THE GARLOCK INCIDENT: Broken American Dreams En Route to Las Vegas

The Garlock Incident. 2012. Directed & Written by Evan Cholfin; from a story by Cholfin, Ariana Farina, & Ana Lily Amirpour.
Starring Ana Lily Amirpour, Adam Chambers, Sean Durrie, Joy Howard, Alycen Malone, Sean Muramatsu, Casey Ruggieri, & Larissa Wise.
Loudcat
Not Rated. 78 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
FullSizeRenderI’m of two minds: you can make found footage and not worry too much about ‘following the rules’ of the format so long as the story’s good, scary, exciting; or, you can make found footage while sticking to the format’s unwritten rules, working to make the film feel entirely genuine as a piece of recovered footage. The Garlock Incident is of the latter class, feeling exactly as if this film was picked up from a discarded camera somewhere out in the desert.
What makes this found footage better is not only do we deal with an intense, disturbing plot on the surface, beneath there’s much to admire. The Garlock Incident explores themes of the urban v. rural landscape, how societal norms and morality breaks down outside of the city, among others. Most of all, it acts as an overall metaphor about the deteriorating American Dream by contrasting it against the physical space of Old America.
Putting a group of friends on the road to Las Vegas, on their way to make a film directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (herself an actual, awesome director), director-writer Evan Cholfin crafts a sneaky little found footage film that teases all sorts of elements, but ultimately works on suspense, tension, and draws out a psychological horror that will stick with you well after that story comes to a close.
FullSizeRender (1)Straight away, the opening just jumps into footage; as a genuinely filmed road trip would, with no title, no opening scene like a traditional film, none of that. Not even the typical “On such-and-such date a group of…” Rather, we’re thrust directly into the characters and the plot. The immediacy of how we’re brought into the film allows the found footage format a sense of feeling genuine.
Furthermore, setting this as being footage from a film crew, of friends, heading to begin the shoot on a film gives the footage purpose. Found footage without purpose can often wind up feeling dishonest, because if doing found footage, why not make sure to pose it as actual footage that was found? Otherwise, might as well film traditionally. Lily directing the film within a film lends more authenticity.
Best part of the film is its tension, how Cholfin uses vast stretches of desert to allow isolation to take hold of the viewer. Ambient noise from the wind punctuates silent moments filled with suspense. Instead of the obligatory shaky cam filming of many found footage efforts, The Garlock Incident thrives on longer, controlled, still, silent shots. In these moments, these gaps, our imagination runs wild. These psychological spaces are where the best horror of the film works its nasty magic.
FullSizeRender (3)The haunted mining town setup evokes a sense of American Western tales meets the Gothic tradition, starting a spooky atmosphere. Works on another level, though. The old American Dream is symbolised by the gold mining town, the former path to glory which led many to their demise. Contrast that with the new American Dream, being in the movies, obviously represented by Lily and her friends making a film.
Where it all comes together is in the middle, precipitating an existential haunting. Of course there’s the mystery of what’s actually happening, are they going crazy, or is someone messing with them? Mystery gives way to paranoia, which then gives way to worse, the unimaginable. People get hurt. Some may die. As many often do, through drug overdose or otherwise, people die in pursuit of the American Dream on the silver screen. In the ghost town of Garlock exists the allegorical space where these two visions of the American Dream merge, causing chaos. This is illustrated in tandem with the editing of clips from earlier auditions for the film, candid moments amongst the group, as we see the shattered dream v. the idyllic American dream, the before and after, cutting from the happier moments to the later more unnerving and downright disturbing scenes sometimes in the matter of seconds.
Ultimately, in the face of the unknown, a perceived threat, the group’s morality is gradually questioned, some of them teetering precariously on an edge until the film’s shocking climax and quick finale. This all works towards the thematic consideration of what happens to people, socially, when they step outside the boundaries of their urban spaces, into the wilderness of the rural landscape. When these people, city dwellers, go outside their limits, their comfort even, they’re faced with the primitivity of humankind. In the end, this determines what happens to the characters, if they given in to their primitive side or not.
FullSizeRender (2)Cannot recommend this movie more. Found footage will always get a chance, from me. I’m willing to give anything a shot, because there’s a craving for the deeper subjects, the scarier stories, either supernatural or utterly human. The Garlock Incident plays with the audience’s expectations, then by the final frame you’re left reconsidering everything that came previously.
There’s a horrifying climax to the film, shot from a far physical distance. However, this literal distance cannot figuratively distance us from the brutality of its emotion, giving way to a conclusion that’s one hell of a gut punch. The last five minutes challenge us to go back, look at the events which led us and the characters to that moment, and the film’s last shot before a cut to black is expected after what preceded it, yet it’s no less shattering.
Seek this out, it’s available now via Google Play. Waited several years to see this, truly worth the wait. The acting holds up, a dreadful tension full of suspense and isolation fills the air. If you want blood, this isn’t the film you’re looking for, but if you want something that’ll creep under your skin, likely to stay a while, then you’ve found the ticket. A nice, eerie found footage film for the Halloween season.

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Fear the Walking Dead – Season 3, Episode 11: “La Serpiente”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 3, Episode 11: “La Serpiente”
Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka
Written by Lauren Signorino & Mark Richard

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Diviner” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Brother’s Keeper” – click here
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.33.53 AMMadison (Kim Dickens), Qaletqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes), and Strand (Colman Domingo) are now on the road together, heading for the dam. Before that Over the highway, they come across a group of walkers and overturned cars in the way, a jam nearly the whole way up, far as the eye can see.
So, what’s Strand’s plan? “Jesus saves.” He tosses an electronic device out the window, letting it beep and draw the zombies out. This gives Walker room to use the eighteen-wheeler to push some of the wreckage out of the way. Then they’re through, they pass a large gate into a junkyard. Safe, if only for a while.
Strand is searching for a car, which he’s found. A beat up old Bug. Madison and Walker aren’t sure why he’s concerned with a shitty little vehicle. It’s because it hides a tunnel underground. When the Native leader worries for the truck, Victor reminds him: “The dead dont drive.” And so it’s down into the shitty sewers of America’s southern reaches for the trio, the best way forward.
Hold you breath.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.44.25 AMThe further they go, the less Qaletqa trusts this man Madison used all his gold to free. He believes Strand is lost. Certainly, it isn’t altogether out of the realm of possibility. The dark stretches of tunnel go on for what feels like forever; walkers overhead occasionally, some in the tunnels themselves. Danger at every blind turn.
Soon, Strand admits to Madison he’s lost. He was searching for a symbol, the Proctor’s Eye(s). But he can’t find it. He also tells her about Daniel (Rubén Blades), his lie concerning Ofelia (Mercedes Mason). Although he’s pleasantly surprised when Madison tells him she’s at the ranch. They’ve got bigger worries, though. Walkers are coming.
Victor: “Ah, hope springs from darkness.”
This claustrophobic scene puts the trio in a tight pipe where they run into a stuck, bloated, rotting zombie. Madison puts a hatchet in its brain, then they’ve got to take the thing apart in pieces, passing it back, getting rid of the limbs, so on. A truly yuck task they share in all its gut sick glory.
Meanwhile, Daniel deals with fallout after firing on people when they riot over the water. Afterwards he finds Madison, Strand, and Walker coming out of a drainpipe. He finally discovers his daughter’s alive. Madison tells him about their water troubles at the ranch. However, this man is dangerous, this post-apocalypse zombie landscape has done nothing for mental state. No telling what he’ll do, what he’s thinking. He speaks with Lola (Lisandra Tena), just as Madison and Walker clash over how to handle the negotiations. Then they all meet, chat. Yet the answer is, no water for the ranch. No trading. Lola don’t play that shit.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.53.18 AMWill the former relationship Daniel and Madison had, before the split of the group help? Will Daniel’s desire to see his daughter again aid the ranch in getting what they need? Lola clearly knows he’s a dangerous man, but he’s helped her a great deal, she has a sort of respect or care for him. Simultaneously, Walker isn’t happy with Strand, telling him that if Madison can’t make this deal for the water, the ranchers will suffer. Because the tribe comes first, and there ain’t enough water for everybody!
There are those who want chaos, but violence begets violence.”
Strand starts uncovering the fact people don’t trust Daniel, that the man is also paranoid. There’s a scratch in the armour, and Efrain (Jesse Borrego) wishes that Lola would simply be done with the dam, “open the flood gates, let the river flow to the people.” He sees the power corrupting everybody in its own way.
Together, Walker and Daniel speak of Ofelia, the former telling of her bravery. The father hears about what she did at the ranch, poisoning people to supposedly save lives. This does nothing for the old man, knowing that his own violent genes have infected his daughter. Suddenly, he isn’t as happy to know where she is, knowing that when they come back together neither of them will be the same person they were before.
Now, Lola and Daniel are at odds, too. She isn’t sure about him anymore, knowing he’s a killer. She doesn’t like ruling through fear, she isn’t prepared to give up that “part of herself,” as Madison said. Then, she gives Daniel an ultimatum: do what she wants, or leave. He’s prepared to stay, right now.
And why? He also has an ultimatum, of sorts, for Victor – whatever the guy’s planning, it’s got to help them both, or else things are gonna get real fucking bad.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 3.16.15 AMWalker’s already done. He’s kicking himself for listening to Madison, he’s leaving. Also says the ranchers must leave. Not enough water, no deal on the horizon. It’s over. This is putting Madison in a hard corner. She pushes Daniel, telling him Ofelia needs him. But that doesn’t work, not on a guy with a blackened, bitter soul.
Only the two of them left, Victor and Madison are going to head out. Well, after they watch a bomb blow up the water truck, busting the gates wide. After that the two of them, as well as Daniel, put down the walkers trying to enter the dam. “Down with the Water Queen” chants come from outside, people are also coming to make their way inside. Perhaps Daniel wasn’t so paranoid after all. Or, y’know, Strand made it happen.
Lola’s prepared to deal for guns, ammo, even with Efrain cautioning against violence. She wants to make the deal. Madison and Walker are headed to set things in motion, hopefully heading off any further nastiness. In five days, the pair must be back with the goods, plus Ofelia. They find Walker on the way, to his happy surprise. A rare happy end to an episode. Calm before the storm.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 3.24.44 AMAnother solid chapter in Season 3, pushing forward several plots, giving us more character development, and much more. Just great writing. Truly love some of these characters, especially Strand, Madison, and Walker, all of whom are getting lots of time. Daniel is interesting, too. In a dark way.
“Brother’s Keeper” comes next. Wonder if we’ll see more of Troy. Hmm.

THE TRANSFIGURATION’s Blood Sucking Construction of Masculinity & Mental Illness

The Transfiguration. 2016. Directed & Written by Michael O’Shea.
Starring Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Phyillicia Bishop, Dangelo Bonneli, Andrea Cordaro, Larry Fessenden, Danny Flaherty, Anna Friedman, Jose Ignacio Gomez, Lloyd Kaufman, & JaQwan J. Kelly.
Transfiguration Productions
Not Rated. 97 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★1/2

Disclaimer: The following article contains several spoilers.
Go check this film out. Then come back, discuss.
Lest ye be spoiled, forever!

Transfiguration 1Vampire films are a dime a dozen. Much like the zombie, the concept of vampires has been overused. That being said, there are many incredible works within these sub-genres. Although seeing as how the horror industry’s inundated with their presence, you’ve got to dig to find the real gold. The Transfiguration is one of those exciting, sharp needles in the haystack.
As a white man, there are issues in this film I’m not qualified to speak on with any authority. One of which is black mental health. However, the broader concept of mental health still applies. This is the most effective part of Michael O’Shea’s film: it takes a cold, hard look at things not everybody wants to see. In a coming of age story constantly flirting with the idea of the supernatural lurking on the periphery of our normal lives, O’Shea has focused on issues important to all of society, ones we’ve largely ignored up until now.
In a way, O’Shea also challenges us to consider what it is that makes a vampire film, how we perceive the constructs of the sub-genre. We come to question whether or not the protagonist, Milo (Eric Ruffin), is actually a creature of the night, or if it’s all in his head. The line between reality and the darkest of fantasy blurred. A frothy cocktail of mental health issues, the possibility of the supernatural, alienation and isolation, as well as the coming of age of a damaged young man whose entire environment feels geared towards denying him any escape from the psychological violence with which he’s been afflicted.
Transfiguration 2There’s a stigma of mental health in society in general. Even in 2017, particularly in certain communities and circles there’s a lingering idea that mental illness = psychotic, crazy, untrustworthy, weak. I don’t want to dive in on black mental health, not qualified. What I can speak to re: Milo is the mental health of men, how mental illness is perceived in conjunction with the constructions of masculinity. The other kids, the drug dealer and his friends, they see Milo as weird. It’s maybe his older brother Lewis (Aaron Cliften Moten) whose refusal to discuss anything of emotion stunts the kid the worst.
Milo lives at home with his brother. Just the two of them. Gradually, we discover a loss by suicide in the family. Before we ever figure it out fully, this loss is symbolised by a closed door in their apartment. Milo stares at it, a feeling of morbid awe accompanies the image. We can see he doesn’t push his older brother to talk about his feelings, any of the things he does in his room, such as indulging in vampire lore and movies, homemade VHS tapes of Lost BoysFright Night, right up to Dracula Untold.
And here’s where the general metaphor of mental illness kicks in.
Like many who suffer with mental health issues, Milo is tucked away immersed in fantasy, the symbol of his separation is the literal doorway of his room. Where he’s cut off, where, generally, Lewis will not go. Within that disconnect, Milo becomes lost in his fantasy. Whether he’s a vampire is left until the end. Before that, the mental illness is merely a metaphor, an allegory in vampire form. By the end it’s more than obvious what’s happened, even if there’s no expository dialogue spelling it out. Our protagonist has suffered the pains of faux-masculinity, of being forced into a delusion that ultimately encompasses his entire life.
The most telling moment is a scene where Milo tries to move somewhat towards a genuine conversation with Lewis, who responds only with a form of denial, a blind acceptance without understanding the consequences and a parallel to the way violent male behaviour is often condoned, telling his kid brother:

You do what you have to do. No matter what. Whatever it is youre doin‘, theres someone doina whole lot worse.”

Transfiguration 4While Sophie (Chloe Levine) represents an equally damaged soul, she’s also one who hasn’t descended into madness like Milo. Hard as her life is, she manages to at least get away, or she faces the prospects of getting away from the abusive grandfather, the boys in the neighbourhood – essentially, away from the toxic men around her. Sophie also illustrates that women clearly are not exempt from the violence and sexual abuse of men, as if we didn’t know already. But this movie is specifically aimed at the unforgiving culture of masculinity that doesn’t allow young men, or any men for that matter, to discuss their issues openly, without fear of judgement, of ridicule. So whereas Sophie manages to find a way free in the end, Milo cannot escape the fragile constructions of masculinity, as his vampire delusion leads him towards tragedy.
O’Shea does well by blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, though. The edges disappear, leaving the viewer wondering at times if this is a choice, a delusion, or if Milo’s been infected by some undead creature wandering the city. Because in between his hunting for blood, there’s a whole world of urban decay, a modern Gothic landscape across the city surrounding him. He experiences all the socioeconomic pitfalls of living in a forgotten neighbourhood, where people buy drugs and get shot in the basement of apartment buildings, and likely much, much worse. At one point, a white guy’s racist assumption that any black kid in that neighbourhood out to know where the drugs are leads to this same guy becoming a victim of crime himself. A self-fulfilling prophesy which ultimately, and in such a dark way, comes back onto Milo, tragedy of Greek proportions. Although it’s not quite fate which brings it full circle, as we see in the finale.
Transfiguration 3Every so often, a horror movie like The Transfiguration comes along speaking so loud, so proud in a unique way that it helps the whole genre. In this case, also the vampire sub-genre. There are plenty of great horror movies out there, despite what people who don’t dig horror will try telling you. This film simply has the transcendental quality certain films in the genre have which cross a genre gap, speaking to universal ideas independent of any genre. This is something every horror needs to attempt. But when one does, succeeding, it’s special.
O’Shea does a fantastic job at playing with that blurred line from fantasy to reality, to the point the viewer will question if Milo is a serial killer or a genuine vampire. He doesn’t load us down with exposition. Rather, he chooses to give us gradual, short motions from scene to scene building a sense of who Milo is, how he got here, where he’s headed, until the various strands of his life come together in a blend of terror.
Stuck between a brutal reality surrounded by death and crime and violence, Milo is forced into a fantastical headspace. From the dealers on the street harassing him, to the wall of videotapes he studies religiously, his life is a constant battle between these elements. This is the story of many out there, young men trapped by the social constructs of their gender. Milo is a microcosm. The longer men ignore other men’s struggles with mental illness, the more people will die. And that’s not a figurative concept, that’s reality.

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.

Lower V. Upper Class: THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK

The House on the Edge of the Park. 1980. Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Screenplay by Gianfranco Clerici & Vincenzo Mannino.
Starring David Hess, Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Marie Claude Joseph, Gabriele Di Giulio, Brigitte Petronio, Karoline Mardeck, & Lorraine De Selle.
F.D. Cinematografica.
Unrated. 91 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
posterRiding on the coattails of The Last House on the Left, Ruggero Deodato came on hard with 1980’s The House on the Edge of the Park, another violent and borderline vile film starring David Hess as one of the aggressors. Of course Deodato is forever infamous for the found footage which started it all – Cannibal Holocaust. But this movie has some equally brutal bits, as well as has a few things to say amongst all the violence.
This is another movie that found itself on the Video Nasties list; sometimes this is a badge of honour for certain films worth the effort, others it’s simply a way of telling whether a horror is outrageous. The House on the Edge of the Park is part of the former group. Not all of its scenes play right, the screenplay could use a nice bit of work to tighten things up. Apparently Hess re-wrote lots of his dialogue, he was given half the film’s rights in order to secure him as a star, so I’m willing to bet the script suffered a bit with so much of the actor’s control exerted over the production. Despite any of its faults, this is one horror-thriller that hits deep with hints of class disparity, cruel violence, and a disturbing look at how tragic events push people into becoming someone far from themselves.
pic1As opposed to Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, this one starts out with brutal violence. Instead of lulling us into a bit of complacency Deodato begins in nastiness, then transitions into a more unsuspecting film with shades of class division in its themes, as we watch two men from a much more street life come in contact with the bourgeoisie in nasty, supremely violent ways.
Hess’ character Alex is the physical representation of hedonism – food, sex, violent delights, and more. He only cares about getting off, getting his; whether that’s rape or murder or whatever else. Regardless of this side to Alex, he is aware of his separation from the upper class; he understands his supposed place in the chain of class command. In parallel, his less menacing buddy Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is like a more unaware, less conscious member of the lower class. He doesn’t see the people making fun of him for his apparent differences. It takes Alex to make him realise this is what’s happening, thrusting him into that violence he knows well.
When Alex and Ricky crash the party, this borders on Les Liaisons dangereuses in the form of an exploitation flick. The best way to see the class disparity is how the upper class torture Ricky, they act from a privileged position and treat Ricky like a sideshow to watch instead of someone with whom they can party. But then their treatment of people they perceive as lower class is regrettable, as Alex rises up and makes them regret their privilege and how t leads them to treat others. After this the night spins out of control.
pic2SPOILERS AHEAD!
All around the movie’s chilling. During the assault Alex begins this feeling amplifies. Everything is so quiet, there’s an absence of music. Fear is so viscerally present. However, the plot is slow going, and not in a good slow burn manner. The tension dies out after awhile which kills things. It isn’t even as violent as you’d expect, outside of a couple moments that stick. Almost a softcore porn at times, a bit boring. Although the film makes up for these missteps once Alex goes wild near the end.
One of the best moments of tension is the difference between Hess and his partner. This provides a sense of relief from some of the horror involve with the home invasion, though not much.  The ending is bittersweet – it isn’t great, Alex gets shot in the dick followed by a hilariously fun slow motion scream. But the two criminals get what’s coming to them, despite their differences and Ricky’s reluctant complicity with the crime.
In the end, the partygoers take their own revenge. Question is: are they any better for wanting to hurt and kill Alex particularly? They taunt him, pushing him into a pool, and plan to cover up everything afterwards. Not that Alex doesn’t deserve what he gets; he does, indeed. It’s simply that there’s no moral high ground for the victims by choosing to let Alex die, almost killing his partner with a dose of brutish, violent revenge. So what’s left in the end is a group of upper class people dragged down to the level of the disgruntled lower class. But following this encounter, they’re forever changed, and some aren’t sure death wouldn’t be better than living after such viciousness.
What matters is that its all over
But at what price?”
pic3Deodato could’ve done more. Once more, I feel like Hess being too involved, being given such a wide berth as to what he was able to do re: dialogue and the screenplay, this hindered The House on the Edge of the Park. He does wonderfully devilish things with the role of Alex, no doubt. Simply put, Hess should’ve stuck to the acting instead of trying to hard to take control over the writing.
Through it all there’s a sense of violent class warfare above all the nasty bits. Deodato didn’t really focus on that much intentionally, not that I can tell. Outside of using it to drive the violence. Then again, I can’t count him out. When many see no point to Cannibal Holocaust I feel Deodato, in his best works like that dangerous bit of found footage, he’s getting at what are just as dangerous ideas and messages.
Give this a chance. Although there are a good many flaws, The House on the Edge of the Park is one of those movies on the Video Nasties list that’s actually enjoyable. I consider this one of the better Deodato offerings – up there with Live Like a Cop, Die Like a ManCut and Run, and of course Cannibal Holocaust. You might not discover your favourite movie in this one, but if you’re a horror hound it’ll tickle that urge to indulge something disturbing.

Quarry – Season 1, Episode 5: “Coffee Blues”

Cinemax’s Quarry
Season 1, Episode 5: “Coffee Blues”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Jennifer Schuur

* For a review of the previous episode, “Seldom Realized” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “His Deeds Were Scattered” – click here
screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-2-07-16-amMac (Logan Marshall-Green) and Joni (Jodi Balfour) are back home after all the madness. They’re a little better for it, too. They’re strong again together. Such a traumatic experience may have, in a roundabout way, done them some good. Horrible to experience, but I’m glad they’re connecting once more after everything they’ve been through to now. Joni admits she wasn’t sure if he’d stick around. He assures his love for her. Aside from all that they have money troubles. She wants him to go to his father. At least that way there’s “one less person” on the list for The Broker (Peter Mullan).
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We see things aren’t going very well for Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her family. Her son and daughter have to eat their cereal with water instead of milk. If that weren’t bad enough, her boy Marcus (Joshua J. Williams) then goes to school and his bus is attacked by white supremacists. A bunch of ordinary white dudes. Scary bastards, frightening helpless kids and a terrified bus driver. One man, Eugene Linwood (Christopher James Baker), makes his way inside the vehicle. He knocks out the driver before spewing a bunch of n-word hate. When a kid speaks up Eugene hauls him outside and beats him with a crowbar in front of everybody. Even some of the men outside protest, those bunch of fucks.
Mac goes to see his father Lloyd (Skipp Sudduth) at one of his house viewings. “Hat in hand,” he asks his father for help. Four grand. Lloyd assumes it’s gambling, drugs, something shady. After a bit of arguing though, he agrees to try and do what he can to help.
Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) stops by Cliff’s place to try rustling up a bit more information with the sister, Sandy (Kaley Ronayne). He tries to figure out if there’s more of a connection between Cliff and Joni. Not much comes out, however, it’s clear he’s not stopping the investigation.
At home, Mac and Joni see a car outside sitting mysteriously quiet. It’s The Broker, certainly. He’s come round to see what Quarry’s been up to, and it looks like they’ve got places to go. Mysterious shit, and that worries Joni. Like it would anyone sensible.

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On the road again – Mac and The Broker are on the road again.
Yet ole Quarry’s got no clue where they’re going, other than by the moment directions from his boss. “Death is just a switch that gets turned off,” The Broker repeats the words of Mac, the night he murdered Cliff. He questions Mac, whether he believes that statement. Is there nothing? Or is there “something else“? Intense conversation for a dude who has people killed for cold, hard cash. When they get where they’re going, it’s a real backwater-type spot with drinks and music and cigars and FUN! So, are they hanging out? I’d bet it’s more than just that.
Joni goes to help Ruth, getting accosted by a few men on the way in; racial tension running high. She understands, only wanting to do what she can for Ruth. Poor Marcus is shaken, depressed. Again, understandable.
In a small backwater casino Mac gets the chance to play a bit of money, work off a bit of debt, and if not Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) takes the hit. Hilarious. They move from roulette to a poker table, where The Broker talks casual smack and plays hard. Everything gets a bit wild after he starts a fight over Mac’s service in Vietnam, prompting Quarry to smash a glass into a dude’s face. I feel like The Broker is a predator. And with Mac left needing somebody to command him, requiring orders after being brainwashed by the army, he’s overly susceptible to getting preyed upon.
At work, Ruth chats with Moses (Mustafa Shakir) about the racist attack on the bus. It’s clear that Moses is keeping an eye on her, trying to find things out. But he’s also a strong, proud, black man. He knows the horror of being black in America, which sort of brings him and Ruth together. Maybe a sympathy that leads to romance? A conflict for Moses and The Broker?

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Out in the dark, The Broker and Mac talk. Seems like Mac has the guy figured out, despite my own thoughts. He knows that it was all a way of bonding “over a common enemy.” I still think the slithering serpent in The Broker’s going to work its way into Mac’s brain. Just the calm before the storm. The wolf playing sheep.
Marcus is absolutely pissed with his mother. He’s pissed with the world. Then on the news we see that Eugene Linwood was arrested. Although “street violence” in the black community looks expected. Why wouldn’t it? Fucking racists beating kids in the street.
Mac and The Broker play some more cards. Except out of nowhere the old bastard disappears. So out wanders Mac, walking aimlessly. He finds his way to a big, old house, looking for a telephone. The place is all wrapped in plastic, nothing working. In another room, Mac hears Asian voices. The Broker is sitting with somebody, listening. An Asian mask appears in the door frame, frightening Mac. Flashbacks. He sees another couple masks, people standing in dark hallways. Quickly he rushes outdoors and away from the place. The Broker finds him when the sun comes up and the head off to get Mac back to his wife.

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The Broker starts asking about Joni, what she believes happened at the motel. Mac explains things, as well as he can to keep the man off their back. Even worse, The Broker puts butter in his coffee. Gross. He’s clearly got problems. A murderous, butter coffee drinking motherfucker.
At the backwater camp, Karl is lurking. The stuff Mac thought was bullshit, the story The Broker told him about the fat man that needed killing – all true. And you can bet that the reptilian side of him is also very real. He’s lying in the grass, hooking Mac, deeper and deeper.
When Mac gets home there’s $100 from Lloyd. Far shot from $4,000.
Joni’s glad to see her man back obviously. When he pours up a coffee, he drops a sliver of butter in: “Tryinsomethin‘,” he tells Joni. A lighthearted ending, but underneath there’s a sinister meaning. That butter in the coffee is just the beginning. Mac’s becoming a bit too accustomed to the world of The Broker. A bit too blind to its unhealthy aspects, just like that butter in the coffee (I don’t care who says it’s healthy that is bullshit). He’s falling into a bad, bad world.


I love this series. Absolutely brilliant! The writing is spectacular and I cannot get enough. Next episode is titled “His Deeds Were Scattered” and I cannot wait to see what’s coming.

WE OWN THE NIGHT Examines a Family’s Violent Intersection at the Edge of Criminality & Law

We Own the Night. 2007. Directed & Written by James Gray.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Robert Duvall, Danny Hoch, Alex Veadov, Oleg Taktarov, Maggie Kiley, Paul Herman, Antoni Corone, & Craig Walker.
Columbia Pictures/2929 Productions/Industry Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 117 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTER Ever since 1994’s Little Odessa, James Gray has been a writer-director to watch. He has an excellent style as director, but as a writer he also has as much style. Gray does well with the visual plane of any film he takes on. It’s his attention to detail and character that make the worlds he infiltrates so interesting. We Own the Night has a great throwback look of the 1980s, feeling of the time without being too heavy handed in its execution. More importantly, the main characters played by Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, and Robert Duvall each come off as realistic, endearing, frustrating. They’re genuine people. A lot of writers fill up their crime films with either generic characterisations or over-the-top caricatures. Gray explores characters in similar fashion to pictures from Martin Scorsese in that he takes us into that self-contained world, involving us in the lives of these people instead of making us feel like we’re standing at arm’s length. Also doesn’t hurt that Gray does fine work with Phoenix and Wahlberg, having previously directed The Yards; Gray and Phoenix also did The Immigrant in 2013, another amazing little drop of cinema.
But what you get here, all those elements together, is a classic crime story combining concepts of law and order, family and loyalty, as well as much more. Focusing on a cop family, and the one black sheep within it who rubs shoulders with the criminal world, Gray takes us on a ride through a Brooklyn rife with danger and new possibilities.
Pic1 The character arc of Bobby (Phoenix) is by far the most complex and interesting out of anything. He starts as this completely aloof, loving life-type guy who’s only concerned with clubbing, doing drugs, having a fun time with his girl and his friends. Even confronted with a story about a scary Russian gangster, he and his good buddy Jumbo (Danny Hoch) laugh it off making crude jokes, not taking it seriously in the least. Over the course of the plot, though, we watch Bobby move from careless and clueless to someone very aware of the dangers in front of him. The large divide between Bobby and his family – father Burt (Duvall) and brother Joseph (Wahlberg) – makes for such an exciting change. And it doesn’t happen instantly, not even once Bobby gets hauled into jail, charcoal poured down his throat, seeing a Russian with a self-inflicted slash in his throat bleeding over the police station floor. That’s where the entire thing gets so interesting. Because it takes a terrible act of violence committed against his brother to finally set his moral compass into motion. After that, the plot’s emotional intensity becomes ruthless, as Bobby dives into the world of his family instead of teetering on the edge of crime. Truly great writing.
Pic2 While We Own the Night comes most heavily as a dramatic crime-thriller, there’s a nice helping of action tossed into the mix. The first scene of that nature is probably most devastating. It stays brief, nasty. When Joseph takes a bullet, he gets it right in the face, and the way Gray has it shot makes for maximum effect; brutal and vivid. Later, the action pieces get more intricate as the plot does, too. Once Bobby feels compelled to start fighting against the crime right under his own nose, the nature of the plot involves more excitement, more suspense and tension. Leads to a great finale that’s at once action-oriented, but also wildly emotionally involving. We feel rooted to Bobby, his whole family, and through him Gray lets us feel the suspenseful moments ratcheted up to the point you could grip whatever chair or couch arm or anything next to you.
The obvious strength that lifts everything up is the performance of Phoenix as Bobby Green. Yes, Duvall and Wahlberg and Mendes, they each offer solid supporting performances. The meat of the emotional hook is in Phoenix. We start with a character that’s not particularly a criminal, he lives in the midst of them managing a club in New York and living the high lifestyle of which his police family does not approve. By the 60-minute mark, Bobby’s transformed into an entirely different person. He’s been sprayed with brains and blood, he’s jumped out a window just to survive, smashing his body into a chain-link fence and to the pavement below. The vulnerability and equal amount of bravery Phoenix instils in the character is really damn impressive. First time I saw this I expected nothing more than a run of the mill crime tale. Was I ever surprised, especially with the powerhouse performance at its centre.
Pic3 This is absolutely a four-and-a-half star film, all the way. Maybe a couple blemishes here or there. However, over all, We Own the Night builds upon a mountain of tension, each step filled with emotion and suspense, all kinds of elements in one gritty package. Phoenix leads the charge by making Bobby a real, ultra-human character with whom we relate, and then follow into the belly of the beast that is the Brooklyn crime world. Duvall and Wahlberg give their all as the cops in Bobby’s family, as well as Mendes makes Bobby’s girlfriend Amada an atypical female character in a male-dominated cast and story. The story is the crowning achievement. Gray directs well, yet his writing weaves a nice, dark tale of the line between criminals and cops, illustrated in rich colour by examining one family’s struggle in particular. All the turns the story takes could have felt melodramatic, but Gray allows it to flow organically alongside his excellent directorial choices. If you’ve not given this one the chance, do it. This is one of the better crime-thrillers since 2000 and it does not get the love it deserves.

In Bruges: Comedy, Crime, Cheeky Cunts

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

★★★★★

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

Bleeder Draws a Violent Line in the Sand Between Film and Reality

Bleeder. 1999. Directed & Written by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen, Rikke Louise Andersson, Liv Corfixen, Levino Jensen, & Zlatko Buric. Kamikaze.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER
People who frequent this site will now be sick of my love for Nicolas Winding Refn. He divides people. Nowadays, some of his supposed fans are really just fans of Drive. Others like his earlier work but find his latest stuff in the past 10 years a bit too much. Furthermore, there are others like myself who enjoy every last inch of film on which he’s left his mark. Not only that, I enjoy his writing alongside his choices and style as director. Not everything works every bit of the time. However, Refn always manages to intrigue me. He pulls at the seams of the brain and makes it unravel, no matter if we’re stuck in the gutters of Copenhagen, the cluttered video shops and bookstores, or whether he’s got you traipsing across the landscape of some foreign place on the way to who knows where – his mind is always working to try and fuck yours. In one way, or another.
Bleeder is in the earlier portion of his career, where the main focus of the stories he told were based in the streets of Copenhagen. First with Pusher, he explored a criminal, drug world. This film is set in a similarly lower class environment in semi-rundown flats and other locations, the characters each lower to middle class types. Above all else, Refn sticks with the gritty, in your face realism of his first feature. Here in his second feature there’s a closer, more personal look into the life of a family that’s falling apart, all due to the husband’s inability to express himself or seek out what he truly wants, instead opting to go along with the status quo – get married, have a kid – when it isn’t what he wants.
The results are tragic and violent.
And ultimately, blood begets more blood.
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The biggest, most evident part of Bleeder is how Leo (Kim Bodnia) is so obviously jealous of the single life. More importantly, his problems with the movies, the difference between reality and fiction are what bother him most. See, Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen) is a cinephile, much like myself. He spends a good deal of his time immersed in the world of various directors, auteurs and blockbusters and everything in between. At the same time, that also paints Lenny’s view on life a little unrealistically.
Or does it?
Compared to Leo and his fucked up life, the life he fucked up all on his own, the way Lenny approaches life is quite normal. Also, he looks at what Leo has and wants that while Leo is busy shitting all over it. Lenny’s a more reserved type, likely hoping a movie romance is going to fall into his lap, as well as maybe he’s a bit too reserved, a little anti social. But Leo is stuck in a life he’s not so sure he wants to live. His wife Louise (Rikke Louise Andersson) is pregnant, he doesn’t truly want a kid, then of course he winds up beating the hell out of her. So when he rags on Lenny for watching too many films and when he rages against a movie because it’s unrealistic, what’s really going on inside is that Leo is jealous.
He wants a different life, but won’t get one. Can’t now. So instead he decides to take control, unlike Lenny who he sees as aloof in the obsessive world of cinephilia. He buys a gun, he acts like a movie tough guy but in real life. However, in real life there are consequences. In the movies we see gangsters beat up on their girlfriends and nothing ever seems to come of it. They get off with everything, free to do as they please, to whomever they please. When Leo takes it upon himself to make his life into a real live motion picture, he also must face the consequences. Even better, the climactic moments of this story are wild and almost outrageous. Yet still they’re all too real. So real in fact that it’s almost nauseating.
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The gritty qualities of the film are paralleled in the ultimate nasty, defining moment that comes in the last twenty minutes. Added to that, Kim Bodnia – perhaps the world’s most underrated actor – gives us a stellar performance. There’s a scene where he comes to and find himself tied up, hanging from chains, and there’s this odd, moaning sound that emanates from him, louder and louder, longer and longer. It’s actually chilling. Even before that he does a fascinating job with a despicable character. You can see him cracking, gradually, then over the course of the film watch him drift into oblivion. There’s a good progression to the character and it’s only made better with Bodnia in the lead, doing a fine job like he did with Refn’s Pusher as Frank.
Similarly, Mads Mikkelsen is awesome as Lenny. He is one of those actors that has wide range. In some projects he plays creepy, scary characters. Here, he’s a timid and shy guy that has trouble reaching out to women, and instead of being creepy or inappropriate merely keeps to himself. So there’s a nice quietude in his character in juxtaposition with all the horrific realities of Leo’s situation. Watching Mikkelsen an Zlatko Buric together in the video shop is a treat, so different from their interactions in Pusher. They have good chemistry. But Mikkelsen really takes us into Lenny, and you can’t help rooting for him to finally push through to meet that girl he’s interested in.
Finally I cannot forget Levino Jensen playing the character of Louis, the violently racist brother to Louise. This guy is actually endearing in the early parts, even if you know he’s a bit of a hard ass. He just has this affectionate quality to him when with his sister particularly. Then there’s a switch, as Leo oversteps his boundaries and abuses Louise. Afterwards, we see Jensen break out in the character, making Louis into an intimidating person despite his stature. That’s the mark of a solid actor, when the physicality is second to the pure, intense emotion they can bring to a part. Jensen is such an actor, which I honestly didn’t expect. But he adds plenty to the film with his performance.
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As opposed to other works from Nicolas Winding Refn, Bleeder is a simple piece of cinema. That’s not to say it’s dumbed down. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. It is raw and to the point, it is brutish, bloody nearing the end and always compelling. This is a close view of violent men; not in the movies, but in real life. Whereas Lenny ends the film embracing a corporeal romance, something palpable and not only the world he loves in the movies, Leo winds up falling into a real life event and story which mirrors the best, bloodiest pieces of cinema out there. It’s perhaps this final hideous act of violence involving Louis and Leo that forces Lenny towards finally stepping into the world, outside the camera’s frame, and finding a life that doesn’t only involve the fictional space of film.
This is a great movie that does not get enough credit. It’s honest and open, while also having an almost surreal aspect in its more intense moments. Refn will always divide people, but I wil always find him interesting, even if I come across something eventually that I don’t like. For now, it’s all good, baby!

Menace II Society and Visions of a 1990s Clinton Nightmare

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

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