Why SCREAM 2 is Better Than People Are Willing to Admit

Scream 2. 1997. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Starring Neve Campbell, Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps, Heather Graham, Elise Neal, Liev Schreiber, Courtney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Joshua Jackson, Timothy Olyphant, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O’Connell, Duane Martin, Laurie Metcalf, Lewis Arquette, Rebecca Gayheart, Portia de Rossia, & David Arquette.
Dimension Films/Konrad Pictures/Craven-Maddalena Films.
Rated R. 120 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★posterscream2Disclaimer: It’s been 20 years. If you haven’t seen this yet, expect to be spoiled.

Make no mistake, I loved Scream. When it first came out my friend and I watched it together, we were maybe 12, and it truly scared us. Wes Craven is one of the masters of the horror genre. While the first film in the series took a – pardon me for this – stab at horror movies in a post-modern, metafictional style, screenwriter Kevin Williamson comes back with Craven for the sequel, Scream 2, and they not only stab again at the heart of horror cliches, as well as sequels, they genuinely up the seriousness of the story while still staying fresh and self-deprecating at the right moments.
There’s a lot people take for granted when it comes to this series overall, but especially this sequel. Everyone expected something particular, which is always a gamble when it comes to a huge movie many fans loved. But this sequel offered many things that horror fans who don’t give it the proper credit don’t often notice, at least not the first time around. Sure, the whole thing with the new Ghostface picking off victims using the names of victims from the original massacre, that’s something, and Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks has more Rules to Survive a Horror MovieSequel to offer his friends and the audience.
But the true strength of this film comes in the writing of Williamson, and its execution at the hands of Mr. Craven. Running the gamut from horror parody (Stab with Tori Spelling and Luke Wilson) to the inclusion of high art and stage tragedy (Aeschylus’ Agamemnon from the Oresteia), it’s like a great piece of literary fiction and Scream 2 is better than many are willing to admit. I don’t pretend to know why, and I also know not everything is for everyone. I do know a few reasons why it’s worth reconsidering and popping on for another watch.
scream2-1Starting in the first film, Craven takes aim at many things, including his beloved genre of choice. Mainly though, he focuses his assault on the media. Gale Weathers (Cox) is a ruthless reporter, the epitome of ‘willing to do anything to get the story’ even if that includes dragging victims through the mud. By the same token, she’s also, now and then, shown as a double-edged sword, someone who, like in the case of Cotton Weary (Schreiber), also wants to get to the bottom of the truth, eventually. What’s interesting is that this sequel – and continuing in the third film – marks a transition for Gale, where she’s still clinging to her old ways but also finding out there’s another side, that reporters just need to work a little harder and they can be respected, instead of being the latest fodder generating instrument for headlines. Moreover, she’s too busy chasing the next story in this sequel to see a killer right in front of her.
Gale’s nastiest moment comes when she confronts Sidney (Campell) with Cotton in tow; an effectively awful scene concerning exploited victims, all at the hands of Ms. Weathers in her search for the next big thing to keep her fame from fading. Strange how she’s basically the precursor for people like Piers Morgan, Nancy Grace, and other media ‘personalities’ today clinging to any kind of controversy or whatever it takes to stay in the spotlight.
The opening sequence is really the nail in the coffin of media exploitation. Audiences are desensitised, something I’m sure Craven was very aware of, long before Scream 2. When Jada Pinkett Smith’s character perishes during this opener, we see the wreckage of desensitisation. People are so jaded that she literally has to die on stage for the crowd to see, to understand it’s real and not a gimmick. Further than that there’s the idea of media exploiting true crimes to turn into films, franchises, merchandise, et cetera. Everyone is so caught up in the Stab gimmick – all the Ghostface masks, rubber knives, all those toys and replicas – they probably imagined this woman getting stabbed in front of them was a marketing campaign, the next step in the film studio evolving to the times. And what’s funny is that this was released 20 years ago as of my writing, yet it’d be even more genuinely believable in this day and age than then, you could see this happening in 2017. Craven rubs in the reality when JPS hits the stage, lingering on her dead face, the blood, her cold eyes, before cutting to the title. A jarring image.
scream2-2The age old question rears its head once more in Craven’s sequel: do horror movies and violent images breed killers and/or homicidal thought? As we find out with Mickey (Olyphant), life really does imitate art like he points out, and he even plans on using it as a defence. This is spectacular for a couple reasons.
Number one, Mickey is one of the Ghostface murderers in this film and he goes against the killers of the first film, Billy Loomis and Stu Macher; they were big horror movie lovers, but were motivated primarily by revenge for Sidney’s mom sleeping with Billy’s father before their family fell apart. Mickey is wholeheartedly invested in movies as motive, the media has warped his mind and he’s going to use it to try getting off with murder.
Number two, life imitating art factors into the big finale. We start the film with a death on a movie theatre stage, we end the film with a final confrontation on a theatrical stage. Not just that, the play Sidney is a part of is Agamemnon, which is a tale of family and revenge; this directly parallels Scream 2‘s story that ultimately deals with family and revenge. When the other killer is unmasked it links to family, the first film. Then the deaths, completing the tragedy of a Greek play, add another effect to the whole. Sidney’s performance itself, her character, is a great inclusion. Plus, the audience witnesses a head trip of a rehearsal as she loses herself in the masks onstage, believing Ghostface lurks around each costume. Not only does Williamson use the Greek tragedy in parallel with his plot, the sequence at the rehearsal comes off as impressively theatrical, a nice visual and thematic few moments. All this together makes clear that the screenplay is well crafted, not just another sequel to a slasher waiting to be forgotten.
scream2-3As was the case in the original film, Williamson writes a nice whodunnit scenario, as Craven spins the words into near constant tension. Nobody here is safe from suspicion, and seeing Scream 2 for the first time is real fun because it’s a great guessing game for a while. More than that there are a couple perfect slasher horror scenes, a unique score like we got the first time around, and the returning actors – Campbell, Cox, Arquette, Kennedy – do a fine job carrying the material, sinking further into their characters this time around.
One last mention is that I love how they didn’t throw Cotton Weary to the side. He wasn’t forgotten, and the inclusion of his character, following up on his false imprisonment for the killing of Sidney’s mother, is not just good for the whodunnit mystery, it does wonders for the whole concentrated universe of the Scream series. I actually wish Weary lasted longer in the next movie, but alas, we at least get a bit more Schreiber!
Either way, this is a great sequel, one of the better and more underappreciated sequels to a slasher over the past 20 years, that’s for damn sure. I know this did well at the box office, but over time I feel like many horror fans fell out of love with it, if they ever actually loved it in the first place. All I know is that Craven directs this film at a masterful level, the suspense is unbearable and he keeps you on edge, while the story Williamson weaves adds to what made the first film so perfectly creepy and effective (in terms of its aim at media and the sensationalised way people view true crime), as well as provides serious weight to the story overall in his use of Agamemnon.
You’ll do far worse than this Craven flick if you want to throw in a sequel. Take a stormy, eerie night when the wind outside is blowing, turn off the lights, and let Scream 2 get in your head.

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I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER: A Flashy, Slashy, Trashy Good Time

I Know What You Did Last Summer. 1997. Directed by Jim Gillespie. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson; loosely based on the novel of the same name by Lois Duncan.
Starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Heche, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson, & Stuart Greer.
Mandalay Entertainment/Summer Knowledge LLC.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2posteriknowwhatyoudidlastsummerAfter Scream, horror fans out there seemed to only want similar movies. That’s fine, because I see stuff all the time and think “I wish there was more of this!” Problem is you have to draw the line. At a certain point we just need something different. And not every slasher, or horror in general, has to break the mould. Now and then it’s nice to just have a plain ole slasher, a simple ghost story. Whatever the case. So for Kevin Williamson, part of I Know What You Did Last Summer undoubtedly meant to show people he wasn’t intent on solely doing metafictional, self-referential horror. He also liked the slasher sub-genre that his screenplay for Scream took its jabs at, which is great! Why can’t a writer poke fun at a genre that he enjoys? Having a sense of humour about your own tastes is a mark of intelligence in my book.
For all its glaring flaws, I Know What You Did Last Summer has its fun with a loosely adapted story from the novel of the same name by Lois Duncan. It’s unfortunate that Duncan’s own daughter was murdered, she really didn’t like that they made this into a slasher, not one bit. Having all the empathy in the world for her, the book is one thing and her life is another.
Williamson’s script isn’t twisting and turning in the way we’re necessarily spooked by the reveal of the killer or anything. That’s not what this film is about. He examines the lives of four pretty, privileged, young white people who made a hideous decision not to report a murder, choosing instead to assure their promising, bright futures are not derailed. What follows is a wave of revenge, the consequences of guilt come back to punish them all. Like watching the conscience wreak havoc in horror form.ikwydls1The opening scenes before our flash forward a year or so set things up well. When horror has a palpable atmosphere, the story can be forgiven a few faults, even the acting. Director Jim Gillespie does great work with his debut feature, adding atmosphere that’s full of suspense and tension so quickly. From the first scene up until the flash forward, everything is dark, the mood and tone feels so ominous. Once the flash forward happens we’re plunged into the light. There’s a fascinating contrast between the dark subject matter and the sunny seaside town in which the story is set makes for an unsettling feeling, part of the film’s quietly creepy atmosphere.
Once the changeover between dark and light happens, the danger is everywhere. Constant. Around every last corner and each little turn is the potential for any various brutal death, in the name of the slasher sub-genre. We get a bit of brutality, too. Although not quite as much as you’d expect. One moment I always enjoy is how when the unknown, hook-handed killer chases down Barry (Ryan Phillippe), and we know he’s about to get killed barbarically. Only he doesn’t get killed, he’s left alive. Usually this isn’t the case for slashers unless dealing with a Final Girl situation. So that’s a nice little spot in the screenplay which works. Then, the delay of a kill amps up the tension a bit. Another shot I find effective is when Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) opens her trunk, a dead body inside covered in crabs; so fast, short, like a shot to the brain. Awesome horror moment.
ikwydls2One major weak link is Phillippe. Strange to me because, honestly, I usually dig him. He overplays the character, there’s no nuance at all. Surprisingly, someone I don’t often enjoy saves the acting: Ms. Love Hewitt. I’ve never really found her that interesting. The character of Julie James is one devastated by guilt of not stopping the cover-up of her friend’s crime, although no less guilty than any of her counterparts in the fateful act on that deadly summer night. She express the guilt without going into psychosis mode like Phillippe. Definitely helps to have her in the cast, as she remains the foundation of all the drama.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is decent here, as well. The sequence featuring her going to bed then waking up to a tiara on her head is sinister, totally drenched in suspense with great shots. She sees the tiara, the SOON in lipstick across her mirror. Such a beautifully executed sequence that leaves a dry lump in the throat. Gellar sells it well, going appropriately wild when need be.
This is also the gateway to more suspense, as the pace picks up speed. The movie builds steam from here to start churning on the terror. Slasher kill scenes don’t really open up much until late in the plot, which is fine. That’s a plus, as this gives time for everything else to develop. One of the best death scenes is that of Gellar: like our wait for more blood, this draws out awhile, until the Hook corners her and the killing blows are punctuated by fireworks in the sky. Amazing. Because at its base, this film is a warning to the rich, disaffected kids of America – they may not get caught by police, but the killers out for revenge in slasher pictures will find them, no matter how many summers pass. As Gellar’s Helen Shivers is stabbed bloodily to death, the Fourth of July fireworks in the sky, you can’t help but see this slasher as a deeply American movie on many levels.
ikwydls3There are a bunch of ways I Know What You Did Last Summer could’ve been improved. For one, that Phillippe performance needed toning down. Secondly, there needed to be more slasher gore, in my opinion. Part of me feels Williamson went a bit soft instead of going full-on slasher madness because he felt necessary to separate from Scream in any way possible.
But I don’t care. Doesn’t matter to me because there’s still a decent movie in there. A couple performances work, and the bloody bits we do get are worth the time. That July 4th scene is so good, so subtly terrifying. There’s some trashy stuff, a couple slick and flashy sequences. There are a few lessons to be learned on top of everything else. These young, privileged white boys and girls opt to try covering up what they did, not knowing the full story, and everything imaginable comes down upon them in return. I Know What You Did Last Summer is a slice of slasher cinema which aims to freak you out, simultaneously preaching to the teens who flock to see these types of movies about shady morality. Unexpectedly, the moral message works while other pieces don’t, and I dig enough of it that every Halloween this movie makes an appearance on my viewing list.

The Unknown Horror of Suburbia: 388 ARLETTA AVENUE

388 Arletta Avenue. 2011. Directed & Written by Randall Cole.
Starring Nick Stahl, Mia Kirshner, Devon Sawa, Aaron Abrams, Charlotte Sullivan, Krista Bridges, & Gerry Dee.
Copperheart Entertainment.
Rated PG. 87 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
posterFound footage sometimes doesn’t feel like its actually been found. There are movies in which I forgive the sin. Others feel as if they’re lacking because they need that real quality to make it effective. 388 Arletta Avenue is one of those found footage horror movies that uses its sub-genre gimmick to an advantage.
Instead of being from the victim’s point of view as is often the case, or being a more handheld and personal-type journey with a serial killer like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, director-writer Randall Cole goes for a definitively 21st century setup to play upon suburban fears of being watched, not knowing who’s really in the house next to them or walking their streets. This way, the antagonist of 388 Arletta Avenue comes off as more omniscient, more inescapable than many others in found footage.
There’s definitely a bit of room for improvement. Nick Stahl is excellent in the lead role, though I feel like the rest of the cast is underused, or improperly used. Either way he’s left to kind of carry the weight. Luckily he is a top notch actor when given the right material. As a husband in distress, one whose own rush to judgement and sketchy past only makes things worse, Stahl really keeps the viewer glued to his plight, wondering what could possibly happen next.
pic1Immediately, Cole places us in the shoes of voyeur. We are doing surveillance on James (Stahl) and Amy Deakin (Mia Kirshner), just as if we were the unseen protgaonist ourselves. And just as immediately the strange events begin swirling around the married couple, specifically James when he finds a burned CD in his car – one he didn’t make – and songs on his computer to back it all up. There’s a quick addition of tension into the plot between these two characters. It starts fast with such tiny intervention from the unseen stalker, you begin to imagine how bad it can manage to get from here on in. If this were real life, if you knew you hadn’t burned some CD, wouldn’t paranoia kick in?
After Amy goes missing, James starts to find himself getting creeped out more and more. Right alongside the viewer. There’s an oxymoron moment of playfulness crossed with sinister behaviour when James finds an e-mail in his inbox, sent from his own e-mail, saying “Meow” followed by “The Cat Came Back” playing on the stereo when he gets home. Probably the most awesomely eerie scene of the film, really gets me.
Everything gets interesting once Bill (Devon Sawa) comes into the picture. He’s an Afghanistan veteran. Just so happens that James and his friends bullied him mercilessly back in high school, to a degree (we assume) was pretty embarrassing. James assumes more with each strange event in his house that Bill is taking his revenge.
pic2FROM HERE THERE’LL BE SPOILERS. This verges on becoming about PTSD, how those mistreated might wind up taking out their disorder in chilling ways after coming home from war without anything to keep them properly occupied. It also hints at questions about morality, as well as how we hope to make amends somehow after being bad people for no reason. Whether that’s even possible if what you’ve done has ever really damaged a person. However, once figuring out who the true antagonist of 388 Arletta Avenue is there’s further reaching consequences of the events at hand. The surveillance, the depth of what this strange knows, it’s genuinely upsetting. Love it. Gives you that sick feeling in the gut, and wondering: who knows what about you in this day and age?
For a found footage horror-thriller, the screenplay is atypically tight. Most of these sub-genre flicks aren’t exactly well scripted. But Cole does well filling the duties of director and writer at once. The atmosphere is heavy, and he juxtaposes moments of emotional horror with songs you might not expect. Shaun Cassidy’s saccharine sweet bopper “Da Doo Run Run” plays a couple times; gets gut wrenching once slowed down to a crawl. “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb will never feel scarier, becoming less an R&B love ballad and more a morbid anthem. Moreover, Cole does well choosing places to position the camera, from the bedside table alarm clock to car vents to one positioned in the best place to watch James’ bed from overhead. Add to that the stalker has a camera on him, there’s a heart-pounding scene when James nearly catches him hiding in the closet – a daring move. You almost feel as if James is about to die right before your eyes, then a very brief cat-and-mouse chase breaks out. Awesome sequence.
pic3I personally enjoy the hell out of 388 Arletta Avenue. I dig found footage, but I know there are plenty of tired entries into the sub-genre out there. Because so many either copy too hard and rip-off their predecessors, or they just don’t do anything to make the found footage gimmick worth watching.
Randall Cole makes good decisions as director. At times the screenplay could easily have been added to and given more meat on the bones. Yet the core is strong. Again, Stahl is one of the big reasons this movie works. He is terrifyingly effective in that you both empathise, maybe even sympathise depending on your own experiences, with his situation (re: Bill particularly), and also see how he devolves quickly, violently in a dark place when faced with all the stalking directed at him. Throughout this tense 87 minutes Stahl keeps your attention by making you feel every last emotional sore spot.
Highly recommend this flick for your found footage viewing. Any time people want an underrated horror using the guise of found footage, I’m always quick to add that this really sticks to the gimmick and uses it as an advantage. No shaky camera throughout the entire runtime to make you sick. You get a solid lead performance, an eerie supporting one from Sawa, and Cole delivers most of the time in his directorial work. I’d bet you’ll get at least a chill or two after throwing this on during a dark, lonely night. This one removes any sense of safety from the home – what once was a happy couple’s safe haven becomes a house of modern horrors, set in motion by an unseen, never identified stalker who has infiltrated James’ life inside out.

Scream Queens – Season 2, Episode 1: “Scream Again”

FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 2, Episode 1: “Scream Again”
Directed by Brad Falchuk
Written by Falchuk & Ian Brennan & Ryan Murphy

* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “The Final Girl(s)” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Warts and All” – click here
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The bitches are back, bitches!
This season opens on October 31st, 1985 (just seven days after my birthday). In a hospital people are partying. But one woman’s husband is in trouble, and she can’t find anyone to take her seriously. Until they come across Dr. Mike (Jerry O’Connell), who – after a bit of prodding – takes care of the man. He and one of the nurses plan to dump a body out back in a swamp, let the animals and nature take care of him. She talks about the “Green Meanie” – an urban legend from when she was younger, a monster that stalked the swamps. Now, heading to the present, are we going to see someone taking revenge for this crime? You betcha.
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It’s 2016. Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) is all over the place as the face of “new feminism.” Meanwhile, hands Doctors Cassidy Cascade (Taylor Lautner) and Brock Holt (John Stamos) are taking care of a Ms. Catherine Hobart (Cecily Strong); an unfortunate lady who’s had to deal with werewolf syndrome. So we come to find out it’s Dr. Cathy Munsch. She received the honorary doctorate they “stripped from Bill Cosby.” Mostly she’s a lot of talk. As usual. But she’s awesome, and she opened up the hospital. Via voice-over, Cathy takes us back through how she got to this point. A fun little romp with Jamie Lee Curtis; ever cool, ever hilarious in a dry, sly way.
And what about the Chanels? Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), #3 (Billie Lourd), and #5 (Abigail Breslin). We go back over their court case, the involvement of Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash) in her crack up testimony during trial. There’s a bit of Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele) on tape claiming “double jeopardy” while arguing with Denise: “Its single jeopardy!”
Then there’s Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer). She’s in med school, trying to get by like many students. Munsch is swooping in on her, offering to pay for her tuition, offering a position at the hospital. Too good to be true? Well, Zayday takes her up on it. Whether that’s a good thing will have to wait a while.

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Starting her schooling, technically a direct entry residency, Zayday meets the obnoxious Dr. Cascade and the weird Dr. Holt. Particularly we get a story about how Holt actually lost a hand a few years back. Lost a ring in the sink, garbage disposal got turned on, and VOILA! These days he’s doing surgery like a magician. His speech is both tragic and hilarious – the way he keeps hitting things, scaring Cascade and Zayday made me laugh. Lots of eeriness, all the same. Cascade seems like an ass, as well as the fact he’s strikingly cold to the touch. Best is when Chamberlain Jackson (James Earl) shows up. His charm is undeniable, if not a bit in your face.
Zayday makes a big with Munsch to get more women around the hospital. You know what that means. Oh, yes.
Chanel and her “idiot hookers” are back. Everybody hates them now to the point they’re having shit thrown at them in the streets. They majored in Communications, they all got jobs. Not exactly what you’d think. Especially after ending up poor, tired, and knocked down a few social pegs. Once Munsch shows up, everything changes. Naturally the girls are sceptical of the former Dean’s extending her hand, asking them to enrol as students and work at the hospital. But really, what else will they do? Their arrival throws Zayday for a loop, too.

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So the fashion clash begins when the Chanels realise they have to wear scrubs. Although things feel more palatable after seeing Dr. Holt taking a shower. Curious: #5 notices a tattoo, sort of like a coat-of-arms with an H in the shield. Hmm. Anyway, the girls each have their jobs. After a bit of brutally funny banter on the term ‘ghosting’ as per Munsch: “Isnt ghosting when you do a number two and you look down at the paper and theres nothing there? And so you stand up and you look in the toilet and theres nothing there either because the turd somehow got shot down the hole before you even flush?”
The Chanels don’t have much bedside manner. Neither do Dr. Cascade or Dr. Holt, the first rambling on a Nietzsche-like thought and the other texting. Poor Catherine, the werewolf lady, is trying to get a bit of sense out of the doctors. Only one providing that is Zayday. We also get introduced to Ingrid Marie Hoffel (Kirstie Alley), R.N., who doesn’t have time for Chanel or any of their bullshit. Speaking of which, Munsch puts the Chanels on academic probation because of their treatment of Catherine earlier. Everything quickly feels like it’s crumbling beneath the Chanels after discovering they also don’t get paid, only free room, board, so on. So they head back to their room and brainstorm about what to do next: find a cure for “werewolf girl” first.
Chanel goes to talk with Dr. Holt about Catherine’s case. We see a bit of his weird, transplanted hand. In the midst of everything, Holt and Chanel figure out there may be a testosterone problem in Catherine, which prevents any further hand madness. Thus starts the fierce competition between Zayday and the Chanels. After a bit of treatment, Catherine loses ALL her hair. Not just a little. Every last bit. They give her a bit of a makeover, so that patches things up for now. Making Munsch’s hospital look great and pissing Zayday off.

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#5 is on graveyard shift while the other two have dates. While she helps Catherine with a bit of hydrotherapy, someone watches in the shadows. #5 opts to get in one, as well. Both of them locked in a tub. Smart move, dummy. Then, a green-masked intruder appears with a couple blades in hand. He puts on a bit of music for the occasion. Before lopping Catherine’s head off.
And we end on a last chop: is it to #5? Or to the head? Or maybe just a last scare? We’ll find out next week.

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An exciting, weird, creepy first episode for the second season of Scream Queens! Really loved this one. Can’t wait to see “Warts and All” next. Lots of promise, new characters, new setting, and a fun mask for a new killer, too.

BLOOD FATHER; Or, The Figurative Redemption of Mel Gibson

Blood Father. 2016. Directed by Jean-François Richet. Screenplay by Peter Craig & Andrea Berloff; based on the novel by Craig.
Starring Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, William H. Macy, Miguel Sandoval, Dale Dickey, Richard Cabral, Daniel Moncada, Ryan Dorsey, & Raoul Max Trujillo. Why Not Productions/Wild Bunch.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Action/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER There’s a fun aspect to the older male action star playing the protective dad. More so in Blood Father. Reason being is that Mel Gibson’s tarnished reputation due to odd, wild rants peppered with racism has put him in a unique position. No longer can we consider him in the same vein as the typical Hollywood leading man. He’s not anymore. We can’t look at him in that way because of the nastiness in his personal life. You can never separate something like that. I mean, look at Tom Cruise – he is bat shit crazy, though I find him an incredible actor, and one willing to even go the real length to do his own intense stunts. I can separate Cruise and Scientology, to a certain extent.
But Gibson, he’s different. It’s unclear to me if he’s actually racist, if he has an anger problem or a drinking problem or both. However, watching him as the titular Blood Father is interesting. He’s able to catch a handful of that old stardom through embracing a character as beat up as his own reputation.
On top of that, Jean-François Richet makes great choices as director to give the action a nice visceral feel. Although a few bits of the writing from Peter Craig (whose novel this is based on) and Andrea Berloff could’ve been tighter. That’s not enough to make the movie less enjoyable. They keep the pace up nicely once everything kicks into high gear, the thrills are genuine and the emotion is real.
People might, and will, say this is just another version of Taken. It’s more than that and, in my opinion, features a better fatherly performance from Gibson simply because the character as written has more range and depth.
Pic4 Much as you want to dislike him, Mel Gibson is a fine actor. I’ve always thought so, and with the weight of the world creased into his face, the wrinkles of age played up to make him even more grizzled than he is already, he is close to perfect. I’ve not seen a film of his since Signs where he shows as much promise. Perhaps his own life and the trials of his own mistakes play into the role, as an ex-con named John Link whose last chance to get back any semblance of hope or love in his life comes when his estranged daughter runs back into his arms with drug dealers looking to kill her. We see the sores, the warts and all in the performance. Gibson looks the part. He plays the part better. And not only is his emotional depth in the character excellent, he proves himself still worthy of the action star role. It’s natural that people will compare him here with Liam Neeson in Taken. Don’t sell Mel short here. The story and characters alone allow him lots to use. I personally think his personal life became a wreck. There’s always a second chance, for most people. As far as performances go, he does awesome work.
The daughter character, Lydia, is handled well by Erin Moriarty. I only remember her briefly from Season 1 of True Detective. Here, she does nicely as the damaged, wayward young daughter to Gibson’s John. They are an unusual pair, plus the story gives them a big divide after having been apart so long. Their reunion is uneasy and only gets worse by the moment once her secrets follow closely at their heels. She becomes more loving and comfortable the longer they’re together in opposition to him getting more frustrated the further his love pushes him to protect her. They’re a really good duo. Moriarty does just as much of the heavy lifting in terms of character as Gibson. They each make things incredibly fun in their own right.
Also have to mention Michael Parks. He’s solid in the small role as John’s old biker buddy, the Sheriff, whose relationship has changed quite profoundly over the years. Parks is always enjoyable for me. He is just a bit more spice on the already palatable dish of characters we’re served up. Oh, and the ever interesting Dale Dickey is around, as well. She never ceases to impress, no matter how small a role or how big. William H. Macy gives a nice turn as Kirby, John’s sponsor; he is a favourite of mine, so I like seeing him anywhere, any time.
Pic2 Motel Clerk (re: Lydia): “Hey man, whered you find her?”
Link: “A fuckindelivery room
Pic1 I dig the plot and it keeps things interesting. You expect a by the numbers job. The writing takes us on a decent ride. There aren’t a ton of big action set pieces, not in the way something like Taken goes for a big portion of hand-to-hand combat and elaborate chases. Blood Father has the action, the intensity, there’s a nice motorcycle chase scene involving an awesome shotgunning to remember. But the story goes further, aiming at the family dynamic. These two damaged people, father and daughter, come back together after many years, and the wounds are deep, they’re nasty, they have issues, each of them. And while the chase and the murders, all that wildness, is centre stage, John and Lydia as characters roots this entire film. They are the foundation. Some of the movie’s best aspects are the quieter moments between the two, as we delve into the family history, who they are, and surprisingly how they’re alike despite being separated for so damn long.
There’s nothing revolutionary about Blood Father. Although not every movie needs to be an innovation to be a success. This is a lot of fun, in a grim and sombre sense. The father-daughter relationship keeps the foundation of this story in place, the action and the thriller elements are an added joy. I’m glad to see Gibson doing a movie close to what he used to do. He is still questionable off the screen; onscreen, he still has what it takes. He carries the character well alongside Moriarty, the perfect fit for his troubled daughter. Their relationship feels real, it feels tragic. I didn’t expect to enjoy this so much. Not only did it keep me interested, wondering how everything would play out, the brief explosions of action and violence were enough to keep my adrenaline going, too.
Try not to sell this one short before seeing it. You may find Gibson, Moriarty, and the whole film in general hold a couple surprises.

Revenge is The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The Gift. 2015. Directed & Written by Joel Edgerton.
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Philipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Katie Aselton, David Joseph Craig, & Susan May Pratt. STX Entertainment/Huayi Brothers Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 108 minutes.
Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
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Joel Edgerton is a triple threat – he can act, write, and direct. The first thing I’d seen him do as a writer was the exciting film The Square. That same year, he put in a stellar acting performance as Ian Wright in the underrated dark thriller Acolytes. Next, he was spot on Barry ‘Baz’ Brown in David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, and another solid screenplay in 2014 for director Michôd’s The Rover. So to see him in The Gift with all three barrels blasting, starring on top of directing and writing together, it is truly phenomenal.
While this movie wasn’t exactly as great as the hype suggests, Edgerton does craft a very deep, at times highly disturbing thriller with lots of human drama and intrigue, weaving the story of two men together in adulthood concerning a terrible secret from when they were children. Most of all, Edgerton explores how we never really know people. Not fully, not all of them. Some hide things, unnerving and even awful things. And this is a story about when those secrets in the past crawl their way into the lives of people in the present. Often with horrific consequences.
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Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callum (Rebecca Hall) are a well put together married couple. They eventually want to have children, but other than that everything is wonderful. Until along comes Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (Joel Edgerton), an old high school acquaintance of Simon. He starts showing up unexpected at their home, usually bearing a gift. Except this continues and continues to an odd length. Soon, Simon feels he has to tell Gordo to back off.
However, the past is tricky. Not everyone, even those married and close to one another, knows the people around them completely. Everybody has a secret. It just so happens some are worse than others. And the secret Simon’s been hiding is certainly worse. As the presence of Gordo in their lives starts to threaten their plain, enjoyable existence, Simon and Robyn are confronted with how the past can taint the present forever.
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Aside from Edgerton, whom I dig, Jason Bateman is part of why I immediately found myself drawn to The Gift. He’s someone how has impeccable comedic timing and delivery, so to see him in something darkly serious is interesting. He does a good job with the character of Simon. What’s fun is that the character begins at one end of the spectrum, commanding our empathy for the situation in which he finds himself, as well as the fact his wife is inadvertently drawn into his past. Then by the end of the movie we’re questioning exactly where the loyalties lie as viewers. He is no longer worthy of our empathy, but at the same time we’re left to question how much punishment he actually deserves. One thing’s for sure, the true colours show and we finally see who Simon was all those years ago.
There’s also Rebecca Hall, she is a treat as usual. Here she gets a better role than most of the other films I’ve seen her in, as the character of Robyn is complex, endearing, and of course once the movie has run its course there is so much more involved. She plays the role well and she definitely has chemistry with Bateman, even Edgerton, too.
And Edgerton, he does a fine bit of work. Gordo is a nerve wracking character who’ll make you nervous almost every last second his face is onscreen. Whereas Edgerton often has a fairly built physique, or a manly build, whatever you want to call it, Gordo is more sheepish. He isn’t lost of confidence, not at all. But physically he isn’t imposing, he is sort of odd, awkward, and that makes him even more menacing in a way.
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The sad and smiley faces are something that warn you right away. Gordo’s stuck as a young boy, one used to writing notes across the class with pretty girls, smiley faces and all. This is an immediate clue, even from the first smiley, that something is amiss. Of course he’s a bit creepy all the time. There’s something about the notes, the smiley and later sad faces drawn on, which bring your attention to something traumatic. People who go through various kinds of trauma at a young age can often find themselves stuck in that age, often times for the rest of their lives. So later, once things are uncovered more and more, we’re clued into the fact that these little droplets of character actually mean something. It’s weird from the start, but gains further eerie significance after more story details fall into our laps. That’s part of why Edgerton’s script is really enjoyable. Despite being a fairly slow burn for most of its run there are so many moments to hook you in, keep you glued to what’s happening.
Spoiler Alert
: if you’ve not seen the film, do not go on. I’m about to discuss & spoil the ending.
Personally, I don’t think Gordo raped Robyn. To me he doesn’t seem like that type, no matter if he’s a creep. And above all, because he didn’t need to do that. All he required was the seed of doubt. Plant that in Simon’s head once and it’ll never go away. Simon would spend the rest of his life wondering, likely afraid to say anything about but all the while allowing it to consume him. That’s the greater revenge, in my opinion. Now there are some people I saw complaining about the rape angle being used here as a plot device, and I identify as a male feminist, so I understand there are films which really do exploit these types of situations and events. The Gift is first and foremost about the specter of abuse, rape, sexual assault. Because going back to the original events which spurred Gordo on, they were fictitious. So why not give Simon a taste of his own medicine? That’s what it all hinges on, in my opinion. Gordo wanted Simon to experience exactly what he did. Right down to a big fake-out.
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Ultimately, this is definitely a 4-star dramatic thriller with a good dose of mystery. Joel Edgerton’s done a fantastic job crafting a tense story. With the stellar main trio of performances this script comes alive. Sure, it is slow and at times moves with a snail’s pace. But that’s never a bad thing if the plot is compelling. And The Gift is absolutely compelling, if anything. It engages you with a highly adult story that stems from childhood, making you question how people change, can they actually change, is it possible to shake off the devastation of the past, among many other questions begging for an answer. The finale might shake many people. Even as a seasoned horror veteran, the end of the film is still shocking in its own right. Regardless, the whole ride is worth taking. Hopefully Edgerton takes on some more films soon as director because he’s got incredible sensibilities for directing in terms of shot composition, pacing, all the necessary elements. Only a few flaws to be found, but otherwise this is a taut, suspenseful piece of cinema.

Sensory Assault: The Experience of Time in Irreversible

Irréversible. 2002. Directed, Edited, Framed, & Written by Gaspar Noé.
Starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Jo Prestia, Phillipe Nahon, Michel Gondoin, Jean-Louis Costes, Mourad Khima, Hellal, Nato, Jara-Millo, Le Quellec, & Isabelle Giami. Lions Gate Home Entertainment/Muse Productions/StudioCanal/TechnoVision/Eskwad/Nord-Quest Production.
Rated R. 97 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★★
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Time destroys all things,” says L’homme (Phillipe Nahon), his only name in the credits.
More fitting, perfect words have never been spoken at the start of a film. One of the most infamous films post-2000, Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible certainly earns that moniker. When Noé brought it to the actors, it was simply an idea, an experiment he hoped to try. What came as a result is one of the more daring and innovative films of the past 15 years. Yes, it is brutal. Yes, Noé is uncompromising in his vision. But behind the brutality and the sexual violence contained in the film, Irréversible is all about how we react to the visceral, terrifying events which sometimes happen in life. Starting with the end of the story, then slowly working back, the story moves in a way which we’re not used to; the audience is accustomed to seeing things in a particular order. So this technique subverts what we see as a normal film experience, especially if it’s part of this sub-genre. Noé uses this to force us to watch, to keep us involved, and once the inexcusable act of violence in question happens there’s almost no coming back – it is, quite literally, irreversible. We are not able to go back in time. We’re already headed backwards, anyways. By doing so, the revenge thriller becomes an examination of the lives of those involved, and opens the door to humanity as animal emotion, as well as the realization that at any moment life can take a nosedive into cruel fate without so much as a warning.
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Another interesting point, before I dive in head first, to the opening scene with L’homme is that he is likely the exact same character from Noé’s bone rattling feature film debut in 1998, I Stand Alone (French title: Seul contre tous). So there’s a continuation of that character here, his misanthropic view of the world joining quite easily with this film’s plot.
The line he gives us – “Time destroys all things” – is a perfect summary of exactly what Noé is doing here with Irréversible. We start from the credits, then literally work our way back scene by scene until arriving at the beginning. Whereas a regular film of this type will begin with the characters, helping you get to know them and ingraining us into their lives, Noé immerses us into the violence committed first. The movie goes from revenge, to the act which drew out the need for revenge, to the happy beginnings. So what this effectively does is put us in a position where we have to see it all in reverse – therefore, the initial act of revenge is astonishingly savage, including a head bashing of the likes you’ll rarely see (only in other films with awesome practical effects). But this is Noé’s strategy. He confronts you with the violence first, and afterwards you’re forced to slowly move back through the motions until figuring out why this revenge has happened. This comes with no catharsis. Rape-revenge thrillers, such as The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, give us the lead-up, then the shocking violence, and finally we’re privy to the violence returned in revenge, so there’s almost a sense of relief, as if the audience is also getting revenge onscreen. Noé throws us into an uncomfortable position where the catharsis comes first, leading us to think it’s needless savagery. Then we’re left to confront a nasty, awful scene of sexual violence which prompted it, and there’s no rest for us, there is no revenge. By putting things in reverse, Noé really subverts the expectations of viewers who’ve come to his film with pre-knowledge of the sub-genre of rape-revenge thrillers. Aside from all the horror we witness, Irréversible is an exercise in form, which takes guts to get through, but believe me is worth it.
Note: You don’t have to watch the rape scene – though the act itself is a big part of the screenplay, it isn’t necessary to physically watch it through, as long as you know it happens there’s still an effect to it all.
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Apart from the reverse format of Noé’s movie, the style overall is incredibly infectious. It’s like actually being there alongside the characters. The camera floats along through Paris, as we’re privy to all sorts of views into the world these characters inhabit. Even in the opening scene with L’homme, the camera wavers between him and another man chatting, the camera only staying still on them now and then. Also, going further through the film, as we technically move closer to the beginning with each scene, the frenetic handheld style of camerawork and Noé’s direction get more steady, more framed and gentle. So while we’re following Marcus (Cassel) and Pierre (Dupontel) in The Rectum club, back through the cabs and on their way to find La Tenia (Prestia), everything is chaos, rarely is anything centered and fixed in the frame. So it isn’t simply going back to front with each frame, Noé makes us truly feel the emotions, as the camera eventually evens out and gets more controlled the further we get to the end (a.k.a the beginning). And everything works well here. The look and the atmosphere of the film is still raw and gritty while there are plenty of instances of almost psychedelic-looking techniques used to keep us off-balance for quite some time. You make not like Noé or enjoy the plots/themes of his films, but you cannot deny his visceral effectiveness as a director, and as a storyteller.
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I’m also highly interested in the characters. Alex (Bellucci) is a strong and beautiful woman, someone in love and with a joy for life – part of the enjoyment in her character is that we’re privy to the aftermath of her beating/rape before ever getting to know her. And also there’s a point here: it doesn’t matter who she is. There’s nothing that brought on her rape, nothing that ever could, so Noé subtly points out that even if she were a horrid, whore-ish woman after working back to the beginning (/the end), there’s nothing to justify the horrid act of violence brought upon her. Instead, the tragedy of the act becomes even more weighty, even more horrific, as Alex goes from a bleeding, broken victim to a living, breathing, loving woman. With a tendency for society to judge victims of sexual assault and rape, Noé almost abolishes this possibility because of the form, and so there’s a sense that he isn’t allowing us to pre-judge her (not that we should at all). Getting straight to her assault without ever seeing her before is a way of pushing through the typical patriarchal view some viewers take when considering rape.
Then there are Pierre and Marcus. They’re each very different men. But what’s so intriguing is seeing the opening, watching Pierre bash La Tenia’s face in after saving Marcus from also possibly getting raped himself. Then we’re moving backwards, as Marcus is shown in greater detail, and his hypermasculinity bleeds through the screen, his need for revenge described as his “right” and an almost necessary requirement for his masculinity to continue. It’s not even so much about Alex, it’s more about his need to destroy the man who destroyed his girlfriend. So there’s something in that, which speaks to the idea of the rape-revenge thriller, as well: the man is always the one looking for revenge, out to get it, and it’s usually the man involved with the woman assaulted. Yet we know Pierre, Alex’s former lover, is the one who kills La Tenia. And before the act, he was trying hard to steer Marcus away from what he calls “Bmovie revenge“, so where does his violence come from? Perhaps Noé is further getting at the trope of men avenging women. Not only does her boyfriend want so bad to destroy La Tenia, her ex-lover, a man clearly still with feelings for her, has to step in from outside the relationship and take his own revenge, too. Above all else, Noé speaks to the heart of revenge, and even love, as both men do what they do for love, regardless whether or not it’s truly for Alex or if it’s more about their male ego. There’s still a beating heart of love at the center of this film, next to all the brutality.
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Noé’s Irréversible is a 5-star film. It is flawless. Although the themes and the shocking violence are not for everyone, this is an important piece of cinema. Reversing the regular order of a film might seem like a gimmick. But believe me, this is no shtick. It is a legitimate technique used here to transform a rape-revenge thriller into something far more interesting and poignant. Often, we’re left at the mercy of filmmakers who push us through violence and sexual abuse in order for the film itself to pay-off in the end. However, by turning his plot in reverse and working backwards from the moment of revenge, to the assault, to the happy beginnings of a day in the life of a Parisian couple, Noé is effective in his attempt to forego catharsis. More than that, he punishes us, forcing his viewer to focus on the assault, and deprives us of an act of revenge to counterbalance what we’ve seen. Full stop, this is an exercise in form that need not be ignored. Noé is a modern auteur, no matter what you think of his ideas.

A Modern-Looking Wild West in Revenge Western The Salvation

The Salvation. 2014. Directed by Kristian Levring. Screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen & Kristian Levring.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Mikael Persbrandt, Douglas Henshall, Michael Raymond- James, Jonathan Pryce, Alexander Arnold, Nanna Øland Fabricius, Toke Lars Bjarke, and Sean Cameron Michael. Zentropa Entertainments/Forward Films/Spier Films/F.I.L.M.S./Det Danske Filminstitut/Danmarks Radio (DR)/Nordisk Film & TV Fond/Film i Väst/Department of Trade & Industry of South Africa/MEDIA Programme of the European Union/Nordisk Film Distribution/TrustNordisk. Rated PG. 92 minutes.
Drama/Western

★★★★★
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I haven’t had a chance to see Kristian Levring’s Fear Me Not, starring one of my favourite actors Ulrich Thomsen. So prior to The Salvation, I’d never experienced any of his films. Two reasons I came to this film: i) it’s a Western with Mads Mikkelsen, & ii) Anders Thomas Jensen co-wrote the screenplay with Levring; I am a huge admirer of Jensen’s films, all of which feature Mikkelsen (Flickering LightsAdam’s ApplesThe Green Butchers, & most recent Men & Chicken), as well as the fact he’s written other great movies like the fabulous and touching In a Better World.
For a long time I’ve loved Westerns. There are a flood of them out there. Although, if you search through them well enough all the cream will rise to the top. The classics will always reign on high, such as Once Upon a Time in the WestThe SearchersHigh Noon, The Man with No Name Trilogy; then we’ve got the more contemporary, now classics like UnforgivenThe PropositionTombstone, and in my mind The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. So there are no shortage of Westerns, nor is there a lack of masterpieces in the genre. That being said, there are many typical Westerns, cliched to bits. Others, while not bad movies, just seem uninspired.
Along comes The Salvation. This film, from screenplay to actual screen, takes on the Western in familiar tones. But all the same, Levring and Jensen’s script tackles a Western revenge tale with an innovative twist, fresh eyes, and from a very emotional standpoint. Not to mention there are plenty of ways you can parallel this tale of the supposed American Dream in the minds of foreigners to the struggle many face today. This is a great film, it is beautiful to look at. Above all else, the actors each play a huge part in making the film come alive and raise the bar for the modern Western genre.
016Danish-American settler Jon Jensen (Mads Mikkelsen) has been in the Land of the Free for a while now. He and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) have learned the language, they’ve tended their own land and looked out for one another. Plus, they seem to be integrated into the community. However, things change drastically for Jon especially once his wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and son Kresten (Toke Lars Bjarke) finally come to live there with him.
Upon their arrival, Jon takes his family by coach back to their home. Along the way, two men, Paul (Michael Raymond-James) and Voichek (Alex Arnold), accost Jon and his family. The conversation starts as only that, conversation, but the tone changes soon enough and the two strangers take Jon’s wife/boy hostage. Kicked out of the coach, he tries to run after them. Jon comes across the murdered corpse of his son. Then further down the road, he finds the coach – one man rapes his wife while the other takes watch outside.
After taking his violent revenge against the murderous rapists, Jon finds himself at odds with the local gangster Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), whose brother happens to be the aforementioned Paul. When the entire town turns their back on Jon, only his brother Peter stands by his side. That is, until Delarue’s men do the unthinkable to him, as well.
Standing against the insurmountable forces of Delarue and his henchmen, Jon Jensen is forced to take arms in order to have his revenge, or die in the process.
the-salvation-text1If you’re not immediately floored by the whole opening sequence (about the first 20 minutes), then I’m not sure what would affect your sensibilities. Fact is, without showing too much director Kristian Levring creates so much suspense, a thick and undeniably nasty tension, which drew me into the film’s world so savagely it honestly took me awhile afterwards to come back to my senses. Not only is the direction great, as well as the writing between Levring and Jensen, Mads Mikkelsen – a long time favourite of mine since his turn in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher & Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands and recently his work as Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s unusually amazing series – performs his character’s anger and woe so subtly it’s impossible to turn away from the power. I’m not trying to pit American v. European v. anywhere else actors here, not at all. However, there are certainly some (North) American actors who come to mind that are very exuberant, almost too much so at times. Especially when it comes to revenge styled movies, such as this one. For instance, even though I’m a Sean Penn fan (as an actor; not so much as a person), and I love his turn in the movie, Mystic River contains a pretty wild performance out of him – not at all times, though, in some scenes he is very much going heavy. Whereas in The Salvation, right out the gate, Mikkelsen delivers so much intensity and heartache without having to do anything overtly emphatic. He simply acts with all the emotion in him available, just seeping it out of his skin; the look on his face, his body language, the bunch of bullets he pumps into his family’s killer even after the guy is dead. And like I said, these are only the first 20 minutes (19 and a half if we’re getting specific). From there on in, Mikkelsen has lots more to do, and does it to near perfection.
Then we’ve also got Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose performance as the big bad in this Western comes as a surprise to some. Not to me, though. Even while I’m not a huge fan of the Watchmen adaptation (it’s real good; just not as good as it should/could have been), Morgan impressed me as The Comedian. Also, my girlfriend watched a bit of Supernatural, and I found him pretty good in that. Then in the mediocre movie Texas Killing Fields, he was one of the only things I actually enjoyed a nice deal. But some people seem him as this good guy type. Maybe I’ve not watched enough of Morgan to feel that way. I see him as a guy with a dark side, even though I think he has good range. So here, in The Salvation, I was pleased to see him in a truly outright bad guy role. It doesn’t take long to figure him out, but not in a transparent way – you just feel how mean the dude is, right from his first appearance. It only gets more unpredictable and even more nasty once Morgan shows us how brutish his character Henry Delarue can become, to what level he’ll sink. Again, though, I have to say Delarue isn’t someone I could predict. There’s a moment, just before the half-hour mark (so much intensity so early), where you’ll understand exactly what I mean: I saw parts of it coming, but how he ends this confrontation is spectacularly harsh, and I couldn’t have imagined he was so cold. Not only is Delarue a bad, low man, he does have a tough presence, one of both physical and mental strength. It all sets the stage for an excellent showdown coming between Mikkelsen’s Jon Jensen and Morgan’s Henry Delarue.
salvation2Apart from the acting, Levring’s direction is what makes this film so special. Cinematographer Jens Schlosser provides us with lush visuals, from the wide open plains of the old West to the tighter, more personal scenes involving the characters and the well written dialogue of this screenplay. Schlosser has worked with Levring before on Fear Me Not, as well as served as Director of Photography on Amy Berg’s excellent/heartbreaking documentary Deliver Us from Evil (see it: an important piece of work). I find this one of the most visually exciting Western movies in recent times. John Hillcoat’s The Proposition is another amazing to look at Western from the last decade, though, that one has a gritty, more rough aesthetic. Regardless, I think this movie’s visual beauty has much to do with the emotional intensity and darkness of the subject matter/the performances. There’s a perfect contrast between how pretty the movie is and how devastating its plot and story are, it is a masterful bit of work from every angle.
Once more, I mention the script. So many revenge films are the same, just as Westerns often end up seeming after you’ve seen a ton. While The Salvation is typical in certain senses (rape-revenge setup), there are many ways in which it is not. For instance, like I mentioned earlier in my review, Levring doesn’t go and show everything full-on. Yes, much of the violence is pretty well spelled out in front of us. But I think the early bits, the rape of Jon’s wife, the murder of his boy, they were handled very well. I was very much expecting us to have to actually see Paul/Voichek humping Jon’s poor wife. Though, instead we get to see most of the after effects. This movie doesn’t glorify sexual violence, even if rape is at its core as a plot device/element. The effects and the revenge are the main point, that’s why everything brutal and nastily violent comes so early; literally, the first twenty minutes gets almost all of it out of the way, in terms of the injustice done to Jon’s family. We get lots of violent stuff after this point. Simply, it’s notable how Levring/Jensen go a different route than most would in this case. They still stick very much to the rape-revenge model, they’re just not relying on all its tropes and cliched moves to make things work. Furthermore, setting this is all in the context of Danish settler in America v. “born n’ bred” Americans is an interesting aspect, which you’re not always going to see except in a few other choice films of the genre. All in all, I’m amazed with the screenplay because I found myself unsure exactly of how things were heading to play out. Best part of the plot and story of The Salvation is how subversive it came across at times.
1280x720-mPeWith a big Wild West showdown near the end that can rival some of the best, The Salvation is most definitely a 5 star film. It has guts, plus brains. Even better, the directing from Kristian Levring downplays the usual focus on the rape in order to get to the revenge. Instead, he opts to show us the savagery of the revenge at the other end on top of the heightened emotions from all the characters involved. And at times you’ll find yourself wondering exactly what is about to happen next. With the stellar performance of Mads Mikkelsen in the lead role, alongside Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green and Mikael Persbrandt in awesome roles respectively, this is a Western you can’t afford to miss. It has all the greatness of any other revenge-thriller, the heart and soul of a perfect drama. Not to mention it’s one of the best Westerns of the last two decades.

The Fog: A Chilling American Ghost Story

John Carpenter’s The Fog. 1980. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Hal Holbrook, Charles Cyphers, George ‘Buck’ Flower, and Jim Haynie. AVCO Embassy Pictures/EDI/Debra Hill Productions. Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
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An impressive aspect about John Carpenter, other than stuff I’ve already talked about in reviews, is that his filmography as director has covered such ground in terms of genre. While a lot of it is horror-centric, within horror he crosses over into science fiction, the thriller, and even ghosts/the supernatural. He can cross any genres and make them work well with his slow and steady pacing, his suspenseful style. The ghost story style plot works for Carpenter, as he has a way of creeping up on you, every frame draped in the lurking presence of danger.
The Fog is a super interesting story of ghosts looking for revenge and a town with deep, dark secrets. Carpenter and frequent partner-collaborator Debra Hill came up with a nice screenplay, which he in turn crafted with style into one hell of a creepy horror movie.
tnt24.info_Mg³a_-_The_Fog_1980_Horror_HDRip_XviD_AC3-HQVIDEO_RUS_.4060__97446In Antonio Bay, California, a one hundred year celebration is about to happen. Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) is busy preparing the town for its big shindig, while Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is playing his part well enough, except his church is obviously in financial ruins; all the money flowing into big parades and such for the centennial. Then there’s Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) who keeps herself and her son afloat, barely, by owning/operating the lighthouse radio station. At the same time, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) rolls into town with a hitchhiking young woman named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis).
But things start to go wrong, or at least they begin to get strange. A boat full of men doesn’t come in like they usually do, which prompts Nick to go looking for a friend who’d been on it. Once they track down the boat everything gets weirder, and not a soul is found aboard.
On land, Father Malone happens to find a diary lodged in the wall of his office at the church – it paints a gruesome picture of the residents in Antonio Bay during 1880 who did terrible, unspeakable things all under the guise of keeping their citizens safe from sickness. What has begun to happen in the little town turns out to be the revenge of those beyond the grave… those who will rise up from the water, in the fog, to come for every last descendant of the ones who took their lives.
FOG_1 screenshot_27Said it before, I’ll say it over and over: Carpenter’s scores are undeniably infectious. The swell of the electronic sound he often lays under a scene, how the swell then builds and builds, it’s so effective. I think that’s a big reason why I’ve always been so in love with 1980s horror – not only was I born in the ’80s, the music of those films was always so interesting, so brooding; not every last one of them, but so many, even the shit ones some times. But Carpenter infuses each of his films with such an intriguing sound in that way. It helps his style so much, the way he works off of suspense and tension. The music really lends itself to that. Particularly I love it here because the way the fog creeps in during many scenes almost matches the sound of the score. There’s more to simply throwing a bunch of special makeup effects and a fog machine into the shot – Carpenter actually crafts an atmosphere of genuine tension, his ghostly apparitions sneak into the frame and into our heads, they slowly take over the small seaside town. At the same time the terror slowly works its way up your spine and seeps into your brain. I’m not one to get JUMP UP AND SCREAM SCARED. But I love a good slow burning, deeply tense horror movie. Carpenter almost exclusively does this type of work.
Another big part of this film are the landscapes Carpenter includes. The cinematography from Dean Cundey, a Carpenter-collaborator on the regular, is fascinating. So beautiful, at the same time it sets up this incredibly desolate feeling. Much like his work in The Thing. Here, the way he captures so many of the wide open spaces, the ocean, the hills, it’s really disturbing in a gorgeous visual sense. There’s always a feeling of isolation in Carpenter’s work, whether it’s Assault on Precinct 13Halloween, or The Fog. Cundey is able to provide big lush visual feasts in which the suspense/tension of Carpenter comes out perfectly.
the-fog-1980-Screenshot-4There are plenty films which use radio deejays as plot devices, such as Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Don McKellar’s Last Night. What I enjoy about Adrienne Barbeau in this film, as lighthouse personality Stevie Wayne, is that she’s not used as a plot device. Rather, Stevie is just a solid character who we come to know intimately through her soft and silky voice going out over the waves in the dark of night. Then once her plight begins, things feel more tense.
And this comes back to the fact I feel Carpenter and Hill are good writers. They’re not trying to do anything crazy here, nothing metaphorical or anything (though you can absolutely take away stuff like that if you want/look into it enough). But really they craft a nice story with good characters. They’re able to get you to care for these people and pity them for being caught in the crossfire caused by their ancestors; while hating what the people of Antonio Bay did back in the latter half of the 19th century, these genuine, nice characters don’t deserve to die for that – do they?
Stevie Wayne is not the only good character. I love them all. Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone is solid, right to the end. Aside from him there’s the always charismatic Tom Atkins, who I was recently enjoying in the underrated (and misunderstood) Halloween III: Season of the Witch. And last but not least, not at all, the wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis in another early horror movie performance; she is funny, sweet and has great presence in this film whenever she’s onscreen. The chemistry between Atkins and Curtis’ characters is phenomenal and adds a little something extra to their subplot, as they try to survive their time in Antonio Bay.

So many creepy moments and scenes. One of my favourites is when Nick (Atkins) is telling Elizabeth (Curtis) a story, then first a locker tips over scaring her before an actual body, its eyes gouged out, falls against her back; what an awesome two-punch technique! Love that one. Usually I’m not one for jump scares, but I love them when done right. Carpenter utilizes them appropriately a lot of the time, much as he started doing back in Halloween. He knows how to do them with an interesting touch instead of heavy handed, making it a cheap scare tactic.
But the best spots in The Fog are those that slowly catch you. Like when the fog overtakes everything in Antonio Bay, and one by one people start to get sucked in and killed by the ghosts of the lepers. I love how you know what’s coming, yet Carpenter draws you in and makes things incredibly suspenseful.
A top pick for favourite moment has to go to when Stevie (Barbeau) ends up climbing, climbing the lighthouse trying to outlast the fog coming for her. I’m afraid of heights (even though I once worked as an electrician in Alberta at ridiculous heights; never again), so this part really grates my nerves. In the best filmic sense. Also helps that this scene comes nearing the finale, obviously. There’s a great intensity watching Stevie try her damnedest to survive. A real trooper.
Another top pick – Elizabeth encounters a reanimated man. I won’t say anything further. Wildly creepy scene.
the-fogAnother 5 star ’80s classic from John Carpenter. He and Debra Hill did so well with this story. It’s a gothic, macabre piece of writing. Pile onto that the excellent cast, the score, all those awesome shots and effects – it’s a real masterpiece of ghostly horror. I can’t recommend this one enough. Always a huge fan of Carpenter, I consistently come back to this one because it’s spooky, it has great writing, and I’m always entertained. You’ve got to add this to any Carpenter marathon, as well as any proper Halloween/October movie list. It has a ton of great qualities, especially for a creepy night with the television on and the lights off.

Straw Dogs: Violent Men Marking Their Territory

Straw Dogs. 1971. Directed by Sam Peckinpah. Screenplay by David Zelag Goodman & Sam Peckinpah; based on the novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams.
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan, T.P. McKenna, Del Henney, Jim Norton, Donald Webster, and Ken Hutchison. ABC Pictures.
Rated R. 113 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
straw-dogs-poster-1Director Sam Peckinpah had a pretty wild ride in the film industry. He made plenty of good films, as well as a couple stinkers. However, atop the best of his pile is most certainly Straw Dogs featuring an outstanding performance by Dustin Hoffman. While the remake was nowhere near the caliber of this near perfect film, we still have Peckinpah to fall back on. And that’s one nice part about remakes, even if they’re bad generally they tend to draw people to the original by virtue of discovering them via the new films being released.
What’s so intriguing about the 1971 classic original Straw Dogs are seemingly lost elements to the films of today. For instance, Peckinpah had Dustin Hoffman and Susan George live together for two weeks, along with writer David Zelag Goodman in order to get a feel for their relationship. Some of what came out of that ended up in the script itself. Even further, Peckinpah and Goodman explore the nature of violence, what creates it, as well as how it affects the people on which it is inflicted. Moreoever, they examine how violence is not definitively American as some people seem to see it due to the media and how America is perceived internationally. So much going on in this film.
What comes out is a tense, first rate thriller with some intense performances. It may be hard to watch at times, however, it is an important film out of the 1970s, which showcased how well a director can manage to draw out visceral performances from their actors, and also how edgy many of the movies at the time were as opposed to a lot less pushing the enveloped nowadays.
large_straw_dogs_blue_blu-ray_2Straw Dogs is the story of David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George). David moves to England in order to escape America and its plague of violence. They go back to live in Amy’s hometown, at an old cottage style house in a tiny spot around Cornwall.
When they arrive, Charlie Venner (Del Henney) – an old flame of sorts once involved with Amy – seems to be a little too interested in her return. When David has the men hired to repair the old cottage/farmhouse where they’re living, Charlie and his crew – Norman (Ken Hutchison), Chris (Jim Norton), and Phil (Donald Webster) – show up, and eventually things slowly devolve into a tense and standoff-ish situation.
Starting with a bit of machismo, David tries to stake a claim to his home, and really, his wife. Unfortunately, Charlie and his boys have more nasty plans. After they take David out on a hunting trip, leaving him deserted, Charlie heads back to the house where he forces himself on Amy.
This act will change everything, for Amy, for Charlie, and most certainly for the mild and meek David Sumner.
004edac9820fa40a21f37d5b01e0824d perros-de-paja-straw-dogs-2Obviously most of the conversation, and in turn controversy, surrounding Straw Dogs is the infamous rape. Some debate whether or not it is a rape. Furthermore, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest maybe Peckinpah strayed a little too far with some of the script. Such as in a scene around the half hour mark, Amy (George) comes into the house complaining the men were staring. Her husband David (Hoffman) chastises her and says she ought to wear or bra, or else “those types” will be staring; essentially, victim blaming. Though, this is long before she’s assaulted by Charlie (Henney), which then turns into a gang rape as Norman (Hutchison) shows up becoming increasingly violent.
I’m not totally sure what I think about the rape, as far as how Peckinpah meant it to be seen and understood. The entire film it’s hard to fully understand what Amy’s intentions are, in terms of the way she acts around the men who are so obviously leering and drooling over her body. So at times, it does feel as if Peckinpah is almost victim blaming in his own right as director and one half of the screenwriter team with Goodman. Yet I’m still not totally ready to resign myself to saying that’s what his intention was with the initial rape scene and Amy’s behaviour in general.
We see this strange back and forth, tit for tat, between David and Amy that seems to be a weird situation. She actually makes it worse at times because David starts to think Charlie and his crew are messing with him; for instance, the scene where she erases one of his mathematic drawings and replaces it with a straight line ends up coming to bear when he believes it must’ve been them trying to fool up his work. Then Amy takes off her top and willingly walks past her window as the men look on. Now, she should be able to do what she wants in her own home! But it’s like there’s a taunting side to Amy, a part of her that wants to bring out a more macho, more eruptively violent side to her husband than he displays regularly. I can’t make out exactly what’s going on, yet the film still shocks and thrills me at respective times.
peckinpah straw dogs hoffman swingMy best take on it is that Peckinpah is not making a statement about women overall. Mostly, his aim appears to be towards dissecting men. In other words, Straw Dogs is not so much a rape-revenge film as it appears on the surface. Directly in opposition to that, it’s more of an examination of men and their propensity towards violence, the way they hope to mark their territory, to own it.
In a sense, I’m not sure the first supposed rape scene is actually a rape. There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest Amy might be sort of unhappy with the way David, a quiet American mathematician still green around the ears, doesn’t exactly take charge. In any way. Even in an early scene when they go to bed, she seems to be getting frisky and yet David insists on first setting the alarm clock, totally ruining the moment. From there, I started to notice Peckinpah focused a lot on how David is very intellectual and incredibly obsessed with his own work, his own brain. Then juxtaposed with him, we’ve got these rough and tumble boys from Amy’s old hometown, the good old boys from the country in England, all of whom are very physical, very ‘manly’ as opposed to David. So I think there’s a part of Amy that does want Charlie, or more so she just wants excitement – SHE DOES NOT WANT TO BE RAPED. Let me repeat myself: she does not want to be raped. Merely, I think she wants a take charge man, someone with a bit more machismo than David. CERTAINLY once Norma shows up, there is a rape. An awful one. So that is undoubtedly a full-on assault. Her moments with Charlie are hard to decipher, though, I think in the end they’re able to be figured out. Afterwards, everything is crystal clear.

So perhaps instead of looking at how Peckinpah is painting women, I think it’s better if we spend our time looking at the way men are acting. The men are letting Amy influence them, not by any part of her own. She’s not at fault – it’s the men who can’t control themselves. So when Peckinpah has publicly said he views man as a carnivore in Straw Dogs, I totally understand that sentiment. Even David, he’s no better in the end because he could’ve solved things a long time before any of the crazy events transpired, and yet he chose to merely argue with his wife and not heed the warnings she’d been giving him. Because she did warn him, essentially. She wanted him to take care of the entire situation with Charlie and the rest of the construction crew, yet the sensitive and misguided David couldn’t bring himself to even talk to them. Amy actually suggested packing up and leaving the old cottage. In opposition, David decided to not even do a thing about the fact Amy’s cat turned up dead, hung in their closet.
Can’t you see how David had such a major hand in everything which comes later on?
It’s more unfortunate for her because I believe the reason she didn’t tell David about the rape right away was because A) she was traumatized and B) she wanted to have sex with Charlie after all but was afraid to talk about the rape because then she’d also have to simultaneously admit her adultery. Even more than that, I think Amy is partly disgusted in the end that David wouldn’t stand up to the men for her, for anything she asked him to do before and he wouldn’t do, yet for a suspected child molester/killer he battens down the hatches at the farmhouse and gets ready to attack. It’s more than he did for her, so I think part of what ultimately happens goes to show how men and their revenge are not always reasonable.
strawblu_shot9lNow that I’ve said my piece concerning the controversy of Straw Dogs, I want to talk more instead about the Sam Peckinpah style. He’s definitely been known as a filmmaker who showcases and explores intense violence between human beings. Most of all, the violence which men inflict upon one another. This is another way in which you can tell his focus in this film is not on Amy so much as it really lies on David, Charlie, and the other male characters.
I love the scene where David has the men open and set an old metal bear trap in the cottage living room. They eventually get it set properly, and he has them mount it right above the fireplace. I mean, if there ever a metaphor, or a highly evident image of the construction of masculinity, then here it is! At least that’s how I see it. Even more so because later on that bear trap comes into great use for David.
Most of all, there’s a gritty resonance about the films of Peckinpah. It’s certainly evident here, as everything looks so raw and real. You might as well be sitting in the little pub with David as he tries to buy some cigarettes, or right there in the sparse little cottage and farmhouse where the Sumners are living. Straw Dogs contains so much of that beautifully crafted realism which Peckinpah is known for and it’s one of the reasons I love it so much. I saw this for the first time 15 years ago, still a big fan.
20120720-235314The best bit of the film is when David erupts and fights back, setting himself violently against the British country boys of Amy’s hometown. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, I think this is full-on more of an evaluation of men than it is women. Because if Charlie were the only one to engage sexually with Amy, it would’ve merely been a fact of her cheating. Which is terrible, sure, but these things happen.
The male domination at the hands of Charlie and Norman – mostly the latter who initiates the vile rape, though Charlie helps him in doing so – is what then sets off the carnivorous side of David; the battle for territory. While Amy had a part in what happened between her and Charlie, ONLY in the sense I believe she did want Charlie even in the slightest bit (again she did not want to be raped I have to be clear on that for people who’ll misread what I’m saying) – it’s all about the men. Charlie thinks he owns Amy, David thinks he owns Amy, then the battle begins.
What I like most, though, is the violence. Honestly. It’s shocking at times and extremely savage. That being said, it’s effective, it is the Peckinpah way, and helps to cement this as one of the most intense thrillers out of the 1970s entirely.
d151c11def71I’m only restraining myself slightly from giving Straw Dogs a full 5 stars; right now, it’ll remain at 4.5 out of 5. Still impressive and one of the most iconic movies of the ’70s, in my mind, Sam Peckinpah’s film is a piece of work that will remain highly and hotly debated as long as people are still watching movies. That will never change. Even with the discussion I’ve brought up here, there is ton more involved and you could certainly challenge all of what I’ve said. So the possibilities when discussing Straw Dogs are endless. I never even so much got into the performances – both Dustin Hoffman and Susan George are absolutely wonderful in their tough roles – so that’s another aspect I could’ve probably talked on and on about for another hour or two.
Either way, this is a top notch piece of thriller cinema. It’s got a vicious, visceral edge to it, but if you’re able to get through the sensitive bits there is a lot to enjoy in the end.
See it if you’ve not yet, one of Peckinpah’s greatest works out of an illustrious and wild career. Any comments – reasonable and civil – are welcome, especially if you want to discuss possible meanings, differing opinions on the characters, plot, et cetera.