deal they made “four years ago“. We hear talk of Richie starting his own label, taking Lester along for the ride. Is that what breaks them? Perhaps Lester never ever was taken with ACR. Seems very likely.
In ’73 again, Richie heads to Rogers’ place on Long Island. Buck is busy playing drums along with Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” on the stereo. The scene there is fairly hostile, as Buck is lit up high on cocaine, insulting Richie almost right off the bat. After a few minutes, out comes a gun, but Corso talks Buck down; seems he was just fooling around. But one thing leads to another and soon enough Buck lays a kiss on Richie, prompting a good punch. A fight breaks out and then Corso ends up cracking Buck over the head a couple times with a small award statue. Rogers bleeds out on the floor, his head split open. And now a terrifying situation takes hold of the two left behind. Buck ain’t dead yet, though. It takes another bit of beating until the job is finished completely; an impressive level of violence and a graphic couple head shots later.
After the body is dumped and rid of, Richie is back at the ACR office. He can’t particularly focus, as Jamie talks of Kip and his band, then his colleagues reveal the news of the Germans buying their label. But he says he doesn’t “feel so good“. Probably because he’s now a murderer, or at the very least a brutal accomplice to murder.
We cut to the past once more. Gold has money problems, which obviously affects Richie, Lester, and anyone else connected to the label for which they work. They’re in league with mobster Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo), who only wants the money he’s owed. Then Richie pipes up hoping to sell his shares of the label, which are worth more than he’ll sell for, and this interests Galasso. Richie further tries to get Lester out, but Galasso claims “he stays“. The money takes Richie away and clearly this is where he and Lester come apart at the seams. What ends up happening is that Lester gets roughed up hard by the mob after refusing to record shitty popular music, beaten with bats and kicked in the balls. Followed by his throat getting damaged horribly; likely a broken windpipe. It’s a devastating scene to watch.
Switch to Richie’s present time. He hears a story on the news about a body found with “blunt trauma to the head” and this sends shivers up his spine. Seeing his past intertwined with the present is a sad thing. Nearing the end of the episode, Richie has a confrontation with Devon, after his son sees him rocking around the room, obviously drunk, high, out of control, and playing the Bo Diddley guitar. She is unimpressed, as you can imagine: “Our life isn‘t enough for you,” Devon tells him in quiet anger. Before leaving she spits a mouthful of liquor in his face, and then he proceeds to smash the television with his new instrument.
The finale of the pilot brings us back to where the episode began, with Bobby high on coke and watching The New York Dolls. The show is so loud and wild that the ceiling is starting to crumble, the lights about to fall, yet Bobby continues rocking out hard alongside everyone else. Everything eventually collapses to the ground, as people flee; all a true story, slightly changed, but certainly it happened at The Mercer Arts Center in 1973. What a way to finish an episode, and the first at that.
We close on the demolished club, lights still flickering here and there. Amongst the rubble is Richie, covered in dust and debris, wood, everything. He emerges from the rocks and the ash, almost like he’s a phoenix rising out of the flames. He’s alive, he isn’t really injured. Could this event become a catalyst for a better Richie? Probably not, but I’m sure this is going to provide a great jumping off point.
Next episode is titled “Yesterday Once More” and after this premiere we go back to regular 50-55 minute episodes. At the same time, I loved this double length pilot. Excited for more wild 1970’s debauchery and rock n’ roll.
Black Mass. 2015. Directed by Scott Cooper. Screenplay by Jez Butterworth & Mark Mallouk; based on the novel by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill.
Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, and Adam Scott. Cross Creek Pictures/Grisbi Productions/Infinitum Nihil/Free State Pictures.
Rated 14A. 123 minutes.
The story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger is a wild one. I remember when the excellent drama Brotherhood came on, with Jason Clarke and Jason Isaacs; that had roots in Bulger’s story, the parallel between him and his political brother. It’s a story that, if you know anything about it, is intense and has many layers. Almost as if it were written and made up. Yet the details most certainly are not made up. After things eventually went further south for Whitey, he went on the run as a Most Wanted face on the FBI’s list. Only a few years ago, at age 81 ripe and tender, he was apprehended and in 2013 his trial started.
So naturally, after seeing Scott Cooper was taking on an adaptation of this man’s boisterous, wild life, it had every bit of interest I needed. Black Mass gives us big heaping slices of the life of Bulger, from a time when he was already known to later on when he became one of the most well known names of the underworld. A ton of what makes the movie interesting are the central performances, particularly Johnny Depp in one of his strongest roles – ever – and then there is great writing on top of great directing from Cooper. This intense and at times fairly grim tale is weaved out of real life, pumped full of bravado, but best of all it breathes air into a true villain out of the history books.
James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) is a tough customer. One of the worst. He’s a notorious criminal from South Boston whose reputation precedes him. Better yet, he’s the brother of prominent politician Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch). While Billy is busy climbing the political ladder, Jimmy is on the streets busting heads, killing, doing the most illegal of business.
But a terrifying deal is struck behind the scenes between Jimmy and the FBI, led by John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who just so happens to have grown up on the same street as the Bulger boys. Using the FBI to essentially take out competition and aid his nefarious dealings, from guns to drugs, Whitey spins the entire deal into a downward spiral. Soon enough, the FBI informant in Jimmy is lost and he is officially on the Ten Most Wanted List. His story is one of family, corruption, ego and above all else – crime.
Immediately we’re introduced to Whitey Bulger as someone who does not mince words, nor does he put up with anything he sees as bullshit. No nonsense. The opening scene with Depp his eyes are piercing through the darkness, Bulger is sitting in silence and watching Johnny Martorano (W. Earl Brown) – an extremely dangerous and feared man in his own right – sloppily eat peanuts on the table, which he does not like. And makes it known. But this semi-funny scene brings a little more to the front. If you understand who Martorano is, then it’s even further evident that Whitey does not care who is in front of him. He says it like it is and couldn’t care less what anyone feels about it. The menace is present enough in the shots where Depp is barely visible through the darkness, almost like a predator laying, waiting in the black. More of that comes out later, though, it is heavily featured in this first moment. As time goes by, it isn’t only the contacts Depp wears that makes the eyes of Bulger burn into your soul. It is the absolute dead eye stare Depp seeps through the frame, it won’t let you go. With only a few looks Depp conveys the nastiness in Whitey.
Everyone is really solid here. One of those ensemble casts you dream of, as there’s a number of performances to enjoy. Of course you can’t not talk about Cumberbatch, whose American Boston accent is pretty great, and natural. Not just that I found he was well contrasted with Depp; they truly felt like brothers, two guys at the opposite end of one spectrum. Their chemistry was good when they shared the screen. Then there are smaller roles that worked well, such as Peter Sarsgaard (always a fan), Rory Cochrane, and more. But I also have to mention Joel Edgerton. He is a talent, one who can play interesting roles with lots of weight. He is compelling from scene to scene, especially considering what his character is involved in, and Edgerton definitely sells the performance. He and Depp do nice work together, too. Having all the actors in this film together is a definite plus. Without them these real life characters would’ve felt like caricatures and bad impressions. With them, Whitey Bulger, John Connolly, Billy Bulger and the rest of them all appear to us vividly and full of passion.
There are certainly similarities at times to the classic Martin Scorsese mob picture Goodfellas. Cooper does an excellent job mirroring some of the music montage moments in that film, excellent homage. Although, it isn’t borrowing too heavily. This is its own story, its own film all the way. But apart from some of the techniques Cooper uses to move the plot along, particularly the first montage with “Slave” by The Rolling Stones, there are plenty differences. The writing doesn’t fall back on homage. We get lots of exciting dialogue, which in turn obviously brings us fun, intense, and likewise exciting relationships between characters, scenes that come to life. It’s not just some period piece jumping from one decade to the next with a couple decent characters. The screenplay is solid. I love the pace of the movie, from start to finish. Never once during the 123 minute runtime did I find myself hoping for more excitement. There are bits of extensive expository dialogue, but only in the sense that we need it re: FBI actions, and so on. Then, we also get our fill of the character development, the violent scenes, the mob talk. There could’ve easily been too much, or not enough, of all these aspects. Instead, Cooper & Co. offer us up a good variation most of the time.
Easily a 4 star film. There could’ve been a few things edited better, to ramp up the intensity and suspense, but overall the pacing of the film especially keeps things proper. Boasting a massively impressive performance from Johnny Depp, as well as a handful of great supporting roles, Black Mass packs a heavy, bloody punch. Maybe people see too many parallels with other films and that Scott Cooper drew off classics too much. Not I. This is a truly compelling story that deserved to be told and this was told in fine fashion. There are moments you’ll laugh, moments you will root for a good outcome. But this is a dark, twisting story. There are no happy endings. Regardless, the film is very well made. It has a wonderful atmosphere and a constant tone that brings out the best in every aspect of the production. This is top notch and one of the best crime biographies of the past decade. Some bits and pieces need tuning, though, if any Depp shows us he’s not done yet. Not by a long shot.
The House of the Devil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, and Graham Reznick. MPI Media Group/Constructovision/RingtheJing Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix. Rated R. 95 minutes.
Ti West is one of the modern horror directors I think you could say is an auteur in his own right. All of his films have a similar feel, maybe all aside from The Sacrament, as in they’re all done on film (again aside from the aforementioned last of his films to come out), they have the full, rich look of movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Not only that, West is great at drawing out the tension of a film to create atmosphere and to setup excellent uses of suspense.
The House of the Devil is no exception. I’d actually seen this before any of his other work before, and loved it so much I went back to see anything else he’d done I could get my hands on. The Roost is a highly underrated indie horror gem, even Trigger Man – an early attempt at shooting digitally – has its merits. Since then he’s done The Sacrament, of which I’m a big fan, and another fun little spooky flick called The Innkeepers. Loves titles starting with The!
With this movie, West throws back to the ’70s/’80s Golden Age of Horror, not deliberately making a period piece but still harkening directly back to that time by use of similar techniques, camerawork, music, and aesthetic filmmakers were in the habit of using. Essentially, The House of the Devil ends up as West’s scary love letter to movies he grew up, the vibe of filmmaking happening at the time which influenced him, as well as he gives us a slow burn horror rooted in the false Satanic Panic especially prevalent during the 1980s. If you don’t like a slower paced film, this won’t be for you at all. If you don’t mind letting a horror build, letting it grow on you, then give it a shot; you will not regret it.
Trying to get out on her own, away from terrible roommate living, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) ends up taking a mysterious job babysitting for Mr/Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov). Mysterious due to the fact the Ulmans don’t have a child. The job is, in reality, for Mrs. Ulman’s mother who lives with them. After some negotiating, Samantha gets a massive payday all for a single night. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) tags along to make sure everything is fine, and though not entirely satisfied she leaves Samantha at the house, almost literally in the middle of nowhere with the Ulmans.
And once they leave, Samantha slowly begins to feel as if something isn’t quite right in the big old house. Not to mention a young man named Victor (AJ Bowen) blasts Megan’s face off just a little ways down the road.
Nobody ever told Samantha babysitting would could be so hard.
There are lots of things to admire about The House of the Devil. While big films often try to go for period looks – such as how Martin Scorsese for instance did the different portions of his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator according to how films looked at various instances throughout the 20th century – it is’t often an independent movie, horror at that, will try and emulate the particular look of certain decades. West not only shot this on film, but 16mm film, which gives it a great look that was very popular in the 1980s. Other ways West achieves his retro feel is through the zooms, nowadays a technique you’ll mostly see done through use of a dolly shot. Even right at the beginning with the freeze frame on Samantha, music playing, movie title in big block letters; totally ’80s style, through and through. Down to the fact this was the only movie since A History of Violence in 2005 which got released on VHS in one of the clamshell style cases, this is a unique and fun indie horror. So there’s a quaint charm about West’s film I feel gets lost on a lot of people who don’t care about any of that. Should you care? Well, that’s totally subjective. Me, I think there’s a certain artistry involved with all the care that goes into making a movie into more than just a movie, but instead making it become an experience. The House of the Devil, for me, has always been a solid horror while also very much being a horrifying experience all around because of its style.
When Samantha puts her ear close to the door, asking if “everything’s all right in there”, the slow and brief reveal West gives us of the Satanic-like markings, the bloodied corpses on the floor is shocking. It’s not shocking like the scene is going to make you gasp, or lose your breath and hide away. This shot and the scene is shocking in that you’re not expecting such blatant nastiness right behind the door. Even how slow West shows us what’s in the room is incredible, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the ‘mother’ in the dark, looking sinister in the corner, or anything close to that. Instead, it’s a pretty ballsy visual, such that West announces at this moment things are definitely going to start getting savage. At some point, anyways. Afterwards there are more moments of horror later like this, and also some key shots of very dreamy imagery in certain scenes. Generally, West strikes a nice balance between these two methods.
When Samantha discovers the full extent of what’s happening in the house (think: drinking blood from a horned skull), the plot takes us into the depths of horror. Mixing subtle creepiness with plenty solid doses of nasty violence, the finale of the film plays out with pumping adrenaline in a sequence washed with blood. In particular, a few shots remind me of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, almost homage-like cuts to a hooded demonic character much like how Friedkin made several subliminal cuts to the Pazuzu demon in his film.
Most of all, I found the atmosphere of the film combined with the characters pretty damn eerie. Such as the Ulman family themselves. First there’s Tom Noonan whose creepiness knows no bounds, never once calling back to his stint as The Tooth Fairy a.k.a Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which is an unfair criticism of his acting I often see when he plays in horror movies; here, his character is all its own and he plays it quietly with great nuance. Then Mary Woronov does a spectacularly unsettling job with the character of Mrs. Ulman, even in the brief time she’s actually onscreen. Of course, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha is a perfect fit – she’s an ongoing yet at times quiet sort of person, but there’s a strength Donahue gives the character which is really great and adds something to the story. Throw in AJ Bowen and Greta Gerwig as interesting, smaller characters, and I’ve got to say West’s screenplay is a tight one with plenty of intrigue and none of the heavy, sagging exposition of other horror movies trying to spell every last thing out through dialogue.
This is a great film, 5 stars in my book. Ti West could’ve done a typical slasher with this, however, he opts to draw on his biggest influences from the ’70s/’80s and some of the real life yet fake claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse from decades ago, crafting a unique indie horror experience. Great and classic sensibilities show in the way West handles his directorial duties, as well as his writing. I can’t say anything else except for: watch it. Maybe you won’t dig it. But those who are into a slow burn, atmospheric type of horror, it’s full of that and it’s only a little over an hour.
Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments below, as long as you can be civil and have a proper talk!
The Seven Five. 2014. Directed by Tiller Russell.
Starring (as themselves) Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Chickie, Dori Eurell.
To start this review, I wanted to give a bit of personal insight into my view on police.
Firstly, I have two family members, close cousins, who are both officers here in St. John’s, Newfoundland – for those who don’t know, Newfoundland is a province on the far east coast of Canada. One of them is a new officer, the other now involved with Major Crimes from homicide to whatever else. So, I can’t say that all officers are bad. Anyone smart should know they are not.
However, second of all, I’ve had a couple experiences with police officers, as a younger man in my teen years, which now as a 30-year old I see in a different light. There is a high room for error in law enforcement, simply due to the fact that as an officer of the law you are dealing in the lives of human beings. What you do, or don’t do, can either negatively or positively affect the life of someone you take into custody/members of a perpetrator or victim’s family/et cetera. There are huge repercussions when it comes to an officer not doing their job correctly, and as we see so much today in the news coming out of America there are deadly effects when police override the law and surpass it because of their lust for power. An enormous responsibility rides on the shoulders of the police – many willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from the actual dangerous elements of society, then in opposition too many seem to also have no problem putting innocent/unarmed(etc) citizens in the way of harm or outright have no problem doing those same citizens harm themselves. When the responsibility is shirked, it is not the same as even an insurance agent messing up some forms and leaving a customer without proper coverage; incompetent and downright criminal police work comes with a hefty, fatal price in many situations.
The Seven Five, directed by Tiller Russell, is the epic tale of police corruption in the seventy-fifth precinct out of New York when Michael Dowd was in uniform there. An insanely criminal lawman, Dowd seemed to infect everyone around him, including the rookies and other naive cops coming into the job. It was as if, for a time, Dowd became the centre of corruption in the entirety of the NYPD.
Through a number of talking head interviews, including Dowd himself, Russell brings us through a bunch of stories that emphasize how deep and devious the corruption went.
What began as a bit of cash, then on to thousands upon thousands of dollars, soon became a devil’s deal with drugs, guns, and murder to boot. Dowd, as we see through the documentary’s runtime, evolves from a smalltime crooked cop on the beat to, essentially, a drug dealer as vicious as any other man selling drugs on the street. From a hindsight perspective, Tiller Russell takes us through the names, the faces, the situations which brought Michael Dowd down the dark roads he took and where everyone has ended up today.
Basically, Michael Dowd is the literal representation of the criminal cop. I mean, he is the epitome of the description, he makes the whole documentary feel like a Martin Scorsese film. Sometimes he says things that are darkly priceless, maybe similar to something Ray Liotta or Joe Pesci might spit out. At times, he actually strikes me more like Lester Diamond from Casino simply because he’s a god damn nutter. It’s sick, but the way in which he basically corralled an entire dirty ring of cops is villainously smart.
But naturally things didn’t last forever for Mike. If they did, he certainly wouldn’t have been on camera telling us his darkest confessions of the nasty business he got into while supposedly policing the streets.
One of my favourite pieces to The Seven Five is the stuff with Adam Diaz.
What can we say about Mr. Diaz? He loves Bryan Adams and sold tons of drugs. Best of all, he sold them out of a grocery store. His operation was supremely slick. With some tips from ole Officer Dowd, the store could have everything looking proper, no drugs on the premises, and nothing could be said – like Diaz himself relates, even if someone snitched and said they were there buying drugs the week before, what did it matter? Who cares where they were or went or who they saw, what they bought? Didn’t matter a pinch. Because as Diaz says, there were no drugs – “I sell groceries!”
In the year 1987, one kilo of cocaine was equal to about $34,000. Diaz, 20 years old, was selling 300 kilos a week, bringing in hundreds of millions a year.
The reason Michael Dowd and Adam Diaz became as close as they were was due to when Dowd gave Diaz a tip which saved the dealer half a million dollars. A raid was on the way, which Dowd headed off with the tip, and this proved to Diaz this was his man.
So we can see how it wasn’t simply a bunch of crooked cops, Dowd was involved with true criminal organizations, such as the Diaz Organization which had its own ties to further criminal entities. It’s amazing to watch how the corruption basically leaks out, like an oil spill milking thick out of a barrel and spreading over the entire city of New York. Sad that while so many people needed help, some criminals could’ve been taken off the streets, Dowd and Ken Eurell, his unfortunate partner that was near hypnotized by Dowd, and the other corrupt officers were just feeding their egos, their bank accounts, and sure, their families.
But it’s funny, nowadays in America, and back then certainly, we’re less willing to indict cops as a society overall than we are to shit all over people in unions. And basically, these officers, headed by the insanity of Michael Dowd, went into a union-like situation – the big argument for corruption is “They don’t pay me enough for the danger of the job I’m doing” – and instead of striking, instead of fighting for higher wages and trying to negotiate, they went above and beyond any normal reactions straight into using the leverage and power of their positions to commit criminal acts; acts they were arresting others for committing, all at the very same time.
Michael Dowd: “It wasn’t like you were hurtin’ people. You were hurtin’ fucking scumbag drug dealers.”
With every day that passes by in America, there seems to be another incident where unarmed people – most if not all are black – get murdered by the police. Straight up. So many news stories breaking, each week, where another black man or black woman is taken down, either by police in the field or in custody. It’s disturbing. Feels like nothing has really changed, as we watch Dowd during his interviews and the tapes of his testimonies – sure, this is not about racism, but it’s above all about the corruption of power. The same thing happens today. We see at various points throughout this documentary how a lot of the negative behaviour some police officers come to display is bred into them through senior ranking officers, detectives, et cetera, the rookies are working under. Much like hate and racism/sexism is learned behaviour often stemming from the family one grows up in, or the parent figures one is raised by, the same goes for this corrupt behaviour in police officers; much of that comes out of learned and encouraged behaviour.
I don’t want to say too much else about the documentary, much of it is information you need to hear firsthand.
For me, The Seven Five is a 5 out of 5 star documentary film. It outlines the corruption of the time in the NYPD so perfectly, examining one of the most corrupt police officers to have ever lived. Michael Dowd is a truly disturbing, bad dude when it comes down to it. The quote above shows that, infinitely. People like to think there’s a need for that blanket statement – that all drug dealers are human garbage, every one of them. Unfortunately, you just can’t say that. Especially if you’re an officer of the law, not simply because you should be objective at times as to avoid collaring the wrong suspects and leading yourself into trouble, but most of all it can lead to the detrimental thinking in police officers such as Dowd: it leads to the illusion of power. It leads people like this man to believing that they are truly above someone else on the evolutionary scale, as if they’re the perfect example of Charles Dawin and the idea of Survival of the Fittest – the dealers, the crackheads, all of them are weak and therefore ought to be weeded out. In a microcosm, this is the thinking which leads people to believe the ideologies of leaders like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and so on.
You should see this documentary. One of the better recent crime docs to come out. Especially if you’re interested in police corruption, civil rights, and other similar subjects. I highly recommend this. Not only interesting, The Seven Five is a smooth and flowing documentary that keeps the audience engaged, provides a ton of information, and even gives us a few truly dark and disturbing moments when it comes to the crime underworld and corrupt cops.
Check it out, let me know what you think in the comment section below!