Tagged Villain

For My Brother is a Harrowing, Honest Perspective on Systemic Child Abuse

For Min Brors Skyld (English title: For My Brother). 2014. Directed & Written by Brian Bang.
Starring Elias Munk, Christopher Friis Jensen, Allan Karlsen, Frank Schiellerup, Oliver Bjørnholdt Spottag, Tina Nørby, Frederik Ingemann Brandt, Lara León, Marie Louise Lund Jensen, Kit Langberg Rasmussen, William Gaarde, Robin Koch, Oliver Skou, Dorte Evalyn Evon, & Tobias Hyttel. Bang Entertainment.
Not Rated. 117 minutes.
Drama

★★★1/2
POSTERBefore getting into this review, I have to state the following.
TRIGGER WARNING: this movie contains several graphic scenes of sexual abuse and rape, as well as implicit and explicitly implied situations of incest, et cetera. PLEASE, if you have an aversion to any of this, turn back. And certainly don’t watch the film.

First time writer-director Brian Bang (also serving as cinematographer, producer, locations scout, editor, casting director) has come on strong with his feature For Min Brors Skyld, which I’ll refer to from here on in by its English title, For My Brother.
This is an excruciating look at the life two young brothers live saddled only with their father, their mother having died seven years before. Their father is an abusive man, both physically and sexually, and he also allows a friend of his to molest his oldest son in return for money. The oldest boy takes care of the youngest, sheltering him from the life he’s been forced into by his father. Right from the start we’re aware of the abuse. Unlike an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or some typical drama tackling the subject, we’re never kept in the dark. And that’s part of why Bang’s feature is so brutally effective, even though it occasionally steps in too deep for its own good.
With a movie like this there’s often a headlong dive into sensationalism, as people become aware of the abuse and either revenge or justice starts to work its magic. However, Bang keeps us rooted in the experience of the boys, and this is what sets it apart from similar projects. Yes, it is often hard to watch, especially when the graphic qualities jump out at you during various scenes. Despite that, our immersion in the perspective of the older brother Aske (Elias Munk) particularly is how Bang manages to keep us interested and still watching after the plot turns nastier than nasty. There are a couple moments I’m not sure of, in the sense of morality and also writing. On the whole, For My Brother is a psychologically harrowing piece of cinema, and also with its reality takes upon itself the role of showing viewers just how hopeless, never ending, horrific the sexual abuse of children really is, never pulling any punches and never once keeping the gloves on.
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This sort of stuff always hits close to home for me. I don’t particularly enjoy sitting through any sexual assault scenes, in any film. Funny enough, Irréversible is an amazing movie, as is the original Wes Craven The Last House on the Left. Yet I still have to fast forward through the former’s infamous scene, and take no pleasure in the latter’s either. However, when these types of scenes or themes involve children, that’s tough to take. Any person in their right mind would feel that way, especially if they’ve been close to abuse or have been abused themselves. Ultimately, I feel what Bang does here with his story is not exploitative. We do in fact see a few graphic moments, one sees a bunch of men holding Aske down as he’s blindfolded, taking turns raping him. In fact if you can make through the initial scene, you’re not likely to turn away. Bang opens with an event that’s traumatizing. There’s nothing aggressive happening, other than emotionally aggressive, yet the impact is lasting. You’ll be revolted so quick, so hard and fast that moving forward will certainly be questionable for many. Worse than that his mother dies after being hit by a car. Not only is it sad anyway, but she is the one lifeline that Aske had, now that’s gone. So you almost feel like you’re on the verge of Dante’s Inferno, rimming a Circle of Hell, as the mother dies and unwillingly must leave her son in the hands of his paedophile father. Horrifying to begin a film. If you hang after the first 15 minutes, the rest (mostly) isn’t as bad.
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For My Brother expresses the inescapable feeling abused children feel, that they continue to feel. Often people wonder how someone, once they’re older, can go on letting things happen, or at the very least go on without telling of what’s already happened before. It’s because of the cycle, the systemic degradation and humiliation of a young person by the abuse. Here, it’s twofold, as Aske’s father Lasse (Allan Karlsen) has pimped him out to others since the boy was young, also taking his turn, too. So after years and years, especially as a male being raped by his own father, the desire to stay silent is stronger. Like any other behaviour, the sex in all forms is completely routine. In opposition, sex is also warped. Much as Aske wants to be with a girl he can’t seem to get the job done, at least not right away. A young girl flips on him for not immediately getting an erection, so worse now is the shame. At this point in the film, Aske tells his close friend in a rage. Not all victims will even tell anybody. Many only find their greatest shame discovered after people find out somehow, and if it’s an ongoing thing it could go on forever. That’s the unfortunate point Bang gets across as a writer.
Without spoiling the end, this movie is grim through and through. There are only slight glimmers of hope. These come when the brothers are together. This is why the film has its title. Aske not only tries to protect his brother (as in “I take the abuse for my brother”), he likewise keeps living because his brother is the sole bright spot in his life (as in “I only live but for my brother”). Moreover, the actor that plays Aske – Elias Munk – does a fantastic job. It’s hard to play a role like this, as it can easily descend into melodrama. Coupled with the ultra realistic style of Bang’s direction, Munk makes the character feel real. He is complex. He is tortured, but also has a light and foolish side that comes out with his brother. Seeing him deal with the brutal life his father forces upon him is emotional, you’ll probably find a tear or two ready to form, if they don’t full on fall. Similar to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance in Mysterious Skin, Munk plays this edgy, tough role with grace and power. I’ll definitely be seeking out other films he’s in to watch him again.
I have to mention Frank Schiellerup playing the hideous pervert Hans. Basically, he’s the villain of the movie. Alongside the father, of course. From the beginning he is a terrifying presence in Aske’s life. Once the boy’s mother dies you can almost feel the guy ready to crawl all over him like a serpent on its prey. There is something eerie about him and so I have to give credit to Schiellerup. He makes Hans into a proper monster.
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This is not a movie I’ll recommend. If you’re brave enough, go ahead. It undeniably does have a message. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s gratuitous for the sake of being harsh. For all its nastiness, it could easily have been nastier. Absolutely. There is a slight, if barely visible hint of restraint. Either way, For My Brother does not sugar coat any of its subject matter. It also doesn’t offer any hope. Not saying this is a requirement. Not all stories are the same. Though it’s notably admirable for a film to try spearheading a raw, honest depiction of child abuse. While there are plenty elements which could’ve been executed better (the score mainly did nothing except detract from the realistic style), Brian Bang does pretty good for his first feature, and again, commendable to take on such a controversial, difficult topic as he does. Here’s to more hard looks at the tough corners in life. Bang will hopefully do something else gritty next time, looking into a different pocket of our fucked up world.

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Terror Comes Knocking When a Stranger Calls

When a Stranger Calls. 1979. Directed by Fred Walton. Screenplay by Steve Feke & Fred Walton.
Starring Carol Kane, Rutanya Alda, Carmen Argenziano, Kirsten Larkin, William Boyett, Charles Durning, Ron O’Neal, Rachel Roberts, Tony Beckley, Colleen Dewhurst, and Michael Champion. Columbia Pictures Corporation/Melvin Simon Productions. Rated R. 97 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Horror

★★★★★
when-a-stranger-calls-3There are many slasher horrors out there – this is not particularly a slasher, but certainly feels like one with the relentless Curt Duncan stalking women in the night, played to eerie perfection by Tony Beckley. So while When a Stranger Calls doesn’t have the big body count, or a bunch of knife murders (et cetera), it does have the familiar feel of a slasher horror movie.
What this Fred Walton-directed dramatic horror has going for it is a keen psychological edge. From the direction, the acting by both Beckley and Carol Kane as the archetypal urban legend babysitter forever immortalized on film, the entire movie is dripping with creepiness, as well as having a few things to say about the views of our society (at least at the time – folding into the 1980s). Regardless if you’re a horror fan or not, this is one classic piece of cinema. To use a tired cliche – it did for babysitting what Jaws did for the ocean. Anyone who’s ever taken care of kids growing up, like myself and lots of other people I know, the fear of being in someone else’s home, alone, with who knows what – or who – just outside the door, it’s all extremely real in When a Stranger Calls. Almost too close for comfort.
1ae4a02f75d54b0ab8fb74fe7fc70fcdJill Johnson (Carol Kane) heads over to the house of Dr. and Mrs. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano/Rutanya Alda). She’s babysitting for the night while they head over for dinner, maybe even a movie afterwards. A little while after Jill starts the night, a mysterious man starts to call her. He continually asks: “Have you checked the children?” Phoning the police, they prove unable to do much for the time being. Soon, Jill finds the man on the phone getting more nasty, violent. When an officer advises her the calls are coming from inside the house, Jill manages to make it outside where Dt. John Clifford (Charles Durning) is already waiting. However, it’s all too late. The children are already dead, at the hands of a madman, a merchant seaman originally from Britain named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley).
Seven years pass, Jill moves on with her life – she’s married, two little kids of her very own. Except now Duncan has escaped from the asylum where he’d been confined. With Clifford on his trail, Duncan wanders the streets. Will he kill again? Question is, really: when was the last time Jill checked her children?

Tony Beckley isn’t the only one acting circles around the usual horror performances here. Both Carol Kane and Charles Durning are fascinating in their own right. But, I can never help boasting about the titular stranger – Curt Duncan.
Beckley is someone I’ve seen in a few other things, not much. Although out of the little I watched, good as the others were, his performance here has got to be the crowning achievement of his career. He takes a role many have played in other movies, from drama to horror. Instead of playing a typical psychopath, there’s something sad and pathetic about this Duncan. Even while you know what he’s done, the horrible things he did to those children, a tiny part of us can see the lonely, child-like thing inside him. I hate Curt Duncan. Yet still I can’t shake parts of him, there’s an essence in him I cannot deny is sympathetic, under all his monstrosity. What it is, I don’t know. Why it affects me, I absolutely understand: Tony Beckley. His mannerisms, his voice at times weird and creepy, others it’s shaky, even the way he walks – all of this has made the character of Duncan into one of the best villains of the 1970s. And I say that considering all genres, not only horror. He is one of those unnerving characters I’ll never be able to shake off.
movie-scene2Right from the first time Beckley utters his iconic, terrifying line, there’s an immediate sense of this film’s excellent score. It has power, quickly the tone of the film is solidified with a dark descent of notes, accompanied by a zoom in close on Kane’s babysitter character. The music is most certainly a big part of the suspense and tension. Like any proper horror, the score is just about iconic as anything else. Composer Dana Kaproff – other credits include 1982’s Death Valley and Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One – has a fantastic ear. The music sort of simmers underneath, then at a few choices moments flares up; loud, brash. It’s an intricate score, moving from quiet to heavy and back again all in such a perfect rhythm with the plot’s movement.
Together with the film’s music, Donald Peterman’s cinematography makes this a gorgeous to look at classic of the late ’70s. Peterman has done a few movies I love, such as SplashStar Trek IV: The Voyage HomePlanes Trains & AutomobilesPoint BreakMr. Saturday Night and Get Shorty. He has a nice visual style. Here in When A Stranger Calls, the movie has that classic look – that beautiful grain of film sorely missed in a good many pictures these days. But it isn’t just that. The whole opening sequence with babysitter Jill, the tight frames and the zoom in, all the dark shadows; the scenes with Curt Duncan where he spends his time both in the shadows and also lurching around like a shadow himself, the rich and deep look of the nighttime exterior shots. Every last inch of this movie is spectacular to look at. Recently I bought a double feature Blu ray with this and Happy Birthday to Me on it; they each look pristine. To watch this on Blu ray, such nice definition, it’s a true treat. Peterman’s work shows so well.
8b4a3441e709One major thing I’ve always found interesting about When a Stranger Calls is the aspect of Clifford investigating Duncan and then deciding to kill the man. It’s a timeless theme, the idea of the lawman having to/wanting to cross sides in order to defeat a criminal. There is no doubt this theme is resonant today, in such an age where boy the criminals and the cops are out of control at times (not all the police; definitely some, though). Moreover, isn’t this something we as citizens can relate to? I mean, much as I like to think the death penalty is pointless, much as I try to say stick the murderers and rapists in a cage and let them rot until death… a part of me would probably, in the moment, feel like blowing their heads off if I were in the position of some police officers. A part of me, right now, thinking about someone hurting/killing a loved one would easily kill that person. So, while I look at Clifford’s decisions to try and go after Duncan with the purpose of killing him, and I say to myself – Oh, he’s a dirty cop… – there’s a side of me wanting to say: go for it. There’s only a certain amount of justice in particular situations at a given moment in time. Some times there’s no justice at all. I can say killing another person is wrong, under any circumstance. But I can also admit there are circumstances under which I would kill another person – one of those very few situations being if a man killed my children, or if I was Clifford and confronted with the sickness and depravity of a man like Duncan. Either way, there’s a strong message at play in When a Stranger Calls and it speaks volumes about how the criminally insane are viewed. A big part of the message is that there are times when everyone can find themselves outside the law. There are times being outside the law can prove necessary, too.
screenshot_1A flawless 5 star classic from 1979. This is one of those horror movies-slash-dramatic thrillers I find most affecting, out of any of the movies I’ve seen. There’s something nasty about Tony Beckley, though, he plays the role of Curt Duncan so effortlessly, like watching a true crazy person before our eyes. Add to his performance Charles Durning and Carol Kane, a couple nice additional smaller ones to boot. Plus, the look and sounds and feel of each frame are downright masterful. Once again, When a Stranger Calls doesn’t have the blood or the slasher body count. On the contrary, it’s the character study of a man with deep psychological wounds, his obsessions, and the people caught up in the whirlwind of his psychosis from the victims to the bystanders to the ones chasing him down. It’s a mad, mad world, and this is one damn mad ride. Always on the top ten of my favourite horror films, especially the ones from the ’70s and ’80s. The Blu ray release I picked up has no special features, but I’m still satisfied simply because of how amazing it looks and how darkly majestic the score sounds in high definition.

THE COLLECTION Could’ve Been a Contender

The Collection. 2012. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald, Lee Tergesen, Tim Griffin, Andre Royo, Randall Archer, Shannon Kane, Brandon Molale, Erin Way, Johanna Braddy, and Michael Nardelli.
Fortress Features.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★1/2
collection10My love for The Collector is strong, but I’m not so much a fan of The Collection. This sequel, though a good deal of fun, is not a great one in terms of doing anything smart.
What this sequel does is give us more of the evil Collector and his disturbing traps/kills, and it gives us more horror. All the while sacrificing good characters for amping up the scope of The Collector’s murder spree and his prolific status.
There were instances of characters lacking development in the first film, which I think carry over, even worse, to its sequel. Even further, The Collection is intent on adding more characters than are necessary to fill up the movie instead of maybe focusing on less characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more – a lot more, if I had it my way.
Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton essentially tried to go bigger with the scope of their villain, but instead of making things more interesting and intense, it mostly just made me roll my eyes.
There are a few things I did enjoy, they made the movie a decent bit of fun, but in the end Dunstan wasted the potential of The Collector as a new iconic horror villain in the sea of horror movies out there. While this movie absolutely makes The Collector into an even scarier sort, the creepiness in this sequel doesn’t come close to that of the original, trying to rely more on gore and increasingly intricate traps/set-ups within the villain’s hideout. Instead, there needed to be less reliance on new characters and stories and more focus on Arkin; he’s the whole reason things seemed to continue, he’s in the movie as a lead actor, I don’t know why they couldn’t have honed in more on him to make the whole story stay interesting.
the-collection-2012-gunThe Collection begins after Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stewart) has been taken by The Collector, following the events of the previous film.
We see a young girl and her father, Mr. Peters (Christopher McDonald) sitting in the back of a car as they drive. The father promises to always be there for his daughter – right before they’re t-boned and the camera cuts away.
We also see some newsreel footage of different television stations reporting on the murder spree of The Collector, even brief descriptions of his M.O, et cetera.

Skip ahead to the young girl from before, she is now grown: Elena Peters (Emma Fitzpatrick).
One night Elena goes to one of those real hip parties where it’s in a seemingly abandoned warehouse, or some other equally dubious place (I don’t know why any real people actually do this sort of thing but in reality – they do). There, everyone dances and parties and has a great time.
Then, once Elena goes to the bathroom, there it is: the antique trunk. Inside, of course, is Arkin – the newest addition to The Collector’s collection. On release of Arkin, this triggers a foolishly elaborate trap killing just about every last person inside the building, shredding flesh and bone to bits as it works through a drunk and ecstasy’d crowd (no doubt) dancing their hearts out.
Arkin manages to make it out of the building alive, but unfortunately Elena gets taken by The Collector.
Once in the hospital, Arkin realizes his family is still in danger. He tells them to stay away awhile. Then, a man named Lucello (Lee Tergesen) comes looking for Arkin, asking for help to track down the man who took Elena; her father, Mr. Peters, is wealthy and has a team assembled to find where the man brought her.
Reluctantly Arkin goes along, and once they find The Collector’s lair, he is forced to head inside with Lucello and a team of mercenaries. Within those walls, they have no idea what to expect, and things devolve into nothing except chaos, blood, and death.
3My problem with The Collection, as opposed to the first film, is that there’s too much going on. Already in The Collector, Dunstan and Melton focused too little on developing the characters of the family; while Arkin got proper treatment as a character, they did not. It’s a little worse in this one, sadly. Dunstan and Melton opt to include the new characters of Mr. Peters and his daughter Elena, even with a heavy backstory as they have, yet they’re not given as much depth as Arkin was in the first film.
The part that makes this such a downfall is the fact that Arkin is still a huge part of this film; he is the basic reason for the sequel, as the first movie ends with an excellent scene after the credits that pointed all signals go for a potential sequel. And it wasn’t like a cheesy, post-credits plea to say “we really want to do another movie”, it was just a great, disturbing finale to a movie. It came off unsettling.
But Dunstan and Melton passed up a great opportunity here. They clogged up the sequel with too many characters and Arkin suffered for it. Ahem, SPOILERS AHEAD! TURN BACK NOW OR FOREVER BE SPOILED: at the end of this movie, again, we get a great finale – again, setting up the possibility of another film to make this a trilogy – and it once more involves Arkin. So I just can’t help feeling the writers wasted an opportunity to let Arkin’s story grow. Sure, he is featured in a ton of the film’s runtime, however, it isn’t as if there’s much to him in this one. He’s residual here, when they should have amped Arkin up further; it’s probably Josh Stewart’s best role, to me, and they could’ve let him run more and more with it here. I’m not saying I know what would have been best/correct to do with the character here, I just know that what they did hasn’t done any justice for the character. It might’ve been just as interesting to have Arkin stuck in The Collector’s hideout, then somehow include his wife’s debt predicament in the whole matter.
4That brings up another problem I have – his wife was in serious debt with loan sharks, the money was due at midnight the same night Arkin went to rob the Chase house, and yet there she is on the television giving interviews, hoping her husband will be spared by the murderer out there with him taken hostage. I mean, maybe the sharks didn’t come because of all the cop activity around Arkin and his family after he’s been taken by The Collector – I don’t know. It bothered me, though. Just feel like there was a good foundation for Arkin as a character built up in the first film and The Collection blew the potential it could have had.
The-Collection-2012-movieThis one feels as if it’s really a Saw rip-off, whereas I felt The Collector was distanced enough from its influences to be something on its own. Even just the opening sequence made me go “oh brrrrrother” and roll my eyes into the back of my head a-la-Liz Lemon. Things got more and more silly. At least in the first one the scope wasn’t as wide; the house was big, but it wasn’t massive like an old abandoned warehouse. It reeked to much of a Jigsaw-like situation. Other than the fact The Collector set traps in the first movie, I didn’t get that Jigsaw knock-off vibe. Here, I really do. Not in the character, in the way his lair is setup. I mean, he basically had homemade Dahmer-style zombies running around in there, and that was way over-the-top, I couldn’t handle it. The part with that one girl who he’d essentially Stockholm Syndrome’d I didn’t find so far fetched, especially when it comes to serial killer territory. But the wild drugged up people he had going on, the massive pile of bodies in the basement – it got increasingly desperate and derivative of Saw to the point where I realized Dunstan and Melton obviously ran out of ideas for this movie and fell back into their Saw formula (I guess that’s the danger when you’re involved with two or three of the movies in that series – maybe it stuck to them like the stink of shit).
Some of the traps here really bugged me – there’s one part where these cylindrical, spiked tubes come down and impale one of the mercenaries whom Lucello brought, and it just feels so god damn nonsensical. Even in the first movie there were a couple moments I thought “Man this is a bit much”, but none of them blew me away to the point I almost laughed. The Collection ends up with too many little bits that made me feel like laughing, or just made me want to shake my head. Too bad.
snouty-pig-the-collection-official-trailerA part of The Collection I thoroughly did enjoy was the score. Again, Dunstan works with a Trent Reznor collaborator: Charlie Clouser. What a choice. The style of these movies really goes well with that industrial sound. Clouser opts for a more synthesized sound than Jerome Dillon did with the score for the first film, all the while still adding some real heavy riffs into his compositions. There are excellently ominous moments where Clouser goes for the synthesizer – bellowing, low tones almost shiver in our ears while The Collector stalks the halls of his hideout, looking for his prey – and then there are a few awesome guitar tracks.
There’s one part of the score from Clouser which starts with just short of 20 minutes left to the film that blows me away. It’s a great little guitar part with pounding drums, the foggy voices “ahhh” “ohhh” overtop, not too loud, and it sort of drones on in the background, making things feel epic. Leads up to some badassery on the part of Elena (Fitzpatrick) and Arkin (Stewart). Makes the big climactic moments feel all that much more intense. Amazing instance of Clouser’s power as a composer.
The_Collection-photo1I can only give this sequel a 2.5 out of 5 stars. That’s honestly being generous.
A lot of my problem has to do with the lack of Arkin’s development into a more significant character. I mean, by all rights they could do a third film. Perhaps it could be a prequel, I don’t know, (SPOILER AHEAD RE: ENDING) but it might be interesting to see a movie that starts off with Arkin after the events of The Collection. We could pick up with Arkin surveying all the things in The Collector’s actual home, where he’d tracked the killer down and taken him hostage in the same antique trunk where Arkin had once been locked up. Even if the movie got part of the way through and The Collector turned the tables on Arkin, getting loose – we could then have an almost action-thriller mixed with horror, as Arkin takes off after The Collector, intent on finding him before the killer either finds him, or begins to take more victims, or worse – vanishes into thin air. Whatever happens, another film or not, I think Arkin was downgraded in this movie, even with all the screen time he gets; he could have been turned into something better.
You’ll have a bit of fun watching this, but it’s nowhere near as good as its predecessor. I hope to see another movie in the series, though. I love The Collector as a villain. I didn’t find him as creepy here as in the first either, however, I did think there were some interesting bits going on. Mostly, Dunstan and Melton tried to take their near-iconic villain to a level he wasn’t meant go. I liked The Collector as a villain who did elaborate things, yet on a small scale, not only ensuring better invisibility to law enforcement but also in terms of the film world – it made things more plausible, and easy, for the filmmakers while things stayed on a limited scale. Bringing this sequel to a bigger, wider arena in terms of The Collector’s hideout and the innovation of new traps for him to use, did the movie no favours. I can’t recommend it, other than for the completist, or fans of The Collector who just want to see a bit more of the villain in action; even if it’s lacklustre.

Not Everyone’s Cut Out for POKER NIGHT

Poker Night. 2014. Dir. Greg Francis. Screenplay by Dough Buchanan & Francis.
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Eklund. XLrator Media.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★

Poker Night-thumb-630xauto-51561I’d anticipated this movie just because of the trailer. Now, sometimes this can come back to bite me in the ass. I’ve been known to be duped by an interesting trailer, or even a bit of great artwork from posters, covers, et cetera. However, Poker Night really surprised. It’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast while also containing a pretty good central performance by young Beau Mirchoff, who I’ve never really seen in anything particularly great. Not to mention, the story of the film is really fun, and the way director Greg Francis chooses to show it play out, how the plot unfolds sneakily at times in front of our eyes, really helps this become more than just a VOD film. This really deserves respect. It’s a pretty good crime-thriller with awesome bits of action, a drop or two of pitch black comedy, and a nasty villain.
PokerNightFeatPoker Night takes the form of a titular card game – a group of veteran detectives get together to play poker, as they have for a decade, and use this as an opportunity to not just bond with rookie detectives, but to also instill them with lessons in the form of them all telling a story from their career’s past. The young rookie, Jeter (Mirchoff), is not just the new guy – he was involved with Amy, the young daughter of one of the veteran detectives (played by the always excellent Titus Welliver) who has recently gone missing. Despite this, they get together for their card game, and the older guys on the force try to help Jeter become one of the elite. After the card game, though, Jeter ends up taking a call. This turns out to be a trap sprung by the man who has taken Amy. Soon enough, Jeter wakes into a world where he needs to use all the advice given to him and the stories told by the veteran detectives at poker night to make it through this situation. From here, the twists and turns come flying.
PokerNight-2134_rev-thumb-630xauto-51576I think this could have easily been a by-the-numbers thriller. Instead, this has a bit of everything. I realized this would be a pretty damn good movie once the villain was introduced. He has this great introduction when he explains himself to Jeter – the director throws in this really great dark comedic bit where the villain talks about his former life, and all the while in a flashback he’s dressed in suit and tie, still with his creepy mask on. I thought it was so funny, and also really disturbing; when he lays out his ‘2 rules’, I actually dropped my jaw a little because it was so forthright and brutally honest. Very dark subject matter at this point. Really dig it. There are times when films go for the dark, creepy vibe and instead it comes off more in a cheesy, typical way rather than being fresh. The fact Francis steers the villain into real vile territory works well because, coupled with his later violence particularly towards Jeter, he seems like an actual maniac. Even with an obviously fabricated mask, it’s still scary. He does seem funny at times, but intentionally. He doesn’t come away as a cartoonish type villain, like some of those included in franchises such as James Bond. There are a few moments with the villain that were admittedly a bit of a stretch imagination-wise. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this character.

POKERNIGHTEXCCLIPFEATThe most interesting part about Poker Night is how the stories become the framework of the entire film. For instance, while Jeter listens to each detective tell his own story/lesson, he himself actually goes through the memory; in this sense, he’s literally putting himself in their shoes cinematically. It’s a really effective technique. Not only do we watch Jeter experience these stories firsthand, as I mentioned before he has to put these experiences to use in order to escape the villain and hopefully save Amy. It could have turned out real cheesy had the director sort of carbon copied the stories into exact situations from which Jeter had to escape. On the other hand, he sticks with the moral behind each lesson from the detectives – example: never give up even when things are stacked against you, or when you’re on your own do whatever you can to get yourself out of a bad situation, and other such bits of advice. This prevents the movie from feeling too hokey. While Jeter uses all the advice, the situations he encounters where the advice needs to be used aren’t too on-the-nose. Not for me, at least. All of this really makes Poker Night unique.

Some may say the flashbacks within flashbacks, techniques like this, cause disorientation or confusion. My opinion is that if you can’t follow this movie, I don’t know what sort of plot you’re looking for to stay entertaining. This is not hard to follow. It’s a unique film, but it’s not confusing in any sense. Pay attention from the get-go and you will have no problems whatsoever following the plot. The flashback sequences and the bits involving Jeter walking through the detectives stories are refreshing. They keep things exciting and a lot of fun at times, especially depending on which detective is telling the story (Eldard & Welliver’s in particular are both cool but also pretty funny).
PokerNight-1563-thumb-630x423-51571I found the cast great. While not all of them had their rightful chance to do a whole lot, they were all pretty wonderful together. The chemistry between them all during the card game scenes is just fantastic. If any of you have ever sat around a card table, you know much of the banter, policemen or not, goes on just like this between a bunch of men. The way they ribbed one another and joked, it was all so natural that I couldn’t help but get attached to the characters. Mirchoff and Perlman had some pretty good chemist as well during other scenes. I just love Ron Perlman, anyways, so to see him play a tough, no nonsense type of cop is really great; he gives bits of his dramatic chops up, and also plenty of his comedic talent. Altogether, the cast really makes things work.  If there were a bunch of people who had no chemistry this whole thing would’ve come off very flat. Instead, it’s raw, fun, and exciting in equal doses. Plenty of great laughs.

Overall, this is a really good movie. Absolutely worthy of a 4 out of 5 star rating. There was a lot of darkness in this thriller. While we get some great comedy and drama mixed into the pot, the dark angles of the film really help this standout. At times, there’s a Tarantino-esque influence happening, and I can also feel a bit of Joe Carnahan’s influence in there at times, honestly. One of the best things about Poker Night is the villain. I really loved his flashbacks in particular, as they never once gave up his identity by keeping his weird mask on during those scenes, even when it’s downright awkward and hilarious. I sort of knew who would be the villain just because of the cast, and the guy who plays him is really great at darker roles, but regardless I thought it wasn’t so much about his identity anyways – it’s not like there’s a twist involving him (or maybe there is? Muhuhaha). The villain really made this something special. Lots of good dark comedy, but mainly a great deal of sadistic violence and mayhem. You should absolutely check this movie out! Great and dark crime thriller. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a perfect film, but in a sea of really average films, especially crime thrillers if we’re being honest, Poker Night stands above it with some exciting characters, good dialogue, and a wholly interesting premise.