A Well Executed Blast From The Past: The Prime Gig (2000)

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having just completed a move from Suburban Maryland to more tax friendly, though a bit jumbled and busy, Falls Church, Virginia. I’ve allowed myself a few evenings of vegging out and catching up on the notable offerings from IFC (Independent Film Channel). In lieu of multiple series winding down to their last few episodes of their respective seasons.

Now, I enjoy cliffhangers as well as the next guy. Though given the opportunity to indulge in a little, highly polished glistening nugget featuring the Grand Master of Character Actors, Ed Harris. Then up and coming actor, Vince Vaughn. Creating two angles in a film full of angles, lies, distortions, half truths. And the allure of boundless wealth through telephone sales and the intrigue of The Long Con creating the third. With the aid of fetching, knowing Julia Ormond.

To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to slowly peel back the layers of one of the more intricately executed explorations into the world of trust, varying degrees of intimidation. And even more subtle alterations of perception with.

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The Prime Gig (2000)

Which begins in the rather decrepit expanded low rent apartment and Man Cave of Pendleton “Penny” Wise. An up and comer in the realm of grand dreams and intermittent talent regarding conning, cajoling and occasionally brow beating money from hapless names on printed lists. To sell questionable goods and services while slowly advancing up the always present Sales Board.

In a nutshell. All the props, bells and whistles reliant upon and present in a mid rage “Boiler Room’ operation.

And make no mistake about it. Mr. Wise, as presented and envisioned by Vince Vaughn is a go getter. Though sometimes indulging in slowly receding inner turmoil about such oddities as morals. And feeling bad at the end of the day after fleecing future college tuition and “Vegas” or “Vacation Money” totaling in the tens of thousands. Much better at it than his two low scale colleagues. Older, wiser, Gene (Wallace Shawn) and charismatic Joel (Rory Cochrane).

And at this moment in time, “Penny” unwittingly presents himself as an intriguing and vulnerable target for a much wiser and covertly admired and adored Master Telemarketer, and Guru, Kelly Grant. Magnificently played with equal amounts of bravura and “Aw, shucks!” congeniality by Master Craftsman, Ed Harris.

PrimeGig_Harris_OrmondIt seems that Kelly is slowly bouncing back from being taken to the cleaners by the Feds and the SEC. Meticulously doling out and gathering funds for another “clean and legitimate” operation. Involving the sales of parcels of land on and surrounding a gold mine in the whip sawn outback of Bisbee, Arizona.

Kelly’s approach is a thing of subtle beauty. Performed by Caitlin Carlson (Julia Ormond. Radiating just the right amount of business smarts and sexuality. Who catches Penny’s attention and reels him comfortably in. Before introductions are made with Mr. Grant.

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Who has all his shiny brochures, spread sheets, graphs and pie charts ready for perusal after a sumptuous dinner. Laying his soul and his plan bare. While being glowingly, honestly forthright in his plans to make other people rich.

Though a veteran of the trenches and an outright cynic, Penny obliquely asks for some time to digest it all. Penny is given a day. And the availability of Caitlin as a Point of Contact. The day arrives and Penny agrees. Only to be one of a dozen different prospects and hungry Young Turks. With nationalities divergent as the rainbow. And names ranging from Archie (George Wendt), Cheryl (Jeannetta Arnette), Sujat (Shishir Kurup), Zeke (Romany Malko) and Batgirl (Amber Benson).

All are assembled pursuing the scent of large money. And the chance to get out from under college tuition and loan debt. Or the chance to make “crazy bank”. And spend it frivolously. Each has an agenda. And a scheme. Though, in order to harness and utilize maximum potential. They’ve got to believe!

Which entails a chartered plane flight and road trip west. To see first hand the expansive excavation, digging and tunneling surrounding several hundred acres of isolated Arizona Outback. And, yes. It is a busy little and noisy microcosm regaled in hard hats, reflective vests and large earth moving equipment. Wizened, if not refreshed. Penny and company return for marathon telephone sessions under the watchful eye of Kelly Grant up his elevated Sky Box Seat. Listening and ready to cut in with advice. As Penny, Zeke and Batgirl do battle. As those who lack sterner stuff eke out the day. And week. With the victors pitched banded rolls of fresh bills as incentive for the coming day.

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A crude motivational tool, to be sure. Though it does light a fire under the bottoms of those ignored. To become bolder and progressively more brutal during their telephonic tete a tetes. Through it all, Penny is quite content and comfortable with his techniques, Especially when part of his reward is the lush Caitlin.

And it is the intrigue of their romance that adds well deserved meat to this tale of blatant and perhaps, covert duplicity. Since Caitlin is Kelly Grant’s woman. Even if there is some slack in her leash to allow outside diversions. As Penny makes more and more money, Much of which is put in a checking account. Gathering the wherewithal to possibly steal Caitlin away. Though, that will be on her terms. Not Penny’s.

Life is good. Life goes on. The coffers of Mr. Grant’s are full of other people’s money. Some of which is used to pay for the machinery and workers in Bisbee, Other monies are used to pay for lawyers, scientists and masses of their office staff.

Penny awakes and heads off the”office” for a another day of verbal battle and Blitzkrieg. Opening the door to find…..

I’ll leave it right there for spoiler’s sake.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

A well constructed and often deliberately vague screenplay, story and script. That allows glimpses and some memorable longing gazes into what you don’t see behind a far flung, major con. Centered around the day to day machinations of the long lived and reliable Ponzi scheme. Demanding major investments from the naïve and monied middle class. Who are well off, or better. Just to keep what’s happening in Arizona solvent and perhaps, productive day after day.

Though, it is on the front lines where the depths of greed and avarice are dangled like bait. And Penny and his rogues gallery are allowed to shine. Most notably in the competitions between Penny and Zeke. Who sometimes seethes with racial angst and animus, That results in many closed deals.

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Julia Ormond, in a very early role is a natural seductress. With class, poise, etiquette, a lovely Surrey accent. As well as being very easy on the eyes, Who may or may not know all of Kelly Grant’s grand scheme. But is not about to divulge any more than necessary. While Wallace Shawn, George Wendt and Rory Cochrane offer moral support to Penny. With hints of trepidation later on.

Cinematography by John A. Alonzo is often Sun hazed during outside daylight hours. And razor sharp and sparkled with far off lights at night. And wondrously, intimately tight in the Boiler Room’s Bullpens. Allowing time and space for the actors’ bodies and faces to swell with humor, anger or rage while achieving their goals.

Yet, offering a flat plain of space for discussions between Penny and Kelly Wise. An empty arena or battleground between two predators. Except Mr. Harris’ Kelly Grant has been doing this sort of things for decades. Dresses, acts and becomes the Master of Obfuscation, Misdirection and Distraction. Knows all the ins and outs and how to tap dance and patch over their flaws. While holding all the cards. The dialogue between the Sensei and gifted amateur is well worth the price of discovery and admission.

What Makes This Film Great?

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Ed Harris in charge of a scam of his own making. Staying in the background. While wisely revealing enough to keep those around him interested and at his beck and call. Keeping the lion’s share of the nuts and bolts hidden under veils of distraction. And jovially warning Penny and others that “You can’t trust a con man!”.

Pulling those around him close in their desire for more. Money. Recognition. Defining, expensive wardrobes and wheels, Because in L.A. You are what you drive. Creating a multi act play in personal greed and self destruction. Well aided by an original soundtrack by David Robbins. Art Direction by Michael Atwell. And Set Decoration by Alice Baker. Who have a knack for making spacious office space and expansive Bull Pens appear much smaller and compact and low ceilinged than at first glance. Creating possibly the best definition of the phrase “Boiler Room” in film!


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Agree. Disagree, Other Choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion.

Notable Nuggets Double Feature: The Objective (2008) & Right at Your Door (2006)

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Greetings, all and sundry!

Having enjoyed a brief respite and access to Netflix and the Independent Film Channel (IFC). I’ve taken the time to indulge in a favorite past time. And to take the advice of Julian over at Dirtywithclass Blog to critique some newer films.

Rooting around, digging, excavating and uncovering an offering or two that are worthy of critique and dissemination. Whether big budgeted extravaganzas. Or small, shot on a shoe string budget attempts at making statements intriguing, dramatic, satiric, political. Or just plain original, well thought-out and executed.

Falling back on the Double feature format fits very well with both film’s clocking in at 90 minutes, give or take. And less than extravagant budgets well and frugally spent in both instances. With that said. Allow me to introduce the first of two …

Notable Nuggets #1: The Objective (2008)

TheObjective2008PosterA film that seethes with middle of nowhere “No Slack”. From its pitch black, moonless night opening shots around a desolate Afghan village rendezvous of a clutch second and third tier special operators. Made even more forlorn by a whistling sandstorm and an effete, kind of distant Analyst from CIA’s Langley headquarters, Benjamin Keynes (Jonas Ball). Who has been sent to this mountainous, high altitude hell hole for find evidence of, or establish communication with The Objective.

Whose location has been guesstimated to be somewhere within a fifty square mile area at the base of the Hundu Kush between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Courtesy of photos from some advanced KH-11 spy satellites and reconnaissance aircraft augmented for electro-magnetic anomalies.

Of course, Keynes delivers only the bare minimums in regards to a mission where special operators would requires binders of information and intel before proceeding. But the Agency is doing this on the cheap. Bringing back the 1960s concept of an hopefully, infinitely expendable and deniable “Spike Team” to get the job done. Now the team, led by Chief Warrant Office Wally Hamer (Mattew R. Anderson) and Sgt. Vincent Degetau (Jon Heurtas from ‘Castle’) have the latest in GSP equipment, satellite phones, rifles, explosives, rations, communication and load bearing gear. A half dozen men. All NCOs who have been around the block and are loaded for bear. Jammed into two aged Range Rovers with Keynes, an Afghan guide and interpreter. The team heads off to a village and its cleric and wise man who knows much of the history of the area in question.

The team arrives without major incident and the cleric is very mysterious and miserly with what he wishes to say. The area does exist and is full of bright lights and strange occurrences. Dating back to the time of Alexander. With many events happening around the time of Kipling, Tommies and the Khyber Pass.

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The shooters of the team shrug it off and head out the next morning. To run into an ambush that leaves one Land Rover disabled and Sgt. Trenoski (Michael C. Williams) dead. The team returns fire. See hits that count. But no bodies when searching immediately after. The team buries Trenoski and discover their GPS gear is having problems. As well Keynes’ Sat Phone and the team’s Lensatic Compasses. To make matters worse, the interpreter is getting more paranoid by the hour. Which is starting to wear on unit cohesion. Made worse when the team finds that their Camel Backs, canteens and blivet bags now contain sand instead of water.

Keynes and the team finds what they think is an abandoned cave that has a fresh water source and a old and wrinkled Nomad. Whose remnants of 19th century British Army red serge peek under his robes as he tells the tale of a sole surviving soldier. Keyne’s also finds a child’s toy that looks like a 1950s delta winged airplane. That will be something of a talisman as the story progresses.

By odd occurrence, Sgt. Cole sees the Nomad standing and mumbling to himself in the distance the next morning. A quick peek through Night Vision Goggles reveal three images in black robes. Sgt. Cole opens fire and kills the old man. Keynes orders everyone to start moving. And the team medic, Sgt, Degatau starts having serious stomach and intestinal pains. The paranoid guide takes a header off a cliff and Keynes is stuck in a rapidly deteriorating situation.

Lost, low on water. The team stumbles about trying to get a fix as to where they are. Night falls and sounds starts swirling in the night. Lights appear in the sky and Keynes and the three remaining shooters take up a defensive position and cut loose. Keynes looks through his thermal camera and sees outlines of saucer shapes. Two shooters dash forward seeking cover and run into what may be a force field and are vaporized.

Keynes, Hamer and Degatau create the world’s tightest perimeter until moring. When Hamer starts to really loose it and wanders off. Keynes takes Degetau with him until Degetau can walk no more. Keynes finally gets a satellite fix and discovers he and his team were in a spot where British troops disappeared more than a century ago. Keynes leaves Degatau and starts following ethereal images in his thermal camera long into the night. When Keynes finally discovers The Objective!

I’ll leave it here. And pick it up a few months later. Where Keynes is lying a few inches above his bed in an ultra clean surgery and laboratory. Clutching the child’s delta winged toy in one fist.

EKGs and EEGs say that he’s staring unblinking at nothing while seriously tripping his brains out. And Keynes’ wife is being interviewed after being told by the CIA that her husband is missing in action.

Now. What’s Notable About This Film?

An arguably low budgeted B-Movie that seems, looks and feels to be much more. Shot on location in Morocco decently substituting its plains, plateaus and mountains of Afghanistan. With the aid of cinematographer, Stephanie Martin. Who has a talent with washed out blues, faded earth tones and adding a fine patina of dust both close up and at a distance.

Under the sometimes less than deft touch of director, Daniel Myrick. Whose earlier, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ seems to subtly at first, more heavily later, permeate the film. With a sense of “Bad Mojo” unease as the team begins. That slowly evolves into dread and something more sinister as the mission heads south.

TheObjective_JonasBallThe cast of mostly unknowns are more than up to the task. Jonas Ball has the smooth, very tech savvy Analyst stuck in some cubbyhole in the Agency’s basement. Finally given the chance to break out of his comfortable Government Service rank of Captain or Major. And make a name for himself.

The secondary cast of shooters look and act like they have been in uniform and around the block a few times. Maintaining their cool as things go from bad to worse.

And as with any decent Science Fiction. There are always more questions than answers. Many pertinent as team moves away from its jump off village. Then becoming essential as they move deeper into the Afghan ‘Bermuda Triangle’.

What does The Agency want with The Objective? Probably something nefarious. But they are going to have to seriously upgrade their firepower and diplomatic skills long before any kind of negotiations begin!

Which brings us to my selected second feature. A rather small, low to no budgeted independent “backyard film”. That contemplates and toys with the unthinkable around the quiet, serene, middle income suburbs of Echo Park, California.


Notable Nuggets #2: Right at Your Door (2006)

RightAtYourDoorPosterWhich begins with a rather sleepy and shabby Brad (Rory Cochrane – ‘Dazed and Confused’, CSI: Miami’, ‘Argo’) making a latte for his sleeping wife, Lexi (Mary McCormack – ‘1408’, ‘In Plain Sight’). Who is quickly off to work. Listening to her car’s radio, Lexi hears that there have been several explosions in Los Angeles. And is immediately caught in traffic accident that becomes a multi car pile up.

Beat up, but not seriously injured, Lexi tries to find out what’s going on as towers of black smoke rise far off in the distance. People are panicked, but half way helpful as the police inch in and try to maintain some order. At the same time, out of work guitarist, Brad hears the same broadcasts. Gathers himself up and tries to get to Lexi by car. Only to be turned away as roadblocks spring up. Erected by gas masked police and a smattering of Raycal and chemical suited individuals as ash starts to rain down on trees, streets cars and houses. A car in front of Brad is stopped. Ash is visible all over as the driver gets out. Only to be warned at gun point to get back in his car. The driver hesitates or refuses and is shot dead. Brad sees this and reverses course back home. Telling a neighbor’s kid to get back home and stay indoors under his parents come back.

Brad listens to the radio and starts gathering up plastic bags and duct tape. Sealing up windows and door jambs. Letting his friend, Alvaro (Tony Perez) in before the house is turned slowly into an incubator. It seems that Alvaro had been painting a larger, empty house and a smaller safe haven was easily within reach. Together they learn through sporadic broadcasts that the bombs used the the explosions in L.A. were dirty in nature. And at least one has tested positive for chemicals and toxins. Brad and Alvaro don’t panic, but they do gather food and water. And a large zip locked bag of food, water and clothes left for Lexi on the back porch. Should she return. In the interim, more broadcasts announce that no one outside your door should be allowed inside.

Lexi is checked by paramedics and deemed fit to move. Which she does. Heading back to her house and Brad on foot. A phone call from Lexi’s mother begging her to go to the hospital falls on deaf ears. As Lexi develops a cough. Approaches the back porch late that afternoon. And finds the neighbor’s kid, Timmy (Scott Noyd, Jr), who had been hiding in one of his family’s cars, half scared to death.

Lexi calls Brad on her cell phone. But Brad won’t let her in. Lexi breaks a pane of glass in the door and drops her cell phone Brad sets up an impromptu, field expedient “Clean Room” where Lexi and Timmy can wash off their ash. Alvaro decided he needs to see his wife and exits. Slowly covered in ash. Which draws the attention of a kerchief masked Rick (Jon Huertas, again). Who tells Lexi that there is a container ship in the harbor that needs help off loading supplies. Lexi and Timmy follow. Leaving Brad to listen to broadcasts that the chemical toxins in the bombs affect the respiratory system.

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Waken from a fitful sleep, Brad answers a pounding on the door. To find a MOPP-4 suited Corporal Marshall asking questions through his gas mask filter. Something impossible to understand through personal experience without a battery powered ‘Voice Mitter”. Brad answers as best he can and turns over Lexi’s dropped cell phone for chemical examination. Earing Brad and his home an overheard “Red Tag”.

Lexi returns the next morning to find her home inside a police tape barrier and a “Red tag” in the front yard. She and Brad fill each other in on past and current events. Though, it seems the worst is over. Timmy was treated at a hospital and was there waiting for his parents and hopefully not ‘quarantined”. Lexi also mentions that she saw five or six people get shot during the night.

The radio is back o with morning talk and occasional warnings. As several military trucks roll up and MOPP-4 (Charcoal lined, canvas fatigue uniform, rubber boots, gloves, gas mask and Kevlar helmet) suited and plastic bagged, armed G.I.s disperse. Pull Lexi away and erect a fumigation tent over the house and break out Flame throwers for ‘Sterilization”….

I’ll leave it right there.

Now. What’s Notable About This Film?

A true and somewhat toned down “Nightmare Scenario” set in perfect, instant gratification, Los Angeles. Where people in faraway glass booths are handing out third and fourth hand information. Without the benefit of someone actually reporting what is being seen and heard. And talking to survivors of the immediate attack and showing patience. Which would never do.

Something of a black satire on a media that emphasizes the negative. From as far back as worrying if the M-1 Abrams tank would win against Russian T-72s and T-80s. To if the A-10 tank killer airplane would live up to its hype during “Desert Storm”. Both did. magnificently!

No, this harkens back to Orson Welles and his ‘War of the World’ radio broadcast. Subtly planting the seeds of panic by interviewing “experts” who know little of their specialty. Have to play catch-up and react immediately. Instead of containing hot zones. Keeping homes secure and waiting to see what happens.

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The television heavy, veteran cast are more than equipped and savvy to pull the plow. Especially Mary McCormack‘s Lexi. Who had been exposed to radiation and chemicals right off the bat. Who did develop a bad and rasping cough afterwards, but shows definite signs of improvement the next morning.

Surprisingly high marks for first time writer and director, Chris Gorak. Whose sense of quiet serenity around the suburbs of Echo Park offer a stark contrast to the chaos reported from the City of Angels. Doing a lot with a little with Tom Richmond’s exceptional cinematography and sets by Stephanie DeSantis.

Proving that there is quality in independent films. As Mr. Gorak’s offering was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. And won its Cinematography Award for Mr. Richmond’s work.


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