Film Review: “Bad Boys: Ride or Die”

 

 

  • BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE
  • Starring:  Will Smith and Martin Lawrence
  • Directed by:  Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
  • Rated: R
  • Running time:  1 hr 55 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

 

Butch and Sundance.  Murtaugh and Riggs.  Carter and Lee.  Every era has a buddy team that transcend pop culture.  If I’m right, when you read the above names you immediately thought “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as well as the “Lethal Weapon” and “Rush Hour” film series.  For the 21st Century I offer Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett.  You can just call them Bad Boys.

 

We find ourselves back in beautiful Miami – the photography here is post card worthy – and find detectives Lowery (Smith) and Burnett (Lawrence) attending the wedding of the granddaughter of their late boss, Captain Howard.  Things go from celebratory to chaos when it is announced that there is corruption in the Miami P.D. and that it was encouraged by Howard.  Sensing a set up, the two partners soon find themselves on the run as they not only try to clear Howard’s name but discover the real culprits.

 

Packed with both the over the top action and well timed comedic moments, “Bad Boys: Ride of Die” is a marvel of action film making.  Directors Arbi and Fallah have found a way to put the audience into the middle of the action, very similar to the work Dev Patel did with “Monkey Man.  I did catch a short “making of” piece about the film and the technology used today is stunning.  It’s almost like being in the middle of a live action episode of “Grand Theft Auto!”

 

Both Smith and Lawrence have grown into their roles and their comfort with each other is evident in every scene.  You sense the chemistry the two have forged after nearly three decades.  And hats off to both actors for only doing four films in that time frame.  Most film series’ (I’m looking at you “Fast and the Furious”)  just put out cookie cutter imitations of the past and, while they make money – my friend Carl Gottlieb once said that the only sequel that loses money is the last one – they don’t give the characters the room and time to grow on screen.  I also must mention that Eric Dane makes a very impressive screen villain.  The man is downright scary. 

 

The production values are top notch, helped out, as noted in my first paragraph, by some beautiful photography created by Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert.  The film even gets a blessing from the series original director, Michael Bay, who makes a fun cameo appearance.

 

When you’re done doing what I’m doing – humming the “Bad Boys” song in your head – take a trip to the local cinema and say hello to Lowery and Burnett.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

On a scale of zero to five, “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” receives ★★

Film Review: “Bionic”

 

  • BIONIC
  • Starring: Jessica Cores, Bruno Gagliasso
  • Directed by: Afonso Poyart
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Running Time: 110 minutes
  • Netflix

 

The cinematic exploration of the potential negative consequences of A.I. are nothing new in cinema, but neither are stories involving bionically enhanced humans. Lee Majors in the ‘70s era TV series “The Six Million Dollar Man” is the first one that comes to mind. The new Brazilian science fiction film “Bionic,” set in the year 2035, attempts to explore what the negative fallout could be if amputees, who became that way by accident or on purpose, had essentially superhuman strength and speed with new, computerized appendages. In the case of “Bionic,” it tackles this scenario via the sports world and how fully natural athletes would do against unfair competition. Sometimes “Bionic” is successful with this endeavor, but often it sputters and stumbles as it fails to cross the finish line.

 

The story revolves around a pair of Brazilian sisters born of a superstar track and field mother who dies when they are young. The oldest sister, Maria (Jessica Cores) has all the potential to become a superstar in her own right. However, her dreams are dashed with the arrival of bionic limbs, which turns her younger sister, Gabi (Gabz) into an international superstar. Records are broken right and left as natural athletes are left eating dust. Eclipsed by her sister, Maria is left feeling bitter. Enter Heitor (Bruno Gagliasso), a man of dubious character who is not afraid to rob and steal his way to riches. Charismatic, he uses his charms to convince Maria to help him steal a bunch of high-powered microchips that are implanted in the brain to sync it up with any bionic parts that are added. The sibling rivalry between the two girls becomes worse as the story moves along, putting the lives of their stereotypical, overbearing coach of a father and their brother in jeopardy.

 

Stylistically, “Bionic” is often eye pleasing, but icing alone does not make a cake. The competition portion of the story is laughably bad while the supposed good characters become increasingly unlikable as it progresses. There is little to no suspense in what is supposed to be an action sci-fi film with a climax so bad that it ruins anything that was positive. The post climatic scene at the end is even worse, leaving me with the thought of, “Did I just watch this?”.

 

Overall, “Bionic” is about it $5,999,999 less than Lee Majors.

 

“Bionic” receives ★ out of five.

Film Review: “The Beach Boys”

 

  • THE BEACH BOYS
  • Starring:  Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine
  • Directed by:  Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time: 1 hr 51 mins
  • Disney

 The term genius is reserved for only the best of the best in a particular field.  In music that list includers Beethoven, Lennon and McCartney and a Southern California boy who wanted to be a baseball player, Brian Wilson.  Along with his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, Brian the Beach Boys created some of the greatest music ever recorded.  But the waves were not always smooth for the band.

 

Airing on Disney+, “The Beach Boys” is an in depth look into how a band that had to borrow money for it’s equipment from a member’s mother and endure a band name they hated achieved both the highs of fame and the lows of mental exhaustion.

 

Managed by the Wilson’s father, Maury, an aspiring musician himself, the group basically rode the popular wave of surfing music – which in the early 1960s was mostly instrumental -by capitalizing on the boy’s good lucks and Brian’s songwriting ability.  The band was riding high in the first half of the decade but when Brian decided to stop touring with the band and concentrate on the music, the band released some of their best work.  Not coincidentally, this was the same time period as the Beatles exploded onto the scene, causing Wilson and the team of Lennon and McCartney to create some of their greatest work, almost as in competition with each other.

 

But behind the scenes, things weren’t always as sunny.  Tired of Murray Wilson’s meddling, the band fired him as manager, allowing him to run their publishing company.  This same period  featured both highs (the classic albums “Pet Sounds” and “Smile”) and lows (Brian’s slowly crumbling mental state).  As the decade ended we learn that Dennis had been introduced to another aspiring musician, Charles Manson.  In 1968, the band released a song co-written by Dennis Wilson and Manson called “Cease to Exist” – later retitled “Never Learn Not to Love”) as a B-side to the singled “Bluebirds Over the Mountain.” It was Dennis who introduced Manson to record producer Terry Melcher, who had no interest in Manson’s songs.  It was to Melcher’s house that Manson dispatched his followers too on the night of August 9, 1969, unaware that Melcher no longer lived there but was renting the house to director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate.

 

The film also chronicles how the band’s record company didn’t know how to market their greatest album, “Pet Sounds,” originally releasing it in England while launching a Greatest Hits album in the states.  It also details the difficulties the band had with Murray Wilson who, without talking to Brian Wilson, Mike Love and the others who wrote songs, sold the rights to the band’s catalog for $700,000, a steal when you consider that Bob Dylan recently sold his catalog for $200 million.

 

But despite the ups and downs, the music continues and it is the music that will endear us to the band for as long as we have music. 

 

On a scale of zero to five, I give “The Beach Boys’ ★★★

Film Review # 2: “IF”

 

Version 1.0.0

 

  • IF
  • Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Cailey Fleming
  • Directed by: John Krasinski
  • Rating: PG
  • Running Time: 1 hr 44 mins
  • Paramount Pictures

 

It’s rare to find a film that an entire family of all ages can sit down and enjoy in a darkened theater. “IF” happens to be one of those rarities. A blend of computer animation and live action, “IF,” written and directed by “The Office” alum John Krasinski, is an emotionally intoxicating story brimming with poignant moments that will inspire both smiles and tears. Its lead, Cailey Fleming (“The Walking Dead”, “Peppermint”) is delightful on the silver screen supported fantastically by Ryan Reynolds.

 

It begins with 12-year-old Bea (Fleming) moving into her grandmother’s (Fiona Shaw) New York City apartment while her dad (Krasinski) waits in a local hospital to have what we presume is a heart surgery of some type. (All that is said is that her dad has a “broken heart”.) What makes it doubly hard for Bea is that her dad is in the same hospital where her mother died apparently from cancer a few years earlier.

 

One evening, Bea is out after dark buying a charger for her camcorder when she sees an odd creature, who looks like something from a 1940s cartoon, going into her grandmother’s apartment building. The next day, she sees it again only this time talking with a man named Cal (Ryan Reynolds) who is trying to bring back an emotional, sometimes clumsy, large purple creature named Blue (Steve Carell) to the apartment building.

 

When the curious Bea makes contact with Cal, she learns he is working with imaginary friends, or IFs, to find them new kids after the children they were with previously have grown up and forgotten about them. Reluctantly, Cal allows Bea to help him, but it proves be a daunting task for them both, especially after they try to reunite the IFs with their now grown-up kids.

 

“IF” pulls at every possible heart string and will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy when you leave the theater. Krasinski does a perfect job of not getting bogged down in the details of what his character’s illness is or its aftermath, thus not making it more of a scarier situation than what it needs to be for young kids. Reynolds delivers a terrific, yet subdued performance that allows Fleming to be the film’s brightest star. Fleming gives a good balancing act with an age where kids are in that gray area of still being regarded as a kid but on the verge of being a “grown-up” teenager. Mix in some great character voices and outstanding cinematography by legendary cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (“Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan”) and you have an outstanding family film.

 

Overall, there are not ifs, ands, or buts about it, “IF” is wonderful film by any definition.

 

“IF” receives ★★★★ out of five.

Film Review: “Colors of Evil” Red”

 

  • COLORS OF EVIL: RED
  • Starring: Jakub Gierszal, Maja Ostaszewska
  • Directed by: Adrian Panek
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Running Time: 1 hr 51 mins
  • Netflix

 

“Colors of Evil: Red”, now streaming on Netflix, is an intriguing Polish crime drama based upon the first book in a trilogy written by Polish novelist Małgorzata Oliwia Sobczak. (The second book is “Black” and the third is “White”.) Relying more on drama than action, “Colors of Evil” is an intelligent piece of writing. It’s a dark, unsettling tale of femicide set in a seedy, Polish underworld where illegal drugs, alcohol, and human sex trafficking run rampant. Solid performances with some twists and turns in the plot make it a watchable film.

 

The story’s crux begins when the nude body of a female bartender is discovered on a lonely stretch of beach bordering the Baltic Sea in Poland’s TriCity area, which is composed of the coastal cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot. A haunting mutilation of the corpse is reminiscent of a similar murder from several years earlier. Local prosecutor Leopold Bilski (Jakub Gierszal, “Dracula Untold”) is the only one who seems to care about getting to bottom of the case, that is until the dead bartender’s mother, Judge Helena Bogucka (Maja Ostaszewska) inserts herself into the investigation at great peril to her life.

 

The dogged Leopold begins connecting dots that lead him to the seedy seaside club where the judge’s daughter worked. He uncovers how at least one other girl from the club ended up dead in a similar manner and that it is operated by a sadist crime boss. No one is safe as the investigation reaches its climax, but Leopold proves himself to be in the same vein as Inspector Morse and other great fictional detectives.

 

Director Adrian Paneka (2018’s “Werewolf”) effort, while entertaining, can be a smidge predictable at times and a little too formulaic. Stylistically, “Colors of Evil” has a subdued texture with flashes of darkness horrible enough to dispel any doldrums at least temporarily. Gierszal is a fine lead who should only grow further in the role if the rest of the trilogy is indeed produced.

 

Overall, “Colors of Evil: Red,” presuming you don’t mind subtitles or English dubbing, is a good detective story but not quite great.

 

“Colors of Evil: Red” receives ★★1/2 out of five.

Film Review: “In the Land of Saints and Sinners”

 

  • IN THE LAND OF SAINTS AND SINNERS
  • Starring: Liam Neeson, Kerry Condon
  • Directed by: Robert Lorenz
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 46 mins
  • Prodigal Films Limited

 

Ever since 2008’s “Taken,” Northern Ireland native Liam Neeson has been a staple of action flicks. Now in his early 70s, he is still doing them but in the vein of tough characters who are starting to walk off into the sunset. He continues that trend with “In the Land of Saints and Sinners,” now available on streaming services, a marvelous work on his part in a film with a gripping, complex story brimming with tragedy.

 

Under the employ of local crime boss Robert McQue (Colm Meaney, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” TV series), Finbar Murphy (Neeson) is a World War II vet who made a living for many years as a contract killer, something he is quite good at. It is the era known as the Troubles, a violent conflict between loyalists and nationalists in Northern Ireland, and the bloodshed of a bombing gone terribly wrong spill into the peaceful village that Finbar lives in and uses as his base.

 

Four members of the Irish Republican Army, led by Doireann McCann (Kerry Condon, “The Banshees of Inisherin”), a ruthless, domineering personality, seek refuge in Finbar’s village to lay low and to make plans to launch more bombings. After his most recent killing, Finbar has decided to give up his life as a contract killer, much to McQue’s dismay and that of a younger protégé, Kevin Lynch (Jack Gleeson, “Game of Thrones”). However, his attempt to live a life of peaceful tranquility comes to a crashing halt after a violent encounter he has with Doireann’s volatile brother.

 

“Saints and Sinners” is one of Neeson’s best performances in recent memory. You can see the burden of what he has methodically been doing over the years on his face without him having to say a word. You can also see the longing in his eyes of wanting to live a different life, but in the end, he still does what must be done with grim determination. His interaction with Gleeson, who is perfect as a cocky young man with dreams of going to California, provides some great moments in the film as well.

 

Director Robert Lorenz (“Trouble with the Curve”) manages the story’s flow and pacing with good skill while setting its tragic circumstances against a beautiful Irish countryside backdrop. It would be fitting if it were to be the end of Neeson’s run as an action star.

 

Overall, “Saints and Sinners” is akin to an old Western with an aging gunslinger who just wants to be left alone but his past choices make that impossible.

 

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” receives ★★★ out of five.

 

Film Review: “Sentinel”

 

  • SENTINEL
  • Starring: Jason R. Moore, Michael Pare
  • Directed by: Stefano Milla
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins
  • American Widescreen Pictures

 

With all the feel of a bad video game from 2005, the new science fiction film “Sentinel” may be one of the worst movies to be released in the 21st century. Its special effects are so terrible that even a first grader using some glue, paper, scissors, and a few markers could have created something better. The costumes are cheesy, the dialogue is wooden, and the acting is subpar. There is not one redeemable quality about it. Even the music is bad.

 

“Sentinel” begins in the year 2155 when an alien invasion wipes out most of humanity after arriving on Earth via a multi-dimensional portal. Those who managed to survive were miners working in a colony on the dark side of the moon. Decades later, scientists utilizing DNA technology, select three hand-picked soldiers – Damon Singleton (Jason R. Moore, “The Punisher” TV series), Jarrod Williams (Neil Cole), and Robin Hunters (Ellie Patrikios) – to send back to Earth to work with any human resistance that may be left and end the alien presence.

 

Of course, things go haywire as the three soldiers find themselves scattered and unable to communicate with one another. On top of that, they come face to face with zombie-like creatures and a seemingly invincible adversary called the Sentinel who guards the portal. Can the three heroes find any humans to help defeat the Sentinel with their stoic looks and their laser tag attire stolen from a pizza parlor? Oh, and there is also a subplot on the moon where the miners’ President (Michael Pare, “Eddie and the Cruisers”), who has a terrible mustache, seems to be involved in a conspiracy. And the moon scenes look like a poor man’s version of “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall”.

 

I have been reviewing movies since the early 1990s and “Sentinel” is the first film that made me want to claw my eyeballs out. I’m not sure if even copious amounts of alcohol would make this absolute waste any better. I could actually feel my IQ dropping as I watched it. It’s a time suck of epic proportions.

 

Overall, “Sentinel” should earn every Razzie Award possible.

 

“Sentinel” receives zero stars out of five.

Film Review: “Atlas”

 

  • ATLAS
  • Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Simu Liu
  • Directed by: Brad Peyton
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins
  • Netflix

 

It used to be a parade of various alien invaders from which humanity was always trying to avoid annihilation. While that concept still seems to be a popular one, it has had an increasing amount of competition from the world of artificial intelligence, whose roots go back to “Terminator”. The newest addition into this foray of the potential eradication of the human species is the Jennifer Lopez vehicle, “Atlas.” With a decent storyline, credible special effects, and a couple of talented supporting cast members, “Atlas” comes close to being a watchable science fiction film. However, it is ruined in large part by Lopez’s over-the-top, melodramatic acting that ranges from being annoying to being laughable.

 

A brief set-up lets us know that in the future, an AI being named Harlan (played too stoically Simu Liu, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”) has decided that humanity needs to be cleansed and its survivors can then live in a paradise alongside other AI beings. (Sounds a little bit like Thanos.) After a failed AI rebellion leaves three million people dead, Harlan flees Earth aboard a fancy rocket ship.

 

Fast forward 28 years later when Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez), whose mother was a pioneering leader in AI technology until she was murdered by Harlan, is assigned to question an AI associate of Harlan’s. She learns Harlan’s off world location and begs to go on the combat mission to capture him. While the commanding officer, Gen. Jake Boothe (Mark Strong, “Sherlock Holmes”), is willing, the mission commander, Col. Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown, “Black Panther”) is adamant against the idea. That is until he inexplicably changes his mind.

 

Atlas, who has no combat training and has a mistrust of all things AI, soon finds herself in the Andromeda Galaxy where a trap has been laid for the combat operation. She soon finds herself all alone having to rely on the very AI that she is so mistrustful of. All the while, Harlan, who has known Atlas since she was a little girl, is determined to capture her for intel that she has in her head so he can return to Earth.

 

Directed by Brad Peyton (“San Andreas,” “Rampage”), “Atlas” probes the potential dangers of AI in an interesting way while also displaying its potential benefits, even if that is mostly military related. The special effects are entertaining enough, but at times it feels like a rip-off from “Avatar”. A big scientific plot hole is that the story doesn’t explain how a combat ship is able to travel from Earth to the Andromeda galaxy at the snap of a figure. This is a head scratcher considering that even at the speed of light it would take 2.5 million years to get there.

 

The real damage to “Atlas” comes from Lopez. It is impossible to take her seriously as her emotional range vacillates wildly as she does a copious amount of pouting, crying (without shedding tears), screaming, and yelling. She plays Atlas as so emotionally unstable that there is no believable way for her to be allowed to go on the mission. Of course, some of this can be blamed on Peyton who either couldn’t or wouldn’t try to reel her in.

 

Overall, AI needs to deem “Atlas” as unworthy and terminate the film with extreme prejudice.

 

“Atlas” receives one ★ out of five.

Film Review: “The Idea of You”

 

  • THE IDEA OF YOU
  • Starring:  Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine
  • Directed by:  Michael Showalter
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 55 mins
  • Amazon Prime

 

Imagine you’re recently divorced and your ex, in an effort to secure your daughter’s affections, buys her tickets to not only see her favorite boy band from when she was a kid but also the chance to meet them.  Imagine that you have to go with her and meet the band.  Now imagine that, against all odds, you fall in love.  In a nutshell, this is the story of “The Idea of You.”

 

Romantic comedies are a dying breed, especially this time of year.  Most filmgoers are standing in line for action films and the occasional horror thriller.  Sandwiched in between these films this year is “The Idea of You,” a sweet comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  When Solene (Hathaway) meets Chase (Galitzine) it’s not cute.  It’s embarrassing, as she mistakes his VIP trailer for a public porta-potty.  Chase is quite happy that Solene has no interest in him, the majority of his life having been spent fighting off women who are intrigued by his celebrity.  And when others tell them their relationship is wrong, it only makes them hold on tighter.  Of course, like every love story, there are high points and low points and “The Idea of You” contains both.

 

Director Showalter, who also co-wrote the script, paces the film smoothly, avoiding most of the tropes you normally find in a film like this, raising it above the level of the Hallmark Channel movie of the week.  Both leads embrace their roles and give strong performances.  The film is also helped by some wonderful photography, courtesy of Director of Photography Jim Frohna.  He uses the screen like a canvas, filling it with bright colors and sights encountered in Chase’s travels.

 

Overall, when you’re in the mood for a little romance, “The Idea of You” isn’t a bad way to spend a couple hours in the dark.

 

On a scale of zero to five, “The Idea of You” receives ★1/2.

Film Review #2: “Unfrosted”

 

  • UNFROSTED
  • Starring:  Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan and Christian Slater
  • Directed by:  Jerry Seinfeld
  • Rated: PG 13
  • Running time: 1 hr 37 mins
  • Netflix

 

Ah, the 1960s.  What a great time it was to be a kid.  Breakfast was an important part of the day for kids because we all had our favorite cereals.  My favorite was Quisp, which was basically Cap’n Crunch without the danger of cutting the roof of your mouth.  Quisp had a partner named Quake but Quake soon faded into cereal obscurity.  Other cereal brands I used to eat which are sadly no longer with us include Crispy Critters (hawked by Linus the Lion), Ship Shake, which was basically a butterscotch flavored version of Cap’n Crunch that you put into a mug, filled it with milk, and drank (you had to drink it fast or you just ended up with a cup of soggy cereal), and OK’s, which were basically Kellogg’s version of Cheerios.  Also, for you younger people reading this, back in the 60s cereals that you know today as Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops and Golden Crisps used to have the word SUGAR at the beginning of their names.  To make parents think their kids were eating healthy, the removed the word from the box.  The word disappeared.  The sugar didn’t.  Apparently Jerry Seinfeld and I shared a similar childhood because his nostalgic film “Unfrosted” is a project I really enjoyed.

 

“Unfrosted” is a fictional and tongue in cheek film about the rivalry between Kelloggs (of Battle Creek, Michigan as the commercials used to tell me) and Post (surprisingly also based in Battle Creek, Michigan, which I learned is known as Cereal City).  The rivalry stems from both companies trying to jazz up the morning meal with something you could pop in the toaster.  Possibly a tart.  Hmmmm.

 

I true trip down memory lane for people of my generation, “Unfrosted” gives Seinfeld his first opportunity to work behind the camera and he paces the film beautifully.  Seinfeld and his two co-writers, Spike Feresen and Andy Robins, have given life to such popular icons as Snap, Crackle and Pop.  They also have fun with Thurl Ravenscroft, played deliciously by Hugh Grant, a serious actor who is best known for his voice (besides being the “voice” of Tony the Tiger, Ravenscroft appeared in many of the animated Disney shorts and features, beginning in 1950 and continuing through the late 1970s.

 

Even if you weren’t a kid in the 1960s I think you’ll find “Unfrosted” to be as good as a bowl of Quisp!

 

On a scale of zero to five, “Unfrosted” receives ★★

Film Review: “In a Violent Nature”

Starring: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic and Cameron Love
Directed by: Chris Nash
Rated: NR
Running Time: 94 minutes
IFC Films and Shudder

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Is it possible to reinvent the slasher genre in the 21st century? I think there’s always a discussion about it, but I ultimately think it’s incredibly difficult, especially since some confuse reinvigorating with reinventing. It’s hard to transform the slasher genre because it’s solely built on the singular purpose of seeing people killed in brutal ways. I’m not saying it’s too simplistic, but I’ve rarely seen instances of films attempting to reinvent one of horror cinema’s greatest wheels. The most recent occurrence of reinvention is when Wes Craven unleashed “Scream” upon the world. That being said, “In a Violent Nature” comes pretty damn close.

I wasn’t sold immediately as “In a Violent Nature” opened on a deteriorating structure in the middle of a lush summertime forest. We hear a few men off-screen talking over the sounds of nature; birds, the rustling of trees in the soft breeze and the like. Then we see a locket necklace removed from a pipe shooting out of the ground. That removal is what causes our main character to emerge from the hardened, yet seemingly fresh dirt below. Johnny (Ry Barrett) crawls out of the Earth from his undead slumber and begins to shamble around the pristine woods around him. The cameras follow Johnny throughout “In a Violent Nature,” sometimes methodically, sometimes suspensefully, but ultimately with an unspoken purpose.

It’s easy to compare “In a Violent Nature” to a film like the remake of “Maniac,” where we see not only have a first person view of the killer’s world, but hear his internal monologue. “In a Violent Nature” is third person and we never get to hear what Johnny is thinking. You could almost say that we more or less see what happens during other slashers as our main killer lumbers towards an unspeakable goal or illogical destination. You can joke that in other slashers, the killer is generally just twiddling their thumbs or possibly checking their Instagram notifications as they await another teenage victim to slash and gash. Instead, we’re left to ponder for several long lapses what Johnny is doing. Revenge? Bloodlust? Boredom?

Come to think of it, I really wasn’t sold on “In a Violent Nature,” until the film’s second kill. The film juxtapositions these moments of brutality with Johnny calmly walking about. We see him as he encounters the stereotypical group of teenagers looking to camp in a place they shouldn’t be, and how he reacts. Johnny doesn’t necessarily react the way we’ve imagined Jason Vorhees or others before Johnny. Vorhees jump scares into the picture, machete in hand, and quickly mutilates his victims. Johnny just walks up. Is that what Vorhees, Krueger and Myers have been doing all along? Casually strolling up? Like slashers before him, Johnny seems focused on a singular notion, but what is that notion? What drives Johnny? At a certain point, does Johnny’s backstory answer our burning questions or merely attempt to explain the unexplainable? “In a Violent Nature” performs an autopsy and you’re left to wonder what all the different organs are and why some are disfigured while others aren’t.

The film checks all the slasher boxes, a memorable killer, creative and gruesome kills, the drowning feeling of isolation, and a pace that balances viciousness with quiet curiosity. Is “In a Violent Nature” a deconstruction of the genre, much like “Cabin in the Woods?” It’s difficult to say because the silence breeds speculation and ultimately makes the viewer deconstruct the film more than the genre. “In a Violent Nature” starts out as an homage and slowly becomes a social commentary like great slashers before it. Slashers have always tapped into societal trauma, like the breakdown of safe spaces, whether it be a pristine lake in the woods or the safety of a suburban community on Halloween. The main thing it tapped into was a fear of the unknown. It’s very human to be fearful or anxious of the uncertainty and unseen around us. It’s what made “The Strangers” so effective, murderers can come for you just because. So, in today’s digital age of data where we have access to a wide range of sources and information, we fail to remember one thing that “In a Violent Nature” reminds us of, some things will never be explained. Johnny, just like the universe, may just be random and cruel. While some may suffer fates worse than death, survivors will be haunted by its unanswered questions.

Lewis Santer talks about playing Tigger in the horror sequel “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey II”

When I first saw the horror film “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey”, I left the theater freaking out with how awesome it was but I said one thing to my wife that the sequel needs to have Tigger in it…well my prayers were answered because I had the chance to chat with Lewis Santer, who played Tigger in the sequel “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey II”. We discussed him getting into the role, his biggest challenges and his future in “Poohniverse: Monsters Assemble”.

Lisa Downs talks about her documentary “Life After The NeverEnding Story”

“Life After The NeverEnding Story” is a documentary celebrating The NeverEnding Story (1984) via cast and crew interviews, whilst exploring the lives of stars Noah Hathaway and Tami Stronach since those breakthrough roles. Lisa Downs is the person behind the documentary. She has also made other films in the “Life After” series including Flight of the Navigator and Flash Gordon. Media Mikes caught up with Lisa to discuss the documentary as well as what she has planned coming in the near future.

Film Review: “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”

 

  • KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
  • Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allen
  • Directed by: Wes Ball
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 25 mins
  • 20th Century Studios

 

Originally intended to not be a franchise reboot, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” becomes just that and I’m not so sure it is a good thing. The original rebooted trilogy of films – 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” followed by 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes” – were all critically praised, financially successful and each received Oscar nominations involving visual effects. It all ended with a truly satisfactory ending to Caesar’s journey. However, sometimes well enough can’t be left alone and this is at least partly true for “Kingdom.” While it does have an interesting storyline, it starts off sluggishly and ends with more questions than answers.

 

Set many generations in the future after the events involving Caesar, “Kingdom” introduces us to the new ape protagonist, Noa (Owen Teague, “It”). A member of an ape clan that trains eagles, Noa and his friends live in a time when the ruins of human cities have become overtaken by nature and the wisdom of Caesar’s teachings have been almost forgotten. A brutal attack on his clan by a much stronger rival leaves Noa alone, putting him on a quest to bring his friends back home. Along the way he runs into a friendly Orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon, “The Orville”) who reveals to him the lost knowledge of Caesar. They also pick up a lost female human name Mae (Freya Allan, “The Witcher”) who seems different than other humans that predominately wild and dumb. Eventually, Noa discovers that his clan has been enslaved by Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), a theatrical ape obsessed with gaining technology he believes is stored in an underground bunker.

“Kingdom” is uninteresting in its initial scenes, resulting in the wish that more editing had occurred in post-production. It almost feels like watching a montage from “Avatar.” Originality what? The story only becomes intriguing once the intrepid Noa begins his quest to save his friends. Raka turns out to be a much more captivating character, albeit a short-lived one. What really draws you in is the tension between Noa and Mae whose agenda begs the question if apes and humans can ever coexist in peace.

 

Overall, “Kingdom” is visually stunning as the technology to create its ape characters only gets better with time. While its ending poses the basis for a new storyline, it doesn’t have the same creative or enthusiastic vibe as the first three films.

 

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” receives ★★★ out of five.

 

 

Film Review: “Late Night With the Devil”

 

  • LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL
  • Starring: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon
  • Directed by: Cameron and Colin Cairnes
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins
  • IFC Films

 

I tend to stay away from so-called horror films. I regard them as mundane with over-the-top scare tactics that are silly and scripts that were probably written in crayon. I still believe that last great horror film was “The Blair Witch Project” for its use of psychological terror, but that’s a discussion for another day. However, the newest entry into the genre, “Late Night with the Devil,” elicited my intrigue because it stars one of Kansas City’s own – David Dastmalchian. Inventive. Creative. Genius. Creepy. Terrifying. Those are all adjectives that can apply to this terrific piece of cinema.

 

The great Michael Ironsides lays the groundwork for the story with a voiceover narration that introduces us to late night talk show host, Jack Delroy (Dastmalchian), who has connections to a mysterious place in the California woods called “The Grove” where the rich and powerful meet and hold secret rituals. We learn that from humble beginnings, Jack’s show, “Night Owls”, becomes a strong contender to Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” As the years pass, though, “Night Owls” begins to slide in the ratings. At his lowest point, Jack’s wife, Madeleine (Georginia Haig, “Once Upon a Time”) dies from cancer.

 

After a month-long hiatus, which involved a trip to The Grove, Jack returns to his late-night gig. Desperate to save his show, Jack, in 1977, devises a Halloween show that will feature a teenage girl named Lilly (Ingrid Torelli, “Five Bedrooms”) who is supposedly possessed, and her doctor, June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon, “Saw V”). Jack also brings onboard a questionable psychic and a professional debunker who is skeptic of anything paranormal or supernatural. Things start taking a turn for the worse during the show, but Jack is determined to forge ahead so he can beat Carson.

 

Similar to “The Blair Witch Project,” the premise of “Late Night with the Devil” is that it’s a documentary complete with the “real” footage of the Halloween broadcast of “Night Owls” and other, never-before-seen footage caught by other cameras. Dastmalchian is nothing short of brilliant in the lead as a man so desperate to be number one that he will do anything to achieve it. Jack is not a bad man, but he makes bad choices that Dastmalchian does a superb job in showing how much of a toll it ends up taking on him.

 

The story is like a slow boil and by the time the terror begins you are completely hooked. There are few special effects in the film, which was clearly made on a small budget. What there is could have been toned down a smidge at it does become a little too typical. Nevertheless, “Late Night with the Devil” will leave you on the edge of your seat.

 

Overall, you probably should not watch “Late Night with the Devil” right before you go to bed.

 

“Late Night with the Devil” receives ★★★1/2 out of five.

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