Tag Archives: Violence

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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So, I just watched Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange for the first time yesterday. For better or worse, it is magnificently unique; you’re unlikely to see anything else like it in your entire life. What really struck me wasn’t the story, though it was good, but the visuals and sets, which were outstanding. The backdrops to this bizarre tale are somewhere between Salvador Dali, M.C. Escher, and 70’s decor from hell.

Alex Delarge (Malcolm McDowell,) the antihero of “A Clockwork Orange,” likes to hurt people. It’s that simple, he rapes, assaults, and kills not for personal or fiscal gain, but simply because he can. What better way for a Ludwig Van Beethoven loving youth with an insatiable appetite for ultraviolence to spend his nights and weekends?

Delarge lives in a dystopian Britain filled with rot, decay, and futuristic gangs that like to rape women and beat the shit out of people. Alex is a proud member of such a gang: the self proclaimed leader of his ‘droogs’ (Alex and his friends speak in a slangy imaginary language which incorporates English and Russian,) he is simply content raising hell and causing trouble.

When Alex’s life of crime finally catches up with him, he is sent to prison (transitioning the film’s psychedelic backdrop, temporarily at least, to a more standard Borstal setting) and eventually winds up participating in a traumatic aversion therapy to cure him of his criminal impulses, winding up as timid as a puppy, an emotional eunuch repulsed by the very thought of violence.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a very long movie, 137 min., but it doesn’t seem to contain a bit of filler. It just has a really long story to tell. Malcolm McDowell (hard to believe he’s in his seventies now!) is chilling and creepily charismatic as a unrepentant sadist. His parents (Philip Stone and Sheila Raynor) don’t beat him or deprive him of his rights, but they really could care less whether he goes to school or what sadistic new pastime he picks up.

Is Mom and Dad’s bored apathy what has turned Alex into a monster? Children pick up quickly on whether they’re cared about or not, whether their teachers and parents legitimately give a shit about them or how they choose to wheedle away their days. But is the ultimate self absorption of parents and authority figures enough to make a psychopath? Alex, ever the charming beast, would be unlikely to care about these matters.

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Furthermore, Alex lives in a spectacularly self absorbed society that mirrors our own. This is taken to darkly comedic heights when the ‘cat lady’ (Miriam Karlin) tussles with Alex with a obscene phallic statue that’s apparently ‘an important piece of art.’ Alas, the poor wretched woman is crushed by it. What is it  Tyler Durden in Fight Club said? ‘The things you own end up owning you.’ And sometimes you’re bludgeoned to death by your own porcelain penis. An absurd demise you’d be unlikely to see in any other movie, ever.

Ironically, the prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley,) for all his off putting talk of fire and brimstone, is the only one in this world besides the sharklike, predatory Alex himself with any sense whatsoever. It is Quigley’s character who supplies the film’s message; you can’t coerce or manipulate anyone into being good. “Goodness comes from within.” They have beaten and brainwashed Alex into submission; what have they accomplished? You act in a kind and morally generous way because you want to, because you think it’s the right thing to do.

This lesson could be applied to organized religion; even if you tantalize a bad apple with tales of heavens’ spoils and frighten them with stories about a fiery hell, they will eventually show their rotten core. And naturally, Alex gets the last laugh, even while both political parties use him as a puppet for their own personal gain.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a culturally significant work, but it’s not for the extremely sensitive or those with weak stomachs. Furthermore, it’s definitely not for kids or impressionable teens. A triumph of visuals and sound mixing, it can be a little bit disturbing at times and deeply puzzling at others, but it’s become a cultural icon for a reason. Malcolm McDowell’s maniacally inspired performance seals the deal that though “A Clockwork Orange” is not a perfect movie, it’s a pretty damn good one.

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Nightingale (2014)

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“Nightingale” is essentially a one-man show; you should know going in that David Owelowo is virtually the only actor in the film so you can avoid disappointment at not seeing a story play out in a more standard fashion. I payed no notice to Owelowo before seeing this movie, despite seeing him in some previous films, but I’ll make sure to keep a close eye on him now.

In this film he plays a homosexual, delusional ex-military man named Peter Snowden. Peter Snowden has been a bit of a mama’s boy most of his life; he is desperately at odds with her while still wanting her to see him for who he is and accepting him in earnest. Unfortunately,  his Conservative Mama only sees what she wants to see; his flamboyance, his limp-wristed sensibilities, and her Christian friends aren’t doing either of them any favors.

However, when Peter is first introduced to us, his mother is no longer in the picture, having been murdered by him in a fit of rage only hours before. Peter, psychotic and dangerous, essentially offers us a long monologue in the form of his video blog, telephone calls, and his back-and-forth conversations with himself (and sometimes with his murdered mother) as he prepares for a very special dinner party. His mother’s lifeless corpse is splayed out on the floor of her room, but that doesn’t put a damper on his plans or his overall positivity.

The ‘guest’ for the dinner date is Edward, an old army friend (a very close friend, if you get my drift *wink*) and the object of Peter’s unadulterated obsession. Perhaps Edward is long dead, we think, more likely, he doesn’t want to see the crazed Peter. We soon learn that Edward is married to a woman Peter despises, Gloria, and has a couple of kids and what no doubt is a clean-cut, traditional suburban life.

You couldn’t have in less than an actor of an exceptionally high caliber running this show, and Owelowo delivers on this promise and more. He’s commanding but not showy, if that makes sense. Intense and often darkly funny (but maybe that’s just me) Owelowo keeps your eyes glued to the screen for the whole 1 hour 20 minutes of him just talking. Delusional, murderous, and spectacularly self-absorbed, Peter is not a likable character, but you do sympathize with him at some points- maybe genuine empathy, maybe abject pity, it’s hard to tell.

He callously murders his mother with little remorse, holds no regard for the feelings of those close to her, and disparagingly remarks on the developmentally disabled employees he works with as ‘retards’ (I laughed when he used this word, mostly because he resembles me at my worst, making cruel sport of people who can no more be cunning or stick up for themselves than a person in a wheelchair can get up and walk.) He seems more concerned with what fabulous gear he’s going to wear for his big date than the fate of his much-despised mother.

Even though we understand somewhat the dark nooks and crannies Peter’s  mind by the closing credits, there’s a lot about him we don’t know. Were Edward and Peter lovers, and Edward, by extension, a closeted homosexual living a lie, or is Peter just a crazed stalker? What, exactly, is Peter’s illness? (I have seen he has been deemed a victim of PTSD online, but it seems his issues are rooted much deeper in his past, and frankly, he could just as easily be an unmedicated Bipolar patient or Paranoid Schizophrenic.)

Peter is complicated. He’s camp and tormented and fantastically manipulative and he makes a mean Salmon Steak with  Walnut Sauce. he’s kind of a black Norman Bates for the iPhone generation, but Norman didn’t have this much style. Along the way, we get vague feedback on how this mother-son relationship went so desperately  wrong (from the monumental, like her rejection of his sexual identity, to the infinitesimal, like how she’d rather spend her money on frivolous things than buy him a subscription to HBO.)

There’s certain symbolism to savor in the film’s intelligent script, from Adam and Eve, Peter’s new tropical fish pets (he buys them because they’re a favorite of Edward’s, and in fact, ‘Eve’ is just Adam’s reflection staring back at him) to the masculine military haircut and demeanor Peter adopts towards the end of the movie as he contemplates suicide (trying perhaps, in his own twisted way, to please Mother one last time.)

By the end of “Nightingale,” we cannot condone Peter’s actions, but we understand his point of view a little better, and ultimately, we feel a little more complete for having known him.

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Clean, Shaven (1993)

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Writer/director Lodge Kerrigan’s Schizophrenic protagonist, Peter Winters (Peter Greene,) doesn’t say an intelligible word for the first fifteen minutes or so of “Clean, Shaven.” He seems to be in a perpetual state of great agitation, guided by voices in his head and his own determination to find his young daughter, Nicole (Jennifer McDonald.) It is clear he is in no position to care for a child, but in a sick, sad way, we want to invest in him, even as we suspect him of unspeakable atrocities.

“Clean, Shaven” is not a pretty movie. It portrays the hellscape of a psychotic break in an immediate, confrontative way that has rarely been touched upon in the world of film. Peter has a psychological obsession with removing his body hair. He cuts himself to the quick, nicks his scalp with bloody results, and at one point peels his own fingernail off before the appalled viewer.

All this is shown in agonizing close-up, as Peter embarks on a tormented journey to find his daughter, who his mother (Megan Owen) put up for adoption years before. Peter’s auditory hallucinations are brought to life in the form of jarring sound mixing. There’s nary a relaxing or cathartic  moment in “Clean, Shaven,” so determined is it to capture daily life from a madman’s perspective. In harsh contrast to a movie where every element of character and backstory is offered up under no uncertain terms, “Clean, Shaven” leaves nearly everything to subtext and the shadowy recesses of the imagination.

We see the events much in the distorted, kaleidoscopic way Peter would see them, without context or explanation. Meanwhile a less-than-savory detective (Robert Albert) is on Peter’s trail, and the manhunt leads to a ugly confrontation where no one will emerge unscathed.

“Clean, Shaven” is supposed to be an extremely accurate clinical depiction of a person suffering from a psychotic disorder. I wouldn’t know. I’m fortunate enough to not have faced a Schizophrenia diagnosis in myself or a loved one, though anxiety disorders are all too well known for me. For viewers who get subversive pleasure from watching the dark side of the human mind offered up on film, “Clean, Shaven” may prove to be a rare delight.

For what it’s worth, Peter Greene gives an unforgettable turn as the deeply disturbed Peter Winters. He slips so imperceptibly into the skin of someone suffering form a severe mental illness that he could just as well be a loon on the street, not an actor getting paid to portray the terrifying illnesses that can beset the mind. Every tic, every twitch, every seemingly misplaced whisper and mutter seems so real you could be watching a documentary about mental illness rather than a piece of fiction.

The ending leaves the viewer to puzzle out what it all meant, rather than offering easy explanations. The best way to describe the film altogether would be harrowing, but also sometimes tedious. It is hard to truly care about the characters in a movie when next to nothing is revealed about them. Take Peter’s mother, Gladys. She seems distant, even cold, and her only act of maternal concern is bullying her son into eating a sandwich she has fixed when he comes by looking for his daughter.

But was she a devoted mother at one time, before psychosis took her son from her? Does she love him, even now? There’s a distinct lack of heartfelt monologues, emotive testaments to  the character’s relationships. “Clean, Shaven” is as uncomfortably clinical as an instructional film on Schizophrenia. Lodge Kerrigan provides a lean, mean, ice-cold critique on what being psychotic might feel like; like Michael Haneke, he doesn’t exactly endear his characters to us; unlike Haneke, he doesn’t revile them either.

They are what they are, and Kerrigan doesn’t sentimentalize them or make them appear to be any more or less than than that. They’re there, and they’re hurting. Anything else that might be gleaned from their personality is strictly subtext.

“Clean, Shaven” is worth watching at least once by film fans, for it’s unflinching realism and sharp observation. It’s not for everyone; to say it is not a popcorn flick would be putting it mildly. There’s no easy answers, it fearlessly plumbs the depths of the lead’s insanity. The premise will ensnare you, but it is Greene who will haunt you for days with his wracking portrayal of psychological torment.

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The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence)

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If one thing can be said for the third (and blessedly final) film in the Human Centipede trilogy, it’s that it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tom Six is a narcissistic, self-congratulatory fucktard with a huge boner for his own presumed ‘edginess’. It’s too bad, since the first ‘pede was passable and the second actually had it’s outstanding qualities (mostly manifested in the superb lead performance by Laurence R. Harvey as ‘Martin’) that this one should be such a train wreck.

Yeah, you’re going, tell us what you really think. So I will, and don’t think for one moment I’m going to spare anyone who participated in this ‘movie”s feelings. I mean, whoever wrote this script needs to be waterboarded and centipeded x20. Oh yeah, that would be Tom Six. But the biggest ‘screw you’ doesn’t belong to Tom Six, but to his lead, Dieter Laser. Laser, in a tooth-grindingly manic film performance, is about as ‘scary’ a baddie as a toddler throwing a tantrum.

Picture a gigantic skeletal looking two-year-old with sunken features jumping about like a moron and spewing profanities, and you’ve pretty much got Dieter Laser in this movie. Laser should be banned from acting indefinitely. His performance makes Adam Sandler look like Sir Ian McKellan. But never mind. Laser plays Bill Boss, a racist, homophobic, misogynistic D-bag who happens to be the warden at George H. W. Bush maximum security prison (oh was that a little retarded political commentary? I never would have got that. Huh.)

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The prison is poorly run, understaffed, and the heat and the prisoners is driving Boss toward an inevitable mental breakdown. See how he jumps around like that and over-enunciates ever-y-thing? That’s the Texas heat getting to him and boiling his brain! Or maybe he’s just a chode. His meek assistant Dwight Butler (Laurence R. Harvey) hates him, the inmates want to rape him and the only thing from which he derives meager pleasures his his secretary and virtual sex slave, Daisy (former porn star Bree Olsen.) Ol’ Daisy’s expected to accommodate Bill in any way he sees fit (i.e. lots and lots of blow jobs, sometimes in front of the visibly uncomfortable Dwight,) and he continually blackmails her by holding her felon father’s prison sentence over her head. So suck my dick, bitch! And fix me a sandwich!

That’s right. The only woman in THC3, and she’s being treated like a dog and raped throughout the entire film. Her purpose is to be beaten senseless and be repeatedly assaulted and objectified. Weirdly enough, I actually felt embarrassed for Bree Olsen throughout this film. There’s a certain point while listening to Laser wheeze “Suck it, SLUT” as she tearfully performs fellatio on him that you begin to feel that Olsen was probably actually less humiliated and degraded in the adult film industry.

One day at the prison nightmarishly fades into the next when Dwight has a light bulb moment- inspired by the first two movies, he will convince Bill to turn the prisoners into a massive human centipede. This installment stands as kind of a film within a film within a film, with nods to the first two and a cast of characters oblivious (apart from a glib in joke at the beginning) that the two leading men look exactly like the antagonists from the first two films. Bill initially rejects the idea, but soon the gruesome twosome join forces to make the biggest human centipede the world has ever seen.

This is the kind of film where a doctor (Clayton Rohner) allows the construction of a human centipede (i.e. God-knows-how-many people sewn ass to mouth) but won’t allow them to be shot and put out of their misery because it’s against the Hippocratic oath. And Laurence R. Harvey, God knows I love the man (he tore up the screen in THC2 as the silent Martin Lomax) but he sports the worst fucking Texan accent I’ve ever heard.

On top of that, the character of ‘Dwight’ is wildly inconsistent.  So, he says he loves Daisy (Olsen) (an unrequited affection, sadly) but he has an opportunity to open the door and save her when she is cornered by the rioting prisoners. He doesn’t. Furthermore, after seeing Daisy’s sad fate at the end he mourns for exactly a minute and a half before gloating the the visiting Governor (Eric Roberts) about the completion of the centipede.

Maybe this is a intentional decision on the part of the filmmaker to show Dwight’s fickleness and amorality. However, it seems like he wants us to like Dwight on some level, as he plays the part of a hang-dog anti-hero, and it’s impossible to invest in him when his character has the emotional consistency of a squid.

“The Human Centipede 3” seems to want you to take it as a comedy, but it’s mix of horrific violence and hellish slapstick (like watching a Saturday morning cartoon from Hell) is about as funny as finding dog poo on the bottom of your shoe. There’s not a scrap of humanity or realism to the proceedings, and in the end THC3 is a thoroughly Schizophrenic, incomprehensible mess with dialogue that sounds like it was written by a thirteen-year-old in a psycho ward. So my advice to you is- even if you liked the first two movies, stay far away from this shit fest. It is to cinema what Hitler is to peace activism.

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Nil By Mouth (1997)

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Holy shit. This film is so… fucking… bleak. But it is a must watch for people who think Ray Winstone can’t act. Keep the rubbish in the trash bin, Britain. And don’t under any circumstances let Raymond (Winstone) near your unborn baby. Rage, alcoholism. The relentlessly grim cycle of domestic violence passing from one generation to the next. This drama takes place in the South London projects, but it is by no means confined to that setting. It’s universal, and it won’t stop unless women stop settling for men who beat the shit out of them.

Raymond (Ray Winstone) and Mark (Jamie Foreman) are two South London bros who are also both pretty horrible people. They hang out in Ray’s apartment, drink and drink, and talk shit. Oh yeah, and Ray occasionally takes enough time off drinking and talking shit to beat his wife, Valerie (Kathy Burke) senseless. Ray’s also a father to a little girl (Leah FItzgerald,) and the kid is all too often a witness to Mommy getting her ass handed to her. Ray’s subhuman, a screaming, emotionally impotent cretin, but he thinks he gets off free because he’s all tormented and complex and shit. To listen to his talks with his friend puts you in mind of witnessing something scintillatingly grotesque, like the dietary habits of wild animals.

Valerie has an exhausted mother, Janet (Laila Morse) and a spirited grandmother (Edna Dore) who doesn’t take bunk from anybody, even when Ray threatens to knock the geriatric old bird out cold. She also has a brother Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles,) who’s slightly more likable than the other men, mostly because he doesn’t talk much, and also because he’s not a violent criminal or consciously cruel as much as a weak and pathetic loser. Billy also has a methamphetamine habit he supports by stealing and mooching off his mother.

The five characters converge throughout this practically plotless Brit drama, not as much living as surviving, and it soon becomes clear that something’s going to have to give before all fucking hell breaks lose. Because this life they’re living is not as much of a life as a fox trap where they’re chewing their collective leg off.

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The action feels real, like all the best British realism films. The conversations sound like real conversations, and even though the number of curse words is staggering (if you were offended by the bad language in my review, trust me, this isn’t the movie for you) they don’t seem excessive in the context of the film. Writer/director Gary Oldman (yes, that Gary Oldman) has an ear for dialogue, the meaningless yammering bullshit people talk, and the lies people tell themselves to get through the day. Except in his adept hands, the rambling dialogue becomes something really special. Even when Billy’s tattooed hooligan friend Danny (Steve Sweeney) lovingly recites dialogue from “Apocalypse Now” while blitzed out of his mind, the scene has a certain gravity to it, almost touching. It feels like you are seeing something important, something only you are meant to see.

There are a handful of truly amazing scenes in this film, moments so hardcore you forget to breathe, when you see what these fucked-up people’s lives are really about. Several of these involve Ray Winstone monologues, particularly the one about his father where we find out what the title of the movie pertains to. Tight, focused acting there. The kind that takes raw talent. One of the scenes that sticks out to me is the one where Janet, defeated, takes Billy to pick up meth from his dealer. She sits and watches him as he sits in the back of the van doing the drugs,  his expression the shallow smile of a satisfied addict, her’s of exhaustion and resignation.

That, to me, is the epitome of desperation. Watching your son shoot up with the crap that you provide? The thing is, nobody wants to be an enabler to their own kid. Nobody wants to be a beaten wife. But in an absence of hope, people settle for so much less than they could be; so much less than they deserve. It’s an ugly cycle, one that is both self-perpetuating and never-ending.

The only thing that keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending this movie is the ending. The whole thing is just bizarre. Whether it’s a happy ending or another plunge into the Hellish abyss of domestic violence, who can tell? I’ll settle for the latter. Regardless, it just made me mad. “Nil By Mouth” is no more a popcorn  movie than a film by Michael Haneke or Lars Von Trier is. However, if you like hyper-realistic kitchen sink dramas with amazing actors, this is the movie for you. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you, the level of domestic violence is daunting. This is a harrowing look at people with nothing left to lose, people for which violence is not a distant thing to dread but an inevitable side effect of being alive.

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Return to Sender (2014)

 ***Warning- Some Spoilers***

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Attention sex offenders- whatever you do, do not drink the lemonade!

What could have been a harrowing study of the long-standing psychological aftereffects of a horrific crime becomes disappointingly seedy, exploitative, and torture porn-y in this mediocre rape-revenge thriller. The actors do their best, but the results are as icy and soulless as the main character, a perfectionist who begins to show her rotten core after being raped by a depraved stalker. If this movie has any real message, it’s that the victim of a rape can be just as sick and demented as her assailant.

Miranda (Gone Girl‘s Rosamund Pike) is a capable nurse and all-around compulsive type who seems to have a bit of an issue with the opposite sex, perhaps springing from childhood trauma. But not a bad lady, right? So you would think… until Miranda commits the ultimate no-no for potentially likable characters and poisons her dad (Nick Nolte)’s dog to death. And baby, that’s only the beginning.

Anyway, before all that shit goes down, Miranda seems like a fairly likable, albeit high-strung protagonist. During a blind date, Miranda is raped by the mindbogglingly sleazy Will (Shiloh Fernandez.) But the crafty Miranda is not going down without a fight. Ever the sultry minx, Miranda visits Will in prison and befriends him under false pretenses, grooming him to walk right into the trap of a perfect revenge. Hold on to your balls, gentlemen!

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However long I waited in earnest for the revenge scene, I found myself somewhat disappointed with the way they handled it. The cheesy and lurid finale just doesn’t fit with the reasonably well-conceived and thoughtful beginning. The problem is not in the actors. Maybe developing Miranda as a more likable character would help. Regardless of the sympathy you feel for her initially, she betrays your trust and reveals herself to be a over-the-top, evil, backstabbing bitch.

I guess the revelation that Miranda is an evil wench is supposed to be thrilling but it seems like a cheat, especially with so many unanswered questions regarding the plot floating around the stratosphere. We’re simply left with the question, why are we supposed to care about this story?  The filmmaker starts out with some good ideas, but “Return to Sender” succeeds in the end as being entertainment in only the basest sense. It’s not inspiring, it’s not enlightening, and it certainly doesn’t offer any comfort or emotional relief to those who’s lives are affected by rape.

Three things save this movie from being a complete bust- the actors (uniformly competent,) the first thirty minutes or so (which maintains a sense of relative realism that falls to pieces in the messy, sadistic climax,) and the fact that the rape scene itself is handled with more finesse than one would expect for a movie of this type. Rosamund Pike is lovely and shows obvious talent, but in the end this film is just another creepy movie about rape, without the soulfulness or the seriousness to make it work.

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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

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Despite the huge Dennis Lehane kick I’ve been on lately, I was unsure about reading his 2003 novel ‘Shutter Island’ because I wasn’t a big fan of the Leo DiCaprio film. While I still highly question the realism of the twist ending, I’m as utterly in love with Lehane’s writing as ever, and this is a slightly different offering from him, an entertaining riff on Gothic mid-20th century pulp fiction that pulsates barely contained malice. I just wish I hadn’t watched the movie first, since nothing was as big a surprise to me as one might hope for.

Teddy Daniels, an emotionally traumatized, serious U.S. Marshall and veteran of the second World War grieving the loss of his wife Dolores in an apartment fire a few years prior, arrives at Ashcliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane searching for an escaped patient, Rachel Solando. Solando was incarcerated for the fillicide of her three children and has seemingly vanished into thin air, leaving nothing but a few puzzling hand-written codes in her wake. Teddy comes onto Shutter Island, the foreboding location of Ashcliffe Hospital by ferry with his good-humored partner, Chuck Aule.

A place that houses only society’s most dangerous and volatile inmates, eerie hints of ongoing human experimentation, a doozy of a hurricane heading their way and threatening to total the control panel and release the crazies from their cells- what could go wrong? Poor Teddy is continually haunted by visions and nightmares of the most macabre variety, spooky reminders of the wife he lost and the uncertainty surrounding her death, He’s not well… and things are going to get a whole lot worse…

Teddy is a tough cookie, but the island begins to not-so-slowly get under his skin, and soon the bereaved paranoiac begins to believe that everyone, and everything, is out to get him. There’s a ton of historical context to this novel, from flashbacks of World War II concentration camps, to Cold War-era anxiety, to the ongoing stigmatization of mental illness. However, none of these things are pedantically pushed upon the reader and the novel as a whole is a fast-paced, exhilarating read.

The setting is fascinating (especially for a self-proclaimed fan of the macabre and Gothic like me) and the characters are easy to picture in one’s head with Lehane’s adept descriptive passages. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this book horror- more of a dark psychological thriller with tons of sinister build-up and uncertainty going on, as well as some extremely strange dream sequences that unsettlingly (but accurately) portray Teddy’s troubled psyche. There’s a very important message beneath all this weirdness, a commentary on the horrors that spring up from denying escalating mental illness in a loved one, an all-too-common occurrence in the recent past.

‘Shutter Island’ isn’t perfect, and it isn’t as riveting as some of Lehane’s work. As I stated at the beginning, the end twist seems so improbable that it almost ruined the movie for me. I would go so far as to say it doesn’t really make sense under close scrutiny. Dennis Lehane’s dialogue can be a bit unrealistic at times (while being utterly plausible at others,) especially when he tries to hard to make a particular point, and Teddy’s conversation with the bile-spitting, expletive-screaming warden is one such instance where a little bit of editing and subtle toning-down of the subject matter could have done wonders.

Of the three Lehane novels I’ve read (“Gone, Baby, Gone,” “Mystic River,” and this book, “Shutter Island,”) I recommend you read the one you haven’t seen the movie for first. I was kind of bummed to already see the twist for this and “Mystic River” coming, while “Gone, Baby, Gone”  was a riveting experience unmarred by already seeing the characters and the situations pictured in my head by the movie. I don’t think this is a very believable book when you examine it under a microscope (the other two are much more plausible in terms of plot,) but it’s just as exciting and entertaining as the others, plus there’s the Gothic backdrop that offers some dark spookiness to to the author’s repertoire.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

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Three childhood friends, reunited in adulthood and all marching toward a shared spiritual and psychological destruction. Sound cheerful? Clint Eastwood adapted this novel, so if you’re a fan of Eastwood’s directorial endeavors you might be familiar with this story of betrayal and revenge. The aging movie star’s filmmaking capabilities are undeniable, but there’s something about reading a novel versus watching it’s film adaptation, you know? Most of the time, anyway.

‘Mystic River’ is a dark read on a plethora of tough subjects (child abduction and the ensuing sexual abuse, latent pedophilic tendencies, a father’s grief over the violent death of his daughter,) but if anyone is up for the job of writing gritty urban realism featuring the tragic mistakes of regular people and their fatal repercussions, it’s Dennis Lehane.

The man has a gift- with dialogue, with character description, with prose so fluid and lush it’s reading is similar to the experience of watching a great movie. His characters never seem unrealistically colorful or contrived. They grab your attention honestly- through the strength of great storytelling. ‘Mystic River’ is about three boys- Dave Boyle, Sean Devine, and Jimmy Markum- who grow up into three damaged men. Where did it all go wrong? For these guys, the proverbial shit hit the fan when 11-year-old Dave was coerced into a car by two men pretending to be police officers as his friends looked on and molested for five days before making his escape, becoming quite the local celebrity in the process.

But Dave doesn’t want lurid, however short-lived fame. He wants his childhood back. Once an eager-to-please schoolboy and a bit of a brownnosing crony to the stronger, more well-liked Jimmy, Dave grows up to be a tormented adult who has experienced a splintering of self- some of him is still in that basement, yearning to escape. Hell, all the boys are haunted by that day, the unresolved questions that reared their ugly heads when that car came to take Dave away. Twenty-five years later, another tragedy occurs. Now-grown ex-con Jimmy Markums’ 19-year-old daughter, Katie, is brutally murdered in the park after a drunken night on the town.

Now, who should come back into Jimmy’s life but Sean- a cop investigating the Katie Markum case- and Dave- a suspect in her violent death. Katie’s death has many suspects, more the further you look from different angles (in classic detective story fashion.) While initially Katie seems like a girl with not an enemy in the world, further inspection produces a different, darker take on those she associated with. Confronting a case that seems increasingly personal the farther he digs forward, Sean must ask the ultimate question- who killed Katie Markum? And will the actual murderer’s insistence on keeping his identity under wraps spell destruction for the three men?

I found ‘Mystic River’ less confusing than the first novel I read by Dennis Lehane, “Gone Baby Gone” but also slightly less compelling. That might have been partially because I already knew the ending to ‘Mystic River,’ having seen the movie beforehand. It was just a matter of getting there. There is no real redemption in either story; if anything, every good thing that comes from ‘Mystic River’s ending is more detrimental that satisfactory- take, for instance, Sean’s reunion with his wife paired with his decision to take all the flack for their break-up. He got what he wanted, but will he really wind up happy?

I don’t think the mystery is too hard to solve if the reader pays close attention to the clues provided along the way. All three men are sympathetic In their own way (despite Dave’s impure, albeit unacted-on, carnal appetites and Jimmy’s astonishing capacity for violence) while still being deeply flawed and troubled. Dennis Lehane’s prose is so easy to fall in love with. It is strong, consistent, and descriptive.  He cares about these characters and he wants you to care about them too, but he doesn’t always make them easy candidates for compassion, if you know what I mean.

In the end, what has been gained? What has been learned? If you say zilch. you’re certainly on the right track. A continuing theme is loss- of innocence, of love, of family, of humanity. We move beyond our past tragedies, if we’re lucky. But do they move past us? More of a psychological study of guilt and grief than a hard-and-dry mystery, ‘Mystic River’ is simultaneously harsh, delicate, and haunting.

Still (2014)

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A note to curious viewers looking for the next great revenge flick- make no mistake, “Taxi Driver” this is not. Also, movie goers expecting Aidan Gillen to go all “Dead Man’s Shoes” on a group of thugs will be sorely disappointed. Aidan Gillen is no Paddy Considine (it’s okay, Gillen- we love you anyway) and “Still” is a drab, painfully slow-moving exercise in banality.

Tom Carver (Gillen) plays Tom, a middle-aged photographer barely developed beyond his long-standing grief at the death of his teenaged son in a hit-and-run, his mean streak (displayed toward his ex-wife Rachel (Amanda Meeling,) and his substance abuse problem. When a gang of youths rather abruptly begins terrorizing him, engaging in behavior that predictably leads to the assault of his girlfriend (Elodie Yung,)

Tom is unsure of what to do about the attacks but his journalist friend Ed (Jonathan Slinger ) convinces him to take action, spewing Republican rhetoric (‘these are minors! They’ll get a couple of years tops in a cushy facility with a big-screen TV and an XBox! An XBox!’) while getting himself and Tom plastered. Tom finally decides to man up and get brutal revenge on his tormentors. But at what cost?

Too much exposition, too much talking (blah-blah-blah) and not enough substantial dialogue… oddly, one of the biggest problems about “Still” is the color scheme. Obviously a low-budget flick (that’s putting it nicely,) this film has a dull, flat palate and a few scenes are appear to be shot through a reddish color filter that is just distracting. Color filters can be effective and arresting, look at “Cold in July,” based on a novel by Joe R. Landsdale. Those colors grabbed you and didn’t let you go. The colors in “Still” are lifeless and sometimes seem simply arbitrary.

Aidan Gillen is okay (sporting an inflection weirdly reminiscent of his character in “Game of Thrones” and his trademark smirk) but Elodie Yung and Sonny Green (as the lead hood) leave a lot to be desired in the acting department. The real travesty of this movie, however is the ending. Let me set the scene (spoilers, obviously.)

***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers

The teen criminals have gang-raped Tom’s girlfriend, put a flayed cat on his doorstep, and beaten a little boy Tom has befriended, almost killing him in the process. Tom abducts one of the boys and prepares to put him on a nightmarish (and potentially fatal) high, when the teen begs for mercy and drops a bombshell. Apparently, Tom’s son ran with the gang and died (surprise!) not in a hit-an-run, but in a game of chicken with his group.

To put the icing on the cake (drumroll, please,) Tom’s dearly departed son was involved in the murder of a woman when he was alive. Isn’t it convenient that the gang that randomly targeted Tom were also directly associated with his son. The boy’s ultimatum is this- if your son was a piece-of-shit thug like me, why can’t you have mercy and spare my miserable life? The problem is, Tom has already given the little schmuck the killer injection. And, thus, the poor lad (and animal abuser, rapist, and bully) dies in the sobbing Gillen’s arms. And the credits roll. No shit.

Seriously, fuck this movie. You wait the whole fucking film for Gillen to get an awesome and well-deserved revenge, and he ends up offering unconditional forgiveness to the kid through a plot contrivance for something that is irrelevant (so, my son was a shit. Does that make you any less of a shit?) Forget the rape, forget the assault of a young kid, forget everything. Just bask in the emotion of the moment. Fuck 😛

The thing is, I’m not a glutton for sadistic retribution. I’m pretty Liberal in a lot of ways. But I was expecting a revenge film with themes of grief and sadness. Not fucking grief porn, and pretty poorly executed grief porn at that. There was no reason Tom should have let a turd-squirt like that off the hook. Thus, the film is a massive let-down. So it’s not just the cheap quality, or the dodgy acting, or the total lack of likable characters. It’s everything. It’s all of the above.  Plus the shitstain of an ending. Pity.

***End of Spoilers***End of Spoilers***End of Spoilers

I love Aidan Gillen, including his low-budget roles (“Buddy Boy,” “Treacle Jr.”) But this movie is a fail. Maybe if I’d gone in with slightly different expectations it would have been a passable experience. Alas. This movie is not totally terrible, but it’s hardly worth bothering with. Pass, dear and few readers. Definitely pass.

The Voices (2014)

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Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is the kind of man no one would suspect of any wrong doing- well-groomed, mild-mannered, and charmingly naïve and uncomplicated, he gets along with all his co-workers at the bathtub factory at which he works, and lives a comfortable life with his cat and dog in the podunk town of Milton.

But Jerry has deep-seated problems- problems that stem from his Schizophrenic mother, his abusive stepfather, and his own out-of-control fantasies and delusions that manifest themselves in voices and often comforting, if woefully misleading, visions. Like many mentally ill people, Jerry finds that all the color is drained from his life when he takes the zombifying pills his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) prescribes.

But Jerry has a secret. It’s not that shocking that Jerry talks to his pets (Hell, doesn’t everybody?) But his animals have been particularly vocal lately. His cat, especially, has been known to push him to the edge. And Mr. Whiskers has an agenda- an agenda that turns downright murderous after Jerry accidently kills his indifferent love interest Fiona (Gemma Arterton) in a fit of panic.

Mr. Whiskers is insistent that Jerry kill again, but Jerry’s lovable mastiff, Bosco, tries to convince Jerry to live a morally righteous life. Jerry’s descent into madness is both wickedly funny, fairly disturbing, and oddly touching. “The Voices,” helmed by the graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi (‘Persopolis,”) is an offbeat morality tale about the pressures of being a ‘good boy’ Vs. giving in to your inner sociopath.

The script is convoluted, and downright ridiculous at times- the deer scene will make you laugh if you aren’t too busy cringing at the copious gore. But it’s all part of the blackly comic vision screenwriter Michael R. Perry has offered up on screen for us. “The Voices” is also visually striking; there’s a distinct contrast between the beauty, presented up in rich hues that makes up how Jerry sees the world and the dank, dark reality of Jerry’s bloodstained apartment.

Ryan Reynolds gives a commendable performance as Jerry, an upbeat man-child with a homicidal streak, and disturbingly, you’re forced to sympathize with his earnest if deranged worldview, and thus, to some extent, his crimes. Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are also voiced by Reynolds, which makes perfect sense, being that they are quite literally extensions of Jerry himself.

Considering the talent that is on display here, the totally WTF ending is regrettable to say the least. It’s like the writer went ‘what the hell’ after days of writer’s block, got high, and quickly scrawled down an ending with no real cohesion or connection to the rest of the story. Why not have a big song and dance sequence at the end of your horror film? Add Jesus? What the hell! We don’t see enough of that guy these days anyway.

For people who wanted an actual conclusion to Jerry’s story, that you know, made any kind of sense whatsoever, the ending will be a huge disappointment. Simply put- this is not a great movie. But it is the kind of movie I like to watch, off-the-chain and quirkily, even shallowly psychological, so I’m bound to cut it more slack than some people might.

For those viewers who set their expectations (reasonably) low and prepare for a stinker of an ending, for those movie lovers who like their comedies pitch-black and all kinds of twisted, The Voices” might turn out to be a strangely gratifying experience. Because like poor Jerry Hickfang, we all see the world the way we want to see it. But unlike Jerry, most of us are unwilling to kill for that vision.

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