Monday, March 14, 2011

FILM REVIEW: MODUS OPERANDI Uno, Dos, Trejo! By Joseph James Bellamy

Joseph Bellamy
Born in 1974, I missed the popular explosion of the so called ’Exploitation’ genre, having instead been part of the generation that made huge budget , FX laden action blockbusters the film of choice in Hollywood. Having seen Modus Operandi, I now miss what I didn’t know. 
Aiming to capture the romance and allure of these lower-budget, harder-boiled classics, Writer/Director Frankie Latina’s Modus hit’s the mark like a sniper shot, and makes it look as smooth and easy as uno, dos, Trejo! With a Porn-Star pedigree (Former Porn A-lister, Actress, and Independent Film Maven Sasha Grey touts a ‘Presented by:’ Credit on the film ) , bare bones, 8mm vision, life-is-as-cheap-as-bullets narrative and the casting of Hollywood’s hands-down scariest bad guy, Modus Operandi is an outstanding, cult-ready ready offering for the cerebral film-goer, and the booms-and-boobs audience alike!

Shot in a medium once relegated to the least respectable of film efforts, It’s a feast of vintage cinematic technique, glam-art sex appeal and contemporary indie style. Not the typical Hollywood roller-coaster, but rather a slow cruise through the darkest part of town, In an impossibly slick black sedan. The story, the chronicle of a burned-out hit-man’s quest for vengeance, is played out amidst a world of perverse secrets, professional lies and political murders. The action percolates and simmers, often boiling over with sex and violence, but never cheapens itself with an overtly gratuitous explosion. Instead, the blood and pyrotechnics are applied for impact, not mindless flash-effect.

First, we are inducted into the films world with a sepia-toned smoking advisory and title-card. We then meet our (anti) hero, Stanley Cashay, through flash backs and the voiced-over memories of his deceased wife. Cashay, a retired triggerman for the shadowy ‘Intelligencia’, is brought to a sort of spooky half-life by the gaunt look and smooth mannerisms of Randy Russell ("American Job"). His suit, shades and smokes all invoke to the uber-cool secret agent men of a hipper time. Cue the funky, retro credits, and you can almost hear the door to the slick black sedan click shut behind you. ’Modus’ is rolling, and you’re along for the ride.

In the step with the films deliberate pacing, We then bare witness to a deal gone dirty, and are introduced to our ‘bad-guys‘:. Squire Parks, An altogether too-smooth politician portrayed with oily aplomb by Michael Sottile ("Reservoir Dogs"), the crooked Copper Gore, played by Mark Metcalf, and his long haired associate Dallas Deacon played by noted independent film-maker Mark Borchardt ("American Movie.") Lest we think these miscreants aren‘t carrying enough criminal credentials, enter Danny Trejo as bad-ass boss-man Director Holiday. Trejo’s brand of gravel-voiced menace immediately fills the screen, and your consciousness, like the sight of a venomous snake coiled for the lunge.

The holy-grail of the story is also established, in the form of two much-sought after black briefcases. Cashay must track them down and bring them back to his former handlers in the Intelligencia. The assignment is made irresistible when the ‘good-guys’ offer Cashay the chance to avenge his wife’s murder.

What follows is a tension building skulk through an attractively gritty, sexy underworld of strippers and killers, that spans from the dark alleys of Milwaukee to the bright lights of Tokyo. It is a darkly fantastic landscape, made real with the use of period-appropriate props, and peopled with the genre-essential cast of supporting characters. There is the always cooperative privateer, Casey Thunderbird (Barry Polterman,) the deliciously sexy hit-woman, Black Licorice (Nicole Johnson,) and a whole host of agents, assassins, hit-girls and hotties. A series of hand-offs, coded conversations and doubles crosses move the story along smoothly, without every letting up the pressure that has been steadily re-doubling since the first turn of the projector.

The drama is expertly punctuated with shoot-outs, car chases and even a brief, but impacting homage to Hitchcock’s classic thriller North By North West. All the while, the viewers sense that they have been taken on a ride that is far more than they had bargained for sinks deeper into the psyche, which is cruising more and more comfortably with every passing 8 mm. frame.

Over the course of the film, we are shown several clips of what appears to be beta-cam recorded video of young women seemingly auditioning for porno. As the story progresses, we come to understand the true nature of the footage, how it ties the principals players together, and ultimately, what they, and it, convey to us about the true meaning of power. This last idea, the meaning of power, is driven home for the audience in a climactic encounter between Squire Parks and Director Holiday, where Trejo’s words and deeds can only be described as pure Vato Loco, HOMES!

All in all, Frankie Latina and Milwaukee-based Special Entertainment can be very proud of Modus Operandi. They have not only succeeded in bringing a spot-on homage to the hard-hitting , so-called exploitation genre to a modern audience, but they have managed to remind us that a good film is about transporting the audience.

Modus Operandi is sure winner that takes you through the shadows and into another world. Now that I know, I can tell you; between the cool tunes of the sound-track, the seemingly endless supply of Hot bodies and the cold, calculated style of Stanley Cashay, it’s a world in which you will be fully engrossed, and won’t ever want to leave.

Film: "Modus Operandi"
Director: Frankie Latina
Film's website:
Screening at Reel Fest, March 14th, 2011

Review written by Joseph James Bellamy
Editor: Rod Webber
Published by Reel Zine
© Reel Zine 2011

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