THE FILM YAP We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 31 Oct 2014 12:47:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Film on Vinyl: Friday the 13th Fri, 31 Oct 2014 05:00:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Friday the 13th Inside

Welcome to Film on Vinyl, Joe Donohue’s column that celebrates the blending of his love for film and music by reviewing and dissecting movie soundtracks pressed on the oh-so-sweet vinyl record. Next up on the playlist: Waxwork Records’ reissue of the soundtrack to Sean Cunningham’s “Friday the 13th.”

Thirty-four years ago, the world was introduced to one of the most infamous horror movie icons in cinema history: Pamela Voorhees. That psychotic momma cut a bloody path through Camp Crystal Lake all in the name of her deceased son, Jason — the same Jason who grew up into a supernatural killing machine of whom Pamela would be proud. Well, now thanks to the good folks over at Waxwork Records, the “Friday the 13th” soundtrack has been given a beautifully packaged reissue.

Few scores are as recognizable or as terrifying as Harry Manfredini’s for “Friday the 13th.” His “Overlay of Evil” perfectly raises tension to every scene by alerting moviegoers that the killer is near. Manfredini masterfully scored this film, and while we’re not talking about an Oscar-winning film, his work still struck fear in the hearts of everyone who dared view it. That’s why Waxwork Records’ reissue is a must-have for any horror fan. It will give you goosebumps again and again.


One of the most impressive parts of this album is the beautifully haunting artwork by Jay Shaw. The evil eye watching over camp Crystal Lake gives a sense of dread and foreboding of the impending doom. While the cover paints a sure picture, it’s also open to interpretation. The eye could be that of Pamela Voorhees gazing over the location of her reign of terror or one of the countless victims fallen to her hand. The art, the eerie font and the classic tagline – They were warned…They are doomed…And on Friday the 13th, nothing will save them – all perfectly come together to create a wonderful homage to the horror classic.

Another special treat with the heavyweight old-style tip-on gatefold jacket with satin finish — try saying that three times fast — is the production accounts from Cunningham and Manfredini. Both men give a special glimpse into their views of the film and why “Friday the 13th” will always hold a special place in their heart.


This 180-gram vinyl sounds as beautiful as it looks and contains numerous goodies. Of course, one of the best tracks is “Overlay of Evil / Main Title,” and most listeners will recognize this with a frightening track reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s score for “Psycho” intertwined with the legendary “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma.” “The Bed Axe,” “Don’t Smoke in Bed” and “The Last Fight / The Chop to the End” are all gems. But no other track quite packs a punch like “The Boat on the Water / Closing Theme / Jason in the Lake.” Listening to this haunting track instantly takes you to the final scene of the movie where you believe all is well until Jason makes his debut and snatches our young heroine right out of her boat.

Thoughts in a Nutshell:

Waxwork’s release of the “Friday the 13th” soundtrack is the perfect addition to any audiophile’s collection. The gatefold is gorgeous, the music is eerily beautiful and the inserted illustration by Jacqui Oakley is a devilish treat. If all those weren’t enough, the record itself comes in four variations: a limited-edition Blood-Filled Vinyl; Woodland Green with Blood Splatter; Crystal Lake Murky Green and Blood 2-Color Split; and Crystal Lake Murky Green. Just make sure to lock your doors, shut your windows and listen with the lights on.

For even more awesome soundtrack releases, check out Waxwork Records, and make sure to check back for another installment of Film on Vinyl. 

Album Cover Tagline Record Inside Gatefold Inside Gatefold art Artwork insert Artwork insert


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Before I Go To Sleep Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:05:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Before I Go to Sleep - inside

“Before I Go to Sleep” isn’t terribly original, which doesn’t necessarily mean that a film won’t be any good — but in this case, it does.

The problem with this psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth is that it contains no surprises. Even when the story is trying to shock us with a twist, we’ve already guessed everything long ago. Watching it is a 92-minute exercise in waiting for the movie to arrive.

It’s not helped by a story that borrows heavily from “Memento.” And by “borrow,” I basically mean “steals the entire premise and narrative dynamic.” Kidman plays Christine, who wakes up at age 40 thinking she’s still in her mid-20s, because every night all the new memories she’s acquired during that day flee from her mind.

She leaves notes and pictures for herself so can assimilate every morning, but also clues suggesting that a crime has taken place. Despite not being able to remember anything from the previous day, Christine begins to investigate the matter, which resulted in her being left severely beaten and with her faulty memory. She uses a digital camera to make a video diary to instruct herself on her latest discoveries.

If you’ll recall from “Memento” — it’s been 14 years, but: spoiler alert! — the amnesiac main character was actually being manipulated by others with nefarious intent. It becomes pretty clear that the same thing is going on here, so the question is figuring out who it is.

There are only two potential culprits: Christine’s long-suffering husband, Ben (Firth), and her psychiatrist, Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong). She has good reasons to suspect both. The doctor takes the odd steps of calling her at home every morning to trigger her memory recall, and also picks her up in his car for treatment. Nasch insists that she not tell her husband about their sessions.

Ben, meanwhile, is a ball of half-truths and nervous energy. He insists he keeps information from Christine to protect her — such as the fate of a close friend (Anne-Marie Duff) who apparently abandoned Christine after her injury, and another more devastating matter. He would seem to be a devoted husband — he has to essentially convince her to fall in love with him on a daily basis — but there are flashes of anger that are troubling.

Writer/director Rowan Joffe adapted the novel by S.J. Watson. He generally elicits solid performances out of his cast, though his handle on pacing and mood are lackluster. Often the movie is just a dull parade of phone calls, Kidman poring through photographs or documents, and similar expository shuffling of the cards.

I had problems with the particulars of Christine’s condition, which are never satisfactorily explained. She has full recall of her activities throughout the day, but sometime while sleeping everything gets flushed. Has she tried staying awake all night to see what happens? If she wakes up to pee at 2 a.m., will her memory of the previous day still be there or not? What about 5 a.m.? Midnight? If she takes a nap in the afternoon, does that trigger the brain dump?

It’s not that I find the notion of memory loss implausible. After all, I’ve watched hundreds of movies that I almost immediately forgot all about. This is destined to become one of them. Maybe if I just lay down for a little while; I am pretty tired…

2 Yaps

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Indy Film Fest Screens “Frank” for “Rock + Reel” Series Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:50:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Part of Indy Film Fest’s “Rock+Reel” movie screening series, the new movie “Frank” screens on Thursday, Oct. 30 at White Rabbit Cabaret, 1116 Prospect St. in Indianapolis. “Frank” stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson. Tickets are $10 and available here.

The Rock + Reel film series offers first looks at some of the newest movies about music.

Frank playing at the White Rabbit Cabaret


Thursday, October 30 | Doors: 7pm | Film: 8 pm

Where: White Rabbit Cabaret, 1116 Prospect Street // Indianapolis, Indiana 46203

Buy tickets here

Acclaimed Irish director Lenny Abrahamson follows up his award-winning films Adam & Paul, Garage, and What Richard Did with an offbeat comedy about a young wannabe musician, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who finds himself out of his depth when he joins an avant-garde pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), a musical genius who hides himself inside a large fake head, and his terrifying bandmate Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

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Saw: 10th-Anniversary Re-Release Thu, 30 Oct 2014 02:35:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> sawlede

Two confused strangers wake up shackled to exposed pipes in a dark and dingy bathroom. On the floor between them, another man holding the gun he’s used to kill himself in one hand and a tape recording in the other.

It’s not a sick joke you’ve heard before, just the way “Saw” — before it became a franchise of futility — started out as not much like any other shocking serial killer thriller you’ve seen before. But if you’re looking for purposeful scares this weekend, you’ll have to settle with something you’ve seen before with this 10-year re-release.

At the time of its release, “Se7en” had become the genre’s decrepit, but dynamic, scripture. At least “Saw” found a pulpy, compelling variation on that film’s idea. Much like that film’s John Doe, the Jigsaw killer targets the dregs of society and those with sinful secrets. But rather than the aftermath of violence, nearly all of “Saw” is told from those victims’ perspectives as they’re targeted, making it a sadistic little corker in the early goings. It proved a hell of a calling card, too, for director James Wan, who went on to create more franchises in “Insidious” and “The Conjuring,” and dabble in such existing ones as the upcoming “Furious 7.”

But as gory a guilty pleasure as “Saw” was at its outset, it fell prey to the postulate that no one knows how to end a thriller without resorting to a surprise devoid of sense. A narrative blind-side hit, “Saw’s” final gotcha got ya in the moment, but thinking about it for even 10 seconds ruined the thrill. (Who can hold their breath that long or find a so perfectly timed sedative?) It should have been a sign for six (!) subsequent sequels with risible ret-con tactics that felt like a 40-car freeway pileup.

Sadly, the initial “Saw” got bad long before its ending, and aggressively so, resorting to the other, more traditional thriller traps of clichés and overacting.

Hadn’t Monica Potter learned that the time for intimate confessionals about marital problems is not when you’ve got a murderous nutjob at gunpoint? Wouldn’t Cary Elwes’ good doctor have considered the possible problems of parking in a garage with all the lighting of a subway tunnel? This came before Elwes, as one of the two aforementioned strangers, confused a psychological meltdown for wailing in the gruesome final moments.

Elwes at least has believable moments early in the movie, as his Dr. Lawrence Gordon fights against confusion and time to figure out just why he’s ended up captive in a room with young, outspoken Adam (Leigh Whannell, also the screenwriter).

Gordon learns that if he doesn’t kill Adam by a certain time, his wife (Potter) and daughter will be killed. Formerly suspected as the Jigsaw killer, Gordon puts together that this is the work of the man himself — infamous for placing people in physically or morally complex traps in which the victims sometimes have to kill or be killed. But Gordon knows nothing of the mental games Jigsaw is playing with Adam, a traumatized rogue cop on the case (Danny Glover) and pretty much every other character in the film.

There’s plenty of fine suspense and red-herring trickery sprinkled through the first hour. And Wan delved into the disturbing schemes of Jigsaw’s brutally intricate traps without turning us off to where the film is going. (The flashback scene to Glover’s near-death, and near-apprehension, experience with Jigsaw offered the best example of both.)

And while the conclusion whipped up a fair amount of dread that the bad guy would win, its big reveal generated more laughter than armrest-gripping tension. It looks comparatively classic, though, next to its stinky sequels.

Of them, only “Saw II” is worthwhile and, dare I say, better than the original. It’s out more to dropkick your mind than provoke thought, but it is a gruesome morality play with talk of absolution amid its crushed heads, blown-out brains and coughed-up innards. Plus, it largely dispenses with red herrings to focus on the human capacity for violence and mercy. After that, though, it was all rewritten narratives to let you know that some dude in an alley to whom you never paid attention three movies ago was behind the carnage all along.

Like too many thrillers of its time, “Saw” ended up being a sick joke on us. But it’s far preferable to most of the shameless, senseless sequels to follow and, eventually, foul up the franchise.

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Class of 1984: “The Terminator” Wed, 29 Oct 2014 05:15:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]> TerminatorInside

In the “Class of …” series, Nick Rogers takes a monthly look back at films celebrating either their 20th or 30th anniversary of initial release this year — six from 1994 and six from 1984. The rules: No Oscar nominees and no films among either year’s top-10 grossers.

Bullets, fire, pavement and glass chip away at the T-800’s fleshy exterior, whittling the cyborg’s “human” face and skin into hard, sharp edges. Is it damage? Yes, but it’s also an incremental series of upgrades meant to discard superfluous features on this machine sent back in time to 1984 from the year 2029 — an erosion to essential parts: a bone-crushing steel skeleton; a soul-piercing red diode glare; and an objective to kill the mother to Earth’s eventual savior from machine enslavement.

Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is a warrior simultaneously sent back to stop the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Damage? It’s all he knows. His present, our future, is a world of nuclear desolation instigated by artificial intelligence. Tanks trample skulls into genetic gravel, and survivors live under constant threat. By necessity, Reese is as single-minded as the machine he’s hunting, using his disconnection from pain as an evolutionary advantage. He tempers any love he may feel, for it can only mean weakness, vulnerability, damage. But it comes to be the crux of his journey.

Then there’s timorous pushover waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). She’s an easy mark for bratty kids and bad daters. How can she possibly survive a metal-bound murderer from the future, let alone knowing mankind’s sell-by date is 13 years away and it’s up to her to mold a man who’ll shepherd those left? However, if Sarah is to raise a child who saves the world, she must save herself … at the cost of a damaging Cassandra complex that will swallow her whole. (“A person could go crazy thinking about this,” she says, painfully unaware of those words’ weight.)

Physical damage. Emotional damage. Collateral damage. Every frame of “The Terminator” is dotted by damage — a painfully familiar concept to James Cameron throughout his career. His life is littered with creative-collaborator ex-wives, long hours in unenviable shooting conditions, actors whom he has reduced to tears, self-styled king of the world hubris, stars who have refused to ever work with him again and tales of taskmaster bastardry too specific to simply be apocryphal sour grapes.

But you can also argue Cameron has used all of this damage as a sort of immediate-feedback R&D — to always dream bigger than in his previous film, to make, as Steve Jobs would say, “a dent in the universe.” True to that form, cinematic technology has often needed to play catch-up to Cameron’s wild visions. But in “The Terminator,” he created a classic even flying by the seat of his skinflint pants — one so endlessly influential and embedded in our culture it feels like we’ve had it more than 30 years.

First and foremost, “The Terminator” is the granddaddy of modern-day sci-fi technology paranoia. Its world is one accustomed to the drone of large, whirring machines. Although it precedes pocket gadgetry, the film suggests we’re no less desensitized, or beholden, to technology in a sensory capacity. It’s also fraught with a jangly, bones-deep unease about the cost of fully automated everything. Brad Fiedel’s score drives that angst — a mournful, martial burble of syncopation, synthesizers and staccato percussion in a purposefully slippery time signature.

The film’s interrupting beepers, its loud Walkmans, even the flashing lights at TechNoir (a portmanteau suggestive of the film’s genre as well as a key setting). All of these are bright, shiny distractions. Rather than date itself with era-specific technospeak, “The Terminator” cuts right to a timeless fear — that mankind has no real agency but than to annihilate itself one way or another. But rather than a tut-tut advocacy to unplug, “The Terminator” suggests healthy skepticism and, at the end of its 1991 sequel, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” a great deal of hope. (Although not terrible, other sequels sloppily ret-con all of this simply for a return on investment.)

“The Terminator” is also a stalker film about a remorseless, relentless boogeyman; Jason Voorhees could tag in during a scene where the T-800 murders Sarah’s roommate and her boyfriend, and the visual parlance wouldn’t need to change one bit. And when the cyborg reveals its true appearance, its claw-and-scrape determination ranks it with any classic movie monster.

Then there’s the its fleet-footed chase action. The movie is so defined by this momentum that it even consumes a curious cop played by Paul Winfield, the Oscar-nominated actor cast to class up what was then simply a B-picture.

And ultimately, it’s a tragically noble romance, as it turns out Kyle is actually the father of Sarah’s day-saving son. Like “Back to the Future” a year later, “The Terminator” cuts through confusing time-travel paradoxes with clarity of emotion. Kyle may be detached from pain, but it’s not as if he feels nothing. Cameron carefully establishes Kyle’s humanity in flash-forwards to 2029 so it makes sense to see it in 1984. If anything was unfairly scrapped from the final film, it’s a deleted scene in which Kyle grows overwhelmed by the beauty of a garden we take for granted and that his world will never know. Here, too, you’ll hear the mantra of “T2.” (As for Hamilton, she’s good as a woman who stumbles into heroics, but fans know her revelatory turn came seven years later.)

In the grimy grindhouse economy of scale, you have to pick your grace notes. (“The Terminator” comes in at a lean 108 minutes, and it’s certain to be the shortest feature film of Cameron’s career.) Regardless of length, Cameron has long prided himself on bang for the buck — driven both by his fertile imagination and the osmotic instruction of Cameron’s legendary showman mentor, Roger Corman.

Cameron has always excelled at blowing things up, and “The Terminator” is no exception. Its miniature and matte-background work may feel dated, but it still thrills thanks to judiciously aggressive editing. But you can’t call Cameron a fetishist or a cold, clinical tactician, not outside of “True Lies,” which is still an immensely enjoyable lark. His boundary-pushing collateral damage is always awesome to behold. But he’s often equally fascinated with the outer limits of emotional damage, and finding measures of grace in its endurance. We exhale — finally, deeply, loudly — at the end of such films as “Aliens” and “The Abyss” because we’ve accompanied their characters to absolute extremes of fury and fragility, and emerged on the other side.

In both “The Terminator” and “T2,” Cameron exploded society’s anxieties about suppression, obsolescence, extinction, and, at a more interpersonal level, the fear of loneliness, insignificance and failure. The franchise eventually contorted into a convoluted commodity that continues to churn forth beyond Cameron’s control, with another Schwarzenegger-starring installment next summer. But for a film formed in the throes of food poisoning, “The Terminator” has one hell of a legacy.

Coming up in Corman’s ranks honed Cameron’s efficient, effective aesthetic. He worked first as a production assistant, then created miniature models and directed the special effects on “Escape from New York” before getting a last-minute call as a replacement director on “Piranha II: The Spawning” — a two-bit sequel to the Corman-produced 1978 cult hit. As the story goes, Ovidio Assonitis, “Piranha II’s” producer, hijacked the project after Cameron fell ill. (Contractual obligations kept Cameron’s name on the credits, but he considers “The Terminator” his first film.)

The billion-dollar upside? A dream Cameron had while under siege from the sickness about a metallic torso dragging itself from an explosion holding kitchen knives, which became an indelible image of the movie’s third act. In the film, Cameron maintains the heedless, non sequitur pace of a nightmare without resorting to cheap tactics. The frights of our nightmares, those cracked reflections of reality, hardly feel manufactured or inauthentic. Neither does “The Terminator.”

Cameron collaborated on the screenplay with William Wisher Jr. (who also co-wrote “T2”) and Gale Anne Hurd. A fellow Corman cohort, Hurd became Cameron’s producing partner, and he sold her the movie for $1 on the condition that he direct it. Hurd also became Cameron’s second of five wives and a person he’d later argue performed “no actual writing at all” on this film. (She gets a “with” credit on the screenplay here, and Wisher an additional dialogue shout-out in the closing scroll.)

Although “The Terminator” opened at No. 1, it didn’t even crack that year’s top 20 films — sandwiched between “Red Dawn” and “City Heat,” and bested by, among many others, “Breakin’.” Its production was also a notorious clash of personalities.

The star and the director famously squabbled over the semantics of “I’ll be back.” Schwarzenegger, of all people, assumed the hardline linguistic perspective that a robot would be staunchly declarative and, as such, would not use a contraction. “I don’t tell you how to act, so you shouldn’t tell me how to write,” went Cameron’s alleged retort. (You can hear the disdain creep through a bit in Arnie’s delivery.)

Also, despite the film’s influence, Cameron was hardly the first to exploit technophobia in sci-fi, and there were resultant legal concerns. Author and screenwriter Harlan Ellison successfully sought credit for “inspiring” the film, prompting Cameron to allegedly brand him “a parasite who can kiss my ass.”

Another fascinating tidbit: Executives at Orion Pictures, which distributed the film to theaters, initially suggested that O.J. Simpson play the Terminator. (Your ironic mileage may vary, but Cameron insisted Simpson didn’t look like a killer.) However, Cameron didn’t initially like Schwarzenegger, either, who was hot off “Conan the Barbarian.” Cameron intended to goad the Austrian Oak into an argument and cite him as unfit to cast. But when they met, Schwarzenegger persuasively spoke to him about how the villain should be played. And that’s where the Terminator’s separation from your standard-issue shooter really begins.

Simpson could have played a stone-faced, square-jawed heavy with no problems. But that would have been all she wrote on the “Terminator” legacy until a snarky court reporter resurrected it as a morbid punch line a decade later. And at first glance, Schwarzenegger’s sometimes-surprised facial expressions seem to betray the character’s cybernetic nature. But they’re actually a shrewd choice as righteously robotic as his monotone.

When the T-800 registers shock or anger, it’s expressing a computational procedure for course correction. Your GPS does the same thing when you suddenly hang a left instead of a right. It just doesn’t ram its fist through your stomach. The same goes for the T-800’s brief glance back at a hapless TechNoir clubber whom he pulverizes en route to Sarah’s table; it’s a complex processor tending to a less-robust program and the memory-consuming task at hand. And when the T-800 selects “Fuck you, asshole” from a list of possible responses to a nosy custodian, it’s a great joke. But there’s a hesitant halt to the tone that suggests the cyborg is analyzing whether that’s a proper response to the savagery that surrounds him.

That’s the difference between a recognizable face who would treat the moniker like a generic football-field nickname and a thoughtful performer who’s cleverly figuring out ways to forge a magnetic, mesmerizing and convincing presence.

Schwarzenegger’s physical imposition goes without saying; in a scene where he fills a space advertised for police vehicles only, he’s his own motif for the hopelessness of rules in his chaotic wake. But he also endowed the Terminator with as much mental, process-driven menace as he did muscular, murderous might. He feels like a blight on our very humanity that “can’t stop and won’t stop” — an instant icon that would later become an endearing good guy in “T2” and feel just as enduring. He’s a villain who lives long enough to see himself become the hero.

That idea crystallizes in an arresting interlude to the climactic action sequence, in which Sarah singlehandedly destroys the Terminator after Kyle dies. As my colleague Sam Watermeier so eloquently wrote about this scene earlier this year:

“There is a curious moment earlier on in the scene when, while chasing the heroes through a factory, the Terminator stops to look at the assembly-line machines around him, as if making a connection, having a moment of recognition … It’s a brief yet thought-provoking moment about the possible self-awareness of machines.”

Seen in hindsight, this ghost-in-the-machine curiosity seems like sly foreshadowing of “T2,” in which the T-800 is programmed to exhibit more human traits. But in 1984, this couldn’t possibly have been the case. James Cameron wasn’t James Cameron. He had no idea “The Terminator” would be such a commercial, let alone critical, hit. (It made Richard Corliss’s 10-best list in Time that year.)

Cameron is not constructing the pieces of a larger, profitable puzzle. He’s just shrewdly considering a cosmic, existential notion: Maybe the machine is just as hackable, just as malleable, as our choices and emotions. That’s the first hint of the grace notes for which he’d become known. That is the beauty amid the damage.

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Marvel Announces Phase 3 Movie Lineup Tue, 28 Oct 2014 19:48:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> At an event at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, Marvel announced its full slate of Phase 3 movies. Notice the fakeout on the Captain America 3 subtitle, replacing “Serpent Society” with “Civil War.”

“Captain Marvel” will be Marvel’s first standalone female hero. In the comics Carol Danvers is the character also known as “Ms. Marvel.”

Also, Marvel announced Chadwick Boseman (“Get On Up,” “42”) will play the title character in “Black Panther,” and released concept art for the character.

The current Marvel Phase 3 slateIn casting

Marvel's Inhumans


Captain America 3 Civil War

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Marvel new movies


Captain Marvel Comics Phase 3


Chadwick Boseman Black Panther

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Child of God Tue, 28 Oct 2014 16:01:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The writing of Cormac McCarthy is raw, uncompromising, filthy with violence and perversion. He never uses punctuation besides periods, not even to dilettante dialogue. His characters speak in quasi-Biblical language, and his settings are always archetypal. The south, the border, rural Mexicon and my personal favorite, “who-knows-when- Appalachia.” Places of filth, squalor and sadness, of conservative communities where aberration is especially horrifying by comparison. Places and times where violence is still a language fluently spoken.

When adapted with the right touch, McCarthy’s novels have made for unparalleled, uncompromising films about the relationship between man and his violence. 2007’s “No Country for Old Men” and 2009’s “The Road” were landmark examples of McCarthy’s style wrought on the silver screen. 2013’s “The Counselor,” written by McCarthy himself, received mixed response; I, personally, thought it wasn’t done justice by direction or casting and never possessed the depth and disturbance of McCarthy’s other forays onto the silver screen. “All the Pretty Horses” was based on McCarthy’s most romantic novel, but also failed to do it justice.

CHILD OF GOD - 2014 FILM STILL - Scott Haze - Photo Credit: WellGo USA

That brings us to “Child of God,” notably adapted by actor / writer / director / producer / superhero / super-villain / student / personality James Franco. Franco does an admirable job at capturing McCarthy’s writing. He understands that Lester Ballard’s dark, monstrous story is one in which redemption or reparation have no part. Much like the novel on which it’s based, “Child of God” is a hard film to watch, a difficult story upon which to forge any sort of emotional attachment and an even more difficult one of which to let go. It’s a film with little appeal to anyone who doesn’t already love McCarthy’s work. That’s OK because “Child of God” is clearly produced by a man who loves the novel and who set out to express that love. Despite his persona, Franco manages to make a movie devoid of his personality. What results is a great adaptation of a strange novel, a movie seeping with dedication from every shot, every line of dialogue and every artistic choice.

Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) is a violent man. He starts the movie evicted from his dead father’s lands, set out loose around the Appalachian hills. He has no control over his temper and exhibits signs of extreme anti-social behavior. He becomes a squatter. The only people who interact with him are the police, who routinely suspect him of various crimes. He’s not a person you’d want to interact with, but it’s to Haze’s credit the movie is even watchable at all. As the film progresses, Ballard becomes increasingly isolated from society, eventually resorting to murder, arson and even necrophilia. His deviancy is graphic, and the film’s second and third acts are not for the faint of heart.

While the movie has beautiful scenery and music, and is competently directed and filled to the brim with other good actors (such as Tim Blake Nelson and Jim Parrack), none of it would have meant a thing if Franco hadn’t created a film that ultimately leaves the central question, the opening line, up in the air. “Lester Ballard is a child of God, much like yourself…” Like McCarthy’s novel, “Child of God” leaves the question hanging, contextualizing the society in which Ballard lives — one filled with klansmen and lynchings and state-ordained bigotry — with his own devious acts. It’s deeply cynical but highly compelling.

For devotees of McCarthy’s novel and his other work, “Child of God” is well worth watching and a fine, fine example of Franco’s capabilities as a director.

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Thief (1981) Mon, 27 Oct 2014 04:48:20 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Thief - Inside

“Thief” is about a man who will not bend. Frank is a professional who’s very good at what he does, takes pride in it, and is very particular about the way he goes about his business. He does not cut corners. He plans everything out from beginning to end. He does not take orders from anyone.

The fact that Frank is a jewel thief as opposed to, say, an engineer is merely one key aspect of a character who is complex while also being quite simple.

By simple, I don’t mean that Frank, played by James Caan in perhaps his finest performance, is dull-witted or dense. He’s actually quite cagey in a pugnacious, unschooled sort of way. Perhaps it would be better to say that Frank is defined by his singularity — a particular set of skills and outlook that serve both to exalt and circumscribe him. Frank is the best there is, but is not capable of being other than what he is.

Every other smart criminal pays off the crooked cops to keep them off his back — to “round off the corners,” as they urge. Frank would rather take a beating, have his house bugged and be followed by teams of undercover police than give in.

When a high-level fence and connected boss named Leo (Robert Prosky) offers to take Frank under his wing, set up high-level scores and “make you a millionaire in four months,” Frank stubbornly refuses to become his vassal, insisting on signing up for a single job and then calling it quits. Even when there appears to be mutual respect and affection growing between them — Leo buys a baby boy for Frank when he and his wife cannot conceive — Frank goes ballistic when Leo persists in stringing him along.

In a lot of ways “Thief” reminded me of a later film, “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling as a wheelman whose carefully ordered world goes awry when he breaks his own rules and strives for something beyond the perfection of his job. I find it hard to believe that director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film wasn’t heavily influenced by Michael Mann’s earlier one.

They share a lot of similarities in terms of characterizations, sleek noir-ish visuals and an atypical soundscape — which, in the case of “Thief,” was the result of the work of Tangerine Dream, an electronica band that created a lot of arresting movie soundtracks during the 1980s.

It was the first film score by Tangerine Dream, in a movie that heralded many other firsts. It was Mann’s first feature film after success on television. It was the debut screen role for Prosky, as well as Jim Belushi, who plays Frank’s right-hand man, plus William Peterson and Dennis Farina, who have bit roles as a bouncer and gunman, respectively.

Though I wouldn’t see “Thief” until years after “Drive,” the kinship to Mann’s work was apparent to me even then. I noted in my review that “Drive” seemed “stuck out of time.”

“For at least the first 30 minutes, I was convinced the story was set in the 1980s. The plethora of vintage cars, an ’80s-ish soundtrack and the gold-on-white scorpion jacket worn by the main character seemed to spring forth from ‘Miami Vice’ crossed with ‘Less Than Zero’ … It very much reminded me of the work of Michael Mann, whose visuals could overpower a bare-bones story.”

(Mann, of course, also produced “Miami Vice,” which generated a lot of interest in its day for the wardrobe and bling, but is now generating reconsideration as one of the best TV shows of the ’80s.)

I also took note of both films’ use of sudden, explicit violence amidst stories that are much more attuned to mood and character than exploitative action. Belushi gets seemingly his entire innards splatted against the side of a van by a shotgun blast, and Prosky enjoys a similarly gruesome demise.

In his debut outing as a director, Mann mostly constrains his visual stylization to servicing the story. His screenplay, adapted from a memoir by a real master thief employing the pen name of Frank Hohimer, uses the cliche of the skilled man performing “one last job” to explore Frank’s interior journey.

After spending 11 years in prison, most of his adulthood, Frank has been out for four years and appears to be a success. He owns two businesses — the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, where he makes and takes calls, and Rocket Motor Sales, a higher-end used car lot. He wears silk shirts and $800 suits, changes cars frequently but favors Cadillacs, and carries himself with the sort of innate swagger that intimidates others.

Frank thinks he’s got it all mapped out; he even carries around a pastiche of photos of everything he wants for the rest of his life: a mansion, cars, a wife, kids and the companionship of “Okla,” a master thief he did time with and who is played by Willie Nelson. In perhaps the film’s most glaring flaw, Okla is given little screen time, really just two scenes, and Nelson is so good in them it hints at all sorts of unrealized narrative possibilities. Frank gets Okla sprung from jail so he can die a free man, which he promptly does without a real sense of denouement.

Mann gets a little too caught up in the particulars of the big heist, a “burn job” in which Frank uses a long thermal lance to melt the face of an especially challenging vault. His camera also tends to linger a little too long on objects for their visual appeal rather than their narrative purpose — but that’s been a characteristic of his entire oeuvre.

This being Mann’s freshman film outing, it’s certainly imperfect. I found the ending of the movie a little too Wild West-y and incongruent with what came before. Also, Frank’s relationship with his wife (Tuesday Weld) is rather flat, other than an outstanding first scene at a diner, which Caan has described as the favorite of his long career. In it he essentially lays out who he is, and tells a riveting story about nearly dying after being targeted for a gangbang by a prison crew of inmates and guards.

He learned, he says, to fear nothing by valuing nothing, including his own life. Only by being willing to let go of everything important to him was he able to survive — an ethos he takes to extremes by brutally cutting all his strings before going after Leo. But that’s Frank, recognizing that he’s been fooling himself with a vision he cannot have without compromising his hard inner core.

Quibbles aside, “Thief” is a moody minor masterpiece, a probing character study that disguises itself as a heist flick.

4.5 Yaps

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Deliver Us from Evil Sun, 26 Oct 2014 05:01:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is a cop whose internal demons have driven him to work all day and all night. Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) is a Spanish priest who used to be a junkie. The two team up to solve several mysterious possessions in New York City. Along with its traditionally troubled protagonists, “Deliver Us from Evil” is filled with demons screeching in tongues, pseudo-religious exorcism mysticism, detailed gore, hyper-violence and things popping out from under beds.

In other words, “Deliver Us from Evil” is your average exorcism thriller, albeit one with a few pleasant surprises.

DUFE - Inside

When it comes to atmosphere, “Deliver” delivers. Writer / director Scott Derrickson abuses rain, fog and darkness to great effect. The best scenes are the ones where you can practically smell the must, the dirt, the mold. Forget monsters in the dark; think about the upper respiratory problems Ralph Sarchie probably developed hunting his demons. That stuff’ll kill you.

While Bana is the star of the movie, Ramirez is by far the highlight. Father Mendoza, a plainclothes man of the cloth, fits nicely into the role of journeyman priest, a religious authority who doesn’t follow traditional ritual except when it suits him. It’s a standard archetype, reducing a centuries-old religion into what amounts to a magically wise superhero. “Deliver Us From Evil” exploits bits and pieces from Catholicism particularly, and Ramirez sells it with sultry stares and subtle joviality.

I scare easily. Heck, I wrote a column about it. But “Deliver Us from Evil” didn’t bother me very much. Most of the shocking moments involve bloody faces appearing for a split second. While the atmosphere is a highlight, it’s not one that fills you with dread so much as vague discomfort. It’s senses-stimulating, but only the first five; there won’t be any hairs standing up on the back of your neck. If you’re a squeamish moviegoer, “Deliver Us from Evil” is a nice way to celebrate the horror holiday without keeping yourself up at night.

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Indy Style — Oct. 24 Fri, 24 Oct 2014 18:45:48 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Indy Style - inside

On this week’s show, Chris reviews “St. Vincent,” “Birdman,” “Ouija,” “John Wick” and “Dear White People.”

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