Friday, December 3, 2021

Cranked Up Film Review - This Game's Called Murder

The Wallendorf family patriarch (Ron Perlman) Matriarch (Natasha Henstridge) and layabout social media queen Jennifer (Vanessa Marano) are a brutal trio. All three clearly do not have a moral compass or a drop of empathy in their bodies. Their empire is built on one flashy thing Red Women's pumps. They don't make any other colour or style just red, just pumps plus the all-encompassing data that they collect from customers in order for them to secure the 7-year warranty. Jennifer is also at home playing enfant terrible. She regularly disappears on her parents, hangs with a bad crowd, and dates the wrong guy. Then she is constantly correcting her dad for calling her pumpkin a pretty benign pet name. 

Writer-Director Adam Sherman creates a world lensed by cinematographer David Newbert that is one part fairytale, one part comedy, and four parts horror. At the opening, Mr. and Mrs. are shooting their latest commercial that tends to run on a certain theme. Fit twentysomethings in red underwear, Mr. Wallenberg poised to deliver the finishing touch giving commands putting his talent in severe jeopardy. The finished product seems so real that the company is regularly accused that they are. The narrative is also a black-hearted commentary on consumerism as a whole and the pitfalls of giving personal information to corporations without a thought as you never know what they are actually doing with it. 

Vanessa Marano is given the keys to drive in the lead role Jennifer. She appears to be the typical vapid spoiled right girl at first but instead of talking big she acts usually leading to a permanent bad result for anyone in her crosshairs. Ron Perlman and Natasha Henstridge play it way over the top as Jennifer's conniving psychopathic parents. Look for Annabel Barrett in the meaty role of Cynthia. She is the leader of an all-girl gang clad in black, sporting bows and arrows eager to hijack trucking merchandise and kill off their male drivers as a bonus. 

This Game's Called Murder is at its core a cynical look at today's society. The mega-rich family at the centre takes eccentric into a high body count territory. The theory that corporations abuse the data they collect is shown right on the nose in a tidy sequence of comedic horror. Sherman had a plan for where he wanted this film to go and met his mark. It's a feature that's off the beaten path which is not a bad thing given the current level of conformity in movie making. 

*** Out of 4. 

This Game's Called Murder | Adam Sherman | U.S.A. | 2021| 106 Minutes. 

Tags: Red Pumps, Commercial Shoots, Hijacking, Girl Gang, Bow & Arrow, Gold, Ramen Noodles, Fiji.

Friday, August 27, 2021

MGM Studios Film Review- Flag Day

Jennifer Vogel (Dylan Penn) has had a push and pull relationship with her dad John (Sean Penn) all of her life. Therefore she was not surprised when called into a meeting with the authorities and interviewed by a U.S. Marshall (Regina King) about her father. The authorities were also trying to get a feel on whether she might know where the balance of the high quality counterfeit money he printed might be located.

John Vogel was a big dreamer with big ideas and big plans an entrepreneur always on the go. To facilitate these plans he was constantly borrowing money and keeping one step ahead of the creditors. Unfortunately, he did not always keep his family informed or present in his life so they were often left holding the bag when creditors came calling to collect. This also got John mixed up with the shadier element of society who were looking to break limbs instead of foreclosing when money was owed. 

Sean Penn both directs and stars in the film. He originally only signed on to direct being aware of how involved a director has to be in a production, and that fact that he was guiding both of his kids (Hopper Penn plays John Vogel's son Nick). But after the original choice Casey Affleck dropped out due to scheduling and Matt Damon turned the role down to do Stillwater. It was Damon who pushed Penn to take the role seeing it as a natural family fit. Jez Buttenworth's screenplay based on Jennifer Vogels book lacks depth as many of the characters are not fully fleshed and relies too heavily on the perceived hero repeatedly disappointing parent trope. 

Dylan Penn does as much as she can with the material.She shines as Jennifer truly making the production her film. From the first scene discussing the events of the police chase and standoff with her dad she is even keel and quiet as she takes in all the information. Her main comment after asking to touch one of the counterfeit bills is a remark that her Dad's work was beautiful. She has several confrontations with both her dad and her Mom Patty (Katheryn Winnick) seemingly more disappointed in her Mom for not protecting her in several situations over the actions of her volatile father. Sean Penn despite having stepped in at the last moment to act is credible as the highly unreliable John Vogel. However, given the strength of  the real life story to be told here some good sequences do not add up  enough to engage an audience in the film as a whole.

** Out of Four.

Flag Day | Sean Penn | U.S.A. 2021|  109 Minutes. 

Tags: Entrepreneur, Loans, Debts, Foreclosure, Alcoho.lism, Traveling, Journalism, Bank Robbery, Counterfeiting, Police Chase, Minnesota, 8 Millimetre Camera, June 14th.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Fantasia '21 Film Review - IDA RED

Writer-Director John Swab has crafted a film for his fourth feature that seems to be very personal. It's an area of the U.S that he knows well containing family nuances that appear to be second nature to the writer- director. Ida Wyatt ( Melissa Leo) is the local Tulsa, Oklahoma crime boss operating from prison. Her main conduit to the outside world is her son Wyatt (Josh Hartnett) in a smartly chosen return to screen royal shaking up his poster boy image from his first go-round of acting fame. By Wyatt's side is his reckless, impulsive hardened criminal Uncle Dallas (Frank Grillo). The film opens with the pair heading a crew posing as D.E.A. agents as they rob a tractor-trailer as part of a routine stop and inspection looking for  specific cargo on the manifest that will yield a worthy profit. Wyatt's other side is his strong love and loyalty to his family. He's good to his niece Darla (Sofia Hublitz) who clearly has that Walker bad trouble gene and kind to his sister Jeanie (Deborah Ann Woll) who definitely does not as she is married to local cop Bodie Collier (George Carroll). 

Strong writing separates this film from a crowded crime genre field. Many of the characters have real depth and are conflicted by their choices. Bodie had married into the crime family that is committing acts on his watch that are his sworn duty to stop. Yet in the second scene of the film, Wyatt turns up at a  birthday barbecue where he spends quality time with young Darla. Bodie's alliances are questioned by FBI Special agent Lawrence Twilly played by great character actor William Forsythe wanting to know how Bodie finds himself mixed up with the Walkers. The two main jobs in the film play out with twists and turns with the second in particular having many unexpected twists and turns that will keep the viewer engaged. Plus the back story on Ida and her late husband James offers context to both Ida's  and Wyatt's outlook. 

The intensity ramps up when Wyatt learns that Ida's illness despite a change in medication is terminal. His entire focus changes to stopping his mother from taking her last breath in prison. Plus Ida has the info on the life changing last big score for the family. Sofia Hublitz is a break out performer as Darla. She's experiencing the bad trouble gene at a teenage level and holds her own in several intense scenes with her more seasoned co-stars. As mentioned earlier Josh Harnett resurgence continues with his most meaty role to date in his return to prominence as Wyatt Walker. Frank Grillo continues with his string of familiar physical roles as Dallas Wyatt ,and look for an unrecognizable Billy Blair in dialogue rich scene conversation with Dallas a Blade. 

Ida Red is at first glance another in a string of crime family films. But upon a deeper look, there's a resonating story here from a writer-director that knows the terrain and these types of interpersonal family relationships well. The result is a feature full of more character than leading actors with a chance to come to the fore and deliver on a strong scrip underpinned by a pulsing musical score by David Sardy that is well worth the watch. 

*** 1/2 Out of 4. 

Ida Red | John Swab | U.S.A. | 2021 | 111 Minutes.

Tags: Crime Family, Robbery, Pharmaceuticals, Terminal Illness, Expelled, Shootout, Birthday Barbeque, Prison Visitation.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Fantasia '21 Film Review - Martyrs Lane

Family grief can be a weight hanging over each member of the household manifesting in differing degrees. Thus is the cloud hovering over the Minister and his family living in The Rectory in a small U.K. community. 10-year-old Leah (Kiera Thompson) knows nothing of the family past or the real reason why her mom Sarah ( Denise Gough) is always sad and spends so much time in bed or why her much older sister Bex (Hannah Rex) is always angry and takes particular pleasure in torturing her. Her dad Thomas  (Steven Cree) is going to Confirm her at the outset of the film but Leah failed to wash her hair as requested by her mother to the latter's disappointment. Leah is spiritual and does believe in angles and when one crawls through her window to spark up nightly conversations with the lonely girl  the meat of the story begins to unfold. 

Director Ruth Platt uses all of the elements of country life centred on the community church to her benefit for the story. Everyone knows each other. The details of the tragic event are commonly known to all except Ruth and the audience that sees events through the 10-year-olds eyes. Leah's guardian angel who appears to be about the same age plays the game two truths one lie to gain and give information about herself to Leah in their nightly talks. She has an uncanny knowledge of where to find items on the rectory grounds that Leah sets out to find during the day. Her dad meanwhile has his hands full caring for her seemingly unstable mother and seeing to the needs of the parish especially one member who does not seem to know the definition of boundaries. 

Platt slowly unravels the story behind the family grief through the nighttime chats, clues given to Leah from her guardian angel items she finds under direction from her new friend ,and one particularly chilling scene where Ruth is present at a house call made by her mother on her Dad's behalf. The director also dwells on the hustle and bustle Germain to the household leaving Leah and Dex relatively on their own to fend for themselves. 

Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware is the guiding light of the Rectory and Leah's code as well. The riveting exchanges between Leah and her otherworldly counterpart ae the glue of the film. It's also Leah's openness to spirituality that allows her newfound friend to take hold in the home and push an alternate agenda that is not in the best interest of our protagonist. Platt's steady hand guides events as the play out with increasing urgency and intensity minus the expected tropes of a religious based horror tale. 

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Martyrs Lane | Ruth Platt | U.K. | 2021 | 96 Minutes. 

Tags: Minister, Rectory, Confirmation, Bracelet, Angles, Loss, Mourning, Depression, Birthday Cake. 


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Fantasia '21 Film Review - Don't Say Its Name.

A young indigenous woman Kharis Redwater (Sheena Kaine) is run down and killed at the same time as a phone call to her mom drops on a wooded winter road in a small Alberta indigenous community. All members of the community know her well and were aware of the recent improvements she had made in her life before this tragic event. Tensions were already high in the community as a mining company are on their way in to take from the land. A similar story has occurred for hundreds of years dividing the community between supports and detractors. A surveyor for WEC arrives to do some work along with her boyfriend ho is there to handle some equipment as her regular partner had called in sick. She first smells something fowl then spots a blackbird circling overhead then is attacked by a seemingly invisible force cut to shreds and killed right on the spot. Her untouched boyfriend is the key initial suspect as local Sherriff Mary Stonechild (Madison Walsh) arrives on the scene to investigate. 

Director Ruben Martell sets out to tell a story that reaches back to the past but has the modern issues that face indigenous communities right at the forefront. Supernatural forces are afoot right beside multinationals that invade the community, treat the locals as being lesser than but there also residents on either side of the argument. Suspended Ranger Stacey Cole (Sera-Lys McArthur) who suffers from PSTD after a tour of Afghanistan is deputized by The Sherriff after the mysterious deaths continue to occur. The local RCMP officer not being her biggest fan who sees her as a suspect and the community as a whole as possibly suffering from a group psychosis. Sherriff Stonechild and Deputy Cole see the situation different knowing that a vengeful spirit out to protect the land is on the loose. 

The film is lead by two strong female leads. Walsh handles herself well while out in the field balancing formal police training and procedures with her knowledge of band traditions and sacred tales. Ranger Cole is a tough as nails experienced hunter and tracker. She takes no guff as clearly shown early on when a WEC employee attempts to gain an upper hand on her but is violently put back in his place. . Elder Carson (Julian Black Antelope) has lived outside the community and returned with a balanced perspective. The Band members need jobs. WEC can offer good paying ones and opportunities therefore there could be a benefit for both sides. 

Don't Say Its Name is another in a growing number of opportunities for Indigenous stories to have an opportunity to be told by Indigenous voices. If slasher film level body counts is the expectations you may want to look somewhere else. A suspenseful thriller based on the oral histories of a people is the vehicle here. 

*** Out of 4.

 Don't Say Its Name | Ruben Martell | Canada | 2021 |84 Minutes.

Tags: Hit and Run, Indigenous Community, Reservation, Mining Company. Surveyor, Blackbird, Poacher, Folklore, Bear Trap.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Universal Pictures Canada Film Review - Respect

The creative process is always memorable when seen on the big screen. The first words gleaned on a chorus of a future hit, that key guitar riff, a melody taking shape gathered round a studio piano. Director Liesl Tommy gives the viewer two of those moments in Respect. The film opens in Detroit circa 1952 when 10-year-old Re (as she is called by family and close friends) is awakened  by her father Reverend C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker) to sing for the guests at the regular Saturday night gatherings at the Franklin home. Among the local luminaries in the crowd is Dinah Washington (Mary J Blige) listening as young Re belts out My Baby like to Bebop before being ushered back to bed by her father. However, her home life is not always a celebrity roll call. She is raped at one of those Saturday night soirees, becomes pregnant at 12, and continues to be forced to sing on command by her father both at home and at his church; the largest in Detroit. Then there's her mother's untimely death that leads to a vow of silence and may have been the final early straw seeding her bipolar disorder or demons as those close to her called it that would haunt her for years to come. 

Writer Tracey Scott Wilson's screenplay captures a narrow swatch of the singer's life over its 145 minutes run time. There are so many highlights and achievements from Franklin's remarkable life that are not displayed but instead either addressed postscript or as part of  clips of the real Franklin herself alongside the end credits. The costume design team lead by Chris Ramos and set design under the watchful eye of Ina Mayhew worked hand in glove to recreate the styles and feel of the fifties all the way through to the Seventies. The set of Franklin's expansive New York apartment with plenty of room for casually placed grand piano makes one think what type of dollar would that place go for today. 

Jennifer Hudson teed up by the impressive performance of Skye Dakota Turner as young Aretha shows the many sides of the singer on screen. She is shy and muted in her first trip to New York to record standards directed by John Hammond at Columbia then collaborative, intuitive ,and creative as she strolls into Fame studios in Muscle Shoals  Alabama. She recognized the talent of the Swampers studio musicians right from the start bringing her first hit  I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) to life. Look for Marc Maron as producer Jerry Wexler as he negotiates his way through the midfield that is Franklin's inner circle keeping an eye out for Franklin herself who could go off like a grenade at any moment herself. Kimberly Scott is also notable as Mama Franklin. Aretha's grandmother the glue that kept the multi generational dysfunctional Franklin family on the rails despite building pressure both inside and out. 

Respect is a biopic that focuses its lens on the early section of the singer's life.  The initial crafting of the title cut at 3:00 A.M. alongside her sisters followed by the contributions of the swampers iconic guitar rift then a transition to a sold out Madison Square Garden concert is the sequence in the film that  announced Franklin as a superstar.  There are flashes of Franklin's activism traveling with and supporting Dr. Martin Luther King. Her fundraising for civil rights and her appreciation of the labeled radical Angela Davis. She seemed destined to struggle against domineering men. Her father Reverend Franklin followed by her first abusive egotistical controlling husband Ted White (Damon Wayans). She also struggled with mental health issues leading to a low point of severe alcoholism in early Seventies L.A. From which she emerged to take a risk and cut a gospel album Amazing Grace alongside a documentary that became the biggest selling album her career. One could have hoped for a highlight or two  from her later years to feature more prominently  but with so much material capturing everything was always destined to be a tall order.  

*** Out of 4

Respect | Liesel Tommy | U.S.A. | 2021 | 145 Minutes.

Tags: Bio Pic, Detroit, Columbia Records, Atlantic Records, Muscle Shoals Alabama, Fame Studio, Madison Square Gardens, European Tour, Mental Illness, Rape, Abuse, Alcoholism, Baptist Church.


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Fantasia '21 Film Review - Baby Money

The home invasion crime sub-genre is an every growing segment of the film industry. There are many ways to approach the subject from films that occur at a single set location to those that use the home invasion as a jumping-off point to a larger expanded story. Baby Money falls somewhere in between. Minny (Danay Garcia) has unrepentantly become pregnant. the father, low-level criminal Gil (Michael Drayer) joins a robbery scheme enlisting pregnant Minny as the wheelman alongside two other low lifes Tony (Travis Hamner) and  Dom (Joey Kern) to steal a mystery purple box from a home on a quiet street. The quartet doesn't know the contents of the box or their other partners well but the job is lucrative and will give the couple a good nest egg to start parenthood.  The job goes bad multiple people end up dead leaving Gil and Tony trapped in the neighbourhood with Minny as the only option to get them out. 

Another trope of this sub-genre is also front and centre. Heidi (Tania V. Simpson) the technician that gave Minny her ultrasound earlier in the day also lives in the neighbourhood. She returns home to find her neighbourhood surrounded by cops and it's in her garage the pair of fugitives hideout. The pair soon find their way into Heidi's home disrupting her and her seizure riddled son picking the home as the spot where Minny will come to get them out. 

Director Mikhael Bassilli links together a group of characters that all eventually intersect at Heid's home. The only exception being the strip club regular that recognizes Minny at a watering hole she holds up at after the botched job who is highly annoying until he becomes useful. Tony plays the role of the corned criminal that wants to burn everything to the ground as he sees no way out of their predicament. Gil on the other hand with a baby on the way is the thinker considering every possibility that could potentially get his fledgling family out of harm's way. 

Baby Money is straight forward and as formulaic as it gets. The characters are as they appear throughout the film. The audience does develop a rooting interest in Minny, Heidi and her son's fate but the former two make several missteps that test the level of loyalty. There are several good elements here but as a whole, the piece may be limited to audiences that are truly devoted followers of the sub-genre. 

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Baby Money | Makhael Bassilli | 2021 | U.S.A. | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Pregnancy, Ultrasound, Home Invasion, Shotgun, Man Hunt, Police Tape, Door to Door Search, Cerebral Palsy, Seizures, Purple Box.