American Violence (2017): Anti Death Penalty Message? (Review)

Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau as Jackson Shea

Written by Al Lamanda and directed by Timothy Woodward Jr. American Violence can be seen as both a cautionary tale with more than its fair share of tragedy and an anti-death penalty message all rolled into one.

Starring a number of well-known faces, including Bruce Dern, Denise Richards,  Johnny Messner and Patrick Kilpatrick, the film features Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau as Jackson Shea. A man on death row awaiting his execution by lethal injection. 

Richards is psychologist Dr. Amanda Tyler. She has been asked to review the man’s case file to find violent flags. What follows is a journey through Shea’s life.

The entire story borders on a clichéd premise. The young Shea is sexually abused by his uncle, his mother drinks herself to death and after his first stint in prison, Jackson’s convict partner in crime is tortured to death.

American Violence is a tragedy in several acts that approaches the subject matter with an attitude that takes itself a tad too seriously. Shea’s life is interesting but the movie takes too long a look and loses something because of it.

At 107 minutes, the film drags a bit in the middle and could have benefitted from a little less imagery. There are shots in the film that indicate the criminals who inhabit this world are victims. (Pay close attention during the torture scene at the icon on the wall behind Martin Bigg.)

Regardless of the main message that the film projects – that violence begets violence – the underlying theme is that too much violence corrupts as it deadens those who are consistently exposed to it.

All the people in Shea’s life are unpleasant and, no real surprise here, violent. If they are not prone to kill other people they are, at the very least, aggressive and threatening.

Although we are led to believe that the “love of his life” Olivia (whose father is a criminal kingpin) is something special.  The killer’s story is one of a ever deepening spiral into death and revenge that ultimately destroys him even before his execution can be carried out.

Even the legal system in his world is corrupt and full of people who take advantage of their position and power to push others into doing bad things. As the film reveals the story of Shea’s life, it takes great pains to show the convict as both victim and sinner.

There are some solid performances from the actors that fill out the film. Richards may be that bit too serious but it fits the character. Bruce Dern delivers in spades, as usual, and Emma Rigby, as Olivia Rose, satisfies as the femme fatale love interest.

Despite the length of the film and the more obvious stereotypical characters and tropes American Violence is almost compelling. It is hard to be uninterested in Shea’s story as it unfolds via his session with Tyler.

The number of capable actors who interact with Lyman-Mersereau help to sell the story.  At the end of the film we may not agree with the its heavy-handed message but we can at least understand it.

American Violence is a 3 star film that strives to be much more than the sum of all its parts. There are bits that work extremely well however. The lighting, for example, tells us that the very character of Shea is a mixture of light and dark. Just as the framing, and lighting, of Dern’s character reveals that he is not evil but acting naturally given his position.

The film will premiere on February 3, 2017. Check out the trailer below and see what you think.

AMERICAN VIOLENCE – THEATRICAL TRAILER from Status Media & Entertainment on Vimeo.

Quentin Tarantino Reviving The Hateful Eight?

Quentin Tarantino Reviving The Hateful Eight?

Looks like none of those “ten other stories” that Quentin Tarantino had up his sleeve sounded as good as his Western homage The Hateful Eight and he may be reviving it from the realms of the shelf. The Pulp Fiction director threw a fit earlier when a website got hold of his draft first script of the film that he says was to be a homage to The Magnificent Seven and leaked it all over the Internet.

Quentin Tarantino: How to Tell Your Script Has Been Leaked Guide

Quentin Tarantino: How to Tell Your Script Has Been Leaked Guide

While Quentin Tarantino is writing his book version of The Hateful Eight he should think about penning a guide on how to tell your script has been leaked. It would also be a good idea, either in the footnotes, prologue or author’s note to list things not to do with your fledgling script.

 

Quentin Tarantino: What is Really Eating Him?

Quentin Tarantino: What is Really Eating Him?

Quentin Tarantino is throwing a huge fit, someone has leaked his script all over Hollywood and he is now not going to make the movie, but, what is really eating him up? Is Tarantino really that upset that a first draft script was leaked? Could the real problem be one of trust? Is it something else entirely?

 

Hell Ride (2008): Biker Film Homage

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Written and directed by Larry Bishop (son of Joey) Hell Ride is an apparent homage to the Roger Corman Biker films of the 60’s and 70’s. The “original” biker films were cheap, loud and full of bad acting and great moments. *who can forget a mortally wounded Bruce Dern in The Wild Angels asking as he dies, “Does anybody have a straight cigarette?”*

Unfortunately Bishop’s homage, while it looks good, does not contain any “great” moments like the old 70’s films. You can call Roger Corman many things, but corny wouldn’t be one of them.

Hell Ride has a good cast:

Larry Bishop
Michael Madsen
Vinnie Jones
David Carradine
Dennis HopperEric Balfour

The film looks like a part of the “Grindhouse” flicks that Tarantino and Rodriguez put out in 2007 and appropriately enough the idea came about when Bishop was working with Tarantino on Kill Bill 2. While the idea might have been a brilliant one, the actual execution left a lot to be desired.

I’ll start by saying what I think was wrong with the film. Firstly, all the leads seemed to be doing their best Clint Eastwood impression. It was all clenched teeth and guttural whispering of lines; even the females. Everyone, that is, except Michael Madsen who played his character like…well, Michael Madsen. If ever there was an actor who could be considered a “one-trick-pony” it is Madsen. Don’t get me wrong, I like Michael, but there is a reason why he doesn’t work that much. There are only so many films that need a Michael Madsen character.

The bikes all looked great, except for the chopper that Madsen rode, it looked like it belonged to another biker and he’d borrowed it. It just did not fit.

Madsen riding his big brothers bike.
Madsen riding his big brothers bike.

The other “problem with the film was the dialogue. It tried too hard to be “cute” and amusing. The blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of Larry Bishop. It’s obvious that his father (who was known as a “comedians comedian”) was a comedy writer and comic. Where these type of lines, “It’s a business. Speaking of business. How’s business” (Spoken between David Carradine and Bishop) reeked of last generation “smart ass” humour that did not fit in the realm of the biker world.

The locations were fine and in keeping with the Southern California setting that the original biker films favoured. But that was about the only thing the film had going for it.

Eric Balfour as Comanche/Bix/Sonny/Son was pretty much wasted in his part. I’ve already groused about Madsen, so we won’t mention him. David Carradine was seen too little. Vinnie Jones was miscast and seen too much. Dennis Hopper was, as usual, great; Hopper cut his teeth on the Biker Genre a’ la Easy Rider. Larry Bishop? Well, suffice to say, if he hadn’t written the damn thing and gotten Quentin to produce it and had Bruce Willis drop out as the lead, he wouldn’t have had to “star” in the film at all.

And that would have been a good thing.

Speaking of good thing (s): the score was boss. It fit the mood and the feeling of the old biker films, but, a good score does not a good movie make.

The final verdict? Crass, crude, creative-not, cinematic chaos. Poorly acted, poorly edited, and poorly received (by me). If you want to re-live the madness that was 60’s and 70’s biker films, watch the real deal, check out the originals and don’t waste your time on this one.

2 out of 5 stars and that’s only because of Hopper and Carradine’s presence.

The original, watch this instead of a crappy homage film. Just sayin'.
The original, watch this instead of a crappy homage film. Just sayin’.