John Carpenter’s 1981 classic Escape from New York, which the filmmaker wrote in the late 70’s as a direct response to the Watergate scandal, was not a movie that I grew up repeatedly watching as a kid, even though I’m definitely a “child of the 80’s.” That being said, I was always aware of its existence, reputation, and while I had seen it once or twice during my youth at friend’s houses (it was one of “those” movies…), it was never a staple film for me during my formative years. All that being said, revisiting it just recently, I was struck by how awesome and low-tech and appreciably cheesy the film is, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is a film that should NEVER be remade — it was a post-apocalyptic movie that feels QUAINT by today’s over the top standards, and as per usual for Carpenter, the script and subtext were just as interesting as the onscreen heroics and action set-pieces. The R-rated violence was also terrific, with all sorts of beat-downs, shoot-outs, and a general air of smart-alecked nastiness leading the day.


Make no mistake — Kurt Russell is Snake Plissken — there’s just no need to recast the role with some young flash-in-the-pan actor who could never, ever possibly replicate the steely-eyed gaze and incredible anti-hero flavor that Russell brought to his iconic performance. Because the film was made on a low budget, much of it is set at night, yet the darkly photogenic cinematography by 80’s master Dean Cundey has a perfect, rough around the edges feel which takes full advantage of the scuzzy production design and down-home-grubbiness of the entire film. And then there’s Carpenter’s fantastic original score, with that trusty theme music popping up in all the proper spots. The premise is simple: an ex-soldier/convict has 22 hours to find the President (Donald Pleasance) who has been stranded on the prison island of Manhattan after the crash of Air Force One. If he’s successful, he’ll be pardoned. If not, he’ll be killed.


With stripped down efficiency and an attention placed on violent spectacle laced with black humor, Carpenter moves from one sequence to the next with hard-core conviction. Co-written by Nick Castle of The Last Starfighter fame. Escape from New York has certainly become a cult classic over the years, but it’s interesting to note that the film was well reviewed and actually became a theatrical success ($25 million vs. a $6 million production budget), which sort of bucks the traditional definition of a “cult” movie. And let’s not forget endless Ernest Borgnine POWER and Harry Dean Stanton EXTRA POWER. Isaac Hayes, Lee Van Cleef, Tom Atkins, and Adrienne Barbeau are also all extremely memorable in supporting roles, and James Cameron worked on the cool matte paintings(!) and also served as an additional director of photography. Shout! Factory’s somewhat recently released Special Edition Blu-ray is a smashing success, featuring a transfer that retains the grit and grain of the original photography, and lots of special features to make any fan of this film grin ear to ear.



We Go Way Back

Watching a director’s first feature after you’ve seen the rest of their work is always interesting, because rather than seeing their natural progression as a storyteller and filmmaker, you view the debut with a different lens because you’ve come to know the artist through other efforts. Getting a chance to see Lynn Shelton’s We Go Way Back was one of those situations – I’ve become a massive fan of her work over the last six years, but only recently had the chance to see her confident, heady, and introspective first film that when viewed in retrospect, feels like an obvious and natural start for her as a creator of filmed stories. Yes, there are some first time filmmaking stylistic ticks that pop up here and there, but I’m all for formal experimentation – film is a visual medium first and foremost so I’m always down for jump-cuts and elliptical editing and stylish fades and transitions. Not that this is a Tony Scott film or anything, but Shelton definitely played with style more than most first time filmmakers who are crafting a low-key and completely character driven piece (i.e. no guns, car chases, explosions, for fancy vulgarity), and it’s within the expressive nature of her then emerging aesthetic that you can see how she’s arrived at a comfortable current spot with her overall style and intent as a moviemaker.

Shelton’s engaging and at times unnerving narrative pivots on a young woman named Kate (the excellent Amber Hubert, with a face of limitless possibility in terms of conveying angst), a fledgling Seattle actress who has just been offered her first starring role (under the direction of a possibly insane local theater director), but begins to essentially have an existential crisis and comes into contact with the physical manifestation of her 13 year-old self. Or so she thinks. This is a stream of conscious type film, with the opening scenes containing jumbled dialogue that mixes current day activities for the 23 year old Kate and the audible memories of her as a teen, with an Altman-esque sense of overlapping in an effort to immerse and quickly confuse. There’s also the recurring motif of Kate reading question filled letters that she had written to herself 10 years previous, all of which reflect on the various behaviors we see her engaging in during the story. The seemingly naïve questions that she has asked herself come to inform the decisions (some poor, some promising) that she makes during the narrative.

Not content to just make a “point and shoot” debut effort, Shelton infused the relatively brief runtime (75 minutes) with enough emotional pathos and cerebral questions to leave one with a rich cinematic experience, rather than a slight experiment with film school pretensions. Shelton’s sense of place is firm from the outset, using the physical surroundings as a character to a certain extent (a theme that’s been carried on in every feature since), while never losing sight of the dramatic task at hand – how to take the viewer through a personal, hopefully cathartic ride through the mind of a young woman who doesn’t know herself as well as she might like. And when viewed as a warm up to My Effortless Brilliance and then Humpday, We Go Way Back feels even more understandable and interesting within Shelton’s naturalistic if pensive worldview. The film won awards at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2006, clearly marking the arrival of a major new talent in American independent cinema, and will finally be available on DVD and Blu-ray later this year.


PTS Proudly Presents Marcus Nispel POWERCAST


We were honored to have filmmaker Marcus Nispel as our featured guest.  Marcus started his career like Mark Pellington, David Fincher and others directing commercials and music videos until he was tapped by Michael Bay to direct the frightening 2003 remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.  Marcus then went on to              make the Martin

Marcus Nispel
Marcus Nispel

Scorsese produced miniseries FRANKENSTEIN, PATHFINDER, the remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH and CONAN THE BARBARIAN.  Marcus’ latest film is EXETER which is now a Direct TV exclusive until it hits theaters in August.  He also teases his next project, STOWAWAY, a deep sea monster film that is co-written by our mutual friend, Juhani Nurmi.  We would like to thank Marcus for how gracious he was with his time.



Your Sister’s Sister is another excellent, sexually awkward, low-budget indie from writer/director Lynn Shelton, who is shaping up to be some sort of quirky hybrid of Paul Mazursky and Woody Allen, a filmmaker interested in human behavior, how people interact and speak, what makes someone tick, and how humor can be derived from the most unlikely of places. This is her darkest film yet, and while there’s rough thematic material at play during the narrative, Shelton’s astute directorial hand is able to guide the story through tonal switches and surprise plot developments, with all of the results feeling at ease and well proportioned. From the exterior, this seems like a simple, small film, and while it’s intimate and low-key, it’s multilayered to the extreme, with great insight into the male and female mind, with a constant sense of emotional probing that is rare in mainstream (or semi-mainstream) filmmaking. And coming directly after her 2009 effort Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister felt like the next logical step for Shelton as a storyteller and filmmaker, as she was able to maintain her semi-improvised scenario, but this time, slicking up the tech package, and making a smoother, more aesthetically polished movie (the versatile and excellent cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke has shot all of Shelton’s films). Your Sister’s Sister is about sex and friendship and sisterhood and the bonds that people create (whether intentional or not) and because she’s set herself up with such a remarkable trio of main performers, the results feel effortless and wholly sincere.


Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie Dewitt are all terrific in this dramedy of errors (so to speak…), and the way that all three get to have their own satisfying arcs without any of them feeling shortchanged is a testament to Shelton’s economical storytelling skills and her deft way of building flawed, three-dimensional characters who are all suffering, in some way, from their own crisis of conscience. Released in 2012 after premiering the previous year at the Toronto International Film Festival, Your Sister’s Sister centers on a woman named Iris (Blunt, refreshingly de-glamourized, nervous, edgy) who invites her best friend, Jack (the wonderful Duplass, hitting all the perfect notes of scruffy machismo), to stay at her mountain cabin so that he can “find himself” and just get away from all his troubles, as he’s still recovering from the sudden death of his brother a year previous. Once at the secluded cabin, much to his surprise, he discovers that Iris has a complicated sister, Hannah (the amazing DeWitt), who also happens to want to use the cabin has her escape from the pressures of the outside world. Before you can say “meet cute,” they two lost souls are doing shots, and then getting hot and heavy, but what Jack doesn’t realize is that Hannah is a lesbian, and there’s more to the story than he could ever know. And of course, in classic Woody-esque fashion, men and women can’t just be friends, and the mutual attraction between Jack and Iris bubbles up the surface in the final act, when all sorts of painful revelations are shared and discovered. And then there’s the sister connection that this film provides, and in the scenes between DeWitt and Blunt, Shelton demonstrates an inherent understanding of the complexities that two female siblings often times share with each other.


Your Sister’s Sister never misses a beat. For 90 perfectly calibrated minutes, Shelton brings you into a dramatically conflicted world for three compelling characters, and by keeping the location work insular and cozy, the viewer is able to quickly latch on to Jack, Hannah, and Iris, so as a result, the audience’s understanding of the character’s various faults and desires are all the more attainable and relatable. Duplass is spectacular in a tricky role, one that requires you to root for him AND to understand his faults, and as always, it’s an absolute joy to watch him on screen in anything he pops up in (he and his brother are also supremely accomplished filmmakers in their own right). DeWitt, who feels like a natural for Shelton’s easy-going style, creates a maddening portrait of anxieties and uncertainty, taking on the role of a confused woman who has a few morally questionable tricks up her sleeve. And while Blunt has taken on a lot of ass-kicking roles of late (Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, the upcoming Sicario), she brought her usual brand of sexy, sultry charm to the role of Iris, creating a person who feels very grounded and honest (this and her work in the underrated Sunshine Cleaning with Amy Adams feel like her most personal performances). And then there’s the ending, which for me, was the only possible way to finish up this contemplative movie; there are no easy answers in life, so why should Shelton have to tie a bow on the final moments of her story? Without spoiling anything, the film closes on a note of hopeful optimism, but considering all that has come before the denouement, I’m reluctant to say that there’ll be a big red bow on the top of life for all of the parties involved. Your Sister’s Sister is a fantastic movie that knows exactly how to play its cinematic hand.



Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark is one of the rare vampire films that I truly love, and that fact is mostly due to the awesome cast and the fantastic script co-written by Bigelow and genre master Eric Red that operates as a sly contemporary Western that just so happens to involve nomadic blood-suckers. Bigelow’s visceral camera style was in full effect, as the action sequences pop with gusto, while Red’s usual brand of dark humor spiced up the already sharp screenplay, creating the perfect mix of humor, emotion, and scares. Bill Paxton is absolutely live-wire terrific in this movie and Lance Henriksen got a chance to be extra nasty and awesome due to the unique shadings of his character and how the story used familiar tropes but freshened them up so you’d constantly be surprised by what unfolded. Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright were solid in the “lead roles” but they were unavoidably outmatched by Paxton’s sleazy charm and Henriksen’s penchant for being casually menacing and entertainingly despicable. Red works in his love for big-rig tractor-trailers, Bigelow got to flex her muscles with some awesome shoot-outs and classically staged, non-CGI enhanced explosions, and the final 10 minutes or so have got to be some of the most intense stuff in the cinematic vampire realm, made all the more effective because we truly care about the characters and their situation. Twilight this is not! Tangerine Dream’s score is moody and sinister and all sorts of late 80’s genius, and because the subject matter is treated in a realistic fashion, the ending carries an emotional punch that you don’t get with every horror movie. I love looking at Adam Greenberg’s stylish nighttime cinematography, as he consistently played with shadow and perspective, and then you’d get an incredible day-time set-piece (such as the finale) where he’d subvert your expectations for the genre (something I’m always a fan of). And another thing — this movie is lean and mean — Howard E. Smith’s tight-as-a-drum editing leaves no fat on the filmic bones, and clocking in at a taut 90 minutes means there’s not one wasted moment. While a box office non-starter, the film was warmly embraced by critics, and has found a huge second life as a cult favorite in the years since its initial theatrical release in 1987. This is one of those vampire movies that has it all — great performances, terrific violence and gore, narrative themes which add heft to the overall scenario, and a definite love for blood and fangs and sequences of vampires going wild with angry, devilish delight.




Pathfinder is a fun, gory, beautifully photographed hybrid-movie from genre specialist Marcus Nispel, and it shows a clear affinity for the action beats and nature aspects from the films of Terrence Malick (The New World), Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans), and Mel Gibson (Apocalypto). Released in 2007, this is a unique item, a film that balances horror elements, sword and shield historical fiction, and Native American mysticism in an effort to conjure up something startling and different within the context of the period action film genre. The effectively blunt narrative sets up the action right at the outset, with Karl Urban’s monosyllabic performance in clear debt to the hulking bravado of Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian (which Nispel would later update in 2011), and while the screenplay from Laeta Kalogridis typically jettisons surprise in favor of sturdy if clichéd dramatics, the star of the film is clearly the visually talented Nispel and his incredible cinematographer Daniel C. Pearl, who shoots in moody, highly textured widescreen, combining an almost monochromatic look to go along with the crimson red swaths of blood that fly all over the screen. This is a film in love with its violent spectacle, and the barbaric sights that are offered up take full advantage of the R-rating (and are even more intense in the unrated edition out on disc). Nispel clearly went to rigorous physical ends with this production (Herzog would blush at the mountain footage), which looks and feels twice as big as its reported budget ($30 million). And in this day and age of watered down, neutered action films, there’s a refreshing honesty to the carnage and bloodletting, all of which feels intensely cinematic; it’s an area that Nispel wonderfully excels at. And though his films have mostly done strong business worldwide for the last 12 years, he’s still waiting to deliver his BIG blockbuster film, and I have a feeling that his upcoming sea monster film (which has apparently been inspired by Nordic myth) might be that movie.


TRUE DETECTIVE 2.3 MAYBE TOMORROW – A Review by Frank Mengarelli



The third episode of the new season did a perfect job of fleshing the four main characters out in a complex and natural way. The episode opened with a surprising and welcome turn from veteran character actor Fred Ward as Colin Farrell’s retired cop father, in Farrell’s dreamscape. Ward, who later appears in a fantastic scene with Farrell, was cast perfectly much like Jack Palance being cast as Nicholson’s boss in BATMAN.

The episode dug deeper into Vince Vaughn’s primal gangster psyche, where he is forced to revert back to his thug brutality casting aside the educated facade he’s so carefully constructed around himself. Vaughn is currently giving the performance of his career, playing a man who is so desperate to shake his Chicago gangster persona by speaking in analytical riddles and multiple syllable words he’s heard, presumably, spoken by the sophisticated men he’s trying to legitimize himself with.


In my review of last week’s episode, I referenced THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, and this episode falls in line perfectly with that. The scene where Vaughn summons all the criminals he knows into the basement of the club is a clear homage to that film. The scene was only missing the men dangling upside down from meat hooks. But it was championed by Vaughn’s vicious use pliers.

Colin Farrell lives, because of course he does. Whilst killing him off in the second episode would have been audacious and perhaps even brilliant, he is the central hub of this show. Farrell is giving a blistering and raw performance as a man who has nothing left to live for, and the only thing propelling him forward is the rage inside him that he can barely contain for much longer. The entire episode, Farrell is physically distraught, rarely blinks and is a bomb waiting to detonate that will lay absolute waste to anything surrounding him. Farrell’s whiskey and cocaine bloated physicality is a prime example of how carefully details are paid to on this show.


Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh is losing his grip on himself. He can barely keep his homosexual urges repressed, and his inner torment is causing his world around him to erode. I can’t wait to see how Kitsch’s storyline plays out, and I imagine it’s going to keep spiralling downward.

Rachel McAdam’s is fantastic as the emotional vampire, sucking life from the patrolman Mike, just so she can keep moving onward with hers. I am absolutely loving the running joke of everyone commenting on the fact that McAdams keeps smoking an e-cigarette.

Ritchie Coster is fabulous as the drunken mayor of fictional city of Vinci who is the antithesis of corrupted power. Coster has been chameleon like in everything I’ve seen him in. Such as THE DARK KNIGHT, THE BLACKOUT and HBO’s tremendous but ill fated LUCK. This is the second time in as many episodes we’ve seen the picture of the privileged Mayor and George W. Bush embracing one another. I can’t help but enjoy the kinship and association we are meant to take from that.


What makes the second season of TRUE DETECTIVE so fantastic thus far is that if the seasons were flipped all the critics and naysayers would be complaining about how self indulged and pretentious Matthew McConaughey’s dialogue is. I honestly cannot understand what the critics, who were sent a screener containing the first three episodes of this season (so we are now caught up with them) are complaining about, and frankly I don’t care. Each episode of this season has been better than its former. What we’ve seen from the second season as of right now are four career high performances from the leads, a fantastic noir with an ambiguous time setting (cops are smoking in the Vinci police department at their desks, as are people in the bar where Farrell and Vaughn meet, tube TV’s strategically placed, digital and analog technology mixed together) and a pitch black world, where the main characters get exactly that. Maybe tomorrow will be better, but deep down inside they each know it won’t. They are getting the world they deserve.