Willam H. Macy is "Edmond"

7/30/2020

Director Stuart Gordon’s 2005 film “Edmond” was adapted from a play by David Mamet who also wrote the screenplay.  It’s a short little film, 82 minutes, about a middle-aged man going through a mid-life existential crisis in the same vein as Michael Douglas’s character in the movie “Falling Down”, except with Mamet’s keen use of dialogue.


Willam H. Macy has made a career out of playing the down on his luck everyman and the role of Edmond is the perfect fit for him.  He is a bland suit and tie businessman past his prime who on a whim visits a psychic and gets a tarot card reading.  The old lady tells him “You are not where you belong”.  This seems to flip a switch in his brain and he goes home to his wife and calmly and quietly tells her “I can’t live this life anymore” and leaves her.  Edmond then sets off on a journey through the streets of New York.  He talks to a man in a bar (Joe Mantegna) who spouts off this racist allegory and tells him to go to this strip club.  Edmond is kicked out of the club for being a repressed cheap bastard and his journey continues to a peepshow.  All the while he is looking for an authentic human connection with each of the sex workers he encounters.  His desperate loneliness is palpable.  He tries to bargain on price with each of them, even to the point of trying to use a credit card with a woman at a brothel.  Back on the streets he is approached by a pimp and they come to an agreement for one of his girls but Edmond is not surprisingly robbed.  What is surprising though is that he fights back and stabs the pimp all while berating him with racial slurs.  Feeling invigorated and alive he goes to a bar for a drink and strikes up a conversation with the young waitress Glenna (Julia Stiles).  He actually persuades her to go back to her place where they have sex.  Edmond then flies into a sort of manic rage eventually killing a terrified Glenna with his knife.


Edmond is consumed with a racist, misogynistic rage that has been long buried.  He has another such encounter with an older African-American lady on the subway but she is able to escape.  Further wondering the streets he is drawn to an all-black church and seems entranced until he is approached by a policeman and the women he harassed on the train.  He tries to talk his way out of it using his white privilege but is arrested and taken to the station for questioning.  Upon interrogation, he is blindsided when they ask him about the murder of Glenna.  He confesses with the twisted rationale of a mad man.  The third act has Edmond in prison with a cellmate who quickly makes him his bitch.  He makes a full stereotypical prison transformation as he shaves his head and gets a teardrop tat. The film ends with him and his cellmate having a long existential talk about hell and the afterlife.


Writer David Mamet is known for his talent for writing strong dialogue that my review here can’t accurately express.  It’s very raw and biting and not for everyone.  “Edmond” is a character study of a vile man who could be your next-door neighbor.  Since he is such a bland everyman he could literally represent a vast number of people who are also hiding a deepening rage against society as a whole and when the wolf decides to shed its sheep’s clothing this can be utterly terrifying.


Stuart Gordon's Final Film "Stuck"

7/27/2020

*Spoilers Ahead*
Director Stuart Gordon passed away in March of this year.  He left his mark by being one of the great contributors to the 80s horror scene.  The iconic Dr. Herbert West, played by Jeffrey Combs, in “Re-Animator” put Gordon on the map.  His next feature “From Beyond” which also starred Combs also drew wide acclaim from fans and critics alike.  To round up his amazing trio of films was “Dolls” in 1987.  He made a number of poorly received films in the 90s but his last two in the mid-2000s “Edmond” and “Stuck” were a return to his earlier form.  Here we will take a look at his last feature the “based on a true story” film “Stuck”.

Famed Irish actor Stephen Rea adopts an American accent to play Thomas Bardo, a down on his luck schlub who is being evicted from his scummy apartment.  With nowhere to go, he is cast out onto the streets to fend for himself.  When trying to find a job at the state unemployment agency he runs into nothing but bureaucracy.  With an armload of clothes and nighttime upon him, he makes his way to a park bench to mull over his future.  Meanwhile, we meet Brandi Boski, played by Mena Suvari.  She works in a nursing home and is the favorite nurse of Mr. Binkley and has literally shit the bed again.  After work, Brandi and Tanya (a friend from work) go to a club and meet up with Brandi’s boyfriend Rashid.  They all take some ecstasy and party the night away.  Drunk and high Brandi decides to drive home, obviously, this is not going to go well for her.  While chatting on the phone with Rashid (another nasty no-no) she hits a homeless man pushing a shopping cart.  This is, of course, Thomas who was kicked out of the park by the police, then was gifted the cart by another fellow homeless man.  Thomas’ leg is broken and his body becomes lodged in the windshield, hence the title Stuck, but the title is sort of a double meaning as we’ll find out.  In a moment of panic and darkly comedic drama Brandi makes her way home with the man on her hood.  She even passes by a policeman who fails to notice her.  Then makes a feeble attempt to drop him off at a hospital but drives away.

Amazingly she arrives home undetected and a moment of truth is upon her, what should she do next?   She doesn’t seem to be an inherently bad person, but her refusal to accept what is happening and take responsibility is her downfall.  Thomas then wakes up and pleads for help, obviously in agonizing pain, blood streaking down his face and a bone protruding ever so slightly from his broken leg.  Brandi is frozen in terror and disbelief and leaves him as Rashid arrives at her front door.  Brandi tells him about the accident, but not the fact that he is currently in the garage.  Rashid laughs it off and tells her to forget about it.  We then cut between a sex scene and Thomas writhing in the windshield.

The next day Brandi goes to work but is late, she tries to act like things are normal but is wracked with guilt.  Her guilt is more about what will happen to her if she is found out that what is happening to poor ole Thomas.  Before leaving for work she whacks him over the head with a 2x4 to stop him from screaming.  Later on, Thomas awakens still alive and kicking and gets the attention of a neighbor boy by screaming for help.  The boy runs home to tell his mother and when the father gets home he decides not to intervene since they are illegals and could be deported.  Thomas’s situation becomes so ridiculous that the film could be seen as a dark comedy.  He is eventually able to wedge himself free and splinter his leg.  When Rashid goes to finish him off he is ambushed and killed.  Thomas almost escapes but Brandi knocks him out and drags him back.  She then decides to douce everything is gasoline and set it ablaze.  Once again Thomas is awakened and gets the drop on Brandi.  He is able to start the car and pin her to the wall.  Brandi’s attempt to shot him backfires as the shot ignites the gas and burns her alive.  Thomas emerges from the flames a broken but free man.

“Stuck” is a low budget, well-acted B-movie that really brings the goods.  It has gore, sex, dark humor, and people making stupid decisions.  All based on the true story of Chante Jawan Mallard, a Texas woman who received 50 years in prison for the murder of a homeless man, Gregory Biggs.  Yes, the movie does take a bunch of artistic liberties, I mean Thomas surviving and getting his vengeance makes the movie.  Stuart Gordon’s last film while not earth shattering brought back the feeling of those mid-80s classics he is so famous for.

A Loud Disapproval of "A Quiet Place"

“A Quiet Place” is a horror film that takes things in a bit of a different direction than your average scare-fest.  Director and actor John Krasinski is primarily known for his comedic role on the TV show “The Office”.  He is playing against type in both respects as actor and director.  His journey into the horror/thriller genre is a welcome surprise as he brings a new voice and energy into an often tired and overworked genre. 

Although names were not mentioned during the film (except for one), John plays a father and a husband named Lee Abbott.  His on-screen as well as off wife, Evelyn Abbott, is played by Emily Blount.  They have three children among them, two boys and a girl.  The oldest girl, Regan, is played by Millicent Simmonds who in real life is hearing impaired, this makes for an interesting pairing with the plot of the film which I will mention later on.  Her two brothers, Marcus and Beau, are played by Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward respectively.  The overall cast is kept to a minimum and reinforces the feeling of isolation the family feels.

The film starts out with a title card stating “Day 89” and we see the family scrounging around a desolate drug store in a post-apocalyptic landscape.  They tiptoe around with the utmost silence.  Beau the youngest boy eyes a toy space shuttle, but it’s quickly taken awake because of its potential to make noise, however upon leaving Regan lets him keep it, this a very bad thing.  We find the family walking along a path of ashes and crossing a bridge when the toy starts blaring, everyone turns around in horror as Beau is swept away by a big insect looking, creature.  We then flash forward about a year with another title card.  We see that Evelyn is pregnant which is foreshadowing a pretty obvious plot point to come.  Their lives are lived in silence as any noise will bring the creatures to their door.  They have efficiently adapted everything they do to reduce sounds.  They use sign language to communicate and even roll dice on a mat when playing games to eliminate any sound.  Only when Lee brings Marcus to a fast-moving stream or waterfall are they able to talk in their normal voices.  To further eliminate noise when inside or out everyone is barefoot.  Their clothing is minimal and reflects that of your average middle-class family, laundry is still being done as we see so things are not terribly desperate as of yet. They are still up on their cleanliness and appearance.

In a film with little to no verbal dialogue, it turns into a modern-day silent film.  This means the acting has to be good and contrary to your typical horror movie acting this film is definitely a step above.   The acting came through in the facial expressions of the actors.  When Evelyn was trapped in the house having to keep silent while also going into labor was pretty amazing.  Relaying all of the complex emotions she was going through was quite a feat.  The fact that Regan is deaf in real life and in the film looked to make her job all the more difficult.  She crafts a great character communicating all her emotions from angry and annoyed to anxious and terrified.  Her dad tirelessly works on new hearing aids for her without having much success, but his latest configuration is in the end a key to repelling the creatures.  Also contrary to most horror films we really care about these characters and want them to survive.  They are not just generic bodies to be gruesomely murdered by the hero monsters.

The post-apocalyptic scenery is something that has been used to death in modern films and TV.  “The Walking Dead” for example has cornered the market on this.  The most effective use of this in my opinion was the 2009 film “The Road” starring Viggo Mortensen.   Although not a horror film in the traditional sense, the film (and the book it is based on) looks to transcend the genre and make it something more.  I think that is what “A Quiet Place” is aiming for and in a way does that.  The family has to adapt to their new way of life and we stay pretty much within their little area of the world the whole time.  They make use of their natural surroundings and anything they can find to make themselves invisible from the creatures.  

This film relies entirely on sound and the manipulation of it.  While the characters themselves are silent for a good majority of the film, the score by Marco Beltrami plays a huge part.  The score emphasizes the scary points and increases the levels of suspense.  Although when it is silent every little noise becomes magnified and of utmost importance.  When Evelyn or the kids and walking on the wood plank stairs or opening a door, you cringe hoping that the creatures won’t hear them.  While the filmmakers manipulate the audience with sound the same is true of the characters who use it to draw the creatures away.  When Evelyn is under attack, the boys light off a bunch of fireworks as a last resort to draw them away.  As is typical of a lot of horror films the lighting is minimally and there are a bunch of scenes that take place at night.  The family has rigged a lighting system around the perimeter of their living area to warn of danger.  If the lights are white all is good, if they are red then danger is amongst them.  Fires on top of their silo are also used to signal other encampments in the area.  The kids' use of flashlights also comes into play when they are in the cornfields. 

While this film was better than your average horror film I don’t think it’s as great as the extensive praise it has received.  Some of my issues with the film might be a little picky, but it did interfere with the story in my mind.  Where exactly were they getting their electricity?  Normal human activities ended over a year ago and they seem to use a lot of power, if they had a generator I’m sure the excessive noise would attract trouble. Secondly, the fact that Evelyn is pregnant is purely to serve the plot, but seriously can’t you wait to have a baby until after you figure out how to kill these things.  After the baby is born they due have plans to minimize the crying fits but come on a baby will cry at the most inopportune times (and does).  Next on my list is that stupid nail on the steps, Evelyn steps on it originally, ouch! But then it seems to be a non-issue when everybody else goes down them.  At least try to mention it or point in out when your kids go running down them.  Finally, the creatures themselves, what are they and where did they come from? I’m sure this will be dealt with in the many sequels and prequels to come.


"Quarantine" with This High Octane Horror Film

7/8/2020

The 2007 Spanish film “Rec” created such a stir in the horror movie business that it only took about a year for the American remake “Quarantine” to hit theaters.  The films are an excellent and effective use of the found-footage horror sub-genre made popular by “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999.  Although with bigger budgets and more refined production.

“Quarantine” stars Jennifer Carpenter, who at the time also starred in the horror series “Dexter”  on Showtime.  She plays Angela a reporter who is spending the night shadowing a Los Angeles fire station.  Everything we see is from her cameraman’s point of view and like most found footage movies, you get a lot of shaky camera moments.  Angela gets to know some of the firefighters at the station but we primarily follow Jake, played by Jay Hernandez.  After a number of jokes and lightheartedness a call comes in and we jump on an engine and head to an old apartment building.  There is no fire but its a medical call for a sick old lady.  As we quietly enter the apartment of Ms. Espinoza we see her and there is definitely something wrong with her.  After a quick interaction, she jumps on one of the officers and takes a bite out of his neck.  From here on out the action, suspense and tension never let up.  The frenetic movement of the camera adds to the insane panic that is felt by all.  As people try to leave the building they find that they have been locked inside by the CDC and have been quarantined inside, hence the title of the movie.  Armed guards surround the place and cover the windows with plastic sheeting.  As we will see later they mean business.

The apartment residents are pretty stereotypical and just serve the purpose of a higher body count but it works in a movie like this since the only quiet character moments were in the first ten minutes.  We have the mother and young daughter, the immigrant couple, the drunken asshole businessman, the young single girl, and a single guy who happens to be a veterinarian.  After witnessing some sick people they find out that the virus is some form of rabies, that spreads quickly and turns people into hyper-aggressive fresh eating maniacs, naturally.  At one point one of the infected is bludgeoned to death by the camera, very cool.  The resident all end up turning one by one.  The little girl, played by now horror veteran, Joey King has a great little scene as well.  As I mentioned before the action and suspense are non-stop and your at the edge of your chair for every minute of it.  Eventually, Angela and her cameraman are alone and make their way up to the attic to find several animal cages and information on bio-warfare.  Then in the green night-vision, we see a tall skeletal like being moving around.  The tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife, Angela then finds herself alone with the final scene of her being dragged off into the darkness.  “Quarantine” was one of my favorite horror films of the last decade and the best example of how you do a found footage film right.


"I Think Were Alone Now" with Peter Dinklage

7/4/2020

Reed Morano’s 2018 film “I Think Were Alone Now” is not a biopic about 80s pop singer Tiffany, but a story of a man making a life for himself after a world-altering event that has left him completely alone, or so he thinks.  There have been numerous movies that deal with the apocalypse or the last man alive scenario.  From drama, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, just about every genre has gone after the story in a different angle. 

The magnificent Peter Dinklage plays Del, a man who has made the public library his new home.  He spends his days going from house to house in his suburban neighborhood cleaning.  He wraps up and removes bodies when needed and takes supplies such as food and batteries.  He also takes family photos out of their frames which he keeps in file folders back at the library.  Del is a quiet mannered man who goes about his business keeping a routine in a world that no longer exists.  What motivates a person to move forward when everything seems so unnecessary?  Humans are such social beings, living a life of solitude takes a certain type of person.  Del seems to have found a new purpose that drives him forward, but the loss of human connection is always with him.  Until he hears the blaring of a car alarm, he approaches with extreme caution, gun drawn, and finds a passed out teen girl, this is Grace (Elle Fanning).  In this new world, there is a risk in helping anyone, but Del cautiously helps her out anyway.  He locks her in a room until she awakens and then they form an understanding.

While Del still very much keeps to himself he does show Grace how to clean and clear houses.  Grace even finds a dog and brings him to back live in the library.  There are a number of questions that linger around.  Where did grace come from and why does she have a bandaged scar on the back of her neck?  We keep coming back to house number 13, is this Del’s old house? Also the biggest question as to what happened to all the people?  We get some answers but the seconds half of the film is considerably weaker than the first.  Del is such a fascinating character as Dinklage gives him such humanity and feeling.  Del is one of the few people who actually sees his situation as a sort of blessing in disguise.  He has not actively sought out any other survivors until Grace literally crashes into his life.

The second half of the film takes a more sci-fi route as one day Grace’s “parents” find her and want to bring her home.  It’s obvious that these are not her biological parents and it starts to explain the scar on her neck.  Grace is taken away and Del is powerless to stop them leaving him alone, again.  But this time he is prompted to take action and leaves his little neighborhood to find that there is actually a populated city going on like normal.  He finds Grace in a house hooked up to some medical equipment with an electrode cap that is playing around with her thoughts.  The Dad appears and we find out he is working on a machine that will eliminate grief, sadness, anger, and bad memories.  No deal Dr. Frankenstein, Del shoots him dead and like a freed prisoner the Mom runs out the front door.  Del rescues Grace and we get a tired and cliche ending of them driving into the horizon.  The way the movie was shot and the lens used to give everything this dreamy quality especially if you pay attention to the edges of the frame that are always slightly out of focus.  This is a decent movie that definitely could have been better, but if anything see it for Peter Dinklage’s performance.  If you looking for more Dinklage other than “Game of Thrones” of course, take a look at his break out role in “The Station Agent” which I have previously reviewed.


Sean Penn is "Milk"

7/1/2020

“My name is Harvey Milk and I am here to recruit you”.  This was the rallying cry of San Francisco Gay rights activist Harvey Milk.  His impassioned speeches to crowds and protesters demanded equal treatment for not only gays and lesbians but for all marginalized people.  Sadly, like many civil rights leaders before him, he was gunned down by an angry bigot with a gun.  Gus Van Sant’s 2008 film “Milk” was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor for Sean Penn and his spot-on portrayal of Harvey.

The film starts out with Harvey talking into a tape recorder with the purpose of leaving a record of his thoughts in case he is assassinated.  This acts as a sort of narration throughout the film as we keep coming back to it.  Right away we are then told of the death of Harvey and San Francisco Mayor Moscone at the hands of an unlikely assassin.  That was in 1978, we are then brought back to 1970 to show us how we got there.  Milk has just turned 40 and feels like he has not accomplished anything (join the club pal).  Living in New York he meets Scott Smith (James Franco) in the Subway and falls in love and things start to take off from there.  Together they move to San Francisco and open up a small camera shop called Castro Camera.  Harvey becomes an active social leader within the community and makes the shop a safe hangout spot for gays and lesbians.  Milk then takes it a step further in protesting the unfair treatment of the gay community by the police.  Eventually deciding to run for City Supervisor, but loses not once or twice but three times.  Although gaining more support and votes after each run.  

The outright fear, paranoia, and bigotry of gays ran from coast to coast as Harvey faced off with Anti-gay activist Anita Bryant and Senator John Briggs.  The film also chronicles Harvey’s relationship with Dan White another up and coming politician but one much more conservative than Harvey.  In 1977 things changed in how San Francisco was divided up and Harvey finally won a seat as City Supervisor.  The first openly gay man to be elected to any office in the whole country.  Dan White was also elected City Supervisor in a neighboring district and the two were at odds with each other.  Harvey didn’t play “the game” of politics and this angered White who eventually resigned his seat.  Ten months later white wanted his seat back but was denied by May Moscone.  White then coldly and callously brought a gun and extra ammunition to city hall and gun down both Moscone and Milk.  He was found, arrested, and booked for murder.  His trial was a complete failure of the justice system as he only served five years in prison.  Two years after is released he committed suicide.

The filmmakers of “Milk” gave credit to the 1984 Academy Award-winning Documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” in which several scenes are re-enacted.  “Milk” is an engaging and emotional story of a man who fought like so many others before him demanding equal rights only to be killed for them.  This is simply an amazing film with Sean Penn giving a career-defining performance but still for some people the subject matter will be an issue which is a shame.  If you watch this film you will no doubt be touched by the life of Harvey Milk.