KING COBRA’s True Crime Penetrates the Broken Heart of Gay Porn

King Cobra. 2016. Directed & Written by Justin Kelly; based on the book from Andrew E. Stoner & Peter A. Conway.
Starring Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, Molly Ringwald, James Kelley, Keegan Allen, James Franco, Robby Johnson, Rosemary Howard, & Spencer Rocco Lofranco.
RabbitBandini Productions/Yale Productions/SSS Entertainment
Not Rated. 91 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★
Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 2.54.37 PMBefore I heard of this Franco-produced flick I’d not actually heard of the real life owner of Cobra Video, Bryan Kocis. He founded the gay porn studio, but also dealt with various legal struggles throughout his life: from charges of sexual assault on a minor, corruption of a minor, to bankruptcy and more. A difficult life, indeed. If even the basics of this tale are true, Kocis was a deviant who believed he fell in love, all the while exploiting the boy he said he cared about.
King Cobra is a fast tracked version of the Kocis story, with Christian Slater playing a stand-in for the real man, a man named Stephen. The object of his affection? Sean Paul Lockhart, a.k.a gay pornstar Brent Corrigan; played by baby-faced Garrett Clayton. What comes out is a story full of themes from the post-modern American dream to obsession to the struggle for love in industry where people aren’t people, they’re merely objects to be owned; by a producer, by millions.
Going in I thought there’d be a cheap exploitation aspect to the film. Not saying there isn’t a fair bit of skin. Director-writer Justin Kelly includes as much as he has to, in order to further explore the betrayal and deception at the heart of the story. And this, above all, is what matters most – the broken hearts left behind in the wake of the porn industry.
It’s known that the real Lockhart has said this story has “contempt for queer culture” and that it mocks pornography. The first I don’t agree with, whatsoever. Especially when the men are shown in an honest light, at all angles, never judged. As for the mockery of porn, I don’t agree; however, I do think it’s critical of the industry. Of how we allow the buying and selling of people, all culminating in the shocking real events that the story illustrates so vivid.
Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 2.57.46 PMThe dark side of the industry is in full effect throughout King Cobra. Aside from the relationship between fictional Kocis and Lockhart, which brings up issues of sex with a minor, the plot goes even darker with Joe (James Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen); most of all the latter. Harlow’s story is sad – the saddest – full of despair and loneliness and a search for happiness that’ll surely never end. The hurt of his character is terrifyingly real, and Allen plays him with a haunting, dead-eyed look.
Harlow and Joe represent the desperate side of the industry, the men who resort to prostituting themselves. On the other side, Stephen’s obsession with Lockhart turns their relationship into one of pimp and prostitute, too. Like a pimp, Stephen wants total control over Brent, so much so he makes the whole thing into a personal and legal battle; something which goes terribly wrong, for all of them. Meanwhile there’s Lockhart in the middle just trying to make money and find a nice man. Like a postmodern American DreamNightmare.
Moreover, Stephen represents a side of the gay community we don’t often see when we get those normal, positive looks at regular gay men and lesbian women (which are important in their own ways for representation). What he, and his real life counterpart Kocis, illustrate is how some men almost go back into the closet even though they’re out. They don’t fully accept themselves. In his case, it’s because he likes underage boys. It gets so bad that Stephen lives in a “cookie cutter community” and he’s there amongst his neighbours, all the while he takes Brent and other young men inside, out by the pool, and films them fucking. He lives in the open, though keeps a barrier up between him and the world.
KingCobraImmediately, the stylised cinematography with its neon glow and filtered shots grabs attention. We feel as if we’re in an actual porno most times, not from the actual bare skin onscreen but the visual style. At other times the frames are draped in shadow, the way most of the characters are all under a cloak of darkness, living their lives on camera yet also behind it in the figurative dark spaces of life from one trick to the next.
The performances hooked me in. Allen is my favourite, he’s intense and brooding without being overtly animated; he makes you feel the darkness of his character Marlow. Alongside him as Joe, the ever interesting Franco provides us with a ferocious, unrelenting character whose sexual appetite does not mix well with business.
Still, the best performance of all has to be from Slater; his late career is proving full of surprises from Nymphomaniac to Mr. Robot and this film. Stephen isn’t a likeable character, he’s a sleazy guy. But Slater doesn’t play him sleazy, he somehow imbues the guy with a heart, no matter how dark. He’s a desperately clingy man, one who uses his powerful position as producer to rope in young boys with whom he can play, and hopefully control. He’s sad, he’s nasty. And there’s so much humanity to this otherwise monstrous man with Slater in the role.
What I love most about the character is that the writing allows him to be who he is, instead of trying to pretend like the gay community can’t have any bad apples. The real Lockhart’s criticism feels unfair, though admittedly I’m not a gay man and so my opinion isn’t the be all, end all. That being said, I think the best representation for any community, any race (et cetera), also involves those bad characters along with the good.
Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 3.45.27 PMThere’s a major loss of innocence in King Cobra. One thing Marlow makes very clear is that everyone has a story. What people see on that screen, the flesh and the orgasms, is the end result of victimisation, of broken hearts and broken dreams. It is what comes at the end of a long road of pain. I don’t care if you think that’s not cool of me. Personally, I don’t support the porn industry. Nor do I judge anybody; I used to watch it, then awhile back made a personal pledge not to engage with it any longer. I just don’t think it’s healthy, you can’t fault me for that.
Neither can you fault the film. These characters are real people, if not dramatised for the sake of entertainment. Their story is largely real and is, aside from what actually happened to Kocis a.k.a Stephen, also the story of many others who’ve been sucked into the undertow of the exploitative, violent industry of pornography.
King Cobra doesn’t ask or answer any big questions. It looks deeply at the damage done to people who’ve fallen prey to the predators in the industry, as well as those who were preyed upon before and then came to the industry later only to be re-victimised. If you have a level head about the topic in general, this movie’s for you. There isn’t any judgement. Then again, people like Kocis deserved to be judged, only they don’t deserve what he got, either.

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Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 7: “Inseparable”

A&E’s Bates Motel
Season 5, Episode 7: “Inseparable”
Directed by Steph Green
Written by Freddie Highmore

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Marion” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Body” – click here
Pic 1Now that Norman (Freddie Highmore) has killed Sam Loomis, there’s a little of issue of disposing of the body with which he has to deal. Luckily he’s got Mother (Vera Farmiga) to help. She’s old hand at these kinds of things. The two split psyches each take their own respective duties, as she handles all the bloody, messy bits. To help protect her boy from the nasty truth. Regardless, he’s having trouble with the entire situation.
Norma: “You wanna play with the big kids, you gotta act like the big kids.”
Worse is the fact the pair find that in the nearby lake, their dumping grounds, a body’s pulled from the water. Norman worries about Jim Blackwell’s corpse being found, that Sheriff Jane Greene (Brooke Smith) will catch them. While Mother and her boy argue, they slap one another across the fact, and the large wedge between them opens up, as Norman finally figures out this isn’t the first time they’ve been out dumping bodies under cover of night. They dump Sam in a well in the woods, but it feels too rushed.
Pic 1ABack at the motel Norman runs into none other than Sheriff Greene, who’s there to talk about what they found in the lake. “Multiple bodies” and one of them Mr. Blackwell. So Norman plays his game trying to keep his secret life under wraps, as the sheriff’s still wondering about all the connections, as well as whatever Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is up to since his escape. A tense conversation between Greene and the young man. He’s just barely hanging on to the mask.
Speaking of Romero, he’s recuperating in bed at the home of an old friend. She’s taken care of his wound, now he’s on bed rest and eating breakfast. Lucky for him he has anyone, particularly after his early exit from jail.
More every minute, Norman worries about what’ll happen if the authorities come snooping around. He has to figure out what to do with Mother, so that nobody finds her body. An awkward moment; almost like the roles have reversed temporarily, and Norman is shielding Mother from the harsher truth of having to move her body. Such a strangely compelling scene. And of course any time we see the body it’s a – I swear this isn’t meant to be a pun – cold reminder of what is really going on inside that creepy house. Either way he takes Mother’s body out to a special place in the woods where the ground is nice and cool, to preserve her until she can come home.


Dylan (Max Thieriot) has come back to White Pine Bay, after hearing of his mother’s supposed suicide. Being back in the house is like a punch in the gut for him, knowing there is more to the story of her death. Walking around the house, he can feel his mother there. Her presence isn’t gone, barely even a bit. The place is a mess, dishes in the sink, and Norma’s high heels are kicked off in front of one of the chairs. One truly eerie shot there. Dylan tries to act normal with his brother, not immediately throwing suspicion and guilt around. They actually act like brothers, for a moment. Until Mother comes lurking in the background. Big brother does express his worry for little brother living alone, not seeing his doctor, and he wants to stay a few days to help Norman smooth life out. Hmm, not sure how that’ll play out with Mother creeping. Her room is virtually untouched, like a shrine.
In his friendly hospice, Alex wants to find his gun, but his friend hides it from him. She doesn’t want him running off and doing more stupid shit to dig his hole deeper. They’re friends from growing up in White Pine Bay, she knows him through and through. And she can tell this has to do with Norma Bates.
At home, Mother worries about having Dylan around. She calls him “misguided” and plays the Him v. Us card. That he’ll make things too difficult, he can’t be part of their life now. Just Mother and her little boy, that’s the way it was intended. Will he go along with it? Can he convince Dylan that everything’s swell and he can go on back to his life with Emma and their new baby?
Out trying to get his brother more medication, Dylan discovers Norman’s doctor has been missing for over a year; there’s no way his brother had coffee with him recently. Yikes. Everything gets trickier when Dylan also runs into Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally). She’s looking for Sam. The missing people on the possible list are piling up.
Pic 3Norman’s cooking a nice dinner for he and his brother. Life seems grand, music plays. All appears right. Certainly Dylan can’t shake what he knows, or what he thinks he knows. He brings up Sam Loomis, they have a conversation about what Norman remembers. He makes up a little(/tall) tale. It all devolves as the younger of the two gets upset over his older brother “meddling with the truth.” All Dylan wants is to protect him, to help him heal and get better. He tries convincing Norman to take his pills again.
Then it all goes haywire. Mother comes out to speak with her oldest boy. She doesn’t want her baby taking the medication, effectively making her go away. Unfortunately, there’s only room for one of Norma’s children. She tries to kill Dylan, Norman holding back the knife in her hand. The two personalities wrestle, as Dylan watches on in horror. Norman manages to overcome her.
He goes to the phone. Dials 911. And he reports himself for the murder of Sam Loomis before Mother can stop him.
Pic 4WOW! Just, damn. I didn’t see that ending coming. This puts the last few episodes into a wild frame, not exactly positive what the endgame is but I’m excited to watch it unfold. The next episode is “The Body” and I’m wondering if we’re about to see some truly disturbed, insane acting from Highmore once he and Mother are under lock and key.

BE MY CAT: A FILM FOR ANNE is One Blurry Line Between Movies & Murder

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne. 2016. Directed & Written by Adrian Tofei.
Starring Adrian Tofei, Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton, & Alexandra Stroe.
Produced by Tofei. 87 minutes.
Not Rated.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★posterFound footage annoys certain people. Me, I’m always willing to give it a chance. There’s a lot of good stuff out there – unique, innovative stuff. No shortage of it, but now and then you’ve got to dig through a heap of trash to find the diamonds. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne uses its found footage premise well, driving the main theme of the film: obsession.
Director and writer Adrian Tofei blurs the line between fiction and reality so well that at times it’s easy to forget you’re watching a film. Using the idea of trying to get the attention of Anne Hathaway in Hollywood, Tofei puts himself in the lead role of a director badly wanting to make a movie with her. This isn’t exactly a totally original premise. It’s the way Tofei enacts his plot, the dread which follows and everything in between that makes this slice of found footage different.
As is the case with most of the sub-genre, this entry doesn’t have much style to it. That matters not. Tofei’s acting, his eerie presence, and the raw qualities of the filming, these are elements which make this a worthwhile watch for any fans of the found footage style.
img_4032There are plenty films involving stalkers in this sub-genre, but they’re so often masked, or unseen behind the camera’s lens. Tofei is upfront and centre the entire time. This allows us a way into his mind, giving the audience a passenger side seat to the psychosis that overtakes him gradually; or maybe it’s been with him the whole time. Either way, it’s ugly. Not in a way which detracts from the story. There’s a compelling feel to watching this guy unravel.
Obsession is the theme driving everything. Underneath, this film is about the blur between fiction and reality. Philosopher Jean Baudrillard talked about the simulacra and how the world’s become hyperreal, in that everything real has more so become just a form of something fictional we all recognise (that’s a very liberal take on his extensive concept). In a way, this is how Be My Cat is structured. Tofei dives deeper and deeper with each scene into that psychosis I mentioned, along with the audience. The further he gets into the movie he’s making to send Anne, the more he feels justified in the things he’s doing. “This is the sacrifice Im making,” he tells the camera, as if urging us to believe in him. What happens is a process of dissociation. Tofei dissociates from the self, becoming his character – Adrian, himself – far too literally. Reminding us that he is in fact this character Adrian and not the real Adrian, he says: “I would never do something like this.” Real murder becomes mere character action, the progression of his psychosis is then development in his dangerous metafiction view of the world, through his film. It’s like method acting gone past the point of normal psychology.
img_4029The story’s trajectory is relatively obvious. Early on we understand there’s something not quite right with Adrian. Doesn’t take long. It’s how he takes us there that makes the plan uniquely terrifying. Adrian’s kinda crazy, kinda nonchalant attitude is unsettling, at the same time not wholly without charm either. His character, gradually flipping from fiction to reality to metafiction, engages the audience even in the slower scenes. You can’t help wondering what he’ll do or say next, which keeps you off balance, and never quite capable of pinning him down with any understanding.
A pivotal moment for his character comes when he says that “boys and dogs are bullies” when he talks about girls and cats. We hear a bit about why he likes cats, or why the character likes them. And this is one major point of division between Adrian and his fictional character Adrian. There’s a clear line you can follow, watching the dissociation get worse.
This movie isn’t built on shock value, either. You expect it to be, but what the story focuses on most is Adrian’s descent into fiction that becomes brutally real. Along the way there’s obviously blood. Rather than go for a gory mess constantly, the blood is at times partly off-screen and the full nastiness is hidden. What’s worse is one scene where a victim comes upon a slow realisation that Adrian is actually preparing to do a homemade dissection on her. Too creepy. He fully dissociates from reality at this point, the ultimate separation, and doesn’t for a single second come to grips with the real murder he’s committing.
img_4031I remember hearing of Be My Cat and just the short description, the Twitter account, caught my attention. There’s an edgy psychological aspect that sinks its teeth in and never lets go. Admittedly, I know that some may not find it as compelling. Not everyone wants to do a slow burn into madness in found footage format. And that’s fine, I understand. I suggest giving it a chance. Tofei has done something here that’s on the verge of greatness.
There are times you might feel the acting isn’t up to par. I disagree. Tofei’s uncomfortable moments are used to good effect, and that also plays into the worrisome metafiction of the film overall. The performances of the actresses are equally as impressive. When you fall down the rabbit hole of despair alongside the fictional Adrian Tofei and his unsuspecting victims it’s all the more troubling that the performances on either side of the murder-victim aisle pull you into a space where fiction gets questionable.
Can’t recommend this film enough. I’ve seen it described as revolutionary for the found footage sub-genre, as dangerous, many other things. They’re pretty much all right, as far as I’m concerned. Looking forward to whatever this guy takes on next. If Be My Cat is any indication, Tofei has an intriguing perspective on the horror genre.

Channel Zero – Candle Cove, Episode 6: “Welcome Home”

SyFy’s Channel Zero
Season 1, Episode 6: “Welcome Home”
Directed by Craig William Macneill
Written by Nick Antosca, Don Mancini & Harley Peyton

* For a review of the penultimate episode, “Guest of Honor” – click here
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Here we are at the end of the road to Candle Cove.
Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) sees himself laying in bed with his brother Eddie (Luca Villacis). They read about Long John Silver, as Eddie talks about understanding “why he does what he does.”  Then Mike is in a field with Eddie. He talks about how the other kids, the bullies, let out the bad spirit in him. All the still living brother wants is his daughter Lily back. Eddie becomes the Tooth Child, stuffing a hand down Mike’s throat.


Still through the television, Lily speaks to Mike in his hazy state underneath the static. At the same time, Amy Welch (Luisa D’Oliveira) and Gary Yolen (Shaun Benson) search for Francis Booth (Marina Stephenson Kerr). They head into the woods to find her from where last she was seen. They hear someone walking in the trees nearby, Alex Fry (Keenan Lehmann). Seconds later they see Mrs. Booth, as well as her band of creepy kids, which include Gary’s own children Dane and Katie. He tries talking to them and tells the kids about their mother’s death. Yet the other children approach with knives in hand. Eventually he convinces the two to walk away with him.
Mike and his mother Marla (Fiona Shaw) argue about what’s happening next. He tells her that it involves giving himself over to Eddie a bit in order to get his daughter back. When Mike’s estranged wife Erica (Kristen Harris) shows up things get worrisome. She wants to know where Lily is, right now. It all sounds insane to Erica when Mike says she’s in a place “where only I can go.”
Further into the forest Amy discovers a small trailer. Inside is Alex, hiding in a corner. Silent and eerie. So she heads out to try tracking Francis down once more, that tricky old broad.
In the meantime, Mike heads out to the Crow’s Nest with Erica. They see Lily lying in a clearing, as the Tooth Child – Eddie – appears from the bushes. It reaches a hand out towards Mike, who goes to it. He kneels in front of the thing, as it puts a hand inside his mouth to take the toll which needs paying.


After Mike passes out, he wakes… somewhere else. A television set plays static. Outside, a storm crashes with thunder and lightning. Mike goes out into a hallway, a familiar one we saw in a flash during the first episode, and he tries the various doors until one opens. There he sees students sitting in their desks, bloody little faces and hands. They hiss at him. So back out he goes, as one would. Then at the end of the hallway something appears. It wears a wide brimmed hat, making growling, animalistic noises in the dark. It shakes free the hat and whatever else is has on. It slams against the walls, violently. When the thing runs at Mike, it disappears into thin air.
But something else is still at the end of the hall, made of straw or wicker, and it burns, walking towards Mike with a head full of fire, beating hands against its face. That creature too retreats into darkness leaving Mike by himself. He goes on down the hallway to another room. This one is covered in skin, hung and dried from the ceiling. Some fresher, some much older. Further in he sees Eddie lying in bed. Not only that, the Skin Taker is there, the other creature from the hall. A vile creature. “Hes part of me,” Eddie explains. The Skin Taker (Olivier de Sagazan) rips its face open to take Mike “inside.”
He finds his daughter in that dark hallway, pleading with his brother to let them go. Eddie says he made that place “for both of us.” And he’s pretty pissed that Mike killed him. He wants to trade places and go back to the real world. So Lily crawls through the television into reality, free from the clutches of Eddie and Candle Cove‘s influence.
What of Mike? Eddie prepares to go back home, and Mike tries to keep him there. He wants to finish their never ending card game. Can he manage to get himself out of that terrifying place? Can he thwart Eddie’s plan of becoming him, to be the one that “everyone trusts” with their kids? Yikes.

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Marla ends up confronting Francis, who taunts her over Eddie. The two women trade jabs. A really great scene for Marla, the way she describes Francis and her ugly side. Things don’t play well for Marla, once Mrs. Booth starts hacking into her. Lucky, though: Amy comes out of the forest and shoots the crazy old bitch, calling an ambulance for Marla. What a wild little moment there!
The card game is finished. All those cards laid out. “You can do good in the world,” Mike tells his brother. But Eddie’s been lost so long in the world of Candle Cove, there’s no changing his mind.
A few months later, life moves on. Amy has stepped up as Sheriff, she gives a press conference concerning Francis Booth and her vicious crimes, cluing up the Iron Hill Murders of 1988 after nearly three decades. Gary and his children try to pick up and begin again fresh somewhere new. Marla is alive and well, Erica and Lily set to head back home.
On the television at grandma’s house Lily sees Candle Cove playing suddenly, and dear ole dad comes in to shut it off. Only he isn’t dad anymore, is he? Or is he even alive?


Now we switch back to those few months prior. Marla stumbles onto her son lying in that field. We go back to see that Lily whispered something to her grandmother after getting home safe. And when she rushed out, heading for the field, it was to hold Mike’s airways shut, to suffocate his body in an effort to keep Eddie from returning.
Stuck together, the boys are left in that dreaded place with the Skin Taker, forever to live out their days with only themselves as company. In the real world, Marla goes on knowing that Mike was a good man, and now his daughter has a chance to live a normal life free from the reach of Candle Cove.

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What a fucking fantastic finale! It truly clued the season up nicely, the storyline and its plot weaved nicely together right to the finish. Very happy. Also, super excited to see the next season that’s already done filming, I believe. Looks intense, and judging by this season and its quality we have much to enjoy.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE: The Nasty Ballad of Harry Warden

My Bloody Valentine. 1981. Directed by George Mihalka. Screenplay by John Beaird from a story by Stephen A. Miller.
Starring Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight, Alf Humphreys, Cynthia Dale, Helene Udy, Rob Stein, Thomas Kovacs, Terry Wayerland, Carl Marotte, Jim Murchison, & Don Francks.
Canadian Film Development Corporation/Famous Players/Paramount Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes (Director’s Cut).

★★★★1/2
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-54-52-amThere are few slasher pictures which give me as much joy as 1981’s My Bloody Valentine. Many non-genre lovers will write this off as just another hack-and-slash serial killer romp, when it is, but it has so much more to offer than only being a toss away horror. In an era when horror was alive, kicking like nobody’s business, this George Mihalka-directed film is one of the greatest. That’s saying something.
This is easily Mihalka’s best work, having mostly dabbled in TV – from movies to series work. I’m not sure why he didn’t stick with the genre, honestly. Maybe this wasn’t as big a hit as expected. Certainly it’s gone on to cult status, with even the likes of Quentin Tarantino raving about it being his favourite of the slasher movies. Regardless, Mihalka does a fine job directing and he’s a big part of why it succeeds.
Having not seen My Bloody Valentine for about 5 years, I almost forgot how vicious it is as a slasher. I remembered loving it, yet throwing it on again recently I found myself pleasantly shocked by some of the death scenes. Better than any of the gory, messy havoc the killer wreaks is the chilling suspense that relentlessly pulls us into the story, only to have us watch victim after victim fall heartlessly (pun intended) to a terrifying menace.
screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-52-50-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-55-38-pmAlways have to do a good opener, and boy, this is a god damn knockout. With the female miner murdered down below ground we get an upsetting and gruesome kill to start off on, as well as the fact it contains such on the nose imagery with the heart tattoo over the woman’s heart, which is then pierced by the mining pick. You’d think this might play as cheesy, instead it’s appropriately nasty. Immediately, the title of the film is more than relevant. It joins the big seasonal horror names, standing alongside the greats like Black ChristmasHalloween, and the superstitiously named Friday the 13th. Much better than stuff like April Fool’s Day, which is still okay, and definitely leagues ahead of far lesser fare such as New Year’s Evil. Funny enough, screenwriter John Beaird did uncredited work on another slasher from ’81 – Happy Birthday to Me.
But My Bloody Valentine does belong up there with the greatest slashers of all time. The killings and the legend behind the story are chilling. One of those campfire-style tales you’d hear from a Scoutmaster trying to scare his troupe; a genuinely creepy story that would chill an adult as much as any kid. Moreover, apart from other holiday-themed horror, setting this film on Valentine’s Day of all days is a stroke of genius. Big corporations and media have already commercialised the day of Cupid to sickening lengths. Mihalka and the ghost of Harry Warden go further to desecrate a day about love by morphing it into a bloody, brutal horror affair, a day when the killer comes home to take revenge on those who celebrate the day of love. Only perfect and fitting that the colour of the day is bright red.
screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-10-33-pmSome of the greatness is in the cinematography. Unlike too many slashers with poor camerawork, the cinematography from Rodney Gibbons – likely the best of his career – is a standout aspect of the production. Over and over, great POV shots from the killer’s perspective turn up to haunt the viewer as victims are hunted like animal prey. The launderette scene is legitimately scary. Our killer is totally savage, but the mining outfit is unnerving, slick black and that mask; jesus! A few times these POV shots crop up and they benefit the suspense incredibly, giving a lot of scenes that perfect spook factor. So many of the kill scenes, all of them, are impressive, as the killer stalks in the darkest spaces, literally driving the plot underground where the tension raises to near unbearable heights. Once we’re down in the mines the look of the film gets even darker, the Sydney Mines in Nova Scotia providing an amazing feel for those scenes.
Aside from the appearance, filming in the mines was rough for the crew due to methane levels necessitating a measured use of lighting, and also in regards to the logistics of taking equipment (plus cast and crew) down to over 2,000 feet below ground. That’s intense. All worked, though. This Nova Scotia location could never have been replicated on a soundstage.
The best of the film is obviously the kills; always is the case with any proper slasher. Finding Mabel’s bloody, torn up corpse in the dryer of the launderette is one of the most shocking and visceral kills of any slasher flick; ever. The reaction from police chief Newby (Don Francks) is entirely appropriate, a horrified, sickening look from head to toe. Then the sadly ironic death of bartender Happy, setting up a Harry Warden scare, cackling to himself only to have the murderously real Warden pop up to stick a pick through his chin right up into his eyeball. Later, a girl dies in the shower and has the shower head spouting water out of her mouth, a creative and horrific death. The practical effects all around are vivid, scary, and unbelievably accomplished. Part of what sells the horror so well overall.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-24-37-amscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-12-27-13-amMy Bloody Valentine has very few flaws, if any, in terms of the genre. Even a nice score that changes from kill to kill in a unique way, courtesy of Paul Zaza (Prom NightCurtains), something that’s always welcome in a good horror. Mihalka does a sterling job in the directorial department, shame he didn’t go on to more creepiness.
Certain slashers do best for their atmosphere, letting the kills act as byproducts of the story and character. Some get the atmosphere just right and add in plenty of blood to slick the screen. This one is of the latter category. You can cut the tension with a knife in more than a handful of scenes. And really, if you find yourself lacking the necessary kill count or bloody onscreen then maybe you just want a splatter flick. Because this one brings the goods.
Ever since first seeing it, this film has stuck with me. I dig slashers, I don’t always need them to be truly awesome. Now and then I settle for one only for the fact it has a decent premise at the core; if it goes nowhere, at least maybe a couple gnarly kills can make up for a lack of compelling story. But Mihalka’s work here with the screenplay from John Beaird does wonders for the genre. More people need to see this, and stay away from the shit pile of a remake. This is a slasher that stands the test of time. It has a great look and even better murder. Let’s face it: the death is why we come. Everything else, for better or worse, is secondary.

WOLFEN’s Creatures are Social Animals

Wolfen. 1981. Directed by Michael Wadleigh. Screenplay by David Eyre & Wadleigh; based on the novel by Whitley Strieber, The Wolfen.
Starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines, Tom Noonan, Dick O’Neill, Dehl Berti, Peter Michael Goetz, Sam Gray, Ralph Bell, & Max M. Brown. Orion Pictures/King-Hitzig Productions.
Rated R. 115 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterIn the aim of transparency, I’m not a huge werewolf movie fan. Not my favourite of the sub-genres. That being said, when a horror gets it right there’s no telling how well it can turn out. There are well known classics, pinnacles of the sub-genre many people have seen before, some we all see each October leading into Halloween.
Michael Wadleigh’s 1981 cult classi Wolfen manages to use the werewolf trope in a different sense than just a slice of horror in which the blood spills freely. In fact, you could say this isn’t even a werewolf flick at all.
Starring Albert Finney and Edward James Olmos, this is a dose of crime, horror, with an icing of social commentary to sweeten the deal. If you want more substantial horror than just a werewolf running amok, Wolfen has what you need. As New York City is being terrorised by unseen killers, maniacs ripping people to shreds and leaving their corpses in the streets, one policeman has to come out of retirement to take on the bizarre case. Rather than work as a conventional werewolf horror movie, this takes on a crime-thriller-style plot with elements of a police procedural, all in order to make a statement about the plight of Native Americans specifically in big urban centres. When the wolves keep claiming victims, Dewey Wilson (Finney) comes across a man named Eddie Holt (Olmos), whose activist-like demeanour leads the cop to believe maybe there’s a greater mystery to what’s happening in his city.
pic2The wolfen themselves are a microcosmic metaphor for the displacement of Native Americans. Existing amongst a wasteland of urban America, they are natural beasts trapped in a concrete jungle; beautiful creatures captured in the cages of neighbourhoods neglected, nearly forgotten. Likewise, the wolves represent how Native Americans have been forced to assimilate over the years into white culture. The wolfen were once like gods amongst nature, they were shapeshifters, and still are. Their significance was much larger in the context of how Native Americans originally lived before the white man came to start their genocide. Native Americans were forced into urban slums, made to deny and forget their heritage, their tradition, even themselves as individuals. Up here in Canada, our own Holocaust involved indigenous peoples being put into residential schools where untold physical, sexual, and emotional abuse went on behind closed doors guarded fiercely by the Roman Catholic Church. So, there’s no denying this case. 
Wolfen
is an overall depiction of that as a horror metaphor. Once a forest, the inner neighbourhoods of New York City are now the wolfen’s hunting ground. The animals live in a run down, busted up church; ironic, as they use this faded relic for their hideout, a way of turning the church’s use and meaning back against it by claiming the now abandoned building for their own. This could also be a statement on how the church failed the Native Americans, or better yet how the church led a large part of the attack on their culture in the first place. Urban decay in the late ’70s and early ’80s forced the wolfen into the open, as they begin the murder spree prompting Dewey Wilson’s involvement in the case. In a way, the murders come as an overdue act of revenge against the imperialist American empire of white men trying to eradicate Native American culture from society.
In the end, isn’t this evident in the way Dewey lowers his weapon to the wolfen? Faced with shooting the wolfen, he instead drops his gun and then destroys a model of city skyscrapers, rejecting what he sees as the further spread of his race’s deepening manifest destiny obsession.
pic2I told you, man: its all in the head.”

I often talk about the visceral nature of certain horrors. Directors and cinematographers can use particular techniques in horror to help us feel perfectly situated in the POV of characters, whether that be a victim or a killer is up to what type of story they’re trying to tell. In regards to Wadleigh I have nothing to really gauge his work against here. Cinematographer Gerry Fisher has done a few interesting films, such as See No Evil, Man in the Wilderness, The Offence, and John Huston’s Flannery O’Connor adaptation Wise Blood. In all those his work was fantastic. Together with Wadleigh, he gives Wolfen a chilling look and atmosphere.
I bet a lot of people who haven’t seen this movie don’t realise Predator wasn’t the first to bring thermal camera work to the forefront as a prominent technique. This is the movie to start it. Thermal vision is how Wadleigh puts us into the killer’s perspective. I mean, you know who the killers are, right? Can’t be hard to guess. Well, the viewer is given a unique perspective, as not just getting to see through the eyes of the wolves (something we’ve seen before with different animals) , it is an extensive point of view that takes us inside the actual murders. So there’s an adrenaline factor, watching the kills. Added to that, the practical special effects are phenomenal. Yes, I love the severed head! I don’t care. Much better than the severed head at the end of Friday the 13th. One specific kill sees us approach a man, thermal vision providing an odd experience, then the unseen wolfen rips out his throat; normally, this would be standard. Wadleigh makes it interesting with jump cuts, giving us an intriguing effect together with the bloody throat. A must see moment, in my mind. One of my favourites in the genre. The thing that gets me spooked for the longest time is that we don’t see the wolves killing, at all. In that jump cut kill, you can’t even see anything biting or slashing the guy, his throat simply opens up like a gory smile. While there’s a strong idea the wolves are the killers early on – plus the god damn movie is called Wolfen! – the unseen killer always freaks me out. Combine that with thermal vision, practical effects on a high level, Wadleigh’s direction and the way the film is shot generally what I consider perfect horror.
pic1This is yet another classic horror with a cross into crime. Social commentary is one thing; Romero did all that within a zombie picture. Wolfen successfully comments on the situation of Native Americans in modern day America, as well as tells the story of a policeman with a very down to earth view of his city, who goes on to find out there’s an altogether different side to what he’s known so long. Finney is classic with plenty of great lines to reel off throughout, as is Olmos in a raw role with plenty of chances to be equally frightening and exciting. Not enough time in the day to talk about everything Wolfen does perfectly. If you’re a werewolf fan and haven’t seen it yet, get on that. Halloween is calling and it’s one of those nice fits for a cold, quiet October night.
And listen – did you hear something out there? A voice? A howl?
Who knows. Maybe it was just all in my head.

Quarry – Season 1, Episode 4: “Seldom Realized”

Cinemax’s Quarry
Season 1, Episode 4: “Seldom Realized
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy

* For a review of the previous episode, “A Mouthful of Splinters” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Coffee Blues” – click here
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On the dirty floor of a bathroom, Suggs (Kurt Yaeger) strips off his clothes, covered partly in leeches hanging off his wounds. He manages to cut them free with his buck knife before having a little laugh. Like you would.
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Poor Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) is worried about the whole situation, after Joni (Jodi Balfour) spent time under the thumb of Suggs, who’s loose out there. Mac tells Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) over the phone that things need to get sorted, so he can go home. I love this part because we see Mac hiding out in a little motel, one with a dirty, closed pool. Yet he has a swim anyway; it’s in his bones, swimming. I wonder if we’ll see more on that because it’s obviously a big part of his life.
For now he tries to keep under the radar. To keep his wife safe, no matter their differences. A knock soon comes at their motel door. Joni readies a gun, just in case. Looks like it’s only housekeeping. Who can blame her? She was abducted, terrible things nearly happened to her. Things aren’t easy between the married couple, though. She cheated on him a bunch as he served in Vietnam; he returned the favour after getting home and discovering this fact. Mac’s involved with the Broker (Peter Mullan), doing bad things that got his buddy Arthur shot, stuff that Joni has no idea about. So the secrets between these two are thick enough to choke a horse. Plus, who knows what else Suggs will get up to now.
Speaking of the one-legged bastard, he’s made himself at home – in Mac and Joni’s house. He takes a shower, looks around. This is going to get ugly. Interestingly, Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) and his partner Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) happen by the place. Tommy wants to talk with Joni, although after a couple knocks they get pulled away on a call. Fate almost pulled a good one.

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Life at the motel moves slowly. Mac talks about back in the day, Joni looks disillusioned with everything. They end up arguing a bit about starting a family. “Like you woulda made such a great fuckinmother, huh?” Mac spits at her before walking away. He winds up helping the motel owner, Harlowe (Bill Irwin), to try getting the pool back in working shape. At the same time a man in a nice car shows up, spooking Mac. Meanwhile, Suggs is posing as a Memphis detective looking for Joni at the newspaper where she works.
In the background at the motel, Olympic coverage plays. A swimmer named Spitz competes heartily. At the same time Mac hallucinates, seeing that Asian mask draped over the television; cutting to a vision of him in combat boots, falling in the water and reaching for the same Asian mask floating nearby. Then Joni gets back with beer, acting very unfair towards Mac by bringing up his military service. Seems that nowadays he has nobody on his side, not even her like it was first when he got home: “I needed you,” she tells him when he tells her that his men needed him (re: his 2nd tour of duty). There’s an in-depth look at how combat changes people. Particularly vicious combat, as it was during the war in Vietnam. He tries to explain it to her, about how swimming in a pool at home wasn’t comfortable for him while his “brothers” were over there, getting killed and brutalised. He also wanted to do something to make her proud.
Well, on her way for ice Joni bumps into the man in the nice car, the one who showed up the last time we saw the motel manager. He starts asking Joni questions, about where she and Mac are headed. Hmm. Back at the room – after getting a joint from a lady named Shaynie (Ariadne Joseph) – Joni gets high and relaxes a bit, remembering better days (“Mac nJoni nCheese“), before her husband cleans the wound on her back and patches it up again. They come together a bit, but Mac can’t face their harsher realities just yet. He heads to hang out with Harlowe again for a while.
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Suggs has a kid named Billy (Joshua Mikel) tracking down numbers for him; he’s trying to figure out where Joni called in sick from to keep tracking her. Tricky, tricky. And he’s cold blooded, too. Instead of paying his pal, he shoots him right between the eyes – there’s your service charge, ya bastard!
At the motel, Mac watches live on television as word from the Munich Olympics in ’72 comes on about the massacre perpetrated by Black September. Mac’s so desensitised he barely takes time to contemplate the implications of what’s happening. But he does have other things to worry about, such as: who’s driving that fancy car? He pokes around a bit before the guy notices. He asks Harlowe a bit about him, though nothing big comes of that. Then while the motel manager is running around doing a few things, unbeknown to him Suggs calls and finds out the location of Mac and Joni. They’re caught up arguing in the room. Gets fairly rough. “You have no fuckinidea about over there, you understand me? You have not a fucking clue,” Mac screams at her after she accuses him of banging Vietnamese prostitutes. Afterwards, she drops a bit of nastiness about him being “too busy killing women and children” to do anything else over there. His paranoia boils over when he runs to the fancy car man’s room and nearly tears the place apart, believing it’s somebody in cahoots with Suggs. What a doozy of a scene.
Finally ready to talk, Mac asks about Joni and Cliff. Simultaneously we see Suggs pulling up outside the motel. Just as Joni asks her husband about whether he killed Cliff, a knock at the door – it’s Suggs, who kills Harlowe before pistol whipping Mac brutally. An amazing, quick gunfight breaks out when Joni fires a bullet into Suggs’ face, skimming him. Then the woman Mac kept seeing around the motel steps in, putting another couple right in the bad dude to put him down; a headshot to be sure. Turns out the Broker’s had her sitting on the place. A great, unsuspecting choice. Love it. She tells the married couple to flee, and flee they do indeed.

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Back safely in their house Mac explains his relationship with the Broker, how Arthur got into business with him awfully fast. So, above all else, the truth comes out between he and Joni. I mean every last little morsel of honesty. He confesses to the murder of Cliff, her former lover. I wonder how this will ultimately affect their relationship going forward? Joni doesn’t appear overly surprised, though that doesn’t mean she’s happy, either. “How did this become our life?” she asks, exhausted by it all. Mac can only try and apologise, for everything. He’s a gentleman about it all. Offering to leave if she wants, explaining he’ll understand if she calls the police. But really, he wants them to move on. To live life and rekindle their love. Can they ever actually do that?
One thing’s for sure – for all that’s happened, Joni loves Mac. Let’s hope they can make it after all. Because you know there is a lot more struggle to come.
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Another spectacular episode. One of my favourites out of the quartet so far.
Next up is “Horla” and I’m excited to see more of the Broker, Buddy, Karl, and the crew.

Marx & Engels Horror: THE MAN IN THE ORANGE JACKET

The Man in the Orange Jacket. 2014. Directed & Written by Aik Karapetian.
Starring Anta Aizupe, Maxim Lazarev, & Aris Rozentals.
Jarve Studio/Locomotive Productions.
Not Rated. 71 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterI don’t always look at films through an analysis of metaphor. Only when it’s really there and evident do I tread into that kind of territory. Aik Karapetian’s The Man in the Orange Jacket is a deeply unsettling work that doubles as a psycho-horror film and also a political metaphor born in blood.
Billed as Latvia’s first foray into horror cinema, Karapetian’s film draws on the Marx-Engels partnership of writing. He represents their idea of communism as a spectre, a ghost, as well as the figurative and literal class struggles represented in the killer (and who he kills). Maybe sounds a bit lofty, right? Yeah, it does. It’s all there, though. Not a perfect Marxian film by any means. However, the way Karapetian begins his film, the context in which he places the characters, these elements together speak to something else than a horror with a few blood spattered scenes. The titular man in the orange jacket’s actions at the beginning, the catalyst for everything afterwards, become an all too real metaphor for the struggle necessary for the proletariat to overcome the bourgeoisie.
What follows is the man discovers being a part of the bourgeois class isn’t without its prices: selling your soul and becoming a ghost of yourself.
img_3974The film’s opening act (each act is stylishly labelled in roman numerals before it commences) is phenomenal. Moreover, you’d think it might keep going on the track of operating as a run of the mill slasher. It has a similar feeling to the 1983 horror Angst, which is later emulated in some of the cinematography during the home invasion. You feel like the story’s going to be centred on a random maniac. And it is, in a way. But right off the bat we see that a big businessman has cut a ton of jobs after his workers go on strike, planning on going for a luxurious trip to sidestep the madness, and one of his workers – the man in that orange jacket – sneaks quietly into his home, murdering him and his wife. This sets up the idea of class struggle, even if it were to play out as a typical slasher. Also note that he kills the boss and his wife with a hammer and screwdriver, still wearing his orange jacket (a reflective orange safety vest): these are the tools and uniform of the proletariat.
The concept deepens when the man decides, after tucking the bodies away in plastic, to get comfortable, enjoy some fancy food in a restaurant dressed up in an expensive suit and tie, eat his boss’ food and drink his wine, lounging in the lap of the bourgeoisie. It’s after this that the house starts to feel haunted. In fact, after the bodies are wrapped up the man heads for a jog through the forest, and coupled with an incredible piece of classical music this sequence feels dreamlike. A long, steady tracking shot takes us floating through the scene rather than simply move, then suddenly we’re back in the big house and the man’s listening to the music through headphones; edited seamlessly. So once the strange noises start, we’re already made to feel as if it could all be in his head. This feeling only continues and becomes more credible with further scenes that are suspiciously dreamy.
img_3975img_3976Once he takes off the orange jacket, he sheds the skin of the proletariat. He puts on an expensive suit, a watch, he eats at an expensive restaurant (like a pig with his fingers and slurping on soup and wine in sharp contrast). He sits in front of a lavish chess set, though makes no moves to play it. This is when the noises start and the house feels strange, haunted by a spectre, or spectres. Now that the man has filled his life up with material things, consuming commodities like they’re going out of style, he has forgotten who he is exactly. The man has lost himself. How quickly we forget who we were, from where we came. He doesn’t realise who he is anymore. The man starts having dreams: he sees a vision of himself in a bathtub, being drowned by himself – the man in the orange jacket. Later, he sees a man in an orange jacket across the lake, and asks why he’s loitering, as if there’s something wrong.
After getting lonely in the big spooky house, the man orders a couple prostitutes. Watching them swim, he slips into a dream. Or is it? He’s back in the orange jacket again. Stalking, hunting women in the green forest. One minute he’s by the pool, next he’s murdering with the tool box in his hand again. Then back to the pool. There’s a point where he slips between the personalities: he urinates in the pool, contrary to all the high class act he’s been putting on. For a minute, he is both the bourgeois and proletariat version of himself, jumping from lower to upper class in a heartbeat.
The creepiest is when he sees the man with the orange jacket inside the house; that spectre of himself, of communism, is coming for him to violently overthrow the system once more. Except the man has no face. No longer is it just him; the man in the orange jacket is anybody, faceless in the masses. Gradually the face returns, but for a while it is a ghastly blank slate. And outside, it’s turned to winter. Seasons have passed, it seems, all in the man’s ignorant bliss of upper class living. Never are we sure what’s happened, or what’s happening. The only sure thing is the man has lost himself inside that house, as well as inside his head.
img_3977Karapetian’s film is 4&1/2 stars for me. A great slice of horror cinema, with doses of blood, nastiness, and also a brain. In the final shot, lingering into the credits, Karapetian focuses on a painting – some rich, haughty king/nobleman, wearing fur and the like, stares down on the man. Earlier in the film the painting is noticeably visible, as if the old aristocracy is staring down on him, us, all the time. By the time everything is over, we’re no longer totally sure if what we’ve seen is the truth, if it’s all metaphor. Maybe I’m totally wrong. There might be no class struggle at the heart of The Man in the Orange Jacket. Karapetian could’ve intended this as a mind trip with no real aim, only to explore the psychosis of a murderer suddenly drawn into action.
I choose to see further than that. The man in orange is a man gone mad within the socioeconomic structure of his town. He’s succumbed to the forces of capitalism in a violent way, choosing to overcome his boss in an act of murder, assuming his life and achieving some semblance of class mobility. Only that drives him mad. And what we witness is the morbid, thrilling ride he undergoes while climbing from one class to the next.
When you’ve come to the end (I don’t want to spoil any more than I have), you see that the cycle of class struggle is endless. Those who came from the bottom often forget this, forget themselves, only to find themselves lost in a brutish world of their making. It repeats itself, doubling in, like the man seeing himself as the vision of a murderer coming to kill him. Marx and Engels might find great meaning in this horror. Or they might chastise me for buying it from Google Play.

ABATTOIR’s Old School Nightmare Fuel

Abattoir. 2016. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Christopher Monfette.
Starring Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye, Michael Paré, Dayton Callie, Bryan Batt, John McConnell, Aiden Flowers, Jay Huguley, J. LaRose, Thomas Francis Murphy, Terence Rosemore, Julianne Alexander, Brian Oerly, & Charles Barber. Dark Web Productions/Les Enfants Terribles/Luminary Entertainment.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
abattoirposterI dig Darren Lynn Bousman’s career as a director, for the most part. He directed my second favourite Saw film after the original, the third and twisty entry into the franchise. Then there’s Mother’s DayThe Devil’s Carnival, and his segment from Tales of Halloween. In between are a few other, lesser pieces of work, but still, he keeps swinging for the weird and the wild, and sometimes the unexpected.
Abattoir hit me out of nowhere. I’d not read anything about it, only that Bousman also did it in comic form, as well as plans lots of exciting stuff to come including more issues of the comic and possibly a sequel. What does it for me is that screenwriter Christopher Monfette keeps this as a slow burn story crossing over from real, criminal horror into a supernatural nightmare world. I consider this a modern Gothic tale of grief. Perhaps the thing I find most interesting about the story is how the villainous man with whom the protagonist eventually struggles, Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie), doesn’t actually show up in a real appearance until fairly late in the film. We carry along for much of the time with Julia Talben (Jessica Lowndes), the plight of her situation engaging enough to keep the viewer hooked. But gradually, out come the frights. And by the end you’ll either be tormented by Jebediah, or you’ll crave another tale from Bousman’s Abattoir.
abattoir1ab·at·toir
abəˌtwär
noun

  1. a slaughterhouse

I’m forever a fan of films that mix up the genres a little. Like how Julia has such a good relationship with Grady (Joe Anderson), an officer of the law, so part of Abattoir works as an investigation. A deadly home invasion leads to Julia sleuthing in an attempt at figure out the mysteries of her family, as she’s left the only living member. As the mysteries begin unravelling, the plot becomes Gothic, and the past touches the present. Julia pieces everything together at the same pace as the audience, allowing for maximum tension in certain scenes. Particularly, once Allie (Lin Shaye in another great horror role) shows up there’s a nicely accomplished drop of exposition, when she goes into master storytelling detail about the burning question: who is Jebediah Crone?
If something could be done to offend heaven, it was done here.”
The concept alone of Abattoir is beyond intriguing. Almost daring you to imagine – how? – then by the time Crone actually arrives and we begin to understand his ultimate goal, his master plan, Bousman takes us for a morbid ride through a scary place. For the longest time, Callie’s Crone is unseen, only in extreme close-ups of his suit, his jawline, not fully visible for over 40 minutes. Then, seeing him has more effect. He appears in an old film reel, our first real introduction to him. His preaching sounds like that of a maniac. Not long after, the murder starts, which only gets more insane. Without spoiling too much, Callie is awesome as Jebediah. He is genuinely unpleasant, giving Crone a disturbing air. The way he plays the character without too much flair is typical of Callie; he’s a meat and potatoes-type actor, whose talent is immense and nonchalant at once. They make him look especially crazy with the hair and his ancient suit. Having him not arrive fully until so late is the perfect touch for his character. As if we’re seeing the man behind the curtain in horrific glory.
Something about the way things feel gives this a strange feeling of not taking place in modern day – even though it does – and like we’re back in the ’60s, or who knows when. The art design, the sets, even some of the clothing, the performances; in each of these areas, Bousman offers up a heady mix of atmosphere. The cinematography helps, although much of this is accomplished in how the acting plays, and how the locations/sets look. Certain CGI effects aren’t helpful in that respect. They’re okay, but take away a little from some greatness. If it weren’t for that, Abattoir would be close to perfection in modern horror.
abattoir3The scene when Allie shows Julia and Grady the film reel is pretty intense. The way it’s projected on the wall, the rickety sound of the film flowing through the projector, then the bits of fingers and blood on the floor of the church where Crone preaches is a grim reminder of how real everything is, no matter its supernatural twist. “Better living through sin and sacrifice,” Allie explains. You’re god damn right. The viscera splattered everywhere beneath the feet of Crone, who sells the citizens of that little town a bill of violence, is so brief that I’m amazed how effective this one shot was for me. That’s a small testament to some of the imagery in this film.
Another moment, one that reoccurs in a couple scenes, is when the unnerving townspeople appear in the dark. The first time we see this is when Julia looks for information at a town services office; while being all but kicked out the door, she sees a group of people, barely covered by the shadows and standing just beyond a doorway. Creepier still is when they hover in the shadows around Allie’s bed, inching into the light. A simple, affecting image. This second time is super ominous since that’s when we finally see more of Jebediah in the present, instead of simply on an old recording. Furthermore, the nailbiting thrills start coming at a quicker pace, propelling things forward to all that morbid horror fun I cherish.
abattoirA 4-star bit of horror. Might even be in the top 20 for me since 2000. Bousman works hard as a horror director. He consistently, since his work on Saw, tries tossing things up, shaking the genre, seeing what comes out. Not always great. Sometimes, it’s amazing. Abattoir is an incredibly tense work at its best of times; horrifying and nasty, too. Jessica Lowndes does a fantastic job in the lead role, as do Joe Anderson, Dayton Callie, and Lin Shaye at her side in the supporting roles. You’ll get a nice dose of horror, from straight up blood to ghostly haunting to Gothic-style madness. There’s plenty to enjoy here. Parts of this really thrilled me. Other scenes got under my skin and gave me the chills. For whatever reason, I haven’t stopped thinking about Abattoir since I was lucky enough to enjoy experiencing it.

Aquarius – Season 2, Episode 13: “I Will”

NBC’s Aquarius
Season 2, Episode 13: “I Will”
Directed by Jonas Pate
Written by Mike Moore

* For a review of the penultimate Season 2 episode, “Mother Nature’s Son” – click here
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Season 2 finale, we’re here! I hope there’ll be more. Although because of NBC not treating the show with proper respect it deserves I’m not holding my breath on Season 3.
This possible series finale begins on August 7th of ’69 in the early morning hours. Former detective Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) is start off retirement by trying to track the killer of women who recently rang him up at home. Sam heard a fire engine going, so he tries to track down any calls in that area to narrow things down. Alongside is Officer Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) doing her best to help. He soon comes up with where he believes the perp to be, the neighbourhood he seems to remember from some time ago. He follows the man into a diner; his name is Gerald Dunn, they shake hands. Sam begins an uneasy conversation with Dunn. Neither willing to openly say anything about why they’re there. Except Hodiak makes clear he’s eager for retirement: “Kinda looking forward to doing whatever I want. To whoever I want. Ill see youround, Gerald.”
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Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne) has the money from his wife, and I assume Hal Banyin (Spencer Garrett), as well. He’s brought some for Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony). Brought a bit of lovin’, too. Yowzahs. Doesn’t help him or his daughter being involved with Mr. Manson. Especially after he starts hearing more about Charlie’s “Helter Skelter” prophecy.
Over at the precinct, Ed Cutler (Chance Kelly) isn’t happy about Charmain or Detective Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) doing their respective things. He’s funny, though, and that’s all right. Poor junkie Shafe is suffering through his addiction AND not having his wife Kristin (Milauna Jackson) around anymore.
For the time being, Sam enjoys a little respite from murders, dead women and such. He and Billie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) have a bit of breakfast. She isn’t too thrilled about his addiction to chasing down suspects. I guess she’s right about him, and at the same time he only wants to do good. Speaking of which, he’s got Dt. Shafe knocking on Mr. Dunn’s door, hauling him down to the station while Sam Goes for a look inside the house.
And what does he find? A secret, nasty little dark room. Photographs everywhere. At the station, Gerald prints #1 DETECTIVE and SAMSON BENEDICT HODIAK, over and over on a pad of paper. Oh, he is a creepy man.

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With everything going on, Grace Karn (Michaela McManus) is trying to keep her head straight. She finally reveals to her political lady friend the truth about her daughter Emma (Emma Dumont). Where’s Emma, exactly? Heading out on a “creepy crawly” and trying to calm her father down. He’s worried for his daughter. His sad, brainwashed, pregnant daughter. Charlie’s sending Tex (Cameron Deane Stewart) off on a mission. To do some terrifying things; painting the walls with blood, using knives. It’s August 8th, after all. Soon enough, Sharon Tate, among others, will be bleeding to death tragically. Because Charlie’s reading to “make history.”
Meanwhile, Shafe has to let Gerald go. He and Hodiak know this is the killer, but alas – the law. Charmain helps the fellas figure out an important piece to Gerald’s story; he was married to a pin-up girl who wound up dead, just like the women he murders and poses.
Out on their mission, Tex, Sadie (Ambyr Childers) and the others start Helter Skelter into motion, as Tex murders a man in his car up the driveway to their destination.
Hodiak finds pictures of him in the developed rolls of Gerald. He then rushes to a crime scene where Billie lies murdered viciously. Now, we see where this is all leading.
Charlie rambles on to Ken about his race war plan and hiding beneath the Grand Canyon, as his “children” head inside the Tate house. Tex continues his murderous rampage: “Im the devil, and Im here to do the devils business,” he eerily explains to one of his victims. Watching on, the pregnant Emma is horrified by what comes next. One by one, people are dispatched violently.

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At home, Gerald is gathering up some things. Problem is that Sam Hodiak has come to pay him a visit, gun in hand. Seems that Billie got a vicious beating, no typical M.O. from Dunn. And so Sam starts in on the guy: “Im gonna hurt you, Gerald. Im gonna hurt you until you tell me everything.” The whole thing comes down to Dunn being put in jail by Sam, not being there to protect his wife when she was killed. But Gerald taunts, wanting to get shot. Shafe turns up to convince Sam otherwise. We discover the dead woman was in fact Billie’s sister; still awful. At least she wasn’t also brutally killed.
The Tate house is being absolutely torn apart. Tex puts a knife in Emma’s hand and commands her to go finish off anybody that’s left. She only warns a man staying in the guest house not to come outside, or make a peep. The Manson Family starts to leave, as Emma witnesses the last of the killings take place, a horrified look in her eyes. Once it’s all over they write “something witchy” on the wall for their master. Simultaneously, Ken and Charlie have an intense confrontation leading to Karn’s death.
When everyone shows up again, Manson flips because none of his little plans turned out appropriately. No witchy words other than PIG, knives left behind. He throws a tantrum, deciding he and Emma are headed back to the Tate house.
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So does Sam kill Gerald?
Mans a sick animal,” Hodiak explains to Billie, as she pleads for him not to shoot Dunn. It takes every ounce of will power in him not to, but Sam doesn’t shoot after all. He relinquishes the gun and hugs Billie with all his strength.
Over at the crime scene, Charlie orders Emma to get things done. They fix the place up a bit to his liking, although it’s still an absolutely horrific thing to see. For a second time, Emma leaves the house, nearly 6 in the morning on August 9th. Tex clears Ken’s body out back at Spahn Ranch. Everything’s in (dis)order.
At the station, everybody hears about the murder concerning Sharon Tate and her friends. Big time news, as Cutler takes the call. He even opts to tell Hodiak “you just unquit.” Things are about to get serious for the whole of Los Angeles. The Hollywood Divison station is gone mad.
Over at the Tate house, Shafe is covered in blood and holding the medallion Emma left behind. You know, the one Sam gave to Emma awhile back. Ah, the deeper connection for Hidoak to this case has come out.
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What a fucking fantastic episode! Gruesome, intense, gritty. All sorts of aspects that makes this series excellent. Again, I can only hope they’ll renew the show. If not, we’re left with a lot of interesting things that could have and SHOULD HAVE been.
Please, NBC: do the right thing. At least give them a Season 3 to clue up on a proper note. I want to see Hodiak on the hot trail looking for the Manson Family, all the while junkie Shafe trying to piece together his life and do his job, PLUS WE NEED MORE CHARMAIN TULLY! Please and thank you.

Aquarius – Season 2, Episode 12: “Mother Nature’s Son”

NBC’s Aquarius
Season 2, Episode 12: “Mother Nature’s Son”
Directed by David Duchovny
Written by Sera Gamble

* For a review of the previous episode, “Can You Take Me Back?” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “I Will” – click here
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The penultimate Season 2 episode of Aquarius starts on August 9th of ’69. Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) holds his gun on the killer who’s been tormenting him these many, many months.
Cut to Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony) raving at Bobby Beausoleil (Mark L. Young) and Sadie (Ambyr Childers). He says the need to “get to the desert” where they’re headed, y’know to the City of Gold where he believes they’ll be spending time during the coming race war. Madness, Charlie. They’ve got their eyes on the guy who provided them with mescaline for weird Hal Banyin (Spencer Garrett), a fella named Gary Hinman (Jefferson White). Might be trouble.
Hodiak is in bed with Billie Gunderson (Olivia Taylor Dudley) enjoying his newfound retirement. At the station, Detective Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) is struggling to contain his heroin habit. He’s now a full blown junkie, all the way.
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Finally we see a little more about Walt Hodiak (Chris Sheffield). His father goes to see him and now Walt is deciding to recant, not wanting to rot away in jail for the rest of his life. Sad that he has to go against his own personal principles, though. Sometimes that’s what American justice is: a load of shit.
Unsuspecting Gary finds Bobby and Sadie show up to see him. And things get nasty real quick. The poor guy doesn’t have much more for them to take, so naturally Sadie and Bobby get pissed off. That won’t mean anything good, for anybody.
I keep anticipating how Shafe is going to end up where we’ve seen him in the flash-forwards to those fateful August nights. For now he’s out doing detective work, generally getting things done. A bit of a close call with bossman Ed Cutler (Chance Kelly) nearly outs his drug addiction. Later, at a god damn crime scene after collaring a murderer, Brian decides to shoot up out behind the house. Like a maniac. He’s fallen awfully far.
An explosion on a university campus has Officer Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) riled up. She thinks she can find proof for her superiors. Is it back into the field for Charmain? Hope so. She’s awesome.
Sadie rambles to Gary about “the end of the world” that Charlie speaks about. All the guy can do is give up a couple cars for them to take. Along for the ride, Mary (Abby Miller) doesn’t take part in any of it, though can’t stop anything either. If any of you know who Himan was in real life, or Beausoleil, you know what’s coming. On the phone, Charlie tells Bobby what to do, by appealing to his wounded past. That was the biggest problem Manson posed to those around him, he preyed on the weak. Just like the chicken hawks he rages against during his phone call with Bobby. Eerie conversation.
Then there’s Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne), whose conflict of being a hardline Republican on the Nixon team and being gay continually butt heads. He’s trying to crawl his way back from the scandal of being exposed. Who knows what he’ll do next.
OH, and surprise, surprise: Shafe lost his murderer. Nowhere to be found. Good job, junkie.
Charmain gets back to her old friend from undercover. Except she knows that Charmain is a cop. So the girl is given the deal: help, or go down with the idiot running things.

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Using an actual bit of history, Manson shows up at Hinman’s place. Brandishing a sword and claiming: “I need a thousand dollars.”
The best yet is that Shafe is almost ready to face the music when his murderer, Jeff, pops up in the seat behind him. Hilarious. Then he takes the detective on a nice chase. Imagine being high as fuck on heroin and having to run after a guy covered in blood? Crazy. Shafe shoots the guy in the ass to slow him down.
Charlie gives Gary a nice slice across the face when he doesn’t get what he wants. You can see lots of details about the actual event and case right here. And there’s plenty more to come.
Sam and Walt try to do a bit of bonding at home. Father Hodiak talks about once having to leave a man behind during his time at war: “Every morning I wake up and sometime between standing up and coffee I remember, oh, Im a coward.” Everything comes down hard on his son. Much as Sam tries, Walt believes he’s failed everybody; his fellow soldiers, his mother, his own cause. “You can hold a conviction and still make the decision to live,” Walt tells him.
With all sorts of leverage against people around him, Ken tries to work his way back up from nothing. His back is against the wall, so he tries to push back against both his own wife Grace (Michaela McManus) and Hal. He gets what he wants while blackmailing and fighting as dirty as it gets.

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Hodiak gets a call at his place from the killer who’s been leaving him pictures of women in terrible distress. He taunts Sam, challenging him to “use that celebrated brain” and come get him.
Things are getting darker for Hinman. He tries to get Mary to help him out, but it’s no use. Manson has them all wrapped around his finger, and he shows up once again. Sinister plans ahead. When Mary tries to let Gary go she’s caught in the act. Charlie makes her play some piano while Bobby stabs Hinman to death before smearing blood on the walls. “That is shot one of the revolution,” says Charlie.
A cop ends up finding Bobby Beausoleil in his car with blood on his arms after the young man falls asleep in his car at the roadside. Uh oh.

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Back to that opener, as we see Hodiak on August 9th of ’69, confronting the killer he’s been seeking out. Shafe comes down into the basement trying to stop him from pulling the trigger.
Will he?
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An absolutely fascinating penultimate episode for this season. Cannot wait to watch “I Will” and see what the finale will give us. I know NBC is going to dump this and they likely won’t get a Season 3, however, a guy can hope. I dig this series, for all its faults. Lots of fun. Fingers crossed on a renewal.

American Gothic – Episode 13: “Whistler’s Mother”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 13: “Whistler’s Mother”
Directed by Greg Beeman
Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff & Aaron Fullerton

* For a review of Episode 12, “Madame X” – click here
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The finale is here – “Whistler’s Mother” you may remember is the informal name given to Arrangements in Grey and Black, which is the first episode of this mini-series. Why that painting, you wonder? This last episode in particular and yet so much of these episode has consisted of a focus on who?
Mama Hawthorne.
Everybody’s out voting for Mayor of Boston. Madeline (Virginia Madsen) is worrying about the “crazed dollmaker” after her family. So she has private security watching the house, and her paranoia is high. Tess (Megan Ketch) and Cam (Justin Chatwin), along with Jack (Gabriel Bateman), are down at the Alison Hawthorne (Juliet Rylance) campaign HQ. Even Garrett (Antony Starr) turns up to support his sister.
But nobody’s seen Alison. Where could she be?
Over at the station, Detectives Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Brady Ross (Elliot Knight) lay the whole case with the new evidence out for everybody. Then Brady gets a call from his wife, worrying about her sister. Now, they’re worried the accomplice is very, very close to the campaign.
We all know from last episode it’s Naomi.
Or is it? That secret she had was all about union workers, supposedly. A background check proves Naomi has always been Naomi. A dead end. Ahhh, tricky. Only problem is the cops are still at square one. And who could be the accomplice?
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Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) ends up at the Hawthorne door. She wants a few pictures before heading off for good. At the campaign HQ, Jack is starting to feel the effects of not having his mother around; he reads too much. Simultaneously, Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno) has turned up to reconcile with Garrett. She’s planning to move to San Francisco and hopes he’ll go. Although he doesn’t want to leave his family, not after everything.
The detectives go to the grave of SBK’s wife, to see if maybe someone comes to visit. He has an epiphany about the cherry blossoms on Sophie’s neck. Just like the ones at the graveyard. And all alone in the mansion with Madeline, we find Stephanie revealing herself a bit more. Most of all after she plants a needle in her former mother-in-law’s neck. Jesus. I honestly never saw any of this coming.
Where do we go from here? Well, Madeline gets tied up for the time being. Sophie talks more about her life, her mother, her father and his ‘art’ of sorts. Seems SBK got his kill list, for him and his daughter, from the donors at the hospital. She tells us that the bells were there to symbolise the one thing that could save their victim stays “just out of reach.” When Cam turns up things get tricky. She reveals their love stayed her want for revenge, but of course things went sour.
Everyone’s closing in now. Will they make it to the mansion in time? Or will Sophie enact the last breaths of her plan for revenge? Looks like she managed to at least strangle Madeline.
Cam manages to get a gun and point it at Sophie. But Garrett doesn’t want him to kill anyone, not like he did, and to have to live with those memories the rest of his life. He prevents Cam from making a terrible decision. Yet Sophie makes off into the night once more.
In other news, Alison wins her bid for Mayor of Boston. What good is that when your family’s being hunted? Small victories, I suppose.
The Hawthorne family is devastated. For all her faults, it’s still not nice to have your mother murdered. And to have been infiltrated so deeply by SBK’s daughter, his accomplice. Just, staggering. Brady kicks himself for not seeing it sooner, though Cutter tries to assure him he couldn’t have known, and at least now they DO know. They came around to becoming better friends and partners throughout the entire ordeal.

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Skip to a year later. Everyone is doing well, Tess and Brady have their child, Cam and his lady friend are getting closer finally. The family is okay after all. Somehow. There’s still creepy Jack. Who knows how they’ll eventually end up. Naomi and Alison are together, happy. Then Garrett and Christina show up with their own little family.
With his little bear still holding his mom’s recorded voice, Jack stands alone listening to it, wondering when she’ll come back to take him. Because a normal life is not what he wants. He’s got that nasty gene somewhere deep down.
We discover more of the secrets hiding amongst the Hawthornes. Alison knew a long while ago that Sophie was the accomplice. She revealed it to her former sister-in-law. Hmm. She even kept one of those bells instead of tossing them all. Thing is, Alison made a deal: don’t kill anybody else, just mom. Holy. Shit. Kills her mother, essentially, and creepily she’s JUST LIKE HER MOTHER. What a twisting, turning, strange little end.
With these last words, Alison ends her interview and the mini-series: “You can be a victim of your circumstances, or you can summon the strength to push through; no matter what. Today our family is thriving. I think my mother would be proud.”

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The end personally surprised me, from the opening of this episode to the finish. Far as I know this is only meant to be a mini-series. I dig it that way. Leaves you not with questions, but with a deeper idea of the corrupted roots of the Hawthorne family. What was done cannot be undone. It begets more of its own violence, the secrets of their family. Lots of fun, weird stuff that happened, too. Throughout the whole series. I had a blast, honestly. Didn’t expect to get so into it. Yet here I am. Hope some of you reading have enjoyed as much as I have. A stellar finish, way better than anticipated!

American Gothic – Episode 10: “The Veteran in a New Field”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 10: “The Veteran in a New Field”
Directed by David Barrett
Written by Aaron Fullerton

* For a review of Episode 9, “The Oxbow” – click here
* For a review of Episode 11, “Freedom from Fear” – click here
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Boston is now terrorised by The Silver Bells Killer, all over again.
Detectives Brady Ross (Elliot Knight) and Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) are still working the case, as Madeline Hawthorne (Virginia Madsen) does her best to get her son Garrett (Antony Starr) out of legal trouble.
There’s a silver bell found at Jennifer Windham’s murder scene. One with the same indentation as the ones left in the original crimes. So, it couldn’t be a copycat. It has to be the accomplice himself.
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Alison (Juliet Rylance) and Madeline both have to cooperate with the detectives. However, we know for sure that Mama Hawthorne has big secrets to hide. Mostly Alison has a couple skeletons – sexual in nature – but her mother has festering, rotten things hiding in her past. We’re soon going to see them start spilling out. I can feel it.
Well, Garrett meets with his younger sister Tess (Megan Ketch). She wants to know why he wouldn’t answer her question last episode, about whether he actually killed anybody. Her trust and belief in him is broken. “Cryptic comments” and “evasiveness” have her less than impressed. Then he tells his sister about Al Jenkins, that old chestnut. A mercy killing, essentially. But Tess understands. She isn’t disgusted or scared of her brother. Now, they have a closer connection, as he’s never told anyone else about Al’s death. He further reveals Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is pregnant, even if their relationship isn’t exactly stellar. Can the will to love a child overcome the genetics of the Hawthorne family? It’s like a gamble having a baby in that clan.
Meanwhile there’s Cam (Justin Chatwin), whose time in rehab is coming to a close. He’s done well, obviously. He wants to get to know April (Bethany Joy Lenz) more, although she sticks pretty closely to the whole concept of rehabilitation and not pursuing romantic relationships so soon out. We’ll see how well that sticks.
Cutter has Alison in for a chat, a.k.a interrogation. When Brady finds his partner giving his sister-in-law the third degree, he isn’t happy. Not that anybody needs to protect Alison; she’s a bad ass. Either way, she and Brady get to sit down for a conversation instead, which leads to her admitting she may know who murdered Jennifer – Mayor Conley (Enrico Colantoni). Reason being is that Alison asked Jennifer to dig into him, his past, et cetera. Then she ends up dead. Alison gives Brady the pictures of Cutter with the mayor, and now he’s becoming a lot more interested in this seemingly wild conspiracy theory. It’s a tall accusation. If it’s true there is no telling who’s to trust. Both Brady and Alison understand this already.
At home, Madeline finds a window open and several belts all laid out on a chair. Eerie. She thinks perhaps Jack (Gabriel Bateman) did it, and y’know, it isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility. Yet she doesn’t think much more of it after the kid denies. Even eerier.
Then there’s Jack’s mother Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas). She encourages the weird behaviour of their child by doing a project with him that consists of plenty blood (fake stuff). She needs help, but doesn’t have the self-awareness of Cam. I’m not looking forward to how things play out with this little family simply because of the drugs involved; you know there’s bad business on its way.
Sneaky Madeline finds out that the accomplice was likely at Mitch’s funeral, from a new detective on the case. Then, she calls him (we assume it’s a man). Tess hears part of their conversation, not all. Enough to be suspicious.
So, who could it be? Someone we’ve already seen? Or someone brand new to the audience? All we know is, even more so now, that Madeline knows plenty more than she has ever let on. To anybody. And maybe Garrett holds some keys to that knowledge. For the time being, Tess is smart enough to do some Caller ID magic and get the last dialled number: somebody named Caleb O’Connor.

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Busy Garrett has things to do. His younger brother doesn’t want him to leave again. He worries for Jack and wants Garrett, admired by the boy, to stick around. “Its your call,” Cam tells Garrett. Before his brother heads out again, who knows where.
When the unlikely pair of Alison and Brady suss out a safe in a picture behind the wall at Jennifer’s place, they stumble upon a flash drive full of information on Conley.
Speaking of the Mayor of Boston, he and Cutter are being confronted by Brady and Alison. There’s recorded audio of Cutter and Conley talking about evidence being destroyed. But what evidence? When Morales was murdered, all those years ago, Conley was at his house. A cuff-link was lost, so Cutter was brought in, a young naive cop: $25K to lose some evidence. The Mayor has an alibi, unfortunately. There goes that theory.
At the Hawthorne mansion Madeline finds her purse filled with bells. In the background, a bell sounds. She’s distracted for the rest of the evening. Until Tess asks about Caleb – that’s the affair Madeline had back then. Yowzahs.
Anyway, you know that Jack’s presentation at History Night has got to be something special. He narrates while his mother helps with sound effects in the background. He tells of the big molasses spill. And suddenly, his weirdness is enjoyable, not creepy. Everybody laughs, his mother smiles. Jack is a happy, odd little boy.
Brady’s being put on leave for a conflict of interest, which surprisingly didn’t happen sooner. Strangely enough, he thinks that Garrett might actually have had something to do with the murders after all. Really? There’s so much mystery, it’s hard to tell.
An awkward moment comes when Jack and his father are out for a day together. Jack gets some gummies. When he pays $20 for it, Cam wonders why it costs so much. Mom’s been sending her boy to get candies with drugs strapped on the inside. Certainly not a happy situation. “He never knew,” she says hoping to excuse her behaviour. That’s the last straw. If not, Cam would be insane. He’ll get full custody of their boy and it’s no longer just a possibility. She doesn’t deserve to have that child. I’m just afraid she may do something awful.
Out in a public park, Tess and Alison meet with Caleb. He looks like any other regular dude. Nothing strange, immediately. What they get out of the meeting is that Mitch wasn’t dragging Caleb the night of their fight; so who did Papa Hawthorne pull down the stairs back in the day? What did Cam truly see?
All sorts of old secrets are bubbling under the surface. Madeline is constantly holding them back. When her children confront her, she’s backed into a corner.

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The homage to Winslow Homer’s painting, from which the title of the episode comes, happens as Garrett digs a hole out in a field. What exactly is he doing out there? He’s got the machinery to harvest corn and everything.
He hasn’t been digging a hole so much as he’s dug up a grave. Down there sits a skeleton. He starts to take it out, preparing to mulch it into dust. Oh, Garrett: what have you done? Things get much more intense when Brady shows up, having followed his brother-in-law to the field. Uh oh.
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What a great chapter! Really dig this one. Things get more twisty, then they take you back for a loop and make you see certain events and plots in a different lot. Fun writing. Next episode is “Freedom from Fear” and is based on a painting by Norman Rockwell from 1943 (the last of a series called Four Freedoms).

The Night Of – Season 1, Episode 7: “Ordinary Death”

HBO’s The Night Of
Season 1, Episode 7: “Ordinary Death”
Directed by Steven Zaillian
Teleplay by Richard Price & Zaillian

* For a review of the previous episode, “Samson and Delilah” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “The Call of the Wild” – click here
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Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is at the scene of another homicide; one that bears a striking resemblance to the murder of Andrea Cornish.
In court, Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed) has to see the pictures of Andrea’s bloody, desecrated body along with everyone else. District Attorney Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) does her best to steer the evidence where she hopes the jury will see it go. Her Medical Examiner pal, Dr. Chester, repeats the line he’d been working on the last time we saw him. Once Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan) gets at the doc things start slipping. The whole testimony on his part does not look good after she pokes holes in both what he’s said, as well as his reputation. She is a sly lawyer in her own right, even compared to Weiss.
Meanwhile, John Stone (John Turturro) has become honed in on Don Taylor (Paul Sparks), stepfather to Andrea. He’s keeping a close eye on the guy. Especially after Chandra, in court, makes clear the wounds on Andrea’s corpse look like a crime of passion; a personal one. And though we don’t know everything, Naz did not know Andrea before that night.
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Sadly it’s Safar Khan (Poorna Jagannathan) who suffers most, it seems. She is torn up having to see the pictures of the supposed crime Naz committed. She seems adrift, alone even within her own family. Salim (Peyman Moaadi) isn’t having any better of a time. He finds himself an object of derision in his own community, as other Muslims don’t look pleased with his family bringing shame on them all. Worse still, his own business partners Tariq (Mohammad Bakri) and Yusuf (Nabil Elouahabi) are essentially turning their backs on him. They’ve blamed Naz for bringing shame “on all of us,” they tell him. “You are the father of a killer,” says Tariq. Now that is brutal. I like that the series shows the good and the bad of the Muslim community. While trying to show the positive aspects, they also don’t shy from showing how within their own communities there’s so much of this type of thing; guilty before proven innocent.
Lots of anger being thrown at the Khans, from graffiti poised towards the community in general right down to rocks tossed through their windows.
All the while Stone keeps his eye on Don as he woos women for their money. Plus, Johnny gets to keep his feet moving since they’re no longer wracked by the bubonic plague. He’s got all sorts of information rolling in on Don. He even gets in contact with an older woman that was once romantically involved with him. She actually had to call the police because he strangled her. A bit of money and then the Don problem went away. So he’s got himself a history of nastiness.

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A witness for the prosecution tells the court he bought Adderall off Naz at school. Turns out the young Muslim had customers. He has secrets in his past. Not so innocent after all. But a murderer? Nah.
With his feet fixed, John’s already got a new rash started on his neck. In other news, his family – what’s left of it – is falling apart. One thing gets better, another gets worse. The tragic life of a Greek-like figure, that Stone.
At Rikers, Naz is getting along well enough. At least he’s not doing sexual favours like Petey (Aaron Moten) whose mother smuggles in the drugs that Naz takes in for Freddy Knight (Michael K. Williams). Then again, having to swallow drug balloons from a strange woman’s vagina isn’t exactly glorified behaviour. Especially considering Naz does it now without hesitating, not a single choke. Similar to how his behaviour is described in court, by a man on the witness stand testifying about Naz’s incident of violence years ago nearly killing another student.
And yet again, another secret. A second act of violence, not known by the defence. Naz threw a full Coke can at someone’s head and busted him up good. Hearing this in open court like that rocks Chandra. Her idea of Nasir seems to constantly be changing.
Poor Salim and Safar. They’re giving up everything to pay for their son’s defence. They pawn off jewellery, anything possible just to keep their boy with a lawyer. What’s sad is that Safar is really beginning to doubt the illusions of her son; they’re becoming just that, a mirage.
Finally, Don confronts John. He does so in fairly violent fashion, though not enough to freak anybody out, other than Stone. A threat’s been made. Easy to see that Andrea’s stepfather might have more rage in him than anybody knows.

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In court once more, Dt. Box is on the stand. He is a pretty rational, sensible talking man. He doesn’t beat around the bush, even as Chandra gives him a proper going over.
Alone together, Naz and Chandra talk. He wonders why she defends him, lamenting that his father is the only one who believes him. Not even his mother. There’s an air of sexual tension, and then Chandra leans in to kiss Naz. Images of the night Andrea died flash, her and Naz embracing. Ah. No good for their professional relationship, that’s for damn sure. This can only complicate things further.
Chandra has Dr. Katz (Chip Zien) on the stand. He talks about a missing knife from a set found in the brownstone. He also testifies that the wounds on Naz’s hand were not from stabbing. That it came from a game of five finger fillet (though she incorrectly calls it mumblety-pegs). Katz pokes a lot of holes in the evidence of the prosecution, as best he can. Remember that odd picture he took in the apartment? Well, he’s got an answer for that one, too. Smart chap. Weiss gets hold of him then to try poking her own holes, such as attempting to link Naz and O.J. Simpson in a snide remark. She goes at him head-on. Admirable. But clearly she’s only trying to sneak one past the goal post.

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John finds the picture of Naz’s inhaler. He wonders what happened to it, then the young Muslim tells him about Box having given it to him that night in the holding cell. So John goes to see the retiring detective, along with a subpoena.
Quickly, Stone and Chandra have him back on the stand. She asks him about the interviews, witnesses, all sorts of things. She eventually brings into question Box’s mishandling of the inhaler. He willingly admits to having given it to Naz. Chandra spins it to look as if Box took the inhaler from the evidence in order to ensure their narrative fit; can’t stab someone 22 times and take hits off your puffer, right? Box does his best to deflect. However, there’s no guarantee this won’t reflect badly on him, or the prosecution.
Back at Rikers, Naz finds Petey dead in the shower. He cut his wrists to pieces, to not suffer the sexual abuse any longer. That’s terrifying tragic. Naz looks on in desperate sadness. In Freddy’s cell, the big man doesn’t know about the real reason for the kid dying. And the rapist, he sits there trying to keep Naz silent. Even sadder.
In private, Naz confides in Freddy the reality of Petey’s suicide. This precipitates a shiv being made. The rest, you can guess. Criminal justice within the criminal justice system.
What about the real justice?

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Another fine episode from HBO’s excellent series. One last episode left! Its title is, fittingly from Jack London, “The Call of The Wild” – will the truth all come out? You can be sure of it.

The Night Of – Season 1, Episode 6: “Samson and Delilah”

HBO’s The Night Of
Season 1, Episode 6: “Samson and Delilah”
Directed by Steven Zaillian
Teleplay by Richard Price & Zaillian

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Season of the Witch” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Ordinary Death” – click here
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Mr. Stone (John Turturro) is doing his best to take care of the cat, still. Despite his terrible allergies. He keeps the cat locked in the room, cleans out its litter and feeds it through opening the door quick, tossing everything in. But why does he do it? Because it’s the right thing to do. Similar with how he’s starting to feel about Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Riz Ahmed), whose own concerns mount by the day, sitting at Rikers Island with Freddy Knight (Michael K. Williams) and watching the top dog prisoner prepare then smoke some drugs. At least now, after the favour he did for Freddy, Naz can call his parents; he has a cellphone, courtesy of Knight.
What more is to come from their relationship?
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Safar Khan (Poorna Jagannathan) and her husband Salim (Peyman Moaadi) are in dire straits financially. Without her husband, Safar is out trying to find work. She’s a tough woman, I hope we get to see more of her character. At the same time, Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is digging into the Facebook account of Naz. He starts to see maybe a side of the young Muslim which may not be good for the prosecution. Or, are there deeper secrets to Nasir we’ll soon find out?
Well, D.A. Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin), she’s busy trying to make the drug intake of Naz look proper for their version of the story. As her unlikely competition, Jackie Stone, is busy juggling his life and that of Naz alongside the horror story of his feet. I love that we get a ton of Stone’s character amongst everything else, but further than just that his feet are representative of the mindset in which he’s lived so long, to the detriment of his health while pursuing case after case trying to chase the all-American glorious dollar.
All this time, Naz is in prison falling farther into the lifestyle. Even has himself some knuckle tattoos.
We can’t forget Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan); another of my favourite characters. She watches video footage of Naz at a gas station the night of the murder. A man in a hearse stops, though doesn’t get any gas, and then leaves when Naz does, too. Hmm. Now that is suspicious right there. Leave it to Chandra. I have a feeling she’s the most underestimated of the entire crew of lawyers in the series. Once she tracks down the hearse driver he’s full of eeriness, lots of misogyny and the like. When he mentions some biblical verse, this is where I imagine Samson and Delilah comes in, giving us our title.

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John drinks a bit of strange powder the Asian doctor gave him. Another supposed cure. It’s amazing he can even keep his head on straight. A terrified Chandra shows up at his door, though. She has a Bible with her. She talks about Samson and Delilah, reading verse for John. “Thats what he thinks of women,” she tells John re: the hearse driving mortician. Could this man have anything to do with the case, or merely a red herring?
Back to Rikers, Naz is constantly doing push-ups, always honing his image. First, push-ups. Then, tattoos. What comes next is anybody’s guess. Paralleled with Naz figuratively and literally pumping up his image is Box flicking through his past. What the detective begins unravelling is there’s a rage underlying the identity of Nasir Khan; he was involved in an altercation at school where he nearly paralysed another student, luckily only breaking an arm. But there’s a temper in Naz we’re not exactly seeing outwardly just yet, only in glimpses.
But what I wonder now is: could Naz actually have killed Andrea? Is there a chance? Because we never actually saw what happened. We assume Trevor Williams (J.D. Williams) and his buddy may have done something. However, at this point the doubt is creeping in. Perhaps that’s what Richard Price is aiming for. To plant the seed, let it grow. Except never sure, until the end, where it’s headed. Love, love, love it.
Also, the jury is being sorted out. Yet we’re privy to a real view of the selection, as a group of people up for the “honour” of doing their citizen duty fall asleep watching a video introducing them to the process.
John and Chandra are beginning to see that Naz has a problem with the truth. Afterwards, the young Muslim explains himself to Chandra. He talks about post-9/11, the hate to which he was subjected because of his skin and his religion, the fights and the beatings. This is what led to his fight with the boy at school. He challenges Chandra’s view of him, wondering if she believes he’s capable of having killed Andrea. Little flashes of the night come back in pieces to Naz. I can’t imagine what else he might remember down the line.
One thing’s for sure – the state has piles of evidence against Nasir at their disposal. They’re fitting to bury him under anything and everything they can.
I love how suspenseful and tense much of this series has been. This episode in particular is so well edited, scored, shot, paced, that all of the suspense is at the forefront reeling us in tight. When Salim arrives at Chandra’s door, delivering food, we’re almost as surprised as she. I half expected it to be the unsettling mortician hearse driver. A wonderfully put together sequence.


We’re on the verge of the trial, which is poised to be possibly the most intense and interesting portion of Season 1. What I dig most in this episode is that John has finally beaten the foot pain. His feet, at least right now, are cured. He’s able to actually wear a pair of shoes for the first time in so long. He looks professional, for once, and this will hopefully give him a bit of an edge, finally without pain and not worrying about the zombified flesh at his toes.
Moreover, Freddy proves to be looking out consistently for his friend Naz. He offers a white shirt and black tie, although the young man refuses. In court, Stone then has to switch his own shirt over for Naz to wear; another stroke of honesty for Mr. Knight. Interesting.
But on we go, into the opening statements and ready to see the court proceedings at the trial of Nasir Khan. “This case isnt about Andreas life, its about her death,” Weiss explains to the jury. Afterwards, Chandra gives a poignant, brief opening statement that makes her look pretty strong. A good start. Things will get rough, as the trial wears on and the ugly truths and dark corners are brought into the light.
When Naz is back home, in prison, Freddy bonds with him some more. About himself. He talks about why he’s in Rikers instead of another place, leading to the discovery that Freddy has a couple “bodies on” him. Worse, he leads Naz into smoking some drugs – what I imagine is heroin – and this is the beginning of further trouble in Khan’s life. So, whereas Freddy seems to have his best interests in mind when it comes to Naz’s court appearances, he’s not always looking out for him like he should.


In court, Naz watches the video of him getting pulled over by the police on that fateful night. One of the officers is on the stand giving her statement, if not a bit hyperbolic. The knife is discussed, as well as the fact Naz tried to run. Doesn’t look good when the video of the station is shown where Naz attempts breaking free from the cops surrounding him.
Naz, a.k.a Sinbad – which is what he has tattooed across his knuckles now – discovers more about the prison life than he had hoped. He sees one of Freddy’s crew getting a blowjob from another young inmate who recently came in, the one whose mother helped smuggle the drugs in last episode. Following this event, Naz calls Chandra. Far as he falls into the mitt of Freddy, there’s still shock when he sees what’s happening around him. So he talks to her for comfort, if only for a minute. Even the cell is more of him becoming further criminal, as he gets money for letting others use it; more criminality, all the time.
Next day in the shower, Freddy’s boy puts a blade to Naz, right at the neck, and threatens him over the blowjob he witnessed. Great, more and more issues each passing day.
On the outside, Johnny’s mind is constantly working. He wonders how Andrea afforded to live in such an expensive brownstone apartment. He starts to dig into the records, finding an Evelyn Cornish – deceased – linked to the place. Finally, Stone has tracked down the guy he snapped a picture of arguing with Andrea’s stepfather Don Taylor (Paul Sparks) at the funeral, a chartered personal accountant named Ray Halle. This gives us a better idea of Don.
And it muddies the waters. Seems like Naz really ended up in the middle of a life that was burning all around Andrea. No telling anymore exactly what the story is, as Naz, Don, everybody has a secret they’re keeping, just as it is in real life.
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What a powerful episode, all around. This series is just fascinating, from writing up to the visual aesthetic and overall execution. Next episode is “Ordinary Death” and I’m looking forward to another big heap of revelation.

The Night Of – Season 1, Episode 5: “The Season of the Witch”

HBO’s The Night Of
Season 1, Episode 5: “The Season of the Witch”
Directed by Steven Zaillian
Teleplay by Richard Price & Zaillian

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Art of War” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Samson and Delilah” – click here
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John Stone (John Turturro) just wants his feet to get better. To the point of getting a UV light and shades, letting them bake under the rays for a while. At the very same time he’s juggling all the other aspects of his life. He talks to a class that includes his son, although nobody is able to really grasp his place in the legal world. His son is proud of him, to a certain degree, not happy with the treatment the class gives his father. Nice to see the family life of Stone. Gives us a dichotomy from which to work concerning his character, his ambitions, and so on.
Up in Rikers Island, Freddy Knight (Michael K. Williams) is taking care of Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed), getting him into a proper cell and looking out for his well-being. What exactly is the price, though?
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We get to see more of a character I enjoy plenty, Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan). She goes to see Stone about possibly helping. She’s got to not only haggle with him, but also witness his foot ritual. He manages to get an extra $10K out of her to take part. Meanwhile, D.A. Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) has her troops in getting their case together. Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is there along with a team of lawyers. They try to suss out what the defence may use against them. Back and forth we’re privy to each side attempting to pick apart the whole murder, the night in question, everything possible.
I love Chandra because the writing allows for this racial perspective; one which obviously includes Naz and his race, his religion. This opens up a lot of interesting things.
There are problems with the Khan family on the outside. Salim (Peyman Moaadi) is being pressured by his partners Tariq and Yusuf (Mohammad Bakri & Nabil Elouahabi) to press charges against his own son. All in order to recoup the cost of the taxi they’re now missing because of the trial. This is putting poor Salim in an awful place.
In jail, Naz is keeping himself fit, doing push-ups in his cell. He’s called out by guard Tino (Lord Jamar) to go meet Freddy in the showers. They’ve got Calvin Hart (Ashley Thomas) at their mercy for what he did to the young Muslim. When Naz is goaded, he eventually kicks the shit out of Calvin already lying bleeding on the floor. Already the prison system is changing Nasir, if only slightly. I mean, we’d all probably do the same thing given the situation, what that man tried to do to him. Still, the point of Richard Price’s writing is to see how the prison system is a jungle in and of itself, and how exactly it affects those within it.
All the while Dt. Box puts together a timeline for Weiss on the locations of Naz throughout the night of the murder.
What you need to pay attention to most is the filmmaking here. The close-up shots of Box marking off a map of the city cut with the actual instances of Naz moving through the city itself are magnificent. This is why HBO and many of the writers the network attracts are top notch. Because this is a simple sequence, yet it’s beautifully executed and effective.


Stone is changing, too. It isn’t just Nasir. We see that more every episode. He finally goes back to get the cat from Andrea’s place, the one he brought to the pound. He’s allergic, though still insists on saving it: “Better than the gas chamber,” he mumbles to himself. This is more than a basic little quirky plot point. It is the idea that Stone can’t let go; not of the cat, not of Naz. And gradually he’s becoming altruistic rather than totally selfish. Not entirely, just little by little.
And Freddy, he sees something in Naz. The young man sleeps away, and up in the hospital Calvin suffers from his injuries. There’s definitely rage in Naz. Not long after he shaves his head to get that prison look going. Seeing the jail life ahead of Naz is a bit tragic. He’s slowly falling into things, hanging out with Freddy and his crew smoking weed, playing chess, eating Happy Meals from McDonalds.
Weiss is beginning to weed out witnesses. Trevor Williams (J.D. Williams) is so effortlessly shown as childish, both in how he answers questions and the way he’s brought a cookie and some milk in during the interview. I hope we’ll see more of him because we all know there’s a greasiness behind his motives.
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At a restaurant, Stone starts investigating a few things himself. He tracks down a guy named Cutty (Joe Egender) who was contacted by Andrea the night of her murder; she got some ecstasy and ketamine off him. Mostly, John pokes around trying to stir something, anything up. Afterwards he’s with Chandra having a look through the crime scene. They have pictures taken everywhere, of every last little thing. In the blood spattered bedroom, Chandra is silently shocked at the mess. They make sure to document each inch of the apartment. The tiniest details can crack a case wide open. When their man Dr. Katz (Chip Zien) comes across a possible clue, it’s all the better. Likewise, Weiss is trying to make her case. But we start seeing how the law and justice aren’t always working for the greater good. With a Medical Examiner, she begins coaxing out the proper story the way she wants it told. Tricky, tricky.
The hubris of being in Freddy’s care is starting to make Naz a little cocky. He’s already feeling the benefit, but perhaps a bit too much. Well, now Naz is figuring out there isn’t exactly no price for protection. He’s got to swallow some drugs, get them in for Freddy from a woman who’ll be hiding them… you know where.


The toxicology report comes back. Everyone’s surprised about amphetamines in Naz’s system that night. Chandra is particularly surprised, not enjoying having been lied to, supposedly. He’s the “good boy” everyone imagined. Simultaneously, Naz is behind bars trying to learn how to swallow drugs using grapes. When John and Chandra go to see their boy, he’s not happy to hear they don’t believe him. Turns out Adderall is what Naz lied to them about; he took it for purposes of studying. The whole time John is asking about Naz’s story, the young Muslim reluctantly swallows the drugs to bring Freddy. John isn’t stupid. He recognises what is going on and cautions his client. Things are getting pretty god damn dangerous right now for poor Nasir. He gets the drugs in, even if he has a bit of trouble passing them.
What John and Chandra do get is the revelation of a second man with Trevor Williams when he ran into Naz and Andrea. So this sends Stone out to talk with the man. He puts a bit of fear into Trevor about perjury, hoping to determine who the second man was that evening. We find a sliver of honesty: the second man’s name is Duane Reid. Further putting John on a search throughout the streets. He comes across Duane in the back of a supermarket, then plants the seeds: “Im his lawyer,” John tells him in regards to Trevor. Of course the guy takes off. Now, this arms the lawyer with bit more of an idea about whether Naz might be innocent after all.
Only John is too eager, putting him in harm’s way after Duane runs and he gives chase. Hopefully nothing bad happens. However, just like the stubbornness of John with his feet, the stubborn nature of how investigates his latest case may prove detrimental to his health if he doesn’t slow down.
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Just a downright gripping episode. One of my favourites so far in the series. Such great storytelling combined with wonderful filmmaking technique. All around outstanding!
Next episode is “Samson and Delilah” – can’t wait to see how the significance of that title comes into play.

Carnage Park: A Scary Slice of 1970s Americana

Carnage Park. 2016. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Ashley Bell, Pat Healy, James Landry Hébert, Michael Villar, Bob Bancroft, Larry Fessenden, Andy Greene, Alan Ruck, Graham Skipper, & Darby Stanchfield. Diablo Entertainment.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Action/Crime/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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Ever since seeing Ritual, I’ve been hooked on Mickey Keating. His directing and writing are a sight for sore eyes in the world of indie cinema. These days there are lots of talented people coming out of the independent scene. But Keating has an old school sensibility, a practical effects-driven manner of taking on horror specifically. The way he directs has a wonderfully rock n’ roll-style feel. The atmosphere of his movies is always wildly palpable, no matter what the ultimate main genre. Most recently Keating wowed me with Darling; a trip down the rabbit hole of guilt, murder, shame, and more.
Carnage Park does not come with anything overly original. It’s the way in which Keating gives the material over to us that’s exciting. Best of all, like Darling and its Roman Polanski vibes, this movie – via Keating admittedly – is fashioned after the Sam Peckinpah, machismo-filled 1970s films about dangerous men running wild on the fringe with guns and knives and big steel balls. At the same time, the movie switches genres, transforming from action-thriller into something more horror oriented as the various characters collide out in the eponymous park.
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The opening sequence, while deranged in its own right even in comparison to what comes later, is a lot of fun. It has an energy that kicks the story off right. We get a taste of Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy) right off the bat, then it switches into us spending time with Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert), his soon to be dispatched buddy Lenny, and the kidnapped Vivian (Ashley Bell) in the trunk of Joe’s car. Keating keeps the pacing solid, moving fast. Everything gets really interesting then once the different characters come together, and the movie shifts gears.
Isolation is the key here. Under the cinematography of Mac Fisken the desert looks like a gaping, open wound, a vast and dry sore in the earth. Watching Vivian try to make her way through the large lot of privately owned land is akin to somebody wandering a giant hedge maze, but instead of any hedges it’s all sand, shrubs, rundown billboards, so on. The isolated hills in between which Vivian finds herself lost are so huge and far reaching that it’s impressive the way Fisken and Keating create a claustrophobic sense of that isolation. Like The Thing or any similarly remote set script, Carnage Park takes us out into the open while simultaneously bringing us deeper into our own minds, into the head of Vivian who’s faced with outrunning a maniac in the vast desert.
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What I love is that this story Keating draws out, the characters and their respective plots, is all a disturbing little slice of Americana from the late ’70s. The unstable Army veteran at the centre of it all, Wyatt, has so clearly been affected negatively by the war. Meanwhile, his brother is the local sheriff, whose ideas about his brother seem pretty clear despite what he tells himself, and especially despite anything he admits to knowing. Within these two characters there’s wrapped a whole bunch of socioeconomic significance, as we consider everything from the dishonesty of those charged with serving and protecting, to the right of land owners in America (in certain states) to shoot anyone that comes onto their property, to the concept of all those men coming back from Vietnam, devastated emotionally and mentally, not receiving any proper care other than some cash and a pat on the back. Instead of a simple setup of a madman with no backstory there’s the fact Wyatt has been psychologically traumatised in the war, which sort of ups the ante on the usual scenario. Watching the various, hideous bits of American life unfold out across the sprawling hills on Wyatt’s property is a tense nightmare that’s hard to predict re: where it may head next.
The performances really help sell the whole thing. Bell does a nice enough job with her character, especially considering all the back and forth moments we see, going from being Scorpion Joe’s hostage to being at the fingertips of a demented ex-soldier, to the shocking scene where she stabs the wrong person than who she intended. She does well showing us the breakdown this woman experiences while going through the most trying day of her life. But best of all, Pat Healy – the god damn man, as far as indie movies are concerned. He’s been in lots of stuff, though never better than when working on something daring, something small, things like Cheap Thrills and The Innkeepers, among more. As Wyatt, we see him become a truly scary individual. At first you almost don’t know if he’s going to be some kind of anti-hero, the sort we’d expect out of a neo-noir-Western hybrid like this becomes now and then. Then when it’s becoming clear that Wyatt is the big evil in the situation there’s a feeling you start to get each time his eerie, smiling face comes into the frame that tells you: this guy is bad, bad, bad news. This is a great role, one that might end up as a load of generic garbage were it left to a less talented actor. Rather, Healy gives us lots to enjoy, as he touches all corners of the spectrum, creeping about, charming a little, and above all else terrifying his victims.
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I do prefer other Keating films about this one. However, Carnage Park is a good time; through and through. The performances are one thing. The adrenaline pumping pace is what kept me glued. I can sit through all sorts of films, but a great effort usually has me consistently stuck to each scene, wondering where exactly things are about to move. Not once did I know for sure where the plot might go, or which characters would go on to survive. The ending didn’t totally eclipse me in any way. Still, it is a fantastic finish to a nicely executed bit of indie cinema. Whereas other filmmakers could have gone in vastly different directions throughout, Keating sticks to his old school style, his simple though beautiful way of directing. This way nothing strays too deep into familiar territory so as to bore the viewer. Ultimately, the cat-and-mouse thriller that frames the entire film is jammed full with suspense and the tension you’ll feel is like a chokehold. Keating takes you into the darkness fully, never once really letting you go. Take the ride, even more so if you dig his other directorial efforts. This one is yet another top notch instance of his talents.

American Gothic – Episode 2: “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 2: “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”
Directed by Greg Beeman
Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff

* For a review of Episode 1, “Arrangement in Grey & Black” – click here
* For a review of Episode 3, “Nighthawks” – click here
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Following the first episode, and a trend that runs through this mini-series, the second episode’s title comes from a series of paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, some of which you can see here. And now, we dive in…
This episode opens with Cam Hawthorne (Justin Chatwin) at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He talks about his recent slip up, but seems optimistic, or trying to be, about going clean. A friend there tries to help Cam get the dealer out of his life. Then the news about Papa Hawthorne hits. At home, Madeline (Virginia Madsen) sees the shaving kit of her husband then breaks down, keeping the guilt buried just below the surface. Downstairs, Alison (Juliet Rylance) and Tessa (Megan Ketch) are both grieving, though it seems the older of the two is most upset. Tessa immediately blames Cam, once he shows up, for not being there with their mother – y’know, when their father died. Oh, little do these ladies know about their own matriarch. “Everyone loved dad,” says Alison, so incredibly filled with literary irony that it almost chokes you. But while Alison is upset, Cam and Tessa are more concerned with determining who was the Silver Bells Killer after all. Was it their dad? We’ll see how he comes into play, either way.
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Tessa’s husband Brady (Elliot Knight) is doing his best to take care of his police duties as much as he does with those of the family variety. I’m interested to find out how he comes up against the family. Because you just know that’s going to happen. Sooner or later. Right now, he and Detective Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) head up the investigation with their new clue: the belt in the collapsed tunnel, linked to Hawthorne Concrete.
At the family table, Madeline weaves a story about her husband being disoriented, out in the garage, showing her the box with the Silver Bells inside. Supposedly, he’d gone into dementia and believed he was the murderer. Madeline clearly killed him, so does she know he was, know who really was, or is she merely trying to hold onto whatever power she can by offing her ill husband before he brought a whole wave of controversy their way? One thing’s for sure – Mama Hawthorne has things to hide. Dark things. Meanwhile, Garett (Antony Starr) arrives and says he wants to speak at his father’s funeral: “I have something to say,” he tells them. Although nobody is too thrilled with that. There’s still a shadow cast over him. Still a possibility he could be the killer. You never know.
Madeline gets a sketchy call – irregularities in the machines as her husband passed. Uh oh. Well, the Hawthorne kids are all busy warring with one another, anyway. Alison and Garrett talk about what her little daughter heard, apparently, when he’d leaned in to speak viciously to his ailing father. There’s lots of intrigue about Garrett and what exactly’s going on with him, what happened in the past, so on. I’m not sold on every aspect of the show. I am sold on a few characters; Garrett being chief in that stable.
Alison isn’t pleased that Garrett, essentially, wants to accuse her father after death of being the Silver Bells Killer. At the same time, mother Madeline doesn’t appear to be rocked by much of it. Those dark secrets will come out, eventually. At the very same time Brady’s faced with the Hawthorne patriarch being on the list of potential suspects. Cutter wants DNA, though he’s not so thrilled about barging in before the funeral to get a sample. So now we’re already seeing what’s about to pit Brady against the family into which he married.
Someone else I’m interested in is Cam’s little kid Jack (Gabriel Bateman), whose fascination with death is all too chilling. The only one who isn’t overly creeped out is Garrett: “The apple doesnt fall far from the tree, does it?” he quips to his slightly scared younger brother Cam. I feel bad for Cam in particular because he’s saddled with a damaged child, a mysterious family and older brother whose past is shrouded in fog, and then all this Silver Bells stuff on top. Sucks being a Hawthorne. In other news, Alison and her campaign manager obviously get closer and closer; have they been together yet, or is it just that they’ve flirted around it so long the whole thing’s become lusty? With everything else going on Alison is still drawn to her.


Gunther (Aidan Devine) cleans up around the Hawthorne place, as Tessa looks through pictures. He ends up recounting that he and her father played chess. Also, he lets slip that they played Thursday nights – only just last week, in fact. Gunther says his mind was sharp, right until the end. This makes Tessa wonder. And wonder she should. Her mother is over meeting with a woman at the hospital. She’s told there was possibly a “machine malfunction” and that it could look bad for them; ah, a sigh of relief for Madeline. Ah… except they want to do an autopsy, so that this won’t happen to anybody else. What a wrench. We know for sure the deviousness of Mrs. Hawthorne, sadly widowed, as immediately afterwards she calls to have the body cremated instead of sent over for an autopsy. Ooh wee, this is picking up steam.
At the Hawthorne place, Brady is sneaking around trying to find himself something with a bit of DNA on it. Instead he runs into his wife, whose stress levels are pretty god damn high. And she doesn’t even know how deep her husband is in, having to investigate her father. Funny – if he told her, maybe she’d be of some help seeing as how she and Cam found that eerie box. But good man, he respects his job. He ends up running around everywhere, trying to stop Papa Hawthorne from being cremated before he can get a sample, which does not turn out well for him. Then poor Cam, he starts succumbing to his old vices. He tracks down one of the caterers that likely has a stash. Not good. At the church, Cam’s estranged wife shows up to give her condolences, and instead of being awkward it actually becomes a nice moment for them.
Can’t forget about Garrett. He gets pulled over in his way over expired truck with a way over expired ID, and things look bleak. Brad gets the call for that one. Yikes.


Tessa confronts her mother at the funeral about her father having dementia. This begins driving a wedge between the mother and the children now. Madeline acts the victim, spinning more words to the people around her. She continually uses her husband as a type of scapegoat, without really letting him be the scapegoat. And now we’re gradually getting a peek behind the mask of the Hawthorne matriarch. She even goes so far this time to say her husband asked for her help in dying. Good one, Madeline. Alison and the rest go about their business, as mama keeps her secrets close to the chest. Garrett manages to get to the church and Alison looks highly surprised; did she call in to have him picked up? Oh yes. “Nice try,” Garrett mocks. Strange to be pulled over after 12 years of expired tags, all of a sudden on the day of their father’s funeral. Not very sly, Alison; not at all.
Tessa and Garrett share a nice moment. She sees only the good in him, as it was Garrett that always calmed her down and helped with her anxious nature. At least he has one sibling ally. Then he gets up to give his semi-eulogy, whatever it is. “I hated my father“, he begins, launching into a short, biting speech before ending it quickly and sitting down. He lets Alison take the reins. A better hand at the public speaking, though another one stuck in the dark about her terrifying family with all their hideous roots coiling beneath their foundation. In the bathroom, Cam and his estranged wife Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) meet, but she isn’t happy to see him struggling and wanting to get high – “There are other ways,” she tells him and then starts taking off some clothes. Yowzahs what a funeral. The kicker? Their son gives his little speech and that turns out incredibly morbid. Garrett laughs; no one else does.
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At home, Alison’s husband Tom (Dylan Bruce) gives her a gift, obviously unknowing of her passion for a woman – a woman whose hate seers when she sees the two together. What’s wildly intriguing is that Madeline seems to see and know everything, an omniscient matriarch above them all. She passes through and sees it all.
Madeline suggests to Cam her grandson needs therapy. Definitely does. Further than that, Brady still searches for something belonging to Papa Hawthorne. He ends up getting a call from Cutter; they’re most definitely looking for a man who “comes from money.” It’s then that he realises Hawthorne could be a genuine possibility. Also, Madeline tells Garrett he ought to leave. He retorts with a bit of a threat.
The big shocker is that Brady finds a picture of Papa Hawthorne with a young Cam, back in 2002 – Cam is wearing the very same belt they’ve found stuck in the cement, the one used in a Silver Bells Murder. This casts suspicion on both father and son. Yummy darkness.
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Let’s stick together, those of us that enjoy a bit of the campy mysteriousness that American Gothic provides. Next episode is titled “Nighthawks” and those who are familiar with the famous painting will be thrilled, as I am. Stay with me and we’ll get to the bottom of the Hawthorne/Silver Bells mystery after all.

In Bruges: Comedy, Crime, Cheeky Cunts

In Bruges. 2008. Directed & Written by Martin McDonagh.
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier, Thekla Reuten, Eric Godon, &  Ciarán Hinds. Scion Films/Blueprint Pictures/Focus Features.
Rated 18A. 107 minutes.
Comedy/Crime/Drama

★★★★★

Martin McDonagh is a treasure. His writing in all forms is exceptional and he’s often very capable of subversive storytelling. As a writer myself and someone that tries his hand at writing for the stage, McDonagh’s The Pillowman completely shattered my preconceptions of what theatre is meant to be and how you can present difficult, wild topics to the audience without shattering them too much. Not just that play, his other works for the stage are great, too. Most of all he defies expectation.
In Bruges is a proper McDonagh mix of black humour, crime, a dash of love, and a nice heap of violence. The actual setting of Bruges, Belgium adds an interesting element. Amongst all the architecture out of the 15th century this story of conflicted criminals plays out, juxtaposing this beautiful, old city with the dirty, gritty crime happening below its surface. Anchoring the script are three performances that allow the wit in McDonagh’s characters and their dialogue to work magic. Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, and Ralph Fiennes are all equally important to the success of the film. They each give the comedy an edge and bring out every last stroke of genius in the writing.
There’s plenty to lap up in this dark comedy. It isn’t only funny, it has an impressive amount of emotional weight. In the skin of an everyday crime-thriller, McDonagh creates laughter while simultaneously pondering the existential crises involved in the world of cheeky hitmen with consciences. I haven’t enjoyed any other comedies this much since about 2000. Definitely stands as one of the best in the past couple decades, no question.
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The comedy is beyond riotous. Little moments such as when the fellas run into an overweight family and try to warn them about going up a tower with narrow halls; Harry’s telegram to the hotel for Ken with “fucking” on every line at least once; the conversation between Ken and Ray about a “lollipop man” and their various musings on morality; that perfectly awkward yet hilarious scene where Ray punches out a man and his girlfriend, not just funny on its own but taking us back to the earlier conversation with Ken about if you’d hit a man wielding a bottle at you. One favourite moment is after Harry calls Ken and asks about Ray, questioning if he’s only having a wee, or if it was a poo.
There are far too many single moments and scenes to call out individually, lest we spend this entire review recounting every last chuckle.
There’s a major darkness cast over the plot, as well. Ray kills a priest, but in the crossfire winds up taking the life of a young boy. This haunts him, obviously, as the film moves on and the two hitmen move to the next supposed job, and never are those thoughts far from his mind. Of course this is also what puts them in Bruges in the first place. The darkness continues after we figure out specifically why they’re in Bruges – we assume early on it’s a job, and it is, however, there are complexities to this sticky story.
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Part of the setting of Bruges is almost akin to Limbo, a Purgatorial stop before Ken and Ray face their final judgement. Perfect enough, Ray notices a painting called “The Final Judgment” by Hieronymus Bosch, which depicts a scene where people are laying dead all over the ground, as the saviour floats above in the sky ready to accept those who last through what I assume is The Rapture. Furthermore, other paintings concerning death and its approaching presence are in the gallery the men visit. This all comes after Ken is told by Harry that the job he’s on is Ray’s own murder, for botching the priest job. There’s a moment at the end calling back to these paintings, as Ray literally winds up in the middle of one life-sized replica of those paintings with their imagery of death.
The transition into an almost otherworldly space, this idea of Limbo, comes through the Bosch imagery once more. When the hitmen arrive in Bruges at first the place is bright and beautiful, the landscape is all light. Everything seems wonderful. As time passes, the visual aesthetic goes from light towards the dark. Then literally even the characters out of the Bosch painting turn up on the film set, wounds from images in the painting are similar to those Ray ends up with after getting shot. So even if this is a comedy there’s no less care for fine tuned filmmaking. This is an impressive feature debut from McDonagh. His experience in theatre lends itself to having a specific visual style. Not only does he know how to block scenes and dress a set to make things look interesting, film as a medium gives a director (particularly one whom might be considered an auteur) the aspect of post-production, of not being live, and so much more. McDonagh uses this every bit to his advantage.
Ultimately there’s an emotional component to the story, aside from all the darkly humorous bits and the dashes of violence and everything else. Once Ken gives Ray a chance to redeem himself there’s a glimmer of hope in all the shadiness. And as the plot wears on closer to the end there’s more significance placed on the relationships between characters. Harry even comes across as a real person after all his dour attitude and vitriolic dialogue, though that goes how it does and there’s no love lost. But just the brief moments where Harry and Ken discuss their past relationship are enough to flesh their characters out before the conclusion. Before that, we get a good look at how Ken and Ray have gotten close in their short time together, as the former essentially sacrifices himself in order to let his younger friend have a chance at redemption. This entire tangle of emotions sets up an excellent finale, equal parts tragic and wild.
One great moment I love so much (WARNING – SPOILER AHEAD) is when Ken uses the coins he’d tried to pay his into the tower with earlier to make sure nobody is standing below when he decides to jump. In an ironic, dark twist, if he were to have been let in minus ten cents then he’d not be able to warn people below the tower, and likely wouldn’t have ended up jumping at that moment. Small bits such as this are what makes McDonagh’s writing so intriguing.
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I’ve always admired Brendan Gleeson as an actor. He’s versatile and simply a powerful talent. The writing of Ken as a character is good enough, but his portrayal makes it much more than entertaining. He shows us how a seemingly friendly guy can be part of this ugly world, of murder for hire, so on. More than that, through his relationship with Ray, the character of Ken develops and he comes to this point of realization later, culminating in the showdown between him and Harry. The range of which Gleeson is capable helps make this guy real, as Ken becomes a character with whom we can empathize, despite the fact he’s a hitman. That likeable, jolly quality in Gleeson comes out to help us relate to the man. Yet he’s always capable of being intimidating, so the contradictions in his character are remarkable in his hands.
Colin Farrell is the one I enjoy most. There are likeable qualities to both these men. Although Ray comes with an even further, almost innocent sense about him. This is in total conflict with the fact he’s killed a boy, though unintentionally. Still, this tough reconciliation is the crux of how we view Ray, how we experience what he experiences and assess that within ourselves. Farrell is a fucking laugh. Everyone’s funny, but he makes this all the better for playing the character so well, completely embodying Ray.
Then you can’t not love Ralph Fiennes. He’s another actor of whom I’ve been a massive fan for years. Fiennes is beyond talented. His depiction of Harry is different from all the same old British gangsters you see in so many other movies because he’s another contradictory sort, being a gangster and also being a loving father and husband. Well, he also has a strict moral code. He wants Ray dead for his mistake of killing a child, likely due to his own kids. So is he really all that contradictory? Yes, a vicious businessman in the murder industry. Yet obviously he keeps children out of it, probably women – that’s only a guess. Still there is a moral code and he tries sticking to it. You’ll see how closely when you get to the finale.
With a cast like this and the subversive, witty, dark writing of McDonagh, In Bruges is easily in my top ten comedies of all-time. If not the top five. Everything about it is so perfect and well placed that it’s hard not to enjoy each second. Farrell and Gleeson have a chemistry that’s hard to find, so there’s a buddy comedy aspect. Though one that’s pretty strange and way more hilarious than the atypical relationship we’d see in (most) American (Hollywood) productions. There’s so much to love. The cinematography of Eigil Bryld that makes Bruges leap off the screen into your lap. McDonagh and all his talents. A lead cast with more humour chops than the casts of most popular comedies (coughThe Hangovercough). If you can’t love this, that’s fine. It’s black comedy, pitch dark, at its best. Not everyone can dig it. For those who can there aren’t many modern comedies willing to be so darkly funny. Tuck in, enjoy.

Paranoid Park; Or, Teenage Crime and Punishment

Paranoid Park. 2007. Directed & Written by Gus Van Sant; based on the novel of the same name by Blake Nelson.
Starring Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Dan Liu, Lauren McKinney, & Scott Green. MK2/Maximum Films/IFC Films.
Rated 14A. 84 minutes.
Drama

★★★★
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Gus Van Sant is yet another American director by which I’m enthralled. Not every last project he undertakes is as spectacular as his greatest, though there’s always a sense he pays attention to the minute details of his stories, that he wants to whittle life down to the nitty gritty. Each Van Sant film usually explores people on the fringe, characters living at the edges of society in one way or another, often the types that are sensitive to the world and its plights. No matter what his focus, Van Sant’s eye is always catching the beauty of the situation.
Paranoid Park examines the guilt (and paranoia which comes as a packaged deal) of a young skater kid, whose thoughtless action one night leads to the accidental murder of a security guard on the local train tracks. Based on a Young Adult novel by Blake Nelson, Van Sant adapts the screenplay into a psychological piece of cinema that looks at the hubris of youth and the disaffected attitudes of a young man, as well as ponders deeply the meaning of morality, how we live with ourselves when something challenges it, and most importantly how we either repent or forget our actions. Cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li help Van Sant cultivate his flawless look and feel, which fits so perfectly in the world of high school. As we float along with the camera, we’re given a peek into a time of life everybody’s been through. Although, the boy in the middle of all this experiences a far more adult situation than his brain, his morality, his will power can ultimately tolerate.
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The flowingly beautiful cinematography is amazing. So many sequences I could mention, though it’d take forever. I love how the cinematographers slow certain things down, scenes you’d likely not imagine in slow motion. And in this way, they capture the gravitas of the situation, the plot. We can see clearly how devastated emotionally the main character becomes, as the camera lingers on him, on his movements, his face. Every little morsel of detail gets captured and in an extravagant way. To the point high school and teenage life seems more glorious and grand than it ever did in real life. There’s a heightened realism which hooks you. The visuals root the emotional experience of this film’s journey with the main character, taking you on a ride that feels at times as if it has you over the top of the clouds, gliding without care yet at the same time with the weight of the world upon your shoulders.
There’s great use of music, too. There’s this very classical sense about the film overall, as if it were made with adults in mind yet a story concerning teenagers. Lots of big band type stuff, pieces of music that’ll harken back to the 1940s and 1950s both in terms of music at the time, as well as in the sense of the movie itself feeling like one of those yesteryear classics. This in part plays into the feeling that Paranoid Park is similarly themed as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, that these teenagers – mostly the main character Alex (Gabe Nevins) – are ahead of their time. Perhaps that’s not a good thing, perhaps Alex is too ahead of himself and doesn’t realize the destruction he’s wreaking upon his own innocence. Nevertheless, there’s an old timey atmosphere in some of the shots.
Other wise, Van Sant continues on with his impressive style. Gorgeous, sweeping tracking shots, slow motion moments where time feels stalled and we’re watching Alex try and keep his mind straight while walking through a world filled with distractions and danger. The quiet and thoughtful style of Van Sant helps us feel involved in the plot, and most importantly we’re engrained in the perspective of Alex while he holds onto his sanity, trying to salvage his morality; if the latter is even possible.
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When it comes to the plot and the characters, everything feels so natural. I love the scene where police officers come to talk with skateboarders at the high school because you can hear them talking lightly over him, making comments, laughing and carrying on. There’s a real sense of disaffected, disconnected youth. When the cop passes around a picture of the murder victim and everybody sees him cut in half on the tracks, most of the young boys laugh, blown away by the brutality yet seeming utterly undisturbed. Certainly there’s a hint of something in Alex’s eyes, but even he doesn’t appear overly moved. At least not until later. But all the characters, the setting, the way high school kids feel throughout the screenplay and how the skaters interact with people and one another, is every bit organic. Couple that with the wonderful cinematography and there’s a highly realistic quality always present that makes us feel initiated into the world which Van Sant shows us.
Front and centre, Nevins puts in a spectacular performance. He is the crux of it all. In some cases, young actors are not my favourite. If we’re being honest. Only some are able to attain the level of emotionality necessary for fiction; others rarely hit that mark and always feel as if they’re acting, never like they’ve slipped into the role. Nevins has a natural quality that’s always there, through each scene and situation. His emotional depth is vast. We see him in the shower ready to break down, juxtaposed with his otherwise calm demeanour. We watch him go over everything in his mind, pieces of memory and slivers of guilt. This is a great role and Nevins uses it to the fullest. At times I want to shake him. Sometimes I’d like to throw my arm around him, say it’s going to be okay. Either way, the character of Alex and his moral dilemma comes across well through Nevins, pulling us in until we’re so close that the suffocating guilt and paranoia the character feels is nearly our own.
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I bought Paranoid Park years ago on a whim. I love Gus Van Sant, even if I don’t love every one of his films. Though, most I do. I’m glad I picked this movie up because it pays off incredibly. There’s a nice sense of slow burning drama, almost to a point of thriller-like tendencies. Although what Van Sant does is keep things dreamy, perpetually enclosing us in the psychological space of our main character, the troubled young skater Alex. Using excellent cinematography, fun choices of music, and riding on the important performance of Gabe Nevins, Paranoid Park tries to get at the heart of morality, how it operates in the idiotically naivety of youth. Mostly, it presents Alex’s moral dilemma and then asks us to speculate about what sort of person he is, and what kind of man he will be eventually. Moreover, Van Sant attempts to peer inside how we connect with the world in our youth and the various ways in which we’re meant to act, versus all the ways in which we want to act and how we hope to connect with the world. A scene late in the film involving Alex and his girlfriend epitomizes his disconnect from life and the world around him, from a sense of normality. It’s easy to see that Van Sant, as well as novelist Blake Nelson, understand the trials of youth. Placed in an extreme situation, these trials are even more intense, and this film opens them up in front of us in all its psychologically scarring glory.