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Killing Others To Survive: Identity, the Film




The 2003 psychological horror film Identity is not a direct adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 mystery novel And Then There Were None, though the plot of Identity is structured like that classic novel. In both, “10 strangers arrive at an isolated location which becomes temporarily cut off from the rest of the world,” where terror and paranoia mount as the strangers are killed off one by one. Despite the fact that one of the characters in Identity tries to explain the unusual and downright scary events at the isolated motel with a story of displaced Native Americans who may be seeking supernatural revenge, there is nothing other-worldly about Identity and its scares. The real horror of Identity is even spookier than revenge-seeking ghosts.

John Cusack, Identity © Columbia Pictures

The story begins with a chauffeur, Ed (John Cusack), getting trapped by washed-out roads at a lonely motel with his movie-star passenger Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay), who is beyond annoyed at the fact that they end up stuck at some slimy motel.

Rebecca DeMornay, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Soon Ed, who is a former police officer, and the spoiled actress are joined by a family, including son Timmy, whose mother was injured in an accident.

Identity © Columbia Pictures

Because of the relentless thunderstorm, other travellers are also soon stranded at the motel, including a former prostitute Paris (Amanda Peet), who is leaving Las Vegas and traveling to Florida to start a new life as a citrus farmer,

Amanda Peet, Identity © Columbia Pictures

a pregnant newlywed Ginny (Clea Duvall) who is insecure about her husband’s love and completely, irrationally superstitious on her best days,

Clea Duvall, Identity © Columbia Pictures

and another cop, Rhodes (Ray Liotta), escorting a dangerous convict, and who goes crazy when his convict escapes shortly after their arrival at the motel.

Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

When other people begin disappearing at Larry’s (John Hawkes) motel, everybody gets more than a little anxious, paranoid, and defensive.

John Hawkes, Identity © Columbia Pictures

It doesn’t help that some of the stranded motorists feel they’re being targeted, that it’s raining and it’s the middle of the deep dark night, or that way too many of the stranded people at the out-of-the-way motel are awfully proficient in the use of firearms.

John Cusack and Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Now, throw in the story of a convicted mass murderer / serial killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who’s getting a last-minute, pre-execution hearing from a judge and prosecuting attorneys

Pruitt Taylor Vince, Identity © Columbia Pictures

because the convicted killer’s psychiatrist Dr. Malick (Alfred Molina)

Alfred Molina, Identity © Columbia Pictures

insists that his client-patient is not morally responsible or legally guilty of the crimes. Since Rivers is not mentally competent, Dr. Malick explains, it is irrelevant that Rivers’ body might have, in fact, perpetrated the murders that Malcolm Rivers was convicted of committing.

Bret Loehr as Timmy, Identity © Columbia Pictures

What does that convicted serial killer have to do with the people stranded at the isolated motel in the pouring rain? Are they his victims? Are we, in fact, seeing the killer’s memories of all the people he killed? Is the killer truly and verily mentally incompetent, as his psychiatrist insists to the judge and attorneys present at the last-minute competency hearing?

You won’t miss the absent supernatural elements in this scary thriller. By the time you get to the big Reveal, you’ll be as spooked as the people stranded at that isolated motel.

The film has a great storyline and powerful acting by everyone involved. Identity is a psychological horror great. It’s available for rent for a few bucks, or purchase for a few dollars more, from Amazon, from YouTube, from iTunes, and more.

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Filed under #31DaysOfHalloween, Actors, Halloween, Horror, Movies/Films, No Spoilers Review, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Psychological Horror, Serial Killers, Suspense

No One Gets Out Alive: HBO’s Deadwood


No Spoilers

Deadwood © HBO

From 2004-2006, HBO aired one of the most critically acclaimed series ever: Deadwood, a Western that takes place in late 19th century Deadwood, South Dakota, before the area was annexed to the Dakota Territory. Created, produced, and mostly written by David Milch, the show was based, in part, on newspapers and diaries from 1870’s Deadwood, and featured a mix of historical and fictional characters.

In reality, and in the series, Deadwood is lawless and dangerous, a place where men — and women — might make their fortunes or lose their lives at the snap of someone’s fingers. Gold, saloons, and brothels abound. Pimps, gamblers, and whores mix with lawmen, outlaws, and businessmen. The camp-town is uncivilized, as are many of the characters struggling to survive. Deadwood strikes gold every time I watch it, and the show has been hailed by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz, as “the best TV show ever,” and this despite the fact that the series is somewhat reknowned (and villified) for its profane language.

The word “fuck” is said 43 times in the first hour of the show. It has been reported that the series had a total count of 2,980 “fucks” [in its 3-year, 36-episode run], an average of 1.56 utterances of “fuck” per minute of footage.

Yes, the language is gritty. The characters are rough. Life is harder than hard. But it all blends together to make a stunning and memorable show.

The Cast & Characters

The series begins with Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant)

Timothy Olyphant as Seth Bullock © HBO

and his partner Sol Star (John Hawkes)

John Hawkes as Sol Star © HBO

heading out to Deadwood, where they want to set up a Hardware store. One of the first people the pair meets is Gem Saloon owner and brothel-keeper, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane, in his Golden Globe award-winning role).

Ian McShane as Al Swearengen © HBO

Al rents Bullock and Star the land on which to build their store, so long as they don’t deal in liquor, gambling, or whores. Not only is Al one of My Favorite Villains, he is one of the most vivid and tascinating characters ever created.

Foul-mouthed, violent, sarcastic, murderous, and otherwise cruel to the point of sadism, McShane’s Swearengen is nevertheless also empathetic:  a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and abandonment, Al is frequently hurt by those whom he believes he can trust (though he usually reacts in anger to betrayal). Creator David Milch apparently wrote the role with Ian McShane in mind, and McShane’s performance as the vicious yet vulnerable Al make him one of the most intriguing and oft-quoted villains in history.

Ian McShane as Al Swearengen © HBO

No single scene could possibly show you McShane’s range as Al. Ian’s subtle facial expressions, voice intonations, and glances alone demonstrate more ability and talent in this role than some actors display in their entire careers. The fan-made montage Al Talks the Talk & Walks the Walk displays just some of Al’s villainy and McShane’s talent. (One of the “murders” shown in this montage is actually a mercy-killing of a severely afflicted and dying character, which Al had to be persuaded to assist in, since no one else — not even the camp’s doctor — was willing to help end the character’s intense, progressive, and incurable suffering).

Very Adult Language

(Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You)

Al has some of the best lines in the entire series, and most of the greatest swearing streaks, so you might as well hear some of the very best of Al’s Collected Wisdom. Because if you can’t abide Al’s language, you won’t want to watch the show.

Super Adult Language

(In Case You Ignored My First Warning)

Because Hardware Store partners Seth and Sol are renting their land from Al, they become involved with virtually everyone who has something to do with Al and the Gem Saloon. Soon after their arrival, however, the two partners become involved with the other residents of Deadwood, including Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif),

Brad Dourif as Doc Cochran © HBO

AW Merrick (Jeffrey Jones), editor of The Deadwood Pioneer,

Jeffrey Jones as AW Merrick © HBO

and EB Farnum (William Sanderson, in his best career role), owner of the Grand Central Hotel.

William Sanderson as EB Farnum © HBO

These real-life characters interact with other historical notables, including Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine),

Keith Carradine as Wild Bill Hickok © HBO

Calamity Jane (Robin Wiegert),

Robin Wiegert as Calamity Jane © HBO

Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie), Wild Bill’s and Jane’s companion,

Dayton Callie as Charlie Utter © HBO

George Hearst (Gerald McRaney),

Gerald McRaney as George Hearst © HBO

Wyatt Earp (Gale Harold),

Gale Howard as Wyatt Earp © HBO

and actor Jack Langrishe (Brian Cox).

Brian Cox as Jack Langrishe ©HBO

All of them become deeply enmeshed in the life of Deadwood as they attempt to make their lives matter, to make their fortunes, or to escape their pasts amidst love, lust, greed, and jealousy.

If mining, stealing, and hoarding gold weren’t enough to cause friction among the male residents of Deadwood, let’s thrown in some beautiful women. Alma Garrett (Molly Parker) falls for Sheriff Seth Bullock after her own husband dies.

Molly Parker as Alma Garret © HBO

Trixie (Paula Malcolmson) is Al’s favorite whore till she becomes involved with Seth’s partner Sol Star.

Paula Malcolmson as Trixie © HBO

Seth’s wife Martha (Anna Gunn) arrives with her young son after her husband has fallen in love with the Widow Alma.

Anna Gunn as Martha Bullock © HBO

And Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens), Madame of the Bella Union, across from the Gem,

Kim Dickens as Joanie Stubbs © HBO

wants to escape her cruel lover-pimp-boss, Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe), to set up her own place.

Powers Boothe as Cy Tolliver © HBO

The Language Of Deadwood

Despite Deadood’s grim subject matter, and despite the obscenity, there’s language so poetic, it sounds like some of the best Shakespearean lines ever written. The actors say it all so naturally, but it’s the writing itself that allows the actors to ascend to the realm of poetry, even when they’re arguing. This montage — after the mostly funny first four minutes where all the characters are cursing — lets you hear the poetry and beauty of the language in Deadwood.

Super Adult Language

(I Don’t Have To Keep Telling You This, Right?)

Deadwood‘s Humor

Even in its most serious situations, Deadwood is filled with humor. Some of it made me laugh aloud the first time I viewed it, and I honestly don’t know how some of the actors did their lines without laughing through the entire scenes. This excerpt, sometimes called Who-Wu by fans, where Chinese “Boss” Mr Wu (Leone Young) is attempting to tell Al Swearengen, whom Wu calls “Swi-jen,” about white thieves who stole his dope, is one of the classics.

Super Funny But Still Adult Language
(But Surely You Know This Now)

If you like some of the the Westerns and the Darkly Twisted Comedies on my recommended lists, you’ll absolutely adore Deadwood.

Deadwood is available for free viewing on-demand for Amazon Prime Members (or with a 30-day HBO trial) and for HBO subscribers. Deadwood is availabe for purchase for about $2.99/episode or $24.99/season (HD), from Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes.

My original Top 10 Westerns post 
If You’re Going to Shoot,
Shoot: Don’t Talk

is now divided into two posts,
updated with official trailers and film availability:

We All Have It Coming:
Top 5 Westerns


I’m Your Huckleberry:
5 More Top Westerns

(originally films #6-10)

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Again! Still!

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Filed under Actors, Deadwood, Historical Drama, MiniSeries/Limited MiniSeries, Movies/Television, No Spoilers Review, Official Trailers, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Violence, Westerns

DEADWOOD Strikes Gold! Again! Still!


#No Spoilers

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of its award-winning  & critically acclaimed series Deadwood, HBO had a marathon of all 3 seasons (36 episodes) on a weekend in March, and weeknights in April and May. Though we have the DVD collection, I hadn’t watched it since it originally aired from 2004-2006. What a mistake. Viewing it again during April and May, I realized just how magnificent a show it is. Even 10 years later, it was as exciting and fresh as ever.

Created, produced, and mostly written by David Milch, Deadwood explores the growth of Deadwood SD in the 1870s, before and after its annexation by the Dakota Territory. Previously, Deadwood was on land ceded to the Native Americans, so whites were on it illegally; once gold was discovered in the Black Hills, however, whites went there in droves while the government turned its back on any treaty violations.

The Cast & Characters

Great cast playing fascinating characters, some of whom were really in Deadwood SD, make Deadwood a standout series. The fictional characters are mixed with historical ones: Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane),

Hardware-store owner & Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant, L) and his partner Sol Star (John Hawkes, R),

Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine),

and Calamity Jane (Robin Wiegert)

are just a few of the historical personages who interact with fictional ones in this great drama.

Most of the cast members have gone on to star in other important series and films. Dayton Callie, who plays Charlie Utter,

stars in Sons of Anarchy, Timothy Olyphant in Justified, Paula Malcolmson, who plays Trixie the whore, stars in Ray Donovan as his wife,

and Anna Gunn, who plays Seth’s wife Martha, went on to star  in Breaking Bad as Skyler.

Some cast members were stars when they arrived, like Ian McShane as Al Swearengen — creator David Milch has said he wrote the character with McShane in mind — Powers Boothe as rival saloon/brothel owner Cy Tolliver,

Gerald McRaney as George Hearst,

Brad Dourif as Doc Cochran,

and William Sanderson, in the best role he’s ever had, as scheming sycophant E. B. Farnum,

while Deadwood propelled others to international celebrity status. The cast alone makes the show worth watching. I can’t think of another series, besides The Tudors, that consistently had such a stellar cast, all with outstanding performances.

Integration of Dramatic Elements

So many writers and shows fail because the dialogue, character development, and action are all presented as separate entities. Long monologues interrupt action. Character studies could be entirely eliminated or replaced by commercial breaks without losing anything. Not so in Deadwood, where the language and character development are not only integral to the action, but where the action itself evolves from the language and the characters themselves.

This scene, where Gem Saloon owner and brothel-master Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) insults Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Bullock) who is married (his wife hasn’t arrived yet) but is sexually involved with widowed Alma Garrett (fictional), whose gold-claim Al Swearengen covets, vividly demonstrates the integration of all three elements: dialogue, character development, and action (plot). When Al Insults Bullock.

Warning: Language

The Language & Writing

Yes, there’s lots of obscenity on Deadwood, but there’s also language so poetic, it sounds like some of the best Shakespearean lines ever written. And the actors say it all so naturally. I guess that’s just what really good actors do. Still, the writing itself does allow the actors to ascend to the realm of poetry, even when they’re arguing. This clip contains a montage, and the first four minutes are mostly funny because it’s so many of the characters cussing, but then you get to see the poetry and beauty of the language in Deadwood.

Warning: Language

The Humor

Even in its most serious situations, Deadwood was filled with humor. Some of it made me laugh aloud, the first time I viewed it, and during the 10th anniversary marathon. I honestly don’t know how some of the actors did their lines without laughing through the entire scenes. This one, where Chinese “Boss” Mr Wu (Leone Young) is attempting to tell Al Swearengen, whom Wu calls “Swi-jen,” is one of the classics. Wu tells Al about the “CockSuckas.”

Warning: Language

The show was cancelled far too early — after its third season — when, clearly, future seasons were planned by the creator/writer David Milch and by the actors. HBO gives various reasons for the cancellation, the most oft-cited  is that “Deadwood, as a costume-drama, was too expensive to produce.” Ian McShane was known to respond to that by saying that his character wore the same suit and long underwear through all 3 seasons, while his whores wore basically nothing at all.

Bravo, Ian, for showing such a ridiculous cancellation of a fine series for what it was: A mistake. One which HBO still regrets.

As for me, I’m not waiting another 10 years to watch the entire series again. It’s going to become an annual ritual, at the very least. After all, I have the boxed-set of the DVDs.

Even if I didn’t, I could watch the entire series free on either HBO-Now or on Amazon Prime.

Being able to watch the magnificent series Deadwood any time I want makes either subscription worth its price.

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