The Dust Bowl (2012) – Ken Burns

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Ken Burns is a highly talented documentarian, and I was delighted to see a number of his films have been recently added to Netflix, so I decided to settle in this weekend and work my way through one, with the intention of making my way through every one that is currently available on the ever-improving Netflix streaming service.

The film takes you through the entire run of this manmade ecological disaster, filled with film and photographs taken at the time. To hear the stories, coupled with the amazing pictures, the film is nothing short of awe-inspiring in the true sense of the phrase, and some of the images are downright terrifying.

As you watch, giant dust clouds, towering on the horizon, dwarfing everything before them as if they were moving mountain ranges, and then when the picture changes, the storm has moved that much closer.

It took a hardy, brave, and nigh unbreakable type of people to survive this almost decade long assault, almost an act of revenge by nature for the way the land had been treated.

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Everything is explored, the causes, the results, the stories of those who did and didn’t live through it. The heartbreaking tales, the wrenching pictures, Burns makes the film as revelant a commentary on today’s treatment of the ecology as it is a historical document, putting a human face on the end result of abusing the world we live in.

The film follows a number of families, not only with letters and written histories, but interviews with survivors, those who stayed, and the cost they paid for it as well as those who followed a mass exodus to California where they were met not with open arms, but with a level of racism and abuse.

Narrated by Peter Coyote, the four hour film is broken up over two episodes, both of which are completely engaging, interweaving individual stories with a national tale, from the farmer who loses everything, houses buried in sand, killing off their livestock, to a president, Roosevelt, who is struggling to find relief for the plains of America.

Without coming right out and saying it, the film is a reflection of our own times, suggesting that we need to be more aware of our impact on our environment, because something akin to this could definitely happen again.

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Trying to convey the pure power of the photographs and film through words, simply pales by comparison. Words like stunning, terrifying, jaw-dropping are suitable descriptors but seeing them for yourself chills the blood.

This was my first full experience watching a Ken Burns film (I know I’m a little late to the party, but boy am I looking forward to watching the other Burns films on Netflix now!).

Have you seen any of them? Do you have a favorite? Which would you recommend?

The Dust Bowl, as well as other Ken Burns films, and a plethora of other documentaries are currently available on Netflix.

What are you watching tonight?

Dark Day in Ulysses, Kansas

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Jack Reacher (2012) – Christopher McQuarrie

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Ok. Let’s get this out-of-the-way first… the bus stop gag does not work, and is downright silly.

I took a quick break from my lists today to hit Netflix and have a look at the latest Tom Cruise vehicle, Jack Reacher. I’d read a couple of the books by Lee Child, and was interested on how McQuarrie and Cruise translated it to the big screen.

Reacher (Cruise) is a wanderer, and ex-military police officer, who is dogged and relentless in his pursuit of what is right. When he came back Stateside however, he decided to live off the grid, and wander aimlessly, you know, like Caine in Kung-Fu.

When an ex-military sniper shoots 5 innocent people, the suspect Barr (Joseph Sikora) only writes down one thing in his interrogation with the police investigator running the show, Emerson (David Oyelowo), “Get Jack Reacher.”

Reacher shows up at District Attorney Rodin’s (Richard Jenkins) office, to learn what has been going on, having seen the news report. As Rodin and Emerson sew up their case, Reacher begins to suspect there is something more going on, and begins investigating the 5 victims, working as defense lawyer Helen Rodin’s (Rosamund Pike) chief investigator, while she works to prove her father’s case is wrong.

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The film has a lot of the feel of the books I’ve read, Reacher doesn’t say a lot, can be incredibly violent when he needs to be, and is unshakable in his pursuit of justice.

Cruise, for my money, is not how I saw Jack Reacher in my mind’s eye, but he does do a passable job, and the fight sequences, when they happen, are quick, brutal, and exactly what I did expect.

Pike, for me, has been a joy to watch since I first discovered her in Die Another Day, and she adds to a very interesting cast that includes Robert Duvall as a rifle range and gun shop owner, and famed director Werner Herzog as the rather sinister and mostly fingerless Zek.

This one is a fairly satisfying mystery thriller, though didn’t have the exact same hook as the books do, I think, once again, that that is due to Cruise. I just don’t see him as Reacher.

For all that, McQuarrie has crafted a nice little thriller, except for the bus stop bit, that moves along rapidly, racing towards the expected showdown, while Reacher and Helen try to unearth the truth.

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I do like the bar sequence, when a group of thugs try to stir up trouble, as well as when dealing with Zek’s right hand man, Charlie (Jai Courtney), Reacher keeps hanging up on him, shifting control away from Charlie to himself. That’s a wicked bit.

Overall, I found it enjoyable, it’s too bad I don’t think there will be any follow-ups, perhaps they should have thought, instead, to do like Tom Selleck did with the Jesse Stone films, make them yearly TV movies. There’s about 18 books altogether, plenty of material to keep studios busy.

Still, not a bad film at all, and made for a nice break.

Have you read the books or seen the film? What are your thoughts?

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Hot Docs: Maidentrip – Jillian Schlesinger

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Laura Dekker wants to sail around the world.

Alone.

She’s 14. (When I was 14 I had a ridiculously early curfew – RIDICULOUSLY(!) – and wasn’t allowed to do a lot of after school activities, and we were living on a 23 square mile island!)

519 Days, 27,000 nautical miles.

Alone.

No support crew, no follow boat. Just her.

Alone.

Maidentrip follows this young woman as she realizes one of her greatest dreams to circumnavigate the globe on her own, not to beat any records, not for glory… she just wants to see the world beyond the Netherlands.

After a legal battle with the Danish courts about whether or not she should be allowed to do this, whether it was child endangerment or poor parenting, the courts, quite rightly, left the decision with Laura and her father. He believed in her enough to let her go, to let her chase her dream.

And that is exactly what she does, leaving from Gibraltar, on the Guppy, a ship her father and she have refurbished and kitted out for her voyage, chasing her dream.

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With supplies, maps, music, books, and camera, she goes to take on the wide world, to see sights she’s never imagined, to meet fellow sailors, to live, and to revel in the solitude provided by the ocean.

From the Canary Islands to St. Maarten’s, through the Panama Canal to French Polynesia, from Darwin, Australia around the Cape of South Africa, we journey with her through storms, becalmed seas, enjoying the wildlife she encounters, fellow travellers and the sights she sees.

We also watch this young woman grow. Already an accomplished sailor before she leaves, she is the stuff of legend by the time she has finished, transitioning from your wide-eyed girl to a fearless traveller, weathered by the elements and her experiences.

Schlesinger with Laura’s invaluable recordings, both video and audio, give us a rites of passage story set against some of the most beautiful imagery on the planet, open oceans, dizzying tropical paradises, and fellow human beings.

Enjoying her privacy and her solitude, Laura is most at home on the water, with the spirit of an explorer she chases the horizon. She keeps her calm in horrendous storms and 60 foot waves, she maintains her sanity after two weeks on a becalmed Indian Ocean with nary a breeze to fill Guppy’s sails.

This film offers a welcome glimpse into the adventure that was undertaken, I say glimpse because for all that time out there, almost 2 years, she shot a grand total of 10 hours of footage. Hearing that in the Q&A afterwards I was just struck by how much time she was by herself, with only the occasional dolphin, sea-bird, land fall and fellow sailors to interrupt the loneliness.

How did she spend the rest of her time? I get that sailing takes a large portion of it, but I was struck with thoughts like, what did she read (she took lots of books with her), what songs would she play in the middle of the night with nothing but the whales for company? Did she get tired of certain foods? What were the stars like on those nights when you seemed to be the only person in the entire world?

Films like this always kindle a sense of longing and adventure in me.

It’s a beautiful film, and I look forward to hearing more about Laura’s travels and adventures.

Maidentrip screens again on Tuesday April 30 at 1:30pm at Scotibank and Sunday May 5 at 7pm at the Light box.

You can find their Facebook page here and on Twitter here. Set your sails!

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Flash Gordon (1980) – Mike Hodges

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Queen’s thrumming soundtrack, garish colors, unusual costumes, hokey special effects, and more than a healthy dose of camp are all part of this addition to the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list.

Flash Gordon is over-the-top, and has acquired a huge cult following, and you either get it or you don’t. It’s done with flair and fun, and pairs up some great actors with some who… well… aren’t.

Paying homage to the original comic strip as well as the serials of the 30s and 40s, Hodges delivers a film that makes it look like a comic book brought to life.

flash1At the film’s center is Flash Gordon (Sam Jones), Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and Doctor Hans Zarkov (Topol) as they travel to the planet Mongo that is waging an environmental attack on Earth. Mongo is ruled by Emperor Ming (Max Von Sydow) who dominates the planetary shards and floating rocket thruster castles with tyranny, aided by his right hand man the golden-masked Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) and his daughter, the vixen, Princess Aura (Ornella Muti).

Flash and the audience are almost left dumbfounded by the worlds we see on the screen, weird skies, rocket cycles, lizard men with their faces inside their mouths, hawkmen, skimpy costumes, and lumbering art-deco spaceships. He unites some of the lesser kingdoms in a fight against Ming, including the leader of the hawkmen, Vultan (Brian Blessed) and Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton).

The film is completely ridiculous, and never found its target audience when it was first released, though it’s soundtrack is particularly awesome. Over the years, it has developed a huge cult following, of people who just embrace the sheer wackiness of everything that is going on it.

flashgordon3The film’s sets and costumes are all done in brilliant colors and thick blacks, as if they are comic frames brought to life, and the storylines are akin to the early strips. It doesn’t pay to examine the plot to extensively, it’s simplistic, and some of it is just downright odd.

For all that, it’s up there with the Batman television series of the 60s as delightful pop camp.

The effects are terrible, the matting and rotoscoping are amateurish when compared to the work ILM was producing for the two Star Wars films at the time, the modelwork is obviously miniatures, and don’t have an appropriate sense of movement, but there is something about art-deco spacehips that are just very cool.

MSDFLGO EC023It’s fun seeing Timothy Dalton, Von Sydow, Topol, and Brian Blessed in this film. All three are brilliantly strong actors and they run rings around their co-stars. They also elevate their characters beyond the pulp material they are given to work with, while Flash and Dale are simply two-dimensional characters.

It’s a film that needs to be simply watched for the garishly colored visuals, the music, and perhaps the less said about the wooden acting, the better.

It may sound as if I’m disparaging the film, but I’ll be honest, I quite like it, I just know that it’s not the best effort to be offered from the 1980s. Those ones are comg.

But if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go crank the soundtrack now…

Flash… Ahhh!

What do you think of it?

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Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie (2010) – Martyn Pick

ultramarines-movie-poster-2010This week, Anchor Bay unleashes the animated version of the Games Workshop tabletop game and brings unfamiliar viewers into an expansive, dystopian, and violent world.

The downside to the film is that CG films have such high standards now, set by Pixar, Dreamworks, and others, that I expected a higher level to the facial textures and environments that we are introduced to through the course of the adventure. I was also less than happy with the movement of the characters, they seemed a little too clunky in their movements, too choppy. In the end it ended up being a form of animation that may have seemed more suitable to cut scenes from a video game.

The film really moves when the action sequences come into play (though it can’t seem to decide how bloody it wants to be, or what they want to show in terms of gore), but in those other moments, it’s the level of the voice actors that raise the level of the film, the voice cast includes John Hurt, Sean Pertwee and Terrence Stamp, the three of them add a gravitas, and a reality to the film, and it was them who actually brought me into the film.

ultramarines2010dvdripxI came into the Warhammer 40k world a complete neophyte, I knew nothing about it. I probably don’t know a lot more now, but I do find the universe it exists in rather intriguing. Let me see it up…

Imagine the Crusades were taking place in the far distant future, not on our planet but spanning worlds. Kitted out in massive suits of armor, that are embossed and detailed with iconography, the Ultramarines are the most impressive battle units ever created. Armed with giant blasters, and chain-swords they fight for the Emperor, and they know no fear.  They travel in giant cruisers, who’s exteriors, and interiors are cathedral-like in nature, alcoves filled with statues, stained-glass windows, and sacred relics.

Their enemies are aliens and daemons. Their own men can fall to Chaos, and transform into inter-spatial beasts, intent on wiping out all of humanity and claiming our space as their own.

warhammerOur unit of the Ultramarines, a mix of veterans and raw recruits are racing to the aid of another division the Iron Fist, whose leader, Carnak (Hurt) has the coolest helmet in the movie, in the shape of a human skull. A beacon is calling them, and they are determined to discover the source and rescue their fellows.

But there may be more going on here than we realize, and what happens if some of their own men are succumbing to Chaos.

It’s an expansive world, and would be an interesting visit with more time (the film runs 77 minutes) and more detail as we’ve come to expect from CG animated films, as it stands it serves more as a teaser for the game and the worlds it creates.

No doubt, Warhammer 40k fans will enjoy it, but most viewers nowadays may not be able to buy into it.

If you’re interested in the world, and I rather like the idea of the Crusades thrown out into deep space, though perhaps a better name than Ultramarines may serve better, it’s worth a look. At least now when I go to conventions and see it being played on table tops in the gaming section I’ll know what it is.

Do you play it? Have you seen the movie?

Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie is available today on collector DVD and blu-ray!

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Chronicle (2012) – Josh Trank

chronicleI’m tired of hand-held, found footage type films. That being said, I rather liked this film, though I personally would have preferred it was shot without the hand held stuff, though some of it does work really well!

It’s a nice updated take on the basic superhero/super-villain story, and the final battle put me in mind of the sprawling battle in Metropolis in Superman II.

In addition to the 1st person camera work, although it does intercut with other film sources, I’m a little disappointed in the film’s run time. Credits in the film runs one hour and twenty three minutes. There’s no real time to develop characters.

On the flip side, the film does have some really nice moments – like the flying sequences. I have dreams that go like that.

But I’m ahead of myself, the film follows a young rather brow beaten young man, Andrew (Dane DeHaan). He has an unhappy school life where he’s bullied, an unhappy home life with an abusive father, and a dying mother, and of course all of this combines to makes him bitter, even towards his cousin Matt (Alex Russell).

He tries to distance himself from everyone by using first video camera, and then a digital camera. to recoed everything. One night, when he’s dragged by Matt to a party, he meets up with Steve (Michael B. Jordan) who, along with Matt shows him an unsual hole in the ground. The trio venture inside it, and are exposed to some… Thing, which causes a reaction in their bodies, causing bloody noses, and soon… heightened psychic abilities, in effect making them burgeoning super heroes.

There’s some fun sequences early on as they start to experiment with their newly discovered powers, stopping and manipulating objects,  and then experimenting with flight. The flying sequences end up being my favorites in the entire film.

trioAs the three of them continue to work these new muscles, Andrew begins to pull ahead of them in the abilities department, and he’s the first who begins to slide, his powers and his use of them begin to hurt people.

His father’s abusive beahvior towards him begins to turn him against Matt and Steve, and the lines are drawn for a confrontation when Andrew goes too far.

If the film had’ve been expanded a little more, it could have been an epic take on the superhero movie. Unfortunately, with it’s drastically short run time, you aren’t given time enough to feel anything for the characters, and are merely kept as an observer. That added to the hand-held camera work, though some of the shots are very smooth, because of their abilities did nothing but keep me seperated from the film.

I will say that the showdown between Matt and Andrew that forms the film’s climax was really well done, the flying and confrontations between the two of them are great, because it does take the old standard of having two friends ending up on opposite sides of the battle. If I was more involved with the characters, it would have been really emotionally powerful.

It was an interesting take on the superhero movie, but wasn’t as strong as it could have been…

What did you think?

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Iron Sky (2012) – Timo Vuorensola

ironI remember first hearing about this film when it was just a fun little trailer on YouTube. It just looked so terribly goofy, and yet the computer generated effects looked pretty damned good. And how does this not sound like B-movie goodness… Nazis on the moon with flying saucers?!?! It practically writes itself!

This would have been the ultimate B-Movie if they had’ found a way to get Bruce Campbell in there somewhere, instead they’ll have to settle for a rating of a wicked awesome (wicksome).

I came across it on Netflix the other night and decided to settle in and watch it, and its so incredibly, and intentionally bad, it comes around to gut-bustingly good.

A U.S. expedition is returning to the moon as a promotional stunt for the president (Stephanie Paul), never actually called Sarah Palin, but the implication is there visually in her appearance and especially with all the Alaskan animals stuffed and mounted about her office. They are actually sending model, James Washington (Chris Kirby) along as part of the publicity, promoting it with the slogan, I kid you not, “Black to the Moon.”

julieOn arriving, during the opening sequence, things actually get really cool right off the bat, the astronauts find a mining facility in operation, gathering helium 3, but who could possibly be there? As they stay stunned, up rises a Nazi soldier in modified gear for the moon, and shoots a luger. I was alternately shaking my head and smiling, knowing I was in for a fun ride.

Washington is captured and taken to the Nazi base, where they have been hiding out since the end of the war, preparing and training with the belief that they are going to take back the Earth someday. We’re introduced to some interesting characters, first the lovely Renate Richter (Julie Dietze), who believes the Party’s lies and as a teacher educates her students that they will return to earth in peace and love. Klaus Adler (Gotz Otto) has other plans though, he has designs on Renate and on being the new Führer, if he can find a way to be rid of the current leader, Kortzfleisch (Udo Kier).

jamesThey discover Washington’s iphone, and are stunned to learn that it’s computer is more powerful than any they have created to date, and that it will be strong enough to power their ultimate weapon, if the battery lasts. Klaus plans to travel to earth to find more of them, and takes a albinized (seriously)  Washington with him, Renate tags along, already developing feelings for the American.

presidentOnce there, Klaus and Renate join forces with a PR rep, Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant) who incorporates a lot of the party line, spouted by Renate into a Republican platform for the president. (Tell me that isn’t a pointed political comment!). Washington, meanwhile, is now a hobo living on a street corner trying to warn the world about the Space Nazis from the moon.

You can’t help but shake your head and laugh at this movie, it never takes itself seriously, it’s tongue is firmly in its cheek, and I quite enjoyed it. I mean where else can you see F-15′s chasing down Nazi flying saucers through the streets of New York?

There are tons of terrible, groan-worthy lines, lots of visual gags, some you may not even catch the first time around, entertaining space battles, some social and political commentary, satire, discussion of censorship and a lot of laughs.

Check it out on Netflix, turn off your brain, and just enjoy the ride…

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Act of Valor (2012) – Micke McCoy & Scott Waugh

Act of Valor is an interesting little experiment of a film. The very things that make it awesome are also the same things that make it a bad as well.

It’s a film that feels equal parts action flick, documentary and Call of Duty: Black Ops (right down to the first person shooter view-point). Here’s what makes it equally awesome and terrible. All the leads are actual Navy Seals.  That’s awesome, because all the things they do onscreen are then second nature to them, the way they move, the way they cover one another, they way they behave. The bad part is, none of them are actors, and that shows every time one of them opens their mouths.

I almost wish they could have been dubbed over, because the film is a wicked little action techno-thriller as the film follows the team from the rescue of an abducted CIA operative (Roselyn Sanchez) to stopping a giant multi-city terrorist attack.

It balances cutting edge technology, tactics, and weapons, and it’s obvious that these men, in actuality, are badasses – in the coolest way.

The camera-work is slick, innovative and engaging, and oft-times really makes the film feel more documentary-like than action movie. I do want to say I enjoyed it.

And I did.

Whenever there was no dialogue.

As soon as any of the Seals have dialogue, even mission related, it sounds too stilted and unemtional, and is jarring enough to kick one out of the movie.

But then there are moments when you get totally wrapped up in the film as well. The assault on the compound to rescue the CUA operative, who has been tortured and beaten (incredibly realistically I might add) is fantastic. The sniper waits until everyone is in position, including someone to catch a body before it can splash into the water, that is just sweet!

The escape from the compound is just as pulse-pounding as well, and all of it, apparently, is based loosely on actual incidents.

I do like the fact that they are real Seals, that means all the stunts and action sequences are as realistic as can be made, and that they did all of it themselves. Which is fantastic, and of course, adds to the realism of the film, but why, oh why, did the have to talk?

If you can get around the dialogue delivery, it’s not a bad watch at all, incredibly realistic, tense, and paying respect to those few and proud who are out there every day, and more often than not, we never, ever, hear about it…

Act of Valor is currently available on Netflix.

Justified – Season 1 (2010)

Elmore Leonard is one of the most prominent American crime writers and his short story, Fire In The Hole serves as the jumping off point for the series Justified. It was developed for FX by Graham Yost.

Yost has had his fingers in a number of projects I’ve enjoyed, most notably Band of Brothers and From The Earth To The Moon, two HBO series I love! So I finally decided it was time to watch it on Netflix.

Now I need to tell you, I’m not Timothy Olyphant’s biggest fan. I don’t hate him, I’m just rather indifferent to him. This first season has happily cured me of that. I enjoyed his performance in this far more than I ever did his turn in the brilliant Deadwood. Although both of them are fantastic takes on the western genre.

Olypant plays Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens. In the season opener he’s working out of the Florida Marshall’s office, until he pulls on a criminal he’s warned to leave town.

With this latest shooting on his list, he’s reassigned, and sent to the one office he would never want. Harlan County, Kentucky. His home town.

This is a town with all kinds of problems, many of them caused by Givens own family, specifically his devious father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), a childhood friend turned white supremacist turned religious nut, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), and his threatening, Kentucky crime family father, Bo Crowder (M.C. Gainey). Throw in his ex-wife, Winona (Natalie Zea) and her real estate husband, Gary (William Ragsdale), and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) who kills her husband, Boyd’s brother and then takes up with Raylan, you’ve got a heap full of trouble, and you know Raylan should’ve stayed away.

The writing is sharp, and often funny, giving the modern police procedural a very southern, and Western genre twist. Olyphant is engaging as Raylan, a man who is very focused on the right and wrong of justice, and may be perceived as a 19th century Marshall (10 gallon hat and boots included) in the modern world, though he tends to get a little muddled when it comes to his personal life.

The first season has a number of stand alone episodes, but there is a season story at play as well, and it all comes to a head very quickly, with unexpected allies, and shoot outs, hostages, double-crosses, and love affairs.

I’m quite taken with this show at the moment.

I am also delighted to see Nick Searcy at work as Chief Deputy Art Mullen, Raylan’s boss. This is an actor, who, as far as I am concerned does not work enough. He’s got a great voice, presence, and I always love when he shows up in something I’m watching.

I was also very happy to see Band of Brothers alumni Rick Gomez show up as Assistant U.S. Attorney David Vasquez, who’s investigating a number of Raylan’s shootings. Gomez is another actor I think doesn’t work enough.

There are some great bits and stories in the first season, I love seeing Raylan and Arlo butt heads, especially the further into the season we get, because Raylan, and the viewer knows, Arlo really isn’t a good guy. Also of interest is Boyd journey as he moves from white supremacist bomber to a possible religious convert and bomber. There’s a great scene where Art blows up at him for perverting religion for his own use.

I was truly surprised by how much I enjoyed the first season, I mean, did we really need yet another police procedural? Honestly, no. But if you’re going to do it, shake it up a bit.

And they did do that!

Raylan is a hero in the classic western sense, he knows whats right and wrong, he’ll give you fair warning, but if you’re gonna reach for a gun, he’s going to pull on you and put you down. That may have worked in dusty towns at the end of the 19th century, but those actions nowadays carry more consequences, and they tend to pile up around Raylan. He’s also the first one to tell you that he only pulls when he’s left no other choice.

And coming from Olyphant, I believe it. Raylan is my kind of hero, and I hope he comes out on top, but I don’t expect him to always come up smelling of roses.

I’ll be very interested to see where the story goes from here, what happens with Raylan and all those people of Harlan County. I guess I’ll be heading back there soon… (thanks to Netflix!)

The American Scream (2012) – Michael Stephenson

I’m either late for this year’s Halloween, or very early for next year’s but just wanted to talk about a highly enjoyable documentary I came across on Netflix the other night.

The focus of the film is a trio of house haunters.

I had no idea what these were, or that there was an entire sub-culture of them! These are the people who everyone remembers from Halloween, whether you know their name or not. They’re the people who turn their homes or their backyards into haunted houses and chambers of horrors for people to walk through on Halloween.

Set in the small town of Fairhaven,  Massachusetts, the documentary follows the tale of three families. A father, Victor, working in a slowly being outsourced IT department and dreams of turning professional with his house haunting, Manny, a father wanting to leave a legacy for his children, and a father and son, Matt and Rick, who are best friends and just want to entertain people.

These are people who live for the one night of the year, where in this small little town, it’s all about the shared experience with the community. One of them say it in the film, Christmas is about family, Halloween is about the community, and it’s true, at least in this little town.

Victor is a man almost obsessed with making the haunter experience perfect, he works almost all year round, until the one night literally takes over his house, family and friends. His wife, is exceedingly tolerant, supportive and loving, and his older daughter loves to get right in there and help. He shops for bargains and odd items, his wife does make-up, he gets help from his friends and actors who he puts in costumes, he builds prosthetics and monsters, and designs rooms and scares – this is a man who goes all out, and it pays off, as people from all over come to his house on this one night of the year to be scared, a day that, as it grows closer, the more tense, worried and excited he gets.

I should feel bad that some of the little kids are so scared by the exterior of the haunt that they burst into tears and refuse to go any closer, but I took an odd little joy out of that. Personally, I remember once when I was young enough to still be trick or treating, and my brain tells me that I was in North Bay at the time, and someone had created a haunted house, and I certainly didn’t want to go through it!

Victor’s work in this town, and probably on many levels is unparalelled, he pours his heart and soul into it, this is his thing, his release, his driving force.

Manny is a blue-collar fella, working for the town he lives in, and likes to create events in his back yard, much like Victor he shops for bargains, and makes wonderful scares and creatures, with the help of his family.

Both he and Victor get very wrapped up in the event, and want to do something that is going to be remembered by people, a lasting legacy in the nostalgic corridors of their mind, and perhaps inspire others to do the same.

You can see when they speak about their families that they truly love them, and both tear up describing the thanks and love they have for those people who not only tolerate their obsession but help and encourage them.

Matt and Rick are a fun pair, who transform their backyard into spooks, ghouls and aliens for Halloween, making them from everyday items, mechanizing them, and bringing them to life. They bicker, they laugh, they worry about one another, but they’ve transcended the family bond, and become one another’s best friends. I feel a little bad for the son, there’s a girl who obviously is crushing on him in a big way, but he’s almost ignorant of the fact, so she’s quite happy to just hang around, watch, laugh, moon and help where she can.

This is the kind of treat I would love to have found in my trick’r’treat bag when I was a kid, a delightful mix of laughter, love, boos, and jumps, a perfect candy confection that makes Halloween memorable.

Michael Stephenson (who yes, starred in the hideous Troll 2, and then made a kick ass documentary about it called Best Worst Movie) has created a documentary that could, but doesn’t, exploit its subjects, instead, it treats them as the honest, friendly people they are, people I would love to have as my neighbours. He slowly loves the gauzy veil of the ghost in the sheet that is Halloween and shows the magic, the work, the drive, the dreams and the soul that each of these people put into this one night of the year.

And they are just one small part of the world, there are millions of house haunters out there… maybe even one in your own neighborhood! So when All Hallow’s Eve rolls around next year, and you wander through some Chamber of Horrors that used to be someone’s backyard, give a thought to the dedication and love that the people behind it put into it, all to make your night that much more memorable.

This was a highly enjoyable documentary, a feel good story, with family, ghouls and monsters. Have a look if you haven’t seen it…