Film Review “The Djinn”

Written and Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell
Starring: Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, Tevy Poe, John Erickson, Donald Pitts, Jilbert Daniel, Omaryus Luckett, Collin Joe and Isaiah Mansfield
Studio: IFC Midnight
Running Time: 82 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

When I see a movie coming out from IFC Midnight, my interest always immediately peaks! When I saw that there was a new movie centered around the supernatural Djinn, I got even more excited. I knew I had to see this film ASAP. It packs a fantastic synthesizer score, which I wish was used more. I would have loved to seen The Djinn more in it’s supernatural form but the film kind of cop-outs by transforming the Djinn into human form. I think it could have been much creepier if it was in demon form but I assume it was due to budget. Overall, the score works well to deliver great suspense, especially with the crying mom. “The Djinn” is definitely worth a watch despite it’s likely budgetary issues.

Young actor, Ezra Dewey, definitely does a great job here. He also worked with writers/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell on their last film “The Boy Behind the Door”. I can see why they wanted to work with him again. I see this kid having a bright future in the business. He literally carries this entire film himself as the only other case is his father and the humans that the Djinn embodies from photos in the apartment. I

Official Premise: The story follows a mute twelve-year-old, Dylan Jacobs, as he discovers a mysterious book of spells inside his new apartment. Grieving the loss of his mother, and feeling isolated from everyone except for his father, Dylan performs a ritual that promises to deliver his heart’s desire: to have a voice. But he soon discovers that every gift has a toll when a sinister djinn arrives to collect his soul. Now trapped in his new home with nowhere to hide, Dylan must find a way to survive until the stroke of midnight or pay the ultimate price.

Overall, the small apartment in the film is the only location for this film, which leads to this claustrophobic feel that the film has. Due to this small space, it delivers some solid suspense for our young lead trying to escape the creature throughout the hour in order for his wish to be granted. The twist is worth the watch as well. I appreciate a good twist in horror films and this one definitely delivers. I just wish we had the Djinn more in it’s creature form because this could have been much scarier if we had a looming figure rather than a human hunting our lead.

Opening in New York at the IFC Center, Los Angeles at Laemmle NoHo7 and Select Theaters Nationwide on Friday May 14th. The film will also be available on digital/VOD everywhere you rent movies.

Film Review “Wrath of Man”

Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, DeObia Oparei, Eddie Marsan, Scott Eastwood
Distributed by: United Artists Releasing
Running time: 119 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When you put director Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham in the same room, great things are bound to happen. “Wrath of Man” marks the fourth collaboration of the duo following Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000), and Revolver (2005). “Wrath of Man” is a non-stop fast paced rollercoaster ride. It’s a shoot first ask questions later kind of movie. Speaking of shooting, boy, is there a lot of shooting in it! Just from the trailer alone you could have expected that though. What’s good about this movie is that the trailer sold it for me yet without giving away too much.

Official Premise: A mysterious and wild-eyed new cash truck security guard (Jason Statham) surprises his coworkers during a heist in which he unexpectedly unleashes precision skills. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from. Soon, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score.

Guy Ritchie is coming off last year’s The Gentlemen, which was another must-see gem! This film keeps the fire hot and allows Statham to continue his career as being Hollywood’s badass. He is so cool and collected through this film that he makes you nervous for him. Holt McCallany, aka FBI Special Agent Bill Tench on the Netflix series Mindhunter, gets a chance to deliver a solid role as well. I like this dude and I like that he gets to shine here. Josh Hartnett also pops up in the film, feels like we haven’t seen him doing anything recently, so it’s cool to see him kicking ass as well. Also music fans should keep an eye for a quick cameo from Post Malone.

I didn’t know this but this is based off the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur (aka Cash Truck) by Nicolas Boukhrief. I am definitely interested in checking out that film now as well. Hopefully it is as badass as this film. Also the score, by Christopher Benstead, should also get some props cause it keeps you on the edge of your seat during the film’s twists and turns. Let’s hope that this doesn’t mark the last time that Statham and Ritchie work together because this is yet another winner for both of them.

Film Review “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah”

CLAUDE LANZMANN: SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH
Directed by: Adam Benzine
Starring: Claude Lanzmann
Running time: 40 minutes
HBO

Claude Lanzmann has become a legendary figure in the world of filmmaking, and this documentary by Adam Benzine, which was nominated in the Best Documentary Short Subject category at the 2016 Oscars, is an attempt to try and distill Lanzmann’s life, and his greatest project, into a short movie. Of course, you would probably need a documentary as long as Shoah to properly tell his life’s story, but Benzine does a fantastic job here of getting the Frenchman to open up about his early life as well as the huge task that was the creation of that documentary. For those who have not heard of Shoah, it is a French documentary directed by Lanzmann that was released in 1985, which is a look at the Holocaust, through interviews with survivors, witnesses and perpetrators, as well as visits to Holocaust sites such as Treblinka and Auschwitz in Poland. The movie runs to 566 minutes; that is over nine hours long, and is a detailed and painstaking effort which won a BAFTA for Best Documentary, as well as a New York Film Critics Choice Award for Best Non-Fiction Film. It has been hailed as one of the best documentaries ever made on a subject of contemporary history, and thus it was apt that there was a documentary made on the making of this documentary.

Thus, we can see how this is already an iconic documentary, and it made waves recently for very different reasons as well, becoming the first major motion picture, as well as the first Oscar-nominated movie, to be released as a non-fungible token (NFT). Ten ‘first edition’ copies of the movie were offered for sale via the blockchain auction site Rarible, along with bonus items including access to a director’s cut of the movie, as well as unique digital posters. It is interesting that this movie became the first to join the NFT bandwagon, and this is another reflection of the growing trend towards crypto and blockchain in today’s world, where people can even, for example, visit bitcoin baccarat gambling site to place bets virtually through cryptocurrencies on casino games online.

Benzine gets Lanzmann to open up about his earlier life, including his youth when he was part of the French Resistance against German occupation in the Second World War. He also briefly speaks about his affair with Simone de Beauvoir, but the main focus of this documentary is the making of Shoah. It took him nearly 12 years to make the movie, having begun production and interviews in 1973, and he talks about the various challenges and the emotional burden of trying to get survivors of death camps to open up and relive their experiences for his movie. He also had to secretly track and film former SS officers illegally to have the perspective of the perpetrators in his movie, while it was another monumental task to try and create a cohesive narrative from the nearly 200 hours of footage that he had amassed. Benzine also managed to secure a lot of previously unseen footage from Shoah that did not make it to the final movie, but was showcased in this documentary, with the help of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, to try and tell Lanzmann’s story better.

Shoah was a groundbreaking movie in every way, and it is therefore fitting that Spectres of the Shoah is also a pioneer in some manner. This is an excellent documentary that tells the story of one of the greatest documentary movies ever made, and thus it is a must watch for movie fans, as well as fans of history, in any part of the world.

4K/Blu-ray Review: “Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV”

  • KINGSGLAIVE: FINAL FANTASY XV
  • Starring the voices of:  Aaron Paul, Lena Heady and Sean Bean
  • Directed by:  Takeshi Nozue
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 50 mins
  • SONY Pictures

I’m not much of a fan of films derived from video games, however I do appreciate “Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV” for its stunning digital art.

Shot in full motion-capture CGI, the film is a visual work of art with some fun voice acting. However, if you’re not familiar with the game or story, you may find it a bit overwhelming. I was not at all familiar with “Final Fantasy” but it was still cool to look at and marvel at its artistry.

Watching on a 4K UHD disc certainly makes the presentation even more amazing and the sound quality is pretty amazing. The beauty of the film is that when you first glance at the characters, they look amazingly real! The full motion capture is astounding.

As for the plot, to break it down lightly, the story takes place on a planet called EOS, which is like a futuristic Earth. There is a Kingdom called Lucis, which houses a magical crystal that was given to the Lucians by gods. The power is used to protect the people and give power to the ruling king and his soldiers, who are known as the Kingsglaive.  With these powers, the Kingsglaive can ward off enemies.

Anything that is magical and promises powers will surely arouse jealousy and create wars and the crystal is no exception. Friends are stabbed in the back, characters are not whom they say they are and mega monsters, demons and spaceships riddle the landscape.  Everything climaxes into one big, epic final battle, which leads up to “Final Fantasy XV,” the video game.  

Once again, the visuals are quite stunning. In fact, this film has some of the best motion capture and CGI work I’ve seen on the big screen with room shaking LFE activity that’ll give the subwoofers a workout. The level of detail is staggering. Hair stubble and skin pores are clearly visible and come to breathtaking life!

Even for the novice, a viewing of “Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV” will give you a glimpse of the technical achievements of current film technology. It is certainly the next step in motion capture animation.

Special Features

  • A Way With Words – Epic And Intimate Vocals
  • To Capture The Kingsglaive – The Process
  • Fit For A Kingsglaive – Building The World
  • Emotive Music – Scoring The Kingsglaive

BEHIND THE SCREEN: 93rd Annual Academy Awards – A Night to (NOT) Remember

Well, thank God that’s over. The final film award ceremony of 2021 is over, and not a minute too soon.

Viewers who tuned in to the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony (guilty, but I have a website. What’s your excuse?) were treated to un-enthusiastic presenters, amazingly long speeches (I’m guessing Questlove wasn’t told he could play people off) and an “In Memoriam” segment that looks like it was thrown together at the last minute. And can someone tell me how a show with no host, opening monologue and zero musical numbers – unless you count the embarrassing “Oscar Music Trivia” game that featured Glenn Close shaking her ass to E.U.’s “Da Butt” – ran almost 3 1/2 hours??

On a positive note, there were some great achievements rewarded. A woman of color (Chloe Zhao) was named Best Director, only the second time a woman has won that Award. Think about that. Out of 465 nominees only SEVEN women have been nominated: Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sophia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow (who won), Greta Gerwig, Ms. Zhao and Emerald Fennell, who with Ms. Zhao was nominated this year. Which means such female directors, like Penny Marshall and Barbra Streisand, have been totally ignored, even though in the past they had directed films nominated for Best Picture!

Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-jing took home the Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards, respectively, putting a slight dent into the #OscarSoWhite reputation.

Frances McDormand became the second actress to receive (3) Best Actress awards when her name was announced last night, putting her right behind the immortal Katherine Hepburn, who won (4). Meryl Streep does have (3) Oscars, but one was for Best Supporting Actress. Ms. McDormand picked up a 4th Oscar as one of the producers of the evening’s Best Picture, “Nomadland.” And whose idea was it to give the Best Picture award out early? Normally it’s the last award of the night, but on this night it was awarded before Best Actress and Actor were named. My hunch is that the producers assumed the late Chadwick Boseman, who was nominated for his final performance in the film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” would win, which would have made for a nice emotional way to end the evening. Instead, Joaquin Phoenix sheepishly announced Anthony Hopkins as the winner of the Best Actor award, and that was a wrap!

My beef with the “In Memoriam” segment was that, for some reason, the Academy figured if you were watching you knew who everyone was and what they did. An introduction that took u 1/3 of the segment, no film clips and, while known talents like Christopher Plummer, George Segal and Wilford Brimley got a few seconds of screen time each, others – among them Marge Champion (a great dancer), Shirley Knight (a fine actress), Kelly Preston (same) and Michael Chapman (an amazing cinematographer whose credits include “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” and “The Fugitive”) whizzed by in a blink.

The fact that only nominees and presenters were allowed to be in the venue also made for dull television. Smatterings of applause signaled that the guests in the theatre were apparently as bored as the ones at my house.

Blame it on COVID. Blame it on the fact that none of the films nominated were “NAME” films – no “Titanic,” “Avatar” or “Lord of the Rings” in the bunch. Blame it on bad television. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

For those of you who went to bed early, here is a list of the winners:

Best Picture – Nomadland 

Best Actor in a Leading Role– Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

Best Actress in a Leading Role – Frances McDormand (Nomadland)

Best Director – Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Best Adapted Screenplay – The Father, Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller

Best Original Screenplay – Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell

Best Animated Feature Film – Soul 

Best International Feature Film – Another Round (Denmark)

Best Sound – Sound of Metal, Phillip Bladh, Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés, Carolina Santana

Best Costume Design – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Ann Roth

Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Matiki Anoff, Mia Neal, Larry M. Cherry

Best Live Action Short Film – Two Distant Strangers

Best Animated Short Film – If Anything Happens I Love You 

Best Documentary Feature – My Octopus Teacher 

Best Documentary Short Subject – Colette 

Best Original Song – ‘Fight for You,’ (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Best Visual Effects – Tenet, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Lockley, Scott R. Fisher, Mike Chambers

Best Cinematography – Mank, Erik Messerschmidt

Best Production Design – Mank, Donald Graham Burt, Jan Pascale

Best Film Editing – Sound of Metal, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen

Best Original Score – Mank, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Behind the Screen: Here Comes the Strangest Oscar Ceremony Ever!

THIS COULD BE THE STRANGEST OSCAR CEREMONY EVER

In its 93 years the Academy Awards have seen some strange occurrences.

In 1973, Marlon Brando, who was announced as the winner of the Best Actor Award, sent an actress pretending to be a Native American up to the podium to refuse the award, citing the way Native American’s were portrayed in films.

The next year, David Niven was startled when freelance photographer Robert Opel decided to “streak” across the stage behind them.  I always thought that this was a set-up.  The camera angle was such that none of Mr. Opel’s nether-region was shown and Mr. Niven was awful quick and his quip: “The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is from stripping off and showing his shortcomings!” 

And, of course, who could forget the 1989 ceremonies when Rob Lowe and Snow White engaged in a musical number?  Only months before a sex-tape with Lowe and two women (one underage) had been released, which I’m sure upset the folks at Disney, who were already upset because they hadn’t given their permission for the character to appear.

But this year could be the strangest and most unpredictable ceremony ever.

Tonight, for really the first time since last year’s Oscars, nominees have been encouraged to be in attendance.  In the past year, shows like the Emmys have had a minimal crowd (usually first responders) and the awards have been “delivered” to the winner via Zoom.  Tonight we could actually see people walk across the stage to give their acceptance speeches.

Tonight also notes the first time that a streaming service has received more total nominations than any of the established studios.  NETFLIX leads the way with 35 total nominations, followed by Amazon with 12.  The highest number of studio nominations is 8, shared by Warner Bros. and the Walt Disney Company.

Streaming has been the thing this year.  Though theatres are now open again, very few people are going.  The one closest to me, and 18 screen mega-plex, is showing films that range from current (GODZILLA vs KONG, MORTAL KOMBAT) to titles that are months old.  They are even trying to fill their screens with Bollywood features.

In the past year, I have seen three films in a movie theatre.  The aforementioned GODZILLA vs KONG and MORTAL KOMBAT, both in the last 2 months.  Before that, the last film I saw on the big screen was TENET.  And I LOVE going to the movies.

With the exception of TENET, every other Oscar nominated film or performance I have seen this year has been either on a streaming platform or a DVD screener.  A nice way for a critic to binge on what they need to see but also a way that takes the fun out of the movies. 

I enjoy going to the theatre.  Getting my popcorn and sitting in a room with 250 strangers who are about to share an experience with me.  I like hearing others laugh along with me and I like sitting in the silence and hearing if anyone else is crying at the incredibly sad scene I just witnessed.  And I like talking to people as we exit the auditorium, discussing what we saw and whether or not we liked it. 

I should note that there were no more than four other people in attendance at the three films I have seen in a theatre.  Which makes for a lonely exit conversation.

Hopefully after the awards some of the winners will be released to theatres.  That is how Hollywood makes a little more money off of their films – re-releasing them to theatres after the awards to get a post-Oscar push at the box office.  I, for one, would love to see MANK on the big screen.  It’s impeccable recreation of 1940s filmmaking would be glorious to take in on a screen 40 feet high.

However, there are also good reasons to watch the Awards this year.  Many of the nominees are a “pick-em” – there are no such things as “Titanic” nominated tonight.  But my fingers are crossed for two awards and the reaction they will receive. 

The late Chadwick Boseman is nominated as Best Actor for his amazing performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”  It is his last film performance and it is brilliant.  A victory here would not only honor a talent gone much too soon but will surely bring the house to it’s feet.

Secondly, tonight Glenn Close is nominated (for the eighth time) for her Supporting turn in “Hillbilly Elegy.”  Not only is she the best thing in the film, she is so overdue for a win.  Should she not win tonight, she will tie the late Peter O’Toole as having the most acting nominations without a win.  O’Toole did receive an Honorary Oscar in 2002.  A win by Close would surely trigger and emotional standing ovation.  It certainly will at my house.

Film Review: “Mortal Kombat”

  • MORTAL KOMBAT
  • Starring:  Lewis Tan and Josh Lawson
  • Directed by:  Simon McQuoid
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 50 mins
  • Warner Bros.

I can hear the pitch now.  Couple of guys walk into Warner Bros. and layout their idea for a film based on the early 1990s video game MORTAL KOMBAT.  “It’ll be great,” they tell the studio boss.  ‘Every thirty year old with kids will want to take them to see a movie based on their favorite childhood video game.  And, because we obviously don’t know that kids can’t readily see an “R” rated film, we’ll fill it with vulgar language and buckets of blood!”  Mission accomplished.

The story in a nutshell:  bad-ass bad guy kills bad-ass good guy and his family, but doesn’t know there is a baby hidden under the house.  Centuries later, we meet Cole Young (Tan) who is, of course, an MMA fighter.  That loses.  A lot.  An orphan (of course again) Cole has a family of his own, including a young daughter who is his corner-person when he fights.  Sadly, despite her constant pleading, he won’t throw the uppercut, so he taps out a lot.  But even though he’s a loser in the octagon, Cole has one thing the other fighters don’t.  A strange dragon marking on his body.  What could it mean?

Poorly written – I imagine the script was basically there to put a few minutes between fight scenes – and way over the top, MORTAL KOMBAT is exactly the kind of film I wouldn’t want my 37 year old son to take his kids to.

The dialogue, what there is, is very heavy handed, with words of wisdom that fall on deaf ears.  Another issue with the dialogue is that some of the film is subtitled, with the subtitles telling you if the characters are speaking Japanese or Chinese.  Later in the film they drop identifying the dialect.  When one character speaks to Cole in, if we were paying attention, we know is Japanese we can’t help but hope for a subtitle that reads “I have no idea what you’re saying” (English).

While the fight scenes do liven up the film some, the violence is over the top.  Yes, in the video game you killed your opponent in nasty ways.  Usually your opponent would explode in a red burst and their bones would rain down.  Violent, yes.  But not like this.  Here heads are crushed with a bloody splat, limbs hacked off and various blades are buried deep inside bodies, only to be removed in a geyser of blood.  Heck, one character is split down the middle vertically with organs spilling out like quarters from a slot machine.  Definitely not the MORTAL KOMBAT I remember playing.

A loud, rambling blood-fest, MORTAL KOMBAT is a great concept gone horribly wrong. 

Streaming/Film Review: “Boys From County Hell”

  • BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL
  • Starring:  Jack Rowan, Fra Fee, Louisa Harland
  • Directed by:  Chris Baugh
  • Rated:  Unrated
  • Running time:  1 hr 30 mins
  • Shudder


“You gonna tell us to ‘Stay off the moors’?”

“This is Ireland, lad… there aren’t any moors.”


Eugene (Jack Rowan) and  William (Fra Fee) have been busy spending their days surviving unwanted construction work, racking up hearty pub tabs and swindling cash and beer from tourists at the grave site of Abhartach – a legendary Irish vampire who may have inspired Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula novel. After wrangling a duo of cash-rich Canadian Dracula-enthusiasts, Eugene alerts them to the local disdain for the infamous fictional character… insisting the pub from which they just departed ‘The Stoker’ is only named so to monetize the fact that Stoker pillaged their town and stole their local legend and reaped the fame and fortune.


     The undead are inadvertently invited to join the drinking festivities once again when the boys’ construction crew accidentally disrupts Abhartach’s grave and  a monstrous infection starts to spread through town, leaving the locals to face and overnight battle with the ORIGINAL legends. 

“Boys From County Hell” is a perfect cocktail of horror and comedy from start to finish.  A brief visit to sleepy, small-town Ireland where you’ll immediately want to open a tab and grab a pint with our misguided heroes even if their call to action means fighting vampires. Horror enthusiasts will immediately feel American Werewolf in London’s  Slaughtered Lamb vibes from  County Hell’s tourist-tailored watering hole but make no mistake, vampires are back and doing something entirely new and bringing a disarming level of gnarly gore out to play. These aren’t vampires that sparkle or seduce — these vamps are nightmare fuel and this film is simply delightful.


     A reminder to research the origins of monster legends: lest you find yourself fleeing bloodsuckers armed with dangerous misinformation.  “This is important shit to know.”


     “Boys From County Hell” will stream exclusively to Shudder on April 22nd in the US and Canada, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.

Film Review: “Mank”

  • MANK
  • Starring:  Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Arliss Howard
  • Directed by:  David Fincher
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 11 mins
  • Netflix

“Citizen Kane” is often regarded as the greatest film ever made.  Directed by “boy genius” Orson Welles, who was only 25 at the time, the film would receive nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (Welles was also nominated as Best Director and Best Actor) the film won only one Oscar, Best Original Screenplay.  The award was given to Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz but, according to “Mank,” only one of the deserved the award.

We meet Herman Mankiewicz (Oldman) as he is brought into a home far from the big city.  Mank, as he is called, is recovering from an auto accident and has been hired by Orson Welles to write a story about a man obsessed with power but yearning for love.  As Mank begins dictating his script, we look back at various episodes in his life that have made him the man he is.

A true love letter to the movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, “Mank” is an amazing recreation of those exciting times before World War II when talking and conversation were almost a commodity. 

Director Fincher, working from a screenplay by his late father, Jack, has captured everything about the films of that era, from the opening credits to the cue marks that appear in the corner of the screen to signify a reel change.  The script is well written (surprisingly this is Jack Fincher’s only produced screenplay) and the dialogue is pure poetry.

Mank is a man who loves his work, his liquor and his women, though not always in that order.  As he makes his way around Hollywood we are introduced to his fellow writers (Ben Hecht, S.J. Perelman and George S. Kaufman among them), Hollywood moguls like David O. Selznick, Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer (an outstanding Arliss Howard, missing from the big screen for far too long).  We also meet the “boy genius” himself, but in this story Orson Welles (Tom Burke) is a secondary character, showing up occasionally to add his thoughts to Mank’s script. 

Oldman is perfect as Mank, accenting every nuance in his many monologues, whether he is sober or…not so sober.  His performance is truly award worthy, and I have him neck and neck with Chadwick Boseman for this year’s Best Actor Oscar.

But the big revelation here is Amanda Seyfried, who plays actress Marion Davies.  I’ve seen her in everything from the “Mama Mia” films to “Ted 2” to “Les Miz” to the underseen “Lovelace,” in which she made Linda Lovelace into a human being and not just a punchline, and have always enjoyed her but this is the first time she has completely inhabited a character.  She has been nominated for a Best Supporting /Actress Oscar for her performance here and rightly so.

Production wise, the film is beautiful to look at, with much credit going to cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, an Oscar nominee for this, his first film as DP.  His cameras capture the era perfectly and it’s like going back in time.

Most movies about the movies are either hit or miss.  “Mank” is definitely a hit.

Film Review: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2)

  • MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
  • Starring: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman
  • Directed by: George C. Wolfe
  • Rating: Rated R
  • Running Time: 1 HR 34 MINS
  • Netflix 

With the 93rd annual Academy Awards just days away, it is a good time to take a look at “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a film unforgivably snubbed in the Best Picture category. Garnering a total of five nominations, “Ma Rainey’s” is a fantastic drama with a brilliant cast punctuated by memorable performances from Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman. 

Based upon the 1982 stage play by the late American playwright August Wilson (1945-2005) and wonderfully directed by George C. Wolfe (2005’s “Lackawanna Blues”), “Ma Rainey’s” is set on a hot and steamy July day in 1927 Chicago. Popular Georgia-born blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (Davis) is scheduled to record a song – “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – for a pair of white producers anxious to make a profit off her music. 

Ahead of her much-anticipated arrival, Ma’s band arrives to prepare for the day’s recording session. Her musical quartet is made up of three seasoned veterans (Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman and Michael Potts) and an ambitious trumpet player named Levee Green (Boseman). Levee has a head full of dreams of becoming a star on his own, but his fellow players scoff at his ideas, at least until he tells them in a powerful scene about a disturbing racist experience he had while growing up. 

When Ma (Davis) arrives late there is heavy tension in the air, especially when it comes to her interaction with one of the white producers, Mel (Jonny Coyne, “The Blacklist”). Neither likes the other as Ma does not take any guff from anyone and Mel does not like her because she is black. In the middle is the other producer, Irvin (Jeremy Shamos, “Better Call Saul”) who will do anything to appease her. After many hiccups, the recording session finally begins but it is afterwards when the story’s haunting climax occurs. 

The real Ma Rainey lived from 1886-1939 and is often regarded as the “Mother of the Blues.” The Columbus, Georgia native was a force of nature in life and Davis drives this home with a tour de force performance that dominates the silver screen. It’s almost no wonder that Davis thrives so well on the script since she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2016’s “Fences,” another of Wilson’s works.

 Equally spellbinding to watch is Boseman whose last performance before his untimely passing is one never to be forgotten. His progression from a bravado-filled, star-seeking musician to a broken man seething with rage, pain, and frustration is done with amazing skill. It is arguably the best acting of his brief career and makes his death that much more tragic. 

Overall, “Ma Rainey’s” is an important, transformative work of cinema. How it was ignored in the Best Picture category is a travesty of the highest order.

Film Review: “Ma Rainey’s Black Botom” (1)

  • MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
  • Starring:  Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis and Glynn Turman
  • Directed by:  George C. Wolfe
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 34 mins
  • Netflix

It’s a hot summer day in Chicago in the late 1920s.  In a small, enclosed room a group of musicians gather, waiting to back up a recording session for the tardy Ma Rainey (Davis), forever known as “the Mother of the Blues.”  Among the musicians is Levee (Boseman), a horn player with aspirations of musical fame of his own.  He’s tired of being part of a “jug band” and wants to introduce the musical world to a new style.  But he soon learns that Ma isn’t interested in a new style.  And what Ma says, goes.

Like “Fences” before it, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a film adaption of an August Wilson play, again produced by Denzel Washington, who also produced, directed and starred in “Fences.”  “Ma Rainey” is directed by the amazing 15-time Tony Award nominee (and three time winner) George C. Wolfe.  Wolfe skillfully opens up the play on screen while keeping the performances front and center.  And what amazing performances they are.

Davis is tough as nails as Ma, a woman a lot smarter than some give her credit for.  She knows that her white producers only want her for her voice = that otherwise they would have nothing to do with her.  So she wields the power her voice gives her by making demands that must be met.  Whether it’s fetching her a Coke or ensuring that her nephew will appear on a record and get paid, she is as strong a Black woman as the times will allow.

The supporting cast of musicians are equally strong, especially when killing time by sharing stories of their musical past.  Turman, Michael Potts and Colman Domingo share their tales with great conviction and, occasionally, humor

As the session producer, Jeremy Shamos is both firm and bendable, depending on whether he’s dealing with his boss or Ma.

God bless Chadwick Boseman.  His star shone brightly with amazing work in films like “42,” “Get on Up” and, of course, “Black Panther.”  He left this world much too soon, but he left us with a performance that will be remembered forever.  Levee is a dreamer, but when his dreams are dismissed, or downright crushed, his jovial smiling face turns into a mask of anger, an anger that needs to be released.  Boseman, like Ms. Davis, has been Oscar nominated for his performance and they both richly deserves to win.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is currently showing on Netflix.” 

Film Review: “Crisis”

  • CRISIS
  • Starring:  Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer and Evangeline Lilly
  • Directed by:  Nicholas Jarecki
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 58 mins
  • Quiver Distribution

Even with the current pandemic circling around the globe, it isn’t alone in its destructive hold on the world.  You would have to be living on Mars to not be aware of the horrible Opioid problem that is still being faced by over 10 million people in the United States alone and is claiming the lives of almost 50,000 annually.  You would be correct in calling it a Crisis.

“Crisis” is the story of three very different people with very similar goals.  The film opens with a young man running for his life through a field of snow.  He is heading to America from Canada but is eventually stopped by the Border Patrol.  In his backpack they find $500,000 worth of Fentanyl.  Meanwhile, in nearby Montreal, Jake (Hammer) is setting up a deal with Mother (Guy Madon).  He and his Armenian partners are looking to score $3 million in Fentanyl, to be pressed into, and disguised as, vitamin pills.

Meanwhile, at a small college, Dr. Tyrone Brower is pushing back against recommending a drug created to stop pain but is described as being non-addictive.  Dr. Brower’s lab results tell him different but the school’s Dean (Greg Kinnear) urges him not to make waves as the pharmaceutical company manufacturing the drug are his biggest grant donors.

In Detroit, a mother’s worse nightmare come true when she is informed that her son has overdosed after consuming a handful of Oxycodone.  Grief stricken, the woman (Lilly) makes it her goal to find out where her son got the pills.  Eventually all three characters will be central to the story.

Well-paced by director and writer Nicholas Jarecki, who also has a role in the film, “Crisis” is a film with several twists and turns, each one taking your around the corner to another revelation.

Oldman, who is truly a chameleon on screen (he’s played everyone from a wannabe Rasta pimp in “True Romance” to Lee Harvey Oswald in “JFK” to Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor).  Lilly is spot-on as the grieving mother who will do anything to find the answers she is looking for.

Hammer’s Jake is the most complex character.  As his story unfolds we learn he really isn’t who we thought he was.  We also learn that he has a sister who is hooked on drugs, which gives his character more impetus to carry out his plans.

The plot, based on a true story, jumps from one character to another fairly seamlessly, which is always a positive in a film with multiple story arcs.  If I had any complaints it would be Lilly turning into a one-woman detective squad and the fact that Mother sometimes loses his Canadian accent, curious because Mr. Madon is, indeed, Canadian.

Those little quibbles aside, “Crisis” is an enjoyable film and well recommended.  It also is proof, in this writer’s opinion, that they can’t sign Armie Hammer fast enough to play Batman!

Singer/Actor Lizzy Borden discusses his role in the new film “Die Influencers Die”

Lizzy Borden burst on to the Los Angeles heavy metal scene in the early 1980’s with their debut EP “Give ‘Em the Axe” and subsequent full-length release “Love You to Pieces”. The band also appeared in Penelope Spheeris rockumentary “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years”. Media Mikes had the chance recently to talk with Lizzy about his newest movie titled “Die Influencers Die” where he plays a dark and sinister character known only as Otherworld-Coyote.  

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us how you got involved with the film “Die Influencers Die”?

Lizzy Borden: I was good friends with the director Gary Orona.  We both were moving to Las Vegas around the same time and he mentioned he was thinking of doing a move. He had asked if I would be in it and I said yes but, I was heading out on touring. While I was out on the road, they contacted me about the part and said that they were going to be doing table reads. I missed all of those and only had gotten the script about a day and a half before I was set to film. Everything just sort of happened while I was out with the band.

AL: What can you tell us about your character?

LB: It’s kind of weird because when I first got the script was trying to figure out how this character was involved with everything. There was no backstory for him, so I tried to figure out what his motives are. This character literally has no name and appears out of nowhere. I had to try and figure out how to really play this character. I thought of things like “Othello” and made this guy a real instigator. We have actually talked about doing another film that would explore this guy’s back story. There is just this unexplained nature about this guy that made it a lot of fun.

AL: Being there wasn’t a lot that was known about the character were given creative freedom or did the director have you stay within certain parameters?

LB: We knew this was going to be a supernatural character so I kind of knew where to take things, but I still didn’t know even what he was going to look like. On the first day of shooting, I had about five or six different looks we could go with for this character. Gary came in and the one you see is what he picked. When I then went into hair and makeup, they suggested I should just put a ton of gel in my hair. They put probably a half gallon of gel in there and it really sold the character and took it in another direction. We were kind of improvising. As far as the acting went when I looked at the lines it always seemed to me that he was screaming and very angry. I thought back to all of the great scenes where someone has portrayed being angry and those were usually done in a very calm way. I wanted to bring his presentation down to a whisper and if he did get angry, I wanted whoever else was in the scene to feel his intensity without me having to scream at the top of my lungs. I remember the first thing we shot with everyone there Gary asked to do a practice. We did the scene and he ended up getting really mad. I asked what was wrong and he was mad that he didn’t film it because it was so good. From then on, he filmed everything.

AL: At what point did the option to have a song in the film come up?

LB: That was an afterthought. The film was finished however it was taking awhile to release. It was originally supposed to go to either Netflix or Amazon Prime but there were some paperwork problems. We couldn’t even promote the film. Then Covid-19 hit. We had planned to do a red-carpet event in Las Vegas where we showed the movie and then my band would play. We had it booked and set up but then COVID-19 happened. We had done a soundtrack video for the film “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years” that turned out really good and a lot of people got to see clips of the movie through that video, so we started with that same idea. It came down to a matter of picking the song and the scenes and we landed on “My Midnight Things” which is the title track from our last album.

AL: Can you tell us a little bit about the video for the song?

LB: The whole point of the video was to make a commercial for the movie. I really wanted to do something interesting and asked how could we do some new shots of me singing the song while also incorporating the scenes from the film. We talked about a lot of things and a bunch of those were unrelated to the movie. I wanted for the video to look like it was another part of the movie. We ended up using the same studio we filmed in and we also brought in green screens which was a lot of fun. Ultimately, we needed something to promote the film and help tap into people who might not normally go see a movie like this. Through the video they can get a good representation of the film through the four-minute video.

AL: When you perform with the band it is very theatrical. Did you notice any similarities in how you prepare for a live show and how you prepared for the film?

LB: It was almost identical. Other than memorizing lines that was the only thing. I had the lines, but it was all about the delivery. That is where my focus was. I do the same thing backstage when I am working on the show. I think about the previous night’s performances and what I liked or didn’t like and how I can make those things better. I do a lot of pacing. (Laughs) They gave me my own spot at the studio and I just wandered around between shots until they were ready for me.

AL: Having now done the movie do you think you will take what you learned from there and apply it to your live performances?

LB: I think so. There is a subtlety to it as my live shows are pretty over the top. What I got out this character is that there was nothing flamboyant about him in any way. I tend to try and pull out all of the stops with my shows but, maybe if I am in a support slot where I am not able to do that by having played this character, I know I can go out there in a stripped-down format and still deliver a highly theatrical and interesting show.

AL: In 2020 you released “Best of Lizzy Borden” Pt. 2 which included two newly recorded cover songs. (Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ for You” and The Ramones “Pet Sematary”) How did you go about selecting those songs being they are quite different from one another?

LB: Almost all of my influences are set in the 1970’s. They are all established, big bands which I saw when I was a kid, so they are just imbedded in my brain. I could have chosen two hundred songs! There are just so many good songs. Blue Oyster Cult is one of my favorites and definitely one of the top ten best song writers that I love. On an earlier record we recorded a cover of their song “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” as we had been playing it at our live shows. I originally wanted to do “Burnin’ for You” for the album but was out voted by the producer so that was a song I have been wanting to do. I am a huge Ramones fan and love all their work. I thought about all of their songs and a majority of them have to be done in a punk a style. “Pet Sematary” is one that you really don’t have to do that. We did a Halloween show at the Whiskey in Los Angeles and I had the band learn the song prior to the show and people loved it. That’s ultimately how it ended up getting chosen.

AL: With the uncertainty of 2021 are there any other projects that you are currently working on or have coming up?

LB: I am almost halfway completed with a new album. It is coming along but it is very slow. I can imagine this being one of the most favorite albums I have ever done. I still see myself doing four or five more but this one is coming together in a really fun way. I have never had more fun putting a record together. I am not sure how that will translate over to people responding to it but as far as making it I am really enjoying it. I have been doing one song at a time and am about halfway done. I have been getting show offers as well but it doesn’t make sense to me to book shows only to have them cancelled. I see others starting to get out there, so we have to just wait and see. Everyone is ready to go we just don’t want to book something and have to cancel.

AL: When you are writing do you do that all your self or is it a more collective effort?

LB: I do it differently for every record. I have done records in the past where I record everything myself. On this new album I am having the musicians replace what I have already put down with their performances. I will play all the parts then have Joey Scott add in drums and then we build from there. Usually, my vocals are done as well so we kind of work backwards. I like to hear how it sounds in my head rather than putting just a scratch track out there for everyone. A lot of time when you do that a song can change quite a bit and when you are all done its not what you had envisioned. This way I get my idea out there the way I want it and if someone adds something really great to what I have already played we will keep. So far with this record things have stayed pretty much the same as I wrote it.

For more info on Lizzy Borden, you can check out www.Lizzyborden.com

Blu-ray Review: “Honest Thief”

  • HONEST THIEF
  • Starring: Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh
  • Directed by: Mark Williams
  • Rated: PG 13
  • Running time: 1 hr 39 mins
  • Universal Home Video

The film opens with Carter (Neeson) pulling off a final heist, in which he is very meticulous in his methods. In fact, he’s been nicknamed “the In & Out Bandit”. Carter then ventures into a storage facility to store personal items and “some of the funds”. He’s wise not to put the money all in one place. But here’s when our protagonist or antagonist, depending on where in the film you’re referring to him, makes his complete 180 degree turn. At the storage facility, Carter meets a woman and falls in love. So now he no longer wants to rob banks and wishes to give back the money and turn himself in. Hence he is now earned his title character, “Honest Thief”.

The film is directed by Mark Williams, who has worked on the television series “Ozark” (which I haven’t seen) and “The Accountant” with Ben Affleck (on both of those projects Williams also served as a producer). Set in Boston, the movie also stars Kate Walsh, Jeffrey Donovan, Jai Courtney, Anthony Ramos and Robert Patrick.

In this film Liam Neeson is not the good guy we’re used to seeing. This isn’t Taken nor The Commuter. He’s a bad guy that wants to do good. So Carter informs the FBI of his crimes and they don’t believe him. Who robs banks and now wishes to turn ithemselves in? Someone who has met the right woman. And as one character put it, “that’s got to be some woman.” Carter’s girlfriend is portrayed by Kate Walsh, who is caught up in the chase towards the 9 million dollars that Carter wants to turn in.

The film has some great action scenes including a house explosion that I loved! Carter is also a demolition expert, something he learned in the Armed Forces, which is how he blows the bank vault. Narrative in the film moves at a brisk pace. When Carter is on the run, he gets into some scuffles where I wanted to see the fighting skills Neeson is famous for in other films, but this isn’t “Taken.” He just knows how to blow up things. The baddies in the FBI are atypical. One has a heart change and the other is bent on getting that $9 million. Robert Patrick makes an appearance as an FBI supervisor (you will definitely remember him from Terminator 2 as the villainous T-1000).

I watched the film on Blu Ray where the sound and picture were crisp and clean. “Honest Thief,” to me, was a slight let down at first because my expectations were too high. I was looking for “Taken” or even “The Communter” but that’s okay. It just shows that Neeson is more than one dimensional. He has an amazing range and can play various roles.

There are no extras included in this set.

Film Review: “Godzilla vs Kong”

  • GODZILLA vs KONG
  •  Starring:  Godzilla, King Kong, Alexander Skarsgard
  • Directed by:  Adam Wingard
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 53 mins
  • Warner Bros.

It’s March.  Do you have your brackets ready?  Who are you picking?  Rodan?  Mothra?  Typhon?  How about King Ghidorah?  With a name like that, how can he lose?  Quite easily it turns out.

Off the coast of Florida an unusual creature emerges from the ocean.  It’s our old pal Godzilla and he’s pretty pissed.  As CNN reports the news, they question what turned this once “friendly” monster into a…well…MONSTER?

Meanwhile, on Skull Island, King Kong is just minding his own business when he suddenly finds himself captured and flat on his back on a barge on the ocean.  Destination?  I’m not telling.

Short on story but HUGE on special effects, “Godzilla vs Kong” is a perfect example of the mindless entertainment we need right now.  Sure, Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler – who must really enjoying working with Mr. Kong since he also starred in Peter Jackson’s epic 2005 King Kong” – emote in all the right ways but come on, you came for the Titans!!

As the two title characters make their way towards the inevitable battle, they have some fun along the way, destroying cities and battling other badies.  Millions (conservative estimate) of innocent people are killed as entire city blocks full of apartment buildings are knocked over like dominoes.  But you don’t care about them – you cheer every punch and laser=breath blast, clearly taking sides in the Fight of the Century!

The film is well paced and the visual effects are amazing.  I just watched the original 1933 “King Kong” the other night and the effects here make the early stop-motion effects used in that film look like…well…early stop- motion effects.  The effects come courtesy of Peter Jackson’s WETA shop and are so clean you can count every hair on Kong’s back as the wind blows through it and every scale on Godzilla’s rather large body.

Sure, you could stay home this weekend and watch the basketball Final Four, or you can treat yourself to the Ultimate March Madness and see “Godzilla vs Kong!” 

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