V/H/S – film review

A group of delinquents break into a rundown house to retrieve a VHS tape for an unknown third party. While searching for the tape one of them stumbles upon footage of random home tapes…each story more bizarre than the last. I really liked the concept of the film. The stories are interestingly dark

Neal Damiano



My Brother Jack – film review

I first caught wind of My Brother Jack at The New England Underground Film Festival in Hartford it was the feature and to put it simple I was floored. Stephen Dest a resident from New Haven, or as we locals like to say “A guy from the neighborhood” directed a truly cinematic suspense thriller. The film centers around two brothers Jack (Malcolm Madera) and Vince (Jon Thorndike), trying to figure out who killed their parents on Christmas Day when they were children. Fast forward to several years later, the man convicted of the murder is released from prison and gets killed at a bar. Vince is the prime suspect and a detective which happens to be a childhood friend, is hot on his trail. My first initial thought was this reminds of an Alfred Hitchcock or Brian Depalma film, because of the constant build up of suspense through the entire movie.
A really good film keeps you engaged through the entire experience and My Brother Jack does just that. From the very opening shot the movie pulls you in, enticing and grabbing at your psyche trying to figure out who the killer is. I particularly liked the fact that Stephen used the city so well, including landmark shots of iconic New Haven establishments. The cinematography is beautiful and the acting is brilliant, also a compelling soundtrack. Malcolm Madera and Jon Thorndike’s chemistry together on screen is excellent, a really convincing performance. A very interesting story-glad to see filmed in New Haven.

Neal Damiano


Brilliant Mistakes – film review

Every year I attend Connecticut Film Festival and usually come across a film I think about long after the festival is over. Brilliant Mistakes is one of those rare films, where you can empathize with every character. A deeply textured and emotional layer enriched within each person we come across in this heart felt drama.
Marcus Wright (Daniel Dambroff) is an english teacher at a prestigious prep school in Connecticut, madly in love with his longtime girlfriend Gaby (Elise McNamara). Marcus plans on asking her hand in marriage, but tragedy strikes and she is involved in a car accident, leaving her in a coma. We do not see what or who caused the accident. Marcus struggles as he comes to the realization that she may never speak again. At a grief meeting he befriends Elliot, (Christopher Clawson) a free-spirited writer, who makes Marcus feel alive again. They create a strong bond through hardship, each not knowing just how close a connection they share.
What I particularly enjoyed about Brilliant Mistakes is the unpredictability of the story. The connections we watch unfold seem real, not forced at all. The acting is amazing and the cinematography filmed throughout rural Connecticut is quite beautiful. A very well written film about learning to accept tragedy and growing through the process.

Neal Damiano


Top 10 Disturbing Films

Prepare to be disturbed! Have you got a sofa to hide behind? Neal Damiano takes a look at a selection of unsettling independent films which have stood the test of time…

10. Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986)
Blue Velvet remains one of the most complex and fascinating films to date, due mainly to Dennis Hopper’s character Frank Booth. What makes this film so disturbing, you ask, well simple, his behavior is so over the top and outrageous. Booth conducts his life without any regard for another human being and his main function is pure self gratification. How can you argue with someone of that nature and expect to win.

9. Happiness (Solondz, 1998)
A very dark drama about a strange family. The story reads like a checklist of disturbing things – pedophilia, rape, suicide and murder. The biggest thing that makes Happiness so shocking is the characters have no redeeming values but are shown as rounded people with good qualities.

8. Elephant (Van Sant, 2003)
Gus Van Sant’s film takes us on a ride through a day in the life of two high school outsiders in suburban America. It touches on themes of homosexuality but it’s never revealed if they’re gay. What’s so fascinating and truly disturbing about Elephant: it can happen in any city at any high school. The main characters were not devil worshippers or serial killers, they just didn’t fit in or relate to any group, which makes it even more unsettling. The end result: a lot of high school students dead.

7. Seven (Fincher, 1995)
A psychological thriller by David Fincher, about a sadistic sociopath (Kevin Spacey), who kills his victims in quite a creative but truly disturbing fashion, by way of The Seven Deadly Sins. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play detectives on the trail of this sick individual. Perhaps the most creepy thing about Seven is the relentless cat and mouse game Spacey plays with the detectives, leaving clues and taunting them with every move. The most shocking moment? That has to be the ending!

6. Requiem For A Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)
Addiction is a bitch and in Requiem For A Dream it follows four characters, each going down a long path to rock bottom. Jennifer Connelly’s character is particularly upsetting. Connelly meets a pimp who gives her drugs in exchange for performing sex acts. The most unnerving thing about Requiem For A Dream is the lengths each character will go to score their next fix or high.

5. I Spit On Your Grave (Zarchi, 1978)
The ultimate feminist revenge flick, I Spit On Your Grave was banned due to its graphic torture scenes. A writer retreats to the woods to simply complete her latest novel. Lots of blood and gore ensue with the relentless raping and torture from a gang of drifters. She finally gets her revenge and doesn’t hold back at all, essentially becoming as sick as the men who attacked her.

4. The Boys Next Door (Spheeris, 1985)
Directed by Penelope Spheeris, The Boys Next Door is a suburban nightmare about two kids Ray (Max Caulfield) and Bo (Charlie Sheen) who are about to graduate from high school and dreadfully awaiting their dead-end existence working in a factory. Both alienated and desperate for something more, they take a road trip across Los Angeles. Things soon spiral out of control and their journey turns into a cold blooded murder spree. One particular scene put the hairs up on my back as Ray confides to Bo about these bad feelings he has inside. The most unsettling thing about it: Ray and Bo look like every other unassuming and all-American male.

3. Man Bites Dog (Poelvoorde, Belvaux, Bonzel, 1992)
A film crew follows a serial killer named Ben around the streets of Belgium as he kills random people. Man Bites Dog truly is a bizarre and frightening look through the eyes of a sociopath. Ben is witty and charismatic, often singing and reciting poetry as the crew continues to film his gruesome, ultra violent slayings. Towards the end the crew actually helps Ben kill some of his victims. The film is a mockumentary, but I found it to be quite disturbing.

2. Last House On The Left (Craven, 1972)
Wes Craven directed one of the most disturbing and tormenting films in cinema history. On the eve of her birthday, Mari Collingwood and friend set out to the city to see a rock concert. Along the way they get lured into an apartment with hopes of scoring some pot. What they find is a group of savage convicts who rape, drug, and torture the two girls relentlessly. They eventually drag the girls into the woods to finish killing them. What makes Last House On The Left so insane is the deeply perverse ways the criminals torture them. For example, forcing the girls to perform lesbian acts, having them urinate on themselves, and pointing a gun in their face while laughing. The parents getting retribution at the end really makes the film over the top, including a castration by teeth and a chainsaw. The film was banned in theaters and later released on video.

1. Kids (Clark, 1995)
Kids truly is a frightening look at a group of city kids that care about nothing but getting high, causing trouble, and having sex. This is not the first time we’ve witnessed such behaviour, however, Larry Clark’s naturalistic vision is so disturbing because it seems so real. The film is shot in a documentary style, making you feel like you’re along for the ride with the careless youth. Perhaps the most sickening thing about Kids is the main character has open sex with several girls in his inner circle while having AIDS. The rape scene is particularly unwatchable! Til this day it affected me in a negative way more than any other film. I left the theater feeling empty and sick inside.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.


Top 10 Gary Oldman Films

Gary Oldman is perhaps the greatest living actor to never win an Academy Award. Neal Damiano takes a look at this uniquely talented man.

10. Interstate 60 (Gale, 2002)
This is the second time Interstate 60 has appeared on one of my lists, a very entertaining film that did not receive much publicity or promotion. The film stars Gary Oldman as a devious but lovable leprechaun that may or not be real. He guides the main character (James Marsden) on a road trip through all sorts of twists and turns, while meeting
some rather quirky people. Oldman is not known typically for playing comedic roles, but he knocks it right out of the park here.

9. Basquiat (Schnabel, 1996)
Basquiat is an excellent biopic on Jean Michel Basquiat the graffiti artist turned Andy Warhol protege. At the young age of 27 he met an early death due to drugs. Oldman plays Albert Milo, a loose portrayal of fellow artist and director Julian Schnabel, although a small role Oldman owned it, capturing the intense love Schnabel has for art and the friendship he had with Basquiat.

8. Murder In The First (Rocco, 1995)
A very well made film based on a court case in the 30s about three convicts that escaped from Alcatraz. Gary Oldman’s performance as a brutal prison warden is so intense and right on. After viewing do not be surprised to dislike Oldman for only a brief second.

7. Dracula (Coppola, 1992)
Francis Coppola’s rendition of Bram Stoker’s famous novel is truly astonishing, but it was Oldman’s dark and sensual performance as Dracula that stole the show. I feel this was the best portrayal of Dracula ever on film. He completely hypnotizes the audience with his voice and persona. A truly frightening display of a blood sucking iconic monster.

6. The Fifth Element (Besson, 1997)
Oldman is fascinating as the film’s villain, Zorg. Never has “silly acting” been so entertaining and interesting. Though by no means the most dangerous or frightening cinematic villain, Oldman’s performance is a blast to watch, and you can’t help but smile whenever his presence emerges onscreen.

5. State Of Grace (Joanou, 1990)
Oldman plays Jackie Flannery in this electrifying gangster film of the early 90s. First off this is one of the best gangster films I have ever seen. It includes an all star cast of amazing actors portraying the violent Irish mobsters of Hell’s Kitchen in the 80s. What makes State Of Grace so great: the acting. Oldman radiates with charisma and ferocious violence through the whole film.

4. Sid & Nancy (Cox, 1986)
Gary Oldman’s portrayal of punk legend Sid Vicious is spot on. He must have channeled Sid’s spirit in a séance. He plays the iconic punk right down to the clothes and mannerisms. Oldman’s balance is quite exceptional, he doesn’t lose his signature self in the role, but maintains in character fearlessly.

3. True Romance (Scott, 1993)
What can I say about this film? True Romance is probably my favorite Tarantino film to date, mainly because of the characters. A lot of that has to do with Gary Oldman’s performance as Drexl, a pimp/drug dealer sporting dreadlocks and gold teeth, complete with a scar on his face. Oldman has some of the funniest one liners including “He must have thought it was white boy day, it ain’t white boy day is it?”

2. Romeo Is Bleeding (Medak, 1993)
Romeo Is Bleeding is my favorite modern day film noir. Oldman plays Jack Grimaldi a crooked cop giving up witnesses to the mob. Oldman plays this role with such greed and intensity, becoming the ultimate anti hero. He has so much charisma and bravado, one can’t help but develop a love/hate relationship with the character. I really enjoyed this film’s exceptional story line.

1. The Professional (Leon) (Besson, 1994)
This is Oldman’s sleaziest character to date, and happens to be my favorite performance by him. He plays Stansfield, a corrupt agent, who pops pills and listens to Beethoven. There’s no question this role is psychotic but Oldman almost plays it with a humorous appeal. His dialogue is outrageously funny, throwing tantrums as a kid would, if they did not get what they wanted. He is so convincing as a dirt bag, it’s literally scary. I feel no one could have played this role better. One memorable line “I like these calm moments before the storm”. Oldman should have won an Oscar here!

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

About the Author

Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.


Top 10 Films Under The Radar

Neal Damiano continues his celebration of American and World independent cinema with a look at a collection of modern movies that have fallen under the radar…

10. Interstate 60 (Gale, 2002)
Interstate 60 is a film about the infinite possibilities of life and the choices we make. The movie stars James Marsden as a young man caught between the expectations of his demanding father to become a lawyer and his passion to pursue painting. He heads out on a road trip to find the answer, along the way meeting all sorts of quirky characters who may or not be giving him the right answers. James Marsden just radiates with charisma on every film he’s in.

9. The Trouble With Bliss (Knowles, 2012)
Michael C. Hall star as Bliss, an underachieving slacker, living in an apartment with his father in New York. Bliss has absolutely no ambition and future plans, spends most of his days sleeping and hanging around in a local record store. One day he crosses paths with a feisty young girl in high school. All trouble unfolds when he develops a relationship with her. A major moral dilemma at hand, he is conflicted realizing she is the only motivation he holds to get up in the morning. Michael Hall’s acting performance here is the best I have seen from him by far.

8. Winter Passing (Rapp, 2005)
Reese Holdin (Zooey Deschanel) is a troubled girl, who returns home to retrieve love letters written by her reclusive father, who is a legend in the literary world. Reese comes home to find her father in the worse shape ever. He can hardly talk with anyone, but she tries to establish a deeper connection with him, despite coming home for bad intentions. Deschanel’s acting is quite amazing in this film, even though her character has no redeeming qualities.

7. Murder Party (Saulnier, 2007)
A lonely geek in Brooklyn finds an invitation to a Halloween party, hosted by local artists. He makes a Sir Lancelot costume out of cardboard and finds the party in an abandoned warehouse. He gets knocked out. Upon regaining consciousness he finds himself tied to a chair realizing he’s the subject for a group of art students that want to murder someone for the sake of art. Several references to pop culture, it’s one of the best dark comedies I’ve seen. If Quentin Tarantino directed The Breakfast Club you would have Murder Party.

6. Some Girl (Kelly, 1998)
Finding love in Los Angeles… Claire (Marissa Ribisi) is searching for a decent guy anyway she can after having her heart broken several times. Her best friend April (Juliette Lewis) is having sex with any man she can find while stringing Neil (Rapaport) along who is completely in love with her. My favorite character is Giovanni Ribisi, who plays Claire’s eccentric brother Jason who he is totally in love with the older, but jaded, Jenn. Due to his social awkwardness, his dialogue is genius. The ending is outrageously funny. A unique script and amazing acting by the whole cast. Some Girl is Cameron Crowe’s Singles set in LA without the grunge.

5. Lonesome Jim (Buscemi, 2005)
Casey Affleck stars as Jim, a writer from New York, who returns home to Chicago with his parents after he runs out of money. While there he falls for a nurse played by Liv Tyler. She is a single mother raising a son. Jim develops a bond with the child surprising himself that he can actually commit to something. In my opinion, this is the best from Casey Affleck. Simply amazing performance for such a complex character.

4. The Rules Of Attraction (Avary, 2002)
Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) is a student at Camden College in New England. He is handsome, charming and lacks all emotion, having slept through half of the female population, and with eyes on the remainder. A series of unanimous love letters continually surface in his mailbox. He’s pretty certain of the girl who is writing the letters and fixates on making a connection with her. Bateman gets himself into all sorts of crazy situations without any regard for other people’s feelings but seems to always make it out alive. Not the most popular Bret Easton Ellis film, I found it to be very entertaining because Van Der Beek’s character is so complex and compelling on screen, you can’t help but watch. It might leave you feeling empty but what do you expect from a Bret Easton Ellis film.

3. Rory O’Shea Was Here (aka Inside I’m Dancing) (O’Donnell, 2004)
Michael has cerebral palsy and is a patient at Carrigmore Home for the disabled in Ireland. His life changes when he meets a punk rocker in a wheelchair named Rory O’Shea. Rory lives every moment to the fullest despite his handicap and introduces Michael to the joys of music, girls, and drinking. I really enjoyed this film, such a powerful story about living life!

2. The Art of Getting By (Weisen, 2011)
Freddie Highmore plays a loner in high school, his outlook on life is dismal. He doesn’t believe in anything or anyone. All Freddie cares about is music and art. Emma Roberts plays a sophisticated girl wise beyond her years. A chance meeting between the two, starts a unique bond. I really enjoyed this movie, well written script and incredible performances from both Roberts and Highmore.

1. In Search Of A Midnight Kiss (Holdridge, 2007)
Wilson (Scoot McNairy) is a twenty-nine-year-old who just moved to Los Angeles. He has no solid plans, and no motivation to do anything. His best friend convinces him to post an ad for a date. The ad reads “Misanthrope seeking a misanthrope for a night of no fun”. He meets his match on New Years Eve – Vivian (Sara Simmonds), a woman as cynical as him. They spend the whole night walking around Los Angeles playfully antagonizing each other. An amazing script with beautiful cinematography and a phenomenal performance from Scoot McNairy. It won the John Cassavetes award at the Independent Spirit Awards. In Search Of A Midnight Kiss is the Annie Hall of Los Angeles.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

About the Author

Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music, and journalism.


Top 10 Drug Themed Films

Neal Damiano investigates the trials & tribulations of characters dealing with drug use & addiction as Top 10 Films presents the best movies this powerful, controversial genre has to offer.

When thinking about the top 10 films whose central conceit involves addiction of any kind, it is rarely, if ever, a joyous experience. Indeed, addiction by its very nature, whether it is for chocolate or cocaine, is defined by an overindulgence in something that can, and probably will, cause emotional and physical suffering.

Particularly in the case of drug addiction, withdrawal is the hardest thing; a prolonged internal struggle between body and mind that threatens to derail the psyche of both the addicted and the friends and family who try to help as best they can. It is a battle worth fighting but the journey isn’t easy. In Top 10 Films about Drug Addiction and Rehabilitation we take a look at the best films to deal with this evocative subject.

More top 10 lists you might like: Top 10 Christian Slater Films | Top 10 Cult Films | Top 10 Films You’ve Never Seen But Should Have | Top 10 Quintessential 1980s Films | Top 10 Slasher Films

10. Rush (Zanuck, 1991)
Rush is a very dark film that deals with deceit, loneliness, and codependency. A rookie fresh out of police academy meets his new partner – an attractive female on the force. They get assigned to a dangerous undercover operation to bust a drug ring in Texas. Soon they realise to fully get the true essence of being a drug addict, they have to experience drugs themselves. Eventually, during the course of their work, the two become personally involved with narcotics and each other. The chemistry between Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh radiates on screen.

9. Looking For Mr. Goodbar (Brooks, 1977)
A very dark film and shocking for the time period in 1977, and by today’s standards. Diane Keaton stars as a sexually adventurous teacher from a strict catholic family who escapes the normality in her life by retreating into the sordid, vacuous world of New York City’s singles bars. She has an affair with her older college professor but that doesn’t turn out very well. She spends her nights doing massive amounts of cocaine on a daily basis and picking up random guys until one night she picks up the wrong cowboy. Tom Berenger plays a bar hopping drifter and is the final man she brings home. The ending is quite shocking and disturbing, through the brilliant use of cinematography and light/sound. It would hold up to today’s shock value easily. Keep in mind this movie came out in 1977. A story about an insecure woman constantly rebelling, going on a misguided search for love and acceptance, and who could not come to grips with her estranged relationship with her father. Her journey is, in a sense, seeking a father figure. One of my favorite dark genre films.

8. Jesus ‘Son (Maclean, 1999)
Based on the popular short stories by Denis Johnson, the film starts out in 1974 when a disheveled young hitchhiker, who goes by the name FH (Billy Crudup), is standing on the side of the road, looking for his girl. How he gets to this point becomes clear as the film flashes back to Iowa City, three years earlier, when he meets up with a heroin addict named Michelle and they spend their days arguing and breaking up, only to get back together again. In between these fights they waste their days shooting up heroin in a Holiday Inn.

7. Basketball Diaries (Kalvert, 1995)
Jim Carroll’s autobiographical life story is the basis for this cult classic of the early nineties. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jim Carroll, a poet-writing basketball-star at a Catholic prep school in Manhattan whose future comes tumbling down when he gets addicted to heroin after progressing from glue sniffing. Mark Wahlberg co-stars as Mickey, his partner in crime, as they skip school and do drugs. Jim realises his future of becoming a pro basketball player are gone when he sees a local kid that he used to run with, and who decided to stay clean, make it to college ball. Eventually his mother kicks him out and he is saved by a preacher, an ex-drug abuser himself. A powerful story about addiction and the negative affects it has on one’s dreams. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is amazing, as is the soundtrack which is essential to any collection. A must see film.

6. Requiem for A Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)
This was only Darren Aronofsky’s second film and many consider him a genius. Requiem For A Dream is one of the most graphic and honest depictions of self destruction and addiction to ever grace the screen. The imagery alone is frightening. Following a group of desperate drug addicts on the hard streets of Brooklyn these shady characters will do anything for their next fix.

5. Bright Lights, Big City (Bridges, 1988)
This is one of my favorite eighties films set within the New York City night culture. The film is based on Jay McInerney’s classic novel and tells the story of Michael J. Fox’s Jamie Conway, a cocaine-addicted fact-checker for a New York publisher, who can’t let go of the past. His character really struggles with letting go and a feeling of adversity. Phoebe Cates plays his model wife who leaves him while he also has to deal with the death of his mother. The flashbacks really show how the past haunts him. His life is spinning out of control with cocaine addiction and New York nightlife. A film about one man’s high expectations on himself without letting go of the past. A breakout role for Michael J. fox and he does it quite well.

4. Drugstore Cowboy (Van Sant, 1989)
This is the second time Drugstore Cowboy made one of my lists. Gus Van Sant is known for making movies about disillusioned youth. This film stars Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James LeGros and Heather Graham. A gang of drifters travel around and knock off drugstores, doing prescription drugs of all sorts. This is yet another powerful tale of the dangers of drug use and realistically illustrates each characters decline into crime and poverty. In my opinion this is one of Matt Dillon’s best performances. A brief encounter with William S. Burroughs, Dillon’s character has a moment of clarity and redemption, and decides to go completely drug free.

3. Trainspotting (Boyle, 1996)
Trainspotting is the film adaptation of the novel by Irvine Welsh. Taking place in Scotland, the film is a roller-coaster ride following a group of heroin addicts, led by a very young Ewan McGregor. All the characters are down and out, quitting and restarting their drug use. Chock full of memorable scenes and lines, this is a definitive film, extremely entertaining and eye opening. It also includes the filthiest toilet in film history.

2. Go (Liman, 1999)
The film is more entertaining than tragic and sports an all star cast including Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Scott Wolf, and Jay Mohr. In the style of an Altman or Tarantino film, Go intertwines the lives of 15 reckless youths
that get into all sorts of high jinks in the course of one night. Sarah Polley is very convincing as a young girl unable to pay her rent, so she sells baby aspirin disguised as ecstasy. This is one of my favorite films purely because of the stylised way it was filmed. A very entertaining story, keeps your interest all the way through.

1. Less Than Zero (Kanievska, 1987)
Less Than Zero is my favorite film adapted from a novel. Based on writer Brett Easton Ellis’ contemporary classic, the film shows us a vivid glimpse into the lives of spoiled rich kids, who have everything but want more. Centered around Los Angeles, three best friends – Clay, Blair, and Julian – graduate high school, and go their separate ways. Clay decides to go to college on the east coast, while Blair and Julian stay behind, taking a downward spiral into the seedy world of drug addiction. Upon returning home from college on Christmas break, Clay finds Julian has developed a debilitating heroin habit and Blair is coked out of her mind. Clay tries to help his friends, but realises it is far too late. A sad film about privileged kids who seem to having everything on the surface, but constantly search for meaning to an empty existence.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.
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