Film News: Director Trevor Juenger’s ‘Coyote’

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I received an email from director Trevor Juenger (Hermetica) asking me to review his upcoming horror film Coyote starring Bill Oberst Jr. (Take This Lollipop, Resolution).  Needless to say, I have heard about the film and seen the trailer.  But the director asking ME to review his film?  I’m looking forward to this. Stay tuned.

Coyote Production Blog
Coyote Actor Blog
Coyote (2013) – IMDB

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Film Review: Dahmer (2002)

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Film: Dahmer
Director: David Jacobson
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Great, Matt Newton
Release Date: 06/21/02 (theatres) / 06/21/05 (DVD)
Studio: Blockbuster Films / DEJ Productions
Tagline: The mind is a place of it’s own.
Plot: “Based on the true crime story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, this movie tells the emotionally riveting story of a man who turned his darkest fantasies into a horrifying reality.” (Source: IMDB)

Review Score: 5 /5

One vital component attached to serial killers involves the public’s fascination with pinpointing the root cause(s) of their violent psychotic nature. Was their father absent or abusive? Did they grow up in a strict home? Were they bullied by their peers growing up? In Dahmer, director David Jacobson uses past and present sequences to ambiguously determine Dahmer’s undoing and allow audiences to decide. This film is now most famous for helping director Kathryn Bigelow hand-pick actor Jeremy Renner for the lead role in her film The Hurt Locker (2009).  But that news overshadows a very potent film laced with visually-arresting images and a tense story about one of the most prolific serial killers in existence.

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We meet Jeffrey Dahmer (Renner) at his chocolate factory job being asked to train a transferred employee.  He mutters something to the effect of “these hours will make you go crazy.” An ironic statement given the opening job scenes are where we find him at his most sane.  What we follow throughout is witnessing Dahmer’s infamous case files unfold – the drug-induced kidnapping of a young hispanic adolescent, for example.  But the film soars when the non-linear narrative kaleidoscope of his past comes into view.  A cold, stern father.  An escapist mentality. Unnatural sexual fantasy and promiscuity.  The birth of a killer.

First, the acclaimed performance of Jeremy Renner.  There’s good reason you see Renner snatching up lead roles in The TownThe Bourne Legacy, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  The guy can act.  Renner’s Dahmer is eerily intelligent, calm, charming.  He’s the boy-next-door with a headless mannequin in the closet.  Director David Jacobson seems to point Renner to an inner-struggle between good and evil.  Dahmer appears to be a case where the sub-conscious becomes very conscious and nearly tunes out the rest.  But even Jacobson and Renner, in their ambiguous dabbling, never act smarter than the audience and allow them to ultimately decide.

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Finally, the lighting and cinematography.  DP Chris Manley has his way with the color red, drenching the club and Dahmer’s apartment to look like a photo darkroom. Coincidentally, the very places where Dahmer committed his heinous acts.  The washover gritty look of the film reminisces of late ’70s productions, coinciding with Dahmer’s first murder in ’78.  The editing works beautifully to evoke strange emotion in the flashback club scenes when Dahmer drugs and rapes his victims.  Is he enjoying this?

Dahmer is a horror film, albeit not in the modern sense of the word.  There is no gore; in fact, most of the gruesome details of Dahmer’s story are completely left out.   Yet it stands  as a magnificent character study.  The (potential) motive behind the man.

Dahmer (2002) DVD – Amazon
Dahmer (2002) Trailer – YouTube

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Film Review: Dead Ringers (1988)

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Film: Dead Ringers
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold, Heidi Von Palleske
Release Date: 09/23/88 (theatres) / 06/07/05 (DVD)
Studio: Morgan Creek / Warner Home Video
Tagline: Two bodies. Two minds. One soul. Separation can be a terrifying thing.
Plot: “The Mantle brothers are both doctors – both gynecologists – and identical twins. Mentally however, one of them is more confident than the other, and always manages to seduce the women he meets. When he’s tired of his current partner, she is passed on to the other brother – without her knowing. Everything runs smoothly, until an actress visits their clinic, and the shy brother is the first to fall in love. Will they be able to ‘share’ her?” (Source: IMDB)

Review Score:  5 / 5

With diverse projects ranging from horrors like The Brood to his recent sci-fi drama Cosmopolis, it’s easier to understand why director David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers stands as a mid-career peak.  All the standard body-horror themes are present, but first began his venture into another area – the mind.  After the lead role being dismissed by actors Robert DeNiro and William Hurt, Jeremy Irons took on the challenge of portraying twin brothers.  Much like audiences, a part that eventually made Irons realize the confusion surrounding which twin was which, and thus the internalization process for him to play one or the other.  The film was released to critical acclaim (83% consensus based on 35 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes) and has continued to receive praise from critics and audiences alike.

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A film that begins with two young boys discussing, of all things, fish sex.  But these introductory scenes later serve an important purpose in establishing the unique dichotomy of renowned twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons).  Their relationship goes beyond blood, beyond clinical practice.  The confident, domineering Elliot serves as the face and voice whereas passive, introverted Beverly is the brain. Together, they are the dream team – Shaq and Kobe, Bonnie and Clyde, Batman and Robin.  With degrees, careers, and inventions in their name…the world of gynecology is their oyster.  But, for every strength must come a weakness.  And what better, or worse, an irony to the Mantle story than their tragic unraveling at the hands of a woman, actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold).  Claire’s exotic lifestyle of prescription narcotics and sexual exploration temporarily helps the brothers’ disguise their promiscuity.   Appearances are not everything, however, and Claire confronts the two head-on.  Beverly takes the break-up particularly hard, and succumbs to a drug-fueled depression that spirals the brother’s careers, lives and relationship into total chaos.

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Even today, Dead Ringers stands as one of the most devastating stories ever told.  Based on the true life story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, found dead of drug overdose in their New York apartment, Cronenberg took this heart-wrenching event and created a masterpiece with many of his trademark themes deeply imbedded.

The themes mimic ones found in his 1996 fetishized drama Crash.  In Crash, film producer James Ballard (James Spader) becomes part of a group of people who get sexually aroused from car accidents.  First, this ‘pain for pleasure’ concept can be used similarly to describe the Mantle’s duel-relationship with Claire.  Claire’s discovery of the brother’s game affects Beverly in particular, and fuels his addiction (pleasure) once he becomes isolated from her when she departs overseas for a film shoot (pain).  Next, the idea of ‘attachment’ reduced to a callous impulse.  In Crash, the group exploits their sexual fantasy by re-creating famous car crashes.  For the Mantle brothers, their genetic attachment has degraded into a game, whom until Claire, preyed on people’s inability to tell them apart.  Finally, the effects that attaching to these painful pleasures has on fragile minds and the ultimate end that awaits: death. Elliot was not Elliot without Beverly, and vice versa.  While able to disguise themselves in the bed, they were unable to do so in their careers.  And with attachment comes sharing in all those pains and pleasures, thus their demise was inevitable.  At the end scenes of Crash, James has a self-realization of this notion and yet cannot free himself from this destiny.  Were the Mantle twins actions, and untimely deaths, self-inflicted (artificial) or were they victims of their genetic make-up (nature)?

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Dead Ringers (1988) IMDB
Dead Ringers (1988) YouTube Trailer
Dead Ringers (1988) Amazon

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Film Discussion: Director Craig Griffith

upcomi3My exclusive interview with director Craig Griffith (Through The Looking Glass) is now posted at JedBundy.com‘s wonderful world of horror! Check it out!

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Film Review: YellowBrickRoad (2010)

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My review of the psychological horror-thriller film YellowBrickRoad (2010) is now posted at JedBundy.com‘s wonderful world of horror!  Check it out!

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Film Review: Possession (1981)

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Film: Possession
Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Starring: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Heinz Bennett, Michael Hogben
Release Date:  05/27/81 (theatres) / 05/09/00 (DVD)
Studio: Gaumont / Anchor Bay
Tagline:  Murder. Evil. Infidelity. Madness.
Plot: “A young woman left her family for an unspecified reason. The husband determines to find out the truth and starts following his wife. At first, he suspects that a man is involved. But gradually, he finds out more and more strange behaviors and bizarre incidents that indicate something more than a possessed love affair.” (Source: IMDB)

Review Score:  5 / 5

(*Author’s Note: Possession is now sixth in my Top Ten List article and About section.)

Tragically, it’s more timely than ever to witness a macabre depiction of marriage.  According to 2005 statistics, married adults divorced two and a half times as often as adults did back when Possession hit French theaters in 1981.  Director Andrzej Zulawski himself was going through a divorce during production, making the bloody situations on-screen between Anna (Isabelle Adjani) and Mark (Sam Neill) appear as no mistake.  Through his lens, and the powerful acting performances, we can begin to understand what lifts this gem from obscure online forums into cult classic status.

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Mark (Neill) returns home from a lengthy business trip of unknown origin and suspects infidelity on the part of his wife Anna (Adjani), whom only comes to visit him periodically.  Various phone conversations with Anna’s friend Margit confirm an affair with a man named Heinrich (Heinz Bennett).  Upon arrival at his place, Mark discovers Heinrich has not seen her in weeks.  Obssessed with finding Anna’s whereabouts, Mark hires a private detective and discovers her bizzare trail while coming psychologically undone himself.

What sets Possession apart is Zulawski’s unique camerawork.  The biggest factor in any relationship or marriage is communication, and Zulawski is ensuring the ultimate breakdown.  His use of juxtaposed close-ups with medium shots sway the audience between Mark and Anna.  The kitchen scenes use this to great effect.  Focus is on Anna for several shots, then moved to Mark for the remainder of the scene.  Cause, effect.  Question, answer.   Zulawski also utilizes low-angle shots (Mark at his apartments, for example) to inspire fear and insecurity to the film’s world.  These standard tricks match the script’s disorienting property.

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What must also work masterfully for Possession – and does –  is the pitch-perfect acting.  As head-scratching as their roles are, Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani deserve the widespread critical acclaim they received.  Adjani won Best Actress at Cannes Film Festival and the French’s Cesar Award for her role as Anna.  In an interview with A.V. Club, Sam Neill described portraying Mark as “the most crazed thing [he’s] ever done.”  Meanwhile, it’s been reported that Adjani took several years to shake residuals from the film.  Their husband-wife characters go through such a bizarre marital hell that it’s impossible to picture anyone else.

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Zulawski invokes  symbolism throughout Possession‘s 127-minute run time.  One lesser-discussed example is the telephone.  Mark is shown constantly dialing or receiving calls from Anna, Margit, Heinrich, Heinrich’s mother, etc. in contrast to violence erupting in nearly every face-to-face conversation.  Another example is the messy apartments. These depictions are the film’s main theme of distance and breakdown in relationships.  The hidden ‘creature’ in Anna’s apartment represents the ‘true’ or ‘desired’ Mark, perhaps even the one she originally married.

Let Zulawski take ‘possession’ of your eyes and heart with his epic bloody drama.

Possession (1981) IMDb
Possession (1981) Mondo Vision 2013 DVD

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Guest Film Review: Organ (1996)

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As I mentioned last month, ever since I stumbled upon Ronny Carlsson and Preston Carnell’s wonderful site FilmBizzaro, I have held a huge desire to write for them.  Conversations between Ronny and myself resulted in an invitation to do two guest film reviews.

It is an honor and privilege to announce my first guest review, director Kei Fujiwara’s surreal mystery-horror film Organ (1996), is now posted at filmbizzaro.com, your source for underground and independent film!  Check it out!

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