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Underwater (2020)

I’m a sucker for flicks that take place in hostile environments, where the characters must fight to survive, often against some ‘terror from beyond’. For some reason, considering that I have a wussy fear of deep water (if I can’t see the bottom, peace out!), the science fiction / horror stories taking place beneath the waves always get my attention, going back to 1989’s ‘deep sea peril’ Box Office clash of mediocre Deep Star Six, perfectly acceptable Leviathan and, in my opinion, James Cameron’s infinitely superior The Abyss (where the fuck is the Blu ray, Jim?!). Ever since then, I’ve had a fondness for stories of undersea terror…and it’s been a while since I’ve seen one that really blew my skirt up.

Usually I’m pretty quick to dismiss Kristen Stewart (Panic Room), almost entirely due to her heavy involvement with that bullshit Twilight franchise, and I admit that that’s probably unfair. But for her to turn up in THIS genre, I admit I was morbidly curious about how this title / her range would fare. However, when this apparently $50 – $80 million (how the hell is that range SO wide, IMDB?!) thriller slipped into theaters back in January, I think COVID-19 was just becoming a thing…so I’m sure that didn’t help the measly final Box Office take (only about $40 million). Despite not having heard much about this flick, probably considering that Production was completed back in ’17 and the end product was shelved leading into the Disney take-over of 20th Century Fox (this is allegedly the last film released under the old 20th Century Fox logo), I heard JUST enough…and what I heard was intriguing, if not overly original.

The few reviewers I saw that had something to say about Underwater seemed to like it well enough , while also recognizing that it undeniably wore its genre influences on its sleeves. But overall, the general opinion seemed to be that it was a well-made and enjoyable sci-fi / horror flick, but that it was ultimately disposable and derivative.

I’m always intrigued when there is no overwhelming consensus on the quality of a movie, where the movie-going masses are concerned. When there are equal amounts of good and bad touted in relation to a title, about which I admittedly knew little, I get interested.

That was the case here.

But the shit-show that is 2020 got in the fucking way and I missed the chance to see Underwater on The Big Screen which, having now seen it just now,…IS WHERE IT DESERVES TO BE SEEN!

After it quickly and quietly departed from cinemas, I figured it wouldn’t be too long before some streaming service would slide it out there. As of this writing, none of the services I subscribe to had acquired it…so impatience and curiosity got the better of me. On a resupply mission into town, I heard the siren song of Best Buy and found a lone copy of the Blu ray on the shelf.

Good guess…yes!…I DID buy it!

Underwater opens with a mysterious and catastrophic accident befalling a research / mining complex sprawled along the floor of the deepest point on Earth, the Marianas Trench. During the carnage, we follow a mechanical engineer named ‘Norah’ (Kristen Stewart) as she desperately fights to survive, meeting a handful of other survivors along the way, including the complex’s commander, ‘Capt. Lucien’ (Vincent Cassel).  This vulnerable little group is forced to travel across the ocean bottom on foot to escape the wide-spread destruction of the stricken habitat. Once traversing the black, gloomy depths…they discover they’re not alone out there.

As usual, out came the pad and paper.

Let the scribbles ensue…

Se7en-inspired credits. Stylishly done. Harking back to that classic David Fincher-helmed masterpiece, I was reminded of how many flicks after 1995 opted to follow his example and lay their opening credits over quickly cut and deliberately rough-looking montages of images and information that help us, the audience, get up to speed on the style and the substance of the narrative that we’re about to…ahem…dive into. Underwater took that cinematic tool and employed it here. It was slickly done and I appreciated it.

Right into the shit! No nonsense opening scene. This was one thing that I had read prior to seeing Underwater, that it wastes no time getting right into the thick of things with no frills or delay (a little to it’s detriment, but more on that later). After a quick, contemplative intro to ‘Nora’, the walls literally come crashing down mere minutes in as the facility is stricken by…something…catastrophic. Now, it can be argued that this intro glossed over the potential for valuable character development, leaving us with less-than-defined protagonists with whom we have little emotional connection to as the stakes get higher and higher, but I just accepted that this was going to be a plot-driven narrative as opposed to a character-driven one. Sometimes…that’s just fine with me.

Sweet Production Design. Very Alien. As previously mentioned, Underwater is a flick that feels no shame in hinting (quite strongly, at times) at the other movies out there in Pop Culture that clearly played a role in guiding the look and atmosphere of the Production (think Alien, The Abyss, Leviathan, Gravity, etc). Hell, there’s a control room set that was nearly a dead ringer for the crew area of ‘The Nostromo’ in Alien, right down to the horizontal tube lighting and the circular-shaped array of monitors suspended above a round table. Further to this, everything had a ‘lived in’ and slightly run-down feeling before the carnage ensued. Once the shit hit the fan, the attention to detail in the destruction was equally cool.

I like the character interactions. While Underwater doesn’t have the most fleshed out set of characters, it does a good job of giving them naturalistic-sounding banter (to my ears, anyway) as they come together to try and survive. It gave me enough to pull me into their plight just that little bit more.

Cool suit design. In keeping with the detailed aesthetic of the settings, the collection of deep-sea diving suits all had a bulky, industrial look to them that felt both plausible and cinematic…and that worked for me.

Nice! Actual darkness. Many of these Man-in-Peril flicks that take place in the deep depths feel the need to artificially light everything in a way that would be physically impossible in Real Life. Below 3280 feet, light from the surface does not penetrate, therefore anything further down is caught in a ‘midnight zone’ of total darkness, as the Mariana Trench is. This movie knows that and put that reality to good use (in my opinion) by shrouding everything in murky darkness (including that which assails our group) that is only ever penetrated by the lights of the stricken facility and those carried by our main characters. One of the aspects of the deep ocean that instinctively scares the shit outta lil ole me is this eerie combination of darkness and gloom…and what it could be hiding. This gave the oh so quick glimpses of the prowling entities all the more punch, while still keeping them mysterious.

TJ Miller. You’re an asshole…but you ARE funny. I say ‘asshole’ based on the scattering of stories I’ve seen regarding the comedian’s allegedly selfish and dickheaded conduct behind the scenes on several of his movies. That’s not even to mention the ruckus involving the fake bomb threat call he made on Amtrak a few years ago that got his ass arrested. So…yeah…not a great human being, that TJ Miller. That being said, his brand of humor was well-used here in among all the terror and carnage that ensue. And *SPOILERS*…his fate is gruesome and effective…and definitely got my attention.

Eerie use of gloom. As mentioned above, this flick embraces the use of darkness to sinister effect and I MOSTLY appreciated it, when it wasn’t interfering with the geography of the action…which it unfortunately sometimes did (more on that later).

Some shots reminiscent of Gravity…helmet shots. Like that orbit-set disaster movie of 2013, many times we find ourselves inside the helmets with the characters in extreme close-up, which helped accentuate the eerie murk that surrounded and threatened them just beyond their visors. An effective cinematic choice.

Some genuine tension. Near suicide scene + ‘Get to the door’. This flick has several effective sequences of rising tension but these two stood out. ‘Norah’ must find one of her lost companions whom she can hear over the radio but can’t communicate with before the characters opts to end it all, so a frantic race against time ensues. This is followed shortly after by having our survivors reach their destination, only for it to be rendered virtually unreachable, yet well within sight, by a large, unexpectedly sinister threat…just as the O2 levels reach a critical point! Solid stuff.

Good score. Eerie and appropriately sci-fi. I’ve liked several of composer Marco Beltrami’s past scores, going back to his highly effective music for 1996’s ground-breaking Scream and I again found myself impressed with what he (and another composer named Brandon Roberts) composed for Underwater. So much so, that it’s currently my soundtrack as I write these words.

Could very much be a modern Lovecraft. Something epic occurs in the 3rd Act that made me sit up and realize what Underwater could ACTUALLY be…and that is screenwriter Brian Duffield’s take on the iconic work of horror author H.P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937)! I love Lovecraft’s written work (despite the author’s penchant for casual racism) and have been disappointed by the vast majority of adaptations of the man’s stories over the years (though Richard Stanley’s recent adaptation of The Colour Out of Space is definitely an exception to this and is also worth checking out). While Underwater is not a direct adaptation of any of Lovecraft’s work (in the same way that John Carpenter’s terrific In the Mouth of Madness isn’t), the story eventually gives way to a direct (and awesomely realized) connection to Lovecraft’s Old Ones mythos (confirmed by what I read in my post-viewing research) and I loved the juxtaposition of the ancient, cosmic evil and the illusion of the high-tech security of the doomed facility. A very cool reveal that I highly approve of.

Nice bookend for ‘Norah’. Selflessness. Even though there is admittedly a lack of ‘flesh’ on our main characters, I did like that a scene between ‘Norah’ and ‘Capt. Lucien’ early on, where she gives him shit for not escaping the dying facility when he had the chance, is paid off when she embraces his view of sacrifice in the 3rd Act,  and commits to it. It may not work for all viewers, but it worked for me.

-‘Less is more’ works very well here. AGAIN, going back to the use of darkness and murk (and probably a lack of budget), the creatures and situations are often shrouded and hinted at, similar to how Bruce The Shark was handled (to surprisingly effect) in 1975’s classic Jaws, or the Xenomorph in 1979’s equally renowned Alien, among others. I liked this approach and whole-heartedly approve of it.

Cool. Yep, for that most part, that single word does sum up how I was left feeling when the Final Credits rolled on this 1 hour and 35 minute creature feature / disaster movie…to the point where I sat back and said it aloud…before scribbling it down.

Thus ends the scribbles.

So, looking back, there’s a lot of fawning going on in many of my notes, so in the spirit of fairness, I do need to touch on a couple negatives.

First, I do feel that the diminished importance of character development, in favor of getting right to the action in Act One, left something lacking. This isn’t a Deal Breaker for me, not by a long stretch, as the banter that ensues still had some ‘crackle’ to it and provided JUST ENOUGH to warrant giving a shit about the fates of these characters. Second, while I applaud the engaging and smart use of darkness for the vast majority of the run-time, there were times when the geography of the action became confusingly muddled. There’s one intense sequence where two characters, who are tethered together, get taken on a scary and dizzying ride through the water by a beasty; a ride that I lost track of half way through because of the lack of discernible reference points. I literally couldn’t tell if the main threat (aside from the rampaging creature) was due to them rapidly ascending(?)…or descending(?)…out of control and with the threat of implosion looming. A couple other scenes play like this as well, knocking my score back a point or two. There’re a couple weird edits where I swear you can tell something of substance was edited out in Post, when it never should’ve been. There was one instance where key characters are suddenly beset by the creatures and in a jump cut, they suddenly emerge somewhere else triumphantly, while we never get to see how the hell they got out of that last situation. There’s a couple other little gripes, but they’re really not worth delving into…

…because I found that Underwater overall was a quality science fiction / horror flick that clearly took influence from some amazing heavyweights in the genre, such as Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), Leviathan (1989), Sunshine (2007), Pandorum (2009), Gravity (2013), and Life (2017)…among others. And I’m happy to say that Underwater, in my humble opinion, can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those films in quality and execution. I’m glad I took the chance on the ‘blind buy’ (something I almost NEVER do with movies) when I scored the lone copy Best Buy had. My months-long curiosity paid off, as I got a capable cast who put in the effort even with the shallow characters given, a very cool Production Design (that’s important in a flick of this nature), a dark, tense atmosphere that capitalized on using the audiences imagination to fill in what the murk hid, and a couple of really gnarly kills. I’m actually a little surprised that this was PG-13, as at least two kill were impressively quick, gory and brutal, not to mention inventive. I also need to throw props to the cool sets, the creature designs (thinking the big guy…especially when you realize who he is), the Sound Design (play this one loud), the Score (sinister stuff…it’s great), and the get-right-to-it pace of the narrative also help bolster the recommendability of this surprising under-the-radar thriller.

And I definitely recommend it…particularly if you’re a fan of any of the titles I listed above.

As a Science Fiction film…Underwater works.

As a Horror film…Underwater works.

And as a Disaster Film…Underwater works.

Stir all that up and throw in a healthy connection to Lovecraftian lore…and you’ve got a solid thriller that I can get behind, one that I think got shafted at the Box Office, not to mention in its development.

Quality entertainment like this doesn’t deserve to be shelved (makes me think of Cabin in the Woods (2011)) for any length of time. But…I’m glad it DID get released…

(SIDENOTE – I wonder how many complete but unreleased films there may be languishing away in the vaults of major Hollywood studios right now. Hmmm…..)

…as it gave me almost exactly what I hoped it would give me, and that was the thrills and chills of a solid, (but admittedly derivative) undersea thriller that effectively did it’s own thing as it gleaned elements from other influential material, without embarrassing itself in the process. For what it is…I thought Underwater was well done and I had a damn good time with it…

…and you might too.

Take a dive Underwater!

*I just have to say again that the way the story unveiled its connection to Lovecraft got me pumped. If you’re a fan of that man’s macabre literary material, then I can doubly recommend Underwater! There’s a nice marriage at work in this flick…and I think it paid off well, as now I want to see / know more!

 

Danger Close – The Battle of Long Tan (2019)

I don’t know what it is…but something about the Vietnam War (officially 1965 – 75) fascinates me. What’s even stranger is…I’m Canadian. We, and many other Commonwealth nations, refused to get pulled into that unnecessary and disgusting mess of a conflict, and I’m very proud of that note in Canadian history. But something about it draws me in.

Something…about the history of the conflict, for my inner history lover.

Something…about the damage it caused to the American Dream, and the interesting ripples in the cultural psyche we still see today.

Something…about the dizzying array of iconic weapons, vehicles and tactics, for my inner red-blooded 8-year old.

And, as a proud Film Nerd, there’s something…intensely cinematic about the Vietnam War…in my humble opinion.

Some of my favorite war films exist because of that sullied period in recent global history, absolute classics like Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), Hamburger Hill (1987), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Bat 21 (1988). I could also mention the surprisingly decent TV show Tour of Duty (1987, 3 seasons), Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland (2000), among others. But…if you look at those titles…they’re ALL focusing on the involvement of just one country (fairly), but they do gloss over the fact that the US was not the only country that went to war with North Vietnam (cough, cough…China / Russia…cough, cough) for the majority of the 1960’s and half of the 70’s. Even though the Yanks were leading the charge, they were effectively backed by the militaries of South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. These other countries had swallowed the ‘Communism = BAD’ Kool-Aid and leaped in to help Old Glory smite the uppity Asian commies in some country that most of the citizens of the war-mongering nations had never even heard of.

But…they were there, and saw their share of action.

But unlike the plethora of media that’s been released via the US focusing on the why’s, how’s and when’s, as they saw it, I’ve seen virtually nothing from any other nations involved over the years. Which is why this one surprised me when I stumbled upon a Youtube clip that was a short scene from this film showing a vicious battle ensuing among the trees of a large rubber plantation. The Production Design and attention to detail stood out to me and I realized exactly what I just mentioned above – I’ve never seen a Vietnam War film from ANYONE ELSE’S POINT OF VIEW…only what the Americans had to show.

After a little digging, I found that Danger Close was based on an actual event – a vicious battle that broke out between 108 Australian / New Zealand troops, mostly conscripts and new recruits, and 2500 well prepared North Vietnamese soldiers in a large rubber plantation.

Naturally, I was intrigued.

So, I got up early on a Sunday, brewed up an oversized mocha and fired this Australian production up on Amazon, as my Better Half and the two dog girls slumbered on our awesome new bed.

 

Here be those scribbles

Already see the influence of Apocalypse Now. Tracking shot of Zippo, booze, .45 etc. Apocalypse Now is, hands down, one of my favorite films, not just for the polished and ambitious content of the film itself, but also for the legendary tale of woe behind it’s creation. I

f you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out Hearts of Darkness (1991), the brilliant Making Of Apocalypse Now documentary from Francis Ford Coppola’s wife Eleanor. It’s fascinating.

Anyway…Apocalypse Now opens with the infamous ‘The End’ sequence where Martin Sheen’s ‘Captain Willard’ gets fucking wasted and trashes his hotel room (all real and caught on film on Martin Sheen’s birthday, to dangerous effect), all set to that iconic Doors track. During this sequence we get a gorgeous slow tracking shot that shows items of ‘Willard’s haphazardly strewn on a bed; his Airborne Zippo, his Colt .45 pistol, a bottle of booze, picture of the estranged wife etc. It’s one of the first shots in Danger Close, coming right after a highly ‘Apocalypse Now‘ish shot of a flight of Royal Australian Air Force Hueys inbound. All of it looked good…I could just see the influences loud and clear.

Trigger discipline! Oh…it paid off. As a licensed gun owner here in Canada, I’ve been through the necessary training for basic firearm safety and there was a sequence where a careless trooper sips on a beer during a pause in a Battle Damage Assessment mission (smart one, that fella), all the while his fucking finger is jammed into his fucking trigger guard! Not sure if that was intentional, I had scribbled ‘Trigger discipline‘…then the idiot’s M-16 discharged, leading the whole group of patrolling soldiers into a world of shit. So…it paid off *golf clap*

Nancy! Now into FMJ territory. A key sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s dark 1987 satire Full Metal Jacket, about Marines soul-rending training and soul-killing combat during the Vietnam War, uses Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ to terrific, and darkly absurd, effect. Someone on this production clearly liked that combination…and did their own here. Not bad…just obvious.

Solid production design. Whatever budget this Australian film had, they used it well. The military equipment and locations felt genuine and period-appropriate, the base setting was impressively detailed – grimy and realistic, and the attention to historical detail was commendable, especially where weapons and vehicles were concerned.

Yep, down go the FNG’s. Shades of ‘Gardner’.  In Oliver Stone’s award-winning Platoon, Charlie Sheen’s ‘Chris’ is assigned to a squad along with another Fucking New Guy named ‘Gardner’. First night in the field, on an Ambush operation, ‘Gardner’ gets unceremoniously blown away almost immediately. Same thing goes down here, with a pair of young replacements who just flew in, who were just starting to feel like important characters….and abruptly dead!

Good first engagement. Geography of battle well defined. Thankfully, this stylistic choice continued and for the most part, I had a clear idea of how the battles and strategies were playing out as the narrative unspooled.

Shades of ‘We Were Soldiers’ – prolonged battle, one location. 2002’s Mel Gibson-starring Vietnam flick, which isn’t bad, just somehow a tad too ‘Hollywood’ to be truly ‘classic’, was another that focused on a single, epic engagement, in that case, the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. Same approach here.

Battle scenes are a touch repetitive…but still well done. There are many waves to the bloody battle depicted and after several, it began feel a touch déjà vu. But the battles WERE well executed. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

Damn! Didn’t expect HIM to buy it. The abruptness was effective. Being that this is based on allegedly true events (I can’t speak to the accuracy), the fates of select characters don’t have to follow some studio play-book. If the moment in the historical story is reached in the narrative….*Blam!*…that character who we’ve been seeing more and more of…is suddenly gone, with an out-of-nowhere rifle round in his forehead.

APC rescue reminds of the end of Saving Private Ryan. I LOVE Spielberg’s ’98 classic…but I do admit that the conveniently timed and spectacular arrival of the ‘Tank Buster’ P-51’s JUST as all hope was lost is pure Spielbergian schmaltz, just done to perfection. Some akin to that turns up here too, when the badass APC’s storm into the battle, guns ablazin, just as the beleaguered soldiers prepare to fight to the death in hand to hand combat with the oncoming NVA.

Movie doesn’t say much about AUS / NZ larger involvement. Kept intimate. The focus stays on the battle and the men involved, without the influence or mention of politics or public perceptions. Granted, ’66 was still early into the declared hostilities and the opinion-changing images hadn’t flashed across televisions world-wide yet.

Effective ‘post action’ Roll Call scene. In dramatically somber fashion, it’s made clear that the loss of 18 men cut deep into minds and souls of the survivors. It reminded me of the beautifully bleak end of Hamburger Hill, where we see the broken survivors lost inside themselves, collapsed and exhausted on the hill that killed so many of them, as haunting calls for a Situation Report crackle over a radio…ROLL CREDITS.

Overall, simple but well done. There you have it!

All in all, Danger Close was a well executed little film from Down Under that gave me something I’d never seen before, a harrowing and cinematic story about the Vietnam War told from SOMEONE ELSE’S perspective (shush, USA…enough outta YOU for a while!), and it helped lend new perspective to something of which I’m quite familiar with already (extensive library on the subject).

The acting is solid, the production shows effort, the direction feels assured, the use of distracting CGI is kept minimal (those F-4 Phantoms were…ok…sorta), and the action scenes are bold and dramatic. If you’re a fan of history or war films, especially where the Vietnam War is concerned, then I can easily recommend Danger Close and feel that it’s of a quality that puts it shoulder to shoulder with many of those other Vietnam titles noted in this review. Care and attention went into crafting this little-known tale into a solid war film that the Australian film industry should be proud of…and it deserves to be seen.

Ad Astra (2019)

I was genuinely curious about this one when it hit cinemas last fall, but my enthusiasm wasn’t as such to compel me to make the trip to the theatre at the time. Having just caught up with it, thanks to Crave, I can honestly say that I’m seriously kicking myself in the ass for not having made the effort, as this film would’ve been spectacular to behold on The Big Screen.

Ad Astra (meaning ‘to the stars’ in Latin) follows an accomplished astronaut named ‘Roy’ (Brad Pitt) who, after a near fatal accident in orbit due the passing of a mysterious energy burst, is recruited for a Top Secret mission to the outer reaches of our solar system. It seems that his father ‘Clifford’ (Tommy Lee Jones) was part of a historic space mission to Neptune and was believed long lost in space, most likely deceased (Hmmm…shades of Event Horizon (1997)? Or even The Black Hole (1979)?). It’s revealed that evidence suggests that he may still be alive…and, in true mad scientist fashion, may also be responsible for the deadly energy bursts that threaten “total catastrophe”. ‘Roy’ is brought to Mars in order to send a message to his father to implore him to stop the bursts. Things go wrong and ‘Roy’ is forced to re-evaluate his mission and his feelings, after having stowed away on a ship on a Search and Destroy bound for Neptune; the source of the bursts and the possible hiding location for his mysterious, and quite possibly dangerous, father.

As is my way, I grabbed my notepad and got scribbling as the story unspooled.

Here lie those notes…

Interesting. The expected 20th Century Fox fanfare is missing. 9 times out of 10, the Fox logo is accompanied by their instantly recognizable orchestral signature. Not here. Just silence, which I’m sure is to reflect the lack of sound in outer space.

Wow! Intense opening scene. Fall from space. Yep, the first scene is a doozy. We follow ‘Roy’ through an elaborate air lock in POV and out onto a gantry, which happens to overlook the Earth in a spectacular vista from a miles-high tower that extends into orbit. When the first energy burst hits, all manner of chaos ensues and ‘Roy’ is thrown from the service ladder he’s using to fix a faulty robot arm. His fall would’ve been dizzying to see in a theatre, a total burst of adrenaline! *sighs in resignation*

Tommy Lee Jones. As haggard as ever. I don’t think Jones has ever been accused of being a handsome man, but damn he’s showing the years here. He is definitely ‘getting on’. Just a shallow observation.

Sutherland! Good cast so far. I’ve always had a fondness for fellow Canadian Donald Sutherland (and his talented son, Kiefer), going back to the first film I remember seeing him in, 1981’s underrated Eye of the Needle, in which he played a lethally efficient Nazi spy who threatened to reveal a crucial real-life secret of the Allies during WW2. Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed every role I’ve ever seen him in, regardless of the actual film’s quality. His role is brief, but stands out…at least to me.

Some gorgeous cinematography. This film looks amazing! I’ve already alluded to it and I guarantee it will get mentioned again, before this review is over. There are numerous ‘long’ shots that just let the spectacular space (or lunar / Martian) action play out. It’s not cut to shit into some frenzied Michael Bay-ish mess. The grandeur of the cosmic visuals is communicated beautifully and I was enthralled at 7am taking it in.

Still not sure about ‘Roy’. Strangely flat and robotic…so far. While a reason is clearly conveyed later in the film, it was NEARLY distracting, how seemingly monotone and detached ‘Roy’ was. I think a wee bit more ‘humanity’ in the first Act would’ve lent credence and stakes to the ‘darkness’ the plagues him internally as the story unfolds.

Love the little ‘real world’ details. Moon arrival. On one hand, I hate Product Placement. I’ve seen many instances that I deem insulting and obvious over the years. But, on the other hand, I also think that seeing logos and products that we readily identify with in our own lives helps lend a tangibility to the universe onscreen, a plausible extrapolation of the world we inhabit today. Seeing the realistic Arrivals terminal on the Moon and noticing a DHL kiosk in the background prompted this scribble.

Lunar rover chase! Awesome! Fury Road on the Moon! Yea, this scene was cool and genuinely exciting. Taking the notion of the lunar surface being an Old West style frontier, with competing companies and countries clashing over territory rights, we follow a convoy of three rovers booking it through hostile territory on the way to a secure launch facility, only to be set upon by rival rovers with hostile intent. The way it was shot, captured and rendered was slick and awe-inspiring, and reminded me of the way that cinematic genius George Miller (co-writer / director of the entire Mad Max franchiseand Happy Feet) shot and edited the timeless action classic that is Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). That will never be a bad thing.

Something ‘Terrence Malick-y’ about certain elements. The Thin Red Line. Narration and pacing. Some people love veteran, abstract director Terrence Malick’s story telling style. Full Disclosure – I’ve only seen two of Malick’s films, Badlands (1971) and The Thin Red Line (1998), and Red Line is the one that prompted this observation. Brad Pitt narrates Ad Astra as ‘Roy’ and sometimes goes off in pseudo-deep musings, much like the WW2 characters did ad nauseum in that pretentious slog of a war film. It didn’t take long to make the comparison. The slower pace at times also helped reinforce this impression.

Woah! Fucking crazed space baboon! I’d heard about this sequence when Ad Astra first hit theatres and I was curious to see how that would play out without being silly. Oh, there is NO silliness happening here! This sequence is goddamn nightmare fuel and was handled very effectively, for maximum ‘creep’ factor. Never seen anything like this sequence before and I found it refreshing…and horrific.

Some pacing reminiscent of 2001 or Solaris. Anyone out there familiar with either flick (Russian or US remake, for Solaris (1972 / 2002)), will see the slow, at times patient, at times plodding, pacing as a stylistic connection between the two. Some of the same patient / dragging pace (depending on your preferences) is employed here, just luckily not to the point where it outstays it’s welcome, as it does in those other, earlier titles.

Shades of Apocalypse Now. Or should I say ‘shades of Joseph Conrad’s infamous novella Heart of Darkness (written 1899), on which Francis Ford Coppola’s fantastic 1979 Vietnam War drama was based. Ad Astra clearly follows a similar concept of someone being sent to find and deal with a former ally, who has gone rogue and is now a threat…with extreme prejudice.

Eerie underwater scene. I did not expect to have a harrowing underwater sequence turn up in a movie that takes place in outer space for 90% of it’s 2-hour run-time. But there it was! ‘Roy’ is forced to navigate through what seemed to be a water-filled cooling tunnel at a Martian launch facility, in order to get to a ship in the final stages of launch countdown, and it’s creepy, all dark and murky.

Crazy zero-G fight! There’s a fight in zero gravity in this movie that’s crazy! That is all.

‘Obsession’ is a key theme, along with the dangers of it. Isolation also. Obsession, to a fatalistic degree, pushes some of our main characters, most notably ‘Roy’ and ‘Clifford’. There is also an observation about the need for human contact and how fragile we humans truly are, both physically and mentally. There’s also a profound spiritual aspect to this as well, or so I thought.

Not for everyone…but definitely for ME! No, it’s true. I liked it. A lot.

And thus ends my notes on Ad Astra.

Sitting down at 6:30 am with a small cauldron of coffee, while my fiance’ slumbered away, and hitting Play on this Recently Added title on Crave was a nice start to my Saturday. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Ad Astra but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It’s a fantastic-looking film, in which it’s plain to see just how much work went into its impressively detailed Production. It has a solid cast, though some are no more than cameos (Natasha Lyonne and Rose Negga leap to mind, among others). Once I understood what they were going for, Brad Pitt’s somewhat stilted and ‘distant’ portrayal of ‘Roy’ worked, but for the first while, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing a lack of directorial imagination or if the character had been written that way. So, aside from looking beautiful and boasting an appealing cast, it’s also nicely paced (I found), with some impressively believable world-building and imaginative concepts to help flesh out the space-faring aspects. The Production Design is virtually flawless and the less-is-more Score worked precisely when it needed to, while letting the narrative speak for itself without the guidance of emotionally-manipulative music.

If I have to dredge up some Negatives, I can say that the story does conveniently gloss over some aspects (passage of time, hygiene, dangers of space travel etc), leaving some moments that felt like they had skipped over some key material (which may have hit the Cutting Room floor), so a few transitions felt abrupt or lazy. I would also have to point out a lack of charisma to Brad Pitt’s most-likely-deliberate performance…which is baffling, as the dude has charisma to burn! So that may have the potential to turn some viewers off, I’d think.

But these minor nit-picks are definitely NOT deal breakers.

If you’re a fan of sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), Solaris (2002), Sunshine (2007) or Gravity (2013), then I think Ad Astra will be right up your alley. But I can also recommend this one to science fiction fans in general, as even if the pace or characters don’t work for you for some reason, the attention to detail and the grandeur of the space sequences is well worth the price of admission. I was very impressed with Ad Astra and can definitely see myself revisiting it again in the near future, to catch all the little sexy details I may have overlooked the first time.

Color Out of Space (2019)

I was first introduced to South African writer / director Richard Stanley’s work back in the early 90’s, when I came across his first feature length film on VHS, 1990’s sci fi / horror flick Hardware. Previous to that, he’d been cutting his teeth on risky documentaries and edgy music videos. Hardware made quite the impression on lil ole me when I first had it sear its grimy way across my peepers, with Stanley milking the most he could out of a meagre $1.5 million budget, to terrific effect, in my opinion.

Hardware is a simple horror story (in the slasher mold…only with a killer robot on a rampage), backdropped by some impressively nightmarish world-building depicting the rotting remains of a ruined society. It’s grim, nihilistic, violent-as-hell, and surreal, with hints of sleaze…and I love it! It’s SUCH an ugly film…in a beautifully ‘grindhouse’ kind of way. After the trauma of my first viewing wore off, it was replaced by curiosity over where this ‘Richard Stanley’ person might go, career-wise (I had the same reaction with David Fincher after I walked out of Alien 3).

Two years later, Richard Stanley reared his strange head again, this time with Dust Devil, a trippy African-set tale about a demon walking the desert wasteland as a man, driven on a path of lust and murder, who’s destined to cross paths with a battered house-wife fleeing her abusive husband and a haunted detective hot on a serial killers trail. Where Hardware was dark and claustrophobic, Dust Devil boasts a vast, expansive backdrop of gorgeously bleak deserts, and the primitive towns scattered over them, and it looks beautiful. The story isn’t as engaging as Hardware‘s, at times more trippy and incoherent than it should be, but it’s still a damn fine genre entry that I will always have a certain fondness for. Again, my appetite for more ‘Stanley’ was stoked!

As the mid-90’s unspooled, I remember following the news of Richard Stanley’s next project, a mid-budgeted, Big Studio adaptation of HG Well’s infamous novel ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’, and I was hyped. Given what he’d given with Hardware and Dust Devil, visually-speaking, I was jazzed to see his weird, creepy vision bolstered by a budget, being used to breath fresh (and probably disturbing) life into a very familiar story in classic literature. But then disaster struck. Only a few days into Production, Stanley was unceremoniously fired by the studio and quickly replaced by veteran director John Frankenheimer (Ronin), who took what Stanley had started and completed it in a bare-bones, journeyman fashion. It’s certainly not terrible (as MANY people claim), but it lacks the bite I’m sure Stanley would’ve given it, had things gone differently. The bits and bytes of the whole sordid Behind-the Scenes drama was well-documented in the recent documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Behind Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014). It’s a fascinating look at how the studio-system fucked Stanley over, but it’s also an interesting window into who Richard Stanley is…and he’s a weird fuckin dude! Highly eccentric but quite bright, the man is refreshingly open about his passion for, and interest in, fringe subjects, such hallucinogens and witchcraft, and these also carry over creatively, at times blatantly. I highly recommend checking it out.

So, after the shit-show debacle of Moreau, Stanley sank out of view, in many ways reminding me of what happened to early ‘oo’s up n coming director Stephen Norrington (Blade), when his first Big Studio Picture, an ill-fated adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), was maimed, both critically and commercially. Norrington’s experience was so bad that he abruptly retired from the industry (come back, Stephen!). Luckily, Stanley’s post-Studio career merely downshifted, with him popping up from time to time with odd short films or documentaries. But the chances of another feature were far from certain.

Then THIS happened.

Stanley’s name suddenly popped back onto my radar when I found out that he was green-lit to helm a $6-7 million adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s short story ‘The Colour Out of Space’ (written 1927). As horror authors go, Lovecraft is one of my favorites (along with Robert E Howard and James Herbert) so the marriage of the renowned source material and Richard Stanley’s long-awaited return to ‘features’ had me salivating in anticipation. My hopes were high, I wanted this to be his 2nd chance at The Big Time, as I genuinely feel that he has undeniable talent and an often-gorgeous visual language that I feel could be effectively lent to many a different story.

I was unable to catch Color Out of Space during it’s very limited theatrical release, which ended up being 81 theatres in the US only (sitting comfortably up here in Canada thankfully got in the way of that). But I vowed to catch it, either streaming or Blu ray.

I went with Blu ray.

So last night, my lovely fiancé and I peeled open the brand-new disk, plopped our asses onto the couch after several sips and tokes, and hit PLAY.

Before we kick off, Color Out of Space follows the ‘Gardner Family’,  ‘Nathan’ (Nicolas Cage) and ‘Theresa’ (Joely Richardson), and their 3 kids, practicing Wiccan ‘Lavinia’ (Madeleine Arthur), practicing stoner ‘Benny’ (Brendan Meyer) and practicing little kid ‘Jack’ (Julian Hilliard). They live on a large, beautiful property in Arkham County, USA (though filmed in Portugal, interestingly enough) with ‘Theresa’ working the stock market from home while ‘Nathan’ dreams of an alpaca farm. Life is pretty good. One night, an ominously glowing mass descends from the night sky and settles on their land, almost instantly kicking off strange and eerie events that affect the land…and those living on it. Soon things spiral into insanity and bloodshed as the unknown entity spreads it’s nefarious influence among the family members and any pesky interlopers.

Here lie my notes…

Slick cinematography right off the bat. Eerie forest shots. As previously mentioned, I admire Stanley’s visual panache and was elated to see it front and center, right from the get-go. And these were just atmospheric establishing shots, all fog and trees!

‘Richard Stanley’ touches evident right away. Witchcraft, director credit shown over a compass (ala Hardware). But I also think that he may have done it with Dust Devil too…I’ll have to check. But if you’re familiar with the man, you can definitely see the ‘Stanley’isms right away.

Love the 80’s inspired synthwave score. Which is why I’m listening to it now, as I write this. It’s menacing and melodic all at once and definitely bolstered the creep factor as it rose, effectively adding tension when needed.

Good set-up for the family dynamic. They seem to get along. It was nice to see that this was a relatively normal family, who bickered but clearly didn’t hate one another. It made them relatable, which in turn got me invested. And when the shit hits the fan…yep, that investment paid off.

Easter Egg Alert! ‘No flesh shall be spared’. Again, if you’re familiar with Stanley’s previous two films, you may recognize that quote from Hardware.

Strange shit starts almost right away. Once the magenta meteor touches down, disconcerting activity almost immediately kicks off around the farm and with the family. It got to the point, after letting the family introduction breath.

I like the slow tracking shots. Reminds of James Cameron. Cameron is bar none one of my favorite directors EVER and going back to the very beginning of his career, he has clearly established himself as a fan of the Tracking Shot (camera slides along with the action at a predetermined speed, in this case, usually moodily slow). Stanley makes ample and effective use of them here.

Whoopsies! Two fingers down…in close up. A key character has a comically gory brush with a butcher’s knife. The scene walks at tight rope between absurd and disturbing, capably navigating both.

Odd accent from Cage in a couple ‘losing his shit’ scenes. My Better Half turned to me during the first of these scenes and asked if it sounded like his accent changed…or was it just her? It wasn’t just her. I’d heard it too…and would again, as it happens at least one more time before the movie ends. It was a weird oddity in the character’s progressing bat-shit craziness. *shrugs*

Some scenes are pure Cage insanity. Fruit / veggie scene. You can’t have Cage…without getting a little ‘Cage’ along the way. The scene in question has Cage’s ‘Nathan’ character gnawing big bites out of the suspiciously large peppers and peaches that his alien infected garden is yielding, only to freak out as they taste like shit. He takes to hurling them into the garbage while babbling away angrily…before going back to acting like nothing’s happening.

Love the hints of invading magenta. Ominous. Richard Stanley is smart in how he conveys the strange invasion of the alien color in tiny ways. This scribble came from a tight shot of water flowing from a faucet, and the hint of pink just visible within. There’s another scene that demonstrates the same thing again, only with ice cubes.

Lack of explanation helps maintain the unsettling vibe. Sometimes less is more…and Color Out of Space follows that motto well, in more ways than one. Not knowing gets the imagination going…and I found it lent nicely to the eeriness of the events as they unfold.

Weird, fucked-up body horror elements reminiscent of The Thing or Leviathan. Surprising fate for 2 characters. When shit starts to go off the rails, it really goes off the rails. Without spoiling it, let’s just say that two people, with help from the alien entity, demonstrate how NOT to hug. It’s ugly and unsettling. And unexplained.

Reminds me of The Prince of Darkness, the growing influence of the alien evil. I love me some John Carpenter’s under-rated 1987 Satan-in-a-jar flick and couldn’t help but to make the connection as the entity’s influence started fucking with everything.

Cage’s insanity inconsistent. Deliberate? There are times when he goes batshit nuts, only to reel it back in moments later, then…nuts again. It didn’t feel, organically, like a steady descent into madness.

Interesting ‘cameo’ from Tommy Chong. That’s right….stoner guru extraordinaire Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame, turns up as….drumroll please….as….a hippie stoner hermit in the woods, surrounded by surveillance gear! Betcha didn’t see THAT coming! Chong ain’t down with typecasting, yo!!!

Batshit crazy ending. I like!! Kinda says it all right there, yeah?

And thus ends my notes on Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space!

There’ve been numerous attempts to do Lovecraft’s work justice in the past, many of them directed by the late Stuart Gordon (for better or worse), but none of them, in my humble opinion, have REALLY gotten the Lovecraftian brew just right.

Color Out of Space definitely comes close.

All in all, I’m glad that this newest genre offering from Richard Stanley is as good as I hoped it would be. As scattershot and spread out as Stanley’s filmography is, here he shows he hasn’t missed a beat and can still craft a compelling and edgy narrative that takes the viewer into some dark places, while keeping them enthralled and repulsed simultaneously. I genuinely hope that this is the beginning of another shot for Stanley, as I think his bullshit experience on Moreau  unfairly derailed things for him. As for the movie itself, it looks beautiful, well cast, the pacing is surprisingly viewer friendly, there are some gnarly visuals and solid performances, along with a decent splash of gore and horror. And alpacas!!!  Richard Stanley is back, baby!! I just wish he could’ve been given a wider release and the chance for this one to net something resembling a profit, which it didn’t do. Though, there is still talk of this being the first in a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations to be helmed by Stanley. If that’s the case…I’m all for it.

To fans of mind-bending horror or sci-fi, I can easily recommend Color Out of Space, likewise fans of Nicolas Cage or those like myself, who had been waiting for Richard Stanley to FINALLY get the chance to helm another feature film. Here’s hoping there are more Directed By Richard Stanley‘s in our future!

Star Wars Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Well, what is there to say, at this point?

Disney…you almost completely fucked up Star Wars!

And I do stress ALMOST, as I do very much like Rogue One (2016) and The Mandalorian (2019), and I think they are both easily worthy of the Star Wars name. The same cannot be said about the rest of Disney’s contribution to the film franchise ( I hear some of the animated series’ are held in high regard…just haven’t caught up to them yet). Steering clear of that pointless Solo misfire, the Mouse House’s continuation of George Lucas’ ‘Skywalker Saga’ has been a horribly mismanaged mess (looking at YOU, Kathleen Kennedy!). It started off reasonably well (I guess), despite The Force Awakens (2015) being just an overly cautious retelling of the beloved original A New Hope (1977), just with a new coat of 21st Century paint slapped on it. Then came The Last Jedi (2017)…and it can burn in the pit of Hell, hopefully taking jackass writer / director Rian Johnson with it!

I loathe that misguided piece of shit.

I was legitimately insulted when I walked out of the theatre, after sitting through that garbage, and I was pretty sure that I was rapidly nearing the end of my 40 year long love affair with Star Wars, if this was how it’s new caretakers, Disney, were going to treat it. Plus, certain dumbass elements now had to be accepted into SW lore and could not be erased, no how much us fans wanted them to be.

So, my enthusiasm for The Rise of Skywalker was scraping the bottom of the barrel when it finally arrived here in our town, back before all this horrid Covid-19 bullshit. So much so, that when I had the choice of seeing this or checking out Bad Boys for Life, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence easily won. Since I already had Disney+ (mostly just for The Mandalorian), I figured I’d just wait and see it from the comfort of self-isolation, which I did just the other night.

(shakes head sadly)

It really is JUST AS BAD as The Last Jedi…just for different reasons. Even after sweet-talking JJ Abrams into coming back to the Director’s Chair to try to get the final flick back on track in a way that repairs the good will of the fans after they were raped by The Last Jedi, it was a lost cause. I can’t help but to think of the Sam Mendes situation, where he steps in to helm the kickass Skyfall (2012), but then gets reluctantly persuaded into coming back to take on the hastily and clumsily written Spectre (2015), and his lack of enthusiasm shows in the lacklustre final product.

Definitely a similar feeling here.

So, the day after I watched it, I parked myself in our sun-room with a tasty beverage and a notepad, and pondered – what are my lasting impressions of the final film in a classic and long-lived franchise that is absolutely ingrained in modern day pop culture?

Yep, full on SPOILERS ahead. Ye be warned!

In no particular order, here’s what sprang to mind…

 

Right off the bat…the fucking Emperor. How creative. Yep, that’s heavy sarcasm you detect on ‘How creative.’ This is just cheap and lazy writing, that really NEEDS to rely on nostalgia to fake its way to relevancy. And there’s no surprise to it…at all. They mention him in the opening lines of the opening scrawl! Hell, the scrawl itself seems amateurish, now that I think about it but yeah…they unleash what MAYBE could’ve been a decent ‘reveal’ or twist immediately. The fucking Emperor Sheev Palpatine, most certainly vanquished at the end of The Return of the Jedi (1983), SOMEHOW (they never do explain how the hell he survived EXPLODING AFTER BEING THROWN INTO THE BOWELS OF THE DOOMED DEATH STAR 2!), he’s back, and he’s broadcasting threatening messages into space! From the bottom of my heart…fuck you, Disney.

Right from early on, editing and pace are choppy and jarring. The majority of the Star Wars flicks have really user-friendly pacing that draws you into the world onscreen right from the beginning and gets you effortlessly caught up in the story. Not here. It’s just a bunch of random, highly convenient shit happening with seemingly no connective tissue from scene to scene. I was actually agitated by it within 10 minutes…and that didn’t bode well.

New Force powers bullshit. Why add, with no real explanation, how it is that Force-using characters can now teleport material items back and forth across the reaches of space and ‘Rey’ can heel grievously wounded folks (and giant sand worms) with her Jesus hands. There are so many other cool Jedi abilities that could’ve been employed, based upon things we’ve already seen in previous flicks. Nope! They just invented plot-serving bullshit and plodded ahead with it, like a drunken oaf.

The ‘Leia’ stuff wasn’t as bad as expected. Acceptable, if abrupt, send-off for the character. Considering that all they apparently had was deleted scenes and outtakes from The Force Awakens to work with, they did a serviceable job at maintaining the illusion of the dearly departed, dearly missed Carrie Fisher and they managed to bid her farewell in a decently touching way. Amazingly, I was cool with all that.

The ‘Chewie dies!’ scene was a cheap move and a wasted opportunity for a genuine surprise later in the flick…not in the next fucking scene! Again, clumsy editing. Or shitty script. Or both. The sentence does pretty much sum up that sentiment. They ‘Marion Ravenwood’ the Wookie with a stupid fake-out death and it’s lame.

Holy shit! That ridiculous, cartoonishly sized armada of planet-killing (again!) Star Destroyers, that’ve just been chilling in the ice, fully manned, till Palpatine wiggles his fingers and unleashes them. Yeah, it’s dumb. It’s ridiculous. And part of my brain shut off at that point…and this within the first ten minutes!

The Kylo / Rey ‘chemistry’ can go fuck itself. It feels SO forced and inorganic. Right there. That.

How much did they dump on your doorstep, Harrison?! Not even a haircut. Hilarious. Considering that Harrison Ford has made no secret about his original desire to have his cherished ‘Han Solo’ character killed off early in the franchise, I find it highly suspicious that he came back for this illogical cameo. Disney probably bought him a 747 for his collection…filled with cash.

Luke’s minimal screen-time is hokey. It tries to fix what The Last Jedi fucked up. I stress ‘tries’. It sucks because the character of ‘Luke’, who has arguably carried most of the classic Star Wars’ most important  narrative, got right screwed by Disney and refreshingly enough, Mark Hamill had been rather vocal about his displeasure with how the character was seriously short-changed in this new trilogy. But here, he turns up as a Force ghost at a supposedly pivotal moment that heavy-handedly labors to undo what Rian Johnson did to the character in 2017.

I get the nostalgic love for Lando Calrissian but that doesn’t justify shoving a pudgy, much older Billy Dee Williams into some ‘Lando’ish garb and having him spout some ‘Star Wars’-like dialogue after just conveniently appearing out of the blue. This is just another example of the desperate nostalgia baiting that Disney is preying will cover up the glaring deficiencies in the so-called script, and it’s really obvious. They’re just throwing everything at us and hoping something sticks in a way us fans respond positively to. Though, I’m sure Williams is happy to get a bit of that Disney money tipped his way, after years out of the spotlight.

Keri Russell. Why? Like a friggin Power Ranger and just as useless. I have no issue with Keri Russell. I think she’s gorgeous and has a modicum of talent as an actress but why she’s in this sorry excuse for a SW movie, I don’t know. Except I suspect I do…she has history with JJ, going back to her days on Felicity (98-02) and Mission Impossible 3 (2006) and probably sweet-talked her way into the role just to say that she was in a Star Wars flick. Which is fine except that her character ‘Zorii’ is useless and looks like a damn Power Ranger.

Hux. Stupid ‘reveal’ and dispatch of a signature ‘mustache twirling villain’. So, First Order ‘General Hux’ (Domhnall Gleeson) is actually a saboteur intent on aiding the Resistance in order to defeat ‘Kylo Ren’, huh? After being a rabid supporter and facilitator of its violent destruction over the course of the two previous flicks? Who’s unceremoniously gunned down by a fellow officer, almost as an after thought? Again, so much wasted potential and more evidence of lazy who-gives-a-shit writing.

The use of Threepio for cheap nostalgia ‘feels’, the whole ‘memory wipe sacrifice, only to be easily undone when no longer relevant’ thing. More piss-poor use of a classic character. ‘C-3PO’ is ‘reset’ so that he can read the Sith runes found on the Goonie-knife that is used to locate something in some place but the big issue is that his long-established personality will be erased in order to do so, which it is. Until R2 just does a thing with a thing and voila!…’Threepio’ is back.

Again…fuck you, Disney.

Impressive planet explosion, possibly a miniature…but WTF?!! AGAIN?!! Don’t get me wrong, there are some decent visuals scattered throughout and this is one of them. But c’mon! You guys couldn’t come up with ANYTHING else?! You had to just rehash the same shit we’ve already seen 4 goddamn times before this?! Wow…more of that lazy writing at work.

I hate the whole Palpatine element as it negates the triumphant satisfaction of The Return of the Jedi. Disrespectful and creatively bankrupt. That pretty much says it all. I remember having seen Jedi when I was a kid and being absolutely elated by Vader’s sacrifice when he saved Luke and ‘killed’ the Emperor. The crescendo that those first three movies built to paid off wonderfully and left me feeling happy that finally good had triumphed over evil, and all was right with the universe. Then, decades later…this bullshit.

Aside from maybe the desert skiff chase, no action scenes really stand out, even a mere day later. One of the things that Star Wars is known for are its many inventive and cool action set-pieces (the Trench Run, the Battle of Hoth, the Sarlaac Pit fight, the Speeder Bike chase etc), but this pathetic turd has nothing except for maybe the somewhat generic chase on yet another desert planet, and even it boasts some questionable effects (some of the compositing and light matching stands right out), which is surprising given the bloated budget.

The ‘Stormtrooper Jedi Mind Trick’ scene WAS funny. I LoL’d, I will admit. There’s a bit where ‘Rey’ (Daisy Ridley), ‘Finn’ (John Boyega) and ‘Poe’ (Oscar Isaac) are sneaking through the bowels of a Star Destroyer and they run headlong into a pair of Stormtroopers, whom ‘Rey’ mind-tricks into letting them pass, with some hilarious results. It’s only 4 lines of dialogue, but I’ve watched it 6 times now and laughed every time.

The stupid Goonies rip-off Sith dagger! What an idiotic MacGuffin! And they just happen upon it…underground! Yep, this element I find utterly moronic. The entire ‘mechanism’ of how this thing works is so completely reliant on convenience to work that it boggles my mind that they were brave enough, or dense enough, to include it. Say it with me, kids…LAZY.

The ex-stormtrooper chick had a hilariously bad costume. Like cheesy cosplay. This small detail I actually found distracting. There’s a subplot about a group of former stormtroopers who, like ‘Finn’, fled the First Order (now THAT could’ve been a cool idea, if executed correctly) and we focus on one, named ‘Jannah’ (Naomi Ackie). First off, her entire look sucks. It didn’t feel like any imagination had been put into it. This impression wasn’t helped by the fact that some pieces of the costume legitimately look like Styrofoam, like something carved from gas station coffee cups. Seriously, it looks Grade 4 art class level. There is some cheap work on display in this flick, that can’t be denied.

Horses in space, I shit you not. The ridiculousness continues. A herd of equine aliens gallop across the outer surface of a Star Destroyer in flight, with goofy Resistance fighters astride, lasers ablazin’! Yes…on the fucking exterior. (mouth drops open in stunned awe) I get that it’s Star Wars, easily more Fantasy than SCIENCE Fiction, but c’mon!

Emperor + Rey are ridiculously overpowered, all light show, no real stakes. Actually boring. In typical Big Budget genre fashion, this flick degenerates into an illogical light show, all flash and bang but devoid of any real substance or sense of tension. *Yawns* The same feeling also applies to pretty much every instance involving a lightsaber as well.

It’s just as bad as The Last Jedi, just for different reasons. Already mentioned, but damn! How the hell does Disney manage to stumble so egregiously, twice! Yes, I get that dumbass Rian Johnson painted them into a hole with his “subversive” take on Star Wars with the HIGHLY flawed 8th film, but a little more thought and effort could’ve both reeled back in the soured fans AND given the saga a fitting end, that didn’t feel like a clunky race-to-the-finish totally lacking in character and ‘soul’. The Last Jedi sucked because of how it treated key characters and how it tossed aside the intriguing story threads that JJ Abrams had laid out in The Force Awakens, while The Rise of Skywalker is just badly concocted, both in ‘story’ and execution. It reeks of desperation, and the need to cover up the fact that they never had a coherent story arc spanning the new trilogy to begin with, which I find baffling, given the $4 BILLION dollar purchase of Lucasfilm. You’d think they’d want to get it right, from the get-go, but clearly the bean-counters at Disney were salivating for some of that sweet sweet Star Wars money, and fast tracked production without a logical and respectful through-line encapsulating their planned 3-title wrap-up of George Lucas’ first 6 movies, 3 of which being legitimate classics. You’d also think that someone like Kathleen Kennedy, who’d been in Lucas’ orbit going back to the early 80’s, would’ve had more regard for, and grasp on, what Star Wars is, and has become over time.

More misplaced Abrams humor. As with The Force Awakens, there were times when I found JJ’s brand of ‘wit’ feeling out of place and forced. There’s always been a scattering of funny, situational moments in the original trilogy, and even the flawed Prequels, but somehow, this stood out to me. *shrugs*

First Order always just conveniently turns up. This happens several times. The heroes have just barely secured the last End-of-Level prize and the pesky First Order attack ships just happen to arrive on the scene, prompting yet another blah action scene to ensue. Hell, there was a sequence like this that screamed of Deleted material, where ‘Rey’ and Co. are escaping from the ‘not Tatooine, not Jakku’ desert planet when an out-of-the-blue TIE fighter attack is imminent, while characters are caught out in the open, and CUT…they’re safely away. What the hell, Film Editor?! Did you think we wouldn’t notice?!

Nostalgia bait in the worst way. That kinda sums this whole ‘movie’ up.

And thus wraps up my scribbles.

In a nutshell, The Rise of Skywalker is a clumsy, ill-advised finale that manages to continue the overall insult to Star Wars and its legions of multi-generational fans by Disney. While it’s easy to heap a ton of the blame on director JJ Abrams, in no way do I envy the man and what he had to try to accomplish, especially where having to fix the damage caused by The Last Jedi is concerned. It really is a ‘damned if you do, damned it you don’t’ scenario that, right from the beginning, there was going to be no winning from, especially when you consider the feverish, near fanatical dedication to the franchise by the hardcore fans. There are tons of smaller details that I could easily shit upon in this sorry excuse for a movie, but most of those topics have already been covered ad nauseum by other reviewers and I don’t need to delve that deeply into that crap. Suffice to say, Disney’s greed and impatience has been fully revealed in how they chose to awkwardly tackle their contribution to the ‘Skywalker Saga’. Once upon a time, I would’ve vowed to own every last one of the Star Wars films on Blu ray, but now, after what Disney shat in our general directions, I can’t see myself EVER adding copies of either The Last Jedi or The Rise of Skywalker (or Solo, for that matter) to my collection. Truth is, I can’t see myself ever seeking them out to even watch in their entirety’s again, as they’re simply not worthy of my time. I’ve had enough of Star Wars…and I say that having once been The Biggest Star Wars Fan in the World! Hopefully Disney will actually listen to critiques such as this, and opt to tap the brakes on impatiently fast-tracking and assembly-lining any further additions to the SW cinematic universe. They need to take a few years off, go back to the drawing board with writers who understand and give a shit about the elements that made Star Wars successfully resonate through the years the way it has, while also looking ahead to what it could be, and then put together something fresh but respectful that works inside the established ‘universe’ in ways that draws us back in, not through hype but through quality. To succeed, this is the course I strongly feel that Disney will have to embrace.

But, considering what they have managed to deliver up to this point (with a couple aforementioned exceptions)…fuck you, Disney. You’ve let us down, and you’ll need to step it up moving forward to prove your worth as caretakers of the cherished Star Wars legacy, something you have certainly NOT accomplished to date.

 

The Cotton Club Encore (1984 / 2019)

As I said to my lovely fiance’ when it arrived in the mail…I’ve been waiting a helluva long time for THIS one!

Yeah, yeah…I know. The Cotton Club is not a very well-regarded film in history’s eyes, I fully acknowledge that. And with good reason. I consider the 1984 Theatrical Cut to be a clumsy, soulless attempt at a vanity-piece film with some damn fine cinematography, and a lavish production detailing a time period I particularly love. But it was never a film that I could take seriously, given that the characters, in many scenes, simply came off as exactly what they were – actors playing expensive Dress Up, with the hammy dialogue and acting to go along with it, in a poorly paced narrative that flat-out lacked focus. What’s even more odd is that this expensive and notorious mis-fire is a bizarre anomaly on director Francis Ford Coppola’s impressive filmography, particularly since it was preceded by some undeniable classics, being The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part 2 (1974) and the still-amazing Apocalypse Now (1979), along with two notable S.E. Hinton adaptations in ’83 (The Outsiders and Rumble Fish). He went from THOSE…to THIS. Now, in all fairness, he had reluctantly stepped in for producer Robert Evans, when Evans ran into issues in the pre-production phase while planning to direct the film himself, only to step away from the Director’s Chair late in the game. And, like Apocalypse Now, the behind-the-scene’s shenanigans are the stuff of dark Hollywood legend and it’s a friggin miracle a movie of any kind emerged from that shit-show. It’s just too bad that the version they originally went with…is the version they went with.

In spite of how much of a failure this movie is…I kinda love it, and always have! It’s a bloated, over-indulgent mess…and there in lies a significant chunk of its perverted charm. I knew that part of the Production bullshit involved a final Studio (or more accurately, Shareholder) edit, as opposed to Francis Ford Coppola’s original submitted cut, so I always acknowledged the possibility that a more cohesive and satisfying version probably languished in some refrigerated vault somewhere, most likely never to be seen due to the lack of regard for the flick in the years since it’s release. Apparently, it was a Betamax copy of that original workprint version that Coppola found that pushed him to go back and revisit The Cotton Club, with an eye on righting the wrongs to the tune of $500 000 USD of his own cash for a new high-def restoration. When I first got wind of this, it was because this new ‘Encore’ edition had been screened at the Tulleride Film Festival in Colorado in 2017, and had gotten some very favorable reviews from the tiny scattering of cinephiles who were lucky enough to catch it. But then, I also heard that there were some rights issues (or something to that effect) pertaining to distribution and yaddah yaddah yaddah. So it seemed unlikely that this coveted new version would see the light of day, unlike Coppola’s three different versions of the excellent Apocalypse Now (haven’t seen his Final Cut yet, but love the Redux); a film also known for it’s epic production woes and troubled original release.

That was until two weeks ago, when I unexpectedly stumbled upon The Cotton Club Encore Blu ray on Amazon, completely by happy accident!

For those who don’t know – The Cotton Club takes place in Harlem in the late 1920’s / early 30’s, focusing on the famed establishment and the various characters within its orbit, some cut from Real Life and some entirely fictional. A talented cornet / piano player named ‘Dixie Dwyer’ (Richard Gere) accidentally falls in with psychotic gangster ‘Dutch Schultz’ (James Remar) after he saves ‘The Dutchman’s life during an attempted gangland hit. The two of them then pursue / lust for an ambitious flapper named ‘Vera Cicero’ (Diane Lane), who has plans for one and confused feelings for the other. As this is playing out, we also meet brothers ‘Sandman’ and ‘Clay Williams’ (Gregory and Maurice Hines), two aspiring tap dancers from Dixie’s neighborhood who encounter a rift after they find success performing at the Cotton Club, while ‘Sandman’ pursues a gorgeous and determined song bird named ‘Lila’ (Lonette McKee). There’s also gangland intrigue and oddly brutal violence scattered throughout, matched by some top-notch musical numbers. And in a nutshell…that’s The Cotton Club.

I’m such a nerd…I actually got butterflies in the gut when I tore the packaging off this the other night. I was so excited by the prospect to maybe get to FINALLY see the GOOD movie that the definitely sub-par Theatrical Version had always hinted at. So, after I had given my Better Half my rudimentary explanation for my strange fascination with this flick, I grabbed my notepad and got scribbling as the show got showing.

Here lie those scribbles

Gone are the intercut credits. In the Theatrical Cut, the old-timey Opening Credits (which I love) are intercut with flashes of female dancers mid-routine onstage. Now, the credits just run as one continuous sequence…and the story then begins!

Great new first scene! Dixie + Sandman. The Theatrical Cut immediately followed up the credits with a period-appropriate ‘irising in from black’ on a nonsensical close-up of a bottle of booze smashing on the sidewalk, which I never understood. This led straight into the abrupt intro scene at the Bamville Club (maybe opening the flick at the movie’s namesake might be a good idea, just sayin, Theatrical Cut!). The story takes place smack in the thick of Prohibition, so I never understood why someone would be casually strolling along (as all the various passing feet we see are doing) with what looked like a half-bottle OUT IN THE OPEN, only to drop it and continue on like it was nothing. I know, knit-picking. But still. But back to the scene – I like how it’s now established that A) ‘Dixie’ is just back in town after his latest band broke up (never covered before), B) ‘Sandman’ is into the illegal numbers racket (never knew what he did beyond tap dancing),  and C) they knew each other as more than just a quick greeting while passing on the street (like in the Theatrical cut). They meet outside The Cotton Club while ‘Dixie’ is pestering the black doorman about his discrimination of other ‘colored’s, as per the club’s fucked up Code of Conduct. Black entertainment and service, white patrons only.

Just putting it out there – RACISM IS FUCKING STUPID 

(steps down from soap box)

Already, much welcome connective tissue is already being added to what I already know narratively, right off the bat.

Transfer looks amazing! Mr. Coppola…that was $500 Gs well spent, sir! Even if this ‘Encore’ cut didn’t exist, I’d still want a Blu ray copy of this title, as I REALLY like the visual presentation, regardless of the other obvious flaws. Very lush and detailed, very much deserving of a top-notch restoration, and that’s what it looks like it got. There is some film ‘grain’ in some scenes, but that has to be expected. Other shots are impressively detailed and clean, despite being sourced from merely an Answer print on film and not the original negative elements, which ALWAYS garners the best visual results. We even noticed an interesting scar by one of Diane Lane’s beautiful eyes that I’d never seen before!

Thank Gawd! The gunshots! Ok, now this is one of those scene details that ALWAYS irked me, going back to the very first time I saw this flick, way the hell back when. There’s an early scene where ‘Dixie’, while sitting at ‘The Dutchman’s table with ‘Vera’, tackles ‘Schultz’ as a pair of ‘Flynn’s thugs, disguised as uniformed cops, try to take him out with a stick of dynamite tossed under their table. In the fray, gunfire is exchanged as the would-be assassins make their escape. And the sounds of the gunfire were PATHETIC! It seriously sounded like the Foley or Sound artists just took the day off and left the Production Sound instead. The handguns in this scene all have a sad, flat *Pop*ping sound, with no menace or bite. It’s only 3 gunshots…but so unimpressive, given the larger-than-life presentation, and the finesse that Coppola had shown previously with the Sound Designs for The Godfather films and, especially, Apocalypse Now. At least they turned the volume up and gave the gunfire some effective bark. I smiled at this (Yea, I’m weird).

Yep. Still some iffy acting. I guess nothing was going to erase what’s simply there, and what’s there is some very questionable performances from people who we’ve all seen do MUCH better, both before and after this was originally released. Aw well…

Great new Diane Lane ‘intro’, elevator. We do first meet ‘Vera’ in the company of her other flapper friends at the Bamville Club at the beginning, where she nearly gets killed, this is true. But in this new cut, we get a cute moment of ‘Vera’ alone in an elevator on her way up to ‘The Dutchman’s party, clearly excited as she counts the floors, probably symbolizing her ambition as she heads for the ‘top’. There was something girlishly giddy about it, which was a good reminder that ‘Vera’ (like Lane herself, if I remember correctly) was still just 18 years old.

Woah! New gore! Unexpected. One of the more infamous scenes from The Cotton Club features ‘Dutch Schultz’ (James Remar), despite having been forced into a truce with a rival Irish gangster ‘Joe Flynn’ (John P. Ryan) only moments earlier by Cotton Club owners / gangsters ‘Owney Madden’ (Bob Hoskins) and ‘Frenchy Demange’ (Fred Gwynne), loses his temper and brutally murders the man mid-party with a carving knife to the throat, right in front of ‘Dixie’ and ‘Vera’. Well, holy shit…I thought the Theatrical version was pretty harsh, but damn…we get at least two new shots – one flash of the blade stabbing straight into the throat under a shocked ‘Flynn’s face and then another of the blade in close-up, now protruding out the back of his neck as the grievously wounded gangster slams down onto a table top, splitting it in two. Blood…everywhere. No question…a brutal scene now even more brutal.

Still a damn fine tap number by Gregory and Maurice. Gregory and Maurice Hines were actually very accomplished and talented tap dancers in Real Life and they get the chance to show off several times throughout the film…and it’s great to behold! But their first number is a slick piece of foot work and I’ve always loved it.

Fuck! Remar is an ugly bastard! Hicks? Seriously?! Ok, not trying to be a petty asshole here but c’mon, they do a fine job making his take on real-life mobster Schultz repellent, with puffy wet lips and weird facial ticks. But to think that James Remar, one year after The Cotton Club’s release, would be on set in the UK playing ‘Corporal Dwayne Hicks’ in The Coolest Movie Ever Made, Aliens…for several days, as he was quickly fired for either drug abuse or a work permit issue, and was mercifully replaced immediately with the much more striking Michael Biehn (The Terminator), who made that character fucking awesome and legendary. Just don’t bring up Alien 3.

SO much new material, extensions that flesh out the story. This flick is a cinephile’s wet dream, as there seems to be a whole ton of little elements added back in, often just as scene extensions that give more detail or characterization, on top of all the new full scenes cut back in.

Wow! So much good stuff chopped in Theatrical. Gregory tap serenade. Again, as you can see, I keep encountering cool new shit as the 139 minute run-time unspools. There’s a new scene extension where ‘Sandman’ goes to meet ‘Lila’ at her church group and winds up performing a charming tap serenade to try to impress her. It works.

Still love the Hoofers Club tap off! Back in 1984, breakdancing was huge. I should know, I was 7 at the time and was breakdancing my little ass off (wasn’t too bad either, actually). Point is, stylish competitive dancing was very much in the social consciousness at the time of this flick’s release, so I’m sure someone must have applied some of that concept to what is one of my favorite scenes in the whole damn movie and that is the out-of-the-blue tap dance competition that breaks out when ‘Sandman’ takes ‘Lila’ to the old school, Men Only club of old black performers. I smile every time I see it.

Too bad about some of that acting. Wooden and stilted. Yep, there it is again. There’s no escaping that The Cotton Club simply boasts some hokey and unconvincing performances. But as I alluded to earlier…for me, that’s also somehow become part of its charm.

Eyeballs on eyelids. Now I could be wrong…but I certainly don’t remember this strange little scene in the Theatrical cut. It opens with ‘Vera’ at a mirror applying make up as ‘Dixie’ looks on, but her eyes look weird and fucked up. Then she opens them! Yes…she had goddamn eyeballs painted on her eyelids! Such a random little scene.

‘Stormy Weather’. Great new scene. One of the sequences I kept coming across mention of when researching this version was an impassioned musical number by Lonette McKee called ‘Stormy Weather’…and it’s amazing! Coppola was smart in that he showed admirable restraint and for the majority of the number, simply held the shot on McKee as she belted out ‘Stormy Weather’ like a champ. Legitimately impressive!

Cool seeing ‘The Dutchman’s operation. Previously, we only got vague talk of ‘Schultz’s involvement in organized crime in New York, but here, we actually see him and his minions working the ‘numbers’ game, the mob-controlled lottery on the streets, just like the man did back in the day.

Can’t stop smiling! ‘Clay’ and ‘Sandman’ reunite. I found this happening a few times, but I would actually catch myself grinning like an idiot as this new version of The Cotton Club played out. The scene in question, where the estranged siblings finally bury the hatchet with a lively duo tap number, is one such time where I caught the grin plastered across my silly mug.

Cool Cab Calloway scene. New. Or…is it? They have a very convincing Cab Calloway (legendary jazz band leader) impression, right down to the crazed conducting moves and floppy hair.

Some great new dance numbers! I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself now but there is just so much solid new material that I’ve never seen. My fiancé and I were saying that the performers must’ve been PISSED when they finally saw the cut released in theatres, back in the day. So much hard work, left strewn about the Cutting Room floor. At least now, some 36 years later, those performances and productions can now be seen and enjoyed as originally intended, only in glorious high definition (so very worth it).

Still love the melodrama of ‘Schultz’s assassination. This is one area that is mostly historically accurate, at least where the mechanics of the murders are concerned. But I always liked how Coppola intercut ‘Sandman’s solo tap number with the lead up and subsequent shooting deaths of ‘The Dutchman’ and his goons at the Chop House by ‘Lucky Luciano’s (Joe Dellasandro) Murder Inc. hitmen, working in conjunction with ‘Schultz’s former employers ‘Owney Madden’ (Bob Hoskins) and ‘Frenchy Demange’ (Fred Gwynne).

Hell yeah! That’s what I was hoping for! Far better!! Right there. I think that sentence caps off the ‘scribbles’ portion of this write-up nicely.

To sum this whole review up, I first have to simply say that I’m VERY satisfied with this newly restored version of a previously and deservedly maligned film that allegedly had so much working against it, both during Production and following Release. Francis Ford Coppola was robbed of the chance to get the best product out there by the greed and short-sightedness, not to mention blatant racism, (a Reaction comment left following an early screening notoriously mentioned ‘Too many black people’ as a Negative, resulting in tons of great material being chopped out, the ignorant pricks!) of the dumb-ass Shareholders who envisioned nothing more than a Box Office win, with Coppola’s name attached to it as a draw based on his previous successes. It’s terrific (at least for me) that he took it upon himself all these years later, rolling up his sleeves to get back to the original vision he had cultivated back in ’84 for all who might be interested to see, with a really nice restoration and remastering, not to mention whatever editing was needed to get his original cut back on track. And it really is the best version, FAR outdoing the weak-sauce of the clumsy and confused Theatrical cut. Is it now a perfect film? Hell no, unfortunately. There are undeniably some elements that just don’t work, mostly pertaining to certain performances and character relationships. But this new ‘Encore’ cut puts it’s boot on the head of the Theatrical version and smashes it into the ground, in my opinion, especially where the Narrative is concerned. I found it to be simply a far more satisfying experience, on par with what I had always hoped for. With all that said and done, I’m not sure who I should be recommending this new version to…though I am most certainly recommending it! It’s my gut feeling that this release fits into a very small niche of film lover’s tastes and that only true Movie Nerds like myself will fully appreciate The Cotton Club Encore for what it is. And what it is, is a lavishly produced period piece boasting some gorgeous cinematography, some solid dance numbers (some of the restored sequences are genuinely amazing, IMO), some deliciously over-the-top gangster intrigue and violence, and a helluva Main cast, supported by the likes of Nicolas Cage (one of his first flicks, handy that ‘Coppola’ is Cage’s real last name, if you get my drift), Laurence Fishburne (returning to Coppola’s fold after his debut in Apocalypse Now four years earlier), Tom Waits (who would be directed by Coppola again 8 years later in Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Julian Beck (the creepy bastard from Poltergeist 2, just as fucking creepy here as the ghoulish henchman ‘Sol’), Jennifer Grey (appearing in this the same year as the classic Red Dawn) and Diane Venora (who Gere would reteam with in ’97 for The Jackal). If you’re a fan of Coppola’s work, or gangster films in general, and have ever considered checking this title out, even out of morbid curiosity, forget that there even is a Theatrical version and seek out this gorgeous new cut. It’s easily the better, more satisfying film experience and I feel that it deserves to be seen and embraced, even just to appreciate Francis Ford Coppola’s efforts to guide a seemingly doomed project to some semblance of success, both in 1984 and 2017. The Cotton Club will NEVER be considered a Box Office hit…but hopefully future generations will find this vastly improved version and accept it as the TRUE cut of the film. It deserves that much.

“Gentlemen, in the next room is the best food, drink and pussy available at any price in New York. I suggest you take a sample of these things and try to remember that this is why we work so hard. To live the way kings and princes live in this world.”

– ‘Owney Madden’ (Bob Hoskins)

 

The Invisible Man (2020)

Up until recently, I’ve always thought of writer / director Leigh Whannell with regards to his connection to famed director James Wan (Aquaman), as the two of them emerged out of Australia was a writing / directing duo with the (at the time) ground-breaking Saw (2004). From that point on, the two of them became something of a horror flick power-house, pumping out solid genre entries like Death Sentence (2007), Dead Silence (2007), and the Insidious franchise (2010 – 2018), well done flicks that also earn the bucks. James Wan’s directing career skyrocketed immediately following the first Saw film, but Whannell didn’t go in that direction…till his surprisingly cool debut film Upgrade (2018), a fun-yet-violent as hell sci-fi revenge story, featuring some fantastic gore scenes and innovative camera work. I went into that one expecting…well…very little, to be honest. Not EVERYONE has the chops to direct feature films well…but Leigh Whannell does, as he again very aptly proves with his second Big Screen feature, this time lending his ‘voice’ to a modern retelling of the HG Wells science fiction classic The Invisible Man, originally written in 1897. So, armed with a $7 million budget, Whannell waded on in…and killed it!

First off – this new adaptation introduces us to ‘Cecelia Kass’ (Elisabeth Moss), the deeply unhappy wife of a highly successful tech millionaire named ‘Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as she carries out a daring early morning escape from his abusive clutches. Once in hiding with the cop boyfriend of her sister’s, ‘James’ (Aldis Hodge), word reaches her that ‘Griffin’ took his own life soon after her escape. It’s soon revealed that ‘Griffin’ left ‘Cecelia’ $5 million, to be paid out over a 4 year period if she can avoid trouble with the law, or if there’s no signs of questionable mental stability. Soon after this, small unsettling things began happening in her life…leading her to a vicious showdown with revenge at the edge of the technological envelope!

What can I say? Leigh Whannell knows how to craft an effective film…especially in the sci-fi / horror genres, as he has now capably done twice in a row. I really liked how this tired story was handled and, most importantly, updated, to give us a modern take that isn’t TOTALLY outside the realm of reality. That’s one aspect that very much stood out for me…the subtlety of the execution under the direction of a deft hand behind the camera. Many times, Whannell made some very sly choices on select compositions and edits to unsettle us, the audience, while not actually showing us anything overtly unsettling. The disturbing element came from the SUGGESTION of a nefarious presence, which was highly effective.

Most of that suggestion, it must be said, comes from how Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) carries and sells almost the entire 2 hour 4 minute run-time. This is her show. Yes, she’s backed up by some solid supporting actors / characters, several of which I’m unfamiliar with but now hope to see more of in the future. I found that everyone in ‘Cecelia’s life had some depth and charisma to them, which went a long way toward getting me invested in their plight, when the shit really goes down. And goes down, it does! Just like he did with Upgrade (seriously, check that one out if you haven’t), when it comes to the blood-letting, Whannell doesn’t disappoint. Now this flick isn’t some slasher type gore-fest, like what Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) did with his decently entertaining and similarly themed Hollow Man (2000), but when violence ensues…it ensues good! But that’s not the main selling feature, at least not for me. What I appreciated was the slow-burn approach, with the tension ramping up effectively as the story played out and the stakes becoming more and more dire for everyone involved. Bolstering this was the ‘real-world’ approach the script took with the invisibility aspect. In almost all other examples of ‘Man Becomes Invisible’ stories, it’s due to something chemical or biological, something that affects the ‘Griffin’ character physically (and yes, mentally too). Not so much the case here. I really liked the attempt to ground the ‘pseudo-science’ in something nearly plausible, which fell into place with the ‘real world’ vibe of the whole movie. I also liked that the narrative felt fairly well contained, taking place largely in only a few key locations. I’m sure the lower budget contributed to this, but I felt that it worked and made the awful stakes more intimate and creepy.

I don’t have all that much to say, on the Negatives front…though I have to throw in that I do agree with the common criticism that this flick has cultivated since it’s release and it has to do with a key scene. Let’s just say that for a film that features camera technology as one of it’s main plot points, a GIANT plot-hole / lapse-in-logic forms, when applying common sense to where this particular scene plays out. One security camera with a halfway decent shot would blow the whole ‘she’s clearly insane and as a result, dangerous’ motif out of the water. But they just gloss over it and keep on going. There’s also a distinct lack of regard for one key character by a couple others when that one bites the dust in a brutal way. It didn’t quite sit with the family dynamic that had been hinted at. I’d be curious to see if there may have been some Deleted Scenes that would ‘flesh’ some of that out. The same could also apply to some of the First Act, which does play a little choppier than it probably needed to, pacing-wise…but that’s not a huge Deal Breaker complaint.

All in all, I got exactly what I hoped for when I went to check out Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man today. It was a self-contained thriller with a solid cast that delivered, some inspired and creepy cinematography, a sweet ‘invisibility’ MacGuffin and a slow-burn pace that ramped up to a vicious and suspenseful crescendo right when it needed to, with a couple cool twists along the way. While the cinematography is above average, you don’t NEED to seek this one out on The Big Screen. However…once it hits disk or streaming…I can EASILY recommend you check it out, especially if you like high-quality suspenseful thrillers that keep you guessing, featuring a compelling protagonist you can easily root for, in a setting that feels tangible and ‘lived in’.

A Dream on Repeat

By LR Forgues

*Found in old ‘ideas’ notebook. Date written – unknown.

 

Through that strange fog of sleep, a picture emerges…slowly. It becomes apparent that I am no longer…here. I am in a…different place; a place that I find intensely familiar, yet I know that I’ve never been.  I see the same thing every time this nocturnal vision pays me a visit…5 nights and counting.

I almost welcome it now.

What I see is this…

…a wide expanse of wet grass dropping away, a gentle slope, before climbing again to gradually meet with an enormous white and green house, its styling telling of the Victorian Era. A dark hardened path cuts past me across the moist lawn toward the mansion, leading away around the house’s side and out of sight. I am not on the path, merely off to the side. An impossibly large maple tree stands to the left of the house, its vast drooping branches forming a shadowy canopy from my vantage point.

An elegant tea party, in a classic sense, is laid out beneath the dangling curtain of vegetation, all elegantly done in white. From my vantage point on the lawn, I can make out three figures, two woman and one man, all distinct in their attire, all somehow familiar. The man, tall and thin, sitting at the tea table with one of the women, is clad in a fancy top hat and dress jacket, complete with coat tails. The other woman, like the one sitting opposite the man, is dressed in a white dress, capped off with a small woman’s top-hat, set at a jaunty angle and matching the dress in color. A narrow, frilly parasol leans easily against her delicate shoulder. What I can see…looks beautiful, prompting an added thud in my heartbeat, a hitch in my breath.  From the distance away that I am, the figures appear faceless and shadowed, but the body language of the standing woman is obvious.

She’s waiting for something…or someone.

At this point, I notice the dense jungle that forms the backdrop to this picture. It is all encompassing, choked with vines that dangle and creepers that creep underfoot. The plaintive calls of jungle animals, in all their varieties, echo quietly through the tree trunks. Grey clouds of mist drift lazily over and through the foliage, dimming everything. Water drops fall everywhere, glittering like diamonds. There’s something…ominous, about these surroundings.

Beyond that…all is quiet. A hush seems to settle over the scene.

I feel the need to approach. As I step forward, the muddy grass beneath my feet squishes and slurps. I can now smell the wet soil, the mud, mingled with the warm pungent odor of the jungle in my nostrils as my steps stir it up. I feel as though I am…home, the familiarity filling my heart and mind.

The three people at the table seem to acknowledge my approach. The standing woman turns greet me warmly, with affection and desire.

She is still faceless. A blur in my mind’s eye. The other two watch, faces like smeared water colors, welcoming joy in their mannerisms, also reaching for hugs and handshakes.

I am not frightened by this. I know that…one day…the blur will clear, revealing…

The whole image, starting in the corners, begins to fade…just as I reach the table, and her opening arms…

I awake.

 

The End

The Cross Over

*Originally written 2002 for intended submission to BMW for consideration for their short film / commercial series ‘The Hire’, starring Clive Owen. Last surviving hard-copy recently found in storage and transcribed here.

**Edited for content and pacing

Smash cut from Black…

…to a wide-screen telephoto shot of the sun, centered in the frame huge and shimmering. This vast orange globe then smoothly fades into a crimson circle, instantly recognizable as the Japanese national symbol. We pull away to see this insignia emblazoned across the tail of a private jet, a Honda HA-20, in flight.

We hear radio VO:

Pilot: “LAX ATC, Honda Nippon 0-4 on final approach. How copy?”

LAX ATC: “Copy 0-4, we have you on the scope. Your attitude and bearing look good and you’re cleared for final descent to Runway 24R/6L.”

Pilot: ‘Runway 24R/6L copy. Is ground transport for the principal ready?”

Cut

Sitting on the vast, empty tarmac, bathed in the golden red glow of late afternoon in California, is a beautiful, silvery-blue BMW. A handsomely rugged chap sits motionless in the driver seat, waiting. His eyes are hidden behind a pair of stylish, mirrored shades.

We hear the ATC’s reply…

“Roger that, 0-4. The Driver’s there.”

We hear a beeping ring tone. The Driver (Clive Owen) smoothly pulls a cell phone from inside his jacket and answers…

“Yes. I’m here.”

He listens, before responding…

“She’ll be on the ground momentarily.”

As he says this, we gently track past the elegant front end of the BMW. We slow to a stop. The luxury private jet can be seen approaching in the distance, seeming to hang against the deep blue sky. In the foreground, the Driver turns in his seat to watch the landing.

Cut

Tight on The Driver looking past us at the approaching jet, which we can see in the highly glossed lenses of his sunglasses. He continues listening to the voice on the other end, before again responding…

“Yes sir. Straight to the venue…no stops.”

He turns back.

Cut

The Driver glances over at something on the passenger side seat. The voice says something more, and he nods, saying…

“Yes sir. I’ve been fully briefed and I’ve got my eye out for him.”

Cut

Tight on the object of his attention. It’s a file folder, adorned with both Japanese and English law enforcement scrawl. From within, The Driver pulls out a glossy surveillance-type photo of a sinister-looking Asian man: all shades, ponytail, earrings and expensive attire, exiting a Mercedes while smoking a thin, dark cigar. Attached with a paperclip is a torn, Japanese tabloid article featuring a grainy photo of the same man, tuxedo’d at a large party, his arm slung protectively around a stunningly beautiful young Japanese woman. Something in her expression suggests she doesn’t want to be there. We can see a unique microphone, artfully emblazoned with the word “LILY’, clasped in her hand. As we slowly zoom in on the photo, we hear the high-pitched whine of the Honda’s turbine as it approaches.

Cut

We track smoothly along the side of the BMW, showing off its lines. As we reach him, the Driver looks up from the file as the jet flashes past in the background, landing.

Cut

Long, telephoto shot of the jet, from behind, touching down in a puff of smoke from the tires, seen through shimmering waves of heat.

Cut

Tight on the Driver. He watches through the windshield as the jet taxis toward him. We can see the plane reflected in his shades again, growing in the lenses.

Cut

Wide-shot. In the background we see the jet approaching the BMW, positioned in the foreground. Gassy pulses of heat obscure details. The jet brakes and the pitch of the turbines drop.

Cut

Wide-shot. We see the whole scene laid out below us. The Honda sits facing the poised BMW on the dark surface of the tarmac. Everything is still, save the sound of the spooling-down jet engine and the warm California breeze. The heat is evident. After a pause, we see the Honda’s hatch begin to cycle open.

Cut

Tight on the hatchway smoothly descending, slowing to its OPEN position and locking in place. From the darkness of the cabin, a man’s head emerges. He’s a powerfully built Caucasian sporting strangely intellectual-looking, wire-rimmed glasses. From the protective cover of the jet he scans the surrounding area around the tarmac with the practiced eye of a professional bodyguard. His gaze falls on the BMW.

Cut

Tight on the bodyguard. He locks eyes with the Driver and gives a deliberate nod of professional appreciation.

Cut

Tight on the Driver, watching over the BMW’s steering wheel. He returns the nod and reaches forward to start the car.

Cut

Tight on the BMW engraved START button as he pushes it. The car revs to life, sounding sexy.

Cut

Slow track around the BMW, admiring the sleekness as it purrs powerfully. The jet dominates the background and in the open hatch, we see the bodyguard turn to address someone unseen.

Cut

Two fatigue-clad Asian men, corporate contractors in unmarked military gear, suddenly rush past the poised bodyguard, HK MP-5 sub-machine guns held at ready as they clamber down the ladder with practiced urgency. They hastily take up watchful positions between the Honda and the BMW.

The Driver watches coolly.

Cut

The bodyguard then gracefully steps aside, respectfully bowing his head. SHE emerges. All falls into slow motion. SHE is a stunningly beautiful young Japanese woman, clad in a figure flattering black power suit. She steps out into the light of late-afternoon California, a wide handbag of dark material held comfortably at her side. It’s the girl from the tabloid cut-out in the Driver’s file! Wind catches her thick mane of long black hair and it seems to dance on the breeze as she descends.

The Driver watches, his awe just peeking out from below his cool exterior.

Cut

Tight on the cut-out in the file, specifically focused on the young woman with the microphone. It’s her, without a doubt. After a beat, the file closes over it.

The Driver’s VO begins…

“So…this is it. The big crossover. This lil ‘force to be reckoned with’ is Lily, THE Japanese princess-of-pop, making her transition to a much broader audience, all of North America, actually…an audience these days craving something a little more…exotic, than just another sex’d up ex-Mouseketeer.”

She could very well be the personification of grace, a breathtaking Asian beauty matched with elegant sophistication.

She’s just sexy as hell!

Cut

We see her expensive heels click down onto the hot tarmac and she sashays with confidence toward the waiting car.

Cut

The Driver, still transfixed by the approaching vision. His VO continues…

“This bold arrangement is the result of an unusually shrewd and independent decision, entirely of her devising. She made the contacts, broached the idea, financed the move. Her desire to branch out, call the shots and to expand her audience…was not greeted with much in the way of enthusiasm…from her…ahem…homeland representation.”

Cut

Tracking shot from behind the idling BMW. As the car glides out of frame, we see this woman in full, moving with feline precision toward us. One of the sentries gives a curt nod as she passes, before sidling along beside, weapon at ready.

Cut

Tight on the other sentry, his helmeted head bobbing as he dropped his eyes respectfully in her passage.

Cut

The Driver’s VO continues…

“How hot a commodity this young superstar was in Japan, not to mention the rest of Asia, was unrealized in the West until whispers began to surface…whispers of possible…managerial…action, of a retaliatory nature perhaps, following her Stateside in order to stop her massive debut performance in the City of Angels.”

“The Yakuza also just happen to have friends in the Los Angeles area.”

Cut

Tight, slow motion on the woman’s flawless face, the smokey matte-black shades revealing nothing as she approaches the car.

Cut

The accompanying sentry slips ahead, reaching for the car door.

VO continues…

“Her explosion onto the scene, if you will.”

Cut

Tight on one of the Honda’s engines, idling with a whine. Over the din, a shrill hiss abruptly cuts through, ending with…

…a large, round hole suddenly punching into the thin metal, the engine housing shuddering violently. Something akin to a thunderclap ripples across the tarmac. The engine’s idle falters, cutting out with muted thuds and the ferocious squeal of metal aggressively grinding on metal, at high speed.

Cut

Slow-motion. The woman whirls around, shock and fear contorting her features.

Cut

The sentry yanks the BMW’s door open, gesturing frantically to her as the other leaps up, rushing to cover her to the car.

Cut

The bodyguard yells from the jet…

“Get her outta here!”

With that, he pulls a nickel-plated Desert Eagle from a webbed holster beneath his arm, racking the slide, ducking low in the doorway and pulling back into the shadows of the cabin.

Cut

Slow motion. Tight on the woman’s sunglasses as they clatter onto the tarmac, knocked free as the sentry rushed her forward.

Cut

A large chunk of the wing blows away next in a spray of aluminium and fibre-glass shards. Another crashing shot sounds in the distance. Aviation fuel splashes from the ruptured wing, pooling in the jet’s shadow.

Cut

The Driver yanks his own shades away, yelling…

“Let’s go!”

Cut

The woman is thrust into the passenger seat, her handbag leading the way. As she struggles to hunch down, one of the sentries reaches back, pulling a short-barreled Glock from a hidden holster. He presses the pistol into her hand and, addressing the Driver, says…

“Just in case.”

Turning to her, he mutters something in hushed Japanese, giving a quick bow before ducking back, slamming the car door.

Cut

One sentry bounds away from the BMW, weapon up as he scans the area for the source of the attack. The other takes up a firing position beside the car, poised protectively before the door.

Cut

Wide-shot. We see the damaged jet isolated on the landing apron, the BMW glinting in the sun before it as the sentry spins, scanning the area on high alert. After a moment, we pull back, over the shoulder of a prone sniper manning an enormous Barrett .50 calibre sniper rifle on a bipod. It seems that we’re on top of a structure nearby. Smoke snakes from the barrel.

Cut

Cross-haired POV. The view shifts from sentry to sentry, target undecided.

Cut

The Driver quickly looks the woman over with practiced efficiency, a look of concern clouding his stubbly features as he asks…

“Are you injured?!”

She looks up at him, her dark eyes wide. She glances around hurriedly and, in perfect English, says…

“Not yet.”

The Driver gets her meaning, nodding coolly.

Cut

Sniper POV. The sentry beside the car sees him, pointing and yelling, raising his MP-5.

The cross-hair lines up…

Cut

She springs up in her seat, going for the belt. As she grabs it, the shape of the sentry out the window is yanked aside, crashing heavily to the asphalt beside the car, sub-machine gun clattering away.

Cut

Tight on the woman looking in horror through blood-spattered glass inches from her beautiful face. Her hand flies to her mouth and we hear the crackling gunshot echo past.

Cut

Sniper POV. The cross-hair sweeps from the downed sentry’s splayed body to…the polished hood of the BMW!

Cut

Tight. The Driver’s hand swiftly throws the shifter into Reverse, a heartbeat before he hits the accelerator. The car leaps backward with a squeal of burning rubber, causing the woman to yelp in surprise.

Cut

A sudden geyser of chewed tarmac explodes, spraying the escaping car with oily pebbles. They screech to a halt several yards away. Both occupants stare through the windshield at the new crater in the runway with visible disbelief.

Cut

The sniper curses, realigning the rifles long barrel. The scope’s cross-hairs center on the Driver but before he can squeeze the trigger…a bullet suddenly pops past, followed quickly by another.

Cut

The bodyguard, crouched in the jet’s open hatchway, carefully fires round after round at the sniper’s position on a low hangar roof in the distance.

Cut

The lone sentry rushes to his fallen comrade’s side, dropping to one knee, opening fire with his sub-machine gun, joining the bodyguard’s counterattack. Shell casings spray across the tarmac.

Cut

We see aviation fuel splashing from the punctured wing, the pool in the plane’s shadow still expanding.

Cut

From the shadows of a building behind them, two black Humvees race into the sunlight with a throaty roar, speeding toward the scene.

Cut

Tight. The BMW’s rear-view mirror. In the reflection, we see the two trucks rapidly approaching. We hear the Driver exclaim…

“Shit!”

Cut

The woman spins in her seat, her eyes widening as she sees the quickly approaching vehicles. Grabbing his arm, she implores…

“Oh my God…drive!”

The Driver, his cool demeanor returning, calmly responds with a subtle…

“Yes, Ma am.”

…slamming the car into gear and hitting the accelerator. The BMW instantly leaps forward, pushing them both back into their seats.

Cut

The sniper curses again, in Japanese, and pushes himself up from his prone position, hoisting the heavy gun to his shoulder for another shot. He doesn’t get the chance.

Cut

The bodyguard and the sentry both see the figure rise, weapon in hand, and they open fire simultaneously.

Cut

Several bullets slam into the sniper’s torso, jerking him back and throwing a crimson mist into the late afternoon air. As he collapses, the Barrett fires one last time with a crashing report.

Cut

Tight on the jet’s already smoking, damaged engine as the errant .50 calibre round tears into it with a shriek, sparks and hot metal bursting away.

Cut

The Driver makes a snap decision and aims directly for the jet, accelerating.

Cut

Tight on the woman’s face, shock registering as she realizes what he’s doing.

Cut

The Honda looms large in the windshield, fast approaching.

Cut

A smoking chunk of the crippled engine drops free, trailing pieces and sparks as it falls. It impacts the tarmac below with a crash…splashing aviation fuel in all directions. It suddenly ignites with a roar.

Cut

Wide-shot from the jet’s opposite side. We see the BMW, it’s shiny roof barely clearing the underside of the fuselage as it races beneath, aiming for the runway beyond. A split second behind, a deep wash of violent red flame billows suddenly beneath the stricken plane.

Cut

Tight on the Rising Sun logo on the tail as a thick cloud of black smoke suddenly devours it.

Cut

Through the flames, we see the two Humvees racing in.

The rest of the fuel fumes in the wing tanks choose that moment to detonate. The cylindrical body of the Honda abruptly blows apart, twisted debris spraying in all directions. An angry red fireball curls skyward with a loud *BOOM!*. The forward landing gear buckles under the sudden pressure and snaps, dropping the immolated fuselage to the ground a split second behind the BMW with a grinding crash.

Cut

From inside one of the pursuing trucks, we see the BMW’s back end as it races away. As the driver expertly steers to pursue, we see the car abruptly obstructed by the collapsing body of the destroyed jet as it hits the tarmac. The Hummer, unable to stop in time, vanishes into the fiery wreckage with a crash.

Cut

We see the stricken aircraft’s opposite side again. The Hummer, now engulfed in flames, explodes through in a violent shower of debris, flipping over onto its side with a squeal of metal and sliding to a stop across the tarmac.

Cut

We are looking down the long length of the runway. The BMW suddenly sweeps into frame, tires squealing as it races away.

Cut

From around the raging funeral pyre the jet has become, the other Humvee speeds into view, locked on the escaping car.

Cut

We see the driver, a muscular Asian adorned with a plethora of Yakuza tattoos, his attention fixed on the fleeing BMW as he steers the large truck after it. We quickly pan over to the passenger side where another man sits…the man from the file! He pulls a small cell phone out, punching in a number.

Cut

Interior BMW. An insistent beep can suddenly be heard. The Driver and the woman simultaneously reach for their phones. It’s hers, and she pulls it from the shadows of the handbag at her feet.

The dialogue is subtitled from Japanese…

“You can’t get away, Lily. Why try? I made you…you do belong to me!”

“You’re wrong, Kenji! I belong to my audience! I’m making my own way! It’s all legal. You have no hold, as my lawyers have clearly explained.”

“If I can’t have you…then no one will, bitch!”

Cut

The Driver watches out of the corner of his eye as Lily shrieks in anger and frustration. She snaps the phone closed, wiping at a tear. Then…she notices the Glock in her lap. With surprising precision and skill, she grabs the gun and racks the slide. She glances over, meeting his studious eye. They exchange a quick nod.

Cut

Tight on his finger nudging the window OPEN button.

Cut

Undoing her seat-belt, Lily leans out, the wind buffeting her long mane of dark hair as the two vehicles speed down the open runway. She raises the pistol, using the side of the car to steady her aim.

Cut

Tight on Kenji, through the windshield, as he slowly lowers his phone, straining to focus on the car ahead.

Cut

Kenji’s POV. We see the BMW tearing along up ahead…and the figure leaning out the side window. It’s Lily! And she’s glaring over the barrel of a gun!

Cut

Kenji shouts a quick warning, ducking down behind the dash.

Cut

Lily fires.

Cut

We see the 9mm round punch a hole in the Hummer’s windshield, right where Kenji’s head had been a half second earlier!

Cut

Tight on the bullet hole. We can hear the shrill whistle of wind screaming through the punctured glass. We then rack focus as Kenji rises back up, his eyes fixed on the damage in amazement. He’s dumbfounded. Seconds later, he grabs a nearby walkie talkie, yelling an order in Japanese.

Cut

Wide shot. We see the two vehicles charging down the wide black-top with a roar of sound and fury.

Cut

Lily slides back into her seat, Glock clenched in perfectly manicured fingers, as a coolness now over-takes her, some of her original poise returning along with her sense of control.

Cut

Kenji lets go with something akin to a growl, before barking something Japanese toward the backseat. A henchman hurriedly hands a short-barreled Steyer Aug assault rifle forward. Kenji takes the deadly weapon, puzzling over it for a moment before raising it to his shoulder, cocking the loading bolt with a sharp *click-clack*. He leans out the window and fires.

Cut

Tight on the BMW’s trunk as the 5.56 calibre round tears a hole in the shiny metal with a loud *clang!*

Cut

Interior BMW. The Driver and Lily flinch in unison. With no hesitation, Lily whirls around again to straight-arm the pistol, rapidly firing round after round in quick succession.

Cut

The Hummer weaves erratically back and forth as the driver struggles to throw off Lily’s barrage of gunfire. But many of her shots connect in an orchestra of punctures and ricochets.

Cut

Tight on Kenji as he jerks back in, shrinking down. A bullet punches into his seat-rest with a thud.

Cut

The end of the runway looms ahead, speeding toward us. And beyond it…the shape of an approaching airliner, lined up to land and getting close.

Cut

Lily fires one last time, and the slide locks open. The gun’s empty! She ducks back inside.

Cut

The Driver looks over at her, impressed. She catches his eye and sheepishly glances down at the empty handgun. With a nonchalant shrug, she says…

“I was in a movie once.”

As if that properly explained everything.

Cut

The Driver cocks his head and, with a curt nod, and replies…

“OK.”

…as if it was all suddenly clear to him,

Another bullet strikes the car with a *crack!*.  The Driver turns his attention back to their escape and shifts the car into another gear, the RPMs climbing steadily.

Cut

Low along the ground trailing the BMW at high speed, the asphalt a blur below us. The powerful engine roars and it quickly pulls away. As the bulk of the car diminishes in frame, we see the approaching airliner looming, landing gear down, moments from touchdown.

Cut

Kenji struggles to line up a good shot, but his attention is pulled away from the rifle’s scope. He sees the growing shape of the 747 beyond, the thunder of its engines growing steadily. His eyes widen. Turning, he yells something to the driver. The Humvee accelerates.

Cut

BMW front bumper POV. The long chain-link fence marking the perimeter of the airport quickly grows in our vision, stretching from edge to edge. Above this, the approaching jet is huge, the late afternoon sun gleaming off the aluminium skin.

Cut

Tight on the Driver as he scans the upcoming obstacle and makes a quick mental calculation. He deftly spins the wheel.

Cut

The BMW responds like a striking cobra, flying onto a service route off to the side.

The roar of jet engines is deafening.

Cut

Kenji braces for impact as the 747 looms before them with nothing to stop it. The driver yanks the wheel over, sending the Hummer careening off the runway after the BMW with only seconds to spare.

Cut

We see the BMW racing away from the runway as the Humvee makes a sluggish turn behind…just as the airliner roars in, touching down, disaster narrowly averted.

Cut

The Driver glares ahead, searching for any upcoming obstacles. Something catches his eye. Sitting just beyond the gate at the end of the service way is a sleek black Jaguar, tinted windows and dark mag tires.

Cut

Tight on the Jag’s passenger-side window. In the reflection we see the BMW racing up the service way toward this ominous new car. The window then whirs down and the nickel-plated wide-mouthed barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun emerges.

Cut

We see the Driver and Lily as they both see the gun at the same moment, eyes going wide.

Cut

Tight on the shotgun as the unseen gunman pumps the slide with a gloved hand and levels the barrel…directly at us!

Cut

The Driver quickly reaches over and grabs Lily, dragging her down and out of sight with a yell of warning. With the ‘principal’ concealed, he then yanks on the emergency brake, giving the wheel a tight spin.

Cut

The BMW brakes into a slide with a screech of burning rubber.

Cut

Tight on the shotgun. It fires with a roar!

Cut

Tight on the Driver as he barely registers the 12 gauge slug passing nearby with a *pop!* as the car rapidly slides toward the Jaguar.

Cut

We see the Humvee speeding up behind the sliding BMW.

Cut

Tight on the Hummer’s driver, glaring through the windshield before us at his target. The glass abruptly punches inward and a flower-pattern of blood explodes across, obscuring the ruin his head suddenly becomes.

Cut

Kenji jerks back in surprise and looks over in time to see the body slump over, very dead, thanks to the large messy hole that recently opened in his forehead.

Cut

The sliding BMW smashes sideways through the gate, bursting the padlock. It comes inches from impacting the Jaguar before the wheels spin up again, digging into the road top as it narrowly slips past.

Cut

Kenji looks stricken, not knowing what to do. As a last-ditch effort, he grabs for his seat-belt in a panic.

Cut

The exposed shotgun is yanked back into the Jaguar as the out-of-control Hummer speeds onward, looming quickly.

Cut

Kenji’s POV. The sleek, black side of the Jaguar grows fast as we tear toward it. Impact is inevitable!

Cut

Head-on shot of the motionless Jag. We see the BMW escaping in the distance behind a moment before the bulk of the Humvee roars into frame, T-boning the car at full speed. There’s a violent explosion of twisted metal and shattered glass as the two mangled vehicles crash across the road, slamming hard into the ditch on the other side.

Cut

The BMW races into frame, screeching to a sudden halt on the road. A stillness falls over the scene.

Cut

Wide shot. We see the accident scene laid out before us. Nothing moves. The Hummer appears to have almost cut the Jaguar in half. The two vehicles lie heaped on one another, smoke hanging over the pile of metal and glass.

Cut

Tight on a limp arm draped out of the remains of the passenger side of the Humvee. Blood trickles down to drip off the motionless fingers. We slowly rise up the appendage to…Kenji. The guy is a mess. A snowy spiderweb pattern in the remains of the windshield marks where he hit. Blood pools over the dash where his head lies. His eyes flicker open and we can see that one of them is now almost black, filled with leaking blood. He looks around in confusion, hoarsely coughing before noticing the idling BMW stopped down the road. He tries to speak but all that emerges is a wet rasp…and a drool of crimson.

Cut

Tight on the Driver and Lily as they stare past us, out the BMW’s rear window at the aftermath of the crash. Lily watches with veiled horror…but after a moment, her expression softens as relief falls over her.

Cut

Kenji raises his bloody hand, reaching in vain for Lily. He still struggles to speak.

Cut

Lily sees Kenji’s futile gesture and meets his eye. She slowly shakes her head, a final refusal.

Cut

The Driver sits quietly, now watching this silent exchange. He doesn’t know what to make of it.

Cut

Kenji’s bloody hand reaches past us as his features contort into a mask of anger and agony. He strains against the pain and opens his mouth, his growl becoming a scream that is suddenly drowned out by the high squeal of tires on pavement.

Cut

Tight on the BMW’s rear tire as it spins up in a cloud of smoke. The car tears off again, racing off down the road.

In the background…we can hear fast approaching sirens.

Cut

We are looking down on the highway leading into downtown Los Angeles, lit in the reddish gold light of the setting sun. It’s rush hour and traffic is pretty much at a stand-still, very little movement among the hundreds of commuting cars. We slowly drift back, seeing the end of the waiting line of vehicles emerge into frame. Seconds later…the BMW speeds into frame, sliding in on twin tracks of burnt rubber out behind.

Cut

Ground-level. We see the last car in line, it’s brake lights glowing red. The BMW streaks into frame, halting inches from impact.

Cut

Tight on the other car’s bumper as the BMW’s own slides into frame, halting maybe an inch from contact.

Cut

Tight on the Driver as he scans the situation, eyes flickering back and forth calculating their options. It doesn’t look promising.

Cut

We crane up from behind the idling car (we can make out bullet holes in the trunk) to see the frozen river of cars that lay between them and the city skyline.

Cut

Lily also stares out at the formidable obstacle before them, before glancing over and, with a twinge of panic, saying…

“We’re not going to make it!”

The Driver coolly looks over, responding…

“Nonsense ma’am. You’ll be there as scheduled.”

An expression of disbelief flashes over her features as she gestures to the traffic jam…

“How?!”

The Driver doesn’t respond. Instead, he slams the shifter into Reverse and hits the gas. The BMW responds instantly, leaping back and causing an approaching Mercedes to hurriedly duck into another lane, narrowly avoiding a collision. He hits the brake and shifts again. The car jumps forward, aimed for the wide shoulder. It tears forward, the motionless traffic jam blurring beside as they race along at full tilt.

Cut

We see various quick-cutting beauty shots of the BMW as it blasts up the highway in its race against time. We also see flashes of the Driver and Lily reacting to the speed, the car, maybe an obstacle or two, lit in the red of sunset.

Fast approaching is the main source of this traffic jam…

An 18-wheeler has flipped over and lies on its side across the highway, obstructing 6 lanes of traffic. The driver and emergency personnel mill about as a huge Kenworth tow truck prepares to pull the rig, now separated from the collapsed trailer, over with heavy cables and back onto its wheels. Over the hustle and bustle of the scene, we hear an engine fast approaching. Police and bystanders go quiet, glancing around for the source of the rising sound. We then hear straining metal as the tow cables go taut, slowly pulling the rig over with a hellish groan.

Suddenly…the BMW blasts into the accident zone, tearing through with no deceleration!

Cut

Tight on Lily as she sees the large rig looming in their path, preparing to fall heavily onto its wheels. Her eyes widen as she points and yelps in terror.

Cut

Tight on the Driver. He too sees the deadly obstacle in their path and clenches his teeth. This is going to be close! He jams his foot down on the accelerator.

Cut

The BMW surges forward again and streaks through the looming shadow of the falling truck, scattering panicked people in all directions, mere inches below the cables as the large Peterbilt begins to topple, coming down at them with nothing to stop it as gravity takes over.

Cut

We see the BMW burst back out into the sunlight, mere seconds before the background is eclipsed by the bulk of the rig crashing down onto its tires in a burst of dust.

Cut

Bystanders and emergency personnel recover to stare in awe, unsure of how to react as the roar of the car’s engine quickly fades from the scene.

Cut

Wide shot. We see the highway extend below us, almost entirely empty in one direction, thanks to the crashed rig. Downtown LA is now tantalizingly close, dominating the background. The BMW rips into frame, speeding across the open expanse of hot asphalt, homing in on the off-ramp visible in the distance.

Cut

Off ramp. The car, a silvery blur, heads into the downtown core, long shadows from the towering skyscrapers plunging huge swaths into darkness, back-lit by the remnants of an orange and pink sky.

Cut

Telephoto shot. The sun, still huge and shimmering, dips below the horizon (mild time-lapse).

Cut

Tight on the BMW’s sexy front end as the headlights come on with a crisp, clean glow, the city’s neon ambiance reflected across the car’s polished skin.

Cut

Exterior. Night. We are poised before a huge concert venue. The whole area is prepped for the big event. There’s the usual horde of predatory paparazzi clustered around the entrance amidst enthusiastic young fans clutching posters and other ‘Lily’-branded goodies. A mammoth banner hangs above the entrance proclaiming a dual language ‘Welcome!’ to Lily. A long red carpet of expensive, velvety material lies like a huge tongue, rolled elegantly to the street while large spotlights nearby light up the sky with towering beams.

Cut

Interior BMW. Lily, looking more like her former self, stares at the city around her, a moment of awe among the thank-god-I’m-still-alive relief flooding her system…mingled with the energy of her impending performance. Her inevitable conversations with the LAPD and INTERPOL can wait till tomorrow…tonight Lily breaches new shores…thus fulfilling a long-held dream. Kenji is gone…SHE is Lily. No one else. Now and forever.

She points ahead, curious and excited…

“Is that…the venue?”

Cut

Lily’s POV. Through the windshield, we can make out the sweeping pillars of light marking the event.

Cut

The Driver, without looking, nods…

“Yes ma am. We’ll be arriving momentarily.”

Cut

Lily nods, a small smile playing over her lips, and reaches down to the large hand bag at her feet, unzipping it and reaching inside.

Cut

Tight on the handbag as she rummages before withdrawing, something held lightly and with care in her fingers, masked by shadow.

Cut

Lily sits back up, raising the object. It’s her personalized mic…the beautifully sculpted gold of the ‘LILY’ glinting in the passing lights of the city.

Cut

Beauty shot of the car smoothly darting through traffic, light gleaming across the hood.

Cut

The venue. A slick-looking American dude clad in an expensive Italian blazer and slacks, a Lily fan T-shirt showing beneath, paces back and forth before the throng of fans and press. This is Lily’s new management and his name is Rick. He peers down at his Rolex before glancing over his shoulder.

Cut

Rick’s POV. Voices shout Lily’s name and flashbulbs flash, the glare blinding, as the crowd’s enthusiasm rises to a fevered pitch.

Cut

He turns back, a quick decision made. Pulling out a cell phone, he hurriedly punches in a number.

Cut

Interior BMW. An insistent beeping sounds and, again, both reach for their phones. It’s his, this time. He answers…

“Hello, sir.”

Cut

Rick digs in, straight to the point, absently stepping off the curb…

“Where the hell are you?! She’s due onstage in less than 10 minutes! Was there a problem at the airport?”

Cut

The Driver glances over at Lily before coyly responding…

“No, sir. Just your standard irritable LA commuters. A little road rage and such. We are inbound and she’ll be there lickity-split.”

Without another word, he hangs up.

Cut

Rick stares down at his phone, an awe-struck expression widening his features. Clearly not many people hang up on this guy. Suddenly…bright lights flash over him and he glances up in surprise.

Cut

The BMW streaks in, seemingly zero’d in on Rick who was unwise enough to wander out into the street in all of his nervous pacing.

Cut

Bumper-mounted shot. The pavement blurs beneath us as we barrel toward Rick, who’s frozen like a deer in headlights, arms outstretched, still clutching his cell phone.

Cut

The Driver calmly presses down on the brake.

Cut

The BMW very rapidly looses speed at it flies at the paralyzed manager, stopping mere inches from his pricey Italian slacks. He blinks…stunned. It takes him 3 full seconds to focus on the car and when he does…he sees Lily and The Driver staring back at him. Exhaling heavily, he mutters…

“Oh…my…god.”

…and leaps into action. He jams his phone into a pocket and rushes around to Lily’s side of the car.

Cut

The Driver looks over at Lily, saying…

“Well, here you are, ma am.”

Lily locks her door before looking over to meet his studious gaze, much to the chagrin of Rick, who tries to open the door seconds later. She looks around before answering…

“Yes…here I am. My big night. My crossover.”

Rick begins rapping his knuckles on the window, his pleading muted. Lily opens her mouth to speak again, but pauses…a quick flurry of nerves over taking her.

Cut

Tight on the Driver says, with care and confidence…

“You’re going to be just fine. Like you said…it’s your big night. You were great today…and you’ll knock em dead tonight.”

Cut

Lily looks down with a touch of sheepishness edging in. It doesn’t last long. She rises back up, newly confident again…

“Thanks. I intend to.”

She unlocks the door, and Rick wrenches it open, struggling to compose himself. Addressing both of them, he implores…

“Please?! Tonight?!!”

Lily looks back as Rick carefully takes her arm, saying…

“Thanks for saving my life.”

Leaning over, she lays a quick kiss on the Driver’s stubbly cheek.

Cut

He turns away, stoically glaring through the windshield, the flash of the cameras strobing across his rugged features as he answers…

“It’s my job, ma am.”

She nods knowingly, saying…

“You do it well.”

Rick intrudes, his exasperation showing.

“You two are killing me here. Lily, can we please get you inside, honey?!”

The passenger-side door is slammed shut.

With a last glance, Lily allows herself to be led away by the chattering Rick as the fans go batshit crazy. Just as she’s about to be swallowed by the crowd, she breaks away, slipping quickly back to the car.

Cut

The press follows her movements, cameras strobing wildly as they watch and record.

What fresh drama is this?!

Cut

We see several quick-cut freeze frames of the shots they would’ve captured.

Cut

We see the passenger-side window, the lights of the venue clearly reflected. We see Lily rushing back to the car, her form growing across the glass. With a gentle whir, the window slides down, revealing the Driver looking up at her expectantly. She leans in…

“What’s your name?”

Before he can answer, Rick strikes again, gently but firmly taking her by the arm to lead her away.

All falls to slow motion.

Cut

Driver’s POV. Slow motion. We see Lily looking back at him, something emotional in her gaze as she is herded toward the venue. The crowd moves in after her, fans cheering, reporters reporting.

Cut

Lily’s POV. Slow motion. We are pulled away from the BMW and we can see the Driver watching us from the cozy confines of the silvery-blue luxury car. The crowd moves in to block out her view and she is swallowed by the mob of adoring fans.

Cut

Driver’s POV. As the crowd rapidly thins, pushing inside, two statuesque bodyguards take up positions at the end of the red carpet. Then…there’s the flurry of heavy fabric in motion. He glances up, looking through the car’s sunroof as three more banners, of enormous size, drop in announcement of Lily’s arrival from the roof. One is the good ole Stars n Stripes…the other the Rising Sun. Both flank a massive photo of Lily herself, poised seductively in black and white, her name blazing in vibrant yellow.

Cut

Slow zoom on the Driver. He looks thoughtful as he gazes up at the two flags rippling gently in the warm California breeze. From a distance, we hear an excited voice on a god-like PA system announcing Lily’s arrival onstage. The applause is deafening.

Cut

Slow zoom on the Rising Sun emblem till the lower half of our frame is occupied by the upper half of the red circle rippling in the gentle wind. The sounds of concert pandemonium fade gently away as the image morphs to that of a massive sun on the horizon, in wide telephoto glory, as it rises over a flat desert plain distorted by heat waves, underscored by the plaintive sigh of the wind.

Then…another sounds quickly rises.

The BMW roars into frame, triumphantly speeding away…soon lost in the wavering pulses of heat dancing before us. We hang on the fading noise of the engine as it races into the distance before…

Cut to Black

THE END

 

 

Grim Draw

An early Screen Story by LR Forgues

*Transcribed from lone hard-copy found in storage and edited for pacing and content.

Setting – a prosperous mining town somewhere in the American Midwest, circa the 1870s. People are everywhere but on this particular day, many folks have convened onto the dusty Main Street, preparing to witness one of two notorious gunfighters shoot the other to death in a quick draw contest, over some slight only half remembered. Their names are ‘Wild Card’ Morton and Dwight ‘Jack Rabbit’ Robinson…and they are pissed.

-Cut from Black-

Slow motion close-up of a wooden match being struck off the all-metal handle of a long-barreled Colt .44 revolver. It’s steel gleams in the mid-afternoon sunlight. Once alight, we follow it up to a thin cigarillo clenched in the tobacco-stained teeth of a tall, scruffy and sallow faced cowboy wearing a wide brimmed and sweat-stained hat. He takes a slow, deliberate drag off the cigarillo, holding the smoke in and savoring it for a moment, before exhaling. He then lowers his hand, flicking the spent match away.

This is ‘Jack Rabbit’.

-Cut-

Tight on the match as it spins away in slow motion, trailing a wisp of smoke as we follow it down.

-Cut-

Tight on the squinting eyes of someone else, ‘Wild Card’, as he follows the match to where it hisses out of existence in a nearby puddle. He looks back up, scowling.

-Cut-

Wide shot of the busy street, with both gunfighters poised in the middle. Tension is high and the crowd seems to sense it, as they are noticeably backing away, fearing the bloody fight will begin soon.

-Cut-

Mid-shot. ‘Wild Card’ glares past us, a gloved hand hovering at his side, ready for action. He ‘s shorter than ‘Jack Rabbit’, but more powerfully built. Thick neck and barrel chest. He spits into the dirt, unimpressed.

-Cut-

Tight on ‘Jack Rabbit’ as he takes another pull from his smoke, calmly inhaling again. Speaking as he exhales…

“OK, son-of-a-bitch…this is what it all boils down to.”

He pauses, nonchalantly pulling an errant piece of tobacco from his lips before continuing…

“You gun down amigos of mine, while hunting me down, like so much wild game…then a .44 finds ya.”

He gently pats the grip of his gun for effect…

“You think you found me? Not the case, brother…I’ve had you hooked since back East.”

-Cut-

Mid-shot. ‘Wild Card’ brushes aside his duster, revealing a pair of walnut-handled revolvers.

-Cut-

Ambient crowd shots, cut quickly, as they react with excitement and alarm.

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’. He growls…

“A .44, huh? Just one?! To tell you the truth…all I see before me is nothin but another two-bit pisss-tolier…that’s moments from dying in the road like a diseased mutt!”

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’ pulls the cigarillo from his lips, his cool demeanor slipping.

“You calling me a dog, asshole?!”

His volume increases.

“You ain’t nothin but bark, you wetback-loving bastard! You gunnin…or are you going to keep shooting your mouth off?!!”

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’ spits again, fury in his eyes.

“Talking? Is that all I’m doin?! When I skin these pistols, you’ll realize my ‘talking’ is the last sound you ever hear…next to your insides snapping your outsides!”

He continues yelling, rage unleashed.

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’ jabs an accusing finger, his rising voice taking on a menacing tone over ‘Wild Card’s angry jeers…

“I’m going to enjoy dancing a jig on your goddamn body in front of these fine folks!”

He gestures to the crowd, which has noticeably put distance between them and the raging gunfighters.

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’, practically foaming at the mouth, finishes up his yelling with…

“…and I’ll see you in Hell, you son-of-a-bitch!”

His hands flash down in a blur of movement, yanking both pistols from their holsters.

-Cut-

At the same moment, ‘Jack Rabbit’s own pistol clears its leather holster, sunlight glinting off metal as he brings it up, the muzzle looming large in our view.

*burst of pure white*

The same main street, only it has undergone a severe change. It is still dusty, but it is now deserted. The buildings are falling apart, full of cobwebs and dust. Tumble weeds and dust devils swirl among the vacant structures. Rats scamper quietly through the streets and vultures soar overhead, their eerie cries echoing. Wind whistles mournfully through the remaining shards that sit frozen in wooden window frames like broken teeth. The sky is dark and ominous…thunder sounds in the distance.

-Cut-

Mid-shot. ‘Wild Card’. Both hands whip up, clenching at grips and triggers that are no longer there.

-Cut-

Mid-shot. ‘Jack Rabbit’. In a classic gun-fighter pose, his finger also squeezes dry, cool air. His gun is gone. And so are his duds. Gone is his duster and prized hat. Gone is his vest and leather boots. He’s barefoot and clad in a cheap dark suit that hangs awkwardly, a long slice in the threadbare fabric opening the back. He looks down in shock, not comprehending.

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’ is similarly attired now, only in a loose suit of muddy brown material, a similar slice up the back.

The gunfighters are clad in funerary clothes, their former garments nowhere to be seen.

‘Wild Card’ stumbles back, stunned, his empty hands still extended. He exclaims…

“What the hell?!”

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’. Not sure what to do, but seeing his sworn enemy raise his hands threateningly, hisses…

“Shit!”

He suddenly ducks out of frame.

-Cut-

Ground level. We see ‘Jack Rabbit’ come down hard, his knee raising dust as he hits, trying to duck bullets that aren’t coming.

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’ stops backing away, having realized that they are both now unarmed and defenseless. He begins to look around, his ferocious expression giving way to one of bewilderment….and a bit of fear.

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’ also glares about, a disbelieving smirk twisting his features as he scans the area. After a moment, he wrinkles his nose, quietly muttering…

“Jesus…what the hell is that stench?”

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’. He hears his enemy saying something low and looks over questioningly…

“What?”

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’. He meets the other gunfighter’s eyes, responding…

“I said…what smells so goddamn rank around here?!”

The only answer is the mournful wail of the wind, but then…there’s something else. Something low. Ominous. It sounds like…laughter. Seemingly from all around them, in and among the buildings and streets. The source is unseen, seemingly everywhere…and nowhere. Then…it settles, emanating softly from the shadows of the shuttered and decrepit saloon across the street.

Both men stare at the building as the low chuckle fades away, giving rise to loud, thudding footsteps from within, approaching. Each step is punctuated by the sharp *ka-ching* of sharpened spurs.

-Cut-

Wide shot. The saloon. Dark clouds drift past in the distance as we slowly zoom in on the dusty facade. The footsteps get louder.

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’. He stares past us, eyes wide, licking his lips nervously. We slowly zoom in.

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit. He also looks beyond us, confusion washing over him. We slowly zoom in.

-Cut-

The saloon’s entrance, darkness beyond the swinging double doors. Our zoom slows to a stop.

A figure appears suddenly from the shadows and the swinging doors burst open, abruptly forced from within. We pull back as this tall, imposing figure strides out into the murky daylight, marching toward us. We can see that he’s clad in a long, black duster and a wide, black cowboy hat, the brim angled down to obscure his features.

-Cut-

Wide. Ground level. We see the two gunfighters poised defensively in the street. In the foreground, the stranger’s black boot comes down, barbed silver spur *ka-ching*ing in the dust.

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’. He stumbles back a step, saying…

“Oh my god!”

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’ glares for a moment, before exclaiming…

“Holy shit!”

-Cut-

We see the stranger’s boots. After a beat, we slowly rise up along his tall, narrow body to his face. His skin is a dead greyish-brown, and it’s fixed tight to his skull, as there is no muscle structure beneath to interfere. His eyes are two gleaming coins that glint in the shadows below the wide brim of his hat. Below those, his sharp teeth are a deep, ugly yellow, with several blackened specimens spread throughout. No lips hide the dental travesty. His narrow skull slowly scans from one man to the next. With a spastic chattering motion, he speaks…

“That pungent aroma you inhale is…”

He wafts air at his cadaverous visage, inhaling like that of a great vintage, before continuing…

“…Death.”

The voice that emerges from behind the viciously gnashing teeth is that of a hoarse and strained young man, morphing into that of a prim young girl.

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’ throws up an accusing finger, pointing past us as he yells…

“Where the hell are we?! And who the fuck are YOU?!”

-Cut-

We see the dead figure nod toward ‘Wild Card’, the voice going from the girl….to that of an elderly man, Native accent…

“Who I am is completely unimportant. Where you are is another matter…let’s just say that this is this the place where the spiritual essence of a living thing is judged…and sent for. In this case, here on this lovely day, my job is to decide which of you…meat puppets…exits this realm….and which lives to fight another day.”

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’ lowers the jabbing hand, concern creeping into his eyes. He looks over at ‘Jack Rabbit’.

-Cut-

Tight. ‘Jack Rabbit’. He also looks apprehensive now. The wind rises, blowing his tussled hair about.

-Cut-

The stranger speaks again, the voice going from Native to deep Texan…

“I must say though, boys…you two have managed to keep this working stiff busy, in these here parts. I’ve been sending your kills across for a good while now…you’re both not too shabby at what you do, it must be said. Here’s the funny thing…including Mexicans, you two losers are sitting equal at the polls…exact same number of pine boxes and shallow graves to each of your silly names.”

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’ starts with a jerk, and looks over.

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’ feels the look and meets it, giving an ‘aw shucks, how about THAT?’ expression in response.

-Cut-

Tight, uncomfortably close to the stranger’s corpse-like face as the teeth gnash again, the voice changing from male Texas to female England…

“Surprised, aintcha?! Well, hey…I don’t blame ya. It’s actually quite a nifty coincidence. Sure, quite a few gunners have outdone you fellas in score but the odds of two armed gringos with the same count drawing down on each other is wonderfully tasty.”

-Cut-

We see the two gunfighters frozen in place, staring at the creature that addresses them.

-Cut-

Back to the stranger. The jaw chatters again and the voice of a young English girl fades into that of an elderly man…

“Frankly, I like both of you sumbitches, you’ve got that killer instinct that keeps me on my toes.”

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’ sums up some courage and takes a menacing step toward the stranger, growling…

“Listen…you ugly shit. I don’t know what this is or where we are…but you’re intruding in business that needn’t concern you. I’m here to open that bastard right up for what he did. (gestures to ‘Jack Rabbit’) Now…you should follow your tootsies and slide out of town…before I decide to add you to my score…with my bare hands, if need be!”

-Cut-

His hands curl into tight fists.

-Cut-

Tight on the stranger. He hesitates, taking in what ‘Wild Card’ has said. After a moment, he raises his head to the dim sun above, light glinting off his coin eyes. The sharpened teeth chatter again, only this time, a low evil laugh sounds from under the wide hat brim. For a moment, the sound seems to swirl around the two men, seemingly not coming from its source before returning to the stranger as it fades out. He looks back down at the defiant gunfighter. He speaks again, elderly man to young boy shifting in his voice…

“You amusingly stupid little mortal…you oughta be smart enough to know that you can’t kill Death.”

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’ also steps forward, a scowl clouding his features as he speaks, his cool and menacing tone returning…

“I don’t care what you call yourself, I can kill anything with a beating heart, pistol or no pistol.”

-Cut-

He too, clenches his fist.

-Cut-

Tight. The stranger. The mouth chatters…

“Mortal, I must say today has become very unusual. Never has a soul threatened its guide. Should it make you feel better, I will give you both your weapons…if for no other reason than my own amusement, as I believe my choice has been made.”

-Cut-

Tight on the stranger’s duster as he pulls it open, reaching into the darkened depths to draw out two holsters, which he tosses toward the two men.

-Cut-

We see ‘Wild Cards’ holstered gun land at his bare feet in a puff of dust.

-Cut-

We see ‘Jack Rabbit’ catch his.

-Cut-

The stranger extends his wide arms, presenting a prominent target. The jaw chatters again…

“OK fellas, here’s your shot. Make it count. You two parasites are about to assail the very agent that made you famous men. Now you must remember that, no matter what happens to poor me…it’s already been decided what happens here today.”

-Cut-

Tight on ‘Wild Cards’ holster as he picks it up from the dust.

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’ glances over at ‘Wild Card’, his eyes taking on a familiar squint as he nods.

-Cut-

Wide-shot. The three figures are poised, but all is still. The tension is palpable. Wind whistles through the scene and a tumbleweed rolls among the trio.

-Cut-

Tight on the stranger. He cocks his head, asking…

“Well? I don’t have all day, boys.”

-Cut-

Slow-motion. ‘Wild Card’ yanks his gun from the holster, raising it, the muzzle looming large in our view.

-Cut-

Slow-motion. ‘Jack Rabbit’ follows suit, bounding to the side and skinning his own firearm, bringing it up as he dashes away, the darkened barrel leveling at us.

-Cut-

Full-shot. The stranger. He quickly but calmly brushes the duster open again, this time drawing out two sawed-off shotguns forged of pure silver, the barrels glinting in the light.

-Cut-

Tight on the barrels of his weapons as they rise. We can clearly make out the design of a scythe beautifully engraved along the length.

-Cut-

Both shotguns are leveled, aiming past us. The stranger squeezes both triggers in the same moment and with a crash like a thunderclap, he fires.

*Our view is abruptly blanked out by another blinding flash of pure white*

-Cut-

We are back in the same town, only the crowd of spectators has returned, along with the bright sunshine and other signs of life. No time has passed.

-Cut-

Profile shot of ‘Wild Card’. Slow motion. Blood explodes from a ragged hole blown through his heart.

-Cut-

Profile shot of ‘Jack Rabbit’. Slow motion. His neck is abruptly torn away by a bullet and his head falls forward before he collapses, crimson spilling down the front of his shirt.

-Cut-

Wide-shot. The street. We see both gunfighters as they stumble and fall, bursts of blue gun smoke hanging before both of them, snaking from the barrels of each of their pistols as they fall.

-Cut-

‘Wild Card’ crashes into the dust with a thud, blood blooming across his chest, his gun spinning away.

-Cut-

‘Jack Rabbit’ collapses to his knees with a gurgling sigh, his eyes wide with disbelief as blood drools from his open mouth. His gun also falls from his fingers, landing before him in the road as he reaches up to clutch at the damage. Seconds later…he keels over, thudding face down, dead.

-Cut-

The crowd reacts with shock, with women covering children’s eyes and men nodding knowingly, puffing on pipes and knocking back last drinks. The echo of the gunfire crackles into the distance. The group of spectators begins to melt away, going back to their lives, the spectacle of the fatal shoot-out over, the dead bodies now someone else’s problem.

-Cut-

We look down on the two gunfighters crumpled in the dust (overhead shot), puddles of blood spreading under the hot sun as the shadows of flying vultures pass to and fro over them. We slowly draw up and away. As we move, as though far in the distance, we hear the low evil chuckle of the stranger.

-Fade to Black-

 

The End

 *This was originally written and submitted as a high school Film Class script-writing project in Courtenay, BC circa 1995

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