I love the Purge films, and I find the evolution of the franchise fascinating. Trust an Ethan Hawke home invasion horror show to spawn some inspired, stylish and whacked out sequels. As good as Hawke and the horror was, it’s the concept of the Purge itself that led to ignition on the rest of series. Where Anarchy broke free from the conceptual restraints of the first and burst into all out war as we got to see full scale just what a purge looks like, Election Year builds ideas upon the carnage and gets political, though no less visceral and terrifying. There’s just something so unnerving about the premise of it, the absolute extremes in human behaviour it brings out, accented by a wry, satirical edge that seems so disturbing to me and what makes these films unique from scores of other horror fare. Here we see the New Founding Fathers, originally responsible for inauguration of the purge, challenged by a fierce new independent senator (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell), who has survived a particularly nasty purge night years before and wants to abolish the night forever. The evil, bitter chairman of the Fathers (Raymond J. Barry, turning the creepy Machiavellian scumbag dial up well past eleven) slightly augments the newest purge night in hopes of eliminating her from the running. Frank Grillo returns as eternally badass Sarge, now on her private security detail, and they both are forced to run through the night from rabid purgers (who have now gone international, apparently) Barry’s lethal Neo Nazi special ops assassination squad and even a bunch of crips. Help comes from a salty old deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) who wont go down with out a fight and a badass anti purger (Betty Gabriel) with a triage van. It’s loud, mean, brutal stuff that, as Anarchy did, takes lurid advantage of the premise and shows some jarringly depraved human behaviour from folks in all classes and makes a strong point towards the purge being a pretty shitty idea to begin with, especially when ulterior motives of those in power become clear. Writer director James Demonaco always attracts interesting actors to these films and has carved out quite the little legacy here. This year saw another one, a prequel called The First Purge which I’m excited to see, and Amazon just announced their own small screen version, so bring it on.
Joining us is seasoned veteran actor Raymond J. Barry to discuss his long and amazing career. Raymond speaks about being a theater actor and playwright, to appearing in such films as Falling Down, Interview with the Assassin, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Year of the Dragon, Born on the 4th of July, and Training Day among many. He shares wonderful anecdotes from the films he has been a part of, and his candid thoughts on his roles and people he’s worked with. We hope you enjoy listening to this podcast as much as we enjoyed recording it. Please visit Raymond’s website to view his reel as well as his artwork.
Slow Burn is just that, one of those dreary, stylized neo noirs about a low rent private investigator (Eric Roberts) who is on a case but seems only half interested, probably because the plot meanders around making little sense or holding less interest than a ruptured hull does water. Roberts is always engaging so it’s not all bad, plus there’s some eclectic cast members supporting him and an appearance from young Johnny Depp in what was one of his first roles, probably filmed in between takes of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Roberts is hired by a kooky New York artist (the great Raymond J. Barry) to investigate Depp’s stern rich parents (Beverly D’Angelo and Dan Hedaya), who may have some vague familial ties or be involved in a decades old scandal. Or are they? Do we care? Does it matter? It certainly didn’t matter to any potential distributors, as there seems to be literally no North American DVD release, I had to watch one of those choppy ten part YouTube versions. It’s interesting to see Depp and Roberts together in a few quick scenes, they are two legends of cool and it’d be nice to see them in something else together again. Overall though this is a particularly slow burn, and not a very enthralling one at that.
Brian Jun’s Steel City is a fantastic, little heard of indie rust belt drama that deals in choices, consequences, regrets and what it takes to heal, if possible. In the heartlands, a young working class man (Tom Guiry) struggles with pretty much every aspect of his life. His father (an understated John Heard) has been recently incarcerated, and it’s tearing him apart, as well as his family. His older brother (Clayne Crawford) is a hotheaded mess. He finds solace when his uncle Vic (Raymond J. Barry, superb) offers him work and sobering life advice in equal doses. He meets a wonderful girl played by America Ferrera, and gradually, bit by bit, his story hits an upswing. This is a small story, revolving around a minuscule faction of the big picture, but that’s all it is anyways, thousands of lives unfolding on personal scale, adding up to this mosaic we call humanity. Life goes on for him, and the film is but a small window into one transitionary chapter of his life. Guiry is great, but Ferrera is magic as the kind of girl anyone could only hope to end up with. Barry gives one of the most soulful turns of his storied career as the kind of no nonsense mentor who cares a lot more than is visible behind all that gruff. The kind of life affirming story that finds hope in the oddest of places.
Everyone’s had the moment where they’re at the absolute end of their rope and feel like taking drastic or violent action against whatever is grinding your gears. Whether it’s a hot day in horrendous rush hour traffic, a particularly irritating lineup at Starbucks or an especially dense customer service worker, you just feel like saying ‘fuck it’, and decimating the place with anything you can lay your hands on. In Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down, Michael Douglas does just that on a sweltering LA summer day. His character, who remains nameless save for the moniker ‘D-Fens’, is a business man on his way home who just… snaps. Throwing a tantrum on the LA overpass, he quickly loses it, arms himself with a high velocity shotgun and proceeds to vet out every mundane annoyance, pet peeve and irksome scenario he can find. Whether it’s brutal catharsis he’s looking for, a cure for the doldrums of daily life or simply raging against that emptiness we all feel deep down, he keeps his reasons to himself, and let’s every other aspect of his character run wild. Holding up a fast food joint because they stopped serving breakfast five minutes too early, massacring homeless punks who foolishly harass him, his crusade sprawls across the valley and beyond, a righteous purge of monotonous, infuriating trivial concerns that soon has the attention of LA’s finest in the form of veteran Detective Robert Duvall and his crass, obnoxious lieutenant (Raymond J. Barry). It’s also revealed that Douglas’s personal life leading up to his break was rocky at best, with a job going downhill and hints of violence towards his wife and daughter. Quite drastic is the meltdown though, but it’s not quite a character study, he’s almost used more to pick away at the decays in society, a tool for exposing tears in the cloth we take for granted every day. His story is kind of like when you load up Grand Theft Auto on your console and completely ignore the missions in favour of a personalized war on anything that moves. His war happens to be against those little nagging inconveniences that seem like no biggie until they add up and you just go postal. It’s darkly funny stuff, but quite harrowing when you look at the big picture and the actual damage he’s doing to the city. Douglas is courageous here, it takes reckless abandon to go for a role like this, and he owns it in crew cut, well dressed fashion, a costume choice that absurdly clashes with the big metal cannon he totes. The film never takes sides either, recognizing both the bizarre consumerist nightmare we wade through everyday and it’s ability to dampen your spirit as well as the sickening extremes he goes to, challenging you to walk a line and look at both sides. Hard hitting stuff.
A remake of an old black and white Disney flick called The Absent Minded Professor that has long since gotten a bit stale, Flubber took all the best elements of that and breathed new 90’s life into the premise, most of the pep in its step coming from star Robin Williams. Keep in mind it was a critical bomb though, which just doesn’t make a shred of sense to me. It’s fun, lighthearted, hilarious and just a bit raunchy in places where it can pull it off. For whatever reason, it didn’t sit well with anyone other than fans like me who will furiously shove a copy in your face if we hear that you haven’t seen it. Williams is college professor Philip Brainard, who is so absent minded it borders on dementia. He leaves his lovely fiance (Marcia Gay Harden) at the alter TWICE, prompting the advances of irksome college dean Shooter Mcgavi- I mean Christopher Mcdonald. He’s on a quest, you see, an obsessive quest to find the formula for… something. That something turns up after a destructive whirlwind of disasters in his basement lab, and in the form of Flubber, a lovable ball of green goo, infected with incurable ADHD and an inexhaustible sense of humour. While the utter the life of the party, Flubber does have its practical uses, such as making cars fly and turning the hopeless varsity basketball team into a bunch of flying Tasmanian devils who nail every dunk. This all gets the attention of insidious local philanthropist and lowlife Chester Hoenicker (Raymond J. Barry) who greedily wants the discovery for his own. He sends his two goons Smith (Ted Levine) and Wesson (Clancy Brown) to rob Brainard of his precious sentient mucous, which turns into one of the most hilarious displays of slapstick comedy since the Three Stooges. Oh, did I mention Williams has a little flying UFO sidekick named Weebo, who has a perfect GIF reaction to everything, before GIF’s were even a thing? So much to love about this little classic. Williams is his usual buoyant self, with some of his trademark razor focus diminished in favor of doe eyed, vacuous forgetfulness that would make Jason Bourne guilty for ever whining about his predicament. Special effects are top drawer too, Flubber would look dapper in Blu Ray if they ever felt so inclined as to release one, not to mention aforementioned airborne automobiles and dear little Weebo. Can’t give enough glowing praise to this little treasure, and hiss enough venom towards those sourpuss critics who assaulted it. Flubber for the win.
“To protect the sheep, you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” This questionable sentiment is how rogue LAPD detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) justifies a heavy laundry list of dirty deeds, scary volatility, sociopathic backstabbing and a complete disregard for the badge that he wears on a chain like dog tags. And indeed, inner city Los Angeles can seem like a war zone, but its like he’s in fact more part of the problem than the dark angel of justice he sees in himself. Antoine Fuqua’s combustible crime drama Training Day rightly won Washington an Oscar for his unsettling runaway train of a performance, and he owns it down to the last maniacal mannerism and manipulative tactic. The film takes place over one smoggy L.A. day (hence the title) that feels like an eternity for its two leads, as well as all the colorful and often terrifying people they meet along the yellow brick road that’s paved with used needles and shell casings. Harris is tasked with showing rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) the ropes in his neighborhood, in the hopes that he’ll pass the test and achieve Narc status. Jake is prepared for a run of the mill crash course, but as soon as he’s treated to a verbal beatdown from Harris in the diner they meet at, he has a feeling it ain’t gonna be anywhere close to a normal day. This is just another day for Harris though, as he drags Hoyt by the scruff through drug busts, gang warfare, the worst neighborhood in town and pulls him deeper into his very dangerous world. Fuqua has a knack for getting the atmosphere of his settings just pitch perfect, and the feverish nightmare of the inner city comes alive, seemingly possessing the characters themselves until the atrocities just seem like a way of life. The trouble really starts when they run across Harris’s old drug lord buddy Roger (a wicked Scott Glenn in a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke), who proves a valuable asset later, though not in the way you might think. Harris introduces Jake to his equally crooked and scary team, including Peter Greene, Nick Chinlund and Dr. Dre who struggles in the acting department, especially in a room full of such heavy hitters. Jake is aghast at the horrors he sees and cannot believe the streets are like this. Harris devilishly assures him that this is the job, mutilating the symbol of his badge even more by justifying such behaviour as necessary. Tension reaches unbearable heights during a visit to a Latino gang household run by Cliff Curtis, Raymond Cruz and the eternally scary Noel Gugliemi. This is the heart of darkness fpr the film, a story beat from which there is seemingly no escape, until it becomes clear that Jake has somehow evolved a step up the food chain as far as LA goes, and is now ready to put down the dog who taught him, a dog who has long been rabid. People complain that the final act degenerates into a routine action sequence. Couldn’t disagree more. With a setup so primed with explosive conflict, it can’t end up anywhere else but an all out man to man scrap, which when followed by no flat out action sequences earlier in the film, hits hard. Their inevitable confrontation is a powerhouse, especially from Washington, who finally loses his composure and yowls like a trapped coyote, his actions caught up to him. In a role originally intended for Tom Sizemore (who would have rocked it in his own way) I’m glad Denzel got a crack at it, for he’s absolute dynamite. Watch for Harris Yulin, Raymond J. Barry and Tom Berenger as the three senior LAPD dick heads, Eva Mendes as Alonzo’s girlfriend, Macy Gray as a screeching banshee of a ghetto whore and Snoop Dogg as your friendly neighborhood wheelchair bound crack dealer. Fuqua keeps attention rooted on the dynamic between Washington and Hawke, who is excellent in as role that could have easily been swallowed up by Washington’s monster of of a performance. Hawke holds his own, and the film is really about how two very different guys view a difficult area of town, how it changes them both, and ultimately how their moral compasses end up on a collision course. One of the best crime framas out there, and quickly becoming timeless.
Best Men is the most charming, dainty and innocuous movie about bank robbing that you’ll ever see. It’s premise revolves around a wedding party that unwittingly gets roped into a heist, but they’re all solid folks, including the perpetrator, and all just want the best for the happy couple they are celebrating for. Therein lies both the comedic and the touching moments, of which there are many, supplied by a diverse and very capable cast. A troupe of best men accompany a groom (Luke Wilson) on the way to his matrimonial bliss. One among them is a hotheaded adrenaline junkie named Billy (Sean Patrick Flanery, never more adorable). Billy has knack for robbing banks whilst reciting Shakespeare. Demands, commands, profanities. All in the Bard’s tongue. He brazenly holds up a rural branch and drags his friends in, including two others, an ex military stud (Dean Cain) and a squirrelly, pussy whipped Andy Dick. They soon find themselves trapped in the bank with law enforcement prepping a siege outside their front door and Wilson’s determined Bridezilla (a feisty Drew Barrymore) marching straight into the crime scene to furiously give her fiancé what for. Billy also has severe daddy issues, which probably led to him lashing out in such a theatrical fashion in the first place. Coincidentally, the local sheriff (Fred Ward) happens to be his Poppa, and the two face off in scenes which undermine the lighter tone and dig for pathos that’s worth pausing for. They’re threatened by a gung ho FBI agent (Raymond J. Barry) who wants to blow them to kingdom come so he can go to lunch. They also find themselves sequestered in the bank with a sketchy Viet nam vet played by a wicked funny Brad Dourif in quite the commanding little supporting turn. Amid the screwball roughhousing, him and Cain find a few aching moments of truth relating to Cain’s sexual orientation, and his shame regarding it. I love a light, harebrained comedy, but I love em even more when they take deep breaths between fits of lunacy to gift their characters with some gravity that makes you feel something besides your sides splitting. This ones sadly forgotten, and you should all give it a go, it’s a gem.
The River Murders is a fairly entertaining thriller vehicle for Ray Liotta that tries hard to be in the same grisly territory as stuff like Sev7n, and winds up looking pretty silly in its efforts. It takes place on a rural community in the Midwest, where a serial killer is leaving bodies for authorities to find. Detective Jack Verdon (Liotta) does some digging and finds that that himself and the killer may have met before in the past, making it personal. This causes unrest for both the department and Verdon’s mental state, prompting the arrival of an overzealous Federal agent (Christian Slater, annoying as hell here), and the concern of his captain (Ving Rhames). It’s fun watching Liotta spin out of control, and the film climaxes with reasonable intensity, but showcases nothing unique or noteworthy. Raymond J. Barry has a nice bit as Liotta’s father too.
Across The Line: The Exodus Of Charlie Wright is the very definition of overlooked. It was probably underfunded and squeaked forth through meager marketing a few years ago, neither of which has prevented it from triumphing as a sharp little sleeper flick that of course nobody saw. The central theme is age and regret, each character finding themselves at some sad crossroads, placed there by the decisions they’ve made in the past and the ways in which they have conducted themselves up to the final act of their lives. To observe people at such a stage haunts you as much as it does them, and made for a film that took a while to get out of my head. Aiden Quinn plays Charlie Wright, a billionaire financial genius whose empire has been exposed as nothing more than a pitiful ponzi scheme, right under his unwitting nose. He is in self imposed exile in Mexico, and soon the consequences rain down on him in the form of several different pursuers. A Mexican gangster (Andy Garcia) wants him, as well as a Russian (Elya Baskin) and his dodgy American representitive (Raymond J. Barry). The FBI has their sights on him as well, in the form of a weary looking Mario Van Peebles, sanctioned by the Director (Corbin Bernson). There’s also a trio of merceneries headed up by a dogged Luke Goss, Bokeem Woodbine and Gary Daniels who have been deployed south of the border to hunt him. It sounds like a bunch of commotion, but I found it to be a very reserved meditation on just how far people are willing to stand by their life choices when they see what’s become of the goals they had in mind when they made said choices in the first place. Quinn is the most understated, yet speaks the loudest as a man on the run from the world. Gina Gershon makes an emotional impact as a woman involved with Garcia, who is also great. South of the border intrigue. Ponderous introspect. A winning recipe.