THE BIRTHDAY CAKE (2021)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. All it took was one look at the cast for me to agree to watch and review this mob film. It’s the first feature film from writer-director Jimmy Giannopoulos, and he co-wrote the screenplay with Diomedes Raul Bermudez and Shiloh Fernandez (who also stars). Most will agree the world never really needs another mob movie, but gosh, when they work, they are quite fun to watch. Filmmakers Guy Ritchie and Martin Scorsese have figured this out.

And then there are those that try hard, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t quite click. Sometimes too many characters are crammed in to execute (pun intended) as many familiar mob movie tropes as possible. Director Giannopoulos opens his film with a flashback scene from 10 years ago. The rest of the movie takes place in one evening – one that goes better for some than others. Gio (co-writer Shiloh Fernandez) is dressed in his suit as this is the night “the family” celebrates the death of his father 10 years prior. Gio’s mother (Lorraine Bracco) has baked the titular cake, as she has done each of the previous years. She tells Gio she does this “for your father.” Gio then sets out to walk the streets of Brooklyn in order to bring the cake to his Uncle Angelo’s house for the celebration.

Gio is good-natured and prefers talking and smiling his way through confrontations, rather than the violent tendencies of those around him. Most of the movie revolves around his interactions along the way – with some friendlies and some not-so-friendlies. It seems his chocolate allergy comes up in conversation enough times that we know it will come into play at some point. If it’s not his food allergy, then it’s the whereabouts of his Cousin Leo (Emery Cohen) that makes up most of the conversations we hear. Leo is recently out of prison, but hasn’t contacted his mother yet … a real no-no in the family. Leo had previously crossed a Puerto Rican gang and now he’s missing – hence all the questions.

If you come for the story, you’ll likely be disappointed. This is more a series of vignettes featuring familiar faces such as Luis Guzman as a concerned Uber driver, William Fichtner as a man with a violent nature, and John Magaro, Aldis Hodge, Ashley Benson, Vincent Pastore (of course), Penn Badgley, Jeremy Allen White, and even Marla Maples (yes, the former Mrs. Trump). Once at the party, Gio meets with an ailing Uncle Carmine played by Paul Sorvino, and best of all, Uncle Angelo played by Val Kilmer. If you have not heard, Mr. Kilmer had throat cancer and now speaks through a voice box. Subtitles are utilized to assist viewers. Watching him act with his eyes and body language is a pleasure, and it’s great to have him back on the big screen. The final big name to appear in the film is Ewan McGregor as Father Kelly, who has an early scene with David Mazouz (“Gotham”) as young Gio, and a later scene with modern day Gio and his mother.

We follow Gio in his strange, messy night … think AFTER HOURS (1985) … only mob-related, and lacking most of the dark comedic touches. Other than Fernandez, most of the actors are only in a scene or two, so there’s a novelty effect that doesn’t seem quite right for this genre. Paul Sorvino has only a solitary two-word line of dialogue that starts with an F and ends with you. Still a well-executed crescendo of death and getting to see so many familiar faces in one film makes it worth sticking till the end.

In theaters and On Demand June 18, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


INFINITE (2021)

June 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. At one time or another, we’ve all been awed by a cinematic special effect. Some remarkable work is being done by the specialists in the industry, adding previously unimaginable elements to movies. As with most good things, too much of it can be detrimental to a cause. The latest greatest example of this is with Antoine Fuqua’s (TRAINING DAY, 2001) current film, INFINITE. In a mind-bending science fiction thriller (think THE MATRIX), we expect special effects to play a role. What we get is a tidal wave of CGI that leaves us shaking our heads and wondering why no one recognized the extreme level of ridiculous reached here. The goal seems to have been to go above and beyond any “Fast and Furious” movie so that a comparison can’t be found.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Evan Michaels, a diagnosed schizophrenic with violent tendencies when he’s not on medication. Evan is haunted regularly with hallucinations and dreams that seem real, and he’s blessed with knowledge and skills that he’s never learned and memories of places he’s never been. As it turns out, Evan is part of a group called “Infinites”. This group is divided in half: the good guy “believers” and the let’s-end-the-world nihilists. These infinites are able to carry their memories from one life/body into the next as they are reincarnated. It’s a terrific concept based on the novel “The Reincarnationalist Papers” by D. Eric Maikranz. Responsible for adapting the story for the screen are Ian Shorr and Todd Stein.

One of the believers, played by Sophie Cookson (GREED, 2019), works with Evan in an attempt to access a specific memory for the location of a device (“the egg”) in hopes that they can save the world. Simultaneously, the nihilists and their powerful leader played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 YEARS A SLAVE, 2013) are trying to access that same memory in order to use the device to destroy the world. The story really boils down to good versus evil and trying to save the world instead of destroying it. Not overly complicated, which is a good thing in a Wahlberg film.

Mr. Wahlberg, who looks increasingly like John Cena’s little brother, does get to flash his biceps and abs multiple times, including a sequence as a blacksmith forging a samurai sword using ancient techniques. In addition to his typical physicality and always furrowed brow, Wahlberg’s interjected wisecracks – the ones that work in his simple comedies – are lame and simply out of place here. Mr. Ejiofor, a previous Oscar nominee, goes all out in his outlandish portrayal of the super villain – it’s quite a contrast to his more usual subdued dramatic performances and actually fun to watch.

The supporting cast is solid and includes Dylan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Wallis Day, Toby Jones, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, and Liz Carr. As you might expect, given that the memories cover multiple centuries, the film’s geographic locations are varied, and the characters bounce from Mexico to New York City to Scotland to Indonesia. Wahlberg and director Fuqua previously collaborated on SHOOTER (2007), but as mentioned previously, the special effects are just too far over the top here. The opening car chase scene is exhausting, and since we don’t know why it’s happening or who to pull for, it’s mostly just noise without reason. Later, there is a stunt (teased in the trailer) that ensures anyone trying to give the benefit of doubt to the film will instantly surrender. A few attempts are made to trick viewers into believing some deep philosophical thoughts are at work here, and that life is bigger than all of us, but mostly we are left wondering … why the absurdity?

Premieres on Paramount+ on June 10, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE DRY (2021)

May 20, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Remember when an exonerated OJ Simpson vowed to dedicate his time to finding “the real killer” of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman? For some reason that memory came back in the early stages of this film as a Melbourne-based Australian Federal Police agent returns to his isolated hometown after his childhood friend is implicated in a murder-suicide. See, that agent left town as a teenager when he was suspected of being involved in the murder of a local teenage girl.

Eric Bana (MUNICH, 2005) stars as that AFP agent Aaron Falk. He’s been gone for 20 years, but agrees to return for the funeral of his friend Luke (Martin Dingall Wall) at the request of Luke’s parents (Bruce Spence, Julia Blake). The parents don’t believe Luke would have killed his wife and one of his two kids and then committed suicide, and they want Luke to investigate. Of course, the rest of the town believes Luke did it, and most are none too happy that Aaron has returned, as they haven’t forgotten the suspicion tied to him for the tragedy that took the life of his friend Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt) so many years ago.

The stark contrast of glass and steel Melbourne towers and the drought-stricken cracked soil of (fictional) Kiewarra are as distinct as the comparison of today’s Kiewarra with Aaron’s flashbacks to those carefree days of swimming in the river with Ellie, Luke and their friend Gretchen – who is now a single mom played by Genevieve O’Reilly, and one of the few to welcome Aaron back. The film is based on the 2016 international best-selling novel by Jane Harper, and there is a lot to keep up with, despite a pace that never feels rushed. The two cases may be separated by twenty years, but they seem connected, even though we aren’t sure how murder and suicide and a slew of suspects all fit together. Aaron works with local police officer Greg Raco (an excellent Keir O’Donnell) in an attempt to make sense of what’s happened.

There are angry and suspicious people throughout the town. William Zappa plays Mal, Ellie’s grudge-bearing father, while Matt Nable plays her obnoxious and quick-to-accuse cousin Grant. James Frecheville (ANIMAL KINGDOM, 2010) is local farmer with a motive Jamie Sullivan, while John Polson plays school Principal Scott Whitlam who isn’t quite as put together as he’d like everyone to believe. Farmer Sullivan remarks (with the film’s best line), “You think you’re gonna get the truth in a town like this?”  And by that time, we know exactly what he means.

The flashbacks to Aaron’s teenage years provide much of the context to the story and his character, and they are handled beautifully. It’s a small town whose residents hold an abundance of secrets, rumors, and grudges, creating a web of misinformation that challenges Aaron and Officer Raco. The two cases (past and present) collide, and cinematographer Stefan Duscio does terrific work with the vast, dusty landscape, as well as the many interior shots where the characters reveal their true selves. Writer-director Robert Connolly (a heavy TV workload recently) co-wrote the script with Harry Cripps and Samantha Strauss, and they have created a suspenseful and entertaining whodunit. With the heavy dose of crime shows on TV these days, it’s a pleasure to see a well done film with high production value and a cohesive story. Just remember to use an alibi other than “shooting rabbits”, if you are ever working on a cover story.

Opening in theaters and on VOD on May 21, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


NEW ORDER (2021)

May 20, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. “You say you want a revolution … well, you know … we all want to change the world.” Writer-director Michel Franco hits head-on the always hot, and very current topic of the haves versus the have-nots, and I immediately thought of those Beatles’ lyrics.

Chaos at a hospital and a pile of bodies informs us trouble is brewing on the streets of Mexico. We then cut to a lavish wedding event being held at the luxurious residential compound of the Novellos, a wealthy family whose daughter Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) is marrying her fiancé Alan (Dario Azbek). Her father Ivan (Roberto Medina) is an important businessman who invited other important people and dignitaries. As the attendees mingle, her mother Rebecca (Lisa Owen) is summoned to the gate to meet with Ronaldo (Eligio Melendez), a former employee who is asking for the money to pay for a surgery his ill wife needs. What follows is the mannered way in which the Novellos react. They give Ronaldo some money, but it’s far short of the amount needed. It’s Marianne who, even on her wedding day, tries desperately to help him.

Marianne has Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), the son of loyal housekeeper Marta (Monica Del Carman), drive her to where Ronaldo lives. Unbeknownst to Marianne, an insurgence has disrupted the wedding festivities and carnage has ensued at her house. Upon arrival at Ronaldo’s house, masked soldiers take Marianne hostage. Her vibrant red outfit and the green paint used by protesters provide symmetry to the national flag of Mexico as the streets are under siege. Many of the elite rich have been killed, while others taken hostage for ransom and torture. Filmmaker Franco expertly captures the frenzy and terror brought on by the revolution.

As the uprising takes hold and the coup progresses, we quickly see the effects of power and greed. Most of the story is told from the viewpoint of the privileged, and that’s likely to offend many. At times we are confused about just how many sides there are in this war, though it seems Franco’s point is that there are no good guys. The film teeters on the line between social commentary and exploitation, due to the violence and greed – we even see the glee on a maid’s face as she loots the valuables from her employer. We find little empathy for anyone here, except of course, for those being held captive and tortured. Certain elements thrive in chaos, and the situation turns to Authoritarianism. The cynical message is that entitlement and corruption exist regardless who is in charge. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The “New Order” is the same as the old – just with new faces. Franco has highlighted unrest specific to Mexico, but also nods to global issues.

“You say you got a real solution … well, you know … we’d all love to see the plan.”

Releasing in theaters on May 21, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (2021)

May 18, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Taylor Sheridan was Oscar nominated for his screenplay of the superb HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016). He also wrote and directed WIND RIVER (2017), wrote the screenplays for both SICARIO movies, and is the creative force behind the TV series “Yellowstone”. He has excelled in generating slow-burn tension and conflict. For his latest film, he’s back in the director’s chair after co-writing the script with Charles Leavitt (BLOOD DIAMOND, 2006) and the 2014 novel’s author, Michael Koryta.

Oscar winner Angelina Jolie stars as Hannah, a thrill-seeking smokejumper (those folks who jump out of airplanes to fight fires and save lives) burdened with a faulty decision that cost lives in a massive forest fire the previous year. After flunking her psyche-evaluation, Hannah packs up the blame and her flashbacks and accepts her low-key assignment to the solitude of “Fire Tower”, a lookout perched above the tree line of Soda Butte, a park area within Yellowstone that encompasses the Continental Divide. Early on we see the camaraderie of the smokejumpers as they tease each other and “welcome” the new firefighters to the park.

In a seemingly unrelated storyline (although we know the intersection is coming), Owen (Jake Weber, “Medium”) and his son Connor (Finn Little) take an emergency detour on the way to school. Owen is a forensic accountant who uncovered some corruption while working for a Florida DA who was recently murdered by the same hitmen now chasing Owen and his son. Soon, Connor is wandering alone through the forest looking for someone he can trust, and up pops Hannah. The pair of calm-cool-collected hitmen are played by Aidan Gillen (“Game of Thrones”) and Nicholas Hoult (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, 2015). They track down Owen’s brother-in-law Ethan (Jon Bernthal, BABY DRIVER, 2017), who happens to work for the sheriff’s department in the same park.

Whether you call it a hunt or a chase, it’s always a bit creepy when professional hitmen are tracking down an innocent kid, and the tension is elevated when we see the bad guys take their direction from a higher-up bad buy played by Tyler Perry in one brief scene. The film features a hand full of excellent action sequences, including a shootout between the hitmen and Ethan’s pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore). Conveniently, Allison runs a survivor camp, and despite her belly, manages to put up quite a fight.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, 2012) capitalizes on the extraordinary vastness and beauty of Soda Butte, and some of the forest fire effects are so good we can almost feel the heat. The supporting cast is excellent and the multiple story lines all work together nicely. For me, what prevented the film from reaching the level it could have, was the presence and performance of Angelina Jolie. Her last action movie was SALT in 2010, and here she seems too concerned with a look of glamor – right down to consistently brushed hair and perfect make-up – than fitting the profile of the courageous (and slightly off-center) smokejumpers. She stands out from the others on the team not because of her inherent extreme risk-taking, but rather because of her magazine-cover approach – something not limited to the hair and make-up, but also her posing and preening, including many of the same gazes from other movies like GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS (2000). I often admire and respect the choices actors make, but in this case, those choices work against everything else in what could have been an excellent dramatic thriller.

Now available on HBO Max

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (2021)

May 13, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Agoraphobia (the fear of leaving one’s home) has been the topic of a few films over the years, but for whatever reason, none of them have really clicked. Of course, director Alfred Hitchcock brilliantly used a wheelchair-bound James Stewart to create his tension-packed classic REAR WINDOW (1954); however, there’s a psychological difference in being stuck at home due to injury, and being mentally and emotionally unable to bring yourself to walk out the front door due to anxiety and fear. Controversial author/editor AJ Finn (pseudonym of Dan Mallory) wrote a 2018 best-selling debut novel around this affliction, and now Tracy Letts has adapted the novel for the screen and director Joe Wright (DARKEST HOUR 2017, ATONEMENT 2007).

Amy Adams stars as Anna Fox, a child psychologist suffering from agoraphobia after a horrible car accident. She never leaves her Brownstone. She has groceries and prescription drugs delivered to her door, and conducts business over the phone. She has also mastered the internet and memorized dialogue from numerous classic films. Anna also spends an inordinate amount of time spying … um, observing … her neighbors through the window. Anna has a pet cat, and also a tenant living in her basement. We don’t learn much about David (Wyatt Russell) until later in the film.

The story is broken down by the days of the week, and begins with Monday when Anna meets Ethan (Fred Hechinger), the son of the Russells who just moved in across the street. On Tuesday, Anna meets the character played by Julianne Moore, and the two have a chat about her son Ethan, in addition to bonding over wine … a beverage of frequent choice for Anna. On Wednesday and Thursday, all heck breaks loose as Anna hears a scream and witnesses a stabbing in the home of her new neighbors. The cops don’t believe her and Ethan’s dad, Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman), shows up accusing her of lying, boozing, and hallucinating on prescription drugs. It’s not a pretty sight for Anna.

The first hour does a nice job of setting the scene for Anna and her struggles, plus creating confusion and misdirection on what she’s experiencing and “seeing” in regards to the situation in the Russell home across the street. We get a feel for the strange dynamic with David, the phone calls with her husband Ed (Anthony Mackie), and her therapy sessions with Dr. Landy (screenwriter Tracy Letts). It’s really Act 3 where things went off the rails for me. It seemed there was an attempt to cram too much into too short of time. The ending is clear and helps us make sense of everything that has come before; however, it just came across as forced, and out of step with what we had watched in the first hour.

Other supporting roles include Brian Tyree Henry as a Detective, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In fact, the stellar cast includes two Oscar winners in Julianne Moore and Gary Oldman, a previous Oscar nominee in Jennifer Jason Leigh, and of course, Amy Adams, who has six Oscar nominations. Ms. Adams carries most of the movie with yet another terrific performance, while the others really aren’t given much to do. It’s rare for me to say this, but I believe the material would have been better served as a two- or three-parter, rather than a relatively short movie. It was initially delayed in 2019 for re-shoots and a re-edit, and then again in 2020 due to COVID. I might have been somewhat disappointed in the final project, but I suspect this will be hugely popular on Netflix.

Premieres on Netflix on May 13, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


PROFILE (2021)

May 13, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. French journalist Anna Erelle documented her month-long correspondence with an ISIS terrorist in her 2015 book, “In the Skin of a Jihadist.” Her experience resulted in a fatwa being issued for her … basically an Islamic death sentence on her head. Based on (more like influenced by) Ms. Erelle’s story, writer-director Timur Bekmambetov (ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2012) and co-writers Brittany Poulton and Olga Kharina bring us a movie version via computer screen storytelling.

Valene Kane (“The Fall”) stars as Amy Whittaker, a British freelance journalist with a bright idea for an important story. With so many western girls being recruited by ISIS and sold as sex slaves, Amy decides to track down a recruiter and gain intel on how the process works. She does this by creating new Facebook and Skype accounts under the fictitious name of Melody Nelson, an “almost” 20 year old new convert to Islam who just doesn’t fit in to her current world. With the beep of a new post, Melody is contacted by Bilel, a terrorist and ISIS recruiter, whose profile expertly blends cat videos with bombings and beheadings.

Bilel (Shazad Latif, “Star Trek: Discovery”) is handsome and charming. He talks the talk and walks the walk as both a terrorist and man who can seduce vulnerable young women via FaceTime. There is a lot happening on Amy’s/Melody’s screen at any given time. The pop ups come fast and frequently from her hard-nosed news editor Vick (Christine Adams, “Black Lightning”), curious best friend Kathy (Emma Cater), confused boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins), and IT specialist Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh), himself the son of a Muslim. As if all that isn’t enough, YouTube videos come and go, and Melody is constantly googling the latest topic of conversation so she doesn’t give away her ruse.

Artistic license is taken with her in-the-moment research and blunders. Although Ms. Kane is strong in the role, Amy never comes across as a professional journalist on a job. She does, however, expertly play to the stresses – rent due, concerned boyfriend, social commitments, dual personas, work deadlines, and the social media chaos that comes with flirting with terrorists or “making friends with jihadists”. It’s just impossible to imagine a job like this wouldn’t find all parties better prepared and protected.

Still, the reality of young women being seduced and recruited by terrorists is quite real, and this should generate fear in every parent. I kept thinking “that wouldn’t happen”, all the while my stomach churned with the tension. It’s the reality of the threat that creates the fear, but director Bekmambetov effectively uses the online interactions to create a current and urgent scenario.

In theaters on May 14, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


RIDERS OF JUSTICE (2021)

May 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe occurrences that appear related, yet lack a clear connection. Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen (Nicolaj Arcel is credited with the idea) starts us off with a slew of coincidences: Mathilde’s bike is stolen, her dad calls to say his military assignment has been extended, her mom decides they should take the train to town, a man surrenders his seat to Mathilde’s mom, a passenger throws away his sandwich while getting off the train, a bomb derails the train after that stop, a key witness in a criminal trial is killed, and the man who gave up his seat is a probability expert who begins assembling the pieces before going to Mathilde’s dad to present his case. Were these coincidences related or is it possible meaning is being found where none exists?

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Markus, who returns home from military service to care for his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after the train wreck killed his wife/her mother (Anna Birgitte Lind). The problem is that Markus is a no-nonsense man who deals with his grief by not dealing at all … except for guzzling beer and slapping Mathilde’s boyfriend. Markus is a different look than what we usually get with Mads. His tussled hair has been sheared and he sports a full beard. He’s a combustible man about to burst with pent-up aggression, which makes him especially accepting to the theory he’s about to hear.

Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kass) is the statistical analyst who gave up his seat on the train. His partner Lennart (Lars Brygmann) is a brilliant man, likely on the spectrum, while Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) is an obese loner and computer whiz. This trio reminds of The Lone Gunman from “The X-Files”, and add a dash of dark comedic flair to an otherwise weighty and somber affair. Soon joined by Bodashka (Gustav Lind), a victim a human trafficking, this is a team of flawed and damaged individuals, each dealing with their own personal baggage – while focused on Markus’ obsession with vengeance.

The titular Riders of Justice are a criminal gang whose leader was set to go on trial. The key witness died in the train wreck, kicking off the domino effect for Otto’s theory and Markus’ path of wrath. Can the series of coincidences be mathematically explained, and if so, can this group of overly intelligent, geeky misfits lead the vengeance-seeking husband down the path of vigilante justice?

Filmmaker Jensen nicely balances the moments of extreme violence with the Brainiac segments so that we can easily follow what Markus is doing, and why. The group therapy has us questioning if life can be mathematically predicted, or if coincidences are simply that. Other supporting work comes from Roland Moller and Albert Rudbeck Lindhart, but as you might expect, it’s Mikkelsen who captivates on screen. He’s not skilled as a cuddly parent, but his military training suits this mission. Were this to receive a U.S. remake (hopefully not), we could expect Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington as obvious choices for the lead.

NY & LA theaters May 14th, 2021 and everywhere May 21st, 2021.

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE DJINN (2021)

May 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Some of the best horror films are low-budget affairs, and David Charbonier and Justin Powell fully embrace this concept. As with their previous collaboration (THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR, 2020), the production company partners are co-writers and co-directors on this latest – an effective “legend” thriller that plays like a live-action campfire story.

Ezra Dewey stars as 12 year old Dylan Jacobs, a mute boy who moves into an apartment with his dad (Rob Brownstein) after a tragic incident on “a quiet summer night in 1989” leaves Dylan without a mother. Dad works the graveyard shift as a disc jockey, so Dylan is left alone their first night in the new place. Dylan discovers a leather-bound “Book of Shadows” in the closet. Left behind by the previous owner – an old man who died in the place – the book has a chapter, “Wish of Desire”, which especially appeals to Dylan, who would love to have a “voice”.

As one would expect from a 12 year old, and just about anyone at any age, he doesn’t read the fine print in the book, and immediately prepares to perform the spell. All he needs is a couple drops of blood, some candles, a clock and a mirror. The only question is whether the spell will work with sign language. By this time, we’ve also learned that a previous lung operation has Dylan dependent on his inhaler when he’s stressed – something we horror fans recognize is going to happen not long after he lights that candle.

Of course this is no genie-in-a-bottle granting wishes. Nope, Dylan soon learns it’s a supernatural being that takes the form of those already dead – some Dylan recognizes and some he doesn’t. The Djinn is the “guardian of the shadow realm” and the challenge for Dylan is to stay alive until midnight while the entity tries to end him. What makes the film click is the performance of young Ezra Dewey. He carries the film on his back while, obviously, dialogue is not an option. Having a clever and quick-thinking young protagonist gives us someone to root for. The filmmakers wisely stage this confrontation within the confined space of this small apartment. DP Julian Estrada does excellent work and never resorts to trickery – we understand the floorplan and always know where Dylan is at any moment.

The 1980’s vibe is present via a boom box, phone cord, TV with antennae, dad’s pager, and composer Matthew James’ synth score. There is also the interesting contrast of Dylan’s inability to speak, and the Djinn spending much of the time without sight. The filmmakers take a simple approach to the story (the legend) and let Dylan fight his way to midnight as we squirm (and yes jump a couple of times). It’s a brisk 80 minute runtime and one that most horror film fans will appreciate, despite the cruel twist.

Opening in select theaters and VOD on May 14, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


WRATH OF MAN (2021)

May 6, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Cinematic Alert: Guy Ritchie has gone straight! That’s right, the filmmaker we’ve come to bank on for dynamic action, creative editing, and clever, rapid-fire dialogue laced with dark humor and outright hilarious, offbeat moments, has delivered a straightforward, by-the-book revenge-crime thriller. Of course, despite it being about as good as anything else in the genre, we just can’t help but feel a little (and maybe a lot) disappointed that Ritchie has shifted his approach and left us wondering why. After all, he’s the genius behind THE GENTLEMEN (2019), SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011), and SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), as well as his brilliant first two films: LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) and SNATCH (2000).

The film opens with an armored vehicle heist that ends in gunfire. This heist and the crew of criminals are the key to the story, and Ritchie utilizes his non-linear, multiple perspective story-telling technique to fill in the gaps for us and provide context to everything else that unfolds. Needless to say, there’s more to this heist than what we initially witness. Jumping ahead a few months, the next thing we see is Jason Statham as the mysterious “H” joining Fortico, the cash truck/armored vehicle company victimized in that early sequence. H is clearly wound tightly and not great at making friends … at least until his heroics thwart another attempted robbery and saves the lives of co-workers Bullet (Holt McCallany) and Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett).

H’s motivation is slowly revealed, as is the fact that he’s not such an outstanding citizen himself. However, it’s clear his mission of revenge is the most important thing in his life, and he’ll stop at nothing to get the person he’s after. His target is part of a criminal team of former military buddies that include Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan), Ian (Scott Eastwood), Brad (Deobia Oparei), and Sam (Raul Castillo), who want nothing more than one huge score so they can walk away and enjoy life. Other key members of Fortico’s staff are played by Niahm Algar, Eddie Marsan, and Rob Delaney. H’s contacts are played by Lyne Renee, Darrell D’Silva, and Andy Garcia, while singer Post Malone (billed as Austin Post) makes an appearance as a robber.

Filmmaker Ritchie is working with many of his regular collaborators. He co-wrote the screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson, and it’s based on the 2004 French movie, LE CONVOYEUR (“Cash Truck”) by Nicolas Boukhrief, Eric Besnard. Others from his usual team include cinematographer Alan Stewart, composer Christopher Benstead, and editor James Herbert. It’s not unusual to find Jason Statham bring his action expertise to a Guy Ritchie crime movie, but Statham really plays it straight here as he sets out to settle a score. The almost non-existent wise-cracking leaves us feeling a bit adrift due to expectations, but the result is a fine, action-packed movie with one excessively long shootout near the end. Ritchie has certainly earned the right to make the movies he wants, but in the words of main character H, “I do bear a grudge.”

Opens in theaters on Friday May 7, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER