Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top Ten Supernatural Anti Heroes

In the spirit of Halloween, here's a list of some of my favorite supernatural anti heroes. Even outside the horror genre there's a fascination with supernatural elements that ensures they pop up every now and then. Many of these are simple revenge stories, with characters so determined to right a wrong that not even death can stop them. I also include psychic abilities  as supernatural in some cases. "The Fury" and "The Dead Zone" for example are films where paranormal "gifts" are treated differently than they are in superhero stories, asking questions like, if you could see the future, would you really want to? One of the hallmarks of these stories is that there's always a cost involved, especially when making deals with the Devil. The dead can come back sometimes, but not for long. You don't want to get in the way during that time, however, as they can even their scores without fear of consequences since they're just going back after they're done. 

10) Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider

I've been a big fan of the Marvel Comics version of Ghost Rider since I was a kid. While grouped in with super heroes the character has little in common with the rest of that universe. I had doubts that it could be made into a satisfying movie and honestly after two attempts I'm still not sure. Nonetheless, it's great to see the character brought to screen as that flaming skull is a visual that demands different interpretations. The story is simple enough, Johnny Blaze sells his soul to the Devil to save his father but then finds there's more to the deal than he thought and he really should have read the fine print. I thought Nicholas Cage was a good pick as he does unhinged characters very well and certainly having your skull on fire should bring out some intensity.

9) John Milton, Drive Angry

Drive Angry is a straight ahead over the top action flick. It's lead character, John Milton busted out of hell to save his daughter's baby from a bloodthirsty cult of Satan worshippers. Hell sends the Accountant (William Fichtner) to collect Milton before he interferes, as the sacrifice of Milton's granddaughter is vital to Satan's plans for Earth. Milton ends up teaming with Piper (Amber Heard,) a waitress who doesn't mind the chance to vent some frustrations by helping Milton take down the bad guys. The movie is full of action and has some scenes that you're not likely to see anywhere else. If you're looking for a subtle character piece, this isn't your film, but if you're in the mood for over the top gun fights and explosions with a supernatural edge then you could certainly have a good time with it.

8) Jake Kesey, The Wraith

A mysterious figure called The Wraith, driving a black Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor, shows up in a town that's terrorized by a gang of car thieves, who use racing as their main method of intimidation. This is a welcome development to Billy, whose brother Jamie was killed by the gang, and Kerri, who was Jamie's girlfriend. The Wraith gets involved with the races and it soon becomes clear that he has a grudge against the gang when he starts killing it's members. At the same time, a guy named Jake Kesey (Charlie Sheen) appears in town, but no one including the police can catch the Wraith, although it's clear that his problem is a very personal one.

7) Eli, Let the Right One In

"Let the Right One In" is a different kind of vampire story. Eli (Lina Leandersson) a vampire who looks like a little girl, moves into a house next door to Oskar's family. Oskar is a very troubled young boy who has a problem with bullies (among many other problems) Eli has brought an assistant who is assumed to be Eli's father, but his true function is to procure victims to keep Eli fed. Oskar seeks to befriend her and gradually learns that Eli is not a little girl at all, and has to decide whether the atrocities he's faced with due to her nature are more than he can deal with.This is a different kind of vampire story about a different kind of friendship.

6) John Constantine, Constantine

John Constantine is another comic book character that demanded a big screen version. Although the film is not entirely faithful to the Vertigo comics character, they kept enough elements to make it a worthwhile watch. Keanu Reeves does a great job with his portrayal, of Constantine as aloof, acerbic, and witty, not to mention highly competent at dispatching demons. He uncovers a plot by demons planning to break through to the earthly realm, while at the same time dealing with the knowledge that he's dying of cancer.  He investigates, finding the demons' plan has some very influential participants and works to shut it down, calling on some unlikely allies of his own, even while facing down his own death sentence.

5) Gillian Bellaver, The Fury

Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving) has some extraordinary psychic powers, but they're not entirely beneficial, as they make interactions with others very challenging. She attends a clinic for those with abilities like hers but finds the program's administrator, Ben Childress (John Cassavetes) wants to use his patients as weapons. When Childress' plan endangers  the son of Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) he attempts to save him with Gillian's help. They stop Ben's plan at quite a cost, while Gillian struggles to come to terms with her abilities, finding acceptance in a way that doesn't work out so well for Childress.

4) Johnny Smith, The Dead Zone

Johnny Smith is a schoolteacher with a good life, including a girlfriend he loves very much. His whole life changes when he's in a car accident and ends up in a coma for years. When he wakes up he learns his girlfriend has moved on and gotten married. He finds that when he touches people he can see things about them, including their secrets and their future. He also learns that if he acts on the visions in the right way he can intervene and change what happens. Initially he uses this ability to help people, including finding a murderer. Unfortunately, he shakes the hand of a man who will one day be president and start a war. He must decide what to do about that, knowing that it will require desperate actions and no one else could understand his reasons.

3)BeetleJuice, BeetleJuice

The Maitland family, Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin,) are faced with the knowledge that even though they didn't realize it, they're dead and confined to their house. They get some assistance via the "Handbook of the Recently Deceased" but then have to deal with the house's new owners moving in, including a young girl named Lydia (Winona Ryder) who, unlike her parents, can see them. The Maitlands are advised by their afterlife case worker to scare the new residents away, but they prove inept at this task. Desperate for help they contact the bio exorcist Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) Beetlejuice turns out to be much more of a problem than the new residents however as his unconventional methods support only his own agenda.

2) The Stranger, High Plains Drifter

The Stranger (Clint Eastwood) appears in the town of Lago, only to be bothered by three aggressive men. He quickly guns them all down, killing them and interacts with other town people, finding them all to be particularly nasty. He dreams of a Marshal being whipped to death as the whole town looked on and did nothing to help him. The town starts to panic when they learn that a group of outlaws that they double crossed are headed toward Lago for revenge. They hire the Stranger to protect them, promising he can have "anything he wants." He makes a point of indulging himself in everyone's services extravagantly, even requiring them to paint the whole town red, and write "Hell" on the Lago town sign. SOme of the townspeople have had enough and attack the Stranger, who easily kills them. The Stranger rides off as the outlaws are about to approach. They get all the townspeople together and the Stranger eventually returns and kills the outlaws before leaving town, leaving them to wonder who he was.

1) Eric Draven, The Crow

On October 30th, one year after Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his girlfriend Shelly were brutally murdered, Eric Draven is called back to life by a crow to avenge their murders at the hands of a gang led by Top Dollar (Michael Wincott.) He realizes that any wound heals instantly and tracks down each of the gang members and kills them each in a unique style fitting their personalities, and also becomes reacquainted with a young girl who he and Shelly looked after and a police Sgt. Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) who had worked on their case and watched Shelly die in the hospital. He tracks down and kills them all easily, except for Top Dollar who manages to even the contest by wounding the Crow and making him vulnerable, until Eric touches him and gives him all of Shelly's pain in an instant causing him to fall to his death. His task finished, he returns to the grave to reunite with Shelly.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


"G.B.H." is the story of Damien (Nick Nevern,) a London cop with some questionable allegiances. Having grown up in foster care with a lot of anger, he eventually resolved to join the force and use his anger and get back at the life that treated him poorly. His past doesn't disappear however, and his old group of football hooligans, frequently cross his path while doing his duty. Damien attempts to be a good cop, while giving his old friends a break once in a while, yet warning them not to count on his help. Most notable is his friend Kyle (Merveille Lukeba,) who doesn't listen to Damien's warnings and keeps pushing their allegiance.

We see Damien struggle to balance both sides as he responds to different calls including a young kid getting bullied over his football shirt. He initially brushes off the call as a kid being dramatic, but it spirals into a tragic shooting, which appears to have impending consequences for Damien, due to his handling of the call.

We also see a developing relationship between Damien and his fellow officer, Louise (Kellie Shirlie,) whose father Patrick (Con O'Neill) was once a cop himself. Patrick knows all about the hooligans as he was crippled responding to a football fight, which helped break up their family and inspired Louise to become a cop. This gives Damien and Louise some common ground as their pasts have both been greatly affected by the rampant violence. Patrick asks Damien to look out for his daughter, which he agrees to do.

We see tensions rising in London as the hooligans escalate leading into the 2011 London Riots. When Louise is viciously attacked by a group of hooligans led by Damien's old associate, Barry (Peter Barrett)  it becomes more personal for Damien, and the right thing to do as a boyfriend and as a cop don't appear to be the same thing any more.

G.B.H. presents a world where football hooliganism provides an outlet for all sorts of would be criminals to indulge their worst desires. Damien comes from this background, his own father using football to move drugs, leading to his downfall. Allegiance to a football team provides a reason for bonding with friends and for fighting with those on the other side. In tense times, all sorts of pressures are brought out under the hooligan banner, eventually leaving the football by the wayside and to provide a license for robbery, rape and all manner of violence.

Through Nevern's excellent portrayal of Damien, we see that the police culture has parallels to the hooligan lifestyle. People join the force for all kinds of reasons, as Damien points out when he wonders why Louise joined. Being a cop is not so different from being a hooligan to Damien, providing a way to deal with his anger, only appearing more legitimate and giving him more authority. Being a cop would seem to provide a way to get over his past, but he can't really let it go, as he spending his off time with the same people he grew up with and visiting his incarcerated father.

He indulges his anger and uses his position illegally, knowing he can always claim that someone he doesn't like was resisting arrest. We see a guy making an effort, but doing it halfway not realizing he can't stay true to his roots and get over them at the same time. Ultimately he's presented with a tough decision for anyone to make, but he struggles with it up to the last minute. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" he's told, an idea he isn't fond of and he does disprove in a way as his reasons are very different from his father's despite having the same outcome. Honestly, in the environment we see around Damien, it would be tough for anyone to do both the right and legal thing, and be sure about it, as the chaos seems perfectly able to touch everyone.

Kellie Shirley gives a great performance as a believable character and an interesting love interest. She covers a wide range of emotion including what must have been some difficult scenes, showing pain, anger and confusion, while avoiding easy resolutions. Con O'Neill adds much to the film as Patrick, Louise's father, who, confined to a wheelchair reminds us of the consequences of unchecked hooliganism. Peter Barrett's portrayal of Barry shows us where Damien could have gone, showing an unapologetic criminal using football to justify whatever depravity he can think of. The rest of the supporting cast functions very well creating a solid background where even the smallest characters add something.

This is Simon Phillips' first time directing, although it doesn't feel like it. He does a wonderful job, giving us a great looking film with a smart, nuanced story and top notch performances. Certainly his familiarity with crime films as an actor in the "Jack" series, (Jack Says, Jack Said, Jack Falls) and more recently, alongside Nevern in another Hooligan story "The Rise and Fall of A White Collar Hooligan" directed by Paul Tanter, who is a Producer this time around. The London presented feels big and small at the same time, big enough that you could think to escape your past, and small enough that your former associates are never far away. Rather than moralizing, he shows us many sides of the hooligan problem, which unfortunately has no easy answer, and is all the more disturbing for being based on real events. This is what that background does to one guy, and how difficult it can be to know the right thing to do. Being a cop doesn't keep anyone safe here, and we can feel the tension building in the city all around Damien, until it finally reaches full scale riot for everyone concerned.

Take a look at the trailer below and watch the film as soon as you get a chance. I can't wait to see what's next from Simon Phillips, Nick Nevern and everyone involved.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Solomon Kane

It's a complicated thing to see one of your favorite fictional characters get a makeover. This is especially true when it's an obscure character that on the one hand, you'd love to see get more recognition, but on the other, you'd kind of like to keep for yourself. Honestly, if Michael Bassett's recent "Solomon Kane" film had portrayed the character I remember from my childhood, I would've been overjoyed, but I realize that may not ever have been possible. Competing with nostalgia and remembered childhood imagination is a difficult task for anyone. Even with all the presumably audience inclusive tweaks he made to the character, it took years for the film to be released for US viewing, and even then without a real theatrical release.

While I was disappointed with the film, it wasn't all bad. James Purefoy gave a decent performance covering the character visually as well as you could ask. His tone for the most part felt right and I enjoyed watching him do what he could. He can carry the hat and cloak and seems comfortable sword fighting  There were some interesting visuals in the film, the dark tones, and somber atmosphere all hinted that they had some idea what they were aiming for. The opening scene with Kane as a greedy and fearless pirate captain set it up very well, but from there it lost direction, or at least the direction I wanted to see. I understand that the film has to be an access point for those who know nothing about the character, and as such the film feels the need to include both a current adventure and the "origin story." It's no mystery that a problem arose here, since Solomon Kane, never had a real origin story, just hints about his past. Mind you, I'm no stickler for devotion to continuity, provided the changes a writer makes make sense, and feel true to the character. Unfortunately a couple details here were completely against the character's nature. They gave him an origin story, and it was a mundane one.

Anyone familiar with the character (before this film) when asked to describe Solomon Kane will before very long tell you he's a Puritan. I would even go so far as to call him a Puritan on overdrive. Yet here, we're told that he was the son of a Lord, and was supposed to go into the priesthood while his older brother assumed his father's title. When he's confronted by "the Devil's Reaper" he gives up his Pirate's ways and retreats to a Catholic monastery. At some point, he meets a presumably Puritan family, and after some slaughter he gets his Puritan looking hat and cloak from them to chase down the evil doers. This in no slight against the Catholic church, but I'm sure they'd be happy to agree that Puritan's were not very Catholic at all. Wearing a Puritan's clothes doesn't make you a Puritan either. Known for being strict in accounting for all aspects of their behavior, including the limiting of affection. They're known for coming across as severe and uncompromising in most respects. These are characteristics which Solomon Kane displayed very well. Devoted to punishing evil, he would pursue each cause obsessively until it was concluded. This is not a guy you'll get a smile from and also not a guy who would hide out in a monastery, and not one to use two words when one will do. There's also the fact that Solomon Kane suffered a bit due to the Inquisition.

He's also given an odd family back story  He's the second born son but wants no part of the family name. As a child, his father tells him if he leaves, he's not to come back. We see that his older brother, Marcus (Samuel Roukin)  is a cruel thug, and when Solomon interferes with him abusing a young lady, they have an altercation which leads to his brother falling off a cliff to his seeming death. This history is revisited later, as we learn that the main bad guy, a Sorcerer named Malachi (Jason Flemyng) struck a deal with Solomon's father, who unbeknownst to Solomon had found his older brother alive but horribly disfigured. He offers Malachi everything he has to restore Marcus as much as possible. He does this and Marcus starts working for him in a Darth Vader/Emperor kind of capacity. This was done I suppose to give the final confrontation a more personal angle. With some characters I'd buy that, but the character of Solomon Kane is only diminished by this weak family story. Robert E. Howard's Kane would kill his father or brother without hesitation if he thought they were evil doers. If the goal was to give him guilt, there was plenty of opportunity from the initial set up.  We can imagine all sorts of misdeeds while out raiding and plundering.

The last big error in my estimation was the handling of the whole "redemption" part of the plot. To sum it up, at the beginning a demon called "The Devil's Reaper" confronts him and tells him he's damned and hell is out to collect his soul. William Crowthorn, (Pete Postlehwaite) the father of a Puritan family he meets on his travels is killed by agents of Malachi whose goal is to kidnap the man's daughter, Meredith (Rachel hurd-Wood.) Kane kills many of them, but they get away with Meredith. With his dying breath. the Puritan tells Kane that if he saves his daughter he'll be redeemed. Kane promises to do this. In the final confrontation, Kane defeats his brother Marcus, and then turns his attention to Malachi, who uses Meredith's blood to release a huge demon from a mirror to claim Kane. As the demon is about to kill Kane, he shoots Malachi, causing the demon to be absorbed into the mirror after a brief lightshow. He tells Meredith that like her father said he knows he's redeemed now. Ending the movie he announces that he'll be out fighting the dark forces from now on. Once again, I found the reasoning to be pretty ill fitting. While Solomon Kane has had some supernatural assistance, a quickie redemption seems the easy way out. Kane always believed himself serving a higher purpose, and the intensity of his efforts to combat evil were those of someone seeking redemption certainly. To give him redemption at the start of his evil fighting career is a bit anticlimactic. An already redeemed man wouldn't be as driven as Solomon Kane.

As far as the technical aspects of the film go, it's watchable. They obviously went to a lot of trouble to include some visual period detail. Some of the dialogue is clunky and several of the action scenes are underwhelming and the CGI work just has to be accepted as what it is. It makes it's point well enough, and may entertain, but won't astonish you. If you aren't as invested in the character as I am, you may enjoy it a bit more. I firmly believe that the character could do well as originally envisioned. Certainly many period pieces do well, and the supernatural elements of the stories could be appealing. It may be difficult to have as unsympathetic a main character as Solomon Kane, at least one that doesn't throw out witty one liners. Let's face it, Puritans, especially obsessed ones are not the the most fun characters around. He's not about fun though, just an uncompromising devotion to destroy evil where he finds it, whether in the form of a pirate, vampire, or demon. It's comforting to see his resolve tested and know that he doesn't break. Solomon Kane is a guy with a sword and pistol (and a mystical staff, but no need to get into that here) who is every bit as cold and ruthless as the evil he pursues. They even got the character down pretty well in the opening, Kane refusing to budge from his quest even as his men are getting pulled into mirrors by demons. It's just too bad they decided to soften the character, once he'd "turned to good." Some character work better with a little mystery behind them.

I can't say I didn't enjoy it at all, but I wanted to like it more. Just the fact that I can say, "The Solomon Kane movie" makes me a little happy. I only wish it had been more true to the character, or done so well that I wouldn't notice the character issues. If the character interests you and you'd like to get a better take on what he's all about, the Howard stories are a good place to start. While he's never enjoyed widespread popularity, his influence is seen in nearly every hunter of the supernatural (Vampire Hunter D's outfit or the 2004 version of Van Helsing.) One great benefit of the film release is that they are much easier to find now:

He can also be found in the reprinted Black and White back up stories from Marvel Comic's "Savage Sword of Conan" magazine. That's where I first ran into him. He also had several Marvel Mini Series which were exceptional and in color!

And lastly, Dark Horse Comics is doing wonderful things with Solomon Kane these days, completing some of Howard's story fragments and staying true to the character that Howard created, rather than filing the unpleasant edges off.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


In the year 2044, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a specialized hitman, or "Looper." He waits at certain spot where his victim will materialize in front of him, tied up with a bag over his head, to be dispatched by Joe's shotgun or "Blunderbuss." and then disposed of. The body disposal is the important part, since Joe is working for gangsters thirty years in his own future (2074) where sophisticated tracking makes it impossible to make a body disappear. Luckily for the mob, in 2074, time travel has been discovered, although it was almost instantly outlawed and carries severe penalties. Being the perfect method to get rid of enemies, and not hung up on the illegality, the mob has taken over time travel exclusively, although they do it in strict secrecy. To maintain that secrecy, Looper's sometimes have to get rid of their older selves, when the 2074 bosses deem them a threat. A Looper killing his future self, is called "closing the loop" for obvious reasons, and your self assassination is your last job, carrying a big payday and retirement.

We're introduced to Joe on an average day. He kills a guy, collects his pay (silver bars strapped to his hooded victim.) incinerates the body, and then hits the town. We see that Joe has a drug problem, in this case taken in the eyes, with an eye dropper. In Joe's present, the haves and have nots have embraced their differences, making "vagrants" public enemy number one. There have also been incidents of people developing telekinesis, although rather than producing superhero's, it's limited to guys trying to impress woman by floating quarters, which Joe calls "tacky." Joe doesn't care much about class warfare, he has his own crowd, which includes his favorite prostitute, Suzie (Piper Perabo.) He hangs out with other Loopers and when he isn't on the job, it's a constant party.

A bump in his lifestyle happens pretty quickly though, when it seems the big boss in the future, known only as "The Rainmaker." is closing everybody's loops. This is first presented as a happy occasion, Joe informs us that most Loopers aren't "forward thinking." and having 30 years to spend your money no doubt seems like a good thing at the time. Joe is a bit more forward thinking than most, trying to learn French and saving half of all his pay days for his eventual retirement to France.

Except for his friend Seth (Paul Dano) who shows up late one night at Joe's window. He tells Joe that he recognized his future self, from a tune he was whistling and taking advantage of his hesitation, Seth's future self got away. Joe reluctantly hides Seth in his floor vault, as the mob arrives looking for him. Joe is escorted to the present day mob boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels) who was   sent from the future long ago to coordinate everything. Abe knows that Joe is helping Seth, but rather than resort to torture, he tells him "I'm just going to talk a little bit." We learn that it was Abe that recruited Joe, his youngest Looper yet. At the time Joe was a vagrant kid on his own, but Abe tells him "I gave you something that was your own." Abe reveals that he knows Joe very well. He gives Joe three choices, he can die, give up his savings or call the cops. He also advises Joe to go to China rather than France. Joe's no hero, he turns Seth in. He quickly finds himself in the same dilemma however. His future self (Bruce Willis) arrives at the appointed place without a hood, making Joe hesitate a moment, all his future self needs to turn the tables.

We witness young Joe's transformation into older Joe. The specialized hitman becomes a full on gangster over the years, becomes very dangerous and then the right woman "saves his life." and settles him down. It's quickly discovered that young Joe, has failed to close his loop, and Abe's men, headed up by the bumbling Kid Blue (Noah Segan) make finding him priority one. He knows they won't kill him as that could affect the time stream somehow, but they are well aware, that taking a limb off the younger version can make the older one easier to find. With some assistance from his older self he evades capture. Younger Joe arranges a meeting with himself and learns that the Rainmaker cost older Joe the woman he loved, and in the past he has an opportunity to make this right by finding the rainmaker when he's a kid and making sure he doesn't grow up. Older Joe. However, even in the future, nobody knows anything about the Rainmaker, only that he came out of nowhere and assumed control of all the crime families in no time all, all by himself, a seemingly impossible task. Older Joe has three possible addresses, and three possible kids.

Younger Joe picks one of the addresses and camps out, knowing that his older self will come there eventually. The address he picks belongs to a single Mother, Sara (Emily Blunt) who is raising her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) He lets her in on what's happening and they develop a working relationship, based on the idea that he'll help protect them. Cid turns out to be a gifted child in many ways, and Joe can't help but bond with the both of them. It's only a matter of time however, before Abe's men, Sara and Cid, and both Joe's have their confrontation.

Looper keeps the time travel simple. As Older Joe points out, figuring out all the rules of time travel can give you a headache and usually leads to making diagrams on tables with straws. Time travel here is a one way proposition, and older Joe's memory is fuzzy when younger Joe is in action, becoming clearer, every time young Joe does something. Older Joe is visiting his own past, and the only tragedy he cares about has already happened. This gives us a good chance to look at the old "kill Hitler as a child" time travel question. Since Joe doesn't pretend to be noble or heroic his answer is pretty clear. If killing a few kids will keep his wife from getting killed, he's absolutely going to do just that. The "Kill Hitler" problem has been asked many times before, most memorably in a Twilight Zone episode, where a woman traveled back to kill Hitler and succeeded, not realizing that Hitler's nanny would replace the baby with a similar one destined to be the Hitler we know. Limited perspective is certainly a problem it wouldn't hurt to be careful about.

Of course Old Joe isn't happy about it, but Willis is very good at playing an unstoppable guy doing things he doesn't necessarily enjoy doing, but has to. He even knows that two of the three kids are totally innocent, but that doesn't compare with his own tragedy, a woman saved his worthless life, he got her killed, but has a second chance.  He doesn't see any choice there at all. How Willis manages to kill kids and still be sympathetic is a mystery to me, but he pulls it off. He's also the best there is at casually shooting buildings full of bad (worse?) guys without breaking a sweat, and he's true to form here.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks a little different, made up to resemble Bruce Willis more closely. He certainly studied Willis too, as his mannerisms and speech patterns coincide with the older actor.  The younger Joe, isn't the dangerous man he would later become yet. He's simply a former vagrant who was given a shotgun and told he could be something more. He's fascinated by his older self, but would gladly kill him for a way back into his old job. He gave up a friend to keep his money. He's more forward thinking than most Loopers but still has a lot to learn. Still, it's easy to believe that the younger guy becomes the older one. All the machinery is there, it just hasn't clicked yet.

Emily Blunt elevates what could have been a standard damsel in distress role into a pivotal one. We learn that her relationship with her son is a lot more complex than you might imagine. She isn't shocked to learn that her son could become a monster one day, but she protects him anyway. She doesn't come from Older Joe's future. In her mind, many things are possible, and she hopes that being there for her son will produce a better future. She's the contrast to older Joe much more than young Joe is. Young Joe is the mediator, although it isn't against his nature to kill the kid himself should he believe that he is a monster. And of course, being an abandoned child, he can relate to the damage losing a parent can cause. Joe from the present could go either way.

As good as all these actors are, the standout is Pierce Gagnon as ten year old Cid. He shows us both the blind rage and the insecurity than can exist in any ten year old. He can be cruel and sincerely sorry within moments of each other. After one particularly bad tantrum, we see his mother pick him up after he raged himself to sleep, and he then tell her he's sorry and give her a hug for all he's worth, and we can't help but believe him. He can be a monster and he can be very sweet. Like most ten year olds he goes back and forth depending on what has happened to him. Certainly young Joe identifies with him a lot, himself a kid who saw a shotgun in his hand as a far better alternative to the life he'd been living.

This is a movie about the things that people are willing to kill and die for, and what gives life meaning. It's hard to choose between causes when they're all, on some level, well meaning motivations. When you have something that's so important you're willing to die for it, it can look like you have no choice at all, especially when life is as grim as it is here. A man puts a gun in your hand to take you off the streets, so you go to work for him. A man comes looking to kill your son, you protect him. The man who took your wife from you and caused untold suffering is in front of you as a child, you get rid of him. Everybody has a good reason, and no one's trying to be the bad guy, but everybody in this scenario can't get what they want, not as long as everyone's a victim of their own circumstances and willing to defend their present, and "something of their own." to the death.

Rian Johnson gives us an exciting story that satisfies (at least to me) all the problems attached as soon as you start using time travel. Although the sci fi set up allows some futuristic elements, this isn't A Blade Runner kind of future, rather a world like our own only amplified at certain points, both good and bad. There is more  advanced technology, but fewer people have it, as the poor are plentiful, and now labelled "vagrants." a step or two removed from feral cats. But still, the mob uses guns that hold bullets and time travel machines are the pay off to the old gun control arguments, with only criminals using them. In "Looper" however grim the future looks, the past is not a place that many people want to go, but rather something everyone tries as hard as they can to forget about. And the future? Well, no reason to hurt yourself rushing there, it's certainly no prize either. Maybe in the present there's something to live for, it typically boils down to "what would I sacrifice for what's mine?" Here, it can take some drastic circumstances to figure that one out clearly.

Friday, October 5, 2012


I'm always excited about indie film. While I can't keep up with everything out there. It's still inspiring to think of all the people out there telling stories with whatever resources they have on hand. Twitter has become a valuable source of information for new indie projects, and that's how I heard about Tim Porter's latest project, "Joshua."

At just over 15 minutes long, it's a quick watch, but it packs quite an impact in that amount of time. The lead role of Joshua, is played convincingly by Cyrus Trafford, who puts himself into some seriously uncomfortable shoes. It opens with Joshua, sitting on his couch watching a kid's TV program. We follow him on the ride to work, and hanging out with his roommate. Joshua narrates some details about himself, "I've always had a way with girls" he tells us on a bus ride. "I always know what to say, how to say it."  He tells us how many guys complain about interacting with girls, but he's never had that problem "until now." Joshua works as unskilled labor on a construction site.

He meets up with a friend, Paul (Christian Okoli) and they discuss what kind of DVD to rent before heading to the park and failing badly to interest a couple of women. Joshua tells us in narration that he saw her last night and that "she's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen." Despite his earlier boasting about :knowing what to say" to women, the best line he can come up with is yelling "Do you fancy a drink?" from a distance. Of course, they don't really fancy a drink. And these aren't girls, but women.

We revisit his apartment, where the children's TV show plays, and he tells us about  the one problem this perfect girl has. From there, it starts to become clear that Joshua isn't as normal a guy as you might have thought. In fact, we're dealing with someone seriously deranged. Although, the terms are often used interchangeably, in this case, there is a real difference between "women" and "girls" When we finally realize what Joshua is talking about, his slightest gestures are enough to make your skin crawl. And from there it gets worse. Not that we're shown anything graphic or lurid, but with what we know of the character, touching a knee is enough to be revolting.

Cleanly shot, and easy to follow with very natural performances, Joshua is very well put together. Even the voice over technique is used wisely, giving us an effect that wouldn't be possible otherwise. This is a film about a sexual predator and his profoundly disturbed interior life, so while it looks good, it may not be an easy one to watch. As uncomfortable as it may be, it's an examination of something that really happens every day.

I admire Porter's effort to look at the problem from this particular angle, because it's easy to imagine characters like Joshua as monsters that anyone could spot a mile away, but the truth is unless you're really looking, they don't look that different from anyone else, which is likely why they're always caught too late. "Joshua" is not a great pick for escapist fare,  but very well done for what it is. The film's approach recalls to me  this Leonard Cohen poem:

"All There Is To Know About Adolph Eichmann"


What did you expect?
Oversize incisors?
Green Saliva?


-Leonard Cohen

In this case, it isn't a Nazi of course, but another kind of monster, just as apparently human.

Here's a link to the film, if you'd like to watch it for yourself. I appreciate Porter, Trafford, and everyone involved for tackling a subject, which although commercially limited, is important nonetheless. Stop in and let them know what you thought.

Joshua from Tim Porter on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Drugstore Cowboy

Drugstore Cowboy is the story of Bob (Matt Dillon) and his group of friends/partners in crime and addiction. Most important to him, is his wife, Dianne. The two have been seeing each other since they were kids, developing a system together to exist in the world. Her role is usually backing up his reasoning or pulling him back to reality if he's talking too crazy. This system relies on drugs, the glue that holds their relationship together. They share addiction and so are partners in the robberies that feed it. When we first meet them, robbery is approached as mundanely as any day job. This is what they've always done, and they've never tried another way when they could help it (or, as long as they're not in prison.)

Bob and Diane have another couple working with them, Rick, a quiet guy who enjoys the camaraderie  and sees no need to "rock the boat" as long as the scores are keeping him happy, and Nadine (Heather Graham) the youngest of them, a troubled girl who resents everything that Bob does, especially giving her a smaller cut than himself from every job based on her contribution and the fact that she has a comparatively low tolerance. Bob is the head of the crew and isn't bashful about acting like it.

They function pretty efficiently at the start. We see one of their jobs in action, Nadine fakes a seizure at a pharmacy, giving Bob a chance to get behind the counter and grab everything that he can. Then they're off to their temporary rented room to split things up. Everything goes off without a hitch, the system at it's peak. Of course, as Bob soon reminds Dianne, "It's like a crap game, when you're hot you shoot everything, you shoot the works, when you're cold you lay off a bit." The trouble they have like any serious gambler, is that they're incapable of quitting while they're still ahead. They'll try to beat the house until they lose enough that they have no choice but to sit back awhile. The idea of "Luck" is a huge part of the film, most obviously in Bob's fear of "hexes." Bob and Dianne have a talk about their luck and she points out that there were plenty of times when what seemed like bad luck was actually good luck, like a flat tire keeping them from getting busted. Certainly, in the film, you could say they have some luck going both ways. An elderly neighbor luckily tips them off to police surveillance, possibly preventing them from bringing home the spoils of a heist and serving some serious time. Bob uses the information to "teach a lesson" to the cops, which only results in a build up of enmity and another serious enemy. If they had used the information more wisely, perhaps it would seem like better luck, but Bob's nature requires him to push his luck. Just like his drug habit, he doesn't know there's any other way.

Certainly, Bob would say he was lucky to stumble across a closed Pharmacy on the road, that scored them some Dilaudid. But if that job hadn't happened, Nadine wouldn't have had that particular fit, felt compelled to put a hat on the bed, or had the opportunity to keep some for herself, or end up left alone to OD with it. Of course we can reason that it could as easily have happened later, and that's true. This makes luck only the result of selective hindsight, and how far back it extends. If you kept the chain of events going long enough you could certainly find many variations of bad to good to bad to good, depending in large part on your bias when examining the events. Even Nadine's death, could be made to look like "good luck" if the intended outcome was getting Bob to clean up. All the possible variations you could read are no doubt baffling. Luck is just another word for "the unpredictable." which seems to be the problem that plagues Bob more than any other. To Bob, every day life is not knowing what will happen next. As he mentions at the end, "See, most people, they don't know how they're gonna feel from one minute to the next, but a dope fiend has a pretty good idea. All you got to do is look at the labels on the little bottles." Having very little control over "what happens" his drugs give him control over how he feels about it. But, of course, he hasn't worked out how to be high twenty four hours a day as this would leave him unable to procure more supply.

While "DrugStore Cowboy" is very much about drugs and problems related to drug addiction, it never comes across as a PSA type movie. Bob and many others have drug related troubles, but the problem pointed to is life as much as it is drugs. Gentry doesn't want to arrest Bob and his crew for possession, he wants them for robbery, even feeling that a possession charge isn't worth his effort. ob isn't just into "drugs" as he tells the worker at the Methadone clinic. "Look, lady, I'm a junkie. I like drugs. I like the whole lifestyle, but it just didn't pay off." He likes being against the system, not having to work for a living, being in charge of a crew, and even a sense of family from having his crew around him." Yet, he knows, as far as luck goes that his lifestyle is a losing bet. He admits in the opening "But I guess deep down, I knew we could never win. We played a game you couldn't win, to the utmost." He feels more empowered the longer he makes the losing bet pay off, but eventually it has to end. Certainly finding one of your crew dead after barely escaping arrest, and then having to get her body into your trunk while all the attendees of a Sheriff's convention watch could easily provoke some self examination about the value of your hand.

Yet, we see Father Murphy elderly and unapologetic about his addiction. He takes methadone as a matter of practicality. He's not a robber like Bob and doesn't have the income to support his habit. He resents the idea that drugs are "demonized." As he tells Bob, "The idea that anyone can use drugs and escape a horrible fate is the method of these idiots. I predict in the near future. right wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to set up an international police apparatus." Although some may feel that Father Tom lives a horrible fate, he doesn't seem to agree. Most of the junkies we meet here don't meet horrible fates withing the time that the movie occurs. Even Bob, who is shot at the end, is hoping they can keep him alive. Whether the shooting was bad luck or good luck, will likely depend on what happens next.  Nadine met a horrible fate, but Rick and Dianne just keep going the way they always have. We don't know what will happen to any of them, and that I think is the point. While drugs here come across as problem causing, they're not the only problem, but an inadequate means of dealing with bigger problems. While this movie isn't an anti drug PSA, neither is it a pro drug PSA. The drugs are a problem, the same way that robbery is, it may be a means to an end but there are penalties attached. Rather than sermonizing we see these characters at a particular point in time and draw our own conclusions from them. Other than one pointed barb at the ridiculousness of government drug wars, (done via that one character,) there's no attempt at a solution.

Matt Dillon was a perfect choice to play Bob, as he's played similar characters many times, the rebellious outsider, who is outwardly brash but more sensitive than he would like, could be the evolution of the characters he played in the S.E. Hinton adaptations, only without the safety net or resolution those stories typically offered. He's convincing as a guy who has absolutely no idea what he's doing, but is very good at faking it. He also projects a kind of decency that makes it hard to tune him out even when he's doing the dumbest imaginable. We're happy when he straightens out, but it's too much to ask, that his past has no consequences. He constantly reasons everything out, trying to put two and two together. It's ok, that he was shot, he rationalizes, because he had to pay his debt to the hat. However, it's as likely that he was shot because he humiliated David, or simply because he knows David, who happens to be leaning toward psychopath, with the knowledge that Bob always has drugs. We can't say for sure, as usual there are too many variables. If one thing had gone differently, if he hadn't given Father Murphy the drugs then perhaps he would've been spared. But then, perhaps Bob would've tried to keep them anyway to spite David. We can't know any more than we can know if the hat on the bed was a hex or a sign, or just something that happened with no significance at all except to provide an explanation when things went bad.

Kelly Lynch is also terrific. Her Dianne, despite her drug problem is perhaps the strongest character in the film. She has no interest at all in stopping her addiction. She loves drugs more than anything. As Bob says , "Dianne was my wife. I loved her. Yeah, and she loved dope, so we made a good couple." The rapport between Dianne and Bob is very effective, and we can believe they've been together their whole lives. While she typically agrees with Bob, her opinion has as much weight as his when she disagrees. In their final scene together, while they're not reuniting, you can see the history between them. These are people that know each other very well, and will always have concern for each other, whether it's useful or not is irrelevant. We see that while she doesn't understand what Bob is doing, she is happy for him in a way.James LeGros does a fine job as the sidekick, competent enough, but comfortable in Bob's shadow. Heather Graham gives a terrific performance. her brief time on screen has drastic effects on everyone. She's the "hat" character, bad luck for everyone and utterly unpredictable. Her problem with authority is as deep as Bob's but more overtly self destructive. James Remar is the most satisfying surprise though. His portrayal of Officer Gentry, and his back and forth with Bob, tells us much about the character. While he is determined to arrest Bob, he is also legitimately concerned for his welfare. Bob and Dianne are a part of his world, and while they're adversaries, much like Bob's mother, he doesn't hate them, as much as he wants them to wise up. He's a remarkably full character for the little time he's on screen.

It shouldn't be a surprise that was a breakthrough film for Gus Van Sant, as it's a truly remarkable film. The decision to tell the story strictly through the characters and what happens to them is a brave one and brought out fantastic performances. The settings seem natural and suited to the character's lifestyles, not calling attention to the shots but adding to the film nonetheless. The different rented rooms and the different styles of pharmacies, show us that despite a regular method there's a lot to know in this world. Things are dirty but not always dark, just like Bob's belief in luck, which provides hope until it doesn't anymore.

"Drugstore Cowboy" is based on a semi autobiographical work of James Fogle, whose novel cam out after the film was popular. While in my opinion, a film is a completely different animal than a novel it's based on, it should be noted that while Fogle created memorable characters, he never succeeded in going straight, dying in prison at 75 years old while serving a 16 year sentence for robbery. Whether that's a statement on the power or drugs, or just the unfortunate circumstances of one man's chosen actions is your call. I don't know enough about him to say anything conclusively, other than the fact that some people have a hard time dealing with life, and in this case drugs and robbery ended with prison. Whatever similarities they had, he wasn't Bob from the film. Who knows what happened to him? At least we have an interesting story to talk about. That's one of the great things about good film, it often outlasts the inspiration that started it and even if it does nothing to solve a problem, looking at what it does is a good start. People still take drugs, and even get irrevocably hooked on them. As Bob said,  "Nobody, and I mean nobody, can talk a junkie out of using. You can talk to 'em for years but sooner or later they're gonna get a hold of something. Maybe it's not dope, maybe it's booze, maybe it's glue, maybe it's gasoline. Maybe it's a gunshot to the head. But something, something to relieve the pressures of their everyday life, like having to tie their shoes." That's as true now as it ever was, although sometimes drugs end up being "the" problem, they're typically just another failed attempt a solution, the illusion of control at least for a short while. People will do anything to believe they have some control over the game.

"DrugStore Cowboy" is not a film that will entice anyone to be a junkie, but neither will it convince you that life is easy or predictable, junkie or no. The junk is the vehicle that puts these characters where they are, the thing that helps bind them and at other times helps drive them apart. It's a system that's a lot like luck, you can try to figure it out but it changes every time you look again. Bob says "You can't buck the dark forces that lie hidden beneath the surface, the ones some people call superstitions, howling banshees, black cats, hats on beds, dogs, the evil eye."  There's so little we can predict, and I'm sure anyone can understand wanting a life that's more predictable or fair. Certainly avoiding robbery and drug habits would seem a step in that direction, but it isn't entirely a logical problem and certainly an addict doesn't always see a choice. I'm sure everyone knows someone addicted to something, and none of them set out to be addicts. Bad things can happen to us all, drug problem or no, hat on the bed or no. Drugs are popular for a reason, because life can be hard to cope with. Eliminating everything that has obvious negative consequences may not even be possible. People are more complicated than that. I don't know if there's an answer to coping with life, but we do what we can, sometimes it works, others not so much. While I'm not superstitious, and can see superstition as a justification,  I won't throw a hat on the bed just to try my luck. "DrugStory Cowboy" is a great look at some very real characters, trying to figure it out, without the best skills to do so.

What Happens?

We open looking at Bob (Matt Dillon) our main character laying in an ambulance looking pretty rough. He narrates over nostalgic home video: "I was once a shameless full-time dope fiend. Yeah, me, Bob, the sweet Mother's son. Me and my crew robbed drug stores. I had done 'em all, up and down the Pacific Northwest, with pharmacies opened or closed. It didn't matter, except the technique. But, don't get the idea it was easy. It's hard being a dope fiend, and it's even harder, running a crew. Dianne (Kelly Lynch) was my wife. I loved her. Yeah, and she loved dope, so we made a good couple. Whenever I got out of the joint I always ended up with Diane. Rick (James LeGros) was my sidekick, my muscle. He was no novice to the life of crime. His record showed a steady climb from juvenile offender to small time thief. He was gonna do just fine. Nadine (Heather Graham) was Rick's old lady, a counter girl he'd picked up doing one of our jobs. She was a piece of work. She had no record, just a smile that caught us all a little off guard. I was the undisputed leader then. I carried the whole goddamn outfit on my back like it was my own newborn son. But I guess deep down, I knew we could never win. We played a game you couldn't win, to the utmost."